Modest Expectation – Richard Cattell

Dr Claudia Scheinbaum has been elected as President of Mexico, a six year term and the first woman. Despite the glitter of the apparent celebration, Mexico is a mess, instance Mexico City where she was Mayor before being elected President. As The Washington Post reported recently, she had won in a landslide under the umbrella of her mentor, the previous President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. He was a charismatic dud, despite his popularity.

Mexico is under a great deal of stress; despite that, its lower wage scales have attracted relocation of many American companies. For instance, General Motors produces 800,000 vehicles from four factories located in different parts of the country. Nevetheless, the economy remains sluggish.

Nevertheless, the drug cartels have reached the stage of challenging provincial government authority, and in so doing the concept of Mexico being a democracy. The Americans are consumed by the hypocrisy of being a bottomless pit for Mexican-exported cocaine and its increasing consumption, and putting in draconian border restrictions.

Borders – what borders for drugs? Taken as a percentage of users (latest data 2021), in percentage terms the District of Columbia at 3.8 per cent, closely followed by Vermont and New York, are the highest consumers of cocaine. The lowest is Texas at 1.33 percent but still 337,000 people depend on a loosened border to supply their addiction to cocaine from the Mexico cartels.

I have been to Baja California in happier times, when we lunched in Ensenada, close to where the two young Australian surfers were murdered recently. After all, it is now a centre of the drug trade, and long ago where we lunched overlooking the Sea of Cortez, it was a scene where its serenity was expressed by John Steinbeck in his Log. “Beauty occurs everywhere: sunshine and rock, ripple and shadowed wave. Show your joy as thinly as what you call sorrow.” He and Ed Ricketts, the father of marine biology, had gone on an underwater expedition in March 1940, their base a sardine seiner out of Monterey.

No longer seen as in the Steinbeck vision, it’s now the most dangerous area of Mexico less than 150kms south of the US border. This is just one of the problems, Dr Scheinbaum has inherited, a beautiful coast now polluted by criminal militias. Tourism is worth US$ 3.38 bn (8.5% of GDP) to Mexico. Paradoxically, it is increasing. Oh, what a conundrum, a seductive coastline concealing a hostile interior where the populace is locked into a culture of poverty.

So different from Mexico City. I had been surprised when I received in 1991 notification that I had been elected President-elect of the International Society of Quality in Health Care (ISQA). Who by? I had not even nominated, because my experience of the organisation up to that point was that it was on its last legs, with no money and an organisation with an evangelical tinge of wanting to save the World but no concept of budgeting for such a mission.

Anyway, I accepted the Presidential Chalice but did not drink from it. The upshot was I had to open the ninth ISQA Conference in Mexico City in 1992. When I had visited in the previous December, nothing had been done. Everybody seemed to be on holidays. I went ahead and booked the venue on my credit card.  My President-elect, Enrique Ruelas was nowhere to be seen. Anyway, the Conference went without a hitch the next year. I met a number of Mexican dignitaries, whose names have been lost in the breezes of faded importance.

Enrique Ruelas

Enrique turned out thus to be well connected.  Nevertheless, being only 30 years he was still inexperienced, but affable enough, spoke English moderately well but struck me as pliable and disliking conflict, which suited me, because it enabled me to spread my influence over four years from a standing start after inheriting the Chalice.

Enrique had experienced disaster in a massive proportion, which would have tested anybody’s resilience. In 1985, Enrique was caught in the massive Mexican City earthquake, which demolished his hospital while he was away. Otherwise, he may have been one of the 10,000 people killed on that September day.

Back to 1992, I opened the Conference in Spanish, carefully highlighting the two active volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl, to essentially show off my mastery of the language, but in truth unwittingly highlighting the instability of this city of 22.5 million people. These volcanoes are close to Mexico City, and an eruption could create a latter-day Pompeii.

