Passing bull 178 – There’s one born everyday

 

Do you sometimes wonder if America will wake up one day, as did Italy after Mussolini and Germany did after Hitler, and ask – was this all just a bad dream?  If no, how did we let it all happen?  Did we just check in our brains, and our better selves, behind the door?

In his recent and wordy book Seven Types of Atheism, John Gray has a chapter ‘Secular Humanism, a Sacred relic’.  (The book is loaded with –isms.)  There is a section ‘From Nietzsche to Ayn Rand.’  The former is a spoiler alert for bullshit; so is the latter.

This Russian Jewish migrant to the U S would become the darling of the type of people who would stigmatise migrants and seek to lock the door against them.  She was an amateur philosopher and she has been treated as such by professionals.  But whereas this kind of intellectual lunacy had been the preserve of one side of politics, she may have been the harbinger of its shift to the other side.  She was into –isms and her brand of moonshine was called ‘objectivism’  Her anointed apostle said that objectivism was about ‘the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.’  When you get heroic, noble and absolute in the one sentence, you are assured of vintage bullshit.

This world view is set out in the novel Atlas Shrugged.   That very long novel has biblical force for the disciples of Ayn Rand.  Her view of self-interest was a form of ‘ethical egoism.’  Donald Trump, I suspect, has never finished a book in his life, not even a Famous Five, but if he had, it should have been Atlas Shrugged – the ego enshrined in pure bullshit.  You would not be surprised if you found some autographed copies lying around the IPA.

Naturally, Ayn Rand developed a following of the type called ‘cult.’  She is beloved by the Tea Party crowd and those who call themselves ‘libertarian’.  (A good sane mate of mine says that that word is code for fascist; all I can say in response is that I am against most labels.)  Mr Gray gives evidence of the cult as follows.

Rand’s cult aimed to govern every aspect of life.  She was a dedicated smoker, and her followers were instructed that they had to smoke as well.  Not only did Rand smoke – she used a cigarette holder – so that when she addressed large audiences of the faithful, a thousand cigarette-holders would move in unison with hers.

It is like a soft comic version of a Nuremberg rally, Charlie Chaplin style.  But – hilariously – the faithful were branded with the Bolshevik label the ‘Collective.’

The selection of marriage partners was also controlled. In her view of things, rational human beings should not associate with those that are irrational.  There could be no worse example of this than two people joined together in marriage by mere emotion, so officers of the cult were empowered to pair Rand’s disciples only with others who also subscribed to the faith.  The marriage ceremony included pledging devotion to Rand, then opening Atlas Shrugged at random to read aloud a passage from the sacred text.

So, in the space of a few lines, we have gone from Marx Brothers at the Opera to Mein Kampf, and no one in the Collective knew or cared.  ‘What is good for me is right.’  Someone else said this, but Rand approved it as the ‘best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard.’  She later cut the following passage from her first novel We the Living:

I loathe your ideas.  I admire your methods……What are your masses but mud to be ground under foot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?  What is the people but millions of puny, shrivelled, helpless souls that have no thoughts of their own, no dreams of their own, no will of their own, who eat and sleep and chew helplessly the word put into their mildewed brains.

You can find almost everything that made Lenin loathsome in Ayn Rand.  There is in truth one born every minute.  Just ask the publishers of Janet Albrechtsen.  Or just look at the mob at a Trump rally – the ones Flynn worked over with ‘Lock her up.’  (And then ask yourself why a three star general should not get six with a four for that alone.)

Bloopers

The more complex questions are about the Coalition, which as Hennessy said on the ABC, ‘is at a crossroads of existentialism.’

The Guardian, 25 November, 2018

As a general rule, we should avoid words that we don’t understand – but which signify pure bullshit.

Passing bull 177 – Loose language

 

The White House says there is ‘no direct evidence’ linking the Saudi Crown Prince to the murder of a declared enemy of the Crown Prince.  What does that phrase mean?  It is not a term known to the law.  It is a phrase made up by spin doctors to enable the U S to prefer money to morals under that silly phrase ‘America First.’

Most people looking at the matter objectively are comfortably satisfied that the Crown Prince was actively involved in the murder.  They have reached that satisfaction based on what we describe as circumstantial evidence, and by the consciousness of guilt revealed by the stream of lies after the event in all of which the Crown Prince participated and for which on any view he is responsible.  Any doubt that anyone may have had was obliterated by the high fives the Crown Prince exchanged with another serial killer, Vladimir Putin.  That was a brazen insult to the whole world.  Anything goes for really bad people while the White House is as it is.  Now after a briefing from the FBI, which the President had denied to Congress, a Republican senator says that if the Crown Prince went before a jury he would be convicted.  Presumably the senator thinks that the evidence establishes the guilt of the Crown Prince of murder beyond reasonable doubt.

The evasion of the White House does raise the question of what standard of proof is appropriate for decisions taken by governments.  Our law knows three standards.  In civil disputes it is the balance of probabilities.  The person complaining wins if the court thinks that on balance their version is more likely than that of the other side – 51 to 49 will do.  In criminal proceedings the case must be proved beyond reasonable doubt – and judges are strictly enjoined not to flirt with that wording that they think is well understood by members of a jury.

