Thirty years on

It is not the Eton boating song, but one of Harrow, and not thirty years but forty, that the song goes back from, but thirty years is still something.  Although he thought that he had banned any such show of ritual, on 1 October 1985, an abashed inaugural member of the Taxation Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Victoria had to sit through a ceremony of welcome, in which I suspect that Ray Finkelstein was complicit judging from the knowing grin on his face, which contained the following remarks:

Although you have a wide practice at the Bar, your interest in literary works has no doubt assisted in your recognised abilities in the area of defamation.  It seems that it has also enabled you to write copious amounts of correspondence to the people you not only deal with on a professional basis, but also on the social plane. 

There was some gushing of the kind you get on these occasions, which it would be at best improvident for me to repeat, and then:

On a lighter note, I gather your disdain for humbug has meant that you are to be approached to be the inaugural President of the Society for the Prevention of Humbug.

Well, at least everyone was on notice that the first head of the Tax Division was anything but a tax lawyer, a disclaimer previously put in writing to the Attorney-General, and now that the member has survived thirty years on that and other tribunals later, perhaps those remarks may be tendered as some sign of constancy in a world made hard by inconstancy.

Some ungrateful types complain of the copiousness of the correspondence, but what would you do without the bullshit – and the continuing war on humbug?

How an Oxford man went into journalism and became a Tory PM – and learned to play dirty

While touring in the north of this land, I read Salisbury, Victorian Titan, by Andrew Roberts.  At 850 pages, not all of which I have read, it is at least twice as long as it should be.  That is a shame, because if you stay with it, and use an editorial discretion about what might interest you, you might get an insight into the problems of being a conservative or Tory politician today.  Their people hold themselves up as the maintainers of standards and decency.  They are fond of saying that the safest way to proceed is by adhering to precedent.  Conventions for them really count.  But common sense suggests, and history confirms, that that when pushed they will get down and dirty as quickly as the rest, and possibly more viciously, because they are traditionally more capable of pulling levers of power and covering up when they do so, or just bluffing their way through in the manner in the manner exclusively owned by those who see themselves as born to rule.

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil was born in 1830 the second son of a Marquess.  The Cecils had been prominent in serving Queen Elizabeth.  The boy went to Eton, which he hated, and Oxford.  When he married for love, to the daughter of Baron Alderson, his father cut him off because he thought his son should have got a better match – at least financially.  .  To get by, young Cecil became a journalist.  He was prolific, even after he got into politics, but he mostly wrote incognito.  He eventually became Lord Salisbury, and after serving under Disraeli, he became Prime Minister on three separate occasions, being in large part opposed by Gladstone, whose Liberal Party split over Home Rule for Ireland.  Salisbury was a very large man, of studied common sense, who became a very effective party political man and leader of a cabinet.  He was not troubled in making decisions, and although he is not nearly as well-known as Gladstone or Disraeli, he is frequently held out as the model Tory PM or leader.  He looks to have been a model family man as well as party man.

I shall look later at how the upbringing of Salisbury affected his politics, but I now wish to look at some occasions where he played dirty – or tried to.  His daughter Gwendolen idolised him, and wrote a four volume biography of him.  She said that ‘he was essentially a fighting animal’ driven by ‘hostility to Radicalism, incessant, implacable sincerity.’   One of his Cabinet said ‘he never likes to keep the sword it its sheath….He is like the King of Hungary on his coronation who rides to all eminences and brandishes his sword to the four corners of the globe.’

Ireland is the great blot on England’s history.  The contempt of the English for the Irish was racist.  They regarded the Irish as an inferior race.  Even when that racism had got masked in the more liberal nineteenth century, someone like Salisbury could get into trouble by referring to Hottentots in the same breath.  But when Gladstone sought to grant Home Rule, all the gloves came off – right up to the top.  Queen Victoria said: ‘We must agitate.  I do not like agitation, but we must agitate every place small as well as large and make people understand.’  To that end the Queen started to pass on to Salisbury, then in opposition, letters from her PM, Gladstone, whom she loathed.  Even a cloistered queen must have known that these letters were utterly confidential, and that she was in breach of so many conventions about the monarch acting on the advice of her elected PM.  Salisbury for his part kept the Queen informed of his political machinations.  Rogers says this:

Salisbury has been criticised for not having referred the Queen sternly to her new Prime Minister, but to expect such a course is to misunderstand the man for whom the ends of defeating Home Rule easily justified the unconstitutional means involved.

If that is put in extenuation, it is also available to Adolf Hitler and others.  If a member pulled a similar stunt at a golf club, he would the thrown out.

Another case involved Parnell, the fated leader of the Irish cause in England, and the lover of Kitty O’Shea.  The Times published sensational allegations connecting Parnell and his party with terrorism.  How could Salisbury and the Tories capitalise on this?  Why, it is obvious – appoint an inquiry, and let the shit hit the fan.  Rogers says this:

Was it legitimate political calculation, or outrageous cynicism, or, as Winston Churchill believed, naïve foolishness that led Salisbury to act?…..With three carefully appointed judges reporting to Parliament, this was neither a Parliamentary Select Committee nor a court of law.  In effect it was a state conspiracy trial without a jury…..To tar the Parnellite party with the suspicion of criminality, even at one step removed would be well worth the embarrassment…..It was crucial, therefore that the Commission’s inquiries should range freely over the whole question of Irish crime, and not be restricted to the specific issue….The only other person who stuck by Salisbury throughout his persecution of Parnell, besides Chamberlain, was the Queen herself….

