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"George is a sample specimen of Aristotle's 'political animal' and a lover not only of Aristotle and his work but of all the men and women who have contributed to the nourishment of the human mind, the nurturing of its heart and to the understanding of the difference between good and evil.He has translated all of the extant plays of the 5th Century BC, Athenians, as well as many of the Lyric poets, including Sappho and a few morsels from Plato’s lush table, all of which he has placed up on the web for everyone to download, to study or to read at their leisure.He loves Literature and when one is so disposed one cannot help but to also love politics. The two are inextricably one. George says he's neither Left nor Right, since these terms are now nothing more than labels on an empty vessel. What is meaningful is the thought and the deed and both should be just. He is a member of the working group of the Barum Fabula digital library of classical works, a collaboration of eight universities in Spain and the US.


Leunig, mothers, babies and the phone

Here I am again, defending yet another cartoonist, yet again against charges of some -ism or other. Last time, back in February, it was Ken Knight who was vilified for being a racist, having drawn a cartoon depicting Serena Williams in such a way that it raised the ire of a good number of readers, reading the sketch as a comment on her race rather than on her appalling behaviour on the tennis court, which was how I saw it..

This time it is Leunig with his sketch of a woman so absorbed in the flickering lights of her mobile phone that she lost not only the plot but also her baby.

What a horrible attack on women, on mothers, Leunig’s attackers screamed! It is undeniably an attack on mothers and women and it’s undeniably a misogynist cartoon.

Why, even Jane Caro said it! Jane Caro, for Zeus’ sake! What an appalling thing Leunig had done. Just another white male who longs for his lost gender dominance! Roll out the guillotines

And again, they hurl the same charges and denunciations at Leunig that they had hurled at Knight: He has form. He does this all the time. He is a real misogynist!

Yes, roll out the guillotines!

Imagine what hellish castigations the gentle cartoonist would be copping had he drawn a black Muslim woman wheeling the pram, or an Aboriginal woman or a woman with a huge cross dangling from her neck!

Fukuyama’s latest book is on “Identity Politics.” No matter how you look at Fukuyama, he comes out looking like a USA-peddling Nazi so I don’t take his views too seriously but the essence of his latest extrication is nearing relevance to the commentary on Leunig’s cartoon.

Fukuyama asserts that (after his “End of History”) a new social phenomenon has emerged. We have become, he says, too ready to identify with certain, few things and our political views have shrunk so much that we vote for men or women who promise only to attend to the concerns we identify with and we do not concern ourselves with what that person will do on any other issue.

If we, for example are gay, then we will vote for someone who will support the gays, without caring what other things that person supports. If we are pro abortion, then we look only for a person who will support this cause, without checking out what else is in his bag of policies or in the contents of his character (to use Martin Luther King’s description) and so on.

In short, we care only for what we identify with or feel strongly about, relinquishing our care for other issues.

Feminism, Misogyny, Patriotism, Religion, that sort of thing.

And, I do declare, the attacks on Leunig are of this “identity politics” nature.

Leunig is making a perfectly glowingly simple, concise and certainly accurate statement: Electronic devices are devious, insidious and anti-humane things. Devices such as phones can shift even the mother’s attention from her newborn and this statement is all the more profound because he has a mother wheeling that pram.

He could have had a male doing it.

Or a black woman or a black man, an Asian, an Inuit. But he didn’t.

He just used the single, most profound, best known symbol of parenthood, the most crucial symbol of nature, of nurture, the most accurate symbol of the human bond: the mother in whose womb that baby became.

This – the bond between mother and baby – is the closest possible human attachment there is; it is the most important one, the most necessary one for both, the mother and the newborn.

Leunig’s exhortation is not against the mother but against the device.

The device destroys that most essential bond, that between the mother and her baby. Yes, even that bond!

The device replaces the mental and psychological, the intellectual and the moral umbilical cord between us and our maker. The device does.

Had he had anyone else wheeling that pram, the essence of this message would have been lost. We would be saying to ourselves, “yeah, we gotta be careful when wheeling our babies around not to get distracted by the phone.”

Nowhere near the emphasis on the horrors of the phone itself. In that circumstance, you do not hear Leunig’s voice saying, “Fucking mobiles are so nasty, so narcissistic, that they can separate even the mother from her child. They make us motherless. They make us absorbed in trivialities, in mundane things to the detriment of vital things.”

Had Leunig had an old man wheeling the pram, we’d be thinking Leunig is warning us against dementia.

No, it had to be a mother.

Leunig is not attacking the mother. He is attacking the device. The device is so insidious it can destroy even the tightest bond, which is that between mother and the newborn. Mother and the newborn are the victims of that device. And since this bond is the most important bond of all, all other social bonds are up for destruction by a very simple, totally banal device.

Nearly 3,000 years ago, Homer wrote a poem in which he said (using a mother again) that devastating divisions, the most devastating wars are caused because of banal, unimportant, petty things such as pride and lust and beauty – insignificant things.

Helen of Troy had a daughter, Hermione, which she had left behind with her sister to look after when she left with her lover Paris.

Homer had Eris, the goddess of Strife, chuck a golden apple in the middle of a wedding party, with the words “to the most beautiful” inscribed upon it; and that started the war between two continents, devastating one.

This time, Eris has chucked a mobile phone amongst us and Leunig says, beware, like the golden apple, it can devastate half the planet.

Golden apples, wooden horses. Beware!

This cartoon goes to the kernel of Homer’s Iliad and it uses the instrument of his day to make the same point. A golden apple for Homer, an iPhone for Leunig.

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Ostracism (or “Hinch is no Aristeides and a vote is no ostracon”)

I have two daughters, a grand daughter and two grand sons. I have many other relatives, neighbours and friends. Close friends and friends separated by distance. Friends and relatives I love.

The mere thought that someone has hurt a single hair on their heads could well have me feeling murderous and grieving for a long time. If then a creature like Senator Derryn Hinch – cursed be his name and cursed be the Senate that has him in its fold! – decided to publicise the gruesome details of that event (real, alleged or imagined) would make both, my grief and my urge to be murderous near impossible to control.

Hinch has no idea about grief. He has a platform which he has turned into a pulpit of hateful dogmas. He has no idea of what he is saying nor what the effects of his sayings are, how powerfully hurtful they are and how close to being lethal they can be. Hinch does not protest. Don’t make the mistake of thinking his frenzied and mindless attacks are acts of protest. Don’t think that his sonorous accusations, all his drum beating and all his crass and vulgar, his bilious hatred towards a sex offender are acts of protestation.

They are anything but.

They are simply acts.

Acts by a bad actor

They are acts of accusation which, like ancient Greek stage masks, are worn to hide some flaw in his character. Hinch wears a mask to hide his attempts to gain kudos and relevance. Distinction from the rest of us. To hide his lack of, or his inadequacy of, almost anything that a compassionate human has. His loud accusations are nothing more than masks of inhumaneness.

He committed this despicable act of tweeting the gory details of what Aiia Maasarwe had suffered in the hands of a savage, not so as to correct an errant law because if that was his purpose he could have done it by many other means, very powerful means and much more effective means, means that we could all relate to and give our consent; this tweet of his shouted in no uncertain language, “I am your saviour, I am your messiah!”

It is the shouting of delusion, of psychopathy – in any case, of a deep psychological problem, desperately seeking a cure.

And, instead of correcting an errant law, the highly possible change that Hinch has effected would be that he brutalised the law. By this grotesque act, he is urging the masses to put pressure on the legislators to create new laws -or, rather to exhume old laws from the graves civilisation had buried them in a long time ago- and to apply them anew. Old, abandoned brutal laws become the new accepted brutal laws.

Next stop, if Hinch has his way, will be capital punishment or banishment for stealing a loaf of bread.

Hinch was born with a tin howler in his hands which he took for god’s golden mike and so he uses it at every opportunity to tell the world what the principal teacher of morals, according to some, Jesus, would say.

Hinch, like almost all politicians does not want to change the law. Such laws give them air and legitimacy. Something to hang their hat on. An emblem.

No, they are after the tin howler, the one they think god uses to straighten us all up.

I cannot bear to see his face let alone listen to his grating rants. I’ve stopped listening to him pretty much the first time I heard him speak. Can’t remember what it was but no matter, the message hasn’t changed one apostrophe or one exclamation mark since he started. One issue, one solution, one dogma: Stop the law from being the law, be as graphic as you can when describing the brutality a victim has suffered, create even more victims out of that one act of savagery, so that the law would change and so that he, Senator Derryn Hinch would be declared our Messiah.

Never mind that his dogma causes more victims, more grief, more pain, more virulent pain, more lasting pain.

It seems our radio stations, our TV channels, our press and our Parliaments have been, at some point not that long ago suddenly stormed by a horde of bastards and now we hear and see nothing but putrid hatred for humanity.

From George Brandis’ “we have the right to be bigots, you know” to Dutton’s “they’re doing well at Manus and Nauru” to… things said in such number that, well, let me borrow Jack Hibberd’s delicious line, “too numerous to enumerate!”

Bastards, one and all.

What do we do? What do we do in a state where Democracy is the clarion call and “freedom of speech,” its slogan?

The ancient Athenians had an answer. Ostracism.

Aristides and the Citizens

Every year – once only a year and against one only citizen – people in Parliament would be asked if they want to hold an ostracism. If yes, then two months later (enough time for discussions to take place) a minimum of six thousand people would gather in the agora, the market place, the speech making place at the centre of the city and there they would scratch on broken pieces of pottery the name of the man they hated the most and place them in great urns. Men who have done unconscionable wrong or men who, like Aristeidis the Just, simply annoyed people. These were generally rich, influential people who got under the skin of the commoners for one reason or other. I won’t go on discussing this summary law, other than to say that there was no court, no judicial process, no lawyers, no prosecution nor defence lawyers, no involvement by any other person or body of persons. Just you and your ostracon, your shard of pottery. You were asked to participate in a reverse “popularity contest” by scratching on that shard the name of the person you hated the most.

Officials would preside and the person whose name appeared the most would be given ten days to get out of town – for ten years.

These were almost exclusively people of wealth and influence because it was they who could cause the greatest civil agitation and harm.

The banished person would be kept away from Athens for ten years with death being his punishment if he tried to come back any earlier. And when he did, all was forgiven. His property was not confiscated, his reputation – good or ill – remained and he would not be stigmatised for being ostracised.

Only one per year.

It was a way of keeping the political process and the ego of the politicians, just that little bit more sanguine. More circumspect.

It wasn’t an idea that was perfectly executed but certainly one that requires some examination as to how to improve it and make certain that it stays uncorruptedly in the hands of the common citizen.

And although, many rascals (Cleon and Cleophon are two that come to mind) have escaped this process, Senator Hinch, I’m certain, would be told to pack his venom-dripping bags and leave the country. I’d be there, at the agora with enough anger and fury to make sure I’ve spelled his name right:

Ντέρρυν Χιντς.

And please don’t bring up his own story of molestation. Whatever it was, it must have been horrific and would have had enormous impact on his views about paedophiles and sexual miscreants. This should make him think even more about what he is saying about what words he is using about what impact these words have upon the victims and their family.

