Modest Expectations – Grand Final Action

What do you do the day after an election when there has been a realignment of the Australian electorate? Suddenly a majority of Australians are voting to address climate change, for integrity and for now, time is being called on the Paul Hogan vision of the normal Australian – the end of The Australian Sheila – a dutiful object of the male frustration, where sexual violence masquerades as consensual behaviour.

Dargo

We went to Dargo. Dargo is a bush town, where the legend of the mountain is evident. As with so much of settlement in Victoria, it was the pursuit of gold which drove settlement at the foot of the Great Dividing Range where the Dargo River and Crooked Creek flow into the Mitchell River. Here there was alluvial gold and also deeper lead (lode) mining, which is so much the history of Victoria. However the gold did not last long around Dargo; it petered out to the extent that at one point Dargo verged on being a ghost town.

After you leave Dargo, you wind your way into the forested Great Dividing Range and the road eventually ends near the ski resort of Mount Hotham. It is a tortuous trip, a challenge to those prone to car sickness, through that other great resource of Eastern Victoria – timber. Cutting down old forest, which covers much of the land, has become as unfashionable as would tipping all the tailings from mineral mining down the Dargo River, and yet we are told that VicForests continues to actively log right through this area.

Dargo therefore embodies the myth of the rugged hard-riding horsemen of the bush ballad, but in reality these are the stuff of pub myths. The general laidback attitudes of the people belie the scrabble existence.

The day is beautiful; the air is clear. There is neither wind nor cloud. The deciduous trees are all vivid in a mixture of crimson, scarlet, bronze and yellow along the roads and in the Dargo township as it is basking in the late autumn sunshine. Yet much of the background for the mountain man myths are the hills covered in eucalypts. There are none of the variegated colours of the deciduous exotics on the mountainsides. There are these forests of messmate, with its stringy bark, the lofty mountain and alpine ash with their paler trunks. In the end, what is a deep green mountainside as it drifts away through the gorges and takes on the steely blue-green appearance so characteristic of the eucalypt forests. We wonder how much of these mountains has been traversed by white man; and then one of the group pointed out the electric power lines. The area is riddled with deer, which attracts the hunter.  The rivers attract the angler in search of wild trout.

This area has not been burnt for a long time, although to the east there have been devastating bush fires, which razed the settlements of Genoa and Mallacoota two years ago. Today, bush fire season is so far away – and yet Dargo has been threatened and will be again. As we drive through it, the endless expanse of blackened trunks is wreathed with new growth and mingle with white forest skeletons that will never to regenerate.

But today with a bottle of beer I am contemplating a beautiful landscape, where the fire did not come; where there is not a ballot box nor hoarding spruiking some far-off candidate who may never have stepped in the town. This is bliss. We do not see the tears of the vanquished nor the victory speeches nauseating in the myriad of fleeting acknowledgements – only Australian beauty, where only recently in a major coup, back down the valley towards Bairnsdale, a sand mining proposal on the Mitchell River, which would have ripped the guts out of this area has been refused by the local people.

The silt jetties

When we come down from Dargo to the Coast, before we return to where we are staying, we are driven down this long spit of land – the Mitchell River Silt Jetties, which divide the Mitchell River from Lake King.  This narrow tongue of land, which has been built up over thousands of years, is the longest of its type in the world. The river flows into Lake King at the end of this long tongue of silt and sand.

The river shimmers in the twilight, protected from the lake where its waters are now ruffled by the wind coming in from the south-west. Yet despite the buffeting, black swans glide past. What a day to spend; what sights to be seen – and yet another place on the bucket list to be crossed off – or more properly committed to my bank of memories – of places seen, places experienced; a pity I can no longer tramp around as I used to do.

But a memorable election day. Australia has been voted in.

What can I say about the Member for Longman!

They say bad generals always fight the last war, and the Liberal campaign fell into the same trap. Morrison won a surprise victory in 2019 through a negative campaign in which he depicted then-Labor leader Bill Shorten as a dangerous radical. Labor, wary of giving Morrison a second victory, changed its strategy. It matched many of Morrison’s policies and was cautious in its own offerings. Labor was like an echidna, the spiky Australian animal that rolls into a ball when attacked. Morrison kept attacking, as if he knew no other mode, even though Labor’s small-target strategy gave him so few opportunities.

Our own Richard Glover in The Washington Post ascribed ten reasons why Morrison lost government. You cannot disagree with his list, but the reason printed above is the one which went to the heart of Morrison’s failure.

Morrison was the classic flim-flam man who perfected his techniques through his association with Pentecostalism. It enabled him to surf his waves of personal impotence right to the end. His problem was that the spotlight became so intense that the greasepaint melted and he was exposed as an aggressive peddler of untruths. Morrison’s entrails will be barbecued on the fires of Hybris ignited by the fire-starter of “hubris”.

When Whitlam ended 23 years of Coalition rule, the Liberal Party voted for a new leader on the resignation of McMahon, himself a very divisive unpleasant character. The choice made was for Bill Snedden, who had been McMahon’s Treasurer; considered to be a nice guy, but lightweight. He beat Nigel Bowen on the fifth ballot by one vote.

Bowen, who was a distinguished jurist, had replaced Garfield Barwick as the member for Parramatta in 1964, (which indicates that the seat does not have to be held by a local). The current high-flying wealthy young banker, Andrew Charlton, lived in Bellevue Hill at the time of his parachute pre-selection; he not only won, but achieved a one per cent swing towards him. This is by way of a parenthetic comment about what has been occurring for some time, namely that any electorate increasingly cannot be taken for granted – a theme in Australian politics which will cause traditional shifts in alignments. Now back to the main narrative.

Billy Snedden

Malcolm Fraser did badly in this ballot, because he was seen as disruptive and had at that stage an enemy/friend ratio well in the positive. So Snedden, who had grown up in Perth but represented the outer Melbourne suburban seat of Bruce, became Opposition leader and Philip Lynch, the member for Flinders, his deputy. He inherited a divided party and over the course of his two-year stewardship, he was able to reconcile the differences to such an extent that Fraser, pictured as the tough guy, became viable. Nevertheless, bringing the Opposition together as Snedden had done, paradoxically projected him as not being tough enough, namely, in the long term, unfit – and of course the lightweight tag became featherweight if not flyweight among the Fraser acolytes. A member of these acolytes was the newly-minted John Howard.

Thus, the tough guy persona, despite the rants from the “Murdochrinaires”, is not the way to heal a party divided. These people are screaming for the anointment of Peter Dutton. Dutton is an ex-Queensland copper made good. The Queensland police force has been shown on many occasions to be wanting, and to stigmatise Peter Dutton is as much to stigmatise me for being a product of a school that had produced its fair share of “shonks”.

The second reservation is that Queensland has never produced a Liberal Party Prime Minister. Arthur Fadden was the nearest, a Country party stalwart, who was Prime Minister in his own right for 40 days in 1941. However ne’er a Liberal; only fleetingly the Country Party member for Darling Downs, who later was to be Menzies’ Deputy Prime Minister.

One of the results of a major loss is that the Senate representation remains and contains many of the most dysfunctional members of the Party. They remind one of the Calwell stewardship of the Labor Party – as totally unelectable on the left as these jokers are on the right. If one is familiar with the writings of Georges Sorel, one can recognise the similarity in the authoritarian attitudes and behaviour of these people, who live on the extremes. If you viewed the post-election rant of Rowan Dean, it gives a terrifying view of the world of the extreme authoritarian hatred. These people are backing Dutton.

The West Australian Premier dismisses Dutton as a dullard, and his form of strident form of dogmatism and fear mongering will not run well in the southern states, if reliance can be placed on the current voting patterns

Morrison, Abbott, Dutton – mocking climate change

Anybody who said, as he did in 2015: (sic) Noting that today’s meeting on Syrian refugees was running a bit late, Mr Dutton remarked that it was running to “Cape York time”, to which Mr Abbott replied, “we had a bit of that up in Port Moresby”.

Mr Dutton then added, “time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door”.

That exchange alone should disqualify him from the leadership at this time; it was outrageous then, but now, has he demonstrated any change for the better?

The Liberal Party needs to purge itself, not play to a diminishing gallery of misfits. I well remember one of my contemporaries describing the Young Liberals as “five per cent of lawyers leading ninety-five per cent misfits.” This assessment may remain partially true now. These days the misfits are just absorbed in a politician’s office to develop their consigliere profiles. Thankfully, at last the true results of such a generation of these types are being brutally exposed.

The Liberal party needs a healer and one who can reach across Australia, including regional Australia – and that includes humouring the Queenslanders. Snedden had the guts to do so almost 50 years ago. I severely doubt that Dutton has that ability to do that – reach across Australia.

Tell me what is a pharmacist?

From the days of gentlemanly pharmacy

In 1961 I sat down to undertake the last Materia Medica examination for medical students. It was then part of the medical course that we learnt to make pills, lotions and ointment – and the last memory of this immersion in the world of the apothecary was a brush with male extract of fern. That herbalism epitomises “the alchemist” struggling to be accepted. It exemplified the quaintness of the village chemist, with carboys in the windows and the apprenticeship system of pestle and mortar. Our teacher, an old gentleman with a medical degree and a nineteenth century demeanour, passed into folklore that year with the change of the medical course to substitute pharmacology, and the advance of science into the education of the apothecary.

I remember The University of Melbourne rejecting the idea of having a faculty of pharmacy, even though the Pharmacy College was just up the road. Instead, Monash University took on the education of pharmacists. I think The University of Melbourne hierarchy at the time thought that Pharmacy should use the tradesman’s entrance. In fact, the Monash Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is now labelled number one in world

In a recent statement, the Dean, Professor Arthur Christopoulos, said: “The pandemic has certainly reinforced the crucial and frontline role that pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists play in society. Over and above their normal services, we’ve seen the whole sector step up and play a huge role in vaccine rollout.”

The Faculty, known for its high profile research through Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS), is responsible for the development of Australia’s first mRNA vaccine candidate for COVID-19 and in 2021 launched the Neuromedicines Discovery Centre. The NDC is an end-to-end academic enterprise for the discovery, development, evaluation, manufacture, and clinical rollout of 21st-century medicines to treat mental health disorders, as well as the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre, which supports Victorian biotech and pharma companies to develop a competitive edge and retain jobs within the state.

The Australian Pharmacy Research Centre was one of the first steps in trying to develop a research program in community pharmacy, and illustrated the dichotomy of the academic pursuit between laboratory and community pharmacy, of which the hospital pharmacist is a subset of the latter.

The problem with community pharmacy, because it is dependent on reimbursement of drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, has meant the merchant pharmacist, through the Pharmacy Guild, has become a powerful lobby, with the merchant aspect well to the front. Pharmacists have been very strong on restrictive trade practices, and because they have been seen by a succession of Coalition governments as political “blue” outposts, they have done very well out of government largesse. Even the big retailers have been unable to establish pharmacies within their walls, despite having a prominent Liberal Party politician to lobby for them.

The residual problem is that these large chain pharmacies have arisen presumably through a loophole of benefit to the entrepreneurial pharmacist. This is a licence to promote quackery, and not unsurprisingly the Government has done nothing despite having the regulatory power. But then the Pharmacy Guild has been a major donor.

… everything you could want, and then some

Personally, I have a very good local pharmacist, and her pharmacy is not a sterile dispensary but a place where the pharmacist is a source of good advice. Nevertheless, it sticks in the craw to be confronted by television images, usually of young healthy people with children, with shopping baskets overflowing with bottles of vitamins and potions; the implicit message is that it is good, even compulsory, to take all this crap in order “to keep well”.

Further, when these co-called pharmacies move into the cosmetic industry it challenges the definition of what is a pharmacy? What are the professional priorities?

It is one area which must be a priority in any review – whether a health review or as a matter for an Integrity Commission – and I have yet to address the role of the pharmaceutical industry in listing drugs for government subsidy without the need to say “bingo”.

COVID Bare Foot

Guest sufferer: Janine Sargeant

COVID has been blamed for many things, including COVID toe, but COVID ankle? While the “dress shirt above the waist Zoom dressing” and styling your Zoom background may have been entertaining for a while, the accompanying tracksuit pants and bare feet or slippers have resulted in a raft of unexpected injuries. As many of us have spent time working from home in lockdown or avoiding the busy office environment, it has also meant not wearing supportive footwear. For the barefooted and be-slippered, this has delivered up a nasty surprise (particularly for those who normally do wear orthotics).

Nice to wear … just not for too long

Essentially, extended periods in bare feet or slippers plus a lack of regular “normal” exercise have left many with posterior tibial tendonitis (inflamed or stretched tendon that supports the arch of the foot) which can lead to arch collapse and permanent foot problems.

Similarly, the Achilles tendons of the working-from-home brigade have also taken a beating, again with what one expert described as “neglectful footwear”, a few extra COVID kilos, a lack of exercise, the change to treadmill running, prolonged closure of gyms and loss of exercise programs – in other words, the complete change in physical routine brought about by COVID lockdowns.

As one podiatrist commented: he couldn’t believe the number of people who have come to see him with Achilles problems or posterior tibial tendonitis. Such people now need orthotics to help them restore function to their feet; no doubt the physios are seeing the same unintended consequence of working at home. For this author’s painful ankle, the road to resolution is paved with new orthotics and months of exercises designed to strengthen the offending tendon – and a long break from “neglectful footwear”.

Requiem for a Light Welterweight

Really Schadenfreude is not a nice word. I am sure that one Andrew Peacock (or perhaps the ghost of the colt galloping the streets of Hawthorn) would have appreciated finally the final exit of John Howard, a person who started the fashion of a Liberal Prime Minister losing or abruptly vacating their seat.

From the time Howard entered politics in 1974, behind that mild-mannered courteous exterior has dwelt a wellspring of relentless hatred. Do not get me wrong; in his early years as Prime Minister, he made a reasonable fist of it, and he had members of his staff who provided a counterbalance to his instincts which helped preserve his public persona – no more so than Arthur Sinodinos, the long-term moderate who ran his office. For a short period in the early noughties, I was privy to the workings of him as the Prime Minister.

He achieved the shift of the Liberal Party power base to New South Wales, and left the Hamer Liberals in his wake, while detesting Kennett in this latter’s brief flame of power. I remember being at the Adelaide Airport on one occasion when Howard and I were retrieving our luggage. It was the time that Howard was out in the long grass in the early 90s. The initial exchange was inconsequential, when something I said triggered a vituperative response that he would get “them”. Apart from not being one of “them”, before I could ask him who the “them” was, he had rushed off. He disliked Costello, and there was something visceral about his approach to Victoria. I have always wondered whether the “them” were the Victorian Liberals. Paul Keating also was surely one of “them”; Howard was always expansive in his hatreds.  Whether or not it can be attributed to him, Victoria had become more and more toxic for the Liberal Party.

John Howard

But all this is a long time ago, and rather than just advise from the background, Howard still allowed himself to be pushed around in this election campaign. Why? It seems that even 15 years later he still cannot perceive the tsunami coming.

In a way, as a contemporary old buffer, I feel sorry for him. However, the imagery of an old age person with antiquated views campaigning provided a view of the Liberal Party where men wore morning suits and badges, and women made pumpkin scones. The image was painful and did not win any votes.

Bit of gratuitous advice John, write a blog about improving the treatment of the aged and then imagine anybody is reading it. It helps endure life in the gloaming – it is certainly better than just being plonked in front of TV set or wheeled around in a metaphorical Zimmer frame watching your legacy trampled.

Mouse Whisper

If I hear the new Prime Minister mention his rags to riches commentary once again, I doubt if I will be able to hold down my Emmenthaler.

However, I loved the comment which said that the Prime Minister must be happy to be back in public housing again after so many years. Maybe though he could flog off Kirribilli and take over Admiralty House.  Then build public housing on site, except even a mouse could imagine the potential homo sapiens rorts with such a project.

In any event, Governors-General don’t need summer palaces at the cost to the taxpayer. The hunting lodge at Yarralumla should more than do.

The Yarralumla Hunting Lodge – rabbit stew anyone?

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.

Modest Expectations – Romeo, Romeo, where art thou?

Overlooking wild surf beaches, through rolling forested areas, past marae on the road between Russell and Whangerei was the sign in Ukrainian colours “Stop Putin – Stop War”.

Yes, this week we are in New Zealand. The only readily available news is sport, and the Sky sport channels provide one with the luxury of tuning into any of the popular football codes. However, in regard to news there is BBC, Al-Jazeera and CNN, together with the Murdoch propaganda channels – and Ukraine is there with all the Putrid reminders.

The wonderful feature of New Zealand is how varied yet peaceful is the countryside. Nevertheless, New Zealand lives on the edge, and its nickname of “The Shaky Isles” is well-earned. New Zealand lies on fault line; here the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates meet in a complicated manner. The edges of these plates, which meet under New Zealand, are not straight lines so the collision zone does not behave the same way along its whole length. Also, the convergence is not perpendicular to the plate boundary and there is rotation of the plates, hence an addition to this complex boundary.

New Zealand’s volcanoes and earthquakes happen because it is in this collision zone where the edges of two plates converge and moreover to the east of the North Island the heavy, oceanic Pacific Plate is sinking below the lighter, continental Australian Plate. This is called subduction.

When major earthquakes and volcanoes are plotted worldwide they reveal that New Zealand is part of a huge “ring” of volcanic and earthquake activity. The plate boundaries around the Pacific Ocean are the most active in the world and this area is often referred to as the “Ring of Fire”. Although the Pacific Plate is the world’s largest tectonic plate, the South Island is the only significant area of New Zealand on the whole plate, thus making it a truly oceanic plate.

The upshot of this long description is that the further north one travels, the less likely there will be a major earthquake. To me, if I were to migrate to New Zealand as I have been sorely tempted to do, given the state of Australian turpitude, I would thus prefer to live in these upper reaches of the North Island. As I remarked before, when staying a little further north, there were bananas ripening and the flowers are distinctly tropically flamboyant. In this motel outside our door is a rhododendron with delicate tangerine flowers. Opening the local newspaper there is a double page spread about coffee growing up here in the Northland.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Hawkes Bay area, but the beautiful Art Deco architecture is a reminder of the massive 1931 earthquake, which effectively levelled both Napier and Hastings; hence the characteristic architecture of the rebuilt towns. I remember the story of the earth movement raising the floor of the lagoon to such an extent during that earthquake that the water drained away leaving a huge number of fish literally out of water. The image of people scurrying across the floor of the lagoon grabbing as many fish as they could, while all round was trembling and 256 people have just died is somewhat Brueghelesque.

That is enough incentive to move to Northland.

Bay of Islands

However, enough of this rhapsodising, for in this new world of COVID-19 before you leave Australia and enter New Zealand, you need to have a COVID test – either a PCR or a supervised RAT (Rapid Antigen Test). Now we all know that you can test yourself; but not if you are going to New Zealand, you have to go to a “certified testing site” for this supervised test.

