Passing Bull 344 – George and Jacinda

You might find it hard to imagine that some members of the press see themselves as victims of some form of injustice or oppression, but some do. 

There are people who not only believe that George Pell was unfairly treated, but that they have been as well – and just because of their subscription to one religious denomination.  They go further.  They see George Pell as a victim – and somehow or other they share the pain.

This is curious, as it is a perfect example of conduct that their colleagues make a habit, if not a living, out of denouncing.  It’ s called ‘identity politics’. 

I have often wondered what’s wrong with people who have a common interest – such as farmers, plumbers, country women, or coal miners – coming together to advance their interests.  But some in the press see something sinister in this – even though that’s what they get together for every day.

It is curious for another reason.  George Pell and the church he stood for are criticised – that is the soft word – for regarding the church as more important than the victims of its abusive priests.  Whose conduct George Pell chose to overlook.  In the interests of the church. 

But that is precisely the attitude that the vocal defenders of George Pell evidence nearly every time they open their mouths.  People come and go, but the rock of the church abideth forever.

This is not just sad.  It is disgraceful.  Many, many lives were ruined.  Far too many were lost.  People killed themselves.   Because George Pell thought that it was in the interests of the church that he look the other way. 

And now others of that ilk say the same.  With a kind of smarmy contentment, as if they have been vindicated.  And not one word for the families of those who killed themselves, or the many who were defrauded of their compensation by George Pell, and the crafty lawyers who have since retired from the scene.

The mockers of Jacinda Ardern may not quite see themselves as victims, but they have something in common with the supporters of George Pell.   They are aging white males who have not achieved much in life.  Their role is limited to commenting on others.  And when someone succeeds, as this woman did, they show an ugly jealous bile.

Meanwhile, their dark, brooding employer sits out of the light in America, and collects buckets of dollars – and wives.

Pell – Ardern – hypocrisy – lawyers – jealousy.

Passing Bull 343 -Lachlan Murdoch

This letter was not fit for the press.

Your piece (‘Inside Crikey’s plan to monetise the Murdoch defamation claim’) shows that the inanity of hearing libel actions in the Federal Court has reached new heights.

Your report says that Murdoch fils alleges that the publisher ‘created a scheme to improperly use the complaint by Murdoch about the article for commercial gain.’  Thirty times.  In sixty pages.

Did they split the infinitive every time? 

Are they serious?  The Murdoch family is filthy rich because its members have acted improperly for commercial gain.  (But the judge might ask what ‘improperly’ means.)

I have only been at it for fifty odd years, but any claim for libel that exceeds three pages shrieks that it’s bullshit.

And my taxes are being spent on relieving a spoiled child from a mild allergy.  So, the court ushers may hand out smiley koala stamps to any bystander who can keep a straight face.  While the rest of us wait glumly for the next version of War and Peace.

AFR – Murdoch – Federal Court – Libel.

Dom Perrottet….

….is the Premier of New South Wales.  No small matter, or easy job.  He succeeded Gladys Berejiklian, whom I admired.  She went out in a way that was sad – even by our suburban standards. 

Dom lacked charm.  He looked more like a Baptist than a Mick, but then I decided to send those prejudices back to the 50’s.  My daughters wouldn’t know the difference between a Mick or a Prot, and could not care less.  That’s as it should be.  There are few relics of that old hate left – although they’re up and about just now.

And then Dom started doing things that made sense.  And then a guy who knows all about this, Paul Keating, said Dom was OK and was actually doing something. 

He and Andrews form a coalition.  I am probably less worried about the former than the latter.  (If anyone can spot a policy difference between the two, you get a smiley koala stamp and a box of Jaffas to roll down the aisle at the flicks.)

Now it appears that Dom put on a Nazi uniform when he was 21.

That was bloody silly.  It’s what we call a faux pas.

But you don’t get sacked for a faux pas. 

Life would not be worth living if you did.  You might as well hand yourself over to the Moral Police of the Persians.

Just look at that bloody idiot in the royal family who gets bathed in lucre for washing his family’s dirty linen in public.

But people are writing to the press screaming for Dom’s blood. 

What mistakes didn’t they make at that age?  What is it about our psyche that makes our minds so small and our hearts so hard that we move to strike as soon as someone better than us stumbles?

Well, one thing we do know.  These stone-throwers do not subscribe to the teaching of the son of a carpenter, who consorted with the fallen and the rejects among us.  Rather, they adhere to that school of political divinity that says as soon as you can see money, politics, or blood on the table, the Sermon on the Mount goes clean out the window.

Has the person been born who believes that by that silly act, Dom Perrottet, the good Catholic family man that he is, endorsed Adolf Hitler?

It is very sad.  Boys mature later than girls.  We all did silly things at that age – shocking even. 

I managed to spend a night in the slammer at Prahran for being D and D (drunk and disorderly) after giving the wallopers some cheek after some boozy university function. 

It was OK.  Mac and Norma were away, and the dog didn’t tell tales.  The sergeant on the desk at dawn said the ten bob I had would go the bail, and I assumed that went into his pocket.  Until some years later, when I had to disclose any priors to the Supreme Court on admission.  I got Robert Heathcote of ABL to phone the court.  He nearly wet himself laughing.  Convicted and fined one pound.  I still owe His Majesty ten bob. 

So, I disclosed that to the court, and that was that.

(I was lucky.  That station had a very bad name then.  Especially if the window you accidentally fell from was the one above the fire hydrant.)

Are the vigilantes so clean that they are merely pains in the arse?

And now, some real rats are coming out. 

According to the internet, Jim Chalmers went to Catholic schools before university, at one of which he wrote a thesis ‘Brawler Statesman: Paul Keating…’ 

Will Jim give it to Dom down the front, as was the wont of the subject of his thesis (the man who endorsed Dom)?  Not on your bloody Nelly, Mate.  Jim holds his nose, and slips the stiletto in right in the middle of Dom’s back.

For all of the rest of us who want our communities to be more tolerant and more inclusive … I think this will be a factor that people will weigh up … in March.

That’s really gutless on a few different counts.  I can just about hear my late friend Jack Hedigan, QC, as real and fruity a Mick silk as I have known, asseverating from between grinding pursed lips, with a little bubble on one corner – ‘Just look at yourself ….!  Willing to wound, but afraid to strike….!’

Mr Chalmers is not just any Minister of the Crown.  He is the Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia.  He must be a man of impeccable integrity and clear of the dirt that besmirches what passes for politics here.  Caesar’s wife country.  And he just falls flat on his face in the gutter in what the NRL and he know as a cheap shot.  And what the AFL calls a coat-hanger.  From behind.

He should be ashamed of himself.

But these things don’t change.  Our greatest poet wrote of kings deposed.  One king might fairly be said to have asked for it, but the usurper was shiftiness personified.

Though some of you, with Pilate, wash your hands,
Showing an outward pity, yet you Pilates
Have here delivered me to my sour cross,
And water cannot wash away your sin.

That brings us to the real story.  Judas. 

Someone in the party ratted on the leader.  This was not some casual faux pas.  This was a deliberate and malicious kick to the head given for private political gain on someone who was down.  There you have a true ratbag at work.

