Here and there – Sowing the Wind

 

Sowing the Wind by John Keay (available in Folio Edition) is a balanced and luminous account of how the West imperially but brutally dismembered almost every part of the Middle East.  The result is that, as the Bible said, we are now reaping the whirlwind.  The lessons of this book are vital, but those who would like to concentrate on the West to the Exclusion of the East would want to have nothing to do with this book.  It shows, among other things, why the isolationist response is so fallacious and dangerous.

Robert Fisk raises the issue squarely in his Foreword.

Why does the West think it can lecture the Arabs on their history, their beliefs, their way of life, their ‘culture’?  How can this fundamental imbalance between ‘Occident’ and ‘Orient’ – themselves weirdly Western creations – be corrected or even understood?

And here we touch the essence of the difference between Christianity and Islam in its present tragic stage.  I do not think that we in the West believe in God these days.  American evangelists, no doubt.  Yet their refusal to accept evolutionism is oddly similar to that of ISIS, whose own concept of God refuses to countenance any Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest.’  The ‘fittest’ were those who followed God’s word, to the very letter, and that is an end to it.  Judaism offers a more nuanced response to God’s role and purpose in the creation of life.  Increasingly, however, Muslims find that God the ‘all-creator’ presided over evolution; hence the extraordinary – and to Westerners surprising – Islamist fascination with science.

But in the ‘West’ our gods tend to be human rights and the United Nations, Amnesty International and international law.  That is why our history books no longer speak of Islam and Christendom, but of Islam and the ‘West’.  So how is it……that a people who still believe in God, who still believe that the Quran is the word of God himself, for whom religion lies at the centre of the family and all that life holds, should find itself in submission – militarily, economically, socially, culturally – to a people who have largely forsaken their God?

What is the answer?

Keay tells us that in negotiating the Sykes-Picot agreement, Georges-Picot was ‘the scion of a colonialist dynasty’ and a firm believer in France’s mission historique et civilisatrice.  He therefore demanded and got all of Syria and CiliciaThe agreement was of course the one in which France and England casually carved up the Middle East between them so as to betray almost everyone involved.

Even when he knew the Arabs had been betrayed, Lawrence hoped for a new world order ‘in which the dominant races will forget their brute achievements, and white and red and yellow and brown and black will stand up together without side-glances in the service of the world.’  He said: ‘Unless we or our allies make an efficient Arab empire there will never be more than a discordant mosaic of provincial administrations.’  Keay says:

For all the fine words about building a new Arab nation, Lawrence was as intent as Brémond on creating a post-war Middle East that would be easily manageable in his own nation’s interest.  Syria, in Lawrence’s reckoning, was no more a suitable subject for sovereign independence than Arabia.  It was by nature a vassal country…..Mesopotamia/Iraq would be ‘our first brown dominion’

Lawrence said he was involved in ‘fraud.’

But there was neither sense nor virtue in identifying with the Arabs to the extent of condoning their political presumption.  The Bedouin, even in Lawrence’s piercing blue eyes, were uncouth and unmanageable; settled Arabs he was loth to consider as Arabs at all; and as for the educated, Westernised classes, they were the worst of all….’Europeanised youth’, ‘native Christians’…and ‘nationalised hot-heads’ were abominations who offended British conceits about both class distinction and racial privilege.  Their manners were appalling, yet they were precisely the people who, who, given a chance, would be running the ‘dream-palace’ [Lawrence’s term].  It was unthinkable.

After the armistice Clemenceau asked Lloyd George what he wanted.  ‘I wanted Mosul attached to Iraq and Palestine from Beersheba to Dan’.  ‘You shall have it.’  Why Mosul?  The oil, stupid.

The English bombed Iraq in a 1920 revolt.  The War Office said that they should not use the word ‘rebel’.  That may have entailed something like ‘sovereignty’ in Iraq.  They tried ‘insurgent’ and then ‘revolution.’  The same contortions and lies took place this century in Iraq.

In the Great Revolt in Iraq in 1920, the British lost 400 mostly Indian troops and Arab losses probably topped 8500.  (The Arabs now endure similar ratios against Israel.)

Jordan was set up as a place to park a loose cannon.  ‘Its political viability, even its value to the British, had yet to be proven; its international status had yet to be determined; and its frontiers had yet to be demarcated.  A child of political expedience, it had neither an economic or geographical rationale’.  The same went for Lebanon, but the French wanted to look after Maronite Christians.

Churchill thought of chemically bombing the Kurds, ahead of Hussein.  The Sunni Shia split made things worse.  Do you not see how all these things come back to haunt us?

The Great Revolt in Syria in 1925 saw France bomb Damascus.

That what was reputedly the world’s oldest city could be indiscriminately bombed and shelled in the name of one of the world’s most civilised peoples simply beggared belief.  In the heat of the First World War, Baghdad, Jerusalem and Damascus itself had all changed hands with no more than occasional rifle fire within their revered precincts.  Yet here, without the sanction of war, the champions of religion, equality and fraternity were delivering death to the innocent and destruction to the hallowed while supposedly discharging a sacred trust on behalf of the League of Nations and operating within the consensual constraints of one of its mandates.

Look at what is left of Damascus now and ask yourself who is really responsible.

The Balfour Declaration implied that the ninety per cent of people in Palestine who were not Jewish possessed no national identity and no political rights.  Neither alone nor as part of some other existing entity were the local Arabs reckoned to be a putative nation.  The mandate had no time limit.  For Christians, Palestine was predominantly a Land (capital L) so Holy (capital H) that in respect of its inhabitants, the norms of nationality and government need not apply.  The indigenous Arabs may well have thought that the British treated them in the same way that they had treated our indigenous people – by the simple expedient of saying that their presence did not stop the occupying power doing what they liked.

There were massacres on both sides in Jerusalem in 1921.  This religious or race war is now nearly a century old.  Zionists would not tolerate a representative body since they were a minority and such a government would be prejudicial to the establishment of the national home.

Orde Wingate was involved in training Jewish fighters.  His family was Plymouth Brethren.  He and other Englishmen trained Jewish Night Squads to counter Arab terrorists.  They – people like Menachem Begin and Moshe Dayan – became terrorists.  Wingate told them ‘You are the first soldiers if the Jewish army.  This provoked Arab responses.  The Jewish terrorists had the same motivation as the Arabs – they had God on their side – the only right God.

