Modest Expectations – The Two Noble Kinsmen

Leigh Sales, what planet are you on? Take your statement last week about those poor tradies who need to drive Uber at the weekend for extra cash. It was put into perspective a few nights later when – that “uber tradesman” Scott Cam was revealing as “chiselling” the Government out of a six-figure sum for his part time services. For his part-time activity he was not behind a steering wheel. He is the Wheel!

Ms Sales, “tradies” as you call them are doing very well, by and large. Probably given you are upwardly mobile, it is just conceivable that you employ a “tradie” or two. I like the word “tradie”; it fits into all forms of the alphabet a-gender

From personal experience, one of my “tradies” owns a hotel and the other has so much work, the last thing he requires is the wheel of car in the evening other than to go home. I suggest that Ms Sales profiles the Uber driver. I know anecdotally my Turkish-born taxi driver who has been driving me for years and who has had a network of drivers from the pre-Uber days, now drives for Uber in addition to his own clientele. However, I suspect that you will find a great many Uber drivers, who are first generation arrivals in this country.

One of the interesting aspects of taxi travel, of which I once did a great deal, always riding in the front seat, I learnt a lot about the outside world; it was the front seat to an ethnic collation.

However, the racial profile of taxi drivers has changed. I always remember a young Greek doctor who, when he first arrived in Melbourne in the mid 90s, could not believe the number of Greek taxi drivers here. Now there are less Greeks. Taxi driving is an indicator of a less established community. For instance, you may find that an increasing number of Sikhs, newly displaced from the Punjab, are a major taxi or Uber population. But freed from the bureaucratic entanglement of the old taxi cartel, Uber driving attracts the retrenched older person and the student out to make a quid – particularly overseas students. I do not deny that there is a poor postilion under-class, but it ain’t “tradies”.

Nevertheless, it made me think about the proposition of the under-utilised “tradie” workforce, if indeed there is such a thing.

Given that it is a local council responsibility to provide a home maintenance and modification service in addition to hospital adjustment to daily living (ADL) for patients returning home, I would have thought that if there were these Sales’ “tradies” out there looking for twilight cash, then they should be easily absorbed more usefully into an Australia-wide home maintenance and modification service co-ordinated as it is locally. It is difficult to gauge how prevalent these schemes are; I remember when I was running a community health program nearly 40 years ago, some of the more progressive local governments had begun to set them up, but in those days there was a bureaucratic separation between health and housing.

Michael Portillo has recently fronted a documentary on the UK public housing situation acting unfortunately as an apologist for (rather than he once was an acolyte of) Margaret Thatcher. She was guilty of poor decision making when she sold off the social housing stock for a pittance without any strategy for its replacement. Portillo himself tried to absolve her of the social vandalism.

The whole question remains of who pays for social housing but more importantly prevents the purchase for its speculative purchase to drive up prices and hence to conceal the underlying inflation in the economy. At the same time the tacit pact between big business and government suppresses the earning power of those who should be able to afford such housing, either by renting or purchase.

In any event, it is just another area for you to explore, Ms Sales, especially with all this talkfest going about us aged across Australia, rather than indulge in the mythology of the “poor tradie”.

Albanese and the Coal Scuttle

The Adani Coal Mine is a private mine. It’s been approved. It is going ahead. It’s not a Government mine… Finance has been the issue with the Adani mine, but it’s had its environmental approvals. I support the jobs that will be created by any project, any project in Queensland or anywhere else for that matter. What Government needs to do is to set in place strict environmental guidelines. When those guidelines are approved, then you have projects which go ahead if they receive private sector support. 

The first reaction to this Albanese mouthing is that the weasel should be removed as a protected species irrespective of the Albanese predilection to cuddle the animal.

Let us make an early prediction. Albo will have difficulty retaining his seat if he does not do a better job of explaining whether he will be emulating the Prime Minister and going into the House brandishing a lump of coal – Balmain coal – or not. After all, his electorate boasted a coalmine, and my late neighbour remembered as a boy running around the corner to pick up some lumps of coal for the family stove. The air was full of coal dust, pit ponies were still being lowered every day into the mine and there were several major accidents when men were killed. However, the coal was convenient to keep the stove going and the fire alight; ensuring the skies were grey.

It is written in the wind as far as you are concerned Mr Albanese. Go on a trip to Queensland, hug a replica of the Balcaldine tree, and desert a Sydney where the pall of brown smoke foreshadows summers of the future, where blue skies are an increasingly distant memory, as they were when coal was mined.

I have lived in the electorate long enough (although we were only recently redistributed to Albo) – long enough to have seen it desert its working class legacy to that of wall to wall cafés. I can remember the whistle signalling that work had commenced on Cockatoo Island across the Parramatta River. I can remember the odours from the soap factories, which had saponified the river for years. I had walked up the hill and been shown the entry to the Birthday and Jubilee mine shafts that had been sunk when Queen Victoria was in her venerable years. The area was a wasteland of weeds, but you could still see the access points to the mineshafts. The soil is thin and poor in Balmain and as you stir it you wonder how much of the contamination of the past is floating into the atmosphere. And the working class had to endure it, while the tycoons flourished.

Balmain coal mine

In Balmain, one of Paul Keating’s achievements in decontamination was the development of the old Ballast Point Caltex site into a magnificent public park; so much of the harbour waterfront was lined by industrial sites, now gradually renovated, although not necessarily reflected in the growth of liveable space. The working class has become educated, but the same tycoon-types still exist, now complicit with a rising rent seeker class, a.k.a. politicians.

Now, Albanese of Grayndler goes off to circulate in central Queensland, unfamiliar territory for a Sydneysider well versed in the rent seeker class who inhabit Sussex Street but will the Camperdown boy be seen at the end of the street in Moranbah? How much can a fleeting visit do for the Queenslander’s view of you, a Mexican arrayed in RM Williams clobber, your sombrero at a rakish angle to display your winning countenance.

Then that statement you made of: “if we don’t mine it, somebody else will.” A variant of “if we don’t kill our grandchildren than somebody else will”. How well you demonstrate the Hollow Man.

When you come back to your ex- coal mining electorate of Sydney, I’m sure you’ll get a rapturous welcome with us all waving soot laden miner’s lamps to welcome your return.

Oh, by the way, when you are hob-nobbing with the Adanis, tell them we exported coal from Sydney to India in 1799. It will inform how important your electorate has been in defining the genesis of Coal as an invaluable Export -and you as a reaper in the Carbon field, its representative.

Anti-Vaxxer – Prosecute for Genocide Part 2

According to a 2018 report by Complementary Medicines Australia, the country’s complementary medicines industry made $4.9b in revenue last year — including $2.77b in vitamin and dietary supplements — and is expected to grow by another $2b over the next five years.

Just a casual comment to indicate how much porcaria Australians are pouring into their bodies every year. What I find disgusting are the advertisements which show the happy family images loading up their shopping baskets with this stuff – as though a healthy young family needs it – and some of these naturopathic fanatics have the hide to fill their children up with these drugs while at the time perniciously undermining of the community’s health status, trying to claim that vaccination is harmful. Anti-vaxxers have been allowed to roam in this community.

We should take a leaf out of the Samoan legislative book, and prosecute and jail those who would willfully promote ant-vaccination messages and promote rubbish substitutes. To kick this matter along a letter will be sent to each politician in Australia, asking the simple question of whether they support vaccination or not. It will made very clear that a non-response will be taken as a “no”; and the results will then be published, so that at the next elections these enemies of the welfare of our children can be identified and dealt with at the ballot box – at least in the first instance. Legislation will follow.

Telling it how it is

Below is a note received from my private health fund. It is clear and needs to be read against the outpourings of the Grattan Institute.

I read the comment of one journalist the other day, who describes herself as “senior”. She reckons that she does not need all that private health insurance stuff – you know cataract, hip surgery and that unfamiliar set of lesions called “grab bag”. She boasts that she is fit and into marathon running. The association between long-distance running and knee and hip injury is still in dispute.

The problem is that the attitude being promoted by such comments constitutes an attack on community rating. Once community rating is destroyed, then life is a lottery as you enter the realms of catastrophic insurance and you being rated on your individual profile. You are laid bare – no community rating to protect you; warts and all, literally.

The other factor, which has had a disastrous effect on the health system, are all the cost shifting antics of the States, to which the health fund attests below. And even more outrageous, the diversion of money destined under the Commonwealth-State funding agreements being diverted to uses other than the health portfolio.

Anyway, in the meantime, read what is said by a health fund, which is not set up to make obscene profits to be repatriated offshore, but one where the membership is put first. Surprising, you say, but it does occur.

It can be a distressing time when you are admitted to a public hospital emergency department due to an accident or unexpected illness. 

Together with seeking medical care, you will be faced with another decision – do I use my private health insurance policy or Medicare to cover my admission?

What does it mean to be a private patient in a public hospital? 

To be privately covered in a public hospital means your private health insurance policy with us is covering your admission, rather than Medicare.  The admission costs can include your accommodation, theatre and medical fees. 

There are genuine and appropriate reasons to receive treatment as a private patient in a public hospital. However, its increasing prevalence in recent years has raised concern around the reliance of public hospital funding on private health insurance, and the impact this is having on premiums.

You may be approached by administrative hospital staff. Roles have developed within public hospitals and these staff, called patient or client liaisons, are responsible for signing up private patient’s health funds. There has been recent criticism made of the tactics used by these staff, so it is important you have the facts to make your own choice if you are approached: 

There is no obligation to use your private health insurance 

If you are eligible for Medicare benefits, you can choose to be covered as a public patient and all medically necessary inpatient costs will be covered by Medicare. You have a right to be a public patient, even if you have private health insurance, and this should not affect the level of clinical care you receive. 

The hospital may offer additional ‘perks’ if you choose to be a private patient.

Public hospitals are known to offer additional benefits to patients who choose to use their private health insurance, including free Wi-Fi, food vouchers or parking discounts. Information about being a private patient in a public hospital can be hard to find and varies between hospitals; particularly in regards to more important benefits such as guaranteeing choice of doctor, access to single rooms and specialised follow-up care. It is important to ensure you are receiving the right benefits by using your private health insurance. 

You could have out-of-pocket costs if you use your private health insurance. Your policy with us will apply to your admission if you choose to be a private patient in a public hospital. This means, you may be required to pay any excess, and the doctor who treats you may charge a gap for their services, above what Medicare and the health fund will cover. It is important to remember that if you are covered by our basic policy, no matter how it is promoted, any exclusions or restrictions of your policy will apply, so you may not be covered for the services you require.

Using your private health insurance can affect premiums. It has been reported that growth in private patient admissions in public hospitals has contributed to approximately 0.5% per annum increase to premiums over the past five years. This means, private health insurance premiums can be contributing to services that could be receiving public funding paid through taxes.

It is important to remember you have a choice when deciding how you will be covered for services in any private or public hospital.  

Be informed, be equipped with the right questions, and know your rights as a patient.

Amen.

Mouse Whisper

Some years ago, when Aleppo was still a beautiful place, an Australian senator was reported in The Weekend Australian as saying

“Syria is a country that has been a bastard state for nearly forty years.” However it should have read: “Syria has been a Baathist state for nearly forty years. The Australian regrets any embarrassment caused by the error.”

Sadly, no need to correct the statement these days.

Souk of Aleppo

Modest expectations – Temperature

There has been a great amount of strategic mucking around in the Northern Atlantic and the question of whether climate change had made the north-west passage navigable for most of the year has been troubling among others the Canadian security boffins. After all, there are many competing claims for the Arctic.

The Canadians … and the Danes claiming Hans Island

However, one of the most bizarre events was when the Canadians sent a helicopter to a speck called Hans Island, which lies in the stretch of water between Ellesmere Island and Greenland separating the Arctic Ocean from Baffin Bay. Canada disputes ownership of the rock with Denmark and after the Danes had raised their flag on the rock in 2002, the Canadians came back in 2005 and planted a windproof Canadian flag which promptly fell over. However the Danish flag was removed and returned to the Danish ambassador in Ottawa. There was Danish outrage, and immediate consideration was given to the dispatch of a destroyer, complete with not only the Danish flag but also a bottle or two of Danish schnapps.

The dispute is still raging with the Canadians retaliating with Canadian rye whiskey to complement the Canadian flag. The issue of course is definition of fishing and sea floor mining rights.

It is understood that the puffins, being very clever birds, have difficulty leaving the island now that they have learnt to open the bottles.

But as the Chinese have shown, you do not want to leave your rocks unattended and then complain about any unexpected consequence.

Confucius was a very wise man

It is somewhat ironic to see the SMH headlines screaming about Chinese infiltration when snugly lying within the paper was “China Watch”. It is like finding a copy of “Watchtower” in the Book of Common Prayer.

I glanced through the contents, and there was a piece about one of the many minorities. In this case it was about the sea gypsies or Tanka people who were resettled on the Fujian coast in Southern China. I always shudder at the word “resettlement” and who was the architect of the resettlement? It was none other that Xi Jinping, then the deputy secretary of the Communist Party in Fujian where he honed his political skills with minority groups over 17 years, as instanced by moving the Tanka people onshore. Much better for their life style onshore, rather than honour the centuries of tradition living on the sea. Sound familiar?

This was probably done for a strategic reason. Fujian is a sub-tropical province lying opposite Taiwan. Cleanse the water and give a clear line of sight to the rebellious “’province”. Yet Fujian itself is underdeveloped and quaint, the birthplace of oolong tea, soya sauce and a fermented fish sauce called kê-tsiap, which over the centuries with the addition of tomatoes became an Anglo-American national delicacy called ketchup with no residual relationship to its Chinese antecedent.

However, as I flicked through this insert, what attracted me as well was the announcement that the Sea Dragon 2, China’s new ice breaker was making its maiden voyage to the Antarctic base at Zhongsan, which is close to Australia Davis Station on the continental Antarctic mass; and also to Chang-cheng (“Great Wall”) located near the Chilean station on otherwise uninhabited King George Island in the South Shetlands. The crew complement was announced as containing scientists and support staff. Built in Shanghai, the vessel is 122.5 metres long and capable of sailing 37,000 kilometres in a single voyage. Moreover, China is already building a third.

Australia is building its new icebreaker in Romania named “Nyuna” (the Tasmanian aboriginal word for “Southern Lights”) due for delayed delivery next year. This icebreaker is longer, wider, and has twice the displacement of the Chinese vessel. It is supposed to have a life of 30 years. One wonders incidentally what ice sheets will be like in that time.

However, it was clear from incidents in 2013 when both the first generation Chinese and Australian icebreakers had difficulties in accessing a Russian ship stuck in the Antarctic ice that they needed vessels with improved capabilities.

Most of icebreaker activity has been confined to the Arctic region. After years of indecision, the U.S. government has issued a contract for the U.S. Coast Guard’s three new heavy icebreaker in decades, the first be delivered in 2024. As one source commented, “These ships are absolutely critical to the United States’ continued ability to conduct operations in ice-filled waters, especially in the increasingly strategic Arctic region.”

