Modest Expectations – The Alamo

As I finish my blog we are marooned by devastating floods which have inundated north-west Tasmania as part of a rain bomb, which has been particularly acute over Victoria and Tasmania. We have our car, but the car ferry is indefinitely cancelled and we have to find our way back to Sydney before the end of next week. In my blog, I had a piece critical of the way a particular amount of money was proposed to be allocated to the local council. While the premise is unchanged, it would have been in poor taste to publish it, given the damage being done to countless settlements in the Meander Valley, making the grant in question seem a paltry sum. Now there is a very good reason to provide funding in the wake of the severest flooding the area has suffered.

“A Little Flu”

Today is the day that most of the final restrictions relating to COVID have been removed. The question remains as to how effective our reaction to the virus has been.

There seems to be only one person who is still listened to by those children of the business community – the politicians – on public health. He was present when the politicians did not know what to do in early 2020. His intervention at a time when the Federal Cabinet was consumed by an extreme anxiety, when one of their number, Dutton, returned from America with the Virus. It was a time before vaccines, and the hysteria was fomented by comparisons with the Spanish flu outbreak, when millions died worldwide.

The one thing which frightens politicians is a feeling of helplessness. One stratagem is to diminish the threat – “the little flu” of Brazil’s Bolsonaro; another is to wish it will go away – “the Munich response”. Another is to ignore it until it is too late – and believe that once there are signs of improvement, you no longer need expert advice.

Prof Paul Kelly

The then new Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, had three important advantages. First, he was expert in public health; second, he had a calming influence while being shrewd enough to balance the plethora of opinion swirling around him to support the most politically acceptable course, while not abandoning all his principles.

Now, almost three years later, Kelly is still in his job and is now the expert face of a basically similar group of politicians, who are now advocating the populace take personal responsibility for its actions at a time when the pandemic is far from over. Such a course of action has enabled the various governments to abrogate their responsibility. The Pauline nuance has changed but he has maintained relevance – albeit by a thin thread.

When the Virus emerged, it was a time when social isolation and personal hygiene were the only strategies; even masks were not generally recommended. It soon became clear that this pandemic would be more than the false alarm generated by other exotic viral infections earlier in the 21st century, which ended up self-contained. Then COVID came along.

When you reflect on the closure of borders and the situations then and now, there are marked changes in the decision makers. No longer is Brendan Murphy paraded as the face of a successful response; Minister Hunt is gone; and one of the major disruptive forces, Gladys Berejiklian, also. She presided over the most egregious breach of the COVID rules when the passengers were hastily disembarked from the Ruby Princess while 600 on board were infected and given the shenanigans which occurred with its sister ship, the Diamond Princess in Japan. It all foreshadowed the final outcome two years later – business eventually dismantling the safeguards and the elderly in particular bearing the brunt of the mantra of “personal responsibility”

I copped a great deal of criticism about the Ruby Princess fiasco by identifying the wrong target, and in particular being excessively critical of the Chief Health Officer, Kerry Chant.  The problem in this world of modern bureaucracy, the minions take the blame. I prefer to look higher up the ladder to attribute blame. Moreover, Berejiklian with her “goodie two shoes” role, rather than accepting some of the blame, appeared in a front page article in the AFR coquettishly posing in virginal white suit, accompanying an article describing her as the saviour of Australia. No wonder that the other Premiers did not warm to her. The Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, aided by her eccentric chief medical officer who now has been buried away from the media as Governor, certainly came in conflict with Berijiklian.

Yet in a pre-vaccine era, with its program of severe lockdowns, with border closures, Australia (together with New Zealand) was seen as the best place in the World to be in controlling the Virus.  It was draconian, and only a short term solution, although it was not seen in that light then.

But then, the success story began to fray. The seeds for this had been planted. From the onset, public health became the plaything of the media. The more public health experts could be seen as having different opinions, the more the media harvested spice. The problem is that organised health, and here I include The Australian Faculty of Public Health Medicine, were not proactive in the early days when rules promoting certainty could have been set down.

A further problem, beside the antics of Berejiklian which alienated the other Premiers, was the reflex behaviour of a Prime Minister whose first reaction was to divide, seed doubts and, as became increasingly clear, substitute fiction for facts. Despite the cover of a National Cabinet, no long-term strategy was developed. At the heart of their thinking was that the pandemic would be self-limiting and that eventually it would die down. Then the government could declare success, which it did anyway, if somewhat prematurely.