Occasionally you will find an intermediate standard in civil cases.  If there is a very strong allegation – of say dishonesty- the court may hold that a standard somewhere between the two may be required.  In the proceedings against the Essendon footballers, the CAS expressed the standard as one requiring ‘comfortable satisfaction.’  In nearly fifty years of trying to apply this learning, I don’t think I have ever been happy with my grasp of the issue – to me it savours of like being a little bit pregnant – and nothing about the CAS decision enlightened or encouraged me.

Perhaps none of these standards is appropriate when looking at decisions taken by governments.  The very notion of onus of proof may not be suitable in looking at administrative decisions.  It may be a serious allegation to make that a foreign power is meaning to attack you, but it would be absurd to suggest that any finding higher than one on the balance of probabilities was required before you took steps to meet that threat.

For that matter, I don’t know whether this issue is canvassed by test umpires in rugby or cricket.  I suspect that as matter of fact rather than law or the rules of the game, the standard may depend on the gravity of the consequences.  Giving someone a red card may require more satisfaction than putting down a scrum after a finding of off side.  In the leading case on this subject, the then Chief Justice made one of the few statements on this point that I can follow.  He said that as a matter of common sense you might require more to convict someone of murder than you would to give him a parking ticket.

That discussion is enough to demonstrate the silliness statement of the White House about the guilt of the Crown Prince.

Another silly statement comes from those holding back on dealing with climate change.  They are past denial as such but not past calling scientists ‘alarmist’.  What’s wrong with being alarmed – as most of us are each morning in order to get us up to go to work on time?  Lincoln was alarmed at the threat to the United States and died holding them together.  Ghandi was alarmed at the continuance of the Empire in India and died seeking the release of his nation.  Churchill was alarmed at the rise of Hitler and lost the election after being the prime instrument of his defeat.  Mandela was alarmed at the sheer injustice of apartheid, and now the former terrorist is revered as a secular saint around the world.  And I may add that each of these heroes signalled fair bit of virtue on their way.

The bullshit in some of our press is alarming.

Passing bull 176 Bull about theory and politics

 

When the English decided that they needed to have a revolution in 1688, they went ahead and did it, and they justified it with a theory later.  It was a great success – it was largely peaceful, and it continues to form the basis of our constitutional settlement.  When the French decided that they needed to have a revolution in 1789, they first developed a theory, and then they sought to implement it.  The result was a cruel failure from which France still suffers – they are lethally rioting against government as I write.

The difference between these two world views is as deep as the English Channel.  It lies behind the famous observation of Oliver Wendell Holmes that ‘the life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.’

The young republic of the United States sought to bridge those two outlooks.  The English Bill of Rights was the end product of centuries of development of the common law by judges and of the conflict between the Crown and Parliament.  It is still on the books and part of our mindset, but it gives us no grief.  We could repeal it tomorrow.

The Americans went further and wrote it into their Constitution.  That means it can only be altered legislatively by referendum.  But it can be altered – de facto or de iure – by judicial decision, in the form of a judgment of the Supreme Court.  What is the upshot of that excursus into locking in high principles and theory?  One is the frightful consequence of the right to bear arms as that right is currently interpreted by the judges.  Another is that those judges are now more than ever seen to be part of a political process and the outcome of pitched partisan battles.

We find either result to be equally repellent.  The law of abortion in the U S is for the most part written by unelected judges.  The current president was in some part elected by people voting in an election for the executive so that he can appoint to the judiciary people whose declared positions suggest that they can be relied on to rewrite the law to conform to the platform of one political party.  We abhor that mongrel process.

Australians have for the most part followed their English ancestors in preferring results to theory, and in preferring experience to logic.  ‘Just get on with it and do it – and preferably, shut about it.’  We don’t like or trust ‘ideology’ and what people call ‘culture wars’ are irrelevant distractions from people who did not have enough intellectual toys in their youth.  Most of us think that the phrase ‘political science’ is a contradiction in terms, and that therefore the most dangerous siren is likely to be blown by someone who confesses to a Ph D in that part of the domain of the arcane – and who of course has never held down a real job, or run a political campaign.

Now, all that stuff is very general, and open to the suggestion that it is unwarranted abstraction or empiricism without the benefit of evidence, but it also looks to me to be true.

And that is the simplest way to look at the way we voted in Victoria on Saturday.  We thought that one party had been too infected and divided by theory.  We preferred the crowd who said ‘Bugger the theory – let’s just get on with it.’

The consensus is that this truth will be ignored by those in the media who profit from banging on about theory.  That’s because that’s how they derive their livelihood.  It follows that the leaders of the federal opposition will each night fall on their knees and pray that their opponents continue to listen to and be guided by Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt.  They can be relied on to lead the Liberals into temptation and deliver them to evil – and an almighty thrashing from a vengeful public that justly feels betrayed by people who act more like mice than men.

