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.

Modest Expectations – Theodore R

I repeat what I said last week, eye gouging – or whatever euphemism is used in the charge – should result in the player being banned for life and the police called in.

Two weeks in a row – the one player. “Of no moment”, one cries, with a carefree flick of the polo stick. Is the AFL going to wait until a player is blinded?

At least despite pressure he has got a one week suspension. Hardly enough.

It is disappointing to say the least that the ophthalmologists of all people have not weighed in – at least it does not appear to be so on the web site.

They call it Molly

Back in the mists of time when the Neanderthals walked Australian soil I, as a male post-graduate researcher, had a regular task. I had to climb a ladder and, on the top of a long Sephadex column encased in lead bricks, had responsibility for the purification of two radioactive iodine isotopes – I125 and I131.

The first of these isotopes had a half-life of about a month but the second isotope that of about ten days. Therefore for the research work, I131 had to be made frequently because as it decayed it lost both strength and purity for the work the laboratory was undertaking. Over the period, since we needed to be checked after each procedure, I labelled myself as well twice, which meant I had to take a dose of iodine to wash my thyroid out. Let me say that there are few worse punishments for laboratory carelessness than a dose of iodine. It sure defines bitterness.

So when I look at the latest problem that ANSTO is having with the supply of radioactive molybdenum (Mo99) then I have great sympathy for when things go wrong.

For the community, nuclear reactors mean enriched uranium and the possibility of bombs and big power stations. But OPAL (Open-Pool Australian Lightwater Reactor) at Lucas Heights does none of those things. However, its role is equally important, as the low grade uranium fission in the reactor has been producing a significant supply of the world Mo99 which in turn generates technetium (Tc99m). If you to identify the most important function of the reactor, this is it.

The ANSTO reactor has been having production problems with Mo99 since June last year. First there was a problem with generation of the technetium, which meant Mo99 had to be sent to Boston for Tc99m generation, and given the half-life of the isotope and the turnaround time for the Tc99m there needed to be spot-on timing to minimise the loss through decay of Mo99 in transit.

Now it is a more serious problem. A faulty valve in the dissolution cell means that while Mo99 can be made, it cannot be extracted to produce the Tc99m. There is already a huge shortage around the world as a number of reactors that did make the isotopes have closed down in recent years.

Before you all shrug your shoulders and say reducing radiation is good thing, everyone has to realise that this isotope Tc99m is the mainstay of detection for cancer, bone disease and some cardiac conditions. Without it, this area is like a blank black TV screen. With the TV, you expect to be able to switch on, the screen to light up and you then settle in for a good night of relaxation. The same is true for the specialty of nuclear medicine and diagnostic imaging in general, you expect not have any interruption in the program.

Currently, the ANSTO boffins are scratching their heads about how best to proceed, given there is an great amount of highly radioactive material unable to be removed before the repairs can be started – the equivalent of how to stop Rome burning.

Elsewhere everybody in the industry and relevant parts of medical profession have got off their backsides to scour the world for any spare Mo99 (there apparently isn’t much) and thus realistically searching for substitute tracer material which is generally more expensive. This substitute material has to be priced so as to ensure the industry does not go down because Medicare cannot adjust to pay the real cost of using the substitute radiopharmaceuticals.

The Government is very conscious about price and that is reflected in the precise definition of MBS item descriptors. It is an exercise in keeping the smallest number of moving parts operational – and when the crisis is passed then there can be what the dreamy educators would say – a time for reflection.

However, this whole period with ANSTO and its cascading troubles may need a great amount of investment to correct – and to many, nuclear reactor is equated to Chernobyl. Therefore, politicians get nervous, and if we could call it “fluffy duck” they may then be prepared to immediately stump up the money to fix the source of last year’s problem.

Having said that, this year’s problem has occurred in ANSTO’s newest world-class production facility. It might be a one in 10 or 15 years’ problem, but it is a major one and it has occurred very early in that 10 to 15 years.

The sector has responded as well as it can with emergency provisions being put in place very early on and a cooperative approach being taken. It will be a challenge to keep a smile on the face of the specialty if the shortage drags on.

