Modest Expectations – A Failed Jackscrew

Sunday was St Patrick’s Day. I could not resist reprinting the diagram from the Economic & Statistics Administration of the US Department of Commerce of the concentration of people of Irish heritage in the USA. There are emerald-green pockets everywhere. The emerald-green colour is unsurprisingly concentrated in New England, and eastern seaboard states, particularly New Jersey and New York, although seemingly less so.

We dined on Irish sausages, boxty and colcannon, washed down by Black Label Jamesons. Sorry, I don’t like Guinness, too much like stout. Old man’s drink. Pardon me did I hear right, you seanfhear of Clare.

Bend Hur to Political Bias

Over more than four hours, Hur repeatedly tried to steer the questions back to the facts he uncovered and his legal reasoning for not seeking charges. The politicians weren’t having it. Hur repeatedly tried to steer the questions back to the facts he uncovered and his legal reasoning for not seeking charges. The politicians weren’t having it.

Robert Hur

Robert Hur in a 345-page report commissioned as Special Counsel by Merrick Garland, the US Attorney-General concerning retention of classified documents by Biden after he had left his Vice-Presidential post in 2017 had concluded that Biden should not be prosecuted, but he listed as part of his reasoning that Biden was an elderly man on the verge of dementia. Not that explicit, but sufficient to light a fire in the form of a partisan Congressional committee hearing.  Robert Hur, as reported above, tried to impart objectivity, but he shows a basic misunderstanding of how the political process is aflame in the lead up the Presidential election later this year.

Eric Swalwell, a Democratic Congressman from California took the opportunity to screen a video of Trump obviously showing severe signs of cognitive deficiency – a concentrate of Trump’s failings which Fox was compelled to show because it was part of the Congressional hearing.

What is so crazy about this concentration on these two old men’s mental states is the apparent refusal of the two to submit themselves to independent cognitive testing. Here the world is on the brink of a catastrophic change in climate, where political gangsters in the name of patriotism are indulging in genocidal inhumanity, and we have the prospect in the near future of the most powerful leader in the Western World being reduced to a dribbling lump of suet, as was Pope John II, once one of World leaders.

In a beautiful example of a prequel to the current situation is the Wikipedia, the following (sic): In 2001 Pope John Paul II was diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. International observers had suspected this for some time, but it was only publicly acknowledged by the Vatican in 2003. Despite difficulty speaking more than a few sentences at a time, trouble hearing, and with severe osteoarthrosis, he continued to tour the world, although rarely walking in public.

In temporal terms, 81 when diagnosed, 83 when disclosed, 85 when died.

Take note, America, of your Presidential aspirants. But of course, from those sycophantic scheming advisers surrounding each of them, you won’t hear any disclosures. You’ll keep the fiction of these guys being totally compos mentis. Each party, now with access to artificial intelligence, presages a “pile-on” by each party. Objectivity will be lost. The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) takes fifteen minutes. It should be administered as the first question in the first Presidential debate.

Alfred Deakin

I have just finished reading Walter Murdoch’s biography about Alfred Deakin, Australia’s second Prime Minister. Described as a Sketch, Murdoch had extensive access to Deakin’s diaries, courtesy of his wife. The biography was published just four years after Deakin’s death. Murdoch was founding Professor of English at the University of Western Australia, and even though he was passed over for the Chair in Melbourne, he never lost his love for Melbourne where he gone to school and university.

Alfred Deakin

He wrote this book about Deakin while back in Melbourne in the early 1920’s. Given the source of the material, Murdoch was circumspect, tending to skate over Deakin’s failures and praise his successes of nevertheless a very productive life.

In this context, there is a poignancy of a man who wrote of his cognitive decline. Deakin realised that he was not up to public life as early as 1912, when he lost leadership of his party. By 1914 when Joseph Cook, the Prime Minister at the outbreak of WWI, appointed him to chair a Royal Commission on Food Supplies and on Trade and Industry during the War, he recognised his deterioration. By November he had gone from the Chairmanship. At the same time, as recounted by Murdoch, Deakin wrote in his diary the following, presaging his mental decline.

Sometimes with a fairly working memory I can temporarily disguise my plight. But these flashes of restoration are neither frequent nor durable. Knowledge comes and goes; after I have seen the natural development of an argument or a situation perfectly clear before me, most and sometimes all of it vanishes so quickly and so absolutely that I cannot retain or describe a single feature of all that was obvious and lucid a second before. I am without command of memory and almost without understanding.

By 1915, Murdoch writes that Deakin’s diary was increasingly incoherent until his last entry, which retained some insight, was written in 1917. This transcribed entry was written in 1916.

“Not only has my memory foundered as a whole, but I have now become a mere juggler with myself – misleading and misconstruing myself. My helpless attempts to read the riddle of my mind and thought must be abandoned. So far I can claim nothing; next to nothing remains with me. My life as a politician has died out so absolutely that I really remember nothing of it possessing any practical value. I have no real past to which I can turn for help or means of escape. I gain nothing by repetition. I learn nothing new that exists for me more than a few days.

What I think I have learned soon dies away into a mere tag and tangle of words, words, words. Why babble more? Since 1912, I have lost grip of everything actual, practical or purposeful … All is loss, diminished outlooks, insoluble problems, endless forgetfulness, oversights, and misapprehensions. I cannot even write English simply or plainly. I have shed, once and for all, my past as a whole – my present fruitless – my future a hapless mass of wreckage and of misunderstanding.”

A tragic account by a great Australian, who is chronicling his mental decline. He died in 1919 at the age of 63. Alfred Deakin was excruciatingly honest, more than you can say of both Biden and Trump. Deakin had been in public life since he was 22 years of age.

Where the Dutch Alps are…

When I read about the Art Fair in Maastricht, it brought home to me how many places with which I’ve had an association. In 1993, I opened an international society’s annual conference there. It was a time when I was its President, and the previous year, I had opened the conference in Mexico City speaking Spanish. I was quickly dissuaded from repeating the feat in attempting my opening address this particular year in Dutch.  I was prepared to give it a go. Inter alia I had practised giechelende jongleur (giggling juggler) and n scheve schaats (a crooked skate.)  


In particular I also practised saying the Dutch resort name Scheveningen (a word the Dutch used during the War to detect Germans, who pronounce it sufficiently differently).

Meteorologisch is alleged to be the hardest word to pronounce in Dutch. I do not believe I would have needed to use the word in my speech, but in my Mexico address I did successfully negotiate  the pronunciation of the two volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl.

Maastricht is the capital of the Limburg province. It is best known as the birthplace of the European Union (the treaty that created it was signed here in 1992) and where the common currency, the euro was flagged as well.

As a result, the conference centre had been nearly newly-minted when my conference came around in the same location, a light airy experience in this small city surrounded by what was whimsically called the Dutch Alps (Cauberg is the highest dwarf mountain at 134 metres). Maastricht, unlike most of the Netherlands, is built on rock foundations, not on the sandy knolls of the Rhine delta. It was said that Napoleon had carved his name in one of the caves, but I had not the time to see if that was true.

I have some memories of a conference, when so many of the participants were young and enthusiastic. I remember sitting at the other end of the long table and noticing the young Russian, bearded and gaunt, a silvery image who well fitted the image of the young intellectual. I don’t remember his name, although he was supposed to be part of the Brezhnev office. How far we have travelled with our aspirations – not!

But Maastricht has prospered in the intervening 30 years.

I was attracted to the following item about Maastricht, now one of the major trading sites for upmarket art. As with everything Dutch, they are very thorough in anything they do, as witness the way this fair is conducted.

European Fine Art Fair Maastricht

Every March since 1988 the European Fine Art Foundation has put on a fair in this Dutch city. It’s where museums and art aficionados come to shop and buy. “Maastricht”, as art-world insiders call it, is “the most important fair by a mile for classical paintings and works of art,” The eight-day fair opened this year on March 7th.

Maastricht is not the only fair where expensive art is sold, but it probably boasts the largest concentration of museum curators on the hunt for their next acquisition. Among this year’s 50,000 visitors are some 300 museum directors—including Laurence des Cars, who runs the Louvre in Paris—and 650 curators. It is the premier destination for old art, as opposed to the contemporary paintings that fairs like Art Basel in Switzerland and Miami favour.

