Passing Bull 132 – The remarkable Mr Chris Kenny – Part II


We were looking at remarks of Mr Kenny in The Weekend Australian of 13-14 January 2018.  I need not set out those remarks again as this post will end with former posts that contain quotes from Mr Kenny over the years to the same effect.

When Mr Kenny refers to the ‘love media’, what label does he have in mind for his side, or tribe?  All of us are worried about energy prices, but has anyone bettered Mr Kenny’s identification of the real problem when he refers to people who are ‘phlegmatic about alarmist claims on climate’?  When he says ‘even business leaders fuel the left side’, does he accept that that entails two propositions (each of which I would regard as at best odd): that we can give some useful meaning to the word ‘left’ in this context; and that in that meaning, it would surprise us if business leaders supported opinions grouped under that label?  When Mr Kenny refers to ‘the political/media class’ with such disfavour, what definition can he give of that body that does not show him up as its leading exemplar?  For that matter, what ‘elite’ would not have Mr Kenny?  And does he really believe that Trump and Farage were ‘mainstream’ candidates?  Finally, given that a substantial part of the business model of this newspaper is to report on conflicts fuelled by opinion polls, has Mr Kenny not broken all records for hypocrisy with the sentence: ‘It demands leadership, not opinion poll watching.’

In fairness to the newspaper, I might say that the same edition carried a piece by Caroline Overington about a suicide that followed cyber-bullying that I thought was first class in every way.  Now, Ms Overington does appear from time to time with the Anti-Christ, the ABC.  Mr Kenny might inquire of Ms Overington how often she gets ‘howled down’ as a ‘heretic’.

Before going to Mr Kenny’s priors, I may report on one of his colleagues in labelling, Jennifer Oriel.  Ms Oriel is a cheerleader in the partisan scolding of those awful people called ‘progressives.’ But Ms Oriel has now made confession – of the sin of apostasy.  She has outed herself as a former Labor supporter.

And old friend asked why, after years of voting Labor, I left the Left.  I considered justifying myself again with the chronology of exodus.  But the truth is plain and blunt.  Why did I leave the Left?  Because two plus two equals four.

Well, there you have it.  Mr Kenny explains everything in politics by reference to the facts (which I assume means evidence).  Ms Oriel does it with arithmetic.  The reference is of course to 1984, but the notion certainty in politics being arrived at mathematically is unsettling.  But, then, how many contented and equable lapsed Laborites do you know?

Here, then, are two previous posts that show that Mr Kenny is nothing if not consistent.  You will see that we begin with a disclaimer by Mr Kenny of ‘partisan or personal cheerleading.’  It fairly takes your breath away.

Passing Bull 18 – The Dean’s Wake Syndrome (19 October 2015)

....unlike progressives, conservative commentators tend to stand on principle rather than indulge in partisan or personal cheerleading….

Chris Kenny, The Saturday Australian, 17-18 October, 2015.

On any given Saturday you can get about five whoppers like this from that newspaper as the ‘conservatives’ make faces at the ‘progressives’, like little girls to little boys behind the shelter-shed.  What was the context?

Rowan Dean, the editor of the Oz Spectator, and the leader of the unattractive pack described in Passing Bull 15, threw a wake for the former PM.  We are told that Dean was smarting if not seething.  The usual idolaters were there – Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Paul Murray (who has been inconsolable on Sky ever since, routinely throwing objects as well as tantrums, and imploring the new PM to be tough on Muslims).

Mr Kenny, another idolater in his time, says he knows how these people feel.  He does so in terms that contradict point blank the silly boast set out above, and which show why Australians are revolted by the cabal of politicians and journalists that have dragged us down to our present level, on both sides of politics, and where all except the addicts, or those who profit from or traffic in the addiction, are praying for relief, if not enlightenment from a mix of the Wars of the Roses and a New Dark Age.

After years of sneering at the poll-driven, media-grovelling superficiality of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor years, the Liberals have descended into the same sand-pit.

And with the ABC, Fairfax Media Newspapers, Canberra press gallery, academe and sundry other elements of the love media and political/media class railing against their version of the anti-Christ – a socially conservative prime minister – a great opportunity to prove them all wrong has been frittered away.

Most of us with a view to the structural ebbs and flows of politics could see that despite the antipathy directed at Abbott, some obvious failings and poor poll ratings, the Coalition was most likely to be re-elected next year.

This would have confounded the love media and twittersphere, and confirmed the good sense of mainstream voters.

In Abbott’s favour were strong policy settings (border protection, climate change, and attempted budget repair), the escalating issue of union power and corruption being teased out in the royal commission he established, and how all this had rendered Bill Shorten nigh-on unelectable.

When an impatient Turnbull launched his challenge the week before the Canning by-election he not only robbed Abbott of a chance for recovery but denied many true believers the pleasure of this social-political experiment – this vindication.

It passes belief.  If you did not know that you were the victim of an experiment, at least you know it is not one that will be repeated.  Here is why politics presently revolt Australians.  There is hardly any reference to principle, but just a focus on partisan political cheerleading.  And do you know why?  The people and their representatives do not know as much as Messrs Kenny or Bolt.  They cannot be trusted.

As usual, the crucial partyroom votes were exercised by inexperienced, impressionable and self-interested MPs, many of whom would not have entered parliament if not for Abbott’s campaigning skills and who might have been less than helpful in briefing journalists and voicing disharmony as they fretted over the polls.

In the next post, I will try to spell out this disease of the mind, but Mr Kenny does offer one frightening thought:

I sense the republican cause may be at the heart of much conservative antipathy.

These embittered relics of Plato’s Republic and the Split are not just harmless Looney Tunes.  They are intent on not allowing us to break with the Mother Country and become self-governing without support from the Anglican Crown.  Bring back 1788 – and the lash.  They are Monarchists envenomed.  Don’t they know about 1789?

Passing Bull 44 – Outstanding hypocrisy in the Press  (26 May 2016)

Politics and politicians are on the nose all around the world.  There is a savage reaction in the West against political parties and political elites.  Since the system as we know it has been worked by political parties run by elites, the results may be disastrous, if not terminal.  Corbyn was bad enough, but Trump is a genuine nightmare.

In Australia there is a very unhappy union between politicians and journalists.  There is much to be said for the view that our press is in large part responsible for the awfulness of our politicians.  They are far too cliquey and close to their subjects; the worst kinds of would-be journalists are tribal, and feed themselves on hits from other followers of the cult on the Internet.  The real disasters are former political staffers who then want to pose as journalists.  Instead, they become boring and loaded cheerleaders.

Two of the worst examples are Chris Kenny and Niki Savva.  They could not hope to pose as being objective, but they sadly think that that they are intelligent.  They live in confined echo chambers quite cut off from the world, just like the politicians in Canberra.  They are part of a useless but self-appointed elite that is quite out of touch with what they call the mainstream.

It was therefore quite a surprise to read the following from Chris Kenny in The Australian last Saturday:

There is a great and pernicious divide in Australia.  It is not between the eastern seaboard and the western plains, or between the rich and poor, city and country, black and white, or even between established citizens and refugees.  The divide is between the political/media class and the mainstream.

There is a gulf between those who consider themselves superior to the masses and want to use the nation’s status to parade their post-material concerns, and those who do the work and raise the families that make the nation what it is.

That is a reasonable statement of the problem, even if it comes from one of the worst examples of those who give rise to the problem.  And what on earth is a former Liberal staffer – attached to Lord Downer; no wonder his syntax is shot – and employed by The Australian and Sky doing referring to ‘the masses’.  Has Mr Kenny ever met one of them?  But then it all becomes clear when we get this:

In this election we are seeing the chasm open up, like a parting of the seas, as the media elites and their preferred left-of-centre politicians seek to determine what issues should be decisive.  They lecture and hector the mainstream.  Worse, they try to dictate what facts can even be discussed.  They seek to silence dissent.  They have compiled an informal list of unmentionables, facts that should not be outed: the truths whose name we dare not speak.

And then Mr Kenny goes on to ‘lecture and hector’ those poor souls who share his echo chamber, the true believers who know that Satan masquerades as the ABC and the Fairfax press.