There is after all a matter of tone.  I don’t want my Prime Minister pandering to shock jocks.  Mr Turnbull didn’t do that and that’s one reason I voted for him.  My estimation of Mr Andrews went up when I read that he refuses to talk to our resident shock jock in Melbourne.

May I go back to England?  It is in a frightful and humiliating mess.  They forgot their mode of operation.  They settled on some ideological objective and then sought to implement it.  They can’t.  Their high theories have collapsed in a heap against the facts of life.  They, like we, should remember what got us here.

Bloopers

Abbott calls for Liberal voter unity.

The Weekend Australian, 27 October, 2018.

Leading headline page one.  Marked Exclusive.  Who else would be silly enough to print that?

**

‘We are very mindful of the response that our announcement about recognising people who have served in defence has had today, and it was a gesture genuinely done to pay respects to those who have served our country,’ he said.

‘Over the coming months, we will be working consultatively with community groups and our own team members who have served in defence to determine the best way forward.’

‘If this consultative process determines that public acknowledgement of their service through optional priority boarding is not appropriate, then we will certainly be respectful of that.’

The Guardian, Melbourne Cup Day, 2018

We blew it.

Passing bull 175 – Going over the top – and misusing the word ‘conservative’

 

One of the fads corroding our discourse is the tendency to go over the top with language.  Critics of the current proposal to see the U K out of Europe say that it would make the U K into a vassal state of Europe.  A ‘vassal’ is a term found in the feudal system that meant ‘one holding lands from a superior on conditions of homage and allegiance.’  The U K is not in that position now, and would not be under the proposal.  Still, when people flaunt the term sovereignty in this context, you must expect some loose thought and looser language.

Another example came from the suggestion that we might move our embassy in Israel.  Not surprisingly, this suggestion troubles our two biggest neighbours – whose people are of a different faith.  But we are solemnly told that we must not let them dictate to us.  That is silly.  What we are being asked to do is to take their position into account.  That is what we should have done before making this rash announcement.  My local Post Office has an answer to our unneeded predicament.  Pull the embassy out altogether – it is a waste of bloody money.

And while the PM said that his faith had nothing to do with the move, a proposition that seemed more plausible to some than others, we have not heard the same from our high-rise Treasurer who looks like he lives to be photographed by the press.

But then we are told that if the P M backtracks, he will be eviscerated by the conservatives in his own party.  This is a shocking abuse or misuse of the term ‘conservative’.  As best as I can see, the people referred to are nothing like ‘conservatives’.  They look to have the following views.

They are attracted to factions, plots, conspiracies and coups in the same way that little boys like playing with matches.  They love rubbishing the elites of the political class, even though they occupy the commanding heights of that class.  They think that patriotism is a decent and useful term.  They even have a closet hankering after Donald Trump’s Operation Faithful Patriot, because they neither like nor trust migrants, which can lead to problems in a migrant nation.  They get misty-eyed about civilisation, but then they get coy about how the epithet Western might qualify the noun.  They have never held down a real job.  They would not know what a working man looks like.  They believe that people without a tertiary degree, even those as useless as theirs, are bloody lucky to have the vote, and that if there is such a thing as a dinkum Aussie, he would be the definitive pain in the bum.  They consort with shock jocks and the Murdoch press.  If you took away their clichés and labels, they would be stark naked.  They hold that it is not right to criticise Donald Trump.  They maintain that Israel and its current PM can do no wrong.  They think that supporters of Palestinians are Green/Left dupes of the Love Media who are soft on border security and sovereignty to boot.  They practise a curious form of faith that allows them to hold that running a concentration camp for children in the Pacific conforms with the Sermon on the Mount.  They believe that most experts are frauds (unless they are involved in saving their life or liberty).  Science is bullshit and worries about the climate are alarmist (it is bad taste to mention California Burning so near the event – that’s like talking about the dead after another massacre).  Thoughts and prayers can cure most ills since by and large God is all that He is cracked up to be – even if you don’t take His word too seriously too close to home.  They have bizarre dreams about liberty or freedom that would have led to a fit of the giggles in Edmund Burke or Disraeli.  They are relieved that the gorgeously photogenic imports into the House of Windsor comfy rug will save these colonies from the delusional insecurity of Home Rule or independence.  They believe – devoutly – that cadres of the IPA are well educated and rational philosophers and economists who have election-winning ideas for the true believers.  And while it is both polite and meaningful for them to label others as progressives, it is neither polite nor meaningful for them to be labelled as regressive, reactionary or retrograde.

In short, this motley is a viscerally uncomely mix of the clown, the dunce, and the jerk.  They are a dream come true for Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.  If you want an example, look out for the unsullied brashness of that boyish senator who looks like his mum dresses him and then combs his hair.  Or catch a glint of that Chesty Bond smile of Tim Wilson, M P.  And then salute the flag and hum a few bars from the Goons’ classic hit ‘I’m walking backwards for Christmas – across the Irish Sea.’  I wonder if they have their own version of a Masonic hand-shake?  And just what condition was God in when he set up this Comédie Humaine?

The saddest part about these falsely named ‘conservatives’ is that they are prone to endorse what is called populism, which is the antithesis of conservatism, and while they bemoan the death of faith in politics and liberal democracy, they are among the principal instruments of that death.

