Passing Bull 353 – More madness in the US.

A letter to the NYT.

Dear Editor,

During an action before a jury in which rape is alleged, the defendant is not in court.

That would not happen in my country (Australia) or in any other common law country – except yours.

But this defendant, Donald Trump, is attacking the credit of the plaintiff on the Internet – at, it appears, about the same time as the plaintiff is giving her evidence.

In any other common law country, except yours, that would be a criminal offence of contempt of court.  Given that the offence was committed by someone who had held the highest office in the land, but who had routinely attacked the judicial system, he would be facing imprisonment.

But in any nation that cares for and protects its legal system, the protector of all our rights, the result is that he would be debarred in fact if not by law from holding any public office again.

It is that far that the United States has fallen.

Yours truly

To cap it all, his lawyers complain that if the victim cannot give a date, they can’t set up an alibi.

And in The Age, this morning, a person claiming to represent religion, warns the king about modernising the monarchy.  And shatters many records of pure bullshit.

The AFL and Anzac Day

When Money is King

At the Yarraville pub last night, they broadcast the Anzac ceremony before the AFL night game between Richmond and Melbourne.  This is now a fixed part of the AFL schedule – or ritual, or liturgy, if you prefer. 

It was quite a show –lights out; slouch hats with feathers on Light Horse; burning tapers applied to an urn; the nation’s best in songs of remembrance (which I could not hear); the traditional bugle calls and anthems; and solemn protestations of fidelity and patriotism – a word we don’t use much in this country.

I wondered what a Turkish, German, or Japanese man ten years older than me would make of it all.  (After all, to someone born in 1945, torchlight parades were and are dreadful affronts to humanity – both in Europe and the U S, which saw a revolting revival at Charlottesville in August 2017.  Do you recall?  ‘Jews shall not replace us.’)

And then, as the young waiter at The Naked Egg is wont to say, it’s ‘Game on.’   And some bright young thing in PR at the AFL decided to put up a banner: ‘It’s only a game’. 

Bullshit.  This is one of the biggest businesses in the land.  (And when an Australian cricket test captain was imprudent enough to repeat that line, his coach berated him in tears.)

And then with the game can come the gaming ads, and when they do, I feel sickened.  Could they defile Anzac Day with gaming ads?  Some countries have laws about insulting the nation.  This would be a real test case if we had them here.

Everyone I know – every single one – regards the gaming industry as the curse not just of sport, but of the nation.  And they also think that the AFL and government have failed us very badly in allowing this addiction to bring shame on all our sports. 

And there you could have it all – going straight from ‘In a solemn hour’ to some crude oaf blurting nonsense about ‘Sportsbet Multis.’  From the military honouring our fallen, to the grubs seducing and then ruining our vulnerable.

When I was about ten, I accompanied a friend of my father who was a War Graves Inspector on a five-day tour of duty of cemeteries in central Victoria.  It was quite an education for a young boy.  I was glad to see the care taken with these graves.  I wonder if they still get it.  And I was glad I was not in country where taipans roam.

I was eighteen when I first went to Singapore and I wept when I was looking at graves of people younger than me.  I have been to Gallipoli and marvelled at the serenity of Anzac Cove on the morning I was there.  I also wondered at the closeness of the trenches of the two sides. (We went to Gallipoli via Troy, the scene of an epic war.)  I have been to the major sites on the Western Front, seen our flag in the cathedral at Amiens, and gazed in horror at the meadows full of countless white crosses.

And yet I have an ambivalence about Anzac Day that nearly matches that which I have for Australia Day.

Anzac Day falls on the day that we first landed at Gallipoli.  It was a military disaster more colossal than that which culminated in the evacuation of Dunkirk.  Our young nation gave up the best of its young men to a slaughterhouse at the request of a foreign power that still supplies our head of state.  We did so in a campaign that was lost due to British incompetence entrenched by a class system that we were brought up to despise.

We repeated the dose on the Western Front, but there at least we made a real contribution to victory.  (And my dad’s dad was there – and he came back.)

We did not have to be in that war, or at Tobruk in the next war.  But we had to be at Kokoda – and we prevailed.  We had to.  We were defending ourselves and our land.

So, I wonder about the obsession with Gallipoli.

But I don’t wonder about our comparative silence about the wars after Nagasaki – Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  Our government lied to us on each occasion to get us into the war.  (Can any government commit a grosser breach of trust?)  Every one ended badly.  And worst of all, we repudiated the losing soldiers.  That was in my view the most shameful moral failure in our history.

