Here and there – The meaning of affront –and the real face of Avis

 

 

The Road to Serfdom held some attraction for many university students in my time.  It looked at what George Orwell called Big Brother and what Ken Kesey called the Combine.   Hayek said that we were just heading for the status of serfs.  But, with time, the book sounded too doctrinaire for people not given to dogma, and it was preached by people whose company we may not have enjoyed – Andrew Bolt territory.

The following note that I sent my daughters while travelling in Scotland – on a round the world trip – will show just how far down that road to serfdom we have travelled.

It was a good short flight on time from Cardiff to Glasgow. I got clobbered with 40 pounds for each bag which a very capable agent assured me had been covered, but I know how predatory these small airlines are.

I finally made my way to the Avis desk to pick up my car. I had corresponded with  them about the booking – at some length.   All I wanted  was a good clear way for me to get on the A82 to the highlands.  I was getting on with Ann like a house on fire – comparing accents and so on.  She is finally about to hand over the keys, and then says, dead-pan: ‘Mr Gibson.  I’m sorry but I cannot let you have this car.  You have been banned’ – or words to that effect. 

I don’t know that I have felt anything like this before.  Among other things, I had just travelled around Wales for two days in an Avis car.  There was no reason.  Just a sign on the computer.  I saw her pointing to it with colleagues.  I suggested she call for a manager – but I instinctively felt that no one in a yellow jacket would override the computer.  While waiting for the manager, I shopped around.  Hertz said they had no car available.  Thrifty said they answered to the same computer. 

Finally, I got a very nice people at Europcar and their system did not disqualify  me.  They were very efficient and capable and their manager, a fine lady of Glasgow,  felt empowered to authorise my hire.  She was  a genuinely decent lady; the young man on the desk, Roddy, plays loch in rugby.   He was terrific.   My first credit card bounced – probably because Avis had not taken off the Cardiff deposit.  Thank God, the computer allowed the second.  In the name of God, I had spent time the night before in Cardiff to make sure ample funds were available on each credit card.

Well, I have a very adequate VW Polo that has got me here in comfort, and I will restructure my trip to take the car back to Glasgow.  That inconvenience is relatively slight.  Could I have been banged up in a Glasgow boozer for days?

But I cannot even begin to tell you how unsettling this has been. 

I think we are going to the dogs – as my old man used to say.

It is very unsettling.

What Orwell and Kesey described was the sense of powerlessness of the victims of the State entities that they described.  Orwell’s hero is crushed into total submission.  Kesey’s hero is despatched to eternity as an act of kindness.  One word for the result is ‘unmanned.’

That is how you feel when you deal with someone employed by a big corporation that rules its own like a very firm government.  If you are into labels, try fascist.  And it all gets so much worse when the whole corporation has handed over the keys to what might have been called  its soul to a machine in the sky – a deus ex machina – called a computer.  And no one – no one – is authorised to query, challenge much less override the computer.  The hand-over of power – the surrender – is complete.  And so is the victory of Big Brother and the Combine.  And we are left unmanned.

But the powerlessness of Ann was only part of the story.  Indeed, in at least one sense, Ann and I shared a powerlessness.  One of the primary aims of a vicious ruler is to make the subjects complicit in the viciousness.  That way, the minions get locked in.  Just look at how Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler and Franco went about stitching up their underlings (and reflect on the obsession of Donald Trump with personal loyalty of the kind that Hitler extracted, even from previously decent officers of the army).

Ann is, I fear, becoming complicit.  Possibly the most frightening part of this episode came when I was sitting down in something resembling shock, and Ann was standing and  looking down at me, and then Ann – yes, that  nice, kind Ann with the Glaswegian accent – gave me a look of suspicion.  For a moment, I could have been looking at an East German guard on Checkpoint Charlie.  ‘Are you sure there is nothing in your past with Avis, Geoffrey?’  Or words to that effect – words that Robespierre could have drooled over at the height of the Terror.  Suspicion is a primary tool of trade of the terrorist.  Robespierre said ‘Feel my fear’ and ‘Who among us is beyond suspicion?’  And Ann is being reduced to that level.

What the gods of the machine want to do with us is to strip us of our humanity.  And we are all now becoming complicit by handing the keys to ourselves to our mobile phones.  I was appalled in both Manhattan and Wales to see nearly everyone on the street looking at their phones. People at the Frick could not put them down.  (What about a selfie with my old mate Rembers, Digger?)  The plague has even reached us here in the Highlands.  At Ballaculish, I ran into a very handsome couple from Vancouver who looked like they might be on a honeymoon – if people still do those things.  Then I saw them in the bar – each immersed in his or her own phone.

In the name of God, what kind of world is this?  This device does not just murder minds and manners – it annihilates any sense of grace altogether.  All that bull about bringing people together from super brats like Zuckerberg is all just part of one grand lie.

The medical profession has astonished me with the care and professional attention with which it is treating a cancer that a few years ago would certainly have killed me.  I have just experienced another instance of professional care and plain human kindness deep in the Highlands.  What I must now do is to respond by fighting another form of cancer that does not terminate life but certainly terminates decency.

To return to Avis.   They promised to lend me a car in return for my promise to pay them.  That is a called a contract in our law – and the law of the US.  I travelled and made arrangements in reliance on that contract.  I am travelling around the world, and the visit to the Highlands was the principal reason for the whole trip.  Then Avis said ‘We made that promise, but we reserve the right to renege on any basis at all – including the colour of your skin or the way you wear a head scarf.’  What do we care if you are degraded and humiliated in public and if the last visit to the land of your ancestors is ruined?  Our only God is Mammon.  You – poor fellow – just fall under the heading of collateral damage.  Just look at the business model of our President.

Then there is the problem of a cartel operating to interfere with contractual relations.   At heart we are dealing with a wrong that our law does not distinctly recognise as one of outrage.  But, as Sir Frederick Pollock pointed out many years ago, our law has long permitted juries to deal with the arrogance of the haughty by the measure of the damages that they, on behalf of their country, award to the victim.  Putting to one side my personal circumstances, I find it hard to imagine a better case to test the limits of this wrong at law.

I do not know why Avis reneged.  They could not or would not tell me.  That inflames the wrong.  These people are like Richard III – they murder while they smile.  As the lady from Europe Car said, it may have been a parking ticket from ten years ago.