In one of the more signal failures of the West, the Vichy French fought the British in Palestine.  (One of my neighbours, who is no longer with us, was in the AIF in Syria where he was shot at by the French.  He joined the Air Force in disgust.)

Militant Jewish groups resembled those of the Nazis.  Keay says that ‘Buoyed by prophecy and desperate for sanctuary, the Zionists of the European ghettoes disdained legal restraint…’Churchill referred to ‘a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany.’  The most senior British politician to be killed in the Second World War was assassinated in the name of Zion.

Keay says that after the first war:

The ruling elites of all the Arab states who had failed to prevent this disaster found themselves fully discredited in the eyes of their own people….Revolution, long in the air, had now entered the bloodstream.

The author goes on to say how MI6 and the CIA installed the Shah; how the British and French were humiliated at Suez; and he mentions the massacres at Shatila and Sabra.

That is where he stops.  The disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria still go on.  The assault on the twin towers looks nigh on inevitable in the face of the inane cruelty and provocation of the Arabs by Europe and the U S.  The world may have been much better off if Europe and the U S had kept their hunger for power and oil to themselves.  The whirlwind has a very long way to go, and the conflict between Israel and its Arab and Persian neighbours looks to be soluble only by obliteration of the lines drawn during the death throes of the imperialism of Europe.  Just try to imagine what your reaction may have been if it was Europe that was Muslim and the Middle East that was Christian and that the Christians had carved up and insulted Europe in reverse and without asking dumped a group of the fold in Europe.  How well do you think the Europeans would take all that?  Would you not expect to see at least the level of terror that the Americans, Irish and Zionists used against Britain?  Was it not inevitable that each of those three nations was to be born in terror?

Here and there – John Keats on a Prime Minister and a President

 

There are who lord it o’er their fellow-men
With most prevailing tinsel: who unpen
Their baaing vanities, to browse away
The comfortable green and juicy hay
From human pastures; or, O torturing fact!
Who, through an idiot blink, will see unpack’d
Fire-branded foxes to sear up and singe
Our gold and ripe-ear’d hopes. With not one tinge
Of sanctuary splendour, not a sight
Able to face an owl’s, they still are dight [equipped]
By the blear-eyed nations in empurpled vests,
And crowns, and turbans. With unladen breasts,
Save of blown self-applause, they proudly mount
To their spirit’s perch, their being’s high account,
Their tiptop nothings, their dull skies, their thrones—
Amid the fierce intoxicating tones
Of trumpets, shoutings, and belabour’d drums,
And sudden cannon. Ah! how all this hums,
In wakeful ears, like uproar past and gone
Like thunder clouds that spake to Babylon,
And set those old Chaldeans to their tasks.—
Are then regalities all gilded masks?

 

Endymion, Book III.

Emphasis added to show relevance to Messrs Trump and Morrison – with deepest apologies to the dead poet and his lonely grave in Rome – ‘Here lies one whose name was writ on water.’  At the age of twenty-five he was worth ten of those referred to above.

MY TOP SHELF – Chapter 13

 

[These are serialised extracts of all the fifty books referred to in a book published in 2015 called ‘The Top Shelf, or What Used to be Called a Liberal Education’.  The extracts are as originally published, and they come in the same order.]

13

PROMETHEUS BOUND

Aeschylus (410 BC)

Limited Editions Club, 1965; stone and blue cloth with gold embossing and labels, in slip-case of same colour; illustrated by John Farleigh; copy number 353 of limited edition by Joh. Enschede en Zonen of Haarlem, Holland; with Prometheus Unbound of Shelley.

Victory and power proceeded from intelligence.

They do not get more elemental than this.  Big epics tend to start with feuds in heaven – The Iliad, Paradise Lost, Mahabharata, and Wagner’s Ring Cycle.  There was a power struggle between the Greek gods that would have warmed the heart of a local apparatchik.  Prometheus – ‘forethought’ – stole fire from heaven to ease the lot of mankind.  Zeus, who makes the O T God look like a maiden aunt, takes exception and binds Prometheus to a rock during the pleasure of Zeus.  We do not have the balance of the trilogy, and what we have is not a ripping night out at the theatre.

Zeus is a real bastard.  As the hero says, ‘I know that Zeus measures what is just by his interest.’  That is not a bad definition of a dictator, and Prometheus also says: ‘This is a sickness, it seems, that goes along with dictatorship – inability to trust one’s friends.’  There are other mordantly modern touches.  When Prometheus exclaims ‘Alas!’ Hermes says ‘That is a word Zeus does not understand.’  ‘Now, first, when the gods entered upon their anger/ when they split into parties, and strife rose among them’, Zeus gets it into his head to make the whole human race extinct, and to form another race instead.’  When Prometheus applies the power of his mind to ease mankind, he has to face the wrath of a very personal God.

People in the west are now brought up with a very Platonic idea of God as eternal and changeless, and one thing that immediately strikes us as curious is that Zeus, the God of Aeschylus, is capable of changing.  It looks like these Greeks held that things must either grow or decay.  Well, for all the strife in heaven – that is scandalously on show in Milton – this tale is indeed elemental.  Rex Warner, the translator, referred to a Harvard scholar, J H Finley, who compares Prometheus with The Brothers Karamazov, and King Lear as works having the quality of ‘touching final doubts.’  That is a powerful remark.

Aeschylus is better known now for the trilogy of Orestes, sometimes called Orestheia.  When Paris takes off for Troy with Helen, the Greeks go after them.  ‘She took to Ilium her dowry death…alas, for the bed sighed for their love together.’  Cassandra, who was not created for a cheery night out, says:

But I; when you marshalled this armament

For Helen’s sake, I will not hide it,

In ugly style you were written in my heart

For steering aslant the mind’s course

To bring home by blood

Sacrifice and dead men that wild spirit.

But the wind will not rise for the fleet, and to appease the gods, King Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter.  The gods relent and the Greeks go to war for a slight to pride caused by a randy tart.

