Modest Expectation – Richard Cattell

Dr Claudia Scheinbaum has been elected as President of Mexico, a six year term and the first woman. Despite the glitter of the apparent celebration, Mexico is a mess, instance Mexico City where she was Mayor before being elected President. As The Washington Post reported recently, she had won in a landslide under the umbrella of her mentor, the previous President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. He was a charismatic dud, despite his popularity.

Mexico is under a great deal of stress; despite that, its lower wage scales have attracted relocation of many American companies. For instance, General Motors produces 800,000 vehicles from four factories located in different parts of the country. Nevetheless, the economy remains sluggish.

Nevertheless, the drug cartels have reached the stage of challenging provincial government authority, and in so doing the concept of Mexico being a democracy. The Americans are consumed by the hypocrisy of being a bottomless pit for Mexican-exported cocaine and its increasing consumption, and putting in draconian border restrictions.

Borders – what borders for drugs? Taken as a percentage of users (latest data 2021), in percentage terms the District of Columbia at 3.8 per cent, closely followed by Vermont and New York, are the highest consumers of cocaine. The lowest is Texas at 1.33 percent but still 337,000 people depend on a loosened border to supply their addiction to cocaine from the Mexico cartels.

I have been to Baja California in happier times, when we lunched in Ensenada, close to where the two young Australian surfers were murdered recently. After all, it is now a centre of the drug trade, and long ago where we lunched overlooking the Sea of Cortez, it was a scene where its serenity was expressed by John Steinbeck in his Log. “Beauty occurs everywhere: sunshine and rock, ripple and shadowed wave. Show your joy as thinly as what you call sorrow.” He and Ed Ricketts, the father of marine biology, had gone on an underwater expedition in March 1940, their base a sardine seiner out of Monterey.

No longer seen as in the Steinbeck vision, it’s now the most dangerous area of Mexico less than 150kms south of the US border. This is just one of the problems, Dr Scheinbaum has inherited, a beautiful coast now polluted by criminal militias. Tourism is worth US$ 3.38 bn (8.5% of GDP) to Mexico. Paradoxically, it is increasing. Oh, what a conundrum, a seductive coastline concealing a hostile interior where the populace is locked into a culture of poverty.

So different from Mexico City. I had been surprised when I received in 1991 notification that I had been elected President-elect of the International Society of Quality in Health Care (ISQA). Who by? I had not even nominated, because my experience of the organisation up to that point was that it was on its last legs, with no money and an organisation with an evangelical tinge of wanting to save the World but no concept of budgeting for such a mission.

Anyway, I accepted the Presidential Chalice but did not drink from it. The upshot was I had to open the ninth ISQA Conference in Mexico City in 1992. When I had visited in the previous December, nothing had been done. Everybody seemed to be on holidays. I went ahead and booked the venue on my credit card.  My President-elect, Enrique Ruelas was nowhere to be seen. Anyway, the Conference went without a hitch the next year. I met a number of Mexican dignitaries, whose names have been lost in the breezes of faded importance.

Enrique Ruelas

Enrique turned out thus to be well connected.  Nevertheless, being only 30 years he was still inexperienced, but affable enough, spoke English moderately well but struck me as pliable and disliking conflict, which suited me, because it enabled me to spread my influence over four years from a standing start after inheriting the Chalice.

Enrique had experienced disaster in a massive proportion, which would have tested anybody’s resilience. In 1985, Enrique was caught in the massive Mexican City earthquake, which demolished his hospital while he was away. Otherwise, he may have been one of the 10,000 people killed on that September day.

Back to 1992, I opened the Conference in Spanish, carefully highlighting the two active volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl, to essentially show off my mastery of the language, but in truth unwittingly highlighting the instability of this city of 22.5 million people. These volcanoes are close to Mexico City, and an eruption could create a latter-day Pompeii.

Currently, Mexico City is also subsiding because of overuse of aquifers. Buildings in the centre of the city are sloping and bending, the airport terminal and runways, the aboveground metro and streets are cracking, Repairs are costly. It is projected that the land is going to sink another 100 feet over the next 150 years. Water shortages are running the taps dry, worsened by low rainfall, climate change and poor infrastructure. This situation continues to reinforce reliance on groundwater pumping to meet the city’s water demand. It is a symbol of the competing pressures which Mexico has yet to master.

Dr Scheinbaum, Mexico’s new President-elect, the former Mayor of Mexico City, has pledged to combat the country’s water crisis by cracking down on water-intensive agricultural industries and improving irrigation systems. However, the problems of Mexico are a challenge verging on impossibility.

There is an undercurrent that Dr Sheinbaum will be Obrador’s puppet, more than a tinge of misogyny. For instance, as quoted in the NYT: “She needs him,” said Carlos Heredia, a Mexican political analyst. “She doesn’t have the charisma, she doesn’t have the popularity, she doesn’t have the political stamina of her own, so she needs to borrow that from López Obrador.”

Dr Sheinbaum is a climate scientist having shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), she being a significant contributor. Yet her mentor, Obrador is very close to the fossil fuel industries, but I suppose that is just another conflict that Dr Sheinbaum will have to face. Her responses have not been very encouraging.

Incidentally, my successor, Enrique Ruelas has gone on to have an impressive career as a public health physician, a consummate bureaucrat, racking up a string of accolades. I always knew he would, even though I have not spoken to him for over twenty years when he was still finding his way to the career escalator. Enrique is 71 years and closing on his retirement years, whereas Claudia Scheinbaum is 61 years and on the threshold of her greatest challenge.

An Addendum to My Opening Address

The audience anticipated that after my opening address, which commenced with the salutation “Damas y Caballeros”, I would revert to English, so the Spanish speakers immediately went for their headphones for the translation from the expected English. To my chagrin, as some of my erstwhile friends kept saying, despite my ostensibly speaking in Spanish, the Mexicans kept their headphones on. A bit harsh. I thought my pronunciation passable, struggling with two words only. But the Mexicans appreciated that I honoured them by not speaking in the language of the Gringo.

The Suwalki Corridor

Making comparisons between Hitler and Putin is to make an assumption – that Putin had studied what Hitler did in trying to establish complete suzerainty over Europe – yet ultimately failed.  Putin may think he has learnt from that failure in how to invade the former Soviet dependency, Ukraine, the assumption being that it’s an integral part of Russia, in line with the seeming acceptance by Belarus and its dictatorial President, Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko, of its status as a client Russian State.

European countries seek to gain consensus by endless talk-fests, which leads to one word – appeasement. The Soviet Union moved into the vacuum, which democracy seems to create  in Eastern Europe after WWII.

The occupation of Crimea was Putin’s test of Western resolve, in many ways echoing Hitler’s occupation of the Saarland, the industrial portion of Germany ceded provisionally to France at the Treaty of Versailles. A plebiscite about its future was scheduled for fifteen years after the cession to France. Germany, with Goebbels in full flight and with its German population, overwhelmingly voted for its return to Germany. This was Hitler’s first test of European resolve.

The Putin playbook was to test the Allied resolve by invading Crimea in early 2014. Crimea was predominantly Russian and had been ceded to Ukraine in a fit of pique by Khruschev. To Putin it was a lay down misère to reclaim.

Obama for all his flowery rhetoric was an indecisive appeaser, a man who took the path of least resistance in economic and foreign policy. However, Ukraine elected a new leader out of the chaos and corruption of Ukraine politics egged on by Putin.  Volodymyr Zelensky changed the whole dynamic.

Now Putin’s demand to end the War, unlike Hitler’s demands from a position of power, are nevertheless repeating some of the Nazi playbook. First, the West must accept the de facto partitioning of the Ukraine which has been gnawed away by the “Russian Rodent”, and now has a buffer zone which is better able to resist the superior Allied weaponry. Second his demand that the Russian funds held in Europe and the USA be released back to Russia. Here he depends on the accession of Trump, and third, neutralising any Ukrainian bid to join NATO. Partitioning is vital because if that demand was agreed, it would be anticipated by Putin that he could eventually take over the dismembered country as Hitler did to Czechoslovakia.

The Treaty of Versailles, by its redrawing of European borders, provided fuel for future conflict. One such was the Polish Corridor, where Poland was provided access to the Baltic Sea, this separating Germany from East Prussia, with an appendage Freeport called Danzig, of which I have written before, a curiosity in Eastern Europe where the British were supposed to be responsible for its external relationships. Having dismembered Czechoslovakia, Hitler turned his attention to the Polish Corridor. The Nazis seized Danzig in 1939, and the stage was set for the conflict with Poland, ostensibly to regain the Polish Corridor territory in order to unify Germany. Hitler took out insurance by entering into the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty with Russia at the same time.

Thus, in early September 1939 when this threat to Poland turned into a full-blown German invasion, WWII was precipitated. Poland was quickly conquered, and the spoils were shared between Germany and Russia – an unholy alliance which came apart two years later.  Ultimately Poland regained the territory at the end of WWII, albeit as a client Soviet satrap. Ironically Danzig, renamed Gdansk, was the base for the uprising led by Lech Walesa, which assisted in the destruction of Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe in the late 1980’s. This hegemony is what Putin wishes to restore.

Land corridors are thus a source of instability, which brings me to the existence of the Suwalki Corridor. The Suwalki Corridor runs between Belarus and Kaliningrad, along the border between Poland and Lithuania. Kaliningrad, an exclave of Russia, provides a haven for the Russian Baltic fleet, also crammed full of military surveillance and cybersecurity equipment of which the Americans would be very well aware. Exclaves are basically unstable and linking it back to Russia via a surrogate Belarus  provides an excuse for Putin to invade the Baltic countries.

Maybe the time has passed because of the unexpected resistance of Ukraine, which is draining Russian resources, even though Russia seems to be surviving by the sales of fossil fuels, to countries like India which play both sides of the street and China which is more circumspect but necessary for Putin’s illusion of restoring Imperial Russia – more Peter the Great than Stalin.

His hope is that the increasingly demented Trump is returned to the White House with an unknown number of traitors embedded in his MAGA outfit. America reverts to isolationism.

Then the Suwalki Corridor may emerge as the manufactured reason for an invasion of the Baltic countries and then Poland perhaps. Meanwhile, the Russian occupation of Georgia and Moldova will occur and Putin is on his way towards a Golden demented American sunset.

What is the Suwalki Corridor?

A Polish border sign in the Suwałki Gap

It is now more recently named The Suwalki Gap by the then US-educated Estonian President, Toomas Hendrik in a meeting with Ursula von de Leyen in 2015, the name change to Sulwalki Gap highlighted the vulnerability of that border area. Suwalki is a city in NE Poland, which once was thirty-four percent Jewish, and was at one point Lithuanian before being taken by Poland in the interwar period between WWI and WWII. Such is Baltic stability!


I had the perfect persimmon for lunch. Our introduction to the persimmon was inauspicious. Our hostess then, those years ago, had thought she would surprise us with a piece of exotica. But the persimmons were the type which unless they are completely ripe, are so astringent, that as I said at the time, it felt as though the floor of my mouth resembled being carpeted by Axminster.

But not this time. Although persimmons have been bred to diminish the astringency element, this was one of the original type. And here I was presented with the fruit, the top sliced off. Then spoon in hand I delved into the interior. There was no resistance unlike some I’ve eaten, with the fascial pith stopping easy spooning and where the ripe skin comes away with the pulp.

This did not happen here, and the consistency and colour reminded me of runny apricot jam. But it was exquisite. And the taste. Well, persimmon of course.

Once Upon a Time in Broome

It was November 1987. I wrote this up in one of my regular articles in the MJA in 1988 almost a year after a day spent in a hot stuffy courthouse, but on looking back I would never regret being an onlooker on that day. I am placing this in my blog, given the current problems, the Border Forces having been reported as having fires on their craft, which in any event seem not to be doing the job for which they were bought. This embarrassment has been coupled with the normal second-rate company supposed to be responsible for maintaining their seaworthiness which has meant a significant number of boats out of service at any one time. This draws attention to the tender process, with its “who-knows-who” selection process rather than any need for demonstrated competence.

It was a different time when Hawke was Prime Minister and most of his Ministers were people of quality not afraid of making decisions.

Thus, I have reproduced what I jotted down so long ago in Broome.

“I am spending a November Wednesday at Broome’s Court of Petty Sessions. I came here initially because the crew of an Indonesian fishing boat was arrested. Yesterday, when I saw the boat riding at anchor in the Port of Broome, it looked like one of those small inter-island ferries which ply their trade in the Southern Moluccas and around Sulawesi. There had been 23 persons on board this boat, which looked as though it could accommodate only half that number, and as it lurched in the swell it barely appeared seaworthy enough to cross Sydney Harbour, let alone the Timor Sea.

The fishing boat had been intercepted near Adele Island to the north by the patrol boat, HMAS Geraldton. The ostensible reason for the Indonesian expedition was to poach trochus shell from the reef around the island. The Geraldton was tied up at the dock when I arrived. The petty officer was friendly but said that he could not disclose the exact maximum speed of the ship – except to say that it was in excess of 30 knots. There was no doubt that the Geraldton was a high-class, sleek piece of machinery; with its guns mounted fore and aft it would not have been the most welcome sight for the Indonesian fishermen – if that was what they were.

In fact, aircraft had spotted three seacraft off a portion of the coast named Cape Leveque. The coastal waters were becoming busy with boats, presumably illegally in these waters, since the patrol boat intercepted two totally different boats from those that were spotted by the aircraft.

The complaint against the 25-year-old captain of the Indonesian boat is a charade. It is a necessary charade in terms of breaches of the Crimes Act, but one for which the slightly-built islander from south of Sulawesi – married with no money – has only to stand up when asked and otherwise be polite. A conviction is entered. If within five years he comes into Australian territorial waters, he will have to pay the $1500 fine that has been imposed. Importantly, he will be set free with his livelihood – his boat.

Broome Courthouse

The magistrate refers to the breaches in quarantine – both animal and human – but as nobody had actually landed on Australian soil nor harvested trochus shell at the time of interception, the boat can neither be seized by the Australian Customs Service nor by the WA Fisheries Department. There were no illicit drugs on board, although the magistrate makes reference to the curious fact of the several suitcases full of new clothes and the relative paucity of fishing gear.

One of the Fisheries officers is most unconvinced by the trochus shell story, and he believes that there are many illegal immigrant routes into Australia from the Indonesian archipelago. In a “kerbside” conversation in a court room such conversations must remain hearsay. However, the magistrate accepts the trochus shell story. The captain will be released with his 22 compatriots – to be escorted out beyond the old 12-mile limit and sent on his way.

It is ironic on this day of Australian leniency and compassion that a Taiwanese fishing boat, under contract with a Perth company and apparently fishing legally under licence in Indonesian waters, limped into Darwin. The boat had been blasted by an Indonesian gunboat south of the Aru Islands, with the loss of life of three Taiwanese fishermen. An Indonesian diplomatic spokesman, when asked in Canberra what were the circumstances of the attack, accepted no blame.”

Sound familiar! Seems to have been imported to Canberra – a form of foot in mouth disease? Should we have had better biosecurity against this chronic infestation?

Mouse Whisper

You know we have a Ganesha in house. It about eight centimetres in height, made of bone, seemingly old, beautifully and intricately carved, bought in India over forty years ago. Never know about its age, some of the Indians have a tricky capacity to artificially age their gewgaws.

Not that Lord Ganesha is a trifle. Already, he is glaring at me.

As the Boss said, all households should have one. Lord Ganesha is meant to bring good luck.

As the story goes, Parvati, the Hindu mother goddess being the Divine who mediates wife-husband relationships formed Ganesha from the rubbings of her body so that he might stand guard at the door while she bathed. When Shiva approached, unaware this was his son, he was enraged at being kept away from his wife and proceeded to lop off Ganesha’s head.

To ease Parvati’s grief, Shiva promised to cut off the head of the first living thing he saw and attach it to the body. That creature was an elephant. Ganesha was thus restored to life and rewarded for his courage by being made Lord of new beginnings and guardian of entrances. Praying to Lord Ganesha is invariably accompanied by smashing a coconut, symbolic of smashing the undesirable forces inherent in oneself.

Mice, it is said, destroy a lot of foodgrains. Lord Ganesha as the remover of obstacles to obtaining prosperity, has the duty to go after the destroyers, all rodents. The mouse being a small animal can get into all sorts of corners using its smartness and thus Lord Ganesha rides the mouse to illustrate his dominance over us.

I take a wide berth around that darkened bone smiling figure.

Modest Expectations – Once upon a Time from Drummoyne

On June 19th, 1865, African Americans slaves in Texas were told they were free. Juneteenth, 19th June, has been a Federal Holiday since 2021 when President Biden gazetted this day as one to celebrate the emancipation of black slaves, and one step towards the “freedom” upon which Americans pride themselves. This recognition was a response to several high profile murders, notably that of George Floyd.

Above is a scene from a recent play, Toni Stone, written by the playwright Lydia Diamond, (a drama structured about the first woman to play baseball for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues). As Stone, the actress Jennifer Mogbock’s characterisation is that of a determined woman with the prowess to smack the ball and play hard. The scene depicts stylised “game time moments” when the team performs vaudeville acts with a tincture of the minstrel. It is playing in Boston as part of extensive Juneteenth celebrations and illustrates one example of how important the celebration of this day is regarded, despite its being so recently recognised.

It made me think about the modern meaning of holidays, originally “holy days”. That meaning has been well and truly lost, but American holidays are generally about veneration of the past, with both its upsides and downsides. Apart from New Year’s Day, holidays in the USA celebrate the past – the heritage as etched into the mythology of the United States as a Christian country.

I have celebrated Thanksgiving in Chicago with an American family which was a memorable experience as I was an “intruder”. I barely knew the family and was touched by their generosity and felt honoured by them asking me.

One year, we marched to the Tenderloin District of San Francisco in celebration of Martin Luther Day, January 15th. It was the first time I had walked with black people, not just Afro-Americans. Again, I felt like an intruder, but we walked on the outside of the march as a symbol of solidarity but outsiders.

In Australia, I am not an outsider and in my own way, I acknowledge Anzac Day. It is not sacred to me; but it is a day where mostly young men were sacrificed to combat unhinged narcissistic villainy. Akin to the American Memorial Day, which falls on the last Monday in May, on which that Nation honours the men and women who died while serving in the military, whereas its Veterans Day, observed every November 11th, recognises all who have served in the Armed Forces (and is not a Federal holiday).

In contrast, some of our national holidays may celebrate our past, although the actual reason often belies the name. Australia Day is really the end of summer holidays, and the King’s Birthday, the opening of the ski season aka the recognition of the start of winter. Australia Day is a misnomer; January 1st should be the National day if it was the intention to recognise the date of the birth of Australia. Clearly this would cause a commotion because it would mean the loss of one holiday, apart from which, there is not the fervour of honouring a group of colony politicians bickering for over a decade whether they should come together as a nation – unlike the 4th of July when the Americans unequivocally come together to celebrate their independence as a nation.

