Passing Bull 248 – The almost crowd

Many of our commentators thrive on equivocation – and a coyness about what they may or may not stand for.  They often set up a straw man.  You get stuff like the following.  We were right to protect our sovereignty over illegal boat people if necessary by armed force.  The response of Germany was a dangerous over-reaction.  The climate may fluctuate, but the reaction of progressives is alarmist and a threat to the economy.  We are not against gay people, but we saw no need for legislation about same sex marriage.  The police in the U S may have problems, but Black Lives Matter has become an over-reaction that threatens law and order. The issue with Cofid has been blown out of proportion, and the lockdown is an unnecessary blight.  This is just another case of ‘experts’ undermining our freedom.  Cathy Freeman is a star but she brought politics into sport with that flag.  The opposition to Goodes was not racist and he too over-reacted.  We take as our guide the equivocations of the Jesuits in the witch hunts after Guy Fawkes.

There is no restraint or moderation.

In The Weekend Australian, 5 to 6 September, 2020, Terry McCrann said of Cofid:

Of these deaths [Cofid] 650 were in the Stasi state formerly known as Victoria.  And of those 505 were in aged care…..

On the health cost-benefit alone, the costs have and will far outweigh the direct virus benefits.  Then add on the monumental economic and financial costs, and we are still living through the greatest public policy failure in this country’s entire history.

In the column next to that one, Alan Kohler said:

Research …published this week clearly shows that the fewer deaths a country has, the better its economy does and vice versa.  For example, Britain has had 630 deaths per million population and its economy shrank 22 per cent in the June quarter..; Australia has had 27 deaths per million, and the economy shrank 7 per cent, among the least in the world….Pressure on Victoria to open up anyway, and on other states to end border restrictions are pointlessly political and at odds with both evidence and local politics.  Any state that has rising case numbers will go back into lockdown, no matter what Scott Morison says.

In the next weekend, a commentator refers to Biden’s reference to Trump as a ‘climate arsonist.’  That obviously over the top response is labelled feral, unhinged, unscientific, irrational, blatantly false and insane.  And the same commentator says that Trump’s ‘meandering statements’ are tested ‘against a literal standard not applied to other politicians.’

Stand by for an avalanche of bull about the U S Supreme Court.


Another commentator describes an American as ‘the most brilliant younger Catholic now writing.’  What is the significance of the professed faith of the American?  Perhaps it is the reason why ‘he mainly interrogates culture as more important than politics.’

Passing Bull 247 – Management speak

A company called Cleanaway Waste Management said this of its CEO, Mr Bansal:

The board of Cleanaway takes allegations of misconduct in the workplace very seriously.  Mr Bansal had some issues with overly assertive behaviour in the workplace and has acknowledged that he needed to address them.  The board is disappointed in the circumstances but has taken appropriate action.  We have noted the committed and sincere manner in which Mr Bansal has responded.  The board will not tolerate any further instances of unacceptable conduct.

After the board was advised of claims made about workplace behaviours involving Mr Bansal, a thorough independent investigation was conducted into the issues raised.  Following this investigation, the board implemented a range of measures including executive leadership mentoring, enhanced reporting and monitoring of the CEO’s conduct.  Mr Bansal has acknowledged that his behaviour should have been better and expressed contrition.  He has discussed this openly with the board and with his colleagues and has embraced changes in his approach.

Mr Bansal said:

I accept the feedback and remain to totally committed to creating a progressive culture at Cleanaway while executing on our strategy and delivering ongoing financial performance.

(The Australian, 15 September, 2020)

The outsider might ask: ‘What the hell was all that about?’  The lawyer might ask: ‘If these statements were made purportedly pursuant to some legal imperative, what is it that triggers the requirement of something being noted pursuant to that imperative, and do these utterances fulfil any such obligation?’  And their author might be informed that for some, including this newspaper, ‘progressive’ is a term of abuse.

Passing Bull 246 – Betting

The Financial Times carried a report:

The Japanese conglomerate had been snapping up options in tech stocks during the past month in huge amounts, fuelling the largest ever trading volumes in contracts linked to individual companies, these people said. One banker described it as a ‘dangerous’ bet.

