THE DEMOCRATIC ILLUSION

Isn’t it wonderful that we live in a democratic system? Government by the people! Not like in those bad old days when we were ruled by kings!  Bullshit, bullshit and bullshit.

All government is a racket.  From time to time a new set of rulers emerges after a process designed to confer the appearance of legitimacy on one section of the dominant class. The details of that process vary from time to time and from place to place. The parameters of the ruling class are likewise variable – sometimes they’re defined by money, sometimes by education, sometimes by the number of inbred ancestors. The one constant is that people enamoured of their own system tend to be scornful of all others.

Western “democracy” operates by insisting that you choose between two contenders about whom you know nothing  except what hired liars have been paid to tell you.  It’s a slightly less honest version of the old Soviet system: you’re presented with a list of candidates and told “You can choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Aren’t you lucky!” (The US variant  seems to involve two millionaires competing to establish their bona fides as just plain folks and paying hucksters millions of dollars to convince you that they’ve succeeded). In each case you are told that the system has legitimacy because your act of free choice is the heart of it.

Systems of hereditary monarchy can get tricky. Does descent in the male line of a previous king’s third son outrank descent in the female line of his second son? This is important because legitimacy depends on the correct interpretation of those rules.

On the other hand the Chinese know perfectly well that legitimacy depends on the mandate of heaven.  This is a great system if you want to become emperor because all you need to do is succeed. “Obviously the mandate of heaven had been withdrawn from him. I cut off his head, didn’t I?”.

Now take the Dalai Lama (Please!!!  🙂 ). Apart from illustrating the eternal truth that any cause espoused by pop singers and film stars is probably bullshit the DL exemplifies an interestingly  bizarre method of choosing a ruler.  The thud of a Dalai Lama dropping off the twig signals the beginning of a wide ranging search for his newest incarnation.  Naturally this isn’t just pure guesswork. There’s a magic lake in Tibet that gives the searchers clues about where to look.   Palden Lhamo, the Lady of the Lake (cf. Tennyson, Monty Python etc) keeps up a steady stream of directions: “You’re getting warmer …. now a bit colder ….  freezing ”  – that sort of thing.  And the end result of this arcane process?  You guessed it: legitimacy.  It’s going to be interesting when the present DL croaks, since the Chinese government has already announced that they and only they will choose identify his successor.  What they really should do is to produce a world-wide reality TV show “The Hunt for the Dalai Lama”. Perhaps Donald Trump will agree to be the host.

 

No government has any real legitimacy except that which flows from its ability and willingness to guarantee benefits for the general population. “Benefits” is a broad term: it encompasses national defence, protection of the weak against the powerful, weather forecasts,  roads, utilities, medical treatment, courts, traffic lights, prisons, disaster relief, national parks, statistical reports, immigration control, rules for aviation, suburban sporting facilities, professional  licensing,  diplomacy and drains.

Most of these benefits need not be provided directly by the government, although some of them should be. I would be very worried, for instance,  about the future of any society in which the government allowed genuine armed forces or police to be replaced by private companies. I’m perfectly well aware of the ritual incantation “Government services are necessarily inefficient!” but I counter it with the equally valid mantra “Services underpinned by the profit motive are  probably corrupt”. In any event the government’s job is to ensure that the services are available one way or another.

It follows that  any political movement in the name of  “independence”  or “liberation” or “self determination” is just as much a  racket as a “kingdom” or an “empire”.  A new government resulting from an election may be better or worse than its predecessor – the difference is just a toss of the coin. Exactly the same is true of a new government after a palace coup or an assassination or a change of dynasty. If we like it we say it’s legitimate; if we don’t we take to the streets howling ineffectual slogans “Not in my name!”, “Not my Prime Minister!”, “Impeach Trump!”.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

MY FATHER’S WAR

This is a slightly modified version of a post that I put up on a previous blog. I think it’s worth repeating.

