Modest Expectation – Jens Christensen Harboe

I have an admission to make.

J.B. Fletcher at work

On one of the secondary TV channels during each weekday, films generally British studios’ productions from the 40s and 50s are shown before an endless parade of American Tawdry aka Murder She Wrote with the wonderful Anglo-American actress Angela Lansbury as J.B. Fletcher, the American writer who has the unique ability to always be a “busybody without portfolio” wherever there is a corpse. Murder She Wrote became standard American TV Sunday night fare for a decade in the 80s and 90s.

Before I diverge onto a discussion about this slice of American life, which runs on formulaic lines, one never knows what film will be run in the afternoon slot. Most of these films are very dated and for that matter very formulaic.  These were films from childhood. The “Carry On” and “St Trinian’s” movies are hangovers from the double meaning seaside postcards, in themselves a product of vaudeville comedy. Nevertheless, the film one day last week was a classic – The Captain’s Paradise. It was set against a background of Gibraltar and Tangier.

Alec Guinness is captain of a passenger ferry which plies between Gibraltar and Tangier. The film is one of his best; it has aged well. Besides,  once Destination Gibraltar was top of my “bucket list” to visit.

The film thus reminded me of the times when the one place in the World that I wanted to see was the Rock of Gibraltar. It always appeared in the photographs taken by my older relatives who as young adults were making the obligatory working holiday in Great Britain. After all, World War II was over, the “old country” beckoned and jobs were easy to obtain there. For my relatives the only way to go was by ship. The number of ebony elephants on the mantelpieces of suburbia attested to memorabilia from the first overseas port of call – Colombo. Here these young Australians on their post-election venture were being introduced to our neighbouring continent which the then White Australia policy had made a pariah.

In the six weeks ship journey, the ship would berth in Colombo, Aden, Suez and Gibraltar before the last dash across the Bay of Biscay to Southampton… “civilisation” at last reached. Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 changed all that. However, it did not alter my resolve to get to see the Rock. For years, while Franco was in power,  apart from ship, the only way to Gibraltar was by air. After Franco’s death, delayed until 1982, the border was open for pedestrians and then for cars from 1986.

Gibraltar has always been an armed camp and harbour from the time it was ceded to Great Britain by Spain in 1713. Despite agitation from Spain, it has remained in British hands since.  The Gibraltarians are probably the greatest bunch of loyalists to the British Crown together with the Protestant Northern Irish.

As you drive through southern Spain towards Gibraltar the signs are small and infrequent. The Rock is hidden, you begin to think. Eventually when you negotiate these roads, the border appears. The Rock suddenly looms. It is impressive. Limestone, an irregular pyramid, it rises 420 metres from the sea; it is smaller than Uluru, which is shaped more like an upturned ark, and of sandstone, which is brilliantly suffused with ochre red at sunset. The Rock just looms.

Initially we were held up from going over the border, by an airliner taking off. Cars have to cross the runways to reach Gibraltar itself.  At the time, we had spent some time in Southern Spain, with all the exotic surroundings of Granada, Cordoba and Seville.

Gibraltar, as my wife surmised, lacked such Iberian romance. It was just like a British holiday camp. The food was definitely substandard British fare; no tapas here. No traditional Gibraltarian food either. The hotel lounge was littered with men in sharp suits or contrived t-shirt informality doing business.  It could be anywhere in provincial England. One small highlight was being able to gaze down from our room’s balcony into the deep blue sea – just a vertical drop and waves far below languidly breaking on rock underpinning the hotel.

There were the sights. The panorama view from the peak and along the way of the Mediterranean looking over to Northern Africa is a spectacular view, particularly when the sun shines. Below is that spectacular view of Sea meeting Ocean, and the continuing movement of ships everywhere. This is a busy sea road.

Barbary ape surveying the sea road

Yes, seeing the Rock for the first time fulfilled my long term wish, but unlike visits to the Spanish cities, the British seemed to have spent their time building defences – a warren of tunnels and cannon pointing towards the  sea; and of naval facilities. The Rock is the attraction; but moving around the Rock means being annoyed by troops of Barbary apes. Being unique to Europe, these nuisances have free range and tourists are magnets to annoy.

Yes, you wander around, and the gardens are sub-tropical pretty, the centre of town picturesque and there is photo of me exiting a traditional red British Tardis – but in the end, what is Gibraltarian culture, but the Rock.

