Passing Bull 114 – Bull about a Christian nation


From time to time, you hear chatter about whether Australia may be called a Christian nation.

There is a problem with the question.  Religion involves faith.  Can an impersonal thing have faith? The word ‘nation’ is a form of abstraction, or a label, for a ‘distinct race or people, characterised by common descent, language or history, usually organised as a separate political state and occupying a definite territory’.  It may make sense to speak of a small body of people having feelings, but a body of 25 million?  How does a nation profess its faith?  Would it make any sense to ask whether BHP or the Melbourne City Council was a Christian corporation?

As I see it, the answer to those questions is no.  The inquiry presumably then becomes whether the number of people somehow or other professing their faith in Christianity entails that the nation might fairly be described as Christian – even if those who are not of that faith may be a little put out by the suggestion.

I suppose that nations like Iraq and Indonesia are loosely characterised as Muslim nations because a very large majority of their peoples actively practise the religion of Islam and their governments seek to apply its teaching.  Indeed, one of the things that makes people here fear Islam is a perceived threat that Muslims will seek to introduce Sharia Law among peoples not considered to be Muslim.

Well, then, let’s put to one side the question of how many Australians actually practise the religion of Christianity, do Australian governments seek to apply the teaching of Christianity?

A key statement of the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth is in the Sermon on the Mount.  Here are some parts of it as found in the fifth chapter of the gospel of St Matthew in the Bible.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy…..

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you that you resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn him the other also.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you…..

It would be absurd to suggest that any government in our history has ever sought to give effect to that teaching in government.  It would be seriously offensive, even to a lapsed member of the faith like me, to claim that the Commonwealth government, in any current manifestation, is adhering to the Sermon on the Mount in its dealings with refugees.

The reason is simple enough.  There is an unstated premise in government across the West – the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to governments.  Governing is hard enough as it is without worrying about high moral teaching about turning the other cheek.  I have never learned where this dispensation comes from, but you won’t find it in the bits in red.

It’s a fair bet that Donald Trump, who defames all Christians by claiming to adhere to their religion, would not know the difference between a beatitude and a Siamese kitten.  God only knows how he might react if Mr Bannon whispered in his ear that in the course of their Leninist destruction of Washington DC, the meek would inherit the earth.  There could be a Twitter meltdown.  And imagine what might be the reaction if you told a Queensland rozzer – say Peter Dutton – to turn the other cheek!

The Marquess of Salisbury (Robert Cecil) was the definitive Tory.  Andrew Roberts said he believed ‘in the politics of prestige and vengeance’ – a comprehensive repudiation of the Sermon on the Mount.

No one dreams of conducting national affairs with the principles which are prescribed to individuals.  The meek and poor spirited among nations are not to be blessed, and the common sense of Christendom has always prescribed for national policy principles diametrically opposed to those that are laid down in the Sermon on the Mount.

Elsewhere he said: ‘Christianity forced its way up from being the religion of slaves and outcasts, to become the religion of the powerful and the rich; but somehow it seems to have lost the power to force its way down again.’ We don’t speak so plainly about the first proposition now, but it is an inarticulate premise of our view of government

On those grounds, I suspect that people who claim Australia as a Christian nation are talking bullshit.  And, after all, why bother?  What’s the point?  Will anyone feel or act any better in the unlikely event that they see some merit in the proposition?  Who wants to make some Australians feel left out of it?

Who else might qualify?  All of both Americas, Western Europe, and the UK.  There would have to be exceptions.  The Germans know better than to label an entire nation.  The French have firmly locked religion out of politics since 1789.  And in my view the US are disqualified on three counts – their gun laws, their health care laws, and the election and adulation of an absurd graven image.  You would also have a problem with Ireland for the reason I am coming to.

May I now make a technical point?  The word ‘Christian’ has only come into vogue here in the last generation or so.  Prior to that, people identified their denomination, or their lack of it.  And for least some purposes, you still have to do so.   If you called yourself a Christian in Ireland, you would at best get a funny look.  It’s not good enough for our head of state to claim to be a Christian.  Because of the provisions of a foreign constitution, over which we have no control, our sovereign must be in communion with the Church of England.  Because of this relic of the Reformation, it’s not just Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or good God-fearing doubters like me who need not apply – Catholics are banned too, and all those the English called Dissenters.  How, as a matter of either form or substance, you square that barrier with our being a Christian nation is a matter that may have diverted the Medieval Schoolmen.

But to finish on a point of substance, haven’t we done enough to besmirch the teaching of the man Einstein called ‘the luminous Nazarene’ without applying his name to a crude political label?  The people who want to make this argument tend to have a reactionary caste of thought, and invoking the name of the Lord to make some political point, with an exclusionary tendency, looks to me go infringe the spirit if not the text of another biblical injunction.  Indeed, the whole discussion leaves a bad taste in the mouth – and partly for reasons that might fairly be called religious – even in an old apostate like me.

Poet of the month: Walt Whitman

O Captain!my Captain!

(In memory of Robyn Williams)

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up–for you the flag is flung–for you the bugle trills;

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths–for you the shores a-crowding;

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here Captain! dear father! This arm beneath your head;

It is some dream that on the deck, You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;

From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells! But I, with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

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.

Passing Bull 93 – Bull about conservatism

There is a growing consensus that the terms ‘Right’ and ‘Left’ no longer have any useful meaning.  It may be time to say the same for the word ‘conservative’.  To conserve something is to preserve it in its existing state from destruction or change.  For ‘conservative,’ the OED has ‘characterised by a tendency to preserve or keep intact and unchanged; preservative’ and ‘designation of the English political party, the characteristic principle of which is the maintenance of existing institutions, political and ecclesiastical.’

