Modest Expectations – Stereo on the Mountain

I have written this story before, but the proposal to increase the travel allowances of patients living in country areas of NSW reminds me of a story which appeared in my 1988 book “Portraits in Australian Health” released in the Bicentenary year, to my knowledge the only book which the Federal Department of Community Services and Health sponsored to honour this occasion.

It related to a long time general practitioner in a northern country town in NSW who, among his diverse interests and skills, was an expert in diseases of the eyes. On one occasion, one of his patients came to see him for advice. Apparently, the advice did not suit this person, and so he sought a second opinion. This meant travelling to Sydney by train, which took about eight hours, in order to consult the eye specialist.  This meant no mean effort.

Days later, he arrives at the specialist’s rooms in Macquarie Street only to find, as he entered the consulting room, there was his own country doctor who, at the time, was undertaking a locum for the specialist.

This is highly unlikely to happen today, but emphasised that just because one may prefer to practise medicine in a rural setting it is in any way different from practising in the city, apart from the technology. It just means getting the skill sets and the incentives right. But I admit that technology has in some areas supplanted a need for the same level of clinical skills, but that generality hides a much deeper discussion on its truth.

The doctor in the anecdote never lost his links with the city. When a doctor practises in a country town, he or she does so as an everyday member of the community and as the repository of the knowledge of the community’s health status, each person by person.  In attracting a doctor to country practice, the community must realise that the doctor must have his or her own space, his or her own privacy – the interaction between the doctor and community, which I once termed “tolerance” – a recognition of the importance of both sides of this interaction played out beyond the doctor’s rooms.

In so doing, another element of potential dysfunction is broached – that of professional isolation. Post graduate education is offered but availability is not the same as uptake. What worried me when I served as Director of Clinical Training was to get the professionals to interact with one another, even within the one practice. I have found collegiality helps in diminishing isolation, because sometimes I think many of my colleagues would prefer a sub-specialty of one.

Over years working in rural areas, it is tragic that I have seen the same mistakes being repeated over and over again. The classic conundrum is that of the doctor who complains about his workload, but when offered another doctor, recoils because of an unsubstantiated threat to income and as a threat to the power structure these long term doctors have created in their town. As a result there is a dearth of succession planning.

The other cultural problem, for which doctors are not to blame, is that the closer one town is to another the greater the rivalry and animosity, often demonstrated in the regional sporting rivalries

Awareness of the dysfunctions of rural life is papered over by the vision of an Acadian life, but despite the attempts at regionalisation, it is always the major regional city which collects the spoils and the rest of the region is left to its own devices. There are success stories; but always it seems there is a time when former patterns of dysfunctional behaviour re-emerge.

Having the will of successive generations of administration to maintain an open co-operative system requires the steely resolve of people like the Mayo Brothers, and how they achieved their success should be studied in every institution where health administration is taught.

“Tasting the winds, that are footless,
Waist-deep in history.”
 

I love trees as obviously does Sylvia Plath from this above quote.

One of my most enjoyable times was driving between Bourke and Goodooga in Northern NSW with Stuart Gordon and Nick Mersiades. Stuart Gordon then was moving from growing cotton into the community services sector. He asked whether he could cadge a lift to Brewarrina, as Nick and I were going onto Goodooga to stay the night before proceeding to Hebel just over the NSW border in Queensland the next day.

Brigalow trees

What was unforgettable about this drive was the level of knowledge of the countryside those two blokes had. The bush was varied. At one point we would be driving through predominantly brigalow scrub but at other times gidgee scrub.

Gidgee trees are stockier than brigalow and have dark trunks, which, when they are cut, yield a yellow sapwood corona surrounding an umber core. Brigalow trees are taller. In the dry area, the green brigalow foliage becomes increasingly silvery, and in a breeze I thought it to be almost feathery like giant dowager boas.

Gidgee trees
Leopard gum

Interspersed among these stands of acacia were mallee eucalypts, and the incredibly beautiful leopard and salmon gum trees. The trunks of the latter were smooth salmon in colour and the leopard gum mimicked the spotted hide of the eponymous carnivore.

To me, crushing a gum leaf and smelling the eucalyptus oil is the most tangible reminder of who I am. Although I have been eligible for both British and Irish citizenship, however tempted, I can only be loyal to one country – Australia. Sometimes over the past decade it has been very difficult to assert such loyalty, but the sun always rises.

Some years ago, Thomas Pakenham, who is incidentally the 8th Earl of Longford, a disestablished Irish peerage, authored a number of books, among them extravagant pictorials highlighting the trees of greatest significance to the author. In the first of these, “Remarkable Trees” was an impressive arboreal array, including the oldest tree in the world, a bristlecone pine about 4,600 years old growing at an altitude of 3,000 metres in the White Mountains in California among other aged trunks in the aptly named Methuselah Grove.

Apparently there was an even older tree in which an enthusiastic geography student inserted and then broke a tree corer in trying to ascertain the age of a similar tree. The corer was valuable enough for the tree to be cut down to rescue the corer. The tree turned out to be 4,900 years old at the time of its axing.  It could be said that these trees have been dying for two thousand years, but none had been beheaded in search of an instrument. Two thousand dollars for the oldest tree – a question of priorities.

Yet there were Australian trees among his remarkable trees. One was the famous prison baobab near Derby in the Kimberley.  Another was the bunya pine next to a grand castle in Northern Portugal.  The height of this pine is comparable to the castle’s campanile tower. In our garden here in Sydney we have had a number of bunya pines which we once bought in the Bunya Mountains south-west of the Queensland town of Kingaroy.

Fortunately the remaining one still grows in a pot, saving us from worrying about a putative 45 metre tree overshadowing the whole of our front garden. Australia is thought of as being gum and wattle trees, but Australia is also home to many of the Araucaria relatives of the bunya pine, the most recent member of this genus being the Wollemi pine, named for the wilderness area in the Blue Mountains where it was first discovered.

This book was followed by “Australia’s Remarkable Trees” – another impressive pictorial. I once wrote to its authors Richard Allen and Kimbal Baker, pointing out that there was this remarkable tree at the corner of Punt Road and Alexandra Avenue in Melbourne. It is a huge golden elm at the intersection of these two very busy roads on the banks of the Yarra River.

The amazing element which I found as I entered the dense canopy, seeking an unmarked specimen of leaf, at a time when I was collecting the various glabrous leaves of these trees, was that when you were under the canopy your vision was only of the foliage. The outside world was blotted out. Branches nearly touch the ground, and others are propped up. Here, there was a tranquillity, and even though close by, the traffic noise was muted, although the smell of the dusty, dirty city does penetrate through the foliage.

Most of the foliage bore the scars of insects – it was mid-summer and cool under the foliage. Close up the imperfections in the leaves were very evident. But that is life. The tree appears in the book, and the authors suggest the best time to view the tree is in spring when the foliage is unmarked, a lighter shade of green than its companion elms. Given in Europe that the English elm has been almost wiped out by Dutch elm disease, Melbourne and also other places like Ballarat are major remaining strongholds on Earth of this remarkable tree.

All such books as I describe are based on informed subjectivity. However there is one thing binding all these trees and that is of a deep appreciation, if not awe, of the permanent diverse planet upon which we move about. Thus, when one hears of destruction, it is often a time when I mourn for this lost heritage, as if one has lost a member of the family.

Fire is an ever-present risk to our forests. For some slow growing trees like snow gums it is a ghastly fate, but for others such as banksia it is important for the generation of new stock. The greater danger is overlogging, which has dogged Australia throughout our history. It seems that if you are born Tasmanian, you are born an instinctive forester. A forester is OK; but an indiscriminate logger is a vandal. The stories abound of such destruction in Tasmania, which continually change the undoubted resilience of trees such as the trio of its indigenous pines – the Huon, king billy and celery.

Trees deserve our attention. They are part of us. The introduction of the deciduous exotica, which provide Australia with all the autumnal colour, is probably one of the positive contributions from the colonial Heritage.

Thus, many of us take trees for granted, and when we talk about trees, the appreciation of diversity is unfortunately limited to whether the tree is obstructing my view or not.

 A Virus in the Sand

At a time when the rise in the number of cases of Covid in Australia has been dramatic, the following article from the NYR shows a thoughtful perspective as it describes what the new medical graduate must expect. Much of the clinical experience of all these young health professional graduates would have been in a period when the COVID-19 pandemic dominated health care and the resultant priorities arising. I have read these thoughts, and the stark manner in which ICU practice has been affected in modern medical practice with the advent of a contagious disease dominating the acute patient load.

At the same time, there are the challenges presented by its persistence as the chronic disease in all its manifestations; such as the phenomena of active long COVID or dormant COVID reappearing decades later.

This is a virus which is both deadly and seemingly innocuous, depending on the particular individual response. Whether it creates a deep ravine in medical practice, between infectious and non-infectious disease will ultimately depend on how the organisation of the health care system changes both now and after the pandemic has waned– the resurrection of infectious disease hospitals for instance.

An illustration of the growth in COVID cases

Paradoxically, Australia has spent a considerable amount of money on health institutions, often driven by clever marketing of sub-specialities, with an advocacy group of those affected by the particular condition and their relatives, especially if the affected person has a strong public profile.

The level of sub-specialisation and the disproportionate incentives for this to occur only serves to magnify the cost of health care. Children are an irresistible magnet for funding; and beware any attempt to interfere. Try a review of funding for childhood cancer – impossible to review objectively as to cost effectiveness because of the emotional halo.

A subspecialty exists because, through skill or advocacy, it has carved itself away from a perceived drudgery of general practice. This view has been increasingly encouraged by the various deans of health sciences in universities, where excellence is determined by the amount of research funding and by the number of citations, notoriously subject to gaming.

This obsession with rankings based on the alleged quality of research has been increasingly dissociated from the prime reason for universities to exist – and that is to teach each generation of students in the best available environment. Plus, may I add, not to have half the Faculty away on overseas conferences, on sabbaticals and/or time spent in private practice and outside consultancy work. This state of affairs is hardly conducive to healthy pedagogy.

The doctors who are finishing residency now have completed most of their training in a world without robust family presence. They learned to become doctors to patients who are intubated and under deep sedation, behind closed doors, in a world of masks and alongside the fear that if they are not careful, their patients could make them sick.

Back in my own training, we used deep sedation and paralysing medications infrequently, as we knew that these decisions came with a cost: delirium, long-term brain dysfunction, profound weakness. But today’s doctors in training have learned on Covid patients. When we were uncertain what to do, particularly early on, we reflexively jumped to deep sedation as the answer for them. These are patterns that are hard to unlearn.

And beneath it all is the continued spectre of the virus. Though I did not have a single patient with Covid-19 during my recent weeks in the unit, from time to time, we would receive a message alerting us that one of our patients had a Covid exposure from a staff member who had tested positive and would have to be on precautions as a result. Patients and families were once terrified by this news, but now they are largely used to it and seem reassured that the staff are masked and so any meaningful exposure is unlikely. This is another aspect of our new reality.

To think that a possible Covid exposure would not cause panic is itself a sign of great progress. But at the same time, we are so far from where we thought we might be by now. When I walked through the halls of the Covid intensive care unit back in the spring of 2020, I told myself, as did so many of us in health care, that we would improve care for those who were disproportionately impacted by this virus. The systems to which we had become accustomed would be dismantled, and we would find ourselves somewhere better.

But those sorts of promises are naïve and empty without a plan for how to make and sustain real change to protect the vulnerable among us. So here I am, back in the unit, caring for a patient with severe cerebral palsy, who had aspirated his own secretions and developed a life-threatening pneumonia. His aging parents had done the best they could despite limited resources, making sure to turn their adult son on his side multiple times a day to help him cough, but his muscles were too weak. And now he would require a tracheotomy tube for the rest of his life. I know, talking to his parents, that it is possible that their adult son will not go home, that they will not be able to afford the kinds of services he needs. When and if another virus comes, the son they cared for at home for three decades might be living in precisely the kind of nursing facility that will be decimated by it. It’s easy to feel that the tragedy only repeats.

But then again, in just a few weeks, a group of newly minted doctors begin their internships. Medicine is strange like that, a new generation every three years, and with it a chance for reinvention. They will find themselves in a hospital in transition, in a country that has suffered more than a million deaths. We will teach them about all of it, about how to manage sepsis and heart failure and trauma, about the pandemic and how it was before. And for a moment, maybe, we can step back and see it all through their eyes — the nervousness and the excitement and, more than anything, the hope for what is to come.

Oolong or Earl Grey?

In a previous blog, I worried about the many deficiencies in our approach to the other nations of the South Pacific.

The Chinese might have the money, but Australia has the advantage of Foreign Minister, Senator Penny Wong, who has turned disdain to genuine respect for our South Pacific community. This has been coupled with a change in the Government’s attitude to climate change, to make it easier for the Australian government to adopt a primus inter pares role in the South Pacific area.

Every nation in the South Pacific has been victim of colonisation. China in its entry into the South Pacific is just another coloniser, although the gunboat may be muted, the offered funding comes clutched in a mailed fist.

Therefore, the European countries have been a major factor in the sometimes idiotic distribution of their colonies. Does it make sense that the Western part of New Guinea has been hived off into Indonesia just because it was once the furthest outpost of Dutch colonisation.

One remnant of Portugal’s worldwide speckled colonisation is the Republic of Timor-Leste, whose isolation in a region of muted hostility makes it not unexpectedly seek a powerful ally, such as China. Previously East Timor, as it was before Independence, has always presented an anomaly. Whitlam was worried that East Timor, if it received such independence, would present a risk of an Arafura Cuba.

However any hidden intervention then has been well and truly trumped by the disgraceful behaviour of the Australian Government, as described in the Crikey newsletter namely the bugging of the Timor-Leste cabinet, the motives of the Howard government in its tactics towards the fledgling state, the subsequent decisions of the then foreign minister and then DFAT secretary to take jobs with the biggest beneficiary, the abuse of intelligence agencies for corporate espionage, the attempts to cover up the truth of the bugging and the vexatious attempts to punish those who exposed that truth, amount to the greatest scandal of recent decades.

Cristo Rei, Dili, Timor-Leste

Successive Australian governments have concealed such chicanery that will make any long term relationship between the Republic and ourselves very shaky. Australia has a substantial Timorese population in Darwin, and having been there just before the pandemic, it was to me clear how much the Chinese were investing in the Timor-Leste infrastructure. While the Republic shares the island with Indonesia, it is also a short boat ride from Dili across to the Indonesian island of Alor, part of the extended archipelago of the Southern Sunda islands, one of which Bali is 1,600 kilometres to the west of Alor.

Setting Timor-Leste aside for a moment is not to ignore its importance in a cohesive Australian South Pacific strategy lacking up to now.

Apart from a perception of the Chinese being a new colonial power, one of the points of differentiation is for Australian government ministers to cease to act as colonial masters. The Chinese have difficulty in hiding their sense of superiority, which grates, and in the end makes their presence in the South Pacific unpalatable. Nevertheless, mate, money takes away any distaste.

As I wrote about Andrew Peacock’s actions when he inherited the Ministry of External Territories, he immediately treated the New Guineans as equals, so evident in his relationship with Michael Somare. His predecessor was an old school Country Party politician, who viewed coloured people as inferior. After all, we’ve lived through a long term White Australia policy, and it is testimony to countervailing factors which have assured our role among out neighbours – not the least of which was our generation in speaking out against such a policy.

One of these factors binding us together undoubtedly is rugby; and with that New Zealand and its indigenous Maori population provide a vital bridge to Polynesia. This the Chinese do not have,

Our mutual Anglo-Celtic background provides a deceptive similarity of Australia with New Zealand. Yet it is in part mirage. As one who has headed a hybrid Australian and New Zealand organisation, I found the countries to be very different; the two nations respond differently to external stimuli. As with all neighbours, there is an accumulation of negative factors, which will intrude into all the positive aspects, unless we both recognise and deal with the differences immediately. Recently in her new role, Penny Wong has ably demonstrated with her embrace of the NZ Foreign Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, with her facial moko, her ability to confront the cultural differences. Whatever may be unstated, facial tattoos are confrontational for a country not steeped in Polynesian culture as New Zealand is.

Melanesia, as shown by the Solomon Islands treaty with China, exhibits our vulnerability; this is intertwined in our relationship with Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is a nation borne out of strong colonial links with Australia, both direct with Papua and by the acquisition of a mandate of the German colony of New Guinea after WW1.

Our indigenous Aboriginal people are represented in some of the Southern Sunda islands but more as an anthropological curiosity than as any cohesive force.

There are the Torres Strait People and here the Australian border with PNG provides a problematic divide. Then there is the collection of South Seas islanders – the descendants from the nineteenth century kanaka trade. Predominantly men from Vanuatu, they were press-ganged to work the cane fields of Northern Queensland, and Mackay is where many of the descendants remain. They have their identity, their flag but are not recognised in the same way Torres Strait Islanders are recognised. Only a small fraction of white Australia has ever met a Torres Strait islander. Yet some of the greatest rugby league players have come from both Torres Strait and South Seas Islanders.

On the other hand, the Solomon Islands were always a British colony before independence in 1978; and the Republic of Vanuatu was born from the New Hebrides condominium arrangement between Britain and France in 1980.

France remains the only European power left in the South Pacific and there is no indication that it will leave soon. One of the lessons was our ability to mobilise against the common enemy – this was the French when they were conducting nuclear testing in the South Pacific. We ran a meticulous campaign against the French and, given its modest funding, was very successful if judged by its impact among some of the South Pacific nations, remembering I was fronting an Australian and New Zealand organisation.

One area of which both our nations are guilty is still the magnetism  of Great Britain, even though despite some Whitehall protestations, Britain has long since vacated the South Pacific. The AUKUS arrangement  is redolent of a backward looking, nostalgic stream of thought.

Hopefully  as an early priority Wong will not rush over to the “old Country” to tug the forelock or have tea at Windsor. Fortunately, she seems to have left that to the emissary of the old huntin’ and shootin’ brigade, garbed as an Edwardian remnant of Albion humankind, a man whose name conveniently rhymes with dandy. Leave the UK to these people and let’s get on with dealing with the actual challenges of our region.

We marshalled the forces against one form of climate change 25 years ago. The challenge presented by climate change is far more serious and instead of AUKUS, how about a South Pacific alliance against the great polluter, China. Unfair characterisation? Fairness is not a major constituent in Chinese foreign policy. I am sure that matter is foremost in the Penny Wong mind.

Some are advocating Australia enact a form of the Monroe Doctrine. Next blog I shall discuss this proposal, given it seems to have some currency.

Mouse Whisper

Have you noted those advertisements, where the dentist has his back to the viewer, brandishing what is ostensibly a tooth brush. If you look in the mirror, there is no reflection of the dentist.

Now what a subtle advertisement. Toothbrushes and garlic toothpaste?

As some other rodent has said: “Real vampires do exist – they are life sucking people that are narcissistic, greedy, selfish and vain. They take from you as much as they can. They “seem” to be friends and offer you pleasure and beauty but they take your life. They cannot see their reflections because they portray someone other than their true self.”

In the end, as they say, there is no reflection on anybody.

Modest Expectations – Lionel Messi

The recent visit of the Prime Minister to Makassar in the Sulawesi, reminded us of the links of the Makassan traders with the northern Aboriginal people well before European discovery. It is a neglected area in the study of the cultural influence of these people.  Thus, I thought it interesting to reproduce below a bark painting which I bought some years ago on Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. You be the judge of the cultural influences at play in this painting. 

In a tortuous vein

I had a pleasant surprise the other day. This is a lesson in clinging onto a view of what you think you know, and what is in fact reality. You may be dying, but you think tomorrow you will be better. I was reminded of the time leading up to the diagnosis of my underlying disease nine years ago. There was a delay in instituting therapy, and I was largely to blame – but not totally.

This time, my legs have been beset by increasing peripheral oedema, two swollen angry red calves and feet, compounded by the sub-fascial swelling on the soles of my feet.