This is all as boring and predictable as anything said by Mr Kenny in The Australian or one of those ghastly Sky chat shows that demonstrate that the chattering classes, the former chardonnay socialists, have long ago swapped sides graphically and terminally.  We reached a new all-time low recently when Peta Credlin joined Andrew Bolt for a nocturnal tryst on Sky that will be sure to upset at least three dinners a night.  It might all be boring, but the hypocrisy of Mr Kenny takes your breath away…..

…..Does any decent Australian give a bugger about the alleged Left/Right divide or any other of those profoundly stupid chat shows called ‘culture wars’?  Have they not yet seen that everyone else rejects all this bullshit and all those who want to wallow in it?  Does the press just not get that they are an essential part of the package that people are rejecting all around the world?

Passing Bull 131 – The remarkable Mr Chris Kenny


On Sydney radio 2GB this week, host Mark Levy was commenting on the hype about Oprah Winfrey running for president.  ‘Despite all the doom and gloom around the Trump presidency, what’s he done wrong so far?’ asked Levy.  It was an unremarkable reflection that generated no contention and was not intended to do so.  For that audience it was a statement of the obvious.

Yet could you imagine such an observation being made on the ABC?  Not only is it inconceivable that any ABC host would make such a call, we know that any guest arguing the same would be treated as a heretic.  The proposition would be howled down as controversial, partisan and absurd.  Despite its charter obligations to objectivity and plurality, the ABC could not entertain such a reasonable point of view…..

Callers [to a 2GB show hosted by the author] are concerned about immigration and poor integration, sceptical about government interventions, worried about energy prices and phlegmatic about alarmist claims on the climate…..But few, if any, of their views are the sort you could ever expect to hear on ABC, SBS or other ‘love media’ staples…..

It is not hard to see which view is right   [Someone reported in the Fairfax press had argued that ‘volunteering was counterproductive, undercut paid work and relieved governments of their responsibilities.’]  And it is not a matter of opinion.  The facts support the case for volunteers.….

The Prime Minister’s energy policy is still beholden to futile Paris targets, despite the U S withdrawing and the international community asking next to nothing of China or India.  While he backs Paris at the expense of affordable and reliable energy, he fails to give the mainstream what they really need and want – the cheapest and most reliable electricity.

Our competing narratives can broadly be described as left and right.  But we can imagine a series of Venn diagrams where the flanks of the major parties overlap to share and swap members on various issues.  Even business leaders fuel the left side of some debates because of corporate posturing, dinner-party imperatives or fear of social-media-driven reputational damage.

Turnbull and the Coalition need to have faith that the numbers are with the mainstream and common sense.  Sure the left narrative – with its academic and political/media class support – makes most of the noise and generates its own momentum.  But Brexit, Trump and even Tony Abbott circa 2013 demonstrate that voters can flock to mainstream candidates no matter the hectoring and prognostications of the so-called elites.  John Howard could never have won a single election unless this were true.

This requires strong advocacy from conviction politicians to give mainstream voters a guiding light through the deceptions of the political/media class.  It demands leadership, not opinion poll watching.

Yet this is not a matter of theories, ideology or complex plans.  Rather, it is about the facts.

In the issues mentioned earlier, the facts support the mainstream view…..If not for the publicly funded ABC, SBS, subsidised magazines, universities and bureaucratic interventions, the false narratives of the virtue-signallers would be soundly defeated in the open market-place of ideas.  Instead their nonsense dominates…..

(The Weekend Australian 13-14 January 2018.)

There is more to the same effectBefore looking at parts of the argument, may I make two general observations?

First, the author likes applying labels, or, if you prefer, he is fond of clichés.  That is, Mr Kenny likes to put things in boxes and give them a name – such as, love media, mainstream, left and right, elites, conviction politicians, political/media class, and virtue-signallers.  Mr Kenny does not say what he means by any of those terms, and I am not sure what they might entail in the context of his argument – or anywhere else.

Secondly, and relatedly, Mr Kenny sees people as acting and thinking in identifiable groups – or, if you like, he sees people acting tribally.  We can see this immediately from the reference to ‘that audience’ in the first paragraph, and ‘we know’ in the second.  In the eyes of Mr Kenny the audience of 2GB is very different to that of the ABC – or ‘other ‘love media’ staples.’  They apparently represent different tribes.  When it comes to politics, Mr Kenny is like an Arsenal or Collingwood supporter.  You are either for us or against us – and with passion – either way.  Mr Kenny’s team would seem to come from the ‘mainstream’ or ‘right’ and is apparently opposed by the ‘left’ or ‘elites’ of the ABC and the like.  What those groups might stand for is left swinging in the breeze.

Since the original labels have not been explained, there is a serious risk of confusion in putting people to whom those labels may apply into boxes.  Unless you are careful, you could wind up with the agony of Procrustes.   May I suggest that most of what I see as the faults in Mr Kenny’s argument derive from these tendencies to apply labels to conduct or opinions and to separate people into classes?

Let us then go to the ‘statement of the obvious’ – ‘to that audience’.  The statement was phrased as a question.  Mr Kenny therefore sees the question as rhetorical.  That is, he saw the 2 GB host as asserting that Mr Trump has not done anything wrong, and he, Mr Kenny, believes that the 2GB audience would regard such a statement as unremarkable, uncontentious, and a statement of the obvious.  Those propositions are large, but that is the risk you take when you proceed with this level of generalization – and at this remove from the evidence.

What wrongs might be reasonably alleged against Donald Trump?  The charge sheet, or indictment, might read as follows.  He has waged open war on two elements of the United States constitutional fabric, the judiciary and the press; he has failed to persuade another element of that fabric, the Congress, to implement key elements in his policy; he has acted against people just because they are of a different colour or race; he has sought to create conflict by making divisive statements to please what is called his ‘base’ rather than to act in the interests of the nation at large –he has acted as if to excite domestic insurrections; he has on any view shown himself to be a compulsive liar; he has consistently acted in an intemperate, illiterate and rude manner that demeans his office and the United States; he has publicly insulted the Secretary of State and Attorney-General, and he has refused to appoint people to fill vacant offices in the State Department; he has acted to alienate most of the allies of the United States and most members of the U N – and he boasts about all these things; he has not built the wall, much less get the Mexicans to pay for it; he has not repealed or replaced Obamacare; what Mr Kenny calls ‘tax reforms’ are a violation of the Republican views on the deficit, and will benefit the rich rather than the poor; he consistently acts against the advice of his ministers, some of whom know what they are doing, for fear of unsettling his ‘base’ or creating a flaw in the image with which he is so much in love – himself; and he has incurred political obligations to unattractive people that obliges him to protect and defend Nazis, and help promulgate their views.  There is more to this history of repeated injuries and usurpations.

Trump is the most unpopular president in living memory; in the opinion of those qualified to give one, he is the most unstable and stupid man ever to go to the White House; he has appeared to validate the first such proposition and to prove the second by proclaiming, over his chosen medium, that he is a ‘stable genius.’  And that’s before you recall the evasion of military service; the serial bankruptcies in his businesses, and the $25 million dollar settlement of fraud claims against him that he said he would never settle; the absurd favouring and promotion of his family and his business; his tax evasion and his refusal to show his tax returns; his pussy-grabbing and his failure to fulfil his statement that he would sue his accusers; Puerto Rico; Roy Moore; and the several matters occupying the attention of Mr Robert Mueller III.  (One of those appears to be admitted.  Of the many inconsistent reasons Trump gave for firing the head of the FBI, one was that Comey’s Russian investigation was annoying him.  To an Australian lawyer, that looks like an admission of obstructing the course of justice.)

All those allegations can be and are being made, and not just by the ‘love media’, whoever they are.  That being so, many people would regard a statement that Donald Trump has done nothing wrong as at least ‘controversial, partisan and absurd’, to adopt the wording of Mr Kenny.  When you look at the evidence – what Mr Kenny calls the ‘facts’ – it is hard to imagine any history better placed to disqualify a person from holding any form of public office, let alone that of President of the United States.

