Modest expectations – Medals await for those who ski and shoot

I was sitting across a table; I can’t remember who asked the same rhetorical question first. The question went something like this: you know, you and I have one fundamental thing in common. Invariably, I’m met by a blank stare; the question just popping up.

“Our ancestors avoided the Black Death.” By whatever means, they did.

The East Smithfield plague pit – a source of genetic material

There were no defence mechanisms against the miasma, although they were certain people who began to understand the value of hygiene who found some defence.

Hygiene, as we know it, was not generally accepted even by all the medical profession, let alone the populace. Walk around any old cemetery and see the number of deaths of children under the age of five years in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from what today are curable diseases, largely due to the progressive introduction of vaccines.

Even the Spanish flu virus, which devastated country after country following WWI, the time when my father and mother were young, survives as seasonal influenza, for which a vaccine is available each year.

By the time I was born, due to the vaccination against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, these diseases were vanishing, although the pertussis vaccine was not as effective as the other two. They were all combined into the triple antigen injection in 1953.

The Spanish flu never reached Tasmania, but the 1935 polio epidemic started in the small town of Railton, the topiary town in central north Tasmania. Poliomyelitis was still a scourge when I was a small boy. I lived through the 1949 epidemic, when contact between schools stopped, and hygiene was enforced. We survived and, within the decade, first the Salk and then the more effective Sabin vaccine emerged. Over the following decades the disease melted away, such that hospitals that were constructed for poliomyelitis patient treatment were repurposed.

Vaccination was generally accepted until that rogue doctor Andrew Wakefield fooled the Lancet into publishing his outrageously fraudulent claim that autism was induced by the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine. He was in cahoots with a group of lawyers and grifters who wanted to use this claim to sue the manufacturers, distributors and those administering the vaccine.

Why Wakefield is not serving a long prison sentence is beyond me. But his antics were catalyst to much of the anti-vaccine sentiment which has followed and been attached to so much of the conspiracy mumbo jumbo. If this is allowed to continue to spread, then the world is at risk from the succeeding waves of anti-vaccine propaganda dissuading a substantial proportion from being vaccinated.

As I wrote in 2014, well before the COVID-19 epidemic, in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA):

Wilful objection to vaccination on the basis of spurious science should neither be encouraged nor rewarded, particularly by government. It is time for the whole question of conscientious objection to vaccination to be aired in Parliament if for no other reason than to find out which of our politicians are against vaccination, for they are as dangerous to continued Australian wellbeing as anyone who would challenge the biosecurity of our country.”

This statement applies more than ever!

Shenanigans is an Irish word

Racecourses that once attracted tens of thousands of people now lie beneath airport runways, university campuses and housing estates. It is now 50 years since Birmingham’s Bromford Bridge course shut (21 June 1965) and it is one of many that vanished thanks to a housing boom and the lure of developers’ money. BBC report in 2015 (The racecourse had been opened in 1894, but horse races had been held there since the 18th century.) 

Racecourses are closing all over the world. Since 2000, for instance, 38 racecourses have closed across the United States.

When reporting that the Singapore racing industry will shortly be closed down to provide vital space for housing, I recommended that Randwick racecourse too should be closed. I believe it stands to reason to take over that racecourse with all its accessibility advantages if the Government is serious in seeking to increase the housing stock most effectively. For those businesses seeking to have their staff to return to offices in the City, the redevelopment of Randwick Racecourse could provide housing located close to the city and served by light rail.

The problem is that any transactions between the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) now Australian Turf Club (ATC) and the NSW government, especially when the Party of Tripodi is in power, is influenced by the cosy relationship between it and the NSW Government.

Because most of the population takes no notice and the media writers are gushing about the purchase of racecourse land, the community is hoodwinked until the deal is done, and “spaghetti junction” politics is transferred to a “hallowed turf” rort – note the use of “hallowed”. You can find the word in the Irish Roman Catholic litany, the traditional players in the acquisition and management of the racing industry and the tribe that underpins the NSW Labor Party right.

They are aided and abetted by The National Party, whose policies are to slavishly try and keep rural myths that have never existed. The party is powerful – look how it took down Michael Baird’s attempt to abolish greyhound racing. With its history of cruelty and corruption, the abolition of greyhound racing was long overdue. Yet we, as NSW citizens, still allow it to exist, an abomination which attracts fewer and few spectators.

Determining the ownership of the racecourse is beyond me, but the trail on this matter is murky. Let’s start with a quote from a racing industry blurb:

The land at Randwick on which the racecourse was situated was crown land and controlled by the NSW Government. The issue with Homebush, apart from the state of the track, was the yearly negotiation of rent and use. At Randwick, the burgeoning AJC had much more security. In 1863, the NSW Government granted to trustees representing AJC an annual rent of “one black peppercorn payable on demand”. So far, this payment has never been collected.

Then there is no description of how the racecourse land proceeded to outright acquisition. Presumably there is an Act somewhere. Just a simple query and, if so, why was it not contained in any racing industry information.

For Rosehill, there was a clearer money trail.

The original land was held by the MacArthur family, as noted by Ian Ibbett. In 1880 it was sold to the lawyer, Septimus Stephen, who subdivided the land and advertised it for sale using the name of Rosehill.  Enter the flamboyant theatrical entrepreneur of the late nineteenth century, John Bennett. He bought a significant holding of 140 acres for a racecourse and recreation ground and on 18th April 1885, after an outlay of some £17,000, Rosehill racecourse conducted its first meeting.  Bennett even went so far as to provide a private railway track connecting Rosehill to the mainline at Clyde. The railway notwithstanding, for some years, racegoers, were able to come to the course by boat, anchoring mid-stream in the Parramatta River, while patrons paid the princely sum of a shilling for the transfer ashore.

The opening meeting at Rosehill Racecourse in 1885

Bennett set up the Rosehill Racing Club (RRC), which later became the Rosehill Racecourse Company. The amount of money which he paid for the land seems not to be disclosed or at least not readily available.

The Sydney Turf Club (STC) was founded in 1943 and is the youngest of Australia’s Principal Race Clubs. It was formed following an Act passed by the New South Wales parliament called the Sydney Turf Club Act (since repealed). The Act gave the club the power to hold 62 race meetings a year at the Rosehill and Canterbury tracks.

This came about because the then NSW Premier William McKell, instituted government legislation which created the Sydney Turf Club (STC) in 1943. McKell hand-picked the first board of directors which set about reviewing and dismantling the proprietary and pony race clubs. After much discussion and reporting, the STC purchased Rosehill Racecourse Company and Canterbury Park Racecourse Company. The remaining clubs at Moorefield, Ascot, Kensington, Rosebery and Victoria Park gradually closed.

In February 2011 the Sydney Turf Club (STC) and the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) officially merged to form a new Sydney racing club, the Australian Turf Club (ATC), and commenced racing immediately. The backstory was that the AJC was broke and the STC was very solvent. The STC members did not want the merger, but its Board overrode the members’ wishes. That is how the racing industry works as an offshoot of the Sicilian Vespers.

Sydney racing was further boosted by a $174m funding package by the NSW Government to redevelop Randwick racecourse ($150m) along with improvements to Rosehill ($24mM).

Yet the ATC runs a deficit, despite having absorbed the STC funds.

Now the ATC has the temerity to seek $5 billion for the Rosehill site, so they can spend up on equine fripperies, when the aim should be to restrict, to reduce the outlandish prize money and to make the industry pay for itself.

The NSW Taxpayer is being asked to underwrite an industry in decline, despite the outrageous prize money. Yet another normal day at Spaghetti Junction on Macquarie Street.

Remember the word outrageous! It is time for us to stop being fooled.

I would acquire the Rosehill Racecourse, and tell them to use the pre-existing facilities, and legislate for betting companies to build the facilities elsewhere – they would soon work out what was essential and not. Anyway, that would be my starting point. Sydney needs housing not an outdated and increasingly irrelevant industry.

The Japanese Maple Births

This Spring a couple of native mynahs took over our front garden. Not only was it a birthing clinic but then we had to endure the nursery, while the two fledgelings grew up.

In the meantime, mum and dad mynahs objected to anybody coming into the garden, and dive-bombed the unsuspecting intruders, which made the 20 metres to the front door for those having to “wing” it. However, we also heard from others that they had to cross the road to go past the house in order to avoid the dive-bomb.

The two fledgelings needed to be fed, but only one emoted; after some initial false starts including when they ended up buried in clivias for half a day, both sat on the branches with their mouths open, but only one crying for more. The other was silent.

For a period we thought one had plummeted to its death, but the only intervention by my wife was a crumpled cardboard “staircase”, which enabled one of the fledgelings to eventually climb back for another try.

This was the only intervention. The nest was constructed in one of the Japanese maples. The garden contains two Japanese maples, but is essentially a walled garden, with camellias and climbing roses inside and ivy coating the outside wall alone the lane.

Then the critical time occurs, and the fledgelings shed their airborne uncertainty, and begin flying all over the property and across the lane into the trees or into our pittosporum in the back garden, which overhangs the lane or into the olive tree outside our front gate.

They might fly but they were not yet completely independent. Whether they have learnt the art of feeding themselves or not, for a time they returned to the garden at feeding time.

