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

Tomorrow all will be revealed – perhaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coral bleaching, Great Barrier Reef

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

At least in 1972 Australia had a real choice.

A Patch of Persimmons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, introduction to unfamiliar fruit can leave lasting memories.

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

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

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

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

Old Men Get Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Plough and Feather

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

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

I have collected a whole memory of fish dinners.

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

Old Stone Store

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

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

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

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

Blue nose

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

Mouse Whisper 

When does Turkey become Peru?

When you consider the bird to be Portuguese.

Modest Expectations – Romeo, Romeo, where art thou?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is enough incentive to move to Northland.

Bay of Islands

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

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

However, I digress.

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

Higgins 2019 as writ by The Guardian

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

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

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

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

The usual suspects?

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

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

Higgins 2022 as writ by Katie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What indeed.

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

The Big Question

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

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

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

Teal – the added colour of Port Adelaide

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

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

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

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

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

How fitting for this group of Independents seeking election.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Então meu amigo não Adeus; apenas Até logo.

Tilting at Windmills … God knows where

It is always Caos in Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

This is an Iranian puzzle – not that difficult.

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

Answer in above text.

Modest Expectation – Land across the Water

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

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

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

I love the metaphor.  Pushing it to extremes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worried. Not me. Just a silly little cough…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have no idea who’s on a plane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surströmming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A worry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scarry’s Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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

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

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

Modest Expectations – Sudbury & Harrow Road

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

Katherine Mansfield

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

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

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

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

Sir John Monash

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

What’s in a name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Childhood Memories

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

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

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

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

Sicily

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

The Wisdom of Islands Solomon

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

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

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

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

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

Bougainville

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

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

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

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

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

The defunct Bougainville mine

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

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

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

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

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

The People in an Ironed Mask

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prince Rupert would have loved this comment

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

Modest Expectations

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

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

mephitis mephitis

Modest Expectations 161 – Joasaph 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maundy Money

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

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

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

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

The Member for Grayndler

Edward Grayndler

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

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

And Anthony Albanese, the current member for Grayndler?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Fraying Health Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me where I can charge the electric car

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God what were they thinking – Shock Horror

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

San Marino

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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

Well J 

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

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

Cheers 

 M

Earlier:

M

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

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

J

Dressed for dinner …

Modest Expectations – In the blowing snow was that a gun report I heard?

I am not a very good gardener. I once killed the grass on the terrace with what I thought was loving care when I overused the fertiliser. The aim when we moved into our house over 30 years ago was to remove the weeds which dominated the garden, and it took about 20 years for the last of the wisteria to go, but asthma weed has defiantly resisted all efforts. There was the vain aim to install a Port Jackson garden, which would have only plants which may have been there at the time Arthur Philip landed at Farm Cove in 1788. The pittosporum, the blueberry ash and the lilli pilli, together with some of  the native grasses survive.  Anyway there was never a true Port Jackson Garden because of resistance by one party to remove the gracefully gnarled exotic frangipani – the survival of which in the end negated that proposal.

I do not have the patience nor the leisured and measured existence to enjoy one anyway. In many ways I envy the apparently sybaritic existence of the author’s “Elizabeth and her German Garden”. Elizabeth Von Antrim, a cousin of Katherine Mansfield, was born in Sydney in 1866. Both were Beauchamps, and Elizabeth only lived in Australia for her first three years before leaving, never to return.

This book recounts her life married to a Prussian aristocrat 15 years her senior, whom she describes throughout as the Man of Wrath. They lived on a vast Pomeranian property in what is now Poland. There she bred  five children and found satisfaction with organising the garden in this vast property.  Her tussle with the gardeners reflects her observation that women were considered inferior, particularly among the workers, and where the women were also often subject to violence. These observations counterpoint the description of her careful design of her plantings and the descriptions of her results. One of these was a bed where plants in every shade of yellow from the fieriest orange to the palest yellow were represented. The book was a spectacular success on publication, having 21 reprints in the first year.

A yellow garden

Her insight is that interest in gardening makes for a satisfied society. The promotion of gardening has, at times, been subject to controversy, but the very best of presenters induce a hard-to-explain serenity; and yet so much of the content is repetition – the vegetable garden, the horizontal wall, the internal garden, the obsessional manicured country garden, build your own hen house, and so on.

Yet as you drive through the newer suburbs of our cities today, the houses consume the whole block with a few pebbles strewn around with a few forlorn plants, labelled drought tolerant. I have named these suburbs “testudines”. In Latin, this means “tortoises”. The word was also used to describe the layered way the Roman legion infantry went into battles with the shields interlocked above their heads. Our modern suburban rooflines seem to be aligned in a manner reminiscent, swathes of grey seen from above.  Barely is there any green in these suburbs except thin green verges with the despondent saplings left to their own devices to shrivel in the summer heat with minimal attention. The sunburnt country… need I recite more.

And as for Elizabeth and her German Garden, gardening is a such a telling metaphor – a brilliant insight.

“Nature has Given me Love”

Adriana Elisabeth Hoffmann Jacoby has died.

Who? You may ask.

She was somebody special – a Chilean cog in the wheel of climate activists.

As the Boston Globe noted:  The presence of two Chilean Cabinet ministers at her funeral made clear the importance of her legacy to the country, where scientists-turned-politicians are helping to make a new constitution shaped by the climate crisis.

Above in the title are her last words recorded.

The Boston Globe went onto say that: “she was born in Santiago on Jan. 29, 1940, the daughter of a renowned Chilean doctor and scientist, Franz Hoffmann, and pioneering psychiatrist and spiritual guide Lola Hoffmann (born Helena Jacoby). Ms. Hoffmann went on to study agronomy at the University of Chile before dropping out. She later switched to studying botany when she spent some time in Germany with her mother.

She credited her parents with nurturing her love for nature. “I have pictures of myself, very little, always with flowers and plants,” she said.

In the early 1990s, she met Douglas Tompkins, a conservationist and the founder of the North Face and Esprit clothing brands, and his wife, Kristine Tompkins, who together bought about 1 million acres of Chile’s forests to protect them.

Yendegaia National Park

Ms. Hoffmann advised and supported the Tompkins’ conservation efforts, Kristine Tompkins said in a phone interview, and once joined other conservationists in obtaining the couple’s help in preserving a vast stretch of precious but threatened land on the border of Chile and Argentina. In 2014, the area became the mountainous Yendegaia National Park.”

This National Park lies in the very southern end of the country on Tierra del Fuego, but Chile is a ribbon which winds its way along the Pacific Coast of South America from ice to desert; it was a perfect site for this determined botanist to work.

In 1992, two years after the fall of Pinochet, she headed a non-profit organisation, Defensores del Bosque Chileno, dedicated to protecting Chile’s native forests documenting how Chile’s extractive industries were destroying the country’s forests.

Her activism was seen by many as an attack on economic development, especially in a country whose economy heavily depended on exporting commodities.

In 1993 Chile created the Comisión Nacional del Medio Ambiente (Conama) an agency that would later profoundly change her life and legacy.

In a way, in the reflections on this great activist botanist, I find it ironic that Chile inherited Easter Island where religion, manifest in the construction of the moai, led to extreme deforestation with the destruction of three species of trees which grew to 15 metres or more, including the Chilean tree palm, often thought to be the largest palm tree at the time. It is difficult now to conceive of Easter Island in 1022 as an island as thickly forested as Lord Howe Island is today with, in both cases, their distinctive palms and accompanying fauna and flora.

Easter Island Moai

Fast forward 300 years and Lord Howe lies deforested because climate change and now, cut off by rising seas, the population are searching for deities, imploring them to reverse the calamity. The Lord Howe islanders have cut down all their palms and replaced them with basalt figures of Malcom Fraser and Shane Warne to attempt to appease the Gods.

As my companion said, even such a great botanist as Jacoby was unable to recreate the old Easter Island. Maybe nobody would want to do it anyway. The man made figures are such an attraction, more so than any palm trees, however tall they grow – whether we like it or not.

Finland

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finland, behold, thy daylight now is dawning,
the threat of night has now been driven away.
The skylark calls across the light of morning,
the blue of heaven lets it have its way,
and now the day the powers of night is scorning: thy daylight dawns,

O Finland of ours!

Finland, arise, and raise towards the highest
thy head now crowned with mighty memory.
Finland, arise, for to the world thou criest
that thou hast thrown off thy slavery,
beneath oppression´s yoke thou never liest.
Thy mornings come,

O Finland of ours!

Jean Sibelius is one of my favourite composers. Finlandia, composed by him while Finland was under Russian rule as the Grand Duchy of Finland, has become a hymn to Finland independence. A group of Finns in the early part of the Russo-Ukraine War sang it in front of the Russian embassy, changing “Finland” to “Ukraine.”

The Finns have lived in the shadow of Russians. The country survived the 1939-44 conflict with Russia, having put up strong resistance, but diminished in size while forced to pay reparations. Thus it was very  wary of offending the Russians in the years following. Yet Finland recovered sufficiently to successfully hold the 1952 Olympic games and its 72 metre tower stands as memorial to the superb architectural design of Yrjö Lorenzo Lindegren, who had worked closely within this Finnish functionalist school which included Alvar Aalto, who inter alia defined the architecture of the modern hospital.

The Finns are impatient with fripperies; yet they are creative and hardy – especially important when you live next to Russia and the beautiful summer is lost in harsh winters.

I remember the Finnish lecturer in Semitic Studies who met his smaller professor coming up a narrow set of stairs. There was no standing aside. The Finnish lecturer picked the professor up, swivelled and placed him on a higher stair tread. Efficient, unorthodox, and without a word the Finnish lecturer proceeded down the stairs into the street.

I have been to Finland several times and recently mentioned in my blog my pilgrimage to Turku where John Landy broke the world mile record in 1954.

We have taken the Finnish train to Saint Petersburg, as it was suggested not to take the Russian version. The Finnish train was cleaner and more comfortable

Communal garden / meadow

We were once invited to lunch with a public health specialist in one of the Helsinki suburbs some years ago. There was this deep sense of communal living here.  There was a simple order about the way the houses were built and how clean the streets were. The houses backed onto a communal field, alive with vast swathes of summer flowers. Everybody could participate in picking flowers. Communal sharing was encouraged.

As an epidemiologist, she was interested in population health studies. As such she was able to freely go across the border into Russian East Karelia where the ethnicity of the people are essentially Finnish.  This region was once part of the Swedish-Finnish Kingdom from 1323 to 1617 and again between 1721 and 1743, then part of the Grand Duchy of Finland between 1809 and 1918 and of independent Finland between 1918 and 1939 and finally from 1941 to 1944. Not exactly a serene existence.

The Finns, with some support from Germany, with a population of about 5.5 million were able at times to more than match it with the Russians. The Finns knew their country. It helped as the troops used the cover of pine forests and snow which covers the terrain along a long border as far north as Lapland far better than the Russians until the inevitable power of the Allied Forces prevailed.

The Finns paid the price of alliance with the Germans during this period both in reparations and loss of territory.  Following World War II, most of what Finnish people define as Karelia was incorporated into Soviet Russia. The Finns were forced into a pro-Soviet neutrality.

After the fall of Soviet Russia, the social movement of both Russians and Finns across the borders has progressively increased. In 2011 for instance, around the time we were in the Helsinki suburbs, Russian tourists constituted 31 per cent of the total.

However, life has changed significantly recently and Finland has thus far not been caught up in Putin’s web; that of attacking smaller neighbouring States searching for his Peter the Greatness.