There was no mention of the Antarctic region because in the 60th year of the Antarctic treaty, the sacrosanctity of the Antarctic remains in place where everybody makes no territorial claims while agreeing to work together in spheres of scientific influence. This situation is in place until 2048 – neither mining nor militarization, even if contemplated, being allowed until that year.

However, like Japanese whaling for ostensibly research purposes and the self-regulated tourist pollution, the fact that the Chinese are already planning a third icebreaker, which will give them a distinct tactical advantage in navigating the Antarctic, the word “research” can be used to cover any number of deceptions.

Given the Chinese activities in the South Chinese Sea, there are many uninhabited places in the Southern Ocean, some of which come under the Antarctic treaty and some not. However, it will only take one nation to throw a rock into the Southern Ocean – and whether it will be noticed in the storms that rack that part of the world, who knows.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Russians have 41 icebreakers and have just launched the first of three combination icebreaker warships complete with cruise missiles and of course a landing area for helicopters. The Arctic has no treaty to protect it and much jostling for sovereignty over the resources, especially now the waterways are more accessible because of climate change.

The Chinese I’m sure will be watching. They are always in for the long haul. The “China Watch” provides a useful insight into the thinking, even if we Australian readers may think it a bit of Sino-“puff”, remember “puff” is followed by the dragon – the magic dragon.

The new plague – the online anti-vax ‘influencer’

Guest blogger: Janine Sargeant#

A new plague is sweeping the world and we seem powerless to stop it. This is the epidemic of online anti-vaxxer ‘influencers’ whose commentary influences people to not protect their children from preventable disease; these ‘influencers’ should hang their heads in shame.

At a time when Samoa is struggling to deal with a shocking measles epidemic, this hasn’t stopped those who peddle nonsensical cures for measles from spruiking their wares. As of today, more than 60 have died, over 50 of these are children aged less than four. There have been more than 4,000 measles cases in Samoa’s population of around 200,000 since the outbreak began about seven weeks ago.

Measles is the most infectious disease and it has spread through much of the developed world this year. In developed countries there has been comparatively little loss of human life; New Zealand recently suffered its worst epidemic of measles in 20 years – 2,000 people were infected, but there were no deaths.

However, Samoa has been another story. Measles travelled from New Zealand to Samoa where the population had very low vaccination rates; WHO estimated Samoa’s total population immunity to be as low as 30-40%. Samoa’s health service was not equipped to deal with an epidemic.

In response to nursing error that resulted in two deaths in 2018, (the guilty nurses now serving five year prison terms) the immunisation program was shut down for months and was slow to recommence, and the anti-vaxxers leveraged off this medical error. Samoa’s vaccination rate plummeted.

A perfect storm – the Samoan population had no chance to resist and those who paid the price were the youngest and most vulnerable of the population who had no say in whether they should be vaccinated or not.

Anti-vaxxer advocates were proposing vitamins and alkaline water cures instead of the vaccine; but the prize goes to Samoan-Australian online influencer, Taylor Winterstein, who is reported as “liken(ing) the new mandatory vaccination regime (in Samoa to combat the outbreak) to Nazi Germany.” There’s been plenty of angry responders in the Australian media to that fatuous comment.

Winterstein’s husband is a Samoan-born rugby league player, who after stints with Manly and Penrith is now in France – not back to his native country to apologise for his wife’s behaviour. 

But back to Mrs Winterstein … let’s look a little further into this person’s medical and public health qualifications: well, she has none. However, as a self-described “Integrative Nutrition Health Coach” she is unqualified but adept in self-promotion and encouraging her “followers” to part with money to hear about the dangers of vaccinating children. 

Mrs Winterstein is quoted as saying: “The amount of NRL players and their partners who consciously choose NOT to vaccinate would seriously surprise you”. Well, she does mention the name of the pregnant wife of a Titans player – nobody else, but perhaps she should name names.

For my part I would strongly encourage all NRL players and their wives to publicly support vaccinating their and our community’s children from an entirely preventable disease that has caused so many deaths and continues to do so.

And let’s not forget those who suffer terrible long-term post-measles conditions such as subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) – one for Mrs Winterstein and her ilk to look up. This causes a terrible, lingering death, brain gradually reduced to “porridge”.  

Mrs Winterstein, my anger is palpable. Perhaps if young parents see what happens to their children with this post-measles neurological complication, they may think again and defy your “influence” and head for the clinic. 

What are “influencers” in the online psyche? They are individuals with the power to affect purchase decisions because of their authority, knowledge, position or relationship with their audience. They drive traffic and sales to a product or service based on their recommendations. All very commercial; time to remind these “influencers” that this authority and power comes with very real responsibility and if you stray into public health and medicine, just remember that you should also do no harm. 

What is her solution? Black rice, which can be bought at the supermarket and which she sells at a substantial price premium.

Mrs Winterstein, you intended to go to Samoa with a pocketful of rice to give a workshop when there was one family in Samoa – their three very small children were all taken by this measles outbreak. Did they heed your advice? 

The Samoan Government has now arrested a “traditional healer” who has been telling people to not vaccinate their children.  His “traditional healing” that involved the use of somewhat non-traditional bottled vitamins, was facilitated by Mrs Winterstein’s “influencing”.  A recent post by Mrs Winterstein now says her family is coming under attack from media outlets around the world and she’s the target of a witch hunt – well that might just be the problem of being in the business of promoting eye of newt, toe of frog … and charms of powerful trouble*.

And Shannelle, the wife of the Titans player, you would have given birth by now – get your child vaccinated, please.

*with thanks to Mr Shakespeare from many ages ago.

#Among other things, Janine Sargeant is a Master of Public Health

How much are we paying these jokers?

In such circumstances, monetary policy needs to be accommodative. Low interest rates are acting to support borrowing and spending. While the recent changes to some lending rates for housing will reduce this support slightly, overall conditions are still quite accommodative. Credit growth has increased a little over recent months, with credit provided by intermediaries to businesses picking up. Growth in lending to investors in the housing market has eased. Supervisory measures are helping to contain risks that may arise from the housing market. 

There are further signs of a turnaround in established housing markets. This is especially so in Sydney and Melbourne, but prices in some other markets have also increased recently. In contrast, new dwelling activity is still declining and growth in housing credit remains low. Demand for credit by investors is subdued and credit conditions, especially for small and medium-sized businesses, remain tight. Mortgage rates are at record lows and there is strong competition for borrowers of high credit quality.

The easing of monetary policy this year is supporting employment and income growth in Australia and a return of inflation to the medium-term target range. The lower cash rate has put downward pressure on the exchange rate, which is supporting activity across a range of industries. It has also boosted asset prices, which in time should lead to increased spending, including on residential construction. Lower mortgage rates are also boosting aggregate household disposable income which, in time, will boost household spending.

The pace of growth in dwelling prices has moderated in Melbourne and Sydney over recent months and has remained mostly subdued in other cities. In other asset markets, prices for commercial property have been supported by lower long-term interest rates, while equity prices have moved in parallel with developments in global markets. The Australian dollar is adjusting to the significant declines in key commodity prices. 

Such are the public releases from the Reserve Bank Board. Two of the above paragraphs are from the latest report; and two from a report from 2015 when now Emeritus Sheriff Stevens was in the saddle. Then to give it extra emphasis I have mixed them up so each two-paragraph excerpt has one from Sheriff Lowe and the other the benefit of Emeritus Sheriff Stevens’ wisdom.

I asked someone wise in the world of finance what he thought of the following quote:

The genius of the recent administrations has been to transfer inflation to the stock market – that is to the prices of stocks and bonds instead of to the price of labour and production. Real wages are lower than they were in 1964 (written in 2005). 

He missed the bracketed attribution, and thought the quote referred to the current situation, whereas it was a prescient comment made in 2005 before the GFC. He agreed with the sentiment. Nothing has changed, he admitted.

As the excerpts from the RBA writing show, there is not much new thinking going on there, but what would one expect of a Board, with the Governor, the Deputy Governor, and Secretary of the Treasury being committed public servants that inhabit the Morrison self-described bubble; another who has lived in that curious chimera of public servant and multiple company directorships, three representatives of big business, a highly placed investment banker, and an academic with close links to the Anglican Church, which has been described as big business on its knees.

The problem with this economic and morally stagnant Australia is that the people making decisions enjoy the benefits of that stagnation. Neither political party dares to throw a stone into the fen where the water has stopped flowing and the fragrant algae of our political system, which thrives on stagnation, is hiding the poison that is killing Australia. Soon the beautiful fen with its wondrous fauna and flora will become an irreversible cesspool full of the tailings of illusionary productivity.

Which of the current Board would suggest that a wealth tax, a large increase in funding providing for education and health care systems and climate change proofing action, should get an airing rather than just allow this country to sink into an algae infested sink hole. From the sidelines one could imagine all the myriad rent seekers and mercantilists scrambling to get out of the hole while the ordinary Australian drowns in debt.

What is needed is to build the new political movement, which defines ‘the honest toiler” centre, which looks after the wellbeing of the nation rather just that of self-absorbed politicians. Development of this concept is just the shorthand for a series of future blogs, to assist in stirring the pool, clearing the algae and starting the water flowing.

After all, I do not want my grandchildren growing up in an increasingly uninhabitable planet.

Mouse Whisper

Talking of Danish schnapps or its other Scandinavian name aquavit, Finns are known for their taciturnity. So when a Swede and a Finn sat down to a glass of aquavit, the Swede said “Skol” the Finn said nothing, and they drank the philtre. This ritual was repeated five times the Swede said “Skol” on each occasion and the Finn said nothing. So they drank on, refilling their glasses on the way.

Aquavit for two

However, on the seventh occasion the Swede again said “Skol” and this time the Finn burst out, “The trouble with you Swedes you talk too much,” and drained his glass.

They say alcohol loosens the tongue.

Modest Expectations – Adelaide

I used to listen to his Letters from America – clever oral essays – the British gentleman reflecting on the mores of the day from his study in America. The author was Alistair Cooke, a remarkable figure in his adopted country, who wrote his observations in his weekly epistle until just before his death in 2004.

He had been in America since the early 1930s as a correspondent, but at the heart he was a film critic, and moreover mixing with the “stars”. One of the films he wrote about accepted the doomsday hypothesis of the last survivors of planetary nuclear war. The film was Stanley Kramer’s “On the Beach” adapted from an eponymous novel by a British expatriate who went under the non-de-plume, Neville Shute.

Melbourne was the chosen site for the film, and I remember being in the school quadrangle when Gregory Peck turned up with his son, presumably to enrol in the school while he made the film. I was struck by how much presence Gregory Peck had, without creating any fuss – just dad taking his son to school which, in 1958 was somewhat unusual, but I suppose my dad took me to school on my first day. In fact on reflection he did, found me being bullied by a future archdeacon and had me learn to box as a consequence.

Ava Gardner’s comment on Melbourne was cutting – she thought it a perfect place to make a film about the end of the world. After all, Melbourne pubs closed at six o’clock begetting the six o’clock swill where large glasses called “pots” were lined up to be consumed in the half-hour of grace before the doors were locked. Restaurants were sparse, and any place where you could drink required that alcohol to be bought in a brown paper bag and taken off the table if not drunk by nine o’clock. Men drank beer; women were segregated in the hotel lounge and God, it was not done to have a woman in the front bar. Women of refinement drank sherry; and Scotch whisky was the drink of the “top end of town”. Then, wine was consumed by the bohemian fringe of this apocalyptic maledom, as Ava Gardner viewed it.

In his review of the film, published in the Guardian 17 December 1959, about which Cooke is positive – “a story…as clean and unsentimental as a skull.” However, on the imagery reflecting on the future, Cooke is pessimistic. He quotes the collective wisdom of three think tanks to write:

They agree in approximate terms that nuclear war in the next decade is more likely than not. They warn us that the military decline of the United States in the short span of fifteen years has left it open to a devastating attack; that the disarmament at the United Nations and Geneva may blind the United States to the possibility that the Soviet union with a clear superiority in the arms’ race will use it to blackmail or attack its major opponent without warning. 

Neville Shute, the author, subscribed to the mutual annihilation theory rather than the above, (which seemed in accord with that of Cooke) since it mirrored the mindset of the late 1950s and 60s before the Vietnam War monopolised the headlines.

However, when Khrushchev engineered the Cuban missile crisis and failed, that was it – one episode of blackmail and the Russians withdrew to its reality. Competition with the United States in hindsight was illusory once the Americans got serious. However, it was not until Reagan called the Russians’ bluff and thus three decades later the Russian empire was in ruin.

Now we have Putin, the arch illusionist, at it again. Russia has divested itself of land, but they have been mindful that maintaining a number of satraps is important. Garrisoning countries is a costly exercise for a country with a GDP not much bigger than Australia’s. This time he wields his power by bullying his neighbours, which provides occupational therapy for his armed forces whether they be in the Ukraine or the Caucasus. Up to this time he has not manufactured a reason to march across Lithuania so that that exclave of Kaliningrad can be re-united with Mother Russia; but if he thought he could get away with it, who knows.

However, this illusion of the powerful strutting дуче also depends on his manipulation of Trump. Maybe I am only dazzled by the illusion of an image of a marionette with golden hair, on a wire, being paraded before a worldwide audience.

However, Prince Andrew was not the only person to be seen in the company of Mr Epstein – a figure who, in death, increasingly resembles The Tar Baby.

I wonder what Mr Cooke would have thought of this scenario which, in another context from the film “On the Beach”, could end up in mutual annihilation.

Another Alister – Another Time

There was another Alister, whom I admired greatly. His name was Alister Brass. “Alister” has a protean number of ways of being spelled.

Alister was the editor of the Medical Journal of Australia for a period in the mid 1980s – not only a doctor, a journalist, a war correspondent, but also a man of great innovation and integrity. He was lost prematurely to AIDS.

He did not have to adorn his ego with citations and references to his own achievements. He did not have the basic insecurity that often accompanies this display, and not to put a fine point on it, he viewed being editor as a full-time occupation, not a part-time bauble.

The Nobel laureate, Dr Barry Marshall wrote a telling piece about how Alister Brass helped him, reporting on self-administration of Helicobacter pylori to himself as part of fulfilling Koch’s postulates to prove that the bacillus caused peptic ulcer. Alister Brass had seen the original paper that Barry Marshall and Robin Warren had published in 1984 in The Lancet. Brass had encouraged Marshall to write an article for the MJA, which was duly submitted to “scrupulous referees” (Marshall’s words), who demanded a re-write and the final published article in 1985 became very influential in the recognition of Marshall and Warren’s work by a sceptical worldwide audience.

Marshall could not have been more clear about the value of Alister Brass’ role, as all great editors have, in ensuring the work, which eventually brought Marshall and Warren the Nobel Prize, was scrupulously refereed and then published. As Marshall himself concluded years later Re-reading that paper every few years, I am impressed by how far the MJA Editor was ‘sticking his neck out’ in allowing me to publish a hypothesis as to the cause of peptic ulcer. It was a further 5 years before journals allowed the word ‘cure’ to appear in articles about duodenal ulcer, and almost a decade before mainstream United States journals could accept it as proven.