I have a recollection of hiring a car in Oxford about ten years ago for a fly fishing lesson.  I cannot recall the hirer, but I have a kind of recollection of correspondence that was (1) false (2) insulting and (3) extortionate – criminally so.  If it was that kind of thing on the mind of the computer, Avis is adding infamy to criminality.  Whatever incident the computer had in mind – it may just be wrong – it must look to be as mean and petty and spiteful as you could imagine.  But it does not matter – whatever it was, it cannot justify this frightful breach of promise.  We made our laws to shield the innocent,  not the arrogant.

About forty years ago, Aunty (our ABC) made rude remarks about a very important Royal Commission team.  These wronged lawyers then sued for libel.  And in cold blood they entered judgment by default.  When I moved to set aside the judgment, the late Neil McPhee, QC sought to hold on to the judgment by saying that we – the ABC – had no defence.  I well remember the relish with which Neil looked at me across the bar table and said ‘The only possible defence is truth and if Mr Gibson does make that plea, this court room would not be big enough to hold the damages.’

I think it may be time to offer that option to Mr Avis and his imperative computer.

Here and there – Tim Storrier

 

THE ART OF THE OUTSIDER

Catherine Lumby

Craftsman House, 2000; fully illustrated; here with slip case.

About twenty or more years ago, I attended the opening of a swank art gallery in that swish part of Armadale in Melbourne that treats of antiques.  The person who was advertised to open the gallery was one of its featured artists, Tim Storrier.  When I got to the gallery I passed a room with an open door and four or five people in it.  I did not know what Storrier looked like but I felt instinctively it was a well-dressed man a few years younger than me who looked like a well presented squatter – in the old country, a squire of the county.  Although apparently content within himself, he did not look all that thrilled to be where he was and doing what was asked of him.  Somehow, I got the impression that you might be wiped off like a dirty bum if you put a foot out of line.  One might even get the kind of put-down that one might get at ‘School.’  Well, the artist commenced his remarks with words to this effect: ‘Asking an artist to open an art gallery is a little like asking a cow to open an abattoir.’  I laughed out loud in part because this observation was in accord with mine of the speaker.  But, I have to say that the owners of the gallery did not appear to share the hilarity.  Indeed, they looked a bit queasy.  But Storrier went on to make a speech that held my full interest – so much so, that I was sorry I was not in a position to take notes.  For the most part, talking about art is about as useful as dancing about architecture.  Catherine Lumby, in this sensible and illuminating work, makes it plain that Storrier shares that view.  So, his remarks were full of sense and devoid of bullshit.

You might say something similar about the art of Tim Storrier.  When I was in the better part of the market – with someone else’s money – an enthusiast at Australian Galleries said that this artist was absorbed in the ‘elemental.’  He was dead right about that – fire, water, pyramids, serpents, and the firmament, as often as not in an outback so barren that it is threatening.

I am lucky to have two pieces by this artist.  One is a photo of a burning pyramid in what looks like a desert at about dawn or dusk.  It was made in 1981 and is entitled ‘Toward an innuendo of impermanence.’  (That kind of title would have appealed to Shelly in his Ozymandias mode.)  Against what I might call stiff competition, that cibachrome, as it is called, attracts a lot of attention.  It is commandingly elemental.  The second is a lithograph of a minutely executed drawing of a saddle.  It is called ‘Saddle, 1987.’  The first cost $450 in 1998 and the second cost $700 in 2007 (both without buyer’s commission).  I probably would not get anything like that for either in this market, but that is not the reason I acquired them – or any other art I have bought.  What I can say is that if we put one side the art of aboriginals, before I put my hand in my pocket to buy a work of art I like to know that the artist can draw.  This saddle leaves that in no doubt at all for this artist.  He is not just a natural; he is trained in what I might here call ‘high technique.’

Storrier may approach the market in Australia in much the same way as Barry Kosky approaches putting Wagner on in Germany: ‘The way I look at it, if you’re not virulently criticized by at least fifty per cent of the people, then you’re not doing very much at all.’

Given our wariness of bullshit on this subject, I shall leave it at two citations.  In his Foreword, the late Edmund Capon said:

There is a wonderful quality of honesty at work in his paintings, haunted as they are by the space and strange emotional quiet that is evoked in pictures with low horizons and vast skies.

Driving off into the virtual obscurity of the outback, setting up camp with his tables, chairs, sunshade, easel, paints and brushes, Storrier places the smallest of canvasses on the easel and then proceeds to survey all that space before him through a pair of binoculars…..His pictures are beautifully composed and executed: there is nothing brusque, temporary or arbitrary about his work…..Such images, of instinct and memory that sometimes border on the nostalgic, are fraught with the dangers of the cliché, but ultimately, the strength of conviction, the personality of memory and experience, and the subtleties of technique triumph.  Storrier is a cautious artist – he has to be in tackling such subjects.

John Olsen said:

First thoughts could have been influences of Drysdale or even Nolan, but this was not so.  There was rigour and exactness in his draftsmanship that allowed no vagueness of edge or blurry metaphors…..For Storrier, the Australian landscape is a stage set where all the players have gone home; where ‘camps’ or deliberately planned situations, named surveyors’ camps, are adorned with flat handmade saddles; where tools of craft hang symbolically from them…..Storrier remains privately shy and socially uncomfortable.  He is one of the most secretive and enigmatic artists working in Australia today – a man of unpredictable intentions and directions, and one of the most original.

Boyd, Nolan, Smart and Williams have changed the way I see my country.  I am not sure that Storrier has done that, although the night sky can cause a tremor, but he has changed the way I look at painting and drawing.  And Olsen was surely right when he said that Storrier is an original.  Possibly for that reason, the two works of his that I have are the only two that are specifically identified in my will.

MY TOP SHELF – Chapter 23

 

[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.]

23

CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON

Immanuel Kant (1781)

Macmillan Co Ltd, London, 1963; translated Norman Kemp Smith; Papermac; rebound in half biscuit morocco with soft burgundy boards.

I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.

Immanuel Kant was born in Konigsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia) in 1724.  He was the fourth of nine children of a poor harness-maker.  His parents were simple Prussians – and devout Pietists, a reformist group within the Lutheran Church, sometimes compared, not always politely, to the Jesuits.  Kant was fortunate to be sent, although poor, to a school that would have given him a better education than many countries in the West now offer to their poor children.  But Kant was to be scarred for life by the teachers whom he regarded as religious fanatics.