What happens before the fair begins is also unusual. For a day and a half 230 specialists come in to vet works’ authenticity, as well as their descriptions and stated provenance, bringing x-rays and other technical machines with them.

The specialists have the right to ask for descriptions to be changed. Objects can be removed if the experts believe they are inauthentic; they are locked in a cupboard until after the fair. “You come back in and hope to God that nothing has been thrown out,” says one dealer, who calls Maastricht “the best-vetted fair in the world”.

Maastricht offers a window on the art world and current collecting trends. The fair is best known for Old Master paintings, but the number of contemporary dealers in attendance has been growing—because that is where most of the activity in the art market is. Last year European Old Masters (defined as work produced by artists born between 1250 and 1820) accounted for less than 4% of the value of sales at auction globally, according to a new report by Arts Economics, a research firm. In 2003 it was 16%.

The World of Illusion

The article below is a very good example of the rise of remedies of dubious nature to improve cognitive abilities.  I have lightly edited the article. Note the role of the celebrity mountebanks, the risible influencers in modern parlance.

I find the quest for a mental elixir as understandable not the least of which is the riches a drug, if proved successful, would attract. I am somewhat of the belief that the search for the anti-ageing potion in direct competition with Nature’s demand for renewal will be difficult. A miracle drug would change society. In my lifetime the discovery of antibiotics and improvement in both number and level of cover of vaccines are prime examples of miracle medicines. Infection disease hospitals were closed – prematurely as the HIV/Aids epidemic showed.

Reference is made to the 2011 film “Limitless”, which describes the effect of taking such an anti-ageing drug. The main character, played by Bradley Cooper, pursues a dark course in what is described as a thriller. Given it is also depicted as science fiction it seems to move from one aspect of the dilemma with the requisite violence to maintain the audience’s attention at the same time as the dilemma of interfering with natural order is magnified. Has the Bradley Cooper character weaned himself off the drug while retaining the mental prowess, thus in effect conquering Nature?

“Limitless” is often credited with driving an uptick in interest in products that improve focus or enhance memory. It depicts a struggling writer whose life is transformed by a smart pill. More recently the real-life version of nootropic supplements, as such boosters are called, have received celebrity endorsements.

Bella Hadid, a supermodel, is behind Kin Euphorics, a brand which offers consumers the chance to “achieve an elevated state of health, mood or well-being”. Joe Rogan, the alpha-male host of the world’s most popular podcast, endorses “Alpha Brain”, which, he says, “seems to fire up” that organ.

Alpha Brain is made by Onnit, a supplements firm co-founded by Mr Rogan in 2010 to “inspire a journey towards total human optimisation”. The brand caught the eye of Unilever, a soup-to-soap conglomerate, which bought it for an undisclosed sum in 2021. Its consumer-goods rivals have piled in. Reckitt Benckiser, the parent company of brands such as Durex and Strepsils, sells Neuriva. They are competing with—and eyeing up—a slew of supplements startups. Polaris, a research firm, reckons global sales of nootropics, which hit $11bn in 2021, will grow at an average annual rate of almost 15% until 2030.

Nootropics are usually an alphabet soup of ingredients: amino acids such as L-theanine, herbal extracts such as ashwagandha, probiotics, vitamins and a bewildering variety of mushrooms. Neuriva contains branded forms of coffee-fruit extract and phosphatidylserine, a type of fat. The ingredients are being combined to form novel products that claim to offer various brain-stimulating benefits. Their emergence has coincided with a post-pandemic interest in wellness. They appeal both to older consumers concerned about cognitive decline, and to younger ones keen to excel in the face of millennial angst.

To manufacturers, their appeal lies both in growing demand and in the ease with which supplements can be put on the market. Many countries regulate the health claims that can be made for products but also leave their producers plenty of wiggle room.

It helps that it is hard to say whether nootropics actually work. There is some evidence that they might. Andrea Utley, an expert in motor control and development at the University of Leeds and a self-professed nootropics sceptic, tested one supplement. Her randomised study found that it speeded up decision-making and improved memory.

How much lion’s mane is too much?

But few such studies have been conducted. Richard Isaacson, of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Florida, recalls a patient whose liver function was so “all over the place” that it pointed to too much boozing. It turned out it was in fact too much Lion’s mane, a mushroom with supposed nootropic benefits. Trying to arrest cognitive decline with lab-tested supplements tailored to an individual patient’s needs is one thing, Dr Isaacson says. Stimulating an unimpaired brain without knowing what risks lie down the road is another.

As I reflect on the above, I believe genetic influences are paramount in the retention of one’s mental prowess as we age. What does my heredity tell me before I indulge on what in the end constitutes a form of mind alteration – or cosmetic!

An Anecdote among the Washington Post Recipes

I tried to think whether I could rival this anecdote. No wonder, I’ve always had too much of a sweet tooth.

I grew up in a soup-loving family. One of my dad’s favourite stories to tell is that once when he was a kid, his family went to a restaurant famous for its split pea soup. When the server came around to ask if anyone wanted dessert, my dad ordered another bowl of split pea soup. 

Not funny, but what kids do – unashamedly without regard for convention.

The Disgust or Paradise Soiled

The following is typical of what passes as public policy. Mr Burgess stands up to the mike and makes serious allegations. The matter remains both unsubstantiated and unresolved. The news cycle moves on, and this week it is TikTok, but the Chinese have conveniently removed the tariff on wine, so the Prime Minister, as he does under stress, nervously flicks his tongue when speaking about any issue where he unsure.

The media have established that Burgess meant China, (no speculation on CIA or Mossad or Russian SVR) before its caravan moves on in a cloud of invective – but please not too much; remember the lucrative Beijing wine trail. But then Australia has never abandoned the White Australia policy – so it is convenient to concentrate the xenophobia on those released 149 boat people that are accused of terrorising the streets, raping our blanched citizens and warping our culture of 26 million people. No evidence of such, except being wrongly arrested.

Please do not mention the actual criminals, many of whom were socialised in war torn Beirut, but they are excused. They came by plane bringing their shooting gallery and drug trade with them (and their motor bikes).

The difference is that these wretched boat people have not the money to bribe. That is the real challenge, you bunch of Captain Clubbers, who of course are above bribery.

Mouse Whisper

Over 9,000 women have been killed since the invasion of Gaza. An unknown number of these women were pregnant.

Two Israeli Soldiers were sitting in the rubble of Northern Gaza.

They were comparing the number of innocent women they had killed.

As one said: “I kill pregnant women.”

“Why?” asked the other.

“They are hiding terrorists.” explained the other.

Apocryphal? Maybe. However, read the Israeli apologias for murdering over 30,000 Gazan citizens as if they were all Hamas. Then it is not so apocryphal.

Israel has previously said it has killed about 9,000 Hamas militants, though it has not provided evidence to back up the claim.  (ABC report)

Modest Expectations – Padraig Harrington

Memo to President Biden: One way to facilitate the end of the current Gaza Massacre is to sanction Netanyahu and his cronies while disrupting his Shekels to Switzerland mule train. In the same way the USA has sanctioned the Russian Oligarchs. Get him to prove you wrong, Mr President; meanwhile just pick his cronies off one by one – and see who screams. Then sanction them.

One of the many direct daily flights between the Channel Islands and Switzerland

The European Union is obviously getting sick and tired of Netanyahu’s posturing. The European Union has indicated it will release 50 million euros (USD54 million) to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees next week, after the United States and other countries paused their funding due to Israel’s allegations that a number of its staff were involved in the October 7 attacks. Yes, Senator Wong you can stop shielding your eyes from the Gaza famine, come out of your pose of timid pomposity and follow the humane lead of these other countries.

The long drawn out trial of Netanyahu has revealed a man who has walked for many years on the dark side of humanity – a man accused of secret accounts, accepting bribes, a propensity for pink champagne and cigars as he plans the importance of this trade in Palestinian lives for his freedom from conviction and custodial sentence.

