Modest Expectations – Stumps

After another 100 days I hope the world will have the same hope in Biden that it does now after the first 100 days.  Having survived the four years of President Trump with all his mimicry of Batman’s enemies, it is good to have Bruce Wayne alias Joe Biden back.  Sorry, so sorry I mistook your disguise as the doddering anziano, but your treatment of Anita Hill can never be disguised or forgiven because you begat Clarence Thomas, one of the great catastrophes of modern America.

Sometimes He gets it Right

Anonymouse

It was May and then June last year that this Blog started to advocate for custom built quarantine facilities. One of the Blog’s mates thought it would be too expensive, and in any event the hotel industry had near empty facilities desperately in search of customers, so hotel quarantine was born. People returning from overseas fitted the bill for the missing customers, but viral outbreaks from these hotels have sporadically occurred. However, use of such facilities has also produced lessons – all of which can be applied to the adaptation of or construction of bespoke quarantine facilities in each State near ports of entry.

The Federal Government seems to be able to wrap its collective mind around all sorts of spending needs – defence spending seems to be a bottomless pit with an endless time frame.  However, when the matter of defence is against an invisible foe, with so many tricks in its RNA, then Government seems not able to grasp the enormity of the problem and has sat on its hands for 12 months now apparently wishing it would all go away. COVID-19 will persist, with no idea when it will be conquered. At the same time, the social links between countries will be irrevocably changed.

Quarantine facilities require their own expertise and one of the various expertises needed is to ensure the rapid construction with best practice observed. That is why hard-nosed visionaries such as the Wagners in Queensland who were asked by that Government to prepare a plan, should be taken seriously; their Toowoomba airport venture should be sufficient proof as to their competence and ingenuity.

But in true Australian style, Government asks for a report. Jane Halton’s report was adequate in that she articulated the obvious – a national quarantine capacity – although it’s hard to see that recommendation, together with a collection of documentation, to be worth the alleged $118,000 it cost. The Report nevertheless provides the weasel words for the Government to ignore the positive parts of the report.  For instance, the Halton pronouncement set out such a situation for the “Commonwealth Weasel”.

States and Territories should now consider their hotel quarantine operations in line with the features of good practice and make adjustments where necessary to meet these baselines. Noting issues about scalability and the specialised nature of the workforce required to implement hotel quarantine, States and Territories should also investigate establishing standing arrangements with AUSMAT in the event of the need to scale up operations quickly.

Stripping out the verbiage, of which there is plenty, the recommendation is to get a national system of quarantine, with agreed standards and scalable capacity.  Too much to ask that our Federal and State Governments behave like grownups and just do this? The Federal Government’s admissions about quarantine in relation to returnees from India demonstrate the scale of the problem.

How long ago did Halton write her report? 

Concept village – mining, quarantine …

The Inglenooks of Age

When I was a young doctor, elderly patients who presented in hospital, with apparently uninteresting symptoms and signs, besides being old, were called “old sloughs”. Now I have reached that “old slough” age, it just confirms how offensive that description was. Even then I recoiled from the dismissive way hospitals were places where these patients were admitted. Care was a secondary consideration. Therefore, old people when there was considered nothing more could be done, were left in a bed with minimal attention until they could be moved to a geriatric hospital, which was one step before the nursing home.

One case stood out when I was reviewing some of these older people in hospital. It was at a time before the specialty of geriatrics had been carved away from general medicine and general practice. In Victoria there were geriatric hospitals; later I received a more detailed insight into such care when I had to run the rehabilitation unit at one of the large teaching hospitals in Melbourne and later still spent time reviewing facilities when I was responsible for certain sectors of community aged care.

I stopped at the bed of an elderly lady who had been classified as suffering from dementia. I reviewed her charts and there, on her drug charts, was a nightly dose of Relaxa-tabs. She had been taking these for years and the order seemed not to have been changed. Naturally, with the dose prescribed, she would sleep, but I was taken aback by the quantity.

Relaxa-tabs contained bromine and so, out of curiosity, I ordered a serum bromine. When the result came back it showed her serum bromine was at toxic levels and clearly explained her apparent dementia.

The tablets were stopped at the time of the test, and once the serum level was known treatment was instituted to flush the bromine out of her system. Over the next fortnight her mental state improved to such an extent that I cannot remember whether she went home directly or had a staged return to a more normal living. The demented state cleared – I know that much.

To me it was a salutary lesson in labels, especially now I am of that age. Bromine in not the problem it was in the past as it has been removed from reputable pharmaceuticals. I have read that in the USA it is licensed to be added to the water supply of naval ships and oil rigs, as in addition to having sedative properties, it also allegedly dampens the male libido. I grew up, myth or not, believing that bromine was added to the tea of soldiers for such an effect.

You can have as many government inquiries into aged care as you like, but society has passed you by when you strike 80. The elderly with money can have their care softened by the cushioning effect of their money. I had an aunt who lived for her last years in a very plush nursing home, but even in that home, it was evident how many of the staff were recent immigrants, particularly from the Philippines and Nepal.

Yet neglect remains the headline for much that goes on in the aged care sector. The stories on the one hand of the Greek Orthodox Church demanding its nursing homes pay a tithe so the archbishop can have a wardrobe of fancy raiment or, on the other hand, of nursing home owners who live lavish lifestyles, complete with the signature matching yellow Lamborghinis, running nursing homes with minimum standards of care. I well remember the whole fiasco of Bronwyn Bishop’s stewardship 20 years ago when she was the Minister responsible for defending the use of kerosene baths in nursing homes Nothing much has changed, except perhaps the kerosene.

The exploitative areas of the nursing home industry should be shut down. When Governments crab away from such a drastic solution, they tacitly agree that the immensity of the problem of nursing home care requires not only more but also better trained resources in a coordinated environment and regulatory unification between the sectors – and Governments keep saying that, but effectively do nothing about solving the problem. It is ridiculous for the Commonwealth to be running the aged care sector and the States the public hospitals, when it should be the one sector.

As indicated above, I have been involved at various times of my professional career with the aged care sector, and it is a no brainer. There should be a single system, because age is a continual wave eventually crashing on the shores of death.  At present, the method of distribution of health care is via aged care packages, depending on the funding source floating on the top of the wave. Quality is incidental.

There is a philosophy with certain government sources of shovelling out the cash – job done – but what about quality and outcome? To some bureaucrats that requires actual work, collection of data and, given the reigning politicians suppress as much information as possible, they may argue what is the point?

Political announcements are all about input and the immeasurable glorious future where the recipients of such input are chewing lotus leaves – or their gums. Who needs data, especially when this is the third or fourth time the same announcement of government largesse has been made? To make the point, sometimes irony is the best way to highlight the problem, especially when the government itself is the very epitome of irony when it says, “We are taking the matter very seriously.”

The other public problem is the lack of an articulate advocate for reform on behalf of aged care residents. If you look at the vast array of those who appear on the media, there are none who regularly appear when the topic moves onto the way to actually improve the lot of the aged. The last woman of consequence to appear regularly on a panel show and make an impact by clearly showing that age was not automatically the gateway to dementia was Margaret Scott, the Tasmanian poet, who was a regular guest on Good News Week in the 1990s.

It is mainly a variety of social workers and health professionals who are some way away from being aged, often well skilled in the vocabulary of “shock and horror show”, but stopping short of doing anything.

There is the vaudeville act that the ABC has twice arranged by mixing the very old with the very young. This concept was aired first on the BBC and, given the COVID-19 pandemic, the ABC have been venturing into perilous territory, but it is assumed everybody involved has been “dry cleaned”. The concept is very interesting, but not just as sporadic entertainment. After all, grandparents looking after their grandchildren has been around for a long time, just ask the Indigenous community. I am just not aware of any program which seriously looks at the benefit of those arrangements long term and whether a program such as the ABC is airing is demonstrating anything sustainable or generalisable.

There is also that myth about 70 being the new 50. However, it is illusionary. The general improvement in the welfare of the community has improved. Too many in the years after the “new 50” start to die in a manner not befitting of a reborn generation 20 years younger.

The problem with age is invalidism and the daily humiliations that accompany it. I am reminded of the words of a young woman with motor neurone disease who said she most feared the time she could not wipe her bottom – to her this represented a turning point. Don’t just be appalled about the frail and elderly dealing with such daily humiliations. Demand that every politician spend a week or two in community service looking after the aged and contemplating their own probable destination before they can pontificate about the problems of aged care. Although perhaps their pensions will be such that their choices will be much easier in the future.

The Drums are beating

This past weekend, Essential Quality came fourth in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Louisville is the city in the middle of this blue grass country and Bourbon distilleries.

Essential Quality

As the NYT has reported, pre-race talk among the racing fraternity was all about what Sheikh Mohammed’ al-Maktoum’s money has accomplished, and the fact that the same group completely ignored the international human rights scandal over the Sheikh’s role in the disappearance of Sheikha Latifa, one of his daughters.

But others are speaking up. A group of human rights lawyers and students at the University of Louisville filed a complaint with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, asking it to bar Sheikh Mohammed and thus Essential Quality from the Derby.

“The Horse Racing Commission must also use its authority to end his involvement in Kentucky horse racing, at least until Princess Latifa is free of captivity,” the complaint document insisted. The Kentucky Racing Commission went for the long blue grass; after all, the pervasive influence of the UAE ruler who pays the wages of a large segment of the racing industry not only in Kentucky but also across the world. In Australia where the racing industry has a disproportionate influence, one can only cringe when one hears our equine commentators falling over themselves to address “His Highness”.

Two weeks ago a panel of United Nations human rights experts, including members of a panel that deal with forced disappearances and violence against women, asked Dubai for proof that Sheikha Latifa was still alive and called for her immediate release.

Evidence of life and assurances regarding her well-being are urgently required,” the U.N. analysts said. In recent years, videos have of Sheikha Latifa, saying she was imprisoned in a Dubai palace and afraid for her life. In a 2018 video she said, “her father only cares about himself and his ego.” In an ominous premonition, “I’m making this video because it could be the last video I make,” she said. She was last seen at a meal hosted by her father that the former Irish President and erstwhile defender of human rights, Mrs Mary Robinson attended. She later said she had been tricked into attending. Yet her excuses sounded lame in a report of the matter in the Irish Examiner when, in her attempt to rationalise the woman’s dire situation, she was reported to have said Sheika Latifa was said to have a bipolar disorder. I would say it was the least of the Sheika’s worries.

As widely reported, Sheikha Latifa hasn’t been seen in public since an attempt to escape in March 2018, when her Finnish personal trainer and a former French soldier joined forces to smuggle the Sheika aboard a boat, which was later boarded by armed Emirati commandos in Indian waters. Sheikha Latifa and her personal trainer, Tiina Jauhiainen, were captured at gunpoint, sedated and returned to Dubai, with Ms Jauhiainen released after a fortnight. No mention is made of the French soldier’s fate.

This is not the first time Sheikh Mohammed’s treatment of female family members generated outrage. Last year in Britain a judge found that he had abducted another daughter, Shamsa, off the streets of Cambridge in the UK in 2000, flew her by helicopter to France and then returned her to Dubai.

In addition, his youngest wife, Princess Haya, Mrs Robinson’s mate, has also left Dubai fearing for her life after she was subjected to a campaign of intimidation and harassment.

But then the Sheikh has 30 children from six wives. Given the attention being shown to women’s right in Australia, who will be the first to issue an invitation for Princess Latifa to visit Australia – if she hasn’t been killed already by Godolphin Blue.

Godolphin Blue

Tasmania – the place where it counts

Each of five electorates are called divisions. Each division has approximately the same number of electors. Voting for the House of Assembly is by a form of proportional representation using the single transferable vote (STV), known as the Hare-Clark electoral system. By having multiple members for each division, the voting intentions of the electors are more closely represented in the House of Assembly.

Since 1998, the quota for election in each division, after distribution of preferences, has been 16.7% (one-sixth). Under the preferential proportional voting system in place, the lowest-polling candidates are eliminated, and their votes distributed as preferences to the remaining candidates. If a candidate achieves a quota, their surplus votes are redistributed as preferences.

I was once elected to office by a similar system.

In this election Premier Gutwein in his Bass division nearly achieved three quotas. That is the way to do it, because once you reach the required number of votes, the surplus cascades to your fellow party members. If the level of this popularity for Gutwein had been translated across the other four division, he would have won in a landslide.

That is not how Tasmania works. Like Gaul, Tasmania is divided into three parts. Hobart in the south, Launceston in the north, and a conglomerate of towns on the north-west and west coast.

Hobart spreads westwards along the Derwent is a different constituency to Bass. Divided into Clark, where the Liberals struggled to gain a second seat and Franklin, where the Liberal and Labor Party gained two seats and Greens one, the electoral picture is far different in the other three constituencies of Lyons, Braddon and the Gutwein fortress of Bass.

Launceston, the overwhelming population centre of Bass, in fact is a much smaller electorate in geographical terms than the other two northern electorates.  Yet it does include Flinders Island, where the Islanders are the closest living remnant of an Aboriginal race despite some residual controversy, where its purity left with the death of Truganini in 1878.

Devonport is the largest town in the north-west electorate of Braddon, but this electorate has a number of settlements ranging along the coast (plus King Island) and then extending down the Murchison Highway to the “mineral shield” settlements of Rosebery, Zeehan and Queenstown and the fishing and tourist settlement of Strahan lying as it does on Macquarie Harbour, the third largest in Australia, larger than Sydney Harbour.

Within Braddon are some of most extraordinary examples of untouched temperate rain forests, despite the efforts of successive Governments to destroy it in the name of jobs. Here, in one the most magnificent wilderness areas, despite a strong working class population the electorate is strongly Liberal – the heartland of Morrison populism. The Greens are the foe. Yet the south-west is the State’s unique flora and fauna Treasury.

South-west wilderness

Lyons, also a Liberal State electorally, is an amoeboid electorate which spreads its pseudopods from the east coast through the Midlands into  Sheffield, a trendy watering hole just 22 kilometres south of Devonport which lies within Braddon on the north coast. Federally it has a Labor party member but in this State election it voted for the Liberal Party, a crossover trend which occurs in Tasmania; as does the number of Independent members of both State and Federal Parliament, which is not difficult to understand given how strong private politics are in Tasmania.

Last Saturday was the first time I had been in Tasmania when the State election had been held. The gracious concession speech of the Labor leader and the gruff laconic acceptance speech of the Premier contrasted with the predictable loquacity of the Greens leader given a post-election microphone. She unfortunately provided a strident tirade, and before turning her off, I had thought politics at the top here was refreshingly different. Not so.

For a population of about 550,000 with one in four of the population living in Hobart, it has 57 Federal and State politicians; and between 200 and 300 local councillors in the 29 municipalities (it was 79 when I first visited Tasmania).

Tasmania is grossly over-governed. Under the Australian constitution it is guaranteed five seats in the House of Representatives; and as with the US Senate each State has the same number, apart from the ACT and the Northern Territory.

Comparing Wyoming with a population slightly larger than Tasmania’s, it sends only one elected representative to Congress (out of 535). By contrast, Tasmania sends five elected members to the House of Representatives (out of 151).

Therefore, Federal Government policy towards Tasmania has traditionally been to fill the begging bowl and a tree not chopped down or a river not dammed or native species not exterminated have dogged policy considerations to the detriment of the State. It is private politics in its purest form. Take the health system: if Hobart gets A, Launceston and Burnie will want A too.  It is the root cause of so much of Tasmanian problems – the inability to live with one another.

I was just perusing The Advocate, the paper of the north west. The number of football teams in the area is extraordinary, and as I have written elsewhere the antagonism between towns is often reflected on the football field and the closer the towns are to one another, the greater the antagonism and failure to work together. Thus, in terms of rationalising resources, this part of the State presents a problem in getting agreement to any public policy.

My contribution to this private politics, since I am a ratepayer, is the following ; first the gorse along the Zeehan-Strahan road needs to be eradicated before it consumes Tasmania, just as Queensland was threatened by the prickly pear infestation before the introduction of cactoblastis beetle. The other problem with gorse is that below its impenetrable prickly greenery it stores all its dead wood which can act as a fire accelerant.

Peruvian goat herder

Peruvian goat herders have been used in the USA to oversee goats which eat noxious weeds. Paradoxically if you do burn the gorse, then four to five years’ worth of goats feeding on it will eliminate gorse. Andean Peruvians are said to be the most reliable goat herders; apart from which, having a goat herd in the area will provide an industry and something for tourism. However, don’t let the goats become feral otherwise it’s another cane toad.

Secondly is to upgrade the Strahan airport to a level where it can receive planes as big as a 737. The latter is unlikely in the short term even thought it could be used for tourism in the south-west and would certainly open up the tourist market, especially with a rental car franchise. The longer term consideration is with climate change – inevitably the forests will dry out, and therefore there is a need on the west coast of Tasmania for the airstrip to be upgraded so water tankers can land instead of being based in Launceston or Hobart. For those with short memories, no one seriously believed the rainforest of the south coast of New South Wales could burn the way it did.

Then thirdly, more a suggestion than a demand, there is another industry which I find it strange that the Liberal Government has not promoted and that is dedicated quarantine facilities. I would not advocate Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour, once a prison, but a properly constructed quarantine facility in Tasmania is certainly closer to Australia than Christmas Island.

Sarah Island, Macquarie Harbour

But then the success of private politics depends on how determined and how committed one is for the long game. I wonder how well this is translated into the future administration of Tasmania.

Mouse Whisper

An unguarded comment?

As one of his colleagues recently remembered:

“30 years ago today, the wonderful C… H… died. Fabulous economist & mentor with unlimited time to talk. Friday drinks in his office often included Pichon Lalande, Lynch Bages & Chateau Talbot as he mulled over the next additions to his cellar. Great man; greatly missed.”

Different time – wrong look. Yet the connoisseur of lotus cuisine continues to be the role model for the current Canberra Elite.

Modest Expectations – Box Hill to Port Melbourne

You know if a line was drawn from the Perth GPO to the Sydney GPO to represent the history of the Earth, reptiles would appear in Canberra and intelligent human life would evolve in Balmain Author Craig Cormick then calculating in the Federal Department of Science Set Square.

More than just a Nuance 

Below is a lightly edited extract from The Boston Globe last week. Maybe it is the foretaste of more irritating daleks on benches and mantelpieces with stupid names ostensibly doing my bidding, but who knows.

There’s nothing subtle about Microsoft’s US $19.7 billion, all-cash acquisition of Burlington-based Nuance Communications. It’s a bold statement that Microsoft intends to be the dominant provider of speech-based artificial intelligence systems to the world’s biggest enterprises, particularly in health care.

This acquisition is Microsoft’s biggest since the company paid $26 billion in 2016 to acquire the business-oriented social network LinkedIn. Microsoft bought Skype in 2011 for $8.5 billion

Nuance, which employs around 7,100 people worldwide, is famous for its artificial-intelligence software that enables computers to recognize human speech. These days, plenty of companies make similar software for consumers. In fact, Apple’s Siri voice system was based on Nuance technology.

Amazon, Google, and even Microsoft have all built their own speech software and virtual assistants for mainstream users. Nuance also used to dabble in consumer markets. But in recent years, the company has specialized in enterprise-grade AI software that understands the meanings behind words, with a particular focus on medical applications.