In retrospect would the Rock have been Number One on my bucket list of what to see? Probably not, but nobody can consult the Retrospect. So, as my Italian friend would say “Chissa!”

There is always a Clare Castle – The Hotels I mean.

Clare Castle Hotels can be found all around Australia. I remember one in Carlton when I was a medical student at the University of Melbourne. The food was simple but great, and we crammed into the downstairs dining room at the time of the NeoBarbaric age when the Wowsers ruled. At dinner, alcohol was served from bottles we had bought, wrapped in brown paper bags . “(Alcohol) bought into a hotel” – said slowly, compounds the idiocy of that Victorian period.

At the same time, along the passage beside the dining room and up the stairs there was the patter of migrant men in the main coming and going ceaselessly. They weren’t carrying brown paper bags, and we concluded that they were not the local chapter of the Temperance Union.

This week I came across an essay I wrote about the South Australian town, Kapunda, some years ago when I was trying to find more about my great grandfather, Michael Egan. I have previously written about the short period he spent in Kapunda when he first arrived with his family in 1849 on the “Cheapside”.

We are Egans from Co Clare. Kapunda has a Clare Castle pub. Here in Kapunda was the first commercial mine in Australia. Copper was mined here, and from the start, Welsh miners specially recruited for their skill in smelting were the first to work the mine. They were followed by Cornish, German and Irish immigrants, one of whom was Michael Egan.

The Kapunda bosses were Anglo-Irish – Bagot, Blood and Dutton, although Dutton did not last long and sold his shares and left. In the case of nearby  Burra, its rich copper lode was discovered by a shepherd but the beneficiaries were the fortunate “Snobs”, early investors in the South Australian Mining Association  who made fabulous profits on their investments, and if they did not retreat with their money to England became the backbone of the Adelaide Club.

The success of the mines was shown by miners’ pay being up to £2 a week. Tents gave way to two-roomed cottages built from stone and mud. Some were wattle and daub. There were no verandas.  Walls were whitewashed to reflect the heat. Roofs were shingle or thatch. The one window aperture often had a bag of whitewash hanging over it.

When Michael Egan arrived, he would have seen the copper ore being bagged in hundredweights (cwt) lots for despatch to Port Adelaide. To guide the drays laden with ore, a furrowed track had been driven into the ground between Kapunda and Gawler, 30 kms to the South.

Meanwhile the brackish Light River needed to be pumped from the shafts. This water was turned to advantage in washing the ore, enabling the ore to be tamped down prior to it being sent in the first years for smelting in Wales. Eventually smelting facilities were built close to the mines. By that time Michael and his brood had decamped to Victoria. He probably listened to the sirens of “gold” emanating from the discovery in Ballarat in 1851. As was written, “The sudden cries of ‘Gold’ from the fields in Victoria brought everything to a grinding halt. Workers downed tools and rushed to the Victorian diggings.” Michael Egan was one of these, and the “Kapunda mines would have been deserted had four miners been left to prevent the mine from flooding.” I suspect the writer was being somewhat melodramatic.

These mines lasted until 1871, but other copper mines opened up and today the Roxby Downs mine is second only to Mount Isa in its copper output.

At the time of the Kapunda discovery, it should be remembered South Australia was broke. Drought had prevailed, and  the Goyder line was more than a decade away calculated to define what land below the line was viable for agriculture and above the line what was not. Burra, close to Kapunda, was also a copper mining township. Even though Burra was settled after Kapunda for a short period it was in fact the largest inland town in Australia.

I do remember Kapunda for its embroidery, but we passed on buying the antimacassers and doilies. Burra I remember somewhat differently. It was late on a Saturday morning and for some reason I drifted into the Saltbush store in Burra. It was not long after the business had started. Two women farmers had decided on a career extension into making clothing and creating a fashion outlet in Burra. I saw a pair of moleskins, but they needed alteration. I looked at my watch; it was almost closing time and we were not coming back this way. No worries, said Elspeth, one of the Saltbush founders, she would make the alterations immediately if we could wait. Astonished by the service, we did. Very impressive, and we shopped there when we could, for years after.

Life is Peachy

Over ten years being associated with orchards in the Goulburn Valley made one well aware that after cherries and apricots, the first available Spring fruit was followed quickly by peaches and nectarines and then after Christmas, with berries, came pears and a long tail of various types of apples – and over time there was a shift in the popularity of various types. Peaches were no exception. The prime production of peaches was of the deep yellow clingstone variety which were good for canning, but as fresh eating fruit not as good as the freestone variety. The clingstone although juicy, had skin often difficult to remove. Clingstone peaches are the staple for canned peaches but freestone peaches are becoming more popular. The problem with peaches, which look so attractive, is that such attraction is very ephemeral. Fresh peaches have short shelf life without refrigeration, and it was rare to find them being sold on the roadside.