Ah, Australia – the land of neoliberal gouging! We got off lightly – $110 for two. However, elsewhere the gouge was on – over $100 for one. Try one of the multi-national pathology companies which repatriate our Medicare money overseas. The unintended consequences of government indifference to what was once an excellent scheme called Medicare – now MediCarruptus!

However, I digress.

Get to New Zealand where neoliberalism lingers in the ghost of Rogernomics. Concern for the Virus is sustained more than in Australia. On entry to the country the New Zealand authorities gave us three RATs each, for free, for self-testing on day one and day five/six. An extra test was provided in the event of the test needing to be repeated. Self-administered; self-reported – at no cost. Day one RATs went without a hitch, as did RATs on Day 5.

Higgins 2019 as writ by The Guardian

“The people of Higgins — a compassionate community that wants to see a transition to a renewable economy to tackle climate change — see that the Liberals don’t represent their values anymore.”

Ms O’Dwyer joins a string of Liberal women who are departing at this year’s election. (describing in other media she wanted to be with her family and wistfully wanting a third child even though she was already over 40)

Queensland MP Jane Prentice was dumped by preselectors, South Australian Lucy Gichuhi was relegated to an unwinnable spot on the party’s Senate ticket, and Ann Sudmalis blamed “branch-stacking, undermining and leaks” for her decision not to recontest the New South Wales seat of Gilmore.

Julia Banks also abandoned the Liberal Party late last year and moved to the crossbench, describing the treatment of women in Parliament as “years behind” the business world.

The usual suspects?

Less than one quarter of Government MPs are women, while nearly half of all federal ALP MPs are women.

The Liberal Party has a goal for women to make up half of its party room by 2025

Higgins 2022 as writ by Katie

Kelly O’Dwyer having resigned, the Liberal Party preselected a woman, a paediatrician with impeccable credentials in allergy – particularly peanuts.

Katie Allen – wow Katie – not Katherine or even Kate but Katie. She must be a radical.

Alas no; if the opinion piece she recently ventilated is any guide.

After all, what was such an educated person doing in a party where misogyny is rife, where its ministers allegedly bash their partners, where funding for universities, health and research is routinely sacrificed to satisfy the coal fetishists lurking in the denizens.

Perhaps Higgins is perceived as a safe seat. Harold Holt held it for decades.

After the former leader of the Greens, Dr Di Natale, boasted before the 2019 election that Higgins was up for grabs, it was retained by the Coalition.  Thus, in the end he was wrong. Katie Allen sneaked over the line with a six per cent swing against her.

Given she is a woman, with substantial credibility from her career achievements, her electorate stretches from South Yarra and Toorak, (her comfortable stamping ground) to Murrumbeena and Carnegie – less so. She is a classical Liberal lady in the Margaret Guilfoyle tradition – very self-contained – only showing her real hand rarely.

Yet here we have an opinion piece which is just arrant nonsense.

I suspect if she were not a female she would have a Teal candidate added to the Rouge et Verde already confronting her.

I read her piece and thought here we go again. I was working for the Liberal Party leader when little Katie was a six year old and the only difference is that it is a woman allegedly saying the same old “broad church” crap – the apologia of a conservative person, who has been caught up in the brutish rural socialism and plutocracy of the National Party; wedged among the kleptomaniac remnant of the Liberal Party. Whether she authored the piece would be the subject of a statutory declaration saying that she had actually written it.

Dr Allen as reflected in her pronouncements is deeply embedded in the Liberal Party, and once stood for the seat of Prahran. Her electorate at one end represents the environment in which she has lived for her 40 years. Her electorate encompasses the dilemma of once being safe, now redistributed to include areas which traditionally are more Labor in orientation.

Over the years Higgins has stretched out to include areas that somebody inured to living in Higgins for 40 years would find unfamiliar. The image she projects in her advertisements is that of wholesome privilege; many photos of her with children from private schools, but then they have traditionally been the backbone of the future voters in Higgins. After all, she herself was a student at Merton Hall, which is now just outside her electorate – a matter of a few streets.

So here is the member of Higgins defending a party that is deeply misogynistic, deeply embedded in financial miscreance, opposed to an anti-corruption commission with real power, and moreover a former paediatrician who should be voicing opposition to the internment of refugee children including the “Biloela Four”. She bleats that she has actually crossed the floor once – and is that the face of the moderate Liberals?  Once, surely not!

Then she has the temerity to rhetorically ask: “But what does he (Fred Chaney) think will happen after the election if any of my moderate colleagues, who sit inside the party room, have been replaced by teal independents who aren’t inside the tent?”

What indeed.

I hesitate to say it but if she survives this election, she should use her expertise in peanut allergy to reform the Coalition. Otherwise she had better leave the tent flap open.

The Big Question

What does a breakout company like Moderna do for an encore? More than a decade after its founding, the Cambridge biotech rolled out its first commercial product last year. And what a debut it was: a cutting-edge COVID-19 vaccine that helped to save thousands ― if not millions ― of lives around the world.

It was also a massive money maker for Moderna, which up until then had been unprofitable. With more than $38 billion in total COVID-19 vaccine sales expected by the end of this year ― many of the doses paid for by governments ― investors are wondering what the company plans to do with that windfall. Despite Moderna’s spectacular success, the question of what’s next looms large, and the pressure is on to avoid becoming a one-hit wonder.

The same profit is expected for Pfizer and their vaccine. While there are accusations of excessive profits floating about, it is noted that Moderna is not seeking any payment for its vaccine being copied in South Africa.

Teal – the added colour of Port Adelaide

When Port Adelaide were admitted to the AFL the colour card was held at their head. Collingwood were the true Magpies – and their colours (even though neither is technically a colour) would remain black and white. The interlopers with their Prison Bar black and white jersey would henceforth have teal added to their colours and be forever “Power” not “Magpies.”

After all, this was a proud group of Croweaters, who at various times have been Cockledivers, Seaside Men, Seasiders, Magentas, Portonians, Ports. So switching onto the Power should have not been too much of a “big Teal”.

The colour “teal” comes from the green flash on the side of the teal duck’s head (teal comes the old Dutch word for this bird). Well, the colour is not actually green but a shade of blue admixed. To me the colour of the bird’s head is more a metallic green sometimes seen as the colour of souped up Holdens. However, those who have appropriated the colour for political purposes as was attempted in New Zealand in an aborted attempt to form  an alliance between the Greens and the conservative blue Nationals left the colour as its legacy.

Interestingly it was in the Italian town of Comaccio in the Po Delta where I encountered a cooked teal. We had arrived at this restaurant famous for its eels, as was the whole area, located as it was so close to the sea – in an environment of both fresh and salt water. I naturally ordered the eel, and immediately met resistance from mine host because the time that would be taken to cook it.  It was after four. They wanted to close by five pm – and we were offered an alternative.

“Alzavole” was the offer, and that was how I had a meal of roast teal. It was excellent – a fitting replacement.  The Italian word for “teal” in Italian literally means “get up and fly.”

How fitting for this group of Independents seeking election.

Success is always the result of timing.  A group of women provoked by the appalling record of the government on climate change and the failure of  placement of women on the same societal level as men, should enter the political arena. Some years ago at a lunch with a journalist of about my vintage I said that this country needed a group of candidates, independents of the three major parties to get together to prosecute a centrist role. My luncheon companion was sceptical because it was 2019 before the pandemic, and he was right. The time was not yet right although the saffron cauldron was bubbling. Then enter Simon Holmes a’Court.

My experience of student politics came before the student electorate became factionalised. You were voted for as an individual not on a party slate. Mistakenly I believed that one could weave a path through politics where issues were the subject of debate not of maximising self indulgence and corruption, in all its forms. Ideals burnt with the books.

These women are all articulate and counterpoint the shallow ugliness of some of their opponents, where lurk allegations, which if true, reveal a disgusting degeneracy in those who purport to be our leaders. What currently exists in the Coalition is akin to a cancer, which keeps metastasising. On the sidelines there are, among others, Fred Chaney, a former Coalition Minister, who represented the Liberal Party I once knew, where there was a balance within the conservative ranks, but where radicals were generally on the left of the conservative element, not on the right.

The whiff of the fascist has always been there, but with the demise of the Democratic Labor Party, the Falangist element drifted into the Liberal Party. This has been coupled to this heretical mob of creationists that used to be confined to Sunday morning ranting but unfortunately given a legitimacy by one Billy Graham, has now become a suffocating legacy of humbug in the Liberal Party.

If the Teal women can exert their influence by getting elected and restoring some secular order, then Australia can look forward to moving from the current situation with some hope. What is also very important is David Pocock winning a Senate seat in the ACT under its banner. An all woman faux-Party does have a certain political vulnerability, as Maxine McKew found out when she drifted far too close to the Sun (and probably the Daily Telegraph). Some say the cause was more a defective Rudder.

Nevertheless, the accession of the Teals will mean one positive effect – the gradual removal of the Murdoch influence to another place – the sporting pages. Then they can remember that Collingwood are still the black and white; and well, Teal was a compromise.    

To Chris Brook – with considerable help from W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, 
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, 
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum 
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. 

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead 
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead, 
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves, 
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. 

W.H. Auden’s beautiful poem is so eloquent in setting  aside that time to mourn but Chris was not for me

… my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest,  My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song.

Instead, in my own words without Auden’s genius to guide my hand,

He was my irritant
My collaborator
That solitary polymath thinker
That unleashed gregarious drinker
He was stoical
He was not
He was rude
He was generous
He was Quixote
But also Voltaire
Above all he was my mate Christopher, flaws and all. 
And I shall miss him dearly

The last time we had an exchange of emails was on the morning of his death. It was about Aspen Medical. Just a normal day. Then we went to New Zealand. And Chris went to God knows where.

Então meu amigo não Adeus; apenas Até logo.

Tilting at Windmills … God knows where

It is always Caos in Italy

Prince Rupert is always “banging on” about correctness of language, syntax, constantly worrying about splitting his infinity and when to appropriately use the colon and the semicolon when expressing opinion. Journalism is notably attracting the barely literate, he moans. Take the example of the football writer for an Opposition Roundhead publication who talked about “zealousness”. The word is “zeal” or perhaps “zealotry”, but not “zealousness”.

It is a small sign of where journalism is headed – to the bottom.

Yes, my dear journalist who confuses “tortuous” with “tortured” and struggles with “disinterest” and “uninterest”. And spells “chaos” with either a “K” or without the “h”.

What does make sense if these bottom feeding journalists want to play “Gotcha”, then journalists themselves are fair game. After all they rank just above politicians in community ranking. Prince Rupert did not say that!  The community did.

The smart arse journalist is always trying to find the electoral tipping point so that it is sufficient for an intrinsically lazy pack to pile in and attribute failure to this one tipping point.

The 1993 election is always mentioned in the context of the birthday cake episode in which Mike Willesee in interviewing John Hewson asked him the effect of GST on the price of a birthday cake. Hewson gave a qualified reply, as any honest politician should give, but his answer was transposed into a triumphant fourth estate “gotcha”.

As John Hewson said later, after his defeat in the 1993 election and subsequent ousting from leadership and retirement from Parliament, he should have told Willesee to get stuffed. Increasingly, the smart arse journalist should receive what should be known as this “Hewson Solution”. Adam Bandt recently demonstrated its application in one of his Press Conferences.

Finally, that hesitant young journalist recently reading a very stupid irrelevant question from her phone, obviously planted by some other journalist higher up in the Albanesegotcha phylum, will live long in the annals of rank idiotic desperation. As for the young journalist, my advice is: “Get a brain and not to rely on another person’s Offal.”

Mouse Whisper

This is an Iranian puzzle – not that difficult.

What is blue in the field, red in the market, yellow on the table?

Answer in above text.

Modest Expectation – Land across the Water

I am a pilgrim with a P/C, a bag of hessian straggling along the cyber pathway, lined by an array of “punitive cybresses”.

So many blogs – such a cacophony of blogs, one may ruminate surveying the clouds of opinions hanging low.

Why write a blog then?  Because I want you to know what I think too, and I may have less time along this pathway strewn with birds twittering and on the horizon a musk fragrance which may soon overwhelm.

I love the metaphor.  Pushing it to extremes.

Take Parliament. Some may say it is more like an 18th century bareknuckle fight that went to the 80th round, as two bare-chested blokes bashed each other to pulp for the edification of a crowd inured to cockfighting, bearbaiting, and an afternoon watching a melange of hanging, drawing and quartering.

But rather than a “cacophony of blogs”, I prefer to engage in orchestral imagery. The imagery of brutality is overdone in politics because the image creators often are obsessed with such imagery.

Here I invoke the music makers – whether composing, conducting or playing an instrument – as a more civilised metaphor, (although to my knowledge nobody has invoked it) the orchestra as a metaphor for Parliament.

I envy music makers since I have not a jot of a score in my brain. These composers are accustomed to transposing noise into a melody, which can resonate, which has a recognisable pitch and can be played in the policy orchestras which are currently tuning up for a major concert this month.

The problem for policy songwriters is whether the orchestras can go beyond that tuning phase or will the conductors be more concerned with ensuring that the only instrument that plays is the loudest and most discordant, and the baton used in a frenzied assault on other conductors who refuse to play the same tune, whether the lyrics are a version of ours or most probably not.

The end point of an orchestra is working in unison for the best outcome. Seems trite, but have you ever seen an orchestra behaving like politicians when they actually play.

On another level, there is an elegant metaphor for politics in the various houses of parliament to be courteous – gavottes or quadrilles in the pattern of an eighteenth-century drawing room. Cerebral serenades across a Molonglo terrace – but it does not happen. Politics will never be a cultured room of perukes and perfume, the musical metaphor remains as it was at the start, even though hypocrisy is rife.

The problem is that life is full of mixed metaphors. Politicians fall foul of the three donkeys of the apocalypse – sleeplessness, isolation and boredom.

Donkeys are associated with a serenade by a faux-Mexican and “Donkey Riding”, a Canadian traditional work song, was sung by sailors as they loaded timber onto ships, perhaps because the loading was assisted by the donkey engine. The donkey metaphor is not refinement.

However, when in relation to “donkeys of the apocalypse” I am invoking policy music, past, present and future for those who never learn and for whom the “donkey” is a more fitting metaphor.  They are stubborn; they don’t learn; they sleep for 3 hours in 24. What an entry to the dysfunctional habits of politicians.

Defining the physiological consequences of the politician swiftly descends into consideration of pathology due to lack of sleep.  Such lack is intrinsically assumed to be pervasive, but like so much in politics it is ignored. Lack of sleep does not enhance anything, yet the herd instinct of always being awake is a sign of toughness of leadership in what one writer once ironically stated: “To spend a third of one’s life in unproductive idleness seems a demented waste to some people and now they decide the slothful practice for evermore. No one has yet succeeded.” Margaret Thatcher gave it a good shot, always telling people how little sleep she needed. She ended up demented.

By contrast, it was remarkable how refreshed Albanese appeared after a week “off”. Normally, the media would be berating a leader if he took a week off during an election campaign, but COVID infection is akin to a sacred time of true isolation and being able to relax and sleep, without an equally sleepless media badgering one for being a slacker.

When I first wrote about this matter, I was fond of quoting from The Goshawk” by T.H.White:

“…in teaching a hawk it was useless to bludgeon the creature into submission…so the old hawk masters had invented a method of training them which offered no visible cruelty and whose secret cruelty had to be borne by the trainer as well as by the bird. They kept the bird awake. Not by nudging it or by mechanical means but by walking about with their (the falcon’s) pupil on their fist and staying awake themselves. The hawk was “watched”, as deprived of sleep by a sleepless man, day and night, for the space of two, three or as much as nine nights together. It was the stupid teachers who could go as far as nine nights; the genius could do with two, and the average man, three.”

As I wrote then, “Falconry obviously has a lesson for practitioners of politics.”

And as a postscript, the other donkeys, Isolation and Boredom, remain untethered and I shall continue the discussion of the pathophysiology of these apocalyptic beasts. Yet the practitioners in the political arts do not want to know about them.

Worried. Not me. Just a silly little cough…

This article in the Washington Post, slightly edited, epitomises so eloquently the fears I have about venturing out into crowds, or situations where one is forced into “cocktail party” contact. Even though I have been double boosted and inoculated against influenza, I have memories of my last bout of influenza, which was highly unpleasant and took months of recovery time.

Frankly I find masks uncomfortable, but given a bout of upper respiratory infection where breathing becomes difficult and coughing does nothing but aggravate the chest pain, there is no alternative. Nevertheless, there are three areas of hygiene to observe. Social distancing means avoiding crowds and venues which are poorly ventilated. Oh, do I remember the low ceilings of the jazz clubs and the atmosphere of cigarette smoke, and how such scenes were twisted into those of romance and elegance. Remember, Casablanca – the imagery of Bogart and Bergman and Rick’s Bar!

I find it very interesting how resistant people are to handwashing, even though as a child I was socialised into washing my hands before meals and after going to the toilet. Often the hand sanitiser is completely ignored – a lonely sentinel mocked by the pervasive Virus as its victims pass by, failing to use it. It is all very strange.  What grubs we are – particularly men!

Now to the Washington Post take on the subject of the end of mask wearing as mandated by Trump appointee Kimball Mizelle to a Florida District Court. Rated as “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Nevertheless, this lawyer at the age of 33 has a lifetime ahead of her to wreak further havoc. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is appealing her decision , but the horse seems to have bolted, because the intrinsic American way is to look after numero uno, not the Public Good – it is called Freedom apparently.

After a Federal judge’s April 18 decision to overturn the transportation mask mandate, a JetBlue flight attendant celebrated mid-flight, holding up her mask and chanting over the public address system, “Wave ’em in the air like you just don’t care.”

When I saw that clip — and other videos of airline passengers gleefully discarding their masks — I couldn’t help thinking of the people on those planes who had counted on general masking to reduce the risk of travel. “Just don’t care” seemed an apt description of the way their neighbours were behaving — the way Americans are behaving in general.

Yes, people have expressed concern about the sudden and seemingly arbitrary lifting of the mask mandate.

For almost two years, the right wing has framed the mask issue as one of personal liberty. And many of the rest of us think of masking in terms of personal risk: If we’re not at risk, we’re thrilled to dispense with the discomfort and inconvenience of an N95. 

Either way, we’re thinking of masking as something we do for ourselves, rather than as something we do for the common good. 

It wasn’t always this way. The common good was why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first told us not to wear masks — out of fear that first responders wouldn’t have enough. And when the agency changed course, in July 2020, the common good was how it framed its first masking recommendation: “CDC calls on Americans to wear masks to prevent covid-19 spread.”

Now, it appears the agency is more likely to tell people to mask to protect themselves. Today, it says, “Wear a mask with the best fit, protection and comfort for you.”

You have no idea who’s on a plane.

You have no idea whether you’re carrying the virus. You could be pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. You could be symptomatic and not recognize the symptoms.

