Here and there – Annual Awards


Best wishes for Christmas and 2020.  I shall be off for a few weeks, but I commend the list below.  The season of good will is also the season of pay back and catharsis.  My Mum said I should have one every day.

Stay safe and watch out for the smoke.

With Compliments

Annual Awards 2019

Film of the year

The Irishman – an epic in the good old style with three of the best screen actors around.

Sporting events of the year

Two resurrections – Steve Smith and Tiger Woods.

Winx made a lot of people happy – including me, for winning at her last start the day after the Wolf joined his ancestors.

Mesut Ozil.  The German, Muslim, Arsenal footballer who stuck it right up President Xi, and who thereby gave the supporters of Israel Folau something to think about – an experience that they may find exhilarating – or, perhaps, intimidating.

Book of the year

Bending Toward Justice, Doug Jones; Finding My Place, Anne Aly; and Trials of the State, Jonathan Sumption.  (Curiously, the first two authors are intensely sane, but each had two prior marriages.)  (I read Carlyle’s The French Revolution for the seventh time, but that does not fit these criteria.)

Business head of the year

BHP is the biggest shareholding in my small fund, in no small part because of my respect for Andrew Mackenzie, the outgoing CEO.  His education record is formidable – in Scotland, England, and Germany, and in three disciplines; he has a remarkable business sense and capacity to lead; most importantly, he can still behave like a ‘merely decent human being’ – to quote a line from The Russia House.  ‘Leadership’ is a facility that is subject to more bullshit than most others, but Mr Mackenzie has it – in spades.  And he has shown it not just in BHP but at large – in a community that cries out for it – and to the consternation of those dolts who know nothing about business because they have never been involved in running one and because they have not seen the change in the role of business in our community.

Lawyer of the year

Lady Hale of the UK Supreme Court, for herding the cats and striking a blow for the rule of law and common sense and common decency with a single joint judgment.  And because she was once a barmaid and because she wore that brooch.  The U S establishment has not produced it at that level – although the impeachment civil servants looked to be impeccable.

Reporter of the year

Nesrine Malik.  I would not give her any cheek at all.  Seriously bright.  She is from Ethiopia or thereabouts – the cradle of mankind.  She is both imperious and imperial – and with a delicious and imposing sidelong glance.

Columnist of the year

Joe Aston.  For serving it up to people who deserve it.  With a special mention for his gutsy libel lawyer.

Artist of the year

David Rowe.  Easily.  Cartoons are something we do well.  And they are a very necessary guard against depression or madness.

Newspaper of the year

Financial Times.  Producing good newspapers is something that the English do well.  This paper oozes professional decency.  Its views on Johnson are not dissimilar to those of The New Yorker on Trump – but it is not so overtly on a war footing, or so incessantly feeding the beast.  No prize for the worst.

Victims of the year

Those who voted against Trump, Johnson and Morrison; closely followed by those who voted for them.

Mediocrity of the year

ScoMo.  Can someone tell him that there is a world of difference between volunteers’ facing death before killer fires and sending crack armed forces against unarmed refugees and then spitefully repealing a law to simplify the refugees’ getting medical aid – and then putting a plaque on your wall to celebrate – in all humility, of course – your own downright heroism?  ScoMo is a BYO sandwich board – nothing more; nothing less.  He is a ventriloquist’s doll, an organ-grinder’s monkey, and a pencil box with vocal chords.  And if you ever meet someone who is happy to be called a ‘quiet Australian’, could you please be so kind as to let me know? Because we just might have the world’s best practice prize galah on our hands.

Comparison of the year

The New Zealand PM and the Australian PM on national disasters.

Musical event of the year

Jonas Kaufman in opera concert (Andrea Chénier); the MSO Choir and the Brahms Requiem; and my recent acquisition of the Glyndebourne CD set of Billy Budd and my recent re-discovery of the Karajan Boris Godunov.

Symptom of our time

Boeing killed people because money meant more than the safety of you and me.  It then put out unrepentant spin to hold its share price.  For a while the U S government went along with it to save money and face.  No one will go to jail.

Another symptom

The slutty evanescence of Twenty/20 cricket.  And, no, I will not love her in the morning.  As fulfilling as Chinese takeaways in the Fifties.

The Joseph Stalin Award for Bastardry of the Year

The repeal of Medivac.  They did it because they could.

The Geoffrey Boycott Award for Utter and Unlovely Predictability

Anyone from the IPA or Murdoch Press – Brownie points for the quinella.  The IPA in Parliament come from Mars, boy wonders with no experience and less judgment, full of front and emptiness, signifying nothing.  Paterson and Wilson are names to conjure with.  They are true Princes of Bullshit.

Hypocrites of the year

The whole federal parliament.  They pray to start their day and then devote themselves to letting down the same God whose Son would be appalled because they do know what they do.  It is sad to see believers – or so they say – shred their Gospel to schmooze with womanising liars who are so transparently in it for their amoral selves and then turn their backs on refugees – many fleeing from a mess that we had a hand in creating.  Their bizarre response to learning and pollution suggests that they have no children.  Or that they have been bought.  God save us.

Sad sack of the year

Gerard Henderson, the Prince of Sadness in eternal pursuit of the Prince of Darkness – Aunty.  Has driven more people from religion than Savonarola or Mike Pence.  This is a very large statement.

Ratbag of the year

Rowan Dean.  The embodiment of the ugliness in us all down here.  Loves to leer, jeer and sneer at those he regards as inferior.  The ghastly price that we pay for not having a conservative press.  Actually likes Trump, Johnson and Morrison – although his team – yes, team – preferred Dutton.  Dean makes Bolt look like a tame also-ran.

Recipe of the year

Roast vegetables – peel and cut vegies to size (say Dutch Cream or Kipfler potatoes, carrot or parsnip, and zucchini) – simmer on boil for five minutes – place into colander and coat with olive oil and toss with salt, pepper, seasoning, flour and thyme – transfer to roasting pan after melting duck fat on the hob and then lightly repeat the coating process and toss – cook in oven under dripping roast meat.  Reserve vegie water for gravy (for which I cheat).

Restaurant of the year

Tsindos.  OK – I am biased in favour of the Greeks, and this place in particular, but I have been going to that site for more than forty-five years, and any restaurant that puts up with and survives the Deplorables deserves commendation from on high.  Comfort food for the ages.  If you go, tell Harry I sent you.  And wait for the curious look.

Wine of the year

I normally stick with my own, and my own regions, but Bordeaux Chateau Meillac of 2012 for $25 from Banks’ Fine Wines is very acceptable – and it was good to be reminded of that solid old trouper Redman 2013 Coonawarra Shiraz in something like the old Rouge Homme livery.

Aggravation of the year

The continuing despoliation of Shakespeare by miss-casting his plays to make a political point – we need to think about resurrecting the law of blasphemy.

Anything to do with the Mayor of Box Hill (aka our P M) – although Prince Andrew was a late and inspired challenger with an inside run on the rails.

Error of judgment of the year

My resigning my membership of Melbourne Storm and joining Melbourne Rebels.  The former then barely lost a game.  The latter then barely won one.  (I know how Collingwood supporters feel – I was there in 1964 when the D’s won their last pennant.  With my Mum.  And I am in the process of spreading the curse from the Melbourne Redlegs to the Boston Red Sox.)

The Australian Christian Lobby applying publicly collected money to aid a member of the entertainment industry to sue his employer for millions of dollars because they and their supporters were put out that his religious fanaticism led him to denigrate those who differed from him.  The bad taste press thought it was terrific.

And see also Victims of the year and Comparison of the year, above.

Find of the year

Marnus Laberschagne and the Malmsbury Pub – under new management.

Star turn of the year

Anita Hill and those other civil servants who gave evidence before the Congress and whose courage and integrity showed up their political masters for the ratbags they are.  She and they gave us hope that the U S may recover from this catastrophe.

Hardest falls of the year

The whole Republican Party, but especially their soi disant leaders – gloomy, scared old white males bereft alike of integrity and courage – especially those two goons who always turn up behind the same shoulder of Water-mouth McConnell.

Reminiscence of the year

Catherine Deneuve and Juliet Binoche in the one movie.  Just as well they didn’t rope in Emmanuelle Béart as well – they may have had to issue a health warning for fading old men – like the Deplorables (et pour moi aussi).

Realisation of the year

In a two party system of government, it takes two to tango.  And if the opposition isn’t up to it, you can end up with a mess like ours – or England’s or America’s.

Bullshit of the year

This magnificent vote is a reassertion of national sovereignty and national will.

It is a powerful boost to the cause of Western civilisation at a time when it is struggling, and widely seen as under attack.

This is an epic moment in Britain’s long national story.

Johnson is that rarest of leaders; he has bent the arc of history to his will.

The author of the Brexit political project, Nigel Farage, is the other figure who was most influential in this result.  His electoral pressure transformed the Conservatives from a Remain Party to a Leave Party.

