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

Modest Expectations – Seaplanes & Submarines

When I was a medical student in the early 1960s, I wrote a novel ostensibly about a day in the life of a medical student. It was not particularly good, but I kept a copy of it. When I revisited it a few years ago, I was amazed at the anger and repressed violence portrayed by the anti-hero who was a reasonable facsimile of myself at that age – rootless, one who read snatches of Salinger, Camus, Kerouac, Orwell, Fanon, Hemingway – anarchic without a clue how to approach women. Boy’s school product without mother or any sisters. I was the heroic anti-hero.  Oh, yeah! I shudder to think how I negotiated my late teenage years.

However, reassessing the novel again, it having laid undisturbed for so many years, I was able to do something that was for me unique, look back on how I thought then. Bit of a worry, but it gave me an insight into what I was saying then; and what was clearly locked into my subconscious now became completely plain to the older me.

The antihero’s attitude to women was appalling. I was the writer. I could not believe that I had written some of the stuff. The plot was OK, if you like idiosyncratic self-absorption. Some of the writing I could now barely understand. Anyway, the rejection note from Rigby’s was very polite. I remember for some reason opening it on a rainy day in Adelaide. Why Adelaide – who knows? One of the mysteries of life. For a long time the rejection destroyed the author in me.

Not that I noticed as the years slipped by. Remembering the oversized cupboard I had for an office in old Parliament House, the relief was palpable when, after a day of claustrophobia, I could escape to the non-members bar.

Perhaps, had I gone back to my flat in the evenings, I would have written my diary and perhaps reflected on the draft novel. However had I done so, I would have missed out on a great deal of gossip relevant for the next day. With the small number we had in the office in those days, there was little time for “hanging out” apart from the bar. It was difficult to go out for dinner, and when you did The Lobby was the most convenient place, but dinner was always rushed.  You had to get back to the House by 8.00 pm.

So, the recent proposal to limit alcohol consumption in Parliament House in my time would have received few votes, but then Parliament House was not the widespread prairie it is now and staff numbers were roughly proportional to the workload.  Judging by the antics by this expanded fringe that are being reported, there were more of us with an IQ greater than 100. Recruitment should be improved, and “friend of my cousin’s son” should not be the prime criterion for employment. That is more important than any attempt to muzzle the “booze culture”.

The only night I remember going home early was my first night in Parliament House; thereafter on the sitting days it was full on, as was socialising, but in those days the opinion leaders in the non-members bar were all men. That was for sure.

Carrie Nation, with hatchet

The booze problem seems to be an enduring characteristic of politics. Carrie Nation developed a notoriety by spending many years destroying bars in the Mid-west. Her weapon was a hatchet; she was arrested and fined on countless occasions as she ran this rugged temperance movement. Her activities preceded the disastrous Prohibition Period.

I doubt whether there is a Carrie Nation character willing to metaphorically take an axe to alcohol in Parliament House. Banning alcohol, breath testing and testing for drugs, all knee jerk responses unthought out, will just fade away like so much editorial fluff.

Nevertheless, Carrie Nation did something which could be emulated by these Parliamentary women looking for a project to which they could all contribute. Carrie Nation set up refuges for women who were victims of abuse where alcohol was the major contributing factor.

When I was in charge of a community health program in the 1970s, the Department was intensely conservative; it could be said that members of the Santamaria Curia, laughingly referred to as the Democratic Labour Party, were firmly ensconced in senior levels of the Victorian public service as it was in some of the health funds. My administrative officer had been brought up in a conservative Roman Catholic family. At that time, it was somewhat confronting when the woman running refuges turned up with spiky hair and leather jacket. We did not bother the senior echelons of the Department in funding for these refuges.

Over to you Senator Stoker, learn something about something.

