Modest Expectations – Geelong

Noel Pearson said if the referendum failed to pass he would fall silent. Full stop!

Somebody should remind him. It would be a blessed relief.

Clueless in Gaza 

“I would like Gaza to sink into the sea, but that won’t happen, and a solution must be found.” Yitzhak Rabin (1992)

Hamas has poked a sleeping tiger. Now, the Hamas terrorists are likely to learn what other authoritarian aggressors have learned before them: that liberal democracies can be extremely ferocious and supremely effective at war-fighting when roused from their peacetime slumber. As Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote at the beginning of World War II: “Hitler should beware of the fury of an aroused democracy.” Washington Post

Speaking to the Israeli Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Iran and Hezbollah, “Don’t test us in the north. Don’t make the mistake of the past. Today, the price you will pay will be far heavier,” referring to Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah, which operates out of Lebanon.

Soon after he spoke, the Knesset floor was evacuated as rockets headed toward Jerusalem. Sirens in Tel Aviv prompted U.S. and Israeli officials to take shelter in a bunker, officials said. Boston Globe

Yitzhak Rabin

In 1995, I went to Jerusalem when Yitzhak Rabin was Prime Minister. Rabin had been a prominent brigade commander in the Palmach, which was one of the militias that formed the backbone after independence in 1948 of the Israeli Army. The Palmach had been blooded fighting the Vichy French in 1941 in Syria and Lebanon inter alia with Australian troops.

It was a fortunate time to visit Israel when I did in 1995, in particular because Rabin had mastered a living space for the Nation, when there was as much latent hostility surrounding him in the Arab nations supporting the Palestinians. The Jews had suffered discrimination, pogroms, holocausts – all designed to encourage the segregation of the ghetto or the creation of an independent nation.

What I remember with greatest awe about is the Dome on the Rock. This extraordinary building on the Mount, where tradition says Solomon built his Temple, demolished 2,500 years ago by the Babylonians. A long time ago but still an os contentionis. That is the problem, the more you stay in Jerusalem the more you seem to be tripping over religion; but when there is a secular peace, this religious overlay becomes tolerable. I found both the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem underwhelming.

However, the highlight was going to Bethlehem, then a ten-minute uneventful taxi ride from Jerusalem. No walls. As we found out, Bethlehem at that time had a significant Christian Palestinian population. One of the young guides was one such Christian, whom the late Chris Brook befriended. They stayed in contact for some years until one day there was no response. Through his contacts Chris tried to find out what had happened. A murky trail of sketchy information ended with bad news – the young fellow had been killed. No further information or at least Chris never told me.

The embedded silver star

There was a silver star embedded in the floor of the Grotto of the Nativity. Pilgrims bent low to kiss the silver star, with its central hollow where Christ was reputed to have been born.

I cannot remember what I did. Probably saw the people in front of me as an excuse not to bend down; and those with me followed my lead. There were better ways to show my devotion. Then logic kicked in – how the hell would anybody know the exact place of His birth?

The Church’s governance is divided between Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian churches, with the various Oriental Churches given a few nooks and crannies.  I passed one such space, and saw two eyes peering out, the rest of the person enshrouded in darkness. I was told later he was a deacon of the Ethiopian Church. The relations between the three landlords are often acrimonious, leading to physical altercation and being dismissive of the others. Not a good look!

Yet since I have been there, during the Second Intifada in 2002, the church was the site of a month-long siege. Christians in the Church gave sanctuary to 50 armed Palestinians wanted by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) giving them food, water, and protection from the IDF soldiers stationed outside.

My memento of Israel was a necklace which I purchased for my wife in Bethlehem. The Stones of Eilat are a gemstone found only in Israel Eilat is the actual site, and it is no longer mined. The stone is a green-blue mixture of several secondary copper minerals including azurite, chrysocolla, malachite, and turquoise. It is a beautiful necklace, and recently I read that much sold as genuine is in fact not so. My wife says it’s genuine.

I had gone to a Conference in Jerusalem and even then you were subject to detailed questioning by young officious Israelis. I had flown in on a British Airways 737, because given the length of time of interrogation, any bigger plane would have compounded an already intolerable situation. It was not much different from the departure grilling. Sarcasm was not a quality much appreciated, so you just resigned yourself to the rudeness.