The whole life of Kant was governed by duty.  One Prussian Pietist saw what duty might mean at the age of thirteen.  A friend of his mother was jilted in love.  She fell sick with a deadly high fever.  Kant’s mother nursed her friend.  The friend refused her medicine.  To encourage her, Kant’s mother took a spoonful herself.  As she did so, she realised that her friend had already used the spoon.  She died the same day of smallpox – in the words of Kant, ‘a sacrifice to friendship’.  She was buried ‘silently’ and ‘poor’, possibly in the manner shown in the film Amadeus for the burial of Mozart.

Kant entered the University of Konigsberg at sixteen and graduated six years later.  He took work as a private tutor.  When aged thirty one, he obtained a post at the University.  He gave public lectures.  He became known as de Schöne Magister, the Elegant Teacher.  Konigsberg was then a substantial city of 50,000.  It was a sea-port with trading interests and it therefore had a cosmopolitan flavour.  Kant was constrained to lecture over a wide area, including geography, but from the time he became a professor, his interest was in philosophy.  It looks like Kant never stepped out of Konigsberg.

His lectures were very popular.  He gave them at 7.00 a.m.  It was said that you had to be there at 6.00 a.m. to be sure of getting a place.  One of his students said of the lectures that Kant had an intense way of stating the issue to be discussed.

Kant was indifferent to music and painting – how unlike Wittgenstein! – but he loved poetry and satire, a form which he indulged in his own writings.  His published works are astonishingly substantial.  He must be the most prolific and industrious philosopher since Aristotle.  His major work, The Critique of Pure Reasoning, was not published until he was fifty seven.  Most of it is too dense for the average reader, but it is shot through with practical insights.  He later wrote The Critique of Practical Reason, The Critique of Judgment and The Groundwork of The Metaphysics of Morals.  The last work contains his ethical theory, and may be the most accessible to the general reader.  Kant is probably the most uplifting of writers on ethics for the uninitiated.

In Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, Kant launched an all-out assault on those who want to intellectualize God and faith.  Kant was well and truly warned off by the Prussian establishment.  Throughout his life Kant managed to avoid attending any ceremony at the University that may have involved religious ceremony.

Toward the end the mighty mind of Immanuel Kant fell into decline. This is how the English philosopher Roger Scruton describes his ending:

He faded into insensibility, and passed from his blameless life on 12 February 1804, unaccompanied by his former intellectual powers.  He was attended at his grave by people from all over Germany, and by the whole of Konigsberg, being acknowledged even in his senility as the greatest glory of that town.  His grave crumbled away and was restored in 1881.  His remains were moved in 1924 to a solemn neoclassical portico attached to the cathedral.  In 1950 unknown vandals broke open the sarcophagus and left it empty.  By that time Konigsberg had ceased to be a centre of learning, had been absorbed, following its brutal destruction by the Red Army, into the Soviet Union, and had been renamed in honour of one of the few of Stalin’s henchmen to die of natural causes.  A bronze tablet remains fixed to the wall of the castle, overlooking the dead and wasted city, bearing these words from the concluding section of the ‘The Critique of Practical Reason’:  ‘Two things fill the heart with ever renewed and increasing awe and reverence, the more and the more steadily we mediate upon them: the starry firmament above and the moral law within’.

It is good to see that the tradition of clear, crisp writing, in English philosophy is not dead.

You might think that the religious writings of Kant constitute one long protest.  He was brought up, but he did not remain, a Protestant (as was the case with Hume and Gibbon).  He was brought up as a Lutheran Pietist and it shows, both in his life and in his writing.  The Pietists saw themselves not as subscribing to doctrine, but as being in a living relationship with God.  They had a ‘born again’ feeling.  They were against their religion being taken over by intellectuals.  You see both tendencies alive and well in the US – the second with alarming consequences.  They also tended to be egalitarian. The priesthood was their community of believers.  All this comes through in Kant, the most intellectual man in Europe.

The thinking of Kant would affect the Christian churches of Europe in at least three ways.  First, Kant set about demolishing the logical arguments for the existence of God.  Moses Mendelssohn, a friend and colleague, said that the criticism of Kant were ‘world-crushing’.  But Kant did hold that the concept of God is natural to human reason.  Just what that concept may involve is another matter.

Secondly, Kant developed a system of ethics or morals from the ground up, so to speak, and without invoking religion or the supernatural in the process.  His teaching on ethics was and is available to most people.  Some in the church may have felt threatened by a moral code that did not require God.  But Kant went one step further.  He did not stop with saying that morality does not rest on religion; he went on and said that religious faith is founded on morality.  The whole point of his arguments on morality is to establish that morality, which is independent of religious belief, nonetheless does lead us to religious belief.  Such a contention would, of course, leave plenty of room to manoeuvre on the content of the religion.

Thirdly, Kant has a lot to say about the practice of religion, and it was mainly this that got him into trouble.  Like the old Hebrews with God, Kant refused to refer to Jesus of Nazareth by name, but like Spinoza before him, Kant accepted the teaching of Jesus and incorporated it into his own and was hostile to people who sought to come between that teaching and the rest of mankind.

Kant may have been a bit of a pill to have lunch with – even if he did ensure that a wine decanter was in reach of every guest.  But his mind was one of Europe’s great engine rooms.  It is sad that provincialism and specialization mean that he is hardly taught now at English universities because no one since has got within a bull’s roar of producing insights across the scale like Kant ,and Kant might be just the kind of man to make the word ‘intellectual’ sound decent to Anglo-Saxon ears.  He fought the fight for religious faith and he did more than anyone else to give people an ethical code that did not require underpinning by faith.  He never set out to hurt anyone, and he left the world better than he found it.  It is not just Prussia or Europe that should revere the name of Immanuel Kant.

Passing Bull 195 – Defiling the dead

 

People who play around with geniuses like Shakespeare or Mozart overestimate their ability and worth to an extent that might make even Donald Trump blush.  They also defile the work and the art of the dead.  Their haughty conceit is staggering.  We may have been able to get over Glenda Jackson playing the lead role in Sam Gold’s King Lear on Broadway – although ‘humility’ does not come easily to your lips with that lady – but she was not the only one in the part of a male, and the three daughters had three very distinctive accents.