Some years before my father died a document circulated among some of his friends from the Second World War. It was a transcript of a radio programme from early 1943, a series of interviews with members of his unit, including Dad himself, recorded after the horrendous Buna – Sananada fighting in which they had participated. Because of wartime secrecy, the unit – the 2/12 Australian Infantry Battalion – was not identified. Here is a link to the full transcript.  I hope you find it interesting enough to read in full, but just to give you the flavour of it, here is an extract:

The morning of the attack on New Year’s Day we were in position around Battalion Headquarters. About ten minutes after the attack started the wounded started to come in. Well, when word came in that many of the stretcher bearers were wounded, Dave Hodgetts volunteered to go out and bring the wounded in. And I suppose during that day he must have brought in about 30 men. He had to go across a couple of nasty stretches swept by fire but that didn’t stop him. Then, in the afternoon, when all the wounded had been looked after, he carried ammunition to the forward positions, and some of them wouldn’t be more than 10 to 15 feet from some of the pillboxes. He had a cup of tea about six or seven o’clock and then he volunteered to lead a pioneer party out to the forward platoons with stew and tea, and I suppose he must’ve worked until about ten o’clock that night. First thing next morning he was out taking ammunition to the machine gunners. While he was out with ammunition he noticed a wounded man lying out in the open.Two of the Jap posts were sweeping this ground with machine gun and rifle fire and Dave was told he didn’t have a chance of getting to the wounded man. Dave said “Like hell!” and crawled out and got him. Every time he went out with ammunition he went round fossicking to see if there were any wounded left. He worked as no other fellow did. He seemed to be the first man in everything. He was always the first to volunteer for anything.

In a prefatory note to The Middle Parts of Fortune (the best novel of the First World War) the author, Frederic Manning, wrote

…in recording the conversations of the men I seemed at times to hear the voices of ghosts.”

As well as  my father, some of the men interviewed here were intermittent characters in my childhood and youth. It’s a strange feeling to read this text and come across those familiar names and idioms.  They are the nearest thing to ghosts in my experience.

 FullSizeRender.jpg
Leo Gardner (1918-2004)

There are army terms used in the transcript that might be unfamiliar to some readers. “MT” is “Motor Transport”, “sig” is “signaller”, “draw the crabs” means “attract enemy fire”, “C O” is “commanding officer”. If anybody has any questions on this or any other aspect of the transcript I will happily attempt to answer them.

Reflecting on these interviews leads me to try and clarify my thoughts about how we remember various wars and the men who fought in them. That is a matter for a later post. For now all I will say is that I am scornful of ill-informed and mawkish displays of public sentimentality. I can hardly do better than to quote Frederic Manning again.

“War is waged by men; not by beasts, or by gods. It is a peculiarly human activity. To call it a crime against mankind is to miss at least half of its significance; it is also the punishment of a crime.”

WHAT’S IT TO YOU, SPORT?

(This post is based on a conversation I had recently on Facebook. To the other people who participated: thank you for the stimulation. If I’ve stolen any of your original thoughts, I apologise.)

I hate all national anthems. I hate people feeling obliged to stand up for them and feeling superior to those who don’t. I hate people with flags on their cars or in their front yards. It used to be an instance of Australia’s superiority to the US that we were above that sort of nonsense. Now, however, there is barely any such thing as a recognisable Australian culture. Most of our fashions in thought (including anti-Americanism) are imported from the US and one of those execrable fashions is a willingness to take flags and anthems seriously.

 

National anthems at sporting events are an abomination. The prevalence of them is one reason why, although I love sport, I have practically stopped attending it. In fact if you go to a big sporting event these days you get hit with a double whammy: vulgar national anthems to start with and a combination of 5th rate pop music and advertisements for Colonel Sanders throughout the day. And when I say “national anthems” (I’m on a roll now) I include pseudo-anthems – the Pommies playing Jerusalem before cricket matches, for instance. Are they completely immune to embarrassment? The author of Jerusalem,  William Blake, was as mad as a cut snake and his poem is a mixture of lunatic religiosity and disguised support for the French Revolution. During the First World War one Hubert Parry was commissioned to set it to music as a patriotic rabble rouser although he eventually tiptoed away from the commissioning organisation because it was a bit too patriotic if you know what I mean. He handed the rights to his music over to the suffragettes in the hope that it would become their political anthem. Political organisations just love songs, don’t they? Nothing serves to better illustrate the truth of the old adage: “If you’ve got something to say, say it; if you’ve got nothing to say, sing it.” One of the most hilarious sights in politics is a group of Fairfax-reading, ABC-watching  left wingers  singing The Red Flag. Personally I prefer the version that begins:

