Modest Expectations – Irène Joliot-Curie

Christmas is well and truly over and today is Epiphany. The remains of that day in December have been long eaten. The last mince pie signalled the end of what has increasingly become a secular holiday, given over to gift giving and delays in getting anywhere.  Our Christmas tree will remain until Candlemas. The hymns of 2nd February lack the gentleness of the Yuletide but have the robustness of the Presentation of Christ, the Circumcised, in the Temple.

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” replace “Away in the Manger”.

Then at Christmas there was the excruciating King’s speech; it is interesting how we accepted the starchy nothingness of his mother for so many years, but then nobody bothered with her ratings. The intrusion of such speeches is like making sure you clean your teeth. It’s wholesome, takes little time, but of what relevance? It is certainly not in placing the holy liniment on the aristocratic brow sometime at a costly Coronation this year. The Carolingian speech, if not to be considered high-falutin’ dribble, should be followed by funding to the needy, rather than having an unnecessarily tawdry, increasingly irrelevant ritual such as crowning Charles.

We give the grandchildren cash for Christmas and for that matter their birthdays. Equal recognition for all, age notwithstanding. Only one variation is when they reach 21 years, each gets an extra 21 dollars.

After all, in regard to Christmas, as reported in The Economist, one Joel Waldfogel of the University of Minnesota identified a “deadweight loss” when he studied the difference between the cost of seasonal gifts and how much their recipients valued them after they had accounted for exchanges and put sentimental value aside. Today he says that on average cash spent on another person yields around 85% of the benefit of cash they spend on themselves. Although gift-giving may make some people happy, it’s “a lousy way to allocate resources.”

No reason for not being economically rational at Christmas; nobody is trying to pass through the eye of a needle, especially after Christmas.

Statues of Women

Sofia senza Prof Wright

There she was, in her Emma Peel black ensemble striking her Avenger pose. Professor Clare Wright, her booted foot on the plinth of the statue of ‘Sofia’ by Herman Hohaus at LaTrobe University Bundoora Campus, which apparently typifies the allegorical depiction of women in statues.  The garden is empty; no students in sight playing homage to this carving.

This Professor of History’s comments have excited a great number of responses since she made the observation that there were far more statues of males than females in Victoria. The figure of nine to about 500 was quoted. She wanted redress, and predictably the Melbourne City Council responded by scrounging three worthy women from the archives to have statues made of them and plonked who knows where.

Now a brass life size figure costs $40,000 upwards, and if the ultimate aim of Professor Wright is to have an equal number of female statues scattered around the city and suburbia, it would be at a cost rivalling the Coronation of Charles Rex. Rather, let us reduce the number of statues of men to nine. Would that satisfy Professor Wright? After all, statues after unveiling stand mute, unnoticed, hidden, defaced.

There is one statue, which was once placed prominently at the corner of Point Nepean Road and Bay Street Brighton. The subject of the statue, Tommy Bent, was a crook. The statue has now been moved to what is described as an inauspicious location just off Bay Road. Next to the statue a beautifully crafted public fountain, of Italian marble, provides a re-hydration station for the many cyclists that make their daily commute to and from the city for work. It might be said that this fountain dedicated to his wife Elizabeth Bent may ultimately come to be most cherished by locals, because it at least has a useful function.

Take Field Marshall Blamey and his prostitute trail. He is commemorated by a statue standing erect in a jeep at the corner of Birdwood Drive and the Governor’s Drive. Perhaps it would be appropriate to have the Madame Brussels condom dispenser next to his statue to commemorate in addition, the long line of distinguished parliamentarians who used her services and that of her successors, maybe carved in the form of the parliamentary mace which ended up one eventful night in her brothel.

Professor Wright has started me thinking. Between 1837 and 2022, there have been only 51 years when our monarch was a king. Do you know how many statues there are of Queen Victoria in Australia? Nine, plus a monument in Geelong – the same number as in London alone. Pray, what did those worthy queens do for women’s rights, and for that matter for the progress of civilisation.  There are only seven of George V, four of which are in Victoria; two of Edward VII, and George VI gets a consolation prize of a couple of gates. Elizabeth II has four, including one in Adelaide which is a real real tribute to longevity.  The number of statues across the globe of Queen Victoria may just reflect a time that is passing, in that government – particularly local councils – do not have the spare cash to build a folly to a worthy. If it is functional like gates or barbed wire, it doesn’t cost much to label it such as the King Charles III Stretch of Barbed Wire in the Kimberley.

Statue construction these days tends to be of sporting heroes and it seems fitting when the fans embellish his statue with their own dedication. Sporting bodies as the prototype of the new religion are just going through an iconophile phase, a sign of their prosperity. It is a pity that the statue of Warne when periodically venerated by his fans resembles a rubbish heap in the alleyway behind an inner city café.

The Little Mermaid

Personally I have only sought out two statues – one was the Little Mermaid overlooking the Baltic Sea in Oslo; the second, the evocative sculpture of John Betjeman at the Paddington train station, peering upwards towards the roof of the monumental station that he in life strove successfully to save.

In the end I suspect Professor Wright has a very traditional view of sculpture. In another age she probably may have promoted statues of Queen Victoria in every town in Australia – maybe not – if only to ensure gender equality.

We at home have our own sculpture of one of the Pleiades carved by a Yorta Yorta man and painted by a Yorta Yorta woman. The Pleiades are the seven daughters of the Titan god Atlas and the ocean nymph Pleione. They look down upon us from their celestial home. The representation we have is made from mallee wood. It is superb.

Thus, every day when we are home, the statuesque woman presides – part of the household lares et penates – protecting us. It has a special meaning of an Australia where our female heritage can only be sculpted if there is an empathetic receptiveness, not because of silly notions of political correctness.

A Box of Mystery

The box appeared as my wife was clearing the family house. She had never seen it before. An empty box of mystery indeed!

It is varnished, stained chestnut, very light to pick up, and on the inner side of the lid is an elliptical monogram of curlicues around which is the inscription “Queen of The Orient – Made of the Finest Manila Leaf.”

It seems that manila leaf is tea, and that would stand to reason given the size of the container. It is a box, not a caddy. Wooden caddies, a word derived from the Chinese catty, normally are compartmentalised, originally to separate green and black tea but when that division was abandoned, the wooden tea chest or caddy, with a lid and a lock, was still made with two and often three divisions. In the actual caddies, the central portion became reserved for sugar. In the late 18th and early 19th century, caddies made from mahogany and rosewood were popular, but this box was made very much later, and while it was light, it was certainly not balsa nor one of the afore mentioned fancy woods. Probably just pine or poplar, my expert brother-in-law thought, rapping its lid.

The family has a history of timber working as my late father-in-law made nearly three hundred boxes, showcasing different timbers. I remember scrounging pieces of English elm for him from one of the trees in Melbourne which had been toppled in a storm, and which had been sawn up ready for disposal. Since the advent of Dutch elm disease there are very few places in the world where English elms still thrive. Melbourne was one of these, for a now protected timber, almost impossible to obtain unless nature intervenes as this was the case,

This box may have been made by him and been forgotten. What gave the individuality to this box however was the intricate carving.

On the box lid was an emu and a kangaroo on either side of a crown and around the edge was a border of triangles, both upright and inverted, separated by a thin line creating a cartouche. The body of each of the emu and kangaroo was faceted so that when you turn them to the light the facets have a silvery glow.

On the front of the box is the Australian flag on a hoist.  It is encased in a similar cartouche, in each corner of which are stylised flowers. The other sides of the box have no decoration. The figures are primitive, but the woodworking is that of a skilled craftsman. As a boy, my father-in-law lived on a farm and was one of a large family of sons. He was taught by his mother to sew, knit and crochet – and his fine movement co-ordination was an important attribute. But since he is no longer alive, there is no firm confirmation of provenance.

When I had looked at the box first, originally I thought it was pokerwork. However it is not two-dimensional; the more I turned it over the more I admired it, very fine carving

As has been written attempting to place it in our art heritage: Pokerworking (or pyrography), especially of functional items, reflects early 20th century domestic life and “almost everyone who lived in Australia before World War II seemed to have at least one pokerwork ornament or decorated utilitarian object” Yet it is also an art form which is under appreciated today, despite its significance to social history and the arts and crafts movement. Remember, the next time you see a piece of pokerwork, appreciate the craft involved and don’t discard it so easily!

The Aboriginal people employed pokerworking as a form of decorating, not only of their everyday utensils such the coolamon, but also in the creation of figures, notably the goanna. We have a number of examples of these collected mostly from the desert tribes, which we have scattered around our home. 

XBB sounds like a High Speed Train 

Americans can “maximize” their protection against XBB and the other variants by staying up to date with their vaccine. What does that mean? Yes, what does that mean, Dr Kelly? 