Many years ago, I remember driving the road through the Araluen Valley which runs across the Great Dividing Range from Braidwood to Moruya on the South Coast. The road, especially the last part, was unmade and very rough, and it was here we caught sight of a neglected peach orchard. My companion told me it was the best climate in the World to grow peaches. There was a dilapidated shack on the property which had an overgrown peach orchard. There was a fading sign with a contact phone number and somewhat surprisingly a price – $7,500 for the lot. Even though I did not have that money readily available, and it was a time when I could least afford it, my enthusiasm was unbounded. When she asked me who would help me clear the property, plant new trees, restore the house, I looked at her. She shook her head; the dream evaporated.

How different from Georgia, where a new book extolling the peach and its place in American folklore, has just been published and an edited review is republished below. How different from here in Australia where the peach is hardly royalty. Georgia is even the Peach State, and Atlanta’s famous street name is widely known due its mention in Gone with the Wind, which introduced the city and its most famous street to popular culture.

During peach season, Georgia’s roads are dotted with farm stands selling fresh peaches. Year-round, tourist traps sell mugs, hats, shirts and even snow globes with peaches on them. At the beginning of the Georgia peach boom, one of Atlanta’s major roads was renamed Peachtree Street. But despite its associations with perfectly pink-orange peaches, “The Peach State” of Georgia is neither the biggest peach producing state (that honour goes to California) nor are peaches its biggest crop.

So why is it that Georgia peaches are so iconic? The answer, like so much of Southern history, has a lot to do with slavery — specifically, its end and a need for the South to rebrand itself. Yet, as historian William Thomas Okie writes in his book The Georgia Peach, the fruit may be sweet but the industry in the South was formed on the same culture of white supremacy as cotton and other slave-tended crops. 

Peaches, which are native to Asia, have been growing haphazardly in the United States since they were brought over by Europeans in the 17th century. But it wasn’t until the latter half of the 1800s that aspiring horticulturists began to try and grow the peach as an orchard crop. In 1856, a Belgian father-and-son pair, Louis and Prosper Berckmans, purchased a plot of orchard land in Augusta, Ga., that would come to be known as Fruitland. Their intention was to demonstrate that fruit and ornamental plants could become just as important an industry in the South as cotton, which was ruining the soil with its intensive planting.

Horticulture slowly became accepted as a gentleman’s pursuit. But it wasn’t until the end of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery that the sudden availability of labour gave peaches the perfect opening. After the war, “fruit growing, which to the cotton planter was a secondary matter, [became] one of great solicitude to the farmer,” Prosper Berckmans wrote in 1876. By the 1880s, Fruitland had grown so large and essential that it mailed 25,000 catalogues every year to horticulturists in the United States and abroad.

Freedmen now needed year-round employment, and the labour requirements of the peach season — tree trimming and harvest — fit perfectly with the time of year when cotton was slow. Though the story of the post-bellum South is often one of industrialization and urbanization, it was also a time of redefining what agriculture would mean without the reliance iof enslaved labour by the plantation owners.

“Cotton had all these associations with poverty and slavery,” says Okie, an assistant professor of history at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

The peach had none of that baggage.

While King Cotton was still an important part of the Southern economy, town councils began sponsoring peach festivals and spreading marketing materials that sung the praises of Georgia-bred peaches like the famous Elberta Peaches.

“Tellingly,” Okie writes, “the only role mentioned for Black southerners in the great Georgia Peach Carnival was as members of the opening procession’s ‘Watermelon Brigade’ ” — about 100 African-Americans who marched with the racially laden fruit balanced on their heads.

Gentleman farmers saw fruit cultivation as something particularly refined and European, and a craze for all things “oriental” gave peaches an even greater allure. This cultured crop fit in with the narrative white Southerners were eager to tell about themselves after the Civil War. “Growing peaches for market required expertise that seemed unnecessary with corn and cotton, which any dirt farmer could grow,” Okie writes. To succeed, peach farmers had to be able to access horticultural literature and the latest scientific findings. Both required literacy, as well as a certain level of education that was still out of reach for many newly freed men and women.