Currently, Mexico City is also subsiding because of overuse of aquifers. Buildings in the centre of the city are sloping and bending, the airport terminal and runways, the aboveground metro and streets are cracking, Repairs are costly. It is projected that the land is going to sink another 100 feet over the next 150 years. Water shortages are running the taps dry, worsened by low rainfall, climate change and poor infrastructure. This situation continues to reinforce reliance on groundwater pumping to meet the city’s water demand. It is a symbol of the competing pressures which Mexico has yet to master.

Dr Scheinbaum, Mexico’s new President-elect, the former Mayor of Mexico City, has pledged to combat the country’s water crisis by cracking down on water-intensive agricultural industries and improving irrigation systems. However, the problems of Mexico are a challenge verging on impossibility.

There is an undercurrent that Dr Sheinbaum will be Obrador’s puppet, more than a tinge of misogyny. For instance, as quoted in the NYT: “She needs him,” said Carlos Heredia, a Mexican political analyst. “She doesn’t have the charisma, she doesn’t have the popularity, she doesn’t have the political stamina of her own, so she needs to borrow that from López Obrador.”

Dr Sheinbaum is a climate scientist having shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), she being a significant contributor. Yet her mentor, Obrador is very close to the fossil fuel industries, but I suppose that is just another conflict that Dr Sheinbaum will have to face. Her responses have not been very encouraging.

Incidentally, my successor, Enrique Ruelas has gone on to have an impressive career as a public health physician, a consummate bureaucrat, racking up a string of accolades. I always knew he would, even though I have not spoken to him for over twenty years when he was still finding his way to the career escalator. Enrique is 71 years and closing on his retirement years, whereas Claudia Scheinbaum is 61 years and on the threshold of her greatest challenge.

An Addendum to My Opening Address

The audience anticipated that after my opening address, which commenced with the salutation “Damas y Caballeros”, I would revert to English, so the Spanish speakers immediately went for their headphones for the translation from the expected English. To my chagrin, as some of my erstwhile friends kept saying, despite my ostensibly speaking in Spanish, the Mexicans kept their headphones on. A bit harsh. I thought my pronunciation passable, struggling with two words only. But the Mexicans appreciated that I honoured them by not speaking in the language of the Gringo.

The Suwalki Corridor

Making comparisons between Hitler and Putin is to make an assumption – that Putin had studied what Hitler did in trying to establish complete suzerainty over Europe – yet ultimately failed.  Putin may think he has learnt from that failure in how to invade the former Soviet dependency, Ukraine, the assumption being that it’s an integral part of Russia, in line with the seeming acceptance by Belarus and its dictatorial President, Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko, of its status as a client Russian State.

European countries seek to gain consensus by endless talk-fests, which leads to one word – appeasement. The Soviet Union moved into the vacuum, which democracy seems to create  in Eastern Europe after WWII.

The occupation of Crimea was Putin’s test of Western resolve, in many ways echoing Hitler’s occupation of the Saarland, the industrial portion of Germany ceded provisionally to France at the Treaty of Versailles. A plebiscite about its future was scheduled for fifteen years after the cession to France. Germany, with Goebbels in full flight and with its German population, overwhelmingly voted for its return to Germany. This was Hitler’s first test of European resolve.

The Putin playbook was to test the Allied resolve by invading Crimea in early 2014. Crimea was predominantly Russian and had been ceded to Ukraine in a fit of pique by Khruschev. To Putin it was a lay down misère to reclaim.

Obama for all his flowery rhetoric was an indecisive appeaser, a man who took the path of least resistance in economic and foreign policy. However, Ukraine elected a new leader out of the chaos and corruption of Ukraine politics egged on by Putin.  Volodymyr Zelensky changed the whole dynamic.

Now Putin’s demand to end the War, unlike Hitler’s demands from a position of power, are nevertheless repeating some of the Nazi playbook. First, the West must accept the de facto partitioning of the Ukraine which has been gnawed away by the “Russian Rodent”, and now has a buffer zone which is better able to resist the superior Allied weaponry. Second his demand that the Russian funds held in Europe and the USA be released back to Russia. Here he depends on the accession of Trump, and third, neutralising any Ukrainian bid to join NATO. Partitioning is vital because if that demand was agreed, it would be anticipated by Putin that he could eventually take over the dismembered country as Hitler did to Czechoslovakia.