January 26th is really when NSW people can celebrate the shiploads of convicts and British military low life that were dumped on our shores, to the annoyance of the local Aboriginal people. Nevertheless, it has that element of the Australian cultural personality – always looking for a fight.

As for the King’s Birthday, it celebrates the entrails of the British monarchy, not the actual birthday of Charles III, which is November 14th. God knows why we are celebrating the Restoration of the British monarchy following the Cromwellian regime, sometime in the 17th century. Really worth celebrating!

At least Australia celebrates Labour Day, even if on four different days, in March (three states), May (two states), October (three states). There are two different dates in March – an earlier one for Western Australia and later two for Victoria and Tasmania. However, none of the dates coincides with the actual date when the Eight-Hour Day was inaugurated on April 21st, 1856.

University of Melbourne Law School

This was the outcome triggered by stonemasons working on the building of the University of Melbourne Law School who struck for better working conditions. May 1st being International Workers Day, the two were conveniently placed close together for a celebration of “the Worker”. In 1889 an international federation of socialist groups and trade unions designated May 1st as a day in support of workers, a day chosen because it coincided with the violent Haymarket Riot in Chicago three years earlier. However, the two dates above were inconveniently juxtaposed for Australia with the date of Anzac Day.

Anzac Day is probably the only holiday, apart from Christmas and Easter, which is celebrated across all Australia on the same day, where the holidays have significance. One celebrates those who lost their lives in War, picking a day which commemorated a disaster engineered by British military incompetence. Probably if we want to celebrate our miliary heritage, we should celebrate Monash Day, for the architect in bringing WWI to a close, despite the enduring incompetence of the British.

Monash being knighted on the battlefield by King George V, France, 12 August 1918

Discounting the universality of Christmas and Easter in Christian countries, which are still celebrated as holy days by an albeit diminishing number, these holidays have become more and more secular recreation. In Australia, mimicking the role of Thanksgiving in the USA, Christmas is our family holiday.

Our other holidays celebrate a horse race, various sporting events, and a variety of Show Days, which is urban Australia’s acknowledgement of its agricultural legacy. That is Australia! We even have a public holiday to celebrate a Sherrin of footballers being driven down the streets of Melbourne.

Now where is our Juneteenth? Maybe emancipation of Aborigines has yet to be fully realised to be able to celebrate. There is the ending of the White Australia, which we should celebrate, but don’t.  There is no specific date, but 1973 is the year generally accepted, although an increase in the number and percentage of migrants from non-European countries did not take place until after the Fraser government came into office. Sorry, any date would need to be pinpointed and given the way we make decisions in Australia, it would be anybody’s guess.

Perhaps we should also celebrate the day the first Jew was allowed to join the Melbourne Club. Maybe not a public holiday but probably more worthy than a football final holiday.

But then Laura, really Australia is not a racist country, with its pavlova coating of multi-culturalism. How dare you, Laura for telling the truth.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

What a cockup. But predictable. Albanese handed Shorten the consumption of The NDIS Sandwich and he is trying to not display his “inchurnment”.

In Australia there are many ways of wrangling money from the government, although the NDIS seems to have required minimal wrangling from applicants. Shonks and criminals, please line up here!


In my experience, not common in Australia, but for expertise in this matter ask Bob Katter.

The Mates Culture

Just give the grant out without any interference, meaning – stay within the amount for which the person making the grant has authority, having the sole delegation.

Have panels of mates who allocate the grant money under the laughable rubric of “peer review” – the majority of research grants are determined this way. The caveat – make sure they are mates. Stifles the outsider – ask Marshall and Warren, Nobel Laureates who were refused research grants by the research establishment.

The revolving door between the public service and consultancy firms whither ex-public servants work at higher rates of pay, doing the same job that they should have done while employed by the government.

Greedy ex-politicians in the Golden Trough together, “the Captain’s Club” mentality.

Inadequate supervision

Non-criminal – just use fraudulent qualifications/experience – the pink bats disaster is one recent example of this

The entry of organised crime, which seems to be the NDIS unfortunate situation, where the vulnerable – and ultimately the taxpayers who fund the NDIS – are exploited and successive government fails to act.

Why does it occur?

First, there is this urgency of Federal bureaucrats shovelling out the money willy-nilly. This removes any responsibility from the Department and the individual particularly.

Then there’s the custom of moving bureaucrats around so that there is no corporate memory and responsibility is diffused so it is nigh impossible to determine the actual person responsible. This enables organised crime to infiltrate the Department – the criminal insider. The Government is geared to destroy the whistleblower but not this criminal insider?

Now it’s the media (not the public service itself) which has shown up the problem because of some of the providers displaying the wealth garnered from this corrupted scheme.

The normal government response is to “take it seriously”; then do nothing. Shorten always affects small man aggression, but if he wanted to be effective, he would institute a group of “incorruptibles”, (not relying on the Federal Police solely) and examine the Department staff systematically. Criminals may be smart, but not that smart. The trail starts with the providers with signs of affluence and the people they are charged to protect. Treat them as though they are importing illegal drugs with the same vigour and publicity. The Nation cannot sustain organised criminals taking over social welfare – the NDIS, aged care and childcare – given the amount of money involved.

Get off your backside, Shorten, stop the smart comments and channel that aggression into effective ministerial action. First of all, I would do police checks on all those involved in shovelling out the money, including their family connections. Then it can all unravel, and undoubtedly Shorten, you have tools to assist that process. I have no up-to-date knowledge of these tools, but they are only adjuncts to a determination to get it corrected without resorting to an interminable Committee of Inquiry – or save me, yet another Royal Commission!

Remember the adage, Elliot Ness or Pointless Ness.

Thus Spake Mitchell McConnell

Below is an opinion piece from the Republican Minority Leader in the Senate, appearing in the NYT of June 6th. This is a damning criticism of those on the far-right fringe of his Party, which is destroying the traditional Republican Party with its malignancy that is Trump. Mitchell McConnell has been one of the Senators from Kentucky since 1985. He was two years old when D-Day occurred. He has taken this time, on the 80th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, to rebuke his own Party for repeating the isolationism advocated by his Party not to enter WWII, until after the attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7th, 1941 (more than two years after the outbreak of the war on September 4th, 1939) changed the American perception.

God knows what would have happened to Europe if Germany had not declared War on America and left the Americans only with the Pacific War theatre. But the Germans did not think it through. Nevertheless, the isolationists, with figures like Charles Lindbergh, the populist Roman Catholic priest, Father Coughlin and the Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg from Michigan, were a formidable force until that date. After Pearl Harbour, their advocacy was vanquished. Vandenberg later came round to support the American intervention.

Even in this opinion piece confronting the Trumpians, McConnell can’t shed all his partisan biases, (after all, it was Roosevelt, a Democratic President who steered the USA through WWII). Nevertheless, despite his faults, he has claims to be considered a true Republican with a legitimate lineage back to Abraham Lincoln.

But this, almost his last hurrah, the old man suffering from petit mal epilepsy, who in retirement wishes to remain on the right side of history, in more ways than one. Thus, I believe it’s worth noting.

On this day in 1944, the liberation of Western Europe began with immense sacrifice. In a tribute delivered 40 years later from a Normandy cliff, President Ronald Reagan reminded us that “the boys of Pointe du Hoc” were “heroes who helped end a war.” That last detail is worth some reflection because we are in danger of forgetting why it matters.

American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines joined allies and took the fight to the Axis powers not as a first instinct, but as a last resort. They ended a war that the free world’s inaction had left them no choice but to fight.

Generations have taken pride in the triumph of the West’s wartime bravery and ingenuity, from the assembly lines to the front lines. We reflect less often on the fact that the world was plunged into war, and millions of innocents died because European powers and the United States met the rise of a militant authoritarian with appeasement or naïve neglect in the first place.

We forget how influential isolationists persuaded millions of Americans that the fate of allies and partners mattered little to our own security and prosperity. We gloss over the powerful political forces that downplayed growing danger, resisted providing assistance to allies and partners, and tried to limit America’s ability to defend its national interests.

Of course, Americans heard much less from our disgraced isolationists after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Today, America and our allies face some of the gravest threats to our security since Axis forces marched across Europe and the Pacific. And as these threats grow, some of the same forces that hampered our response in the 1930s have re-emerged.

Germany is now a close ally and trading partner. But it was caught flat-footed by the rise of a new axis of authoritarians made up of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. So, too, were the advanced European powers who once united to defeat the Nazis.

Like the United States, they responded to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine in 2014 with wishful thinking. The disrepair of their militaries and defence industrial bases, and their overreliance on foreign energy and technology, were further exposed by Russia’s dramatic escalation in 2022.

By contrast, Japan needed fewer reminders about threats from aggressive neighbours or about the growing links between Russia and China. Increasingly, America’s allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific are taking seriously the urgent requirements of self-defence. Fortunately, in the past two years, some of our European allies have taken overdue steps in the same direction. 

Here at home, we face problems of our own. Some vocal corners of the American right are trying to resurrect the discredited brand of prewar isolationism and deny the basic value of the alliance system that has kept the postwar peace. This dangerous proposition rivals the American left’s longstanding allergy to military spending in its potential to make America less safe.

It should not take another catastrophic attack like Pearl Harbor to wake today’s isolationists from the delusion that regional conflicts have no consequences for the world’s most powerful and prosperous nation. With global power comes global interests and global responsibilities.

Nor should President Biden or congressional Democrats require another major conflict to start investing seriously in American hard power.

The President began this year’s State of the Union with a reference to President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 effort to prepare the nation to meet the Axis threat. But until the commander in chief is willing to meaningfully invest in America’s deterrent power, this talk carries little weight.

In 1941, President Roosevelt justified a belated increase in military spending to 5.5 percent of gross domestic product. On the road to victory, that figure would reach 37 percent. Deterring conflict today costs less than fighting it tomorrow.

I was encouraged by the plan laid out last week by my friend, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) which detailed specific actions the president and colleagues in Congress should take to prepare America for long-term strategic competition.

I hope my colleague’s work prompts overdue action to address shortcomings in shipbuilding and the production of long-range munitions and missile defences. Rebuilding the arsenal of democracy would demonstrate to America’s allies and adversaries alike that our commitment to the stable order of international peace and prosperity is rock-solid.

Nothing else will suffice. Not a desperate pursuit of nuclear diplomacy with Iran, the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism. Not cabinet junkets to Beijing in pursuit of common ground on climate policy. The way to prove that America means what it says is to show what we’re willing to fight for.

Eighty years ago, America and our allies fought because we had to. The forces assembled on the English Channel on June 6, 1944, represented the fruits of many months of feverish planning. And once victory was secure, the United States led the formation of the alliances that have underpinned Western peace and security ever since.

Today, the better part of valour is to build credible defences before they are necessary and demonstrate American leadership before it is doubted any further.

True in the First Part

The little girl was standing on a street in a village in Yugoslavia. The American plane came in on a strafing run towards her. The little girl caught a glimpse of the pilot. He was an Afro-American. The pilot did not fire and aborted the strafing run.

Eighty years later, a little girl stood on a street in Gaza. The Israeli plane came on a strafing run towards her …

The first is a true story.

Which brings me to David Crowe

In an opinion piece last Friday in the SMH, David Crowe described how two men in balaclavas defaced the office of a Labor MP and they left the Hamas “calling card”. They and the confederate who filmed the incident and loaded it onto social media were “vandals in the night using the same claims that the Greens made during the day”.

Crowe jumped to a conclusion, gratuitously besmirching Adam Bandt in the process, but he does not explicitly name the men in the balaclavas. Nevertheless, his assumption is plain.  Crowe may be right. However …

His piece was on page 28. In a spread on pages 24 and 25 of the same issue of the SMH there is an article on “Israeli War of Influence”. It details how deeply the Israeli government is into misinformation dissemination. So, be careful, Mr Crowe, of your assumptions unless you have removed the balaclavas and actually identified the vandals in person.

Judging from the conflict in the university campuses, thuggery is not confined to one side.

Perhaps you, Mr Crowe, have not met any of the Mossad agents in this country. I have – somewhat accidentally, as I have written in a previous blog.

It was not an easily forgotten experience.

Mouse Whisper

A person good at computers. A person skilled in doing anything quickly and comfortably on a computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone, usually using a mouse or not.

As one instance, my extremely competent wife got on the computer and fixed a payment issue with the bank in 10 minutes with just some clicks of the mouse. She’s a mouse whisperer.

There you are. Immortality in my 273rd whisper.

Modest Expectations 272 – Only 35.36 Parsecs Away

Last week, we received a circular from our local Council congratulating us on our performance in putting all our organic waste into the green bins provided. As a reward the Council delivered each household 75 compostable kitchen caddy liners free and told us that the emissions saved by our collective efforts were equivalent of taking 9,000 cars off the road for a year. The waste is commercially composted and not dumped in landfill, where it’s liable to emit methane and, according to the circular, methane is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The compost produced is sent to “Aussie farmers” apparently.

It is ironic that this is occurring in the electorate of a Prime Minister who is providing a huge subsidy to the fossil fuel industry so they can export all our national resources, under the American flag, predominantly to Japan and in so doing pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It would be ironic for him to save Western Australian seats only to lose his own to the Greens. Fanciful, but some must be thinking about it given his flagging popularity and the raw deal NSW is getting with the GST carve-up.

The prospect of climate change at times excites people and the accompanying evangelism for reducing the emissions rises in the community.  As reported above, the activism continues at the community level, but in the various Parliaments the well-moneyed lobbyists are constantly interfering in the process of Planet survival.

Even though the images of climate excesses are thrust in front of our eyes, replete with data the community, unless prompted by exercises as described above, seems to accept increased global warming, its causes and solution are too complicated to contemplate. As a result, the populace stops listening to the bombardment of doomsday data.

Nevertheless, there will be a tipping point. The actual point is a matter for speculation. Western eyes tend to discount the extreme consequences occurring in areas of the Planet where the skin of the people is not predominantly white.

Yet one consequence of climate change is rising sea levels and storms of greater intensity, so that previously valuable real estate is being eroded, as shown in the image above where houses are being washed away along the New England Coast into the Atlantic Ocean. The number of trophy houses built with ocean views that now lie as flotsam and jetsam is increasing. Whether the receding beachlines will galvanise the wealthy influential is doubtful, hoping that short term solutions of setting up rock or cement walls are built to delay the inevitable. More likely, those who want water views will seek sites which are the most resistant to the changes in the ocean storm intensity, and high enough to be above water levels to survive if the Antarctic totally melts away. Whaddya talking about, you climatic change Jeremiah?

We humans contribute to all this disaster by draining wetlands, building on floodplains, destroying mangroves and coral reefs and imposing ineffective solutions. Yet some defences have been effective if monitored closely.. Well before climate change was on the agenda, the Netherlands was considered vulnerable as much of the country is below sea level. After the disastrous flood in 1953, the Netherlands government built a highly sophisticated system of dykes to protect this seafaring nation constructed on the sandy knolls of the Rhine delta.

As one commentator has written: “Many point to the Dutch as an example of how cities can survive well below sea level and this would work with New Orleans except they suffer from large hurricanes while the Netherlands does not. With hurricane intensity increasing due to climate change and the natural swamp barrier eroding away, New Orleans will eventually have no protection outside the levees.  That comment will hold for all the settlements along the Gulf of Mexico coast. Once, there was a “highway” on which we travelled between the township of Sabine Pass and Galveston in the early 1990s. This road now no longer exists, having been washed away years ago.

To me the problem is very clear, the Planet is warming with a rise in the level of oceans inevitable but unpredictable given the increased prevalence of extreme weather. Flood, fire, pestilence and drought are all companions to the destruction of us humans, who will increasingly huddle in a World which we can no longer afford to repair – at least without any sense of equity. It will be impossible to insure properties – and not just those in the immediate path of the impact of climate change, but all properties will see massive increases in insurance cost as reinsurers spread the pain. This may become one driver in this increasingly dystopian world to do something. Maybe though, in this new reality we will just retreat into isolated fortified communities, an ultimate resultant of Trump’s mantra of “Make America Great.”

The problem is that denial still rages through certain sections of society. There is the semantic difference of whether climate change has been caused by humans or whether it is normal part of an intrinsic weather cycle of a planet naturally warming and cooling. Whatever the cause, our Planet is warming, and I prefer that the explanation is our fault and therefore potentially correctable by a collective change in human behaviour.

Therein lies the problem. Humans are divided into tribes, and it seems that the closer the tribes are, the more they tend to end up in conflict. One of the ways civilisation provides the chimera of change is to have forums – talk-fests every few years – where promises are cheap and the problem is just rolled down the road.

Now the world is in conflict in Ukraine, Israel and the Sudan as major focal points, these are inimitable to a response which requires a global co-ordinated effort. Conflict waged by old men who will never see the results of their handiwork makes it impossible. Added to that is we live in a world seduced by the quick solutions with the least interruption to our lifestyle. All renewable energy sources, once widely praised, are now being sowed with seeds of discontent as proponents of fossil fuel, led by the natural gas industry which seek to maintain their position. When the debate just becomes noise, then confusion reigns at home.

We maintain the status quo. It is not just inertia; it is the sense of knowing what you have been accustomed to in keeping warm, keeping cool, being able to determine how you travel, what food to consume – all defining comfort and shutting out uncertainty, which is really the definition of the future.

I grew up with wood fires, gas cooking and inefficient electrical appliances. We had fires in winter, because we still had fireplaces, but our chimney has been capped, and we have not had an open fire for over 20 years. We toyed with replacing that with gas heating, which we never did, but now we are about to install air conditioning.  We still cook with gas, as we cooked with when I was a child. What is the incentive to change, given that a switch will entail a significant cost in installing the required connection in an old terrace house. We have not placed solar panels on our roof, even though we have discussed doing it. It is not only cost but also priority.

Without government wholehearted intervention, it rests solely with the household, and in the case mentioned above local council support for positive change.  However, at the same time, being in a heritage area limits the utility of solar panel output. But what then when electoral survival is more important than planetary survival? Yes, it a matter of priorities. In the end to the detriment of The Planet, we have suffered from a malignant form of inertia, which we should correct before it will not matter – our house having been consumed by some unusual weather event.

As an epilogue to what I have written above, I must acknowledge after I had completed this blog item, a speech by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres. In his speech in New York he added his dire foreboding in the face of May 2024 being the hottest on record for that month plus other data forecasting of the future destination of Earth. He urged that there be a global ban on fossil fuel advertising. He did not completely abandon that the rise in the planetary temperature by 1.5oc can be met.