The working class can kiss my arse;
I’ve got a bludger’s job at last.
though there are plenty of others.
At this point I should probably clarify my own position on a couple of issues: William Blake, though mad, was, at his best, a fine poet.  The suffragettes, apart from their unwarranted obstruction of horse races, were a worthy organisation.
Here in Australia we have too many grudges about New Zealand.  I think it would be better if we tried to get along with our trans-Tasman neighbours. We could start with an equitable division of disputed properties. We’ll have Phar Lap and you can keep Russell Crowe. That’s a fair start, isn’t it? See, a bit of good will and you can resolve most difficulties. Not all, though: there remains the haka. Why it has not been laughed off the world’s sporting grounds I do not know. It’s offensive and ridiculous. It’s especially ludicrous when demonstrated by some seven-foot sheep shagger who’s as white as my arse and has a ribbon wound around his head to keep his brains from falling out. Give it away, fellers! Isn’t it enough that you win all the games?
I used to be so proud of Australian sporting teams because they didn’t know the words of the national anthem!!! That was a real indicator that our culture (back in the days when we had one) was superior to that of flag-wavers like the Americans. Not now, though. Now our boys throw their heads back and bellow absurdities with the world’s best (having devoted the previous week to memorising the words, they generally seem to have forgotten the game plan, but you can’t have everything). All national anthems are horrible, but ours is more embarrassing than most. The French have the most offensive lyrics, counterbalanced by a good tune (which they pinched from the Fitzroy Football Club). Australia’s has a crappy tune AND vomit-inducing lyrics. New Zealand’s has boring anachronistic words and a rudimentary tune. Canada’s has only two words and no tune at all.  The vapidity of South Africa’s anthem is masked by the fact that it’s so fucking long and you have to suffer through reprises in nineteen different languages.  The US anthem combines the musical subtlety of Chopsticks with the verbal sophistication of a tweet from their  President.
And flags!  Don’t get me started.  Flags will have to wait for another day.

TIME FOR SOME DISCRIMINATING TALK ABOUT WOMEN

It’s only a matter of time before top-level sporting teams will be compelled, by the power of fashionable opinion, to include equal numbers of women and men. This is just one of the thoughts that struck me while I enjoyed the spectacle of Adelaide getting flogged by Richmond in the recent AFL Grand Final.

Note that I didn’t say “public opinion” since the opinion of Joe or Joan Public is irrelevant in determining which issues occupy the headlines. Some examples: same-sex marriage; abolishing the titular monarchy; the plight of illegal immigrants who get sprung trying to  enter Australia. These are some of the issues that take up a lot of air time at the moment but, regardless of their rights or wrongs,  I doubt if any of them matters much to Joe or Joan.

The precedent for selecting sides by ideological rather than athletic criteria has already been set. I understand that some South African sporting teams are compelled to include a certain  number of “black” or “non white” members. Normally I would be amused by the problems of definition raised by these rules (How dark is black enough? What percentage of European ancestry is acceptable?). However if anybody is going to be inconvenienced I’m glad it’s the  South Africans; it serves them right for having made  such a stupid fetish of strictly defined racial categories in the first place.