The Treaty of Versailles, by its redrawing of European borders, provided fuel for future conflict. One such was the Polish Corridor, where Poland was provided access to the Baltic Sea, this separating Germany from East Prussia, with an appendage Freeport called Danzig, of which I have written before, a curiosity in Eastern Europe where the British were supposed to be responsible for its external relationships. Having dismembered Czechoslovakia, Hitler turned his attention to the Polish Corridor. The Nazis seized Danzig in 1939, and the stage was set for the conflict with Poland, ostensibly to regain the Polish Corridor territory in order to unify Germany. Hitler took out insurance by entering into the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty with Russia at the same time.

Thus, in early September 1939 when this threat to Poland turned into a full-blown German invasion, WWII was precipitated. Poland was quickly conquered, and the spoils were shared between Germany and Russia – an unholy alliance which came apart two years later.  Ultimately Poland regained the territory at the end of WWII, albeit as a client Soviet satrap. Ironically Danzig, renamed Gdansk, was the base for the uprising led by Lech Walesa, which assisted in the destruction of Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe in the late 1980’s. This hegemony is what Putin wishes to restore.

Land corridors are thus a source of instability, which brings me to the existence of the Suwalki Corridor. The Suwalki Corridor runs between Belarus and Kaliningrad, along the border between Poland and Lithuania. Kaliningrad, an exclave of Russia, provides a haven for the Russian Baltic fleet, also crammed full of military surveillance and cybersecurity equipment of which the Americans would be very well aware. Exclaves are basically unstable and linking it back to Russia via a surrogate Belarus  provides an excuse for Putin to invade the Baltic countries.

Maybe the time has passed because of the unexpected resistance of Ukraine, which is draining Russian resources, even though Russia seems to be surviving by the sales of fossil fuels, to countries like India which play both sides of the street and China which is more circumspect but necessary for Putin’s illusion of restoring Imperial Russia – more Peter the Great than Stalin.

His hope is that the increasingly demented Trump is returned to the White House with an unknown number of traitors embedded in his MAGA outfit. America reverts to isolationism.

Then the Suwalki Corridor may emerge as the manufactured reason for an invasion of the Baltic countries and then Poland perhaps. Meanwhile, the Russian occupation of Georgia and Moldova will occur and Putin is on his way towards a Golden demented American sunset.

What is the Suwalki Corridor?

A Polish border sign in the Suwałki Gap

It is now more recently named The Suwalki Gap by the then US-educated Estonian President, Toomas Hendrik in a meeting with Ursula von de Leyen in 2015, the name change to Sulwalki Gap highlighted the vulnerability of that border area. Suwalki is a city in NE Poland, which once was thirty-four percent Jewish, and was at one point Lithuanian before being taken by Poland in the interwar period between WWI and WWII. Such is Baltic stability!


I had the perfect persimmon for lunch. Our introduction to the persimmon was inauspicious. Our hostess then, those years ago, had thought she would surprise us with a piece of exotica. But the persimmons were the type which unless they are completely ripe, are so astringent, that as I said at the time, it felt as though the floor of my mouth resembled being carpeted by Axminster.

But not this time. Although persimmons have been bred to diminish the astringency element, this was one of the original type. And here I was presented with the fruit, the top sliced off. Then spoon in hand I delved into the interior. There was no resistance unlike some I’ve eaten, with the fascial pith stopping easy spooning and where the ripe skin comes away with the pulp.

This did not happen here, and the consistency and colour reminded me of runny apricot jam. But it was exquisite. And the taste. Well, persimmon of course.

Once Upon a Time in Broome

It was November 1987. I wrote this up in one of my regular articles in the MJA in 1988 almost a year after a day spent in a hot stuffy courthouse, but on looking back I would never regret being an onlooker on that day. I am placing this in my blog, given the current problems, the Border Forces having been reported as having fires on their craft, which in any event seem not to be doing the job for which they were bought. This embarrassment has been coupled with the normal second-rate company supposed to be responsible for maintaining their seaworthiness which has meant a significant number of boats out of service at any one time. This draws attention to the tender process, with its “who-knows-who” selection process rather than any need for demonstrated competence.