Be that as it may, the point should be clearly made that two people who were outside the conventional medical establishment at that time (they were in Perth during the period of the research), Marshall and Warren, were nowhere near the major beneficiaries of medical research funding – Victoria or NSW.

The rush to citations as a sign of pumping out research papers has recently been criticised by the Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel. He mentions the “salami-slicing techniques” whereby, why have one paper when you could have three out of one piece of research? Then there is the multiple authorship where those who seem to be at the top-end of frequent flyer points appear on an article to which their input is negligible. I believe the citations record tallies over 5,000 authors. The emergence of a plethora of non peer-reviewed journals offering to publish articles in return for money, has just added to the proposition that “citations” are being discredited as a valid measurement of scientific worth.

Marshall and Warren were a temporary antidote to the accusation that so much of this form of research is trivial. The question remains: should the community reward funding submissions that emphasise process (of which parading a wealth of citations is one criterion and that insidious “proven track record” is another) rather than an outcome bestowing a tangible benefit on the community?

It is a pity that Alister Brass’s life was cut short, because we would not have to be reminded of the Journal’s worth by some obscure measurement. It would have been self-evident. He would clearly have made the above question irrelevant through the way he extracted the very best from authors and researchers in the same way Ingelfinger and Relman as Editors defined The New England Journal of Medicine.

A load of old cobblers

I sit and cobble at slippers and shoon, From the rise of sun to the set of moon; Cobble and cobble as best I may, Cobble all night and cobble all day.

In 1982 I invited David Owen, then at the height of his political powers, to give the address at the 50th anniversary of the Australian Institute of Political Science*.  Named in his honour, Sir Norman Cowper attended this inaugural Oration. Sir Norman had been among the founders of the Institute, although that is another story.  Dr Owen charged the Institute nothing. I was able to wrangle a first-class airfare London to Sydney return out of Qantas (in the days before business class and Irish parsimony).

These days politicians, after their retirements, have a habit of charging large amounts of money to perform while they garner a luscious pension for which we all pay. The current Treasurer, Minister Frydenberg, now aged 48, will in all probability be no exception. No need to retrain good ol’ Josh after the age of 60, except to identify the location of the amenities cabinet in whichever ambassadorship he has been awarded and later on retrained on how he stores his cash when there will be no banks left we can trust.

Politicians advocating this course for the elderly should not do so unless they are also serious about being role models, insisting on retiring on modest pensions and seeking retraining. Otherwise they could be subject to ridicule with a restive population calling for the re-introduction of the pillory.

Perhaps Abbot could resume his religious calling and be retrained as a Pentecostal minister; my favourite rent-seeker, Christopher Pyne because of his fixer obsession being retrained on reaching 60 as a paper hanger. However I jest – but if you think about it further, why not? Also, perhaps the word for this breed is “train” rather than “retrain”.

At my 70th birthday I was chirpy enough for people to exclaim that 70 was the new 50. It is seductive to believe that aphorism. However, when Frydenberg exhorts the elderly to retrain the answer is for what – and what time will be required for this mythical retraining and then, assuming anyone, anywhere would consider hiring this retrained person, one may only be able literally to work for a few years. Even though the average living age may have crept up to over 80, this increase in quantity cannot be necessarily equated to quality and ergo capacity to work.

Susan Ryan, Age Discrimination Commissioner from 2011-2016, used to bemoan the fact that there was age discrimination in Australia. Well, thank you for borrowing my pocket watch and telling me what I already know – if you’re over 40 and wanting a job, good luck. What did she do in her five years there? But then she was followed by another “retrained politician”, Dr Kay Paterson – and there is silence broken only by the chirping of crickets when the question is asked, what have you actually done to solve the problem of age discrimination for older Australians looking for work?

So what is the Frydenburg retraining all about? I worked until I was 75 years, and the only retraining I needed was to cope with my disease over my last 15 months, when I was deprived of independent living. However, with a carer for whom no government assistance was sought, I was enabled to ease into retirement. I had a few part-time “hangovers” from my previous jobs, which provided employment for another 18 months. Thus I was well into my 77th year when I finally finished.

Therefore it may be more about convincing employers of the worth of retaining the employees on, say, a contract for three to five years. On the other hand, I do not believe that the economy should be burdened with unproductive ageing staff. I can say that because – in the terms of the Italian calibration of age – I am about to pass from vecchio to anziano. 

Jokes aside, “working” and “ageing” provide a complex situation. I have had to deal with people who should have long since retired, and increasingly they had presented a hazard. It becomes a very difficult situation especially if they have accolades from their careers, which suddenly become more important to them when their livelihood and relevance are threatened.

I have one advantage. I have my marbles and I can look back over the past 20 years during which Treasury has put out a number of papers on this matter of ageing and the workforce – for what effect?

Just giving more benefits for a relatively small but vocal segment of the ageing population without the bother of setting up retraining scenarios, with only a marginal chance of success.

The “Golden Age” index is touted as a benchmark, but the index age range is 55-64. Fifty-five is a ludicrous age to retire, but was the basis of many public service plans with penalties imposed for working beyond that age. As a result, there has been the growth of so-called consultant work – doing what you were doing before, but at a higher rate of remuneration to top up that indexed pension, and stimulating the rise of the rent-seeker class.

Minister Frydenberg, can I hand you the last?

The Victorian TAFE sector says it takes a year to train to become a cobbler aka shoemaker. Another way of being the life and sole of the party when and if you get to 70!

*Now the Australian Institute of Policy and Science

Jesus the Leader

Now a rather sad case of a man when a post-graduate student who, when he was a student at the US Army War College, wrote a dissertation on Jesus Christ the Leader.

He described the Jesus model of leadership as love. His first criterion was that leaders traditionally sat at the top of the pile and issued orders, while Jesus “inverted the pyramid” and “he got down in the trenches and served the troops”. The rest of the “Jesus the Leader” dissertation proceeded from this statement.

Fast-forward 15 years and now Major General Gregg Martin faces his Jesus moment when as,

“The president of the National Defense University stepped down from his post last week following reports of an ongoing investigation into a poor command climate at the Defense Department-operated institution.

Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin officially relinquished the job last Monday…the move was approved by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey… Gen. Martin said he believed this was the right time for a new leader to guide the institution as NDU continued to prepare leaders for the challenges facing the U.S. Military.  

Martin was reported as having unilaterally ordered a series of sweeping structural changes at NDU without consulting its tenured faculty and other academic leaders, and that he threatened to fire anyone who challenged his plans. Martin responded that he was indeed seeking “transformational” change within the university, but that his comments were misinterpreted.”

Hardly a sign of mutual affection, but as Martin had written in his dissertation, “Jesus religiously took time away by himself, plug into his eternal power source – God’s Word – and recharge his battery. When things get extremely hectic, it may be time to consider taking an afternoon to play golf.”

Jesus thanks you for that advice. Some people may define the golf links as a wilderness but I think,

General, you are advising the wrong chap.

Jesus is the Palestinian chap on the right hand side.

In turn, Martin has languished in his own Pentagon wilderness for the past five years.

Mouse Whisper

Chevron ran an advertisement bemoaning the fact the United States reserves of natural gas were small compared to Russia, Iran and Qatar. In fact the United States and Turkmenistan vie for fourth place. This ranking has not interfered with the fact that the United States is the largest producer of natural gas ahead of Russia.

On contemplating this Chevron advertisement where ostensibly the message is that the USA has a smaller supply of one commodity than “shock horror” Russia and Iran, it struck my murine mind that how it was playing upon the fragile ego of the American people. Trump has also exploited the same fragility in his “Make America Great” mantra. Augmenting it with red dew drops of “Russia with Love” has led Trump supporters to wear T-shirts which say “I’d rather be Russian than Democrat”. You mean better be Stalin than Roosevelt?   I am really now mus confusus. People so insecure in themselves that they would compromise their country’s security. Maybe they should have a portrait of Benedict Arnold on their T-shirt as well.

Benedict Arnold

 

 

 

 

 

What Trump supporters are wearing this Fall.

Modest Expectations Skat

“The problem with the drought is that it is predominantly affecting National Party electorates and as the Prime Minister charges round these electorates all he succeeds in doing is emphasising the impotency of government, while making the National Party look like drongos. Then enter off right, the Belgian fixative who does a deal with Hansen who knows when to throw a tantrum. Obviously her colleague in Tasmania has viewed this Flemish reflex, which has been adapted from Pavlov’s observation on canine behaviour. Frankly, I am sick of Keating’s unrepresentative swill being given a disproportionate voice while I struggle to pay my mortgage and make ends meet, all because of the manipulation by a Flem.”

Unfair; of course. But that is one example of how Australia is perceived as being governed. Maximising the influence of a few to the detriment of the majority. Just the frustration of being a young urban graduate, and collectively primed to burst forth, when the articulate leader of reform – perhaps a numerate “Whitlam” would help – emerges in the next three years, a person who puts the interests of the country first. Or do we reach a Chilean tipping point where the rules become radically different.

Some weeks ago, I recounted briefly that I had just come back from Chile where I made a point of visiting the Museum of Memories and Human Rights. At the time I said that the museum was “the brainchild of President Michelle Bachelet, to ensure that one memory sticks in the mind of the Chilean people. On a wall on the first floor are myriad photographs of Chileans murdered by the Pinochet regime – 130,000, probably more.”

Recently, she has visited Australia in her role as the UN Commissioner on Human Rights to deliver the Whitlam Lecture, which was booked out by the time I got round to it. But from snippets, I got the gist.

I had also seen an enticing advertisement for a house nestled in a valley between Santiago and Valparaiso – separate terraced complex houses a sauna, Jacuzzi and hot tub, and two bathrooms. The property also includes a one-bedroom guesthouse, a covered parking area for four cars and organic orchards with 750 avocado trees and other fruit trees with “income-producing potential”; on 17 acres handy to both Santiago and Valparaiso. The price? About AUD2m. All this under the headline: “Following a tax hike and a steep drop in sales, prices are rebounding thanks to a stable economy and new infrastructure projects.”

Yes, when we had been in Santiago in late August, it had seemed very quiet; well run city, taxi driver even praised the cops as the only honest police force in South America. However, that contrasted with a comment in The Economist about the current President, Sebastián Piñera, which concerned the social conflicts with students that had bedevilled his first term. In order to reinforce the point, The Economist alleged police had tried to cover up their murder of a member of the Mapuche, an indigenous people.

The Economist added, “That followed a string of scandals – ranging from planting evidence to corruption – in the Carabineros, the once-revered police force. The army is no better. Some officers have been found to have stolen public money; others have sold arms to drug-traffickers.

Somewhat different perspective from that of our driver as we drove through quiet suburban streets to the Museum …

Sure, when we later went on the road to Valparaiso, the slums stretched along it for miles inducing a feeling of unease.

On the way, stopping for a wine tasting in the Casablanca Valley, it was just what you would expect from a wine tasting vineyard in Australia – impeccable surroundings both inside and out, a fire to warm this predominantly young stylish crowd from the winter cold. I was reassured there that Chile was an exemplar of middle class respectability.

Then off to Valparaiso, where the poor in barrios cling onto the sides of the steep hills, yet all with a stunning view of the ocean. Here the streets plunge down these steep slopes – a variation on the big dipper. Barrios did not exude stark poverty but the people in the doorways or struggling up the streets with their provisions did not look happy.

It’s not that long since Valparaiso was almost destroyed in a massive earthquake, and the city has a shabbiness that belies the fact that it is a tourist centre and the politicians meet here in the National Congress building. The city had a sullen feeling, despite it being one of those places where there is so much intrinsic beauty, at least to my eye, despite its vulnerability to earthquakes.

Now two months on, the cities are aflame, the streets are crowded with a rioting populace, the army has been called out. The 130,000 dead on Bachelet’s Memorial wall have had a few added.

The cause? A seemingly minor increase in subway fares has proved the tipping point. The people have had enough. The country’s prosperity revealed has been heavily weighted to a small fraction of the community who can afford to buy the property described earlier.

The currency is devaluing, the inequity in everything from wages to health care lies revealed. The hatred of politicians has boiled over; despite conciliatory gestures. People lie in the streets, dead or injured. Tear gas lingers; property estimated to be worth $2 billion Australian dollars has been destroyed in the rioting, and the number arrested harks back to Pinochet’s times. The military are on the streets, their punitive powers on show. Piñera has cancelled two international conferences presumably not to show the World his intention to return to a military dictatorship.

After all, he has an approval rating of 14 per cent, presumably by all those hiding within gated communities. Piñera is reputed to be the wealthiest man in Chile, having introduced credit cards into that country and, as a badge of his mercantilist mind, he has manipulated stock such that he faced court more than once. He is the sort of person, who fits in with the definition of “politician”. He is a man well versed in fraud who has tried to shuffle his Ministers, but the protests have increased. Shuffling or sleight of hand generally also means taking money from someone else’s pocket.

Those in the streets are not fooled. They can see what awaits them on the horizon. All they have to do is go in the Museum and see the filmed images the morning Chilean democracy last died on 11 September 1973.

Bubble Australia

The Congress in Valparaiso has been invaded, and while the major excuse given for the increasing development of Parliament House into an impregnable Bubble Australia, thought must have been given to a popular invasion to construct it in such a manner. Presumably Bubble Australia has food and cocktails in store to last for six months in the event of a siege.

When people hate politicians enough, the tipping point will be reached. We are not immune from a Chilean-like situation – the only difference is that Australia has yet to have experienced a Pinochet. Yet we have a number of very good would-be impersonators.

I think Chile needs you back, Michelle. As for Australia, the space is unfilled – as yet. But then one of the characteristics of these new movements, apart from their youth is the difficulty in finding the leader to be carted off to gaol, effectively decapitating the rebellion. The Extinction crowd is on the streets, but they do not have the same mentality as the police force in its armour plate; and one has to hope wearily not to have a rerun of Queensland brutality à la Springbok tour or ageing commentators of both genders mimicking Askin’s admonition to drive over curly-headed young Sri Lankans – metaphorically of course.

However, if a society is unequal in its rewards system, and in their Morrisonian Bubble the beneficiaries try to insulate themselves, eventually someone will prick the Bubble or let the air be exhausted from the Bubble. It may take time, but there will come a time if there is no remedial action, we could end up like Chile or, for that matter, Hong Kong or Beirut.

Another Play with Words

Guest Blogger – Chris Brook*

The NSW government has announced that it is moving away from activity based funding in health care, to an outcomes-based funding approach. More recently the Australian Treasurer has declared that he wants Australia to do likewise to a quality care approach and eliminate low value and unnecessary care.

Both reflect the adoption of a new approach to measurement of value.

This announcement presages the latest fashion in health care economics and organisational design in the United States, which is value-based health care.

It is growing into a huge industry reaping enormous fees for consultants. As with any scheme, it gains keen audiences for its promoters because of its purported benefits and simplicity.

Basically the theory is simple – along the lines of:

(a) value, never quite defined but clearly related to outcomes and

(b) value, again never quite defined but including elimination of low value or unnecessary care resulting in:

  • integrated care
  • improved efficiency at all levels
  • team based care
  • patient-focussed care
  • higher quality care
  • better outcomes
  • improved prevention of ill heath and
  • lower cost

How could anyone object to such a set of targets?