I listened to the Health Minister this week talking about the requirement for testing on travellers coming into Australia from China. Apart from using the terminology of “abundance of caution” at least five times, he then went on to give a curious state of play which suggests that there is some conflict aboard in the Halls of Albanese. Minister Butler was careful to refer to the public health advice of the various chief medical officers, which appeared to give the green light to travellers from China coming into the country, but by the end of his press conference, he was outlining a series of restrictions to reduce the impact of a COVID invasion through Chinese vectors. The amber light is flashing brightly.

Hence, I am surprised that Paul Kelly, the Chief Medical Officer, is opposed to the step-by-step approach to ensure that Australia has some data to work with from these incoming travellers from China (and in fact worldwide), in unknown numbers, vectors seeding the COVID variants around the country. Probably my opposing view may be too harsh – and smacks of the yellow peril fallacy. However, Australia cannot run a public health system blindfolded, even if contact tracing is apparently unworkable and Australia has to rely on testing the water supply, where there is still no nationwide consistency.

The white flag is being waved by the academic experts. As one is reported as saying:

“The virus continues to circulate globally. We do need to monitor for variants carefully, but screening everyone coming from China won’t make any material difference to the state of the transmission in Australia.”

As one suffering from long COVID, who has followed instructions when they have some meaning, why do we keep paying guys like this one proffering such meaningless maunderings?

I am not sure if these two articles below (combined from The Boston Globe and The Washington Post) help much, apart from providing in one sense improved information, raising the level of uncertainty, and wondering whether instead of watching, a course of action could be set out. They do indicate it is not only China where the variants are spreading. The cruise ships one must say are convenient worldwide vectors. Apart from which, both the US and UK have significant outbreaks of a new variant – there are no test requirements

A new coronavirus variant dubbed XBB has swiftly become the dominant form of COVID-19 spreading in the Northeast (of the USA), jumping from about 35 percent of cases during the week ending Dec. 17 to just over half of cases last week, according to CDC data.

Here’s a quick primer on what we know about the variant from The Boston Globe and The Washington Post.

Is XBB more transmissible? Experts say the rapid spread of the XBB variant suggests it’s more adept than its predecessors at evading the immunity that comes from vaccines and infections.

“The most likely explanation is that it’s more transmissible,” said Dr. Jeremy Luban, professor of molecular medicine, biochemistry, and molecular biotechnology at UMass Medical School, in a recent interview.

Who is at greatest risk? As with other recent variants, people who are immunocompromised face greater risk, and the monoclonal antibodies used to treat them do not work against the latest variants, including XBB. That has eliminated an important tool for treating some of the most vulnerable patients.

What can I do to protect myself? As always, experts urge people to get booster shots. The bivalent booster vaccine, which works against the Omicron variant as well as the original form of the virus, appears to be especially effective against XBB, according to a recent small study.

If I test positive for XBB, could I be looking at severe illness? While XBB does not seem to cause more severe illness or death, little is known about the effects of its subvariants, XBB.1 and XBB.1.5, which have turned up in the Northeast, said  the assistant dean of research at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Jonesboro, Ark., campus, in a recent interview.

What are experts saying about XBB? In a Dec. 23 online column, Dr. Eric Topol, executive vice president of Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., noted that the arrival of XBB.1.5 in New York coincided with a marked rise in hospitalizations in that State. He predicted on Tuesday that “XBB will soon be the dominant variant nationwide. A functional @CDCgov would alert the public about the XBB.1.5 variant — which has already established dominance throughout the Northeast — and, with its big growth advantage over BQ.1.1, soon country-wide.”

“Of course, other factors are likely contributing such as waning of immunity, indoor/holiday gatherings, cold weather, lack of mitigation. But it is noteworthy that New York’s [COVID-19] hospital admission rate is the highest since late January,” he wrote. “So we don’t know for sure how much of this is being driven by XBB.1.5, but it doesn’t look favourable.”

Dr. Cyrus Shaphar, the White House’s COVID-19 data director, tweeted on 23rd Dec, that Americans can “maximize” their protection against XBB and the other variants by staying up to date with their vaccines. He also noted that the highest concentration of XBB can currently be found in the north-eastern part of the country.

The University of Minnesota’s Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy notes on its website that the CDC’s variant projections for the week ending Dec. 24 show “that the Omicron XBB variant, a recombinant of two BA.2 viruses, now makes up 18.3 percent of sequenced samples, up sharply from the week before. Much of the rise appears to be from two northeastern regions where XBB is now the dominant subtype. XBB has fuelled outbreaks in parts of Asia, including Singapore.”

Regarding XBB, the Centre says, “experts are watching a subvariant called XBB.1.5 that was detected in New York and has a mutation that has been linked to immune escape. Scientists suspect that XBB.1.5 has a growth advantage over BQ.1.1.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday it is tracking a new variant of concern dubbed XBB.1.5. According to new figures published Friday, it estimates XBB.1.5 makes up 40.5% of new infections across the country. 

XBB.1.5’s ascent is overtaking other Omicron variant cousins BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, which had dominated a wave of over the fall. Scientists believe its recent growth could be driven by key mutations on top of what was already one of the more immune evasive strains of Omicron to date.

“We’re projecting that it’s going to be the dominant variant in the Northeast region of the country and that it’s going to increase in all regions of the country,” said Dr. Barbara Mahon, director of the CDC’s proposed Coronavirus and Other Respiratory Viruses Division, in an interview with CBS News.

Mahon said the agency had not listed XBB.1.5 separately in its earlier projections because the strain had not cleared a minimum threshold in the underlying sequences collected by the agency.

The agency’s 40.5% figure is only a projection, Mahon stressed, with a probability interval ranging right now from 22.7% to 61.0%.

XBB.1.5’s prevalence is largest in the Northeast, the agency estimates. Most of the earliest cases from XBB.1.5 recorded in global databases through early November were sequenced around New York and Massachusetts.

More than 70% of infections in the regions spanning New Jersey through New England are now from XBB.1.5, the agency is projecting.

The ascent of XBB.1.5 comes as COVID-19 hospitalizations have accelerated across the U.S. in recent weeks. The pace of new admissions is now worse than this past summer’s peak in several regions, but still lower than at this time last winter.

“There’s no suggestion at this point that XBB.1.5 is more severe. But I think it is a really good time for people to do the things that we have been saying for quite a while are the best ways to protect themselves,” said Mahon.

This month, the Northeast has recorded some of the worst COVID-19 hospital admission rates out of any region in the country. In New England, the CDC says new hospitalizations among Americans 70 and older have climbed to the highest levels seen since early February.

Around 13% of Americans are currently living in areas of “high” COVID-19 Community Levels, where the agency currently urges masking. Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City rank among the biggest counties now at these levels.

Mahon said XBB.1.5’s mutations could be part of driving the increase where XBB had failed to gain a foothold. But she added that other factors, like the higher risk posed by respiratory viruses during the winter holiday season, could also be playing a factor.

Mahon cited the agency’s recommendations to seek out updated COVID booster shots, as well as taking other precautions like improving ventilation, testing before gathering, or masking in high COVID areas.

“So that advice doesn’t change at all. And this time of year is a really good time to be following that advice,” said Mahon.

The XBB.1.5 strain is a spinoff of the XBB variant, itself a “recombinant” blend of two prior Omicron strains, which drove a wave of infections overseas earlier this year. 

Earlier this year, the Biden administration had voiced optimism that XBB was unlikely to dominate infections in the country. South Asian nations like Singapore reported that strain appeared to pose a lower risk of hospitalization relative to earlier Omicron variants. Now, the CDC says that increase was driven largely by XBB.1.5. After ungrouping XBB.1.5, the agency estimates all other XBB infections currently make up just 3% of cases nationwide.

Beyond its parent, XBB.1.5 has an additional change called S486P. Chinese scientists have reported the mutation appears to offer a “greatly enhanced” ability to bind to cells, which could be helping drive its spread.

“We’ve been tracking XBB for weeks as I said, and it was XBB and XBB.1, and they really weren’t taking off. They weren’t increasing rapidly in proportion,” said Mahon. Before evolving into XBB.1.5, XBB had already ranked among the strains with the largest immune-evasion relative to earlier major Omicron strains. Scientists in Japan reported this week that XBB appeared to be “the most profoundly resistant variant” to antibodies from breakthrough infections of any lineage they had tested.

Like BQ.1, XBB is resistant to a roster of monoclonal antibody drugs that doctors had relied on earlier in the pandemic before they were sidelined by new variants. Data from a team of federally-backed researchers earlier this year found the current batch of updated bivalent boosters appear to offer better “neutralizing activity” against Omicron variants, including XBB, when testing antibodies in the blood of people who got the updated booster compared to after only the original vaccines. 

When is the 3rd booster coming here?

“We expect that the bivalent booster will provide protection against XBB.1.5 as it has against other Omicron subvariants. And if people haven’t gotten it yet, this is a great time to do it,” Mahon said.

However, antibody responses in that study were also worse for XBB compared to the other strains they studied. 

