Listening to the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speak is a painful experience. The man does not seem to know when to stop, even when he is answering pointed questions; he just waffles on and on, giving one the impression that he is trying to exhaust the time available to keep the questions to a minimum.
His verbal acrobatics take him from topic to unrelated topic and the whole thing sometimes makes no sense.
What came to mind while I was forced to listen to one of his media conferences — I was driving — was the description, in Mark Twain’s 1883 classic Life on the Mississippi, of the pilots who guided steamers down that river during those years.
These men needed to know the river intimately, every swell and literally every rock, in order to avoid getting stuck on a sandbank, or, worse, hitting an obstacle and sinking. They had to develop extremely good memories.
This is how Twain described it: “Such a memory as that is a great misfortune. To it, all occurrences are of the same size. Its possessor cannot distinguish an interesting circumstance from an uninteresting one. As a talker, he is bound to clog his narrative with tiresome details and make himself an insufferable bore. Moreover, he cannot stick to his subject. He picks up every little grain of memory he discerns in his way, and so is led aside.
“Mr Brown [a pilot of his acquaintance] would start out with the honest intention of telling you a vastly funny anecdote about a dog. He would be ‘so full of laugh’ that he could hardly begin; then his memory would start with the dog’s breed and personal appearance; drift into a history of his owner; of his owner’s family, with descriptions of weddings and burials that had occurred in it, together with recitals of congratulatory verses and obituary poetry provoked by the same: then this memory would recollect that one of these events occurred during the celebrated ‘hard winter’ of such and such a year, and a minute description of that winter would follow, along with the names of people who were frozen to death, and statistics showing the high figures which pork and hay went up to.
“Pork and hay would suggest corn and fodder; corn and fodder would suggest cows and horses; cows and horses would suggest the circus and certain celebrated bare-back riders; the transition from the circus to the menagerie was easy and natural; from the elephant to equatorial Africa was but a step; then, of course, the heathen savages would suggest religion; and at the end of three or four hours’ tedious jaw, the watch would change, and Brown would go out of the pilot-house muttering extracts from sermons he had heard years before about the efficacy of prayer as a means of grace.
“And the original first mention would be all you had learned about that dog, after all this waiting and hungering.”
That encapsulates Morrison perfectly. Unfortunately, they don’t need such pilots on the Mississippi any more, else Australia could have shipped him over there.