Here and there – The facts of political life


In order to encourage young lawyers to meet the facts of life head on, and to be able to recount them without bullshit, I used to give three books to my articled clerks on their admission into the legal profession: Gowers, The Complete plain Words; Clausewitz, On War; and Machiavelli, The Prince.  I don’t suppose any of them read all three, or anything like it, but I wanted to convey a hard-headed message – if they didn’t like it, they may have needed to rethink their future.

This came back to me when I read Be Like the Fox, Machiavelli’s Lifelong Quest for Freedom, by Erica Benner.  It seemed to me to have a lot in common with another book I had recently acquired, Ike and McCarthy, Dwight Eisenhower’s Campaign against Joseph McCarthy, by David Nicholls.  They both have respectable publishers – in order, Allen Lane and Simon & Schuster.  The academic credentials of the authors are elliptically expressed.  The title is catchy.  The style is a kind journalese that may leave some feeling like they’ve been talked down to.  In the first there is direct speech. In each, the author feels the need to tell us about their own journey of discovery, which can be a very troubling symptom. There are floods of notes.  Above all, extravagant claims are made for the book by the usual tame suspects in the blurbs, and by the author.  And in each case, I was left wondering what all the fuss was about – worse, I wondered how I got to be suckered once again, when I’m old enough to know better.

Erica Benner’s book is readable enough, if you go for that chatty style in the historical present, and you suppress your fear of another populist outbreak,  but you would have to be a bloody idiot to believe the blurb that says she has succeeded ‘brilliantly in overturning centuries-old received views.’ We can leave that puffery to the commercial conscience licence of Allen Lane.  But in the Preface, the author says this:

His [Machiavelli’s] design was to write for a tyrant those things that are pleasing to tyrants, bringing about in this way, if he could, the tyrant’s self-willed and swift downfall.’  In other words, the book’s most shocking advice was ironic.  Its author wore the mask of a helpful adviser, all the while knowing the folly of his advice, hoping to ensnare rulers and drag them to their ruin…..Machiavelli’s self-proclaimed realism, his book’s main selling point,  was a fraud.  And Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, and England were among its first victims.  Cromwell had taken the Prince at face value…..and in doing so, had walked straight into Machiavelli’s trap.

These statements are not small. They are large.  Is Ms Benner intent on eulogising a fraud?  (‘Fraud’ is her word.)  Where can you buy the crystal balls that allow you to divine Machiavelli’s real intent or purpose?  Was poor King Henry VIII really a flop?  Was the English Reformation a mistake?  How fared the nation of England in suffering through its victimhood?   And why didn’t Machiavelli’s fraud work earlier on seriously bad princes like Napoleon, Stalin or Hitler?  Why did five, twenty, and fifty million people have to die before they walked into Machiavelli’s trap?  Just how Machiavellian was Ms Benner’s version of Machiavelli?  Are we all just sad victims of a dilettante prankster?

And that’s before you get to the subtitle.  What did ‘freedom’ mean in Renaissance Italy?  As Bertrand Russell remarked of Machiavelli (in his History of Western Philosophy), ‘The word ‘liberty’ is used throughout as denoting something precious, though what it denotes is not very clear.’  My suspicion is that ‘freedom’ in Machiavelli means the kind of  pompous hypocrisy denoted in that word by the conspirators in Julius Caesar – as they pulled their hats down over their ears and hid half their faces, and then set out about murdering the man who was in their way.

Well, all this stuff is irrelevant to us in the Anglo-American scheme of things.  We don’t go big on theory.  We don’t trust ideologues.  And philosophy, especially political philosophy, has even less going for it than economics.  We prefer experience, evidence, tradition and something like natural growth.  Evolution hadn’t even been invented when Machiavelli was floating his theories.  But they have taken effect, and not noticeably to our benefit.

The Prince was mainly about contemporary or recent rulers in Italy.  The Discourses was more about republics, the form of government more favoured by the author.  If you know anything about the Medicis, Borgias, or Renaissance popes, you know that praise, much less idolatry, is out of the question. In the eyes of most, Cesare Borgia was a model of depravity.  Here is part of what Jacob Burckhardt had to say about the ‘great criminal’ Cesare Borgia.

‘Every night four or five murdered men are discovered – bishops, prelates, and others – so that all Rome is trembling for fear of being destroyed by the Duke’ (Cesare).  He himself used to wander about Rome in the night-time with his guards, and there is every reason to believe that he did so not only because, like Tiberius, he shrank from showing his now repulsive features by daylight, but also to gratify his insane thirst for blood, perhaps even on persons unknown to him….those whom the Borgias could not assail with open violence fell victim to their poison.

On any view, the bloodlines were less than charming, and the Borgias were not nice people to have dinner with. If Machiavelli says he sees nothing to reproach in Cesare Borgia, and he does, he is obviously taking the mickey – unless he is morally insane.  Some have called it satire; others call it comical irony.  While Burckhardt may be out of fashion, he did understand Italy at this time, and he thought the real reason for Machiavelli’s sympathy for Cesare was that Cesare was the only one who could have secularised the Papal States.  (Now there is a proposition to conjure with!)

We are looking at the difference between facts in history and politics, and values in ethics or morals. That’s what I wanted my new lawyers to come to terms with – together with the dangers of talking in such abstractions.  Can you have any politics without any morals at all?  Even Stalin and Hitler found room for loyalty to the nation and party, and obedience to the leader.

This realism had its upside.  Machiavelli criticised the Church because by its conduct it had undermined religious belief.  But there was a downside.  A prince should seem to be religious – an implacable law for American presidents – but the Prince emphatically rejects morals for princes.  Rulers who are always good will fail.  They must be as cunning as a fox.  In the year of Our Lord 2016, this attempt to divorce morals from politics came home to bite us all.  And the point was made by people who worked on the equally objectionable principle that the ends justify the means – a notion that figures largely in Machiavelli’s writings.

Russell introduced the subject this way (back in 1946, the year after I was born).

His political philosophy is scientific and empirical, based upon his own experience of affairs, concerned to set forth the means to assigned ends, regardless of the question whether the ends are to be considered good or bad.  When, on occasion, he allows himself to mention the ends that he desires, they are such as we can all applaud.  Much of the conventional obloquy that attaches to his name is due to the indignation of hypocrites who hate the frank avowal of evil-doing.  There remains, it is true, a good deal that genuinely demands criticism, but in this he is an expression of his age.   Such intellectual honesty about political dishonesty would have been hardly possible at any other time or in any other country…..

This assessment looks fair and sensible to me, and I doubt whether Ms Benner would dissent from it.  But it is not a bookselling headline.  How then does Ms Benner unveil her revelation?

But he has learned to avoid lecturing princes on what they should and should not do.  Instead, he gives free reign to his old talent for ambiguous writing, so useful when writing diplomatic dispatches.  [35] He adopts the persona of a cold-blooded adviser to new rulers, one who teaches them to use other princes, foreign peoples, and their own subjects to serve their soaring ambitions.  Yet his writing turns hot, nearly bursts into flame, when he describes how free peoples avenge themselves on those who attack their freedom….On closer scrutiny, though, one begins to notice hesitations and caveats that compromise the praise…..Yet the book’s long discussion of Cesare’s career teams with insinuations that undercut the praise….look more closely and you start to notice details that subvert the artist’s glowing portrait….When reading the Prince, one often has the impression that the book speaks in two different voices, sometimes in the same sentence…..If the louder voice of the amoral adviser goads princely readers to accumulate more and more power, the Prince’s lower register voice – Nicco beneath his bestial disguise – constantly hints that well-ordered republics are stronger, safer, and more natural for the human animal.