“The XBB.1.5 variant would look similar to the XBB we tested in our study. The R346T/I mutation within the spike increases the ability of the virus to evade antibodies more efficiently,” Emory University’s Mehul Suthar told CBS News in an email.

For antiviral drugs like Pfizer’s Paxlovid, data from another team of scientists in Japan suggest they will retain efficacy against XBB. “With what we know so far, XBB.1.5 has not acquired any new mutations in the viral protein targeted by Paxlovid. The susceptibility of XBB.1.5 against Paxlovid should not change, given the current data,” emailed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Peter Halfmann.

Everyone seems to be watching XBB.1.5 and hopefully the advice about the effectiveness of current vaccines and antivirals is borne out – in Australia we just need wider access to the new bivalent booster and the antivirals.

Mouse Whisper

Do you know what the Health Minister Butler said to his pet kangaroo at the side of the Southern Expressway?

“A Bound with Caution!”

Modest Expectations – The Alamo

As I finish my blog we are marooned by devastating floods which have inundated north-west Tasmania as part of a rain bomb, which has been particularly acute over Victoria and Tasmania. We have our car, but the car ferry is indefinitely cancelled and we have to find our way back to Sydney before the end of next week. In my blog, I had a piece critical of the way a particular amount of money was proposed to be allocated to the local council. While the premise is unchanged, it would have been in poor taste to publish it, given the damage being done to countless settlements in the Meander Valley, making the grant in question seem a paltry sum. Now there is a very good reason to provide funding in the wake of the severest flooding the area has suffered.

“A Little Flu”

Today is the day that most of the final restrictions relating to COVID have been removed. The question remains as to how effective our reaction to the virus has been.

There seems to be only one person who is still listened to by those children of the business community – the politicians – on public health. He was present when the politicians did not know what to do in early 2020. His intervention at a time when the Federal Cabinet was consumed by an extreme anxiety, when one of their number, Dutton, returned from America with the Virus. It was a time before vaccines, and the hysteria was fomented by comparisons with the Spanish flu outbreak, when millions died worldwide.

The one thing which frightens politicians is a feeling of helplessness. One stratagem is to diminish the threat – “the little flu” of Brazil’s Bolsonaro; another is to wish it will go away – “the Munich response”. Another is to ignore it until it is too late – and believe that once there are signs of improvement, you no longer need expert advice.

Prof Paul Kelly

The then new Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, had three important advantages. First, he was expert in public health; second, he had a calming influence while being shrewd enough to balance the plethora of opinion swirling around him to support the most politically acceptable course, while not abandoning all his principles.

Now, almost three years later, Kelly is still in his job and is now the expert face of a basically similar group of politicians, who are now advocating the populace take personal responsibility for its actions at a time when the pandemic is far from over. Such a course of action has enabled the various governments to abrogate their responsibility. The Pauline nuance has changed but he has maintained relevance – albeit by a thin thread.

When the Virus emerged, it was a time when social isolation and personal hygiene were the only strategies; even masks were not generally recommended. It soon became clear that this pandemic would be more than the false alarm generated by other exotic viral infections earlier in the 21st century, which ended up self-contained. Then COVID came along.

When you reflect on the closure of borders and the situations then and now, there are marked changes in the decision makers. No longer is Brendan Murphy paraded as the face of a successful response; Minister Hunt is gone; and one of the major disruptive forces, Gladys Berejiklian, also. She presided over the most egregious breach of the COVID rules when the passengers were hastily disembarked from the Ruby Princess while 600 on board were infected and given the shenanigans which occurred with its sister ship, the Diamond Princess in Japan. It all foreshadowed the final outcome two years later – business eventually dismantling the safeguards and the elderly in particular bearing the brunt of the mantra of “personal responsibility”

I copped a great deal of criticism about the Ruby Princess fiasco by identifying the wrong target, and in particular being excessively critical of the Chief Health Officer, Kerry Chant.  The problem in this world of modern bureaucracy, the minions take the blame. I prefer to look higher up the ladder to attribute blame. Moreover, Berejiklian with her “goodie two shoes” role, rather than accepting some of the blame, appeared in a front page article in the AFR coquettishly posing in virginal white suit, accompanying an article describing her as the saviour of Australia. No wonder that the other Premiers did not warm to her. The Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, aided by her eccentric chief medical officer who now has been buried away from the media as Governor, certainly came in conflict with Berijiklian.

Yet in a pre-vaccine era, with its program of severe lockdowns, with border closures, Australia (together with New Zealand) was seen as the best place in the World to be in controlling the Virus.  It was draconian, and only a short term solution, although it was not seen in that light then.

But then, the success story began to fray. The seeds for this had been planted. From the onset, public health became the plaything of the media. The more public health experts could be seen as having different opinions, the more the media harvested spice. The problem is that organised health, and here I include The Australian Faculty of Public Health Medicine, were not proactive in the early days when rules promoting certainty could have been set down.

A further problem, beside the antics of Berejiklian which alienated the other Premiers, was the reflex behaviour of a Prime Minister whose first reaction was to divide, seed doubts and, as became increasingly clear, substitute fiction for facts. Despite the cover of a National Cabinet, no long-term strategy was developed. At the heart of their thinking was that the pandemic would be self-limiting and that eventually it would die down. Then the government could declare success, which it did anyway, if somewhat prematurely.

The second mistake was the government’s choice of vaccines, one was a complete dud; the other adequate, but old technology. Then the deficiencies of a government which had heavily invested in social distancing, enforced by the police, became less and less enforceable.

At the same time there was a series of administrative blunders – delaying investment in the vaccines and then in the rapid tests. The development of mRNA vaccines seemed to blindside the government experts. The Premier of Victoria showed stratagems that worked – the first was that he fronted up every day to report and the second was the implicit transaction which traded level of vaccination with privileges. This could have formed the basis of a long term strategy, but the Virus inconveniently mutated.

Lockdowns had become very unpopular as they became synonymous with high-handed police crackdowns and infringement notices. Then the street protests started by a gaggle of trumpists, liberationists, anti-vaxxers, who recognised the increasing restlessness of the population, was fodder for street revolution.

The vaccines have come with boosters – and now the anti-virals. Influenza, having been absent during the lock-downs, re-emerged

However, the most difficult aspect of maintaining the message was the loss of interest – the daily reports, the interviews with the public experts, the sudden decline in concern which had been initially  shown in the plight of nursing home residents; their upset relatives clustered outside the nursing homes being interviewed gradually lessened. Reporting daily became reporting weekly and monthly – and without media commentary, the community has drifted into convenient acceptance.

Restrictions have been removed, although the government has not dared to encourage people not to wear masks in health facilities or nursing homes, and popularity before public safety is found to lead to an easier life for a Premier. Probably this change of attitude was first exemplified by Perrotet when he became Premier. He gradually removed Kerry Chant from centre stage, and while some protested about this, she has become increasingly invisible. Brett Sutton in Victoria did not go as quietly, but now he has a Minister who refuses to release a report on public health until after the forthcoming elections. It is as though the Virus will agree to a truce until after the election. It is as ridiculous a decision as were those of one of her predecessors who unwisely waded into the Virus quagmire early and was politically extinguished. The Premier has not changed. He knows Popularity when he sees it, especially close to elections.

When Perrotet  replaced Berejiklian as Premier, he quickly shifted the agenda to “personal responsibility” and the community applauded, as the restrictions were peeled away. Perrotet was popular with the other Premiers, unlike Berejiklian, and then Morrison was also gone. The Premiers have found the new Prime Minister a pliant ally in dismantling public health.

Yet those who say the pandemic is not over no longer have a platform in the conventional media. The AMA may reflexly protest about any lessening of restrictions, but there is no follow up. Even as distinguished a scientist as Brendan Crabb is forced to vent his concern on Twitter:

Brendan Crabb

Like many, I often get labelled a fearmonger. As we approach our fourth wave for 2022, shortly after our most lethal wave of the pandemic – on track for 25,000 deaths for the year and with a likely Long Covid toll of 500,000+ – what we’re seeing is actually worse that I thought.”

The Premier of Victoria allows his Health Minister to suppress an expert Report on the Virus until after the State election on November 26. If you think about this decision, it is outrageous – somebody with no health expertise rejecting advice for political gain. It is tantamount to same person in a different portfolio advocating doing nothing about a fire out of control until a political event has passed.

The stark message from Brendan Crabb is the pandemic is still out of control. Yet has Australia an adequate mechanism to reimpose restrictions should we need it? I shall continue to explore it in my next blog.

