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A Few Reflections on Adolf Hitler

I have just finished reading, Hitler: Ian Kershaw’s brilliant, two-volume biography on Adolf Hitler. Over the course of 1432 pages, Kershaw uncovers why Hitler, a man not all too dissimilar from other tyrants in history, has become synonymous with evil.

Kershaw also reveals the gap between Hitler’s public image and private personality. He reveals the difference between the rabble rouser capable of captivating the masses by exploiting their fears, prejudices, and desires, and the lacklustre reality. Kershaw shows how Hitler transformed Nazism into a national religion – complete with its own songs, fables, and rituals – and how he transformed himself into its demagogue.  

Hitler projected a persona that embodied all the ideals of German nationalism. He presented himself as the archetype of German pride, efficiency, and self-discipline. In Hitler, the German people found the living embodiment of their fears and aspirations.

Furthermore, Hitler presented himself as the saviour of a nation on the brink of ruin. This was not entirely his doing, by the early-thirties things had grown so dire in Germany that people were willing to throw their lot in with anyone promising to restore law, order, and honour. Hitler promised all that and more. Utilising what we today would recognise as identity politics, Hitler promised to restore national pride and wreak vengeance on Germany’s enemies. He divided the world into victims (the German people), perpetrators (international Jewry and Marxists), and saviours (the Nazis).

It would be far too simplistic, however, to conclude that Hitler brainwashed the German people. Rather, Hitler and the German people became intertwined in the same unconscious conspiracy. Hitler may have been the one to espouse the kind of murderous ideas that led to Auschwitz and Stalingrad, but it was the German people who gave those ideas their full, unconscious support. As time marched on, Hitler’s sycophancy was taken as political genius.

By telling the German people what they wanted to hear, Hitler was able to present himself as a national saviour. The reality was far different. He was a man with virtually no personality. He had no connection whatsoever with ordinary people. He never held an ordinary job, never had children, and only married his mistress, Eva Braun, the day before his suicide. Albert Speer, the Nazi architect and one of the few men Hitler counted as a friend, described him as a duplicitous, insecure individual who surrounded himself with shallow and incompetent people, laughed at the misfortunes of others, and retreated into “fantastic mis-readings” or reality.

Furthermore, whilst Hitler presented himself as the hardworking political demagogue of unmatched genius, he was, in reality, a lazy, egotistical man whose rise to power rested on the cynical manipulation of national institutions. Far from being the tireless worker he presented himself to be, Hitler actually proved unable to deal with numerous major crises during the War because he was still asleep. He saw his role as being the creator of Nazi ideology. The actual running of Germany he left to his functionaries.

When Hitler toured Paris following the fall of France in 1940, he made a special visit to the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. Saluting the Emperor’s marble tomb, Hitler commented, in typical egotistical style that like Napoleon his tomb would only bear the name “Adolf” because “the German people would know who it was.”

He was not entirely wrong. The name Adolf Hitler is remembered today. However, far from being remembered as the founder of a thousand-year Reich, he is remembered as a genocidal fruitcake whose legacy is as inglorious as his life. Hitler and Napoleon may have been similar in many ways (both were foreigners to the countries they would end up ruling, both reigned for a short period of time, and both significantly altered the course of history), but where Napoleon left a legacy that is still very much with today, Hitler failed to leave anything of lasting significance

But perhaps that is precisely what Hitler wanted. Carl Jung has a dictum: if you want to understand someone’s motivations for doing something, look at the outcome and infer the motivation. In his brief twelve-years in power, Hitler led the German people into a war that cost fifty-million lives, presided over a Holocaust that murdered eleven million people, and oversaw the destruction of the old Europe. If Adolf Hitler could be summarised in a single quote, the line from the ancient Hindu text, Bhagavad Gita would prove sufficient: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

JOHN LENNON, SUNSET BOULEVARD AND THE PRICE OF FAME

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2020 marks two anniversaries. The first is the 40th anniversary of the murder of ex-Beatle John Lennon (1940 – 1980) by the social misfit, Mark David Chapman (1955 – ). The second is the 70th anniversary of the release of Sunset Boulevard. Although they are separated by some thirty years, each event acts as a reminder of what can happen when the desire for fame gets out of hand.

At 10.50pm on December 8th, 1980, Chapman watched as Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono (1933 – ) made their way through the entrance of the Dakota building, dropped into a combat stance, and fired five shots from his Charter Arms .38 Special revolver. Four bullets struck Lennon in the back and shoulder. The fifth missed and shattered a window.

Lennon was rushed to the Roosevelt Hospital where three doctors, two to three medical attendants, and nurse spent ten to twenty minutes trying to revive him. The doctors even tried opening his chest to perform a manual heart massage, but the damage to the vessels around his heart were too great. John Lennon was announced dead on arrival at 11.15pm.

Lennon had been shot at close range by four hollow-point bullets. Two had passed through his body, one had lodged itself in his upper left-arm, and a fourth had lodged itself in his aorta. The autopsy concluded that Lennon died of “hypovolemic shock, caused by the loss of more than eighty-percent of blood volume due to multiple through-and-through gunshot wounds to the left shoulder and left chest resulting in damage to the left lung, the left subclavian artery, and both the aorta and aortic arch.”

John Lennon’s murder and the plot of Sunset Boulevard mirror one another in many ways. Lennon was murdered by a deranged lunatic who believed he could achieve notoriety for himself by murdering a popstar. Similarly, Sunset Boulevard tells the story of a long forgotten, and equally demented, film star who achieves a return to fame by murdering her gigolo.

