Modest Expectations – Romeo, Romeo, where art thou?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is enough incentive to move to Northland.

Bay of Islands

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

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

However, I digress.

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

Higgins 2019 as writ by The Guardian

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

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

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

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

The usual suspects?

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

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

Higgins 2022 as writ by Katie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What indeed.

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

The Big Question

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

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

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

Teal – the added colour of Port Adelaide

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

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

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

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

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

How fitting for this group of Independents seeking election.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Então meu amigo não Adeus; apenas Até logo.

Tilting at Windmills … God knows where

It is always Caos in Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

This is an Iranian puzzle – not that difficult.

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

Answer in above text.

Modest Expectations – Indium

Before the age of blogs I used to listen to Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America, in which he would take a current situation and tie it into past lessons learnt, and in such a way that each letter was a beautifully crafted piece of writing with a beginning and an ending – a complete expression of his view, with a moral woven into it. An Englishman, he had gone to America before War II and became a US citizen in 1941. He not only had this gift as a writer but also as a TV and documentary producer and presenter. His insight into the American way of life was his core expertise, and he wrote it. His voice, with its perfect diction and ghostly tone with a slight tremolo, was particularly engaging, because of his distillation of intimacy. He may have been broadcasting to the world, but as you listened you felt he was speaking directly to you.

Alistair Cooke

I would have liked his life as an intellectual commentator but writing a “Blog from America” for 58 years … I wonder. As for emulating his TV career – no.  I would have been hopeless. The smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd makes me throw up, so phobic I am of the TV studio.

Forty years plus ago I went to the Kimberley and wrote several short stories centred on the places I visited. The story reprinted below entitled “The Island” recounted most closely my experience, while stretching reality into a yarn. It was the first time I felt the unspoken force of this country, without being privileged to have Aboriginal heritage. I have divided this story into several parts, and the first part introduces the Wandjina.

As background to the story, I searched throughout the various places I visited in the Kimberley looking for a bark Wandjina. Apart from a few images in books, I knew very little until I saw images of Wandjina on rock walls.

I managed to find one small bark Wandjina for sale in Kununurra, which I gave to my elder son. Since then, my wife and I have acquired several Wandjina painted by the Karedada sisters – Lily and Rosie (the Karedadas were the family with the responsibility at that time for painting Wandjina); a small bark painting by Waigan and one where the provenance was unknown as it was created in the mid-1960s when such bark representations of the Wandjina were new. Most of these bark images came from the Aboriginal people living at Kalumburu, a settlement on Mission Bay about 230 kilometres north of the Gibb River Road turnoff in Western Australia. Here the Spanish Benedictines had established a mission in the early part of the twentieth century. One of my teachers had said that during WWII, when he was in the Australian navy, he had been stranded there. The priests only spoke Spanish and he not; therefore, they communicated in Latin. No mention in any of his anecdotes of contact with the Indigenous people; such were the times.

Anyway, here is the first part of the story; the eyes are those of my hero, Bill:

In the Northwest of Western Australia in the winter of 1979, the sun starts to set before 5 o’clock. In fact, in that season, it sets at the same time every year. It’s a big country, Western Australia. Bigger than Texas. And the clocks are set to Perth time, even when one is far from the comfort of having a second martini and enjoying the broad sweep of the Swan River. The clocks of suburbia determine that the sun sets prematurely in the north country where the gulfs in the dreamtime were torn out of the coastline and waterfalls run horizontal.

Sixty kilometres up one of these gulfs lies the Port. The expanse of water it overlooks is called the Gut. It vaguely resembles a flaccid stomach.

In the pale purple twilight, the hills brood over this tiny town with its shacks distinct from the new fibro-cement houses on the other side of the hill.

Bill surveyed the car in the fast falling light. Parked on the rise outside the police compound, it had two flat tyres.

The lady from Avis had said that he could have the car if he could get to the Port and pick it up. It was the only hire car available. She said it would be very recognisable because it was iridescent purple — just a medium-sized sedan.

However, as he surveyed the car, he could see it had no protection — none of that ugly but highly effective steel tubing, the so-called roo bars, nor chicken wire to protect against stray rocks through the windscreen.

And there were the two flat tyres.

The Port began to twinkle with ship and house lights. The timber shop fronts threw pools of yellow light onto the street.

But back to Bill. The highly qualified Bill.

Bill, the centre of his own rather inconsiderable space, was a medical practitioner in his early thirties. His family was “old money”. He had mixed his profession with research. His days were spent closeted in a laboratory, occasionally venturing into the antiseptic stretch of the ward to teach a few students and to pronounce on the inmates’ futures, for a price. Bill had reached a steady kind of existence, punctuated by dinner parties, the game of squash, the odd casual affair, and cultivated displays of intellect at conferences, seminars and workshops.

Holidays were spent in expensive resorts. That is to say, generally. This year, Bill had decided to come north and have an adventure of sorts. Bill was accustomed to pre-booked travel, accommodation with deferential staff and a car readily available, with a driver if necessary.

When he had flown into the Town on the Dam, he expected the same, even though his arrangements had been made in a hurry. “No way!” she had said. Cars were at a premium. You can try other hire car outfits, but you’ll get the same answer. She had paused. There was one option. “The only car is up the Port, and if you can get up there, it’s yours.” She paused again and then went on. “It’s got two flat tyres you’ll have to get fixed.”

No wonder it was stuck there, he thought. Didn’t know whether he could do it — make the Port. But when he got back to the motel, he noticed a group preparing to leave. He recognised one as a prominent ear nose and throat specialist from Perth. The specialist was heading a team charged with doing good. He wondered where they were going. He asked. They were going to the Port. He was offered a lift, and straight away accepted.

These guys knew the north — they had spent the latter part of their professional lives coming back and forth at least twice a year to treat the local Aboriginal people and the whites alike. Ear infections were rife among the Aboriginal kids — needed grommets in many cases.

They were good blokes, with a sense of enjoyment of the Land. They had an easy familiarity with the sweeping majesty of the country, where the Cloud spirit was still in control and white people only visited. She had bestowed her grace on the black people, which reflected from the deep pools in their eyes. Look into their eyes and see the arcane. It was Aboriginal country. They walked free in the country without compass. They defined their ownership and boundaries. Bill listened to this explanation. Maybe it was a white man’s interpretation.

Bill had sat next to the specialist surgeon who was leading the team, and who had provided his view of what he called “the blackfella”. It was all so unfamiliar to Bill. He had hopped from town to town, seeing the sights, seeing the Aboriginal people roaming the streets, but he had no experience of communicating with them.

Their driver was identified as a Ngarinyin man who knew the country. They called him Stanley. He was a broad chested man with an equally broad smile. He wanted to know whether Bill wanted to see some rock paintings on the way. The leading specialist thought it a good idea, that it would give Bill an experience — probably “teach you something.”

“Sure” said Bill.

The sun was pleasant. It was June. The company was convivial. Even when they stopped and walked, it was exhilarating. There had first been a track which could be negotiated for some way with the four-wheel drive, but in the end it was easier to walk through the deep sands of the dry creek beds. This was Stanley’s country. The guide shaded his eyes and indicated the rock face.

The brown cliffs where the paintings were, he’d explained as they’d walked, were thankfully not well known and the track, although not particularly difficult to walk, was sufficiently far from the main road to deter any casual defiler. There was always some idiot wanting to scratch his name on the wall — any wall. Weaving in among the woollybutt eucalypts, the track moved up and then downwards. As they walked, the day was imperceptibly vanishing. The shadows were lengthening as they picked their way along the rock face where the figures were displayed.

There were large fish — here a snake — there a hand, an impression in red ochre dust. Tasselled dancing figures. He was told they were called Bradshaw figures, and there were doubts about their authenticity. They were not Aboriginal figures, unlike the wandjina. He had never seen them before. The wandjina were cloud spirits — images with eyes and speckled brows. Their heads were surrounded by radiating lines, which completed an aura. This wandjina was a wellspring of sacred images for the Aboriginal people, unlike the Bradshaw figures.

Some of the paintings were high on the cliff walls; some under overhanging ledges. The gallery ran for hundreds of metres around the cliff until it reached the point where a waterfall flowed in the wet season. The artists had stopped here; the mural was complete. The rock pigeons, their fusty brown feathers giving a sense of an age past, were coming in to roost as the day began to wane.

“Better get going. Still got a way to go.”

The voice broke the stillness, as they had said little, as if in church. The others had seen it before; they had pointed out features in quiet, clipped tones. Bill had nodded and absorbed as much as he could. He wondered at how irrelevant had been his experience in Downtown Perth on a Sunday afternoon, sipping the art gallery ambience. He had really not particularly liked Aboriginal art — bark painting. There was not much of it that he could remember anyway.

But here, in a brief moment, he had got some sense of the art, some context for it — a fleeting insight only; not the meaning that Stanley possessed. (to be continued).

Door County

Door County is a spit of land separating Lake Michigan and Green Bay in northern Wisconsin. Green Bay, the city, lies at the gateway to the peninsula, and has been settled since the seventeenth century when it was a base for fur traders. It is now known for paper manufacture, of being the toilet paper capital of the world – and the home of the NFL Green Bay Packers, so called because a meat packing company gave them $500 for uniforms when they were founded.

Anyway, we bypassed the city of Green Bay, which gets its name from the periodic algae infestation of the Bay. Yet Door County, once you clear the environs of Green Bay, is one the memorable places we have visited.

Memory of that time was bought on this week by the news of a three generation Ukrainian heritage family that has been mass producing candles in the Ukrainian colours (sale proceeds going to the Ukrainian cause) which, unsurprisingly once this was published on national television, elicited a strong demand for the candles across America.

It was Halloween when we visited Door County; pumpkins were everywhere, and the normal crop of witches, faux cobwebs and skeletons and things that are supposed to go bump in the night was very much in evidence.

We stayed in the traditional white clapboard Ephraim Inn, overlooking Lake Michigan. When we went to dinner, we had an unexpected shock. I asked for the wine list and was informed that Ephraim was “dry”. If we wanted a drink with our meals we would have to go down the road to Fish Creek. Fortunately, Fish Creek was well served by restaurants and the Coho salmon fished from the Lake was so good it enticed us to order it two nights in a row.

Since our visit, I believe that Ephraim has lifted the 163 year old ban on alcohol sales which was imposed in 1853 within this Moravian community, where its church with its delicate steeple still stands on a green knoll overlooking Ephraim.

Honeycrisp apples

It was the end of the apple picking season, and there was an abundance of places from which to buy apples. The Gala apple was a familiar variety, but there were at least 20 other varieties and we chose the Honeycrisp, a hybrid noted for its juiciness and crunchiness. But there were many more completely unfamiliar to our Australian palate such as Ginger Gold and Courtland.

We drove the length of the peninsula through the small seaside towns, beside orchards, around windy cliff roads. To me, village America always has its gentle attraction – so different from the dusty flood plain called Australia. As for Door County, even though it seemed to be an endless excuse for Bing Crosby or Doris Day songs, we said we would be back, but we have said that about many places – plans that the Virus has impaired if not totally destroyed.

Anyway, we must get a candle making kit.

Need to Ramp Up

In The Monthly two months ago, Russell Marks wrote a very prescient article about South Australia opening its borders at the time the Omicron virus hit and now has followed the B.a.2 variant.

Simply stated, the Premier, Stephen Marshall, opened the SA borders prematurely – at a time when the Omicron variant first appeared on the scene. The SA Chief Health Officer hurriedly changed her mind when she saw the rapid increase in the number of cases, and recommended the borders be closed again. The Premier did not take her advice. He deferred to the select audience of the Rupert Murdoch and Peter Costello media and its impatience with public health measures.

It was the people of South Australia who could see what damage the Virus was wreaking. This was particularly reflected in the disruption to the health services, and the so-called ramping.  In other words, there was the number of ambulances lying idle unable to discharge the patient into the hospital’s emergency department.

I have reviewed extensively two major ambulance services in Australia and have a fair idea of the problems, which extend far wider than the problems that a pandemic introduces. The pandemic has only emphasised these problems.

Against that background of a State under public health stress, the Premier said that he would prefer funding a basketball stadium and a convention centre which only compounds the politico-pathological requirement to build monuments. Once it was hospitals and universities, now it is modern day colosseums where the pork barrel stops.

Despite the media in his favour, Marshall was soundly defeated; and yet elements of the media still say it doesn’t necessarily translate into a Federal electoral defeat for Morrison, despite him being invisible during the campaign. The sight of John Howard being rolled out in the last days showed how far the Liberals were tapping the bottom of desperation. One question – never to be answered – would a Morrison intervention counterpointed by Dutton and Frydenberg, a modern magi, have helped? The locals thought not, but presumably when they do turn up during the Federal election the public will be able to have a direct say in how much it likes the frankincense.

What will be more interesting is how the new Premier will approach the Virus.

I am confused by what the current approach to the Virus is. It seems that the Governments have given up – the public health response is exhausted. Who are the public health champions? The public health talking heads have subsided with the media’s apparent loss of interest. One of public health’s weaknesses is how ineffectual the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine has been and yet two decades ago it led the Australian campaign against French nuclear testing in the South Pacific until the French stopped their tests.

I would have thought that there would be a clear approach. On the one hand there are no restrictions, until a person gets the Virus and then you go into isolation until you test negative. Politicians are scared solid by lockdowns, and the core of preventative measures – social distancing, hand sanitiser and masks – are increasingly a matter of choice.

Vaccination has proved effective up to a point, but now there are no penalties for not being vaccinated, and the relentless anti-vaccination advocates leave a confused community. If this new variant is as contagious as measles, then without due precautions that will mean the whole community will contract it and for a substantial part of the community, the experience will not be a mild one.

The difference with measles is that once infected, once immunised, measles will not recur. No such guarantee exists for the Virus, even if the experts decide it is less virulent.

In public policy terms, I have been advocating dedicated quarantine centres. But once that line of defence is breached, then the next lines of defence are dedicated infectious diseases hospitals with an equally dedicated transport service for those who need hospitalisation. 

Hardly the Little Match Girl 

They buried Kimberley Kitching this week. A Senator from Victoria, she had been parachuted into the Senate under controversial circumstance in 2016 by Bill Shorten when he was ALP leader. She died prematurely at the age of 52, and from then, she became a cause célèbre – a woman harassed to death by unfeeling female colleagues.

As reported in some quarters, it was as though Senator Kitching was the “little match girl”, judging by the ferocious story being constructed around her demise.  She was married to Andrew Landeryou, once joint owner of a palatial home “Wardlow” in Parkville; friend of Chloe Shorten since school days and embroiled in the Health Services Union known for its shenanigans while she was general manager.

The Little Match Girl, Norman Rockwell

Unlike the “little match girl”, Kitching came from a privileged Brisbane private school background. Her father was a university professor, and she benefited from a time in France to becomes fluent in French. She seemed to be a very quick-witted woman. Nevertheless, like many ambitious people she carved out a career never far from controversy.

In 2000, she married Andrew Landeryou, a scion of the inner ALP circle which his dad inhabited. He too has had his moments, from the time of his presidency of the Melbourne University Student Union (formerly, in my time, the Student Representative Council), where he apparently tried to commercialise aspects of that student body. It is strange that when I was President of the same body there were moves, ultimately squashed, to have the Council purchase property at Venus Bay, then an undeveloped collection of sand dunes. I remember looking at it and saying thanks, but no thanks. SRCs were not structured to be land developers. In any event, in his case it did not end well for young Landeryou.

Later he popped up in 2005, with a venture financed by Solomon Lew in part – and when it failed he decamped to Costa Rica leaving Kimberley, portrayed as the victim wife trying to deal with the remains. The suggestion was that Kimberley had been deserted, but whether that was so, they had been swiftly re-united even though Landeryou was bankrupted.

From December 2012, Kitching was employed by the Health Services Union and she was never far away from the controversy which surrounded the criminal behaviour of the local secretary of the union, the recently convicted Kathy Jackson, and the other national officers of the Union, also convicted. Whatever her role was, she obviously was close to some sordid shenanigans and her name was mentioned often in despatches.

For instance, in 2016, the Senate voted 35-21 to note that she, although its newest member, was found to have provided untruthful evidence to the Fair Work Commission. The Greens joined the Coalition in backing the motion, which also received support from three One Nation senators and Victorian senator Derryn Hinch. Quite an introduction!

The conservative Tasmanian Senator Abetz noted in a media release at the time, The fact that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has backed Kitching so strongly in the face of findings against her from a body that Bill Shorten oversaw for two years, for conduct undertaken while he was the Minister responsible, that she was “untruthful and unreliable” in evidence speaks volumes about his personal and Labor’s standards for public office.”

Ironically, Kitching worked with him in the Senate to introduce a Magnitsky law that allows the government to seize assets from people who have abused human rights around the world.

This was no poor little waif as the media and a few of her mates are trying to portray now. She dined with persons who had clearly shown themselves to be enemies of the ALP, and thus one of the problems for a networker as aggressive as she apparently was, with all “the form” behind her, was whether she could be trusted.

To be able to do what Kitching, herself apparently conservative (in very much as I remember some of the Democratic Labor Party members were), was trying to do, is a particular art form, if one tries to balance on the barbed wire division of an adversarial political system.

Her colleagues who voted against the condemnation of her in 2016 were worried by her free-wheeling approach, whether right or wrong. She was not bullied; she was ostracised – however, the use of “bullying” is more emotive. Ostracism is a favourite ploy in politics.

She dies, and the conservative side of politics well known for their Salem approach to female opponents were on the job. The real target seems to be Penny Wong, as Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, who has been a courteous brick wall. She made one exasperated comment which has been turned into a causal relationship with Kitching’s death despite occurring three years ago and eliciting an apology from her.

Morrison wants to run an election based on sabotage and camouflage and if Senator Wong can be discredited so much the better, especially given her appearance and name – nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

I suppose last Sunday’s ABC Insiders Program took the proverbial cake. I generally accept bias as part of politics, but this… Australia may be going to Hell in a handcart, but there they were, all over the Kitching case – at least Samantha Maiden and Spears Interruptus were.

Greg Sheridan played the avuncular role, his views laced within his long time association with Santamaria and the National Civic Council – a fading reminder of the strife within the Labor party, particularly in Victoria, generated by Santamaria and certain elements around Archbishop Mannix so many moons ago, but still apparently latent.

Mark Kenny, knowing he was in a setup, just let it flow apart from a few comments drowned out by the Interruptus.  Australia is entering a time of a new form of Government – Murdocracy – a neologism to describe rule by the media.

Now, to the next phase – Albanese portrayed as the weak leader in the grip of three women – each of whom portrayed as having a doubtful allegiance to Australia. Yes, Murdocracy indeed.

As a postscript, I was interested in the association of sudden cardiac death and thyroid disease. Obviously I have had no access to Kitching’s clinical notes but it is worthy to note that in a 2016 cohort study in The Netherlands, an association was sought between thyroid disease and sudden cardiac death. This was an extensive population cohort and it was shown that raised levels of free thyroxine were associated with an increased incidence of sudden cardiac death, even when the patient was “apparently” euthyroid (in other words in the normal range).

It is well known that the thyroid hormone derived from the thyroid gland in the neck is a major component in the regulation of metabolism. For example, in thyrotoxicosis tachycardia is often present, as in hypothyroidism bradycardia is evident. However, The Netherlands’ paper could not establish any causal relationship for the phenomenon of sudden cardiac death, which incidentally also occurs in the autoimmune Hashimoto’s Disease. There was no mention of “bullying” or “ostracism” in this analysis

Mouse Whisper

In response to the article on banana boats last week our Swedish correspondent has informed us there is a job available in Stockholm for a banana ripener. The incumbent has recently retired after 33 years during which he has assisted the ripening of 55,000 bananas per year. Sounds a succulent job. I may apply. The Swedish text books with a tipple of Aquavit beckon.

Modest Expectations – Harry & Izzys

Old Geelong Grammarians?

What on earth prompted the Prime Minister to label Richard Marles the Manchurian Candidate. He doesn’t look a bit like Laurence Harvey. But then again, the trailer to the film says that if you come into the film five minutes late you won’t know what it is about. Sounds familiar.

Look, we all know that Richard Marles did go to Geelong Grammar School, and he is the member for Corio. A Cambridge blue scion amid the dark blue singlet brigade of Corio, but known to have actually eaten Beijing duck in Beijing. That must have been the clue which triggered off Marco Morrison, with his rendition of Frank Sinatra.

Now you must know something, Prime Minister, who is this assassin you alluded to because, as you know, the Manchurian candidate was programmed to kill, and the trigger was the queen of diamonds. Are you sure that you are not the target, and who plays the part of the wicked Angela Lansbury as Eleanor, or moreover Janet Leigh then fresh from her Psycho scream?