And it brings me to my favourite anecdote from our politics.  Billy Hughes was a street fighter.  But face to face.  He handed it out in spades to that nice, decent man from Melbourne Grammar, Alfred Deakin. ‘Then I heard the word Judas.  That wasn’t fair.  It wasn’t fair to Judas!’ 

The speaker then reminded the House that Judas handed the money back – or threw it away – and then he at least had the courtesy to hang himself.

Politics – ALP – Liberal Party – Chalmers – Prince Harry.

George Pell

George Pell was human.  He committed two great wrongs.  He put the interests of himself and his church over the interests of children.  In the result, priests attacked and injured children in their care.  Theirs was the ultimate breach of trust.  They betrayed God, their church, and Pell.  But their worst crime was the betrayal of children.  Many victims saw their lives ruined.  And most of that ruin could have been avoided had Pell not betrayed the children too.

Then Pell joined with others to design and implement a scheme to deny proper compensation to the victims by putting the church beyond the reach of the due process of law.  This despicable abuse of power and wealth took us back to the time when Beckett told Henry II that the king had no power over the priests of the church.  For this arrogance, Thomas was murdered by friends of the king, and was made a saint in record time by organs of the Vatican.  And the English concluded that they must forever preclude agents of a church from interfering with their governance.  Which they proceeded to do in what is referred to as the Reformation.  (You may recall that Tony Abbott said it was a pity that Islam had not had one.)

We now have a better understanding of the misery wrought on children in the church and their families by these dreadful breaches of trust.  As it happens, all that Pell did to protect the church has come back to damn it.  That church now stands stained and disgraced.  In England now, more people attend mosques than Anglican churches, and that looks to happen here too with this church.

And yet when Pell died, some said that he was a good man, and a victim.  Go tell that to those who were buggered because Pell chose to look the other way.

The moral vacuum and blindness induced in the faithful by their embrace of the supernatural defies belief.  We are used to the lunacy of Abbott when it comes to faith. 

But Peter Dutton’s mind appears to be even more warped.  He chose the death of a prelate as the occasion to make a political statement.  He said that what happened to Pell in one of the cascades of legal cases brought on by the evil within the church suggested that Pell was persecuted by a state Labor government.  I will not insult your intelligence by dealing with what I regard as the most banal political statement I have ever seen.  It does suggest that Dutton is unfit for any office of trust.

But why concentrate on just one case when it is beyond doubt that Pell was responsible for so many others – and then defrauding the victims? 

And I am yet to hear the word ‘sorry’ for the fraud.  And I won’t.  Those withered male prelates in Rome are far too proud for that.

As to that one case, its justification is plain from the reaction of two juries and two justices on appeal.  Most people will be able to live with the fact that the High Court came to a different view, but I would be more comfortable with it if I thought that court had given more weight to two notions about our process in courts.  You must hear both sides – and I stress ‘hear’; and the most important person in the courtroom is the loser.  

The justices declined to hear the evidence of the victim.  They were not there, they said, to duplicate the function of the jury.  That may be so, but what about the rights, interests and expectations of the parties?

 How does the victim feel?  Those who heard him believed him.  Those who did not hear him said the jury was wrong and then put the victim down. 

This doesn’t sound right.  And that was certainly not the best way to dispose of a red-hot burning issue that continues to agitate the Queen’s peace in Australia.  Their Honours look to have been both cold and cavalier. 

And the deployment of the epithet ‘specious’ does nothing to dispel the aura of aloofness.  It is one thing to lose a case.  It is another to hear your argument dismissed as ‘plausible, apparently sound or convincing, but in reality, sophistical of fallacious.’ 

And you cop ‘sophistical’ when your enemy is a prince of the church built on the teaching of Augustine and Aquinas.  A cardinal of the Church of Rome who was kept out of the witness box by the best lawyers that money can buy.  After you got the third degree in court from them for hours and days.  To give evidence that those who decided to release the cardinal disdained to hear. 

You were not broken.  He was not even tested.

No, your Honours – there are times in the law when mere logic is not enough.  What did that man do to cop all this – for nothing – but more pain, and the endless hurt of injustice?

But that one case, sensational as it was, is a distraction from the much wider wrongs of which Pell was guilty beyond doubt.  That some of the faithful now look on Pell as some kind of victim, or even a winner, shows that the power of religious faith and dogma to warp minds has not changed since the fall and rise of a saint in the Middle Ages. 

Nor has our need to ensure that it does not pollute our governance.

Child abuse – Roman Catholic Church – High Court – due process.

A fairy tale? Josh Brown

After listening to Richard II last night, I turned the cricket on in a desultory fashion.  A big strong man sent the next ball clean into the top tier.  And he kept going.  It looked so easy, so natural.  Very experienced commentators were in awe.  A press clipping about him follows.

Josh Brown looks like he might be a member of the O’Toole family, a wood-chopper from the bush.  In a shy, matter of fact way, Josh told the Fox pony-tailed boundary rider that about five years ago, someone thought he may be able to play cricket.  And so, he tried – while making bats in his day job.  (Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs in The Natural.

Josh made that score against a very strong bowling side – who looked spooked – and created that sense of inevitability as if he was living in his own time.  I can’t recall anything like it.

Josh said he was keen to learn from the champions, but that he had two things in mind when batting.  You treat every ball on its merits.  And you make sure you are quite still when you hit it.  And then, as they say in the movie, ‘It’s good bye Mr Spalding.’

We have learned not to put the curse on possible new stars.

Here’s hoping – and may God protect him.  We could all do with a lift.

And one type of bat will sell out very early today.  At a mere $700 – peanuts for stardust.

Bat maker Brown blasts Heat to BBL win

Josh Brown makes his own Cooper Bison bats and showed he can wield them too as he lit up the Gabba with a whirlwind half-century to inspire the Brisbane Heat’s 15-run win over the Sydney Sixers.

The 29-year-old Brown earlier produced his whirlwind innings to score 62 off just 23 balls in the Heat’s 5-224.

The Sixers made a gallant response in their pursuit of a BBL record run chase, but fell short to be all out from the final delivery for 209.

The Heat needed something special to get their season moving and Brown provided it in front of 23,689 fans while using a bat he made himself.

He brought up his fifty in just 19 deliveries, the equal fifth fastest in Heat history in just his second BBL game.

Brown cleared the boundary six times with an assortment of scintillating strokes.

The Heat opener works with Cooper Cricket founder Rod Grey. He has crafted hundreds of Cooper bats himself, and repaired thousands for his cricket mates.

“I made my own bat, the Cooper Bison…it absolutely cannons off. It is one of the new ones I made myself and I fell in love with it,” Brown told AAP after his innings.

“All my mates call me ‘Bison’.”

Brown said “it wasn’t until I was 24 that I started to take it seriously and then I went from third grade to Queensland Second XI in the space of 18 months”.

Twenty20 franchises around the world will no doubt be making further enquiries about him.

Brown told AAP he would “love to” take his T20 game to the world and added that his philosophy while batting was “play with no fear”.

