Thursday, June 14, 2018

A beautiful evening at Macbeth?

You cannot describe an evening at Macbeth as entertaining, as lovely; rather I must say I have never found the play so absorbing an evening as at the National Theatre last night, with Rory Kinnear in the nightmarish title role.
In this world of unrelieved horror, what can be the appeal? We know it is about vaulting ambition, Macbeth's and his wife's, about the destruction it wreaks, the cruelty and murder it can drive human beings to, the dire consequences of underestimating our imagination and conscience. Why sit through that darkness when you could simply stay away?
It is because the dark too, I decided as I listened, takes on an incandescent beauty: not some sick beauty of horror and death: not, for once, because of Shakespeare's profound insights into character and motivation: but from the matchless use of words, the sublime language that elevates and absolves all action.

Whether for Oberon scheming about a bank where the wild thyme blows, for the exiled Duke serenely accepting the uses of adversity in As You Like It, for the monstrous Macbeth shrieking at his terrors, Shakespeare makes empyrean music.

He gives the lie to the tale told signifying nothing, heard even in Hell the harmony of the spheres.


Saturday, June 9, 2018

What Brexit means for Britain

It is wrong to say the British government hasn't the faintest idea what 'Brexit means Brexit' means.
Tory Prime Minister Theresa May has made it absolutely clear that Brexit means Brexit means what the British people meant.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

"It is raining, but I don't believe it"

Moore's Paradox, in the headline, is an effort to remind us how 'the truth' is not simple.
Pontius Pilate long ago asked What is truth? and washed his hands of the whole thing. Professor G E Moore, early last century, proposed his Paradox to get people thinking.
First, the Paradox shows there are facts [It is raining ..] and there are opinions [but I don't believe it ..].
It shows that facts and opinions exist together. And, crucially, that they can contradict each other. A very important reminder for us, considering how often we find them doing so these days.
But it gets more complicated. The sentence, 'It is raining, but I don't believe it' is not nonsense or madness. Not like saying, 'It is raining, but I don't believe it because there is no big tap in the sky.' That would just be silly or insane.
It is not illogical either. It is possible to hold an opinion that does not agree with the facts. The Flat Earth Society still has members, I understand.
Because the sentence is not illogical you cannot defeat it with our normal logic. That is an even more important discovery. There is a contradiction in the sentence, but it is not nonsense nor illogical. How to explain that?
We can point out the person would know it is raining because s/he would sense it: see it, hear it or get wet. But the question then is, are our senses the only way we know things?
What if the person learned it was raining by report? If s/he was told it is raining and said s/he did not believe it, does that alter everything?
Also, if s/he was told it was raining yesterday, but did not believe it, is that a different case again? A bit like History: 'There was a Second World War, but I don't believe it.'
Look at all these problems with the truth. And a professional philosopher would tell me I have hardly started on the subject.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Why on earth should we teach History?

Except for asking how wide the universe is and what we are doing here, there is no more difficult question than why and how to teach History. Presumably there is a purpose to it. What could that be? You can see why you teach language, or adding up, or geography. But why History?
Well, first 1] to educate the individual, just like any other subject, which may be seen as an end in itself; but 2] also to build a sense of citizenship?
2] is the hard part because it affects what you do whether you decide the purpose is to build citizens or definitely not to build citizens - citizens being people who will collectively accept the status quo: that the way things are done is 'right'.
Inevitably a politician will see 2] as essential, if not the priority. It is the nature of the job. Isn't the idea of a Minister of Education itself suspect? Won't the Minister just have History taught the way s/he sees the world and wants it to be seen? But then you can't teach revolution either. That's indoctrination too. Not to say unwise.
A good way round the question is to consult Historians, ask them why they write History. The explanation I tend to prefer is the one that simply says it is to understand why people did what they did in the past. But can you keep it even that honest without bias seeping in? Was King Shaka or Henry VIII or Herod the Great not so much great as a bit of a rotter actually?
Problems, problems. It's make your mind up time again, I'm afraid.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Consciousness is itself explaining itself.
There is no answer.
It is the piece of string asking how long it is, our questioning what came before the Big Bang.
The dog chasing its own tail.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Explaining my approach to politics to a critic

You and I agree that race is a divisive issue in South Africa; I assume you would agree that is not surprising in view of the country's history. I also assume we would agree that some, maybe most, of the 'racial conflict' today is false, to be laid at the door of politicians who stir it up for their own purposes.
I would never join a political party of any colour; I am not able to believe the things politicians say or their promises to carry out certain policies and I could not conform to party discipline and whips.
That does not make me 'objective'; no one is objective. But it enables me to look at, say, President Zuma, or Cyril Ramaphosa, or Helen Zille, unburdened by loyalties. As you and I have discussed before, I believe Jacob Zuma was an appalling president; I believe Cyril Ramaphosa is saying - and doing - good things, but has a long way to go to prove himself; I believe that Helen Zille, a highly professional politician, who has fought the good fight for liberal values and her party, is now past her sell-by date.
I am neither pleased nor saddened by that. Politicians have a privileged life while on stage and make their own choices in public.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Thoughts on a lifetime of opera

21 March 2018 at 12:20:30 AM
Life is full of surprises and I have just had such a lovely one seeing L'elisir d'amore for the first time in my life from The Met with Pretty Yende, South Africa's own.
It is such a happy, funny story, an absolute delight, and I enjoyed myself so much at an opera I would never have thought of going to see, but for this chance, in two or three lifetimes. It is because of Una Furtiva Lagrima, one of two arias I could not stand, the other being E Lucevan Le Stelle. A purely personal thing - or two things, I suppose, strictly speaking.
The Met Live in HD is on again and it is La Boheme on Saturday; I saw Tosca a week or so back with Sonya Yoncheva and she is singing Mimi. It seems to me that Act I of Tosca is Puccini composing at his peak, with Act III being really seriously deficient - out of inspiration. Boheme, though, is such a perfect masterpiece from start to finish, flawless. I can't wait to see it again.

Silly now how in our teens we would argue these things. One group of my friends were terrible Germanics - Bach, Beethoven and Brahms were the Gods and silly old Puccini was not worthy of discussion. I had to sit there sometimes quiet, feeling totally wrong-footed, if not just wrong, because I loved Tosca and Boheme and Butterfly. Now I see it was rather their loss in youth.