The Lucas Heights reactor is a vital cog in assuring the community’s health if for nothing more than the detection of the conditions named above. What happens if an unfriendly country corners the world market for Mo99 even by default because Australia can’t get Mo99 out of ANSTO?

Morrison – the Funambulist

Morrison is about to go and participate in one of those tawdry Trump events – called a State dinner with all the trappings of Mar-a-Casablanca chic. An Australian Prime Minister can hardly turn down what no other World leader except Macron has been afforded – Trump with full garnish. Morrison knows that as a middle order leader, he has to be able to genuflect to both the USA and China almost simultaneously without either getting the legs crossed or suffering from a case of morderte en el trasero.

To avoid the latter condition and given he has an electoral mandate until 2022, Morrison will be banking on either a Trump re-election or the aspiring Democrats not noticing or caring who is and what he has said. After all, “A gunboat short? No worries – just ring Australia.”

However, keeping sweet with the Chinese is a different matter. To counter any perception that he is a total American sycophant, Morrison has been very strong in the defense of the member for Chisholm, whose links to the Chinese government seem like a tapeworm – you can see the head but extracting the total worm is a tortuous, long drawn out task. An official Chinese publication has risen to the bait, by praising him, but there is a great deal of unraveling before the Prime Minister is invited to a banquet in Beijing.

At the same time the media are having a field day not just on the member for Chisholm, but also all the Chinese donations appearing in modern variations of the brown paper bags. What it tells me is that the Chinese never miss an opportunity. If they see a line of politicians and bureaucrats with their noses in the trough, why not feed them?

However the Chinese government cares not a jot about the media – they care about who is in government, and it is better to get your way without having to use brute force. As the Japanese found out, Australia was not the easy target to conquer that Malaya and the Dutch East Indies were. However, in the minds of some Australians there are still remnants of “White Australia” and the “Yellow Peril”; even now when over one million Australians have Chinese heritage. So for the Australian government, the Chinese government presents a problem, especially when you can hardly see the problem through a blizzard of bank notes.

However, one of the most interesting Morrison appointments which has not gone unnoticed is Graham Fletcher as the Ambassador to Beijing. As one of his predecessors noted, Fletcher is the most fluent Mandarin speaker sent in this role and has in fact lived for periods in China. Contrast him with the moustachioed Iowan Terry Bransted, the American Ambassador, lauded by Trump as a great friend of China because Bransted apparently casually met Xi Jinping many years ago when the latter was a minor official on an agricultural delegation to the Mid-west. Great credentials when placed against those of our new Ambassador. I think not.

However, whether the member for Chisholm is a Chinese Government operative or not, Morrison is showing a degree of solidarity with her that has not been lost on Beijing. It is hard to believe that the advice Turnbull received which made him shy away from the then candidate for Chisholm would differ from the advice received by Morrison about the member for Chisholm. And yet there is the Prime Minister unabashedly defending her.

The ALP missed their opportunity to send the Chisholm electorate result to the Court of Disputed returns, challenging the Liberal party’s advertising as scandalous and deceptive. Had they done so it is probable that this episode would have been played out in a more frosty, less emotionally charged atmosphere. However, the billy has been kept boiling by the maverick Oliver Yates, who has the member for Kooyong in his sights also in his appeal to the High Court.

Anyway, in amongst all the activity, the Prime Minister in his actions in relation to the member for Chisholm is addressing Beijing without appearing to genuflect. He has already a semaphore from the Chinese. It now depends on what he says in Washington – probably no “on the stump with Donald Trump” would be a good starter

As I said above I hope the Prime Minister will avoid treatment for a bad case of morderte en el trasero.

Jacques Miller

Very briefly: Congratulations to Jacques Miller on co-sharing the Lasker award this year with Max Cooper, although in its announcement, the NYT put the Yank’s name first. They really can’t help themselves, given that the research giant was Miller, then a 30 year old when he made his initial discovery about the role of the thymus, that gland in the neck which few of us have ever contemplated. His work was seminal to modern immunology. Miller is now 88.

For God’s sake, you Swedes, he has deserved the Nobel Prize for years. Gus Nossal’ s elegant panegyric written eight years ago says it all. How many of us have been touched by his work – his genius.