And this all happens, apparently, through tweaking of economic signals along with better IT, better data capture and use, incentives for provider re-organisation and a value focus by patients. No wonder funders love the idea, or at least the components they choose to understand. However, like all things that sound too good to be true, it is too good to be true.

Some of the issues emerging are:

  • it is a North American solution to a North American problem
  • it assumes complete market flexibility, both patient and provider
  • it does not define outcome (clinical, functional, meeting expectations – actual against expected) and
  • it does not define value (whose or which value particularly)

Nonetheless some very interesting tools are being developed, such as much better prediction software which may dramatically alter future risk rating down as far as the individual level (with all the accompanying risks that entails).

To give the topic due attention needs at least a podcast discussion, with more than one opinion to assess.

This is but a teaser – an opening shot.

It does remind me that the world thought it had the solution to health care back in the 1930s, with the establishment of health maintenance organisations with uncannily similar promises – and promise!

As a very smart man once said to me looking into the mirror: “Chris, health maintenance organisations are a great idea and always will be.”

*Chris Brook PSM FRACP is a medical practitioner with 30 years senior management experience in the Australian health system

Tiempo, damas y cabelleros por favor

I came across the 29 May 2009 issue of Time which listed the 100 most influential people in the World. These lists are just one form of vanity press, a filler where high profile people are paid to write about other perceived high profile people who, unlike the writers, have attained the “magic” hundred.

The first one listed was Teddy Kennedy, who promptly died before the end of the year – and his legacy was his work in advocating for still unfinished health care reform. The second one listed was Gordon Brown, his paean written sympathetically by J.K. Rowling. He is long gone from the influential hundred; although he is probably behind the scenes within the Scottish resistance to Brexit.

However, in the 100 influential figures listed, both Boris Johnson and Elizabeth Warren get prominent space. A young Boris Johnson with boyish face and laughing eyes is eulogised by Conrad Black. One might say that it takes one to know one, but Black, ten years on pardoned by Trump for his malfeasance, was right in saying that Boris was a man to watch.

For her part, Elizabeth Warren is there for her expert knowledge of bankruptcy through all its shades, and her take on the financial services industry; she is “characteristically unfazed by the criticism.”

Surprisingly Putin and unsurprisingly Trump are not listed, and Xi Jinping is reduced to a narrow column on page 28. After being described in his role then as the Chinese vice-premier as “best known to many Chinese for his singing wife”, the writer goes on to pen that Xi lost his patience at a meeting in Mexico. He is quoted as saying, “Some foreigners can’t seem to mind their own business and sit around complaining about China.” But as the writer went on “He carefully flavoured the complaint as a joke, which took some of the pressure out. The politician’s instinct, it seems, is always at the ready.”

And as the writer said earlier in his piece: “the running joke in Beijing is that anytime there is a potentially nasty task, Xi gets it.”

First, Xi may joke, but he is no joke, and secondly I am not sure how he would describe Trump, but he obviously has a great deal of experience in such matters.

As for the rest, well there are those in elected office, those blazing a trail as “influential” and in the end there is mostly a Warholian outcome – maybe a tick over 15 minutes.

All shook up …

Guest Blogger:  Janine Sargeant*

Hard to believe, but there apparently are “Elvis Loathers” – designated by areas of calm cobalt blue on a demographic map of the USA. The “Elvis Lovers” are bright red and shake up much of the eastern half of the US.

Like him or loathe him, Elvis is everywhere

This map appeared in the August 1993 issue of American Demographics. Prepared by a Texas market research firm, using demographic data and addresses of members of Elvis fan clubs, it purports to show the depth and breadth of Elvis fandom. The most “Elvis-friendly” places apparently are small towns dominated by mills, farms and main street retailers, but also the newer blue-collar baby boomer suburbs on the edges of cities like Atlanta, Miami, Austin, Kansas City and San Diego.

Bob Lunn, then president of Direct Image Concepts Inc., said he launched the Elvis survey for a client wanting to sell Elvis memorabilia. While the client went bankrupt, Lunn’s company enjoyed plenty of publicity by making the survey available to the media. The 7,000 responses to his questionnaires came from Elvis fan club members. He used the responses to develop a composite of the then typical Elvis fan: a conservative, blue-collar, white woman in her 40s or 50s who votes Republican, has a high school education or less, is married with children, watches sitcoms and the Home Shopping Network and reads Bride’s Magazine and the National Enquirer. The typical fan also drives American sedans or pickup trucks, swims in above-ground pools, smokes menthol cigarettes, drinks malt liquor, and eats white bread, canned meats and Velveeta – all of which probably had a place on Elvis’s pantry shelves.

The Elvis map showed the clear divides that commonly exist in the US between east and west and north and south, although in this instance the north eastern states (with the exception of New York and Boston) certainly carried the flag for Elvis.

However, the map demonstrates how data can mislead. Based on Lunn’s methodology Alaska, with the exception of Anchorage, apparently is full of Elvis Loathers. Problem is, not much population in Alaska to move that state into the red zone (or perhaps it is just that the moose prefered Little Richard). Look more closely at the blue zones (except perhaps Blue Hawaii) and to a large degree the problem is a lack of individuals to sign up with an Elvis fan club.

What would the map show if it were redone now? Probably a lot more of “Elvis Who?” in beige, although it would likely now be called “Elvis? Meh.”

Exercises like these are an amusing diversion, but perhaps not to be relied on, as Lunn’s client discovered.

Janine Sargeant runs a medical association in the not-for-profit sector.

Mouse Whisper

Funny coincidence but my mouse trainer’s thirty-second wedding anniversary has fallen in the week of the thirty-second Modest Expectation blog. A coincidence, but in the world of gifts even for such an anniversary, ebony is the go.

Ebony mouse whispering

Modest expectations – Westphalia

I understand le canard Trump was instrumental in securing the treaty of Westphalia in 1648. That statement is about as idiotic as his justification for welshing on the Kurds because they did not help in Operation Overlord.

It reminds me of the bon mots uttered by Marshall Green, the shadowy US Ambassador to Australia, who was implicated in the Whitlam dismissal.

“When he heard there may be Turkish troops posted to the Vietnam War, Green is reputed to have said: “I have always wanted to see Kurds in Hue.”

There is no mention of Miss Muffet or the tuffet upon which she was sitting.

Upon which Miss Muffet sat …

Diversion to Lithuania

I have been reading a book written by David Smiedt about being a Lithuanian Jew. I have always admired the Lithuanian Bund – a collective of Jewish socialists with their Polish and Russian brothers and sisters who provided a bulwark of social idealism and democratic spirit in an area that was rife with anti-semitism and authoritarian politics. They were a reservoir of Yiddish speaking Jews and were opposed to the Zionist element of Judaism, at the time when an independent Jewish state in Palestine was very much debated.

Many of the Bund came to Australia, and I remember a former Yiddish school in Carlton being rented by a group of young parents including myself as a day nursery. It was surplus to their needs, but we inherited an elderly Lithuanian, Joseph Giligich, who was very much the “hands-on landlord”, and even though his constituency had moved from Carlton south of the Yarra, he was always buzzing around.

He was not the only Lithuanian to attract my attention, for very many of the refugees from the Baltic countries after World War 11, whom I met, were Latvian. However there was one in my year of medicine, who introduced himself as “Casey”, which sounded Irish, and then uttered his surname that, like Icelandic surnames, tend to be long and trail away into the distance. The scribe politely asked how it was spelt and he started “Z…d…” The rest was lost in the mirth of the class. He was Lithuanian born.

It was some years before I had the opportunity with a friend to visit Lithuania – and yet it was not a Jewish Lithuania that I saw. It was very much a Roman Catholic Lithuania.

It is a long drive from Riga to the capital, Vilnius. So we have an intermission. We stop off at the Hill of Crosses near the town of Siauliai (pronounced “Sharlie”). As I mentioned earlier in my Jiminy blog, this Hill is an extraordinary sight to behold as we near it. “Behold” is the right word, as it is a religious experience – thousands of crosses and crucifixes of all dimensions piled together on this hill and around its base As they are mostly composed of untreated wood, they are grey and slowly rotting. Some are pasted with chips of golden amber but the sun has gone and they too merge into a cheerless greyness. It is a vision of Golgotha seen though the eyes of Mervyn Peake.

For Lithuanians this is a sacred spot, and despite it being pulled down during the Russian rule, the Lithuanians have ensured that it has sprung up again. The various notes in various languages strewn on and among the crosses indicate the Hill is not restricted to the locals. I gaze out on the adjacent lush meadow bordered by a clear stream. The forget-me-nots nestling among the crosses under the cypress trees provide a dash of nature to this oppression of crosses and crucifixes. I would have thought that this scene would provide a degree of tranquillity. But it does not. The Hill has a stench of death.

However, for most who come this is a sacred spot for pilgrimage. For them, placing a cross or crucifix among the many others may seem a fulfilment – an apologia for the journey. Lithuanians are Roman Catholics and as a country they have a natural affinity with Poles, who, like them, are Catholic. Small Polish flags are seen poking through the adornment of crosses testifying that it is a place of pilgrimage. For me, despite the gloomy appearance, the Hill is the second most arresting sight in Lithuania that I have seen until Vilnius.

The weather that has been threatening suddenly bursts open on my way back to the car park, which is about half a kilometre away. While our driver has been able to drop us near the Hill to let us out, he has to retreat to the car park. I get drenched.

It is still raining when we get to Vilnius. Our experience was somewhat different from the author of the Lithuanian odyssey, who explored the underbelly of the city.

The square outside our hotel has a number of intersecting lanes and streets lanes adding to its central importance. The square is lined by shops, amid which is the church of St Casimir. Nearby to the hotel is the National Philharmonic Hall, where we venture to hear the works of a Lithuanian composer, Osvaldas Balakauskas. The building reflects the Russian stucco socialist realism of the time. It was built in the 1940s. The music of a modern Lithuanian composer is challenging and we don’t have the energy to interpret all his nuances – we leave at the interval.

The weather has started to warm up on our second day, so we have the option of sitting out on the pavement or inside. We sit outside, quietly sipping a pre-lunch ale, when suddenly they descended. A line of cars and motor cyclists – men in red berets and army uniforms –men in dark suits with those radio earpieces dangling from their ears, seamlessly alighting in feathery concert from the cars – a fluid movement as though it had been a learnt art at bodyguard school.

Even the car doors are closed quietly. However, this is an exercise in hanging about until the centre of attention, who seems to have the rank of Lieutenant General arrives, has a brief kerbside conference with his staff and disappears inside. Amid all this activity we are not disturbed, not asked to leave, not frogmarched away.

The minders are all very relaxed but alert. They tell us who is coming, the name sounding like Gaubys. There is no self-importance in these men, apart from the number required to protect this dignitary. They chat to us. The Lithuanian army is supposed to be a reasonable fighting force. We are not very far from the Belarus border, and if we were allowed we could have had gone to Minsk and back for lunch -that is if you prefer Belorussian cuisine. However, the iron curtain still clanks at the border of these two countries.

Instead, being in the centre of town there are convenient cafés. One named California across the street takes its clue from its title and serves food with an American brio. I have the clam chowder and not the hamburgers. The café across the other lane is the Café Montmartre where the food has a very French flavour – the familiar eponymous onion soup, snails, even frogs’ legs are available. This shielded us from what is very endemic in all Baltic cookery. No matter how tricked up it is, it all comes down to meat and vegetables – with some fish. The grilled sea bream at the Café Montmartre is probably the best fish I had on this journey.

Lithuania is known for its glassblowing – stikliai – and there are many shops, which put this Lithuanian art on display. From one of these shops, I buy a simple small glass robin as a memento.

It is also known probably more widely for its amber, as is Latvia.

The Vilnius Cathedral has a neoclassical colonnaded façade and the building is topped by three statues, the central one – St Stanislaus, the patron saint of this country, carries a cross.

The cathedral has a high vaulted Gothic nave adorned by paintings and frescoes. They are again nothing remarkable. I light a candle for my close friend since it is nearing the tenth anniversary of his death. I stop for a moment before the basilicaform chancel and sanctuary. It is a strange place to remember him. I cross myself.

Close by there is the 13th century tiered tower, once part of the city defences but since the 19th century, the cathedral belltower. The bells ring out at 5pm but we are here in the morning.

Outside is a Dominican friar, who is speaking Russian animatedly to his companion. It is an example of the unexpected. I could see this as the opening scene in a John le Carré scripted film (or am I thinking of Dan Brown?) – a Russian-speaking “supposed” Dominican monk up to something. (This poor innocent man here in the portico becomes the subject of a vivid imagination).

Then an unforgettable moment occurs. My eye catches a small child being slowly rotated by his mother on a small patch of pavement. We wander over to see what the child is doing. They leave. This is the square within the Square where the last or first person stood when, as mentioned earlier, two million Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians held hands to celebrate the three countries released from Russian rule. It is just a single marker of a symbol of a solidarity, which is missing in all the other relationships between the three countries.

Stebuklas Miracle Tile, Cathedral Square, Vilnius

Standing on this marker because of its simplicity and yet its significance as a currency of communication is my trip highlight. Having duly rotated on the spot as a symbol of good fortune, I walk with my companion away across the square to the gardens where the trees shield us from the increasing warmth of the day.

I cannot forget the mother with her child standing on the marker – he looking down, she gently turning him around. I hope the child enters a world where “sekmes, veiksmi , edumay guide him on through this turbulent World – and each a word in a different language but meaning much the same – good luck.

But first don’t let Trump know of this country that has seen so much pain since its Grand Duchy days between the 13th and the end of the 18th centuries, and of the three Baltic countries has the smallest Russian population. Yet it borders the Russian Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad and its neighbour Belarus may as well be Russian.

The last part of our walk through the University of Vilnius is somewhat of an anticlimax – up a hill, curving narrow street, no shade, weather now hot, little green space to rest. I buy a Lithuanian flag at the university bookshop. Now I have the three flags of the Baltic countries and, as with everything else, they could not be more different. But remember these people did once hold hands across all their borders in 1989, 30 years ago, on August 23 – and they have not forgotten.

As David Smiedt, who works as a comedian, concluded following his far more extensive exploration of Lithuania than mine, admitting that he views the world through a Jewish lens:

“I envy their self-assuredness, which I originally mistook for aloofness or suspicion. Lithuania, like its inhabitants will hold your gaze.”

Amen. 

The Case of Gladys Liu

Lodged in the Prime Minister’s unintentionally leaked “talking points” between Northern Syria and Infrastructure are three dot points about the member for Chisholm (sic):

  •  Ms Liu has spent a considerable amount of time over the last three weeks reviewing her association with all community organisations. With nearly 1,000 Chinese organisations in Victoria alone it has been a lengthy task.
  •  Ms Liu has very clearly stated that she does not wish to be a member of any organisation that has not received her explicit consent. She has asked that she be removed from all organisations that have not received her consent.
  •  Ms Liu is confident that she is not linked to any organisations that may have inappropriate associations.

