Passing bull 160 – Sense and nonsense


According to something I wrote, the ‘genius of Einstein gave us the insight that people who cannot explain an idea to a six year old can probably not understand it themselves’.  I am not sure where that leaves the theory of relativity, but it is a good talking point.

Hannah Arendt revealed two competing views in her lectures on Kant’s political philosophy.  Kant said that ‘every philosophical work must be susceptible of popularity; if not it probably conceals nonsense beneath a fog of seeming sophistication.’  Now, we lawyers have been copping that raspberry for centuries – as often as not in all fairness – together with priests and doctors.  (Economists are just out of this world.)

Elsewhere Kant said:

Do you really require that a kind of knowledge which concerns all men should transcend the common understanding and should only be revealed to you by philosophers?….In matters which concern all men without distinction, nature is not guilty of any partial distribution of her gifts, and in regard to the essential ends of human nature, the highest philosophy cannot advance further than is possible under the guidance which nature has bestowed even upon the most ordinary understanding.

Well, very few of us can penetrate The Critique of Pure Reason, but at least Kant’s heart was in the right place – and, since he was speaking before Einstein, Kant was speaking of a reachable objective.

Very few people read Hegel now.  The following shows why.

Philosophy by its very nature is something esoteric, which is not made for the mob, nor is it capable of being prepared for the mob; philosophy is philosophy only to the extent that is the very opposite of the intellect and even more the opposite of common sense, by which we understand the local and temporary limitations of generations; in its relation to this common sense, the world of philosophy as such is a world turned up-side down.

This is a direct contradiction, almost word for word, of Kant; it oozes with snobbery right down its front; and in truth it envisages a kind of intellectual apartheid.

When therefore we meet people who reveal or claim a level of learning that entitles them to talk down to us, let us tell them, among other things, that they are careering towards oblivion – and that we wish them God speed in their career.


‘The harms essentially are bad outcomes to financial consumers,’ he says.

‘A harm is, for instance, a financial consumer paying for a product that they don’t need, or paying for a product that is just completely inappropriate for them, or paying for a product which was faulted from its very inception.

‘It’s really important, and this is the influence of thinkers like Professor Sparrow, a regulatory agency needs to identify the harms that we want to prevent. It’s not so much about risks. Risks will always be there. There will always be the risks of the probability of the harm occurring.

‘Then you have drivers for harms. For instance, everyone talks about technological change. Technological change is not a risk, it’s not a harm but it’s a driver.’

Shipton says that when he first arrived in Australia for pre-meetings before taking over as ASIC chairman he met with APRA chairman Wayne Byres to discuss collaboration and co-operation.

‘I remember going to his office and saying to him in no uncertain terms I am absolutely firmly committed that ASIC as an organisation I work with is going to redouble, triple its efforts in ensuring that we work collaboratively, co-operate and we co-ordinate as and when necessary depending on the different regulatory settings,’ he says.

The Australian Financial Review, 8 August, 2018.

Hamlet said that there was a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.  That may be just as well, because otherwise we are all doomed.

I wonder if Hegel may have contemplated that the one phenomenon may have been – at the time – a risk, a harm, and a driver.

Passing bull 159 – Yours sincerely


One of the problems of saying something ‘sincerely’ is like that which you may experience in saying something ‘honestly’ – what inference might your correspondent draw if you choose to omit the modifier?  If you say that you are being sincere or honest, what happens if you do not say so?  Depending on whether there is a relationship of trust and confidence, might the problem be worse if you say that you are speaking ‘candidly’?  ‘What am I to think if you choose your words to suggest that you are not being candid with me?’  Might you be entering that moral zone that allows some people to commit not the original but the ultimate sin – cheating at golf?  Or are you one of those people who think that tampering with a cricket ball, which is a breach of the rules with a defined penalty, is worse than bowling underarm (or bodyline), which is not a breach of the rules, except that which refers to ‘the spirit of the game’, but which certainly brings the game into contempt and may create an international incident?

The Oxford English Dictionary has for ‘sincere’ – ‘Not falsified or perverted in any way; genuine, pure; veracious; exact.’  When you say that you are being sincere, you are saying that ‘I (really or truly) believe this’. You are in fact, as the OED suggests, denying that you are lying.  That is why it is usually at best dangerous and at worst wrong for a disciplinary tribunal to order someone to apologise for what they have done.  If you order John or Betty to say ‘I am sorry I did that’, you may be ordering them to lie.

But the notion of sincerity has a role to play in public life.  Some politicians come across as insincere and that is very bad for them.  Let’s put to one side the leading Australian contender for that role and look at Hillary Clinton.  Too many people believed that she did not really stand for anything except Hillary Clinton, and that was a significant reason why she lost.  The fact that the man who beat her was and always will be so much guiltier of that failing is one of those sad accidents of history to which the lottery of democracy is unfortunately prone.  (And we might add that the failings of democracy are best advertised by those who claim to represent the ‘people’ – which is about the most lethal form of insincerity that you could imagine.)