That’s what happened to me. I had a stomach ache and, after a bad night of sleep, went out the next day swearing off red wine once again. But the next day, a rapid test showed that the offending varietal was, in fact, covid.

I reported my case to the county and took to my bedroom. Three days later, five days after the start of (what I now knew to be) my covid symptoms, I received a call from the health department officially releasing me from quarantine.

“But I’m still coughing!” I said to the staffer. “I’m still testing positive!” She said, if I wanted, I could request to have my quarantine officially extended.

She declined to answer the question I thought should have mattered most, with local cases up and nearly a million Americans dead: Am I a danger to others or am I not?

A month before I got Covid, I wrote that Covid was over for me. Because I was vaccinated and boosted and my mother had gotten covid to little effect, I would no longer organize my life around fear of catching the virus. But I still planned to wear a mask while covid circulated in my community because I was afraid of spreading the virus to vulnerable people. Surely we can personally be “done” with this pandemic while respecting the fact that others are not. 

When I told the health official who released me from quarantine that I was worried about my potential to infect others, she sighed and said, “Use your conscience.” I wish I didn’t have to. But without a mandate to make us act out of concern for others, conscience is all we’ve got.

Surströmming

The discussion on the Swedish fermented fish – surströmming – Atlantic salmon, continues. The fish is allowed to ferment for six months with enough added salt to prevent rotting. Notwithstanding this, it produces a variety of compounds which have an offensive odour, including hydrogen sulphide.

Apparently it is popular in the north especially among older folk. The can must be opened under water, and you can smell it when you drive past. Cans are known to explode and hence it cannot be sold at airports any longer, and there used to be a law which marked out what time of the year cans could be opened.

One of my friends has a daughter living in Sweden, who tried it once, swallowed a small piece and then started dry retching. She seemed to have overcome the challenge of not vomiting before you taste it.

She described as like eating dog poo, which is a curious response where we confuse smell with taste. I am sure that she had not eaten dog’s poo, but it is a common reaction to compare taste with something it is highly unlikely we have eaten. But to other senses the comparison is revolting enough to bear comparison.

She did make another comparison that is more within the realms of a rational comparison. Her comment was “imagine the stinkiest cheese you can eat and multiply that 100-fold!” Not quite what John Lennon would have sung, but I tried to think about what is the aforementioned cheese, my taste buds have not stored a taste that I could imagine 100-fold. Again, such cheeses are compared to the worst of smelly socks.  I have never sat down to a meal of socks, even though the bacterium used to ripen these particular cheeses is the same as can be found between toes.

The only time when I experienced gastric reflux from ingesting something that met the next gulp coming down was when, at a dinner party, cold beetroot borsch was served. The commotion caused was somewhat comical if viewed as one waiting on table, but not for the consumer.  I have safely consumed borsch since, but only when warm. Ice cold beetroot borsch is too much of a shock to the unwary stomach.

It is extraordinary how adaptable taste buds are. Those who were not brought up on Vegemite have similar reaction I understand, but I have never heard of a Vegemite container exploding despite the fact that it is a yeast extract.

Smell is one cranial nerve, a short nerve that goes only a short distance before it reaches the brain. As I once wrote, taste is a trinity of three cranial nerves. Yet the inter-relationship is much more complex. Taste signals travel first to the base of the brain where some signals are processed. Signals are then sent along to higher brain areas. Some signals go to the ventral forebrain where they may trigger areas that control emotions and memories. Other signals go the dorsal region, the relayed sensory signals that cause you to crave certain flavours. In the reverse situation, for years I avoided satay because I got bad food poisoning after eating a meal of satay; and even the smell acted as an emetic for a while. I could not eat it for years. Yet the last time I had a severe bout of food poisoning was in Cuba, and the memory of the fish hung around for a short while, and for me allergy is a different response. It is pain in the gut; not pain in the perception.

If you assume offal as the periphery of acceptable food, I once ate heart in Riga at a posh nouvelle cuisine restaurant. It was OK, so cutely prepared how could I not satisfy my curiosity?

Lung, I have never tried; tripe – only once, enjoyed it; sweetbreads – avoided them but must try; brain I won’t eat (afraid of slow viruses, although at my age somewhat academic); and I love kidneys and lamb’s fry.

But prejudice has funny twists. Even though I consider myself omnivorous, I would not touch mussels until I had them thrust upon me in a wonderful family restaurant in Cesenatico on the Italian Adriatic coast; similarly resisted scallops, until I was presented with large succulent ones in South Carolina from the Gay Fish Company. Refusal to eat them was just a silly illogical fad. To complete my culinary idiosyncrasies, I am allergic to crayfish (acquired) but not Atlantic lobster; also some deep sea white fish (particularly swordfish).

The worst food I have eaten is seal in Newfoundland. It was like eating rubber; and as with the dog poo above, I have never been guilty of chewing on a tyre. It is just one of the instinctive analogies in which more than one of senses is involves when trying to articulate “taste”.

Finally drum roll; food that I want to taste: witchety grub.

Wonderful in these latter years, there are always questions about dietary idiosyncrasies wherever you are invited out. When one was young, you ate what you were given – swedes, watery marrow and overcooked pork forever irrigated through my memory.

A worry.

What Australia needs at this point in time is a Savonarola who thinks like Macchiavelli. A national cleanser who has a fine feel for the dorsal stiletto.

Suddenly Bill Shorten has been let loose – at least to some degree – on the campaign. Shorten is a hater; and according to many of his contemporaries, a nasty piece of work. Nevertheless, he gives Australia hope that if the vanilla Albanese is elected, there is a far more formidable force to wreak vengeance on those who have been gorging on government largesse at the expense of the “Powerless Australians” – those who cannot ring up their local politician and do a deal – maximising the personal gain at the expense of the rest of us.

Having been there I know the game. Some years ago, while I was being eulogised by several politicians publicly, some guy sidled up to me and said: “I have never heard of you. You must be important.” I was not sure whether that was a question or a statement. I replied, saying that I had had my place in the sun at various times, but inevitably if one pokes one’s head above the parapet, the greater the exposure and the more likely you will be to becoming a target – the inverse relationship of autonomy of action to controversy generated. Thus, I was destined to fall from grace – it was inevitable.

Some aggressive people like Shorten who have the equivalent of a rotten borough (or is it more truly burrow?) have a longer “shelf life” to ply their trade. The current government has left an incredible trail of corruption, some criminal but mostly moral – with the consequence that Australia is on the cusp of kleptocracy.

Purity of motive thus becomes one of relativity. Shorten, the scholarship boy from Murrumbeena, married first into the Melbourne establishment, then married under Vice-Regal patronage and, as he clambered up the holy mountain of Canberra, had the backing of Dick Pratt; therefore to some of his erstwhile colleagues he had enough political strikes against him to be consigned to the Maribyrnong Anabranch until it runs dry. But that is his strength.

One of my concerns is that Albanese is intrinsically a weak individual who looks for the soft option and shies away from personal confrontation. For instance, the Murdochs. They can be charming just like the ‘Ndrangheta, but when you do get in their way, beware. Having experienced the latter when charm in the smile is combined with menace in the eyes, it is important for Australia to minimise the pervasive influence of the Rupert Legacy, no matter how ambrosia and nectar ridden the boardroom lunch may be.

I suspect that Shorten is now approaching the same level of hatred which burns within Murdoch, because significant fortitude is required to prosecute the scoundrels who have profited during the Morrison reign and before. However, the Labor Party have form and for the National Party which begat the Queensland bush defiler, Joh Bjelke Petersen, it is often considered the norm by some in this Party. Not many political parties have two former Health Ministers in prison at the one time.  Then there are the outliers, the rock wallaby bandits, who seduce the Microcosm to elect them to the Senate.

Let us see, if Labor gets elected, whether it is prepared to follow through with the promise of an anti-corruption body. Bill Shorten awaits.

Scarry’s Law

I love this reference in The Economist to Scarry’s Law:

Scarry’s Law, formulated over a decade ago by this newspaper and named after Richard Scarry, a children’s illustrator, states that politicians mess at their peril with groups that feature in children’s books—farmers, fishermen, train drivers, and suchlike.

The implication of the Law devised by this American, who wrote 300 children’s books and illustrated many of them was that if you denigrated any of these people, the populace at large would take a dim view.

Yet none of these jobs appear on the list of respected professionals where medical practitioners are rated first, lawyers 21st and politicians and journalists the two last at 29 and 30.  Doctors closely followed by nurses and paramedics had received a boost because of the pandemic. In the list, firefighters and police rated in the top six.

These polls are extremely subjective and one suspects so is the wonderfully named Scarry Law. Nevertheless, the warning contains a more subtle message, which at a time when “change” is a word increasingly used to associate with climate and hence is of deep concern to farmers and fishermen. These are deeply conservative people, rather than reactionary. They will adopt change not because of political popularity, but only if they see it as a means of improving their livelihood and hence income.

The level of rural subsidies has always been a major concern – shoring up ancient practices without regard to actual environmental change. I always like hearing about farmer driven innovation, where conservatism is overcome by a realisation that the change is beneficial. It is a slow process, but undoubtedly miners would be sheltering on the Scarry list.

Mouse Whisper

Everybody in the blogs seems to be into odours, and cheese is where odour and taste are dissociated. We mice are very particular about the cheese we eat. Now, a few cheeses use the same bacteria which thrive in the salty sweaty environment found between the human toes, hence the association in the smell with the use of the same bacteria in the ripening process, as was mentioned earlier. We mice have to negotiate human socks casually strewn around the floor, and these do affect our appreciation of cheeses we have heard of, but never tasted.

But everybody talks about smelly cheeses as though it is a matter of pride to have cheeses with a putrid smell.

As for us mice, the worst cheese that can fall from the table is an old cheap Camembert cheese, which has become a cesspit of ammonia and the associated vapours. But they say some humans will still eat it. It is literally the worst of cheese, and that for a mouse who is used to whispering, SOMETHING!

Modest Expectations – In the blowing snow was that a gun report I heard?

I am not a very good gardener. I once killed the grass on the terrace with what I thought was loving care when I overused the fertiliser. The aim when we moved into our house over 30 years ago was to remove the weeds which dominated the garden, and it took about 20 years for the last of the wisteria to go, but asthma weed has defiantly resisted all efforts. There was the vain aim to install a Port Jackson garden, which would have only plants which may have been there at the time Arthur Philip landed at Farm Cove in 1788. The pittosporum, the blueberry ash and the lilli pilli, together with some of  the native grasses survive.  Anyway there was never a true Port Jackson Garden because of resistance by one party to remove the gracefully gnarled exotic frangipani – the survival of which in the end negated that proposal.

I do not have the patience nor the leisured and measured existence to enjoy one anyway. In many ways I envy the apparently sybaritic existence of the author’s “Elizabeth and her German Garden”. Elizabeth Von Antrim, a cousin of Katherine Mansfield, was born in Sydney in 1866. Both were Beauchamps, and Elizabeth only lived in Australia for her first three years before leaving, never to return.

This book recounts her life married to a Prussian aristocrat 15 years her senior, whom she describes throughout as the Man of Wrath. They lived on a vast Pomeranian property in what is now Poland. There she bred  five children and found satisfaction with organising the garden in this vast property.  Her tussle with the gardeners reflects her observation that women were considered inferior, particularly among the workers, and where the women were also often subject to violence. These observations counterpoint the description of her careful design of her plantings and the descriptions of her results. One of these was a bed where plants in every shade of yellow from the fieriest orange to the palest yellow were represented. The book was a spectacular success on publication, having 21 reprints in the first year.

A yellow garden

Her insight is that interest in gardening makes for a satisfied society. The promotion of gardening has, at times, been subject to controversy, but the very best of presenters induce a hard-to-explain serenity; and yet so much of the content is repetition – the vegetable garden, the horizontal wall, the internal garden, the obsessional manicured country garden, build your own hen house, and so on.

Yet as you drive through the newer suburbs of our cities today, the houses consume the whole block with a few pebbles strewn around with a few forlorn plants, labelled drought tolerant. I have named these suburbs “testudines”. In Latin, this means “tortoises”. The word was also used to describe the layered way the Roman legion infantry went into battles with the shields interlocked above their heads. Our modern suburban rooflines seem to be aligned in a manner reminiscent, swathes of grey seen from above.  Barely is there any green in these suburbs except thin green verges with the despondent saplings left to their own devices to shrivel in the summer heat with minimal attention. The sunburnt country… need I recite more.

And as for Elizabeth and her German Garden, gardening is a such a telling metaphor – a brilliant insight.

“Nature has Given me Love”

Adriana Elisabeth Hoffmann Jacoby has died.

Who? You may ask.

She was somebody special – a Chilean cog in the wheel of climate activists.

As the Boston Globe noted:  The presence of two Chilean Cabinet ministers at her funeral made clear the importance of her legacy to the country, where scientists-turned-politicians are helping to make a new constitution shaped by the climate crisis.

Above in the title are her last words recorded.

The Boston Globe went onto say that: “she was born in Santiago on Jan. 29, 1940, the daughter of a renowned Chilean doctor and scientist, Franz Hoffmann, and pioneering psychiatrist and spiritual guide Lola Hoffmann (born Helena Jacoby). Ms. Hoffmann went on to study agronomy at the University of Chile before dropping out. She later switched to studying botany when she spent some time in Germany with her mother.

She credited her parents with nurturing her love for nature. “I have pictures of myself, very little, always with flowers and plants,” she said.

In the early 1990s, she met Douglas Tompkins, a conservationist and the founder of the North Face and Esprit clothing brands, and his wife, Kristine Tompkins, who together bought about 1 million acres of Chile’s forests to protect them.

Yendegaia National Park

Ms. Hoffmann advised and supported the Tompkins’ conservation efforts, Kristine Tompkins said in a phone interview, and once joined other conservationists in obtaining the couple’s help in preserving a vast stretch of precious but threatened land on the border of Chile and Argentina. In 2014, the area became the mountainous Yendegaia National Park.”

This National Park lies in the very southern end of the country on Tierra del Fuego, but Chile is a ribbon which winds its way along the Pacific Coast of South America from ice to desert; it was a perfect site for this determined botanist to work.

In 1992, two years after the fall of Pinochet, she headed a non-profit organisation, Defensores del Bosque Chileno, dedicated to protecting Chile’s native forests documenting how Chile’s extractive industries were destroying the country’s forests.

Her activism was seen by many as an attack on economic development, especially in a country whose economy heavily depended on exporting commodities.

In 1993 Chile created the Comisión Nacional del Medio Ambiente (Conama) an agency that would later profoundly change her life and legacy.

In a way, in the reflections on this great activist botanist, I find it ironic that Chile inherited Easter Island where religion, manifest in the construction of the moai, led to extreme deforestation with the destruction of three species of trees which grew to 15 metres or more, including the Chilean tree palm, often thought to be the largest palm tree at the time. It is difficult now to conceive of Easter Island in 1022 as an island as thickly forested as Lord Howe Island is today with, in both cases, their distinctive palms and accompanying fauna and flora.

Easter Island Moai

Fast forward 300 years and Lord Howe lies deforested because climate change and now, cut off by rising seas, the population are searching for deities, imploring them to reverse the calamity. The Lord Howe islanders have cut down all their palms and replaced them with basalt figures of Malcom Fraser and Shane Warne to attempt to appease the Gods.

As my companion said, even such a great botanist as Jacoby was unable to recreate the old Easter Island. Maybe nobody would want to do it anyway. The man made figures are such an attraction, more so than any palm trees, however tall they grow – whether we like it or not.

Finland

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finland, behold, thy daylight now is dawning,
the threat of night has now been driven away.
The skylark calls across the light of morning,
the blue of heaven lets it have its way,
and now the day the powers of night is scorning: thy daylight dawns,

O Finland of ours!

Finland, arise, and raise towards the highest
thy head now crowned with mighty memory.
Finland, arise, for to the world thou criest
that thou hast thrown off thy slavery,
beneath oppression´s yoke thou never liest.
Thy mornings come,

O Finland of ours!

Jean Sibelius is one of my favourite composers. Finlandia, composed by him while Finland was under Russian rule as the Grand Duchy of Finland, has become a hymn to Finland independence. A group of Finns in the early part of the Russo-Ukraine War sang it in front of the Russian embassy, changing “Finland” to “Ukraine.”

The Finns have lived in the shadow of Russians. The country survived the 1939-44 conflict with Russia, having put up strong resistance, but diminished in size while forced to pay reparations. Thus it was very  wary of offending the Russians in the years following. Yet Finland recovered sufficiently to successfully hold the 1952 Olympic games and its 72 metre tower stands as memorial to the superb architectural design of Yrjö Lorenzo Lindegren, who had worked closely within this Finnish functionalist school which included Alvar Aalto, who inter alia defined the architecture of the modern hospital.

The Finns are impatient with fripperies; yet they are creative and hardy – especially important when you live next to Russia and the beautiful summer is lost in harsh winters.

I remember the Finnish lecturer in Semitic Studies who met his smaller professor coming up a narrow set of stairs. There was no standing aside. The Finnish lecturer picked the professor up, swivelled and placed him on a higher stair tread. Efficient, unorthodox, and without a word the Finnish lecturer proceeded down the stairs into the street.

I have been to Finland several times and recently mentioned in my blog my pilgrimage to Turku where John Landy broke the world mile record in 1954.

We have taken the Finnish train to Saint Petersburg, as it was suggested not to take the Russian version. The Finnish train was cleaner and more comfortable

Communal garden / meadow

We were once invited to lunch with a public health specialist in one of the Helsinki suburbs some years ago. There was this deep sense of communal living here.  There was a simple order about the way the houses were built and how clean the streets were. The houses backed onto a communal field, alive with vast swathes of summer flowers. Everybody could participate in picking flowers. Communal sharing was encouraged.

As an epidemiologist, she was interested in population health studies. As such she was able to freely go across the border into Russian East Karelia where the ethnicity of the people are essentially Finnish.  This region was once part of the Swedish-Finnish Kingdom from 1323 to 1617 and again between 1721 and 1743, then part of the Grand Duchy of Finland between 1809 and 1918 and of independent Finland between 1918 and 1939 and finally from 1941 to 1944. Not exactly a serene existence.

The Finns, with some support from Germany, with a population of about 5.5 million were able at times to more than match it with the Russians. The Finns knew their country. It helped as the troops used the cover of pine forests and snow which covers the terrain along a long border as far north as Lapland far better than the Russians until the inevitable power of the Allied Forces prevailed.

The Finns paid the price of alliance with the Germans during this period both in reparations and loss of territory.  Following World War II, most of what Finnish people define as Karelia was incorporated into Soviet Russia. The Finns were forced into a pro-Soviet neutrality.

After the fall of Soviet Russia, the social movement of both Russians and Finns across the borders has progressively increased. In 2011 for instance, around the time we were in the Helsinki suburbs, Russian tourists constituted 31 per cent of the total.