A fairy tale?  Josh Brown

After listening to Richard II last night, I turned the cricket on in a desultory fashion.  A big strong man sent the next ball clean into the top tier.  And he kept going.  It looked so easy, so natural.  Very experienced commentators were in awe.  A press clipping about him follows.

Josh Brown looks like he might be a member of the O’Toole family, a wood-chopper from the bush.  In a shy, matter of fact way, Josh told the Fox pony-tailed boundary rider that about five years ago, someone thought he may be able to play cricket.  And so, he tried – while making bats in his day job.  (Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs in The Natural.

Josh made that score against a very strong bowling side – who looked spooked – and created that sense of inevitability as if he was living in his own time.  I can’t recall anything like it.

Josh said he was keen to learn from the champions, but that he had two things in mind when batting.  You treat every ball on its merits.  And you make sure you are quite still when you hit it.  And then, as they say in the movie, ‘It’s good bye Mr Spalding.’

We have learned not to put the curse on possible new stars.

Here’s hoping – and may God protect him.  We could all do with a lift.

And one type of bat will sell out very early today.  At a mere $700 – peanuts for stardust.

Bat maker Brown blasts Heat to BBL win

Josh Brown makes his own Cooper Bison bats and showed he can wield them too as he lit up the Gabba with a whirlwind half-century to inspire the Brisbane Heat’s 15-run win over the Sydney Sixers.

The 29-year-old Brown earlier produced his whirlwind innings to score 62 off just 23 balls in the Heat’s 5-224.

The Sixers made a gallant response in their pursuit of a BBL record run chase, but fell short to be all out from the final delivery for 209.

The Heat needed something special to get their season moving and Brown provided it in front of 23,689 fans while using a bat he made himself.

He brought up his fifty in just 19 deliveries, the equal fifth fastest in Heat history in just his second BBL game.

Brown cleared the boundary six times with an assortment of scintillating strokes.

The Heat opener works with Cooper Cricket founder Rod Grey. He has crafted hundreds of Cooper bats himself, and repaired thousands for his cricket mates.

“I made my own bat, the Cooper Bison…it absolutely cannons off. It is one of the new ones I made myself and I fell in love with it,” Brown told AAP after his innings.

“All my mates call me ‘Bison’.”

Brown said “it wasn’t until I was 24 that I started to take it seriously and then I went from third grade to Queensland Second XI in the space of 18 months”.

Twenty20 franchises around the world will no doubt be making further enquiries about him.

Brown told AAP he would “love to” take his T20 game to the world and added that his philosophy while batting was “play with no fear”.

After listening to Richard II last night, I turned the cricket on in a desultory fashion.  A big strong man sent the next ball clean into the top tier.  And he kept going.  It looked so easy, so natural.  Very experienced commentators were in awe.  A press clipping about him follows.

Josh Brown looks like he might be a member of the O’Toole family, a wood-chopper from the bush.  In a shy, matter of fact way, Josh told the Fox pony-tailed boundary rider that about five years ago, someone thought he may be able to play cricket.  And so, he tried – while making bats in his day job.  (Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs in The Natural.

Josh made that score against a very strong bowling side – who looked spooked – and created that sense of inevitability as if he was living in his own time.  I can’t recall anything like it.

Josh said he was keen to learn from the champions, but that he had two things in mind when batting.  You treat every ball on its merits.  And you make sure you are quite still when you hit it.  And then, as they say in the movie, ‘It’s good bye Mr Spalding.’

We have learned not to put the curse on possible new stars.

Here’s hoping – and may God protect him.  We could all do with a lift.

And one type of bat will sell out very early today.  At a mere $700 – peanuts for stardust.

Bat maker Brown blasts Heat to BBL win

Josh Brown makes his own Cooper Bison bats and showed he can wield them too as he lit up the Gabba with a whirlwind half-century to inspire the Brisbane Heat’s 15-run win over the Sydney Sixers.

The 29-year-old Brown earlier produced his whirlwind innings to score 62 off just 23 balls in the Heat’s 5-224.

The Sixers made a gallant response in their pursuit of a BBL record run chase, but fell short to be all out from the final delivery for 209.

The Heat needed something special to get their season moving and Brown provided it in front of 23,689 fans while using a bat he made himself.

He brought up his fifty in just 19 deliveries, the equal fifth fastest in Heat history in just his second BBL game.

Brown cleared the boundary six times with an assortment of scintillating strokes.

The Heat opener works with Cooper Cricket founder Rod Grey. He has crafted hundreds of Cooper bats himself, and repaired thousands for his cricket mates.

“I made my own bat, the Cooper Bison…it absolutely cannons off. It is one of the new ones I made myself and I fell in love with it,” Brown told AAP after his innings.

“All my mates call me ‘Bison’.”

Brown said “it wasn’t until I was 24 that I started to take it seriously and then I went from third grade to Queensland Second XI in the space of 18 months”.

Twenty20 franchises around the world will no doubt be making further enquiries about him.

Brown told AAP he would “love to” take his T20 game to the world and added that his philosophy while batting was “play with no fear”.

Cricket – Twenty/20 – Josh Brown.

David Warner

About fifteen years ago, I went to the Antarctic.  I met a bloke from Sydney who was one of the most decent guys and the best all-round sportsmen I have met.  About ten years ago, we both said – with the confidence of age and an assumed respectability – that David Warner might be good at the funny stuff, but that he would not make it in test cricket.  That was a judgment of character as much as technique.

We were both dead wrong.  Warner is as good an opening test batsman as this country has produced.  It is not so much the average.  It is the force he applies to the other side.  As I follow it, he has the best strike rate of any of our major batsmen ever – including you know who. 

People overlook just how important that is in getting ahead of the other side – and bringing confidence to your own side – in test cricket.  And Warner has done this against bowling that can kill you.  If you think that’s over the top, I can direct you to a family in New South Wales who can correct you.

That sort of confidence and strength in a sporting team can lead to arrogance – and it too often has with us.  But in a national side that is well run – like the All Blacks – that problem can be dealt with. 

Warner is by nature and background a fierce fighter and competitor.  That’s what I expect from someone wearing my colours – not least in a part of life the principal object of which is to enable us to beat the English.

About four years ago, Warner and others were involved in a scandal in South Africa involving tampering with the ball.  If you do things to a cricket ball, you can make it swing more.  You are allowed to polish the ball just with your clothing.  But doing the reverse, to get reverse swing, is a breach of the rules.  The penalty for such a breach of the rules is five runs to the batting side.

I stopped playing cricket fifty years ago.  Everyone tampered with the ball in one way or another, and they still do.  But in an international match before so many TV cameras, you may get caught.

Australians got caught in South Africa.  It was blatant, childish and foolish – and therefore very embarrassing to management and the nation.  Scalps had to be taken and big prices paid – although the lapse in tone of the national side had been obvious, and management had been silent. 

The then captain was sacked, and suspensions were handed out – and Warner got a life ban on being appointed captain.

That decision was in my view unduly harsh at the time, not least because an underlying fault had been with management in allowing the standards of our team to go down. 

But the players took their hit and did their time, and this may be one of the few occasions in our jurisprudence where deterrence looks to have worked.  None of the players is any kind risk for the future, and the captain is free to captain again.