Sunset Boulevard was the product of a collaboration between Billy Wilder (1906 – 2002), Charles Brackett (1892 – 1969), and Donald McGill Marshman, Jr. (1922 – 2015). The story was based, in part, on the Evelyn Waugh (1903 – 1966) novel, The Loved Ones which recounted the author’s experiences in Hollywood and the funeral business. Wilder, who had become fascinated by American culture whilst living in Berlin, dreamt up a story about a long forgotten silent film star who resides in one of Sunset Boulevard’s grand houses. Brackett suggested making the story about the star’s comeback, whilst Marshman, Jr. suggested using it to explore the relationship between the forgotten film star and a young man.

Sunset Boulevard’s success was aided by three factors: the writing of Wilder, Brackett, and Marshman, Jr., the direction of Wilder, and the cinematography of John Francis Seitz (1892 – 1979). Seitz gave Sunset Boulevard a dreamlike quality in which fantasy and reality blend together almost seamlessly. The fantasy world Norma Desmond inhabits is shot in deep focus and made to look dark and ominous. By contrast, the real world that Joe Gillis inhabits is depicted as well-lit and filmed in a documentary-style fashion.

Numerous actors were considered to play Joe Gillis, including Fred MacMurray (1908 – 1991) and Montgomery Clift (1920 – 1966). Clift was originally signed to play the part, but withdrew from the project at the last minute. The role eventually went to William Holden (1918 – 1981).

Joe Gillis is a down and outer. Prior to meeting Norma Desmond, Gillis’ situation is so dire that he actually considers returning to his newspaper job in Dayton, Ohio. He is hounded by debt collectors, forced to use the telephone at Schwab’s drugstore because he cannot afford one of his own, and is even fired by his own manager. Gillis believes that he can live the life of an expensive playboy by reading Desmond’s script and entertaining her deluded fantasies. The problem is that he has to make a Faustian pact in order to do so.

The reason Gillis finds Desmond’s offer so tempting is that he has become jaded about the Hollywood system. He represents the writer as just a mere cog in the movie-making machine. He notes the general lack of recognition for the writer and his craft, the writer’s uncertain prospects, the likelihood of executive meddling, and the ever-present risk of plagiarism. He complains that Hollywood will reject your script if it is too original or if it is not original enough.

Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard’s antagonist, was based on a myriad of silent film actresses. The name is believed to be derived from the silent film star, Mabel Normand (1892 – 1930) and the film director, William Desmond Taylor (1872 – 1922), who’s sensational 1922 murder has never been solved. Suggested models for Desmond include Norma Talmadge (1894 – 1957), Mary Pickford (1892 – 1979), Pola Negri (1897 – 1987), Mae Murray (1885 – 1965), Clara Bow (1905 – 1965), and Valeska Surratt (1882 – 1962).

Norma Desmond was played by former silent film star, Gloria Swanson (1899 – 1983). Like Desmond, Swanson had been a major silent film star and was known for her beauty, talent, and extravagant lifestyle. And like Desmond, her film career faded with the coming of sound. Unlike Desmond, however, Swanson was able to accept the end of her film career, moved to New York in the early-thirties, and pursued a successful career in theatre, radio, and television.

Norma Desmond has come to symbolise an entire generation of silent film stars whose were thrust aside by the advent of sound. When her star fell, Desmond retreated into her gothic mansion and built up a fantasy world where she was still a big star. At one stage she tells Gillis that she had the floor of her ballroom tiled at the behest of Rudolph Valentino (1895 – 1926), as though Valentino was still a big star. She speaks in melodramatic tones, acts like an infatuated schoolgirl in Gillis’ company, and engages in acts of emotional blackmail through mock suicide attempts.

Desmond refuses to admit that the “parade has long since passed her by.” Incapable of functioning in the real world, she has constructed a fantasy life for herself. Any attempt to bring her out of her stupor is met with either denial or indignation. Towards the end of the movie, Gillis informs her: “Norma, you’re a woman of fifty, now grow up. There’s nothing tragic about being fifty, not unless you try to be twenty-five.” And just like John the Baptist in Salome (the 1891 Oscar Wilde tragedy Desmond has chosen to adapt), Gillis pays for the faux pas with his life.

When Sunset Boulevard premiered, Louis B. Mayer (1884 – 1957) reportedly shouted at Billy Wilder: “You bastard! You have disgraced the industry that made you and fed you. You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood.” Mayer had reason to be angry, too. Sunset Boulevard is perhaps one of the most scathing criticisms of Hollywood ever made. The film indicted Hollywood for its treatment of the writer, its obsession with youth, its toxic star system, and cult of celebrity worship.

In a world of social media and reality television, the murder of John Lennon and the story of Sunset Boulevard is more potent today than ever before. Thanks to reality TV and social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, it is far too easy for mentally unstable people to achieve easy fame. How long will it be before society produces another Mark David Chapman or Norma Desmond?

The Silence of the Lambs and the Problem of Evil

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From Shakespeare’s Macbeth to modern serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer (1960 – 1994), history and literature has been filled with stories of savage and inhuman evil. Those acts of evil that have most captured our imaginations have been those committed out of resentment, sexual frustration, ideology, or religious belief.

Carl Panzram’s (1891 – 1930) murderous rampage was fuelled by the resentment he felt over the poor treatment he had experienced as a child. The Neo-Nazi and Marquis De Sade devotee, Ian Brady (1938 – 2017) murdered five people with his girlfriend, Myra Hindley (1942 – 2002). Ted Bundy (1946 – 1989) expressed his dark fantasies by raping and murdering dozens of young women. And Richard Ramirez (1960 – 2013) presided over a sixteen-month reign of terror, was dubbed “the Night Stalker”, and claimed to worship Satan.

The 1991 film, The Silence of the Lambs explores the dark corners of the human psyche from which such evil emerges. Its two principle antagonists, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), are motivated to commit their crimes for purely psychological reasons. They are not motivated by money or power or sex.

Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill are able to rationalise their behaviour because they do not see their victims as human beings. Since they are both materialists (that pernicious philosophy that supposes all phenomena is composed of material elements and material interacts), they fail to see the spirit infused within the flesh and bone of a human being. It never occurs to them that there may be more to their victims than just their corporeal form.

Buffalo Bill mistakenly believes himself to be transgender. In reality, years of systematic abuse has made him hate his own identity. And because he is a materialist, he has come to believe that he can change his identity by fashioning the skin of his female victims. He believes that he can possess the power he perceives women to have because, in his mind, all there is to being a woman is having breasts and long hair.

Hannibal Lecter doesn’t believer in the human spirit, either. As a psychiatrist and an intellectual, he is driven by an incessant need to consume people on an intellectual level. Once he has finished consuming them intellectually, he kills them so he can consume them physically.

Lecter is the modern intellectual par excellence. However, his appreciation of the intellectual and the aesthetic are rendered insufficient by his lack of warmth and humanity. As the crime novelist, Andrew Klavan (1954 – ) wrote in City Journal:

“The name Hannibal Lecter implies – as the fictional killer’s behaviour illustrates – that the modern intellectual (lector means “reader” in Latin) has become, like Hannibal of old, a threat to Western civilisation.”

Stories of evil have captivated the human imagination ever since our ancestors began telling stories. The Silence of the Lambs reveals the limitations of the materialist philosophy and highlights the evil that it can create. As a consequence, it has joined a great pantheon of stories by standing as a testament of what happens we reduce mankind down to mere flesh and bone.

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) vs. The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

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Hollywood has been remaking movies since the beginning. And with a few notable exceptions, most of these films have failed to capture the magic of the original. Even today directors seem convinced that they can produce Hollywood magic by creating an endless array of sequels, remakes, and reboots. Nevertheless, there still exists that rare category of film screaming to be remade.

One such movie is The Thomas Crown Affair. Neither the 1968 original nor the 1999 remake manages to surpass the other. Whilst the original excels at style and sexual tension, it is overshadowed by the remake’s plot and music score. Both films are essentially “style” movies. They rely heavily upon atmosphere to draw in an audience. The cool jazz of the 1999 remake is a massive improvement over the original. There can be no denying that Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” is better suited to the film than the original’s “Windmills of Your Mind.”

But what the remake wins in music, it loses in style and sex appeal. From Faye Dunaway’s wardrobe to Steve McQueen’s three-piece suits, the style of The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) has become an iconic part of 20th century style. The tailored suits and designer skirts lend themselves to the film’s upmarket atmosphere and help enhance the sexual tension, which is far more palpable here despite the remake’s decision to show more explicit sex.

The 1999 film makes enormous improvements on the original’s plot. In the original film, the audience is never granted a satisfactory explanation as to why a wealthy, sophisticated gentleman would waste his time organising a bank robbery (the explanation that he does it for kicks barely passes muster). In the remake, the director, John McTiernan and the screenwriters, Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer, decide to make Crown an art thief. It is a crime that makes Crown seem intelligent, cultured, and sympathetic.

At the centre of both versions of The Thomas Crown Affair is the relationship between Thomas Crown and Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway)/ Catherine Banning (Rene Russo). In the original film, Crown and Vicki compete as equals causing a sexual tension to pulsate through the entire film. Similarly, in the remake Crown and Banning act as mirror images of one another. Unlike the original, however, the sexual tension quickly fizzles out when the pair form a romantic attachment to one another. At this moment, the erotically-charged battle of wits is replaced with a soap opera-style romance that is, frankly, embarrassing to watch.

In both versions of the film, Thomas Crown is presented as an elegant, sophisticated alpha-male who amassed his wealth thanks to a shrewd business mind and a willingness to take extreme risks. When Crown isn’t making multi-million-dollar deals at the corporate board table, he’s pursing hobbies like polo, gliding, yachting, and golf.

Both Steve McQueen and Pierce Brosnan portray Thomas Crown as a bored millionaire playboy: the type of man with an almost insatiable need for adrenaline. There are, however, marked differences in the way each actor portrays the character. Steve McQueen plays Crown with the kind of roguish charm that made him the “King of Cool” in the sixties and seventies. By contrast, Pierce Brosnan plays Crown as a charmer, the kind of man who feels comfortable in country clubs and golf courses because he’s lived around them his entire life.

As mentioned before, competing against Thomas Crown are the insurance investigators Vicki Anderson and Catherine Banning. Both are largely similar characters. Both have resided in Europe, both are sophisticates, and both come to suspect Thomas Crown merely because they find him attractive. In terms of characterisation, Catherine Banning is certainly the more nuanced of the two.

There is one area, however, where Vicki Anderson excels over Catherine Banning. Sex appeal. At the age of forty-five, Rene Russo (who, it must be said, is a perfectly fine actress) looks too old to be playing the part of a sultry sex kitten who is supposed to be the source of all men’s fantasies. (Faye Dunaway, by contrast, was only twenty-seven and looks every part the sex kitten). Better choices would have been Sharon Stone, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kim Basinger, Kate Winslet, Emanuelle Béart, and Monica Bellucci.

In 2016, Variety reported that Michael B. Jordan was set to star in a second remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. Those wishing to remake the film should heed the following advice. They should combine McQueen and Brosnan’s portrayals of Crown to create a character a witty, urbane, charming, and roguish anti-hero. They should retain the style and sex appeal of the original film, but follow the remake’s lead when it comes to music and plot. And, finally, they should make absolutely certain that they cast the right actress as the female lead. Only then will we get the film we truly deserve.

Stop Getting Bond Wrong: A Review of Never Say Never Again

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Fans of the James Bond film series remember 1983 as the year that brought two James Bond movies to the silver screen. The so-called “Battle of the Bonds” pitched the official EON Produced Octopussy against the unofficial Thunderball remake, Never Say Never Again. But aside from the obvious contest between Sean Connery and Roger Moore, how should Never Say Never Again be regarded?