The New Yorker is not amusedAccording to Hilton Als, this director has form.  He sent out an actress with muscular dystrophy to play a key role in The Glass Menagerie.  This, said Mr Als, takes the audience hostage – if you condemned the casting, you could be splattered with all kinds of abuse.  It’s a bit like that South African runner who looks like a bloke and who runs like one but who competes as a woman.  If you take the side of the badly beaten women, you get canned for intolerance – for a want of sympathy for ‘gender fluidity.’  Balls.  I just don’t want my night out at the theatre to be ruined by some arrogant puppeteer who is out to make a political point and to bignote himself – or herself – or itself.

What about Lear?

In a way, it’s impossible to review Gold’s staging of ‘King Lear,’ because, in the arrogance of its conception, it turns up its nose at the plebeian notion of simply providing the audience with what it wants: Shakespeare’s words, that accumulation of more intelligence and insight about humanity than it seems possible for one mind to have produced….I grew increasingly consumed by questions about what was happening onstage and why.

Precisely.  And that’s before you get to the poetry.

If I said that I could improve on Einstein’s theory of relativity, I would fairly be dismissed as mad.  But these swaggerers behind the stages of theatre and opera do not have that out.  We should assess these directors like we assess judges and AFL umpires – if we hardy know that they are there, they have done well.  If their interference with proceedings catches our attention and annoys us, they have botched it – big time – and they should be given time off in the sticks to repent and reform.

Bloopers

So far, the special investigator probe and report by Robert Mueller are a significant victory for Donald Trump.

This is because the Democrats and other Trump critics have so wildly overplayed their hands and because Mueller, too, has not conducted himself well.

Of course there is in the full Mueller report stuff that shows Trump is unpleasant, but there is nothing on which Mueller can recommend any charges at all.

Greg Sheridan, The Weekend Australian, 20-21 April, 2019

As bullshit goes, this is in the category that Kant may have called transcendental.  Every word drips with wrongness.  Among other things, what would a person who (1) is not a lawyer or copper and (2) has not read the report know?  We have thought that Mr Sheridan may have had some intelligence, but we have long known that he has zero judgment.  Mueller is everything that trump is not.  Who but a lunatic could compare Trump favourably to Mueller?

This rubbish shows how we in this country have completely failed to develop a press that might fairly be called ‘conservative.’  No conservative properly so called could regard the aberration of populism called Donald Trump as anything but a disaster for the U S and the world.  When Mr Sheridan refers to ‘stuff that shows Trump is unpleasant’, he shows that he is craven as well as inane.

And Mr Sheridan has a new toy – ‘bloviation’.  It will not be long before that little chap with the silly beard gets on to it.  Wikipedia says:

Bloviation is a style of empty, pompous political speech particularly associated with Ohio due to the term’s popularization by United States President Warren G. Harding, who, himself a master of the technique, described it as ‘the art of speaking for as long as the occasion warrants, and saying nothing’.

Well now, for a political commentator in the Murdoch press to accuse someone of bloviation must be an instance of what psychologists call projection.

Here and there – Alan Bennett

A LIFE LIKE OTHER PEOPLE’S

Alan Bennett

Faber and Faber, 2009; bound in cloth, with dust jacket featuring photo of the author’s family; copy signed by the author; slip case added.

About thirty years ago, I went to the theatre in the West End to see two one act plays.  Each play featured just one actress.  The first had Margaret Tyzack, and the second featured Maggie Smith – the cream of the English stage.  I can recall standing in a queue to collect my tickets, and hearing the lady behind me say ‘I could listen all day to Maggie Smith reading the phone book.’  In my experience, the English do appreciate that they are fortunate to have the best actors in the world.

I cannot recall the name of the first play, but it was about a woman whose husband, I think a banker, had been convicted of embezzlement.  She had had to live with the degradation.  The mood varied from wistful to wrenching.  But at the end, Margaret Tyzack from a spotlight looked straight at us in the audience and said something like ‘But don’t you dare feel sorry for us – we are not that kind.’  This was the perfect way to evoke the very strong reaction of the audience that the play and performance warranted.  The whole thing was so very English.

The second play was Bed Among the Lentils.  We knew from the program notes that it was about the wife of a vicar who has it off with a Pakistani greengrocer.  Well, that should give a decent playwright something to work with.  As the curtain went up, Maggie Smith was standing centre stage under a narrow spot.  Dressed in grey, white and black, she was drabness and fatigue personified – ennui.  After a considered pause, she looked up at us and said words to the effect: ‘Being married to Geoffrey is bad enough, but I’m glad I’m not married to Jesus.’  Well, the whole theatre just erupted, and it remained cocked on Vesuvial for the rest of the play.  I feared that the lady beside me may not have survived the show – she would wail in anticipation in the same way that some American ladies did in the 60’s when listening to Shelley Berman.

This was a great night out at the theatre.  Great entertainment, and a lyrical reflection not just of the English, but of what is human in each of us.  The playwright was Alan Bennett.  The plays reminded me of David Williamson – with that gift of putting on the stage characters that immediately call to mind members of your family or friends or neighbours.  Some may wish to put the comparison at a higher level.  Ibsen and Chekhov were not minded to write for laughs like that, but the greatest playwright of the lot certainly was – just think of the hilarity with which we greet the outrages of Falstaff.

A Life Like Other People’s is a memoire of the early life of Alan Bennett.  It is obviously the work of a naturally gifted writer.  It comes to us clean and simple – pure, even.  You wonder if the writer ever bothered to change a word.  Partly for that reason, the book comes to us as being candid.  It reeks of truth.  (In this, it reminded me of the memoire of Joseph Heller – another natural.)  The book starts this way:

There is a wood, the canal, the river, and above the river the railway and the road.  It’s the first proper country that you get to as you come north out of Leeds, and going home on the train I pass the place quite often.  Only these days I look.  I’ve been passing the place for years without looking because I didn’t know it was a place; that anything had happened there to make it a place, let alone a place that had something to do with me.  Below the wood the water is deep and dark and sometimes there’s a boy fishing or a couple walking a dog.  I suppose it’s a beauty spot now.  It probably was then.

For some people – not many – it’s just like turning on a tap and watching the water flow out.

The photo on the front of the book is of an English family of the time – probably during the war.  Dad is in a suit with a shirt and tie, a buttoned up overcoat, a trilby, a cigarette and a deferential smile.  He looks very like Stan Laurel.  Mum has a buttoned up coat and a beret for a hat.  (Her struggle with mental health is a large part of the book.)  She has her hands on Alan who has a shirt and tie, a home knitted sleeveless jumper and school cap.  The daughter is much younger, but she too sports a hat.