The god of war, money changer of dead bodies,

Held the balance of the spear in the fighting,

And from the corpse-fires at Ilium

Sent to their dearest the dust

Heavy and bitter with tears shed

Packing smooth the urns with

Ashes that once were men

…..

And all for some strange woman

The young men in their beauty keep

Graves deep in the alien soil

They hated and they conquered.

The Greeks win a kind of revenge, but at hideous cost.  What of Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon and mother of the sacrificed daughter, must she avenge her daughter and kill her husband?  Yes.  That is the first play.  What of Orestes?  Must he avenge his father and kill his mother?  Yes.  That is the second play.  Will the cycle ever be broken by a law?  Yes.  That is the third play.

The late Tony Tanner wrote wonderful introductions to all of Shakespeare’s plays.  When he came to introduce the great tragedies, he made this most remarkable contribution to scholarly criticism.

‘Western tragedy opens with a troubled and apprehensive watchman or guard on the roof of the palace of King Agamemnon, watching and waiting for news and signals concerning the outcome of the Greek war against Troy.  He conveys a sense of unease and disquiet.  Something, which he dare not, or will not, articulate is wrong within the palace or ‘house’ for which he is the watchman.  It is night-time and the atmosphere is ominous, full of dubiety and an incipient sense of festering secrets.  The long drama of the Oresteia has begun.  Some two thousand years later, Hamlet, the first indisputably great European tragedy since the time of the Greeks, will open in very much the same way – on ‘A guard platform of the castle’ (of Elsinore), at midnight, with a nervous jittery guardsman – Barnado – asking apprehensive questions in the darkness, and revealing that, for unspecified reasons, he is ‘sick at heart.’  The similarity betokens no indebtedness of Shakespeare to Aeschylus (whose work he could not have known), but rather a profound similarity of apprehension as to what might constitute a source for tragic drama.  Shakespeare does not start where Aeschylus left off: he starts where Aeschylus started.  And the subject, which is to say the problem, which is to say the potentially – and actually – catastrophic issue which they both set out to explore in their plays – the drama they dramatized – centres on revenge.’

How was mankind to move from the vendetta to the rule of law where the state is said to have a monopoly of violence?  People who do not see why Hamlet pauses forget that his father’s ghost wants Hamlet to take European civilization back two thousand years.  Orestes did pause to ask if it was right for him to kill his mother.  His mate gives a brief rallying call to a Dorothy Dixer, and Orestes says: ‘I judge that you win.  Your advice is good.’  As lines go, it is about as valid as Mama, quel vino es generoso, except there it was the son who was about to make the final exit.

Tanner remarks that although the Greeks had a lot to say about guilt, they had no word for conscience.  This is how Tony Tanner sees the difference between the two plays. ‘We could say that, what for Orestes is a very short ‘pause’ and a very brief ‘scan’, becomes in Hamlet almost the whole of the play.  Because, between Aeschylus and Shakespeare, something has taken place which has permanently changed the western mind – namely, Christianity, and more particularly for the Elizabethans, the Reformation.’

These are searing insights.  Those who cling to the preposterous Oxbridge dream that ancient Greece and Rome were civilized presumably take the view that the Sermon on the Mount meant nothing.  But there is no doubting that the tragedies of Aeschylus record in dramatic form and poetry myths that still run very deeply in our consciousness.  They are discernible stepping stones on our ascent from the primeval slime.

Passing bull 179– Timid denial

 

Have you noticed that those people who used to deny climate change now merely say we are over reacting?  The same people now do the same with Donald Trump.  They don’t say that he is evil – they just say that we are over reacting by disliking him so intensely.  On each count they deride experts and elites.  Now, these people are not experts but they certainly see themselves as elite.  Their championing of the common man or common sense is hilarious.

David Flint, the celebrated monarchist, broke the world land speed record for this kind of bullshit in a piece about Trump’s withdrawal from Syria in The Australian on New Year’s Eve.  It began.

Whatever Donald Trump does, we can be sure of two consequences.  Even if they once argued for what he is trying to do, such as diminishing excessive overseas military involvements – ‘imperial overreach’ – this will be vigorously and even hysterically opposed by the Democrats, the U S mainstream media and elites everywhere.  This is because their detestation of Trump is so irrational that they predictably react against anything he does as if they were programmed automatons.

Mr Flint then proceeded to ignore all the reasons why the Secretary of Defence resigned in protest, and leading Republicans denounced the decision – and why they have persuaded Trump to ‘walk back’ the decision, as they say.  Mr Flint rejects the experts.  He relies on Churchill who said that military strategy and tactics are a matter of common sense.  He then concluded:

The fact is that, in this policy, as in so many others, Trump demonstrates a wisdom his enemies refuse to contemplate.

You may have thought facts and opinions are different, but not in the new order.  It takes your breath away.  It is the best evidence that in the space of about one generation, the cranks and ideologues have moved from one side of politics to the other.  What is revolting is that these people style themselves conservatives.  They, like Trump, are pimps for the gutter.

George Orwell thought that he might be a ‘Tory Anarchist’.  What a noble calling!  He said that ‘what I saw in Spain and what I have seen of in the inner workings of left-wing politics has given me a horror of politics.’  He also said: ‘What sickens me about left-wing people, especially the intellectuals, is their utter ignorance of the way things actually happen.’  They are my views exactly – except the cranks have changed sides.  When a man who claims to be conservative blesses Trump for his wisdom, we have become like ostriches, looking at the world a posteriori.

And just watch their hostility to the expert evaporate when they are charged with murder or diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Bloopers

The fact that Trump did this [pull out of Syria] against the wishes of his national security establishment can be seen either as legitimate presidential leadership or irresponsibility.  Take your pick.

The Australian, 21 December, 2018, Greg Sheridan

After that it gets worse.

Truth is optional.

The facing article is headed ‘Stunned advisers say job is not done.’

MY TOP SHELF

 

[These are serialised extracts of all the fifty books referred to in a book published in 2015 called ‘The Top Shelf, or What Used to be Called a Liberal Education’.  The extracts are as originally published, and they come in the same order.]

9

THE HISTORY OF ENGLAND

Jane Austen (1791)

Folio Society, 1993; quarter bound in vellum, with gold title, and marbled boards, in embossed card slip-case.