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who should know better, has a related problem.  With as much front as Myers, she solemnly and sincerely affirms to the camera: ‘I insist on being truthful, not neutral’.  This is not just a false dichotomy – as a journalist she not only can but should aspire to being both truthful and neutral.   But if she sincerely believes this promo, CNN has a problem.  It is endorsing loaded reporting – how does this distinguish them from Fox News?  You may argue that being passionate is consistent with being professional – I think you would lose; but you certainly cannot be both professional and partisan. 

Sincerity is always likely to be out of place where objectivity is required – particularly in a professional relationship.  If your doctor says to you ‘I sincerely believe that surgery is your best way forward,’ you would surely wonder why a professional person would feel the need to give some form of personal warranty.  You want your doctor to be professional not personal.  It’s the same if your lawyer says ‘I sincerely believe that you should take this offer.’  And it’s a total disaster if the lawyer tells the judge or jury that he or she sincerely believes anything.  The process involves an objective review of the evidence according to law, not a subjective exposé of the state of mind of one of the participants.

It may be part of the job of the professional adviser to assist the punter – the patient, or client, or parishioner, say – to reach a sensible conclusion while believing that they have reached that position with complete freedom.  (Some professionals have a conception of ‘guided democracy’ that is not far short of that of Messrs Erdogan or Putin, but that is a matter for another day.)  But if the professional offers some form of personal assurance in that process, they are not just defying logic – they are being unprofessional.

And that proposition – which I regard as assured – illustrates the main problem in our public life now.  Sensible discussion proceeds by a sensible (or, you prefer reasonable or objective) review of the evidence and arguments, and not by succumbing to some personal invocation to ‘Follow me.’  We should leave that to people who are content, for whatever reason, to follow the injunctions of the man called Christ or the man called the Prophet or the man called the Führer.   But, tragically, too many people are happy to check their brains in at the door and follow, like a herd of cattle, the personal call of people like Farage, Hanson, or Trump.

For the second time in two years, I am dealing with an illness that will kill me unless it is dealt with.  To deal with it, I am immensely fortunate to have access to the best science and professional practice in the world.  I place full trust in my professional advisers.  I act on their advice.  I am not a religious fanatic whose faith may limit my options, but I suppose that at least in theory, there were at least two options open to me (excluding sticking my head in the sand).  One was to follow science as expounded by my professional advisers.  Another was to follow the tribal customs of, say, the Hottentots or Esquimaux or the Murdoch press – and commit the teaching of science to the flames.

How else do you express the mess that we have got into on our environment than by expressing the view that too many people have been seduced into the second course?  And that is before you ask whether these snake-oil salesmen believe their nostrums – ‘sincerely believe’ them – or just lay them out because this is how they make a living.  The latter would of course involve another form of unprofessional conduct, but that, too, is a matter for another day.

In his book, On Bullshit, Professor Frankfurt says:

It is just this lack of a connection to a concern with truth – this indifference to how things really are – that I regard as of the essence of bullshit … Bullshit is unavoidable wherever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.  The essence of bullshit is not that it is false, but that it is phony.

Of more relevance to this note, the Professor ended his book with these words:

Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial – notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things.  And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit.


Asked if it was standard practice for the federal government to hand $400m to an organisation without any tender process or transparency, Frydenberg said the process had ‘a lot of transparency.

 ‘I really think that this is being raised as a distraction from the government’s achievement in investing in the reef, as opposed to anything else’ he said.

The Guardian, 3 August, 2018.

‘A lot of transparency’ is up there with ‘a little bit pregnant’ or ‘I really think’ – bullshit.  Do these people sincerely believe that we came down in the last bloody shower?

Passing bull 158 – The equality fallacy


In the six productions I have seen of Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre in London, none was a dud and each was in its own way a decent and uplifting celebration of the art and theatrical technique of William Shakespeare.  In my view the blend of high art and popular entertainment was about right in each show.  (They get a lot of tourists from across the pond there.)  You would expect that at the Globe or the RSC at Stratford, since both were created to perpetuate the work of the greatest playwright the world has known.

You go to those venues to see the work of that artist presented as he wrote it.  You don’t go to see what some latterday wunderkind might imagine Shakespeare could have done with the subject had he been among us now.  Nor would you go to see the ballet Swan Lake at the Bolshoi in Moscow or at the Maryinsky in Saint Petersburg expecting to see it performed by coloured rap dancers or people in wheel-chairs – or by an all-male or all-female cast – unless you had been specifically warned that you were being invited to a performance of a work that was not the creation of its original author.  Rather you were going to see a show that has the horribly dubious title ‘after’ [the original author].

Peter Brook referred to the desperation that some young directors feel to do something new to a play that has been put on so often.  ‘This is the trap opening under the feet of every director. Any scene in Shakespeare can be vulgarised almost out of recognition with the wish to have a modern concept’.  He might also have referred to Aristotle’s put-down of those who think that they are wiser than their ancestors.

