Modest Expectations – Tunisia

Carnarvon WA

Some years ago I wrote a short story about a serial killer who is killed by a woman who has cause for vengeance, but lulls the killer into a false state of security. Set against a background of Carnarvon and Gascoyne Junction, the killer is a very good looking man, who carefully grooms himself – and the woman, his killer, the impossibly beautiful woman. Prey becomes the stalker. It was part of a series of short stories that I wrote after a trip to the Kimberley, before it became a tourist destination. Whether allegorical or not, it has given me the thought that the woman was a journalist who acted as bait to trap the predator into revealing himself. But maybe that is another story – the journalist who endures contumely as the girlfriend so that her probings cause the sociopath to betray himself in front of his peers.

Rape is an act of violence and control. The violence is given a context -sexual assault. However, if the police were informed that a serial killer was loose, there would not be any hesitation. But violent rape, a close relative of murder, seems to invoke legal hesitation. The Federal Parliament situation needs a change in behaviour to complement attitudinal change to stop the disgusting spectacle.

The refuge for this situation about “Pick the Minister”; the betting firms would have been running a book, except there were too many in the know for any realistic odds on who it was. The accused cabinet minister was known to a large number of people, but the name was withheld until Wednesday. “After all, why should I acknowledge something which did not allegedly occur in 1988, and anyway I was different person then. I am now a Cabinet minister!” Not quite the actual words finally uttered but consistent with the eventual lachrymose performance.

Twitter has been alive about the non-allegations in relation to this Cabinet Minister. Disgusting is a mild way to put some of them, but if they are true, the highest level of disgust should be accorded to the now Cabinet Minister.

However, truth in this case is an elusive beast, especially when waiting in the wings of your staged performance is one of the best defamation lawyers in the country.

Given the seriousness of the case, before I knew his name, I would have thought it timely for the Prime Minister to consult with the Attorney-General. He is, after all, the senior judicial officer in Australia, and the Prime Minister was faced with a systemic problem of law enforcement penetrating even his Cabinet. I reflected in an earlier draft that the Attorney-General hopefully will have a solution to the problem. How ironic!

The problem is that the government is in denial, the more the cover up, the more people exposed with inside knowledge; it is just the sort of scenario that any sociopath would delight in. Sociopaths lie. Along the primrose pathway that such men have trodden to get to where they are now, there may well be a number of dark areas from which somebody could emerge, or not. At present, many of such dark areas seem to be coming to light.

It was inevitable as the uproar increased, that this person would be named under Parliamentary privilege. As I wrote early in the week, my hope was that it would be a male who outed him, preferably being the accused himself. Christian Porter has done that. He recognised to his credit that the problem is that if this non-naming had gone on much longer, with increasingly everybody knowing he was the accused, then the Parliament itself becomes a protector of this man and hence compromised. Therefore, someone would have named him in Parliament.

My view has always been to tackle the negative quickly; fallout is inevitable. So what better action than to excise the poison by now setting up an independent inquiry. In particular, for the Prime Minister, if unresolved, the situation becomes a form of political hemlock.

The one matter that troubles me is that a female senator who should know better has resurfaced a claim against a senior Labor member. Unless she knows something others don’t know, why has she surfaced with an old allegation which actually was reviewed by the police and refuted. Just now! Why?  Surely this woman would not indulge in an infantile diversionary tactic?  Porter in his appearance before the Press then sympathised with Shorten’s plight. So much for Senator Henderson.

There is something in the culture among the Liberal Party women which seems to be toxic to the furtherance of gender equality. I have known many, and some, like former Senator Judith Troeth, were exemplary, but they were closed down; the pressure of being cooped up in Parliament House is not that much different from boarding school bullying.

Christian Porter – no matter how the imbroglio is sliced and however innocent ,while in public life he will be a target, especially in the year of Grace Tame.

Blue Book

Just in case you have not seen the blue book Growing a Strong and Resilient Regional Australia which was published with the Budget papers, it starts optimistically.  “Australia’s regions – despite all that’s been thrown at them, are not only still standing but are on the cusp of a great future.”

I am not going to parse the whole report, but even this first sentence, with its recourse to a metaphorical flourish, begs a number of questions.

Even one sentence. It seems “regions” mean any place outside the capital cities, as though the capital cities are apparently a separate entity; in fact they are a diversity held together by being the seat of a government.

The next sentence provides a crude definition of what Australia is beyond the capital cities, and I have always disputed the integrity of a “Capital” as if it is a walled city with a peasantry milling around outside.

I recognised when reporting to Government on rural health that there was “inner rural” and “outer rural”. I had never thought of subdividing coastal settlements in that way. On reflection, coastal settlement has been shown after the bush fires last year as having specific characteristics, particularly in relation to accessibility. When I made this classification, I did it on the basis of an urban development which sprawls and engulfs what were autonomous mostly rural settlements.

I once identified a ring of what broadly could be identified as similar settlements about 100 kilometres from Melbourne in which there was a substantial number of procedural general practitioners who lived in or near the township. As urbanisation approached, the general practitioners became progressively deskilled; the practices became “lock-up” since the doctors no longer lived in the community; after hours care was the locum wasteland and the community ill, a referred burden to the nearest big hospital with an emergency department.

The other comment I would make was that during the time of my investigation, I set myself an exercise to drive from Colac to Warragul. All of the towns along the way were about the same distance from Melbourne, along highways which radiated from Melbourne. If you followed these radial roads, accessibility to the cities was manageable. When I drove the circumferential routes between the towns to assess the accessibility of each to the other, it was more tortuous, but the roads were asphalted until I drove into the Great Dividing Range. Here the road became gravel and the accessibility factor showed how isolated this area was, even to Melbourne, remembering my approximate route at all times was equidistant from the Centre of Melbourne. This inaccessibility was later so clearly shown up in the 2009 bushfires which spread across outer Melbourne, and where the problem of accessibility proved to be catastrophic.

Tackling infrastructure challenges is being able to differentiate communities of interest and then attend to them appropriately. I have always believed that in Australia local governments are the best surrogate, unless otherwise demonstrated, for consultation. I once instructed the bureaucrats under my aegis to visit every municipality in Victoria to get their views on an initiative with which I had been entrusted. There then were 210 municipalities and only one refused to meet with us to discuss the initiative. My bureaucrats were put in a position where they could explain to people who did not know much about the proposed investment, who were then mostly male and who had no idea about the importance of early childhood education.

I have been involved in working closely with communities for most of my career. I enjoy it because I enjoy the diversity of Australia. It has meant that there are very few areas of settlement in Australia that I have not been to in my long public service.

However, it is an attitude which has set me against Bureaucracy.

This limitation of Bureaucracy is shown clearly in this Blue book of Government largesse apportioned essentially by Ministerial portfolio. There are thus multiple pots of government money without any reference to one another or any indication what the expected end product will be.

This addendum to the budget papers requires close reading, because the document is drafted as if the Federal Government is the Cornucopia and Minister McCormack the Goddess, Abundantia.

To me, this is the McCormack pork barrel. Reading the Ministerial statement, you can almost smell the crackling.  However, it can be argued that aroma is less pronounced than that of the Sports Rorts.  Special interest groups want something; one of the specialties of any portfolio that the National Party holds is the titration of funding against the electoral advantage.

Moreover, Berejiklian has given the practice her benediction last November. “All governments and all oppositions make commitments to the community in order to curry favour. The term pork barrelling is common parlance. It is not something that I know the community is comfortable with. If that’s the accusation made on this occasion …. then I’m happy to accept that commentary. It’s not an illegal practice. Unfortunately, it does happen from time to time by every government.”

God knows, why she contaminated her defiance with “unfortunately”? Joke!

I looked at the proposed Blue Book largesse in regard to “post- bushfires.” A couple of line items attracted my interest. The first among all the grants was $31million allocated specifically to apple growers to “help re-establish” apple orchards, with an individual maximum of $120,000 per hectare to be allocated over one financial year. This is very generous, even if the tree planting is concentrated. It should be recognised that apples and pears are grown together, so there is a definitional problem as only apple growers are mentioned as eligible. There were three apple growing areas affected – Adelaide Hills, Bilpin and Batlow – the last of which lies within the Wagga Wagga State electorate.

From reports there was some damage to the orchards, but that damage seemed to be minor; one producer with 200,000 trees at Batlow lost less than 5,000.

Then about six months after the bushfire in 2020, an industry source reported” … some are choosing to let crops rot on their trees rather than accept farmgate prices set by the big supermarkets at as little as 90 cents per kilogram for a fruit that costs at least $2 a kilogram to produce.

At the same time, Australians are eating 12 per cent fewer apples since 2015; apple exports have fallen 19 per cent since 2016, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Then there’s the drought and its impact on the size and number of apples produced. Australian farmers grew 14 per cent fewer tonnes last year compared to 2017”.

There was no mention of bushfires. So, I’m only on P17 of this 189 page Blue Book, but I wonder what the hell is going on. Turn the page and there is the second line item of interest – Pratt received $10m for his Tumut paper mill.

The problem is that nobody tries to develop a picture where government financing will produce any lasting benefit for Australia. There are pots of money to tap into if one knows one’s way around Canberra.

This is a form of central planning perverted to become a gigantic slush fund; Australia has been blessed indeed as the Land of the Cornucopia – but then I have never watched the Hunger Games. 

Over there; Just not yet.

This country has been spectacularly successful at suppressing the Virus, but the problem with success is complacency, when all about have succumbed to the Virus through political pigheadedness in the main plus a basic lack of discipline when confronted with a universal enemy. Given the number of disaster and alien films, excluding “Contagion”, it is ironic in this case that the invader is unseen. The whole axiom-out of sight; out of mind – should be remembered.

Australia has dealt with this change of circumstances after an uncertain start, by locking the country away from the rest of the world. To get into Castle Australis is difficult, but there are still normative judgements about who can enter the country or cannot, although it seems to be common practice to insist on 14 days quarantine. The fact, like so many other things in this public-relations’ obsessed country, we were faced with border closures ostensibly due to health concerns but clearly political considerations. At the outset, it was understandable that restriction in movement should be uniformly applied, but it was not. This stemmed from a basic mistrust in the Commonwealth Government. Here there was pressure from the Prime Minister’s business circle not to impose restrictions, which would have led to a US-style situation. If sources are to be believed, it was a very close thing. After all, Morrison found an unsanitary affinity with Trump.

However, once they were imposed and the longer they went, border closures became a political weapon more than a health reason. When border closures clearly became a complete nonsense, at least Berekjlian, who, from many of her actions has often showed herself to be a rolled-gold guaranteed “dropkick”, was so right. Once it was clear from the NSW public health response that the COVID-19 cases could be gathered into clusters, then as she reasoned rightly, why indulge in group punishment by closing borders indiscriminately.

However, it has bred in the populace more than a risk adverse sentiment –fear – especially as the spectre of lockdown is constantly held over it.

For many years Australians have been used to being able to holiday both at home and overseas. As someone old enough to have grown up when overseas travel was a luxury and generally linked to overseas employment, it is a return to the old days of my youth.

I was one of those who went overseas in 1971, admittedly for the second time, 14 years after my first. Then, apart from a couple of years, I went overseas at least once each year until last year. In 2020, the Virus intervened. Now there is an uncertain future for overseas travel; the success Australia has had in ridding itself from the Virus has made most Australians value a COVID-19-free environment at the expense of overseas tourism.

Vaccination has introduced a new variable, but the vaccines development has been accelerated in a way that the mid-term to long term effect is yet unknown. The community knows that hygiene, masks and isolation (social distancing), works. However, community compliance is a factor which has been one of the reasons for the Australian success.

Within the borders the sense in confidence of moving about is growing, but the country has endured a harrowing time to see what works. Therefore, tourism will only return on the back of a confident people – confident that it can occur within a world where the virus is controlled.

The only way that this border issue can be addressed in the short term is for Australia and New Zealand to open up their orders to strictly Trans-Tasman Travel, and work from there. After all, there is confidence building so that the States do not instinctively close their borders. The Governments are increasingly confident that they can control clusters into hot spots.

Look at the situation in New Zealand – one case in Auckland and the city goes into lockdown. Therefore the “outbreak fear” level approximates that here in Australia, unlike the USA where any fall in the prevalence of the Virus is almost invariably followed by a premature relaxation of restrictions.  As was reported this week in the Washington Post the downward trend in new coronavirus infections had plateaued, perhaps because officials relaxed public health restrictions too soon and more contagious virus variants were becoming more widespread. Experts say a vigorous vaccination effort is key to stamping them out.”

Australia and New Zealand should bite the bullet and enter into an arrangement whereby people can travel between the two countries, leaving details of their destination on arrival. Thus, mutual trust needs to exist, otherwise both countries will be caught in a Western Australian bind of unreasoned defiance, which fortunately is abating as the Premier sees electoral victory this month.

Then we can move into the Pacific to help our neighbours who need our tourism but need to attain the same public health level as Australia and New Zealand. It is a wondrous thing to think that a Virus can assure a common effective response beginning in the Pacific. But then I am always the romantic, believing that advances come the quality of the response to adversity. Australia needs a different government I’m afraid.

In the Pink

Anonymouse

What does it take to get Sydneysiders to flock to the Blue Mountains? Well, me at least. I was thinking as I drove around the rim of the Blue Mountains what an impossible terrain it is, but without its escarpments and jagged pinnacles there would not be the unparalled views. I could be excused for thinking that when William Wentworth, one of three adventurers who first crossed the Blue Mountains to stand on one of pinnacles, the landscape below revealing what Thomas Mitchell later called Australia Felix, confessed that “his love of Australia was the ‘master passion’ of his life.” I could only agree. Yet here was plain the devastating effect of the bushfires which spread though the area early last year and left in their wake a bare blackened landscape.

Yet Australia Felix is never far away. I had gone looking for nature’s compensation for the terrible destruction, a special tapestry of tiny pink and white flowers. For a few short weeks, a year after devastating bushfires in the Blue Mountains and other areas of eastern Australia, the bush has regenerated and a profusion of pink flannel flowers has appeared.