Today, Nuance makes software smart enough to automatically generate medical records, assist doctors in their diagnoses, and refill patients’ prescriptions. And demand for such software is likely to surge, as millions worldwide replace face-to-face doctor visits with online and remote health care — a process accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The acquisition will enable Microsoft to tap a global health care market worth $500 billion per year, it has been predicted.

And that could be just the beginning. Nuance also makes an array of intelligent programs for customer service and security applications. It makes software that can accurately figure out what a caller wants, even if they don’t use exactly the right words. It even makes a product for financial services companies that can identify fraudulent callers pretending to be someone else. The software can spot crooks not only by analysing their tone of voice, but by tracking which words they use.

And now Microsoft will be able to market all of these capabilities worldwide.

Nuance had net income of $28 million on revenue of $1.48 billion for its fiscal year ended Sept. 30, compared to a net loss of $12.2 million for the previous year.

It has been pointed out that Microsoft’s success with Nuance is by no means assured. IBM’s Watson Health initiative has also tried to apply AI technologies to health care but earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported that IBM is considering a sale of the business, which generates annual revenue of $1 billion, but no profits.

Nuance’s artificial-intelligence products are more advanced than IBM’s. Still, doctors and hospitals are often slow to embrace new technology, no matter how good it is because the health care industry itself is a very conservative industry.

The Nuance acquisition is expected to close later this year.

I can’t wait!

Digger’s Rest is now in Oxfordshire

It is interesting that Murdoch’s star is setting in every country apart from his old Digger’s Rest in “my beloved Australia” but, as Google will show, it’s in Oxfordshire.

The migration of News Corporation from Australia to Delaware in 2004 for reincorporation was seen at the time to be ambiguous. While News Corp asserted that the re-incorporation would enhance shareholder value, critics of the proposal claimed that its real purpose was to strengthen managerial power vis-à-vis shareholder power. Now assuming that the move has been the cornerstone of Murdoch family control, presumably it would not have escaped the President’s notice that Murdoch has nestled in his state where the Democrats have massive majorities in both Houses. Far be it from somebody in far off Australia to suggest that the Delaware legislature would be contemplating their version of a “poison pill” to make this old Oxfordshire squire’s life a little harder, but the White House does not seem to have a welcome mat out for Murdoch and Son.

I doubt if Boris Johnson owes the same Squire any favours. either, but Rupert has had this serpentine way of intruding into the political boudoirs of the rich and famous. Boris realises that if you watch the eye movements of a snake, you can very much know when it is about to strike. Pandering to a snake is not the best way to run a government, nevertheless as one source has written:

It may seem extraordinary that the worship of the serpent should ever have been introduced into the world, and it must appear still more remarkable that it should almost universally have prevailed. As mankind are said to have been ruined through the influence of this being, we could little expect that it would, of all other objects, have been adopted as the most sacred and salutary symbol, and rendered the chief object of adoration. Yet so we find it to have been, for in most of the ancient rites there is some allusion to it.

Some of the more uncharitable among us might believe that above is a perfect description of “Dear Rupert” at work. It is worthy to note that ophiolatreia, the worship of snakes, apparently burns out in the colder climes, when the snake is no longer seen an influential symbol.

Doing the rhumba

Yet there is a band of contrarians. I can categorically deny that Hillsong has invited any of them, their many fraternal Pentecostal mates in the Appalachian Mountains, to come to Australia with their rhumba of rattlesnakes. They follow the dictum as expressed in Mark 16:18 which says, “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them”.

Unfortunately, like many a tabloid newspaper, one verse can always be taken out of context.  Being bitten by a snake, according to these believers in the literal translation of the verse, has resulted in many a pastoral death among these Hill people, with the pastors being particular sacrifices. As He may have said “Mark my words!”

But then again Rupert’s version of the rhumba may have caused enough political demise for us not to need any spiritual injection from the Pentecostalist hills of Kentucky and Tennessee.

We Australians are all that is left of the “downsized” Rupert global injection room retreat.  Poor us. Son Lachlan has moved back to Australia. Really, do we deserve that?  Remember how his brilliance has shone previously in the Australian business world. 

Andrew Peacock – Not a Bad Bloke

I saw Andrew Peacock at close quarters when we were both active and ambitious young men. Most people go through life without the privilege that he had and indeed cultivated. He went to a private school, where he coveted being Captain of the School and where he sustained a rivalry for the post with Tony Staley, later to be a less successful politician in same Party. In the end neither of them attained Captain of the School. The captain was a quiet studious chap who played the piano well.

Peacock and Hawke

Peacock avoided student politics, while Staley was my successor as President of the Student Representative Council. However, Peacock was along a different trail. After a preliminary tilt at Federal politics unsuccessfully challenging Jim Cairns then inherited the retiring Prime Minister Menzies’ seat of Kooyong, with the appropriate blessing of the incumbent.

Peacock was well suited to the then Liberal Party, especially in Victoria where noblesse oblige played a large part, and he himself was mildly centrist in his views. Nevertheless, there were limits. I well remember the debate in Parliament on abortion, where the Liberal Party then in Opposition were universally supportive, to a man and the few women, of the anti-abortionists. When the matter came to a vote in the House of Representatives Peacock theatrically stood up as though to vote for its legalisation against the wishes of the Party, looked around at the back bench and realised that nobody was following – and promptly sat down.

Peacock performed one particularly lasting service during his relatively short stint as Minister for External Territories in 1972. He befriended the charismatic Michael Somare. Peacock was refreshingly modern, as had followed a series of Ministers who still looked on that emerging nation of Papua New Guinea as a place for the continuation of patrol officer paternalism. Together he and Somare cemented the foundations which led to Papua-New Guinea. The relationship since has not been easy, but Peacock ensured with Somare that it would be ordered and peaceful. That is his legacy, and all the stuff about him being a “ Treasure” will dissolve with the attendant crocodile tears.

Peacock and I fell out, after a savage speech I made directed at what I perceived, rightly or wrongly, as some of his actions. Like many things I have done, I probably regret it, but what does it matter when one old man reflects on the legacy of another old man now gone and who lived most of his last 20 years in Texas. Perhaps his $2.5bn mishap in the Gold Coast hedge fund accelerated that exit.

I believe if he had been given the opportunity Peacock would have made a good Prime Minister, but as he was never one for detail, he would have needed very good staff work. However, he knew how to handle his colleagues, except for Howard. In the end I believe he also got tired of having to deal with Howard, who was assiduous whereas he was not. In effect he was outlasted, even though there were a few interim Party leaders between him hanging up his political boots and Howard eventually gaining complete control of the Liberal Party.

After he left Parliament having never made Prime Minister, the zeal of public life with which he had pursued this Grail probably deserted him as he drifted into the cocktail circuit of diplomacy and mixing with other world “treasures”.  Howard was shrewd enough to offer him an official sinecure for such a pursuit. I hope Peacock was happy, because he wasn’t a bad bloke.

Nevertheless, as a wise associate of mine with a dry sense of humour said: “Only children, especially boys, should have ‘only child’ stamped on their foreheads to warn people.”  Maybe that would have been a better epitaph for Andrew.

The Shambles is not only a street in York

I have always been a great supporter of the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory. However, I understand that at present there are insufficient people with the appropriate qualifications to keep the facility open. Why? Because so many of the regulars are committed to trying to staunch the COVID-19 outbreak in PNG.

Not enough resources. Is it time for that Morrisonian war footing?

Should this war footing the Prime Minister is trumpeting concentrate the attention of Australians – mobilising the country – get rid of all frippery – world surf carnivals and the like, and then truly putting the whole country into vaccination khaki.  Does he really mean to emulate John Curtin?

Or Prime Minister, are you just trying to run this country as though we are in the middle of a Mortein ad?

No social distancing at this ritual

The increasingly erratic Prime Minister has been essentially advocating tossing away the hard-earned gains of lock down and border closure by advocating home quarantine and people being able to in effect freely travel into the pandemic areas, because allegedly some Liberal Party donor has a villa in Tuscany and/or his Hillsong mates want to import singing and clapping in viral bags from all over the world for some Convention. Somebody may have seen the success of such religious festivals in India in spreading the Virus and want to emulate these by mass baptisms in the Hawkesbury River or some such spectacular event where social distancing is perceived as a heathen ritual.

It is slowly becoming clearer about the efficacy of vaccinations, and unfortunately it seems that the Australian Government has plumped for the inferior, if cheaper vaccine. When I see only poor old John Skerrett wearing the pelt of scapegoat, assuring the Australian public about how well the Australian vaccination world is, you know the politicians have lengthened their bargepoles.

Australia has done a remarkable job in suppressing the virus, in preventing variants from gaining a hold and allowing us to live a normal life.

Therefore, for Australians, the words “war footing” either jar or are ignored. What is needed is for the Federal Government to assume its constitutional responsibility and not “tar baby” the States. It should prepare mass vaccination facilities and train enough vaccinators so that when supplies of vaccine become available, they can be manned immediately so the program can start. Part-time vaccinators, trained and ready, should have similar entitlements as if they were a uniformed force reserve, ready to present to their particular vaccine centre when called up. The vaccinations will require military precision.

The question of which vaccine needs to be resolved. Transparency is essential. Thus, as a start, it is important to know how many politicians hold shares in AstraZeneca or CSL or, for that matter, in any suppliers of essential goods. That should be done immediately. Let us get some real transparency into the decision making. Then repeat the justification for such vaccines, slowly identifying also all the consultants, their role and achievements, if any.

Then, continue with the AstraZeneca vaccine for all those over 65 – first and second injection.  As with America, weekly totals are placed on public view. If the AstraZeneca can be modified to one injection, that option should be pursued. You are dealing with many elderly people and one injection is easier to remember than two.

It seems that Pfizer and Moderna technology is far superior, and now that they can be stored in a conventional refrigerator without fear of interruption of the cold chain integrity, supplies must be obtained, and a definite timetable set. The new public relations scenario is roping poor old John Shine in for speculation on whether Australia will get into the business of manufacturing the effective mRNA vaccines somewhere sometime in the future. I don’t say it cannot be done, but a timetable for completion and distribution needs to be calculated. In the interim, McKinsey continues to be financially enhanced.

The Prime Minister should be gagged unless his utterances can be confirmed to be true by an independent panel headed by Norman Swan or his equivalent in order to regain lost political credibility.

The unknowns are gradually becoming clear. There will be a need for booster injections to counter the viral variants beyond the first one; there will be a real necessity for Australia to improve its home-based technology. The advances that Pfizer have apparently achieved in reducing the age at which children can be injected should be monitored closely. Increasingly, being unvaccinated at all ages will be a risk when our world opens up to that villa in Tuscany.

That villa in Tuscany …

Razors – how the land scrape has changed

In my whole life the longest time I have ever gone without a shave after I reached the “age of the bristle” has been three days. That occurred at Easter 1958 which fell in the first week of April that year.  I was induced by two fellow medical students to go on a camping trip in the high plains area of Victoria.

I had never been camping before, and instead of a sleeping bag I had an old eiderdown, which proved to be a very comfortable substitute – we were lucky it didn’t rain.  The nights were very cold in the high country – the Porepunkah caravan park and the Bruthen tip. I am sure the eiderdown did not conform to the kit of a conventional camper. I forgot to take a razor.

Since that time razor technology has changed to such an extent that the ritual of yesterday with badger brush, to mix the shaving soap in a custom made Wedgewood porcelain bowl for a lather prior to the application of the razor was not a two minute exercise. That was a morning ritual, and many of the professionals in my father’s and grandfather’s generation paid a visit to the barber in the morning before work for a shave, complete with hot towels and all the fragrances that substituted for our modern deodorants – underarm and elsewhere. Presumably a presiding judge never wanted to appear as a Norman Gunston figure – but it would have done wonders for court humour.

When I started to shave, I used to have to screw the razor into the so-called safety razor which took no account of a wrinkly face; you need to tighten the skin to avoid the inevitable cuts as the razor encountered adolescent pimples underneath the softened lathered face. This whole process was interrupted by constantly having to run the shaver under water to remove the facial hair. Often this was not a pretty sight.

The electric razor followed. This was an apparent advance, but it came with a pre-shave conditioner and an aftershave lotion, most of which smelt like a French bordello – well, an imagined French bordello.  Brut was the champion odour. Old Spice was equally repugnant.  Aramis too was another turnoff among the few young women who ventured near. The problem with the electric razor is that despite the hype, it never gave a close shave; to such an extent that I was accused of presenting for a final year obstetric oral examination as an unshaven and untidy “colt from Carlton”. I well remember I was wearing a very expensive pale grey suit, and these days such a facial presentation would have been considered fashionable. Apparently, I lost marks for neatness, which was the way the senior medical profession operated in those days, especially when they thought one had the mien of a rebel and needed to be sent to an eastern suburban Siberia as an intern.

Facial salvation eventually came with the modern disposable razor, which has been constantly tweaked so that one can shave without any of the former ritual, although it does help to wet your face. And the time taken? Well, if you can’t do it in under two minutes, you must have latent narcissist tendencies trapped by your vision in the mirror of your post-shaven purity.

Seriously, we forget the time saved by the modern razors, and as long as one does not use the same one more than 24 times, then it gives the facies a very close approximation to a member of human race, unlike those who bury their jaws in home grown hedges.

Mouse Whisper

The Minister for Cultural Correctness, Admiral of the Swift, Pedro Dutônão has a issued a twerking ban on the Dill Squadron. Twiggy and his sidetwiglet ScãoMão have been severely reprimanded for their inappropriate antics before the start of the Collingwood clash with the West Coast Eagles. The Admiral was reported as saying that the crowd reaction of booing one of these perpetrators was completely justifiable in view of that earlier disgraceful mass action. The Admiral went on to regret any hurt that may have been caused to any Australian viewing the original performance but failed to mention the level of reparations due to the Australian community.

Modest Expectations – Seaplanes & Submarines

When I was a medical student in the early 1960s, I wrote a novel ostensibly about a day in the life of a medical student. It was not particularly good, but I kept a copy of it. When I revisited it a few years ago, I was amazed at the anger and repressed violence portrayed by the anti-hero who was a reasonable facsimile of myself at that age – rootless, one who read snatches of Salinger, Camus, Kerouac, Orwell, Fanon, Hemingway – anarchic without a clue how to approach women. Boy’s school product without mother or any sisters. I was the heroic anti-hero.  Oh, yeah! I shudder to think how I negotiated my late teenage years.

However, reassessing the novel again, it having laid undisturbed for so many years, I was able to do something that was for me unique, look back on how I thought then. Bit of a worry, but it gave me an insight into what I was saying then; and what was clearly locked into my subconscious now became completely plain to the older me.

The antihero’s attitude to women was appalling. I was the writer. I could not believe that I had written some of the stuff. The plot was OK, if you like idiosyncratic self-absorption. Some of the writing I could now barely understand. Anyway, the rejection note from Rigby’s was very polite. I remember for some reason opening it on a rainy day in Adelaide. Why Adelaide – who knows? One of the mysteries of life. For a long time the rejection destroyed the author in me.

Not that I noticed as the years slipped by. Remembering the oversized cupboard I had for an office in old Parliament House, the relief was palpable when, after a day of claustrophobia, I could escape to the non-members bar.

Perhaps, had I gone back to my flat in the evenings, I would have written my diary and perhaps reflected on the draft novel. However had I done so, I would have missed out on a great deal of gossip relevant for the next day. With the small number we had in the office in those days, there was little time for “hanging out” apart from the bar. It was difficult to go out for dinner, and when you did The Lobby was the most convenient place, but dinner was always rushed.  You had to get back to the House by 8.00 pm.

So, the recent proposal to limit alcohol consumption in Parliament House in my time would have received few votes, but then Parliament House was not the widespread prairie it is now and staff numbers were roughly proportional to the workload.  Judging by the antics by this expanded fringe that are being reported, there were more of us with an IQ greater than 100. Recruitment should be improved, and “friend of my cousin’s son” should not be the prime criterion for employment. That is more important than any attempt to muzzle the “booze culture”.

The only night I remember going home early was my first night in Parliament House; thereafter on the sitting days it was full on, as was socialising, but in those days the opinion leaders in the non-members bar were all men. That was for sure.

Carrie Nation, with hatchet

The booze problem seems to be an enduring characteristic of politics. Carrie Nation developed a notoriety by spending many years destroying bars in the Mid-west. Her weapon was a hatchet; she was arrested and fined on countless occasions as she ran this rugged temperance movement. Her activities preceded the disastrous Prohibition Period.

I doubt whether there is a Carrie Nation character willing to metaphorically take an axe to alcohol in Parliament House. Banning alcohol, breath testing and testing for drugs, all knee jerk responses unthought out, will just fade away like so much editorial fluff.

Nevertheless, Carrie Nation did something which could be emulated by these Parliamentary women looking for a project to which they could all contribute. Carrie Nation set up refuges for women who were victims of abuse where alcohol was the major contributing factor.

When I was in charge of a community health program in the 1970s, the Department was intensely conservative; it could be said that members of the Santamaria Curia, laughingly referred to as the Democratic Labour Party, were firmly ensconced in senior levels of the Victorian public service as it was in some of the health funds. My administrative officer had been brought up in a conservative Roman Catholic family. At that time, it was somewhat confronting when the woman running refuges turned up with spiky hair and leather jacket. We did not bother the senior echelons of the Department in funding for these refuges.

Over to you Senator Stoker, learn something about something.

And moreover

Anonymouse

Every time I get in my car – a modest French model – I curse the car designers who don’t seem to be able to manufacture a car that has a seatbelt that fits.  The same has applied to previous cars of different brands. The adjustment offered is just sufficient to ensure the seatbelt cuts across my neck and neatly tucks under my left armpit. Is this a problem?  Yes, of course it is.

In a recent New York Review article, “Invisible Women: Data bias in a world designed for men”, the problems caused by the data gap are described: seat belts, airbags and wearable electronic devices are designed for the average male and no seat belt has ever been designed to safely accommodate a pregnant woman.  In the US, women are 17 per cent more likely than men to die in a car crash and 73 per cent more likely to be injured in a frontal crash despite being involved in fewer accidents … presumably they are being strangled by an ill-fitting seatbelt.

Only now is the first crash test dummy that accurately represents women’s bodies being developed, in Sweden. America only started using female dummies in safety tests in 2011, but these apparently don’t represent average women. Although 50 per cent of drivers are women, the industry standard is based on “male” crash test dummies in the driver’s seat.

Australian car manufacturers made some desultory efforts to acknowledge that women were a growing part of the vehicle market. Remember the make-up mirror behind the sun visor, colours designed especially for “the ladies”, and “nice mats so the high heels aren’t scuffed” that were once promoted? Fortunately, these ridiculous promotions seem to have vanished, but the seat belt problem remains, grounded in the same failure to ensure that data specifically relating to women are included in relevant data.

The data gap doesn’t just exist to make cars uncomfortable (well, downright dangerous actually).  Personal protective equipment (PPE) has been a hot topic during the COVID-19 pandemic.  PPE is designed to fit the “average man” however the vast majority of nurses are female, as are a significant proportion of emergency department doctors and new medical registrars; they have to work in PPE designed for men. Ninety-five per cent of women in emergency services say their PPE don’t fit, and that includes bullet proof vests as well.