In response, a representative of the fossil fuel industry said blandly, “Our industry is focused on continuing to produce affordable, reliable energy while tackling the climate challenge, and any allegations to the contrary are false.”

There you are. Nothing to see here. Now what is that wall of water coming towards my plush office across the New York skyline. As you said, nothing to see.

A Powerhouse Food

I like tapioca. I remember it was called “frogs eggs” when I was a kid and also remember that it was not the most popular dessert.

However, reading the Washington Post, I came across a fascinating backstory of the plant from which tapioca was one product. Australians never think about cassava (also known as manioc or yuca); most Australians have never heard of it, but the article in the Washington Post is worth airing across the widest audience possible.

From Amazonia came cassava at the time when the hunter gatherer society was giving way to the agricultural revolution – as paraphrased from the Washington Post.  (It was a) trade off between calories used up for hunting against staying at home and growing edible products, gradually improving the productivity of them.  

Sometimes the most obvious truism has missed me. Once humans were able to form settlements, then that was beginning of having periods of rest instead of all the waking hours being spent hunting for food. Once humans started growing crops then the quality and quantity of edible plants improved as well as enhancing the concept of us humans working but also having downtime together.

Cassava was one such plant which spread from Amazonia to as far away as Panama within a few thousand years. It reduced the load of searching the forests in search of food. Today it is the staple diet of 600 million people, but what happens when it’s eaten raw?

Even though it became a staple food, when raw, it is toxic. This toxicity gave the plant pest resistance and herbivorous animals shied away from eating it. In technical terms, when cassava’s cells are damaged, by chewing or crushing, for instance, the linamarin and linamarase react, releasing a burst of noxious chemicals. One of them is cyanide gas. The burst contains other nasty substances as well, including nitriles and cyanohydrins. Large doses of them are lethal. 

There are also two longer term diseases. One is konzo, first described in the Congo in 1938, which affects  motor neurons, and leads to abrupt onset over hours or days of permanent but non-progressive spastic paralysis of the legs.

The second, tropical ataxic neuropathy, first described in Jamaica in 1897 is a syndrome of bilateral optic atrophy, bilateral sensory neural deafness, predominant posterior column involvement and pyramidal tract myelopathy, with ataxic polyneuropathy. It is cassava-associated through its toxic nitrile component.

Undoubtedly, these diseases were there when cassava was first grown, harvested and eaten. It was human endeavour, which resulted in a toxic plant being converted into a staple of the Amazonian diet. This would have been done by trial and error and is part of the capacity that we, as homo sapiens, have in being able to experiment and come to an understanding about how to use a plant so that the cropping, in this instance, was not abandoned.

Today, almost every rural family across the Amazon has a garden where one will find cassava roasting on the fire, being toasted into a flatbread called casabe, fermenting into the beer called masato, and made into soups and stews.

The ancient Amazonians devised a complex, multistep process of detoxification that transforms cassava from inedible to edible.

The process begins with grinding cassava’s starchy roots and shredding so that the toxic cyanide gases drift into the air, not into the lungs and stomach if they are eaten.

Next, the shredded cassava is rinsed, squeezed by hand and drained repeatedly, the action of the water releases more cyanide, nitriles and cyanohydrins, and the squeezing rinses them away.

Finally, the detoxification is completed with the resulting pulp being dried or cooked. These steps are so effective that they are still used throughout the Amazon today.

The Amazonians pushed their efforts even further, inventing new methods for processing cassava, keeping track and selectively growing varieties with desirable characteristics, gradually producing a constellation of types used for different purposes.

When this process is not followed as has occurred elsewhere over the thousands of years it has spread to the Caribbean, Asia and Africa, where the pathology has been described and the association made with cassava toxins.

Nevertheless, The Washington Post article reminded me that there are crops below my Western horizon, which should be promoted given that the climate is changing and the more resistant the plant is to the vagaries of such changes the better. The only caveat is when uninformed farmers try to avoid the purification, the consequences as outlined occur to their families. The challenge is clear, to provide worldwide the crop where the toxins have been bred out, leaving a crop to counter starvation in an unstable planet.

Shut the Gait

Jean-Martin Charcot

It’s all in the gait. Biden because of his apparent incipient Parkinsonism walks with that cog wheel rigidity. If the Democrats had consulted any neurologists, I’m sure that many of them would say he has next to no chance of lasting another four years. It is just ludicrous. The reason for his gait is attributed to peripheral neuritis. I have severe peripheral neuritis and he does not conform to my gait or that described by the French neurologist and ‘father’ of neurology, Charcot, when he was disturbed stamping feet of the patients in the ward above his office. That was the gait of the syphilitic tabetic where peripheral neuritis was a major symptom (which incidentally is not my cause).

Whereas Trump has a seemingly more normal gait, in that he does not shuffle, but it’s slower than it was. His problem is his fronto-temporal dementia, and the key word is “dementia”. At his age, the aggression caused by the dementia is misinterpreted by his supporters as hilarious and a sign that The Icon is still in full control. Forget the slurred jumbled syntax and the periods where he does not speak while the brain tries to get back in gear. As I have mentioned before, much would be resolved if they would both take independently and publicly a test of their cognitive ability. Except, Trump would inevitably bleat that it was “rigged”.

The Presidential race

These are old men, and while Trump is two years short of 80, he acts as one. One only has to look at him in 2016 and now to see the decay. The peau d’orange skin is far more pitted with age. It is easy to say that neither will go the distance for another four years, but neither side is willing to say this.

There is the Ratzinger solution – that is, to prop up a clearly vegetative person in all the robes of office and wheel him around denying what’s obvious. This Cardinal Ratzinger, his eventual successor, did propping Pope John Paul II up and making all the decisions until the Pope’s demise in 2005 at the age 84. Then he had the votes and became the next Pope, Benedict XVI. He was then 78 years old, Trump’s age now, but in a far better scheming mental condition.

This lesson has obviously not been lost on a group of Trump’s consigliere, but the consequences of his conviction for a felony in New York has yet to be played out. However, his only response has been his perpetual ranting against the rule of law and some delusion of himself as a dictator ensconced in his cocoon of irrationality, with images of Putin drifting through his cerebral decay.

But like all old men where illusion and delusion collide, Trump strides ponderously, a golden mane of baldness, a well-tailored corpulence and built-up shoes. After all, it is all in the gait.

A further thought bubble

As a footnote to the above, with two old men lurching towards their final curtain, the choice of Vice-President becomes crucial. Biden, like one of his predecessors, Lyndon Johnson, is a creature of the US Senate, deal makers where consensus and compromise was the “bread and butter” but two men unused to conflict where leadership is paramount. Winston Churchill was a failure in the polite gentlemanly etiquette in the world of consensus, but he perceived the retention of democracy under extreme threat against unbridled dictatorship and this was the essence of his great leadership. Churchill needed a Hitler to demonstrate his greatness. Biden by contrast seems wanting in the face of Trump, but here’s hoping.

Biden has Trump, a dictator in the wings who has revealed what he wants to do by his January 6 attempted “putsch”. The trouble that Trump projects is that of inchoate civil disorder to propel him into being President. Yet he has no planning skills, only the skills of a small town grifter cushioned by the original substantial inheritance from “daddy” to hide his deficiencies.

Ernst Röhm

Hitler had Ernst Röhm, who organised the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazi Party’s original paramilitary strike force, to spread fear and brutality with persecution of selected minorities, Jews, Romany, homosexuals and the disabled. Hitler, after falling out with Röhm, called him back from his advisor role to the Bolivian Army. Later Hitler had him executed in the Night of the Long Knives.

Sounds familiar (perhaps except for the last sentence) in  the context of the Trump choice for Vice-President. The Trump dilemma is to choose a Vice-Presidential running mate with a clear differentiation from Trump, a person who will not frighten the electorate and yet a person to organise his militia (an essential ingredient for the dictatorship which he craves).

Vice-President Kamala Harris

Biden has as his Vice-President, Kamala Harris, a woman of colour, who had a distinguished legal career and then was US Senator for California. She has been significantly underwhelming as Vice-President, having a very low rating with the electorate. The reasons for this are attributed to a misogynistic electorate and the fact that she is a woman – and of colour.

Nevertheless, reading the comments, she has a personality which in Australian terms is that of a “bucket of gravel”; and whether Biden’s level of popularity has dragged her down or vice versa is a moot point. The cruellest point made against her is that she is more show pony rather than work horse. She would not be the first to be called that – and that is true irrespective of gender.

Still, she is next in line as Vice-President in the event of Biden being re-elected and then not lasting the four years. She has already served as Acting President for an hour while the President was having a colonoscopy.

Mouse Whisper

She was reflecting looking out on a rainy day. “You know”, she said “AI could never have written the Gettysburg address.” Just as succinct to show brevity has a certain force, whereas AI would reflect the loquacious, bland self-importance so prevalent in our Society. But if AI advances, perhaps as a positive response, the public relations industry will gradually fade away. We mice can only hope.

Modest Expectation 271 – Two French Horns Join In

The Warri Gate

When the Defence Department advertise for recruits their first message is not that you are liable to be killed. However, when the rural medical profession wants to send a message, it uses the equivalent negative message as though rural medical practice is so hard that inevitably you will burn out under the weight of patients – an isolated martyr on the cross of medicine in the vastness of this Land.

I firmly hold the opinion that all medical graduates should be fully licensed to practice on graduation. After all, what is the long undergraduate program there for, and the intern year should fully provide the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to not only deal with emergencies but also to recognise emergencies. The importance of collegiality is to recognise when you are out of your depth in dealing with an emergency  and to not fear calling for support as if making a mistake is a felony, because we all do make errors. The earlier that recognition, the better for you, and moreover more importantly for your patient.

I graduated long ago when the profession was predominantly male, but my first wife was in the same year and I viewed the misogynistic remarks, the discrimination, and in one case undue professorial interest towards her, which would be completely unacceptable today. She was diminutive and beautiful, but when one drunken medical student tried to molest her, she flattened him with a punch which would have done justice to any featherweight champion.

It was a more uncomplicated time for men, but not so for women. Medicine had not differentiated, and there was a defined route to general practice. In first year residency now renamed “intern”, it was when, in my outer urban hospital, there were medical, surgical, and in the emergency department, three month rotations. The other rotation was ENT, at a time when if you survived childhood with your tonsils intact, you were lucky.  I and my companion resident medical officers were presumed to be destined for general practice.

Tonsillectomy was then common, and it was one technique that the general practitioner, who wanted to be competent as a surgeon, needed to master. Even in the teaching hospital, the intern developed skills, saw more patients then, so that by the end of first year, one accepted that life as a doctor was not part-time and “quality of life” was a secondary consideration. Moreover, as a young graduate one got used to the night call; it was part of the implicit social contract with the community.

Thus, the hospital residency was concerned with acquiring skills but also reconciled to responsibility being a doctor entailed. One had to do a year at the Women’s Hospital and a year at the Children’s Hospital as part of general practitioner training. There was an optional year in the general hospital where anaesthetic skills were consolidated and there was a further opportunity to improve procedural skills. There was no examination if you wanted to be a general practitioner. Your credentials were your references gained from what you had done in your three or four first post-graduate years.

Since those times, an accepted course unencumbered by bureaucratic regulation, which provided a recipe for procedural general practice, has all but disappeared. It should be emphasised that the medical staff within the hospital, either salaried or “honorary” had a strong commitment to teaching, not going missing and “skiving” off into private practice or the research laboratory.

The immediate response to this is that it’s an exercise in nostalgia for a long past professional development, unencumbered by the strangulation of bureaucracy enacted by governments with no knowledge of medicine. The profession bears the blame to some extent, relying on the mysteries of medical care leading to a gross asymmetry in the amount of information available to the community in an understandable form.

Penicillium mould

When I graduated, the profession was basking in the glow of the discovery of antibiotics and the Sabin oral polio vaccine. Investment in medical research followed. I spent five years in the Monash Department of Medicine undertaking both a Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy, a case of excessive “diplomatosis” in modern terms. My research scholarship paid a pittance which meant I had to do a variety of professional jobs including general practice, working for the Army (it being the time of the Vietnam War), examining conscripts for fitness to serve, and tutoring medical students and junior medical staff.

Medical research to me was inspirational, but then I was working with some great scientific minds, far better than myself. Because of this environment, I was fortunate and my research, although mediocre, helped to elucidate the role of angiotensin in causing hypertension. One of the results of all research worldwide in this area were more effective drugs, among the most important discoveries of the twentieth century. The growth of the pharmaceutical companies with the need to discover drugs to maintain their viability resulted in the rise in the cost of medicines. Similarly, the improvement in the tools created a tribal approach as distinct subspecialties grew around each of these totems. For general practice surgeons, the rise of laparoscopic surgery was just one reason for the demise of the general practitioner surgeon, whose techniques became more and more obsolete when distanced from new lesser invasive techniques. Post-procedural morbidity in turn diminished.

The other factor was the growth of the emergency medicine specialty. I am not the only one to believe this was one of the detriments to medical practice. They are essentially able to resuscitate patients, which was once the domain of the general practitioner. But they have no collegiality, they are essentially medical gypsies, working set hours and providing an easy but expensive substitute in regional and rural Australia, working hospitals divorced from the community. They have no community identity and are only a locus along the ongoing care. Unlike the general practitioner, they deal with “objects” for treatment and some are undoubtedly very good, but in the end they never have long term patient relationships. Personally, I think the whole emergency doctor profession needs a detailed review, but unfortunately that will never happen. They are too entrenched, and unless there is some modification in attitudes, rural general practice will continue to suffer.

If one ignores these elements in bold below, then rural general practice will always languish. The concept of one doctor being able to be on call 24/7 is a prescription for burn out. Any medical practice in any township should not be less than three doctors; and four would be preferred. The problem of what I would classify combatting the element of isolation is often the enmity between neighbouring towns, the closer they are geographically it increases. Thus, constructing a setting where four doctors serve multiple townships is harder than it seems.

Another factor I have observed and about which I have never varied my opinion the more I was exposed to rural practice is social dislocation by which I mean where your spouse does not want to come or where you need to send the children away to school.

Then there was the question of being able to be accepted by the community in which one practises. There are many flash points which challenge the third element, community tolerance, by which as I have explained in the past is the ability to get on with the community you serve. Conflict between health professionals and then within the community must be resolved and not turned into a chronic festering situation. I’ve observed that, and it greatly hinders recruitment.

The fourth element is succession planning which is poorly done, but it is so important that it deserves a cohort of skilled people who can help the doctors to recognise their professional mortality but also that the length of service in a practice should be considered in five-year aliquots.

Money by itself is not an incentive; and importing doctors without sensitive planning can be disastrous. In the next part, I’ll discuss what works and how neglect, dissonance and dysfunction have crept into the system.

At the head of this piece is a photograph of a place where I have been several times. On the coast in the Far East, the border separates two large urban areas, Coolangatta (Queensland) from Tweed Heads (NSW). Pictured is the Warri Gate, on the Far West border – a gap in the dog fence that separates from Queensland from NSW, where there is no settlement, only a gibber plain that stretches northwards. The nearest settlement is the NSW speck, Tibooburra where the Silver City Highway ends. That is Outback Australia – silent ground covered with Sturt desert varnish. The only companion, a kangaroo watching us intently.

“Delay, Deny, Die” – The Diggers’ Cry

When I had only just turned fourteen at the end of 1953, I got my first job assembling medical files of returned servicemen (service women were rare) in the then Repatriation Department. My boss, I remember, was a very nice guy called Paddy Saxon. He, like most public servants, was a returned serviceman. He had served in WWI, was nearing retirement and had already signed off. The unassembled medical files had built up despite there being allocated overtime to deal with them. The chap whose responsibility it was for the files spent most of the day staring out the window and assembling files very slowly and in silence. He too had been an ex-WWI “digger” and it was a time when cognitive loss was just “old age”.

Reading the huge delays and the time needed to train persons in the current Veterans’ Department in assessing claims reminded me of my holiday job within the Department  divided by those who took a positive view towards the returned servicemen’s claims and those who were inherently suspicious of any claims.

The reason that I knew about this difference in approach was by listening to my father, who was a doctor within the Department. He worked on the basis that those who had fought for Australia deserved compensation, unless otherwise indicated. He had served in the Navy during WWII, which interrupted his graduation as a doctor. This occurred in 1946 after which he undertook his first-year residency working at the Caulfield Repatriation Hospital from which he moved to becoming a salaried medical officer within the Department.

Before the War, he had graduated in both commerce and law, and like many such graduates, the Great Depression truncated his career prospects, and at my mother’s urging he started a medical course in 1935-6.  Information about this progress is somewhat murky, but he rubbed the Professor of Obstetrics up the wrong way to such an extent that he was consistently failed, a situation which would be impossible these days – but that is another story.

Nevertheless, the legacy he left with me was a sense of confronting injustice, and with his armament of experience, he was a formidable champion of the diggers.

It is thus interesting to read about what now has been occurring in the Veterans’ Department, the successor to the Repatriation Department. There was a far greater load of claimants in his time, and he increased his irritant role in the Department by being the national Secretary of the Repatriation Medical Officer’s Association. He thus wielded substantial hidden influence.

I would suggest that if he had been in full flight these days he would have been very vocal over the behaviour of the previous Morrison Government in delaying the $6.5 billion being allocated, but then he had the returned servicemen backing him up. The Department found his forthright advocacy an irritant at the best of times, but he got things done.

As it was, as has been in reported some detail in the Melbourne Age,

In 2018, Scott Morrison said he understood “first-hand the battles so many veterans face when they leave the defence forces”, and argued that as a nation, more could always be done to recognise the men and women who had served in uniform. Unfortunately, that didn’t extend to processing veterans’ entitlement claims.

By April 2023, the average processing time for a veteran’s claim was 435 days, while 36,271 claims – almost half of those lodged – hadn’t even been looked at (known as “unallocated” cases).

This was a known and growing issue for the Coalition. In March 2022, then veterans’ affairs minister Andrew Gee threatened to resign unless extra money was put aside to clear the backlog, of 60,000 unallocated cases, veterans looking at their claim for financial support.

Morrison’s government employed outsiders through labour hire companies without any knowledge of what was required. Given the track record of government, somebody in the appointment chain may have received “a brown bag” with orders to obfuscate the claims process. Switching back to public service employees to undertake the work, by the Labor Government, the backlog of unallocated cases has reduced to just 2,569 and the processing waiting time, while still far too long, has dropped by 62 days. Staff has been increased.

In the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, it is said it takes up to six months to train the specialist staff responsible for overseeing claims. And so the previous government’s use of labour hire ended up being a disaster for the Department and veterans. Still, I find a six-month training program to be somewhat excessive.

The Age article goes on to praise Minister Keogh, Treasurer Chalmers, and Finance Minister Gallagher for clearing up this backlog “without fanfare”. In addition, they’ve made a conscious decision not to politicise a situation which was an absolute mess and ripe for point scoring and public criticism.

