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Evan Whitton
16 July, 2010  
Saving newsprint by omitting drivel

Election advice – ignore the War Party … Abe Saffron – libel terrorist … Rugby notes … Conniptions at Uni of Syd over Challis chair and law school merger … Evan Whitton at large


Obama: half-smart = half-stupid

Joe Lelyveld’s review in The New York Review of Books of David Remnick’s The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama (Knopf, 2010) has this:

“Valerie Jarrett, the President’s confidante and adviser, says of him: ‘He knows exactly how smart he is … He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do’.”

Talented? Obama broke rule #1 of politics: first, firm-up you own constituency.

A dunce who thinks he’s clever is easy meat for the real smarties, e.g. Wall Street, the Likud lobby, the War Party (profit is the drum and fife … and any war will do).

Hamish McDonald noted (SMH June 5) that Obama managed to incur the enmity of Japan (pop. 130 million) and force the resignation of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama over an Okinawa air base of doubtful importance to the US.

And his craven obeisance to a terrorist state, Israel (pop. eight million), and its Prime Minister, Yahoo Benny, has earned the opprobrium of countless millions, including Jewish persons in Israel and elsewhere unafflicted with “designer victimhood”.

Obama’s successor will of course be even worse.

Election notes: Woodman, spare that tree

Rule #7 of politics: believe nothing a politician says during an election campaign.

Newspapers are supposed to be truth-seeking operations; omission of political drivel will save acres of newsprint.

On the other hand, the Greens’ Bob Brown, with no hope of forming a government, can afford to tell the truth, e.g. that we should instantly bring the troops back from Afghanistan.

The only reason they are there is the US “alliance”, effectively an alliance with a War Party licking its chops for a whack at Iran. For his next trick, Mr Brown might note:

* The roof did not fall in on the Kiwis in 1985 when David Lange had the cheek to deny entry to nuclear-armed US boats, and Ronnie Reagan blew NZ out of the ANZUS Pact.

* Nor did the roof fall in on us when Bob Hawke refused to take part in Bush Senior’s Iraq adventure in 1990.
Miss Gillard and Mr Abbott could thus safely bang the patriot drum and adroitly slide out of the demands of the War Party.

They won’t, of course. The lads will go on getting killed, leaving their families bereft.

Saffron, libel terrorist

Mr Sin: The Abe Saffron Story (ABC1, June 24) reminds us yet again that libel law began in 1275 to deter nasty remarks about major organised criminals like Saffron (1919-2006, see Justinian August 6, 2008).

imageFalse presumptions, e.g. the defendant is guilty, invented by English judges, enabled Saffron (snap) to add libel terrorism to his repertoire of bribery and murder.

With a straight face, the brothel-owner sued anyone who called him Mr Sin. The courts, equally straight-faced, accepted his nonsense. Most of the media, including your correspondent, were suitably cowed.

Rugby notes: Robbie Dense?

The Huffington Post has declared sports journalism dead. A brief word from the grave:

Rugby is a simple game. To have a chance, you must play to your strengths. Our forwards are currently below par; the backs are pre-eminent at the razzle-dazzle. The coach would thus be expected to instruct the team, in words of one syllable if necessary:

“You can’t do the razzle-dazzle without the ball; anyone who kicks it to the other side will instantly be asked to retire to soccer or aerial table tennis. Loggish forwards will not get in the road of the backs. If the play is near the try line, the try will be scored, not by boneheads barging at an impenetrable defence, but by sleight-of-hand further out.”

None of those words, it seems, has escaped the lips of coach Robbie Deans. That may put him at risk of being invited to make a graceful exit to ChCh, the absurd newspaper contraction of the absurdly-named Christchurch.

Varsity Blues (1): poisoned Challis revisited

It is said that academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low.

Sydney U’s Challis Chair of English Literature was thought to be a great prize.

When Prof A.J.A. Waldock died in 1950, bitter enemies Guy Howarth and Harold Oliver felt entitled, but the Challis went to Wes Milgate. Howarth left in a huff for the University of Cape Town; Oliver to the University of NSW.

When Milgate retired hurt, Gerry Wilkes, Professor of Australian Literature, thought the prize might be his, but it went to S. L. (Sam) Goldberg (1926-91), of Melbourne in 1963.

imageGoldberg taught Ms Germaine Greer, now 71, in Melbourne and Sydney, but he cannot necessarily be blamed for the product. Being a dud administrator is something else.

His brief was to revive the moribund department, but he unfortunately genuflected at the altar of a Cambridge critic, F.R. (Frankie) Leavis, (1895-1978 – pic).

Frankie was capable of bizarre judgment: he omitted England’s greatest novelist, Dickens, from his pantheon (The Great Tradition, 1948) of his country’s finest.

Goldberg sought to stack the department with real or supposed Leavisites from Melbourne and elsewhere, including the novelist (as he now is) Michael Wilding, of Oxford.

Professor Wilding now says:

“I found Goldberg’s dictatorial totalising project unacceptable. He wanted to force out most of the old Sydney staff. He wanted only a Leavis line taught – in terms of syllabus, teaching &c. So yes, it was office politics. If he had been tolerant, there would have been no fuss.”

Trench warfare, described as an “Elizabethan melodrama”, rent the English department. When the smoke cleared in 1967, Goldberg was back at Melbourne and Gerry Wilkes had the Challis.

Varsity blues (2): To the barricades, again. And, a sniff of a Nobel Prize

imageThe Rev Prof Michael Spence, LLB Hons (Syd) 1987 (pic), was head of one of Oxford University’s four divisions, the Social Science Division.

He was thus quite a catch when he accepted the job of chief executive at Sydney University two years ago, but trench warfare looms.

Dr Spence has suggested that the law school and the faculty of economics/business be subsumed into a new division of business, law and education.

In the SMH of June 21, Andrew West and Heath Gilmore reported that the two “prestigious” entities robustly informed the Vice Chancellor they vant to be aloon.

Dr Spence is said to be big on research and, as an ordained Anglican priest, is presumably pro-morality.

To head off a brawl, he might give one lot the stick and the other a carrot.

The law school, which put out its shingle in 1855, prestigiously bills itself as “an international pioneer in legal education”.

The V-C might suggest that the school begin to do what taxpayers might have expected it to have been doing for 155 years: pioneer research on what is wrong with the system and how it can achieve a modicum of morality.

imageThe work should not be overly difficult; preliminary research is already available in a book called OCLS for short.

But if the law school judges the research to be unduly onerous, it might consider its position on campus.

As for the econo-bizzo types, Dr Spence might offer them resources to research and quantify the reductions in costs for business and taxes for the community that will accrue when the inevitable change to a truth-seeking legal system happens.

The work would give the researchers a sniff of a Nobel Prize; it would affect the 1.6 billion in the common law world.