Modest Expectations 272 – Only 35.36 Parsecs Away

Last week, we received a circular from our local Council congratulating us on our performance in putting all our organic waste into the green bins provided. As a reward the Council delivered each household 75 compostable kitchen caddy liners free and told us that the emissions saved by our collective efforts were equivalent of taking 9,000 cars off the road for a year. The waste is commercially composted and not dumped in landfill, where it’s liable to emit methane and, according to the circular, methane is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The compost produced is sent to “Aussie farmers” apparently.

It is ironic that this is occurring in the electorate of a Prime Minister who is providing a huge subsidy to the fossil fuel industry so they can export all our national resources, under the American flag, predominantly to Japan and in so doing pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It would be ironic for him to save Western Australian seats only to lose his own to the Greens. Fanciful, but some must be thinking about it given his flagging popularity and the raw deal NSW is getting with the GST carve-up.

The prospect of climate change at times excites people and the accompanying evangelism for reducing the emissions rises in the community.  As reported above, the activism continues at the community level, but in the various Parliaments the well-moneyed lobbyists are constantly interfering in the process of Planet survival.

Even though the images of climate excesses are thrust in front of our eyes, replete with data the community, unless prompted by exercises as described above, seems to accept increased global warming, its causes and solution are too complicated to contemplate. As a result, the populace stops listening to the bombardment of doomsday data.

Nevertheless, there will be a tipping point. The actual point is a matter for speculation. Western eyes tend to discount the extreme consequences occurring in areas of the Planet where the skin of the people is not predominantly white.

Yet one consequence of climate change is rising sea levels and storms of greater intensity, so that previously valuable real estate is being eroded, as shown in the image above where houses are being washed away along the New England Coast into the Atlantic Ocean. The number of trophy houses built with ocean views that now lie as flotsam and jetsam is increasing. Whether the receding beachlines will galvanise the wealthy influential is doubtful, hoping that short term solutions of setting up rock or cement walls are built to delay the inevitable. More likely, those who want water views will seek sites which are the most resistant to the changes in the ocean storm intensity, and high enough to be above water levels to survive if the Antarctic totally melts away. Whaddya talking about, you climatic change Jeremiah?

We humans contribute to all this disaster by draining wetlands, building on floodplains, destroying mangroves and coral reefs and imposing ineffective solutions. Yet some defences have been effective if monitored closely.. Well before climate change was on the agenda, the Netherlands was considered vulnerable as much of the country is below sea level. After the disastrous flood in 1953, the Netherlands government built a highly sophisticated system of dykes to protect this seafaring nation constructed on the sandy knolls of the Rhine delta.

As one commentator has written: “Many point to the Dutch as an example of how cities can survive well below sea level and this would work with New Orleans except they suffer from large hurricanes while the Netherlands does not. With hurricane intensity increasing due to climate change and the natural swamp barrier eroding away, New Orleans will eventually have no protection outside the levees.  That comment will hold for all the settlements along the Gulf of Mexico coast. Once, there was a “highway” on which we travelled between the township of Sabine Pass and Galveston in the early 1990s. This road now no longer exists, having been washed away years ago.

To me the problem is very clear, the Planet is warming with a rise in the level of oceans inevitable but unpredictable given the increased prevalence of extreme weather. Flood, fire, pestilence and drought are all companions to the destruction of us humans, who will increasingly huddle in a World which we can no longer afford to repair – at least without any sense of equity. It will be impossible to insure properties – and not just those in the immediate path of the impact of climate change, but all properties will see massive increases in insurance cost as reinsurers spread the pain. This may become one driver in this increasingly dystopian world to do something. Maybe though, in this new reality we will just retreat into isolated fortified communities, an ultimate resultant of Trump’s mantra of “Make America Great.”

The problem is that denial still rages through certain sections of society. There is the semantic difference of whether climate change has been caused by humans or whether it is normal part of an intrinsic weather cycle of a planet naturally warming and cooling. Whatever the cause, our Planet is warming, and I prefer that the explanation is our fault and therefore potentially correctable by a collective change in human behaviour.

Therein lies the problem. Humans are divided into tribes, and it seems that the closer the tribes are, the more they tend to end up in conflict. One of the ways civilisation provides the chimera of change is to have forums – talk-fests every few years – where promises are cheap and the problem is just rolled down the road.

Now the world is in conflict in Ukraine, Israel and the Sudan as major focal points, these are inimitable to a response which requires a global co-ordinated effort. Conflict waged by old men who will never see the results of their handiwork makes it impossible. Added to that is we live in a world seduced by the quick solutions with the least interruption to our lifestyle. All renewable energy sources, once widely praised, are now being sowed with seeds of discontent as proponents of fossil fuel, led by the natural gas industry which seek to maintain their position. When the debate just becomes noise, then confusion reigns at home.

We maintain the status quo. It is not just inertia; it is the sense of knowing what you have been accustomed to in keeping warm, keeping cool, being able to determine how you travel, what food to consume – all defining comfort and shutting out uncertainty, which is really the definition of the future.

I grew up with wood fires, gas cooking and inefficient electrical appliances. We had fires in winter, because we still had fireplaces, but our chimney has been capped, and we have not had an open fire for over 20 years. We toyed with replacing that with gas heating, which we never did, but now we are about to install air conditioning.  We still cook with gas, as we cooked with when I was a child. What is the incentive to change, given that a switch will entail a significant cost in installing the required connection in an old terrace house. We have not placed solar panels on our roof, even though we have discussed doing it. It is not only cost but also priority.

Without government wholehearted intervention, it rests solely with the household, and in the case mentioned above local council support for positive change.  However, at the same time, being in a heritage area limits the utility of solar panel output. But what then when electoral survival is more important than planetary survival? Yes, it a matter of priorities. In the end to the detriment of The Planet, we have suffered from a malignant form of inertia, which we should correct before it will not matter – our house having been consumed by some unusual weather event.

As an epilogue to what I have written above, I must acknowledge after I had completed this blog item, a speech by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres. In his speech in New York he added his dire foreboding in the face of May 2024 being the hottest on record for that month plus other data forecasting of the future destination of Earth. He urged that there be a global ban on fossil fuel advertising. He did not completely abandon that the rise in the planetary temperature by 1.5oc can be met.

In response, a representative of the fossil fuel industry said blandly, “Our industry is focused on continuing to produce affordable, reliable energy while tackling the climate challenge, and any allegations to the contrary are false.”

There you are. Nothing to see here. Now what is that wall of water coming towards my plush office across the New York skyline. As you said, nothing to see.

A Powerhouse Food

I like tapioca. I remember it was called “frogs eggs” when I was a kid and also remember that it was not the most popular dessert.

However, reading the Washington Post, I came across a fascinating backstory of the plant from which tapioca was one product. Australians never think about cassava (also known as manioc or yuca); most Australians have never heard of it, but the article in the Washington Post is worth airing across the widest audience possible.

From Amazonia came cassava at the time when the hunter gatherer society was giving way to the agricultural revolution – as paraphrased from the Washington Post.  (It was a) trade off between calories used up for hunting against staying at home and growing edible products, gradually improving the productivity of them.  

Sometimes the most obvious truism has missed me. Once humans were able to form settlements, then that was beginning of having periods of rest instead of all the waking hours being spent hunting for food. Once humans started growing crops then the quality and quantity of edible plants improved as well as enhancing the concept of us humans working but also having downtime together.

Cassava was one such plant which spread from Amazonia to as far away as Panama within a few thousand years. It reduced the load of searching the forests in search of food. Today it is the staple diet of 600 million people, but what happens when it’s eaten raw?

Even though it became a staple food, when raw, it is toxic. This toxicity gave the plant pest resistance and herbivorous animals shied away from eating it. In technical terms, when cassava’s cells are damaged, by chewing or crushing, for instance, the linamarin and linamarase react, releasing a burst of noxious chemicals. One of them is cyanide gas. The burst contains other nasty substances as well, including nitriles and cyanohydrins. Large doses of them are lethal. 

There are also two longer term diseases. One is konzo, first described in the Congo in 1938, which affects  motor neurons, and leads to abrupt onset over hours or days of permanent but non-progressive spastic paralysis of the legs.

The second, tropical ataxic neuropathy, first described in Jamaica in 1897 is a syndrome of bilateral optic atrophy, bilateral sensory neural deafness, predominant posterior column involvement and pyramidal tract myelopathy, with ataxic polyneuropathy. It is cassava-associated through its toxic nitrile component.

Undoubtedly, these diseases were there when cassava was first grown, harvested and eaten. It was human endeavour, which resulted in a toxic plant being converted into a staple of the Amazonian diet. This would have been done by trial and error and is part of the capacity that we, as homo sapiens, have in being able to experiment and come to an understanding about how to use a plant so that the cropping, in this instance, was not abandoned.

Today, almost every rural family across the Amazon has a garden where one will find cassava roasting on the fire, being toasted into a flatbread called casabe, fermenting into the beer called masato, and made into soups and stews.

The ancient Amazonians devised a complex, multistep process of detoxification that transforms cassava from inedible to edible.

The process begins with grinding cassava’s starchy roots and shredding so that the toxic cyanide gases drift into the air, not into the lungs and stomach if they are eaten.

Next, the shredded cassava is rinsed, squeezed by hand and drained repeatedly, the action of the water releases more cyanide, nitriles and cyanohydrins, and the squeezing rinses them away.

Finally, the detoxification is completed with the resulting pulp being dried or cooked. These steps are so effective that they are still used throughout the Amazon today.

The Amazonians pushed their efforts even further, inventing new methods for processing cassava, keeping track and selectively growing varieties with desirable characteristics, gradually producing a constellation of types used for different purposes.

When this process is not followed as has occurred elsewhere over the thousands of years it has spread to the Caribbean, Asia and Africa, where the pathology has been described and the association made with cassava toxins.

Nevertheless, The Washington Post article reminded me that there are crops below my Western horizon, which should be promoted given that the climate is changing and the more resistant the plant is to the vagaries of such changes the better. The only caveat is when uninformed farmers try to avoid the purification, the consequences as outlined occur to their families. The challenge is clear, to provide worldwide the crop where the toxins have been bred out, leaving a crop to counter starvation in an unstable planet.

Shut the Gait

Jean-Martin Charcot

It’s all in the gait. Biden because of his apparent incipient Parkinsonism walks with that cog wheel rigidity. If the Democrats had consulted any neurologists, I’m sure that many of them would say he has next to no chance of lasting another four years. It is just ludicrous. The reason for his gait is attributed to peripheral neuritis. I have severe peripheral neuritis and he does not conform to my gait or that described by the French neurologist and ‘father’ of neurology, Charcot, when he was disturbed stamping feet of the patients in the ward above his office. That was the gait of the syphilitic tabetic where peripheral neuritis was a major symptom (which incidentally is not my cause).

Whereas Trump has a seemingly more normal gait, in that he does not shuffle, but it’s slower than it was. His problem is his fronto-temporal dementia, and the key word is “dementia”. At his age, the aggression caused by the dementia is misinterpreted by his supporters as hilarious and a sign that The Icon is still in full control. Forget the slurred jumbled syntax and the periods where he does not speak while the brain tries to get back in gear. As I have mentioned before, much would be resolved if they would both take independently and publicly a test of their cognitive ability. Except, Trump would inevitably bleat that it was “rigged”.

The Presidential race

These are old men, and while Trump is two years short of 80, he acts as one. One only has to look at him in 2016 and now to see the decay. The peau d’orange skin is far more pitted with age. It is easy to say that neither will go the distance for another four years, but neither side is willing to say this.

There is the Ratzinger solution – that is, to prop up a clearly vegetative person in all the robes of office and wheel him around denying what’s obvious. This Cardinal Ratzinger, his eventual successor, did propping Pope John Paul II up and making all the decisions until the Pope’s demise in 2005 at the age 84. Then he had the votes and became the next Pope, Benedict XVI. He was then 78 years old, Trump’s age now, but in a far better scheming mental condition.

This lesson has obviously not been lost on a group of Trump’s consigliere, but the consequences of his conviction for a felony in New York has yet to be played out. However, his only response has been his perpetual ranting against the rule of law and some delusion of himself as a dictator ensconced in his cocoon of irrationality, with images of Putin drifting through his cerebral decay.

But like all old men where illusion and delusion collide, Trump strides ponderously, a golden mane of baldness, a well-tailored corpulence and built-up shoes. After all, it is all in the gait.

A further thought bubble

As a footnote to the above, with two old men lurching towards their final curtain, the choice of Vice-President becomes crucial. Biden, like one of his predecessors, Lyndon Johnson, is a creature of the US Senate, deal makers where consensus and compromise was the “bread and butter” but two men unused to conflict where leadership is paramount. Winston Churchill was a failure in the polite gentlemanly etiquette in the world of consensus, but he perceived the retention of democracy under extreme threat against unbridled dictatorship and this was the essence of his great leadership. Churchill needed a Hitler to demonstrate his greatness. Biden by contrast seems wanting in the face of Trump, but here’s hoping.

Biden has Trump, a dictator in the wings who has revealed what he wants to do by his January 6 attempted “putsch”. The trouble that Trump projects is that of inchoate civil disorder to propel him into being President. Yet he has no planning skills, only the skills of a small town grifter cushioned by the original substantial inheritance from “daddy” to hide his deficiencies.

Ernst Röhm

Hitler had Ernst Röhm, who organised the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazi Party’s original paramilitary strike force, to spread fear and brutality with persecution of selected minorities, Jews, Romany, homosexuals and the disabled. Hitler, after falling out with Röhm, called him back from his advisor role to the Bolivian Army. Later Hitler had him executed in the Night of the Long Knives.

Sounds familiar (perhaps except for the last sentence) in  the context of the Trump choice for Vice-President. The Trump dilemma is to choose a Vice-Presidential running mate with a clear differentiation from Trump, a person who will not frighten the electorate and yet a person to organise his militia (an essential ingredient for the dictatorship which he craves).

Vice-President Kamala Harris

Biden has as his Vice-President, Kamala Harris, a woman of colour, who had a distinguished legal career and then was US Senator for California. She has been significantly underwhelming as Vice-President, having a very low rating with the electorate. The reasons for this are attributed to a misogynistic electorate and the fact that she is a woman – and of colour.

Nevertheless, reading the comments, she has a personality which in Australian terms is that of a “bucket of gravel”; and whether Biden’s level of popularity has dragged her down or vice versa is a moot point. The cruellest point made against her is that she is more show pony rather than work horse. She would not be the first to be called that – and that is true irrespective of gender.

Still, she is next in line as Vice-President in the event of Biden being re-elected and then not lasting the four years. She has already served as Acting President for an hour while the President was having a colonoscopy.

Mouse Whisper

She was reflecting looking out on a rainy day. “You know”, she said “AI could never have written the Gettysburg address.” Just as succinct to show brevity has a certain force, whereas AI would reflect the loquacious, bland self-importance so prevalent in our Society. But if AI advances, perhaps as a positive response, the public relations industry will gradually fade away. We mice can only hope.

Modest Expectations – 5th February 2023 Goal!

Last week Monday marked the first Seder of Passover. Beautiful things to cook: this bright salmon with potatoes and horseradish-tarragon sauce, bitter herbs salad; crackly-topped, fudgy-centred flourless chocolate cake.

I end on dessert, perhaps khoresh rivas, the savory rhubarb and bean stew. I usually stockpile my rhubarb for sweet stuff (crisp, pie, cake), tender sautéed rhubarb nestled into hearty butter beans simmered with turmeric, parsley and mint. Make it a complete this course with her dill rice, plain yogurt on the side.

Meanwhile, while the Jewish people celebrated the holiest week with a banquet of kosher food as one described above in the NYT, a lone Jewish grandmother had something to say every day on the streets of Boston. Meanwhile famine has gripped the Palestinians in Gaza.

There are two facts that stand out. The Israelis have killed thousands upon thousands of Palestinians in the name of freeing about 150 hostages.

Netanyahu is fighting for survival. For what? His adherents seem little better than those who begat the Holocaust, and the fact that there were Jewish collaborators who participated in that terrible interlude in human history seems lost in this man’s desperate attempt to stay out of gaol.

Now the protests directed against Netanyahu have spread to the American Universities.

For myself, who was involved in various aspects of Australia’s response to the Vietnam War, it is chilling to see this rerun of the late 1960s on American university campuses. How long will it be before America ends in a Kent State University revival with four students been shot dead by a National Guard, with some image of it being portrayed on social media? You don’t need social media to see the image of the young woman crying over the lifeless body. No memorial for the Unknown Protestor.

As I say, there was not then the social media intimacy of witnessing the horrors of violence – children sprayed from American helicopters with napalm; the sight of a Vietnamese army colonel executing an alleged Viet Cong in the street. After all, if you wanted to witness a beheading, remember our Carolingian ancestors just had to go to the centre of London, and for a public beheading with the extra spice, the head was that of a king.

1968 Democratic National Convention, Chicago

I worked with a journalist colleague who was at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968 which ended in the nomination of Hubert Humphries. The convention was held in the shadow of Robert Kennedy’s assassination and President Johnson not standing again. My colleague said he had never been more frightened in his life, and even then, he was a hardened journalist, who had been made so by working with Sydney tabloids in his cadet years from the late 50s.

All in front of you, Mr President, given that Blinken is probably the latter-day Robert McNamara who, decades later, did give a mea culpa for all his poor advice to Lyndon Johnson.

My advice: call the armed uniforms off the campus, let the protests be allowed to proceed, given that the First Amendment gives wide discretion, and do not give the impression of bias in the face of sporadic whining. By the same token, it is important that the defenders of the Palestinians, including those who profess the Christian faith, and the Israelis, have an equal untrammelled voice, stripped of physical violence. Invasion of property, rationalised in that ownership is theft, is the line of division, irrespective of whether it is the office of the University President or that of the Speaker of the House. Vandals are not legitimate Protestors, they are always the work of others who wish to foment civil insurrection.

I’m surprised that those who participated in the anti-Vietnam war protests, many of whom may be in influential positions, have not identified their defence of freedom of speech and the difference between “mob” and “crowd”. Leadership for the people by people of understanding as, for example, Mandela was, is an increasingly rare quality in a world where the Narcissorum Tribus now seem to dominate.

In 1968 the Republican convention was held in Miami, earlier than its Democratic counterpart in August. Richard Nixon was crooked but smart enough to avoid controversy leaving it all to the blunders of the “lame duck” President Johnson to provide the protestors with a target.

Trump’s performance at the Republican Convention in Milwaukee in July, a month before the Democratic Convention in Chicago, will be crucial with the signs of his increasing dementia being hidden by his minders. Trump must be corralled at the Convention without incident, without protests. Thus, being over well before the Democratic Convention, the pressure will be on Biden.

It seems the Democrats are preparing for a war zone already; if this true, then that will be a public relations disaster. The sight of a President thus protected from his electors, especially the young…, if Biden does not resolve the protests before the Chicago Convention in August, he can kiss the Presidency away.

Amsterdam

Arriving in Amsterdam from Australia sometime before six am on a cold October morning is not my idea of Optimal Welcome.   Arriving after a mostly sleepless flight through numerous time zones, I went to deposit my bags. First of all, the front door to this modest hotel was locked. Once opened by the night porter-cum-receptionist-cum-concierge, he reinforced something I had already experienced – the Dutch are not much into humour and are very much sticklers for the rules. I could not access my room until 2.00 pm. No exceptions, said in that irritating menacing polite way. I was allowed to leave my bags.

There were hours of blurred tiredness, sitting in a chair in the dark lobby. At least, I was allowed that luxury, and then I dragged myself for coffee and asked for boiled eggs rather than bread and the myriad toppings. Generally, the Dutch have an early breakfast, but just off a plane I had no idea of my internal timepiece reading, but since the clock told me it was breakfast, I complied.

That still left time before I could get into my room. I regretted that I had not booked the room for that night almost gone. I asked the concierge what could I do to occupy myself in the morning rather than just dozing in the chair. He winked at me and said the Red Light district was close by, if I wanted to lie down. “What else?” I said tiredly.

I noticed among the brochures on his desk there was an advertisement for an Exhibition at the Nieuwe Kirk museum. The Exhibition were drawn from the artifacts “de Zwarte Faraos” civilisation – The Black Pharoahs. I had never considered that there were ever Black Pharoahs with their Kingdom on the Nile. Nubia was an Egyptian colony which existed at the intersections of modern Egypt and Sudan. The Nubians were slaves to the Egyptian pharaohs, and for a brief time they rebelled. They usurped their slave masters and ruled the Nile from the Kingdom of Kush as far north as the mouth of the Nile and even extended easterly into Mesopotamia, as it was then called.

Their rule, the 25th dynasty, extended for a comparatively short period between 712BC– 656 BC, before it retreated to the original Kush base in present-day Sudan, where they ruled for a further thousand years until they were overrun by the warriors of Islam. Their pyramids are in a remote part of modern Sudan, called Meroë. Here there are more pyramids than in Egypt, and yet after the Islam invasion, they were left for the sands to cover, forgotten for another thousand years.

The Amsterdam exhibition, previously seen in Munich and Paris, contained many of the treasures which were unearthed with the arrival of the European predators in the nineteenth century. They had to negotiate a perilous situation to get there, given the rise of the Mardi, who convinced his followers – a substantial number of whom were Nubians – that he was the awaited Messiah. The famous painting by George William Joy of General Gordon about to be murdered in Khartoum by the Mardi was the mythical hero death and infuriated The British.