What is depressing is the lack of champions for the “diggers” within the Department, and the fact that the RSL has been strangely quiet, given there are 20,000 returned servicemen from Iraq and Afghanistan; and the Vietnam war veterans are now well and truly in the ranks of the elderly. However traditionally, this Department has not attracted the top grade bureaucrats, and moreover does not attract attention unless there is a Morrison – in other words “grandiose announcements and then stuff-up cloaked in religiosity”.

Also, when I was working for Repatriation Department, I assembled all the outstanding medical files, including the backlog, in less than a month. So much so that my supervisor told me to slow down. Instead, once I had no files to assemble in my in-tray, I went into the rooms where the medical files were kept, and with the enthusiasm of youth assembled the files of several high ranked officers not knowing if I was transgressing any regulation.  In any event nobody stopped me. I was amused when I encountered what amounted to the brown hard back medical record. This was the venereal disease record, and there was no way this could be missed. It was an early introduction to my eventual medical career.

Not what it seems

The NSW Branch of the Australian Medical Association announced last Friday an exclusive offer of premium red wines discounted by up to 77 per cent, priced from $550 a bottle. Like all offers which seem to be too good to be true, I sought the reasons from a wine insider.

Yes, when I read the name of the wines out, they were individually fine wines. He further said that he tended not to accept the rating system, where 100 was perfection and hardly ever reached. He relied on his taste buds, the distillation of multiple cranial nerve connections with the mouth, including the complex innovation of the tongue. However, the ratings were there to reassure the potential purchaser.

The prices stated in the AMA advertisement were those projected for the overseas market. Unfortunately, when the tariffs were removed by the Chinese Government, the expected surge in the Chinese wine trade has not eventuated. The Chinese are not buying Australian wine; they have gone elsewhere during the time Australia was punished with high tariffs.

Added to that, wine consumption all over the World is falling, and this applies particularly to red wines – at a time when there is a glut of wines worldwide.

I note that ABC’s Landline ran a segment on the sale of Australian wines to India. The tone was optimistic, but I’m sceptical.  Only a small percentage of Indians drink foreign wine behind a high tariff wall (150 per cent). Having ordered foreign wines and spirits in the various hotels in which I have stayed, you would think that Ned Kelly was an Indian, so great was the cost.

Alcohol cannot be advertised in India, which inhibits the adoption of wine, and even given the growing Indian middle class together with a growing number of Indians now living in Australia who retain family contacts on the subcontinent and can be used as a positive factor for an increase of wine’s popularity growth remains slow. One source warned nevertheless: “The majority of consumers are more focused on wine’s pricing and taste; since it is not an indigenous beverage, consumers often have only a basic understanding of the right etiquette to purchase, order, serve, or drink wine, nor do they know about wine regions and varieties in detail.”

Personally, I would never drink wine with a curry. Beer is the preferred drink if you need alcohol to wash down the vindaloo.

Completely Irrelevant as any Sporting record

One of the idiosyncrasies is how guys like Gideon Haigh and Bruce McAvaney have turned their encyclopaedic memory for sporting trivia into a career. Both have a dedicated following, as though retention of irrelevance confers some oracular status. For most of the community such modern Data Oracles are just dead boring, but then I would have found the Delphic Oracles not to my refined philistine attitudes – emoting rubbish to a rapt audience.

So, as with any good hypocrite, I have joined in to discuss the rise of a German football team, Bayer Leverkusen. The team was founded in 1904 by employees of the pharmaceutical company, Bayer. The company headquarters are in Leverkusen in North Rhine – Westphalia. Traditionally it has been an also-run team.

As The Boston Globe stated “Bayer Leverkusen are standing on the precipice of history” – whatever that means.

Bayer Leverkusen

The narrative explained that this lowly German soccer team has just finished its Bundesliga season undefeated (51 wins), the first team to achieve the feat. Teams in other leagues may have gone undefeated, but none has ever done what Leverkusen had done in the Bundesliga. The ballon burst with the first of their final cup challenges. Leverkusen lost to Italian club Atalanta in the Europa League final 3-1. Leverkusen rehabilitated themselves by then winning DFB Pokal Final (German Cup) against the Rhineland-Palatinate club, FC Kaiserslautern 1-0 last Saturday.

Why the success? Hiring a smart guy with a chequebook.

Early last season, with the club in second-to-last place, they hired Xabi Alonso, a Spanish former midfielder with a very good coaching record. He made some shrewd signings, and voilà…

Leverkusen started well, salvaged six tied games and did not relinquish first place after the sixth week of the season. Must thank Gabe Edelman for this piece of priceless sporting trivia which obviously eluded my companion sporting bores. Who’s interested in German football in this Country when there are irresistible data about the number of runs made by JMux or the number of jockey premierships been won by David Wornout. Or did I get that wrong? 

Mouse Whisper

One of the obscure topics the Boss was talking about was the Livery Companies of various trades set up in London from mediaeval England onwards when the trades began to band together as de facto Unions without the cloth cap association. The first were the mercers, from which the generic name of “Merchants” is derived. They were essentially traders in cloth, unsurprising given the importance of the wool trade to England at that time.

One matter which led to the phase of “being at sixes and sevens” came about because of the dispute about which Worshipful Company, Merchant Taylors or Skinners (furriers), should be ranked six or seven, a dispute over which received its charter first.

I’m indebted to Wikipedia for the following. In 1515, the Court of Aldermen of the City of London settled the order of for the 48 livery companies then in existence, based on those companies’ contemporary economic or political power. The 12 highest-ranked companies remain known as the Great Twelve City Livery Companies. Presently, there are 111 City livery companies, all post-1515 companies being ranked by seniority of creation, the last, number 111, being for nurses.

I was pleased to see there is not a Worshipful Company of Mousecatchers.

Worshipful Company of Skinners

Modest Expectations – Nancy Laurie

Above is a cross-section of a camphor laurel tree. The wood is considered to have an even texture but has moderate durability; the colour diversity is shown in the photo. It is used for furniture, especially veneer. Because of its grain and lightweight, it is used in decorative craft.

Yet the camphor laurel is classified as a noxious weed in NSW. Unfortunately, it was introduced in the 1820s, and was used as a shade tree in rural areas. The wood is popular for furniture because of its attractive grain and light weight. Camphor oil used to be produced commercially as a liniment for aches and pains, but its commercial production was banned after too many lethal ingestions.

Across the road from our home is a giant camphor laurel with its characteristic smell. We are constantly plucking the seedlings from the garden. It is an arboreal predator and if left unchecked, spreads across land where it was innocently planted as a wonderful shade tree, not as an arboreal predator.

This tree has been tolerated by our local Council, whereas the clumping bamboo, which was grown in the lane by the previous owners to protect the house from dust in the lane and the sound of traffic down this lane, which once served as a “rat-run”, was the subject some time ago of inspection and deemed as a noxious weed, although it is a clumping bamboo. Nothing happened. In fact, the Council policy, uncritical green, does nothing in the name of conservation. So, when the liquid amber (planted by previous owners) invaded the terracotta pipes, causing a blockage, we cleared the pipes, repaired the damage, and then cut down the tree which had become a hazard, and ground the stump into sawdust.

When trees grown by Councils are involved in damaging property, it seems to be their responsibility. However, there seem to be so many loopholes through which arrows of obfuscation can be fired on the crowd down below from the Council’s castle that we rate-paying peasants are easily confused by this flight of regulations raining down on us from these nouveaux feudal lords known as The Council.

Yet there was a recent report of a significant judgement against a local Council that planted a white cedar so close to the plaintiff’s home and caused such significant cracks in the brickwork, that the house had to be rebuilt.

One of my friends had a joust with a tree planted outside her house. Recently, she started having troubles with her plumbing. Blockages and flooding of her basement floor occurred. Eventually she employed a plumber with the skill to extract nature’s legacy. Shown here is the root extracted from the plumbing.

The only responsibility the Council seems to accept is that it planted the tree, but as for the vagaries of the tree with its extensive invasive properties, they just look the other way, although they have promised to cut down the tree. Obviously, Councils’ second line of defence is stonewalling to encourage the afflicted to use their own home insurance when the flight of regulations is repelled.

One of the problems is that a casualty in the urbanscape is the tree. If migrants come from countries, scarred by war or poverty, the tree is not a high priority. Couple it with the obsession to build the house over the whole land leaves almost no space for gardens. The developer, usually at the behest of the local Council, plants a desert ash or a similar tree on the nature strip. Left to the elements with nobody responsible for their maintenance, it is not surprising how many soon die or shrivel into a forlorn remnant.

The conventional garden with which I grew up, with avenues of trees in the suburbs, are disappearing. I was watched the TV program “Gardening Australia” on and off for years. European gardens are the featured topics, and the suburban gardens are steadily shrinking or going indoors, so the tree is less featured. Migrant gardens concentrate on food, and the trees grown are those which produce fruit.

We planted an olive tree on the verge outside our house some years ago after the nondescript previous tree had been knocked over by a car. The olive tree has yielded annual crops of up to 5kgs of olives. Passing school children have learnt the lessons of biting into a freshly harvested olive.

Passers by some years have swiped the crop before we could harvest it. That indicates our olives have “a market”. I have thought, what if the street were lined by olive trees with each household encouraged to look after them – the whole program being an initiative of the local council. Then the annual olive harvest street party would provide a useful product, while assisting the development of that elusive quality “community” – rather than the street trees being an object of resentment or neglect.


One of the laws of politics is never promote somebody more intelligent than you are; and moreover, having a more deft touch. Prime Minister Albanese is a case in point. The latest Budget which the Treasurer produced shows the empty cranium of Labor policy. Just because the leader of the Opposition has been described by a former West Australian Premier as a “dullard”, it does not excuse the Budget handed down last week.

Big deal – giving all Australians a small relief for their energy bills, when the government is piling high the subsidies for the fossil fuel industries, including the Gorgon carbon capture project, which does not work. Everybody, including the Gorgon owners, knows that – except apparently Albanese.

The disaster for Albanese was his choice of a West Australian to be Minister for Resources. She represents the inheritors of a once mendicant State, now with overflowing coffers, despite most of its resources being shipped overseas, from which Australia gets a pittance. West Australia with its budgetary surplus is hardly mendicant, but it still wants more.

Added to this, Australia is now using taxation revenue to give the fossil fuel industry literally a free handpass, providing it de facto  $566.1m courtesy of Geoscience Australia activity; “to map Australia’s endowments of critical minerals and national groundwater systems”, for which industry does not have to pay a cent. The industry pays nothing for having access to what I would have thought should remain a resource to be bought under licence. I would have thought there should be also security concerns. I cannot understand why, given the paranoia keeping secret every piece of Government trivia, especially if it is hiding corruption.

At this point it is noted that the Woodside boss is an American, a hired gun who has roamed the world as an Exxon paladin. No allegiance to Australia but to American Mammon.

Contrast this highly qualified carpetbagger who runs Woodside to another chief executive, for whom Australia was all important, where his work in building BHP underpinned Australian prosperity – Essington Lewis.

He assisted in the establishment of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and many munitions facilities meaning Australia was better prepared for industrialisation when the war started in 1939. During World War II, he was the Director-General of the Department of Munitions under John Curtin (incidentally elected from West Australia).

Different times. Different Prime Minister.

Today, the Labor Government flounders around in the wreck of neoliberalism, where philanthropy is bribery, the strings attached in a tight coil so that, to borrow a phrase, it becomes a “road to serfdom.”

Fortunes have been amassed, where cabals have substituted for the theoretical free markets, corrupted by political influence, as public servants, parliamentarians, lobbyists and consultancy firms feed from a golden trough labelled Taxation Revenue.

What has Woodside contributed to Australian prosperity?

Richard Goyder, one of the lesser druids of neoliberalism says it all in his latest Woodside Chairman’s annual report:

“… delivering strong operational and financial performance, laying the foundations for future growth, while continuing to return value to shareholders – speaks to the quality of our company’s current leadership and strategy.”

Shareholders, not Australia, note. His speech, a paean to neoliberalism. Globalisation means that capitalism is unbothered by national borders, but in reality the world economies are retreating into protectionism, in the face of this failure of globalisation.

Quantum computer

How the Government is handling the quantum computing handout is not a particularly good look, but it is a relic of providing without due diligence. One may ask where is the business plan? PsiQuantum is a quantum computing start-up that this month received one billion dollars from the Australian government in the Budget forward estimates.

By contrast, the British government, has granted PsiQuantum £9 million ($17.1 million) to assist the company set up an already functioning R&D facility at the Daresbury Laboratory (home to the Accelerator Science and Technology Centre [ASTeC] and the Cockcroft Institute), and it’s not the only company to have been given a grant. The British are wondering what is going on here in Australia – and they are not the only ones. Only another day in the mates’ quagmire government.

By the way, the Chinese and Americans are well ahead, while Australia awaits the facility to be built in Brisbane so Australia can stride to the front of the field rather it being the Big Squander.

The Labor Party is retreating towards protectionism, while Australia is drowning in mateship where corruption is ever present. There are many examples of “mates in cahoots with corruption”. The word is “rort”, an Australian slang derived from “rorty”, English Cockney rhyming slang. Yet there seems to be undue reluctance to pursue the players in each of the myriad examples of rorting scattered around the various parliaments. Bad look!

Watch for the advance of the “coloured parties” at the next Federal election. The lustre of the Aston electoral win has well and truly been lost. An obsession with retaining West Australian seats, while neglecting Victoria and NSW, is not very smart politics. 


The political implications of the new Great Stink are about to become even more significant, however, because the finances of Britain’s privatised water industry, which has taken on debts of more than £60bn since it was privatised in 1989, are if anything more putrid than the rivers it pollutes. The largest of Britain’s water companies (the same company that is spilling sewage into Colwell Brook) is Thames Water, which supplies water and sewage services to 16 million people. It may be about to collapse.

A person with inside knowledge of Thames Water, who asked not to be identified, told me about the wide spread frustration within the company at failing equipment and a lack of money to fix problems that have been growing for years. They also said there is a sense among those working for Thames Water today that they are paying the price for the past, specifically the years 2006 to 2017, when the firm was owned by the Australian investment manager Macquarie. It loaded Thames Water with billions in debt while paying very large dividends. In that time, debt rose from £3.4bn to £10.8bn. New Statesman

Sydney Water is a statutory state-owned corporation. It is 100% owned by the people of New South Wales. Two shareholding ministers fully own the shares in Sydney Water, on behalf of the people of NSW. The shareholding ministers of Sydney Water are the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance.

The factual statement about our water supply here in Sydney is reassuring. Bloody Hell, what if I would have some hedge fund located in New York owning it; and that applies equally to our home-grown equivalents.

OUR water

The privatisation of water, one of our last major resources in government hands, so fundamental to our continent, so prone to drought, should not ever be even a footnote, even of the most corrupted politicians. Given the experience of selling the electrical infrastructure and toll road gouging, one could imagine the price of water during drought. The last sentence from New Statesman’s excerpt of the English experience says it all.

Currently we Australians are the shareholders in our water resources rather than gougers, for instance, in Cayman Islands!

The Last Kampong

In the 2021 December issue of The Economist there is a very perspicacious article about the last kampong (Malay village) in Singapore, owned by a Ms Sng, which is the Kampong Lorong Buangkok. When the article was written she was living there with 25 tenant-households that pay a small rent. It frequently floods and is earmarked for future development projects, because there is very little land left in this Island-State, which was once just a series of kampongs before it became a Chinese commercial republic.

I remember a vain search of the kampongs during a visit to Singapore in 1974, because I was told that I could find Kitchen Ming ware there, and at a good price. I was sold “a pup”, no Kitchen Ming anywhere. As a parenthetic comment, thirteen years later, I received Kitchen Ming as a present for my birthday. That was my kampong adventure, and it is a distant memory, now stimulated by reading the Last Kampong.

Singapore was a colonial outpost thought by the British to be perfectly fortified, with all the heavy artillery aimed out to sea, whereas the Japanese came in the back entrance invading down the Malay peninsula in 1942 and overwhelming the inadequate Allied forces stationed there.

Singapore then was a mosaic of kampongs dotted with the elements of British rule such as Raffles Hotel, symbols of a time when the red colour of Albion dominated the Globe. Raffles survives. I’ve stayed there where the signature Singapore sling can still be quaffed and having Tiffin – north Indian snacks directly from the maharajah table combined with elements   of the English breakfast.

But while I have experienced staying at this once jewel colonial hotel in Asia, in 1971 we stayed in a much lesser hostelry, The Goodwood Park Hotel. It was only ten years earlier that 70 per cent of Singaporeans lived in kampongs. By 1990, 87 per cent lived in government housing. The transition had taken 20 years, and showed what a central government can deliver with a strong leader, Lee Kuan Yew who, from the outset of his government in 1965, had a clear vision of the place of the new Republic of Singapore in Asia.

This housing change was achieved by a combination of factors with a workforce which would be impossible in Australia, where the ideals of a Federated Country have been reduced to endless bickering and point scoring.

While the Last Kampong has had chunks of its land removed, it still remains as a viable if shrinking reminder of Singapore’s heritage. One should be reminded that the Government has recently sacrificed the local racing industry to residential development. The economics of the racing industry were less important than housing; a logical lesson which Australian would find impossible to entertain. Think back to the NSW Government’s cowardice in its failed attempt to close down greyhound racing, one of the most distasteful manifestations of Australian culture, consuming as it does valuable real estate. Then contrast this with the Singaporean priorities.

Why does the Last Kampong survive? It does have its political defenders, not senior people in government, but sufficient to argue the case to preserve a time when it was the way of life. By doing so, it invites the young to enjoy a sliver of Singapore’s past. Maybe that is too romantic construction.

The Singapore Government has responded at times by saying it would not seize the village for several decades, whatever the reasons.

Lee Kuan Yew was a leader, with vision for his electorate. He was authoritarian and turned Singapore into a one-party state. He was not flawless, but he encouraged his people to accept his vision rather than repressing and plundering the State.

He had the touch, which few of our political leaders have ever had, but he lived in a country of 727 sq kms, but with a population which grew three-fold and a mean income from Sg$2,000 to Sg$ 70,000 today. Easier to control than Australia goes without saying.

The Last Kampong provided me with the impossibility of the current Australian housing policy. It has no link to anything but reduced migration at a time when there are an estimated 11m dwellings for 26m people of which 1m were unoccupied at the time of the last Census, and more intimately 13m empty bedrooms.  The relevance has been contested for many reasons, all of which are speculative, but on average the 2021 Census reported about 7 to 8 per cent empty houses were in the capital cities. That is not very much different from the Singapore figure.

But Singapore does not have the genius of Peter Dutton to also make sure the guns are still aimed out to sea.