Let Professor Nossal’s succinctness remind you of the impact of the discovery:

Miller is the last person to discover the function of a human organ — the thymus — and not a single chapter of immunology has been untouched by the discovery.

T cells became even more prominent when it became clear that they were the chief target of the AIDS virus. Miller continued to make discoveries about the thymus and T cells for many decades, including gaining important insights into:

  • how the immune system discriminates between self and non-self;
  • how it goes wrong in autoimmune diseases; and
  • how the whole orchestra of the immune system is regulated.

Enough said.

Mouse Whisper

We all know about Shanghai Sam – he is the guy the Prime Minister did not name as such – 17 times.

Perhaps though, without reference to the black kettle, we can now call the Prime Minister “Chinese Morrison No 2.”

“Chinese Morrison No 1” was also famous in his time – an Australian born in Sydney. George Morrison was a journalist who, as a correspondent for the London Times in the then Peking, had an important role in the defense of the various legations during the 55-day siege of the Boxer Uprising in 1900, the year of the Rat. Then, as adviser to the fledgling Chinese Government, he was a pivotal figure in the fall of the last Emperor and the birth of the Chinese Republic.

“Chinese Morrison No 2” should remember that 2019 is the Year of Pig – to the Chinese a symbol of wealth not necessarily with its head in the trough.

Modest expectation – Hourglass

The member for Dickson, that doyen of child care ownership, is showing all the compassion that we have come to expect, and for which the good burghers of Dickson rewarded him with an increased majority at the last election. However, it was not all high fives out at Mount Nebo, where 75 per cent of the votes cast there were for the Labor candidate.

Overlooking the promised land, from Mount Nebo

It is not that the member for Dickson is not without compassion. He has a daughter born out of wedlock, whom he seems proud to have as part of his family with his second wife. Therefore I find it difficult to know why he is rejecting these two Australian children who are part of the growing multicultural nation family, because they happen to have Tamil parents.

Perhaps some of that affection he has extended to his daughter should rub off in a decision to enable these two little Australian citizens to remain.

But he won’t. He was trained as a Queensland copper to be tough, unrelenting, a man very much into leather. After all, any criticism in his home state is strangled by the Murdoch Press. He cannot stand loss of face. He has had so much of that over the past year. Yet his electorate apparently love him – the May election would have been a good ego stroke for his basic insecurities.

Why can’t these politicians stand loss of face? They are pitiable, but as I said, 53,000 of Dicksers love him.

However, I pity the children far more – and if they want to come back to Australia, they should be given passports like anybody else born in this country, including the Member for Dickson – notwithstanding any change in the Australian Citizenship Act 33 years ago. 

Rhiannan Iffland. Who?

I always think I know generally what goes on the sports pages. So it was somewhat surprising when television surfing in a non-English speaking country far from Australia, to come upon Red Bull-sponsored cliff diving. There are seven events this year where the contestants dive off cliffs mostly with temporary platforms jutting out over the sea. I have always associated this daredevil idiocy with the young Mexican divers at Acapulco.

However, now it is an organised sport which allegedly attracts 60,000 to 80,000 spectators, and the Australian, Rhiannan Iffland, who has combined her diving and trampolining into an extraordinary skill, is far and away the best female cliff diver in the world. At her last appearance – diving from the famous restored bridge at Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina – she achieved straight tens.

Rhiannan Iffland

The last competition for 2019 is at Bilbao on 14th September where the competitors dive from the La Salve Bridge, 24 metres down into the River Nervion, in full sight of the Guggenheim museum. Majestic daredevilry. The sight of this young woman twisting and somersaulting, slicing into the water feet first is indeed breath-taking. The danger of this diving is underscored by the number of frogmen swimming around in the water waiting for the mishap.

I do not know if anybody can be bothered showing it to an Australian audience, but we are strangely unknowing about this woman’s extraordinary talent, given the fact that women’s sport overall is attracting more and more interest. Perhaps it is because she is so good, that even we Australians get bored with those who win all the time. We just expect it. Do we remember Heather Mackay who won the British open squash title for 16 years in a row before winning the inaugural world championship and then retiring? We certainly remember Winx, quite a female performer.