Overnight, the swelling has always decreased, but the level of that reduction in oedema has slowed since the start of the pandemic because of weight increase and closure of hydrotherapy facilities. I dislike exercise especially if it is painful. Hydrotherapy provided a relief from the pain. My legs began to become more and more oedematous. Nobody offered the panacea I was looking for.

Over this period, there had been mention of vascular specialists and compression stockings but, as I now realise, I need for those who advise me to be assertive and not be ambivalent. The latter gives me an excuse for inaction.

I visit a plastic surgeon, who regularly checks me for skin lesions. I mentioned my legs; and once he saw how bad my legs apparently were, he said he had a vascular surgeon colleague whom I should see urgently.

Nearly ten years ago, it was an orthopaedic surgeon who looked at me, ordered tests, and by the next Monday, due to a fortuitous cancellation, I was able to see a consultant rheumatologist, who immediately confirmed the diagnosis the orthopaedic surgeon had considered, but which had been missed by a variety of other doctors. I might add I had seen another orthopaedic surgeon a week or so before and he offered to replace my knee joint almost immediately without any tests. That is the danger of being referred to a specialist, who may be technically brilliant but would have most certainly have ensured a very stormy post-operative passage for myself.

On this second occasion, it was a Thursday afternoon, and by Monday morning first thing, I had an appointment to see the vascular surgeon.

Now this vascular surgeon is young. He shares a clinic with three others. To the best of my knowledge he is not owned by an American hedge fund. He is actually into the business of helping people, not trading a commodity for financial gain.

Vascular ultrasound image

Under one roof, I had an ultrasound of my lower limbs’ vascular system, a consultation where the specialist did not expect to sit across a desk in a consulting room – inspected, interacted with the allied health professionals, recommended compression stockings. These and the applicator were on hand and my wife was taught the optimal way the stockings should be applied. As she said, looking at me meaningfully, she did read the instructions and watched the video in addition to the initial demonstration.

All in less than two hours – a one-stop shop. We had the compression stockings and the applicator.

Here was a local product where any Medicare benefits paid remained onshore, able to be reinvested. How different to those diagnostic imaging and pathology companies allegedly repatriating Medicare payments overseas.

Over 20 years ago, the Australia Institute in a discussion paper analysed the growth of corporate medicine foreshadowing the decline in standards as the profit motive became the prime driver in health care.

As the growth of corporate medicine grew so did Medicare become the ATM, not only for private entrepreneurs but also for the States, which were up to their filing cabinets in cost-shifting. As many of the purchasers were underwritten by overseas investors, the consequence increasingly will be that Medicare funding, which should remain in Australia, ends up in overseas tax havens.

The problem is that the medical profession has ceded control and hence independence to its corporate masters. As somebody who was involved in the various Inquiries in the regulation of the Medicare Benefits Schedule, I have always regretted that the AMA gave up this privilege, which meant that there was not any regular mechanism to alter the Medicare benefit, which was constantly misrepresented as a fee rather than a financial patient benefit the government provided for payment to the doctor.

During my time at the AMA, the discrepancy between the Medibank (then Medicare) benefit and the fee charged was symbolised by the AMA annual recommended list of medical fees. This was a guide, not an instruction by the AMA. Nevertheless, it maintained a relevance, which has only persisted after the introduction of gap insurance when the private health funds, initially prohibited, were able to re-enter the medical insurance market.

John Deeble, Medicare pioneer

After 1984, when the AMA abandoned the regular fee for Medicare benefit Inquiries, it became a matter for every medical specialty to negotiate for themselves. The problem for some of the medical specialties was a function of what happened following the Nimmo Inquiry in 1969 into health insurance which was that benefit relativities were based on what were the fees charged by each specialty; and these relativities naturally created distortions in the market as technology made a number of items of service much cheaper to perform. In 1977 it was clear that technology advances with automaton replacing manual testing was enabling pathologists to make a bonanza from Medicare payments. This Inquiry into the Pathology Medibank Benefits was the first instance of government intervention into these relativities.

The AMA, through the Inquiries, had effectively maintained control over relativities. It provided a form of “flawed order” even though some of the Medicare benefits were well in excess of the underlying cost of the service while some other areas of the profession had done badly.

Thus, from an exercise where the AMA and the Government were in an edgy if not directly confrontational relationship, then there was none.

As I found out henceforth from the AMA relinquishing its position, it became a matter of having a good cost accountant to negotiate with government. With the growth of technology, while the value of the professional component of the medical service remained important, in some areas of the service there were both a substantial technical and a capital component. The “technical” component includes the cost of the scientists, the technicians, the allied health professionals including nurses required to provide services which were not medical, and “capital”, such as the cost of linear accelerators, MRI facilities and so forth.

Not all capital costs are covered. For instance, disposables were inherent in the delivery of the professional component, and not differentiated into any of the other Medicare benefit components. In fact, most of the cost of these has been borne by the hospital. Even now re-usable devices and prostheses lie outside the cost of the service.

Enter the world of the entrepreneurs, more interested in cash flows and profit rather than patient care. Some of the first were medical graduates, like the criminal, the late Geoffrey Edelsten, who gave the whole area a bad name; but it is the multinational companies that have moved behind a wall of cost accounting to dissect the Medicare schedule to exact the greatest profits, and in so doing, to enable Medicare funding to be sent to tax havens overseas.

Some may say how outrageous such a comment is; but the easiest way to deal with Medicare funding is to prohibit any profits that those companies who benefit in any way from exporting those profits.

This vascular surgeon, whose expertise spreads far wider that just advising on varicosities, demonstrated the one-stop shop advantages, which I frankly did not expect, and another fact – you don’t need to run late if you are a doctor.  And you do not need to be a multinational corporation; his rooms were modern and located within a religious hospital.  Good God, on second thoughts, located in a multinational corporation!

Such a thought in no way diminished my satisfaction with the service.

I, the Cryptosexton

I read about this complicated thing called Cryptocurrency. After riding the Algorithm Hobbyhorse around in my Virtual Nursery, I realised that cryptocurrency must be like a bit of barter behind the tog room at school. Hidden from the authority, a packet of Senior Service for two packets of brown Capstan; but not requiring the electrical power requirements of a small city to accompany the transaction.

But this cryptocurrency surely must be more complicated than that, and thus have more benefits.

Apart from plugging cryptocurrency into the cyptocharger, I decided to call it Tulipcoin. I was tempted to use “Lillionarcissus-coin”, which was the name for “tulip” before this Turkish corruption of a Persian word for “turban” was adopted. But that name was too long, would use too much power.

I thought by calling my cryptocurrency after such a famous flower, irrespective of the corruption implicit in the name, I would honour a previous occasion which may have arisen in a crypt.

Jan Breughel the Younger’s view of tulipomania

The whole saga of the tulip bubble was well expressed years ago in the 1999 book “Tulipomania”. The basic cause of the exorbitant prices which the tulip bulb reached in sixteenth century Netherlands was somewhat eccentric. A Flemish merchant found tulip bulbs in a cargo of cloth from Istanbul, thought they were onions, ate most of them and planted the rest.

The resultant blooms were overwhelmingly beautiful and attracted the eye of wealthy Dutch burghers.

The tulip is thus the most captivating of flowers, and like so many products of the Levant, this was the favourite flower of Süleyman the Great, who not only cultivated the wild variety but also initiated the science of breeding hybrids.

Thus when the tulips bloomed, the Dutch, who had the time and were a very wealthy nation due to their trade in the East (the Dutch had a monopoly on nutmeg for instance), were intoxicated by the flower; and the tulip became the signature of these prosperous people.

As was written in Tulipomania: “In 1633, the flowers served no economic purpose other than relieve the cold wet spring with petals that promised a change from the grey mist”.

Initially they were not only desirable but scarce. They attracted gardeners and the few connoisseurs, where scarcity was compounded by the search for perfection. At one stage when a skilled worker could expect 250 guilders in a year, a single tulip bulb was traded for over 5,000 guilders. A small basket was worth more than an Amsterdam mansion. It took three years for the bubble to burst, which it did in a spectacular fashion in 1637.

One of the reasons for this was that many of the tulips had been infected with a virus, which did not necessarily diminish the spectacular colours but certainly lessened the life of each infected bulb. What’s more by that time trading in bulbs had spread throughout the community into every tavern across the country. One of the supposed benefits of cryptocurrency is to be able to bypass “stodgy banks”. Just like being able to buy a cheap TV at the local pub.  But here it was the tulip bulb.

The value of the bulb during this hectic three period provided a way to extricate oneself from, if not poverty, at least to being able to afford a decent house -only if you sold early.  However, given where many of the transactions took place as the author of Tulipomania wrote: “The trade was conducted for the most part in a haze of inebriation.

How appropriate! My Tulipcoin placed into such a market – drunk with power but where the mist has yet to lift?

Reprise

I wrote the following italicised in my blog on 15 January 2021 in a vain attempt to promote Craig Reucassel to stand against Falinski. My sentiments yet have been reflected in the deserved dumping of this Morrison sycophant, despite all the protestations.  Subtly, my choice reveals my deep-seated prejudice, born of over 80 years in a male-dominant world. I suggested that a high-profile male with a formidable record in climate change and waste management should mount the challenge. I discounted the fact that he lived far away in the Sydney inner west.

Dr Sophie Scamps MP

I congratulate Dr Scamps (pronounced Scomps), who has been a high-achieving, very well qualified general practitioner who both lived and practised in the electorate, before successfully challenging Mr Falinski in the recent Federal election. My sense of his vulnerability was correct, but I got the gender of the new Member for MacKellar wrong.

I would suggest one of the New South Wales’ seats held by one of the Trump neophytes would be perfect for him, given that upending Abbott showed the way to do it. Maybe Falinski, whose seat is MacKellar, would be the way to go. Falinski is the typical Liberal Party hack toeing the party line.

As Falinski said in his maiden speech full of the pieties expected:

And so a politician is accountable to their community – I am accountable to you.

Mr Jason Falinski

Wrong, he is beholden to his masters, never voted against any government.  He has a voting record which would please Donald Trump – he should be vulnerable to somebody with the Reucassel values. I would love to see them debate why, for instance, Falinski has inter alia disagreed recently with the proposition:

“The Prime Minister to attend the House by 2 pm Tuesday 8 December to make a statement to advise the House whether Australia is speaking at the Climate Ambition Summit and table any correspondence with the summit organisers relating to whether Australia is speaking at the summit.”

This is but one example, but Falinski’s voting record is reprehensible to any person who is genuinely Liberal.

Reucassel is genuinely concerned with climate change and the world becoming a rubbish dump. He should be elected to Parliament to pursue this goal and hold the government to account.  Falinski seems unwilling to do so. Is it Mitch* Falinski, or is that your second name?

*Mitch stands for that annoying Kentucky Senator, who pleads propriety but unquestionably has supported Trump. Dr Scamps reminded the electorate of the false nature of the so-called moderate Falinski’s voting record.

Janus was an EU Politician with the head of Boris Johnson

As an impotent observer of world affairs, I fret over the ambivalent attitudes of politicians over the fate of Ukraine. Angela Merkel defends her legacy in stalling the entry of Ukraine into NATO by saying that, at the time in 2008, the Ukraine was controlled by a pro-Soviet Government.

The root problem was that most governments wanted Zelensky to disappear into some hedonist exile, and he has proved to be very inconvenient.  He wanted to defend the sovereignty of his nation. Suddenly, the Ukrainians had a leader, an uncompromising charismatic leader who, in a matter of 100 days, has differentiated a country from the neighbouring Russians. The ferocity with which the Ukrainians have responded to the Russian invasion contrasts with the bloodless coup where Russia took Crimea back from the Ukraine eight years ago, and have defined a country, which no matter the outcome will never again be just a “Little Russia”.

Zelensky has thus created that which most Ukrainians have always believed; and that is Ukraine as an independent nation. He has ensured this affirmation occurred in the full glare of the World spotlight.

Putin has been revealed as a primitive hominid intent on destroying the world’s energy and food supply as he dresses up as Peter the Great, an absurd travesty of the human condition.

The New York Review of Books provide a comparison of sorts in critiquing yet another book about Anne Frank. The contention is that if only the same courage epitomised by Zelensky had been on display during the time leading up to Anne Frank’s death in a Nazi concentration camp, she may have survived. As has been pointed out, because of the lack of any ongoing focus on Dutch Jews in particular, she was always in peril.

Anne and her Diary

As part of the analysis, a harsh judgement was made about Queen Wilhelmina in that she failed to stand up to the Nazis and fled to Great Britain. She had maintained Dutch neutrality during WW1; but the only indication of her attitude to the plight of Jews was she insisted a Jewish refugee camp prior to WWII be moved further away from her summer palace than it was originally planned.

The American Government declined to give the Frank family a visa to travel to New York via Cuba in 1941. It provides an unsettling view of a country, with a quick trigger for invading non-European countries, and yet basically ambivalent against European aggressors. President Biden’s halting support of Ukraine could be the USA in early 1941. The Allies did not bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz. A matter of unimportance in the scheme of things!

Russia seemed to have infiltrated the top levels of government, politically, socially, financially, corruptly – a passage facilitated by Trump and scattered within the Conservative Party, those that worship the Infantis Johnson. However, there would not be a country in Europe where the malign Putin influence has not infiltrated.

As a result, maybe NATO could imprint the head of Janus as an emblem in acknowledgement of this influence given the way they have responded to the Russo-Ukrainian War.

Mouse Whisper

I was on a field visit when I heard a regional ABC reporter talking to a local farmer about the cost of a box of cauliflowers. He was selling them for $80 a box.

“What was the usual cost?” she asked.

“About $20 a box.”

“Oh, they’re double the cost then.”

Good to see the ABC is maintaining its standards.

Great value at twice the price, or is that four times?

Modest Expectations – Doug Taught Hereabouts

I don’t often start my blog with a straight lift from another paper – this by the distinguished journalist and author, Joan Wickersham.

This is a story about a library in Vyborg.

Given the status of Vyborg, essentially a Finnish city absorbed by a gluttonous Soviet Union at the end of WWII, it provides an insight into how the Russians with Putinic tendencies conceive their view of the world – in this case neglect. However, underlying this neglect was its fortuitous survival of the scorched earth way in which Russia wages war. This normally results in a wrecked landscape which the Russians have neither the intent nor the money to rebuild. This will be the result of his current intent to ensure that the western littoral rim of the Black Sea is in Russian hands, despite the destruction meted out to the Eastern Ukrainian cities.

In the story below it was, until the fall of the Soviet Union and its release from the sullen adversarial conformity in which Russia had been plunged by Stalin that  co-operative work to restore the Aalto masterpiece occurred. It was a time when the deep xenophobia that characterises the mindset of Russians was temporarily dormant.

The Amber Room in the Summer Palace, two hours’ drive South of Vyborg in St Petersburg, is testimony to Russian skills when they want to use them. After all, the Germans dismantled the Amber Room, and it was not until 1979, that the reconstruction of the room commenced, guided by two remaining original items: a single box of relics from the room and 86 black-and-white photos of the space, taken just before World War Two. It took 23 years, but it showed a determined creativity to restore, when Hitler had decided to destroy the best of Russian heritage.

In the article below, the co-operative effort between the Russians and the Finns led to the restoration of the building depicted. After all, for many years if you looked at any hospital built in the interwar period, they had the stamp of Aalto; worldwide he changed the design of hospitals from gloomy buildings where the Florence Nightingale wards were Queen in hospitals where the light could only shine fitfully. Aalto’s creations were far more appealing and, moreover, airy and far more hygienic than their predecessors.

I disagree with Ms Wickersham’s passive neglect ending to her article. Humans create and humans destroy. There is an equilibrium, which provides the opportunity for the world to recognise the need to preserve it for the next generations – knowing in the distant future the Sun will burn itself out and with it, this dependent planet.

However as for Putin, like all megalomaniacs, it is not in his or our remit to deliberately hasten the process.

Viipuri Library

The Viipuri Library, one of the great early masterpieces by architect Alvar Aalto, used to be in Finland. Since 1940, it has been in Russia. The library didn’t move; the border did.

The library was a fluid creature almost from its inception. Aalto’s initial scheme for the building won a design competition in 1927. At the time, he was a promising 29-year-old architect who entered a lot of competitions and rarely won. Finland was a young country, having declared its independence from Russia only 10 years earlier.

After Aalto won the competition, the construction of the library was postponed when the great worldwide economic depression halted new projects. By the time the library client came back to him several years later, the site of the prospective building had been changed. Aalto had also matured and changed as an architect, rejecting the classicism of his earlier design in favour of a more modern Functionalist style, which displayed an airy lightness and asymmetry.

Working together with Aino Aalto, his wife and design partner, Alvar Aalto came up with a new design introducing elements that would become characteristic of his work: a grid of round skylights that let natural light pour into the building; and, in the lecture hall, an undulating natural-wood ceiling. The library was finally built and opened in 1935.

Then, in the winter of 1939, Russia invaded Finland. The Finnish army fought them to a standstill but, as a condition of the peace treaty, Finland had to cede to the USSR the eastern territory, which included the town of Viipuri, now renamed Vyborg. Seventy thousand Finnish citizens were permanently displaced from this border region and moved westward across the new border into Finland.

In 1941, war broke out again between Finland and Russia. Control of Viipuri/Vyborg went back and forth between the two armies; in the fighting, most of the town’s buildings were destroyed. After the war, Finland was forced to accept the 1940 boundary that made Vyborg part of the Soviet Union.

For many years, with communication and travel all but impossible, people in the West knew nothing about the fate of Aalto’s library. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Finnish architects were able to learn that the building had survived. It had been abandoned for 10 years after the war, an empty shell stripped of its contents and left to deteriorate. In the late 1950s, a limited renovation had allowed it to reopen as a municipal library, but it was only a shadow of what it had been.

Starting in 1991, Finnish and Russian architects got together to advocate for the restoration of the library. Drawing heavily on the expertise of Aalto’s widow and design partner — his second wife, Elissa — they gathered the resources to painstakingly restore every detail of the original design, down to the furniture and door handles. It took them 20 years. After the restoration project’s completion, in 2013, the library was hailed by the World Monuments Fund as “a stellar example of international cooperation.”

I learned about the Viipuri Library in 2019, when I visited Aalto’s studio in Helsinki. There was a small exhibit of photographs and drawings that included a timeline of the library’s history. How amazing, I thought, that this building could be lost and then found again, could be built and then neglected and then restored.

Now the library near the border seems like a testament to both durability and fragility. It doesn’t move, but the world keeps shifting around it. Things fall apart and get rebuilt. Things get built and fall apart.

Ron Castan

But while I wish I could say I knew Ron Castan, I don’t think that would be entirely honest. I feel deeply connected to the idea of him, as much as to the man himself. It seems that the true memories I retain of him are like a single grain of sand, sitting in the centre of an oyster. Alone, they are almost invisible – tribute from grandson Samuel Blashki

I was discussing my youngest grandchild’s future with him. He is a very bright youth in his penultimate year of school. Life is, I said to him, a mixture of experience and tribal links, coupled with intellectual, rather than just academic, achievement plus the accumulation of social capital as well as wealth or not. All form the basis of networks, which grow and then peter out as inevitably people move away or die.  Some of these links are more resilient than others.

There is a need to actively cultivate these networks even if, in the course of existence, you rarely see some of those in the network, but when you do, the link is restored as if only a day has passed since you last had contact.

Ron Castan

One such person was Ron Castan, and how relevant it is to remember him on the day when Australia celebrated the contribution of Eddie Mabo and the challenge to the concept of terra nullius. One of the major people behind Mabo was Ron Castan, and when the Aboriginal people are discussing land rights, I hope they will remember Ron Castan. There are a number of memorials to this remarkable man, who tragically died when still having so much to give. In particular it was a travesty that Ron was never made a High Court judge, but it was at a time that the Meanness virus was beginning to infect a Coalition which then bought to the nation one Dyson Heydon, hardly the cynosure of legal practice.