In a way, the film ended up with there being no Trumps, but you’ll have to see the film to understand exactly what I mean.

Remember the advice above. Don’t be late. Watch the 1962 film before you, caro Scott, utter the words again – if ever.

Pity that Albanese hadn’t seen it either.

The Mammoth in the Room

Mammoth – looking for a room

I read Crikey. The problem is that it has become an exposé for the incompetent and corrupt.   One gets the aroma and taste of a foetid Australia. After all, it is an unpleasant business sifting through the garbage to find something worth recycling. I do not know what keeps Stephen Mayne cheerful, given that he would need a gas mask for most issues he crawls through, the Murdoch detritus in particular.

I have already written about John Elliott, and Rundle got it mostly right. The preservation of bluestone warehouses as an Elliot legacy may not read as well as the “Jam Factory” effect, when one sees what happened to those former bluestone warehouses transitioning to “gentlemen’s clubs” at the Yarra end of King Street.

I was not going to go on record about Andrew Peacock, because he was never a serious figure in Australian policy development. Except to say that if he had become Prime Minister, he could have been very good. Andrew was intellectually lazy, but superficially affable with the ability to recruit very good staff. Vanity and a need to be loved always needs therapy, but until Andrew and I spectacularly fell out because of my diatribe directed at him, we had a cordial relationship; however, it was always very ambivalent, even at the best of times.

But contrary to Guy Rundle’s commentary in Crikey, they are not the only remnants of that era. There is still Lloyd Williams to carry the flag for, among other matters, the building and commissioning of the Crown Casino in Melbourne, before an expletive-laden Kerry Packer stepped in to bale out the project.

It was early times but even then the customers were allegedly urinating on the Crown Casino floor rather than give up their spot at the poker machines; and for which persons were sacked for not using “alternative facts” to deny that it happened.  Nevertheless, there seems to be an axiom in Australian public life that success in horse racing will forgive any transgressions, and the more so in the number of Melbourne Cups your horses win, the higher one rises in the hagiography stakes. Williams has won seven.

And finally, there is Rupert Murdoch, another alumnus of Geelong Grammar School. Rupert seems to have never spiritually left Melbourne, because even in old age he has the trophy – the trophy that avenged the treatment the “Melbourne establishment” meted out to his father, and originally only left Rupert with a small Adelaide paper as the legacy. The “Herald” may be no more; the “Sporting Globe” may be no more; but son, we will still have the “Herald Sun”.

The mists of time may have meant some lessening of his attachment, but when you say that the old generation has evaporated, I believe it cannot be underestimated how much effect Rupert’s eventual passing will have on Melbourne. None of his children have any reason to venerate Melbourne.

As part of that generation who is disappearing, I grew up in a Melbourne with three morning newspapers and one evening newspaper, which appeared in multiple editions.

I may live to see a time when there may be no Melbourne newspaper, but who knows how many years Murdoch will remain relevant; his last words will not be Rosebud like Citizen Kane, aka William Randolph Hearst, but maybe Langwarrin.

Cruden Farm, Langwarrin

The Slivers of War or Putin’s Lebensraum

His alliance of autocrats would also have a psychological cost inside Russia. It would demonstrate Mr Putin’s dependence on the siloviki, the security bosses who see in Ukraine’s democracy and deepening ties with the West a threat to their own ability to control and loot Russia. It would be a further sign to the liberal capitalists and technocrats who are the other pillar of the Russian state that they had lost. More of the best and brightest would leave; others would give up. Stagnation and resentment would build into opposition likely to be met with heightened brutality.  The Economist

A conventional view. Here we have a little ageing Russian secret police agent invading Ukraine to destabilise the world order to satisfy some tortuous agenda. He has had some previous so-called victories in predominantly Russian areas of Ukraine such as Crimea (now plunged into poverty) and along the Ukrainian border in some of the poorer areas where Putin’s war can be cynically described as slum clearances.

Kiev

Putin may weave and feint, but this is not the Hitler bloodless annexation of the Sudetenland. The Ukrainians are not prepared to embrace their Russian cousins. As he proposes to go deeper into the country, Putin will encounter – while presumably destroying – increasing signs of affluence, towns and cities increasingly becoming costly rubble until he reaches the peak of his ruinous agenda to destroy Kiev, the spiritual capital of everything he professes to hold dear.  Icons smashed among the rubble of centuries old tradition. All to satisfy a smirking crypto-maniac full of venom. What have the Russians to gain?  Germany found that out in the ruins of 1945 as another maniac met his fate.

So, assume Putin’s troops blast their way to the Polish border into increasing hostile territory, their casualties rising.  While the invasion is happening, NATO would be freed from the accusation of aggressor, apart from the bleats emanating from the Russian hackery, but now freed, able to respond. Troops begin pouring over the Belarussian border from Lithuania. The Russian exclave, Kaliningrad is an easy target for missile attack; the new Polish corridor destination.

The ripples of War.

Then what?

But before answering that question, consider this comment in the NYT this week:

The die was cast. The clock has been ticking since then, with Mr. Putin taking enough military action in Georgia and Ukraine to freeze the countries in strategic limbo, as he awaited his moment to avenge the perceived humiliation of Russia by the West after the Cold War’s end 

This refers to the aftermath of a NATO summit held in Bucharest in 2008 when it was breezily stated that Georgia and the Ukraine would eventually become part of NATO.

Putin was not amused as he showed us on February 21 this year. Russian troops moved into the disputed area of Eastern Ukraine. This was accompanied by the Russian recognition of the Lugansk and Donetsk Peoples Republics in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine, population about 2 million. The recognition of another Sliver Republic. Putin has done it before – for instance, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, and Transnistria in Moldova.

Putin has found out that there are initial protests but then these tiny slivers are forgotten, but then they become buffer zones. He seems now to have done it again in Ukraine, and created a buffer zone in a part of  Ukraine  that NATO are not going to give up their comfortable existence to contest.

OK, there are sanctions, which seem not to be particularly effective, as Germany would remain very dependent on Russian natural gas; others less so, even though NATO is recommending its member countries introduce sanctions on Russia. Germany has refused to sign the agreement to start the flow.

One difference is that while both Moldova and Georgia have small populations, the Ukraine is 55 million against Russia’s 150 million. By his antics, Putin’s chances of quietly re-installing his puppet as Head of the Ukrainian Government are gone especially as there are strong incentives for Ukraine  to move to a Western-type democracy.

On the other hand, Belarus is inevitably going to be absorbed into this sliver approach. President Lukashenko grew up to run piggeries and he has learnt nothing. To him, Belarus is just a larger piggery , a mixed metaphor for the rust bucket industries of the lost Soviet Union, as are these new sliver companion tin pots in Eastern Ukraine which also retain  rust bucket remnants of the old Soviet order.

Soviet nuclear expertise … Chernobyl

It is a wonder that Putin has not taken over Chernobyl as one of his Slivers. It shows what one can do with Soviet nuclear “expertise”, and already as an unexpected  consequence provides a buffer between Belarus and the Ukraine.

Of course, there may be another reason for all this. Putin may have just flipped his switch and spends most evenings scheming with Peter and Catherine. “Great, aren’t both of you? Now where is Poltrava exactly?” 

May I introduce Q fever

Some years ago, when I was working in North-East Victoria, a transport driver responsible for collecting the waste water from an abattoir in the Ovens Valley presented with a flu-like illness. It took a substantial time for him to be diagnosed with Q fever.

Sir Macfarlane Burnet

The challenge presented by Q fever is to recognise it, caused as it is by a rickettsia-like organism called Coxiella burneti, named for the Australian scientist, Sir Macfarlane Burnet, who discovered it.

Q Fever is contracted through the inhalation of air or dust from contaminated animals and their environments. Therefore, hazard prevention circulates around respiratory equipment and reducing stirring up sediments in the yards. Sound familiar?

There has been much deliberation over the mandatory vaccination of the population against COVID-19, a cost of which is largely taken up by the Federal government. In contrast to COVID, there are no state or federal subsidies for the Q fever immunisation program due to the low prevalence rate for Australia’s population. In Queensland around 300 people are diagnosed every year. In fact, the symptoms of COVID-19 and Q fever are similar, with high fever and general malaise, including the flu-like illness.

The cost of the vaccination ranges from $150 to $450. It’s not a large outlay but with seasonal staff and low industry retention rates, it adds up. Currently there is no legislation that mandates workers to be vaccinated against Q Fever. However, a business owner is required to manage risks to workers under most workplace health and safety legislation.

If unvaccinated staff are allowed to work with farm animals, appropriate management strategies need to be implemented and provided to employees, for instance PPE, masks, changing from a high pressure hosing system to a low pressure, dust controls in yards, hand washing.

In short, employers are responsible for immunising their staff, otherwise appropriate risk mitigation and prevention strategies need to be implemented. As for this transport driver, whose diagnosis was initially missed, and who developed the chronic form of the  disease; he became much more difficult to treat.

At various times, there have been questions about the long term efficacy of the vaccine. But it has been accepted by the industry as being better than nothing and augmented those industries with high health and welfare standards.

Q fever is a disease of the workers, but Australia has not experienced the same scream of the lumpenproletariat shouting “Freedom forever”, their ugly face sprouting from the social media. The worker in question had not been vaccinated against Q fever; and now was destined to a long period of chronic disease and disability.

Australia has yet to reap the full legacy of “Long COVID”; but let me reiterate, as a legatee of a chronic disease with a recent relapse, I would not wish it on anybody.  I cannot be vaccinated against my disease, and thus will never have freedom from it – think about it if you are one of those unvaccinated  COVID-19 idiots wrapped in your yellow rags, while you rail against vaccination. You at least can gain protection from the disease. For the unfortunate it may become chronic, when sometimes you may wish for the freedom of dying as preferable. You can be assured that will be “forever”.

Ground hog days in New Hampshire

On the way up

Most skiers were pacing between 42 and 50 minutes per lap, but at 6 a.m. Monday, I walked lap 44 with a 34-year-old from Ohio named Brody Leven who identified himself as a “professional human-powered skier” and had been hitting 39 minutes a lap like clockwork, always at the front of the pack.

“I seek out testing myself. I live for this,” he said, reading off the vertical gain from his watch, now showing 46,771 feet. “I’m competing against them, but I’m competing against myself. And I have no intention of stopping.”

This describes what one of the 100 skiers were doing near Jackson New Hampshire on Mount Black, with “The Last Man (sic) Standing” being the ultimate laurel. This event occurred over a few days recently, when these blokes apparently had nothing to do but indulge in an endurance event of uncertain length. It just depends when the last person is skiing the ultimate run down the Mountain.

Brody Leven happened to be the eventual winner. Sixty-five times he skied up the 1.25 miles to where the vintage chair lift was the marker for the turn for descent. The time allowed was one hour and Brody did it in about forty minutes. Thus, he had twenty minutes to recuperate.

He thanked the journalist for accompanying him because he had stopped on a previous run to help a bloke who was bending over a car only to find out that the man was talking to a rock and a tree. This tendency towards hallucinations makes night time skiing treacherous, but it doesn’t deter these enthusiasts. The Olympic Games may be held contemporaneously in China, but there is other madness abroad.

I thought it must be very lonely on that last ski run when you are on your own and that tree and rock you are trying to avoid is actually a bloke bending over his car.

How long before this practice hits Australia?

Massachusetts General Hospital

Massachusetts General Hospital has agreed to pay $14.6 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging it fraudulently billed government insurers for surgeries performed by trainees without proper oversight because supervising surgeons were working in another operating room.

The settlement marks the third time since 2019 that the renowned Harvard-affiliated teaching hospital agreed to pay millions of dollars to resolve a claim stemming from the controversial practice known as concurrent surgery, or double-booking, in which surgeons juggle two operations simultaneously. The three out-of-court settlements total $32.7 million. 

Beyond contempt, as reported by The Boston Globe. Dodgy practices like this have been rumoured to occur in the bottom feeding area of the health industry, but at the Mass General!

What Bird is That?

February is the best time to be on the west coast of Tasmania. In fact, it has been much drier than normal. This has not deterred the New Holland Honey Eaters from feeding off the kangaroo paws, which thrive under the north facing windows. At the side of the house, the leatherwood tree is in full bloom, and smelling the delicate white flowers provides a honeyed fragrance. This is the time of the year when the bee boxes are everywhere, and near Mount Arrowsmith there is a particularly dense stand of these trees. The jar of leatherwood honey on the kitchen bench is testimony to this intense period of apian activity.

Red browed finch

Then my wife came in one morning and said she had seen a bird she did not immediately recognise. We are not bird watchers; I for one do not have the patience. Anyway, a bird that is a visitor to our bush lined property is intriguing. The bird she had seen was small but had a distinctive red tail. After some research, we agreed it was a red browed finch. Being a female, it lacked the red brow, but otherwise the bird picture seemed to confirm that she was that finch.

A hairy wren’s nest

On further reading, it so happens that this bird is found where fairy wrens live. The underbrush on our property is very conducive to being a wren habitat and they share the title to the property. I was having my hair cut outdoors by my wife and the silver strands were going everywhere in the breeze. Our mate said: “Don’t worry about sweeping the hair up. The wrens will come along and line their nests with it.” I was glad to be of service.

Mouse Whisper

Our household always reads the Washington Post’s Voracious Eating. (We have the special rodent edition of Nibble Voraciously). Good word “voraciously”!  There is a variety of recipes, many of which have a Central American heritage, and they frequently embody recipes unusual here in Australia.

The commentary attached to each recipe is often entertaining. The following from one distinguished cook may cause the fire brigade bosses to splutter over their lemonade: “The pan is going to get very hot, and when you add liquid to a ripping hot pan, it’s going to sputter. Fear not! If you’re not regularly setting off your fire alarm at home, you’re not really cooking, (Though, you may want to have a splatter screen handy!)

Modest expectation – Border on the Fly

When I was around politics, our office had a regular visitor called Emil Delins. He was a Latvian-born journalist who was a strong supporter of the exiled Baltic countries – Estonia and Lithuania – being joined to Latvia in his advocacy mix. He was very polite, always articulate and fiercely anti-communist (and certainly anti-Russian).

Delins had graduated from a French Lycée in Riga one week before the Soviet occupation of Latvia in June 1940. The Russians then went on a selective elimination of Latvians, concentrating on the armed forces.

A year later it was the Germans’ turn to occupy the country, and a section of the Latvian people welcomed these new invaders; in fact they were numerous enough to create of division in the German army. Latvian Auxiliary Police battalions were raised from volunteers, the first sent to the front was involved in heavy fighting in June 1942 and acquitted itself well. Latvia however wanted to raise a Latvian Legion, under the command of Latvian officers, offering to raise an army of 100,000. In January 1943, Hitler agreed to the creation of the 15th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Latvian). These Latvian police units were deeply implicated in the massacre of 90,000 Latvian Jews and 2,000 Roma people.

It was in the confused situation during the War, but Delins was able to spend time in university studies. Meanwhile, Latvia was occupied by the Germans, but then nearing 1945, the Russians were back, first occupying Estonia before moving towards Latvia. Along the coastline the German resistance, with Latvians involved, was successful in that it remained intact even on the day Germany surrendered, May 8th, 1945.

As such this battleground provided a conduit for Latvians fleeing the advancing Russians by enabling them to cross the Baltic to either Sweden or Germany. Presumably this was the route taken by the Delins family because he bobs up in Germany where there was a note that he undertook further graduate studies in politics. They were lucky in their choice; those who chose Sweden were deported back to the Russian or their Latvian communist allies.

The Delins family reached Australia in 1947.

Even though the number was relatively small, the impact of the Latvian immigrants on our country was vast. There was always the suspicion of migrants, especially the educated, that they were German sympathisers escaping the wrath of their now Russian-occupied country. As I had found out through personal contact, in any country which had been a battleground there was always a group of true believers in a free democratic country, but their problem was that they were the targets for both the committed communist and the committed national socialist.

I knew Delins was anti-Russian and passionately anti-communist. His advocacy did not convince Whitlam, whose government recognised that the three Baltic countries were legitimately part of Russia. Emil Delins’ advocacy outlasted the Whitlam decree, and the following year the new Fraser government reversed the decision of the then status quo.

One could detect the hidden hand of Emil Delins.

A further reflection

Despite his courtesy and surface good-naturedness, I always felt uncomfortable with anyone who was part of advocacy anti-communist groups. Delins detected that uneasiness in me, and on occasions he asked me questions designed to see how strong my sympathy was for his cause.

My problem with all these refugee groups, including those where the members had come from countries where there had been a strong collaboration with the Nazis, and especially those who were well spoken and articulate, was knowing to whom I was talking.

Mill Road, Corofin

Not that Delins gave any suggestion of that, but in one conversation I did mention the similarity with Ireland and the centuries of oppression we had to endure at the hands of the British. But then what would he have made of one schooled in the best public school tradition? In a way my Irish ancestors collaborated as they worked for the British landowners. I always remember the disdain of the lady in the Clare Heritage & Genealogy centre in Corofin, when told that my ancestors were Egans from Clare but of the Church of Ireland. Egans from Clare not Catholics? Not possible. Nevertheless, that was the end of the conversation as I slunk off. I still can’t go back on the Egan side beyond the late 18th century.  My great-great grandfather, John Egan, was a flour miller.

I have written about some of this Irish heritage before; the flour mill still stands on the river Inch. The Irish have been long oppressed; it has how I rationalised the advocacy of the Balts for their freedom.

The problem is that oppression is a very ambiguous word. 

Tolarno’s – where we used “to get Shot” on Fridays.

Mentioning Latvians. I have known quite a few. One was Andris Saltups, who was then cardiology registrar at Prince Henry’s Hospital.  He and myself, together with Jan Stockigt, who was a young doctor researching diabetes, regularly lunched together. Of these three blokes who went to lunch on Friday at the then recently-opened French restaurant Tolarno, I was the only one born in Australia – Jan/Jim in Germany with an Australian mother.  Both Jim and his mother were caught in the crossfire fleeing from the Russian advance to escape from Germany.

We were all three mates in those days, in those far-off days of conformity we had ties with cannons on them to acknowledge the guys who got “shot” on Fridays. Andris, who had become Andy, was correct in a suit, Jan now transformed to Jim with a blazer; and Jack, once known as John, in an ageing stained sports jacket. Probably a bit formal by today’s standards.

Tolarno had a whiff of the exotic, even if our semi-jock doctor image did not quite fit the bill. The plat de jour and the red wine did.

Mirka Mora murals at Tolarno, St Kilda

The walls were covered with distinctive murals – distinctive faces – bit spooky I thought.

The documentary on Mirka Mora reminded me of those days in the 60s when both the Moras were in full flight. There was something exotic about a French restaurant. Drinking wine for me had become a relatively recent habit, for I grew up in a world of sherry and whisky; with perhaps a touch of Drambuie, crème de menthe or chartreuse after dinner. What is so everyday was new, and the Moras were in the forefront.  Not that we fitted into the arty-crafty school. Georges would acknowledge us because we regulars were often engulfed in hilarity, but his loquacious wife Mirka had difficulty finding an opening to talk to us, but perhaps we were not interesting enough. Understandable.

Prince Henry’s hospital is no more. Georges and Mirka split. Tolarno survived under Leon Massoni, whose family had owned Florentino’s, then the posh signature restaurant in the City.

Eventually, Jim Stockigt went off to California to work with Ed Biglieri, a research scientist /clinician. I remember just before Jim went that he made sure that he had a very short haircut, because haircuts were reputed to be expensive in America. Jim came from a musical family and was a highly skilled bassoonist.

Andy Saltups was friendly with my wife, as both were refugees, and I think the parents knew one another somehow. We saw him socially quite often as he was, for a time, very close with one of my then wife’s friends.

The lunches at Tolarno were a tiny wedge in one’s life. After lunch we would occasionally go down the hall to the Gallery, but there was only so much to see, and it seemed an extension of the murals which adorned the restaurant.

Over the years, I saw Jim twice more after he came back from America, the last just before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The promise to catch up was there, but in this case Fate intervened.

As for Andy, when I left Prince Henry’s the link was broken – too little remained common.  He stayed there as a specialist cardiologist. I have not seen him in 50 years. Prince Henry’s closed in 1991 and is now the “Melburnian”, a high-priced apartment building.

As I watched the Mirka Mora documentary, Tolarno was mentioned more in the context of the gallery and her paintings rather than the Moras’ influence on Melbourne’s dining habits. Understandable, given the bias of the documentary.

When we lunched at Tolarno, Mirka was always there. She had a dark uncommon beauty then, suggestive of Leslie Caron. I was disturbed by the documentary. What was presented in the documentary were people remembering their link with an elderly Mirka.  There is a fine line between description of idiosyncrasy and that of pathology.