It was a different time when Hawke was Prime Minister and most of his Ministers were people of quality not afraid of making decisions.

Thus, I have reproduced what I jotted down so long ago in Broome.

“I am spending a November Wednesday at Broome’s Court of Petty Sessions. I came here initially because the crew of an Indonesian fishing boat was arrested. Yesterday, when I saw the boat riding at anchor in the Port of Broome, it looked like one of those small inter-island ferries which ply their trade in the Southern Moluccas and around Sulawesi. There had been 23 persons on board this boat, which looked as though it could accommodate only half that number, and as it lurched in the swell it barely appeared seaworthy enough to cross Sydney Harbour, let alone the Timor Sea.

The fishing boat had been intercepted near Adele Island to the north by the patrol boat, HMAS Geraldton. The ostensible reason for the Indonesian expedition was to poach trochus shell from the reef around the island. The Geraldton was tied up at the dock when I arrived. The petty officer was friendly but said that he could not disclose the exact maximum speed of the ship – except to say that it was in excess of 30 knots. There was no doubt that the Geraldton was a high-class, sleek piece of machinery; with its guns mounted fore and aft it would not have been the most welcome sight for the Indonesian fishermen – if that was what they were.

In fact, aircraft had spotted three seacraft off a portion of the coast named Cape Leveque. The coastal waters were becoming busy with boats, presumably illegally in these waters, since the patrol boat intercepted two totally different boats from those that were spotted by the aircraft.

The complaint against the 25-year-old captain of the Indonesian boat is a charade. It is a necessary charade in terms of breaches of the Crimes Act, but one for which the slightly-built islander from south of Sulawesi – married with no money – has only to stand up when asked and otherwise be polite. A conviction is entered. If within five years he comes into Australian territorial waters, he will have to pay the $1500 fine that has been imposed. Importantly, he will be set free with his livelihood – his boat.

Broome Courthouse

The magistrate refers to the breaches in quarantine – both animal and human – but as nobody had actually landed on Australian soil nor harvested trochus shell at the time of interception, the boat can neither be seized by the Australian Customs Service nor by the WA Fisheries Department. There were no illicit drugs on board, although the magistrate makes reference to the curious fact of the several suitcases full of new clothes and the relative paucity of fishing gear.

One of the Fisheries officers is most unconvinced by the trochus shell story, and he believes that there are many illegal immigrant routes into Australia from the Indonesian archipelago. In a “kerbside” conversation in a court room such conversations must remain hearsay. However, the magistrate accepts the trochus shell story. The captain will be released with his 22 compatriots – to be escorted out beyond the old 12-mile limit and sent on his way.

It is ironic on this day of Australian leniency and compassion that a Taiwanese fishing boat, under contract with a Perth company and apparently fishing legally under licence in Indonesian waters, limped into Darwin. The boat had been blasted by an Indonesian gunboat south of the Aru Islands, with the loss of life of three Taiwanese fishermen. An Indonesian diplomatic spokesman, when asked in Canberra what were the circumstances of the attack, accepted no blame.”

Sound familiar! Seems to have been imported to Canberra – a form of foot in mouth disease? Should we have had better biosecurity against this chronic infestation?

Mouse Whisper

You know we have a Ganesha in house. It about eight centimetres in height, made of bone, seemingly old, beautifully and intricately carved, bought in India over forty years ago. Never know about its age, some of the Indians have a tricky capacity to artificially age their gewgaws.

Not that Lord Ganesha is a trifle. Already, he is glaring at me.

As the Boss said, all households should have one. Lord Ganesha is meant to bring good luck.

As the story goes, Parvati, the Hindu mother goddess being the Divine who mediates wife-husband relationships formed Ganesha from the rubbings of her body so that he might stand guard at the door while she bathed. When Shiva approached, unaware this was his son, he was enraged at being kept away from his wife and proceeded to lop off Ganesha’s head.