The incident did nothing of the sort and at the kindest, one would say he is acting so relentlessly out of revenge.

I’m not so kind to people who cause so much grief.

He is doing it so obsessively because it’s the only thing that gives him, in his mind, the legitimacy to hold a mike, a tin howler and I very much wish that someone would take it off him because he is using it to cause harm and not good.

Yes, we could do this done by vote but an ostracon would see him out of the scene quicker and cheaper, which is what is sorely needed.

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The Choice

It is the first day of the new year and I feel that this is the proper time when one should turn his attention to Socrates and hear once more his exhortation, “know thyself” and read also over his observation that an unexamined life is not one that is worth living. That life, the life that is worth living, the noble life, is the one that has been thoroughly examined.

So I have chosen today, one day after last year, to be introspective.

The Byzantine Emperor Theophilos, golden apple in hand, is inspecting a long line of women, all petitioners for that golden apple. They are the most beautiful women in the Empire and they are now all lined up in one of the palace gardens in Constantinople, not too far from the monumental church Hagia Sophia where the most important Byzantines go to observe all the rituals of Christianity, the birth, the christening, the marriage the death and a whole host of blessings for a whole host of needs. Hagia Sophia had replaced Apollo’s temple at Delphi in importance and in popularity. In need, even.

His stepmother, Euphrosyne is walking beside him and it is her stern eye that will determine which woman will get the prize. A double prize, as it happens, the golden apple and the title of Empress. That woman, the woman who will get the apple, will effectively be her daughter-in-law. Lots at stake here so the eye must indeed be stern so that the choosing might not err.

Among the gorgeous women is one called Cassia, (also Kassia) Kassiani, in Greek. Cassia is the feminine form of the Roman name Cassius and Cassius-Gaius Cassius Longinus, the Roman was given a frown by the then Emperor of Rome, Julius Caesar, to wit (according to Shakespeare):

“Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.”

This Roman Cassius, chose to play a major role in one of History’s highly significant events, that which occurred on the 15th of March, 44BC, the fatal Ides of March. His blade, along with that of young Brutus, had caused two of the 23 stab wounds found in Julius’ assassinated body, an assassination which he, Cassius, had organised.

The Emperor Theophilos had to make a choice, one that was much like Homer’s Paris had to make, a choice between three goddesses. Paris chose Aphrodite, the consequence of which was the ten-year long, Trojan War.

As Theophilos and Euphrosyne, walked along the line of potential brides, (dubbed “The Bride Show”) they asked the women all sorts of questions or make all sorts of comments to them to try and gauge their IQ, their philosophy on things and, quite possibly their prowess in the bedroom and possibly the kitchen. Virginity being the necessary prowess in the former, expertise in the latter.

When they came before Cassia the Emperor proffered this to her:

Through woman flow all things evil

To which Cassia, without losing a beat, responded with:

And through woman flow all things splendid

She was referring to the birth of Christ, the central figure of Christianity and the alleged saviour of the world.

Theophilos had only just turned 18 years of age and he immediately fell deeply in love with Cassia but the choice was not his to make. Cassia too was love-stricken by the young Emperor but the choice was also not hers. Their choice was ripped away from them.


The young man’s step mother, who, incidentally had organised the Bride Show, thought as did Julius Caesar about Cassius, the Roman: that this woman “thought too much” and that “such women are dangerous.” She scornfully tugged at Theophilos’ arm and dragged him away from Cassia, along the line of women, all now trembling with excitement, until they’ve got to a lass called Theodora. (Now, we must not mistake this Theodora with the other one, the infamous Theodora about whom some 300 years earlier, the historian Procopius, devoted many words in his “Secret History”, on allegations about her being a common whore and a very imaginative stripper.)

This is a whole new Theodora.

A choice was made that day and a few months later, the bells of Hagia Sophia announced the happy event. The choice of the bride was not made by Theophilos.

Ah, choice!

How much of it do we have? How much choice do we have when it comes to the most significant events in our life? The existential events. Events like the time and place of our birth and death. Our genes, our DNA, our blood type. Choice of parents, other relatives, brothers, sisters, aunts uncles, grand parents. What gender we are, how healthy a body or mind accompanies us on our travel through life. What sort of religious, political, social, economic environment we are born. No choice at all to be seen anywhere there. None at all.

All these events, crucial to our existence, are beyond our control, beyond our ability to choose between their variables.

Joseph Carli’s tiny story, “The last lingering kiss” is about a woman showing the need to make a choice. She makes it only to have it taken away from her again, only to turn her back into a creature of a closed convent from which she chose to escape for a few occasional moments.

Nope! Choice is verboten here!

Choice is a very expensive thing. People can be slaughtered for daring to make it. Many, under the Christian Emperor Theophilos, were indeed slaughtered because they dared make icons and idols of holy entities and venerate them. Priests and monks blessed them. Theophilos was, on the other hand, a fierce iconoclast, a smasher of icons. And the story of slaughter because of belief and choice is repeated around Henry VIII and the kings and queens who followed him. Bodies were hanged from bridges!

The Abrahamics will assert that god has created us all and when he did so he gave us the ability to choose, the gift of choice. We could do what we liked. So would the Abrahamics assert.

But he had made us without asking us, without giving us the ability to choose whether we wanted to be made in the first place and in the second place, to be made according to his image. In the third place… ah, never mind.

“Choice,” I ask him. “What choice is that? Where is this choice, exactly?”

I am baffled by the fact that astonishingly awesome minds like that of Mozart or Vivaldi or Beethoven, of Michelangelo, of Sappho of Ezra Pound of Euripides, of Pythagoras and Einstein, minds that gave us the best nutrients for the healthiest of humanity can coexist with the minds of war mongering politicians, too numerous to enumerate and uncompromising thieves and murderers, committers of atrocities beyond belief, also too numerous to enumerate; minds that deplete us of all those nutrients, destroy them all completely, starve humanity of them; I am baffled about the fact that on a daily basis I see both of these extremely opposite types of mind at work, often the one totally ignorant of the other.

Astonishing, wondrous minds that nurture and nourish the human soul on one hand and minds that destroy body and soul on the other. One lot elevates us, makes us humane, empathetic, considerate, loving, happy, while the other builds mountains of blood and gore out of our bodies, clogs our soul with hatred, bitterness, phlegm and everything savage and turns everything we’ve built into rubble.

I disagree with the Abrahamics: we, humans, have no choice, not a single choice on anything of any significance. No god has made us, no god would be so cruel as to make us bereft of choice!

Politics is a cruel lie. A nasty joke where, in a system called Democracy we, the hoi polloi are told that we have a choice. That who governs us is our own choice. We vote whom we choose. No lie is more phosphorescently blatant!


The last day of the last year was one that is still reverberating with the bliss of a wonderful family gathering complete with the sparkling laughter of three tiny tots, grandchildren whose little arms, when wrapped around your neck bring a cascade tears of joy to your eyes. It was a day where we all gorged with mirth and merriment, with boisterous love and with morsels that rivalled the nectar and ambrosia on the tables of Mt Olympus. We are the lucky ones. The very lucky ones. Not that we had a choice in that.

That nanosecond after the clock strikes midnight changes a whole lot of things: a new minute, a new hour, a new day, week, month, year, century millennium…

Empedocles was right: Everything is in a state of flux and the only thing that is stable is this very fact: all things are in a state of flux!

Within that nanosecond we have moved from the past to the present and must ready ourselves to move into the future, all within the next nanosecond.

I feel the vertigo of the slide into oblivion!

And I can not choose to alter any of that.

We, the lucky ones, welcome 2019!

Cassia’s story, by the way, is simply gorgeously romantic. It is a story I very much urge you to read. Not too unlike Joseph Carli’s nun, though much more intense. The sentiments are there and so is the unfortunate end.

The Kiss

In the vast and wonderfully rich vaults of the ABC’s archives there would be, I’m quite certain, a little news item shown on the telly just a few years back. It’s gorgeously thought provoking and it’s about a kiss.

The camera is in the classroom of a High School, going from student to student as they are anxiously peering into the glowing screens of their computers. Their teacher is there also, and she is just as excited as they are. All are waiting for their VCE results. Excitement all around. Bubbles and squeaks are heard and we, on our sofas at home empathise fully and feel bubbly and squeaky along with them. I, a retired teacher (is there such a thing?) also feel that bubble and squeak and know what it’s all about. I recognise the atmosphere of that classroom well. It is exhilarating and bursting with anticipation an atmosphere I’ve felt many, many times.

Suddenly, a young boy sees his results on the screen and screams with unfettered joy. Behind him stands his teacher. Quite spontaneously, she turns to him and gives him a kiss on the cheek, commonly referred to as a “peck.” She pecked no other cheek in that classroom, at least not while the cameras were rolling. It was absolutely nothing more than a motherly, a friendly, a very natural reaction from a proud teacher to her student, for whom she would have given her best that year to make sure he had reached his best potential in the subject she taught and he did, paying her back for her efforts. I know exactly how she must have felt when she saw the boy’s results. I would have felt exactly the same way. The young man received the kiss – yes, the peck – as if it was indeed, his own mum or his best friend who had delivered it on his cheek.

Not a single murmur or post in the social media was made about it being an inappropriate act, or an immoral one or one that was shamefully unprofessional or anything of this nature. The public, quite rightly recognised the deed for what it was and accepted it. No public outrage the likes of which we have been seeing the last few months. No observations about “power differential” or “workplace ethics,” or anything of the sort.

It was a kiss of excitement, an excitement that was well earned after a year’s hard work. A very much, valid excitement. I saw nothing, absolutely nothing untoward about that kiss.

I am a father as well as a teacher and know what it is to raise children, to love them to death and to be with them when they succeed in whatever it is they want to succeed and with them when they struggle with loss. The emotion is very near uncontrollably heart bursting, and nor should it be anything else. Win or lose, it is a team effort, and it is as intense as that during a footy game when the players rush to hug each other whenever one of them scores a goal or deprives the opponent of kicking one.

A teacher is not too unlike a parent when it comes to the love and the care involved. Not too unlike at all.

Nothing unnatural. Nothing to make one jab the air with a condemnatory finger. Nothing to scorn. Nothing to get angry about.

But had that teacher been me, a man, who had felt those very same feelings with his students -the joyful excitement when they won, the sad and sympathetic heart when they had to struggle against harsh realities – had that teacher been me, kissing that boy or – Zeus fore-fend, a girl ! – the story, I dare suggest with quite some certainly, would have had a different ending.

But why?

The federal Court judge, Justice Michael Wigney gives us a strong clue:

“I wouldn’t say ‘yummy’ or ‘scrumptious’ to anybody in my workplace but I’m a boring lawyer, and Mr Rush is an actor in a theatrical workplace where people use florid language,” he said and continued with “Obviously some people see tremendous significance but I have to say depending on the context I am grappling with it.”

Ah, the context!

This article, let me say with the greatest haste I can muster, is not about Mr Rush and what he is facing at the moment. It is not about his alleged actions and nor do I have the slightest wish to enter into any courtroom currently in process. This article is about something else. It’s about examining deeds, not people.

