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 – 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 – 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 Expectations – Leyland Sprinter

Near the end of last year, we decided to decamp to Tasmania for February because we reckoned then that February was the worst time to be in Sydney – always so humid and oppressive. Hopefully we would be climate-wise. Little did we think what would eventuate.

I have jokingly said that having a place in Tasmania is an insurance against climate change. Macquarie Harbour is on the West Coast and is six times the size of Sydney Harbour. Unlike Sydney Harbour, the number of people living in the rim of the Harbour is minuscular – there being one permanent settlement, that of Strahan, which is home to both a fishing and a tourist industry. Salmon farms dot the Harbour.

Strahan

In my blog I have written twice about my view as a lover of Tasmania. In a blog I wrote about a year ago, inter alia, I mocked the pitiful amount being allocated to bushfire control. The West Coast of Tasmania has been thought immunised against bushfires, because it rains on average every second day of even the driest month, February, and thus having about 160cm rain annually has been some insurance. Bushfires have ravaged the area, but mostly in the mining area around Zeehan to the north where fire erupts from the Savage River iron ore mines.

This was the case in 1982 when a fire was sufficiently worrying for there to be some evacuation of Strahan. The fire had apparently been started by some mutton birders trying to smoke the bird nests in the Ocean Beach dunes, as a preventative measure against any tiger snakes that might be in the burrows. Somewhat exciting if you put your hand into a burrow and you grasp a tiger snake rather than a mutton bird. Anyway, the resultant fire spread through the scrub and nearly burnt the township down.

Nevertheless, while we have been here, there has been a small bushfire near Tullah, which I mentioned earlier in my blog – and another in a more remote area, threatening the Truchanas Huon Pine Forest reserve; a fire in that area would have been equally as devastating as if the bushfire in NSW in the summer of 2019-20 had not been halted before it reached the Wollemi Pine habitat in the Blue Mountains.

The latest news on this bushfire in the south-west is that as a result of concentrated ground works and co-ordinated water bombing, the fire had downgraded from Going to Under Control with aerial firefighting resources and remote area fire crews continuing to work their way around the boundary edge identifying and extinguishing hotspots with continued aerial support.” That report was a week ago, and there is no evidence that local circumstances have changed.

But worldwide, circumstances have changed. Climate change is now an entity which governments are freely blaming for the conditions which have caused the extreme flooding events that have occurred in both New South Wales and Queensland recently. Terms like “one in a thousand years” calamity is meaningless when it is clear that there has been a change in the environment in which we are living.

The solution to repeated fire and flood is to provide the defence, especially when in this neoliberal world designed to value exploitation rather than conservation, building on flood plains or in the areas liable to engulfed in by bushfire seems to have been acceptable.

Clearing our own property is one thing, but when your land is hemmed in by plots of land that are neglected, with local government unwilling or unable to enforce the clearance presents a problem, as we do, then we do have a problem. The owners of the neglected plots are lost in the fog of the titles office; so we have cleared most of an adjacent plot, taking out eucalypts which threatened to fall or were already leaning over our house, which the previous owners had built close to the boundary of the property. To complicate matters two of the blocks of land now don’t have any access to a road, since the road which exists on the town plan has not nor will ever be built.

We have probably dodged the bullet as we go into autumn, but in fire prevention there is still much to do, irrespective of how complicated the situation is.

Governments have spent money to ensure that most parts of urban Australia have clean water – this is already a matter which we take for granted, but it spares a flooded community from cholera or other waterborne diseases which are endemic in less fortunate communities.

I remember those stories, apocryphal or not, of unscrupulous developers who used to subdivide land which only was visible at low tide; but in regard to flood plains, the lack of scruples is only a matter of degree. The cry of “caveat emptor” applies even when the information is symmetric, which is not the case in this world of hustlers and grifters, some of whom graduate into government, as we have seen.  Australia has yet another big clean up job ahead of us, because the stinking mud is not only on the streets of Atlantis, which used to be called Brisbane, but all across this land so strikingly described by Dorothea Mackellar.

Vera Putina’s little boy

The Winter War – Finland v Russia

Greetings to Ukraine. Once upon a time Finland too fought the Russian Army with everything we had and was able to hold on to our freedom and independence. That’s what we wish for you as well. The whole Europe stands with you.” – A message from a Finn who fought against the Soviet Union in  the 1939-41 War who is still alive at 98.

In one way, the number of options for the outcome of the Russo-Ukrainian War are diminishing. They all revolve around Putin’s mental state, now that it has been determined that the Ukrainians are not a pushover. Even in those areas where it would be expected that the people would be little different from the Crimeans, there seems to be vicious fighting. The Ukrainians are not rolling over.”Those Neville Chamberlains” in the US State Department who offered Zelensky asylum did not appreciate his strength. If Zelensky had accepted, that would have been the end; but Zelensky has ditched appeasement in the face of the appeasers.

For Putin, this is very inconvenient. Everybody talks about his unpredictability; but I believe he has the predictability of the tyrant. Thus, it was not long before he sent in his thugs to assassinate Zelensky. How many times he will try to repeat it, who knows! Yet when people become unhinged, as he apparently has, then do we observers put everything down to unpredictability?

While he is using the usual modern warfare device of bombarding the civilians by missiles and bombing, he must break Ukrainian morale to have any chance of winning. The Russians must husband their very finite resources. They are not endless, a very important variable now that the Ukrainians are putting up such resistance.  The cost of Putin’s war should be soon, if not already, affecting the Russian population, given the sanctions and the strength of the opposition. The Russians have tried to compensate with mastery of the cyberworld, which did not have a major “combatant role” in their attempted conquest of Afghanistan. I suggest that with NATO and others supplying both military hardware and essential food and other commodities, the war will be won once the USA can reliably control cyberspace. It would be interesting to know what is the cyber surrender equivalent of the white flag.

If Putin did not have a nuclear arsenal, then life for NATO would be less complicated. NATO will just continue to use Ukraine as a surrogate to do the fighting – and eventually exhaust Russia. Obviously, a mad Putin could make good on turning his nuclear preparedness into an all or nothing nuclear winter – at least in the Northern Hemisphere. What the Chinese decide to do will ultimately decide the length of the War.

Destruction caused by Putin’s war

The fact that the world is experiencing climate change is one good reason why the Russians should dispose of Putin, but he has learnt the tactics of previous Russian despots, where Russia has not only survived but thrived. The only hiccough occurred in the late 1980s when Russia had a rational leader in Gorbachev.

One clue to future action is how the Russians deal with the Ukrainian nuclear reactors. They could continue the boneheaded initial bombardment or think that by doing so the World will watch a new phenomenon, namely the deliberate destruction of  nuclear reactors with all the consequences that will entail. Maybe there is a playbook for such an occurrence, learnt from the Chernobyl disaster (when there was once peaceful co-operation). If the nuclear reactors were to be seriously damaged that would be an excuse for any sane person to seek an armistice, I would think.

Anyway, it would give the Orators of Davos something to think about as, having hurriedly packed their Louis Vuitton luggage and checked the time on their diamond encrusted Rolexes, they headed out into the nuclear cloud in their luxury Gulfstreams.

“A stray orange hair to be flicked off the nation’s sleeve.”

I first became acquainted with George Will through the New York Review of Books as a very astute and perceptive critic. I have never met him, but he is of the same vintage as myself. An Oakeshott conservative, but with an insight not dulled by ideology. He has been a Republican, but now writes regularly for the more Democratically aligned Washington Post.

In many ways Will serves as a policy digestif, enabling the unpalatable to be analysed rather than immediately disposed of.

Presuming that as a senior member of the media and as also a student of history, he can make links that may not be immediately apparent. He has depth of experience able to fathom what have the been the quotient of all his senses over his 80 years. Thus, George Will has both literary subtlety and savagery.

This piece below should help you assess whether this veteran has more than a fine use of words or a sentence that Trump should indeed experience at some stage, when his “sin taxes” become too much to accommodate and a “prigioni lifestyle” threatens.

Floundering in his attempts to wield political power while lacking a political office, Donald Trump looks increasingly like a stray orange hair to be flicked off the nation’s sleeve. His residual power, which he must use or lose, is to influence his party’s selection of candidates for state and federal offices. This is, however, perilous because he has the power of influence only if he is perceived to have it. That perception will dissipate if his interventions in Republican primaries continue to be unimpressive.

So, Trump must try to emulate the protagonist of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”. In Mark Twain’s novel, a 19th-century American is transported back in time to Britain in the year 528. He gets in trouble, is condemned to death, but remembers that a solar eclipse occurred on the date of his scheduled execution. He saves himself by vowing to extinguish the sun but promising to let it shine again if his demands are met.

Trump is faltering at the business of commanding outcomes that are, like Twain’s eclipse, independent of his interventions. Consider the dilemma of David Perdue. He is a former Republican senator because Trump, harping on the cosmic injustice of his November loss in 2020, confused and demoralized Georgia Republicans enough to cause Perdue’s defeat by 1.2 percentage points in the January 2021 runoff. Nevertheless, Trump talked Perdue into running in this year’s gubernatorial primary against Georgia’s Republican incumbent, Brian Kemp, whom Trump loathes. 