And moreover

Anonymouse

Every time I get in my car – a modest French model – I curse the car designers who don’t seem to be able to manufacture a car that has a seatbelt that fits.  The same has applied to previous cars of different brands. The adjustment offered is just sufficient to ensure the seatbelt cuts across my neck and neatly tucks under my left armpit. Is this a problem?  Yes, of course it is.

In a recent New York Review article, “Invisible Women: Data bias in a world designed for men”, the problems caused by the data gap are described: seat belts, airbags and wearable electronic devices are designed for the average male and no seat belt has ever been designed to safely accommodate a pregnant woman.  In the US, women are 17 per cent more likely than men to die in a car crash and 73 per cent more likely to be injured in a frontal crash despite being involved in fewer accidents … presumably they are being strangled by an ill-fitting seatbelt.

Only now is the first crash test dummy that accurately represents women’s bodies being developed, in Sweden. America only started using female dummies in safety tests in 2011, but these apparently don’t represent average women. Although 50 per cent of drivers are women, the industry standard is based on “male” crash test dummies in the driver’s seat.

Australian car manufacturers made some desultory efforts to acknowledge that women were a growing part of the vehicle market. Remember the make-up mirror behind the sun visor, colours designed especially for “the ladies”, and “nice mats so the high heels aren’t scuffed” that were once promoted? Fortunately, these ridiculous promotions seem to have vanished, but the seat belt problem remains, grounded in the same failure to ensure that data specifically relating to women are included in relevant data.

The data gap doesn’t just exist to make cars uncomfortable (well, downright dangerous actually).  Personal protective equipment (PPE) has been a hot topic during the COVID-19 pandemic.  PPE is designed to fit the “average man” however the vast majority of nurses are female, as are a significant proportion of emergency department doctors and new medical registrars; they have to work in PPE designed for men. Ninety-five per cent of women in emergency services say their PPE don’t fit, and that includes bullet proof vests as well.

Medical devices  have been designed for the male body. For example, the design of the metal-on-metal hip implant, supposedly a gender-neutral medical device, disproportionately injure women, who receive more replacements.  The design is too shallow for women’s wider hips leaving it more likely that metal particles will break off the implant, or that it will fail.

The impact of this data bias ends up in court: it is reported that in the US in 2018, 32 per cent of lawsuits pending in the Federal court involved products that exclusively or primarily injured women; at the same time 6.4 per cent of the mass torts involved products exclusively affecting men – Viagra, the male hair-loss drug Propecia and Adrogel, a testosterone replacement therapy. However, a comparison of individual lawsuits starkly illustrates the problem: 9,969 federal lawsuits involved products that exclusively harmed men; contrast 67,085 federal lawsuits were brought by women in relation to pelvic mesh alone.

The Prime Minister has appointed a cadre of female Ministers to improve the appalling culture in Australia’s Parliament House revealed by  multiple complaints of sexual assault and bad behaviour. He has an opportunity to be other than reactionary. There is no doubt that the culture of Parliament House must change, just as the broader culture of Australia needs to change. Government must play its part in that but at the same time the Prime Minister has an opportunity to make a mark – time for data bias to be eliminated, time for women to not have to “make do” with things designed for men.  Australia was one of the first countries in the world to make seat belts compulsory; time to lead the world and make them as safe for women as for men.

So Grace Tame, you are striving to bring about improvement in the lives of women, how about advocating a technology revolution to design women-friendly devices.

It was no Rainbow

Now that I am firmly on reminiscent road, my second night in Parliament House still sticks in my memory. After the House rose for the evening, I was having a drink with Snedden to celebrate the end of my second day, when two journalists turned up. Snedden had an easy relationship with many in the Press Gallery, and these two senior journalists turned up to see what Snedden had employed as his Principal Private Secretary (PPS), now referred to as the Chief of Staff. In those days, the media cover of staff appointment was perfunctory, but the Press Gallery apparently knew I was a doctor. Incidentally, not being regularly in the media spotlight was a blessing.