Farage stiffened the spines of the Conservatives and then stood down in the seats they were defending to maximise the pro-sovereignty vote.

No smiley koala stamp for guessing the paper or the journalist.  And the poor fellow has crumbled even further since this one.

Australian of the year

Sam Kerr – for being herself, for being the best, and for staring down our worst trait – the adoration of mediocrity and the fear of the novel.

The oncologists at the Prince Alfred Hospital for adopting a philosophical response – nay, a mature or adult response – to the Liver Function Tests that come their way every three weeks in the blood tests that precede each session of immunotherapy.  They also get an elephant stamp for keeping me above the ground.

And most of all, and clear over-all winners, the nurses at the Alfred and elsewhere, for being the crown and cream of the best healthcare system in the world – by the length of the bloody straight at Flemington.  My gratitude knows no bounds.  A safe reservoir of grace and decency.

Aspirations for 2020

My staying above the ground, so delaying my reunion with the Wolf.

Those of us who believe that we might have been privileged to have done something useful fighting back against those pygmies – those gnats straining at a camel – who are just plain jealous.

Trying to bring Sharan Burrow back to help try to right the ship.  I had a bit to do with her at the MFB.  I quickly developed a great respect for her.  She is one of those straight shooters that you quickly sense that you can do business with.  You can see her now on the BBC telling Spanish coal miners that there are no jobs on a dead planet – an inevitable truth that wholly escapes our government – whose minds close at shopping lists and power bills.

Michaelia Cash sacking her hairdresser and fashion designer and then retiring from public life to some very quiet place; not necessarily of the kind that Hamlet commended to Ophelia.  (And while I am there, that Danish prince is a lesson of the dangers of feigning madness.)

ScoMo following his ancestors in the mediocrity bloodline – Little Johnnie and Bro Tony – and getting fired by his electorate.  That would for me constitute irrefutable evidence of the existence of God.

The Demons either putting up or getting put down – if it was good enough for the Wolf, it is good enough for a football club that has been near death since it incurred the curse of Norm Smith.

My getting a standing ovation at the 2020 Brisbane Ring Cycle of Wagner for being noticed for the number of acts I have missed – currently aiming at five out of thirteen – or, as John Steinbeck said of the returning Tuna fishermen in Cannery Row, being ‘embraced and admired’ – but we may forego the twenty-five foot string of firecrackers so nobly presented by the immortal Lee Chong of the general store.  If you let them off in Parliament House, would anyone notice – or care?



Bodley Head, 1982; rebound in quarter mustard morocco, with gold on mahogany title, and coloured boards.

For how long, he wondered with a kind of fear, was it possible for that love of his to continue?  And to what end?

The late Graham Greene was a fluent and prolific writer who was received into the Catholic Church.  Who better to write a soft, elegiac novel on the strains in the relationship between God and us?

Monsignor Quixote is a tribute to the first novel, Don Quixote, and it comes to us with the throwaway softness of the Eine Kleine Nachtsmusik of Mozart.  Its hero is promoted to Monsignor in ludicrous circumstances.  Like his namesake, he sets out on a quest.  His companion, whom he addresses as Sancho, is a former mayor who is a communist.  Their relationship is as full and touching as that between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Father Quixote is a humble priest in El Toboso near Valencia.  He has a burned out little car, a Seat 600, that he calls Rocinante in memory of the horse of his ancestor.  He does not get on with his bishop, who asks how a priest could be descended from a fictional character.  ‘A character in a novel by an over-rated writer called Cervantes – a novel moreover with many disgusting passages which in the days of the Generalissimo would not even have passed the censor.’  The bishop, of course, has never read the book.  He just started the first chapter and glanced at the last – ‘my usual habit with novels’.  The bishop also takes the view – that we might find unusual in a Spaniard – that ‘men of Father Quixote’s class have no ancestors’.

Our hero was therefore full of trepidation when an Italian bishop pulled up in a flash Mercedes that was refusing to go any further.  But the Bishop of Motopo is very different.  He is offered lunch and ‘an unimportant wine’, and the bishop offers a reply for the ages:  ‘No wine can be regarded as unimportant, my friend, since the marriage of Cana.’  This bishop admires Don Quixote.  When told of the attitude of another bishop, he says:  ‘Holiness and literary appreciation don’t always go together.’

The father fixes the Mercedes – in truth he just puts some petrol in it.  The bishop is both moved and impressed, and the promotion follows later to the disgust of the bishop of the now Monsignor.  As the Italian bishop settles into his revived Mercedes, he says ‘there are no birds this year in last’s year’s nests’.  He confesses that he does not know what the words mean ‘but surely the beauty is enough’.

In his affront at the promotion of his lowly subordinate, the Spanish bishop decides that El Toboso is too small for a Monsignor and sends him out to the world.  And the Monsignor recalls the time when he had diverted an Easter offering to a charity for the poor in prison when the custom had been that the local priest had trousered that portion.  ‘The Bishop had called him a fool – a term which Christ had deprecated.’  Our author is not pulling punches.

The Monsignor and the ex-Mayor set out while swapping stories of traitors – Stalin and Judas.  The Mayor, after vodka, says that the Soviet cosmonauts have beaten the endurance record in space but in all that time they have not encountered a single angel.  Here is a sample of their conversation – this time with Manchegan cheese and wine.

‘A few million dead and Communism is established over nearly half the world.  A small price.  One loses more in any war.’

‘A few hundred dead and Spain remains a Catholic country.  An even smaller price.’

‘So Franco succeeds Torquemada?’

‘And Brezhnev succeeds Stalin?’

‘Well, father, we can at least agree with this: that small men seem always to succeed the great and perhaps the small men are easier to live with.’

‘I’m glad you recognise greatness in Torquemada.’

They laughed and drank and were happy under the broken wall while the sun sank and the shadows lengthened, until without noticing it they sat in darkness and the heat came mainly from within.


‘Then why not call me comrade – I prefer it to Sancho.’

‘In recent history, Sancho, too many comrades have been killed by comrades.  I don’t mind calling you friend.  Friends are less apt to kill each other.’

We remember that Don Quixote is set around conversations between its two leads.  When our latterday pair arrives at Madrid, the Monsignor declines staying at the Palace Hotel to the disgust of the Mayor who then takes the Monsignor to the ecclesiastical tailors to get his purple socks.

His heart sank as he took in the elegance of the shop and the dark well-pressed suit of the assistant who greeted them with the distant courtesy of a church authority.  It occurred to Father Quixote that such a man was almost certainly a member of Opus Dei – that club of intellectual Catholic activists whom he could not fault and yet whom he could not trust.  He was a countryman, and they belonged to the great cities.

The svelte assistant offers cotton socks and the Monsignor says that he wears wool.  The assistant regards the two shoppers with ‘deepening suspicion’.  As they leave, the Monsignor says to the Mayor that the assistant was probably with Opus Dei and the Mayor says, ‘They probably own the shop’.

The two of them ‘killed’ two bottles of wine over lunch, and the Mayor recalled a discussion with Father Herrera who has been installed in his place, and who gets on with the bishop and who is looking to shaft the Monsignor.  Father Herrera had expressed a preference for the Gospel of St. Matthew.  It has, apparently, fifteen references to Hell.   The Monsignor says that ‘To govern by fear … surely God can leave that to Stalin or Hitler.  I believe in the virtue of courage.  I don’t believe in the virtue of cowardice’.  Sensing a kill for heresy, Father Herrera asks the Monsignor whether he questions the existence of Hell.

‘I believe from obedience, but not with the heart.’

The discussions of religious faith and political faith run deep.

‘We can’t always believe.  Just having faith, like you have, Sancho.  O, Sancho, Sancho, it’s an awful thing not to have doubts.  Suppose all Marx wrote was proved to be absolute truth and Lenin’s works too.’


‘And now you have a complete belief, don’t you?  In the prophet Marx.  You don’t have to think for yourself anymore.  Isaiah has spoken.  You are in the hands of future history.  How happy you must be with your complete belief.  There is only one thing you will ever lack – the dignity of despair.’

Father Quixote spoke with an unaccustomed anger – or was it, he wondered, envy?

The Mayor leaves the Monsignor in ignorance to settle into a brothel for the night:

‘It’s really very wrong of me to laugh.  But I just thought:  what would the Bishop say if he knew?  A Monsignor in a brothel.  Well, why not? Christ mixed with publicans and sinners.  All the same, I think I’d better go upstairs and lock my door.  But be prudent, dear Sancho, be prudent.’

‘Where are you going, Father?’

‘Off to read myself to sleep with your prophet Marx.  I wish I could say goodnight to you, Sancho, but I doubt whether yours will be what I would call a good night.’

They had encounters with the Guardia as well as the hierarchy of the Church.  The Bishop has to confront the Monsignor with his scandalous misdeeds, such as being seen at a house of blue movies.