“Now go away and stop bothering me” is the subtext.

However, the first talking point implies our member for Chisholm is so disconnected with what she has been doing that she had to go through 1000 Chinese organisational names. I don’t know about you Prime Minister, but I know which organisations that I am linked to – and I do not have to go through the telephone book.

The weasel, not quite out of the burrow …

Next point, the weasel is out of the burrow – explicit consent. What does that mean? Now she has asked that she be removed from all organisations that do not have her “explicit consent”. Now, Prime Minister, given she has combed through 1000 organisations, how many would that be?

Final point – she is confident – but are you? And then the weasel attacks again “inappropriate associations”.

The fact the Intelligence Community warned Malcolm Turnbull about Gladys Liu should not be ignored; what has changed that has now prompted your Assistant Minister to use the word ‘smear’ in relation to the questioning of Ms Liu? If logic is used, then does the Intelligence Community with their advice to your predecessor form part of the smear.

For my part, what if she believes in the Chinese system of government, I do not see that as a crime. However, if anybody is a member of a proscribed organisation or has committed offences under the broad brush of ‘espionage’ then it becomes a different matter. The Prime Minister has obviously made the assumption that this is not the case.

However, she is now a Member of Parliament and what she says will be carefully watched not only by the Opposition but also by her erstwhile colleagues. However, just as we will have American apologists there is no reason for there not to be Chinese apologists in Parliament.

Ultimately, the ballot box will tell whether the case of Mrs Liu results in her being re-elected or not.

She made a very eloquent maiden speech, which implies that she has a literary grasp of the English language. However, if she becomes a Chinese apologist manquée, then she will not only have the ballot box to deal with. I suspect Beijing will be watching also.

However, if the Prime Minister does wish to show his trust in Ms Liu, he should ensure for instance that she is made a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

Ms Liu is not the first Chinese-born member of parliament to to be questioned over a Chinese-based organisation connection. Only last year, Mr Pierre Yang, an upper house Western Australian Labor member of parliament apologised for not disclosing membership of two associations allegedly linked to the Chinese communist party from which he has since resigned. Given the problems the NSW branch of  Labor Party are having with their association with Chinese benefactors, this is yet another challenge which our European exclave called Australia is facing, lying as we do geographically at the end of the Dragon’s tail.

Mouse Whisper

Topolino is indebted to David Smeidt for this sample of Yiddish humour:

One day Shlomo and Moshe are talking about holidays. Shlomo says, “I think I am just about ready to book my winter holidays again, but I’m going to do it differently this time. In the past, I have always taken your advice about where to go. Three years ago you said to go to Eilat. I went to Eilat and my wife Ruth got pregnant. Then two years ago, you told me to go to Bermuda and Ruth got pregnant again. Last year you suggested the Canary Isles and, as you know, Ruth got pregnant yet again.”

Moshe asks, “So what are you are going to do different this year, Shlomo?”

“This year,” replies Shlomo, “I’m taking Ruth with me.”

Eilat

Modest expectations – Joel

Given that our prime Minister loves to immerse himself in a biblical toga, this quote from the first book of Joel, which is incidentally the 29th book in the Old Testament and thus reflects the fact that this is my 29th blog that had its genesis 29 weeks ago, seems appropriate.

The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men. 

The problem is that the drought conditions have not affected Australia equally. In fact if you look at the agricultural forecast, the crops in Victoria, South Australia and West Australia seem to be doing nicely thank you very much. There is a small caveat on there being spring rains.

Darling River

Where Australia is in drought is in NSW and Queensland where the Murray-Darling basin has been wrecked and where the National Party holds most of the electorates lining the river.

The cotton industry has been particularly greedy when it comes to use of water, but the cowboys who have played around with the water rights have not helped, and there has been one disaster piled upon another as the rivers have dried up.

I, as an Australian, have been appalled by revelations about the Basin, but then what would I know? I am just a city dweller sitting on the coastline of Australia looking out on the Parramatta River. Nevertheless, like the rest of us I am inflicted with the fatuous comments of our politicians in relation to climate change.

One lesson, which does not seem to have penetrated the skulls of these politicians, is the lessons learnt from the past.

I have travelled extensively around Australia during a time when I was responsible for the rural stock take on health 20 years ago. Even then I was amazed by the extent of the open dams, which had been created to harvest water from the Darling and its tributaries. There were a few seasons when the rains came, the water flowed and everybody lost focus on the fact that this is a dry, dry land.

However, travel to South Australia and there is a line named after a very meticulous gentleman called Goyder who determined that below the line he had drawn, cropping could be undertaken with a degree of surety and above it not. Below the line the farmer can be assured of a mean of 240mm rain a year.

In fact testimony to the accuracy of his observations one can see the abandoned farm houses of those who did farm above the line. With climate change Goyder’s Line has been moving south and farming in South Australia has adjusted to the shift. South Australia produces 20 per cent of the country’s grain; most of it is grown without irrigation. In fact the Yorke Peninsula, where the best malting barley is grown, has no rivers at all. However, like its companion Eyre Peninsula, one can see the line metaphorically as it crosses these two areas. The farmers respect its scientific basis.

South Australia does not have any National party members elected to its bicameral legislature. South Australia is a desert state. I remember sitting on a verandah in Clare having a glass of that distinctive Clare riesling, when my host asked whether I knew I was 90 minutes from Adelaide and yet 90 minutes from Oororoo, which is above the Goyder line on the fringe of the desert. Increasingly Australia has to adjust to the degradation of the Murray-Darling Basin. Queensland and NSW will become desert states; however they await their George Goyder to show them how to cope.

David Littleproud

As the plane makes its descent, the local member scans the surrounding country, pointing enthusiastically to patches of water adjacent the many streams cutting across the verdant plain.

“It’s where the creeks have spread out,” he remarks. “It’s the best I’ve seen it in a long time.”

How things change! These words were uttered by Mr Littleproud in 2016 as he flew into his constituent town of Tambo.

Switch to last Sunday and there he was on television defending the allocation of one million dollars to the Moyne Shire for drought relief.

Now I know something about the Moyne Shire having once been a ratepayer in the Borough of Port Fairy before it was absorbed into the Moyne Shire. I also know quite a bit about the Moira Shire in Northern Victoria, having worked in Cobram, Yarrawonga , Numurkah and Nathalia for a decade.

That is where the departmental stuff up has occurred. The names have been confused. Moira Shire has been the centre of dairying in Northern Victoria along the Murray River. In this Shire Murray Goulburn dairying co-operative had a large factory complex, the travails of which I had a front row seat over a number of years.

Hence Moira Shire is a substantial dairying area together with a declining number of orchards, both industries requiring much water. Its rainfall this year is well below that of the mean rainfall.

So the simple solution for Littleproud was to admit the stuff up. But not this not very little proud “duck” – to coin a phrase. He stood on his dig and said that the northern part of the Moyne council was in drought. Consulting the map the most northerly part of the Shire is around Hexham and Woorndoo. The rainfall here is about the mean at this time of the year – 40 cm – hardly drought conditions. In any event the major dairying area is in the south of the Shire near the coast. I wonder whether the Minister has ever visited (or will visit) either Shire to assess the validity of his comment about the drought in the Moyne Shire, rather than making silly statements as he did this week.

For my part I have enjoyed a very pleasant sausage sizzle in the Minister’s town of his birth, Chinchilla, as I watched the coal train rumble by through the centre of town. We were on our way to Eromanga, so we had a view of the progressively dry microclimates along the way.

Littleproud has been a lucky man. His father was a National party Bjelke Peterson era minister and, as was the custom with the National Party, Littleproud has been the beneficiary of inheriting the increasingly arid electorate of Maranoa.

The rainfall in this part of Australia is half the average up to this point and a quarter of the rain was received on one day in March. However, how much relevance that has to a man of the country who now lives in Warwick, two hours closer to the coast than Chinchilla, I would not know.

I have read about the water scams, the gouging, the incompetence, bodgie water right transactions, the alleged criminality of stealing water from the McIntyre by Mr Cotton-Farmer-of -the-Year, John Norman, the sly allusion of his distant relationship to Littleproud’s wife, the subversion of the Culgoa River by the Sino-Japanese owned Cubbie station, not to mention the draining of the entire Darling River and its reduction to pools of algae infested toxin.

All that – but the water has gone. There is no more and of course the Coal Vandals are loose and want to pollute all the aquifers by mining sensitive areas throughout Queensland and NSW.

As I said, Littleproud has been a lucky man. He is also lucky because he followed Barnaby Joyce, who probably vies for the sash of the Champion incompetent bull politician ever.

So Littleproud could be lucky if he would be more proactive and seek remedies quickly and not be wedged by the climate change deniers.

However, Littleproud’s performance thus far does not augur well, and one may predict that Chinchilla, his hometown could soon be a mining town in a desert, as its water supply diminishes.

Thus, where is the National water policy; as usual caught up in the pass-the-parcel policy, which is translated into massive inaction.

Prayer and rain dancing is the substitute and if rain comes, then who wants the discipline of a water policy beyond “miracle wishes”?

Perhaps in the interim Mr Littleproud may like to move from Warwick to Roxby Downs to get a taste of what awaits his current policy unless rain dancing bears mean raindrops falling on his head.

As he knows, Roxby Downs in South Australia is a major mining area producing both copper and uranium. Like Chinchilla, profitable mining. Currently this year Roxby Downs has had 4 cm of rain against a yearly average up to October of 12 cm. It requires the water to be desalinated and the population depends on the aquifers.

Spaghetti Maranoa, anybody?

A tale of two athletes

Guest Blogger:  Janine Sargeant*

Wednesday the 9th was Peter Norman Day.

Dawn Fraser was suspended for 10 years (shortened to four years) for her alleged flag-stealing effort at the 1964 Olympic Games; Australia considered her a hero. Among her honours, she was Australian of the year in 1964 (the “flag” year), inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965, awarded an MBE in 1967, appointed an AO in 1998 and an AC in 2018; bearer of the Olympic Torch in the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony 2000. She has a swimming pool named after her – just down the road from where I am writing this.

But Dawn Fraser has lacked one thing – grace and nobility of spirit. She was rewarded for being a genuine woman larrikin, who could swim fast.

You know the true blue Aussie who is quoted as saying: “I used to do some terrible things in the marshaling area to upset my rivals.”

Compare this to Peter Norman. He ran the fastest 200 metres ever by an Australian to win a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968 – his time of 20.06 seconds still stands as the Australian record – 51 years later. But because he supported two black athletes in their support of black rights (that Carlos and Smith defined as human rights) and, as a Christian stood up for human rights, he wore a badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, he was shunned by the athletic establishment in Australia – that is a remarkably strong word “shunned” – it has so many overtones and undertones.

Remember the American Avery Brundage was then the Olympic head honcho – a man who had been lavish in his praise of Hitler before the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He threw the black Carlos and Smith out of the Games.

The pervasive authoritarian right wing culture permeated Australia. Wilfrid Kent Hughes, dripping knighthoods, was still alive in 1968. He not only had identified very clearly with fascism before the War but also had run the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. One can imagine in the denizens of the Melbourne Club, this “disgraceful” Norman being discussed.

Unsurprisingly, Norman was not selected for the 1972 Olympic team, despite running qualifying times. The Australian Olympic Committee to this day disputes all claims that he was ostracised – a claim made during the annual pig fly-past.

Unlike Dawn Fraser, Peter Norman had both grace and nobility of spirit. He was not a larrikin, but he ran fast.

The two black athletes he supported – John Carlos and Tommie Smith – have not forgotten him. They were pallbearers at Peter Norman’s funeral on 9 October 2006

Belatedly, long after he had receive the accolade from his black brothers, in 2012, the Australian House of Representatives passed an official apology motion recognising Peter Norman’s achievements and his bravery in wearing the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity with Tommie Smith and John Carlos. The House apologised for the treatment Peter Norman received on his return to Australia and, belatedly, recognised the powerful role that he had played in furthering racial equality.

Peter Norman was recognised with his induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Athletics Australia Hall of Fame in 2010, awarded an Australian Sports Medal in 2000 and an Order of Merit from the Australian Olympic Committee in 2018 – all of this, assuaging our collective guilt.

A bronze statue honouring Peter Norman at the Albert Park athletics track in Melbourne was unveiled this week on the 13th anniversary of his funeral.

As he said to Carlos and Smith “I will stand with you.”

Now Peter Norman stands with us all.

Janine Sargeant both swam and ran … but the Olympics never beckoned. She runs a medical association in the not-for-profit sector.

An affair of the heart

Senator Bernard Sanders has had a heart attack. He has been treated but it is unclear whether he suffered any permanent damage to his heart, or whether they thrombolysed him and stented him so the muscle was not deprived of oxygenated blood so the coronary arteries could be unblocked. Almost as good as new.

Bernie Sanders

Now Sanders is one sturdy post-vintage model in the automobile parlance, where running boards and crank handles are still provided. Yet would I be dependent on one such car? Perhaps on a quiet road without much traffic, and with a mechanic in the back seat.

When Bernie and I were young graduates on different continents, the treatment for a heart attack was to put you up on chocks in bed to rest, and if there were any squeaks to give you pain relief with morphine and if the engine was failing give you digoxin and if the engine was not running regularly try and correct the rhythm by drug or by electric shock.

Then came the specialised garages called coronary care units and things have become so sophisticated that the modern-day, post-vintage Bernie can leave hospital after a few days, re-bored for his next foray in winning over the American electorate.

There is a debate about “ageism” and whether it is wise to have a large number of the post-vintage vying for the most important post in the Western World. People can hark back to the fact that Eisenhower had a heart attack while President but that was near the end of his eight years and there was little resistance to Nixon taking over. The same may be said for Churchill, who was already 65 at the outbreak of World war 11 and was still puddling around as Prime Minister far beyond his use-by date in the 1950s.

So in the USA, the current situation is that all the leading contenders for the nomination are 70 years of age and above. When I reached 70 it was cited as the new 50. However, that does not mean that age has stalled – and I doubt 80 is the new 55 or 60. In any event, Trump is showing disturbing neurological signs and symptoms; Biden has been revealed as a serial plagiarist which never augurs well; Sanders has had his go last time; which leaves as a “newbie” of the 70 and over brigade, Elizabeth Warren.

I have never seen her in person, but on TV she is hard-working, articulate, intelligent, engaging, humorous – all the qualities which a misogynistic electorate will ignore at best and hate at worst.

Trump, even through the fog of impending dementia, knows he has Biden’s measure, because he will continue to bully and berate until Biden will have had enough of the abuse – this guy who frankly has little to him and certainly not the destructive firepower of Trump.

As for Bernie Sanders, he has to survive. Trump does not know how to deal with him. Crazy Bernie. Really? Pretty pathetic, Donald, you old canard.

If Sanders does survive then maybe, just maybe, we will be singing Moonlight in Vermont, but somehow given the 14 month grind ahead, the Democrats will probably end up with a younger candidate.

As for Warren, the Clinton burden is considerable.

This coming year will be long year for the President and his challengers as we may expect the stress and physical demands play out on the older contenders to the Presidential crown. Maybe, beggar the thought, it could all prove too much and we could have four funerals without a wedding.