From time to time some reckless public figure tells the truth about the difference in standards between male and female tennis players. John McEnroe was the latest, when he said that Serena Williams, on a good day, might be able to compete with the 700th best male player.  It was as if he’d thrown a handful of chips into a flock of hungry seagulls. A whole lot of indignant squealing and not much rational dialogue. In fact McEnroe has a high opinion of Serena Williams as an athlete – I’ve heard him say so. His point is that by comparing female to male tennis players you’re not comparing like with like. That’s why they have separate tournaments.  But ideological purity is more important than good sense or good will; so I’m confident that eventually they’ll have to play one other (the men will need to be blindfolded or have their legs broken or something but that’s just a matter of administrative detail). Incidentally I can’t resist the opportunity to make another point about Serena Williams: remember her disgusting outburst against a line judge a couple of years ago? If a man had behaved like that there would have been a queue of blokes lining up to smack him around the head.  Or am I  just a starry-eyed old idealist? Anyhow Serena Williams makes Nick Kyrgios look like Victor Trumper and the sport would be better off without the pair  of them.

Moving now to the silver screen: it appears that a growing number of actresses want to be called actors (presumably because “actress” is an example of unacceptably accurate and precise language). On the other hand any impassioned outcry from actresses for the Academy Awards to stop handing out separate Oscars for women has escaped my notice. I know that this is a genuine sociological problem and you’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve solved it for you. In future there can still be two awards for good acting. The categories can be:

  • Best actor claiming to have a penis; and
  • Best actor claiming to have a vagina.

Now I’ve given this matter some serious thought. Of course I wouldn’t suggest that potential nominees should be subject to any form of inspection. That would be an invasion of their privacy and we all know that it’s far better to do something really stupid than to run the risk of encroaching on anybody’s rights. Hence my cunning formula “claiming to”. We can do this on the honour system! Like all honour systems  it will be abused in a certain percentage of cases but that just provides the subtlety by which actors who don’t want to claim to have either a penis or a vagina can still be eligible. The’ll have to tell a lie, of course, but which lie they choose to tell is a matter of indifference to the system. And if it’s the worst lie told in Hollywood that week I’ll go he.

 

 

CONVICTION POLITICS

Like many other Australians I have convict ancestors. As far as I remember this was never a secret in my family but in  society at large it was something to keep quiet about.

When I was a kid  “official” opinion still held that the only real Australians were those who thought of themselves as transplanted English.  We were a country of branch offices run by imported managers. The ABC was our version of the BBC, and sounded like it.  Newspaper editorials appealed to our sense of imperial solidarity  (though the word “Empire” was gradually being replaced by “Commonwealth”). The pseudo-English  went to Protestant churches,  owned businesses, worked as bosses.  They also sent their kids to the Boy Scouts, presumably to keep pace with young Catholics  in experience of pederasty.

The “Irish”  featured as labourers, soldiers and sportsman.  Balts and  wogs were useful for building the Snowy River Scheme and for slotting in to the bottom rungs of society as the Irish began to work themselves upwards.

In such a society convict ancestors were a disgrace, especially to the social climbers whose fondest ambition was to be indistinguishable from their English counterparts (despite the fact that  those counterparts would have regarded them with condescension and contempt). Convicts had been, after all, criminals.

The bitter conscription debate during the First World War, perceived by most people as largely Catholic vs largely Protestant, was still a raw memory for many. Those who looked back to those times with nostalgia now had no grown-up causes over which to fight  and were reduced to squabbling about control of the Labor Party.

There had always been a minority strain in Australia that didn’t go along with the cult of Protestant respectability, opting instead for an aggressive anti-imperial patriotism that was almost as tiresome.  By the late 60s this faction began to permeate the mainstream and criminal ancestors began to be a source of pride. After all, the convicts were  innocent victims of the evil Pommies, weren’t they?

My great grandfather was a convict. The newspaper account of his trial, conviction and unsuccessful appeal is an interesting document.  I thank my sister for finding it and sending it to me so that I can reproduce it and take the credit.