My own personal view?  No decent Australian would let that crude lout into their house.

But Mr Kenny allows himself to be boxed into the absurd by the linguistic traits I have referred to – and by his fear and loathing of the ABC.  That being so, some taxpayers might be very upset if the ABC were to promote such an odd position as that advanced by Mr Kenny.

May I say three other things on this first point?

The constant harping about the ABC by Mr Kenny and almost everyone else on his newspaper is not only predictable, boring, and unhinged, but it is unprofessional.  If you went to a doctor or lawyer and they routinely set aside time to bad mouth others of their profession, you would fire them.   Why can’t journalists at this paper conform to professional standards?

Next, one consequence of the tribalism that I referred to is that there is no balance or nuance in Mr Kenny’s presentation.  What we get is the ‘me against you’ of Arsenal v Liverpool – all out conflict.  This intolerance is blighting our public life, and this piece of Mr Kenny is a very sad example.

What do the arguments of the other side amount to?  ‘Their nonsense.’  And ‘their nonsense dominates.’  We get this sense of persecution, of victimhood, two things that this paper inveighs against.  And we get the hallmark of the Arsenal tribe – you don’t respond to the premises of the argument; you go straight for the throat of the person who has the gall to ignore plain ‘facts’ and to promote such ‘nonsense.’  It is not surprising that both parts of what Mr Kenny calls the ‘political/media class’ are in such bad odour.

Finally, what drives Mr Kenny to adopt a position on Trump that would strike many, if not most, as delusional?  I’m not sure what ‘mainstream’ entails, but no one would call Trump mainstream.  (He would be appalled at the suggestion.)  Mr Kenny does, I think – like Mr Abbott, at least until 2013 – like to see himself as a ‘conservative.’  That’s another weasel term, but again no one would call Trump conservative.  He is a radical out to blow up the Establishment.  Some say Trump is a ‘populist’.  That’s another watery, limp-wristed phrase, but no meaning of populism equates with any meaning of conservatism.

What then is driving Mr Kenny here?  Does he think that either mainstream party in Australia could enhance its chances at the ballot box by championing Donald Trump and proclaiming that he has so far done nothing wrong?  Is this the strait to which what Mr Kelly calls ‘the right’ has been reduced in Australia?

Well, that’s enough for now.  I will look at the balance of the quoted text later.

Happy new year.

Passing Bull 130 – Religion and nuts


The Roy Moore fiasco brought the term ‘evangelical’ to a new low, at least in the U S.  Sadly, the disease is not limited to the U S.  The Murdoch press went into a funk over marriage equality.  Here is some vintage bull from Jennifer Oriel.  She denounced ‘the Smith bill’ as being too short.

In a two-party system, the left is expected to promote equality while the right prioritises freedom.  The freedom of the political right is distinctive.  It is not anarchy.  It is the form of freedom that provides the spiritual, social, economic and political foundations for the flourishing of Western civilisation…..

The Smith bill represents the worst of conservatism and progressivism; it reserves freedom for the clergy while binding freethinkers under a state regime of political correctness.  There is no substantive protection for freedom of speech.

There is no protection against the lawfare used internationally to silence dissenters and purge them from public life.  There is no protection from the state forcing people’s speech to conform to central tenets of queer ideology.  And this is a bill for queer marriage, not same-sex marriage….

Dear, dear, dear.  Just think of all those demons, all those tigers out there with their eyes burning bright in the forest of the night, while the IPA stokes its paranoia about Stalinist queers.

On the same page, Greg Sheridan, who rarely misses a chance to get it wrong, hymned a mate.

Australia is very fortunate that Tony Abbott insisted on a plebiscite.

The paranoia is not confined to the IPA.  The Australian reeks of secular antagonism that died half a century ago.  In one column, Angela Shanahan said:

The political landscape is verging on chaos because of the ambition of Malcolm Turnbull and his lefty acolytes in the Liberal Party.

In their desire to prop up a failed government and a hubristic Prime Minister who wants to make his mark on history, they have proved, by opposing the amendments for religious liberty in relation to the introduction of same-sex marriage, that they are small political creatures who know no history.  They leave conservative voters nowhere to go.

That’s not quite right.  There is always Cory Bernardi, and the hard core reactionaries on Sky News and The Australian – not to mention Greg Sheridan’s mate.

But in another column, Ms Shanahan showed her grasp of history.  The Reformation was a serious mistake.

Christendom, which had existed beyond and above the state, was no more.  Kings, who like all baptised people great or small had been subject to the teaching and law of the church and part of the body of Christ, elevated themselves as the ultimate authority…..

The so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 was really a product of religious antagonism to see a Catholic off the throne and remove Catholics from public life……

Freedom of religion – of thought, of conscience – must be based on an informed conscience, which is not just for the elite….Today, ironically, it is threatened by the secularism sparked by that Reformation.

It reminds you of the time a guest and psychiatrist looked Basil Fawlty right in the eye and said ‘We could devote a whole seminar to you.’

To the extent that you can see something that Jennifer Oriel calls ‘Western civilisation,’ it depends in large part on the separation of Church and State.  The English got there largely through the Reformation and the Glorious Revolution of 1688-1689, both of which Ms Shanahan regrets.  The French got there by more messy means.  The Americans thought they had got there, but Roy Moore and Donald Trump show that they have missed.

We are many centuries past the time where the State could be viewed as ‘subject to the teaching and law of the church and part of the body of Christ.’  Such an idea now could best be described as madness.

We are also well passed the time when a religion can claim a veto over either the parliament or the people.  If the plebiscite celebrated by Greg Sheridan established anything, it showed that a clear majority of Australian regard the separation of Church and State as fundamental to our way of life.  The suggested issue about religious freedom was always a furphy from the start.  The issue was always about the power of the Church to stick its nose in where it doesn’t belong – the way we make our laws and govern ourselves.

You might expect that those of a reactionary cast of thought might understand all this.  The opposite result – where religion remains paramount, or at least claims a right of veto – is that which obtains in nations subject to their ultimate bête noire – Islam.

On another point about religion, one correspondent to The Sunday Age reminded us that the infant Jesus spent time as a refugee in Egypt.  How would his parents have got on if they had knocked on the door of Mr Morrison, who is bewailing the ill treatment of Christians in this country, or Mr Dutton?

Anyway, to the extent that a God-fearing lapsed Prot has any standing to say so – have a very happy Christmas and all best wishes for the New Year.

Passing Bull 129 – Fake conservatives


The word ‘conservative’ has had its political ups and downs, but of late it has been debauched if not hijacked.  Conservatism found its most classical expression in Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.  The English preferred evolution to revolution.  They relished their history and traditions; they revelled in their own mystique.  They suspected change.  Burke said that their ‘opposed and conflicting interests…interpose a salutary check to all precipitate resolutions; they render deliberation a matter not of choice, but of necessity; they make all change a subject of compromise, which naturally begets moderation; they produce temperaments, preventing the sore evil of harsh, crude, unqualified reformations…’  And the French?  ‘You set up your trade without…capital.’

Now, that is very English.  Our state of mind comes from our experience of history.  ‘Our oldest reformation is that of Magna Charta.’  And the big reformation secured the separation of Church and State in a typically perverse English fashion.  All this was in aid of ‘liberty’ – ‘Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself.’

An American legal scholar W D Guthrie expressed Burk’s thought on the 700th anniversary of Magna Carta.

…..everything which has power to win the obedience and respect of men must have its roots deep in the past, and the more slowly institutions have grown, so much the more enduring are they likely to prove.

Guthrie later spoke of ‘the rare and difficult sentiment’ of ‘constitutional morality.’  Its essence is ‘self -imposed restraint’.  Its antithesis is ‘the most fallacious and dangerous doctrine that has ever appeared among men, that the people are infallible and can do no wrong.’  A ‘populist’ and a ‘conservative’ are two clean different things.

These views flow naturally from the Anglo-American legal tradition.  We are looking at a certain type or cast of legal or political thought.  How, then, would a ‘conservative’, so described look at some of our main political issues?