Sweden has been neutral throughout the 20th and, thus far, the 21st centuries. As people know, Finland has a cohort of Finn-speaking Swedes in the population. Both countries have been members of the EU since 1995; in fact Finland was one of the first countries to adopt the euro, replacing the markka. For the Russians, who had controlled Finnish neutrality, the Finns joining the EU was one blow, but until the onset of the Russo-Ukrainian War, there was no incentive for either Finland or Sweden to join NATO. This has all changed. The Finns  want to join NATO.  Once implacably opposed, the Swedish government is softening its approach, although there is still opposition from the Left.

Does Russia want a repeat of the intermittent war which occurred between 1939 and 1944 on a vastly different field? Does Putin really want a re-run of this conflict to stop the incorporation of these two technologically advanced countries into NATO? St Petersburg is 250 kms from the Finnish border but Helsinki is over 1,000 km from the Russian border. I doubt it; and yet the Russians have engaged in another war with a far more populated opponent and the outcome of this conflict will ultimately determine whether Putin turns his attention to Scandinavia.

Exercise – the Bane of Existence

At one stage, I used to go for a run every day around the suburb, which contained many hills. Given that I instinctively loathed exercise, the surge of endorphins countered so effectively this loathing, that many times during a year I would engage what were laughingly caused “Fun Runs”. As I aged, the runs became long early morning walks; and then disease caught up and exercise became biweekly hydrotherapy sessions; and then with COVID causing the closure of the pools, desultory infrequent rambles – the walking restricted to climbing stairs, back stretches.  This article in the NYT gave me some hope. I have edited the original article, but have noted the contribution from a University of Sydney expert.

For years, exercise scientists tried to quantify the ideal “dose” of exercise for most people. They finally reached a broad consensus in 2008 with the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which were updated in 2018. In both versions, the guidelines advised anyone who was physically able to accumulate 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, and half as much if it is intense.

But what’s the best way to space out those weekly minutes? And what does “moderate” mean? Here’s what some of the leading researchers in exercise science had to say about step counts, stairwells, weekend warriors, greater longevity and why the healthiest step we can take is the one that gets us off the couch.

For practical purposes, exercise scientists often recommend breaking that 150 minutes into 30-minute sessions of speedy walking or a similar activity five times a week. “

Moderate exercise means “activities that increase your breathing and heart rate, so the exertion feels like a five or six on a scale between one and 10.” In other words, pick up the pace a bit if your inclination is to stroll, but do not feel compelled to sprint, according to Emmanuel Stamatakis, an exercise scientist at the University of Sydney in Australia who studies physical activity and health.

We can accumulate our 150 weekly minutes of moderate exercise in whatever way works best for us. “Many people may find it easier and more sustainable to squeeze in a few dozen one-minute or two-minute walks between work tasks” or other commitments. “There is no special magic to a sustained 30-minute session of exercise” for most health benefits.

Think of these bite-size workouts as exercise snacks, he said. “Activities like bursts of very fast walking, stair climbing and carrying shopping bags provide excellent opportunities for movement snacks.” To concentrate the health benefits of these workout nuggets, he added, keep the intensity relatively high, so you feel somewhat winded.

Conceivably, you also could cram all of your exercise into long Saturday and Sunday workouts. In a 2017 study by Dr Stamatakis and colleagues, people who reported exercising almost entirely on weekends were less likely to die prematurely than those who said they rarely exercised at all. But being a weekend warrior has drawbacks. “It is certainly not ideal to spend the workweek totally sedentary and then try to compensate” over the weekend, Dr. Stamatakis said. You miss many of the health benefits of regular exercise, such as improved blood-sugar control and better moods, on the days you do not work out, he said. You also increase your risk of exercise-related injuries.

For most people, “150 minutes of exercise a week would translate into about 7,000 to 8,000 steps a day,”

The recommended 150 minutes a week also may be too little to stave off weight gain with age. In a 2010 study of almost 35,000 women only those who walked or otherwise exercised moderately for about an hour a day during middle age maintained their weight as they became older.

But any activity is better than none. “Every single minute counts “Walking up the stairs has health benefits, even if it only lasts for one or two minutes, if you repeat it regularly.”

Tell me it is not so

I always watched Sam Waterston and his off sider played by Angie Harmon in Law and Order in the 1990s. There was something taut about their relationship, giving a certain authenticity, if you accept the underlying morality of “Crime does not pay”. Angie Harmon left and reappeared in the crime series Rizzoli and Isles, which I admit I watched very infrequently.

When I heard Sam Waterston was returning to the series even though, after so many years on, he may appear somewhat hoary. However, this comment from The Boston Globe is suddenly a blow to progress. It is a bit like the “auto-correct” when you use an unusual word or one that has been made up to create a sense of the original. Watching a program created by a computer program, maybe the nightmare of the future.

Law and Order in the ’90s

Well-oiled machines are great, except when they’re TV shows. The best of scripted TV has a human touch, a sense of the risks and variations and flourishes that come with inspiration. This season, the “Law & Order” scripts seem like they’ve been auto-written by a computer program, the same program that was writing them back when the show had already hit a creative wall back in 2010 after 450 something episodes.

I don’t think it’s the cast, including newcomers Camryn Manheim and Jeffrey Donovan and returnees Anthony Anderson and Sam Waterston. They’re given very little character development. They’re also given story lines, some of them feebly ripped from the headlines, that are half-baked at best. Watching this new season, I keep finishing episodes and wondering, “Is that it?” There is very little there, when the denouement rolls around; the writers aren’t sneaking in any of the twists that left you thinking a bit about the justice system, or human nature. There’s almost none of the wit from the show’s prime, too, when the cops’ and lawyers’ little sharp asides added both irony — something many of the spinoffs, notably “SVU,” do not have — and bits of character.

Mouse Whisper

“Oh, my dear, relations are like drugs, – useful sometimes, and even pleasant, if taken in small quantities and seldom, but dreadfully pernicious on the whole, and the truly wise avoid them.”

From Elizabeth and her German Garden. Never thought about relatives that way, they always seemed so “mice”.

Modest Expectations – Gustaf’s Little Impurity

It is a crazy situation. The Coalition is wheeling out an old codger who, in the end, could not hold his own seat, to try and burnish the credentials of a Prime Minister who has been described in very unflattering terms by a succession of women. While there hasn’t been any suggestion the Prime Minister will lose his seat, if I were in his electorate of Cook I would be interested in the credentials of his opponents.

Yet Albanese, in the same spirit of that same old codger (just a younger version), when the old codger was running for Prime Minister in 1996, decided to create himself as a small target to frustrate Keating. It worked, but the community had tired of Keating. Despite his intelligence, his vision, his achievements, in the end he scared people. Keating was also an anomaly because he never identified with sport, despite encouragement. In the end, he was also a good hater, although Howard was on a par – and in Australian politics to hate your opponents and their policies is a strong driver.

Morrison has no policies apart from feeding those who sustain his power, a dangerous tactic in a democracy. Albanese on the other hand has no vision, apart from his log cabin story told with a bowl of minestrone. As John Edwards, a former Labor operative sneered about the policy flourish of the Coalition in the Snedden period – “policy by Penguin Books” he called it. In other words, policies copied without discussion to disguise a vacuum of thought. One of the problems in Australia is the shortness of the electoral cycle. Thus, the governments are endlessly campaigning, brandishing the chocolate box of instant gratification without any long term commitment to improving the State. Rather it is about enriching oneself and one’s buddies.

Far more insidious is to advocate policies which have been shown not to have worked in the past, often because they are easy to promise. There are always missing components, selling a chassis without the engine. One of the missing components is always the translation of the effective use of funding to the actual situation. In other words, most policy announcements concern inputs – easy to throw taxpayer money around without worrying about outcome.

Perhaps the most insidious is funding projects when in effect the government is just transferring funding to a pack of rapacious rent seekers who happen to own the real estate and label it “nursing home” or “child care centre”.

Many years ago I had experience, when I was Chair of a Co-operative, of setting up a child care centre out of enlightened self-interest. In the mid-1960s it was unusual for both parents to be working full-time, but my then wife decided that she, along with a few like-minded parents, would establish a childcare centre within a co-operative framework. The centre is still operating.

There were major obstacles, not the least of which was that the woman’s place was regarded as being in the home, and if she had to work, then the family would have to look after the children. That in itself gave some clue as to the dilemma of childcare. During WWII so-called day nurseries were established with government subsidy to enable women to enter the wartime workforce, but still bear children. At the same time, at least in Victoria, there was a very strong kindergarten sector which catered for the middle class, and worked on the assumption that the educational aspect of childcare commenced at three years of age. The challenge is to formalise that learning into childcare arrangements that may begin in infancy.

At that time in the 1960s, there was no funding link between the two sectors but there was one advantage in Victoria, which was later abolished (because ideologues believed it should be so, even if it was shown to work), namely that the broad field of “infant welfare” and “kindergarten” were in the same Ministerial portfolio.

It was a great advantage when early childhood education was included in “community health”, for which I was responsible for five years in the late 1970s. I was constantly assailed by accusations of being dedicated to the “medical model”. This catchcry was led by social workers trying to usurp a doctor being in charge of the project – and a man to boot, figuratively. It was a form of reverse discrimination. Men were OK as paediatricians on the medical periphery, but women had the core expertise in matters related to early childhood development. This term “medical model” has become difficult to sustain as the medical workforce has become increasingly female.

The childcare model that we constructed was funding by a co-operative under the parents’ control. When I was directly involved in childcare, there was a strong antipathy to government intervention. There was no tax relief as there was for private primary and secondary school education. Childcare was “women’s business”. Even from birth, the father was excluded – fathers being present at the birth of their children was a “no-no.”

Regulations were harsh, partly to discourage childcare centres. A ghastly fire in 1957 at Templestowe, a suburb of Melbourne, where a child minding centre caught fire and infants were burnt to death, underlay this. There is no bigger disincentive than over-regulation to providing such service. Some of the regulations were just plain foolish. Most over-regulation is unenforceable, but the one regulation I best remember was the dimensions required of a dining room in a childcare centre. Accommodating more than ten children in such a centre diminished the space requirement, presumably on the grounds that as children increase in numbers they get smaller. Such is the inanity of regulation.

The major problem is the appropriateness of the staff and the underlying training requirements. Before the pandemic it was tempting just to import cheap labour from overseas and any training was left to the rent seeker entrepreneur owner – essentially, take the money without any serious value addition by way of training.

Our co-operative structure worked well, but its viability even then depended on the co-operative securing capital funding and raising fees that were based on predicted use; thus assuring certainty in the income flow. Even then, 10 per cent of children in the Centre paid nothing. (Only the management of the centre knew who they were.) The use of childcare as a convenience without planning and then expecting that the cost for such behaviour should be borne by the childcare centre was something that a co-operative can disabuse.  Financial viability is closely intertwined with the actual provision and because of parent involvement, shared responsibility.

The one element of a well-functioning co-operative where care is involved – at the extremes of life (and separating out disability) – is that it mimics the family, especially now that fathers are more likely to share responsibility – even being the prime carer. Thus, under this model, care is not designated solely to an employee as it used to be among the wealthy – the nanny employed to remove responsibility from the parents followed by the children being sent to boarding schools, or the model of the grandparents looking after the children.

In June 2021:

  • There were 7.3 million families, an increase of 1 million since June 2011,
  • 1 in 7 families were one parent families (15.0 per cent) of which nearly 80 per cent were women
  • There were 1.4 million jobless families (19.5 per cent)
  • Of the 6.1 million couple families, 1.6 per cent were same-sex couples.

Out of the jumble of statistics, can we pick those elements of the family which can be transferred to cost-effective childcare? After all, from the age of five years, most schooling is provided by the State.