I would have thought that in ordinary parlance a ‘conservative’ is someone who wants to keep existing institutions as they are unless there is a compelling need for change, and someone who wants government to have as little to do with them as is decently possible.  In that sense, I would, in common with a lot of people, happily describe myself as a conservative – but it does leave a hell of a lot of work to be done by the modifying terms ‘compelling need’ and ‘decently possible.’

For example, whether you think it is ‘decently possible’ for a government to stay out of healthcare might depend on whether you live in Australia or in the United States.  We think that the Republican view on affordable health care verges on madness, and that if that position derives from their ‘conservatism’, then conservatism is evil.   If the last election showed anything, any suggested tinkering with Medicare is a form of political suicide here – and as someone who has been treated for cancer for nine months by the best doctors in the world, with not a bill in sight, it is a subject on which I have strong views.

The problem with using the term ‘conservative’ is brilliantly highlighted by Simon Blackburn in the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy.

conservatism Originally in Burke an ideology of caution in departing from the historical roots of a society, or changing its inherited traditions and institutions.  In this ‘organic’ form, it includes allegiance to tradition, community, hierarchies of rank, benevolent paternalism, and a properly subservient underclasses.  By contrast, conservatism can be taken to imply a laissez-faire ideology of untrammelled individualism that puts the emphasis on personal responsibility, free markets, law and order, and a minimal role for government, with neither community, nor tradition, nor benevolence entering more than marginally.  The two strands are not easy to reconcile, either in theory or in practice.

Disraeli may be taken as standing for the first strand.  Margaret Thatcher may be taken as standing for the second.  As it happens, I admire both of them, but in that I am in a minority (and one that I don’t own up to in Cambridge or Oxford).  Professor Blackburn is plainly right in saying that the two strands are not easy to reconcile.  But even in his formulation, there is plenty of what we call wriggle room in either strand.

Jennifer Oriel is a keen student of ideological terms.  In a piece in today’s Australian she says that the emergence of what she calls ‘the new Right’ means that we have to define conservatism.  ‘The task of definition is urgent. Unless a well-defined, muscular conservatism emerges, the best of Western civilisation will not survive the 21st century.’ Goodness, gracious me – well, we won’t be here for the grand exit or Armageddon.

My view is that we may just as well drop the word, but why mention Farage or Trump in this context?  Each is rigorously anti-conservative.  Farage quit the Conservative Party because he wanted to tear down a central pillar of the governance of Great Britain.  Trump is not a Republican – he wants to blow up the Washington establishment.  Apart from wanting to shed the past, these two have five things in common that few conservatives would want to have imputed to them – an entire indifference to truth; an insular nationalism; a willingness to discriminate against at least one other creed (even though they have no creed of their own); a readiness to get into the gutter to get votes (this is called ‘populism’); and an unimaginably huge ego.  With the possible exception of the last, it is impossible to imagine either Disraeli or Margaret Thatcher having anything to do with any of these traits – or looking upon either Farage or Trump with anything but disgust.  The failure of ‘conservative’ Australians to call out either of these obnoxious clowns is a symptom of a serious intellectual malaise.

Ms Oriel says the following.

The Conservative Mind sparked the post-war conservative intellectual movement in America. In it, Kirk provides a definition of conservatism that comprises four substantive doctrines. The first conservative doctrine, “an affirmation of the moral nature of society”, rests on the belief that virtue is the essence of true happiness. The matter of virtue is family piety and public honour. Their consequence is a life of dignity and order.

Kirk’s second doctrine of conservatism is the defence of property. He defines it as “property in the form of homes and pensions and corporate rights and private enterprises; strict surveillance of the leviathan business and the leviathan union”.

The third conservative doctrine is the preservation of liberty, traditional private rights and the division of power. The absence of this doctrine facilitates the rise of Rousseau’s “general will”, made manifest in the totalitarian state.

The final doctrine of Kirk’s conservatism is “national humility”. Here, Kirk defines the nation state as vital to the preservation of Western civilisation. Politicians are urged to humble themselves in the light of the Western tradition instead of indulging in cheap egoism by promoting policies that buy them votes, but weaken the West.

English philosopher Roger Scruton identifies the political, pre-political and civil components of Western civilisation that sustain the free world. They are rooted in the uniquely Western idea of citizenship, which is influenced by Christianity. The core components of Western citizenship are: the secular democratic state, secular and universal law, and a single culture cohered by territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty. Like Huntington, Scruton analyses the core foundations and animating principles of Western civilisation in contrast to Islamic civilisation.

Conservatism stands in contrast to both small “l” liberal and socialist ideas of culture, society and state. Its central tenets are: moral virtue as the path to happiness, supporting the natural family, promoting public order and honour, private enterprise, political liberty, the secular state and universal law. The central tenets of conservatism are sustained by a single culture of citizenship that enables the flourishing of Western civilisational values.

Conservatism remains the only mainstream political tendency whose core objective is the defence and flourishing of Western civilisation. In its federal platform, the Liberal Party defines its liberal philosophy as: “A set of democratic values based upon … the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of all people as individuals.” There is no discussion of Western civilisation or Western values. However, it shares with conservatives the principles of limited government, respect for private property, political liberty and the division of power. And conservative prime ministers from Menzies to Howard and Abbott have led the defence of Western civilisation in Australia against its greatest enemies: socialists, communists and Islamists.

It is on the questions of immigration, transnational trade and supranational governance that the primary distinction between conservatives and the new Right is drawn. For example, there is growing tension fuelled by the belief that mass immigration, especially of Muslims, constitutes a demographic revolution that threatens Western values. Mainstream conservatives, including Cory Bernardi, reject the idea of a ban on Muslim immigration. But it is clear that policy resonates with many.