Then I read that a Conservative MP in England said that the current proposal for leaving Europe was not what people in the U K had voted for.  That raises two questions.  First, how does she know what the people voted for?  So much of what passes for debate on this issue is the assumption that the people gave a clear instruction – or worse, a clear mandate.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Secondly, if the MP is saying that the people voted for a much better deal than this – a deal that would leave them in no way worse off – then she is saying that the lies they were told were effective – scintillatingly so.

What is the upshot of this exercise in what is called democracy?  It looks to me as if there is a majority against the present proposal to leave of about two to one.  But there is a similar majority against leaving with no deal.  If therefore Europe is to be taken at its word, England looks set to get a result either way that a clear majority does not want.  How they resolve that without going back to the source – the people – for new instructions escapes me.

Bloopers

The climate debate has become a vehicle for the promotion of political ideology, civilizational guilt, global wealth distribution, virtue signalling and doomsaying.  Alarmism is a prime post-material preoccupation for the prosperous in Western liberal democracies.  In an age of identity politics, climate concerns are trumpeted as a demonstration of the proponent’s selflessness and sophistication while its technological edge creates hobbies for those wealthy enough to indulge in electric cars, cover their roof in solar panels or invest in taxpayer-subsidised renewable projects

**

More voters see themselves as swinging voters.  Yet it’s the declining Left and Right activists who dominate parties and the political message we see and hear via the media.  It distorts the discussion when the vast majority of voters see politics through an issue-by-issue prism rather than the mindless tribal banality of cheering on one side or the other.  As a result, disillusionment sets in for most of us, which soon leads to disengagement from the political process.  This exacerbates the problem because the world is run by those who ‘show up.’

The Weekend Australian, November 17-18, 2018

The ‘mindless tribal banality’ of the first citation (Chris Kenny) warrants the validity of the second (Peter Van Onselen).

A pleasant anecdote

While reading again Graham Robb’s Balzac – and it is a great read – I learned that early in his intellectual life, Balzac adopted the view of the Epicureans that the world was created while God was drunk.  I do not wish to offend my religious friends, but with the world as I have described it above – La Comédie Humaine – that view gave me a lot comfort.  Even if I was surprised to learn that God and Epicurus were on speaking terms.

Passing bull 174 –Liberals and Progressives – Labels gone berserk

 

In a recent piece in The New York Times, the author sought to explain the difference between ‘liberals’ and ‘progressives.’

In recent decades, the label ‘progressive’ has been resurrected to replace ‘liberal,’ a once vaunted term so successfully maligned by Republicans that it fell out of use….

Historical progressivism is an ideology whose American avatars, like Woodrow Wilson, saw progress as the inevitable outcome of human affairs. Of course, liberals and conservatives believe that their policies will result in positive outcomes, too. But it is another thing to say, as American Progressives did, that the contemporary political task was to identify a destination, grip the wheel and depress the accelerator.

The basic premise of liberal politics, by contrast, is the capacity of government to do good, especially in ameliorating economic ills. …A liberal can believe that government can do more good or less, and one can debate how much to conserve. But progressivism is inherently hostile to moderation because progress is an unmitigated good. There cannot be too much of it…..

Unlike liberalism, progressivism is intrinsically opposed to conservation. It renders adhering to tradition unreasonable rather than seeing it, as the liberal can, as a source of wisdom…..Because progress is an unadulterated good, it supersedes the rights of its opponents.

Where liberalism seeks to ameliorate economic ills, progressivism’s goal is to eradicate them…..

But neither liberalism nor conservatism opposes rationality.  Conservatism holds that accumulated tradition is a likelier source of wisdom than the cleverest individual at any one moment….. One cannot, of course, make too much of labels.….The appropriate label for those who do not believe in the ideology of progress but who do believe in government’s capacity to do good is ‘liberal.’ They would do well, politically as well as philosophically, to revive it.

It is unusual to find such vintage bullshit in such a fine newspaper that usually knows enough to leave undergraduate ideology well alone.

The author clearly sees himself as a liberal, and not a progressive, a term that he wants to malign in the same way that Republicans successfully maligned ‘liberal’.

If you ran into John and Betty in the street, and you were told that John was different to Betty – he was a liberal, but she was a progressive – you would not know what to make of it.  And you would be no better off after reading what I have set out above.

As it seems to me, there are at least two mistakes.  In spite of his caveat, the author makes ‘too much of labels’.  The assumption is that people can and should be put in boxes marked liberal or progressive.  The truth is that all of us have views that partake of the two categories mentioned plus that of conservative.  The person who is purely one and not any of the other two doesn’t exist.  We look at the policies of a party and form an assessment of its capacity to implement them.  If they get elected, we expect them to ‘identify a destination, grip the wheel and depress the accelerator.’  And we do so believing in ‘government’s capacity to do good.’  Is there another way in which we could proceed?