Getting Stoned

There are rocks; and then there are rocks. The “Rock” in Australia was associated before 1993 with Ayers Rock named after a colonial South Australian functionary, Henry Ayers; named now Uluru meaning “great pebble” in the local Anangu language for the sacred site. Uluru epitomises the Red Centre, especially at sunset. Even during the day, Uluru is red and walking around the perimeter one is faced with trabeculated inglenooks, where you can imagine that the local indigenous people would have found shelter. Walking around the periphery one gets the sense of sheer size of the rock which is magnified by the fact that it rises from a basically flat landscape. It is unsurprising that has spiritual significance

But there are other geological formations – I have visited a number of these “rocks” throughout Australia, like the nearby domed rocks once Mount Olga now renamed Kata Tjuta; the Devil’s Marbles or Karlu Karlu, near Tennant Creek; Hanging Rock, a mamelon perhaps with the Aboriginal name of Ngannelong near Melbourne; Mount Wudinna outside the town of the same name in South Australia; but most of all Mount Augustus in Western Australia.


Mount Augustus or Burringurrah is approximately 300 km east of Carnarvon. Its size dwarfs that of Uluru.  Named after Augustus Charles Gregory, in an outburst of fraternal generosity by his brother Francis Gregory who, on 3 June 1858, during his exploratory journey through the Gascoyne Region, became the first European to climb it. It is difficult to reach.

Whereas Uluru is approximately nine kms around the base, it is about 43 kms to circumnavigate Mount Augustus. You need a vehicle to drive around it. Because of the landscape being more treed than that around Uluru it does not at first appear to have the same significance, yet when you get up close you realise how impressive it is.

When we were there, the local nurse volunteered to drive us around the rock – a hair raising trip as he obviously thought he was engaged in a single man rally. Eventually all things must come to an end. The car hit a large pothole, fortunately near the camp, which resulted in a burst tyre. The drive made such an impression on our pilot that he said: “I’ve flown in some pretty terrible conditions, but frankly your driving terrifies me more than any I’ve experienced as a pilot! The fact that this nurse’s tenure was able to be maintained at the remote site exemplifies the problem of finding sane, let alone suitably-trained health professionals in remote areas.

Unlike other places in the Review, the male elder greeted us with suspicion and a taciturnity that I interpreted as him wishing we would just go away and leave his settlement in peace. One of the women showed us her artworks, one of which we purchased. Visiting Mount Augustus was just  part of the Rural Stocktake visits, which included visiting a number of remote settlements across the Nation.

I had already been involved in setting up a rural clinical school at Geraldton in Western Australia, which meant I had already travelled extensively in this region – north to Exmouth Gulf, east to Meekatharra and south to the small wheat belt communities, so the excursion to Mount Augustus, which I had heard about through my association with rural Western Australia was a deliberate inclusion.

However, it was very much fly-in-fly-out’, and thus one of the less satisfactory yet eye-opening visits I made during the six months of that Review. Nevertheless, people may talk about Uluru and its majesty, but Mount Augustus itself is something else.

For the record Uluru is a rock monolith consisting of a single rock (and sometimes called a land iceberg given most of its mass is below ground) while Mount Augustus is a monocline formed by a geological linear, strata dip in one direction between horizontal layers on each side; but to me, they are both just humongous, impressive rocks.

Dual in the Sun

I was intrigued by the following newspaper report recognising that the newly minted Nobel Laureate joined a select group.

In winning the award on Wednesday, Dr. Sharpless became only the fifth person to win two Nobels, having received the chemistry prize in 2001 for his work on chirally catalyzed oxidation reactions. The other two-time winners were Marie Curie, John Bardeen, Linus Pauling and Frederick Sanger.

Marie Curie

I already knew about Marie Curie and Linus Pauling.

Together with Pierre, her husband, Madame Curie shared half of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903, for their study into the spontaneous radiation discovered by Henri Becquerel, who was awarded the other half of the Prize. In 1911 she received a second Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry, in recognition of her work in purifying radium.

Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling in my younger years always stood out as the bloke who flogged large doses of Vitamin C for the common cold. He was so wrong in relation to Vitamin C compared with his sure-footedness in his journey through the then new world of quantum mechanics for which he was awarded his first Nobel Prize for Chemistry. His second Nobel Prize was for Peace, awarded nine years later in 1963 for his unremitting opposition to nuclear war, in fact it was the same year the USA, Soviet Union and the United Kingdom signed the Limited Nuclear Test Treaty.

With a bit of prompting I did remember John Bardeen.

John Bardeen

John Bardeen was a physicist and engineer. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics twice, both collaboratively. The first  was in 1956 for the invention of the transistor; and the second in 1972 for the fundamental theory of conventional superconductivity.

His discoveries, albeit inventions, were probably as influential in the day to day life of the average citizen as any Nobel Prize winner in that field.

The transistor revolutionised the electronics industry, making possible the development of almost every modern electronic device from telephones to computers, and ushering in the Information Age.

Bardeen’s work in superconductivity eventuated in its application to nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR), medical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and the more esoteric  superconducting quantum circuits.

Frederick Sanger

Frederick Sanger sequenced insulin for the first Nobel Prize, and then he came back for his second award for his developing methodology to sequence DNA. His first technique was soon replaced by technology developed by Pehr Edman which led to the development of the sequenator. Nevertheless, his technological discoveries in relation to DNA paved the way for the elucidation of the genome. I note that a number of his post graduate students have won Nobel Prizes, which suggest that he understood well the politics of the Nobel Prize, a consideration increasingly important in the quest for scientific recognition – and he lived a long life which sometimes helps.

Now the plaudits are there for Barry Sharpless for works in two fields of chemistry. With the exception of Pauling, these men and one woman won their prizes because of their supreme ability to navigate the laboratory. For many of us, the heroics of the discoverers – the navigators are on land and sea – were the achievements which are easy to understand. In the world of the unseen, it is more difficult to recognise these laboratory explorers.

Barry Sharpless

To understand Sharpless’s first shared Nobel Prize, one must understand that molecules appear in two forms that mirror each other – just as our hands mirror each other, but are not  superimposable.  Such molecules are called chiral. In nature one of these forms is often dominant, so in our cells one of these mirror images of a molecule fits “like a glove”, in contrast to the other one which may even be harmful. Pharmaceutical products often consist of chiral molecules, and the difference between the two forms can be a matter of life and death, just to quote one source.

Sharpless developed molecules that can catalyse important reactions by oxidation techniques, while the other two scientists who shared the prize used hydrogenation – the end point being that only one of the two mirror image forms is produced. L-Dopamine used in the treatment of Parkinsonism is one example.

Now Sharpless has bobbed up with a share of the 2022 Nobel Prize for “for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry”. I shudder – “click chemistry”? What next? Molecular shears? *

Then I searched around and read that “Click Chemistry” is a term that was introduced by Sharpless in 2001 to describe reactions that are high yielding, wide in scope, create only byproducts that can be removed without chromatography, are stereospecific, simple to perform, and can be conducted in easily removable or benign solvents. He has been one busy scientist; get one Nobel Prize and 21 years later, the second – and all due to judicious use of copper catalysts.

I would suggest that it would be difficult to win two prizes in Clinical Physiology and Medicine; and well nigh impossible in Literature.

However, the International Committee of the Red Cross has won the Peace Prize three times (1917, 1944 and 1963), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize two times (1954 and 1981).

And as for the Economics Prize, a second award?  Probably not, unless it is extended to soothsayers and bookmakers as is widely tipped in the hedges of New York and Zurich.

But jesting aside, the more you read about these five individuals especially if one has been an observer of the field of research, the more these people interest, because they all have extensive biographies, which tell the reader all but paradoxically also nothing at all.

An * from Prince Lachlan

Yes, I do know about molecular shears or scissors. They are useful in ensuring a good “heir-cut”, aren’t they?

Like a Nail Drawn Across a Blackboard

There are two responses, which are more punctuation marks akin to the full stop.

We are taking the matter seriously” reminds me of the judge putting on the black cap before pronouncing the death sentence. Once you hear the words or read them, you know nothing will be done to rectify the particular mess being contemplated by those who have uttered the words. The finality of a death sentence. How few times have the utterers of such words been held to account and asked after a few months to wax lyrical on how they have taken the matter.  Seriously?

Rodin’s The Thinker

The other response is the exhortation “to take personal responsibility”. It is the mantra for governments to shed responsibility. To use this as a substitute for government intervention, there is almost an element of reproach in people to fail to reach some hypothetical level, where abide the gods of Macquarie Street.

It is all very well to take personal responsibility if one has all the information to make the appropriate choice. Yet distribution of information is not symmetrical throughout the community; and has been made worse by the accession of the Trumps of the world who are unconcerned with evidence to base decision making on, but deliberately contaminate the Information Well with falsehoods.

Mark Humphries, whose comedic talents often exposes politician foibles, wrote inter alia at a time when Morrison was the Prime Minister. It says it all.

After nearly two years of the Prime Minister informing us that various issues were “a matter for the states”, is it any wonder that our Premier (NSW) would embrace this spirit of buck-passing in determining that the issue of mask-wearing should be a matter for the individual? What a thrill to be able to tell our grandchildren that we were there to witness the birth of the next big thing in political theory: trickle-down responsibility. It went about as well as trickle-down economics.”