Yet I find it harder than ever to keep control of myself in these operas nowadays. They are so saturated in memories of times and friends and places and joy. The wonderful gift Puccini has for melody, one after another pouring effortlessly out of him, lays hold of me and wrings my eyes and heart.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

South Africa's African National Congress resolves to expropriate land without compensation

With politicians you have to distinguish between what they say and what they mean and between what they promise and what they do.

It is rash to assume that because the ANC conference this week passed a resolution about expropriating land without compensation, the politicians are now going to do it - even though Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, the new ANC president elected at the conference, appeared to endorse it in his speech.
A general policy of this kind, as Mr Ramaphosa will know, would ruin South Africa as it did neighbouring Zimbabwe. Why say it then?

We are dealing with politicians. If it all sounds contrary, look at it contrariwise.

In this case, you may be led to believe the ANC are going to do something bad that they 'promised'. But think of the times they did not do something good that they promised. Over the years they never did stop corruption and Jacob Zuma never did have his day in court.

It is a mistake to believe what politicians say. But that applies to everything they say.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


My farewell to school at 18 before going on to university
text of the original on 'A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Dreamer'

It had been a long, hard climb but he was nearly at the top. Now, as he sat resting on the ledge with his companions, he could see more clearly than before - than ever before, perhaps.
The worst of the climb was over. That last difficulty which had seemed so insurmountable as he approached had been safely negotiated and not only he, but all his party had come through safely. After that final exertion he had earned these few moments' respite. The wild exhilaration and triumph which comes in the moment of achievement had passed and he sat calmly contemplating the climb he had made.
How many eager young people had set out at the start and rushed on blindly with the rest, very few - if any - knowing where or why they were going! The climb had been so easy at first that no one had bothered very much - indeed it was not necessary - but later it became more difficult and many had given up. He realised, looking round him, that not one of his original party was still with him. His four present companions he had met on the way, one of them not so long ago even now. He also realised that many of those original starters should never have attempted the climb in the first place.
The great difficulty his own party had so lately overcome had proved too much for them at their first attempt and only one out of their six had been successful. Now, it seemed, they were all to be successful in the end, although he, at least, had often despaired.
So many had started that long climb - so many had shared the early fun and reckless irresponsibility - but not so many had shared the later pleasure and pain, and very few had shared the final dangers and triumphs. Too many of his good friends were gone now and even some of the guides had dropped out. There had been one or two fatal accidents.
But he had almost reached the top; he and his four friends together. Had it been worth it, or had all that time and energy been wasted? No! - it had not been wasted - every second had been worth it! Here, almost at the top, he felt that his way was clear at last. The murky past with its hidden dangers and doubts was gone and the future lay before him. The final ascent to the very pinnacle was still beset with dangers, but now, at least, he could see the pinnacle and the dangers which lay between. He was relieved and contented at last. But it was not a smug contentment and he burned for the knowledge of what was really at the top and he meant to reach it.
He felt much older than when he had first begun the climb; it had seemed to take a life-time. The earlier part of the climb had been undertaken in the timelessness of youth, but of late he had suddenly grown up.
"There's plenty of everything in Life except Time," he thought.
"Coming on?" said one of his companions. "We've got to reach the top before nightfall. There's no going back now and there's not much time left."
"No, there never is," he said, half to himself and half aloud, as he got to his feet.
                                                                     P. W. WHELAN, 6A Arts

A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Dreamer

My farewell to school at 18 before going on to university
(tap and enlarge to read or see a legible text published as 'Chant du Cygne')

Monday, September 4, 2017

If democracy is doomed, where are we headed?

The world appears to be in more than its usual disorder. Religion is dividing societies and nations and, where religion is not doing it, poverty and inequality are. Ask Isis and M. Thomas Piketty.

Homeless millions are migrating. The globe is over-populated as well as overheated. Plastic is choking our oceans, antibiotics hardly work anymore and robotics are about to steal everybody’s jobs.

With Donald Trump elected as President for the next four years, the United States of America is thought by liberals to be doomed.

With Brexit scheduled for March 2019, Great Britain is thought by liberals to be doomed. The European Union is thought to be doomed by conservatives.

With North Korea's Kim Jong-un defiantly building his nuclear arsenal, people fear the world is doomed.

And here in South Africa, with President Zuma's African National Congress promising to rule till Jesus comes, the opposition are satisfied the country is doomed already. Everyone always said it would be once Nelson Mandela went.

The menace behind all these events is that something fundamental is doomed, not just the politicians and governments of the day. Democracy was supposed to take over and get things right when the USSR collapsed and that has not happened. The word nowadays is democracy has failed. The people are up in arms. Democracy itself is doomed.

If only by way of relief, we should ask ourselves if that is true.  If it is true, where is South Africa - where are all of us - in all of this?  What are the alternatives? Where are we heading?

At the end of the 1980s, as the Soviet empire dissolved in a matter of months before the world's astonished eyes, Francis Fukuyama published The End of History.

Briefly, the thesis of this much misrepresented book is that if there is such a thing as progress, society must be progressing somewhere, to a final stage of political and economic organisation. Following the thinking of the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel, Fukuyama argued persuasively that the final stage is liberal democracy.

Let us deal with the obvious objection straightaway. The book is not just another instance of Eurocentrism, although that charge has inevitably been brought against it. The larger questions of whether there is a direction in History and where that might be leading are there whether you consider the future of Asia, Africa or Europe, especially in a world where ideas cross frontiers as fast as thought.

All the alternatives to liberal democracy are on offer throughout the world today: monarchy, autocracy, theocracy, imperialism. To the communist, the end is still the proletarian paradise; to the fascist, world dominion. If liberal democracy is not the predetermined end of History, which of these is? And if none is, where does that leave us?

China, India, maybe Brazil, are seen as the coming powers of the twenty first century. Assuming India is, as generally billed, the world’s biggest democracy, is the option the Chinese model? What is that model anyway? Soviet Russia, its originator, is no more, and post-communist Russia is looking more and more a second class power. However painfully and cautiously it may have moved, the vast country of China is slowly but surely leaving behind the original dream of its founders.

These questions are insistent because South Africa cannot avoid them in our globalised world. Apartheid South Africa tried to cut itself off and eventually failed because of the sheer impossibility of isolation. On a much smaller scale and more grotesquely, Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe attempted the same thing and has gone the same way. You cannot get off the modern world.