But now they have gone. Perhaps there has been something satisfying in providing the environment for native mynahs to raise their fledgelings. My wife doesn’t agree – native mynahs are a long way down her “bird of preference” list.  Next year, if you think the welcome is laid out again, chirp again.  You guys better go easy on attacking our visitors. Otherwise, you also can just wing it!

Yitzhak Who?

We, who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today in a loud and a clear voice; enough of blood and tears. Enough…We are today giving peace a chance and saying to you and saying to you again: enough – Yitzhak Rabin at signing of Oslo Accords 1993

The stain is spreading, President Biden. What would you say if your Secretary of State was a Muslim?  What would you say if your Secretary of State was a Jew? But then your Secretary of State is a New York Jew whose ancestors came from Hungary, with distinguished Yiddish scholars in the mix and a stepfather, who was a Holocaust survivor. Impressive CV for such a task in hand.

Now the Hamas had plenty of time to perform the atrocities for which they have been accused by the Israeli publicity machine. Such as has occurred to those who have been released, been held for a longer time when the Hamas would have had a more leisurely time to commit these foul atrocities. What, you mean, these Hamas “animals” were escorting the released captives with civility with no complaints of atrocities- on the face of it the released all seem to be well cared for. It seems a disconnect, but the Bibi is the maestro of the Disconnect.

Now, there are those gentle, considerate Israeli soldiers, shooting up hospitals, humiliating a group of Palestinian men – why the inhumanity? The shema recited alleges that these men could be Hamas with exploding underwear; well the way the Israeli soldiers are acting, they could be equal to what the Israelis describe as Hamas, shema or not.

And the West bank, let’s shoot up the Palestinians, targets for the right-wing bunch of settlers. Would you tolerate in the United States, Mr Biden – shooting up the innocents – it’s called mass murder, President Biden.

How many of those terrorist children are you going to kill before the stain covers the whole of the Land of the Free. And what about the mothers – the hypocrisy of banning abortion Stateside and yet condoning at the same time killing defenceless women, some of whom are demonstrably pregnant, by these heroic Israeli soldiers – and let’s not forget the heroic pilots who outdo one another in blowing up Gaza, and anywhere else that they fancy. Far more authentic than those video games.

Biden, look at those settlers killing the defenceless on the West Bank. They are from the same sect that murdered Rabin. Do you condone, you, President Biden a plagiarism upon your House.

And here we are, being consumed by Christmas and good cheer.  And in this time of gifts given in the traditional holly encrusted brown paper bags, there’s our Australian Government wagging its tail, loyally filling the pockets of consultants and the coffers of the American war machine who can rest comfortably, ye merry gentlemen.  The brown paper bag has never been so well decorated. Finally, this week Australia has joined with the vast majority of countries to demand a ceasefire, parting with the entrenched US position.

But, while there are vetos, who cares about Gaza? The Palestinians are just barbarians. They don’t play golf, you know.

And by the way, Happy Hannukah.

Winter in the Isle of Wight

Some years ago, about this time of the year, we went to the Isle of Wight

It was a time between appointments. Downtime. Winter in England. Where to go? The wattage of inspiration. What about the Isle of Wight? Where else? The slight sense of adventure crossing the Foggy Solent – the stretch of water which separates the land from the Isle.

Driving down to Lymington through the New Forest – once the hunting domain of William the Conqueror and the place where son William, nicknamed Rufus, caught an arrow in somewhat inauspicious circumstances. Even in winter it’s a beautiful place of open forest and picturesque villages where wild donkeys roam through the streets coming out of the forest. It is all very quaint.

“Quaint” – what a delightful word derived from Old French cointe, from Latin cognitus ‘ascertained’, past participle of cognoscere. The original sense was “wise, clever”, also “ingenious, cunningly devised”, hence “out of the ordinary” and the current meaning came about in the late 18th century).

But then so is Yarmouth, where the car ferry deposits us – at the mouth of the Yar estuary. The George Hotel has been picked as the hotel of choice because of the availability of its prized No. 19 room. This room has an expansive terrace. From here we have a view over the estuary. The weather is cold, but there is not much chill factor in the wind. Yachts are shadowy forms – and even if it is the wrong part of the country, it is all very Swallows and Amazons as the Arthur Ransome books of my youth described the English coast.

The George Hotel has been described as a winter hotel. Oak stairs that slope, a plaque that recognises that King Charles 1 had been there, possibly on one of his last nights of freedom. A breakfast room that overlooks the sea where you take porridge and kippers and that keystone of British life – a pot of Earl Grey, his lordship perfectly buffered in the tea bags.

August is crowded with tourists. It is Cowes week. The yachts are thick in number on the Solent. In winter they say the village atmosphere returns. The Isle of Wight becomes a tourist attraction in summer and a haven for sailors who sail the day and crowd the bar of the George Hotel at night. The Isle of Wight has been a favourite of royalty, but Osborne House, which Albert built for Victoria, is closed for winter – apart from special viewings. They’ll start the week after we have left.

The Isle of Wight in winter is also the Isle of Wight without funfairs and crowded roads. As one lady, who runs a teddy bear museum in Brading, one of the favourite watering spots in touring the perimeter of the island, remarked – bedlam for her is a wet day in August when the shop is jammed and her ability to service sorely tested. But in a rainy winter’s day, nobody came in while I waited for the teddy bear loving wife to buy yet another bear for her collection. The transaction was completed with due care given the seriousness of the purchase. After all, teddy bears have personalities and must be compatible.

Quarr Abbey

The Quarr Abbey, the stolid red Belgian brick building constructed in early part of the 20th century is open. The home of a declining number of Benedictine monks, the abbey provides accommodation for travellers. But we came and wandered the cloisters and purchased a CD of the monks intoning Gregorian chants interrupted by the Abbey bells, but we did not stay overnight.

That is the essence of the quaintness and yet outside there is a spectacular coastline which starts in the west at the Needles and then, along the ocean face are white cliffs and spectacular views of surly seas. It is an unencumbered view – you can stop and walk at will. There is room to move here, now that winter has come.

Mouse Whisper

You know the ads on television which characterise Dan Murphy as a New York bootlegger, but the advertisements betray a discordance in the representation. First the prices on the labels are in shillings, but the felt pen used in changing the price was not in use until the 1970s. So colourful; sure, the first felt pen was patented in 1910 but up until the 70s, they were excessively clunky. The one in the ad was probably bought the day they made the advertisement.

The actual Dan Murphy was a wine merchant who had a series of successful wine outlets in Melbourne. The first was in Chapel Street Prahran, set up in 1952 in competition with his father Ted Murphy; another at the lower end of one of the “Little” streets – either Little Bourke or Little Lonsdale Street. A small, cluttered vintner’s gem; the bottle that struck one as you entered the shop was the bottle of 1945 Chateau Margaux, carefully protected under wire netting.

Dan introduced the traditional Australian beer culture to fine wines; but he eventually succumbed to the financial blandishments of Woolworths. This behemoth has changed the Dan Murphy persona to one of an American bootlegger, albeit getting things wrong – presumably intentionally.


Modest Expectations – Eventually meet Me at the Gate

When I was an inhabitant of the Old Parliament House, there was a machine there which resembled a poker machine – the images whirled past when one pressed a button. The cards profiled each of the current members of Parliament at that time. General hilarity ensued when the machine settled on the agreed dumbest politician in Parliament. Then there was always a clear winner, which always drew cheers and laughter when you hit on that particular member, the decisive winner by a large margin.

But if we did it today, the winner would be less clear. There are some very dumb members of Parliament and, unlike the winner in the good ol’ days, some of the most stupid are dangerous because they wallow in the mud of their crackpot conspiracies.

Part of this is due to the fragmentation of the electorate into distrust of the conventional self-seeking mob. Therein lies the inherent weakness of our current system, writ large. Isolation.

There is an increasing tendency for aspirant politicians to spend their early adult life in a politician’s office, as though an apprenticeship in the political world mirrors actual life and provides useful experience. Rather, it is a selective and often nasty, pointless existence.

These offices provide a festering apprenticeship in arrogance and the “kiss-up, kick down” of petty politics. Albanese, who started on the fringes of the Hawke office is a classic example of enduring this phenomenon; whereas  persons like many of the so-called Teals have had a totally wider experience having lived outside the zoo for most of their career.

You just have to look at the corruption and “cock-ups” of Australian intra-structural projects this century. This has culminated in the most evident of them all – the road disaster in the inner-west of Sydney. From now on there is a new word in the Australian language for all this – the “Rozelle Interchange”.

The Rozelle Interchange

And they have the hide to want to increase the number of Politicians. God, another “Rozelle Interchange”.

Cry for Us, Argentina

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio

(Pope Francis) as a cardinal in Buenos Aires — home to one of the world’s largest Jewish populations — Francis was known to celebrate Jewish holidays with locals, helping to light menorahs during Hanukkah.

In 2015, he marked the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate — the Vatican II declaration that sought to remove Biblical-era blame for Jesus’s death on the Jewish people — with one of the strongest defences of Israel by a sitting Pope. “To attack Jews is antisemitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also antisemitism,” he said.