Rural Health

One of the repeated catchcries is the lack of rural health services in Australia. My response has always been that one has to actively transfer intellectual capital to the “regional, rural and remote areas” to encourage a positive outcome. In this blog, “rural” will be used to encompass all.

One of the most important developments in the medical system, amid all the jeremiads over the past two decades, has been the new medical schools with a rural emphasis, the rural clinical schools and the university departments of rural health.

These teaching institutions have facilitated transfer of intellectual capital to rural areas. Medical teaching has been shown to occur more than adequately outside the metropolitan teaching hospitals; and significant intellectual capital exists already in both the larger and the smaller rural hospitals.

Without this innovation, the health education system would have had great difficulty in handling the increase in medical students that occurred in the decade following the introduction of these new rural facilities.

However, this rural dispersal needs good medical management, and especially with the Government’s obsession with Regional Training Hubs, as though the basic structure does not already exist.

One inspiration underpinning the recommendations of my Rural Stocktake in 1999, which led to Government funding for the establishment of rural clinical schools and university departments of rural health, was the story of the Mayo Clinic and visits made to both to the Rochester Minnesota and Scottsdale Arizona campuses some years before I did the Stocktake.

The Mayo Clinic was formed by the Mayos – father and sons – in Rochester in the 19th century and to me has always exemplified that excellence is not confined to the largest conurbations. The Mayos proved to be very good managers and developed intellectual capital involving a wide range of skills, in the “wilds of Minnesota”.

Then one also remembers the story of a gifted doctor named Samuel Fitzpatrick, who was based in Hamilton in Western Victoria. He was a world authority on the surgery of hydatid disease, then a major affliction – particularly in Western Victoria where sheep farming was a major component of the local economy. The disease was of such importance that the then Royal Australian College of Surgeons established a national hydatid registry in 1926 that, until its cessation in 1950, identified over 2,000 cases. Such attention helped in the campaigns to reduce the incidence of hydatid infection in humans – the intersection of Fitzpatrick the surgeon and Fitzpatrick the public health doctor.

At the height of his practice Dr Fitzpatrick dreamt that this niche disease could propel Hamilton into having its own Australian version of the Mayo Clinic. However hydatid disease lessened as a major disease and, unlike that of his Mayo exemplar, Fitzpatrick’s dream faded. While Hamilton doctors have maintained a high reputation for medical care and procedural competence, this remained a country practice in Victoria.

The surgical virtuosos of the bush, like Fitzpatrick – the doctor who was that generalist with an equal ability to treat any disease or condition – increasingly disappeared. The intellectual capital that they possessed was not translated into major teaching and research facilities in rural Australia, let alone centres for public health as had occurred with the Mayos and their stake in rural America.

The rise of specialist medicine and then sub-specialist medicine, together with their resultant perceived skills and knowledge, concentrated teaching and learning in metropolitan teaching hospitals, and in so doing emphasised the importance of the individual at the expense of the total population denominator.

Public health was dismissed in some quarters as surveillance of “tips and drains” Yet public health training for many years was concentrated in the School of Public Health in the University of Sydney. Public health education as a medical specialty was invigorated by a consultant physician, Sue Morey, and a number of like-minded people following the Kerr White report. Dr Morey headed the resultant Faculty of Public Health Medicine, which ended up within the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

One of the important outcomes of the growth of rural medical education has been the opportunity to be both director of medical service and director of clinical training. I was able test this association personally and found it fruitful, being involved in the establishment of a medical intern program that requires the interns to undertake 20 weeks in rural general practice, plus the mandatory hospital terms. Health education (rather than medical education per se) has been attached to a group of academics primarily in traditional teaching hospitals. I was lucky with having forward thinking CEOs in a number of rural health care services.

They realised that what I called small teaching services, where the general practitioners have provided a variety of services, are rich teaching environments. I term these health services as “teaching services”. My argument is that by having a series of interns each year, you give the local doctors the opportunity to teach without the layered bureaucracy of the medical colleges telling you what to do.