Perhaps it is not History but our thinking that has temporarily come to an end. Even if in this century or the next, or the one after that, democracy should turn out to be the final organisation of the world’s affairs, it will not make a perfect world.

Democracy is not a destination in that sense, nor a panacea. It must be seen as a culture, a permanent work-in-progress whose values and institutions can only be appreciated when set against other forms and philosophies of government. You only see its worth by comparison.

If South Africa’s democracy falls far short at the moment, there is only one solution. “The cure for the evils of democracy,” wrote the American journalist and scholar H L Mencken, “is more democracy.”

Is that right? And will it be proved right again?
This article first appeared in Business Day, September 4 2017




Monday, June 5, 2017

Helen Zille, Mmusi Maimane and the DA: a matter of judgment

In my view, politics is about power; that is its nature and how I approach and look at the subject. This does not mean ethics has no role whatever and principle is always ignored.
But how and when they are ignored or observed is, inescapably, a matter of judgment for politicians, not one of obligation. Judgment of the situation is the essence of the politician's job; the successful politician is the one who gets it right more often than wrong.
I would say, by way of clarification, that the same judgment applies in business. Business is by no means a smash-and-grab affair, a game for 'a pack of crooks'. But neither is it a game for the naive or the saintly. To succeed, you have to know the 'rules' - or the lack of them. That is why successful business people are said to have a natural 'instinct' for business while others simply cannot get it right. Judgment, not ethics, not intelligence, nor even diligence, rules.

In the present case, Ms Zille, who I take to be a highly professional and principled politician, committed an error of judgment with her initial tweet. There was nothing extraordinary about that; we all make mistakes and very many of them are made in a careless moment on the internet.
But in her response she has probably made it a terminal mistake. She has set herself against the party she has played a leading role in building, which is to say she has divided it, and plunged its black leader into a terrible dilemma that was none of his making but which he must now address because it is his job.
As the bitter reaction of many Democratic Alliance members and supporters shows, Mmusi Maimane cannot win: he must disappoint or outrage some as he gives others the satisfaction of saying he has done the right thing. Motives are suspect and challenged, loyalties on raw display.
These arguments will continue, of course, and so they should. I am interested above all in how politics shapes things, not in declaring who is in the right. All of us will see in time the one if not the other.



Tuesday, February 21, 2017

An email to my friend about opera

I haven't seen or possibly even heard anything of I Puritani and I don't think I've seen a Bellini opera. Can't think of one right now. The superb films of The Met productions have given me wonderful evenings of entertainment at Donizetti and Rossini operas that I wouldn't have got to all my life either, with phenomenal singers like Juan Diego Florez, Natalie Dessay and JoyceDiDonato.
But my musical tastes, as you know, are later and for the orchestra, not the voice, and in opera, for all the music, not just the arias. I'll give you two exact instances how this came about for me. 
The first opera of which I ever heard anything (I know this for sure) was Boheme: my mum had bought at some time Heddle Nash singing Your tiny hand is frozen - yes, in English - and I must have known it by heart by the time I was 6 or 7. Boheme was also -  I am forever grateful for it - the first opera I saw on stage, age 17.
But when I started to read and find out about opera, it was the rest of the story, the bits around the arias, I wanted to know more about, not just the beautiful arias themselves that your husband introduced me to when we were at school. I can remember very distinctly reading the plot of Boheme and wondering what the music would be like when the friends are just talking to each other in the attic, not singing the aria I knew from childhood. Che fai ..? - those first words in Act I: how would the music go for that, after that? From the start that was the intriguing thing.
As regards the role of the orchestra, I heard the Tristan Prelude and Liebestod first without the voice, when I was 18 and had already moved on to serious orchestral music. It changed the whole world.

Shortly afterwards, because I was following up everything Wagner composed, I was listening to some man talking on the radio about Die Meistersinger, which I didn't know at all. I can't remember now who it was talking or anything else about the programme, except for this. He was saying that a critic at the first performance had hated the opera and complained he'd never heard anything as terrible as 'the awful bellowing of that cobbler'.
'Bellowing indeed!' exclaimed the speaker in mock reproach, and he put on Sachs' Fledermonolog to set the record straight. 
I can still remember as I type this how it seemed to me I had never heard anything more glorious and great, an orchestra weaving more wonderful music behind the human voice.

As I type this now, it is one of the very few moments to make me at least consider it, if some dark angel tempted me with the chance to live my life again.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Donald Trump elected in a democracy: is it the end of the world?

As the polls showed Donald Trump was likely to win the US elections, Gerard Araud, French ambassador to Washington and a career diplomat known for his outspokenness, tweeted:

After Brexit and this election everything is now possible. A world is collapsing before our eyes. It resonates eerily with Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary as war came in 1914: 'The lights are going out all over Europe,' he lamented.

While it would be idiotic to ignore the seriousness of all that has happened this year, it is important not to get carried away like M. Araud. In 2016, the world is not collapsing before our eyes; it is confronted with a challenge not seen in today's great liberal democracies since the 1920s and '30s: fascism.

Fascism - intolerance, bigotry, tribalism - is always present in society because these tendencies are always present in human nature. Two conditions above all are required for fascism to break out on a threatening scale: straitened circumstances for substantial numbers of people and populist leaders who are prepared to cash in on their miseries. Other local grievances will feed the flames: defeat in the Great War in the case of Germany; a divided society resulting from apartheid in South Africa; foreigners coming and taking 'our' jobs in any number of countries.

In France, in Austria, in Holland, with frightening unexpectedness in the UK with the Brexit vote, now in the US, fascism threatens to break out. It threatens to break out, in the view of many, in SA too. The similarities between conditions and role players internationally are too obvious to require underlining.

However, the fight back by more enlightened leaders and ideas could only start once the threat was there, and the fight has duly started. Two leaders with unenviable jobs if they are to collapse the world are Theresa May and the demonised Donald Trump. The first is not a dictator, the second not the feared anti-Christ; they are voices amid loudly dissenting voices, in for a very challenging time.

Let us keep our feet on the ground. Democracy must plainly accept democratic decisions; it has no alternative. But it must always be on guard against the narrative that lingers from Marxist as well as fascist thinking: that the only way to put the world to rights is through radical 'change' or, more precisely, revolution, a sweeping away of the old 'broken' system and institutions and a 'cleansing' of society. The world has heard and suffered that story before from left and right. None of it had any more truth in it in the past than Trump's promise to make America great again today.

