Passing Bull 90  –  The Validation Fallacy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cambridge –a big night out


It was like a Breughel painting.  A graphic Hades.

The last time I came to Cambridge for one of these summer schools, people were invited to arrive on the Sunday, since courses start at 9 am on Monday, and some bastard forgot to open the bar.  There was ill feeling.  There was serious ill feeling, and some very rude remarks about the English.

Today, Sunday evening, I was assured by the porter at Selwyn College that the bar would be open at 6 pm.  A Presbyterian sense of determinism led me to the off licence to buy some insurance.

Sure enough, as I got near the bar at the appointed time, the porter told me that the bar would not be open tonight.  She suggested that I show for dinner at half six.  I repaired to my room and consoled myself with the insurance of the bottle shop.  I was annoyed.  One of the reasons I have gone to Oxford and Cambridge – the choice of tense is not accidental – was to enjoy the company of people who know they have a lot to learn.  I have done about half of a dozen at each, and I know something of what is on offer.

So, at half six, I approached the appointed place at the college hall not expecting grace in Latin, or at all, as I used to get at Maddingley Hall, but a reasonable meal with reasonable wine in good company.  My heart miss-gave as I heard a racket emerging from the hall.  I could recall eating in the hall.  It is one of those stately halls garbed in timber, but it has some modern portraits of people who look frankly fascist, and a column embraced proscenium where you think some impeccably dressed white gentleman might do something unfortunate to a goat.  Tonight the hall could have hosted a pregame function for Man-U.

It was choc-full, like a footy crowd, with cafeteria service.  Start with the pudding, Dear, then choose between ravioli and roast chicken, and you can add chips, and one of those little bottles of sham red with little round glasses that you used to get on TAA in the fifties.  Which you pay extra for – remember, Ducky, the bar’s shut.

I bore my tray to a spot where I spied some room for my plate, and wine, as unworthy as they both were, and I sat down.  When one of a group of aquiline matrons told me that there was no cutlery in my spot.  I recall now it was the end of the table.  I was – really – minded to ask whether she had adored Jefferson to utter such a self-evident truth, but I was morbidly preoccupied by wondering whether the excision under her bottom lip had been transposed to the top of the nose.  Before she moved away – not without ostentation – she told me that that since I had been to Cambridge before, she might tell me that people had previously been seated in the hall by reference to their standing, or words to that effect, but that that rule had been recently relaxed.  She just wanted me to know that I was in a state of grace.  But that I should know better.

I fled.

Now, this kind of balls-up happens.  And we chuckle about it after a few drinks, and we try to put the outrage to good use.  That which does not kill us makes us better, some say.

The whole overturn now going on in the West refutes that silly saying.  As does the decline and fall of the Roman Empire – or anybody that whose time is up.

This balls-up at Selwyn College was an outrage.  This insolence of office is not good enough.  And it is a terrible symptom of our times.  People who should know better are just failing us – and the revenge of the losers looks frightful.  If this kind of insult can be put on us at Selwyn College, Cambridge, what hope have we?

My late father – God bless him – told me that he was used to being insulted, but that he preferred to be insulted by experts.  Tonight I learned again what Mac meant.

Passing bull 49 – Et tu, Gove, and Nordic noir


There is so much bull in the UK fiasco, but Dante would have to have created a new circle at the very bottom of hell to accommodate Michael Gove.  It is too distressing to talk about, so I will mention some bull of a lighter nature.

Nordic noir is fashionable.  One competent exponent is Anne Holt.  She lives in Oslo.  I just read her thriller Dead Joker.  The lead character is a woman in the police of high rank who lives with her partner.  At a critical time in an investigation, and in the lives of various parties, she goes to bed with one of her officers – who happens to be a man.  He has already generated a number of bastards from prior unions, but he is about to marry the most recent mother – who is also a police officer.  His boss was slated to give the speech of the best woman.  It may have caused something of a stir if she had had to confess that she had been made pregnant by the groom.

They apparently got themselves into this frightful fix when at least one of them became entranced by music.  It was a piano concerto.  It was said to be by Schubert.  The trouble is that so far as I know, Schubert never wrote a piano concerto.  I bet that the author was thinking of Brahms’ second piano concerto, the third movement.  It is as beautiful a piece of music as I have heard.

Whether it is powerful enough to achieve the effects here described might I suppose be an accident of history.  But if you want to test the issue get the version by Claudio Arrau with Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra.  It is a recording of surpassing beauty.  I’m due to visit Stockholm and Oslo shortly, but I will leave that recording home, for fear of unsettling the natives.

Poet of the month: Keats

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;

Round many western islands have I been

Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told

That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene

Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

He stared at the Pacific – and all his men

Looked at each other with a wild surmise –

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Finally, the people of Victoria get a chance to vote tomorrow for the CFA in what is clearly a federal issue.  I urge all people – whether in the bush or not – to vote to save the CFA.  And like the O’Connells of old in Richmond – vote early, vote hard, and vote often.

Passing Bull 42 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Refugees and Us


Many people outside Australia want to come to it because they are threatened or oppressed in their own country.  They are prepared to risk death to do so.  We say that their attempts to come here are illegal – unless they can afford to fly – and we use our navy to stop them.  We then justify our stopping them by saying that we have saved them from the risks of the voyage.  We are doing these people a favour.  Then we lock them up in lands that are brutal or corrupt or both.  We employ private institutions to do our SS work.  And we wait for the refugees to start burning themselves to death.

Have I missed something or is this why I will be again reminded in Cambridge that Australians are pariahs in Europe?  This is not just bullshit.  It is not just an offence against the mind.  The offence is against humanity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer made the following remarks at the beginning of 1943 after he had been many years in a Nazi jail.  They look to me to apply to Australia word for word in its attitudes to refugees in 2016.  Has ever such a rich country been so utterly mean?