Take our handling of refugees.  History is not a good guide.  Historically, Australians have not acted well toward people of a different faith or colour, and the present government recently flirted with one of the more obnoxious disguises used in the White Australia policy.  But putting to one side plain human decency, our treatment of refugees flouts Magna Carta and legal obligations undertaken to the world community.  To that extent, a conservative must condemn our policy.

Take marriage equality.  A conservative would argue that allowing same sex marriage expands the notion of liberty that underlies our whole dispensation.  There are problems with that contention, but there are more problems with the very idea that the proposal might be opposed on the ground of religion.  Our separation of church and state is recognised in our constitution in a way that is the direct opposite of the English version.

Yes, marriage has been between a man and a woman since Biblical times, but while antiquity may appeal to conservatives, it cannot rule them.  Slavery has a history as long as that of marriage.  As Burke said: ‘A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.’  That in my view is the real lesson of the French Revolution, but of one thing we may be sure – Burke would have been horrified and Disraeli would have been mortified by the suggestion that the Parliament refer the issue to the plebs.  That to them would have been a fatal abdication.  Labels have limits – Burke was a conservative Whig and Disraeli was a radical Tory.

Take our reaction to climate change.  It’s now common ground that we have made a mess of it, and fools of ourselves.  It’s hard to see how the issue could have become political, much less ideological.  It would be tart, but not ridiculous, to suggest that the first job of a conservative is to conserve the planet, but you struggle to find any principle to the opposition to the findings of science.  All you get are populist diversions about the price or reliability of power.  It’s what we used to call the ‘hip-pocket nerve.’

Now, you will know that some in parliament and in the Murdoch press who call themselves ‘conservatives’ hold views opposite to those set out above.  Some do it out of malice; others do it for money.  Either way, it’s hard to see any underlying political principle.  But it’s easy to see a surrender to the mob.  What you don’t see is anything like the compromise, moderation or temperaments described by Burke or the self-restraint described by Guthrie.  None of these parliamentarians is temperamentally given to compromise, moderation or self-restraint.

What you have is a repudiation of conservatism.  It’s time these people were called out.  They are not of the right sort of mind.

Passing Bull 128 – How good is popularity?


When the Beatles were at the height of their appeal, their popularity was almost immeasurable.  They could do no wrong.  Their wealth was immense.  A lot of the noise came from schoolgirls screaming out their puberty, but there was no doubting the general popularity of the band.  They were about as big as Elvis Presley.

But did this immense popularity signify anything about the inherent quality of their music – as opposed to the huge saleability of their product?  It would have been absurd to say that the Beatles were on a par with Mozart – and just as absurd to say that Elvis was on a par with Frank Sinatra – or even Bing Crosby.  If an entertainer is popular, he or she is to that extent succeeding in their chosen pursuit.  It’s the same with politicians.  If they are sufficiently popular to win the required number of votes, they may be elected into office – like a pope at the College of Cardinals.  That level of popularity and of votes entitles them to claim the prize or title of office.  But does it do any more?  Does it entitle them to say that they have some kind of seal of approval on the quality of their policies or their character?

Simply as a matter of logic, the fact that a given number of people like you or your policies does not of itself entail that either you or your policies have some intrinsic worth.  A proposition about worth does not follow from a proposition about popular appeal.  You have only to reflect on popular will in its purest form of action – the lynch mob – or the characters of probably the three most popular political leaders of the twentieth century – Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco in, say, 1938 – to see how doubtful a signifier mere popularity is.  The leader of North Korea is almost certainly more popular in his own country than the leader of the United States.

If someone claims vindication or exoneration from a win in a political process, they will invite at least two questions.  Did the process have integrity?  Was there a quality field – who did the winner have to beat?  In Australian terms, was he or she up against a drover’s dog?

The election of Trump falters on each.  Australians think the U S system is flawed because voting is not compulsory.  Democrats say the system is loaded against them.  Trump did not win the popular vote.  The Electoral College does not perform its original function.  And many people voted against Trump’s opponent rather than for him.  Many of his supporters are still in that mode.  They will support any measure that goes against what the Democrats did – especially if it involved the nation’s first black president.

So, it would be very hard to argue that the electoral triumph of Trump somehow validates either him, or his policies.  To the extent that we can identify policies he laid out before the election – such as building a wall, or excluding Muslims – then as President he would have both the right and the duty to seek to implement those policies.  (It’s best to avoid that weasel word mandate altogether.)

But to claim that his election as President in some way validates those policies is as sound as saying that the election of Hitler as Chancellor validated Mein Kampf, including the elimination of Jews and the annihilation of Russia.  Then you might ask whether Trump’s announced policies entitled him to present a budget which helps the rich, hurts those under the rich, and bankrupts the nation.

All that is clear enough, but we get keep being assured that the election of Trump does in some way validate both himself and his policies.

The issue has crystallized in Alabama.  In most political bodies, Roy Moore would be hors de combat because of his found misbehaviour as a judge.  In England and Australia, he would have no hope because he is a sanctimonious, bible-bashing hypocrite.  He would certainly have no chance anywhere that politics is rational in light of the credible allegations of sexual predation against him – and his dreadful response to those allegations.  In many places he would be hopelessly on the nose on the sole ground that this whole fiasco is the product of a faction fight within one party sponsored by a nasty, rich Leninist named Bannon.

But what about the similar allegations of sexual misconduct against the President?  With the straight face that becomes serial liars, the White House says that the American nation elected Trump with full knowledge of the allegations.

For reasons I have sought to give, this proposition entails no logically relevant consequence.  This case is a fortiori – a successful candidate wants to argue that winning an election doesn’t just validate policies – it also erases sin, or the allegation of sin.  And this is where the candidate is a proven liar; he has denied the allegations; he has said he would sue the complainants well knowing that he would never do so; and where he has given evidence that he is a serial sexual predator.  And the White House says their case is stronger than that of a Democrat senator who has admitted to and apologised for a lesser offence.

The Republicans have another problem with saying that Trump has been cleared by his being elected.  They will move to block Moore even if he is elected.  They are apparently choosy about which popular choice they will regard as valid.

The events in Alabama also show how the prejudices of an electorate can show why electoral success can so rarely be cited to support some kind of moral validation.  Polls in Alabama show that more than 70% of Christian evangelicals or fundamentalists will vote for Moore despite the evidence of his paedophilia.  Why?  According to a Republican spokesman on CNN, who is against Moore taking a seat on the Senate, this is because Christian evangelicals regard Democrats as being in favour of abortion to the extent that they might fairly be described as murderers.  What is the conclusion of these soi disant Christians?  They would rather vote for a paedophile than a murderer.

God give us strength, and spare us from judgments derived from the will of the people.  We are after all human.  At least one of the Beatles understood this.  The first of them to leave us, John Lennon, said: ‘We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock’n’ roll or Christianity.’  The Greeks had word for that kind of thing.  We call it leading with your chin.

Passing Bull 127 – Elites and religion and Mr Dyson Heydon, AC QC


In its ordinary meaning, the ‘elite’ are the chosen or elect.  The Oxford English Dictionary has ‘choice part or flower of society.’  If, therefore, you are part of the elite you might feel blessed – like a cricketer who gets to wear the baggy green cap for Australia.

But of late, in the mood of general gloom, the term has become one of abuse, particularly among those of a reactionary caste of thought.  Never mind that those who use the term as one of derision are invariably rolled gold examples of the elite at least in the general sense of that term – elite has become a sparring glove for the politically restive – like the terms ‘political correctness’ and ‘identity politics’, which are on any view bullshit.

Donald Trump, we are told, was elected to defy the elites in the U S and to put them in their boxes.  If, then, the elites are those who are opposed to Donald Trump, then in the eyes of the world, and a substantial majority of Americans, the elites stand for all that is decent in American life.

But, hang on – we are also told that Donald Trump was elected to drain the swamp.  Are we then to say that the flower or cream is the same as the swamp?  How could that happen?  The two phrases are of course nebulously silly in equal degree, but they have been taken up on Sky News and at the Australian Spectator.  And enough Americans were silly enough to vote against what they believed were elites and for a person who is as far from being part of the cream or flower of society as you could ever imagine.