Fundamentally, Never Say Never Again ought to be compared to its contemporaries. By the late-seventies, early-eighties, the quality of the Bond films had become inconsistent. EON seemed incapable of deciding whether they wanted to produce thrillers or action comedies. Thus, for every The Spy Who Loved Me, there was a Moonraker.

None of this is to say that Never Say Never Again is a good movie. Ultimately, it is an average movie – and a bad James Bond movie. Part of the problem is that the film cannot decide whether it wants to be a “Bond” movie or not. There are clear attempts to emulate the official Bond series. Bond asks for a “vodka martini, shaken not stirred”, Lani Hall’s song “Never Say Never Again” replaces the traditional title song, and it is hard not to see the superimposed “007” logo at the start of the movie as anything less than a substitute for a gun-barrel.

The film’s plot is average, at best. Never Say Never Again’s plot mirrors that of Thunderball. Bond is sent to track down the whereabouts two nuclear bombs stolen by SPECTRE. Along the way he encounters the beautiful Domino, a femme fatale in the form of Fatima Blush, and the psychotic Maximilian Largo. There is plenty of sex and violence, and the film ends with Bond recovering the bombs and saving the day.

Despite making some minor improvements, Never Say Never Again fails to live up to its source material – both literary and cinematic. The film is filled with the kind of ridiculous shenanigans that could make Moore’s adventures so unbearable for fans of the Connery era. It is not possible to alter your eye to match someone else’s. Not now, and certainly not in 1983. The sequence with the remote-control sharks pushes the suspension of disbelief beyond breaking point. And Bond’s presence in the Bahamas serves absolutely no purpose.

Most of the film’s characters are boring and one-dimensional. James Bond (Sean Connery) is presented as a veteran character ravished by time (and an extremely poor lifestyle). But even this isn’t wholly original. Both For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy had leant into Roger Moore’s advancing years. The difference was that Moore’s Bond was presented as an elder stateman: a wiser, more dignified man who mostly pursues relationships with age-appropriate women. Connery’s elder Bond is merely an older version of Connery’s younger Bond, just with greyer hair.

The film’s most interesting character is its villain, Maximillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer). Largo is a man who appears personable, even charming, on the surface. This affable facade, however, hides the psychotic individual lurking just beneath the surface. The film critic, Roger Ebert praised Brandauer’s decision not to turn Largo into a cliché. It is a compliment I largely agree with. Brandauer’s sense of subtle evil is far more menacing that Adolfo Celli’s Emilio Largo in Thunderball.

After Largo, the film’s most interesting character is Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera). She is a manic psychopath – a Class A lunatic who dances in joy after she’s killed people, keeps snakes as pets, and pursues Largo as a romantic interest. Even then, Fatima Blush does not possess the same level of nuanced malevolence that Thunderball’s Fiona Volpe possessed. Blush may not be Lady Macbeth, but she’s certainly fun to watch.

By contrast, the most boring character in the movie is Domino Petachi (Kim Basinger). The only thing that defines her as a human being is her troubled relationship with Largo (which is handled better here than in Thunderball). Their relationship is defined by Largo’s possessiveness and punctuated by his pathological bouts of paranoid jealousy. He refers to her as his possession and even tells her that he will kill her if she tries to leave him.

The biggest downfall of the film, however, is that it represents a missed opportunity. Those who watch the film know they are not getting a regular James Bond movie. The film’s director, Kevin McClory could have used this as justification to do something original with James Bond. He could have revived the danger, conviction, and sex appeal of the original films by making Never Say Never Again more ruthlessly violent and sexually explicit. McClory could have chosen to produce a film along the lines of From Russia with Love or The Day of the Jackal. Instead he chose to produce a bland James Bond movie.

An Ode to the Barber Shop

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Isn’t it amazing just how much of our lives we take for granted? The vast majority of us have never really taken into consideration the organizational effort that goes into running a local library or operating a small business. Like most of us, I have eaten at pubs, borrowed library books, and gotten my haircut without giving a second thought to the little intricacies that make such things possible. Then my barber decided to retire.

If I’m honest, learning that John, my barber of over five years, had decided to retire threw me in a loop. The prospect of finding a decent, skilled barber who could deal with my thick, wavy hair seemed virtually insurmountable. The truth is that the relationship John and I had ran deeper than just mere haircuts. Our friendship was based on a familiarity built over a number of years. John knew my hair and knew how I liked it. And I had the honour of having my hair cut by a man who had been barbering since the mid-sixties, and who was a pillar of his community.

John was one of a dying breed: the traditional barber. They offered men a haircut and, perhaps, a shave (occupational health and safety not withstanding), and little else. These barber shops were usually small and run by only a few men. They had built personal relationships with their clients over a number of years. These barbers knew their customers, knew their backgrounds, and knew how they liked their hair. (Naturally, this was dependent on clients returning to the same barber year after year, month after month).

The traditional barber is a relic of a bygone age. Whenever I think of old-fashioned barber shops, I think of the 1920s to the 1950s, of a world of glamour and sophistication when ladies wore evening dresses and men had neat hair and wore dinner jackets. When I think of old-fashioned barber shops, I think of the Rat Pack and James Bond and the movie stars of the 1930s to the 1950s. For me, the old-fashioned barber shop is synonymous with timeless male style.

Sadly, society no longer believes in style, glamour, and sophistication. The traditional barber shop has given way to a cruder, wannabe variety. These establishments are more masculinised hair dressing salons than proper barber shops. These places think that by offering cheap haircuts in an atmosphere immersed in masculine nostalgia – usually achieved through wood paneling, empty Jack Daniels bottles, and pictures of men doing “manly” things – they can achieve the mantle of the traditional barber shop.

