Passing Bull 252 – Fluffy tropes

Some people get by saying nothing pompously.  In The Australian today, Paul Kelly begins his front page column this way.

Annastacia Palaszczuk has proven the power of closed borders and the curse of pandemic protectionism.  In this first state election of the COVID-19 crisis, Palaszczuk has shown how the virus has elevated strongarm populist premiers as the new giant killers roaming the land.

The results of elections are caused by all sorts of things.  They may or may not evidence sentiments in the electorate.  We will never know.  It is impossible to say what sentiments were the most significant.  That is one reason that we don’t trust polls.  Yet Mr Kelly can isolate one cause not just as evidence but proof.  There is a very big difference between the two – that we might hope a political diagnostician might have firmly in mind.

But what on earth is ‘pandemic protectionism’ and why is it a ‘curse’?

Let us put to one side tropes like ‘strongarm’ and ‘giant killers roaming the land’.  They are just silly.  But what does populist mean there?  It is not meant as a compliment.  The word ‘Trumpian’ gets a run in the next paragraph.  It looks to be an essential part of the ‘curse’.  As I follow it, in the two party system, people vote for the party that they think will best serve their interests.  The winner can say that it is the more popular party of the two.  A clear majority thought that the winning party would serve their interests better than the other party.  It is a fair inference that the pandemic was a significant factor in their thinking.  Experience suggests that incumbents are favoured in times of crisis.  But what here takes the successful party from popular to populist?

The thoughtless use of clichés as labels is the bane of our press.


Apollo said in a statement it was ‘firmly committed to transparency’. It added: ‘Leon has communicated directly with our investors on this issue and we remain in open dialogue.’

Financial Times, 23 October, 2020

What matters is that I act with integrity and honour.  That means I need to act in the best interests of ASIC and its vital purpose to build a fair, honest and efficient financial system for all Australians….I only took this position to serve the Australian community and to work to improve the corporate and financial system that should also serve it.  If I in any way impede that purpose, the right thing for me to do is to step aside until such time that I can.

The Weekend Australian, 24-25 October, 2020

Passing Bull 251 – Comparing cases and playing the man

‘We may have made some mistakes financially, but your lot trashed the whole economy.’  This is standard fare in politics.  Playing the man – the Latin is ad hominem – is not meeting the argument.  It is a recognised fallacy.  But comparing one case to another may be revealing, and not just as showing hypocrisy on the part of the person putting an argument.  Comparing cases, and distinguishing them, is part of the lifeblood of debate and it is essential to the process of the common law.

This came to mind as I read a biography of Von Karajan by Richard Osborne.  Karajan had joined the Nazi Party and had to be cleared by the De-Nazification Tribunal.  Furtwangler faced a similar issue.  Both were attacked – in my view unfairly.

Karajan had said he made a mistake in joining the party. I don’t know why – he might have been unemployable if his ‘patriotism’ had been put in issue.  Eight million Germans signed up.  That was not in itself a crime.  Mr Osborne points out that David Oistrakh joined the Communist Party.  Does that mean he supported the crimes of Stalin?

Way back to the time when pioneering British socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb excused the mass murder of the kulaks, the peasant landowners in Stalin’s Russia, on grounds of a pressing need for greater agricultural efficiency in the Soviet Union, there has been a long history of toleration – even on occasion justification – of ‘Uncle Joe’ Stalin’s acts of genocide that would be unthinkable in the case of Hitler’s.

That is an illuminating comparison.  As is the reference to the ‘raucous’ support of Hitler given by Karl Böhm, ‘the shrewd lawyer with the peasant’s instinct for survival.’  ‘Anyone who does not say a big YES to our Führer’s action and give it their hundred per cent support does not deserve to be called a German.’  Neither Karajan nor Furtwangler got even close to that, and if you looked hard enough you might find something unseemly in the dressing table of the ensainted Elizabeth Schwarzkopf.

Edmund Burke said ‘I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people.’  The Nazis claimed to do just that.  Robert Jackson (later a U S Supreme Court Justice) said at Nuremberg:

We should also make clear that we have no purpose to incriminate the whole German people…..If the German populace had willingly accepted the Nazi programme, no storm troopers would have been needed….The German no less than the non-German world has accounts to settle with these defendants.