Examining people needs a very careful, a very thorough look at them, a look not unlike one presenting itself to a surgeon before an operation, nor unlike one presenting itself to a judge in a court of justice; and I’m neither a surgeon in surgery nor a judge in a court of justice.

But I am a retired teacher (is there such a thing?) and I have learnt of the crucial need to be thorough and of the need to judge the deed and not the person.

The judgement of people requires entering into hearts and brains and these are the best fortressed organs in our bodies. Fortressed better than the “topless towers of Ilium,” that protected Troy, walls that took ten years for the Greeks to bring down (as Christopher Marlowe put it).

And so, I agree with the judge: The context of the deed is highly, if not vitally important; the whodoneit is not.

When Euripides was writing his Medea in 431 BC, he was not describing the mind of a murderer, he was sending a message to the politicians of the day, politicians, like the great demagogue Pericles who had not long before implemented a law that said that only the children whose parents are both Athenian may be considered to be full Athenian citizens.

All other children are “barbarians” (effectively foreigners) even if they were born in Athens. Medea was born in the distant land of Colchis and was therefore a barbarian even though she was married to Jason, a local. (The play is set in Corinth).

The ancient Greek stage (5th c.BC) was a classroom, or even a pulpit. More of a pulpit for Aeschylus and Sophocles but more of a classroom for Euripides and Euripides was using the myth of Medea, merely as a platform to teach about the consequences of Pericles’ law. Mothers would be expelled and in doing so they’d kill their children to save them from the horrors of living in a land of xenophobes.

Euripides was talking about the importance of the context of a deed. Its birth, its reason, its cause. This is probably one of the reasons why the play came last in that year’s competitions.

The context is just as connected and as important to the deed as are the heart and the mind to a living body. To examine it, to judge it, to understand it one needs to look at its context, at its heart. This is not to say that the context will automatically excuse the deed but it is important for us to include it so as to have a full understanding of that deed. Understanding the deed is understanding the human and, as humans, that is our primary assignment, an assignment that written at the forecourt of the temple of Apollo at Delphi over two-and-a-half millennia ago and turned into a common aphorism by a whole lot of philosophers, including Plato and Socrates.

There is no deed that is naked of context. Not an excuse but a context.

Whether one says ‘yummy’ or ‘scrumptious’ or gives a peck on someone’s cheek depends on the context.

And I come to wonder what would happen in the smoggy atmosphere of the “social media” if the ABC showed that item again – just to agitate our morals up a bit, see what comes to the surface.

Is a kiss just a kiss, a sigh just a sigh, a peck just a peck?

My Grandchildren!

I wish you all the merriest of Xmases, the happiest of 2019 (Good Loooord, is that the time?) and the jolliest of them all for the many years that shall follow.

From Oedipus to Morrison

They came to him. The Theban citizens, in pain and in prayer. They came to king Oedipus and cried for his help.

“…But, you, too, Oedipus, with your own eyes, you too can see how the whole of Thebes is in the grips of a battering sea storm of troubles and you too can see how she cannot raise her head from its murderous waves! You too, can see that our trees let drop their best flowers to the ground just before they become fruit and you can see too that our herds drop dead as they graze and that our women have all become barren.
A despicable pestilence, my lord, has taken our Thebes tightly within its murderous grip, my lord!”
Oedipus Rex 30ff.

When Freud read Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” he thought that his “eureka moment” had arrived. Such pestilence he thought is natural and it comes from an innate instinctive desire, a “complex,” that has sons wanting to sleep with their mothers. I won’t go on about the conflict he had with Jung about the latter’s Elektra Complex here only to say that both were wrong to think that this was what Sophocles was on about.

Sophocles was not talking about filial sex, though this was the platform, the myth, he based his warning upon but about something far more sinister, far more dangerous and far more common than that: power.

If there is an innate disease, an instinctive desire, a “complex” of some sort or other, that keeps us in fear and despair it is that of our wish to gain power and -and here’s the “complex” bit- to hold on to it. We need to show that we are strong, strong enough not to be hurt by others, to be stronger than others, to be able to destroy our enemies. And then to be able to keep and maintain that power for our own use. Power and the fear of losing it. Power and the energy needed to keep it. From whom? From our enemies, of course.

And who are our enemies?

They are those closest to us. Our sons, our daughters, our brothers and our sisters.

The first ever god, Uranos was castrated by his son, Cronos and Cronos, in turn, was thrown into the Tartarus -the eternal jail for gods and other immortal entities, like Sisyphus and Tantalus and Atlas who had committed heinous crimes- by his own son, Zeus, who is still the ruler of the Universe to this day. Look up towards the peaks of Olympus and you will see him there, thunderbolts in hand and at the ready!

Sophocles was giving his fellow Athenians a lesson that is very similar to the one that the biblical Timothy was giving us about money: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1.6:10).

Substitute the word “money” with the word “power” and you’ve got the similarities.

The next two plays in the story emphasise that lesson: His “Antigone” and Aeschylus’ “Seven against Thebes” describe just how evil, how destructive the love for power is.

But back to King Oedipus of Thebes.

“Oedipus Rex” watercolour by Pamela Stadus

When the people of Thebes gathered around his palace and asked him to try and find out what the cause of this destruction was, he swore to do so and launched an investigation so thorough that Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple working together couldn’t match. This was a most meticulous, forensic search that lifted every carpet and opened every secret compartment of every chest of drawers, had every cobweb perturbed, every skeleton brought out of the cupboard, every wound put under the microscope, every foot and its heel, every foot print and finger print scrutinised assiduously and every piece of DNA  parsed thoroughly.

King Oedipus began this investigation by asking the local vicar of the gods, the prophet Teiresias and from there he went on to question servants and shepherds and other citizens, his brother-in-law, Creon, until he discovered that he was the culprit. He had killed his father. He had sat upon his father’s throne and he had taken over his father’s power.

Then he married his mother and with her had four children. But that bit wasn’t the main offence. The offence was that he robbed his father of his power.

All this, of course happened in total ignorance of the relationships involved and by those involved in the crime.

The Palace, under King Oedipus had opened its gates and a thorough examination of all pertinent facts was conducted. Eventually the problem was solved and resolved. The crime was revealed and understood, its perpetrator arrested and punished severely – by the investigator himself, King Oedipus.

In the process, a most powerful lesson was learnt, a lesson about power itself: “Those who feast in power and are gluttonous of it, will indubitably taste the famine that is delivered by the powerless.”

The same entreaties were directed to our king, Scott Morrison.

Oh, we call them “Prime Ministers” these days but they are, in effect, as powerful and as fearful of losing their power as were the kings of Thebes and elsewhere back then.

They came to him, to Scott Morrison, as suppliants in pain and concern and prayed that he let the children and the adults who are in desperate need of medical care as declared to be so by two medical practitioners, children and adults who are imprisoned in the Guantanamo-like tents of our making, in Nauru and Manus to come to Australia.

Deaths had taken place there because of our bloody-minded nastiness. Deaths, injuries, both inflicted by others as well as by their own hand but most commonly and savagely because of the conditions of the prisons and their inability, the inability of those poor inmates to see an end to it. Their inability to understand what it is that they have done which has caused this country to treat them with such abhorrent hatred as if they were not seeking help and safety but as if they were some satanic abomination. This is what they just can’t understand and this what they want investigated, and this is what any fair-minded human being also wants investigated with the same thoroughness and methodical effort engaged by Sophocles’ Oedipus. Oedipus the King!

Morrison, like Freud and Jung did not learn from Sophocles’ exhortations and warnings about power, which is that you throw wide open your palace gates, you let in the people in and you ask them questions. You investigate all crimes committed with all the punctiliousness you can master. And you go on investigating until you find a solution and work on a resolution.

You do not punish until you find a crime and a culprit.

Oedipus the King showed his love for his people by relinquishing his throne and all the power that came with it and by working at finding out what ailed them, what ailed his city, his Thebes.

Morrison, the Prime Minister, instead, shut down his beloved palace, his seat of power, the thing he loves more than his people.

No, he wouldn’t allow any questions, he would brook no investigation, seek no solution and definitely proffer no resolution. He would tolerate no human emotion, accept no human rights inquiries, seek out no answers.

The inmates, those poor children and their parents, those people who stretched out their hand to us, asking us to stretch ours to meet it, are still there. In Manus and Nauru, still suffering, still wandering what on earth might this country be like? What savage hearts live here?

I cringe and at times I scream, when I hear the mantras, “Australia is a compassionate country,” or “Australia is a tolerant country,” or even “Australia is a generous country!”

To whom, exactly is Australia all these things? And how much of it?

We should now be re-addressing JFK’s exhortation, “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Or as Aristophanes had put into Euripides’ mouth in his satire, “The Frogs,”

“I hate a citizen who is slow to help his city, quick to cause her harm, who’s got his eyes wide open to anything that helps himself but completely shut when it comes to helping the city.”  Frogs, 1430

Ask that question and show that anger of those occupying the throne room, or the oval office, or the office of a Prime Minister.

Ask that of anyone who holds even a smidgen of power.

To Hope or not to Hope

For a wedding gift, Zeus gave Pandora (Allgifts, in english) an urn which contained all the ills that face humanity. Sickness and death and pain and hate and suchlike destructive things.

The urn, which was made of the same clay from which Pandora was made (there’s poignancy in this observation) was sealed and the instructions for use, to her and her husband, Epimetheus (Prometheus’ little brother) included that it never be opened.

It was a divine wooden horse. Zeus knew that Pandora would not be able to resist the force of her curiosity and she’d lift open the lid.

Zeus, you see, had a grudge against Prometheus because he, Prometheus had made man andinstilled in him the dignity and self confidence not to bow in abeyance to Zeus nor to any of the other gods.

Prometheus’ man needed no gods!

An anathema!

(Of course we’ve strayed badly from that since then but…)

So Zeus – it’s too long a story to relate it here in full so please forgive the shameful contraction- wanting to destroy Prometheus’ creature he devised this very cunning, Odyssean plan: Make a woman (with the help of Hephaitus) instil in her the trait of curiosity, put all the ills in an urn and give it to her as a gift, much like the Danaans gave the gift of the wooden horse to the Trojans. No wonder Virgil feared the Greeks. “Timeo danaos et dona ferentes,” he said with a tremor in his voice.

Zeus’s plan worked. Pandora, unable to contain her curiosity lifted the lid of the urn to see what was inside. Within seconds she realised what it was and she immediately put the lid back on. Too late though. All the ills have flown out and they pester us to this day.

All except Hope.

Hope? Is that an ill? Surely not. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast” to quote the poet, Alexander Pope. It can’t be an ill. Surely only good things spring eternal in our breast.

An ill or a good?

Hope makes its possessor compliant. Give them enough hope and they’ll lick your boots. Give them enough hope and they won’t start a revolution. Give them enough hope and they’ll make you head of the revolution.

And then, of course, there is this: something based on hope is something on instinct and not on fact. It’s unreliable and liable to bring about an ill.

“Be a good boy or girl and do as god says (“god,” a deceptive substitution of the word “I”) and when you’ll die, you’ll end up in Paradise.”