‘Stay where you are Monsignor’, the Bishop said.  (He rolled out the title Monsignor with an obvious bitterness.)  He took from his sleeve a white silk handkerchief and dusted the chair beside the bed, looked carefully at the handkerchief to see how far it might have been soiled, lowered himself into the chair and put his hand on the sheet.  But as Father Quixote was not in a position in which he could genuflect he thought it was permissible to leave out the kiss and the Bishop, after a brief pause, withdrew his hand.  Then the Bishop pursed his lips and following a moment’s reflection blew out the monosyllable:  ‘Well.’

Father Herrera was standing in the doorway like a bodyguard ….’

The Bishop says that ‘the Church always struggles to keep above politics’ but confirms that the shop assistant in Madrid was with Opus Dei.  But when the Monsignor says that Marx had defended the Church, the Bishop leaves in disgust saying that ‘I cannot sit here any longer and listen to the ravings of a sick mind’.

There is another exchange between the Mayor and the Monsignor on faith and doubt.

‘We quoted Marx and Lenin to one another like passwords to prove we could be trusted.  And we never spoke of the doubts which came to us on sleepless nights.  I was drawn to you because I thought you were a man without doubts.  I was drawn to you, I suppose, in a way by envy.’

‘How wrong you were, Sancho.  I am riddled by doubts.  I am sure of nothing, not even the existence of God, but doubt is not treachery as you communists seem to think.  Doubt is human.’

Their last adventure involves Mexicans who are fleecing the flock.  They carry out a plaster cast of Our Lady for the poor people to pin money to.

Father Quixote gazed up at the crowned head and the glassy eyes which were like those of a woman dead and neglected – no one had bothered even to lower her lids.  He thought:  Was it for this she saw her son die in agony?  To collect money?  To make a priest rich?

The Monsignor does not doubt that this is blasphemy:

‘Put down Our Lady.  How dare you’, he told the priest, ‘clothe her like that in money?  It would be better to carry her through the streets naked’

He starts ripping notes off and there is a fight and then a riot such as may have followed when another holy agitator evicted the money men from the temple.  The Mayor says, rather unhelpfully, that ‘You can’t start a revolution without bloodshed’.  (Earlier he had said that the ‘Trappists are the Stalinists of the Church’.)

The Monsignor is hurt and they seek sanctuary with the Trappists.  At the small monastery there is a Professor Pilbeam who comes from Notre Dame University in the US.  The Professor specialises in Descartes, who said that the mind is very separate from the body.  This turning point in European thought comes up just as we are getting ready for the soul of the Monsignor to leave his body.  But the Professor is only a nominal Catholic for whom Cervantes is ‘too fanciful for my taste’.

As our Don Quixote moves towards his end, he calls for Mambrino’s helmet and he says to the Mayor:  ‘I don’t offer you a governorship, Sancho.  I offer you a kingdom – Come with me and you will find the Kingdom.’  He recalls saying, as if in a dream, ‘Bugger the Bishop’.  ‘Et introibo ad altare.’  The Monsignor raises an invisible Host and says to Sancho:  ‘Companero, you must kneel Companero.’

Suffused in benevolence, the novel ends this way:

The Mayor didn’t speak again before they reached Orense; an idea quite strange to him had lodged in his brain.  Why is it that the hate of a man – even of a man like Franco – dies with his death, and yet love, the love which he had begun to feel for Father Quixote, seemed now to live and grow in spite of the final separation and the final silence – for how long, he wondered with a kind of fear, was it possible for that love of his to continue?  And to what end?

This all comes down to us apparently effortlessly, the work of a very refined mind and of a very gifted writer, a lilting and humane meditation on the place of doubt and faith in politics and religion, but more importantly on the place of friendship here on earth.

The novel is also a salute by an English writer to the place that Don Quixote holds in the life of Spain.  No other novel – not even War and Peace or Ulysses – stands so high in shaping the life of the nation that gave birth to its author.  Only the Iliad and Ulysses of Homer have reached so high.  But like all of the great works, this little novel is universal in its appeal.  There are very few books that end with a tear and a smile vying for eminence on the face of the reader.

Passing Bull 224 – Dismissive labels


Some labels are so dangerously large that they risk begging the whole question.

Robert E Lee had sworn allegiance to the United States.  But he was also loyal to the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Was standing aside the proper thing to do?  No – Lee felt – felt, not thought – that he had to take sides.  He allowed his son to make up his own mind.  Lee was appalled at the thought of the North ‘invading’ – yes, invading – his home state.  Well, Abraham Lincoln had sworn to defend and preserve the Union.  That meant applying federal force to stop secession.  If police come with a warrant to arrest me at home, I do not speak of being ‘invaded’.  That would sound silly.  Did southern states have the right to secede?  That was what the whole bloody war was about.  About 600,000 good young men died in that war.  God only knows how much smaller that number may have been if Lee had followed his oath – or just stayed out of it.

The Polish government wants to legislate against its Supreme Court engaging in ‘political conduct.’  This may remind you of those who criticised the U K Supreme Court for doing just that.  What else is to be expected of the highest court in a nation that at least professes to follow the rule of law?  And who, pray, will decide the issue of whether the court has involved itself in such conduct, and whether the prohibition is lawful?  Hitler did not blush – but he was seeking to destroy Europe, not be part of it.

Much of this kind of scattergun appears to be the response of Republicans to the impeachment process.  Look stern, spit out a dirty word, and Bob’s your uncle.  They remind me of soldiers firing a mortar – but rather than looking away and holding their ears, they block their eyes, ears and nose.  They had lost their conscience when they sold out.


‘The overwhelming reaction from our team, for our customers and shareholders has been positive affirmation for the way the company has behaved.’  Woolworths CEO on short paying workers $300 million.

Australian Financial Review, 17 December, 2019

Bullshit for our time – for all time.  What are the colours of the jersey of this ‘team’?  When will see a major corporate confess to the ASX that it has overpaid its workers?  When next John the Baptist plays full back for Mecca and the Sultan plays full forward for Jerusalem.

Here and there -The Decline and Fall of Faith and Confidence


The Nurse does not know Romeo, but she says to him ‘If you be he, sir, I desire come confidence with you’.  She will confide in him – that is, she will place faith (fides), reliance, and trust in him.  She will trust him to keep what she says to himself, except to the extent that she may permit.  This is the kind of communication that passes between you and your lawyer, priest or doctor, and in varying degrees the law will back you up without your having to expressly stipulate that what you are saying is confidential.

If Romeo accepts the condition of the Nurse, she may have more or less confidence that he will respect her wishes.  She may be confident, to a greater or lesser degree since she does not know this youth at all, that her faith will be respected.  But, by definition, nothing about faith is ever certain.

When, in Othello, worried nobles are speculating on the designs of their Turkish enemy, the Duke says ‘Nay, in all confidence, he’s not for Rhodes’, he could be using the phrase in either of the meanings that we have just seen.  And you do not have to be a philosopher to know that you can hardly warrant any prediction about the future – let alone predict the conduct of any one of us.

The English have led the way in developing our basic model of democratic government.  At times – say, in about 1215, 1535, 1641, and 1689 – they have displayed what might fairly be called genius in shaping their constitution.  As with a lot of geniuses, you think that the answer is obvious once you have seen it – but it took them to unveil it.

At the height of their conflict with King Charles I, the Commons in 1641 passed what they called the Grand Remonstrance.  As slaps in the face go, this one was pretty loud.  Nor was it short.  In clause 197, they expressed the wish that the king should employ only such counsellors (ministers) as ‘the Parliament may have cause to confide in’ without which ‘we cannot give His Majesty such supplies for support of his own estate….’  Shortly after this, and after a stern tongue lashing from his Latin wife, Charles Stuart, as he would come to be called, lost his head, metaphorically, and sought in person to arrest his leading opponents, including the main author of the Remonstrance, in the Parliament itself – leading to a course of events where his stubborn blindness would lead to his physically losing his head at the edge of an axe.

Macaulay was always honest about what side he was on in this long battle that became a war.

In support of this opinion [the felt need of the Commons to tread softly with the King], many plausible arguments have been used.  But to all these arguments, there is one short answer.  The King could not be trusted.

The sentiment expressed in clause 197 is the keystone of responsible government that was settled by the Declaration of Rights in 1689.  It is typical of the English that what started its juristic life as a throwaway line in an instrument of dubious provenance soon became a pillar of ageless, hard law that only an inane anarchist could seek to fiddle with.  If you mention this to an English lawyer or historian, you will get a wry smile and something like: ‘Winners are grinners – the rest make their own arrangements’.

Well, they are no longer grinning – not even the winners.  Across too much of the western world, too many people have lost faith and confidence in their system of government in general, and those holding office from time to time.

Now in my eighth decade, I can sense that this has been going on slowly in Australia through most of that time, but the acceleration across the West since the Great Financial has been too hard to miss.  And the collapse of public decency in the U S and U K in the last few years has been shocking.  Have we then built our house on sand?