Roger Scruton is a very bright and sensible philosopher, but what Ms Oriel attributes to him here says nothing about conservatism.  For that matter no one talks of ‘conserving’.  Let’s then look at Mr Kirk.  He has contributed nothing to our discussion of conservatism either because, with two possible exceptions, no one could be bothered to assert the contrary of his positions.  Are those people who are opposed to conservatives opposed to the defence of property or the preservation of liberty?  The first proposition of Mr Kirk on its face is just silly.  Who’s going to buy a political platform based on ‘virtue’?  The last politician to do that was Robespierre, a defining terrorist who took his doctrine from Rousseau in a movement that inspired Burke to invent a brand of conservatism*.  The last proposition of Mr Kirk would of itself disqualify Trump and Farage, and every politician in Australia, but I have no idea what ‘national humility’ might mean, not least because I have a problem with the idea that a nation can have feelings.  But I must say that any reference to the ‘state’ makes me nervous.

That leaves opposition to socialism and Islamists or Islamic civilisation.  As to socialism, I’m not sure what that means, partly for the reason I have given above, and partly because the word is hardly used now in Australia.  Is there anyone left who claims to be a socialist?  As to the second enemy of the West, I object to what Ms Oriel says on three grounds – it is wrong to discriminate against people on the ground of faith; it is wrong to brand whole peoples or nations because of the actions of a few; and if Islamists are a threat to us, I don’t think it promotes our security to brand or discriminate against all Muslims.  As Macaulay said of the Elizabethan persecution of the Puritans in England:

Persecution produced its natural effects.  It found them a sect: it made them a faction. To their hatred of the Church was now added their hatred of the Crown.  The two sentiments were intermingled; and each embittered the other.

Whatever else ‘virtue’ might mean, it doesn’t mean looking down on people just because they have a different faith – especially when so many people have no faith at all.

So, I am afraid that it is bullshit as usual for Ms Oriel.

Thank heaven we don’t go in for ideology down here.

*Simon Blackburn calls Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France ‘a masterly attack on the danger of airy political abstractions.’  As you will have seen, that danger has not passed.  Some people can’t go past airy political abstractions.

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

She brought upon me so much heaviness,
With the affright that from her aspect came,
That I the hope relinquished of the height.

And as he is who willingly acquires
And the time comes that causes him to lose,
Who weeps in all his thoughts and is despondent,

E’en such made me that beast withouten peace,
Which, coming on against me by degrees
Thrust me back thither where the sun is silent

While I was rushing downward to the lowland,
Before mine eyes did one present himself,
Who seemed from long-continued silence hoarse.

Passing Bull 92 – Bull about swaggering

Whenever I see that lout Trump, I see a swaggerer, and I think of one of the funniest scenes in English theatre.  Hostess Quickly, a role claimed by Dame Edith Evans, is a most put-upon innkeeper who has to put up with the drunken and louche Falstaff and his dirty rotten loud mates like Ancient Pistol.  (I have been looking at this play for fifty years, and for the first time I see these dudes described as ‘irregular humorists’.)

If he swagger, let him not come here.  No, by my faith.  I must live among my neighbours.  I’ll no swaggerers.  I am in good name and fame with the very best.  Shut the door, there comes no swaggerers here.  I have not lived all this while to have swaggering now.  Shut the door, I pray you……Cheater, call you him?  I will bar no honest man my house, nor no cheater.  But I do not love swaggering, by my troth.  I am the worse when one says ‘swagger’.  Feel, masters, how I shake, look you, I warrant you.

Well, that may be more informative than our political commentators.  Here’s an extract from one piece. (Readers of our newspapers will pick up on the authors.)

That a political correction is taking place in Australia and other Western liberal democracies is undoubted. Even the political/ media class recognises the obvious. But perhaps because the correction is largely directed at the political/media class, it misinterprets what is unfolding.

It is all about perceptions and perspective. The establishment politicians and their media clique think mainstream voters have changed — but in reality it is the voters who are pulling back on a runaway political class

Politicians of the Left have drifted away from the public on fundamental issues and the prevailing wisdom of media and academic voices creates the siren song luring many centrist and centre-right politicians away too.

In Europe, North America and Australia the political establishment has understated the importance of border security and national interest, overstated the role of supranational and multilateral bodies, and bowed to the whims of political correctness across issues such as education, immigration, gender, climate change and law and order.

Progressive voters have gone along for the ride but mainstream people aren’t so sure; they tend towards conservatism. Of late they have flocked to disruptive outsiders because the political establishment gave them no alternative.

Voters in last year’s US presidential contest weren’t given much of a choice. As Mark Steyn pointed out long before Donald Trump’s victory, they were being offered a choice between the continuation of a Clinton Democratic dynasty or a Bush Republican inheritance. Middle America confounded expectations by choosing a disrupter instead.

In Australia, after the overthrow of Tony Abbott, voters ended up with the leaders of both major parties who were deferential to global climate strictures, were unknown quantities on border protection and seemingly uncomfortable calling out the threat of Islamic terrorism.

There was little product differentiation — except between the political class preoccupations of gay marriage and climate change and mainstream concerns about national security and the cost of living.

Pauline Hanson’s extreme plan to ban Muslim immigration became a viable protest avenue for those dismayed that the political establishment couldn’t even utter the word Islamist. One Nation’s simplistic economic nationalism was a foil to major parties incapable of reining in debt and deficits, and determined to increase power prices in order to meet meaningless agreements struck in Paris talkfests.

Then, a week before, another, in the same paper.  This, too, is an extract.

As Donald Trump’s new presidency surges across our politics, creating chaos and uncertainty, there is one element in his victory where most Australian politicians remain in ideological denial — the revolt against identity politics.

Trump, in effect, was given permission to win the election by the US progressive class despite his narcissism, his coarseness and his smashing of the orthodox bounds of political and policy behaviour.

In retrospect, the 2016 US election story is a grand joke — enough voters in Middle America decided to tolerate Trump’s juvenile viciousness because they felt the narcissism of prevailing closed-minded progressive ideology was no longer to be tolerated. In the end, the alternative was worse than Trump. Is this too difficult an idea to grasp?