The truth is that they can’t. Gruff looking barbers with arms covered in tattoos are about as far away as one can get from the dapper gentlemen who cut men’s hair in the past. When I walk out of the barber, I want to look and feel like Cary Grant, not like a thug. John made that happen for me. He and his kind are vanishing rapidly. They will be missed.

George Pell Reveals Serious Violations in Australian Law

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One of the most common misconceptions is that justice means getting what you want. It is a misconception that is not only wrong, but one that also carries the very real risk of perverting the course of justice. As the legal farce against Cardinal George Pell has proven: when such a belief is commonly held, it can lead to the imprisonment of innocent people and the disgrace of the entire legal system.

The Pell legal fiasco involved two trials and two appeals which culminated in George Pell’s conviction for historic child sex abuse being overturned by the High Court of Australia. The two trials began in August 2018 in the Victorian County Court. Pell pleaded not guilty to all charges. The first trial ended in a mistrial after the jury proved unable to deliver a verdict. The second trial ended in a guilty predict.

After his sentencing, Pell’s defence team appealed to Victoria’s Appeals Court. They argued that Pell’s conviction “could not be supported by the whole of the evidence” and that, therefore, no reasonable jury could have found him guilty. It was an unusual approach. Most appeals will attempt to overturn a jury verdict by arguing that the trial judge failed to properly instruct the jury. Pell’s defence team, on the other hand, were claiming that the jury itself made the error. In order to show that the jury verdict was “not open”, Pell’s defence team had to show that the evidence presented at trial “precluded a guilty verdict.” As the Court of Appeals stated:

“Where the unreasonableness ground is relied upon, the task for the appeal court is to decide whether, on the whole of the evidence, it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was guilty.

The inquiry which this ground requires is a purely factual one, rather than a discrete question of law where the agreement is that the trial judge has made an error. When the reasonableness ground is relied upon, the appeal court reviews the evidence as it was presented to the jury. The appeal court asks itself whether – on that factual material – it was unreasonably open to the jury to convict the accused.”

According to the Court of Appeal’s review, the prosecution’s case rested on the argument that the accuser was a credible witness upon whom the jury could justify a guilty verdict. This view was shared by both Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Justice Chris Maxwell:

“Throughout his evidence, [the complainant] came across as someone who was telling the truth. He did not seek to embellish his evidence or tailor it in a manner favourable to the prosecution. As might have been expected, there were somethings which he could remember and many things which he could not. And his explanations of why that was so had the ring of truth.”

Conversely, both Ferguson and Maxwell judged that there was justifiable reason to doubt the testimonies of the “opportunity witnesses” whose testimonies contradicted the prosecution’s case. Ferguson and Maxwell both found that “the evidence of the opportunity witnesses varied greatly in quality and consistency, and in the degree of recall, both as witnesses and within the evidence of individual witnesses.” They argued that the repetition of events combined with the lengthy passage of time had conspired to put the validity of their testimonies under question. Incredibly, both Ferguson and Maxwell were willing to accept the accuser’s testimony as a true and accurate version of events even though their reasons for discounting the testimonies of the opportunity witnesses could be applied just as easily to him as it could to the others.

The Victorian Court of Appeals upheld Pell’s conviction with a two-to-one majority. The lone dissenter, Justice Mark Weinberg delivered a two-hundred-and-four-page dissent statingthat “in light of the unchallenged evidence of the opportunity witnesses, the odds against [A’s] account of how the abuse occurred, would have to be substantial.” Weinberg did not believe that the prosecution had successfully discounted the testimonies of the “opportunity witnesses” and concluded that a reasonable jury would not have been able to reach a verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Unperturbed, Pell’s defence team applied to appeal to the High Court. It was granted because the highest court in the land believed there was sufficient argument to suggest that Pell had been convicted on insufficient evidence. Pell’s defence team based their appeal on the argument that Pell’s conviction could not be supported by the evidence and that the Court of Appeals had misapplied the legal test by requiring him to prove that the offending was impossible.

According to the High Court Summary, ‘A’ (the accuser is identified as ‘A’ in the High Court summary) testified that ‘B’ and himself had slipped out of the procession as it was approaching the metal gate to the toilet corridor. (A full description of both the layout of the Cathedral and the procession are contained within the High Court summary). From there they re-entered the Cathedral through the door to the south transept, made their way into the sacristy corridor, slipped into the Priest’s sacristy, and partook in a bottle of red communion wine. ‘A’ alleged that Pell caught them, exposed his penis, orally raped ‘A’, and forced his to remove him trousers so he could fondle his genitals. At this stage both ‘A’ and ‘B’ were crying and Pell is alleged to have told them to be quiet. ‘A’ further claimed that Pell re-assaulted him a month later by pushing him up against a wall and fondling his genitals.

The Court of Appeals had found ‘A’ to be a credible witness, partly because he had knowledge of the interior layout of both the interior of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and the Priest’s sacristy. (Clearly it didn’t occur to them that he could have attained such knowledge without being abused). There are, however, two problems with ‘A’s testimony. The first concerns the lack of opportunity Pell would have had to commit the crime without being caught. If ‘A’, the prosecution, Ferguson, and Maxwell are to be believed, Pell was a brazen enough offender to molest two choir boys directly after Sunday Mass when the chances of getting caught would have been extremely high.

The second concerns the time of the offending. The prosecution placed the date range for the alleged offending between December 15th and 22nd 1996 for the first offence and February 23rd for the second offence. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was closed for renovations between Easter and November 1996. After it was reopened, Pell officiated two Sunday masses there – December 15th and 22nd December and presided over, though he did not celebrate, Sunday solemn mass on February 23rd, 1997. During this time, renovations to the Archbishop’s sacristy forced him to use the Priest’s sacristy, further enhancing the likelihood of getting caught.