In its reprisal, Kitchener made his reputation in 1898 at the Battle of Omdurman, when he slaughtered the Mardi force armed with mediaeval weapons with machine guns – a somewhat unequal scuffle. (As a portent of future reflex response to British involvement in wars, NSW sent 750 troops to the Sudan, but they saw little fighting, six died, and the rest returned. and I remembered that some of them featured in Anzac Marches when I was very young).

Nevertheless, despite the dangers, there were sufficient archaeologically minded people to uncover the pyramids. Although there had been tomb raiders previously, the site still yielded a host of artifacts.

There was one Italian, in search of gold, who blew the tops off several of the pyramids. Since I saw the Exhibition nearly thirty years ago, the site survives, and it is apparently far enough away from the civil war, which is engulfing the Sudan, not to be damaged further – as yet. Not so fortunate have been some of the artifacts which were lodged in the Museum in Khartoum. I have heard there has been looting; how much I do not know, but there is an international alert for any of the pharaonic treasures should any appear on the market.

Pyramids at Meroë

I wandered dead tired into this Exhibition, which I expected was just a place to while away the time before I could go and have a sleep. The need to sleep slipped away. The number of these items on display and their majesty, if that is the word, about a historical period of which I had known nothing were “sleep-blowing”, to coin a phrase.

Of course, I knew about the Egyptian pharaohs, museum displays dominated by mummies and representations of the variety of the Ennead – Isis, Osiris, Horus, Amun and Ra being some of the most prominent of these gods.

Then there are the images of the Great Pyramids, the last remaining Seven Wonder of the Ancient World. These pyramids are synonymous with Egypt, achieving notoriety with the whole Tutankhamen discovery and its supposed curse. All very dramatic; images embedded in modern popular culture.

The Exhibition showed me a related civilisation which existed in parallel, which for a brief time merged.

I still have nine postcards, which I bought as a reminder of that morning. There were only two black pharaohs over that period when they dominated the Nile. There is an image of a collection of figures, which resemble a cabinet to the Pharoah, figurines varying from obsidian black to alabaster white in colour, twenty in all, lodged in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

I find bemusing the discussion whether Tutankhamun was a black pharaoh. What does it matter when it was clear that there were the two parallel pharaonic cultures; and moreover, those important pieces lodged in the Khartoum Museum are being looted. Two of the images on my postcards were at that time sourced from that Museum – two out of nine – about 22 per cent. Extrapolated that could mean an irreplaceable loss.

I was very fortunate that morning to be sleepless in Amsterdam. Nevertheless, two pm eventually came and I drifted off lying in an imaginary felucca drifting with the wind down the Nile towards the Kush.

Towards an Orange Sunset – Two Stepping Stones on the Road 

Pearl Harbor memorial

Stone 1: WaPo’s Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker told a story in their book “A Very Stable Genius…” about Trump going to Hawaii and visiting the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor with chief-of-staff John Kelly. As they were walking through the Memorial over the sunken battleship that entombs over one thousand sailors, Trump said to Kelly, “What is this place John? What’s it all about?”

My dad took me to see the Arizona Memorial when I was seven years old. I knew exactly what it was all about. – Everyman Blog USA

Stone 2: Devin Nunes, who Trump put in charge of his social media company for some reason, asked Congress to investigate “unlawful manipulation of DJT {Trump media stock price}.” Unlawful manipulation? Isn’t it entirely possible that the guy who bankrupted three casinos, a steak venture, a tie venture, a board game venture, a vodka venture, a cologne venture, a mattress venture, a cell phone venture, an airline, a travel site, a magazine, and a fake university just can’t make a third-rate social media app work?

To Trump himself? Of course it’s not. Because when he’s losing, he never fails to cry foul play. That’s what he’s doing with all of his court cases, that’s what he did when he was impeached, and that’s what he did when he lost in 2020. – Lincoln Project April 2024

But if you thought it could not get worse…

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis makes a fencepost look like Mensa material. I’m indebted to The Economist for pointing out how much of a dunce this man is. Apparently, a couple of television crime episodes centred around the supposed fact that one could absorb fentanyl through the skin. Expert opinion said that this was rubbish, no evidence. But the rumours were such that DeSantis made it a felony punishable by incarceration to cause “absorption through the skin of fentanyl leading to “an overdose or serious bodily injury”. As The Economist reports “The law creates a felony assault for something that is scientifically impossible and has never happened”.

Now Florida is the State of the USA where DeSantis has appointed a public health physician to head the Florida State Health Service, who is an anti-vaxxer!

Been converting lead into gold lately, Ron?

The Buck Always Wins

The Sundance Institute announced that it has begun exploring potential new host cities for the annual Sundance Film Festival beginning in 2027, signalling a breakaway from Park City, Utah.

The 2025 and 2026 festivals will remain in Park City, which has played host since 1981. The current contract with Park City expires in 2027, which has led the Institute to reconsider where it plans to host the festival.

Sundance is important for Utah, which typically is not a destination for Hollywood’s rich and famous unless they’re hitting the slopes. Residents of Park City, as well as film enthusiasts from out of town, try to catch a glimpse of celebrities or see films with Oscar buzz before they are released widely…

…Sundance, which saw more than 17,000 entries from 153 countries for its 2024 festival, declined to comment on why it’s considering a move or whether potential new hosts have already applied. The Institute outlined its selection process, which includes multiple stages before selection. The committee, which includes Robert Redford’s daughter Amy Redford, will make the final decision on a potential new host city.

“To be clear, this does not mean that we are moving or have made a decision to move,” a Sundance spokesperson said. “This includes Utah, given the Festival’s long-standing relationship, and we absolutely encourage them to be a part of this process with us.”

Early on I always had Sundance on my bucket list, this film festival conceived by Robert Redford in the late 1970’s being held in the Utah mountain settlement in October. Well, I did have the opportunity in the early 1980s, but unfortunately, I did not go to America until November of that year and went to Taos for my cultural “hit” instead.

Park City is a Utah community, over 2,000m above sea level, once a settlement for silver mining and now a ski resort. The community itself has been reported as irritated by the yearly invasion by the “Celebrity Air Force”.  To wit, Park City denizens have other gripes about the festival including awful traffic conditions, and the arrival of cocky industry people from New York City and Los Angeles who they mock as the “PIBs” (“People in Black”). Yet when everything is considered, this small ski resort close to Salt Lake City brings in a substantial income to the Beehive state coffers. Thus, grin and bear the irritation.

Park City’s mountains

Like so many festivals, the popularity has waned so that despite the healthy number of entrants, Sundance is losing money. There is nothing which concentrates the mind more than losing money, despite the image of Redfordian altruism. But Redford is 87, and that original genius has stepped back to leave his daughter Amy, one of his two surviving children, to run the festival, as indicated in the curated media release.

Also, the Festival which introduced, among others, the highest grossing British movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, now has increased competition from streaming platforms which are snaffling films which may once have been screened at Sundance.

However, I would suggest that if the Redford connection is broken, so much the identity of Sundance, a name derived from his heroic romp with Paul Newman as the eponymous Kid to Newman’s Butch Cassidy, will be lost.

Lose the magic of the name; lose the Festival. Could anybody change the name to Sundance’s Daughter – who knows? And what about the Festival’s bottom line?

Concussion

I had my most severe concussion playing Australian Rules football in a house match when I was about 14. One moment, I remember bending to pick up the ball and the next I woke up in the school’s sick bay. Subsequently, I had a few bouts of being concussed, but after the age of 18 years I scarcely played football. I was not good enough and had a medical career to pursue. That was the same with most of the best players since footballers were not professionals with large contracts. In my day, there was not the lure of a life of professional football starting at the age of 18 years, where the demands of the training increasingly excluded anything else during those playing years.

Thus, modern day footballers have the incentive to play for as long as they can, so different from that of my generation. For instance, Brian Roet at the height of his playing career went off to undertake post-graduate medical training, coming back three years later for a few further games for Melbourne, and then he permanently retired.

In his prime, he was a champion centre half back in the 1964 premiership side, playing alongside the likes of Ron Barassi. Barassi played from 1953 to 1969.  Barassi ended up with progressive dementia over the last ten years of his life. Dr Brian Roet is still professionally active in the UK when last reported. Barassi played 254 games over 17 years; Brian Roet only 88 games sporadically. These are selective statistics, but…

It is strange that over the years, the Australian football industry has become obsessed with players who are repeatedly concussed, yet the game demands more and more speed, all of which would conspire for a greater number of injuries, including the head. Spectators demand this speed and the aggression to go with it.

At the same time, coaches have developed the skills of spoiling, so that a footballer going to mark the ball has a flurry of arms, fists, elbows to negotiate – literally a tree of man. Inevitably the head becomes an unintentional target, when you are vulnerable with arms extended, and someone attempting to fist the ball away, instead strikes the vulnerable head. The game being so fast is impossible to umpire the myriad infringements. Four umpires are meant to modify the violent aspects. They seem incapable, because of the speed of the game.  Free kicks become arbitrary, rather than limit the inherent violence of the game, especially when a tangle of players occurs.

Thus, with the better players having a full-time career in this game, this situation of a vulnerable head as described can repeat itself over fifteen years, 23 games each year unless the footballer is not otherwise injured.

I played in an era where there were eighteen players, with a 19th and a 20th man there as replacements; once on the field they could not be replaced. And if a third player was injured, too bad – if he could stand, just leave him in the forward pocket. The game was slower; I was once reprimanded for handballing rather than kicking. Infringements were more clearly defined yet did not prevent concussion and nobody counted every knock to the head as a cumulative contributing factor.

One of the other causes of longevity in football, apart from the money and the professional nature of the sport, has been the advance in orthopaedic procedures, which have extended the careers of many footballers.

This concern for concussion is strange in a world which tolerates women boxing in the name of some misguided gender equality, the popularity of cage fighting for both men and women, and even the tolerance of horses being whipped repeatedly in what laughingly is termed “sport”.

That there is this exaggerated concern for concussion, where the “ambulance-chasing” lawyers are panting for the pot of gold for which the Australian Football League fears it will be liable. The actual footballer on the road to dementia is just the currency.

Mouse Whisper

She was watching TV when that mathematical genius, the current Head of the Federal Police said that “you will see that hundred percent increase on zero”.

As she opined, “the more the braid, the less the brain.”

Something in that. My cousin Noughty used the same formula and wondered why he never had any pinkies when he was exhorted to go out and multiply.

Anyway, don’t have that genius define a logarithm. He’ll probably produce a pair of clapsticks.

Modest Expectations – A Player at Kooyonga

I am from Baltimore, born and bred. Grew up at the inner harbor, Patapsco River…oh yeah Hon, ain’t the beer cold and let’s get some Natty Bohs and jumbos! I now live in Southern California. I was in the desert two days ago and a young woman, who happens to be a car salesperson (I was shopping for cars) got to talking to me about the bridge collapse. Lawd have mercy…may I repeat, she’s a car salesperson…she starts in with how the Bay Pilot did it on purpose. Steered directly for the main support pillars and took out the FSK Bridge. I said, but the freighter lost power and is more or less the size of Nimitz Aircraft Carrier going eight knots and you think he can just turn it on a dime…? Her eyes glazed over…Social media has done far more harm than good is all I’m saying. You should watch this guy on YouTube. He debunks conspiracy theories-this one pertaining to FSK Bridge. – A person responding in Boston Globe.

The above comment is from a despairing person with real knowledge, epitomised in his response to a “no nothing” conditioned by social media conspiracy misinformation, rather than looking around how much the World and seeing how vulnerable the infrastructure of the United States, both urban and rural, is at present. It is in desperate need of renewal. Above is the Tobin Bridge, the largest in New England, spanning the Mystic River connecting Boston with Chelsea, 3.2 km in length. It is a cantilever truss bridge and its structure is such that it has been considered likely to survive a hit by a 95,000 tonne container ship, unlike the FSK bridge. Yet a heavy gravel truck hit one of the pylons on the bridge in 1973 collapsing the upper deck and killing the driver of the truck. Bridges are vulnerable, especially as many are old and need updated defence mechanisms.

The collapse of the FSK Bridge is not first incident due to a ship losing power. For instance, the NYT reminded us that in 2015, a 600-foot freighter lost propulsion as it travelled along the Delaware River between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Seconds before the vessel reached the Burlington-Bristol Bridge, it crashed into the bank of the river instead, averting disaster.

As the NYT reported this week “In the days after last month’s disaster in Baltimore, officials in Massachusetts began taking a fresh look at Boston’s Tobin Bridge, a truss span that carries more than 40,000 vehicles each day across the Mystic River but does not have a protection system for its piers.”

The authorities have relied on navigation protocols including twinning of pilot vessels to take the ships down the Mystic River, but in the light of the FSK bridge disaster, everything is up for evaluation. The problem is that there is a need to renovate America and Trump controls sufficient politicians in Congress to stop anything worthwhile occurring all in the name of his narcissistic misanthropy. He wants to block everything if it enables him to become President and then he can blame Biden for not doing anything. That may give him undue credit.

Behind Trump lurks Steve Bannon. Trump was never very intelligent even before the dementia settled in, had no sense of morality and lived in a cocoon of deceit governed by infant tantrums. Nevertheless, he was enabled to become President of the United States, by unexpectedly beating an overconfident, unloved candidate.

Underlying much of the current community angst, alienation and ethnic hatred triptych was the perceived government complacency which enabled the 9/11 attack by “vile foreign immigrants” to occur. This tragedy has had this deep psychological effect on America which has never been healed, unlike Pearl Harbour which was avenged not only by Japanese surrender but also by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Bannon is the person to rip open the unhealed scar.  He is a nihilist – somebody who would create a Killing Fields in America under the mantra of MAGA inciting the destruction of all that he hates. By November, unless he is stopped, even Murdoch should be afraid if a demented Trump is re-elected as President. And just to remind those who are supporting Biden, Hindenburg was 85 years old, feeble but still able to pass Germany over Herr Hitler, then 43 years. Bannon is 70 – “the new 50”.

Revenge is the most primitive response of the person slighted. In contrast, take South Africa, where the atrocities of the white regime were forgiven by Nelson Mandela, reinforced by his reconciliation commission led by Archbishop Tutu. Enough was then done to sustain the integrity of the country, despite having to live with people like Zuma, a kleptomaniac as President.

Thus, a major bridge collapse is a metaphor for America. A rogue uncontrolled destructive event. Bridge protection has relied on timber palisades which have rotted and were never built to withstand being hit by the modern colossal container ship or cruise boats. Nationwide, little has been done to address the problem, although the technology exists with the pylons able to be protected.

Dolphins

Those structures — known as dolphins — are circular concrete constructions located near a bridge’s central supports. Vessels are meant to crash into them if they veer off track in the shipping channel, diverting them from collision with the bridge. In fact, in 1980 a cargo ship crashed into one of the dolphins protecting the FSK bridge, demolishing the dolphin but sparing the bridge. Bridges need to be more strongly protected. Dolphins, if they are the solution, need to be appropriately strengthened. Apparently, the container ship which demolished the FSK Bridge avoided striking any of the dolphins already in place. The challenge that remains is to protect these essential structures, which carry a huge amount of traffic each day remain, as does my metaphor.

The latter-day conspiratorial theorists also remain.

Brain Fog 

One of my co-morbidities is characterised by blood hyperviscosity. In other words, the blood flow is sluggish, and therefore the brain gets its nutrients just as sluggishly.  Well, that is the theory. In any event, the cause was the level of my macroglobulins which had risen to the edge of the precipice of no return, despite me being regularly reviewed by a consultant physician. The highest level my replacement consultant specialist, an oncologist, had ever seen in a patient not hospitalised. I received an urgent call when he reviewed my blood biochemistry informing me to be emergency admitted to hospital. However, to me, his preferred destination, the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital is not somewhere I wish to go.

I successfully argued against hospitalisation and fortunately, demonstrated that as I was still writing my blog, which an independent source said made sense, I sustained my contention that I did not have brain fog. Nobody had bothered to define brain fog, and if you read the narrative about the condition, you realise after the fact how unhelpful the description is. The sensation is unlike fog over the Canberra airport, the brain circling waiting the fog to clear. There the simile ends because the cerebral affliction is not fog in the meteorological sense.

I must confess I had one small episode. I looked at my watch, and I could not connect with it telling the time. I do not know how long this episode lasted, but it was so strange, and I did not realise what it was until it cleared. It was a very strange sensation – not fog – just non-recognition of what I started out to do, read the time.

There was another sensation, which I did not immediately equate to so-called “brain fog”. When I woke up in the morning, it was as though the dream had not ended even though I felt I was awake. I am a very visual person, invoking my knowledge of neurolinguistics, which explains that I need visual clues as entry to my sense of touch and all actions derived from this sense. In other words, I am very much guided by what I see before what I do; but in this case because the visual effects were so incongruous, I moved invoking the sense of touch without reference to the visual distortion. By moving, it broke me away from that bizarre visual sensation, which I have described below. It recurred every morning, until one morning it was no longer there, presumably because the therapy started to work.

Anyway, I had this vision of a wall, always red and composed of jigsaw pieces – shapes without any order – scattered across my visual fields. Then as I moved to get up out of bed, it vanished. I tended not to think further, but then after it cleared, I wondered whether this was so-called “brain fog”.

I hope theses observations may be useful in clearing any haziness that may exist surrounding the definition of “brain fog”.

Searching for Mr Lehrmann

It was on March 2, 1836, that a delegation of 59 men gathered at Washington on the Brazos River to draft a Declaration of Independence and establish a constitution for a new nation. They declared Texas a “free, sovereign and independent republic.” Washington County, the “Birthplace of Texas,” is etched in the history books forever.

Brenham is the county seat for this historic and scenic region.

         Brenham, Tx

Brenham is 113km northwest of Houston and 145 km southeast of the State Capital Austin. Brenham is where Kirby Lehrmann was born in 1927. During his long life he became a successful cotton farmer in the area and a well-respected member of that Texan community. His 2020 obituary mentions as a grandson “Bruce Lehrmann of Australia”. His wife died two years before, and her obituary mentions both grandchildren “Bruce and Bobby Jane Lehrmann of Australia”.

Bruce Lehrmann was born in 1995 in Texas. His father Robert Wayne “Bob” Lehrmann was born in 1949 and married Annie Laurie Lusk (possibly cousins) in 1970. His father in 1990 subsequently married Lynden Jane Tapscott from the NSW town of Moree. He died of a heart attack in 1997, two years after Bruce had been born in the city of College Station. The Tapscotts are a well-established family in Moree; there is even a road named after the family.

While it is not clear when it occurred, after their father’s death Bruce and his sister went back to Australia with their mother.

Bobby Jane went to the Glennie school in Toowoomba, then between 2016 and 2018 attended both Queensland University of Technology (Bachelor of Journalism) and Griffith University (Diploma of Italian Language and Literature). She then had short-term jobs, before returning to Texas in 2019.

Currently she is Assistant Director of Communication for the City of College Station in Texas, incidentally the city where her brother was born. If you look at her curriculum vitae from 2016 to 2018, she was a busy person as the Bachelor degree was three years full-time and the Diploma two years part-time; but at the same time she had a number of jobs. She left Australia in 2019 and has been employed in a variety of positions in Texas since.

Her brother’s early life is more opaque than that of his sister. He attended Toowoomba Grammar School and he lived with his mother in an exclusive suburb in Toowoomba with a guy, who apparently won The Golden Casket and turned the lottery winnings into being a successful property developer in and around Toowoomba. Bruce after he left school moved to Canberra and commenced an Arts degree at the ANU.

Once you lay out the known circumstances, how can the trajectory of Bruce Lehrmann through the lounge suites of Liberal ministers be explained? Without any apparent expertise, an 18-year-old has ended up as a close adviser to the Minister of Defence. However, his private life is speckled and his fateful encounter with Miss Higgins after an alcohol-fuelled night in Canberra in 2019 tossed him into the spotlight.

He was subsequently employed by British Tobacco, who sacked him when the Higgins allegation came to light.

Having survived his 2022 ACT trial for allegedly raping Miss Higgins in 2019, Lehrmann must now face charges of rape committed allegedly in 2021. Lehrmann was first charged with rape in Toowoomba in January 2023. The matter has been the subject of numerous hearings due to prosecutors challenging the scope of medical and phone data evidence requested by his defence team. He faces court in June this year – a drawn out process.

For Lehrmann, with so many issues that must involve inter alia engagement of lawyers, here is a man who in the cold light of asking why this outsider had suddenly become a person whom the Liberal Party – backed by the right-wing media (and, as it turns out, allegedly with some of his bills being paid by Channel 7) – seems able to afford the type of legal representation that would bankrupt most people.

However, the more important question is why was this Texan-born, undistinguished man, while still a teenager, become the centrepiece of the conservative side of politics. What don’t we know?

The overlying question is why is there so much protection being afforded to Bruce Lehrmann. There is nothing in his early life to suggest anything out of the ordinary.

I wondered initially whether he was indeed Bruce Lehrman, but someone else had assumed that identity. However, I have followed the family connection, (which incidentally has just taken time but on the face of it was not particularly difficult – it is all on the public record). Thus, it would be a very elaborate stratagem to seed all the clues in order to convince us to believe that there is this different man masquerading as Bruce Lehrmann.