There are many more public relations mediated responses, but these two will do for the moment. They are bad enough.

Mouse Whisper

Due to sensibilities … I have been asked to relate the following comment directed towards the current United Kingdom Government.

“Now that the ringmaster has left the circus in England, the lions are eating the clowns”.

Can I make the point, that “titmus” derives from a bird not one of ours?

A tufted titmouse

Modest Expectations – Nadia von Leiningen

I have learnt a great deal over the past fortnight about this infernal virus.

This whole incident started after we had driven from Sydney for a dinner in Broken Hill. On our way home we intended to stay with my wife’s mother, who at 96 still lives at home in Albury. As I reported in my blog two weeks ago, we all contracted COVID and we all took anti-viral drugs, despite some difficulty in accessing them. In all cases, the disease was mild, although mine has lingered with a post-viral cough.

On reflection, given how successful the antiviral treatment seemed to be especially with my 96 year old mother-in-law, I wonder why there appear to be limitations on access to these drugs.

For instance, President Biden, who is 79, received the antiviral drug, Paxlovid. In clinical trials, Paxlovid is said to reduce the risk of severe illness by 90 per cent. He has experienced a mild infection that he attributes to vaccination.

By contrast, when Trump contracted COVID in 202I, eight drugs, from aspirin to the antiviral Remdesivir, were given to Trump in what observers at the time called a “kitchen-sink” approach. Most of those drugs were probably ineffective. Trump’s infection was certainly not mild. He was lucky. Biden’s outcome is predictable, uneventful recovery. One problem is that Biden seems to have undervalued the effect of the antivirals.

When the two cases are compared there is no comment about whether there should be any restrictions on access.

Thus, why can’t the whole Australian community have access? Or is it the same case as it was with the vaccine availability, incompetent supply chain decisions covered up by a military uniform?  Not enough being ordered by government is a familiar refrain. Is it another Department of Health stuff-up? Open government, Minister Butler.

We certainly had difficulty in obtaining the drug in Albury, where there were limited supplies. But this appears to be a common problem, even in capital cities. In the discussions, there seems to be a surprising degree of passivity in the community about the restriction in access without any objective clinical explanation, although that may reflect actual knowledge in the community of the existence of antiviral drugs.

Now, seeing both how our whole family benefited and how his doctors did not muck about with President Biden, who was immediately prescribed anti-viral drugs, why the restrictions on usage? On form, incompetence by the bureaucracy would appear to be the number one reason.  But maybe I am too bleak. So please, what the hell is going on?

The second comment was that when the whole family has the virus, and you are away from home, how do you actually get the anti-viral drugs. You need a doctor’s prescription, and because of the current conditions for that prescription, you need to get your own doctor to prescribe. In both our cases, the practice was contacted, the doctor was busy but rang back and sent the prescription immediately by email or text. The difficulty then is getting the prescription not only filled but in our case, to also locate a pharmacy that had the drugs.

Nevertheless, the key response was that of our doctors – suburban Sydney and Albury. They promptly rang back. I have heard of the contrary situation occurring.  In this case, the general practitioner did not return the call, not that day, not the next, when the prescription of an antiviral drug was essential. How often does that occur – a general practitioner forgetting the Hippocratic Oath? And nothing is done about it.  How many people have died because the doctor did not ring back? One is enough!

On the Cheapside

It was a slow Saturday afternoon, and my wife was looking over a series of ship manifests seeking information about some of her relatives’ arrival in South Australia. She came across a series of ship manifests including one from the 621 ton barque Cheapside which left Plymouth Hoe on sixth July 1849 and berthed at Port Adelaide three months later on the tenth October 1849. The Cheapside was the nineteenth emigrant ship from England to arrive in the South Australian colony in 1849; it was reported in the three months voyage six babies were born and ten persons died.

On board was my grandfather John Egan, then aged five years, together with his younger brother Michael, then three and sister Mary aged one.  My great grandparents were Michael and Bridget, specified as such on the manifest.  Michael is described as a labourer originally from Co Clare. Bridget – nothing added – just the spouse of Michael. I knew she had been born Bridget Corcoran in Cappoquin in Co Waterford.

Strangely, I remember once standing on Plymouth Hoe and looking out to sea and trying to feel what it must have been like sailing from these shores, knowing that you would never to see them again. But then again, they had already trekked across Ireland to Plymouth. Their embarkation had been from Plymouth not from Ireland, where Queenstown (now Cobh) in Cork was the common embarkation point for emigrants.  But to America not Australia!

The Egan family was numbered among the 242 emigrants in steerage. To give a flavour to the “passengers” on the other hand there were a Mr. Clisby and his daughter, Mr. Farmer, Mr, Hodgkin, Revd. Mr. Wood, his wife and five children and Mr. J. Ayre, late surgeon-superintendent of the Tasman are described as being “in the cabin”, 12 in all.

As has been described, for the “emigrants”, they were lodged below the main deck in steerage quarters converted from cargo spaces. This area would have been dark, crowded and close to the water line – when seas were rough passengers were often shut in with poor ventilation.

Added to this were probably the captain and 20 crew; so life was crowded.

On disembarkation, the Egans made their way to Kapunda, where the first commercial mine had been opened in 1842. It’s copper ore was some of the highest quality.

The township of Kapunda lies 80 kilometres north-east of Adelaide, just beyond the furthest reaches of the Barossa Valley, where a landscape of grassland and peppermint scrub here is gently undulating. That was the scene that confronted Michael Egan and his family – wife and two children – when they alighted from the bullock dray. It was early summer.

Michael had been attracted to Kapunda because he knew there were Claremen working in this newly-opened open cut mine.

Michael had always been restless. He had worked as a steward on an estate in Clare owned by the Blood family. He was still in his twenties when he left Clare and obtained work near Ross in Co Wexford, but 20 miles from Co Waterford. Here he met Bridget who was the daughter of a local farmer from Cappoquin, who had been forced into service.

They had married in the years before potato blight took hold and devastated the potato harvest across Ireland. Potatoes were an essential nutrient. As a result, the famine devastated Ireland, the first wave commencing in 1845 and by 1849 those who survived were fleeing The Emerald Isle.

And in the South Australian heat, here he was with his wife and children in November 1849.

But this was a mining community, unfamiliar territory where extraction and smelting of the ore was a task Michael had never encountered. He was rubbing shoulders with seasoned Cornish miners.

Kapunda’s copper mine 1850s

Yes, I have been to Kapunda and walked the perimeter of the overgrown mine which has been fenced off. Strewn around the site there remains clear evidence that this was once a copper mine. The tell-tale pale green cupric ore with tawny iron stains abound in the rock fragments. I souvenir a few pieces and turn away and go back to the car. The first chapter of Michael and Bridget Egan’s Adventures had begun.

For Michael was 35 at the time; he was to die 53 years later, a distinguished and wealthy Melburnian. 

Taking a Taxi to Bethlehem

This is a story about my good friend, Chris Brook, who died suddenly in May. Chris was a complex person, where many facets of his personality flashed, often the light from one cancelling the other out. Yet nestling under the carapace of arch comments and disdain was a compassionate person.

He and I had gone to Jerusalem in 1995 to attend a conference where Chris was then the President-elect of the International Society of Quality Assurance (ISQua). The Conference organiser was a courtly Israeli, a long term member of the Society executive going back to when I had been President of the same institution six years before. He said very little, but I found out that he had been a veteran of the 1948 war. The veterans of this War split in two Israeli factions – Likud and Labour.

Yitzhak Rabin had been a brilliant soldier and strategist, and even though he was a hard man, he was a reasonable man. A member of the Labour Party, in 1995 he was in his second term as Prime Minister.  Just over a year before he had negotiated the Oslo accords with Yasser Arafat, which introduced a period of comparative tranquility into the relationship between Israel and Palestine. For this he and Arafat had jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

We were lucky to go to Jerusalem during this period of peace. One morning, Chris and a colleague, Heather Buchan, decided to go with me to Bethlehem. It was a ten minute drive by taxi; negotiating the border was quick, unlike the time it had taken to enter Israel, being quizzed endlessly by unsmiling Junior Mossadista.

Church of the Nativity

Bethlehem by and large is a nondescript town of little shade and rows of ugly yellow stucco buildings. Yet the taxi was weaving its way unerringly to the Church of the Nativity said to have been situated on the site of Christ’s birthplace. There is a photograph of us all in the Manger Square in front of the Church. On the edge of the photograph of us was a smiling lean young Palestinian, a rifle slung over his shoulder.

Like many Palestinians living in Bethlehem he was a Christian, but unbeknown to me at the time Chris struck up a conversation with him. Chris said very little about him, but after we returned home Chris corresponded with him, and whether he sent money or whether he was prepared to help him migrate to Australia I am not sure.  They continued to correspond. Then one day, he mentioned to me he had not heard from this young man. The silence persisted; Chris tried to find out what had happened. As far as he knew the young man had been killed in some street altercation with Israeli troops; but where, when or how, Chris never disclosed that information. Although he must have been affected, Chris never showed grief.