The second mistake was the government’s choice of vaccines, one was a complete dud; the other adequate, but old technology. Then the deficiencies of a government which had heavily invested in social distancing, enforced by the police, became less and less enforceable.

At the same time there was a series of administrative blunders – delaying investment in the vaccines and then in the rapid tests. The development of mRNA vaccines seemed to blindside the government experts. The Premier of Victoria showed stratagems that worked – the first was that he fronted up every day to report and the second was the implicit transaction which traded level of vaccination with privileges. This could have formed the basis of a long term strategy, but the Virus inconveniently mutated.

Lockdowns had become very unpopular as they became synonymous with high-handed police crackdowns and infringement notices. Then the street protests started by a gaggle of trumpists, liberationists, anti-vaxxers, who recognised the increasing restlessness of the population, was fodder for street revolution.

The vaccines have come with boosters – and now the anti-virals. Influenza, having been absent during the lock-downs, re-emerged

However, the most difficult aspect of maintaining the message was the loss of interest – the daily reports, the interviews with the public experts, the sudden decline in concern which had been initially  shown in the plight of nursing home residents; their upset relatives clustered outside the nursing homes being interviewed gradually lessened. Reporting daily became reporting weekly and monthly – and without media commentary, the community has drifted into convenient acceptance.

Restrictions have been removed, although the government has not dared to encourage people not to wear masks in health facilities or nursing homes, and popularity before public safety is found to lead to an easier life for a Premier. Probably this change of attitude was first exemplified by Perrotet when he became Premier. He gradually removed Kerry Chant from centre stage, and while some protested about this, she has become increasingly invisible. Brett Sutton in Victoria did not go as quietly, but now he has a Minister who refuses to release a report on public health until after the forthcoming elections. It is as though the Virus will agree to a truce until after the election. It is as ridiculous a decision as were those of one of her predecessors who unwisely waded into the Virus quagmire early and was politically extinguished. The Premier has not changed. He knows Popularity when he sees it, especially close to elections.

When Perrotet  replaced Berejiklian as Premier, he quickly shifted the agenda to “personal responsibility” and the community applauded, as the restrictions were peeled away. Perrotet was popular with the other Premiers, unlike Berejiklian, and then Morrison was also gone. The Premiers have found the new Prime Minister a pliant ally in dismantling public health.

Yet those who say the pandemic is not over no longer have a platform in the conventional media. The AMA may reflexly protest about any lessening of restrictions, but there is no follow up. Even as distinguished a scientist as Brendan Crabb is forced to vent his concern on Twitter:

Brendan Crabb

Like many, I often get labelled a fearmonger. As we approach our fourth wave for 2022, shortly after our most lethal wave of the pandemic – on track for 25,000 deaths for the year and with a likely Long Covid toll of 500,000+ – what we’re seeing is actually worse that I thought.”

The Premier of Victoria allows his Health Minister to suppress an expert Report on the Virus until after the State election on November 26. If you think about this decision, it is outrageous – somebody with no health expertise rejecting advice for political gain. It is tantamount to same person in a different portfolio advocating doing nothing about a fire out of control until a political event has passed.

The stark message from Brendan Crabb is the pandemic is still out of control. Yet has Australia an adequate mechanism to reimpose restrictions should we need it? I shall continue to explore it in my next blog.

Getting Stoned

There are rocks; and then there are rocks. The “Rock” in Australia was associated before 1993 with Ayers Rock named after a colonial South Australian functionary, Henry Ayers; named now Uluru meaning “great pebble” in the local Anangu language for the sacred site. Uluru epitomises the Red Centre, especially at sunset. Even during the day, Uluru is red and walking around the perimeter one is faced with trabeculated inglenooks, where you can imagine that the local indigenous people would have found shelter. Walking around the periphery one gets the sense of sheer size of the rock which is magnified by the fact that it rises from a basically flat landscape. It is unsurprising that has spiritual significance

But there are other geological formations – I have visited a number of these “rocks” throughout Australia, like the nearby domed rocks once Mount Olga now renamed Kata Tjuta; the Devil’s Marbles or Karlu Karlu, near Tennant Creek; Hanging Rock, a mamelon perhaps with the Aboriginal name of Ngannelong near Melbourne; Mount Wudinna outside the town of the same name in South Australia; but most of all Mount Augustus in Western Australia.