It should come as little surprise that High Court found major inconsistencies between the way the Court of Appeals regarded the accuser’s testimony and the way they regarded the testimony of the “opportunity witnesses”:

“The Court of Appeal majority’s treatment of what their Honours rightly identified as the critical issue in the case was wrong for two reasons. First, Portelli’s evidence was unchallenged. Secondly, their Honours were required to reason in a manner that is consistent with the way in which a jury would be directed in accordance with the Jury Direction Act 2015 (Vic). Their Honours were required to take into account the forensic disadvantage experienced by the applicant arising from the delay of some 20 years in being confronted with these allegations. Their Honours, however, reasoned to satisfaction of the applicant’s guilt by discounting a body of evidence that raised lively doubts as to the commission of the offences because they considered the likelihood that the memories of honest witnesses might have been affected by delay.”

The testimony of Monsignor Charles Portelli, the former Master of Ceremonies, was of particular interest to the High Court. As Master of Ceremonies, Portelli’s duties included meeting Pell when he arrived at the Cathedral, assisting him with his vestments, and so on. Portelli testified that the two occasions Pell celebrated Mass in December 1996 were memorable because of the large number of people who wanted to meet Pell. He recalled standing beside Pell during the procession and seeing Pell hand his mitre and crosier to two altar boys whilst he stood at the west door greeting congregants. During the cross examination, Portelli stated that whilst it was possible that Pell only remained at the west door greeting people for a couple of minutes, he did not remember it. Furthermore, Portelli testified that even if he had, Pell would have been accompanied by Max Potter or another Priest.

Sacristan Max Potter concurred with much of Portelli’s testimony. Potter claimed that Pell spent twenty minutes to half-an-hour greeting congregants. When asked he stated that whilst it was possible for Pell to have left earlier than normal, it would have been unlikely at first because “it took him [Pell] a while to readjust, and [he] stayed in there welcoming people for a couple of months in the Cathedral.” Potter also backed up Portelli’s assertion that Pell would not have returned to the Priest’s sacristy to remove his vestments alone. Furthermore, Potter stated that he unlocked the Priest’s sacristy as the procession was making its way down the centre aisle and that he gave congregants five to six minutes to pray in the sanctuary before he and the altar servers removed the sacred vessels, a task that generally took around a quarter-of-an-hour.

Potter was suffering memory issues during Pell’s trial. In particularly, his testimony makes it unclear as to when exactly he unlocked the Priest’s sacristy. Other witnesses, however, also testified in Pell’s favour. Both Doctor Cox, the assistant organist, and Peter Finnigan, the choir marshal, recalled the Priest’s sacristy being a “hive of activity” following the Mass. Likewise, Jeffrey Connor and McGlone, both of whom were altar servers at the time, stated that they could recall no occasion in which the Priest’s sacristy had been left either unlocked or unattended. They testified that Potter had been waiting to unlock the Priest’s sacristy so they could bow to the crucifix and complete their duties.

Connor wrote of Pell’s “invariable” practice of greeting congregants on the steps of the Cathedral in his personal diary. Connor testified that he had never seen Pell alone whilst wearing his vestments, and that if he had the event would certainly have been memorable. McGlone concurred with Connor’s version of events testifying that he understood the Archbishop’s vestments were sacred and that certain prayers had to be said as they were being donned or removed. McGlone recalled he and his mother having a brief interaction with Pell.

The High Court unanimously concluded that no reasonable jury, working to the standard that guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, could find George Pell guilty. They found that the possibility of reasonable doubt arising from the unchallenged evidence of multiple witnesses should have prompted the jury to entertain the possibility of reasonable doubt. As a result, they overturned Pell’s conviction.

It is not difficult to see Pell as a casualty of the broader culture war – the ideological conflict over the fate of western culture – that has enveloped modern society. Pell’s outspoken traditionalism and fervent Catholicism combined with his contentious views on gay marriage, the morning-after pill, and the ordination of women has made him persona non grata for many social groups. Combine this with the Catholic Church’s admittedly abysmal response to child sex abuse allegations, and it isn’t hard to see why Pell was targeted. It is as though they thought they could punish the Church by convicting Pell.

It should go without saying that the sexual abuse of a child, whether it is committed by a stranger, a scoutmaster, or a Catholic Cardinal is abhorrent. It is more than reasonable to hold child abusers accountable for their crimes. However, it is more important to uphold those principles upon which our legal system is based. It is these principles that have allowed us to live in freedom and (relative) prosperity for as long as we have.

Although most people recognise the necessity of legal protections against miscarriages of justice, many do not believe that these protections should extend to people accused of sex crimes. There is an alarming trend where politicians attempt to use the spectre of child abuse to curry favour with the public. In many cases, these attempts involve violating time honoured legal principles. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, for example, has made several recommendations that state governments have only been too eager to lap up. Among the Royal Commission’s recommendations have been the abolition of statutory limitations on child sex abuse allegations and reformations to evidence law so juries can learn more about a defendant’s past.

In 2020, Victoria’s Attorney General, Martin Pakula introduced the Limitations of Actions Amendment (Child Abuse) Act 2015 which exempted cases where injuries had been acquired from the psychological, physical, or sexual abuse of a minor from the usual statutory limitations. Similarly, the Conversation reported in February 2020 that the New South Wales government had introduced a new would that would “make it easier for a jury to be informed about the prior convictions of a person on trial for a sex offence.” Similar laws are expected to be introduced in Victoria, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital Territory.

These blatant violations of western legal jurisprudence have emerged from a pernicious belief that all who claim to have been sexually abused must be telling the truth. Pell’s lone accuser perfectly summarised this view in his statement following the High Court’s decision:

“I respect the decision of the High Court. I respect the outcome. I understand their view that there was not enough evidence to satisfy the court beyond all reasonable doubt that the offending occurred.