Medical devices  have been designed for the male body. For example, the design of the metal-on-metal hip implant, supposedly a gender-neutral medical device, disproportionately injure women, who receive more replacements.  The design is too shallow for women’s wider hips leaving it more likely that metal particles will break off the implant, or that it will fail.

The impact of this data bias ends up in court: it is reported that in the US in 2018, 32 per cent of lawsuits pending in the Federal court involved products that exclusively or primarily injured women; at the same time 6.4 per cent of the mass torts involved products exclusively affecting men – Viagra, the male hair-loss drug Propecia and Adrogel, a testosterone replacement therapy. However, a comparison of individual lawsuits starkly illustrates the problem: 9,969 federal lawsuits involved products that exclusively harmed men; contrast 67,085 federal lawsuits were brought by women in relation to pelvic mesh alone.

The Prime Minister has appointed a cadre of female Ministers to improve the appalling culture in Australia’s Parliament House revealed by  multiple complaints of sexual assault and bad behaviour. He has an opportunity to be other than reactionary. There is no doubt that the culture of Parliament House must change, just as the broader culture of Australia needs to change. Government must play its part in that but at the same time the Prime Minister has an opportunity to make a mark – time for data bias to be eliminated, time for women to not have to “make do” with things designed for men.  Australia was one of the first countries in the world to make seat belts compulsory; time to lead the world and make them as safe for women as for men.

So Grace Tame, you are striving to bring about improvement in the lives of women, how about advocating a technology revolution to design women-friendly devices.

It was no Rainbow

Now that I am firmly on reminiscent road, my second night in Parliament House still sticks in my memory. After the House rose for the evening, I was having a drink with Snedden to celebrate the end of my second day, when two journalists turned up. Snedden had an easy relationship with many in the Press Gallery, and these two senior journalists turned up to see what Snedden had employed as his Principal Private Secretary (PPS), now referred to as the Chief of Staff. In those days, the media cover of staff appointment was perfunctory, but the Press Gallery apparently knew I was a doctor. Incidentally, not being regularly in the media spotlight was a blessing.

The appointment of a doctor to staff was not that unusual. Whitlam’s PPS was also medically qualified. Peter Wilenski had been President of the Sydney Union at about the time I had been President of the University of Melbourne Student Representative Council. Wilenski had branched out of medicine into a career as a diplomat; while I had remained in medicine although I found time to complete the preliminary requirements for a Master of Arts which I never found time to finish the thesis.

Greenstreet and Lorre

Anyway, these two characters arrived – to me, as they entered the room, they projected the imagery of Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre just stepping out of a film noir – one large and lumbering but with a touch of menace and the other slight with the delicately honed syntax of the intellectual. They had combined to write a book on the 1972 election of Gough Whitlam.

I had been prepared to pack up and go back to the motel but their appearance and invitation for a drink put the kibosh on that. Snedden had a particularly close relationship with Oakes at that time; Oakes had the ability of making him relax for he was a different person in private from the public persona which was often appeared stilted and pompous.  This easy relationship at that time was demonstrated a few drinks later when Snedden performed his party trick – his standing jump onto the coffee table. Very boys own. At that time, Oakes had a certain presence of honed maturity, which made me forget he was still only 28. When he laughed, it was always suppressed as he tried to keep his response to himself, and to maintain that look which some confused with Buddhic depth – but I always saw Sidney Greenstreet.

Snedden then left me to joust with Oakes and Solomon. About 3am we called it quits, a draw. Laurie Oakes had been a member of the Liberal Club at the University of Sydney, whereas David Solomon was the classic Fabian. Yet it showed the fact that politics circulated around the centre rather than being the preserve of the extremes. Nevertheless, as I have written before, the political centre is like the magnetic pole. It shifts.

I believe reflecting from a long way away but with the benefit of considerable hindsight that if Laurie Oakes had replaced Geoff Allen in the latter part of 1973 as Snedden’s Press Secretary, he would have provided the muscle to dissuade Snedden from precipitating the 1974 Federal election.

I remember being next to Snedden on the flight to Canberra when he read that Whitlam had appointed Vince Gair as Ambassador to Ireland. His immediate visceral reaction was to take Whitlam to the election. In the end, the decision to precipitate the election fractured the relationship between Snedden and Oakes. However, history is littered with the “what could have beens”.

Geoff Allen had been a remarkable Press Secretary with an incomparable ability to reframe people and make people feel good and confident, but after years in the role, he had had enough. The difference being “having enough” and “burn out” is the person recognises the first before the second phase sets in. Being very shrewd, Geoff went on to run a very successful consultancy business. It was a common career progression among those who worked for Billy Snedden.

Cormann – The Golden Point

If there was a more cringeworthy utterance from the Prime Minister it was when Cormann was elected Secretary-General of the OECD. Morrison announced it was as though Australia had won the position by punting Cormann over the black dot to win the rugby league game by a field goal.

Yes, Corman won by a single vote, which means that 18 nations voted against him, and they will be watching him for an even-handed approach, given the activities of his Australian cheer squad – if he really matters in the scheme of things. America put him in the position, changing its initial vote away from the Swedish contender.

This means that Cormann needs to toe the American line if he wants a second six-year term – and with John Kerry calling the shots, Cormann will be expected to echo the Kerry chant, at least for now.

The line to toe

As for the importance of this appointment, I have been scanning the NYT for news of his appointment. It does not seem to have appeared; but maybe I have missed the headline. Nevertheless, a Western Australian did appear in the NYT news this week – a guy being struck in the back by an octopus tentacle in the waters of the coast of that State. I believe his name was not Cormann.

Well done, Us

Over Easter, I sat down to a pub tea in a regional city in NSW. The local football and netball teams had been playing that day, and there was jubilation in air.  The tavern was packed; social distancing was nominal; there was no hand sanitiser on the table (although it was at all the entry doors); we had brought our own. It was as though the COVID-19 infection had never happened. I asked those at the table whether anybody had had a cold or flu in the previous year. Nobody had.

Small sample but perhaps it can be postulated that the level of hygiene within the community has changed. We are less tolerant of people at work with contagious diseases, the so-called “cracking hardy”, or being forced to work while sick by unsympathetic bosses.  The fact that the States have cracked down when even one community infected case appears has people fearful of being group punished if contracting the Virus.

The only one who seems immune from this is the Premier of NSW who has at times been Pollyanna or Don Quixote. She has been lucky. After the near-death experiences of the Ruby Princess disaster, the Newmarch Nursing Home catastrophe and a Chief Health Officer who, in the early days, talked about a zig-zag approach to the Virus, whatever that meant, NSW was then on the nose.

The Premier had inherited the best contact tracing system in Australia and now has a Health Minister who recognises health is the priority in righting the State and not being undermined by the self-interest of some of the business community. These conjunctions of fortune have helped place NSW in a place where the Premier has reaped the benefit, but there is still the vaccination rollout to be negotiated.

Mouse Whisper

Just as tasteless variations  as exemplified by “Schitt’s Creek” (Candian sit-com) or “Up Schipp’s Creek” (AAMI ad).

You know my Cousin Mouse complete with stick and lederhosen climbing out the Bavarian glacial valley gasped:

“Gosh, that place gave me the schist.”

Then there was the tableau of four oblong white fabric figures weaving and then falling onto the stage, and my Cousin Mouse entering off left and declaiming, pointing to prostrate figures with his stick:

“Lo, a pack of dead sheets.”

No, I am not three sheets to the wind.

A glacial valley designed to give you the schist

Modest Expectations – Geneva & Adelaide

The sight of our Prime Minister flailing around, without the wit and with deep-seated prejudices inherited in his childhood, reflects the fact that he is increasingly paralysed by the culture over which he presides. The problem with cultural change is that it takes time, and frequently depends on brutal decisions, not the least of which is to confront the problem head-on and cut away the diseased part.

Taking a medical analogy, once the doctor finds the abscess, it is drained. If the abscesses are miliary, then a general remedy is needed, and even then the disease may overwhelm the system.

All I know is the diseased process of our parliamentary government is not going to be solved by a laying on of hands or an outburst of political glossolalia.

The immediate response of sections of the Liberal Party is to introduce female quotas into the preselection process. Does the preselection procedures in the past give you reason to believe that this system will produce candidates that live within the Bell curve of normal women? And if you decide to select women who lie at least at the extremities of that curve are you sure that their idiosyncratic ways will benefit the community at large and not the tiny, skewed population that preselected them?

Extraordinary women may add colour and may play an important role, but the expectation for all women parliamentarians is that they will generally care and have an innate compassion and respect for other women. The current crop of female Liberal Party politicians (or for that matter National Party) in Canberra do not seem to have these qualities.

Catherine Cusack

There is one female politician in the Liberal Party who has seemed an exception. She is a NSW State politician, Catherine Cusack. She and her husband Chris Crawford represent that remnant of the Liberal Party that used to participate in the then Australian Institute of Political Science, in its latter glory days when it ran a summer school in Canberra and its Board had members from both major political parties. Gough Whitlam unveiled his Medibank initiative at one of the Summer schools, such was their influence. They were able to discuss policy in terms of the financial and social implications.  However, whenever Catherine Cusack has put forward genuinely liberal solutions, particularly in relation to conservation issues, she has been demoted, slapped down and unsupported by her colleagues, especially when attacked by the National Party.

Now she has called out the Prime Minister for his behaviour. Is this a single utterance of frustration and will she vanish back into the background of women who wear shapeless clothing, and have a bow in their hair to recognise their traditional inferiority at the time of the “rapture” – their role being in actually tending the hearth?

Cusack has issued herself with a challenge – that is to maintain her very important confrontational position. Otherwise, she will be dismissed as a remnant of a Liberal Party that, in the eyes of the current crop of her colleagues, never existed.

Meanwhile, Morrison recycles his bevy of outliers under the wing of Marise Payne, herself the invisible woman.

I was only 22

Rico Marley walked into a grocery store in midtown Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon carrying a guitar bag.

He headed for the men’s room, the authorities said, where he strapped on a bulletproof vest. He then donned a jacket, its pockets full of ammunition, and placed two loaded handguns in a left front pocket and two other loaded handguns in a right front pocket. In the guitar bag, he carried a 12-gauge shotgun, an AR-15 military-style rifle and a black ski mask.

Rico Marley’s weapons

Then he walked out into the store.

Police, tipped off by an alarmed shopper in the bathroom, soon stopped him. But the incident, just three miles from the site of one of the shootings last week that left eight people dead and coming two days after a man stormed a grocery store in Boulder, Colo, and killed 10, sent new waves of unease throughout greater Atlanta and also raised nationwide fears of copycat crimes.

It is stated that when the mass shooting season starts, then there is generally a series of massacres, and increasingly it seems that the supermarkets are the killing venues, whereas in the past it was schools.

This report in the NYT is unusual, instead of reporting a massacre, it provided details of the disturbed man before he could kill the innocents – his activities being seen by an observant guy who legitimately wanted to use the toilet; no, not a security guard, not a police officer, not anybody employed to guard the community. One can surmise that the alert was raised early in that the armed gunman was apprehended before he was able to effect mayhem.

In isolation, the 22 year old coloured, poorly educated gunman had a criminal record with relatively minor petty theft – a young man with a troubled mind.  It is only newsworthy in that the potential killer was apprehended before the shooting, given that in Georgia, one does not have to conceal one’s weapons. In other words, a casual passerby in a country inured to gun violence may have shrugged seeing a fellow men’s room user donning a flak jacket as just a “normal” incident. In fact, when the observer informed the store attendant of what he had seen, the attendant was initially indeed very casual, but fortunately the vital call for police was made.

Last year in the USA there were about 20,000 gun-related murders and an almost equal number of individuals who committed suicide using a firearm. This was an increase overall, and the rise was attributed to being one endpoint of domestic violence.

On the other hand, mass shootings were absent, even though they constitute only about one per cent in most years. The reason for this is attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools were closed, there were fewer public gatherings.  The whole nation was plunged into collective misery so that those potentially homicidal aggrieved were absorbed into the wider community or, as stated above, violence was absorbed within domestic situations.

When the gun control advocates try to define solutions, they rely on the few small-scale attempts to ameliorate the situation, but unless Americans believe that their gun culture is unacceptable and women at all levels of society are considered equal in mutual respect, everything is for nought.

In other words, we are all powerless unless those who make the laws, makes the law. For me, if I were in power in Australia, I would limit the arms being made available to police forces. They are not a militia – not a paramilitary force. When did the police change from a “service” to a “force”? They do not need armoured vehicles and tear gas to protect the community. All police forces should be restricted in the colour they use, so they do not resemble a posh group of “bikies”. Try pink as the colour for their uniforms – why do they have to dress in black or midnight blue?  Get rid of the “aviators”. Be more selective in the range of ironmongery with which they adorn their uniforms. It would be such a change to see police showing compassion, on a regular basis, rather than presented as a novelty.

Another consideration would be to extend the principles of averment to all cases involving crimes of a sexual nature. I would turn the whole matter of proof over to the alleged assailant to prove he or she did not do it. Presumption of innocence in these cases does not work, first because of the trauma of the episode being cast out of the memory bank and then the unappetising prospect of ongoing harassment, being carried out in a court of law by an essentially misogynistic legal profession. Well, Gentlemen you only have to disprove that which has been so averred.

A consumer’s view of vaccination – albeit with the disadvantage of a medical degree

But infectious-disease experts are worried the pace needs to be faster to reach the high levels of immunity needed to slow the virus, especially as more transmissible variants spread throughout the country. To reach the level of protection needed, about 80 percent of the population has to be immunised, meaning that about 260 million people need to get vaccinated. That would require 3 million to 3.5 million shots being administered each day until April 30.

The Washington Post concludes an optimistic article about the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in health workers with a muted warning. America has not embraced the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, which has been the subject of a number of caveats resulting in the temporary halt to its use in a number of countries. When these questions are answered and the world-wide juggernaut resumes, with the difficulties that entails to get momentum, another caveat is issued, currently surrounding some of the mutant strains of the virus and the ineffectiveness of that vaccine against these strains.

At the same time in Australia a great number of people who are not doctors are spruiking the virus vaccines, as if there were no doubt about their efficacy, their availability and the “Jab Program” being on time. As a result, there is the unedifying spectacle of political squabbling, and I as a customer has given up trying to make an appointment. The general practice phones are always busy; in fact, the general practitioners are not geared for mass vaccinations.

Again, I am told that the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at -70 degrees Centigrade, and given the shemozzle for a consumer, how can I be assured that the cold chain integrity has been assured? The questions then begin to flood out – for instance, how long will immunity last?

Clinical trials suggest that vaccine-induced protection should last a minimum of about three months. That does not mean protective immunity will expire after 90 days; it may last longer. However, that is still one unanswered question.

The other one, given the problems with the rollout, if I was able to secure a first dose, how long shall I have to wait for the second dose, and then more importantly, for the booster? It does not seem clear to me, whether (or more optimistically, when that will occur). That is why the J&J vaccine appeals to me more because it is single dose; but will it ever be registered in Australia? Questions, questions everywhere, but only opinions to imbibe. That is my reaction as an elderly consumer eligible for the injection. I am confused, and so will hold back. In the Australian climate it seems the best option is to wait and see.

I am very pro-vaccination, and unless it is caught up in this COVID mess I intend to get my inoculation against the flu as soon as possible My only worry is that the puerile political agendas will get in the way of the program, lending ammunition for the anti-vaxxers.

And a final question. Who was the bright spark who suggested “Jab”, with all the violent connotations of the word? It is more correctly “inoculation” or “vaccination” – injected into the muscle. “Jab” is variously to poke or thrust abruptly as jabbing a knife into a body; to stab or pierce as in jabbed the steak with a fork; or lastly to punch somebody with short straight blows.

I, the frightened old person, seeing a uniformed person with a syringe saying that “I am going to jab you – just a little jab – it won’t hurt you.” Violence follows me at the point of a needle.

I thus remain a watcher. There are just too many unknowns.

It may be raining here, but this just came from the Boston Globe

Workers at a Baltimore plant manufacturing two coronavirus vaccines accidentally conflated the vaccines’ ingredients several weeks ago, ruining about 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and forcing regulators to delay authorization of the plant’s production lines.

It does not affect Johnson & Johnson doses that are currently being delivered and used nationwide. All those doses were produced in the Netherlands, where operations have been fully approved by federal regulators.

But all further shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — projected to total tens of millions of doses in the next month — were supposed to come from the massive Baltimore plant.

Those shipments are now in question while the quality control issues are sorted out, according to people familiar with the matter.

Federal officials still expect to have enough doses to meet President Biden’s commitment to provide enough vaccine by the end of May to immunize every adult. The two other federally authorized manufacturers, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are continuing to deliver as expected.

Pfizer is shipping its doses ahead of schedule, and Moderna is on the verge of winning approval to deliver vials of vaccine packed with up to 15 doses instead of 10, further boosting the nation’s stock.

It is a pity Biden was not President a year earlier – when I was at my most skeptical – he seemed so ill equipped. But that is the nature of pontificatory error. It can be lost in the cushions of mea cathedra.  I shall wait until his Presidency reaches 100 days before deciding the nature of my humble pie.

Food and Drink for the Memory

This past week has been a time of eating out in Melbourne – almost the first indulgence as such since the Virus struck last year.

There were two occasions during the week, when I experienced two tastes that reminded me of a couple of meals – one about a decade ago in New York and one in Manaus in 2019.

The first was when I asked for a gin martini in this restaurant near the Jolimont station. The best martini I have ever drunk was in the Morgan Library and Museum on Madison Ave on the west side. We had ambled into this place, not knowing that it originally housed Pierpont Morgan’s and found that there was a restaurant situated in the middle of a library.

The ornate chamber was lined with bookcases and the filtered light gave us a gauze covering. Now I thought this is going to be one of those tea cake places with delicate cups of Assam tea and dainty neatly-shaved cucumber sandwiches. No way, the only cucumber was infused into the martini. Cucumber and martini when balanced is a superb drink. It is still my benchmark as the best martini I have ever tasted. It helps if you have a cucumber infused gin at the outset.

Some years ago I managed to corner the only remaining bottles of Gordon’s cucumber gin in the distinctive green-labelled bottles available in Australia. It seems that the only gin now available with a passing nuance of cucumber is the Scottish gin, Hendricks. So was I surprised when I ordered the martini last week, and the only gin I recognised was Hendricks, not being familiar with all these boutique gins popping up all over the place.

I was thus pleasantly surprised when the Hendrick’s martini was presented to me with a generous ribbon of cucumber in what could have passed for a sherry glass. Immediately I thought I was being short changed, and yet the martini was brilliantly balanced to highlight the cucumber infusion. There was one shortcoming, with which I confronted the martinista, and that was water in the martini. It is a bit of a conceit to pour you a gin straight from the freezer in the glass wetted with dry vermouth, in so doing limiting the water content and in a commercial world increasing the cost. The other problem is that gin watered down or inferior gin coming out of the freezer half frozen is not a good look for the martinista.

But back to the Morgan – we had the meal, but as we knew nothing about the place, we left without looking around this ornate building. It was just another place to have a feed. Pity we missed the Gutenberg Bible and the only remaining first edition of Paradise Lost. Mr Morgan had a great deal of money.