Mount Augustus or Burringurrah is approximately 300 km east of Carnarvon. Its size dwarfs that of Uluru.  Named after Augustus Charles Gregory, in an outburst of fraternal generosity by his brother Francis Gregory who, on 3 June 1858, during his exploratory journey through the Gascoyne Region, became the first European to climb it. It is difficult to reach.

Whereas Uluru is approximately nine kms around the base, it is about 43 kms to circumnavigate Mount Augustus. You need a vehicle to drive around it. Because of the landscape being more treed than that around Uluru it does not at first appear to have the same significance, yet when you get up close you realise how impressive it is.

When we were there, the local nurse volunteered to drive us around the rock – a hair raising trip as he obviously thought he was engaged in a single man rally. Eventually all things must come to an end. The car hit a large pothole, fortunately near the camp, which resulted in a burst tyre. The drive made such an impression on our pilot that he said: “I’ve flown in some pretty terrible conditions, but frankly your driving terrifies me more than any I’ve experienced as a pilot! The fact that this nurse’s tenure was able to be maintained at the remote site exemplifies the problem of finding sane, let alone suitably-trained health professionals in remote areas.

Unlike other places in the Review, the male elder greeted us with suspicion and a taciturnity that I interpreted as him wishing we would just go away and leave his settlement in peace. One of the women showed us her artworks, one of which we purchased. Visiting Mount Augustus was just  part of the Rural Stocktake visits, which included visiting a number of remote settlements across the Nation.

I had already been involved in setting up a rural clinical school at Geraldton in Western Australia, which meant I had already travelled extensively in this region – north to Exmouth Gulf, east to Meekatharra and south to the small wheat belt communities, so the excursion to Mount Augustus, which I had heard about through my association with rural Western Australia was a deliberate inclusion.

However, it was very much fly-in-fly-out’, and thus one of the less satisfactory yet eye-opening visits I made during the six months of that Review. Nevertheless, people may talk about Uluru and its majesty, but Mount Augustus itself is something else.

For the record Uluru is a rock monolith consisting of a single rock (and sometimes called a land iceberg given most of its mass is below ground) while Mount Augustus is a monocline formed by a geological linear, strata dip in one direction between horizontal layers on each side; but to me, they are both just humongous, impressive rocks.

Dual in the Sun

I was intrigued by the following newspaper report recognising that the newly minted Nobel Laureate joined a select group.

In winning the award on Wednesday, Dr. Sharpless became only the fifth person to win two Nobels, having received the chemistry prize in 2001 for his work on chirally catalyzed oxidation reactions. The other two-time winners were Marie Curie, John Bardeen, Linus Pauling and Frederick Sanger.

Marie Curie

I already knew about Marie Curie and Linus Pauling.

Together with Pierre, her husband, Madame Curie shared half of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903, for their study into the spontaneous radiation discovered by Henri Becquerel, who was awarded the other half of the Prize. In 1911 she received a second Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry, in recognition of her work in purifying radium.

Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling in my younger years always stood out as the bloke who flogged large doses of Vitamin C for the common cold. He was so wrong in relation to Vitamin C compared with his sure-footedness in his journey through the then new world of quantum mechanics for which he was awarded his first Nobel Prize for Chemistry. His second Nobel Prize was for Peace, awarded nine years later in 1963 for his unremitting opposition to nuclear war, in fact it was the same year the USA, Soviet Union and the United Kingdom signed the Limited Nuclear Test Treaty.

With a bit of prompting I did remember John Bardeen.

John Bardeen

John Bardeen was a physicist and engineer. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics twice, both collaboratively. The first  was in 1956 for the invention of the transistor; and the second in 1972 for the fundamental theory of conventional superconductivity.

His discoveries, albeit inventions, were probably as influential in the day to day life of the average citizen as any Nobel Prize winner in that field.

The transistor revolutionised the electronics industry, making possible the development of almost every modern electronic device from telephones to computers, and ushering in the Information Age.

Bardeen’s work in superconductivity eventuated in its application to nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR), medical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and the more esoteric  superconducting quantum circuits.

Frederick Sanger

Frederick Sanger sequenced insulin for the first Nobel Prize, and then he came back for his second award for his developing methodology to sequence DNA. His first technique was soon replaced by technology developed by Pehr Edman which led to the development of the sequenator. Nevertheless, his technological discoveries in relation to DNA paved the way for the elucidation of the genome. I note that a number of his post graduate students have won Nobel Prizes, which suggest that he understood well the politics of the Nobel Prize, a consideration increasingly important in the quest for scientific recognition – and he lived a long life which sometimes helps.