Alan got a scholarship to Oxford and for some time thought of teaching history.  But his involvement with the Oxford Review and people like Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller led him to the stage, cinema and television.  He has been prolific and hugely popular in all fields, especially in his autobiographical writing.  His personal life looks to have had its Byzantine moments.  People like Groucho Marx, Spike Milligan and Alan Bennett, who offer slashing and potentially lethal insights, tip-toe closer to the volcano than the rest of us.  Patrick White conveys the same feeling for me.  (Ibsen and Joyce terrified people – but for different reasons.)

The book fairly ripples with anecdote.  The ultimate threat to his family was to be described as ‘common.’  His Mum and Dad were very shy.  They wanted a quiet wedding – before work.  Dad’s boss would not give him time off to get married.  The vicar agreed to start the ceremony before 8 am but finish it on the knocker so that Dad could be at work by 8.15.  In lieu of a honeymoon they got tickets for The Desert Song at the Theatre Royal.  He once asked Dad an awkward question about whether he ‘touched’ Mum enough.  Dad told him to mind his own business, but years later Mum made a surprising disclosure that ‘Dad does very well you know’ – at seventy-one.  Bennett talks about hugging ‘and that other loveless construct, caring.’  And the aunties were like my Mum – infatuated with Now Voyager.  The attraction of that film, and Bette Davis, to ladies of that generation was fabulous.  ‘Oh, Jerry.  Don’t let’s ask for the moon.  We have the stars.’

This is raw diamond of a book.  It is included here to celebrate the life and work of the author.  It ends this way.

Sometimes as I’m standing by their grave I try and get a picture of my parents, Dad in his waist coat and shirtsleeves, Mum in her blue coat and shiny straw hat.  I even try and say a word or two in prayer, though what and to what I’d find it hard to say.

‘Now then’ is about all it amounts to.  Or ‘Very good, very good’, which is what old men say when a transaction is completed.

Here, then, is someone who tells it as it is – and he didn’t learn how to write like that at Oxford.

Passing Bull 194 – Presumptions outside court?

 

People talk of the presumption of innocence and the legal requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt in considering the prosecution and conviction of Cardinal Pell.

Most of the commentators are unaware of the presumption of regularity that would say that the jurors are presumed to have discharged their duties in this case in an appropriate manner.  There is a Latin tag to the effect that steps are taken to have been done correctly.  A leading authority (Thayer) refers to ‘the assumption of the existence of the usual qualities of human beings, such as sanity, and their regular and proper conduct, their honesty and conformity to duty.’  Some people may wish to bear this assumption in mind before accusing the Pell jury of being perverse or unreasonable or of not adhering to their oath.  Championing a presumption of innocence may run in both directions.  It’s just that for one reason or another, the jurors don’t usually get to be championed.

To return to the onus of proof, in a criminal case, the Crown (the accuser) bears the burden of proof.  In a civil case, the person complaining (the plaintiff) bears that burden.  If nothing happens in either case, that is the end of it.

The law recognises three standards of proof.  In crime, it is proof beyond reasonable doubt.  In civil cases, it is proof on the balance of probabilities – it is sufficient that the evidence warrants a finding that it is more likely than not that the relevant allegation has been made out.

But the law recognises a standard in between those two.  It is typically applied where a serious crime is alleged in civil cases or where an adverse finding might cost someone their job or their good name.  The criterion for drawing the line has never been adequately explained to me.  The best I have seen is that common sense suggests that you need more persuasion to hang someone for murder than you need to give them a parking ticket.

One formulation is ‘comfortable satisfaction.’  The Court of Arbitration for Sport was comfortable about applying that test in the case of the Essendon footballers – and in upholding every single allegation against them while doing so.  If you think that the worth of a proposition can be tested by looking at its negation, what might ‘uncomfortable satisfaction’ look like?  Spending a fortune on a suite up front in an Arab airline and then finding that you have a burr in your nickers?  In thirty years sitting on tribunals, where counsel sought to invoke this protection I never felt intellectually secure in seeking to apply it.  I just followed my nose.

So, when a private hearing was conducted into an allegation of abuse against Pell by former Supreme Court judge (Southwell, J), the judge, as I am informed, applied this intermediate test.  (The lawyers refer to it as Briginshaw because that was the name of the parties in the leading case in the High Court that arose from an allegation of adultery in a case that reached the High Court.)  The judge found that each side had given credible evidence, but that this was not enough to satisfy the intermediate standard of proof.  That finding was far from being an exoneration of the accused.

Well, that’s fine for the accused.  What about potential victims?  If the Church is going to be responsible for the wrongs of this man, what standard of proof should the Church apply in determining whether this man represents a risk to those who may be in his care or merely exposed to unsupervised contact with him?  When I there ask how the Church ‘should’ proceed, I am speaking of both a moral and legal obligation (or duty).

Let us look at the civil side.  If you are running a trucking company – an analogy once unhappily invoked by the cardinal – and you suspect that one of your drivers may be a risk to the public, and therefore to you and your insurers – say from drugs or alcohol or some physical disability – it would in my view be morally and legally wrong to say that you needed to be persuaded of the risk beyond the balance of probabilities before you took remedial action.  The company would be obliged to take action as soon as it appeared to it that it was more likely than not that this driver was a risk to others.

The case is a fortiori for people in positions of power who can apply undue influence over those not of the age of consent.

It looks to me therefore that the church was legally and morally wrong in not taking adequate remedial action on the Southwell report to protect those in its charge from the risk posed by this priest.  It would be quite wrong to say that the Church could not take any such action until it was satisfied of the risk beyond reasonable doubt or to a level of ‘comfortable satisfaction.’  A rule that was fair to the priest may have been anything but fair to those in his charge – it looks to have been fatal for one of them.

And the reason sounds familiar – the Church put their interests over those of their flock.  Most victims would be appalled to learn that the Church took no action against a priest who had not been exonerated on a most serious allegation.

And, if it matters, that is why so many lawyers in the neutral corner would be so uncomfortable with the rubber stamping on party lines of the appointment of Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States.  It’s not just that appearances matter; the public conduct of this man showed that he was susceptible to partisan influence – it is beyond doubt that he got the job as a result of such influence – to an extent that rendered him unfit for that office.