What I found the most confronting were the ultra-orthodox Jews who seemed to inhabit a cavern alongside to the Wailing Wall when they were not praying at the Wall. One bearded man in the black gear so typical of his form of Judaism engaged me in conversation. The filth that he spewed out about the Palestinians took me aback. Here was a protected species, who avoided military service while urging the elimination of all non-Jews. I cut short the conversation, at which point he lifted his beard to show me his tracheostomy. Good one … whatever your name was.

I’m not surprised that  an ultra-orthodox Jew who, not long after, assassinated Rabin. Yet these people are now running the government, providing the current Prime Minister Netanyahu with a shield.

As the Guardian has said “Netanyahu, who is facing a corruption trial and weekly mass protests against his coalition’s attacks on the judiciary, hopes that a military victory might save his job.”

Nobody can countenance the Hamas raid with their associated brutality. However, the response of unleashing all your advanced weaponry has been shown to be self-defeating unless you win over the population – see Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. Thus an Israeli response of the magnitude threatened will only deepen the hatred which will mean nothing in the longer term for the stability of an Israel converted into a ghetto.

Garrisoning a hostile population is very expensive unless as some of the right wing fanatics seem to suggest – kill the whole population and there will be nothing left to garrison.

The population is mostly children. Are the Israelis really intent on killing every child in Gaza, just short of a million? The images of such carnage would be of the same order as the concentration camps, with bodies piled high.  The Baptist hospital bombing in Gaza City, whoever did it, reinforces that point.

Invasion would produce a low success rate, if they wish to rescue any live hostages. This is not Entebbe, where the Israeli hostages were rescued by Israel commandos and where Netanyahu’s brother, one of the commandos was himself killed. In this case, the number of Jewish hostages killed would pale in comparison with Palestinian casualties.

Eliminate Gaza; eliminate Israel as a democracy. So heed the words of Dwight Eisenhower, who knew the meaning of “restraint”, but emphasises that he was speaking for democracy not for an embattled faux-theocracy, however described.

In conclusion, having been in Israel in a time of comparative peace, let me say something briefly about the difference between Rabin and Netanyahu. Rabin was an honourable warrior.

Chiefly, the right light? 

Ben Chifley

We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for.  Ben Chifley (1949)

I’ve liked writing, but like many who write, I probably over-estimate my ability. When I look back, I have been fortunate in many ways, but choosing to do medicine was the wrong pathway. By that I mean that as I had been seen as a “swot” at school, amassing a library of prizes through my school years, I would naturally gravitate to an area where I excelled. I wrote as well as anybody at school of my vintage, except one guy who had an immense talent but squandered it.

But I didn’t follow a similar course. As I grew older, I realised how much I loved words, but at the time I was faced with a combined course with law as my tertiary destination. It has been convenient for me to blame my father for pushing me into medicine but being academically bright had not served me well at school. Languages were taught appallingly, and besides Latin, only French and German were available. Journalism, in which I would have found the same collegality as I did in medicine, was never an option. There was no obvious role model for this, although I knew Chester Wilmot, the acclaimed war correspondent was at school with my father.

The other area was the armed forces. I remember a couple of boys who went off to the Naval College as early recruits. One of my best friends went through the training, and when we talked, I was lucky that I did not choose that route; but anyway, I would have failed the medical, as I did for National Service. Flat feet, calcanea vera causing spastic peroneal muscles – a recipe for being unable to walk the next day after marching was the reason. Marching for a prolonged period thus was just not an option, especially when compounded with my eyesight being afflicted with myopia, astigmatism and strabismus.

What undertaking Medicine gave me was an enjoyable sense of collegiality. From being an oddball on the fringes at school, I became an oddball in the centre of the action at the University for a few years. I found out my place when I achieved a leadership position, I had an intuitive grasp of how meetings worked. The ability to work with the knowledge that today’s allies may be tomorrow’s adversaries was an essential ingredient for collegiality that I found out. Then, if resolution could only be achieved by conflict resolution, the art of successful collegial alliances was crucial.