The other memory last week was when ordering kingfish ceviche at a Spanish restaurant in Richmond. It brought back memories of that morning in Manaus two years ago when I remembered the ceviche I had ordered. As background, we had arrived there around 2am after a five-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro and gone straight to bed.

In the mid morning, we had woken up to one of those overcast tropical humid days. It had been raining. Food was being served on the same level as our room in an open eating area overlooking the courtyard. It is somewhat disconcerting arriving into a city so far up the Amazon, knowing that we had to board the ship to take us up the river in a few hours, but not knowing quite when.

The only option was to have a meal, before being scheduled to be picked up. There was a tropical fruit collection to start. Ceviche was on the menu, in big white chunks marinated in a lemon marinade with red onions. The fish used in Manaus was tambaqui, an Amazon freshwater fish with a passing resemblance to the piranha; tambaqui has been overfished, and its future depends now on aquaculture.

It was a very memorable feast upon the ceviche. Nevertheless, we have moved on, as we do, even though this blog is somewhat wistful for a world that has gone.

Maundy Thursday – The Lavage of Feet

As I finish this blog in preparation for it being published, tomorrow is Good Friday. Now, it is the night that Judas Betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. When I was younger, attending a midnight vigil, where the whole church is draped in black, was one of my most compelling involvements. As a Christian, I was brought up with a belief that this was the one day of the year that we should collectively mourn with the day completely closed. However, this religious quirk has been the victim of multi-culturalism; it is no longer a national expression. However, for someone who was brought up to believe in the sanctity of this day, I cannot help being uncomfortable with this change.

Maundy Thursday as the name is thus described, is the day when Jesus after the Passover supper washed his disciples’ feet as a sign of his humility.  The British Monarchy has its own interpretation of acknowledgement of the poor. Rather than washing feet, the Queen hands out Maundy money, with the number of coin sets equal by gender; the actual number determined by the age of the monarch – in 2021, 94 sets for women and 94 sets for men.

1902 Maundy money

I have a 1902 Maundy money set featuring Edward VII – a silver one penny, twopenny, threepence and fourpence laid out on blue velvet in a small red box. Given the size of the coins, it literally is a miracle that this small box given to my mother, who had nursed this very widely-travelled lady who gave her these coins, has survived intact.  I remember seeing it first as a very small boy.

As my Cypriot doctor friend said: “Jesus is the reason for the season”. Especially appropriate comment, given I don’t remember any rabbits hopping around the Cross with baskets of eggs.

Mouse Whisper

President Biden pledged to have 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered by the end of his first 100 days in office. That’s double the goal he set in December and reached earlier this month before his 60th day in office. 

The mausmeister, who was so critical of Biden in the lead up to the election, grudgingly backing him to win, is holding back judgement, but has been pleasantly surprised. However, he was worried when the President stumbled three times on Air Force One stairs. He will have to realise rather than trying to appear decades younger by jauntily approaching the red carpet, that his behaviour will need to be modified. Fortunately, the last steps up to the plane entrance showed no evidence of a barked shin – no sign of limping. Good sign, but as my mausmeister found out, never be ashamed to use a cane – or hold onto the railing.

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

Modest Expectations – Tunisia

Carnarvon WA

Some years ago I wrote a short story about a serial killer who is killed by a woman who has cause for vengeance, but lulls the killer into a false state of security. Set against a background of Carnarvon and Gascoyne Junction, the killer is a very good looking man, who carefully grooms himself – and the woman, his killer, the impossibly beautiful woman. Prey becomes the stalker. It was part of a series of short stories that I wrote after a trip to the Kimberley, before it became a tourist destination. Whether allegorical or not, it has given me the thought that the woman was a journalist who acted as bait to trap the predator into revealing himself. But maybe that is another story – the journalist who endures contumely as the girlfriend so that her probings cause the sociopath to betray himself in front of his peers.

Rape is an act of violence and control. The violence is given a context -sexual assault. However, if the police were informed that a serial killer was loose, there would not be any hesitation. But violent rape, a close relative of murder, seems to invoke legal hesitation. The Federal Parliament situation needs a change in behaviour to complement attitudinal change to stop the disgusting spectacle.

The refuge for this situation about “Pick the Minister”; the betting firms would have been running a book, except there were too many in the know for any realistic odds on who it was. The accused cabinet minister was known to a large number of people, but the name was withheld until Wednesday. “After all, why should I acknowledge something which did not allegedly occur in 1988, and anyway I was different person then. I am now a Cabinet minister!” Not quite the actual words finally uttered but consistent with the eventual lachrymose performance.

Twitter has been alive about the non-allegations in relation to this Cabinet Minister. Disgusting is a mild way to put some of them, but if they are true, the highest level of disgust should be accorded to the now Cabinet Minister.

However, truth in this case is an elusive beast, especially when waiting in the wings of your staged performance is one of the best defamation lawyers in the country.

Given the seriousness of the case, before I knew his name, I would have thought it timely for the Prime Minister to consult with the Attorney-General. He is, after all, the senior judicial officer in Australia, and the Prime Minister was faced with a systemic problem of law enforcement penetrating even his Cabinet. I reflected in an earlier draft that the Attorney-General hopefully will have a solution to the problem. How ironic!

The problem is that the government is in denial, the more the cover up, the more people exposed with inside knowledge; it is just the sort of scenario that any sociopath would delight in. Sociopaths lie. Along the primrose pathway that such men have trodden to get to where they are now, there may well be a number of dark areas from which somebody could emerge, or not. At present, many of such dark areas seem to be coming to light.

It was inevitable as the uproar increased, that this person would be named under Parliamentary privilege. As I wrote early in the week, my hope was that it would be a male who outed him, preferably being the accused himself. Christian Porter has done that. He recognised to his credit that the problem is that if this non-naming had gone on much longer, with increasingly everybody knowing he was the accused, then the Parliament itself becomes a protector of this man and hence compromised. Therefore, someone would have named him in Parliament.

My view has always been to tackle the negative quickly; fallout is inevitable. So what better action than to excise the poison by now setting up an independent inquiry. In particular, for the Prime Minister, if unresolved, the situation becomes a form of political hemlock.

The one matter that troubles me is that a female senator who should know better has resurfaced a claim against a senior Labor member. Unless she knows something others don’t know, why has she surfaced with an old allegation which actually was reviewed by the police and refuted. Just now! Why?  Surely this woman would not indulge in an infantile diversionary tactic?  Porter in his appearance before the Press then sympathised with Shorten’s plight. So much for Senator Henderson.

There is something in the culture among the Liberal Party women which seems to be toxic to the furtherance of gender equality. I have known many, and some, like former Senator Judith Troeth, were exemplary, but they were closed down; the pressure of being cooped up in Parliament House is not that much different from boarding school bullying.

Christian Porter – no matter how the imbroglio is sliced and however innocent ,while in public life he will be a target, especially in the year of Grace Tame.

Blue Book

Just in case you have not seen the blue book Growing a Strong and Resilient Regional Australia which was published with the Budget papers, it starts optimistically.  “Australia’s regions – despite all that’s been thrown at them, are not only still standing but are on the cusp of a great future.”

I am not going to parse the whole report, but even this first sentence, with its recourse to a metaphorical flourish, begs a number of questions.

Even one sentence. It seems “regions” mean any place outside the capital cities, as though the capital cities are apparently a separate entity; in fact they are a diversity held together by being the seat of a government.

The next sentence provides a crude definition of what Australia is beyond the capital cities, and I have always disputed the integrity of a “Capital” as if it is a walled city with a peasantry milling around outside.

I recognised when reporting to Government on rural health that there was “inner rural” and “outer rural”. I had never thought of subdividing coastal settlements in that way. On reflection, coastal settlement has been shown after the bush fires last year as having specific characteristics, particularly in relation to accessibility. When I made this classification, I did it on the basis of an urban development which sprawls and engulfs what were autonomous mostly rural settlements.

I once identified a ring of what broadly could be identified as similar settlements about 100 kilometres from Melbourne in which there was a substantial number of procedural general practitioners who lived in or near the township. As urbanisation approached, the general practitioners became progressively deskilled; the practices became “lock-up” since the doctors no longer lived in the community; after hours care was the locum wasteland and the community ill, a referred burden to the nearest big hospital with an emergency department.

The other comment I would make was that during the time of my investigation, I set myself an exercise to drive from Colac to Warragul. All of the towns along the way were about the same distance from Melbourne, along highways which radiated from Melbourne. If you followed these radial roads, accessibility to the cities was manageable. When I drove the circumferential routes between the towns to assess the accessibility of each to the other, it was more tortuous, but the roads were asphalted until I drove into the Great Dividing Range. Here the road became gravel and the accessibility factor showed how isolated this area was, even to Melbourne, remembering my approximate route at all times was equidistant from the Centre of Melbourne. This inaccessibility was later so clearly shown up in the 2009 bushfires which spread across outer Melbourne, and where the problem of accessibility proved to be catastrophic.

Tackling infrastructure challenges is being able to differentiate communities of interest and then attend to them appropriately. I have always believed that in Australia local governments are the best surrogate, unless otherwise demonstrated, for consultation. I once instructed the bureaucrats under my aegis to visit every municipality in Victoria to get their views on an initiative with which I had been entrusted. There then were 210 municipalities and only one refused to meet with us to discuss the initiative. My bureaucrats were put in a position where they could explain to people who did not know much about the proposed investment, who were then mostly male and who had no idea about the importance of early childhood education.

I have been involved in working closely with communities for most of my career. I enjoy it because I enjoy the diversity of Australia. It has meant that there are very few areas of settlement in Australia that I have not been to in my long public service.

However, it is an attitude which has set me against Bureaucracy.

This limitation of Bureaucracy is shown clearly in this Blue book of Government largesse apportioned essentially by Ministerial portfolio. There are thus multiple pots of government money without any reference to one another or any indication what the expected end product will be.

This addendum to the budget papers requires close reading, because the document is drafted as if the Federal Government is the Cornucopia and Minister McCormack the Goddess, Abundantia.

To me, this is the McCormack pork barrel. Reading the Ministerial statement, you can almost smell the crackling.  However, it can be argued that aroma is less pronounced than that of the Sports Rorts.  Special interest groups want something; one of the specialties of any portfolio that the National Party holds is the titration of funding against the electoral advantage.

Moreover, Berejiklian has given the practice her benediction last November. “All governments and all oppositions make commitments to the community in order to curry favour. The term pork barrelling is common parlance. It is not something that I know the community is comfortable with. If that’s the accusation made on this occasion …. then I’m happy to accept that commentary. It’s not an illegal practice. Unfortunately, it does happen from time to time by every government.”

God knows, why she contaminated her defiance with “unfortunately”? Joke!

I looked at the proposed Blue Book largesse in regard to “post- bushfires.” A couple of line items attracted my interest. The first among all the grants was $31million allocated specifically to apple growers to “help re-establish” apple orchards, with an individual maximum of $120,000 per hectare to be allocated over one financial year. This is very generous, even if the tree planting is concentrated. It should be recognised that apples and pears are grown together, so there is a definitional problem as only apple growers are mentioned as eligible. There were three apple growing areas affected – Adelaide Hills, Bilpin and Batlow – the last of which lies within the Wagga Wagga State electorate.

From reports there was some damage to the orchards, but that damage seemed to be minor; one producer with 200,000 trees at Batlow lost less than 5,000.

Then about six months after the bushfire in 2020, an industry source reported” … some are choosing to let crops rot on their trees rather than accept farmgate prices set by the big supermarkets at as little as 90 cents per kilogram for a fruit that costs at least $2 a kilogram to produce.

At the same time, Australians are eating 12 per cent fewer apples since 2015; apple exports have fallen 19 per cent since 2016, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Then there’s the drought and its impact on the size and number of apples produced. Australian farmers grew 14 per cent fewer tonnes last year compared to 2017”.

There was no mention of bushfires. So, I’m only on P17 of this 189 page Blue Book, but I wonder what the hell is going on. Turn the page and there is the second line item of interest – Pratt received $10m for his Tumut paper mill.

The problem is that nobody tries to develop a picture where government financing will produce any lasting benefit for Australia. There are pots of money to tap into if one knows one’s way around Canberra.

This is a form of central planning perverted to become a gigantic slush fund; Australia has been blessed indeed as the Land of the Cornucopia – but then I have never watched the Hunger Games. 

Over there; Just not yet.

This country has been spectacularly successful at suppressing the Virus, but the problem with success is complacency, when all about have succumbed to the Virus through political pigheadedness in the main plus a basic lack of discipline when confronted with a universal enemy. Given the number of disaster and alien films, excluding “Contagion”, it is ironic in this case that the invader is unseen. The whole axiom-out of sight; out of mind – should be remembered.

Australia has dealt with this change of circumstances after an uncertain start, by locking the country away from the rest of the world. To get into Castle Australis is difficult, but there are still normative judgements about who can enter the country or cannot, although it seems to be common practice to insist on 14 days quarantine. The fact, like so many other things in this public-relations’ obsessed country, we were faced with border closures ostensibly due to health concerns but clearly political considerations. At the outset, it was understandable that restriction in movement should be uniformly applied, but it was not. This stemmed from a basic mistrust in the Commonwealth Government. Here there was pressure from the Prime Minister’s business circle not to impose restrictions, which would have led to a US-style situation. If sources are to be believed, it was a very close thing. After all, Morrison found an unsanitary affinity with Trump.

However, once they were imposed and the longer they went, border closures became a political weapon more than a health reason. When border closures clearly became a complete nonsense, at least Berekjlian, who, from many of her actions has often showed herself to be a rolled-gold guaranteed “dropkick”, was so right. Once it was clear from the NSW public health response that the COVID-19 cases could be gathered into clusters, then as she reasoned rightly, why indulge in group punishment by closing borders indiscriminately.

However, it has bred in the populace more than a risk adverse sentiment –fear – especially as the spectre of lockdown is constantly held over it.

For many years Australians have been used to being able to holiday both at home and overseas. As someone old enough to have grown up when overseas travel was a luxury and generally linked to overseas employment, it is a return to the old days of my youth.

I was one of those who went overseas in 1971, admittedly for the second time, 14 years after my first. Then, apart from a couple of years, I went overseas at least once each year until last year. In 2020, the Virus intervened. Now there is an uncertain future for overseas travel; the success Australia has had in ridding itself from the Virus has made most Australians value a COVID-19-free environment at the expense of overseas tourism.

Vaccination has introduced a new variable, but the vaccines development has been accelerated in a way that the mid-term to long term effect is yet unknown. The community knows that hygiene, masks and isolation (social distancing), works. However, community compliance is a factor which has been one of the reasons for the Australian success.

Within the borders the sense in confidence of moving about is growing, but the country has endured a harrowing time to see what works. Therefore, tourism will only return on the back of a confident people – confident that it can occur within a world where the virus is controlled.

The only way that this border issue can be addressed in the short term is for Australia and New Zealand to open up their orders to strictly Trans-Tasman Travel, and work from there. After all, there is confidence building so that the States do not instinctively close their borders. The Governments are increasingly confident that they can control clusters into hot spots.

Look at the situation in New Zealand – one case in Auckland and the city goes into lockdown. Therefore the “outbreak fear” level approximates that here in Australia, unlike the USA where any fall in the prevalence of the Virus is almost invariably followed by a premature relaxation of restrictions.  As was reported this week in the Washington Post the downward trend in new coronavirus infections had plateaued, perhaps because officials relaxed public health restrictions too soon and more contagious virus variants were becoming more widespread. Experts say a vigorous vaccination effort is key to stamping them out.”

Australia and New Zealand should bite the bullet and enter into an arrangement whereby people can travel between the two countries, leaving details of their destination on arrival. Thus, mutual trust needs to exist, otherwise both countries will be caught in a Western Australian bind of unreasoned defiance, which fortunately is abating as the Premier sees electoral victory this month.

Then we can move into the Pacific to help our neighbours who need our tourism but need to attain the same public health level as Australia and New Zealand. It is a wondrous thing to think that a Virus can assure a common effective response beginning in the Pacific. But then I am always the romantic, believing that advances come the quality of the response to adversity. Australia needs a different government I’m afraid.

In the Pink

Anonymouse

What does it take to get Sydneysiders to flock to the Blue Mountains? Well, me at least. I was thinking as I drove around the rim of the Blue Mountains what an impossible terrain it is, but without its escarpments and jagged pinnacles there would not be the unparalled views. I could be excused for thinking that when William Wentworth, one of three adventurers who first crossed the Blue Mountains to stand on one of pinnacles, the landscape below revealing what Thomas Mitchell later called Australia Felix, confessed that “his love of Australia was the ‘master passion’ of his life.” I could only agree. Yet here was plain the devastating effect of the bushfires which spread though the area early last year and left in their wake a bare blackened landscape.

Yet Australia Felix is never far away. I had gone looking for nature’s compensation for the terrible destruction, a special tapestry of tiny pink and white flowers. For a few short weeks, a year after devastating bushfires in the Blue Mountains and other areas of eastern Australia, the bush has regenerated and a profusion of pink flannel flowers has appeared.

These tiny flowers appear only rarely. Known as bushfire ephemerals, they are regenerated by fire, followed by good rain. It requires specific climatic conditions for seed stored in the soil to germinate. It is thought the plants germinate in response to bushfire smoke, rather than heat. The smoke-derived chemical karrikinolide is the active ingredient that triggers the plants’ emergence. Other plants with a similar activation after bushfires include grasstrees, or Xanthorrhoea, that send up flowering spears, and Gymea lilies. I saw the rebirthed grass trees, but alas no Gymea lilies.

The current bloom is spectacular, with pink flowers woven among the blackened banksias over these large tracts of shallow, skeletal mountain soils.

With their complicated rosy centre of tiny florets and hairy white bracts, rather than petals, they resemble a daisy, but are actually in the same family as carrots, parsley and celery. They are similar to the common flannel flower but are considerably smaller and have a distinct pink hue.

Pink flannel flowers are a mixed blessing – without fire, they remain dormant. See them while you can, hopefully it is many years before they can appear again. I wonder whether Wentworth ever saw them. I doubt it.

Mouse Whisper

Neera Tanden, a professional Democrat and President Biden’s pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, fought her way to the threshold of the White House, only to be swatted at by senators who claimed that her appetite for partisan conflict — on Twitter, specifically — disqualifies her from holding that much power. The same fighting that got her here, in other words, now threatens to sink her. 

“Just to mention a few of the thousands of negative public statements,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), speaking with the steady monotone of a not-mad-but-disappointed dad, “you wrote that Susan Collins is ‘the worst,’ that Tom Cotton is a ‘fraud,’ that vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz.”

It is an interesting commentary on a feisty intelligent woman, who has raised a swag of money for her Center for American Progress (CAP). She has been a Hilary Clinton sidekick, but it is not only the above Republicans who have been the target of her venom. That honour resides with Bernie Sanders, and at one stage it is alleged that Tanen assaulted the person who later became Sanders’ Campaign Manager. The reason was that Ms Tanen did not like his question directed at Hilary at a CAP forum.

By the way, among her considerable set of donors for the CAP is Mark Zuckerberg who is recorded as giving about US$700,000 in 2018. She certainly is thus a lady not for turning, but her fate will be interesting because she will almost certainly fail to get the nomination for the Cabinet job.