However, life has changed significantly recently and Finland has thus far not been caught up in Putin’s web; that of attacking smaller neighbouring States searching for his Peter the Greatness.

Sweden has been neutral throughout the 20th and, thus far, the 21st centuries. As people know, Finland has a cohort of Finn-speaking Swedes in the population. Both countries have been members of the EU since 1995; in fact Finland was one of the first countries to adopt the euro, replacing the markka. For the Russians, who had controlled Finnish neutrality, the Finns joining the EU was one blow, but until the onset of the Russo-Ukrainian War, there was no incentive for either Finland or Sweden to join NATO. This has all changed. The Finns  want to join NATO.  Once implacably opposed, the Swedish government is softening its approach, although there is still opposition from the Left.

Does Russia want a repeat of the intermittent war which occurred between 1939 and 1944 on a vastly different field? Does Putin really want a re-run of this conflict to stop the incorporation of these two technologically advanced countries into NATO? St Petersburg is 250 kms from the Finnish border but Helsinki is over 1,000 km from the Russian border. I doubt it; and yet the Russians have engaged in another war with a far more populated opponent and the outcome of this conflict will ultimately determine whether Putin turns his attention to Scandinavia.

Exercise – the Bane of Existence

At one stage, I used to go for a run every day around the suburb, which contained many hills. Given that I instinctively loathed exercise, the surge of endorphins countered so effectively this loathing, that many times during a year I would engage what were laughingly caused “Fun Runs”. As I aged, the runs became long early morning walks; and then disease caught up and exercise became biweekly hydrotherapy sessions; and then with COVID causing the closure of the pools, desultory infrequent rambles – the walking restricted to climbing stairs, back stretches.  This article in the NYT gave me some hope. I have edited the original article, but have noted the contribution from a University of Sydney expert.

For years, exercise scientists tried to quantify the ideal “dose” of exercise for most people. They finally reached a broad consensus in 2008 with the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which were updated in 2018. In both versions, the guidelines advised anyone who was physically able to accumulate 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, and half as much if it is intense.

But what’s the best way to space out those weekly minutes? And what does “moderate” mean? Here’s what some of the leading researchers in exercise science had to say about step counts, stairwells, weekend warriors, greater longevity and why the healthiest step we can take is the one that gets us off the couch.

For practical purposes, exercise scientists often recommend breaking that 150 minutes into 30-minute sessions of speedy walking or a similar activity five times a week. “

Moderate exercise means “activities that increase your breathing and heart rate, so the exertion feels like a five or six on a scale between one and 10.” In other words, pick up the pace a bit if your inclination is to stroll, but do not feel compelled to sprint, according to Emmanuel Stamatakis, an exercise scientist at the University of Sydney in Australia who studies physical activity and health.

We can accumulate our 150 weekly minutes of moderate exercise in whatever way works best for us. “Many people may find it easier and more sustainable to squeeze in a few dozen one-minute or two-minute walks between work tasks” or other commitments. “There is no special magic to a sustained 30-minute session of exercise” for most health benefits.

Think of these bite-size workouts as exercise snacks, he said. “Activities like bursts of very fast walking, stair climbing and carrying shopping bags provide excellent opportunities for movement snacks.” To concentrate the health benefits of these workout nuggets, he added, keep the intensity relatively high, so you feel somewhat winded.

Conceivably, you also could cram all of your exercise into long Saturday and Sunday workouts. In a 2017 study by Dr Stamatakis and colleagues, people who reported exercising almost entirely on weekends were less likely to die prematurely than those who said they rarely exercised at all. But being a weekend warrior has drawbacks. “It is certainly not ideal to spend the workweek totally sedentary and then try to compensate” over the weekend, Dr. Stamatakis said. You miss many of the health benefits of regular exercise, such as improved blood-sugar control and better moods, on the days you do not work out, he said. You also increase your risk of exercise-related injuries.

For most people, “150 minutes of exercise a week would translate into about 7,000 to 8,000 steps a day,”

The recommended 150 minutes a week also may be too little to stave off weight gain with age. In a 2010 study of almost 35,000 women only those who walked or otherwise exercised moderately for about an hour a day during middle age maintained their weight as they became older.

But any activity is better than none. “Every single minute counts “Walking up the stairs has health benefits, even if it only lasts for one or two minutes, if you repeat it regularly.”

Tell me it is not so

I always watched Sam Waterston and his off sider played by Angie Harmon in Law and Order in the 1990s. There was something taut about their relationship, giving a certain authenticity, if you accept the underlying morality of “Crime does not pay”. Angie Harmon left and reappeared in the crime series Rizzoli and Isles, which I admit I watched very infrequently.

When I heard Sam Waterston was returning to the series even though, after so many years on, he may appear somewhat hoary. However, this comment from The Boston Globe is suddenly a blow to progress. It is a bit like the “auto-correct” when you use an unusual word or one that has been made up to create a sense of the original. Watching a program created by a computer program, maybe the nightmare of the future.

Law and Order in the ’90s

Well-oiled machines are great, except when they’re TV shows. The best of scripted TV has a human touch, a sense of the risks and variations and flourishes that come with inspiration. This season, the “Law & Order” scripts seem like they’ve been auto-written by a computer program, the same program that was writing them back when the show had already hit a creative wall back in 2010 after 450 something episodes.

I don’t think it’s the cast, including newcomers Camryn Manheim and Jeffrey Donovan and returnees Anthony Anderson and Sam Waterston. They’re given very little character development. They’re also given story lines, some of them feebly ripped from the headlines, that are half-baked at best. Watching this new season, I keep finishing episodes and wondering, “Is that it?” There is very little there, when the denouement rolls around; the writers aren’t sneaking in any of the twists that left you thinking a bit about the justice system, or human nature. There’s almost none of the wit from the show’s prime, too, when the cops’ and lawyers’ little sharp asides added both irony — something many of the spinoffs, notably “SVU,” do not have — and bits of character.

Mouse Whisper

“Oh, my dear, relations are like drugs, – useful sometimes, and even pleasant, if taken in small quantities and seldom, but dreadfully pernicious on the whole, and the truly wise avoid them.”

From Elizabeth and her German Garden. Never thought about relatives that way, they always seemed so “mice”.

Modest Expectations – Daniel Boone

This week the blog registers three years – every week for the past 156 weeks, including this one – not missing one. All my life, I have more or less written stuff, some published, mostly not.

Much of the blog has wandered  through my stock of memories, within which are those of my life misspent; the goals I attained and most that I did not – but gave it a good shot. I am not “a shed person”, but fortunately my wife is. I have never been particularly good at any sport. I do not have any hobbies – but I write and advise – and have been very much an observer these past few years.

That has not always been so.

I have attempted many things I have not been much good at, but I have survived. I hope I have the courage to leave a clear documentary visit around myself. The reason? We all have a story. The headstones on graves each conceal a unique story.

Unlike most people, who may have had a worthwhile tale to be told and yet did not, I increasingly write mine as a chronicle, as idiosyncratic yet shamelessly manipulating my biases.

I have always wondered how else one’s legacy can be recorded. If your genes hold your heritage, is it possible for your senses to unravel the heritage locked up in your genes?

Here your life lies recorded, and that of my ancestors upto the conception of my next round of forefathers (and five mothers). It is a huge reservoir – however it can be stored. That is a real question lying inside my hypothesis, for which I cannot even conjecture at this time, but does not, by itself, invalidate my thesis.

The Burren

Once I was walking on that extraordinary wasteland – the Burren – in County Clare, on the west coast of Ireland, whence my ancestors came. In fact, the Burren is not a wasteland, it is just that from afar the limestone pavement resembles concrete. However, as you get close you see its uniqueness, because wedged in the limestone is both temperate and arctic flora. It is in the pavement cracks where life endures.

Suddenly, as I was walking along, I was seeing the land through the eyes of a young boy. From the change in the surroundings, I must have been of that age. My ancestor, as I presumed myself to be, was running, which I started to do also. In that instant of a previous time on the Burren and in this example of déjà vu when I reflect upon it, my sensation was of gliding into a landscape where my perspective was not that of a grown adult but that of a young boy. Then I glided out of this, with no sensation that any time had passed, except it had started to rain. Running to find shelter. Was not this a déjà vu phenomenon – I was trying to find a dry place, which I did in one of those Neolithic shelters that dot the Burren. This has been the only time where the sense of being in a place in a previous life was strong, even though I had never been there. In this case, the feeling passes quickly as though I have scratched an itch.

To me, if there is a so-called paranormal, it resides deep in my genes and therefore the further back in my genetic store, the less likely it is to flare as a fully formed sensation. Maybe it only occurs when the genes are aligned in a particular way and resonate in such a way that the stored memory can be tapped.

Thus, in chronicling my life I have provided a limited legacy. Unfortunately, with death dies what I call my genetic delusion. I can only have inherited the legacy of my mother and father up to the day of when my genetic trail was formed. However, the same resides in my offspring and all along the “Begat Trail” – a transferable library until your line is no more.

I suppose I should have returned to the scene, but let me reiterate, it is not a vision; nor a hallucination. It was nevertheless so very curious.

Albored Part V

As a friend of myself has said, Albanese is the most impressively unimpressive person who he can recall as striving to head this nation. He is not the only doubter. Crikey has said the same in more words, with an added apparent Freudian slip for spice.

If the old Albanese wasn’t good enough for the job of prime minister, why would the new version be suddenly suitable?

The election will put a possibly unprecedented focus on the character, competence and deportment of the leaders of the major parties. This in part is a consequence of the absence of a detailed policy competition — it threatens to be a policy-free electron (sic).

I remember working for a politician who was considered unfairly a lightweight, and no amount of media grooming could change that view, other than in the short term. Therefore, I have experience with such characters and seriously considered, when young, going to Yale to study psychopolitics.

Albanese is not the leader that Australia needs; from my perspective it is as simple as that.

There is a need to jolt the system and then re-assure them that you are the person for the times. In government, you must determine what you do on every day of the first week – and rehearse it with your closest advisers who should have expertise rather than personal ambition. That is what Albanese needs – not someone like his shadow minister at the weekend who said something about accomplishing electoral promises in the first four months. This a variation of the catchcry – of the first 100 days. Apart from the American jargon overtones, it is a cop-out.  Hit the ground running; remember God got it right – he rested on the seventh day – not the first.

The agenda – forget about vanity projects – fireproof and flood proof the country; put corrupt politicians behind bars; and remember Ukraine is a prime example for defending our country – be an inspiration to the population.

The country burns, the country floods, the aged are treated like excrement, the education system is starved and yet the country wants to pander to a corrupt body in Lausanne for a couple of weeks of pole tasselling in 2032, because a small group of people with an overweening sense of entitlement, who identify themselves with the Davos crowd and can be seen sprouting from the recent AFR luncheon (we being told that in times of suffering, greed is good) think it is a good idea. Fine, just as long as you are part of the select few.

Albanese, you addressed them, but see how the Murdoch Press tried to mangle you? As the Robot’s catchcry in Lost in Space goes: “Warning, warning, warning!” Rather apt, I would think – on many fronts!

Portrait of a Ukrainian

This article about President Zelensky comes from The Atlantic. It would have been much more convenient for the USA’s “Craven A” team if he had fled the country, and become the noble leader in exile. Then the media, after initial applause, would have moved on. The Western leaders could retreat to the vapid exercise of Davos and its ilk to make sage comments about the Goddess, Inertia or Entropy, the God of Pinhead Rearrangement.

After all, the World has been treated to the spectacle of the odious ruler of Belarus committing atrocities on his own people. The woman who actually won the election, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, is now in Lithuania, her husband in a Belarus gaol for the next 18 years. Brave couple – while the leaders of the free world bluster.

“Who?” “You know, the good-looking woman – what’s her name?” and so she vanishes off the front pages very quickly. Name too difficult for the media to pronounce. The leaders of the Free World breathed a sigh of relief, “an invasion not confronted”.  Belarus remained as a satrap of Putin’s and Putin emboldened, used it as another springboard for the attack on Ukraine. Never underestimate the ability of the West to bully when they believe they gain an advantage in the continuation of their colonial past, cloaked as the Coalition of the Willing or some such bombast. But a War in Europe is a different matter.

Now to the edited article. Nothing of any consequence to the truth of this narrative has been removed.

President Zelensky

The World War II leader whom Zelensky reminds me of is the one who chose honour over surrender and who fought for an idea of his country even when the reality was impossibly bleak. Today, Volodymyr Zelensky exhibits some of the traits that made Charles de Gaulle great and saved France.

In May 1940, France was lost, its armies overrun, its chances of victory hopeless. De Gaulle escaped and made it the mission of his life to erase the shame of his country’s capitulation and collaboration—to the point of making absurd and often offensive falsehoods about France having won its freedom alone. Zelensky’s conduct, and that of his compatriots, during the opening days of this conflict means Ukraine has no shame to erase. Still, Zelensky, like de Gaulle, is fighting for the idea of his homeland as well as its liberty, for its right to be free and dignified.

Analogizing a contemporary figure such as Zelensky by looking for parallels in World War II is necessarily limiting, and, as a rule, WWII analogies can be overused and should be avoided. But Zelensky’s defiant spirit, whether Gaullist or Churchillian or something else entirely, does not only reveal his own character—it teaches us about the character of the West too.

There can be something a little distasteful about Western onlookers (myself included) cheering on Ukrainians for a cause that our countries are not willing to join, a stance that risks raising the price of a peace that will be paid only with Ukrainian blood. Nevertheless, it is possible to recognize this, to be inspired by what Zelensky represents, and then to be shamed by his example.

Here is a nation and a leader willing to sacrifice so much for the principle of independence and the right to join the Western world. And yet, much of the West is jaded and cynical, apparently devoid of any such mission, cause, or sense of idealism anymore.

What is it that the West believes in now? When you think of the great liberal heroes of our age, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, say, they are actually deeply pragmatic conservatives, constantly hedging, calculating, and balancing interests with little grand vision or cause to pull their policies together. There is much to be said for this type of governance: As Helmut Schmidt, the former chancellor of West Germany, once quipped, “Whoever has visions should go to the doctor.” Visions led to the Iraq War, for example. Yet conservative pragmatism is also deeply limited, allowing adversaries like Vladimir Putin to take advantage, exploiting caution and shortsighted selfishness.

De Gaulle was not unique in articulating and fighting for an idea of his country. Many Western leaders during the Cold War had a certain idea of the West: Margaret Thatcher believed in a Europe whole and free; Ronald Reagan in a struggle between tyranny and freedom. You don’t have to agree with their worldview to understand that such ideas are powerful, inspiring people to do things that no “rational” person would dream of.

A senior European defense official told me recently that the West needed to find a way to reimagine itself and its role in the world, to avoid slipping into the trap of either pretending that nothing has changed or concluding that nothing can be done about it—that, Merkel- or Obama-style, leaders must simply manage the fallout and avoid becoming entangled in it.

This official said he was struck by how this sense of resignation was reflected in our culture as well. Movies and TV shows now rarely depict a heroic, grand visionary, “only a never-ending struggle for supremacy,” in the words of the official I spoke with. Instead of Cold War heroes such as Rocky, we have the cynical characters in Game of Thrones, Billions, and Succession, channeling our new cynical reality. Our imaginative understanding of the world has changed. The West has killed off the idea of itself as good. Does it still even recognize a baddie, this official asked, or has it concluded that countries such as Russia or China are no worse or better? This, in fact, is the Trump view of the world, largely shared on the far left too.

Perhaps this is why Zelensky is so inspiring. Western countries don’t have this type of leadership anymore: unembarrassed, defiant belief in a cause. So many people in the West have given up on the fairy tale of their own superiority because they understand how badly the West has behaved over the decades, from wars for colonial control to the War on Terror.

Yet perhaps the other reason Zelensky is so inspiring is that suddenly we can see that he is right. Vladimir Putin is a monster whose cause is unjust and immoral. In standing up to him, Ukraine is articulating a certain idea of itself that is righteous and dignified and heroic: virtues we long ago dismissed as old-fashioned. How tragic it is that Zelensky’s idea has to be attacked for us to be reminded of ours.

Wayne Gretzky has his Say

Ice hockey is the favourite sport of Vladimir Putin. In fact, according to Putin himself, he is one of the greatest ice hockey players never to have mastered the sport. In exhibition games in his own beloved Sochi, he has scored eight goals, some without the help of the goalkeeper. In a triumphal lap of honour video, images have been shown of his tell-tale celebratory sign of stumbling and falling onto the ice – a manoeuvre that he is intent in perfecting to a full frontal sprawl.

Alex Orechkin

Outside himself his favourite player is Alex Orechkin, who is the captain of the Washington Capitals. There are a number of Russians playing professional ice hockey in North America. Orechkin is thought to be close to and a favourite of Putin. He has tried to distance himself from the Ukrainian invasion, but the tentacles are strong and crossing Putin may mean a stint captaining the Siberian Tundras.

In the most recent outing, the Washington Capitals were playing the Edmonton Oilers. As you would expect, Orechkin received a hostile reception. The Edmonton Oilers won. This team was Wayne Gretsky’s old team.

Gretsky led them to four Stanley Cups in his 20 year career. Now 61 years old, he is still revered, particularly in Edmonton where it is said that there are 135,000 of Ukrainian heritage. He was the greatest player ever – a comparison with Shane Warne would seem appropriate – on the rink, but he was never had that nuance of being a drongo off the playing arena.

Gretsky has always identified himself to be of Ukrainian heritage after his mother’s side, but the Gretsky family had large landholdings in Tsarist Russia, which include estates in modern-day Belarus. The Gretsky family was forced to flee Russia at the time of the 1917 Revolution. Gretsky’s father nevertheless became a very wealthy man in Canada.

Gretsky may just have the moral suasion to be sent back to help centre  Putin perfect his full face sprawl. But who is listening?

It’s not about punishing the Russian kids. What about the Ukrainian kids that are being killed daily? The Ukrainian kids that are 12 or 14 years old, going to war. I don’t want anybody to be punished. I just think it makes common sense that we shouldn’t compete against this country right now, while they’re at war against an innocent country.” 

Pen Nibs No More

Pieman River, west coast of Tasmania

My school class was asked to research a topic. It must have been geography and for some reason I decided to undertake a project on osmiridium, which led me to dusty volumes of mining of the metal alloy in the Western area of Tasmania. My interest was probably sparked by the fact that osmiridium was the preferred metal used in the manufacture of pen nibs.  Anyway, as I dug into the project I found out that the West Coast was a lode of minerals.

As background for my interest in the alloy, the following is reprinted here – namely, osmiridium is a popular name for a naturally occurring alloy of the metals iridium and osmium. Corrosion-resistant, it is used in the manufacture of a variety of articles from pen nibs to munitions. First recognised in the 1880s as an undesirable impurity associated with alluvial gold in western Tasmania, it was discarded by the miners. A penalty was imposed by the Mint for its removal from gold.