These tiny flowers appear only rarely. Known as bushfire ephemerals, they are regenerated by fire, followed by good rain. It requires specific climatic conditions for seed stored in the soil to germinate. It is thought the plants germinate in response to bushfire smoke, rather than heat. The smoke-derived chemical karrikinolide is the active ingredient that triggers the plants’ emergence. Other plants with a similar activation after bushfires include grasstrees, or Xanthorrhoea, that send up flowering spears, and Gymea lilies. I saw the rebirthed grass trees, but alas no Gymea lilies.

The current bloom is spectacular, with pink flowers woven among the blackened banksias over these large tracts of shallow, skeletal mountain soils.

With their complicated rosy centre of tiny florets and hairy white bracts, rather than petals, they resemble a daisy, but are actually in the same family as carrots, parsley and celery. They are similar to the common flannel flower but are considerably smaller and have a distinct pink hue.

Pink flannel flowers are a mixed blessing – without fire, they remain dormant. See them while you can, hopefully it is many years before they can appear again. I wonder whether Wentworth ever saw them. I doubt it.

Mouse Whisper

Neera Tanden, a professional Democrat and President Biden’s pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, fought her way to the threshold of the White House, only to be swatted at by senators who claimed that her appetite for partisan conflict — on Twitter, specifically — disqualifies her from holding that much power. The same fighting that got her here, in other words, now threatens to sink her. 

“Just to mention a few of the thousands of negative public statements,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), speaking with the steady monotone of a not-mad-but-disappointed dad, “you wrote that Susan Collins is ‘the worst,’ that Tom Cotton is a ‘fraud,’ that vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz.”

It is an interesting commentary on a feisty intelligent woman, who has raised a swag of money for her Center for American Progress (CAP). She has been a Hilary Clinton sidekick, but it is not only the above Republicans who have been the target of her venom. That honour resides with Bernie Sanders, and at one stage it is alleged that Tanen assaulted the person who later became Sanders’ Campaign Manager. The reason was that Ms Tanen did not like his question directed at Hilary at a CAP forum.

By the way, among her considerable set of donors for the CAP is Mark Zuckerberg who is recorded as giving about US$700,000 in 2018. She certainly is thus a lady not for turning, but her fate will be interesting because she will almost certainly fail to get the nomination for the Cabinet job.

Needless to say the President has withdrawn her nomination later this week.

Neera Tanden

Modest Expectations – Earthquake in Hunter Street

I arrived at the Melbourne apartment having come down from Sydney on Wednesday 25th November. The desk calendar said May. I had not been here since then?

The Virus has wreaked havoc and it is time to reflect given that I have been writing my blog continuously during this time. Hence, once written, always there.

There have been two major disasters – one was the Ruby Princess. Some say the targets to whom I assigned blame were wrong. There is always the fall guy, and people have told me who it is.

Given the Premier seems to be wrestling with disclosing her misdemeanours, she is trying to deflect an increasing number of embarrassing disclosures by filibustering. The “poor little me” melodrama is becoming increasingly tiresome, but people should listen to her fellow Armenian, Mr Aznavourian sing “She”:

She may be the face I can’t forget

A trace of pleasure or regret

May be my Treasurer

The price I have to pay.

Increasingly her NSW constituents may begin to agree with her fellow Armenian’s summation. Obviously, the Queensland Premier may agree as she has used poor Gladys as a punching bag; the State of Origin biff has extended to the two government leaders.

Anyway, the Queensland Premier has her own idiosyncrasies, apart from Jeanette Young, including her insistence on being called “Palashay” and not the original Ukrainian “Palastchuk”. Perhaps it was this Slavonic heritage that loved the sound of Dr Young’s continual “nyet”. Who would know?

Border closures were initially effective as was confining people’s movements, but after a while it became a symbol of secession – even puerile schoolyard spats. It should be noted that if Andrews had not given it credibility by supporting Morrison’s “National Cabinet”, it would have floundered. In any event Morrison has shown little trustworthiness.

Lockdown had a novelty value as Insiders showed with their amusing washing troubadours way back in March and Daniel Emmet continued the fun with his banishment of the Virus to the sound of “Nessun Dorma”.

However, it progressed from a romp when Peter Dutton came back from the USA with the Virus and it was reported that his senior colleagues immediately panicked until they were quietened down by Dr Paul Kelly. However, the lavage jolliness had given away to a sense of vulnerability, albeit fear.

What has happened is that the State governments took the matter very seriously and closed the borders. It is a difficult area to manage because not opening borders can lead to two outcomes, as has been shown over the succeeding months. The first is that despite the Commonwealth having the quarantine power it was virtually ignored by the State Governments – except in one area – the actual meaning of “pandemic”.

However, in one way, the Commonwealth listened to the health experts, and those like Brendan Murphy, who was appointed Head of the Federal Health Department, listened to the health experts in his own team – Paul Kelly and Nick Coatsworth. There were myriad others with varying levels of health expertise, but apart from a number of superficial missteps, Murphy listened to the right voices and the distilled Health advice prevailed over Murdoch and his fellow Ignorants, most of whom could understood the share market but not much else.

In the end, apart from the tourist industry and interference with social communication, the real effect of border closure was magnified by the closure of the NSW / Victorian border. One of the worst happenings is to continually go into lockdowns, then open the borders, then go into lock down again – on and on heightening confusion. I am not a fan of hotels being used as quarantine facilities because in the end all are porous. This is the nature of the beast, especially when you impose imprisonment without accompanying health expertise, and then find out you did not have the expertise anyway. This occurred in Victoria and Daniel Andrews assumed control, locked the State down, imported the contact tracing expertise from NSW, where it had saved the Armenian bacon, and while all about were behaving badly Andrews gradually, over 112 days, bullied Victoria into compliance. It was a terrible time for those in the State but demonstration of the discipline needed to eliminate the virus that is raging everywhere else in the world, apart from selected areas in the South Pacific.

In the end, the strategy had its effect. It suppressed the Virus, and in the case of Victoria probably eliminated it. As a result, woe betide any tennis player who comes to Australia with a cavalier attitude. He or she will be faced with a battle-hardened population who are not going to allow a set of “celebrities” to import the Virus. The message is plain.  Get it into your heads, nobody is going to breach security again and bring in your own tidal wave of infection.

What Andrews showed was courage under fire from the Murdoch media and an Opposition who, if their actions were seditious rather than serious criticism, should be facing charges. He showed that once a lockdown is imposed, and his State embarked on a recovery plan, he had to get it right and not backtrack. That drifting in the political breezes is happening all over the world, in and out of lockdown with political rather than the resolute application of health priorities being uppermost . Under the recklessness of the Mad Trump or the hubris of the Swede Tegnall, people die, people clog up the health system and, as with any arterial blockage, the end result is death to the blocked area.  Andrews showed the way by eliminating the blockage and should be overwhelmingly elected Australian of the Year.

South Australia has since had a similar outbreak in hotel quarantine, and the lockdown was far shorter and the epidemiological weapons used had been improved across Australia since March. As this blog goes to posting, NSW has just had a breach in hotel quarantine.

Underlying all the political action is that there will be a viable vaccine available soon. There seem to be plans upon plans for distribution of an untested product.

There are two questions that seem to be consumed by the cacophony of the public relations spin. What are the side effects and can I die from the cure? How long does the immunity last? You see, I grew up in a world where we had injections before we went overseas, and they did not grant life-long immunity. You had to get injected for cholera and typhoid each time you went overseas – and the latter gave me a nasty local reaction. I’d been through it at that time, bearing my vaccination card, when overseas travel was a far smaller sector than in the modern world.

This whole area is complicated by the Head of Qantas saying that you would not be able to board an aircraft unvaccinated. Forced to take an unproven vaccine? Where is the duty of care? The world of business is treading a perilous pathway.

Finally, one thing I would say is that the media is braying about how well our political leaders have stood up in the recent polls. Did the polls award Morrison the Lodge in 2019?  Did the polls accurately reflect the votes in the recent US elections. Let’s face it. Polls stink.

Ah yes, but this is the poll I like. It says I am popular. The politician preens. It says that people think of me as a perfumed gardenia. Beware, gardenias die very quickly and leave a stench not a perfume. But then I am given another gardenia, and it’s alright, isn’t it?

Why not a Summit at ShaTin?

The Chinese are insulting us. The Prime Minister armed with his Pentecostal shield fights back. The Chinese are trying to strangle our industries. The Chinese have taken over Hong Kong completely. Dissidents are being locked up.

Sha Tin race course

But it is not all bad. There is still horse racing in Hong Kong – whether at Happy Valley on the Island or Sha Tin in the New Territories with Australian-bred horses, Australian-bred trainers, Australian-bred jockeys and even Australian-bred stewards. All their antics are broadcast by Channel 7 in the interests of Sino-Australian recognition of our long association with the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

The Chair of the Club is Phillip Chen Nan-Tok. He seems to be well connected, having been a senior executive of the Swire Group and of various property developments in Hong Kong and on the Mainland.

It is all unreal. Munchkin-like barrier attendants. The race commentary and in between race commentary is all very English, although the race-caller is obviously Antipodean; he does not have the languid style of the British race-caller or the unintelligible brogue of an Irish counterpart. There he is describing Australian horses galloping around these racetracks with not a whiff of tear gas or the young rioting against Mainland repression.

The betting brings Hong Kong plenty of money – and not an Australian boycott in sight. I wonder therefore if the Chinese will be at the Australian horse sales in the New Year.

Bliss

My son gave me “Abraham Lincoln” – which coincidentally was reprinted in 1939, the year of my birth. This book was written by William Thayer, an American educator, who was born during the American Civil War.

Lincoln

The book details a mob response to the death of President Lincoln in very graphic terms:

“In some localities the grief expressed itself in the form of vengeance. It assumed that form early on Saturday morning in the city of New York. Armed men gathered in the streets threatening speedy death to disloyal citizens. Their numbers rapidly increased, until fifty thousand assembled in Wall Street Exchange, bearing aloft a portable gallows, and swearing summary vengeance upon the first rebel sympathizer who dared to speak. One thoughtless fellow remarked that ‘Lincoln ought to have been shot long ago’; and he was struck dead instantly. The grieved and vengeful crowd seethed towards the office of the World, a disloyal paper, with mutterings of violence on their lips. It seemed scarcely possible to prevent violent demonstration. A bloody scene appeared to be imminent. At that critical moment a portly man, of commanding physique and voice, appeared upon the balcony of the City Hall, from which telegrams were read to the people, and raising his right hand to invoke silence, he exclaimed, in clear and sonorous tones:-

‘Fellow-citizens, – Clouds and darkness are round about Him! His pavilion is dark waters and thick clouds of the skies! Justice and judgement are the habitation of His throne! Mercy and truth shall go before His face! Fellow-citizens! God reigns, and the government at Washington still lives!’

The effect of this serious address was magical. The raging populace subsided into repose. A hushed silence pervaded the vast assembly, when the voice of the speaker ceased, as if they had listened to a messenger from the skies. The change was marvellous. The speaker was General James A. Garfield, who became President sixteen years afterwards, and was shot by an assassin four months later! How strange that the inhabitants of that metropolis, who listened to the gifted statesman so gladly, April 14th, 1865, should be shocked by the news of his assassination on July 2nd, 1881!”

There are two stories in this excerpt from the book. The one directly showing that in times of crisis America always seems to unearth a saviour. Garfield’s ability to quell the mob reaction restored a degree of order into what was one of the most provocative acts imaginable to incite mob revenge – the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

James Garfield had been a major-general in the Union forces while still in his 30s and had seen action in some of the major American Civil War battles such as Shiloh while still a young man. He may have been described as portly in the above excerpt, but he was only 34, and “portly” is not a word I would normally associate with a person of that age.

Garfield

Moreover, as with Lincoln, Garfield was born in a log cabin – Lincoln in Kentucky, Garfield in Ohio – both Republicans, both with progressive social agendas.

When Garfield was shot, he had a doctor called “Doctor Willard Bliss” foisted on him. Doctor was actually his first name and in most of the description of this man, he is known as “D W Bliss”. Bliss was a rogue, in that he ran away under fire at the Battle of Bull Run, and then claimed that he participated in a great victory. He faced prison for stealing Army equipment but was helped to evade conviction by his political contacts.  He took the opportunity of an association with Lincoln’s son to spruik a false cancer cure.

Notwithstanding that, he bobbed up as Garfield’s personal physician again on Lincoln’s son’s recommendation. He was completely disdainful of Listerian concepts in mitigating infection. It is not reported whether he ever uttered something like “fake news” or “hoax’. However, it was his complete repudiation of infection control including shoving unsterilised instruments into the President’s body in a vain attempt to find the bullet that accelerated the President’s ultimate demise.

Despite a welter of optimistic reports on the progress of the President’s condition, completely fake, Garfield died on September 16 – two months after the assassination attempt. A long pus-laden sinus was found in the President’s body at post-mortem – the track outlined where Bliss’s probe had gone.

At trial, Charles Guiteau, the would-be assassin,  said in his defence that he did not kill the President, Bliss did. Nevertheless, it was Guiteau who was convicted and hanged in January 1882.

In fact, Bliss billed the US Government for an outrageous sum for services rendered, but in the end received nothing.

Real gallows humour, because with Bliss, quackery and fake news clashed with scientific evidence. Scientific evidence and the life of a President were the victim of the Bliss cocktail.

Ambulant recognition

Simple things are often lost in the grand sweep of the disabled. One of the problems with being disabled is the lack of uniformity of public toilets, those in restaurants and also those within service stations which are the most easily accessible, unless the service station has a sign which says “Express”, which stands for “no toilets”.

The problem:

There are four essentials.

  • The toilet seat must be about 50 cm from the floor.
  • There should be a rail to hold on to when standing up.
  • There should be a handle on the inside of the door; just try getting the door open if you have only a small bolt handle and you are too weak to use it.
  • There is a need to have an ambulant toilet, the use of which should be enforced with appropriate signage in each of the male and female toilets, so the first stall can double as the ambulant toilet with appropriate adjustment in size.

I am going to name one toilet. The one at the Pheasant’s Nest Service Station which is one of last on the Hume Highway before Sydney, and therefore has a strategic importance if you do not want to be caught short on the freeway, caught in an unexpected gridlock.

The disabled toilet has been converted into a shower for interstate truck drivers and was locked. You can hold all the Royal Commissions in the World, but the recommendations often float away.

It would be very useful if there was an enforceable guide for toilets – then there may be an attempt to get uniformity, to conform to the standards, which are clearly set out if one can be bothered to read them.