Needless to say the President has withdrawn her nomination later this week.

Neera Tanden

Modest Expectations – Dalmatians

“The label racist is not one I would apply like that,” Garland said evenly — without a hint of are-you-a-dolt? in his voice. “Implicit bias just means every human being has biases. That’s part of what it means to be a human being. The point of examining implicit biases is to bring our conscious mind up to our unconscious mind and to know when we are behaving in a stereotyped way. Everybody has stereotypes. It’s not possible to go through life without working through stereotypes. Implicit biases are the ones we don’t recognize. That doesn’t make you a racist.”

Merrick Garland

In his current Senate confirmation hearings for Attorney-General, Merrick Garland shows in this above response to one of those rubber red-necked Republicans what an acquisition he would have been to the US Supreme Court if it had not been for the Kentucky Kernel, Mitch McConnell refusing to let his nomination be considered. Yes, the sobriquet kernel. Is that not a nut case? 

The Sewers of Canberra are not Backchannels 

And less welcome sexual attentions in the form of sexual harassment also have been a standing problem. In decades past there was a discreet backchannel operating between the prime minister’s office and the opposition leader’s office to keep sexual misconduct in check. Each side kept an eye out for rogue behaviour by members of the other and duly alerted the leaders’ offices accordingly. That system fell into disuse years ago. 

I was surprised reading that piece by Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald. Given that I was very senior in one of those offices, the “backchannel” must have been sealed up at the time I was there. I knew of no conversations. It was a time when Parliament House was much smaller, and there were few offices which were not the size of shoeboxes; people lived cheek by jowl. Yet it was a time when there was considerable fraternisation across all political parties and the media, with the non-members bar the central meeting place. Parliamentarians came down rarely.

The Lobby was the place where there was considerable mixing, and I remember one prominent journalist supressing his laughter. Something was happening at a table behind us. Judi Morosi was feeding Jim Cairns. Well known non-relationship, as there was considerable smokescreen about extra marital calisthenics. I was not around during the Ainslie Gotto saga, but hardly a time I thought when Gorton would have been exchanging notes with Whitlam. These were the few associations then which attracted notoriety in the media.

The number of staff was far smaller, but even so, there were not many inglenooks in the old Parliament House where inappropriate behaviour would not be discovered. In fact, given the intimate environment, not much was unknown around Canberra. There were a number of consensual arrangements, but drunkenness was more the problem.

King’s Hall

It was also somewhat ironic that in those days, having finished in the office when I left Parliament House often after 1.00 am, it was just a wave to the guys on the reception desk at the King’s Hall entrance. King’s Hall was a very open space – especially at 1.00 am. Any antics would thus have been on a large stage.

The advent of security, presumably at the Ministerial entrance of the new Parliament House, did not save Brittany Higgins; as has been reported the security even facilitated the entry into the Ministerial office, although it must have been clear that she was too drunk to sign her name properly.  These days it would appear that there is a very short backchannel between security and coverup within the burrows of government

Facesaver?

To my everlasting shame, I have never used or looked at Facebook. I must have missed something judging by all the furore. Facebook is a free service. I choose not to use it. I remember when Facebook first came into prominence at a time when Zuckerberg had not yet worked how to make it profitable. It was originally a means by which a kid in college could communicate without the distasteful business of actually meeting somebody face to face. There was more than a hint of misogyny in the original motivation for Facebook.

Zuckerberg introduced advertisements into Facebook very early on after he launched it in 2004, but not until 2007 did he launch the first co-ordinated advertisement campaign.

He said at the time: “The core of every user’s experience on Facebook is their page, and that’s where businesses are going to start as well…The first thing businesses can do is design a page  to craft the exact experience they want people to see.”

Before he even made money, there was a film made in 2010 about Zuckerberg called “The Social Network”.He was only 26. Aaron Sorkin, the guy who wrote “West Wing” wrote the screen play and promulgated the Zuckerberg myth – the socially awkward nerd who created the greatest social communication platform the World has ever experienced. To put that into perspective, Rupert Murdoch was a running a small Adelaide newspaper when he was 26.

Zuckerberg did not start making money on Facebook advertisements until 2012, and apparently the business has worked. He never promoted Facebook as a news channel. It just happened that organisations jumped on it because of the popularity of that and other platforms the company acquired. In initially opposing the Australian law, Facebook argued that publishers willingly post news to its site, which helps them reach a larger audience. It says that the model differs from Google’s, as publishers don’t voluntarily provide articles that appear in the firm’s search results. The Australian proposal penalises Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for.

As the Facebook boss in Australia went on to say – “The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content. It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia.

In the Washington Post this week, Roger McNamee, in reviewing “the current state of play today with the tech industry” has stated “Internet platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter aided the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and have contributed to the slow national response to a deadly pandemic. The algorithms on which the firms rely amplify hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy theories, and their recommendation engines manipulate behaviour because doing so is good for business.”

Has Facebook learnt from the experience with Cambridge Analytica, which shamelessly stole data and manipulated data as part of the Trump 2016 election?  Arguably Facebook served to amplify such behaviour and this remains an unanswered question in the reports of this feud the Australia Government is having with Facebook.

Facebook pulled the plug on the news pages, and there was the predictable response of those deprived of a free service. However, it gave Facebook an opportunity to see in the real world what the response was. In fact, the news media responded very quickly, by setting up alternative pathways to Facebook. Therefore, in a far-off country, Facebook was able to sample the reaction and appear to give the politicians a victory.

Zuckerberg is obsessed with maintaining his monopoly. He believes he has the “old media” covered, but by his actions, in a few hours he set up a “wildfire” of innovation to compensate for the loss of Facebook. If this goes on long enough, the next raft of innovators will appear to challenge the Facebook sovereignty.

On Monday, Facebook agreed to the Australian government’s added amendments to the proposed code. That included a two-month mediation period, giving the two sides more time to negotiate commercial deals that could help Facebook avoid having to work under the code’s provisions.

In other words, Facebook has not lost – not by a long shot. They have bought time, and to Zuckerberg, what does he care if Morrison and Frydenberg claim victory. “To me, victory in always unconditional”, Zuckerberg might say.

I still believe that if Facebook is making such big profits in this country, the Government should tax them more than the current 2% for the benefit of the community; not push them into a Mafia-style protection racket to benefit a lot of old men who are on the obsolete side of history. Just the normal lazy politicians not prepared to confront the need for an equable tax.  And what they said originally probably remains true. Facebook is expert in gathering data – and they certainly gained some this week in the response to their actions, which they will already be dicing and slicing to work out what is what. Has the Government collected the same data to use in future negotiations?

Quids from Quarantine

Anonymouse

You always know there’s a quid to be made when the big players start to throw their hats in the ring, and in the past few weeks we have had the Wagners in Queensland, Lindsay Fox in Victoria, and now Sam Shahin in South Australia, all wanting to get into the quarantine business.  The Howard Springs facility has shown the effectiveness of a low-tech facility offering separate cabin accommodation, individual air conditioning, access to fresh air, and importantly, little requirement for staff to enter cabins while they are occupied; worker accommodation on site is an added benefit. Re-purposed it might be, but it’s turned out to be a good solution. Nevertheless, it is subject to the vagaries of a monsoonal wet season

Wellcamp Airport outside Toowoomba has ‘abundant’ room for the proposed 1,000 bed quarantine facility, with another 300 beds for staff.  As noted in an earlier edition of this blog, a Boeing 747 can land at Wellcamp – it was designed for large scale cattle export, avoiding the need to move the cattle through Brisbane. Unlike the backward planning endemic in government circles, Wellcamp has much forward capacity – its terminal is large and there is plenty of space. International flights can go direct to Wellcamp.

The Wagner Brothers own the land around the Wellcamp airport so they could start work immediately – and seemingly they already have the blessing of the Queensland Government.

Lindsay Fox’s Avalon Airport proposal already has the imprimatur of the Victorian Premier, which might well see a sod turned for a facility for up to 1000 international arrivals before the others.

Mr Shahin’s proposal to develop a “purpose built” facility outside Tailem Bend was very promptly booted by the SA Government which then announced the opening of a dedicated CBD hotel for positive COVID-19 cases. The SA Health Minister said the Tailem Bend plan lacked a hospital in good proximity. Tailem Bend’s hospital is not the “level” of hospital required because, according to the SA Health Minister, “If someone develops COVID, they can very rapidly develop to the level that they need an ICU and isolation – Tailem Bend doesn’t have an ICU.” Tailem Bend is one hour from Adelaide on a dual carriageway. The problem with health care perspectives in South Australia government is that it is a health care wasteland once you lose sight of North Terrace. For goodness sake!

All of this raises a few questions:

  • If the Commonwealth plans to continue keeping its hands off the quarantine reins, why did it commission a report by former Health Department Secretary and Crown Director, Ms Jane Halton AO PSM, into hotel quarantine?
  • Is there an agreed position on the optimum template for quarantine facilities and is there agreement on how long they will be required – something the Australian community isn’t being told?
  • The figure of 40,000 Australians wanting to return home has been quoted for months. Why is this number not falling? Given the difficulty of getting an exemption to leave Australia – unless of course you are a celebrity or ex-politician – who are taking up the hotel quarantine places if not returning Australians?
  • What is the optimum location for these facilities? Do they really need to be in the middle of the city a block from a tertiary hospital?
  • What percentage of COVID-positive cases in hotel quarantine end up in hospital, and of those, what percentage require ICU (and tangentially, if ICU is such a pressing requirement, why not upgrade ICUs in regional hospitals where quarantine facilities can be located)?

Hotel quarantine is now the single source of any new COVID infection in the Australian community.  “Escaped” COVID has caused problems in Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia, with a greater or lesser impact. Currently Australia faces a hiatus with no new cases. The media is focussing on vaccination. Even with the vaccines rolling out, no one knows how effective they will be at large scale prevention of COVID (as opposed to prevention of serious illness). Quarantine is here to stay for the foreseeable future and is likely to remain the key to opening Australia’s international borders to business and tourists and allowing the Australians overseas who want to return to do so. But it needs to be more affordable and the metropolitan hotel-based quarantine has lost any lustre it had. Did Halton comment on affordability, talk about fair and reasonable charges? See above questions?

The States do not appear in any hurry to hand quarantine back to the Commonwealth; on the contrary, it is the States looking to develop permanent quarantine facilities, presumably with funding by the Commonwealth.

Which brings us back to the National Review of Hotel Quarantine and the point of it all. The sum of the recommendations was that States and Territories should have quality assurance mechanisms and continuous improvement. There needs to be information available to travellers, quarantine options developed for National Cabinet, travel bubbles, and finally the Commonwealth Government consider a “national facility for quarantine”. Did we need this Review to tell us any of this which is just stating the obvious? The undated report was released around October 2020. The author’s name appears only once, in an appendix.

The report did highlight one thing however, and that is the lack of a comprehensive set of data on hotel quarantine.  Then, as now, there appears to be no single accessible source and the daily data are just that. The data provided in the National Review report are as opaque as they are revealing; they highlight the fact that no one knew what was happening with flight crews (we know that now), or exemptions, still a matter of extreme annoyance to the general population who have been serving their own time locked up, and the lack of demographic and hospitalisation data on quarantine inmates. Together with the total number of beds and quarantinees, this is the information most relevant to planning.

What is interesting however, is how difficult it is to find out something as fundamental as how many quarantine places there are – what is Australia’s current quarantine capacity (even the maximum and minimum based on a sliding scale of demand)? Phone calls to State health media elicited no information:  for example, NSW Health – send us an email; Vic Health – we don’t run quarantine, email the Department of Justice; Qld Health – talk to State Disaster Management, Health doesn’t run quarantine; SA Health – send an email; NT Health – has no media contact and no one on the only phone number knew who knew anything … and so it went on. Tasmania was the standout though – there is a media page, headed “Media” – it’s blank. More next week, if any information is forthcoming.

After a year of COVID the matter of quarantine is still being bounced around – a dedicated series of regionally-located facilities (as recommended in this Blog #76 and 78) could have been constructed and commissioned by now, but perhaps doing that lost out in the economic rationality of providing an income stream to the hotel industry while tourism has been shut down. But without the data that show the vaccines are very effective in preventing transmission of COVID, quarantine is here to stay. They may be expensive to develop, but the need for dedicated facilities should not be taken off the table in the current excitement about vaccinations. These facilities can be mothballed and then rolled out again (as with Howard Springs) for the next pandemic – or even a variant of the current – which, as those who analyse these things have said, could be just around the corner. And after all, Ms Halton did recommend a national quarantine approach. 

Déjà vu

I was alerted by the recent activities of that Texan, Senator Ted Cruz … his antics this week reminded me very much of those of another politician early last year, much closer to home.

Let take up the story of Senator Ted. As been reported, the weather in Texas has been appalling – it has taken out the energy grid for the simple reason that the State does not invest in infrastructure, it is a mighty big land mass and the State is run by a group of climate change denialists, including Senator Ted.

So, there is no heating, but further, there is more.  Water pipes have frozen, burst, or the water has become contaminated. In other words, much of the State is without running water; and in any event where it can be tapped, it needs to be boiled.

Pictures of pileups on the interstate highways compound the chaos.

Senator Ted Cruz took a trip out of Texas because his alliterative children, Caroline Camille and Catherine Christiane wanted to go to Cancún in the middle of a Catastrophic pandemic.

As he is alleged to have said, “Look my wife Heidi said to me our children are freezing, let us get out of the hell-hole and go south to Mexico.” As the newspaper said “Also, way to throw your kids under the bus, senator.”

In contrast, as the paper went on, “most responsible parents would have told their tweens that the closest they’re getting to Mexico these days is a chalupa from a drive-through at Taco Bell.”

Instead, the Swift Family Cruz packed a suitcase “the size of a steamer trunk”, left their poodle, Snowflake, behind and dashed off for fun in the sun. This action contravened what CDC has recommended for nearly a year, i.e. that US residents should avoid travel to other countries. The advice was ignored but that it is the way of the Cruz. His problem virtually duplicates that of Australia’s Prime Minister, who disappeared to Hawaii, did not let us in on this voyage north, and all this while Australia burned. The American media, which is less controlled (and apparently more observant) than Australia got onto Cruz almost immediately and there he was, scuttling back to Texas mouthing a number of mutually-conflicting self-serving reasons for him going to the Mexican Resort in the first place.

The American media has shown its public service usefulness (without recourse to Facebook). “There’s no need to reiterate the extraordinarily poor timing of Cruz’s trip while Texas froze. That burro has been beaten to death, shamed, and then beaten some more. This is a look at a man who should be setting an example for the millions of Texans who are aching to travel. But in order to be able to see their families and friends again safely in the future, they’ve followed Dr. Anthony Fauci’s advice and stayed home as much as possible. They’ve worn their masks, practiced social distancing, and washed their hands diligently.”

But not our Boy, Ted.

The Prime Minister apparently has stopped asking his wife Jen for advice, at least publicly. There is a political playbook, where “mistruth” is very much part of the narrative – an uncaring narrative which Trump over the years exploited even beyond the wildest nightmare of the original Florentine Editor.

Politicians who flirt with the edges of the narrative, hide in the marginalia, indulge in palimpsest or have their own scriptorium where their life becomes an illuminated manuscript finally have to face that question – are they up to the task of being a genuinely caring person, sensitive to their constituencies? Let’s face it, most aren’t. Unfortunately, the community elects images, not the sordid reality.

By the way Prime Minister, when did you last go to the bushfire ravaged communities to see evidence of the fruits of your Government’s response?

This quote below sets out the damage that Trump has done, and how an insidious callousness has invaded the proto-narcissist political mind, and unfortunately the Cruz scenario will increasingly play out, especially when nobody is told or worse ignored. 

As Jennifer Rubin wrote incisively in the Washington Post in the past week: “Incompetence is not the purview of one party. But when you view politics as theater and grievance-mongering, chances are you are going to shortchange governance, elect a president with no public-sector experience, no interest in learning, no desire to hire competent people and no ability to accept responsibility, and you get something like the covid-19 debacle. Moreover, if your party is hostile to government and exercising regulatory power because it is beholden to a donor class and right-wing ideologues, you will not be prepared for disasters when they strike.”

How very true!   

The King lived; the Prime Minister died

And the Answer is…

a red dawn

where laid

morula upon blades of green

urgency to become

spiky quilted ectoderm

sprouting

teal topknot

emergent wave to

a new world

where neighbours in serried ranks

wave back

until

with swelling yellow belly

we stand among the green detritus

of yesterday

proud that we alone know the answer.

I have a particular reason to remember my time in eSwatini. My wife has a friend who has a large plant nursery in Malkerns in what was Swaziland when I last was there, but is now renamed eSwatini. The Swazis have their own country, ruled by a king who has a penchant for wives. Once a British protectorate, eSwatini is a tiny enclave wedged into a corner between South Africa and Mozambique. It is one of the last absolute monarchies in the World. The capital, Mbabane, lies in the Highveld (1000+ metres), whereas Malkerns lies in the Midveld, (770m), a fertile valley where the mountains form a distant hazy rim.

This is the country like so much of Southern Africa when you leave the coast, the climate is milder, less humid but nevertheless tropical. Behind her property stretched a huge expanse of pineapple cultivation, which prompted me to write the verse which heads this piece.

Our friend’s property was unusual because close to the house she had a large dam, constructed to provide a reliable water supply for the nursery. The dam also attracted hippopotamuses, who would wander up from the river in the nearby Mlilwane wildlife sanctuary, through the pineapples, to spend quality time in the dam. Then they would leave. Several years ago, a worker accidently got between a mother and calf and was trampled to death. Otherwise, the pilgrimages have been peaceful.

More recently, a large Nile crocodile came to share the dam. Crocodiles apparently intermittently appear. This means that going outside is a hazardous exercise, especially for Suzy, her large black dog, which had to be kept inside until the crocodile was captured and returned to the river. Hippopotamuses and crocodiles will happily co-exist, but this crocodile’s presence has acted as somewhat of a deterrent to the Hippo Walk.

What I remember clearly was that the day before we left, my wife and I went for the longest walk that I had done for months because of my progressive tiredness. I knew even then that all was not well, but the walk enlivened me. I felt more freedom, less stiffness, the weakness had evaporated and the pain in my legs had been reduced to a dull ache. The pineapple stroll had been recuperative – or so I thought.

The pineapple stroll

The next day, the pain, the weakness, the stiffness had come back with a bang. For the first time, my denial fell away. I knew that there was something wrong. Fortunately, the bathroom was well supplied with therapy aids which had been installed during my wife’s friend’s husband’s terminal illness.

However, it was not for some weeks later that I saw the doctor on return to Sydney, who immediately diagnosed me and ordered tests, which confirmed the diagnosis. I had seen or been close to a number of doctors in the preceding three months – and this was the first doctor who diagnosed me. Yes, the diagnostician was an orthopaedic surgeon.

As a footnote to describe the headline, King, Mswati III, has just recovered from his COVID infection. His Prime Minister was not so lucky. He died in December of the Virus. Currently, the number of infections in eSwatini is nearing 17,000 with 13,500 having recovered and there being 645 deaths. eSwatini brought in strict anti-COVID measures very early on. In perspective, the population is 1.14m. Infections seem to be dropping as the second wave rolls on.