Ask Arnan Michan, the Hollywood film producer, for starters without forgetting James Packer’s loveable contributions. Once reported in the AFR “… as a recent Israeli citizen (who) happens to live next door to Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. James, you are now the first non-Jewish Zionist in history.” This media statement was subsequently denied, but what does it matter in this world of misinformation of which this cute Bibi is a past master.

I was also drawn to this report from the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation a decade ago, during a time when the world was not completely aflame with misinformation and the cynical destruction of human life to preserve the Bibi skin. In part, the Report read:

About one-fifth of the Israeli economy, or 200 billion shekels ($53 billion), is estimated to go unreported, more than twice the U.S. rate, according to a World Bank study. Israeli tax authorities say some of the unreported income is in accounts Israelis maintain abroad.

“There are media reports about ongoing tax investigations of Israeli citizens by the Israeli Tax Authorities,” UBS said in an e-mailed statement. “UBS is not subject to these investigations. We have no further comment on this.”

The UBS adviser was responsible for managing Israeli accounts. He was arrested in Tel Aviv in June and is suspected of intentionally helping clients evade taxes, the Tax Authority said.

According to investigators, the adviser would come to Israel to meet clients because they didn’t use telephones, e- mail, or faxes to communicate with the bank to avoid detection. He was arrested with a client after they met at a Tel Aviv hotel. His hotel room and UBS offices in Israel were searched, and a list of hundreds of Israelis with unreported accounts in Switzerland was found in his possession, according to the Tax Authority.

I doubt if anything has changed.

Further, there is a large cohort of rabbinical thought from the ultra-orthodox about the justification for not undertaking national service – another initiative by Netanyahu for humanity – his own. And I forgot. Arab Israelis are exempt from service as well. You see, well balanced, although there is some suggestion that the Netanyahu support from this ultra-orthodox exemption depends on him getting the requisite support in the Knesset to stay in power. Hey, Bibi, I’ve got an idea – exempt everybody from National Service – and then you should get everybody voting for you, using your impeccable logic. As someone opined recently, war has never solved anything in the Middle East.

In the meantime, now that the Israelis are gunning down the famished Palestinians by the lorry load, and Hamas has revealed that Israeli “friendly fire” has allegedly killed eight more hostages, the Israeli apologists too are being wedged into a space say, the size of Rafah, where over a million Palestinians have been herded. Well, metaphorically, at least. All in the end for the defence of Netanyahu.  Feeling comfortable, are we?

Hans Christian Burgess

There he was, on the stage, regaling us his updated version of the Ugly Duckling.

Right now, there is a particular team in a particular foreign intelligence service with a particular focus on Australia – we are its priority target. Many of the people here tonight are almost certainly high value targets. The team is aggressive and experienced; its tradecraft is good – but not good enough. ASIO and our partners have been able to map out its activities and identify its members.

The A Team

We call them ‘the A-team’ – the Australia team.

Several years ago, the A-team successfully cultivated and recruited a former Australian politician. This politician sold out their country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests of the foreign regime. At one point, the former politician even proposed bringing a Prime Minister’s family member into the spies’ orbit. Fortunately that plot did not go ahead but other schemes did.

One year ago, Mr Burgess was reported (sic):

On February 21(2023), Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Director-General Mike Burgess delivered his annual threat assessment, stating that ‘more Australians are being targeted for espionage and foreign interference than at any time in Australia’s history’. He referred to a recent removal of a ‘hive of spies’ in Australia by ASIO and described efforts to battle foreign interference as presently feeling like ‘hand-to-hand combat’.

The Director-General also made particular mention of ‘senior people in this country who appear to believe that espionage and foreign interference is no big deal; it’s something that can be tolerated or ignored or somehow safely managed.’ He said: Individuals in business, academia and the bureaucracy have told me ASIO should ease up its operational responses to avoid upsetting foreign regimes…in my opinion anyone saying these things should reflect on their commitment to Australian democracy, sovereignty and values.

Director-General Burgess

Now just who is this head spook, who seems to emerge as the budgetary processes are in full swing. Presumably these February utterances are designed to ensure he gets a bigger slice of the budgetary pavlova. At the same time, he sows uncertainty in the community, and about de facto traitorous activity and nobody seems to have done anything about it.

Who is the ludicrously described A-team. Who plays Mr T.?

The problem with spooks is that they have a tendency to fantasise, and while not accusing Burgess of being one such, it is important that the facts of the matter with names attached are disclosed. It is intolerable that the Government has been so seemingly inert in the face of treason.

One man, an English expatriate stands up and besmirches Australia without Prime Ministerial rebuke. Instead, the Government Ministers seem to condone this behaviour. Here is a man who in his speech characterises Brigadier Spry’s embarrassment, the then Head of ASIO, because some old codger, a relative of one of the ASIO men refused him entry to some function because he didn’t have his identity card. Really, is that worth reporting except to illustrate the ludicrous piddling nature of ASIO?

Well, what do I know? Not much since ASIO tried to actively recruit me in 1960 I can only hypothesise. The leopard has the same spots despite there being six inquiries in the security services since that time. The ASIO operatives in my day were fanatically anti-communist, and I suspect the dial has not shifted that much – if at all.

Whitlam was the only Australian Prime Minister who has called out ASIO. The tension between Whitlam and his then ASIO Chief, Peter Barbour, was demonstrated when Whitlam banned all contact with the CIA. Barbour conveniently ignored the directive and went underground. At least Whitlam tried to control his phantasm of spooks with a modicum of success followed by a bucket of failure. He was never able shake to off the CIA interference.

Now Barbour was a product of Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, known then for recruiting College members to be operatives. Attempts were made to recruit me when it was suggested that I file a report about visiting Russian students. I was not sure why I was approached, apart from being a Trinity College student, the then  President of the Student Representative Council and having shared a study with Sam Spry, aka Ian Charles Folkes Spry, Brigadier Spry’s son, the previous year.

I was flattered given that the approach was initiated by Michael Thwaites, then Spry’s deputy, through his son Peter Thwaites. Michael Thwaites was also a highly regarded poet. Both father and eldest son were linked closely with Moral Rearmament, an anti-communist organisation headed by Frank Buchman who had, in an unguarded moment, once expressed admiration for Hitler before War II.

I met with ASIO operatives in the old Theosophy building in Collins Street, was shown a few news clips and other miscellany, and then went back to College. I did not accept the offer, if there was an offer – and as far as I was concerned, that was that. I was never aware that I was proscribed after that. Anyway, I’m not concerned at being frank, naming names and disclosing the facts as I experienced them.

Thus, I have some insight into the world of spooks and gabardine overcoats, albeit long ago. However, I would suggest a relevant observation, Mr Burgess, given your tale does not suggest you are talking about a cybersecurity breach, but one of interpersonal treasonous behaviour by not one person but an undisclosed number. Australians have a right to know why you have not seen fit to disclose such information. Your reasons may satisfy a pliant Minister, but not the Australian community.

Incidentally, I find objectionable the gratuitous comment by the smug Senator Paterson who says he has a good idea who the traitor is. Mate, this is treason. Everybody must stop being coy.

Now, Master Burgess, oh you spinner of tales, we know that you are not referring to yourself. You said the unnamed man was a former politician. 

Odysseus, the great spinner of tales

Here we go Again!

When I was undertaking the Rural Stocktake for the Department of Health in 1999, I wrote the following of what a successful Aboriginal health program had achieved. My reference to the Kempsey-based Aboriginal Health Service is mentioned together with the then Marlba Environmental Health Unit based at Port Hedland. At that time, the Aboriginal leadership in these two programs was strong and hands-on. One of the problems with most Aboriginal Health programs is the lack of tangible ongoing results. Succession planning in terms of Aboriginal workforce management adopted from us whitefellas as distinct from the whole business of culture preservation has been a difficult concept to perpetuate in rural and particularly remote Aboriginal Australia.