History - if the metaphor is not too trite - is a rolling river that is not to be dammed up nor run into the sands. For those who like a fight, there is a brave one on again, as what Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our nature strive to turn the present current.

It does not look likely to - and certainly one hopes and prays it does not - take the lives it took in the old century, when a world really did collapse twice before their eyes.

Friday, October 14, 2016

South Africa under President Zuma: a call for pessimism, realism or optimism?

They say we live in a post-factual age where we decide things irrationally, purely on our emotional feel, and most of that is decided on line.
We don't study, read or think anymore, or even watch TV like we used to. Teenagers text endlessly - three times a night according to a recent report - and send each other selfies that can get them into trouble, while adults actually find themselves in trouble for what they Tweet or ReTweet. The luckless Penny Sparrow springs to mind.
You will have your own view how far that is a true picture of the times. On one reading of history, things stay pretty much the same the more they change, though in the middle of our global world's unremitting electronic and social media din, you can be forgiven for thinking things have never been worse. 
But could it all be just a case of temperament, of whether we as individuals are optimists or pessimists, see the glass as half full or half empty?
In a Business Day article titled Big Questions and a big day is upon us*, Peter Bruce editor-in-chief of BDFM writes: 'How does this all end? .. the war at the centre of our body politic?'
He presents the daunting list of so-called student protest that has burnt universities and their books; the alleged crimes and misdemeanours of President Jacob Zuma; the highly suspect case of fraud brought against finance minister Pravin Gordhan by SA's National Prosecuting Authority, which claims to be 'independent'. 
Bruce passes on too the disconcerting rumour that a Russian delegation is in South Africa to push ahead the even more suspect, astronomically expensive nuclear deal Zuma and President Putin are supposed to have signed and sealed between the two countries. He questions how SA's state-owned Eskom, designated to handle it, can be capable of handling it.
And the 'big day that is upon us' is the long-awaited day the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela publishes her interim report on state capture, with its putative 'damning evidence' of an improper relationship between SA's president and his wealthy friends, the Gupta family. At the last moment, Zuma and his faithful servant Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Des van Rooyen are both trying to interdict it.
No wonder Bruce's gloomy conclusion is: 'Things have gone too far. The damage is too much. Jacob Zuma has broken the state.'
Yet is this where realism, with its different perspective and line of questioning, must come in?
The conclusion goes too far. The present major crisis has been incubating for years, the wholly foreseeable outcome of more than two decades of one-party government in South Africa.
As the local elections this year show and will turn out perhaps to prove, we are in fact in the throes of the most serious democratic challenge to ANC hegemony to date. It contains opportunities for better times as well as risks of worse. Democracy was and never will be a destination we reach. It is a way of life and, as with life, no one promised it was plain sailing.
US President Barak Obama said in his speech to the National Democratic Convention last month: 'It can be frustrating, this business of democracy. Democracy works, but we've got to want it. Democracy isn't a spectator sport.'
The state of South Africa is not broken. It is broken when the constitution is dumped and we have a Mugabe or Putin or a Julius Malema at the top of a new order.
You can argue what is going on is a widespread, enormously promising fight against such a development. So far at least, it is not the state but the ANC that is breaking. That was always certain to be a huge, noisy event.
Or is that not realism, but optimism?
*October 14 2016

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Brexit: Prime Minister David Cameron's personal and public failure

Politics in the end is someone's personal responsibility as well as the impersonal art of the possible.
Challenged by his own party's rebellious Eurosceptic right and by the single-issue United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), prime minister David Cameron agreed to hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU: let the people decide whether to leave or stay.

It sounded plausible, a sensible compromise. Few chose to argue about it. After all, went the spin, asking the people would be real democracy in action, the truly democratic way to settle the Tory party's problems once and for all. And, as most of the political classes seemed willing to believe, also settle the country's problems.

It has not worked. Leavers and Remainers are sticking to their guns and both sides now know the simple majority vote for or against Brexit has settled nothing.

Both ran campaigns of threats, false promises and lies that grew increasingly bitter and divisive. The unelected populist Nigel Farage, the eccentric celebrity politician Boris Johnson, the opportunist Michael Gove among others, kept the media pack in full cry after personalities, not realities. Government and shadow cabinet ministers, caught up in an alarming neck-and-neck race, presented Brexit as either a wonder cure-all or an impending catastrophe.

Only after their apparent victory have Leavers realised they have no plan, no clear objective and no strategy to achieve one: debate about them has only started now.

The biggest argument is over how, when and - with supreme irony - even whether to leave the EU. Some  demand that it happens without delay; others insist government can only trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty after negotiating an entirely new set of terms with Europe. But what terms will satisfy all interests? The process seems certain to cause more division in a United Kingdom more divided on the issue than ever.

Remainers have not accepted the outcome of the referendum. Either 52%-48% was an unconvincing majority, or the referendum is not binding, or it is unconstitutional, or all three. Britain Stronger in Europe and Open Britain are campaigning as if it never happened.

Nothing to regret?
David Cameron's resignation on defeat was accepted calmly as inevitable but, more than that, as the typically British, right thing to do, a replay of the playing fields of Eton. (Those, incidentally, had also been the stamping ground once of Cameron’s flamboyant adversary, the arguably less sportsmanlike Boris Johnson.)
The view contrasts sharply with the question that flummoxed the prime minister at a press conference shortly after his defeat. The journalist asked, 'Do you regret what you've done to your country?'

As a professional politician, Mr Cameron carried and understood all the heavy responsibilities of his office and all his duties to his party; one can sympathise that there were the greatest pressures on him.
But he should also have understood, as a professional politician, that a referendum could never be a solution, that it had only the potential to divide people in any number of damaging ways. Young and old. Employed and unemployed. Haves and have-nots. British and 'them'.

'The people', as the pure Democratic Will, exists only in the minds of philosophers and the speeches of radicals like Mr Farage. In the real world, the British, like any other people, do not conform to populist stereotyping. They comprise a multitude of individual motivations, views and interests. They act in accordance with them, but do not and cannot govern the country in practice, much less decide its future by answering an obviously simplified question once.

David Cameron no doubt excuses the imbroglio he presided over by saying he is a democrat and acted democratically. But he was aware he was prime minister in Britain's representative democracy and that his prime duty was to work through its parliamentary institutions.