No one has explained to me the medieval metaphysics which produces the result that we can trust Warner to represent Australia by wearing its colours in the national team – but not to be its captain.  If that result is said to be a necessary part of the punishment of David Warner, then in my view it has no decent basis.

Punishment is left to God and the judges.  We are speaking of disciplinary proceedings which are there to protect the game and the interests of the public in following it.  It’s like conduct unbecoming, or contrary to the interests of the regiment.  The players will have clauses to that effect in their contracts.  But no one has power to inflict loss or damage on a person to vindicate some notion of moral duty or national honour.

History tells us that there is a useful rule of thumb in disputes in Australian sport.  If it is a fight between the players and management, it is usually management that is in the wrong. 

As it happens, the pursuit of Warner reached a new low at the same time that the press reported that the eminence grise of Australian cricket had been wont to advise his Prime Minister on how to deal with ‘socialism’.  Sir Donald’s political aversions may have come from the amount of money he made from the game – to the disgust of then and later players – but that ideology about government control did not stop Sir Donald from heading a hierarchy so outmoded that it treated players like medieval serfs so badly that they rejected and abandoned the whole cricket establishment and sold themselves to the most unattractive capitalist that the nation had seen. 

There was a perfect snapshot of our sports administrators at work.

And so it was again here.  When Warner asked management to lift the life ban on captaincy – a decision which would pose zero threat to anyone – management outsourced the decision.  That’s to say, they delegated their duty.  To a horde of consultants.  And a group of outsiders came up with the amazing and ghoulish suggestion that the issue should be determined in public hearings.  Did they see themselves in the outfits of Dominican Friars with their targets under pointed dunces’ hats – and a TV shot of fire at the stake in the background?

Some letters to the press dripped with venom toward Warner.  It is that dreadful mean streak we have had since the convicts hit the ground here and then the English unloaded their sluts.  Mediocre Australians get uneasy and unpleasant when confronted with excellence. 

I doubt whether any of these gnats training at a camel have played cricket at any level, or have faced any of the stress they have helped to pile on David Warner.  They are like bleak crows on a barbed wire fencing croaking loudly at what they could never have. 

They are fond of using the word ‘cheat’.  Its primary meaning is ‘swindle’.  (That’s the business of the major sponsor of professional sport.)  Its other meaning is to seek to obtain an advantage by doing something against the rules or that is unfair. 

Almost everyone involved in any professional sport is engaged in seeing just how far they can go to get an advantage without attracting a penalty for breaching the rules.  Its rather like business avoiding paying tax – without being sent to jail. 

F1 is game of cat and mouse between engineers and rule makers.  In golf, the players behave impeccably.  Hardly any tennis player would last a day on a golf course.  But the flirting with the rules comes with the design and manufacture of the equipment – to the extent that amateur old-timers like me regard those like Bryson DeChambeau with revulsion, and we long for the days of Peter Thompson.

If you asked me for the three rankest acts ever on the cricket ground, I would probably start with Bodyline, underarm bowling, and Mankad.  Each of those was within the rules – and that’s precisely what made each so bad for the game. 

And each was in my view far worse than anything Warner did.  His conduct was a breach of the rules, but he got whacked because he was a bloody idiot who got caught and made us and his national management look like bloody idiots.

Those who still pursue David Warner for more blood should be deeply ashamed of themselves.  Whatever other charge can be levelled at these malcontents, they could not be accused of following the faith of the son of a carpenter who passed that testing remark about the first stone.

Well, Warner has now given his complete answer where it counts, and in a way that is beyond the understanding of his vigilantes in posse.

So – I will leave the final say to his Mum, Lorraine.

He told me when he was 14 that one day he will play for Australia and buy us a unit, to get us out of the Housing Commission.  And he did.

Mac and Norma would not have said truly that I got them out of our former housing commission house – which cost them I think £440 – but I have no doubt that they would stand by every word here said.  I so well recall their views on the Panama Hat Brigade, and I thank God that Mac did not live to see Kevin Gosper desecrate posterity and present the gold medal to Kathy Freeman.

Cricket Australia – ball tampering – sports administrators – pure bullshit.

Two nights before Christmas

A low centre of gravity helps in footy, cricket and golf.  Neil Crompton had it.  He played footy for Melbourne and cricket for Victoria – and he was a very good golfer.  His whole life changed in one moment at the 1964 VFL Grand Final.  Collingwood had just edged ahead of Melbourne in an arena that bordered on madness – before the disbelieving eyes of me and my mum, who were in line with both Gabelich goals.  The Frog, as he was called, played in the back pocket and followed his rover into our forward line.  And kicked the goal that won the match. 

After that, the Frog could not go anywhere without being told or asked about that goal.  Even across the Strand in London.  Even by supporters of the Pies.  It was in its own way unsettling and belittling. 

You can see it on YouTube, a slice of history – and the presentation of the cup to Ron Barassi – with Ray Gabelich beside him.  A different era. 

So, what did Melbourne do?  They fired their best coach ever and entered a new dark age.

The composer Mascagni would have known all about how the Frog felt.  His opera Cavalleria Rusticana smashed box office records.  It is quintessentially Italian – more so than me with roof back on the red Alfa and a Zegna scarf.  But Mascagni never even came close later.  It’s all you hear of him now. 

Well, he was better off than Catalani.  He wrote the aria Ebben ne andro lontana.  It is my favourite song, and made famous by the great French movie, Diva.  I may be the only person in Melbourne to have a full recording of the full opera, La Wally.

They are getting the Twenty/20 cricket game right.  They are learning the tactics and the strategy.  It is now a very respectable form of entertainment.  Greg Chappell said that the century by Kohli against Pakistan in the World Cup made the game respectable.  The solution is I think to drop one-day 50 over games and focus on test cricket and the very short game. 

And the new mode of cricket is affecting test cricket – for the better.  The English have discovered that you can play better cricket if you enjoy yourself.

The TV coverage by people like Isa Guha, Kerry O’Keefe and Ian Smith is unusual – it is very good.  (Some former players are not so good.) 

One game yesterday looked like it was at Ballarat.  It was not.  It was at the Junction Oval.  A mate and I were taken there for a session in the nets in about 1958 by Jack Hill, who had played for Australia.  The big boys – the adults from the District cricket side that what would become the home of Shane Warne – were practising in the main nets.  The speed was horrific that close up.  So was the fizzing noise of the ball at your eye and ear line.  Ruggles and I were terrified.  Fortunately, we got let off with the younger ones and also-rans. 

Ruggles could bat; I could not.  (Ruggles died more than ten years ago.  My mate the Smiler was dying in a hospice when he got the news.  I can remember a big nurse getting on the bed to nurse the Smiler physically as he cried pathetically.  We Anglo-Saxon boys are not good at that sort of thing.)

The evening game last night was in Brisbane where the home side would end a losing run of eight straight.  As is not uncommon, the match was not decided until the last over.  One highlight was Rashid Kahn, a gift from God to Box Office, a striking Afghan man with a beard who is probably the best spin bowler in the world.

After the first ten overs, I adjourned for dinner with my Jim Barry Nurse Series Coonawarra Cabernet sold with the McGrath Foundation.  I put on the Mascagni, a new version of which I had played the night before.  (It only runs just over an hour.)  I had forgotten how sumptuously orchestral the music was – even on a $60 boombox while the Marantz is in for service. 