Mouse whisper

In 1977 when one of the referendum questions put to the Australian electorate was whether it would agree to a retirement age placed on all Federal judges including High Court judges of 70 years, the “yes” vote was the highest recorded in any referendum with all states voting for and over 80 per cent of the electorate over all.

As one learned source stated: It appears that in Australia, age provokes a reaction of vacation rather than reverence, and the electorate saw no reason to make an exception of High Court judges.

I like that unusual use of “vacation” – the judges were encouraged to get on their bikes when they turned 70 and to have a “vacation vacation”.

On their bikes …

Modest expectations – Parrot

I want children growing up in Australia to feel positive about their future, and I think it is important we give them that confidence that they will not only have a wonderful country and pristine environment to live in, that they will also have an economy to live in as well. I don’t want our children to have anxieties about these issues.”  

The antidote for such anxieties?

 Religion is the opium of the People.

 You get good Marx for that solution. 

The safety valve

I never thought when I was challenged to write a blog, which I’m sure among the cacophonies of ideas and opinions may be read by one or two, looking for a murine apparatus and getting the spelling wrong. However, the blog is a safety valve. It allows one to shower cyberspace with words – and since cyberspace is self cleaning then you do not pollute but leave, in one’s own mind, priceless gems hanging like lanterns lighting humanity as they get swallowed by the uroboros.

However as the twilight glimmers, one of the only facilities left to me now is writing. Assuming that this is my skill, I am writing as if there is no tomorrow so that there is a legacy for what it is worth. I always listened to Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America every week when he was alive; there was always a reason for saying what he did. The book of his travel around America when he was a young man inspired me to see as much as I could, since that axiom that one is a long time dead rings so true – despite one’s affirmation of life everlasting in the Apostolic Creed. The problem is that these Creeds were hatched when 40 years was the life expectancy; thus before one realised the horror of old age and being cast into the Life Everlasting nursing home.

Rockchoppers revisited – A Weapon of Mass Destruction

I read Rockchoppers just after it was released in 1982. It was written by a Roman Catholic priest, Edmund Campion and in the wake of what I thought was the awakening of the Roman Catholic Church following Vatican II and with it the growth of the worker-priest movement. It was a brilliant book.

Chartres Cathedral Rose Window

His description of Chartres cathedral – there is none better. To stand, kneel whatever your stance in Chartres Cathedral the cathedral is, the nearest I myself have ever felt of being in a divine presence. Edmund Campion put my inchoate thoughts in print elegantly, compellingly. He quotes those stirring words of Fulbert, one of the Bishops of Chartres.

We are as dwarfs on the shoulders of giants. We can see more and farther than they, not because we have keener eyesight or because we are taller than they, but because we are raised up and held aloft by their grandeur. 

Yet as I clear my library of books accumulated over more than half a century, I wonder how Campion feels today about his Church beset by a tidal wave of child molestation, unacknowledged children of priests and the indefensible maintenance of the seal of confession in cases of child rape, the non recognition of woman as priests, the hurt and harm to so many of the flock over which these men in frocks and silly hats have presided. Shepherds they ain’t, although they do carry a crosier – representing the shape of a crook.

Corpus Christi College in Victoria, a seminary, has been revealed as a cesspool breeding pederasts. On re-reading his book, Campion is very chatty about his early life, except for the time he spent in the Manly seminary studying for the priesthood. He dismisses it in a few lines – “for years I would have nightmares that I was back inside those walls”. That is all, and his book then pursues the doctrinal-political pathway of a man whose beliefs are in line with those of the worker priest at a time when Santamaria was in ascendency. Yet he must have known about the increasing social dysfunctionality of the Church – he is too astute and sensitive not to have known.

However, this week watching these Roman Catholic apologists wheeled out for the courteous Lisa Millar and Geraldine Doogue to interview, there are the masks of geniality that are difficult to challenge, especially if you have been conditioned since childhood with a sense of guilt. You can never be rude to the Church. The Church would never send in the current Archbishop of Melbourne for interview as the public relations front – just get a good ol’ empathetic face of a Father Brown understudy with a purple vest to pour on the paternal charm.

This is the Roman Catholic Church in delay, delay and delay mode; the creed of Catholicism, as it is with many religions, is secrecy and rearguard. The description of church architecture to over the centuries as described by Campion designed to increasingly separate the congregation for the priest to enhance the impenetrable secrecy should be standard reading as should be his antidote in Chartres.

Personally I am pessimistic and the Campion book holds the clue of why that is. Within all religion there is a reactionary group fearful of change which intelligent unscrupulous populists like Santamaria can exploit, as he did through the DLP before it was effectively destroyed in the 1974 Federal election.

However, it is not only the conservative Roman Catholics, but also in Newt Gingrich’s cleverly exploitation in harnessing the political clout of the evangelical Christian movement in 1990s. There are two forces – fear and the authoritarian personality, which oppose the forces that Campion wanted unleashed to liberalise the Catholic church. Therefore, to protect the base the traditionalists are prepared – if not to condone the despicable behaviour outlined above – then to look the other way or throw a blanket of sophistry over it.

Richmond – A Reflected Glow

I am not a Richmond supporter. However, I easily could have been if the kids on the corner of the street where I lived when I was five had not been Essendon supporters. Deeply impressionable, I became a passionate Essendon supporter, a support that was transferred to my sons and their children.

Michael Egan, Major of Richmond

However, my great grandfather, Michael Egan was Mayor of Richmond in the early 1870s and there is even a street named after him in Richmond. He distinguished himself by biffing another councillor who dared to disagree with him, but many of his other achievements as a councillor have been lost when at some time later the Council records were incinerated – some say suspiciously.

Michael Egan made a fortune with a wood yard, initially at the end of Rowena Parade and then transferred to Punt Road, where the Yarra River was convenient for transporting the wood. Anyway most of the wood ended up in the goldfield diggings, and when the great Crash of the 1890s came, I was always told that he survived because his money was in the Bank of NSW.

During the 1970s I frequented the Vaucluse Hotel in Richmond where we had monthly meetings, and this was time when the licensee, Graeme Richmond, was one of the geniuses behind that golden period when Richmond was last a powerhouse football team; and mine wasn’t. However, despite the horror of the period I did not change my colour from red sash to yellow.

Then Kevin Sheedy came along, a Richmond champion footballer as coach of Essendon in 1981. I thought Sheedy a dirty player and remembered him breaking Des Tuddenham’s leg, another ferocious footballer of that era, who had gone to Essendon as playing coach from Collingwood.

Now this Sheedy had come to Essendon as coach, and there was a perverse satisfaction in him losing five out of the first six games as coach such that he contemplated putting on the boots and coming back as a playing coach.

Then the Sheedy era blossomed. Essendon won 15 games in succession until it lost the very last game of the season to Geelong to Geelong and subsequently the 1981 elimination final. In three years though, Sheedy achieved his first premiership with my team – the first since 1965 – and during this time it turned out that Sheedy had been an Essendon supporter as a kid.

The tide was turning. Sheedy in my eyes now had been a fearless, uncompromising player, who brought the best out of his players instilling that intense fearlessness, of which the current Richmond coach, Damien Hardwick, as one of his protégés was a beneficiary.

One day Sheedy had also stopped to play cricket with my sons who were practising on one of those malthoid wickets in Yarra Park close to the Richmond Cricket Ground. How good was that for two teenage boys forever devoted to the Essendon red and black! Richmond and Essendon were thus forever closely intertwined.

However, even before Sheedy was appointed, I did make amends in relation to the yellow and black when in 1979 I moved to Balmain – Richmond on the Parramatta River as I called it – and became a very strong rugby league supporter of the then Balmain Tigers.

Balmain colours were orange and black. But what is there in a different shade of colour?

But then that is another story. 

Trudeau or Scheer. Scheer who?

It’s colder; they play ice hockey more; their bacon is really ham; and their obsession with maple syrup products borders on unhealthy. So penned a BBC reporter in an introduction to an article about the Canadian versus American political system.

The Canadians go to the polls on 21 October with 338 ridings up for grabs. Next week, the leaders of the various parties face the media in a Quebec venue – one in English –the other in French before audiences presumably who can understand “pollyspeak” in two languages.

There seem to be six parties in the electoral campaign, although two of the parties have two and one member each – the Greens, two on the Vancouver islands and a one-man party led by a LePen-like character who holds a Quebec seat. This leaves the left-of-centre New Democratic Party under its leader, Jagmeet Singh, struggling to repeat its 2015 successes. The Bloc Québécois Leader, Yves-François Blanchet, seems more secure and concentrates on the francophone areas, and it is the loyalty of his constituency that will probably determine whether Trudeau can wrest seats and be re-elected.

Trudeau thus will have to win seats in Quebec, an aim helped by the fact that the Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, who represents a riding in Saskatchewan, does not speak French well.

Saskatchewan

However, the end result of the election should be interesting. We Australians pay scant attention to Canadian politics, only mentioning briefly Justin Trudeau’s travails, when he had been embarrassed by his appearance in blackface on several occasions when young, well before politics beckoned. These antics have been portrayed by the right-wing media as though they were a mortal sin. However, given the rise of social media and the tendency apparently to trade intimate and potentially embarrassing images, maybe this minor transgression by Trudeau will be magnified in future elections for aspiring politicians as the “sins of the past” are paraded as “weapons of mass destruction”.

What is important about our future relations with Canada is that both countries for their size and GDP have substantial pension/superannuation funds, with the potential for investment. An example of this is the joint arrangement announced in August between Australian Super, Australia’s largest industry superannuation fund, and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Canada’s largest single-profession pension plan, to invest $1 billion each in the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) of India’s Master Fund.

Then this week, Webster Ltd, Australia’s monopoly grower of walnuts, signed a deal for an AUD854 million takeover, yet to be ratified, by PSP Investments, Canada’s huge public service pension fund. The same fund has funded the Hewitt Cattle Company to expand its holdings in the Northern Territory. PSP Investments also owns 25 per cent of the NorthConnex tunnel, 25 per cent of the Westlink M7 toll road, 33 per cent of the rail freight company, Pacific National and a large slice of BAI Communications – in political terms all highly strategic.

The problem with the two countries is that in addition to being far away from one another, they traditionally excel in different sports (unlike other countries in the British Commonwealth). So the two countries exist in parallel. Any communication between Morrison and Trudeau one can guess has been minimal; perhaps if Scheer becomes Prime Minister there will be more evidence of shared vision in a common adulation of Trump, given the way their political careers have slid forward.

Politicians are great followers and perhaps the investment profiles of the large superannuation/pension funds of each country may guide them to pool their common interests so there is a potential third force in this increasingly polarised world.

And one great advantage Canada has over Australia is the lack of the Murdoch shadow. It should be noted that James Murdoch has purchased a property in a remote part of British Columbia, but then does he count? After all, he has been caught providing funding for democratic aspirants for the U.S. Presidency.

Mouse whisper

Mentioning “Boof”. It may have been 2010 … with apologies to A.A. Milne.

Scott Scott Morrison Morrison whether a matter for glee,

Took great care of his bear, though he was forty-three.

Scott Scott said to the Rupert: “Rupert, ” he said, said he.

“Don’t ever go up to the top of the town if you don’t go up with me …

and look what happened – Scott2 Morrison2 has another bear called Lachlan.

Modest Expectations – Julia

Looking at this young woman Greta Thunberg, her face contorted with rage, one has to ask what is the next step?

Rosa Luxemburg’s comment may be relevant and somewhat re-assuring:

The most revolutionary thing one can do is always to proclaim loudly what is happening.

Yet what happened to Rosa Luxemburg, who is one of my admired people, as is Dietrich Bonhoffer? She was killed by the Freicorps in 1919, as was Bonhoeffer – hanged by the sons of the Friekorps at Flossenburg in 1945. They both spoke their mind. They challenged the equivalent to today’s violent alt-right. Both had a form of courage, I wonder whether I could ever emulate; probably not.

But back to Thunberg. What is her next step? She has confronted her Armageddon in a unique way. Yet her following may yet be ephemeral. How many of those who demonstrated last week believe that when the Sun rises tomorrow it will incinerate our Planet in a cloud of carbon dioxide.

Greta Thunberg, in her speech, was full of venom. She is confronting a world that is full of hatred stirred up by the newly-minted demagogues. She is no longer a schoolgirl; to these demagogues she is a revolutionary – a dangerous person. Sweden has a history of assassination. Remember Olof Palme. His killer has never been caught. I do hope Greta has good security.

The Man of Coal gets a Shiny Coating

The Prime Minister has come out of his visit to the United States with a new moniker – a Man of Titanium.

Titanium Man

Whether that sticks depends on whether the various spin doctors see any value in ridicule or defence emphasising the properties of titanium. Who knows? However, what else? Maybe some trivial contribution to Trump’s Mars Venture, a couple of speeches, opening a Pratt factory in Ohio in front of what looked liked a bikie convention. Wandering around the United States Morrison, despite all the flattery and pomp, presented a marginalised world figure.

Meanwhile, as well as the speech at the UN climate summit, Jacinda Ardern has given a headline speech at the UN Secretary General’s climate action summit private sector forum. She has been pushing her initiative, the Christchurch call to block extremism on the social media outlet; she has met with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube and Brad Smith, president of Microsoft.

Her aim was to cement the Christchurch Call, during a roundtable with the tech companies including Microsoft, Google/Youtube, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook. Maybe the call will become an echo, but in our terms with the new crisis response protocol and the preparedness of Google to test it later this year, she’s giving it a red hot go – and what’s more, she is very relevant to what is occurring in the world.

She may not have been able to feast on Dover sole and apple charlotte with such luminaries as the Honorable Rudy Giuliani or the Honorable Katherine Henderson the other night, but Trump wanted to speak to her and it should be noted that Trump suddenly made time to drop by the Climate Summit – no show without Punch.

By contrast, our Prime Minister didn’t entrance everybody with his talk to the United Nations this week.

However, Morrison is not the tosser that some like to portray. I was thinking about what his next move with Ms Liu will be now that he has the Chinese well offside, and there seems to be some pushback by the Victorian Liberals.

Looking though the guest list for his dinner with Trump there was no Arthur Sinodinos – maybe a bit odd. But when the Niblick from North Shore who was at the dinner, comes home, he will be replaced by an envoy not tarnished by a Trump association; hopefully Sinodinos will be somebody who will be amenable to the Democrats. Just an errant thought chipped out of a cranial bunker.

Stop mucking about

One of the problems the health system faces is how to manage the aged person when their chronic condition develops into an impairment that requires varying levels of ongoing care, particularly institutional care. The health care system is faced with paying for custodial care – and preferably not in high-cost, state-managed acute hospital beds.

To the central Commonwealth agencies the imperative is to keep the aged brain and limbs working, for the forecast is that unless this is done there will not be enough people working to sustain the economy without extensive immigration.

This imperative to keep us working is an ironic outcome, given that the Commonwealth allowed the development of a superannuation scheme that required its own employees to retire on the eve of their 55th birthday. Under the terms of the scheme it was not worth working beyond that age. Moreover, there were financial penalties if you did.