What I found most disturbing was the story of this woman seeing Mirka in what was probably 2005, sitting at the far end of the Georges’ tearoom. Georges was a department store which epitomised the Melbourne couture, a magnet for the well-connected or those who wished to be. However, even such a beacon of detached privilege was on its last pegs at that time.

This woman, who knew Mirka, recounted staring at the solitary figure who had a giant éclair in front of her. Once Mirka knew she had an audience, she promptly stuffed the whole éclair into her mouth, so that cream smeared her cheeks and chin. One enormous ingestion.  The watcher thought it was a supreme example of Mirka’s humour; whereas I felt a sense of sadness. Had she come to this!  The documentary was riddled with stories of her artistic attainments, her generosity, her sense of the ridiculous, her love of children as she aged.  Yet that image of stuffing her mouth  with an éclair stuck.

Sometimes I wonder whether the sense of the ridiculous, playing the fool, should not be translated into self-loathing. I have no right in one way to make a judgement on Mirka Mora, but then the documentary watchers did not see her in a newly-opened Tolarno in 1967. The documentary brushed over that time, and once you document a person then there should be nowhere to hide such crucial subject matter.

But for good or ill, it provided me with an opportunity to remember an uncommon time, which would become all too common as Australia emerged from its wartime monochrome and we talked endlessly about “multi-cultural”.

The woman who should have been awarded two Nobel Prizes

Janine Sargeant.  Guest  Contributor

In the week when Kate Jenkins, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, released her report on the “frat house” culture (as described in The New York Times) of Australia’s Parliament House and the generally bad behaviour there, a revealing book on work culture and the treatment of women in another era has been reviewed in The Guardian Weekly.

For those of us who know Rosalind Franklin’s story, the book just serves to further highlight the appalling behaviour of her fellow researchers.  For those who don’t, we are talking about the discovery of DNA.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin was a graduate of Cambridge University, a chemist and X-ray crystallographer. She discovered the key properties of DNA, which led to the correct description of its double helix. Specifically, it was her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA, particularly “Photo 51”, that led to the discovery of the double helix.

Her colleagues, Francis Crick and James Watson not only appropriated her research findings as their own but hogged the limelight without any attribution to Franklin.

The reason? Franklin’s “Photo 51” was handed to Watson by a colleague, which led Watson to redo his 3D modelling and it was another piece of Franklin’s work that similarly led Crick towards “their” scientific discovery of a lifetime.

The book, The Secret of Life, by Howard Markel, condemns all the men involved, but singled out Crick and Watson whose “lack of a formal citation (in their historic paper for Nature) of Franklin’s contribution … is the most egregious example of their negligence”. Negligence? No, that word implies omission; this was a sin of commission – they deliberately excluded Franklin. Watson has been described as having many strong prejudices, but perhaps Franklin’s greatest sin was simply to be a woman in a man’s laboratory.

In his book, Markel went on to paint a picture of a culture of misogyny and egotism that punished Franklin for personality flaws that in her male colleagues were tolerated.

Photo 51

Crick, Watson and Maurice Wilkins – who had given Franklin’s “Photograph 51” to Watson – shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for “their discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, which helped solve one of the most important of all biological riddles”.

Nobel rules now prohibit posthumous nominations (although this statute was not formally in effect until 1974) or splitting of the Prizes more than three ways, which perhaps makes the omission of Franklin all the more egregious. Easier to just ignore Franklin’s contribution.  Apparently in 2018, Watson still remained outraged at the suggestion that Franklin might have shared the Nobel Prize, although he acknowledged that his actions with regard to Franklin were “not exactly honourable”. Too little, too late.

But there’s more:  after a disagreement with colleague Watson and the Research Director, John Randall, in 1953 Franklin had moved to Birbeck College at the University of London, a public research institution and much of her work done on DNA, including her crystallographic calculations was then just handed over to Wilkins.

At Birbeck, again using X-ray crystallography, Franklin led pioneering work on the molecular structures of viruses. At that time her findings were in direct contradiction to the ideas of the then eminent virologist Norman Pirie – it was her observations that ultimately proved correct.

In 1958, on the day before Franklin was to unveil what would now be excitedly announced as “a significant research finding” on the structure of tobacco mosaic virus, an RNA virus, at an international fair in Brussels, she died of ovarian cancer at the age of 37. Her team member, Aaron Klug, continued her research and he went on to become the sole winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982 “for his development of crystallographic electron microscopy and his structural elucidation of biologically important nucleic acid-protein complexes”. This work was exactly what Franklin had started and which she introduced to Klug; she should have shared that Nobel Prize too.

Rosalind Franklin was never nominated for a Nobel Prize. Her early death meant awkward decisions about including a woman as one of the nominees didn’t have to be made.

An interesting endnote: on 28 February 1953, Watson and Crick felt they had solved the problem of DNA enough for Crick to proclaim at The Eagle, a local pub in Cambridge, that they had “found the secret of life”.

Watson and Crick did not cite the X-ray diffraction work of Wilkins and Franklin in their original paper, although they apparently admitted having “been stimulated by a knowledge of the general nature of the unpublished experimental results and ideas of Dr MHF Wilkins, Dr RE Franklin and their co-workers at King’s College London”. In fact, Watson and Crick cited no experimental data at all in support of their DNA model. Franklin and Gosling’s publication of the DNA X-ray image, in the same issue of Nature, served as the principal evidence. So just whose “secret of life” was it that Watson and Crick were announcing?

(In the past 25 years there has been a catch up, with a plethora of recognition and awards, including a TV movie, two documentaries and three plays; the Boat Club of Franklin’s alma mater Newnham College Cambridge launched a new racing VIII, naming it the Rosalind Franklin, and in 2005, the DNA sculpture (which was donated by James Watson) outside Clare College Cambridge, incorporates the words “The double helix model was supported by the work of Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins” – elementary Dr Watson). James Watson is now 93 but it is not too late for him to acknowledge the actual role of Rosalind Franklin; he was absorbed into the same British research establishment mores that also distorted Alexander Fleming’s actual minimal contribution to penicillin research. This still did not impede Fleming sharing the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, whereas it should have gone to another.

Happy Hannukah

Latkes are deep-fried potato pancakes and are a traditional food of Hanukkah, but reporter Tamara Keith couldn’t figure out how to make them, even with the help of her mother-in-law’s recipe. After spending some time in the kitchen with her mother-in-law, she learned that the recipe was to blame

TAMARA: When I was converting to Judaism, my rabbi strongly recommended that I buy some cookbooks. It seems part of learning to be Jewish was learning to cook Jewish foods. Growing up Methodist in a small town, my first introduction to latkes was in college after I met my boyfriend, Ira. The potato pancakes Ira’s mom Andrea and sister Shannon made were terrific. Crispy and warm, dunked in apple sauce for that perfect balance of grease and fruit.

I asked for the recipe and Andrea photocopied a page from a paperback cookbook. The next year at Hanukkah, I followed the recipe exactly but the latkes came out all wrong, like over-crisp hash browns. Failure after failure led me to Manishevitz instant latkes. Just add eggs. It’s like defeat in a box. Ira and I are married now, so it finally seemed okay to go back to my now my mother-in-law and ask her what I had been doing wrong. The first step is easy, peeling the potatoes.

And then what comes next?

ANDREA, her Jewish Mother-in-Law: Next we have to grate the potatoes the proper amount of smoothness and roughness. They have to be smoother than hash browns, but we don’t want them to be completely mushy.

TAMARA: Which none of this is actually in the recipe.

ANDREA: No.

TAMARA: The whole consistency thing.

ANDREA: This is the magic of Jewish tradition and family tradition.

Hannukah occurs in December. In the second century BCE, against all odds, a small band of faithful but poorly-armed Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated their Syrian-Greek rulers, drove them from the Holy land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of Jehovah.

When they wanted to light the Temple’s Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum), they found only a single pot of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and this single pot of oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared with ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicise these miracles, the festival of Hannukah was begat.

There is thus no possible connection with the Christian Christmas apart from the timing, and in a season of presents, one tradition of Hannukah is giving money to children.  But once it arrives, the insidious euphoria of commercialism can overwhelm any religious significance.

Christians undertake an annual ritual engorgement around Christmas Day, presumably to counterpoint the meagre circumstances of the Bethlehem birth. Hannukah, because of the oil association, is a festival of the deep fried, as the description of Jewish potato cakes above attests.

Hannukah does not make the same impression on our community as it does in the United States. My attention nevertheless was directed to an article lamenting how Hannukah had been polluted by some of the impedimenta of Christmas.

This article in the Washington Post bemoaned the creeping tendency of Hannukah to be converted into a Jewish Christmas, where it is in fact one of the lesser Jewish holiday periods, and in the eyes of the author of this piece, acknowledging Hannukah could be as simple as lighting the menorah and let its light shine for eight days.

He describes a recent trip to a large retailer where he spotted the following abominations: a festive tray featuring four minuscule bearded dudes, their hats decorated with dreidels, above the phrase “Rollin’ With My Gnomies”; a throw pillow, in the blue-and-white color scheme of the Israeli flag, stitched with the phrase “Oy to the World”; an assortment of elves, sporting Jewish stars and looking like they belonged more in a Brooklyn yeshiva than anywhere near the North Pole; and a set of three kitchen towels with the truly baffling wording, “Peace Love & Latkes”. 

There is not much more to add, except for you, the reader to contemplate the Mouse’s Whisper this week. It is not only Hannukah, that Mammon defiles.

A Card from Our Seychellois Friends

This week we received a Christmas card from Michael and Heather Adams. Isn’t it so quaint to receive Christmas cards, especially from a family in the Seychelles.

The 2021 Christmas Card

We visited the Seychelles over 30 years ago, and it was the last leg of our African tour, which in that Apartheid period excluded South Africa. Qantas then flew to Harare in Zimbabwe, where we disembarked and roamed through a number of countries, including climbing Kilimanjaro and succumbing to malaria in Madagascar. Seychelles was the place to recuperate. We flew to the main island Mahé and stayed in the capital Victoria.

The Seychelles was once uninhabited and the first Europeans to sight the main island was Vasco da Gama. It later became a matter of disputed acquisition, between the United Kingdom and France. In this case, the UK were the winners, but there has remained a strong French influence. Once the Seychelles was settled, there inevitably were slaves, emancipated in 1835, from whom the Creole culture has emerged.

It should be recognised that Seychelles has a huge footprint across the Indian Ocean – 115 islands, of which only eight are inhabited, but it had to wait until 1903 to gain a separate existence from Mauritius.

At one stage during this stay, we ended up driving down this gravel roadway and coming up to a picture book wooden house set in this tropical backdrop, which spilt across the house itself. This was the home of Heather and Michael Adams. The home was on Anse des Poules Bleues and, it is said, true to the name of the Bay, the family had bluish hens which laid blue eggs.

Michael seems to have recently acquired a knighthood, which is not surprising given the high regard for his skill in silk screening, its composition and his depiction of his Idyll. He has been in Seychelles since 1972 and recently has said that he intended staying there. He had grown up in England and is said to have been inspired by the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, at a time when the garden was a wild unkempt neglected “lost garden”.

Heather had been in Kenya when they met after he left Uganda to get away from Idi Amin, and they married. They have two talented children, both artists, both having learnt the silk screening skills according to the latest Christmas card, all still in the Seychelles. Their names are Tristan and Alyssa.

When we stumbled upon his gallery, we were absolutely blown away by the complexity, yet a compelling simplicity of the lines of colours; colour which overwhelmed us when we entered his studio.

We bought some of Michael’s works, including a large screen print which adorns the wall, and required more than 20 screens. His works are so reflective of his perspective, of a person awash in the joy and yet serenity of his Seychellois life. No wonder that he has been likened to Paul Gauguin. One in French Polynesia; one in the French diaspora of the Indian Ocean.

I recently purchased one of his silk screens for one of our sons for his half-century, which has pride of place in his home in Melbourne.

Otherwise, the intention has always been to go back to the Seychelles, but we haven’t. For Australians it is off the beaten track. The Seychelles may be the playground of the wealthy Europeans; it may sit uneasily off the African coast where Somali pirates have recently roamed the archipelago. To see the giant Aldabra tortoises, reputedly the oldest one being about 190 years old, but apparently exiled to St Helena – a testudineous Bonaparte.

Yet every time the Adams family Christmas card arrives, it stirred the intention to return. But with the intervening years since 1990 when we were there, the intention has burned lower as age entangled us.

This year, the watercolour painting of copra workers of the Botanical Gardens reflects the time he and Heather had just arrived in the Seychelles – 1973.

But to emphasise how determined the continuation of this exchange has been with us and others, whether for such a period of time, on the bottom of the card is printed:

Apologies if you did not receive Christmas cards last year from us but due to Covid, our Post Office was closed for most of the year and no post was accepted to most countries.”

Our card to them this year will be emailed.

James Pindell has a few questions to answer

James Pindell is a bespectacled unremarkable looking graduate of the School of Journalism at Columbia University. He could be anybody’s journo at that Press Conference. Yet he is a political reporter for the Boston Globe, which lifts his ranking. He posed these questions on November 26.

He sets out three questions about Biden and provides commentary rather than answers.

Question 1: But why wouldn’t Biden run?

Very few American presidents have openly taken re-election off the table: One of them, James K. Polk, announced it the moment he received his party’s presidential nomination in 1844. His decision was part ideological — as a believer in limited government power — and practical: agreeing to only serve one term was likely the only way he could build a coalition of party power brokers to back him for the nomination.

Biden has different issues. The reason people talk about him serving only one term is largely due to his age. At 78, he was the oldest person ever elected to serve as president in 2020. He could break that record if he ran again in 2024 at age 82.

Mental and physical capacity to serve as the leader of the free world is something that voters must determine for themselves. While plenty of data is available from Biden’s doctors, it is still a subjective decision by every voter in how to read the data.

But lately, there is a second reason that people, including Democrats, are asking whether Biden will run: his poor poll numbers.

Now 10 months into his presidency, Biden’s approval ratings have never been this low. A Marist poll out on Wednesday showed him at just 42 percent, in line with other recent polls. This means Biden is the most unpopular president at this point in his presidency, other than Donald Trump.

Question 2: Can anyone other than Biden win?

Aides have already signalled in anonymous quotes to the press that if Biden does run it might be out of a sense of duty. The 2020 election turned out to be much closer than Democrats thought it would be. It is possible that among all the Democrats who ran in the 2020 primary — the most diverse field in history and one of the largest — only Biden could have defeated Trump for re-election.

With Trump looking more likely than not to run again, the Trump factor is not off the table. And the field of potential candidates is basically the same crew that ran in 2020.

And, yes, if Biden doesn’t run it likely would be a crew. The most obvious heir apparent to Biden, his vice president Kamala Harris, had a 28 percent approval rating in one recent poll.

This has led to open speculation, even this week, that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg could run. Buttigieg would not only be among the youngest people to be elected president, but also the first openly gay person.

Let’s be clear here: Even after winning the Iowa Caucuses and coming in a close second in the New Hampshire primary, the Democratic electorate didn’t think Buttigieg could win (or that he sufficiently understood the Black vote). It is unclear whether a stint as transportation secretary would change that.

Question 3: If Biden doesn’t run how badly will tensions within the party explode?

As anyone could see during the Democratic presidential primary season or witness this year during negotiations over infrastructure and “Build Back Better” legislation, there is a lot of tension within the party.

The party’s base has moved left and wants leaders who are not old white men. There is also an establishment, led by Biden and South Carolina Representative James Clyburn, who feel like they are more in tune with Democrats and the electorate as a whole.

That next year the Republicans could win big because of Biden, prompting Biden and his allies to say that only proves that Biden has to run, is the conundrum.

Amy Klobuchar

Having read the questions, let me answer them in my normal ‘umble way.

  1. When you get to 80, it is not the new 60.
  2. I doubt whether Kamala Harris has the firepower. I have always been a fan of Amy Klobucher, but the question is, will Biden survive 2022 (and for that matter will Trump)?
  3. Chissà!

The Pindell article could now be subject to the “Omicron-scope”. A great deal can happen in a day or two while the Virus stalks, changes its clothes and attacks again. After all, he did write this opinion piece in the Pre-Omicron Age.

Mouse Whisper

Black Friday 1939

Fire sale. Damaged goods at a generous discount.

Modest Expectations – California Chrome

The Federal election must be held by May. The Opposition parties should emphasise the need for a national anti-corruption commission, and it has a whole repast of corrupt actions to remind the electorate of what the Morrison Government has been doing. It seems a no-brainer.

Ideally money allocated, and therefore for every grant, should be able to provide evidence how closely “expected” matched “actual” outcome. There are a few outstanding rorters, but there is no need to use such a pejorative term; just detail what Morrison’s government has done in simple terms to tell the story to the electorate – of shameless conduct by this gaggle of mostly unattractive men.

In 1966, the Holt Government achieved a huge electoral win. Seats that had never been held by the Liberal Party fell to them and the most notorious of the elected was a 22-year old travel officer named Andrew Jones. He was a complete idiot and a harbinger of some of the current young members (and would-be members) of the Government. Yet, through his brashness, he actually touched on the truth of the matter, however clumsily. He made the fatal mistake of saying that half the members of Parliament were drunk at any one time and was made to apologise to the Parliament as a whole. His language of the religious jingoistic zealot then would be at peace with some of Morrison’s tribe, if not completely reflecting the happy clapper routine.

His arrival and demise reflected a time when Australia was convulsed by the Vietnam War and selective conscription. The streets were alive with protests and, when coupled with anti-South African sentiment over apartheid, one may have thought the people were consigning the conservative government – which Federally had been in power since 1949 – to electoral defeat.

I can remember watching the election results with a mate called John Douglas and, as the electoral landslide eventuated during the night, we got progressively drunk. As young doctors, we were witnessing electoral carnage. Nevertheless this was an election buoyed by protest from those who ultimately lost.

My mind turns to the current collection of protestors who are a grab-bag of the authoritarian dispossessed. My thesis is that in a democracy this type of perceived extremist behaviour makes the bulk of the population uneasy. When the Prime Minister seems to be lukewarm in his condemnation, then the uneasiness may well be translated into electoral defeat.

In countries where the implementation of democracy is fragile and electoral defeat imminent, the government often just simply cancels the election, or puts if off while it destroys the opposition in the manner that this band of extremist would like to occur. The most apposite example was Nazi Germany in recent times, but it is a frequent playbook throughout the World, used on every Continent – even in Australia when Queensland was ruled by Bjelke-Petersen.

The criminality of him and his cronies was revealed by the Fitzgerald Inquiry, and yet there were people in his Government who were considered clean. His successor Mike Ahern certainly was, but corruption is never far away in Queensland.

In Australia and particularly in the above-mentioned State there would be a great number of the politicians who would not be concerned if the inconvenience of democracy was brushed aside.  There is always the “unexpected expected” intervention, the obvious one being takeover by the armed forces, which has never occurred in Australia. Notwithstanding, in the thirties with Jack Lang in full flight, it was a close thing. Monash himself was an important figure in preventing such military intervention. However, the threat is always there; unexpected in the timing; expected in its ultimate execution.

The fate of this government is tied to whether most of the population wants people pushing makeshift gallows through the street, when we Australians as a nation have long since abandoned capital punishment. I think threatening to lynch the Premier of Victoria is a criminal offence, and yet there are those on the conservative side of politics who either sit on their hands or condone it.

The world has just survived the most egregious assault in democracy by the action of Trump in his illegitimate claim to have won the 2020 US election. People point to the fact that he garnered 70 million votes. He still lost. The fate of democracy hangs on its survival in America. Churchill’s greatest contribution to democracy was to show that it still worked in Europe; his landslide defeat in 1945 at the polls and his acceptance that, at his finest hour, the people voted “Out”. Two finest hours!

America, despite its impressive beginnings, has always had those who defile democracy, but probably not with the force that Trump exerted in his bid to destroy American democracy. I doubt where Trump would win if he stood again. Nevertheless, after his January 6 antics, he has galvanised his “lumpenproletariat” where, to my way of thinking, his toxic effect is overwhelming.

I wished that my generation had asked their parents which side they would have fought for in the Spanish Civil War – the Roman Catholic Church on one side with The Nazis and the Italian fascists; on the other side the Russians, communists and anarchists – and sandwiched in between, those who wanted Spain to shed its royal family and just become a democracy. The question is simple. I still wonder what my father and mother would have said. But I never asked them; perhaps they would been on the fence, perhaps not.