At the Wailing Wall

We had gone to Jerusalem when a calmness prevailed. We were freely able to visit Jewish, Christian and Muslim shrines.  I particularly remember walking along the Wailing Wall amid the black robes and nodding heads. There was a cave at the end of the wall, where many of these Orthodox Jews were clustered. I had entered it, even though I was obviously a tourist. Nobody seemed to mind. One of these Orthodox Jews I clearly remember was one who lifted his beard to reveal a tracheostomy hole. It did not stop him launching into a crazy tirade. I listened to the invective – vicious invective primarily directed at Yitzhak Rabin for what he had done. I excused myself.  When I walked out into the sun I felt I needed a shower.

Four months later, Rabin was assassinated by a right wing extremist, Yigal Amir, on 4 November 1995 in the Kings of Israel Square.

The Accidental Nobel Laureate

Due to their recent discovery and relative inertness, there have not been many clear establishments for the applications of fullerenes. However, there are predicted applications that are presently being tested – May 22, 2022

Dr Robert Curl died last week. Dr Curl shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

As recalled in his obituary in the NYT, in 1985, Dr Curl, a Texan, along with Richard E. Smalley, a Rice colleague, and Harold W. Kroto, a scientist visiting from the University of Sussex in England, showed a new configuration: 60 carbon atoms bonded into a molecule that resembled a soccer ball. They also found a larger version made of 70 carbons.

A buckyball

The finding was serendipitous because the scientists had been looking for something else. The chemists named the molecules buckminsterfullerenes after the architect Buckminster Fuller and his geodesic domes. The name was later shortened to fullerenes or buckyballs.

What a great name to enliven an esoteric area – the concept of kicking buckyballs around the molecular framework. The problem is that no matter how enticing the name and how cute the carbon atomic configuration; they were unable to find a commercial use.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo in 1996, Dr Curl said inter alia

At the outset, none of us had ever imagined these carbon cage molecules. When we looked at carbon, the single astounding carbon sixty peak in the mass spectrum and the circumstances under which it came to prominence admitted no other explanation than the totally symmetric spherical structure, and suddenly a door opened into a new world.

The fullerenes have caused chemists to realize the amazing variety of structures elemental carbon can form from the well-known three-dimensional network that is diamond and the equally well-known flat sheets of hexagonal rings that are graphite to the newer discoveries of the three-dimensional cages that are fullerenes. We have learned that the cages can be extended into perfect nanoscale tubules which offer the promise of electrically conducting cables many times stronger than steel. Or the cages can nestle one inside the other like Russian dolls. Now that we have become more aware of the marvellous flexibility of carbon as a building block chemists may ultimately learn how to place five- and seven-membered rings precisely into a network of hexagonal rings so as to create nano structures of ordered three-dimensional complexity like the interconnecting girders in a steel-frame building.

The statement at the head of the blog was published in March this year.

Ergo, a Nobel Prize awarded for a discovery they were not looking for with a cute name but still in search of a function in the nanoworld of the molecules, let alone the ongoing search for their commercial application.

No Place for the Shamus?

I receive a great amount of stuff from the Lincoln Project, an extreme group of former republicans dedicated to destroying Trump and his acolytes. I receive regular communication because I purchased a print from them of a portrait of Abraham Lincoln with a tear in his eye. It is a powerful image. Those behind the Project are no saints; they are men who have been at the heart of the US government, insiders well versed in the “dirty trick campaign” and seemingly unafraid of using the same tactics.

The critical decision for the reader to make is to whether, if you read on, are you reading fact or “alternative facts”. It is important to factor in your own bias, if you have no idea of what is actually occurring. Yet the last sentence limply reinforces a paean which unexpectedly appears four paragraphs before about the Secret service being essential and valiant; a tincture of an apologia methinks! Rick Wilson the author of this below is what, in the terms of Cain and Chandler, may have been described as “hard bitten and cynical”. But then that is my bias!

Here’s why it matters that tens of thousands of you raised your hands and demanded answers about those deleted January 6th Secret Service texts:

If reports are to be believed, the Secret Service handed over exactly one – ONE! – message. That’s like writing “FU” on a blank cover sheet, crumpling it up, and throwing it in the general direction of Capitol Hill.

To get this straight: the Secret Service let the dog eat all their text messages during, wait for it, and this coincidence will SHOCK you, the two days surrounding the most calamitous threat to our democracy. Literally every possible agency with investigatory power has a duty to figure out just what the hell happened.

It matters that a Federal agency given sweeping powers of action and discretion has quite clearly engaged in a coverup to protect Trump and his coup plot. Stay with me here, because my mind is wandering…

1) The long-rumoured and discussed cadre of Trump Praetorians in the USSS needs to get aired the hell out. This just reeks.

2) The leadership and every single person on the detail and Uniformed Division that day needs to have their personal and work devices of every kind subpoenaed and examined. They must also be deposed.

3) I hope you’ll let the 1/6 Committee know you’ll tune in for “The Long Hot Summer” series. They absolutely should add this to the docket and make it so hot even the DOJ can’t ignore it. They can skip vacation “juuust” this once and crack some skulls. 

4) I’ve noticed many Republicans get very livid lately when this whole scandal gumbo is compared to Watergate.

The Secret Service is a vital agency. Their unchallenged bravery at being the last line of defense between violence and assassination of U.S. Presidents and protectees is storied and written at times in blood. It is a brave and honorable duty. The core of their reputation wasn’t just a fearsome readiness to defend the President. It was also a cool, detached professionalism that served the office, not simply the political whims of the man who held it. 

For months, Mike Pence’s refusal to enter the VP limo has pinged the edges of my radar. I couldn’t quite sort out his reluctance. He’s not a physically brave man, to my knowledge, so what was it? What else did he know or sense? If you ask me, I think Pence knew parts of the Service were compromised and put Trump’s politics over duty.

To go deeper down the rabbit hole: I’m no Presidential staff historian, but Trump’s elevation of hyper-loyalist Tony Ornato from the Secret Service into a political role at the White House (who later planned the photo op with the Bible, and the tear gas attack on peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square…) might have been a tell. I suspect he’s rather a key element here. We also know that when President Biden took office, he felt compelled to change out pro-Trump detail members. Putting all that together leads us to some unpleasant potential conclusions, to say the least.

This is not a matter where all of us – not the Committee, not the DOJ, not every American who cares about the rule of law and the vital role of the Secret Service – can sit back and be satisfied with one lousy text message. We have to pull at these threads and connect these dots.

The danger the Secret Service faces every day in the line of duty is real. Their sworn duty is an honourable one. But it’s starting to look like the MAGA rot runs deep here. Who knows how big of a role all of this played in the January 6th insurrection?

Yes, who knows. Jason Bourne is across it, and he was supposed to be flight from reality.

Mouse Whisper

If that human crowd have not had enough pandemic, Splendour in the Mud in Byron Bay may just be a catalyst for another, especially as it is not an uncommon event as exemplified in this British report:

Unusual transmissions of gastrointestinal diseases have also occurred during large scale open air festivals. An outbreak of Escherichia coli was reported during the Glastonbury music festival in England and was linked to mud contaminated by infected cattle. Heavy rain had turned the site into a quagmire, and attendees had high levels of contaminated mud on their hands and faces.


Also, those coming back from Splendour in the Mud last weekend should become acquainted with the one word “leptospira”. These nasty bacteria, the bane of sewage workers, are associated with my dirty cousin rats – in their urine which they sprinkle over sugar cane and banana plantations and which is washed away when the rains come and into the mud that forms around these bacteria.

Welcome to the disease world of the unprotected youth, acquiring a disease to remember where splendour is in the eye of the beholder as they cavort to the sounds of those masters of the music world. So, as you raise your glass with the muddy hand, do I hear you cry “Here’s Mud in Your Eye”?

No, that is a toast from another era well before Woodstock, in fact it’s biblical.

Hosting a leptospirosis party?


Modest expectations – Three hundred and four thousand four hundred and eighty

COVID-19 comes to all. I thought I had some idea where I picked it up. I have limited contact with people, because my disability makes it difficult moving around, especially when there are steps. Until you are disabled, you do not realise how difficult it is to avoid them; the world is not a level field.

The virus is harassing my upper respiratory system, and it has been a challenge to dislodge the tenacious phlegm. The whole picture is that of congested misery.

On Wednesday last, we drove from Swan Hill to Albury, a distance of about 400 kilometres. Lunch was a Cornish pasty and coffee in the shade of pepper trees in Wycheproof.

By the time we arrived in Albury, I had developed a cough, and initially my RAT was negative; but next day it was positive.  The inevitable march of the Virus through the house had commenced.  By the weekend, we were all RAT positive. For us, it was inconvenient to say the least to be away from home, but at least we were isolating ourselves.