Throughout my professional life I have been driven by what in society I perceived as in need of change. A recurrent theme of such a desire to see change is that I always outlived my welcome, because in pursuing change I upset so many of those whose comfort zone is the status quo, as the collegiality with this group begins to fray. Hence, the wider my ability to shift my collegial scenarios – reinvent oneself every five years – helps if it can be managed. When I hear somebody is a “change agent”, that person is the direct opposite. They mistake the light on the hill for their guttering candle.

One can always live too long, and there is ever-diminishing collegiality, the essential driver for what I used to achieve. People stop listening to you. People pass away. Then I have reverted to that lonely teenager on the fringe, because equally I am alone in my old age.

In the end collegiality is ephemeral, whereas dynasty is not – and that enables any legacy of my lifetime to be forgotten or dismantled. But such is life and mate, the light on the hill, as I’m about to depart, has been obscured by the fog that will never lift. 

An Uncommon Birri (Queensland Channel Country) and Guugu Yimidhirr (Cooktown) Woman

Thank God, the referendum is over. I was heartily sick of the mantra that Aboriginal people are the oldest civilisation in the world, and the parade of Aboriginal professors mouthing elitist “we know best for you whitefellas, while at the same time not being prepared to cope with the criticism of the structure of the so-called campaign.” I am sick of being asked to come on a journey, to walk in their shoes.

The referendum was soundly defeated. Everyone seems to be forgetting that when the referendum was being mooted, the “YES” was over 65 per cent at the outset, and still 60 per cent at the time when the Cabinet actually decided on the referendum, and the question Australians over the age of 18 years would vote upon in placing the “Voice” in the Australian Constitution.

It is hard to take the aim of closing the gap or other catchphrases that are easy to mouth, but have been of no moment in improving the marginalised Aboriginal people, without having a definite set of aims. Let us take the medical profession. Over the past 40 years, since the first Aboriginal doctor graduated, there have been over 520 medical graduates who are Aboriginal. This is thus evidence of developing a professional stream; but how many Aboriginal medical graduates are the “gap-closers”. How many of these should be active clinicians rather than advocates in administrative roles?

Therein lies the problem. The “yes” campaign group was led by a group of self-styled academic Aboriginal intellectuals using the Uluru Statement as their talisman. The problem with the document is that it didn’t speak in the language of the people it was supposed to represent, and its uncritical acceptance by the Australian community. The Government’s poor decision to base the referendum solely on this document has been borne out. For instance, the use of “Thither”. Who uses that archaic word?

The aim now should be to replace the Aboriginal academic hierarchy who were the “leaders” of the “yes” camp by a younger group more able to connect with their white contemporaries.

How should this be done?

The next Governor General should be an Aboriginal person – relatively young, not one of those who were part of the Uluru Statement. Not one of those Aborigines who have been awarded  academic titles, as though colonial vestments substitute for wisdom. It needs to be someone who can champion the connection to the oral traditions and traverse the wide variety of these traditions.

For unlike the indigenous people of other countries, how many of these aspirants have met the number of Aboriginal mobs crammed into one country, where the traditions have developed in a way that the term First Nation papers over the atomisation of the Aboriginal people which has occurred over the eons in which they roamed the countryside.

Because so much of the oral tradition remaining is linked into the art, much of the remaining traditions have been disrupted, although whitefella involvement in recording some of language and subsequent phonetic interpretation should be acknowledged, as should those elders who have maintained the traditions of culture without political contamination.

This above provides the background.

Tanya Denning Orman

My vote would be for Tanya Denning Orman, described as a Birri (Queensland Channel Country) and Guugu Yimidhirr (Cooktown) woman from Central and North Queensland.

She has both grace and gravitas.  She is strong enough not to be engulfed by the communal structure of Aboriginal society, where the pressure for sharing everything leads often to the lowest common denominator rather than the highest common factor.

Moreover, she is not a token but someone who could preside over this elusive treaty, because in support of the referendum she has travelled widely, and finally she exudes optimism. In other words, she has already trod the traditional pathway of a Governor-General. She has the qualities to emulate the first woman in the post, Quentin Bryce. Moreover, she would have five years to effect what the referendum failed to do – to bring about unification of intention, and yet still be young enough not to be discarded with that title consigned to the has-beens – “emerita” at the end of her term.