Sadness therefore flooded over me when two friends wrote about their sense of betrayal – that is my word, not theirs – on seeing a recent performance of Hamlet at the Globe.  This tragedy may be the best known and best loved play on our stage, but what my friends got was a bastard freak show.  It was, I am told, officially touted as ‘gender-blind, colour-blind and disability-blind.’  The producers may as well have added ‘theatre-blind, quality-blind, and art-blind.’  Hamlet and Horatio were played by women.  Ophelia was played by a man.  (I have not been told if they cut Hamlet’s invocation to Ophelia to get herself to a nunnery, perhaps out of respect for the sanity of an audience listening to a woman express that directive to a man.)  Rosencrantz or Guildenstern was played by a deaf mute – to whom, I gather, Gertrude responded in kind.

I was not told if colour-blindness was called for, but I recall a production of King Lear by the MTC about twenty years ago when a politically turbo-charged director thought it would be a good idea to have the bastard played by an aboriginal.  Followers of this playwright know that the bastard generally has a pivotal role in his plays.  As it happens, the genealogy of this bastard is described by the author in detail – almost down to the colour of the sheets between which the act of conception occurred – and it is impossible for the bastard to have been born with colour.

If the object of the director of a play is to help the audience suspend disbelief, and to remove hurdles to that process, what possible excuse can there be for a director to place massive road blocks in the way of their audience getting the most out of the play?  I take it that they would draw the line at sending out a white man to play Othello, or a blind man to play Gloucester in King Lear, or a fourteen stone fifty year old to play Mimi in La Bohème, or a eunuch to play Don Giovanni, or an eighteen year old floozy to play at centre-half forward for the Richmond Tigers in the Grand Final.  Why then should my friends have been subject to this violation of the text and sense of William Shakespeare?  I am aware that the Wagner family like to say they get adventurous at Bayreuth, but I am not aware of that licence leading to the desecration of the work of the Master.  And as best as I can see, this Hamlet was an act of desecration.

But I see from their website that those running the Globe have issued a kind of public warning.  They see their primary mission as follows.

We celebrate Shakespeare’s transformative impact on the world by conducting a radical theatrical experiment.

Well, when you buy an airline ticket, you get little more than a ticket in a raffle.  So, when you buy a ticket to the Globe, you get an invitation to descend into a test-tube.  You are submitting to take part in a ‘radical experiment’ – even if that phrase is preceded by the anaemia of ‘transformative impact.’  (What dolorous cadre could have doled out this pap?)

For my part, I would like to see someone sue the bastards and test the efficacy of this warning in court.  Without descending to detail, I don’t think the producers could legally claim that this public warning protects them from claims for misrepresentation or for serving up a product that is manifestly unfit for its purpose.

And it is pathetic to see people claim that because an artist broke new ground, producers or curators or conductors may centuries later seek to emulate the artist’s creative novelty by departing radically from the original work.  All great artists create something new.  Does that mean that Michelangelo’s depiction of the virgin and her crucified son in the Pieta would allow some pacifist in the Vatican heedless of his career to stand in front of that sculpture with a neon display of that wonderful sign that appeared in our trains during the Vietnam War: ‘Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity’?

As a matter of logic, the first objection to this kind of Hamlet is that whatever political impulse is behind it looks to be based on the fallacy that equality = sameness.  That is pure bullshit.  Putting to one side what I may say about another man wishing to be me, any woman wishing to be me would be at best crackers.  Men and women are, thank God, very different.  You don’t flatter either by denying that obvious truth.  Women have an equal right with men to play football – but not in the men’s side.  That would be both absurd and dangerous.  Casting a woman in a man’s role may not be dangerous, but it is certainly bloody absurd.  ‘Diversity’ is like ‘tokenism’, a weasel word with nowhere to go, but here they congeal.  Why not sauce the mix with a few mediocrities, or people who just can’t act?

Next, if this political message, or experiment, or test, is being put on in order to advance what are dangerously described as ‘rights’ of people who are seen by some to be disabled or disadvantaged, then putting to one side the obvious risk of the exercise being viciously counter-productive, there must be some balance with the rights of the audience – and, just as importantly, the moral right of the dead author.  Those rights include the right to have the integrity of their work respected.  I do not see how the producers of this Hamlet could claim to have respected the integrity of this great tragedy.  Indeed, their website suggests that they claim some ‘right’ to do the exact opposite by conducting a radical experiment with it.

Finally, and in part following from those objections, I began by referring to an underlying political impulse.  I cannot envisage any aesthetic or theatrical impulse for this kind of radical revisionism.  But I go to see and hear Shakespeare – and not to be preached at politically by a faceless but ego driven director.  This is a plain case of abuse of power.  As it happens, the plays of this playwright contain some of the finest analysis of the political process that I know – and anyone claiming to be able to improve on the insights of Shakespeare is at best mad.