In Namibia, I once flew for more than three hours in a light aircraft with a bottle for use in the emergency. The flight was from Windhoek to the Hartmann Valley in the north-west of the country, close to the Angolan border. There, alongside the airstrip in magnificent solitude, was one the cleanest flush toilets I have ever used.  That was a very good definition of “relief”. I called the toilet – Mafeking.

Hartmann Valley

Dial M for Misnomer

I had one of those “Four Weddings and a Funeral” moments recently. You know when:

Charles:  How do you do, my name is Charles.

Old man: Don’t be ridiculous, Charles died 20 years ago!

Charles: Must be a different Charles, I think.

Old man: Are you telling me I don’t know my own brother?

This day, I was in a hurry and I thought I had transcribed the phone number correctly.

I rang. A familiar voice, as I thought, answered.

“Marcus, this is father.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. My father died 40 years ago,” followed by a piece of unnecessary invective.

The receiver was slammed down.

I checked the phone number. It was that of one of my cousins who was born grumpy. His name started with “Michael” but although I see him infrequently, I know he is deaf. I could not be bothered ringing him back.

Mouse Whisper

At last, the Trapdoor has been removed and I have been able to visit Melbourne and all my mouse mates who went to Murine Grammar School. I was with a wise friend, Melchior who travels every year here with his two friends, Balthazar and Caspar. Melchior in not Australian but apparently COVID-19 immune.  As we ran along a Melbourne street, we saw this newspaper poster on the newsstand:

SMITH

BLASTS

TON

Melchior was at once fascinated since Melchior is familiar with gold. So he pondered; “Goldsmith?”

“Blasts?” explosives –

“Ton” – unusual for a goldsmith to mine his own gold?

Melchior said such was the rarity no wonder it had made news.

“Good try but not quite right, Melchior!” was all I whispered.

Modest Expectations – Nisi

Today was Melbourne Cup day. You know, the sporting event that stops a nation. Except we have just driven 800 kilometres from   Dubbo to Broken Hill. It is not the first time we have driven between the two cities, but it served as a reminder that going on a long journey with yourselves through the Outback of Australia is a reminder of our diversity. Australia prides itself on its multicultural diversity, but even to my urban eye, Australia also has great climatic diversity.

In the brochures which highlight this diversity there are always pictures of the Great Barrier Reef, tropical rain forests and beaches, Uluru and red deserts, and the Sydney Opera House. However, along a road on a hot day, diversity springs out at you if you care to look.  The subtle changes in the landscape are there. The problem of being the driver is that one drives essentially with a strip of bitumen in front of you. Traffic is increasingly sparse the further you penetrate into the country.

The thin strip of bitumen

Whenever I go on one of these trips, I say to myself that I must learn more about eucalypts. There have been multiple experts who can tell a gum tree variety just by running their eyes up and down the structure. The fragrance of Australia is breaking apart a newly picked gum leaf and smelling it. Describe the smell and you describe Australia as it has been for thousands of years.

Between Dubbo and Nyngan, there are a number of small towns. This is wheat country interspersed with natural habitat.

There is a white blanket along the sides of the road. They are tiny white everlastings that nature has gathered into posy-like clumps and then strewn through the bush.

As the soil becomes drier, everlastings give way to small clumps of salt bush dotting the landscape and foreshadowing that there is saltbush country beyond the horizon.

The scrub varies from open woodland to areas of brigalow, with the grey feathery foliage atop a black trunk, the mallees – greenery close to the ground, then clumps of native cypress, some gidgee trees. These are interspersed with the gum trees I wished I could identify.

I well remember driving from Bourke to Goodooga in the north of NSW and my companions identifying the trees as they would their relatives. The most striking of all of them was the leopard gum. Each of these trees and others reflect microclimates in each of these areas being distinct, which in turn makes the whole landscape such a diverse experience.

On our trail today, animal life is scarce – one emu, no kangaroos, a number of feral goats, no cattle and a small flock of sheep in saltbush as we neared Broken Hill.

After Nyngan it is 130 kilometres to Cobar. At Nyngan, in a unprepossessing iron shed which houses the toilets, we find that rarest of commodity, soap – and something in my wide usage of such facilities I have never seen before – paper towels, all maintained by the volunteer group that run the adjacent wool shearing shed display.

Contrast this with the stop at the MacCulloch Range wayside rest area which boasts a children’s playground, a barbecue and a long-drop toilet without toilet paper – and where the birds are conditioned to congregate around the toilet when occupied, because the outside wash basin discharges its waste water directly on the ground for the birds to drink. Here there are several plaques identifying NSW Ministers who have made the journey to unveil them – one in recognition of the completion of sealing of the road between Nyngan and the South Australian border in 1972 and the other for the creation of the children’s playground and the other facilities there! Talk about turning up for the opening of an envelope – but then the latter was Carl Scully.

However, that stopover is closer to Wilcannia than Cobar, which owes its existence to its copper mines. Then it is 260 kilometres to Wilcannia from Cobar, with no settlements in between.

Wilcannia stone

Wilcannia was once a thriving river port where boats were loaded with the wool clip and sent down the Darling River. The magnificent buildings made from the distinctive Wilcannia stone attest to a past colonial magnificence. I was once shown the quarry from which the Wilcannia stone was extracted. It was disused although stone remained under a cover of bush. The stone makes beautiful cream coloured buildings, so much in synchrony with the intense clear sunlight. Perhaps the quarry has been worked out – but the stone would still attract use for building if that is not the case.

Wilcannia is now an Aboriginal town as it has been all the 30 years since I first stayed and worked there. Here was where I learnt so much about the Barkinji people. Today in 40 degrees heat, parked in a nearly deserted main street, we watched the Melbourne Cup on a laptop.

This year travelling the route was somewhat unusual in that rain had come and turned much of the country green.  The salt bush seemed to coalesce with this greenery. The red earth still broke through, and in particular there were some areas which had not received much rain.

The last kilometres through to Broken Hill pass through a plain almost devoid of trees. While there was a rim of hills in the distance, this land was flat and green – it seemed to be a continuation of the Hay Plains to the South, which are so treeless they give an illusion of a flat earth. It is said these plains are the area which most effectively demonstrate this illusion.

At last Broken Hill nears, we turn our watches back half an hour to South Australian time. Now on all sides we see what many people describe as the engine which made Australia – the huge silver-lead-zinc deposits – after the gold rush petered out. There is no way Broken Hill can be described in one paragraph.  I’ll reserve that for another time since this one day in the Outback stands alone – yet another tincture to colour the wonderful commodity – experience.

Old Broken Hill

The Three Horsemen of Politics 

“To spend a third of life in unproductive idleness seems a dreadful waste to some people, and now and then they decide to shun the slothful practice evermore.  No one has yet succeeded. After a couple of sleepless nights they are as sleepy as anyone else, eventually become incoherent and irrational and seek the season of all natures.”

                  The last six words are stated by Lady MacBeth.

When I listened to the tirade from Minister Frydenberg demonstrating his basic ignorance of what Daniel Andrews had done, I could not believe it – coming from the mouth of someone who in all public demeanour before has shown control albeit behind a quizzical expression.

So what did this outburst signify?  Many applauded him for it. I did not. I thought the content wild and illogical. I have watched politicians over the course of 50 years. Published many years ago in the print media, but seemingly forgotten, I have been jogged to repeat what I said then.

There were three challenges for politicians that I identified.

  • Sleeplessness
  • Isolation
  • Boredom

As I wrote about sleeplessness, it seems to be a badge of honour of some politicians not to sleep. I remember that Margaret Thatcher boasted about how little sleep she needed. She ended up with dementia. When I first wrote about the deleterious effects of lack of sleep, there was not the evidence there is today about its link with Alzheimer’s and Lewy body dementia.

I have always likened sleeping as the time you put out the cerebral garbage.  This image seems to have been validated by scientific evidence. When one does not sleep, then the garbage in the form of amyloid or other toxins is left to accumulate in the brain.

I well remember the experiment of “the tipping cat”. Here the cat would just be allowed to fall asleep and then immediately be tipped up. This was repeated time and again, eventually turning the cat into feline paranoia.

The image of Frydenberg scribbling away and then launching into the tirade made me wonder about how much “good sleep” he is getting. From a forensic point of view it would be interesting to know what he actually scribbled, and the psi impact on the paper hopefully not reflected in the way Trump violates paper with his black signature.

So that is the first question I would ask of Frydenberg. What about your sleep?

Turning to isolation; the figure brooding, looking out the window – the Person Alone – is supposed to indicate strength and a thoughtfulness, the ability to sustain 40 days and nights in the wilderness. However, the reality is that most politicians hate isolation. My thought is that when they all moved to that new Mussolini era-architecturally inspired mausoleum called New Parliament House, to offset the innate isolation of the long corridors and the vast atria with offices designed for excessive space with the consequence of distancing themselves from us plebs, the politicians employed more and more staff. In the Old Parliament House, people lived close to one another, which in itself reduced isolation – apart from which, the place was so small no one could fit a large number of staff.

However, now politicians have to work in a building which structurally promotes isolation enhanced by the ever-increasing levels of security; then, when a pandemic appears, the frailty of those isolated is shown. When isolation is a negotiable commodity, then it can be brushed aside – but when isolation comes with compulsion to save the health of a nation, then it becomes very challenging because it is real, physically.

Because in a pandemic that’s exactly what they should happen -one isolates oneself.

Another problem with isolation is that it breeds ignorance and, when combined with sleeplessness, an inability to adapt. One of the ways to combat this is to listen, not as a public relations exercise, nor one looking for an anecdote to bolster your belief system, but as a genuine effort to discover alternative views. I always remembered the politician who said he went to meetings outside his comfort cocoon, because there was often times one comment or an idea would jolt him from his “cocoon of isolation” and make him think further. Isolation thus has a mental component.

The final component which has grown over the years to feed isolation has been this obsession with security. The activities in the Middle East have fuelled this, together with the increasingly inflammatory comments from politicians revelling in the inferno of populism. When I first entered the political scene, security was not the industry it is today. Even when there was the attempt to assassinate Arthur Caldwell, then the Leader of the Opposition, in 1966 there was no knee jerk response. Security has now become an industry – a commodity – to be traded- and alongside its growth are the vested interests. It is no doubt a contributor to isolation, but how much? One can only say that if one believes it is important to combat “the politician as an isolate” it needs to be factored into any considerations.

Then there is boredom. People believe that hustle and bustle is activity. This boredom was exemplified by the criticism of Mr Albanese’s office. It sounds like a playground with or without a sandpit. The problem is that there is not enough real work for these characters to do. They then just play endless games of “gotcha” in between their sycophantic acknowledgement of their various politician employers.  As I once wrote: “Boredom and its consequences have the effect of pushing away some people who could have been important contributors. It would disastrous if, at the centre of the political world, are solely those who delight in the entrails of boredom, and who actually revel in gossip, ritual and games.”

In the intervening period I have witnessed how true most of this is. There is no reason to believe that Frydenberg ever gets bored, but it is reason for him and others in high places to be aware that boredom breeds mischief – bouncing between venial and venal. Staff members need useful work to do and if that doesn’t exist, you don’t need them.

Therefore, if a government does not have an optimistic agenda demanding substantial policy discussion, hope is rationed and eventually boredom thrives from a lack of hope, because there is nothing to do but obfuscate, let forth tirades and generally be unpleasant. Because there is that ghost of the Cheshire cat and all it conceals, to goad. Then add sleeplessness and isolation and it becomes a toxic mixture!

Paul Collier – Lest we forget

I don’t know whether his name has been mentioned in the Disability Royal Commission. I very clearly remember meeting his mother though.

At the time I was on quixotic mission handing out voting cards at the Woodcroft booth in the seat of Mawson. Dr David Senior, a rural general practitioner friend of mine, was standing on a single issue of saving the Royal Adelaide Hospital, a perfectly good building on North Terrace, rather than have it replaced with an extravaganza further up the road. The new hospital has since been built; it has had huge commissioning problems but is a legacy to that man of impeccable judgement, Mike Rann, then Premier. This judgement was attested to by his chummy relationship with Lance Armstrong.

Then, as now, Mawson has an ALP member. The electorate is a predominantly outer suburban electorate, but also includes a significant slice of the state’s wine industry and now extends to include Kangaroo Island. Woodcroft, where I was handing out cards, was very suburban – wide streets, not many trees, the signature brick veneer homes but not McMansions.

This is where I met Paul Collier’s mother. Collier was a quadriplegic, highly qualified who, at the age of 21 had the accident which rendered him with this severe disability. This had not stopped his advocacy for the disabled and he had formed the Dignity Party. He was on top of the Party ticket for a place in the Upper House, but 11 days prior to the election, he died from a cerebral haemorrhage. His name had remained at the top of the ballot. His votes were passed on to the second person on the ticket, Kelly Vincent, a young woman with cerebral palsy, who was duly elected and served one term, and tellingly was not re-elected in 2018.  The conventional stated reason for this was the change to optional proportional voting. If so, this is an indictment of how the community viewed her candidature, not important enough to either vote for or preference her, disability and all.

But then in March 2010, I shall never forget that extraordinary woman, having just farewelled her son two days before, handing out how-to-vote cards for her dead son’s Party. I did not discuss her motives with her; she was still wrestling with the grief.  She had told me enough.

When I wrote this to Mike Steketee, a journalist I knew well then, I myself was not disabled, as I am now. Once I found out the complexity of being looked after, as I have, I recognise how difficult it all is. Frankly, I don’t know why you need a Disability Royal Commission over four years. What will it tell me in its recommendations about what should be done that I do not already know.

The labour intensity of keeping people alive is huge and thankless; one problem of medical science – from the marginally viable 22-23 weeks pre-term to the centenarian with dementia – is intent on keeping them alive at all cost.  An increasingly number of people recognise, as they do elsewhere, prolongation of life of an obsolete product is about cutting losses – but tell that to the religiously superstitious! It was reported this week that almost 50 per cent of those who have died in aged care in Australia from COVID-19 had dementia.

Society is conditioned to mourn the dead, often a self-conscious piety when it just boils down to how, in personal terms, the dead are just names. We fumble in how we express ourselves when we feel nothing. Going to funerals as a matter of form is not grief. Grief is a solitary situation, and when you lose your mother as a boy, it lives with you for the rest of your life.