Ron Castan was a member of the University of Melbourne Students Representative Council, he a representative of the law students and myself one of the medical student representatives in 1959/60. A year was enough for Ron, but one distinguishing feature of Ron then was that he drove an American “tank”; it may have been a Cadillac, it was one of those cars that you would expect had the backseat crammed with Hollywood starlets.

Otherwise, there was nothing startling about our relationship, but some of my friends, erstwhile or not, thought I was red but turned out working for the blue – there was a tendency to look askance.  Whitlam was leading an intellectual powerhouse to government. Unfortunately, that was a myth, but for a time a well-concealed myth.

I assumed Ron was a Labor supporter, but never asked. It was not important.

Ron agreed to propose my own son’s admittance to the Victorian Bar. I had not realised what a privilege it was to be proposed by a Queen’s Counsel no less. Ron was very matter-of-fact when I asked him that, yet as I ever delved into questions of legal importance, he became very much a stickler for actual meaning.

Even though I saw him rarely, it was my initial impression which stayed – that of the thoughtful man with the dry sense of humour – and the deep set eyes, which gave him the expression of a raccoon.  But the eyes laughed even when I had made such an outlandish statement.

I remember him inviting my wife and my son and his then girlfriend for a family Friday night Shabbat meal. Ron wanted to pick my brains on the medical course, which apparently his son-in-law was contemplating at the time.  Not that I have been invited to many Shabbat, but I have found such meals, so quintessentially family oriented, always a privilege.

There are two portraits of Ron Castan among the National Portraits collection. One was of him relaxing apparently reading a brief; the ability to exude a sense of physical rest while in a brown study of mental studiousness. That is the Ron I remember.

The other portrait depicts him as if he were in a French film noir, complete with trench coat, beret and dark glasses. Totally convincing, if you did not know the man.

Having reflected on the future with my youngest grandchild, I read the paean of Ron written by this grandson, who hardly knew him, but exudes a sense of admiration as the amanuensis for his long list of achievement.

He certainly merited a black heart, the highest award a whitefella can achieve in the eyes of the Aboriginal people, and if a bar is given for such an award, Ron would have merited it also.

And his grandson certainly thought so; if only my grandchildren would remember me so eloquently.

Benvenuto nel mio incubo

I was going to ignore Dutton this week, given how irrelevant he is to the Normal Australian. However, his comments about the electorate of Hume I could not let pass. This electorate was retained by that other “pin-up boy”, Angus Taylor, in an electorate which is mostly rural but centres on Goulburn, which to me is at the pinnacle of Irish-Roman Catholicism of conservative persuasion.

The city is located in a very wealthy area, grown that way on the back of sheep. I remember one afternoon flying into one of the landed gentry homes near Crookwell, which is in the Hume electorate. I doubt even among the vassals and serfs on the estate, there would have been a Labor vote in the grand house where we were literally served tea and cucumber sandwiches. Yes, here was the country seat for New South Wales Pioneers and members of the Australian Club.

Hence, I was not sure what point Dutton was making when he said that Hansen’s One Nation Party had obtained seven per cent of the vote in Hume, which was much the same as the Informal Party; and the $100 million man Clyde Palmer, whose projected Prime Minister held the adjoining seat of Hughes until election day, received about half that number. Dutton should take one lesson to heart – if you are poison, stay away from the electorate. It obviously served Hansen well.

Now let us have a look at the figures, since Dutton has used the example to justify, as reported, an electoral “pissed off factor” in an election which he so vividly concluded as “a pox on both your houses election”.

The Greens did not do well in this electorate but there was an independent, Penny Ackery, who received 15.5 per cent of the vote. She showed herself as a bit of a petrolhead, but was retired teacher, in the age range of the successful “teals”, had lived in her community for 30 years, personable well-dressed reflecting muted affluence. In her manifesto she rejected all outside funding, stressing she was the “community candidate”. One wonders that if she had been Teal, would she have shaken the Taylor complacency by finishing ahead of the Labor Party.

After all, in the allocation of first preferences, the Labor Party received just less than 20 per cent of first preferences which represented a fall of six per cent. Taylor experienced a drop of ten per cent; and after distribution of preferences Taylor moved to 57 per cent of the vote while the Labor Party candidate moved to 43 per cent. Taylor picked up about 15,000 of the preferences and his Labor Party opponent picked up 23,000; overall a swing to the Labor Party of 5.4 per cent.

Therefore, Dutton should not be too chuffed – whether it be “Hume-bris” or not.

Blowing in the Wind

Storm approaching Melbourne

In the last week, a huge burst of pollen swept across Massachusetts as reported in the Boston Globe. The photographs are graphic, outlining a yellow pollen fog discolouring the landscape.  It reminded me of a similar phenomenon which occurred in Victoria in November 2016. Commencing in the Mallee and spreading quickly across Victoria the strong wind gusts reached Geelong and moved quickly over Melbourne’s metropolitan area, as many commuters were travelling home. The pollen count was high due to the combination of hot, dry northerly winds and rye grass to Melbourne’s north and west. The moisture from the storm is thought to have caused the pollen to break into smaller particles, more able to penetrate a person’s lower airways and cause an asthmatic reaction

This incident in which nine people died from respiratory failure augured a future which, because of these extremes in weather consequential on climate change, are liable to become more common in Spring.

The advice to combat the sudden alteration in climate is simple. You know, stay up to date with pollen counts and weather forecasts during Spring and early Summer so you know if a storm is coming. Then just before and during storms with wind gusts, get inside a building or car with the windows shut and the air conditioner switched on to recirculate/recycled.

In 2016, in addition to the nine deaths, there was a serious level of morbidity which kept the ambulance service busy (and that was before the Virus!) Respiratory arrest in the victims had occurred as soon as 15 minutes after the first signs of asthma or wheezing.

“The average time from complaint to respiratory arrest was very short,” she told the court.

“Fifteen minutes does not really leave anyone time to do much, ” one respiratory physician commented at the time.

She added “All the victims suffered asthma and nearly all got hay fever, but only three had official asthma “action plans.”  And to have a reliever puffer, such as Ventolin, on hand and use it generously. Sixteen puffs in four minutes is appropriate.  There is no health danger to using a high dose in emergencies.” In fact, 4,000 people were treated and 30 were admitted to ICU.

In the following article, there is no comment made of the mortality and morbidity of the Massachusetts cloudburst, but highlighting this report should awaken our Health system, already overburdened, to another potentially deadly public threat awaiting at the end of the year – in fact every year.

For allergy sufferers this time of year is always a bit of a headache (mixed with lots of sneezing and coughing).

The yellow cloud in Massachusetts

But a quick-moving cold front that kicked up winds and pushed pollen off trees in great bursts on Tuesday, turning the skyline a strange yellowish-green, was like nothing he had ever seen.

“There was this yellow glow off in the horizon,” said a Marlborough resident. “It looked like a cloud of dust, and it was just yellow. I knew exactly what it was because I’m always worried about the pollen, but I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.” Residents were left covering their faces Tuesday morning after the sudden weather shift created a pollen-heavy scene that resembled smog or “wildfire smoke” or in the air. Parts of the region became so hazy that people described it as a “wall of pollen” that descended on neighbourhoods.

For a Hingham resident, it was like winter with a strange twist. “It literally looked like snow flurries were coming down,” he said of the thick globs of pollen swirling around in his backyard. “It was hazy everywhere. It made everything look kind of golden — it was wild.”

Dave Epstein, a long time Boston meteorologist and horticulturist who writes a weather column for the Globe, said the haze happened after a backdoor cold front with a dramatic change in air mass moved through the region, shaking pollen from the trees.

“As warm tropical air was replaced by cool ocean air, the gusty winds helped release billions of pine pollen grains which were mature and ready for dispersal,” he emailed. “It was just pure coincidence we had a horticultural and meteorological intersection, resulting in a dramatic pollen front.”

“Just a tremendous amount of pollen as the back door cold front is pushing through. I don’t recall ever seeing it so dramatic,” he said.

Others agreed that it seemed unusual.

“Was outside and saw/felt it a few minutes ago too,” one person replied to Epstein’s tweet. “Have never seen anything like it.”

One other meteorologist said the cold front was “so powerful” that it showed up on weather radars and picked up “bugs and pollen and dust in the air” as it moved inland.

The chief meteorologist for WHDH-TV, posted two images of a parking lot surrounded by trees, pictures he said were sent to him from a friend in Concord. Hanging in the air was a thick cloud of yellow dust that looked more like a sepia-toned fog.

“Got pollen?!” he wrote.

The region certainly did.

Mouse Whisper

The story of two Vice-Presidents – two Hoosiers in fact. There was that story of Mike Pence begging Dan Quayle to come up with a way to not certify the votes. Pence sounded scared, as if was he was going to be killed. He is reported to have said to Quayle: “You don’t know the position I’m in”. A quail to a Quayle.

Thanks be, I live in a mouse house, which is not located at No 1 Observatory Circle.

Modest Expectations – Sudan

It was a modest dilemma, but a dilemma nevertheless. We had stopped in Genoa, a small sliver of civilisation which had nearly been razed to the ground two years ago by the 2019-2020 bushfires which had burnt through the far east of Gippsland. It resembled a ghost town. The late autumn day was beautiful, and we noted that there was a new bridge over the river which flowed through the hamlet. So even though there seemed to be no one around, someone had spent money on the bridge.

We stopped in front of a very shabby building. The sign on the front of the building indicated that it was once a hotel/motel. It seemed to me to be disused; my wife disagreed. She thought there were people living there. There was no fence around the front of the motel.

However, in the front of the building was a tree loaded with lemons. There was only one windfall, and that was on the wrong side of ripe.

As we were contemplating a guy riding on a tractor rode up to the north wall of the motel, but did not stop. That was the only person we saw.

I looked at the lemons. They were many beautiful ripe yellow lemons.

I was tempted; my wife said no.

The dilemma:  Would you pick lemons off the tree or not?

We were only 45 minutes by taxi from Eden. Could not see any apple tree though.

Wistful in Werriwa

Werriwa (Lake George)

My eye was caught by a small piece which said that Morrison was contemplating winning Whitlam’s old seat of Werriwa. He had descended on that electorate to start the day with a group of locals, or so it was reported. Now Werriwa is the Aboriginal name for Lake George, which mysteriously periodically fills up with water and then empties, with no river flowing in and out to explain its fluctuation. Werriwa was one of the original electorates at the time of Federation.  As the population has grown, the electorate has moved closer to the southern outer suburbs of Sydney, and thus has been a stronghold of the Labor Party since 1934.

Morrison believed such a seat was winnable, as he cast himself as the Everyman battling the Political Elites. He was encouraged by a media machine that we have endured for a long time, particularly after the accession of Rudd, biased to the Coalition. Morrison was also buoyed by his surprise victory in 2019, with a major swing in Queensland. He made the assumption that he could cast himself as the champion of the working man. “Man” was the operative word. Werriwa has a woman member, and with a very “Anglo” name, Anne Stanley.

Added to that were migrant communities where you could sow the divisive wedge politics, particularly playing upon conservative religious practices. Here, sexuality and general relaxation of patriarchal family relationships, admixed with spurious declamation about religious freedoms, were perceived by Morrison and his advisers to be fertile ground for playing on prejudice to gain votes. The Liberal Party candidate was Sam Kayal, the surname Lebanese; and obviously he seems to be very friendly with the Mayor of Liverpool, who is also of Lebanese heritage, presumably Christian.

When you reviewed the first preferences in the recent Federal election, the Liberal Democrats, the One Nation Party and United Australia Party collected about 23 per cent of these. The Greens received a modest increase of just over one per cent to 6.6 per cent.

Both the major Parties in the allocation of first preferences lost ground – Labor lost eight per cent and the Liberals four per cent. After the allocation of preferences, the swing against the Labor Party had been reduced to 0.3 per cent. If the three right wing splinters had been solid for the Coalition, the seat would probably have fallen to the Liberals.

When I first read the piece about Morrison, I scoffed. Now it is food for thought; maybe it was a lockdown reaction, where each side received electoral contumely. Certainly, how the votes flow in the NSW election next year will be more interesting, because the antipathy to the enforced “lockdowns” should have faded by then.

Enter Dr Ryan

Let me say, as I have said before, that my health care has been very good, considering my co-morbidities. Yet I do not have one health professional who can provide all my ongoing care. Why? Because the world of medicine is so sub-specialised that having all the information in one place is impossible. As I have been a medical practitioner, I have navigated the system with varying degrees of success. This has meant that for probably six months my auto-immune disease was undiagnosed; but I knew when I was fibrillating and not reverting to sinus rhythm.

Take for instance, because of arthritic changes in both my cervical and lumbar spine, coupled with some symptomatology which suggested impairment of neural function, a spinal surgeon that he would operate. I found his clinical approach puzzling and consulted a colleague of mine – a neurologist – who said that, in his opinion, the operations were unnecessary. That was six years ago, and the disability caused by these changes has not progressed.

He retired but referred me to a neurologist in Sydney. The cost for the initial consultation was announced by the practice to be $800, more than three times the appropriate Medicare benefit. I would have thought that outrageous, especially so given that he would have my notes passed on by my previous neurologist who had settled for the Medicare benefit as full payment for a consultation.

Ironically, through the consultant physician professional association of which I was vice-president at the time, I had negotiated with the Commonwealth Health Department in 2006 to create the Medicare item which reflected recognition of significant complexity in consultations.

Let me say that the neurologist whom I consulted was understated, yet had an eye for detail; more importantly, he had wide clinical experience and a great modicum of common sense.

Talking of neurology, Professor Monique Ryan, a prominent paediatric neurologist has been elected to the Federal Parliament. As a member of a small sub-specialty, her natural health constituency is one of the “elitist” areas of the profession – small patient load given there are about 120 paediatric neurologists; yet, irrespective of needs, the sub-specialities keep on expanding. There is also a tendency in these small specialties for the doctors to become researchers or even more sub-specialised. In a review of the field, 250 neurological disorders have been isolated, but most are very rare diseases.

Yet reflexly the tendency continues to also train more and more, despite smaller and smaller patient load per neurologist.

As a result, they tend to “keep” their patients rather than “returning” them back to the referring doctor. The other way to expand the clinical base of the paediatric neurology sub-specialty is by moving into the mental disability field, where rehabilitation is the aim, or areas such as attention deficit disorders and autism, which have become very “popular” diagnoses.

Whenever I watch reports on these spectrum disorders, I am reminded of the successful long distance swimmer, who was concurrently being treated for chronic fatigue syndrome.

While many of my medical colleagues would bristle and dismiss my comments, it’s very difficult to get any medical sub-specialty to objectively review what has been achieved as against that which was promised over a given period – and to agree on when is “enough is enough”.

Monique Ryan may now represent the electorate of Kooyong; she also represents by her professional attainment and experience, a rather narrow tranche of the health system. That is not to decry its importance; it is a matter of the allocation of scarce resources. Now she has Parliamentary standing, her utterances will be interesting; especially as the ego lurks very close to the surface in most maiden speeches to Parliament. I will read hers with very great interest, given my own experience, and see where her priorities lie, once you strip away the comments of the generalities.

The dangers of  rampant sub-specialisation in medicine and elsewhere in the health system is just one potential dysfunction which needs to be rebalanced in the health system after the COVID-19 experience, an indifferent series of Federal Ministers and the unfortunate influence of a number of public servants,  some of whom should be ashamed to take their pensions let alone the consultant work they fouled up – and that is before Australia has a decent Integrity Commission to investigate whether there are shenanigans and rorts to attract any action.

If the aim is to get a more equitable spread of health professionals, then as one whose nationwide Rural Stocktake in 1999 led to the creation of the rural clinical schools and university departments of rural health among other changes and who introduced a successful intern training program and opposed lengthening the post-graduate training in the name of professional “slavery” rather than education, I have been disappointed that its success has been seemingly ignored and structures dismantled. Yet there is a crescendo of complaints about the lack of rural health professionals. I shall define the systemic pathology and suggest what has to be done in a number of my following blogs.

I just hope that the incoming Health Minister can think outside and beyond the normal temptation to just get the matter off his desk and onto the States, with resumption of the “blame game”.

The Fall of Globalisation – How inconvenient.

Danube Delta

In the years just before COVID-19 struck, I travelled widely, and in doing so visited Finland, the Baltic countries, and the countries on the lower Danube (Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary), the boat on which I was travelling ending up nosing into the Black Sea before turning around; also Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro; Slovenia. I had been to Russia and Poland on earlier trips. Although it did not occur to me at the time, I was able to do this under the mantle of Globalisation; in fact, as long as you flew there you could also then visit Belarus from Lithuania. Belarus, together with Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, were the only two places where entry was not automatic in these European wanderings.

All the time Russians were seething; or rather Putin was seething with his Peter the Great complex. Plotting – planning for his dystopian world is just the end product of the authoritarian narcissist who gazes at their image in the world; the Chaplinesque caricature now widely spread across the world.

In the USA, it is unbelievable that the Republican Party, which ostensibly believes in free enterprise, has been complicit through the Vandal Trump in the Putin destruction of globalisation.

Trump was not the only one. For instance, the narcissist Rumsfeld cajoled a group of politicians into a “coalition of the willing” on the grounds that Iraq would be easy pickings for the American oil industry. Others may nuance it to share the blame around and saying pillorying one person is never the reason. However, George W. Bush’s famous assessment of Putin: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.” needs no commentary.

It seems that remains the belief of that great meddler, Henry Kissinger, who was so important in Hanoi winning the Vietnam war. Kissinger turned 99 a week ago; and his wrongheadedness is still being reported.

Nevertheless, the greatest win for Putin was to have his Manchurian candidate, Donald Trump, in the White House. Thus, while America slept or was “tarbabied” in Afghanistan, Putin consolidated his power base. If Hilary Clinton had been voted in as President instead of Trump in 2016, this current situation would not have arisen. She would have kicked the All European cocktail circuit which for years has gone under the name of NATO, in the backside. At the same time, Putin was meddling with a British Isles polity befuddled by one Nigel Farage who may well have been on the Soviet payroll in order to play wazir to the aspirant sultan Boris.

After all, in a prescient speech 12 years ago, Clinton stated inter alia: NATO Headquarters is bulging with over three hundred committees, many with overlapping responsibilities. Too often, our budgets – military and civilian – are divorced from Alliance priorities, and the most important priorities have been under-resourced for years. Our secretary general has not been invested with the power he needs to truly manage the organization. This must change – and we must agree to that change in parallel with the new Strategic Concept. A new Concept with old structures will not be transformational. In fact, it may not change much of anything at all.

But that did not happen. Hilary Clinton was a casualty at a time when the world was reaching a crescendo of dystopian behaviour.

Now, it has taken a young man, unencumbered by the cocktail circuit and with the true insight of the comedian, to stand up and fight. As he said, he does not need martini glasses, he needs the armaments to vaccinate Europe against this particularly virulent Russian variant of Monkey Pox. But old habits die hard; the clinking of glasses still resonate around the palaces of Brussels.

Old Age

“It is a giant labyrinth that you walk into, they lock the door behind you, and there is no exit,” she said. “I can’t keep doing this. I’m falling apart.”

I have been concerned with care of the aged since not long after I graduated in medicine in 1963. It is now 2022. During this time, there has been a huge change in the technology surrounding care of the aged.

Yet is this reflected in the care?

People are living longer, and hence the gap between ceasing employment and death is growing. I have joined the throng.

There is this myth that looking after old people is more about care rather than medicine. When I was in practice, I was less concerned with “fast rehabilitation”, typically treatment of the sporting injury, but more with so-called “slow rehabilitation”, the staff, including the doctors, employed all the expertise available to assures each person attains his or her highest level of capability, and then maintains it. While most are old; that is not necessarily the case.