Those in government should not feel unfairly singled out.  Very few people have confidence in what Ibsen called the pillars of society.  Churches, trading corporations, charities, trade unions, employer groups, the professions, schools and universities (especially those lumbered with that weasel sobriquet ‘elite’), the press, sporting teams, the professions, the rich – yes, especially the filthy rich – and even the poor bloody poor and refugees are all on the nose with at least some people for one reason or another – with more reason in some cases than in others.

And as we draw further back from God and his Church, we search in vain for any kind of bedrock.  Instead we are left with a revoltingly insipid moral relativity and an even more revoltingly spineless absence of anything like leadership.  The picture is not pretty.

Even the law recognises and seeks to enforce obligations of confidence in some relations – such as partners, husband and wife, directors and shareholders, trustees, and holders of office of public trust – like Ministers of the Crown.

The President of the United States presently stands accused of breaching his office of public trust by seeking to abuse that office to obtain a personal benefit.  The essential evidence is not in dispute.  It is for the most part uncontradicted.  Nor is the allegation of breach of trust fairly answerable on that evidence.  The only question is whether that breach of trust warrants a finding that the President be removed from office.

But it looks like that process will miscarry because those charged with making that decision will commit one of the sins or failures that have brought us to this pass – they will put the interests of party over those of the nation.  And in doing so, they will not see that they are committing a wrong just like that of the man they are protecting.  And too many of them will do that because they are just plain scared of him.  Our brave ancestors who stood up to King Charles I, and who prevailed over him to our lasting benefit, would be worse than disgusted.  As would those in the American colonies who stood up to King George III and his Ministers, and who then fought and defeated his army.

As a result of the doctrine espoused in the Grand Remonstrance, our government must resign if it loses the confidence of parliament.  Can our system survive if so many people have lost confidence in it?  Before looking at what Lord Sumption says about this in his book on the Reith Lectures, we might notice some of the reasons for the fall of faith and confidence in government.

We have sat by for decades watching them let the Westminster system fail through neglect.  Government has been unable to check a shocking inequality in income and wealth that undermines faith in the only ideology in town – capitalism.  There is something inherently unreasonable and unfair going on.  There is a continuing and self-perpetuating decline in the character of people going into government – and people make money by talking with or about the worst of them.

‘Populists’ – a dreadful word – like Trump and Johnson were born to put themselves first, to discard custom and convention, to put party above the nation, and to betray all trust.  They also wallow in that tribalism that demeans all process, and all logic.  Each of them is obviously a charlatan; one is also a thug; both are bullies.  And we have apparently botched the education of a sufficient number of people to allow such people to get away with it.  And the longer they are there, the more that any trust just evaporates.

Trump and Johnson also are champions of the 100% vae victis rule.  (In Kenya, it is called: ‘It’s our turn at the table.’)  This is part of the collapse of moderation and the prevalence of tribalism.  All this is causing parties to forget their function, and is opening up the system to be gamed by minor parties, cranks and crooks.  The result is even more unattractive.

This is happening at a time when the internet is destroying minds, civility, security and privacy.  Its filthy rich drivers are seen as public enemies that our governments are too gutless or inept to control.  Just as they have failed to nail those crooks who fleece us and pay no tax.  Technology is also seen to destroy jobs.  The absurd bonuses of directors may be conditioned on sacking people.  Too few share in the wealth created by sending jobs overseas.  Too few went to jail for crimes committed in the GFC that nearly put the West on its knees.  The cries of envy and for revenge are matched by heightened credibility, and the spread of fake news and conspiracy theories are aided by people in the press who have no sense of decency, much less professional obligation.

The intellectual problem may be simply stated.  Too many people cannot tolerate uncertainty or doubt.  They crave the answer – which is both delusional and dangerous – and a sponsored response that they can hide behind.  This is how Edward Gibbon described the effect of a new faith on old beliefs.

The decline of ancient prejudice exposed a very numerous portion of human kind to the danger of a painful and comfortless situation.  A state of scepticism and suspense may amuse a few inquisitive minds. But the practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitude, that if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing vision.  Their love of the marvellous and supernatural, their curiosity with regard to future events, and their strong propensity to extend their hopes and fears beyond the limits of the visible world, were the principal causes which favored the establishment of Polytheism.  So urgent on the vulgar is the necessity of believing, that the fall of any system of mythology will most probably be succeeded by the introduction of some other mode of superstition. 

You could get into serious trouble for saying any of that now – in part because this is a sin for which truth provides no defence.  But if you doubt it, just look at the crowd at a Trump rally or any advertisement put out by Farage.

Sectarian division has been replaced by generational schism.  Technology has made that worse too.  The young are jealous and frustrated, but we that are left worked hard and paid our taxes and we expect a return.  It’s not our fault that life was simpler and better in our flowering time – nor is it our fault that science means that we will live longer and so probably delay or wipe out any devolution.  Nor do we think that it’s our fault that people commit mayhem on the laws of language and logic.  But the sense of betrayal on climate and housing is palpable and warranted in whole generation that finds itself lost.

And our sense of family is almost travelling as badly as our feeling for religion.

Fifty years ago in this country, all the political nuts and crooks were on the side of labour.  They are all now on the side of capital.  This is in no small part due to our failure to develop a decent conservative press.  Instead, that ground is falsely claimed by unreformed Liberal Party hacks, deranged cadres from right wing think tanks, and regressive relics of a repressive sectarian faith.  And for good measure they forfeit any claim to professionalism by going after the ABC with malice fuelled by the lucre and envy of a vengeful feudal owner.  We have to face it – Murdoch is now doing to Australia what he has been doing to America.

The wilful inanity of soi disant conservatives in Australia about climate change makes it hard to resist the impression that they have been bought – which is certainly the case for at least one think tank.

Nationalism is a poll-booster that appeals to those who are jealous of their citizenship, because they think they have so little else – but it always comes with resentment and scapegoats; it is the seed of bad wars; and both get very ugly when it mixes with religion.

And people who abuse ‘elites’ because they – the members of the elite – think they know better, just fail to see that they – the critics – indulge in the same sin.  And their touchiness about inferiority and insecurity gets hilarious results with ‘experts’ – unless they themselves are on the line, in which case they will prostrate themselves before their superior.

We have rediscovered the simple truth of a democracy based on two parties – the standard of governance is only as good as the opposition.  In the U S, the U K, and Australia, dreadful people have succeeded only because the reluctant electorate could not stomach the alternative.  Each now has a leader that too many neither trust nor respect – and each has succumbed to the view that they are there on merit.

My arrival on this earth came just after the end of a war that we did not look for, but which we had to win.  We had fought bravely, and we as a nation walked tall.  We were entitled to do so.  The nation blossomed in my youth, even though its political process had been sterilised.  The whole world lay before us.

Now, as I slip back toward my ancestors and my dog, I will leave a nation whose government has at least twice led us into wars based on false premises.  As a result, we and the nations that we fought over were worse off.  There can be no more fundamental breach of trust by a government than to lead its people into war on the basis of a falsehood – and the breach is so much worse if the government knew or ought to have known that it was not telling the truth.

We at last worked up the courage and common courtesy to apologise to our first nations for the way we took over their land and for what we did to them.  I have not heard any apology from anyone in government for our bad wars.  Instead, the politician who most owes us an apology refused to join in the apology to the blackfellas.  How do you place any confidence in people who behave like that to you?

They are some of our present discontents.

In Trials of the State, Lord Sumption says:

Fundamentally, we obey the state because we respect the legitimacy of the political order on which it is founded.  Legitimacy is a vital but elusive concept in human affairs.  Legitimacy is less than law but more than opinion.  It is a collective instinct that we owe it to each other to accept the authority of our institutions, even when we do not like what they are doing.  This depends on an unspoken sense that we are [all] in it together…..legitimacy is still the basis of all consent.  For all its power the modern state depends on a large measure of tacit consent…..

The legitimacy of state action in a democracy depends on a general acceptance of its decision-making processes…..Democracies operate on the implicit basis that although the majority has authorised policies which the minority rejects, these differences are transcended by their common acceptance of the legitimacy of its decision-making processes….Majority rule is the basic principle of democracy.  But that only means that a majority is enough to authorise the state’s acts.  It is not enough to make them legitimate….Democracies cannot operate on the basis that a bare majority takes 100% of the political spoils.

The notions of legitimacy and tacit consent are hard to nail down, but our law was founded on custom and our politics depend on conventions.  My own view is that ultimately the rule of law depends on little more than a state of mind.  I wonder now whether the same does not hold for our whole system of government.

We are looking for an implied premise of reasonableness or moderation.  Our law says that the parties to an agreement are obliged to try to help each other get what they have promised.  At the very least, they must not take steps to abort the deal.  So, if I promise to do something if I get a permit, and I change my mind, and try to stop the issue of the permit, the law will deal with me.

Let us look at a political analogy.  The Republicans defied convention by blocking President Obama’s appointment of a Supreme Court justice, which is seen to be a huge political prize in the U S (especially by those puritans who avert their gaze and hold their nose to vote for Trump).  Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of putting a spoke in the wheel.  But that was to stop Hitler.  The Republicans now put spokes in the wheel of the United States.  And now Trump is repeating the dose by shutting down the WTO by stopping new appointments.  This is another bad faith breach of convention for short term political gain.