The people did not make a mistake: the mistake was to hold the referendum. The right thing for Mr Cameron to have done as a Remainer was to resign rather than agree to it, not after it turned out to be a wholly avoidable diversion and failure.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The EFF: no coalitions, no promises ... no future?

There will be minority governments in South Africa's major metros, coalitions that are led by either the African National Congress or the Democratic Alliance, but count the Economic Freedom Fighters out.

That was the message from Commander-in-Chief Julius Malema in a press conference today. He made clear the EFF would not join forces with either major party, but instead constitute the opposition in hung municipalities resulting from the 2016 local elections.
The coming cooperative period in local government, whatever it turns out to be, marks a fundamental change from the past. It will test and develop the professionalism, administrative skills and staying power of South Africa's political parties as never before.
After some well publicised days in conference, the EFF could not join them. In spite of the media billing it as kingmakers, the EFF is not a negotiable democratic party so much as a loosely knit Marxist-Leninist or fascist grouping, the breakaway far left or right of the ANC, depending on how people see and label it.

As a result, its mediocre election results have left it in limbo. Under the leadership of Mr Malema, the EFF has alienated the ANC, the majority party and its president, but has nothing to offer a democratic opposition, the DA, besides serious problems. Its revolutionary programme threatens to wreck government at the local level in the same way it has threatened government at national level, through calculated disruptions of parliament and inflammatory talk of meeting violence with violence.

With President Zuma remaining in office, the scene is set for these methods to resume more widely.

These are admittedly early days. But if the EFF is ever to become a tsunami the signs would be there now. The party apparently does not enjoy the confidence of voters; its manifesto cannot work except through coercion; it has no chance alone of demonstrating a sense of responsibility in government. The question going forward is how, and if, it can manage to hold together during a long period out in the cold.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Brexit was not about 'ordinary people' being confused by the facts; not about expert opinion being superior to grassroots opinion; not about sovereignty and bureaucracy as if these are absolutes; not about 'getting your country back' and 'saving' £380m a week in EU contributions that will go to the National Health in future - not about any of the populist sloganeering and mendacity that passed for a serious national debate.

Fundamentally the problem was - and remains - how you run a democracy, specifically Britain’s democracy, in a responsive and responsible manner in a complex global world.

And that, very plainly now, is not by asking the public to decide a major issue by answering Remain or Leave to a childishly simplified question in a simple majority, one-off referendum got up to 'settle' the Tory party's internal problems. No number of referendums on the EU could ever settle those.

The evidence comes straight from the horse's mouth. A few weeks before the Brexit referendum, Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), an alarming right wing threat to the Tory government and party, was nervous about his chances. To guard against a narrow defeat, he claimed that a narrow victory for Remain - something like 52%-48% - would not end the argument. And, indeed, millions of people would find such a close finish unconvincing. Mr Farage was pointing out the obvious.

But the change was startling when in fact the Brexit side won by much the same margin. Now the referendum was, unarguably, a 'clear mandate' from the British people to leave the EU, presumably unconditionally and forever. And equally, of course, had the Remain camp won 52%-48%, we would now be hearing the British people had given a clear mandate to stay in the EU, presumably on existing terms forever.

Dividing the United Kingdom
Only those on whichever side won so narrowly would ever consider the matter closed. 'The people have spoken' does not describe an outcome where even the 72% who felt strongly enough to vote split almost down the middle. On another day, in different circumstances, even just different weather, the people clearly might give a different 'clear mandate'.

A referendum is arguably no more than a measure of a nation's mood, a manifestly unreliable way to determine what 'the people' want, and no way at all to run a country. That is why the UK evolved into a representative democracy with parliament sovereign, not a 'direct democracy', whatever that is imagined to be and however one is supposed to function.

By gambling on one throw of the dice, Britain’s political classes divided their country and people disastrously and to no avail, the more concerned citizens feeling the deceit sooner and more keenly than those happy to be left to get on with their lives.

What now, after the framers of the futile turmoil have quit and gone? Only the hope new leadership can restore stability and a sense of reality, as frightened and chastened politicians row back on the lies and false hopes they raised.



Saturday, July 2, 2016

British Government to follow up success of Brexit referendum

Following David Cameron's triumph in the Brexit referendum, which enabled the British people to vote for or against almost anything besides the issue - Boris Johnson's hair was a concern for many - the new Tory prime minister intends to follow up with three further referendums. These will decide:

1] Does God exist? If the people decide S/He doesn't, Boris Johnson will assure members of all faiths that government will not pull down churches, mosques and synagogues immediately. Rather everything will be alright after a period of time that will become clear to people as they go along. Mr Johnson cannot say how long that will be, nor when the process will commence, though he is sure things must not be delayed too long;

2] Should capital punishment be restored? In the certain event of a Yes decision here, executions will be made retroactive to 1910, to protect everyone's democratic rights and safety; 

2a] What is the best means of execution? After the Yes vote to 2], there will be a second referendum. This is not, as some people may imagine, to reverse the first one, but to guarantee strict democracy again by allowing people a free vote between hanging, poison injection and shooting. They will not be able to opt for public executions. Some MPs think that is going too far; 

3] Should England annex Scotland and Northern Ireland? That would guard against these awkward provinces deciding for themselves to stay in the EU or, indeed, deciding anything. If this regrettably calls for the use of force, the government wishes to reassure the world the Treasury and armed forces have been laying contingency plans for invasion since October last year.

However, an official statement confirms there is not going to be a referendum on whether the entire Tory government should resign. Though useful to pass the buck from time to time, referendums do not mean the people govern the country.



Tuesday, June 28, 2016

HOW BRITAIN COULD BAIL OUT OF BREXIT: some serious and not so serious thoughts

Serious thoughts 

After his inglorious defeat in the UK referendum, David Cameron has resigned as Tory prime minister. 

However, like him, a majority of MPs of all parties in the UK House of Commons are reportedly against Brexit. They could organise on non-party lines to threaten a vote of no confidence in any proposed new leader, whether Tory or Labour or coalition, who is in favour of Brexit. They would only support a new PM on the side of Remain.

The new majority Remain leader would select his cabinet and call a general election to secure a mandate from the voters to undo the referendum result. The opposition to this move in the House would be insufficient to block it, and the Labour Party would have little chance of winning the general election under the weak and divisive leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

The UK's friends and allies in Europe would be informed and involved in the plan and take the pressure off Britain to make a speedy Brexit.