The projected Labor Party policy is to have a registered nurse on duty 24/7 in every aged care facility, which equates to employing six registered nurses to cover the one position. This is very difficult to achieve given that government has allowed the nursing home to be separated from mainstream health care with different rules – and for aged care to be largely private. The more you diffuse the expertise of a group of professionals, especially with an absentee landlord, the more you undermine the staff morale which, in turn, leads to increased staff turnover.

When almost 20 years ago I started working as Director of Medical Services in a country hospital, to which was attached a nursing home, the first thing I did was a drug audit for each of the residents with the local pharmacist. I then asked each of the general practitioners how often they reviewed each resident’s medication charts, which most did with varying degrees of reluctance.

There was a visiting geriatrician at the time. “Visiting” was a joke. He would not visit the nursing home; insisting each patient be brought to the rooms from which he worked. Incredible. In the end I secured a mate of mine, a city geriatrician to periodically visit to not only see the nursing home residents but to also provide tutorials to the local doctors and other health professionals. The problem with any program which involves visiting staff is its sustainability.

When the policy makers – divorced from reality – say “train more staff”, it is far from a magic solution.

There are basically three ways of training staff

  • In dedicated training institutions,
  • On the job – apprenticeship style,
  • Importing staff trained in other countries,

coupled with:

  • Periodic in-service training programs.

To me, what is important is to reduce the attrition levels and minimise the spread of disease. Simple to say; hard to accomplish.

There has been a shift from people suffering stroke to those suffering dementia. The incidence of stroke has fallen because of improvement in cardiac treatment, in particular in the treatment of high blood pressure. With stroke, the hope is that the patient will improve; once improvement is stabilised, then the level of independent living ability can be assessed. The problem with dementia is to slow the rate of deterioration; but in both cases, redemption is a limited commodity.

Care of the aged as I have found out is care and competence. One of the most frustrating aspects to exercise even the basic function of getting out of a chair, which once was automatic, is having to wait for someone. The horrors of not being able to undertake normal bodily functions without soiling yourself is ever present. If many of the population are like me, impatient, then learning to wait becomes one of the challenges. This is compounded everywhere by the challenge of the furniture: once it was great to be able to sink into an armchair. Now the softness becomes a giant jellyfish from which you alone cannot escape.

The giant jellyfish

When I was involved with a nursing home attached to a country hospital, the key to its success was that the manager was very competent. Competency is being able to utilise the resources allocated to achieve that no patient is neglected – falls, hygiene, bed sores, nutrition, compliance with treatment being uppermost in those items monitored continually. She had an eye on how everyone was performing, which is what is needed in developing a coherent happy team and thus reducing the turnover of staff. This is important if employment is continually being disrupted by the pandemic.

I am one who believes that in community health structures you build from the bottom, not with great fanfare spray funding from the seat of government and the assumption it will work. There are packages of care everywhere, but who is monitoring the implementation rather than just the distribution of these government initiatives, which are often encased in impressive language, but of what meaning?

One may suggest a number of ways to improve the quality of care of the aged. I believe that there are indicators which denote good care. I also believe that there should be a credentialling, definition of practice and privileging system across the whole sector. When I tried to implement this process in aged care, despite it being the norm for hospitals, the Commonwealth Department of Health protested. Gives you an idea of the appalling track record of the Commonwealth Health Department in that sector. after all, has the sector improved since the kerosene bath era when Bronwyn Bishop was the Minister at the turn of the century? I have viewed hapless Federal Ministers, but the antics of Richard Colbeck in this sector shows how little the Coalition continue to view this sector of human existence.

As a result, a bad situation has festered.

Nursing homes should not be an area where the output is conspicuous consumption, as shown in the media by the acquisition of a yellow Lamborghini because of the apparent profitability embedded in the current aged care arrangements. As can be seen in the media, or in expensive church vestments (as we saw during the first year of COVID-19 when deaths in nursing homes were rampant), the residents of these facilities, many without comprehension, are in need of care, compassion and dignity. However, then give some thought to all the marvellous medical technology which has enabled lives to be extended in this way.

I am well aware that any system which seeks to monitor behaviour in all its forms will receive resistance; however, over a long period of time I have found that it works if you have the will to make it so. I am also a believer in hands-on management, not of the individual interaction between patient and health professional, but of the system. This has enabled me to pick up when inevitably, even with the best of intention, events go “pear-shaped”.

Also accept the blame for such situation where you are ultimately responsible. Then review when this happens – and one of the results of credentialing, defining the appropriate clinical practice and then privileging is that the staff members can learn from others – both the right and the wrong – with recriminations as a last resort.

Unfortunately, most systemic failures have an individual implicated; and that is often the hardest part – to get rid of that individual or individuals. A well constituted system under the new government, where all the parties are bought together in perhaps an electorate-based arrangement, so that each elected member can follow the monitoring of aged care in their electorate – and, as I said above, credentialing, definition of clinical practice and privileging would be one way of attracting attention to an area of past government neglect.

Perhaps a Prime Minister faced with the care of the aged will find out sooner than he thinks that he may need to enter its portals. Therefore he may like to receive periodic factual reports of what is currently occurring in his electorate of Grayndler and aim to visit each over the lifetime of the Parliament. After all, across Australia 151 committees should not be too much of a burden to assure better care of the aged, providing  insurance for that time which each of us will eventually reach, if we live long enough. To face being placed in a nursing home, and knowing that I will be cared for in the best way possible; not left to wallow and nobody comes.

After all, as I found out, 70 may be the new 50 years; but I assure you 80 is still 80.

I am not alone. However, even though there has been an extensive review of this area recently, who of us has been consulted? Who among us aged is the protector of that increasing group of people alongside me who are demented? You see in your contemporaries the slow decline in cognitive function, the irrational behaviour, and unless each one of them has a carer who truly cares for them and has the resilience to battle the many hurdles to getting an acceptable aged care situation, they end up on a scrap heap which, for administrative purposes, is called a nursing home.

The nursing home nightmare is when I cry out, but nobody comes.

Mouse Whisper

Serious Mouse! 

Since 1982, 123 mass shootings have been carried out in the USA by male gunmen. In contrast, only three mass shootings (defined by the source as a single attack in a public place in which four or more victims were killed) have been carried out by women.

Mass shooter

Modest Expectations – Grand Final Action

What do you do the day after an election when there has been a realignment of the Australian electorate? Suddenly a majority of Australians are voting to address climate change, for integrity and for now, time is being called on the Paul Hogan vision of the normal Australian – the end of The Australian Sheila – a dutiful object of the male frustration, where sexual violence masquerades as consensual behaviour.

Dargo

We went to Dargo. Dargo is a bush town, where the legend of the mountain is evident. As with so much of settlement in Victoria, it was the pursuit of gold which drove settlement at the foot of the Great Dividing Range where the Dargo River and Crooked Creek flow into the Mitchell River. Here there was alluvial gold and also deeper lead (lode) mining, which is so much the history of Victoria. However the gold did not last long around Dargo; it petered out to the extent that at one point Dargo verged on being a ghost town.

After you leave Dargo, you wind your way into the forested Great Dividing Range and the road eventually ends near the ski resort of Mount Hotham. It is a tortuous trip, a challenge to those prone to car sickness, through that other great resource of Eastern Victoria – timber. Cutting down old forest, which covers much of the land, has become as unfashionable as would tipping all the tailings from mineral mining down the Dargo River, and yet we are told that VicForests continues to actively log right through this area.

Dargo therefore embodies the myth of the rugged hard-riding horsemen of the bush ballad, but in reality these are the stuff of pub myths. The general laidback attitudes of the people belie the scrabble existence.

The day is beautiful; the air is clear. There is neither wind nor cloud. The deciduous trees are all vivid in a mixture of crimson, scarlet, bronze and yellow along the roads and in the Dargo township as it is basking in the late autumn sunshine. Yet much of the background for the mountain man myths are the hills covered in eucalypts. There are none of the variegated colours of the deciduous exotics on the mountainsides. There are these forests of messmate, with its stringy bark, the lofty mountain and alpine ash with their paler trunks. In the end, what is a deep green mountainside as it drifts away through the gorges and takes on the steely blue-green appearance so characteristic of the eucalypt forests. We wonder how much of these mountains has been traversed by white man; and then one of the group pointed out the electric power lines. The area is riddled with deer, which attracts the hunter.  The rivers attract the angler in search of wild trout.

This area has not been burnt for a long time, although to the east there have been devastating bush fires, which razed the settlements of Genoa and Mallacoota two years ago. Today, bush fire season is so far away – and yet Dargo has been threatened and will be again. As we drive through it, the endless expanse of blackened trunks is wreathed with new growth and mingle with white forest skeletons that will never to regenerate.

But today with a bottle of beer I am contemplating a beautiful landscape, where the fire did not come; where there is not a ballot box nor hoarding spruiking some far-off candidate who may never have stepped in the town. This is bliss. We do not see the tears of the vanquished nor the victory speeches nauseating in the myriad of fleeting acknowledgements – only Australian beauty, where only recently in a major coup, back down the valley towards Bairnsdale, a sand mining proposal on the Mitchell River, which would have ripped the guts out of this area has been refused by the local people.

The silt jetties

When we come down from Dargo to the Coast, before we return to where we are staying, we are driven down this long spit of land – the Mitchell River Silt Jetties, which divide the Mitchell River from Lake King.  This narrow tongue of land, which has been built up over thousands of years, is the longest of its type in the world. The river flows into Lake King at the end of this long tongue of silt and sand.

The river shimmers in the twilight, protected from the lake where its waters are now ruffled by the wind coming in from the south-west. Yet despite the buffeting, black swans glide past. What a day to spend; what sights to be seen – and yet another place on the bucket list to be crossed off – or more properly committed to my bank of memories – of places seen, places experienced; a pity I can no longer tramp around as I used to do.

But a memorable election day. Australia has been voted in.

What can I say about the Member for Longman!

They say bad generals always fight the last war, and the Liberal campaign fell into the same trap. Morrison won a surprise victory in 2019 through a negative campaign in which he depicted then-Labor leader Bill Shorten as a dangerous radical. Labor, wary of giving Morrison a second victory, changed its strategy. It matched many of Morrison’s policies and was cautious in its own offerings. Labor was like an echidna, the spiky Australian animal that rolls into a ball when attacked. Morrison kept attacking, as if he knew no other mode, even though Labor’s small-target strategy gave him so few opportunities.

Our own Richard Glover in The Washington Post ascribed ten reasons why Morrison lost government. You cannot disagree with his list, but the reason printed above is the one which went to the heart of Morrison’s failure.

Morrison was the classic flim-flam man who perfected his techniques through his association with Pentecostalism. It enabled him to surf his waves of personal impotence right to the end. His problem was that the spotlight became so intense that the greasepaint melted and he was exposed as an aggressive peddler of untruths. Morrison’s entrails will be barbecued on the fires of Hybris ignited by the fire-starter of “hubris”.

When Whitlam ended 23 years of Coalition rule, the Liberal Party voted for a new leader on the resignation of McMahon, himself a very divisive unpleasant character. The choice made was for Bill Snedden, who had been McMahon’s Treasurer; considered to be a nice guy, but lightweight. He beat Nigel Bowen on the fifth ballot by one vote.

Bowen, who was a distinguished jurist, had replaced Garfield Barwick as the member for Parramatta in 1964, (which indicates that the seat does not have to be held by a local). The current high-flying wealthy young banker, Andrew Charlton, lived in Bellevue Hill at the time of his parachute pre-selection; he not only won, but achieved a one per cent swing towards him. This is by way of a parenthetic comment about what has been occurring for some time, namely that any electorate increasingly cannot be taken for granted – a theme in Australian politics which will cause traditional shifts in alignments. Now back to the main narrative.

Billy Snedden

Malcolm Fraser did badly in this ballot, because he was seen as disruptive and had at that stage an enemy/friend ratio well in the positive. So Snedden, who had grown up in Perth but represented the outer Melbourne suburban seat of Bruce, became Opposition leader and Philip Lynch, the member for Flinders, his deputy. He inherited a divided party and over the course of his two-year stewardship, he was able to reconcile the differences to such an extent that Fraser, pictured as the tough guy, became viable. Nevertheless, bringing the Opposition together as Snedden had done, paradoxically projected him as not being tough enough, namely, in the long term, unfit – and of course the lightweight tag became featherweight if not flyweight among the Fraser acolytes. A member of these acolytes was the newly-minted John Howard.

Thus, the tough guy persona, despite the rants from the “Murdochrinaires”, is not the way to heal a party divided. These people are screaming for the anointment of Peter Dutton. Dutton is an ex-Queensland copper made good. The Queensland police force has been shown on many occasions to be wanting, and to stigmatise Peter Dutton is as much to stigmatise me for being a product of a school that had produced its fair share of “shonks”.

The second reservation is that Queensland has never produced a Liberal Party Prime Minister. Arthur Fadden was the nearest, a Country party stalwart, who was Prime Minister in his own right for 40 days in 1941. However ne’er a Liberal; only fleetingly the Country Party member for Darling Downs, who later was to be Menzies’ Deputy Prime Minister.

One of the results of a major loss is that the Senate representation remains and contains many of the most dysfunctional members of the Party. They remind one of the Calwell stewardship of the Labor Party – as totally unelectable on the left as these jokers are on the right. If one is familiar with the writings of Georges Sorel, one can recognise the similarity in the authoritarian attitudes and behaviour of these people, who live on the extremes. If you viewed the post-election rant of Rowan Dean, it gives a terrifying view of the world of the extreme authoritarian hatred. These people are backing Dutton.

The West Australian Premier dismisses Dutton as a dullard, and his form of strident form of dogmatism and fear mongering will not run well in the southern states, if reliance can be placed on the current voting patterns

Morrison, Abbott, Dutton – mocking climate change

Anybody who said, as he did in 2015: (sic) Noting that today’s meeting on Syrian refugees was running a bit late, Mr Dutton remarked that it was running to “Cape York time”, to which Mr Abbott replied, “we had a bit of that up in Port Moresby”.

Mr Dutton then added, “time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door”.

That exchange alone should disqualify him from the leadership at this time; it was outrageous then, but now, has he demonstrated any change for the better?

The Liberal Party needs to purge itself, not play to a diminishing gallery of misfits. I well remember one of my contemporaries describing the Young Liberals as “five per cent of lawyers leading ninety-five per cent misfits.” This assessment may remain partially true now. These days the misfits are just absorbed in a politician’s office to develop their consigliere profiles. Thankfully, at last the true results of such a generation of these types are being brutally exposed.

The Liberal party needs a healer and one who can reach across Australia, including regional Australia – and that includes humouring the Queenslanders. Snedden had the guts to do so almost 50 years ago. I severely doubt that Dutton has that ability to do that – reach across Australia.

Tell me what is a pharmacist?

From the days of gentlemanly pharmacy

In 1961 I sat down to undertake the last Materia Medica examination for medical students. It was then part of the medical course that we learnt to make pills, lotions and ointment – and the last memory of this immersion in the world of the apothecary was a brush with male extract of fern. That herbalism epitomises “the alchemist” struggling to be accepted. It exemplified the quaintness of the village chemist, with carboys in the windows and the apprenticeship system of pestle and mortar. Our teacher, an old gentleman with a medical degree and a nineteenth century demeanour, passed into folklore that year with the change of the medical course to substitute pharmacology, and the advance of science into the education of the apothecary.

I remember The University of Melbourne rejecting the idea of having a faculty of pharmacy, even though the Pharmacy College was just up the road. Instead, Monash University took on the education of pharmacists. I think The University of Melbourne hierarchy at the time thought that Pharmacy should use the tradesman’s entrance. In fact, the Monash Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is now labelled number one in world

In a recent statement, the Dean, Professor Arthur Christopoulos, said: “The pandemic has certainly reinforced the crucial and frontline role that pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists play in society. Over and above their normal services, we’ve seen the whole sector step up and play a huge role in vaccine rollout.”

The Faculty, known for its high profile research through Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS), is responsible for the development of Australia’s first mRNA vaccine candidate for COVID-19 and in 2021 launched the Neuromedicines Discovery Centre. The NDC is an end-to-end academic enterprise for the discovery, development, evaluation, manufacture, and clinical rollout of 21st-century medicines to treat mental health disorders, as well as the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre, which supports Victorian biotech and pharma companies to develop a competitive edge and retain jobs within the state.

The Australian Pharmacy Research Centre was one of the first steps in trying to develop a research program in community pharmacy, and illustrated the dichotomy of the academic pursuit between laboratory and community pharmacy, of which the hospital pharmacist is a subset of the latter.

The problem with community pharmacy, because it is dependent on reimbursement of drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, has meant the merchant pharmacist, through the Pharmacy Guild, has become a powerful lobby, with the merchant aspect well to the front. Pharmacists have been very strong on restrictive trade practices, and because they have been seen by a succession of Coalition governments as political “blue” outposts, they have done very well out of government largesse. Even the big retailers have been unable to establish pharmacies within their walls, despite having a prominent Liberal Party politician to lobby for them.

The residual problem is that these large chain pharmacies have arisen presumably through a loophole of benefit to the entrepreneurial pharmacist. This is a licence to promote quackery, and not unsurprisingly the Government has done nothing despite having the regulatory power. But then the Pharmacy Guild has been a major donor.

… everything you could want, and then some

Personally, I have a very good local pharmacist, and her pharmacy is not a sterile dispensary but a place where the pharmacist is a source of good advice. Nevertheless, it sticks in the craw to be confronted by television images, usually of young healthy people with children, with shopping baskets overflowing with bottles of vitamins and potions; the implicit message is that it is good, even compulsory, to take all this crap in order “to keep well”.

Further, when these co-called pharmacies move into the cosmetic industry it challenges the definition of what is a pharmacy? What are the professional priorities?

It is one area which must be a priority in any review – whether a health review or as a matter for an Integrity Commission – and I have yet to address the role of the pharmaceutical industry in listing drugs for government subsidy without the need to say “bingo”.

COVID Bare Foot

Guest sufferer: Janine Sargeant

COVID has been blamed for many things, including COVID toe, but COVID ankle? While the “dress shirt above the waist Zoom dressing” and styling your Zoom background may have been entertaining for a while, the accompanying tracksuit pants and bare feet or slippers have resulted in a raft of unexpected injuries. As many of us have spent time working from home in lockdown or avoiding the busy office environment, it has also meant not wearing supportive footwear. For the barefooted and be-slippered, this has delivered up a nasty surprise (particularly for those who normally do wear orthotics).

Nice to wear … just not for too long

Essentially, extended periods in bare feet or slippers plus a lack of regular “normal” exercise have left many with posterior tibial tendonitis (inflamed or stretched tendon that supports the arch of the foot) which can lead to arch collapse and permanent foot problems.

Similarly, the Achilles tendons of the working-from-home brigade have also taken a beating, again with what one expert described as “neglectful footwear”, a few extra COVID kilos, a lack of exercise, the change to treadmill running, prolonged closure of gyms and loss of exercise programs – in other words, the complete change in physical routine brought about by COVID lockdowns.

As one podiatrist commented: he couldn’t believe the number of people who have come to see him with Achilles problems or posterior tibial tendonitis. Such people now need orthotics to help them restore function to their feet; no doubt the physios are seeing the same unintended consequence of working at home. For this author’s painful ankle, the road to resolution is paved with new orthotics and months of exercises designed to strengthen the offending tendon – and a long break from “neglectful footwear”.

Requiem for a Light Welterweight

Really Schadenfreude is not a nice word. I am sure that one Andrew Peacock (or perhaps the ghost of the colt galloping the streets of Hawthorn) would have appreciated finally the final exit of John Howard, a person who started the fashion of a Liberal Prime Minister losing or abruptly vacating their seat.

From the time Howard entered politics in 1974, behind that mild-mannered courteous exterior has dwelt a wellspring of relentless hatred. Do not get me wrong; in his early years as Prime Minister, he made a reasonable fist of it, and he had members of his staff who provided a counterbalance to his instincts which helped preserve his public persona – no more so than Arthur Sinodinos, the long-term moderate who ran his office. For a short period in the early noughties, I was privy to the workings of him as the Prime Minister.