In 1909 a dramatic increase in price created a boom for the metal, with a rush of miners moving into a number of western Tasmanian mining fields. The collapse of the Russian industry as a result of war and revolution saw prices continue to rise. By 1920 the price reached £38 per ounce and that year the Pieman fields produced 2009 ounces with a value of £77,104. Tasmania had now become the world’s largest producer.

A second osmiridium rush followed in 1925. In that year £105,570 was paid to miners, but by 1930 the boom had passed with only £16,235 paid to all the miners in the state. Production of osmiridium continued until 1954, by which time more than 881 kg had been mined.

A few nights ago, we raised the question of whether there was still osmiridium mining in the area. One of my dinner companions knew exactly what I was talking about. It is not a topic that I expected anybody to know much about. Not this guy, he knew exactly what I was talking about. He had grown up knowing that there were mines behind a tiny settlement called Lowana near Macquarie Harbour and was fossicking for it, while I was probably still only reading about it in the library.

There was even a settlement deeper into the bush now almost completely disappeared called Adamsfield, where the osmiridium was alluvial. Here was the site of that second rush in 1925. A 4WD will take you now, but nothing much is left of a mining settlement which once housed 1,000 people at its peak in the second decade of the last century – for a short time, osmiridium was more valuable than gold.

The Osmium nib

Osmium is the densest metal known, being twice as dense as lead. If you have held a sphere of osmium the size of a table tennis ball, you will immediately know what dense means! Iridium on the other hand is the most corrosion resistant metal known. it is used in various important alloys, unlike osmium which, with the demise of the pen nib, has few other uses. Together with platinum, iridium is included in the standard metre bar which is housed in Paris.

So, there you are. Project complete, sir, but 70 years too late.

Daylight Come and He Want to go Home

In my historical novel, The Sheep of Erromanga, I mention a ship which left the then New Hebrides with a shipment of bananas bound for New Zealand. By the time they reached New Zealand all the bananas were rotten. I thought nothing of it – just poor stevedoring. I dismissed it as nothing more than that.

I had known that if you place an unripe avocado in a brown paper bag with a banana, the ripening of the avocado is accelerated because of the ethylene emitted by the banana.

Bananas are also said to emit methane and, in an enclosed cargo hold, that could be lethal. The other unpleasant fact is that spiders love being among the bananas – a tarantula being among such stowaways.

I read an article this week where the captain, finding that his passengers had bought bananas on board, threw all of them into the sea (the bananas that is). The fear of bananas on boats is also associated with the knowledge that with bananas, other fruit which could ripen could also over-ripen, and eventually would rot. This was a major concern when fresh fruit on board was essential as a preventative health agent against scurvy.

Banana boat

As Harry Belafonte sang, there were banana boats. His song was that of the dock workers loading bananas in Jamaica. They were very fast boats because they had to get bananas from Central America and the Caribbean to Europe very quickly – until refrigerated ships were commissioned in the early part of the twentieth century. Modern banana boats tend to be reefer ships or other refrigerated ships that carry cooled bananas on one leg of a voyage, then general cargo on the return leg.

Mouse Whisper

Heard on TV just after half time … BREAKING NEWS: “SR was taken to hospital with suspected fractured ribs.”

OK, but small things do amuse small minds.

Modest Expectations – Leyland Sprinter

Near the end of last year, we decided to decamp to Tasmania for February because we reckoned then that February was the worst time to be in Sydney – always so humid and oppressive. Hopefully we would be climate-wise. Little did we think what would eventuate.

I have jokingly said that having a place in Tasmania is an insurance against climate change. Macquarie Harbour is on the West Coast and is six times the size of Sydney Harbour. Unlike Sydney Harbour, the number of people living in the rim of the Harbour is minuscular – there being one permanent settlement, that of Strahan, which is home to both a fishing and a tourist industry. Salmon farms dot the Harbour.

Strahan

In my blog I have written twice about my view as a lover of Tasmania. In a blog I wrote about a year ago, inter alia, I mocked the pitiful amount being allocated to bushfire control. The West Coast of Tasmania has been thought immunised against bushfires, because it rains on average every second day of even the driest month, February, and thus having about 160cm rain annually has been some insurance. Bushfires have ravaged the area, but mostly in the mining area around Zeehan to the north where fire erupts from the Savage River iron ore mines.

This was the case in 1982 when a fire was sufficiently worrying for there to be some evacuation of Strahan. The fire had apparently been started by some mutton birders trying to smoke the bird nests in the Ocean Beach dunes, as a preventative measure against any tiger snakes that might be in the burrows. Somewhat exciting if you put your hand into a burrow and you grasp a tiger snake rather than a mutton bird. Anyway, the resultant fire spread through the scrub and nearly burnt the township down.

Nevertheless, while we have been here, there has been a small bushfire near Tullah, which I mentioned earlier in my blog – and another in a more remote area, threatening the Truchanas Huon Pine Forest reserve; a fire in that area would have been equally as devastating as if the bushfire in NSW in the summer of 2019-20 had not been halted before it reached the Wollemi Pine habitat in the Blue Mountains.

The latest news on this bushfire in the south-west is that as a result of concentrated ground works and co-ordinated water bombing, the fire had downgraded from Going to Under Control with aerial firefighting resources and remote area fire crews continuing to work their way around the boundary edge identifying and extinguishing hotspots with continued aerial support.” That report was a week ago, and there is no evidence that local circumstances have changed.

But worldwide, circumstances have changed. Climate change is now an entity which governments are freely blaming for the conditions which have caused the extreme flooding events that have occurred in both New South Wales and Queensland recently. Terms like “one in a thousand years” calamity is meaningless when it is clear that there has been a change in the environment in which we are living.

The solution to repeated fire and flood is to provide the defence, especially when in this neoliberal world designed to value exploitation rather than conservation, building on flood plains or in the areas liable to engulfed in by bushfire seems to have been acceptable.

Clearing our own property is one thing, but when your land is hemmed in by plots of land that are neglected, with local government unwilling or unable to enforce the clearance presents a problem, as we do, then we do have a problem. The owners of the neglected plots are lost in the fog of the titles office; so we have cleared most of an adjacent plot, taking out eucalypts which threatened to fall or were already leaning over our house, which the previous owners had built close to the boundary of the property. To complicate matters two of the blocks of land now don’t have any access to a road, since the road which exists on the town plan has not nor will ever be built.

We have probably dodged the bullet as we go into autumn, but in fire prevention there is still much to do, irrespective of how complicated the situation is.

Governments have spent money to ensure that most parts of urban Australia have clean water – this is already a matter which we take for granted, but it spares a flooded community from cholera or other waterborne diseases which are endemic in less fortunate communities.

I remember those stories, apocryphal or not, of unscrupulous developers who used to subdivide land which only was visible at low tide; but in regard to flood plains, the lack of scruples is only a matter of degree. The cry of “caveat emptor” applies even when the information is symmetric, which is not the case in this world of hustlers and grifters, some of whom graduate into government, as we have seen.  Australia has yet another big clean up job ahead of us, because the stinking mud is not only on the streets of Atlantis, which used to be called Brisbane, but all across this land so strikingly described by Dorothea Mackellar.

Vera Putina’s little boy

The Winter War – Finland v Russia

Greetings to Ukraine. Once upon a time Finland too fought the Russian Army with everything we had and was able to hold on to our freedom and independence. That’s what we wish for you as well. The whole Europe stands with you.” – A message from a Finn who fought against the Soviet Union in  the 1939-41 War who is still alive at 98.

In one way, the number of options for the outcome of the Russo-Ukrainian War are diminishing. They all revolve around Putin’s mental state, now that it has been determined that the Ukrainians are not a pushover. Even in those areas where it would be expected that the people would be little different from the Crimeans, there seems to be vicious fighting. The Ukrainians are not rolling over.”Those Neville Chamberlains” in the US State Department who offered Zelensky asylum did not appreciate his strength. If Zelensky had accepted, that would have been the end; but Zelensky has ditched appeasement in the face of the appeasers.

For Putin, this is very inconvenient. Everybody talks about his unpredictability; but I believe he has the predictability of the tyrant. Thus, it was not long before he sent in his thugs to assassinate Zelensky. How many times he will try to repeat it, who knows! Yet when people become unhinged, as he apparently has, then do we observers put everything down to unpredictability?

While he is using the usual modern warfare device of bombarding the civilians by missiles and bombing, he must break Ukrainian morale to have any chance of winning. The Russians must husband their very finite resources. They are not endless, a very important variable now that the Ukrainians are putting up such resistance.  The cost of Putin’s war should be soon, if not already, affecting the Russian population, given the sanctions and the strength of the opposition. The Russians have tried to compensate with mastery of the cyberworld, which did not have a major “combatant role” in their attempted conquest of Afghanistan. I suggest that with NATO and others supplying both military hardware and essential food and other commodities, the war will be won once the USA can reliably control cyberspace. It would be interesting to know what is the cyber surrender equivalent of the white flag.

If Putin did not have a nuclear arsenal, then life for NATO would be less complicated. NATO will just continue to use Ukraine as a surrogate to do the fighting – and eventually exhaust Russia. Obviously, a mad Putin could make good on turning his nuclear preparedness into an all or nothing nuclear winter – at least in the Northern Hemisphere. What the Chinese decide to do will ultimately decide the length of the War.

Destruction caused by Putin’s war

The fact that the world is experiencing climate change is one good reason why the Russians should dispose of Putin, but he has learnt the tactics of previous Russian despots, where Russia has not only survived but thrived. The only hiccough occurred in the late 1980s when Russia had a rational leader in Gorbachev.

One clue to future action is how the Russians deal with the Ukrainian nuclear reactors. They could continue the boneheaded initial bombardment or think that by doing so the World will watch a new phenomenon, namely the deliberate destruction of  nuclear reactors with all the consequences that will entail. Maybe there is a playbook for such an occurrence, learnt from the Chernobyl disaster (when there was once peaceful co-operation). If the nuclear reactors were to be seriously damaged that would be an excuse for any sane person to seek an armistice, I would think.

Anyway, it would give the Orators of Davos something to think about as, having hurriedly packed their Louis Vuitton luggage and checked the time on their diamond encrusted Rolexes, they headed out into the nuclear cloud in their luxury Gulfstreams.

“A stray orange hair to be flicked off the nation’s sleeve.”

I first became acquainted with George Will through the New York Review of Books as a very astute and perceptive critic. I have never met him, but he is of the same vintage as myself. An Oakeshott conservative, but with an insight not dulled by ideology. He has been a Republican, but now writes regularly for the more Democratically aligned Washington Post.

In many ways Will serves as a policy digestif, enabling the unpalatable to be analysed rather than immediately disposed of.

Presuming that as a senior member of the media and as also a student of history, he can make links that may not be immediately apparent. He has depth of experience able to fathom what have the been the quotient of all his senses over his 80 years. Thus, George Will has both literary subtlety and savagery.

This piece below should help you assess whether this veteran has more than a fine use of words or a sentence that Trump should indeed experience at some stage, when his “sin taxes” become too much to accommodate and a “prigioni lifestyle” threatens.

Floundering in his attempts to wield political power while lacking a political office, Donald Trump looks increasingly like a stray orange hair to be flicked off the nation’s sleeve. His residual power, which he must use or lose, is to influence his party’s selection of candidates for state and federal offices. This is, however, perilous because he has the power of influence only if he is perceived to have it. That perception will dissipate if his interventions in Republican primaries continue to be unimpressive.

So, Trump must try to emulate the protagonist of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”. In Mark Twain’s novel, a 19th-century American is transported back in time to Britain in the year 528. He gets in trouble, is condemned to death, but remembers that a solar eclipse occurred on the date of his scheduled execution. He saves himself by vowing to extinguish the sun but promising to let it shine again if his demands are met.

Trump is faltering at the business of commanding outcomes that are, like Twain’s eclipse, independent of his interventions. Consider the dilemma of David Perdue. He is a former Republican senator because Trump, harping on the cosmic injustice of his November loss in 2020, confused and demoralized Georgia Republicans enough to cause Perdue’s defeat by 1.2 percentage points in the January 2021 runoff. Nevertheless, Trump talked Perdue into running in this year’s gubernatorial primary against Georgia’s Republican incumbent, Brian Kemp, whom Trump loathes. 

In a February poll, Kemp led Perdue by 10 points. Trump failed in his attempt to boost his preferred Senate candidate in North Carolina, Rep. Ted Budd, by pressuring a rival out of the race. As of mid-January, Budd was trailing in the polls. Trump reportedly might endorse a second Senate candidate in Alabama, his first endorsement, of Rep. Mo Brooks, having been less than earthshaking. Trump has endorsed Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin in the gubernatorial primary against Gov. Brad Little. A poll published in January: Little 59 percent, McGeachin 18 percent. During Trump’s presidency, a majority of Republicans said they were more supporters of Trump than of the GOP. That has now reversed.

Trump is an open book who has been reading himself to the nation for 40 years. In that time, he has changed just one important word in his torrent of talk: He has replaced “Japan” with “China” in assigning blame for our nation’s supposed anaemia. He is an entertainer whose repertoire is stale. 

A European war is unhelpful for Trump because it reminds voters that Longfellow was right: Life is real, life is earnest. Trump’s strut through presidential politics was made possible by an American reverie; war in Europe has reminded people that politics is serious.

From Capitol Hill to city halls, Democrats have presided over surges of debt, inflation, crime, pandemic authoritarianism and educational intolerance. Public schools, a point of friction between citizens and government, are hostages of Democratic-aligned teachers unions that have positioned K-12 education in an increasingly adversarial relationship with parents. The most lethal threat to Democrats, however, is the message Americans are hearing from the party’s media-magnified progressive minority: You should be ashamed of your country.

Trump’s message is similar. He says this country is saturated with corruption, from the top, where dimwits represent the evidently dimwitted voters who elected them, down to municipalities that conduct rigged elections. Progressives say the nation’s past is squalid and not really past; Trump says the nation’s present is a disgrace.

Speaking of embarrassments: We are the sum of our choices, and Vladimir Putin has provoked some Trump poodles to make illuminating ones. Their limitless capacity for canine loyalty now encompasses the Kremlin war criminal. For example, the vaudevillian-as-journalist Tucker Carlson, who never lapses into logic, speaks like an arrested-development adolescent: Putin has never called me a racist, so there.

Forgotten Ohio Ukrainians rallying against Putin’s war

One Ohio aspirant, grovelling for Trump’s benediction two weeks ago said: “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine.” Apparently upon discovering that Ohio has 43,000 Ukrainian Americans, this man Vance underwent a conviction transplant, saying, “Russia’s assault on Ukraine is unquestionably a tragedy,” and emitting clouds of idolatry for Trump’s supposedly Metternichian diplomacy regarding Putin.

For Trump, the suppurating wound on American life, and for those who share his curdled venom, war is a hellacious distraction from their self-absorption. Fortunately, their ability to be major distractions is waning.

Albored Part IV – No Longer Unready?

I have admitted that Albanese is probably not unready, but he is unsteady. He strikes me as a guy who has grown up in the kindergarten of factional politics, but really does not communicate well outside that factional circle.

He is fortunate to have some bloody good women who have shown the guts to stand the incompetents up, and hopefully, on a change of government if that occurs, they will team with some of the aspirants running for ostensibly safe Liberal seats as successful candidates.

I was worried by the absence of Penny Wong and the short statement that she has been ill has been left at that after she turned up on the Insiders program.  The problem with putting the Albanese foreign affairs approach is to work out what it is. Wong’s comment on Insiders:

Working with partners in the region to build our collective security, to diversify our export markets, secure supply chains, provide renewable energy and climate solutions, avert coercion, and respond to natural disasters. By investing financially and intellectually in the security and stability of our region – because defence capability on its own won’t achieve this. We share with ASEAN states an abiding interest in averting hegemony by any single power – so this is where our energy must be applied.

In responsibility terms does the distribution of Ministerial Portfolios need to be reviewed – Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Defence, Environment Protection? In Government, the responsibility for legislation, both future and existing, needs to be clearly defined; and yet the intrinsic danger of having exclusive enclaves centred around such legislative responsibility makes talk of co-operative government nothing more than meaningless waffle. The question is whether Albanese will have the innate skills, intelligence and authority to assure his Ministers work together.

The obvious question is if you, Albanese, get into office, what do you do on day one, because if you dissect this paragraph above, it is an overwhelming agenda – so large it leads to policy paralysis. The policy drought is evident with so much discussion on nuclear submarines, which are of no immediate relevance – and given the lead time, how relevant ever, except to continue to create for the huge hole in the Budget. If Albanese stepped back and thought that nuclear submarines are the panacea, then he is as blinkered as our supremely unintelligent Prime Minister.

I believe that the defence of Australia, as is the case everywhere, is yet to move from a traditional discussion of muskets and cannon balls. As Putin is demonstrating, it is all about killing more civilians of the “Away Team” than the “Home Team”.  The Russian armed forces are seeing the people as the real target. Just look at the Ukraine. It is the war which confirms that the most vulnerable are this target. Children and mothers are the prime target, with the latest atrocity being the bombing of a children’s hospital, irrespective of what the propaganda says to the contrary. Putin may claim that everyone has been evacuated; but tell that to the mothers in labour inside the hospital as the bombs fell.

Unlike the countries which have constituted the battlefield over the past 20 years, Ukraine does have a network of underground bunkers, formerly called train stations (which were an important bulwark in the bombing of Britain 80 years ago). The lessons of the Ukraine War are and will continue to be relevant, rather than government solely succumbing to the blandishments of the armaments manufacturers for more and more lethal toys, which if used will destroy us all.

In one way, just the vastness of a very dry continent with a dispersed population, yet with areas that are intensely populated, provides a defence for Australia, the strength of which needs to be exploited in any future conflict. Albanese seems to have succumbed to the one scenario of invasion, given how much sinophobia has framed the foreign and defence policy of the current government.

Just one simple question? How quickly could our underground accommodate our population, how many of them and how strong would our underground need to be to withstand a missile assault?

The other critical area is cybersecurity – far more important than a few pieces of military or naval hardware. Is the arrangement of the current capacity, in all its diverse acronyms, the right way to conduct our national security? I well remember the Hope Inquiry which Whitlam instituted in 1974. It did not help prevent his dismissal the next year.

While much has changed, Hope’s biographer, Peter Edwards, has written that the principles Hope outlined then remain fundamentally important today: effectiveness must be matched by accountability; intelligence assessment must be separated from policymaking.  Intelligence and law enforcement should also be kept separate.  Most importantly, both intelligence assessment and national security policymaking must be whole-of-government processes, based in the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio, with no single department or minister to have undue influence.

The first decision on day one is more pragmatic. What do they do with Mr Pezzullo, given the number of strings that he has pulled under the Coalition? Presumably Albanese believes it is essential that he is removed and neutralised in his ability to have any influence.