The second mistake comes with the criterion of distinction.  We are told that for a ‘progressive’, progress is an unmitigated or unadulterated good.  Very few sane people could believe any such thing.  The problem comes with the word ‘progress,’ which the author does not define.  Progress is the ‘action of stepping or moving forward or onward; travel, a journey, an expedition.’  If you want to go from A to B, and half way there, you start going backwards, then while you are doing that, you are not making progress.  But whether your going forward is desirable will depend on your choice of destination, and the way that you will get there.  If you want to go to Heaven, every step on the way is good; if are heading for Hell, every step on the way is bad.  Let’s say you want to go from A to B.  One way is through mountainous jungle infested with taipans; the other is longer but flat and safe.  It would be absurd to say that any movement on the first route must be good, because it involves being progressive.  It is also absurd to say that any movement that qualifies as ‘progress’ could be an unmitigated or unadulterated good.  The timber of our humanity is far too crooked for this abstract purity.  It belongs in another world.

Bloopers

Whatever the outcome…Mr Trump is showing himself to be a far more savvy political operator….The dispatch of what the President says could be 15,000 troops to confront the migrant caravans snaking north through Mexico may have Democrats in a state of apoplexy, especially when he warns the troops could respond with gunfire if attacked.  But the polls show that Mr Trump’s tough stance on what has become the main issue in the campaign is winning votes and the caravans of defiant would-be migrants, many organised by leftist and communist groups in Honduras, Venezuela and Cuba, are a gift for Mr Trump’s mid-term aspirations.

The Weekend Australian, November, 3-4, 2018

It could happen here.  With the same sponsor.

A pleasant anecdote

Politics in England in the 18th century turned on what they called patronage and we call corruption.  Votes had to be bought and office rewarded.  This was the fare for the thirty-two voters of Bath on St Peter’s Day, 1698:

2 venison pasties, 2 haunches boiled, 2 chines of mutton, 4 gees, 4 piggs, 12 Turkey chicken, plain chickens and rabbits sans number and abundance of claret and sherry.  [The spelling is as it was.] 

A ball followed for the ladies, and

….in the evening there were glass windows broke on purpose that the glaziers that were not worthy to eat with them might have some benefit by the matter.

Now, democracy was a long way off in the U K, and the yet to be born U S, but do you not just marvel at the way the better people looked after those ‘that were not worthy to eat with them’?  An essential part of the constitutional history of England consisted of doing through the back door what they couldn’t do through the front.  That’s why they never had a revolution as vicious as those of France or Russia or a collapse as complete as those of Germany, Italy, Spain and Greece.

Passing bull 173 – Self-interest and Rupert

 

Over the weekend, the Fairfax press carried a piece saying that we would just have to wait for a disaster in cricket before we got loud calls to bring back Warner & Co to save our cricket team (and those making money from televising it).  There was a disaster in our cricket yesterday.  And, Lo!, The Australian today was headed with a colourful banner:

SOS SMITH & WARNER: Perth disaster shows why we need our best batsmen back.

This exercise in Murdoch self-help could have come straight out of The Messiah.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

Perhaps those who read this newspaper should do so to the music of Handel.

Bloopers

Stupid, brainless and servile.  It’s how the American sisterhood describes women who vote Republican.  Ahead of the U S mid-term elections, left-wing sexism has reached fever pitch.  While claiming to support women’s right to vote, the left has subjected women who vote right to dehumanisation, public shaming and misogyny.  White women are bearing the brunt of the Left’s hate speech as desperate Democrats try to coerce conformity among female freethinkers….The PC sisterhood is raising feminist consciousness by stamping a jackboot on the face of dissent.

The Australian, 5 November, 2018.

Dear, dear, dear, dear.  Those who thought that the old Left/Right divide is now meaningless may be wrong.  People who support Donald Trump are merely ‘freethinkers’ publicly shamed by coercion and hate speech on the Left.  Well, we suspected that this kind of hysteria was not read after publication; it now looks likely that it is not read before publication either.

Passing bull 172 – Accepting responsibility

 

When people say that they are accepting responsibility, they are commonly either talking nonsense or just being evasive.  The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has not got there yet.  He prefers bare faced lies.  He says that he knew nothing about it.  No one believes that.  Not even the world’s greatest liar.

You often hear another weasel word – accountability.  What does being ‘responsible’ mean?  ‘Answerable, accountable (to another for something); liable to be called to account.’  Well, the trouble with that is that when you look up ‘accountable’, you get ‘responsible.’  We are going round in circles.

And too often when people say that they are accountable or responsible, they are saying that the buck stops here, or at least that the bus stops at this stop.  Et praeterea nihil.  And no more.  So, if the teacher asks who made that rude noise in class, and Little Johnnie puts his hand up, is that the end of the matter?  Of course not.  The question then is what should be done by or to Little Johnnie to protect and enforce discipline within and the standards of the school.

What is called the ball tampering scandal was a matter of national concern if not disgrace.  Something had to be done.  Three players put their hands up.  Was that enough?  Of course not.  The question then was what should be done by or to those three players to protect and enforce discipline within and standards of Australian cricket.

The Chairman of the board now says that he accepts responsibility.  He has put his hand up.  And he stays there.  Et praeterea nihil.  There is no more to be done.  The superior responds for the faults of the inferiors, but he is immune from suffering the consequences as they did.