So, using the term ‘elites’ as derision has some credentials – even if they are credentials of a peculiarly revolting kind, especially if you add Pauline Hanson and Nigel Farage to the list of progenitors, those worthy battlers for ‘the forgotten people’, those people who those of another creed called the ‘masses.’

On 17 October 2017, Dyson Heydon, A C Q C, gave the inaugural P M Glynn lecture on Religion, Law and Public Life at the Australian Catholic University.  (It has not occurred to me to ask this before, but is there an Australian Protestant University?  What makes this university Catholic?  Are its laws of physics or contract different to the laws of Protestants, agnostics or atheists?)  In his lecture, Mr Heydon said that people were attacking religion at large, Christianity in particular, and that Catholics were principal targets.  Who are making these attacks?

Mr Heydon says that the attacks come from the ‘modern elites.’  Indeed, in the edited version in the press, the term ‘elites’ occurs at least twenty-five times.  The lecture comprises abstractions and labels, and it has barely one statement of verifiable fact, but I do not see a statement of what Mr Heydon means by the term ‘elites’.  And if anyone is part of the elite of Australia, it is surely our learned lecturer, a sometime Justice of the High Court Australia, and a man chosen at the highest levels of government to engage in the highest affairs of state.

Let us then apply the dictionary definition.  That would not be unfair to a former Justice of the High Court.  In the political context that we have, the elite would include people who by character, upbringing and training are well placed to take part in running the community.

Let’s then take two examples – a former P M, Tony Abbott, and a leader of the political commentariat, Andrew Bolt – and see if they fit the model of the portrait of elites painted by Mr Heydon at the Australian Catholic University.  That model is as follows.

The public voices of the modern elites are not humble.  They conceive themselves to have entitlements and rights, not blessings.  They desire to exclude any role for religion in Australian public discussion, and perhaps any role for religion at all in any sphere, public or private.  They instantly demand an apology for any statement they dislike.  They seem to waver between contradictory contentions: that Christ never existed, that Christ was never crucified, or that the Roman soldiers attempting the crucifixion were so incompetent that Christ merely fell unconscious, and never actually died on the cross.  They fail to condemn these examples of subhuman behaviour.  Does this not show their acceptance of these views?  They have moved from mere indifference to fanatical anti-clericalism.  Some want to destroy faith itself.  Their tolerance is tyrannical – ‘if you try to say you disagree and why, you deserve to be, and will be, hounded out of all decent society.’  They only pay lip-service to freedom of religion.  By failing to denounce evils, they associate themselves with those evils.  This weakens their case.  They do not desire tolerance.  They demand unconditional surrender.  They are discourteous.  They are the sorts of people who do not give up their seats on public transport to the pregnant, the elderly, or the infirm.  They shout rather than argue.  They reject the fundamental part of the Christian tradition that is the source of the modern world and their own favoured position in it.  They welcome tyranny.  They seek to destroy their inheritance from secular liberalism.

And so it goes.

Now, Mr Abbott and Mr Bolt have their critics, and indeed enemies, but they have not been guilty of any of that kind of stuff.  People who say that Christ never existed or who refuse to stand for a pregnant woman are at best complete nuts and at worst total shits.  Fortunately, I have never met one of them.  Mr Heydon doesn’t refer to any of them by name.  What’s he on about?

The clue comes with the denunciation of the catch-cry: ‘why don’t religious people stop forcing their opinions on everyone else.’  ‘This is a call for what in Germany in the 1940’s would have been called a compulsory inner emigration.’  I haven’t the faintest notion of what that Mr Heydon might mean by that, but I am one of those who have asked just such a question – on these pages – and I’m not wildly thrilled to be directed to compare myself with someone in Nazi Germany as a consequence.

As best I can see, Mr Heydon does not mention marriage equality or assisted dying, but I suspect that it is the debate over those two issues that is behind most of Mr Heydon’s tortured angst.  A lot of people, including me, are opposed to people seeking to translate into law beliefs on moral issues that derive from a religion based on revelation.  It is one thing for a person to take a leap of faith – it is altogether a different thing to seek to impose views formed after such a leap of faith on others – with the force of law.

There is a long history – at least a century of it – of real hostility in Australia to people seeking to alter the political landscape by views derived from contested areas of faith.  You need only mention the names Mannix and Santamaria.  And now you can add the name of the primate who authorised a donation of one million dollars to the ‘No’ campaign in the marriage equality debate.

Fairly or otherwise, a lot of Australians are offended by the idea of the plebiscite, and they believe that they wouldn’t have had to put up with this expensive insult had it not been for the determination of some people of the Christian faith, especially Catholics, to impose their views on others.  If religious people want to get angry about this reaction to them – and Mr Heydon plainly does – that’s a matter for them.  But in the name of God, what bloody good can it do?

There is nothing new about this tenderness about allowing people of one religion or another to interfere in matters of state.  This tenderness lies under the English reformation and it was a major factor in the French Revolution.  The English Crown, which still in name reigns over us, claimed, and hung on to in the face of the Spanish Armada, religious Home Rule from Rome.  This insistence on the separation of religion from the state runs deep in our political history and thought.  Just try to imagine the reaction of most Australians if people of faith sought not to have our laws enshrine the teaching of Christ, but the maxims of Sharia Law.

And since Mr Heydon refers to Western civilisation, as do many contributors to The Australian, it may be as well to refer to moments in our shared history like humanism and the Enlightenment.  In The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Professor Simon Blackburn says of ‘humanism’ – ‘any philosophy concerned to emphasize human welfare and dignity, and either optimistic about the powers of human reason, or at least insistent that we have no alternative to use it as best we can…..Later the term tended to become appropriated for anti-religious social and political movements’.  For the Enlightenment we have:

The period of human thought characterised by the emphasis on experience and reason, mistrust of religion and traditional authority, and a gradual emergence of liberal, secular, democratic societies.  [Emphasis added.]

There are no surprises here.  Just as we have gone from the supernatural to the natural in science, so also have we done so in law and government.  It is sufficient to give one citation from the prince of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant:

Now, when, as usually happens, a church proclaims itself to be the one church universal (even though it is based upon faith in a special revelation which, being historical can never be required of everyone), he who refuses to acknowledge its (peculiar) ecclesiastical faith is called by it ‘an unbeliever’ and is hated wholeheartedly; he who diverges therefrom only in path (in non-essentials) is called ‘heterodox’ and is at least shunned as a source of infection. But he who avows allegiance to this church and diverges from it on essentials of its faith (namely, regarding the practices connected with it), is called, especially if he spreads abroad his false belief, a ‘heretic’ and, as a rebel, such a man is held more culpable than a foreign foe, is expelled from the church with anathema….[Emphasis added.]

Let me also refer to Macaulay.  He is, you would think, as high up the pole of the ‘former elites’ as any mere mortal may ever get.

The only event of modern times which can be properly compared with the Reformation is the French Revolution, or, to speak more accurately, that great revolution of political feeling which took place in almost every part of the civilised world in the eighteenth century, and which obtained in France its most terrible and signal triumph.  Each of these memorable events may be described as the rising up of the human reason against a Caste.  The one was a struggle of the laity against the clergy for intellectual liberty; the other was a struggle of the people against princes and nobles for political liberty.  [Emphasis added.]

This insight is important.  A large part of the progress of Western civilisation or secular liberalism has been putting priests and bishops in their place – outside the door of government.  (Has anyone ever had a good word to say about bishops?)  There is a place for the supernatural – but not in ruling the lives of everyone else.  Ask the French.  People releasing themselves from the power of priests was as important as their releasing themselves from the power of princes.  We have not always understood this truth.  Even the English downplay the liberating effect of their reformation on their political process – which, by common consent, is the model for the Western world.

There are in addition some other very odd propositions in Mr Heydon’s lecture.