Ministerial Entrance

Nevertheless, the unexplained is the most intriguing. Why was this young American catapulted into the Ministerial suite, with access apparently to sensitive documentation, including the French proposal to build nuclear submarines, later aborted.

I presume he has dual nationality, and although he would qualify for employment by the CIA for instance, it would be highly unusual. But there is a kernel of an idea, especially if this innocuous character had access to the French nuclear submarine arrangements. In other words what vital information does Mr Lehrmann have to merit such almost hysterical protection.

Obviously the attention he has attracted has not been helpful to whoever is his boss, he conforming to the adage of independence of action being inversely proportional to the controversy generated. The play acting around all of Mr Lehrmann’s behaviour may be a smokescreen, drawing attention away from the real reason for Mr Lehrmann being here and not decamping back to Texas as his sister has done.

I must not be on my Pat Malone in these thoughts. There must have been some investigative journalists who have been trawling through the real reason for Mr Lehrmann being able to afford an opulent lifestyle, and whether money is being funnelled from American sources to sustain him. But then that would implicate too many people to sustain the secrecy, or would it?

The Head Tradie 

Crikey’s Bernard Keane epitomises what has been lost in the modern journalists – an intelligent perspicacious grasp of what a journalist needs to do beyond vomiting up public relations written media releases.

Keane alluded to Dutton’s alleged strategy of trying to credibly claim to be “a party of the worker” while not being in favour of actual workers. In favour of workers, as Keane writes, means supporting an industrial relations system that delivers pay rises, rather than wage stagnation; one that enables workers to share the benefits of productivity growth and shifts some of the profit share of national income back to workers, reversing the trend of most of the past decade.

All of this goes against the traditional conservative constituency of the Liberal Party, the employers whether as described as “big business” or the small business employers, the shop keepers and other modest employers, people who nevertheless are employers of labour. Once, the Liberal Party could rely on the professions as part of its constituency, but not anymore.

Thus Dutton, in the end, cannot carry out his slogan if he were serious without alienating his traditional base. He may do so by using the Trump playbook of stimulating community anxiety and alienation coupled with demonising immigrants. I suspect that may get some purchase in this country, especially with right wing media backing. This is unlikely in the general population, but Albanese has such a “tin ear” that anything could happen by the next election.

The opportunity for Dutton to modify his slogan is glaringly obvious. His constituency is among the “tradies”. These are a growing important constituency of wealthy small business owners, who control much of the nation’s economy by providing vital services. This constituency does not arise from the leafy middle class but from the traditional working class. These mostly men are the electricians, the plumbers, the painters, the carpenters, the earth movers, the gas fitters, the builders. All these tradies I have used – notice how much they cost and yet how essential they are in a society where the provision of housing is approaching crisis point and where there is a scarcity of these skilled tradies.

This is a constituency that can afford large petrol or diesel powered vehicles, enjoy hunting and fishing, can afford to take the family on holidays inter alia to Queensland, and in the main live in a male world, in the traditional heterosexual society which does not write the opinion pieces of tomorrow’s sublimation in the media ether.

Yes, I know this is a generalisation, but analysis of the recent Dunkley election would give my hypothesis credence. Therefore, Dutton need not announce that he leads “a Party of the worker”, when tradies have separated themselves from a Labor party whose policies are now being fashioned by the cognoscenti of the inner suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne. See Sam Mostyn, yon Dutton, and see hope of your resurrection – if that is the word for a man with the mien of an undertaker if not his more aspirational worker, the grave digger.

I would be interested in Bernard Keane’s views. 

Remembrance Day

Just a reminder of what I wrote on the eve of Remembrance Day last year. I think the Australian Government should be ashamed, especially those former Prime Ministers who signed that disgraceful grovelling letter – in flowing serif, of course.

Wong, who affects this air of  concern, and Albanese who is increasingly becoming a hapless jester performing in the “Opening of an Envelope” should think deeply about whether they should resign. But needless to say, they won’t. After all, Wong was the first to achieve a life-time Platinum membership of the Captains Club, a place where concern for the masses is well tranquillised.

Netanyahu seems to be emulating a version of what the Romans did to Carthage, sowing the land with salt; Netanyahu is creating mountains of rubble. How is Netanyahu going to delight his far-right constituency enshrouded in black and hatred as they do their ritual prancing. I for one was not particularly enchanted by the sight of these people spitting at Christians. What a good idea, kill every Palestinian Christian as well.

I do not condone war. I do not condone brutality. I do not condone torture. I am ashamed of former Australian Prime Ministers being seduced by the Zionists to sign a Netanyahu panegyric. At least Gillard should have known better.  Paul Keating to his credit refused.

In many ways the USA has led the modern world, including Australia into a morass where any moral compass has been lost. In any comments, nobody would condone what Hamas did, any more than actions depicted in those confronting images provided by ISIS showing what they did to their prisoners during the Iraq conflict would be condoned.

Much of this criminal behaviour is done in the name of religion. My fellow Australians condone what is happening in Gaza by a group of adherents who constitute 0.4 per cent of our population, who seem collectively to be cheering one of the monstrous perpetrators in this morass, Bibi Netanyahu. We with connivance of the media have allowed a range of stunted sociopaths to glimmer in this morass trickling towards Armageddon.

Mouse Whisper 

As they were driving up the ramp off the freeway, they saw a Bonza 737-MAX coming in to land at Albury airport.

She commented on its purple livery, with BONZA prominently displayed on the sides of the plane.

He said: “Like seeing a night parrot.”

For those who need an explanation, the night parrot was thought to be extinct, but rediscovered, but remains highly endangered. Mouse Esq.

Modest Expectations 263 – A Frank Commentary

An Easter Poem

Albino afro

            He sit in clink

His eyes a salmon pink

 


Pigmented Southern gent

            He sit in cell

With TB racked adrenal




Jaundiced fundamentalist

            He sit in gaol

His shrivelled liver up for sale




The custodian on his plinth

            He who cry perfection

I am up for re-election




And who am I to release unto you

            And they as one cried

He who washes white




Release him, the white

            Because white is safer

Just as the Communion wafer




The three men

            There chained are led out

The restless mass as one do shout    




No that is not what we mean

             His colour out of whack

                        You take him back

and tar him pitch black.

When I was a small boy, I remember my mother had a beautiful amber necklace, the colour of which was not too dissimilar from that of the Roman perfume pot (pictured above) in the British Museum, except that the necklace was more translucent. When she rubbed it with a piece of fur, she demonstrated how the amber attracted a small flake of paper. To a small boy who had never heard of an electrostatic charge, it was magical. I was just observing what the Greek philosopher, Thales of Miletus had first observed around 600BC.

Amber has always been a favourite gem of mine. As I reported in an earlier blog, the Amber Room in the Catherine Palace in St Petersburg, 30 kilometres south of the city, is a dazzling exercise in butterscotch amber although it is a reconstruction (the Nazis having removed the original room which was never found).

Amber, the resultant of the fossilisation of pine resin millions of years ago, is found on the Baltic Coast. (It is also mined in the Dominican Republic, the source of blue amber and in Myanmar). Visiting Latvia even today, the amount of amber fashioned into cheap jewellery and trinkets is everywhere. The Latvian amber is opaque and what I would call custard yellow. I don’t find it appealing, but perhaps I was just exposed to touristy dross.

Based on the age of the amber bead, the researchers speculate that it may have reached Spain via the ancient trade networks of the Sepulcros de Fosa culture, which arose in Catalonia during the Middle Neolithic period before disappearing between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago.

To the archaeological experts of that period, it has just expanded knowledge of the range of European trade in the Neolithic period. One can still see evidence of this neolithic Catalonian culture in the funerary objects and the evidence of cave habitation. It should be realised that when our forbears linked the Aboriginal people to the Stone Age, they undervalued the level and sophistication of communication between these people, already culturally different, where language was one point of this differentiation. However, trade was one means that the various groups began to accommodate to this cultural diversity.

There are currently about 7000 languages spoken around the world, but this number is probably down from the peak of human linguistic diversity which occurred around 10,000 years ago, just before the agricultural revolution. Before that time, all human groups had been hunter-gatherers, living in small mobile tribal societies. Farming societies were demographically more prosperous and group sizes were larger than among hunter-gatherers, so the expansion of agriculturalist settlement likely replaced many smaller linguistic groups.

Today, there are few hunter-gatherer societies left and so our linguistic diversity reflects this European agricultural past. The Australian continent was the end of the line, and when an Aboriginal person boasts that his people are the oldest civilisation, he or she is saying that the civilisation is the oldest, unchanged.  There are 250 Aboriginal languages for about one million people, which tends to agree with generalisation above about hunter-gatherers (145 of these languages are still spoken).

The amber traders five millennia ago were part of a civilisation that vanished in what we call progress, but others may not. It serves to illustrate that the Aboriginal people did not conform to the whitefella progress to what is termed “civilisation”.

They developed a complex society based on being hunter-gatherers; so much so, for instance, that there was no drive to invent bows and arrows (one of the few peoples living on a land which was both tropical and temperate, coastal and desert – and where winter was comparatively mild.) White Australia failed to recognise this complexity and stigmatised them as “Stone Age” people.

This plaintive cry that the Aboriginal people did develop a post-agricultural revolution culture seems akin to the cultural cringe, which inflict some of our Australian whitefellas of Anglo-Celtic stock who have longed for the climate and mores of ‘The Old Country”.

You know being able to grow root crops was somewhat an advance on felling a wallaby at fifteen metres with a boomerang, where we whitefellas could not even see the animal. But we whitefella post-agriculturalists could plant root crops; obviously making us so less primitive. Really?

As for the Dark Emu, “Bruce, pull the other tuber – and by the way would you like a bush tomato, you know, the amber-coloured one. No need to have a sabbatical on banks of the Tigris now.”

The Most Over-Governed Parish in The World?

There he was – a man who plays the screen villain so well with a voice as beautifully modulated as that of Peter Lorre or Alan Rickman. I had sometimes wondered “Where was Eric?”

But no, on election night, we were witnessing the revenant, Eric. He was there in all his distinct personae, carefully reinterpreting fact persuasively to his extreme positions. He was this “partial” commentator, being broadcast nationally on “impartial” ABC television.

But then Eric is from “aways”, like we are. All Tasmanian invaders. Eric was more exotic, born in Stuttgart. His German lineage is what may be conservatively described as “right wing”. For example, quoting Wikipedia, Eric’s great uncle, Otto Abetz, was a Nazi SS officer, German ambassador to Vichy France, and a convicted war criminal. Eric’s grandfather was Karl Abetz, a professor of forestry science, who joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and became general consultant to the Reich Forestry Office in 1942.

But back to the main narrative. I advised Bill Snedden to develop a Tasmanian strategy after the 1974 election. I had noted there had been large swings in three of the electorates. Under the Australian Constitution each of the founding States was guaranteed at least five electorates. This led over time to the number of voters in each of the five Tasman electorates being far fewer than those of any electorate on the mainland. While other electorates could be created, modified or deleted, those in Tasmania remained much the same.

At that time in 1974 Tasmania was blessed with 79 local government areas, but Snedden wrote to each, specifying that “we were here to help”. He appointed one senior opposition politician to be in charge of the portfolio, Bob Ellicot. Labor held all five seats then, and it seemed to be a rational policy to entice Tasmanians to vote for the Coalition. Given how close the numbers in the House of Representatives were, call it “cynical” or “bribery”, it worked when the Bass by-election was called the next year with the retirement of Lance Barnard. Subsequently at the 1975 Federal election, all the seats became Liberal.

The fact that a military equivalent of a drover’s dog from aways won the Bass by-election reflected the neglect the Whitlam administration (he had excluded Barnard from discussions on the proposed 25 per cent tariff cut because it affected garment workers in Launceston) for Tasmania. The landslide victory in Bass was several months too late for Snedden’s survival.

But back to the main narrative. As one perspicacious commentator has said: “minority government is one that the majority of voters do not want.” I suspect it was Bob Brown, who consolidated this thread in Tasmanian politics by his fierce independence.

Tasmania has been lampooned as the place where if there was a tree, cut it down, especially native tree; if it was a river, dam it, and if it was a native animal, kill it. I remember when the sawmillers and the Hydroelectric Commission (HEC) ruled the State. Then there was the Mount Lyell mine, which turned Queenstown into a moonscape and the minerals used in the extraction of the copper and silver polluted the King River and Macquarie Harbour to such an extent that it was estimated that would take 200 years to clear up the pollution.

Then there was the annual Avoca wallaby shoot, counterpointed by the guilt realised of having rendered the Tasmanian tiger extinct by 1936. For years the Tasmanian press was full of reports about the sighting of this extraordinary marsupial. But these have gone more or less quiet. All that is left is the unwritten requiem.

But back to the main narrative of the recent election. Here there were two leaders. One, the Labor leader Rebecca White who has never had a real job; the Coalition Premier, Jeremy Rockliff, a farmer on a family property in northern Tasmania. Jeremy had alerted the wider global audience to spending $12m on a chocolate fountain, the enchantment of a Cadbury monument to dairy chocolate in the lead up to the election.

That aspiration was coupled with a proposal to build a huge stadium to be used a few times a year in a prime Hobart location – for an Australian Football League based in Jolimont Melbourne Victoria. This AFL office is in a choice location, so why should not a putative stadium for the Tasmanian Tigers be equally well located?

But then the AFL handed its clubs a total of $393m in funding for the 2023 season, and still made a profit of $27m. What about the foetal Tasmanian Tigers? The AFL could fund the stadium in say, Glenorchy, on cheaper land. The Premier before the election was acting like one of the “joy boys” – the cheerleaders for the Jolimont jock-strappers. There is a pathetic aspiration of wanting to be loved by the players, to rub shoulders with the liniment of champions. Will a billion dollars do?

Well, Jeremy did lose the election with a swing against his Willie Wonka aspirations – only lost 12 per cent. But he retained government.

The method of voting, the Hare-Clark system, used to elect seven members for each of the electorates based on their Federal counterparts leaves the eventual election result taking several weeks to emerge. Eighteen is the magic number for election; it was clear early in the count that no Party would reach that figure.

Labor did miserably, but the Greens picked up five seats. In other words, these two parties which have been in an uneasy alliance before totalled fifteen seats between them. As with most matters in Tasmania there are a couple of maverick independents. But then there is the charismatic populist. Jacqui Lambie is the classic authoritarian personality, who in the end will “piss” her erstwhile followers off by her actions.

Not that she isn’t smart, but one witnessed her having three of her acolytes elected in the Tasmanian election, while at the same time breaking up with her colleague in the Senate. She publicly boasts that her Jacqui Lambie Network has no policies. It exists because “La Duchessa’ is just her – a media apparition with a distinct personality and a voice which epitomises the knockabout Australian larrikin.

Yes, I do love Tasmania. It gives you everything, good and not so good, as long as you stay for enough time.

I Will Not Fly Qantas, Until They Boot Out the Joyce Clones

I remember the worst flight I ever experienced was between Townsville and Cairns in November 1956. I have written about it elsewhere, but in short, I was a passenger on TAA DC4-Skymaster, which ran into an electrical storm. Being unpressurised, the plane could not ascend above it; nor for that matter fly under it. It was dark, but I remember still clearly the beautiful sunset at the Townsville airport before embarkation. There was no hint of what was to come.

TAA DC4-Skymaster

In that year, over 400 people died in commercial flight accidents, the largest loss of life being over the Grand Canyon when two commercial airliners collided with 128 people killed. There was one fatal accident in Australia when a Royal Flying Doctor plane crashed with five on board near Derby. All died.

It was a time when flying was not as safe as it has been up until now, even though the number of flights was far less.

I used to travel over 50,000 airmiles a year, even after I retired before Covid intervened. I was a Qantas Platinum frequent flyer with a substantial cache of frequent flyer points. I never had any doubts about the safety of the airline, although I noticed that the standards in the cabin had begun to slip; damaged seats not fixed, inflight screens that did not work. The meals were increasingly frugal, and the leg room increasingly modelled on that provided for Irish leprechauns. The number of staff to assist seemed to melt away. Delay between anything happening increased.

It was about this time that I needed assistance, and as much as the ground staff tried, often I wondered whether I had been forgotten. My plight symbolised the Joycean fanatical cost cutting affecting customer service. The further one got away from this person, the service often seemed better. For instance, I flew Qantas Air Link frequently, and could not fault the service, even though the planes were increasingly shabby.

My loyalty to Qantas remained.

But not now. The constant news about the airline fills me with foreboding. Overall, the sacrifice of safety to boost the payout to Joyce will come back to haunt the Government. Joyce played the politicians with blarney and the mirror of exclusivity.

In return, I read Qantas has an ageing fleet of planes, not to be replaced because Boeing, the major supplier has also borrowed from the Joyce playbook, sacrificing safety for profits, epitomised by bits of their planes falling off or the controls being ungovernable.

Then get rid of your experienced, highly competent workforce as though there were no tomorrow. Nothing like having a disgruntled workforce or outsourcing critical areas where who knows the level of quality control. Then make sure you have no way of training and hiring a highly trained workforce – no succession planning except the top job.

The policy at present seems directed to induce artificial shortages; abandon air routes that are “not commercial”; increase the price of flying; maintain the monopoly by unfair if not illegal actions.

The resultant is a feeling of uncertainty. Yet there were no commercial airline crashes in 2023. One flight, Yeti Airlines 691, a turboprop ATR 72-500 stalled and crashed while landing at Pokhara in Nepal. All 72 people on board were killed. For some reason, it was not considered a commercial flight. ATR is a Franco-Italian aircraft manufacturer headquartered in Toulouse.

An air crash by a Qantas or Virgin flight where all are killed fortunately may be very unlikely – but is the government doing anything about confronting and minimising the rising risks, the result of compromising safety for assuring shareholder and Master Joyce’s profit?

The consequence of one disaster would be accompanied by public lamentations, pestering the relatives about the dead always portrayed as angels without fault, the repulsive sentence “we are taking the matter very seriously”, and politicians wedged in the exit doorway of the Chairman’s Lounges headed by the Prime Minister pushing son Nathan in his metaphorical pram of privilege. Then there are the endless Royal Commissions enriching lawyers and finally coming up with 500 recommendations, most of which will be ignored.

Plenty to do now I would have thought. Much cheaper and will assure safety before the fact.

Can Prostitution be Treason? Is it just a Reversible Equation?

A 2008 quote from President Donald Trump’s eldest son about his family’s assets.

“In terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. said at a New York real-estate conference that year. “Say, in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo, and anywhere in New York, we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Trump Jr.’s comment has taken on new meaning amid the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

America executed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953 for less. The Financial Times summarised the background in an article three years ago (sic). “There is now no doubt that Julius recruited Communist agents and passed information to the Russians, but recent evidence has proved that the always flimsy case against Ethel was based on nothing more substantial than personal prejudice, anti-Communist paranoia, and outright lies. On trial, essentially, were not her actions, but her political beliefs and reputation.

Ethel was pursued by the odious Ray Cohn, the aide to Senator McCarthy. Cohn later became a mentor to Trump. Cohn seemed to have sexual fantasies about Ethel Rosenberg, who at 35 years with two young boys, was executed on the order of President, Dwight D. Eisenhower for doing nothing more than being loyal to her husband, Julius, whose espionage amounted in the end to less than a row of proverbial beans. Certainly not enough to be put to death.

After all, parenthetically, is this the same America who want to put Julian Assange away for up to 175 years for telling the truth or if they could, judicially murder him; whilst letting that grub, Sam Bankman-Fried get only 25 years for stealing $8 billion from customers?

It seems so. A substantial number of Americans nod benignly towards Trump and his relationship with Putin, but then the Rosenbergs, whatever they were, did not deserve to die. I don’t think the Rosenbergs thumbed their noses at the American community as Trump has done, fomented by that metastatic Australian malignancy.

Mouse Whisper

Talking of the Orange, Trump won a couple of trophies at his own golf club this past fortnight. Rick Reilly, a golf journalist, in 2019 wrote a book about Trump’s golfing prowess entitled “Commander in Cheat”. 

“Trump doesn’t just cheat at golf,” Reilly wrote. “He throws it, boots it, and moves it. He lies about his lies. He fudges and foozles and fluffs. At Winged Foot, where Trump is a member, the caddies got so used to seeing him kick his ball back onto the fairway they came up with a nickname for him: ‘Pele’.”

Surprise, surprise. He is a no-show at projected pro-am tournament, where his booting skills would be very difficult to justify-unless he was classified as four-legged and had the stick in his mouth and named Niblick. Yuk!

 

Modest Expectations – Herbert Strudwick

Benito Mussolini

Hitler didn’t need Instagram. Mussolini didn’t need to tweet. Murderous autocrats did not need to Snapchat their way to infamy. But just imagine if they’d had those supercharged tools. Well, Trump did, and he won the 2016 election, thanks in large part to social media. It wasn’t the only reason, but it’s easy to see a direct line from FDR mastering radio to JFK mastering TV to Trump mastering social media. And Trump didn’t do it alone. Purveyors of propaganda, both foreign and domestic, saw an opportunity to spread lies and misinformation. Today, malevolent actors continue to game the platforms, and there’s still no real solution in sight because these powerful platforms are doing exactly what they were designed to do. 