In a February poll, Kemp led Perdue by 10 points. Trump failed in his attempt to boost his preferred Senate candidate in North Carolina, Rep. Ted Budd, by pressuring a rival out of the race. As of mid-January, Budd was trailing in the polls. Trump reportedly might endorse a second Senate candidate in Alabama, his first endorsement, of Rep. Mo Brooks, having been less than earthshaking. Trump has endorsed Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin in the gubernatorial primary against Gov. Brad Little. A poll published in January: Little 59 percent, McGeachin 18 percent. During Trump’s presidency, a majority of Republicans said they were more supporters of Trump than of the GOP. That has now reversed.

Trump is an open book who has been reading himself to the nation for 40 years. In that time, he has changed just one important word in his torrent of talk: He has replaced “Japan” with “China” in assigning blame for our nation’s supposed anaemia. He is an entertainer whose repertoire is stale. 

A European war is unhelpful for Trump because it reminds voters that Longfellow was right: Life is real, life is earnest. Trump’s strut through presidential politics was made possible by an American reverie; war in Europe has reminded people that politics is serious.

From Capitol Hill to city halls, Democrats have presided over surges of debt, inflation, crime, pandemic authoritarianism and educational intolerance. Public schools, a point of friction between citizens and government, are hostages of Democratic-aligned teachers unions that have positioned K-12 education in an increasingly adversarial relationship with parents. The most lethal threat to Democrats, however, is the message Americans are hearing from the party’s media-magnified progressive minority: You should be ashamed of your country.

Trump’s message is similar. He says this country is saturated with corruption, from the top, where dimwits represent the evidently dimwitted voters who elected them, down to municipalities that conduct rigged elections. Progressives say the nation’s past is squalid and not really past; Trump says the nation’s present is a disgrace.

Speaking of embarrassments: We are the sum of our choices, and Vladimir Putin has provoked some Trump poodles to make illuminating ones. Their limitless capacity for canine loyalty now encompasses the Kremlin war criminal. For example, the vaudevillian-as-journalist Tucker Carlson, who never lapses into logic, speaks like an arrested-development adolescent: Putin has never called me a racist, so there.

Forgotten Ohio Ukrainians rallying against Putin’s war

One Ohio aspirant, grovelling for Trump’s benediction two weeks ago said: “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine.” Apparently upon discovering that Ohio has 43,000 Ukrainian Americans, this man Vance underwent a conviction transplant, saying, “Russia’s assault on Ukraine is unquestionably a tragedy,” and emitting clouds of idolatry for Trump’s supposedly Metternichian diplomacy regarding Putin.

For Trump, the suppurating wound on American life, and for those who share his curdled venom, war is a hellacious distraction from their self-absorption. Fortunately, their ability to be major distractions is waning.

Albored Part IV – No Longer Unready?

I have admitted that Albanese is probably not unready, but he is unsteady. He strikes me as a guy who has grown up in the kindergarten of factional politics, but really does not communicate well outside that factional circle.

He is fortunate to have some bloody good women who have shown the guts to stand the incompetents up, and hopefully, on a change of government if that occurs, they will team with some of the aspirants running for ostensibly safe Liberal seats as successful candidates.

I was worried by the absence of Penny Wong and the short statement that she has been ill has been left at that after she turned up on the Insiders program.  The problem with putting the Albanese foreign affairs approach is to work out what it is. Wong’s comment on Insiders:

Working with partners in the region to build our collective security, to diversify our export markets, secure supply chains, provide renewable energy and climate solutions, avert coercion, and respond to natural disasters. By investing financially and intellectually in the security and stability of our region – because defence capability on its own won’t achieve this. We share with ASEAN states an abiding interest in averting hegemony by any single power – so this is where our energy must be applied.

In responsibility terms does the distribution of Ministerial Portfolios need to be reviewed – Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Defence, Environment Protection? In Government, the responsibility for legislation, both future and existing, needs to be clearly defined; and yet the intrinsic danger of having exclusive enclaves centred around such legislative responsibility makes talk of co-operative government nothing more than meaningless waffle. The question is whether Albanese will have the innate skills, intelligence and authority to assure his Ministers work together.

The obvious question is if you, Albanese, get into office, what do you do on day one, because if you dissect this paragraph above, it is an overwhelming agenda – so large it leads to policy paralysis. The policy drought is evident with so much discussion on nuclear submarines, which are of no immediate relevance – and given the lead time, how relevant ever, except to continue to create for the huge hole in the Budget. If Albanese stepped back and thought that nuclear submarines are the panacea, then he is as blinkered as our supremely unintelligent Prime Minister.

I believe that the defence of Australia, as is the case everywhere, is yet to move from a traditional discussion of muskets and cannon balls. As Putin is demonstrating, it is all about killing more civilians of the “Away Team” than the “Home Team”.  The Russian armed forces are seeing the people as the real target. Just look at the Ukraine. It is the war which confirms that the most vulnerable are this target. Children and mothers are the prime target, with the latest atrocity being the bombing of a children’s hospital, irrespective of what the propaganda says to the contrary. Putin may claim that everyone has been evacuated; but tell that to the mothers in labour inside the hospital as the bombs fell.

Unlike the countries which have constituted the battlefield over the past 20 years, Ukraine does have a network of underground bunkers, formerly called train stations (which were an important bulwark in the bombing of Britain 80 years ago). The lessons of the Ukraine War are and will continue to be relevant, rather than government solely succumbing to the blandishments of the armaments manufacturers for more and more lethal toys, which if used will destroy us all.

In one way, just the vastness of a very dry continent with a dispersed population, yet with areas that are intensely populated, provides a defence for Australia, the strength of which needs to be exploited in any future conflict. Albanese seems to have succumbed to the one scenario of invasion, given how much sinophobia has framed the foreign and defence policy of the current government.

Just one simple question? How quickly could our underground accommodate our population, how many of them and how strong would our underground need to be to withstand a missile assault?

The other critical area is cybersecurity – far more important than a few pieces of military or naval hardware. Is the arrangement of the current capacity, in all its diverse acronyms, the right way to conduct our national security? I well remember the Hope Inquiry which Whitlam instituted in 1974. It did not help prevent his dismissal the next year.

While much has changed, Hope’s biographer, Peter Edwards, has written that the principles Hope outlined then remain fundamentally important today: effectiveness must be matched by accountability; intelligence assessment must be separated from policymaking.  Intelligence and law enforcement should also be kept separate.  Most importantly, both intelligence assessment and national security policymaking must be whole-of-government processes, based in the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio, with no single department or minister to have undue influence.

The first decision on day one is more pragmatic. What do they do with Mr Pezzullo, given the number of strings that he has pulled under the Coalition? Presumably Albanese believes it is essential that he is removed and neutralised in his ability to have any influence.

The next decision on day one of a new Government is to review the head of the Australian Federal Police, Reece Kershaw. The danger of authoritarian governments is that they crave a secret police to enact their vengeance; and unfortunately signs are that that is occurring in a complacent Australia.

The problem is this drive towards a police state, whether it is called plutocracy, oligarchy or just plain dictatorship, is muddied with cyber security. I have not seen this matter explicitly addressed by Albanese. As someone who studied Georges Sorel, I am well aware that a secret police is the result of the authoritarian mind, whether extreme right  or left wing. Australia should not underestimate this scenario, given the example of Witness K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, who were not allowed to release information about our underhand dealings over oil with Timor-Leste. The Guardian did not hold back in a report of the matter where Howard and Downer were described as “shills for the corporations”. Albanese has not disclosed his position, because the whole conduct of the Australian Government in this case reeks of secret police.

Maeslant storm surge barrier near Rotterdam

Climate change is the other enemy, against which it has been shown that Australia has almost no defence.  Flood mitigation by the Dutch has been going on since the 13th century. The Netherlands, built on a series of sandy outcrops primarily that of the Rhine, had suffered from the ravages of the North Sea well before “climate change” came into the lexicon. The flooding of the Netherlands in 1953 was the biggest wake-up call. As one writer put it:

The greatest lesson to be learned from the Dutch is perhaps less about engineering and more about mindset and culture. “It’s easy just to talk about technological and engineering solutions, but a lot of the problems surrounding sea-level rise are legal and political. The Dutch have a legal and political system that is united around dealing with water issues; they’ve been doing it for a thousand years.”

As a result, their technology provides an avenue for combating floods, which has been used in attempting to waterproof New Orleans. Yet here, the only discussion about flood mitigation seems to be around raising walls of dams.

Bushfires present the problem of occurring in isolated forested areas under a hot sun and strong north winds, lit by a lightning strikes.  In this country, the approach to bushfires should be inculcated from childhood; bushfire prevention and the community response to fire should be part of the school curriculum. As we age, so increases our responsibility and skill at dealing with probably the greatest enemy of all – fire – particularly when lightning is man made such as by a missile attack. Not sure how this has been discussed by Albanese in his quest to be Number One.

It is a curse that when war flares, conservation of the planet in the long term is replaced by survival in the short term. All the fossil fuel villains of peace time are now life savers. That is the Putin legacy, trying to maintain an order different from that which only exists in the mind of a madman.