Lord Sumption says that it is not enough for a law to be ‘good’ – the public must in some sense ‘own’ the law.  ‘Law must have the legitimacy which only some process of consent can confer.’  This gets hard when we look at the failure of the public to engage in the process.  This in his view is the problem.  It is the same here.  Few people now wish to join a political party, and not many members of parties are that keen to talk about it – except with insiders.  There is a sense of estrangement – and ‘wholesale rejection.’  Confidence is gone.

I entirely agree that formulating a new constitution or trying to get judges to fix the problem is not the answer.  I also agree that one reason the Americans are so tied up on abortion is that the law is judge made – so that they vote for people as president who will appoint judges to change that law.  It would be hard to conceive of a more twisted perversion of the separation of powers.

As to legislating in a binding constitutional manner for human rights and conventions, look at what a mess we have made of company law by overlaying the broad teaching of equity with vast volumes of black letter law.  And then recall that recently a government that calls itself conservative thought that the answer was to scrap equity for that purpose – and for the relief of their friends in business who had lobbied them so frenziedly (quite possibly with the well-endowed aid of a few former ministers of that party).  And that is the same party that goes into reverse cartwheels at the mere mention of investigating federal corruption.

The author says:

On critical issues, our political culture has lost the capacity to identify common premises, common bonds and common priorities that stand above our differences.

He quotes an American judge who said ‘a society so riven that the spirit of moderation has gone, no court can save.’  All that is as true for us as it is for England and America.  Disraeli – ‘perhaps the only true genius ever to rise to the top of British politics’ – said the problem with England was ‘the decline of its character as a community.’

That sense of community is vital.  Like ‘confidence’, the word ‘commune’ has a very long history – on both sides of the Channel.  In the enforcement clause in Magna Carta, the barons reserved a right to go against a defaulting king ‘with the whole commune’.  The great French historian Marc Bloch said:

….by substituting for the promise of obedience, paid for by protection, they contributed to the social life of Europe, profoundly alien to the feudal spirit properly so called.

The commune exploded in France in 1792 and 1869.  For better or worse, you can see its descendants today in gillets jaunes. 

When an Englishman was arraigned in court to be tried a jury, the jury would be told that the accused ‘has put himself upon his country, which country you are.’  That is a very stirring phrase.  The jury was originally brought over by the Normans as an inquiry made of neighbours – that is, the local community having an interest in the relevant inquiry.  The first medieval reports of cases might refer to the pleadings and then just say: ‘Issue to the country.’

Lord Sumption goes on:

…..experience counts for a great deal in human affairs: more than rationality, more even than beauty.  Ultimately, the habits, traditions and attitudes of human communities are more powerful than law.  Indeed they are the foundation of law.

Oliver Wendell Holmes might have said that.

These notions are large, but we must deal with them.  Lord Sumption fears that we will not recognise the end of democracy when it comes.    I wonder whether we will go down like the way Gibbon saw the Roman Empire go down.

….as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight.  The story of its ruin is simple and obvious; and instead of inquiring why the Roman Empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long.

You know things are sick when a fat, ugly seventy-three year old man, who happens to be the President of the United States, bullies a sixteen year old Swedish girl on the absurdly named ‘social media’ for giving voice to the sense of betrayal of her generation.

I’m not sorry that I will not be here to see the end of it all.


In Chapter 3 of his History of England, Macaulay experienced something like an epiphany on how we see our ups and downs.

It is now the fashion to place the golden age of England in times when noblemen were destitute of comforts the want of which would be intolerable to a modern footman, when farmers and shopkeepers breakfasted on loaves the very sight of which would raise a riot in a modern workhouse, when to have a clean shirt once a week was a privilege reserved for the higher class of gentry, when men died faster in the purest country air than they now die in the most pestilential lanes of our towns, and when men died faster in the lanes of our towns than they now die on the coast of Guiana. We too shall, in our turn, be outstripped, and in our turn be envied. It may well be, in the twentieth century, that the peasant of Dorsetshire may think himself miserably paid with twenty shillings a week; that the carpenter at Greenwich may receive ten shillings a day; that labouring men may be as little used to dine without meat as they now are to eat rye bread; that sanitary police and medical discoveries may have added several more years to the average length of human life; that numerous comforts and luxuries which are now unknown, or confined to a few, may be within the reach of every diligent and thrifty working man. And yet it may then be the mode to assert that the increase of wealth and the progress of science have benefited the few at the expense of the many, and to talk of the reign of Queen Victoria as the time when England was truly merry England, when all classes were bound together by brotherly sympathy, when the rich did not grind the faces of the poor, and when the poor did not envy the splendour of the rich.

Here and there – Fear and jealousy in Shakespeare


  1. Cassius

Cassius was a jealous, scheming, hypocritical jerk of a politician – and Caesar saw straight through him.  He gave the perfect portrait of the ratbag we describe as a ‘smiling assassin.’

Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous……

Would he were fatter! But I fear him not:
Yet if my name were liable to fear,
I do not know the man I should avoid
So soon as that spare Cassius. He reads much;
He is a great observer and he looks
Quite through the deeds of men: he loves no plays,
As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music;
Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort
As if he mock’d himself and scorn’d his spirit
That could be moved to smile at any thing.
Such men as he be never at heart’s ease
Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,
And therefore are they very dangerous.  (1.2.192 – 210)

That is word perfect.  Cassius envies Caesar for his successes and standing.  He only goes back to his youth to belittle and mock Caesar.  He works on the politically naïve Brutus by saying that Caesar makes the Roman nobility look small – ‘petty even.’

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that ‘Caesar’?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?  (1.2. 135 – 142)

His envy of Caesar drives him to seek to plant jealousy in the breast of the ‘noble’ Brutus.  And he believes, with all crooked politicians, that every man has his price.  He thinks he can play Caesar like a violin.

Well, Brutus, thou art noble; yet, I see,
Thy honourable metal may be wrought
From that it is disposed: therefore it is meet
That noble minds keep ever with their likes;
For who so firm that cannot be seduced?  (1.2.307 – 312)

Cassius is one of the assassins and he makes the banal cry – the banality of evil – ‘Liberty, freedom, and enfranchisement!’  (Yes, and who bloody for, Mate?)

Antony said that Brutus was the noblest Roman of them all and that he was the only conspirator who did not kill ‘in envy of great Caesar.’  Well, Shakespeare did a number on chivalry with Falstaff and Troilus and Cressida, and in my view he did a number on nobility with Brutus and Cassius.  One was a hopeless political ingénue; the other was a dreadful political skunk.

  1. Othello

When Othello prefers Cassio to Iago for the office of being his lieutenant, Iago is jealous of Cassio and he envies and hates both Cassio and Othello because they are above him on the ladder – and, to boot, Othello is not even a white man!  It may be one thing for a commissioned officer from Sandhurst to prefer a man from Eton and the Guards over an NCO from a coal-mining family in Durham – but, in the name of God, how do you respond if the Sandhurst chap is black?  Iago plans revenge by inducing Othello to believe that Cassio is having an affair with Othello’s wife, Desdemona.  This promises a ‘Divinity of hell!’ (2.3.350)  The evil is Satanic.  An ancient theologian, Origen, said this of the AntiChrist –

…..since evil is specially characterised by its diffusion, and attains its greatest height when it simulates the appearance of the good, for that reason are signs, and marvels, and miracles found to accompany evil, through the co-operation of its father, the Devil.

That is Iago.  And for many reasons, Othello is a ripe target.  His tragic flaw is that he has not one iota of what Keats discerned in the author of this play as ‘Negative Capability’ – ‘when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable seeking out of fact and reason’. In the space of about a hundred lines, and in the course of a discussion on the first day of his honeymoon, Othello has gone from threatening to kill his sergeant to getting his sergeant to kill his lieutenant while he works out the best way to kill his wife.  And all because he could not bear being left in doubt.

Othello therefore stands for the cancer in our public life now.  People crave a clear tribal response regardless of the evidence.  Othello is the kind of fodder that Fox and Sky News thrive on – a sucker for any conspiracy story, or any bloated fool who flogs them.

Iago is very much like Satan.  A C Bradley said of him:

..Iago is a being who hates good simply because it is good, and loves evil purely for itself.  His action is not prompted by any plain motive like revenge, jealousy or ambition.  It springs from a ‘motiveless malignity, or a disinterested delight in the pain of others….

Iago, then, stands for the other great cancer of our public life now – egoism unleashed.

  1. Conclusion

How does this stack up against the ‘banality of evil’ seen by Hannah Arendt?  Well, for a start, Eichmann was real.  Leontes and Iago are figments of imagination who played no part in the murder of six million people.  Arendt had the vital insight that Eichmann was ‘terribly and terrifyingly normal’.