Writing the above, Kara Swisher says it elegantly and succinctly. Her sentence attracts attention, but when one analyses what she said, is that only because of the cuteness of her reference to the various forms of modern communication juxtaposed against Hitler and Mussolini. But what is her point? One may as well say that Julius Caesar would have been more effective if his army had Kalashnikovs.

Leni Riefenstahl

Hitler had a very skilled publicist in Leni Riefenstahl. Testimony is her film Olympia – a tribute to the Berlin Olympic games. Pictures of Aryan youth running in dappled woods, swimming in sparkling pools or dancing in diaphanous dresses were images of racial purity. Lurking in other forests were concentration camps being built at the same time to remove those that did not conform to that “purity”– not featured. Pagan imagery was never far away in the magnification of Hitler and his grasp of the world. Why ever mention Instagram?

Mussolini it should be remembered came across positively between the two World Wars, at least until his invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935.

In the United States, as noted elsewhere, he was perceived as a charming, masculine and romanticised anti-Bolshevik leader, just as Rudolf Valentino, his contemporary, rose to fame as an exemplar of the Mussolini image. That image of Valentino was refined by his ghost writer and publicist Herbert Howe. He combined ideas of traditional marriage and limits on women’s rights with antidemocratic theories that embraced forceful leadership, woman subservient. Both Valentino and Mussolini gained seductive authority thanks to such antidemocratic and misogynistic language. I’m not sure how relevant lack of the access to twitter enhances your argument, Ms Swisher.

Both Hitler and Mussolini were successful until they over-reached as Hitler did, or as Mussolini did by backing the wrong horse and moreover encumbered by a poor armed force; unlike Franco, who sat on the metaphorical railing throughout WWII. What would Franco have done if he had “snapchat” available? Another totally irrelevant musing.

Nevertheless, the comments about Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy make more sense, in that these men, particularly the former, figuratively came into the living room with his fireside chats. As I personally know so well, he had to compensate for his lack of freedom of movement. After all, he was paralysed from the waist down due to the effects of contracting polio. The fireside chats with the implied intimacy were well suited to his modulated East Coast Brahmin voice.

Sure, Kennedy was adept with television, and his televised debates with Nixon attest to that. But Nixon was such a damaged, warped individual, whose five o’clock shadow just served to emphasise the dark side of his personality that he was easy meat for the personable Kennedy. Kennedy was essentially declamatory, where his rhetoric was attuned to a positive future; Obama was obviously a student of Kennedy. Both men had an exquisite sense of timing; both exuded youthful optimism and accommodated to the whims of the contemporary media, but to what lasting effect?

Now Trump. Is it his mastery of social media? I would argue that it is not mastery but just use of an amplified megaphone. No different from Hitler spewing forth at Nuremburg, but just with a greater reach.  Much of the world recognises Trump for what he is, a potential despot given to wild accusations and outright lies, with a fanatical group who distort the Bible to justify all the vile actions they commit. The key is that Trump has a committed audience, which Clinton described as “deplorables”. It was the wrong word, however appropriate a moniker it may have been, Hilary.

The problem with the Old Testament is that much of it can be interpreted as depicting God as a vengeful entity, much as Trump is. Much of creationism with its literal interpretation of the Bible reinforces a rigidity of thought easily transposed into intolerance. The poetry of the Bible is thus lost. As a young grieving teenager, I was exposed to one of these groups (the Brethren) – smiles without humour, initially for the disturbed youth a faux-understanding, quickly transposed to the wrath and psychological torture ending in isolation without any mental health tools to cope. I was never dependent, an essential part of this evangelical tyranny, so I could escape without a trail of mental brimstone.

The idea of the “Chosen People” suggesting an elite validated by their God again fits within the Trump narrative, as it emboldens his acolytes.  The platforms Ms Swisher mentions are largely dependent on the perpetuation of “Trump Truth”.

No, Ms Swisher, despite your persuasive writing, I believe it is not simply mastery of the social media. It is what the jargon call product differentiation. Two old men. One projects a golden image, however ridiculous to the educated, but one which can be related to the Exodus description of the Ark of the Covenant namely: “make an atonement cover of pure gold – two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a cubit and a half wide. And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover” – welcome to Trump’s bathroom.

The other person is just an old white metal man, who has no such glowing image but one steadily meandering up the Parkinsonism escalator. Not the right image.

Still, the emergence of a sparkling Kamala Harris from her Vice-Presidential platinum chrysalis has been noted by at least one political geo-entomologist.

Transactional Change 

This week I received a communication from Diners Club effectively terminating my credit card from April as they are no longer offering a business card. I have been a Diners Club card holder since 1971, at a time when it was the prime credit card. However, over the years, with the entry of other credit card schemes, often linked to banks, Diners Club acceptance levels have fallen. Diners Club’s rewards scheme was generous for the card holders but demanded a bigger percentage from the vendor than other credit cards.

Ad in “Time” 8 June 1998

I grew up in a world where cash and cheque were the only ways for day-to-day transactions. Then there was the village sense of familiarity and trust being able to buy your purchase “on tick” – one way of describing an informal account. One transaction, I remember very well, was after we stayed in a hotel, my mother always put a two shilling piece under the pillow for the maid who was going to clean the room. It was her way of saying “thank you”.

My parents did not use traveller’s cheques. For whatever reason I never asked, because even though they had been available since 1936, my parents never used them. In the meantime, I grew up with a piggy bank and then a savings bank account with a passbook, which I kept long after they fell out of general use. In fact, it was only after a colleague of mine showed a mixture of incredulity and disdain that I abandoned my passbook.

One grew up at a time when cash transactions were determined by the opening and closing times of the banks, and when obtaining cash after hours was often very difficult. Australia well defined death after life by Sunday; and the extreme being Anzac Day and Good Friday, when the country was draped in sackcloth. Convenience was a word applied to the public toilet.

The first ATM

Even though the first automatic telling machine was introduced in Sydney in 1969, the first user friendly computerised ATM was not introduced until 1977 in Brisbane. Even then it took a long time before I obtained an ATM card. I was the ultimate conservative in financial transactions, and the modern ways such as PayPal, I have never used. I have never progressed beyond the cheque book.

That is the price of dependency of now being anzio – and presumably of progress.

Taking Coles to Canberra to Find out what is Wool Worth?

The supermarkets do not so much give money to the political parties as they make money for them, a role that embeds them all the deeper in the political establishment. Malcolm Knox 2015

Watching the two Chief Executives being interviewed by ABC reporter Angus Grigg for the Four Corners program, which was out to pillory the supermarket monopoly (and for that matter monopsony) of Coles and Woolworths was fascinating.

The neoliberal response which has contaminated public policy since the 70’s is sewn into the belief system of so many conservative economists and has never been unpicked despite its underlying cause of the GFC disaster in 2007. Before neoliberalism, it was tariffs – one was either for free trade or for protection.

But the unstated way these hidden cartels have enabled them to distort the socio-economic fabric of this country, is exemplified by the way these two companies have manipulated the food market. At the same time it just shows how weak our governments have been over the past decade or so in assuring equity.

Brad Banducci

Most of the contumely has rested on Bradford Banducci, who resigned as Woolworths CEO after his performance on Four Corners. A great amount of attention has been drawn to the fact that the interviewer so much got under his skin that he made some unwise, if not completely incorrect, comments about a former Chair of the ACCC, Rod Sims.

Nevertheless, he committed the unforgivable sin of getting up and making to leave the interview. There is a flurry of activity as off screen the Woolworths PR flack could be heard trying to smooth things over, and Banducci returned. That was even more unforgiveable, because he came back when he had clearly lost the power of the situation to the interviewer. He should have stuck to his decision and gone.

Why? That was his normal persona – a man so used to controlling the situation that when he normally gets up to leave, he takes the power of the situation with him. In this case, if he had continued to walk, it would have taken a good interviewer to retain that dominance which he had in inducing Banducci to flee or leave, whichever way you want to interpret it. Banducci coming back certainly made the editing easier.

It showed that Banducci, South African born of Tuscan heritage, who graduated in law and commerce from South Africa’s 4th ranked University, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, is not used to his power being challenged.

Who is Banducci? Yes, he graduated MBA from the UNSW Graduate School of Management, his ticket to life in Australian business. Nevertheless, South Africa was obviiously very important in developing his social norms.

Yet Banducci when only eight, would accompany his mother to her fashion store in the gold-mining town of Boksburg called “The Web.” He would help with packaging and visit wholesalers. After a few years, he joined his father’s sewing machine business. The apprentice-cum-gun salesman in the making.  While he had spent most of his career climbing the Woolworths ladder where compassion and humanity are not rated highly on the list, he has recently put Woolworths money into causes defending human rights, much to the disgust of the political right. So, they also pounced on Banducci this past week.

Yet reading the “pilgrim progress” of Banducci, there is his underlying business brutality, not suffering (or mistaking) fools, culminating in losing his temper on national television. Just a normal business executive, with a faint thread of compassion. To the neoliberal right, an unforgiveable sign of humanity – but he has now more time for recreational instead of business risk-taking, kayaking, open water swimming, and whitewater rafting.

Leah Weckert, Coles CEO

I found the interview with Leah Weikert, the CEO of Coles more interesting. She is very well qualified, and since recruited to Coles has shown her management skills, extending to the demerging from Wesfarmers.

She is a completely closed personality and being almost monosyllabic proved almost impossible as such to interview. She smiles without mirth; she talks without saying much. She has learnt to become a media automaton. Essentially, she has that personality of media success – she is totally boring.  She has the defence of Coles behaviour off pat. She is somebody who should not be crossed.

Weikert went to Marryatville High, (founded in 1976 during the Dunstan era, from the amalgamation of the Norwood Boys’ Technical High School and the Kensington & Norwood Girls’ High School), where in year 12 she demonstrated the Honey on Toast principle. Using her knowledge of calculus she predicted this rapid change, from the point where the honey is hardly moving to when it suddenly drops from the spoon onto the toast.

She grew up in an environment of wholesale primary produce. The Weikert heritage is Silesian, but unlike the Lutheran diaspora refugees from 19th century Prussia to South Australia, the Weikarts were Roman Catholic.

She is not unexpectedly a very private person, admitting to two children and a husband, who is not named. Not surprising given her closed personality. She should be aware that you can block for so long, but she should beware of the skilled interviewer who has unblocked persons of her ilk, irrespective of whether being able to predict the time it takes to get your honey onto toast.

Given she is only 44, she has the opportunity to lift her eyes from the balance sheet and refine the business school definition of “humanity” – or is that word still anathema in the world of the MBA graduate.

Thank you, Four Corners, for such an interesting case study about those who traditionally screw us customers, especially when the government scuttles away, headed by such a timid prime minister.

My aim in this piece was to concentrate on what common traits were revealed by these CEOs, whose approach has led to the current situation in regard to obtaining in alia a cheap banana. The aim was not to weep over the demise of being able to discuss the quality of the banana. That has long gone, but helpful comments upon the persons who control the banana may help in ensuring the banana is ripe.

Meanwhile back in Blighty

The UK Post Office scandal has been the subject of a documentary fronted by Toby Walsh playing the Welsh sub-postmaster, Alan Bates, titled Mr Bates vs The Post Office. A four-part series, it has attracted the largest BBC audience ever of over 10m. This is the story of Bates’ crusade to represent 700 sub-postmasters who as it turned out had been wrongly accused of stealing money, with many imprisoned.

In reality, it was a glitch in the Horizon software program, which the firm Fujitsu had been contracted to introduce, which they did in 1999. It was a flawed program whereby the governments and public service fought to not only preserve but also perpetuate the litany of wrong decisions. The flawed program indicated that there was a massive malfeasance among the sub-postmasters as revealed by the post office receipts.

It has taken a long time to redress, but it is estimated that the UK government will pay more than £50m extra after the first payment was largely gobbled up by the lawyers.

Below is the sorry story, which prompted me to add an inglenook to my blog outlining how the response to the many episodes of questionable behaviour by Australians in authority has yet to progress to suitable retribution.

The Post Office is owned by the government. However, the Post Office Ltd board is responsible for day-to-day operations. 

Former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells resigned in 2019 over the scandal. In January 2024, she said she would hand back her CBE after a petition calling for its removal gathered more than a million signatures.

In August 2023, the current chief executive Nick Read agreed to pay back his bonus he received in relation to his involvement with Horizon. Part of that bonus included payment for his participation in the Horizon inquiry – an amount of £54,400. In May he agreed to pay some of that back – £13,600. But he has now agreed to return the remaining £40,800. He apologised for “the procedural and governance mistakes made”.

Fujitsu Europe director Paul Patterson says it has “clearly let society down, and the sub-postmasters down” for its role in the Post Office scandal.

Paul Patterson admitted there were “bugs, errors and defects” with the Horizon software “right from the very start”. He had previously told MPs that Fujitsu had a “moral obligation” to help fund compensation payments.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey is among several politicians facing questions over the scandal.

Davey was postal affairs minister during the coalition government. In May 2010 he refused to meet Alan Bates, the sub-postmaster who led the campaign to expose the scandal, saying he did not believe it “would serve any purpose”. He now says he was “deeply misled by Post Office executives”.

David Cameron’s government knew the Post Office had ditched a secret investigation that might have helped wrongly accused postmasters prove their innocence.

Even recently Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch has denied claims from the former Post Office Chair, Henry Staunton, that he was told to delay compensation payments to allow the government to “limp into the election”.

The 2016 investigation trawled 17 years of records to find out how often, and why, cash accounts on the Horizon IT system had been tampered with remotely. Ministers were told an investigation was happening.

But after postmasters began legal action, it was suddenly stopped.

The secret investigation adds to evidence that the Post Office knew Horizon’s creator, Fujitsu, could remotely fiddle with sub-postmaster’s cash accounts – even as it argued in court, two years later, that it was impossible.

The revelations have prompted an accusation that the Post Office may have broken the law – and the government did nothing to prevent it. Paul Marshall, a barrister who represented some sub-postmasters, said: “On the face of it, it discloses a conspiracy by the Post Office to pervert the course of justice.”

Paula Vennells

The Post Office boss during this period, Paula Vennells has justifiably been subject to continuing retribution. She has yet to finish up in gaol, but all the baubles which she had accumulated are gone, except she does remain an ordained Anglican priest.

But where is the retribution for our own version – the Robo Debt scandal? The commission reported nearly a year ago with its recommendations. Maybe Australia needs an ABC documentary rather just the passing gust of a 4 Corners piece.

Oh, by the way, the Horizon program is still being used by the UK Post Offices, allegedly suitably modified to eliminate the glitch. We shall see!

Mouse Whisper

As I have run around many a stately library with venerable books piled in bookcases reaching the ceiling, I have wondered how often each of these venerable books has been opened, let alone read.

My boss tells the story of a young librarian who happened to retrieve such a long unread book in the library at Queens College in Oxford University. It apparently had not been accessed for a long time, as when he removed the book, a piece of ancient Egyptian papyrus fell out. He presumed that the last person to borrow the book was using it as a bookmark, whenever that was – two centuries ago?

Modest Expectations – Place of Caves

Two of Trump’s committees, Save America leadership PAC and the Make America Great Again PAC, spent $55.6 million on legal bills in 2023, including $29.9 million in the second half of the year, according to the new reports released Wednesday. Washington Post.

Robert Hur

The calculated insult that Biden is a well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory, apparently appears in the report commissioned to assess the extent and reasons for Biden retaining classified files after leaving the White House. Robert Hur was the author of the comments. Attorney General Merrick Garland had appointed Hur, a former Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for Maryland, as Special Counsel in January 2023 after Biden’s aides discovered classified files when they searched his home and office. The problem was that Biden reacted to the Report’s comments like an affronted old man, and his anger caused him to do himself no good; and then to confound his protest about his mental ability, he referred to the Egyptian President as the Mexican. Not a good look!

So as someone has said, the American people are potentially faced with the choice of two old men, neither of which they particularly want.

I would suggest that the first debate be constructed to test the cognitive ability of these old men. After all, it is the talking point. It should be scientifically put together by independent experts. Even floating this possibility and suggesting your use of two younger aspirants as “controls”, would result in the Trump bluster. This would be predictable in terms of his trying to distract and yet in the end it would focus on the dilemma he has, and which he may not comprehend, which is the progressive impact of his failing mental state. And couple that with how he is spending so much of  the money raised  to save his carotene-stained skin by his employment of lawyers. What a look!

Biden would, I predict, be more nuanced; but in the attempt to justify his cognitive abilities, he has shown a lack of insight and judgement by appearing in front of a braying media pack. He is prone to lose his temper and with that he loses the plot. He will be 86 years old at the end of another putative presidency; and I’m afraid another demonstration of a lack of insight, this time driven by his innate vanity will only magnify his flaws as the mental cracks widen. No solace that Trump already lives in such a mental abyss.

But there is one other matter in relation to Biden which some of my colleagues suspect, judging by his stilted demeanour and gait. They all reckon he has Parkinsonism. Presumably he has been checked out, but if he does not have Parkinsonism then Trump does not have dementia.

But nobody is frank. Neither of these guys will see out a four-year period when the potential for the world to catch alight has never been more so for decades.

What a terrible choice for the USA – and ourselves.

How much will you sell me the Harbour Bridge for?

What a great theme for this Year – the Year of Making My Lying Great. But there are other themes in this year when the Olympic Games in Paris will be epitomised by a crew of emaciated dwarfs running the streets of Paris in an increasingly gross spectacle called the Marathon. Look for rhabdomyolysis in the extreme summer heat, where these vulnerable paradoxically highly trained athletes may well become “plats de jour.”

This year then serves to remind us that Brisbane will be the host of the Olympic Games. It is a year when we should not forget John Coates will be 82. He, the Hidden Hand in the award of the 2032 Games to Brisbane, having successfully engineered a change in the rules in awarding the Games, so a small cabal now decides which city would be awarded. Then he recused himself from the actual awarding. Of course he did, being a person within the inner circle for years and being close to the President. He was the Bite for Bach. All those “Coatsian” machinations; and then alas, nobody else wanted it. All in vain?

Six months ago, the Brisbane Times reported: With Brisbane 2032 already having experienced massive cost blowouts – the Gabba rebuild went from $1 billion to $2.7 billion – questions were naturally asked about Queensland’s commitment to host the Olympics. But Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the state was “100 per cent committed” to hosting the Olympics.

The Gabba

Palaszchuk has now gone, but is Coates’ manipulative input diminished? Redevelopment of the “Gabba” has been pronounced dead. Coates, trying to remain in the loop, has agreed. Six months ago, no such judgement; but the new Premier, Stephen Miles, has put the kibosh on the expenditure, and especially rebuilding the Gabba.

My initial pessimism about Brisbane being awarded the Games is rapidly being confirmed. As a teenager I well remember the Melbourne Olympic games with all the bickering and the threats from the then appalling long-term IOC president, Avery Brundage, the American Hitler admirer. In the end, it went ahead, but had some other associated problems. In the latter part of 1956, the northern hemisphere was aflame with the Suez crisis and the Hungarian rebellion. In the end, Melbourne hosted one of the smallest Olympic Games in modern times.

In addition, because of the tough Australian quarantine laws at the time, the equestrian events were held in Stockholm. But let us say, the management of the whole Games, from its award in 1948 almost to the opening by Prince Phillip, was questionable. It had elements of farce mixed with administrative bungling. The Games were held with some stumbles; but there are fond memories and Australia did well. I believe having the Melbourne Cricket Ground and other readymade venues helped a great deal.

There are two important factors between success and failure that I have observed. The first is the profitability. The total cost of staging the Sydney Olympic Games was $6.5 bn. The Federal Government contributed $194 million, and the private sector $1.3 bn, while the NSW State Government contributed $2.3 bn. The profit is always more than a touch fanciful.

In the past three decades, two Olympic Games stand out for their overall net positive results.

Los Angeles was the only city to express interest for the 1984 Olympics. After Munich’s terrorism, Montreal’s cost overruns (it took Montreal 30 years to pay its Olympic Games debt) and the Moscow Games, most countries shied away. It was also the time that Samaranch, a Catalan by birth yet a Spanish Falangist by political affiliation, became IOC President following the hapless Irish peer, Lord Killanin. Samaranch was a very smart operator.

The US city exploited its unique negotiating position: it would host only if it could use existing facilities from 1932’s previous LA Games and house athletes in university dormitories. The city ended the Games with a US$250 million surplus.

Despite exceeding its budget by more than 400 per cent in 1992, Barcelona reaped long-term benefits from the Games. The city wanted to re-invent itself and improve its harbour facilities. Having been to Barcelona when the Olympic stadium was being built in the late 1980s, I remember having a meal on one of the old wharf restaurants, and so the changes wrought obviously due largely to Samaranch’s shrewdness, have been remarkable.

I remember that there was no work being undertaken on La Sagrada Familia, it being fenced off at that time. That neglect changed as Barcelona changed.  The tempo of construction accelerated markedly, and it was partially opened to the public in 2010. The final huge steeple is now under construction, and the finishing date is estimated to be 2026.

It was also a time when the Barcelona football team (“Barca”) started on its winning ways, attracting a huge degree of worldwide support. I have visited Barcelona several times since.  On one of these occasions, the city was out in force when the Barca football team crowded on the top of an open-aired double decker bus being driven through streets after winning the European Cup. Messi was very recognisable at the front of the team holding onto the bus rail.