For me, born in the year Franco was triumphant, Homage to Catalonia has been one of the books which has coloured my political views. Now I read a lesser book, called Guernica, which centres around that cold-blooded massacre. Picasso’s representation of Guernica, which I first saw in the Guggenheim Museum in New York, just demonstrates how little we have travelled, to combat those would extinguish any shred of democracy.

In the end that is the reason that Morrison should be removed – and take the “Duttonbird” with him.

Abiden with the cardinal cuckoos

Marjorie Taylor Greene is unvaccinated, Lindsay Graham doesn’t think kids are entitled to a Kindergarten education, and America’s schools are being indoctrinated by the scary and totally real forces of critical race theory.

So that is one shade of America. Most people here would not know of these Republican cardinal red cuckoos.

I was very critical of Biden, sniping at him for more than a year in the run up to his election. My major beef was about his role in disgracefully discrediting Anita Hall which enabled one the worst Supreme Court judges in my lifetime, Clarence Thomas, to be confirmed. It is a stain that cannot be erased, but the people who remember the stain are fewer and fewer; and remembrance of this will be brushed away.

Biden has achieved a tipping point, and the problem is a substantial minority of Americans are blindly resisting. In his opposition a number of rich men, who have to make a decision – either resist change and the country goes down the Trump toilet. The others may go with the flow.

First Biden turned off the Afghanistan tap for the arms industry. He did it rapidly in accord with the Machiavellian dictum which says that if it is potentially painful and hence unpopular, act decisively and quickly – an acute transitory pain is far better than having a chronic pain over months or years to achieve the same outcome, even if the chronic pain become so dull one can forget the underlying cause of the pain which festers away.

The interstate highway system and all the accompanying infrastructure was the legacy of the Eisenhower administration. Eisenhower improved the road system as an adjunct to American defence. Johnson followed with his Great Society measures. Even then Johnson and then all his successors’ expenditure on infrastructure has been subordinated to expenditure on armaments for little if any results apart from disfigured and disabled countries and generations of chronic disfigured and disabled men and women who served in these conflicts.

The Americans and their Allies were cannon fodder in the destruction of so many countries in search of some mindless goal – or in the case of Iraq, loot in the form of black gold.  Useless conflict fomented by a coterie of self-pitying, inhumane and in the long term unsuccessful Americans, their role model being that distinguished conniving ghastly warmonger, Henry Kissinger. He is the person who once said – the illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a bit longer.

In other words, infrastructural regeneration has been subordinated to visions of Imperial America.

Biden has seemingly learnt from these foibles and may now be doing what he or his predecessors should have done years ago. Few people get the number of chances he has had. The most engaging quality he has displayed is a steely resolve to get on with his agenda, and not disappear down a trail of rhetorical flourish as Obama did when faced with a similar challenge.

We’ll watch with interest this infrastructure program which has the ability to reinvigorate America and drive out the dark side of Mr Hayek as interpreted particularly by Donald Trump.

The Louisville Slugger

Frankfort is one of the lesser-known places to visit in Kentucky. It is where the capital is, a straightlaced township of tidy wide streets surrounding the traditional wedding cake Capitol with a white cupola on top.

We drive around the quiet streets, because it’s a Saturday afternoon on the road to Louisville, the largest city in Kentucky which sprawls across the Ohio River into Indiana. We had friends living there at the time. Sally was working at Churchill Downs where, on the composite sand, fibre and rubber racetrack once a year the hooves of the best three year old thoroughbreds imprint themselves for one and a quarter miles in a bid to win the Kentucky Derby.

We were not there during the May bedlam which surrounds the Derby. We just had a quiet look around the course and then toured into the countryside – blue grass covered lush gently undulating studs. Kentucky is the “Blue Grass State. “Blue grass music” is a staple diet, but there is always the sentimentality of Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home”.  The blue grass is so green it almost has a blue tinge; it may look good in a Kentucky meadow but it is shallow rooted and thus does not survive heat well.

Blue grass music is linked to Kentucky as it emerged from the Appalachian people. Hillbillies they are called and live in this range of mountains, which carves its way through West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas. The alternate tinkling and then frenzy of the banjo, the fiddle, the bass and the guitar are nevertheless a long way from Louisville.

Sluggers

Louisville gave its name to the Louisville Lip – Muhammed Ali, but also to the Louisville Slugger. We were not given an effigy of yon fighter, but we were given two miniature Louisville Sluggers – the time-honoured baseball bat made from ash.

Nevertheless, the most memorable highlight for the ubriaco was being introduced to Maker’s Mark. It was well before it became a favourite brand of bourbon whiskey here in Australia, and my friends used to buy it, not by the bottle but by the jug, and were very liberal in the hospitality. Bourbon whiskey is only made in Kentucky, and Jack Daniels, for instance, calls itself sour mash because it is made in Tennessee.

We all went to the Makers Mark distillery in Loreto, about an hour’s drive from Louisville. Bourbon is corn derived I was so impressed that I decided to buy a bottle before we crossed the State line but learnt another fact about the bourbon and mint julep state. Some of the counties are dry, and I would have to try and buy a bottle in a dry county. So, empty-handed, I learnt another lesson in the tragedy of life as I left the shop. Never judge a Bourbon by its county.

Pre-COVID-19 Estonia – a Flag of Blue, Black and White

Korstnapühkija

We arrived by ferry from Helsinki and booked into the Savoy Hotel. Yesterday the hotel was the centre of attention when the Baltic “sweepdom” had gathered in front of the Hotel.  Apparently, the happy stout little chimney sweep statue out the front of the hotel draws the Estonian chimney sweeps annually to rub his buttons and nose. These have been so polished they stand out on this metal statue.

This Savoy Hotel is a Tallinn landmark and classifies itself as “boutique” but to the naked eye it looks more “Le Magasin” to me. It is that large.

Today although it is June, in Tallinn as in the rest of Estonia the weather is very cold. The wind chill factor has driven the temperature close to freezing. Despite this we make a short walk up the city hill. There are many streets leading from the square where our hotel is located. They are all quaint and bitterly cold. The cross streets give a terrace effect and the market stalls on the flat terrace provide only limited shelter against the cold. We soon abandon this foray.

Initially I had suggested that my companion find the oldest pharmacy in Europe a little further up the hill. I had been there some years before and for somebody interested in the evolution of therapeutic drugs, it was worth seeing. My vague gestures and the wind whipping at the map, so it is hard to hold flat let alone read, makes her abandon the search after 20 fruitless minutes. I have been frozen sitting on the granite wall. It is not really a voyage of discovery. We retreated to the warmth of the hotel bar.

The food has become more varied from the pig and potato fare that I remembered my last time in Estonia. This has been replaced by the dainty MEKK –Moodne Eesti Köögikunst cuisine at the Savoy. The salad is all miniature leaves interspersed with edible flowers – chew on a violet or viola or pansy – but the seafood, whether it be pike or perch or herring or salmon or other packed into a terrine, is very palatable and there is copious rye bread.

In the bar to drink she has a brandy and dry and I have a martini – vodka rather than gin. After all we are in Estonia. The Savoy bar is very long and we are perched on the end where the faux-granite resembles the prow of a boat. We settle in to wait the cold snap out. It does not improve, and the flowers in their boxes outside shiver.

The next day the weather does improve marginally – the sunlight struggling to prove that June has arrived.  We pay a visit to Saint Nicholas Church Museum.  Tallinn was carpet bombed by the Russians in May 1944, and the church – a beautiful reminder of mediaeval Hanseatic wealth – was destroyed in that raid. It has taken 30 years for it to be rebuilt into a semblance of its former self.

A tourist site can be so crowded that it becomes a forest of people concealing what you want to see – and I hate being moved on. It is understandable. You can’t stand in front a piece of art the whole day, pondering if it is limiting the number of people passing through, who may want to ape your stance. The other problem of course is that, as with airports, art galleries are long distance events, especially if the exhibits overwhelm that ability for the mind to process and after a time the mind gives up and they end up in a blur.

Now in this museum, the cabinet high altar which was constructed in the fifteenth century is a splendid masterpiece by Herman Rode.  It opens up to display the panels of brightly painted figures. He was a painter of that distinctive late mediaeval representation of the human form. The background depicts his native Lubeck in Northern Germany. The altar is a complexity as it opens in two stages; the first the painted narrative, the second a wooden hagiography where multiple wooden figures peer expressionless from their cell. One of the figures, St Barbara, the patron saint of the dying, is depicted holding what appears to be the mediaeval equivalent of an intercontinental missile. It is actually a tower, but it has an uncanny resemblance to a missile. As well as the patron saint of the dying, she is also coincidentally the patron saint of explosive manufacturers. True!

Herman Rode was a contemporary with Bernt Notke, the painter whose version of the Danse Macabre hangs in a dark alcove of this museum.  The photographs of this painting are always taken in a blaze of arc lights. In the natural gloom we need to be close to the canvas in order to identify the conga line of people and skeletons, with the skeleton wearing a turban up front playing what may have been a torupill – the Estonian bagpipe. It is confronting, because of the representation of the pope, the emperor, the fashion plate lady, the merchant prince all connected via grimacing skeletons and in between there is the cardinal in his wide brimmed scarlet hat, depicted as if he had been interrupted on his way to lunch. The painting fragment ends with a capering skeleton. Bit spooky, she said and in the shadows of the building the tableau seems to invite us to join the conga line. We escape through a narrow corridor lined with mops, buckets and bottles of cleaners through an open doorway, that is conveniently close to the exit.  All the massive doors of the museum are firmly locked.  Ours is the unconventional exit.

Out into the sunlight and gradually the weather has improved so that next day we are able to have lunch out in the open at the Olde Hansa restaurant. The waitresses are all attired in Brueghelesque brown working clothes – brown belted dresses and white or coloured linen bonnets. Sitting on the solid wooden benches one associates with wenches as we chew on the dried elk, I had flashbacks of the country’s Hanseatic past.

Like the Welsh, the Estonians are great singers, and they have a penchant for folk dances. Brooms are used as props, which may be hardly “PC”, but there is a simple refreshing optimism among the Estonians which you cannot help embracing. In our own country we tend to avoid these faux-mediaeval places, which dot the landscape as a means of indulging in nostalgia for a mythical past. In Tallinn Old Town the indulgence seems to be less fanciful – just a glance back to the past, if a more congenial one.

Saatse Boot

Estonia lives with Russia in an uneasy relationship. It is rare for this country ever to be functional as an independent State, and yet in the East there is an Estonian gravel road between two villages which crosses the border into a Russian territory protrusion called the Saatse Boot. This anomaly survives the separation of Estonia from Russia in 1991, and while theoretically this sliver of land should have been handed over in 2005, nothing has happened despite the agreement to do so being signed years ago.

Thankfully we could enter Latvia without having to go through Russia. There was a diversion to the seaside town of Parnu for lunch at MUM, a restaurant where she had duck and I had the Estonian version of schnitzel. Baltic Sea beaches are impressive. The beach at Parnu is no exception. It is long, pristine yet this day absolutely frigid, few people were wandering along it because early June was not yet summer. It was still “icumin-in”.

The Economist Produces an A-Serbic Volley Below

For more than 15 years, the “big three” of men’s tennis—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic—have had a stranglehold of the game. They have won 60 of the past 73 grand-slams, the sport’s most important tournaments, winning 20 each. All three have enjoyed periods as the undisputed champion. But in recent years, as injuries and age have ravaged Messrs Nadal and Federer, Mr Djokovic has surged ahead. In 2021, he was imperious, winning the first three grand-slams and securing the year-end number one ranking for a record seventh time. But while other elite players must find the dominance of the big three daunting, recent results offer them hope.

In September Daniil Medvedev won his first major tournament by beating Mr Djokovic in the final of the US Open, denying the Serb a historic “calendar grand-slam” (winning all four slams in a year). Then on November 20th Alexander Zverev beat Mr Djokovic in the semi-finals of the ATP Finals, the prestigious season-ending finale (and went on to defeat Mr Medvedev in the final one day later). Are these victories a harbinger of better times for them and others on the tour?

According to Elo, system which rates players by their performance and the quality of opponents they face, Mr Djokovic’s rating at the end of 2021 was 2,178 points, his lowest in a decade and just 19 points higher than the second-ranked Mr Medvedev. Last year the gap between the pair was 128 points.

These three players have been so dominant but now, with injuries and age, Federer and Nadal are close to retirement, and no longer in the elite. However, one never knows on the clay surface of Raymond Garros with Nadal.

The problem is Djokovic and his infuriatingly ambivalent view on COVID-19 vaccination. I have no knowledge of whether he has ever been inoculated, (there was a suggestion that he caught the disease whilst in Serbia at a tournament he organised) given that in parts of Eastern Europe, many of the diseases which mass vaccination programs have almost wiped out in Western society, persist. For instance, has Djokovic had a rabies shot – an exotic disease to us but not in Eastern Europe?

However, this background is superfluous because his truculence fuels the anti-vaxxers, and while he may be one of the biggest drawcards because of the number of tournaments he has won rather than his social graces, then the money people behind world tennis are liable to genuflect. However, as he slips in his rankings this current pandering in the name of box office receipts will fade. He probably is an over-rated commodity anyway.

I would hope that the short-term gain in World-Tennis being infected by the “brat-pack” with the McEnroe and Connors of the world has been abandoned.  Djokovic is more than a brat, because the others did not potentially challenge the health status of our Nation.

Mouse Whisper

Laconic me this week. Just one question.

If output is directly related to input, does that mean that income is directly related to outcome?

Modest Expectations – Ib puas peb caug yim

The most mispronounced word in the English language – geneAlogy. No, no, no, not geneology.

Greek γενεᾱλογία to Latin geneālogia to Old French genealogie to eventual English geneAlogy. Just repeating what I have read from a reliable geneAlogical etymological source.

The Land of the Hmong

When I was what in those days was the American acronym BMC, in the audience which often clustered around was a cheerful young Asian guy, who introduced himself as Mechai. Thus was my introduction to Mechai Viravaidya. Little did I know that he would parlay his name into fame through a nationwide contraceptive program with his name “Mechai” becoming the Thai word for “condom”.

Mechai, with a Mechai T-shirt

I never knew Mechai very well, although he was at the University of Melbourne and a resident of Trinity College. He was educated at Geelong Grammar School, as were a number of the Thai upper class and were laughingly known as the “Thai mafia”. In any event, he was younger than I, did commerce, and although our paths had crossed having mutual acquaintances, there was a particular time later when we were involved in developing a project which unfortunately never eventuated.

Working with him did give me some insight into how this remarkable man worked. I remember from the time undertaking political science where mention was made of how integrated and influential the Thai bureaucracy was with the royal family. I never completely worked out Mechai’s connection to the family, apart from the fact that his wife was on the staff of the late King Bhumibol. I feared any further prying would have crossed the etiquette line, but I was told he was close to the dowager queen, who died during one of my visits. The Thais are very cognisant of protocol and correctness. The link is only important in emphasising how connected royalty is to privilege.

Mechai parlayed this privilege in establishing a public health revolution to slow population growth in Thailand through contraception; his innovation was to link condoms to cabbages because it had been determined that the vegetable sellers would provide the most efficient means of distributing the free condoms, particularly in those rural areas of the country where there were no doctors.

Enough has been written about Mechai and how his contribution has been well recognised throughout the world. I fortunately have stayed in his apartment above his signature restaurant in Bangkok – Cabbages & Condoms. At one stage when my career had converged around public health and quality assurance in health care, it was proposed that a conference for each would be held in Thailand.

At that stage, the contraception program was reaching its maturity, and Mechai was looking around for a new challenge. At the time we renewed the contact, he was thinking about involving himself in a national AIDS program, a severe public health problem at that time in Thailand. An international conference focussing on the two intertwined issues of quality and public health improvement seemed a good option and, as part of finding a venue outside the capital, we went up to Chiang Rai, a city in the North of Thailand.

Mechai had an interest in what was essentially a hill settlement, where international schools had been or were proposed to be established. The Dowager Queen had been very interested, and from what Mechai said at that time, he was very interested in the Timbertop arrangement which Geelong Grammar School had established.  It could be said that a period at school in the Victorian mountains was a means of toughening the inherent noblesse oblige in its pupils. At that time in the mid-90s, I believe that there may been some interest in Geelong Grammar School being involved in a Thai extension of the concept.

What struck me was the variety of people living in Chiang Rai, and each of these hill tribes, as they were called generically to me, was identified by their clothing. Like so many whistle-stop tours, impressions are left, which fade with time. I cannot remember whether we ate any distinctively cooked “hill” food, except for some recollection of purple rice.

Hmong traditional textiles

I acquired some Hmong textiles, which are my reminder of that visit. The Hmong, originally from southern China, had spread through the Indochinese countries, and in the wake of the Vietnam war where many of them assisted the American forces, they had become a race of refugees. Sounds familiar for minorities who attempt to better their lot with the invader. Indeed, the Hmong community in America, especially in California and Minnesota, is big enough to be noticed, whereas in Australia it is barely 1,500.

In the end, the conference was held elsewhere; a consultancy with Dr Don Grimes, which was to have been carried out alongside such a conference, fizzled out with a change of Government.

Nevertheless, I have one memorable moment which I shall always remember. We travelled as far as the ferry would take us up the Chao Phraya River from the Oriental Hotel. We noted, not far from the wharf where we disembarked, a formidable structure which turned out to be the Bang Kwang Central Prison – the so-called Bangkok Hilton. We decided to have lunch near there in a café overlooking the river, but the menu was in Thai. So we looked over the shoulder of the next couple, pointed at what they were eating. A magic gustatory experience. It was fish, but the underlying whirlwind emanating from the food was garlic and chilli. That is an everlasting image of Thailand – an exotic location where your mouth is set on fire with a Scoville reading off the scale.

It was, in the end, a pity about the proposed venture with Mechai which came to nothing. But as they say, you win some – as Mechai had done before in spades with his contraception campaign and other public health ventures – and, in lower case, in whispered tones, you lose some.

The Virginian

Now that the dust has settled in Virginia, I wanted to share a few thoughts on the lessons we are taking from the McAuliffe loss and our roadmap moving forward.

In short, it exposed a major weakness in the Democratic establishment’s strategy – a weakness we at the Lincoln Project will be able to help solve.

Youngkin and family

What the establishment failed to do – and what time and time again has come back and bitten them – was define their opponent early. For months, Democrats let Glenn Youngkin skate by in his fleece vest and by the time everyone woke up and hit alarm bells, it was too late. Meanwhile, Republicans threw the kitchen sink at Terry McAuliffe and the Democrats and it worked.

There is a reason we tried to do everything we could to paint him as Glenn Trumpkin. There were hundreds of thousands of anti-Trump voters that needed to hear that message. Ultimately, we were swimming against the tide too late – and swimming alone.

Yes, there were other issues at stake in Virginia. Yes, the historical momentum was against Democrats from the beginning. If you look at exit polls (and take them with a grain of salt) Biden’s approval rating in a State he won by 10 was tanking. Education was the issue the most voters said mattered to them when making up their minds.

But how did we get that far – that Democrats were losing white women, suburban voters, and people caring about education? They got dragged into a battlefield the Republicans defined, which meant they had an uphill fight from the beginning.

Our opponents are more sophisticated and more well-funded than Democrats realize. Democrats can’t just turn on the small dollar money cannon and hope it helps them make up ground. They must get more proactive because the other side already is.

What we are up against is a well-coordinated message machine with built in channels to spread their disinformation and propaganda. If you turned on a TV or went online in Virginia anytime after Labor Day it was all education, education, education. Critical Race Theory freakouts. Virginia’s school board dramas made national news. Even the non-propaganda media fell into this trap. And it was all done by the Fox News-centred right-wing message machine, for which Democrats currently have no answer.

What they did was define a single issue to allow voters to look under the umbrella. Then they used the voters who came in to develop sophisticated models that they then used to target well beyond their usual base. See, most campaigns stay in their lane and talk to their people with the same tested taglines and codified language that have worked for years. They know that investing in ads to persuade people to switch sides in this polarized environment is akin to setting money on fire.  Remember, they’re not most people. This risk they took – hanging the campaign on an ambiguous non-issue that would go on to be developed in the imaginations of voters – and reaching out well beyond their base, and even running suppression campaigns against the Democratic base – that’s how you play hardball. And that’s how you win. 

What does this mean for us moving forward?

We know that our strategy works and that there is a lane that only we occupy. Until Democrats are willing to take the gloves off and define their opponents with a coordinated message that voters actually remember, we’re going to have to do it.

Because someone has to. It is why right now we are actively working against Abbott (Texas) and DeSantis (Florida) and will be launching similar campaigns to make sure the authoritarians can’t just put their sheep’s clothing on again and blend in with the pack. Voters will believe it if we are not careful.