Disability has been raked over. Let’s assume the cost is considerable; the modelling light on “how much” flashes “a lot”.  In these times with a government in deficit, if you want to care properly – you need a tax.

Confront the country with the figure for care for a moderately disabled person if treated individually at home or in an institution; then ask each taxpayer individually would they be prepared to pay that tax, given that around every health problem is a shell of fakery and profiteering associated with the privatisation of aged care. The Disability Royal Commission should be able to answer some of the questions underlying the statement in this paragraph.  If they have, then why the need for extension?

Apart from the here and now I faced the dilemma of how to confront disability almost 50 years ago when I was a young doctor responsible for an adult rehabilitation ward. One day in 1971 a 12-year old boy was admitted, paralysed down one side, a spontaneous event without apparent cause.

He was a bright boy and I had immediate empathy with him. I saw him every day. He came from the country, but nobody came to see him. His parents seemingly had disappeared at the onset of his medical condition when the boy was transferred to the city. It is very difficult to be child in a rehabilitation ward where most were elderly. For some reason, it was difficult to discharge him, because facilities for a child soon to become an adolescent with all that meant were poorly differentiated. Adolescent medical care as a specialty was in its early stages.

Thus, for respite on a couple of weekends with the agreement of the hospital, I took him home so he could experience family life.  Our sons were seven and five at the time.

We lived very close to the hospital. My then wife and I contemplated whether we could go further and seek to take over his future care and education. We consulted a range of heath professionals, before initiating anything. We never mentioned it to anyone – we were not adopting “a pet” to be discussed over morning coffee. The question was whether we could give him a better life, not him to be regarded as a trophy.

We both agreed the question was whether we could be both appropriate “foster parents” or “adopted parents”. In the end we were dissuaded; we had to cast off any incipient emotional ties. However, for a period we wondered whether we had done the wrong thing. As it turned out, we probably did the right thing – but how would you know as we did not maintain contact. We did ensure that he would be cared for in the short term and not be forgotten. No Royal Commission could have helped us then or, I suspect, now.

In hindsight, given where we both are now, it was obviously right, but then nobody will ever know what would have happened if he had become part of the family. Dwelling on such matters at an individual level gets one nowhere, except to think that Ron Sackville must have wisdom which the rest of us do not. 

Mouse Whisper

As someone who remembers the toll of the 1980s, this piece from the New York Review of Books is sobering, so much so that if a mouse could shout from the rafters and not squeak, I would say loudly:

There is a terrible fear that the toll on health care workers from COVID will have been in vain if Trump’s failure to effectively tackle the pandemic continues, if testing is not ramped up to levels that allow for identification of carriers and contact tracing, if distribution of protective equipment is not done rationally but rather through nepotism and profiteering, if experts are removed from important positions after questioning incompetent political leadership, and if reopening the economy is done haphazardly to fulfill talking points on cable TV in hopes of gaining re-election. 

Perhaps the greatest lesson we can take from the AIDS epidemic is one that came after the movie star Rock Hudson died, effectively removing the blinders that President Reagan was wearing. Reagan, a friend of Hudson, at last ceded authority to scientists like Fauci, who knew how to speak to the public about illness and create a sense of common cause, and to mobilise both the public and private sectors to triumph over a virus that had never been seen before and many believed could not be effectively combated.  AIDS arrived as a murderer; now it can be shackled. We are nowhere near that point with COVID-19.

Modest Expectations – Blood-nut Hollow

One side of my family, the Horwills, were wool combers from Devon. The industrial revolution came later to wool processing than for cotton, but by the mid 19th century, the technology had been ironed out and manual wool combing was surplus to need. Anyway, many of the family had already gone to sea, literally. There were hard times in that year; food shortages and the upheavals in Europe may have also played a part because in the mid 19th century the Horwills scattered across the New World – to America, Canada and Australia.

Another set of ancestors, the Egans, came out from Ireland about the same time. Their father had been a flour miller in Crossard, a small township in Co. Clare. They seem to have been tenant farmers. The potato famine changed their life and drove the whole family to Australia. My great-grand father went first to Kapunda on the Yorke Peninsula, where the first commercial mine to extract copper from a rich deposit happened earlier in the decade. Unsuccessful, he was attracted by the newly-found gold in Victoria and made a considerable fortune by providing timber for the mine shafts.

1848 was a time when the working classes and the nascent middle class rose up across Europe. It cannot be blamed on the industrial revolution but it was a time that the disparity between rich and poor was accentuated.

The revolution started in Sicily where the Bourbon King’s rule was challenged. There had been a savage cholera epidemic in Sicily and it seems that arbitrary arrests of a few people sparked riots in the streets of Palermo. As the rioters gained support even from the wealthy, it became a fully-fledged rebellion with the locals seizing power from the Bourbon king, who reigned from Naples.

The rebellion spread across Continental Europe and it followed a pattern of the revolutionaries seizing power and then having it taken away from them in violent conflict, with the old order in the end re-established. However revolution did not affect Great Britain, except that the Irish Question became an even greater problem with the failure of the potato crop in a country still reliant on agrarian subsistence.

The problem is that the dynasties were re-established, refurbished and restored. However, there was now an intellectual basis for the foment among the community against the ruling dynasties traditional right to power.

But after a major upheaval, whether it be famine, epidemic or war, nothing is the same. Communication and education opportunities then were improving – if unevenly. That was the nature of society: industrial progress, the urban growth, democratic advocacy, education and with improved literacy and numeracy in the working class, all were shifting unevenly.

America and the British colonies and places like Argentina had spurts of migration – no more so than America. Here in Australia it was the Celts – Irish, Scots and Welsh – looking for a better life. There were also people from the Prussian diaspora – Lutheran Germans and Wends. Jews were forced to flee Europe – universal scapegoats.

Descendents of the immigrants

The 1848 revolution was never a major source of our migration. It was the fascination with gold a few years later. The Chinese came and their immigration is entangled in these gold discoveries. It was just a coincidence that this was around 1848.

The gulf between rich and poor was growing and all 1848 had done was to seed in the enlightened of the day that industrialisation meant that workers would eventually want their share, and have a voice.

2020 is in the middle of another revolution, a communication revolution where, rather than Rothschild, Carnegie, Mellon Rockefeller, Astors of yore, it is now the Gates, Bezos, the Google Twins, Zuckerberg and the Jobs Legacy that command the riches.

Instead of workers obediently tipping their forelocks to the pageantry of the wealthy this generation is hooked into a technology that is increasingly manipulating the masses into not paying attention to this wealth and power disparity, with this communication revolution aiding and abetting this disparity.

That is until the Virus came calling.

Like the famine and the urban cesspool of exploitation, the disparity in wealth was allowed to progress until the First World War, despite some tentative gestures to improvement. That was a critical tipping point; the misnamed Spanish flu epidemic without cure, the Great Depression and then the Second World War were sequels. To trace the causal effects of each on each other is beyond the scope of one simple blog.

However, the rich now, through what their agents laughingly called government, have peddled globalisation and the free market as a means to erode the power of the people. To me that “power of the people” has always been shorthand for democracy. Rather than the information revolution devolving power to the people, the opposite has occurred and as the algorithms of control become more and more sophisticated then so will democracy become only a façade.

However, the Virus has provided an opportunity to change the system. The rage against “lockdown” confused with oppression is reflected in the race protests, people against police brutality and a superficial correction in toppling or defacing statues. But these acts are peripheral.

As post-1848 showed, the middle class eventually sided with the rich and their politician tools, frightened of the unknown and guessing they had less to lose. Outbursts were suppressed and bribes cloaked as “commitment” seduced the others. Whenever, the word “change agent” is used, it identifies the person who has made his or her life’s work to sit on committees and do nothing.

In the end, because they suffer from the same afflictions, politicians close ranks – ask them to reduce their remuneration and perks and that is the definition of the great god, Unanimity.

However, control is in the end vested in the masters of communication. Once it was the newspaper magnates, but they are being consigned to the irrelevant.

Those who want to maintain power do it through philanthropy, such as Bill Gates who is just following the game plan of the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers, and in this country Ian Potter – but in a way that the means of amassment is well separated from the art of giving. Philanthropy is thus a powerful force – it is a form of tithe for ongoing respectability and to have a shelter in a metaphorical Nottingham Wood (to avoid the pun as you read on).

To quote the Guardian when discussing one Andrew Forrest: “This is not to say philanthropy has no real to play in a democracy. It does. But democracies cannot allow wealthy individuals and successful organisations to use philanthropy as a substitute for paying tax. That’s no longer democracy: it is oligarchy.”

Or plutocracy.

Thus the Virus gives society the opportunity to have a levelling influence on the elite. Given that the middle class is almost as afflicted as the poor, then the chance is a return to a democratic tradition, where government stops abrogating its role to care for the people.

This pandemic has made abundantly clear that investment in public health worldwide has been woeful. When governments start privatising water, as has been done, then this compounds the risk of food security, and a stagnant pool is then a cesspool. It is thus only a matter of time before waste disposal and sewage is privatised. All the gains which were made post-1848 when there was a modicum of enlightenment and there were enough statesmen to listen may be lost to a mass of politicians grubbing around for personal gain – the primordial rent seekers of today. In fact it is time to thin the rent seekers out – some are more cancerous than others, metastasising their cells all through the governing bodies.

Rocinante and his old boss

How do we bring more balance to a Post-viral World? Where government has shown leadership, the Virus has been suppressed, incarcerated if not eliminated. To maintain such a defence force against disease, then there must be consideration of government spending and thus it becomes a search for income. Since in the flurry of neoliberalism, governments have given away most of their assets, and decreased taxation, it is not easy. Tax reform can be portrayed as Rocinante tied to a post waiting for his new boss to appear. Governments of all sides have made those who genuinely believe in overall betterment quixotic.

Increasing taxation is an obvious solution whether by simplifying the tax and removing concessions, instituting a turnover tax, raising GST in a progressive way, abolishing the poll taxes which have resulted from privatisation, reintroduction of inheritance taxes, closing tax havens and generally establishing a means by which everybody pays their fair share, rather than sheltering behind the mumbo-jumbo of the “free market’’. There are plenty of options to achieve equity.

When the threat to wellbeing is greatest and where the politicians recognise their need for expert advice, this pandemic has provided a harsh lesson. Globalisation now has an altered definition.

Rather than revert to the failures of neo-liberalism, it is time for government intervention. Social housing is an immediate target – a worthy show of government’s role. It is hard to brush aside what government has done for the homeless during the pandemic, and as such reduced the burden on the street.

However, long term assistance for these poor does not fit in with aspirational greed – yet it is where there are poor housing and working conditions that the Virus will continue to flourish. As with all crises, the rich will flee to the country. Manhattan this summer has become more of a ghost town in the wealthy areas, but come winter it may be different – and ski resorts have been shown as one place the Virus strikes the rich.

Deserted Manhattan streets

It is a pity I will not live long enough to see what this post 2020 environment brings to a world, but at least when the world locked down this year – for oh so short a time – we could see the horizon. 

Remember Quemoy and Matsu

They are called Quemoy and Matsu. Quemoy is an island in the lee of the China mainland. Matsu is a group of islands to the north scattered across the South China Sea. They are administered from Taiwan and remain an oddity from the Chiang Kai-shek retreat to Taiwan after his defeat by the Communist forces in 1949. When they are discussed they are always mentioned in the same breath. However they are very separated but not more so than from Taiwan.

Matsu

The Nationalist forces were able to repel the Communist forces when they tried to invade Quemoy in 1949. Yet given that Quemoy is just six kilometres from the mainland and yet 280 kilometres across the Strait to Taiwan, it is remarkable that China has not just absorbed it and the Matsu archipelago. They are just the kind of islands that the Chinese want to convert into bases. China seems to prefer to annoy other countries by taking over disputed rocks in the South China Seas and building military bases.

Yet in the 1950s Quemoy and Matsu were flashpoints in the conflict between the Americans and the Chinese, where the remnant Chiang Kai-shek “China” forces lodged on the island of Formosa.

There were two critical periods, and in one of the years when the two Chinas were not fighting – bombarding the islands and having aerial dogfights over the South China Sea, I was on a ship. The United States imposed a blockade on Chinese Ports. For any shipping in the South China Sea it was a tense situation for those who ventured there, in our case in a cargo ship called the S.S. Taiping. It was a ship of about 4,000 tonnes, transporting mainly wheat and wool, but also catering for a number of passengers. My recently widowered father was the ship’s doctor (and I was lodged in the second wireless officer cabin).

Thus the ship had to thread its way across the South China Sea to Hong Kong. One morning when I had just come up on deck I heard this screaming noise, which came with a rush, and suddenly there they were two American Star fighters swooping low just above the funnel and then as quickly disappearing as specks into the clouds. Now we were ready to watch if they came again, which they did. I could imagine that these planes had positioned themselves for a strafing run. They were over the ship and then were gone – hardly enough time to disturb those taking breakfast below.

S.S. Taiping

However, the noise of the planes – an ear-blistering scream – gave me a feeling of exhilaration. To my father and the chief officer, both of whom had experienced Japanese strafing and bombing, just shrugged their shoulders. However, it brought home to me the fact that we living in perilous times in a perilous sea.

Yet despite the posturing Taiwan seems safer now than it was when China was considerably weaker as it was in 1956. Quemoy and Matsu seemed to have dropped out of the lexicon of threats. I think that the Chinese government know the Taiwanese today are not the same force it considered invading 70 years ago. Nevertheless the rhetoric remains. It always does.

The Taiwanese have a very substantial military force of 165,000 active soldiers with another 1.2 million in reserve, compared to Australia with a similar population of 30,000 active soldiers with 13,000 in reserve. When I went there I thought their approach was very much like that of the Israelis. Survival had moved to consolidation and having a big stick helps – and the nation is not in the mood to relinquish any hard-earned gains.

The other reason I believe China would be loath to invade is for fear that the fine collection of artefacts dating back to Neolithic times now housed in the National Palace Museum could be destroyed. The Chinese have never forgotten the looting that occurred in 1860 when the Anglo-French forces entered Beijing and burnt the Summer Palaces. Many of the looted treasures ended up in France and the United Kingdom, but a substantial collection remains in Taiwan. The Chinese government would not want this Taiwan collection destroyed, even though it was stolen by Chiang Kai-shek at the time he fled the Mainland.