The next decision on day one of a new Government is to review the head of the Australian Federal Police, Reece Kershaw. The danger of authoritarian governments is that they crave a secret police to enact their vengeance; and unfortunately signs are that that is occurring in a complacent Australia.

The problem is this drive towards a police state, whether it is called plutocracy, oligarchy or just plain dictatorship, is muddied with cyber security. I have not seen this matter explicitly addressed by Albanese. As someone who studied Georges Sorel, I am well aware that a secret police is the result of the authoritarian mind, whether extreme right  or left wing. Australia should not underestimate this scenario, given the example of Witness K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, who were not allowed to release information about our underhand dealings over oil with Timor-Leste. The Guardian did not hold back in a report of the matter where Howard and Downer were described as “shills for the corporations”. Albanese has not disclosed his position, because the whole conduct of the Australian Government in this case reeks of secret police.

Maeslant storm surge barrier near Rotterdam

Climate change is the other enemy, against which it has been shown that Australia has almost no defence.  Flood mitigation by the Dutch has been going on since the 13th century. The Netherlands, built on a series of sandy outcrops primarily that of the Rhine, had suffered from the ravages of the North Sea well before “climate change” came into the lexicon. The flooding of the Netherlands in 1953 was the biggest wake-up call. As one writer put it:

The greatest lesson to be learned from the Dutch is perhaps less about engineering and more about mindset and culture. “It’s easy just to talk about technological and engineering solutions, but a lot of the problems surrounding sea-level rise are legal and political. The Dutch have a legal and political system that is united around dealing with water issues; they’ve been doing it for a thousand years.”

As a result, their technology provides an avenue for combating floods, which has been used in attempting to waterproof New Orleans. Yet here, the only discussion about flood mitigation seems to be around raising walls of dams.

Bushfires present the problem of occurring in isolated forested areas under a hot sun and strong north winds, lit by a lightning strikes.  In this country, the approach to bushfires should be inculcated from childhood; bushfire prevention and the community response to fire should be part of the school curriculum. As we age, so increases our responsibility and skill at dealing with probably the greatest enemy of all – fire – particularly when lightning is man made such as by a missile attack. Not sure how this has been discussed by Albanese in his quest to be Number One.

It is a curse that when war flares, conservation of the planet in the long term is replaced by survival in the short term. All the fossil fuel villains of peace time are now life savers. That is the Putin legacy, trying to maintain an order different from that which only exists in the mind of a madman.

That is one lesson of history at this time, for Albanese – John Curtin.

I may not have said that several weeks ago, but just how much times change has been shown by the events of the past two weeks.  Remember the instability of the previous United Australia Party leadership in the events leading up to the entry of Japan in WWII; the touching of the forelock to a useless ally before Curtin won Prime Ministership. Would any of our current leaders have stood up to Churchill and brought our troops back from North Africa as Curtin did in 1942? (Remember Menzies had previously committed Australian troops to the ill-fated Crete campaign under the thrall of Churchill.)

Since Curtin, there is no Australian Prime Minister except Whitlam who has put Australian policy in the world first and refused to send our young men and women as cannon fodder as an excuse to defend freedom. Will Albanese be the next?

Rupert’s Quote of the Geek

The alleged comment of the Australian General, explaining the delayed deployment of the Army to the NSW floods because it was initially too dangerous.

Try Ukraine, Buster!

The Armed Forces are said to spend $40 million annually on advertising, which seems to suggest the war preparation is a succession of jolly japes, with imagery reminiscent of Coke ads in camouflage.  Even Sportsbet has joined in trivialising military imagery to sell gambling. Often in such imagery there is a grain of truth.

Mouse Whisper

There is a photograph under spotlight of eight Russian soldiers in an elevator – all looking as they were escapees from a KAL cartoon – well allegedly these heroes of the Putin special operations decided to take an elevator up to the roof of a Ukrainian building, and the Ukrainians just turned off the power to the lift.

Could the Russian soldiers be that stupid? But whether true or not, the lift occupants do look a little bewildered apart from the one with his balaclava drawn over his head where only the eyes can be seen – it has that black humour which accompanies tragedy.

Modest expectations – A Gas station in Rain Man

There is a small group of people trying to unravel the connection between the number and the title of each week’s Modest Expectations. Last week was almost impossible, as I strive not to repeat myself.  Some have been obvious which, for me, maintains the diversity, although the search for titles which do not repeat the same theme presents an ongoing challenge. For instance, there have been 266 Popes, but I have tapped this source only once.

The gas station

On several occasions, I have counted wrongly, which explains why I was not a good “numbers” man. I am pleased with this week’s puzzle. Not that it is very hard but demands a modicum of powers of observation.

Albored the Unready.   Part 111

People want a prime minister to just do their job.

That’s my commitment. To do that job properly. To each and every day do my best. And make sure we have a government that actually plans properly and looks after the interests of the Australian people. Anthony Albanese this week 

As I predicted, the Murdoch press has started the attempted demolition of Albanese. However, in a week in politics with the ineptness of the current Government firmly on show and growing, manifested in disastrous polling in NSW in four State by-elections, maybe it does not matter if there is a demonstrable unreadiness. Even so, I just hope Albanese does not try to play “Blue Moon” on a triangle.

Directing the dance floor

If Labor wins the forthcoming election, addressing the absence of a Commission to root out corruption at the Federal level – which seems as bad as the worst of any of the States at any time – will be a massive job for Albanese. The establishment of this Commission should already be in draft legislative form ready to be placed before Parliament immediately on a change of Government.

Unless it swiftly isolates the major players in the corruption, the Commission will be entangled in legal brambles and then eventually lost from sight as these “bramble bushes” cover it.

Openly responsible to the Parliament, the manner of selection of the Commission members must be an open process also.

The problem is that Albanese has grown up in a factional NSW environment where the hotel industry lobby in all its forms is a highly-protected species.  Therefore, Albanese, who is one of the longest serving members of the Commonwealth parliament, must reflect on his manner of conducting his business to maximise objectivity in government – a far from easy task.

In his progress towards a clean government, he should examine the amount of money consulting firms shovel into their pockets through “sweet deals” with government. I know exactly what goes on. Much of the work, which should be undertaken by bureaucrats with assigned responsibility and expertise, is done by recent MBAs full of theory but devoid of knowledge, which they then pick up at no cost to themselves as they flounder on in a consultancy, which does not need these “content free” consultants. “Reading my own watch” is the term used to describe this flagrant practice.

This is the great disaster of public administration and goes hand in hand with the corruption of parliament. I have been employed as consultant many times where the recommendations have had an impact; but in others where the recommendations have been ignored and ended as a “dust shelf file”.

Albanese needs a strong independent bureaucracy so that when the consultant firm Piranhas come calling, they have to earn the meat hanging from the bureaucratic fishing lines. The problem is that while the TV series “Yes Minister” was very funny, (Margaret Thatcher is reputed to have loved it), its long term effect has been to corrode the politicians’ trust in public administration as witnessed by the growth in ministerial staff and reliance on mates in the consulting firms, some of whom were colleagues before politics and before the politicians take their lucrative pensions and flee Parliament  to become outside “consigliere” – sorry “consultants”.

Big challenge to rein in this practice – and not one for the election trail.  However, it will be symptomatic of an inability to govern if Albanese fails to follow the Machiavellian dictum and does not tackle it hard and early.

Now for Part IV – if you are still awake. Climate Change and Albored under the Bed. 

Cisgender

I have observed the machinations about the Religious Discrimination Bill with an air of disbelief. I doubt whether I am the only one, given how many far more important challenges are facing Australia.

For most of my life I have watched as technical surgical skills have improved such that personal identification can be aided by physical operative change to the appropriate gender

I remember one of my medical tutors put us males in our place by saying that every human is destined to be female until a few vectors appear which direct embryonic to foetal to post-natal existence towards being male.

After all, there are a number of chromosome and sex hormone disorders, which are often rare or beyond the then scope of knowledge, and which may be reflected in extraordinary prowess, particularly of women in sporting competition.

Babe Didrickson

One of the most remarkable athletes of all time was the American, Mildred “Babe” Didrikson. She was able to beat top athletes, both male and female, at sports ranging from bowling to diving. She earned Olympic gold medals in the hurdles and javelin in the 1932 Olympic Games, all-American status in basketball, dozens of golf championships, and is on ESPN’s list of top ten North American athletes of the century.

She lived at a time when there was not the will or the science to determine whether she was a woman or had a chromosomal abnormality where she might look like woman but was in fact a male. She was not the only one to raise questions. There were two Olympic gold medal winning female sprinters in the 1930s who also looked masculine and one, Stella Walsh, an American who when shot dead many years later, was revealed by autopsy to indeed be male.

When the Russians came back on the Olympic Trail, they brought forth a number of oddities, even before the systematic doping with androgens began.

There have been “female” athletes discovered to have Kleinfelter’s syndrome. The first to be publicly accused was Ewa Klobukowska, a Polish sprinter who received a gold medal in the 1964 Olympic Games. People with this syndrome have an extra “X” chromosome but have the “Y” chromosome as well – which defines them as male.

Thus, when a South African female athlete Caster Semanya looks a bit masculine and then is shown to have a hormonal abnormality, discrimination is attested loudly when she was either excluded from competition or forced to take androgen suppression. There was no suggestion of religious discrimination in any of the discussion here.

Yet here is a nationwide imbroglio which grew from Israel Folau’s intemperate behaviour, which became a kernel for every bigot in the community to swarm around his profile as an extraordinary sportsman, and then  try to parlay this prowess into some sort of seer of faith.

In my early blogs, I wrote about Israel Folau but I underestimated how his bigotry has gradually graduated to this religious discrimination bill, which a Pentecostal Prime Minister has tried to foist on a nation which, on matters religious, kept on the “cis” side of not mixing belief with the political wedge.

The problem with Morrison and his mates is that they have tried to impose their “transwedge” as it flew across the Alps of Intolerance.

It almost ended up a discriminatory Transgender Discrimination Bill, and fortunately there have been enough politicians prepared to scuttle this ridiculous pandering to fringe groups, with social hang ups on show amidst the happy clapping and forced jollity.

Hence, if people insist on a stigma of transgender on a number of seriously conflicted young people, then since I do not identify myself as one of these, I shall stigmatise myself thus – as cisgender. In the end, you must have a gender, whichever way you describe yourself. However, it is your own private decision not to be paraded in a travesty – called parliamentary debate.

Questions of toilet and bathing facilities are a matter of societal convention, not a matter for government legislation. When my university college became co-educational, the college’s change of facilities was hardly a major topic of conversation in the pubs of Carlton.

Given that “cis” is the antonym of “trans”, it took the serious students in this area until 1994 to coin the term. But there is more.

What about the Infrasexual?  This refers to someone “who is not parsex, meaning someone who is strictly dyadic and protosex. They are not intersex nor altersex.” Succinct, if nothing else.

What a dilemma. Do we ban the infrasexual but allow the altersexual?

Meanwhile the World in burning.

Wasabi

The wasabi that comes in tubes and packets and is familiar to many diners is actually a blend of wasabi and horseradish dyed green — or contains no wasabi at all. In Japan, chefs at higher-end sushi, soba or grilled beef restaurants grate fresh wasabi at the counter, so customers can experience the acute assault on their nostrils and the unique flavour that lingers for just a moment on the tongue.

For hundreds of years, wasabi grew wild in mountains across Japan, blooming near forests and huddling alongside streams. About four centuries ago, growers in Shizuoka started to cultivate wasabi as a crop.

Wasabi plants sprout in spring water that flows down from the mountains, helping to foster gradations of pungency and hints of sweetness. The most well-known Shizuoka variety, called mazuma, tends to sell for 50 per cent more than wasabi from other parts of Japan.

Over time, local growers say, the spring water has deteriorated in quality, compromised by an abundance of cedar and cypress trees.

Recently, in a substantial article, the New York Times highlighted the parlous condition of the wasabi grower.

From childhood, I remember that horseradish was an accompaniment to the Sunday roast beef at my grandmother’s place, complete with roast vegetables and the obligatory Yorkshire pudding.

Now, as that wizard green fingered jardineira, Vicki Sheedy, says dismissively, horseradish is a weed. You have to grow it in a pot and not let it get control of the vegetable patch.

However wasabi, its Japanese cousin is, as Vicki says, very picky. One Tasmania grower put it this way: “Wasabi is like a 15-year-old. When conditions are perfect and everything is how they like it, they thrive, if something starts to go wrong though they will just sit there and sulk.”

In fact, commercial growing can ideally occur in Australia only in Tasmania, where there is plenty of water and the climate is temperate-on the cool side. The plant is harvested between one to two years. As Vicki further points out, this little plant is a cousin to horseradish and mustard, hence why its heat hits you in the nose rather than setting your mouth on fire like chillies do. It’s also known as Japanese horseradish and she has assured the conditions for its growth.

Currently Vicki’s plants are about 15 months old and she says that on a beautiful property overlooking the D’Entrecasteaux Channel in Southern Tasmania she will soon be able to harvest it. Already she has been using the stems and leaves, but they are much “tamer” in regard to heat compared to the root. At present she grows it in small quantities in a raised garden in the shade near the kitchen so she remembers to water it. Keeping a watchful eye on it, she knows the plant doesn’t like humidity, direct sun or in relation to water – the Goldilocks effect – not too much or too little.

With the production being increasingly compromised by the urban spread, the contamination of water and the decline of the cedar forest and its resultant shade, production in Japan is under stress as the NYT article says

The price of wasabi is rising.  It is not a quick return, but as they say, big things from kitchen door plots grow.

The heat is on, Vicki.

Iris Hoffman as she was then, remembers 

Janine Sargeant, guest facilitator

We are encouraging my mother to write down her memories of her youth, as she approaches her 96th birthday. She and Queen Elizabeth were born close together in that year – 1926.

Sixteen years old at the time, Iris Hoffman reminds the reader of a time when the Japanese were coming. It was 1942.

Tocumwal Airfield – previously known as “McIntyre Field” by the USAAF

The war was getting worse and town councils were ordered to send some employees to go to Tocumwal to help build an aerodrome there as American air troops needed it. Dad was sent! At home in Culcairn and other towns we were trying to get accustomed to being swooped over by American Kittyhawks. They would come in low and scare the hell out of us; they buzzed every town and homestead in the area we were told. At last the airfield was finished, Dad came home and resumed his job with the Culcairn council.

Then Dad decided to move to Gippsland. We would be primary producers on a dairy farm near Maffra with 80-90 cows to milk, twice a day. We did it. Our war effort. My eldest brother, Percy was already in the army, and the youngest, Trevor, was in the airforce, so there we were, Dad and my brother and sister, Keith and Lorna and myself, in the land army – and Mum at home to look after us all. 

“McIntyre Field” was established by the USAAF on the NSW/Victoria border, near the Newell Highway. It originally covered an area of about 25 miles square. Named after Captain Patrick W McIntyre who was killed in a crash of a US bomber on 5 June 1943, the field was home to 54 Liberators, 11 Vultee Vengeance, five Kittyhawks and an Airspeed Oxford. Four thousand five hundred RAAF men  and 400 WAAF  women were based at Tocumwal. It was also a storage and repair depot for aircraft including Boeing, Lancaster, Mosquito and Spitfire. After the RAAF left Tocumwal in 1960, over 700 aircraft were scrapped.

It should be recognised that having a German-sounding name when, in two World Wars, the enemy was Germany, had a negative effect in the community at large, spurred on by the jingoists.

The Lutheran diaspora had settled in the rural areas around Albury. These were people who fled Silesia, from the Prussian Calvinists who persecuted their Lutheran community. Many came to Australia and are concentrated in certain parts of Australia, including areas around Albury. The township of Holbrook, north of Albury, once was called Germantown. The name of the township was changed in that flurry of jingoism which accompanied Australian participation in both World Wars, but particularly in the early stages of the First World War.

In the 1840s my mother’s family came to Australia from Katowice, which is a major Polish town today but was then Prussia. They settled first in the Barossa Valley but with a shortage of land available there, they walked with their wagons, from South Australia to settle in southern NSW. My maternal mother was a Schröeter. My mother would have been a wonderful subject for “Who do you think you are?”

Now she still has a store of memories of being part of Australia, including beating Margaret Court once at tennis. No matter that Margaret Court was a teenage prodigy. But still, a win is a win.

But is A Win a Win?

The Russians are completely and utterly over the fence. There they are, continuing their gold medal dominance in sports cheating. The Washington Post teed off this week and below is part of that article from its ferocious correspondent, Barry Svrluga.

As of Monday afternoon here, the Russian Olympic Committee team had won 18 medals, the second-highest total behind Norway. But maybe there should be a new category for its medals? “Provisionally won?”, “Won … for now?” “Won, pending further info?”

Even in the exceedingly unlikely event that these Games aren’t tainted, it was impossible to watch Russian cross-country skier Sergey Ustiugov grab an Olympic flag as he skated the final meters of the men’s 4×10-kilometer relay on Sunday, winning by a huge margin, watch him celebrate with his teammates, without wondering, “Who’s finishing second — and how long before they’re awarded gold?”

That’s not damning of Ustiugov and his teammates specifically. It’s how the IOC and its cronies have forced us to think. When the iron was at its most scorching, the IOC failed to execute the kind of forceful ban that might have effected actual change in the Russian system. Instead, it demanded what amounts to a change of laundry for Russian athletes (their uniforms cannot bear their nation’s flag here) and swapped out the CD for their celebrations (no Russian national anthem, either). But the show goes on, so the mind wonders whether any of it is legitimate.

That has been true for more than a decade now, and the shame of all this is that when the flame is extinguished here Sunday night, the results from so many competitions still should be sketched lightly in pencil.

Athletes who depart China with suspicions about the fairness of their competitions can’t be offered much encouragement, either. American high jumper Eric Kynard, for instance, won silver at the London Olympics in 2012. He was 21 and beaten only by Russian Ivan Uhkov. CAS later determined that Uhkov and 11 other Russian track and field athletes had been doping. The IOC rejected Uhkov’s final appeal — in November 2021. By then, Kynard was 31. Maybe he stepped onto a chair in his backyard and played “The Star-Spangled Banner” to celebrate.

Spread the blame for such a mess around, but good luck sorting out precisely how to divvy it up. There’s so much inbreeding among governing bodies here that it’s difficult to differentiate one organization from the other. CAS claims on its website that it is “an institution independent of any sports organization.”

The President of its board is John Coates, an Australian lawyer who has been an IOC member for more than 20 years, a period of time in which he has been on the IOC’s executive board and served as a vice president. That’s independent? The World Anti-Doping Agency was founded by Canadian lawyer Dick Pound, a former Olympic swimmer who was first elected to the IOC in 1978. WADA’s 14-member executive committee includes four current IOC members.

How to tell any of them apart? As American skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender told my colleague Adam Kilgore last week, “How do we really know what’s going on behind the scenes?”