The Irish had the same effect on the English ruling class as trade unions do on the Australian ruling class.  It sends them off their heads and allows them to play dirty.

Salisbury consulted an eminent lawyer to help defeat the next Home Rule attempt.  He even looked carefully at something the English know nothing of – a referendum!  The great lawyer A V Dicey, truly a name to conjure with, referred him to a learned article that had the convenient truth that a referendum was ‘at once distinctively and undeniably democratic, and in practice Conservative.’  Salisbury was in warm agreement that this was the only way to end the differences in the Parliament.

And so it goes.  As the author of Ecclesiastes says ‘All is vanity….there is nothing new under the sun.’  And Salisbury was bright – he did not have the excuse of our King of Hungary, who is dead-set stupid.

Passing bull 11 Franco was not a fascist

Political labels are generally used to brand people or ideas rather than to excuse them, but people who have firm views about politics or religion tend to cling to them.  People who have firm views about both are very prone to label-abuse – and they also have a curious penchant for denialism.

Phillip Adams interviewed Gerard Henderson – an occasion of mutual discomfort.  Henderson said that Franco was not a fascist. The military leader of a totalitarian state who got Mussolini and Hitler to help him bomb Guernica – just for practice – was not a fascist?  Just what more do you need to be a fascist?  (Franco and the church said that Guernica had been burnt down by the reds.)  But what does it matter what label you apply to this religious fanatic who was a cruel and murderous little shit, a part of the refuse of mankind?

I have written something on this that might bear on this discussion (in the final volume of a history of the west).  It reflects on the tendency of churches to line up with the army and the money.

Francisco Franco (1892 – 1975)

The Spanish Inquisition with its informers and bonfires of the auto da fe prefigured the totalitarian states of Stalin and Hitler to a degree that is frightening.  The conduct of the Church was no better under Generalissimo Franco.  The dedication to repression and oppression was indeed religious.  A major step on the road to the most frightful civil war came when Cardinal Pedro Segura, the primate of Spain, issued a pastoral denouncing the intention of the republic to establish freedom of worship and to separate church and state.  Both Hitler and Mussolini, who each had a Concordat with the Vatican, intervened in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the fascists.

Francisco Franco was born in a family with long links to the Spanish Navy.  He went into the army because the navy was in decline.  He fought in the Spanish protectorate of Morocco and then served in the Spanish Foreign Legion.  He developed the kind of perverted ideology then prevalent that held that the problems of the world were caused by Jews, atheists, Freemasons, and Leftists, not necessarily in that order, but certainly in a conspiracy.

The monarchy fell in 1931.  It was then the church against the barbarians and the republicans were lumped with the communists.  In 1936, Franco and others in the army sought to overthrow the elected government of the Popular Front.  This led to the Spanish Civil War, and to foreign fascist intervention.

Franco ruled as a dictator – Il Caudillo – for nearly forty years.  His weapons of repression included the death penalty, concentration camps, forced labour, and heavy censorship.  He got back into favour with the U S during the Cold War when they had a common enemy in Communism.  In the 1950’s, a cabinet of Opus Dei technocrats convinced him to move toward a market economy.  After his death, Spain moved toward democracy.  A Pact of Forgetting was introduced to encourage reconciliation.  Socialists and Conservatives now clash over how to deal with that bleak past

If we go back to Il Caudillo in power, on 19 May 1939 there was a grand victory parade along the Castellana, renamed the Avenida del Generalissimo.  The Caudillo would not be coming to town on a donkey to receive his Hosannas.  Antony Beevor says:

A huge construction of wood and cardboard had been erected to form a triumphal arch on which the word ‘Victory’ was displayed.  On each side the name ‘FRANCO’ was repeated three times, and linked with the heraldic arms of the Catholic monarchs.

Franco took the salute at this march past from a large tribune.  He wore the uniform of captain-general, but the dark blue collar of a Falangist [fascist] shirt could be seen underneath and on his head the red beret of the Carlists [royalists].  Below him in front of the stand his personal bodyguard of Moroccan cavalry was drawn up.

More than 120,000 soldiers, including Germans and Portuguese, took part.

The next day cardinal Goma, primate of Spain, gave Franco the wooden cross to kiss at the door of the church of Santa Barbara, where the Caudillo entered under a canopy, as the kings of Spain used to do.  In the middle of a solemn ceremony, imbued with heavy medieval imagery, Franco laid his victorious sword in front of the miraculous Christ of Lepanto, brought especially from Barcelona for the occasion.

This may remind you a little of the coronation of Napoleon at Rheims, but at least Napoleon had the decency to crown himself.  Two days after Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave an address on the subject of ‘the leader’ (the Fuhrer, Duce, or Caudillo) that the Nazis cut off.  Bonhoeffer said that a leader who allowed himself to be idolized was a misleader and that ‘leaders who set themselves up as gods mock God.’  It is hard to imagine a better case of a leader mocking God than that pompous little Spanish soldier called Franco.  Beevor goes on:

All the trappings and incantations represented the sentiments and self-image of the crusading conqueror.  In his struggle to defeat the Marxist hydra, Franco had been fighting against the past as well as the present: against the nineteenth century poisoned by liberalism; against the eighteenth century which had produced the Enlightenment and Freemasonry; and against the defeats of the seventeenth century.  Only in an earlier period could the Caudillo find the roots of a great and united Spain, the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella.