More than previous pontiffs, though, the first Latin American Pope has also championed human rights, seeing the downtrodden, the underdogs and the oppressed as his primary cause. He reflects the Global South’s general distrust and scepticism of the West and its allies, as well as more sympathetic views toward Palestinians and Russia

Israeli President Isaac Herzog held a fraught phone call with Pope Francis. The Israeli head of state was describing his nation’s horror over the Hamas attack on October 7 when the pope issued a blunt rejoinder.

It is “forbidden to respond to terror with terror,” Francis said, according to a senior Israeli official familiar with the call, which has not been previously reported.

Herzog protested, repeating the position that the Israeli government was doing what was needed in Gaza to defend its own people. The Pope continued, saying those responsible should indeed be held accountable, but not civilians.

That private call would inform Israeli interpretations of Francis’s polemic statement, at his November 22 general audience in St. Peter’s Square, that the conflict had “gone beyond war. This is terrorism.” Taken with the diplomatic exchange — deemed so “bad” by the Israelis that they did not make it public — the implication seemed clear: The Pope was calling their campaign in Gaza an act of terrorism.

These extracts came from The Washington Post, and interleaved into forthright criticism of the Israeli actions towards Gaza is a foreboding sense of how the Pope can be isolated. Of course, he could mysteriously die, a not unusual fate of popes. Nevertheless, unless his death is unambiguously due to natural causes, the number of books blaming the Israeli Government on his death would stretch even the Israeli public relations juggernaut to explain away.

On Thursday a week ago Hamas claimed having killed four people and six others were wounded when two Palestinian gunmen affiliated with them opened fire near a bus stop on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Not exactly a flame retardant.

Henry Kissinger dying the other day reminded me of what happens if one carpet bombs a country and sows the countryside with mines. Kissinger effectively destroyed the fabric of Cambodia enabling a bunch of fanatics to fill the vacuum. Even now, the evidence of Kissinger the misanthrope survives as his legacy. Intensely intelligent, he played to the dark side of personality, a not too difficult trick when you are working for Richard Nixon.

When you weigh up diplomacy which depends on the ultimate in detached brutality, the war plane, the more it is being shown that bombing destroys, but it leaves a vacuum. If the Israelis are intent on carpet bombing, they may kill the innocent population excused as always by that population shielding Hamas. Hamas unsurprisingly survives. Ordinary people just want to go about their lives.

The fact that Israel is a military camp makes life difficult if you are infested with all the trappings of military aggression, whether you are man or woman (unless of course you are dressed in black with that distinctive headgear).

If you follow that distorted view, you may destroy the shield but not those supposedly sheltering behind the shield. The story of the American Middle East Policy in a nutshell, but Israeli fangs are embedded in your Washington wrist.

Biden, you should talk to the Pope more often, given he is your spiritual boss.

Just a Bullet

I think it was during my third university year. I was sitting on a tram one summer evening travelling through the inner Melbourne suburb of North Fitzroy when I heard a crack by my right ear. I half turned and saw a bullet hole in the window. By its size I reckoned the bullet had come from an air rifle. The window on the other side was lowered because of the evening heat.

I immediately told the tram conductor, who just shrugged and murmured that it happened all the time. That was that. I did not report it to the police as I had an important person to meet.

Purveyor of “underground mutton”

In the 1950s, there was a certain laissez-faire attitude towards firearms. The Second World War was still fresh in the mind of communities. After all, there was a certain satisfaction about shooting that vermin, the rabbit. It provided a major source of protein during the Great Depression. You could buy a rabbit, so-called “underground mutton”, from one these itinerant rabbitohs. Rabbit fur was popular for women’s hats, apparel and as trimming for collars or dresses until the 1970s. Rabbit fur was also used to make felt hats – the essence of the Akubra.

On one day of the year, we school cadets had to go to the Williamstown rifle range on the edge of Port Phillip Bay, a windswept, isolated patch of ground well away from civilisation naturally. The night before this excursion we were all issued with .303 rifles, instructed to remove the bolt and put it our school bag (in those years the Gladstone bag was the most popular). So, for this one day of the year, there was a group of schoolboys carting WWII rifles all over Melbourne on public transport. There was a general acceptance; no letters of outrage to the papers.

I wanted my long-suffering sons to become proficient in the Pentathlon sports. This included pistol shooting. After introduction to firearms with air rifles, they switched to pistol shooting. Because they were minors, I was fingerprinted and was required to house the pistols in a secure pistol safe, which was placed in the storage area beneath the stairs.

The pistol range itself was in an isolated area under the Bolte Bridge. The pistol shooters were a mild-mannered good group of fellows, who taught the boys how to use the centrefire pistols. Apart from a brief outburst from one of the boys, they became very competent and moreover learnt what could be best described as shooting etiquette from these generally excellent diligent role models who ran the pistol club. These guys were hardly the pistol packing caricature of “gumshoe fiction”.

Neville Sayers

Proficiency was the initial goal; competitiveness was another. As Neville Sayers, a pioneer pentathlete, said to me at the time, “To be competitive you had to be a very good swimmer”, as the distance then to swim in competition was 300 metres freestyle. That was a goal too far for the sons, but they did become very good fencers.

A Hidden Agenda – Not so Much

Susan Neiman is an American moral philosopher. Her Wikipedia entry states that she wrote Slow Fire, a memoir about her life as a Jewish woman in 1980s in Berlin. It was published in 1992. From 1989 to 1996, she was an assistant and associate professor of philosophy at Yale University, and from 1996 to 2000 she was an associate professor of philosophy at Tel Aviv University. In 2000 she assumed her current position at the Einstein Forum Potsdam.

Susan Neiman

She has recently written “You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible. And we do remember,” said Benjamin Netanyahu on 28 October. There’s no point wasting words over the lifelong secular conman’s sudden interest in biblical texts, or even in asking whether it’s kosher to follow an injunction to wipe out enemy tribes if your main object is to prolong a war in order to stay out of jail.”

This is reprinted from The New Statesman. Therefore, in terms of the claque that surrounds Bibi, she is just a leftie ideologue.

Under Your Spell

Dev Shah

The US National Spelling Bee, funded by Scripps Howard (since 1941), this year was won by an eighth grader from Florida, Dev Shah, who studied up to 10 hours a day to finally correctly spell psammophile, a plant or animal that loves living in sandy soil. You know, those who lounge on Bondi beach – well not really, but those limited creatures and plants who prefer to live in sandy areas, poor buggers. You know, Jerboas, kangaroo rats and cacti.

This was the 95th year of the competition, which commenced in 1925 when the winning kid won by correctly spelling “gladiolus”. At that time the first two spelling bees were sponsored by the Louisville Courier Journal, which was owned by the liberally-minded Bingham Family. It is a strange sensation, when I am writing about some kid today winning $50,000, and I remember that I had a very pleasant meeting once with members of the Bingham family, one of the backbones of Kentucky society. They even gave me a history of their family.

Gladiolus” also made think of Barry Humphries when I found out that first winning word, but he was not to be born for another nine years, when the winning word was “brethren”.

Compare the shoals of difficulty that had to be negotiated this year. Dev Shah had to spell “bathypitotmeter,” an instrument that measures the velocity and temperature of water at certain depths, before triumphing with the sand lover.

Most of the winners in the past two decades are boys and girls with a sub-continental heritage, as Dev Shah has. Dev Shah is 14 years old and in his last eligible year, but an experienced competitor.

Why is it called “a bee”? There are several theories, but nobody really knows for certain.

“Sandra Day O’Connor is Gone. So, increasingly, is what She stood for.”

Sandra Day O’Connor

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who died on Friday (1 December) at 93, was a trailblazer in more ways than one. The daughter of Arizona cattle ranchers, she tended the herd on her way to graduating third in her class at Stanford Law School in 1952, before becoming the first woman on the Supreme Court.

When President Ronald Reagan chose her for the job, few knew who she was: at the time, an obscure state appeals court judge. Unlike other justices, she rose to the pinnacle of the judicial branch by way of lawmaking in her home state’s legislature. From this, and her years on the ranch, she brought a practicality to the court that most of today’s justices lack.

In this sense, Justice O’Connor represents an era regrettably past — a time when government leaders cared about getting things done collaboratively. With her guidance, the Supreme Court weighed carefully the impact its rulings would have on Americans. In oral arguments, she would often ask how a hypothetical ruling might affect real people and institutions. She was far from being an abortion rights activist, yet she provided the key vote to uphold the core elements of Roe v. Wade in the landmark 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling, explaining in a co-written principal opinion that a generation of women had come of age relying on the constitutional right to abortion.

“Rare indeed is the legal victory — in court or legislature — that is not a careful by-product of an emerging social consensus,” she wrote in a 2003 essay collection. If only that were true today, as polarised factions within the court and in Congress too often seek to impose ideological views rather than examine the evidence and reason with facts, to apply raw power rather than build consensus.

Justice O’Connor was an avatar of change and progress, but she was also painstakingly centrist. She was the key middle vote that swung the court toward some of its most consequential conclusions. Overshadowed in cultural memory by former justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she had more influence on the law in her time.

She was among the 5-4 majority in the Casey decision, which preserved abortion rights for another generation but also allowed for greater state regulation, as long as it did not impose an “undue burden” on women’s access. This satisfied neither liberals nor conservatives.

Not merely the right woman, Sandra Day O’Connor was the right justice.

Similarly, in 2003, she wrote the majority opinion upholding university affirmative action in Grutter v. Bollinger, declaring that affirmative action’s “benefits are not theoretical but real,” even as she said the “Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.” 