THE LEINSTER EXPRESS AND QUEEN’S & KING’S COUNTIES OF KILDARE, CARLOW, KILKENNY,  TIPPERARY,  WICKLOW, MEATH, DUBLIN & MIDLAND GENERAL ADVERTISER
Saturday 25 July 1840

James Gardner, Thomas Gardner & Mathew Brophy stood indited for assaulting Jeremiah, Philip & John Larrisey & William Morrisey of Boardivell on 26 April last.
There were eight counts in the Inditment,
The first was for assualting Jeremiah Larrissey so as to do him greivous bodily injury; the second, so as to endanger his life; the third for riot;
the forth for an affray; the fifth for a common assault on John Larrisey

The prisoners in answer to question from the Clerk of the Courts pleaded justification

William Morrissey examined by Mr Clarke – lives at Boardwell; recollects the night; was awakened by hearing his dog bark; got up & went to his kitchen door; shortly after which it was struck with a blow of a stone; shortly
after it was struck again; he asked who was there & what they wanted at that hour of night; a voice bade him open the door; he refused & shouted as loud as he could for help, as he knew the Larrisseys would hear him, their houses being within 5 or 6 perches of his at the other side of the road; in a few minutes he heard the latch of their door rising & knowing they were coming
to his aid, he opened his own door & went out with a pitchfork in his hand; when he did so a fight and scuffle was going on between the party & the Larrissys;
saw Mat Brophy knocked down into the grip of the ditch; after some time they succeeded in capturing the three men; brought them into his house & kept them prisoners until the morning, when the police having been sent for to Rathdfowney, they delivered them up into custardy; all the Larrissys were cut & covered in blood; Jeremiah Larrissy was severely cut; Phil & John were also cut & himself received 2 or 3 blows; the prisoners at the bar
are the three men they arrested.

The witness was asked a few foolish questions by Brophy which, if anything,the more fully established their guilt.

Jeremiah Larrissey, examined by Mr Corballis lives near last witness; recollects the night of the 26 April last; was in bed with his brother Philip; some time in the night Phil woke him & enquired had he locked the doors & in a short time after said he believed Morrissay’s house was attacked by robbers; they then got up; witness took a spade & Phil a shovel; John took nothing; when they went but they heard stones thrown, & soon after heard his brother John cry for mercy; went over to him & found him with a hold of James Gardiner.
Witness knocked him down with a spade & broke one of his fingers; Matt Brophy then came up & struck witness a severe blow on the head with a large wattle.
(The witness here exhibited a deep indenture in his head). Got several other strokes; his brother Phil was cut across the eye with a stone; knew some of the Gardiners before, but never had a quarrel with them.
Philip Larrissy corroborated the last witness’s testimony. Thomas Gardiner struck him with a stone on the temple – (witness exhibited the wound, which
was very severe) saw Matt Brophy strike his brother Jer.

John Larrissey (a feeble minded old man) examined by Mr Clarke – Fully corroborated his brothers testimony; got a blow across the eye from which he for a long time suffered a great deal of pain, and another across the back of the hand; had the palsy before the night.

Dr Robert Drought examined by Mr Corballis – Is a medical gentleman; knows the Larrissys; attended them after the night of 26: Philip was in a dangerous way; the eyebrow was detached & lay upon his cheek. Jer had a very extensive cut on his head; it was nearly 2 in length: John’s right eye was injured; Philip received great bodily harm.

The prisoners not producing any witness his lordship recapitulated the evidence
& the Jury found the prisoners Not Guilty of the first count, Guilty of all the others.

TO HIS EXCELLENCY LORD EBRINGTON LORD LIEUTENANT OF IRELAND

The humble petition of James Gardiner and Thomas Gardiner prisoners confined in the goal of Maryboro in the Queens County
Most humbly show to your Excellency
Than that they were tried at the last assizes holden at Maryboro before the Lord Chief Justice Bushe and found guilty of an assault on William Morrissey.
Phillip-Jeremiah and John Larrissey and sentenced to seven years transportation.
That your petitioners most humbly show to your Excellency that they at all times since the commission of this unfortunate transaction felt the deepest sorrow for it and in proof of which they offered to plead guilty of this assault but were put on trial when not pleading guilty to all the counts in the indictment against them and they consider that the Jury only returned a Verdict against them for a common assault but petitioners cannot speak with certainty whether or not.