First, denouncing people because they have not denounced others is seldom helpful and always dangerous.  No people I know of has welcomed informers, and denunciation is a favoured weapon of the most evil regimes in history.  A favourite Party trick of Stalin was to send wives to Siberia for not having denounced their executed husbands.  This argument is also used as a stick to beat Muslims with in the west.  It doesn’t help the cause of religion as a whole that those who brandish this stick at Muslims, who are slow to denounce evil at the edge of their faith, frequently subscribe to a Church whose very hierarchy, right up to the top, has been involved in massive breaches of public trust that have damaged the standing of public institutions at large, and not just the Church.  Just look at the decline and fall of the Church in Ireland.

Secondly, Mr Heydon has odd views about the range and extent of the perceived hostility to religion.

The hostility is demonstrated least against Hindus and Buddhists.  It is also not much demonstrated against Muslims.  It is beginning to be demonstrated against Jews.  Some elements in the elites are drifting back to an anti-Semitism that one thought had been purged from Western life by the horrors of World War II in communist Eastern Europe after 1945.  And hostility is increasing markedly against Catholics….But no Christian denomination seems to be exempt from the new de-Christianisation campaign.

Try telling that to the worshippers at the Lakemba or Bendigo mosques.  The rush to line up as victims might be hilarious if the context were not so ordinary.

Thirdly, I quite fail to see the historical or moral warrant for claiming that the ‘Christian tradition is the source of the modern world.’  It’s like saying that Australia is a Christian nation.  The endeavour to award primacy to one faith over others can only lead to pain and conflict.  And it hardly becomes a Church that claims to speak with and for humility.  This kind of bullshit might wash with people who follow footy, but it is hardly appropriate among those who worship God.

That brings me to two things on which I agree entirely with Mr Heydon.  First, I agree that it is ridiculous to claim that ancient Greece and Rome were civilised – at least as we now understand that term.  That proposition in my view follows from the fact that they had not been exposed to the views about the essential dignity of each human life as taught by Jewish rabbis and Christian priest and ministers, and by Kant and other members of the Enlightenment.  As a result, the ancients had views about equality that we think are as uncivilised as you can get.

Secondly, I also agree that Christ had ‘a different vision.’

He showed a concern for the ill, the socially marginal, the outsider, the destitute.  He opposed self-righteousness and hypocrisy.  He had no concern to associate with wealth, power or celebrity.  His associates were humbler.  Many of them were women.  He saw little children are heirs to the kingdom of heaven…But above all Christ taught that all human beings were humble before God, and all could enter the kingdom of God.

To that fair picture, Mr Heydon may have added that the man they called Christ signed his death warrant by taking to the money dealers in the Temple with a whip, and that while that warrant was being executed, Christ said that his kingdom was not of this world.

This certainly was a new vision.  But for many Australians, that portrait of Christ presents problems.  It is inconceivable that Christ would have stayed overnight at the Melbourne Club; prelates of both major denominations do just that.  (They do this is part of a deliberate policy to avoid mixing with the kind of people that Jesus of Nazareth mixed with.)  It is equally inconceivable that Christ would have stayed silent during Australia’s treatment of refugees, not least the children among them; prelates of both major denominations have done just that.  Finally, and in the present political context, it is inconceivable to many Australians, including very many in communion with one or other of the churches of Christ in Australia today, that the Christ so described would choose to deny equality in marriage to homosexuals, ‘the socially marginal, the outsider.’  Or at the very least, had Christ been so minded, he would have been appalled at the spellbinding dishonesty perpetrated by the Australian Christian Lobby in engaging in this squalid and unnecessary political shit fight.

As I see it, the most worrying symptom of the decline in public life here and elsewhere is the lack of moderation, the lack of tolerance, if not respect, for the views of others.  This lecture is brutally one-sided, nos contra mundum, ‘you’re either for us or against us, and if the latter, you’re a goner.’  It is as bloody and over the top as a charge at the Somme, and the resulting phantoms are just as ghoulish.  That’s what Mr Heydon charges others with, and, as it looks to me, that is just what he is doing in to the rest of in this lecture.

May I offer some advice to people with God who share the apprehensions of Mr Heydon?  If you don’t like the bloody heat, don’t go near the bloody kitchen.  And the next time you want us to suffer the insult of a bootless $100 million plebiscite to save your dogma from your own blushes, can you in the name of God please try to avoid saying that if your side gets up to forty per cent of the vote, you will put that down as a win?  Because people who behave as badly as that deserve to get a bucket of the best or worst refuse right down their bloody front and any other part of their person that they are silly enough to show before the people of Australia.

Passing Bull 126 – Being rational about religion


We take a lot of things on faith – the balance in our bank account, the state of our health, the sense of our doctors, the faithfulness of our partners, and the magic and mystery of giants like Leonardo, Shakespeare and Mozart.  Faith doesn’t only apply to religion then.  To that extent I agree with Greg Sheridan in his piece ‘Idea of God is perfectly logical’ in The Saturday Australian.

My position about God is that of a God-fearing doubter.  I simply don’t know.  I don’t believe anyone knows about God, either way.  While I have lost any belief in God, at least as that term in generally understood, I don’t seek to persuade others either way.  That, frankly, would be none of my business.

It follows therefore that I too, with Mr Sheridan, don’t like Dawkins or Hitchens, although I must confess that I have not read either in depth.  I don’t believe that any proposition about the existence of God is capable of rational proof.  As I gather that both of these men thought that they had proved that God does not exist, they are in my view talking bullshit.  And I don’t think I could be persuaded to the contrary.  And certainly not by arrogant and insulting people like those two.  They are to me nasty intellectual bullies, who think that they can work over people who overtly pledge their faith in that which cannot be proven.

People like Dawkins and Hitchens look to me to be evangelists of a nasty and bigoted kind.  Kant knew that bigots of denial were often worse than bigots of belief, and Carlyle showed his disdain for Rousseau by calling him the ‘Evangelist.’  What right or interest do these people have in seeking to undermine the religious faith of others – a lot of whom may not have the same intellectual horsepower, but very many of whom will be far better off for taste and judgment?  For that matter, why should they seek to deny to all of us the place of magic and mystery in the world – with some variety of rationalist double entry accounting?

So, I agree with Mr Sheridan that belief in God is rational.  To suggest the contrary seems to me to be as silly as it is rude.

But belief in what kind of God?   And how do we express it?  Mr Sheridan refers to ‘the thousands of years of intellectual effort on matters of faith and belief by the best minds humanity has produced.’  The best minds would include Spinoza, Kant, Wittgenstein, and Einstein.  They all professed to believe in God, but their God would be unrecognisable as such to most believers.  (And both Spinoza and Kant were persecuted because their God did not conform.)

Take Einstein.  Whereas some people see what they believe to be miracles as evidence of God’s existence, for Einstein it was the absence of miracles that reflected divine providence, and revealed a ‘God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists’.  This is very much like what Kant thought.  Einstein had the problem that Darwin had with people trying to get him to express views on religion.  People were trying to trap him.  A New York rabbi sent him a telegram: ‘Do you believe in God?  Stop.  Answer paid.  Fifty words.’  The reply was: ‘I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind’.  Einstein never felt the need to put down others who believed in a different kind of God: ‘What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos’.

So, are we talking about the intellectual model of God, or the personal model?  The personal model, which is that favoured by most believers, is that revealed by scripture.  Here is another and more biting division.  Which scripture?  The Old Testament, the New Testament, Confucius, the Koran, and so on?

So, of course a belief in God is rational – but putting meat on the bones of ‘God’ is another matter.  And that takes us to the second question.  The belief is rational, but to what extent can it be expressed in words and be justified in logic?

Mr Sheridan refers to Aquinas, ‘the greatest of the Christian philosophers and theologians.’  Augustine and Aquinas took the teaching of an unlettered holy man from Asia and drenched it in the European philosophy of Plato and Aristotle.  I was brought up in a Protestant sect, and on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the eruption of Martin Luther, I may be forgiven for saying that this intellectualising of the teaching of Christ may appeal to some more than others.

It is in truth no small part of why I lost my faith.  God is limitless – Christ is too – and I have never understood the presumption of mere men seeking to lock God in behind the bars of a syllogism, a construct of human thought.  This is, if you like, an article of faith for me.  I can’t jump six feet; I can’t conceive of a thing being and not being at the same time; but I don’t say that God can’t do either.  What gives us the right to say that God cannot transcend our limitations?  Why can’t God be better than us?