At the time I wrote:

A model of a good Aboriginal environmental health worker program is that at Marlba Environmental Health Unit at Port Hedland. Marlba provides a visiting service to each community three monthly for a one-week stay. The services provided are solid waste and land management, water and sewage management, managing the dog program, zoonotic disease control, and helping people with housing advice. Homeswest starter kits are provided for new home occupants, and Marlba encourages stores to stock the products. A nursery is being established for the land management program, using both exotic and native plants. 

Dog programs always needed

The training of Aboriginal environmental health workers is undertaken locally through the Pundulmurra College. While a certificate course is available at Pundulmurra and locally in the Kimberley and the Midwest/Gascoyne, other courses are provided elsewhere in Australia – at diploma level (Batchelor College in the Northern Territory), and at degree level (Cairns TAFE). On a budget of $363,0000, eight are employed in Port Hedland, (three being funded under CDEP). There are three field support officers – two in Marble Bar and one in Roebourne. All the current officers are Pundulmurra trained. While there are no entry educational standards, literacy and numeracy are highly desirable, although there are a number of surrogate measures. There was a meeting convened in Port Hedland proposed to investigate national standardisation of the environmental health worker courses.

The morale is high and there is evident pride in the Marlba Environmental Health Unit uniform. A display of the activity was prepared to show me the variety of skills. There is an emphasis on generalist skills. The equipment is appropriate – they have a Bobcat, a truck, and dog cage. They have embraced the appropriate technology – such as the insertion of microchips into dogs to monitor coverage.

Much of the success of the program can be ascribed to the leadership of the Senior Environmental Health Worker, and as with the example of the Durri Health Service, the common thread is leadership – an ability to garner respect from both the indigenous and non-indigenous communities.

I have searched around for some meaning of Marlba, and I’ve only found one reference in that country stretching between Kalgoorlie and the Kimberley including the Gascoyne Region and the Western Desert. The Kalaku location is described as (sic): Grass Patch to north of Widgemooltha; east to the red ochre deposit west of Fraser Range; west to Bremer Range; north of Norseman towards Cooigardie Both ‘Marlba’ and ‘Kallaargu’ are described as separate dialects of one language, Ngatjunrna. Morphy includes Ngatjunma as part of Karlaku.

This week, I could not find any reference to the Marlba environmental health unit (a Marlu Environmental unit is mentioned with scant details and seems to be headquartered in Perth with no mention of what it does). The Pundulmurra College TAFE still exists and offers some trade courses such as carpentry, but it is hard to judge the actual effectiveness of this TAFE apart from its obvious advocacy role.

I raise this because of the Federal government wanting to replace “sit down money” aka the Community Development Program (CDP) (a work-for-the-dole scheme, requiring unemployed people to work five hours a day, five days a week in supervised work or training).  A failure, an expensive failure.

Nevertheless, here we go again.

The Albanese Government has announced a new Remote Jobs and Economic Development Program (RJED) that will help close the gap in employment outcomes by creating 3,000 jobs in remote Australia. This $707 million investment is the first step in delivering on our commitment to replace the failed Community Development Program (CDP) with real jobs, proper wages, and decent conditions.

As usual, preparatory for this funding, there was a round table discussion with the usual wish list. No methodology, just handing out the money cloaked with a new acronym, but basically the same handout. The problem I have found with Canberra bureaucrats is that they want to shovel the money out as quickly as possible irrespective of its management and realistic outcome. Then the Audit Office tumbril rolls in a few years later and slammed the administration and the project waste. Then there is always fraud uncovered.

Geoff Clark

Geoff Clark, chair of ATSIC until it was disbanded in 2004, together with members of his family, had been set down for trial in the County Court last year on 476 fraud charges but the charge seems to have vanished from that Court’s schedule. Suppressed for some reason? Why? One can only speculate. Nevertheless, Aboriginal funding has not been a happy place.

It is one thing to have great ideas, and have a generous allocation of money, but it is another for Aboriginals to accept the rules of good management and not fritter the money away as one family’s income until that family is kicked out and another family takes over the money pot.

That was why I highlighted in a little detail that project while briefly mentioning the other in my Stocktake. Each project was run objectively without any evidence of malfeasance by an Aboriginal person. I saw the West Australian program on several occasions and travelled with the Director as far as Jigalong in the Western Desert.

In the Durri program, the manager had been able to ride the family disputes over ownership and hence retain control of the funding.

The problem with so many of the programs is that management is given over to whitefellas, who run the program without any idea of meaningful delegation, let alone succession planning so they can plan their own redundancy. Since some of these whitefellas are themselves marginal in the conventional workforce, retention of a person with appropriate skills in any remote Aboriginal community is essential for successful outcomes.

I don’t underestimate the difficulty. I can only reflect upon my long association, but I have not covered every community in Australia. The term “First Nation” is in many ways a misnomer, because there is a wide diversity in the Aboriginal population despite its modest size. I have never been to the Tiwi for instance (that was an oversight I regret); and from a distance the Tiwi seem to be well organised. But this is the problem with being a whitefella, one often only seen from afar – participating in Canberra round tables in an air-conditioned environment.

What does Australia Share with Monserrat?

A question was asked in the regular set of impossible questions in The Guardian Weekly. What do Australia, Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand and Tuvalu have in common? The answer is each retains the Union Jack in their flag. Here we have Australia and the New Zealand in amongst the tax haven minnows of the increasingly threadbare British Commonwealth.

Hawaiian flag

Apart from Hawaii that is. In 1816, King Kamehameha commissioned the Hawaiian flag, Though Hawaii’s independence was briefly challenged, Great Britain sent Admiral Thomas to officially restore and recognise Hawaii’s sovereignty and the official flag was instituted in 1843.

The British never colonised Hawaii, but the King did retain British advisers, and the King had a sense of international politics. The eight stripes, while ostensibly representing the number of islands constituting the Hawaiian archipelago, were the colours of the Tsarist Russian flag, now reintroduced after the fall of the Soviet Union. The King realised the pervasiveness of Russia then in the Pacific Ocean.

Australia needs a new flag even if Hawaii doesn’t; and for that matter so does New Zealand; but the Union Jack zealots remain in sufficient numbers to block any reform. Indifference is the other enemy for change.  About eight years ago when New Zealand was seriously considering a new flag, a poll of potential designs for a new Australian flag was done in Australia. There was a focus on replacing the Union flag with the Southern Cross – and recognising that navy blue is not the national colour, most of the designs emphasised the green and gold. Most of them were a mish-mash and not very good. The Eureka flag scored fifteen per cent in that poll. The Southern Cross does not belong to Australia, but to all nations south of the Equator. Yet we seem to have appropriated it.

Personally, I prefer the Aboriginal Flag as our national flag. It embodies more of what I love about my country. I do not see much chance of change. But you always can hope. 

Mouse Whisper

Emanating from the USA in the past week, a report of one of the worst blizzards ever in the Sierra Nevada.

At the same time, massive wildfires in the Texas panhandle extending into Oklahoma, yet amid snow flurries.

The Australian firm, Woodside, in 2023 had increased its total carbon emissions by over 70 per cent from its 2021 levels.

And the butterfly flapped its wings.

Modest Expectation – French Blue

There has been quite a deal of criticism levelled at the Prime Minister in attending the wedding of another Australian who has climbed out of an impoverished childhood to become a successful, charmless media personality, such that The Personality has developed a fan base, an armoury of sponsors and a wide variety of acquaintances, if not friends. If the Prime Minister feels comfortable among that mob, well does it matter?

As long as he feels comfortable amongst that crowd that should be all that matters; his bubbly happiness, cuddling a small child surrounded by colourful identities. After all, this scene will be balanced by his imminent exposure to the ermine and cope as he bows his head when his Monarch, Charles III, progresses past, he murmuring “I did but see him passing by and yet I’ll love him till I die”. Lovely to see Our Prime Minister so comfortable, in the presence of a monarchic inheritor of Colonial Exploitation. Once a Republican, always a Fawnling.

One may say that one is a centrist in that you have centralised fawning as a political objective; so that the “They” will say nice things about you in public; and ergo this will attract votes and assure that one has cemented the Party in government. John Howard, when he mentioned “relaxed and comfortable”, he meant he was just one of the mob, who just happened to live in the Prime Minister’s Lodge, but he governed from within the electorate rather than leading the country, as Keating tried to do.