During the Obama era the US underwent a cultural revolution. Fuelled by social activists on race, sex and gender issues and the decisive swing by younger people to social liberalism as a way of life, the Democratic Party embraced identity politics as a brand. It mirrored the values transformation that swept through many American institutions: the academy, media, arts, entertainment and much of the high income earning elite. But revolutions are only guaranteed to bring counterrevolutions in their wake.

Barack Obama won two presidential elections enshrining identity and minority politics at the heart of his campaign. But Obama is a unique historical figure. What works for him doesn’t work for other Democrats — witness Hillary Clinton. In 2016 minority politics failed to deliver. Its momentum has been checked, with American progressives sunk in an angry valley of rage.

Last year Clinton, after a long and often tortuous journey, embraced not a call to all, but a collection of separate identity groups, a pervasive agenda of political correctness and pledges to end discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. This testified to the US Supreme Court decision in favour of samesex marriage, the injustices visited on African Americans, the voting power of minorities and their decisive capture of the soul of the Democratic Party. The problem for the Democrats is now obvious: managing the Obama legacy without the magic of Obama.

This election, beyond its madness, was about a clash of moral vision. Trump stood for three visions: economic protection against free trade, nationalism against internationalism, and cultural tradition against social liberalism. In Australia there has been immense coverage of Trump’s victory combined with denial of its full meaning. It is a historic failure of progressivism.

They are like faded 33 rpm microgrooves.  Are they talking about the same planet?  This is abstraction, labelling, and tribalism gone crackers.   It might even be too much for the IPA. I think I counted the word ‘class’ nine times in the first piece, and many might wonder if they know of a more prominent member of the ‘political/media class’ than the author.  Karl Marx would be shocked.

Well, at least the second piece recognises how plain nasty Trump is.  The author refers to Trump’s ‘juvenile viciousness.’  But did those who voted for Trump really ‘feel the narcissism’ of ‘progressive politics’?  If they did, were they stark raving mad by rejecting that narcissism while voting for the most singular narcissist on earth since Cleopatra emancipated the eunuchs?  But later we get this.

The genius of Trump’s ‘make America great again’ slogan was that it resonated at multiple levels— with people who saw their jobs and incomes were being eroded along with something even bigger: they felt the values of their America were being stolen, that they were losing their country.

This is the legendary rust-belt of overlooked and under-employed white people.  Trump addressed this kind of sore loser and won.  Both sides played ‘identity politics’, whatever that means. It’s just that the Democrats picked the wrong losers.

This is bullshit as pure as it gets.  Why can’t our press try some comment without abstraction, label, or cliché, based on a verifiable statement of fact?  Let us drop this swagger about ‘political/media class’ and ‘identity politics’ and leave that nonsense to those who go in for polls and focus groups.  Or if you like your politics delivered as broad brushed impressionism, try the following. A brash nouveaux riche oaf, with no brains and less manners, guilefully manipulated by a sinister and fallen member of the elect, got way with enough pure nonsense and outright lies, about scapegoats and their own magical powers, to steal an election by appealing to gullible losers against a washed out dynasty, and although they did not win the popular vote, they just managed to squeak into power, with help from Putin’s secret service and the FBI.

And ‘swagger’ – the  Oxford English Dictionary has ‘external conduct or personal behaviour marked by an air of superiority or defiant or insolent disregard of others… behave with an air of superiority, in a blustering, insolent, or defiant manner; now walk or carry oneself as if among inferiors, with an obtrusively superior or insolent air.’

What a beautiful thing our language is.  Our press should try it more often – and leave the six day old blancmange to the birds.

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

And never moved she from before my face,
Nay, rather did impede so much my way,
That many times I to return had turned.

The time was the beginning of the morning,
And up the sun was mounting with those stars
That with him were, what time the Love Divine

At first in motion set those beauteous things;
So were to me occasion of good hope,
The variegated skin of that wild beast,

The hour of time, and the delicious season;
But not so much, that did not give me fear
A lion’s aspect which appeared to me.

He seemed as if against me he were coming
With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,
So that it seemed the air was afraid of him;

And a she-wolf, that with all hungerings
Seemed to be laden in her meagreness,
And many folk has caused to live forlorn!

Hasta la vista, Bernardi

The state funded Judas routine of Cory Bernardi is a ghastly instance of what is making people sick about the major political parties.  He is spitting in the face of all of those who keep his party alive and who got him elected again to bludge off the rest of us for another six years.  He has been contemplating this treason for years while looking at the mirror.  Nothing has changed since the party got him elected again – except for one thing.  He was given a junket – a rort – to go to New York.  He there spoke to Kellyanne Conway, a leading attack dog prime time liar, and he there saw the end of western civilisation as we know it.  But Cory had an epiphany like that of his sponsor, Andrew Bolt. The second coming was at hand.

It is not surprising that a jerk like Bernardi should fall for a jerk like Trump.  They are both loudly brash, completely brainless, and deeply in love with themselves.  When you look at Trump, you find it hard to imagine any man being more in love with himself – until you see Bernardi. (Trump is at worst when signing orders and holding them up like a preening spoiled five year old child in kindergarten  Show & Tell.) And it is this self-love that makes each of them so brittle to criticism – and that’s a real problem, because they each have so much to criticise. And it is an even worse problem if you keep getting sacked for being a noisy dill.

The Australian had this to say today about our own nauseating egomaniac.

But one colleague is blunt — three-quarters of Bernardi’s motivation is “payback” against Turnbull.

He has never forgiven the Prime Minister for being dumped from the frontbench, and believes Turnbull is under the thumb of senior moderates in the party, including Pyne.

Others are brutal about Bernardi’s motivation, saying he is a “narcissistic egomaniac and a selfish bully” with “delusions of grandeur” that have been stoked by far-right commentators.

They point to comments from Bernardi’s wife, Sinead, who once quipped that their marriage was perfect because they’re “both in love with the same man”.