Grutter reflected Justice O’Connor’s empathy for those who, like her, faced social obstacles based on characteristics such as race, gender or sexual orientation. She recounted how, when she was just out of law school, she could get a job only as a legal secretary.

She was inspired by Justice Thurgood Marshall, reflecting that she hoped “to hear, just once more, another story that would, by and by, perhaps change the way I see the world.” Her commitment to equality extended to LGBTQ+ issues. Joining the majority in Lawrence v. Texas, she repudiated a state anti-sodomy statute, denouncing a “law branding one class of persons as criminal solely based on the State’s moral disapproval of that class.”

Justice O’Connor’s distinction as the first woman on the Supreme Court was, indeed, inseparable from her work. She once worried that if she made a poor showing, future women would have a harder time joining the court: “It’s all right to be the first to do something, but I didn’t want to be the last woman on the Supreme Court.” A majority-female court now seems plausible, if not likely, in the near future. Meanwhile, it would be unthinkable to have an entirely male court or one with only a single female justice.

Not merely the right woman, Sandra Day O’Connor was the right Justice.

In 2006, Justice O’Connor retired from the court to care for her husband, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, though she could have held on to her powerful seat years longer. In 2018, she acknowledged that she, too, had dementia, which contributed to her death.

Justice O’Connor’s no-nonsense ethos reflected life experiences different from those of most justices, and of others who have gained power by cultivating their résumés and satisfying select ideological groups. She was a living argument for thinking beyond the ordinary litmus tests in selecting judges and other powerful officials. Alas, her private lament, conveyed to a friend later in life, resonates beyond the court’s marble steps: “Everything I stood for is being undone.”

I have reprinted unapologetically this Washington Post obituary of this remarkable Supreme Court Judge, because like that other apparently liberal jurist, Earl Warren appointed by a Republican President, she by Reagan and Warren by Eisenhower, they provided a civilised reasoning in their decisions. But she was not liberal in terms of the current female jurists appointed by Democratic Presidents; she was a true conservative in the Oakeshott tradition. She had to be convinced that change was better than the status quo. Being a jurist, she was ideally suited to this task.

One of the personal anecdotes relating to her was that she and the future Chief Justice William Rehnquist were for a time in the 1950s an “item” when they were students at the Stanford Law school. Rehnquist was seven years older than O’Connor, but he was in the same 1949 year as a beneficiary of the GI Bill, which provided higher education for returning servicemen. At one stage he proposed to her, and she rejected him. They remained very good friends and there is a suggestion that Rehnquist recommended her appointment to the Supreme Court to President Reagan. Outrageous, if she had not been such a substantial voice for the good – unfortunately undone by the Robert Supreme Court with the darkly picaresque Trump stacking it with a skulk of dubious jurists.

Mouse Whisper 

He who must never be obeyed (joke) blogged some time ago that Randwick Racecourse should be turned into housing. Outrageous, the equine community would use such an expletive, before ignoring such a fanciful notion and continuing along its bridle path.

But after all, who remembers Harold Park, the inner-city trotting track, now a housing estate.

Rosehill Racecourse is being mooted for the same treatment.

Let’s be brutal, horse racing is about as irrelevant to most people in the community as polo. Horse racing is an expensive, if colourful, activity held together by the huge betting franchises. Of course, the careers lost, the unemployment generated would be rolled out by the industry to justify a couple of minutes upon which $20 million is showered upon a group of people who do not need it, while the housing crisis continues on.

Why not take a leaf out of the Eulo playbook and have lizard racing. T denizens akes less space and some of the colourful personalities, who are the of the racing industry, should feel very much at home.

The Eulo Lizard Races


Modest Expectations – Winchester

Bill Hayden

I cannot let the death of Bill Hayden pass without acknowledging this great Australian. Having read the Savva obituary, I can’t top hers. Having spent most of my political life as defender of the medical profession, I barely knew Bill Hayden as more than a courteous opponent. He won the Federal seat of Oxley in 1961 with a swing of 9.4 per cent from the father of a great friend of mine, both of whom were distinguished doctors. Dr Donald Cameron, who had been the Minister of Health under Menzies and had held the seat from 1949, had held the seat comfortably until challenged by Hayden. His insights, particularly his promotion of Deeble and Scotton, the “engine room” of the reform in health financing of this country precipitated by the Nimmo Report in 1969, was masterful.

He was one of the only senior Australian politicians to stand up to the Americans, since every politician was aware of the unseen hand they had played in the removal of Whitlam. Nobody has ever accused them of interfering in the removal of Hayden just before the 1983 election, but Richardson had tunnels everywhere. And one into the American embassy would not have surprised me.

In the 1980s, when I was still connected to the Australian Medical Association, some parts of the medical profession objected to the tone of a speech he gave to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians whilst Governor-General. I strongly defended Hayden’s stance in letters to the Press.

Some time later I was invited with my wife to dinner at Admiralty House. It was one of those dinners where, even with Bill, privilege dripped from the ceiling.

I never spoke to him again, but my admiration grew as I experienced what he had wrought, and which Neil Blewitt consolidated. It is a pity that their successors have not been up to the task of maintaining the scheme in the way it was devised and let in a succession of interfering bureaucrats who, for all their bluster, were incompetent and knew bugger-all about health. 

Andy Beshear

In December 2021, the Western Kentucky tornado directly killed 57 people and resulted in injuries to between 508 and 533 people. The toll makes it the deadliest tornado ever recorded in the United States in the month of December, in addition to being the deadliest tornado since 2011.

Andy Beshear

In writing a piece in a blog soon after on 17 December, I wrote the following as an exemplar of charismatic leadership. The exemplar I used was the then recently elected Governor Andy Beshear. 

As I was exploring this topic, I tuned into the Kentucky disaster, and noted immediately the decisive compassionate leadership being shown by the Governor, Andy Beshear. He so clearly demonstrates the qualities of the charismatic leader. It is hoped that he has the moral compass to keep going with it. His demonstration of charismatic leadership and his deft and rapid transfer of the reconstruction of his State to his relevant authorities will serve as a model.

My bias is that of a person who lived through the 60s, I believe Beshear will take a national leadership role at some point. He reminds me of Robert Kennedy. I hope his life is not cut short and he does not become a fallen idol, as have a number of people of promise who have not been able to define a successful leadership style.

Andy Beshear is a Democrat who retained his governorship recently in a State where Trump won by 26 points in 2000; and he has to deal with two houses of government, which are overwhelmingly Republican such as they can override the governor’s veto by a “supermajority”.

Like the Kennedys, he has a refreshing assertiveness, which I remember so clearly as a young man, when I thought John Kennedy would lead us into a new world after he faced Krushchev down over the Cuban missile crisis.

Then the world descended into darkness, when both Jack and Robert were assassinated, and over the next 40 years, the Americans were defeated in every war they pursued while they spent more and more on the armed forces.

Jack Kennedy followed Dwight Eisenhower who, during his last term, was sick and at times his Vice-President, Richard Nixon stepped in. Eisenhower, when he vacated office, was nearly 70, and that in 1961, was long before the mantra “seventy is the new fifty” became fashionable.

By the end of his second term. Eisenhower was thus a sick man. Biden is perceived as such if in a different manner, and when he stood for a second term, Eisenhower was considered well enough for another four years.

Eisenhower did not like Nixon, but he did not have the strength to get rid of him. Unlike Trump, Nixon was intelligent, and while he played “dirty” and was found guilty of criminal behaviour, he was not mad as Trump is.

I believe Biden is not electable, irrespective of his Republican opponent. He looks old. He moves like an old man; and the closer to the election, the more his obvious age will alienate the electorate. The Israeli War will age him further, because the stance that he has taken to humour two per cent of the American population, the increasing genocide being undertaken by the Israelis will be harder and harder to justify to the US to continue the level of both moral and financial support. Netanyahu is playing his normal game, and banking on the US not removing its support.

Everything in the US political scene appears toxic and, if not toxic, so very stale.

I’ve expressed my admiration for both the Michigan Governor, Gretchen Widmer, and Senator Amy Klobucher from Minnesota as Presidential material. At this time, the failure of Hillary Clinton to beat Trump in 2016 has left raw areas, because Trump plays on the “jock” side of American masculinity. Even though Widmer has stood up in Michigan and Klobucher comes from a prairie state, I doubt they can win because of Hillary Clinton’s disastrous performance.

However Beshear, by retaining the Governorship of a State which voted heavily for Trump, demonstrates his electability. The advantage he has is that he is on the crest of a wave; and the polls should show very quickly his strength with the electorate. America is ready to dump old men; but first Biden must graciously quit once Beshear gains momentum.

Andy Beshear is a member of a Protestant church, certainly within the evangelical diaspora, but like the Kennedys who were ostensibly burdened with Roman Catholicism, he can clearly separate church from state considerations.

So Biden, do the right thing, but unfortunately he’s so consumed by his own ego he won’t step down graciously, thus imperilling America. Everyone knows his Vice-President is unelectable. Not because she does not have the requisite ability but Hillary Clinton, with her cold personality and her great intelligence, coated with political ineptitude has made it very difficult for a woman to be elected.  Until Beshear emerged, my preferences were two very strong women of integrity.