Given the punishment of the three players, the board cannot say that they are accepting responsibility merely by saying that they do so.  The position of David Peever is morally and intellectually untenable.  It defies all sense and decency.  He cannot say that he accepts responsibility for this national scandal as chairman of the board while retaining that office.  Sometimes you see that a man is unfit for an office merely because he does not understand when he should stand down from that office.  That is the case with this man.

And that’s before you look at the disgraceful way that Peever engineered his reappointment, and the appointment of others responsible for the scandal, before releasing the report.  Peever gives every indication of not even being able to spell the word ‘fiduciary.’  He is a low flying ‘win at all costs’ mediocrity, the embodiment of our worst fears about sports administrators – the Panama hat brigade – in this duck pond.

Do you know what is the worst thing about this world after Trump?  It is the brazen way that they are insult our intelligence.  When Dylan Thomas died, his death certificate said the cause was ‘insult to the brain.’  His biographer said there was no such disease.  There is now.

Who do you think is the most brazen – the Chairman of Cricket Australia or the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia?

Bloopers

As the university’s management considers whether and on what terms it should enter into an agreement with the Ramsay Centre to fund the degree, a staff survey on the terms of a draft  memorandum of understanding has revealed deep divisions among the university’s academics.

But the vice-chancellor of the university, Michael Spence, has defended the proposal, saying the degree would not be undertaken on the basis of a “presumed superiority” of the west, but rather “contextualise and problematise” the subject if it goes ahead.

The Guardian, 13 October, 2018

If that is the way that any university teaches English, God save us

Passing bull 171 – Bull about confessing

 

Not being Catholic, my understanding of the role of confession in religion is limited.  But Catholic friends whose judgment I trust tell me that in their view the debate over compulsory reporting of crimes admitted in confession is pointless.  They say that it is quite unlikely that a priest guilty of illegal sexual abuse would confess his guilt in confession.  It would be even more unlikely if he were a serial offender not offering genuine contrition and not truly committed to abstaining.  And only a mad priest would confess to a crime if he knew that the law required the person to whom he had confessed to report this confession to the police.

It is surprising then that the Catholic Church refuses to bend on this issue.  In The Australian on Saturday, a priest made the following arguments.

Without the surety of confidentiality no one would come to confession and speak about their deepest, darkest faults for fear of this being used against them by others….If those seeking confession know that anything they confess may be reported to police, why wouldn’t they go directly to police and report it themselves?

This is empiricism without the benefit of evidence.  And it sounds badly wrong.  Is it seriously suggested that members of the flock are so criminal and neurotic that they will not go to confession if they believe that the admission of a serious crime has to be reported to the police?

…in seeking to break the seal on confession, the government, by essentially making priests agents of the state, fundamentally would breach the separation of power between state and the church.

Well, I have to report to government often – for tax, licensing, or electoral purposes, for example – but it would be silly to say that I then become an agent of the state or that that silly proposition may have some forensic consequences.  If you want to frame the argument in large terms, what this church is seeking to say is that it ought to be above or outside the law, and is therefore seeking to undermine the rule of law.

In my view, therefore, those arguments go nowhere.   It is worrying that their author is an archbishop.  And anyone who thinks that this is a good time for a priest to say that he should be outside the law is crackers.

Bloopers

This is where climate change emerges as a classic post-material concern.  It is cost-free virtue-signalling.  The arguments are mainly emotive and any politician attempting to run against the tide by introducing facts and realism would be worried about the backlash in social and mainstream media….Apart from obvious risks in meddling with foreign policy settings for domestic political gain, the trouble with this sort of superficial campaigning is that it assumes blocks of voters can be picked off here and there with policies and giveaways, it tends to insult the intelligence of those same voters.  Rather than win votes, it may fuel disdain for the major parties and their tactics…..It is as though our political media class is focussed on the half-time entertainment….They ought to have more faith in the electorate….The enduring criticism of Labor and Liberal prime ministers across this lost decade has been too much focus on politics over policy, spin over substance or popularity over respect….Now Scott Morrison has inherited a broken Coalition, rescued from its lurch to the Left…..

The Australian, 20 October 2018

And so it goes – on and on and on.  It’s as if Mr Kenny keeps two A4 pages in a drawer and just re-orders the catch-phrases.  But it shows clearly why people in Wentworth rejected both major parties, and why every night the leaders of the ALP and the Greens go down on their knees to thank the Almighty for the blessings bestowed on them by Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, the IPA and The Australian.

Here and there – Some terrorists from God: I

[A note comparing the Gunpowder Plot to the 2001 attacks on the US appears in four parts.]