In neglecting to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to exit immediately after the referendum, the Conservative government may already have in mind such a plan, working through the backbenchers 1922 Committee and party whips.

It requires Cameron to go very soon, not to take three months; for Boris Johnson to be emphatically rejected as the new Tory leader - a distinct possibility; and for Remain MPs and any supporting ministers to stick together to pull the executive's chestnuts out of the fire. All that is extremely difficult, but not impossible to achieve. It requires only a commitment to the national interest instead of narrow party interest.

What would help also is a true parliamentarian once again: a John Hampden (1595-1643) with the courage and will to fight (in his time against the King) for the sovereignty of parliament. That is perhaps too much to ask for in this age of disciplined political parties.

But it already seems likely the country's MPs will find their own way to bail out Britain in a similar spirit.

Not so serious thoughts - hopefully

Following David Cameron's triumph in the Brexit referendum, which enabled the British people to vote for or against almost anything besides the issue - Boris Johnson's hair was a concern for many - the new Tory prime minister intends to follow up with three further referendums. These will decide:
1] Does God exist? If the people decide S/He doesn't, Boris Johnson will assure members of all faiths that government will not pull down churches, mosques and synagogues immediately. Rather they will all fall into ruin over a period of time that will become clear to people as they go along;

2] Should capital punishment be restored? In the certain event of a Yes decision here, executions will be made retroactive to 1910, to protect everyone's democratic rights and safety; 
2a] What is the best means of execution? After the Yes vote to 2], there will be a second referendum. This is not, as some people may imagine, to reverse the first one, but to guarantee strict democracy again by allowing people a free vote between hanging, poison injection and shooting. They will not be able to opt for public executions. Some MPs think that is going too far; 

finally 3] Should England annex Scotland and Northern Ireland? That would guard against these awkward provinces deciding for themselves to stay in the EU or, indeed, deciding anything. If this regrettably calls for the use of force, the government wishes to reassure the world the Treasury and armed forces have been laying contingency plans for invasion since October last year.
However, an official statement confirms there is not going to be a referendum on whether the entire Tory government should resign. Though useful to pass the buck from time to time, referendums do not mean the people govern the country.

(Also, Dave says privately he's relieved to be the hell out of it.)



Saturday, June 25, 2016


Cheer up - well, at least cheer up a little.
There will be some kind of renegotiation because it is unavoidable. Britain is 'in Europe' whether it likes it or not: it's called History and Geography. There is no way out of either of them.
The renegotiation will eventually agree issues that could equally have been dealt with by staying in and fighting for them: democracy has always involved doing that.

But prime minister David Cameron chose to solve his internal Tory party problems by referring them to 'the people', a cop out for party political ends, not to keep faith with 'democracy', and least of all to protect the national interest. It has backfired disastrously for him and his country and he has gone. 
The tragedy is all the pointless and avoidable waste and chaos, as we start solving the same problems over again. That's what people do. We're a dopey and fragile lot.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Would you say this is a successful blog?

Since I started my blog three or four years back, I've had by this morning 66666 reads - if that is what a 'hit' is.
I have no idea if that is a lot or a little for a blog, but it is certainly very many more than I imagined I would get when I posted my first piece.
A blog is of course online publishing; there are no hard copies to handle and browse in book shops and libraries, and maybe to glance through again from time to time at home. 
But I look at it this way. If I had written a book (non-fiction) and been read 66666 times, I think it would be something to write home about. I'm sure my publisher would be smiling. And there would be 66666 copies on shelves out there somewhere with a squared-up pic of me on the inside front or back dust cover.
So, late though it is, and for what it's worth, here's a pic. Hope it doesn't put you off reading in future.
Thanks for reading anything you have read so far.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What kind of revolution does Julius Malema intend for South Africa?

There is something incongruous, if not contradictory, about Julius Malema holding up on TV a copy of South Africa’s constitution and swearing allegiance to it.

Mr Malema was expelled from the African National Congress for advocating rebellion. His Damascene conversion appears to be due to SA’s constitutional court judgment on Nkandla, praised on all sides for its ringing endorsement of democracy and the rule of law. 

But the revolutionary Mr Malema wants to nationalise mines and banks, although it is government policy not to. He threatens to take back the land without compensation. He speaks of eliminating ‘white supremacy’ in language that hints at violence: he maintains always he is speaking metaphorically. In the ANC, he proposed the overthrow of the legitimate government of Botswana, a friendly neighbour. That was perhaps the last straw.

Mr Malema formed his own party, the Marxist-Leninist Economic Freedom Fighters. There, he is unchallenged Commander-in-Chief and has made the EFF a thorn in the ANC's side.

It serves the ANC right: the party has only itself to blame for Julius Malema. He is the heir to its own promise of revolution - except the ANC’s revolution was meant rhetorically, especially after real revolutions saw the implosion of the state in Libya, Egypt and Syria. What has counted for the ANC since 1994 is that SA earns the best living it can in a capitalist world and ANC leaders and loyalists live very well in the mixed economy they preside over.

Cut off now from such benefits, having little to lose and much to gain, Mr Malema gleefully rocks the overloaded ANC boat. But after his conversion to constitutionalism, it is impossible to see how his Marxist-Leninism would work. And if it would not work, what other kind of revolution he would intend - or, horror of horrors, unleash on SA’s fragile democracy.

Many are suspicious Mr Malema is the champion of people whose lives he visibly does not share. In everyday language, they cannot understand how he can be a ‘communist' and an obvious capitalist at the same time. People are not lost for words. They explain in their own way how he contrives to speak for the poorest of the poor when his personal preferences are plainly the riches of the rich. Mr Malema is a hypocrite, a populist, a demagogue - are three of the more polite ways his detractors put it.

That still leaves a political explanation outstanding. Can Karl Marx go hand in hand with what some openly call Mr Malema's fascism? There seems to be another contradiction there.

Marxism springs from the highest ideals of humanity - the community of all, internationalism and peace. Fascism is not an ideology in any sense. Fascism is a politics of coercion which, if it entails anything besides verbal and physical violence, promotes extreme nationalism or nativism shading into racism, all being embodied in a messianic leader ready to be martyred for the sake of 'the people'.