Hence the 20 weeks in general practice as an intern and the concept of rotating interns ‘in’ to the regional or teaching hospital, not “out “ from those same hospitals. In other words, the small teaching service are allocated the interns; not having to depend on the big hospitals.

That was the core of the M2M program which has been rolled out in across Victoria and, to conform to the commonwealth funding provisions rather than the intent of the program, then called “Rural Medical Generalist Program”. The Rural medical Generalist program is an Queensland concoction of the ACRRM.

It aims to provide a training program for that College and really a reason for that College to exist. Simply put it aims to skill general practitioners to work in the country. A very good thing, but for it to work well it has to have a defined connection with the rural clinical schools – and that was the aim of the intern training program.

Nevertheless, there is this major barrier to this program – the attitude of some senior members of the university hierarchy and their teaching hospitals – not all I would emphasis – who could not care a jot about rural Australia – the major universities are there to perpetuate elitism. You measure that by research dollars not by the benefit you may provide to rural Australia.

Medical education is one of those areas that, in the undergraduate field, have been attached to universities and the post-graduate qualifications left to the various Colleges. As I found out this leaves a gap in the first two post-graduate hospital years as intern and resident medical officer when there is often a high level of angst. There is a need for expertise and experience to assist the doctor in those first two years.

I realised this need for pastoral help with the interns – surely an accompaniment of an empathetic educational environment . Taken seriously medical education without forgetting the importance of public health should be a major concern of any university, which considers itself to have a pastoral role rather than a treasury for the fees of international students. If the university adopt that pastoral challenge just as the Mayos and Samuel Fitzpatrick did, then this whole exercise of having rural clinical schools, defined educational programs in the first two years of post-graduate life as a doctor is still relevant despite being in a different era

As one famous person once said: “Before you capture the citadels, secure the fields first!” Therefore, for the young doctor think of gaining experience in a rural post before tackling, rather than being absorbed into, the “citadel culture” of the urban teaching hospitals.

The Brethren

Back in the 1970s while fresh from his exploits in hastening the departure of Richard Nixon, Woodward wrote a book with Scott Armstrong about the United States Supreme Court from the 1969 term to 1975 term. This was the time when the Court was moving from the liberal court of Earl Warren to the more conservative court of Warren Burger. Earl Warren had resigned in the belief that he would be succeeded by somebody cut from his legislative cloth.

This did not occur, and instead the court became the plaything for Nixon appointees. Not only did Nixon appoint the new Chief Justice in Burger but also three other justices, only one of which – William Rehnquist – fitted what Nixon hoped the court would become – a bastion of conservatism. As with the current Chief Justice French, Burger was elevated directly to Chief Justice with all the administrative load that entailed, without any experience as a Justice of the Supreme Court.

What is fascinating about the book when read against the churning turmoil of the Trump presidency is how complicated are the politics of the Supreme Court. Not for nothing is the book named The Brethren for all the religious overtones that the name implies.

It deals with all the machinations of Roe vs Wade, which is where Trump supporters and the Roman Catholic Church want repealed. It should be realised that seven out of the nine judges concurred with the proposition that including three of the Nixon appointees including Chief Justice Burger voted for the proposition that the United States Constitution protects the rights of a pregnant woman to have an abortion.

Only the newly appointed William Rehnquist, later to become Chief Justice and Byron White, the only Kennedy nominee dissented. So despite the howls of the anti-abortioners, this decision represented a very diverse cross-section of men of different political persuasion.

However, the most chilling aspect of the book was its conclusion when it summarises four cases which hinged on the court’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Fourth Amendment states: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In each case the decided that day in July 1975, the court ruled in favour of government rather then for the individual citizen. The final line says: “the center had won”, which can be roughly translated into “the right were gaining ascendency”.

It had been a short time between 1973 when the Roe vs Wade decision and July 1975 – the so-called Black Tuesday. When The Brethren was published in 1979, the composition of the court remained the same as it was in 1975.

However, changes were afoot with the very intelligent but ideologically driven Rhenquist in the wings awaiting his ascension into the Chief Justice role. In 1981, with the retirement of Burger the die was cast; the die which contains the court ruling in favour of Bush over Gore; the deviousness of McConnell in denying an Obama nominee, and the sad sight of Ruth Bader Ginsberg hoping her pancreatic cancer does not kill her before the next Presidential election -in other words outlasting Trump. Such is the state of American democracy. 