…with one argument I am certain of satisfying every sensible & well disposed person whose opinions have been properly guided by a good Education – & this argument is that he was a Stuart.

Like Emily Bronte, Jane Austen was the daughter of a clergyman who spent her life as a member of the very discreet provincial middle class, and who never knew the love of a man – worse, according to the scheme of things back then, neither of them ever married.  It was a time when so many women were condemned to live and die in obscurity.  It is therefore remarkable that their novels were so different – it is like comparing a Haydn minuet to Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony.

This little history stands on the shelf for the novels of Jane Austen.  She wrote it when she was barely sixteen.  The handwritten manuscript is there in facsimile as illustrated by her sister Cassandra, and the text is set out in print.  As histories of England go, this one has the supreme advantage that it can be read in the time that it takes to give the dog a short walk.

In Northanger Abbey, the seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland says: ‘But history, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in….I read it a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me.  The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all – it is very tiresome: and yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention.’  That would be the view of the author of this little history, the ironical tone of which is signified by the observation that it ends with and which is set out at the head of this note.

The little book is notable chiefly for the fact that the author does not seek to hide or apologize for the fact that she is a she – and one who valiantly defends those of her sex – such as Joan of Arc (yes, the French witch!), Anna Bullen, and Mary Queen of Scots.  Curiously, she buckets two – Margaret of Anjou (the She-Wolf of France) and Elizabeth (‘that disgrace to humanity, that pest of society’) – who were the strongest of the lot, and more than capable of standing toe to toe with the men.

And what of the novels?  The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English says that Austen’s ‘life was conspicuous for its lack of event – allowing biographers to make it a study in quiet contemplation or quiet frustration – and for the strength of family ties.’  That for some would be a fair assessment of the novels, pretty and prim comedies of manners, where nobody works for a living, and nobody seems to live, and hardly anything ever seems to happen.  The revolting measure of the worth of a person by their income – all unearned – and the even more revolting dependence of women on the institution of rightless marriage to take them from one form of oblivion to another form of servitude can, after a while, get you down.

I prefer now to take these novels being read to me by Patricia Hodge, Amanda Root, or the woman with the best voice on the planet, Juliet Stephenson.  That way, the worst reaction that you can get is like that which comes a couple of hours after downing a Chinese take-away.

But, then, who could ever forget the way that the gruesome Mr Collins grovelled before the awesome Lady Catherine de Burgh, or the lordly magnificence of the disdain of Laurence Olivier to Greer Garson when he declined an invitation to take part in archery on the ground that he was in no humour to indulge the middle classes at play.  If you want to get down and dirty about snobbery, the Poms are bloody geniuses at it, and I think that the artistry of Jane Austen was a significant part of the English awakening – and a badly needed awakening.

People like Balzac, Ibsen and Chekhov put their own bombs under the bourgeoisie.  They were all brilliant and compelling in their own right – and they are all on this top shelf – but none was as dry or as subtle or as English as Jane Austen.

Passing bull 175 – Going over the top – and misusing the word ‘conservative’

 

One of the fads corroding our discourse is the tendency to go over the top with language.  Critics of the current proposal to see the U K out of Europe say that it would make the U K into a vassal state of Europe.  A ‘vassal’ is a term found in the feudal system that meant ‘one holding lands from a superior on conditions of homage and allegiance.’  The U K is not in that position now, and would not be under the proposal.  Still, when people flaunt the term sovereignty in this context, you must expect some loose thought and looser language.

Another example came from the suggestion that we might move our embassy in Israel.  Not surprisingly, this suggestion troubles our two biggest neighbours – whose people are of a different faith.  But we are solemnly told that we must not let them dictate to us.  That is silly.  What we are being asked to do is to take their position into account.  That is what we should have done before making this rash announcement.  My local Post Office has an answer to our unneeded predicament.  Pull the embassy out altogether – it is a waste of bloody money.

And while the PM said that his faith had nothing to do with the move, a proposition that seemed more plausible to some than others, we have not heard the same from our high-rise Treasurer who looks like he lives to be photographed by the press.

But then we are told that if the P M backtracks, he will be eviscerated by the conservatives in his own party.  This is a shocking abuse or misuse of the term ‘conservative’.  As best as I can see, the people referred to are nothing like ‘conservatives’.  They look to have the following views.

They are attracted to factions, plots, conspiracies and coups in the same way that little boys like playing with matches.  They love rubbishing the elites of the political class, even though they occupy the commanding heights of that class.  They think that patriotism is a decent and useful term.  They even have a closet hankering after Donald Trump’s Operation Faithful Patriot, because they neither like nor trust migrants, which can lead to problems in a migrant nation.  They get misty-eyed about civilisation, but then they get coy about how the epithet Western might qualify the noun.  They have never held down a real job.  They would not know what a working man looks like.  They believe that people without a tertiary degree, even those as useless as theirs, are bloody lucky to have the vote, and that if there is such a thing as a dinkum Aussie, he would be the definitive pain in the bum.  They consort with shock jocks and the Murdoch press.  If you took away their clichés and labels, they would be stark naked.  They hold that it is not right to criticise Donald Trump.  They maintain that Israel and its current PM can do no wrong.  They think that supporters of Palestinians are Green/Left dupes of the Love Media who are soft on border security and sovereignty to boot.  They practise a curious form of faith that allows them to hold that running a concentration camp for children in the Pacific conforms with the Sermon on the Mount.  They believe that most experts are frauds (unless they are involved in saving their life or liberty).  Science is bullshit and worries about the climate are alarmist (it is bad taste to mention California Burning so near the event – that’s like talking about the dead after another massacre).  Thoughts and prayers can cure most ills since by and large God is all that He is cracked up to be – even if you don’t take His word too seriously too close to home.  They have bizarre dreams about liberty or freedom that would have led to a fit of the giggles in Edmund Burke or Disraeli.  They are relieved that the gorgeously photogenic imports into the House of Windsor comfy rug will save these colonies from the delusional insecurity of Home Rule or independence.  They believe – devoutly – that cadres of the IPA are well educated and rational philosophers and economists who have election-winning ideas for the true believers.  And while it is both polite and meaningful for them to label others as progressives, it is neither polite nor meaningful for them to be labelled as regressive, reactionary or retrograde.