I await the Last Victorian Lace.

Forbes Advocate

I have just taken out a Forbes Advocate subscription to see how the Forbes community are reacting to providing the protection the mayor announced after the murder of Molly Ticehurst for women in the community from future violence.

A walk in the park is hardly a permanent solution.

I’ll monitor the Forbes Advocate for the next month.

Inter alia, I note in the current issue reports of the arraignment of a 63 year old man living in Forbes for 71 historical sexual assault charges between the 1974 and 2023 regarding four then underage girls.

In a community traumatised by Molly Ticehurst’s death, what did the magistrate do? Bail as reported was refused, even though he was being treated for leukaemia and had been awarded Forbes’ Citizen of the Year in 2022.

Phyllis Miller OAM, Mayor of Forbes

The Mayoral response  to protect her community seems to have an effect perhaps. More direct action by the community to be shown?

So here goes, seeing what the community does over the next month.

Mouse Whisper

Last week, I was watching ABCR – ABC Rodent, when the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, was delivering his Budget Speech, setting out the financial prospects for the oncoming year in Australia.

On the companion channel, ABCR22 was sensitively screening the BBC program “Would I Lie to You?” This program is hosted by Rob Bryden, who has a surprising resemblance to Jim Chalmers.

“Would I lie to You?” was a bit more entertaining and not one use of the word “responsible”.

Jim Brydon
Rob Chalmers

Modest Expectations – Virat Kohli

True happiness, according to Epicurus, was not found in indulgence or excess but in the state of ataraxia – the untroubled mind, the freedom to focus and think with clarity. Ed Smith (former professional English cricketer & journalist) remembers being taught this principle at 18, when a cricket coach told him what makes great players distinct is that they are capable of “the absence of irrelevant thought”.

The smartphone is a machine for introducing it as often as possible. The business model that underpins it is that human attention must be broken, again and again. Silicon Valley has conducted a 15-year, unregulated experiment on the brains of most of the world’s children; Jonathan Haidt, author of The Coddling of the American Mind, wants to call time on it. 

Haidt cites Kurt Vonnegut’s 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron”, which envisages an American dystopia in which being excellent at anything (and therefore un-egalitarian) has been made illegal. The preferred weapon of “handicapping” exceptionally bright people is to make them wear an earpiece which buzzes roughly every 20 seconds to sabotage sustained concentration. Stopping attention is the lever by which intelligence can be flattened.

The realisation that the use of smartphones has the dark side of being the vehicle for not only  pathological distraction, but also cyber bullying, has been well documented. It has been shown that confiscation of these phones when arriving at school and then returning them after school has had a positive effect. However, if you just ask the students to turn their phones off, but allow them to keep them whilst in school, then nothing much changes.

The importance of there being no exceptions means that the school must have a protocol for emergencies which much be continually reinforced. As for contacting parents via phone, the haven for manipulative bullies’ whining, then there is no reason why “little Johnny” cannot be filtered through a designated cohort of teachers.

As one source has said, “the stages of panic, grief and ultimately some level of acceptance” are the student reactions to such a ban.

Yet the dependence on a well-balanced teaching staff is paramount for successful implementation..

I have two anecdotes which exemplify the problem of teacher dysfunctionality.

The first was when I was in junior school, either ten or eleven years old. Our teacher, who was very emotionally labile, sent the whole class of about 25 boys to the Principal to be caned. I remember us boys, all clustered in front of the Principal’s study in a dark corridor. The Principal came out, took one look and sent us all back to the classroom. He then asked the teacher, who by now was a blubbering mess, to come to his study. The Principal was a very calm, authoritative man; he always showed understanding. The teacher left the school soon after.

The other time was when one of my sons, aged seven, was refused permission to go to the toilet on more than one occasion. My then wife and I confronted the teacher, whose truculence disappeared under some very tough talking, but still did not admit any fault. The then Principal, unlike my junior school Principal preferred to look away. That was the only time we ever intervened in our children’s progress through school. We did not have confront the teacher again despite the weak Principal.

Later when I ran a community health program, I remember the rationale given for having a school nurse.  One could monitor the pupils seeking school nurse support.  If, in the extreme example, large numbers from one class presented at the sick bay, it is an indication that such a class may be dysfunctional; on the other hand, if no children came to the sick bay, then was that undue denial by the teacher to seek the school nurse care, rather than believing it was a very healthy class?

One may question raising these extremes in teacher behaviour, but banning smartphones requires an acceptance across the community, despite differing attitudes and behaviour of school staff – until it becomes the community norm. In turn, this requires a very narrow “behavioural corridor” on how this ban is administered.

Otherwise, as I try to write, I can hear that intermittent Vonnegut-generated buzzing in my ear, but I refuse to be distracted. So should all children be afflicted by this seductive but essentially dystopian device in school. You know talking face-to-face is a way of confronting life and forcing the bullies out in the open.

I was bullied on my first day at school by a child who later became a respected member of the clergy. My father who came across this interchange, made an on-the-spot decision. He had me taught to box – never had to use that skill. Knowledge was enough. But what if I had grown up in this era?

Albanese – 2015

We’re used to seeing a few slip-ups and gotchas in Question Time, but yesterday Anthony Albanese shocked us with a particularly poor choice of words.

The Labor MP has copped some criticism over apparently urging one of his colleagues to “smash her!”, when rising to grill health minister Sussan Ley.
As member for Ballarat Catherine King rises to question the coalition MP, Albanese can be heard to casually call out the aggressive phrase from the front bench, with laughter from colleagues following.
The choice of words is at odds with the opposition’s current focus on addressing domestic violence.

Hot Copper may have reported this 2015 incident, but I have seen the video, which now seems to have disappeared from the Web. It is very unappetising spectacle of a snarling Albanese.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese again calling the troops to action?

From my simple point of view, this man who has publicly advocated a violent act against a woman is totally unacceptable to be Prime Minister of this country; neither he, nor those who laughed along with his unappetising snarler should be allowed to remain in Parliament by their electorates.

Thus, I do not buy the argument why single Albanese out when other Parliamentarians have an appalling record in this area as well. I agree one cannot ignore that. However, Albanese is the Prime Minister, and he is constantly saying that men should be respectful towards women. He has demonstrated in the incident quoted above to be anything but that. A Prime Minister should be called to a higher standard.

It is a challenge for the Labor women to have as their leader a man who advocated violence against Sussan Ley. I’ve been around long enough to hold the view that an outburst is unlikely to be a single episode, and was there any apology?

The Tragedy of Sydney

After consideration of all the material, I declared that it was a terrorist incident – NSW Commissioner of Police Karen Webb.

I penned this just after these two incidents and then put it away to see what happened after the acute reaction had subsided, and whether I would change much. The answer: not much. Shortened it and modified the invective.

I have witnessed the emergency responses to the horror which dogs every community when faced with the lone mad person, invariably male, who goes on a rampage killing multiple people senselessly.  In the case of the Bondi incident, he may have been a paranoid schizophrenic completely delusional, but he was killing people willy-nilly, until a senior policewoman in shirt sleeves shot him dead.

However, what struck me was these men resembling at a distance Michelin Men in black with very large guns rolling across the ground apparently after the fact. As the camera zoomed in, these guys were wearing black balaclavas, as if they were about to rob the Centre; and since they appeared to be made to look anonymous, I wonder how you distinguish them from terrorists or just well-organised thieves? Just a question of seeking information.

Then, on top of that, a 16 year old teenager stabbed an Assyrian Church priest. Subdued by the congregation, the teenager lost a finger in the melee. Belatedly, police turned up implying that they were there to sort out the situation when it was mostly over. All that needed to be done was to quieten the crowd which had gathered and ensure the safety of the injured assailant. Instead, it was reported that the police used tear gas.

The violence on that Monday night was as disgusting as it was perplexing, given the police were there to help Bishop Emmanuel and to investigate his stabbing.

The reason for this deployment was the responsibility of the accidental Commissioner, the former traffic cop, Webb. She declared this stabbing an act of terrorism whatever the logic, an over-reaction ensured.  Even the Premier seemed initially to admit her order was an over-reaction. The teenager was known to police and had convictions, Once the teenager was found out to be Muslim, then the story of this teenager being a part of a terrorist cell grew and in turn justified Webb’s order.

The Assyrian response

The Assyrian community, irrespective of which Assyrian church they followed, had gathered and suddenly the government had sent the police to presumably arrest the “terrorists”.  The reaction of the community was not one of submission but one of fury.

What happens when people in uniform arrive, for no apparent reason, to confront the crowd; unless there is demonstrable leadership it is not long before a crowd becomes a mob. In this case, there were injuries to people. People were taken to hospital including two police. The mob jumped all over the police cars, rendering half of them unusable. Why were there so many police cars (the actual number seems to vary); what was the reason, given it was supposed to be one lone teenager terrorist attack?

It seems some of the police were not dressed as black Michelin Men but still with their Perspex face shields and weaponry presented an ominous sight. Yet they appeared to be overwhelmed by the mob despite their use of tear gas, if the reports were true.

Over the following month, they hunted down the protesters displaying to the media that it takes at least five heavily armed officers to arrest one of these rioters.

I was faced with a potentially nasty situation in 1960. The annual end-of-term engineer-commerce students’ marbles match – an excuse for a sort of Eton wall game that was held on the Commerce lawns outside the University Union.

The Commerce lawns in a wet May were, to say the least, very soggy. The ground was once a lake and soon degenerated into a muddy confrontation. It was tolerated as a way for students to let off steam (remembering the University was then a predominantly male institution). The police kept away. However, on this occasion, some idiot smashed the fire alarm, and before long with bells ringing two fire engines arrived, bowling into the students spilling onto the roadway. This minor show of aggression turned ugly when one of the students tipped a bucket of mud through the window of the one of the fire trucks.

Then the confrontation threatened to escalate as these burly firemen got out the vehicle, some looking as if they were spoiling for a fight. I remember very well three of the student leaders, one of whom was myself, wading into the crowd to try and calm the situation down. I remember that the firemen were persuaded to climb back into their vehicles, and they left without having to call in the police.

Yes, we then had to go down and face a choleric fire chief, who dismissed our apologies. We all left, were interviewed by the media on the footpath outside and it was front page news the next day.  Then we all went on first term holidays and the furore died down. I don’t think these university students were considered terrorists. I was helped by my two fellow students in calming down the situation – one became a Supreme Court Judge and the other a Federal Court judge. That episode taught me a great deal. By the way, the University administration did not intervene; they left us to sort it out.

Thus, the local Federal Member for Fowler, Dai Le, seemed initially the most sensible in seeking to calm down the situation.  The local community has followed this course advocating reconciliation and peace. Yet the media persisted with the allegation that this was a terrorist attack.

The Assyrian priest forgave his attacker, the epitome of Christian behaviour.

Reading between the lines, the response of Burgess, the spy chief, seems to be ambiguous about this incident being a terrorist threat, but once someone in authority “cries wolf”, especially when she had been under serious criticism on other matters related to her lack of leadership, it probably does not help to directly criticise another senior public servant.

Invoking an incident as an act of terrorism can stigmatise a community and sow unnecessary anxiety and alienation from the instruments of government – the police being one example.

The Premier talks not about conciliation, unless it is his meaningless term “people of faith” but says he will confront the community with “the full force of the Law”. Well, if 50 police cars and the anti-riot squad are not the “full force of the Law”, what is? To my mind, it is the lone policewoman, who brought to an end the ghastly events in Bondi Westfield by confronting and shooting the murderer. That is the full force of the law, not all the other macho trimmings that seem to obsess governments. The policewoman exhibited two qualities – courage and an ability to assess the situation correctly; little information but with impeccable induction-deduction that led her to come to the right conclusion quickly.

Terrorists presumably are not banshees.  The terrorist groups must be known. In this instance, where was intelligence from ASIO, whose mouthpiece tells us they know everything, and should have a clear idea of the potential danger of what we may name ‘Teenage Terrorist Group”.

Otherwise, what value are Australia’s security services providing? Australia pays a high price for its security services. For me, we do not pay this money for scaremongering or “cloak and dagger” farce, but for a service which provides reassurance to the community without complacency. The question arises of why these terrorists are allowed to roam freely in the community, once identified? I can conjure up reasons, related the cost of incarceration. Yet Australia has had successive governments prepared to spend astronomical amounts of money on dodgy contractors to guard people who come here in boats and are then imprisoned. Are they all terrorists? How do these people contaminate Australia?

Another beached lugger

In 1979, when I was staying in Broome, there was a recently-beached Vietnamese lugger in the mangroves in front of the motel where I was staying. The Fraser government welcomed the Vietnamese refugees, and by doing so enriched our Australian community. Would Dutton have done the same, but of course he was only nine years old at the time?

I have tried not to make too many value judgements but ask questions. The paradox is of media alive with misinformation and not challenging what appears to me to be gaps in the logic of government, the gaps being filled with cliches, often repeated in this opaque shroud of not knowing what to do, but afraid to let the community in on that secret! Secrecy appears to be a cover for our leaders for inaction and hoping the whole matter will go away – or worse result in a cover up?

Boondoggle Stadium Hobart

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Boy Scouts at summer camps participated in the latest scouting craze in which boys braided and knotted colourful strands of plastic and leather to fashion lanyards, neckerchief slides and bracelets. Eagle Scout Robert Link of Rochester, New York, coined the term for this new handicraft, “boondoggling”. Chris Klein 2018

Arguably, the AFL should be first in line to fund the construction of an AFL stadium, rather than kicking in less than 2% of the proposed $800 million total. However, it can also be argued that the project will bring thousands of jobs, urban renewal, a massive tourism boost, a visible pathway for young athletes, and lots of footy for the fans.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a sitcom. Australia is facing a housing affordability crisis, and a cost of living crisis, both of which are compounded by rising inflation. As such, many Tasmanians aren’t over the moon about the announcement, and they’ve voiced their disapproval about the project publicly. Chris Sheedy June 2023

You can guarantee the sun will rise in the East. Unbackable odds.

Equally, once the Labor Opposition elected a bloke to replace a sheila as its Leader, it was London to a brick that the Tasmanian government would agree to build a new stadium at some exorbitant cost – any current estimate is just a number which will be exceeded.  No worries you blokes, see on the plans, the luxury lounge where we can watch the games in comfort, popping the corks and tasting the best of Tasmanian fare. Better than any Chairman’s Lounge.

In 2023 Albanese, in stumping up $240m of taxpayer money, tried to sweeten the sandwich by saying that the project would “include social housing and commercial and recreational spaces, but there was no extra information on how many houses would be built, or how a business centre would fit on the site and in the budget.

Crown land at Regatta Point will be developed through a private-public partnership, including affordable housing, housing for essential health workers so close to the hospital facilities here.” It is a wonder he did not promise a multi-purpose religious centre as well.

I would never say that the AFL is trying to blackmail Tasmania, nor that a “business centre” mentioned by Albanese be a casino. After all, all this extravagance must be underwritten by some source of revenue (aka gambling), unless they can induce one of the oil states or some hedge fund Croesus to sponsor the team.

After all, the intention is to play seven games a year in Hobart and four in Launceston. There is a time-honoured Tasmanian government bankrupting strategy, that if Hobart has one, Launceston must have one also. Seven games a year! What was the cost again for such a projected use? The cost the length of a piece of string is at the mercy of the builders and the construction unions.

The team, rather than being called the Tasmanian Devils, would be better called the Tasmanian Boondoggles, when the team enters the League in 2028, then for a decade to be the chopping block for all the other teams, while the country burns under the burden of climate change. And by the way, just check the projected sea levels at the construction site.

Mouse Whisper

Along a certain English road, there was a sign which read “Cat’s Eyes Removed”. An official sign apparently. The informal sign down the road read “Mice Very Happy”.

The Boss roared with laughter. What was funny about blinding cats even if they have benefited by English cousins? And why would they publicly announce such terrible things? But then, it is the same nation that made fun of three blind mice.

Modest Expectations – Sail Away

Black Bat flower

Not particularly original, I am writing about a task that I hope to see constructed as a legacy, which I want to leave. I have wanted to do it for over a decade, but as I can no longer garden, this is by way of stating what I would appreciate incorporated in my version of the “Gothic Garden”. Above is the Black Bat flower which grows in tropical areas, but also if nurtured in a sub-tropical climate such as Sydney’s.

We already have grown blue lady hellebores. Ours were that indigo blue. The hellebores are a beautiful flower and these shelter under the bromeliads, themselves in the shade of Japanese maple trees; the great virtue of hellebores is they do not drop their flowers. They stay on the stem until the end.

Among our plantings we have planted black basil – well at least deep purple, I think it was called black opel basil.  We have recently started growing black Tasmanian pepperberries naturally in Tasmania; yet they may not fit into the proposed garden, as may not black chili peppers- with confronting names such as Royal Black, Dracula Black, Cobra Black, or even Black Pearl, which may be better peering out from pots.

Discussing the plan, we were unsure whether we have ever had any black devil pansies in the garden, because we used to plant them and the parent violas once a upon a time, and we remember having dark pansies, but the black devil pansies or any of that ilk, we’re unsure. Add the black velvet petunias, which are in short supply, and they may be better planted in a hanging box.

Black bamboo – I have seen black bamboo in the Kandy botanical gardens, part of which is dedicated to different varieties of bamboo, the clumping rather than the running variety. Then there is black Mondo grass, which is a stalwart of the garden designers, and to a lesser extent the elephant ears and potato vine, but these are really background in this gothic orchestra of darkness.

At the other end are aeolian succulents in various shades of deep purple, not actually black, but probably can form dark dots across such a proposed garden.

Then there are black hollyhocks, black siberian iris, black dahlia, and other plants that could qualify for inclusion in such a garden. Paul Bonnie, an Oregon nursery owner, has written a booklet entitled “Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden” highlighting them.

Queen of the Night

The most famous flower associated with black is the black tulip. The novel by Alexandre Dumas (himself a quadroon in the lingo of the times), was written about a tulip grower, wrongly imprisoned, who grew the black tulip during that time, eventually exonerated with the love of his life waiting. The modern “Queen of the Night” black tulip has the colour of a bruised plum and was first grown in 1944, during the occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. Luckily the “Queen of Night” bulbs were not eaten by the starving Dutch, since tulip bulbs were a staple among the famished.

The other touch for such a garden is to have a sprinkle of white flowers which have dark foliage. Gardenias are mentioned as one choice. Maybe it‘s a good counterpoint, and there are certainly more of these.

I mentioned that I was not all that keen on all the gothic clichés, with their overtones of Hallowe’en, which has nothing to do with Australia, but my wife’s suggestion to just call it “black” was confounded by nature which wants her flowers to be able to manufacture chlorophyll and be pollinators. Notwithstanding, the black flower is the Holy Grail for the horticulturalist wishing to snatch this version of the Holy Grail, even though it would confound Nature. The closest to reaching this is apparently the black petunia.