The appointment of a doctor to staff was not that unusual. Whitlam’s PPS was also medically qualified. Peter Wilenski had been President of the Sydney Union at about the time I had been President of the University of Melbourne Student Representative Council. Wilenski had branched out of medicine into a career as a diplomat; while I had remained in medicine although I found time to complete the preliminary requirements for a Master of Arts which I never found time to finish the thesis.

Greenstreet and Lorre

Anyway, these two characters arrived – to me, as they entered the room, they projected the imagery of Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre just stepping out of a film noir – one large and lumbering but with a touch of menace and the other slight with the delicately honed syntax of the intellectual. They had combined to write a book on the 1972 election of Gough Whitlam.

I had been prepared to pack up and go back to the motel but their appearance and invitation for a drink put the kibosh on that. Snedden had a particularly close relationship with Oakes at that time; Oakes had the ability of making him relax for he was a different person in private from the public persona which was often appeared stilted and pompous.  This easy relationship at that time was demonstrated a few drinks later when Snedden performed his party trick – his standing jump onto the coffee table. Very boys own. At that time, Oakes had a certain presence of honed maturity, which made me forget he was still only 28. When he laughed, it was always suppressed as he tried to keep his response to himself, and to maintain that look which some confused with Buddhic depth – but I always saw Sidney Greenstreet.

Snedden then left me to joust with Oakes and Solomon. About 3am we called it quits, a draw. Laurie Oakes had been a member of the Liberal Club at the University of Sydney, whereas David Solomon was the classic Fabian. Yet it showed the fact that politics circulated around the centre rather than being the preserve of the extremes. Nevertheless, as I have written before, the political centre is like the magnetic pole. It shifts.

I believe reflecting from a long way away but with the benefit of considerable hindsight that if Laurie Oakes had replaced Geoff Allen in the latter part of 1973 as Snedden’s Press Secretary, he would have provided the muscle to dissuade Snedden from precipitating the 1974 Federal election.

I remember being next to Snedden on the flight to Canberra when he read that Whitlam had appointed Vince Gair as Ambassador to Ireland. His immediate visceral reaction was to take Whitlam to the election. In the end, the decision to precipitate the election fractured the relationship between Snedden and Oakes. However, history is littered with the “what could have beens”.

Geoff Allen had been a remarkable Press Secretary with an incomparable ability to reframe people and make people feel good and confident, but after years in the role, he had had enough. The difference being “having enough” and “burn out” is the person recognises the first before the second phase sets in. Being very shrewd, Geoff went on to run a very successful consultancy business. It was a common career progression among those who worked for Billy Snedden.

Cormann – The Golden Point

If there was a more cringeworthy utterance from the Prime Minister it was when Cormann was elected Secretary-General of the OECD. Morrison announced it was as though Australia had won the position by punting Cormann over the black dot to win the rugby league game by a field goal.

Yes, Corman won by a single vote, which means that 18 nations voted against him, and they will be watching him for an even-handed approach, given the activities of his Australian cheer squad – if he really matters in the scheme of things. America put him in the position, changing its initial vote away from the Swedish contender.

This means that Cormann needs to toe the American line if he wants a second six-year term – and with John Kerry calling the shots, Cormann will be expected to echo the Kerry chant, at least for now.

The line to toe

As for the importance of this appointment, I have been scanning the NYT for news of his appointment. It does not seem to have appeared; but maybe I have missed the headline. Nevertheless, a Western Australian did appear in the NYT news this week – a guy being struck in the back by an octopus tentacle in the waters of the coast of that State. I believe his name was not Cormann.

Well done, Us

Over Easter, I sat down to a pub tea in a regional city in NSW. The local football and netball teams had been playing that day, and there was jubilation in air.  The tavern was packed; social distancing was nominal; there was no hand sanitiser on the table (although it was at all the entry doors); we had brought our own. It was as though the COVID-19 infection had never happened. I asked those at the table whether anybody had had a cold or flu in the previous year. Nobody had.