And the wounds still show, and the men still suffer, and we are not doing enough for them, and they are killing themselves.  The RSL was a principal offender, and I am told that the Viet vets now turn against those from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is right and proper to honour the fallen, but we must do more for the living.  I am aware of similar arguments about the War Memorial in Canberra.  Morally, in my view, there can only be one answer.  ‘Lest we forget’ is fine.  So is ‘Never Again.’  And that applies to the way we look after those who served us – where we are, as we speak, failing so badly.

But the AFL is a business run for profit.  All professional sport now comes down to money – in huge amounts, that just make worse the biggest challenge we now face – the chasm between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots.’

If the AFL does something for deserted wives or abandoned children, it does so for business reasons.  In the last generation, directors of public companies have learned that profit is not their only driver – but it is the main driver. 

And when it puts on a show for Anzac Day, it does so for business reasons.  The directors could get into deep trouble if they decided to have a ceremony for the fallen just because it seemed like the right thing to do, or it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Well, that’s all as it may be.  Life is full of contradictions that we have to learn to live with.

But something is different now.  The AFL depends on the gaming industry for money in much the same way that state governments do.  The AFL shows every sign of being in the pocket of the gaming industry.  The AFL has been polluted by living off the earnings of very unattractive people, who learned to hit their targets very young – following the teaching of the Jesuits, Freud, and McDonald’s.  They prey on the young and those who are easy pickings.

We can gauge our slide into decadence by the contempt shown for decency and the law in the way that gaming companies publish warnings about gambling.  Not one person in Australia – not one – could take any of them seriously.  They are spat out faster than political ad authorizations by corporations that have as much respect for law and order as the Mafia does for a prefecture off the cost of Sicily.

And if we are dedicated to sleaze at the footy, why not let brothels in as well?  ‘You know the score.  Stay in control.  Bring your own protection, and bonk safely and securely with Madam.  You know our motto.  Bonk responsibly!’

And what is the score that we all know?  Heads we win.  Tails you lose.  It has to be that way.  For these companies to operate they must take money off people silly enough to go near them.

We have denied free tertiary education to our young; we are denying them the chance to buy their own home; and now we are encouraging the sponsors of our national pride to relieve them of what they have left. 

We as a nation should be ashamed of what we do to our young.  The communities that thrive are those that give back.  And we are not doing that.

Dad’s father, Bill, came back.  Dad was I think born while his dad was over there.  But whatever else Bill was there for, it was not so that a bunch of money-making suits should rake in the dollars from those who can’t afford that kind of game, while their neatly dressed apparatchiks from the Murdoch clan’s Fox purr with a kind of ensainted ecstasy with their splice of rosemary in their lapel under their best Ipana morning TV smiles.

Let me, then, go back to Gallipoli – and Troy. 

There is a precedent for linking games to war.  When Patroclus was killed outside Troy, Achilles stopped sulking and then he killed Hector in the most gruesome way.  (Shakespeare put the boot right into chivalry here.)  The Greeks put on games in honour of Patroclus.  The Iliad ends with the funeral of Hector ‘And so the Trojans buried Hector, breaker of Horses.’ 

But this only comes after one of the most remarkable scenes in our letters.  Priam, the father of Hector, goes to the camp and tent of Achilles to beseech this violent killer to release the mutilated body of Hector, so that it could dealt with according to Trojan custom.  He asks Achilles to remember his own father, and then utters lines like these:

I have done what no man before me has done.

I have kissed the hand of the man who killed my son.

Against a pagan religion that we see as nonsense, this old man finds himself in what we might call a state of grace about eight centuries before the birth of the luminous Nazarene.  Not a god or God in sight.  Just a frail old man doing his best for one he loves, a dead son.  And in so doing, the old man broke the bonds and the ineluctable logic of the vendetta.  In the end, then, people were able to stop being killers, and put behind them those codes that impel men to kill each other. 

Well, it sometimes helps to see our gaudy baubles for what they are by remembering things past.

Barry Humphries

When her lover Mark Antony dies, Cleopatra almost howls.  (It depends on who you see playing the part – which is not a small one.)

The soldier’s pole is fall’n; young boys and girls
 Are level now with men. The odds is gone,
 And there is nothing left remarkable
 Beneath the visiting moon.

Barry Humphries was a giant too, one who in his way bestrode the world, but as so often happens in this country, the fall of a giant, this time terminally, brings out the pygmies, those who are permanently embittered by their own smallness and mediocrity.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is controlled by people too small and bitter to acknowledge someone who did more for their calling than anyone else – no other comedian got even close – here, or in London, or in New York. 