But madness is no defence here.  What we really have is a cold-blooded arrogance and insolence of office – and an equally cold-blooded insult to the author and the integrity of his art.  What we have is in truth a gruesome echo of the self-love and world-denial of that unfortunate and illiterate oaf who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC.  This is the proud man’s contumely that has brought us the incivility of our time.

The short point is that people going to the Globe Theatre to see Shakespeare are not going there to see the director.  The clear-headed music, and cricket, authority Neville Cardus once wrote a long column about a Beethoven concert played by Artur Schnabel.  He got right to the end of the review and saw that it was all about Beethoven with nothing about Schnabel.  So he added that Schnabel had played with extreme insight.  He was worried about how Schnabel might react, not least when he received an invitation to lunch with the great pianist.  There, Schnabel said that Cardus had paid him the greatest compliment possible.  ‘This is just what I always wanted to achieve.  I want the audience to listen to Beethoven, and go home thinking about Beethoven – not about Schnabel.’  Cardus wondered what may have been the reaction if he had done the same to von Karajan.  Or, we may add, those putting on this Hamlet.

I apologise that this note is so long, and is in parts testy, but the issue is important.  I know that my views are shared by people who can speak with real authority on this subject.  I am happy to walk out on a film – it is almost de rigeur with Tarantino – but as a matter of courtesy to those on the stage, I have avoided doing so in the theatre.  I may change that policy if I take the view that someone is not just taking a lend of me, as we used to say, but is in effect slapping my face.  We may have something to learn from the audience at La Scala or La Fenice.


Tony Abbott to John Roskam at an IPA bash:

John, you’ve done very well with just 20 staff – but remember what Jesus of Nazareth did with just 12, and one of them turned out to be a rat.

The Saturday Paper, 28 July 2018

If you can read that without losing your lunch, your digestion is OK.

   Passing Bull 157 – TV or not TV


The other night I turned off two different codes of football on the TV and highlights of a cricket match in quick succession.  The reason was the same.  Each game was halted because of intervention by the off-field referee – the bane of TV replays.  They may be OK for line calls in cricket and tennis, but they are a pest elsewhere.  And it is hard to see how we might get rid of that pest if the overwhelming majority of the audience of the game is watching by TV – and has access to replays whether the broadcaster offers it or not.

More than twenty years of watching the NRL have convinced me that this apparatus does not so much settle arguments as inflame them.  FIFA is now finding that out – including in the final of the World Cup.  We are not talking about sport so much as entertainment, and stopping the game negates that.  It may also stop a side that has momentum.  Teams go to some length to slow games down when it suits them, and now an invisible official can do that for them.  We are acquiring evidence that suggests that if you invest officials with power, they may feel neglected unless they are seen to exercise it.  And heaven only knows what all this quibbling on technology does for our kids.  Sport is supposed to teach them how to lose and how to go with the call of the dice or the rub of the green.  This hair-splitting does the reverse.

The rugby union game I turned off was the worst.  Two New Zealand sides were playing in Fiji.  The score was 40+ to nil at halftime.  Then the loser scored two quick exciting tries and, as they say, it was game on!  But wait!  If you rolled the film of play back 50 meters there was a bubble in play that may have been a knock-on.  After a few minutes of replay, the second try was disallowed.  I snapped off in disgust.

Apart from ruining the game – either as a game to be enjoyed by those playing it or as a spectacle put on by professionals to entertain us – there seemed to me to be a problem of fairness, if not jurisprudence.

I assume that the rules of the game allow for this process of reviewing and over-riding the on-field referee by the invisible hand, as Adam Smith may have put it, but that is not the end of it.  A knock-on is against the rules in either form of rugby because you must pass the ball backwards.  (I am tentative because I was brought up with AFL footy.)  As I understand it, most knock-ons are accidental – deliberate knock-ons attract different responses or penalties.  The penalty that is awarded where the on-field referee calls the knock-on can usually be justified on the grounds of fairness because it represents a kind of award to the other side for applying sufficient pressure force the error – or it is just a smack for a mess up.  But the penalty consists of putting down a scrum with the side infringed against having the put in.  It must then apply its skills to get the benefit of that play.  When a penalty is offered and taken by a shot for goal, the side infringed against has to have someone who can kick it – and a lot may turn on where on the ground the offence occurred.  But where a try is disallowed because of a prior knock-on, the infringer is penalised, and to the tune of five points rather than two, without the other side having to do anything.

That does not seem right – to put it at its lowest.  There is no correlation between the offence and the penalty.  The penalty is awarded in fact (de facto) rather than by law (de iure) but its extent is determined by events after the breach of the rules.  That is why the penalty does not match the crime.  One reason that I have been following rugby is that the refereeing is much better, in my view, than in other codes.  T V is fast eroding that benefit.