The Torres Strait. Where are You?

The Torres Strait Islanders have been linked to the recently defeated Referendum with the Aboriginal People.

As far as I can determine, one advocate was Isabella Higgins, a young ABC journalist who is a Torres Strait Islander. Ms Higgins was awarded the 2019 Walkley Award for Young Australian Journalist of the Year.

I have written about her. I cannot find any contribution from her reviewing the place her Islander people actually played. In fact, I cannot find any intervention; any statements issued by the Torres Strait Islander leadership. Who are the leaders?

Vonda Malone has been the CEO of Torres Strait Regional Authority since last year. The following excerpt from her bio says it all. “With more than 20 years of experience working across 3 levels of government, specialising in Indigenous Affairs, she brings a unique international perspective to the role through her positions with both the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the United Nations Office of the Human Rights Commission, Geneva.”

She had been the Mayor of the Torres Strait. She is thus the complete bureaucrat, whose professional life has been lived away from the Torres Strait until she returned in 2016.

The Chair of the Authority is a retired RAN maritime engineer, Napau Pedro Stephen. Again I can’t remember him being mentioned during the referendum. Who I do remember is Gaetono Lui, who chaired the Authority in the 1990s – a natty dresser with dark glasses, whose role model seemed to be some of the Caribbean leaders. Not the picture of disadvantage.

Eddie Mabo and Jack Wailu on Mer (Murray Island)

Above all, the Torres Strait Islander, who has been far and away the most influential, was Eddie Mabo, who came from the remote Murray Island in the Strait. The High Court sided with his contention that the indigenous retained rights which were not extinguished by white occupation of the lands.

The decision led to the Native Title Act (1993) which created a framework that recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to certain land because of their traditional laws and customs. It allows access to land for living, traditional purposes, hunting or fishing and to teach laws and customs on the land. Mabo died before the High Court decision was handed down.

Some may dispute that there have been Aboriginal people who have made as big a contribution – a person such as David Unaipon, the man on the $50 note, a recognition of the Aboriginal genius adapted to whitefella society or the 200 Wave Hill stockmen who walked off the Vestey’s property in 1966, and whose land claims were ultimately recognised by the Whitlam government symbolised by the soil poured by Gough over the Wave Hill leader, Walter Lingiari’s hands in 1975. Neither were much quoted as exemplars of Aboriginal success, because it may have compromised the narrative of oppression, incarceration and chronic disease.

A young Aboriginal Governor General has a chance to change that narrative using the positive lesson at set out above, with more involvement of the Torres Strait people.

Crossing the Rabid Jordan

On July 12, 2022, Jordan tweeted to the Washington Examiner that a report of a 10-year-old Ohio girl traveling to Indiana to obtain a legal abortion after being raped was a lie. He deleted the tweet on July 13 after the rapist was arrested by police and confessed to raping the girl twice, and police confirmed that the report of her abortion in Indiana was accurate.

Until he withdrew on the last day, the race for the Speaker of the House of Representatives has been centred on Jim Jordan, the extremist representative from small town Ohio being elevated to Speaker. Before he was elected to Congress, he had form as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University, which has been swept under the mat, never resolved.

The Speaker’s empty Chair

As if in anticipation of the elevation of Jordan, now very less assured, the Lincoln Project has observed: The Speaker of the House, the person who holds the gavel and dictates the legislative agenda of the most powerful country on the planet, will not be one single person. 

It’s going to continue to be a collection of radicals and sycophants who are guided by the deranged delusions of the MAGA movement. Most of all, they’re guided by whatever words the Dear Leader whispers into their ear. 

That’s all you need to know about this Speaker race.

Amen, while the world goes to Hell in a Handcart, an artist has been commissioned to paint a bunch of narcissi over the door leading to the Chamber, but Jordan will be no longer portrayed.

Mouse Whisper

I asked myself in this year of the Referendum why Mickey was black. It is easy to say that he was drawn in a black and white world, but Walt Disney, in the definition below of Mickey, does not mention the colour of The Mouse.