Most forms of investment involve laying out money in the hope that you will be better off for having done so.  To that extent, investing may be said to involve betting.  If instead of putting my cash under the bed, I deposit it with the bank, I am hoping that the bank will repay that deposit on demand with interest.  I am betting that the bank will not run out of money before I make that call.  If instead of depositing the money as a customer and lender, I buy shares in the bank, I am making a forecast, and backing it up with money, that the bank will carry on business at a level of profit that will give me a greater return on my money as a shareholder than it would give to me as a customer and depositor.  That after all must be the premise on which the directors of the bank manage its business.  Their job is to run the business so that it gives a better return to its shareholders and investors than it gives to its depositors and customers.  That is the very essence of the business.  And most people understand that the greater the rate of return you get, the greater is the risk you take.  So, any investing can be seen as a type of betting.  It is therefore hardly illuminating to describe investing as betting.  It’s a bit like saying that a dog is canine.  But the word ‘dangerous’ does add something.  This bet is thought to carry more risk, and presumably therefore a higher rate of return.

As it happens, the press this morning carried a report that Tom Waterhouse – of betting on horse-racing fame – is going into the business of investing in the stock market – he will have ‘funds under management’ of companies involved in gaming.  If you choose to invest in those funds, you might be looking at three levels of betting.  The first level consists of the gaming companies Mr Waterhouse invests in making a profit; the second consists of Mr Waterhouse making a profit; and the third consists of your ending up better off with this form of investment compared to others. 

There are epithets for those who pursue the last line of investment.  ‘Credulous’ is one of the more polite epithets.  And that’s before you ask if the house always wins or that the business of Mr Waterhouse is likely to be structured on the premise that he gets more out of it than you will.


Trump is a hot but threatening politician, exuding a primitive albeit vicious power.  Biden, by contrast, is a cool politician, a decent man, but, compared with Trump, he looks weak, even fragile.  This election is a civil war over what constitutes virtue.

The Australian, 2 September, 2020, Paul Kelly

The last politician I can think of who used the word ‘virtue’ in  a political context was Robespierre – and he did not meet a good end.  But if this election is between a man who is decent and one who is not, ‘virtue’ could know only one winner.  You might get more sense from Superman.

Passing Bull 246 – Idolatry

Trump’s most devastating line: ‘No one will be safe in Joe Aiden’s America.’  This echoed Pence’s killer line from the night before: ‘You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.’

The Weekend Australian, 29-30 August 2020, Greg Sheridan

The article was captioned: ‘Normalised’ Trump flicks switch to discipline and leaves Biden looking weak. 

Speeches by Donald Trump and Mike Pence marked a very effective Republican convention.

What you got in this Republican convention was a normalised Trump, disciplined and effective, and a normalised Republican Party.

The Australian is on par with Fox News.

Passing Bull 243 – More on freedom


The virus was obviously sent to test us.  And some of us are doing better than others.  The threat to public health and safety leads to government being called on to interfere in our lives much more than we would ordinarily want.  People say that they are less free than they were before.  As we know, that is just about an inevitable consequence of any law.  The requirements of masking have led to complaints about a loss of freedom.  But it follows as night the day that in a time of emergency – genuine emergency on this occasion – we will be less free to act in certain ways than before.

Someone – it may have been G B Shaw – said ‘Freedom means responsibility – that’s why most men fear it.’  That sounds about right – if how you act is completely a matter for you, then the decision is yours and yours alone.  You will have to accept responsibility for your decision – you will not have the prop of superior orders to rely on.

In responding to the virus, each one of us will be affected by the conduct of everyone else.  The law cannot control every contingency.  To some extent at least, each one of us is responsible to the rest of us for doing what is reasonably required to see us through this emergency.  People who complain that the government is curtailing their freedom often forget that with that freedom comes a responsibility to act in a way that does not increase the risk of harm to others.  In other words, freedom comes with a price.


Trump is often unseemly, but in focusing on law and order, he may be saying things that Americans will increasingly want to hear.

The Australian, 4 June, 2020, Greg Sheridan

Then he sent in the army.

Whether it [dealing with COVID-19] was the necessary price of success or born of hysterical overreaction, history can judge.

The Australian, 4 June, 2020, Adam Creighton

Passing Bull 243 – Silliness about rights


You have the right walk down the street outside my house.  But you may be denied that right if you want to cross the road at a light controlled intersection and you are facing a red light.  We use traffic lights to reduce the risk of accidents between people using the same roads. But then we took a further step.  We made it compulsory for the driver of a motor car to wear seat belts.  This law was not made to reduce the risks of others being hurt.  It was made to reduce the risk of damage if the driver was involved in a collision.  Some people were offended.  They complained that this law invaded their rights by impairing their freedom.  One answer is that all laws affect the freedom of people since they will not be free – they will have to face consequences – if they break the law.  If you want to introduce economics into this discussion about compulsory wearing of seat-belts, it is that people injuring themselves badly because they are not wearing seat-belts may be injured badly enough to require hospitalisation – at our expense.