Small sample but perhaps it can be postulated that the level of hygiene within the community has changed. We are less tolerant of people at work with contagious diseases, the so-called “cracking hardy”, or being forced to work while sick by unsympathetic bosses.  The fact that the States have cracked down when even one community infected case appears has people fearful of being group punished if contracting the Virus.

The only one who seems immune from this is the Premier of NSW who has at times been Pollyanna or Don Quixote. She has been lucky. After the near-death experiences of the Ruby Princess disaster, the Newmarch Nursing Home catastrophe and a Chief Health Officer who, in the early days, talked about a zig-zag approach to the Virus, whatever that meant, NSW was then on the nose.

The Premier had inherited the best contact tracing system in Australia and now has a Health Minister who recognises health is the priority in righting the State and not being undermined by the self-interest of some of the business community. These conjunctions of fortune have helped place NSW in a place where the Premier has reaped the benefit, but there is still the vaccination rollout to be negotiated.

Mouse Whisper

Just as tasteless variations  as exemplified by “Schitt’s Creek” (Candian sit-com) or “Up Schipp’s Creek” (AAMI ad).

You know my Cousin Mouse complete with stick and lederhosen climbing out the Bavarian glacial valley gasped:

“Gosh, that place gave me the schist.”

Then there was the tableau of four oblong white fabric figures weaving and then falling onto the stage, and my Cousin Mouse entering off left and declaiming, pointing to prostrate figures with his stick:

“Lo, a pack of dead sheets.”

No, I am not three sheets to the wind.

A glacial valley designed to give you the schist

Modest Expectations – Geneva & Adelaide

The sight of our Prime Minister flailing around, without the wit and with deep-seated prejudices inherited in his childhood, reflects the fact that he is increasingly paralysed by the culture over which he presides. The problem with cultural change is that it takes time, and frequently depends on brutal decisions, not the least of which is to confront the problem head-on and cut away the diseased part.

Taking a medical analogy, once the doctor finds the abscess, it is drained. If the abscesses are miliary, then a general remedy is needed, and even then the disease may overwhelm the system.

All I know is the diseased process of our parliamentary government is not going to be solved by a laying on of hands or an outburst of political glossolalia.

The immediate response of sections of the Liberal Party is to introduce female quotas into the preselection process. Does the preselection procedures in the past give you reason to believe that this system will produce candidates that live within the Bell curve of normal women? And if you decide to select women who lie at least at the extremities of that curve are you sure that their idiosyncratic ways will benefit the community at large and not the tiny, skewed population that preselected them?

Extraordinary women may add colour and may play an important role, but the expectation for all women parliamentarians is that they will generally care and have an innate compassion and respect for other women. The current crop of female Liberal Party politicians (or for that matter National Party) in Canberra do not seem to have these qualities.

Catherine Cusack

There is one female politician in the Liberal Party who has seemed an exception. She is a NSW State politician, Catherine Cusack. She and her husband Chris Crawford represent that remnant of the Liberal Party that used to participate in the then Australian Institute of Political Science, in its latter glory days when it ran a summer school in Canberra and its Board had members from both major political parties. Gough Whitlam unveiled his Medibank initiative at one of the Summer schools, such was their influence. They were able to discuss policy in terms of the financial and social implications.  However, whenever Catherine Cusack has put forward genuinely liberal solutions, particularly in relation to conservation issues, she has been demoted, slapped down and unsupported by her colleagues, especially when attacked by the National Party.

Now she has called out the Prime Minister for his behaviour. Is this a single utterance of frustration and will she vanish back into the background of women who wear shapeless clothing, and have a bow in their hair to recognise their traditional inferiority at the time of the “rapture” – their role being in actually tending the hearth?

Cusack has issued herself with a challenge – that is to maintain her very important confrontational position. Otherwise, she will be dismissed as a remnant of a Liberal Party that, in the eyes of the current crop of her colleagues, never existed.