In short, this motley is a viscerally uncomely mix of the clown, the dunce, and the jerk.  They are a dream come true for Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.  If you want an example, look out for the unsullied brashness of that boyish senator who looks like his mum dresses him and then combs his hair.  Or catch a glint of that Chesty Bond smile of Tim Wilson, M P.  And then salute the flag and hum a few bars from the Goons’ classic hit ‘I’m walking backwards for Christmas – across the Irish Sea.’  I wonder if they have their own version of a Masonic hand-shake?  And just what condition was God in when he set up this Comédie Humaine?

The saddest part about these falsely named ‘conservatives’ is that they are prone to endorse what is called populism, which is the antithesis of conservatism, and while they bemoan the death of faith in politics and liberal democracy, they are among the principal instruments of that death.

Then I read that a Conservative MP in England said that the current proposal for leaving Europe was not what people in the U K had voted for.  That raises two questions.  First, how does she know what the people voted for?  So much of what passes for debate on this issue is the assumption that the people gave a clear instruction – or worse, a clear mandate.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Secondly, if the MP is saying that the people voted for a much better deal than this – a deal that would leave them in no way worse off – then she is saying that the lies they were told were effective – scintillatingly so.

What is the upshot of this exercise in what is called democracy?  It looks to me as if there is a majority against the present proposal to leave of about two to one.  But there is a similar majority against leaving with no deal.  If therefore Europe is to be taken at its word, England looks set to get a result either way that a clear majority does not want.  How they resolve that without going back to the source – the people – for new instructions escapes me.

Bloopers

The climate debate has become a vehicle for the promotion of political ideology, civilizational guilt, global wealth distribution, virtue signalling and doomsaying.  Alarmism is a prime post-material preoccupation for the prosperous in Western liberal democracies.  In an age of identity politics, climate concerns are trumpeted as a demonstration of the proponent’s selflessness and sophistication while its technological edge creates hobbies for those wealthy enough to indulge in electric cars, cover their roof in solar panels or invest in taxpayer-subsidised renewable projects

**

More voters see themselves as swinging voters.  Yet it’s the declining Left and Right activists who dominate parties and the political message we see and hear via the media.  It distorts the discussion when the vast majority of voters see politics through an issue-by-issue prism rather than the mindless tribal banality of cheering on one side or the other.  As a result, disillusionment sets in for most of us, which soon leads to disengagement from the political process.  This exacerbates the problem because the world is run by those who ‘show up.’

The Weekend Australian, November 17-18, 2018

The ‘mindless tribal banality’ of the first citation (Chris Kenny) warrants the validity of the second (Peter Van Onselen).

A pleasant anecdote

While reading again Graham Robb’s Balzac – and it is a great read – I learned that early in his intellectual life, Balzac adopted the view of the Epicureans that the world was created while God was drunk.  I do not wish to offend my religious friends, but with the world as I have described it above – La Comédie Humaine – that view gave me a lot comfort.  Even if I was surprised to learn that God and Epicurus were on speaking terms.

My Top Shelf – Chapter 5

MY TOP SHELF

[These are serialised extracts of all the fifty books referred to in a book published in 2015 called ‘The Top Shelf, or What Used to be Called a Liberal Education’.  The extracts are as originally published, and they come in the same order.]

5

THE DAM BUSTERS

Paul Brickhill (1953)

Folio Society, 2015.  Quarter-bound in cloth with cloth sides, and slip case; blocked with a design by Richard Sweeney, with a Lancaster on the spine.

In the early 1950’s, not long after the war, the parents of my mother Norma lived in what even then looked to me to be an aging weatherboard house in Orlando Street Hampton.  It was a quiet street.  Not a lot happened in it – there was quite a stir when the former Australian cricket captain Lindsay Hassett moved into a ‘cream brick vanilla’ flat, as we were starting to call them, in Hampton Street, overlooking our back fence.

My grandfather, Les, was called an engineer.  I think that meant that he was a tool-maker, or metal-worker.  When Les left Humes after forty years’ service, they gave him a mantel clock that chimed.  It sat on the kind of sideboard that people had back then, when the whole house seemed to chime.  Les had a perfectly kept tool-shed, with designs traced for each tool.  He kept something of wonder there.  It was a shanghai, or ging – not roughed out of eucalypt, and powered by rubber bands, but made out of forged steel, and powered by springs so taut that we could hardly pull them back.  One day a cousin and I screwed up our courage and lifted it from its designated space to give it a test fire from the ti-tree overlooking the bay.  The first shot hit a ti-tree just in front of us and nearly took our heads off; the second took off on a high trajectory in the general direction of Williamstown.  We shot through in mortal fear, and we never touched the ging again.

Les and Liza were frugal.  All those who had survived the depression, a word muttered in a subdued tone, were.  It was, I recall, quite an occasion when they signed up for the Herald-Sun Readers’ Book Club.  I cannot recall seeing books in the house before.  The series may have followed on a six volume encyclopaedia that we later inherited – with some gratitude.  The series proper consisted of novels and memoires.  Many of those were of the war just finished, like Two Eggs on my Plate, Wingless Victory, or Boldness be my Friend.  (Everybody had already read The Cruel Sea.) 

The first book in the series proper was, I think, The Dam Busters.  At any rate, I have a clear recollection of looking at the one in front of me now at the left end of a growing collection – in a red dust-jacket with HS on the spine, an image of a dam wall on the front cover, and on the rear a photo of the author.  As befitted a chap who wrote that kind of book back then, Mr Brickhill was photographed with nonchalantly brushed back hair, a pencil moustache, a hound’s-tooth check jacket, an open-necked shirt – with a cravat, in navy polka dot set in the spacing dictated by Winston Churchill – and with the rather imperious sidelong glance of a man not used to difficulty with skirt.  The first review in the blurb says ‘In all the history of arms there is no finer epic.’

It was therefore a major event when the movie came to Hampton in 1955.  As I recall, the excitement was as great as that which later greeted the start of television or the Olympic Games.  Les took me to a matinee on Saturday arvo at the Hampton Cinema in Hampton Street, about five hundred yards from home.  We got there early, which was just as well, because the place was chockers.  Later events make it hard to recall my first reaction, but I believe that I was entranced from beginning to end.  It was miles better than going to ‘town’ on the train with Liza – she and Les never had a car – and eating donuts at Downyflake.