That is the argument for the compulsory wearing of face masks during a time of epidemic.  You do not hear that argument so much outside the U S, but to many of us, Americans have a fixation about ‘rights’ and ‘liberty.’  That fixation reached the level of madness when a state governor sued a city mayor for seeking to make the wearing of face masks compulsory.  It adds nothing to say that a law affects ‘freedom’ since all laws do just that.


We’ve been having a lively debate lately about what the sudden social-justice ascendancy in American institutions represents, and whether the new iconoclastic progressivism is just an organic development in liberalism or a post –liberal successor.

New York Times, 7 July, 2020

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said later ‘the Commonwealth accepts the need for this action in response to containing spread of the virus’.

But, Kidd said, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee — the federal-state health advisory body so often invoked by Morrison — ‘was not involved in that decision.

‘The AHPPC does not provide advice on border closures’, Kidd added.

ABC, 7 July, 2020

Passing Bull 242 – The ode of Trump

The Wall Street Journal once commanded respect.  It put out an editorial about the speech of Donald Trump for Independence Day.  The convention is that this is not a time for party politics or division.  The editorial called the speech a ‘familiar Fourth of July ode to liberty…..Contrary to the media reporting, the America Trump described is one of genuine racial equality and diversity…’  He described ‘a left-wing cultural revolution against traditional American values of free speech and political tolerance.’  The fault lies with ‘progressives.’

The speech contained the following.

Let us also send our deepest thanks to our wonderful veterans, law enforcement, first responders and the doctors, nurses and scientists working tirelessly to kill the virus…..

I am here as your President to proclaim, before the country and before the world, this monument will never be desecrated…..

Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children…..

Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities…..

Many of these people have no idea why they are doing this, but some know exactly what they are doing…..

This attack on our liberty, our magnificent liberty, must be stopped, and it will be stopped very quickly…..

We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation’s children, end this radical assault, and preserve our beloved American way of life…..

In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far left fascism that demands absolute allegiance…..

This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution…..

The violent mayhem we have seen in the streets and cities that are run by liberal Democrats in every case is the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism, and other cultural institutions……

All of that is rubbish.  But it is also vicious.  The WSJ shows how far the U S has fallen.  Not only have better people not stood up to Trump – they positively encourage him.  And Donald Trump would not know an ode from an owl.

Quite by chance, I was reading Nicholas Nickleby again and came across this passage:

There are some men who, living with the one object of enriching themselves, no matter by what means, and being perfectly conscious of the baseness and rascality of the means which they will use every day towards this end, affect nevertheless—even to themselves—a high tone of moral rectitude, and shake their heads and sigh over the depravity of the world.  Some of the craftiest scoundrels that ever walked this earth, or rather—for walking implies, at least, an erect position and the bearing of a man—that ever crawled and crept through life by its dirtiest and narrowest ways, will gravely jot down in diaries the events of every day, and keep a regular debtor and creditor account with Heaven, which shall always show a floating balance in their own favour.  Whether this is a gratuitous (the only gratuitous) part of the falsehood and trickery of such men’s lives, or whether they really hope to cheat Heaven itself, and lay up treasure in the next world by the same process which has enabled them to lay up treasure in this—not to question how it is, so it is.


Ember quotes the law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, the theorist of intersectionality, marveling at the change: ‘You basically have a moment where every corporation worth its salt is saying something about structural racism and anti-blackness, and that stuff is even outdistancing what candidates in the Democratic Party were actually saying.’

New York Times, 24 June, 2020

What says your theory of intersectionality?

Passing Bull 239 – Evasion


The litigation around the attempted takeover of BHP in 1985 was as fierce as I have seen.  I acted for Robert Holmes a Court.  He was the coolest business man I have known – so cool, that you never knew what might happen next.  (Some lawyers wondered if they should seek instructions from the newspapers.)  When asked what he thought of his opposite number, the CEO of BHP, Brian Loton, Holmes a Court said that he was ‘basically honest.’  Imagine a circular playing field.  Within it is another circle.  What happens if you land in the outer area?  What happens with the honesty of Mr Loton if he is outside his ‘basic’ part?

There you see language used to allow what we call ‘wriggle room’.  We can see a similar possibility of doubt about the reach of a denial.  If someone claims I owe him $10, and I believe I am only liable to pay $5, do I acknowledge a debt of $5 or do I simply deny that I owe $10 or any part of that amount?   The rules of our civil procedure seek to encourage candour by seeking to bar evasive denials, but the timidity of lawyers usually leads to a blanket denial.