Why are they behaving like those bystanding ratbags who catch a ride on outfits like the IOOC or FIFA?  Because Barry Humphreys offended some people – they say.

Well, if the Festival people had their way, young girls and boys would now be level with men – and you can have two bob each way that that remark would also cause offence in some quarters

When the cockney John Keats died, driven to a ghastly death in Rome in part by the snobbery of bitchy critics, none of whom had one drop of poetry in their blood, and Shelley at last betook himself to weep for his Adonis, he said that those critics were like gnats straining at a camel.  That’s what we see now, and it is one of those flaws in our make-up that Barry Humphries devoted his professional life to exposing.

You would hope that the directors of a comedy festival would know that giving offence to people is inevitable in any comedy – or carnival.  Just ask Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Spike Milligan – or the sublime John Clarke.  Or any character in Commedia dell’arte. 

They all offer escape from pomp and circumstance, and a breather from bad governance.  And as often as not, someone has to take it down the front.  Just like in the ultimate slapstick – the pie fight.

It’s rather like the ultimate drama – sport (or litigation).  For someone to win, someone must lose – and no-one wants a draw.

As I see it, this country only began emerging from a neurotic dependence on or fear of others off-shore in the ‘70’s.  And to do that, we first had to see ourselves as we are. 

And Barry Humphries led the way, with people like Patrick White, our dramatists, cartoonists and film-makers.  We at last got rid of that chip on our shoulder and stood on our own two feet – even if we still import our head of state from what some used to call the Mother Country.

The people in charge of the Comedy Festival should be ashamed of themselves.

I leave you with more words of the Egyptian Queen of Egypt left to us by our most prolific comedian.

………………. For his bounty,
There was no winter in’t; an autumn ’twas
That grew the more by reaping. His delights
Were dolphin-like; they showed his back above
The element they lived in. In his livery
Walked crowns and crownets; realms and islands were
As plates dropped from his pocket.

Melbourne Comedy Festival – tolerance – comedy – nonsense.

The comparative spirals of Macbeth and his wife

(Pieces for the Melbourne Shakespeare Society assume that readers are very familiar with the plays.)

The tragedy of Macbeth is said to be about ambition.  But without the drive of his wife, Macbeth would not have succumbed.  She is the driver of his spiral into evil and death. 

But she figures in only nine of the twenty-eight scenes of the play.  Here is a summary.

1.5  She gets news of the witches’ forecasts.  She is enraptured – not for herself, but for her husband.  He is not ‘without ambition,’ but he lacks the ‘illness’ that is called for.  She can’t wait to get her hands on him to fire him up.  She asks to lose her womanhood and capacity for remorse that might shake her ‘fell purpose’.  (The Everyman gives ‘savage’ for ‘fell’.  This play is the origin of ‘one fell swoop.’)  She tells him to put ‘this night’s great business’ into her dispatch.  ‘Leave all the rest to me.’

1.6  She greets the king and thanks him for the honours on ‘our house’.  The king says ‘We are your guest tonight.’

1.7  Macbeth vacillates precisely as his wife had forecast.  ‘We still have judgment here…. He’s here in double trust.’  She fires him up with scorn and aspiration in the most shocking language.  He capitulates.

2.2  Theatre does not get more fiery than this.  Had Duncan not resembled her father as he slept, she would have killed him.  Macbeth has done it, but he is a real mess.  ‘Consider it not so deeply’.  Macbeth is on the verge of cracking.  ‘These deeds must not be thought / After these ways; so, it will make us mad.’  She then realises with horror that he has brought the daggers back with him.  She directs him to take them back and smear the grooms.  He cannot bear even the thought of going back.  He knows he will never wash this blood from his hand.  She returns the daggers and tells him that she also now has blood on her hands – but that a ‘little water clears us of this deed.’

2.3  When the murder is discovered, she commits a howler: ‘What, in our house?’.  Macbeth is a model composure (and delivers gorgeous lines echoed by Cleopatra on the death of her lover).  She faints and is carried out.

3.1 Macbeth does not tell his wife he means to kill Banquo and gees up the murderers just as his wife had geed him up.

3.2  Macbeth says a ‘deed of dreadful note’ is needed for Banquo, but refuses to say what.  ‘Be innocent of the knowledge dearest chuck…Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.’

3.4  The ghost of Banquo makes Macbeth look mad in public – and say things consistent with his being guilty of the murder.  His wife rails at him – ‘Are you a man?  …. This is the very painting of your fear.’  But Macbeth is in another world.  ‘Blood will have blood…I am in blood / Stepped in so far….’  And yet ‘We are but young in deed.’