Now, whether you regard ‘bestial disguise’ as an improvement on ‘fraud’ may involve issues of taste as much as judgment, but there is nothing new here.  When you could be killed or mutilated for saying the wrong thing, it was natural to equivocate, or be deliberately ambiguous, or to speak with a forked tongue.

All of Machiavelli’s books were banned; he had already been tortured not for what he said, but because someone else put his name in a list; and that most notorious controversialist of the Renaissance, Galileo, had sought to pull off the same stunt by dressing his heresy up in a dialogue.  He said that he just wanted to show both sides.  Well, as we know, the Inquisition did not buy that argument, and Galileo was convicted of being ‘vehemently suspect of heresy.’  Two could play the ambiguity game – but it was and is a well-worn game.

Well, if nothing is new, what’s all the fuss about?  The author’s argument begins with the reference to the ambiguity of diplomacy.  I have included the footnote [35] for which the citation is:

‘35 See Benner, Machiavelli’s Prince.’

Passim? The whole bloody book?  Has it all been said before? Is the good book right after all – is there nothing new under the sun?

So, give us a break Mr Allen Lane, and go a bit easier on the bullshit.

Passing Bull 104 – Australian values


The hypocrisy and intolerance in our public life is getting worse.  A week after telling us that migrants should share Australian values, government ministers are doing hand-stands because someone said something of questionable taste that offended part of our secular faith.  Nor are our leaders in the slightest put out that those complaining the loudest about this allegedly offensive behaviour are also the ones that cry the loudest when the law is invoked against offensive words.  You can apparently be as offensive as you like – until you offend a true blue Aussie.  Why don’t we go for the full Monty and set up a House of UnAustralian Affairs Committee?  I can think of a number of thick thugs who would be ripe to emulate the U S model.

Well, here is my go at some real Australian values where we could well be world leaders.

  1. Holding without trial a person fleeing from persecution in a nation ruined by a war that your nation entered under false pretences.
  2. Imprisoning young aboriginal offenders for stealing bread, under laws of mandatory sentencing passed to deal with aboriginals by legislators who do not know as much as the judges and who do not trust them, while their rich mates crookedly deprive people of millions of dollars and routinely go uncharged.
  3. Refusing to change taxation laws in an effort to enable young people who are not so well off to buy their first home – not just an Australian value but what we used to call ‘the Australian dream’ – for fear that such a law might be against the interests of those who are well off, in particular those members of parliament who invest in land and use the tax laws for that purpose – what used to be called ‘the ruling class’ or ‘the landed gentry’.
  4. Supporting bodies that claim to be in sport but which are in truth trading corporations in the entertainment industry that at least in part live off the earnings of gambling, another form of business that has brought hardship and misery to countless Australians, commonly those who are not so well off or who are not so good at looking after themselves.
  5. Having legislatures refuse to limit the gambling business that does so much harm to their voters, because their governments are now hooked on the easy money coming in as revenue derived in large part from human misery.
  6. Refusing, for reasons of pure self-interest, to make laws to contain the spread of this evil, and to ban advertising of products that bring as much misery as cigarettes.
  7. Refusing to investigate or prosecute people who in public offend aboriginal footballers on the basis of their race on the ground that such action would impede the freedom of speech of the abuser, or on the ground that a single instance of abuse does not constitute harassment – or professing inane political theories that leave them open to this silly suggestion.
  8. Maintaining a system of government that blatantly prefers one religion to all others by requiring its head of state to be in communion with one sect of one religion – by the law of a foreign nation that we hapless and timid Australians have no power to alter.
  9. Forbidding members of a government from voting in parliament on an issue of social equality apparently favoured by a clear majority – on the reasoning like that of a spoiled brat who is a bad sport and who just picks up his bat and ball to spite the winner.
  10. Acquiescing in a body of laws on taxation that are at best incomprehensible, but which offer the wealthy more avenues of evasion than poor people.
  11. Coming too late to the conclusion that allowing a bank manager to be paid one hundred times what a bank teller gets paid is as bad for the rest of Australia as is their practice of encouraging their managers to boost their incomes by engaging in bad and illegal banking practises that hurt those who are less able to look after themselves.
  12. Refusing to sanction a decent inquiry into these evils because it might be bad for business! (This is the bell ringer of all  bell ringers.)
  13. Failing to see that it is blindingly obvious that the widening gap in incomes and housing wealth is undermining the fabric of the nation in the same manner that has produced such ghastly political disruption elsewhere.
  14. Having politicians who generally behave in such an appalling fashion that at any given election, a majority of voters will be clearly against the party that has the misfortune to be elected to govern.
  15. Habitually going off to wars and losing them as a payment of protection money to Uncle Sam, and not only refusing to acknowledge that fact, but positively lying and denying it.
  16. Allowing blockheads – seismically stupid people – to favour a warped ideology of fanatics against the evidence of science to endanger our hold on the planet and to rob our children of their heritage.
  17. Having a political system that is so decrepit that a rational literate liberal leader is soon reduced to a crass scared vote-chasing follower.
  18. Living in philistine cities of the plain where more people will go to watch a single match of football, in a code that has not been and never will be exported beyond our sunlit plains extended, than go to see all the operas and plays put on in those cities over the whole year.
  19. Being in a nation that likes to see itself as ‘sporting,’ and having a major sporting body aligned with one of the most corrupt entities on the planet, whose head has a tenure exceeding that of most African dictators, whose income has blue sky (more than $200,000) between it and that of the Chief Justice of the High Court, and who when challenged descends to the gutter in a manner that should have got him sacked on the spot.
  20. After more than two centuries of white settlement, not having found the means to stop such jerks worming their way into positions of trust and reducing the rest of us to illness or tears.
  21. Having politicians who are so low and unprincipled that they will go out and spruik bullshit about Australian values in an effort to get a transitory lift in the polls, and who either do not see or do not care that we see them for what they are.

You do wonder how our values might be different to those of the English, French, Americans, Chinese, Kenyans, Chileans, Indonesians, or North Koreans, or what school of diplomacy you should attend before pointing out their deficiencies to their face.

But, on reflection, I think there may be one real Australian value – anyone who uses that term with a straight face is a no good bullshit-artist and, worse, probably a politician to boot.

Confucius says:

I am not so impertinent as to practise flattery.  It is just that I so detest inflexibility.

Analects 14.32.

Passing Bull 103 – Bull about poverty

In doing a course on line from Cambridge about Queen Elizabeth I, I had occasion to look at Elizabethan poor laws.  This led me to put on the following note.

‘This woman (Queen Elizabeth I) for me stands for leadership and tolerance.  The first is in very short supply, and the second was brutally attacked in various parts of the world (including mine) last year.  The other thing that struck me again was how much more rigorous was the education provided back then to those who would prefer to watch Shakespeare than to read Phantom comics or watch Days of Our Lives.  (That last comment really shows me as an old fogey.)

But I am now engaged in reading Dickens’ novels for the second time.  I have just finished Bleak House again, and I recalled that poor Jo appeared to die from poverty.  The poor were always before Dickens.  What about in the time of Queen Elizabeth I?

I recalled my amazement about thirty years ago when I was hearing tax cases, and I had to hear my first case about whether a body was a charity.

Where do I find the law on that?

If the tribunal pleases, you look to find the spirit and intendment of the preamble to a statute of Queen Elizabeth I.