It was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing in a concert version at home – where I have heard that band.  The sound is gorgeous.  The orchestra is silky and the soloists are flawless.  Muti does not take it at the same tempo he uses for Verdi. 

It occurred to me that the tempo for the theatre may not be the one you want at home – with no stage, and just the sound – just the music.  One journal referred to an intoxicatingly exquisite version by Karajan.  I can imagine it, but that kind of thing raises the aura of the cult of the conductor.  And that is annoying.  Sporting teams have to combine well to produce a good result, but you don’t see the program notes ascribing that consequence to the coach.

Either way, the cricket and the music were a relief from aspects of the news.  Like the cold in the US and UK, and the strife in the latter. 

It all seems so obvious.  Governments have to keep the peace, defend the nation, and provide the welfare that the people reasonably expect – and to raise money for that purpose.  Our governments are not doing that – because they are scared and because as a result they can’t think beyond the next election.  One European politician got it did right – ‘We all know what we have to do – but we all want to be re-elected.’

Well, some big sixes were hit in the second match.  Bat on ball produces a gorgeous click on a big one, and the crowd erupts in awe.  The accident-prone lead in the opera could have described the sixes as generoso, the word he used to describe the wine he had before being topped for topping.  I had grown up listening to Jussi Björling sing that aria, especially after the Demons lost, and I nearly laughed out loud the first time I heard it sung in situ.  You could do with a stiff drink, Comrade, because you’ve been caught with her pants down – and in these parts, that means good night, sweet prince – and bugger the flights of angels.

Whether you prefer the stage to the sporting arena is, I suppose, not so much a matter of taste as upbringing –like religion.  But last night, I got something from both.  And the Jim Barry.

Even if my heart rests with the Frog.

Well, it was all a relief from the impact of canon law on Roman law jurisdictions in medieval Europe circa 1300 AD – which I had been reading and which I am driven to conclude was gibberish.

But the thing I enjoyed most last night was the sight of young kids having the time of their lives at the cricket so close to Christmas.  Particularly at the Junction Oval where Ruggles and I nearly wet ourselves.  That’s a good sign of old age, because it’s their turn next.

Happy Christmas – and all the best for the new year.

How do you like to take your fascism?

Until recently, I thought I overused the word fascist.  Now I wonder.  Years ago – more than ten years – I offered the following.

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 axes 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 la bit much for Plato, it looks fair for Sparta.

I am reading about what is now called the ‘far right’.  That is tricky, because I have trouble understanding what the ‘right’ is.  But it is clear that those who call themselves ‘conservative’ here and the U S, but not England, tend to have very different views about the environment than others do.  And the difference grows as you go the edge.  Most clearly in the US, but also in places like Hungary and Poland, those with views we would regard as extremely illiberal look to have views about climate that are unreasonable – just as ‘fascists’ felt the need to have their own demons to go after. 

A lot of the connections are very worrying – if not terrifying.  Especially with the rise of conspiracy theories that surge incessantly in people who feel naked without a mobile phone in hand.  We have just seen, it seems, an appalling instance of the lethal capacity of conspiracy theories in Queensland.  Those who have lost out in the race of life succumb to the bad dreams of conspiracy theorists and form cadres of the fallen that offer asylum to the politically homeless.

A recurring issue is a fear of a loss of standing of or among the people at large.  At its worst, this is a fear of dilution of the blood of the people – and a contempt for those of different blood.  Many Americans were unsettled to see a black man in the White House.  Boris Johnson said: ‘The real problem with the Islamic world is Islam’ and that ‘The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.’  That’s from a man who would become Prime Minister of a country that was troubled about maintaining a statue for Cecil Rhodes.  Jair Bolsonaro said that ‘Minorities have to bend down to the majority’ and their choice was to ‘either adapt or simply vanish.’

What we see now so often is a reflection of former kinds of fascism – people who have a dream about the past and a nightmare about the future.  They posit a past grandeur being reborn to return the nation to its exalted and exclusive position.  That they are false about the past is palpable.  The falsity of their future is inevitable.

Historians now see three phases in the violent edge on the right. 

First, there has to be a crisis.  My understanding is that historians say that the probabilities are that Hitler would not have come to power but for the Crash and the Depression.  The same goes for Mussolini and the Great War.

Secondly, the dominant class must be willing to allow the fascists to deal with the crisis.  That was clearly so with Mussolini, Hitler and Franco (and in different caricature, with Lenin in 1917).  You can call it doing a deal with the devil – on the false understanding that you will be able to undo it.   And just wash your hands.  Like Pontius Pilate.

Thirdly, there follows an exceptional regime of systematic violence against those identified as enemies of the nation.

Do we see an echo of these phases in the recent history of the U S.

Now, there is plainly room for going overboard here – on both sides (if that phrase is still permitted).  It is a little early to talk of a need for Lebensraum, or to resort to hate speech like – ‘No green politics will ever be as exciting as red blood on black earth’. 

But Timothy Snyder of Yale University has high credentials on murderous regimes, and he, I now read, concluded a chapter on Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by saying that global warming is the sort of crisis for which fascism waits in the wings.  ‘When an apocalypse is on the horizon, demagogues of blood and soil come to the fore.’

Until a few years ago, I would have thought all this was over the top or plain silly.  Since then, I have seen what used to be called the better people in the U S encourage an unhinged crook to turn the nation upside down, then submit to him, and then just look the other way while the brownshirts that he incited sought to take power in the State by force with better prospects of success than Hitler’s beer hall putsch a century earlier.

It may help to put into perspective what I see as a real and present danger some remarks I had made previously about fascism in the last century.

What might be described as the failure of the better people of Italy has been described by a biographer of Mussolini in terms that could be transposed word for word to the Germans and Hitler.

Mussolini still needed their [the moderates’] help, for most of the liberal parliamentarians would look to them for a lead.  He also took careful note that chaos had been caused in Russia when representatives of the old order were defenestrated en masse during the revolution: fascism could hardly have survived if the police, the magistrates, the army leaders and the civil service had not continued to work just as before, and the complicity of these older politicians was eagerly sought and helped to preserve the important illusion that nothing had changed.

The liberals failed to use the leverage afforded by his need for their approbation.  Most of them saw some good in fascism as a way of defending social order and thought Italians too intelligent and civilised to permit the establishment of a complete dictatorship.  Above all, there was the very persuasive argument that the only alternative was to return to the anarchy and parliamentary stalemate they remembered…. Mussolini had convincingly proved that he was the most effective politician of them all: he alone could have asked parliament for full powers and been given what he asked; he alone provided a defence against, and an alternative to, socialism.  And of course, the old parliamentarians still hoped to capture and absorb him into their own system in the long run; their optimism was encouraged by the fact that his fascist collaborators were so second-rate. 