But it’s up to a very old man being bullied into submission by a criminal, Here Netanyahu and Trump are interchangeable names.

The “Liberal Republican”

Nelson Rockefeller – a true Liberal Republican

I wrote the following some fifty years ago as a private reflection. It was never published because political staffers were paid for advice and loyalty to your boss and not for showboating. I discovered it when I was going through my papers. I was using the US Republican when there was a Liberal wing, with such people as Nelson Rockefeller and Earl Warren. After all, Lincoln was also a Republican. It was a time, a brief time admittedly, when the Liberal Coalition had lost after 23 years, and a few pretended to embrace liberal social positions.

This was my rather sceptical assessment at the time, and even if I say it myself, I was not too far away from the mark then, especially when viewed from a couple of generations on. Notice the use of “he”.

A Liberal Republican claims that he is the bearer of the Liberal tradition. At that time, the world is affluent; the governing elders are out of time.

All slick – all gloss – all façade. The issues are canvassed. When he talks, he replies in fore-owned sentences; when he is photographed, the right colours are chosen; the clothes are just matched; when he is “featured”, the family hovers against a prepared Australian background. When he relaxes, he is suitably self-deprecating about his sporting skills. 

Maybe mix a little – rub with others who have also been gilded with the Liberal tradition. Public relations experts ensure that he is never lonely.

Pilgrimages to be made – self-indulgent gestures to be made – it is allowed in the game – when the world is affluent.

The Liberal tradition becomes a pair of sunglasses ensuring that all that penetrates has the right tinted polarity. No glare.

It is also an important ingredient that the party leadership at the time is growing acceptably old – age is considered a synonym for old fashioned. Whereas you are the young and who else is to inherit?

Words like “conservatism” or “facts” or “consumerism” or “trendy” or “community” or small “l” or “socio-economic” or “equality” substitute for meaning. Rhetoric is when the leaders are retiring to their rhododendrons or golf courses; and when the world is affluent. 

But the world darkens; private enterprise suffers. The suffering deepens. The economy becomes sprinkled – unemployment – inflation – stagnation – stagflation. Arcadian visions vanish – gloom pervades. The sunglasses come off.

Liberal tradition what may I ask? The questioner is trampled by the mob who are shedding their clothes of Liberalism for the stronger colours of conservatism, or the more politically myopic who do not know where to stop the harsh colours of reaction.

Impressionism is out; realism is in. Essential to be pragmatic. The rhetoric of the left is forsworn. Everybody is still progressive, although progressive means that the sun moves from east to west. Illusion for change. 

The Liberals – those who still want to dismantle privilege and seek the rights of equality to be distributed evenly, find that the overloaded wagon of a time before has an almost empty shell. Liberals do not exist in this situation. The remaining must be the stooges on the left.

Socialist – destroyers of private enterprise. No, they are not. All they are is consistent. All the non-Labor side of the spectrum needs is for people who profess Liberalism to remain Liberals. Not just use the rhetoric and as soon as difficulties arise flee. 

These vacillators are the Liberal Republicans. They case their fortunes all over the political spectrum. They stand for nothing. They besmirch the Liberal. They destroy the consistency of belief patterns which evolve according to personal revelation not due to some rule of political survival.

Otherwise, how the hell can the person in the street ever feel that his politician means anything more than the guy who may ensure that your pension cheque is removed from a fouled-up system as a special favour, or is just a pretty face in your letter-box at election time?

Pretty face is a bit extreme! And for some reason so many years later I am reminded of the Peter Sarstedt song, “Where do you go to, my lovely.”

I remember Piping Lane

The two-mile thoroughbred race is Australia’s equivalent of Britain’s Grand National or America’s Kentucky Derby, capturing the world’s attention for the three-and-a-half minute spectacle.  BBC


The Melbourne Cup has always been part of my life. I remember that for three years in a row my mother who bet on no other day of the year would have two bob on a horse in The Cup. She would bet through her sister, who was very keen on racing and would lay bets with the “SP bookie” generally found in the lane behind the local pub. She won by betting on Russia (1946), Hiraji (1947) and Rimfire (1948).

The first Melbourne Cup I really remember was in 1950, when Comic Court with a big weight led all the way. He was ridden by Pat Glennon because his regular jockey, Jack Purtell preferred to ride the Cup favourite, Alister. Comic Court was a five year old and trained by Bart Cummings’ father, Jim Cummings, who had started his equine relationship as a horse breaker in the Northern Territory before becoming a trainer. Amazing how much trivia lodges in a small boy’s brain.

I have always pondered why the Melbourne Cup attracted so much attention, even before it became an excuse for getting drunk on cheap champagne and for others to display their wealth and snobbery and as a parade of fashions.

The fact is that it has been a holiday since 1873, at a time of great wealth in Victoria because of the gold. The actual Melbourne Cup is made of solid gold even now. It fills in a gap of the holiday calendar, being always on the first Tuesday in November. The immutability of the date I believe cemented its uniqueness – because whatever ever happens on a Tuesday?

I dislike the way Cup Day has evolved, but horse racing despite the obscene prize money is slowly dying. Once, it existed for people to bet when there were few opportunities to legally wager. The racecourse was the haven for betting legally until off-course betting in Victoria was legalised in 1961 and thereafter in all States. Betting is now so pervasive that the betting industry does not really need live animals.  Facsimiles will do, because when all is said and done trying to intellectualise an industry where there is none will take some minor tipping point to send it completely into Tombstone Territory.

Jean Shrimpton

I genuinely enjoy horse racing; I no longer bet.  I used to go to the Melbourne Cup. I was there the day Jean Shrimpton, the English model, was “unveiled”. Little did we realise that she was the harbinger of the times to come when the fashionistas and the moveable “celebrity trade” took the Cup away from the people – the Cup sweep being the symbol of this connection with the people.

The Cup once did not require sponsorship; polls suggest that most people, especially the young, have lost interest; then there has been rise of those who proclaim that horse racing is barbaric. As one public relations guru, after this Year’s Cup, published in the Guardian stated “… then you add to that the very topical issue of the cost of living crisis. You can see the lavish excess of the event might be considered inappropriate.”

The wariness of sponsorships may begin to define that tipping point.

The reference to Piping Lane – I backed it in the 1972 Cup at 66/1. There is a backstory to this, but I’ll leave it to another blog. But let me say, one of those most vicarious pleasures I have experienced is to back a winner at long odds – and in the 1972 Melbourne Cup with that winner I almost emulated the price of Rimfire which my mother backed in 1948 at 80/1.

Mouse whisper

I don’t know what to whisper this week. I watched a 1950s film depicting the life of James Herriot who spent 50 years as a Yorkshire vet. The leading lady, Lisa Harrow was a beautiful actor born in New Zealand, who had a child at about that time with Sam Neill.

Or should I write about the Pope who transformed Rome. At the beginning of the 16th century, Rome was a very dilapidated city. The Pope, Pius III had just died 26 days after election. The newly-elected pope, Julius II, a megalomaniac with the sobriquet papa terribile, who enlisted the Italian alum baron and the German copper baron in funding this revitalisation. This was the time of Michelangelo and the Sistine chapel ceiling.

Or finally, do I write about the difference between “pickaroon”, “picaresque” and “picayune”? Perhaps along these picturesque lines

In the picaresque manner, our hero wielding a pickaroon made short shrift of the picayune politicians leaving them in quite a pickle.

What a dilemma about whom and what to whisper!

Modest Expectations – Taiwan and Tobacco

Adam Spencer

I can blame this reflection on an article I came across about the polymath, Adam Spencer. As far as I can ascertain, Adam Spencer and I were born 30 years apart. Both of us had a traumatic birth, although all I know about Spencer is what I have read.

He, like myself, seemed to have a congenital unilateral oculomotor nerve palsy or paresis. In my case it was a paresis, but living with a drooping eyelid and a squint I found increasingly difficult as I grew up. The only remedy available then was intensive eye muscle exercises, and as the oculomotor nerve innervates four of the ocular muscles, it was crucial to strengthen these muscles.

Nicknamed “lazy eye”, the first danger was that through non-use I would have gone blind in the eye. Because I had a squint (or its medical term strabismus) I had double vision, which I could correct. Yet I was constantly told by my father to “pull my eye round” as the left eyeball would drift outwards. Thus, those looking at me directly may have viewed my left eyeball drifting to the left, while the right looked straight ahead. A strange, unexpected phenomenon, if you did not know me.

Fortunately, the drooping eyelid called ptosis was not severe and therefore there was only a small difference between the two eyelids. Nevertheless, the result of this birth injury was that I developed monocular vision. This meant that had to fuse the images in my brain, and thus lacked stereoscopic vision. When I was tired, I found it difficult, particularly in the laboratory when, for instance, I had to pipette into a tube where I had to judge where the pipette was in relation to the test tube.

It created some social problems for me as I tended to look down avoiding eye to eye contact so people would not be confronted by my literally “wandering eye”.  This was interpreted as either shyness or slyness, not compensation.

For years, I resisted having any operation, which anyway when I was a child did not exist. However, ophthalmic surgery progressed strongly about fifty years ago with the advent of cataract surgery and other procedures in repairing cranial nerves. When I arrived at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1971, I met the senior ophthalmologist, Dick Galbraith, who perhaps was not as widely known as Fred Hollows but was equally flamboyant, and a strong leader in terms of translating his high standards onto his colleagues. Galbraith also did much pro bono ophthalmology in the South Pacific.