I was prescribed Lagevrio (molnupiravir). Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir/ ritonavir), the other antiviral drug, was contraindicated.

Of course, there are no controls to confirm whether Lagevrio had any effect, but now with the cocktail of vaccines and anti-viral capsules, I seem to be holding my own. I have just taken my last four capsules. The congestion has much improved, but is still lingering.

In Albury there has been a supply shortage of antivirals. For a time early in the week Albury may have been in danger of running out of the antiviral drugs if promised deliveries didn’t eventuate. Familiar? Here we go again. Governments blithely change the conditions for availability without determining whether there is a sufficient supply. It is a nightmare, when we – like so many others – are confined to home and depend on the drugs being delivered.

I remember my last tussle with the flu about five years ago. That lasted six weeks with a residual cough for months afterwards., I could see the long dark corridor where there are no open doors and no light at the end.

The pandemic has persisted. Public health measures are now a matter of choice in regard to responsibility. No longer any of those public measures – such as contact tracing, hand washing, masks, social distancing observed. They work, but just as our forefathers did not throw away their weapons because WW11 persisted for more than two years, there is no reason why we could not have adapted if we had had anywhere decent leadership, beyond shutting borders.

Quarantine facilities have been built at great cost, but it seems nobody has thought how to use them. This is very ironic given the decades long experience of confining boat people. Having experienced a period of being in lockdown without any ability to go out, these facilities present the opportunity to enable that group of people to have a shelter until the infective status changes.

It is amazing to see how technology, through the manufacture of new vaccines, anti-virals and diagnostic tests, even down to improved masks, has occurred.

But such improvement in the efficiencies of social practices has lagged, and we all should share the blame, not just Dr Murphy. Nevertheless, it was a time when, except for brief flashes of government accepting responsibility and not blaming everybody else, our social structures have been found lacking. The pandemic still rages; thank God for the scientists and technologists who have provided some weapons, but the virus is far from unconditional surrender.

By the way, a week after testing positive, I am still positive, albeit weakly.

Can you believe these remnants of the Dark Ages!

When I was a first-year medical graduate working at a suburban hospital, one of my earliest memories was coming out of one of the emergency bays on my way to the next when I looked up. At the end of the corridor of flapping curtains against the emergency department wall was a trolley. On the trolley was a young woman who had apparently just been wheeled in and was waiting for a bay in which she could be seen. She was very pale, very grey; she looked very sick, even from where I was standing.

Immediately, I remembered I had seen her in the emergency department the previous day.  She was complaining of a vague lower abdominal pain.

She said she was not pregnant, but she did have some tenderness in the left fornix. She was unmarried; and it was a time when if you were unmarried and under the age of 21, there was a mixture of denial, stigma in her history, and yesterday she had not looked unwell, certainly not as she was now.

I could suspend belief or rationalise why I had missed the diagnosis, so obvious as I looked at her with that grey pallor of impending disaster.

In those days, when you graduated you were considered fully fledged. That was it. Your training wheels had been removed. You could practice unsupervised after you had been through six years of undergraduate education.  I had stuffed up. Looking at her lying on a trolley I knew that I had missed an ectopic pregnancy. I had stuffed up.

I moved with the speed of a penitent, and I immediately ordered that she be taken to the operating theatre. The senior obstetrics resident was alerted and in turn the general practitioner obstetrician. The operation to remove the ectopic pregnancy was successful. Nobody stood around, arguing her clinical diagnosis. They just saved her life; no problem.

I learnt a lesson that day; and my peers were forgiving. It just confirmed  that if you stuff up, admit it and learn; then recriminations are somewhat superfluous. There was none of the huge panoply of undertaking root cause analysis or any of the fancy names designed by bureaucrats to define the scapegoat , the sacrificial offering to protect the system from the predations of legal jackaldom.

Where am I leading? Ectopic pregnancy requires termination for the health of the mother. The embryo is developing outside the uterus, and undiagnosed or untreated will eventually cause a catastrophic haemorrhage and maternal death.

When I was a young doctor, chemical treatment of ectopic pregnancy did not exist. The drug methotrexate was introduced to destroy the ectopic pregnancy. Methotrexate can kill a wide and diverse number of targets, including the ectopic embryo. Usually given in a single injection, methotrexate has a cytotoxic effect on the trophoblastic tissue – the cells that enable the embryo to stick in normal circumstances to the uterine wall.

Methotrexate treatment of ectopic pregnancies is considered safe, effective and cheap, with no major side effects. Intramuscular methotrexate has the advantage of tubal conservation and saves patients from requiring surgery. It is easier to administer than intraoperative route, which these days is laparoscopic and hence needs expertise.

Now what is happening in the Redneck States of the America?

In addition to surgical abortions, anti-abortion laws in some states such as Texas have also banned several drugs that can be used for inducing abortions. Among the medicines banned under these laws include drugs such as methotrexate, mifespristone, and misoprostol. Besides inducing abortion, these medications are also used for the treatment of other conditions.

Moreover, these laws allow the state to prosecute health care prescribers and pharmacists for dispensing such abortion-inducing medications.

Recent reports suggest that the reversal of abortion rights has also indirectly impacted women who use these medications for conditions other than for a medication abortion.

Although States such as Texas have banned these medications for terminating pregnancies, the laws permit the use of these drugs for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.

However, the fear of penalties, including being criminally charged, has resulted in some pharmacists refusing to dispense these drugs for the above.

In addition to ectopic pregnancies, methotrexate can suppress the activity of the immune system and is used in the treatment of autoimmune conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and lupus. Methotrexate is also used for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and a variety of cancers, including breast cancer, lymphoma, leukemia and lung cancer. Depending on the nature and severity of the disease, the dosage required varies; for a period I was prescribed the drug but in a far lower dose than required for neoplasia – or ectopic pregnancy for that matter.

Nevertheless, in these anti-abortion States , believe it or not, there are reports of disrupted access to methotrexate for patients with autoimmune disorders. Some rheumatologists have stopped renewing prescriptions for methotrexate, and moreover pharmacists are refusing to dispense.

Paradoxically, methotrexate can cause birth defects.

This has had a knock-on effect. The risk of birth defects and the lack of access to abortions have made rheumatologists wary of prescribing methotrexate to women of childbearing age with these concurrent diseases. As one source has said: “Frankly, methotrexate is one of my go-to medications for any number of diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, myositis, and systemic sclerosis. I expect that some rheumatologists will understandably worry about prescribing methotrexate to patients because if the patient inadvertently became pregnant, the foetus has now been exposed to this medication. This is really worrisome as methotrexate is a very effective medication that we rely on to treat a number of debilitating and serious autoimmune diseases.


Justice John Roberts

Now America has John Roberts as the de facto Surgeon-General. He presides over a Supreme Court which could be reasonably considered is now the legal equivalent of the untreated ectopic pregnancy – eventually if left alone it will all end up in tears – however you pronounce it.

America remains untreated. We await the death of this motherland in the eventual haemorrhage of a Constitution constructed when the population had a median life expectancy of 35 years.

Eventually, the blood of all is shed. See, your gloves, Chief Justice Roberts, are smothered in the blood of your country, shed for no-one but the hubris of your colleagues.

The Unsinkable Molly White

Anissa Gardizy a 35 year old reporter on the Boston Globe. Her short biography states that Anissa Gardizy is a general assignment business reporter. She graduated from Emerson College with a B.S. in journalism and took economics classes at Framingham State University. Prior to joining the Globe full-time, Anissa was a co-op on the business desk, and she held internships at the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester and The Information in San Francisco. 

Below is her recent profile of Molly White, who had to take time out because of her robust criticism of cryptocurrency. She has been verbally attacked; which probably means she has obviously come too close to the festering centre of cryptocurrency activity.

Ms Gadizy writes:

Depending on whom you ask, cryptocurrency is either digital snake oil or revolutionary technology. Crypto markets have plunged in recent weeks and everyone is looking for answers.

So it makes sense that a website dedicated to documenting mishaps, failures, and scams in the industry is suddenly taking off. And who’s behind it? Molly White, a 29-year-old Wikipedia enthusiast and former HubSpot employee who has emerged as one of the industry’s most pointed critics.

How the 2016 Northeastern University graduate, who lives in the Boston area, came to be one of the most listened-to people on crypto and blockchain tech is complicated. But it started in the past year, when the field became impossible to ignore.

The price of bitcoin surged to an all-time-high of nearly $70,000 in November. Ads for crypto companies were featured during the Super Bowl. Celebrities changed their Twitter profile pictures to non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. Some of White’s friends began quitting their traditional tech jobs to work for crypto firms.

White, a longtime Wikipedia editor on the side, started to research the technology. But the more she learned, the more she realized crypto was being marketed as something everyone should be getting into, despite a history rife with fraud, scams, and predatory marketing.