There is controversy about the behaviour of police in the U S.  They are close to a crisis in looking at how police respond to people of colour.  The President and others have denied that there is ‘systemic racism.’  Do you see the capacity for an evasive denial?  Are you denying that there is any racism or are you saying that any such racism is not ‘systemic’?

The problem is worse here because both the terms ‘racism’ and ‘systemic’ are so slippery.  ‘Racism’ here probably means something like – because white police officers think that black people are inferior to white people, they treat black people with less respect for their civil rights than they treat white people.  But if that is alleged against white police officers at large, then it does look like such attitudes come from the ‘system’ of the police.  How then could any such ‘racism’ be anything other than ‘systemic’?

With so much of what passes for public discourse now, you do wonder if people get slippery by design or habit.  Good grief, might the problem be systemic?


‘Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night – or look at what just happened in Louisville with 7 people shot. I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means,’ Trump said.

The president added, ‘It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement.’

The Guardian, 30 May 2020.

In particular, you know what also makes a major contribution to the quality of life? Not dying.

New York Times, 30 May, 2020

Passing Bull 238 – Abstractions – again


There was such a thing as the Declaration of Independence.  It was a lengthy written statement signed by many people.  There was no such thing as the French Revolution.  Rather that is the name – or label or category or description – applied to a series of events in France over a period of time, for the duration of which there is no agreement, as a result of which the whole structure of government in France was destroyed with violence and differently put back together again – and again, and again.

On 14 July 1789, the bourgeoisie of Paris did nothing that we can relate.  The most we can say is that some citizens who may or may not have answered that description – and there is no agreement on the criteria by which that term may be applied – engaged in a riot that led to the fall of the Bastille – an event that many take to symbolise the series of events to which we apply the label of the French Revolution.

Similarly, there is no such thing as socialism, fascism, or capitalism –or liberalism, conservatism, or progressivism.  Each of those words stands for a name, label, category or description for some kinds of social, political or economic aspiration or behaviour.  And the criteria, such as they are, for the first three boxes are far more settled than that for the last three.  The position is even more obscure with that old left/right distinction.

We are speaking of abstractions.  The concrete is material and specific.  The abstract is the ideal and general.  The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy says:

Many philosophies are nervous of a realm of abstract entities…Friends of abstract objects say that there is nothing wrong with referring to them, but we must not make the mistake of imagining them to be especially large or spread-out kinds of concrete object.

Bertrand Russell came close to making that kind of mistake.

If we ask ourselves what justice is, it is natural to proceed by considering this, that and the other just act with a view to discovering what they have in common.  They must all, in some sense, partake of a common nature, which will be found in whatever is just and nothing else.

If I want a blue table, I can go and buy a can of Dulux and paint it.  But I cannot do anything like that to get a fair (just) result in a dispute I have to decide.  Fairness is an epithet to be applied by looking at how that assessment has been made or justified in the past.

So, if we find words like ‘socialism’ or ‘liberalism’ being applied as if they were some kind of thing that has a life or force of its own, then we may be looking at thinking that is at best sloppy.

Consider then the headings and final paragraphs of pieces by Paul Kelly, Greg Sheridan and Chris Kenny in The Weekend Australian (6 June, 2020.)


The Uncivil War Killing Liberalism

The US riots are symptomatic of a disease spreading across the West.

Twenty years [after 1999] it is obvious that those shared values are gravely undermined and equally obvious that liberal democracy is no longer working properly.  History, however, suggests liberalism has been in worse trouble at various times in the past.  Its demise has been frequently predicted but such predictions always misjudged its immense recuperative ability.


US protests not about race but disadvantage

The liberal media has got it all wrong on America

The U S is not systemically racist.  Despite its history, it is systemically anti-racist.  If the liberal elites, who more or less hate the U S on principle, push the systemic racism line long enough and hysterically enough, they may create the reality they claim to oppose.


Trump attackers as ignorant and shallow as he is

Millennials, fuelled by the media, are trying to blame centuries of division on just one man

Democrat activists are now proudly cheering ‘defund the police’ along with lawless mobs.  The liberal left and the media/political class might realise all too late, that they are fostering a clear-cut law-and-order debate in an election year and putting themselves on the wrong side of it.