Disney wrote: 

His body was like a pear, and he had a long tail. His legs were pipestems and we stuck them in big shoes (also circular in appearance) to give him the look of a kid wearing his father’s shoes. We didn’t want him to have mouse hands, because he was supposed to be more human. So we gave him gloves. Five fingers looked like too much on such a little figure, so we took one away. That was just one less finger to animate.

Modest Expectations – We Fielded Our Cricket Team from 2002 Onwards

Matildas. Adulation. Well deserved. The question is what now? Coming fourth is not new. After all, the team finished fourth at the Tokyo Olympics, being beaten by USA for the bronze medal. That event did not elicit the same adulation as has occurred. Sam Kerr, arguably the best player in the world, is a key reason for the adulation. We see very little of her in the flesh; moreover, she missed the early games through injury, but during the whole time on the field she was double-teamed. Her goal nevertheless gave us a glimpse of her ability.

However, there is a need to get perspective. How many sporting teams receive an enduring memory by finishing fourth?

After all, the Hockeyroos almost owned the hockey podium a decade or two ago, and still remain second seeded. Then there is the Women’s cricket team and the Diamonds netball team; currently both top seeded – both world champions. Where are their statues?

The basketball Opals have slipped since Lauren Jackson, the best basketballer in the World, retired and Liz Cambage went walkabout.  The first decade of this century was Opal time – three Olympic silver medals and a World Cup gold in 2006. Yet they retain 3rd seeding in the World.

Our women’s water polo team briefly flashed the world winning the Gold Medal at the Sydney Games.

So, the potential for disappointment and then blaming exists; unreal expectations with poor allocation of funding (see sports rorts), especially when there is a statue to remind the nation of the could-have-beens.

Spain has shown the way to gold by being Under 17 and Under 20 women’s football champions. They set the nations which appear to use brutality as a major tactic on their heels. This is illustrated by the so-called Lionesses. It is time that when a player deliberately steps on the foot of the opposition player then they should be immediately red carded.

Happy Matilda Day!

I have expressed my view of a Matilda Day. The naming of the team Matilda was a stroke of genius as the name can embrace all women’s sports in a way that the names Hockeyroos and Diamonds cannot. As demonstrated this past month, Australia has demonstrated a yearning for uncomplicated, dedicated women epitomised by this team.

The Matildas have shown themselves to be an ideal for young children, and part of this is hero-worship, and wishing to emulate their achievements.  Sam Kerr, in proposing her academy for aspirant children footballers demonstrates her ongoing tangible commitment without any unnecessary hype, just shows her quality.

The fact that the women are free to disclose their sexual preferences is an advantage as it strips away the humbug, which has infested this nation. We are applauding honesty, grace and the fortitude of Australian women – not a bunch of football players who just happened to finish fourth in some ephemeral sporting event, where previous women’s sporting teams have gone before.

David has Left the Building

David Unaipon

In July 2019, in this blog I wrote about David Unaipon, the Man on the $50 note. I have a copy of his Native Legends from which I quoted in that blog.  There was a letter interleaved in the booklet, in flawless copperplate, which read (sic):

February 15th 1930

Dr Angus Johnson

Dear Sir

Last week I had an Aboriginal named D. Unaipon staying at my hotel at Mount Pleasant and he told me he was searching for skulls for you. I should esteem as a favor (sic) if you would let me know if that was correct as he went away and never paid his board.

Thanking you in anticipation

Yours Truly

H. Clendinnen
Talinga Hotel
Mt Pleasant

I think I must have Dr Johnson’s copy since the inside covers are plastered with newspaper cuttings mostly related to David Unaipon, but among them, there is pasted a cartoon of Johnson as Medical Officer of Health for Adelaide City Council. It is ironic that David Unaipon made part of his income wandering the Murray River banks picking up Aboriginal skulls.