Uhlaender has the right to ask. In 2014, she finished fourth in her event, all of four-hundredths of a second behind Elena Nikitina of — you guessed it — Russia. When Russia’s Sochi scheme was exposed, Nikitina was among more than two dozen Russian athletes banned from the Olympics for life — and Uhlaender appeared to have her medal. On the eve of the 2018 PyeongChang Games, Nikitina was reinstated.

That there has been no significant punishment to the entire Russian delegation in the eight years since both boggles the mind and tugs at the heart.

Uhlaender is clear-eyed about it. “It’s not independent,” she said. “None of this is independent. It’s all run by the IOC. It’s really hard to have faith in a system that failed so hard in 2014.”

Particularly because it’s continuing to fail. According to long time Olympic historian Bill Mallon, the Russians have been stripped of 31 medals in the five Games dating from 2012. That doesn’t count winning Russian teams on which more than one athlete was disqualified, nor does it account for disqualified Russian athletes who didn’t medal. The evidence suggests there will be more here. This isn’t a witch hunt. The witch has been identified.

(Those who can be bothered can watch the 15 year Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva compete despite having been clearly doped, the court has ruled.)

Kamila Valieva

Whether it will eventually have consequences for Valieva is impossible to say. What’s certain: The women’s short program will be held Tuesday, and she will skate in it.

In explaining the reasons CAS will allow Valieva to compete here going forward, Matthieu Reeb, the panel’s director general, cited, among other things, “serious issues of untimely notification of the results” from a test that was reportedly taken on Christmas Day — but that wasn’t reported as positive until after Valieva had competed in the team event here.

Whose fault is that? Well, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency said in a statement: The reason for the delays in the analysis and reporting by the laboratory was another wave of covid-19.” [When in doubt, blame the pandemic.]

What a mess. It’s a mess that, at the moment, falls at the feet of a 15-year-old athlete who is demonstrably the best in the world at her craft. If there’s ever a medal ceremony in the women’s figure skating event, her presence on the podium will be questioned. That’s not her fault. It’s the IOC’s, for creating and sustaining a system in which every Russian medal must be met with suspicion — looking both back, now and into the future. 

Mouse Whisper

I could not have said it better, referring to a tweet on the Super Bowl result last Sunday:

Imagine if the Bengals didn’t accept the final score, stormed the field, sued the NFL, and protested the 2022 NFL season calling it fraudulent.

Bengals, Bengals, burning bright …

 

Modest expectations – Man with a Tail

I have always liked writing. I was encouraged to write by Alister Brass. He was very much my mentor.  He died of AIDs in 1986. He was a great guy. I have kept writing. He had taught me a lot about myself, and how someone who was a little older than myself could have lived a fuller life than mine.  I miss him every day.

I always wonder where Murdoch fits in all this. Alister’s father, Douglas, was one of Murdoch’s first editors. I think he had a big effect on Murdoch, in the days when his world may have been that of the idealist.

 However, I worry about all this technology that has sprung up in an unregulated space and where the forces of good and evil are constantly doing battle. Can I, for whom my first written words required an inkwell – when even the biro did not exist – adapt.

I find myself living in a world in a space which is getting smaller because the demands for instant everything have become the norm – money and fame are generally high on the instant agenda. Words are airbrushed away.

So, why bother to write? Because I want to, and I have little time left. So here goes.

I wrote my first blog at the end of March 2019.

Now this is the sesquicentenary of that first blog, which has been written every week for 150 weeks. That means that in six blogs’ time I will have reached three years of essentially vanity press. Perhaps I have ten people who regularly read it, but unless you hover over your statistics, who really knows. But it soon occurred to me that I like writing – in fact these are my memoirs, one way or another. My attitudes are on show. As I started serious writing under the tutelage of Alister Brass, that relationship enabled me to enjoy the company of a polymath before his life tragically was cut short.

The first blog praised Jacinda Ardern, and I received the rounds of the contumely by a mate, who saw her as a fraud. Thinking about what has happened since that time, I was closer to the mark.

In the last blog I, who once was a tall poppy but tried to dance with the “wolverines”, gave some advice based on this experience. I once knew a person who, like Grace Tame, had a strong profile (at one stage being pictured on every evening edition of the Melbourne Herald depicting the successful beautiful young professional) and saw later at firsthand what she endured.

As for my advice to Grace Tame, another friend expressed with disdain from his Araratic heights why would I bother. Well, I did and hope she ends up more Eleanor de Aquitaine than Jean d’Arc, with that antagonistic segment of our population either repentant or neutered.

Opinion or opinionated. Well, a blog is a legacy. I notice over time I have altered the blog; by and large I have dispensed with guest writers, become more prolix and recognised how technology has enabled me to dip into the international media. The downside is that those magazines, the delivery of which depended on the US Postal Service, have virtually dried up in COVID times.  The Guardian Weekly and The Economist subscriptions fortunately have not been interrupted, although I also receive them online.

Exhaustion

The problem with the persistence of coronavirus in one form or another is that the Australian population is exhausted and, despite their bluster, governments have given up, except Western Australia which remains defiant.

Lockdown indicated that the governments of the Federation were prepared to fight the virus, the fear of which prompted a strong vaccination response in the adult community. In the first wave before vaccination was available, there was an appreciation across the community of the need to lock down, with a ban on almost every movement. At that time, there was a high rate of acceptance of this strategy by the community. Thus, when the Virus spread to nursing homes, the media swooped on the relatives waiting outside with their plaintive complaints.

How life has changed, with daily deaths mostly no longer getting even the perfunctory acknowledgement which they once got at the daily news conference. Borders were a weapon in illustrating how much one State was performing better than another. The only consistency through all this has been the complete ineptitude of the Commonwealth Government, which refused to accept that Constitutional responsibility for quarantine was its – and its alone. That is one reason there should not be any electoral forgiveness.

It allowed that stupid sophistry about personal responsibility to be let out of the Pirouette’s ideological kitbag. Underlying such a statement is a belief that information in the health sector is symmetric – time and time again this has been shown not to be so.

The various responses, whether to children’s vaccination, boosters, wearing of masks, social distancing and the use of hand sanitisers, show differences depending on demographics.

What is the present state of play?  Personal responsibility has degenerated into a fervent wish that Australia must have passed the peak – however that is defined – of the pandemic.  Booster and child vaccination are lagging because there is no spur.

Another variant …

Pity that another variant has appeared.

The Canoe Tree                         

Canoe tree

There are many canoe trees scattered throughout Victoria, South Australia and NSW and one wonders, given the revival of many old traditions, why more bark canoes are not being made and the craft celebrated. After all, the popular smoking ceremonies were adopted from the American Indians who were here during the Year of the Indigenous.

One area in Southern Australia where there do not seem to be canoe trees is Tasmania, although there has been publicity surrounding bark canoes recently being made with intention that they be part of the biennial wooden boat festival. It is one thing to mimic the past, but the construction should demonstrate the authenticity of being able to float an agreed distance, bearing a person using a spear as a paddle, especially down the D’Entrecasteux Channel.

In 2011 Major “Moogy” Sumner, a Ngarrindjeri and Kauma man, crafted a bark canoe on Ngarrindjeri land, the first recorded in over 100 years. These people live at Raukkan on Lake Alexandrina and move between there and Port Pierce on the Yorke Peninsula. Major Sumner has been photographed standing on the canoe with the spear/ paddle, and therefore the assumption was that the canoe was waterproof and navigable, at least on the lake. His people are river people and before “trouser time” they existed on a diet of littoral birds, eggs and vegetation such as samphire.

Moogy’s bark canoe

Sumner later said that creating his canoe reconnected his communities with the traditional art of canoe-building. There does not seem to be much evidence of modern bark canoe manufacture beyond this effort. In such a riverine culture a bark canoe was an essential item, and as such it is surprising that revival of the art has not received more attention.

It may be argued that stripping trees of bark would have severe consequences, particularly on the river red gum and stringybark population. The Aboriginal people live in harmony with their environment, as we all know and thus this would not be a problem.

In his book about Australian Aborigines, Thomas Worsnop describes the construction of the bark canoe in Southern Australia:

In constructing a bark canoe a suitable tree, generally a large red gum, is selected, and always one that was bent, or that had an outward bulge on one side. On that side the bark is marked out or cut by painted dots, or by notches in the shape of an elongated ellipse, approximating as nearly as possible to the shape of the canoe itself, after which by pressing the wooden handle of a tomahawk and a pole between the bark and the wood the sheet is carefully removed. The outside roughnesses of the bark then are pared off, leaving the thin, hard, and woody inside shell, and the sheet is placed over a fire of red hot ashes to cause the ends and sides to be gathered up and brought together.

These canoes are of very light draught. With one or even two blackfellows, the draught is seldom above 3in or 4 in. Some that I have seen on the River Murray will carry a considerable load; but, being quite round on the bottom and without any keel, they overturn with the greatest ease imaginable.

Later he describes the Montagu Island canoe:

Bark canoes were used by the coast natives of New South Wales; they were from 6ft. to 10ft. long, and 2ft wide. A sheet of bark of the desired length and breadth was stripped from a straight stem and the two ends scraped until they tapered to a very thin edge. These thin ends were then raised by being creased into ridges, and gradually pressed close together. A peg was then driven through the folds at each end, and the bark twisted round to keep the sheet from slipping back. The sides were kept apart by sticks sharpened at each end and placed across the canoe, and it was ready for use. It was propelled by sticks used like paddles, or by small sheets of bark held in the hand; the largest of these canoes would carry five or six natives safely across the strait, about two miles wide, which separated Montagu Island from the mainland.

Ironically, the best recent depiction of a bark canoe construction was shown in the 2006 film, appropriately named “Ten Canoes”.  “Ten Canoes” was inspired by a photograph shown to film director Rolf de Heer by David Gulpilil. The picture was of group of ten native men in their bark canoes on the Arafura swamp in East Arnhem Land. The photo was taken by anthropologist Dr Donald Thomson, who worked in central and north-eastern Arnhem Land 70 years earlier, during the mid-1930s.

Among the old men of the tribe, the film makers found some who remembered the craft and were able to make the canoes. There is no mention of whether the canoes were made with stone tools or with more modern equipment. Nevertheless, in the film they seem to be very functional. Again, this film seems an isolated tribute to the bark canoe.

Canoe in the Arafura Swamp

Yet the canoes made in the Northern Australia were generally dugouts, either in the manner of their Melanesian neighbours or were seen to have prows fashioned after the Macassar canoes. So, the bark canoes that were featured in the film negotiating the Arafura Swamp would seem unusual.

It seems difficult to work out why the Aboriginal people are loath to make bark canoes in the manner of their ancestors Thus there is one challenge in Tasmania – build a bark canoe that can reach Montagu Island as your forefathers did. Go to it. If a whitefella like Thomas Worsnop in 1897 has set down clear signposts, so should the tradition be still handed down among the Aboriginal people, rather than exist in a few isolated pockets.

Maus

A guy called Art Spiegelman has written a children’s book about the Holocaust called “Maus”.  My Swedish friend has pointed this piece of censorship out to me.

To ensure the book will be a best seller, the McMinns County Board in Eastern Tennessee, known as the Midge State after its Senator, has banned the book.

The Board said by way of explanation (sic):

“One of the most important roles of an elected board of education is to reflect the values of the community it serves. The McMinn County Board of Education voted to remove the graphic novel Maus from McMinn County Schools because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide. Taken as a whole, the Board felt this work was simply too adult-oriented for use in our schools.  

We do not diminish the value of Maus as an impactful and meaningful piece of literature, nor do we dispute the importance of teaching our children the historical and moral lessons and realities of the Holocaust. To the contrary, we have asked our administrators to find other works that accomplish the same educational goals in a more age-appropriate fashion. The atrocities of the Holocaust were shameful beyond description, and we all have an obligation to ensure that younger generations learn of its horrors to ensure that such an event is never repeated. 

We simply do not believe that this work is an appropriate text for our students to study.”

I have published the whole piece, including the last paragraph written by the resident weasel. “Maus” is about the Holocaust – it depicts violence and suicide. Well, your forefathers were very fortunate in settling in the shadow of the beautiful Smoky Mountains. And as for profanity – eight words; and nudity – a naked mouse!

To be fair I have not read the book, but I have ordered it to see what the fuss is all about. I am not a fan of censorship, except in the case of demonstrated sedition.

By the way, the county seat is Athens, somewhat ironically named.

The Nickname

Michael Rowland from ABC Breakfast has done us all a service by refusing to refer to either the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition by their nicknames. This is not to say that these names will not still have general usage in the bar at the Kembla Grange races. Even Menzies had a nickname – “Ming” – but it was not in common usage when discussing his everyday activities in the public media. His enemies dubbed him “Pig Iron Bob” because of his unfortunate advocacy of iron being exported to Japan before the Pacific War. But in the political commentary it was Menzies and successively Chifley, Evatt and Calwell – maybe first names were used – but not Mingo; Chifo, Evo or Caldie.

It’s all a matter of perspective. I find it confronting when a youngster calls me by my first name because for me the divide in how I’m addressed should reside within myself. A Christian name implies a degree of licence, not to be used by all and sundry.

Thoughts on a coaster …

However, if the Honourable Antony Norman Albanese or the Honourable Scott John Morrison want to dispense with any of their given names or titles and be known as Scomo and Albo, no wonder some may think that they write their policies on the back of a beer coaster or a tithe receipt.

As a postscript, I read the comments of a journalist attempting to devise a smart comment about “Albo”. Obviously, as a child, the journalist had done a couple of lessons in Latin and equated “alb” with white, since the Latin (and incidentally also the Romanian word) for white is “albus”. However, in Italian “bianco” is white, “alba” is dawn and Albanese “Albanian”; in Latin “aurora” and “Ilyrii” respectively.

There is a strong link between Albania and Italy which goes back to Roman times, but I seem to have drifted a long way from Michael Rowland’s timely comments. Still, the association between Albania and Italy is worthy of another blog.

The Virtuous Cycle

Over the next four years, the Morrison Government will invest more than $13 billion through the Education portfolio alone to support research in Australia, including $8 billion in research block grant funding. 

“This includes the Trailblazer Universities program recently announced by the Prime Minister. Trailblazer gives four universities access to more than $240 million to build world-class research commercialisation capability.”

So runs the media release from Minister Robert this week. It came at a time when the Boston Globe has produced a comprehensive article on the biotechnology research around Boston, which I have reproduced in an abridged version without distorting the content of the original article. It should be remembered that, in the context of the article, New England has a population of 15 million, so it provides a significant comparison with this country, where all the biotechnology expertise has also been concentrated in a select number of institutions.

I participated in the Wills Medical Research Strategic Review, which Michael Wooldridge commissioned in 1998 and which resulted in a report with the optimistic title of the Virtuous Cycle. One of the areas of recommendation was the commercialisation of research – and with a somewhat wry smile, I note the new jargon, the Trailblazer Program. Back in early 2002 it was the Flagship program launched by the CSIRO, as if in response to the Will’s Report. I’m not sure “what oceans the Flagships are now plying”, but perhaps the trailblazers will find out.

Now back to New England and what the Boston Globe has to say about the matter. No flagship has been reported off Cape Cod, but perhaps nobody was looking, except that “Flagship” is part of the title of Moderna’s venture capital offshoot.

An electronic billboard along Route 128 in Norwood advertised for jobs at Moderna in May 2021

It’s almost like Massachusetts has too many biotechs.

The industry is hotter than ever, with companies routinely raising millions of dollars in venture capital, startups blooming on a weekly basis, and developers planning more lab space seemingly by the day. But the pipeline of qualified workers to fill all of the added jobs can’t keep up with the burgeoning demand.

The market for biotech talent in Massachusetts has long been robust, but lately the crunch has turned critical. That’s causing some in the industry to worry that it will not only inhibit growth, but also affect the quality of work as key positions become harder to fill and lower-level workers jump from company to company in search of a better compensation package.

Hiring “is definitely more competitive than it was a few years ago, there’s just no question about it,” said Michael Gilman, chief executive of Waltham-based Arrakis Therapeutics, which more than doubled its staff during the pandemic.

The surplus of startups reflects investors’ desire to pour more money into the world’s leading biotech hub. But with every new company that comes out of stealth mode or a mega-funding round that comes with mega-hiring goals, the people problem has gotten worse.

According to the latest report from industry association MassBio, nearly 85,000 people work in the state’s life sciences sector, up 55 percent from 2008.

Most of the hiring is happening in Cambridge, where companies posted more than 2,630 biotech job listings

Large companies, such as Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Takeda Pharmaceutical, as well as Moderna Therapeutics and its venture capital backer Flagship Pioneering, were seeking the most workers during that period.

Turnover is on the rise, too. About 16.5 percent of life sciences employees in Massachusetts voluntarily quit their jobs last year, a recent survey from research firm Radford found, up from 13 percent in 2018. Both figures are high enough to affect a company’s effort to grow.

Naturally, one way to recruit and retain people is to keep paying them more.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary in Massachusetts for chemists and scientists was about $100,000 in May 2020. But biotechs are finding that historical data and closely watched benchmark surveys from Radford quickly become outdated.

“One of my companies realized they had fallen behind in some positions by more than 10 percent,” said Tony Mullin, a biotech human resources executive. “They offered $130,000 and were losing candidates because they were getting $145,000 or $150,000 from other companies.”

Executives said some firms seem to be aggressively outbidding each other for candidates, though most agreed it isn’t a sound strategy.

There’s also a sense that employees are easily swayed by “title inflation,” a phenomenon that occurs when people climb the corporate ladder faster by bouncing around.

There’s a short-term satisfaction with getting a bigger title, but then along with it comes expectations of success.

Beyond compensation, biotech firms are also paying close attention to perks and benefits. It’s not uncommon for companies to have ping-pong tables in their offices or to provide catered lunches Silicon Valley-style.

Dyno Therapeutics’ new office will have a rock climbing wall. Relay recently began offering employees free diapers for the first year of a child’s life. Pet insurance is becoming more common.

One option in expanding the talent pool beyond Massachusetts is an “easy way to kind of simplify the problem for yourself” in a tight labor market. But hiring too many remote employees to fill job openings could be a quick fix that forever changes what it means to work in the biotech epicenter of the world.

When it comes to culture and career development, it has been found that being local is really important, both for the company and the employee.”

Adam Koppel, managing director of Bain Capital Life Sciences, said he often gets asked about what could slow the momentum of the Cambridge-Boston biotech ecosystem.

“The proliferation of new companies has created somewhat of a supply and demand mismatch in the marketplace for skilled managers,” he said.

Koppel said the talent pool has not matured enough to fill key areas from the C-suite and clinical development, all the way through to the commercial launch of products. And, he said, there is increasingly competitive intensity in the industry due to many “copycats” that are “going after the same targets.”

“The ecosystem could benefit from a certain degree of consolidation,” he added.

At least for now, though, executives seem to believe that the biotechnology business in Massachusetts will keep expanding, regardless of its hiring and retention problems.