Years ago, we found that for childcare, co-operatives worked; moreover, at a time when it was fashionable for childcare to be the responsibility of the wife, I was incited into involvement in the management of childcare – even to the extent of developing some knowledge and spending time in the centre among the children, that is, taking my turn in providing care as part of the co-operative effort.

This is very commonplace now that more fathers are more closely involved with their children. I have always believed that the co-operative framework is the best way to mimic the family ideal of care and early childhood education. In our case, the State subsidised us with the capital, after the university provided the basic building, providing what I call the technical component that relates to the educational and welfare components needed to modify the building to facilitate compliance.

Then the question to be answered is what are the staffing requirements to mimic an optimal home environment? There should not be a large administrative structure and the training program should be designed for neither self-aggrandisement nor unnecessary expenditure. I have always believed that the co-operative framework provides that ability for the parents to determine how much “professionalism” is required.

Rather than just throwing money into the private sector, if I would be asked to review the area, given my bias towards the co-operative framework, I would seek out what has been successful – see if the template we fashioned so long ago still applied and build on that. In the meantime, the parents should be subsidised to the theoretical level for best practice, with or without a means test. The aim would be to maximise the growth of the child, within an extended family loosely termed “co-operative”, given that the word does have a legal meaning – the aim would not be to maximise profit.

When in Knead during a Pandemic

The Boston Globe reports that the COVID-19 pandemic breathed new life into the industry of “alternative spirituality,” where customers rely on readings and reiki-charged candles for guidance. Businesses sprinkled around Boston are experiencing a spike in interest and revenue that has yet to taper out.

Crowds flock to Open Doors, an eclectic Braintree storefront stuffed with chakra bowls, lion statuettes, and images of Egyptian deities. Open Doors has 18 readers, who saw 25 percent more business than in pre-pandemic days…

The increase may be due, in part, to boredom. With the pandemic limiting entertainment options, many were on the hunt for something fun to do, something new, something novel: video games, crafts, gardening, and of course, the sourdough bread baking movement.

The sourdough bread baking movement in the US has received a fillip with the pandemic. Without an opportunity to bake a traditional loaf of bread while stuck inside at home, people started turning to another bread option, sourdough. Unlike other types of bread, sourdough doesn’t require dry yeast, which was in short supply during the early days of the pandemic. Sourdough requires “wild yeast”, which is present in all flour.

I spent a week at Yale a few years ago when the head of the Berkeley Divinity School, Andrew McGowan, an expert baker, had integrated his love of bread making into discussions of its biblical significance. I learnt then that when one combines flour with water, sourdough “starter” will eventuate. As someone said, neither flour nor water are going anywhere during a pandemic. In the course of my Yale time, I found out about kneading and needing to have a great deal more practice. I felt very much of entering a farinaceous novitiate, but it is always enjoyable to participate in a program where one starts with zilch knowledge. There are no expectations.

A prosforo seal

Not only sourdough but also banana bread have, during the pandemic, attracted devotees. I did not expect people to be soothing themselves with sourdough. I must have missed something during that week at Yale. Maybe I had never progressed from the novitiate. Not completely true, but making the leavened bread, prosforo, used by the Orthodox Church, foundered in the face of other things to do.

The pandemic has not finished; so perhaps we should encourage the invigoration of my farinaceous novitiate, being ultimately “well-bread” as a result of the pandemic, as it were.

By the way, during the isolation, the Ganesh on the mantelpiece kept the Virus away. Not that we indulged in any of that occult malarkey; Ganesh after all had been our protector for years – the equivalent of the Roman lares and penates.

The Orthodox Church

John Anthony McGuckin is not the name you would expect of a Romanian Orthodox archpriest. As I have always been curious about the Eastern Churches, I obtained a copy of his recent book, “The Eastern Orthodox Church”, which purports to be “a New History”. It is not that the author is dismissive of the Western Christian tradition as epitomised by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church. It is more resentment since he believes that the Roman Catholic Church undermined it, when the Orthodox Church, apart from the Russian Church, was losing all its authority.

The Greek Orthodox Church survived under Ottoman rule linked, as it was, to Byzantium, later Constantinople. The other three original Eastern patriarchates shrivelled. Interestingly, the author is more favourably disposed towards the Anglican Church because the relationship has not suffered the effects of the original schism from Rome. As McGuckin says, in fact it may be because the two churches went separate ways from Roman Catholicism which enhanced the relationship between the Orthodox and Anglican churches.

The Russian expression of the Orthodox Church came with the Slavic conversion in the ninth century “as also in Serbia, Georgia, Bulgaria”. Much of its claim to being the church with true Apostolic succession resides on the concentration of the book on the consolidation of Christianity, before the assaults of Islam on those areas where Christianity was embodied in the four original patriarchates of the Eastern church – Jerusalem, Byzantium, Alexandria and Antioch.

The Orthodox Church bore the brunt of the early turmoil of both heresy and schism. “Heresy” was where one strayed away from the authentic beliefs of Orthodox Christianity and “schism” was where there were doctrinal and power struggles but within, not outside the Orthodox Christianity polity. There were periodic ecumenical councils in the early Church, which today may seem somewhat narrow doctrinal arguments tossed back and forth. However, it led to the separation of Non-Chalcedonian Churches of Egypt, Armenia, Syria and Ethiopia from the ongoing Ecumenical council after that of Ephesus in 431. The Assyrian Church had separated earlier.

At the end of the first part of this book, I had been introduced to a large number of clergy, saints and early Christian worthies of which I had little knowledge. Some of the differences of doctrinal interpretation seem so esoteric, yet those churches which believe in Apostolic succession have been crucial.

I still recite the Nicene Creed exemplifying inter alia my basic belief in the Trinity – this ephemeral group of Father, Son and Holy Ghost – which in itself, without doctrinal education, is a pure article of faith, otherwise impossible to fathom. In the end, why am I reciting the codified belief system, first enunciated in 325, when the Orthodox belief in the Trinity was being challenged by both Arian and Nestorian heresies?

Despite the argument about doctrine, the Nicene Creed survives today demonstrating how robust the Church is.

Even so, the Roman Church, without consulting the Eastern Church, added “and from the Son” (Filioque) to the Nicene Creed. Also, the Eastern churches resented the Roman enforcement of clerical celibacy, the limitation of the right of confirmation to the bishop, and the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist. This led to the schism between the Western and Eastern churches in 1054.

My recitation of the Creed includes “Filioque”. I take unleavened bread as part of the Eucharist, but in the Anglican church, where celibacy is a matter of choice and the Patriarch of Rome does not lead our Church.

There is a chapter on what one can expect if one enters the Orthodox Church. I remember a somewhat different experience – my first exposure to an Orthodox service. I stumbled upon such a service in the steerage area of a ship bringing Russian emigrés, who boarded the ship in Hong Kong, to Australia. It was 1957. I remember wandering down to the lowest desk having been attracted by the muffled chanting.

There they were, in the dimness of this area of the ship abutting the forward cargo hold. The dark shadow of the priest in dark robes partially illuminated by a shaft of light; the indistinct features of a congregation, all standing, and the liturgical chanting in an atmosphere, heavy with incense.

I have since become interested in Russian church music, particularly in the oktavist, who can sing an octave below the conventional operatic basso profundo. There are a number of these Russian oktavists, who sing yet not grumble this extraordinarily low register, including one named Glen Miller (who is actually American), whose rendition of Chesnokov’s concerto “Do Not Reject me in my Old Age” I find magisterial while others may find it turgid, especially when he explores the lowest notes. I do not understand Russian but absorb the strength of the voice. To me, the Orthodox Church is an emotional experience.

Tchaikovsky’s “Hymn to the Cherubim” brings back memories of that experience on the ship which seemed so simple – so close to Eternity. As the composer himself said “Where the heart does not enter; there can be no music. Music is an incomparably more powerful means and is a subtler language for expressing the thousand different moments of the soul’s moods.”

In recalling that day on the ship, I could have stumbled equally in another age into the Early Church tucked away in some cave in the Eastern Empire, in a world yet to break out into liturgical disputes and worldly appropriation. This was Christianity close to the time of the Apostles, which is the strength of McGuckin’s book, where the extremely difficult concept of the Trinity was being played out against a temporal background. There is so much darkness.  God only knows what would have happened if Christ had been confronted and asked why there were no female Apostles. But maybe he was and it was not reported – or it was suppressed. Such is questioning why I profess to be an Anglican.

Rather than questioning, it is a tragedy that the Orthodox tradition has been traduced by a small person called Putin, whose only reference point is a mythical Slavic empire laced up with the superficial gaudiness of ecclesiastical trappings. Yet he is not the only one. Misplaced crusades have enmeshed Christianity ever since the meaning of the Trinity was too difficult for universal acceptance. Factionalism developed. War follows.

McGuckan, by his emphasis on the doctrinal struggles of the early church, does not make for light reading as I indicated above, but without the steadfastness of the Orthodox beliefs of the early Church, maybe we Europeans may not have ended up venerating a Palestinian or Jew or whatever – immaterial when You are an integral part of the Trinity no less.

Overheard

The Licorice Pizza

When The Guardian film critic, Peter Bradshaw was asked which film he had tipped to win Best Picture this year 2022, he paused. “Coda has crept up on me. I feel like it might just take it. Then again, I adored Belfast, Licorice Pizza and Drive My Car – I gave them all five stars.”

“Don’t Look Up was a little smug and hectoring for my liking … Dune was wonderful as a spectacle, deeply involving and exotic. Timothée Chalamet , who plays the messianic Paul Atreides in Dune has superseded my man-crush on Adam Driver.”

Adam Driver is a former Marine who is also apparently featured in three films in 2021, The House of Gucci, The Last Duel and Annette. Anyway, I am not sure what a “man-crush” is; sounds a bit crowded to me.

Film watching has been a casualty of the pandemic. I used to get my dose of films on long haul flights, but since 2019, that has disappeared; and I’m sure that this is yet another change, which until I read the list, has rendered me ignorant – and yet I have not missed any of them. Yet!  Must be age.

The Island – Part III 

This is the final instalment of the northern adventure of that doctor called Bill, based on my experience over 40 years ago. I have repeated the last paragraph of Part II to improve continuity in recounting Bill’s return trip from the Port.

Bill on the move now. The moon cast a faint light — headlights full on, passing the derestriction sign, he was headed back to base. Still, he felt uncomfortable against the hard vinyl seat back. The white lines of the road streamed under the yellow stare of the car lights. No other light anywhere. The scenery had become amorphous; no longer the sweeping watercolour vistas which had absorbed him during the afternoon. Now he was concentrated on the road and the accompanying distance signs.

Every sign was keenly sought. He began to concentrate on the sides of the road to see if he could detect the reflection of the headlights in the eyes of animals — red eyes for cattle, blue eyes for sheep and he was buggered if he knew what colour eyes kangaroos had.

It was easy to resent the car. Like all Australian-made cars, he thought, a souped up tin can on wheels. Big engine in this one; and on an empty road, difficult not to put the accelerator to the floor. But the car was his island of light.

His concentration was interrupted by an impression of something slithering across the road. It was probably a python, or some other snake. Not a goanna. No, probably a snake, but a pretty big one given the thud as he hit it.

The headlights glared ahead as the road rose through the blackness. The signpost indicated the Intersection. This was the start of the difficult area, he remembered Graham saying. He tried to fiddle the radio to give himself some company. The static mocked back and he quickly gave up.

Then he saw the red reflectors — there was a slow car up front. He wondered whether he could just sit behind it and follow, letting it take the brunt of the night. He slowed down, but his impatience got the better of him. He was a creature of habit. The highways near Perth at night were what he knew, and he always drove in the fast lane. He pulled out and raced past. The other car receded, and he was on his own again.