If Franco had gone back even further to when the Moors ruled Spain, he may or may not have found a similar attitude of rejecting the present that we see so often now in Islam.

Did the Generalissimo show Christian charity to the vanquished?

The Caudillo used to read through the sentences of death when taking his coffee after a meal, often in the presence of his personal priest, Jose Maria Bulart.  He would write an ‘E’ against those he decided should be executed, and a ‘C’ when commuting the sentence.  For those he considered needed to be made a conspicuous example, he wrote ‘garrote y prensa’ (garrotting and press coverage).  After coffee, his aide would send off the sentences to be passed to the military governor of each region of each province, who would communicate them by telegram to the head of the prison.  The sentences would then be read out in the central gallery of the prison.  Some officials enjoyed reading out the first name, such as Jose or Juan, to strike fear into all those who bore it, before adding the family name.  In the woman’s prison of Amorebieta one of the nuns who acted as warders would perform this duty.

That there are still churches standing in Spain might promote faith in miracles in this European nation that styles itself as civilized.  When it comes to mass killers like Himmler and Franco, can we that are left discern any moral difference in their evil or is it just a matter of arithmetic?  Did Eichmann ever do anything as obscene or as offensive to God as settling his death list for the next day while taking coffee with his personal priest?

The English historian Maitland said that when England turned its face against the inquisitorial process, it escaped the ‘everlasting bonfire.’  When you read about Franco, you might think that Maitland was right, although it may well be that the liberation of England from allegiance or subjection or vassalage of any kind to a foreign power was just as important in allowing it to escape the totalitarian cataclysms that engulfed those nations in Europe that had not been liberated.

Maitland compared the accusatory, contradictory and public process of a trial at common law to the secret inquisitorial process in Europe where torture was used.  He said:

Our new procedure seems to hesitate for a while at the meeting of two roads.  A small external impulse might have sent it down that too easy path which the church chose and which led to the everlasting bonfire.

The footnote refers to a book written by an English jurist before the Spanish Inquisition.  In De Laudibus, Sir John Fortescue condemned the use of torture in Europe (France).  The part quoted by Maitland is ‘Semita ipsa est ad Gehannam.’  ‘This is the very path to perdition.’  Gehanna is a valley outside Jerusalem that was said to be cursed.  It is frequently rendered as hell, or unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43) or, here, the ‘eternal bonfire.’  Fortescue commented on the wrack that ‘the execution of the sentence of the law is a task fit only for little villains to perform, picked out from amongst the refuse of mankind…’  There again we have a useful description of the little Spanish Generalissimo.

There must be people in Spain feeling betrayed by the church.  It is not just that the clergy so often seem to line up with those who want to hold on to power – it is that so many find it hard to suppress a sneer at that part of the sermon that says that the meek shall inherit the earth.  The sense of betrayal is even greater there because of the identity of the betrayed.  It is as if a common affinity of the clergy and politicians for ritual, ceremony, costume, hierarchy and incantation, together with a dread of change and a reverence for a largely imagined past and wholly imagined heroes leads some people to share a common affinity with repression and oppression in government that is loosely associated with the term ‘the Right.’  Certainly, you do not often see the clergy lining up to support the opposite team – ‘the Left.’

This is, to put it softly, very frustrating to those who admire the example of the young holy man who came to bury the Establishment and not to praise it, and who rode into town on a donkey for that purpose, and who then took to the money people with a lash, and in so doing signed his own death warrant.  There truly was leader whom we have mocked.  Can we get comfort from the words of Yeats?

The darkness drops again, but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

Il Caudillo was not as evil as the Fuhrer, or as downright ridiculous as Il Duce, but he was far worse than a serial pest.  He and his fascist fellow travellers held Spain back.  It and Greece were at risk, to put it at its lowest, of becoming backwaters on the edge of if not outside Europe because of their political immaturity.  The sad or violent history of Spain for most of the twentieth century is at least one indication of why it is one of those states at what is called the periphery that is in trouble keeping up with the north of Europe.

The lotus-eaters on the left

When Ulysses was trying to get back home to Greece after the Trojan War, he and his crew came upon a very dangerous island.  The people there ate the fruit of the lotus.  This fruit had the effect of a narcotic drug that induced people to find bliss through doing nothing.  If Ulysses had not manhandled his men off the island, they would still be there, sad monuments to apathy.  This is perhaps a story from mythology that the radical left government in Greece could have shown more respect to as it converted a train-wreck into a ship-wreck with frightening consequences for a people looking for a leader to take them out of moral oblivion.

The rest of the world is just sick of it, if not bored, but this awful example of the left in power and in action might be instructive on one question – what does it mean to be left?  My own view is that both the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ are labels that type people and should therefore be avoided – they are at best misleading and at worst dangerous and demeaning.  But here we have a party and government that wears this badge with pride.  What do they say about what it is to be left?