“Cory obviously has this huge belief in himself,” a source says.

“If you didn’t love a guy who was so in love with himself, you’d have a lot of trouble living with Cory.”

Those attributes show another trait that Bernardi has in common with Trump.  He cannot be a team player – how could a person so in love with himself think of anyone but himself?  Bernardi has not sought to hide his loathing of Turnbull and Pyne.  His attacks on both have been despicable.  The best that Trump and Bernardi can do is sound and light shows.  Trump wants a military parade and golf at Balmoral – and God bless the Speaker of the House of Commons for saying that Trump is not fit to address them; Bernardi started Party meetings with a communal rendering of the National Anthem.  Did they sing with their hands on their hearts, or did they just raise an arm in a salute?

But, sadly, Bernardi is in one respect even worse than Trump.  He claims to have God.  (Trump does, too, but that’s one of his sillier fibs.)  That makes me feel sorry for God.  In the name of heaven, how can a man who claims to follow the teaching of the son of a carpenter seek more freedom to insult and offend blackfellas on account of their race?  In a piece in the AFR this morning, Craig Emmerson referred to the damage done to the Liberal Party by the ‘religious right.’  I agree, but the damage is also in my view being suffered by religion.

It is therefore ironic that the intimation of betrayal should have downplayed news item that was second on the BBC about sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church – that also has the misfortune of hearing Bernardi call himself one of its acolytes.  Analysts say they were shocked to find that seven per cent of Catholic priests were alleged to have been involved in abuse. I think that figure sounds low for a body that denies marriage to its priests.  Yet Bernardi says God makes him deny marriage to others – even if as a result of its denial of marriage to its own, his church has discharged a swamp of evil all its own. You can see now why people’s aversion to politics is matched only by an aversion to religion – it is all very sad.

So, hasta la vista, Bernardi, you rat.  You are there on false pretences, bludging off us again.  As a keen student of the Book, you will know that Judas was decent enough to hand back the thirty pieces of silver, and that he then had the courtesy to hang himself.

Well, at least we were spared the kiss.

Passing Bull 91 – How are the mighty fallen

William Dameron Guthrie was a distinguished American lawyer. He was educated in Paris, London, and at Columbia Law School. He appeared in major cases before the Supreme Court.  He was a Storrs Lecturer at Yale and for many years a Professor of Constitutional Law at Columbia.  He was, I think, a Republican, and a consultant to the Rockefellers.  He is therefore entitled to be called a jurist, a fine lawyer and thinker from the great juristic nation that gave the world Holmes, Cardozo, and Pound. He was plainly of the elite.

In 1916, Guthrie published a collection of addresses and speeches under the title Magna Carta.  I bought it two years ago for the 800th anniversary, but it was only recently, that I looked at it properly.

The first address in the book was given in 1915 on the 700th anniversary of Magna Carta.  In my experience, Americans, or at least the sane and sensible ones, show more veneration for the achievement of Magna Carta than either we or the English do.  As the author remarked, ‘it was Magna Carta that established the greatest of all the English constitutional doctrines, that of the supremacy of the law over every official however high.’  The king is under the law because the law makes the king. Professor Guthrie then referred to the article in the Charter that said that the Crown would ‘appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs only such as know the law of the realm and mean to observe it well’.  That provision is of course flouted whenever the government makes what are called ‘political appointments’ to the judiciary.

But the comment that really caught my eye is on the first page.

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

Although labels are very dangerous, that proposition does seem to stand for much of what I understand the word ‘conservative’ to stand for.  It is certainly a proposition that I would embrace.

The second address concerned The Mayflower Compact, that means so much for Americans, with its reference to ‘just and equal laws.’

Surely, this simple, comprehensive and lofty language, in the style of the Bible open before the Pilgrims, embodies the true and invigorating spirit of our constitutional polity as it flourishes today.

The third address is in my view the most important for our purposes today.  Its title is ‘Constitutional Morality.’  It begins as follows.

The text of this address is taken from Grote’s ‘History of Greece.’ The historian, reviewing the state of Athenian democracy in the age of Cleisthenes, points out that it became necessary to create in the multitude, and through them to force upon the leading men, the rare and difficult sentiment which he terms constitutional morality.  He shows that the essence of this sentiment is self -imposed restraint, that few sentiments are more difficult to establish in a community, and that its diffusion, not merely among the majority, but throughout all classes, is the indispensable condition of a government at once free, stable and peaceable.  Whoever has studied the history of Greece knows that the Grecian democracy was ultimately overthrown by the acts of her own citizens and their disregard of constitutional morality rather than by the spears of her conquerors.

In my view, the collapse of faith in government that we are witnessing across the Western world is in large part linked to the failure to embrace what Professor Guthrie calls ‘constitutional morality’ – and in my view in each of the UK, the US and Australia, it is the parties who like to style themselves as conservative who have been in the vanguard of this collapse.   They have abandoned all ‘self-imposed restraint’.

On the next two pages of that address, this learned jurist makes observations about relying on the ‘people’ that go to the very heart of our present problems.

We are meeting again the oldest and strongest political plea of the demagogue, so often shown to be the most fallacious and dangerous doctrine that has ever appeared among men, that the people are infallible and can do no wrong, that their cry must be taken as the voice of God, and that whatever at any time seems to be the will of the majority, however ignorant and prejudiced, must be accepted as gospel.  The principal battle cry today seems to be that, if the people are now fit to rule themselves, they no longer need any checks or restraints, that the constitutional form of representative government under which we have lived and prospered has become antiquated and unsatisfactory to the masses, and that we should adopt a pure democracy and leave to the majority itself the decision of every question of government or legislation, with the power to enforce its will or impulse immediately and without restraint.

We find many political and social reformers advocating an absolute legislative body, whose edicts, in response to the wishes, interests, or prejudices of the majority, shall at once become binding on all, no matter how unjust or oppressive these edicts may be.