Anxiety about encountering the unexpected kept his back and neck muscles tense. The Spirits had certainly decided to give him a hard time, Bill thought. When the cattle did come, he was expecting them. There they were, two bullocks blundering out into his headlights. He slewed the car past the first one, the tail of the car whipped around so it was like a crab skidding towards the second one. Bill felt the tail clip the bullock and the car reeled back. Bill was no rally driver. He might be able to gun a car down a straight expressway, but here, Bill was a captive of the Spirits.

The car slid onto the gravel. The brakes locked and, for a brief instant, the car shook as though about to roll, then it stopped. The car had not gone into the bush, or hit a tree or gone down a culvert or up an embankment. It just ended up at right angles to the direction of the road, part of the back wheels still touching the macadam.

Then came the adrenalin outpouring. He perspired; the fear and fright reaction had kicked in. Wide-eyed, dry mouthed and a feeling like his heart was about to pump its way into his neck. He shook uncontrollably. Voluntary action was slow to return. He had slumped forward and he sat back and slowly twisted the steering wheel. He switched the ignition off, and then on. All the needle indicators came back. Encouraged by that, he wondered whether the car would move. It did. He reversed it over to the edge of the road to give himself room to turn and point the car in the right direction.

He wondered why the slow car had not caught up. Not that he needed company. He climbed out to survey the damage. There was dent in the rear left door and mudguard. He rubbed his hand over the dent; the tail light was smashed, but no metal had been pushed against the tyre. He looked back for the bullock, but there was nothing — not even a low moan of an injured animal; there was no sign of life.

For the first time, he felt the touch of the night.

He leaned against the car and tried to adapt his eyes to the limits of his night vision; but as he did, he felt the sense of closeness, so tactile that it caused him to straighten, as though finger pads were gently but relentlessly pressing into his shoulder blades. The Spirits had come down the escarpment, from where the Aboriginals had drawn their likenesses. Bill was the vicarious outsider, challenging the night. He had been warned and was now bidden to go. He had been allowed to survive.

Bradshaw figure
But what of the Bradshaw figures — what would these aliens have to say? Would they come and oppress him?

The open car door allowed a pool of light to spill onto the road. The car was Bill’s ship of urban identity. He drove away. There was no further interference in his progress back to his civilisation. He once or twice caught the reflection of other animals’ eyes, but they stayed off the road. He passed the trail to where the rock paintings lay. He had tried to mark it by a nearby concrete bridge. He wondered whether he would come again to see the paintings — to pay his respects. He had been privileged. Privileged — was that only a word to ward off the darkness?
It was all a bit of an anticlimax. 

The lights of the Town on the Dam came into view and he felt himself relax. He knew where he was; no longer in unconnected darkness. There were cars on the road; there were even stray pedestrians. There were lights on the dam. At the motel, he wiped the sweat from the steering wheel before he went into the bar and ordered a whisky. Fuck being privileged — he had only spooked himself. He drank the whisky and ordered another.

He called Avis and a small peroxided woman in pink halter top and shorts came and inspected the damage. She advised him not to drive it; perhaps someone could show him the sights. Bill said that was a good idea. 

In the end, Bill preferred to sit around the pool, reading Alistair McLean, and not going too far from the air-conditioned bar. And when he did go out he went to the souvenir shop and bought a bark painting and a couple of large pieces of zebra rock. The souvenir shop owner, said: “These are unique; you don’t get them anywhere else — except on the floor of the dam.”

The owner tossed in a couple of postcards for good measure. Bill sent the postcards to his friends saying how great the weather was and that he would be flying back in a couple of days. In time, he wrote, for the dinner next week — or was it only cocktails and canapés overlooking the Swan River? He said nothing about the night and his island of light. They would think that it was all bullshit.

Mouse Whisper

I have been told that Nadine Gordimer was a very good writer. In fact she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1991. This extract below from her recently-read book “A World of Strangers”, first published in 1958, written about South Africa during the early Apartheid era, says it all. The initial description is of living as a black person in Sophiatown, contrasted with the privileged white in Alexandra in the early 1950s – all in the city of Johannesburg.

The reality was nearer the surface. There was nothing for the frustrated man to do but grumble in the street; there was nothing for the deserted girl to do but sit on the step and wait for her bastard to be born; there was nothing to be done with the drunk but let him lie in the yard until he’d got over it. Among the people I met with Cecil (the woman the author’s hero was living with at the time), frustrated men threw themselves into golf and horse racing, girls who had had broken love affairs went off to Europe, drunks were called alcoholics, and underwent expensive cures. That was all. That was the only difference.

Boredom is universal, independent of race – and gives meaning to “meaningless”.

As for we mice – we tend not to be black or white – more grey; unless of course, we are born in the fields with a rural russet hue.

Now where is my white mouse mate, Branco. Oh, there he is – a completely boring mouse – into the its Holeyness, the Swiss Emmenthaler.

Sophiatown c1950

Modest Expectation – There is Much Binary in the Math But Not With This Base.

There are a select few who try to work out the association of the Modest Expectations number with the accompanying narrative. The title of 158 is a take from an old BBC comedy show. “There is Much Binding in the Marsh”. The association is so old that only those who lived in the early post-wars would remember, but the series was very well-liked in Australia.

The series was originally set on a mythical RAF base modelled on the real-life Moreton-in-the Marsh RAF base. It featured a number of English comedians, such as Richard Murdoch and Kenneth Horne. Their audience thought them funny as their binding – that is grumbling – was undertaken with a comic air. As was said about Horne, “a master of the scandalous double-meaning delivered with shining innocence” – the basis of much English humour.

However, this is one of three puzzles based successively on the numbers 158 (as in this case), through to 159, to ultimately 160, all produced by guest numbers man, Rick McLean.

One clue: the answer to 158 has nothing to do with the BBC series, just a convenient pun – really a double pun if that exists.

The Political Leak

I have never been a member of Parliament, but as the Principal Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition as I once was, I was one who was privy to confidential information.

It was also 1973, when much was happening in Canberra. Let’s say it was not a boring year in politics. Given that I lived in this different era in Canberra, on several occasions Gough Whitlam’s speech writer, Graham Freudenberg, invited me around for a drink in the Prime Minister’s office after stumps were drawn, and on at least one occasion we were joined by the journalist, Laurie Oakes.

Graham Freudenberg could approximate Gough’s cadences; and I could do an adequate Freudenberg imitation. It was not that we were bosom pals, but in the Parliament House environment, we got on well. Freudenberg enjoyed berating me for my political affiliation in his best Gough voice and I returned serve in my best imitation of him mimicking Gough.

However, among the jollities there were rules; one was to keep the discussions general and I would never go near Gough’s desk. On one of these occasions, Freudenberg left me alone. Nevertheless, the Leader of the Opposition’s Principal Private Secretary apparently alone in Gough’s office late at night was not a good look if Security came by.  In those days, it was more relaxed admittedly. Nevertheless, there were some sensitivities because in the previous year a journalist, Barry Everingham, had been found lurking in Whitlam’s office.

In my situation, Freudenberg was in the toilet; something had disagreed with him and he needed to hurriedly decamp there.

When I reflect on this exchange, I must have engendered enough trust that I could be invited for a drink in foreign territory. Even to this day, I have no idea whether Opposition apparatchiks were regularly invited to have a drink with Freudenberg under such circumstances, and although I did not talk about it with my colleagues, I doubt it was a regular occurrence.

In a Parliamentary system which is constructed as adversarial, there are many friendships which cross political borders. These friendships are ephemeral, but if you want to maintain even such ephemera, you needed to be trusted.  Leaking the other’s confidential material is a sport. There appear to be two major ways to leak – one is to leak to inherently lazy journalists, a process which Bjelke Petersen called “feeding the chooks”; the other is to leak against members of your own side, mostly to try and destroy them.

I had one experience of being accused of leaking to Laurie Oakes the contents of a sensitive meeting between Bill Snedden, Jim Carlton, then the general secretary of the NSW branch of the Liberal Party, and then Premier of the NSW, Bob Askin. I was taken to lunch – I remember by Tim Pascoe, then a Liberal Party operative – and he passed on Jim Carlton’s concern that I had leaked the details to Laurie Oakes. Why? Because I was seen as close to Oakes at that time. I did not know what he was talking about, as Snedden had not mentioned the matter to me. When I confronted Oakes, he admitted it was Askin. Carlton would not have believed that such a luminary as Askin would leak – after all, he was the Premier. It was just one accusation used in undermining my position. I informed Snedden of my conversation but otherwise kept quiet. Now, so many years on, who cares about revealing the leaker – but remember the lesson, never pick the obvious.

Many of those who leak are very skilled, but not all! Morrison has more than a touch of McMahon, but more a watering can than a simple leaker.

Remembering Albright

Madeleine Albright died last week. She was the first woman US Secretary of State. I reckon she was worthy of noting. I don’t know whether her contribution to diplomacy will necessarily be more than a historical footnote, but she epitomised one thing to me – when you viewed her performance, you never thought about gender. She was a top diplomat, full stop.

She was born a Czech and as a Slav was looked down on as an inferior race by the Germans, who partitioned her country in 1938. Her early years were thus against the background of a War not far away. Her family escaped from Czechoslovakia after the War. I was once married to someone, younger than Albright but who endured similar traumatic childhood years in Europe. She grew up with a strong sense of morality – what was right or wrong, rather than just whether something was acceptable and something not.  I suspect that Madeleine Albright was not that much different.

Below are random quotes mostly garnered from the Boston Globe.

When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked her in January 2007 whether she approved of Bush’s proposed “surge” in U.S. troops in bloodied Iraq, she responded: “I think we need a surge in diplomacy. We are viewed in the Middle East as a colonial power and our motives are suspect.”

Albright was an internationalist whose point of view was shaped in part by her background. Her family fled Czechoslovakia in 1939 as the Nazis took over their country, and she spent the war years in London.

As Secretary of State, she played a key role in persuading Clinton to go to war against the Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic over his treatment of Kosovar Albanians in 1999. “My mindset is Munich,” she said frequently, referring to the German city where the Western allies abandoned her homeland to the Nazis.

She helped win Senate ratification of NATO’s expansion and a treaty imposing international restrictions on chemical weapons. She led a successful fight to keep Egyptian diplomat Boutros Boutros-Ghali from a second term as secretary-general of the United Nations. He accused her of deception and posing as a friend.

In her U.N. post, she advocated a tough U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the case of Milosevic’s treatment of Bosnia. And she once exclaimed to Colin Powell, then the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” Powell, who died last year, recalled in a memoir that Albright’s comments almost made him have an “aneurysm”.

An aneurysm? Really, I have never thought of somebody inducing an aneurysm. An aneurysm of Generals? I would have thought more appropriate “an aneurysm of politicians”, you know, prone to leaking.

The Floods – The Clarence River

I am fascinated by the lack of national funding for flood mitigation works, but then the levers of power are firmly in the hands of the climate change deniers. Whether that changes if the current Government is defeated is not known, because of the intrinsic influence of the fossil fuel industry and the nostalgic attachment to coal that the Labor Party has, is strong. The Russo-Ukrainian War has provided the climate change deniers, albeit sceptics, with a reason to stick to the old fossil formulae.

Just for the record, there are three major river catchments broadly labelled the Northern Rivers, which lie between the Great Dividing Range and the Coral Sea. The Tweed near the Queensland border, the Richmond River tributary where Lismore is situated and the Clarence River Catchment, south of the Queensland border, the biggest catchment area apart from the Murray River. Apart from the Clarence River itself, it has 24 tributaries and creeks – including the substantial Nymboida and Mann Rivers.