And as for calling it the “Ultra-Violet Garden”, no it is not. Most of black flowers are a deep purple or red.

But perhaps the “Jerusalem” garden – those “dark satanic mills”. A tribute to those who still walk in a carbonised world writ large in Indian ink. But this garden will epitomise black beauty – an exercise in irony.

Blake himself wrote:

But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. As a man is, so he sees. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. As a man is, so he sees.   

So goes my vision.

Real Men Don’t Hit Women

RBT in NSW saw an immediate cut of 23% in the road toll, or nearly 300 lives. Its impact was maximised by a massive advertising campaign essentially telling motorists they were likely to be breathalysed if they drank and drove (older readers can probably still hum the jingles from the ads) and specifying the punishments that awaited them.

“There was no talk of intervention or education programs for drink drivers. Critically, motorists, and not just working-class motorists but every driver from the outer suburbs to Bellevue Hill and Mosman, believed that the chances of them being caught and punished had increased significantly, and began changing their behaviour.”  Crikey May 2024

In 1982, when I first met Jack, he was the Deputy Secretary General of the Australian Medical Association. He briefed me to write an experimental television campaign to discourage drinking and driving among young men. His idea was that it would run just in Wollongong and be scientifically assessed. It did, it was, and the success of Jack’s idea — published in the Medical Journal of Australia – led directly to my brand-new ad agency being awarded the campaign to launch a radical, controversial initiative. It was called Random Breath Testing.

So spectacularly successful was RBT in terms of its immediate reversal of the road toll, it put the fledgling agency on the map. Suddenly I was a champion of sorts, thanks to Jack who’d championed, just weeks before, an idea to cut the shocking road toll via television advertising.  – John Bevins Foreword to 35 Poems.

Crikey singling out the RBT campaign as one that worked brilliantly, then failed to follow through as to how it came about. Two words – John Bevins.

John Bevins was the genius behind the RBT program. He was very generous to me in his foreword. The history was that I had obtained $50,000 from Government to enable the AMA to run a pilot anti-drink driving campaign in Wollongong in 1982.  John and his crew ran the campaign. The advertisement run on the local television resembled the classic beer advertisement with all the cheery background. The tag line was “Real Men Don’t Drink and Drive.”

The evaluation of the program showed a marked drop in the incidence of drink driving over the screening of the advertisement. and following for the period of evaluation. The rest is history, but there is a lack of curiosity about the players in this highly successful campaign. Many of them are still alive, with cognitive ability unimpaired, who the Government would benefit by consulting.

Moldovan campaign

Think “Real Men don’t hit Women”. This was the theme of a campaign in Moldova in 2013, which is worth watching.

Murder is the extreme, but as I was looking through material which I had roughly archived for other reasons, I came upon a 2002 issue of the Warrnambool Standard describing the committal of one Graeme Slattery.

The judge in sentencing Graeme Slattery, then 42 and with a lifelong history of shaming and undertaking sadistic acts on women, said among other things: “You may not have taken the life of any of your victims but … you took part of the lives of some of them from them, particularly the two women you enslaved”. Slattery receive eleven and half year’s imprisonment, paroled after ten years.

What the headline of the Warrnambool Standard ran on his committal “Shock Reunion – Police surprised by alleged slave”.

What the heading ignored were the litany of disgusting acts this woman who was imprisoned in Slattery’s garage, was forced to do.  Instead, the newspaper highlighted the fact that the woman subsequently, being removed from Slattery’s clutches, met him again in Echuca in her own volition, as suggested by the headlines. The headline seemed to absolve Slattery of some of his sadism towards the woman. But here was a horrendous case. What did the Warrnambool community do about this to ensure it did not happen again?

Then, contributing to this denigration of women for many years, is the Bond of “Chesty Bond” fame highlighting a cheery muscle-bound male image, producing a “Wifebeater” singlet.

Therefore, the images of male violence are constantly being reinforced, and have been since I was a child. The furore this week over the boys at Yarra Valley Grammar School has been going on for ever. Adolescent boys under the stimulus of their changes into adulthood are in a vulnerable time as are girls. However, I can only speak as being a male teenager. A variation of the Yarra Valley ranking existed when I was at school over 60 years ago among some of the boys at the school. I am not excusing the behaviour but vilifying four boys will not solve the problem of being a teenager.

The problem is that society relies on the police force to intervene and the simple solution is put the problem out of sight or “handball” it to someone else.

Assuming that abuse of one’s partner occurs by allegedly sane men, then peer pressure is useful if it is sustainable. The problem is that the tokenism inherent in acts such as footballers clustering in circle and other self-limited expression is having little impact and are soon forgotten.

As I wrote earlier this year: Yet that conceals widespread conflict and violence in the community; and I, like most people, am reluctant to intervene, especially when fists are flying, and knives are flashing. Let’s be frank, nobody is properly trained to intervene. The socially concerned may preach to audiences, often inappropriate because the audience have the skills to deal with conflict or well-honed sophistry of denial of such involvement. In other words, the members of these audiences nod their heads sagely and issue “the tut-tut” of the judgemental. Therefore, mostly conflict is allowed for the parties to resolve themselves. This leaves a considerable body of people who do not have the skills to handle conflict.

The Federal Government has produced a report, long on analysis and process, but never ever addresses the question of “what shall we do tomorrow”. The problem also is that in this area we have residues of policies that do not work. The obvious one is that this unresolved matter is handballed to anonymous telephone numbers, such as Lifeline, 1800 Respect and the ilk. They are a convenient full stop for the media, to move on to the next topic or, as current breakfast show speak has it, “now for a change in pace”.  This has become a reflex.

What to do tomorrow, in addition to an advertisement campaign directed to changing attitudes and behaviour and not just pamphleteering? Ask the male and female guys who were involved in the successful campaigns for their advice.

The Elsie Refuge in Glebe, Sydney, set up in the early 1970s by the Women’s Liberation Movement

Secondly, following on what the Forbes Mayor had to say after the death of Molly Ticehurst, the challenge is to set up refuges in every small town such as Forbes. If the Forbes community is as supportive as the mayor says, then it should be able to use those underused community premises and provide security.  She says that she intends to protect her community, well manning such a refuge would be a fulfilment of her intention.  After all, the community expects the hospital to provide a 24-hour service; why not a refuge on 24/7 basis.

Furthermore, most of the uniformed services, whether the ambulance or fire services, exist with significant down time, but are rostered to serve in emergencies – and the community would not consider any suggestion not to have them serving the community on a 24 hour basis. When I hear politicians wanting to assign “trained” people such psychiatrists to a national program, the assumption is that such a demand is implementable.

In reality, there are just not the resources available and further, it suggests that parachuting health professionals who are increasingly differentiated into one specialty area and who will drop everything and become involved in what is a very complex and unappetising challenge is simply not a practical solution. Thus, like all volunteer emergency programs, such a challenge will find out who is willing to become trained, be given a distinctive set of gear and be rostered on for such a service on a 24 hour basis in the community … plus the actual denominator (in other words the volume of those presenting and finding out empirically what works).

This is the challenge for the Forbes local government, where the mayor announced that she is determined to protect the community, and interposes the community between the last resort, the police who, with all due respects, are associated with violence as the first response compounded by a perceived lack of empathy.  See what is the actual response to such a suggestion from a community who should be prepared to be positive about such commitment. The challenge could start today, and if successful could be spread across regional Australia.

As an example of an idea which started as a small project in Cloncurry with an indeterminate future became the nationwide Royal Flying Doctor Service.  Thus, the pilot (pardon the pun) can be implemented rather than “kicking the can down the road”, with an associated tangle of undergrowth of arbitrary regulation impeding equitable implementation, metaphorically growing over the road where the can has been kicked. Royal Commissions are a classic “can”, but at least they assure the increased sale of luxury cars to the lawyers as the most visible outcome.

The Queensland Government’s intention to provide a room as a refuge in police premises seems, on the surface, to be a good idea but needs to have a person on duty who is trained in dealing with such an emergency. It is more than just a room. Just imagine an emergency room in a hospital without appropriately trained staff.

I have dealt with a presumed “sane person” partner beater. One further area, which I have witnessed in a community has been the impact of the “mad man” and worse the “mad and bad man”, predominantly – but not to exclude a woman equally afflicted. These people need recognition in the community and exclusion from the community, easier said than done. The more you delve into research the more you see that mental health issues combined with drug use (include alcohol?) in a poor and “unsafe” community is the base profile.

As one source reported, the most frequent response to the partner’s violence is to get away from the perpetrator; and efforts to leave are often blocked, sometimes physically, but more often because of strong psychological and emotional ties, not to mention financial problems, to their partners and especially their children.

I am a reductionist and as such can be accused of over-simplification.

Shifting sand

Yet I have some success in my career of effecting innovation and change. Those who want “to shuffle the sand” and write reports as though unproven inputs are the solution are the bane of public administration. Throw money at the project, often with unrealistic conditions which would act against meaningful outcomes of benefit. But then how many programs are independently evaluated, rather than by “mates”.

I like to accumulate empirical evidence that a project works; and there was one example where I established a successful sustainable program, and then left the job. The program was dismantled by the ideologues because it did not conform to their theoretical model. That is the problem with social engineering how to ensure its sustainability when the creators are no longer there.

I have made two suggestions above and to battle the ideologues, who have never learnt from the old axiom, “if it doesn’t work don’t do it again”. Further, all successful change takes an average of 18 years to guarantee its longterm survival, even if in some areas it may be corrupted. So, guarantee the succession planning, because in this increasingly nomadic world, nobody sticks around for that long in the one job.

This is a continuing narrative because diminishing violence is at the heart of maintenance of a civilised community.

First answer the question, “What do we do tomorrow?’

A Sober Analysis

My first inclination is to consider that a dead rat is the only acceptable outcome. After all, the Norwegian rat was the vector for the Yersinia bacillus contained in the rat fleas – the causative factor in plague, the Black Death.

Added to my prejudice was that rats released from a ship, wrecked on Lord Howe Island in 1918, almost wiped out the unique native fauna and flora.

In the block of flats where we lived when in Melbourne, we were always concerned that the garbage bins were regularly emptied, and that remnant food was not left on the ground.

I was reading an American report on the rat’s redeeming features, if you call them that. The complaints voiced from the American source are very similar.

I cannot argue against the general comment of managing the rat population will require cities to change. Proper disposal of waste will not only bring the number of rats down but will also protect people from potentially dangerous contact with them. If there are fewer rats rooting around in our trash, then more people might be receptive to thinking of them less as pests, and more as urban wildlife, like squirrels.

Having said that, the American suburbia is afflicted by more intrusive animals than Australia. I remember staying in a friend’s home in Berkeley in California where she had a problem with raccoons. Raccoons are very clever and can open cupboards and unscrew jars containing food. Unfortunately, they have not been taught to clean up after feeding.

Then there are the black bears with their propensity to scavenge in human settlement, overturning garbage cans and providing the environment for rats to revel.

Given the plethora of animals considered not to be urban, I wonder about the contention directed at people like me who are “effusively anti-rat” that it is important to be realistic about what our end goals are. Rats are part of urban ecosystems.

The American apologist for the persistence of rats sounds like surrender, but he may have a point. His apologia ends by him writing the following:

The ideal is to get them to a level where they’re not disturbing people, and causing any sort of emotional or physical or health-related risks, but we’ll never be able to eradicate them.

If rat numbers are manageable, then I suspect more people (like me) will find the occasional rat appearance amusing, and not terrifying. Maybe. That would be ideal, because they aren’t going anywhere.

They’re really resilient. They can rebound really fast if you knock them down,” I think that they are going to out-survive us on this planet.

The same argument I have applied to cockroaches. Nevertheless, my natural instinct is to kill every one I see in the house. Likewise with rats but refreshing to have a contrary view … perhaps.

Modest Expectations

Just another example of the vanishing “r”. Remember the incident when the “imprudent” lost its “r” and the Boss had a lot of ground to make up with the letter recipient.

About to “send”, the letter began “My dear fiend” – just quickly “ectified”.


Modest Expectations – 5th February 2023 Goal!

Last week Monday marked the first Seder of Passover. Beautiful things to cook: this bright salmon with potatoes and horseradish-tarragon sauce, bitter herbs salad; crackly-topped, fudgy-centred flourless chocolate cake.

I end on dessert, perhaps khoresh rivas, the savory rhubarb and bean stew. I usually stockpile my rhubarb for sweet stuff (crisp, pie, cake), tender sautéed rhubarb nestled into hearty butter beans simmered with turmeric, parsley and mint. Make it a complete this course with her dill rice, plain yogurt on the side.

Meanwhile, while the Jewish people celebrated the holiest week with a banquet of kosher food as one described above in the NYT, a lone Jewish grandmother had something to say every day on the streets of Boston. Meanwhile famine has gripped the Palestinians in Gaza.

There are two facts that stand out. The Israelis have killed thousands upon thousands of Palestinians in the name of freeing about 150 hostages.

Netanyahu is fighting for survival. For what? His adherents seem little better than those who begat the Holocaust, and the fact that there were Jewish collaborators who participated in that terrible interlude in human history seems lost in this man’s desperate attempt to stay out of gaol.

Now the protests directed against Netanyahu have spread to the American Universities.

For myself, who was involved in various aspects of Australia’s response to the Vietnam War, it is chilling to see this rerun of the late 1960s on American university campuses. How long will it be before America ends in a Kent State University revival with four students been shot dead by a National Guard, with some image of it being portrayed on social media? You don’t need social media to see the image of the young woman crying over the lifeless body. No memorial for the Unknown Protestor.

As I say, there was not then the social media intimacy of witnessing the horrors of violence – children sprayed from American helicopters with napalm; the sight of a Vietnamese army colonel executing an alleged Viet Cong in the street. After all, if you wanted to witness a beheading, remember our Carolingian ancestors just had to go to the centre of London, and for a public beheading with the extra spice, the head was that of a king.

1968 Democratic National Convention, Chicago

I worked with a journalist colleague who was at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968 which ended in the nomination of Hubert Humphries. The convention was held in the shadow of Robert Kennedy’s assassination and President Johnson not standing again. My colleague said he had never been more frightened in his life, and even then, he was a hardened journalist, who had been made so by working with Sydney tabloids in his cadet years from the late 50s.

All in front of you, Mr President, given that Blinken is probably the latter-day Robert McNamara who, decades later, did give a mea culpa for all his poor advice to Lyndon Johnson.

My advice: call the armed uniforms off the campus, let the protests be allowed to proceed, given that the First Amendment gives wide discretion, and do not give the impression of bias in the face of sporadic whining. By the same token, it is important that the defenders of the Palestinians, including those who profess the Christian faith, and the Israelis, have an equal untrammelled voice, stripped of physical violence. Invasion of property, rationalised in that ownership is theft, is the line of division, irrespective of whether it is the office of the University President or that of the Speaker of the House. Vandals are not legitimate Protestors, they are always the work of others who wish to foment civil insurrection.

I’m surprised that those who participated in the anti-Vietnam war protests, many of whom may be in influential positions, have not identified their defence of freedom of speech and the difference between “mob” and “crowd”. Leadership for the people by people of understanding as, for example, Mandela was, is an increasingly rare quality in a world where the Narcissorum Tribus now seem to dominate.

In 1968 the Republican convention was held in Miami, earlier than its Democratic counterpart in August. Richard Nixon was crooked but smart enough to avoid controversy leaving it all to the blunders of the “lame duck” President Johnson to provide the protestors with a target.

Trump’s performance at the Republican Convention in Milwaukee in July, a month before the Democratic Convention in Chicago, will be crucial with the signs of his increasing dementia being hidden by his minders. Trump must be corralled at the Convention without incident, without protests. Thus, being over well before the Democratic Convention, the pressure will be on Biden.

It seems the Democrats are preparing for a war zone already; if this true, then that will be a public relations disaster. The sight of a President thus protected from his electors, especially the young…, if Biden does not resolve the protests before the Chicago Convention in August, he can kiss the Presidency away.


Arriving in Amsterdam from Australia sometime before six am on a cold October morning is not my idea of Optimal Welcome.   Arriving after a mostly sleepless flight through numerous time zones, I went to deposit my bags. First of all, the front door to this modest hotel was locked. Once opened by the night porter-cum-receptionist-cum-concierge, he reinforced something I had already experienced – the Dutch are not much into humour and are very much sticklers for the rules. I could not access my room until 2.00 pm. No exceptions, said in that irritating menacing polite way. I was allowed to leave my bags.

There were hours of blurred tiredness, sitting in a chair in the dark lobby. At least, I was allowed that luxury, and then I dragged myself for coffee and asked for boiled eggs rather than bread and the myriad toppings. Generally, the Dutch have an early breakfast, but just off a plane I had no idea of my internal timepiece reading, but since the clock told me it was breakfast, I complied.

That still left time before I could get into my room. I regretted that I had not booked the room for that night almost gone. I asked the concierge what could I do to occupy myself in the morning rather than just dozing in the chair. He winked at me and said the Red Light district was close by, if I wanted to lie down. “What else?” I said tiredly.

I noticed among the brochures on his desk there was an advertisement for an Exhibition at the Nieuwe Kirk museum. The Exhibition were drawn from the artifacts “de Zwarte Faraos” civilisation – The Black Pharoahs. I had never considered that there were ever Black Pharoahs with their Kingdom on the Nile. Nubia was an Egyptian colony which existed at the intersections of modern Egypt and Sudan. The Nubians were slaves to the Egyptian pharaohs, and for a brief time they rebelled. They usurped their slave masters and ruled the Nile from the Kingdom of Kush as far north as the mouth of the Nile and even extended easterly into Mesopotamia, as it was then called.

Their rule, the 25th dynasty, extended for a comparatively short period between 712BC– 656 BC, before it retreated to the original Kush base in present-day Sudan, where they ruled for a further thousand years until they were overrun by the warriors of Islam. Their pyramids are in a remote part of modern Sudan, called Meroë. Here there are more pyramids than in Egypt, and yet after the Islam invasion, they were left for the sands to cover, forgotten for another thousand years.

The Amsterdam exhibition, previously seen in Munich and Paris, contained many of the treasures which were unearthed with the arrival of the European predators in the nineteenth century. They had to negotiate a perilous situation to get there, given the rise of the Mardi, who convinced his followers – a substantial number of whom were Nubians – that he was the awaited Messiah. The famous painting by George William Joy of General Gordon about to be murdered in Khartoum by the Mardi was the mythical hero death and infuriated The British.

In its reprisal, Kitchener made his reputation in 1898 at the Battle of Omdurman, when he slaughtered the Mardi force armed with mediaeval weapons with machine guns – a somewhat unequal scuffle. (As a portent of future reflex response to British involvement in wars, NSW sent 750 troops to the Sudan, but they saw little fighting, six died, and the rest returned. and I remembered that some of them featured in Anzac Marches when I was very young).