“It is conceivable that all the capital dries up in our industry, companies shut down, lay off scientists, and they have no place to go,”  Gilman said. “I don’t see that happening anytime soon, honest.”

Mouse Whisper

Welcome to the Year of the Tiger. Watching the Cincinnati Bengals reaching the Superbowl reminded me of a discussion I overheard while I was tucking into a piece of manchego that one of them had dropped on the floor.

It concerned a blind tiger, and apparently my Mäuseherrin has a T-shirt with a blind tiger featured on it. She acquired it in a downtown Cincinnati tavern from the owner, who had an Australian boyfriend and given they had wandered into her joint about midday when business was slow, she had time for a chat and told the Australians about the name of the tavern. “Blind tiger” is one of the nicknames for a speakeasy, during Prohibition. The joke was that you paid to get in to see the blind tiger – and the drinks were free.

I wonder how long that ruse lasted before the police moved in.

Modest Expectations – John F Kennedy

In this week of our National Day and following on my account of “give us our daily” Quinoa Day, I have taken this account from the Washington Post, which shows the dark shadows of the USA, which course across the Lone Star State. It is as though among the Ghost riders there is one; an unhappy emaciated soul called Mean Spirit. 

Texas’s Confederate Heroes Day is not some relic of the Civil War, or even Reconstruction. It came to life out of the backlash to Black Texas lawmakers daring to ask for a Black freedom fighter to be honoured by the state.

As recounted in a lengthy story in Texas Monthly, it all began in 1973, when eight Black representatives joined the Texas House, the highest number since Reconstruction.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

One of them, 34-year-old Senfronia Thompson, introduced a bill to urge the State to recognize the Jan. 15 birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as an honorary holiday, but without the full bells and whistles of a taxpayer-funded day off for public employees. White Republican lawmakers opposed the bill, some claiming that Texas didn’t need any more state holidays and memorials, and that King wasn’t deserving of state holiday recognition because he wasn’t from Texas. 

But state of birth did not stop Texas legislators from shortly after passing a bill to memorialize Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee on Lee’s birthday, Jan. 19, under the name Confederate Heroes Day. It was absurd enough that the House responded to Black lawmakers with an utterly un-American celebration of Confederate traitors, enslavers, racists and, above all, literal losers. But neither Davis nor Lee was even Texan! 

A Touch of the Acerbic 

Guy Fawkes

It seems to be lodged in the tangle of the Serbian helix that vaccination is in some ways a plot and conspiracy. We have the aptly-named Senator Antic, whose lineage extends back from Adelaide to village life along the Sava, and he is one of the anti-vaxxer pests. At some stage, the Australian senate will have to be expunged of this gaggle of Trumpians. These are people who believe their shadows are an invention of the CIA, designed to track them. Paul Keating was very right when he described the Senate as unrepresentative swill. Only it is worse, it is now the Chamber of the Fawkesian Trolls.

Djokovic went with a degree of dignity, but then he had been afforded the full Federal Court at short notice on a weekend to adjudicate. Not that the cost of the whole circus would make much of a dent in his estimated USD220m fortune. He does not live in Belgrade, but in Monte Carlo, so that in line with devotion to Serbia, he is minimising the amount of his wealth that goes into the Serbian Treasury to be dispensed at the whim of the Serbian government. All a matter of perspective.

Djokovic has defaulted from a Grand Slam before. In the 2020 US Open, in one of his “hissy fits” he swatted a ball carelessly – it struck the throat of a lineswoman. She needed treatment; and Djokovic was shown the door. Under COVID rules there was no crowd to view this unfortunate incident; and as far as I am aware there were no extravagant comments by his parents.

Ageing Novak now is learning the meaning of the axiom – autonomy of action is inversely proportional to the controversy generated. President Macron has jumped on the anti-vaxxer bandwagon, and after stating he will “piss off” French anti-vaxxers, he has now included a provisional ban on tennis players who are unvaccinated saying they will be barred from the French Open and indeed any tournament in France. Given that he lives in a French enclave, a ban such as this will constrict any of Novak’s activity in competitions

He has wealth to back up his sense of entitlement. Yet, who knows. The storm clouds are gathering over Europe; and Serbia is considered to be closer to Russia than its Balkan neighbours, apart from Montenegro.

Nevertheless, there has always been some ambivalence in the relationship. One anecdote sticks in my mind. After Tito split with Stalin, Stalin sent a number of assassins to kill Tito, but they failed, and Tito wrote back to Stalin saying he would send one in retaliation so Stalin would not need to send another. The attempts on Tito’s life stopped. It may say something about the tenuous balance between bully and bluff.

Currently, Putin is playing war games over Ukraine; and one area where sanctions could be inflicted is in the world of tennis. After all, in last year’s Australian Open three of the eight quarter finalists were Russian.

Nothing happened over the annexation of Crimea and Trump, in his Presidency, showed himself to be in Putin’s pocket, damping down any US reaction to Russian machinations, whether on terra firma or in cyberspace.

But life may just be getting a little different.

Thus, big things start in seemingly minor Serbian disputes. Just remember that this may be the year tennis lost its political innocence.

Aboriginal Circumcision

In the Jewish and more recently Muslim communities there are organised ritual circumcisers. The difficulties which one Muslim community had with circumcision were highlighted in my last blog.

Once, in Australian society, and certainly in my generation, most boys were circumcised. As one of my contemporaries said to me, “I did hundreds of them during my time in obstetrics.” However, circumcision has fallen out of favour among the paediatricians as unnecessary and even classified as mutilation. In several States circumcision, unless for specific medical reasons, is banned in public hospitals.

Ritual circumcision has been part of the initiation rites of Aboriginal males in Northern Australia and extends among the Desert tribes. As the ritual is shrouded in secrecy, there is no evidence that there is a dedicated ritual circumciser. Nevertheless, the procedure must demand a degree of skill, whether using sharpened stone or razor. Among these Northern tribes, there are other concomitant procedures such as the scarification of the chest and knocking out one of the front teeth.

As Thomas Worsnop observed in his 1897 book, “The Aborigines of Australia” concerning Aboriginal youth initiation, “He has to undergo a terrible formulary of days, even weeks where he must bear with unwavering fortitude, together with the lesser pains of hunger and sleeplessness, intended as a test of his endurance and aptitude to receive the special secrets of the tribe prior to his endowment with the privileges of manhood and of its subsequent duties and responsibilities.”

While much of the initiation was done out of sight of whitefellas, there was obviously a significance in these rites which I wonder how they have been reconciled in a modern society. After all, we still see Aboriginal people, both male and female, of all ages, daubed with ochre engaging in what are stated as traditional ceremonies. Thus, where does the retention of tradition cope with practices which, in modern day, may be thought of as mutilation by a large section of the population.

Circumcision being adopted from elsewhere does not explain the use of subincision where the urethra is slit open. This seems to be unique to Australian aboriginals; but its level of use in initiation is unclear. Nevertheless, such an operation demands a level of skill to be successful.

There is a morbidity associated with the operation, but it is rarely reported. A friend described one situation where the initiate had a severe infection, and how my friend used a succession of salt baths to tackle the problem, in the absence of antibiotics. The youth’s penis healed, but the more one delves into the issue, the more questions are raised. What is the level of debate because inevitably, if it has not already happened, death following such a practice must occur and therefore a major question is whether the benefits outweigh the risks?

In any event, circumcision was not practised in southern Australia and was completely unknown among Tasmanian aborigines. Although the mantra is that the practice goes back thousands of years, it is not universally undertaken across Australia by the various tribes.

These portraits are the only known images of Aboriginal voyagers to Makassar.

From the 13th through the 17th century, it should be recognised that Sunni Islam was chiefly spread widely by Arab and Indian merchants through the East Indies. One theory is that Aboriginal circumcision is a relatively recent practice adopted around four hundred years ago from the Malays, who came to harvest trepang or sea cucumber, the trochus shell and wild nutmeg. It is one explanation but does not seem to be the only one as circumcision was undertaken far from any Malay influence in the central deserts.

For each of us there is often a fine line between beautification and mutilation. One instance for me of this line between enhancement (if not beautification) or not is the facial tattoo. I find it confronting. But then I do not like tattoos. It is also said that much of religious belief rests on confronting this dilemma. A strange triangle emerges, depending on the eyes of the beholder.

The question always must arise as to whether the family or tribal customs prevail; or when is tribal ritual rendered void by society as a whole. At least in relation to ritual circumcision, there is a case for rules even if it continues to be undertaken.

As I’ve alluded to previously, I remember being taken by a male elder to an Aboriginal quarry, where there were hundreds upon hundreds of sharpened stones lying around on the earth. There was a white woman with us. I turned to him and said: “This is men’s business,” He looked hard back at me and said, “I don’t care. Ever since the young men moved the corroboree stones to do burnouts then the link was broken.” He did not need to say more; yet the Aboriginal women elders in the community still did not know about the quarry – and he had let a white woman accompany us.

Albored the Unready – Part 2

The Biloela Four

I would bet that the first act Whitlam would have done if he came to power this year would be to restore the Sri Lankan family to Biloela. There is similar advocacy by Kristina Keneally, but she is not the leader. However, one question which haunts me is whether, in the compassion and sensitivity stakes, Albanese is any different from Morrison. Albanese is too much a party flack, as was Morrison – hardly lived a life outside the carapace of nastiness that factional politics provides. At the same time, Albanese could release the other asylum detainees from the other sites, including the Lygon Guantánamo. The paranoia generated by the transit of ISIS should have subsided.

Instead of spending money on their incarceration, the government could encourage these men to join the depleted Australian workforce. And if anybody bleats that this will be an invitation to the people smugglers, the obvious response would be to ask what the hell has the Australian government being doing over the past 30 years to counter them being around. Albanese could identify this as an example of a literally petrified government and indicate that he will free all the detainees on provisional visas and set work conditions for them. Get transitional arrangements right – and do it swiftly, not after the event as has been the modus operandi of the current Government.

Albanese is so predictable. He promises money for education. It is either hospitals or schools – with creative edges. Like all of these promises the problem is that it has all been heard before. Remember the Gillard Historic Education Agreement of 2008, with all its segments promising a new education horizon. That is the problem – promises of a renewal without any implementation plan are one of the major causes of this country’s policy inaction. The Government is already pointing out the deficiency of the previous policy, instead of emphasising the positive.

Shorten, when leader proposed perfectly reasonable modest adjustments to taxes, but had both an appalling policy salesman in Chris Bowen and was assailed on all sides by the right-wing media. The problem with Albanese is shown in the nostalgia of his own brief tenure as Federal transport minister. He in his own mind was successful.  The question is whether others agree with that summation

Again, he needs a carefully crafted transport policy directed towards immediate structural needs. There are many uncosted dreams floating about, especially involving train lines and super-fast rail, which are notorious for creating “South Sea bubbles” coupled with speculation in the land along any proposed routes.

Albanese’s attack should be concentrated is on the corrupt behaviour of government. The list of rorts has wide currency and each one deserves a clear indication of what Albanese proposes to do to repair the damage, even if it is only to give probity to governmental intentions.

Morrison has had the opportunity of sacking the worst of his ministerial clowns.  One of Morrison’s weaknesses has been to keep the underperforming rather than sack them. It has thus reinforced the incompetency of the Government, overridden by the fear that if he sacked anybody there would automatically be a “sack” faction built to dispose of him. But then Morrison should know; he has been sacked more often than most people.

This time for Albanese the task is obvious – a government which has been corrupt at so many levels; a prime minister who both verges on the pathological in his ability to conjure up his own reality and who has overseen a totally inept bureaucracy full of political dullards. Whether that analysis is true, it has enough truth to drive him to promise to set up an Anti-Corruption Commission, with wide sweeping powers, but from its inception there must be a promise to ensure that all its findings are made public.

Learn the lesson from the Banking Royal Commission. Changing the underlying attitudes if you are to enforce behavioural changes is an ongoing business, otherwise it will end up being more of the same, despite threadbare assurances to the contrary, as has happened.

As important as anything on day one is to have the appointment of the Head decided, so they can be appointed immediately on winning the election. There is a huge menu of malfeasance to be examined, but out of each example a policy adjustment will be needed.

The menu for the cases to be considered should be carefully ordered, so that if there are recommendations, they have a logic in dealing with them, to eliminate personal bias as far as possible. For instance, the car park boondoggle. The immediate task is to obtain a list and put all the construction on hold and pinpoint the trail of decision making.

Of greater concern is what has occurred with the $443m set aside for the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. What have they done, given the reservations voiced by National Audit Office; and as another example of  the failure of the private-public model.

In all, the instances of corruption of the Morrison Government provide lush pastures, and inter alia for Albanese they provide the opportunity to raise the matter of tax in the most brutal fashion, namely amid the corruption there is the disparity in wealth across the country such as to beg tax reform. The problem is that the Labor Party is the face of the hotel industry, particularly beholden to it in NSW. This means gambling has to be protected, areas of wealth, where the major casualties are the traditional Labor constituency. So, this area is left to the Greens and the rising bunch of independents, who may well break through in this election as the most formidable influence to advocate reform. Not a good look for the freshly coiffed Albanese.

I have far more concern with the image of Albanese the person than a superficial makeover.

Unfortunately, I have viewed the parliamentary footage of his scowl when he urges Catherine King, the then Shadow Minister  to “smash her” when referring to the then Minister of Health, Sussan Ley. It is a most disturbing image of the Man who wants to be Prime Minister.

Morrison has cultivated the image of the family man who consults his wife, and treasures his children, Albanese is a divorced man with a tearaway son, Nathan. He was married to a fellow politician.

I am put in mind of the entrapment of Kevin Rudd by a Murdoch operative in a drunken 2003 visit to Scores, a strip club in New York. There will be a hunt on for a similar indiscretions by Albanese. In this case, contrast with Morrison’s wholesome domesticity is important to his political enemies

On the other hand, Andrew Probyn’s seemingly innocent question at the National Press Club of who Albanese really is, was irresistible to Albanese, who loves recounting his “log cabin” story. It had better be correct, because you can bet that the Morrison camp will be looking for any Albanese lie, however minor, to neutralise the Prime Minister’s pathology in this regard.

Will there be a Part 3? I wonder if there is much more to say. 

A different Fox in the Political Farmyard

Prince Rupert was seen reflectively choking over his breakfast of caprine sweetbreads and roasted cervine gall bladders when he read advice to the Democrats from the Lincoln Project – the group of disaffected former Republican insiders:

  1. Drive the damn bus, don’t lay down in front of it. Frame your opponent early, and repeat, repeat, repeat.

    Drivin’ the damn bus
  2. Don’t bring a policy pen to a knife fight. All of us – particularly my friends in the Democratic Party – need to stop thinking that the road to glory is paved with policy. We are in a culture war. You win culture wars on emotion and spectacle. 
  3. Never catch the grenade. The Republican playbook is to lob some crazy attack on the Dems and then just sit back, watch, and enjoy. The Dems catch a grenade like Critical Race Theory as if it’s a bouquet, bobble it around giving it weeks of play, until boom, it blows off another limb. 
  4. Have some damn fun and stop worrying about everything. Sometimes I feel like I’m watching a poor gopher trying to undig its own hole, seeing one of my Democratic friends tiptoe around making a point without offending anyone. 
  5. Sell your wins, and back your own. Today too many Democrats mumble their wins, bury their heads, and hash each other mercilessly rather than fall in line as allies against the true threat. My Democratic friends need to shout their victories from the mountaintops, bite their tongues when they don’t agree, and start having a good time again.

Muscular politics? Certainly! An antidote to what David Owen once said to me, before the rise of Prince Rupert, about the soggy centre of the political spectrum.

If I sat down with Grace Tame

Grace, what were you thinking?

Grace Tame, you are a remarkable young lady in that you have weaponised the response to the hypocrisy of government in preaching sexual equality and yet doing nothing about it. The problem with activism and especially when you are disturbing the status quo of a society run by representatives of the comfortable privately schooled, middle class. While you were the hunter, then you had many followers. Some of those will be so fickle that they will desert when you are perceived as having lost “the authority of Diana.”

This Prime Minister inflicted on Australia, if nothing more, knows how public relations worked. So when you have disdain and you publicly show it, Morrison has been waiting with the wedged response. Gushing all over you when it is so easy for you to be portrayed as churlish by those critics who emerge from the shadows – and surprise, surprise, they ride out from the Murdoch Press.

By your understandable but unnecessary action, you may well have diminished your ongoing effect as being characterised as an ALP stooge every time you open your mouth. The criticism will come at different cadences. Slights are a favourite ploy of the Establishment – for instance your successor as Australian of the Year concurrently received an AO: you, Grace Tame, zilch.

Time to regroup Grace. I disagree with those who say you do not need advice. Everyone needs advice; it is part of being a member of a community. Whether you take it is your choice. Make sure of your friends, and how far they are prepared to follow you into the murkiness of sexual exploitation and degradation of woman. What you had before the Morrison wedge was a persona where the nasty political types could not touch you.

You are tough; if you mix it in politics, a touch of the paranoias does not go astray either. You are likely to be engulfed in the Alcott story, with him exacting from government promises to advance the disadvantaged – a very admirable objective with presumably him having a prominent role.

Grace, you need to put yourself into the brain of the enemy. You need a cohort of Australians to stand with you to develop a series of local sanctuaries for those who flee from abusive arrangements. But maybe you have other strategies to augment your devastating rhetoric. But you are now a different person from the one who met the Prime Minister on the eve of Australia Day.

Over 40 years ago, I was faced with the distribution of Federal money provided for a number of community projects. One was for a women’s refuge, and at that time the Victorian Department of Health was headed by a very conservative Roman Catholic bureaucrat, one of the many Roman Catholics who found employment in the lowly denizens of the public service in the thirties and forties, but moved upwards until they together occupied powerful positions in the bureaucracy.

If the Departmental Head had known about the project at the time, when being an assertive woman and moreover a feminist meant a difficult passage given the ultimate funding decision was made by a conservative male-dominated bureaucracy – us two, it may well have gone nowhere. The appearance of two short-haired women wearing leather jackets in our office. So what? They put their case; it was a no brainer. They got their money and we got it out before any in the hierarchy could object. I’m afraid that is my only credential in a field where there are other instances of which, in hindsight, I am not that proud.

In the intervening years much has changed. Therefore, Grace, it is essential you continue to succeed.

Mouse Whisper

When my field mice relatives amble around the Coonawarra vineyards, their paws get soiled by the terroir rouge; and in the Italian vineyards it’s terra rossa in which miei parenti topi leave their tracks.

But in the Valley of Paraibo between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where a substantial amount of the world’s coffee is grown, the soil is known as “terra roxa”. However, in Portuguese, the word for red is “velmelha.” “Roxa” translate as purple. Nobody worries; sounds right, even if the soil is not the colour of aubergine.

Coffee growing in terra roxa