That is one lesson of history at this time, for Albanese – John Curtin.

I may not have said that several weeks ago, but just how much times change has been shown by the events of the past two weeks.  Remember the instability of the previous United Australia Party leadership in the events leading up to the entry of Japan in WWII; the touching of the forelock to a useless ally before Curtin won Prime Ministership. Would any of our current leaders have stood up to Churchill and brought our troops back from North Africa as Curtin did in 1942? (Remember Menzies had previously committed Australian troops to the ill-fated Crete campaign under the thrall of Churchill.)

Since Curtin, there is no Australian Prime Minister except Whitlam who has put Australian policy in the world first and refused to send our young men and women as cannon fodder as an excuse to defend freedom. Will Albanese be the next?

Rupert’s Quote of the Geek

The alleged comment of the Australian General, explaining the delayed deployment of the Army to the NSW floods because it was initially too dangerous.

Try Ukraine, Buster!

The Armed Forces are said to spend $40 million annually on advertising, which seems to suggest the war preparation is a succession of jolly japes, with imagery reminiscent of Coke ads in camouflage.  Even Sportsbet has joined in trivialising military imagery to sell gambling. Often in such imagery there is a grain of truth.

Mouse Whisper

There is a photograph under spotlight of eight Russian soldiers in an elevator – all looking as they were escapees from a KAL cartoon – well allegedly these heroes of the Putin special operations decided to take an elevator up to the roof of a Ukrainian building, and the Ukrainians just turned off the power to the lift.

Could the Russian soldiers be that stupid? But whether true or not, the lift occupants do look a little bewildered apart from the one with his balaclava drawn over his head where only the eyes can be seen – it has that black humour which accompanies tragedy.

Modest expectations – A Gas station in Rain Man

There is a small group of people trying to unravel the connection between the number and the title of each week’s Modest Expectations. Last week was almost impossible, as I strive not to repeat myself.  Some have been obvious which, for me, maintains the diversity, although the search for titles which do not repeat the same theme presents an ongoing challenge. For instance, there have been 266 Popes, but I have tapped this source only once.

The gas station

On several occasions, I have counted wrongly, which explains why I was not a good “numbers” man. I am pleased with this week’s puzzle. Not that it is very hard but demands a modicum of powers of observation.

Albored the Unready.   Part 111

People want a prime minister to just do their job.

That’s my commitment. To do that job properly. To each and every day do my best. And make sure we have a government that actually plans properly and looks after the interests of the Australian people. Anthony Albanese this week 

As I predicted, the Murdoch press has started the attempted demolition of Albanese. However, in a week in politics with the ineptness of the current Government firmly on show and growing, manifested in disastrous polling in NSW in four State by-elections, maybe it does not matter if there is a demonstrable unreadiness. Even so, I just hope Albanese does not try to play “Blue Moon” on a triangle.

Directing the dance floor

If Labor wins the forthcoming election, addressing the absence of a Commission to root out corruption at the Federal level – which seems as bad as the worst of any of the States at any time – will be a massive job for Albanese. The establishment of this Commission should already be in draft legislative form ready to be placed before Parliament immediately on a change of Government.

Unless it swiftly isolates the major players in the corruption, the Commission will be entangled in legal brambles and then eventually lost from sight as these “bramble bushes” cover it.

Openly responsible to the Parliament, the manner of selection of the Commission members must be an open process also.

The problem is that Albanese has grown up in a factional NSW environment where the hotel industry lobby in all its forms is a highly-protected species.  Therefore, Albanese, who is one of the longest serving members of the Commonwealth parliament, must reflect on his manner of conducting his business to maximise objectivity in government – a far from easy task.

In his progress towards a clean government, he should examine the amount of money consulting firms shovel into their pockets through “sweet deals” with government. I know exactly what goes on. Much of the work, which should be undertaken by bureaucrats with assigned responsibility and expertise, is done by recent MBAs full of theory but devoid of knowledge, which they then pick up at no cost to themselves as they flounder on in a consultancy, which does not need these “content free” consultants. “Reading my own watch” is the term used to describe this flagrant practice.

This is the great disaster of public administration and goes hand in hand with the corruption of parliament. I have been employed as consultant many times where the recommendations have had an impact; but in others where the recommendations have been ignored and ended as a “dust shelf file”.

Albanese needs a strong independent bureaucracy so that when the consultant firm Piranhas come calling, they have to earn the meat hanging from the bureaucratic fishing lines. The problem is that while the TV series “Yes Minister” was very funny, (Margaret Thatcher is reputed to have loved it), its long term effect has been to corrode the politicians’ trust in public administration as witnessed by the growth in ministerial staff and reliance on mates in the consulting firms, some of whom were colleagues before politics and before the politicians take their lucrative pensions and flee Parliament  to become outside “consigliere” – sorry “consultants”.

Big challenge to rein in this practice – and not one for the election trail.  However, it will be symptomatic of an inability to govern if Albanese fails to follow the Machiavellian dictum and does not tackle it hard and early.

Now for Part IV – if you are still awake. Climate Change and Albored under the Bed. 

Cisgender

I have observed the machinations about the Religious Discrimination Bill with an air of disbelief. I doubt whether I am the only one, given how many far more important challenges are facing Australia.

For most of my life I have watched as technical surgical skills have improved such that personal identification can be aided by physical operative change to the appropriate gender

I remember one of my medical tutors put us males in our place by saying that every human is destined to be female until a few vectors appear which direct embryonic to foetal to post-natal existence towards being male.

After all, there are a number of chromosome and sex hormone disorders, which are often rare or beyond the then scope of knowledge, and which may be reflected in extraordinary prowess, particularly of women in sporting competition.

Babe Didrickson

One of the most remarkable athletes of all time was the American, Mildred “Babe” Didrikson. She was able to beat top athletes, both male and female, at sports ranging from bowling to diving. She earned Olympic gold medals in the hurdles and javelin in the 1932 Olympic Games, all-American status in basketball, dozens of golf championships, and is on ESPN’s list of top ten North American athletes of the century.

She lived at a time when there was not the will or the science to determine whether she was a woman or had a chromosomal abnormality where she might look like woman but was in fact a male. She was not the only one to raise questions. There were two Olympic gold medal winning female sprinters in the 1930s who also looked masculine and one, Stella Walsh, an American who when shot dead many years later, was revealed by autopsy to indeed be male.

When the Russians came back on the Olympic Trail, they brought forth a number of oddities, even before the systematic doping with androgens began.

There have been “female” athletes discovered to have Kleinfelter’s syndrome. The first to be publicly accused was Ewa Klobukowska, a Polish sprinter who received a gold medal in the 1964 Olympic Games. People with this syndrome have an extra “X” chromosome but have the “Y” chromosome as well – which defines them as male.

Thus, when a South African female athlete Caster Semanya looks a bit masculine and then is shown to have a hormonal abnormality, discrimination is attested loudly when she was either excluded from competition or forced to take androgen suppression. There was no suggestion of religious discrimination in any of the discussion here.

Yet here is a nationwide imbroglio which grew from Israel Folau’s intemperate behaviour, which became a kernel for every bigot in the community to swarm around his profile as an extraordinary sportsman, and then  try to parlay this prowess into some sort of seer of faith.

In my early blogs, I wrote about Israel Folau but I underestimated how his bigotry has gradually graduated to this religious discrimination bill, which a Pentecostal Prime Minister has tried to foist on a nation which, on matters religious, kept on the “cis” side of not mixing belief with the political wedge.

The problem with Morrison and his mates is that they have tried to impose their “transwedge” as it flew across the Alps of Intolerance.

It almost ended up a discriminatory Transgender Discrimination Bill, and fortunately there have been enough politicians prepared to scuttle this ridiculous pandering to fringe groups, with social hang ups on show amidst the happy clapping and forced jollity.

Hence, if people insist on a stigma of transgender on a number of seriously conflicted young people, then since I do not identify myself as one of these, I shall stigmatise myself thus – as cisgender. In the end, you must have a gender, whichever way you describe yourself. However, it is your own private decision not to be paraded in a travesty – called parliamentary debate.

Questions of toilet and bathing facilities are a matter of societal convention, not a matter for government legislation. When my university college became co-educational, the college’s change of facilities was hardly a major topic of conversation in the pubs of Carlton.

Given that “cis” is the antonym of “trans”, it took the serious students in this area until 1994 to coin the term. But there is more.

What about the Infrasexual?  This refers to someone “who is not parsex, meaning someone who is strictly dyadic and protosex. They are not intersex nor altersex.” Succinct, if nothing else.

What a dilemma. Do we ban the infrasexual but allow the altersexual?

Meanwhile the World in burning.

Wasabi

The wasabi that comes in tubes and packets and is familiar to many diners is actually a blend of wasabi and horseradish dyed green — or contains no wasabi at all. In Japan, chefs at higher-end sushi, soba or grilled beef restaurants grate fresh wasabi at the counter, so customers can experience the acute assault on their nostrils and the unique flavour that lingers for just a moment on the tongue.