Remember that those remarks were made when Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler were barely clouds the size of a man’s hand.  Today we are looking at a building called the White House and at a scarcely literate rogue bully who tweets contempt at a federal court for suggesting that the President of the United States should be under the law, a proposition established for the Crown of England more than 800 years ago.  This federal court decision could unhinge this president because it shows that he is not as powerful as he thinks he is.

How are the mighty fallen.  It took us 800 years to build this edifice, but the evidence of last century shows that it can all fall over in a hurry.

Only God knows what the good William Dameron Guthrie would make of all this.

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

Then was the fear a little quieted
That in my heart’s lake had endured throughout
The night, which I had passed so piteously

And even as he, who, with distressful breath,
Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,
Turns to the water perilous and gazes;

So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,
Turn itself back to re-behold the pass
Which never yet a living person left.

After my weary body I had rested,
The way resumed I on the desert slope,
So that the firm foot ever was the lower.

And lo! almost where the ascent began,
A panther light and swift exceedingly,
Which with a spotted skin was covered o’er!

Passing Bull 90  –  The Validation Fallacy


Does the election of Donald Trump entail that his policies have been validated in some way?  No.  His winning the election means that he did well enough, without winning the popular vote, to be first past the post.  Even if he had won the popular vote, that would not in some way validate his policies.  His win means that more people preferred his case to that of his opponent.  It is like the result of a civil action heard by a jury.  Their verdict does not say what happened in fact – it says that on the balance of probabilities (say, 51 to 49)  they preferred the case of one side to that of the other side.  For this purpose, the jury represents the nation, and in each case the verdict is inscrutable.  We do not enquire about what passed in the jury room, and we have only the haziest notion of what went through the minds of some voters.  For example, we don’t know how many people voted for Donald Trump or against his opponent, but he doubtless got a lot of votes from people who disliked both him and his policies but who disliked even more both his opponent and her policies.

So, Trump has what is called a ‘mandate,’ which the Compact OED says is ‘the authority to carry out a policy regarded as given by the electorate to a party or candidate that wins an election.’  If he has the numbers in all the right places, he can turn his policies into law; if he does not, the mandate evaporates.  The process can get muddy where there are two houses of parliament, or where the executive branch is completely separate from the legislative branch, but in any event the result of an election does not say anything about the validity or goodness of the policies of the winner.  For example, the policies of Adolf Hitler were evil before he became Chancellor, and they remained evil after he became Chancellor.  If anything, they were more evil, because he then had the power to implement them.  But otherwise, the result of the election does not bear on the worth or validity of the policies, and it is wrong to say that people objecting to or protesting against those policies are rejecting or casting doubt on the results of the election.  If you believe that abortion is morally wrong, it does not become morally right just because your side loses an election.

Questions about the legal validity of the election process are of a different order.  An election may be invalid as a matter of law if a mandatory legal process has not been followed.  But the election does not become legally invalid just because the discussion was disturbed undesirably – by, say, the covert action of a foreign power, or the overt action of a government office, either of which obviously helped one side over another – unless that disturbance is itself unlawful, and the law entails that any breach of that law makes the election invalid.  If that extreme case arose, it would not be a case of awarding the win to the runner-up – there would have to be a new election.

These distinctions have not been observed by either side of politics here or in the U S.  People want to say that the policies of Trump are beyond criticism because he won.  That is just wrong for the reasons given, and its wrongness is now demonstrated by the fact that Trump fervently spruiks it.  Trump is what is called a populist who was popular enough to get enough of the popular vote to win.  People can then make their own assessment of the contribution of this exercise in populism to Western civilisation.

In 1936, the two most popular leaders in the world were probably Adolf Hitler and F D Roosevelt – although Hitler, like Trump, did not I think get to 50% in a straight out election contest.  Hitler probably had a higher approval rating than Roosevelt, but both he and his policies remained what they were.

While Trump gets less presidential every day, his assault on truth, sense and courtesy is disorienting the best.  The Wall Street Journal savaged the Muslim ban bit said this:

The larger problem with the order is its breadth. Contrary to much bad media coverage, the order is not a “Muslim ban.” But by suspending all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations, it lets the jihadists portray the order as applying to all Muslims even though it does not. The smarter play would have been simply to order more diligent screening without a blanket ban.

 Is the argument that if there are 15 Muslims in a room, and you only ban 10 of them from leaving it, then you have not imposed a Muslim ban?  That is a simple non sequitur.  And what do the last three words ‘a blanket ban’ mean?

No wonder the bad guys think that all their birthdays have come at once.  A declaration of war on Islam is a gift to them beyond price.

As to the infamous phone call, where the spoiled child became a rabid dog, there are three questions.  If I do a deal with BHP, that is what it is, and a change in governance does not affect it – why is it not the same with a deal with the U S?  Secondly, if the deal is open to renegotiation, will Trump, who doesn’t go for win/win, want troops or warships from us?  Thirdly, what does it tell you about the White House that they think this leak would be good for Trump, including the nonsense about the vote and the crowd?  What does it say about their view of their base?

Well, as Carlyle said of the French Revolution, ‘every dog has his day, even a rabid dog.’

This month’s poet of the month means that the poems of my colleague Chris Wallace-Crabbe have been sandwiched between the poetry of Virgil and Dante.  That’s my doing, not his.

Poet of the month: Dante, The Inferno, Canto 1.

MIDWAY upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.

But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders
Vested already with that planet’s rays
Which leadeth others right by every road.

The Nationalists

An occasional series on the new nationalists –  dingoes and drongos like Trump, Farage, and Bernardi – and other Oz twerps.


The Nuremberg Offence in Washington

During the War Crimes trials at Nuremberg, some accused Germans pleaded as a defence to the crimes alleged against them that they were acting under orders.  The court found against what has come to be called the Nuremberg Defence.  You can’t justify a criminal offence by saying that you were merely carrying out orders.  The law prevails over orders, and thank God that is so.