Now the plaudits are there for Barry Sharpless for works in two fields of chemistry. With the exception of Pauling, these men and one woman won their prizes because of their supreme ability to navigate the laboratory. For many of us, the heroics of the discoverers – the navigators are on land and sea – were the achievements which are easy to understand. In the world of the unseen, it is more difficult to recognise these laboratory explorers.

Barry Sharpless

To understand Sharpless’s first shared Nobel Prize, one must understand that molecules appear in two forms that mirror each other – just as our hands mirror each other, but are not  superimposable.  Such molecules are called chiral. In nature one of these forms is often dominant, so in our cells one of these mirror images of a molecule fits “like a glove”, in contrast to the other one which may even be harmful. Pharmaceutical products often consist of chiral molecules, and the difference between the two forms can be a matter of life and death, just to quote one source.

Sharpless developed molecules that can catalyse important reactions by oxidation techniques, while the other two scientists who shared the prize used hydrogenation – the end point being that only one of the two mirror image forms is produced. L-Dopamine used in the treatment of Parkinsonism is one example.

Now Sharpless has bobbed up with a share of the 2022 Nobel Prize for “for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry”. I shudder – “click chemistry”? What next? Molecular shears? *

Then I searched around and read that “Click Chemistry” is a term that was introduced by Sharpless in 2001 to describe reactions that are high yielding, wide in scope, create only byproducts that can be removed without chromatography, are stereospecific, simple to perform, and can be conducted in easily removable or benign solvents. He has been one busy scientist; get one Nobel Prize and 21 years later, the second – and all due to judicious use of copper catalysts.

I would suggest that it would be difficult to win two prizes in Clinical Physiology and Medicine; and well nigh impossible in Literature.

However, the International Committee of the Red Cross has won the Peace Prize three times (1917, 1944 and 1963), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize two times (1954 and 1981).

And as for the Economics Prize, a second award?  Probably not, unless it is extended to soothsayers and bookmakers as is widely tipped in the hedges of New York and Zurich.

But jesting aside, the more you read about these five individuals especially if one has been an observer of the field of research, the more these people interest, because they all have extensive biographies, which tell the reader all but paradoxically also nothing at all.

An * from Prince Lachlan

Yes, I do know about molecular shears or scissors. They are useful in ensuring a good “heir-cut”, aren’t they?

Like a Nail Drawn Across a Blackboard

There are two responses, which are more punctuation marks akin to the full stop.

We are taking the matter seriously” reminds me of the judge putting on the black cap before pronouncing the death sentence. Once you hear the words or read them, you know nothing will be done to rectify the particular mess being contemplated by those who have uttered the words. The finality of a death sentence. How few times have the utterers of such words been held to account and asked after a few months to wax lyrical on how they have taken the matter.  Seriously?

Rodin’s The Thinker

The other response is the exhortation “to take personal responsibility”. It is the mantra for governments to shed responsibility. To use this as a substitute for government intervention, there is almost an element of reproach in people to fail to reach some hypothetical level, where abide the gods of Macquarie Street.

It is all very well to take personal responsibility if one has all the information to make the appropriate choice. Yet distribution of information is not symmetrical throughout the community; and has been made worse by the accession of the Trumps of the world who are unconcerned with evidence to base decision making on, but deliberately contaminate the Information Well with falsehoods.

Mark Humphries, whose comedic talents often exposes politician foibles, wrote inter alia at a time when Morrison was the Prime Minister. It says it all.

After nearly two years of the Prime Minister informing us that various issues were “a matter for the states”, is it any wonder that our Premier (NSW) would embrace this spirit of buck-passing in determining that the issue of mask-wearing should be a matter for the individual? What a thrill to be able to tell our grandchildren that we were there to witness the birth of the next big thing in political theory: trickle-down responsibility. It went about as well as trickle-down economics.”

There are many more public relations mediated responses, but these two will do for the moment. They are bad enough.

Mouse Whisper

Due to sensibilities … I have been asked to relate the following comment directed towards the current United Kingdom Government.

“Now that the ringmaster has left the circus in England, the lions are eating the clowns”.

Can I make the point, that “titmus” derives from a bird not one of ours?

A tufted titmouse

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?