That your petitioners most humbly show to your Excellency that this occurrence for which they are now under so severe a sentence happened thus.

A person named Peggy Larkin lived as Servant with the aforementioned Larrissey’s and in the Spring of 1839 sowed some potatoes with one Key who resides near to
Larrissey’s, that in sometime after some disagreement took place between the girl and the Larrisseys when she left the neighbourhood and went to Service elsewhere. She having pitted these potatoes in the garden of the said William Morrissey who lives immediately opposite to the Larriseys the High road running between them
That said Peggy Larkin has a sister named Joney who is married to one James Gardiner an uncle to your Petitioners. She her husband and five small children
were in the most absolute distress for several days for provisions when this Joney Gardiner asked them would hey go bring her some of the aforesaid potatoes belonging to her sister the said Peggy Larkin to which they foolishly consented thinking it no harm.
That on their coming to said Wm Morrissey’s home where these potatoes were pitted his dog began to bark and he got up out of bed and on making noise the Larrisseys got up and came out and thought your Petitioners were going
to rob them assaulted your petitioners very severely and your petitioners in defence of their lives assaulted said Larrisseys & Morrissey but your petitioners most positively declare they had no intention of committing any other crime but to bring away a few of the aforesaid potatoes not for themselves but for the support of the sister and children of the owner there of in proof
of this…… and can they brought for them was taken on the spot but returned the next morning by the Police.
That your Petitioners most humbly show to your Excellency they are very poor and were not able to defend themselves by Council or Attorney and have a widowed mother, two sisters and a brother solely depending on their earnings
for Support and Petitioners under the circumstances of the case most humbly entreat of your Excellency in Clemency and mercy not to send them out of the Country but commute their sentence to any length of imprisonment and hardship your Excellency may think meet to inflict on them in order they may one day or other render some assistance to their unfortunate distressed
parent.
Petitioners most humble refer Your Excellency to the annexed recommendations in their behalf.
And in duty bound …………..pray

(signed James Gardiner and Thomas Gardiner dated 2ne August1840;

We the undersigned inhabitants of Queen’s County do hereby certify that we have read the foregoing Petition and that we believe the same to be true and under the circumstances of the case beg leave to recommend the Petitioners to the Clemency and mercy of His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant.

Given under our hands this 4th day of August 1840
John R Price, Westfield Bev Joseph Spacker? Ag…….
Peter Roe, Gortmaclea? James Llewellyn Roe, Coolbally
John Henry? JP ? Thomas Dowling, T…..
Robert White, ?? John Roe JP?
Pa….. T…… JP? G 21 1840

James & Thos Gardiner

The Law must take its course
Aug 14 (signed E)

What I did with an Amazon voucher

Recently I was given an Amazon voucher. My Principal Advisor suggested that my thank-you email to the donor might be the basis of a short blog post, so here is a summary of the books I bought.
  • The Third Reich: A New History    Michael Burleigh is one of my favourite contemporary historians. I’m looking forward to reading this book.  He can usually be relied on to find new twists on old subjects. If you wanted to try one of his books I’d suggest starting with Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism.

 

  • The Spartacus War: Barry Strauss  I bought this on the basis of good reviews and the never-changing fascination of the subject. The author is new to me.

 

  • Alanbrooke War Diaries 1939-1945: Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke  The diaries of Alan Brooke (Pommy Chief of the Imperial General Staff for most of the Second World War) are a historical event in themselves. This is the first unexpurgated edition. I used to have a copy of the bowdlerised version that, when published in the 50s, resulted in Churchill never speaking to Brooke again, despite their intimate association during the war. It’s not that he is blind to Churchill’s virtues, but he’s not blind to his faults either. Fascinating.

 

 

  • Fire & Blood: A History of Mexico: T. R. Fehrenbach. I know quite a bit about the conquistadors, and a little bit of 20th century history but I don’t have a grasp of the continuity of Mexican history. Buying this book is an attempt to correct that deficiency. I wonder if it’s got anything about walls?