The First Elizabeth?  Are you serious?

Counsel was – the act is 43 Eliz. c 1 (1601).  The act’s preamble contained a list of purposes or activities that the parliament believed were beneficial to society, and for which the nation wanted to encourage private contributions. That list then formed the foundation of the modern definition of charitable purposes, which was developed through case law.   The ‘relief of the aged, impotent, and poor’ stand high in the list in the preamble.  Poor Jo would have been a proper object of bounty.

I recalled this old law – which still very much underpins the relevant law where I live – when I was looking at what Lloyd George said in introducing the People’s Budget.

These problems of the sick, the infirm, of the men who cannot find a means of earning a livelihood, are problems with which it is the business of the state to deal. 

Was he quite mad?  Was he really saying that ‘it is the business of the state’ to deal with the sick and the unemployed?  Had this little Welsh son of a cobbler forgotten what happened to the first man who said that the meek shall inherit the earth?

Well, Churchill and Lloyd George got the budget through, but only after persuading a reluctant king to threaten to create enough peers to force it through.  The aristocracy thought that this move was revolutionary – and it may have looked like pure heresy across the Atlantic – but once again, the British aristocracy pulled back and avoided revolution – and kept itself alive.

But now I think it was not revolutionary to say that it was ‘the business of the state’ to deal with the poor.  In my view, the English had come to that position more than three centuries ago.  In the Oxford History of England (J B Black, The Reign of Elizabeth, 1558-1603, 2nd Ed., OUP, 1959, 265), I find this:

The official attitude to the whole fraternity of vagabonds had always been, and still was, one of fear driven ferocity: they were the true ‘caterpillars of the commonwealth’ who ‘lick the sweat from labourers’ brows.  But the impotent poor, the poor by casualty, who were poor ‘in very deed’, were acknowledged to be a charge on public benevolence.’  The vital question was what form this public maintenance should take.  Slowly and painfully the state was being driven by the colossal dimensions of the problem to the conviction that responsibility in the matter could not be left to the conscience of the individual, but must be enforced by law on everyone.

The author points to a prior act of 1563 acknowledging the need for a compulsory levy for the maintenance of ‘impotent, aged, and needy persons.’

Now, these Elizabethan conceptions and laws do not look small to me now.  We still have debates about vagabonds – often called ‘dole bludgers’ here – but it does look like some nations may now regret not having done enough for their ‘poor by casualty’ who, at least in the eyes of some, have recently succumbed to snake oil salesmen and false gods.  The various categories of vagabonds of Elizabeth – or Dickens – still look familiar.  They could be the leading lights of a major Australian political party.  (You can raffle that one.)

But whatever else the Puritans took with them on the Mayflower, it was not the idea that the poor were acknowledged to be a charge on public benevolence.  The Puritans were long on the individual and covenant, rather than on status, and they never let spirituality stand between them and Mammon.  Never.  The attitudes to the business that the state has with the sick and poor are very, very different in the U S compared to England, Europe or my country.

And the English and European response is not driven by Christian charity, but by a political view of the integrity of the community.  Charity has been secularised – that is, made the business of the state.  These laws were made in the light of hard experience, as is the English wont, and they cannot be upheld or cast down by the pronouncing of some theory or nostrum or label.  And if you want to know one thing about Oz politics, it is that the simplest form of suicide here is for a politician to even hint at reducing health benefits or pensions, the ‘entitlements’ derided by those who won’t ever need them.  Australians follow the English in distrusting theory and rejecting ideology.  The question is simpler.  What kind of community do you want to live in – one that stops to pick up those who have tripped up, or one that doesn’t?

So, a common historical stock can produce very different fruit.  Perhaps it’s just as well, and inoculates us from boredom with changelessness.  How you see it depends on where you stand.  I am hopelessly prejudiced.  I was born here and raised here.  Last year I was diagnosed with an illness that is frequently terminal.  After many rounds of tests, examinations, diagnoses and treatments from some of the best doctors, surgeons and technicians with the best facilities in the world, the issue is well under control and not life threatening.  I have not seen anything like a bill – except for drugs – and I now suspect that that protection against becoming ‘poor by casualty’ goes back not just to the Welfare State, or to the People’s Budget, but to the poor laws and laws of charity and the good sense of the parliaments of Queen Elizabeth I.

I’m sorry this got so long, but you may sense some bêtes noires being aired.’

The tutor, Dr Andrew Lacey, reminded me that the Puritans thought that poverty was a sign of disfavour in the eye of God – how un-Christ like does that sound? – and that therefore the poor could therefor look after themselves.  He also reminded me that the poor laws went backwards in Victorian England.  Poor people were given no favours.  They were more likely to be punished.  That is why Dickens wrote so much about them, and why Lloyd George and Churchill were involved in a secular revolution.  The governance of England was much more civilised about the poor in 1570 than it was in 1870.

The question is what kind of community do you want?  And labels and ideologies – ‘nanny state’ or ‘socialism’ – are just so much bullshit.  So is the old Left/Right distinction, or IPA nonsense about ‘soaking the rich.’  If you swallow that nonsense, does it follow that the poor must suffer to save the rich?  And what kind of person allows ideology to kill kindness?

Judging by the homeless on our streets, our kindness level here is currently pitched somewhere between that of England at one time or other between 1570 and 1870.

Volume 2 of Passing Bull – Items 51 – 100 – is now available on Amazon Kindle.

Confucius says

The small man, being ignorant of the decree of heaven, does not stand in awe of it.  He treats great men with insolence and the words of the sages with derision.

Analects, 16.8.

Passing Bull 99 – When Rupert nods, Turnbull folds 

The sad decline in Bill Leak was evident to all but the willfully blind.  Now the corrupt and gruesome exploitation of him in death will lead to all of his family and friends being reminded of his contributions to conflict between peoples of different colour and faith for the foreseeable future.

The people at the Murdoch press should be ashamed of themselves.  Those at Sky are hardly any better.  One of Bolt’s poodles, an otherwise affable man named Paul Murray, has swallowed the party line in whole, and hurtles to the periphery of any discussion at the speed of light, banging on about freedom and libertarians.

I think I was in Cambridge when that Four Corners story on Northern Territory black youth was aired.  When I got back, I forced myself to watch it.  It was utterly revolting. It reminded me of those poor GI’s who had to go into the death camps.  These were crimes against humanity.  Only dementia could stop you seeing that. Then I had to listen to ageing lawyers of a reactionary bent saying that this was an ABC beat-up!  Then a senior prosecutor said that these kids had serious form.  The wonder was that we had not turned them into serial killers.

Then The Australian published that Leak cartoon that would have warmed Goebbels’ heart. It is inconceivable that a quality newspaper such as The Times or  The Wall Street Journal would have published such a frightful piece.  Their inhibition would not have come from any law, but from simple human decency or courtesy, and a sense of professional responsibility.

Then our PM said the silliest thing he has ever said.  ‘Bill Leak isn’t a racist.  He’s Australian.’  That was a prize-winning, self-contradicting non sequitur.

But, worse, Turnbull’s fawning over Leak and others at The Australian points up the appallingly incestuous relations between some of our politicians and some of our press.  They are supposed to be watching the bastards, not schmoozing with them.  Well, at least as I understand it, the PM refuses to talk to people like Jones or Bolt.