For hundreds of years, wasabi grew wild in mountains across Japan, blooming near forests and huddling alongside streams. About four centuries ago, growers in Shizuoka started to cultivate wasabi as a crop.

Wasabi plants sprout in spring water that flows down from the mountains, helping to foster gradations of pungency and hints of sweetness. The most well-known Shizuoka variety, called mazuma, tends to sell for 50 per cent more than wasabi from other parts of Japan.

Over time, local growers say, the spring water has deteriorated in quality, compromised by an abundance of cedar and cypress trees.

Recently, in a substantial article, the New York Times highlighted the parlous condition of the wasabi grower.

From childhood, I remember that horseradish was an accompaniment to the Sunday roast beef at my grandmother’s place, complete with roast vegetables and the obligatory Yorkshire pudding.

Now, as that wizard green fingered jardineira, Vicki Sheedy, says dismissively, horseradish is a weed. You have to grow it in a pot and not let it get control of the vegetable patch.

However wasabi, its Japanese cousin is, as Vicki says, very picky. One Tasmania grower put it this way: “Wasabi is like a 15-year-old. When conditions are perfect and everything is how they like it, they thrive, if something starts to go wrong though they will just sit there and sulk.”

In fact, commercial growing can ideally occur in Australia only in Tasmania, where there is plenty of water and the climate is temperate-on the cool side. The plant is harvested between one to two years. As Vicki further points out, this little plant is a cousin to horseradish and mustard, hence why its heat hits you in the nose rather than setting your mouth on fire like chillies do. It’s also known as Japanese horseradish and she has assured the conditions for its growth.

Currently Vicki’s plants are about 15 months old and she says that on a beautiful property overlooking the D’Entrecasteaux Channel in Southern Tasmania she will soon be able to harvest it. Already she has been using the stems and leaves, but they are much “tamer” in regard to heat compared to the root. At present she grows it in small quantities in a raised garden in the shade near the kitchen so she remembers to water it. Keeping a watchful eye on it, she knows the plant doesn’t like humidity, direct sun or in relation to water – the Goldilocks effect – not too much or too little.

With the production being increasingly compromised by the urban spread, the contamination of water and the decline of the cedar forest and its resultant shade, production in Japan is under stress as the NYT article says

The price of wasabi is rising.  It is not a quick return, but as they say, big things from kitchen door plots grow.

The heat is on, Vicki.

Iris Hoffman as she was then, remembers 

Janine Sargeant, guest facilitator

We are encouraging my mother to write down her memories of her youth, as she approaches her 96th birthday. She and Queen Elizabeth were born close together in that year – 1926.

Sixteen years old at the time, Iris Hoffman reminds the reader of a time when the Japanese were coming. It was 1942.

Tocumwal Airfield – previously known as “McIntyre Field” by the USAAF

The war was getting worse and town councils were ordered to send some employees to go to Tocumwal to help build an aerodrome there as American air troops needed it. Dad was sent! At home in Culcairn and other towns we were trying to get accustomed to being swooped over by American Kittyhawks. They would come in low and scare the hell out of us; they buzzed every town and homestead in the area we were told. At last the airfield was finished, Dad came home and resumed his job with the Culcairn council.

Then Dad decided to move to Gippsland. We would be primary producers on a dairy farm near Maffra with 80-90 cows to milk, twice a day. We did it. Our war effort. My eldest brother, Percy was already in the army, and the youngest, Trevor, was in the airforce, so there we were, Dad and my brother and sister, Keith and Lorna and myself, in the land army – and Mum at home to look after us all. 

“McIntyre Field” was established by the USAAF on the NSW/Victoria border, near the Newell Highway. It originally covered an area of about 25 miles square. Named after Captain Patrick W McIntyre who was killed in a crash of a US bomber on 5 June 1943, the field was home to 54 Liberators, 11 Vultee Vengeance, five Kittyhawks and an Airspeed Oxford. Four thousand five hundred RAAF men  and 400 WAAF  women were based at Tocumwal. It was also a storage and repair depot for aircraft including Boeing, Lancaster, Mosquito and Spitfire. After the RAAF left Tocumwal in 1960, over 700 aircraft were scrapped.

It should be recognised that having a German-sounding name when, in two World Wars, the enemy was Germany, had a negative effect in the community at large, spurred on by the jingoists.

The Lutheran diaspora had settled in the rural areas around Albury. These were people who fled Silesia, from the Prussian Calvinists who persecuted their Lutheran community. Many came to Australia and are concentrated in certain parts of Australia, including areas around Albury. The township of Holbrook, north of Albury, once was called Germantown. The name of the township was changed in that flurry of jingoism which accompanied Australian participation in both World Wars, but particularly in the early stages of the First World War.

In the 1840s my mother’s family came to Australia from Katowice, which is a major Polish town today but was then Prussia. They settled first in the Barossa Valley but with a shortage of land available there, they walked with their wagons, from South Australia to settle in southern NSW. My maternal mother was a Schröeter. My mother would have been a wonderful subject for “Who do you think you are?”

Now she still has a store of memories of being part of Australia, including beating Margaret Court once at tennis. No matter that Margaret Court was a teenage prodigy. But still, a win is a win.

But is A Win a Win?

The Russians are completely and utterly over the fence. There they are, continuing their gold medal dominance in sports cheating. The Washington Post teed off this week and below is part of that article from its ferocious correspondent, Barry Svrluga.

As of Monday afternoon here, the Russian Olympic Committee team had won 18 medals, the second-highest total behind Norway. But maybe there should be a new category for its medals? “Provisionally won?”, “Won … for now?” “Won, pending further info?”

Even in the exceedingly unlikely event that these Games aren’t tainted, it was impossible to watch Russian cross-country skier Sergey Ustiugov grab an Olympic flag as he skated the final meters of the men’s 4×10-kilometer relay on Sunday, winning by a huge margin, watch him celebrate with his teammates, without wondering, “Who’s finishing second — and how long before they’re awarded gold?”

That’s not damning of Ustiugov and his teammates specifically. It’s how the IOC and its cronies have forced us to think. When the iron was at its most scorching, the IOC failed to execute the kind of forceful ban that might have effected actual change in the Russian system. Instead, it demanded what amounts to a change of laundry for Russian athletes (their uniforms cannot bear their nation’s flag here) and swapped out the CD for their celebrations (no Russian national anthem, either). But the show goes on, so the mind wonders whether any of it is legitimate.

That has been true for more than a decade now, and the shame of all this is that when the flame is extinguished here Sunday night, the results from so many competitions still should be sketched lightly in pencil.

Athletes who depart China with suspicions about the fairness of their competitions can’t be offered much encouragement, either. American high jumper Eric Kynard, for instance, won silver at the London Olympics in 2012. He was 21 and beaten only by Russian Ivan Uhkov. CAS later determined that Uhkov and 11 other Russian track and field athletes had been doping. The IOC rejected Uhkov’s final appeal — in November 2021. By then, Kynard was 31. Maybe he stepped onto a chair in his backyard and played “The Star-Spangled Banner” to celebrate.

Spread the blame for such a mess around, but good luck sorting out precisely how to divvy it up. There’s so much inbreeding among governing bodies here that it’s difficult to differentiate one organization from the other. CAS claims on its website that it is “an institution independent of any sports organization.”

The President of its board is John Coates, an Australian lawyer who has been an IOC member for more than 20 years, a period of time in which he has been on the IOC’s executive board and served as a vice president. That’s independent? The World Anti-Doping Agency was founded by Canadian lawyer Dick Pound, a former Olympic swimmer who was first elected to the IOC in 1978. WADA’s 14-member executive committee includes four current IOC members.

How to tell any of them apart? As American skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender told my colleague Adam Kilgore last week, “How do we really know what’s going on behind the scenes?”

Uhlaender has the right to ask. In 2014, she finished fourth in her event, all of four-hundredths of a second behind Elena Nikitina of — you guessed it — Russia. When Russia’s Sochi scheme was exposed, Nikitina was among more than two dozen Russian athletes banned from the Olympics for life — and Uhlaender appeared to have her medal. On the eve of the 2018 PyeongChang Games, Nikitina was reinstated.

That there has been no significant punishment to the entire Russian delegation in the eight years since both boggles the mind and tugs at the heart.

Uhlaender is clear-eyed about it. “It’s not independent,” she said. “None of this is independent. It’s all run by the IOC. It’s really hard to have faith in a system that failed so hard in 2014.”

Particularly because it’s continuing to fail. According to long time Olympic historian Bill Mallon, the Russians have been stripped of 31 medals in the five Games dating from 2012. That doesn’t count winning Russian teams on which more than one athlete was disqualified, nor does it account for disqualified Russian athletes who didn’t medal. The evidence suggests there will be more here. This isn’t a witch hunt. The witch has been identified.

(Those who can be bothered can watch the 15 year Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva compete despite having been clearly doped, the court has ruled.)

Kamila Valieva

Whether it will eventually have consequences for Valieva is impossible to say. What’s certain: The women’s short program will be held Tuesday, and she will skate in it.