He achieved the shift of the Liberal Party power base to New South Wales, and left the Hamer Liberals in his wake, while detesting Kennett in this latter’s brief flame of power. I remember being at the Adelaide Airport on one occasion when Howard and I were retrieving our luggage. It was the time that Howard was out in the long grass in the early 90s. The initial exchange was inconsequential, when something I said triggered a vituperative response that he would get “them”. Apart from not being one of “them”, before I could ask him who the “them” was, he had rushed off. He disliked Costello, and there was something visceral about his approach to Victoria. I have always wondered whether the “them” were the Victorian Liberals. Paul Keating also was surely one of “them”; Howard was always expansive in his hatreds.  Whether or not it can be attributed to him, Victoria had become more and more toxic for the Liberal Party.

John Howard

But all this is a long time ago, and rather than just advise from the background, Howard still allowed himself to be pushed around in this election campaign. Why? It seems that even 15 years later he still cannot perceive the tsunami coming.

In a way, as a contemporary old buffer, I feel sorry for him. However, the imagery of an old age person with antiquated views campaigning provided a view of the Liberal Party where men wore morning suits and badges, and women made pumpkin scones. The image was painful and did not win any votes.

Bit of gratuitous advice John, write a blog about improving the treatment of the aged and then imagine anybody is reading it. It helps endure life in the gloaming – it is certainly better than just being plonked in front of TV set or wheeled around in a metaphorical Zimmer frame watching your legacy trampled.

Mouse Whisper

If I hear the new Prime Minister mention his rags to riches commentary once again, I doubt if I will be able to hold down my Emmenthaler.

However, I loved the comment which said that the Prime Minister must be happy to be back in public housing again after so many years. Maybe though he could flog off Kirribilli and take over Admiralty House.  Then build public housing on site, except even a mouse could imagine the potential homo sapiens rorts with such a project.

In any event, Governors-General don’t need summer palaces at the cost to the taxpayer. The hunting lodge at Yarralumla should more than do.

The Yarralumla Hunting Lodge – rabbit stew anyone?

Modest Expectations – For we who are about to gobble, at this point, we give thanks

Tomorrow all will be revealed – perhaps.

Whoever wins will be faced with having to govern, unlike what has happened over the past decade. This was the time of the lotus land; when the rich became richer and the dispossessed were harassed by false gods and more and more were caught in the culture of poverty.

I remember when Whitlam went to the electorate with a number of proposals among which was the proposal for satellite cities, and consequently increased housing. Albury-Wodonga remains as the partial legacy, but then the two cities were well established. Later I was on a government committee picking over the residual Albury-Wodonga policy which had severely changed from the original vision; looking back we got a pass mark, but it could have been better.

In Opposition, Whitlam developed a whole raft of policies between 1969 and 1972, the most successful long term being Medibank later Medicare. At the same time, the Federal Government was going through a series of debilitating internal power struggles. However, the heavy emphasis on social reform  by the Whitlam Government ran headlong into the 1973 oil crisis when the members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEAC) led by Saudi Arabia proclaimed an oil embargo. The embargo was targeted at nations that had supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War. By the end of the embargo in March 1974, the price of oil had risen nearly 300 per cent, from US$3 per barrel to nearly $12 per barrel globally.

I well remember the big spending budget of 1973. It ignored the global situation, where there was a great deal of unrest in the Middle East with the Yom Kippur sorely testing Israel’s sovereignty. The Vietnam War was winding down, and its divisive impact on this country could not be underestimated. Here Whitlam read the mood to such an extent that the visit of the Coalition leader, Bill Snedden, to China in mid 1973 evoked no antipathy from his previously strongly anti-China Party.

Nevertheless, the response of Snedden to the Budget emphasised the inflationary effect of the Government’s ambitious social engineering.

Average earnings shot up 15.3 per cent, as the government backed big wage rises. Consumer prices rose 13.2 per cent, as global food shortages pushed up food prices. In October 1973, the OPEAC cartel doubled world oil prices. Inflation worldwide shot into double digits, and Australia slumped into recession together with the rest of the World.

Thus, I have a very acute sense of déjà vu with the post-election scenario with which the incoming government will be presented, given the confetti trail of electoral promises. The problem is that the two major parties seem to think that governing Australia is a late night poker game, with bids matched, bids being raised and a huge amount of bluffing, especially as most of the hands, if called out, would be found to be worthless.

From afar Trump has been a destructive force as he has fomented distrust – distrust in government and in a civilisation, the resultant of eons of interactions and at a cost of so many lives, so that in the end, people doubt their heritage in the face of false gods, which in the end prejudice our survival, not only as a nation but a viable world.

Putin has reminded us of how fragile the concept of globalisation is when you start a war in Europe, without giving any thought to how long it will last. He is one of the genre who believe in resolution by conflict – but you understand that if you lose, you lose big time. The problem of a huge loss, particularly of face, is that the word “resolution” gets dropped – and only the word “conflict” remains.

In the last week of a campaign in this country, all the Prime Minister can say is that he will change as the country, rather than emerging in the light, is trundling along in a handcart into the gloom.

Mate, there is a European war going on; Biden has a fragile grasp on a country which is in danger of imploding under the weight of the Trumpian mendacity and above all, climate change is the real challenge.

Instead of providing a strategy to work our way out of coal dependency, and the vice-like grip of the oil and gas producers, who pay very little if any tax, Australia needs to pursue a strategy to cope with increasing manifestations of climate change in floods and bushfires.

We have a hapless, self-pitying Prime Minister and a bodgie housing proposal, dumped on the electorate in the last week of the campaign. Otherwise, there is just divisive rhetoric penetrating further than the normal way that two major party democracies in the British tradition of dialectic operate.

No time during this electoral campaign has any politician in the Coalition or Labour Policy confronted the dilemma of a nationwide settlement policy to cope with the climate change. For example, the town of Gympie flooding three times in one year provides a clear example which Governments must confront, without giving mates inflated contracts without a tender process. All this rather than undertake a serious attempt in the face of climate change to flood and drought proof, fire proof and cyclone proof this country. This is an enormous yet essential task if we as Australians, as members of the human race, cling to survival.

Coral bleaching, Great Barrier Reef

But what do we see? A proliferation of sports stadia proposals. Queensland, with its unique Great Barrier Reef, is under environmental threat because of a combination of neglect, deliberate despoliation and avarice, yet the State wants to waste money on circuses. Why?  So that politicians can satiate their endless pool of low self-esteem with opening ceremonies and self-congratulatory pomp.

At least in 1972 Australia had a real choice.

A Patch of Persimmons

I once read that of all fruit, persimmons were the most consumed by humans. I read that the fruit was popular in Asia, and I remember having been to dinner at a friend’s place, and they produced persimmons for dessert. I got the impression that they were as unfamiliar with persimmons as I was, but were attracted by the shiny golden colour with the red blush, and my wife and I would be suitable guinea pigs.

Because of the tannin content, these persimmons were one of the astringent varieties, as I was to learn later. I described it at the time as my mouth being like Axminster carpet. As I alluded to that in my blog last week when discussing unlikely food consumption, how would I know what carpet tastes like. Then I remembered that as a child I was always falling over and copping a mouthful of carpet. Thus I would not be surprised if I do have multiple taste memories locked into my brain from falling on my face on so many carpets as an infant.

Since that astringent experience, I was at first wary before again eating persimmons. They were not common in Australian supermarkets, and before we ate one, we generally waited until it was soft, almost slush, and the skin disintegrating.

Last week, we were driving into the Northland town of Kerikeri, when we saw an orchard named Persimmon Patch. I had never been into a persimmon orchard, even though I had worked around the fruit growing areas of Victoria, where I would have expected to find them growing, if not in a dedicated orchard. I had once seen a persimmon tree growing in a suburban garden in Melbourne bearing fruit. Not much comparison.

Here in Kerikeri there was a small 1.5 hectare orchard of persimmon trees. Most of them had been picked, but there was still a number of trees within the Patch which had fruit. Persimmons tend to be expensive in Australia but here a bag of a dozen or so costs NZ$10. Most of the trees in this orchard are Fuyu, which are not astringent.

They were nevertheless very firm, and so we put them in a brown paper bag with a couple of bananas for a couple of days. They remained firm, but as we were told they were a bit like an apple to eat, we cut them open, and even though they were firm, they were ripe; they had what some may say “crunch”. As they ripen and soften, unlike apples, they do not go bad. The flesh just detaches from the skin, which then just falls away.

In this case, being so cheap we were able to eat them until we looked like a persimmon – well not with the green topknot.

Persimmons apparently are berries, which I find extraordinary perhaps as they look like any other fruit trees. It is a pity the fruit is not more widely available, but there is a downside in its cultivation. As one US authority has written: “Because of the trees’ genetic mobility, there has never been a complete taxonomic study of persimmons, and growers can’t be completely sure what varieties they have. To make matters worse, persimmons are notoriously fickle; about fifty percent of grafts fail, and healthy trees can die for no obvious reason a couple years into their growth.”

However, introduction to unfamiliar fruit can leave lasting memories.

I well remember in the 1960s being confronted by my first avocado, and they were as hard as rocks because nobody at the dinner party had ever eaten one. Everyone gave up trying to eat them they were so hard.

Similarly, later when middle eastern cooking entered the Australian cuisine, so did the pomegranate. The immediate question was what to do with one. One cannot just bite into a pomegranate and have a good sensation. One needs to cut them open and gouge the red pearly seeds out of the white fibrous pith. Once synonymous with a certain exclusiveness, pomegranate is scattered everywhere now in salads. Grenadine, the juice of the pomegranate, bobs up in cocktails, and provides a characteristic intense red – Tequila Sunrise is one such cocktail.

Years ago, I casually mentioned my interest in pomegranate growing when I was visiting a hospital in the Sunraysia District in North-western Victoria. The then Chair of the hospital board looked a little uneasy after I said that I was growing pomegranates. I wondered why. Pomegranates were literally a new fruit on the Block. It turned out that he was proposing to invest heavily in pomegranate growing; and my comments suggested that I might be a potential investor that he did not know about, and my hospital visit was just a cover.

I should have told him that I was talking about of a couple of trees in my garden at home in Sydney.

Old Men Get Lost

The following edited article from The Washington Post contains a warning, especially as the debate over abortion has been inflamed by the Alito draft decision that would effectively overturn Roe vs Wade. In the case of the candidate for the Warringah electorate, there is one Katherine Deves, whose definite views in relation to the gender alphabet have been equally divisive

She is an unattractive zealot. In themselves, the zealots are few, but bigotry and intolerance may only need shallow soil. Living in Sydney with (a)the rood-screen of a reactionary Roman Catholic Archbishop with his Pell association, (b) an Anglican diocese, the inheritor of the Marsden version of Protestantism, a cuckoo within Anglican nest and (c) a Hillsong-friendly Pentecostal Prime Minister as her mentor. All encapsulate the Australian version of Make America Great Again (MAGA), and like all weeds, poor soil is no bar to growth.

We can hope that this scenario does not become the norm here. The success or otherwise tomorrow, the rise of the independent women seeking a voice in government, will be a critical factor in stemming the nightmare of Trump primitivism, which masquerades as religion.

Use of outrage against outlier groups such the transgenders just to create a totally confected conflict is disquieting… but let me hand over to the Opinion Piece in The Washington Post:

People might be confused about how a Republican Party that once worried about government overreach now seeks to control medical care for transgender children and retaliate against a corporation for objecting to a bill targeting LGBTQ students. And why is it that the most ambitious Republicans are spending more time battling nonexistent critical race theory in schools than on health care or inflation?

To explain this, one must acknowledge that the GOP is not a political party anymore. It is a movement dedicated to imposing White Christian nationalism.

The media blandly describes the GOP’s obsessions as “culture wars,” but that suggests there is another side seeking to impose its views on others. In reality, only one side is repudiating pluralistic democracy — White, Christian and mainly rural Americans who are becoming a minority group and want to maintain their political power. 

The indignation of (MAGA) personalities when presented with the reality of systematic racism is telling and very much in line with White evangelical Christian views. As Robert P. Jones, the head of the Public Religion Research Institute who has written extensively on the evangelical movement, explained in an interview with Governing:

What we saw in the 20th century was that edifice of white supremacy that got built with the support of white Christian leaders and pastors and churches. Once it was built, the best way to protect it was to make it invisible, to create a kind of theology that was so inward focused that Christianity was only about personal piety. It was disconnected from social justice, politics, the world. It led white Christians to be fairly narcissistic and indifferent to injustice all around them. Martin Luther King Jr. had that line in Letter from Birmingham Jail where he’s in dismay not about racist Christians, but about so-called moderates in Birmingham, the “more cautious than courageous” white Christians who “remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.”

Indeed, rarely has King’s admonition been more appropriate: “I have watched white churches stand on the sidelines and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, ‘Those are social issues which the gospel has nothing to do with’.”

Today, those who argue that America is a White, Christian nation simultaneously insist they are devoid of bigotry. The MAGA crowd is offended by any attempt to identify the ongoing reality of systemic racism (evident, for example, in the criminal justice system, maternal health care, housing discrimination and gerrymandering to reduce minority voting power). The notion that institutions they refuse to reform perpetuate racism is a sort of moral challenge to their claim to be “colorblind.” Perhaps it is simply self-interested blindness.

No one should be surprised that the “big lie” has become gospel in White evangelical churches. The New York Times reports: “In the 17 months since the presidential election, pastors at these churches have preached about fraudulent votes and vague claims of election meddling. … For these church leaders, Mr. Trump’s narrative of the 2020 election has become a prominent strain in an apocalyptic vision of the left running amok.”

If anti-critical-race-theory crusades are the response to racial empathy, then laws designed to make voting harder or to subvert elections are the answer to the GOP’s defeat in 2020, which the right still refuses to concede. The election has been transformed into a plot against right-wingers that must be rectified by further marginalizing those outside their movement.

Our political problems are significant, but they are minor compared with the moral confusion that is afflicting the millions of White Christian Americans who consider themselves victims. Left unaddressed, this will smother calls for empathy, tolerance and justice.

The Plough and Feather

I have always remembered when I had an exceptional fish, I have written about consuming barramundi directly caught in the Gut at Wyndham and eating them on a Good Friday when the temperature was over 40 degrees centigrade. Remembering such seafood encounters is just one of my idiosyncrasies.

I remember sitting at a table by the window in a hotel overlooking the Cambridge  Backs, having ordered a Dover sole and being presented with it, pan fried, filling the plate. Every time I came to England I would order Dover sole. Fresh sole is just not available here in Australia; yes I also like to eat its cousin, the flounder. A colleague would regularly go “floundering” in Port Phillip Bay and bring back some for dinner. Flounder is similar in appearance to sole, but Dover sole has a distinctive taste accentuated by its flamboyant presentation as I said smothering the plate with a few potatoes. However, what singled this particular sole encounter out and made it memorable was that Stephen Hawking was wheeled past along in the path outside during our meal. You may say a different form of singularity.

I have collected a whole memory of fish dinners.

The latest was in a nondescript white weatherboard building with a wrap-around veranda. It houses the Plough and Feather restaurant with both inside and outside an odd variety of chairs and tables giving it a slight eccentricity. But the outlook over the Kerikeri tidal basin was exceptional  on these sunny couple of days when there was no wind and the temperature hovered around the mid-20s centigrade.  Across the gravel and asphalt lay the oldest building in New Zealand, the Old Stone Store, part of the missionary legacy and built between 1832 and 1836. It was a real village idyll!

Old Stone Store

But it was the food that made my day. In particular, it was the Bluenose, also known as bluenose trevalla or cod, a steel-coloured reef fish with a blunt snout found only in the waters around New Zealand. It is described, when I later read about it, as “succulent”. I would agree; it was a great eating fish. I had never heard of it before I saw it on the menu.

It brought back memories of years ago when I was taken out for lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Indian Ocean in Geraldton and being presented with bald chin groper, itself a local fish found in the sea around the Abrolhos on the menu. Again, I had never heard of bald chin groper.

We were later taken out for a weekend on the Abrolhos, a line of coral reefs about 60 kilometres off the Coral Coast, where privileged burghers of Geraldton may be seen at weekends. Then there was an abundance of seafood – crayfish every meal if you wanted it.

The similarity between the two sites, Kerikeri and Geraldton, was in the unexpected nature of the encounter with these pan fried fish and the magnificent taste of each coupled with the presentation of each on the plate. It is a strange characteristic with fish; they may be described as oily or not, they can be described by colour and texture – but when it comes to taste, it is fleeting – distinctive yet indescribable. Neither etched on your taste buds nor in your brain.

Blue nose

Let’s be honest. My fish stories are a shorthand way of conveying some the most pleasurable epicurean moments of my life. Please excuse this indulgence. I can assure you that there are more dots along the Jack Best Seafood Trail.

Mouse Whisper 

When does Turkey become Peru?

When you consider the bird to be Portuguese.

Modest Expectations – Romeo, Romeo, where art thou?

Overlooking wild surf beaches, through rolling forested areas, past marae on the road between Russell and Whangerei was the sign in Ukrainian colours “Stop Putin – Stop War”.

Yes, this week we are in New Zealand. The only readily available news is sport, and the Sky sport channels provide one with the luxury of tuning into any of the popular football codes. However, in regard to news there is BBC, Al-Jazeera and CNN, together with the Murdoch propaganda channels – and Ukraine is there with all the Putrid reminders.

The wonderful feature of New Zealand is how varied yet peaceful is the countryside. Nevertheless, New Zealand lives on the edge, and its nickname of “The Shaky Isles” is well-earned. New Zealand lies on fault line; here the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates meet in a complicated manner. The edges of these plates, which meet under New Zealand, are not straight lines so the collision zone does not behave the same way along its whole length. Also, the convergence is not perpendicular to the plate boundary and there is rotation of the plates, hence an addition to this complex boundary.

New Zealand’s volcanoes and earthquakes happen because it is in this collision zone where the edges of two plates converge and moreover to the east of the North Island the heavy, oceanic Pacific Plate is sinking below the lighter, continental Australian Plate. This is called subduction.

When major earthquakes and volcanoes are plotted worldwide they reveal that New Zealand is part of a huge “ring” of volcanic and earthquake activity. The plate boundaries around the Pacific Ocean are the most active in the world and this area is often referred to as the “Ring of Fire”. Although the Pacific Plate is the world’s largest tectonic plate, the South Island is the only significant area of New Zealand on the whole plate, thus making it a truly oceanic plate.

The upshot of this long description is that the further north one travels, the less likely there will be a major earthquake. To me, if I were to migrate to New Zealand as I have been sorely tempted to do, given the state of Australian turpitude, I would thus prefer to live in these upper reaches of the North Island. As I remarked before, when staying a little further north, there were bananas ripening and the flowers are distinctly tropically flamboyant. In this motel outside our door is a rhododendron with delicate tangerine flowers. Opening the local newspaper there is a double page spread about coffee growing up here in the Northland.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Hawkes Bay area, but the beautiful Art Deco architecture is a reminder of the massive 1931 earthquake, which effectively levelled both Napier and Hastings; hence the characteristic architecture of the rebuilt towns. I remember the story of the earth movement raising the floor of the lagoon to such an extent during that earthquake that the water drained away leaving a huge number of fish literally out of water. The image of people scurrying across the floor of the lagoon grabbing as many fish as they could, while all round was trembling and 256 people have just died is somewhat Brueghelesque.

That is enough incentive to move to Northland.

Bay of Islands

However, enough of this rhapsodising, for in this new world of COVID-19 before you leave Australia and enter New Zealand, you need to have a COVID test – either a PCR or a supervised RAT (Rapid Antigen Test). Now we all know that you can test yourself; but not if you are going to New Zealand, you have to go to a “certified testing site” for this supervised test.

Ah, Australia – the land of neoliberal gouging! We got off lightly – $110 for two. However, elsewhere the gouge was on – over $100 for one. Try one of the multi-national pathology companies which repatriate our Medicare money overseas. The unintended consequences of government indifference to what was once an excellent scheme called Medicare – now MediCarruptus!