Mr Osborne tells us that Yehudi Menuhin shared this view. 

In 1949, a tour of Chicago by Furtwangler had to be called off in the face of death threats.  The President of the Chicago group issued a most dignified statement.

….I was confident however in my belief that all of us who have made great sacrifices to bring the war to a victorious conclusion had done so in the hope that our victory would above all else bring about a world attitude of tolerance.  To find that this attitude of tolerance has not yet been realised and accepted by many people , including even some outstanding artists, is tragic evidence of the fact that our victory as yet has not been complete.

The whole catastrophe started with an ascription of guilt to a whole people.  Guilt by association is the first refuge of the coward.  And we may want to reconsider our views on moral cowardice in view of the moral landslide now on show in the Republican Party.


Apollo said in a statement it was ‘firmly committed to transparency.’  It added: ‘Leon has communicated directly with our investors on this issue and we remain in open dialogue.’

Financial Times, 23 October, 2020

Passing Bull 250 – Inanity writ large – and worse

One Australian newspaper today posted two comments on the re-election of Jacinda Ardern.  One was from the Economist.  From a respectable newspaper, the comment was both sensible and gracious.  That from the I P A was the direct opposite of both those qualities.  It starts this way.

Nobody skewered Barack Obama during his presidency like legendary comedian Dennis Miller.  ‘It’s not all that dramatic with me and Obama,’ Miller once told his audience.  ‘It’s not racist, it’s not classist, it’s not ideological.  It’s just that he is an inept civil servant.  He’s the guy at the toll booth who’s constantly giving out the wrong change.’

The same could be said about New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.  She’s a brilliant politician, but has been a grossly incompetent administrator.

That was the beginning.  We know that the IPA people cannot tolerate Democrats in the U S or anyone to do with Labor here in Australasia or the UK.  We also know that where a lightweight says that he is not being A, B or C, there is every chance that he is certainly being at least B or C.  And these comments about Obama are certainly premised on both class and ideology – in spades.  We can be as certain of that as we can be that those remarks are as tasteless as they are both revealing and inane.  It is a beautiful instance of my rule of thumb that if someone gets up the nose of people at the Murdoch press or the IPA, they are doing some good.  The revelation comes from the derision of anything Democrat or Labor.  Not many presidents get ranked with toll booth attendants.  A former IPA person who works for Murdoch said the other day that it would be a tragedy if Gladys Berejiklian lost office, and Daniel Andrews did not.  The non sequitur is painful, but the ideological antipathy is palpable.  The article concludes.

The only hope for New Zealand now is that, whatever horrifying plans that Labour has in store, Ardern is just as hopeless at actually implementing them in her second term as she was in her first.

What can you say?  It’s not that they prefer Trump to Obama and Morrison to Ardern, it’s that their inanity leaves them with no sense of grace at all.  We are left with the question that that Boston attorney – counsel for the U S army – asked of Senator Joseph McCarthy.  ‘Have you no sense of decency at all at long last?’

You will see that this is number 250 in this series on contemporary bullshit.  It’s sad that this entry is so gross.


Pence’s polished, reasoned and compelling performance would certainly reassure any viewer remotely inclined to support Trump that this is a substantial administration on the right policy track.

The Australian, 9 October, 2020, Greg Sheridan

The US left hates the history and institutions of America itself.

The Australian, 14 October, 2020, Greg Sheridan

Q E D.

Passing Bull 249 – Mixed waffle

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

The Australian, 2 September, 2020, Paul Kelly

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

‘Our position is that our participation agreement includes a non-disparagement clause,’ the minutes say. ‘A reactive media statement will be prepared if required.’

The Guardian, 9 September, 2020

It is not surprising that they got caught.

Thales, whose roots stretch back more than a century, had come up with a statement of its purpose. ‘It is a statement that took six months to write,’ Mr Caine wrote on LinkedIn, adding there had also been six months of consultations with nearly half of the group’s 83,000 employees. The result was just seven words: ‘Building a future we can all trust.’  Staring at them, I thought, bingo! Thales had pulled off a trifecta in the corporate twaddle stakes. A group that makes everything from train ticket systems to drone software had spent hours of company time on a statement so devoid of meaning that it could have come from untold other firms.

Conservative MP Desmond Swayne claimed this week that Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick were engaged in ‘project fear’.