And now the Prime Minister has caved in completely to Murdoch and his awful minions.  These people are seeking to relax the law against racial discrimination.  By ineluctable definition, they want the right or the freedom to insult and offend other people on the ground of their race.  What sane or decent person wants to do that?  What answer do they give me when I ask why I or any Muslim, Jew or blackfella should give up my legal rights against Rupert Murdoch when he sets out to hurt me – or a Muslim, Jew or blackfella – in a way that is dealt with by the law that these people want to do away with?

This issue means nothing at all to more than nine of ten Australians.  It should mean nothing to government that has made such a mess of energy, house prices, and marriage equality.  The only reason it does is because Turnbull keeps caving in to the troglodytes – who are willfully thick.  This government – which must surely be punished by the electorate – ineffably misses the point by going backwards on every issue it confronts.  It now abuses people in business for exercising their right of free speech to suggest that the government might govern by making a law to resolve one issue that they are holding back on – like the boy with his finger in the dyke. Could you believe it – a government actually governing? And now, it also wants to pump water back up hill – while the P M mouths inanities straight out of the Little Red Book of Mao Zedong.

This government is hopelessly out of date and it deserves to get a long sentence in opposition.  And I say that as someone who believes that Bill Shorten is far, far worse than Turnbull – he stands for nothing at all.  (For sheer insincerity, he is matched only by Hillary Clinton.)  But at least I am assured by my local member that the Labor Party stands firm against this weakness on hate speech of the government.

While I’m on the ALP, they have serious form for colluding with the press against us, the people.  The press knows its standing with the Australian people.  Juries terrify them. So Murdoch and the others got all the state governments in 2004, all I think ALP, to take damages for defamation away from the jury and to cap them.  All of the other changes to the law were pro press and against us.

And some of the bastards in the press have the gall still to complain about defamation laws.  State Labor governments denied us a vital constitutional right – to sit on a jury in judgment for damages on the press and to allow the weak to stand up against the powerful.  Now they want a federal Liberal government to help the powerful to run over the weak.

There are, as it seems to me, two classes of people in favour of the relaxation of laws on racism.  (I put to one side those academics that have never set foot in a courtroom.)  You have the ghastly paid commentariat who are an affront to humanity and who will, like Trump, say the first thing that comes into their heads just to gain attention and earn a dollar, and you have those poor brain-damaged recorded messengers from the IPA that may well believe their own nonsense, but who are crackers.

And for the umpteenth time, can they stop this lying about freedom of speech – or that code name for fascism, libertarianism?  To say that laws against hate speech are laws against freedom of speech tells us an obvious and inconsequential truth.  So do the laws against dueling and fraud; road traffic laws impede our freedom of movement; gun laws impair our freedom to shoot or to play a certain kind of sport.  And so it goes.  You don’t answer any questions about a law by saying that it affects our freedom.  You merely raise the question. All laws affect freedom, and laws against certain forms of speech – such as laws about deceit, espionage, and libel – are precisely meant to curtail speech.

The refusal of the Murdoch press to publish this simple truth shows their dishonesty.  It is worse than bullshit.  It is fraud.

I implore people, especially lawyers, to condemn the Prime Minister and this government for their cowardice and their complicity in harming race relations in a country that already has a bad name for them, and to boycott all manifestations of the Murdoch press.

Yes, I recognise that this is a rant, but now and again a rant is the only thing that will do.  If we have learned anything from history, it is that unless you take stand on some moral issues – and we are talking here of a moral issue – we are on the road to perdition.  Hitler also ranted.  The problem was that not enough Germans ranted back.

Confucius says

The master said, ‘The Gentleman gets through to what is up above; the small man gets through to what is down below.’

Analects, 14.23

Passing Bull 97 – The complete indifference to truth


The book that Chris Wallace-Crabbe and I are writing is presently called Language, Meaning and Truth; Alternative Facts, False News, and the Indifference to Truth.  You will be aware of the events that have prompted the sub-title.  The phrase ‘indifference to truth’ was invoked by John Stuart Mill, and by Professor Frankfurt in his little book On bullshit.  He said:

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.

The New Yorker quoted a Russian as saying that the Kremlin has decided that state media was ‘overly fawning in their attitude to Trump, that all this toasting and champagne drinking made us look silly, and so let’s forget about Trump for some time, lowering expectations as necessary, and then reinvent his image according to new realities.’

Well, we expect that from Russia and its state media.  That country has never been decently governed.  But we don’t expect it from America – at least not as brazenly as it is shown in Russia.

The complete indifference to truth of the present White House is revealed in the following extract from the WSJ.

Mr. Trump over the weekend tweeted that former President Barack Obama had tapped his phones at Trump Tower, where he lived and worked during the presidential campaign— an extraordinary claim for which the current president offered no proof. A president can’t legally order a wiretap, and Mr. Obama’s office flatly denied the allegation.

In an interview with Fox News on Monday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was asked why Mr. Trump believed his phone had been tapped. ‘He’s the president of the United States,’ she responded. ‘He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not, and that’s the way it should be for presidents.’

In a separate interview with ABC, asked what evidence the president had to back up his claim, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: ‘He may have access to documents that I don’t know about.’

On Sunday morning, White House press secretary Sean Spicer in a statement said the president was calling for congressional intelligence committees to investigate the matter, and said: Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted.


Do Americans understand just how demeaning and degrading this bullshit is?  Ms Conway is a worse liar than the President.  He can’t help himself; she does it in cold blood.  But poor old Dean Spicer just isn’t up to it.  Here is The Guardian about two days after the WSJ report.

The White House has sown further confusion about Donald Trump’s accusations of wiretapping against his predecessor, Barack Obama.

At a briefing on Wednesday, press secretary Sean Spicer initially said ‘we need to find out’ if the president is the subject of an investigation, then subsequently sought to clarify that there is ‘no reason’ to believe he is.

Reports emerged on the Heat Street website in November, and the BBC in January, that secret court orders were issued as part of a justice department inquiry into Russian efforts to intervene in the election on Trump’s behalf.

 Asked directly if the president is the target of a counterintelligence investigation, Spicer replied: ‘I think that’s what we need to find out. There was considerable concern last cycle when a reporter was the target of one. But part of the reason we have asked the House and Senate to look into this is because of that…….’

Spicer insisted the suspicions are baseless. ‘It was interesting if you look at last week all of a sudden these stories that keep coming out about the president and his links to Russia,’ he said. ‘It has continued to be the same old, same old, played over and over again. The president has made clear he has no interests in Russia and yet a lot of these stories that come out with respect to that are frankly fake.’

But a journalist at the briefing refused to let him pursue this tangent, returning to the initial question: ‘He doesn’t know whether he is the target of a programme?’

Spicer replied: ‘I think that’s one of the issues that we have asked the House and Senate to look into.’

Once more the press secretary pivoted to a denial of any connections between Trump and Russia. ‘All of the people that have been briefed on this situation have come to the same conclusion,’ he said. ‘It’s a recycled story over and over and over again.’

The journalist tried again: ‘Are you saying that there’s a possibility he is the target of a counterintelligence probe involving Russia, because you just connected those two?’

Spicer said: ‘I don’t – no, no, I think what I’m saying is there is a difference between that narrative and then the narrative that has been perpetuated over and over again. The concern the president has, and why he’s asked the Senate and House intelligence committees to look into this, is to get to the bottom of what may or may not have occurred during the 2016 election.’…..

The question and answer session moved on to different subjects, including an erroneous tweet that Trump issued about prisoners released from Guantánamo Bay. But just as the briefing was about to wind up, Spicer appeared to look down at the lectern, possibly at a message.