Lismore floods

The ongoing Northern Rivers flooding has left us with images of devastation with particularly Lismore almost completely submerged by the Wilson River, a tributary of the Richmond River.

Yet Grafton on the Clarence River was barely affected. It was not that there was not the same huge volume of water, but Grafton has a 17 km long levee running through the city; the levee is 8.13 metres in height. The flood reached 7.66 metres, and therefore if there were any breaches, they could have been sandbagged relatively easily. Where there was flooding in Grafton it was just the direct amount of rainwater falling within the levee, and the pumps unable to remove it quickly enough. It was suggested to me that those living here are acutely aware of the town being prone to flooding, and the cost of pumps to prevent such limited flooding are prohibitively expensive. That is the key word to describe the level of risks that a community should bear for a particularly flood prone area.  In blunt terms, with the climate in flux should we encourage re-construction on water?

I was informed by a hydrologist that there is a finite capacity of clouds to hold rain, and if this was calculated out in terms of how high the levee level in Grafton should be, it would be 9.17 metres. Thus, Grafton is still not completely flood proof. Therefore, the question arises as to whether raising the height of the levee another metre is worth the expense.

By contrast, South Grafton mostly escaped flooding because it was built on a hill.

Lismore, Grafton and Maclean were originally built as ports when there was no other feasible way of getting produce in and out of the region. Ships could be loaded and unloaded and it was in the interest of the populace to keep the rivers dredged – but that did not stop floods occurring. The population was smaller and the memories of past floods were sufficiently fresh for the building floors to be kept as clear as possible.

In a previous blog I talked about the expertise the Dutch have developed in dealing with floods since the disastrous North Sea flood of 1953. I wondered whether we had ever tapped into such expertise. In response to this question, I was directed to the 2017 Report entitled: Flood Safety in the Clarence Valley Feasibility study into flood mitigation measures to make ‘Room for the River’”, prepared for the Clarence Valley Council.

In this study, six post-graduate students from Delft University of Technology (Delft TU), one of the top universities in the world across a wide range of technologies, were part of the collaboration. Part of the Dutch solution is to maximise the ability of the floodplain to absorb the excess water – hence the name “Room for the River”. It is not a universal panacea but minimising the number of trees, not to mention housing, on the flood plain does help in a flood where the detritus such as tree logs can cause immense destruction, especially if there are barrages across the river that may be vulnerable to fast flowing detritus ramming into them. Also, if there is a lot of such detritus, houses on stilts – the typical Queenslander – are not immune but also may be knocked over by the combined force of the water and uprooted vegetation.

The Report concluded by saying that the impact of flooding in urban areas of the Clarence Valley can be reduced by making use of the storage capacity of floodplains. Currently, no urban flooding occurs for the 5 year average recurrence interval (ARI) flood events. The urban flooding during a 20 year ARI flood event, can be mitigated by using only the storage capacity of the Southampton Floodplain.

To prevent urban areas from flooding during the 50 year ARI flood event (and higher order flood events), more extensive measures need to be taken. The combination of heightening the levees around Grafton and making use of the Southampton Floodplain, Baker’s Swamp and the Clarenza Floodplain should be investigated. Around Maclean, no scenarios were modelled but some upstream measures showed a reduction in the impact of flooding of Maclean as well.  

For the Swan Creek Floodgate, more research into the cause for the occurring stability problems is required. In order to maintain the floodgate’s function in the future, one could apply one of the proposed solutions. For the Maclean Levee Walls, piping problems are identified, which could lead to stability problems. This report shows the possibility of using floodplains as flood mitigation strategy in the Clarence Valley. Agricultural areas can be inundated in case of high discharges.

The most common strategy nowadays is increasing levee heights, which only solves the problem locally. By using the storage capacity of floodplains, one could solve flooding regionally as the storage of water influences downstream areas too. An example is the upstream measures taken near Grafton, which also reduce flooding in Maclean. However, to implement the strategy of creating more ‘Room for the River’, a shift in mitigation strategies is needed. This shift in mitigation strategy could be a long-term solution to reduce flood impact in urban areas in the Clarence Valley, and possibly other flooding-vulnerable areas in Australia.

Having said that the Report was open about its limitations in saying “The financial aspects have not been taken into account for any proposed simulation or solution in this chapter. For example, information on execution costs, material costs and project costs is unknown. If a budget-objective would have been taken into account for the multi-criteria analysis, possibly other scenarios would have been assessed in more detail. Due to the limit time of this study and lack of knowledge no financial assessment has been made.

The reason I concentrated on this Report was because of the Dutch contribution and how Grafton has been relatively unscathed, unlike Lismore. On reading another 2017 report on Lismore about the prospect of flooding, there seemed to be an attitude more of defiance rather than admitting a need to do anything radical, apart from saying that the town centre was historically placed right on the river, no longer important. There were many photographs of houses on stilts in this Report, which said that 13 metres was the height limit, as if to say, such housing provided immunity. Lismore, with its topography of hills and valleys, presents its own problems, but perhaps the solution is to move the whole city centre, especially as it becomes uninsurable.

For Governments with grand designs and recognising the Northern area catchments are combined into a crucially productive areas of the State, perhaps it is worthy of expenditure rather than the umpteenth sporting stadium or having an inland railway stretching from Boondoggle 1 to Boondoggle 2.

There have been many Reports. Given that climate change is altering the narrative to a need for urgent action, why is the whole area of flood mitigation not a prime expenditure item foreshadowed in the Federal Budget just handed down?

The Island Part II

The view of the Gut from Five Rivers Lookout

This follows on the first part of Bill’s Kimberley adventure from Kununurra and Wyndham to pick up a hire care including his introduction to the Wandjina and describes waiting for the car to be fixed; fittingly the intermission in the most northernmost town in Western Australia, the prime port for the export of livestock.

It was near dusk. They had reached the town. They had found the car and Bill confirmed quickly that it had two flat tyres.

At last, Bill had reached the opening paragraph of his travelogue. There was the vehicle…

They dropped him off at the garage. They’d said: “Why not wait until morning?” But Bill wanted the car fixed.  The guys in the workshops were still working on other vehicles but the boss looked Bill up and down and said “OK, we’ll fix the car. “

They’d seen the car — it had been there for days. And they had the requisite tyres in stock. Bill was somewhat surprised — they had the tyres, and they were prepared and come and change them. Bill was only to learn later that the Avis people had telephoned, and the garage was expecting him. They were only slightly grumpy with him turning up as late as he did, but they were not prepared to do anything until he arrived.

The other doctors had hovered and continued to press him to stay in the Port. Bill again refused. He wanted to get back — no reason except he had no gear with him; and he was a creature of habit. He wanted to wake up in in his motel bed with his own familiar comforts, including his particular non-allergic shaving cream.

The senior specialist’s manner had a slight edge as if he wanted to get to his motel. He had done enough for Bill.

A minor concession: “We’ll drop you off up at the hospital where you can get something to eat, someone will surely be able to drop you off back at the car.” — The garage owner said he would bring the car up to the hospital, because they’d also need to do a quick wheel alignment — and that would give him time to eat.

The hospital was on the edge of town. Once they had dropped him off, he went up the steps and found what passed for a doctor’s lounge.

He sat down and it was not long before a guy whom he recognised from his student days walked in. This doctor had been a few years behind him at medical school. Bill remembered this guy’s name was Graham. It’s funny that people who have a regard for one another, but haven’t seen one another for years can quickly pick up the threads of their intervening careers. Graham had come to the Port soon after his first year residency and liked the area. He offered a Bill a drink. Dinner had been early. There were biscuits and some cheese in the fridge — perhaps a very few pieces of fruit. Bill said no worries — he would eat when he got back to Town.

Graham himself opened a can of beer and sat at the edge of the lounge. He lived at the hospital. A few others moved into the room and went for the fridge. It was very low-key. They talked briefly to Graham about a patient; Graham said he would go and see him later.

Graham was a contemplative man. He seemed relaxed in his body, yet his face bore a serious gaze.

Graham sat quietly looking at Bill in the deepening shadows of the room, still sipping his beer. He worried that Bill would not eat, but Bill said he was more alert on an empty stomach — and he had only a little of his beer.

Graham said, “Watch the night. The cattle come out on the road when you least expect it.” Bill asked about kangaroos. Graham responded by saying, “Watch the cattle; they are complete bastards. Anyway, there are few kangaroos in this area. But the cattle just come out of nowhere. The first couple of kilometres are not too bad. But after the Intersection, the country is alive with the stupid bastards.”

At that point, the garage owner appeared. Everything was ok. As for the tyres that he’d replaced, he said: “Bald as buggery. Rat shit, both of them, but I put them in the boot for you.” Bill said thanks, and took the keys. He thanked Graham for the warning, put down his half empty can, said goodbye and walked down the steps to the car.

The hill behind the hospital had almost disappeared into the night. The town itself was now consumed in its shadows. The garage owner had left with the parting shot: “Hire cars dragged up from the Big Smoke — good for city driving, but shit here! Anyway, if you drive carefully, you should miss everything, as long as it doesn’t move. Thank God, there are no emus in this part of the world.” He departed with a faint laugh.

Bill on the move now. The moon cast a faint light — headlights full on, passing the derestriction sign, he was headed back to base. Still, he felt uncomfortable against the hard vinyl seat back. The white lines of the road streamed under the yellow stare of the car lights. No other light anywhere. The scenery had become amorphous; no longer the sweeping watercolour vistas which had absorbed him during the afternoon. Now he was concentrated on the road and the accompanying distance signs. (To be completed)

Rupert could not have said it better

Ketanji Brown Jackson

One of life’s inexplicable wonders is how Harvard can produce someone as grounded and poised and principled as Ketanji Brown Jackson and also someone as unmoored and annoying and unscrupulous as Ted Cruz.

Jackson’s confirmation hearing start to finish is proved a marathon of high drama and low farce.

Just a comment in the Washington Post, saying it all about the puerile performances led by the Number One Disliked Senator, “the Saurian Cruz Slip”, at the confirmation of Justice Jackson to the Supreme Court.

Mouse Whisper

Invasion of Poland (1939)
Casualties and losses
Germany: 16,343 killed, 3,500 missing, 30,300 wounded Slovakia: 37 killed, 11 missing, 114 wounded USSR: 1,475 killed or missing, 2,383 wounded Poland: 66,000 dead, 133,700 wounded, 694,000 captured

As this blog mentioned some time ago, this campaign lasted 38 days. The Russo-Ukranian War reaches this day on April 3. A month has passed, as the media has noted, but a month is a short time when February is factored into any comparison. Above are figures from Google but even if there may be certain caveats, it is a not bad estimate. At that time, Poland had a population of 35 million; then over 5 million were killed in World War II, including 90 per cent of the Jewish population.

Looking at the above figures, with it coming in late to share the spoils, Russia should not have the emblem of Bear, but more Hyaena.

Final Question

Is Mariupol the Russian’s equivalent of the German’s Stalingrad?

Before the Russo-Ukrainian war, Mariupol’s population was 446,103

Before World War II, Stalingrad’s population was 445,476.

Modest Expectations – Indium

Before the age of blogs I used to listen to Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America, in which he would take a current situation and tie it into past lessons learnt, and in such a way that each letter was a beautifully crafted piece of writing with a beginning and an ending – a complete expression of his view, with a moral woven into it. An Englishman, he had gone to America before War II and became a US citizen in 1941. He not only had this gift as a writer but also as a TV and documentary producer and presenter. His insight into the American way of life was his core expertise, and he wrote it. His voice, with its perfect diction and ghostly tone with a slight tremolo, was particularly engaging, because of his distillation of intimacy. He may have been broadcasting to the world, but as you listened you felt he was speaking directly to you.