Mouse Whisper

An interesting comment overheard in the back streets of Whroo.

Every year, there is a change in the education curriculum in Hong Kong, so eventually the education program between the children of China and Hong Kong will be indistinguishable. The level of information manipulation will be the same.

By the time, the total absorption of Hong Kong into China occurs in 2047, who among those of the “one country, two systems” will have heard of the riots of 2019.

Talk about the long game …

The umbrella protest

Modest expectations Jiminy

In the Weekend NYT, there was a thought-provoking article saying we now have a great way in Instagram of recording aphorisms – the one-liners, deep philosophical verbal gestures. Jean Crispin writes:

“This should be the golden age of the aphorism. Constrained as we all are by time, attention and social media platform character limits, when we pull out our smartphones and stare into their illuminated fields, we can take in only so much. Shouldn’t those words be perfectly chosen to vibrate with hidden meanings?”

An aphorism has a way of bending you to its hidden truth, changing your way of thinking not with a 20-page document of well-reasoned arguments, but with just a sentence or two.”

I have two responses – one is that an Instagram is a vehicle for one line vanity press – “Look at me, aren’t I clever?” Mostly, the answer is no! In fact, given the weight of encouragement her opinion may give, I would introduce a Crispin Licence to Practise in her golden age.

The other is a question: “Have you ever read an anthology of aphorisms.” It is eye-glazingly boring unless you want to filch one and then pass it off as your own cleverness.

However Chris Brook, later in this blog, makes a very valid point, if obliquely. The name “blog” implies stodge as if we are working our way up a muddy hill. However, as Brook points out, the blog is a very good place to set up a conversation as long it remains coherent.

A blog is a modern cartouche. Not only does it name the author who is trying to explicate an eternal truth but also in itself it is self-contained. As I am writing, I glance up and see the front wall of our house; it is a variegated set of bricks that have been put together to cohere. Not exactly the wall of a Pharoah’s tomb, but the wall of brick cartouches is a sufficient metaphor for policy by cartouche aka blog. Thus, the blog can be used to build a policy wall, which Chris Brook is doing incrementally with his health policy contributions.

Napoleon Bonaparte, when he saw the ancient Egyptian way of hieroglyphic messaging, thought it looked like a gun cartridge, hence the name “cartouche”. I am sure he would have had a less viscous name for “blog”, perhaps “L’araignée boisée” abbreviated to “abois”.

A Memo to Me Mate the Minister for Minerals

Change is something that can take a long time. Therefore it is useful to live long enough to see change happen and then see the society change, especially when you yourself started on the wrong side of history.

By this I mean I started smoking when I found a half empty packet of brown Capstan in the train on the way home one night when I was 17 years old and from then on I smoked until I was 40, when I gave up. I have never had a cigarette since. But back then tobacco usage was pervasive. I owned several pipes so that tobacco could give me gravitas. They didn’t.

One of my memories is being in the emergency department during my internship. We used to light one cigarette from the butt of the last one. Many of the senior doctors smoked and we were corralled into the room at the end of the ward so that he, the senior doctor, could have a smoke (never “she” then) while he taught. The Medical Journal of Australia had until recently then been accepting advertisements from cigarette companies. My father, who was a doctor smoked cigarettes and more often Cuban cigars. He died in 1970 – he had a heart attack. It was Tobacco that helped get him.

It was Richard Doll who, with his colleagues in Oxford, identified the link between lung cancer and cigarettes from the late 1940s. He authored an article on doctors’ smoking habits in 1954. This whole public health investigation was not on the political radar, and even when it was there was a reluctance to interfere given how much cigarette money was sponsoring so many activities, including political parties.

Like many of my contemporaries in the health industry, I had one particularly uncomfortable moment on the way to weaning myself from cigarettes. I happened to be in the office of one of Jimmy Carter’s advisers. I asked whether he would mind me smoking, pulling out a packet of Gaulois. He looked at the packet and suggested that they were worst cigarette to smoke from a lung cancer point of view. Needless to say the rest of the conversation could have been better.