The difficulty with those who lead and do it so publicly, as Keating did, is that the electorate has limited tolerance, manifested as the “tall poppy syndrome”. First used in the last century, it refers to the habit of one of the Kings of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, of hacking the heads off his subjects when they emerged too much above the Parapet of Achievement.

As one commentator said about the syndrome “What ends up happening for some is they stop sharing their milestones with those whom they should feel comfortable confiding in, due to a fear of being resented, attacked or ostracised.”

Says it all. Thus, will Our Prime Minister return from his irrelevant trip as the Happy Prince? Has the fibro Monarchist emerged from his chrysalis of Disadvantage, a story of courage amid tears, to become such a contented enriched Icon?

Meanwhile build stadia not accommodation; open coal mines and sup with Santos, while supporting climate change by changing from summer to winter clobber; support a defence lobbyist industry while the poverty line is drilled further into single mothers and other disadvantaged; dine with News Ltd not The Guardian; let the Health system devised by his own Party in all its forms just wither while allowing the level of quackery blot out the cries of the sick.

St Edward’s Crown

Yes mate, I am glad you are laughing and happy clutching the baubles of Mediocrity – but you’re not forgetting your role as Head Elecutionist for The Voice.

Dampener on the Damper

The ABC with the engaging Tony Armstrong is presenting a nostalgic series about Australian customs. I remember when Peter Luck did a similar examination in This Fabulous Century in the late 1970’s. This 36-part series was superior in that the nostalgia was crisply presented. Nostalgia can become very boring and tiresome, and although Armstrong in many ways is very gifted, his charisma can sustain such an exercise for only so long. One segment which grated was the suggestion that the Aboriginal people were adept in bread making.  The sooner Mr Pascoe’s Dark Emu is jettisoned the better; the photograph of him fondling a piece of native grass, as if it was the basis of the Aboriginal bakery industry, is patently wrong. The episode of Armstrong’s show sought to show Aboriginal people grinding native grasses; which they did in small amounts – hardly justifying this segment  about the Aboriginal akin to a traditional baker.

Real damper is wheat based – flour, salt and water – developed by stockmen over a campfire; being simple, the ingredients could be rolled up in a swag and carried for long distances – as I found out, it was excellent with “cockie’s joy” or, as that was known by the whitefella non-cognoscenti, golden syrup.

I remember in Moorhouse’s book about the Burke and Wills expedition, “Coopers Creek”, a reference made to nardoo – seeds from a fern which the local Aboriginal people ground to form a type of primitive paste. However, there are some who say that nardoo is in fact toxic if improperly prepared, causing beri-beri, because  it contains the enzyme  thiaminase which destroys vitamin B1. There was never a bread industry, which is exemplified by the images in this latest documentary, which shows the grinding of seeds in a coolamon but never any resultant bread.

The Dark Emu approach that the Aboriginals had all the wherewithal, not only the expertise but also the techniques before any other h. sapiens, belies the fact that the Aboriginal people did not need to ape the whitefella to remove any residual belief that they are inferior. Their culture evolved in a way which should not be destroyed by concocted stories. The Aboriginal people have had a unique place, and I’m afraid to see it lost in a litany of confected lore.

Phoenix Dutton?

When the Coalition lost the 1972 Federal election, some of the younger members of the business community who were linked by their employment in McKinsey’s decided that the Federal Liberal party should have a Policy Unit. Establishing a Policy Unit was more difficult and took more time than envisaged. Few people of any intellectual capacity who were establishing their careers were attracted to work for a political party which, although it had not lost by a landslide, was bereft of ideas and outdated in attitudes and behaviour embodied by their defeated Prime Minister, Billy McMahon. The other issue is that policy development is not pamphleteering and superficial slogans, but has to deal with the difficulty of tackling the slippery concept of equity, where the concepts of cost-efficiency, cost effectiveness and cost utility intersect.

Geoff Allen

Snedden’s office was thus thrust into being the Policy engine room during this first year of Opposition, where a Liberal Party Coalition inured to having a bureaucracy at its beck and call for 23 years no longer had that luxury. Yet the group of people Snedden almost accidentally brought together in his office, was a group of people which formed the nucleus of a de facto policy unit. Geoff Allen, his long-time Press Secretary, was the catalyst; he attracted good staff with the ability to think in terms of policy while understanding that policy has to be cast within the political framework of the “do-able”. Later, after a stint at the Business Council, Allen used his ability to set up a highly successful consultancy. He had an unerring eye for talent, and he was a great networker.

John Goodfellow

He and Snedden’s Private Secretary, Joan Thomson, were integral in my survival as the learning curve in such an office is almost vertical. My area of expertise was health and social policy. There is no doubt that there is value in working one’s way up the adviser chain, if the model is one of developing policy, preparing briefs and parliamentary questions/responses. In this function, John Goodfellow was the go-to-person in Snedden’s office – equated to being a Human Google. He was the epitome of that indispensable person that every parliamentary office should have. At this point it should be noted that our Office was spare in terms of staff numbers compared to the present.

Now I would advocate that every Opposition leader should hold governments to account; not by mindlessly harassing public servants nor living within a bubble of nastiness seeking to create dirt files as if the aim of politics is always one of anarchic destruction.

The policy development we accomplished in 1973, and the first months of 1974 before the Liberal Party policy unit swung into action, was crucial to the Liberal Party. For instance, as we neared the mid-year 1973, Snedden’s office through the work led by John Knight, later an ACT Senator, ensured that the Party had moved well away from McMahon’s railing mindlessly against China.

Snedden was welcomed to Beijing at a time when the Americans were making tentative steps towards full diplomatic recognition of China. It was prior to the Whitlam visit without there being any rancour from the Government. In fact, Stephen Fitzgerald, the first Australian ambassador to China could not have been more helpful. The Gang of Four was still in ascendency.

Unlike Whitlam, Snedden did not meet Mao Tse-Tung, but if we had stayed a day longer a meeting with Chou En-lai was in the offing. However, we needed to get to Tokyo to meet the then the Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka and travelling from Beijing to Tokyo at that time was not a simple matter. Instead of meeting Chou we were flying south to Guangzhou (then Canton) with the Chinese women’s volleyball team on board with us.

It had only taken six months for this major change in the Liberal Party attitude and policy to occur, remembering it was coupled with an acceptance of Australian troops being pulled out of Vietnam.

Richard Sheppard’s impact on policy directions also should not be underestimated, particularly on shaping the economic agenda, even though Snedden had been the Treasurer in the last Coalition Government. (Sheppard later became inter alia a senior executive at Macquarie Bank.)

For example, one writer identified a shift way from the protectionism, with which the National Country Party led by John McEwen had saddled the Coalition prior to 1973. Here the advice of Sheppard is discernible.

The Liberal Party agreed also that a more rational approach to policy making was essential. As Bill Snedden argued: 

The economy, of course, must be seen as a whole in a modern economy. The different sectors are so closely linked that we could not afford to concentrate on one sector to the exclusion of all else (Commonwealth of Australia, 1973a: 2429). 

Statements such as this represented a shift of emphasis away from agriculture as the key to Australia’s growth, towards a model of economy in which all industries were constructed as competing on a level playing field.

Compare the Liberal Party’s fortunes in the first year under Dutton running the Opposition agenda. Where is the policy agenda? In addition, to complete a disastrous year, Dutton lost the by-election for the former safe seat of Aston. By comparison, Snedden was successful in the retention of Parramatta, with Philip Ruddock’s election to the seat.

Perhaps, the lesson of that first year in 1973 is too far back in the ether for the current bunch of Liberal leaders to examine why that first year in Opposition under Snedden revived the Coalition and what could be learned by the current mob. Mistakes were subsequently made, including the election of the rurally-socialised Malcolm Fraser, but that is another chapter.

There is a Spook under the Mattress

I’m reading A Small Town in Germany – one of the many spy novels written by John Le Carré, first published in 1968 at the height of the Cold War. Le Carré was in himself a man who worked in the spy industry, and his writing reflects the details which is a perfect definition of the tedium of the job.  I have never been a devotee of Le Carré, although I recognise the perfect encapsulation of a group of mostly men, inured to deception and conspiracy.