Mouse Whisper

Tegestologists and labeorphilists. Now there are words which you don’t often use to describe obsessive losers.

Tegestologists have a great excuse to spend time in bars since they collect coasters or beermats. They should probably team up with labeorphilists, or collectors of beer bottles. Having decried the above, I must admit to souveniring the odd coaster, but as for beer bottles, I have transitory labeorphilia but only when they are full of beer.

The object of transitory labeorphilia

Modest Expectations – Blue Balloons

There is a Bartleby cartouche in the latest issue of The Economist in which “loneliness” as one specific fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is the central point.

The actual Bartleby is the hero, if that is the word, for the main character in a short story written by Herman Melville. Bartleby is a scrivener who, after a promising start in an office, ever after replies “I would prefer not to” when asked to perform a task. There thus is a progressive decline of this person who increasingly does nothing until ultimately, he dies of starvation.

In the midst of a pandemic, loneliness appears to be an appropriate topic, even though the current columnist concealed behind this non-de-plume is a journalist who has won awards for his ability to communicate, and who previously wrote the Buttonwood column in the same journal. Buttonwood was alleged to be the plane tree under which 24 gentlemen signed an agreement in 1792 which led to the establishment of the New York Stock Exchange. Hardly loneliness.

What the COVID-19 pandemic has shown is the way society in all its forms copes with solitude. Solitude is not loneliness. Yet loneliness is a by-product of solitude when it is enforced. Solitude is the monk in the cell where solitude is voluntary. Loneliness is the prisoner in solitary confinement where the outside world is through a grate high on the wall.

Solitude you can deal with on your own terms. Often, I used to go for walks alone because in solitude there is space. Night time was always a good time. I controlled those strolls in what I did; where I went; what I avoided.

Yet it is night time when loneliness is most prevalent. In daytime there are social and business contacts complemented by family; and for those without family then there were night time activities – bars, theatre, nightclubs, gambling. At least before the pandemic. Lockdowns and curfew changed that with the advance of the Virus and enforced self-isolation has aggravated the sense of loneliness. After all, being alone and sober and awake at three am – the witching hour – is a complete test of loneliness.

I have written before of the image of the politician, the man and less commonly the woman, alone in the staged photograph. This image is interpreted as a sign of strength, until you realise that behind that camera lens is a mob, ready to engulf “the person alone” who is paradoxically the centre of attention, even when the photographic image would ask you to believe otherwise.

Now that I spend many hours in “retirement”, is it solitude or loneliness when the phones have stopped ringing and there are days when nobody calls? It must be difficult when you go into a gated community for the aged where you have no companions, except the fell sergeant. Increasingly your friends and acquaintances have gone with him – and thus it’s a lonely crowd.

But real loneliness is when your partner walks out on you, becomes demented or dies.  Loneliness thus is when you have no control, when you realise power has been taken from you, a situation which leads you to the conclusion that life eventually will become intolerable. Pandemic or not, there is an inevitability with age that once lost, societal relevance is never regained without help.

In a pandemic, there need to be ways in which loneliness can be ameliorated.  The Bartleby column provides some limp commentary. Technology does provide some relief, but there is always going to be an artificiality whenever any of one’s senses is blocked, as they are by technology. You can see and hear using texting, zooming, phoning or whatever. But you have no sense of the proprioceptive influence of the whole person with whom you are interreacting remotely.  So, when the technology is switched off, then you are alone. Normally proprioception is considered an introspective sense, like one navigating a dark room, and knowing that it is your head which bumps the ceiling not your foot.

But what I call proprioceptive influence is how you react when you meet anybody. You immediately sense the space that person inhabits and how it is affecting you. Crucially this interaction depends on face to-face contact. Zoom can cut that sense right out. You also enter into that artificial world of constant texting to convince yourself you are not alone, until no-one responds.

In doing so ever more frantically, loneliness is enhanced. The external proprioceptive influences are lost. Once the stimulus of this external proprioception is lost, then one is at first lonely and then like Bartleby – some may say profoundly depressed until death relieves the pain of loneliness.

Brisbane West – A Quirk of Nature

Below is part of an email I wrote to a friend on January 25. Having been there on a number of occasions, I canvassed the use of Toowoomba (Wellcamp) as a site for quarantine.

The Wellcamp airport facility at Toowoomba is impressive. The Brisbane Lord Mayor Quirk lived up to his surname when he objected to it being called Brisbane West. Don’t know why?

Wellcamp Airport

A quarantine facility here is very feasible, constructed at this airport which is surrounded by plenty of broad acres; the transfer time from the spacious terminal to the potential facility is negligible. It was ludicrous to hear one of those cossetted commentors on the ABC this week saying that the dangers of being cloistered in cars with others for hours, travelling to hypothetical remote facilities beyond some black stump or two. She must have been watching too much of “Back Roads”.

The Wagner brothers, who built the Wellcamp airport without subsidy, represent the very best – honest and tough, as Alan Jones found out.  It is a pity that when the Prime Minister went to Queensland recently, it seemed mostly to go to Katter’s demesne.  I hope Morrison understands that politics in Queensland is dynastic. The Premier herself is a prime example. In Kennedy, Robbie Katter is next in line, outwardly different from his father but still just as canny. John McVeigh recently stepped down as the local member for Groom, a seat his father Tom held until 1988. Pity the Prime Minister did not take in Toowoomba during that last trip. As I wrote:

To me the fact that our health system is operating well, where there is no need for vaccines, must be beneficial to the business community. Everybody wants the magic bullet, but it does not exist, except in very rare circumstances and then admittedly it changes society – take antibiotics for instance. But on the other hand, we are far from conquering cancer, but that has been factored into our daily life, and you would know as an economist. We have cancer centres, and there is thus some degree of certainty, which is bolstered by such measures as “five year survival rates”. I would not put a lot of faith in the vaccines until I know whether they work or not. Yes, they say governments have thrown a lot of money at it, but that does not necessarily provide a solution to a virus which can rapidly mutate. 

Do what we are doing? Keep it out of the country is the first response. If the vaccine works, good. But like the ill-fated App which was supposed to locate the infected, don’t bet your house on its efficacy.

Sorry about the cruises and the overseas trips. I remember my father went back to England in 1919 and then apart from the War did not go overseas until 1953. My mother never did. I do not know what your father and mother’s experience was.  The world did not come to an end, but as I remember it, travelling was expensive, especially by plane – and perilous.  When I first went overseas in 1956, I had smallpox, typhoid (which gave you a painful arm and was not very effective) and cholera vaccinations. I think it was the year we all had our Sabin. Apart from that we had triple antigen as children. Therefore, we will have to adapt to a fortress nation, just as we did between 1939-45.

Business will adapt, as I said above, to there being no magic bullet. There are always going to be smarties on the stock market, but presumably with ongoing exchanges as you and I are having, information (in the health sector) becomes less asymmetric because of such exchanges. 

What Australia needs are dedicated quarantine facilities in just the same way as we have emergency services. I advocated for them in an August Blogs (No76 & 78). We have ambulance services although less than 10 per cent of their time is spent on emergency work. But we need them standing by. Thus, there will be a great deal of downtime, but at least quarantine facilities will be dedicated, and not be non-purpose-built hotels. In the short term, because government is not faced with capital costs, they will continue to use hotels, but the Queenslanders have the solution borrowed from the NT – disused mining camps kept in good nick. If Victoria had these, it would not be going through the trauma of the tennis “bratology”.

The next argument used will be that no health professionals will want to go to them. I battled this furphy for 10 years setting up the rural clinical schools, and they have been hugely successful. Students now want to go. Therefore, following the success of clinical schools, put incentives like specialist research facilities alongside the quarantine facilities, even drug manufacturing facilities. Rural Australia has plenty of space.

Take the concept of Toowoomba being one such area. Ever been to the Wagner privately built airport? It can take the biggest air freighters, because the idea was to export beef and other livestock from there without needing to go to the coast. International planes could easily be diverted there. Exmouth is another where, when they left, the Yanks left fully operational hospital facilities. God knows whether they have been maintained. 

From the outset of the pandemic, I have always advocated permanent dedicated quarantine facilities and if this had been the original intention Australia would have been spared all the problems that inappropriate hotel quarantine has caused. The Wagners of Toowoomba have now proposed they build a large quarantine facility adjacent to the Toowoomba airport, with accommodation and facilities for staff and testing. International flights can land there and quarantining passengers would be in the facility within minutes.

While there is a reluctance to admit the original hotel quarantine had more to do with the economics of the hotel industry, hotels have been adapted, at a cost, to having a quarantine role. Having said that, I have never seen a unit cost of an average hotel stay compared with that of the Howard Springs facility, which seemed perfectly adequate for the first tranche of evacuees from Wuhan.

When I raised this idea at the time with a former Departmental head, he said that the cost of building from scratch would be daunting. However, as I replied, they would provide more protection than of couple of unusable submarines which may never be constructed, at the cost of how many millions, or billions? 

And from The Boston Globe at the weekend…

The 66 per cent global effectiveness rate for the one-shot vaccine fell significantly short of the performances of the two-shot vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna that the FDA cleared for emergency use in December. Those vaccines prevented more than 90 percent of coronavirus cases in large trials, a remarkable showing considering that they were the first to successfully use new synthetic messenger RNA technology.

Dr. Dan Barouch, who runs the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel, which developed different technology for the (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine, said the pandemic has evolved, with the emergence of more resistant variants, in particular a worrisome South African strain that was detected in the United States for the first time last week.

Several vaccine experts agreed and highlighted a particularly encouraging finding in Johnson & Johnson’s announcement last week: The one-shot vaccine was highly protective against the worst cases of COVID-19. Worldwide, the shot prevented 85 percent of severe cases, and none of the vaccinated people needed hospitalization or died from COVID-19.

Dr Fauci acknowledged last week that public health officials will likely face a “messaging challenge” to persuade people to take a vaccine that prevented 66 percent of symptomatic cases compared with roughly 95 percent.

But, he said, “If you can prevent severe disease in a high percentage of individuals [as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine did], that will alleviate so much of the stress and human suffering and death.”

He and other officials also said the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would likely get lower efficacy results now, given the emergence of the South African strain, which appears to be more resistant to immunization.

The FDA said last summer that a vaccine that was safe and at least 50 percent effective would likely be cleared for use. The annual flu vaccine is typically 40 to 60 percent effective at preventing influenza cases, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.(CDC)

The Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine relies on a design that Barouch pioneered nearly 20 years ago for two experimental vaccines that have shown promise against HIV and Zika, and a third vaccine that won approval from the European Union in July to prevent Ebola.

A Trojan Horse

It uses a harmless and relatively rare cold virus, adenovirus serotype 26 ― or Ad26 ― as a Trojan horse to deliver part of the distinctive spike protein on the coronavirus surface into cells to trigger an immune response without making people sick.

Despite its lower performance in preventing all COVID-19 cases, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has major advantages over its Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna rivals. By requiring only one shot, it would simplify and speed the vaccine campaign. In addition, it is stable at refrigerated temperatures, unlike the other vaccines, which must be frozen at ultracold temperatures when shipped and stored before use.

The FDA cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 11 and the Moderna vaccine a week later. But their rollout has been frustratingly slow and cumbersome, and public health officials want more vaccines from other drug makers to bolster the supply. As of Thursday, the government has distributed more than 57.4 million vaccine doses, and 27.9 million people have had one or more shots, according to the CDC.

Dr Eric Rubin, (the editor -in-chief New England Journal of Medicine and member of the FDA advisory panel), said Thursday that “it’s been frustrating how long it’s taken to roll out vaccines, but if everything were perfect and we had a perfect distribution system, we’d run out of vaccines really fast. We just don’t have enough supply.”

Therefore, vaccination in America has been beset by a number of problems with open criticism by the experts, especially given how slow and complicated the rollout has been, if the above quote gives a reliable picture.

One benchmark which politicians will always grasp when justifying their decisions is the places where the rate of vaccination has worked well. Israel seems to be the shining example.

Three million one hundred thousand Israelis have been vaccinated and 1.8 million have had their second dose. It is rumoured that Israel paid Pfizer far more than other countries to receive preference; hence there have not been any questions raised over the supply line integrity. Israel is a wealthy country, well able to afford paying a premium.  Israel is also the 150th largest country in the world, and that makes lines of supply relatively short; and given that Israel seems to be on permanent war-alert, then it is reasonable to believe the bulk of the population are more disciplined and compliant without coercion.

Israel has the luxury of having apparently solved the supply chain problem and systematically collected data which have shown (in peer reviewed journals) that the vaccination is 50 per cent effective 13 to 24 days after vaccination. Nobody under 16 is being vaccinated; nor any of those who have been certified as being infected before vaccines became available. 7,000 cases had thus been previously recorded with 10 per cent having had “moderate to critical illness”. There were 307 deaths. To put all of this into perspective, Israel has a population of just over 9 million.

After vaccination in the vulnerable over 60 age group, only 531 of almost 750,000 have developed symptoms of the virus, with 38 requiring hospitalisation; there were three deaths. Not a bad interim outcome, but it is early days and there is evidence of spaces in knowledge still to be filled. The obvious question is how generalisable is the Israel experience? What gives some comfort is that the Israelis seem to have an excellent data collection.

The Churches of Romney Marsh

I have stayed on Romney Marsh and have watched the eastern sky darken across the dyked flats to Dymchurch and the Channel towards the French coast as the sun set at my back and have noticed the strange unity of sea, sky and earth that grows unnoticed at this time and place – Paul Nash 1940

John Piper knew the artist who penned the above quote well. He himself was a very prolific English artist, and besides his artwork he was known for his stained glass. Much of his work can be found in churches across England.  My starkest memory of his work is the red centrepiece in tapestry daubed with Christian symbolism and surrounded with panels of purple, green and blue which shines in all its vibrant entropy out of the gloom of the sanctuary in Chichester Cathedral. Funny word “stark” to describe a brilliant multi-coloured woven cloth; but there you are. It absolutely complements the severity of its environs.

John Piper tapestry, Chichester Cathedral

I first read the name John Piper some years ago on a King Penguin “Romney Marsh”. Even before I had laid eyes on the book, the name “Romney Marsh” conjured up a sense of mystery because it always looked so desolate. Normally to offset the bleakness, the photographs were always dotted with sturdy, white faced Romney sheep with their cream fleece.

Romney Marsh as described by Piper in words and in his sketches of the villages but particularly the churches, encouraged us to visit there. This happened to be on a characteristically windy and grey day. In the distance on the Dungeness headland are the twin grey blocks of the nuclear power stations, which were working when we there, but have since been shut down for safety reasons – temporarily until the engineers get things right. Stretching away from these blocks was this severe wasteland, and one might have expected the spectre of T.S Eliot tripping through the low undergrowth and holly bushes.

The nuclear power station was not there when John Piper prepared his book. However, there were watercolours of the circular black and white painted brick lighthouse and the keeper’s house. This was replaced in 1961 by a far higher concrete structure, so as not to be obscured by the nuclear power station. This latter one is floodlit so the birds can avoid it but the two lighthouses (one now a tourist attraction from which to see the land and sea) exist side by side, testimony to the advances in “lamp” technology over the centuries since the first was constructed.

When we there we avoided the villages (Romney was one of the Cinque Ports of which our beloved homegrown Knight of the Thistle was Warden, sandwiched as he was between Churchill and the Queen Mother). We concentrated on the churches, many of which were isolated and only accessible if we walked across the squelching terrain. For although the Marsh has long since been drained, lying as it does between shingle shores, there are still marshy reedy areas.

As is said, from most areas of the Marsh, a belfry, tower or steeple are visible, so ubiquitous are these churches. Most of the Marsh population in the eighteenth century was engaged in smuggling wool and Fuller’s earth (a form of clay used in cleaning and purifying) to France; and brandy, silk and lace from France. The churches became useful storage facilities, even extending to the use of empty stone lidded coffins. The churches were therefore a crucial link in the black economy of the time.

John Piper’s sketch of St Thomas of Canterbury, Fairfield, Romney Marsh

Our visit was a far more pedestrian in more ways than one. We chose to visit the churches where, in his book, Piper had inserted coloured plates: St Thomas of Canterbury – Fairfield, St George – Ivy Church, St Clement – Old Romney and St Mary – East Guildford. We visited some others as time permitted.

There are 27 in all, one meriting a one-line description, “fragment of a ruin, near a farm”, and others not much more. Some of the churches exhibit Norman influence and can be traced back to the fourteenth century. Many have been modified and in some cases such as St Thomas squatting as it does in the middle of a field have been restored. Otherwise, the seven-word description above indicates in this comprehensive list there are still ruined remnant churches.

Wandering around Romney Marsh is just one example of being alone in history, as it can be found in the churches. In this case, we were very lucky to have this bonus, John Piper’s comprehensive and illustrated guide.

Mouse Whisper

And now again for something completely different: what a revelation to watch a film, The Man Who Knew Infinity, about the life of the Indian mathematical genius, Srinivasa Ramanujan. His mentor at Cambridge was G.H. Hardy who, with his colleague J.E. Littlewood, were already mathematical luminaries at Cambridge when Ramanujan came there just before World War 1. The fact that these men went by initials rather than names indicated the stitched-up era in which these academics lived.

The last scene in this brilliant film shows the two men, Hardy and Littlewood – Ramanujan having just died in India of TB at the age of 32 – seeing a taxi labelled 1729 and saying, we must take that one.

This taxi number, as my master found out, was a bit of a complex mathematical licence.

In fact, the actual truth was that Hardy had once taken a cab to visit Ramanujan. When he got there, he told Ramanujan that the cab’s number, 1729, was “rather a dull one”. Ramanujan said, “No, it is a very interesting number. It is the smallest number expressible as a sum of two cubes in two different ways. That is, 1729 = 1^3 + 12^3 = 9^3 + 10^3.” This number is now called the Hardy-Ramanujan number, and the smallest numbers that can be expressed as the sum of two cubes in n different ways have been dubbed taxicab numbers.

I now know what the last scene in the film is about; well, sort of. Need to consult that mathematical doyen of the murine world, Bertie Rustle.

Taxicab 1729

Modest Expectations – William Temple

Queensland was the last Australian State I visited. It was not until I was 16 years old that I ever ventured into Queensland with my father after my mother died. I suppose we needed to get to know one another, as well as have a change of scenery.  My father devised some business there. I remember only two things about Queensland from that trip.

The first was the Toll Bar road which regulated the movement of traffic up and down the Toowoomba Range. Timing was everything as the road was one way up and then down the Range, depending on the time of the day; the toll bar allowed one set of vehicles up and down the road, and if one was in the wrong line, one would have to wait hours, as we did.

The other memory was how shabby Brisbane looked. It was supposed to be a city, but the houses looked a collection of rickets on stilts, with the weatherboard more often than not in need of paint. The lack of sewerage and the gravel verges reinforced that view that Brisbane was a country town. Brisbane reminded me of that nineteenth century wisecrack about Melbourne being – “a bit far from the city”.

1950s Brisbane

World War II was still a memory, recent enough for me to hear about the long lines of troops queueing outside the brothels in “the Valley” and that here in the middle of the city there had been the so-called “Battle of Brisbane” where Australian and American troops had fought a pitched street fight for two days in November 1942.