‘I just want to be really clear on one point which is there is no reason that we have to think that the president is the target of any investigation whatsoever,’ he said. ‘There is no reason to believe that he is the target of any investigation. I think that’s a very important point to make’…..

Earlier in Wednesday’s briefing, Spicer also condemned the publication of nearly 9,000 pages of CIA files by WikiLeaks, though he declined to confirm their authenticity. ‘This is the kind of disclosure that undermines our security, our country and our wellbeing,’ he said. ‘This alleged leak should concern every single American.’

Trump praised the anti-secrecy site during last year’s election, declaring ‘I love WikiLeaks’ as it continued to dump emails from Hillary Clinton campaign’s manager. But Spicer said there was a ‘massive, massive difference between an individual Gmail account and classified information that threatens national security’.

‘Anybody who leaks classified information will be held to the highest degree of law,’ he added.

It’s much, much worse than Basil Fawlty.  The poor man has been broken on the wheel by a lunatic liar.

Pauline Hanson made her contribution to nationalist nonsense and showed just how dangerously stupid she is in remarks about Muslims and vaccinations.  She has pulled back on the latter, but she still invites people to do their own ‘research’.  What does that mean, apart from speaking to a doctor?  If it means going on to the Internet, could anything be more dangerous on a medical subject for someone not trained in medicine?  She also showed the reach of Russian intervention in other people’s politics.  She, like Le Pen, admires Putin.  What have his intelligence services done to achieve that?  Well, while most Australians are chary of patriotism, Nationalists like Hanson and Trump revel in the stuff.  She says Putin is a patriot.  So were Judas, Pilate, Stalin, and Hitler.

People like Farage, Trump and Hanson have a lot of very poorly educated followers. Just look at the Hanson MP’s. Trump certainly appears to treat his supporters with contempt.  Many of the followers of these people are very gullible, and take their news from loaded amateurs on the Net rather than trained professionals in the press.  A study by New York University found that about half of readers of fake news on the Internet during the Presidential campaign believed what they read.  You would have to be uneducated to fall that low.

And a lot of these people have a chip on their shoulder about their lack of education.  And that in part explains their aversion to ‘experts’.  Remember the loathsome Michael Gove, sometime President of the Oxford Union, saying that English people had had enough of experts – unless one is operating on one of them, or keeping them out of jail, or navigating an electrical storm at 30,000 feet.

And this envious rejection of expertise is, I suspect, what lies behind the moral and intellectual collapse of the Liberal Party here and the Republican Party in the U S that has led to the worst peacetime problem ever faced by a government in this country – our complete lack of policy on energy.  And in bringing us down with bullshit, our politicians have been aided and abetted by loaded idiots in The Australian and on Sky TV – and by the even more loaded idiots at the IPA.  All parties have had a hand in this catastrophe, but Abbott and Bernardi stand out as inane reactionary house-wreckers and dummy-spitters.

Some take the view that people who get most agitated about climate change and Islam don’t really believe their nonsense they spit out on those issues – it is just a business model, a front to make a dollar.  That suggestion becomes very acceptable when you hear some of them admiring Trump.  Or when you hear Bolt still banging on about climate change.  Or when you hear the IPA still banging on about men shaking hands with women.  That, apparently, is an Australian value.  Is it, perhaps, a mark of our patriotism?

Confucius says

The Master said, ‘The Gentleman helps others to realise what is good in them; he does not help them to realise what is bad in them.  The small man does the opposite.’

Analects, 12.16.

Passing 96 – Bullshit about lying

There is unrest at The Wall Street Journal.  Some journalists there say that the Editor is too soft on Trump.  The owner of the paper, Rupert Murdoch, supports Trump.  Fox News does so to the tune and extent of Joseph Goebbels.  Its news is like a torch-lit parade.

It is obvious to all but the blindest of Trump supporters that he is a compulsive liar. The editor of the WSJ does not agree that Trump’s untruths should be called lies.  He apparently relies on the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a lie as ‘a false statement made with intent to deceive.’  That is not the ordinary meaning of the word.  Nor in my view is the Compact OED definition of ‘an intentionally false statement.’  Intent may be required for some legal purposes –although two different intents are referred to here – but not for everyday use.  The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage just has ‘speak falsely.’  No state of mind is required to be shown.  That doesn’t seem sound either.  In ordinary language, you lie if you say something that you know is false.  We can leave to another day the question of whether it is sufficient that you say something that you do not believe to be true.

The Attorney-General of the United States said that he had not had contact with Russians. He knew that he had.  He therefore told a lie.   The President of the United States said:

Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong. He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional. The real story is of all the illegal leaks of classified and other information. It’s a total witch hunt.

The statement that ‘He did not say anything wrong’ is false.  The President knew that – as the next sentence suggests.  Therefore the President lied about the Attorney-General’s lies.  As usual he uttered the lie in the course of a demented scattergun response of irrelevant tripe.

The Attorney-General lied on oath to a government body on a matter of national security. He should in my view resign.  He should also I think lose his ticket as a lawyer, although you may doubt whether the Alabama Bar Association would be up to that level of feistiness.  The Attorney has bad form for ‘miss-speaking’ about race, and his response to the present failure showed that he is a buffoon quite incapable of acting as Attorney-General.

This incident is another example of the complete indifference to truth that pervades the whole White House.  It makes me wonder whether the due diligence of the incoming administration that was undertaken by business hot shots like the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Treasury extended to asking to see the tax returns of the President elect.  I incline to the view that they didn’t ask, because they knew what the response would be – and they feared that the offer might be withdrawn.  Even the prospect of power is enough to corrupt.  And how do parents bring up children in a nation whose President is a compulsive liar?

I have referred before to the gibberish of Jennifer Oriel.  This morning’s instalment shows the fineness of the line between inanity and insanity.  It includes the following.

We stand at a pivotal historical moment. In just over a week, we will learn whether the new-right movement resurrected by Brexit and Trump is going global. The looming Dutch election is a bellwether. It is the first European election of 2017 featuring a pro-Western nationalist party vying for the popular vote. Locally, the West Australian election next weekend will test whether Hanson’s One Nation will extend significant influence beyond Queensland.

If The Netherlands’ Party for Freedom (PVV) wins, its leader Geert Wilders will become the most strident pro-Western prime minister in Europe. The Trump effect will translate into a transatlantic phenomenon. Either way, the third reckoning of new-right rhetoric with political reality is nigh.


The leaders of the new-right movement differ on some policy matters, but share a set of values that are cohering into an international program for action. Their shared political aims are to: restore the primacy of Western civilisation by defending sovereign democracy and the nation-state system of allied free-world countries against the supranational left. New-right politicians give greater emphasis to the national interest than centrist-left and right parties by prioritising debt reduction via secure borders and rational immigration programs. Some claim that protectionism is co-essential to prosperity, but the claim is substantially weakened by the lack of systematic evidence. Far better is the shared goal to resurrect Western culture by battling the economically and socially corrosive PC culture that dominates the activist media, academia, NGO and public sectors. All new-right parties are gearing up to drain the swamp.

Wilders has been called the Dutch Donald Trump, but he preceded Trump’s ascendancy by several years. His European allies include Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who dubbed 2017 the year of rebellion. In 2015, Wilders said to Agence France-Presse: ‘The only way to deal with (the immigration crisis) is to regain our national sovereignty and close our national borders … I am asking that our government close its doors as Hungary did.’

The year 2016 ushered in a Western renaissance led by Britons and Americans. Brexit represented a triumph of self-determination over supranational governance as Britons renewed their faith in liberal democracy by voting to leave the EU. More than 60 million Americans chose Donald Trump as President to restore American primacy by fortifying the foundations of the free world laid down in the Declaration of Independence and the US constitution.