To ease Parvati’s grief, Shiva promised to cut off the head of the first living thing he saw and attach it to the body. That creature was an elephant. Ganesha was thus restored to life and rewarded for his courage by being made Lord of new beginnings and guardian of entrances. Praying to Lord Ganesha is invariably accompanied by smashing a coconut, symbolic of smashing the undesirable forces inherent in oneself.

Mice, it is said, destroy a lot of foodgrains. Lord Ganesha as the remover of obstacles to obtaining prosperity, has the duty to go after the destroyers, all rodents. The mouse being a small animal can get into all sorts of corners using its smartness and thus Lord Ganesha rides the mouse to illustrate his dominance over us.

I take a wide berth around that darkened bone smiling figure.

Modest Expectations – For we who are about to gobble, at this point, we give thanks

Tomorrow all will be revealed – perhaps.

Whoever wins will be faced with having to govern, unlike what has happened over the past decade. This was the time of the lotus land; when the rich became richer and the dispossessed were harassed by false gods and more and more were caught in the culture of poverty.

I remember when Whitlam went to the electorate with a number of proposals among which was the proposal for satellite cities, and consequently increased housing. Albury-Wodonga remains as the partial legacy, but then the two cities were well established. Later I was on a government committee picking over the residual Albury-Wodonga policy which had severely changed from the original vision; looking back we got a pass mark, but it could have been better.

In Opposition, Whitlam developed a whole raft of policies between 1969 and 1972, the most successful long term being Medibank later Medicare. At the same time, the Federal Government was going through a series of debilitating internal power struggles. However, the heavy emphasis on social reform  by the Whitlam Government ran headlong into the 1973 oil crisis when the members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEAC) led by Saudi Arabia proclaimed an oil embargo. The embargo was targeted at nations that had supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War. By the end of the embargo in March 1974, the price of oil had risen nearly 300 per cent, from US$3 per barrel to nearly $12 per barrel globally.

I well remember the big spending budget of 1973. It ignored the global situation, where there was a great deal of unrest in the Middle East with the Yom Kippur sorely testing Israel’s sovereignty. The Vietnam War was winding down, and its divisive impact on this country could not be underestimated. Here Whitlam read the mood to such an extent that the visit of the Coalition leader, Bill Snedden, to China in mid 1973 evoked no antipathy from his previously strongly anti-China Party.

Nevertheless, the response of Snedden to the Budget emphasised the inflationary effect of the Government’s ambitious social engineering.

Average earnings shot up 15.3 per cent, as the government backed big wage rises. Consumer prices rose 13.2 per cent, as global food shortages pushed up food prices. In October 1973, the OPEAC cartel doubled world oil prices. Inflation worldwide shot into double digits, and Australia slumped into recession together with the rest of the World.

Thus, I have a very acute sense of déjà vu with the post-election scenario with which the incoming government will be presented, given the confetti trail of electoral promises. The problem is that the two major parties seem to think that governing Australia is a late night poker game, with bids matched, bids being raised and a huge amount of bluffing, especially as most of the hands, if called out, would be found to be worthless.

From afar Trump has been a destructive force as he has fomented distrust – distrust in government and in a civilisation, the resultant of eons of interactions and at a cost of so many lives, so that in the end, people doubt their heritage in the face of false gods, which in the end prejudice our survival, not only as a nation but a viable world.

Putin has reminded us of how fragile the concept of globalisation is when you start a war in Europe, without giving any thought to how long it will last. He is one of the genre who believe in resolution by conflict – but you understand that if you lose, you lose big time. The problem of a huge loss, particularly of face, is that the word “resolution” gets dropped – and only the word “conflict” remains.

In the last week of a campaign in this country, all the Prime Minister can say is that he will change as the country, rather than emerging in the light, is trundling along in a handcart into the gloom.

Mate, there is a European war going on; Biden has a fragile grasp on a country which is in danger of imploding under the weight of the Trumpian mendacity and above all, climate change is the real challenge.