However, these theoretical differences have always had a way of vanishing in practice. In Europe a century ago, communism and fascism were implacable enemies: their street brawls in Germany after World War I finally ended in the World War II fight to the death between Comrade Stalin's USSR and Herr Hitler's Third Reich.

But in both cases, the revolutionary party-state had extinguished civil liberties much earlier. The difference in reality was only between a dictatorship of the proletariat and a dictatorship of the German volk.

Outside Europe, communism got a new lease of life by teaming up with new and growing national feelings. In China in the early 1920s and in the long war against Japan, communists and nationalists fought on the same side. Later the two worked together to end French rule in Indo-China and to replace the corrupt regime in Cuba. In SA the story has been similar. Nativism-nationalism fought to free the land from colonial rule; communism fought to free the people from capitalism. Both marked out the imperial west, and its one-sided democratic values, as the permanent enemy and threat.

This is the complex inheritance of Julius Malema: African and European; white and black; national and universal. Whichever descriptions you use - imperialism, Marxism, democratic centralism, fascism - all are driven by a crusading zeal to dominate. What that means for SA, we must decide. Mr Malema cannot tell us when he cannot say what he means himself.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What is 'state capture' in South Africa all about?

When some idea or other becomes a buzzword, especially if it sounds impressive or alarming, it is time to stay calm, take a deep breath, and think about it. ‘Quiet diplomacy’, ‘western plot’, ‘National Development Plan’, ‘innocent until proven guilty’, are buzzwords that served the African National Congress’s political purposes in the past. Now the party has a dire warning for us of ‘state capture’.

State capture refers to the control of the state by substantial private interests, the state thereby losing its independence and the power to legislate and act for all. France before the 1789 Revolution provides a good example of state capture: the state was hobbled by a privileged untaxed aristocracy that meant it had to raise money by selling state offices to a rising business class.

As a modern example of state capture, the left like to point to the USA, the state there having lost much of its freedom of action to pressure groups. The NRA is the best known among very many.

State capture in this sense is not the condition of South Africa; it is a buzzword here. It asks South Africans to believe an affluent business family, the Guptas, appoint and remove cabinet ministers at will, and generally run the Republic without the knowledge and say-so of its ANC president. Since that is evidently impossible, it is necessary to look at who has most to gain from this fiction. It cannot be the Guptas, who are likely to end up scapegoats. It certainly will not be President Zuma. That leaves the party.

We must never forget South Africa is a party-state and the governing ANC is there to remain in power. No political organization manages that by sticking rigidly to principles or individuals. The ANC’s priority always is to shelve or smother issues that could divide or even ultimately destroy it like other African liberation parties.

The ANC cannot indulge any major internal dispute, however morally significant. From start to finish in the long drawn-out scandal of Nkandla, where President Zuma only finally surrendered in the constitutional court, the ANC dummied up and closed ranks as always in a crisis. It was not so much to save President Zuma; it was to keep the party intact.

Last week dummying up ended abruptly. Mr Mcebisi Jonas created an uproar by revealing the Guptas had offered him the finance ministry. President Zuma was immediately at the centre of a climactic row as it became clear he must be guilty of putting the interests of business friends before his oath of office.

In case anyone was still in doubt about it, the Honourable Member Mosiuoa Lekota shouted out in the national assembly that President Zuma was no longer ‘honourable’ because of his conduct. Mr Lekota's performance has featured on TV almost every day since.

The party is in a terrible dilemma. The leadership knows beyond doubt that what South Africa has is not a case of state capture, but of Zuma capture. It isn’t the first time. Schabir Shaik and his family captured Zuma; the ANC leadership had to manage his escape. But they ignored all objections, and arguably the law, to elect Zuma as party president and then to elect him again in parliament as state president.

Rank and file, parliamentary caucus, Cabinet, cronies and hangers-on are all trapped together in this and local elections are coming. President Zuma can only lend his face to these as a discredited leader, or not feature in them at all. Yet to replace him right now is as impossible as anything could be in politics.

The ANC leadership is falling back on the old stand-bys of shelving and smothering the issue. An exasperated ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe told insistent journalists over the weekend that the party’s National Executive Committee was under ‘no pressure’ even to consider recalling President Zuma. It seems he is safe for now.

What could be the break point to change that? Only the coming elections.

If the ANC do well, or even just okay in them, President Zuma could serve out his full term, not because he has support to spare anymore, but because it is very difficult, not to say dangerous, for the party to 'recall' a second president after the splits that followed former president Thabo Mbeki’s recall in 2008.

However a bad result, even without the ANC losing the major municipalities the opposition claim are up for grabs, would be fatal. An outright victory, a clear winner and loser, are not required for this. Elections are also measured by share of vote.

Mr Mantashe will be counting anxiously later this year, even if he can blame 'low turnout' for any fall off in the party's support. A low turnout is a favourite get-out for bad local election results.

Everything is where it should be to force change: in the hands of South African voters. Has their loyalty to the ANC been seriously dented at last? Has democracy been moving forwards underneath all these dramatic events, or does South Africa remain, dangerously, a party-state despite them?



Thursday, March 17, 2016

Julius Malema and Donald Trump: two of a kind

Radicals - reformers, activists, extremists, call them what you will - are part and not part of every society. Readers do not need examples: in France, in the UK, in Iran, Pakistan and other Asian countries, across the Middle East, they are to be seen more than ever today, some working for good, some for ill, some more famous - or notorious - than others.

Political extremism - Isis, Boko Haram, to name two among countless others - implies a significant coercive movement depending on a broad and particular context to take root and flourish, as Nazism and Stalinism did in a largely undemocratic Europe in the last century.

How then to look at two radicals or extremists, both falling into the famous or notorious category: Donald Trump in the United States and Julius Malema here in South Africa? Can they lead, have they led, to extremism?
Finding Mr Trump as awful as just about everyone else, Douglas Gibson writes in a recent article, America's democracy trumped*: 'Trump has proved in this campaign that a candidate can say anything and get away with it.' 

In fact, he hasn't done any such thing yet. US free speech permits political candidates to be crude and vulgar and, like children when they are cross, to say anything they want. But the US people and their representatives decide if they get  away with it. The US President and Vice President are elected in a complex process full of checks and balances that from start to finish takes around two years. By the end of it, Mr Trump may find his free speech has won him fewer friends than his supporters like to claim.