The supranational left is working overtime to prevent Trump’s ideas developing into a coherent international program for Western civilisational renewal championed by a right avant-garde. The right is gaining ground in the war for by reminding centrist parties Western values matter and turning the weapons used by neo-Marxists and Islamists to attack the free world order against them.


The foundational thesis of the 21st-century left is Orwellian doublethink. Codified inequality that promotes minority supremacy through affirmative action law is rebranded equality. The systemic censorship of conservative thought is called free speech. Consistent with its neo-Marxist creed, the modern left suppresses the silent Western majority; punishes politically incorrect thought; undermines the free world by weakening the nation-state system and vilifying Western patriots; purges conservatives from publicly funded institutions; and imposes punitive taxes on wealth creators and hard workers to fatten the parasite class.

The new right is a counter-revolution whose seeds were sown in the 1970s, the decade neo-Marxism took root within the West. As Roger Kimball wrote in The Long March, the new left’s method of gradualism meant ‘working against the established institutions while working in them’.

By almost destroying the liberal in liberal democracy, the left has prepared the ground for totalitarian politics. But it didn’t see the new right coming, whose members hail from both left and right united by the fight for the West. The new right has come to take our civilisation back.

Orwell would not have believed this.  Western civilisation championed by Trump, Wilders, Orban, Farage, and Hanson?  Would you let any of them into your home?  Here is the moral and intellectual emptiness of what shamefully passes for our conservative press – the Lone Ranger on steroids of dyslexic paranoia.

Passing Bull 95 – Introducing the feral – Flat Earth Reactionary (and Religious) Amateur Loser


For reasons set out in an extract from a book that Chris Wallace-Crabbe and I are writing, I’m against labels, such as Left and Right.  However, I do think that the term ‘feral’, as defined above, could be applied to at least three politicians – Abbott, Andrews, and Bernardi.

What do they have in common?  They believe that the earth is flat and that the climate isn’t changing; they object to the people of Australia having an Australian person (who is not obliged by the Constitution of a foreign power to be in communion with the Church of England) as their head of state; they object to gay marriage on, among other things, grounds of religion; they freely admit,  or they emphatically deny, that their political views are driven by their religious faiths; and they yearn to be free to insult and offend others on the ground of race.

The odds are that these amateurish types will lose and wind up in the dustbin of history on each of those issues, but they feel born to react against anything that might be branded as progress. They are preoccupied, to put it softly, by the number of Muslims in our midst; they’re still bitter that we gave up on God Save Our Gracious Queen; they get very defensive about Australia Day and they are very protective about Anzac Day; they’re very dirty that that little four-eyed socialist said ‘sorry’ to the blackfellas; and they are revolted by the thought that our flag might be better off without the flag of some other foreign nation on it. They don’t just want to hold the line – they want to go back in time.  In the immortal words of Spike Milligan:

I’m walking backwards for Christmas,
Across the Irish Sea,
I’m walking backwards for Christmas,
It’s the only thing for me.


I’ve tried walking sideways,
And walking to the front,
But people just look at me,
And say it’s a publicity stunt.


I’m walking backwards for Christmas,
To prove that I love you.


Can we detect the time when the feral cancer set in?   Yes – it was when the Liberal Party lost its nerve and its mind, and it sacked Malcolm Turnbull, and it unleashed the ferals. What was Turnbull’s crime?  There were two – he was sane about climate change, and he did not believe in opposing the government just for the sake of it. He didn’t just want to put a spoke in the wheel. What has been the result?  Total chaos, and a complete failure of government.  We are now witnessing the horrifying apotheosis of the partisanship championed by the ferals in the form of Trump and Bannon.  And the worst of it here comes with the national humiliation on energy and climate change and a moral and intellectual collapse on gay marriage.

Do the ferals have a set of beliefs?  Not really – we are not big on ideology down here.  But they get cheered on by those cranks in the IPA.  Here is some of their bilge in the AFR today.

At least part of the reason for the success of One Nation is that Pauline Hanson is not afraid to talk about culture and values. Specifically, she’s willing to support the sort of values that too many commentators are too eager to dismiss as quaint, old fashioned, or as a ‘‘sideshow’’ to the business of politics.

 One Nation is simply filling a void left by the Coalition and the Labor Party.

 In response to the survey question, ‘‘How important is freedom of speech to you?’’, 95 per cent of respondents answered either ‘‘important’’ or ‘‘very important’’. One Nation has a policy position in favour of freedom of speech. The Coalition and the ALP don’t.

 The story of Georges River College, a public school in Sydney, is another example of the difference between One Nation and the major parties.

 It was revealed this week the NSW Education department has allowed the school to establish a policy whereby male students can refuse to shake the hands of women. The policy supposedly respects ‘‘the cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds of all students’’, and so, in the department’s words: ‘‘At the school’s2016 presentation day, the principal explained to invited guest making awards that some Muslim students may place their hand across their chest instead of shaking hands.’’

 Rob Stokes, the Liberal education minister, refused to say what was his view on the policy. Labor’s education spokesperson also refused to comment. One politician wasn’t afraid to say what she thought. Hanson called the policy ‘‘rubbish’’ and contrary to Australian values.

 The practical consequences of a school endorsing male students not shaking hands with women are legion. An education system that doesn’t prepare boys for the world of work and the possibility that one day they might have a female boss is fundamentally failing its responsibility to its pupils.

This is at best silly, petty, bullshit.  Do the Liberal and Labor parties really not have a policy in favour of freedom of speech?  Are they against it?  Are they against peace, motherhood, or mates?  Or are we banging Mr Murdoch’s can on hate speech?  Then there is this nagging worry about the practices of those who have a different faith to that which members of the IPA were born into. The practical consequences of a school endorsing male students not shaking hands with women are legion. Is the man serious?  Who could give a bugger how school kids shake hands?  Did Ms Hanson proffer reasons for her weighty decretal?  Or does our grave IPA champion of freedom of speech believe that our subscription to Australian culture and values entails that school kids of a different faith MUST shake hands whether they bloody well want to or not?

And may God save and preserve us from those who are married to Australian culture and values.

I now hereby give up on all form of politics in Oz forever.  And I solemnly make this declaration before lunch!

Confucius says

When the Master went to Wei, Jan Yu drove for him.  The Master said, ‘What a flourishing population!’

Jan Yu said, ‘When the population is flourishing, what further benefit can one add ?’

‘Make the people rich.’

‘When the people have become rich, what further benefit can one add?’

‘Train them.’

Analects, 13.9

Book Extract on Labelling

11      The vice of labelling

Some years ago, a lady at Oxford, en route from the reading room to the dining room for breakfast, was heard to say: ‘I have just been described as a typical Guardian reader, and I’m trying to work out whether I should feel insulted.’  A discussion about the meaning of the word ‘presumptuous’ then followed.

There is no law or custom that says that we should apply a label to people – or put them in boxes, or in a file, or give them a codename.  There is no law that we should not.  But most of us can’t help ourselves.  So what?

Well, most of us don’t like being put into boxes.  That is how we tend to see governments or Telstra or a big bank behaving toward us.  Nor do most of us want to be typed.  When someone says that an opinion or act of yours is ‘typical’ of you or your like, they are very rarely trying to be pleasant to you.