5.1  She is driven mad by guilt.  ‘Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?  …  Here’s the smell of blood still.  All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.  Oh, oh, oh!’

Her death, presumably suicide, is off stage.

So, the ups and downs of the hero are traced in detail.  But for his wife, the decline is hardly shown on the stage. 

This playwright is not the one to accuse of sloppy construction.  The focus in on the hero, and his fall is triggered by two interventions.  One is the supernatural – the witches.  The other is the goading of his wife.  The later supernatural event – Banquo’s ghost – is hardly needed to lock in the descent of the hero.

This play comes after Hamlet.  That hero was asked to commit murder.  He paused – for about the length of the play.  Macbeth paused too – but he overcame his misgivings with the help of his wife.  He had absorbed the teaching that conscience does make cowards of us all.

Neither Macbeth nor his wife appreciated the dilemma of those seizing power by violence.  How do you stop someone doing the same to you?  You just keep going.  You must.

The comparison with Hamlet is one way of looking at the play.  The other is the comparison between the hero and his wife.  Both seek to neutralise – or sterilise – their consciences, to stop the access to remorse.  Lady Macbeth does so in hair raising terms.  But while Macbeth succeeds, to the point where he could he lead an SS Death’s Head Aktion, his wife utterly fails.  She simply is not up to it.

If you look at the summary above, you can see the occasions where the tide is changing.  In Act 2.2, the wife is staggered by her husband’s collapse.  She tries to tell him not to reflect so deeply – and even says they may go mad.  The delivery of these lines by Harriet Walter on the Argosy set is magical.  This young Scots woman has a fearful premonition that she is out of her depth.

Then in Act 3, she is listless and disillusioned.  The husband takes full command and does not tell her what he is doing.  She may still be there to try to control him when his ‘fit’ comes upon him, but she is no longer in the driver’s seat – or anywhere near it.  It is now he who says ‘Leave it to me.’

The difference in the two trajectories is one focal point in the play.  Another comes from putting your trust – or faith – in the supernatural. 

Macbeth sees that he was sold a pup.

I pull in resolution, and begin

To doubt the equivocation of the fiend

That lies like truth.  (5.5.42-44)

Frank Kermode (the citation comes from Tanner) referred to Christ’s response to Satan in Paradise Regained.

…that hath been thy craft,

By mixing somewhat true to vent more lyes.

But what have been thy answers, what but dark

Ambiguous and with double sense deluding… (1.432-5)

Well, there you have it – advice from the two greatest writers in our language – some, including me, would say in any language – on how to deal with bullshit from people like Donald Trump. Boris Johnson, and Scott Morrison, mountebanks all.

Shakespeare – Macbeth – ambition – literary criticism.

Passing Bull 352 – Partisan political reporting

Journalists are not there to be partisan.  In the Sunday Age, Parnell Palme McGuinness accused members of the press of ‘hysterical partisan thinking’ for thinking that Leeser’s resignation was a disaster for the Liberal Party.  She thinks it was good for the party – ‘it puts it back in its strongest territory: examining ideas rationally and on merit.’

But to reach that position – which in my view verges on the hysterical – the lady also accuses the P M of ‘embracing a partisan approach.’  She says that he has done so by ‘setting up for a referendum on Peter Dutton’s popularity as an easier task than the Voice referendum question, which some may find daunting.’

If that charge were meant seriously, it could be a serious charge of a form of deceit against the P M.  But I cannot take it seriously, because I cannot imagine a more obvious case of a partisan political statement.

Of the kind that pollutes the public life in our commonwealth.

Sunday Age – Parnell Palme McGuinness – partisan reporting.

Passing Bull 351 – Another unpublished NYT letter

Dear Editor,

A member of the US Congress, Marjory Taylor Greene, compared Donald Trump to Jesus of Nazareth at Easter.

They have something in common.  Consorting with prostitutes.

But it is not fair to compare Trump to Adolf Hitler.  It is not fair to Hitler.  Hitler fought for his country and paid its taxes.  Trump did neither.

Is there no end to the madness of the United States?

Yours truly

Nonsense about values in parties in opposition

The prospect of imminent death is not concentrating the minds of what is left of the Liberal Party.  People keep talking about the real or traditional ‘values’ of the Liberal Party.  (And then you know it is just a matter of time before you hear the word ‘Menzies’.) 