Eichmann was not Iago and not Macbeth, and nothing would have been further from his mind than to determine with Richard III ‘to prove a villain’.  Except for his extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all.  And this diligence in itself was in no way criminal; he certainly would never have murdered his superior in order to inherit his post.  He merely, to put the matter colloquially, never realized what he was doing.

Perhaps the most singular clash of good and evil comes with Billy Budd.  Billy is as handsome as he is simple and innocent.  But John Claggart, the Master-at Arms cannot tolerate this simple beauty or goodness.

… The Master-at-Arms was perhaps the only man in the ship intellectually capable of adequately appreciating the moral phenomenon presented in Billy Budd.  And the insight but intensified his passion, which assuming various secret forms within him, at times assumed that cynic disdain – disdain of innocence.  To be nothing more than innocent! … A nature like Claggart’s surcharged with energy as such natures almost invariably are, what recourse is left to it but to recoil upon itself and like the scorpion for which the Creator alone is responsible act out to the end the part allotted to it?  …The Pharisee is the Guy Fawkes prowling in the hid chambers underlying the Claggarts.

Like Polyxenes, Melville goes back to the very beginning to describe primal innocence.  We are told that the ‘Handsome Sailor…in the nude might have posed for a statue of young Adam before the Fall.’  The vicious leer of Robert Ryan as Claggart in the movie chills the blood.  But this kind of evil is best expressed in the libretto for the Britten opera written by E M Forster and another.

O beauty, o handsomeness, goodness!
Would that I never encountered you!
Would that I lived in my own world always,
in that depravity to which I was born.
There I found peace of a sort, there I established
an order such as reigns in Hell…….
Having seen you, what choice remains to me?
None, none! I’m doomed to annihilate you,
I’m vowed to your destruction. ….
No, you cannot escape!
With hate and envy I’m stronger than love….

O beauty, o handsomeness, goodness!
You surely in my power tonight.
Nothing can defend you.
Nothing! So may it be!
For what hope remains if love can escape?
If love still lives and grows strong where I cannot enter,
what hope is there in my own dark world for me?
No! I cannot believe it! That were torment to keen.
I, John Claggart,
Master-at-Arms upon the ‘Indomitable’,
have you in my power, and I will destroy you.

‘With hate and envy I’m stronger than love’.  Even without Britten’s thumping score, this is elementally vicious.  Putting to one side the real world, including Auschwitz and Hiroshima, have you ever seen evil like this?



[These are serialised extracts of all the fifty books referred to in a book published in 2015 called ‘The Top Shelf, or What Used to be Called a Liberal Education’.  The extracts are as originally published, and they come in the same order.]


Julius Epstein, Philip Epstein, Howard Koch

Special Hollywood Edition, 1992, rebound in half gold leather and purple boards.

Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Everyone has their favourite movie.  Until recently, most film buffs named Citizen Kane, although you might go a long way until you found someone other than a film buff who really likes that movie.  In the last few years, Citizen Kane has been tipped off that perch by other movies that few people have ever heard of.  But everyone – or at least everyone born before the Vietnam War – knows Casablanca.  And those same people just know that Casablanca is the best film ever – beyond any argument.

Rick is a bruised American refugee from reality.  He runs a nightclub in neutral Casablanca which is a seedy hub of corruption for people fleeing the Germans and Vichy France.  A beautiful woman emerges from a lovelorn past that Rick thought he had buried, and he must decide between her and taking sides in the war.  ‘Honour’ is not in Rick’s lexicon.  Well, the film was made during the war, and that may tell you how Hollywood, and this as Hollywood as it gets, resolves Rick’s dilemma.

Hal Wallis bought the rights to an as yet unproduced play called Everyone Comes to Rick’s.  He paid $20,000, a huge amount in January 1942, a record for a play that had not yet been produced.  Filming started on 25 May and concluded on 3 August, just over two months.  The whole film was shot in the studio, with film of Paris and one airport shot.  The costs came in at just over a million dollars, a little over budget.  Wallis wrote the immortal last line a month after shooting was completed, and the lead had to be brought back to dub it.  The film premiered in New York before the end of 1942, and met with moderate critical and box office receptions.

This was Humphrey Bogart’s first truly romantic role.  One critic said of Ingrid Bergman and Bogart that ‘she paints his face with her eyes.’  The director was careful to film from her preferred left side – often with a softening gauze filter and with ‘catch lights’ set up to make her eyes sparkle; the whole effect was designed to make her face seem ‘ineffably sad and tender and nostalgic’.  Well, they certainly got that right.  Wallis got Bergman from Selznick by swapping Olivia de Havilland – Hollywood was then a very feudal place.  Paul Henreid did not want his part (for which he demanded equal billing) – the lethal New Yorker critic, Pauline Kael, said that ‘it set him as a stiff forever.’  Well, how many young men burnt their fingers and whatever else by spoiling an amorous moment by trying the two cigarette trick of Paul Henreid in Now, Voyager?

For many people, including me, the star of the show is Claude Rains, who gets the most outrageous lines and looks like the quintessence of the schmaltz that lies at the very heart of this film – although Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre will always have their followers, as will S Z Sackall as Carl.  If you look at the extended cast list on the Web, you will see very many people from out of town living in exile while the outcome of the war, and the whole future of Europe, hung in the balance.  Someone who was there when they shot the scene of the two anthems saw many of the actors shedding real tears.  (Three sisters of Carl were killed in concentration camps.)  Patriotism may be the last refuge of the scoundrel, and it was anathema to Rick, but it is a large part of the fiber of the heart-strings of this film.

Casablanca regularly tops the polls of general audience favourites.  For nearly forty years, it has been the most frequently broadcast film on U S TV.  Many of the babyboomers keep going back like people go back to Hamlet and Tosca.  For them, the nostalgia only gets worse with time – it is like going back home to your mum and dad, when life seemed ever so less complicated.  But people who have only seen it on T V, and then, as often as not, in a lachrymose condition not uninduced by drink, have to see it on the big screen.  Even if you have seen it twenty times on the small screen, you will see it as if for the first time when you see it on the big screen.  There is, for example, the moment when Bogart looks around and sees that Bergman is coming back into his closed off life – and he has the look of white terror of a man staring into the void.  The only other time I have seen this on stage, or anywhere else, was when Luciano Pavarotti was performing in an open air concert in Central Park – as he steeled himself for his launch at a high C, he for one instant, showed this look of vacant white terror in his eyes.  You might wonder with this was, consciously or not, a set part of his stage performance.

Different people have different favourite lines.  Some of the most cited lines are:

Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’

Round up the usual suspects.

We’ll always have Paris.

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.

A friend of mine, who is called the Phantom, cherishes this exchange between a Rick and a young ‘broad’ getting the brush off.


Where were you last night?


That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.


Will I see you tonight?



I never make plans that far ahead.

Bogart gets the most wounding lines.

ILSA How nice. You remembered. But of course, that was the day the Germans marched into Paris. RICK Not an easy day to forget. ILSA No. RICK I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.


Tell me, who was it you left me for? Was it Laszlo, or were there others in between? Or aren’t you the kind that tells? My own favourites involve Claude Rains (Captain Renault), delivered with the consummate dead-pan timing of London’s West End theatre:RENAULT I have often speculated on why you don’t return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Did you run off with a senator’s wife? I like to think you killed a man. It’s the romantic in me. Rick still looks in the direction of the airport. RICK It was a combination of all three. RENAULT And what in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca? RICK My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters. RENAULT Waters? What waters? We’re in the desert . RICK I was misinformed.

And after the singing of the Marseillaise, the Germans tell Renault to shut down Rick’s.

RICK How can you close me up? On what grounds? RENAULT I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here! This display of nerve leaves Rick at a loss. The croupier comes out of the gambling room and up to Renault. He hands him a roll of bills. CROUPIER Your winnings, sir. RENAULT Oh. Thank you very much. He turns to the crowd again. RENAULT Everybody out at once !

The business of Hollywood can be simply stated.  It is to make money by making a movie that people will pay to see because they will be entertained by it.  It is hard to envisage any movie that has or will entertain as many people as Casablanca.  It won three Academy Awards, including best picture, best screenplay, and best director, but those awards mean little now.  It matters not if you say that here is a film of Hollywood luxuriating in its own emotionalism, or that this film represents the crudest form of manipulation or kitsch.  The film works, and it is just about shot perfect and word perfect and mood perfect.  Forget critical or historical analysis – Casablanca, like Bradman or Black Caviar, just happened.  Here’s looking at you, kid.

And then there are those hats……


Passing Bull 223 – A weekend riot


The weekend press was alive with the sound of bullshit.

Simon Benson gave one of his paper’s encomiums on the Mayor of Box Hill (aka ScoMo) in the lead article on page 1.

On the same page, Dennis Shanahan reported, exclusively, that the drought boss wants to keep politics out of the discussion of drought.  Since that paper eschews discussion of science and drought, what is there left?  And what logic led a senior civil servant to conclude that giving a first page exclusive to the Murdoch press on the subject of drought was a good way to keep politics out of the discussion?