“[I was] seeing people get screwed over again and again and again,” White said. “There wasn’t a permanent record of what was actually happening and how poorly a lot of these projects were ending.”

Her first instinct was to start writing Wikipedia articles about crypto and the related field of web3.” But she quickly realized Wikipedia wouldn’t be the best place for her work — among other things, it would have required her to take a neutral approach.

“I have a pretty strong opinion,” she said.

Software engineer Molly White at work on her laptop

So late last year, while working full-time at HubSpot, White created a website called “Web3 is Going Just Great”. (The name is as sarcastic as it sounds, with the longer version ending with “…and is definitely not an enormous grift that’s pouring lighter fluid on our already smouldering planet.”) On the site, she chronicles  sometimes several times a day — bad things happening in crypto.

“There’s a narrative that’s become so loud and pervasive, that everyone should be getting involved in this,” she said. “It feels like I have this obligation to speak out about it.”

And others are listening.

She is regularly quoted by national news outlets, was a guest lecturer at Stanford University, and has advised US senators, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, on blockchain and cryptocurrency.

As White has learned over the past year, criticizing crypto isn’t easy. In a space known for unwavering optimism and “bro culture,” she’s the outspoken opponent pointing out its problems.

White has been the victim of online harassment, doxxing (when private information is revealed about someone), and threats of violence. As a result, she doesn’t share much identifying information about her family or where she lives.

White, who grew up in Maine, started editing on Wikipedia around the time she was 13. “My family knew I was doing it, and to some extent my friends knew,” she said. “It was kind of just like, ‘Oh, that’s one of Molly’s weird hobbies.’”

Though she got started writing about her favourite bands, White now focuses on controversial viewpoints and male-dominated spaces, including right-wing extremism and “involuntary celibates,” or incels. She has also served on the site’s arbitration committee, which settles its toughest disputes.

Andrew Lih, a Wikipedia veteran who has known White since she was a teen, said most editors concentrate on topics they take a personal interest in. White, he said, tackles things “she absolutely doesn’t like.”

“She wants to make sure the record has the best information,” he said.

Lih credits White’s rise to her ability to present information in a way that is digestible. On her crypto website, she writes in a terse, matter-of-fact style and uses hashtags such as #yikes, #badidea, and #hmm. She isn’t condescending or alarmist, either.

Unlike some critics, White doesn’t think all crypto is a scam. Rather, she believes there has been an explosion of “really scam-y projects” that downplay the risks. She worries crypto is being cast as a “ticket to financial freedom” to people who don’t have money to lose.

According to data published by the Federal Trade Commission, more than 46,000 people have reported losing over $1 billion in crypto to scams since the start of 2021.

Long term, White believes crypto will likely exist as a niche, speculative vehicle for high-risk takers.

Most people would agree that regulators need to address crypto scams for the industry to be viable. More controversial is White’s sceptical view of blockchain, crypto’s underlying technology, which has been hyped in recent years as a potential cure-all for problems related to Internet security, privacy, and financial systems. Blockchains are public, electronic databases that are distributed across a network of computers. The technology is intended to be immutable (meaning records can’t be modified) and decentralized (meaning data are stored across the network and not held by any central party.)

Proponents believe blockchain tech could eventually transform everything from financial systems to social media, creating a digital world where individuals have increased control over their own data. Many people refer to this blockchain-based vision as “web3.”

There’s been a proliferation of venture capitalists, startups, and politicians touting its potential, including a growing cluster in Boston. Late last month, hundreds of people attended an all-day summit on web3 on the top floor of the MIT Media Lab, put on by venture capitalist John Werner. It drew industry heavyweights, including cryptographer Stuart Haber, who co-invented the blockchain.

But White doesn’t think blockchain is revolutionary technology. Last month, she and a group of about two dozen computer scientists, researchers, and academics, signed a letter to US lawmakers to express their concerns about the field. Signatories included well-known technology figures like Harvard lecturer and cryptographer Bruce Schneier, Boston-based entrepreneur Miguel de Icaza, and software engineer Grady Booch.

“By its very design, blockchain technology is poorly suited for just about every purpose currently touted as a present or potential source of public benefit,” they wrote, calling it a “solution in search of a problem.”

White’s critics say the technology is in its early stages and will improve. But she disagrees, noting that the two most popular cryptocurrencies have been around for more than a decade. She also thinks blockchain, by design, contains inherent flaws — such as the inability to edit or delete data — that will make it difficult to use and potentially even harmful.

Greg Raiz, managing director of Techstars Boston — which just launched a crypto accelerator program with Boston-based blockchain firm Algorand — disagrees with White’s assertion that crypto is past its early days. In fact, he said it feels like “we’re still in the first inning of this game.”

While he doesn’t think blockchain will be the “solution to everything,” he isn’t writing off its potential to address social, monetary, and business problems. He added that criticism of web3 is “super healthy.”

“Any type of unbalanced exuberance toward a technology isn’t great,” Raiz said.

Sounds that he is pronouncing an “Amen” to the unsinkable Molly.

Parliamentary staffing

The first reaction to the protesters of the newly-elected backbenchers – not aligned to any particular party – to a reduction in the four advisers to one  in line with other back benchers, was that of the howls of the deprived. Really, you poor diddums – only one adviser and four electorate officers. When perceived as privileged already, complaining about the level of the porks, is one way to lose the electorate, especially before you have even placed your toe in the political water. I was surprised when Dave Pocock started the Whimper.

In 1973, the Leader of the Opposition had a Press Secretary, a Principal Private Secretary (PPS), a Deputy Private Secretary and an Assistant Private Secretary. There was one other adviser who was from the government and picked up much of those tedious jobs and fashioning questions on notice and an add on to the Parliamentary Library. Needless to say, we were all male, and the secretarial staff who did all the work were women. I was the PPS. However, the Leader of the Opposition was thus limited to four advisers, including the Press Secretary – not one backbencher.

I believe it was more important not to interfere with the electorate staffing. For senior members of any party the electorate secretary is very important to remind even the Prime Minister that he represents an electorate, even if it may be traditionally very safe. Nowadays that cannot be guaranteed. Thus, the electorate office is an important bastion. In the case of the backbencher, especially those who have gained their seat by the adroit use of social media to win the popular vote, their activity will be augmented by an electorate office, government funded. Cathy McGowan in the northern Victorian electorate of Indi is an important bellwether since she developed an electorate office system, which was shown to be transferable to her successor, Helen Haines.

Cathy McGowan

As the sociologist Max Weber observed, charismatic leadership is very dependent on the individual’s appeal, but in her case McGowan (an unlikely charismatic) was able to “bureaucratise” the electorate staff so her successor did not need to change the systemic aspects of the McGowan legacy. In other words, the model was robust enough to survive the transition from one to another strong-willed woman.

McGowan concentrated on her electorate and where she thought relevant generalised the needs to that of Australia. Maybe the fact that she came from a large cohesive family provided her with a model for an electorate office, but whatever it was, her electorate brew worked.

Developing her model from an electorate base provides a challenge for the new raft of independents, whatever their colour. She had a strong personal appeal, which translated into strong personal loyalty by her staff. She did it with a strong electorate profile, which contrasted with the dysfunctional style of her predecessor.

A backbencher needing Canberra advisers is presented with the aspirant jetsam seeking to float as a successful “factional candidate” onto a red or green parliamentary cushioned sinecure. At this pupa stage the adviser may be more akin to N’drangheta Consigliere admixed with a tincture of Undergraduate Puerilism. Policy development is not one of the skills of this Canberra hybrid. More, it is a question of hanging out, gossiping, and covering the underlying boredom of those without any constructive thought coupled with outbursts of anti-social behaviour – sexism,  drunkenness and sexual harassment.

Policy becomes a joke; so-called policy becomes exercises in plagiarism – or just the “smart-arse” taking the role of the cynic – tearing down all constructive thought on the grounds that they are protecting Absolute Truth – otherwise excused as the role of the Devil’s advocate. Undertaking policy development is a skill, imperfect at best. It is a special quality requiring knowledge, so you know that you are not re-inventing policies that have been shown not to work, and enough knowledge to provide objectivity in an ocean of bias coupled with an ability to write clearly and succinctly. These skills lie outside the normal skill set of the normal adviser appointee.

Staffers aplenty

Well, minimising the number of advisers minimises the number of people designed to irritate and thus it seems leaving it at one each for all backbenchers is probably about right. Only need one person to get your dry cleaning, run errands, and ensure that the backbencher has his or her ego combed daily.

Mouse Whisper

Don’t know whence it came. Just a scrap of paper with the title “Death of a Babyweight.”

…needless to say, the comment was met with gales of laughter, but then that was another time when the sun shone and they were feckless and shallow students; and yes, the Associate Professor was as Federico would say a total bunghole who played the World for cheap laughs a person who always knew the mouse to kick – and now lies increasingly forgotten – someone essentially trivial. 

Perhaps you will understand the allusion, illusion and in the end the confusion.