But this intellectual elevation put up by Augustine and others, which can only be understood by about a thousand people in the world at any one time, looks to me to be part of reserving the mystery of it all to the clerics – and that is bad.  This monopoly of understanding was at the heart of Luther’s protest.  And the Church made a great gift to people like Dawkins and Hitchens.  The people of faith were offering to play the people of logic on their own home ground.  It would be like the New York Yankees offering to play the MCC at cricket at Lords.  No bloody contest, mate.

In sum, there are limits to both our logic and language, and you have as much hope of explaining or justifying your faith in God as you do of explaining or justifying your faith in Leonardo, Shakespeare or Mozart – or, I may add, the divine Catherine Deneuve.  Wittgenstein said:

I believe that one of the things that Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless.  That you have to change your life. 

His biographer said:

‘Russell and the parsons between them have done infinite harm, infinite harm.’  [Wittgenstein wrote.]  Why pair Russell and the parsons in the one condemnation? Because both have encouraged the idea that a philosophical justification for religious beliefs is necessary for those beliefs to be given any credence.  Both the atheist who scorns religion because he has found no evidence for its tenets, and the believer, who attempts to prove the existence of God, have fallen to the ‘other’ – to the idle worship of the scientific style of thinking.  Religious beliefs are not analogous to scientific theories, and should not be accepted or rejected using the same evidential criteria.

That looks obvious to me.  And if you want to return to the beginnings, I see that Plato believed that no philosophical truth could be communicated in writing at all – it was only by some sort of immediate contact that one soul might kindle a light in another.  Good grief – from what ashram did that come?  But then we recall that Einstein said that he rarely thought in words.  And the great physicist Niels Bohr said:

When it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry.  The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images.

It was therefore sad to see that Mr Sheridan began his piece by saying: ‘It is more rational to believe in God than to believe there is no God.’  What might that entail?  It is idle to contend that my belief in God is as secure as my belief in my parentage, and it is plain wrong to say that Mr Sheridan’s ancestry is ‘certainly not rationally proven.’ (Otherwise our judges would have to pick up their bongos).  And then we get the call to arms: ‘the high points of our elite and popular culture have been colonised by a militant and intolerant atheism.’

May I suggest that making warlike claims to rational superiority about religion is not the best way to deal with intolerance?  When we talk of God, those who think they have the best arguments are those who are likely to lose the war.  There is a lot to be said for live, and let live.

Poet of the month: Henry Lawson

A prouder man than you

If you fancy that your people came of better stock than mine,

If you hint of higher breeding by a word or by a sign,

If you’re proud because of fortune or the clever things you do —

Then I’ll play no second fiddle: I’m a prouder man than you!

If you think that your profession has the more gentility,

And that you are condescending to be seen along with me;

If you notice that I’m shabby while your clothes are spruce and new —

You have only got to hint it: I’m a prouder man than you!

If you have a swell companion when you see me on the street,

And you think that I’m too common for your toney friend to meet,

So that I, in passing closely, fail to come within your view —

Then be blind to me for ever: I’m a prouder man than you!

If your character be blameless, if your outward past be clean,

While ’tis known my antecedents are not what they should have been,

Do not risk contamination, save your name whate’er you do — `

Birds o’ feather fly together’: I’m a prouder bird than you!

Keep your patronage for others! Gold and station cannot hide

Friendship that can laugh at fortune, friendship that can conquer pride!

Offer this as to an equal — let me see that you are true,

And my wall of pride is shattered: I am not so proud as you!

Passing Bull 125 – The collapse of restraint


A mate of mine is a Catholic who likes to attend Mass in a Cathedral.  When I passed on to him a note by David Marr about the bishops’ going quiet about their attitude to homosexuality – are they doomed to burn in hell? – he said that the Church had lost credibility on issues like marriage equality, and that he thought that that was a shame because they may have had something useful to say about easing the passing.  Well, they haven’t.  They have shot their bolt.  They showed a lack of restraint, and, rightly or wrongly, they sounded as dishonest as they sounded mean, with this libertarian nonsense about freedom of conscience.

I am afraid that I take a very old fashioned view about religious people seeking to impose their views on others.  I think all that went out the window with Henry VIII and the Act of Supremacy.   I’m sure I would be supported on that point if the proposal was to set up Sharia Law in Australia of for us to follow Myanmar and build a bridge of bones against Islam.

If you publish a weekly bullshit column, The Weekend Australian becomes tax deductible.  Our failure to get a decent conservative paper here is very sad. The lack of restraint we see in the contemporary political discussion was on full show today.  Paul Kelly began his piece:

This is a sad and profoundly worrying moment for our country.  The virtues and ethics that bind families and loved ones have been disrupted by a misguided Victorian lower house.

An Australian jurisdiction is close to crossing a threshold that constitutes a fundamental departure in our attitudes to human life – and has acted under the misguided logic that safeguards can be effective.

There you have it – one policy shift, and the end of the world is nigh – and announced like by the village elder patronising eight year olds.  Sorry, kids, but you got it wrong.  That happens in childhood.  You get it demonstrably wrong.

With Janet Albrechtsen, you get a mixture of a preppy undergraduate tone and Apocalypse Now.

This intellectual regression has its roots in postmodernism, and identity politics has become its political arm.  Under the dishonest rubric of ‘progressive’ politics, postmodernism cemented into universities the notion that history and language are corrupted by those who hold power.  Ergo, history needs to be told through the lens of oppression and language needs to be proscribed to protect victims of the oppressors……

Determined to police words and speech, proponents of identity politics label opponents as racists, sexists, misogynists, homophobes and Nazis…..

And let’s not mince words.  When the heritage of Western civilisation is devalued in Australian schools and university history departments, debased by our political parties and human rights bureaucracies, and snubbed by sections of the media, too, it becomes a numbers game.  I joined the IPA years ago because the voices of freedom need critical mass so that the virtues of freedom can be nurtured, defended and passed on to the next generation to do the same.  The way forward is to instil in each generation an understanding that our great inheritance comes from the story of Western civilisation.  That’s why Roskam and his team at the IPA are engaged in this critical contest of ideas that must not be dismantled by the self-loathing politics of identity.

Do you think that Janet may have found her vocation better in the Salvo’s?  It’s all just a game of shadow-boxing by tribes and labels; the white hats against the black hats; with not even a nod to restraint.  It’s as if they have never left university.

And I’m never quite sure what ‘identity politics’ is, except that I believe that nationalists like Trump and Farage are in it up to their necks – and that Janet Albrechtsen and others at the IPA are disposed to cosy up to people like Trump and Farage.

Well, I suppose the IPA has done something for the bishops in our public life – they provide another sounding board for bullshit that we don’t need.  And notwithstanding the self-assurance – to use the soft phrase – with which they all hand down their tablets of the laws, you do get the impression that the IPA and the bishops want to cast themselves a s victims.  Do they have a name for that kind of political gambit?

The truth is that we don’t go for ideology.  For that matter, I’m not sure what post-modernism is – although I did smile when someone at Oxford said it was like playing tennis with the net down.  That sounded about right to me.

Poet of the month: Henry Lawson

After all

The brooding ghosts of Australian night have gone from the bush and town;

My spirit revives in the morning breeze, though it died when the sun went down;

The river is high and the stream is strong, and the grass is green and tall,

And I fain would think that this world of ours is a good world after all.

The light of passion in dreamy eyes, and a page of truth well read,

The glorious thrill in a heart grown cold of the spirit I thought was dead,

A song that goes to a comrade’s heart, and a tear of pride let fall —

And my soul is strong! and the world to me is a grand world after all!

Let our enemies go by their old dull tracks, and theirs be the fault or shame

(The man is bitter against the world who has only himself to blame);

Let the darkest side of the past be dark, and only the good recall;

For I must believe that the world, my dear, is a kind world after all. It well may be that I saw too plain, and it may be I was blind;

But I’ll keep my face to the dawning light, though the devil may stand behind!

Though the devil may stand behind my back, I’ll not see his shadow fall,

But read the signs in the morning stars of a good world after all.