But these Games were a long time ago, and the Brisbane Games appear to be a hollow tribute to one man’s ego. This current situation reminds me of the Melbourne troubles. The bickering has started, and there are so many sports now crowded into the games, each demanding their own venue, and cost is beginning to become a major issue. The other major issue is the management.

The strength of management is critical. Sandy Holloway is widely credited with successful management of the Sydney Games and, having experienced the Games first-hand, given the crowds and the logistic problem of clearing venues of people, he did a good job – if that was the major criterion of success. He keeps bouncing around with his views on display. He welcomed the appointment of Cindy Hook as the Brisbane Olympic Games CEO. She headed Deloitte in Australia previously, but Holloway was critical of her accompanying “megaboard” as he termed it.

The Chair, an expatriate Australian chemical engineer who headed Dow was appointed President of the Games Committee, as reported to be one of the last actions agreed by the Morrison Government. Andrew Liveris has an illustrious, if speckled, career. One of his contributions was floating the use of nuclear power. Last year, he was reported in the AFR as saying the Games were forecast to cost taxpayers $7.1 billion over the next decade.

Liveris said that the share of the broadcast rights, sponsorship opportunities, attendance (in person and virtual) and the better utilisation of existing venues provides a different model and that 84 per cent of our venues are already in place.

Moreover, the major new projects – $2.7 billion to redevelop the Gabba as the main Olympic stadium and the building of the Brisbane Arena at a cost of $2.5 billion – will create an “urban spine for Brisbane which will bring it into the 21st century in terms of entertainment, restaurants, museums and art galleries to make the city vibrant with the two big sports arenas… If we do see cost escalations, here’s what we will do, we’ll find more revenue”.

That was last year, said at the time Melbourne withdrew its sponsorship of the Commonwealth Games which created a “one-day” furore and now has been forgotten except by those who know it was just an expensive cynical exercise to shore up Labor-held seats outside Melbourne.

The Liveris solution – improve the revenue stream in the face of the inevitable cost blow-out – is not the way the Queensland authorities operate. Cut costs is more the flavour.

More ominously, recent reports suggest Coates is throwing his weight around. Probably fears a case of sudden infant games death syndrome. But the last thing the organisation needs is an interfering old man trying to call the shots without any formal responsibility.

But let us see. It is only a matter of time before all will be revealed. Cities will jack up against the increasing burdens imposed by the IOC, who skim their take, without doing anything but pick the “sucker” city. Gone is the canniness of Samaranch – all that is left is residual rapacity.

The thought of having to assume management and financial responsibility must send shudders through the plush halls of Lausanne. But then to paraphrase those famous words uttered by Humphrey Bogart: “We’ll always have Saudi Arabia.”

But wait, don’t forget Qatar. Who would  have thought it … favourite for the 2036 Games already.

Bird of Paradise

Whatever industry the Chinese have attacked they have captured; whatever they have attempted they have mastered; whenever there has been an encounter between them and our own people they have come off victorious. And these are said to be the very offscouring of the Chinese ports. – San Francisco Chronicle 1875

I have only been to Papua New Guinea once, in 1973, when Papua was in the throes of transitioning from an Australian protectorate / colony to eventual independence in 1975. I remember dinner with a number of up-and-coming politicians and bureaucrats in Port Moresby. It was a boozy affair. John Knight, later Senator for the ACT, was with me that night and provided a degree of DFAT dignity to the proceedings. But it was not a time when there was much vision of the future emerging from the bottom of wine and beer glasses. The world would take care of itself. Michael Somare was their hero; and his friendship with Andrew Peacock was a symptom of how attitudes were changing between our two countries. John Knight got on well with Peacock.

I remember flying up to Lae, a distance of 325 km to the north-east of Port Moresby, to see a friend of mine with whom I had worked in the research laboratory. I had not seen her for a few years, and in that time she had married and had a child.

However, the lasting memory of Lae, and probably my strongest recollection as I have lost my notes of that visit, was visiting the war cemetery there, carved from the jungle, with its neat array of white crosses.  So many Australians are interred there. There was nobody else in the cemetery, but I skirted the graves making sure I did not walk on any of them. I stayed there for a long time until I realised that I had to catch the plane back to Port Moresby. When I got there to check in, even though I had been allocated a seat, there was no seat. I had my first lesson in Melanesian bureaucracy but somehow, through both cajoling and “pulling rank”, I got on the flight. The rest of the return home was uneventful. It was the last day TAA flew into Papua New Guinea.

I have known many doctors who have done stints in New Guinea back in the 60’s and much later. They have always been pessimistic about the quality of the care, even in the larger centres. When I organised a meeting of the South Pacific public health physicians as part of the anti-Mururoa nuclear testing project, with the support of the Australian Government, many of these nations sent representatives, but not PNG.

At the end of school in the 50s, PNG offered careers as patrol officers. One of the Cadet Under Officers at school went off to become one, and I never heard of him again. Well, that is not true. Mick was a very good hockey player and it was reported in the 1958 Pacific Island Monthly that he was best and fairest playing for Rabaul, although beaten by Port Moresby in the final. Ah, the days of patrol officers sipping Pimms No. I after the game. But thereafter?

Fuzzy-wuzzy angel

It was just New Guinea then, with the wartime stories of the brave fuzzy-wuzzy angels and the march down the Kokoda trail and the victory over the Japanese at Milne Bay, Australia triumphant. WWII thrust this second biggest island in the world into one of great relevance to Australia.

PNG was shown to be a buffer, in addition to its underlying mineral wealth and its varied cultures. Like so much of the world in the nineteenth century, New Guinea was subject to being sliced up by European powers. New Guinea was notionally Dutch, until the British prised the Eastern part of the Island away in 1824. The British hold on this part of the island was flimsy and the Germans, in consolidating their place in the Pacific, had originally centred on Samoa. However, in 1884 they established German New Guinea, incorporating the Bismarck archipelago, and the next year, the northern Solomon Islands, Bougainville and Buka. The British government annexed the remaining Papua in 1888, and then in formal terms:

The possession was placed under the authority of the Commonwealth Australia in 1902. Following the passage of the Papua Act of 1905, British of New Guinea became the Territory of Papua, and formal Australian administration began in 1906.

This suggests that the British government was only too happy to have their fledging dominion look after “British New Guinea”. With the outbreak of WWI, it did not take the Australians long to defeat the Germans and take over German New Guinea. In December 1920, Australia was granted the mandate of all German possessions South of the equator except Samoa and Nauru by the League of Nations. It was not the happiest time, with continuing conflict with the League of Nations. Billy Hughes, Prime Minister at the time of the Treaty of Versailles, set the scene for our relationship with his truculence and the attempts to apply the White Australia policy to New Guinea. Hughes loathed the League of Nations, but then he did not like much anyway – miserable little man. In all, Australia did not handle the Mandate well; starved it for funding and did very little in providing education and social support in New Guinea, leaving that to the Christian missions.

Geography didn’t help. The Owen Stanley Mountain Range was a significant barrier to travel, and the people lived in tribes, often at war with their neighbours in the next valley. So, granting independence was always going to be problematical.

Michael Somare in East Sepik tribal ceremony

Fortunately, Michael Somare, the classical charismatic leader, was there at the right time. Born in 1936 in Rabaul, he grew up in the East Sepik district, where his father, Ludwig, was a policeman. His early schooling was provided in a Japanese-run school during wartime. He eventually became a teacher, having reached the equivalent of Year 11 education. He formed a close relationship with Andrew Peacock when the latter was Minister for Territories in the Coalition Government. What Peacock did with his relationship with Somare was to break down colonial patronising attitudes. Somare promised so much at the time.  Such a relationship has never been repeated, more’s the pity.

Japan ostensibly had little interest pre-war in New Guinea, Japanese sampans zipping around the Pacific more a pest than a threat. Japanese pearl divers were located throughout the area, where there were significant amounts of mother-of-pearl. However, as a demonstration of the White Australia policy, Australia removed all Japanese from New Guinea.

Japan in 1914 had occupied the Caroline Islands, the southernmost islands of Micronesia, and built a naval base on the island of Truk. Japan achieved a sort of revenge by occupying the old New Guinea Mandate area during WWII, so much so that in the Allied battle to regain its lost Pacific, the Americans bypassed Rabaul because it had been so fortified by the Japanese. They a feared that a hostile base there could be a springboard for bombing Truk by the then new Flying Fortresses. Papua was never occupied by the Japanese, although they inflicted significant damage on Port Moresby.

This demonstrated so clearly the importance of the island as this buffer to the North, without bothering to demonise “the yellow peril” as pre-war Australia labelled the Chinese and Japanese. The problem which, even now, Australia must deal with is the level of corruption in PNG, as instanced by the administration of offshore detention centres – the spectacle of private consulting firms ripping off the Australian Government, with obvious internal corruption here and among people in the PNG administration. And for what?

Australia has provided direct assistance when asked — handing over more than a billion dollars in low-interest loans to support PNG’s budget since 2019. Australia tolerated the PNG Government when it pegged the kina to the Australian dollar so the “elite” could afford to buy property in Australia and educate their children in private schools; and then expected us to bail them out.

The Dutch annexed the island as a single entity. Then from 1824 the disaster started, as the Europeans “sliced and diced” the Island. In 1962, as the Indonesians inherited the Dutch East Indies territory, as eventually the Dutch, who were awful colonists anyway just gave in and the Javanese dominated Indonesians swarmed into a Melanesian culture with their normal cultural sensitivity. Thus, West Irian is a festering sore, which the World conveniently ignores. PNG does not have the power to affect what is happening in West Irian to their Melanesian cousins.

The Chinese have offered to bring in a so-called team to train police and the military. The level of lawlessness is out of control if one can believe the media reports, and the spectacle of buildings burning in Port Moresby. I remember the “rascals” – Chimbu tribesmen who had descended on Port Moresby, and found it was far from El Dorado formed criminal gangs. If the PNG accepts the Chinese “law and order offer” it will be a Faustian bargain.

As for the future of PNG, there is talk about a Free Trade Agreement as there also is with China. PNG depends heavily on agriculture for export income. If nothing else the biosecurity measures imposed by Australia makes this difficult; and the major export to Australia is minerals, most of which have significant Australian ownership of the mines.

China is now a factor in funding PNG; the Americans are issuing warnings to us about this, but what have they done for the Island? And what of our legacy, a bodgie exercise to maintain asylum seekers from entering Australia because they had the temerity to come to Australia by boat.

That is the story of the last 50 years. Just provide annual funding – has that been a good investment? Especially now that the Chinese have appeared on the scene (just wait for them wanting to build a harbour). Our investment has gone sour; and what with Bougainville to be sorted through, not to mention the other countries of the South Pacific, Australia may pay a price which we were not expecting. Australia had funded PNG as a security buffer.  The buffer is in danger of disintegrating, as the Solomon Islands government have shown recently despite our involvement through RAMS (Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands) of restoring the country after a period of civilian anarchy in the early 2000s.

Just because the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea travels to Canberra and gives a talk to Parliament, did anything material occur? Was there any free trade agreement finalised? The answer of course is no.

There may be smiles all round, soaring rhetoric, promises litter the Statement by Albanese and Marape released on February 8. But the failed State to our North just rumbles on, and now with China well and truly in the mix.

Prime Minister James Marape

The visit of Prime Minister Marape has made me think.  Here, we have a country, which I remember coming towards independence nearly 50 years ago. A brief association: I never returned. I’ve been to many Islands in the Pacific, but never have been back to PNG. Why? I think I did not want to be disappointed.

Yet how different the actuality of the present from the optimism of 1973. Nevertheless, as part of the 50th celebration next year, a memorial to our patrol officers will be built. My schoolmate of so long ago, Mick, would be pleased.

Mouse whisper

Talking of additional sports being added to the Olympic Games. Gliding was a demonstration sport at the Berlin Games. It was so popular, that it was included among the scheduled 1940 Games events for Tokyo. The Games were cancelled, and therefore gliding was the Olympic sport which never was.

Modest Expectations – Forgery

Iowa most likely ends the GOP race before it has had a chance to begin. The party will be weaker for it. Instead of subjecting the front-runner to a meaningful test, this odd exercise amounted to a layup. Trump overperforms in rural areas and among White voters. That’s Iowa to a T.

In the state’s empty reaches, he rolled up majorities worthy of a tin-pot dictator. Take a precinct of Kossuth County, north of Algona, near the Minnesota border. All of 38 voters gathered to caucus, and 33 of them went for Trump. Or the precinct of Appanoose County, down in the southeast corner of the state, that mustered all of 69 voters, with 55 of them choosing Trump. 

Huge margins among sparse populations gave Trump an appearance of invulnerability. But the closer the race drew to a population center — someplace big enough to have a Costco or a Chick-fil-A — the weaker he appeared. Haley, the preferred candidate of never-Trump Republicans and independent voters, actually beat the former president in multiple precincts of Des Moines, Iowa City, Ames, Cedar Rapids, Davenport. 

Above is the Hawkeye snowy Capitol in Des Moines. The whole of the USA has been gripped in blizzard conditions with a wind chill plunging the temperature to minus 40º Fahrenheit. It probably affected the turnout for the Republican caucus, which was very low comparatively.

Then there is an excerpt from a perspicacious opinion piece in the wake of the Republican caucus, won by Trump. While many outlets described a landslide victory, The Washington Post was more circumspect, considering the low turnout of voters. Iowa is 90 per cent white and therefore hardly representative of cross-sectional America.

Yet it is the first on the electoral slate. Now that the circus has rolled through, it can be forgotten for the next four years. It only has six electoral college votes. It is not a very populous State, with the capital at Des Moines, which reflects its fur trader history as both the Missouri and Mississippi flow through the State.

In colonial times, the river was the conduit between French Canada and Louisiana. As one writer has succinctly put it: Beginning in 1682, France laid claim to the area of central North America which included the vast Mississippi River drainage basin. French colonists moved to the region near the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio rivers in the latter half of the seventeenth century. French fur traders, trappers, farmers, and Jesuit missionaries came from France, French Canada, and New Orleans to Upper Louisiana (la Haute-Louisiane).

The French had entered the land of the Iowa Tribe in the late seventeenth century; and were followed by a polyglot mixture of French and Spanish.  Iowa was part of Upper Louisiana. It was included in the Louisiana purchase when Jefferson purchased the French Territory for 60m francs in 1803 – the Louisiana Purchase. Des Moines itself means “of the monks” and it is suggested this refers to a colony of Trappist monks that settled in the area in the early eighteenth century.

Iowa is one of the major centres, together with Illinois and Minnesota, where soya beans are grown. As one anonymous commentator has said about these farmers, they are all individualist freedom advocates until it comes to ethanol subsidies for their soya beans and then they all become communists.

I went to Iowa in 2009 hoping to catch up with a guy whom I had met at university in the early sixties when he was on an exchange scholarship – it may have been a Fulbright. He was Malcolm “Mac” Rohrborough, and for a brief time we were friendly, even though he was nine years older than myself. He was an expert in early American history, and subsequently published prolifically about the American West, particularly the Gold Rush. I don’t know how we met, perhaps it was during my period as President of the Student Representative Council, and I do remember him in being at my 21st birthday party.

After he returned to the USA, he took up a post at the Iowa State University in Iowa City, a university town in the eastern part of the State. I said to my wife that we should go to Iowa and try to make contact with Mac after almost fifty years. A vain wish.  He had retired the previous year as “professor emeritus” and replied he had gone east to retire. No invitation to visit, so we took the hint.

Nevertheless, we stayed at the university hotel, more like a university college, a light airy place, comfortable and cheap – some compensation for missing Mac. Iowa City is not a Trump stronghold. It voted 71 per cent for Biden in 2020 election. By contrast, Iowa voted 53 per cent for Trump and 43 per cent for Biden. Iowa’s current congressional delegation consists of its two senators and four representatives, all Republicans.

In a strange footnote to his Iowan activities, former President Donald Trump thanked ex-hitman Salvatore Gravano for speaking highly of him, which has raised eyebrows on social media. Gravano, also known as “Sammy the Bull,” was an underboss for the Gambino crime family in New York City and worked with the United States government as an informant to take down mob boss John Gotti in the early 1990s. Gravano, who confessed to his involvement in 19 murders, was released from prison in 2017 after being sentenced to 20 years for running an ecstasy ring in Arizona.

I’m not sure how that will play out on the Hawkeyes, especially those who do not quite agree with the Proposition that Donald Is God. But he would not care. He can forget about them now.

Australia is a Foreign Land

Tasmania is the largest Australian island that I have visited. It made me think, as I was reading “The Tiwi of North Australia,” a book by Charles Hart and Raymond Pilling published in 1960 but containing observations about Tiwi Islander culture, that Hart experienced living with the Tiwi between 1928 and 1930 and Pilling in 1953 and 1954.

Macassan trepanger

Although I have visited the Abrolhos, Rottnest, Kangaroo, French, Philip, King, Bruny, Cockatoo, Bribie, Brampton, Magnetic, Dunk, Green, Lizard, Thursday and Mornington Islands, I have never visited Melville or Bathurst Islands, which the Tiwi people have inhabited for aeons. To put it in perspective, these islands are eighty kilometres north of Darwin in the Arafura Sea. Melville is the second largest and Bathurst fifth largest after the largest Australian island, Tasmania. They were the first port of call for potential invaders, and well before Cook they had contact with Europeans, as well as the Macassan trepangers.

This experience has given the Tiwi people their distinctive culture with plenty of space in which to roam and develop their cultural identity, which in past twenty years they have successfully commercialised. Yet there is no suggestion that they cultivated “gardens” in the manner of their northern neighbours.

The Tiwi saw the mainland as a foreign land. They were very ferocious in repelling those who dared to land uninvited. They had spears, but not returning boomerangs. The woomera – the spear carrier – did not exist. Nevertheless, they were expert in the use of their spears.

Their culture, as reflected in their artifacts, was highly distinct from other Aboriginal tribes. The Tiwi people are known for their burial poles and their woven baskets.  We have collected a wide range of Tiwi art which is characteristically decorated in cross-hatched, geometrical designs encasing dots – white, black and various shades of deep yellow into brown.  Ochre and charcoal are the basic materials for the colours, and while I have an ironwood bird, most of the modern sculptured birds characteristic of Tiwi art are now made of lightweight wood. The difference between ironwood and any other wood is very clear when trying to lift any sculpture made of ironwood.

Depiction of Ampitji by Jane Margaret Tipuamantumirri

What has bought the Tiwi people into focus was the dismissal in the Federal Court of the claim by three Tiwi who claimed that the proposed Santos gas line would disturb Ampitji, the guardian sea rainbow serpent; and given this serpent would appear not to take kindly to a competing serpent – the Santos gas python – she would inflict cyclones and disease in revenge, a serpentine apocalypse.

 

The idea that a mythical creature could have halted a major project by a major political donor would seem to go counter to all the neoliberal belief systems that have gripped the country with its own mythology – well who would have thought it!  Watch this space to see if there is an appeal to reconcile these myths of sea serpent and neoliberalism.

But then the Tiwi have always learnt a way of accommodating the intruders. As one research paper put it well: The Dutch had come in search of a land which might have possibilities for trade. They found a land which they thought was barren waste, inhabited by people who had no possessions of value for exchange. On Bathurst and Melville islands the Dutch found a people who had a rich and highly developed civilisation, but a civilisation which was so unlike that of the Europeans that the two people were too dissimilar to have anything to offer one another.

The Tiwi also had contact with the Portuguese settlers on Timor, and unlike the Dutch, the Portuguese found the Tiwi made useful slaves, especially when the Tiwi went searching for iron.

Then, before WWII, there was intimate contact with Japanese pearl divers.  The Australian Government attempted to prevent this co-habiting between Tiwi women and the Japanese.  This had occurred because the quantity of pearl shell inter alia in the Arafura Sea attracted a virtual fleet of Japanese luggers which berthed on the islands.  The Japanese provided food in greater and better quality than the Catholic mission – in exchange for young Tiwi women’s sexual favours. This affected the domestic arrangement which the Catholic missionaries, who had come to the Tiwi country prior to WWI, tried to foster among the people.

This situation ended with the outbreak of war with the Japanese in 1941. The islands were bombed, without apparent casualties but in anticipation of invasion by the Japanese military, the Catholic mission encouraged the Tiwi to go bush, very difficult since the Tiwi were now accustomed to being provided with food and tobacco.  The invasion never occurred.

The Tiwi people have thrived; and have produced a fine array of champion Australian Rules footballers, but even with their exposure to multiple incursions by Europeans, Japanese and Macassan, they have maintained a distinct cultural identity, which their island isolation had helped maintain while adapting to the whitefellas, who are constantly bothering them – nowadays for a price of being tourists.

Nevertheless, as I continue to think about the Tiwi islands, because of their sentinel position north of Darwin, what of the comparison of the Torres Strait inhabitants? The Torres Strait islands constitute an area of 48,000 km2 but their total land area is 566 km2. By contrast, Bathurst and Melville Islands (with a number of small uninhabited islands) cover 8,320 km2. The population is around 3,000.

The Torres Strait Islander population is more difficult to determine as there are data which seem to be different measures, but there seem to be about 5,000 living on the Islands. However, the 2022 Census seems to suggest that the total number of Torres Strait Islanders is around 60,000 – 70,000 in Australia, which means that there is a large population living away from the Strait.