I was told the collection was so large that those items on display could be totally replaced for seven years before there would be any need to repeat the items on display. Some of these items are said to be among the finest Chinese artefacts and heritage is a very important consideration. Can China invade without damaging the collection? It answers its own question – no.

However, why do it? To have a war over an island to expunge some hubric stain begs that very question. Nevertheless, there are no bounds to laundering one’s own hubris if the gale is blowing in the right direction, whatever that direction is considered to be.

Picnic on Quemoy

In any case, I understand now that tourists can come across from the Mainland to picnic on Quemoy among the visitors from Taiwan. But then perhaps that is bad optics – ordinary people mingling.

There is a lesson for Australia in the Taiwan approach. While I was initially sceptical of their COVID-19 numbers, when you remember the discipline into which Taiwan has had to accustom itself to assure its survival, it is unsurprising that it should early on recognise a foreign invader, even if they cannot see it except under a microscope. 

Dreamer, sleep deep | Toiler, sleep long | Fighter, be rested now | Commander, sweet goodnight 

After my father died, my stepmother with these words headed her replies to those who had sent letters to her expressing sympathy and many reflecting on my father’s legacy. I found this reference in my personal file, and remembered that the words were the final ones of Carl Sandberg’s poem on the death of President Roosevelt.

It prompted me to purchase a copy of Sandberg’s complete works, and his elegiac words from “When Death Came April Twelve 1945”:

and there will be roses and spring blossoms

flung on the moving oblong box, emblems endless

flung from nearby, from faraway earth corners,

from frontline tanks nearing Berlin

unseen flowers of regard to the Commander,

from battle stations in the South Pacific

silent tokens saluting The Commander

Such is the contrast so clearly set out in the poem with Trump to perceive how far leadership has slipped in the United States. Would the passing of the current incumbent evoke such a response?

Yet Roosevelt presided over a country where segregation of black people and denial of civil rights was the order of the day in the then Democrat voting South – a country where in 1938 the Ku Klux Klan rallied in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

Yet a year later, because of the intervention of Eleanor Roosevelt, before 75,000 people Marion Anderson, the great American contralto sang at the Lincoln Memorial, a performance that is said to have inspired the young Martin Luther King to enter the struggle for real emancipation, a conflict still being played out on the streets of the American City.

For my part, I now have this copy of Carl Sandberg’s poems on my desk. Every morning I read a poem. His love of country is so evident that I realise how much I love my own country and how inadequate I am in expressing this love compared to Sandberg’s of America.

I am saddened by those who want to deface statues, which was the way of previous generations to honour mostly men of their time.

James Cook was not perfect; he trod the line between assertion and aggression. Discipline and loyalty yet are essential attributes when you are sailing in the unknown. Choice is not a discussion on the niceties of democracy when choice is between survival and death.

Graffiti is one vehicle of the ignorant. Cook does not deserve that. His images don’t deserve that. Before these furbo children of the millennium pick up their spray cans again, they should think: will you ever have the same level of curiosity, bravery and endeavour that that Yorkshire explorer had, rather than being the furtive snigger of the dark night coward wielding spray cans?

The Man from Blood-nut Hollow

I met Reg Hickey when I tutored his daughter in biochemistry. She was studying to be a health professional. The details are foggy, but I know it was not nursing. It was the year I had a job in Geelong at the Hospital, and I got on well with Reg. He was the closest to beatification in that city at the time, which also was known as Blood-nut Hollow because of Hickey having a propensity to recruit red-headed players.

Reg Hickey had coached Geelong at Australian Rules for three periods beginning in 1932 until he finally retired in 1959. I remembered him well because he coached Geelong the year they beat my team, Essendon in 1951 – a surprise victory. This victory was one of three premierships Hickey won with Geelong.

Reg then was very influential in the world of football. He secured two tickets for the 1965 Grand Final when Essendon played St Kilda. My then wife was an exquisite blonde, a doctor who had come to Australia as a refugee with her sister and parents. Born in what is now Slovenia, she could be a somewhat fiery individual.

We were shown to our seats. They were very good seats, given there were 104,000 other people at the Melbourne Cricket ground that day. The seats were three rows back from the fence.

On this occasion, I had not realised that her passion extended to the football field. At one point, the play came very close to us. There was a scuffle. One involved in this altercation was Carl Ditterich, a very tall burly St Kilda ruckman who had made a sensational debut two seasons before when he 18, With his shock of blond hair and youthful enthusiasm, you could not miss him in any crowd.

Well, my then wife did that day. Ditterich who was increasingly known for translating that enthusiasm in aggression was roughing up Essendon player Ted Fordham just in front of us. Enraged at this bullying of a smaller player, she stood up and flung an open can of “Palato”, a fizzy orange cordial drink, in Ditterich’s direction.

Palato went everywhere, but we were sitting among Essendon fans who, despite being splattered with the orange drink in accordance with Newton’s Third law of Motion, gave her a big cheer. She sat down regally as ever without acknowledging the applause. The can missed Ditterich. I cannot recall whether I wanted to stay or flee. But nothing happened. No retribution – we did not have men labelled Security in those days and police only appeared near the game to stop the crowds running onto the field of play.

Essendon went on to win the game. Fordham kicked seven goals and was named Man of the Match. I don’t know whether Carl had much of a match – how could you with visions of that young avenging doctor in the third row of the Southern Stand!

As for Mr Hickey, my life was better for knowing him, however briefly, as I moved back to Melbourne the next year.

Mouse whisper

Mice are used to long winding passages but there is always a nest in among the passages where I can always watch Nestflix.

However, I was enjoying one of G.K Chesterton’s short stories, a bit dry but still meaty, when I came across this quote:

What we all dread most,” said the priest in a low voice, “is a maze with no centre.

The priest was Father Brown. The story was The Head of Caesar.

I chewed on it for a moment. I thought how relevant the quote is today in the world outside my mouse hole.

Modest expectations – Carthaginian Vanilla

How appalling is Mr Albanese suggesting that the Parliament adjourn for a whole day as a part of respect and condolences admixed with confected piety.

All that does is delay what he then said is vital – that is, the passage of urgent legislation.

Otherwise such a gesture is symbolic of Parliament – hypocrisy and inaction.

By all means apologise that you did nothing about preventing the bushfires but spare us the crocodile tears – and get on with the business of government. In fact you should be meeting earlier.

And incidentally get away from this Albo and Scomo nonsense. It sounds as if they are clowns.

No caption required

Fell or Fall

I have written about clearing the trees around the house surrounded by bush. That’s fine if your land does not abut land where the owners can’t be found. The chap who cleared parts of the block and the boundaries asked Council about the absent owner. The Council were not particularly interested; so we went ahead and took down the trees on the boundary and in so doing, cleared the scrub from a large section of the block. This was last year. There were several trees that required a specialist arborist to fell them safely so that they did not fall on the house – a possibility if you do not have the specialist knowledge. In addition the insurance companies take a dim view of those who are literally “cutting corners”.

Even with gutter guard to prevent the accumulation of leaves in the gutters, these trees were a fire risk. We have a celery pine growing close to the back door. That was spared but pruned, as was the leatherwood, so essential for the bees to make honey with its distinctive flavour.

The detritus of forest clearing

However the mass of fallen trees if left present a problem. It was bought to mind by the allegation that the NSW Forestry Corporation leaves what is called “slash” after they have cut down trees. This outcome should be remembered anytime the foresters say we need “to thin the trees”. As you drive through areas which have recently been harvested, there is always a lot of residual wood left in the cleared coup. Around settlements, some trees when they are cleared by Councils are wood chipped, but these wood chipping enterprises seem to be carried out alongside roads where bringing in the appropriate machinery requires clear access.

But back to our block – left with a large pile of wood, there were several ways to go. We could have a controlled burn – a “pile fire” – with the local volunteer fire brigade using it as a training exercise. That proved not to be feasible. The pile of wood was on the absent landowner’s property. Then there was the problem that there was never suitable weather for such a burn to be organised safely, or so the local fire chief said.

In the end, we had the pile of wood removed, some of it would be used as firewood as many of the houses still have open fireplaces, but the rest moved to garden waste – still flammable but away from the property.

There is still a way to go, but bushfire prevention needs a concerted approach if the community is not to end in charred regrets.

Next to our property is a deserted miners cottage, which was illegally moved on site many years ago. It had been lived in, but now the empty land is covered in blackberries. Blackberries have also threaded their way along the foreshore and there has been no attempt to remove the bushes; the trees have been allowed to increase in number, because some eucalypts and melaleucas proliferate at a great rate. There is now a thick line of bush between the foreshore and the heritage footpath – so much so that visitors walk on the road at night because the footpath is too dark. The only clear line of sight to the harbour along this foreshore is in front of the former mayor’s property.

In the end in this over-governed country, we the ratepayers depend on the competency of local government and its finances are dependent on the ratepayers and the amount of money that trickles down from the State and Federal governments. So, can I ask what is being done about those people who buy a bush block and then do nothing to clear vegetation?

In our case on each side that is the situation. We have taken unilateral action, as we prefer prevention to “re-embering” a once pristine countryside.

Tasmania is here to burn. This is a serial problem, a new ABC soapie called “Burnt Hills”?

Postscript

I bought my wife a chainsaw for her birthday. No, we shall not destroy the habitat of the New Holland Honeyeaters or the wrens, who of course love a pile of rotting timber as a habitat. Then perched in the trees are the yellow-tailed black cockatoos. Green rosellas come calling once in a while – they are particularly fond of stripping fern fronds. There is still plenty of bush, but as the local fire captain said, keep it at least 30 metres back from your house. Enter the chain saw.

However, there are still those melaleucas, which are constantly sprouting. We cut them down. What next? The wood has few commercial usages, beyond a brush fence which was constructed years ago when the Council accidentally cleared a piece of our property and we needed a temporary fence while the undergrowth grew back.

Here on the west coast of Tasmania I thought we would be free of the bushfire smoke. However silly me – the population and wildlife of the West Coast are enshrouded in smoke. I worry that my grandchildren will show photographs of what their grandchildren will never have seen as they splutter with their chronic respiratory disease – blue skies.

A small question

One of the intriguing facts of the recent bush fires, which came to light in the fire started in Ebor, a self-styled village in the northern tablelands of NSW, is the impact of illicit crops. Here some guy tried to “back burn” to save his marijuana crop and in doing so set the bush alight with horrendous effect. I have been through Ebor some years ago, and chose not to stop. It is duelling banjoes country.

Even more dangerous are “meth labs”? A large one of those turned up as well. The bush has a way of hiding all manner of things, but the production facilities are flammable.

I have tried to find out whether growing marijuana in the bush leads to small isolated communities resistant to bushfire evacuation for obvious reasons. If marijuana growing in isolated communities can be substantiated, then such horticultural endeavour presents a hazard to human life, if nothing else. The answers don’t lie in intensifying police action, which in turn leads to hiding cultivation in more and more remote inaccessible bush.

However, it is a vexed situation as was tobacco cultivation in the Ovens Valley – the last place in Australia where it was commercially grown. I was working in Myrtleford in the years of the last tobacco crops grown there; we watched the whole farce of growers, “standover merchants” and various government agencies chasing one another around the district at harvest time which was enough for the government to enact their own variety of “chop-chop”.

Tobacco at Myrtleford

The crop is no longer grown in the Ovens Valley, and it is not a crop that is easily able to be illicitly grown there. The kilns for drying the tobacco leaf are a giveaway although many have now been re-purposed as stylish Airbnb accommodation. Anyway Australian tobacco leaf was never rated as much good, and until the early 1980s it was one of, if not the most heavily subsidised crop grown in Australia because of its inferior quality. I remember being a party before the Industry Assistance Commission Inquiry, on behalf of the medical profession, to argue the case for the subsidy to be withdrawn.

Therefore, given the changing attitudes to marijuana cultivation, would it not be better grown in controlled conditions away from the bush? After all, it would be one way to enhance tourism if they could visit a legal greenhouse and see the crop under cultivation and sample … just a thought.

I have a bone to pick with you

An interesting emergency occurred last week when we were having a meal of fish and chips. A fish bone lodged in my wife’s throat. This once happened to me when I was having a meal in Derby in the Kimberley. It was probably barramundi, and fortunately I was having the meal with the legendary outback doctor, Randy Spargo. The spectre of being evacuated to Perth, a distance of 1800 kilometres, confronted me if the bone could not be dislodged. Water and bread was Randy’s solution, and after the initial trial, we went to the local hospital to pursue his cure. Randy was extraordinary – it was as though he talked the bread down – a “bone whisperer”. Randy had worked for a long time among Aboriginal people and at one point had an Aboriginal partner. Randy had a very calming way of handling a situation that could have turned awkward. In the end, the bone cleared my throat, whether “talked down” or not.

We went back to the café and finished our meal. Next to the restaurant was a meeting of Pentecostalists, complete with glossolalia and very audible groaning, which created a fraught atmosphere when we left for the hospital. When we returned after the bone had “gone South”, all was silent.

So last week we embarked on the bread and water exercise. It was unsuccessful, as was the banana; so we called an ambulance and with the expectation of there being at least an hour’s delay then dialled a general practitioner friend for any other suggestions to try in the meantime. He suggested that the bone might be caught up in a tonsillar crypt, and reassured us that if it was not causing breathing problems we could leave it until the morning and via a referral from the general practitioner to an ear, nose and throat specialist the bone could probably be removed under local anaesthesia. This would be a two-stage procedure, potentially drawn out, dependent on the availability of the doctors.

We were about to accept our friend’s advice, and cancel the call to the ambulance when two paramedics turned up after an hour. The situation explained, Rocco, one of the paramedics asked if we had any Coca-Cola or lemonade – something both carbonated and acidic. As we had Coca-Cola he suggested my wife gargle with it. She went out to the kitchen, gargled and Eureka, it worked almost immediately. A few gulps and all’s well. So we learnt something, because as Rocco said the first response if they had taken her to the Accident & Emergency Department would be to purchase some Coca Cola from a vending machine and see if that shifted the bone.

As there were a few minutes while the fish bone was moving its way down the gullet, I asked how they had found their education. It was nearly 30 years since I undertook a review of the NSW Ambulance Service, and one of my recommendations had been to establish a formal tertiary education course for ambulance officer training, not only to introduce a reproducible training program, but also to assure reciprocity for Ambulance officer recognition between State services. At the time, training was internal and there was no reciprocity between the States. Learning was robotic and one of the teachers was reputed to carry a baseball bat to establish what passed as a learning environment.