Two things were beyond magic.  The leader of the raid had my name!  And my initials!  Guy Gibson.  And one Australian when they were practising low flying said, in a flat Australian accent, ‘this is bloody dangerous.’  How shockingly grown-up – the word ‘bloody’ on the screen, and out loud!  It was truly bliss to be alive that day.

I walked back home with Les in a state of exaltation.  He took me to see it again on two more occasions.  Then it came to TV and video and DVD.  I lost count of how many times I have seen it about thirty years ago, but you can proceed on the footing that I watch it about once a year, in varying states of composure or decency.  I only ever saw the dog get killed once.

If you do not know the story, you have a major problem.  In 1943, a squadron formed especially for that purpose, 617 Squadron, attacked the Moehne and Eder dams in Germany using a bouncing bomb especially designed and made for that purpose by an immensely gifted scientist named Barnes Wallis.  Both the book and the film contain two stories of great character and courage – that of Barnes Wallis for the courage of his conviction in his own skill and judgment, and the dedication and courage of the young men who delivered the bombs.  Fifty-six of those young men, whose whole and gifted life still lay before them, did not come back.  Wallis, a man of peace, was distraught.  It took him a long time to recover. The scene of Wallis standing under the hawk-like gaze of Bomber Harris and the blank coldness of Cochrane is still wrenching.

They had to fly as low as possible to beat radar.  Power lines were a real threat, and I think one plane was lost this way.  The bomb had to be delivered from sixty feet, the length of a cricket pitch.  The pilot had to hold the aircraft steady at that altitude in the face of enemy fire.  The only way that they could do that was by using spotlights on the water to illuminate their target.  From time to time, modern crews try to replicate the feat for TV, and they then find out how hard it is.  Among other things, someone might have to pick up a compass and protractor.

The cream of Bomber Command, and therefore the nation, went into 617, and not just from England.  They had all completed full tours.  Apart from Gibson, the pilots included at least three Australians – Mickey Martin, Dave Shannon, and Les Knight.

Martin (played by the late Bill Kerr in the film) commanded ‘P’ Popsie.  He delivered one of the bombs that hit the Moehne.  Although hit on his starboard wing, Martin then accompanied Gibson on the next attacks to draw the flak.  Gibson was later awarded the VC for his part in the raid.  When the Moehne was finally breached, Martin and Gibson accompanied Shannon and Knight to go to the Eder.  They had trouble finding it.  Having sat up there watching all the attacks on the Moehne, Dave Shannon then watched the first attack on the Eder fail – in a blazing explosion.

There were only two bombs left, and they were both to be delivered by Australians.  It was a very tricky target – fatally tricky.  Dave Shannon eventually found a way to deliver his bomb on to the target.  Gibson ordered Knight in with the last bomb.  Brickhill described it this way.

Knight tried once and couldn’t make it.  He tried again.  Failed.  ‘Come in down moon, and dive for the point, Les’, Shannon said.  He gave more advice over the R/T, and Knight listened quietly.  He was a young Australian who did not drink, his idea of a riotous evening being to write letters home and go the pictures.  He dived to try again, made a perfect run and they saw the splash as his bomb dropped in the right spot.  Seconds later the water erupted, and as Gibson slanted down to have a look he saw the wall of the dam burst open and the torrent came crashing out.

Knight, more excited than he had ever been, was yelling over the R/T, and when he stopped he left his transmitter on for a few seconds by mistake; the crew’s remarks on the intercom were broadcast, and they were very spectacular remarks indeed.

Some time after all this, Dave Shannon celebrated his twenty-first birthday, and then married an English lass in the service.  The last of the pilots, Les Munro from New Zealand, died earlier this year (2015).  Mickey Martin never forgave Churchill for allowing Gibson to fly one more mission.  I have made the pilgrimage to the grave in Holland.

The devotion and courage of all those involved, from Wallis and Gibson down, defy belief.  It comes from another time.  They are all real and true heroes.  They are my absolute heroes.  I brought my children up on this story and I look forward to doing the same with their children.  Both the heroes and the children deserve no less.

MY TOP SHELF

 

[These are serialised extracts of all the fifty books referred to in a book published in 2015 called ‘The Top Shelf, or What Used to be Called a Liberal Education’.  The extracts are as originally published, and they come in the same order.]

3

PARADISE LOST

John Milton (1667)

Oxford Library of the World’s Great Books, OUP, 1984, illustrated Gustave Dore; quarter bound in blue leather, with gold letters and ridges on the spine, with cloth boards embossed with gold, and marbled endpapers.

So saying, her rash hand in evil hour

Forth reaching to the Fruit, she pluck’d, she eat:

Earth felt the wound……

John Milton knew so much and was so wise that it is a wonder that he could write any poetry at all.  Anyone who tracked down every allusion in Paradise Lost would have earned the best classical education possible with which to spend what was left of their life.

Milton was brought up in the Puritan tradition and is still remembered at Cambridge University.  Difficulties with his marriage led him to very modern views on the subject.  He would become a champion of liberty, at least as he understood that term, and the mouthpiece of the Puritan Revolution and Oliver Cromwell.  He was lucky not to be executed in the Restoration.  Now, only Shakespeare stands taller in English letters.

Paradise Lost is at least in part a war story.  All is well in heaven until God announces that he has a son.  Satan is stricken with envy.  The unthinkable happens: there is war in heaven.  Satan loses and he and his defectors are cast into utter darkness – into hell.  For revenge, he visits earth in the form of a serpent and seduces Eve into taking a bite of the apple of the forbidden tree of knowledge.  Adam follows Eve.  They have hot guilty sex as they come to grips with sin, shame and guilt.  Then they put up the fig leaves.  The father gives judgment on his disobedient children.  They are cast out of paradise, and are told of the miseries to come, but they are promised that redemption will come to them from the son of God.

Paradise Lost and The Iliad have at least two things in common.  First, each epic is dominated by the wrath of a hero – the wrath of Achilles against his king and the Greeks, and the wrath of Satan against God and his son.  Secondly, redemption is either given or promised in each.  In The Iliad it is given by the father, Priam, when he submits to his enemy to ask for mercy for his son.  In Paradise Lost, it is promised on behalf of the son, who later gives himself to redeem fallen man.