This letter, as a request for payment, in reality is a reflection about Unaipon’s source of income, although it is ignored by commentators. Why? It does nothing to help to airbrush an occurrence which is unpalatable to a later generation that is calling for repatriation of the remains, blaming their removal on insensitive whitefellas. I have kept an article reprinted from the Observer in 2009, when the Ngarrindjeri-born clown, Major Sumner, says he’s been repatriating his people’s remains from all over the world for decades and has returned people to the country of his father (Ngarrindjeri) and now his mother (Kaurna). Major Sumner stands out with his curious body painting, kangaroo bone through nose and emu feather crown. I would like to know where the ochre pot he uses for his distinctly coloured lines is located.  As for the clown role, that is seen in very many civilisations as a serious foil testing reality.

I am not sure about Major Sumner, who is variously labelled as being an OAM, AM and AO. I always am wary of creeping self–aggrandisement, when it appears that there is only proof of OAM. Such a confusion of post-nominals is in itself trivial but inflated curricula vitae always make me suspicious.

Major Sumner

Major Sumner is reported as saying “It’s draining and it takes it out of you. But it makes you feel good that you’re doing it. What really got me was we were sitting down there and then you will get one of the old people’s remains – and we are not just talking about old people. These are little children. Little babies. Their remains.

“Why did they die – how did they die? They’d never seen life yet … we don’t know why. But it makes you feel very, very sad for them – for their spirit. It affects me because I’ve got a lot of grandchildren and I’d hate that to happen to my grandchildren.”

I wonder what David Unaipon would have replied to this jumble, given that reference is made to him in The Conquest of the Narrindjeri, David Jenkins’ book. This book was given to us by Henry Rankin OAM, a major elder in the Raukkan Community, just before Christmas 2000.

In this book, there is a generally positive view of David Unaipon and his creativity. For instance, he was issued with nineteen patents across his life, none which were proceeded with because of lack of finance. Even the invention of the mechanical sheep shears which appears on $50 note was a matter of dispute, where he seems to have been initially “dudded”. But then that was the story of Unaipon’s life. He was “always short of a quid”.  Sound familiar?

Incidentally in this book, there is no mention of his skull retrieval activities. The Aboriginal airbrush is brought out to smooth over the sand, and leave history to recollection, a selective process. The lesson is that we must always own up to the trail of detritus we leave, even if the climate changes.

Death in The Family

I left the Australian Medical Association (AMA) in 1984 after five years working there. One area I had an interest in was the AMA/ACHS Peer Resource Centre. When I had joined the staff of the AMA, the then President of the AMA, Lionel Wilson had drawn me aside and asked if I would become the AMA expert on peer review and all the accompanying catechism, which surrounded the challenge for the medical profession to improve and maintain the quality of health care.

I was leaving the AMA, and my going-away present was an olive tree which I named after a colleague of mine. His first name was Brian, and at the presentation of the olive tree, it was thus labelled. Brian was a small tree in a pot when he was presented to me.  As he grew, the pots got bigger. Nevertheless, Brian was decorative but at no stage did he produce any olives. He just sat stoically by the back door, where he probably could have done with some sun.

However, he remained a dwarf until on my wife’s birthday back in 1987, when we moved into our new house. This was a fateful day for Brian. He was then planted on the grass verge outside the house.  From there, freed from the constraints of the pot, he flourished. He quickly passed through adolescence to become a full grown tree. His branches spread outwards so inter alia they were vulnerable to cars parking next to him, damaging him. To compensate, he would have a prune from time to time.

Then the olives began to arrive annually, and we harvested up to five kgs. The first harvest was not properly processed, despite following a plan of changing the water while increasing the brining. Some of our subsequent harvests were taken but since Brian was in the street, we had no grounds to object.

When first picked from trees like Brian, olives are very bitter and have an astringent flavour. This is mostly due to the oleuropein in the olives. Oleuropein is a bitter compound that likely helps protect the olives while growing. The passing parade of school students learnt an early lesson about olives, picked them on the way to or from school, which was just around the corner and spitting them out.


Having witnessed a nun in a monastery in Cyprus sitting and quietly smashing the olives and then putting them straight into brine; and indicating that was all one had to do, induced us to do the same. The rationale was this accelerated the process of removing the astringency. It worked and for several seasons we had olives by the bottle.