It was a time when the NSW Ambulance had more ranks than the British Army such was the promotional system based on seniority rather than qualification. Behind this system was “the Brotherhood”, in which the power of the ambulance service rested at the time. Not a particularly enticing prospect for someone entrusted with review. However the NSW Ambulance Board at the time was progressive. Changes came. It seemed that the education recommendation has survived with these two paramedics being graduates of this system that had its genesis in the early 90s.

As Rebecca, the other paramedic there at the “Fishbone incident” said, looking at me just as they were leaving; “Thanks for the HECS debt!” I think she was joking.

Barramundi

When I have had the best seafood meal, I record it – not the exact date or time as they are immaterial except in a general sort of way. I am too impatient to be an angler and the complexity of the fly fisherman is well beyond my ken. However, I remember inter alia my very best barramundi meal.

It was Good Friday about 20 years ago and the temperature in the shade was in excess of 40oc by mid morning. We had pulled up at a nondescript store outside Wyndham. There was a sign advertising fish and chips, but given the time and place there was no expectation of there being any tucker available. No fish apparent. One of the young Aboriginal guys there looked at the other and said could we wait a half an hour or so. We agreed to wait.

Sure enough – a freshly caught barramundi appeared. One of the guys had gone down to the Gut and speared one. We didn’t mind waiting and then sitting in the shade, the sublime enjoyment of consuming this most notable meal of barramundi. When you are not expecting excellence, you appreciate it so much more. Legally caught? Of course, with a wink.

And one more thing…

I was a bit taken back by the army chief, Angus Campbell, jumping out of a helicopter onto the deck of the “Adelaide” to be surrounded by many cheering troops and saying what a good job they had done. I thought it would be better if this claque were out working in the community rather than giving the General a rousing cheer on a boat moored off Eden.

I wonder what would have happened if the head of the firefighters had called them in for a rousing reception while there were still bushfires all around. Condemnation I suspect.

Irrespective of the motive, with all due respects it was a bad look, redolent of George Bush declaiming on the Abraham Lincoln under a banner “Mission Accomplished.”

The fact is that the defence force was caught unprepared, and while they are obviously learning lessons with them increasingly visible in helping with bushfires, your self-congratulatory action, Angus Campbell, was a poor, unnecessary image which hopefully will not be repeated.

It is the problem with public relations staff trying to justify their existence.

Mouse whisper

The local vicar on the Tasmanian West Coast also owns the earth moving business. One feels very safe in the hands of someone who can move both heaven and earth.

Modest expectations – The Roaring

As I’ve mentioned before (ME18 Pale Waves), we have friends in Lubec on the Maine-New Brunswick border, overlooking the Bay of Fundy. You can drive from the United States border to Campobello Island in Canada – an instructive exercise in itself. However, driving across to have a lunch of lobster is a good enough reason to go to the Island once one has tramped around the Roosevelt exclave. The house has beautiful views over the Bay of Fundy. Driving across the Canadian border is no problem, but coming back the other way across the United States border, even with your American friends you are liable to be greeted by an officious, albeit offensive, border official, who more often or not will want to look very closely at the boot of your car, if not to frisk you.

An old fish shed on the Bay of Fundy at Lubec

This is an aside to an observation that was made to me that a United President would not dare vacation outside the United States these days. Campobello island was where Franklin Roosevelt had the family holiday house; it was where he came to unwind as a young man; it is where he was stricken with poliomyelitis.

Later in his Presidency he used to relax at Warm Springs in Georgia and rarely went to Campobello after he became President.

The United States Presidents know that there are beautiful places to vacation in the United States and even Campobello island is only spitting distance away, but note: after he became President Roosevelt he went to Campobello only once a year until 1939 and then that was it! 

Now just why did Fran Bailey sack you?

Where do you start with Scott Morrison?

I always remember when Prime Ministers took their Christmas break they holidayed in Australia, even when the rich lent them a place in which to relax.

Look Prime Minister, I’ll come clean. I took a trip to the United States with Leader of the Opposition at the same time of the year you went to Hawai’i. Let me say, we did not tell the press gallery, but there was an important task to be sorted out. It was late 1974, just after Bill Snedden had survived the first challenge to his Leadership by Malcolm Fraser, and that and accompanying machinations had been kept away from the Press. Even Laurie Oakes did not get wind of it – nor Alan Reid. So not telling the press is legitimate, on the grounds of when it does not ask, why tell. The smart journalist will generally work it out.

Our visit to the United States was brief and Snedden was back and able to go to Darwin to view the devastation caused by Cyclone Tracey on Christmas day. The reason he went to the United States merited some degree of discretion, but for God’s sake a holiday with the wife and kids. Why the secrecy?

The only residual question is who paid for the holiday? The reason he did not disclose where he and the family went? Was it because it was somebody’s private luxurious pad? Now the reason for the secrecy has been cast against a backdrop of security.

The Prime Minister was reported to have returned via Hawaiian Airlines. I have flown Hawaiian Airlines as probably a number of you have too. Friendly environment, but hardly the most secure. When one of the pilots wants to go to the toilet, the cabin staff block the aisle with food trolleys. Also, unless the holiday was on Oahu, there would have been intermediate air travel, which would have accounted for the time lapse. The whole process shouts “Swiss-cheese” security.

I would have thought that the damage of being absent in an undisclosed location had been done. Finish the holiday and come home with the family. However, the whole episode has an element of panic, and given that the Prime Minister seemed to have difficulty with communicating anyway, he may have been on one of those beautiful resorts, perhaps on an outer island.

Now, Prime Minister, you are back in the country at a time when increasingly the whole nation knows you have ignored warnings, scoffed at global warming, sat on you hands in relation to water, and have no environmental plan to combat climate change. It seems that you remain defiant. The nation may view you as just stubborn to cover impotency, because you have done nothing but treadle the looms of the marketing flack that you once were.

One of the reasons you took the holidays is that you intend going to India and Japan in January to meet two of Australia’s pinups – Modi and Abe. The whole exercise shouts “Coal”.

I doubt if nature will call a truce for you while you go calling on them. But at least we shall know where you are when the fires are burning. I suppose if you will be doing your best to ask them to reduce their country’s contribution to World pollution and from Modi in particular tips on how to enact religious freedom, then it could be viewed as genuine contrition and be excused. But not if you are doing a coal deal and the flames are licking the edges of the Shire.

Let me say I am more concerned with how the volcano burns victims are getting along, especially when there is the potential for the health system to deal with more serious burns victims from these fires.

And one more thing, if you really looking for a really exotic location for “you, Jenny and the kids” go and keep the Biloela family company on Christmas Island; still part of Australia.

Everybody, Prime Minister, should have a road to Damascus moment.

Personally, I did not feel any anxiety about you being away. From reading the notes scattered on that road and the anger generated, you will be lucky to have Murdoch still supporting you – after all, he gave McMahon away as a bad job. The only thing you have on your side is time until the next election and the fickle nature of the attention span of the Australian to wash this incident away. 

The Boy from Wagga Wagga

I have met some impressive National Party leaders, but the current one I have not met. However, from a distance Michael McCormack is not impressive.

A self-combusting pile of manure?

In his fumbling response on climate change he mentioned three factors that he thought were important. McCormack is reported to have said that: “dry lightning strikes, arson and self-combusting piles of manure” were among the causes.

At least he peppered his invective with an attempt to diagnose the problem – somewhat thin, but a statement which raises the question of whether they are relevant elements to be pursued by government. Now that is the genesis of a policy.

In the background however, among his followers infected by the Hanson bacillus , bushfires are all about the Greens – it’s their fault not allowing for hazard reduction and allowing all those wicked national parks to stay in existence. Unfortunately, I was talking to a friend and he repeated the nonsense.

The mayors of five local councils in NSW, one of which is Randwick, are members of the Green Party, and there are 58 Green Party members scattered across 31 councils; hardly a coalition of obstruction. One can criticise the Greens for being conservative heritage protectors, but they are not the only people trying to retain “old growth”.

Yet the right wing columnists spread conspiracy theories about the Greens manipulation as reasons for the fires. For God’s sake we have conservative government both federally and in NSW and the lack of policy and planning in the face of climate change is not due to obstruction by the Greens.

It is our governing politicians doing nothing.

The problem with many politicians is that they do not have the capacity to read – they are functionally illiterate. They have to be told because they cannot read. If they could read then they would look over the science and see that although there are a few areas of scientific fact in contention, there are agreed facts.

Read what the science says: once fires get to a certain temperature then it doesn’t matter how much hazard reduction one does, the country still burns. The burnt vineyards in South Australia were manicured and easy to access, and yet the fire still ripped through the vines.

How you build a national bush fire policy is to mitigate risk. The first statement from McCormack in this interview was “put the fires out”. The unquestioning outcome, but a Hillsong prayer is not the only option.

Science says it is unwise to build on steep slopes, ridge hilltops and riverine bush, where access roads are minimal and where access are cute cul-de-sacs. The fires came eventually to a friend’s house sweeping off the ridge and engulfing this holiday home. Hazard reduction won’t change the vulnerability of gutters with overhanging eucalypts if the fire front is charging down the slopes and the tree crowns are exploding. Before the fire, the ocean views were extraordinary; there were koalas in the trees and the house nestled snugly on the slope had only one access road. New building regulations have seen the house yet to be rebuilt after four years.

After the fires

Turning to the matters McCormack raised. Evidence suggests that about five per cent of fires are started by lightning strikes. Here the Hillsong prayer may be the only option.

Arson is difficult to prevent. True pyromania is thought to be rare, and laying to one side insurance and criminal arson, the other arson profile that the fire brigades looks out for are the “hero” arsonist; a profile that in the United States is predominantly white males between 16-30 years of age. There is another potentially very dangerous group – the revenge arsonists where there is a fine line between revenge and terrorist.

I was in Valparaiso, Chile, in August. Driving by the quaint houses clinging to the steep slopes above the city proper where access roads are narrow and poor, I didn’t think about bushfires. However now these suburbs are burning, as this coastal city goes up in flames – as does the surrounding country side with its forests and picturesque vineyards. There are reports that these fires have been deliberately lit.

On the third matter, waste management is an increasing matter for national policy and not just how to dispose of paper and bottles. The mixture of bacteria and the oxidation process of substrate such as cellulose are an ever-present problem. Trying to develop a national policy on waste management, where incineration is one solution, means that fire control should be a priority. That does not factor in the development of illegal waste dumping of flammable toxic materials in remote unsupervised bush lands. Mr McCormack, waste management policy is not just about picking up cow pats on your property before they explode into fireballs.

A report from California that is instructive is saying that most human-caused fires are accidental and avoidable, such as a burning cigarette carelessly tossed out a car window. But Californian fires can also start from “fireworks (the odds of a California wildfire double on July 4), improperly extinguished campfires, out-of-control burn piles, hot vehicle parts making contact with dry grass, power lines rubbing and arcing in windy conditions, and a variety of other causes. A surprising number of fires start when trailer chains or wheel rims strike pavement and send sparks flying.” This last situation is the likely cause of one of the most deadly Californian wildfires. The Californian attitude is far more cavalier than that of the Australians, and universal bans on lighting of fires are harder to enforce. However, there is an increasing recognition that there will be longer and hotter periods as summer merges with spring and autumn. The end result means a drier and drier landscape.

Hazard reduction by all means – but have we a systematic nationwide policy on hazard reduction and one that will become increasingly narrowly focused when climate change has rapidly reduced the available days for hazard reduction, and the community will increasingly become layered in smoke from fires spreading over those remaining days. The nation will become very impatient with a government that blames the Greens.

The bushfire is a complex challenge; it demands coherent policy; it also demands the funds to efficiently and effectively manage the challenges and, given the way the water policy has been corrupted, to also deal with the other factors that affect how we as a nation can respond to widespread bushfires. What happens when there is no water to fight fires?

Perhaps the best form of hazard reduction would be to remove the rent seekers and the other parasites that bug our political system. The problem at present is they wield the levers of power not the hoses. Barnaby Joyce’s bizarrely berates the government and demands it get out of his life – well, yes, but first the government should give us back our water, then it should have to courage to develop some decent policy recognising that we are in a different climate ballgame now (yes, the Prime Minister can take his baseball cap off to that) and then everyone might get out of Barnaby’s life.

However, all revolutionaries by their nature are optimists. I am and always have been an optimist – even now one foot away from a minha cadiera de rodas

Christmas on the move

Christmas was never a good experience when I was young. We generally went to my grandmother’s place, and the day generally ended in unpleasantness, as one or other family argued among themselves – and when I was young I generally engaged in fighting one of more cousins at some stage during the afternoon. The item of consumption that sits uppermost in my memory was my grandmother’s obsession with making Yorkshire pudding to top off the roast bird. It was one of Cook’s lesser legacies to Australian cuisine.

Santa Fe farolitos

While I had my 1956 Christmas in the Sea of Japan on the S.S Taiping, my nomadic Christmases started in the 1980s – different year; different place. However, the only time that I remember snow in any quantity was Christmas in Santa Fe. Snow was a foreign experience to me, and so trudging through snow covered streets lighted by farolitos – candles stuck in sand in paper bags. In the freezing cold we were part of the congregation at an outdoor Navajo Mass. The mass was memorable with its Navajo interpretation that included the final benediction of a sort – the man close to us raising his rifle and firing a shot into the darkness.

All part of celebrating the miracle of Christmas wherever you may be.

And given it is Friday 27 December, may I wish you all the Best for the Feast of St Stephen – at least east of Rome.

Mouse Whisper

The ultimate put down.

Asked if he liked Melbourne, Augustus Woodley Bernal replied:

“Immensely. But don’t you think it’s a little too far from town.”

Bernal spent some time on the Bendigo Goldfields as a Commissioner in the early 1850s.

Chortle, but remember it was people like Bernal who came, saw and went back to Britain – just leaving the questionable imprint of the British gentry.

The Gentry

Modest Expectations – John Buchan footprints

I wonder as NSW is being swept by bushfires how the person inured to arm waving, hallelujah clapping and glossolalia would respond to Revelation 8.7.

The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.

Of course it is not climate change; it’s the Bible, stupid.