 

  • Fame is the Spur:  Howard Spring.  One of my minor obsessions is middlebrow novelists of the 30s, 40s and 50s, some of whom I think are greatly undervalued. Howard Spring is one of them. I haven’t read this book but it was quite famous in its day. I believe its about a  lower class Pommy who rises up the social ladder through Labour Party politics.

 

I’d be interested to hear other peoples’ opinions about any of these books.

MORE MEANS WORSE

Nearly always, more means worse. Increasing the number of university students lessens the value of a degree; the more popular a film or book, the more likely it is to be rubbish;  the longer a memorandum,  the more confused its meaning; while an individual display of emotion may or may not be genuine, a display of public emotion is almost certainly bogus; the more teams in a sporting competition, the more inferior players; the more politicians in a legislature the more likely that a lot of them will have shit for brains. More means worse.

The title of this post is a slogan that I first read in some non-fiction piece by Kingsley Amis. I don’t even remember the context in which Amis – a proverbially moderate and judicious commentator on the human experience – used it, but I have found it useful ever since.

From time to time politicians boast that more people now attend university than was the case under previous regimes. In other words, they are proud to have overseen a decline in academic standards. Here in Australia that process began in the late 80s or early 90s when the federal government (Labor, if it matters) in an attempt to hide the true rate of unemployment, announced:

“In future, universities will not seek to attract the smartest elements of the population. Instead, they will become post-secondary kindergartens: everybody will be welcome and nearly everybody will win a prize. Starting tomorrow Wallaby Crossing Tech will be known as Simpson Desert University and will offer degree courses in marketing, public relations and women’s studies.”

All those who think that our culture is the richer for this process please go and drown yourselves.

My education was  interrupted by several years of compulsory school attendance.  Among the handful of useful things I learned in that period was that good writing is succinct and compressed. I thank Lips Murray, for showing us that a passage of Shakespeare, rewritten into common speech, will be greatly extended in length and diminished in value.  This example provides a double whammy. Not only will the shorter passage be better in itself but it will also be understood by fewer people, thereby illustrating yet again how the majority’s judgement is always inferior. More means worse. Almost everything you read is too long. Tempted to add extra words  to something you’ve written? Ask yourself what new information the new words add. What will the reader know now that was not known before? If the extra word or phrase or  paragraph doesn’t add a clear new meaning, take it out. Everybody should memorise George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language.  Go to link  and start now.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule (except this one). While most really popular books or films are awful some moderately popular works are OK.  I am almost tempted to be optimistic when I see authors like Donna Tartt riding high on the charts (and, of course, I love her name); but there is really no hope for a civilisation that enriches the authors of “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “The Secret”. Most lists of all time best sellers are headed by three works which have an unfair advantage: they are religious texts with a guaranteed circulation among their insane devotees: The Koran, The Bible and Quotations from Chairman Mousy Dung. The fact that one of them contains passages of rare eloquence is a fluke, pure and simple, like Glen McGrath’s 50 against New Zealand.

If I drop a brick on my foot the resultant display of emotion will be heartfelt and genuine. On the other hand, some of you may remember  when the ditzy ex-wife of England’s most shameless dole bludger was killed in a car accident. For weeks the streets of London were jammed with extras from Coronation Street littering the capital with flowers and maudlin placards in memory of somebody they didn’t know. That was amusing; but it has been emulated so often, so tastelessly, that the joke is wearing thin. Every time some Moslem idiot brings eternal happiness to a few Christians we have vigils and candles and hand-holding and journalism – all the nauseating manifestations of public emotion that we have come to expect. But let’s be fair: are they any more spurious than our older traditions of Anzac Day (Australia), Memorial Day (America), Remembrance Sunday (England) and so on? We must always beware of being sucked into mass displays of emotion, especially in celebration of people from whom we are too far separated in time or space to have anything in common. More means worse.