According to the Compact OED now in front of me, ‘values’ are ‘beliefs about what is right and wrong and what is important’. 

That’s quite a lot.  Especially for the beliefs of a political party.  For an Australian political party, we imagine that the values would in some way have to be labelled ‘Australian’. 

You only have to say that to see how silly it is.  (In the moonshine about the carnage at Gallipoli, some Australians speak of ‘mateship’ – as if the Turks had no mates.)

In beliefs about what is ‘right’ or ‘important’ in our political life, there will be ranges of views.  Two are connected.  Do we want to have more or less government interference in our lives?  Do we trust government, and are we optimistic about its role in our lives? 

One side may be labelled as ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’.  The other may be labelled as ‘conservative’.  (Terms like ‘left’, ‘right’ or ‘socialist’ are quite useless.) 

In England, the two different approaches were represented in two parties – the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party.

In Australia, the Liberal Party tries to do both.  That is a problem.  What used to be called ‘a broad church’ is now a sprawling, ugly dog’s breakfast that cannot be said to stand for anything.

What ‘value’ does the Liberal Party stand for that the Labor Party does not?  Except a propensity to say ‘NO’ and keep Mum about the alternative?

The one difference between the parties is that at least the Labor Party has a coherent history – which gives it some kind of defined historical purpose.  Its trouble is that that history has links with blue collars.  That history triggers anxiety in the male white-collar descendants of convicts, screws and squatters, especially those raised in English style boys’ own public schools, and contemplating oblivion from the walled security of a city garden, sans dames and chaps who somehow don’t quite fit in. 

Which is pretty much the rest of Australia.

That is the stick of the Liberal Party. What is the carrot? 

Bribes.  That false prophet who preached the end of the Age of Entitlement was speedily banished.  For both anathema and heresy. 

We are the most insecure, government-dependant nation in the history of this planet.  A prime minister whom a friend dubbed ‘the little Sydney conveyancer’ detected what Bertrand Russell saw in us – an irresolvable penchant for mediocrity, which in his own case is defined by a wooden suburban picket fence in the brightest Dulux White. 

That government handed out what the Romans called ‘donatives’.  They are like the reverse of the French don gratuit.  The state must look after the ‘base’ – those who are financially comfortably well off enough to enjoy government sponsored perks on ‘leveraging’ their mortgage or their superannuation tax breaks. 

When sensible and decent people pointed out that these vote-buying bribes had no rational justification, a scream of anguished pain went up louder than that of ‘BALL’ from the Magpie army on a bleak day a long time ago at Windy Hill.

And so, the carrot became the stick again, and another election was lost, and we the people fell into the hands of the kind of oddball who really does believe in miracles in his own life and times. 

And our children were sentenced to longer terms of ultimate homelessness in the complete repudiation of what some idle grifters used to call ‘the Australian dream.’

What is left of the Liberal Party looks to be hostage to two very unattractive groups of people.  The Murdoch press, whose business model – its drive for profit – is predicated on conflict and deceit, and religious fanatics, whose blind faith leads them to the same drivers.  The result is inevitable – people who are fit to represent no one.

What is the role of the Liberal Party in opposition?  That role was defined by a most sagacious English historian of the French Revolution as follows.

…an Englishman …. has been trained to exercise his party spirit in the game called the Party System; and among the rules of that game – not always observed [1929] as they should be – are the obligation to sink personal differences in party loyalties, not to criticise your opponent’s policy unless you have a better one that you are prepared to carry out yourself, and in case of national crisis, to help rather than hinder whatever government may be in power.

Well, we did not need the wisdom of Dr J M Thompson to tell us that the Liberal Party, both state and federal, is not within a bull’s roar of doing its job.  Its members routinely violate each of those principles every day.

A two-party democracy must have two workable parties.  We don’t have that.  The Victorian government has already shown signs of a consequent presidential-style arrogance, and the fear is that the federal government may go the same way.

And it is no consolation – none whatsoever – that no-one – no-one – could make as big a mess of it as the United States of America.

The threat to our system of government is real.  You need only look to the UK and US for the last six years where ratbags unfit for any office have been elected because they had no adequate opposition.  We now have a federal Opposition Leader who is competing with the CEO of Qantas for the position of the most loathed person in Australia.

Et moi?  When I go to join the Wolf in his Valhalla in the Wombat Forest, will I do so as a faithful liege subject of His Majesty King Charles II?

Now that tells you something about Australian values.

Enjoy the coming days – sacred or profane.

Liberal Party – Dutton – role of Opposition parties – Trump – Johnson.