In two previous blogs I have briefly mentioned my glancing involvement in the world described by Le Carré.

I shared a study at Trinity College for one year with Sam Spry, well actually he was christened Ian Charles Fowell Spry, but acquired his nickname from Blamey; I forget why. We had been at school together and had been a moderately successful debating team.  He did law while I undertook medicine. His father was Brigadier Charles Spry, who was the second Director-General of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation between 1950 and 1970. Spry was very much a Menzies man, a fervent anti-communist behind a bland genial exterior.

After I had been elected President of the University of Melbourne Student’s Representative Council, we were visited by three Russian students, who were doing a university circuit. It was a time when the Soviet Union supported the International Union of Students while the CIA funded other student organisations, including the World Assembly of Youth. I was thought to be radical within the student body because of the company I kept. Nevertheless, as I was not aligned with any political party I was seen to have the impeccable credentials of having been at both Melbourne Grammar and Trinity College, as well as consorting with the Brigadier’s son.

I suppose I should not have been surprised when I was approached by a fellow student, Peter Thwaites. He asked me whether I would like to meet his father, Michael Thwaites. In addition to his role as an intelligence officer and being a close confidant of Brigadier Spry, Thwaites was like many in intelligence, an intellectual, in his case an acclaimed poet. Like most intelligence officers, they could present an urbane front and after the usual preliminaries, he suggested that I meet with some of his operatives. I said OK.

The Theosophy building then was an unremarkable building in Collins Street, and it was arranged that we meet them there. I was greeted by a couple of men in grey and shown to a room on one of the upper levels. I remember how bare the room was – desk, chairs and nothing else. One of my companions opened a drawer and took out a newspaper cutting. The subject matter was the imminent visit of the Russian students, and would I like to report on their visit. Just an innocent request.

One of the problems I had with the Thwaites was their adherence to Moral Re-Armament with its overlay of the founder, Francis Buchman’s admiration for Hitler before WWII. From my point of view their association with Moral Re-Armament was enough. I always associated its outwardly clean cut image with that of the clean cut, cold shower camaraderie of Nazi Youth.

I thought about wandering into the world of espionage, and as I was to find out, Trinity College was a recruiting ground for ASIO. There was a particular night when a former senior student, who was “in his cups” gave a hilarious rendition of his life within ASIO, but we were all also in varying degrees of intoxication, and thus the next morning only the memory of this very engaging night remained.

I never reported back. Sam believed that the “study” was just that – a monastic cell where you worked in silence broken only by small talk about share prices, where he was very successful player. A study was thus not a place for recreation; Sam always expressed his disapproval of my eclecticism not by direct confrontation but by decamping to the Baillieu Library to work.

After that year we barely communicated. He passed with honours, I negotiated the supplementary exam swamp successfully, but without magna cum laude. Our pathways totally diverged.

Yet, his experience left me with an intuitive grasp of this underworld in A Small Bulpaddock in Parkville. I would never know when there was a spook under the bed, but I would recognise it. Metaphorically, of course.

Still arguing. What was it with the Helix? An excerpt from The Boston Globe

The discovery of DNA’s double helix structure 70 years ago opened up a world of new science — and also sparked disputes over who contributed what and who deserves credit.

Rosalind Franklin

Much of the controversy comes from a central idea: that James Watson and Francis Crick, the first to figure out DNA’s shape, stole data from scientist Rosalind Franklin.

Now, two historians are suggesting that while parts of that story are accurate — Watson and Crick did rely on research from Franklin and her lab without their permission — Franklin was more a collaborator than just a victim. In the journal Nature, the historians say the two research teams were working in parallel toward solving the DNA puzzle and knew more about what the other team was doing than is widely believed.

“It’s much less dramatic,” said article author Matthew Cobb, a zoologist at the University of Manchester who is working on a biography of Crick. “It’s not a heist movie.”

The story dates back to the 1950s, when scientists were still working out how DNA’s pieces fit together.

Watson and Crick were working on modelling DNA’s shape at Cambridge University. Meanwhile, Franklin — an expert in X-ray imaging — was studying the molecules at King’s College in London, along with scientist Maurice Wilkins.

It was there that Franklin captured Photograph 51, an X-ray image showing DNA’s crisscross shape.

Then, the story gets tricky. In the version that’s often told, Watson was able to look at Photograph 51 during a visit to Franklin’s lab. According to the story Franklin hadn’t solved the structure, even months after making the image. But when Watson saw it, “he suddenly, instantly knew that it was a helix,” said author Nathaniel Comfort, a historian of medicine at Johns Hopkins University who is writing a biography of Watson.

Around the same time, the story goes, Crick also obtained a lab report that included Franklin’s data and used it without her consent.

And according to this story, these two “eureka moments” — both based on Franklin’s work — Watson and Crick “were able to go and solve the double helix in a few days,” Comfort said.

This “lore” came in part from Watson himself in his book “The Double Helix,” the historians say. But the historians suggest this was a “literary device” to make the story more exciting and understandable to lay readers.

After digging in Franklin’s archives, the historians found details that they say challenge this simplistic narrative — and suggest that Franklin contributed more than just one photograph along the way.

A draft of a Time magazine story from the time written “in consultation with Franklin,” but never published, described the work on DNA’s structure as a joint effort between the two groups. And a letter from one of Franklin’s colleagues suggested Franklin knew her research was being shared with Crick, authors said.

Taken together, this material suggests the four researchers were equal collaborators in the work, Comfort said. While there may have been some tensions, the scientists were sharing their findings more openly — not snatching them in secret.

“She deserves to be remembered not as the victim of the double helix, but as an equal contributor to the solution of the structure,” the authors conclude.

Howard Markel, a historian of medicine at the University of Michigan, said he’s not convinced by the updated story.

Markel — who wrote a book about the double helix discovery — believes that Franklin got “ripped off” by the others and they cut her out in part because she was a Jewish woman in a male-dominated field.

In the end, Franklin left her DNA work behind and went on to make other important discoveries in virus research, before dying of cancer at the age of 37. Four years later, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins received a Nobel prize for their work on DNA’s structure.

Franklin wasn’t included in that honour. Posthumous Nobel prizes have always been extremely rare, and now aren’t allowed.

What exactly happened, and in what order, will likely never be known for sure. Crick and Wilkins both died in 2004. Watson, 95, could not be reached and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he served as director, declined to comment on the paper.

But researchers agree Franklin’s work was critical for helping unravel DNA’s double helix shape — no matter how the story unfolded.

“How should she be remembered? As a great scientist who was an equal contributor to the process,” Markel said. “It should be called the Watson-Crick-Franklin model.”

Maurice Wilkins

The first response to such a conclusion is whatever happened to Maurice Wilkins in the model above? After all, he shared the Nobel Prize with Watson and Crick meeting. As for James Watson on his visit to Australia, briefly meeting him I thought him insufferable. Of the above players, he alone remains alive at 96, now virtually ostracised by the scientific communities because of his racist views.

Whatever the controversy, I for my part will be  always a fan of Rosalind Franklin. Whatever the actual proportion of the discovery of the Double Helix, I’ll always believe that she was the victim of laboratory misogyny.

Mouse Whisper

Going against the grain? We mice are getting a bit edgy with those with whom we share this house. They are putting cinnamon on their cereal. What next? Cayenne pepper or peppermint. At least they will not use mothballs.

Modest Expectations – Ohotata Kore

I once had a Welsh friend, the navigator who sat beside the driver in those car rallies where the object seems to be to charge along tracks in the bush, often at night, at terrifying speeds. The navigator’s job was to keep his eyes on the map under torchlight and bark at the driver the instructions in regard to what the road in front was about to do. In other words, he did not look at the road; his only instrument was the map. Therefore, his accurate reading of the map was crucial to survival. Year after year he did this. Then one day, in mid rally, he told the driver to stop. He folded the map, got out of the car and never rallied again. In his case, he had lost his nerve.