But their gods are different.  The gods of The Iliad may be immortal, but they are many, and they are divided against each other.  Each smells of mortality. The God of Paradise Lost and the Old Testament is very different.  He is the only One.  He is omnipotent and omniscient.  But he is not impersonal.  He has intimations not of mortality, but of humanity.  He did, after all, say that he made Adam in his own image.

The Iliad is about war and peace.  Paradise Lost is about heaven and hell.  But war and peace we can see; heaven and hell we cannot.  It is knowledge against belief.  The knowledge may be primitive and the belief may be fervent, but the difference is obvious.

The Godhead of Paradise Lost is split when Satan revolts.  Milton may or may not have intended Satan to be the hero of his poem, but that is what he got for a lot of readers.  (C S Lewis was scandalized.)  The father and son are out on the grounds of their divinity.  Adam and Eve are out on the grounds of their humanity.  They are – thank heaven – utterly, incurably, and irredeemably human.  The rest of the host just do what they are told, or fall in behind Satan, and squabble and hiss at him if they do not like his work.

That leaves Satan.  The more Milton dislikes Satan as a being, the more we like him as a character.  He has a lot going for him as hero.  (I put to one side his modernist sin of fathering a child and forgetting the mother.)  He ends up outcast by everyone.  Well, we tend to take a shine to outcasts.  Satan does have a mind of his own, and he is the only one openly to stand up to authority, to offer defiance.  He is the one character in each epic, excepting Priam, who refuses to toe the line.  He is a born insurrectionary, our primal hell-raiser.  It looks like he had been stewing on status for a while.  He talks of knee tribute:

Too much to one, but double, how endured (5.783)

He is wildly and immediately successful in executing his plan to corrupt the whole order of creation.  When ‘the enemy of mankind’ got to work, Eve fell immediately, and ‘Earth felt the wound’ (9.782).  Adam followed quickly next, and as a result the lord of hosts, the lord of all creation, would have to give up his only begotten son to undo the work of Satan.

This is not a bad return on the handiwork of a day or two; not a bad return for an outcast doomed to be blasted in eternal fires.  Thrown out of heaven; hissed at in hell; but a complete winner on earth.

And Satan has a point.  His envy knows no bounds when he sees Adam and Eve in Eden ‘imparadised in one another’s arms’, but he immediately sees their limitation and weakness as his way to strike at God.… …..knowledge forbidden?

Suspicion, reasonless: Why should the Lord
Envy them that?  Can it be sin to know,
Can it be death?  And so they only stand
By ignorance, is that their happy state?

Yes, Satan does impute envy to God, but we all know people who ‘only stand by ignorance’ – some of the happiest lawyers and the most successful politicians on earth.  But ‘knowledge forbidden’?  Can it be a ‘sin to know’?  Surely not.  What is the answer to this question of Satan?  Are we doomed to be cocooned in ignorance or to face the everlasting bonfire?

The pride of Satan leads him to ambition to ‘set himself in glory above his peers’, but one thing Satan never was – a quitter.  And when Satan told his crew that they could by their warlike effort claim ‘Honour, dominion, glory, and renown’, he was simply giving them the mission statement of Achilles and the other blood-drenched heroes of Homer.

In The Iliad, there were two acts of pride – hubris – that led ultimately to nemesis.  First, Helen and Paris took off knowing the consequences.  Secondly, the Greek king refused to hand back his prisoner to the gods, knowing that this would lead to divine retribution.  Paradise Lost reaches its climax with our first sin, the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, by Adam and Eve.  But two acts of disobedience born out of pride had happened first.  When God took a son to share his power, knowing at least the potential of the problem of what we call sibling rivalry, Satan then decided that he could not stand competition from a newcomer.  His paramount sin was envy, but what Satan felt was an affront to his honour.  Then Eve refused to obey Adam, although she knew very well that for her the power of Adam was absolute.  But now, only the most wilfully morbid self-flagellant believes any of that moonshine about Eve being the author of our original sin.

When the father announces the arrival of a son, the poet describes the reaction of Satan in terms of envy, honour, pride and malice.  Here is real envy.  When Milton wrote that Satan ‘thought himself impaired’ he may have had in mind that chilling remark about Cassio made by Iago, that most evil predator on another’s honour:

He has a kind of beauty in his life
That makes me ugly.

Milton said he wrote this wonderful epic ‘to justify the ways of God to men.’  He will not often get that result now, but what he has given us, like the Sistine Chapel, is a picture of us in terms that are beyond our understanding.  The theme is desperately mortal.

The best way to take Paradise Lost is to listen to it.  (Make sure that you get the version where Eve is played by a woman, and not just by the narrator.)  Then you can, as with Shakespeare, just laugh at the sheer blinding throwaway brilliance and magic of it all.  They were both drunk on words and language, and they both shared their passion with us.

John Milton was blind when he wrote Paradise Lost.

My Top Shelf – Chapter 2

 

[These are serialised extracts of all the fifty books referred to in a book published in 2015 called ‘The Top Shelf, or What Used to be Called a Liberal Education’.  The extracts are as originally published, and they come in the same order.]

2

THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

Thomas Carlyle (1837)

J M Dent & Co (Everyman), 1906; 2 volumes; burgundy cloth with gilt lettering; subsequently placed in split slip-case with marbled exteriors, and burgundy silk ribbon extractors.

The Art of Insurrection.  It was an art needed in these last singular times: an art for which the French nature, so full of vehemence, so free from depth, was perhaps of all other the fittest.

How would a French provincial official back then have gone about making an observation about King Louis XV in a ‘sleek official way’?  At the very start of this book, Carlyle tells us that a man called President Henault took occasion ‘in his sleek official way to make a philosophical reflection’ about Louis XV.  If you look up President Henault, you will find that he seems to have been just the sort of French official who might have acted that way.  So, here we have a writer who arrests us in his first line.  We know at once that he is writing this book as literature, or, as we might now say, journalism.  But the book is much more than journalism or literature – it is theatre, and very high theatre at that.