No one wants to live in a society where people can be imprisoned without due process and proper processes. This is a basic civil liberty. But the price we pay for weighting the system in favour of the accused is that many sexual offences against children go unpunished.”

Merely being accused of a crime does not make someone guilty. Our legal system requires that guilt be proven beyond a reasonable doubt Weighting the system in the favour of the ‘victim’, as Pell’s accuser is suggesting, is no different than weighting the system in favour of the state. Under such circumstances a defendant would have no chance of defending himself against any charge brought against him.

Shortly after he was convicted, Anne Manne wrote in The Monthly that Pell’s conviction “enacted the dignity and power of the rule of law.” In reality, precisely the opposite happened. The rule of law is defined by the Australian Constitution Centre as “the idea that every person is subject to the laws of the land regardless of their status. It is the idea that you cannot be punished or have your rights affected other than in accordance with a law, and only after a breach of the law has been established in a court of law.” George Pell was treated with a special kind of vindictiveness because he was a Catholic Cardinal. He was not treated like everybody else.

The Rule of Law is supposed to be the opposite of the rule of power. It recognises that whilst it may be necessary to have leaders, no one individual ought to be master over his fellows. As Clive Staples Lewis once noted: “Aristotle said that some men were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.” The Rule of Law is supposed to reflect the fact that Australia is a nation governed by law, not by rulers. The Australian legal system has tainted this principle by treating George Pell differently just because he is a Cardinal.

The George Pell legal fiasco has revealed deep corruption inside the Victorian legal establishment. When one considers the Supreme Court of Victoria and the Court of Appeals proclivity to ignore evidence that did not support the prosecution, the weakness of the prosecution’s case, and the relentless media witch hunt, it is hard not to think of the Pell trial as anything less than a calculated attempt to silence an outspoken conservative Cardinal. When cases like Pell’s come along, we should remind ourselves of that old Latin maxim: “let just be done though the heavens fall.”

The Consequences of Coronavirus

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Like most Australians, I have spent the past few weeks isolated in my home. With stores closed and public events cancelled, many of us have had to find new ways of keeping ourselves entertained. For me, this period of isolation has been spent reading, writing, and reflecting. However, when one is relaxing it can become easy to forget about the outside world. And it is easy to forget that the long-term consequences of Covid-19 will far outweigh any short-term inconveniences we may be suffering.

Economic

After its human victims, the first casualty of Covid-19 will be the health and vitality of the global economy. Nations like Australia have decided, quite rightly, that their most immediate priority is to protect the health of its citizens. The lockdowns, social-distancing, and other measures taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have certainly been effective, but they have come with negative economic consequences.

This fact has been recognised by authorities ranging from the Australian Prime Minister to the World Economic Forum. The World Economic Forum has warned that Covid-19 will keep “large parts of the global economy shuttered” through April. This view was reflected by J.P. Morgan who stated that Covid-19 had pushed the world’s economy into a twelve per cent contraction.

Particularly hard hit will be the tourism and hospitality industries. The Asia Conference stated that the negative impacts of the virus are “likely to worsen as the outbreak continues to disrupt tourism, trade, supply chains, and investments in China.” Likewise, the World Travel and Tourism Council has warned that the economic impacts of Covid-19 could wipe out fifty-million jobs in the travel and tourism industries.

Political

The second casualty will be a change in the way much of the world thinks about its relationship with China. It took the Chinese Communist Party a month to be bothered informing the World Health Organisation of the existence of Covid-19. Thanks to their incompetence, the virus has been able to spread beyond China’s borders. Many people will be left asking: can we really trust a government that has proven itself to be so intrinsically untrustworthy?

The Chinese Communist Party’s reaction to negative press hasn’t exactly endeared them, either. Chinese authorities have been quick to clamp down on anyone who contradicts the claim that the Chinese response to the virus has been effective. In one notable case, a post made by Dr. Li Wenliang on WeChat was dismissed as “illegal acts of fabricating, spreading rumours, and disrupting social order” because it claimed that victims of Covid-19 were being quarantined at the hospital he worked at.

China’s attempts to crack down on negative press outside their borders have been less successful In February, Ivo Daadler wrote in the Chicago Tribune that the Chinese government’s secrecy over Covid-19 made the situation worse than it needed to be. “The fact that China chose secrecy and inaction turned the possibility of an epidemic into a reality”, Daadler wrote in his article.

Daadler’s article has been picked up by several publications, including the Korea Herald and the Kathmandu Post, who published it with an illustration of Chairman Mao wearing a surgical mask. The Chinese Embassy in Nepal dismissed the article as “malicious.” The Nepalese press, however, responded to the accusation by accusing the Chinese embassy of making a “direct threat to the Nepali people’s right to a free press.”

Social

The third casualty of Covid-19 will be the globalist philosophy that has dominated politics over the past few years. People have discovered, much to their chagrin, that the spread of Covid-19 has been facilitated by the ideals of openness that globalism espouses. They are discovering that open borders, mass migration, and crowded housing are harbingers of disease. It is very unlikely that people will be as accepting of open borders and high immigration as they once were.

The ability to share products and ideas is a wonderful innovation. However, people must be willing to accept that the transfer of these things from one place to another also comes with the transfer of less palatable things, like crime and disease. And, truth be told, most people aren’t. This fact has not been lost on many of Europe’s right-wing political parties who are now calling for tighter restrictions on borders during the pandemic.

Although the decline in globalism is sorely needed, Covid-19 has also come with an increase in racism and xenophobia, particularly against Asian people. According to Business Insider, instances of racist and xenophobic attacks, ranging from mere verbal abuse to physical assault, have increased with the Covid-19 pandemic. The sad truth is that discrimination and hatred go hand-in-hand with pandemics. If you associate a group of people with a particular disease and then refuse to associate with them you are much less likely to catch that disease yourself.