In my case, I am writing my 105th blog – 105 being the non-emergency contact number for the police in New Zealand, and “non-emergency” at the head of this piece in Maori. In my case, have I lost the inclination to keep writing? Mine is not writer’s block. I know what “writer’s block” is. I have stopped writing for months while I have wrestled with not being able to see the logical or credible path forward. It is not that I have run out of ideas; it is just that there is a spaghetti junction in my mind, and which strand is the best to follow is not immediately clear.

I always admired Alistair Cooke. I listened to his “Letter from America” for years until his death. Yet when I re-read them, many are covered in the crustiness of age. Not all; some remain very relevant. Nevertheless, I always wished to emulate Cooke. There is always in him the adventurous, curious, cultivated mind. There is always something or somebody you wish to emulate at any point of time. That is the nature of civilisation, and dare I say, democracy.

This is a soliloquy in working out whether by writing this blog, I have said all I have to say to myself. After all, a blog to me is an aide-memoire before old age murders my facility not only to remember but also to make some sense of the trail that has twisted and turned in front of me for so many years. Generally, it depends on whether your map has coincided with that in front of you – and whether, if ever, you lose your nerve. However, unlike my friend, the navigator, you need a clear rear vision mirror and not one clouded in bulldust.

Our St Patrick’s Day

I have Irish ancestry; in fact, since my grandfather was born in Ireland, I am eligible for Irish citizenship. I looked at what is involved some years ago and said why would I do that at my age? I am Australian; I do not need a dual nationality, irrespective of what ephemeral advantages that might bring, such as the national anthem. The Irish national anthem is one forged by fire in 1911; Australia’s doggerel was composed for a concert of the Highland Society of New South Wales in 1878.

I have been registered to practise medicine in the Republic for years and like all good unionists joined the Irish Medical Organisation and even attended some of their conferences. I am shedding membership in Irish organisations of which I am a member. I have done courses in Irish, both contemporary and Old – and nothing has stuck. Except I can pronounce Niamh and Saiose.

Thus, what is left to us is acknowledgement of St Patrick’s Day. Gone are the days of faux leprechauns decked out in four-leaf clover (I was reminded this week that the world record for a stalk of clover is 56 leaves). However, blarney is what those blessed with Irish genes are contained in each Bushmill drop.

Why is it that on one day of the year Irish whiskey becomes palatable, but that is a trifle harsh, especially when it is 10 years’ old malt. The Irish drink Guinness; the elderly elsewhere call it stout. To me they are equally to be avoided. I dislike the creaminess, which spills over to many of the other Irish beers. Yet after the first two pints, it does become more tolerable.

Now Irish cuisine is another matter. It has the breadth of experience of a mashed potato abetted by cuts of meat, including mince, a step up from offal – some of which incidentally I like, as long as it is not brains, heart, lungs or sweetbreads.

In any event, we sat down to a meal of shepherd’s pie with red cabbage and apples. We did have enough potato not to add colcannon and enough cabbage not to need corned beef – other staples of Irish cuisine! Potato bread was piled up on a separate plate.

As it coincided with my Portuguese language class, I offered a toast to the class with green coloured water. You see, the Portuguese have a variety of wine which they called vinho verde. Actually, it is not green, it is straw-coloured. In fact, it is a white wine from that eponymous region of Portugal along the River Douro. I don’t think my teacher got the joke.

My celebration of my Irish heritage thus is reduced to an annual meal of modest proportions and a certain latter-day sparseness in my quaffing.

I am not one for Bloomsday, although at one of those pub celebrations, I once saw across the bar somebody who in profile uncannily resembled Katherine Mansfield. She is one of several women in history who have always fascinated me and whom I wished that I could have met.

I have shivered in the Celtic Twilight and stood in homage of William Butler Yeats and his wife, George, at their grave in Drumcliff Co Sligo. As the Irish Times reported at his final interment in 1948, he having died in France in early 1939 and his remains transferred after WWII to Ireland.

THERE WAS a veil of mist over the bare head of Ben Bulben yesterday afternoon when the remains of William Butler Yeats were buried in Irish soil. Soft grey rain swept in from the sea, soaking the Irish tricolour that lay upon the plain wooden coffin, as the body of the poet was laid at last in the churchyard of Drumcliffe.

Ben Bulben

But strangest of all my experiences in the Emerald Isle was the day I was striding across the Burren in Co Clare and I began to run because it had started to rain. I then had the strongest feeling I have ever had of déjà vu. A small boy also running, a boy in shreds and patches. No, I’m not completely mad; just Irish.

Let me fish off Cape St Mary’s

It is just a matter of my association of St Patrick’s day and the Western Australian election. It is tortuous but let me explain.

Western Australia has just witnessed the biggest rejection of being an Australian that one could ever imagine. I immediately thought of the landslide elections which have taken place in Queensland in 1974 and then in 2012. It was a matter of personalities, and if Queenslanders take a set against you then it’s “good night nurse”, as multiple “Mexicans” have found out.

However, the genesis of the Western Australian terramoto is different. The population has embraced secession with an unbridled intensity.

What WA thought of us in 1933

While the victory may partially be attributed to the current strength of the Western Australian economy, with the iron ore prices being high and Brazil being a “basket case”, the root cause lies in secessionist sentiments. Premier McGowan has been able to pull off what his State tried to do by legislative changes in the 1930s. He has seceded from the rest of Australia by just closing the borders when the Virus appeared, continuing it well after it was justified on public health reasons, thus thumbing his nose at the Prime Minister. His course of action was endorsed by the Liberal Party wipeout at the recent election.

Yet if there was one incident that set McGowan off, it was the Ruby Princess affair. He was incensed by the NSW Government’s cavalier handling of that incident, and he has used Premier Berejiklian as a punching bag ever since when it has suited him. Berejiklian seems to evoke this visceral response from other Premiers. They see through her “goodie-two-shoes teacher’s pet” persona.

The border issue made some sense when Australia was working out the adversary Virus and NSW was allowing the Virus to rip through Australia via the Ruby Princess debacle. Then progressively as Australia worked out a uniform public health response, it made less and less sense in any public health interpretation and more to political animosities to keep the borders closed.  The pain in developing this uniform strategy should not be underestimated nevertheless.

Border closure became an overt political device by the less populous States, none better manipulated than by McGowan.

It is interesting to note that during the 1890s the group that pushed Western Australia towards Federation were Eastern Goldfield miners around Kalgoorlie. Given that gold had not been discovered until a few years before, it showed how quickly a mining group could gain an influential position. Western Australia then had a small population located in a huge land mass, where cattle occupied grass castles; grain was been grown in fertile south-west; whaling was concentrated around Albany; a pearling industry had been started around Broome; and for a time, sandalwood was the major export.

Some voices suggested that New Zealand would be more relevant within the nascent Federation, but in the end by 1901, Western Australia had joined but New Zealand had declined.

Nevertheless, secessionism always close to the surface. If the Federal Government had paid heed to the history of the Western Australian secessionist movements, it would have recognised the dangerous course McGowan has pursued. It is extremely difficult now to achieve actual secession constitutionally, as the path to this was effectively closed during the 1930s. The border closure issue remains and will persist as long as the Federal Government fails to confront the situation.

Now why would I connect this secessionist movement with St Patrick’s Day?

Iceberg alley, St John’s

Whenever I think of the Irish, apart from my Australo-Irish heritage, I think of Newfoundland. When one goes to Newfoundland, one realises that Mother Nature is Irish. In the St John’s harbour on the first day of summer, there are icebergs still. Well, actually summer begins on 16 June when the trees have burst into foliage, and then there is a two-week moratorium before the mosquitos emerge, and the battle is joined.

The other factor in my memory was how Irish Newfoundland felt for me. The “Newfie” accent has more than a hint of the brogue, but it was the music which confirmed that Newfoundland was part of Irish diaspora. To hear the group, the Irish Descendants, singing Let me Fish Off Cape St Mary’s is to hear the heart of the diaspora. The cliffs from which this fishing port overlooks the Atlantic Ocean could be part of the West Coast of Ireland. It was ironic when I was there that fishing for cod, once the mainstay of the fishing industry, was prohibited so far had the fish stocks fallen. The ban came in 1992, and it was 20 years before the cod returned in numbers. One could still get cod’s tongue, a local delicacy but then it came from “aways”. I think somebody might have said Iceland.