Things that are based in facts are not hopes but expectations. Valid expectations.

Yes, those wonderfully plucky, brave, conscience-packed hearts and minds, those kids with the vibrant awareness and ardent concern for the future of the planet upon which totally depends their own future and the future of the generations to come, will vote soon.

And they will vote against politicians who waste time with tricky, conniving and smartarsey moves to suit their own, selfish agendas, instead of legislating with an honest, genuine wish to do the right thing.

Those students who’ve marched in their thousands are with David Attenborough who recently warned us that,

“The world’s people have spoken. Time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now. Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of civilisations and the natural world upon which we depend is in your hands.”

With whom are our politicians?

And so, for whom will these students vote? Where do they direct their hope? And what sort of hope is it?

The ALP, through Tanya Plibersek, Bill Shorten, Penny Wong and others hold no genuine attraction for these wise young people. These pseudo-Lefties will do nothing about anything relating to the environment, including about the very emblem of climatic catastrophe, the Adani coal mine. They will, of course, these pseudo-Lefties, incessantly fill our ears with mellifluous rhetoric and insulting, vacuous excuses why it is that they can do nothing: “Adani is not that bad for the environment,” Bill Shorten was heard saying.

Or “the market will take care of it! We are not responsible for the market’s behaviour. Nor are we responsible for the Great Barrier Reef. Or the inmates on Nauru and Manus. We can sleep easy.” (Paraphrasing Plibersek and others, in unison with the LNP).

But the “market” is no longer the ancient Greek agora which took good care of sardines and olives and figs and walnuts and chickens and eggs and wine and garrulous gossip.

The “market” now is Wall St. and Fleet St and a whole lot of other “Streets” where the only thing that happens is the syphoning of the value of everything and the bloating of egos and of wallets -fewer by the day- and the proliferation of crimes.

The market will take care of it, says the ALP, which, to my eyes at least it is the clearest indication yet that when it comes to legislative responsibility on issues of significance, these two major parties are of the same view: abrogate it (their responsibility) to the market, a market that is now not only free and unfettered in any way but one that has gone totally wild and gluttonous.

Don’t interfere with the market.

Make your job a well paid sinecure.

So, they, too, these pseudo Lefties, will sell us oblivion as if it were a newly baked loaf of bread.

Put all their words together, all the words of the ALP, add up all their syllables and look at their sum worth. I mean that number there, beneath the bottom line. How different is that number to the number beneath the syllables uttered by Minister for Resources Canavan and Prime Minister, Morrison: (to paraphrase them) “These students should be at school learning about science… and not protesting… or they’ll be joining the dole queues!”

What they mean, of course, is for the students to stay in class where they can learn science, all the science that is, except that which has to do with the climate and with the survival of our planet, and (Morrison) how “not to argue with their teacher,” who, in his mind is also their master, their ruler, their god, their Zeus!”

I was waiting to hear the Sunday school mantra, “Children should be seen but not heard.” I feel short-changed!

Just another mode of Tony Abbott’s (erstwhile PM of Australia but constant ruler of the LNP and his cluster of political conspirators): “women should stay home and do the ironing” or Trump’s (to journalist Jim Acosta) “Let me run the country, you run CNN.” Or, on climate change: “I’m not going to put the country out of business. When you look at China, they have not-good air that comes over to the U.S.

“People don’t want to talk about it. we’re not going to spend trillions and make it good for others but not (us).”

I weep!

Reminds one of Galileo Galileii and his troubles with the High Ignoranti of the Catholic Church on the issue of where in the universe this planet swirls and spins; and of a whole lot more people, of course, past and present who had the conscience-packed heart, the vital awareness and theindissolublepluck and drive, to contradict their teachers, their masters, their Zeus.

Dismissiveness: it is the first requisite of an authoritarian government, the first requisite of a bully.

What do we do with Hope?

Do we let these glowing gems of humanity, these explorers of the moral compass, have some hope or do we, instead, give them something – some “thing” some deed, some factual, some palpable thing, something that can teach the Canavans and the Morrisons and the Shortens and the Pliberseks and the Trumps of this planet about the quintessence of science, the quintessence of life?

Pandora is confused. The poor woman is wondering what to do with that little thing wildly flapping inside her urn.

No one stands on the “high moral ground” anymore because morality itself has been trashed a long time ago.

And just as McBeth has killed Sleep, so have the long line of Ministers and Prime Ministers in this country and in many other countries have killed morality.

Or have deformed it.

Just a few days ago, a fairly decent journo – “decent in ethical journalism and decent also in dress” was refused entry into our Parliament because – Zeus forefend!

Patricia Karvelas dared to bare too much arm flesh!

Refusing the baring of arms in Parliament is a new lifting of the bar of morality. Or a new lowering.

What will Clio do?

Clio and her eight sisters are heading for your grave. They are the nine muses and they are your very last visitors.  All of them, daughters of Zeus and Memory.

Clio is the muse of History. Clio remembers all and she tells all. Nothing escapes Clio and Clio hides nothing. Clio does not tell lies and nor does she blemish or sugar-coat anything. Clio’s truth is inscrutable because Clio is inscrutable. She cannot be bought and she cannot be lobbied. Her truth is in the heart of the sun. All lies are burned off and all truth shines in all its grandeur. Hers is the honest truth.

Presidents die. So too, children. Babies die. Sons and daughters. Mums and dads die, lovers die. Soldiers die. Heroes die on the battlefield or in a bush fire and cowards who spend their days in glittering, palatial oval offices die.

Charos awaits us all.

Ask yourself now, what would you rather have these sisters do at your grave, piddle upon its dusty mount or crack a bottle of nectar, just delivered to them by the gentle doves of Mt Olympus and pour it over the daisies you’re pushing up?

And what sort of music would you have Clio pluck upon her lyre and what words would you have Euterpe sing for you? What sort of dance should Terpsichore dance for you around your tombstone?

Music, words and dance that will make the daisies spring up in a joyous and proud bloom or such that it will make them bend and blush with shame?

You will be dead, you say and behind the unassailable, unbreachable walls of Oblivion. What Clio or anyone else does on or around my grave will not touch me. I will be dead and protected from feelings, physical and mental. “Dead means peace,” you insist.

You will indeed be dead and buried then, or cremated or even eaten by the carrion birds and animals, as were the countless Danaans before the topless towers of Ilium at the beginning of the Iliad, yes, but I’m asking you now, now that you are alive and fully sentient, physically and mentally and you are sitting at your lawyer’s office, dictating your last will and testament and you are totally free to record it for all eternity.

Now, dictate to your lawyer your codicil regarding the nine muses, beginning with the words, “as for my grave I would like Clio and her sisters to…”

To do what?

This is the moment that two aphorisms appear before you. One is a sentence inscribed at the forecourt of the temple of Apollo at Delphi which says, “know thyself,” (said to be uttered by Socrates) and the other is an observation also made by the same philosopher, “an unexamined life is not worth living.”

This is the moment to check inside the drawers and filing cabinets of your life, to learn about yourself, your past, your present and your eternal future.  This is the time when Clio is hovering just above your head, as did Mercutio’s “galant spirit,” just before his body became worms’ meat.

Clio pours praises upon the graves of people who have lived well, who have lived by the rules of Justice and Virtue and she piddles upon the graves of those who have lived lives of injustice and evil.

Graves are anything but silent. They are ear-smashingly sonorous and they are garrulous. They tell stories, our stories and this is the only time when the stories -your story amongst them- are true because they are told by Clio.

And our stories are the stories of our times and our cities.

But what is Justice and what is Virtue?

In his book, “The Republic,” Plato has his teacher, Socrates embark upon a trip around Athens in the hope of finding the answers to these questions. What is Justice and, more importantly, is the just man a happier man than the unjust one?

Socrates had walked through the streets of his beloved Athens, the Athens that throbbed with theatre and art and philosophy and architecture and Democracy, the Athens that was at the time the hub of cogitation and invention, the Athens that was given the name “the cradle of civilization,” and he asked anyone and everyone just those very questions about Justice and Virtue and he discussed with them their responses, in his usual dialectic manner, a manner that became known as “Socratic irony.”

One such citizen, Cephalus, suggested that Justice is seen in the act of giving people what is owed to them. Simply, pay all your debts before you die!”

Another, sitting at the same table, a certain Polemarchus, suggested that Justice is seen in the act of giving good to your friends and evil to your enemies.

A third, Thrasymachus proclaimed with a full throated assertiveness that “justice is nothing more than the interest of the stronger.” Might is right, in other words. Not quite a definition of Justice and rather more like a cynical denial that Justice is of any value at all, we might suggest. In fact, being just is more trouble than good, Thrasymachus insisted because, Justice stops us from behaving according to our very natural inclinations, inclinations such as, to desire to get more than the other guy, to steal the other guy’s land, to completely destroy the other guy’s life, to send the other guy into exile, to make him a refugee, looking for a safe place to live. These are all natural inclinations for humans and so, Justice stops us from being fully natural.

Justice is no good at all, according to Thrasymachus and thus, Justice being the very kernel of morality, Thrasymachus tells us that morality itself is a pain in the proverbial, and a hindrance to us trying to be our true selves.

And Plato wrote down all their answers and the discussions that went with them in a book he called the “Republic” and he called it that because a city, a polis, or a “City-State” (to all intends and purposes another word for “one’s country”) is like a man, a human. The constituent parts of a man’s character are the same as those of a good city. A good country is like a good man and it is good because it is made up of good men.

So, what Clio, the muse of History, will do upon our grave is a strong indication of what she will do upon the grave of our country.

What would we have her do then, piddle upon it or praise it?

Graves are the great and indisputable levelers:Tomb or multi-storied mausoleum, or a grassy knoll; a tombstone of solid marble or of mud brick; an urn made of solid gold with the rarest of gems or of tin for your ashes; a grave alone in the desert or one amidst a million other graves.

Or a mountain of blood and gore and rubble; a tempest of tears, a firmament of groans and; it’s all the same to Clio and her sisters.

In this era of bunker politics, of impenetrable wall politics, of Parliaments and Congresses,  used as cowards’ castles, of Parliaments bereft of the demos but thronged by noisy money men and military men and god’s men and oil men and media moguls; of Parliaments where we see the bloody festival of Idus Martiae taking place almost on a daily basis; in this era of such Parliaments, it is hard to remain sanguine and with your  equanimity intact.

It is hard not to get angry.

Another President has just died.

What will Clio do?

The Primordials and the Victorian State Elections

They used to call them “oracles” back then, in ancient Greece. Or “prophesies.” We call them “polls” today, here in Oz.

Silly things they were which silly people believe in. The giant primordial gods believed in them and that’s why they lost their thrones. One minute they ruled the Universe and the next they trod the rough grounds, “the desolate, untrodden Skythian paths of Tartarus,” as Aschylus put it in his splendid Prometheus Bound.

And, like today’s polls, oracles always gave the same message and with the same effect: “Doom is imminent!” And, as sure as Zeus would follow a gorgeous, mortal virgin, change his form and rape her, doom would certainly come.

Most definitely.