Before peaches became an important crop, they hung low on branches throughout the South and landowners who saw them as without value were happy to give them freely to slaves. But once peaches were part of the agricultural economy, they became off limits to all but those who could afford them. By the end of the 1800s, Okie writes, a landowner who caught three black children pilfering little more than a handful of peaches charged the father of one $21 for three peaches, threatening the children with a chain gang if he caught them in his orchard again. A labourer working in a city at that time made less than $1.50 per day on average, making it likely that, for a black family in the South, those three peaches amounted to roughly a full month’s wages. What was once freely available to African-American became “a white fruit,” Okie says.

In addition to the cost of the trees and horticultural education, it took three or four years of expenses without income before trees would reliably produce fruit. Peaches required so much capital to grow that few African-Americans could afford to start their own orchard. When women were referred to admiringly as “Georgia peaches,” it was a reflection of their light, rosy skin more than the State. (In an act of reclamation, a black gospel singer born in 1899 as Clara Hudman would go on to use the stage name “Georgia Peach.”)

For better or worse, Okie’s book explains, peaches have become the story of the New South and its environment as much as cotton represents the Old.

The Changing of the MudGuard

“I understand that part of my passion, my job, relates to things I am not a fan of. I am traveling the world, racing cars, burning resources. It is something I cannot look away from, and once you see these things, once you are aware, I don’t think you can really unsee.”

Sebastian Vettel
Daniel Ricciardo

This is part of what Sebastian Vettel is reported to have said in the NYT on the eve of his retirement. Like his contemporary Daniel Ricciardo, he has had a number of lean years since his halcyon days of winning the F1 drivers championship. Ricciardo never reached these heights and instead of graceful retirement, he has opted for the humiliation of demotion to reserve driver.

I believe Formula One motor racing  is a blight on modern culture. It is a pollutant, while the so-called “petrol heads” come out to watch very fast vehicles go round and round the same circuit for a couple of hours, polluting the environment with noise and carbon. The concept of being a racing driver retains a certain romantic cachet. Racing drivers are no longer the languid blazerati as epitomised by Stirling Moss and his ilk.

Motor car racing has traded faster and faster vehicles with more and more refinement of the safety features for generally compact, incredibly fit men, with superior reflexes. As one authority has said, a F1 driver needs superior reflexes to respond to sudden changes. An average Formula 1 driver reacts in 100 milliseconds (ms) while the reaction rate of an ordinary person is 300 ms. Drivers always train their reflexes, hand-eye coordination, and peripheral vision. These skills are developed using a special reaction board, where the goal is to hit as many randomly lit lights as possible when they are illuminated.

Max Verstappen

Thus, men now in their mid-30s begin to lose their sharpness; the current champion driver Max Verstappen is 24 years old. Vettel in his retirement, whether confected or not, recognises that he has been a pollutant, a very wealthy pollutant, but nonetheless a pampered pollutant. He has voiced his concern for the environment, one of the factors he says that has definitely played a role in his decision to retire, seeing the world changing and seeing the future in a very threatened position for everyone, including as yet unborn generations. He is seeking redemption with a variety of projects such as a bee hotel in his native Austria and a public visit to the Amazon at the time of the recent Brazilian Grand Prix as part of his path to atonement.

All very noble, but excuse my scepticism but it sounds as though his retirement is enshrouded in a mist of public relation puffery, rose petals and eidelweiss. Alpine meadows and the uplands far from the madding black exhaust puffery around the streets of Melbourne. Oh, by the way the government expending “environment indulgences” just looks on and forgets to count the cost. And here amid the freebies, nobody there seems to be retiring – voluntarily.

Mouse Whisper

Twitter is showing the true definition of the unexpected consequence, or is it just an extension of Rob Brydon’s long running TV program: “Would I Lie to You?”

A former employee of Twitter twittered:

I was laid off from Twitter this afternoon. I was in charge of managing badge access to Twitter offices. Elon has just called me and asked if I could come back to help him regain access to HQ as they shut off all badges and accidentally locked themselves out.”

Modest Expectations – Nadia von Leiningen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Cheapside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kapunda’s copper mine 1850s

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

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

Taking a Taxi to Bethlehem

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

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

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

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

Church of the Nativity

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

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

At the Wailing Wall

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

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

The Accidental Nobel Laureate

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

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

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

A buckyball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Place for the Shamus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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

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


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

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

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

Hosting a leptospirosis party?