Instead of providing a strategy to work our way out of coal dependency, and the vice-like grip of the oil and gas producers, who pay very little if any tax, Australia needs to pursue a strategy to cope with increasing manifestations of climate change in floods and bushfires.

We have a hapless, self-pitying Prime Minister and a bodgie housing proposal, dumped on the electorate in the last week of the campaign. Otherwise, there is just divisive rhetoric penetrating further than the normal way that two major party democracies in the British tradition of dialectic operate.

No time during this electoral campaign has any politician in the Coalition or Labour Policy confronted the dilemma of a nationwide settlement policy to cope with the climate change. For example, the town of Gympie flooding three times in one year provides a clear example which Governments must confront, without giving mates inflated contracts without a tender process. All this rather than undertake a serious attempt in the face of climate change to flood and drought proof, fire proof and cyclone proof this country. This is an enormous yet essential task if we as Australians, as members of the human race, cling to survival.

Coral bleaching, Great Barrier Reef

But what do we see? A proliferation of sports stadia proposals. Queensland, with its unique Great Barrier Reef, is under environmental threat because of a combination of neglect, deliberate despoliation and avarice, yet the State wants to waste money on circuses. Why?  So that politicians can satiate their endless pool of low self-esteem with opening ceremonies and self-congratulatory pomp.

At least in 1972 Australia had a real choice.

A Patch of Persimmons

I once read that of all fruit, persimmons were the most consumed by humans. I read that the fruit was popular in Asia, and I remember having been to dinner at a friend’s place, and they produced persimmons for dessert. I got the impression that they were as unfamiliar with persimmons as I was, but were attracted by the shiny golden colour with the red blush, and my wife and I would be suitable guinea pigs.

Because of the tannin content, these persimmons were one of the astringent varieties, as I was to learn later. I described it at the time as my mouth being like Axminster carpet. As I alluded to that in my blog last week when discussing unlikely food consumption, how would I know what carpet tastes like. Then I remembered that as a child I was always falling over and copping a mouthful of carpet. Thus I would not be surprised if I do have multiple taste memories locked into my brain from falling on my face on so many carpets as an infant.

Since that astringent experience, I was at first wary before again eating persimmons. They were not common in Australian supermarkets, and before we ate one, we generally waited until it was soft, almost slush, and the skin disintegrating.

Last week, we were driving into the Northland town of Kerikeri, when we saw an orchard named Persimmon Patch. I had never been into a persimmon orchard, even though I had worked around the fruit growing areas of Victoria, where I would have expected to find them growing, if not in a dedicated orchard. I had once seen a persimmon tree growing in a suburban garden in Melbourne bearing fruit. Not much comparison.

Here in Kerikeri there was a small 1.5 hectare orchard of persimmon trees. Most of them had been picked, but there was still a number of trees within the Patch which had fruit. Persimmons tend to be expensive in Australia but here a bag of a dozen or so costs NZ$10. Most of the trees in this orchard are Fuyu, which are not astringent.

They were nevertheless very firm, and so we put them in a brown paper bag with a couple of bananas for a couple of days. They remained firm, but as we were told they were a bit like an apple to eat, we cut them open, and even though they were firm, they were ripe; they had what some may say “crunch”. As they ripen and soften, unlike apples, they do not go bad. The flesh just detaches from the skin, which then just falls away.

In this case, being so cheap we were able to eat them until we looked like a persimmon – well not with the green topknot.

Persimmons apparently are berries, which I find extraordinary perhaps as they look like any other fruit trees. It is a pity the fruit is not more widely available, but there is a downside in its cultivation. As one US authority has written: “Because of the trees’ genetic mobility, there has never been a complete taxonomic study of persimmons, and growers can’t be completely sure what varieties they have. To make matters worse, persimmons are notoriously fickle; about fifty percent of grafts fail, and healthy trees can die for no obvious reason a couple years into their growth.”

However, introduction to unfamiliar fruit can leave lasting memories.

I well remember in the 1960s being confronted by my first avocado, and they were as hard as rocks because nobody at the dinner party had ever eaten one. Everyone gave up trying to eat them they were so hard.