Rest, for your eyes are weary, girl — you have driven the worst away –

The ghost of the man that I might have been is gone from my heart to-day;

We’ll live for life and the best it brings till our twilight shadows fall;

My heart grows brave, and the world, my girl, is a good world after all.

Passing Bull 124 – Bull about respect


If, having fetched a pale of water, Jack said to Jill ‘I respect you’, what might he mean?  The Oxford English Dictionary has for the verb ‘to treat or regard with deference, esteem or honour; to feel or show respect for; to esteem, prize or value a thing’, or person.  Jack is saying that he has a good opinion of Jill, or that he thinks well of her.

What if Jack says that he respects the flag?  Well, he is not talking about the cloth that is the symbol.  He is talking about the people, nation, or political entity for which the flag is a symbol.  And all those entities, involving tens of millions of people, all of whom are entitled to their own respect, are far more abstract than the little girl called Jill.  And there may be a lot more room to discuss just what are the aspects of, say, the nation that causes Jack to respect it.  Jack may not be of the ‘my nation right or wrong’ faction.  To use the distinctions of the OED, the question may also arise whether Jack regards the nation with deference, or whether he merely treats it that way; whether Jack feels respect for the nation, or whether he just shows it.

We are talking about a ritual performed before a symbol – like a lawyer bowing in court, or a believer genuflecting in church.  There may be many shades of meaning behind the ritual or the belief of the person making it to the ideas of those for whom the symbol represents.

Some American footballers chose a different form of that ritual to protest about one aspect of the governance of the nation.  That was their right.  Their president claimed the right to abuse them.  He wanted them punished by being fired.  He did not specify what law or contract had been broken.  He would be equally ignorant of both.  But he showed his lack of respect for his fellow citizens when he offended and insulted them by the vulgar locker room banter that is his stock in verbal trade.  Well, we are used to that with Trump.  He is a bad stupid man who thrives on conflict.

But his unctuous vice-president – who, unlike the president, has God, and has Him written all over his face –feigned a tantrum, and staged a walk-out, at God knows what expense to the American taxpayer.  Mr Pence said:

I left today’s Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag, or our national anthem.

What would Jack and Jill know about the concluding trinity?  It’s hard to say something good about  a nation that seeks to cast out anyone who does not think well of it.  It’s just as hard to think of anything good to say of a leader of such a nation who turns his back on someone who does not think well of it.  They are marks of regimes that we least respect.

We are having this discussion while looking at a massive lack of respect in the best known industry of the U S – Hollywood.  Mr Weinstein sounds evil to the core.  He reminds me of Mr Strauss-Kahn.  Their vice is identical.  They are predatory bullies who abuse their power to exploit those beneath them in pursuit of their own self-gratification.

So does Donald Trump.  He shows no respect for those beneath him.  He shows no respect for what the flag or anthem stand for – the Constitution, Congress, the judiciary, or the office of President.  The President has no idea about the Bill of Rights, except for the current fallacies about guns.  He is a true abuser of power, and not just because of his celebrated curbside opinion about pussy-grabbing.  The difference between Trump and people like Strauss-Kahn and Weinstein is one of degree.

These thoughts came up as I read an article in the Financial Times.  It referred to an article entitled Why the assholes are winning.  Its author, a Stanford professor, said that leaders who create ‘toxic and hellish work environments’ are often admired nonetheless: ‘It seemingly doesn’t matter what an individual or a company does … as long as they are sufficiently rich and successful.’

The Financial Times went on:

In ‘Down and Dirty Pictures’, his book about Miramax, Peter Biskind described the Weinstein brothers’ reputation ‘for brilliance but also for malice and brutality’.

Another study of the traits of dominant people noted that greater power triggers ‘disinhibited behaviour’. In other words, leaders who are allowed to do whatever they want can end up behaving very badly. The powerful ‘more frequently act on their desires in a socially inappropriate way’, the authors concluded.

Over-eating, over-aggression and predatory sexual behaviour were among syndromes they described for ‘high status, powerful individuals’ whose moods swing from irritability into mania.  When personal patronage is the surest route from obscurity to glamour, danger lurks.

The references to ‘disinhibited behaviour’ and ‘personal patronage’ may or may not reflect what happens in the Murdoch empire, but the whole piece looks to describe the current white House – word for word.  Leaders who get away with doing what they want end up behaving badly – very badly.

Poet of the Month

Andy’s gone with cattle

Our Andy’s gone to battle now

‘Gainst Drought, the red marauder;

Our Andy’s gone with cattle now

Across the Queensland border.

He’s left us in dejection now;

Our hearts with him are roving.

It’s dull on this selection now,

Since Andy went a-droving.

Who now shall wear the cheerful face

In times when things are slackest?

And who shall whistle round the place

When Fortune frowns her blackest?

Oh, who shall cheek the squatter now

When he comes round us snarling?

His tongue is growing hotter now

Since Andy cross’d the Darling. T

he gates are out of order now,

In storms the `riders’ rattle;

For far across the border now Our Andy’s gone with cattle.

Poor Aunty’s looking thin and white;

And Uncle’s cross with worry;

And poor old Blucher howls all night

Since Andy left Macquarie.

Oh, may the showers in torrents fall,

And all the tanks run over;

And may the grass grow green and tall

In pathways of the drover;

And may good angels send the rain

On desert stretches sandy;

And when the summer comes again

God grant ’twill bring us Andy.

Passing Bull 123 – Freedom and guns


To most people outside the U S, it sounds at best silly to say that the failure of the U S to make sane laws about guns is a necessary incident of freedom. .  Thousands die each year in America, including thousands of veterans, because of this ideological glitch.  It is fed by the corruption of the NRA, the gullibility of its supporters, a Hollywood view of America’s attachment to violence, and an American preference for self-help over sensible government intervention.

In the result, you get bullshit like this from the disgraced Bill O’Reilly, late of Fox News.

Once again, the big downside of American freedom is on gruesome display. A psychotic gunman in Las Vegas has committed the worst mass murder in US history.  Public safety demands logical gun laws but the issue is so polarising and emotional that little will be accomplished as there is no common ground.  The NRA and its supporters want easy access to weapons, while the left wants them banned.  This is the price of freedom.  Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are.

For us, that is odious rubbish.  But the NRA parrots it.  They said some of their members were shot and killed in Las Vegas.

Any law affects our freedom.  To oppose a law on the ground that it limits our freedom is to miss the point.  We have laws prohibiting your using a gun to hurt or threaten someone.  We have laws prohibiting carrying guns in public.  It would be absurd to oppose those laws on the ground that they limit our freedom.  To repeat, all laws affect our freedom.  The issue is whether that inevitable result is warranted in the public interest.  Do the benefits of these laws warrant their restrictions on our freedom?  Who wants to be free to walk up Collins Street with a rifle that can kill someone at the MCG?  If there are some people who feel aggrieved at this loss of ‘freedom’, that’s their bad luck, because the numbers are squarely against them.

Clearly, then, we are not ‘free’ to aim bullets at people to hurt them.  Should we be free to aim words at people to hurt them?  Some people object to these laws on the ground that they limit our freedom.  For the reasons given, that does not advance the discussion at all.

Take a law that prohibits one person from publicly insulting another person on the ground of their race.  That law was made to stop people inflicting one form of harm on other people, and because the prohibited behaviour can lead to a breach of the peace – which the law is there to protect.  Those are valid considerations in the public interest.  What ‘freedom’ does this law limit?  The freedom to publicly insult another person on the ground of their race.

Again, if there are some people who feel aggrieved at this loss of ‘freedom’, that’s their bad luck, because the numbers are squarely against them.

But in either case, it’s just bullshit to complain that the law affects our freedoms.

Poet of the month: Emily Dickinson

How fits his Umber Coat

The Tailor of the Nut?

Combined without a seam

Like Raiment of a Dream –

Who spun the Auburn Cloth?

Computed how the girth?

The Chestnut aged grows

In those primeval Clothes –

We know that we are wise –

Accomplished in Surprise –

Yet by this Countryman –

This nature – how undone!