As you get into this book, you will get used to being affronted in both your prejudices and your senses.  It is like being on the Big Dipper, and you are frequently tempted to ask – just what was this guy on when he was getting off on all this stuff?

The writing is surging, vivacious, and elemental.  The author likes to see the world from on high, and to put us all on a little stage.  When poor Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette quit the Louvre under cover of night in a bid to escape from France, we get a costume drama.  ‘But where is the Lady that stood aside in gypsy hat, and touched the wheel-spoke with her badine?  O Reader, that Lady…was the Queen of France!…Flurried by the rattle and rencounter, she took the right hand, not the left; neither she nor her Courier knows Paris…They are off, quite wrong, over the Pont Royal and River; roaming disconsolate in the Rue du Bac; far from the Glass-coachman, who still waits.’

You too can ‘roam disconsolate’ in Paris.  It is simple to retrace those steps, and it must have been quite a stroll for the Queen of France.  Instead of heading up the Rue de L’Echelle, they went up Rue Saint Honoré, and then ended up on the left Bank.  What turn might the Revolution have taken if the Queen had turned the other way?  Or if the Austrian Marie Antoinette had known as least something of the lay-out of Paris?  That the Louvre was then as it is now on the Right Bank?

The coach driven by the Swedish Count Fersen gets the royal family out of Paris ‘through the ambrosial night.  Sleeping Paris is now all on the right-hand side of him; silent except for some snoring hum…’  There is a change of carriage and then a German coachman thunders toward the East and the dawn.  ‘The Universe, O my brothers, is flinging wide its portals for the Levee of the GREAT HIGH KING.  Thou, poor King Louis, fares nevertheless, as mortals do, toward Orient lands of Hope; and the Tuileries with its Levées, and France and the Earth itself, is but a larger kind of doghutch, -occasionally going rabid.’  This is very typical – a surge of Old Testament, Shakespeare and Romantic poetry that invokes the heavens, and then falls calmly but flat in the gutter.

Louis is spotted by a tough old patriot called Drouet who recognized the nameless traveller from the portrait on the currency.  They are brought back from Varennes to the City of Light.  At Saint Antoine, the workers and the poor have a placard; ‘Whosoever insults Louis shall be caned; whosoever applauds him shall be hanged.’  This was the second time that the family was returned to Paris.  The first was when the fishwives brought them in from Versailles.  Carlyle had then said: ‘Poor Louis has two other Paris Processions to make; one ludicrous ignominious like this: the other not ludicrous nor ignominious, but serious, nay sublime.’

Carlyle would later become infatuated with heroes and the idea of the strong man, but even French historians struggle to find heroes in their Revolution.  Carlyle does his best for Mirabeau and Danton, but they were both on the take.  The bad guys are easy for him – Marat and Robespierre.  (Both Danton and Robespierre used the ‘de’ before it became lethally unfashionable.)  When someone moots a Republic after the flight to Varennes, we get: ‘“A Republic?” said the Seagreen, with one of his dry husky unsportful laughs, “what is that?”  O seagreen Incorruptible, thou shalt see!’  After Robespierre lies low in the general unrest, we get: ‘Understand this, however: that incorruptible Robespierre is not wanting, now when the brunt of battle is past; in a stealthy way the seagreen man sits there, his feline eyes excellent in the twilight…..How changed for Marat; lifted from his dark cellar into this luminous” peculiar tribune!”  All dogs have their day; even rabid dogs.’

The two references to rabid dogs are characteristic.  The son of a Calvinist stonemason in the lowlands understood and loathed the lynch mob, which France had descended into.  At the beginning of the chapter headed The Gods Are Athirst, Carlyle said that La Revolution was ‘the Madness that dwells in the hearts of men.’

And this Scots Calvinist rails against the weakness of mankind like a Hebrew prophet.  He knew, with Isaiah, that all nations before God are as nothing, and are counted before God as less than nothing, and as vanity; and that God brings the princes to nothing, and makes the judges of the earth vanity.  And he knew, with the author of the book of Ecclesiastes, that all is vanity, and that when it comes to evil, there is nothing new under the sun.

The lynch mob was at its peak in the Terror.  In some of the strongest passages in the book, Carlyle tells us how they made wigs (perrukes) taken from the heads of .guillotined women and breeches from human skins at the tannery at Meudon.  (The skin of men was superior and as good as chamois, but women’s skin was too soft to be of much use).  There is, we know, nothing new under the sun.

Hilaire Belloc thought that this writing was ‘bad’ and ‘all forced.’  That moral evasion may have been possible in 1906, when Belloc wrote it, but not after Gallipoli, Armenia, Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Rwanda, and Srebrenica.  We have now seen other nations, European nations, forfeit their right to be part of the family of man.  Carlyle is merely documenting one such case in one of the most civilized nations on earth.  Does history hold a more important lesson for us?  Has the story been told this well elsewhere?

So, we can put to one side all the later stuff about heroes.  (It is just as well that the book ends with the non-existing ‘whiff of grapeshot’ – Carlyle had a view of Napoleon that is not now widely shared on either side of the Channel.)  If nothing else, Carlyle believed that people make history.  The alternative, that history makes people, has to face the challenges that it is dogmatic, boring, dangerous, and bullshit.  You will see that problem in spades when we get to Tolstoy.

Carlyle wanted to tell a story and to make the dead come alive.  In his own terms, he wanted to ‘blow his living breath between dead lips’ and he believed that history ‘is the essence of innumerable biographies.’  He has done that for me six times, and I am about ready for my next fix.  The graph-makers can stick with their graphs.  The French Revolution is history writ very large, and it has never been writ more largely than here.

When Winston Churchill came to describe the heroism of the Finns in resisting Soviet Russia, he finished with a figure of speech that concluded with the words nay, sublime.  When a journalist on The Wall Street Journal came to describe how French bankers recently went long on Italian debt, she said that they had done do in their sleek official way.  There was no attribution in either case, and none was needed – it is a comfort for some that there may be a community of letters out there.

And look out for the one who gives you a dry unsportful laugh, whether or not his feline eyes glitter in the twilight.

   Passing Bull 157 – TV or not TV

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloopers

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

The Australian, 14 July 2018, Greg Sheridan.

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

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