The Torres Strait population is a mixture of Polynesian, Melanesian and Aboriginal.  Tiwi is over 90 per cent Aboriginal. How influential the Japanese have been in part of the heredity of both is a matter of conjecture; but I remember Japtown on Thursday Island and being driven around by a taxi driver, who admitted to mixed Japanese heritage. The effect of Japanese pearl divers has been significant, but how significant.

The point is we recognise the separate existence of the Torres Strait islanders. As for the Tiwi, the mainland was a foreign land. The Tiwi guarded their independence.  How many Tiwi live on the mainland? Enough for their independent recognition?

Theresienstadt

My companion and I decided to travel to Terezin in Czechia, along with Prague. It was to be the culmination of a trip to Eastern Europe. First we had a boat trip down the Danube from Romania, down to the Black Sea and back to Budapest, while stopping at ports in Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary. Unfortunately, my companion became ill and although she survived the boat trip, we decided to cancel the Czechia leg and returned home from Budapest, which was just as well. But that is another story.

Theresienstadt (now Terezin)

I wanted to go to Terezin because it was the site of Theresienstadt, a concentration camp built by the Nazis to resemble a normal town. I wondered how they maintained the illusion – the deception. I wanted to see it at first hand.

This concentration camp was cast in the image of a town, with a “beautification program”, including planting 1,200 rose bushes, cleaning the streets and buildings, constructing a “child care pavilion” complete with sandbox, merry-go-round and wading pool. Food rations were doubled. There were concerts, cabaret and theatrical performances and a soccer match – all carefully staged and rehearsed.  This was all done to hoodwink the Red Cross visitors, who were either Swiss or Danish.

Unlike other concentration camps, Theresienstadt had been a garrison town under the Habsburg Empire with plenty of barracks where you could conveniently house the prisoners – an interim place to send those destined for the gas chambers at Auschwitz, Dachau or Buchenwald. Despite all the show, these barracks were squalid and there was never enough food.

Theresienstadt Barracks

Hans Adler, a Jewish Bohemian author, was sent to Theresienstadt, where he was incarcerated for two years and saw how the camp was structured. It was presented as a self-governing Jewish settlement, with an internal Jewish administration subservient to the SS. The prisoners were guarded by 150 Czech “gendarmes”; there were about 20 SS officers on site and mostly out of sight, yet they controlled Theresienstadt through the Jewish Council of Elders.

These Jewish inmates were granted privileges which the ordinary Jewish prisoners did not have. They lived as family, and they were given orders verbally by the SS. Nothing was written down between the two.

The Council of Elders determined who was to be transported to the gas chambers. Benjamin Murmelstein, a Ukrainian-born rabbi, worked closely with Adolf Eichmann in Vienna as the only surviving rabbi and then as the last chief elder of the Council who collaborated with Eichmann’s Central Office for Jewish Emigration. He has been singled out for universal revulsion by the Holocaust survivors yet after the War lived in Rome never charged with any war crimes.  He lived long enough to see his boss, Adolph Eichmann, executed by the Israeli government. The chain of command descending from Eichmann ended with The Council choosing those to be transported to the gas chambers, according to the categories demanded by their Nazi superiors.

Rabbi Murmelstein was not the only one. There were indeed many members of the Council, a post which provided protection for their families. So, there were many others. In a review of Adler’s book about Theresienstadt between those years 1941 and 1945, the NYRB reviewer, Thomas Nagel, recounts referring to Adler:

The decision to hide the truth strikes me as comprehensible but appalling – though none of us can know what we would have done in the circumstances. Adler, who must have learned about it after the war, seems unable to come to a judgement about the Elders’ decision; he reserves his condemnation for individuals who, knowing the truth, not only tried to spare their friends but used the transports to get rid of people who were giving them trouble. For example, after Vladimir Weiss, a member of the “Detective Department”, sent the Jewish Elder Paul Eppstein a detailed complaint of flagrant corruption in the allocation of food, he and his family disappeared on the next transport. 

Yes, we hear much about the descendants of Holocaust victims but what of those who count this Council’s members as their relatives?

Hans Adler may have survived the War, despite being part of the protected group in Theresienstadt. However, he was eventually sent to Auschwitz near the end of the War. As was his wife, Gertrud, a doctor, deported there.  She refused to leave her mother and went to the gas chamber in late 1944.  Adler did not join her.

In all, Adler lost sixteen members of his family – a survivor to live out his life in a “community of guilt” With how many others?

I am not one to visit former concentration camps, but the whole account intrigued me.  That intrigue about Theresienstadt has not dimmed.

Dutton in January

In the end, the “cost of living” isn’t about the prices on grocery shelves, it’s about the distribution of income. In Australia, income has shifted from wages to profits and from low- and middle-income earners to those in the top 10% of the income scale and, even more, to the handful of “rich listers” whose growing wealth has outstripped that of ordinary Australians many times over. – John Quiggin Guardian Spotlight 19 January 2024.

One of the political axioms, at least when I had a handle on the production of political party policy, was to float ideas in January when political activities were light. I remember for instance that we floated the idea of a deferred interest mortgage to test how acceptable it was to be incorporated into the Liberal Party housing policy.

Other policies were tested at other times; under the influence of John Knight, later a Senator for the ACT, Bill Snedden reversed the China policy of the Liberal Coalition which existed under Prime Minister McMahon. That resulted in Snedden being invited to visit China, which we did in July 1973; so much was positively achieved that whilst we were there a late invitation came for Snedden to meet Chou-en-lai, then having his own difficulties with the Gang of Four who were very much in the saddle then with the blessing of Mao Zedong. Whitlam came to China later that year. So instead of an ongoing pointless ideological conflict, there was agreement on both sides of Australian politics.

Contrast this with the footprints of Dutton. He wheels out the commercial decision not to embroider Australia Day with Jingo Kitsch as a reason to imply that it is a sacred festival. January 26 was a convenient holiday because it signalled the end of summer holidays, when industry had shut down. All January for staff holidays. That it was no more; no less.

Vandalised statue of Captain Cook in St Kilda, January 2024

After all, it is only a celebration of Arthur Philip founding a convict colony which he called New South Wales on that day in 1788. If that is worth celebrating once stripped of its being a convenient marker, then we invite all the mindless controversy that people like Dutton wish to provoke. There are influential people who hanker for an imaginary white picket fence Australia. It never existed, but these people bristle when the monarchy is threatened, alteration of the flag promoted and the sanctity of Australia Day and Anzac Day disputed.

I remember these were issues of the Liberal Party Coalition when they were trudging through the policy desert. Once, when reporters listened to me and asked me what was to be discussed at the upcoming Liberal Party meeting, it was a time when the Parliamentary Party had spent the previous meeting discussing the Flag. I replied it was discussing the party policy on heraldic symbols. This did not make me many friends, but metaphorically that is the territory where Dutton is grubbing around.

John Quiggin has raised a reasonable point, which impinges on policy considerations at a time when the Labor Party until this week continued to commit to make the rich even richer with taxation concessions and when there seems to be idolatry of the petroleum and mining industry while Planet Earth is going down the toilet. It is a time when Dutton has selectively singled out trivia to widen community divisions rather than address community concerns when political collaboration is needed urgently.

Forget his divisive utterances, which only emphasise unnecessary cracks in the polity and which we could do without; and go about devising a policy which adopts the Quiggin analysis as a starting point.

At least, the Labor government have caucused this week, to ratify the Albanese Cabinet decision to make the taxation changes more equitable, rather than giving the wealthy an additional polo pony.  Predictably, the bleat of broken election promises goes up from Dutton and his cronies, fresh from return from being “duchessed” by Gina Rinehart.

Dutton, you should grow up, and address measured analyses such as that projected by John Quiggin as the Government seems to have done; instead of roaming around devising the heraldic symbols on the Dutton shield. A pineapple rampant?

Mouse Whisper

 I owe this one to the Boss. There is this Virgin Airline advertisement with this vivacious flight attendant being wheeled across of the tarmac aboard a gangway with a horde of people in pursuit. Not a plane in sight. What a metaphor!  A virgin airline is one never to be violated by an airplane?

Modest Expectations – Shina Kanazawa

Where’s Albanese? After all, Modi’s there.

Bit of a Cheap Shot?

78, 70, 71, 73, 73-Five old guys not named Moe

No way

This is the Vecchi Five? Five Guys called Anzio.

Albanese at 56 is far too young to join this Group.

The Haley Comet

It is interesting to watch the aspirant Republicans striving for their Party’s nomination when all the pundits with the knowledge of the polls are predicting a runaway victory for Trump. The Orange Messiah has converted his followers under the name of the Republican Party into a cult.

There remains a thinking rump of the Republican Party who have disengaged – the Trumpian Atheists who do not like the fervour surrounding Trump and have disengaged. What can they do? There are fierce activist anti-Trump groups like the Lincoln Project, but I wonder how far they penetrate the Republican base, especially the marginal red States such as Ohio and Indiana.

In Iowa, Trump has almost assumed to be the winner, while the only two realistic challengers, Governor Ron DeSantis and former Governor Nikki Haley are denigrating one another.  Nevertheless, in realistic terms are these two contesting the position of Trump’s running mate? I have incidentally dismissed the third remaining candidate, Vivek Ganapathy Ramaswamy. Nevertheless, in the crazy pattern of Republican politics, he may bob up a Hindu of Tamil heritage.

Haley has significant backing from Koch enterprises, which could be aiming for Haley being the running mate and thus having influence on Trump. If Trump comes into office, there is a chance that he could die in office or become mentally compromised, unable to govern. This has occurred before with Woodrow Wilson being the most obvious example. He had a major stroke in 1919 from which he never recovered; initially his condition was not told to the American people and his wife was alleged to have acted as the de facto President.

No one close to Wilson was willing to certify, as required by the Constitution, his “inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office.” Although some members of Congress encouraged his Vice President, Thomas Marshall, to assert his claim to the presidency, Marshall never attempted to replace Wilson, even though he had been Governor of Indiana.  Wilson even tried to be nominated for a third term, despite being severely disabled.

A more recent, very public example is how long the Roman Catholic Church persisted with a Pope, who was so obviously “ga-ga”; yet nobody dared to question the fact that he should remain as Pope. It is ironic that the probable instigator of this retention of a demented Pope was Cardinal Ratzinger, his successor as Benedict XVI, who prudently retired from his Papacy before he went the same way.

I doubt if Haley could be compared completely with Ratzinger. He was never a Sikh.

Politico has opined: Haley has spent most of her campaign walking a fine line when it comes to Trump, alternating between opposing and praising him as she aims to appeal to both “Never Trump” Republicans and those who are open to the idea of voting for him again.

To influential backers Haley is an insurance policy against Trump going completely mad should he be re-elected as President. I am naïve enough to believe that the money people are aware of Trump’s health status, although Trump’s closest staffers would have tried to spread as much disinformation about him if his health is indeed in jeopardy. Just listening to him (if the newsclips are to be believed) Trump obviously is having problems with his mental state, which would be one reason he has bypassed the current round of debates, unlike his previous Presidential forays.

For instance, if Trump does have incipient fronto-temporal dementia, then faced with persons contesting his supremacy on national TV just may trigger Trump to not only unleash a stream of verbal abuse but also to exhibit episodes of physical violence. Just imagine him striking Haley on national TV – such an outburst may not trouble his base, but the whole of America is not his base yet. My vivid imagination? Perhaps, but remember when he was saner, standing over Hilary Clinton in their national debates was evidence of his brutal attitude towards women.

There are caveats. Haley may have already done a deal with Trump. She is completely pro-Zionist. One may remember what occurred so many years ago in relation to the American Hostages in Iran where the then Presidential aspirant, Ronald Reagan, was in “back passage” discussions with the Iranian Government, while the official inter-governmental lines were blocked. Reagan was not only in secret conversations with the enemy but served to obstruct the process by continually sabre-rattling and undermining President Carter until he became President and the matter was quickly resolved, “minutes after his Inauguration”.

I would not put it past Netanyahu to continue his destructive activities to emphasise to the American electorate that Biden is a completely weak, ineffective “tosser”. The go-between Trump and Netanyahu? Nikki Haley or her apparatchiks. Surprise, surprise.  But I am only indulging in a conspiracy theory – or am I?

As the bloke in the Prometheus pub, butting his fag out on the floor said as he picked up his schooner: “That Haley, she’s one tough sheila!”. He drank his beer and looked out into the encroaching global desert where there was once a freshwater lake. He repeated “One tough sheila! Couldn’t care a fuchsia about anybody else, least of all Planet Earth.”

South Carolina Cuisine

There are many reasons to admire Southern Cooking in the Good Ol’ State where Nikki Haley was governor for six years. I have commented on the cooking when we have stayed on Fripp Island, a barrier island located along the Atlantic coastal low country part of that State. But nobody mentioned Hoppin’ John. I could not resist printing this excerpt from the New York Times. Anybody for pork jowls?

Hoppin’ John is a dish of the South Carolina low country, peas and rice cooked together and often served on New Year’s Day as a wish for a prosperous, lucky future. (The black-eyed peas are meant to represent coins. Some cooks throw a dime into the pot or place the coin under one of the bowls on the table.)

Hoppin’ soon to a table near you

But as Toni Tipton-Martin wrote in her 2019 cookbook, “Jubilee: Two Centuries of African American Cooking”, there are many who eat Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Eve instead, as part of a Watch Night service in which the Christian faithful come together to usher in the new year. The ceremony dates back to “Freedom’s Eve” on Dec. 31, 1862, when enslaved Africans gathered in Southern churches to hear the news that the Emancipation Proclamation had set them free.

Tipton-Martin’s recipe for Hoppin’ John isn’t quite that old. She adapted it from one she discovered in “Aunt Julia’s Cook Book”, a collection of recipes from the coastal South published in the 1930s by the Standard Oil Company. (“For happy eating, use these recipes,” a line on the cover reads, “for happy motoring, buy at the Esso sign.”) She uses bacon to flavour the rice, but if you can lay your hands on some smoked hog jowls to use instead, you won’t be sorry. 

Denmark – A Principality of Tasmania?

I loved this American comment, which was appended to the announcement that the Queen of Denmark was stepping down and appeared in the Washington Post among the other 1400 odd comments.

The nations which make up Scandinavia, with the exception of Finland (which has a different history) and Iceland (which broke away from the Danish Crown due to events in World War II) are constitutional monarchies. All of them are well run, their citizens are healthy and content, and in all cases the standard of living is amongst the highest in the world. By and large, we are a law-abiding, peaceful people. 

But all of us have relatives in North America. In many places (e.g., Wisconsin and Minnesota) the population there is largely Scandinavian. And we are very family oriented – we do look after our own.

This is specifically for the Orange Fool and his ilk. We descended on North America once, if we have to, we can do it again.

You have been warned. Don’t make us come over there.

Yet when you think about it, what does one know about the history of Denmark?

Denmark now has an Australian-born queen who exudes an elegance no more so than when she was giving, in front of the Danish dinner audience, a gentle roast of her husband on his 50th birthday. It was given in fluent Danish and without any trace of an Australian accent.

It was a strange situation, and normally one watches it for a minute or so, and then moves on. The then Crown Princess Mary was almost magical in how she controlled the room. The response of the future King was interesting in that he seldom moved from his vacuous affable look, which one would probably expect from one with Victorian blood rippling through his veins.

Being the home of Lego, Denmark has always been the toyshop of Europe to me.

Tollund Man

We have been to Denmark several times, visited the Tivoli Gardens, paid my respects to the Tollund Man in his resting place in the Hovedgården museum, wandered around the fens of Jutland looking for Babette’s Feast, and stayed at the venerable Admiral Hotel, in Copenhagen on the quayside next to Amalienborg Royal Palace and opposite the modern Copenhagen Opera House. Of course, there are showrooms replete with Danish craft, and even hot Danish to eat and Danish coffee to drink. We have eaten my favourite pickled herring smørrebrød washed down with ice cold Aalborg caraway-flavoured aquavit.

Denmark is all very clean, all very flat, with bicycles with helmetless riders everywhere. Walking along the waterfront towards the little mermaid statue, as you watch the changing of the guard in their rig of bearskin, black tunic and blue trousers with its broad white stripe, you feel you have been absorbed into the top of a chocolate box. Well, what do you expect, this is the world of Hans Christian Anderson!

But the reality of Denmark has been a struggle to maintain itself as a small distinct entity with a distinct language when there are no barriers between it and Germany. The Germans took six hours to take over Denmark in 1940, but then left the Danes very much to govern themselves, such that the royal family remained in Denmark during the war. It was not until the concluding stages of the War, when the relationship deteriorated, that in late 1943, the Danish Government was dissolved and Germans established martial law across the country.

Denmark had been forced to cede Schleswig-Holstein, an area in the south of Denmark abutting Germany to Prussia and Austria in a short-lived war in 1864.  There is a gradation from the north to the south of predominantly Danish to German speakers; in the central part people speak a dialect, predominantly German. After WWI, Denmark regained the Danish-speaking Northern Schleswig following a plebiscite.

I vaguely remember Schleswig-Holstein as surrogate for identifying difficult puzzling situations, since it represented the acme of such ethnographic confusion.

The Danes were not immune from colonisation, and in the Northern Hemisphere there have been Iceland (broke away in 1944 to form a Republic), the Faroe Islands and Greenland, now both self-governing but still swearing allegiance to the Danish Throne which, in the case of Greenland, presents a potentially interesting situation.

The Danes developed a mini-imperial excursion into Western Africa and the Caribbean, which I knew about. I had not realised that they also had trading posts in India.

The Christiansburg Fort in Accra appeared on Ghanaian stamps, and I remember attending a film festival where the film featured the Danish Antilles. The Danes were early into slave trading, but ultimately sold their overseas holdings to the British and, in the case of the Danish Antilles, to the United States, when it became the US Virgin Islands. Thus, when Trump floated the idea of buying Greenland, it was not altogether fanciful given the Danish vending history.

We moved on to Norway, but not before we visited Jellen Kirke, a nondescript whitewashed church, but the resting place of the Danish Kings – the revered place of Viking kings.

It reminds one that the Danes have form, as the implicit threat in the quoted comment above which got me thinking about the Danes’ contribution to civilisation: You have been warned. Don’t make us come over there.

It was about 500 AD when the Angles came from the Schleswig part of Denmark and the Jutes from Jutland to pillage then settle. The Saxons came from Lower Saxony in modern day Germany, but when these guys were around, borders were ephemeral depending on the extent of tribal influence. Hard to countenance unless modern day Denmark harbours a secret Viking yearning for another round of pillaging.

Five Guys named Moe 

In 1967, Pontus Hultén (the director for the Moderna Museet in Stockholm) asked a writer, Olle Granath to help with the production of the Warhol exhibit, the latter was commissioned to write the program for the exhibit, complete with Swedish translations. Granath claims that after submitting his manuscript, Hultén asked him to insert the quote: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” To which Granath replied that quote was not Warhol, Hultén replied, “if he didn’t say it, he could very well have said it. Let’s put it in.”

This is a strange story of little moment, except that I was thrust into the spotlight for perhaps my fifteen minutes of fame.  It happened in 1994. I have no memory of why I was in London. I still have my ticket which says that on Friday 16 September, at a cost of £27.50, in seat H12, I watched a production of Five Guys Named Moe in the Lyric Theatre located on Shaftesbury Ave.

Five Guys Named Moe

I had been in America, and I was staying at the Skyline, one of those Heathrow pubs, so my stay was not expected to be a long one. Having been in  America, it was probably cheaper to fly round the world than book a return flight to New York. Yet having said that, I probably contradicted that apparent frugality by upgrading to fly Concorde across the Atlantic as I did when I could.

The Skyline Hotel did not match that extravagance, nor taking the Tube into London. The only activity, I remember before going to the theatre was to go to Harrods and buy a present for my wife. I only knew that because I was carrying a Harrods bag when I went to the theatre.

Five Guys named Moe had already had a run in Melbourne and it was said to be fun. As I did not want to see anything serious, I had decided to go to see this jive musical, based on the coloured saxophonist, Louis Jordan, and his Tympany five, which had started recording in 1939.

My seat was on the centre aisle and was enjoying the music and the cleverness of these five coloured guys, each called a variation of “Moe”, (Big Little, Eat, Four-eyed & No – all Moe) when just before the interval, there was an audience participation number.

Suddenly one of the Moes jumped from the stage, and grabbed my hand, and the next minute, complete with my Harrod’s bag that I did not relinquish, I was on the stage jiving along with the cast. This was great fun and suddenly I was dancing on my own all over the stage. Then one of the Moes with a not too friendly face confronted me and hissed “put up your hands” and we did a sort of a high five, inhibited by my having to put down the Harrods bag. I had not realised that my antics had made the audience to laugh as I found out at interval. With or at me I didn’t know. I did not hear them above the music.

When I appeared in the foyer crowd at interval, this group of Americans were all convinced that I was a plant, they did not believe I was not part of the cast and ordered a champagne for me. Others came up to congratulate me with a laugh. I was nonplussed but went along with glow of being the unexpected talking point of the first half of the musical.

My fifteen minutes had expired.

The gong was sounding for Act 2. I left and went back to my hotel. I still had the Harrod’s bag.