Most of us just want to be what we are.  You don’t have to have a university degree specialising in the philosophy of Kant to believe that each of us has his or her own dignity, merely because we are human.  We are in a different league to camels and gnats.  So, if I am singled out as a Muslim, a Jew, or an Aboriginal, what does that label add to or take away from my humanity?  What good can come from subtracting from my humanity by labelling me in that way?

So, the first problem with labelling is that it is likely to be demeaning to the target, and presumptuous on the part of the labeller.  We are detracting from a person’s dignity.  We put registration numbers on dog collars, and we brand cattle, but we should afford humans the courtesy – no, the dignity – of their own humanity.  After all, we can scarcely bring ourselves to think of that time when some people were tattooing identifying numbers on the bodies of other human beings. 

The second problem with labelling is that it is both loose and lazy.  If you say of someone that they are a typical Conservative or Tory, that immediately raises two questions.  What do the labels Conservative and Tory mean?  What are the characteristics of the target that might warrant the application of the label? 

In this country, at the moment, the terms Left and Right hardly mean anything at all – except as terms of abuse – which is how the words Tory and Whig started in England.  These terms are now generally only applied by one side to the other.  Not many people are happy to have either of those labels applied to themselves.  The categories are just too plastic and fluid.

There is one curious distinction in the way that these terms are applied in this country at the moment.  The Murdoch press is happy to call followers of the Fairfax press or the ABC ‘the Left’ (or ‘the PC Left’ or ‘the Love Media’), but those members of the press very rarely respond by calling readers of the Murdoch press Right Wing (or Far Right, or worse).  Is the difference one of custom or courtesy – or don’t we know or don’t we care?

Similarly, the labels Liberal and Labour hardly stand for any difference in principle any more.  At the time of writing, on any of the major issues in Australian politics, what were the differences in the policies of those parties that derived from their platform?  (We will come back to this point later, too.) The old forms of name‑calling between Liberal and Labour mean nothing to our children – absolutely nothing.  These old ways are as outmoded as name‑calling between Catholics and Protestants.  And there is some common ground in the two shifts – very many people have lost faith in both religion and politics.  The old tensions or rivalries just don’t seem to matter anymore.

Unfortunately, and notwithstanding the obvious problems we have just referred to, labelling is not just common but mandatory in far too much political discussion in the press, and certainly for shock jocks and those who make a career out of working TV chat shows.  While some people naturally thrive on conflict – Napoleon and Hitler are two bad cases – some journalists in the press engage in conflict, for a living.  These people rarely have a financial motive to respond reasonably, much less to resolve the conflict.  To the contrary, they have a direct financial interest in keeping the conflict as explosive as possible.  It is notorious that controversy feeds ratings and that bad news sells newspapers.

If you put up an argument to one of these people who live of the earnings of conflict, the response will very commonly involve two limbs – a personal attack  on you (the Latin tag for which is ad hominem), followed by some labels, which are never meant as compliments.  So, for example if someone, were to query the rigour of the policies of the government toward refugees, a predictable response would be ‘What else would you expect from someone who subscribes to the ABC?  How would you like these people to move in next door?’  There is no argument – just vulgar abuse.

The disintegration of thought is palpable, but a lot of people are making a handy living out of it – and not in ways that do the rest of us any good.

There is commonly a third problem with labelling – it generally tells you a lot more about the labeller – some would say the sniper – than the target, and the answer is rarely pretty.  And if you pile cliché upon label, and venom upon petulance, the result is as sad as it is predictable.  You disappear up your own bum. 

Let us take one label that became prominent in 2016 – right across the western world.  There has been a lot of chatter – some call it white noise – about populists.  Who are they?  One of the problems with this word is that people who use it rarely say what they mean by it.  If you go to the Web, you will find references to ordinary or regular or common people against political insiders or a wealthy elite.  These vague terms don’t help – to the contrary.  What do they mean? Is dividing people into classes a good idea in Australia now – or anywhere at any time?  And if it is simply a matter of the common people wresting control from a wealthy elite, who could decently object?  Is this not just democracy triumphing over oligarchy?

Populus is the Latin word for ‘people,’ with pretty much the same connotations as that word in English.  Do populists, therefore, appeal to the people for their vote?  Well, anyone standing for office in a democracy does just that.  The most famous political speech in history concludes with the words ‘of the people, for the people, by the people’.

But the word populist is not used to describe anyone standing for office.  It is used to refer to only some of those, and the difference seems to be in the parts of the people that are appealed to and the way in which that appeal is made.

So, what kind of public do populists appeal to?  Well, those who use this word say that the people appealed to are anything but the ‘elite’ – those who have got on well in life because of their background or education, or both.  In both the UK and the US this feeling about the elite – which might look like simple envy to some – is linked to a suspicion of or contempt for ‘experts’.  People do, however, tend to get choosy about which experts they reject.  This rejection does not extend to experts who may save their life (in the surgery, or at 30,000 feet) or their liberty, but it may explain the curious intellectual lesion that many people of a reactionary turn of mind have about science and the environment.

Another attribute of the public appealed to by populists is that they have often missed out on the increase in wealth brought about by free trade around the world  and by advances in technology.  These movements obviously have cost people jobs and are thought by some experts to be likely to cost another 40% over the next ten years.

A third attribute of those appealed to by populists is said to be that, in their reduced condition, they value their citizenship above all else, and they are not willing to share it.  They are therefore against taking refugees or people whose faith or colour threatens the idea of their national identity. 

Now, if folk who use the word populist are describing politicians who appeal to people with those attributes, they may want to be careful about where they say so.  The picture that emerges is one of a backward, angry, and mean chauvinist.  That picture is seriously derogatory, but it adds warmth and not light to the discussion.  If that is what people mean when they refer to populists, then it is just a loose label that unfairly smears a large part of the population.  The term does then itself suffer from the vice of labelling that we have identified. 

So, we would leave labels with George Bush senior, who said that labels are what you put on soup cans.



Passing Bull 94 – A miscellany of pure bullshit – and starting on Confucius

A major Australian law firm announced a move into forensic investigation – or the like.


It brings a holistic offering to the market place in response to what we have seen over the past five years as a real client need, which we think will complement our core legal skill set. That’ll give us great ability to engage early on anti-bribery, cyber risk and fraud. Regulators across the world are getting much more sophisticated in their cross-border communications.

Dear, dear, dear – holistic and core and skill set in the one sentence.  Little Johnnie nixed core for eternity.

Your taxes help fund bullshit like that which follows.


Should they enjoy a drink or smoke while watching an arts festival on TV, they can take pleasure in knowing that their taxes are contributing significantly to it, with Australian cigarettes the most expensive in the world and alcohol taxes not far off it. Of course, the most prolific smokers are our poorest people including regional Aborigines. So much for closing the gap.

And should they speak up about the less successful aspects of multi-culturalism, they can be hauled before a bunch of antidiscrimination bodies to explain themselves.

No major political party is interested in winning the vote of Australia’s poor.

Labor is no better than the Liberals on this. They might claim to stick up for battlers, but rarely take their side on any of the issues mentioned here. This is mainly due to Labor’s relationship with the unions, which care about workers who have jobs rather than those who don’t. And Labor is also now competing with the Greens for middle-class progressive voters who couldn’t give a fig about the impact of power prices or the price of cigarettes on the poor.

In fact, every week we hear how progressives have a new idea to make life harder for poor people. Even the push to replace cage eggs with free-range eggs will lead to substantial price increases, and now they’re talking about a sugar tax.