However, I digress.

Get to New Zealand where neoliberalism lingers in the ghost of Rogernomics. Concern for the Virus is sustained more than in Australia. On entry to the country the New Zealand authorities gave us three RATs each, for free, for self-testing on day one and day five/six. An extra test was provided in the event of the test needing to be repeated. Self-administered; self-reported – at no cost. Day one RATs went without a hitch, as did RATs on Day 5.

Higgins 2019 as writ by The Guardian

“The people of Higgins — a compassionate community that wants to see a transition to a renewable economy to tackle climate change — see that the Liberals don’t represent their values anymore.”

Ms O’Dwyer joins a string of Liberal women who are departing at this year’s election. (describing in other media she wanted to be with her family and wistfully wanting a third child even though she was already over 40)

Queensland MP Jane Prentice was dumped by preselectors, South Australian Lucy Gichuhi was relegated to an unwinnable spot on the party’s Senate ticket, and Ann Sudmalis blamed “branch-stacking, undermining and leaks” for her decision not to recontest the New South Wales seat of Gilmore.

Julia Banks also abandoned the Liberal Party late last year and moved to the crossbench, describing the treatment of women in Parliament as “years behind” the business world.

The usual suspects?

Less than one quarter of Government MPs are women, while nearly half of all federal ALP MPs are women.

The Liberal Party has a goal for women to make up half of its party room by 2025

Higgins 2022 as writ by Katie

Kelly O’Dwyer having resigned, the Liberal Party preselected a woman, a paediatrician with impeccable credentials in allergy – particularly peanuts.

Katie Allen – wow Katie – not Katherine or even Kate but Katie. She must be a radical.

Alas no; if the opinion piece she recently ventilated is any guide.

After all, what was such an educated person doing in a party where misogyny is rife, where its ministers allegedly bash their partners, where funding for universities, health and research is routinely sacrificed to satisfy the coal fetishists lurking in the denizens.

Perhaps Higgins is perceived as a safe seat. Harold Holt held it for decades.

After the former leader of the Greens, Dr Di Natale, boasted before the 2019 election that Higgins was up for grabs, it was retained by the Coalition.  Thus, in the end he was wrong. Katie Allen sneaked over the line with a six per cent swing against her.

Given she is a woman, with substantial credibility from her career achievements, her electorate stretches from South Yarra and Toorak, (her comfortable stamping ground) to Murrumbeena and Carnegie – less so. She is a classical Liberal lady in the Margaret Guilfoyle tradition – very self-contained – only showing her real hand rarely.

Yet here we have an opinion piece which is just arrant nonsense.

I suspect if she were not a female she would have a Teal candidate added to the Rouge et Verde already confronting her.

I read her piece and thought here we go again. I was working for the Liberal Party leader when little Katie was a six year old and the only difference is that it is a woman allegedly saying the same old “broad church” crap – the apologia of a conservative person, who has been caught up in the brutish rural socialism and plutocracy of the National Party; wedged among the kleptomaniac remnant of the Liberal Party. Whether she authored the piece would be the subject of a statutory declaration saying that she had actually written it.

Dr Allen as reflected in her pronouncements is deeply embedded in the Liberal Party, and once stood for the seat of Prahran. Her electorate at one end represents the environment in which she has lived for her 40 years. Her electorate encompasses the dilemma of once being safe, now redistributed to include areas which traditionally are more Labor in orientation.

Over the years Higgins has stretched out to include areas that somebody inured to living in Higgins for 40 years would find unfamiliar. The image she projects in her advertisements is that of wholesome privilege; many photos of her with children from private schools, but then they have traditionally been the backbone of the future voters in Higgins. After all, she herself was a student at Merton Hall, which is now just outside her electorate – a matter of a few streets.

So here is the member of Higgins defending a party that is deeply misogynistic, deeply embedded in financial miscreance, opposed to an anti-corruption commission with real power, and moreover a former paediatrician who should be voicing opposition to the internment of refugee children including the “Biloela Four”. She bleats that she has actually crossed the floor once – and is that the face of the moderate Liberals?  Once, surely not!

Then she has the temerity to rhetorically ask: “But what does he (Fred Chaney) think will happen after the election if any of my moderate colleagues, who sit inside the party room, have been replaced by teal independents who aren’t inside the tent?”

What indeed.

I hesitate to say it but if she survives this election, she should use her expertise in peanut allergy to reform the Coalition. Otherwise she had better leave the tent flap open.

The Big Question

What does a breakout company like Moderna do for an encore? More than a decade after its founding, the Cambridge biotech rolled out its first commercial product last year. And what a debut it was: a cutting-edge COVID-19 vaccine that helped to save thousands ― if not millions ― of lives around the world.

It was also a massive money maker for Moderna, which up until then had been unprofitable. With more than $38 billion in total COVID-19 vaccine sales expected by the end of this year ― many of the doses paid for by governments ― investors are wondering what the company plans to do with that windfall. Despite Moderna’s spectacular success, the question of what’s next looms large, and the pressure is on to avoid becoming a one-hit wonder.

The same profit is expected for Pfizer and their vaccine. While there are accusations of excessive profits floating about, it is noted that Moderna is not seeking any payment for its vaccine being copied in South Africa.

Teal – the added colour of Port Adelaide

When Port Adelaide were admitted to the AFL the colour card was held at their head. Collingwood were the true Magpies – and their colours (even though neither is technically a colour) would remain black and white. The interlopers with their Prison Bar black and white jersey would henceforth have teal added to their colours and be forever “Power” not “Magpies.”

After all, this was a proud group of Croweaters, who at various times have been Cockledivers, Seaside Men, Seasiders, Magentas, Portonians, Ports. So switching onto the Power should have not been too much of a “big Teal”.

The colour “teal” comes from the green flash on the side of the teal duck’s head (teal comes the old Dutch word for this bird). Well, the colour is not actually green but a shade of blue admixed. To me the colour of the bird’s head is more a metallic green sometimes seen as the colour of souped up Holdens. However, those who have appropriated the colour for political purposes as was attempted in New Zealand in an aborted attempt to form  an alliance between the Greens and the conservative blue Nationals left the colour as its legacy.

Interestingly it was in the Italian town of Comaccio in the Po Delta where I encountered a cooked teal. We had arrived at this restaurant famous for its eels, as was the whole area, located as it was so close to the sea – in an environment of both fresh and salt water. I naturally ordered the eel, and immediately met resistance from mine host because the time that would be taken to cook it.  It was after four. They wanted to close by five pm – and we were offered an alternative.

“Alzavole” was the offer, and that was how I had a meal of roast teal. It was excellent – a fitting replacement.  The Italian word for “teal” in Italian literally means “get up and fly.”

How fitting for this group of Independents seeking election.

Success is always the result of timing.  A group of women provoked by the appalling record of the government on climate change and the failure of  placement of women on the same societal level as men, should enter the political arena. Some years ago at a lunch with a journalist of about my vintage I said that this country needed a group of candidates, independents of the three major parties to get together to prosecute a centrist role. My luncheon companion was sceptical because it was 2019 before the pandemic, and he was right. The time was not yet right although the saffron cauldron was bubbling. Then enter Simon Holmes a’Court.

My experience of student politics came before the student electorate became factionalised. You were voted for as an individual not on a party slate. Mistakenly I believed that one could weave a path through politics where issues were the subject of debate not of maximising self indulgence and corruption, in all its forms. Ideals burnt with the books.

These women are all articulate and counterpoint the shallow ugliness of some of their opponents, where lurk allegations, which if true, reveal a disgusting degeneracy in those who purport to be our leaders. What currently exists in the Coalition is akin to a cancer, which keeps metastasising. On the sidelines there are, among others, Fred Chaney, a former Coalition Minister, who represented the Liberal Party I once knew, where there was a balance within the conservative ranks, but where radicals were generally on the left of the conservative element, not on the right.

The whiff of the fascist has always been there, but with the demise of the Democratic Labor Party, the Falangist element drifted into the Liberal Party. This has been coupled to this heretical mob of creationists that used to be confined to Sunday morning ranting but unfortunately given a legitimacy by one Billy Graham, has now become a suffocating legacy of humbug in the Liberal Party.

If the Teal women can exert their influence by getting elected and restoring some secular order, then Australia can look forward to moving from the current situation with some hope. What is also very important is David Pocock winning a Senate seat in the ACT under its banner. An all woman faux-Party does have a certain political vulnerability, as Maxine McKew found out when she drifted far too close to the Sun (and probably the Daily Telegraph). Some say the cause was more a defective Rudder.

Nevertheless, the accession of the Teals will mean one positive effect – the gradual removal of the Murdoch influence to another place – the sporting pages. Then they can remember that Collingwood are still the black and white; and well, Teal was a compromise.    

To Chris Brook – with considerable help from W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, 
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, 
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum 
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. 

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead 
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead, 
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves, 
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. 

W.H. Auden’s beautiful poem is so eloquent in setting  aside that time to mourn but Chris was not for me

… my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest,  My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song.

Instead, in my own words without Auden’s genius to guide my hand,

He was my irritant
My collaborator
That solitary polymath thinker
That unleashed gregarious drinker
He was stoical
He was not
He was rude
He was generous
He was Quixote
But also Voltaire
Above all he was my mate Christopher, flaws and all. 
And I shall miss him dearly

The last time we had an exchange of emails was on the morning of his death. It was about Aspen Medical. Just a normal day. Then we went to New Zealand. And Chris went to God knows where.

Então meu amigo não Adeus; apenas Até logo.

Tilting at Windmills … God knows where

It is always Caos in Italy

Prince Rupert is always “banging on” about correctness of language, syntax, constantly worrying about splitting his infinity and when to appropriately use the colon and the semicolon when expressing opinion. Journalism is notably attracting the barely literate, he moans. Take the example of the football writer for an Opposition Roundhead publication who talked about “zealousness”. The word is “zeal” or perhaps “zealotry”, but not “zealousness”.

It is a small sign of where journalism is headed – to the bottom.

Yes, my dear journalist who confuses “tortuous” with “tortured” and struggles with “disinterest” and “uninterest”. And spells “chaos” with either a “K” or without the “h”.

What does make sense if these bottom feeding journalists want to play “Gotcha”, then journalists themselves are fair game. After all they rank just above politicians in community ranking. Prince Rupert did not say that!  The community did.

The smart arse journalist is always trying to find the electoral tipping point so that it is sufficient for an intrinsically lazy pack to pile in and attribute failure to this one tipping point.

The 1993 election is always mentioned in the context of the birthday cake episode in which Mike Willesee in interviewing John Hewson asked him the effect of GST on the price of a birthday cake. Hewson gave a qualified reply, as any honest politician should give, but his answer was transposed into a triumphant fourth estate “gotcha”.

As John Hewson said later, after his defeat in the 1993 election and subsequent ousting from leadership and retirement from Parliament, he should have told Willesee to get stuffed. Increasingly, the smart arse journalist should receive what should be known as this “Hewson Solution”. Adam Bandt recently demonstrated its application in one of his Press Conferences.

Finally, that hesitant young journalist recently reading a very stupid irrelevant question from her phone, obviously planted by some other journalist higher up in the Albanesegotcha phylum, will live long in the annals of rank idiotic desperation. As for the young journalist, my advice is: “Get a brain and not to rely on another person’s Offal.”

Mouse Whisper

This is an Iranian puzzle – not that difficult.

What is blue in the field, red in the market, yellow on the table?

Answer in above text.

Modest Expectation – Land across the Water

I am a pilgrim with a P/C, a bag of hessian straggling along the cyber pathway, lined by an array of “punitive cybresses”.

So many blogs – such a cacophony of blogs, one may ruminate surveying the clouds of opinions hanging low.

Why write a blog then?  Because I want you to know what I think too, and I may have less time along this pathway strewn with birds twittering and on the horizon a musk fragrance which may soon overwhelm.

I love the metaphor.  Pushing it to extremes.

Take Parliament. Some may say it is more like an 18th century bareknuckle fight that went to the 80th round, as two bare-chested blokes bashed each other to pulp for the edification of a crowd inured to cockfighting, bearbaiting, and an afternoon watching a melange of hanging, drawing and quartering.

But rather than a “cacophony of blogs”, I prefer to engage in orchestral imagery. The imagery of brutality is overdone in politics because the image creators often are obsessed with such imagery.

Here I invoke the music makers – whether composing, conducting or playing an instrument – as a more civilised metaphor, (although to my knowledge nobody has invoked it) the orchestra as a metaphor for Parliament.

I envy music makers since I have not a jot of a score in my brain. These composers are accustomed to transposing noise into a melody, which can resonate, which has a recognisable pitch and can be played in the policy orchestras which are currently tuning up for a major concert this month.

The problem for policy songwriters is whether the orchestras can go beyond that tuning phase or will the conductors be more concerned with ensuring that the only instrument that plays is the loudest and most discordant, and the baton used in a frenzied assault on other conductors who refuse to play the same tune, whether the lyrics are a version of ours or most probably not.

The end point of an orchestra is working in unison for the best outcome. Seems trite, but have you ever seen an orchestra behaving like politicians when they actually play.

On another level, there is an elegant metaphor for politics in the various houses of parliament to be courteous – gavottes or quadrilles in the pattern of an eighteenth-century drawing room. Cerebral serenades across a Molonglo terrace – but it does not happen. Politics will never be a cultured room of perukes and perfume, the musical metaphor remains as it was at the start, even though hypocrisy is rife.

The problem is that life is full of mixed metaphors. Politicians fall foul of the three donkeys of the apocalypse – sleeplessness, isolation and boredom.

Donkeys are associated with a serenade by a faux-Mexican and “Donkey Riding”, a Canadian traditional work song, was sung by sailors as they loaded timber onto ships, perhaps because the loading was assisted by the donkey engine. The donkey metaphor is not refinement.

However, when in relation to “donkeys of the apocalypse” I am invoking policy music, past, present and future for those who never learn and for whom the “donkey” is a more fitting metaphor.  They are stubborn; they don’t learn; they sleep for 3 hours in 24. What an entry to the dysfunctional habits of politicians.

Defining the physiological consequences of the politician swiftly descends into consideration of pathology due to lack of sleep.  Such lack is intrinsically assumed to be pervasive, but like so much in politics it is ignored. Lack of sleep does not enhance anything, yet the herd instinct of always being awake is a sign of toughness of leadership in what one writer once ironically stated: “To spend a third of one’s life in unproductive idleness seems a demented waste to some people and now they decide the slothful practice for evermore. No one has yet succeeded.” Margaret Thatcher gave it a good shot, always telling people how little sleep she needed. She ended up demented.

By contrast, it was remarkable how refreshed Albanese appeared after a week “off”. Normally, the media would be berating a leader if he took a week off during an election campaign, but COVID infection is akin to a sacred time of true isolation and being able to relax and sleep, without an equally sleepless media badgering one for being a slacker.

When I first wrote about this matter, I was fond of quoting from The Goshawk” by T.H.White:

“…in teaching a hawk it was useless to bludgeon the creature into submission…so the old hawk masters had invented a method of training them which offered no visible cruelty and whose secret cruelty had to be borne by the trainer as well as by the bird. They kept the bird awake. Not by nudging it or by mechanical means but by walking about with their (the falcon’s) pupil on their fist and staying awake themselves. The hawk was “watched”, as deprived of sleep by a sleepless man, day and night, for the space of two, three or as much as nine nights together. It was the stupid teachers who could go as far as nine nights; the genius could do with two, and the average man, three.”

As I wrote then, “Falconry obviously has a lesson for practitioners of politics.”

And as a postscript, the other donkeys, Isolation and Boredom, remain untethered and I shall continue the discussion of the pathophysiology of these apocalyptic beasts. Yet the practitioners in the political arts do not want to know about them.

Worried. Not me. Just a silly little cough…

This article in the Washington Post, slightly edited, epitomises so eloquently the fears I have about venturing out into crowds, or situations where one is forced into “cocktail party” contact. Even though I have been double boosted and inoculated against influenza, I have memories of my last bout of influenza, which was highly unpleasant and took months of recovery time.

Frankly I find masks uncomfortable, but given a bout of upper respiratory infection where breathing becomes difficult and coughing does nothing but aggravate the chest pain, there is no alternative. Nevertheless, there are three areas of hygiene to observe. Social distancing means avoiding crowds and venues which are poorly ventilated. Oh, do I remember the low ceilings of the jazz clubs and the atmosphere of cigarette smoke, and how such scenes were twisted into those of romance and elegance. Remember, Casablanca – the imagery of Bogart and Bergman and Rick’s Bar!

I find it very interesting how resistant people are to handwashing, even though as a child I was socialised into washing my hands before meals and after going to the toilet. Often the hand sanitiser is completely ignored – a lonely sentinel mocked by the pervasive Virus as its victims pass by, failing to use it. It is all very strange.  What grubs we are – particularly men!

Now to the Washington Post take on the subject of the end of mask wearing as mandated by Trump appointee Kimball Mizelle to a Florida District Court. Rated as “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Nevertheless, this lawyer at the age of 33 has a lifetime ahead of her to wreak further havoc. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is appealing her decision , but the horse seems to have bolted, because the intrinsic American way is to look after numero uno, not the Public Good – it is called Freedom apparently.

After a Federal judge’s April 18 decision to overturn the transportation mask mandate, a JetBlue flight attendant celebrated mid-flight, holding up her mask and chanting over the public address system, “Wave ’em in the air like you just don’t care.”

When I saw that clip — and other videos of airline passengers gleefully discarding their masks — I couldn’t help thinking of the people on those planes who had counted on general masking to reduce the risk of travel. “Just don’t care” seemed an apt description of the way their neighbours were behaving — the way Americans are behaving in general.

Yes, people have expressed concern about the sudden and seemingly arbitrary lifting of the mask mandate.

For almost two years, the right wing has framed the mask issue as one of personal liberty. And many of the rest of us think of masking in terms of personal risk: If we’re not at risk, we’re thrilled to dispense with the discomfort and inconvenience of an N95. 

Either way, we’re thinking of masking as something we do for ourselves, rather than as something we do for the common good. 

It wasn’t always this way. The common good was why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first told us not to wear masks — out of fear that first responders wouldn’t have enough. And when the agency changed course, in July 2020, the common good was how it framed its first masking recommendation: “CDC calls on Americans to wear masks to prevent covid-19 spread.”

Now, it appears the agency is more likely to tell people to mask to protect themselves. Today, it says, “Wear a mask with the best fit, protection and comfort for you.”

You have no idea who’s on a plane.

You have no idea whether you’re carrying the virus. You could be pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. You could be symptomatic and not recognize the symptoms.

That’s what happened to me. I had a stomach ache and, after a bad night of sleep, went out the next day swearing off red wine once again. But the next day, a rapid test showed that the offending varietal was, in fact, covid.

I reported my case to the county and took to my bedroom. Three days later, five days after the start of (what I now knew to be) my covid symptoms, I received a call from the health department officially releasing me from quarantine.

“But I’m still coughing!” I said to the staffer. “I’m still testing positive!” She said, if I wanted, I could request to have my quarantine officially extended.

She declined to answer the question I thought should have mattered most, with local cases up and nearly a million Americans dead: Am I a danger to others or am I not?

A month before I got Covid, I wrote that Covid was over for me. Because I was vaccinated and boosted and my mother had gotten covid to little effect, I would no longer organize my life around fear of catching the virus. But I still planned to wear a mask while covid circulated in my community because I was afraid of spreading the virus to vulnerable people. Surely we can personally be “done” with this pandemic while respecting the fact that others are not. 

When I told the health official who released me from quarantine that I was worried about my potential to infect others, she sighed and said, “Use your conscience.” I wish I didn’t have to. But without a mandate to make us act out of concern for others, conscience is all we’ve got.