Then Brian started producing fewer and fewer olives, and then there were hardly any, and these were only on the unreachable top. Then the understory of branches lost their leaves and became a wickerwork of dead branches. Brian has recently undergone surgery but whether he survives will become clearer in the next few weeks. But the prognosis at best is guarded.

Free Assange. He has Cost Too Much

Imagine, for a moment, that the government of Cuba was demanding the extradition of an Australian publisher in the United Kingdom for exposing Cuban military crimes. Imagine that these crimes had included a 2007 massacre by helicopter-borne Cuban soldiers of a dozen Iraqi civilians, among them two journalists for the Reuters news agency.

Now imagine that, if extradited from the UK to Cuba, the Australian publisher would face up to 175 years in a maximum-security prison, simply for having done what media professionals are ostensibly supposed to do: report reality.

Finally, imagine the reaction of the United States to such Cuban conduct, which would invariably consist of impassioned squawking about human rights and democracy and a call for the universal vilification of Cuba.

-Belén Fernández, Al Jazeera

I have never really had much time for Julian Assange and his posturings. He briefly disclosed some American so-called secrets, the importance of which has been vastly exaggerated since the disclosure seems to have had minimal effect on Pax Americana. Still, far, far worse, he embarrassed several American bureaucrats, and that is of course a capital crime. The problem is some of the vindictive protagonists are those who posture as ovine liberals rather than as true lupine authoritarians.

Assange on the balcony

Assange portrayed himself as the detached intellectual, a Saviour of the Human Race, a man of Destiny calling Nations to account. Well, that did not happen. He holed himself in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and standing on its cuckoo clock balcony, from which he declaimed about his unwarranted need for asylum before, like the cuckoo he went back inside and the door snapped shut.

Then the Ecuadorian Government changed, and Assange was back on the streets, where he was arrested, and put in gaol. The legal process grinds on as the Americans are not at this minute inclined to drop all charges. And of course, our politicians, expert in lingual coriophilia do not raise their heads from their appointed task on their RNR trips to Washington to play golf.

But, for God’s sake, keeping Assange in custody serves no purpose apart from satisfying this vindictiveness of a few American bureaucrats. The Poms have connived to ensure Assange is still held in custody. Why?  Presumably there is a hulk on the River Thames in order for Senator Wong to seek a sentence for him to be transported for Life to New Holland rather than being executed in a Federal American prison.

Fortunately, it seems that Caroline Kennedy has become the equivalent of “best friend” to Assange and hopefully her influence will get the US government to drop all charges while saving face. Presumably the Prime Minister is on tap for a display of Assange contriteness and a compendium of “thank yous”. After I would suggest Assange slip into a more mundane role in progressing his obvious concern for a better world. Smelling the flowers would help him.

The comment by the Al Jazeera journalist comment is masterly and very relevant.

Time to send Julian home!

Bring Back the Parasol

I grew up in southern India but have lived in the United States since I arrived to attend college in Wisconsin at age 17. There are endless public health stories to be told in India, so I go back once a year and try to report as much as I can. I speak four Indian languages, which is a real advantage when interviewing non-experts. 

The above quote legitimises the following timely musings of Apoorva Mandavilli in the NYT. She was socialised as a child and teenager in Southern India. I have edited (rather than paraphrased) her article, but I believe I have retained its essence. Some of her statements are contestable, but in the editing, I believe I have not censored any of her views.  Personally, I am captivated by Kerala, but I have never lived through monsoon driven flooding, which might change this idyllic view.

As I hurried to an appointment one recent afternoon in New York City, the harsh sun seemed to set my skin and hair on fire. Sweat pooled under my sunglasses, and my T-shirt and shorts stuck to my damp skin. I should have been used to the heat. I grew up in southern India, where the temperature routinely sweeps past 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But I had abandoned all the tricks and strategies I had used then.

To begin with, I was walking outside at about 3 pm (in New York). In India, I rarely ventured out between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., or if I did I was fully equipped to face the sun. I usually carried an umbrella, much as women in Victorian England carried parasols, to shield my head and face. And I wore salwar kameez, a tunic and loose fitting bottoms made of thin, gauzy cotton.