It’s always a case of self-fulfilling prophesy.  Believe in the oracles and you’ll try to avoid their doom scenario and, trying to avoid it, you cause that doom.

Aeschylus, for example, came to a most unfortunate death thanks to an oracle: “Beware of fallen objects!” the oracle had told him. He was living in Gela, Sicily at the time. Aeschylus looked up at the ceiling, saw the vast, glimmering crystal chandelier and the poor man thought that this was it. This was the source of his doom. So he spent his days away from it, outside, where the only ceiling is the sky. No chandeliers to fall upon your head up there.

One fine day, however, something fell upon his head. Hard and heavy.

Just before his last breath, he looked up. An eagle was hovering above him and next to his bleeding head he saw a turtle, shell smashed and also bleeding.

Aeschylus was killed by the act of an eagle which, as is their custom, picked up the turtle, flew high, looked for a rock to drop the animal onto, saw Aeschylus’ bald head, thought it was a rock and…

Zeus, was a jolly fellow, so jolly that the Romans gave him the name “Jove” whence we got “jovial.”  Jolly and strong. Still a suckling, he accidentally and playfully, tore off one of his mother’s horns, his mother being the goat, Amaltheia (“she who for ever nourishes”). That horn became the “Cornucopia,” a horn perpetually filled to the brim with food, also known as “The horn of Plenty.”

Zeus had brought doom to his father Cronos, (renamed Saturn by the Romans) who, at the time, was the omniscient one, the boss of all bosses, in the same way that doom was delivered to his grandfather, Ouranos (Uranus by the Romans -trust the bloody Romans to deform a great Greek name!)

Cronos, was a frightened god because fear goes with power, and absolute power, as we all know, makes its possessor absolutely unnerved. Oracles scream fear just like polls do. Always!

So, Cronos too listened to the ravings of an oracle which told him that his own son would strip him of his power and so to avoid that plight, he would snatch his newborn the moment they poked their little heads out of the womb and eat them.

Until Zeus turned up.

Ouranos would do the same.

Until his son Cronos arrived and, to cut a splendidly long story short, Cronos ambushed his father and sliced off his genitals. He wanted to kill him in fact but you just can’t do that to gods because they are, after all, immortal. Ouranos is still there, in Tartarus, along with all his loyal devotees, his followers, his acolytes, other near-rebel deities, the Titans and all those who had disobeyed the new Boss of Bosses, the new God of all gods, Cronos himself.

There they still are, waiting for another rebellion, spending their time either rolling great sisiphian boulders up a hill or being tantalised by fruit bearing trees or a lakes with crystal clear water, neither quenching their thirst nor satisfying their hunger.

Real kings, of course, real bosses, real leaders don’t consult oracles; they consult philosophers, men and women of skill, of expertise, because that’s what the word ‘sophia’ means, skill and a philosopher is someone who loves sophia; it does not mean some mysterious capacity to be omniscient, all wise, nor some equally mysterious  understanding of what is virtue and what is evil but, simply the possession of a “skill” the expert knowledge of doing a particular thing: Hektor was sophos at the spear, Achilles at running, Ajax at the sword. Phidias at sculpting statues, Pythagoras at Maths. That’s where their sophia lie. So, real leaders sought out and listened to philosophers, not to oracles or to entrails-shuffling priests.

And so, I now come to today’s gods, today’s leaders, today’s Uranus and Cronos and Zeus. I come to the politicians who lead this country and it seems to me that with the exception of but one of them, they all do as did the primordials: consult the oracles, the “polls”.  Three days later, they are still consulting oracles and entrails!

Our current leaders prefer the counsel of polls rather than that of philosophers.

Plato warned us about doing this very thing, some 2,500 years ago in his great work, The Republic,yet here we are: at both, the State as well as at the Federal level, we see our leaders treat philosophers with scorn and pollsters with great reverence (a euphemism for fear.)

We are afraid of children so much that we lock them up for all eternity in Tartarus-like tent jails.  We are afraid of gays and lesbians so much that we deprive them of love and marriage. We are afraid of the poor so much that we deprive them of every necessity to stay alive. We are afraid of education that much that we make it almost impossible for anyone but the rich to get educated.

And so on. Oracular forces of fear.

Last Saturday we saw a leader who, for most of his term was wise enough to have consulted the skilled ones. He came to the Victorians with policies delivered to him by the skilled ones. Policies that sparkled with progress and vision and a Promethean good will. There was no oracular fear in any of his presentations.

His opponent did not. He came with the policies that came out of the burnt offerings of sacrificed animals and barley. Out of oracles.  The result is an unequivocal, thunderously crashing win for the philosophers and a calamitous loss for the pollsters, who did nothing but shout belligerently, at every opportunity, the word “fear.”

From the Opposition we heard no policies – just fear.

There are a few lessons that may be learnt from this experience and, to my mind, they are not so much directed at the LNP, as they are to the leader of the Federal Opposition, Bill Shorten who is still fumbling his way between one tentative and shamefully timid announcement, like “we will check out their policy and then make up our mind” and another, like, “the LNP and we are singing from the same hymn book.”

I mean, I ASK YOU!

The Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews called out in no tentative or timid tones to his Federal colleagues, “guys, don’t keep staring at Uranus and at Cronos and trying to make us fear our own shadows. Start thinking like Zeus and give us a cornucopia, a horn which is always replete with the stuff that nourishes our bodies, our minds and our hearts: houses, schools, hospitals, utilities, infrastructure, jobs, justice!”

To Bill Shorten and the Federal ALP, to all the other State and Territories leaders, Dan Andrews is bellowing his exhortations for them to start looking at being assertively progressive, not timidly regressive.

To the LNP, Andrews is saying, “guys, stop eating your own children! Cannibalism in politics can be harrowingly lethal.”

And that’s what can be learnt from last Saturday’s Victorian State election.

Heed these lessons or forever fall into the shadowy world of Tartarus.


What does a minute’s silence mean?

It means, “shut the f*ck up!”

It means, make no noise!

It means let me think for a minute. Let me reflect.

It does not mean blow bugles and beat drums. It does not mean raise flags and banners, sing songs of victory and glory and righteous pride.

Noise is the enemy of silence.

Pomp and ceremony are the enemy of reflection, of thinking, of genuine not confected emotions.

Nauseating pomp and excruciating ceremony and all the commercialism that these are cocooned in, do nothing more than mock the genuine sentiment that brought about this, the most eloquent form of expression, the moment of silence.

There is no more powerful, no more phosphorescent sign of hypocrisy than the three-word-slogan -because that’s what sentences too often uttered become – than the catchcry, “lest we forget!” It is an insult to those who have died and an insult to those who have survived; those who see the bombs – our bombs! – scorching the planet to its core, who hear the groans of pain and agony, of despair, of despondency, of the savage loss of their loved ones, of their homes, their farms, everything they hold dear and are wondering what is the point of this three-word-slogan?

Lest we forget what? What exactly?

And who is this “we?”

“We” that is the common man and woman has never caused a single war. Never!

The common man and woman looks at their children and grandchildren, their siblings, their ageing mums and dads, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours, tomatoes and zucchini growing in their vegie patch and rejoice. They need nothing more. That is their ultimate, their heaven. War is the very last thing they want. They do not start it and they do not impose it. No common man or woman wants to lose a jot of it and if the politicians were just common men and women, they’d make sure that this heaven is nurtured and nourished.

All politicians. In all countries.

But politicians are not are they? They are not common men and women, I mean. They are certainly not there to nurture and nourish an earthly Heaven, one that is populated by men and women, with hearts and minds and bodies that age and ache as they do. Men and women who are unequivocally mortal and with very short lives.

Politicians despite what they tell us are there to serve those who have no respect for all those things that make up a common man and woman’s Heaven.

Lest we forget?

“We” have forgotten, “we” forget and “we” do not learn because nothing, in effect, ever changes.

From the days of the 300 Spartans to this very moment, nothing has changed, nothing has been learnt, nothing shall be remembered.

Nothing promotes war than parades of phalanxes of current and past soldiers, of soldiers’ children and grandchildren, with glistening steel raised high, of shining medals, of over-starched uniforms and over-polished, boisterous boots. Nothing speaks more clearly of the powerlessness of the ordinary man and woman and the absolute and indomitable power of the elite, the war mongers.

Nothing extinguishes humility as effectively as pride. Monuments, the budgets of which can lift a nation out of poverty, give shelter to the homeless, treatment to the sick, untold wisdom to the students are monuments of pride.

And Pride is a path to ruin.

Nothing will change other than the faces of the sanctimonious politicians who stand straight as an insouciant post with their right arm rising to a salute.

The last post, bugled and sung and acted out over and over again for all eternity. Speech after sententious speech, rhetoric trying to rival Pericles’ Funeral Oration, flows out of their mouth with emotions so hollow, so vacuous, so insincere that hardly a single syllable of those speeches will be heard, or heeded or remembered a minute after they’ve been uttered. Not the words, not the dramaturgy, not the histrionics.

Dissembling and dissimulating at their most monstrous, at their most grotesque.

If “we” are to remember anything, it is that politicians lie, politicians are oily, unctuous beasts; that politicians send us to wars, wars that we have not caused and wars that we do not want, wars that are anything but silent, anything but harbingers of peace or nurturers of our earthly Heaven.

If “we” are to remember anything it is that we shouldn’t fictionalise wars. That we shouldn’t mythologise it, that we shouldn’t romanticise it, that we shouldn’t clog History with wars and heroes and victims of wars. There are no moral lessons in wars, only immoral ones.

Thucydides, a soldier himself, tells us that he wrote the History of the Peloponnesian War so as to see what war does to morality. What he could learn about man’s character and how it’s affected by war. What he saw displeased him enormously. War destroyed morality, morality being the most crucial part of man’s character.

“We” do not want Trump’s parade, or that of North Korea, among many, many others.

“We” want the war mongers, the greedy and the gluttonous powerful, those deluded enough to think that money and power will give them physical immortality, those who think that making funeral orations in front of cameras give them a moral advantage over their political adversaries, to stop.

Just stop!

“We” want them to be silent and to reflect and to let us reflect.

That’s what “we” want!

Malcolm the Messiah and a whole lot more

By George Theodoridis

The performance on last night’s Q&A (8th Nov) was beyond admirable. Beyond shock ‘n awe. Beyond expectation. Worthy of a tragic actor on an ancient Greek stage, one who played Agamemnon, say, or of a Shakespearean stage, one who played Richard II, say.

Actors of the Ancient Greek stage had to be good. Bloody good, since they had to play up to four roles in the one tragedy, roles of men, of women, of children, of servants and slaves, of gods and kings and queens and prophets, of murderers and of men who gouged out their eyes, all behind heavy masks and even heavier costumes, conducting the least possible stage business and exhibiting all of the human emotions.

They had to be good because they were all men and they only had their voice -their man’s voice to perform all these roles. Their full repertoire depended on just that human tool: their voice. Nothing else.

These men were so good at their job that their country often sent them off to other countries to act as diplomats or ambassadors or advocates. Interlocutors. Men like Aristodemos of Miletus for example and Neoptolemos, who, it is said, Demosthenes, the author of legal rhetoric, had paid 10,000 drachmas to teach him how to deliver whole lines of speech (Full stop to full stop) without taking a breath. 10,000 drachmas back then was a sum beyond belief. A soldier would have to survive 10,000 days of service to earn this much!