1  The scene

They are all male.  They may not be young, but they are of a fighting age.  They are certainly of an age to plot.  Their community is proud of them.  They are deeply religious, too deeply.  They are in truth fanatics – religious fanatics.  The old word was ‘zealots.’  Their religious zeal is their tragic flaw.  They are so zealous that they are ready to kill and die for the cause of their faith.  The mainstream members and clerics of their faith say that their zeal and readiness to kill are contrary to the express tenets of their faith, but the zealots have more faith in their own zeal than in the teaching and discipline of their elders.  Their faith has a high place for martyrs and if they die in defence of their faith, they will do so in the firm belief that paradise awaits them.  Their clerics are not involved, at least directly, with their plans and plots, but they are there to give general guidance to the zealots, such that some others believe that the clerics are behind all actions undertaken in the name of their faith.

The zealots want to attack a ruling power that they believe is insulting to their religion, and cruel to those who practise it.  At least some of their clerics condemn the regime.  In truth, the zealots wish to bring down the whole order.  For that purpose they are ready to kill or wound men, women, and children who are on any view innocent – ‘innocent’ at least in the sense that they have done nothing to deserve to die.  The zealots do not acknowledge that acting out of hate rarely ends well.  They are tunnel visioned.

To start their campaign they want to strike terror into the regime by a strike that is so daring and so vengeful that it will give the zealots a complete propaganda victory and provoke division and despair in their enemy.  They are ultimately driven back to the maxim that was the first refuge of the fascist and of lawless, godless and cruel dictators like Stalin and Hitler – the ends justify the means.  In short, they are terrorists – exemplary terrorists – the worst and most frightening kinds of terrorists.  They commit their acts of terror in the name of and on behalf of God.  Their claim is nothing less than that they act in the service of God.

Are we speaking of Muslims who attacked the twin towers in New York in 2001?  Yes.  Are we speaking also of the Catholics who attempted to blow up the English House of Parliament in 1605?  Yes.  And the comparison is instructive.

2  The background

The movement known to history as the Reformation involved a schism in the religion called Christianity.  The Catholic Church was no longer the one church.  Kant would later say that wars between different versions of the one faith were far worse than wars between those of different faiths.  Heresy is lethal.  The Reformation caused untold evil and misery for centuries – something that tends to be forgotten by those who want to teach or preach about the place of the Reformation in the ‘values’ of western civilisation.

The split in Germany was mainly about religion.  It led to the Thirty Years War that laid waste to so much of Europe in the first half of the seventeenth century.  The split in England was mainly about politics.  It led to vicious persecution and recrimination on both sides.  It also led to a foreign invasion, the Spanish Armada.  England’s defeat of Spain left the Protestants in control, and it left the Catholics subject to persecution and suspicion.

On the death of Henry VIII, Queen Mary had taken the Church of England back to Rome and she had burnt Protestants as heretics.  On her death, Queen Elizabeth took the Church back to the Protestants and executed Catholics.  Her schismatic death toll was far smaller than that of her half-sister (a point made in the trial we are coming to).

But the loathing that many English felt for Rome led to a split among Protestants.  The people we know as Puritans wanted to put the Church of England further away from Rome.  The purity of their consciences, and their God-driven sanctimony, would help to lead England into the agony of its Civil War.  Before the English tired of the lot of them, the Puritans would reach their frightful apotheosis in the bloodbath conducted by their champion in Ireland – Oliver Cromwell.

The Society of Jesus was formed by a former captain in the Spanish army.  It was to be part of the Church militant.  The level of its ambition is evident from its calling itself after Jesus, something that gave offence to many.  Membership was open to those wishing to serve as soldiers of God and for the defence and propagation of the faith.  The Society came to the fore in opposing the Protestants, and in the movement known as the Counter Reformation.  It started in Spain, the nation that invaded England in order to bring it back to the Catholic faith.  Protestants would therefore not trust the Jesuits, as they were called, and Jesuits had been banned from England and they would come to be expelled from France and other countries.  The Jesuits enjoyed an aura of secrecy that the Masons would copy.  They also exuded intellectual self-satisfaction.

An idle if mordant observer in London who had a sane view of the place of God may have thought at this time that the Puritans and the Jesuits deserved each other.  On any view, they were supremely well equipped to get up each other’s noses – and so to wreak havoc on the rest of us.  (And the worldly triumph of the Puritans in America would be testimony to the proposition that men who are assured that they are to inherit heaven usually find ways of presently taking possession of the earth.)

The cornerstone of the English reformation was the Act of Supremacy of 1559.  In 1570, the pope published a document (a bull) in which he excommunicated Queen Elizabeth and absolved her subjects from paying allegiance to her.  The bull declared ‘Elizabeth to be deprived of her pretended title to the aforesaid crown’.  English sovereignty is in the news now, but it is hard to imagine a more open violation of it than this act of the Holy See – short of invasion.

The King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor disagreed with the pope.  They believed that the English would react against Catholics in general and Jesuits in particular.  They were dead right.  But a dissident English cardinal, the founder of the Douai seminary in France, wrote of the ‘filthy lust’ of ‘an incestuous bastard, begotten and borne of an infamous courtesan.’  In Douai, the missionaries were imbued with a sense of martyrdom – it was glorious to die trying to wrest England from the grip of heresy.  The English government became alarmed at the numbers fleeing overseas and legislated against it.  Douai would have been a much softer spot for what we now call radicalisation than those of the caliphate.  The Oxford History of England says:

The via dolorosa that led from Douai to Tyburn [the Golgotha of London] could not have been trod by men who were not profoundly imbued with the spiritual character of their worth….under the guise of saving souls, the priests were really acting as executors of the bull.