The distinction comes from the sides of the popular assembly that drove the French Revolution into the Terror in which the left sought to liquidate the right.  That was a case where the downcast were driven for revenge for the past and hope for the future, and they prevailed over those who had not been victimised and who wanted to save some of the past and who were less sanguine or more realistic about the future – and after which both sides gave way to a dictator and emperor who convulsed Europe in a generation of wars that left five million dead.

Elsewhere, I endeavoured to state the differences between the left and the right as follows:

The ‘left’ tend to stand for the poor and the oppressed against the interests of power and property and established institutions.  The ‘right’ stand for the freedom of the individual in economic issues, and seek to preserve the current mode of distribution.  The left is hopeful of government intervention and change; the right suspects government intervention and is against change.  The left hankers after redistribution of wealth, but is not at its best creating it.  The right stoutly opposes any redistribution of wealth, and is not at its best in celebrating it.  The left is at home with tax; the right loathes it.  These are matters of degree that make either term dangerous.  Either can be authoritarian.  On the left, that may lead to communism.  On the right, you may get fascism.

For reasons I will come to, I might add that the left is inclined to oscillate wildly between strict legalism and the broadest equity.

Have we seen these features in Greece?

The problems facing Greece are that it has hardly ever been decently governed let alone well governed.  It does not make enough of anything.  It does not create enough wealth.  It does not collect enough tax, but it pays out too much in social service benefits.  Above all, it is hopelessly corrupt in government and business – the in-word is ‘clientelism’, which fittingly comes down from an ancient Roman form of patronage.  Greece just keeps promising to reform, and reneging – and holding its hand out.  Well, there is fertile ground for a reforming radical government, surely.  Not on your Nelly, Mate.

The first rule is that nothing – nothing – is our fault.  It is always someone else who is to blame.

This is because we are the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed.  We don’t like the term victims much because it would put us in bad company.  It is sufficient to say that we are on the side of the angels.  (We don’t say that God is on our side because the Comrades are not so big on Him or Her.)  We never had the opportunities the others have had, and we have never held the power the others have.  We are the people described on the Statue of Liberty, except that we stayed at home.

It follows that we are right and the rest are wrong.

If you think that this is silly, I agree, but you run into a lot in I R here at home.  You might be surprised how many people appear to be committed to the proposition that the worker can do no wrong – it is always the fault of management.  (Well, ‘capital’ would sound old fashioned and silly.)  The other day I had to endure hours of listening to I R lawyers arguing about whether grossly pornographic material was offensive and to an argument that the employer was at fault for not issuing instructions about what it considered offensive in its workplace policy documents – notwithstanding that even the accused thought that this was an insult to his intelligence.

If you think I drew the short straw, shortly afterwards the Fair Work Commission held that a dismissal was unfair in part because the behaviour complained occurred after the employee had been given a lot to drink at a party put on by the employer – free of charge.  The Greeks are not alone in creating their own fantasy world.

How does it work?  In the normal way – you invent your own language to express your own demonology.  Cutting expenses you cannot afford or repaying loans you could not afford involves self-denial and a form of hardship, albeit a hardship that you have brought upon yourself.  What Greece needs is a period of severe, even harsh, self-discipline, and prolonged abstinence.  Imagine trying that on with the lotus-eaters!  So you give that prescription its English title, austerity, and then you demonise that word.  Then you forbid those representing the lenders to use a name that denotes harshness.  People are forbidden to refer to the ‘troika’ – we must refer to the ‘institutions’.  And if you think that is silly, which it is, be careful how you say so because if you say they are being childish, which they are, that will be taken down as evidence of harshness and oppression on your part.

Then you buy your own expert to say that austerity is not just immoral but bad policy.  And there are plenty of economists who say that if the creditors want too much they will hurt or destroy the capacity of the borrowers to repay them.  This makes sense – sometimes it pays a creditor to allow some slack to the debtor.

There are at least two problems with the way the Greek left has presented this case.  One is that they use terms like freedom, democracy, sovereignty, dignity, self-respect and independence.  Now, we all have to invoke loaded terms now and then, but all these things are put in play when a nation joins a federation that involves a form of commercial partnership, or borrows money on terms and for a security.  We understand that if we default on a loan for our house, the bank will sell the house, and we will not get far by crying that the bank is being harsh, oppressive or austere to us.  And even if we can make the case that the bank itself would be better off it chose some course other than enforcing its right to the full now, that is a matter for the bank.  It is beyond our legal power to restrain it on that ground alone.  Both parties to the agreement have rights and property in those rights, and the bank can do that to us because we have put it in that position.

It is the same with Greece and its partners and creditors.  Even if Greece could persuade someone in relevant power that the best interests of the partners and creditors would be served by their proceeding differently, there is no way of stopping them using their rights and property as they think fit.  That is, if you like, a consequence of their sovereignty, and the expression of a common will by democratically elected leaders of the other partner nations.

There are about eighteen other sovereign nations who have rights and property to think about, and Greece has so conducted itself that it does not now get any support from any one of them.  And that weasel word ‘mandate’ is even more slippery here.  A change of government or a referendum in one entity does not change legal relations between it and others.  The Greek left does not I think accept this.