In explaining the reasons CAS will allow Valieva to compete here going forward, Matthieu Reeb, the panel’s director general, cited, among other things, “serious issues of untimely notification of the results” from a test that was reportedly taken on Christmas Day — but that wasn’t reported as positive until after Valieva had competed in the team event here.

Whose fault is that? Well, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency said in a statement: The reason for the delays in the analysis and reporting by the laboratory was another wave of covid-19.” [When in doubt, blame the pandemic.]

What a mess. It’s a mess that, at the moment, falls at the feet of a 15-year-old athlete who is demonstrably the best in the world at her craft. If there’s ever a medal ceremony in the women’s figure skating event, her presence on the podium will be questioned. That’s not her fault. It’s the IOC’s, for creating and sustaining a system in which every Russian medal must be met with suspicion — looking both back, now and into the future. 

Mouse Whisper

I could not have said it better, referring to a tweet on the Super Bowl result last Sunday:

Imagine if the Bengals didn’t accept the final score, stormed the field, sued the NFL, and protested the 2022 NFL season calling it fraudulent.

Bengals, Bengals, burning bright …

 

Modest Expectations – John F Kennedy

In this week of our National Day and following on my account of “give us our daily” Quinoa Day, I have taken this account from the Washington Post, which shows the dark shadows of the USA, which course across the Lone Star State. It is as though among the Ghost riders there is one; an unhappy emaciated soul called Mean Spirit. 

Texas’s Confederate Heroes Day is not some relic of the Civil War, or even Reconstruction. It came to life out of the backlash to Black Texas lawmakers daring to ask for a Black freedom fighter to be honoured by the state.

As recounted in a lengthy story in Texas Monthly, it all began in 1973, when eight Black representatives joined the Texas House, the highest number since Reconstruction.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

One of them, 34-year-old Senfronia Thompson, introduced a bill to urge the State to recognize the Jan. 15 birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as an honorary holiday, but without the full bells and whistles of a taxpayer-funded day off for public employees. White Republican lawmakers opposed the bill, some claiming that Texas didn’t need any more state holidays and memorials, and that King wasn’t deserving of state holiday recognition because he wasn’t from Texas. 

But state of birth did not stop Texas legislators from shortly after passing a bill to memorialize Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee on Lee’s birthday, Jan. 19, under the name Confederate Heroes Day. It was absurd enough that the House responded to Black lawmakers with an utterly un-American celebration of Confederate traitors, enslavers, racists and, above all, literal losers. But neither Davis nor Lee was even Texan! 

A Touch of the Acerbic 

Guy Fawkes

It seems to be lodged in the tangle of the Serbian helix that vaccination is in some ways a plot and conspiracy. We have the aptly-named Senator Antic, whose lineage extends back from Adelaide to village life along the Sava, and he is one of the anti-vaxxer pests. At some stage, the Australian senate will have to be expunged of this gaggle of Trumpians. These are people who believe their shadows are an invention of the CIA, designed to track them. Paul Keating was very right when he described the Senate as unrepresentative swill. Only it is worse, it is now the Chamber of the Fawkesian Trolls.

Djokovic went with a degree of dignity, but then he had been afforded the full Federal Court at short notice on a weekend to adjudicate. Not that the cost of the whole circus would make much of a dent in his estimated USD220m fortune. He does not live in Belgrade, but in Monte Carlo, so that in line with devotion to Serbia, he is minimising the amount of his wealth that goes into the Serbian Treasury to be dispensed at the whim of the Serbian government. All a matter of perspective.

Djokovic has defaulted from a Grand Slam before. In the 2020 US Open, in one of his “hissy fits” he swatted a ball carelessly – it struck the throat of a lineswoman. She needed treatment; and Djokovic was shown the door. Under COVID rules there was no crowd to view this unfortunate incident; and as far as I am aware there were no extravagant comments by his parents.

Ageing Novak now is learning the meaning of the axiom – autonomy of action is inversely proportional to the controversy generated. President Macron has jumped on the anti-vaxxer bandwagon, and after stating he will “piss off” French anti-vaxxers, he has now included a provisional ban on tennis players who are unvaccinated saying they will be barred from the French Open and indeed any tournament in France. Given that he lives in a French enclave, a ban such as this will constrict any of Novak’s activity in competitions

He has wealth to back up his sense of entitlement. Yet, who knows. The storm clouds are gathering over Europe; and Serbia is considered to be closer to Russia than its Balkan neighbours, apart from Montenegro.

Nevertheless, there has always been some ambivalence in the relationship. One anecdote sticks in my mind. After Tito split with Stalin, Stalin sent a number of assassins to kill Tito, but they failed, and Tito wrote back to Stalin saying he would send one in retaliation so Stalin would not need to send another. The attempts on Tito’s life stopped. It may say something about the tenuous balance between bully and bluff.

Currently, Putin is playing war games over Ukraine; and one area where sanctions could be inflicted is in the world of tennis. After all, in last year’s Australian Open three of the eight quarter finalists were Russian.

Nothing happened over the annexation of Crimea and Trump, in his Presidency, showed himself to be in Putin’s pocket, damping down any US reaction to Russian machinations, whether on terra firma or in cyberspace.

But life may just be getting a little different.

Thus, big things start in seemingly minor Serbian disputes. Just remember that this may be the year tennis lost its political innocence.

Aboriginal Circumcision

In the Jewish and more recently Muslim communities there are organised ritual circumcisers. The difficulties which one Muslim community had with circumcision were highlighted in my last blog.

Once, in Australian society, and certainly in my generation, most boys were circumcised. As one of my contemporaries said to me, “I did hundreds of them during my time in obstetrics.” However, circumcision has fallen out of favour among the paediatricians as unnecessary and even classified as mutilation. In several States circumcision, unless for specific medical reasons, is banned in public hospitals.

Ritual circumcision has been part of the initiation rites of Aboriginal males in Northern Australia and extends among the Desert tribes. As the ritual is shrouded in secrecy, there is no evidence that there is a dedicated ritual circumciser. Nevertheless, the procedure must demand a degree of skill, whether using sharpened stone or razor. Among these Northern tribes, there are other concomitant procedures such as the scarification of the chest and knocking out one of the front teeth.

As Thomas Worsnop observed in his 1897 book, “The Aborigines of Australia” concerning Aboriginal youth initiation, “He has to undergo a terrible formulary of days, even weeks where he must bear with unwavering fortitude, together with the lesser pains of hunger and sleeplessness, intended as a test of his endurance and aptitude to receive the special secrets of the tribe prior to his endowment with the privileges of manhood and of its subsequent duties and responsibilities.”

While much of the initiation was done out of sight of whitefellas, there was obviously a significance in these rites which I wonder how they have been reconciled in a modern society. After all, we still see Aboriginal people, both male and female, of all ages, daubed with ochre engaging in what are stated as traditional ceremonies. Thus, where does the retention of tradition cope with practices which, in modern day, may be thought of as mutilation by a large section of the population.

Circumcision being adopted from elsewhere does not explain the use of subincision where the urethra is slit open. This seems to be unique to Australian aboriginals; but its level of use in initiation is unclear. Nevertheless, such an operation demands a level of skill to be successful.

There is a morbidity associated with the operation, but it is rarely reported. A friend described one situation where the initiate had a severe infection, and how my friend used a succession of salt baths to tackle the problem, in the absence of antibiotics. The youth’s penis healed, but the more one delves into the issue, the more questions are raised. What is the level of debate because inevitably, if it has not already happened, death following such a practice must occur and therefore a major question is whether the benefits outweigh the risks?

In any event, circumcision was not practised in southern Australia and was completely unknown among Tasmanian aborigines. Although the mantra is that the practice goes back thousands of years, it is not universally undertaken across Australia by the various tribes.

These portraits are the only known images of Aboriginal voyagers to Makassar.

From the 13th through the 17th century, it should be recognised that Sunni Islam was chiefly spread widely by Arab and Indian merchants through the East Indies. One theory is that Aboriginal circumcision is a relatively recent practice adopted around four hundred years ago from the Malays, who came to harvest trepang or sea cucumber, the trochus shell and wild nutmeg. It is one explanation but does not seem to be the only one as circumcision was undertaken far from any Malay influence in the central deserts.

For each of us there is often a fine line between beautification and mutilation. One instance for me of this line between enhancement (if not beautification) or not is the facial tattoo. I find it confronting. But then I do not like tattoos. It is also said that much of religious belief rests on confronting this dilemma. A strange triangle emerges, depending on the eyes of the beholder.

The question always must arise as to whether the family or tribal customs prevail; or when is tribal ritual rendered void by society as a whole. At least in relation to ritual circumcision, there is a case for rules even if it continues to be undertaken.

As I’ve alluded to previously, I remember being taken by a male elder to an Aboriginal quarry, where there were hundreds upon hundreds of sharpened stones lying around on the earth. There was a white woman with us. I turned to him and said: “This is men’s business,” He looked hard back at me and said, “I don’t care. Ever since the young men moved the corroboree stones to do burnouts then the link was broken.” He did not need to say more; yet the Aboriginal women elders in the community still did not know about the quarry – and he had let a white woman accompany us.