Some rules say that the invisible hand can only interfere where the infringement is ‘clear’ and ‘obvious’.  What is the difference?  And how do you answer those who say that little in rugby is ‘clear’ or ‘obvious’?  What about stipulating that the infringement must look to have had consequences for the play?  Referees have to make calls like that in awarding penalty tries.  The fact that the on-field referee did not notice the offence may itself suggest that it was inconsequential.  What about saying that in each case the referee must make a call and that unless within say ten seconds the off-field referee is satisfied that that decision was plainly wrong, it stands?  What about reserving reviews for the side aggrieved and limiting their right to call for them – as happens in cricket?

Something must be done.  When did you last see an umpire call a fast bowler for a no-ball?  And what decent person wants to do a job where you get hung out to dry before millions of people?  And at least if the bloke in the middle buggers it up, you know whom to abuse.


Trump as President is doing a great deal of good and a great deal of bad.  Judging the balance is exceptionally difficult.  If you denounce Trump you are destroying the good; if you endorse Trump, you are denying the bad.  Yet the essence of strategic effect is correctly diagnosing reality.

The Australian, 14 July 2018, Greg Sheridan.

The problem with our politics.  Two fallacies followed by a nostrum.  We should be able to handle conflicting views.  Our failure leads to people like Trump.  Keats said:

… once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.

Passing Bull 156 – Best on ground


Have you noticed how football commentators tend to give their votes for best player on the ground to someone who played on the winning side?  There is no reason in logic why this should be so.  There is a related trait of the commentators.  Their after game analysis is dominated by the result.  They show two traits of so much history – it is written by the winners, and it is written with hindsight.  You are generally left with the impression that the game was never going to end in any other way.  That is of course silly, but the favouring of votes to players from the winning team is scarcely less silly.

The issue came to a head after the recent three match State of Origin series.  Three judges – all former great players – awarded the Man of the Series to Billy Slater, the Captain of Queensland, and by common consent one of the greatest players this code has seen.  (I should disclose my biases.  Billy plays for my team, Melbourne Storm; I loathe New South Wales in rugby league; and their coach justified that loathing by an inane, crude, and false insult to Cameron Smith, the Storm Captain, and former Queensland and Australian captain, one of the best footballers of may code that this nation has produced.)

This decision in favour of Billy Slater was denounced in sections of the press as insane.  There were two grounds for the accusation.  Billy had only played two games; and his side lost one of them.

Well, the three judges – Mal Meninga, Darren Lockyer, and Laurie Daley – have more knowledge of the game in their little fingers than the entire sports press corps – who in this case merely underline the fallacy that the nest on ground must – must –come from the winning side.

Some statistical genius might look at the extent to which this fallacy affects voting for the Brownlow Medal.

Passing Bull 155 – Civility


Many people are commenting on the decline in civility in public life here and elsewhere.  It has coincided with the rise of nationalism and disenchantment with a broader world view, but that does not of itself establish a causal connection between those two events.  It is however tempting to speculate whether people who want to withdraw unto themselves may not be so good in dealing with those people that they want to lock out.  However that may be, it is unsettling, to put it at its lowest, to hear Republicans complain about a restaurateur declining to serve a senior White House staffer on the basis of what may be called a conscientious objection.  Does anyone believe that the President of the United States is a model of civility?  And what happened to freedom of speech?

Fringe dwellers test laws.  This presidency now reveals another oddity, if not flaw, in the United States constitutional dispensation.  They subscribe to the separation of powers.  The executive, legislature, and judiciary have separate functions.  The legislature makes laws – not the executive or the judiciary.  Well, we know that the judiciary makes laws de facto, and this president is fond of issuing edicts, but by and large the separation holds.  The U S constitution gives the legislature no power to make laws about abortion.  But we see elections of the President (the executive) being contested on his capacity to appoint members of the judiciary who may change the law on abortion by refusing to follow a precedent.  That doesn’t look healthy, least of all in a nation that claims to keep separate Church and State.


Speaking on ABC Radio Sydney on Monday evening, Leyonhjelm said there was no need for him to apologise.

‘If she chooses to take offence, that’s her business,’ he said.

‘[The comments] weren’t intended to be offensive … I was discussing the issue of misandry.’

Pressed by host Richard Glover as to why he had attacked Hanson-Young personally, Leyonhjelm said: ‘I don’t accept the premise of your question that I’ve done anything to her.’

He denied he had discussed the Greens senator’s sex life.

‘You’ve got a fertile imagination. All I did was point out she’s got boyfriends,’ he said.

The Guardian, 3 July, 2018.

It’s sad when someone is that thick.  But at least he and Rowan Dean and Ross Campbell give insight into why people like them want to be free as matter of law to insult and offend other people.

         Passing Bull 154 – Plastic Bags


People in the media are divided over Andrew Bolt.  Some say he is sincere.  Others say that he just pursues a business model.  He looks to me like a neurotic Baptist elder lecturing an erotic teenager.  But the second view took hold the other night when he criticised two supermarket owners for clamping down on plastic bags.  What business is it of his?  What does he know about business?  People around me in the sticks don’t look like Greens, but they all have the sense to see the need for the ban.