The Lincoln Project is a group of former Republicans with a particular obsession about Trump. The Trumpians are continually running smear campaigns against the major Lincolnians. If you have a cohort of journalists working for the media who need an exclusive story, especially when it is spiced up, then they are readily available recipients.  Reasoned beliefs are incidental and superfluous, unless they can be translated into money. Thus the media are composed of ideologues, many with a tincture of the authoritarian fascist; the plain concrete-foot-in-the -door mercenaries and a sprinkle of those who are genuinely interested in policy matters, increasingly confined in the far off galaxy of Blogs.

Would-be mercenaries should remember that from the time of the Thirty Years’ War the Elector of Hesse, archetype of the mercenary industry, made large amounts of money from hiring out his subjects as infantry for the highest bidder, clothing them in a form of sackcloth to save money – the material now known as hessian. For the successful mercenary, the payment was potage and loot. The Elector also, unlike the modern media moguls, had no problem with retrenchment.

Having said that, losing the Virginia governorship when the party of the President has just assumed office has occurred on eight consecutive occasions. The doomsayers were harking back to 2009, the year that Obama assumed the Presidency, to highlight that loss in Virginia. Yet those same people failed to say that the Democrats also lost the governorship of New Jersey in 2009, which has not happened on this occasion, even though the winning margin was only about one percentage point.

The fallout seems to have galvanised the Democratic-controlled Congress to break their internal impasse and pass legislation designed to establish Biden’s version of the New Deal. The Republican knee jerk is to dart from policies which are based on a mixture of passive aggression and threatened violence to actively cower and starve the electorate of government support.

Yet both in the Senate and now the House, sufficient Republicans have had the gumption to vote in favour and thus enable passage of the Infrastructure Bill.  Thus, what was significant in the end in the House last Friday wasn’t the progressive Democrats but the 13 Republican key votes. The final vote count was 228 to 206, meaning if no Republicans had voted for the bill, it wouldn’t have passed.

Sistine Chapel

There are some Republicans who still believe in bipartisan behaviour. If you stop countries being democratically governable, then you revert to a feudalism where the Bezos, the Branson and the Zuckerberg can indulge in the modern day equivalent of rape and pillage of the environment. Maybe starving the peasants was a necessary prerequisite in the private underwriting of the cost of the Sistine Chapel, but not the passage of much-needed infrastructure measures. In this modern world it is the proportionate intervention of government into infrastructure renewal to enable the Sistine Chapel metaphor not to collapse.

As the Washington Post has concluded, the “Biden failure” narrative now appears alarmist and indeed downright wrong. Yet such conclusions are often premature, as the above analysis seems to suggest.

Hence, I suspect the importance of the continuing pressure from the Lincoln Project and its allies in blunting any return of Trump.  But as my Italian friend would say, chissá.

The Search for the Tassili Frescoes

Tassili fresco

I have recently been reading this book describing an expedition funded by French sources in 1956. Its leader, Henri Lhote, wrote the book – the title of this blog – of this arduous exploration of the Central Saharan plateau of Tassili-n-Ajjer. The expedition was in search of the frescoes, predominantly painted in that fragment of time from prehistoric to well into the period where the tribes of the Sahara co-existed alongside the Egyptian pharaohs. In fact some of the frescoes have images of Pharaonic boats and female figures that look decidedly Egyptian.

The wall paintings are reminiscent of the cave art discovered in Europe, and of the same period. I suppose that my interest was kindled by that extraordinary elegy on the Neanderthals titled “Kindred”.

These paintings are extensive, and the French expedition spent months mapping and tracing the rock art onto paper. The way these frescoes had been created was to minimise the damage from the elements, especially as the Sahara, in the era when these frescoes were painted, was lush and verdant. The varied wildlife depicted in the frescoes co-existed with the people there, the forerunners of the Tuareg, who now are the only residents left in this desert with its waterholes and some of the oldest trees in the world – the Sahara cypress. The wood is so hard that the prehistoric inhabitants did not have the tools to cut them down – the technology to completely deforest was not available to our prehistoric ancestors.

Tassili fresco

What caught my attention was the period when much of the wall art was of cattle – the so-called Bovidian period. Let me quote Henri Lhote explaining his interpretation of the desiccation of the Sahara:

Herdsman have ever been the great destroyers of vegetation and if we admit (as the evidence of the Tassili paintings suggests) that thousands of oxen wandered about in the Sahara for thousands of years, we may well assume their destructive action to have been so great that it contributed largely to the desiccation of the whole region. It would, of course, be absurd to regard cattle as solely responsible, climatic changes being the prime cause, but they played no small part.”

When I read this, I thought of the Joycean solution of reducing methane levels and hence improving the climate change agenda by shooting all the cattle. It was a little drastic, but these days there are no cattle roaming the Central Sahara, a few goats maybe – but not cattle. Yet cattle live on in these magnificent frescoes.

The discussion about reducing methane levels is about reducing the emissions of methane, predominantly from cattle. Methane is one of the main culprits and animal emissions are in the range of five per cent of all emissions. Methane is more potent than carbon dioxide – the consequence of cattle herding provides an interesting parallel between civilisations thousands of years apart. The Sahara then was the harbinger of what is happening now across Africa in terms of desertification; but more in its pernicious effect on the climate.

Toss another beetroot on the barbie …

Maybe, as a tribute to a Joycean Cenacolo, when our descendants – if any – are shuffling through the remains of our civilisation they will stumble upon the outcome of the Joycean fiat – images of mammoth Australian barbecues, Southern State cook-outs. Argentinian parilladas, Brazilian churrascos, South African braai.  Frescoes of coal or methane fired braziers on walls, and now food which could be cooked under the rays of the sun. But who came to eat?

Methane, 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is released from a number of sources and its capture presents a particular problem because here one cannot point at coal as the major reason. In the agricultural sector there is research activity in Australia, less extreme than the Joycean solution directed towards methane reduction – and for that matter other pollutant gases inter alia hydrogen sulphide and the nitrogen gaseous by-products.

Here there is experimentation in mixing the grasses, so the roots of this “feedlot” are diverse in their length, and hence their ability to retain carbon.  There is literature about composting waste by minimising the amount of bacterial and fungal anaerobic activity, but like carbon capture, who of us can generalise the ultimate worldwide solution from a few pilot programs of variable effectiveness? I have disregarded the Joycean solution on the rounds that his aim is always faulty and the National Party would never be vegans.

A neo-Bovidian age beckons, I’m afraid.

Two Smiths

We live on a busy inner Sydney street, which is poorly cambered. The local Council also believes in the authenticity of potholes to preserve the roads in the pre-WWI condition when there also was a coal mine just behind our house, about a hundred years ago.

If you drive along our street at night, the front gate is clearly visible directly in the headlights. You will drive straight through the wall unless you turn as the street turns sharply right up the hill, or else career at the last moment along the wall of the house down the lane.

Only on one occasion over 30 years of living in such a potential target has a car come through the wall. The wall is over two metres high and brick. Thus, when the car came through the wall, it made a terrible mess, including the car.

The car managed to reverse and left a Volkswagen badge as a signature. The police were informed, but it was the mother with her son in tow who turned up several days later to apologise and offer to pay. No charges were laid. We all moved on in true Morrison tradition. The replaced wall is better; there is a tree in front of the wall now, and there is a front garden behind the wall, as well as a buffer of illegally parked vehicles often lining the kerb.

I was reminded of this when the politician Smith ploughed into a fence in Hawthorn at a corner of a street with which I am very familiar.

The remnants

On this occasion Entitlement Smith not only took out a wall, but also another car, but not the house wall fortunately, which separated his car from striking a child asleep in the room behind this second wall. An imperilled child.  A man with a bucolic face and dead eyes staggers away into the arms of a breathalyser and strikes the jackpot. I have a problem with dead eyes because they often provide an accurate window into the person’s soul or lack of same.

Across the continent, a child is found. Cleo Smith had been missing for 18 days. Alive, and able to answer: “My name is Cleo” – in a very firm four-year old voice.

As with most people when I heard that Cleo had been found, I had this overwhelming sense of relief and elation. For the parents the nightmare was over. For the child, I hoped that the nightmare had not been embedded into her psyche by the random counsellors and psychologists who feel obliged to make public commentary on how such a child should feel in these circumstances. So many children go missing, and a tragic number of these either are never found or are found dead. It is a terrible denominator.

In this case, the child had been the subject of a wide-ranging search; and the desperation was showing in the news that the police force was delving into every rubbish bin they could find. The two media reports seemed so disconnected, because there was no hint of her whereabouts.

Then in the night police were shown breaking down the door of a house in the Aboriginal section of Carnarvon. I have been to Carnarvon a few times.

It is unique in being a substantial settlement in the desert on the sea, and where the Gascoyne River runs underground. Carnarvon has a major indigenous population. With its banana plantations, it has a degree of colour; and to me it is not a bad town.

After my initial reaction, when images emerged in the media, I wondered at how well cared for she looked. Then it came out that she had been found alone playing with toys, and later it was revealed that in this house there was a room stuffed with dolls.

The alleged perpetrator was an Aboriginal man found some distance away. Since that time little about the man has emerged, but from that which has emerged he seems to be a sad lonely person. No, that is no excuse for “child-stealing”. However, the case seemed strange enough for the police to use this wording as the most appropriate course of action.

But then there was an underlying problem, with a one million dollar reward on offer. The pictures of the search were beginning to fade as the media became bored, and the reward was meant to be a stimulus.

Then the discovery, and all changed.  The spectacle became one of everybody claiming credit with even the WA Premier flying to Carnarvon for a photo-opportunity with stuffed toy props.

From being a wonderful tableau, it degenerated into a public relations exercise even to the extent of this man, shackled and in bare feet, being escorted to a plane by four riot police officers, to be placed in maximum security. Presumably to protect from those who allegedly bashed him in custody.

Yes, I’m a long way away, but a child has been returned to her parents, and the spotlights should be turned off. Enough is enough.

What if there had been the spectacle of a barefooted dishevelled Mr Entitlement Smith being marched off to a maximum security prison, bail refused? We can only speculate on how his colleagues would have reacted if the car had gone through the child’s bedroom wall, with him revving his car in a drunken state trying to reverse out of his mess into another mess without ever knowing the difference – without ever knowing there was a child in the room.

In the case of Cleo Smith, I hope the three parents are not subject to the normal reaction from the media trying to spin the story out into a “60 second special” – “by getting the story behind the story” as the lugubrious voiceover will say, or some such.

The pet jaguar

I also hope when all the vengeance and anger die down, Mr Kelly is cut the same sort of slack which has been afforded the current member for Kew, who is still loose in the community, even without a pet Jaguar.

Mouse Whisper

On looking into Niki Savva’s brain – as trephined by Golden Beauty called Orietta. I was attracted by her question and answer session; a common method we use in our Cheddar press when we interview a celebrity like Michael to get the latest on his relationship with Mistress Min.

But when journalists start interviewing other journalists you know the end of the world is nigh –a comment from a SMH sauce that spoke to me only on the condition of “an old enemy”.

Watch out for the barrelling pork!

Modest Expectations – A Rock in Utah

On the 9-10 May 2001, the House of Representatives met in Melbourne to celebrate the Centenary of Federation Commemorative Sittings. Twenty years on, only five of those who were sitting as Members that day are still members of Parliament.

One is Kevin Andrews, a somewhat desiccated hangover in the Coalition, who is about to be consigned to “feather duster” status, after an undistinguished 30 years in Parliament and after losing preselection.

Warren Entsch and Bob Katter are from the wilds of Northern Queensland. Both have been able to ensure election without regard to any political affiliation. Katter is part of a dynasty, and both have fiefdoms. Intervention in any issue of national importance is incidental; neither is in a position to be national leader; and indeed, do not want to be so. They both want influence of their own choosing, even as they have become old men.

The other two who were there that day? Antony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek. Each has represented inner Sydney electorates for the Australian Labor Party for that period of time; in fact Albanese was elected in 1996 and Plibersek 1998. Frankly, I thought there would be more than just five, but these latter two are still very relevant to Australia as we move towards 2030.

Yet what have they done to move the needle towards ensuring a better life for Australia?

When Whitlam came to power in 1972, he gave Australia a mighty jolt. He had foreshadowed significant change during the vindictive years of McMahon and the alcohol-stained Gorton incumbency. “It’s Time” rang around Australia.

So dangerous was Whitlam to the bunyip aristocracy that eventually, with the connivance of the Royal household and the American security service, a coup was engineered in 1975 which led to Whitlam being sacked by a drunken popinjay called Kerr, dripping in the lard of an antique post and aided and abetted shamefully by the then Chief Justice Barwick.

However, the people showed very clearly that they were tired of Whitlam.  I was a spectator in these exciting times because, whatever could be said of these years, Australia threw off its bunyip ossification.

What followed was instructive, and the fact that the current government is as bad as it has ever been has given me cause to reflect. The decade post-Whitlam saw some of the most important policy made at a national level which brought us from a narrow Poujardist, sectarian-ridden country to one where the economy and the social structures bloomed – until this past decade.

Howard, for all his conservatism and his unconscious comic talent, strangely was the last remnant of that age, during which the mood of the country reverted to that previous xenophobic jingoistic time.

Malcolm Fraser came to power in 1975 in a landslide, which could be interpreted as a rejection of progress, and he was then successively re-elected until he was voted out in 1983. Fraser was a “curate’s egg”. For instance, his approach to economic reform was that of nineteenth century Victorian protectionism. His attitudes here with the morning-suited Eggleton whispering in his ear, set back our progress a decade.

However, despite the whisperings, he did make a number of decisions that can be attributed to his government having worthwhile impacts. I have tried to think of what Albanese and Plibersek have accomplished given that they have held ministerial positions and been in Cabinet over the past decade.

The reason I am musing about this was the discovery of an article in the Guardian Weekly written 13 years ago. The title “Harpoons Down – Australia’s Last Whaling“. The last whaling hunt happened in 1978. The last whaling station was at “Cheynes Beach” near Albany, a city on the southwestern coast of Australia. It was closed that year. At the time, there was a great deal of concern expressed as to the fallout in that community; the normal talk about the loss of jobs and of a city under stress given its isolated location.

Cheynes Beach whaling station near Albany

I remember visiting the station six years earlier when it was fully operational. When we arrived, the whales were being cut into huge slices. We weren’t worried about the smell. There is a lot of blood, but my children eagerly touched the body of the closest whale carcass.

My sons haven’t forgotten that experience since. People may abhor the slaughter of whales – whaling was so much part of our heritage as watching them has become today. My sons had grown up spending their holidays in Port Fairy, in a rubble walled stone cottage built in 1848. Port Fairy, together with other settlements on Victoria’s southern coast and the offshore islands of Tasmania, owed much of their origin to whaling. The cottage was named for Ben Bowyers, himself a whaler, who built it.

In April 1979 Malcolm Fraser pledged his government’s “total commitment to protect the whale”.  It was said that he was heavily influenced by his daughter, Phoebe. Nevertheless, a total ban on whaling in Australia and the development of policy for the protection of whales further afield in international waters followed. For this, Fraser could claim that he had achieved a major change in Australian policy and attitudes.

The cessation of whaling did not convert Albany into a ghost town. I think of an ongoing prosperous city today when, across the Continent, there are coal mines dotted all along coastal New South Wales. Yet Albanese and Plibersek, if not cowering under the assault of the coal mining industry and their union collaborators, are certainly not indicating a co-ordinated program to reduce coal mining either.

That is the worrying problem. That if Australia is faced with ridding itself of a corrupt government prolonging the moral desert, do we need a timid alternative with a blank record dedicating itself for minimising change, thus retaining a compromised bureaucracy with a carousel of consultants looting the country? Moreover, where is the plan to rid the coastal strip from the Illawarra to the Hunter of coal mining? After all, I am old enough to remember the despoliation of the beaches in the same area near Newcastle by sand mining and the bleat about loss of jobs. No sand mining in the Myall Lakes now. Loss of jobs? Not that you ever know whether these sand miners were ever reduced to penury.

Do we trust a government led by any NSW politician of any political colour? When last in power in this State, the ALP government was full of corruption, as we the community are being reminded as we watch the fall out still be played out in the courts.

More spine, Albo. Dig up the “goat tracks”, as Eddie Obeid so colourfully described the trail of lobbyists and hucksters wandering to and around the Parliamentary Executive Offices!

Additionally, a small piece of advice, get yourself or at least one of your trusted lieutenants to become fluent in Health as Neal Blewett did. The lack of appreciation that Health has a separate language leaves any politician such as Plibersek at a disadvantage. Certainly it did when she was Minister.

When I met her some years ago it was clear that she and her advisers spoke a form of Health creole. However then, speaking fluent Health was not as critical as it is today, especially in the misinterpretation of the meaning of vaccine percentages.

The Mystery of Jane Halton

Vaccine advances, including the remarkable success of mRNA technology, made it possible to develop jabs for a previously unknown pathogen in less than a year, rather than the decade or more it would traditionally take. But as much as we improved, the delivery of vaccines still took far too long. In the future, our goal must be to roll out vaccines in just 100 days. This goal, first articulated by CEPI, has been adopted and championed by the UK Government as part of its G7 Presidency. Achieving it could save millions of lives and trillions of dollars should we face another pandemic threat. – Richard Hatchett – June 2021

Richard Hatchett is the Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the Oslo-based organisation formed in 2017. The following blurb, even suitably abridged, sets out the objectives:

CEPI works to advance vaccines against emerging infectious diseases…and establishes investigational vaccine stockpiles.

CEPI also funds new and innovative platform technologies with the potential to accelerate the development and manufacture of vaccines.

CEPI is working with partners across the world on the development and manufacturing of a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 and is seeking US$2 billion from global donors to carry out this plan. 

Australia has given CEPI a relatively small amount of $13million (half of which has already been provided) towards the $2billion. In addition to governments, notably the UK, the Gates and Wellcome Foundations have each given $100 million.

Richard Hatchett has had a remarkable career and it is outlined most relevantly in a recent book by the prolific Michael Lewis titled “The Premonition – A Pandemic Story”.  In short, Lewis focuses on a group of scientists and doctors who spent years trying to ensure America was prepared for a deadly pandemic. A medically-trained epidemiologist, Hatchett is first mentioned in the book as having being recruited by one Rajeev Venkayya, a relatively junior medical graduate himself part of a group planning for governmental response to pandemics.

Serendipity is often but not invariably associated with momentous change. Dr Venkayya arrived at the Bush White House at a time when Bush, as described in the book, was “pissed”. Bush had been at the helm when 9/11 occurred; there had been the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina – and he did not know what to do. In fact, my personal memory from afar at the time of 9/11 was of the dazed, uncomprehending look on Bush’s face when he was interrupted reading a story to pre-schoolers, to be told of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Yet there, in this book “The Premonition”, it was said that in the summer of 2005, Bush read a book about the 1918 Spanish influenza outbreak and the devastation wrought. The book influenced Bush to such an extent that he wanted a plan to prevent this happening again. Bush had had many plans pushed his way on a number of matters, a number of which yielded catastrophic situations occurring, for instance, in Afghanistan.

Yet this proved different.

At the time in 2005 we had the outbreak of avian flu H5N1, and dire predictions of massive loss of human life, which never eventuated. Yet in the previous two years, the world had got its first spread of the SARS coronavirus, the forerunner of the COVID-19 virus.

Bush listened to Dr Vekayya, who wrote down a sketchy plan – 12 pages “which amounted less to a plan than a plan to have a plan”.  Bush asked Congress for $7.1 billion to spend on this three-part pandemic sketch plan, and Congress gave it to him. It was an insight into how Bush governed by instinct but, on this occasion, he was mostly right. Yet the business of getting a policy into place, which was little more than vaccinate and isolate, proved very difficult, given that it crossed the influential Centres for Disease Control (CDC) way of thinking.

To the Vekayya group another doctor was recruited, Carlton Mercer. He came from the Veterans Administration and over time this little-known figure became, with Hatchett, the vanguard for turning the Vekayya sketch into a defined course of action, namely when a pandemic appeared imminent, in the absence of a vaccine it was to go quickly and hard in locking down the community, close schools and social distance people from one other. The problem with people who genuinely drive change is that there is always the research/medical establishment prepared to cast aspersions. In this case, this was the CDC.

When Obama came to power, he stopped listening to these Bush appointees and their accumulated experience. He was bolstered in 2009 by predicted dire consequences of the swine flu pandemic – caused by another influenza virus H1N1 – that did not eventuate. Mexico had followed their guidelines; so what! America did not; and nothing much happened.

COVID-19 was yet to come.