From my arrival at the hospital, he badgered me to have my double vision corrected. In 1976, I eventually succumbed to his pressure and had the operation, and for nearly fifty years my strabismus with the accompanying double vision was “cured”, until recently. Now, especially when tired, I have noticed the double vision has returned, but it is not a bad outcome given the time elapsed since the operation. In the intervening years. I have since had two successful cataract operations undertaken by his son, James Galbraith.

We take so much for granted, because ophthalmic surgery is just accepted practice; a cataract operation now takes but twenty minutes to insert the perfectly sculpted replacement lens under sedation and local anaesthesia. I found the black and white picture show, while the operation was proceeding, very distracting but entertaining. My post-operative recovery was uneventful. Not only was the myopia gone but so also was my astigmatism.

I have at times been critical of the hoop-la that surrounds much of medical research, the unfulfilled expectations and the amount of fraud and plagiarism.

But here a significant advance of benefit to both Spencer and myself, although hampering me for longer because I’m older, should be acknowledged, and not taken for granted.

Some technical advances have been mirages; some have been downright dangerous – and duly get reported by the media.

But here I wish to praise – yes – praise- even though the technological advances have made the cost of the ophthalmic procedures very much less and this has not necessarily passed on to the patient – but that is the price we pay for the asymmetry of information, which dogs every doctor-patient relationship.

A Different Rainbow

Blindness – nobody wants to lose one of the senses, but I am very thankful for sight, and also for the fact that I am not colour blind. In fact, I am very lucky in that I can detect very small differences in colour. It is something, which never seems to be much discussed – that is one’s ability to detect differences in colour. This is a property of the cones in the retina.

Most people have three types of cones and are described as being “trichromatic”. Those who are colour blind have only two types of cones, making them dichromatic. And individuals with tetrachromacy have four types of cones, allowing them to see up to 9 million more colours than everyone else! One theory attributes this ability to a mutation on the X chromosome and so it is limited to women. Some estimate twelve per cent of women have these four different types of cones. They just don’t have to use this whole range.

Others have reported women naturally are better than men at colour differentiation, especially in the orange-yellow range, particularly in detecting small differences. Without much evidence, testosterone has also been implicated as a barrier, but as reported: people who work with colour – think of artists and designers – have a significantly more enhanced colour vocabulary. So, the difference between men and women might not be completely biological, but cultural. This latency would seem to agree with those with a genetic explanation.

Cimbidium Big Chief

As I look up from writing this blog, there is a cymbidium orchid in front of me on the desk. I thought about how you would describe the shapes of the flowers to a blind person – perhaps this could be done by tracing the shape on the palm of his or her hand. But how would I describe the colours of an orchid which is a light green and speckled in distinctive way with irregular deep red spots.

Therefore, describing differences in colour can be by comparison, and directly saying that is the colour light or dark. When we are not sure we add -ish to the end of the colour – greenish or yellowish as examples.

The level of a person’s ability to have the appropriate vocabulary to describe a particular colour is a limiting factor as is the respondent engaged in the description of colour.  Take this exchange with my wife. I asked my wife what the red of the flower spots was. She said crimson; I had independently also labelled them crimson. Now describe “crimson”?  Why is the colour not burgundy, claret, plum, magenta, maroon or just dark red? When referencing the colour to a colour chart, the flower spots were closer to “carmine” – the colour I had forgotten, although I wonder how common the word is in anybody’s vocabulary.

As coincidence would have it in a discussion of ‘reds’, Pantone’s Colour of the Year 2023 is Viva Magenta

Those who have worked with a Pantone colour chart will have an idea of nomenclature. Pantone, which every year announces a “colour of the year” to maintain its position as arbiter of world colour, differentiates only 15,000 colours, nowhere near the magic nine million.

But back to carmine and crimson: the two colours are separated by their origin. Crimson was derived from the kermes female – a scale insect with a propensity for oak; Carmine comes from the cochineal beetle. The names have come via Latin, Arabic, with the actual English words for each of these colours related to a French language iteration.

But the sobering comment is that explanation of a tetrachromat to the normal trichromat is about as incomprehensible to the latter as the trichromat trying to explain colour to the dichromat, those who are conventionally considered to be colour-blind.

Thus, to put a name on your ability to differentiate colours depends on innate ability – or just being able to read a colour chart. But nine million? Where does that figure come from?

Pony Up

Sydney’s pony racing epicentre stretched from the city to Botany Bay, with the main courses located in Rosebery, Kensington, Ascot and Victoria Park

What was pony racing? For some the name conjures images of children riding Shetland ponies in “hay-bale” hurdle races at agricultural shows. This is totally misleading; in Australia, pony racing was the name given to a sport conducted at racecourses that raced outside Australian Jockey Club and Victoria Racing Club jurisdictions and were so popular they were a constant thorn in the side to these clubs of the establishment. It was racing’s pioneering equivalent of the “Super-league” and World Series Cricket schisms. Most races at “pony” meetings were in fact contested by fully-grown thoroughbreds.

Some writers have perpetuated myths about pony racing, depicting the sport as a rough-and-ready, corrupt form of weekday racing, featuring midget horses on miniature racecourses, existing only during the Great Depression. It has been suggested that pony racing appealed to the desperate, the “needy and greedy” elements of the working class only. Sydney’s Pony Racecourses demonstrate that such assertions are without basis. The sport was one of the country’s biggest industries, with the prize money for its cup-races matching the Cox Plate. Some of its Sydney racecourses were rated second only Randwick, and for a time it was more popular on Saturdays than Australian Jockey Club racing.

The four pony racecourses between the city and Botany Bay were an integral part of Sydney life during the first half of the 20th century. Existing histories of horse racing fail to acknowledge the contemporary importance and popularity of pony racing. This alternative history of horse racing enables pony racing to claim “[its] fair share of the past”.  Wayne Peake

The above is taken from a book in which Wayne Peake blows apart the various myths and misinformation that in particular the Australian Jockey Club sowed beginning in the heyday of so-called pony racing before WWII.

The fate of the Victoria Park Racecourse which was located on reclaimed swamp land at Zetland is illustrative of the fate of racecourses when the public good wins out against vested interests. Victoria Park constitutes 25 hectares in Zetland. There were several other racecourses, located around the Sydney airport.

In relation to Victoria Park, it was requisitioned when World War II broke out.  The racecourse was occupied by the Army for two years, and in 1945 was sold to Lord Nuffield to expand his automobile manufacturing empire into Australia. The company became British Motor Corporation in the 1960s and manufactured the Mini for many years. The 1970s saw a decline in the company’s fortunes, especially when the P76 was developed to compete with the existing Holden, Ford and Chrysler models. Ostensibly, the P76 design was adapted so a 44-gallon drum could be put in the boot. The company, Leyland Australia, found that sales were badly affected not only by being an ugly car with a huge boot, but also by industrial problems, fuel price increases and tariff reductions. The factory closed in 1975.

The Australian Navy took over the site in 1975 and built a large stores depot to amalgamate the many small facilities that had grown up around Sydney from World War II. The Navy eventually moved out in 1995, and the NSW Government’s Landcom land development agency purchased Victoria Park. The site was equipped with streets and basic infrastructure for residential use and then sold to developers. Today it is the site of 3,000 apartments and a shopping centre and 3.7 hectares of open space.

With all the agitation over the lack of housing, Randwick racecourse occupies 81 hectares near the centre of Sydney. It was granted to the Australian Jockey Club at a time when Randwick was sand dunes and swamp, and at the periphery of the city fifty years after the founding of Sydney.

When one sees this huge area, which lies fallow most of the year with only 45 race meetings each year, so close to the centre of Sydney with excellent transport facilities, it should be inevitable that the city planners should assess the future of all the Sydney racecourses, given how two are near the centre of city where affordable housing is at a premium.

Any attempt to resume such a plot of land, given the mystical nomenclature of “royal” combined with all the vested interests clustered around Randwick – such words as “Irish Catholics”, “Daily Telegraph and other Murdokistas” – and then all the appeal to “tradition” as a word covering “privileges” and that other powerful word “vested interests”. Currently this putative coalition against any change in the configuration of the racecourse in Sydney might probably sacrifice the Canterbury racecourse to housing development, but I would not count on it. Just trying to acquire the outside car park led nowhere, and there is a moratorium on any re-development on that site until 2027.

Given that the Government was faced down by the “dishlicker” lobby over the suggestion that dog racing had seen its day, there is a latent underground force dedicated, irrespective of the popularity, to keeping all the sports upon which a wager could be laid on the outcome of animal races. Yet what is the point of having a dog track almost in the heart of the city, when that track attracts few paying customers – in fact an average of 120 people per race meeting has been quoted – but the defence is that it generates $50m in revenue a year. This of course begs the questions of where is evidence of the $50m, and why not simply computerise all the dog racing – computerised dog racing was run in TABs years ago. The defenders talk about people who will be put out of work, without any evidence of how many would be affected. The reality is that there is an abundance of greyhounds that need homes.