Nevertheless, despite the dangers, there were sufficient archaeologically minded people to uncover the pyramids. Although there had been tomb raiders previously, the site still yielded a host of artifacts.

There was one Italian, in search of gold, who blew the tops off several of the pyramids. Since I saw the Exhibition nearly thirty years ago, the site survives, and it is apparently far enough away from the civil war, which is engulfing the Sudan, not to be damaged further – as yet. Not so fortunate have been some of the artifacts which were lodged in the Museum in Khartoum. I have heard there has been looting; how much I do not know, but there is an international alert for any of the pharaonic treasures should any appear on the market.

Pyramids at Meroë

I wandered dead tired into this Exhibition, which I expected was just a place to while away the time before I could go and have a sleep. The need to sleep slipped away. The number of these items on display and their majesty, if that is the word, about a historical period of which I had known nothing were “sleep-blowing”, to coin a phrase.

Of course, I knew about the Egyptian pharaohs, museum displays dominated by mummies and representations of the variety of the Ennead – Isis, Osiris, Horus, Amun and Ra being some of the most prominent of these gods.

Then there are the images of the Great Pyramids, the last remaining Seven Wonder of the Ancient World. These pyramids are synonymous with Egypt, achieving notoriety with the whole Tutankhamen discovery and its supposed curse. All very dramatic; images embedded in modern popular culture.

The Exhibition showed me a related civilisation which existed in parallel, which for a brief time merged.

I still have nine postcards, which I bought as a reminder of that morning. There were only two black pharaohs over that period when they dominated the Nile. There is an image of a collection of figures, which resemble a cabinet to the Pharoah, figurines varying from obsidian black to alabaster white in colour, twenty in all, lodged in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

I find bemusing the discussion whether Tutankhamun was a black pharaoh. What does it matter when it was clear that there were the two parallel pharaonic cultures; and moreover, those important pieces lodged in the Khartoum Museum are being looted. Two of the images on my postcards were at that time sourced from that Museum – two out of nine – about 22 per cent. Extrapolated that could mean an irreplaceable loss.

I was very fortunate that morning to be sleepless in Amsterdam. Nevertheless, two pm eventually came and I drifted off lying in an imaginary felucca drifting with the wind down the Nile towards the Kush.

Towards an Orange Sunset – Two Stepping Stones on the Road 

Pearl Harbor memorial

Stone 1: WaPo’s Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker told a story in their book “A Very Stable Genius…” about Trump going to Hawaii and visiting the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor with chief-of-staff John Kelly. As they were walking through the Memorial over the sunken battleship that entombs over one thousand sailors, Trump said to Kelly, “What is this place John? What’s it all about?”

My dad took me to see the Arizona Memorial when I was seven years old. I knew exactly what it was all about. – Everyman Blog USA

Stone 2: Devin Nunes, who Trump put in charge of his social media company for some reason, asked Congress to investigate “unlawful manipulation of DJT {Trump media stock price}.” Unlawful manipulation? Isn’t it entirely possible that the guy who bankrupted three casinos, a steak venture, a tie venture, a board game venture, a vodka venture, a cologne venture, a mattress venture, a cell phone venture, an airline, a travel site, a magazine, and a fake university just can’t make a third-rate social media app work?

To Trump himself? Of course it’s not. Because when he’s losing, he never fails to cry foul play. That’s what he’s doing with all of his court cases, that’s what he did when he was impeached, and that’s what he did when he lost in 2020. – Lincoln Project April 2024

But if you thought it could not get worse…

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis makes a fencepost look like Mensa material. I’m indebted to The Economist for pointing out how much of a dunce this man is. Apparently, a couple of television crime episodes centred around the supposed fact that one could absorb fentanyl through the skin. Expert opinion said that this was rubbish, no evidence. But the rumours were such that DeSantis made it a felony punishable by incarceration to cause “absorption through the skin of fentanyl leading to “an overdose or serious bodily injury”. As The Economist reports “The law creates a felony assault for something that is scientifically impossible and has never happened”.

Now Florida is the State of the USA where DeSantis has appointed a public health physician to head the Florida State Health Service, who is an anti-vaxxer!

Been converting lead into gold lately, Ron?

The Buck Always Wins

The Sundance Institute announced that it has begun exploring potential new host cities for the annual Sundance Film Festival beginning in 2027, signalling a breakaway from Park City, Utah.

The 2025 and 2026 festivals will remain in Park City, which has played host since 1981. The current contract with Park City expires in 2027, which has led the Institute to reconsider where it plans to host the festival.

Sundance is important for Utah, which typically is not a destination for Hollywood’s rich and famous unless they’re hitting the slopes. Residents of Park City, as well as film enthusiasts from out of town, try to catch a glimpse of celebrities or see films with Oscar buzz before they are released widely…

…Sundance, which saw more than 17,000 entries from 153 countries for its 2024 festival, declined to comment on why it’s considering a move or whether potential new hosts have already applied. The Institute outlined its selection process, which includes multiple stages before selection. The committee, which includes Robert Redford’s daughter Amy Redford, will make the final decision on a potential new host city.

“To be clear, this does not mean that we are moving or have made a decision to move,” a Sundance spokesperson said. “This includes Utah, given the Festival’s long-standing relationship, and we absolutely encourage them to be a part of this process with us.”

Early on I always had Sundance on my bucket list, this film festival conceived by Robert Redford in the late 1970’s being held in the Utah mountain settlement in October. Well, I did have the opportunity in the early 1980s, but unfortunately, I did not go to America until November of that year and went to Taos for my cultural “hit” instead.

Park City is a Utah community, over 2,000m above sea level, once a settlement for silver mining and now a ski resort. The community itself has been reported as irritated by the yearly invasion by the “Celebrity Air Force”.  To wit, Park City denizens have other gripes about the festival including awful traffic conditions, and the arrival of cocky industry people from New York City and Los Angeles who they mock as the “PIBs” (“People in Black”). Yet when everything is considered, this small ski resort close to Salt Lake City brings in a substantial income to the Beehive state coffers. Thus, grin and bear the irritation.

Park City’s mountains

Like so many festivals, the popularity has waned so that despite the healthy number of entrants, Sundance is losing money. There is nothing which concentrates the mind more than losing money, despite the image of Redfordian altruism. But Redford is 87, and that original genius has stepped back to leave his daughter Amy, one of his two surviving children, to run the festival, as indicated in the curated media release.

Also, the Festival which introduced, among others, the highest grossing British movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, now has increased competition from streaming platforms which are snaffling films which may once have been screened at Sundance.

However, I would suggest that if the Redford connection is broken, so much the identity of Sundance, a name derived from his heroic romp with Paul Newman as the eponymous Kid to Newman’s Butch Cassidy, will be lost.

Lose the magic of the name; lose the Festival. Could anybody change the name to Sundance’s Daughter – who knows? And what about the Festival’s bottom line?


I had my most severe concussion playing Australian Rules football in a house match when I was about 14. One moment, I remember bending to pick up the ball and the next I woke up in the school’s sick bay. Subsequently, I had a few bouts of being concussed, but after the age of 18 years I scarcely played football. I was not good enough and had a medical career to pursue. That was the same with most of the best players since footballers were not professionals with large contracts. In my day, there was not the lure of a life of professional football starting at the age of 18 years, where the demands of the training increasingly excluded anything else during those playing years.

Thus, modern day footballers have the incentive to play for as long as they can, so different from that of my generation. For instance, Brian Roet at the height of his playing career went off to undertake post-graduate medical training, coming back three years later for a few further games for Melbourne, and then he permanently retired.

In his prime, he was a champion centre half back in the 1964 premiership side, playing alongside the likes of Ron Barassi. Barassi played from 1953 to 1969.  Barassi ended up with progressive dementia over the last ten years of his life. Dr Brian Roet is still professionally active in the UK when last reported. Barassi played 254 games over 17 years; Brian Roet only 88 games sporadically. These are selective statistics, but…

It is strange that over the years, the Australian football industry has become obsessed with players who are repeatedly concussed, yet the game demands more and more speed, all of which would conspire for a greater number of injuries, including the head. Spectators demand this speed and the aggression to go with it.

At the same time, coaches have developed the skills of spoiling, so that a footballer going to mark the ball has a flurry of arms, fists, elbows to negotiate – literally a tree of man. Inevitably the head becomes an unintentional target, when you are vulnerable with arms extended, and someone attempting to fist the ball away, instead strikes the vulnerable head. The game being so fast is impossible to umpire the myriad infringements. Four umpires are meant to modify the violent aspects. They seem incapable, because of the speed of the game.  Free kicks become arbitrary, rather than limit the inherent violence of the game, especially when a tangle of players occurs.

Thus, with the better players having a full-time career in this game, this situation of a vulnerable head as described can repeat itself over fifteen years, 23 games each year unless the footballer is not otherwise injured.

I played in an era where there were eighteen players, with a 19th and a 20th man there as replacements; once on the field they could not be replaced. And if a third player was injured, too bad – if he could stand, just leave him in the forward pocket. The game was slower; I was once reprimanded for handballing rather than kicking. Infringements were more clearly defined yet did not prevent concussion and nobody counted every knock to the head as a cumulative contributing factor.

One of the other causes of longevity in football, apart from the money and the professional nature of the sport, has been the advance in orthopaedic procedures, which have extended the careers of many footballers.

This concern for concussion is strange in a world which tolerates women boxing in the name of some misguided gender equality, the popularity of cage fighting for both men and women, and even the tolerance of horses being whipped repeatedly in what laughingly is termed “sport”.

That there is this exaggerated concern for concussion, where the “ambulance-chasing” lawyers are panting for the pot of gold for which the Australian Football League fears it will be liable. The actual footballer on the road to dementia is just the currency.

Mouse Whisper

She was watching TV when that mathematical genius, the current Head of the Federal Police said that “you will see that hundred percent increase on zero”.

As she opined, “the more the braid, the less the brain.”

Something in that. My cousin Noughty used the same formula and wondered why he never had any pinkies when he was exhorted to go out and multiply.

Anyway, don’t have that genius define a logarithm. He’ll probably produce a pair of clapsticks.

Modest Expectations – Christos Chelios 

Ever since Malthus theorised that growth of population was exponential while the food supply to feed the population was linear, consequent fear of worldwide famine has yet to occur. Malthus was proved wrong, but his concept may yield to a different mathematic equation.

Across the World where there has been continual war, there is famine, as brutality has no boundaries in space and time. Warrior mercenaries with the lethal toys attuned to their primitive minds lay waste to huge swathes of arable land. These actions, often in the name of religion, make a mockery of what Christ said:  Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

At the same time, we look from our comfortable sofas at these children -infants with shrivelled bodies and wide-opened eyes staring blankly into distraught mothers’ faces  because she has no food to feed her child. These are the children of marasmus. Just starved to death while the world with its chicken nuggets grazes on. On the other hand, kwashiorkor may not look like malnutrition because it causes swelling and bloating. No balanced diet – a total lack of protein as the child progress to become a fat-stained bag of salt water with articulated bones floating in  human soup.

So, what of the future when the modern Vandals have fished out our seas and rivers; and the crustacea from the bleached coral forest? And in this new World has anybody seen any kelp forest lately?

Meat becomes too dear to buy, and some may revert to our hunter-gatherer heritage seeking protein wherever we can get it. No longer truffles under chestnut trees; nor caviar from long gone sturgeon and as for pink champagne, the last bottle has exploded with our ingenuity able to produce drones the size of pinheads but now with capability of blowing up the world.

Then I awake from my reverie and yes, our gourmets are entering the world of reptile consumption. Yep, the taste of crocodile is a bit like rabbit. Python though is now on the menu of that “fine dining restaurant” with a soufflé of Yangtze soft shell turtle eggs.

The photo above shows a normal Asian market unfortunately selling a cheaper more pedestrian snake.

Cockroach sushi anyone?

And then delving into the world of insects – what about cockroach crunch and aspic of mosquito and hornet? At least the World has a great deal of protein to consume before reverting to my reverie in black.

Nutrition often seems less the reason for reptile consumption but seeking the perfect aphrodisiac. Pursuing the extinction of the species in search of the perfect orgasm. Is that what those Trump evangelicals call Rapture?

If it Quacks, maybe it is a Nutritionist

Discussing nutrition, there was this “whack job” who called herself a nutritionist, advocating the consumption of carrots to engender a tan. Having seen someone who consumed a bizarre number of carrots in order to get a tan and who found themselves turning orange with the colour concentrated in the skin creases, I find myself bemused.  If one wants to look like Donald Trump with his full peau d’orange look – pitted discoloured orange coloured skin – go ahead. If you do, it will be just another form of navel gazing.

Anybody can call themselves a “nutritionist”. There is no regulation unlike for dieticians. All dieticians have graduated with an accredited dietetics degree from an Australian university or studied overseas and are examined. In other words, they are a regulated health profession. The problem with the growth of unregulated quackery, it is aided and abetted by a lack of curiosity by some members of the general public.

It is about time to regulate nutritionists advocating a diet that may be carcinogenic. No brainer, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.


St Patrick’s Pub Saint Malo

Sitting in a bar in Saint Malo surrounded by the props of Irish culture, its flag, the schooner of Guinness, the voice of Sinead O’Connor. Yet, the bar is full of the French speakers with their red hair and blue eyes; not an Irish brogue between them. This is the bar of the Bretons.

In any event, when I asked whether they had any records of Alain Stivell, the Breton Celtic harpist, the patron shook his head and changed Sinead O’Connor to Clannad.

The wind outside had dragged the September rain into swirling masses. At times the sun glinted through the sheets of water as they twisted in the wind. Still reluctantly, I withdrew back from the rain-stained window and forced myself to order another beer.

The Breton seafood platter was full of shellfish I knew would make good fish bait – I think they were called cockles, whelks as well as small clams. These clams I recognised, plus a couple of unfamiliar oysters and spider crabs which I’ve always thought a waste of time. I left the platter unfinished.

Breton crepes called galettes, on the other hand, were food that I liked, given that it has its relative “wraps” eaten all over the world, like tacos, for instance. Galette crepes are made from buckwheat flour. Ham and cheese crepe is the commonest filling cooked in fluent Breton. But as long as it is savory with a umami flare lighting up my taste buds, then it is my typr of comfort food.

But Brittany is not just an exercise in eating.

Wandering the beach, the clouds sullen overheard indicative of the September rain, and ocean similarly steel blue, the hotels all boarded up for the oncoming winter, at least I had the beach to myself. There is an exhilaration I find in an empty beach, something about being close to nature

Likewise, I am wandering along the pink Granite Coast, where the cliffs were more terracotta than pink in the autumn sun, Again I found I was walking alone, revelling that only I was viewing a scene of a deep blue sea washing against these distinctive cliffs. Being alone means that, for an instant in time, I was unique in my cliff top belvedere. Only I could transfix that moment of solitude.

However, the reality is that my sojourn in Brittany is being in that part of France which owes its genetic pool to that of the Celts. It is too simple to say that the Bretons are Welsh who did not go home. There is no sign of a Breton separatist movement, but why should there be? Not all Celts want a fight.

The fact is that whether driving or going by fast train TGV to the port city of Brest, Brittany flashes by, the industrialised skyline prominent– every town along the railway line may have its scenic collection of houses and its fifteenth century churches but on the outskirts there is the evidence of conventional light industry and urban sprawl.

No longer was Brittany the caricature of little old ladies in Breton lace hats speaking their own Breton language while the menfolk went somewhere out in the Atlantic Ocean fishing for a living.

Still, I came to Brittany for several reasons to complete my tour of the Celtic nations – first, to say that I have been to all Celtic nations, tried the seafood and visited Mont St Michèle (actually in Normandy) and stood in the porch of a Breton Church – the porch so large that all the village could meet within its confines.

Pure curiosity in the end just drove me to visit these remnant Celtic civilisations, one that once dominated large swathes of Europe reaching its peak about 300 B.C. It was my Irish heritage speaking in my subconscious which drove this quest. I  can reasonably imitate into an Irish accent; yet I has found learning the language just too daunting – life is too short if you are not likely to live within the Gaeltact which covers Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Kerry. (I remember it being spoken also on the islands of Aran).

Playing the gaita

Wales, Scotland, and Cornwall are  part of the Celtic nation – less known is that there were also Devonian Celts, which included one of my ancestral lines.  Since that visit, unbeknown to me at the time; and thinking I knew all the inglenooks of Celtic culture, I discovered I was wrong. I found another Celtic nation.  When I visited Santiago de Compostela in Galician Spain , I was coming around a corner when I saw two people – one male, one female playing the gaita – the local version of bagpipes – one of the symbols of Celtic heritage. Galicia is Celtic Iberia.

Still one Celtic area remains unvisited – the Isle of Man where Manx once was spoken. The last native speaker, a fisherman died in 1974. Manx was linked to Gaelic.

It is a long time since I went to Brittany, and much of my touring was wedged between other business I had to do. I did not have the luxury of a “month in Brittany, immersing myself in things Breton”. It’s just an anecdote in my life – just idly reminiscing, prompted by a handwritten scrap, my unfinished note, falling out of a book, where it was serving as a bookmark. It is a recurrent theme, leaving old plane tickets and other pieces of detritus in many of the books I have only partially read. But in this instance, I found what I had written interesting. You may not.


The rule of thumb was that the idiot son in the English aristocratic family was consigned to the Church. I thought of that generalisation when I read another pertinent (or impertinent) comment “In America, intelligent people go to technology, curious people go to science, creative people go to the Arts, greedy people to finance and the idiots go to work for the State Department.”

Witness, the USA representative explaining why the USA vetoed a UN motion supporting Statehood for Palestine “Our veto against Palestinian Statehood does not reflect opposition to Palestinian statehood”. One can only parse this as some infantile obfuscation.

Antony Blinken Fast Facts | CNN
Antony Blinken

Thus, if one accepts the premise of the standard of the State Department so clearly demonstrated in this sentence, then the Keeper of the Idiot Key is Antony Blinken. Now discounting that he is Jewish, he nevertheless must have some inner misgivings about the current situation of the World. At least, it is a hope, but let’s review his involvement with Julian Assange.

Despite his sad sack demeanour, behind the scenes he has promoted his views very strongly. One source described him as outspoken during the time he worked with both Obama and Biden in various capacities in the Secretariat of State and the White House.

As reported: He was {considered} highly influential in developing Biden’s approaches to Iraq and Afghanistan — including the post-surge drawdown of troops in Afghanistan — that were adopted by Obama. His frequent travel to Iraq and other geopolitically important areas, and a Rolodex of international contacts he had developed in the Clinton White House and at the Foreign Relations Committee, gave Blinken a firsthand feel for major issues facing the president.