Does that not seem to be word for word a correct rendition of how so many decent Germans probably reacted to Hitler?  Still today you will find Christian apologists for Franco, and not just in Spain, who say that his fascism was preferable to republican socialism.  Mussolini had the other advantage that for reasons we now regard as obvious, no one outside Italy could take Mussolini seriously.  As his biographer reminds us, Mussolini was, rather like Berlusconi, seen as an ‘absurd little man’, a ‘second-rate cinema actor and someone who could not continue in power for long’, a ‘César de carnaval’, a ‘braggart and an actor’, and possibly ‘slightly off his head.’  Churchill always took Hitler seriously; he could never do that with that Italian buffoon.  The Führer would betray his nation and kill himself and his mistress; the Italians would revolt from and then murder their Duce and his mistress, and hang them upside down in public.  (The Italians have never had any idea of political stability or succession.)

So, you can get no comfort from the fact that the newly ensainted leader may be a stunted runt, a preposterous oaf, or a vapid Catholic zealot who coolly dispenses death sentences over coffee and his rosary – or a stupid spoiled brat who dodged the draft and evaded paying tax, who could not put a sentence together, and who then resorted to selling tradeable picture cards showing himself as Superman. 

How do you like to take your fascism?

Until recently, I thought I overused the word fascist.  Now I wonder.  Years ago – more than ten years – I offered the following.

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 axes 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 la bit much for Plato, it looks fair for Sparta.

I am reading about what is now called the ‘far right’.  That is tricky, because I have trouble understanding what the ‘right’ is.  But it is clear that those who call themselves ‘conservative’ here and the U S, but not England, tend to have very different views about the environment than others do.  And the difference grows as you go the edge.  Most clearly in the US, but also in places like Hungary and Poland, those with views we would regard as extremely illiberal look to have views about climate that are unreasonable – just as ‘fascists’ felt the need to have their own demons to go after. 

A lot of the connections are very worrying – if not terrifying.  Especially with the rise of conspiracy theories that surge incessantly in people who feel naked without a mobile phone in hand.  We have just seen, it seems, an appalling instance of the lethal capacity of conspiracy theories in Queensland.  Those who have lost out in the race of life succumb to the bad dreams of conspiracy theorists and form cadres of the fallen that offer asylum to the politically homeless.

A recurring issue is a fear of a loss of standing of or among the people at large.  At its worst, this is a fear of dilution of the blood of the people – and a contempt for those of different blood.  Many Americans were unsettled to see a black man in the White House.  Boris Johnson said: ‘The real problem with the Islamic world is Islam’ and that ‘The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.’  That’s from a man who would become Prime Minister of a country that was troubled about maintaining a statue for Cecil Rhodes.  Jair Bolsonaro said that ‘Minorities have to bend down to the majority’ and their choice was to ‘either adapt or simply vanish.’

What we see now so often is a reflection of former kinds of fascism – people who have a dream about the past and a nightmare about the future.  They posit a past grandeur being reborn to return the nation to its exalted and exclusive position.  That they are false about the past is palpable.  The falsity of their future is inevitable.

Historians now see three phases in the violent edge on the right. 

First, there has to be a crisis.  My understanding is that historians say that the probabilities are that Hitler would not have come to power but for the Crash and the Depression.  The same goes for Mussolini and the Great War.

Secondly, the dominant class must be willing to allow the fascists to deal with the crisis.  That was clearly so with Mussolini, Hitler and Franco (and in different caricature, with Lenin in 1917).  You can call it doing a deal with the devil – on the false understanding that you will be able to undo it.   And just wash your hands.  Like Pontius Pilate.

Thirdly, there follows an exceptional regime of systematic violence against those identified as enemies of the nation.

Do we see an echo of these phases in the recent history of the U S.

Now, there is plainly room for going overboard here – on both sides (if that phrase is still permitted).  It is a little early to talk of a need for Lebensraum, or to resort to hate speech like – ‘No green politics will ever be as exciting as red blood on black earth’. 

But Timothy Snyder of Yale University has high credentials on murderous regimes, and he, I now read, concluded a chapter on Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by saying that global warming is the sort of crisis for which fascism waits in the wings.  ‘When an apocalypse is on the horizon, demagogues of blood and soil come to the fore.’

Until a few years ago, I would have thought all this was over the top or plain silly.  Since then, I have seen what used to be called the better people in the U S encourage an unhinged crook to turn the nation upside down, then submit to him, and then just look the other way while the brownshirts that he incited sought to take power in the State by force with better prospects of success than Hitler’s beer hall putsch a century earlier.

It may help to put into perspective what I see as a real and present danger some remarks I had made previously about fascism in the last century.

What might be described as the failure of the better people of Italy has been described by a biographer of Mussolini in terms that could be transposed word for word to the Germans and Hitler.

Mussolini still needed their [the moderates’] help, for most of the liberal parliamentarians would look to them for a lead.  He also took careful note that chaos had been caused in Russia when representatives of the old order were defenestrated en masse during the revolution: fascism could hardly have survived if the police, the magistrates, the army leaders and the civil service had not continued to work just as before, and the complicity of these older politicians was eagerly sought and helped to preserve the important illusion that nothing had changed.

The liberals failed to use the leverage afforded by his need for their approbation.  Most of them saw some good in fascism as a way of defending social order and thought Italians too intelligent and civilised to permit the establishment of a complete dictatorship.  Above all, there was the very persuasive argument that the only alternative was to return to the anarchy and parliamentary stalemate they remembered…. Mussolini had convincingly proved that he was the most effective politician of them all: he alone could have asked parliament for full powers and been given what he asked; he alone provided a defence against, and an alternative to, socialism.  And of course, the old parliamentarians still hoped to capture and absorb him into their own system in the long run; their optimism was encouraged by the fact that his fascist collaborators were so second-rate. 

Does that not seem to be word for word a correct rendition of how so many decent Germans probably reacted to Hitler?  Still today you will find Christian apologists for Franco, and not just in Spain, who say that his fascism was preferable to republican socialism.  Mussolini had the other advantage that for reasons we now regard as obvious, no one outside Italy could take Mussolini seriously.  As his biographer reminds us, Mussolini was, rather like Berlusconi, seen as an ‘absurd little man’, a ‘second-rate cinema actor and someone who could not continue in power for long’, a ‘César de carnaval’, a ‘braggart and an actor’, and possibly ‘slightly off his head.’  Churchill always took Hitler seriously; he could never do that with that Italian buffoon.  The Führer would betray his nation and kill himself and his mistress; the Italians would revolt from and then murder their Duce and his mistress, and hang them upside down in public.  (The Italians have never had any idea of political stability or succession.)

So, you can get no comfort from the fact that the newly ensainted leader may be a stunted runt, a preposterous oaf, or a vapid Catholic zealot who coolly dispenses death sentences over coffee and his rosary – or a stupid spoiled brat who dodged the draft and evaded paying tax, who could not put a sentence together, and who then resorted to selling tradeable picture cards showing himself as Superman. 

Politics – Far Right – Trump – Bolsonaro – Johnson – Hitler.

Passing Bull 342 – Inanity at the AFR

I subscribe to the AFR for David Rowe and Rear Window.  Its editorials are DLP circa 1952.  But today’s showed a new level of anaemic inanity about FIFA and Qatar that is so woolly, it could have come from the other stable.