Surströmming

The discussion on the Swedish fermented fish – surströmming – Atlantic salmon, continues. The fish is allowed to ferment for six months with enough added salt to prevent rotting. Notwithstanding this, it produces a variety of compounds which have an offensive odour, including hydrogen sulphide.

Apparently it is popular in the north especially among older folk. The can must be opened under water, and you can smell it when you drive past. Cans are known to explode and hence it cannot be sold at airports any longer, and there used to be a law which marked out what time of the year cans could be opened.

One of my friends has a daughter living in Sweden, who tried it once, swallowed a small piece and then started dry retching. She seemed to have overcome the challenge of not vomiting before you taste it.

She described as like eating dog poo, which is a curious response where we confuse smell with taste. I am sure that she had not eaten dog’s poo, but it is a common reaction to compare taste with something it is highly unlikely we have eaten. But to other senses the comparison is revolting enough to bear comparison.

She did make another comparison that is more within the realms of a rational comparison. Her comment was “imagine the stinkiest cheese you can eat and multiply that 100-fold!” Not quite what John Lennon would have sung, but I tried to think about what is the aforementioned cheese, my taste buds have not stored a taste that I could imagine 100-fold. Again, such cheeses are compared to the worst of smelly socks.  I have never sat down to a meal of socks, even though the bacterium used to ripen these particular cheeses is the same as can be found between toes.

The only time when I experienced gastric reflux from ingesting something that met the next gulp coming down was when, at a dinner party, cold beetroot borsch was served. The commotion caused was somewhat comical if viewed as one waiting on table, but not for the consumer.  I have safely consumed borsch since, but only when warm. Ice cold beetroot borsch is too much of a shock to the unwary stomach.

It is extraordinary how adaptable taste buds are. Those who were not brought up on Vegemite have similar reaction I understand, but I have never heard of a Vegemite container exploding despite the fact that it is a yeast extract.

Smell is one cranial nerve, a short nerve that goes only a short distance before it reaches the brain. As I once wrote, taste is a trinity of three cranial nerves. Yet the inter-relationship is much more complex. Taste signals travel first to the base of the brain where some signals are processed. Signals are then sent along to higher brain areas. Some signals go to the ventral forebrain where they may trigger areas that control emotions and memories. Other signals go the dorsal region, the relayed sensory signals that cause you to crave certain flavours. In the reverse situation, for years I avoided satay because I got bad food poisoning after eating a meal of satay; and even the smell acted as an emetic for a while. I could not eat it for years. Yet the last time I had a severe bout of food poisoning was in Cuba, and the memory of the fish hung around for a short while, and for me allergy is a different response. It is pain in the gut; not pain in the perception.

If you assume offal as the periphery of acceptable food, I once ate heart in Riga at a posh nouvelle cuisine restaurant. It was OK, so cutely prepared how could I not satisfy my curiosity?

Lung, I have never tried; tripe – only once, enjoyed it; sweetbreads – avoided them but must try; brain I won’t eat (afraid of slow viruses, although at my age somewhat academic); and I love kidneys and lamb’s fry.

But prejudice has funny twists. Even though I consider myself omnivorous, I would not touch mussels until I had them thrust upon me in a wonderful family restaurant in Cesenatico on the Italian Adriatic coast; similarly resisted scallops, until I was presented with large succulent ones in South Carolina from the Gay Fish Company. Refusal to eat them was just a silly illogical fad. To complete my culinary idiosyncrasies, I am allergic to crayfish (acquired) but not Atlantic lobster; also some deep sea white fish (particularly swordfish).

The worst food I have eaten is seal in Newfoundland. It was like eating rubber; and as with the dog poo above, I have never been guilty of chewing on a tyre. It is just one of the instinctive analogies in which more than one of senses is involves when trying to articulate “taste”.

Finally drum roll; food that I want to taste: witchety grub.

Wonderful in these latter years, there are always questions about dietary idiosyncrasies wherever you are invited out. When one was young, you ate what you were given – swedes, watery marrow and overcooked pork forever irrigated through my memory.

A worry.

What Australia needs at this point in time is a Savonarola who thinks like Macchiavelli. A national cleanser who has a fine feel for the dorsal stiletto.

Suddenly Bill Shorten has been let loose – at least to some degree – on the campaign. Shorten is a hater; and according to many of his contemporaries, a nasty piece of work. Nevertheless, he gives Australia hope that if the vanilla Albanese is elected, there is a far more formidable force to wreak vengeance on those who have been gorging on government largesse at the expense of the “Powerless Australians” – those who cannot ring up their local politician and do a deal – maximising the personal gain at the expense of the rest of us.

Having been there I know the game. Some years ago, while I was being eulogised by several politicians publicly, some guy sidled up to me and said: “I have never heard of you. You must be important.” I was not sure whether that was a question or a statement. I replied, saying that I had had my place in the sun at various times, but inevitably if one pokes one’s head above the parapet, the greater the exposure and the more likely you will be to becoming a target – the inverse relationship of autonomy of action to controversy generated. Thus, I was destined to fall from grace – it was inevitable.

Some aggressive people like Shorten who have the equivalent of a rotten borough (or is it more truly burrow?) have a longer “shelf life” to ply their trade. The current government has left an incredible trail of corruption, some criminal but mostly moral – with the consequence that Australia is on the cusp of kleptocracy.

Purity of motive thus becomes one of relativity. Shorten, the scholarship boy from Murrumbeena, married first into the Melbourne establishment, then married under Vice-Regal patronage and, as he clambered up the holy mountain of Canberra, had the backing of Dick Pratt; therefore to some of his erstwhile colleagues he had enough political strikes against him to be consigned to the Maribyrnong Anabranch until it runs dry. But that is his strength.

One of my concerns is that Albanese is intrinsically a weak individual who looks for the soft option and shies away from personal confrontation. For instance, the Murdochs. They can be charming just like the ‘Ndrangheta, but when you do get in their way, beware. Having experienced the latter when charm in the smile is combined with menace in the eyes, it is important for Australia to minimise the pervasive influence of the Rupert Legacy, no matter how ambrosia and nectar ridden the boardroom lunch may be.

I suspect that Shorten is now approaching the same level of hatred which burns within Murdoch, because significant fortitude is required to prosecute the scoundrels who have profited during the Morrison reign and before. However, the Labor Party have form and for the National Party which begat the Queensland bush defiler, Joh Bjelke Petersen, it is often considered the norm by some in this Party. Not many political parties have two former Health Ministers in prison at the one time.  Then there are the outliers, the rock wallaby bandits, who seduce the Microcosm to elect them to the Senate.

Let us see, if Labor gets elected, whether it is prepared to follow through with the promise of an anti-corruption body. Bill Shorten awaits.

Scarry’s Law

I love this reference in The Economist to Scarry’s Law:

Scarry’s Law, formulated over a decade ago by this newspaper and named after Richard Scarry, a children’s illustrator, states that politicians mess at their peril with groups that feature in children’s books—farmers, fishermen, train drivers, and suchlike.

The implication of the Law devised by this American, who wrote 300 children’s books and illustrated many of them was that if you denigrated any of these people, the populace at large would take a dim view.

Yet none of these jobs appear on the list of respected professionals where medical practitioners are rated first, lawyers 21st and politicians and journalists the two last at 29 and 30.  Doctors closely followed by nurses and paramedics had received a boost because of the pandemic. In the list, firefighters and police rated in the top six.

These polls are extremely subjective and one suspects so is the wonderfully named Scarry Law. Nevertheless, the warning contains a more subtle message, which at a time when “change” is a word increasingly used to associate with climate and hence is of deep concern to farmers and fishermen. These are deeply conservative people, rather than reactionary. They will adopt change not because of political popularity, but only if they see it as a means of improving their livelihood and hence income.

The level of rural subsidies has always been a major concern – shoring up ancient practices without regard to actual environmental change. I always like hearing about farmer driven innovation, where conservatism is overcome by a realisation that the change is beneficial. It is a slow process, but undoubtedly miners would be sheltering on the Scarry list.

Mouse Whisper

Everybody in the blogs seems to be into odours, and cheese is where odour and taste are dissociated. We mice are very particular about the cheese we eat. Now, a few cheeses use the same bacteria which thrive in the salty sweaty environment found between the human toes, hence the association in the smell with the use of the same bacteria in the ripening process, as was mentioned earlier. We mice have to negotiate human socks casually strewn around the floor, and these do affect our appreciation of cheeses we have heard of, but never tasted.

But everybody talks about smelly cheeses as though it is a matter of pride to have cheeses with a putrid smell.

As for us mice, the worst cheese that can fall from the table is an old cheap Camembert cheese, which has become a cesspit of ammonia and the associated vapours. But they say some humans will still eat it. It is literally the worst of cheese, and that for a mouse who is used to whispering, SOMETHING!

Modest Expectations – Sudbury & Harrow Road

At one time I was among the youngest, if not the youngest Fellow of the Australian Medical Association, and used to attend the annual Fellow’s dinner, in my case in Victoria. At one of these dinners, I got to talking to an elderly doctor named Southey. He was old enough to remember the announcement of the outbreak of the First World War. He said the jubilation in the community was palpable, hats were thrown into the air, aggressive words were launched upon an enemy a long way from Australia, of little relevance, but one which provided the backdrop of a “Boys’ Own” adventure. Among some there was an urgency to fight because it would be all over by Christmas. Could not miss the action.

Katherine Mansfield

One of the most striking books I read by Christian Stead was one in which he portrayed Katherine Mansfield, almost as if she had written herself. It was a clever characterisation with an authenticity about her life during the First World War. Hers was a brief life, dying in 1922 of tuberculosis at 34 years, but the story is in fact an allegory of War. Even though not particularly close to the frontline it occurred in 1915 before trench warfare horror became established – an amorous climax with a young French author-cum-corporal, Francis Carco. There was the spice of foolhardiness admixed with desire. Her world was still one of pre-war privilege and courtesies.

Then her much loved younger brother, Lesley was killed in 1915 in France, not in the frontline but in a grenade training accident.

Near the end of the War she travelled alone to the south of France seeking a Mediterranean sanatorium cure for tuberculosis, which she had acquired but at the same time she had recurrent symptoms of her chronic gonorrhoea. No longer was there chivalry, when she was forced to ride on crowded trains where the troops returning from the Front were not inclined to give up their seats to a well-dressed woman. Privilege was dead in these railway carriages, and it was a most unhappy time for Katherine Mansfield. Because she was a prolific letter writer and diarist, often in the form of short stories, the transition of war being an adventurous jape with one of unyielding bleakness and horror is well traced through her life, as it was by Stead.

Sometime in between, thousands of Australians and New Zealanders lost their lives on a Turkish beach with a Greek name due to British folly, a recurring theme across those years, until the allies were bailed out by Australian military genius in Sir John Monash, who won the War – lest we forget!

Sir John Monash

Thus, lest us not forget Monash in the celebration of an unmitigated disaster in 1915 commemorated on April 25 where now the braided strut, their heads only bowed for the obligatory one or two minutes silence. Then they straighten and, like the Bourbons, they have learnt nothing; they have forgotten nothing. Looking for another conflict. But at least, “Lest We Forget” is scrawled across the granite plinths of Australia for the collective amnesia until November, when Poppies remind us of Monash’s triumph, which put a temporary end to the misery of war.

What’s in a name

One of my favourite photographs is of an Apulian olive grove in spring, where the ground is covered with crimson Italian heather. The olive trees are almost overwhelmed by this red carpet which, in a few weeks under the Apulian sun, withers and lies dormant for another year. Apulia is one of the regions on the Adriatic regions where Albanians – gli Albanese – came and settled. There has been a long relationship between Albania and Italy, extending back into Roman times when the Roman legions burst out of the Italian peninsula and overran the Illyrian coast, where the ancestors to modern day Albanians lived.

When I read the story of Albanese’s procreation – it reminded me of a cousin of mine who, on the rebound from a disapproved love affair, met a happy-go-lucky steward from Barrow-on-Furness on one of those P&O liners that used to ply between Australia and England. He followed her to Australia. They married, settled down in a country town and begat three daughters. Let us say he had an easy life after that.

That meeting bore unmistakeable similarities to Anthony Albanese’s parents without the immediate “blessed” outcome. I was not attracted to the travails of the young Anthony, but rather to the resilience of his mother. I was a medical student when Albanese was born, but remembered well the unmarked building across the road where unmarried pregnant women were kept under the watchful eyes of nuns, before they had to make the journey across Grattan Street to the labour ward.

It was a difficult time for the unmarried mother. A colleague of mine at the time, in a different State, said that when these young women gave birth, their faces were shielded by a pillow so each never saw her baby. I cannot remember that occurring, but labour wards were certainly not the most comfortable places in those days. Being on a roster both for births and for sewing up episiotomies in the early hours of the morning was not conducive to staying around and having a friendly chat to the woman you had just delivered or sewn up. Sleep was more important.

Therefore, Albanese’s mother must have been a remarkable woman – not the least of which was keeping her child and not having him adopted out – whilst maintaining the fiction that the father had died tragically. In fact, she had met the father, Carlo Albanese, when she was a passenger and he a steward on the Fairsky. He was about to be married to a giovane donna di Apulia; and that was that. The car accident was a total fiction that Albanese’s mother invented.

Having lived in that era when abortion was a criminal offence and the “oral contraceptive” had just become available, the dilemma that Mary Ellery faced was immense. A story of tragic loss had been created. This enabled the young Albanese to adopt his father’s surname (a form of nominal baptism), yet his heritage was also inner city Irish Roman Catholic; and the fiction and pretence that his mother maintained is not unknown among the Irish. I have a strong Irish heritage where fiction is admingled with fact; let me say that Yeats was not wrong when he wrote about the Celtic Twilight.

Albanese’s mother was burdened later in life with chronic rheumatoid arthritis and she eked out a living through low paid work and a pension.

Nonetheless, I cannot get out of my mind what this woman endured, as did many of her generation, hiding. Eventually she told her son the truth.

As to the story of his finding his long lost father in Apulia, the record says that Albanese had several half-siblings. I wonder whether, if he placed an advertisement seeking Albaneses in ports where the Sitmar ships berthed, he may find he has a tribe. I’m afraid that I have no time for men like his late father, Carlo – but Albanese’s mother was something else.

Childhood Memories

Talking about Southern Italy, Sicily is one place still on “my bucket list” to visit. I have just finished reading Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s “Childhood Memories”. He had been born at the end of 1896 in Palermo. The man whose novel “The Leopard” became a huge best-seller after he died, was part of the Sicilian nobility as it had been fashioned through centuries of acquisition, beneficial marriages, usury and overall shrewdness by certain members.

Yet his child memories are amazingly crisp and outlined against the searing heat of Sicily from the last decade of the nineteenth century. Lampedusa was the scion of a family with vast properties, but with a perilous future in having to maintain the family fortune based on the productivity of its land holdings.

Sicily had many of these families that had survived the violence which accompanied the invasions and internecine warfare. Lampedusa refers to a noble family whose name reflected their Norman forebears. Lampedusa refers to the 1908 Messina earthquake when he lost relatives – so there were natural disasters with which to contend. Not to forget Mount Etna, which has been in almost continuous volcanic activity – a turbulent island. It is difficult to define what is a major eruption, there have been so many.

His acute observations, even as a child, of the massive discrepancy between the rich and the poor, which presaged the middle class vacuum filled by the rise of the Mafia, barely cast a shadow over Lampedusa’s childhood – and yet there is this pervasive sense of decay amid the masterpiece which is Sicily.

Sicily

Despite all these imperfections, Sicily remains an island of fascination. After all, why do we potter around the petrified entrails of our ancestors?

The Wisdom of Islands Solomon

What an inconvenient time for Australian foreign policy to reveal the genius of Marise Payne. This bumbling Minister of an equally bumbling Department is one of the worst foreign ministers Australia has ever promoted.

Foreign ministers should have an ability to relate, and in the South Pacific arena this is particularly important. During the time he was auditioning for Foreign Minister, Andrew Peacock provided a role model. At a time when Australia had a Prime Minister – Billy McMahon – to rival the talents of our current incumbent, Peacock’s work with Michael Somare helped the transition of Papua New Guinea from colony to nation, although it was the Whitlam government that presided over the actual independence. Peacock in many ways knew that Australia had a responsibility for Melanesia, as Gordon Bilney later did when he had the Ministerial portfolio for the South Pacific.

I remember visiting Papua New Guinea several years before Independence, with the late John Knight when we were working together. John Knight had worked in the Department of Foreign Affairs and was later to become a Senator for the ACT before tragically dying whilst still a young man.  It was clear from our meetings that these then young PNG legislators were well disposed towards Australia, even though I realised that being the last week TAA flew to PNG, one could never count on a seat being available on any flight even if, as I did, one had a booked ticket. Such was democracy. You learned to go with the flow. Before and after independence, Australians were ubiquitous in PNG. The number of Australian doctors who worked in New Guinea provided a groundswell of both knowledge and understanding.

As Donald Denoon has written: “Within three years, Somare’s coalition reorganised the Public Service, negotiated an aid package and renegotiated an important mining agreement. They drafted, debated and enacted a constitution, and created a planning capacity, a defence force and all the other limbs of a modern state. Secession was averted in Bougainville and in Papua, an explosive land dispute was defused around Rabaul, anxious Highlanders were mollified and the fragile coalition held together.

Somewhat different situation in Papua New Guinea today, but the lesson is there – concern to help rather than colonial paternalism. While “fuzzy-wuzzy” was meant as a term of endearment by Australian soldiers who served in New Guinea, it was just that type of paternalism that our generation tried to eradicate, without wishing to offend the generation that fought and left the legacy, which is symbolised by the Kokoda Trail (now called Track).

Bougainville

No such empathy exists with the Solomons Islanders – the British Solomon Islands, as they were called previously when under UK rule. On the other hand, the Northern Solomon Islands, known also as Bougainville, was part of the German territories mandated to Australia after WW1. This meant that Bougainville was linked to New Guinea even though ethnically they were Solomon Islanders.

Then Bougainville was shown to have one of the biggest copper and gold deposits in the World. Rio Tinto, through its subsidiary, proceeded to develop the Panguna mine and bugger up the environment such that they were forced to curtail operations by the local Bougainvilleans; yet still left a grossly contaminated river system in the south of the island.

Bougainville Copper, as the subsidiary was known, simply abandoned the site in the face of a landowner rebellion in 1989. This was largely triggered by the mine’s environmental and social impacts, including disputes over the sharing of its economic benefits and their impact on predominantly cashless societies.

Following PNG security forces’ heavy-handed intervention – allegedly under strong political pressure from Bougainville Copper – the rebellion quickly escalated into a full-blown separatist conflict that eventually engulfed all parts of the province.

By the time the hostilities ended in 1997, thousands of Bougainvilleans had lost their lives, but negotiations have since yielded the PNG Government ceding a degree of autonomy to Bougainville, given the overwhelming vote for independence. The aim is for full independence by 2027, but in the intervening period there must be resolution over ownership of the mine which, if concluded for their benefit, could make the Bougainvilleans some of the richest citizens in the World.

The defunct Bougainville mine

Yet, what is Australia doing about a potentially rich neighbouring independent country, once held under an Australian mandate, ethnically Solomon Islands. I presume the Chinese may be prepared to stump up the $6 billion to get the mine working and repair the environmental damage. With its current level of foresight Australia may offer a sports arena, or perhaps to teach them rugby.

How different from our role in the transition of PNG to independence in 1975. China has seized upon our lack of interest in Melanesia in general. New Zealand shares some of the culpability but its political influence is stronger in Polynesia even though Tonga is deep in debt to China.  Given that the State Department in Washington has suddenly woken up to the fact that Honiara is not just an answer in a game of Trivial Pursuit, there will be belated action. The French have a presence in the South Pacific but, given how Macron views us as mendacious and les péquenards, one needs an incoming government to provide a piece of repair work to ensure co-operation.

However, Australia seems paralysed apart from the aimless pugnacity of Minister Dutton and the non-appearance of the Foreign Minister Payne.