Even so, the people of Queensland seemed laid back. Queensland was a foreign drawl for a boy from the protected south. Queenslanders never had the airs of the Bunyip Aristocracy. Years later when we were introduced to the Queensland Club, I found that there was still an aristocratic stratum – but more Pineapple than Bunyip.

However, from then on I have travelled all over Queensland, absorbed Queensland. I particularly feel very much at home in south-west Queensland when I am allowed to go there, Premier permitting. I have spent substantial time on the Darling Downs, particularly Toowoomba. In contrast I have also spent substantial periods of time in Mount Isa and North Queensland.

When I scan a map of Queensland, I have never been to Winton or Blackall, Bedourie or Birdsville, or driven beyond Julia Creek in one direction and from Charters Towers in the other. I have never driven the road north from Cooktown, although I have been to Weipa and both Thursday and Horn Island on separate trips and been on a boat which followed Cook’s route up through the Great Barrier Reef into Torres Strait and then on through the Arafura Sea. I have never been south of Boulia; I’ve been to Normanton and Karumba and Kajabbi, but not to Burketown. I have been to many of the larger Queensland islands including Mornington but not Fraser. However, the islands do number 2,000.

Before I sound completely like the “I’ve been everywhere man” Lucky Starr, some of my most lasting memories are from Queensland experiences. Lasting memories tend to leave an educative residue. 

Mate, the future is not in Coal

I have worked in my time on the number of projects in Queensland, including for the Government. It has enabled me to see much of Queensland and even shed, for a time, the “Mexican” soubriquet.

The problem with Queensland is that the inhabitants seem to be constantly trying to despoil it by voting for the despoilers. Yet Mount Isa seems to fit into its environment as though the Selwyn Ranges were always expecting this guest. But Mt Isa ain’t coal.

Queensland is a bloody conundrum.

Australia is the third biggest coal miner, behind the USA and China, and just in front of Russia. Australian coal mines are less concentrated than in these other countries. Therefore, pollution is more diffuse, and that includes the political polluters who gather in their own slag heaps.

It is ironic that at times during the Nation’s existence Australia has imported black coal. Yet the first exports of 150 tonnes of black coal from Sydney occurred in 1799 to India, since the coal seam which stretched from the Hunter to the Illawarra region was discovered in 1791 by an escaped convict. The first coal was discovered in Queensland much later, at Blair Athol in 1864, but it was not until the 1950’s that the Bowen Basin was opened up and exploited; but how much has that been with a big “E”.

It is quite a sight as we were driving east from Moura in the Basin towards Banana to see the line of open cut mines. Coal mining in this area has involved degassing the coal and then mining.  At least that is the theory. There had been a terrible mining explosion in the underground coal mine at Moura in 1994 when eleven miners lost their lives. Last year there was another explosion in an underground coal mine near Moranbah in Queensland, owned by Anglo-American. Five men were seriously burned and mining was suspended.

I remember being in Moranbah, another town in the Bowen Basin, not long after the town had been established. It’s newness was characterised, as someone said to me, by the fact that there had yet to be anybody buried in the cemetery. Moranbah was one the last settlements to be constructed as a mining town with all the facilities expected of a town of about 2,000 people.

Thereafter mining has been populated by the fly-in-fly-out brigade, who can live anywhere. The current spate of border closures has clipped their wings in regard to how they can travel without being inflicted with the inconvenience of a 14 day quarantine.

Coal activities consume significant amounts of water, even in comparison to other large water users such as agriculture and domestic usage. The amount of water drawn by coal-related activities in NSW and Queensland is more than double domestic water use and about 30 per cent more than the water used for agriculture. Considering coal mine water use in regions such as the Hunter Valley and the Bowen Basin, the impact of its use is significant in these areas.

I do not get it. We live in a dry continent where water is at a premium. Yet the State governments, at a time when it is clear that coal is a massive pollutant and with a putative worldwide move to lessen the dependence on coal, keep on advocating new mines.  This represents the lazy approach to government, so infuriating in the country where policy is “She’ll be jake”, especially if there is a brown paper bag at the end of one’s political rainbow.

Nevertheless, as listed above, the most powerful nations, unlike Australia with our laughable sanctions, are the largest coal producers with Australia.

Coal loader

If these three countries decide as one to reduce their coal output, then Australia should at least match this action. As China is showing in its trade dealings, there is a certain contempt for us.

However, there are the coldly cynical who believe this will never happen. In Trump’s America that would be true, and under cover of this Me-first American Policy, why should Australia worry? However, there has been a change of the guard and John Kerry has re-emerged. The waiting game has started in the mind of the Prime Minister – the target dates are many electoral cycles away. That is unfortunately all that politicians think about – electoral cycles. And let’s face it, the Prime Minister may be canny, but measuring this policy by electoral cycles is not particularly intelligent.

Therefore, Australian policy is unlikely to respond to the external pressure in the short to medium term, especially while the National Party, which is essentially a Queensland protection racket for the mining industry, lives on. Ever since the liberal element in Queensland was snuffed out after Mike Ahern’s stewardship as Premier (the actual reasonable Liberal Party element was snuffed out even earlier by the premature death of Eric Robertson), the National party has drifted to its current position.  In Queensland, it has monstered the Liberal party into a joint arrangement.

With the loss of the leadership of Tim Fischer and John Anderson, the brakes on the rural nativism have been unleashed. Trump has provided them with a role model of unabashed bullying and assault of the weak. Weakness is often seen and confused with compromise and consensus-seeking.

Yet the mines in the Bowen Basin have been racked with problems with methane leaking everywhere, and the Moranbah mine has not yet re-opened. The owners, Anglo-American, are in dispute with their workers, although they have yet to re-open the mine. The whole matter of coal mining is racked with uncertainty – whether it be climate change, mine safety or the market.

It is not as though coal mining provides that many jobs, and with the propensity of flying workers in, it is no longer about the survival of regional towns. About a third of the workers are itinerant; and while the convention is one week on one week off, some workers work a continuous three-month shift. The whole argument about mining being the saviour of rural Australia is contestable, if not spurious.

Finally, it is the bottom line. At two metallurgical and thermal coal mines the Basin open-cut operations have been scaled back due to less demand for lower quality coking coal. Metallurgical coal, its requirement linked to steel production, in 2020 remained at 18-20 million tonnes, but the amount produced in the December quarter was 33 per cent less than the corresponding quarter of 2019.

Thermal coal output was 4.4 million tonnes during the December period, which represented a 35 per cent drop from the prior corresponding period, leading to an overall production decline of 22 per cent to 20.6 million tonnes last year. Thermal coal is linked to the production of electricity. The world is edging towards coal-free; but the problem is that it is not instant change.

Hence, instead of Queensland anticipating the inevitable, the black drums of coal are being beaten for the long-term degradation of the State. The ultimate saviour seems to be the bottom line, but coal is losing its profitability. Senator Canavan’s brother has seen his coal mine collapse, and yet the Senator continues to pursue his fantasies about coal. Having degraded the Bowen basin, his next endeavour is to degrade the Galilee Basin to the North, encircling as it does, Longreach. Longreach is not a mining town. The Longreach Club was the centre of the old rural graziers, when the enemy were the shearers. These days if you could find one who is not a New Zealander, would the sheep shearers still adhere to the tenets of what they fought and struck for – or would they fall for the blandishments of the Hanson or Palmer – let alone Canavan?

The proposed mines will remove as much as 3,000 billion litres of water from the Galilee aquifer, but far more worrying is the interconnectivity of the Galilee aquifers with the Great Artesian Basin. Now that would be the grand climax for Australian agricultural productivity – nation-wide contamination of the water supply. Who cares? Well, it’s not Canberra’s water supply.

That yet is a crucial question which needs an answer – and soon.

The spectre of no potable domestic water should be an accelerant to stop coal mining. However, it isn’t if you listen to what the politicians don’t say. The narrative is not helped when that eco-narcissist Bob Brown led a crusade up and down rural Queensland, as he did in the last election campaign. What did he achieve beyond aiding the handing over of Queensland to the barbarians? Evangelism for the protection of the environment must come from within, and therefore there must be Queenslanders who are prepared to confront the short-term pragmatism. Memory is short, especially when the Murdoch Press strangles dissent in Queensland.

As has been shown just a year after debilitating drought or bushfires, water is again plentiful. So, what is the worry? Can’t see the aquifers.

What suffers from this continuing love affair with coal is tourism. This is increasingly the life source of Queensland. However, if the attractions are ruined then does it matter? There seems to be a very laissez-faire approach to the Great Barrier Reef, and its gradual destruction. Maybe people will just want to laze around resorts and not be bothered that those resorts are alongside a dead coral relic.

… a dead coral relic

It is ironic that the Queensland Premier’s obsession with border closures has hurt tourism to the extent that the Premier is now seeking special consideration. This reversion to a “mendicant” cry from Queensland is not that unusual, because for its first 70 years it was always considered as such. Therefore when, as has happened, the Premier has been tripped up by her own hubris, the begging bowl comes out.

I don’t get it. Tourism employs far more people than the mining industries – despite the endless mantra about “mines creating jobs”. The problem is akin to fly-in-fly-out since, in most cases, tourists come for a time and leave no footprint. Therefore some the Federal Parliamentarians do not have to bear the contumely of their electorate when the Great Barrier Reef bleaches and dies. I get it now. Coral doesn’t vote and neither do tourists when they are in the reef side electorates of North Queensland.

The problem with border closures is that they severely affect tourism. Personally, in the property we own, the bookings have increased because the option of going interstate was longer an option due to border lockdowns. However, that has its limits, especially in Queensland where 135,000 workers owe their jobs to tourism. The influence of tourism is not reflected at the ballot box, since people relocating due to a perceived better climate are a different cohort. This cohort in Queensland are part of the reason the electorates around the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast are increasingly conservative – it is the call of the concrete high rise. Over the border in NSW the call of the wild is where the vote is increasingly green and yellow. But tourism in terms of political influence is ephemeral.

The other variable, which must be factored in, is the diffuseness of tertiary educational institutions. Their influence on the electoral process, so prominent in the latter part of the twentieth century when Queensland was criminally despotic under Bjelke-Petersen, seems to be a neutral political influence now. However, this is an area where the Labor Party, despite all its so-called progressive approach to education, has been curiously ineffective at a Federal level in converting it into votes.

Therefore, what a mess the current Premier presides over. Coal is in trouble. Yet her seemingly cavalier attitude to water management forbodes a future dust bowl, and there are still some parts of Queensland gripped with drought. Prolonged border closure is the lazy public health response.

This public health performance has been characterised by the way the exemptions have been manipulated, and Queensland have been lucky – very lucky. The over-reliance on border closures, complete with a spat with the NSW Premier, may have ensured the Premier’s re-election. Yet what is the ultimate price? As they say, time will tell.

Bay State Roll-Out

I found this analysis of what is happening in Massachusetts in relation to the rollout of the vaccines revealing. It appeared in the Boston Globe earlier in the week. It has been slightly edited without altering the message. What it demonstrates is that it not just a matter of a jab.

People are more likely to accept a vaccine from their own trusted doctor, said Dr. George M. Abraham, a Worcester internist who is president-elect of the American College of Physicians, the national organization of internists.

But Abraham said that only a minority of primary care physicians — he guesses 20 to 30 percent — can manage the logistical challenges.

For example, each vial of the Moderna vaccine has 10 doses, and once the vial is open, the vaccine lasts only five hours.

“If I can’t have 10 people lined up simultaneously, I would have to discard the rest, which is a criminal waste of precious vaccine,” said Abraham, who is chief of medicine at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Additionally, people must be monitored for 15 or 20 minutes after receiving the vaccine in case they have a rare allergic reaction, and doctors need space for them all to wait, at a safe distance from others. Not every office can store the vaccines; Moderna’s requires freezing, and the Pfizer vaccine has to be kept in special ultra-cold freezers.

Forty per cent of doctors are up to the job, according to a recent survey done through several professional organizations of primary care doctors in Massachusetts. Doctors have already demonstrated they can respond creatively to the pandemic; they quickly adopted telemedicine, set up tents for testing, and opened respiratory clinics for patients with COVID-like symptoms.

“We can innovate in the same way to deliver vaccine,” one doctor said.

One family doctor put up heated tents in her parking lot in March and constructed a permanent drive-through canopy in the fall. This setup has been used for COVID-19 testing and flu vaccinations. It could be the site to administer 900 coronavirus vaccines a week, if only her practice could get some. The practice has freezers capable of storing both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and a list of patients eligible and eager to be vaccinated.

Another family doctor in Arlington and Chair of Family Medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine, gave shots in his office’s parking lot after receiving 20 vaccine doses in January, preparing for a bigger effort later. To ensure patients stuck around for the mandatory 15-minute monitoring, he wrote the time they could leave in washable paint on their windshields and had them pull over and wait to receive the cards documenting the shot. Recently Altman acquired an additional 200 doses, and all 200 slots filled up within hours.

An Attleboro family physician is also among the few who have received vaccine. He’s designated a morning when eight of the 12 exam rooms in his practice will be set aside for vaccinations and monitoring. He has received 100 doses from the state and expects to receive another 100-dose batch every week or two, as needed.

In addition, he’ll finally get to use the 70 doses left over after his staff was vaccinated four weeks ago, now that vaccination eligibility has expanded. Much to his frustration, he said, state officials previously wouldn’t let him offer the extra doses to dentists and physical therapists working in his building, and told him to put them back in the freezer.

“I never got an answer why we couldn’t give it to them,” he said.

Meanwhile, large medical groups are gearing up and have posted on their websites that they plan to offer the shots but don’t yet have enough vaccine. These organizations plan to provide the vaccine, by invitation, at their own high-volume sites rather than in individual physician’s offices.

The group is poised to vaccinate because they have built and are preparing an infrastructure to offer a vaccine to our patients in whatever quantity it comes and whenever we get it.

There are a few worrying lessons for Australian doctors in the body of this analysis, and I hope the Government experts are taking the overseas experience into their calculation for the vaccine rollout, whenever it begins.  I am sure that they are.

Not Flash at All

It is a paradox. There are groups of Aborigines protesting in the streets of the capital cities about the fact that we whitefellas celebrate Australia day on January 26 when Arthur Phillip landed with a gaggle of convicts and British marines on that day in 1788. This is the day when our white ancestors invaded a place which was named Sydney on a vast continent, where the indigenous people had colonised it 40,000 years ago – the actual date varies but we “latecomers” are not allowed to forget we have joined the oldest civilisation on earth.

While one group of Aboriginal people is protesting against “Invasion Day”, another contingent of Aboriginal people covered in oche, with clapsticks and didgeridoos, are stomping around waving gum leaves as part of what is called a smoking ceremony and seem to be going along with the whitefella celebration. In fact, it is a day where some Aboriginal people show their wares and talk up merchandise to be flogged to the community, so we can all have a part of Tradition. In fact I do not know what the Aboriginal people would do if we transferred Australia to another day, whether there could be universal joy and optimism, which we could all celebrate without division and protest.

As the Aboriginal voices have grown, so has racism not gone away. Most white Australians have never had much of an attachment to Australia Day. After all, it relates to the founding of Sydney, nothing more nothing less as a penal colony for the detritus of England. Not much relevance to the other States.

Norm McDonald

I grew up in Victoria when Australia Day was a holiday. It was convenient because it marked the end of summer holidays. After Australia Day, everybody went back to work. We never much celebrated Australia Day, and because it was in the school holidays it had no impact as a group learning experience. It was also a time when the Aboriginal people were very much a fringe group. If you lived in the city, as most of us did, one never saw an Aboriginal – and if we did, we did not see an Aboriginal, we saw Norm McDonald as a talented Australian Rules footballer who seemed to have a dark complexion. In those days, there was a series of very good Aboriginal boxers, but Dave Sands, one of our greatest, never paraded his Aboriginality.

Australia Day now has a real meaning for the Aboriginal community. Without it where could all that resentment be directed and consequently attention paid to their often-justified complaints; but also it is an outlet for their culture, confected or not. The activity on this day plays on some whitefella guilt – not mine. Having been fortunate enough to work with Aboriginal people with all their diversity, I wish that the celebrations were more varied. I would like to see more of Torres Strait culture injected; and also that of the South Sea islanders, the heirs of the kanakas, an important cultural group within this country.

After all, the real Australia Day is January 1, the Day of Federation when we became a nation, but that is an inconvenient date because it is already a public holiday, and the general consensus would be that public holidays are scarce enough without combining them. But then, what is special about New Year’s Day, except it is probably the day we celebrate the Hangover.

I have suggested Wattle Day, September 1, because of its symbolic renewal and Australia then is when its country is at its most green and yellow. It is also a time of the year when there are no Public holidays. It is a serious alternative.  But realistically, the only day is the one when Australia becomes a republic.

Anyway, in the meantime let us abolish Australia Day and see who squeals. At least we would be spared the theatre of the Australia Day Honours.

Mouse Whisper

Are you sick and tired of politicians saying that the reason for border closures is to keep people safe? Does that mean that when the Premier opens the particular border that he or she is a safe cracker?

Maybe the States should agree to call their border closure The Crowbar.

Especially applicable when keeping South Australians out of your State.

Some would associate the spate of border closures with a form of idiocy.  But beware the use of “cretin”. The latest ruling by that Judge that calling someone by the short version of a “congenital hypothyroidism” is defamatory, makes one very careful in pronouncing “Credlin” or for that matter people from the island of Crete, as well as those who inhabit the Canberra wetlands and were born in the Cretaceous Period.

Jerrabomberra Wetlands, Canberra

Modest Expectations – Luther

Just before we left Manaus, I told the driver to stop so that I could purchase an Amazonas flag. It was full sized. Flags interest me because they have meaning and the Amazonas flag is no exception. The flag has a central red band enclosed by white bands, representing hope. In the corner is a blue quadrant representing the sky; stars represent the Amazonas municipalities with Manaus as the central big star. The red band represents what Manaus must do – overcome difficulties.

Manaus – poor Manaus – a place neglected – a country defiled. Virus ridden, unable to cope.

So different from the cheery countenance when we visited Manaus. It was winter 2019. We had arrived early in the morning on a flight from Rio de Janeiro via São Paulo; the flight had taken us the best part of five hours. When you are in a cramped space, time becomes either something to be ignored or to drive one mad by looking at one’s watch, constantly nagged by “are we there yet?” But the bed, once reached, compensated.

Yet although we spent most of the time on the Amazon, the bookend times were in Manaus, the port where we boarded the cruise ship. We arrived after one in the morning in this old hotel which was in a narrow street littered with graffiti. There were signs of it being left to its own devices, with a few mango and banana trees thrown in to give it tropical colour.

It was a late breakfast highlighted by the best ceviche I have tasted. White fish, normally an enemy of my gut, was succulent, with the various additions centring around the lime juice marinade it was perfect.

The only problem was that I thought I had lost my wallet, and the room was turned upside down by long suffering staff, until I found it nestling in my documentation. My companion just looked at the ceiling.