The poor are hectored and spoken down to. They have few choices in relation to their education and health. They are told when, where and how they can drink, smoke, eat, gamble and enjoy themselves. They are told they are cruel if they enjoy greyhound racing and too ignorant, stupid or incoherent to manage their own lives. Increasingly they are considered less important than animal rights and the environment.

Our governments are elected by the middle class to serve the middle class, so it’s hard to see how any of this is going to change.

So whatever you do, try not to be poor.

The gun-happy Senator Leyonhjelm suffers from a dual disability – he fancies himself as an ideologue, and he is seriously thick.  Shame on those shameless progressives – members of the Liberal Party, the Labor Party, or both? – for making it so much harder for blackfellas to kill themselves on fags or grog.  And did you see the mandatory Murdoch Union reference to hate speech laws? This guy reminds me of a remark of the late Jim Kennan – when you meet someone from the gun lobby, you might be looking at a person that you would least want to see behind a gun.

Next, I must stop buying North American scholarship blind.  I bought a book on historians of the French Revolution by Professor Steven Kaplan of Cornell University.

This argument was quite potent and tonic when reasoned in terms of the Braudelian reading of time (and space) and of the asphyxiating intellectual consequences of a historical (and academic) periodization generated by the reification of the Revolution’s self-representation.  To fathom the causes and outcomes of the Revolution, to understand how institutions really worked and how traditions came into being, to make cogent diagnoses, historians needed to insert it in a comparative, multivariate, long run context ( a sort of Annalesization of Tocqueville).

That is extreme bullshit.  And do you notice how the computer encourages further parenthetical mutilation of the language?

I admire the work of the late François Furet.  His writing is lucid, and to the point, and he is one of the very few historians who understands just how silly it is to look only at events in France 1789 to 1793.  Here is Kaplan again.

…..Furet becomes one of Tocqueville’s abstract thinkers, unable to navigate in the real world.  Thus, for instance, Furet is interested in the people-as-concept for the role they play in legitimising the Revolution and filling the political vacuum.  But he is indifferent to the people-as-people.  The true people are those who inhabit the collective imaginary.  Language crowds out its referent – or the referent is absorbed by the concept.  The notion of the people matters, not their comportment.  The conceptual ‘reality’ takes precedence over its social counterpart, whose existence is without significance in the sense that it resides outside Furet’s semiotic circuit.  The discordance between the Revolution-as-people brandished by the leaders (and appropriated by the galactic historians) and the revolutionaries lived by the people is neither pertinent nor profound.  And as long as he defines his démarche as conceptual rather than commemorative, Furet can comfortably march to the drumbeat of the Revolutionary protagonists.  For him the Revolution has a life of its own outside the social, a discursive autonomy and a sort of anthropomorphic existence.  Thus he can write a metahistorical phrase such as the following: ‘If, as I believe, the French Revolution was really what it set out to be…’

That isn’t bullshit, it’s gibberish.

Finally, there was a piece in the weekend press that shows why people are being turned off the big political parties.  This one was about the Liberal Party in Victoria.  A young whizz kid called Bastiaan is apparently getting on people’s nerves.  He is described by The Age, in a piece that looks to have been legalled with caution, as 27-year-old former ‘bellicose Brighton Grammar debater’.  He has the same old mantra.  The party has been overrun by ‘lobbyists, political staffers or people who have worked in government the entirety of their careers.’  Does he too want to drain the swamp?  What is the life experience of this 27 year old public school boy debater that enables him to offer this world view on his elders?  According to The Age:

A three-time university dropout, Bastiaan got into business with the aid of his father, dabbling in an antiques dealership while at university, before moving into a software design business.

He now spends his time leaping between an e-commerce start-up and politics.

The comparison with Trump gets closer.  But the politics get even denser.  His partner is a 25-year-old woman who challenged for a seat in State Parliament. She has apparently firm religious views, and she believes that women who have been raped, according to The Age, should be denied an abortion.  ‘Like Bastiaan, she claims to be focused on returning the party to its members and challenging a Parliamentary team that has abandoned its values and lost touch.’  They are like broken records.  Her partner had invoked Menzies in support of his brand of reaction, and as we were reminded in another piece on the weekend, Menzies deliberately chose the word Liberal because he did not wish the party to be seen as conservative.

But the partner of Bastiaan is, apparently, the complete reactionary.  The Safe Schools program teaches ‘radical gender theory and warped graphic sex education centred around promiscuity…’  We are ‘seeing the destruction of religious freedom, free speech, a push towards gay marriage (which won’t stop there!)  and euthanasia.’  She sees a state/nation-wide push to bring ‘conservative’ politics back into fashion.  She likes people like Cory Bernardi, Andrew Hastie, George Christensen, and Kevin Andrews.  Last year, she hosted a gala fundraiser for Andrews where the main attraction was Tony Abbott.  In the name of God – perhaps literally – the ‘Bulleen dinner featured a Latin grace and a rendition of God Save the Queen’.  (Did they offer a salute?) According to the paper, ultraconservative churches and the Mormons are fertile recruiting grounds.

What sane person could think of joining an outfit that engages in bullshit like this? It reminds me of my childhood and youth, a period of say twenty years, where this country had an opposition party that completely failed to discharge its function in opposition because it was hopelessly split by factions and dragged down by selfish idiots who cared more for ideological purity than the prospects of their party ever getting into government.  (As it happens, the split was engineered by the same denomination that this young woman adheres to.) In a way, my generation was disenfranchised, and it looks like the Liberal Party in Victoria may go the same way if these fanatics get what the press calls traction.

I have long been of the view that we should have a legal mechanism by which Opposition parties can be subjected to a form of impeachment for failing in their function.  Just look at the mess that the English Labour Party has got into with their fanatics.

Poet of the Month: Dante, Inferno, Canto 1.

When I beheld him in the desert vast,
“Have pity on me,” unto him I cried,
“Whiche’er thou art, or shade or real man!”

He answered me: “Not man; man once I was,
And both my parents were of Lombardy,
And Mantuans by country both of them.

Sub Julio was I born, though it was late,
And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,
During the time of false and lying gods.

A poet was I, and I sang that just
Son of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,
After that Ilion the superb was burned

But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?
Why climb’st thou not the Mount Delectable
Which is the source and cause of every joy?”

“Now, art thou that Virgilius and that fountain
Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech?
I made response to him with bashful forehead.

“O, of the other poets honour and light,
Avail me the long study and great love
That have impelled me to explore thy volume!

Thou art my master, and my author thou,
Thou art alone the one from whom I took
The beautiful style that has done honour to me.

Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage,
For she doth make my veins and pulses tremble.’

Confucius says

There is a nasty false form of what is said to be ‘conservatism’ that claims to identify with something called ‘western civilisation.’  It’s as if we are meant to think that there is something inferior about the civilisation of the East.  Such a suggestion would be at best hilarious and at worst outrageous to the substantial part of the world’s population who live in China, India, and Japan, for example.  You might wonder if ‘western civilisation’ is code for white supremacy, but to confront this narky parochialism, we will replace for the foreseeable future what has been the ‘Poet of the month’ with ‘Confucius says’.  The context is that these sayings of Confucius were uttered about a century before the death of Socrates, and about five centuries before the Jew called Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount – in Asia.

Tzu-kung asked the Master about what a man must be like before he can be said truly to be a Gentleman.  There followed a discussion about degrees of Gentlemen.

‘What about men who are in public life in the present day?’

The Master said, ‘Oh, they are of such limited capacity that they hardly count.’

Analects, 13.20.

Two and a half millennia ago. In the boondocks of China.