The other problem with the attempt to get to the high ground by talking of democracy or sovereignty is that it ignores the facts of what Greece is saying to its partners and creditors.  The Greeks are not just saying that you cannot get blood out of a stone – they go on to say that if you try to do so we will pull the pin on our dynamite vest.  Time and again the former Finance Minister said that the rest of Europe and the creditors would have to cave in because they cannot afford the cost of a Greek default on its loans.  They have pointed a gun squarely at the rest of Europe.  After last weekend the threat has changed – it is not so much that we will blow your brains out, as that we will disembowel ourselves.  This I think is what led the European president to say that the Greeks should not allow a fear of death to cause them to commit suicide.

Many observers thought that the referendum was a bad idea.  We were again told that this was democracy at work – to what end?  The referendum just asked people to say whether they agreed to all the terms solemnly put by eighteen nations.  The Greeks were not asked what they might accept, and some balance may have been added by ‘2.  Would you like to get into bed with Vladimir?’  (He has no money either.  Russia is already a pariah on the periphery.)  And the Greeks certainly got wrong the reaction of the lenders.  When the lenders refused to keep pouring money into a nation that is utterly insolvent and engaged in blackmail, they were branded as terrorists and war criminals.

This is I fear the real problem for this kind of radical left.  At bottom, they just want and hope that other people will somehow act better – that is, more in a way that is amenable to the views and lifestyle of those on the left.  This became clear to me during the two most recent episodes of Dateline London, a weekly panel show on the BBC on which four journalists from different backgrounds discuss current events.  They have difficulty finding journalists to give a rational account of the Islamic world, and they now have the same problem with Greece.  On one episode, three left leaning journalists lamented the failure of Europe to do more for migrants – there may be 55 million of them out there.  On the last episode, two left journalists, one from Le Monde and one from The Guardian, savaged the lenders and partners of Greece as being heartless and cruel, in the Le Monde case not showing enough ‘solidarity’ with Europe, and in the case of The Guardian, wheeling out all the usual suspects for conspiring against the downtrodden and oppressed.

It occurred to me in each case that these people were, au fond, just wishing that other people were somehow nicer.  What has this wishful thinking, this hankering after narcotic lotus flowers, got to do with political journalism?  Why not look at the world as it is?  What nation is happy with its Muslem minority?  How many hundred thousand more would any nation be prepared to take where hardly any of its people evince a burning moral resolve to have a refugee from a nation disfigured by religious war as their next-door neighbour?  How much solidarity does a taxpayer in Iceland or Finland feel for the concept of Europe when he is being asked to give up property or pay more tax in order that Greek retirees may live in secure financial comfort?

It occurred to me that these journalists were not asking themselves the right questions.  They are secure behind the moral superiority of their own dogma.  They are quite unable to see the other point of view.  This is why this Greek negotiating team was so awful.  It is why they burnt up so much political capital and left themselves friendless, and alarmingly desperate.

The Finance Minister said that the banks would reopen on Tuesday after a new deal had been struck.  He said that would take an hour.  Why?  Because they had already been at it for five months.  Then he wondered about asking a court to grant an injunction to restrain the eighteen other sovereign entities from dissolving the union.  We saw irrational optimism and dogmatic conceit end in madness.  The Greek left presents the absolute threat – they have the answer!  They can even predict the future!

But if these lotus-eaters do not get their way, they behave like very nasty spoiled children.  The creditors now are trying to measure the cost of another load of assistance to a bankrupt nation against the cost of humanitarian assistance to a stricken people.  But when Greek people start dying for lack of medicine, it will not be their fault.  It will be the fault of those dreadful outsiders for not doing enough to allow the Greeks to maintain the style of life to which Europe and its money has accustomed them.

So, while I still think that the terms left and right are slippery, perhaps they may come with some useful amber or red lights.  I regard the whole discussion as beside the point.  It looks to me that the marriage was a bad one from the start and that there is not one ounce of that trust and confidence that are needed to sustain such a partnership.  If it is suffered to carry on until the next explosion, then it may be that the threat of self-immolation has worked again.  Would you really trust a crowd that takes so long to get to the point, that wants to drag out the argument on everything, even points that do not matter?  People who know business know that the best contracts are put in a drawer and never looked at again.  You do not get this with the Greeks – or our I R lawyers – or the Persians talking about the bomb.  The result is that any resulting contract is not worth the paper it is inscribed on.

In the meantime, the Marxist blogger from Sydney University announced his retirement on his blog, and the former Finance Minister then just picked up his helmet and rucksack, and pointed his motorcycle to the wine dark sea in his quest for more lotus-eaters.  Every prediction that he had made had not come about – but he was not wrong.  He is never wrong.  Those poor people in the north were plainly irrational.  They were not even reading from the same script.  They too could end up as lotus-eaters.


I agree with Our Dawn.  I do not want those half-wits posing as tennis–players representing me in anything.  If we are going to cancel passports, we could start with these twerps – and the Fanatics.

Passing bull 1

This is the first note of an intermittent and possibly eternal series on the failure of public language.

The executive education program of the Melbourne Business School has moved up to number 32 in the world list of the Financial Times.  The Dean of the School, Zeger Degraeve, said that the move was the result of creating impact and value for clients.  ‘This reflects the outcome of a consistent strategy pursued over a number of years – deep engagement in partnerships with our clients to understand their needs, and leverage our expertise in collaborative design and delivery.’

It does not look like they teach English or logic at that school.