I have always wondered whether this last book of the Bible was written by some guy on qat such is the imagery. I have never understood the fascination with this final book, as though Christianity needs to have fear as a motiving force for belief and intolerance.

However, these bushfires in Australia are no joke. We are not going to be consumed this year by the fires of Hell, but I do not want to live in an environment of smoke for half the year, where a hundred fires burn and where the population is worn down – and the important Samaritan element of a voluntary brigade of fire fighters become exhausted.

It provides a reason for the need to mobilise the population able to cope with the increased capriciousness of nature as the planet warms.

The Australian Defence Force bluntly states it is not trained to fight fires on the ground outside their installations. How long that dictum will hold is problematical.

However, that is not to underrate the current amount of assistance being provided by the Defence Forces, especially given the water bombing by fixed wing and helicopter has been such an important factor in limiting the spread.

However, eventually water runs out and fire retardants have unspecified long term toxic effects. In the end, the potential outcome just reframes the delusionary Revelation. No need for the angel; our Prime Minister will suffice in sounding the instrument – perhaps the whimper of a claypipe blowing bubbles. However there is still the one bubble of denial in which Morrison is encased. Not the best way I would have thought to fireproof the country, one way or another.

Bushfires in Australia

One of the images of Sydney I have always had is that of the frangipani. Normally, it is just too cold in Melbourne for frangipani to flower; it is the same in most parts of California. Frangipani is the flower of the tropics – Hawai’i being closely associated with it.

Sydney is thus typically sub-tropical. Therefore, it should have two seasons – hot but wet and humid in summer; dry in winter. The oppressive humidity and summer rain is the normal antidote for bushfires from the Illawarra northwards along the coast.

To me the frangipani is the totem of this climate; they may grow in Melbourne but not flower normally. The winter cold and frosts kill them.

Melbourne has a Mediterranean climate – very hot and dry in summer with a beautiful autumn, cold wet winters and a blustery spring. February has traditionally been the time of the catastrophic bushfires. Ever since Melbourne almost burned in the February bushfire of 1851, late summer is the perfect time for major bushfires not only in Victoria but also in Tasmania and South Australia.

I remember driving down the Hume Highway to Melbourne in February 2009 the day before the most deadly of all bushfires swept across the highway on its way to the incineration of nearly 200 people. When the wind comes from the north and the air is so dry then you know Victoria will burn at the slightest ember from a discarded cigarette or spark from an overloaded power line.

Yet as a child I can remember there being a huge bonfire to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day piled up in front of our house. It was November 5. Catherine wheels attached to letterbox, jumping jacks and tom thumbs exploding across the grass verge, rockets disappearing into the night sky. Fireworks everywhere. Fire everywhere.

Two months later there was always a fire along Gardiner Creek in the rye grass, and one year I remember it scorching the fences alongside the reserve. It was all very exciting to have the fire brigade coming with the bells ringing. Memories from one’s childhood stick and may become enlarged. However, it does take a shift in climate to make a bonfire in November very unwise.

The question thus which needs to be answered – is the shift in the fires in line with a change in the climate pattern?

I read today that: Bush fires raged on the outskirts of Sydney today as the heat wave continued. Metropolitan fire brigades received 40 calls before noon. The temperature rose to 98 degrees by midday – at 9 am it was 93 degrees, a record early morning mark for November. There are few towns that are not menaced on the Blue Mountains and grave anxiety exists throughout the tourist areas. Fires are also burning at Linden, Blaxland and Hazelbrook as well as at Springwood, Glenbrook, Leura and Katoomba. Shortly after noon a huge wall of flame advanced on Glenbrook…

The newspaper report was 6 November 1936. The Blue Mountains is the touchpaper for bushfires in New South wales.

Frangipani do not grow well in the Blue Mountains – the climate is too much like Victoria. Too dry; too cold in winter.

But I note the frangipani in the backyard this year is losing its flowers prematurely. Maybe when the frangipani stops blooming, the fires may come to the coast.

However, while the frangipani may be an intuitive bellwether, even more germane is the fact that: 1951-1952 could possibly be one of the worst on record for eastern Australia when more than 8 million ha were burnt.” This is a reliable quote from a CSIRO 1976 appraisal. This reported: “The season began in late October 1951 with a series of lightning fires in southern central Queensland around Charleville. About 2.8 million ha were burnt in these fires. These were followed by very large fires in northern N.S.W. in November and in late January and early February many fires were reported in southern N.S.W. and Victoria.”

The similarity is there with 2019, but hopefully the possible further outcome will be avoided.

The one obvious conclusion is that bushfires are part of the Australian character. The population has become used to them – but not every year as may be predicted by a continent running out of water and ill-prepared in people and machines for this to occur on an increasingly regular, perhaps annual basis.

Are we expected to cope with catastrophic bushfires every year, until there is nothing left except a charred remnant of what was a beautiful unique land we all have been given a variable amount of time to enjoy?

However, training the defence force to defend the nation against fire would be a good start, joining the career fire fighters in helping to alleviate a stressed volunteer fire fighting force. I would think it more useful for our army to do that rather than killing pushtuns in far off Hindu Kush.

Getting more aircraft able to bomb the fires seems a good idea, especially if we have a yearly bushfire season , but where do we get the water?

I would hope that if fire retardant is increasingly used, its toxicity, both short and long term, is tested and continued to be monitored.

Hazard reduction? Now what does that mean? I remember well when a hazard reduction exercise resulted in a shed containing many of our belongings was burnt down, due to the “Department of Sparks and Wildfire” as it was called through gritted teeth.

What is a community centre to provide a haven against fire – a nuclear fall-out shelter; underground refuges akin to those along “Tornado Alley” in the mid-western states of the United States; fireproof concrete bunkers; a clean room facility where children, the aged, the susceptible can seek shelter on days when the smoke is so heavy?

Then there are the questions of what we do with people who want to commune with nature, with or without growing a bit of “weed” living in uninsured wattle and daub houses surrounded by bellbird and bush. No phone reception. Romantic until it burns.

I love living surrounded by bush, but I have spent money to clear the bush around the house and create a firebreak with a wide drive separating the house from the tea tree. The local “firies” had prior to this work, designated it as a “red flag” house – in other words don’t bother trying to save it if there is a bushfire. And this house is on the West Coast of Tasmania, parts of which have not burnt for at least 500 years and where the annual rainfall exceeds 100 cms. However, temperate rain forest is now vulnerable.

As I have said many times before, Australia is a land that demands respect; ignore that dictum at your peril. After all, it is all about frequency – bush fire season piled upon bush fire season without remission.

I do not know what the solution is but in any event this Government with the Book of Revelation under its arm is not prepared to listen; and may I say that does not help.

Barton is the Name; I did quite make the Game

Gordon Barton is a name that would hardly resonate with anybody these days. However in his time in the 1960s and 1970s he cut a dashing figure as he strode across the business landscape. A libertarian, he parleyed transporting onions across State border into IPEC, then the largest express transport company with over a thousand trucks.

Very early on he had taken an anti-Vietnam War stance and a group formed around him, initially designated the Liberal Reform Group which eventually became the Australia Party. He was the epitome of the new force on the conservative side of the political spectrum, prepared to tackle the Whig element embedded in the Liberal party.

His party picked up almost 3 per cent of the national vote in 1972 which, when cast against the rise of Steele Hall in South Australia and Rupert Hamer in Victoria, suggested that the reform of the Party was high on the agenda of a cadre of Party members and Business.

After the Coalition debacle as portrayed in the media and self-appointed opinion leaders (the days before influencers), Barton further promoted the Australia party, which would occupy the centre of the political spectrum. He dabbled in setting up newspapers which represented his free-flowing views.

He believed that there was a place for a political force to occupy what he saw a defeated coalition team, which had seen debilitating stoush between Gorton (Victoria) and McMahon (NSW), with McMahon being the Prime Minister who lost the Coalition Government to Labor under Whitlam after 23 years.

There was however another force emerging, who did not just dabble in the media, he immersed himself in it. This was Rupert Murdoch. He supported Whitlam in the 1972 election, where he obviously developed a taste for power broking.

Billl Snedden (Victoria) then won the ballot for leader of the Opposition from Nigel Bowen (NSW) by one vote. Bowen had enough then having been in Parliament for less than a decade and soon departed to the judiciary.

Snedden had grown up in Western Australia, but after a stint in Europe he had settled in Melbourne and won the seat of Bruce, which he was to hold until he retired in 1983. The Victorian Branch of the Liberal party still had a significant cohort of people who thought the unquestioning fawning over royalty, domestication of females as a definition of animal husbandry and retention of capital punishment were viable policies. Snedden determined that he should take the party out of the aspic of the previous years in government.

Yet Snedden had never been seen as progressive. He had gone along with the Party line and at the time of the election defeat had been Treasurer. Nevertheless, despite the narrowness of his victory as Leader and the misgivings of some of the party, he was approached by a well-credentialled group from the business sector to set up a “think-tank”. It was early days in 1973, when much of these discussions were occurring that Gordon Barton in his role of maverick reformer came from the sidelines to chat with Snedden. Whitlam had taken a certain amount of energy from the Australia party with his withdrawal of Australian forces from Vietnam.

Barton not only owned trucks but he diversified into other areas including Angus & Robertson through his company, Tjuringa Securities, but his Australia party, fizzled, changed into other centrist groups trying to to accommodate the “wets”.

As David Owen, the British politician, who himself broke his links with the Labour party to become a founding member of the SDP in the UK, once said to me: “Beware the soggy centre of politics” by which I took it to mean that it was the dedicated authoritarians, whether of the left or right, who would drown you. In retrospect, “wet” was an only too true a name for the group.

Recently Owen was quoted as saying: “There was never any question that the SDP was going to be a left-of-centre party. The project, bluntly, was to replace the Labour party; to be a centre-left party shorn once and for all of the hard left.” So he has not shifted his suspicion of the centre but he still recognises that there should be a place for a political force away from the extremes.

Barton in the end became bored with Australia and decamped to the Netherlands to expand his business worldwide, which failed and he slowly faded away until he died in Marbella Spain in 2005.

For a while under Snedden the Liberal party toyed with a progressive agenda, but inter alia his failure to win the 1974 election snuffed that out.

Murdoch meanwhile has never got bored with the fragrance of power and the political chessboard.

A commentator in one of the Australian newspapers recently bemoaned the rise of Trump and Johnson, and the ingredient in their success has been Murdoch. From a young guy, who was both radical and republican, Murdoch had become the genius of the authoritarian right, where now lurk many who would have been equally at home as they would have been under Franco or Mussolini.

However, the particular Murdoch genius is to define an enemy. It may be a mythical enemy, but one nonetheless which had its seed in his treatment as a boy at Geelong Grammar School, as a young man tolerated by the English upper-classes as “Red Rupert” at Oxford, a man embittered by the treatment of his father by “the enemy.”

The Murdoch legacy is that those who believe the political process is about policy are hopelessly wrong. The political process is about coercion and power.

The commentator forgot Canada where the Murdoch infectivity is low. How the survival of Trudeau plays out may be a blueprint for how any political force handles an uncaring authoritarian elite. The current crop of independents in the Australian Parliament may represent a potential core, but it becomes too easy to become comfortable and acquiescent.

Australia is not Canada, but the two countries have the same sort of parliamentary system and the same question applies: why is anyone in parliament?

The political picture in Australia may be depicted as a division between Capital and Democracy and Labour and Socialism accentuated by the adversarial way the parliament had been arranged according to the rules, which govern the British parliament at Westminister. Nevertheless, there were certain traits which cross traditional party lines, in particular xenophobia expressed through the “White Australia Policy” and the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” where individual excellence is consumed by the destructive collectivism which is called “mateship”.

So the whole system is set up for brawling, now that the oratory powers of the politicians, so important for debate, have waned from what they once were – and now also parliament is about deals, increasingly hidden from public view.

Therefore, there have been periods when the time is right to set up a political force in the centre. Australia is restive, but what about the group of independents in the Parliament. Has the system of coercion, subtle often as it may be, sucked them in? Are they the genesis of this third force? We shall be looking at them individually as to whether they see themselves as a potential coherent force, or just another group of dealmakers absorbed into the Canberra culture.

Trudeau has been instructive, whether deliberately or not, but he has the conservative forces well defined on his right; and on his left a motley group of Greens, New Democrats and may I suggest Quebecois.  Why the left? This group is not going to vote for the Conservatives but do provide the illusion that the Liberal party is what it says it is – and in the slightly moist soggy centre.

Combine that structure with a Bartonesque figure with the pugnacity of Rupert and we may have a goer.

Ça donne à réfléchir peut-être.

Mouse Whisper

All is not lost, Jeremy, you won the Cambridge seat and the people have obviously heard about Boris in Oxford. You won one of the seats and the LibDems the other.

And the LibDems losing their leader got a bath – quite literally as well as retaining the seat of Bath.

Modest Expectations – The Two Noble Kinsmen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albanese and the Coal Scuttle

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

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

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

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

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

Balmain coal mine

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Vaxxer – Prosecute for Genocide Part 2

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

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

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

Telling it how it is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no obligation to use your private health insurance 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Mouse Whisper

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

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

Sadly, no need to correct the statement these days.

Souk of Aleppo

Modest Expectations Skat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bubble Australia

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

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

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

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

Another Play with Words

Guest Blogger – Chris Brook*

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

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

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

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

Basically the theory is simple – along the lines of:

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

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

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

How could anyone object to such a set of targets?

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

Some of the issues emerging are:

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

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

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

This is but a teaser – an opening shot.

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

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

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

Tiempo, damas y cabelleros por favor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All shook up …

Guest Blogger:  Janine Sargeant*

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

Like him or loathe him, Elvis is everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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

Ebony mouse whispering

Modest Expectations – October

i with my dear friend le canard trump join together in congratulating Justin Trudeau in seeing off the forces of the far right. I think that is the same as seeking the betterment of both countries, is that not correct, Mr President?

The Moral Basis of Christopher Pyne

You know when you hear the words after yet another expose of a particular corporate malfeasance: “we take these matters very seriously…” by which time you have turned off because you have heard it all before.

Banfield’s work – required reading for Christopher Pyne

However, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society written by the American political scientist, Edward Banfield, should be required reading as Australian moral trajectory is directed towards the end situation described by Banfield.