Financial Times, 30 September, 2020

What if there is something to be afraid of?

Here and there – Views of Trump

Protocol precludes psychiatrists from expressing views on a person whom they have not consulted with.  Here are some views that might throw some light on Donald Trump.

Erich Fromm was a distinguished psychoanalyst who wrote the kind of books we can follow in comfort.  Here are some of his views.

The most dangerous result of narcissistic attachment is the distortion of judgment.  The object of narcissistic attachment is thought to be valuable…not on the basis of an objective value judgment but because it is me or mine.  Narcissistic value judgment is prejudiced and biased……

From Caligula and Nero to Stalin and Hitler we see their need to find believers, to transform reality so that it fits their narcissism, and to destroy all critics, is so intense and so desperate precisely because it is an attempt to prevent the outbreak of insanity.  Paradoxically, the element of insanity in such leaders makes them also successful.  It gives them that certainty and freedom from doubt which is so impressive to the average person.

(This is so true.  It is as if their hero can fly – just like Icarus.  You see it in lawyers.  The most brash of them know no fear and they have invisible lines of attraction to clients of the same temperament.)

Concerning the pathology of group narcissism, the most obvious and frequent symptom, as in the case of individual narcissism, is a lack of objectivity and rational judgment.  If one examines the judgment of the poor whites regarding blacks, or of the Nazis in regard to Jews, one can easily recognise the distorted character of their respective judgments.  Little straws of truth are put together, but the whole which is thus formed consists of falsehoods and fabrications.  If political actions are based on narcissistic self-glorifications, the lack of objectivity often leads to dis-astrous consequences.

Hannah Arendt was a political philosopher.  She was fearfully bright.  She wrote a book about totalitarianism.

It has always been true that the mob will greet deeds of violence with the admiring remark: ‘It may be mean but it is very clever.’  The disturbing factor in the success of totalitarianism is rather the true selflessness of its adherents…..the amazing fact is that neither is he [the follower] likely to waiver when the monster begins to devour its  own children and not even if he becomes a victim of persecution himself….

The temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on this genuine delight with which the former watched the latter destroy respectability…The object…was always to reveal official history as a joke, to demonstrate a sphere of secret influences of which the visible, traceable and known historical reality was only the outward façade erected explicitly to fool the people….the difference between truth and falsehood may cease to be objective and become a mere matter of power and cleverness, of pressure and infinite repetition.  Not Stalin’s and Hitler’s skill in the art of lying but the fact that they were able to organise the masses into a collective unit to back up their lies with impressive magnificence, exerted the fascination.

Practically speaking, the totalitarian ruler proceeds like a man who persistently insults another man until everybody knows that the latter is his enemy, so that he can, with some plausibility, go and kill him in self-defence.  This certainly is a little crude, but it works – as everybody will know who has ever watched how certain successful careerists eliminate competitors.

This last is the most deadly.  It is the response to Black Lives Matter of Trump and his tame followers in the press in this country.  The sad truth is that people who go to extremes drive sensible people to do the same – in a reaction that they later blush for.  I saw this in the early 80’s acting for Norm Gallagher and the BLF.  They were so extreme that they drove judges to make remarks that they should not have made – like ‘What would your clients know about the reaction of reasonable people?’ – and they drove a state Labor government to enact a privative law that made Menzies’ bills on the Communist Party read like Psalm 23.  On any view, Trump and his tamed props in Congress are extreme, and they are waiting on the Democrats to take the bait.

Wouldn’t that be deplorable?

The result is sadly nigh on inevitable – the triumph of the mob.

Passing Bull 248 – The almost crowd

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

There is no restraint or moderation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Passing Bull 247 – Management speak

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

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

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

Mr Bansal said:

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

(The Australian, 15 September, 2020)

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

Passing Bull 246 – Betting

The Financial Times carried a report:

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

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

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

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


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

The Australian, 2 September, 2020, Paul Kelly

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

Passing Bull 246 – Idolatry

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

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

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

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

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

The Australian is on par with Fox News.

Passing Bull 243 – More on freedom


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

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

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


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

The Australian, 4 June, 2020, Greg Sheridan

Then he sent in the army.

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

The Australian, 4 June, 2020, Adam Creighton