Canberra should remember seven words: “The Republic of the Northern Solomons Islands”, as we fumble our way across Melanesia.

And by the way, what is the putative capital of this Republic called?

The People in an Ironed Mask

Below in this article in the Washington Post is a warning to the Labor party if they achieve Government and pursue their promise to establish the Centre of Disease Control & Prevention. It is about the level of autonomy and, given the way the politicians have interfered during this pandemic, it is a major question to be answered. And of course the bleats from a tourist industry don’t help maintenance of such autonomy.

The Justice Department is filing an appeal seeking to overturn a judge’s order that voided the federal mask mandate on planes and trains and in travel hub.

The notice came minutes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked the Justice Department to appeal the decision handed down by a federal judge in Florida earlier this week.

A notice of appeal was filed in federal court in Tampa.

The CDC said in a statement Wednesday that it is its “continuing assessment that at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health.”

It remained unclear whether the Biden administration would ask the appeals court to grant an emergency stay to immediately reimpose the mask mandate on public transit. An emergency stay of the lower court’s ruling would be a whiplash moment for travellers and transit workers. Most airlines and airports, many public transit systems and even ride-sharing company Uber lifted their mask-wearing requirements in the hours following Monday’s ruling.

A federal judge in Florida had struck down the national mask mandate for mass transit on Monday, leading airlines and airports to swiftly repeal their requirements that passengers wear face coverings. The Transportation Security Administration said Monday that it would no longer enforce the mask requirement.

The CDC had recently extended the mask mandate, which was set to expire Monday, until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant, which is now responsible for the vast majority of U.S. cases. But the court ruling Monday had put that decision on hold.

The CDC said it will continue to monitor public health conditions to determine if a mandate would remain necessary. It said it believes the mandate is “a lawful order, well within CDC’s legal authority to protect public health.”

The Department was filing the appeal “in light of today’s assessment by the CDC that an order requiring masking in the transportation corridor remains necessary to protect the public health.”

Biden’s administration has offered mixed messages in the wake of the Monday ruling. While officials said Americans should heed the CDC’s guidance even if it was no longer a requirement, Biden himself suggested they had more flexibility on masking-up during transit.

After a winter surge fuelled by the omicron variant that prompted record hospitalizations, the U.S. has seen a significant drop in virus spread in recent months, leading most states and cities to drop mask mandates.

Several Northeast cities have seen a rise in hospitalisations in recent weeks, leading Philadelphia to bring back its mask mandate.

The appeal drew criticism from the U.S. Travel Association, which along with other industry groups had been pressuring the Biden administration for months to end the mask mandate for travel.

“Masks were critically important during the height of the pandemic,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, the group’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy, “but with low hospitalization rates and multiple effective health tools now widely available, from boosters to therapies to high-quality air ventilation aboard aircraft, required masking on public transportation is simply out of step with the current public health landscape.”

Prince Rupert would have loved this comment

Leonid Kozhara, a Ukrainian member of the pro-Russia Party of the Regions said, fingering the button on his jacket sleeve: “Kazakhstan and Belarus are like buttons on the sleeve, but for Russia Ukraine is the sleeve and you can’t walk around without your sleeve.” – as quoted by one of the publications Prince Rupert has coveted but not bought – the New York Review of Books.

Mouse Whisper

I am known as an erudite mouse. There are always those who want me to write their citation for Mickipedia, and recently I came upon some of the brood described as “mephitic” – a word with which I was not familiar.

However, the Mickipedia tells me that Mephitis was a Roman goddess adopted from the Sabines who presided over the foul-smelling stench which was emitted through fumaroles throughout Southern Italy where volcanic activity is rife. She was both the patres et plebs guardian against malaria, because of her oversight of this miasma of hydrogen sulphide and other sulphurous vapours. There are a few unremarkable images of her, and she never made it to the Top Table.  She did leave that obscure word “mephitic” to mean foul-smelling, and of course I have found distant relatives named after her – the skunk without a hyphen, mephitis mephitis.

mephitis mephitis

Modest Expectations – Joasaph 1

Writing a blog over the Easter weekend, I realised this year has brought together three religions – Easter, Passover and Ramadan.  Once, Good Friday was a closed holiday for Christians. You vaguely knew the Jews had a festival about that time. Ramadan? Who had heard of Ramadan!

I was born into a Christian country. No multiculturalism in this Australia – and that went for the Aboriginal people as well.

In my mind, from when I was a child, it was a day of mourning. You ate fish, which was generally South African cod, that orange smoked hake which, when poached, provided a ritual assault on your taste buds. You stayed at home after church. It was a day bereft of any jollification.

I remember I once went to a vigil at midnight at St Peter’s Eastern Hill, which is the nearest Anglican Church in Melbourne to liturgically resemble the Roman Catholic Church. It is a beautiful church tucked away on the fringes of East Melbourne and Fitzroy. I went there on impulse near midnight on Maundy Thursday, on my way home when I was living in East Melbourne. I was walking alone and feeling somewhat hollow.

The church was dark with guttering candles. In the indigo darkness, I could make out a number of shadows praying and in the poor light I could distinguish one young woman, who was deeply bowed and obviously upset. I kneeled some way from her in the row of pews behind, but she maintained the expression. She did not sob, nor utter a sound. It seemed that she had been consumed by the moment of a figure with a crown of thorns weighed under the Cross he bore. In the darkness it was the only time I felt I was a bystander, watching somebody consumed, almost living the event in her mind. I stood up and left. The hollowness had not left me; I did not sleep well for the remainder of the night.

Now, years on, Good Friday is the first day of a holiday with hot cross buns and very little religion. The Crucifixion story is too grim, and any media coverage is minimal amid the flush of sporting events and other recreational activities around some Easter leporine vermin encased in chocolate.

This Easter, the airlines certainly injected a bit of pain on the road to the airline seat, maybe invoking the need to have the crowning thorn of too few staff to handle the crowd. How beautifully the airlines converted the departure lounges to a road trudging towards a new Golgotha.

Maundy Money

Maundy is the Thursday before Easter and celebrates the day of the Last Supper; “maundy” refers to Jesus’ commandment to the disciples to “Love one another as I have loved you.” Maundy is a corruption of the Latin for command – “mando” – which incidentally also means “chew” – hence the lower jaw – mandible – and thus another association with the Last Supper. Jesus was actually celebrating the Seder, the ritual meal in which the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt is celebrated by Jews marking the start of Passover.

Maundy Thursday follows a giving of alms to the poor, a practice commenced by King John. The nature of the alms has changed, settling for these coins given by the British sovereign to the “deserving poor” in a number of sets equivalent to the age of the monarch in each year. In 1902 Edward had just succeeded his mother and was 60 years old, and while that number was distributed at the Royal Maundy service, a great many more sets were minted – and therefore the value of a set, in good order has varied, but currently it is around AUS$250 for a 1902 set.

Although the coins are ensconced in an impressive case, mine is probably one of the surplus issue. As far as I can ascertain, it was given to my mother by a well-heeled lady called Mrs Wynne, for whom my mother was companion for several years. All very lavender scented and chintz.

My mother acquired some of the woman’s memorabilia, but the Maundy money seems to be the only remaining legacy. I vaguely remember my mother talking about her retiring finally to Bribie Island in Queensland, but my mother never visited her, although they may have corresponded.

The Member for Grayndler

Edward Grayndler

Edward Grayndler seemed to have been a reasonably competent if conservative union bureaucrat within the AWU, as it emerged from the Shearers strike of 1890. He opposed World War 1 conscription, but this opposition to Billy Hughes did not seem to harm his relationship with successive conservative governments. For most of his later life he was a member of the NSW Upper House, and the only impression he seems to have left was on the cushioned seat of the legislature. 

His legacy – an electorate named after himself. But for how long, given there is a whole conga-line of present prime ministers from NSW who, as part of their requiem, will have electorates named after each of them in NSW. In the offing, once interred, are Keating, Howard, Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison. NSW will have at least five newly-named electorates over the next 30 years or so – if the planet lasts that long.

And Anthony Albanese, the current member for Grayndler?

I live in the electorate and have just received a technicolour brochure spruiking the life of the Honourable Albanese. I have never seen him, but as somebody said about being polled by Gallup, the man himself replied that you would be more likely to be hit by a bolt of lightning. To which the other said that she had been struck by lightning.  Well, it may happen – I may meet my local member, but I’m probably more likely to be struck by a bolt of lightning.

The problem with Albanese is that he, as he proclaims in his brochure, has been in Federal Parliament for 26 years, and yet one may ask what has he done, what is his legacy? Turn to the brochure. He has provided an effective voice – bit of nonsense, worthy of Morrison. So, we read on … the tear-jerked deprived background is wearing a bit thin, as is the fact that he went to university before entering the political web to perfect the spin which seems to be Albanese – the Brochure.

When people say they do not know him, are they really saying that he has never done anything, never had an original thought in his life and moved round the web because he did not offend anybody, married another member of the web, procreated, divorced? Just an ordinary bloke from the suburbs.

But no, he wants the electorate to think of him as exceptional – deputy to Rudd – he, the first Minister for Infrastructure.  “In the depth of the Global Financial Crisis, Labor knew that Australia needed to build its way to recovery.” Pause. And so?

Then the drumroll – the achievement – supporting our craft brewers, no less.  Set out in his brochure, he points out that he actually introduced a Private Members Bill to reform excise tax, and in his own words “end discrimination”. Reducing excise on grog is somewhat at odds with his first week of campaigning which concentrated on health matters.

The first health thought bubble – the idea of having a registered nurse 24/7 in all nursing homes. This would require six registered nurses as a practical minimum for each nursing home; and in the current environment such a number is just not feasible – at least not immediately, despite the announcement that he, Albanese, will create thousands of university and TAFE places (although this was an afterthought to the GP emergency clinic idea). Where is the work experience for such a huge number, even if training could be rapidly expanded to cope?

Then this revival of the community health clinic, the variation of a general practitioner clinic attached to the emergency department. There is an underlying fallacy in this approach, which I shall expand on separately, but the Labor Party has received poor advice. The policy then only suggests 50 such clinics across Australia, hardly a generalisable policy in any event. This area, to those without experience in the field, may pass muster, but only in the nature of “Penguin Book Policy” that I mentioned in an earlier blog as the moniker for uninformed policy announcements.

What really put Albanese at a disadvantage with people who were looking for a viable alternative to Morrison was, on the first day of the campaign, the gigantic stumble in not knowing either the unemployment rate and, more disastrously in my view the cash rate, which has not changed for 17 months from 0.1 per cent. It did not get any better from there and makes one wonder, given the history from Beazley onwards, where does the Labor Party go for its models of leadership?

As I write this blog on Easter Sunday, maybe Albanese will start to rise to the task; and the proposal for an Integrity Commission is a very good place for him to start.

One thing he should remember is to pick on the topic where the Government is vulnerable and then hammer it. Add a pinch of climate change and the country being held to ransom by the very wealthy “oligarchs”, whose wealth has been tied up in fossil fuels, and the formula becomes stronger. However, whether Albanese can dispense this prescription will unfold over the next little while.

A Fraying Health Policy

The Labor policy to set up a stream of 50 general practitioner clinics to “treat patients needing urgent care including for broken bones, minor burns and stitches for cuts” is the same old policy under a different name – remember the investment in such community health clinics – the one stop shop. The pilot for general practice under the reign of Nicola Roxon was in Cootamundra, where the local general practitioner convinced the government to invest in a one stop shop clinic, next to the hospital. It has not been mentioned in the new Labor party policy and when I looked at the practice today, they still had six doctors and a general practice registrar. It seemed a conventional general practice and the waiting time to see the doctor seems to be currently two weeks – and no weekend work. So much for the pilot program.

When I devised the “Murray to the Mountains” intern training program in North-East Victoria early in the last decade, I planned that each intern would spend 20 weeks in general practice in their first year, and the practices were linked to the local hospital, where they would be confronted with emergencies as well as consolidating their medical, surgical and emergency terms at the local regional hospital. As many of the regional specialists visited these general practice health services, this model enabled the interns to gain even more experience. There were none of these extravagant waiting times to see a doctor and weekends were covered.

After all, an intern should be able to resuscitate and stabilise a patient with a medical or surgical emergency until they patient can be transferred to the appropriate medical service. The visiting geriatrician was able to take them around the nursing home to teach them how to treat the chronically ill.

Internship is a time for developing the experience and skills in how to deal with emergencies and incorporate the skills learned early into the doctor’s practice. Needless to say, being able to work with other health professionals, as distinct from just telling everyone what to do, is a skill which the interns learn in such a program. Many of the overseas trained male doctors had problems with women being considered equal and that was an issue confronted. On the other hand, after one of the specialists asked an intern why he was not eating, this led to a regionwide program to understand Ramadan among the non-Muslim health professionals to avoid such a question in the future.

A policy which assumes that a form of community health centre can relieve the hospitals of the burden of small surgical procedures is naïve in the extreme, given what has failed in the past. The more realistic demand is to ensure that all general practitioners have a basic set of skills to deal with emergencies (hence the program to ensure the interns have equal exposure to all basic skills).

The “Murray to the Mountains” Intern Training Program is ongoing, with checks and balances regularly set which eliminate that I-will-scratch-your-back-if you-scratch-mine mindset, which needs weeding out periodically from general practice. In other words, if you have an organised practice, as many do have, you can roster any of the doctors to cope with any emergency that arises, and be assured of a similar basic skill set. In the unlikely case of needing more, you will have a second on call. In the end, there will always be the unpredictable disaster, when you need everybody to help, but be assured that each person is able to be the frontline response in such a situation. It is a matter of priority in such situations.

Whatever you call it, community practice is medicine practised by a group with a patient catchment that the doctors themselves accept as reasonable. The service must be assured for 24/7. The problem is that these days one person practices are just non-viable, because in addition to struggling to provide essential locum cover when required, they fail to deal with the basic challenges of practice which I enunciated years ago – social dislocation, professional isolation, community tolerance and succession planning.

In most areas, professional succession planning is completely ignored or done badly. The thought of retirement in many cases is always a situation which doctors hate to confront until too late.

Community tolerance is the ability to integrate with the local community while maintaining professional integrity. When everybody knows everybody else, privacy is very difficult to maintain, but a medical record is not something for the parish noticeboard. Professional isolation is one area which has been addressed, but social dislocation (as I defined it, where the spouse or partner refuses to come with you or where you need to send the offspring off to school) is a matter of the family choice, which may not accord with the practice objectives. And do not underestimate the fear of rural life for those who had not had the opportunity to be socialised by stints with country relatives as a child.

I have experienced medical care in a remote part of Tasmania. I needed the visit from a paramedic, not a doctor, at four in the morning. The paramedic had to come from a neighbouring town. He was quicker in responding than was the case with a similar call in Sydney, where the paramedic came from another suburb. What would a community health service along the ephemeral good-feel media announcement done for me – in a word nothing – at least not at 4.00 am as the paramedic did.

Albanese’s follow up thought that there be 20,000 new university places and extra TAFE places does nothing to reassure … at best it would take around 4-5 years for non-medical graduates and 6-7 years for medical graduates to be available for such clinics. Yet another workforce issue.

The problem with these announcements is that they are ill thought out, and the money ends up in some entrepreneur’s pocket – close to the political party promoting the policy bubble.  Sound familiar, mate?

Tell me where I can charge the electric car

I want somebody to tell me when electric cars will be available. In the doggerel; this year, next year, sometime, never. “Never” seems to be the winner. Everybody says that, according to the populace at large, climate change is of overwhelming importance.

As somebody for whom a car has been a utilitarian means of going from one point to other, the rise of the electric car has been of interest.

Electric car sales in Australia only represent 0.78% of new cars, compared to Norway at 75% and the world average of 4.2%.

Our car is diesel. It is a Citroen C4, been reliable and for somebody who is disabled, surprisingly friendly. Nevertheless, it runs on diesel fuel and, at some time in the near future, we shall have to change to an electric car. When we enquire from the car dealers, they say there is no incentive for the car manufacturers to import cars into Australia. In fact, there were plans to dump fossil fuel driven cars in Australia because of the Government’s reluctant climate policy. Given Australia has no car industry, a casualty of globalisation, we are prisoners of fortune.

My interest was stimulated by an article in the Boston Globe, which canvassed the effect of the electric car in Massachusetts with its population of 7 million people. In America, they are still expensive in relation to the fossil fuelled cars; and importantly they estimate that they have only a quarter of the approximately 20,000 charging sites that are needed – for a population concentrated and about a quarter of our own population.

The problem is further compounded by the fact that fast charging cannot be done domestically, the required voltage is too great. Then there is a need to ensure that the electric car one buys is equipped with a plug for fast charging. There are about 300 fast charging stations in Australia, but some can only be used for Tesla cars at present. Given that it takes half an hour to charge a car, even using a fast charger, there is just no incentive for Australians to buy electric cars. It will need a massive investment, and nobody is prepared to invest in such a venture.

In Massachusetts, there are several legislative proposals designed to ease the financial stress of buying an EV for Massachusetts residents. One bill would expand the current state rebates for electric cars and extend them to used cars. Another would create more incentives for low- and moderate-income households, authorise more funding for the state’s rebate program, and expand the public charging infrastructure.

Tell me I’m wrong, but here we go again throwing money away on a Commonwealth Games and an Olympic Games – our politicians can’t get out of the “bread and circuses” routine; for them the end point is being able to view the circus from the emperor’s box sipping champagne and munching canapés.

It really is a bit pathetic; building one sporting venue after another when Australia needs to seriously address climate change – and the electrification of our cars, trucks and buses is just one of the priorities to accommodate this need. This is a nation with a trillion-dollar debt, financing an indulgent yet flimsy infrastructure so a few of one’s mates can own expensive jets, buy huge boats to cruise The Mediterranean and when the day is done, après-ski at Aspen.

Reminds me of the late Peter Sarstedt song “Where do you go to my Lovely” … could be the anthem of this country as it flounces towards oblivion.

God what were they thinking – Shock Horror

Who would have thought? There is the photo taken of me peering through the sunflowers outside florista just before tucking into a lunch of passatelli – a form of ragú – washed down with a Piedmontese red. Drinking such a wine reminded us that we had come into one of the smallest self-governing republics in the world and reputedly the oldest, being founded in 301 AD. This was San Marino, wedged between the regions of Emilio Romagna and Marche, a leisurely drive from our favourite city in Italy, Ravenna. After Nauru, it is the smallest Republic on Earth.

San Marino

Like many of these tiny European countries it exists on rocky outcrop and has survived all the vicissitudes over the centuries of a city-state weathering the ambitions of the Borgias, the imperial dreams of Napoleon and a brief occupation by the German army during World War II. One of the souvenirs is to have a San Marino euro, even although it is not part of the EU.

The republic has just appointed as one of its two Captain Regents, Paolo Rondelli.  A true Sammarinese, he is the first openly gay Head of State. There are openly gay heads of government in Ireland, Luxembourg, Serbia, and Iceland, but no Head of State.

Australia has a way to go – Morrison and Hurley do not exactly fill the bill of the first openly gay Prime Minister and Governor General in the Southern Hemisphere.

Nevertheless, as a head of government, Don Dunstan, as South Australian Premier from the late 1960s, was way ahead of the field of legislators in the Gay Stakes. Pity the Labor Party do not have anyone of that calibre now.

Mouse Whisper

I read this exchange as I trawled through the eek-mail to find this exchange: 

Well J 

Indeed surströmming has a very special stink, most portraits of consumers include a clothes peg on their nostrils. 

The fermented stench is reserved for closed groups and needs booze in quantity as well as a special mood.  Not possible to serve in restaurants if you want to keep your other customers 

Cheers 

 M

Earlier:

M

“To the Swedes, there are few odours more delectable than the scent of surströmming…to most non-Swedes there are probably few odours more repulsive.”

This was in April 9 copy of The Economist page 64. I can’t remember this on any Swedish menu – I associate this with Iceland.

J

Dressed for dinner …