That scheme has been retired, along with a lot of 55 year old public servants, but it illustrates a shift in thinking. It is not that long ago that the futurist chatter was about an increase in leisure time and the expectation of retiring to a recreational middle age. Given the imminent workforce problems, that is not an option for government planners. Therefore the workforce has to be healthy if it is to prolong its usefulness. After all, healthy life expectation starts from intra-uterine life.

The fact is that we have the technology to prolong existence. Whether that existence translates into the kind of life a person would care to be encased is a matter of personal value judgment. To many, though, the primacy of the individual is a societal norm.

So what about this question of an aged care health benefit under Medicare? The Commonwealth already has the power to legislate for a sickness benefit. Also, the Constitution picks out, in addition to the doctors and dentists, benefits for hospital care and pharmaceuticals.

In all the discussions of the Commonwealth’s powers, it was only the passage of the 1946 amendment that enabled the Commonwealth to intervene directly in health financing.

It then created successively the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (1950), the Pensioner Medical Service (1951), the Hospital Benefits Scheme (1952) and finally the Medical Benefits Scheme (1953).

It might be argued that the Pensioner Medical Service was an embryonic attempt at an Aged Health Benefits Scheme. But it was a very limited attempt, restricted to some services provided by general practitioners to eligible pensioners and their dependants.

The matter of Commonwealth powers is relation to health was one of the terms of reference in the first major review of the Constitution established in 1927.

In its report two years later the Royal Commission, which undertook the review, revealed a strong difference of opinion on where responsibility should lie. The majority view supported a “softly, softly” approach, which would have health as a Commonwealth power but well fettered by the states and even local government.

What emerged strongly in the report was a recognition of the strong sense of co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States. But here the discussion was about quarantine and the promotion of public health. The fact that co-operation had failed under the “stress of epidemics” of smallpox in 1913, influenza in 1919, and plague in 1921, was seen by the Royal Commission as the reason for even more co-operation between the various governments, not less!

In fact, the Commonwealth Department of Health was created as a result of the influenza epidemic and problems arising from the return of large numbers of troops from the First World War. From the national approach to episodes, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Swine Flu epidemic are evidence that co-operation in this area has continued to the present.

But health financing is another matter. It is interesting to note that when the Constitution was next comprehensively reviewed in 1959, health was not mentioned in the deliberations. The Constitutional amendments of 1946 had resulted in the changes welcomed when the world was experiencing the advent of the “wonder drug” era. The cost of the health system was not a political issue.

So what has happened since?

John Deeble

As the late John Deeble, one of the architects of first the Medibank scheme of universal care (1974) and then Medicare (1983), identified over 30 years ago, from 1972 onwards the average wage level of public hospital employees started to rise far faster than both average weekly earnings and medical practitioner incomes. The impetus for this was, in his words, “a compulsory arbitration system which takes almost no account of the ability to pay and was completely unaffected by financing arrangements”.

A number of strategies have been employed to try to contain the cost of the health system since this trend became very apparent in the early 1980s. But in the end, when the smoke clears from any round of Commonwealth-State conversations on health, the problems foreshadowed in tailoring a health care system to projected demographic changes will persist. Yet near the end of the Howard era, there was an explosion of Medicare benefits, expansion of the Medicare Safety Net and the reintroduction of the private health insurance rebate.

One wonders, then, whether it would be best if there were some consolidation of the power of the Commonwealth, such that it assumed complete control of aged health care and, by implication, total control of health. Alternatively, should the Commonwealth simply retire from health care? This debate has achieved currency periodically, although with the number of reviews, which have been entered into from Rudd to Morrison, the debate has become rather muted waiting for the deliberations of these committees. The time that the Robinson Review has been allowed to meander needs to be curtailed as I mentioned before; and who knows where the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, constituted at the beginning of the year and due to release an interim report at the end of October, will end up.

There remains a need to stimulate discussion on how best to address the issue of providing for an aged health care benefit.

At first blush, advocacy of such a benefit would appear to be for “health care” after age 65. Any person, whether in the guise of “patient”, “client” or just plain “consumer”, would have the discretion to use that government-funded benefit how he or she thinks fit.

Such a libertarian solution is immediately hedged with all the provisos that abound in that “dark and pessimistic world we inhabit” – a state of affairs we might expect if we listen to those who try to ensure that any freedom of action is hung on a line of conditional discretion for our own protection.

This is the dilemma: the tug-of-war between freedom to do what you want and the imposition of the fiat of “what is good for you”.

And so the level of knowledge about the various courses of action that are available becomes crucial when determining the outcome of this tug-of-war in relation to the individual complaint.

It is the power of asymmetric knowledge. The provider has knowledge, which the consumer generally does not.

Constitutionally, the Commonwealth may have the power to establish an aged care benefit which could, for instance, be just a redefinition of the power to set “sickness benefits” (which is mentioned in the 1946 amendment).

The fact that so few referenda are passed is testament to the conservatism of the electorate. But it also indicates that the same electorate takes change seriously.

There have been four referenda since the one in 1946. The consequences? Aboriginal people have been given the right to vote; price and income control has not been conceded to the Commonwealth Government; and the Republic has been denied. A number of constitutional anomalies were clarified in the 1977 referendum.

The financing of aged health care is another major issue.

The prospect of a referendum will draw out the vested interests, to be tested in the glow of debate. And that is the point! It is the vested interest who may feel that such a debate would not be fruitful because it is too hard to change the system. But in the end it would be academic. Referenda are expensive, and in the current economic climate seen as a luxury; nor would the cession of powers attract much interest.

But if one level of government does not at least have the unequivocal power for health care of the aged then the proposition of a consolidated benefit for aged care will never be tested. The optometric scheme was introduced in 1974, and the sleight of hand used to assure Constitutionality was to deem the optometrist service as “medical”. In any event, the Commonwealth was providing a fixed benefit for a limited range of services. The optometrist had to accept the benefit amount.

This is very different from the medical benefit, where the benefit is the Government’s contribution to the overall medical fee, which remains at the discretion of the doctor. The Commonwealth has progressively tried to cap the Medicare expenditures and at the same time maintain the gap payments at an accepted level; hence the expanded Medicare safety net and bulk billing provisions, which are increasingly working less well and there is a rising concern between benefit and actual fee proceduralists, in particular, charge. Given his craving for publicity maybe it could be called the Teo effect after the cavalier neurosurgeon of the same name.

The language of the majority opinion in the 1929 Royal Commission report still resonates as a challenge to this nation to consolidate the health power in that sense of co-operation, which has been apparent in public health matters since Federation.

So let us play with the theme – directing the whole of our approach to health care, from conception onwards, towards conferring an aged care health benefit – but under a single power conferred by the Constitution. However, if the definition of “sickness benefit” is expanded then it may enable the benefit scheme to be extended to those health professionals that the current language of the Constitution excludes. There is for instance no provision for “a nursing fee for Medicare benefit”, unless you pursue the optometrist option – and I doubt whether either doctor or nurses would be happy that nursing services being deemed “medical” to attract a patient benefit

If that can be done without a referendum, there will be much saving of time and expense. But there is no doubt that referenda and the prospects thereof do focus the collective community mind.

Mouse Whisper

I love the story about an Australian bushranger called Charles Rutherford who was illiterate and lurked around the Lower Darling in the early nineteenth century. When he robbed a coach, he asked the passengers to read out the value of each cheque that he intended taking. Talk about honour among thieves. But there was more. He used to take his captives to a near-by hotel for drinks and lunch at which Rutherford, presided gun in hand.

Modest expectations – Duckworth

We may be in our lounge room in Sydney or in a hotel room overlooking the Iguaçu Falls in Brazil, but there is a timeless quality surrounding mass murder in the United States. The latest atrocity was in El Paso. There is Fox television glued to nothingness – just the front of a supermarket. It is like an Andy Warhol movie. However the commentary tries to make up for the lack of action by repeating the same nothingness in that urgent tone of expectancy. Later there are clips of law enforcement officers rugged up like escapees from a video program. You know the video violence which is attracting million of dollars of sponsorship so that the male youth of the world can be warriors without the pain but with the smell of vicarious power.

It does not matter how many are killed in El Paso. The more killed or maimed the better the news story. After all the Gilroy incident in California only resulted in three deaths, hardly worth recording. Now there are a score or more dead in this Texas border town. The social media graphics start to trickle in – the snaps of bodies, the picture of the supposed offending AK rifle – it is only a matter of time before the loony manifesto of the perpetrator will turn upon social media. This delusionary detritus of humanity who wants to be recognised – the profile of a young white male consumed by his own self-loathing egged on by a society where hate is increasingly the norm.

Then hours later, we have the tawdry spectacle led by the Texan governor praising the law enforcement officers’ quick response. Six minutes. In the meantime two score or more are shot dead or wounded. Then from these officials comes the outpouring of pious platitudes about prayers and “hug your family”. After the Governor, the Mayor and so on in a paean of self-congratulations where tragedy is a backdrop to self-aggrandisement, telling us nothing except the “shooter was disarmed and is now in custody”. Not a word about gun control from anyone – not a word. Just everyone wants to be re-elected.

And a macabre copycat dessert occurs not long after – Dayton Ohio.

And somewhere in the distance one hears a presidential bleat about change in the rules – and then predictably welshes on what he has promised to do.

The Real Amazon

One of the problems with any short-term visit, you only scrape the surface. It is a four-hour flight to get from Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro to Manaus. That is for starters and the South American airlines are very basic, jammed into the small Airbus. Manaus is the starting point for a five-day trip up the Amazon. Really the Iberostar does not travel far – 100 kilometres at the most, up a river, which is nearly 7,000 kilometres in length, arising in the Peruvian Andes and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, where its water is still fresh.

Pink River Dolphin in the Amazon

Living in a big country as we do, immensity of land mass for Australians is nothing new although a river which is twenty-three kilometres across in some places makes one realise that Brazil is a serious bulwark against global warming – for now. This huge river is the jungle artery – endless jungle traced with tributaries of the Rio Enorme. There is a very occasional settlement; so different from the port of Manaus which is a mixture of modernity and of a long past. With two million people it is a significant Amazonian presence. Yet this lively port still has the overtones of a pre-container ship existence.

Unlike Australia where 25 million people occupy the country, Brazil has 220 million people. The cultural heritage is a roll call of European countries, but there also is a large population of black people, the descendants of a massive importation of West Africans, as slaves, in Brazil’s early years. After all, the Portuguese were the first major European colonisers after the Romans. Today there seems to be sensitivity to these past wrongs as the word for black shuffles between “preto” and “negro”.

Then there are native Amazonian Indians, which the current government seems intent on strangling – little settlements where currently every body looks healthy, but who knows with this current President, a man with the mien of warthog.

The Portuguese language may seem to us the most insignificant of the Romantic languages, on a par with Romanian. After all it is only spoken in Portugal and in a few former Portuguese colonies, including Timor- Leste close to home. However, one of the former colonies is Brazil, potentially a major power in killing this planet if the current government deforests the Amazon Basin, a gargantuan task given that Australia could be swallowed up in it. However, do not underestimate the madness of the human race.

If you are going to travel there, while it still exists, it is useful to have a working knowledge of Portuguese. It is not an easy language as the pronunciation is confounding.

The Brazilians appreciate you attempting to speak the language, and knowing even a few words opens up many of the cultural links. However, when you are a tourist, who is not a backpacker as my son was years ago in Brazil and was robbed, we live in the comfort zone of care. Luckily thus we have been looked after well.

However, the downside is alleviated if you learn some Portuguese before you embark on such a trip on the Amazon.

And the currency “real(s) is pronounced “hay-il”or in the plural “hay-eesh”. Get it?

Uruguay – the place where the Italians colonised

Now everybody knows that Uruguay is the place where man for man, they have the most successful futebol team in the world. I say man for man as the game for women is just stirring.

Uruguay is not large. It has been described as a thumbprint between Brazil and Argentina. Consider, it has a population of just over 3 million and just over a million of them live in Montevideo and just over 300,000 live in condominiums in two of its suburbs overlooking the River Plate. For an Australian comparison, Tasmania is about 40 per cent the size of Uruguay

Not that the River Plate is a river, it is an estuary which defines the limits of the country to the south, and as you drive along coast, the meeting of the Plate and the Atlantic Ocean is not as clear today as it apparently can be – the sea is all too civilised where the waves are mere frills on the rocky coast line here.

Beaches of Uruguay

This is a country where it is increasingly the beach resort for wealthy South Americans, and where such wealth is denoted by high fences around large estates. It is interesting to note that the Uruguayans have strengthened by consolidating their money laundering laws as of last year.

The Uruguayan law establishes “that certain high-level public officials, such as the president and vice president of the Republic, national senators and representatives, ministers and under-secretaries of State, general secretariat directors at ministries, directors of autonomous entities, decentralized services, non-State public entities and holders of any political or trust position cannot be shareholders, ultimate beneficiaries or have any relationship with commercial companies domiciled in no- or low-tax jurisdictions while holding public office.” The devil is in the detail of this last proviso, and one of the ingredients of this small state is that the ruling elite is not corrupt.

Elections are underway and billboards for candidates dot the landscape. The biggest billboard high on one of the condominiums simply has Luis in huge letters, apparently the presidential candidate for the white party, the support base of which is rural and moderately conservative. This party together with the red party which is central and the ruling left wing Popular Front are striving for the run off, assuming the unlikely results of one candidate getting over 50 per cent in the first round. All very civilised.

For the size of country, Uruguay has a long coastline and a substantial border with Brazil. Argentina is just across the River Plate, two and half-hours will take one there by ferry. They have to tread carefully and although their international trade is denominated in US dollars, there is always currency instability in the area. Last week the Argentinian peso fell dramatically in response to the presidential elections and the return of Peronistas. There will be an inevitable effect on Uruguay.

Uruguay is a land of beaches and a summer that is not dissimilar to ours. Resorts line the River Plate; the expectation is to overlook the River Plate in the east and the mouth of the River Plate and the Atlantic Ocean in the west.

But this is also an agricultural country. Being next to Argentina the expectation is for beef cattle, and although, it is an important part of the economy, Uruguay is more diversified.

Driving through the countryside either east or west from Montevideo could be the western district of Victoria – just scattered population amid rolling countryside without a mountain in sight.

Uruguay farmland

Here our car passes through the potato growing area. There are dairy cows on either side of the double carriageway. All sorts of cheese are freely available to buy by the side of the road, as are apples and mandarins. On the side of one the undulating landscape is a large spread of canola. Soya beans and rice are big exports. However, the biggest export is probably wood chips, and plantations of eucalypts are also a prominent feature of the countryside.

Cannabis Medicinal

Cannabis is now a legal product in Uruguay – for registered Uruguayans. Shops openly market the weed and the associated paraphernalia. However, hemp as such is not grown here, and these cannabis outlets rely on Asian imports of hemp. The colourful backpack prominently states that it was made in Nepal, and given the loosening of restrictions in this part of South America, those with the inclination or need for this substance may start wandering across the Pacific.