Extinction

To begin with, there are more endangered and threatened species than ever before. When the law went into effect in 1973, fewer than 130 species were on the government’s list of domestic plants and animals at risk of going extinct. Today, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, there are well over 1,600. And just as the ESA has not prevented the endangerment of many additional species, it has not achieved its mission of bringing endangered flora and fauna populations back to health. All told, only 57 domestic species (3 per cent of those listed) have recovered, while 11 (1 per cent) have gone extinct. After a half-century under the stringent safeguards established by the law, 96 per cent of the endangered-species list is still, by the federal government’s reckoning, endangered. Boston Globe 3 January 2024

The above is a synopsis of what has occurred since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was introduced fifty years ago. It has served as a scoresheet.

ivory-billed woodpeckerI

The epitome of American extinction is the ivory-billed woodpecker, one of the largest of its kind, which was last reliably seen in 1944 in Louisiana. The Australian equivalent s probably the Tasmanian Tiger, both being in sufficient numbers for there to be a denial that each have become extinct. There must be one somewhere, goes the conversation, almost a plea. The hunt for them has gone on long after the last time they were seen, now about eighty years ago. Is this continuing search long after extinction a grief response from a community which only yearns when all is lost.

At the same time, Hawaii in the past fifty years has lost eight bird species, and Guam has lost two species. Then there are a variety of mussels which have disappeared from the freshwater rivers.

On the credit side, there has been a huge increase in the number of bald eagles, down to a few hundred in the 60’s, now numbering 70,000. Californian condors down to single figures in the 70s are estimated to number 400, a modest figure but a significant number. The grey wolf, nearly hunted to extinction, now is estimated at a population of 6,000.

In Australia in recent times the discovery of the Lord Howe Stick Insect, the so-called “tree lobster”, was thought to be hunted to extinction by rats which came ashore from a wrecked ship in 1918, and wreaked havoc. The insects were thought extinct until three were found on a nearby island, Ball’s Pyramid and nurtured back to reasonable level through an Australian-based effort and reintroduction to the island.

Since 1788, it is reckoned that Australia has lost 38 mammals, and a total of one hundred fauna and flora. Nevertheless, there are a number on the brink, due to a combination of land clearances, introduced animals (cats, dogs, rats and foxes) and huntin’, shootin’, trappin’ Man.  There has also been overuse of pesticides, but the ban on DDT has helped the bald eagle revival.

Despite apparent successes shown by the American Stocktake, the outlook remains very pessimistic.

In Australia, there is so much humbug. The post of a Threatened Species Commissioner has been created. The following an excerpt from government directory says it all: The Threatened Species Commissioner is a non-statutory position (it is not identified in legislation) within the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water. This position does not have a regulatory role in the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

She may be the next extinct species, in reality. For a time, she may trail around presenting a smiling face and holding some small animal of no matter to the community at large. But of what relevance to policy determination?

The problem for the conservationist is that except for koalas, there has not been any semblance of co-ordinated preservation program. In the sea, there are always the whale lovers, but it is very convenient when these creatures appear to indulge in mass suicide but seem to be able to absorb such a tragedy by their very numbers.

If you happen to be in that serious cohort of conservationists, then the government treats you as some form of terrorist when you oppose flagrant destruction of habitat and the accompanying fauna and flora.

As the world moves to a domesticated homogeneity of dislocated suburbs with accommodation built to withstand nothing, replete with smaller and smaller gardens, the atmosphere reeks of climate change.  Cities are constructed which get minimal maintenance, enhancing its citizens’ vulnerability to climate change, be it fire, flood, or pestilence – all accelerated by the destruction of the habitat provided by Mother Nature.

She has nurtured all the generations which have made Earth a liveable mess of wonderful heterogeneity. Now Governments of old men are destroying Earth in the name of machismo and mammon, leaving the masses increasingly at the mercy of Nature, now a merciless Fury rather than a Mother. But these Men who sought power will be dead, when Nature rebuffed leaves the children of the world, eyeless in Gaza.

Then who of my descendants will be covered by the Enhanced Species Act if they in the USA, or can rely for the Threatened Species Commissioner here? The smokescreen of bodgie legalisation or government positions is not just a controlled public relations burn; it is the genuine fire consuming the planet.

Mouse Whisper

Talking of Denmark…

Our household once went through a serious Georg Jensen jewellery purchasing phase.

Georg Jensen, the master Danish silversmith’s most famous quote was:

Silver is the best material we have. And silver has this wonderful shine like moonlight … a light taken straight from a Danish summer’s night. When covered by dew, silver can look like magical mist.

 

Modest Expectations – Ernst not Sebastian

But if you want my quick take on it, it’s this: Whether Trump is wolfing down Big Macs on the Mar-a-Lago golf course or bargaining for bootlegged tanning lotion in prison, he will be the GOP nominee. Don’t give into magical thinking and never stop the fight to beat him at the ballot box. First, the trial itself. It’s happening in Miami. A hotbed of Trump voters, MAGA radicals, skells (tramps), boat-paraders, and people terrified of dead communists and imaginary communism. (By the way, I love Miami, I really do. But I’ve got to call this place how I see it.) Rick Wilson June 2023.

Mar-a-Lago – bought by Trump in 1985 at more than 62,000 square feet, with 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, 12 fireplaces, three bomb shelters, and a 29-foot-long marble top dining table, the house is extravagant to say the least. It is the 22nd largest house in the US – the White House comes in 33rd place. – Not Alternative Fact

In response to Rick Wilson’s “By the way”, I thought I would write about my time in Miami at a time when Trump was still a two-bit grifter. Nor when Miami was the warlock’s crucible.

I have passed through Miami more than once – even taken a Concorde flight out of there to New York on my way to London. However, this occasion was the one time we had time to do some sightseeing. We had just come back from Cuba in an unmarked Delta airline plane – nevertheless a commercial fight. As the flight attendant said to us at the time, Delta flew to Havana every day. On arrival in Miami, having been duly warned that if we had any Cuban rum or cigars in our luggage, it would most likely be confiscated, we found that there was no-one from customs on the gate barring our way into Miami. In any event, we don’t smoke, and we had enough mojitos in Cuba to last a lifetime.

17th Street

This time we had decided to go on to New York by train, stopping off in Savannah. In the meantime, we went for a stroll along 17th Street downtown, the weather being perfect, to see some of Miami. We had lunch at one of those places where the food is barbecued rib, the drink is beer or bourbon, and the music is loud and country. More Texas than Miami, but Miami is cosmopolitan, a shelter against the winter for the aged, a playground for the rich and a refuge for the colourful.

As we walked down towards Miami Beach, we stopped by the Cadet Hotel emblazoned with Clark Gable memorabilia, remembering the time he was there as an instructor of the recent inductees in the air force. The year was 1942, and he was still mourning the loss of his wife, Carole Lombard, who had been killed the year before in a plane crash.

Gable and Lombard

Gable went on to serve for most of WWII, seeing action in Europe.  As we looked in on the reception area of the Hotel, there is no doubt that Gable had a charisma, which belied the fact that he had had all his teeth extracted and his leading ladies had to be inoculated against a cloud of halitosis. Still, I remember that film “It Happened One Night” which starred Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert and that it was the first of only three films which have won the five Oscars – best film, best director, best actor, best actress, best screenplay.

Clark Gable has always had a place in the lexicon of my memories because I saw the film “Soldier of Fortune” when I was in Hong Kong in 1956, the film itself being an adventure story of Gable playing the title role opposite Susan Hayward in a story where Gable rescues her screen husband, Gene Barry from the clutches of the Chinese Communists. I most remember the scene at the top of the Peak in Hong Kong where Gable is expressing ruggedly his love for Hayward. Imagine my chagrin to find out that Hayward remained in Hollywood the whole time the picture was filmed, and Gable was romanticising a Hayward double – her screen sosia.

Looking at the photograph of Gable, his distinctive expression walks the line between sagacity and salacity, but I was not the first to gaze. Judy Garland sang to his photograph in Broadway Melody – “You made me Love You”. Well, not that I sang, I might add; and my wife has never liked him. This is a slightly troublesome matter since Judy was only 15 when she recorded the song. But the teenage crush has history, and I would have preferred Grace Kelly, the first choice for the “Soldier of Fortune” heroine, but which she declined. Then I had only just turned 17 and Grace Kelly was 25 years old.

But let’s continue walking.

We stopped off on the lawns outside the Frank Gehry designed New World Centre where we listened to the New World Symphony rehearsing and the music being piped outside to those of us who stopped to listen. We did not expect to be listening to a piece of old world music in a beach resort not famed for its cultural attainment.

Well, back to reality. By that I mean Miami Beach – a wide strip of sand lined by fenced-off villas where the rich, the famous, the colourful and the pyrites reside. There is something foreboding about high walls, with palm trees and the white stuccoed storied homes poking their heads above the parapets. In the distance is the sea, a pale blue ribbon cast against an equally azure sky, with a wisp of cloud interrupting the blue.

Beguiling. Well, yes, but really depends on when one visits.

Here in Miami the 1926 Great Hurricane left its calling card, precipitating the end of the Florida land boom and the start of The Great Depression three years early. Miami was wiped out and it is salutary to think that a comparable hurricane today would leave little change out of US$250 billion. Despite Miami being recognised as one of the most vulnerable cities in the United States to experience hurricanes, the only other one which has been classified as severe and centred on Miami was Cyclone King in October 1950, which caused severe damage but not comparable with that of 1926.

In recognition, the University of Miami has adopted Hurricanes as its nickname for all its sporting teams, but the touch I like the most is that the mascot is an ibis named Sebastian, since the ibis is the first bird to leave when a hurricane is imminent and the first to return after the hurricane has passed.

I wonder what the status of the ibis population is at Mar-a-Lago these days.

The famous Miami ibis

Antwerp

I have been to Antwerp twice, once in the early seventies when we were travelling through Europe and the United States, the first time, my then wife had been back to Europe from which she had come – from a British displaced persons camp in Carinthian Austria. Arriving in Australia she was unable to speak English but, as I found fluent in Slovenian and German with an Austrian accent. A medical graduate and PhD in pharmacology, she had her research papers accepted for several conference presentations, whereas I scored zero. No matter; it just meant I could track along without having to give a paper to a half empty theatre or back room. I remember that we went to Antwerp that trip, and it was somewhat comical walking through the Munich airport, past all the big planes, down the stairs, across the tarmac to the DC-3 – our air chariot dwarfed on all sides by its younger siblings.

My strange memory of that visit was having walked around a sculpture garden with all the shapes and forms representative of the interpretative impenetrability of some of this modern sculpture, I escaped from the park by climbing through a fence onto a major thoroughfare. Having been sensitised to the bizarreness of the display, the utilitarian throughway structures were replaced by my surreal vision of them.  The street with all its tubular forms, interlacing overhead wires, lights changing like giant eyes – all the street architecture which we normally ignore or accept had, to me, become the workshop of the absurd. I hasten to add I don’t do drugs, nor had I been drinking.

I had spent several hours accustoming myself to these sculptural forms, and when I emerged onto the streets, it seemed to me just an extension of what I had been looking at. It was a sensation that I’ve never had since. I do not have the imagination to concoct the vision of the great architects, but I understand the meaning of “surreal”. After all, we may be induced to say something is “surreal” when it is just something that one has never experienced; whereas surreal is a departure in a different sensory experience. I remember looking at the overhead tram wires and the stanchions and thought what if these had been placed in the garden, dimensions changed or left as stark forms amid the wooded lawns where the rail lines would lead nowhere – a phantom silvery transport system hidden under a cascade of blue leaves. Then I shook my head and followed the tram line back to our hotel to find out how my wife had gone with her presentation.

An okapi in Antwerp

The second time, my second wife and I ended up in Antwerp, because we were travelling to Cambridge. Qatar Airways had a “special return flight” from Sydney to Brussels. Having a few days to spare, we went to Antwerp by train. We stayed across the railway square in the Blu Astrid Hotel. What made this foray worthwhile was that the Antwerp Zoo was close to the railway station. The Antwerp Zoo has probably the largest number of okapi in captivity as part of a breeding program. The okapi is the only known relative of the giraffe and its natural habitat is the Congo jungle. Given that the Congo was colonised by the Belgians, it is not surprising that the first okapis were brought to Belgium. There were five or six okapis in what I thought was a generous enclosure. The total area of the Zoo is 10 hectares. However, zoos will always be imperfect, as animals are for all intents incarcerated so that we humans can stare at them.

The okapi, much smaller than its relative giraffe, was first discovered in 1901. It has a striking appearance, being almost burgundy in colour with striped legs. It’s also worthy of study, because its long term future may depend on its ability to breed in captivity. The female okapi is said to be choosey in her choice of mate, and there is not much choice in a zoo.

My wife does not much like zoos and having watched the okapi pacing around in a stressed manner, that was enough for her. She had spent a decade photographing wildlife in Africa, and hardly needed to visit an urban zoo. Okapi were an exception; she was not likely to see one in the wild unless she wandered through the Ituri Rain Forest in the Congo.

However, she does like flamingos, which we had seen in the wild, both in the south of France and in the salt pans of the Atacama Desert in Chile. Caribbean flamingos near the entrance of the zoo, attracted attention because of the noise and their vivid vermillion in colour – they seemed chatty enough.

The printing workshop

Of other places in Antwerp, The Plantin-Moretus is a unique museum that celebrates the history of European printing through the 16th century workshop and home of the city’s most celebrated printer, Christophe Plantin, which he bequeathed to his son-in-law, Jan Moretus. They printed books and maps – the cartography section being very impressive. There is a copy of the Gutenberg Bible lodged here, together with a collection of material tracing the evolution of printing up to the 19th century when innovations were introduced as a by-product of the Industrial Revolution which rendered the printing work obsolete. Looking at ancient printing presses and some of their products is to marvel at how such a collection has survived in area where bombardment, siege, and troop movements would all seem to mitigate against the existence of such an exquisite place.

I suppose we could have sought out the Diamond district where it has been near the main square since the Middle Ages. Antwerp, through its Jewish population, developed some innovative ways in cutting and polishing of all grades of diamonds. It survived two World Wars. In WWI the Germans captured Antwerp early and held the city for the duration. While there was some hesitation in deporting Jews in WWII to preserve the expertise in diamond cutting, eventually a substantial number of the Jewish population were killed in the various concentration camps, and thus compromising Antwerp’s future.

The Sinjoren, as those who live in Antwerp are nicknamed, are certainly resilient.

I found it amazing that Antwerp was able to hold the Olympic Games less than two years after the Armistice, but given the survival instincts of the population, why should anybody be surprised. Australia was represented at the Games. The flagbearer, George Parker, born in Leichhardt, died in Five Dock, seems to have spent his life walking. At the Antwerp games, he finished second in the 3,000 m walk, beaten by an Italian. The only other Australian medals were awarded in swimming – a silver and a bronze.

And my lasting impression? Workers eating this green food with chips and mayonnaise. This is palint ‘n groen – eels served with a green sauce made with fresh river herbs and wild leaf vegetables, chervil, sorrel, spinach, watercress and wild garlic leaves. Tasted it – not too bad.

Pride comes before a Fall saith Solomon

When I was undertaking the National Rural Stocktake in 1999, I found it frustrating to arrive at a desert destination to find no-one there.  I had to accept that the Aboriginal people spend a substantial amount of their time on “Sorry Business”, which took them away and thus they would be unavailable because one of their number had died. Travelling around Aboriginal communities, I often found a great amount of argument, dispute, aggression – and when I was confronted with stories about harassment and violence, I had to make a decision. Namely, I was not there to deal with the problems of the individual Aboriginal person, unfortunate as that may have been. That deserved a review of its own, and although I made incidental comments, my prime aim was to prosecute the case for developing clinical and public health education facilities in the bush, which occurred with funding allocated in the 2000 Federal Budget.

I was brought up in a whitefella world where Aboriginal people were labelled as “stone age” and hence patronised as if they should be kept in an ethnological zoo. It is not surprising therefore that the bulk of whitefellas just did not know how to communicate with Aboriginal people. At the outset I had not appreciated that being taciturn with whitefellas belied a highly complex system of communication, where verbal was only one of the means. Being able to communicate, whitefella to blackfella is a privilege, as I found out.

As background, I had become aware of the level of discrimination from a young age. It had been coated by kind paternalism. For example, when I was a child in the time of the “picaninny”, I received the Church Missionary Society news from the Roper River Mission in then far off Arnhem Land. The growth of missions, both secular and religious only served to emphasise the separation of the Aboriginals from their Land, which did not become recognised until Aboriginal artistic skill with all its complexity became recognised by whitefellas. When I had gone to Alice Springs in 1951, I came back with a large shield, which languished in the storeroom, because every time I picked it up, my hands were covered with red ochre. Over the years as I collected more Aboriginal artifacts, I began to celebrate the diversity, but not without making errors in walking the line of what was taboo and what not.

Martin Luther King

Afro-American emancipation grew out the 1960s’ cry for emancipation led by Martin Luther King and Malcom X and then the black Panthers, injecting an edgy defiance challenging the comfortable world of middle-class America. At the same time, until he was assassinated, King tried to persuade. His was an evolutionary approach, to which he harnessed public opinion for recognition.

Aboriginal advocacy grew alongside. Recognition of Aboriginal identity grew, dispatching the equivalent of “Uncle Tom” as contempt of the so-called the Aboriginal “coconut” – brown on the outside, white on the inside.  Aggression has been the watchword, mixed with a litany of Aboriginal grievances such as the stolen generation and life expectancy being continually drilled into us whitefellas, some of whom have succumbed to guilt, preferring to give in; other whitefellas in power have just employed passive resistance. Rather than mollifying the aggressors, the level of J’accuse by the voluble few has increased with bombastic Noel Pearson as one of the leading Accusers.

From Whitlam onwards, governments sought to increase funding and opportunities for Aboriginal people, despite the opposition of some of the parliamentarians. As I have said, symbolism and metaphor are simple; real action is not. I was around at the time of the first aboriginal medical graduates. I saw many of the Aboriginal medical services (AMS) which arose from the Congress model in Alice Springs, and I looked for change. Many of the AMS were clearly dysfunctional, mainly because there was no continuity in the treatment objectives. Congress has been operating since 1975 and it has had a substantial amount of funding. It has had its vociferous defenders, given it has been the oldest Aboriginal Health Service. However, stripping away the “blah-blah” apologia, what has it actually accomplished?

It is a serious question when there is this push for an ephemeral Voice, as though there is a pot of gold at the end of the Indigenous Larynx. I see the ability of the Aboriginal people to contribute and shape our destiny, but I’m afraid I’ll not accept the pompous sullen uninformed Voice of a few Aboriginal people.  Some people who should know better are attempting to gain cheap political acclaim, without thinking through what outcome is expected and what it means for the many Aboriginal people who won’t be part of the Voice. The Voice does not have a powerful Champion who can coherently unite an increasingly divided nation. Linda Burney is not that champion; unfortunately, she lacks the intellectual firepower, and those who spring to her defence further weaken her, only serving to exaggerate her deficiencies.

Narenda Jacobs

I would prefer Narelda Jacobs and Pat Anderson; but the male Aboriginal able to communicate with those tending to Vote “No” – the critical cohort I believe – should be a Rugby player in Queensland and an Australian Rules player in the West. But perhaps if the women’s football team is triumphant, Sam Kerr will trump every male.

When I undertook the Rural Stocktake, I tried to identify examples of what worked in relation to Aboriginal health, but such success could never be long term because of the harsh reality of the eventual failure to provide a plan for succession. It is not unexpected because so much of Aboriginal success depends on charismatic leadership, which does not necessarily translate to a long term success and is eventually swept under the sands of failure.

I well remember the activities of Geoff Clark and the fate of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, which he chaired. This fiasco has not come into the conversation about the Voice, even though Geoff Clark was never short of a word. In the end at a time in Australia when funding is short, homelessness is on the rise and where poverty has increased, to see affluent, mostly university-affiliated sections of the Aboriginal community continually meeting in a non-wintry part of the country and complaining about their lot, begins to grate. The Mayor of Broken Hill may not be the most subtle of individuals but in explaining why the Council would not in future pay for “welcome to country” or smoking ceremonies by Aboriginal elders made it clear when questioned responded: “Why should he pay for welcoming people to his Land.”

Grievances are met with counter grievance. As someone said, looking at the Aboriginal flag and the Australian flag flying alongside each other on the Harbour Bridge, why? The same person sees the Aboriginal flag as a sign of division and the Australian flag as an embarrassing relic – both to be replaced by a single flag for everyone in the country.  Personally, I believe the Aboriginal flag should be the Australian flag rather than the colonial relic. But to me whose ancestors have occupied the country as part of the Celtic diaspora, the Eureka flag flown first by the Ballarat miners during their 1854 insurrection also epitomises that Australia is my Land – and let nobody forget that. I too have a Voice. That is precious privilege of Democracy.

Brisbane – The Novel

Having won the Solzhenitsyn Prize, the Big Book prize, and the Yasnaya Polyana Literary Award, as well as having been short-listed for the National Bestseller Prize and the Russian Booker Prize, Eugene Vodolazkin has emerged in the eyes of many as the most important living Russian writer.