And what the hell has this to do with Western Australia? Well, Newfoundland had been created a separate dominion apart from Canada in 1907. In effect it was a separate country. At the same time in 1934, while certain elements in Western Australia were agitating for secession, the Newfoundlanders were doing the opposite. The Great Depression had sent them perilously close to the financial wall, and so they joined the Canadian Federation giving up their self-governing status and adding Mainland Labrador to form the present province. The fact that Newfoundland is much the same distance to Dublin as to Ottawa did not influence the “Newfie” intent, but then it is not in their makeup to calibrate distance as a sign of loyalty.

Both in Australia and Canada shift in status has depended on constitutional recognition. In the past when there are concerns of disease spread, the methods of quarantine including border closure are constitutionally the responsibility of the Federal Government. Setting up a public relations manoeuvre and calling it a “national cabinet” in the end showed that the Federal Government was just shifting its constitutional responsibility to the States so they could cop the blame if matters went wrong as they did in Victoria.

McGowan is in the favourable position of being able to have the same advantageous GST position, as heading a State of the Commonwealth of Australia.

However, he is perceived as having had a landslide electoral victory when he shook the secessionist tambourine for all its worth, Western Australia the de facto nation holding as hostages many of the electoral Federal foes including the controversial duo of Porter and Reynolds. Moreover, Western Australia in all likelihood will lose one of the seats in coming redistribution, and therefore the already nervous Liberal Party will be forced to play “musical seats”. Thus, an already factionalised Liberal Party has all the ingredients to tear itself apart

McGowan now knows that if the Federal Government holds back GST money from Western Australia or take any other perceived discriminatory action, it will be beaten up electorally there.

McGowan knows that the Federal Government is not willing to stop him meddling with the borders. He does not need any constitutional change to effect secession without metaphorically “leaving the building”. He has effectively done so, and any arcane legal processes were brushed aside when he effectively usurped the quarantine power of the Commonwealth, which unequivocally is a constitutional power of the Federal Government.

Therefore, the Prime Minister is faced with this situation, first enunciated by Bishop Morton, of Morton’s fork.

Ironically, one of the Prime Minister’s strongest acolytes is named Morton, a Pentecostal blow-in from NSW who was in charge of the WA Liberal Party, who inherited Tangney, a very safe Liberal seat along the Swan River. No longer if the recent State election is any guide.

What happened in the 1930s was because the Federal Government of both Australia and Canada held the cards. The constitutional barriers were too great in Australia once the deed had been done in 1901; and Newfoundland simply could not afford being a separate nation.

But as they say in the native argot, McGowan is “giving it a red hot go” to create his own nation.

Oh, not another transparent bureaucrat

“At ASIO, we’re conscious that the names and labels we use are important,” he said. “Words matter. They can be very powerful in how they frame an issue and how they make people think about issue.”

Thus, spake Mr Burgess, the head of the Australian academy of spooks. He is “friendly” Mike to us punters. In a recent media interview, we get the full story of the poor boy from a migrant family who was the first in his family to go the University and moreover to undertake electrical engineering. Before the image of the “log cabin” childhood is further invoked, he outs himself as being a cyber nut, and thus he lives in a world where his simulacra in other jurisdictions try to out-hack one another.

Nevertheless, there is a cloaked anecdote about the “nest of spies” that his outfit has been able to quash or whatever – there is no detail; just an enticing tit-bit for the writer. Spooks must invoke mystery and plot right back to Walsingham.

One of the most concerning situations is when somebody in the spook business embarks on this sort of exercise, because those who run the organisation can try and present themselves as an ordinary person, you know the football team follower, has a dog et cetera and that – at the same time at budget time invokes all sorts of horror befalling the nation if the “Spook Budget” is not increased.

The security services exist to keep their rival services at bay, foiling disablers of major computer networks, and preventing such anti-community activities such as the recent Neo-Nazi gathering at Hall’s Gap.

The essential ingredient is to have a critical evaluation of the effectiveness of such activities. Burgess in the comments quoted above also maintains that no longer will they reveal whether the dangers are from the extremist right or left wing groups or delineating whether the terrorist groups are linked to ISIS or whatever. He said that his service will restrict itself to saying that such activities will be characterised as being “belief or ideologically based”. It is subtle, but in fact he is saying he will be further constricting information, but generalising the threat.

I wonder, as I pass through the airport screening how useful testing for explosives has been, because some mad guy tried to detonate explosives in the heels of his shoes on a Miami bound flight in 2001. How many copycats have been detected at Australian airports, at what cost, given also that there is a large group that is not tested anyway?

The January episode in Washington showed how useful security is when a crowd is determined to riot to the point of insurrection.  Mostly not at all.

I want to be assured that our security services don’t spend their money on profiling their operatives. I would like to believe that given the Australian security service has a history of conservative political association, this has dissipated and been replaced by a politically neutral service. Parliamentary surveillance needs to include people able to contain the secretive authoritarian technocrat that Burgess embodies.

Brigadier Sir Charles Chambers Fowell Spry CBE, DSO

Attempts were made to recruit me when ASIO, under Brigadier Spry, was a political action committee for the Menzies Government concerned with “reds under the bed”; and riddled with proto-fascist operatives such as elements of Moral Re-Armament, the leader of which Frank Buchman openly praised Hitler.

Charles Spry himself was an affable chap, with a penchant for Scotch whisky which he shared with the Prime Minister. However, behind that persona was a very determined anti-communist and where scruples could be left on the dressing table as if they were cuff links.

Whitlam set up the Hope Royal Commission in 1974, the report from which has formed the basis for the modern-day intelligence services. A raid on ASIO as ordered by Lionel Murphy, then the Commonwealth Attorney-General in 1973, would today be unimaginable.

In a very perceptive thesis on the organisation published in 2018, Coventry concluded:

Intelligence and security have become second nature to Australians and anyone else in the US ‘hub and spokes’ system. To argue for the abolition of ASIO in the present time is unpalatable; for good reason. The neoliberal phenomenon of globalisation means that targets of terrorism are, as Nixon feared, ubiquitous. Any citizen or corporation or NGO located overseas can be seen as an extension of a targeted government; all it takes is a careless comment by a public official. It is often overlooked that governments have a clear role in provoking terrorism, including within in society, though many may wish to believe this threat comes purely from the mental illness, barbarity and jealousy of others.

In 2010, the former director general of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, told the Chilcot Inquiry that she had warned the Blair Government (1997-2007) that involvement in the Iraq War would result in higher levels of home-grown terrorism. She was of course vindicated. It must be said that ASIO has done well so far to keep the Australian Government and citizenry from the kind of harm exhibited overseas.

That last comment is reassuring, but that was written before Burgess became the ASIO Director-General in 2019, and he is running the line of foreign interference and espionage being the paramount dangers (rather than terrorism) which suits his technologically-driven agenda. He reminds me of the old “cold war warriors”, himself ideologically driven as far as his background has given meaning to that word (or words).

Australia needs an Attorney-General to withstand Burgess’ undoubtedly very powerful personality coupled with his wide access to information. To believe that Australia’s security organisation does not actively participate in cyber warfare would be incredibly naïve.

I am now an avid watcher of the activities of Mike Burgess. I look forward to his first interview with Crikey.

Mouse Whisper

I never did like that skunk Pepe Le Pew. His characterisation gave rodents a bad name, but he is the latest casualty in the war against the predatory male. Looney Tunes have shown him the door.  The comedian, David Chappelle, who once said that the famous can always become infamous but not unfamous, says of the skunk: Pepe, whom he laughed at as a kid, later through an adult lens makes him realise: “What kind of … rapist is this guy?” 

Wait a minute! I stand corrected. Skunks are not rodents; they are of the same ilk as Tim Wilson’s cabal of wolverines.

Pepe Le Pew, about to be cancelled