In his examination of Sicilian society in the 1950s he points out that the whole basis of the society is to rob society for personal gain. “Rob” implies criminality and while Sicily is the home of the Mafia, my use of the term is broader to embrace the morally bereft rent-seekers who tip-toe on the edge of legality. You know for instance the persons who profit from “insider knowledge” to make a living, and essentially do nothing else to advance society, while they line their own pockets.

Banfield describes the person at the centre of his dysfunctional society as a male who “lives moment to moment, which governs his behaviour either because he cannot discipline himself to sacrifice a present for future satisfaction or because he has no sense of the future. He is therefore radically improvident.” However, I would not want to be sexist, and in our current era only attribute such a quality only to males.

One of the problems of Australia is that corruption is often confused with mateship, a characteristic which can be traced back to the Rum Rebellion, as the brown paper parcels are laughingly distributed. Added to this heritage, Australia is gaining the reputation as a Chinese Laundry while every aspiring politician sees his or her eventual future as a rent seeker.

You know if Banfield was alive today, he may well have undertaken writing a sequel to his book called The Moral Basis of Christopher Pyne and then, as Banfield did with Sicily, generalise his conclusions so we could benefit from his insights. But alas, where is the Edward Banfield among our political scientists today, Professor Van Onselen?

Mane Course

Some years ago, a prominent culinary scribe (he hates being called a food writer) wrote an article in the Good Food section stating inter alia the following:

“At the same time, the outrage overlooked the paradox that Australia has exported horse meat for human consumption since the 1970s. Today, we’re one of the world’s biggest exporters, with two accredited abattoirs – one in South Australia’s Peterborough and the other in Caboolture, Queensland.

Guaranteed 100% beef free

According to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, we exported 6,137 tonnes in 1998-99 and 2,320 in 2006-07 to 14 countries including Russia, Switzerland, Belgium and France.

 The Department estimates between 30,000 and 40,000 horses are slaughtered each year, but this includes about 33 licensed knackeries butchering horses for the domestic pet-food market, including thoroughbreds, standard breeds and wild brumbies.”

The writer has a strong Slovenian heritage, and horsemeat is freely available in that country, but the biggest importers of horse meat are Italy and France and the biggest exporters of horse meat, which in the OECD definition includes not only “equine” but also “ass, donkey and zebra”, are Argentina followed by Mongolia and Canada. Australia is a small player in the international market.

The above article was written when certain restaurants were introducing horsemeat in various guises on the menu, and being picketed for doing so. Thus horsemeat on the menu became a short-lived exercise. But if there is a surplus of horse flesh, eating it remains an option. If a horse is slaughtered cleanly and humanely, what right has anybody to deny their fellow citizen access to a horse menu?

Nevertheless the writer very clearly set out the numbers being slaughtered and I cannot remember then any of the current breast-beating which is being drummed around the country in response to the recent ABC documentary. However, once the visual images are added to the fact, then the crescendo of breast-beating and teary humbug becomes almost too much for anyone to bear.

The fact is – and it is an inconvenient fact – that when a basically greedy industry over-producing a product to be syndicated among a gullible public means that many of the animals do not pay their keep, what do you do? Release them into the wild so they become an ecological pest or just kill and cremate them. Or use them for food.

Walla walla catsmeat

During and just after the war, horsemeat was sold in the butcher shops as pet food because sheep and beef was rationed – and there was no outcry. In fact, the distinctive cry of the street vendor of horsemeat was very distinctive: “walla walla catsmeat.”

Not all horses can be buried standing up like Mummify or have a comfortable Living Legends retirement. If Australia wants to tackle this particular problem then it should look at the supply chain, and especially at the advertisements offering yearlings that will conquer the racetracks. Shares in these horses that are available for purchase should include the rider (pardon the pun) that you – the owners with “a hundred of your best friends” – are also responsible for the horse for its whole life, including its death certificate.

Further, I would advocate that every protester be given a horse as a token of their love and devotion, together with a certificate of ownership. The certificate can be traded in, stained with tears, if the person wishes to return the animal to its equine funeral home. It used to be called an abattoir before the community outrage ensured that the name be changed and photographs were banned.

Seriously, if the community cares about the welfare of horses, it would not condone the obscene amount of money invested in a few horse races to benefit people who are already very wealthy to the detriment of unwanted horses that die an excruciating death.

Withering Foxglove

In 1785, William Withering, a Birmingham physician, wrote a treatise setting down the history of his patients where the extract of digitalis purpurea – the foxglove – was used. Many of his patients had severe oedema, which is a sign that the body is cracking up and not able to maintain the distribution of body fluids in an appropriate manner. After all, each of us is a compartmentalised bag of salt water, with a few calciferous supports called bones to distinguish us from amoeba.

Oedema has a number of authors. Where there was an underlying cardiac reason for the oedema and associated problem, Withering showed the foxglove extract worked. It just happened to be the extract that yielded a substance which aided cardiac function.

Quoting from the notes of his patient 136, Withering wrote: he was ordered to take two grains of pulv. Digitalis every morning and three every night; likewise a saline draft with syrup of squills, every day at noon. His complaints soon yielded to this treatment, but in the month of November following he relapsed, and again asked my advice. The Digitalis alone was now prescribed which proved as efficacious as in the first trial. He then took bitters twice a day and vitriolic acid night and morning, and now enjoys good health.

“Squills” – Drimia maritima

Before the Digitalis as prescribed, he had taken jallop purges, soluble tartar, salt of steel, vitriol of copper, etc.

Withering used digitalis as a blunderbuss, but this was one patient in which he seemed to get it right. However, as with everything else much of the treatment then was based on purge or emetic – and the basis of such treatment was hardly evidence based, and some of his patients with oedema for whom he prescribed digitalis did not get better and death ensued.

However, Withering was wandering in the darkness of medical ignorance; and that cannot be said of today when under the cover of Pharmacy as a learned profession, the spruikers are out selling much the same array of quackery, just different names. One pill on sale 13 ingredients – a modern day equivalent of the Withering squills:

Vitis Vinifera (grape seed), Silybum marianum (milk thistle)

Selenomethionine, Betacarotene  Thiamine nitrate (vitamin B1) Calcium pantothenate (vitamin B5), Pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6);Vitamin B6, Cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12) Ascorbic acid (vitamin C); Vitamin D-alpha-Tocopherol; Vitamin E; Zinc amino acid chelate and with a garnish of Folic acid.

A normal balanced diet obviates the need for vitamins and selenium can be toxic, especially if children swallow a few of the tablets that have been left lying around.

In one case Withering had success infusing a young grossly oedematous man with digitalis. He obviously was feeling very chuffed, as he finishes the case history (sic): I forgot to mention that this gentleman, before I saw him, had been for two months under the care of a very celebrated physician, by whose direction he had taken mercurials, bitters, squills, alkaline salts and other things, but without much advantage.

The pity that the paradox of having knowledge unlike Withering in his pioneer use of digitalis, over 200 years later, the same quackery exists but with different titles is being flogged; and in the same unregulated environment no much different from that in which Withering medicated.

I read an interview with Jack Gance, the founder of Chemist Warehouse. There was not one mention of the word “therapeutic’ in the interview. It was all about money and profit margins, and when you see its advertisements where you see these laughing, presumably satisfied, customers with shopping trolleys brimming with all types of his alchemy, then you know how deep, drug taking is rooted in our society. And as a society we have the audacity to humiliate strip-searching young teenagers. Back to the advertisements with the hysterical customers pushing their drug cornucopia to the check out desk – just money stripping here.

The Medical Board of Australia is investigating this whole area of complementary medicine currently. On a major homeopathic website there are a number of anecdotes attesting to its value. They are uniformly positive, reminiscent of the testimonials that adorned the patent medicines and remedies sold through magazines. I find it unsurprising that such a biased sample appears on the website. However, there is no end to gullibility.

Let me just add to these anecdotes a contrary view. In 2013 I went undiagnosed for a period of time, and among the remedies suggested was krill oil. It is interesting when one is very sick, the promise of a therapeutic nirvana supersedes logic.

As it turned out, it was an orthopaedic surgeon who diagnosed my condition where other doctors and apothecaries including myself did not. I had a nasty affliction with a gradually worsening triad of pain, stiffness and weakness, so much so that one night as I stood in my bathroom I knew I was dying if there was no intervention.

Fortunately I was pulled back from the brink – not by krill oil, but by prednisolone. My therapeutic response was almost instantaneous, such that I am not writing his blog from a celestial platform.

Cortisone, a naturally occurring substance in the body, was crucial, administered in a therapeutic dose to counter the autoimmune disease process; plus paracetamol for the pain- killer, a chemical, an aniline compound first manufactured in the 1880s. No oil of krill or any substance from the alchemist crucible.

Education System Fails Australia.  Will micro certification help?

Neil Baird

The retiring Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson, recently joined a long list of well-qualified commentators in warning of the dangers of falling living standards arising from Australia’s declining productivity growth.

As an employer for more than 40 years, I regretfully have to agree. Parkinson partially blames political instability and policy uncertainty. He is undoubtedly correct in that assessment but I firmly believe that the major factor in our productivity decline is the general failure of our wider education system.

As I see it the problem is that the primary, secondary and tertiary education sectors have all become anti-business over the last 50 years. One of the benefits of advancing age is being able to look back on an education experience that was generally pro-business. I was fortunate to attend a school where successful business leaders were hailed almost as heroes. Even at university, at least in my undergraduate years, they were tolerated or, at worst, ignored.

Since the late sixties all that has changed. While the ageing Communist Party of Australia and its various “fellow travelling” organisations were gradually declining, they were being replaced by similarly agitprop inspired groups who began to infiltrate and eventually dominate our education system.

That movement started in the universities and quickly spread through both levels of our schools and by the early 1980s the movement had effectively been institutionalised. Unfortunately business did little or nothing to counteract this; education became widely anti-business. Our children were, and are being, taught that business is bad and sales people are crooks. Not only is this attitude destructive, it produces too few people who are productively employable which, in turn, severely handicaps our national productivity.

As a global publisher of maritime trade magazines and organiser of their accompanying trade exhibitions, I know the publishing, events and maritime industries quite well. Their problems are essentially similar and largely they are the result of the output of our schools and universities. Like many western democracies (except perhaps the USA) it is becoming impossible to find enough good and competent staff.

I see this problem as largely attitudinal and those attitudes are mostly shaped by an education system that focuses on what I call “fluffy”, easy subjects in the social sciences to the detriment of the more difficult STEM* subjects. Apart from their underlying political inspiration, universities generally favour the “fluffy” subjects because they attract more fee-paying students.

The old “Techs” – the technical colleges – have been allowed to wither on the vine. Under the Whitlam and Dawkins “education revolutions” they became TAFEs, many of which eventually were turned into universities. The Whitlam Government introduced free university education for the masses, ignoring the Commonwealth Scholarships scheme, which quickly devalued university degrees, at enormous cost, and allowed the “fluffy subjects” to gradually dominate our universities.

A couple of years ago I, and many others connected with the maritime industry, were shattered to learn of the University of New South Wales’s intention to close its globally esteemed school of naval architecture. That institution was the world leader in producing the designers of fast ferries, patrol boats and the like. However, the demand for such graduates is not high, about 15 per annum. Despite the important facts that all UNSW naval architecture graduates were quickly employed and their fees covered more than double the direct costs of their course, UNSW is terminating the course this year.

Of course, 15 graduates does not in any way compare with the fees being contributed to the university, and its counterparts throughout the country, by its hundreds of marine biology, environmental science, media studies and journalism students, for example. The fact that most of those students, upon graduation, will be lucky to find employment as baristas or, largely unnecessary, public servants is of little or no relevance to the UNSW or its other university counterparts. Meanwhile, like my company, Australia’s naval architecture firms and ship builders, which are all significant exporters, will have to employ graduates from overseas. Worse still, they now have to establish their construction activities offshore.

Much the same applies to the trades. Everyone I know in shipbuilding is having trouble filling trade positions such as welders, electricians and ship- wrights. Even the catering trade, I understand, is having similar problems. It seems strange that, with all the people in this country of Italian heritage, my local Italian restaurants have to recruit chefs from India. I understand, from a nephew in the business, that modern apprentice chefs are failing to survive long in the business because their teachers have left them unprepared for the realities of the work and discipline involved with their roles.

Anecdotally, this seems to be a problem that affects companies across the whole spectrum of business. Recruiting competent enthusiastic staff is very difficult. Meanwhile, our governments boast of keeping our unemployment levels “down” to 5.2 per cent even though, in my view, that has been achieved by overloading our Federal and state bureaucracies with “fluffy” graduates. Our more intelligent politicians are well aware this does nothing for national productivity. Unfortunately, few, if any, of them are doing anything about it.

Now, what we are effectively doing is shifting our productivity offshore. Our bright, hard working people and our vigorous businesses are being forced to develop overseas while our domestic economy slowly stifles itself into unproductive mediocrity.

The Federal Government initiated the Hayne Inquiry into the banks and finance sector. That has led to some promising reforms. It should do the same with education and examine the vital relationship between education and productivity. Then, something might be done to reverse our inexorable long-term decline in productivity.

*Science, technology, engineering and mathematics

Neil Baird PhD is non-executive Chairman of Baird Maritime, a leading global maritime trade publisher. Neil is a former chairman of the World Ocean Council and of the Australian Marine Environment Protection Association, and a long-serving director of the Australian Shipbuilders Association.

Mouse whisper

As reported in the SMH this week by James Massola:

Joko and Morrison met for about 15 minutes at the presidential palace yesterday and afterwards, Morrison said he had discussed the Indonesian-Australian free trade deal, counter terrorism co-operation, the proposed new Indonesian capital on the island of Borneo and the recent deadly riots in Papua and West Papua

Wow – Speed diplomacy. Pity they did not have another 15 minutes or Morrison would have had time to talk about the Sharkies’ prospects for 2020. The fact that he spent only 15 minutes discussing the above matters says something about Australian-Indonesian relations.

However, Morrison had nearly an hour with Vice-President of China Wang and given that the main object was to get into the good books of President Xi so that presumably he will be eventually granted an audience, an hour pleading his case may be a better use of time than worrying Indonesia about the potential re-run of Timor-Leste in West Papua – and yes, the Bali bombing was a long time ago.

Go Sharkies. Go Joko.