However, it was three years before I abruptly stopped. By that time I was working for the AMA, but there was no overt pressure for me to stop. I just decided one day it was a dirty habit. I just smelt. Cigarette ash like coal dust was a pollutant. So I went cold turkey. I surprised myself and never smoked again. And one of these days, we as nation will have to go cold turkey on coal, before it is too late.

The only contribution I have made to policy in this area of tobacco happened one day in the early 1980s during my time at the AMA. I was rung up by a friend who was then on his way up the bureaucratic ladder, who asked what I thought about indexing the excise on tobacco products. I said great idea – and QED, it came to pass.

However, far more importantly, community behaviour has changed in Australia. The smoker is very much a pariah in public places – the array of butts on the windy corners of the city reinforce the image of the uncaring polluter.

One wonders how long it will be for those who hold up a lump of coal in Parliament proudly, to be like the young doctor in the emergency department lighting a cigarette amid an atmosphere of tobacco smoke, and change. Hopefully it will not take 17 years.

One cigarette executive once said of me that I was a hypocrite in my attitude to smoking. No, I said, as our coal-fired politicians and their minions hopefully may eventually recognise, they will eventually become as I did over the matter of cigarettes – a penitent.

Not to everyone’s Taste

When I went to the Baltic States a little time ago I visited many churches. I climbed the Hill of Crosses in Northern Lithuania. My visual cortex is an attic stacked with images of Christ the Child and Christ the Man. These are not my image of Christ nor indeed of my God the Father who dominates those below as if some Jovian presence as though Heaven is at the top of a religious escalator. As for the Holy Spirit as some wraith dodging in and out of my cerebral inglenooks … really?

Hill of Crosses

I therefore cannot conjure a visual image of the Trinity. I do not have the capacity to do so. They are not Three clustered on a Throne. I am thus left with my other known senses to provide me with some reference point by which I can relate to the Trinity.

I cannot touch Them, although in some worlds people seem to believe in the supernatural. Whether that is some kinaesthetic experience where God in various forms intrudes is again beyond my ability to fathom.

I cannot hear God. It is not that I am deaf, but I have not had the experience of having auditory communication, although I may have missed it – by not having paid enough attention, not being able to break the code or simply not knowing the language.

I thought that since frankincense and myrrh were so important in the Nativity that perhaps there would be a particular fragrance where I may be able to smell God. To me substances that emit a smell are important to my being. In particular I love herbs in all their differentiation. The Bible is full of references to herbs, and for a moment I toyed with the ability to distil these olfactory sensations as a means of conceiving God. But then the idea was too difficult and my brain inadequate to process – at least at this point in time.

Then there is taste, and in the early hours of one Thursday morning, I realised that when I have taken the Bread and the Wine at Communion it is somehow different. I cannot express that thought any further, but taste is a very complex physiological phenomenon. Taste is itself a trinity of cranial nerves – the facial, the glossopharyngeal and the vagus.   Surely that is a coincidence!

Perhaps, just maybe, that is how God is in my head. But I am still uneasy and unsure to presume even that. But it is the only way I can sense my God.

Chris Brook on Health

Whenever the future of the Australian health system in Australia is discussed, the discussants tend to focus on their own area of special interest and to adopt the “gap filler” approach. It is the basis of incrementalism.

It seems pragmatic and sensible to target perceived areas of deficiency. Examples of this currently are:

  • universal dental care (a costly initiative if ever adopted)
  • mental health care including youth suicide ( very deserving of consideration)
  • better public information to facilitate informed decision making
  • integrated care initiatives.
  • In fact the list is endless. It is a question of priority.

Filling gaps seems to assume that all is otherwise rosy in the health care system, when of course it is not. I listed above some of the schemes. Underlying the edifices we wish to build are the fault lines.

  • Think how far dental health schemes are from universality
  • Think lack of coordination between GP type primary care and specialists
  • Think of the gulf between hospital care and any form of community based care whether specialist, general practitioner or other
  • Think cost shifting between levels of government between care settings and funders including private insurance funds, a set of pernicious behaviours raised to an art form in some jurisdictions
  • Think out of pocket costs and deliberate privatisation of services
  • Think of the difficulty for the increasing number of people with chronic and often multiple morbidities in navigating the fragmented health system.