In 1580, the papal secretary told English Jesuits that ‘whosoever sends her [Elizabeth] out of the world with the pious intention of doing God service, not only does not sin but gains merit.’  This was not a time for calmness.  Their pope had impaled the Catholics of England on a hopeless conflict of interest and ensured that religion would remain at the forefront of English politics.  English Catholics would pay a dreadful price over many generations.

3 Disaffected Catholics and the plot

The accession of James I on the death of Elizabeth led to hopes that things might get better for Catholics.  They did not.  James I had a personal interest in keeping the peace – his father, the unlamented Lord Darnley, had been taken out by an explosion that made a revolting form of assassination – even by Scottish standards.  For that matter, the mother of James I was a Catholic queen who was beheaded for trying to kill the Protestant queen that James succeeded.  These were fraught times.

A group of Catholic gentry, who were described by one observer as ‘gentlemen hunger-starved for innovation,’ came up with a scheme of ‘devastating insurrection’.  They sought to vindicate their faith and the adherents of their faith.  They planned to overthrow the government by blowing up Parliament with the royal family in it, and leading an uprising from the Midlands after kidnapping a young member of the royal family.  They wanted to start a civil war.  Each conspirator resolved to die rather than be taken; there was more than a whiff of suicide in the venture from the start.  They had collected more than enough gun-powder under the parliament to achieve that result, but the plot was uncovered.

There were thirteen in the plot.  They were led by a man called Catesby, but the best known now is Guy Fawkes.  (His continuance in his appointed role after he was on notice that they had been discovered is very hard to distinguish from suicide; it at least looks like a faith-driven embrace of death.)  Those terrorists, for that is what they plainly were, that were not killed in the pursuit were executed.  For the most part, they did not repent.  Indeed, one observer reported that during the trial, the ‘defendants were taking tobacco as if hanging were no trouble to them.’  Some cracked and asked for mercy at the end.  Not so, Catesby – his sword was engraved with the passion and death of Christ.

Immediately after the plot was revealed, the Catholic clergy denounced it as ‘intolerable, uncharitable, scandalous and desperate.’  It was clearly against Catholic doctrine for ‘private subjects, by private authority, to take arms against their lawful king’, even if he was a tyrant.  Private violent attempts could never be justified.  Catholics must not support them in any way.

 

Passing bull 170 – Religion and politics

 

At least two prime ministers have said that they would not allow their religion, or faith, to interfere with their politics.  What nonsense.  Politics is about how we get on with each other.  So are morals.  It would be absurd to say your morals are irrelevant to your politics.

But people who are religious commonly draw heavily on their religion for their moral views.   Indeed, some people of religion have been heard to say that is difficult to envisage a biding moral code without the backing of a religion (putting to one side the difficulty of settling on which one?)  If a person’s religion is vital to their morals, it is equally vital to their politics.  Next time you hear some people say that their faith does not affect their politics, ask them whether that means that they can put to one side the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount.  It is pure bullshit.

Although, to be frank, some people worry that some politicians ignore the demands of their faith far too much.  Some take that view about the way we deal with refugees.  They say, for example, that everything we do on Nauru violates almost every part of the Sermon on the Mount.  That position is gaining support – from at least 6000 doctors who have their own moral position to advance. For them, there is nothing new about finding a position adopted by both major parties to be immoral.

Now, it is suggested that our current prime minister is considering getting us to join Guatemala in recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in the moral lightweight championship of the world.  He will abandon principle to seek a vote.  How much lower do we have to sink before something snaps?

Then there is the reaction of President Trump to the apparent murder of a journalist by Saudi Arabia.  He says that any sanction will not include limiting the sale arms (that are used for the butchery in Yemen).  He says that such a sanction would cost the U S too much in money and jobs.  The Great Republic, it seems, cannot afford to be decent.  How is Trump’s position different to that of a bank robber who tells the judge that he needed the money to feed and clothe his children?

There may then be something to be said for the proposition that politicians do not give full faith and credit to their religion.  But, then you look at the Kavanagh catastrophe, and you call for the bucket.

Bloopers

Readers must be in turn fascinated, confused and astounded by the increasingly lurid fiasco surrounding the US Supreme Court confirmation hearing of judge Brett Kavanaugh. When I read that this 53-year-old man with a seemingly unblemished character and all the right credentials in jurisprudence had suddenly been accused by a woman of molestation when he was 17 and she 15, and that despite years “recovering” her memory of the incident, she still couldn’t remember any concrete facts about it, and what’s more, no one else could confirm her accusation, I laughed. Not the standard feminist response but this episode had turned into the theatre of the absurd.

Angela Shanahan, The Australian, 29 September.

Well, at least the contributors to that paper never claim that their faith does not affect their politics.  But it is sad when someone claiming adherence to the Beatitudes laughs off attempted rape.  That is worse than bullshit.  It is cruel.