Richard Hatchett in 2017 ended up running CEPI, which was a critical position as related in the book, because it was able to redirect substantial funding in the development of vaccines, particularly Moderna and AstroZeneca, when the pandemic struck and the Virus was isolated. Funding was also provided by CEPI to the University of Queensland for its ultimately failed vaccine. Considering the hype surrounding this group, perhaps more reliance was placed on its success than should have been. In any event, it left Australia with very few vaccine paddles, later in 2020. At that time Australia was basking in its success of suppression of the Virus.

Since leaving the advisory role to a President who had stopped listening to him, Richard Hatchett has been very active nevertheless.

The mystery of Jane Halton? Given her position as Chair of CEPI, which she is always flaunting, the question has been asked as to why she did not influence Australia in its acquisition of vaccines by Australia in 2020, given the directions being taken by CEPI, given the obvious international standing of the CEPI CEO, Richard Hatchett. I would have thought she would have told the Government what to do, as is her wont. She certainly should have known about the efficacy of the various vaccines under development around the world, including that of the University of Queensland, and the need to stockpile a range of vaccines, not just one.

Very strange, almost as mysterious as why she is the Chair of CEPI in the first place.

Sprod 

A drawing of a Grecian urn. The athlete on the urn being offered a laurel wreath. The caption – “no thanks I’ll take the money.”

The children on the beach watching a Punch and Judy show. The sign against the beach stage read “Now in its 290th year”.

An exercise in whimsy.

George Napier Sprod was an Australian cartoonist who, for much of his working life after the Second World War, worked in England. A cartoonist who signed himself Sprod? Who would believe the name was not just a humorous pseudonym? But George Napier Sprod was indeed born in South Australia.

As has been written elsewhere, in 1938 at the age 19, George Sprod left home without notice. He had decided to ride his bike along the Murray River en route to Sydney. He got as far as Hay before selling his bike and continuing by train. Once in Sydney he set up residence in Kings Cross and started freelancing as a cartoonist and working as a street photographer.

World War II intervened. He joined up, became a gunner, was sent to Singapore, was captured and then was a POW in Changi until the end of the War. During that time he teamed up with Ronald Searle and the two of them edited a paper called “Exile”. It must have been difficult for the Japanese to comprehend, given their distinctive styles. Searle in fact had a marked effect on the Sprod development

After the War he went back to Australia, worked for a time on the Packer papers, the Daily Telegraph and Womans Weekly, found out he was not a political cartoonist and went to England, where he hit paydirt, particularly with then Punch Editor, Malcolm Muggeridge.

In the “Introduction” to a collection of Sprod cartoons, mostly ones that had appeared in Punch, published in 1956 under the title “Chips off a Shoulder”, Malcolm Muggeridge described Sprod’s drawings as very funny, with a gusto, an earthiness. “The inherent absurdity of human life positively pleases him, and his bold and uproarious situations convey this pleasure. I would say he was in no tradition at all, but just Sprod.

Muggeridge, later on the Introduction, opined on why Australia produced and nurtured more humorous artists than anywhere else. He suggested it may have been the harshness of life and the vastness of Australia, which elicited the wry smile as the readiest and most natural response, as Muggeridge so elegantly puts it. Muggeridge mentions a number of Australian cartoonists, but lumped David Low in with them. Low, probably the most acclaimed political cartoonist of them, was a New Zealander, who did work for eight years in Sydney before spending the rest of this life cartooning in England.

Just before I left running the community health program in Victoria, one of my nursing team, as an impromptu gesture presented me with a first edition of “Chips off a Shoulder”. The year was 1979, the book having been published two decades before. On the fly leaf, she had written my initials and under these the words “A sense of humour” and then below at the foot of the page “Best wishes, always” followed by a long dash. I remember once she did ask what I would like as an epitaph. I don’t remember how this matter came up, but I remember my response, “I tried”.

It is funny what you treasure and would never sell. After I left the job, I never saw her again. Her name was Beryl.

But then I never went searching for Sprod, who by that time had retreated from England back to Australia because of some messy domestic relationship there. He died in Marrickville in 2003, I know that much and that he did go on to publish a number of other books of cartoons.

Where has All the Influenza Gone?

Influenza is very much part of the discussion swirling around the COVID-19 discussions. Reference is continually being made to the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic; and reference is made to the fact that people have died of influenza in the past and we did not lock down Australia.

One can speculate about this. My view is that the Australian community has become used to the winter appearance of the virus, and there was always at the outset of “the flu season”, the Australian representative of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Reference on Influenza appearing to warn us of its dangers.  Australia was thus well placed. Scientists at the Centre in Melbourne—one of six such centres globally—faced an imprecise predictive process because of the variability of the various strains. This explained the vaccine’s varying effectiveness year to year as the Commonwealth Serum Laboratory (CSL) tried to make the most effective vaccine to counter this shifty virus.

Thus, there is a yearly vaccine, and there were established rituals. Those working in the health sector were encouraged to be vaccinated, and each health centre, generally as part of infection control, provided a systematic approach. In any event the prevalence of influenza waned as the country emerged from winter.

People died, and in fact up to 2020, every year from 2014 onwards the number of people who died increased, almost reaching 1,000 a year – until 2020 when the number dropped to 36, and then this year nil. The average age of death was 88, and hence influenza mortality was conventionally believed to be confined to the very old.

This year the community was advised to space its influenza and COVID-19 injections. I had the influenza injection first, when it became available. This I did because early in the year the COVID-19 virus seemed suppressed and the Delta variant had yet to emerge as the scourge it has become. So, in my case, “vaccine hesitancy” was an artefact, because of the expert advice to space the injections.

There is much speculation about why this apparent extinction of influenza mortality has occurred. The first is that it is only a lull in the disease progression and it will come roaring back with enhanced infectivity. Others suggest that the measures taken in regard to the current pandemic, such as social distancing, better hygiene and school closures have contributed.

Whatever the core reason for the current situation of zero mortality, the course of the influenza virus should be closely monitored but, from this unexpected effect, it does suggest that the hard approach is working.

In 1918 the community was hit by the influenza pandemic which, some say, never really went away. It just became attenuated; but there have been pandemic years. I remember the Asian flu pandemic in 1957 because I ended up in Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital. There have been outbreaks since, all caused by descendants of the Spanish flu virus, generally milder and seasonally self-limited. In summary, seasonal influenza has tended to kill the oldest and youngest in a society but has been less virulent since the 1918 pandemic – roughly half of those who died were men and women in their 20s and 30s, in the prime of their lives.

Why does the community not get so worried about influenza? First, I suggest it is because of its predictability. This is reflected clearly by the ritual of flu vaccine injections. Yet have the measure that have been put in place over the past two years fatally suppressed the flu virus? An open question.

Secondly, the coronavirus is different. The common cold is a coronavirus; the conventional wisdom – we don’t die of the common cold. But this is different, and the world was unprepared for this relative of such a mild disease to rear up and become a dangerous lethal virus, initially with no vaccine and then, as if in response to the emergence of vaccines, the more dangerous delta variant appeared.

Influenza has a predictability; this virus has not, especially as the messaging changes almost daily. These changes have increased the uncertainty, whereas the rules to deal with pandemics from a pure public health context have always been simple and unequivocal, with perhaps the added use of masks. Social distancing, school closure, restriction of all movement, personal hygiene, use of hand sanitiser, the importance of the reproduction factor – all well known.

Thirdly, another difference compared with influenza is the way this current pandemic has been handled in Australia. This is the politicisation with the inability of politicians not to interfere. The failure occurs when politicians panic, want instant solutions, unfortunately showing both ignorance and weakness at the same time. Politicians always seem to know better, especially when it interferes with business and political donors.

Ignore the public health rules, as is happening at present in NSW, and how long will it be before it is not only Afghani seeking refugee status in States with low rates of infection. One person, being a proponent of the “Let it rip” school of dealing with the Virus, said to me that he wanted to leave the country. Don’t worry. Currently, NSW is the place for you.

Mouse Whisper

Michael Kirby is an illustrious man of the people. He is known to deliver newspapers. Yet he has 30 honorary doctorates – quite a collection. There are 23 from Australian universities. Shame on the University of Western Australia and the University of Queensland. You are real laggards. But has anybody else got more honorary doctorates than our Michael K?

What a fancy dress party Michael, the Thespian, can stage. But why the number?  I suppose it is because some people collect stamps; others, like Michael, collect Tudor caps.

My mausmeister has fond but distant memories of him and that other colourful figure of Sydney University politics, the late Vincent John Flynn. He remembers the things which were said about him by those two worthies during those halcyon days of student politics, not to his face, but after he had left a meeting early.

You see Flynn had inter alia currency issues; and so does Michael. Different form of currency; different definition. Both defined by spotlight, one avoidance of it, the other always searching for it.

Modest Expectations – My Brilliant Career

“There are known knowns — there are things we know we know,” (US Secretary of Defence) Rumsfeld said in February 2002, when asked for evidence that Saddam Hussein tried to supply weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. “We also know there are known unknowns — that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Donald Rumsfeld

It was 120 years ago today that Miles Franklin’s novel My Brilliant Career was published. Let me say it was a brilliant title, but the brilliance of its content has always eluded me.

I have a very tenuous connection with Miles Franklin by staying over Easter one year at Brindabella Station, where Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin spent her early years. She was 16 when she wrote this melodramatic piece of Victorian passion, the choice between the bloke or the brilliance. Initially rejected, her book was taken up by Henry Lawson, who took it to England where it was published.

We were invited to the Brindabella station by the then owner Richard Carleton. The station lies to the south of Canberra amid the Brindabella range. The Goodradigbee River flows through the station. Carleton’s ashes were scattered on the river after his death in 2006.

Carleton was an avid fisherman but, knowing him, it was the prospect of owning a famous piece of Australiana that would have been high on his agenda in purchasing this property. Richard Carleton was a complex, highly intelligent, outwardly affable but emotionally taut person. That weekend at Brindabella I unfortunately upset what had been a relationship of mutual respect, and for a period in the mid-seventies, when I had fallen from grace as it were, he had been one of my Canberra associates, who proved not to be fair weather. So, the station was one of mixed memories.

However, that is a different tale from My Brilliant Career. Several years earlier, the film of the book of the same name had won international acclaim.  The tension between marriage and career was a relevant theme at the time in the seventies transitioning into the eighties.  The film’s director, Gillian Armstrong, had been a young Australian at the outset of a successful career as a film director; the film’s heroine was played by Judy Davis, who has played “mood indigo” so very well in her long career.  The hero was played by Sam Neill, who as usual played “Same Neill”, which he does, as always, so well. The success of the film gained the book and the author, who had died in 1954, belated recognition. Franklin is a minor author at best. Her link to feminism and her foresight in setting money aside for the annual eponymous award for “the novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases” – the award first presented in 1957 to Patrick White for Voss – has vaulted her into a position of literary eminence.

My Brilliant Career was the only novel written by her or under pseudonyms, which gained her the recognition during her lifetime that she craved.  Phyllis Rose, in an essay in The New Yorker written after the release of the film, was very critical of the novel, saying it was over-written and in fact what would have been expected in an immature person. Phyllis Rose reported that Franklin herself would later refer to it contemptuously as a girl’s book, tossed off in a matter of weeks (10), written out of ”inexperience and consuming longing”. It can be noted that Franklin prohibited its re-publication until at least 10 years after her death in 1954.

This was a somewhat different interpretation from that of Jennifer Byrne who wrote, in a foreword to a later reprint, that “the young author was stung and refused to allow My Brilliant Career to be reprinted for decades”. Allegedly this was due to controversy caused by its publication because of the aspersions cast upon certain characters in the novel, which was presumed autobiographical – presumably it was seen a betrayal of the bunyip squattocracy.

The book is very much “Come on, Goodchum, we must be going” – interspersed with the heroine’s interpretation of home teaching: “I calmly produced my switch and brought it smartly over the shoulders of my refractory pupil…but bringing the rod down on the table, I threatened to thrash every one of them if they so much as whimpered.” Nothing like a bit of domestic violence to remind the reader of its relevance to modern day.

Miles Franklin

The photo of Miles Franklin dressed in black with a matching bonnet is that of disdain and withdrawal. There is no charm in this woman. She is still young, but the image in the photograph is not that of a young woman with an umbrella tucked under her arm like a swagger stick. Judy Davis, in her portrayal, converted this cardboard woman to that of a recognisable feminist in period costume, full of smoulder and volcanic dormancy. Judy Davis was The Brilliant Career.

Why have I identified a link between the Rumsfeld Quote and Miles Franklin?

Rumsfield, in his response set down, established a quadrate for whatever reason, but presumably at least as a clever conceit. He mentioned “known knowns”, without an example, but for him presumably his date of birth would satisfy.

Then he mentions “known unknown” and gave as an example the weapons of mass destruction; but given what later transpired – the lack of these weapons which he knew about, but we mug punters did not – was an example of an “unknown known” (in this case deceit). He did not mention this option in his quoted response – the “unknown known” – and it seems nobody thought to ask him why he left it out.

Finally, for him as with us still alive, “the unknown unknown” at the time he made this statement was that he did not know the time of his death.  However, for us that survive Rumsfield, his death has become a “known known” (29 June 2021) – trivial though it may be.

I have never thought much about Miles Franklin, although her contemporary Australian female authors dominated my childhood – Mrs Aeneas Gunn of We of the Never Never and Mary Grant Bruce and Ethel Turner; their books were all in the cousins’ bookcase; I remember Katherine Prichard’s Coonardoo as a year 12 book, which I loved at the time, despite it being compulsory reading.

I started off from square one in this pursuit and took the text from Rumsfeld, which typified his “look-at-me” approach; “I’m smarter than anybody else, you stupid interviewers”, and yet he left out one of the squares of his quadrate. Why he did this? Who knows?

The more I have read about Miles Franklin, the more intriguing the person becomes. As with Phyllis Rose, I thought her writing in places unintentionally hilarious. Her writing may also be self-conscious and stilted, but that is not what makes her intriguing, especially when she was searching for that brilliant career which later, in 1946, when she wrote it, “went bung.” But did it?  Her working in the Balkans as a volunteer cook during the latter part of World War 1 was one instance, and her observations in the summaries I have read are brilliant.

The late Jill Roe spent most of her academic life at Macquarie University, concentrating on the life and times of Miles Franklin. Hers can thus be said to be the definitive biography of Franklin. Like Franklin, she grew up in the country, she at Tumby Bay, a fishing village on the Eyre Peninsula where the leafy sea dragons frolic in the nearby gulf. Unlike Miles Franklin, Professor Roe was able to resolve her sexuality and undoubtedly did have a brilliant career, judged by her baubles of success.

The more I have thought about that brilliant title, the more I see it portrays the essence of what Rumsfield was saying, even if he did not know what he was saying. As Jill Roe herself once said when accepting another piece of Tudor fancy dress from Macquarie University, “that is what I shall be arguing!” Brilliant title or brilliant insight?

What beats No Trumps

(Two Trump biographers) both said the indictment of the Trump Organization comes during what appears to be the company’s most difficult moment since Trump’s financial crash in the early 1990s.

During that period, Trump found himself hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and lost control of prized assets — including an airline, a yacht and New York’s Plaza Hotel. His business empire did not fully recover for a decade, until Trump gained television fame and made tens of millions as the star of NBC’s “The Apprentice”. 

The financial picture for Trump today, based on his government disclosures, is dramatically better than it was then. On his most recent financial disclosure form, Trump reported around $300 million in income for 2020. But experts and former employees say the reputation of his brand among consumers and potential business partners is arguably worse. 

Barbara Res, a top construction executive at the Trump Organization from 1980 to 1998, said Trump was already facing a problem caused by his political career: His company is still built around the old gold-plated luxury brand, aimed at wealthy urban dwellers and tourists. But his political career alienated most of that demographic. Now, Res said, “most of his [company’s] brand talks to people who are not his supporters.”

This is a somewhat different angle on Trump. The Brand Trump and the Political Trump are increasingly dissociated according to this former insider.

The Brand Trump will take a battering if the prediction is proved correct. When he was President, the Brand and the Political merged. Now that he is not President, his only political ploy is to keep saying the election was rigged. His mind is consumed with revenge and pillage. That is the basis of his residual power – he maintains his harness on the dark recesses of the American mind. He has turned illusion into hallucination. Yet negativity only has a limited life span, and therefore for Trump political success is vital.

Brand hedonism played out to gated communities does not respond well when his Political Brand is continually depicted as pitchforks and mob harangue. His Brand constituency should be looking around for somebody else; the Brand has been jolted by his electoral loss, and his refusal to go away. However, it is easier to believe midterm election success next year is the last shot in maintaining the sharpness of the pitchforks.

As I have said repeatedly, Trump is old and the decay is showing. His survival from COVID-19 was helped by an array of drugs, unavailable to his own constituency, and he showed resilience despite years of poor diet, obesity and pig-headedness. Nevertheless, that episode will have taken its toll, especially with a brain already fraying at its cognitive edges.

America is a violent society. That is a known, and Trump is known to fuel such violence. This community violence is mirrored by a propensity for political assassination. The unknown is whether his continual provocative antics will entice someone mad enough to emulate those who have gone before as political assassins:  Using the Rumsfield quadrate, “E Ea Ignota”.

Thus the “known” is, in the end, that Trump will fall from grace, whether by violent death, natural causes or just because to be demented and maintain authority he would need to be installed as Pope. The demise of the demagogues from that of the Gracchi brothers in Ancient Rome is a known fate. In the case of Trump, the unknown is to know how long it will take; and whether when the head is gone, the lumpenproletariat body will survive.

The Long House

From childhood I have always been fascinated by the wild men of Borneo, comic strip characters associated with jungle fantasy.  In my childhood, most of Borneo became independent from the Dutch in 1949 with the establishment of Indonesia, but there were enclaves along the coast, which remained part of the British Empire for about a decade longer.

One of these was Sarawak which, from 1841 to 1946, was the fiefdom of the Brooke family, the so-called White Rajahs, one of whom was the model for Josef Conrad’s “Lord Jim” – a book I have started so many times but never completed.

To me Sarawak was always distinctly exotic for three reasons – it is the home of the Orang-utan, shrunken heads and the long house. Inevitably when mention is made of these latter two, the talk is of Dayaks – the sea Dayaks to be more precise. These fierce Dayaks were the models for the wild men of Borneo.

We had made one of those on-the-spur decisions to spend time in Sarawak – it was around Easter time. We flew to Kuching, the capital.

I had been especially interested in the long house concept and have wondered whether it would be a useful model to be adapted by  Aboriginals. Having seen the living conditions of Aboriginal people in various parts of Northern Australia, where the community has close links with one another, it always seemed to be that the suburban house design with conventional rooms was never appropriate for Aboriginal living.

Therefore, when we were offered the opportunity to stay at a long house in the jungle up the Sarawak River from Kuching, we immediately accepted. The means of getting there was the distinctive Iban long boat without a paddle but with an outboard motor.

The long house was perched on stilts close to the river, access being by both a narrow concrete staircase on one side and a ramp on the side where the ablution block was placed. The slope of the river bank was steep, but we noticed there was abundant horticulture. Rubber trees were growing further up the slope, as were pepper vines (we soon learnt that the best pepper in the world came from Sarawak). There were even pineapples.

All around to show off the lush vegetation were red, yellow and variegated cordylines, slashes of colour in this tropical garden. No wonder Sarawak has been a botanist’s paradise.

Inside the long house

It was the inside of the long house which intrigued me. Down one side of the house was a stretch of poles, which defined the sleeping quarters, low platforms with a basic foam mattress and individual mosquito nets, hung away during the day. Outside access was provided via doorways with canvas flaps, a convenient way to go to the toilet at night, although the literally potential pitfalls of the broken concrete pathway posed their own challenge en route. As for other hazards, there were the roaming community dogs.

The long house owners were our host, sea Dayaks, small leathery friendly people, the men covered in tattoos.  We the guests were us two and a group of young Germans. The kitchen was located off the main area in the “apartments” of each family, and we were invited to participate in preparation of the meal, which was fish and pork, rice cooked in bamboo. Our job was to clean the bamboo leaves.

In the evening, there were demonstrations of Dayak culture – women and young boys dancing and then suddenly an older man with hornbill headdress stepped up. Our guide whispered to me that he was his uncle, the headman. He was recognising my presence by the hornbill dance.  Hornbills presage purity and strength and it is how the Dayaks communicate with their ancestors.He was according me a great honour.  Whether it was always regularly performed to recognise the oldest visitor in their midst, I was still “chuffed” by such a spontaneous gesture. The next morning, I did not justify such an honour by failing miserably in using the blowpipe.