There is a very real danger of our drifting into an attitude of contempt for humanity.  We know quite well that we have no right to do so, and that it would lead us into the most sterile relation to our fellow men.  The following thoughts may keep us from such a temptation.  It means that we at once fall into the worst of blunders of our opponents.  The man who despises another will never be able to make anything of him.  Nothing that we despise in the other man is entirely absent from ourselves.  We often expect from others more than we are willing to do ourselves.  Why have we hitherto thought so intemperately about man and his frailty and temptability?  We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer…..

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical.  Are we still of any use?  What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.  Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?

When I look with disgust on the sloganeering dope and the dull thug who have been in charge of this cruelty to people worse off than us, I am deeply ashamed of my own complicity.  What is the difference between me and the citizen of Munich who preferred to look the other way when Dachau was mentioned?

Poet of the Month: A D Hope

The Pleasure of Princes

What pleasures have great princes?  These: to know

Themselves reputed mad with pride or power;

To speak few words – few words and short bring low

This ancient house, that city with flame devour;


To make old men, their father’s enemies,

Drunk on the vintage of the former age;

To have great painters show their mistresses

Naked to the succeeding time; engage


The cunning of able, treacherous ministers

To serve, despite themselves, the cause they hate,

And leave a prosperous kingdom to their heirs

Nursed by the caterpillars of the state;


To keep their spies in good men’s hearts: to read

The malice of the wise, and act betimes;

To hear the Grand Remonstrances of greed,

Led by the pure; cheat justice of her crimes;


To beget worthless sons and, being old,

By starlight climb the battlements, and while

The pacing century hugs himself for cold,

Keep vigil like a lover, muse and smile,


And to think, to see from the grim castle steep

The midnight city below rejoice and shine:

‘There my great demon grumbles in his sleep

And dreams of his destruction, and of mine.’

Why is Telstra so cruel? Another capitalist nightmare


I am writing this on my third attempt to tell Telstra that their service has failed yet again.  I am without email or the internet.  I tried late last night but after twenty minutes the connection – with Telstra – just failed.  I tried again at 6.30 this morning.  The computer said that the wait time was fourteen minutes.  After forty three I had to give up to keep an appointment.  This time, the third, the computer said that the wait time was more than twenty minutes.  At least the computer has given up lying.  It is more honest than the dreadful bastards who run this rogue outfit.  Telstra has succeeded in being ruder to its customers than Qantas.  That is a fearful indictment.

As the butcher at Castlemaine said, if we ran a business like this, we would not have a business.  It is not just a business matter – decent people would not inflict this kind of vulgarity if not cruelty on other people because that kind of conduct is just plain immoral.

How are Telstra permitted to get away with a cruel indifference to people that reminds me so much of the cruel indifference that Communist regimes show to their people?  The only answer I can think of is that they have inherited a virtual monopoly that enables them to do what they like.  And overpay themselves massively.  They are the archetypal 800 pound gorilla.

Those dreadful galahs that pose as directors of this rogue outfit, and line their pockets as they go, should be required to make at least one of these calls a day.  They would then cure themselves of their own criminality within a week.

You have to wonder what it is about Australia that allows us to breed and raise people who are prepared to be so rude and cruel to other Australians.  Our love affair with mediocrity is one thing – but this is downright bastardry.  And what happens to people who have to be able to rely on these crooks to run their own business – as I do?  Must we all just get sucked down into their gutter?

And now here is the worst part.  I own shares in these bastards – I therefore get ripped off at both ends.

If you ever get to read this note, normal service will have been restored.  This call – the third – is past twenty minutes and climbing.  If we stay on the graph, it could be well over an hour – or I may just be despatched to oblivion.

Why ever did we give up those decent honest people at the PMG?  At least then we could complain to our local member.

PS After about thirty minutes, I got through on the third attempt.  I will not reflect on the man who sounded a long way away – gone are the days when NBN calls were taken at Townsville – for fear of reprisals, but he said a technician would have to call.  I explained I needed to be connected urgently for business reasons, and after another unconscionably long delay, he said that a technician would arrive this afternoon in a four hour window.  He would ring first.

Well, how silly would you have to be to believe anything these bludgers said?  I had mentioned to my overseas consultant, whose English was as shaky as his grasp of technology, that there had been grievous delays in my getting help.  He apologised and gave me a reference number to quote and said that he would enable me to duck the queue if I needed any more help.  My heart sank a bit when he said he would email me – my inability to get emails was the reason I was speaking to him. That might give rise to what some might call an ontological dilemma, or existential quandary.  We agreed that SMS might be more efficacious.  Things were looking up.

In fairness to Telstra, they rang at 4.25 – 35 minutes before the window closed – to say that because this was the weekend, they would not be able to get someone to me today, but would I like to see one tonight or Monday?  I explained that I had just fixed the problem.

How had I pulled that miracle off?  I recalled that I had made a note in my little black telephone book of a technique taught to me, I think, by the people in Townsville.  Even idiots like me start by switching everything off.  They had told me, as I found I had noted, to switch off the NBN connection at the wall, turn it back on, then insert a pin into the reset access point at the rear of the modem until all of the lights go out – and then go to your knees and pray.  Fervently.  I did that and – Lo!  After some Hithcockian sputtering, it spun into life, and I was back in touch with the world!

It would of course be silly to suggest that that simple advice should have been given to me shortly into my first call by someone whose tone commands confidence.  No – first the mug buyer has to endure another nightmare.  Alternatively, why as a shareholder should I have to foot the bill for a technician to call after hours when the problem could and should have been dealt with on the phone within ten minutes of my picking it up?

Perhaps we might set up a charitable refuge –