People on the land may be more sensitive to conservation than people in the cities.  But then Mr Bolt probably thought that there was no problem with climate change.  Or is this just another case of people objecting to experts because the experts no more?  And they don’t express their jealousy when the expert is a surgeon standing between them and death.  And they might bear in mind the maxim that when you don’t know what you are talking about, bullshit is inevitable.


The battle over border security is intensifying as migration activists go on the offensive. Recent research illustrates the deep divide between open-border activists and democratic citizens on the size and profile of immigration into Western countries.

The resurgent belief that democratic governments should govern in the national interest has caused a moral panic among big migration and refugee advocates.

They are resorting to desperate measures. The use of children for porous-border propaganda is a sign of the times…..

As public opinion turns against the politically correct media, journalists are taking more extreme measures to enforce their world view. A disturbing trend is the use of children to turn public opinion against secure borders.

Picture this: a toddler in the borderlands screams as US border patrol frisks her mother. Her face is upturned and desperate. The heart-wrenching image is splashed across global media. The scarlet letter press declares US President Donald Trump and nationalists guilty without trial.

It was an encore performance by journalists, who thrilled at the chance to vilify patriots. And it was fake news — again. Getty Images photographer John Moore captured the moment that provoked a global outcry. The news went viral after the sobbing child photo was linked to Trump’s plan to separate children from immigrant parents in detention.

The front cover of Time magazine featured an illustration of the President towering over the crying toddler with the caption “Welcome to America”. It was conceptually clever, but political overkill. Trump’s base already was moving against his proposal to separate children from parents who had entered the

The demise of the democratic world is empowered by an activist class that seeks to introduce porous-border policy without democratic consent. In reaction to popular revolt against rule from above, activists have sunk to a new low: using children for propaganda.

The Australian, 25 June, 2018

Remarkable – democratic citizens and patriots contra mundum.  This paper can be relied on to defend the indefensible.  No parent could put out this gibberish.

Passing Bull 153 – Punishing universities


The Australian today had a piece by Senator James Patterson.  The headline was:


It included the following.

The Australian National University’s decision to cancel plans for a bachelor of Western civilisation has highlighted the rampant anti-Western bias that exists at many Australian universities.

But the administration’s decision to cave in to internal pressure should have surprised no one. It is merely the latest in a long line of incidents that expose the perverse incentive structure Australian universities face. Because of this, universities will almost always abandon intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity whenever it brings them into conflict with the vocal minority of ideological enforcers who believe our universities belong to them.

Clearly, the existence of this requirement isn’t enough to counteract the pressure that university administrators face from an angry minority hell-bent on enforcing its ideological hegemony. In order to strengthen their hand, the government should directly tie funding to compliance with the requirement to uphold the fundamental values of free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity.

Only imposing real, financial consequences will bring an end to the kind administrative cowardice that was epitomised by the ANU’s decision to cancel its proposed course on Western civilisation.

The article may or may not have warranted the headline.  But it certainly says that the government should impose ‘real financial consequences’ if universities fail ‘to uphold the fundamental values of free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity.’  It would be idle to contend that this adverse financial result’ does not involve a form of fine, penalty or punishment.  The Senator wants this adverse financial result to deter universities from a certain kind of conduct.  And the conduct that the senator wants the government to deter universities from is failing to toe the government line on ‘free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity.’

The senator doesn’t say what form of process should be followed to impose or enforce such a deterrent.  Presumably, he does not envisage a criminal sanction imposed after a hearing before a judge with or without a jury.  But I expect that he would allow that any adverse administrative decision would have to be made after due process – that is to say, after a hearing of the allegation by the government and the response to that allegation by the university – and subject to judicial review or review on the merits by the AAT.  As recipes for corporate seizure go, that will be hard to beat.  And what a birthday for lawyers and bull-artists.

The more fundamental issue is that to preserve what the senator calls ‘free speech’ and ‘academic freedom,’ he wants the government to penalise a university that chooses to speak freely and to preserve academic freedom – if the university acts in such a way that the government does not approve of.

It is arrant, childish nonsense to say that to preserve free speech we must penalise it.  Even the great evangelist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, would have ducked that one.  The senator takes as his text the decision of the ANU on ‘western civilisation.’  Presumably, he would also like to deter universities who do not wish to follow the party line on another bête noire of the IPA, s 18C.  The reaction of the ideologically committed to the decision of the ANU proves – at least to my mind – that they acted correctly in seeking to keep their university free of the type of propaganda advocated by these zealots – who choose to boast of their zeal for propaganda in Quadrant.