Albored the Unready – Part 2

The Biloela Four

I would bet that the first act Whitlam would have done if he came to power this year would be to restore the Sri Lankan family to Biloela. There is similar advocacy by Kristina Keneally, but she is not the leader. However, one question which haunts me is whether, in the compassion and sensitivity stakes, Albanese is any different from Morrison. Albanese is too much a party flack, as was Morrison – hardly lived a life outside the carapace of nastiness that factional politics provides. At the same time, Albanese could release the other asylum detainees from the other sites, including the Lygon Guantánamo. The paranoia generated by the transit of ISIS should have subsided.

Instead of spending money on their incarceration, the government could encourage these men to join the depleted Australian workforce. And if anybody bleats that this will be an invitation to the people smugglers, the obvious response would be to ask what the hell has the Australian government being doing over the past 30 years to counter them being around. Albanese could identify this as an example of a literally petrified government and indicate that he will free all the detainees on provisional visas and set work conditions for them. Get transitional arrangements right – and do it swiftly, not after the event as has been the modus operandi of the current Government.

Albanese is so predictable. He promises money for education. It is either hospitals or schools – with creative edges. Like all of these promises the problem is that it has all been heard before. Remember the Gillard Historic Education Agreement of 2008, with all its segments promising a new education horizon. That is the problem – promises of a renewal without any implementation plan are one of the major causes of this country’s policy inaction. The Government is already pointing out the deficiency of the previous policy, instead of emphasising the positive.

Shorten, when leader proposed perfectly reasonable modest adjustments to taxes, but had both an appalling policy salesman in Chris Bowen and was assailed on all sides by the right-wing media. The problem with Albanese is shown in the nostalgia of his own brief tenure as Federal transport minister. He in his own mind was successful.  The question is whether others agree with that summation

Again, he needs a carefully crafted transport policy directed towards immediate structural needs. There are many uncosted dreams floating about, especially involving train lines and super-fast rail, which are notorious for creating “South Sea bubbles” coupled with speculation in the land along any proposed routes.

Albanese’s attack should be concentrated is on the corrupt behaviour of government. The list of rorts has wide currency and each one deserves a clear indication of what Albanese proposes to do to repair the damage, even if it is only to give probity to governmental intentions.

Morrison has had the opportunity of sacking the worst of his ministerial clowns.  One of Morrison’s weaknesses has been to keep the underperforming rather than sack them. It has thus reinforced the incompetency of the Government, overridden by the fear that if he sacked anybody there would automatically be a “sack” faction built to dispose of him. But then Morrison should know; he has been sacked more often than most people.

This time for Albanese the task is obvious – a government which has been corrupt at so many levels; a prime minister who both verges on the pathological in his ability to conjure up his own reality and who has overseen a totally inept bureaucracy full of political dullards. Whether that analysis is true, it has enough truth to drive him to promise to set up an Anti-Corruption Commission, with wide sweeping powers, but from its inception there must be a promise to ensure that all its findings are made public.

Learn the lesson from the Banking Royal Commission. Changing the underlying attitudes if you are to enforce behavioural changes is an ongoing business, otherwise it will end up being more of the same, despite threadbare assurances to the contrary, as has happened.

As important as anything on day one is to have the appointment of the Head decided, so they can be appointed immediately on winning the election. There is a huge menu of malfeasance to be examined, but out of each example a policy adjustment will be needed.

The menu for the cases to be considered should be carefully ordered, so that if there are recommendations, they have a logic in dealing with them, to eliminate personal bias as far as possible. For instance, the car park boondoggle. The immediate task is to obtain a list and put all the construction on hold and pinpoint the trail of decision making.

Of greater concern is what has occurred with the $443m set aside for the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. What have they done, given the reservations voiced by National Audit Office; and as another example of  the failure of the private-public model.

In all, the instances of corruption of the Morrison Government provide lush pastures, and inter alia for Albanese they provide the opportunity to raise the matter of tax in the most brutal fashion, namely amid the corruption there is the disparity in wealth across the country such as to beg tax reform. The problem is that the Labor Party is the face of the hotel industry, particularly beholden to it in NSW. This means gambling has to be protected, areas of wealth, where the major casualties are the traditional Labor constituency. So, this area is left to the Greens and the rising bunch of independents, who may well break through in this election as the most formidable influence to advocate reform. Not a good look for the freshly coiffed Albanese.

I have far more concern with the image of Albanese the person than a superficial makeover.

Unfortunately, I have viewed the parliamentary footage of his scowl when he urges Catherine King, the then Shadow Minister  to “smash her” when referring to the then Minister of Health, Sussan Ley. It is a most disturbing image of the Man who wants to be Prime Minister.

Morrison has cultivated the image of the family man who consults his wife, and treasures his children, Albanese is a divorced man with a tearaway son, Nathan. He was married to a fellow politician.

I am put in mind of the entrapment of Kevin Rudd by a Murdoch operative in a drunken 2003 visit to Scores, a strip club in New York. There will be a hunt on for a similar indiscretions by Albanese. In this case, contrast with Morrison’s wholesome domesticity is important to his political enemies

On the other hand, Andrew Probyn’s seemingly innocent question at the National Press Club of who Albanese really is, was irresistible to Albanese, who loves recounting his “log cabin” story. It had better be correct, because you can bet that the Morrison camp will be looking for any Albanese lie, however minor, to neutralise the Prime Minister’s pathology in this regard.

Will there be a Part 3? I wonder if there is much more to say. 

A different Fox in the Political Farmyard

Prince Rupert was seen reflectively choking over his breakfast of caprine sweetbreads and roasted cervine gall bladders when he read advice to the Democrats from the Lincoln Project – the group of disaffected former Republican insiders:

  1. Drive the damn bus, don’t lay down in front of it. Frame your opponent early, and repeat, repeat, repeat.

    Drivin’ the damn bus
  2. Don’t bring a policy pen to a knife fight. All of us – particularly my friends in the Democratic Party – need to stop thinking that the road to glory is paved with policy. We are in a culture war. You win culture wars on emotion and spectacle. 
  3. Never catch the grenade. The Republican playbook is to lob some crazy attack on the Dems and then just sit back, watch, and enjoy. The Dems catch a grenade like Critical Race Theory as if it’s a bouquet, bobble it around giving it weeks of play, until boom, it blows off another limb. 
  4. Have some damn fun and stop worrying about everything. Sometimes I feel like I’m watching a poor gopher trying to undig its own hole, seeing one of my Democratic friends tiptoe around making a point without offending anyone. 
  5. Sell your wins, and back your own. Today too many Democrats mumble their wins, bury their heads, and hash each other mercilessly rather than fall in line as allies against the true threat. My Democratic friends need to shout their victories from the mountaintops, bite their tongues when they don’t agree, and start having a good time again.

Muscular politics? Certainly! An antidote to what David Owen once said to me, before the rise of Prince Rupert, about the soggy centre of the political spectrum.

If I sat down with Grace Tame

Grace, what were you thinking?

Grace Tame, you are a remarkable young lady in that you have weaponised the response to the hypocrisy of government in preaching sexual equality and yet doing nothing about it. The problem with activism and especially when you are disturbing the status quo of a society run by representatives of the comfortable privately schooled, middle class. While you were the hunter, then you had many followers. Some of those will be so fickle that they will desert when you are perceived as having lost “the authority of Diana.”

This Prime Minister inflicted on Australia, if nothing more, knows how public relations worked. So when you have disdain and you publicly show it, Morrison has been waiting with the wedged response. Gushing all over you when it is so easy for you to be portrayed as churlish by those critics who emerge from the shadows – and surprise, surprise, they ride out from the Murdoch Press.

By your understandable but unnecessary action, you may well have diminished your ongoing effect as being characterised as an ALP stooge every time you open your mouth. The criticism will come at different cadences. Slights are a favourite ploy of the Establishment – for instance your successor as Australian of the Year concurrently received an AO: you, Grace Tame, zilch.

Time to regroup Grace. I disagree with those who say you do not need advice. Everyone needs advice; it is part of being a member of a community. Whether you take it is your choice. Make sure of your friends, and how far they are prepared to follow you into the murkiness of sexual exploitation and degradation of woman. What you had before the Morrison wedge was a persona where the nasty political types could not touch you.

You are tough; if you mix it in politics, a touch of the paranoias does not go astray either. You are likely to be engulfed in the Alcott story, with him exacting from government promises to advance the disadvantaged – a very admirable objective with presumably him having a prominent role.

Grace, you need to put yourself into the brain of the enemy. You need a cohort of Australians to stand with you to develop a series of local sanctuaries for those who flee from abusive arrangements. But maybe you have other strategies to augment your devastating rhetoric. But you are now a different person from the one who met the Prime Minister on the eve of Australia Day.

Over 40 years ago, I was faced with the distribution of Federal money provided for a number of community projects. One was for a women’s refuge, and at that time the Victorian Department of Health was headed by a very conservative Roman Catholic bureaucrat, one of the many Roman Catholics who found employment in the lowly denizens of the public service in the thirties and forties, but moved upwards until they together occupied powerful positions in the bureaucracy.