Reflecting on this visit to the Dayaks’ long house and having stayed in Aboriginal settlements on several occasions, notable was the lack of organised horticulture in the latter. We whoever, whitefellas, have imposed our buildings on Aboriginal lands – the missions, a sign of permanency for whitefellas.  The difference is the Aboriginals foregather on their own land and move around within that space.

I remember driving into Beswick, a settlement in the Northern Territory, and seeing this lawn of green shimmering in the distance, it suggested horticulture. As we came closer it turned out not to be cultivation, but a layer of flattened VB cans covering the earth – just outside the boundary of this “dry” settlement.

Aboriginals know their flora, as shown by the myriad demonstrations of “bush tucker”. For example, I was shown  at one settlement where they knew the bush potatoes were growing, they had their digging sticks – but it was not a matter of deliberate cultivation. Why bother when there were no competitors and the potatoes came back in the same place every year.

In their kitchen, the Dayaks had large terracotta amphoras where they stocked their rice. There was minimal evidence of western tinned food; they lived off their produce and where they did not grow the commodity, they bought or bartered in bulk. The Dayaks had their own spices, in addition to pepper, which they used in every dish which was served.

There were no cans of beer.

We were very glad that we stayed in the long house, which we had always wanted to do –and it provided us an insight into successful communal living.

Confusion

Israel backed the Pfizer vaccine, and was prepared to pay the price; Australia, by not accepting the Pfizer price, is paying a different price. Moderna was never in the equation.

The great unknown is what are the deals, the kickbacks, the political and bureaucrat beneficiaries of the AstraZeneca (AZ) preference and purchase; and the various consultancies handed out to the Government mates for vaccinating the sector of the health care area they directly control – those who come under the aged care and defence portfolios. Not knowing what the conditions for the various deals were, yet knowing that there is effectively no scrutiny that will yield any immediate information, how can the community know what the hell the outcome will be?

The AZ vaccine, in a community which is unused to death by COVID-19, has received a far different response than that of its spiritual home – Great Britain, where there have been overall 125,000 deaths (the last figures available still showed 27 deaths in a single day).  Over 1,000 people have died there in a single day.

Whereas in Australia there have been 910 deaths overall, a large proportion of which were in Victoria in August/September last year, but not one since late October last year. It is thus unsurprising that in Australia every death from a reaction to AstraZeneca will be magnified; and there is rumbling in the community about how ill the AZ vaccine makes some of us feel.

Thoughts, drifting like soap bubbles …

Once the view that the government has something to hide, “gets traction” then the stigma sticks.  Here this adhesive is on the AZ vaccine. The Government seems to have little idea at times when the mRNA vaccines will become available, given the different dates being put out. Therefore, we have a range of fumblers, braided or in mufti, wheeled out to fill in the air space without saying much. Thoughts drift like soap bubbles, never reaching terra firma. The business community, medical students, paramedics are all to be enlisted into this gigantic national initiative of jabs and feints, and more jabs and more feints amid a cascades of thought bubbles – in a country with not enough vaccine.

The Prime Minister talks about phases to fill the black hole of failed policy. And thus it will go on – the strategy being to treat us as fungi – and stupid fungi at that.

The one thread which has showed as the ray of sunshine is the strength of the contact tracing system within Australia which, despite the Berejiklian wont for hyperbole, is probably among the best in the world, a fact acknowledged by Dr Chant to be due to the work of Sue Morey, who was her predecessor over 20 years ago. I wonder whether she will get as much acknowledgement that the Government has accorded other great humanitarians who have saved our country, even if it did take Victoria a considerable time to recognise the fact last year.

But even contact tracers get tired, especially if their political leaders act like buffoons and prematurely loosen restrictions or continue to leave the current bodgie hotel quarantine in place. Every potential outbreak is started by Mr or Ms 00.01% in the Prime Minister’s quarantine system.

As a postscript, it seems that the Treasurer is the last shot in the government locker, with his rallying call of the business community to marshal their workers. The strategy is anybody’s guess, but if the incentives for vaccination are free sausage sizzles and frequent flyer points, then these are in the league of offering axes, beads and mirrors.

The worry is that of filling in the policy void with public relation burble. as substitute for organised action. This is dangerous if there is no concomitant systematic collection of data when there are so many variables. Jane Halton bobbing around, with commentators on her report obviously having not read it, providing gratuitous advice does not help. “People coming home fully vaccinated need not quarantine” – given your Tampa experience, how do you police that thought bubble given this apparent Damascene conversion to open borders for Viral refugees?

Big English Guinea Pig

Uncertainty abounds; the long-term efficacy of the vaccines is anybody’s guess. There is already talk of the need for a booster; imminently Prime Minister Johnson’s initiative to sweep away all controls leaving vaccination as the only defence in the United Kingdom. Australia should watch England as the Big Guinea Pig, before doing anything precipitous.

Finally, the symbolism of the General and the Treasurer leaving the meeting of the business representatives two days ago should not be lost on the wider community. The General put on a mask immediately; the Treasurer did not.

Mouse Whisper

He was musing there, leaning on his cane, stuffing his face with cheese and wine, oblivious of my crouching beneath the table enjoying the messy Stilton droppings which were raining down around me. I always enjoyed such murine canapés.

“You know” he said to the Mop lounging in the corner of the room, as if that were his only audience, “I would not be standing here if my ancestors had not survived the Black Death.” I thought that was one way of defining survival but – looking up at him – hardly of the fittest.

 

Modest Expectations: Try a Tray in Troy, the weight is 3826

The portrait of Abraham Lincoln arrived yesterday from America. Unlike much of unframed portraiture, it did not arrive rolled up, but flat, ready for framing. The portrait is a dark image of Lincoln, with a red tear falling from his right eye.  This red drip became a widened red smudge over his shirt and bow tie. There is a red drop on his left cheekbone – a weeping stigma for a country that lost its nobility for four years.

“Abe laments”

This is not the Lincoln of the Washington Memorial, a commanding white seated statue carved in Georgia marble which, as one approaches it, becomes increasingly dominant.

This is a dark image.

The portrait is subdued as if located in the depths of American despair, the expression more sad than horrified, shedding a tear for his country. America is used to carpetbaggers and within the list of undistinguished Presidents, there have been the usual complement. Before Trump, Warren Harding was generally agreed as the worst President by the level of corruption which blossomed during his tenure, cut short by his death before completion of his first term. When all the details of Trump’s machinations come forward, some of which may have to wait until he dies, then Warren Harding will probably appear to have been overseeing two-bit chiselling.

A day after I received the portrait, this terse comment came by email from a Lincoln Project operative:

“The line between what America should be and what the dangerous edge of a radical anti-American movement wants us to become has never been clearer. 

Our mission is to defeat the sick, poisonous ideology of a growing authoritarian movement and expose the co-conspirators, enablers, and funders for their attempts to destroy American democracy. 

This is what we have (to do to) stop Trump’s return; McConnell’s Senate takeover; McCarthy’s retaking the house

It’s all on the line. This is the mission.

Because if they win, America ends.”

The Lincoln Project was founded in early 2020 to go after Trump. The core were all Republicans, who had been linked to senior Republican Party figures, carnivorous apparatchiks united in their distaste of Trump. They were certainly not idealists as more recent revelations have shown. Nevertheless, they are important players in the Republican movement, as long as they survive the questions being recently raised by the Trumpians against some of their founding members.

As The New Yorker stated in an article just before the Presidential election in October last year about the purpose of the Project:

Republicans have always invoked their connection to Abraham Lincoln, the Party’s first President; the Project sought to weaponize it. On February 27th, several of the founders appeared at Cooper Union, in the East Village, where, in 1860, Lincoln delivered an address that urged the containment of slavery and the preservation of the Union, propelling him to the Presidency. His speech began with “the facts”; in his conclusion, he said, “Let us have faith that right makes might.” Exactly a hundred and sixty years later, Wilson (one of the Project founders) stood at the same lectern that Lincoln had used and invoked a tough-guy monologue from the vigilante movie “Taken”: “We have, as the great political philosopher Liam Neeson once said, a particular set of skills—skills that make us a nightmare for people like Donald Trump.”

I made a trip to the United States in 1977, after the American public had unexpectedly elected Jimmy Carter, and when there was a wholesomeness about American politics trying to scrape away the Nixon Legacy.

There I met senior members of the Ripon Society, named for the place in Wisconsin where the Republican Party commenced. This Society had been the first element within the Republican Party that came out in support of the civil rights movement in 1962.  In 1977, it then was still differentiated from the neoliberal approach with which the gradual rise of Reagan was beginning to dominate the Republican Party. They had been in the vanguard of rejecting Barry Goldwater and his zeal in wanting to privatise everything, even the Tennessee Valley Authority, and his view on “law and order” as a means of suppression rather than protection of civil rights. Goldwater did not go so far as to encourage mob rule and the disintegration of the American polity, but he was the harbinger of it. Thus, the mildly progressive utterances of the Ripon Society within the Republican Party were overwhelmed – drowned.

The Lincoln Project is not a rebirth of the Ripon Society. The Project may say something about policy, but it is focussed on attacking Trump.

As an example of the “attack dog” approach, quoting again from The New Yorker, “The Project’s strategists metabolize news quickly enough to create spots within hours, or even minutes, of an event. In June, after Trump timidly descended a ramp at West Point, and struggled to lift a drinking glass to his mouth, the Project combined footage of the appearance with other videos of him looking feeble, and released “#TrumpIsNotWell”. The viral spot subjected the President to one of his own tricks: he mocked Hillary Clinton when she stumbled in 2016, and constantly suggests that Biden is senile. Trump was soon wasting time at a campaign rally defending his ability to walk and to drink water.”

These are thus disaffected Republicans with all the tools in trade. They have powerful friends in the Republican Party that existed before the Trump takeover and are now isolated by the populist lumpenproletariat that is the Republican base, for now.

These Lincoln Project guys are no idealists, no saints, and the recent concentration on its leading figures suggests that some of its leaders have unsavoury pasts, to say the least.

One is an alleged paedophile; and two of the other funders have been accused of siphoning money from the Project into the business. If this is so, then it reveals a systemic problem in the Republican side, whether pro or anti-Trump. The Lincoln Project notwithstanding has fought back against the allegations, and there is an accusation following an “independent” review of the truth of the above that there is an underlying smear campaign being mounted by Trump allies.

The battle rages. The Lincoln Project videos tear at the kleptarchy heart of Trump and his allies. Some ask, why persist, since Trump no longer has the real levers of power to endorse his ongoing criminality? The Lincoln Project disagrees in a mixture of above and below the belt rhetoric. The possibility of The Project being an electoral spoiler for Trump must give him a great degree of concern.

It ain’t pretty, but then neither was the storming of Democracy that occurred on January 6 in Washington.

Whyalla?

When I first heard about Sanjeev Gupta and his plan to be the saviour of Whyalla, I then expressed doubts to my wife. She looked at me, having read a distillation of his recent antics, and said my comments four years ago were hardly that mild.

Yet Gupta secured a promise from the previous South Australian government for $50 million which, in the grand scheme promulgated by Gupta, is “bugger all”, except that it was taxpayers’ money. Gupta was juggling a billion dollar commitment underpinned by Credit Suisse both through Greensill financing and directly to revamp the Whyalla steelworks, the biggest employer in the city.

Whyalla steelworks

Now four years on, Greensill is being investigated for fraud and in the words of the Financial Times, Credit Suisse was “not willing to accommodate its once highly valued client”, namely Gupta. Increasingly he is running out of friends, but continues to press the Government for a guarantee to raise further funding.

Gupta is in deep, and the question is, will the South Australian government give him a paddle? Government, having been sucked in, is probably trying to extricate itself from the labyrinth, but to save face may just be tempted to throw more money into the project “to save jobs”. It would not be the first time that private enterprise has milked money for governments with this type of blackmail. The one saving grace may be that it was a different government – a government of the workers – which provided the initial offer of $50 million. But it is not that long ago that car manufacturers walked away with billions of dollars having promised to save jobs in that industry; South Australia was right in the middle of this fiscal misadventure.

Gupta is one of those charismatic characters who obviously speaks with honeyed tones, played on an ostentatious lifestyle.  He has made a habit of acquiring tired steelworks in rust bucket cities around the world. There is always the promise to renew, to resurrect, to restore – and politicians, seeing their constituency vanish or turn against them, become Canutes. They build flimsy walls of paper – subsidies, grants, favourable legislation, which inevitably dissolve in the face of superseded need and technology.

Unfortunately, we have a political culture of survival of the dim-witted corrupt lulled by a torrent of subcontinental sweet talk. It is so easy to take the perks and do nothing except to pray with a forest of outstretched arms that nothing will happen, and all this change will just go away in some miraculous rapture.

Whyalla should start reinventing itself. After all, it has lost its ship building industry and the future of the steelworks is perilous – some would say on life support. The iron ore mined locally to feed the steelworks is low grade magnetite and, in a country which produces nearly 800 million tonnes a year, these mines in South Australia contribute only 10 million tonnes.

Whyalla lies on the Eyre peninsula, an inverted triangular zone bordered by Spencer Gulf and the Southern Ocean. It is a wonderfully diverse area. From these surrounding waters over 60 per cent of Australia’s seafood catch comes. On land there is both an arid and arable zone; below the meandering yet accurate Goyder Line, the predictor of mean rainfall, divides saltbush from wheat.

Whyalla is saltbush.

Giant cuttlefish

Yet Whyalla was originally constructed as a port, and near an iron ore deposit, once considered significant now dwarfed by the Pilbara.

It has a uniqueness – it just happens to be where the ever-changing coloured giant cuttlefish are best seen for three months each year as they mate. Spencer Gulf may not be the Great Barrier Reef, but it has a sea profile populated with exotica – the blue groper and sea horses, as well as the giant cuttle fish – that renders it an attraction for snorkelling, recreation, tourism. At the same time it is able to exist alongside the commercial seafood industry, from oysters to the tuna  found in the waters off its Southern coast. Inevitably there are tensions been ecology and pelagic farming.

In other words, between the two, with fish farming now bruited in the Gulf, Whyalla has other ways to survive Gupta.

At present there seem to be no such problems with Queensland politicians about supporting an outdated industry. The challenge is to differentiate the short term gain from long term pain. But coal is a major constituent of steel manufacture and steel manufacture worldwide has increased by 15 per cent in the past year.

It was 11 years ago that Adani came calling into the Queensland Galilee Basin, and life has changed, so much so that it is rumoured the coal from these mines is to be used in the manufacture of plastics – not steel.

The price of the Adani mines will be the water table in Central Queensland. Ironically, like the pub with no beer, Adani-sourced PVC pipes may have no water. Before that, Adani will make sure that Central Queensland is sucked dry in the pursuit of this coal for plastics. In the end, will Adani prove the Queensland answer to Mr Gupta – or worse?

Gupta has been stopped in his tracks, so Whyalla can now take a good look at its future. The “more jobs” rhetoric is vanishing in a pile of debt and unfulfilled promises. Adani has already adopted the same public relations approach in relation to the number of jobs being created in Central Queensland.

I first went to Moranbah not that many years after it had been established as a custom-built coal mining town south-west of Mackay, in the Isaac Region. Two comments struck me that I still remember: this would be the last mining town built in Queensland by a mining company; and that the newness of the town was reflected by the fact that it was yet to get its first interment. Over the years, Moranbah has kept a stable population. The cemetery is no longer pristine. There is nevertheless the need to assess here and elsewhere the number of the fly in; fly out (FIFO) miners.

The problem with assessment of the FIFO number is that counting only relates to the number on a shift at any one time, and hence the total number may be underestimated. This is the Adani constituency and, by extension, the National Party coal lobby. It is overwhelmingly male.

The population centres, which reflect the families who have settled in these small coal mining settlements, while not universal, still tend to vote for the ALP, but their vote is dwarfed electorally. The point is that a review of the voting patterns in the last Federal election shows these townships in the coal mining areas of Queensland did not uniformly vote for the Coalition.

Queensland coal

The Galilee basin is sparsely populated. Mining here is not going to lead to any permanent population shifts, especially when in the future there is no potable water available. It took four years for Gupta to unravel in Whyalla; how long will it take the Adani coal promise to unravel into stacks of coal unable to be sold; and which, by 2050, nobody will want, just another pollutant industry.

An Opportunity Missed

The objective of Hotel Quarantine is to prevent the spread of the virus from any arriving traveller who is infected into the wider community. The design, management and delivery of quarantine services is therefore critical to the achievement of this objective. However, the current system does not balance or calibrate all risks nor take decisions informed by absolute or relative risk (for example, exemption categories, transit passengers, airline crew, and the impact on people in quarantine). Report on National Review of Hotel Quarantine

Jane Halton is adroit. She conceals any inadequacies under a haughty aggressive exterior.

She is an exemplar of the person “who knows where the keys to the executive toilet are”. This art is reflected in the report she wrote on hotel quarantine – one eye on the politicians and above all one on her own skin.

It is not that the Report was badly written, but it says what her political bosses wanted her to say. It reads like a manual, listing “do’s and don’ts”, interspersed with jargon “quarantine journey”, “continuous improvement” and convoluted sentences (which reflect lack of editing) “Approaches to balancing or managing relative risk in a measured way…”

The following illustrates the unhelpful nature of the Report:

With a large number of Australian citizens and permanent residents currently offshore, the need to significantly increase arrival numbers, including for business and agricultural purposes, and the changeability of the COVID-19 situation, consideration should also be given to the establishment and maintenance of a national facility in reserve to facilitate large scale evacuations from international ports, if or when required.

As they say in the classics, “tell me something I don’t know”. No mention of cabins as Malcolm Turnbull has said Halton recommended.

However, it is not the point of this blog to parse this Report, but to highlight the opportunity missed.

October last year was a critical time for an innovative approach for quarantine, providing her with the opportunity to start mapping out a program for national quarantine, outside the hotel and home programs in place then.  She did make a last recommendation for “a national quarantine facility” which, if she had thought about it, was completely impractical in a country as big as ours. After all, her involvement in stopping the boat people had given more than a clue as to how to isolate people.

My family were infected by the Virus in early 2020, before hotel quarantine was established, and managed to quarantine at home. Two adults on testing had the Virus; the three children did not. It was a time before any mask wearing policy. They lived in a house with enough space to make social distancing possible,  with easy safe access to the outside. The family adhered to a protocol which enabled  living in the one house without becoming infected. While the family coped well, it was due to its discipline rather than demonstrating the normal home is constructed for quarantine, any more than the various designated hotels are.

Nevertheless, that family’s experience had some important lessons. The first was the cavalier way the State treated potential carriers of the Virus in the early days, which delayed the diagnosis and caused unnecessary transmission.

The second was once the diagnosis was established, the family had a makeshift environment in which to isolate the infected from the non-infected, yet maintain communication, for instance those isolated knew when to pick up food and other supplies within the house.  The house had two separate bathrooms. It all worked over the 14 days and reaffirmed the need to keep people in an area where there was both space and access to outside air. This environment had all the advantages of Howard Springs in suburbia, but clearly everybody does not have the same optimal home environment.

It was thus evident from early on that a facility with easy access to outside air would be the best solution. The initial evacuation of the people from China confirmed that.  Halton mentions only the Howards Springs facility (25 kilometres from Darwin) and the air base at Learmonth (1071 kilometres from Perth). She fails to mention Christmas Island, where there was a large facility which had taken a first group of evacuees from China successfully quarantined and then only housed four refugees with a platoon of gaolers.

While it is still fashionable to isolate people in the middle of a city, because of the specious requirement to be close to a major hospital, Halton should have considered whether a custom-built centre should  provide either a preventative barrier or a treatment centre or both. To be close to the major teaching hospital suggests that people are confusing this primary role of preventative  quarantine centre with a locked down holding facility for Virus sufferers. For me, the expectation is that those requiring quarantine would be predominantly healthy individuals or even the infected having mild symptoms. There is scant information about the number of those infected in quarantine, who require hospitalisation, and of those, who require intensive care. There is nothing to suggest it is other than a very small number.

She sets out a flow chart of the various steps in the current quarantine process, but she does not explore the vulnerability of such a flow chart, where every step introduces a process where something can go wrong – in some cases, catastrophically.

Unfortunately, she used a piece of data which gave the Prime Minister an unreal optimism about the process. “Since implementation of mandatory hotel quarantine, 851 travellers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 during their quarantine period; a positivity rate of 0.66 per cent.”

I have no idea why it takes so long to do anything in this country these days. Maybe it is the problem of a government so immersed in spin and looking after its mates that it has forgotten that the country needs innovative and lateral thinkers. Unfortunately, Halton is not one of those, by a long stretch.