The only useful quirk is that if you pay your bill by credit card you get a 15 per cent plus discount. Covers the tip anyway!

Colonia

Uruguay will never see many Australian tourists because it is so similar to Australia apart from Spanish/Portuguese heritage, particularly evident in the city of Colonia. But it is a long way to go for quaintness – unless you are thinking of having a quiet life away from scrutiny in this country.

And if you want to get away from Alan Jones… 

A Case to Answer

Mentioning this individual, even in Buenos Aires you cannot get away from the poisonous splinters that break off from this individual when anybody displeases him. Making a comment inciting the Australian Prime Minister to murder the New Zealand Prime Minister by shoving a sock down her throat is so disgusting it is amazing that it has not caused this individual to be charged. One of the characteristics of women who have socks thrust down their throat is that they die terrible deaths where the sock down the throat is accompanied by mutilation and unspeakable depravity.

By saying that it was a re-interpretation of a saying “put a sock in it” as an excuse fails on two grounds. The first is that it is an admonition for someone to use a sock to put in “it” however defined. The term is not applied to inciting attack by a third party. Here Jones defined “it” as the New Zealand Prime Minister’s throat, and he was not saying that she put the sock down her own throat. He was inciting the Australian Prime Minister to do so.

To say that the Prime minister was disappointed shows how much this popinjay inspires fear. Instead, if I had been in Morrison’s socks, I would have sought legal advice on the offence of inciting a crime. Such an action as I understand it has also been legislated in the Crimes Prevention Act 1916 (NSW) (‘the Act’) and s11.4 of the Criminal Code 1995. The Act is extremely brief, and therefore it should not be difficult to get an opinion. There are also specific offences within the Crimes Act 1900 that include ‘inciting’ as an element of the offence – murder (s26), suicide (s31C) and sexual assaults (s80G). Nobody – just nobody – even this person, has the right I would have thought to ask me to kill the New Zealand Prime Minister.

The reason is that I would have not been just “disappointed” – I would have seen if criminal charges were warranted, and that course of action remains open to the Australian Prime Minister.

Withdrawal of sponsorship for his program is tacit disgust by his money trail. Although don’t forget that they signed up to advertise on his program in the first place …

Yet this sponsor displeasure and the outraged responses in social media starkly contrast with the attitude and behaviour of Jones’ employer. A slap on his sock is his retribution.

And sending a sock to Costello? If that is true, what form of pointless “smart-arsery” is that? This man Jones should have his day in court if the legal advice confirms he has a case to answer.

Mouse Whisper

Heard from a pulpit in Petersham:

In Portuguese, the word for share is dividir. Thinking about that word, sharing is indeed dividing, but not with a sense of equity. The problem is that “divide” has come to be a synonym for the meanness of the human spirit.

Modest Expectations – The Dark Blue

When you read this I shall be far away, floating down the Amazon where the piranhas are actually fish. One of the diseases of the Americas that gets very little airplay is Chagas disease, named for the Brazilian doctor, Carlos Justiniano Ribeiro Chagas. With the globalisation of disease, which is impervious to political shenanigans, cases are turning up in Australia. However, while it has the acute manifestation of any infectious diseases, it is the long-term insidious effects on the cardiovascular system.

Trypanosoma cruzi

It is said that Charles Darwin picked up Chagas disease as a young man when he was “Beagling” his way around South America. It would explain why an outgoing young adventurer increasingly became a reclusive invalid as he grew older, never again venturing from Great Britain.

Chagas disease is caused by Trypanosoma cruzi, a protozoa which is carried by a particular bug, commonly called the ‘kissing bug’, so called because of how it cuddles up to you, sucking your blood and letting the protozoa bug into the blood stream. There are drugs to treat the trypanosoma but the course is long and hazardous as one may be strewn with complications.

However, given its insidious nature and that the fact that when backpacking it is romantic to sleep under thatch or in adobe, remember to have that mosquito net, however inconvenient it may be, and a good amount of insect repellent.

The Lancet has said in a sobering statement: “Chagas disease has been considered a neglected disease, without fully effective drug treatment to avoid the chronic stage.

Australian figures on its prevalence are scanty, but undoubtedly it is there as I noted above. After all, disease is a free market.

I shall keep reminding myself of that as the Amazon drifts by. 

Setting down Bores

Charlie McMahon continues his reminisces …

We took the smoothest route via Papunya but that was still a rough corrugated dirt road for 600 of the 750 km drive. There was one lane of good tarred bitumen up the middle of the road so that you drove half on the dirt shoulder when either overtaking or accommodating oncoming traffic.

Near the Mount Zeil plain we came up to overtake a fully loaded “3 dog” road train doing about 90 kmph to our 100. I reckoned it looked safe enough to overtake with the road ahead dead straight. The truckie was not likely to go half on the shoulder to ease our passage and I indicated my intention to pass with high beam flashes and came up beside the road train driving entirely on the shoulder, which slowed us a bit. I was going OK till about a quarter away from passing the road train, a huge hump appeared on the edge of the shoulder, a blasted drainage gully that the dust swirled up by the road train had obscured. I slowed but still hit it at speed. Up and over we went with the load and fellas on the back bounced around. Danger barked, shouts of dismay and Henry with me in the front woke from his snooze looked back and “oh-ho jingiles, lucky one, Murra Hook. They all there still” was all he said. We barrelled on and made to pass the road train again. The truckie congratulated us with the road train horn blaring. “More better I drive ilta” (true questioningly) Henry said. So he took over at the Papunya turn off. Had Henry been driving he would have seen the bump long before I did and we drove on into the night without incident to camp at the halfway point west of Mt Liebig.

On the way the next day we found Freddy West and his family of six camped 100 km before Kiwirrkurra at the Moying Bore near Tjiterong. They were there as an expression of his eagerness to move to Kiwirrkurra, his traditional land. He waved us over, offering a billy of warm sweet tea and put his son Nicholas on board telling him ‘work karriantjku’ (go work with them). Nicholas had been in a lot of trouble sniffing petrol, breaking into places at Kintore – his ability with locks astonished everyone for a child with zero formal education.

On arrival our Kiwirrkurra camp appeared pretty much as we had left it, though the Vinnie’s bag of clothes had been dragged about. “Lotta myall dog been here”, Charlie reckoned and there was much discussion about tracks the crew saw as they gave the place the once over and the first timers showed elation at being on ancestral ground, old hands pointing to and naming places near and distant.

Danger, the dog, got a good sniff of some scent and bolted off not to be seen again till dark. I took a quick shower and said to Henry “you’re next” as well as suggesting to Charlie that since he had been sitting next to Henry for two days he would do well to have one too. I dried off beside the fire as the crew had started. I got out the scabies oil for Henry. As Aboriginals do, he showers with his clothes on. Whether he was shy or just efficient I didn’t bother to ask but handed him fresh clothes from the Vinnie’s bag.

August was perfect work weather. After about two weeks we were well into the job with the four 1x2sq metre-footing holes for the windmill tower legs dug with crowbar and shovel. The John Deer tractor had a bucket and ripper, good for pipeline trenching, and a trailer for carting water and aggregate but without a backhoe for deep holes. The fairly soft soil of Kiwirrkurra made digging easier, which was one of the reasons for choosing the place, so the proper job pit dunny was finished in three days. It was a design called the Blair Ventilated Pit Toilet, shown to me by Steve Pattman at the Centre for Appropriate Technology.

To briefly describe it, a 2 x 2 meter mesh reinforced concrete slab is poured with an off centre “crap hole”, another near the edge for a vent pipe and left to set while the hole is dug 1.8 metres or more deep. The slab is dragged over the hole and the shelter fastened to it with the vent pipe painted dark running up the exterior of the sunny sidewall. An insect mesh cap goes on top of the vent pipe. The dunny building has a hall type entrance to darken the inside so that when you look down into the “crap hole” there’s a circle of light on the bottom of the pit from the vent pipe. Any flies that enter invariably seek the light to leave and drawn by the draft up the sun warmed vent pipe, get stopped at the mesh. Walla! An odourless fly trap and having a proper dunny was a treat for in two years work at Kintore I had to do with a shallow trench – there was always too much to do and the quartz rock subsoil would have been a very hard dunny pit to dig.

We did not listen to the radio so the outside world mattered little. We worked every day and no one bothered with the time or names of days. Sometimes in the evening we turned on the Codan SSB radio tuned into a frequency used by locals, so that the crew would have great fun telling other clans away of the new place they were building. I heard amazing tales of doings in life out there in the days they laughingly called ‘before trouser time’. They would mix up dreaming stories with actual ones and I gave up asking ‘ilta’ (true) ‘did it really happen’ after realising they were often unsure themselves of what was myth and what wasn’t. The young fellas liked to hear Henry’s take on things and looking at the moon one night he asked me to confirm the moon trips “Tjpangarti (my skin name) true int it, some white fella been longa moon, been leave house and car there too”. We cooked and ate together. A coil of black one-inch pipe on the roof of the half walled shed we had built gave us the luxury of warm showers. It pleased me to see the crew (except for Charlie) use them fully dressed so body and clothes got washed in one go. Bathing was not an option for desert people and living around a fire tends to cure or cover their bodies with smoke.

The missing Horse

One reads brochures about Slovenia and they all say you can get horse and foal meat in some of the restaurants. Intriguing, I thought.

Slovenia is a tiny country nestling between Croatia, Italy and Austria, with the Alps forming a crescentic barrier in the north. In the south, Slovenia has a narrow coastline on the Adriatic Sea, with Trieste nearby.

We travelled to Slovenia by car from Venice headed for Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. We were told to get a vinjete before the border. This is the only way to pay the road toll in Slovenia (15 euros for a week). We were warned that the Slovenian police wait just across the border, and the fine for not having the vinjete is substantial, 300 euros.

Otherwise the passage across the border is seamless. One moment the signs are in Italian, the next in Slovene – transition from the Romantic to the Slavic.

However we are travelling in a more north-easterly direction towards the capital of Slovenia. Ljubljana is a trap for the new arrival because of its central hill; the tunnel through it, the shortcut to the north but not to the city centre, can fool even the GPS. Ljubljana is one tricky place to navigate, to coin a phrase.

The Antiq Palace Hotel turns out to be a rambling allegedly 16th century building. We are piloted to the room up stairs, via a lift, along a series of corridors bending and twisting until we are on a landing overlooking an internal courtyard. Here we are greeted with music, its source unseen. There is singing, then a horn; a violin struggling to escape; a cacophony of variable quality. Apparently there is a music school in the building on the other side of the courtyard.

The room turns out to be a suite. There is a huge dining room, a lounge area, a bedroom and a bathroom dominated by a huge spa bath. Over the bed in this white painted room was a painting which seemed to indicate that if you had difficulty with nightmares this would ensure you would get one – a weird sylvan scene.

The centre of Ljubljana has been preserved in its pre-World War One architectural attire. Its Austro-Hungarian past is evident in the two-storey houses with gabled roofs, stuccoed walls and large windows lining Ljubljanica River. One early evening when the sky was still blue and the streetlights were lit, you could be forgiven for thinking that this city was the inspiration for Magritte’s series of Dominion of Light paintings.

The problem with the food started on the first night after a meal of kranski and sauerkraut. Whether it was that or a roll I had earlier bought from a motorway food barn, I had a generous bout of food poisoning. I could not blame the horse. My first day in Slovenia thus was spent recovering, but she roamed the streets far and wide, photographing the Triple bridge and beyond.

The narrow Ključavničarska (The Locksmith) Street in the medieval part of the town, connecting Cankarjevo nabrežje (Cankar Quay) with the Mestni Trg (Town Square), contained a surprise. The central gutter was full of bronze heads about the size of billiard balls, most looking at you, as the water trickles over them. Oddball does not do them justice. These are the work of Jacov Brdar, whose work is scattered around the city. It has a Tolkien feel – with the heads looking like members of the Gollum family. They are featured above in the heading of this Blog.

In many ways, walking from bridge to bridge is a reminder of walking along the Seine in Paris, but without the cars streaking alongside.

Ljubljana and the Ljubljanica River – Photo: Janine Sargeant

The river lies just down the hill from the Antiq Hotel and acts as a magnet – so much so that until the last day we did not use the green coloured electric cars, which circle the inner city and are reserved for the disabled and the elderly and their carers. They are called “cavalier”, the name being adapted from the Slovenian for “gentleman”.

On our last night in Ljubljana we used the transport to a traditional restaurant on the outskirts of the old city – the Taverna Tatyana. It was away from the tourists and the bar was full of locals quaffing their beer. It was all brown beams and low ceilings and homely hosts, who spoke passable English. It allegedly had horse and foal on the menu. Not so. Instead they provided a Dalmatian stew and grilled pork with wild mushrooms and after the main course, the magnificent strudel. Slovenian wine is a cheap and good accompaniment as is the complimentary glass of the local honey brandy called medica.

The electric car was there promptly to take us back to the hotel – I wished I had used it more given that my ability to walk was limited –no longer able to roam far and wide. However, the bridge near the hotel was always a site of “a happening” – tonight there was a pumpkin-shaped carriage, which fitted in well with this fairy tale backdrop.

On another night the bridge provided the dance floor for a group of young people elegantly executing the tango. We watched the precisely executed movements while sitting on a granite bench, consuming a cornet of freshly roasted chestnuts.

Yet for all these fairy tale qualities, Ljubljana is a university city. Those walking past are predominantly young and fashionable. The restaurant in the riverfront, overflowing with young people, labelled itself Mexican but the food was “pancake parlour” and the service was poor; yet nobody seemed to care as they oscillated between conversation and iPhone – or just sat, concentrating on their screens, tapping away ensuring future thumb disorders as they decoded life.

The lack of transport and reliance on foot and bicycles accentuates that this is a place for youth. The elderly lady dressed all in white struggling with her bicycle was an exception. She stood out in this world where it was the young who cycled.

We did travel elsewhere – but a full description of our “Cook’s Tour” could well become a Clog. But not a sign of horse on the menu.

When I asked my adviser on Slovenian food about the “missing horse”, he looked at me and asked me whether we had gone to the Tivoli Gardens as he had suggested. Apparently horse burgers are available in the Tivoli Gardens – at least I can confront my vegetarian friends with somewhat of a clear conscience.

But as for the survival of Slovenia, a tiny remnant of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which survived Tito and the break up of Yugoslavia with which it, I am reminded of what that wise observer of human nature, whose writing appears above, Charlie McMahon has said about small countries and survival of language: “Learning a language from a culture where the core practices are gone is really only good for that.” The Slovenes have never let their culture be destroyed, and hence they have a vibrant language with all the blossoms that that will bring.

Still, there is this matter of konjsko meso. 

Mouse Whisper

To further annoy the occasional reader of a vegan persuasion, overheard in a restaurant in Swakopmund in Namibia, after perusing the menu she was heard to say, “I think I’ll try the zebra.”

Not a laughing matter …         Photo: Janine Sargeant

To which the waiter impeccably replied ‘Black or white stripes, madam?”

No, it was not an exchange of hoarse whispers, but in fact it was true, (with apologies to Mr Brydon).