Hence, FIFA’s questionable-from-the-start choice of Qatar as host of football’s global showpiece generated outrage among Western media pundits and social media users during the tournament.

That might speak well of the West’s sense of universal human rights – even if social conscience is measured by the duration of a TV spot or characters in a tweet. But what some might call a form of cultural imperialism may now be factored in by international sporting bodies against awarding major global events to countries with poor human rights records.

THE AMERICAN DIFFERENCE

PART 2

Two constitutions

The problems with the Constitution of the U S may well be worse than those of the Declaration.

It is slippery if not plain wrong to say that the English constitution is not in writing.  It is not to be found in the bosom of the judges – or in the cloud.  It is not to be found in one binding instrument.  It is to be found in the common law, Magna Carta, the writ of Habeas Corpus, the Bill of Rights, the Act of Succession, and a few other instruments. 

At the core of the English dispensation is the common law that gives us the supremacy of the people in parliament.  The whole fabric is full of logical inconsistencies and ideological heresies that offend Americans to their souls. 

And to which the English give one answer.  It works.  And people who know about these things tend to think that the smarties who think that they can improve the model with a shot of logic or doctrine are probably delusional and therefore dangerous.

You will, I hope, see immediately what a giant leap lay here – from a product of history and experience, to a code based on logic and ideology, and sourced in some high notion of a social compact.  The common law – which means, in the U S, unlike Australia, the common law of each of the fifty states – would have to learn to live with a fixed code.  The English had arrived at their constitution by accident; the Americans, by design.

The Americans were therefore attempting to fuse the two world views – empirical and rationalist – that we looked at.  Would this be any better than tipping a great beef stew over a refined passionfruit bombe Alaska?  Or would it lead to a gruesome and bloody anarchic riot with bodies strewn at the base of the Capitol?  Might this juristic bastardy prove to be lethal?

We can look at five principal pressure points – not having ministers in and responsible to the legislature; the capacity to freeze government by foul play; the failure to deal with God; the locking in of moral or ideological values; and the moral, intellectual, and political disaster of the present Supreme Court. 

But first, what did the Founders hope to achieve?

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Do people outside the U S, or in it, believe that they have achieved domestic tranquility or general welfare?

Responsible government

The Westminster System, which we in Australia inherited, evolved over about two centuries after the Grand Remonstrance in the time of Charles I.  The process of cabinet government was still coming together when the U S seceded.  The king heads the executive arm of government, and there are four parts to the system that are fundamental to our notion of ‘responsible government’.

First, the king acts only on the advice of his Ministers.  Secondly, those Ministers – some of whom comprise the Cabinet – must have the confidence of the Parliament, and they must resign if they do not.  Thirdly, there is a permanent non-political civil service chosen and trained to give effect to the wishes of government, the members of which are under the supervision of a Minister – the Ministers of course being the members of parliament who have the confidence of parliament.  Fourthly, the Ministers are responsible to the Parliament for the working of the civil service under them.  If the civil service makes a mistake that cannot be dismissed as trifling, the Minister must account to Parliament for the error – and depending on its gravity, either apologise or resign.

That is our system, but the Founders were more concerned about the ideological separation of powers.  They did not want the heads of the executive in and answerable to the legislature – their Congress.  And their logic was ruthless.  Therefore, the President and his ministers – his Cabinet – do not have to get elected to Congress and answer to it when it is sitting – on pain of not just vacating office, but of losing their seat if they mislead the Congress.  Only a lunatic would suggest that a Prime Minister or Minister might take the fifth in an answer to a question put in Parliament.

Does anyone believe that Trump could have become President, or that most of his Cabinet could have been appointed, under such a system?  Its members prostrated themselves to their leader after the manner of those in Pyongyang who do the same for Kim – the serial killer with whom their leader then fell in love.  But they were never exposed to questioning by Congress.  In what precise way, then, were they accountable?

Let’s get serious.  Trump could not be appointed in London, Berlin, Paris, or Sydney to any public office that is a position of trust because of the character of so many people that he put his trust in – and who ended up in the slammer.  He could certainly not be put forward as a director of a public company in any of those jurisdictions – and neither could most of his Cabinet. 

Put to one side that Trump is a property developer with many enemies and a reputation for dishonesty and untrustworthiness, and a private life as gruesome as any in Hollywood.  He evaded doing military service and paying tax.   No such person could be forward for preselection in England or Australia.  And he would have struggled to endure, much less pass, one question time in parliament.  He would have struggled to sit out one session in parliament.

For those brought up under Westminster, the Founders disastrously preferred logic to experience, theory to evidence, and faith to history.  And the American nation is now paying a fearful price.

The facility for foul play

The Founders had good reason to be apprehensive about vesting too much power in the President.  The English had taken about 500 years to rein their kings in, and the world would look on with horror when it came the turn of the French and Russians to try their hand – after the Germans had developed the first modern welfare state with adult suffrage – after which they dragged the whole world back to its primeval slime.

The Americans saw the checks and balances in England.  For example, that nation twice avoided what could well have been civil war when the Commons had enough power to persuade a king to threaten to flood the House of Lords unless they pulled their heads in.  Then this year, the Tory elders sniffed the breeze and set about firing the Prime Minister.  It was not pretty, and the result may be even less pretty, but it worked.  The reaction of sometime Republican elders to Trump and his retinue hardly bears mention in decent company.

In the U S, people of bad faith can pull enough levers to send the government off the rails – and then blame the President.  The crude stunts of people like Cruz and Jordan are one thing – every family has its tuppeny failures and sources of strife.  But McConnell as a matter of policy decided that his party would do all in its power to prevent President Obama from doing what he was elected to do.  His lot just went on strike.  Is it any wonder that the same people now say that Trump did not really lose the election?  And that God created the world in six days?

What a massive falling off have we seen here – the Founders left the nation with a constitution that facilitates its own sabotage.  And all it took to bring it down was one generation of people in Congress of low decency and less courage.

The failure to deal with God

The King of England, and of Australia, is the head of the Church of England.  And no one can be put on that throne unless they are ‘in communion’ with that Church. 

It is hard to think of anything more repellent, heretical even, in the eyes of the Founders or their latterday followers and purists.  In the name of heaven, it’s almost as bad as that frightful figure who sat on the Woolsack – the Lord Chancellor – and who had functions in the legislature, executive, and judiciary.  And just as the king has the title of Defender of the Faith, so the Lord Chancellor was said to be the Keeper of the Conscience of the King.  Who on earth could take that Gilbert and Sullivan menagerie seriously?

The Founders of course would put solid safeguards in the Constitution to deal with religion, which would be sternly policed by the Supreme Court, to safeguard freedom of religion – probably the most abused phrase in Australian politics as we speak – and ensure that the workings of power would not be troubled by religious dissension.

What is the result?  The English political system has no trouble at all with either God or his Church.  Any suggestion that Canterbury might affect Westminster would be stupid.  But in the U S, the fingerprints of God, or at least his less loveable adherents, are all over the body politic. 

This is another of those flaws that both saddens and distresses England and Europe.  Heavens above, they no longer have this kind of trouble in even Ireland, Italy, or Spain.