Alistair Cooke

I would have liked his life as an intellectual commentator but writing a “Blog from America” for 58 years … I wonder. As for emulating his TV career – no.  I would have been hopeless. The smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd makes me throw up, so phobic I am of the TV studio.

Forty years plus ago I went to the Kimberley and wrote several short stories centred on the places I visited. The story reprinted below entitled “The Island” recounted most closely my experience, while stretching reality into a yarn. It was the first time I felt the unspoken force of this country, without being privileged to have Aboriginal heritage. I have divided this story into several parts, and the first part introduces the Wandjina.

As background to the story, I searched throughout the various places I visited in the Kimberley looking for a bark Wandjina. Apart from a few images in books, I knew very little until I saw images of Wandjina on rock walls.

I managed to find one small bark Wandjina for sale in Kununurra, which I gave to my elder son. Since then, my wife and I have acquired several Wandjina painted by the Karedada sisters – Lily and Rosie (the Karedadas were the family with the responsibility at that time for painting Wandjina); a small bark painting by Waigan and one where the provenance was unknown as it was created in the mid-1960s when such bark representations of the Wandjina were new. Most of these bark images came from the Aboriginal people living at Kalumburu, a settlement on Mission Bay about 230 kilometres north of the Gibb River Road turnoff in Western Australia. Here the Spanish Benedictines had established a mission in the early part of the twentieth century. One of my teachers had said that during WWII, when he was in the Australian navy, he had been stranded there. The priests only spoke Spanish and he not; therefore, they communicated in Latin. No mention in any of his anecdotes of contact with the Indigenous people; such were the times.

Anyway, here is the first part of the story; the eyes are those of my hero, Bill:

In the Northwest of Western Australia in the winter of 1979, the sun starts to set before 5 o’clock. In fact, in that season, it sets at the same time every year. It’s a big country, Western Australia. Bigger than Texas. And the clocks are set to Perth time, even when one is far from the comfort of having a second martini and enjoying the broad sweep of the Swan River. The clocks of suburbia determine that the sun sets prematurely in the north country where the gulfs in the dreamtime were torn out of the coastline and waterfalls run horizontal.

Sixty kilometres up one of these gulfs lies the Port. The expanse of water it overlooks is called the Gut. It vaguely resembles a flaccid stomach.

In the pale purple twilight, the hills brood over this tiny town with its shacks distinct from the new fibro-cement houses on the other side of the hill.

Bill surveyed the car in the fast falling light. Parked on the rise outside the police compound, it had two flat tyres.

The lady from Avis had said that he could have the car if he could get to the Port and pick it up. It was the only hire car available. She said it would be very recognisable because it was iridescent purple — just a medium-sized sedan.

However, as he surveyed the car, he could see it had no protection — none of that ugly but highly effective steel tubing, the so-called roo bars, nor chicken wire to protect against stray rocks through the windscreen.

And there were the two flat tyres.

The Port began to twinkle with ship and house lights. The timber shop fronts threw pools of yellow light onto the street.

But back to Bill. The highly qualified Bill.

Bill, the centre of his own rather inconsiderable space, was a medical practitioner in his early thirties. His family was “old money”. He had mixed his profession with research. His days were spent closeted in a laboratory, occasionally venturing into the antiseptic stretch of the ward to teach a few students and to pronounce on the inmates’ futures, for a price. Bill had reached a steady kind of existence, punctuated by dinner parties, the game of squash, the odd casual affair, and cultivated displays of intellect at conferences, seminars and workshops.

Holidays were spent in expensive resorts. That is to say, generally. This year, Bill had decided to come north and have an adventure of sorts. Bill was accustomed to pre-booked travel, accommodation with deferential staff and a car readily available, with a driver if necessary.

When he had flown into the Town on the Dam, he expected the same, even though his arrangements had been made in a hurry. “No way!” she had said. Cars were at a premium. You can try other hire car outfits, but you’ll get the same answer. She had paused. There was one option. “The only car is up the Port, and if you can get up there, it’s yours.” She paused again and then went on. “It’s got two flat tyres you’ll have to get fixed.”

No wonder it was stuck there, he thought. Didn’t know whether he could do it — make the Port. But when he got back to the motel, he noticed a group preparing to leave. He recognised one as a prominent ear nose and throat specialist from Perth. The specialist was heading a team charged with doing good. He wondered where they were going. He asked. They were going to the Port. He was offered a lift, and straight away accepted.

These guys knew the north — they had spent the latter part of their professional lives coming back and forth at least twice a year to treat the local Aboriginal people and the whites alike. Ear infections were rife among the Aboriginal kids — needed grommets in many cases.

They were good blokes, with a sense of enjoyment of the Land. They had an easy familiarity with the sweeping majesty of the country, where the Cloud spirit was still in control and white people only visited. She had bestowed her grace on the black people, which reflected from the deep pools in their eyes. Look into their eyes and see the arcane. It was Aboriginal country. They walked free in the country without compass. They defined their ownership and boundaries. Bill listened to this explanation. Maybe it was a white man’s interpretation.

Bill had sat next to the specialist surgeon who was leading the team, and who had provided his view of what he called “the blackfella”. It was all so unfamiliar to Bill. He had hopped from town to town, seeing the sights, seeing the Aboriginal people roaming the streets, but he had no experience of communicating with them.

Their driver was identified as a Ngarinyin man who knew the country. They called him Stanley. He was a broad chested man with an equally broad smile. He wanted to know whether Bill wanted to see some rock paintings on the way. The leading specialist thought it a good idea, that it would give Bill an experience — probably “teach you something.”

“Sure” said Bill.

The sun was pleasant. It was June. The company was convivial. Even when they stopped and walked, it was exhilarating. There had first been a track which could be negotiated for some way with the four-wheel drive, but in the end it was easier to walk through the deep sands of the dry creek beds. This was Stanley’s country. The guide shaded his eyes and indicated the rock face.

The brown cliffs where the paintings were, he’d explained as they’d walked, were thankfully not well known and the track, although not particularly difficult to walk, was sufficiently far from the main road to deter any casual defiler. There was always some idiot wanting to scratch his name on the wall — any wall. Weaving in among the woollybutt eucalypts, the track moved up and then downwards. As they walked, the day was imperceptibly vanishing. The shadows were lengthening as they picked their way along the rock face where the figures were displayed.

There were large fish — here a snake — there a hand, an impression in red ochre dust. Tasselled dancing figures. He was told they were called Bradshaw figures, and there were doubts about their authenticity. They were not Aboriginal figures, unlike the wandjina. He had never seen them before. The wandjina were cloud spirits — images with eyes and speckled brows. Their heads were surrounded by radiating lines, which completed an aura. This wandjina was a wellspring of sacred images for the Aboriginal people, unlike the Bradshaw figures.

Some of the paintings were high on the cliff walls; some under overhanging ledges. The gallery ran for hundreds of metres around the cliff until it reached the point where a waterfall flowed in the wet season. The artists had stopped here; the mural was complete. The rock pigeons, their fusty brown feathers giving a sense of an age past, were coming in to roost as the day began to wane.

“Better get going. Still got a way to go.”

The voice broke the stillness, as they had said little, as if in church. The others had seen it before; they had pointed out features in quiet, clipped tones. Bill had nodded and absorbed as much as he could. He wondered at how irrelevant had been his experience in Downtown Perth on a Sunday afternoon, sipping the art gallery ambience. He had really not particularly liked Aboriginal art — bark painting. There was not much of it that he could remember anyway.

But here, in a brief moment, he had got some sense of the art, some context for it — a fleeting insight only; not the meaning that Stanley possessed. (to be continued).

Door County

Door County is a spit of land separating Lake Michigan and Green Bay in northern Wisconsin. Green Bay, the city, lies at the gateway to the peninsula, and has been settled since the seventeenth century when it was a base for fur traders. It is now known for paper manufacture, of being the toilet paper capital of the world – and the home of the NFL Green Bay Packers, so called because a meat packing company gave them $500 for uniforms when they were founded.

Anyway, we bypassed the city of Green Bay, which gets its name from the periodic algae infestation of the Bay. Yet Door County, once you clear the environs of Green Bay, is one the memorable places we have visited.

Memory of that time was bought on this week by the news of a three generation Ukrainian heritage family that has been mass producing candles in the Ukrainian colours (sale proceeds going to the Ukrainian cause) which, unsurprisingly once this was published on national television, elicited a strong demand for the candles across America.

It was Halloween when we visited Door County; pumpkins were everywhere, and the normal crop of witches, faux cobwebs and skeletons and things that are supposed to go bump in the night was very much in evidence.

We stayed in the traditional white clapboard Ephraim Inn, overlooking Lake Michigan. When we went to dinner, we had an unexpected shock. I asked for the wine list and was informed that Ephraim was “dry”. If we wanted a drink with our meals we would have to go down the road to Fish Creek. Fortunately, Fish Creek was well served by restaurants and the Coho salmon fished from the Lake was so good it enticed us to order it two nights in a row.

Since our visit, I believe that Ephraim has lifted the 163 year old ban on alcohol sales which was imposed in 1853 within this Moravian community, where its church with its delicate steeple still stands on a green knoll overlooking Ephraim.

Honeycrisp apples

It was the end of the apple picking season, and there was an abundance of places from which to buy apples. The Gala apple was a familiar variety, but there were at least 20 other varieties and we chose the Honeycrisp, a hybrid noted for its juiciness and crunchiness. But there were many more completely unfamiliar to our Australian palate such as Ginger Gold and Courtland.

We drove the length of the peninsula through the small seaside towns, beside orchards, around windy cliff roads. To me, village America always has its gentle attraction – so different from the dusty flood plain called Australia. As for Door County, even though it seemed to be an endless excuse for Bing Crosby or Doris Day songs, we said we would be back, but we have said that about many places – plans that the Virus has impaired if not totally destroyed.

Anyway, we must get a candle making kit.

Need to Ramp Up

In The Monthly two months ago, Russell Marks wrote a very prescient article about South Australia opening its borders at the time the Omicron virus hit and now has followed the B.a.2 variant.

Simply stated, the Premier, Stephen Marshall, opened the SA borders prematurely – at a time when the Omicron variant first appeared on the scene. The SA Chief Health Officer hurriedly changed her mind when she saw the rapid increase in the number of cases, and recommended the borders be closed again. The Premier did not take her advice. He deferred to the select audience of the Rupert Murdoch and Peter Costello media and its impatience with public health measures.

It was the people of South Australia who could see what damage the Virus was wreaking. This was particularly reflected in the disruption to the health services, and the so-called ramping.  In other words, there was the number of ambulances lying idle unable to discharge the patient into the hospital’s emergency department.

I have reviewed extensively two major ambulance services in Australia and have a fair idea of the problems, which extend far wider than the problems that a pandemic introduces. The pandemic has only emphasised these problems.

Against that background of a State under public health stress, the Premier said that he would prefer funding a basketball stadium and a convention centre which only compounds the politico-pathological requirement to build monuments. Once it was hospitals and universities, now it is modern day colosseums where the pork barrel stops.

Despite the media in his favour, Marshall was soundly defeated; and yet elements of the media still say it doesn’t necessarily translate into a Federal electoral defeat for Morrison, despite him being invisible during the campaign. The sight of John Howard being rolled out in the last days showed how far the Liberals were tapping the bottom of desperation. One question – never to be answered – would a Morrison intervention counterpointed by Dutton and Frydenberg, a modern magi, have helped? The locals thought not, but presumably when they do turn up during the Federal election the public will be able to have a direct say in how much it likes the frankincense.