There is another way to look at what's going on. Whether or not he seems to be preaching extremism, Mr Trump is most certainly an extreme example of the politics of entertainment. The politics of entertainment lays down that, like everything else in today's 24/7 surround-sound mass media world, politics has to amuse and divert. If it isn't entertaining, politics won't get a look in. On top of giving folk some timeless punch-and-judy knockabout, Mr Trump can also be seen as a useful fool in America: he says all the repugnant things 'ordinary people' often feel, but fortunately do not generally practice. In America's established, confident democracy, he is cathartic rather than incendiary.

Like Mr Gibson, I believe the world needs the United States and what it stands for, and I am sticking with arguably the country's greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, who always trusted the American people to do the right thing when it came to having their say.

Will that be the case in South Africa with Julius Malema, Commander-in-Chief of the EFF, a party some see as major opposition already and would like to see as the future government?

Mr Malema is the sworn enemy of President Zuma and ZANC, the term of abuse he uses to distinguish between the late great ANC and what he relentlessly attacks now as President Zuma's corrupted party.

He gives away nothing to Donald Trump in terms of radicalism: Mr Trump promises to expel Muslims and to build a wall between the United States and Mexico; Mr Malema's  declared objective, after getting rid of President Zuma, is to rid the country of 'whiteness' and overthrow the status quo. In the context of South Africa's young and fragile democracy, it is impossible to see Mr Malema as a useful fool.  

Imperfect as its democracy is, however, South Africa is plainly a democracy of sorts. Of course the country's elections this year are not about electing a president; they are local elections. In any case, presidents are not elected by the people of South Africa even in national elections. After voting a party into government, you get the president the party gives you, take it or leave it. The ANC gave us President Zuma.
Prophesy is foolhardy. But it seems safe to say this year's elections cannot avoid being also a verdict on President Zuma's disastrous presidency, inevitably dragging in the ANC's overall performance.

The revolutionary Mr Malema has been oddly quiet on this point so far, perhaps because, by Marxist-Leninist rules, he should really shun, or at the least sniff at, elections as a bourgeois instrument of oppression; as ever it is not certain where he stands. But shuffle his position as he may, the coming elections will surely be a verdict on Julius Malema and EFF extremism, as the presidential elections in the US will be on Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
These are not easy times in the States and they are hard times for South Africa with harder times to come. In the elections in both democracies this year, will the people do what Abraham Lincoln always trusted the American people to do?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Corruption in South Africa's government: a few words of advice

South Africa does not need another commission of enquiry. It does not need an appeal to the Constitutional Court.

It does not need a revolution.
It simply needs some more voters to stop voting ANC. Change will commence that moment.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Things you must know before writing on Twitter

Professional writers, assisted and managed by experienced subs and editors, produced the traditional media. But times have changed. You and I produce the social media. And we're on our own. 

Before You Write

Understand that whatever you believe, someone, somewhere, will not agree with you. Lots of people do not believe in god; lots do. Some people support the soccer team you think are rubbish. Some believe everyone should own guns.

Some people are dedicated supporters of the political leader you can’t stand. Many don't know Charlize Theron is South African. Some will tell you Charlize Theron isn't all she's cracked up to be. A few don't know who Charlize Theron is. Others support England at rugby.

There is no accounting for taste.

Before you write one word, understand also it is like shouting it all out in the street and at work. Or, more accurately, like airing your views in the UK Sun, New York Times, on CNN and all of them together. Except that what you say on the internet will reach millions more people than all those media together, and reach more influential people than the people in the street or at work. And reach them all at once, there and then.

Remember things you write on the internet may be actionable at law. You may get yourself into serious trouble by a single ill-considered remark - you know about the famous and frightening examples in South Africa recently. You aren’t safe even if you’re hiding behind a pseudonym, or just clicking the ‘Like’ button. Someone may RT you, with dates and times and a critical comment.

Remember, above all, that what you write is permanent. It may come back to bite you from long ago and faraway.

After You’ve Written

Remember the first point in Before You Write and be prepared to encounter at least four types of respondents: [a] people who agree with you; [b] people who are prepared to have a rational disagreement; [c] people who are only looking for an argument; [d] people who like to insult and abuse anyone available.

You don’t need any advice on types [a] and [b] because these are presumably the people you wish to engage on your subject. But never get personal or rude, even if you find you strongly disagree and s/he scores a good point. S/he is entitled to her/his opinion like you and may be as smart as you. Maybe smarter.

Type [c] - amateur arguers (AAs) - are difficult to detect at first. They write something to snare you. It may seem reasonable, even polite. But as soon as you begin to suspect someone is in it just for an argument, watch for these tell tale signs and do not fall into the trap:

1. AAs will dispute anything you say but never answer any of your points. Watch for that particularly; it is the first sure giveaway. Do not repeat what you said or defend it. Do not deny accusations and say you did not say that; AAs will say you did. Remember you are being drawn into an endless argument, which is all the AA is about. Whether or not that works, AAs also try to escalate the argument.

2. Escalation can be detected in a number of ways. An AA will accuse you of saying something you did not say, and also of saying the very opposite of what you said. Another ploy is to switch the argument by moving on from the original subject. Be wary of answering remarks like - “So you’re saying that …?” or “Why are you defending such-and-such?” - when you are not saying or defending any such things and never would. Don’t start to do so with an AA then.

3. Here is a splendid way to remember all this. In one of his great sketches, John Cleese runs a ‘Buy-an-Argument’ shop. An argument costs you £5. A customer pays over his £5 but Cleese says and does nothing. The customer therefore says he wants an argument. ‘No you don’t,’ says John Cleese. 

4. Even if it gets that silly, never become rude or personal. That is not because the person who becomes rude loses the argument; it is because any fool can be rude back.  You are escalated into category [d] and set yourself up for insults.

5. Lastly, AAs always want the last word. It is what they are about and futile to try beating them at their own game by having the last word yourself. They will come back as long as you carry on, because - always remember - their aim is to have an argument. When you’ve said what you want, stop. Let the AA have the last word. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how feebly it reads, last.

6. Under no circumstances ignore any of these points. Unless, of course, you are looking for an argument yourself.  

7. In the same way, with regard to category [d], repeat: never resort to personal abuse. Unless you don’t mind personal abuse in return.

8. Add any points I’ve missed. These days we writers need all the help we can get.