So yes, ancient Greek tragic actors were good.

Malcolm Bligh Turnbull’s performance was equal if not superior in skill to those ancient Greek actors and to those who played Shakespeare’s works.

When Jones’ introduction ended we could tell that this play would be one of a huge cast, of long held grudges, of Promithean and Epimethean interpreters of events passed and of events to pass, of events of great significance and of events that showed the banality of significant events.

There was our deposed, dumped and politically assassinated Malcolm, cogitating aloud, as was King Richard II to the Duke of Aumerle and as was Aeschylus’ Agamemnon to his brother Menelaos, about the hollowness of crowns, of thrones bereft of honour and of the vacuity of grand titles. The powerlessness of power. And he cogitated with the lyricism and the poetry of Richard II, arguably the most eloquent of all of Shakespeare’s characters and almost as mournful as Iphigeneia’s pleas to her father not to sacrifice her.

And, like the ancient Greek actors, he played many roles.

Malcolm the messiah, was one, Malcolm the king, Malcolm the Phoenix (not a hint of ash about him), Malcolm the Historiographer, Malcolm whose government was “blown up” (as he put it).

What was the number of Caesar’s assassins, as many as those of Malcolm? Sixty, perhaps? The autopsy on Caesar’s body (first ever autopsy) revealed some twenty three stab wounds. The look on Malcolm’s face, though free of any hint of ash, spoke of many more. Too many for him not to say, “I have left politics and I am now back in business.” Some of us could well suggest the man has never left the “business.”

Last night, Malcolm was just one more dumped PM, dumped PMs being a common sight in Australia.

For the first few moments of the show we were asking ourselves if he would reveal his Casca, the first to plunge the sword into Caesar’s body. Was it Scott Morrison himself? Abbott? Dutton? Coremann? Ciobo? That hand around Malcolm’s shoulder was Morrison’s just a couple of days before the dumping. Was that a sign like Judas’ kiss, identifying him to the conspirators in case they got the wrong man?

But we didn’t have to wait long. Malcolm pulled back the black curtains, opening them wide for us to see a phalanx of conspirators, all with knives of glistening steel, shuddering with anticipation: Abbott, Hunt, Cormann, Fifield, Ciobo, Cash, Keenan, Taylor…

Poor Malcolm!

Why did they do it? Why did they blow up the government? Well, Malcolm doesn’t know, and he said that we’ve got to ask them!

Malcolm came on the Q&A stage last Thursday to play the role he knows best: that of the miracle maker: Jesus and Lazarus all rolled into one; in the one act, in the one retelling of the story. Malcolm came on the Q&A stage to resurrect himself, to raise himself from the dead as Jesus allegedly did to Lazarus almost 2000 years ago.

So he listed all his miracles: “We delivered on jobs and growth, strong economic growth, reduced personal income tax, reduced company tax, record investment in infra structure, reformed schools funding, record funding in health and pharmaceutical benefits, record funding and support for Aust. Defence Industry, Australian steel industry, TPP, exemption from Trump’s trade restrictions… the bonking ban, the social reforms, legalising same sex marriage…” and on and on he went reminding us of his miracles. They were endless!

And to play the role of the saviour.

For goodness’ sake, didn’t we, the plebs in the fish markets understand that messiah Turnbull wanted to save us from the devil, Bill Shorten who will indubitably, send us to hell with increased taxes, increased Union power, reduced investment and put our economic growth and the jobs growth at risk?

Didn’t we, in the vegetable stalls and the meat stalls understand this?

Did we not see that Malcolm had descended from heaven to save us from Bill!

Obviously not!

I am still scouring my brain to understand why he gave me and millions of others the right to judge who can love whom and who can marry whom. Why would I be given a right that belongs to someone else? What right did he or any politician have to do that?

I’m still scouring my brain to work out why it is that religious organisations have so much political clout in this country and why schools of a religious “ethos” (scouring my brain to work out what that word means in the context they’ve dumped it in as well) want even more laws to allow them to treat gay students and staff like abhorrent miscreants and to sack them at will.

I’m still scouring my brain to work out why there ever were and still are, refugees who have nothing but good will for this country, who have asked for our help and who found themselves in utter despair thanks to our savage treatment of their country, through bombing and trade restrictions, why are these people suffering Guantanamo-like conditions under our bastardy in Nauru and Manus.

There are lots of other things too, that I am scouring my brain to find an answer to and I know full well that this country has been blown up so totally that this search will bear nothing but despair.

Scomo of course knew and appreciated Malcolm’s acting prowess so he did what Greek Govnt’s did with their best actors: he sent Malcolm to Indonesia to represent Australia as its diplomat in the free trade agreement between the two states, to calm down Mr Joko Widodo who was still unsettled by Malcolm’s dumping and by Scomo’s wish to move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Poor Scomo! Malcolm turned his dream into a nightmare.

Finally comes the removing of the happy mask.

“I’m proud of the achievements I was able to make,” the messiah mused forlornly. And it was genuinely a forlorn sort of contemplation. You could see it in his eyes, lids rising and falling as if the weight of misery was upon them.

“I’m not miserable or resentful or bitter at all,” he said. “I am joyful! I got an enormous amount done… I’m very positive about my time in office. It ended sooner than I would like it to have ended and it ended in circumstances that remain unexplained but nonetheless, it was a time of great achievement… it (his dumping) was crazy, pointless, self-destructive.

I wish Scott all the best, I really do!”

But I could hear the words he was thinking, the words he didn’t dare to utter and they were uttered in Chinese: “I wish Scott an interesting crown.”

One like that worn by Richard the Second:

All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!

Richard II ACT III, Scene ii

The children, the children!

Twenty-five minutes into last Monday night’s QandA, a question was asked about the refugees and specifically the children, stuck in the Guantanamos that Australia had created on Nauru and Manus. Mr Phillip Ruddock was asked to respond.

Ruddock leaned forward defiantly, some would say threateningly and asked the audience, “How many of you have been to Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh?”

Ruddock is the special envoy to the Prime Minister for Human Rights, the NSW Liberal Party President and a member of Amnesty International.

His demeanor could bring to mind an old uncle who had lost his mind a very long time ago and his temper at that very moment.

His view, as he enunciated it, is that unless we can do something about all those other – millions of them! – children living in far more appalling conditions in Cox Bazaar and all around the world, we need do nothing about those children that we ourselves have locked up and put into our own version of “appalling conditions.” It is an act of charity, after all. To save other children from drowning.

Therefore, he concluded, the NZ deal cannot go ahead and the notion that all those refugees – all those children in those “appalling conditions” – be brought to Australia was a nauseating anathema! We have no humanitarian questions to answer! The NZ deal could not happen because sometime in the future, these children would be able to come into Australia and … and what?

This view, that unless we do something else, something which is impossible to achieve, we don’t need to do anything, is emphasised a little later in the evening when Ruddock is asked this time to comment on climate change.

“… if you’ve not got China if you’ve not got Europe, if you’ve not got India if you’ve not got the United States if you’ve not got South America all involved …”

So we do nothing about those we’ve locked up in our abominable dungeons and we do nothing about climate change!

How on earth can we face all those other countries which Mr Ruddock has mentioned and ask them to do something about these issues if we, not only have done nothing about them but, in fact did things to make them worse?

Ruddock’s rhetoric is casuistry at its most blatant. A work of sophistry. A set of specious dot points that rely not on Aristotle’s “sylogism” (a set of conclusions based on previously proven conclusions) but, the reverse, conclusions made on things that cannot be proven or accomplished, the end result of which would be that the status quo remains. The children stay in those “appalling conditions” and the planet stays on its trajectory to becoming uninhabitable, all thanks to this form of thinking.

From the other politician, Mr Albanese I could – try as I might- heard nothing that delivers anything more than what Mr Ruddock had delivered. It took the brand-new politician, Dr Kerryn Phelps to put a bit of a flutter of optimism in my heart.

Thank you, Dr Phelps. Long may you reign and strong may be your right hand as you try and bend these unbendable minds now clogging the corridors of this country’s power.

Would we be hearing anything different from a certain female Senator from Queensland?

The question on children indicates the state of our moral health and that on climate change, the state of our intellectual health and the health of our planet. So far we have failed miserably on both of these states.

So, now we have the children and the planet caught firmly in the cross fire of egos, far too big, too prodigiously billowing to be allowed to continue as they are and at their whim and at their political contingencies.

And they are caught not only in the cross fire but in the cross hairs of our politician’s political long guns. Both, children and the planet are being shot at, both being treated with ever-increasing contempt and an ever-increasing resolve to have them – children and climate – disappear one way or another from their list of duties and responsibilities.

Some two and half thousand years ago, in the nascent Democracy of Athens, Pericles, one of its most prominent leaders, enacted a law which said that only children whose parents were both citizens of Athens would be allowed citizenship, otherwise they would remain in the status of barbarians, foreigners in our parlance. In other words, both mother and father must be Athenian citizens for their children to be treated as citizens, with all the rights of all Athenian citizen.

The tragedian Euripides was disgusted by that law and wrote his “Medea” to show what the outcome of such a discriminatory, eugenic, racist law would be.

Jason was from Iolcos and the rightful king but his father Aeson who wanted to keep the throne for himself, sent him off to Colchis, virtually the other end of the known world back then, to bring back the Golden fleece. That he thought would have him killed or disposed off for a very long time. (Kicking the can down the road a bit, as it were.) Jason gets a crew together, called the Argonauts after the name of the ship and its builder, Argos, goes to Colchis where Medea, the Princess helps him to take the golden fleece and escapes with him back to Jason’s home.

Upon their return however, Aeson refuses them both, the throne and citizenship and sends them away. The young couple now become refugees.

They end up in Corinth but there too, they are treated very badly. After all, they are not Corinthians. They are foreigners. They now have children.

After a while, Jason wants to marry the local princess, Glauke, so as to – so he says- get some respect for and acceptance of his children and of Medea. Medea doesn’t buy that and, in a mood of vengeance kills the Princess and, at the same time, her father the King.

Then she kills their two children and flees off to Athens.

Euripides tells this story as a criticism of Pericles’ new law and, more importantly as a moral question to the Athenians: “now that Medea is here,” he asks them, “how will you, Athenians, you who listen to your Pericles and boast that you are civilised and democratic and fair-minded and hospitable, people whose god is Zeus Xenios (ie the protector of the stranger) how will you treat her?”

Euripides had changed the myth slightly so as to emphasise his disgust. In the original story, Medea left alone and it was the Corinthians, the locals who had killed the kids. By changing this bit of the story Euripides, shows, among other things the desperation a mother feels in a hostile, racist world. She kills them rather than leave them for the locals to either torment them or – worse, kill them – and takes away their bodies to bury them with dignity elsewhere rather than to have them defiled by the racist locals.

That was Medea’s children, children that were caught in the crossfire of adult egos, children who have done nothing but were punished fatally. Cross fire and cross hairs.