But that is not all.  Is it right to have someone appointed to high office when there is a serious allegation against them that is unresolved?  Or that is rammed through on party lines?  Some positions are ‘Caesar’s wife’ territory – the occupant must be beyond suspicion.  Judicial office is one such office and the U S Supreme Court now has two members on it that fail that test.

The onuses and presumptions that we have been discussing are part of the law of evidence.  They are applied by law courts in the trial of issues in an attempt to ensure a fair trial.  The law does not ordinarily require or even suggest that these rules be applied elsewhere (although that part of our law called administrative law will subject some bodies to procedural obligations to protect certain rights).

You could look stupid if you sought to apply the rules of evidence in ordinary conversation – if, for example, you objected to a statement in a political debate on the ground that it was inadmissible as hearsay.  The referees in sporting contests may have an onus in awarding penalties – but how often do you hear the standard of proof being discussed?  Well, one thing is clear enough.  If you want to red card someone for rough play in a world cup final, you will require a lot more assurance than you would for calling a kid off-side in the Under 12’s.

If you told a high school teacher of rowdy teens that the students had the benefit of the presumption of innocence, you would not be believed.  And the same should apply to people in positions of trust or confidence – there any onus might lay on them to show that they have discharged their office – or at least not put it out of their power to do so.  In some instances of ‘undue influence,’ the onus is on the office holder to demonstrate the probity of an impugned transaction.  That does not happen if an issue as to the person’s probity has been left unresolved.

That appears to have been the case with Cardinal Pell.  If so, some unfortunate people have paid an awful price for this lapse of judgment.

Bloopers

Willkie Farr, which put Mr Caplan on leave after he was charged last month, announced that it has now cut ties with him. ‘At Willkie, nothing is more important to us than our integrity and we do not tolerate behaviour that runs contrary to our core values. We remain focused on our responsibilities to our clients, partners and employees,’ the firm said in a statement.

Financial Times, 6 April, 2019

With those fees, they might at least try talking English.  Do they tolerate behaviour contrary to values that don’t go to their core?  Are values like apples?  Are they, too, subject to the laws of gravity?

Passing Bull 192 – Folau and freedom of religion?

 

A professional sportsman called Israel Folau is intent on making statements threatening people guilty of what he regards as immoral conduct with eternal damnation.  He does so although requested to stop by those in charge of the sport that is the subject of his business.

The usual suspects are mouthing platitudes about freedom of speech.  This in the Murdoch press is code for a licence to offend or insult others on the ground of their sexuality or religion.  They are also referring to something called ‘freedom of religion.’

The defenders of Izzy would do better to focus on freedom of contract.  If Folau can conduct himself in this way with impunity, the authors of the relevant contract should notify their PI insurers.  Yet, the Murdoch press on the weekend said with a straight face that if Folau can be fired for breach of contract, the law might relieve him from the burden of his promise on some ground of public policy.  So much for doctrinal consistency.  So much for freedom of contract.  So much for government keeping its hands off business.

But those who warble for money will continue to do so.  Freedom of religion, whatever that means, is not in issue.  The issue is whether Izzy is in breach of his contract or otherwise engaging in conduct that is contrary to the business interests of his employer to an extent that gives his employer the right to exclude him from that business.

Many Australians would start with two simple propositions.  First, Izzy is in this for himself and not the team – no coach of any team sport would want to have anything to do with him.  Secondly, to the extent that Izzy invokes God as a reason why he is hurting others – I refer to others in his sport, not the objects of his harangues – he deserves twice the punishment.

This dispute has little or nothing to do with God

The religion of Israel Folau does not command him to do what is complained of.  (If it were said that his religion does issue such a command, then that in my view would make Izzy’s case so much worse.)

It is or should be obvious that Folau’s conduct is causing harm to his employer and others employed in that line of business.  These days sponsors drop people cold for this kind of public bickering, moralizing and division.  (If it matters – and it doesn’t – in my view Izzy’s conduct causes even greater harm to those who profess what he calls his faith.  His is evidently a religion of division and eternal punishment and intolerance.  His condemnation would extend to most honest people, and I take it that those who repent according to the faith of Judaism, Islam or Hinduism – or perhaps even the Church of Rome – do not escape Folau’s grizzly vision of the justice of his God.)

It also looks to me that Folau is in direct breach of an undertaking he gave to the CEO of the ruling body.  If so, he cannot be taken at his word.

I agree with the Wallabies’ coach that Folau’s behaviour is incompatible with his remaining in the national side.  This is not because he has unfortunate beliefs that some are prepared to call religious, but because he refuses to behave at the minimal level of tolerance and team work expected from someone who wears my jumper – or your jumper – or our jumper.

We recently celebrated the first anniversary of another incident that brought shame on us as a people in Cape Town  – and this conduct of Izzy is at least in that league – in my view.  If someone in my employ did the same to me, his feet would not touch the ground on the way out the door.  I very much doubt whether any other Wallaby would want to have a person as self-centred as Izzy on his team.  I certainly don’t want him in my jumper – and that’s before I get to the text of what Izzy is saying.

But, as I say, the warbling will go on from those who live off the earnings – or, perhaps, the droppings of conflict.

Bloopers

The ‘anti-996’ campaign is blacklisting companies such as Alibaba and JD.com where, it claims, shifts of 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week, are common. Alibaba has not commented. JD.com said it did not oblige staff to work such hours but it encouraged everyone to ‘fully invest themselves’.

Financial Times, 9 April, 2019

It makes you wonder if Spartacus and the cotton pickers realised that they were blessed insofar as they had ‘fully invested themselves.’

Here and there -The price of sanctimony

 

Some Australians have been playing with matches about law and religion.  Our law grants privileges to people of faith.  Our churches do not pay tax.  That privilege of caste led to revolution in France and the lasting divorce between church and state.  Our churches have another privilege.  They are absolved from our laws against discrimination.  They can therefore threaten to fire employees who refuse to toe their religious line on marriage; in so doing, they reinforce division by abusing their privilege.

One prelate said he would go to jail rather than obey a law about reporting sex offenders if he thought that our law conflicted with the dogma of his church about the confessional.  That prelate is plainly ready to put himself and his church outside the law – and the interests of his flock.  And some clergy claimed that if our law on marriage were to be changed, that change may, not must, compel them to act against the teaching of their church – and on that ground, they seek to deny to others equality before the law.  The notion that the church could be above the law went out the window with Martin Luther, if not Thomas Becket.