Now Donald Trump has created the Nuremberg Offence.  He believes his orders prevail over the law.  So, when his acting Attorney General expressed a legal view that he did not like, and refused to implement an order she believed to be unlawful, he fired her.  Trump puts his orders above the law.  The last people to do this in England were the Stuart kings.  Trump’s actions have a fascist air about them.  When his first Law Officer did what she saw was her duty to the law, Trump accused her of betrayal.  This is as terrifying as it is nauseating.

Are we too quick to use the terms ‘fascism’ with Trump?  In another time, I sought to explain fascism as follows.

What do I mean by ‘fascism’?  I mean a commitment to the strongest kind of government of a people along overtly militarist and nationalist lines; a government that puts itself above the interests of any or indeed all of its members; a commitment that is driven by faith rather than logic; with an aversion to or hatred of equality, minorities, strangers, women and other deviants; a contempt for liberalism or even mercy; and a government that is prone to symbolism in weapons, uniforms, or its own charms or runes, and to a belief in a charismatic leader. 

The word came originally from the Latin word fasces, the bundle of rods and axe carried before Roman consuls as emblems of authority, and was first applied to the followers of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, Il Duce, and then to the followers of Il Caudillo, Generalissimo Franco, and the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.  Fascists are thick-skinned, thick-headed, and brutal.  They despise intellectuals – who are after all deviants – but they may have an untutored and irrational rat cunning.

As Professor Simon Blackburn of Cambridge University tersely remarks: ‘The whole cocktail is animated by a belief in regeneration through energy and struggle’ (kampf).  To an outsider, it looks like pure moonshine that is the first refuge of a ratbag and a bully, a brilliant and seductive toy for the intellectually and morally deprived, and an eternal warning of the danger of patriotism to people of good sense and good will.  But while that ‘cocktail’ may look a bit much for Plato, it looks fair for Sparta.

It also looks to me to be fair enough for Trump – and certainly so for the vile Stephen Bannon.  We know from history that people like Trump and Bannon almost unforeseeably squeak into power in the vacuum of a loss of faith that follows  a breakdown in world order, and that the times were ripe for the raw nationalism of  those two – and of Farage, Gove, and Johnson – all five of them ratbags of the first degree.

In the meantime, Sean Spicer, a punching bag for a punch drunk bully, continues his assault on language and truth.  Not only is the Executive Order not a Muslim ban, which Trump promised he would give – it is not ban at all.  The Compact OED says a ‘ban’ is ‘an official prohibition’.  Well, that’s what this is – otherwise Uncle Sam will be paying out damages forever.  Unless of course he can persuade the courts that he really is above the law. But the Press Secretary waffles on.  He says it is ‘extreme vetting’ and not a ‘ban’.

Poor Theresa May is now at the cross-roads of two nationalisms.  The nationalism that drove England out of Europe leads her to lean more heavily on the U S which is now in the hands of this nationalist ogre.  And I see in the press that the signs are that Trump will invoke the bullshit of ‘extreme vetting’ to welch on that dirty deal with us.  You would naturally not want to use either the word ‘poetic’ or the word ‘justice’ with Trump, but we shall see.

Meanwhile, the editor of The Australian doesn’t think that Trump issued a ‘Muslim ban’, and three of the most repellent people in Australia – Rowan Dean, Ross Cameron, and Mark Latham – think Trump is wonderful.  The moral and intellectual bankruptcy of what passes for conservatism in this duckpond is as frightening as it is staggering.

Passing Bull 89 – The glory of alternative facts

The Trump administration is not shy about its mission to annihilate truth.  The President of the United States does not understand or respect the notion of truth.  Ms Kellyanne Conway does understand it, but she flouts it brutally.  When people talk about ‘spin’ they are engaging in euphemism.  Spin is deception wrought by evasion, equivocation, and deliberate untruth.  Ms Conway favours the last.  When the new Press Secretary harangued the press, he told a lie.  Ms Conway defended him.  She said that he had merely offered ‘alternative facts.’

You can have alternative versions, or allegations, or arguments, but how do you have alternative facts?  If I say that there are three people in this room, and you say that that there are five in the next room, that may I suppose be called ‘an alternative fact’.  But if you say that there are five people in this room, there is no basis for that curious label – you have directly contradicted me.  We both can’t be right – there are either three or five people in the room.

As it happens, shortly after I read of Ms Conway’s contribution to modern languages, I was reading The Moro Affair by Leonard Sciascia.  The writer  introducing the book said that the Italian political system was ‘drenched in a rhetoric that gave Italian political prose a horrible, ornate quality of dishonesty and meaningless incantation.’  That looks to be a fair description of what Trump intends for politics in the U S.  Later on Sciascia introduces us to the notion of a real true fact.

The White House Press Secretary was not content with polemics and lies.  He was out to murder our language.  ‘This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period.  These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong’.  The first statement was false.  The second was nonsense – an inauguration consists of a series of events – how can they have an ‘enthusiasm’?

Ms Conway then went on TV with other whoppers.  The President had promised to hand over his tax returns – as is the custom there.   ‘We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care.’  Each of those statements is false, and neither affords a foundation for Trump to welch on his promise.

It is sad to see real Republicans not blush at all this raw insolence.  One stupid Congressman said that Trump was ‘having a good time.’

The commentary in The Australian was alarming.  Janet Albrechtsen gushed over the jingoism of the speech and the roars of the crowd.  Rush Limbaugh laughs.  ‘So do I.  What a four years it’s going to be.’  Chris Kenny is the most petulant man in our press and he denounced the protests as ‘mass petulance.’  Greg Sheridan showed how little there is between inanity and insanity.  He compared Trump to the Pope in their capacity to unsettle their staff by shooting their mouths off.  I don’t think you have be Catholic to be unsettled by this.  Trump made a rank ‘stump speech’ (Sheridan’s words) before a CIA memorial in which he lied and boasted in full.  He infuriated and offended many in the intelligence community, and when one of them responded, Sheridan took offence.