Similarly, later when middle eastern cooking entered the Australian cuisine, so did the pomegranate. The immediate question was what to do with one. One cannot just bite into a pomegranate and have a good sensation. One needs to cut them open and gouge the red pearly seeds out of the white fibrous pith. Once synonymous with a certain exclusiveness, pomegranate is scattered everywhere now in salads. Grenadine, the juice of the pomegranate, bobs up in cocktails, and provides a characteristic intense red – Tequila Sunrise is one such cocktail.

Years ago, I casually mentioned my interest in pomegranate growing when I was visiting a hospital in the Sunraysia District in North-western Victoria. The then Chair of the hospital board looked a little uneasy after I said that I was growing pomegranates. I wondered why. Pomegranates were literally a new fruit on the Block. It turned out that he was proposing to invest heavily in pomegranate growing; and my comments suggested that I might be a potential investor that he did not know about, and my hospital visit was just a cover.

I should have told him that I was talking about of a couple of trees in my garden at home in Sydney.

Old Men Get Lost

The following edited article from The Washington Post contains a warning, especially as the debate over abortion has been inflamed by the Alito draft decision that would effectively overturn Roe vs Wade. In the case of the candidate for the Warringah electorate, there is one Katherine Deves, whose definite views in relation to the gender alphabet have been equally divisive

She is an unattractive zealot. In themselves, the zealots are few, but bigotry and intolerance may only need shallow soil. Living in Sydney with (a)the rood-screen of a reactionary Roman Catholic Archbishop with his Pell association, (b) an Anglican diocese, the inheritor of the Marsden version of Protestantism, a cuckoo within Anglican nest and (c) a Hillsong-friendly Pentecostal Prime Minister as her mentor. All encapsulate the Australian version of Make America Great Again (MAGA), and like all weeds, poor soil is no bar to growth.

We can hope that this scenario does not become the norm here. The success or otherwise tomorrow, the rise of the independent women seeking a voice in government, will be a critical factor in stemming the nightmare of Trump primitivism, which masquerades as religion.

Use of outrage against outlier groups such the transgenders just to create a totally confected conflict is disquieting… but let me hand over to the Opinion Piece in The Washington Post:

People might be confused about how a Republican Party that once worried about government overreach now seeks to control medical care for transgender children and retaliate against a corporation for objecting to a bill targeting LGBTQ students. And why is it that the most ambitious Republicans are spending more time battling nonexistent critical race theory in schools than on health care or inflation?

To explain this, one must acknowledge that the GOP is not a political party anymore. It is a movement dedicated to imposing White Christian nationalism.

The media blandly describes the GOP’s obsessions as “culture wars,” but that suggests there is another side seeking to impose its views on others. In reality, only one side is repudiating pluralistic democracy — White, Christian and mainly rural Americans who are becoming a minority group and want to maintain their political power. 

The indignation of (MAGA) personalities when presented with the reality of systematic racism is telling and very much in line with White evangelical Christian views. As Robert P. Jones, the head of the Public Religion Research Institute who has written extensively on the evangelical movement, explained in an interview with Governing:

What we saw in the 20th century was that edifice of white supremacy that got built with the support of white Christian leaders and pastors and churches. Once it was built, the best way to protect it was to make it invisible, to create a kind of theology that was so inward focused that Christianity was only about personal piety. It was disconnected from social justice, politics, the world. It led white Christians to be fairly narcissistic and indifferent to injustice all around them. Martin Luther King Jr. had that line in Letter from Birmingham Jail where he’s in dismay not about racist Christians, but about so-called moderates in Birmingham, the “more cautious than courageous” white Christians who “remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.”

Indeed, rarely has King’s admonition been more appropriate: “I have watched white churches stand on the sidelines and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, ‘Those are social issues which the gospel has nothing to do with’.”