What she should have done was set out options for what standalone facilities should look like. If she had ever gone to Toowoomba, she would have encountered the Wagner brothers. Perhaps because they upended the government’s favourite psittacine spruiker, she was discouraged from investigating the Wagner proposal. I first landed in Wellcamp just after it opened and have returned periodically since. This impressive airport facility shows what can be done by private enterprise and industry, without government handout being the first priority in the developers’ business plan.

Wellcamp and its endless plains

Wellcamp has the capacity of an international airport, as it was designed for large air freighters with the prime purpose of live beef exports.  The passenger terminal, while not the size of Sydney or Melbourne, is worthy of any international air terminal. What is equally noteworthy was the amount of land available around Wellcamp.

Having once been directly involved in the Toowoomba health care system, I cannot understand the Prime Ministerial objection about Toowoomba as a site of suitable health care. By contrast, his favoured site – now known as Damascus – was developed by the Americans during WW2 as a defence storage and is now a clapped-out warehouse facility. It is right in the middle of an industrial area of Brisbane next to the old Eagle Farm Airport. So, it is owned by the Commonwealth … but what has that got to do with efficient quarantine arrangements?

If there had been some concern about involving the private sector in fighting COVID-19, selected for being mates rather than expertise, then the platoons of large consultant firms receiving massive contracts have shown that funding of bespoke centres should not be an issue.

The Federal government, without reference to the Halton Report (which is excusable given the lack of consideration given to this option in the Report), seems to have given provisional approval for a Victorian facility near Tullamarine Airport at Mickleham where the Federal Government already has a pet quarantine facility. The lack of urgency and the back-of-the-envelope calculations worries me about whether it will ever be built, given that one could be excused for thinking that the main objective of this government seems to be looking after its mates rather than the community.

If the Halton Report had seriously dealt with this matter, rather than it being a passing comment, then it would have put pressure on the timely establishment of a national network. I advocated in the middle of last year for such facilities to be built, before any vaccines became available.

Now their role is perhaps even more crucial. The speed with which the vaccines have been tested and approved is far different from the conventional approach, where 15 years developing a safe vaccine is not unusual. Here the scientific comment is changing frequently, and while the scientists equipped with the appropriate health dialect may understand what has been happening, the message to the community at large comes out as a jumble of conflicting comments.

However, what the community knows is:

  • Social distancing works
  • Vaccine works
  • Masks work

And above all, border closures work. However, this belief is shaken by breaches in the ad hoc hotel arrangements. When these breaches have caused such significant effects, it just reinforces a need for quarantine facilities where the conditions are reasonable in a self–contained system, with the equivalent of FIFO workers providing a dedicated workforce for a set time on duty and a set downtime off site. Once these are established, then Australia would be able to develop more flexibility in its immigration patterns.

Australia is not going to abandon Virus suppression. It is very much built into the community psyche because of the 2020 success, and the fact that the spread is out of control in Asia provides support for such behaviour. Countries which were held up as paragons such as Taiwan and Singapore are no longer so. The prospect of an infected Japan hosting an event where representatives of various countries with different Virus profiles will gather together in several weeks makes me uneasy, if only for the logistics of the return.

This anxiety would be less if there were dedicated quarantine facilities. The immediate benefit of such facilities would be ease of monitoring 1,000 plus people during the compulsory quarantine rather than their being scattered around the myriad hotels. If the decision is made to house the entire Olympic team at Howard Springs, then that simply confirms the need for that type of quarantine facility. Remember evacuation from Wuhan!

Time to move away from this model

In the longer run, dedicated facilities will make immigration easier, because for the foreseeable future, entry into the country will require two weeks quarantine, especially if that even more transmissible and/or more deadly putative Epsilon to Omega strains emerge.

To me custom built quarantine centres have always been a no-brainer.

You could have done so much, Jane Halton, to engender so much positivity and flair into the policy conversation. But then again that is not your style.

Mouse Whisper

When Dvorak was teaching at the National Conservatory of Music in New York, he insisted that black students be allowed to enrol with no tuition. “The future of this country must be founded upon what are called the Negro melodies,” he declared.

What this quote was referring to was the second movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony and the choral adaptation “Going Home”. Among the many of those who have sung this, only the great bass, Paul Robeson, has moved this mouse to tears.

Moreover, my fellow mice, of whatever colour you may be, listen to the second movement of this extraordinary work. The melody is played on the cor anglais. I had always thought of Robeson being akin to the bassoon, but so much of his voice is embodied in the warmth and richness which is the cor anglais.

This instrument is not often given the solo role that the Bohemian genius gave here, a genius who perceived the Open Door through which we all shall pass in Going Home – and not just from the New World.

Modest Expectations – Rhapsody in Blue

It was just another evening when I was doing the medical examinations for blokes called up in the lottery for Vietnam in the 1960s.

“Next!”

The lottery

He was Chinese born and he spoke little English. Even now I do not remember what he said his occupation was. However, he was about six foot tall (183 cms) and weighed just under eight stone (50 kgs). I thought at the time this stick of celery would make a good flyweight if he could box. On examination, he seemed healthy enough, but his extraordinary height to weight ratio made him ineligible to be called up for Vietnam, so I failed him. Normally when the conscripts were examined there was a young doctor and an older doctor jointly doing the examination. But for some reason, I had been left on my own this particular night. So, it was solely my recommendation. I thought nothing much more about it until one of the guys in the laboratory, who had a Chinese girlfriend, told me about this fantastic Chinese restaurant off Little Bourke Street in Melbourne.

Off we trooped and at the end of a cobblestone lane, there was a door without any identification. Open the door and we were ushered into a crowded space, where all sorts of Chinese delicacies were being consumed by a predominantly Chinese clientele. We had barely sat down in this smoky den where you could hear the click of mahjong pieces, when poking his head around one of the screens was the young bloke whom I had failed.

Now did that change the dynamics! Suddenly I was the centre of attention, and the many food dishes with which we were presented were some of the best I have tasted, then and up to the present time. I remember the perfection of the lobster, how it was cooked is only a distant olfactory memory. They insisted on the meal being free – on the house for all four of us. My occidental friend was amazed with the attention that was being poured on me. After all, I had been the accidental guest. “Bloody hell, Jack, is there anybody in Melbourne who doesn’t know you?” he said.

Heady times. I went there a few more times. The food was some of the best Cantonese cooking I had ever tasted. They insisted I never pay. It was embarrassing.  I stopped going. I have no idea what happened to him and his parents. But memories are also important, even if I never remember names. However, there are only so many free meals without being embarrassed enough and I never wanted those memories of such a spontaneous gesture to go stale. After all, he and his family really owed me nothing; I was just doing my job and the young conscript was a fortuitous coincidence with fantastic food.

The single child policy

The Chinese leader Xi Jinping was born in 1953, and because he had an important father in the Communist Party hierarchy at the time, he experienced the full force of the “Cultural Revolution” at an early age. He survived working in the fields but in his young mind was embedded an antipathy towards fomented chaos – divide and rule – and the black flag of anarchy.

His is the ordered mind of the chess player, as can be seen for instance, by the progressive blockade of Taiwan. More and more rocky outcrops in the South China Sea are being converted from pawns to more powerful pieces as he moves to the end game. In the end, once the blockade is tightened then it becomes more and more difficult for the US to protect Taiwan. Given his sense of history, Xi knows that Taiwan has a huge hostage – the unrivalled collection of Chinese antiquities looted by Chiang Kai-Shek before he transferred his Nationalist army remnant to the Island of Formosa. However, some with more intimate knowledge of China than me dispute this observation, bluntly: “he would not care a brass razoo”.

Table screen, mid to late Qing dynasty, 1736–1911, National Palace Museum, Taipei

By all means open a second front, by him encouraging the Russians to mobilise along the Ukrainian border. Russia has little to lose by being an irritant. The one thing Putin has done in the past twenty years is to modernise his armed forces, and if you look at the history of Russia, irrespective of their leaders they have generally had first class generals. Nobody is going to invade Russia. The West missed several opportunities. The media have been fixated for a time on Belarus yet Kaliningrad, a major strategic target, was allowed to remain in Russian hands – after all it was the eye of Prussia. When the Berlin Wall came down so should have Kaliningrad been separated from Russia. Russia was left off the hook by Clinton and Bush who thought they could befriend Putin – something about understanding him by looking deep into his eyes.

People want to blame Trump for letting this mess grow, but others would say Obama was the real culprit with his almost messianic belief that the world would be swayed by his rhetoric. It was unfortunate that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for essentially nothing but being elected President.

It can be said that what Obama did was progressively unpicked by Trump, especially his internal policies, but in foreign policy Obama theatrically gestured his way into a quagmire from which The Great Drainer Trump had no idea what to do to extricate America.

The 12 years of Obama and Trump enabled China to consolidate its influence to its current position and Putin not only to survive but to flourish far beyond what, in the long term, is unsustainable, that is without allies that can bolster that position. Russia or particularly Putin should never have been allowed “to escape from the bottle”.

However, that is done, but it is high time to test the sustainability of Putin, who is no mug; for even he is not immortal. His threat about his mythical red line shows more than a hint of desperation – and exasperation – now he is being regularly called out by President Biden.

Biden is so right in wanting to get out of Afghanistan, unless America is prepared to systematically sow the whole land with salt and thus deprive the Taliban of its opium income, that’s it.  Afghanistan will remain a primitive enclave inhibited as a medieval fortress by its adherence to a fundamental form of Islam, plus its geography. Given the non-recognition of women’s rights, Afghanistan will remain a festering social sore made worse by the return of the Taliban. However, globally it is a distraction. It has been a root cause of weakening America, just it has been with every Occidental power who has tried to tame it.

Putin aside, China is his main adversary, and Biden knows intimately where Obama went wrong, but he knows his operatives who were shackled by Obama and who are “the hard men and women” among them. It is fair to say that by the end of eight years of Bush and his “hawks” Obama seemed to be the change that was needed. But during his time Afghanistan festered; ISIS arose in Iraq with their vision of an Islamic caliphate and its adherents now are spread across Muslim Africa. The atrocious facility at Guantanamo Bay was not closed down.

China meanwhile has flourished economically. China has shown an increasing world-wide truculence. It is the greatest enemy of climate change because it dissembles constantly.  It selects a minority within its borders to bully. First it was the Tibetans but now, since 9/11, the Uyghers. They are Sunni Muslim, and after the Hui, also Islam adherents, the second largest ethnic minority in China.

Therefore, what has this to do with the single child policy, which was relaxed in 2015 after 35 years?

Let’s start with findings from China, where the one-child policy dictated family planning for nearly four decades. Researchers led by a Chinese-based psychologist in Chongqing, showed “only children” achieved lower scores in terms of how tolerant they were. According to a model of personality dimensions, tolerant people are altruistic, helpful, compassionate and cooperative. Intolerant individuals are often characterised as quarrelsome, distrustful, egocentric and more competitive.

Promoting the one child policy

At the same time, the one child policy distorted the number of male births, so that for every 120 males there were only 100 females. A comment could be made that into the Chinese population there was an excess injection (or should I say jab) of intolerant male children lacking the peaceful qualities of women. There is no mention of any sex difference between the personalities of male versus female children, although in references to the effect of the old one child policy, there was a realisation that a Chinese female can be better assimilated into the wider family, even with the cultural challenge that Chinese have made with their male child preference.

Only children apparently because of the amount of time they spend on their own, often with imaginary games, have a tendency to think laterally and devise ways in which dominate their imaginary universe. It has been well told how only children are attached to the parents, with boys tending towards the mother as the central figure of their life, although with everybody working in the community, only children while no longer sent to the Satanic mills, it may be expected in the case of the male child to either be the “princeling” or expected to muck in.

Thus, my solution for every meeting with Chinese diplomats, given so much of their population over the past 40 years has grown up as single children, should have an expert in “the only child”, and develop strategy around an essentially monochromatic culture. Once it was Mao jackets, but now the world is faced with the foibles of an “only child” Chinese generation or two.

The Chinese after all have traditionally believed themselves to be the centre of the universe. The single child policy can only have reinforced that notion. I do not think that we should be worried by the Chinese government losing face with that degree of overt or latent hubris. As somebody said, time to confront not to pander to any confected loss of face.

There are those in the Biden administration who were frustrated during the Obama years but have now been unleashed to attack Chinese policy. Perhaps there were a few others besides myself who were blindsided by the Biden bumbling campaigning persona. However, you cannot blame Obama for everything. He did pick Biden as his running mate.

As someone far smarter than me has said “It is always a question of nuance.” I think he thought I needed a bit more of it.

Did someone say Urumqi?

I went to China in 1973 with Bill Snedden and Geoff Allen.

Let me say it was a trip which Phineas Fogg may have found challenging.

It all started uneventfully. We were passengers on a BOAC V10 – the so-called “whispering giant” – flying to Hong Kong. The plan was for us to travel from Hong Kong to Guangzhou by train, and then by local airline to Beijing.  I think we still called those cities Canton and Peking even then. However, on the way over southern France, the plane developed problems with its gyroscopic equipment, which resulted in the plane being diverted back to Heathrow.

This meant an overnight stay in London while there was feverish activity to determine another way of getting there to fulfil our obligations. There was a scheduled Air France flight which, unlike BOAC, flew directly into China to Shanghai. The port of entry required a separate visa, but the Chinese Embassy in Paris responded promptly and our passports were duly stamped with another impressive entry permit. However, the next day when we reached Paris, bad news awaited us. The Chinese had or were about to detonate a hydrogen bomb at Urumqi and had closed the border for the duration of the test.

Undaunted, Snedden looked for other possibilities, and there emerged one feasible way of getting there, and that was to fly directly into Beijing. The solution was complicated because we had to fly to Frankfurt and link up with a Lufthansa flight bound for Australia. One of the immediate stops where we would alight was Karachi, where there would be enough time for us to catch the PIA flight to Beijing. There was another complication when we reached Frankfurt – the air traffic controllers were on strike. For some reason I still have this vision of three figures in this long underground tunnel under the runways, as if caught in some science fiction movie, with overhead lighting assisting all shiny aluminium cladding fighting the shadows from enveloping the tunnel before the aliens would appear at each end of this long tunnel. Why we were in the tunnel was the way to move between two terminals. Shoe leather was the only way given the time of night. Incidentally, the aliens stayed away.

In the end, the air traffic controllers called off their strike, and off we went, and the intervening eight hours allowed some sleep. We were told we had a 16-hour stopover in Karachi, and we were greeted by guys from our Trade Office there. They treated us royally with a dinner at the Trade mission where Australian red wine flowed generously and left a few of us finding ourselves sleeping on the floor.

Before dinner we had had the opportunity of walking freely around the streets, including the then Elphingstone Road. I do not think I have ever seen such abject poverty as I saw that afternoon. Given what has happened since, our wanderings through the bazaars and alleyways made me realise that we were outsiders, but even now I never think of Karachi as a dangerous place for us on that day. The other memory was the number of children, who had obviously been disabled by polio, begging, being wheeled around in makeshift carts by their brothers.

We were roused very early the next day and thus a bleary unkempt group of Australians lined up for the PIA flight to Beijing. We now had a further visa granting us permission to come to Beijing even though we had had a turbulent experience, but the Chinese were very prompt in granting the third round of visas to these Travelling Aussies. Here we were next to a hangar where, in this cold morning under the arc lights the Boeing 707 was being filled with cargo. The few passengers were to be confined to the front section. Cargo made up the bulk.  Up front, there was a sort of hierarchy in the economy seating. The Swedish princess and her partner and small entourage were first. Then came two Ugandan ministers and then us. We noted there were empty seats, and once we reached Islamabad we were invaded by Chinese guest workers going home, and Bill, who had wanted the luxury of an empty seat to sleep, found he was next to a Chinese worker.

So far so good, and off we flew across the Himalayas. I remember having Everest pointed out to me. Bill and I were standing by a porthole window, when he turned to me and said: “We are turning round.” Indeed, we were and several hours later as we landed in Islamabad, the Chinese workers all erupted into clapping and cheering. They thought they were home.

We were disembarked and now it was the middle of a very hot day, and there was nowhere cool into which to retreat in the airport. From what I could glean it appeared that when our airliner approached Chinese air space, it was denied entry. It turned out the refusal was directly related to the Urumqi blast and the possibility that we may pass through remnants of the radio-active cloud.

We had a few more uncomfortable hours where refreshments were non-alcoholic and the food meagre as our return had been totally unexpected. The Australian embassy was well nigh useless. The Ambassador was away in some cool highland retreat, and the nearest we got to having somebody “providing assistance”, I remembered, was a young nervous third secretary who did not have any information but came anyway. He endeavoured to engage in small talk and given we had been travelling for over a day he received a frosty welcome; he was so different from the trade guys in Karachi. Bill ignored him after his first venture in conversation. Geoff and I alternatively did all the requisite work in attempting to find out whether we would be leaving at all.

Not the easiest time I have ever experienced, but we told the young man he could go, and he bounded off into his embassy car, a rabbit with his eyes still firmly in spotlight. Geoff was always more tolerant than me, but even his ever-ready smile became strained. Then we waited and waited – suddenly it was all systems go. This time there were no hitches but we arrived very late in the evening. Smiling Chinese staffers, Snedden’s wife, Joy who had come to Beijing independently, and Stephan Fitzgerald, Whitlam’s choice as our first Ambassador, greeted us. He could have not been more helpful during our visit.

That is how we all reached Beijing – Bill, Geoff and Jack – and of course the Chinese workers. There is a photo on this final leg of this eventful journey, of Bill asleep with his head on the shoulder of one of these workers. The caption to the photo “Fellow Traveller.”

A Burnt Offering

Anonymouse

Anonymouse has always asked: cremated bacon – why? Not that hard you would have thought, overcooked, over-rated and, thank heavens, over there.  Yet it has to be a love affair that only an American can understand. Cremated bacon – as American as Mom’s apple pie.

Burnt offering

More amazing is that just a little research reveals detailed articles on this process – very little research but still, 880 words on how to cremate your bacon – 880 when three will do:  just burn it.

However, sticking to the task and the recipe, there is much said about skillets, laying out of the strips and rendering the fat “to achieve bacon’s character-defining crispness” (read, burnt to a cinder). Apparently, a non-stick skillet is better than cast iron, all the better to ensure even incineration.

So, on your stove top, here is the tried and true method. Lie the strips in a cold skillet, place over medium-low to medium heat, flip and fry until you reach your desired “incineration” and then transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. The key is to slowly render the fat to achieve bacon’s character-defining crispness. This method is said to produce superior results every time, however defined.

Apparently there is also a water method. Add enough water to cover the bacon in the skillet which is said to result in a slightly less shatteringly crisp end result compared with “cookin’ it naked”.

For those planning to serve this delicacy to a crowd, you need only turn to your oven and then experiment with parchment paper, foil or none, depending on who is washing up. The choice 350, 375, 425 degrees or blast off. The options are endless in the pursuit of baseball-capped bacon (the equivalent of a Michelin star).

The final rule – no matter the method of cooking – is to save the fat which apparently is not only full of flavour, but also great for cooking vegetables, making vinaigrettes, frying chicken and even baking bread and desserts. Just pour that grease into a metal or glass jar, pop it in the fridge (it should last for at least three months) or freezer (where it keeps indefinitely) and grab it whenever you want to add “bacon crisp” flavour and more than a dash of cholesterol.

The Foetus is a Boy

As reported in the Boston Globe, police in Kingston, N.H., say a mysterious explosion that shook and rattled nearby homes Tuesday night was linked to a gender-reveal party.

The party was held in a quarry where officers discovered the source of the explosion was 80 pounds of Tannerite, an over-the-counter explosive target used for firearms practice and sold as a kit, police said in a statement.

The explosion included blue chalk, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader, indicating a baby boy was on the way. Nobody was injured, police said.

These celebrations can be quite dangerous since they were popularised in 2008, by a woman who now regrets starting what if it were not a privileged white heterosexual activity would have been proscribed long ago. The use of pyrotechnics to announce the genitals of your pre-newborn, as one writer suggested was symptomatic of a patriarchal society. I am not sure of that generalisation but starting forest fires, crashing planes and killing grandparents during such festivities is not a particularly good look. It is only a matter of time for either the fad burning out or legal sanctions enacted. 

Mouse Whisper

I am indebted to the bicyclist who went on a country road trip outside the Canadian city of Toronto. He cycled through the hog and dairying country and came upon a hamlet named Punkeydoodle’s Corners located where the Oxford and Perth Counties meet. The origin for this name is lost in the brew that flowed down the lanes, but one theory is that when the local innkeeper sang “Yankee Doodle” it sounded more like “Punkey Doodle”. Needless to say, the hamlet signs are often stolen, but there is one more claim to fame: the world highest street address number “986039 Oxford-Perth Road”.

Punkeydoodle’s Corners