What will be more interesting is how the new Premier will approach the Virus.

I am confused by what the current approach to the Virus is. It seems that the Governments have given up – the public health response is exhausted. Who are the public health champions? The public health talking heads have subsided with the media’s apparent loss of interest. One of public health’s weaknesses is how ineffectual the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine has been and yet two decades ago it led the Australian campaign against French nuclear testing in the South Pacific until the French stopped their tests.

I would have thought that there would be a clear approach. On the one hand there are no restrictions, until a person gets the Virus and then you go into isolation until you test negative. Politicians are scared solid by lockdowns, and the core of preventative measures – social distancing, hand sanitiser and masks – are increasingly a matter of choice.

Vaccination has proved effective up to a point, but now there are no penalties for not being vaccinated, and the relentless anti-vaccination advocates leave a confused community. If this new variant is as contagious as measles, then without due precautions that will mean the whole community will contract it and for a substantial part of the community, the experience will not be a mild one.

The difference with measles is that once infected, once immunised, measles will not recur. No such guarantee exists for the Virus, even if the experts decide it is less virulent.

In public policy terms, I have been advocating dedicated quarantine centres. But once that line of defence is breached, then the next lines of defence are dedicated infectious diseases hospitals with an equally dedicated transport service for those who need hospitalisation. 

Hardly the Little Match Girl 

They buried Kimberley Kitching this week. A Senator from Victoria, she had been parachuted into the Senate under controversial circumstance in 2016 by Bill Shorten when he was ALP leader. She died prematurely at the age of 52, and from then, she became a cause célèbre – a woman harassed to death by unfeeling female colleagues.

As reported in some quarters, it was as though Senator Kitching was the “little match girl”, judging by the ferocious story being constructed around her demise.  She was married to Andrew Landeryou, once joint owner of a palatial home “Wardlow” in Parkville; friend of Chloe Shorten since school days and embroiled in the Health Services Union known for its shenanigans while she was general manager.

The Little Match Girl, Norman Rockwell

Unlike the “little match girl”, Kitching came from a privileged Brisbane private school background. Her father was a university professor, and she benefited from a time in France to becomes fluent in French. She seemed to be a very quick-witted woman. Nevertheless, like many ambitious people she carved out a career never far from controversy.

In 2000, she married Andrew Landeryou, a scion of the inner ALP circle which his dad inhabited. He too has had his moments, from the time of his presidency of the Melbourne University Student Union (formerly, in my time, the Student Representative Council), where he apparently tried to commercialise aspects of that student body. It is strange that when I was President of the same body there were moves, ultimately squashed, to have the Council purchase property at Venus Bay, then an undeveloped collection of sand dunes. I remember looking at it and saying thanks, but no thanks. SRCs were not structured to be land developers. In any event, in his case it did not end well for young Landeryou.

Later he popped up in 2005, with a venture financed by Solomon Lew in part – and when it failed he decamped to Costa Rica leaving Kimberley, portrayed as the victim wife trying to deal with the remains. The suggestion was that Kimberley had been deserted, but whether that was so, they had been swiftly re-united even though Landeryou was bankrupted.

From December 2012, Kitching was employed by the Health Services Union and she was never far away from the controversy which surrounded the criminal behaviour of the local secretary of the union, the recently convicted Kathy Jackson, and the other national officers of the Union, also convicted. Whatever her role was, she obviously was close to some sordid shenanigans and her name was mentioned often in despatches.

For instance, in 2016, the Senate voted 35-21 to note that she, although its newest member, was found to have provided untruthful evidence to the Fair Work Commission. The Greens joined the Coalition in backing the motion, which also received support from three One Nation senators and Victorian senator Derryn Hinch. Quite an introduction!

The conservative Tasmanian Senator Abetz noted in a media release at the time, The fact that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has backed Kitching so strongly in the face of findings against her from a body that Bill Shorten oversaw for two years, for conduct undertaken while he was the Minister responsible, that she was “untruthful and unreliable” in evidence speaks volumes about his personal and Labor’s standards for public office.”

Ironically, Kitching worked with him in the Senate to introduce a Magnitsky law that allows the government to seize assets from people who have abused human rights around the world.

This was no poor little waif as the media and a few of her mates are trying to portray now. She dined with persons who had clearly shown themselves to be enemies of the ALP, and thus one of the problems for a networker as aggressive as she apparently was, with all “the form” behind her, was whether she could be trusted.

To be able to do what Kitching, herself apparently conservative (in very much as I remember some of the Democratic Labor Party members were), was trying to do, is a particular art form, if one tries to balance on the barbed wire division of an adversarial political system.

Her colleagues who voted against the condemnation of her in 2016 were worried by her free-wheeling approach, whether right or wrong. She was not bullied; she was ostracised – however, the use of “bullying” is more emotive. Ostracism is a favourite ploy in politics.

She dies, and the conservative side of politics well known for their Salem approach to female opponents were on the job. The real target seems to be Penny Wong, as Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, who has been a courteous brick wall. She made one exasperated comment which has been turned into a causal relationship with Kitching’s death despite occurring three years ago and eliciting an apology from her.

Morrison wants to run an election based on sabotage and camouflage and if Senator Wong can be discredited so much the better, especially given her appearance and name – nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

I suppose last Sunday’s ABC Insiders Program took the proverbial cake. I generally accept bias as part of politics, but this… Australia may be going to Hell in a handcart, but there they were, all over the Kitching case – at least Samantha Maiden and Spears Interruptus were.

Greg Sheridan played the avuncular role, his views laced within his long time association with Santamaria and the National Civic Council – a fading reminder of the strife within the Labor party, particularly in Victoria, generated by Santamaria and certain elements around Archbishop Mannix so many moons ago, but still apparently latent.

Mark Kenny, knowing he was in a setup, just let it flow apart from a few comments drowned out by the Interruptus.  Australia is entering a time of a new form of Government – Murdocracy – a neologism to describe rule by the media.

Now, to the next phase – Albanese portrayed as the weak leader in the grip of three women – each of whom portrayed as having a doubtful allegiance to Australia. Yes, Murdocracy indeed.

As a postscript, I was interested in the association of sudden cardiac death and thyroid disease. Obviously I have had no access to Kitching’s clinical notes but it is worthy to note that in a 2016 cohort study in The Netherlands, an association was sought between thyroid disease and sudden cardiac death. This was an extensive population cohort and it was shown that raised levels of free thyroxine were associated with an increased incidence of sudden cardiac death, even when the patient was “apparently” euthyroid (in other words in the normal range).

It is well known that the thyroid hormone derived from the thyroid gland in the neck is a major component in the regulation of metabolism. For example, in thyrotoxicosis tachycardia is often present, as in hypothyroidism bradycardia is evident. However, The Netherlands’ paper could not establish any causal relationship for the phenomenon of sudden cardiac death, which incidentally also occurs in the autoimmune Hashimoto’s Disease. There was no mention of “bullying” or “ostracism” in this analysis

Mouse Whisper

In response to the article on banana boats last week our Swedish correspondent has informed us there is a job available in Stockholm for a banana ripener. The incumbent has recently retired after 33 years during which he has assisted the ripening of 55,000 bananas per year. Sounds a succulent job. I may apply. The Swedish text books with a tipple of Aquavit beckon.

Modest Expectations – Daniel Boone

This week the blog registers three years – every week for the past 156 weeks, including this one – not missing one. All my life, I have more or less written stuff, some published, mostly not.

Much of the blog has wandered  through my stock of memories, within which are those of my life misspent; the goals I attained and most that I did not – but gave it a good shot. I am not “a shed person”, but fortunately my wife is. I have never been particularly good at any sport. I do not have any hobbies – but I write and advise – and have been very much an observer these past few years.

That has not always been so.

I have attempted many things I have not been much good at, but I have survived. I hope I have the courage to leave a clear documentary visit around myself. The reason? We all have a story. The headstones on graves each conceal a unique story.

Unlike most people, who may have had a worthwhile tale to be told and yet did not, I increasingly write mine as a chronicle, as idiosyncratic yet shamelessly manipulating my biases.

I have always wondered how else one’s legacy can be recorded. If your genes hold your heritage, is it possible for your senses to unravel the heritage locked up in your genes?

Here your life lies recorded, and that of my ancestors upto the conception of my next round of forefathers (and five mothers). It is a huge reservoir – however it can be stored. That is a real question lying inside my hypothesis, for which I cannot even conjecture at this time, but does not, by itself, invalidate my thesis.

The Burren

Once I was walking on that extraordinary wasteland – the Burren – in County Clare, on the west coast of Ireland, whence my ancestors came. In fact, the Burren is not a wasteland, it is just that from afar the limestone pavement resembles concrete. However, as you get close you see its uniqueness, because wedged in the limestone is both temperate and arctic flora. It is in the pavement cracks where life endures.

Suddenly, as I was walking along, I was seeing the land through the eyes of a young boy. From the change in the surroundings, I must have been of that age. My ancestor, as I presumed myself to be, was running, which I started to do also. In that instant of a previous time on the Burren and in this example of déjà vu when I reflect upon it, my sensation was of gliding into a landscape where my perspective was not that of a grown adult but that of a young boy. Then I glided out of this, with no sensation that any time had passed, except it had started to rain. Running to find shelter. Was not this a déjà vu phenomenon – I was trying to find a dry place, which I did in one of those Neolithic shelters that dot the Burren. This has been the only time where the sense of being in a place in a previous life was strong, even though I had never been there. In this case, the feeling passes quickly as though I have scratched an itch.

To me, if there is a so-called paranormal, it resides deep in my genes and therefore the further back in my genetic store, the less likely it is to flare as a fully formed sensation. Maybe it only occurs when the genes are aligned in a particular way and resonate in such a way that the stored memory can be tapped.

Thus, in chronicling my life I have provided a limited legacy. Unfortunately, with death dies what I call my genetic delusion. I can only have inherited the legacy of my mother and father up to the day of when my genetic trail was formed. However, the same resides in my offspring and all along the “Begat Trail” – a transferable library until your line is no more.

I suppose I should have returned to the scene, but let me reiterate, it is not a vision; nor a hallucination. It was nevertheless so very curious.

Albored Part V

As a friend of myself has said, Albanese is the most impressively unimpressive person who he can recall as striving to head this nation. He is not the only doubter. Crikey has said the same in more words, with an added apparent Freudian slip for spice.

If the old Albanese wasn’t good enough for the job of prime minister, why would the new version be suddenly suitable?

The election will put a possibly unprecedented focus on the character, competence and deportment of the leaders of the major parties. This in part is a consequence of the absence of a detailed policy competition — it threatens to be a policy-free electron (sic).

I remember working for a politician who was considered unfairly a lightweight, and no amount of media grooming could change that view, other than in the short term. Therefore, I have experience with such characters and seriously considered, when young, going to Yale to study psychopolitics.

Albanese is not the leader that Australia needs; from my perspective it is as simple as that.

There is a need to jolt the system and then re-assure them that you are the person for the times. In government, you must determine what you do on every day of the first week – and rehearse it with your closest advisers who should have expertise rather than personal ambition. That is what Albanese needs – not someone like his shadow minister at the weekend who said something about accomplishing electoral promises in the first four months. This a variation of the catchcry – of the first 100 days. Apart from the American jargon overtones, it is a cop-out.  Hit the ground running; remember God got it right – he rested on the seventh day – not the first.

The agenda – forget about vanity projects – fireproof and flood proof the country; put corrupt politicians behind bars; and remember Ukraine is a prime example for defending our country – be an inspiration to the population.