Thank God it’s nearly over

About twelve months ago, I saw this coming.  I thought I should leave the country for this time.  I am bloody sorry I didn’t.  The bullshit about Anzac Day might choke me.

A young country sent its young men to a cruel and useless death on the other side of the world.  It just did as it was told by a parent whose cruel and stupid ruling class murdered so much of our future.  We went, we lost, and we quit – or, as the Honourable Alexander Downer said about Iraq, we just cut and ran.  And we celebrate this frightful waste every year.

Why?  We have no history and this is our way of trying to invent one.  We whites should leave the dreamtime to the blackfellas.  We invented this bullshit about ‘mates.’  The last time I looked, more French troops died at Gallipoli than ours’.  Did those poor buggers not have mecs or amis?  Did the Turks that we invaded and killed not have mates?

If you go there, and look at the cliffs, and see how close the trenches are, you can just about hear and taste the cult of death that we sent our young men to die in.  And now we prostitute the memory of the poor bastards in every way that we can.  We ought to be ashamed.

There is another view.  About 25 years ago, the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, took a team over to Gallipoli with some aged veterans.  One old guy – I think his name was Syd – declined the invitation to go back after all those years.  When the ABC asked him why he was not going, Syd gave a very sensible answer. ‘Quite frankly, I wasn’t too keen on the reception I got the first bloody time.’

A distinguished Englishman who had served in intelligence in the First World War was fascinated by what the Australians had done at Gallipoli.  He got this reaction from one digger.  ‘He reported that all he knew was that he had jumped out of a bloody boat in the dark and before he had walked five bloody yards he had copped a bloody bullet in his foot and he had been pushed back to bloody Alexandria almost before he bloody well knew he had left it’.  The commentator, Compton Mackenzie, who wrote the original Monarch of the Glen, also said: ‘An absurd phrase went singing through my head.  We have lost our amateur status tonight’.

Well, Sir Compton may have lost his amateur status, but we haven’t.  We are at it again.  We are doing what we are told to kill Muslims in a part of the world that we have nothing to do with, and with no idea about how things might turn out.

I’m with Syd.  And Einstein.  He said one life was enough.  It’s the same with me for Gallipoli.

Clarity in politics

What people miss in our politics is decisiveness – people who are prepared to take a position.

A cartel occurs when corporations collude to control supply to drive up prices.  Cartels are illegal, and the illegality derives from laws made in the bastion of capitalism, the U S, called anti-trust laws.  When, therefore, a leading Oz miner, Twiggy Forrest, proposed setting up a cartel, the Feds pricked up their ears.  It was therefore surprising that when our Foreign Minister, Rubber Lips, heard of the idea, she said it was ‘worth considering.’  Someone had a word in her ear, and the Foreign Minister backed off.  She was not, after all, an expert on iron ore.  That does beg a few questions, but she said: ‘I do not know the detail of Andrew Forrest’s proposal, but I have since been discussing the matter with the Treasurer, and the Treasurer thinks the specifics of Mr Forrest’s proposal would not be acceptable.’  Now, there you have it – the problem is the specifics – possibly, specifically iron ore. Might it be different with specifically gold or diamonds – God knows, diamonds are cartel heaven.  Is the suggestion generally acceptable?  Perhaps the Foreign Minister should have consulted a lawyer.

What then of the Treasurer, the lip curling champion of razor gangs of days past?  ‘We’re not very supportive of cartels at all’.  Nor are we very  supportive of rape and murder.  The Treasurer could see revenue for the government but there was an ideological issue.  ‘It’s important that we continue to believe, as we always have with liberals, in free markets.’

Nonsense, bromides, evasion, inanity, and motherhood – the bullshit that is OZ politics.

Let us then compare this bullshit to someone who is prepared to take a position – Ted Cruz.  Ted knows how to take a position. He took one speaking non-stop for 21 hours in the Senate on the evils of his President’s views on health care.  Ted is no moderate on God, guns, money, or anything else.  He will really shake up the race for the next President, and this is good.  The prospect of a Bush v Clinton contest is, at its lowest, unappetising.  ‘We need to run a populist campaign standing for the hardworking people of America’, and abolish the IRS.  Ted opened his campaign at Liberty University founded by that Godly populist Jerry Falwell.  His wife Heidi spent time living in Kenya and Nigeria as the daughter of missionaries.  ‘She and her brother compete baking bread.  They bake thousands of loaves of bread to go to the local apple orchard where they sell the bread to people coming to pick apples.’  It sounds like a Nordic idyll.  ‘She goes on to a career in business, excelling and rising to the highest pinnacles, and then Heidi becomes my wife and my very best friend in the world’.

This was not Ted at his plainest.  Heidi has God – big time.  But she also has money big time.  Ted omitted to mention that Heidi is a managing director of Goldman Sachs.  She is the regional head of private wealth management at Houston.  You need more than $40 million to walk through her door.  Goldman Sachs represents different things to different people.  One of its greatest sins is to run a health insurance plan for staff, thus infecting the pinnacle of capitalism with the dross of socialism.  Still, since Heidi doubtless earns seven figures, we need not ask whether Ted is covered by Heidi’s plan.

Finally, I congratulate the BBC for sacking Clarkson and showing that money is not everything.  If they had not sacked him, I would have sacked them.  One of his vastly over-rated mates said that he was gutted to hear of the sacking – straight to the Blacklist.