Meanwhile, Morrison recycles his bevy of outliers under the wing of Marise Payne, herself the invisible woman.

I was only 22

Rico Marley walked into a grocery store in midtown Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon carrying a guitar bag.

He headed for the men’s room, the authorities said, where he strapped on a bulletproof vest. He then donned a jacket, its pockets full of ammunition, and placed two loaded handguns in a left front pocket and two other loaded handguns in a right front pocket. In the guitar bag, he carried a 12-gauge shotgun, an AR-15 military-style rifle and a black ski mask.

Rico Marley’s weapons

Then he walked out into the store.

Police, tipped off by an alarmed shopper in the bathroom, soon stopped him. But the incident, just three miles from the site of one of the shootings last week that left eight people dead and coming two days after a man stormed a grocery store in Boulder, Colo, and killed 10, sent new waves of unease throughout greater Atlanta and also raised nationwide fears of copycat crimes.

It is stated that when the mass shooting season starts, then there is generally a series of massacres, and increasingly it seems that the supermarkets are the killing venues, whereas in the past it was schools.

This report in the NYT is unusual, instead of reporting a massacre, it provided details of the disturbed man before he could kill the innocents – his activities being seen by an observant guy who legitimately wanted to use the toilet; no, not a security guard, not a police officer, not anybody employed to guard the community. One can surmise that the alert was raised early in that the armed gunman was apprehended before he was able to effect mayhem.

In isolation, the 22 year old coloured, poorly educated gunman had a criminal record with relatively minor petty theft – a young man with a troubled mind.  It is only newsworthy in that the potential killer was apprehended before the shooting, given that in Georgia, one does not have to conceal one’s weapons. In other words, a casual passerby in a country inured to gun violence may have shrugged seeing a fellow men’s room user donning a flak jacket as just a “normal” incident. In fact, when the observer informed the store attendant of what he had seen, the attendant was initially indeed very casual, but fortunately the vital call for police was made.

Last year in the USA there were about 20,000 gun-related murders and an almost equal number of individuals who committed suicide using a firearm. This was an increase overall, and the rise was attributed to being one endpoint of domestic violence.

On the other hand, mass shootings were absent, even though they constitute only about one per cent in most years. The reason for this is attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools were closed, there were fewer public gatherings.  The whole nation was plunged into collective misery so that those potentially homicidal aggrieved were absorbed into the wider community or, as stated above, violence was absorbed within domestic situations.

When the gun control advocates try to define solutions, they rely on the few small-scale attempts to ameliorate the situation, but unless Americans believe that their gun culture is unacceptable and women at all levels of society are considered equal in mutual respect, everything is for nought.

In other words, we are all powerless unless those who make the laws, makes the law. For me, if I were in power in Australia, I would limit the arms being made available to police forces. They are not a militia – not a paramilitary force. When did the police change from a “service” to a “force”? They do not need armoured vehicles and tear gas to protect the community. All police forces should be restricted in the colour they use, so they do not resemble a posh group of “bikies”. Try pink as the colour for their uniforms – why do they have to dress in black or midnight blue?  Get rid of the “aviators”. Be more selective in the range of ironmongery with which they adorn their uniforms. It would be such a change to see police showing compassion, on a regular basis, rather than presented as a novelty.

Another consideration would be to extend the principles of averment to all cases involving crimes of a sexual nature. I would turn the whole matter of proof over to the alleged assailant to prove he or she did not do it. Presumption of innocence in these cases does not work, first because of the trauma of the episode being cast out of the memory bank and then the unappetising prospect of ongoing harassment, being carried out in a court of law by an essentially misogynistic legal profession. Well, Gentlemen you only have to disprove that which has been so averred.

A consumer’s view of vaccination – albeit with the disadvantage of a medical degree

But infectious-disease experts are worried the pace needs to be faster to reach the high levels of immunity needed to slow the virus, especially as more transmissible variants spread throughout the country. To reach the level of protection needed, about 80 percent of the population has to be immunised, meaning that about 260 million people need to get vaccinated. That would require 3 million to 3.5 million shots being administered each day until April 30.