Harness racing moved out from its inner suburban track at Harold Park Sydney to Menangle in the Southern Highlands. The last race meeting was held at Harold Park Paceway in December 2010. Subsequently 1300 apartments were built on 10.6 hectares with 3.8 hectares of open space. Given that the Harold Park area was about ten per cent of the size of Randwick racecourse, it indicates how much potential space there is for housing given that horse racing is hardly essential and could also be moved to the Central Highlands.

Singapore Racing Club

Sacrificing Randwick for the public good may be considered fanciful but is it reasonable to have such facilities so central and accessible when there is such huge pressure on housing site? The Singapore Government does not think so. The last race at the Singapore racetrack is scheduled next year and the 120 hectare site will be handed back to the Singapore Government by 2027, thus ending horse racing in Singapore, where apparently attendances have been falling over the years. The land will be used for housing.

Even the chairman of the Singapore Racing Club, which dates from 1842, has admitted, “This transition will serve to optimise land use for the greater good of the local community and future generations.

These words should be ringing in the ears of the Prime Minister, but they won’t be. He shoves some money into a taxpayer-fed investment fund that is subject to the vagaries of the stockmarket, where the difference between this action and increasing the supply of housing is a lousy joke. Here the country has a deficit in housing, with prime land barely used by the privileged few not coming under scrutiny. Land allocated nearly two hundred years ago to horse racing should not be treated as though it is sacred, but who is listening? Certainly not a Prime Minister who wants to be loved at any cost and a set of parliamentarian freeloaders sipping Bollinger and munching canapés at The Everest race meeting.

Eighty is not the new Sixty

The easiest way to spot an absence seizure is to look for a blank stare that lasts for a few seconds. People in the midst of having an absence seizure don’t speak, listen, or appear to understand. An absence seizure doesn’t typically cause you to fall down. You could be in the middle of making dinner, walking across the room, or typing an e-mail when you have the seizure. Then suddenly you snap out of it and continue as you were before the seizure. – Johns Hopkins

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Mitch McConnell, the 81 year old American Senator, who has done his best to destroy American democracy, this week demonstrated a petit mal episode. Now relabelled absence seizure, the above description describes accurately what was happening to McConnell. There was a film noir quality about how his fellow Republican politicians reacted. First, they did not seem to know what to do, then they stared at their cognitively dislocated boss. No chair was bought; he was just led away by Senator Barrasso, an orthopaedic surgeon by trade. As one used to Americans yelling 911 at the sight of any emergency, this was a quiet handover.  Senator Thune, McConnell’s deputy, stepped into the breach. Some minutes later, McConnell apparently re-appeared.

In the 1977 Australian referendum, designed to clean up constitutional anomalies, a compulsory retirement age for Federal judges of 70 was passed with a substantial majority. As Mr Justice Kirby at the time said: “The Members of Parliament, who rarely saw the justices of the High Court in those itinerant days, were uniformly shocked at the Acting Chief Justice, Mr Justice Eddie McTiernan’s age and apparent feebleness. It was the sight of the octogenarian which encouraged the bipartisan support for the amendment of the constitution providing for the compulsory retirement of Federal Judges.

Despite his increasing slowness in writing judgments, McTiernan, who had been on the High Court for 46 years, refused to retire until September 1976 when, at the age of 84, he broke his hip and the Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick, refused to allow a wheelchair ramp to be installed for him at the High Court.

The vote to change the Constitution received one of the highest approvals of any Australian referendum proposals. Incidentally, McTiernan lived to 97 years.

The Centenarian

With the advances in medical care, people are living longer but such medical advances are outpacing those improving retention of cognitive ability. The number of failed cures for senile decay, under the rubric of Alzheimer’s disease, has been disappointing. The Californian Senator Feinstein, who appears grossly cerebrally impaired, and probably unable to comprehend what she is required to do, is an example. At 90 she is the sixth oldest Senator ever to serve. Strom Thurmond was still one of the serving South Carolinian Senators at 100.

Even Popes now retire, after the spectacle of a Pope who was so mentally incapacitated that all types of shenanigans were perpetuated during his papacy. The Cardinals retain their cardinal biretta, but after 80 are excluded from the enclave and are requested to retire at 75, although recommended not dictated by papal bull.

Time for Parliamentarians to legislate for retirement dates. Simple request, Otherwise, let’s have a useful meaningful referendum to make it so, so it is not only Federal judges who are compulsorily retired. Sorry, Bob Katter, you will have to go. But 76 years has given you time for you to make an impression on your parliamentary cushion.

Mouse Whisper

Remembering the confronting Sinéad O’Connor whose son committed suicide almost a year before his mother followed him through the bardo.

Been living as undead night creature since. He was the love of my life, the lamp of my soul. We were one soul in two halves. He was the only person who ever loved me unconditionally. I am lost in the bardo without him.

A troubled talent who passed away in a week where our household also was touched by another person, who may himself have wanted time in the bardo.

Tibetan illustration of the “Peaceful and Wrathful Deities of the post-mortem intermediate state (bardo)”







Modest Expectation – Andorra

The pollution index in Ha Noi as we drove around the city in an electric car last week was 5. Melbourne and Sydney were 1 and 2 respectively on that day. Only Kolkata in India was higher at level 6.

Vietnam is in a state of construction. Heritage listing does not seem to be a word much used in this city. Driving from Ha Long to Ha Noi is an example. Driving down the long esplanade along Ha Long Bay, to the left are the long sandy beaches and beach umbrellas and beyond, the Bay is littered with Nature’s limestone obelisks. On the right was a wasteland boarded up waiting for the next multi-storied building, the condominium development of which dog beachfronts all over the world, especially when the sand seems to be endless and the sun shines benignly as it does generally in October and November in northern Vietnam.

I had heard that Graham Greene had written The Quiet American in the Metropole Hotel in Ha Noi where he had a dedicated suite on the second floor. The Quiet American, which has been twice filmed, is said to have presaged the American War. I said casually some time before that I would like to stay there, but when we arrived there from Ha Long, it was very much a snapshot of Vietnam on its way to becoming yet another “Asian powerhouse”. The Bamboo Bar beside the swimming pool exemplified what life in Ha Noi in the period of French occupation may have been like. Here Graham Greene, as he wrote, would have had by his side his signature cocktail – gin, Italian sweet Vermouth and cassis – a Negroni without the Campari. For my part, I ordered one and was surprised to see it was served with raspberry sorbet which one tipped into the drink à la affogato. This accompanied my steak tartare rather than any novel in progress.

Hotel restaurants exist to recreate the theme of past privilege within a cocoon of luxury; where celebrity nudged shoulders with other colonials – and where life shone through an air of colonial insouciance  – the Bamboo Bar as one of these inglenooks.  As you move to the infinity pool through a tropical garden surrounded by the brilliantly white hotel building, it is easy to imagine this as once an oasis to get away from swirling hoi-polloi in the streets. Now, rather than colonial expats there are tourists and local citizens. Business deals are being done in this relaxed atmosphere. The French colonial rulers have long since gone.

Ha Noi inter alia is a religious jumble of pagodas, Confucian temples and Christian churches. The cathedral is grey, concrete on granite, a hint of the grisaille in appearance of its façade, with apologies to Notre Dame. Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum is pointed out to us as we drive – a place of secular homage.

Train Street

The hotel is on the edge of the Old Quarter, with its narrow streets, the most spectacular of which is Train Street, where trains pass along within touching distance of the dwellings and the now closed cafes. In many of the promotional pictures, tourists are seen walking the railway line. No longer, after we were told a tourist was killed by a train, which effectively gave reason for access to the street to be closed to tourists. The Old Quarter is what one would expect in an Asian city, and even though the government is clearing swathes of it, it still survives with the distinctively curled tiled roofs, the plethora of shop signage designating its cheek by jowl activity, the narrowness of the façades, often three-storied, like the “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” three-tiered levels as found in English town houses. Houses and workshops are crammed together. There is Silk Street, yes complete with worms; and lantern street; specialty streets abound.

By contrast outside the Old Quarter, there are the wide boulevards, and the old colonial buildings here have been converted into government buildings – the government is in session and the National Assembly Building is an off white cube – the exterior walls are clad with vertical slats. Circles and squares – all with symbolic significance. There are 400 parliamentarians – we are stopped as two uniformed motor cyclists with sirens blaring sweep past followed by a bus carrying politicians off to lunch; no separate limousines here.

We pass the house which General Giap owned. The large property is surrounded by high walls. Through the gates we can see several jeeps. Giap died in 2013 but his family still owns the property. But I thought, what about the jeeps?

To be frank, Ha Noi was a series of glimpses, except when the time when we were parked while my wife walked around, the passing parade was of a bustling live society, and the police have a low profile as the people go about their daily life. It seems that the Vietnamese are an industrious lot, generally friendly, willing to help and if there is widespread poverty it is hidden. Shoes are said to signify the prosperity of the country. The Vietnamese are well shod.

Just before we went back to the hotel, we had the signature drink created by Nguyen Van Giang, the head chef at the Metropole Hotel, just after WWII. Our guide darted into a nondescript building, down a passage, and emerged with two egg coffees – espresso coffee with this mixture of egg yolk, condensed milk and vanilla whipped and placed on top. My wife’s response; she bought two egg coffee cups and we await the first egg coffee on home soil.