Conclusion

The long-term consequences of Covid-19 are going to be far more severe than the current inconveniences it poses. Measures to restrict its spread have caused profound economic penalties, especially in the hospitality and tourism sectors, that will take years to heal. Similarly, relations between China and the world have been tarnished by the Communist Party’s vehement attacks against negative (and richly deserved) criticism and their refusal to be honest about the situation. Finally, Covid-19 will see a decline in the popularity of globalism, open border policies, and mass migration. This pandemic has marked the beginning of a brave new world.

Disability and Sex

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One of the stranger episodes of Hot Girls: Turned On recounts the bizarre relationship between a cam girl named ‘Alice Frost’ and an Australian man named ‘Tom.’ That Tom has problems is apparent almost immediately. A self-confessed nerd, Tom admits that he has turned to camming because his social awkwardness has made it difficult for him to form intimate relationships in real life. Compounding Tom’s problems are his slovenly appearance, unhealthy body size, and low self-esteem.

One does not need to be a psychologist to figure out that Tom is probably suffering from an undiagnosed condition that makes it difficult for him to socialise with others. And one certainly doesn’t need to be a psychologist to guess that Tom may be suffering from an undiagnosed case of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD)

Both ASD and NVLD are neurodevelopmental disorders. Those who suffer from these disorders tend to be tremendously gifted in one area whilst remaining developmentally delayed in others. This dichotomy causes something of a dilemma, especially when such individuals develop a sense of sexual awareness. The traditional answer to this problem has been to ignore it entirely. A sufferer of ASD or NVLD is presumed to be either asexual or incapable of forming healthy sexual identities. Such attitudes regard sufferers as less human than everybody else.

Furthermore, such attitudes create more problems than it solves. Human sexuality is a broad topic with individual, sociocultural, and ecological dimensions. It is hard enough for a normal person to contend with all of these factors, let alone someone who suffers from a disability. Sufferers of ASD or NVLD must also contend with the limitations their disabilities place upon them. Like all adolescents, a teenage sufferer must undergo the changes of puberty, develop their own sexual identity, and form intimate relationships. They are certainly not helped by a society that regards their sexuality as something that needs to be purged.

There are three views on the sexualities of sufferers of ASD and NVLD. The first is that sufferers have no desire for sexual relations whatsoever. The second is that they are childlike and therefore dependent. And the third is that they have difficulty in controlling their urges. Aside from being wrong, these attitudes have very real consequences. One is that sufferers are often ignorant of much of human sexuality because they have received inadequate sex education. Their difficulties in socialising with others, compounded by awkward social situations, means that sufferers often fail to develop the skills that would help them form intimate relationships.  More darkly, such attitudes also mean that suffers are also more vulnerable to becoming victims of manipulation, exploitation, and sexual abuse. A 2012 study by Shandra and Chowdhurry found that girls suffering from mild disabilities were more likely to lose their virginity to a stranger than to a regular partner. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that much of their vulnerabilities arise from a lack of education on human sexuality.

The biggest hurdle sufferers of ASD and NVLD must overcome when trying to form intimate relationships is a lack of social grace. This deficiency hinders sufferers on three fronts. First, many of the features of ASD and NVLD can make it difficult for sufferers to initiate dates, remembers plans, and maintain relationships. Sufferers can be inflexible, self-centred, and emotionally dysregulated – hardly a recipe for a good relationship. Second, many sufferers have received negative social judgement from others because of their social awkwardness. Sufferers often fail to grasp to subtle intricacies that govern social interactions. This can lead to odd behaviour. A sufferer may attempt to overcompensate for their social grace by staring too long, speaking on unrelated or inappropriate topics, or by avoiding social situations altogether. Third, many sufferers lack the experience necessary to discover their own sexuality. Sufferers often find themselves socially isolated. Under such circumstances, it is unlikely that they will be granted the opportunity to explore and develop their sexuality like other people.

Attitudes on the sexualities of sufferers of neurodevelopmental disorders need to change. Our current attitude makes sufferers of disorders like ASD and NVLD more vulnerable to victimisation, hinders their sexual development, and prevents them from forming meaningful, intimate relationships. Sex education needs to be broadened to include all aspects of human sexuality, sufferers need to be taught how to recognise potentially dangerous situations, and better educational and therapeutic services need to be provided.

The Problem with Actors and Actresses

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Like many people, I was cynically amused to learn that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were “leaving” the Royal Family. According to an agreement they reached with the Palace on January 18th, they would be free to pursue business opportunities around the world and would “no longer be working members” of the British royal family, though they would lose the right to be referred to as His or Her Majesty.

It’s hardly surprising. Acting, like many art forms, has always attracted the insecure, sociopathic, and the just plain crazy. And Meghan Markle is an actress. One psychological study found that actors showed significantly higher rates of disordered personality traits than non-actors. The study, which compared 214 professional actors to a cohort of North American non-actors, also found that there was a high prevalence of anti-social personality, borderline, narcissistic, schizotypal, and obsessive-compulsive traits among actors than there was among the general population.

People become actors because they like being the centre of attention. They crave the spotlight because it makes them feel validated. The Royal Family, by contrast, performs public service by diverting attention away from themselves and onto the British nation and people. (A fact greatly contradicted by a news media who treat them as news stories in and of themselves). Poor Meghan Markle has found herself in a situation where she is not the centre of attention, and she doesn’t like it.

So, what does someone like Meghan Markle do when the spotlight is not on her? Well, the answer in Meghan’s case seems to be: leave the royal family. I will not at all be surprised in Meghan announces some kind of return to acting over the coming year. You cannot turn an actress into a princess anymore than you can make a leopard change its spots.