And, while the decision to intervene militarily in Libya was often portrayed as one driven by a set of powerful women — Susan Rice, Samantha Power and Hillary Clinton — Blinken and Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, were among the vocal minority who argued it was in America’s interests to stop Muammar Qadhafi from slaughtering his own people.

Assange mocked Obama from the sanctuary of the Ecuador Embassy for defending free speech in the Arab world in an address to the United Nations, pointing to his own experience as evidence that Obama has “done more to criminalise free speech than any other U.S. President.

In mocking Obama, Assange was mocking Antony Blinken, the man behind the curtain; a man close to the ear of both Obama and Biden. No wonder he has scaled the heights, a man who I suspect does not have much of a sense of humour and a man of little forgiveness. An Old Testament belief in a vengeful God perhaps?

The background for this imbroglio occurred in 2010 when Chelsea Manning, then Bradley Manning, when as an intelligence analyst in the US military, blew the whistle on Assange and WikiLeaks about US war crimes.

In 2013, Manning was convicted of seventeen serious criminal charges and sentenced to 35 years maximum security imprisonment. During that time in prison, Bradley became Chelsea after gender assignment surgery. Four years later, the Government acknowledged the wrong in imprisoning her and her sentence was commuted by US President Obama and she was released from prison in 2017.

Since 2010 when the US named Assange as effectively an enemy of the state and, in 2019, when charged with multiple breaches of the US Espionage Act which carried a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison, the whole matter seemed excessive. Why ever since evicted from the UK Ecuador Embassy, Assange has been held in solitary detention in a UK maximum security prison, awaiting extradition to the US?

In a matter of Public Importance in the Australian Senate on 2 August last year, Senator Shoebridge asked the question “What was Julian’s crime? Telling the truth and telling this history. He told the truth and the reality about the US-Australia relationship. The real reason Julian Assange is still in jail is that, whether it’s Prime Minister Albanese or Prime Minister Morrison, Australian leaders are willing to trade a citizen’s liberty, their right to speak truth to power, for a close and unquestioning bear hug from a US president. They say truth is the first victim of war and, in the case of Julian Assange, that’s a truth the whole world is seeing… what is happening to Julian Assange is an outrageous attack on journalism and on the truth…. This included thousands of documents that exposed the brutal reality of US led wars. One of those was the deeply distressing video of cold-blooded murder by a US Apache helicopter of Iraqi citizens that included two Reuters journalists.

Days before that speech, in Brisbane, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken launched an attack on Assange. He alleged in Australia that Assange had not only engaged in serious criminal conduct but had risked harm to US national security. All the while, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Wong, stood by mutely, not defending Assange against Blinken’s diatribe. Obviously, Blinken was testing whether he would generate any backlash from this country. Once it was clear that any response from his Australian counterpart was non-existent, he knew that his intransigency had prevailed.

Blinken probably assessed that in Australia Assange did not much excite the  community, despite the Shoebridge speech in the Senate. The perception that Assange was arrogant, a “smart-arse” who thought he could outmanoeuvre the forces of vengeance was the initial view and did not generate much sympathy especially as he seemed to wallow in the notoriety. His judgement was appalling, instead of coming back to Australia, he preferred to play on the international stage. If he had come back to Australia in 2010, Australian nationalism and resentment of American bullying would have kicked in. But he didn’t. Hubris has its problems with such an uncompromising flint as Blinken.

If Australia wants to get Biden to stop fidgeting about Assange, it is important to single Blinken out as the block.

How can one excuse the limp pressure our Government has applied against Assange’s outrageous imprisonment in the United Kingdom for the past five years. Australia is a nation born of unjust British law, and thus it should be natural that this nation unequivocally and vocally call out for Assange’s release, even if it does involve chilling a few cocktail parties in Washington and London. Assange, for all his personality flaws, is a political prisoner, no different from one being a held in Russia or China.

Blinken is no idiot, as the generalisation of the one about recruits into the US State Department above would suggest. Yet remember that all generalisations are untrue, and this is a generalisation.

And one word for Blinken’s ongoing actions in relation to Assange – contempt. Oh, I forgot another word – “alleged”.

Mouse Whisper

I could not miss hearing the President of Columbia University, Minouche Shafik, a very distinguished economist, who has contributed her undoubted expertise to the current stability of the world monetary system and now has found a well-earned sanctuary in that particular New York University where the previous President earned a measly $4.6m annually.

I stood in awe while she robustly criticised the anti-Israel protests within her own University, but then this woman, a Dame or Baroness, whichever prenominal you wish to attach to her, has some reason for her views.

She was born in Alexandria, presumably her family Coptic as it had to flee soon after she was born. The Coptic population in that City is about 500,000, a minority under stress in a Muslim country, no matter how avowedly secular the country overlords may profess to be. She now has two passports, British and American.

As my Uncle Muscarine told me: “Your attitudes, your biases are formed very early in life, when the effects of socialisation are more strongly imbedded than many realise just like ourselves where we had escaped from the Norwegian Rats to our promised land, Chedda.”

Minouche Shafik

Modest Expectations – Deakin

I am indebted to the Washington Post for the above photo. To many of those who experienced it, the eclipse was a spiritual event. In the Indiana town of Bloomington, at 4 minutes past three on the afternoon of April 8 the eclipse lasted for four minutes. Buddhist monks marked it with a puja ceremony, a “ritual honouring and promoting inner and planetary healing,” according to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center (sic).

In my blog on New Year’s Eve 2023, I wrote about our experience of the total eclipse in 2002, which was best seen at Ceduna, whither four of us travelled across Australia to view it. In my blog, I mentioned the late Jack Pascachoff who had observed 75 eclipses.

We met some of these eclipse devotees in Ceduna – but do not remember Pascachoff among the crowd. These people travelled from one eclipse site to the next – which at that time was Chile, I heard one of them say. Well, as I said at the time, some people collect teddy bears, and others obsessively try to visit every state in the USA. These people collected their presence at one eclipse after another.

In reading his obituary, I loved the anecdote of an eclipse in Manitoba, when Pascachoff was shocked by the drivers who just turned on their headlights and kept moving. As one would say, takes all types…

He enthused his students and “an even better eclipse was forecast for 2024, with totality from Mexico to the Canadian Maritimes. He wanted everyone to observe it. As for him, he was already plotting hotel reservations in Sinaloa, the place with the best view.”  Sinaloa, located in northwestern Mexico has a 650 km Pacific coastline, with Culiacán as its capital.

Alas, he died well before that recent eclipse which indeed did what he hoped to see, at least for him not from Earth.

What is weird is the response of some of the Republicans. There is a difference between a personal spiritual response based on emotion and the people who seemed to have rejected the science underlying eclipses, including their location and time, all of which science has enabled us to know precisely when they will occur.

Instead, they seem to have retreated to the superstitions of the mediaeval age, where they related these events to intervention of their God. Yet these people subliminally accept the science, which has predicted when eclipses occur, as demonstrated by scientists such as the late Jack Pascachoff. Otherwise, why would those Buddhist monks pictured have been so prepared with all the modern appurtenances?

Pleading the Belly

 In 1588 Pope Sixtus V declared all abortion murder, with excommunication as the punishment. Then, a few years later, Gregory XIV released a papal bull that claimed it was not a sin unless the foetus was animated or moving. The Pope Sixtus V bull that called abortion a sin was overruled by this Gregorian bull. Additionally, Pope Gregory rescinded the legal classification of abortion as homicide. In further explanation, Gregory XIV was the virtual successor of Sixtus V, the intervening Pope, Urban VII, having lived for only 11 days after installation.

It took nearly 300 years before Pius IX again declared all abortion murder in 1869, and this remains the official position of the Church, reaffirmed by the current Pope.

Thus, the Arizona Law of 1864 on abortion was in place even before the Pius IX bull. The Arizona Supreme Court recently upheld this criminal law first enacted in 1864 that allows sending a doctor or other medical provider to state prison for two to five years for performing an abortion that is subsequently not deemed “necessary to save” a woman’s life. There are no time limits—the prohibition begins “the morning after”—and no other exceptions, such as for pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest.

It was re-affirmed when Arizona became a State in 1912.

Pleading the belly

But that’s not all left on the Arizona books dating back to 1864, as it still has a “pleading the belly” provision, although it is not identified in so many words. “Pleading the belly” is a common law provision, which is first mentioned in Britain in 1375. It means that no woman convicted of a capital crime can be executed if she is pregnant, normally having to be certified by multiple doctors. This meant there was a stay of execution until the child was born. Then, the woman could be executed. This provision was codified into British statute in 1931 when the Sentence of Death (Expectant Mothers) Act, made it illegal to sentence a pregnant woman to death. But not so seemingly in Arizona, where it remains on the books, if ambiguously, to this day.

Wait for the Arizona Supreme Court to have a case before it on the matter.

Remote Working

I was intrigued by a recent Economist article on the growth of remote working. COVID-19 and the development videotelephony software programs stimulated remote working. Yet as the Economist states, that there are some professions where remote working is impractical; although my point of view is now that of a consumer, I also have a view of a profession in which I was once a practising doctor.

One of the banes of my professional life occurred when I was a first-year resident medical officer in an outer suburb hospital where we “first years” had to share the emergency load. Most of the time when on duty the doctor could be up all night. There were times when you were summoned from bed to see someone presenting at the emergency department, but there was one particular colleague who never got out of bed – he issued instructions from the depth of his pillow and left the patients for his colleague to see in the morning.  Welcome to the doctor remotely working or more properly described as bludging. I always got out of bed when I was called. Telehealth as a substitute has provided a convenient and acceptable means to the medical profession now loathe to do home visits or work after hours.

Therefore, one of the downsides of remote working is that it may fit the genius working in a garret, but it also suits the bludger, who wants to give the semblance of work, since remoteness enables meeting an illusion that work is being accomplished remotely, This illusion has metastasised to such an extent that none of the workforce becomes available to the general public, since they are in the nirvana of meeting remotely.

Therefore, I start my assessment of remote working sceptically because remote work flexibility has many unexpected undesirable consequences. I once ran a program in a Government department for five years, and it was a time before that alphabet of why a particular bureaucrat can have days off without any planning or goes on some useless training course existed. Then there is the added pernicious action of not allowing the bureaucrat to settle down in one job to ensure that the general public is confronted by both ignorance and lack of corporate knowledge.  Thus, if one is intent on making it as difficult as possible for the general public to penetrate the bureaucratic jungle, then confront it with a potpourri of bureaucratic dysfunction working.  Remotely.

Remote working is just the icing on this dysfunction: “Hullo, I am ringing to talk to Mr X”, “He’s not here. He is working from home today.” Can you give me his number?”, “No, I’m afraid we can’t give that information.” “When will he be in?” “No idea” “Is there anybody else who can help?” “I’m sorry but I have to go to a meeting to discuss the meeting schedule. You’ll have to excuse me…” and that is the polite version.

Remote working should be banned for those whose main role is to provide a direct customer role. It is difficult enough without having these people not at work in the office. In other words, for government bureaucrats, there should be an assessment carried out by an independent source to see if there is any merit in this cohort of office bureaucrats being allowed to work remotely.

Having taken that position in relation to bureaucrats the industries in which the Economist reported the highest level of remote-work flexibility are coding and technology, architecture, engineering and business jobs. About half of people working in computer or mathematical jobs work remotely full-time. In these cases, ability to communicate is generally not a problem.

The Economist reports that McKinsey have shown that half of women report being unable to work remotely at all, compared with 39 per cent of men. But what does it mean in relation of remote working? It is not an ephemeral gender issue.

I have always lived close to where I have had an office. For a long period, I had offices in both Melbourne and Sydney and had a home within 20 minutes of where I worked, even in peak traffic. My wife worked in the same office, working in different areas, even though our jobs may have intersected at times. My career as a consultant meant considerable travel, but if “remote working” is taken literally, yes, I worked in remote locations. Thus, working with my wife was one of way of avoiding “remote working”, because there was always one of us in the office, if considering the two locations as being one office.

The Economist straying into another area made the following point: Couples compromise in all kinds of ways for their lives to work together. If she is offered a big promotion, conditional on moving to Chicago, she may have to turn it down if his job is tied to New York. The geographical liberation of either partner makes it possible for the other to ascend the corporate ladder.

In other words unless couples are faced with being required to work remote from one another, compromises must be made to keep the couple together. I faced that in my early career, when both of us graduated in medicine and then having children in our early twenties, still pursued separate careers, and both ended up undertaking PhDs in separate institutions.

We found a solution. We set up our own community-based childcare centre able to take a child in its first year to being able to go through the first five years. We had an appropriate mix of staff to cover both care and education. Both our sons are alumni of that childcare centre, which remains in operation 60 years after it was established.

The other was the fact that the maternal grandparents filled in as carers when the boys were not only in the early childhood centre but afterwards when they were in primary school. This, coupled with the proximity of work and both the early childhood centre and school, allowed the two careers to progress, without one parent having to sacrifice their career. Remember that was the sixties, when prejudice against women working was strong, and yet we were able to persuade the Department of Health to change its attitude and contributing funding to the childcare centre, mainly for capital costs to ensure that the building satisfied the extensive departmental regulations.

Thus, how ambiguous is the word “remote” when applied to “work”.

Spinal Surgery

I thought I would explain the reasons for deferring my operation. I am sure you respect that the choice I have made has not been undertaken without much deep consideration of balancing the risks and benefits. My response was largely generated from our last consultation and your subsequent letter to {orthopaedic surgeon} – Letter to Spinal Surgeon

The furore of the level of spinal surgery disclosed by the ABC program Four Corners seemed to centre on one neurosurgeon who was already deemed incompetent, having had limitations placed on his practice. However, “surgical cowboys” exist and when you need to decide to give consent or not, you need to know the ones with a lasso.  The average person, often anxious or fearful, must make a choice based on asymmetric information. Asymmetric information since the doctor has the information, and anyway he or she is obviously not going to say that the procedure he or she will use is “crap” and has been shown not to work.

I was faced with this question of spinal surgery eight years ago. I had a major car accident in 1981 and was left with the underlying damage where osteoarthritis would be a long term result. The orthopaedic surgeon initially did not undertake arthroscopy on the grounds that if he did it, knee replacement would be inevitable. This decision gave me ten years of relative mobility – able to undertake up to an hour walks.

That was until late 2013 when I developed polymyalgia rheumatica, that the whole downward spiral in my mobility commenced. Gradually with cortisone, the pain associated with the PMR eased. Nonetheless I was faced with using one and then two sticks, and eventually using a wheelchair for distances such as airline concourses, for instance.

I was then further faced with having my knees replaced by prostheses. However, since I had symptoms related to the arthritis of my spine in both cervical and lumbar region, I was referred to a spinal surgeon. The orthopaedic surgeon was loathe to operate on my knees without a spinal assessment to see if I needed surgery. I first found the spinal surgeon’s attitude unusual from the start in that he left the consultation to somebody I presumed was a doctor or nurse, barely competent in taking a clinical history, which resulted in my clinical notes stating I was a heavy smoker whereas I had not smoked for 36 years.

For a time, despite my misgivings, I accepted the need for operations, with the surgeon saying he would have to take bone from my left iliac crest for my cervical surgery and then, with little intervening time, undertake a laminectomy on my lumbar spine, as if his skill was the only consideration.

Abnormal spinal MRI

In retrospect I should have terminated this nonsense, especial as he intended to do an MRI on the morning of the operation to “check all this”. I have had many MRIs, which all showed spinal pathology, but what he seemed to ignore was that the spinal cord was not impinging on the spine. Sure, I had intermittent tingling in my fingers, but this was only minor. Sure, I had pain in my back, but it was not incapacitating.

I had been undertaking hydrotherapy for several years, The neurologist confirmed, looking at the same MRI as the surgeon, that it clearly showed space between spinal cord and spine.

I then made the decision to defer the operation and sent a letter to the spinal surgeon, rather than meeting face-to-face which may not have been guaranteed before he had launched into using his operative skills on me.

Frankly I was worried by his arrogance and yet saying I could die under the knife. He seemed to ignore my myriad co-morbidities nonetheless.

He never replied to my letter seeking justification.

My putative operation remains on hold, as they say, “sine die.”

It is eight years later, and my spinal symptomatology remains much the same, although I have other co-morbidities, which render anything he proposed at that time a sure-fire death sentence now.

I believe that there is a role for a medical qualified health broker, who can provide independent advice backed by best evidence available for those less informed than myself to help redress the information gap.

Some of the medical commentators would better be suited as health brokers instead of being interviewed on TV, where words are more ephemeral and generally after the fact. This episode of Four Corners seems not to have generated media comment, despite the descriptions of questionable practice, where these expert independent voices condemned the actions of this particular surgeon. If these voices had been co-ordinated and presented to the patient as the voice of a health broker, then the outcomes as depicted may well have been different.

Iris Sargeant

Iris was the goddess of rainbows. Rainbows were her connection between heaven and earth.

Iris was my mother-in-law. She died on Wednesday evening. She was 98. She was a great lady, who was born into the Lutheran diaspora, her ancestors having fled religious persecution in Prussia. Her family came from Katowice, which is now in Poland. Her family initially settled in South Australia, and some of the families then settled in rural Victoria and others in southern New South Wales, with Iris being born in Walla Walla north of Albury, in 1926.

Iris very much embodied the rural woman, growing up with four brothers and a sister. Her father was Theodore Gustav Hoffmann and her mother Alma, born Schroeter. Growing up in a time when having a German name had its difficulty, especially during WWII. Iris was tolerant, forgiving, a highly intelligent person at a time where women were confined to domesticity and not encouraged to go much further than early primary school. With her love of books she had always wanted to be a librarian and she enjoyed painting and colouring.

Iris had two other qualities that set certain people apart. She had grace and concern for others, even when she was clearly dying and hearing that I had had a relapse, she said “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Says it all. Now she is moving up her rainbow in a cascade of colours. Iris, the artist has left a legacy to be celebrated – herself painted large.

That soft gentle voice saying “Time for me to go now. I won’t say goodbye. Just look for me in the rainbows after the rain.”

A rainbow of coloured pencils

Mouse Whisper

Two mice walked into a tavern in Cincinnati. They ordered to two thimbles of Mouscadet.

As they perched on the counter, they noticed the name of tavern to be Blind Tiger.

Why, they squeaked to the owner who, elbows on the counter, answered them by way of explanation.

“In prohibition days, when anybody was looking for a drink, they would look out for the Blind Tiger where you paid money to go into the speakeasy  to see the Blind Tiger and would get a drink, free or if money needed to handed over, the bartender was concealed by a blind so that there was nobody visible to provide the drink, while money was passed through a slot to a tray behind the blind.”

It did not take long for the customer to become blind and tigerish.

Another, thimble, my good mice.