Responding to my glimpse of Vietnam, in the end I ask myself about the American War – why? why? Then I think of Ukraine, “today’s Vietnam” – and that common modern day nemesis, Lyndon Baines Putin.

“Hanoi Jane” – Burden and Stigma

One of the people who had, for a period, intruded her celebrity status on my life – although there would never have been an opportunity for our paths to cross – has been Jane Fonda. We are about the same age, and both lost our mother when we were young and, whether it had any connection, Fonda has confessed to growing up with low self-esteem. I read that her father was demanding; and I remember one of my father’s sayings was “What are you doing that for, John?”

There were three films she made early on her career which still stick in my mind. They were:

“Barefoot in the Park”



All are remembered for different reasons. The first was fantasy, but it was easy as a newly married couple, as we were, to identify with a feisty couple in the movie adapted from the long running Neil Simon Broadway play. Robert Redford was the stage male lead, and Jane Fonda was the female lead – the trials and tribulations of the newly-married couple, girl and boy in love; girl and boy divorcing; girl and boy reconciliation, and the glorious sunset. I saw this film before I had ever been to the New York. New York that Woody Allen knew so well; it is a great backdrop to comedy where interpersonal tension is being played out. There is a certain brittleness in all these comedies, and Jane Fonda character epitomised this. However, what attracted me at that time in New York was the ride through Central Park in a horse drawn carriage. It is kitsch, pure kitsch – but watching the film it seemed to be something I wanted to do with my then wife.

When we did go to New York in 1971, we stayed at The Plaza Hotel. Outside were the drivers with their horses and carriages. The area exuded the pungent smell of horse excrement and to get to the carriage one had to pick one’s way through it to get to a carriage. The allusion was gone.

Klute was a great film. We saw it in San Francisco in 1971. I always found Jane Fonda edgy, with her voice just too well articulated as if she was constantly self-conscious. In many ways, she would have been perfect to play Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion. This edginess was absorbed into her role as a prostitute being stalked. It was at this point in the film when the serial killer was about to strike, that we got up and hurried towards to the exit. There was a murmur around as we ran up the aisle – to the effect of “what the hell are they doing leaving at the climax of the movie?”. I had looked at my watch. We had a plane to catch to Australia.  In those days, there was no security and boarding just was a matter of turning up and presenting your ticket and passport. We were travelling light as our baggage had gone missing somewhere between Frankfurt and Stockholm. In the end, we just assumed that Donald Sutherland, as the gumshoe Klute, had rescued her. The reaction to our exit was unexpected – you would think at such a point in the film nobody would have noticed us leaving, much less comment.

In between those two films was her marriage to Roger Vadim, and his attempt to turn her into another Bardot; but whereas Bardot was sensuous, Fonda was hardly a sex-kitten. Her approach was a bit like the school librarian doing porn, but by the time of Klute she had lost the “Vadim cute”, and become the anti-War activist. Both she and Joan Baez were photographed in Ha Noi. She earned the nickname “Hanoi Jane”, because of the ill-judged picture of her, wearing a helmet, behind a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. The activist label fitted Joan Baez more comfortably, as her protest against injustice and war always seemed to have a deeper commitment. After all, Fonda married Tom Hayden, well-known as a foremost anti-War activist, and they stayed married for 17 years from 1973, until Hayden called it quits.

The third film “Julia” was a complete tour de force. Jane Fonda here played Lillian Hellman, the American playwright. The Julia story formed part of her memoir “Pentimento”. Vanessa Redgrave played Julia, the Jewish German student in this filmed nightmare of Germany in the 1930s. Irrespective of whether it was only the product of a fertile mind, the film was so harrowing in its depiction of life in Nazi Germany that whether it was total fiction or not was irrelevant in depicting such a spectacle of horror. If there was any doubt about the quality of Fonda’s acting ability, this film dispelled it.

Jane Fonda after her marriage to Hayden ended in divorce in 1990 married Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, and I lost interest in following her career. In fact, the only times I seemed to remember – but remembered vividly – were those three films, and her antics during the “American War”. In film work, she was also in “Cat Ballou” and then in “Coming Home”, a film about the aftermath of the War; and then “On Golden Pond”, which played out a role with film and real life coinciding in the relationship between a father and his estranged daughter. Katherine Hepburn played a prominent role in the film since it needed such an actress with presence as she had. It was a tribute by Jane to her father, who died the year after the release of the film, in 1982. None of these made the same impact as the three other films I mentioned above.

Jane Fonda remains on the Vietnamese screens in the garb of the anti-War heroine who visited Vietnam and was photographed behind a weapon designed to shoot down American planes. Never mind, that the installation was there to protect Ha Noi from the destruction being wrought by American aircraft – Ha Noi was carpet bombed, certain sections of Americans who were traumatised by the War exercise their God-given right to abuse her, even spit on her face with tobacco juice. She has apologised for her Ha Noi appearance, said she was sorry…

When his and Fonda’s son married, Hayden concluded his toast to the couple and reportedly introduced Fonda by saying, “We know how Jane always becomes the part she’s playing. Hopefully, that won’t be the case in our son’s marriage!”

Maybe, that interlude when I selected Fonda films was to reinforce my view of a certain other lady. I don’t know. Funny thing to think about leaning over a writing desk reaching for my mouse in a posh hotel in Ha Noi.

Requiem for a Neo-Liberal

CNN National House USA Mid-term Exit Poll

R +13             65+

R +11             45-64

D +2               30-44

D +28             18-29

I remember lying on this lawn watching the kites leisurely drifting overhead in the thermals against a clear blue sky. Broome in July of that year was a leisurely place, when I had the opportunity to try and absorb “The Road to Serfdom”, Hayek’s classic treatise underpinning of neo-liberalism. It was a time in the late 1970s.

Hayek bangs on about freedom. “The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they, or at least the best among them, have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognised before.”

Hayek, all in one sentence – authoritarian, paternalistic, elitist. His book is an attack on democracy cloaked in academic jargon, I thought at the time, as I rolled over and watched the drifting birds.  He offered no structure to replace democracy. Yet it took time to show neoliberalism to be an illusion, reaching its apogee in Donald Trump.  In the meantime, be “vewy, vewy, vewy” afraid since Elmer Fudd is “vewy, vewy, vewy” likely to run for President in 2024.

But perhaps I never could distinguish between Hayek and the Beach Boys in “Serfing USA”. From this latest USA poll it seems that the younger generation, as the figures indicate, at last are replacing the “E” with a “U”.

Surfing is a more more shared  relevant experience to the younger generations than serfdom under an old man with an addiction to fifty shades of yellow.

It is about time that politics is less about Me but more about You, the community. What! Idealism building to a crest? Not a red or blue wave, just in these perilous times the wave vanquishes that authoritarian madness that we have to tolerate with people like Trump, Putin and every other ruler who attempts to assuage his deep feelings of self-loathing by transferring these dark recesses of their collective minds to the destruction of the World.


There we were on the South China Sea, and since the sea was a little rough, and balance is already a problem, I started to do some channel surfing. And there it was, unexpectedly, the 2022 Melbourne Cup being shown in real time. What other horse race would be shown on a French ship in Vietnamese waters. Not an Everest; nor a Kosciusko; not even a Wycheproof. Despite the huge amount of money which this guy V’landys seems to be able to fling on horse races for the benefit of Arab sheikhs and other deserving racing nobility, such as Lloyd Williams and the Waterhouses and their ilk. V’landys has, as far as I know, not arranged for his wonderful collection of highland flings to be shown in the South China Sea. And do not I think he would care a damn if they were ever shown – probably not.

Nevertheless, the Melbourne Cup remains still the icon borne aloft in the minds of the small men and normal sized women who are named jockeys, and the men and women who are called trainers – and of course the Innocents, the owners, people inured to throwing their money down the equine toilet, as though it were tossing three coins into the Trevi Fountain in Rome. As they sang in the eponymous song: “Make it mine”, as they wished, tossing their money away.

Democracy at Work

Excerpt from Boston Globe

After a tumultuous summer during which his company temporarily lost its liquor and entertainment licenses after fights broke out at the venue and on the Block Island Ferry, Ballard’s Beach Resort owner Steven Filippi may have lost his unopposed bid for a town council seat.

The businessman, who was on the ballot (unopposed), received just 92 votes, while more than 1,050 people wrote-in alternative candidates. The three candidates with the most votes will win the three open seats on the Block Island* Town Council, which also serves as the island’s licensing board.

*Block Island is an island in the U.S. state of Rhode Island located in Block Island Sound 14 km south of the mainland and 23 km east of Montauk Point, Long Island, New York, named after Dutch explorer Adriaen Block. Population 1410.

Mouse Whisper

I had just come back from visiting my bush relatives, the Marsh Yellows, and was nibbling on a piece of Roquefort Grand Premier Bleu, when I heard him say to nobody in particular, “Well, fancy that, born on the same day, same year as Tom Hayden, the prominent anti-war activist. Married to Jane Fonda for 17 years. You know it is a fact of life, there are two times when you are unique – the moment you are born and the moment of death. Even though it is only for a femtosecond, you are the youngest person on the planet. Now that is one for the curriculum vitae of everybody – “I once was the youngest person on the planet”.

Tom and Mouse Meister, sharing a common 1939 birthday with Betty on the cover of Life.