Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Friday, June 25, 2010

Shakspur and Pope and Bentley

Our friend John Frank, silvermith, plumber, and musician, has died. A pleasant wake at which I remind myself to catch up with all the friends I haven't seen for ages, just in case they die suddenly, and borrow a 1732 printing of volume 4 of Bentley's edition of the Works, late from the library, according to the bookplate, of William O'Brijen (definitely sic), Earl of Inchquin, &c.
Housman, I recollect, was dismissive of Bentley's work on the English classics, as opposed to the Latin and Greek; too ready to cut through difficulties by substituting his own words, and I see by comparison with my Penguin that the bulk of his conjectures have been discarded.
He won, however, on this one, involving one of Shakes' best lines, something where Pope's edition, he being an Augustan, missed the point entirely. Falstaff's death -
Quick: He made a finer end, and went away, an it had been any christon child; a' parted even just between twelve and one, even at the turning of the tide; for after I saw him fumble with the sheets, and play with flowers, and smile upon his finger's end, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was sharp as a pen, and a babled of green fields.
Note; His nose was as sharp as a pen, and a Table of green fields; so has the first Folio. Mr. Pope has observed that these words, and a Table of green fields, are not in the old 4to's. This nonsense, continues he, got into all the following Editions by a pleasant Mistake of the Stage-Editors, who printed from the common peacemeal-written Parts in the Play-house. A table was here directed to be brought in (it being a scene in a tavern where they drink at parting) and this direction crept into the text from the margin. Greenfield was the name of the Property-man in that time who furnish'd Implements, &c, for the Actors. A Table of Greenfield's.

Bentley, to his credit, dismisses this- and is so satisfied with dissing Pope that he takes almost a page of small type to do it. Great fun.
And I bet Falstaff's friends wished they'd seen more of him while he was alive, too. We hadn't really caught up with John for several actual decades.


Rudd in his pre-vote speech said several times "I have been elected prime minister by the people of Australia."
No, of course, he hadn't: that's not the way the Westminster system works. He'd been elected by his electorate to be an MP, and he was elected by his party to be party leader, and he'd been appointed by the monarch to be PM. Obama was elected as leader by the people, but that doesn't happen in parliamentary systems.
When Larvatus Prodeo complains "Much as those attached to the verities of the Westminster system might protest otherwise, it’s difficult for many to come to terms with the fact that an elected PM has been torn down" he's getting it out of kilter. The Australian system has certainly developed into something where the PM has something of an independent power base by virtue of election, but we've just been reminded of how little this is reflected in the actual rules.

Anyone for Gibbon?

Churls gone Wild says
Australia has a new monarch, whose favourite non-fiction book is – so she says – Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

Say what you will about past PMs, but they at least would have known how to feign good taste and aesthetic judgement, when they did not actually have it. But, where once they might have read Cicero or Gibbon, nowadays state elites choose the verbal swagger of late-imperial bozo journalism. And every elite gets the culture it deserves. Friedman’s combination of schmaltz and bombast is a perfect fit for today’s international lawlessness, repeal of constitutional rights, and cabinet supremacy over parliament. This is the rule of a parasitic social layer.

Of course, in every society, rule is based not on merit or learning but on money (what Adam Smith called “the power to command labour”) and force. But whereas, say, the senatorial elite of 5th- and 19th-century Europe were also men of letters, and in other times and places they were fierce men of arms, it’s no accident that today has called forth this crop of bumptious philistines, no longer concerned to present themselves as “the best part of the human race”.

Obviously overstated, in that no PM since Menzies would have quoted Cicero, still less read him, and not that many before; Hughes, Scullin, Curtin, Lyons, Page, Fadden, none of them Gibbon men. But still, a liking for Friedman is ceetainly a black mark, to go with others.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Back in the day

That Abbot line about how winning the election would be a famous victory; where did that come from?
Ah, I thought so;

After Blenheim
Robert Southey

IT was a summer evening,
Old Kaspar's work was done,
And he before his cottage door
Was sitting in the sun;
And by him sported on the green
His little grandchild Wilhelmine.

She saw her brother Peterkin
Roll something large and round,
Which he beside the rivulet
In playing there had found:
He came to ask what he had found
That was so large and smooth and round.

Old Kaspar took it from the boy,
Who stood expectant by;
And then the old man shook his head,
And with a natural sigh—
"'Tis some poor fellow's skull," said he,
"Who fell in the great victory.

"I find them in the garden,
For there's many here about;
And often when I go to plough
The ploughshare turns them out.
For many thousand men," said he,
"Were slain in that great victory."

"Now tell us what 'twas all about,"
Young Peterkin he cries;
And little Wilhelmine looks up
With wonder-waiting eyes;
"Now tell us all about the war,
And what they fought each other for."

"It was the English," Kaspar cried,
"Who put the French to rout;
But what they fought each other
I could not well make out.
But everybody said," quoth he,
"That 'twas a famous victory.