Today, those who argue that America is a White, Christian nation simultaneously insist they are devoid of bigotry. The MAGA crowd is offended by any attempt to identify the ongoing reality of systemic racism (evident, for example, in the criminal justice system, maternal health care, housing discrimination and gerrymandering to reduce minority voting power). The notion that institutions they refuse to reform perpetuate racism is a sort of moral challenge to their claim to be “colorblind.” Perhaps it is simply self-interested blindness.

No one should be surprised that the “big lie” has become gospel in White evangelical churches. The New York Times reports: “In the 17 months since the presidential election, pastors at these churches have preached about fraudulent votes and vague claims of election meddling. … For these church leaders, Mr. Trump’s narrative of the 2020 election has become a prominent strain in an apocalyptic vision of the left running amok.”

If anti-critical-race-theory crusades are the response to racial empathy, then laws designed to make voting harder or to subvert elections are the answer to the GOP’s defeat in 2020, which the right still refuses to concede. The election has been transformed into a plot against right-wingers that must be rectified by further marginalizing those outside their movement.

Our political problems are significant, but they are minor compared with the moral confusion that is afflicting the millions of White Christian Americans who consider themselves victims. Left unaddressed, this will smother calls for empathy, tolerance and justice.

The Plough and Feather

I have always remembered when I had an exceptional fish, I have written about consuming barramundi directly caught in the Gut at Wyndham and eating them on a Good Friday when the temperature was over 40 degrees centigrade. Remembering such seafood encounters is just one of my idiosyncrasies.

I remember sitting at a table by the window in a hotel overlooking the Cambridge  Backs, having ordered a Dover sole and being presented with it, pan fried, filling the plate. Every time I came to England I would order Dover sole. Fresh sole is just not available here in Australia; yes I also like to eat its cousin, the flounder. A colleague would regularly go “floundering” in Port Phillip Bay and bring back some for dinner. Flounder is similar in appearance to sole, but Dover sole has a distinctive taste accentuated by its flamboyant presentation as I said smothering the plate with a few potatoes. However, what singled this particular sole encounter out and made it memorable was that Stephen Hawking was wheeled past along in the path outside during our meal. You may say a different form of singularity.

I have collected a whole memory of fish dinners.

The latest was in a nondescript white weatherboard building with a wrap-around veranda. It houses the Plough and Feather restaurant with both inside and outside an odd variety of chairs and tables giving it a slight eccentricity. But the outlook over the Kerikeri tidal basin was exceptional  on these sunny couple of days when there was no wind and the temperature hovered around the mid-20s centigrade.  Across the gravel and asphalt lay the oldest building in New Zealand, the Old Stone Store, part of the missionary legacy and built between 1832 and 1836. It was a real village idyll!

Old Stone Store

But it was the food that made my day. In particular, it was the Bluenose, also known as bluenose trevalla or cod, a steel-coloured reef fish with a blunt snout found only in the waters around New Zealand. It is described, when I later read about it, as “succulent”. I would agree; it was a great eating fish. I had never heard of it before I saw it on the menu.

It brought back memories of years ago when I was taken out for lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Indian Ocean in Geraldton and being presented with bald chin groper, itself a local fish found in the sea around the Abrolhos on the menu. Again, I had never heard of bald chin groper.

We were later taken out for a weekend on the Abrolhos, a line of coral reefs about 60 kilometres off the Coral Coast, where privileged burghers of Geraldton may be seen at weekends. Then there was an abundance of seafood – crayfish every meal if you wanted it.

The similarity between the two sites, Kerikeri and Geraldton, was in the unexpected nature of the encounter with these pan fried fish and the magnificent taste of each coupled with the presentation of each on the plate. It is a strange characteristic with fish; they may be described as oily or not, they can be described by colour and texture – but when it comes to taste, it is fleeting – distinctive yet indescribable. Neither etched on your taste buds nor in your brain.

Blue nose

Let’s be honest. My fish stories are a shorthand way of conveying some the most pleasurable epicurean moments of my life. Please excuse this indulgence. I can assure you that there are more dots along the Jack Best Seafood Trail.

Mouse Whisper 

When does Turkey become Peru?

When you consider the bird to be Portuguese.