Some religious people opposed marriage equality in our laws on the grounds that homosexuality is not natural, and that marriage between two such people is against the word of God.  Is it tart to say that these arguments come from the same people who told us that it was not natural and against the word of God to say that the earth revolves around the sun?

As for the argument from nature, its inarticulate premise must be that marriage is about procreation.  Why should we deny marriage equality to people who can’t have or who don’t want to have children?  This argument just has to be unkind.  Why punish people just because they’re different?  And in some mouths, this argument sounds sickeningly like an allegation that homosexuals are somehow inferior – because, say, they cannot make their own babies.  We have fallen very low if we frame our laws on the footing that people who are somehow better than others should have more rights or privileges than their inferiors.  In truth, God is the only justification for the premise that legal marriage is there to promote procreation.

Well, what about God?  Which one?  Whose?  The God that allows his clergy to support marriage equality in the press, or the God that slams that door in our faces?  We may admire people for staking their lives on blind faith – but we get very angry when they try to force us to go along with them.  And please don’t say that we should all be governed by unreason.

Some have a deeper objection to some Christian opponents of marriage equality.  At bottom, these Christians appear to say that the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, the one they call Christ, entitles them to deny legal equality to other human beings merely because those people are different.  This looks to many to be a denial if not a betrayal of all that that most holy man stood for.  It is a tragic reminder of how far a wholly fallible church has moved from the teaching of its wholly lovable founder.  The teaching of Christ cannot allow anyone to reject the notion that everyone of us has our own dignity as a human being.

And don’t let anyone say that only a priest can make that call.  If God did send Jesus, God sent him for all of us, and not just for one or another bunch of bickering clerics – each claiming to have the only true view.  In the middle ages, the church played Monopoly with what we could know; later they wanted to do it with whom we may marry.  Which monopoly is more offensive?  We are amazed that people who enjoy privileges deny rights to those who don’t – the privileged few against the ordinary multitude.  What about that kind old hymn – ‘You in your small corner and I in mine’?

These people prefer taking to giving.  They’re desperate to keep their club exclusive.  We should therefore look again at the privileges we gave to these people.  If these people sound so hostile and partisan, should they not lose their exemption from laws against discrimination?  And why should a body be exempt from paying tax if ‘charitable’ is the last epithet that you would apply to it?

What is the relevance of this after Parliament has decided the issue of marriage equality?  The relevance is that some religiously driven politicians have been driving a rear guard action.  They should know better, but they are bad losers.

MY TOP SHELF -21

21

BLOOD, TOIL, TEARS, AND SWEAT: THE GREAT SPEECHES

Winston Churchill (1940)

Edited by David Cannadine; Penguin Books, 1989; rebound in quarter red Morocco, with navy blue label, embossed with gold, and stone cloth boards.

 

I am a child of the House of Commons.  I was brought up in my father’s house to believe in democracy….There are less than seventy million malignant Huns some of whom are curable and others killable…

 

The four statesmen whom I admire are Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Disraeli, Winston Churchill, and Harry Truman.  Two of them – Lincoln and Churchill – had two things in common when they came to power.  Their nation was in mortal peril and the other members of their government did not trust their leader to be able to save them.  Each of Lincoln and Churchill had to win over and secure the faith of his government and then his nation.  Each did so, and each then went on to lead his nation to safety and victory.  For each, it was a colossal personal victory, brought about by a force of character that we have hardly seen again.  But for each, the issue facing his country could have gone the other way, with God only knows what consequences.  Had Lincoln not held the U S together, would England have been able to hold off Germany twice or even once?  Had England made peace with Hitler in 1940, would I be writing this in German?  Would my Jewish friends be here?

 

This is how Churchill recorded his feelings on taking office as Prime Minister.  ‘But I cannot conceal from the reader of this truthful account that as I went to bed at about 3 am I was conscious of a profound sense of relief.  At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene.  I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.’  We can imagine other big hitters talking big like this, but big hitters we would not trust – as it happened, the world then needed a man of precisely that fibre.

 

If I had to nominate one clutch point for that war, it would have been a meeting of the War Cabinet at the time of Dunkirk.  Churchill was yet to win the confidence of his cabinet, and Halifax wanted to deal with Hitler.  Churchill convened a full cabinet meeting.  He told them the alternatives.  He concluded: ‘We shall go on and we shall fight it out, here or elsewhere, and if at the last the long story of this island is to end, it were better it should end, not through surrender, but only when we are rolling senseless on the ground.’  Churchill would later say he was surprised at the warmth of the reaction from hard-bitten politicians – many jumped ‘from the table and came running to my chair, shouting and patting me on the back.’

 

Another version has: ‘If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.’  The plain truth was that the nation was crying out for leadership and found it.  Churchill laid down that they would never lie down.  The doubts were gone.  The way was clear – if hard.  For the first time, Hitler was confronted by a leader superior to him, one who could hold his nation together for long enough to get the U S into the war.  This, as it seems to me, is the great moment of truth in that war, and if you are ever asked what real leadership is, there it was.

 

Before looking at some of the speeches, let me remind you of what Roy Jenkins said in his great biography: ‘With their high-flown eloquence, which in less dramatic times would have sounded over-blown, they could be regarded as a form of self-indulgence.  They not only matched the mood of the moment, but have for six decades etched in the memory of many who were young at the time and are old now.  They were an inspiration for the nation, and a catharsis for Churchill himself.  They raised his spirits and thus generated even more energy than was consumed in their composition.’

 

The best way to take these speeches is to listen to them – and watch, where film is available.  Most are matter-of-fact, and given with apparently child-like candour.  Where we have film of Churchill talking to an audience about giving the Germans back some of their own medicine, we may better see the sterility of suggestions that he was too war-like.  He was merely giving supreme voice to the grief and outrage of his people.

 

Here, then, is the famous peroration of the speech to the House of Commons on the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.  We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until in God’s good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

 

Here is the lead-in to the equally famous ‘finest hour’ ending.

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over.  I expect that the battle of Britain is about to begin.  Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.  Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire.  The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.  Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war.  If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.  But if we fail, the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

 

To read these words now is to see how far our public life has fallen.  These words are plain and short, and to the point, but infinitely moving.  There is not a bath-plug or spin doctor in sight and the speaker was the author.  It is all now quite beyond our world.