I was thumbing through a recent issue of the NYRB and came across a review by the above author. The book was entitled Brisbane. Given that Brisbane and Russian literature are not ready companions, I read the review. On reading this, it seemed to be just an extension of my perspective of Russian literature, telling the Russian story where Death is an ever-present metronome of the various degrees of misery and cruelty which pockmark the whole literary Russian Treasury of the mysteries of life. These mysteries have always been palpable in the Russian Orthodox liturgy, and in its extraordinary church music, where it soars from the depths to the heights. Terra ad caelium.

Why is this novel called Brisbane? It is about Gleb Vanovsky, a celebrated Russian guitarist who, at the age of fifty, is diagnosed with Parkinsonism which not only inhibits his ability to play the guitar but also ultimately will kill him. He has a biographer named Sergei Nesterov who, offering to write his biography, sets about establishing this dual perception of Vanovsky’s early life from each of Vanovsky’s and Nesterov’s perceptions. The second part of the novel details what has happened since his diagnosis. It seems from reading that it is a novel about various interpretations of the meaning of life.

And what of the Brisbane allusion? Apparently Vanoksky’s mother was enamoured by the image of Brisbane as a subtropical Utopia and had an Australian male correspondent, who said she should come. Unfortunately, she was killed on the way to the airport by some thugs. So Russian!

Ah, the Russian tome called Brisbane.  The author was born in Kyiv but has spent most of his life in Russia.

Premier Palaszczuk with her Polish heritage should be indeed interested in such a view of Brisbane as Utopia. But watch out going to a Russian airport.

Mouse Whisper

My mäusemaister has this obsession whence Melania Trump has gone. She seems to have vanished to Europe – no longer the lady hand in hand with the Trump.  The prominent Irish author Fintan O’Toole, in a recent response to criticism of an article of his appearing in NYRB, has suggested that Cohen, the lawyer and once Trump confidant but who has now decamped from his side to be a pigeon with a stool, is one reason for the disappearance. He was told by Trump to pay Stormy Daniels and tell Melania that the payment was made to avert Daniels’ “fake story” about Trump himself.

As Trump was reported to have said, paying Daniels off was far cheaper than a divorce settlement, as Trump wanted his wife to be mollified. O’Toole opens up another front on the besieged Trump – the circus of a potential divorce. He is probably only saved by Melania not wanting her laundry aired, well at least not before it is appropriately washed.

Modest Expectations – Sestini & Ditta

The Budget has come and what has been delivered into the health budget reflects some of the long-held saws that political parties remember in the fog of their prejudices. Take the Pharmacy Guild and the pharmacy profession in general. There is a group of pharmacists who are academics and, by extension, work in hospitals far away from Mammon. But they are not the Pharmacy Guild.

The Pharmacy Guild represents the community pharmacists and in turn the maintenance of their extensive privileges. One of the interesting occurrences in my lifetime has been the evolution of pharmacy from its apothecary status – shop keepers on the high street, an apprentice system, changed to university-based pharmacy courses, with an academic program far more than what is still needed as being the community “purveyors of medicines … and much more”.

The Pharmacy Guild has been very successful over the years in getting what it wants in terms of remuneration for the provision of drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The Labor Party operatives could be forgiven for believing that each community pharmacy is a small business, the number and the wealth of same providing a base for Coalition support. The Pharmacy Guild Dinner in Canberra has been the public indicator of the power of the Guild to attract the influential. When the big retailers tried to break into the monopoly of the community pharmacist by attempting to place pharmacies in their supermarkets they failed, despite enlisting a pharmacist-turned-politician to lobby their cause.

This minor reduction in their privileged status – that of providing two months’ supply of drugs instead of one – saw the Pharmacy Guild President in tears being completely “over the top”; but then I remembered he lives close to where crocodiles are prevalent. The whole charade has been too much for Lloyd Sansom, a distinguished Adelaide pharmacy academic who was chair of the Australian Pharmaceutical Advisory Council from 1991 until 2000, and chair of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee from 2001 until 2012. This week he rebuked the Pharmacy Guild for its behaviour. Lloyd Sansom is not one for chasing publicity and, as I have found in my dealings with him, he is completely ethical.

I worked with the Pharmacy Guild for a period when it was trying to burnish its image. At that time there were still pharmacies that sold cigarettes; and the aim was to emphasise that the community pharmacist was a health professional and not a shopkeeper who had an incidental function to dispense medicines with profits underwritten by Government.  Some were saying “Why set up the University courses when the major function of the community pharmacist is to sell cosmetics and soft toys?”

The proponents of an academic course had a basis in all the elements of pharmacology, which had also been added to the medical course curriculum in the early 1960s replacing materia medica teaching. After all, the traditional role of the pharmacist making ointments and creams, tablets and capsules was being replaced by pre-packaged medicines, so these traditional skills were rapidly becoming obsolete – hence pharmacy at the time was facing a crisis in its profile.

While there were colleges of pharmacy, they were outside the universities. In 1960, the University of Sydney instituted an undergraduate degree, but it was not until the late 80s that the movement to set up another university course in association with the Victorian College of Pharmacy set the scene for academic pharmacy.

Initially the plan was for the degree course to be set up under the auspice of the University of Melbourne since it was nearby the existing College of Pharmacy. The University of Melbourne, perhaps under the influence of the then Vice Chancellor, aborted the agreement which was then picked up by Monash University. This action by the University of Melbourne reflected the belief held by some members of academia who viewed the pharmacist as being little more than a technician. To counter this view, the establishment of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia in 1976 had followed their acceptance by the Australian Society of Professions (the Pharmacy Guild had been formed in 1927 and the Hospital Pharmacists had formed a society in 1941); the Society promoted the idea that pharmacy should be rated a legitimate profession alongside medicine.

Since the Victorian College of Pharmacy transition, there are 18 universities offering at least one course in pharmacy, which in itself has gone a long way towards enhancing pharmacy’s professional status and that of the Pharmacy Guild. John Menadue, writing after the 2019 Federal Budget, bemoans the fact that a minor change like the one which was included in the current Budget was blocked, because the then Coalition Minister Hunt reneged on the minor alteration under pressure from the Pharmacy Guild. Menadue, in his article which clearly sets up the privileged position of the Pharmacy Guild members, relates the incident of when, having been invited to speak to pharmacists in Brisbane, found the invitation was withdrawn because of pressure from the Pharmacy Guild.

Two areas which have emerged over the past 20 years or so which I find disturbing are:

  • the promotion of medicines with little proven value or promotion of medicines which do not need to be prescribed to the normal persons and even turning medicines into confectionery; and
  • the growth of the Pharmacy entrepôts.

The community is constantly being assailed by medicines that just do not have any effect on the normal person. The images in so many advertisements is of young healthy people, seemingly without a care in the world, carrying shopping baskets full of “stuff”. Particularly objectionable are the advertisements which seem to promote medicine as confectionery – for instance “gummies” which just look like sweets. At least the makers of “Smarties” have had the good sense not to make white Smarties, which would undoubtedly lead to more overdoses. I am not sure that I approve of pharmacies selling confectionery in the manner that the retail stores do to pander to impulse purchase by placing these near the checkout.

It is particularly worrisome that a pharmacy curriculum, where scientific evidence is a central point of the training, is essentially linked to these community pharmacists in practice who surround themselves with an array of “medicines” which have no therapeutic effects or are vastly over-rated. The apothecary of yesteryear selling the placebo indicates a reversion of community pharmacy to the apothecary rather than maintaining the image of a profession seeking evidence of the medicines it dispenses.

Nevertheless, we have seen the growth of the business model whereby the warehouse doors open onto a population inundated with advertisements which a vigilant government authority should have long since curbed. But there is gold in them thar walls of the pharmacy shelf – and consequently in what some purveyors call herbal or natural or homeopathic medicines – or just plain old quackery. This is the business model that the government is sustaining; and drowning out the advantages of the community’s access to the knowledgeable pharmacist, whose business model is aimed at ripping off the gullible for the benefit of some distant hedge fund in Singapore or New York, part of the industry of exporting the Australian health dollar overseas.

Therefore, there is a way to go yet for the government to prune the privileges exacted by the Pharmacy Guild. A cautious start has been started, but it will be highly dependent as he progresses along his portfolio, on what the Butler saw.

There is finally a postscript, called personal experience. It involves the ethical community pharmacist, as I have, who is in danger of being lost in this political scrum.  After all, our family has been spending more than $200 a month on medications, and the most valued attribute after the friendly atmosphere is the accessibility and continuity of this pharmacy practice.

One anecdote is worth repeating – I needed an influenza jab. I booked into a general practitioner, was given an appointment time at which time I presented and after over one hour without any communication from the general practitioner, other than the information that there were still nine people ahead of us, we left. This occurred in rural Tasmania with a locum general practitioner. Contrast this with the appointment I made subsequently with my family pharmacist to give me the jab. I presented myself at the right time. No problem. No delay.

As I said above, it is important how broadly the Butler sees. Something about bath water.

Anita Hill

The 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee (chaired by Joe Biden) ducked its responsibility to the public by reverting to theories spun out of nothing… woman accusers were cast as spurned, prigs with vendettas, incompetent dupes manipulated by others, martyrs for some political cause, or gold diggers seeking attention. (p43)

“Given his condescending tone, Specter (then Republican Senator for Pennsylvania) was also mansplaining – trying to convince us all that he knows better than me how a woman experiences sexual harassment. Mansplaining was the technique, and gaslighting was the goal. Both are forms of denial employed to discount claims of abuse, and they deserve to be called out because they prevent women from being heard and believed when they testify about abuse. Both tactics foster self-doubt, coaxing victims into thinking that coming forward is pointless, that no one will care.” (p39)

Anita Hill at Senate hearings

I prepared myself to purchase and then read Anita Hill’s recent Book entitled “Believing”, an excerpt from which appears above. This woman was disgustingly treated in the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, whom she accused of sexual harassment, by a gang of legislators led by the then Senator from Delaware, Joseph Robinette Biden.

Thomas had engaged in discussing explicit pornography with Hill as she responded to questioning from Biden.

I told him that what was most embarrassing was Thomas’s discussion of pornography involving “women with large breasts and engaged in a variety of sex with different people, or animals.” But in truth, I had no real idea how to determine what was the most embarrassing of the crude and obscene comments I had to put up with. Nor did I fully realize how my answer would be used against me. (p35)

She could not be much clearer than that.

Dr Christine Blasey Ford

Little did she realise that her complaint would be used against her; the premise by the Committee members was such that his action was just normal behaviour. She comments on the parallel hostile questioning of Dr Christine Blasey Ford during the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 as Supreme Court Justice. His proclivity towards extreme sexual harassment of Ford was the issue; the response of the senators during the confirmation hearing was no different from 1991, despite 27 years having elapsed.

Anita Hill’s book is depressing in one way, in terms of the ability of her countrymen, in particular, to look away or fumble when presented with the prevalence of gender violence. Hers is a book of examples – of clinical dissection. As a male who has lived in this era of male dominance, I feel uncomfortable. The fact that even if most of us were not participants, we as men through the various stages of our lives have been bystanders.

We have tolerated the hypocrisy of people like Bill Clinton, who publicly advocated protective legislation but in private was a sexual harasser using the power of his office to dazzle and distract. In the end, Hillary Clinton, if not a partner in crime, certainly tolerated it. As Hill says, she had a conflicted role, on one hand declaiming at 1995 Conference in Beijing “Women’s rights are Human rights”, while failing “to step up and denounce Bill’s behaviour.”

When Trump announced his proclivity to grab women’s genitals, the Democrats’ response was strangely muted. Hill barely mentions Obama, but goes into some detail about Biden, who had himself been accused of sexual misbehaviour by one Tara Reade. Biden’s response is not recorded.

Eventually Biden apologised in 2019 to Hill after making a comment to a journalist two years before that he would apologise to Hill. As Hill disclosed, the rapprochement was in a 30-minute phone call from Biden, who mostly spoke “His words were carefully couched, though seemingly sincere.” He recounted his massive success in the passage of the Violence Against Woman Act, knowing that the Supreme Court had effectively gutted it subsequently. Yet Biden has continued to do penance by trying to provide legislative protection to women where Federal laws apply.

The whole theme throughout Anita Hill’s book is how endemic gender violence is in America, and the four years of the Trump presidency was an obstruction as Trump attempted to remove all protections against such violence. As Hill says when Kamala Harris was announced as the running mate for Biden, Trump’s son, Eric, called her “a whorendous pick”. Such crudity is repeated by other men who, if not role models, exert considerable influence.

Despite her book having the capacity to make the reader squirm, to be outraged, Hill does not come up with any real solutions. Her predator still sits, amid allegations of corruption, on the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee is still racked with misogyny even if apologists try to reframe it as “just old-fashioned ideas”. Anita Hill’s book provides the information, but the provision of information does not alter attitudes, without behavioural changes in the community to make gender violence totally taboo. Anita Hill entitles her book “Believing”. After what she has experienced, the title is succinct testimony to an eventual optimistic outcome. Yet her book suggests unfortunately there is a long way to go, but it should be required reading for those who – like former Supreme Clark, Arthur Kennedy, who employed Kavanaugh as a law clerk – is reported as saying “boys will be boys.”

Trumptown

Tonight, CNN gave a massive platform to a man who incited an insurrection on the Capitol, attempted a coup on American democracy, and was just found by a civil court to have committed sexual assault. Make no mistake: this wasn’t a town hall. It was a campaign kickoff celebration, and Chris Licht sold out CNN — and our democracy — to chase Tucker Carlson’s viewers.

All you really need to know about the event is that CNN’s hand-picked audience laughed at Trump’s depiction of his sexual assault case (which he lost)!

We cannot normalize Donald Trump by giving him 90 minutes of uninterrupted airtime to rewrite history. Tonight is a firm reminder about the fight we are in: If our democracy is to survive, then we can’t allow CNN and the media to follow Trump down his rabbit hole for ratings.

The media is making the same mistakes as they did in 2016 and 2020. They’re legitimizing Trump in the eyes of the voters instead of calling him out for the lawless serial liar that he is. As he storms his way to the nomination, it’s only going to get worse. He’ll get more air time and more credibility as he continues to spew the same dangerous nonsense he did tonight. 

CNN’s malpractice gave the most anti-democratic force our country has seen in ages a microphone and an evening of airtime. We can’t let this keep happening.

This release from the Lincoln Project says it all. Trump is not a conventional figure. He is a projected evil avatar from a comic strip which has been released into a world where normal behaviour does not apply.

As I have written in my novel “Marigold”, which has been written with licence of the novelist to plumb the supernatural.

“Those adversaries are trying it on again. They have cast us into a comic strip. It just can’t be real.”

The man had raised his shotgun and pointed it at us. Like a comic strip villain, he cackled. Like the comic strip villain, he fired. Red flashes of “Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam” before our eyes. Egrets rose around the cabin.  A duck with a brown-feathered breast fell dead on the roof of our car. This was not my kind of comic strip. We scurried back in the car.  The duck had slipped to the side of the road. The man with the shotgun was laughing – a huge hole of mouth and crinkled eyes. There was the last comic cartouche, as my character at the wheel of the car let out a frustrated maledicta of quimps, jarns, nittles and grawlixes as the car was slow to start.

Maledicta raining down without constraint accompanied by the canned laughter from his selected audience has proved a toxic mixture which Trump ladles out to an American audience. His immediate butt in New Hampshire recently was the CNN anchor, Kaitlan Collins. She is the duck, overwhelmed by the volume of lies and maledicta. She is constrained by the mores of civilisation, and thus not allowed by modern convention to rise up like the avenging woman warrior of the Old Testament, Deborah, and smite him dead.

Unfortunately, modern society does not know how to deal with this character, a simulacrum who has stepped out of a comic strip, where the morality is simple and binary – good and bad, black and white. Unlike the comic strip, Trump is less easily discarded.

The aim is thus to ensure that America laughs at him, not with him – to use the same artifices which he has used to fashion his cut out persona – look at all the ridiculous golden aura in which he has encased himself. Start the laughter – oh, for a Chaplinesque character to parody him; then pursue him back into the comic strip.

His other avatar, which may then emerge, is Trump the Messiah, where he has honed himself into being a religious figure of destiny. After all, 76 million people voted for him in 2020; certainly a large congregation. The apostles he put forward two years later were not much good at promoting the Gospel of Trump – but then religion has been caught up in the comic strip. It takes a real believer to seek redemption in a comic book character. That is essentially what Trump is becoming – the malevolent comic strip character full of vile maledicta with a grease paint golden aura re-imagining himself as the glossy Messiah, freed from his comic strip representation. One does not ridicule a Messiah without paying a stern price for doing so.

I have raised the question of Trump’s mental health before, but whether he is on the cusp of dementia or has some other pathology associated with unbridled narcissism, it should become increasingly obvious that in a rational world his support will inevitably evaporate. But how much will it evaporate? In his warped mind it is important to maintain irrationality by lying in such a manner that it blitzes truth.  But such an approach must eschew ridicule among his erstwhile supporters.  Once they start laughing at him not with him, he is finished.

But not quite!

When I look at Trump, unfortunately I think of the Jonestown massacre in 1978, instigated by Jim Jones. Murder-suicide maintained Jones’ notoriety – in his own dead eyes.

Trump’s tormentors – as the Lincoln Group are – in pushing him to more and more irrational acts, have to remember that his actions in relation to 6 January 2021 could only be a forerunner of a more extremist performance, catastrophic to the future of America. It is very easy to say he is mad; to make him a figure of ridicule. However, he is so full of hatred that he could try and bring the whole country crashing down in the name of himself, Trump Messiah.  Instead he is the revengeful cutout villain of the comic strip or its modern successor, the video game. Except in Trump’s case, it is not a game.

Peter Byrne

You cannot find any mention of Peter Byrne, when people talk about those influential Melbourne cooks of the seventies, when people like Stephanie Alexander and the late Mietta O’Donnell were emerging as culinary heroines, in a field where to get a good meal, there were the fine dining establishments, the growth of the bistros and then there was Peter Byrne.

Peter Byrne was the quintessential Australian with an Irish heritage and a strong Labor Party affiliation. He had worked for the leader of the Victorian Labor Party, Clyde Holding. Holding was the silent partner in Waldron’s restaurant. Waldron’s was a restaurant in Bridge Road Richmond, and close to where I then lived.  This night a party of four of us for some reason went to dine there. It was the late seventies and it was a BYO restaurant. There was only one other couple in an otherwise empty converted shopfront restaurant. The other couple I recognised as being Claude Forell and his wife.  Claude Forell was the food writer for The Age newspaper (and later foundation editor of The Good Food Guide). He was there as the anonymous food writer. We recognised each other, and in short, the night was hilarious, the wine flowed, the food was excellent. Byrne joined in with his wife after he finished cooking. Rhonda was as cool as Peter was pugnacious. The end result was that Forell lavished the evening with praise, particularly the food, in his Age column, and the restaurant took off – from being empty it became full every night.

Peter was like many people of Irish heritage, complex and contradictory. He affected a brusque exterior, but was a very kind and generous man with a sense of humour which the Irish have and the non-Irish parody – mostly unsuccessfully. We would have political arguments, because like many of his persuasion they treated me as a member of the extreme right wing of a mythical Reactionary Party who still believed in the Divine Right of the Monarch.  It was often the starting point but somewhere in the midpoint of a very long night when the alcohol was seeping through the soles of our feet, we would reach some denouement.

I was going through a bad period of my life in the following year and he accepted my voluntary offer to help out in the evenings at the restaurant, which gave it an aura of the eclectic while pursuing the dialectic in the kitchen.

Byrne and I became friends without ever prying into the circumstances of the other’s life. He liked my sons, whom he called the louts (because, as one son put it, he couldn’t always remember which was which). The elder son, Paul,  at 14 years then worked there as a kitchen help during the holidays. It is somewhat ironic, that Paul himself has become a food writer. Eventually I went to Sydney to pursue my career. I lost contact with Peter for a while and during that period Waldron’s ran into financial difficulty as Peter succumbed to excessive drinking and mental stress.

As Forell put it in a subsequent piece in The Age writing in 1982, years after Waldron’s had closed, “Waldron’s has been a culinary oasis”. He was writing about Peter after he had moved to the London Tavern just around the corner in Lennox Street. Forell described the food at this new place as “Restaurant food at pub prices”. Forell went on “With entrees at around $2.50 and main courses from $4 to $5, it is remarkably good value”. He himself had tucked into a meal of Byrne’s own country terrine followed by venison sausages “with a sauce rich in fresh mushrooms.”

I saw Peter from time to time, including on one memorable occasion at an airport in India, but he was one of those guys who for a brief period in your life was an important anchor, even though he had similar frailties. I remember his famous Mao Pie – it was one of my favourites. Peter is long since dead, but retrieving this newspaper cutting kindled my regard; he certainly never sought the plaudits, but he was a very fine chef.

Claude Forell

As for Claude, I don’t remember when I last saw him or whether he is still alive, but I think this anecdote about him told by the late Age Associate Editor, Peter Cole Adams is, well, priceless. “History recalls Claude’s celebrated 1988 exchange with Stephen Downes, a rival food critic and former Age colleague. Downes unkindly described The Age Guide as the ‘Turin Shroud of Gastronomy’. Claude’s riposte was to dismiss Downes as ‘the Reverend Ian Paisley of Gastronomy’. He was not a man to be trifled with”.

Mouse Whisper

You must have heard of the definitive proof that the world is not flat. If it was, the cats would have pushed everything over the edge.