Then, some 26 years later, in around 405BC, Euripides wrote his last extant play, Iphigeneia in Aulis.

This time he uses a young girl to teach the same lesson.

The young girl, Iphigeneia, a princess and the daughter of the leader of the army, (one thousand ships of it) Agamemnon, had committed no sin and performed no ill deed to anyone. But her father did. He had committed a grievous sin against the goddess Artemis by killing her favourite animal, a deer. Now, Agamemnon and all the armies of Greece were stuck around the harbour of Aulis for three years, waiting for favourable winds to fill their sails and head for Troy to bring back the queen of Sparta, Helen who was abducted by Paris, the Trojan Prince.

The priest Calchas was asked to ask the gods what was wrong, and he had returned bearing bad news. Artemis is seeking compensation of equal value: he had killed her favourite animal, so he must kill his own, that being Iphigeneia. Also, to deter others from committing similar acts of hubris.

Iphigeneia’s speech, her plea to her father is one the most emotional speeches that Euripides had ever written, though, as emotional speeches go, he has always been far superior to his colleagues, Aeschylus (the father of tragedy) and Sophocles, who, most probably, was still around. Those two weren’t as keen to use emotions to deliver their moral instructions. Their method was simple. The gods are annoyed with you, Agamemnon or Klytaemestra, or Oedipus so you must die. Euripides went not only for the jugular but also for the heart.

So, the child, Iphigeneia too was caught in the cross fire of adult egos. “If I had the words of Orpheus, father …”

Verbal emotions were exhibited aplenty by the two leaders of the two leading parties in Australia last week, saying sorry to the children who were caught in the cross fire of political egos and the cross hairs of paedophiles.

Not too far away by terrestrial as well as by moral metres are some other children, also caught in the same cross fire of the same political egos, egos that care only for their own hollow bloatings than for finding a way of releasing those children from the jaws of torture and death into which these very same politicians dropped them and bringing them here, into our welcoming arms, arms that welcome all life.

Rhetoric gushes out easily. Cascades of it, tsunamis of it and all replete with emotional appeals and sympathy. Saying sorry is easy. Far too easy it seems. Doing things that show that we are indeed sorry, that we repent and are prepared to repair is quite another thing.

The children – and adults – in Manus and Nauru will stay there and under the same “appalling” conditions so long as politicians use casuistry like that used by Mr Ruddock and the mealy mouthed mumblings of Mr Albanese during last Monday’s QandA. Let us hope that Dr Phelps’ words become the flesh and blood of real action.

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Wentworth: Something right out of the classics!

By George Theodoridis

It’s Thucydides all over again, isn’t it? I mean, it’s so bloody obvious! Here, in this war we have the classic “Thucydides Trap” a phrase coined by Graham Tillett Allison Jr a professor and a national security officer in the US administration.

A phenomenon that has become a game the sort that John Varoufakis the Greek economist and erstwhile Minister of Finance in the Geek Gov’t, plays very well.

Indubitably so! A small State declares war on a larger State. It happens all the time, if indeed, not all the time.

In this game, Turnbull was a big State – so to speak and Dutton was a small but emerging State – so to speak.

Here are the Historiographer’s own words said in his History of the Peloponnesian War: “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.”

Beware of rising powers if you’re too powerful. You frighten them and they get angry and declare wars against you.

OK, the end result re the Turnbull v Dutton war had a kink in its proceedings and neither Turnbull nor Dutton won, unlike the war (thirty blood shedding years of it!) between Athens and Sparta in which Sparta won unequivocally.

And that war too, like the one that’s been going one within the LNP for Zeus only knows how long, was an internecine war: Greeks against Greeks, Libs against Libs. The Greeks lost back in 5thC BC as will the Libs, whatever the result in Wentworth tomorrow.

I love a good war where no blood is shed. Brain cell to-brain cell, moral stand to-moral stand. Two bands of warriors throwing mud pies at each other, the one with the least number of mud pies covering their faces wins. It will be the Libs.

Thucydides said that he wanted to write about the war (one in which he participated by the way) because he wanted to see what happens to men’s morals during a war.

He didn’t like what he saw.

All men shed their morals during the battle. That’s the first victim of war. Morals are left back by the home’s hearth, next to the baby and the young wife, next to the elderly mother and father, next to the statue of the god you favour.

And it’s the case with all wars. I mean wars, not little tiffs and scraps and exchanges of insults.


Like the one between the mild-mannered Libs (I am told as I write, that there is such a species, examples of John Hewson and even Fraser are proffered) and the wild-mannered Libs (not the slightest doubt about their existence) of which one lot will lose and one will win.

In maths, when we multiply two minuses (and in my “leftie” mind, all right-wingers are minuses, albeit one lot, in this game is less so than the other) we end up with a positive. I must admit though I just don’t know what a positive in this multiplication of minuses will look like.

The Greeks v Greeks scenario brought about a dictatorship in Athens – Athens, the heart, head and womb of Democracy and the cradle of civilization, a rule by thirty tyrants, the word meaning extreme conservatives, far right, in today’s parlance.

In a place like Athens, it wouldn’t last long and it didn’t survive beyond eight months; and that was the positive. Athens lost the war, was ruled conservatively for eight moths but this tyranny gave them the incentive to collect their wits their courage and what manpower they had left, fought the tyrants, killed them and regained their Democracy. (It’s a bugger when one thinks of the fact that this Democracy is what, in the end, condemned their most prominent and most wise man, Socrates to death but that’s another story of another war).

Whatever the result then of today’s by-election, one thing is certain: the Libs will lose; which will ineluctably bring about another “loss,” the one in their mates’ ranks, that of the Nationals, where Mr Barnaby Joyce will most probably accomplish his obsessed fantasy, that of regaining the leadership of that party, having toppled its current leader, Michael McCormack after which, Joyce ought to change his name to either Lazarus or Barrabas!

Which Libs will have the least number of mud pies on their face? To a leftie like me, it matters not. A win-win situation because we lefties see this result as a sure precursor of the Libs losing the Federal election next May. But we often count our chickens prematurely.

One can hope that the least “minus” lot does have the fewer mud pies spread across their faces but this isn’t a battle of two sides; it is one where there are at least four opponents and these may or may not bring an unexpected result but they could bring about a different political make up and a moral chemistry `a whole different vibe – in the subsequent Parliament.

Many issues that solicit moral circumspection, such as climate change, taxation, Adani, the shift of the Oz embassy to Jerusalem, religious freedom, will be given – I suggest – the requisite amount of cogitation and have those previously exercised excesses curbed considerably if either Kerryn Phelps or Tim Murray win.

And then there is also the other mud-slinger, the one who, like the god Apollo, slings from afar, the one who has lost the original war, the leadership of the Liberal Party and of the country, Mr Malcolm Bligh Turnbull.

His sling is a tweet and he’s enjoining the honourable denizens of Wentworth to beware about the lot that run the party now, after his assassination.

And then there is also his son, Alex Turnbull, who leaves no mud pie unslung. “Teach them a lesson!” He exhorts the very same denizens.

Finally, I’d like to remind the gamers what had happened to the conspirators of Caesar’s assassination on that fatal Ides of March, in 44BC and what followed that bloody event: A mountain of blood and gore rose up from it and it swallowed up the Roman Republic and all its benign and orderly legislature from which new event followed the emergence of a most malevolent savagery, trying desperately and brutally to manage an uncontrollable empire.

And so, I’m off to the war ground.

I’m taking my own pies – meat ones – and sauce and my own beer.

Whoever loses, for a leftie like me, it’ll be a fun show!

To woo or not to woo?

By George Theodoridis

It seems to me that we have a pronounced, a phosphorescently obvious reluctance to employ women; and by “we” I don’t just mean we, the men, though I must admit we, the men, are by far the greater culprits of this reluctance but women also, some of whom surprise me with the vehemence of their reluctance; and it isn’t simply a reluctance, it is, when one looks a little closer, an utter refusal, actually. These women, I notice, are not mere agnostics to the view that women are just as capable, just as likely to be as excellent at their work as are their male counterparts, or even just as ordinary,  just as harsh and hard-hearted and just as banal and indistinguished as men; or to the view that women should be represented in at least equal numbers and – Oh, Zeus forfend! – with equal recognition and equal pay! Nor are they merely agnostic as to the view that women have the inalienable right to be given equal opportunity during the selection process. No, these women are in fact, anti-gender equality and anti-gender balance.

And if you don’t hear their assertion that “men can do it better!” in these very words, you will certainly hear it and feel it in the tone and sentiment behind their own phraseology: “I’m not interested in gender, I’m not interested in quotas, I am only interested in merit!” What they do not utter but you can hear the words bouncing off the walls of your brain is, “but men have balls!”

They insist that when they go about selecting the people who will sit at their board or at the various offices in their organisation, they look not at the gender of the applicants but at their merit as it relates to that position. That’s what they’re adamant about. Nor do they look at – these women will assert – anything else, like race, colour, religion, and other distinguishing marks about the body of the applicant.

And then, when one has a quick look at the phalanx of the men who surround them – all looking like they’ve been pushed out of the same factory and from the same mould and sees that this “merit” thing which their selectors said they so lovingly hunted for is glaringly absent, one is very tempted to ask them what wooing tactic or tactics they employed that has caused this ear-smashing bellowing consequence of “men, not merit?” and the screeching refrain, “we want balls, not vaginas and certainly not brains nor hearts!”

What method did they use?

That of the peacock, perhaps, spreading his colourful feathers across and doing a mating dance. In other words, was this selection process a case of hormonal needs.

Perhaps they’ve used Orwell’s anti-dictionary where ‘merit’ is defined as ‘wickedness’.

Or perhaps it was the old IQ compatibility test: S/he is smarter than me so I won’t choose him/her.

Or, were they inspired by the wooing tactic of some crass, barbarous, bullying, shock jock.

Or by Trump’s “angry clown method” of “I had one beer!”


The whole of Plato’s Republic is a search on an accurate definition of merit, of justice, of wisdom. The oracle of Delphi had pronounced him the wisest, the most meritorious man in the whole of Athens and, at his trial, his accusers turned that word to mean smartarse. “You’re a smartarse,” they shouted at him. “A conceited smartarse, going about our streets addling the minds of our youth!”

Socrates objected: “I was wondering why the oracle declared me the wisest man in Athens so I went around asking all those whom we call wise and discovered that though they, themselves said they were wise, they were, in fact, dumb. Then I thought about it,” he continued in his apology, “and discovered that the reason the oracle said I’m the wisest man in this city is because I was wise enough to know that I know nothing; wise enough to know that I am not wise!”

He was sentenced to death for being such a smartarse.

Merit, true merit, is often mistaken for smartarsedness.

This reluctance to employ the female of our species stands of course in stark contrast to the gusto and the alacrity with which we – we, men, in particular – abandon the splendid benefits of peace – serenity, laughter, love, the cooing and gargling of babies, the sound of birds, the armfuls of our harvest, the warm bed in winter, the cool gentle waters of a creek and rush off to the brutal killing fields of war.