The new bridge across the Rio Negro

The transfer to the boat soon after midday and then on return only a day before we were scheduled for a late afternoon flight meant we saw very little of Manaus. The opera house and many of the old buildings reflected the heyday wealth of Manaus from its then rubber monopoly; the wharf side markets, and the exotic nature of the produce reflected the present day source of wealth. Manaus was alive and the day was full, going all over the city and even crossing to the new bridge across Rio Negro to the city of Iranduba. By way of explanation, Manaus is technically on the Rio Negro, which lives up to its name – as we witnessed when this river joined up with the upper Amazon (Solimōes) River very near Manaus.

Açaí berries

Given how much açaí fruit has penetrated our health food industry, there was a certain luxury of actually eating the fruit from this palm in Manaus, with its agradável flavour to best to describe it. However, the grapelike fruit provided a brief novel pleasure.

That was the problem, the pleasure of being in Manaus was so brief. We would have liked to have stayed a week longer; as with many of these exotic places, they seep into the cracks of one’s personality – and one is left with a feeling of nostalgia compounded by a strange sense of grief reflecting on what the city is going through now.

With all the tragedy being enacted in Amazonas, I only hope the red band in its flag burns bright with its white companions providing the hope. What else can one say, because among other matters far away in urban Brazil, the people there have bet on an unintelligent narcissist to lead them to a better life. I do pray for Manaus – and indeed for the whole of the Amazon basin.

The problem with Age

When Biden was a young man of 20, a 43 year old war veteran and Senator from Massachusetts was inaugurated President.

The Senator’s 71 year old father looked on proudly.

Now Biden is an old man; as a 78 year old he has been inaugurated as President of the United States. His 50 year old son and 40 year old daughter looked on proudly.

By the end of John Kennedy’s first year of Presidency, his father had had a profound stroke, which left him severely disabled, unable to talk. He lingered, dying, at the current age of President Biden.

John Kennedy’s election could be seen as a reaction to the ageing heroes of World War II – the fifties had seen a demented Churchill pushed into retirement, but not until he was 81, to be replaced by an ageing, ill, long term protégé-in-waiting, who miscalculated badly over Suez and in turn was replaced by another World War warrior.

Eisenhower, later in Presidency when he was nearing 70, was wracked with health problems, including a heart attack, while in Europe De Gaulle was nearing 70 and German Chancellor Adenauer was well over 80.  Australia contributed the ageing Menzies who was nearing 70.

Before Kennedy arrived, it was an old man’s world.

Recently in America there has been a tendency for an old President to be replaced by a younger one. If this succession holds true, then Trump has no hope, even before his trial, even if his diet does not kill him before.

There are a couple of factors which are different now from 1961. One is that there are many more avenues for treatment of the ageing body. One area in particular has been treatment of cardiac disease. Then at Kennedy’s inauguration there were few if any coronary care units, no cardiac surgery on a regular basis, no stenting, and over all treatment of high blood pressure was far from today’s standards. Smoking was still rife. When I was an intern in the early 1960s, the treatment of a heart attack was symptomatic, namely bed rest and analgesics with digoxin and heparin if needed. However, every time I see Biden break into that arthritic jog I shudder and think of his succession.

This then other unknown is the presence of a female Vice-President. Good God, replacement by a younger woman!

I can see Vice-President Harris developing a close relationship with Prime Minister Ardern, but whom from Australia? The most obvious is Penny Wong.

Nevertheless, I would like to be there when Marise Payne rocks up to Washington. But then the Vice-President has been exposed to some of those delightful Republican women in the past, and no doubt in her own courteous way would politely call forth “A chi tocca” when she meets these Australian Republican simulacra, represented by the fruity Marise.

Australia Day

Once in 62 upon a pastured lawn 

The Pom called Robin Day did ask 

To serried ranks we stood

Respectful 

Should we seek republic

And the answer unexpected

From knees once genuflected

To Day we all said aye.

 

January 26

A day of Independence 

When India

Grew up and threw away its swaddling clothes

A cope with mace and orb and sceptred scrap

Lie shattered ‘pon brown flattened earth

For people confused by Battenburg

But now Republic Day they all say aye

 

January 26

A day 

For we still caught in cream bassinet 

A good man stood on Botany shores

Sent from porphyric hungovered king

Possession gained with jack of Andrew, Patrick, and of George

But no place for David, no daffodils nor leek

Yet this Southern harsh and sunburnt land a dump for human waste

He christened his green and pleasant New South Wales

In homage we whitefellas celebrate this day

 

January 26

Summer invasion to those not tanned

To frolic in illusory freedom

The Jack still flutters

A cornered eye

The Southern Cross is overseen.

By stiffened queen

To celebrate a day of smoke and sand and foaming ale 

 

Robin Day is long since dead

That rank of 62 is thin and worn

Who once called aye for change

Yet Her of steely Albion eyes

Or He of fumbling foreign voice survive

Shall we now spent and grey

Not live to have a true Australia day

Which we can call our own

 

A lone voice rings out

Make September First Republic Day

Is it not the first day of Spring

Is it not when wattle bloom 

A sprig for all

Is it but a symbol of youth and vigour

This day which is

The First of September

The back story of this poem was the Australian visit of Robin Day who, for many years, was the face of the BBC program “Panorama”. It was either 61 or 62. “62” in the poem is poetic licence.

Robin Day

Day had approached Zelman Cowan, then the Dean of Law at the University of Melbourne, to round up the usual suspects of Bright Young Australian Youth to be interviewed. It was a time when Great Britain was showing an interest in joining the European Common Market.  Menzies’ Australia was opposed to this course of action. Robin Day wanted a bit of colour for a piece to show on Panorama to highlight the squabble.

Zelman asked Phil Cummins, then a prominent law student and student politician, to collect his then mates. I was part of the crowd invited, and there we were, arranged outdoors “in serried ranks” as if we had won some trophy. Day was among a caste of interviewers whose unctuous style enabled him to cleverly manipulate his interviewees in the way he wanted. He was thus working his way down the student line until his flinty eyes alit on this impeccably designer dressed tramp. He asked this young bespectacled scarecrow for his opinion on the stoush, who in response brushed aside whatever had been asked and said: “I am a republican, and you Brits can do what you like.”

Then a bloke in the front row chimed in: “I don’t like the Poms either.”

This then unleashed a number of insurrectionary comments.

Zelman Cowan

From then on Mr Day found himself one out, such that in the end he was led away from the group by Dean Zelman with the words “Totally unrepresentative opinion”.

When the program was ultimately released in Australia, I saw it by chance. I had just delivered a baby as part of my student rotation at the Royal Women’s Hospital and happened to come into the student common room and there he was – Zelman Cowan wandering down one of the paths leading from the Melbourne Shrine, burbling about “the indissoluble links between Australia and the Mother Country” or some such words. Our student interview was on the cutting room floor.

Anyway, a good training run for a Governor General aspirant. After Kerr, Cowan restored a great deal of dignity to the position and ironically later in life became a republican. Pity the intervening 30 years.

As for Great Britain going into the European Union then, Menzies was just as irrelevant then as he had been during the Suez crisis in 1956; and for Great Britain then, as always, De Gaulle was la mouche dans la pommade. 

The Pardoner Prologue

With this trick, I’ve earned myself a salary of about a hundred gold coins a year. I stand up there in front of the people like I’m a priest or something and preach and tell just like the kind I just mentioned. All the stupid people sit in front of me and soak up every word I say. I make a good show of it, straining my neck to look at all the people to the right and left of me, just like a bird in a barn. I gesticulate with my hands and speak quickly, which makes my speeches dramatic and fun to watch. I always preach about greed and the other deadly sins, which makes them happy to give away their money—namely, to me. I’m only in this for the money you know, not for cleansing immortal souls. Why, I don’t give a damn if their souls are as rotten as garbage when they die! Of course, I’m not the first person who’s preached with an ulterior motive either. Some priests give sermons to make people feel good about themselves so that they’ll get promoted to bishop. Others preach for love of fame or to fan the fires of hate. I only preach to make money and sometimes to get back at people who’ve said nasty things about me or my fellow pardoners. I can rail against a person in the audience to ruin his reputation, for example, and, even if I don’t mention his name, everyone will know whom I’m talking about. That’s how I get back at my enemies, by spitting out my venom under the guise of being holy and virtuous.

This is an excerpt from the Prologue from the Pardoner’s tale.  One of the Canterbury pilgrims Geoffrey Chaucer recorded, each providing his fellow pilgrims with a tale to while away time as they rode towards Canterbury. The Prologue and the Pardoner’s tale itself have so much of Trump in them that if there were to be a further film made then Donald would fit the role of Pardoner.

The Canterbury Pilgrims

The tale told revealed three men from Flanders, the worst sort of “jocks” in their unbridled roistering decided to confront and kill Death. They were on their way to the village where they had heard Death had killed everybody when they encountered an old man who said that Death lurked behind a certain oak tree. When they reached the tree, instead of Death they found a substantial cache of gold. Now in the time-honoured way groups of three behave, two of them plotted to kill the youngest one, thereby reducing the division of spoils to two.

In the meantime, they sent the potential victim into the village to buy provisions. However, this young man had similar views, but he wanted to reduce the three-way split to one – himself. He thus went to the apothecary bought some rat poison and put it into the wine that he had also purchased.

He then went back, and his two companions killed him, but then drank the poisoned wine.  Therefore, they all ended up dead. For us, the future generation, the lesson of the tree hoard is the basis of the aphorism that greed is the root of all evil.

After the story, the Pardoner increases his sales pitch and starts flogging relics. This angers the Host who in part replies with the following:

But by the croys which that seint Eleyne fond,

I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hond

In stede of relikes or of seintuarie;

Lat cutte hem of, I wol thee helpe hem carie;

Thay shul be shryned in an hogges tord.

In modern terms something equivalent to having intestines for garters, but somewhat lower in the male body. Before the two descend into any rough stuff, the Knight intervenes.

Which leaves but one question, how much did Donald the Pardoner rake in from his 143 pardons.  Say an average of US$10, 000 – more you say. Probably impossible to find out, anyway I wouldn’t bother looking behind any of the trees on any of his golf courses. But you never know, given that Donald is probably out to kill Death.

Hib-brawl-tar

I was reminded of a photograph which was pulled from my father’s collection when he was touring around Europe in the late 1960s. The slide was of the Rock of Gibraltar.

The Rock had always been on my “bucket list”, and I was not alone. When I used to mention that I wanted to go there, it seemed to have a romantic connotation and it was the surest way of attracting interest.

When my father saw the Rock, it was then off limits after Franco closed the border in 1969. Spain did not re-open the border until 1985, and in the meantime Great Britain built a fence on neutral ground within which it built a modern airport. Therefore, it is an interesting experience driving across the border and the runways in order to arrive in Gibraltar proper.

Gibraltar and its airport

One thing Gibraltar knows is how to disappoint. Even though there is a polyglot population boasting an impressive heritage, Gibraltar just felt like a Butlin’s holiday camp.

The Gibraltarians have their own dialect, but most of the voices in the hotel sounded as if they were born within the sound of Bow Bells.

However, the Rock was something else.  The view across the Straits of Gibraltar is spectacular, as Africa looms through the haze and the harbour is dotted with myriad shipping.

The resident monkeys on the Rock like most of their kind are more annoying than dangerous. These Barbary apes, as they are misnamed because they have no tails, are the last wild monkey population in Europe.

The other distinct aspect is the tunnels in the Rock. The tunnel network is far larger than the roads, but not unsurprising given the Rock has been a target since its acquisition by Great Britain in 1703 as a spoil during the War of Spanish Succession, legitimised by the Treaty of Utrecht eight years later.

Spain has always tried to reclaim it, by complaint or force. In response Great Britain has reinforced the defences on the Rock, most recently during World War II. We were afforded a glimpse of these tunnels, but as far back as the late 18th century, their existence reflected this animosity with Spain. The five-year siege late in that century saw the successful experimentation by the British in being able to fire on the siege ships, and a certain Lieutenant Shrapnel lent his name to an invention, which the Spanish found disconcerting. Eventually after five years the siege was lifted.

Gibraltar has picturesque reminders of its Britishness – telephone boxes and policemen in bobby hats. However, nobody mentioned the fact that our Spanish-registered rental car had been illegally if inadvertently taken into Gibraltar. But then Gibraltar for all its professed loyalty to the British flags has a dark side, the scourge of all these overseas territories still controlled by Great Britain. In a report by the European Union released in December 2019 entitled Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Measures, the following gives a flavour to the lackadaisical way the regulations are administered by the Gibraltarians.

Gibraltar has a sound legal framework to exchange information and cooperate with its foreign counterparts in relation to money laundering (ML), associated predicate offences and financing of terrorism (FT). Nevertheless, the timeliness of the information exchange is hindered by the shortage in human resources and the lack of clear guidelines in relation to incoming Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) requests. Legal assistance has been sought, primarily from the UK and Spain…The indicated delays in receiving replies to requests for assistance and the limited resources that law enforcement agencies have at their disposal to pursue evidence abroad impede their capacity to investigate and disrupt transnational criminal networks involved in ML, drugs trafficking and tobacco smuggling. There have been no outgoing requests related to confiscation during the review period.

Gibraltar’s economy is primarily based on tourism, financial services, online gambling and shipping. Trade is concentrated on refined petroleum, passenger and cargo ships, cars, and recreational boats. The UK, Spain, Mauritania, Italy and the Netherlands are Gibraltar’s main trading partners.

Reading between the lines, a major activity is smuggling and generally living on the dark side of the law. Admission that Mauretania is one of the major trading partners is interesting, given that Mauretania retains the pre-eminent world position in slavery.

Gibraltar is part of that stain on the World – the United Kingdom Overseas Territories, the home of all the shenanigans which are the dark side of capitalism – tax havens being the centrepiece. However, this dark soiled hidden hand is allowed to persist since it allows Capitalism to show the other philanthropic clean hand, immaculately manicured. The current situation suits those in power, having one hidden dirty hand.

As for Gibraltar, it may as well be part of Spain if it were not for it being virtually this open slather for criminal activity, which seems to be tolerated here but wouldn’t be in either Spain or Great Britain.

Gibraltar nevertheless provides employment for 10,000 Spanish citizens who use only their ID cards to cross daily from the depressed area of Spain adjacent to the Rock in which they live.

The current situation allows Gibraltarians to live in a far cheaper place and the last minute deal between Spain and Great Britain will continue to allow Gibraltar to have closer ties with the EU as a party to the Schengen Agreement. It means that Gibraltarians can move without passport through those 28 European countries which are part of the Agreement and vice versa. This closeness to the EU is what 96 per cent of Gibraltarians wanted.

Paradoxically the British, who claim sovereignty over Gibraltar, now must present passports when they want to enter because Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland are outside the Schengen Area, but the Spanish are not.

Let’s see how long before the Gibexit. But why? Criminality thrives on chaos. Look, no passport needed.

Curiae Amici Inusiti

Mouse and I have got together and present this verbal diorama. Below are the evergreen Fauci’s comments made to NYT.  Since liberation from Trump’s circus, let us say, the old boy is a wily coyote in being able to survive for 40 years in the headlights without being accused of compromising his integrity, unlike the unfortunate Deborah Birx.

The NYT interview has been published widely, but the reason for this quote is to highlight political interference for another reason. Whereas the bottom-feeders were hanging around Trump bleating that everything bad for business was the fault of these wacky (unspoken) scientists, who wilfully disregarded their suggestions to the Trump.  There is an image of scientists deep in the American psyche which associates “mad” with “scientist”. When the President is uneducated and has a prejudice against education and probably Jews, especially little rational Jews who refuse to be baited but are also very nimble in the face of bullying, there is a strong chance that the President would be infuriated.  Thus there was no chance of the man called Fauci being listened to, but becoming a figure to hate targeted by the Trump followers. He was lucky to emerge unscathed.

And the other thing that made me really concerned was, it was clear that he was getting input from people who were calling him up — I don’t know who, people he knew from business — saying, “Hey, I heard about this drug; isn’t it great?” or, “Boy, this convalescent plasma is really phenomenal.”…….He would take just as seriously their opinion — based on no data, just anecdote — that something might really be important. It wasn’t just hydroxychloroquine; it was a variety of alternative medicine-type approaches. It was always, “A guy called me up, a friend of mine from blah, blah, blah.” That’s when my anxiety started to escalate.

My own current anxiety has begun to escalate in proportion to the impatience which comes when the solution is onerous compliance.  Vaccine then becomes that Magic Potion. Clamouring for the vaccine is partially driven by such cases so eloquently outlined by the quote in the Whisper below. The fact that the guy was 92 is immaterial; it is the way he met his death. Vaccine provides the shortcut, the panacea.

Thus, the vaccine will save the world. The cry goes out if only there had been a vaccine for Mr Chapski…

Yes, if only there was a vaccine that worked. The politicians, even here in Australia where there should be no rush, want us all to be inoculated. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has given provisional approval to a vaccine which needs to be stored at very low temperatures, has been associated with a number of deaths in Norway (although there has been no adequate explanation as to why the vaccine was administered to terminally ill patients) and where there are apparent production problems, which means that the timing of the second injection, which seems essential, must be under some scrutiny. In other words, there are still a large number of unanswered questions. I note that the TGA have given provisional approval only for two years. That is the first vaccine; what about the others?

Now I would hate to suggest that whereas the fleas in the government ear in March last year would be moaning about business being ruined if you shut the country down, there are now the same fleas, different irritation. These fleas are the ones who want to resume international jaunting, chafing at being confined to barracks as it were. Vaccinate and we can go anywhere, and the Virus will buckle. Wrong; so wrong.

However, those fleas with their billion-dollar lifestyle require winter in the Northern Hemisphere. They do not want any quarantine. You just have to view the antics of some of the tennis players to get a flavour of this sense of entitlement, which the Virus does not observe. Therefore, attention is directed at Government. Vaccines must work – and if we say that often enough, it will become truth, no matter the level of evidence. This level of evidence is compromised by the cacophony of academic experts wrestling for the megaphone.

As I have written before, Viruses love Chaos.

The Prime Minister and his Ministerial congregation want to run around the World, trying to collect up the pieces of our coal-tarred reputation. Fine. That is what the vaccine rollout is all about, well not all perhaps but let’s keep it in mind, gentlemen … and oh there is a lady in the room.

Mouse whisper

Just the other day…

On the other side of 2-North, Al Chapski’s door was closed and his eyes were shut. There was no more happy talk of childhood. Before being stricken with coronavirus, Chapski’s wife said, he “never had so much as a headache.” Now, his chest rose slowly in shallow breaths. The television that once ran CNN on loop had gone black. By nightfall, the virus had overcome the 92-year-old and he died.

The nurses gathered his belongings. A sprawling life of more than nine decades textured by second-chance romance, cruise trips, Market Basket doughnuts and a love of World War II aircraft was reduced, in that moment, to a plastic bag filled with a picture frame, a pair of hearing aids, a plant in a disposable cup, a pile of clothes, and a $100 Starbucks gift card.

Then they rang his wife, who had not seen him since December.

Not quite Gray’s elegy, but a very clear one from the Boston Globe writer who had been “embedded” in the Hospital and had watched Mr Chapski die. Nobody should die like that was his thesis, but at least the nursing staff shed a tear.

And even me, Mouse who will never see 92 months let alone 92 years, shed one too.