The country burns, the country floods, the aged are treated like excrement, the education system is starved and yet the country wants to pander to a corrupt body in Lausanne for a couple of weeks of pole tasselling in 2032, because a small group of people with an overweening sense of entitlement, who identify themselves with the Davos crowd and can be seen sprouting from the recent AFR luncheon (we being told that in times of suffering, greed is good) think it is a good idea. Fine, just as long as you are part of the select few.

Albanese, you addressed them, but see how the Murdoch Press tried to mangle you? As the Robot’s catchcry in Lost in Space goes: “Warning, warning, warning!” Rather apt, I would think – on many fronts!

Portrait of a Ukrainian

This article about President Zelensky comes from The Atlantic. It would have been much more convenient for the USA’s “Craven A” team if he had fled the country, and become the noble leader in exile. Then the media, after initial applause, would have moved on. The Western leaders could retreat to the vapid exercise of Davos and its ilk to make sage comments about the Goddess, Inertia or Entropy, the God of Pinhead Rearrangement.

After all, the World has been treated to the spectacle of the odious ruler of Belarus committing atrocities on his own people. The woman who actually won the election, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, is now in Lithuania, her husband in a Belarus gaol for the next 18 years. Brave couple – while the leaders of the free world bluster.

“Who?” “You know, the good-looking woman – what’s her name?” and so she vanishes off the front pages very quickly. Name too difficult for the media to pronounce. The leaders of the Free World breathed a sigh of relief, “an invasion not confronted”.  Belarus remained as a satrap of Putin’s and Putin emboldened, used it as another springboard for the attack on Ukraine. Never underestimate the ability of the West to bully when they believe they gain an advantage in the continuation of their colonial past, cloaked as the Coalition of the Willing or some such bombast. But a War in Europe is a different matter.

Now to the edited article. Nothing of any consequence to the truth of this narrative has been removed.

President Zelensky

The World War II leader whom Zelensky reminds me of is the one who chose honour over surrender and who fought for an idea of his country even when the reality was impossibly bleak. Today, Volodymyr Zelensky exhibits some of the traits that made Charles de Gaulle great and saved France.

In May 1940, France was lost, its armies overrun, its chances of victory hopeless. De Gaulle escaped and made it the mission of his life to erase the shame of his country’s capitulation and collaboration—to the point of making absurd and often offensive falsehoods about France having won its freedom alone. Zelensky’s conduct, and that of his compatriots, during the opening days of this conflict means Ukraine has no shame to erase. Still, Zelensky, like de Gaulle, is fighting for the idea of his homeland as well as its liberty, for its right to be free and dignified.

Analogizing a contemporary figure such as Zelensky by looking for parallels in World War II is necessarily limiting, and, as a rule, WWII analogies can be overused and should be avoided. But Zelensky’s defiant spirit, whether Gaullist or Churchillian or something else entirely, does not only reveal his own character—it teaches us about the character of the West too.

There can be something a little distasteful about Western onlookers (myself included) cheering on Ukrainians for a cause that our countries are not willing to join, a stance that risks raising the price of a peace that will be paid only with Ukrainian blood. Nevertheless, it is possible to recognize this, to be inspired by what Zelensky represents, and then to be shamed by his example.

Here is a nation and a leader willing to sacrifice so much for the principle of independence and the right to join the Western world. And yet, much of the West is jaded and cynical, apparently devoid of any such mission, cause, or sense of idealism anymore.

What is it that the West believes in now? When you think of the great liberal heroes of our age, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, say, they are actually deeply pragmatic conservatives, constantly hedging, calculating, and balancing interests with little grand vision or cause to pull their policies together. There is much to be said for this type of governance: As Helmut Schmidt, the former chancellor of West Germany, once quipped, “Whoever has visions should go to the doctor.” Visions led to the Iraq War, for example. Yet conservative pragmatism is also deeply limited, allowing adversaries like Vladimir Putin to take advantage, exploiting caution and shortsighted selfishness.

De Gaulle was not unique in articulating and fighting for an idea of his country. Many Western leaders during the Cold War had a certain idea of the West: Margaret Thatcher believed in a Europe whole and free; Ronald Reagan in a struggle between tyranny and freedom. You don’t have to agree with their worldview to understand that such ideas are powerful, inspiring people to do things that no “rational” person would dream of.

A senior European defense official told me recently that the West needed to find a way to reimagine itself and its role in the world, to avoid slipping into the trap of either pretending that nothing has changed or concluding that nothing can be done about it—that, Merkel- or Obama-style, leaders must simply manage the fallout and avoid becoming entangled in it.

This official said he was struck by how this sense of resignation was reflected in our culture as well. Movies and TV shows now rarely depict a heroic, grand visionary, “only a never-ending struggle for supremacy,” in the words of the official I spoke with. Instead of Cold War heroes such as Rocky, we have the cynical characters in Game of Thrones, Billions, and Succession, channeling our new cynical reality. Our imaginative understanding of the world has changed. The West has killed off the idea of itself as good. Does it still even recognize a baddie, this official asked, or has it concluded that countries such as Russia or China are no worse or better? This, in fact, is the Trump view of the world, largely shared on the far left too.

Perhaps this is why Zelensky is so inspiring. Western countries don’t have this type of leadership anymore: unembarrassed, defiant belief in a cause. So many people in the West have given up on the fairy tale of their own superiority because they understand how badly the West has behaved over the decades, from wars for colonial control to the War on Terror.

Yet perhaps the other reason Zelensky is so inspiring is that suddenly we can see that he is right. Vladimir Putin is a monster whose cause is unjust and immoral. In standing up to him, Ukraine is articulating a certain idea of itself that is righteous and dignified and heroic: virtues we long ago dismissed as old-fashioned. How tragic it is that Zelensky’s idea has to be attacked for us to be reminded of ours.

Wayne Gretzky has his Say

Ice hockey is the favourite sport of Vladimir Putin. In fact, according to Putin himself, he is one of the greatest ice hockey players never to have mastered the sport. In exhibition games in his own beloved Sochi, he has scored eight goals, some without the help of the goalkeeper. In a triumphal lap of honour video, images have been shown of his tell-tale celebratory sign of stumbling and falling onto the ice – a manoeuvre that he is intent in perfecting to a full frontal sprawl.

Alex Orechkin

Outside himself his favourite player is Alex Orechkin, who is the captain of the Washington Capitals. There are a number of Russians playing professional ice hockey in North America. Orechkin is thought to be close to and a favourite of Putin. He has tried to distance himself from the Ukrainian invasion, but the tentacles are strong and crossing Putin may mean a stint captaining the Siberian Tundras.

In the most recent outing, the Washington Capitals were playing the Edmonton Oilers. As you would expect, Orechkin received a hostile reception. The Edmonton Oilers won. This team was Wayne Gretsky’s old team.

Gretsky led them to four Stanley Cups in his 20 year career. Now 61 years old, he is still revered, particularly in Edmonton where it is said that there are 135,000 of Ukrainian heritage. He was the greatest player ever – a comparison with Shane Warne would seem appropriate – on the rink, but he was never had that nuance of being a drongo off the playing arena.

Gretsky has always identified himself to be of Ukrainian heritage after his mother’s side, but the Gretsky family had large landholdings in Tsarist Russia, which include estates in modern-day Belarus. The Gretsky family was forced to flee Russia at the time of the 1917 Revolution. Gretsky’s father nevertheless became a very wealthy man in Canada.

Gretsky may just have the moral suasion to be sent back to help centre  Putin perfect his full face sprawl. But who is listening?

It’s not about punishing the Russian kids. What about the Ukrainian kids that are being killed daily? The Ukrainian kids that are 12 or 14 years old, going to war. I don’t want anybody to be punished. I just think it makes common sense that we shouldn’t compete against this country right now, while they’re at war against an innocent country.” 

Pen Nibs No More

Pieman River, west coast of Tasmania

My school class was asked to research a topic. It must have been geography and for some reason I decided to undertake a project on osmiridium, which led me to dusty volumes of mining of the metal alloy in the Western area of Tasmania. My interest was probably sparked by the fact that osmiridium was the preferred metal used in the manufacture of pen nibs.  Anyway, as I dug into the project I found out that the West Coast was a lode of minerals.

As background for my interest in the alloy, the following is reprinted here – namely, osmiridium is a popular name for a naturally occurring alloy of the metals iridium and osmium. Corrosion-resistant, it is used in the manufacture of a variety of articles from pen nibs to munitions. First recognised in the 1880s as an undesirable impurity associated with alluvial gold in western Tasmania, it was discarded by the miners. A penalty was imposed by the Mint for its removal from gold.

In 1909 a dramatic increase in price created a boom for the metal, with a rush of miners moving into a number of western Tasmanian mining fields. The collapse of the Russian industry as a result of war and revolution saw prices continue to rise. By 1920 the price reached £38 per ounce and that year the Pieman fields produced 2009 ounces with a value of £77,104. Tasmania had now become the world’s largest producer.

A second osmiridium rush followed in 1925. In that year £105,570 was paid to miners, but by 1930 the boom had passed with only £16,235 paid to all the miners in the state. Production of osmiridium continued until 1954, by which time more than 881 kg had been mined.

A few nights ago, we raised the question of whether there was still osmiridium mining in the area. One of my dinner companions knew exactly what I was talking about. It is not a topic that I expected anybody to know much about. Not this guy, he knew exactly what I was talking about. He had grown up knowing that there were mines behind a tiny settlement called Lowana near Macquarie Harbour and was fossicking for it, while I was probably still only reading about it in the library.

There was even a settlement deeper into the bush now almost completely disappeared called Adamsfield, where the osmiridium was alluvial. Here was the site of that second rush in 1925. A 4WD will take you now, but nothing much is left of a mining settlement which once housed 1,000 people at its peak in the second decade of the last century – for a short time, osmiridium was more valuable than gold.

The Osmium nib

Osmium is the densest metal known, being twice as dense as lead. If you have held a sphere of osmium the size of a table tennis ball, you will immediately know what dense means! Iridium on the other hand is the most corrosion resistant metal known. it is used in various important alloys, unlike osmium which, with the demise of the pen nib, has few other uses. Together with platinum, iridium is included in the standard metre bar which is housed in Paris.

So, there you are. Project complete, sir, but 70 years too late.

Daylight Come and He Want to go Home

In my historical novel, The Sheep of Erromanga, I mention a ship which left the then New Hebrides with a shipment of bananas bound for New Zealand. By the time they reached New Zealand all the bananas were rotten. I thought nothing of it – just poor stevedoring. I dismissed it as nothing more than that.

I had known that if you place an unripe avocado in a brown paper bag with a banana, the ripening of the avocado is accelerated because of the ethylene emitted by the banana.

Bananas are also said to emit methane and, in an enclosed cargo hold, that could be lethal. The other unpleasant fact is that spiders love being among the bananas – a tarantula being among such stowaways.

I read an article this week where the captain, finding that his passengers had bought bananas on board, threw all of them into the sea (the bananas that is). The fear of bananas on boats is also associated with the knowledge that with bananas, other fruit which could ripen could also over-ripen, and eventually would rot. This was a major concern when fresh fruit on board was essential as a preventative health agent against scurvy.

Banana boat

As Harry Belafonte sang, there were banana boats. His song was that of the dock workers loading bananas in Jamaica. They were very fast boats because they had to get bananas from Central America and the Caribbean to Europe very quickly – until refrigerated ships were commissioned in the early part of the twentieth century. Modern banana boats tend to be reefer ships or other refrigerated ships that carry cooled bananas on one leg of a voyage, then general cargo on the return leg.

Mouse Whisper

Heard on TV just after half time … BREAKING NEWS: “SR was taken to hospital with suspected fractured ribs.”

OK, but small things do amuse small minds.