On the front page of the Inquirer, Simon Benson returned to his paean upon the Mayor.  He thinks it’s a good idea that the Ministers choose civil servants that they get on with.  Some unfortunate person actually used the term ‘drain the swamp.’

Paul Kelly ponders.  There is a word for that.

Chris Kenny goes into bat for the accident prone Angus Taylor – with all the set trimmings about the ‘green left’ and the ‘love media.’  ‘Childish’ would be unduly complimentary.  The opening is out of this world.

The impeachment circus plays out in Washington as the resistance tries yet again to tear down Donald Trump as he dismisses the charade as ‘bullshit.’

It is as if popularity is a complete defence for a populist.  For at least six years, Adolf Hitler must have been the darling of this kind of observer.

Janet Albrechtsen matches Kenny.  Her piece is headed ‘Woke hypocrites humiliated as Folaus bask in apology.’  While contemplating a life in exile, as more churches shut their doors.

Gerard Henderson is sniping at a colleague again.  No one on that paper understands what the word ‘professional’ entails.  They are driven from above to attack the ABC.  Mr Henderson starts by saying that what worries him about a Nine report ‘was the absence of doubt.’  Good grief!  Was someone being dogmatic?  Like the jury of a man named Pell?  Or his defenders?

And so it goes, as the man said.


… is core religious dogma of all progressives that radical action must be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Activists never level with people that this must mean drastically reduced living standards.  So when inevitably climate action explicitly reduces living standards, the public rebels.

Greg Sheridan, The Weekend Australian, 7-8 December, 2019

Well, not many people like paying tax, but we have to if we want schools, hospitals and armed forces.  There is a process to resolve all that.  It is called government.  And as Sharan Burrow reminds Spanish coal miners in a BBC clip, there are no jobs on a dead planet.

Here and there – Envy and Jealousy in Shakespeare



Cuckoo, cuckoo – O word of fear

Unpleasing to a married ear.  (Love’s Labour Lost, 5.2)


  1. Introduction

You are jealous if you think that someone you love loves someone else. You envy someone if you think that they are doing better than you.  The OED is more prosaic.  For ‘envy’ we get ‘mortification and ill-will occasioned by the contemplation of another’s superior advantages.’  For ‘jealous’ we get ‘having the belief, suspicion or fear that the good which one desires to gain or keep for oneself has been or may be diverted to another on account of known or suspected rivalry.’

The two notions or emotions are distinct, but they overlap.  In each case you feel or sense unfairness.  You feel like you have not been treated fairly.  You are not getting what you deserve to get.  You may feel that you have been cheated out of your entitlement.

Envy involves a kind of longing; jealousy involves a kind of fear; and there may be different moral consequences for each emotion.  If I am jealous of someone I love, I fear that they may betray me.  My faith in that person is being put to the test.  I am, in the words of Scripture, sure of what I hope for, but I am not certain of what I do not see.

You will see both envy and jealousy at work if you give two of your children presents for Christmas that are obviously unequal – one feels cheated of your affection, and is upset that the other is doing so much better.  In that kind of family setting, there is an implied premise of fairness, and if that translates to the community at large, you can sense the unease opening up because of the frightful inequality in the distribution of wealth and income.

In Paradise Lost, the original sin may have come from Satan’s anger with God for dividing the godhead and by putting his son above the angels.  Satan is jealous of the son, and he envies Adam and Eve for their innocence and beauty.  In the end, in the words of the poet, ‘all hell breaks loose’ because of both the envy and jealousy of Satan.  Both emotions drive him to commit acts of evil.

In Othello, Iago feels jealousy toward both Othello and Cassio for their standing, and for the preferment of Cassio, but he also envies Cassio for his goodness.

… If Cassio do remain,

He hath a daily beauty in his life

That makes me ugly (5.1.18 – 20)

When Satan is confronted with a good angel, he –

…felt how awful goodness is, and saw

Vertue in her shape how lovly, saw, and pin’d

His loss; but chiefly to find here observed

His lustre visibly impaired.  (4.847 – 850)

The sight of Adam and Eve has a similar effect.  When he first sees them having it off- ‘Imparadis’t in one anothers arms’ – his first words are ‘O Hell!’  Before we got:

……aside the Devil turned

For envie, yet with jealous leer maligne

Eyed them askance…..(4.502 – 504)

When you are confronted with someone much better than you, you feel diminished.  Just look at how poor Salieri felt diminished by Mozart.  In the worst case of envy, the result may be that the person diminished feels they have no option but to seek to destroy their better.  (Some suspected Salieri of just that.)  The comparison strikes at their very self, their identity, all that they have ever stood for.  In that case, the insult is mortal.  This was the reaction of Satan to the arrival of the Son:

……… he of the first,

If not the first archangel, great in power,

In favor and pre-eminence, yet fraught

With envy against the Son of God, that day

Honored by his great Father, and proclaimed

Messiah King anointed, could not bear

Through pride that sight, and thought himself impaired.

Deep malice thence conceiving and disdain……(5.659-666)

You will notice that in both the envy of Adam and Eve and the jealousy of the Son, the result is that Satan felt ‘impaired’.

In jealousy, there is a felt breach of trust, a sense of betrayal, which inflames as much as it wounds.  If the rival for your affection is a person close to you, then you have a double betrayal.  And the result may well be Vesuvial – as it was in A Winter’s Tale.

We saw that the OED referred twice to suspicion in ‘jealousy’.  Suspicion and intrigue play a bigger part in jealousy, because the move in rivalry is commonly concealed.  Not many circles allow a man to say ‘I want to bed your wife’.  Envy operates on known facts – indeed the envy increases with the spread of knowledge of the seen superiority.  But in either case, there is likely to be a sense of betrayal that leads to bitterness and a felt need for revenge..

And in the case of a man having another man bed his wife, the affront to amour propre can be mortal.  This is deep Freud country.  ‘Have you considered the possibility that not only were you unable to keep her, you were unable to satisfy her?’  Our language has no feminine counterpart to being ‘unmanned’.  And hitting a man below the belt can lead to hurt and injury and collapse in a way that women have no knowledge or experience of.

Let us then look at some of this in four characters of Shakespeare – Ford, Leontes, Cassius, and Othello.

2.Frank Ford

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a cross between a middle class sit-com and a bedroom farce.  The hold of the middle class then on status was very brittle.  That meant that face was all important.  This may be the only play that Shakespeare did not have a prior source to base his plot on, but the main themes, including that of the jealous husband, had been standard fare since the time of commedia dell’ arte (I Gelosi).  As Tony Tanner remarked, ‘Being robbed, being cuckolded, and being duped are all forms of that great bourgeois dread – theft.’  Everyone in the play ‘cozens, is cozened, or both.’  Falstaff was born to be ‘a cheater’.

In one of his more deranged moments, Falstaff thinks that Ford’s wife has given him ‘the leer of invitation.’  He boasts of this to Ford in disguise as Brooke, and promises ‘You shall have her, Master Brooke…you shall cuckold Ford.’  Not surprisingly, Ford erupts when Falstaff leaves.

What a damned Epicurean rascal is this! My heart is ready to crack with impatience. Who says this is improvident jealousy?  My wife hath sent to him; the hour is fixed; the match is made. Would any man have thought this? See the hell of having a false woman! My bed shall be abused, my coffers ransacked, my reputation gnawn at; and I shall not only receive this villanous wrong, but stand under the adoption of abominable terms, and by him that does me this wrong….
Cuckold! Wittol!–Cuckold! the devil himself hath not such a name. Page is an ass, a secure ass: he will trust his wife; he will not be jealous. I will rather trust a Fleming with my butter, Parson Hugh the Welshman with my cheese, an Irishman with my aqua-vitae bottle, or a thief to walk my ambling gelding, than my wife with herself; then she plots, then she ruminates, then she devises; and what they
think in their hearts they may effect, they will break their hearts but they will effect.  God be praised for my jealousy
(2.3. 287 – 308).

There you see the shame of being a cuckold.  Falstaff seeks to use fraud on the wives with an almost lunatic egoism; both Ford and the wives practise fraud on Falstaff; both the wives and Ford are lied to.  But even allowing for the near lunacy of Falstaff, Ford was entitled to suspect someone was after his wife.  Page may have been able to laugh it all off, but could you blame Ford for being different?  The Welsh parson cautions Ford to ‘not follow the imaginations of your own heart.  This is jealousies.’  But, as the saying goes, even paranoiacs have real enemies.

Frank Ford has not had a good press.  He is held up to ridicule.  But jealousy is very natural.  A dog can show it if you invade the space of his master – even more so when it is another dog doing the invading.  A healthy jealousy might save a union; a perceived indifference might kill it.  And you might cause quite a stir if as a tutor on Shakespeare at Cambridge you were to suggest that someone could sleep with your wife and you could feel no sense of jealousy.  That may well sound downright unnatural, and not just among the matrons.