Ideological absolutes

The English Bill of Rights resembles Magna Carta in at least two respects.  Following a period of protracted strife, the king and the people settled their differences in a legally binding compact.  Each instrument sets out the terms on which the king (and his queen) would hold the crown.  In this way, each resembled an employment contract. 

But each also conferred legally enforceable rights on all subjects.  For example, Magna Carta contained a clause that would become fundamental to our notions of due process and, indeed, the rule of law, and the Bill of Rights banned cruel and unusual punishments, and forbade the crown levying a tax without an act of parliament.

But each of these instruments, as we have seen, is just part of the fabric of our total constitutional dispensation.  Because the people in parliament are supreme, they can change or dispose of either instrument as they please.  (That is the case in both England and my State of Victoria, where parts of each instrument are still part of our law.)

The U S wished to codify those rights and entrench them in the Constitution.  They are, then, above the power of Congress – just as Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights put the law above the king.  (‘The king is subject to the law because the law made the king.’) 

Those laws can be changed only by a process set down in the Constitution.  The result is to add to the mystical status of the Constitution.  Americans actually get to read it and refer to it.  You can hardly do that in England, and very few Australians ever get to open their written state or federal constitution.  They are more interested in the subject of speeding tickets or parking fines.  And we don’t think that is such a bad thing.  There is a lot to be said for the notion that laws and judges are like football umpires – better seen but not heard.

The U S has led the world in legally enforcing what are called civil rights.  But there have been frightful accidents.  We may here note just the most notorious – a law that puts the whole of the U S on the nose in my country, England, and Europe – the right to bear arms.

The English knew that King John was a rat and would try to renege on his deal with the barons.  They therefore reserved in Magna Carta the right to send in what we would call receivers and managers into the king’s domain if he breached the agreement.  This horrific clause would be beyond even Vladimir Putin now and it did not go down so well then in Rome.  This security was left out of the succeeding versions.

What would they put it its place in the Bill of Rights?  A young ‘low born barrister’ named Somers got the brief.  The document as finally settled and agreed eschewed the receiver model.  Instead, the king could have no army, but the people could stay armed.  So, if there was conflict, guess who would win. 

The settlement endured, and its terms are hardly ever referred to.  (The best drawn agreements are those you never take out of the drawer.)  This one did its job, and no one has sought to invoke what the leading historian of that era called an ‘implicit’ right of rebellion (a term that would make constitutional lawyers very uneasy – especially if they reflect on the French approach to that issue after 1789).

The right to bear arms was of course limited to Protestants and hedged with caution.  A principal object of the whole settlement was to seek to deal with the most lethal blight of the West – wars of religion – by making it impossible for a Catholic to sit on the English throne.  Such a law would now be against our municipal laws about religious discrimination, and that is one reason why it is at best tricky to seek to apply such a law to us in its terms today.

So, while the Bill of Rights is still part of the law of England, it does not take effect as it does in the U S.  But one thing we may take for certain.  No English court has been asked to rule, or would rule, that as a matter of law this right to bear arms gave a personal right to people to carry arms, including hand-guns, in self-defence. 

Orthodox common lawyers are struck by two features of the majority judgment of the Supreme Court in Heller, the current leading case on hand-guns used in self-defence.  First, it is one of those judgments that leaves you wondering how the contrary view may even have been put.  It reads more like the argument of a zealous advocate than the reasoning of a dispassionate judge.  Secondly, and relatedly, the majority judgment contains terms that are not just uncompromising and intemperate, but downright unmannerly. 

The following phrases are alleged against the Justices in the minority: ‘incoherent’, ‘grotesque’, ‘unknown this side of a looking glass’, ‘the Mad Hatter’, ‘wrongheaded’, ‘profoundly mistaken’, ‘flatly misleads’.  In most pubs I know, any one or two of those could get you a bad black eye, and you would not be heard to say that you had not asked for it.  Some asides are just plain bitchy.  ‘Grotesque’ is deployed for effect in a one-word sentence.  In English, that word means ‘characterised by distortion or unnatural combinations; fantastically extravagant; bizarre, quaint’ (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary).  This is five Justices describing the reasoning of the other four Justices.  There is no restraint.

It is a matter of regret and surprise that the Chief Justice did not restrain this unjudicial behaviour; but not only did he not restrain it, he joined in it, with three other members of the court.  I know of no other superior court in the common law world, or in Europe, where this kind of behaviour would be tolerated – either within the court or by those outside it. 

It is hard for judges to be taken seriously when they preach restraint if they are incapable of showing it to each other.  More worryingly, this is the kind of swaggering self-conviction that is likely to be seized on by manic gun lovers – and, now, the crowd at a MAGA rally – or the Capitol.  It is hard to think of any area of judicial law-framing that requires more care and dispassionate judgment.  A split decision five to four on such a political issue must erode public confidence in the working of the Constitution and government, especially when the majority says that the minority are behaving like the Mad Hatter. 

This was a very bad failure of governance.

Well, some may defend the Court on the footing that this is, after all, America, and they do things differently over there.  Quite so.  If any citizen can carry a revolver down Pennsylvania Avenue, the Justices of the Supreme Court should at least be allowed to be rude to each other in public up at One First Street.  This is public life at the frontier of courtesy.  (When, during the war, a dissenting English Law Lord made a reference to the looking glass that his chief, the Lord Chancellor, had been unable to restrain, one of the targets of the barb took the unprecedented of delivering the reproof in a letter to The Times.)

The decision in Heller could not happen here or in England.  Any such suggestion might even be dismissed as grotesque.  You may as well seek to argue that Catholics either do not need or should be denied such rights in self-defence.  You would overlook the effect and purpose of the law in its context – including the duty and not just the right of citizens to bear arms going back to the medieval fyrd and the Assize of Arms – and the fact that the Stuart kings had banned hand-guns in London because of the threat they posed to the peace of the king.

No responsible government in the world – not one – could wish that its citizens could remain armed as a kind of security for the good behaviour of government.  No sensible government that has an army and a police force has any interest in its citizens maintaining a communal arsenal to be called on in the case of foreign emergency or civic unrest.  We leave all that guff to the Romance of Tombstone Territory – and Hollywood.  The American result is just what our laws were made to prevent.  The primary function of the common law was, after all, to keep the King’s peace.

One of the problems in holding that the right bear arms may operate as a check on government, or a barrier to despotism – Americans prefer ‘tyranny’ – is this.  Who rules on the question of whether that time has come?  When that idiot with horns sticking out of his head despoiled the Capitol?  Or when John Wilkes Booth jumped on the stage at Ford’s Theatre shrieking about tyranny (in Latin)?  (Sic semper tyrannis.)

Now, the forces of violent unrest unleashed by Trump make this problem even more acute.  How many of those criminals raiding the Capitol were, or were not, exercising their right to bear arms?

But let us suppose that the position narrowly arrived at by the Supreme Court is justifiable at law, who outside the NRA and its stooges, paid or otherwise, or the howling mob at the steps of the Capitol, would want such a result?  The ensuing and repeated killings of school-children are a blot on the nation that mocks its aspirations to insure domestic tranquility.  Worse, it mocks humanity itself. 

What kind of person would want to live in a community that stands for this kind of butchery?