"My father lived at Blenheim then,
Yon little stream hard by;
They burnt his dwelling to the ground,
And he was forced to fly:
So with his wife and child he fled,
Nor had he where to rest his head.

"With fire and sword the country round
Was wasted far and wide,
And many a childing mother then
And newborn baby died:
But things like that, you know, must be
At every famous victory.

"They say it was a shocking sight
After the field was won,
For many thousand bodies here
Lay rotting in the sun;
But things like that, you know, must be
After a famous victory.

"Great praise the Duke of Marlbro' won,
And our good Prince Eugene"—
"Why 'twas a very wicked thing!"
Said little Welhelmine;
"Nay—nay, my little girl," quoth he,
"It was a famous victory.

"And everybody praised the Duke
Who this great fight did win"—
"But what good came of it at last?"
Quoth little Peterkin.
"Why that I cannot tell," said he,
"But 'twas a famous victory."

Age Bin - Afghanistan

The trouble with the Afghanistan conflict is that nobody knows who they’re fighting. The Americans are shooting at the insurgents in the belief that they’re proxies for Al-Quaeda and Bin Laden, when in fact the main insurgent support base is the Pakistani Secret Service. The Pakistani Secret Service is fighting the Americans in the belief that they’re proxies for the Indian government, when in fact the main American support base is the National Rifle Association back home. The only people who can identify precisely who they’re fighting are the insurgents, who shoot at any foreigner who swaggers into their village carrying a gun and tells them what to do.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Case of the Red-Headed Dwarfs, part 23

Cocklecarrot: Having regard to the curious nature of this case, I think there should be an appeal under article 6 of the Statute of Giminy and Bocage.
Mr. Pass: Under Statute Law, m'lud, refraction must be proven.
Cocklecarrot: Aye, an' it be not proven, there is always the right of multiple cozenage.
Mr. Honey-Gander: Ultra vires?
Cocklecarrot: Of course. Sine die. Tutamen being implicit, with or without barratry, responderia and plonth, except in municipal law.
Mr. Pass: And wivenage, in lieu of direct mandibility?
Cocklecarrot: Not concurrently with external vapimenta. Merely in plenary copyhold.
Mr. Honey-Gander: M'lud, a tort being the source of a private right of action, in common law, as distinct from equity, matrimonial, Admiralty, agricultural or piscatorial jurisdiction, alterum non laedere, I suggest that classification, per se, under the Employers' Liability Act of 1897, as in Wivenhoe v. Spott (1903 A.C. 274) becomes a matter of malicious nuisance, sic utere tuo ut alienum laedas, in which case follopy is self-evident. For instance, a turtle's egg in the Galapagos Islands--
Cocklecarrot: Quite, quite, Mr. Honey-Gander. Let someone else develop the thing for a bit now. Now, my office being jus dicere, if not jus dare (see Hopkins v. Tollemache), it would be some considerable advantage to me to know what this case is about. Nobody, so far, has thought of mentioning such a thing.
Mr. Honey-Gander: M'lud, we have first to decide whether common usage or commercial usage is the more' convenient instrument for developing and expanding a statute law.
Cocklecarrot: I don't see why we have to go into that now.
Mr. Poss: M'lud, if a contract is unenforceable, as in Miss Fancy Fimple v. The Gaiety Theatre, Buttery-on-the-Vile, then, and not till then, the interchangeable nature of judicial procedure becomes, morally speaking, paramount. Now by the Bills of Exchange Act (1876) twill was included in the category of perishable goods. But if perishable goods are used to wrap the tails of rocking-horses they become, by mansuetude, imperishable, because the tail of a rocking-horse, of which the wrapping is an integral part, is a structure and not a moving fixture.
Cocklecarrot: How can a thing be both perishable and imperishable?
Mr. Poss: Only the Law can tell us that, m'lud.


Australian medals are simply not terribly glorious.
Some are occupational, which is fine -
*Australian Police Medal
*Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM)
*Ambulance Service Medal (ASM)
*Emergency Services Medal (ESM)

but the others, given the shifts on meaning over time, are just embarrassing.
*Commendation for Gallantry

sounds as if it's given for laying down cloaks over puddles;
*Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) and
*Commendation for Distinguished Service (14KB)

sounds as if they're faintly greying around the temples, while
*Conspicuous Service Cross (CSC) (34KB)
*Conspicuous Service Cross and Bar (CSC and Bar) (10KB)

*Conspicuous Service Medal (CSM) (32KB)

sound - and this could,I suppose, simply be unexpected frankness - as if they're given to people who hang around headquarters catching the general's eye while the true heroes unobtrusively hack it out with the enemy on night patrol, unseen and unrewarded.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Carl Williams the Knife