If the Departmental Head had known about the project at the time, when being an assertive woman and moreover a feminist meant a difficult passage given the ultimate funding decision was made by a conservative male-dominated bureaucracy – us two, it may well have gone nowhere. The appearance of two short-haired women wearing leather jackets in our office. So what? They put their case; it was a no brainer. They got their money and we got it out before any in the hierarchy could object. I’m afraid that is my only credential in a field where there are other instances of which, in hindsight, I am not that proud.

In the intervening years much has changed. Therefore, Grace, it is essential you continue to succeed.

Mouse Whisper

When my field mice relatives amble around the Coonawarra vineyards, their paws get soiled by the terroir rouge; and in the Italian vineyards it’s terra rossa in which miei parenti topi leave their tracks.

But in the Valley of Paraibo between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where a substantial amount of the world’s coffee is grown, the soil is known as “terra roxa”. However, in Portuguese, the word for red is “velmelha.” “Roxa” translate as purple. Nobody worries; sounds right, even if the soil is not the colour of aubergine.

Coffee growing in terra roxa

 

Modest Expectations – The astonishment of Keith and Cyril

I am indebted to the Boston Globe for reminding us of important festivals at a time we might just forget in this world consumed by the Virus.

Last Sunday, Jan. 16, was National Quinoa Day. The so-named food holiday is unlikely to garner as much interest as National Blueberry Pancake Day (Jan. 28) or National Tater Tot Day (Feb. 2) or even Bloody Mary Day (Jan. 1). But if even a little recognition for quinoa and other healthy grains gets us thinking about cooking and eating more of them, then a happy National Quinoa Day would have been attained!

A quinoa mountain

There are about 20 varieties of whole grains; these can take many forms, including whole kernels, cracked pieces, or milled into flour. In addition to quinoa, add wheat berries and its cousin Kamut, bulgur, farro, millet, wild rice, and brown rice.

Whole grains provide crucial nutrition at a low cost. Most grains can be cooked using the “pasta method,” which is to simmer them, uncovered, in a pot of boiling water. Grains like bulgur, quinoa, and millet can be ready in 10 to 20 minutes. Harder, larger kernels, such as farro and barley, if pearled take about 30 minutes; wild rice and brown rice, 40 to 60 minutes; and wheat berries (unrefined wheat) and Kamut (Khorasan wheat – known to be the wheat of the Mummes) can take from 45 to 75 minutes. Older, drier grains need extra time to become tender. Cooking times can be shortened by soaking harder kernels in water overnight.

So, there you are. After honouring quinoa, National Cereal Day is coming up on March 7. Just remember to take your whole grain as well as your bowl of quinoa.

No there is not a Grain of Salt Day, as far as I know.  But it would be one of the few substances without his own day of celebration, and while on this topic of celebration of all and sundry, how will those creators of lapel bows cope when they run out of colours?

 Albored The Unready?

One of the smartest moves on winning the 1972 election that Whitlam made was his two-person Ministry – he and his Deputy, Lance Barnard. It maintained the momentum of his election win, and the fact that he wanted to jerk a moribund faction-ridden Australia towards some sort of national unity, maintaining momentum. It turned out to be a mirage.

However, his statement on 5 December 1972 is worth reviewing. In it, he assured us that his Government was not mucking around. He ended conscription; he referred the question of colour television to the then protectionist remnant, the Tariff Board, to expedite its introduction; he committed to reversing the previous government’s stance towards equal pay and assured that votes made in the United Nations bore the stamp of his government rather than that of the previous McMahon Government.

During that interim time, Whitlam determined his definitive Ministry in its second iteration announced two weeks later without having the usual concentration on who gets what, who is slighted, who isn’t.

Whitlam’s immediate action is a blueprint for Albanese, who is demonstrating the normal querulous behaviour expected of an Opposition Leader but without raising confidence that he has any policies behind the mask. He unfortunately has a high-pitched voice which quickly can become a whine. And he has seemingly started to adopt the “zinger” of his predecessor, with the same embarrassing timing.

Let us review his approach to the current pandemic which is influencing every segment of government.

He must have on his team somebody who is expert in assuring supply chains, and this includes vaccines, pathology agents, masks and manufacturing. Pharmaceutical manufacture is one area in which Australia is well-placed, with a strong research base coupled unhindered by any massive transport costs. However, there is always another agenda to complicate any decision in relation to manufactured goods. Globalisation is being swamped by the rise of nativist populist politics, with an irrational call back to a past that never existed.

The way Brian McNamee built CSL from being a basket case to its present behemoth status is one example, but then there has been the bionic ear and the respiratory devices for sleep apnoea, all with a strong success story for our applied science.

Essington Lewis

The role model for the person who spanned these disciplines and was so important for the Australian war effort under both Menzies and Curtin was Essington Lewis. He was very much the person who cut his experiential fangs on assuring a vast enterprise worked efficiently. As the Australian Dictionary of Biography summed up his legacy: By following this precept he had made B.H.P. one of the most efficient steel companies in the world, and his influence was felt in every industry and occupation. His work in munitions was a prerequisite for many of the complex manufacturing ventures developed in Australia in the 1940s and 1950s. There can be little doubt that but for his premonition of war in the 1930s and his rare talents and dedication as an organiser during the war, Australia would have played a lesser part in fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.

Essington Lewis had the confidence of his peers. As the Financial Review once confirmed the above accolade: There is only one BHP and only one Essington Lewis, mainly responsible for the greatest series of enterprises in Australia, and through them, the greatest single contributor to the defence of the Commonwealth”. 

On 25 March 2020 Morrison established the National COVID-19 Co-ordination Commission to oversee the national economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This Commission was responsible for advising the government on public-private partnerships and coordination to mitigate the social and economic impacts of the pandemic in Australia. It was later stripped of an executive authority to become as an advisory board. To head the Commission, Morrison appointed Nev Powers who, like Essington Lewis, had grown up in the earth of outback Australia, and with an engineering degree rose to the top in the mining and oil industries.

However, unlike Essington Lewis, his relationship with his business interests was never severed and the Government continued to generously subsidise his fossil fuel sector. That, coupled with Powers personally being caught out disregarding the quarantine provisions, just raised more questions about his role with the Commission (later advisory body). The clutch of mediocre bureaucrats that Morrison had assembled around him, meant that in that it did nothing of value. The two years since Powers’ appointment have been strewn with disastrous Government decision making in relation to supply chains.

Let’s face it, Albanese should have an easy ascension given how appalling has been the Morrison stewardship of the health sector. Unlike Whitlam, who had crafted a universal health scheme under the guidance of the able Bill Hayden, with the expertise of John Deeble and Dick Scotton. Albanese does not have an apparent expert team. The team behind Albanese gives little hope of anybody able to initiate action of comparable influence that Deeble and Scotton helped engineer in the 1970s and 1980s. The challenge of the pandemic has placed an unprecedented, immense stress on a system, not only in terms of the allocation of resources, but also the cost – both economic and human.

Therefore, if I were Albanese, I would make a prudent decision to have a blueprint to cope with this altered situation. Governments have been hesitant about custom-built quarantine facilities in each State in the Howard Springs mould.  A former senior bureaucrat’s immediate response was to back away from the expense of such facilities. Nevertheless, the nature of this time in the planet’s existence is clear: wave upon wave of viruses mutating just as we believe we have conquered this Chameleon Virus.

At the same time, it is appropriate for Albanese to assert that the Constitutional power on quarantine resides with the Commonwealth – and the Commonwealth alone. As such, the rules of border closures for quarantine purposes can be brought under Commonwealth control. Nevertheless, he should assure Western Australia that any changes will occur co-operatively, and at the same time absorb any lessons learnt by Western Australia’s period of exile (especially the discriminatory regulations in relation to the unvaccinated, which will increasingly be a “live” issue).

Once Albanese recognises that this virus is not short-term, and modifies the views promoted by Government – “rapid antigen tests will be available next month if ever” – “the mañana complex”) or (“we have just about reached the peak of the viral spread” – the Pollyanna complex) – and Albanese should publicly commit to the use of evidence, yet discard the mantra of “deferring to the experts”, when it is clear that this deference is little more than just shifting blame.

One last piece of advice – look at the past record of potential senior health executives. Look at what constituted a successful health executive in the past – Bernie Amos, William Refshauge, Bernie Mackay, Chris Brook. These are the role models that come to mind. However, beware of anybody who loves Albertan cookies – or the appointment of anybody else from overseas with such expertise.

Albored the Unready? Part 2 next week.

The story of Rochelle Walensky

Dr Rochelle Walensky

Dr Rochelle Walensky was President Biden’s pick to take over the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta after it was almost destroyed by Trump under the hapless Robert Redfield. To get a flavour from Vogue of those times “Health memos from the CDC were being edited by the likes of Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump. Lifesaving practical advice was simply ignored—when the agency sought to issue a nationwide requirement that masks be worn on all public transportation last September, the White House blocked it without discussion.”

There was thus a hidden burden with which Walensky was faced – a disaffected workforce which had suffered the craziness for most of the past four years

Added to this was the face of embattled public health during the Trump years, Dr Anthony Fauci, who had grown old in the public health system, a man of resilience and not inconsiderable ego. Having himself as the public presence of the anti-Trump health forces, he showed remarkable powers of survival.