That Trump style is not uplifting, but nor is it a moral offence in itself.  Trump has said plenty of offensive things, but for senior and responsible people to take offence where none is intended is absurd.

Brennan’s public attack on Trump, calling his speech ‘despicable self-aggrandizement’, will do more to damage the faith of ordinary Americans, and people round the world, in the CIA’s impartiality than anything Trump has said.

All that is so wrong it takes your breath away.  Of course Trump’s behaviour before the memorial was morally offensive and despicable self-promotion.  That’s how he got the gig.

The failure of this nation to develop a decent conservative newspaper is so depressing.  The Wall Street Journal is a quality conservative paper.  It ran a piece by Peggy Noonan, who knows something about speeches by real Republicans.

He [Trump] presented himself not as Republican or a conservative, but as a populist independent.  The essential message: remember those things I said in the campaign ?  I meant them……

The Trump Wars of the past eighteen months do not now go away.  Now it becomes the Trump Civil War, every day with democrats trying to get rid of him and half the country pushing back.  To reduce it to the essentials: as long as Trump’s party hold the house, it will be stand-off.  If the Democrats take the house they will move to oust him.

The last point depends on Trump holding the Republicans – which will be hard when the subject of money comes up.  But how sane does Peggy Noonan look compared to Greg Sheridan?

A lot of the criticism of his inaugural address was wildly overblown.  There are two paths to unity – the soothing platitude or prosecuting the case and winning the argument.  Trump’s brand is always the latter.

There is a fearfully false dilemma there, a text-book case, but where the Australian sees a path to unity, the American sees Civil War.  

Poet of the month: Chris Wallace-Crabbe


Experience was only

what you lose every day,

huge, blown-away clouds

which memory may

think to have drawn back

live to you

but those images

are all untrue

The only trick

is to write them out,

replacing moribund life

with phrases about

what verdantly might

have sprouted again

till amber clouds float up

from your table again

Passing Bull 88 – A new political fallacy

The syllogism is the skeleton of any argument.  (It is explained fully in a forthcoming book Language, Meaning, and Truth, by Chris Wallace-Crabbe and me.)

All men are mortal.  (The major premise.)

Obama is man. (The minor premise.)

Therefore Obama is mortal.  (The conclusion.)

Unless you can reduce any argument to that form, it is no good.  That’s one indicator that Trump has problems with the notion of rational thought.

Now check this failed attempt at a syllogism.

Bob did something that surprised me and others.

Bob therefore made me and others look foolish.

Therefore I should say of Bob………what?

The first premise does not say whether what Bob did was good or bad.  Did Bob surprise people by blowing up a convent or by endowing hospital?  The second premise does not seek to apply part of the first – rather it goes to the effect of something Bob did on other people.  That premise is unlikely therefore to be any use for predicting what Bob might do in the future, much less lead to any inference about whether that future conduct may be good or bad.

It would therefore be a fallacy to argue that the first two premises warrant a conclusion that Bob will do good things in the future or is otherwise entitled to our respect.

If there is an argument at all, it looks like one that says because we were wrong in predicting what Bob did in the past, we are less credible in predicting what he might do in the future.  But that conclusion does not follow.  It is a case of branding or, if you prefer, smearing – ‘You were wrong before.  You are therefore liable to be wrong again.’  Any prediction is wholly fallible, and one failure does not make the next one more fallible.

Michael Gove, the man who betrayed Boris Johnson, interviewed Trump.  The interview and its aftermath were nauseating.  Gove was like a cheesy, flatulent poodle, begging for scraps, and too timid to ask a pointed question of the biggest political target of all.  Gove has the difficulty of all conservatives in trying to explain how a once reasonable conservative party came to be led by such a man.  It forces Gove to mangle truth as much as his subject does. ‘….but in his conversation with us, he was at pains to be gracious and generous.’  The office had ‘framed magazine covers festooned over every wall, chronicling his business achievements; Trump’s office is an echo chamber of his achievements.’  Gove does mention that the son-in-law is a trusted adviser – of man whose idea of banishing conflicts of interest is to have his sons run the business and his son-in-law run the country – or at least the Middle East.  They are some of the reasons why Gove says ‘much of the rest of the world is frankly terrified.’  Then we get this.

There is no guarantee that he will follow the best advice he gets, but before any of us are too quick to pass judgment on how successful he may be in office, we should at least acknowledge that he made fools of many of us in winning the presidential prize in the first place.

You will see that Gove does not try articulating his conclusion. This is because there is none.  In the dishonest argot of our politics now, this is just a throwaway line to get people off the point.  Our being surprised at the election says nothing about Trump, but lots about those who were persuaded to vote for a candidate who many see as incorrigibly nasty, arrogant, stupid and dishonest, and therefore a man of whom ‘the rest of the world is frankly terrified.’

I’m not into labels, but I propose one for this bullshit – the Trump fallacy.

Poet pf the month: Chris Wallace-Crabbe


A phone is ringing in the cemetery A

loud enough to be from the Resurrection.


You can hear it over busy morning traffic

where the living drive on to work, or merely shopping:


not a soul appears to have heard the summons,

but maybe they’re all sick to death of phonecalls.


It’s very loud; probably needs to be.

The majority have slept there for a while.


Still, what if this were a long-distance call,

God calling collect from paradise?


Through cypress fingers and elegant ironbarks

it keeps on ringing, grossly magnified


so that nobody fails to get the point.

It surely disturbed those paint-bright lorikeets


and brand-name kids dragging across to school.

The call might just have been from grandma,


or even for her.

Hello?  Hello?

There’s nobody awake.