 

My own favourite is not in this book.  Before the war, and early in it, Churchill had gone out on a limb for France in a way that de Gaulle and the French would not reciprocate.  The English had to destroy the French fleet.  Churchill referred to his at the beginning of a speech given on Bastille Day 1940.

And now it has come to us to stand alone in the breach, and face the worst that the tyrant’s might and enmity can do.  Bearing ourselves humbly before God, but conscious that we serve an unfolding purpose, we are ready to defend our native land against the invasion by which it is threatened.  We are fighting by ourselves alone; but we are not fighting for ourselves alone.  Here in this strong City of Refuge which enshrines the title deeds of human progress and is of deep consequence to Christian civilization; here, girt about by the seas and oceans where the Navy reigns; shielded from above by the prowess and devotion of our airmen – we await undismayed the impending assault.  Perhaps it will come next week.

 

This is how Churchill ended this speech.

This is no war of chieftains or of princes, of dynasties or national ambition; it is a war of peoples and of causes.  There are vast numbers, not only in this Island but in every land, who will render faithful service in this war, but whose names will never be known, whose deeds will never be recorded.  This is a War of the Unknown Warrior; but let all strive without failing in health or in duty, and the dark curse of Hitler will be lifted from our age.

 

At the end of his biography of Churchill, Roy Jenkins said that he had thought that Gladstone had been Britain’s greatest PM, but that he now thought that title should go to Churchill, ‘with all his idiosyncrasies, his indulgences, his occasional childishness, but also his genius, his tenacity and his persistent ability, successful or unsuccessful, to be larger than life.’  Jenkins frequently referred to the ability of Churchill to cry at the drop of a hat.  Long after he had left us, Churchill can still make us cry now – but at rather more than the drop of a hat.

Passing bull 191 – The people and the crowd

 

 

When people come together to vote for parliament or to serve on a jury – rather similar exercises – we feel good about each other.  But if we see them come together as a lynch mob, we are revolted.  We are revolted because people following the herd instinct are behaving more like animals than human beings.  Most of us are very worried about the crowds behind the gillets jaunes in France.  People have there taken to the streets not just to protest against government but to try to bend the government to do its will.  That is a plain denial of parliamentary democracy.  That kind of government can only work if the overwhelming majority of people accept the decision of a majority.  But ever since 1789, the French have claimed the right to take to the streets to stop government taking a course they do not like.  The result is that France has not been able to push through unpopular reforms in the same way that Germany and England did.  And the result of this triumph of the people is that the people are a lot worse off.  That in turn leads to the gillets jaunes and to the President’s not being able to implement the reforms for which he was elected.  And so the cycle goes on – until one morning the French get up and see a scowling Madame LePen brandishing a stock whip on her new tricoleur dais.  She will have achieved the final vindication of the crowd – the acquisition of real power by real force.

The Bagehot column in The Economist this week is headed ‘The roar of the crowd.’  It begins: ‘The great achievement of parliamentary democracy is to take politics off the streets.’  Well, the English achieved that – but not the French.  The article goes on to refer to street protests being invoked to express ‘the will of the people.’  That bullshit phrase is or should be as alien to the English as it is to us.  It is dangerous nonsense advanced by people over the water like Rousseau – one of most poisonous men who ever lived – Robespierre, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler.

The article also refers to social media –the worst misnomer ever – as ‘virtual crowds online.’  It quotes an 1895 book The Crowd; A Study of the Popular Mind as saying of crowds that they show ‘impulsiveness, irritability, incapacity to reason, the absence of judgment of the critical spirit, the exaggeration of sentiments’ and says that the crowd debases the ordinary person – ‘isolated he may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian.’  That is because he has handed over the keys to his own humanity.  All this is just as spot-on for social media as it is to those whom Farage whipped up against Muslims, or those for whom Trump did the same, or those who marched last night in favour of Brexit and did so to a ghastly drum-beat that made them look so much like the English fascists from the 1930’s.

For our system to work, people have to show at least some restraint and toleration.  At least two forces are in my view at work in Australia working against us and in favour of the herd instinct of the crowd.  One is social media.  The other is the Murdoch press.  The first is obvious.  As to the second, a New Zealand observer said there were two reasons for the immoderate restraint and toleration of their government to a crisis of hate – the leadership and empathy of the leader of their government, and the absence of the Murdoch press.  In Australia, Sky News after dark regularly parades Pauline Hanson while Bolt and others defends her and while in The Australian columnists attack Muslims as jihadis in something like a frenzy.  And it was just a matter of time before they spitefully turned on the New Zealand Prime Minister and the ‘Muslimist Aljazeera’ – and of course those middle class pinkos at Fairfax and the ABC.

The people behind social media and the Murdoch press are wont to preach about freedom of speech.  The sad truth is that they go to the gutter for the same reason – for profit.

Two more points.  The current disaster in England started when they went and tested ‘the will of the people’ and got an equivocal answer – yes, leave, but on what terms? – with a majority too slim to permit a simple solution to a difficult problem to be found and implemented.  Now we have the awful and degrading spectacle of parliament behaving worse than the crowd.  And people who got where they are on a vote from the people are with a straight face saying that it would be wrong to ask the people again now that everyone knows what lies were told and who has been the worst behaved.  Indeed, their Prime Minister says a second vote would be a ‘betrayal of democracy.’  Some say an election would be better – when both major parties are hopelessly splintered and there is no reason at all to think that a reconfigured group of those responsible for the present mess might do better.

The real betrayal of democracy has taken place in America.  Trump appealed to the crowd to reject the ‘elites’ – people who know what they are doing.  Neither he nor almost everyone in his government has any idea about governing.  But his betrayal is more elemental.  A President is elected, as Lincoln said ‘of the people, by the people, for the people.’  Trump could not care less about the people.  He is only interested in that ghastly minority that is called his ‘base.’  And since he thinks his base wants him to abandon affordable health care, he will try to kill it.  And to hell with the people.

It’s not just that the policies of people like Farage, Hanson and Trump are revolting – it’s the people they get to work with them that are also revolting.

It looks like the hour of the crowd is with us again and it may never have looked worse.

Bloopers

But Trump bends history to his will.  May simply bends under the will of others.

The Weekend Australian, 30-31 March, 2019.  Mr G Sheridan

It is an interesting view of the strong man.  Amazingly, the editorial was even sillier.