Above all, think “systems”! Then ask why don’t we actually have one! For historic reasons we have a set of arrangements based largely on fee for service, whether Medicare, Hospital casemix funding, or Pharmaceutical Benefits scheme.

Multiple costly government attempts to engage general practitioners, with the latest being primary health care networks (PCHN), but also with practice incentives, IT incentives and without anything similar for specialists. They just have not been sensibly considered.

There are many questions about the Australian health system. For example, why is Australia’s rate of hospital admissions some two and a half times greater than virtually all other OECD countries? The answer lies solely in what Australia counts as an admission where it includes day treatments and day procedures as admissions when no actual overnight stay is involved. Once this is taken into account the Australian apparent admission rate plummets to the normal international level. Australia does this for accounting and payment purposes and it may be said that it works reasonably; but could it be better if done differently?

Many countries are far more advanced in consideration and implementation of capitation-based funding for large parts of health care, adjusted for risk using some really very good predictive tools, such as DxCG predictive for risk.

The appeal of capitation since the 1930s has grown with the birth of Health Maintenance Organisations like Kaiser Permanente. Offering an annual payment for all care should allow flexibility in the “what and where” of care including, most importantly, preventive services. It should allow tailored care for individuals and greatly facilitate navigation.

The theory may not always translate because the bogey of managed care is that it is rationing in disguise – and rationing has caused many problems notably in the USA, in particular knowing where to draw the line.

Nevertheless, capitation has its advantages, especially for the funder.

Fee for service at the extreme is a free-for-all encouraging providers to offer as many services as possible to as many people as possible, whereas capitation encourages providers to offer as few services as possible to the least number of people.

So measurement of adequacy of patient benefit must be part of any approach, being preferably outcome based, incorporating the triad of: clinical assessment, whether periodic or after a specific care; patient reported health outcome measurement, including some measure of satisfaction; and periodic functional assessment. Here elective surgery is the easiest one to reference – post-joint surgery or post spinal surgery; one functionality, the other more relief of pain.

Barriers are pervasive. The structure of the Australian Constitution originally only accorded one Federal health power – that of quarantine – and has made the Australian health system a patchwork, which is increasingly fraying around the stitches.

One blog is too short a space to go much further, so take this as just a start. Serious policy is always work-in-progress. However serial blogging over time will help, as now is a very appropriate time to take this whole policy area much further.

The rise of the zinger

I remember when the late Senator John Button, in a mischievous moment in the Senate, once asked the Minister of Science a question without notice: how many centimetres there was in an inch? The Minister did not know. Button achieved his point; he made the Minister look like an idiot. Although amusing at the time, it has not improved the quality of the politicians who have been given the science portfolio – that is when the portfolio hasn’t been abolished.

Alan Jones uses the same ploy but slightly differently. Ask a relevant question when confronting someone ideologically at odds, but unlike Jones who does his homework, the other person has not done so.

So when Jones asks one of these adversaries what is the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere, and that person doesn’t know, Jones goes on his victory tirade. It doesn’t matter if that person knows the answer, reality is not based on some human dot not knowing the answer.

Oh please … the zinger. Smart, but it doesn’t help when we are seriously discussing the future of Planet Earth.

The reality is that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is straight lining upwards like the trajectory of a bullet into the sky. We have passed the 400 ppm mark.

If fossil-fuel burning continues at a business-as-usual rate, such that humanity exhausts the reserves over the next few centuries, CO2 will continue to rise to levels of order of 1500 ppm. Then forget about the human race. Think Venus with billowing clouds of CO2 disguising the uninhabitable planet surface below.

But Alan, you will not be around, nor shall I – but unlike you, I have descendants for whom I feel responsible.

Mouse Whisper

Three years too soon? Or don’t talk about the Polls? It was not only Newspoll. Some weeks before the election …

“Labor is comfortably ahead of the Coalition in the latest Guardian Essential Poll, and just over half of the voters in this fortnight’s sample, particularly voters under 34, worry Australia is not doing enough to address climate change.”