The senator has been there for about five minutes.  He could do us all a big favour by going off to get a real job for twenty years or so and coming back when he has grown up.  If our universities are to be criticised, it is for unleashing on us people like the senator, and the lady with the piece above his, Jennifer Oriel.  Her piece is at once as disturbing but predictable as that of the senator.


Premier Daniel Andrews posted a series of tweets yesterday in which he said women were not responsible for the decisions of men who attacked them.

His comments came after a senior Victoria Police officer was criticised for suggesting women had to take responsibility for their own protection.

‘Eurydice died because of her attacker’s decisions — not because of her own,’ Mr Andrews wrote. ‘And we need to accept that fact … We’ll never change a thing until we do.’

‘We’ll never change this culture of violence against women’.

‘Stay home. Or don’t. Go out with friends at night. Or don’t. Go about your day exactly as you intend, on your terms. Because women don’t need to change their behaviour — men do.

The Australian, 16 June, 2018.

The Premier is indulging the either/or fallacy – if there are two possible causes of an event, you have to choose one to the exclusion of the other.  He also appears to think that we can change human nature.  That’s as silly as saying that we have the right to walk home safely.

Passing Bull 152 – Civility and civilisation


In commenting on the current White House, a friend of mine said: ‘Civility, a basis for any form of good human relations, is completely absent from their dealings with everybody’.  That struck me as true.  I looked up ‘civility’.  The Compact OED has ‘politeness and courtesy’.  The OED itself says ‘The state of being civilised’ is archaic, but offers ‘Behaviour proper to the intercourse of civilised people; politeness…Seemliness.’

The last reference reminds us of the word ‘unseemly’, a word we use all the time to describe the conduct of Donald Trump.  In discussing ‘civilisation’ elsewhere, I said that ‘Put shortly, a group of people may be said to be ‘civilised’ to the extent that its members are ‘civil’ to others.’  I see no reason to change that view – indeed, the havoc being wrought by the present White House reinforces it.

Most Australians could not give a hoot about the current debate about teaching western civilisation at universities, but, for the entertainment of at least some of us, it is really getting worked up the usual suspects at the IPA, The Australian, and Sky News.

For example, today’s Australian has a piece rubbishing the ANU and extolling the virtues of western civilisation.  One of its best selling points is, apparently, the Reformation.  Since this affirmation came from Kevin Donnelly, the champion of Catholicism, it made a substantial contribution to my enjoyment of my weeties – but, then, as I recall, Tony Abbott had made a similar claim in describing what he saw as a failure of Islam – and I thought that was hilarious, too.

It is I think fair to say that historically universities have made a hash of talking about the civilisation of the west.  Cambridge and Oxford are still hopelessly imbued with idea that ancient Greece and Rome were civilised.  Elsewhere, I said:

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘civilize’ as ‘to make civil; to bring out of a state of barbarism, to instruct in the arts of life; to enlighten and refine’.  People who extol ancient Greece and Rome as ‘civilised’ obviously use the word in this final sense.  They see ‘enlightenment’ and ‘refinement’ as being enough to outweigh the barbarity of slavery or their many-godded naturalistic religions.  They see civilisation even though neither Greece nor Rome had then been blessed with the respect for the dignity of each human life that is at the foundation of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and which is elemental to our concept of ‘civilisation’.  Unlike Hamlet, the ancients had not heard the beautiful notion ‘that there is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.’

The reference to the dignity of each human life is important.  In his piece this morning, Mr Donnelly referred to ‘the inherent dignity of the person’.  The notion comes not just from religion, but from Kant and other leaders of the movement called the Enlightenment (to which Mr Donnelly also refers).

But let us go back to the connection between civility and civilisation – and the unseemliness of the White House.  No one would say that Donald Trump represents whatever we might mean by western civilisation.  No one would say that he represents civility.  He is the antithesis of both.  Worst of all, no one would say that Donald Trump believes in ‘the inherent dignity of the person.’  He is dedicating his presidency to the obliteration of that dignity.

All that makes it curious that those who are loudest in supporting the teaching of western civilisation are often those who support Donald Trump.  For example, in this morning’s Australian, we find Mr Greg Sheridan saying:

Now, it should be remarked straight away, if Kim lives up to this commitment, then Trump will go down in history as a great statesman. But while we must remain open to that possibility, there is no real indication that it is likely.

If there was any doubt that Trump is a disgrace to his nation and his office, it was blown away by the appalling lack of civility that Trump and his ministers showed last weekend to his allies – and, if it matters, the leaders of those nations that truly represent what might called the flowering of that evanescent thing called western civilisation.  In order to qualify as a statesman, you have to be skilled in the management of public affairs – and you have to be civil.  Trump is disqualified on both counts.

Another disqualification for Trump is that any view of western civilisation must entail a subscription to the rule of law.  Trump treats the rule of law with contempt.

This discussion suggests that those who wish to promote the teaching of western civilisation need to refine what they may have in mind.  It may help to remember in this and other discussions that being ‘civilised’ entails being civil.