Oddly enough we are loathe to create a board room in a corporation or a cabinet of a political party, or in the Presbytery of a religious body based on equal numbers of sex but that reluctance turns into untamed gusto and alacrity when it comes to deciding on our marching off to war; or to incarcerating children and their parents under the most brutal, inhumane conditions, or to removing those children from their parents, stealing whole generations of them and having them live lives of orphanage for the entirety of their existence. The same disposition of reluctance rules us when it comes to our treatment of the most vulnerable in our society, people who are often put into that state of vulnerability because of this disposition of reluctance on our part.


The first known and quite arguably the best ever satirist, Aristophanes, saw all this “reluctance v alacrity” game being played out in his 5th century BC society of Athens – Athens, the womb of civilization and the beating (though, at times a little too tentatively) heart of Democracy – and he, Aristophanes, didn’t like it. So he wrote a couple of plays to express this quite profound disgust of his. The one is called “Women of Parliament” and the other “Lysistrata,” both hilarious, both scathingly poignant, both are excoriating accounts of the character of the men who made the stupid laws of his country and who loved sending the youth off to endless and mindless war. Their reluctance of having any women interfere with matters of importance relating to the running of the city and the alacrity with which they placed the city on a war footing.

It was a melancholy sight for anyone with a heart, which like that of Aristophanes, was endowed with the sentiment to feel melancholy.

Reluctance and its antonym, alacrity fought each other ruthlessly before the satirist’s very eyes so he put it up on his stage for all to see. This was a contest which was as glaringly obvious and as shamefully destructive then as it is now, some two and a half thousand years later because it seems that we did not heed Aristophanes’ warnings and the warnings of many others around him, before him and after him – and here we are now, still shouting the catch-cry, “men do it better!”

Lysistrata came first. In 411BC, at the most gruesome peak of what was called The Peloponnesian War, a war that was indubitably a “man’s war” because it was the men who declared it and the women who hated it he wrote a play that has women take over the treasury (then held in the Parthenon) and keeping the males away from it until they signed a peace treaty of their own words.

It is a play by which Aristophanes shows his men where he thinks they keep their brains. They are kept, he suggested, in their testicles and consequently, they think by them and consequently that is why they go to war with such gusto and alacrity. Men think with their balls!

Not so the women, Aristophanes says. The women think with their brains. I admit that am certainly and shamelessly oversimplifying the play and the author’s intent but that is its essence: Men are mindless, and women are mindful. One lot thinks with their balls, the other with their brains.

Lysistrata, a middle-class intelligent woman gathers all the women she can get together from all over Greece, including Sparta with whom Athens is at war and convinces them all to deprive the men of sex until the men from all sides of the war sign a peace treaty. Peace came in no time.

Thirteen years later, in 391, when the war was well and truly over with the devastation of Athens and the final exit of the Spartan dictators from the Athenian parliament, the Athenian men began to behave in the same “balls-brains” way.

This time Aristophanes writes his Women in Parliament in which he has the women dressing up as men and flooding the Parliament – a place sanctified by and for men – and there legislate laws that make living fair for all. “Men wanting to visit whores must, henceforth, first visit the ugly ones and then the pretty ones,” is one of the new laws enacted by these women. Fair enough!

It’s a stern warning to men by the satirist of the day: If you love sex so much, don’t go to war!

A glorious line is uttered by Judith Dench, playing M, in Tomorrow Never Dies, some two and a half thousand years later:

Admiral Roebuck: “With all due respect, M, sometimes I don’t think you have the balls for this job.”

M: “Perhaps. The advantage is that I don’t have to think with them all the time.”

Wooing is a tactic used for mating. How we woo, how we try to convince people – men or women – to join us in our firm, or in our political party, or in our church, our boardroom or our bedroom determines what sort of person we end up with.

Men or women, when they are in too great a majority, they can and often do constitute a power which they can use against the minority. Lord Acton put it well: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” words that have become a well-worn aphorism, one which Orwell dramatised so brilliantly with his Napoleon in Animal Farm.

… Or did they woo the way the three witches in McBeth did? So as to hand a “hollow crown” to someone, a sinecure?

Words can fly and words can bite

By George Theodoridis 

Exhibit 1: Justin Milne to Guthrie (via email): “…I just think it’s simple. Get rid of her. My view is we need to save the corporation, not Emma…” Milne says these comments were taken out of context.

Exhibit 2:  PM Morrison to journalist Cassidy: “I expect the ABC Board to do better and if they don’t, well, they can expect a bit more attention from me.”

Exhibit 3:  Odysseus to Agamemnon, wrathfully: “Son of Atreus!  What words have escaped the barrier of your teeth!” – Iliad 4, 350. 

That’s Homer for you: “Our teeth are much like the topless towers of Troy the Greeks had to face: a barrier to hold back unruly or recalcitrant words,” he tells us. “Don’t let false words, fake words escape that barrier.” Homer also used the formulaic phrase, Ἔπεα πτερόεντα” (“Winged words”), throughout his two giant epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey.

If he were a modern-day Aussie, he’d put it in these words: “Words are like mozzies, mate: They fly and they can bite you on the bum. Take care what words you let fly out of your mouth!”

And there are two types of words, those uttered and those written. Here’s Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus addressing the Roman Senate: “Verba Volant, Scripta Manent,” he warned the good senators which, in English parlance it means “(Uttered) Words fly, written ones remain.”

All the words uttered in the Australian Parliament are written; so are those in the ABC act. They remain. They are immortal and they are there even after they are erased by some usurper of our Democracy, and they are still there even if nobody takes notice of them.

Emails or hard copy, words said in a pub, a boardroom or from a pulpit, words that mean nothing and words that change worlds, words of every hue and of every tone can fly forever. Unlike chocolate, they have no use-by date.

Laws and important notices in Ancient Greece were chiselled into stone or wooden pillars called “Stelae” and these were placed throughout the city, a practice which gave strength and legitimacy to Aristotle’s view that “all men are political beings.” All men (yes, women were excluded officially from the political process) were an active part of a polis and so they were all responsible for its health -social, moral, economic. They were, in other words, politicians and that’s the real meaning of the word. Solon’s laws were engraved on these Stelae and there they remained and thus they were easy to check and point to when matters became complex or ambivalent. They were there to remain all its citizens that they were politicians.

Words are great. They change their form from abstract, when they’re in one’s head, to sensate when they are written or uttered. They are great to make one happy, great to make one sad, great at praising someone and great at destroying someone. Most importantly, they are great when we try to express even our most subtle emotions:

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.”
Wrote Elizabeth Browning.

Words can be sweet and they can be bitter. The power of the pen does not rest upon its nib or the colour of the ink it uses but upon the words, it writes. And whilst words are certainly not the only means of communication and we well know what the gesture of a finger thrust hard into the air or a thumb bitten aggressively convey, words have the ability to communicate the most complex of issues in the most subtle way. 

The Spartans communicated using the shortest possible sentences, a type of speech called laconic speech. For example, you would hear soldiers daring their enemies with  “μολὼν λαβέ”  (“Come and get it if you dare!”) or a mother telling her son as she hands him his shield on his way to war:ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς” (“Return either carrying it as a victor or upon it, killed on the battlefield.”  

Their cousins, the Athenians across the isthmus, on the other hand, loved using lengthy orations even to describe the simplest of things, because nothing in the minds of the philosophical Athenians was ever simple. Consequently, Thucydides’ prediction was true and we now have little of what the Spartans have said and a great deal of what the Athenians did, from Literature to philosophy, to theatre, to law and to History. Almost all of the stuff he have now about Sparta and the Spartans was written by non-Spartans.

Both, written and uttered words should be freely expressed.

On the eve of his invasion to Greece, in 480 BC the Persian emperor, Xerxes once asked his Greek counsellor, Demaratus, an exiled Spartan king, if the Greeks will stay to fight an army as enormous as his.

Demaratus nervously, fearfully asked the great King if he would like to hear the truth or whatever would please his ears and heart. Xerxes answered that he wanted to know the truth. Still, Demaratus was afraid to speak it. To tell him the truth.

Demaratus did tell the Great King the truth about the nature of the Greek soldier but the King refused to believe him, which is another trait of a despot, to ignore the truth. Demaratus followed him against his countrymen and the invasion ended in an abject failure for the King.

Herodotus’ whole work, his Histories is an effort to show that societies whose people are free are better than those whose people labour under autocrats and tyrants. Fear and intimidation will almost always conceal or distort the truth. Freedom of speech was at the very core of being a Greek while its opposite, the fear of speaking it was at the very core of a tyrannical despot, ones like Xerxes and his father Darius. Demaratus had left Greece where he was able to speak his mind freely and ended up in Persia where doing so could cost him his life. 

A fair and just society is made up of fair and just citizens, the blood and soul of which are words that are the true reflections of the thoughts of its citizens and their expression is pure and undefiled by any interference by anyone.  No society can be fair and just if its citizens can’t do that. 

If we are to rightfully boast that we are a Democracy, then we ought to have another forum, another platform from that of the Parliament, a platform where the speech of our people, the true demos, can be uttered freely. That forum should be the media and the media should comprise journalists whose only concern is the pursuit of news and its true dissemination, again, free from any interference. The truth should reign free.

The ABC, we all thought foolishly, was a media platform where these vested interests were kept at bay; that this taxpayer-funded body was protected by legislation and that it worked free of manipulation and of agendas belonging to particular interests and not to its funders, the Australian demos. Recently we found out that this was not the case and that the ABC was in fact, run by a board put there by political interests and that these political interests were ruthlessly directing the trajectory of its work.

We know this because the words used by the chairman of its board, Justin Milne, demanding that one of its best-known journalist should be sacked, rose to the surface of public scrutiny, much like the sewage of a badly maintained plumbing complex.

The ABC, which though, I suggest might not always have given us a “no punches pulled” account of the facts, was and certainly is vital to us if we are to understand ourselves, as well as others and to respect the two most crucial elements of a humane society, truth and justice. This body must not brook any interference from anyone and to pursue, as its charter suggests, truth at any cost.

A society is not served at all well if its journalists are so afraid, to tell the truth, that they become silenced hostages of the powerful – effectively nothing more than palace eunuchs.

As I write, I am watching the President of the USA mocking in the most loathsome way, a woman who dared speak out about a sexual assault she suffered by someone who is after one of the most important jobs in America –it is a job for the rest of his life- in the most important field in the running of the American society, that of the country’s Supreme Court.

President Trump was mocking Dr Christine Blasey Ford who alleged that she was sexually assaulted by the Trump’s nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

And this is while the Senate is trying to assess Kavanaugh’s suitability to a seat in the Supreme Court. His words, Trump’s words, are a belligerent, bellowing cascade of bitterness, of hatred and of poison that has indeed, escaped the barrier of his teeth. They are nothing short of a vulgar, unabashed interference in the process of seeking the truth. (

Interference by powerful, vested interests. An aggressive attack on a person with little power other than that invested in the truth, an attack aimed at shutting down any other person who holds the truth but who is not powerful enough to utter it.

The ABC, like the ancient Greek stage, is the platform where the truth comes to see the light and breathe the clear air. This light and this air must not be subverted in any way. It must not be turned into a “truth maybe” or a “truth but.”

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