Rupert’s reindeers


After Rupert Murdoch gave the thumbs down to our Prime Minister from New York, the vigour that his lieutenants have shown in implementing the death sentence has been unsettling. Boyhood friendships and years of alliance went clear out the window almost overnight at the croak of His Master’s Voice. It has been a chilling reminder of the truth of the Biblical injunction – put not your trust in princes. The killing ground every night on Sky TV has been revolting. They have been shedding more blood than Fox News.

Dennis Shanahan has been a loyal and imperturbable supporter of Tony Abbott for years, from the time he became leader so heroically, through his glory days as Opposition Leader, and from that wonderful day when government of the nation was returned to its true owners. The endurance of the fidelity has been remarkable. In today’s Australian, we get this.

Abbott’s attitude since becoming opposition leader in 2009, by one vote, then failing to get the support of two independent MPs to form government in 2010 and finally defeating a reheated Kevin Rudd in 2013, has been one of an almost accidental leader uncomfortable in the job.

It takes your breath away. Someone has gone through an overnight change of total reversal – either the writer or his subject. The two are entirely unrecognisable. Jekyll and Hyde.

Mr Shanahan then goes on to compare the PM with Prince Hal, who found friendship among rough mates. He says that ‘Even after becoming king, Henry V, Shakespeare’s character retains a warmth for his old mates until forced to endorse Bardolph’s hanging for looting.’ Now, it may not be wise to sully Shakespeare with the latrine of our politics. That is not how it happened. The reversal of Prince Hal comes immediately after he accepts the crown when he repudiates and as good as kills his would-be mate Falstaff in the coldest line in literature. Prince Hal is a rat. Besides, if the analogy were to be pressed, who is the undesirable that the PM might now be advised to repudiate – if necessary in cold blood?

Still, the PM has as yet some memories of support among Rupert’s reindeers. Mr Chris Kenny is a former Liberal Party staffer who has been swinging the lead about his sometime mate on Sky, but in today’s Oz, there is a most moving return to form and to the fold.

For all the Coalition’s failings and missteps, it is surely incontestable that Tony Abbott has provided the best 16 months of government Australia has seen in more than seven years.

Now, here truly we behold a miracle! The government seen by most Australians and many of its backbench as incurably stupid and unreliable is incontestably the best that this country has had for seven years – incontestably.

After that shell-burst of revelation, we get the following damnation of demons and a catechism for the faithful:

Nor is it a surprise that the ABC, Fairfax Media and most of the press gallery have been ferociously attacking Abbott – [as has Mr Kenny and his colleagues on Sky]; he is anathema to the love media. They are diametrically opposed to his views on climate, borders, gay marriage, even national security.

Can’t you imagine being at a pub or a barbecue and expressing views different to those of our PM on climate, borders, or gay marriage and being dismissed as part of the love media?

Now you can see why this country is buggered. We are surrounded by politicians and people from the press who are just wall to wall bullshit. They roll around and glory in pure bullshit.

Happy Christmas from Hamlet and the Wolf, and the Storm – Covert acts in Hamlet

Covert acts in Hamlet

The word ‘covert’ has a bad press thanks to the CIA. These people have to defend Americans and us against the forces of evil, against people who do not know much less accept our notions of rules of the game. The CIA operatives are left to work in darkness and deceit knowing that they just have to cop it sweet if they get caught – because we decent people cannot be seen to have got our hands dirty in our own defence. You might find some room for hypocrisy there.

Darkness and deceit fill Hamlet with murderous covert acts. Murder and revenge are everywhere, but always covert until the end. Even revenge is covert – until the end. There is obviously some room for hypocrisy here, too.

The deceit begins with the Danish equivalent of the PMO, the Prime Minister’s Office. After Claudius has poisoned his brother King Hamlet, he causes the news to be put out that the king was stung to death by a snake while taking a nap in his orchard. Well, we might nowadays read of a myocardial infarction, but when the ghost of the murdered man tells young Hamlet of the truth, his ‘prophetic soul’ had suspected something like this. The rest of Denmark has however been taken in by this ‘forged process.’

But the level of deceit in Denmark was such that young Hamlet does not trust the ghost. He wants independent evidence. He arranges for a doctored – ‘forged’ if you like – version of a play called The Mousetrap to be put on. He hopes to and does entrap the king by this device.

Hamlet is right into deceit. He feigns (or forges) madness as a kind of cover for his covert inquiries and actions. The king and queen are troubled by this apparent transformation in this highly strung university student. They engage two mates of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to maintain a covert watch on him. The queen assures them that the king will look after them as spies, but Hamlet is not deceived. He gives them a kind of shirt-front, but they just hang on, like barnacles.

When Hamlet puts on the mask of madness, he is engaging in a form of deceit that causes great and obvious pain to his mother, something that the ghost had forbad him to do point blank. Under cover of the same false madness, Hamlet coldly and cruelly repudiates Ophelia, the young woman he had pledged his love to ‘in honourable fashion’, even while her family were warning her off. This wounded young woman does not know that the madness or rejection are part of an act. She is driven mad and then dies in an apparent suicide. Ophelia is an innocent victim of all this darkness and deceit. Other innocent victims are not so easy to spot in this play.