Then there is the epithet ‘western’ – presumably, as opposed to ‘eastern.’  At least one problem then is that when we say that we are inherently different to other people, we rarely think that the other people got the best deal – we nearly always think we are better off than them.  That is not the path that we want our university students to tread.  On one view, it is the root of intellectual evil.  What I have not seen in any of this discussion is any claim that western civilisation is in some way inferior to the eastern variety.  That would be like saying that you can get a better feed from a Chinese take-away than at the Tour d’Argent.

Passing Bull 151 – Politically motivated charges


If I see the man who ran over my dog shoot his wife, I may be happy to report him to the police – not out of respect for his wife, or the law, but because I have it in for him for what he did to my dog, and I want to see him suffer.  You might then say that I was moved to report the man out of what the law calls malice. 

Very few lawyers, even libel lawyers, know what that word means, but Oliver Wendell Holmes defined it in a way that meets our case – ‘when we call an act malicious in common speech, we mean that harm to another person was intended to come of it, and that such harm was desired for its own sake as an end in itself.’  A finding of malice may have consequences in both our civil law and criminal law, but in the example I have given above, what effect could or would such a finding have?  If I have in truth seen the man shoot his wife, and I report that to the police, what difference does it make if I am happy to report him because I hate him?  My state of mind is not relevant to the validity of the steps the police will take in acting on the information that I provide to them.

Attacking the prosecution may well therefore involve a fallacy if the attack is said to reflect on the validity of the charge that is the subject of the prosecution.  In Plato’s Apology, the author purports to set out the response or defence of Socrates to the charges brought against him before an Athenian jury.  The document is almost scandalously fallacious from start to finish.  Socrates says that he has become unpopular because he is a good philosopher.  You do not destroy the validity of a charge by impugning the motives of those who lay it.  A charge is not invalid because it is brought with malice (although there may be avenues of attack).  Nor for that matter must it fail just because the informant does not believe it.  Its validity is the question for the court, not the parties. So, when Socrates says that his accuser Meletus does not care about the substance of the charges, this, too, is irrelevant – at least in our procedure.  All these responses are spurious – they are in truth just common garden examples of the ad hominem fallacy.  The attack is on the man, and not the argument.

In order to make good a suggestion that a prosecution is infected by political motivation, you would need to show that not just the original charge, but the whole process of the criminal law, was politically bent against the accused, so that he or she was denied due process.  We now believe that to have been the case for the witch hunts at Salem or those conducted by Senator McCarthy.  It was clearly the case in the show trials conducted by Stalin and Hitler.  In a performance that was hilarious even by its standards, the IPA levelled that charge on Friday against the Royal Commission into Banks.

But the most outrageous instance of the fallacy comes with the response of Donald Trump to the investigation by the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.  Trump does not just attack Mueller personally.  He intones parrot-like, as is his wont, that the inquiry is a witch hunt.  The irony is that although Trump would not have the faintest idea what a witch hunt is, that is precisely what he is engaging in against his own FBI and Department of Justice.  There are Reds under every bed, and the deep state is everywhere against him.  The conspiracy theory is nearly perfect – we have trouble seeing the evidence because the malefactors are so cunning and their arts and crimes are so dark.

That was just about the response that Don Quixote gave to Sancho Panza from time to time.

Be quiet, friend Sancho.  Such are the fortunes of war, which more than any other are subject to constant change.  What is more, when I come to think of it, I am sure this must be the work of that magician Frestón, the one who robbed me of my study and my books, and who has since changed those giants into windmills in order to deprive me of the glory of overcoming them, so great is the enmity that he bears me; but in the end, his evil arts shall not prevail against this trusty sword of mine.

Substitute the Deep State for Frestón, and there you have the Donald.  The Don was of course quite mad.  Trump may or may not be mad, but the faith of his supporters knows few bounds.  They were after all prepared to join in the mindless chant ‘Lock her up’ in response to the invitation from a bemedalled ourangatang who is now on his way to the slammer – unless he rats on his Commander in Chief.

What do I think of witch hunts?  I was very taken by the remark of an English judge way back in 1712.  His Lordship was moved to observe that there was no law gainst flying.


If I hear about culture, leadership or trust one more time I think I’m going to tear my hair out. The royal commission into financial misconduct has unleashed a barrage of calls for better, stronger and more resilient leadership and culture at the nation’s major financial institutions.

The new chief of the corporate regulator, James Shipton, gave a speech on Thursday emblematic of this trend, suggesting the ‘trust deficit’ in finance could be improved by ‘rebuilding culture from deep within’, more ‘sustained engagement’ and ‘active stewardship of assets by investors’, alongside ‘more intensive and dedicated supervision’.

‘It’s time for Australia’s financial services sector to remember its purpose’ he declared, in words unlikely to ruffle a feather anywhere.

Adam Creighton, The Australian, 19 May, 2018.

Bullshit is an occupational hazard for some positions – almost any at ASIC.