A performance of the Threepenny Opera at the Malthouse. Music fine, but the production and translation had problems.
The updating to modern Melbourne was patchy - the coronation procession, for example, stood out as a difficulty...and
the accents weren't Melbourne accents, if that was what they were trying for, but
the accents were heavy and caricatured, funny voices, which were difficult to sing in and detracted from the effects of the songs, which really need to be played much more straight, to really channel the potency of cheap music in the way it was written, and
as part of the updating,they felt they had to stir the jaded palates of today by inserting new and more terrible crimes for Mac the knife - which was a total misconception, because in the original Mac was just a cheap pimp; the song isn't reporting, its's romancing, it's PR. The true situation is covered in some detail in The Threepenny Novel, which I haven't read for years but which I would expect a translator to consult (and I can remember from it that if you're buying a pub it's a bad sign if ait brings in more during the week than during the weekend: it implies that there's building work nearby, and when it moves on the take will drop abruptly). In this production Mac is Eddie Perfect, played as a most unBrechtian star. Through he is given a less crippling accent than most of the others - but only Jenny is allowed to just sing.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


"What do you think of Kipling?"

"I don't know, you naughty boy, I've never kippled."

As the old (early 1900s? A best-selling Donald McGill postcard, at any rate) joke has it.

Ah, but I have kippled: here's an updating of Arithmetic on the Frontier.

Economics on the Frontier

A great and glorious thing it is
To learn, for fifteen years or so,
The Lord knows what of that and this,
To make us fit to face the foe--
The flying bullet down the Pass,
That whistles clear "All flesh is grass."

Ten thousand bucks per annum spent
To build an educated man
Who goes with soldierly intent
To fight a war in Uruzgan,
Where Talibs think rewards in heaven
Await the stars of 9/11.

An active service situation ---
A ground patrol just moving off--
Ninety grand of education
Dropped by an old Kalashnikov-
Shot like a spotlit kangaroo
Despite that quick course in Pashtu.

No proposition Euclid wrote,
No formulae the textbooks know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
Or ward the tulwar's downward blow.
Strike hard who cares--shoot straight who can--
The odds are on the cheaper man.

One plastic bag of poppy grout
Will pay for all madrasah fees
Of any lad from Tarin Kowt
Who never learned his ABCs
But being blessed with perfect sight
Picks off our Diggers left and right.

With home-bred hordes the hillsides boil,
The big planes bring us one by one,
At vast expense of time and toil,
To slay jihadis where they run,
Although insurgents are, I fear
As cheap--alas! as we are dear.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Grounds for a rethink

Ross Douhat, NYT rightwing columnist and about the only man alive with a beard as unsuccessful as mine, agrees with my Crusader kingdoms comparison from an earlier post.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Why Rudd is failing

From Dsquared:
Francois Mitterrand will always be a hero of mine despite his manifold failings, for his answer to an interviewer who once asked him what quality was necessary for success in politics. He considered the question carefully before answering "Bleakness of the soul".

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Case of the Red-Headed Dwarfs, part 22

It was learned late last night that the case of Miss Ruby Staggage v. Broxholm Hydraulic Laundries and Others will come up shortly for hearing before Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot. Miss Staggage is said to be the trade name of a firm of rocking-horse makers, who are suing the B. H. Laundries for the complete ruination of sixteen yards of washable twill used in making coverings for the tails of the horses. Pending dead-freight, demurrage, charter-party, copyhold, and aznalworratry, Mr. Chowdersleigh Poss will appear for the plaintiff, and Mr. Charles Honey-Gander for the defendants. The case will be heard in court number 19 of the Probate, Agriculture and Fisheries Division. Miss Boubou Flaring, the famous actress, will be on the jury, and is asked not to start the autograph business while the case is being heard.


Hurrying up the hill to the train yesterday I heard a car hoot at me. I turned - a friend offering a lift? - to see a car stopped in the street, the driver's hand pointing urgently behind me. I turned back to see that my new warm fully-lined woolly hat had fallen from my bag... I walked back and picked it up while the driver proceeded on his way.
I was and am impressed by the combination of immensely wide-ranging visual attention and unusual public spirit.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Designer drugs

When it comes to illegal drugs we are like Macaulay's puritans, who objected to bearbaiting not because of the pain it caused to the bear but because of the pleasure it gave the spectators. If we were worried about the harm caused by drugs, we would put the CSIRO to devising new drugs that did not have these unpleasant effects; but we do not.


At The Habit of Art, a film of a UK National Theatre production, Alan Bennett play about Auden and Britten, couldn't help noticing that Auden is portrayed as falling apart in every sphere, a lumbering wreck degenerating into incoherence, at the age of approximately me. Portrayed by Richard Griffith, who does look the part after a fashion, and is also about my age. Was to have been done by Michael Gambon, ditto (well, slightly older, him).
See ourselves as others see us.
And then a telemovie The Gathering Storm about Churchill in 1934-39, looking similarly ancient at a similar age - though he is admittedly played by Albert Finney, who's 13 years older than me and has earned his wrinkles.

True, perhaps, that in previous times people got older younger, not only died sooner but aged sooner, but nonetheless.

Tick tock.

Another mark, that, of age and irrelevance; many people won't remember clocks that ticked.

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