  1. Leontes

There was a western – I forget its name – where a rich bad guy (Ralph Bellamy) hires a professional (Lee Marvin) to retrieve a gorgeous woman (Claudia Cardinale) from other bad guys.  (If they did not include Jack Palance or Eli Wallach, they should have.)  At the end, Marvin welshes on the deal because Bellamy is a jerk.  Bellamy calls Marvin a bastard.  He gets this bell-ringer back.  ‘That’s OK.  With me, it’s an accident of birth.  But you are a self-made man.’

That is exactly the case with Leontes.  His descent into jealousy makes Othello look slack – but Iago had a lot of luck on his side.  His descent is almost entirely self-propelled.  It appears to come from nowhere.

This playwright considered the arrival of a woman between two male friends in Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Winter’s Tale, and Two Noble Kinsmen.  The invasion of an intimate state can be as testing as a woman marrying an only son.  The occasion is ripe for jealousy of the invader.  But if one of the two male friends marries, and he then suspects his friend of having bedded his wife, then we have double the betrayal and a possible nuclear reaction.

That is just what we get in A Winter’s Tale.  Leontes and Polyxenes have been friends since childhood.  That was their golden age.  Each could have stayed that way forever (‘boy eternal’).  They are like those old boys who regret getting out of short pants.  Leontes has been unable to persuade Polyxenes to extend his stay, but Hermione does so with ease.  Polyxenes romances about their childhood and loss of innocence on growing up.

We were as twinn’d lambs that did frisk i’ the sun,
And bleat the one at the other: what we changed
Was innocence for innocence; we knew not
The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream’d
That any did.  Had we pursued that life,
And our weak spirits ne’er been higher rear’d
With stronger blood, we should have answer’d heaven
Boldly ‘not guilty;’ the imposition clear’d
Hereditary ours.  (1.2.81 – 89).

And then, a little later, Hermione makes a wistful reference to Polyxenes as ‘for some while a friend’ and Leontes explodes instantaneously picking up Polyxenes reference to ‘blood’.

[Aside] Too hot, too hot!
To mingle friendship far is mingling bloods.
I have tremor cordis on me: my heart dances;
But not for joy; not joy. This entertainment
May a free face put on, derive a liberty
From heartiness, from bounty, fertile bosom,
And well become the agent; ‘t may, I grant;
But to be paddling palms and pinching fingers,
As now they are, and making practised smiles,
As in a looking-glass, and then to sigh, as ’twere
The mort o’ the deer; O, that is entertainment
My bosom likes not, nor my brows! Mamillius,
Art thou my boy?  (1.2.132 – 144)

A throwaway remark and blameless byplay leads to heart palpitations immediately.  And – this is important – the RSC editors (Bate and Rasmussen) say ‘mingling bloods’ is a ‘process believed to occur during sex, since semen was assumed chiefly to be composed of blood.’  So, after four words and one !, we are back among the enseamèd sheets that nearly sent Hamlet mad.

Now to a layman this looks like an illness – it looks pathological – and it is one of those dreadful illnesses where the victim cannot see that he is ill – that is all part of the infection.  (I have a recollection that before Anthony Sher played the part, he consulted psychiatrists who said that the symptoms described by Shakespeare were spot on.)  As Jonathon Bate remarks, the dramatic interest is in ‘the tendency of human beings who have fallen into holes to dig themselves ever deeper’.  For that reason alone, some adviser to the present President of the U S (November, 2019) should suggest that he heed the advice of Clausewitz On War and avoid reinforcing a losing position.



[These are serialised extracts of all the fifty books referred to in a book published in 2015 called ‘The Top Shelf, or What Used to be Called a Liberal Education’.  The extracts are as originally published, and they come in the same order.]


Bertrand Russell

George Allen & Unwin limited, 1961; rebound in half red morocco, with sage title and author, and floral boards.

Spinoza (1632-77) is the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers.

Bertrand Russell may not have been a very pleasant man, but he was very, very bright, and he could expound difficult concepts in a way that even those who are not experts or who have not been exposed to philosophy at university can understand.  This book is in my view a classic of that kind of exposition.  I have used it as a reference book for nearly fifty years, but recently I read it for the first time from cover to cover.  I wish other scholars would use it as a model of the kind of book that can be read by the general reader.  When asked about his style once, Russell said that it should be a mixture of the prose of Milton and a Baedeker Guide.  That was very good advice.

The book is large.  Its 800 pages, with a very full index, cover the ambit from the beginnings of Greek civilization to the time at which Russell wrote.  The book may therefore serve as a very good introduction to the history of the West because Russell never hesitates to put his subject in a wider political or social context.  Here, for example, are two passages on the relative claims of ancient Greece and Rome.

These [Greek] cities, as the future showed, had no great capacity for withstanding foreign conquest, but by an extraordinary stroke of good fortune their conquerors, Macedonian and Roman, were Philhellenes [admirers of Greeks], and did not destroy what they had conquered, as Xerxes or Carthage would have done.  The fact that we are acquainted with what was done by the Greeks in art and literature and philosophy and science is due to the stability introduced by Western conquerors who had the good sense to admire the civilisation which they governed but did their utmost to preserve.

The Greeks were immeasurably their superiors in many ways: in manufacture, and in the technique of agriculture; in the kinds of knowledge that are necessary for a good official; in conversation and the art of enjoying life; in art and literature and philosophy.  The only things in which the Romans were superior were military tactics and social cohesion.  The relation of the Romans to the Greeks was something like that of the Prussians to the French in 1814 and 1815; but the latter was temporary, whereas the other lasted for a long time.

I have probably spent more time reading this book than any other non-fiction book on the shelf.  It has been beautifully rebound, and it is a pleasure to both hold and read.  I just fear that if I start picking out slabs to quote, I may not serve the cause of getting it read.  It does if nothing else show the danger of judging a book by its author.


Passing Bull 222 – What is a hoax?


The President of the United States trashes everything he touches.  His latest target is the U S Navy.  The Republican fall from grace is complete when its leaders tolerate an attack on their navy – and an attack that may well imperil its members.  The President, of course, does not understand the military.  His cowardice and corruption led him to evade service to his country.

And he does of course trash the English language every time he opens his illiterate mouth.  He says that the impeachment inquiry is a hoax.  What is that?  ‘A humorous or mischievous deception with which the credulity of the victim is imposed upon.’  You get it in commedia dell’arte and the Marx Brothers.  It’s what the merry wives of Windsor did to Falstaff (as had Prince Hal done two plays earlier – Sir John was born to be hoaxed).  It’s what NATO leaders and royals may like to do to President Trump, but they presently content themselves with laughing at him behind his back.

But whatever else the impeachment process is, it is not a hoax or any other form of joke.  The fact that this oaf can make that claim shows what in my view is the main ground for his impeachment – the man simply has no idea of the duties that come with his office: he is quite unable to see, much less accept, that he has committed a great wrong.

His other response is his general fall back – witch hunt.  According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, this is in political usage ‘the searching out and exposure of opponents alleged to be disloyal to the State, often amounting to persecution.’  Now, whenever someone in authority criticises Trump, the spoiled child in him – and there is not much else – says he is being persecuted.  But that delusion is not enough to create a witch hunt.  It is also true that about six people close to Trump are in jail for conduct in or arising from his election, but that does not mean that there is a witch hunt, any more than that the Nuremberg trials were a witch hunt.

The people of Salem knew what a witch hunt was.  So did McCarthy, and his pet lieutenant, a B grade actor named Ronald Reagan.  So did the Australian government that spent a fortune of our money over about a decade pursuing John Elliott and associates for party political purposes and no result.  But that was nothing like what is going on in Washington at the moment.

Speaking of the NATO shambles, have you noticed that whenever Trump meets a world leader who is smarter than him – that is, any other world leader – he looks ‘alone and palely loitering’ – with his head down and his hands between his knees, in his ludicrously predictable attire, which he is incapable of doing up, like an estranged ourangatang who has been force fed in the jungle on industrial strength Prozac?

As for witch hunts, I like the remark that an English judge passed a long time before the English started settling here – there is no law against flying.


‘He’s still very young in his Test career,’ said Chris Silverwood, the head coach, after stumps.  ‘Jofra’s learning about himself and the game of Test cricket. And, equally, Joe is learning to captain him as well. From a holistic point of view we’re growing together, really.’

The Guardian, 23 November, 2019

Contributions to the pre-conference blog claimed ecosystems could be a silver bullet, they ought to have a value chain — or possibly even be part of one — they should be ‘leveraged’ to ‘maximise value and achieve competitive advantage’ or ‘populated with new addressable customers’. ‘If you orchestrate it and tie the ecosystem on to a platform, you’re really resolving the customer problem holistically,’ enthused one panellist.

Financial Times, 3 December, 2019

Even for addressable customers in Byron Bay, ‘holistic’ is a rock solid guarantee of bullshit of Himalayan proportions.