Polonius, the father of Ophelia and her hypocritical and snaky brother Laertes, is a silly old courtier. He is heavily into surveillance in a land that Hamlet describes as a prison. He arranges with the king to eavesdrop on Hamlet while she is talking to the queen his mother. Gertrude is not told of this surveillance. So, when the old man makes a noise in the background, Gertrude cannot warn Hamlet that there is nothing to worry about. Hamlet runs him through, exulting in a chance to be a man of action, and who knows, he might have taken out the king?

When Claudius tries to explain to Laertes later why Hamlet was not prosecuted for this homicide, he is most unconvincing. If Hamlet had been found guilty of manslaughter, and you had been asked to put in a plea for him in extenuation, the word ‘remorse’ would hardly pass your lips. There was none. The young prince was as cold, cruel and superior to the dead father as he had been to the disintegrating daughter. ‘Thou wretched rash intruding fool, farewell……I’ll lug the guts into a neighbour room.’ It was as if he had shot a beater by mistake on a pheasant shoot, an unfortunate interruption to the better people’s sport.

Now, the king, who is an accomplished murderer just getting into his stride, realises that that dead body might be his. He sets about sending Hamlet to England where he hopes the English will honour his request to kill the anointed heir to the Danish throne – ‘Do it, England.’ Rosencrantz and Guildenstern may or may not have been parties to this murderous attempted coup d’etat, but their sometime friend outsmarts them again. (Let’s face it, these two have ‘losers’ written all over their unlovely faces.) Hamlet picks their pocket. He destroys their commission to England and he substitutes a forgery. The commission from the King of Denmark to England now is that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are to be put to death forthwith. These poor creatures must have got a very nasty shock as they watched the perfidious English unfold the parchment and then proceed to shoot the messengers. But the conscience of young Hamlet, which is otherwise so sensitive, is not moved by these occasional murders.

Claudius and Laertes go one better with their plot to kill Hamlet. Laertes wants revenge for the death of his father and sister, but he is content to go along with Claudius in a covert scheme to murder Hamlet without inquiring of his co-conspirator what had caused the prior clemency of the king to evaporate – presumably it is because the people are now up in arms for Laertes against Claudius. Laertes will kill Hamlet as if by accident in a duel. To be sure, he poisons his weapon. Then to be trebly sure, Claudius will give Hamlet a poisoned drink.

You do have to wonder about the psychic efficacy of a secret anonymous revenge. And think of the overdrive in wait the PMO – the heir to the throne has accidentally killed the father of his girlfriend who has accidentally committed suicide, and then the brother and son of those two accidental victims has accidentally killed the man responsible.

Well, we know that the plan goes off the rails when the queen drinks the poison and Hamlet kills the king in hot blood for the death of his mother and his father.

But what for me is the grandfather of all these lies comes when Hamlet seeks to reconcile with Laertes. He tells Laertes that he Hamlet has done Laertes wrong, but then he says it was not he Hamlet that did the wrongs but his madness. This is a bare-faced lie, a lie upon a lie. It is a weak and cowardly lie. Nor are we surprised that Laertes is not moved. He says that he is satisfied in nature, ‘but in my terms of honour I stand aloof.’ Laertes is red hot for revenge for the death of his father and sister. In that heat, that we can understand, he descends to darkness and deceit. But his talk of being satisfied in nature, while not in honour is addressed to an unashamed liar who has committed himself to one pole-star in his life:

….Rightly to be great

Is not to stir without great argument,

But greatly to find quarrel in a straw

When honor’s at the stake. (4.4.53-56)

What a weasel word ‘honour’ is, and how right it was to use the word ‘aloof’ with it! And what murderous bullshit and pious claptrap from a spoiled prince do we have here? How many millions of people have died because the honor of a prince was at stake? And what place is there for any honour whatsoever among all these characters thrusting about in their own darkness and deceit?

The great A C Bradley published his famous lectures on Shakespearian Tragedy shortly after the death of Queen Victoria. He saw in Hamlet ‘a soul so pure and noble.’ Each of those three words now dies on our lips. Stalin and Hitler ravaged our faith in mankind. And we have given up the abracadabra or Open Sesame theory that says that you just have to find the right key to unlock the secret of a work of art. That childlike view, which used to be put about by psychoanalysts who should have known better, involves arrogance at our end, and downright bloody rudeness at the other. We don’t think that life or letters are so simple, and the people who have the best chance of staying sane are those who are happy to live with some mystery about them.

The prince who moves into the vacuum left by Hamlet and his uncle – and they did not leave much standing – was a man of action that Hamlet had a very rosy view of. Even in death this young man returned the compliment and said that Hamlet was ‘likely to have proved most royal.’ This was comity among Scandinavian royals, but do we agree?

We might now see that Hamlet had some key attributes, as the personnel consultants say, of a high-end CIA operative – a product of the noblesse oblige with a penchant for intellectual analysis and guesswork; a keen observer of the behaviour of others, and a taste for covert action in high affairs of state; a practised capacity for seamless dissimulation (if you must, a seasoned liar); a man who could handle himself in one-on-one armed combat to the death; a capacity coldly to drop someone very close to him if they got in the way of his mission; and, above all, and contrary to a very widely held view about this man, an operative who could override his conscience just like that if the stakes were high enough. Perhaps there was more to this young prince than first meets the eye.