By comparison, Dr Walensky is an unknown outside health and medical circles. Yet there is still Fauci, who could have reasonably taken a lesser role once Trump was gone and has now been goaded into a sideshow, with a number of Republican senators. Nobody needs that, no matter how Fauci finds it offensive or is in the right. The last person the United States needs now is an ageing controversial figure who is not only polarising the public health debate but is a touchstone for Republican fund raising.

Hence Walensky had been chosen by President Biden to take over the CDC with promises to restore its credibility. With an ever-evolving virus still raging, and the country still deeply divided over the best tools for fighting it, it would not be an easy tenure.

Born in 1969, Walensky grew up in Maryland and after obtaining a BA in molecular biology at the Washington University in St Louis, graduated MD at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and MPH from Harvard. As an HIV researcher, her study of clinical effectiveness won her wide praise.

Over 20 years her effect on the formulating and implementation of national HIV guidelines in the United States had contributed to the improved care , testing and outcomes of that disease.

She became chief of the infectious diseases division in 2017 at Massachusetts General Hospital, which put her at the centre of the hospital’s response to the pandemic.

We’re in an unprecedented time with the speed of Omicron cases rising, and we are working really hard to get information to the American public,” Walensky said recently at that briefing on Jan. 7, describing health care staffing shortages as a harbinger of things to come. “I am committed to continue to improve as we learn more about the science and to communication.”

She has unfortunately been seen as not providing that firm, unequivocal leadership. Her missteps recently have been catalogued by the Boston Globe.

In February 2020, Walensky said vaccines for teachers weren’t a prerequisite for safely reopening schools — a statement the White House quickly downplayed.

In March, she suggested vaccinated people do not carry the virus, something that turned out not to be true and was subsequently walked back by agency staff (inaccurate headlines) generated by her comments, however, are still on the Internet).

In May, as virus cases waned, Walensky told a Senate panel that masks were still key to curbing the spread; then, just days later, she said fully vaccinated Americans could stop wearing them.

In early Autumn, disagreement among the White House, the CDC, and the Food and Drug Administration over who should get booster shots slowed their rollout with Omicron just around the corner. And just after Christmas, the CDC released its shortened isolation recommendations without requiring testing — and without laying out clear enough scientific justification. There was no initial explanation of the science behind the move, leaving experts and the public alike to wonder about its basis.

“In my view, they’re sensible guidelines in a very difficult situation, but they weren’t presented that way,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, a former CDC director in the Obama administration. “I felt like CDC kind of snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”

On Jan. 4 this year, the CDC updated the guidance to include more information about testing, and then on Friday, also updated its guidance on which masks best protect against COVID, something many experts said was long overdue.

Some of Walensky’s allies point out that the CDC is frequently scapegoated for larger problems with the government’s approach to public health; the booster issue, for example, involved multiple agencies. One of her supporters said “Many decisions are being made by White House officials, who ‘lurch’ from one haphazard decision to another in the absence of a policy framework.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has been conspicuously absent from the government’s public-facing COVID response and largely escaped media scrutiny; Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser who is often quick to step into the spotlight, has at times publicly contradicted Walensky.

Her task is thus not easy. The ability of political, content-free advisers who have emerged from the caves of public relations are the pestilence in destroying evidence-based advice.  Take Kerry Chant, the NSW Chief Health Officer, and having been a critic of her early missteps, I must admire her willingness to plant sensible suggestions with the community in the face of the Premier’s hare-brained approach.

The Undefinable Quality of Pat Cummins

Pat Cummins

Pat Cummins has that undefinable quality of leadership. Leadership demands authenticity and consistency in decision making. Cummins has inspired a group known for insensitive arrogant larrikinism to realise that this is not a productive role in a world convulsed with the Virus. It is the time for the hero; not the anti-hero.

There is always a concern that the qualities that make an exceptional cricketer do not translate into a sensitive leader as Cummins is showing. The fact that he is regarded as the best fast bowler in the world is the product of early success at Test level and then years of battling injuries caused by the stresses of bowling at the highest level. Natural talent fortunately conquered disability, but the demands on the body remain, especially as with age the joints are the first to feel the pressure.

Yet at the end of an over he has just bowled, Cummins does not just wander back to the boundary to recuperate. As captain he cannot rest, he must remain concentrated on the state of play; one testimony to Cummins’ judgement has been the number of successful reviews of umpire’s decisions during the recent series.

Then at the conclusion of the last Test, there was the “Khawaja incident” – Cummins’ immediate response snuffed out any potential controversy or calls of racism. More than anything, this incident highlighted the generosity of spirit that he possesses. This quality of leadership has brought into relief the limitations in Justin Langer’s ability to coach.

Langer may have been a very good opening batsman, but the qualities that made him that were not endearing to the community at large where he was treated with dislike. He has never demonstrated the same generosity of spirit. He was once called a “brown-nosed gnome” by a Wisden employee. Despite the furious reaction at the time by Cricket WA and Wisden’s apology, Langer had never achieved the trusted status of Cummins.

Cummins’ gesture towards Khawaja reminded me of the time not so long ago when I was director of clinical training in a number of health services in the North-eastern part of Victoria. There were several Muslim doctors from various countries, but also in a certain town there was a community of Marsh Arabs, Shiite refugees from Southern Iraq. Nevertheless, they were not the only Muslims.  Decades ago the Goulburn Valley had settled Muslim Albanians who now owned some of the orchards. They are mostly Sunni.  There were both Sunni and Shiite doctors in the community.

Apart from dealing with clashes in regard to treatment of women and ensuring prayer facilities were available for the devout, who pray five times a day, two other challenges emerged.

The first was circumcision. As a result of some zealous lobbying by paediatric professionals, the Victorian government had banned male circumcision in its public hospitals, except for three medical conditions. A more measured view has been provided elsewhere. It may be that the best interests of a child in relation to circumcision are different for a Jewish or Muslim boy than a child receiving a non-religious circumcision … ritual male circumcision is of special importance in Judaism and Islam. A child who is not circumcised may feel psychologically and spiritually cut off from his religion and culture.

Faced with the lack of information and a hostility to the procedure, one case reported to me was of a Muslim having difficulty in arranging for the children in the community to be circumcised.  One male child had even been taken back to Iraq for circumcision. One of the Muslim doctors, a woman with Syrian post-graduate qualifications in paediatrics, raised this question with me and as a result a seminar was convened of a cross-section of health professionals to discuss the matter.

The meeting included a number of influential doctors, who had supported the ban. It was clear that the plight of the Muslim population had not been considered. The meeting highlighted this deficiency in cultural consideration. One of the local doctors, who did not have any of the paediatric zealotry, agreed to it being known that he would be willing to circumcise Muslim children. After all, it had not been that many years since the majority of the male population was routinely circumcised.

This solved an immediate cultural problem there and subsequently circumcision clinics with ritual circumcisers have sprung up in Victoria, as has been the case in the Jewish community for years.

The second was lack of appreciation of Ramadan. One of the young female interns provided a seminar on the subject, after a worried senior doctor noted one of the younger doctors neither drinking nor eating during the day and asked what was wrong.

So, this and her subsequent seminars raised awareness of Ramadan, and that the time of Ramadan shifts from year. Over the years when she was in the North-East she would give a presentation before Ramadan was due to begin. These presentations were well received. I helped facilitate her setting up the first seminar, but that was years ago – and how permanent are such initiatives?

A celebration of Eid at-Fitr

My thesis is that every scrap of positivity counts in translating awareness into understanding to a shift in attitudes and ultimately behaviour to a more tolerant Australia.

Cummins could become a very influential figure in the absorption of Muslim culture into mainstream Australia. I am old enough to remember when Jews were considered to be a separate cultural strand, counterpointed by the number of prominent apostates adopting Christianity and thus bowing to a social norm prompting a change in belief. Just stand back in Melbourne, my hometown, and recognise by and large how times have changed with pride in our Jewish diaspora. No reason this should not occur with our growing Muslim community.

Anti-semitism, whether against Jew or Muslim, still is an undercurrent in our community.

That interaction – that gesture – between Cummins and Khawaja however small in the order of things, may it extend to become the normal societal and cultural expectation within the Australian community.

Mouse Whisper

This comment, from a Professor of Palaeobiology, Jan Zalasiewicz, who was part of the Anthropocene Study Group, writ large in the New Scientist nearly 25 years ago resonated with yon mouse:

“The signature we have left in sediments extends across large parts of the world, and is being carried into deeper seas.

So, with a favourable concatenation of tectonics and sea level, our species could leave behind in a geological instant a much more striking record than the dinosaurs left in a hundred million years. It is a prospect that speaks volumes about the way we have engineered the face of the planet over a few short centuries. The super intelligent, geologically aware rodents of the future, stumbling upon the newly uplifted substructure of, say, New Orleans or Delhi, would see evidence of aggressive colonisation unmatched anywhere in the geological record.”

Rodents of the future? And geologically aware? And intelligent? To what can we look forward?

One super intelligent mouse