It turns out that these methods, employed all over South Asia, are rooted in solid science, even though I didn’t realise it then. As climate change sends temperatures soaring around the world, people who are not used to coping with heat could stand to adopt a few strategies from regions that have faced hot weather for generations.

In New York I only ever carry an umbrella when it’s rainy, and rarely wear a hat except at the beach. But in a situation where you’re out in the direct sun, having something to protect you from that direct sun radiation is important. Hence the parasol.

Likewise, wearing little clothing to stay cool (or cultivate a tan) exposes you to dangerous solar radiation. A better option is to cover up with breathable layers.

People in hot regions dress in thin, loose fitting clothes, in light colours that reflect the sun’s rays and facilitate the evaporation of sweat, rather than trap the heat as darker colours do. Clothes made of thin cotton, linen or bamboo are the most breathable, and synthetic fabrics, like polyester and nylon, the least breathable.

Having that sweat evaporate is important to cool your body when you’re moving or exercising.

Cool, damp cloths can accomplish the same goal. In northern India, men often wrap a wet scarf or towel around their neck or their head,

The neck is replete with blood vessels, which widen at high temperatures. The dilated vessels carry more hot blood from the core of the body to the skin, where heat dissipates into the air. In fact, when people turn up in emergency rooms with a heat illness, doctors often pack the neck area with ice and cold towels to rapidly lower their body temperature.

Sweating is the body’s natural cooling mechanism, but the moisture lost must be promptly replaced. That can be accomplished by drinking water, eating watery vegetables and fruit like cucumbers, watermelon and mangoes, or soups. People in the tropics often eat hot soups, to cool off by sweating.

Everybody knows hydration, but what we miss is that hydration doesn’t necessarily mean only drinking water.  Water should be combined with electrolytes.

When I was growing up in India, bottled water was not as ubiquitous as it is today. Coconuts, heaped high in roadside stalls, offered an inexpensive, safe and delicious alternative. Vendors use a small machete to slice open the top of the coconut. When I’d had my fill of the cool, sweet water, I would break the coconut open and eat its moist white meat.

Doctors generally warn against drinking alcohol in the heat because it is a diuretic and can lead to dehydration. If you do drink, margaritas make a good option because the salt on the rim can replenish sodium lost to sweat,

The best way to protect yourself from the sun is to avoid it as much as possible. In various cultures, that means scheduling work for the hours when the daylight is less intense. Many people in southern India, and especially those who toil outside, begin their workday around 4 a.m. and work until no later than noon. The afternoon often includes a nap. Work then resumes at 4 or 5 p.m. for a few more hours.

Yet, the routine is now less common than it was in his childhood, he said, as Western rhythms and office life have taken over Indian cities.

Few Indian households have air conditioning; traditional homes manage to stay cool using other techniques.

One key approach is to open windows early in the day and close them before it begins to warm up. Heavy, dark curtains block light and heat from entering the house, and ceiling fans circulate the cool air trapped inside. My family home had curtains made of khus, a native Indian grass, which we sprayed with water every couple of hours. The curtains transform hot gusts into cool, fragrant breezes.

Many traditional Indian homes have verandas, high ceilings and walls of mud that keep the interior cool. New Orleans, is famous for its shotgun houses — linear buildings in which a bullet shot through the front door can in theory exit through the back door without hitting anything on the way — that allow the air to flow freely. Because heat rises, high ceilings and ceiling fans also keep the living spaces cool.

Some of these older strategies may have become useless — for example, early mornings are frequently so warm now that even waking up at 4 a.m. may not always offer a comfortable start to the day.

Climate change’s rapid pace demands solutions that can keep houses and bodies cool even when the mercury keeps rising.

We are no longer adjusting to one hot day or a couple of hot days, we’re looking at week upon weeks of having to deal with this. This is the cultural shift that people must make in their heads.

Mouse Whisper

Our ringtail possum. Every evening from early autumn about nine or ten in the evening, we would see her unblinking eyes peering through the dining room window as she climbed down the outside bars over the windows from her nest. I wrote about her in my 26 May Whisper.

But she has vanished – gone – who knows where. I miss her visits every evening – her quizzical look as if what she saw in the house confounded her.

I’ll miss her.