May the Lord have mercy on those infected with the liberalism espied by these commentators.  They put me in mind of a song of Anne Murray that my daughters grew up with: ‘Hey Daddy…. there’s a hippo in my bathtub.’  (She also does a fine Teddy Bears’ Picnic and, I think, Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte.)  It is as if the three commentators are competing to allow abstractions to drive their commentary and go for as long as possible without committing to one verifiable statement of fact.

Just what any of them may have had in mind is not easy to pick.  Mr Kelly says ‘liberalism means equality before the law regardless of race, equal access to health care and education on the principle of universalism.’  Over the page we get: ‘The essence of liberalism has been treating people as people regardless of race, gender or sex, religion age and ethnicity.’  Who would oppose that essence?  But equal access to health care does not exist in the US, whereas the quickest way to commit political suicide in Australia would be to call universal health into question or to seek to impose universal education provided by government.

Yet we get a citation of an American observer: ‘The thesis is that liberalism is to blame for the decline of religious faith and the destruction wrought by progressive morality….In practice (it) generates titanic inequality, enforces uniformity, fosters material and spiritual degradation and undermines freedom.’  Golly.  Mr Sheridan sees hysteria; so does Mr Kenny.  ‘The hysterical obsession with Trump and the endless hyperbole about him demeans those spewing it and distracts from the central issues.’ Yes, ‘spewing’ is the word.

For the reasons given, the articles that I have set out above do not in my view make sense.  And there is something ineffably patronising about the reaction of these people to both climate change and Trump.  ‘Yes, yes, Dear Boy, there is a problem….. but don’t go over the top.  If you do, you will be consigned to join the ‘liberal elites’ or ‘the media/political class’.  And then you might be branded as a Guardian reader.  You can trust us.  We’ve been around longer than the liberals and progressives. We have seen it all before and we will continue to call it just as we see it.’

It is not ideas or labels that make history – our story.  It is people who make history.  That proposition is as simple as it is inevitable, but people, who should know better, either forget it or choose to ignore it.  Sir Lewis Namier knew as much about writing history as anyone.  He said this:

The basic elements of the Imperial Problem during the American Revolution must be sought not so much in conscious opinions and professed views bearing directly on it, as in the very structure and life of the Empire; and in doing that, the words of Danton should be remembered – ‘on ne fait pas le procès aux révolutions’ [There is no fixed process for revolutions].  Those who are out to apportion guilt in history have to keep to views and opinions, judge the collisions of planets by the rules of road traffic, make history into something like a column of motoring accidents, and discuss it in the atmosphere of a police court.

So, the next time someone lobs an –ism at you, ask them if it was wearing blue suede shoes.  If it was, the imperative of Elvis may or may not have been honoured.


The MP in question is George Christensen, the Queensland National. It’s no great insight to observe George blows hard. George talks a big game, and here he is, talking a big game on the reddest, hottest, political issue of the moment – Australia’s fraying relationship with our largest trading partner. George has given the matter some reflection, and he thinks ‘we can keep giving in to China’s threats, and selling off our country, or we can make a stand for our sovereignty’ – and he’d very much like you to write him and take his survey.

The Guardian, 23 May, 2020                                       

Community takes precedence over the individualistic liberalistic atomising tendencies of the egoism of the individual.

Hans Frank, cited in East West Street.

Well, did you know that they do a nice line in sovereignty at Manila?

Passing Bull 238–Execution


During the lockdown, a new fad has appeared on footy panel shows.  The panel wear headphones.  Do they want a replay of the Dam Busters? While watching cricket replays I came across another fad.  At a critical point in the game, for batsman (‘batter’ is better left to baseball) or bowler, we get solemnly told that ‘execution’ is essential.  ‘Execution’ there means bowling the ball or playing a shot.  That is what the whole bloody game is about.  The word ‘execution’ adds nothing.  As do those ‘War Room’ analyses where people solemnly intone about tactics and strategy after the event and in a manner that suggests that footballers have boned up on Clausewitz On War.  They occasionally make plausible comments on strategy in Rugby Union, but when they do that for the NRL, we know that we are in Fantasyland.


The MP in question is George Christensen, the Queensland National. It’s no great insight to observe George blows hard. George talks a big game, and here he is, talking a big game on the reddest, hottest, political issue of the moment – Australia’s fraying relationship with our largest trading partner. George has given the matter some reflection, and he thinks ‘we can keep giving in to China’s threats, and selling off our country, or we can make a stand for our sovereignty’ – and he’d very much like you to write him and take his survey.

The Guardian, 23 May, 2020

There you have a politician who is unlovely as it gets.  He has a passion for bull whips, God, and whatever he can get in the Philippines.  And ‘sovereignty’ is the first retreat of the inane.