The Washington Post concludes an optimistic article about the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in health workers with a muted warning. America has not embraced the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, which has been the subject of a number of caveats resulting in the temporary halt to its use in a number of countries. When these questions are answered and the world-wide juggernaut resumes, with the difficulties that entails to get momentum, another caveat is issued, currently surrounding some of the mutant strains of the virus and the ineffectiveness of that vaccine against these strains.

At the same time in Australia a great number of people who are not doctors are spruiking the virus vaccines, as if there were no doubt about their efficacy, their availability and the “Jab Program” being on time. As a result, there is the unedifying spectacle of political squabbling, and I as a customer has given up trying to make an appointment. The general practice phones are always busy; in fact, the general practitioners are not geared for mass vaccinations.

Again, I am told that the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at -70 degrees Centigrade, and given the shemozzle for a consumer, how can I be assured that the cold chain integrity has been assured? The questions then begin to flood out – for instance, how long will immunity last?

Clinical trials suggest that vaccine-induced protection should last a minimum of about three months. That does not mean protective immunity will expire after 90 days; it may last longer. However, that is still one unanswered question.

The other one, given the problems with the rollout, if I was able to secure a first dose, how long shall I have to wait for the second dose, and then more importantly, for the booster? It does not seem clear to me, whether (or more optimistically, when that will occur). That is why the J&J vaccine appeals to me more because it is single dose; but will it ever be registered in Australia? Questions, questions everywhere, but only opinions to imbibe. That is my reaction as an elderly consumer eligible for the injection. I am confused, and so will hold back. In the Australian climate it seems the best option is to wait and see.

I am very pro-vaccination, and unless it is caught up in this COVID mess I intend to get my inoculation against the flu as soon as possible My only worry is that the puerile political agendas will get in the way of the program, lending ammunition for the anti-vaxxers.

And a final question. Who was the bright spark who suggested “Jab”, with all the violent connotations of the word? It is more correctly “inoculation” or “vaccination” – injected into the muscle. “Jab” is variously to poke or thrust abruptly as jabbing a knife into a body; to stab or pierce as in jabbed the steak with a fork; or lastly to punch somebody with short straight blows.

I, the frightened old person, seeing a uniformed person with a syringe saying that “I am going to jab you – just a little jab – it won’t hurt you.” Violence follows me at the point of a needle.

I thus remain a watcher. There are just too many unknowns.

It may be raining here, but this just came from the Boston Globe

Workers at a Baltimore plant manufacturing two coronavirus vaccines accidentally conflated the vaccines’ ingredients several weeks ago, ruining about 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and forcing regulators to delay authorization of the plant’s production lines.

It does not affect Johnson & Johnson doses that are currently being delivered and used nationwide. All those doses were produced in the Netherlands, where operations have been fully approved by federal regulators.

But all further shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — projected to total tens of millions of doses in the next month — were supposed to come from the massive Baltimore plant.

Those shipments are now in question while the quality control issues are sorted out, according to people familiar with the matter.

Federal officials still expect to have enough doses to meet President Biden’s commitment to provide enough vaccine by the end of May to immunize every adult. The two other federally authorized manufacturers, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are continuing to deliver as expected.

Pfizer is shipping its doses ahead of schedule, and Moderna is on the verge of winning approval to deliver vials of vaccine packed with up to 15 doses instead of 10, further boosting the nation’s stock.

It is a pity Biden was not President a year earlier – when I was at my most skeptical – he seemed so ill equipped. But that is the nature of pontificatory error. It can be lost in the cushions of mea cathedra.  I shall wait until his Presidency reaches 100 days before deciding the nature of my humble pie.

Food and Drink for the Memory

This past week has been a time of eating out in Melbourne – almost the first indulgence as such since the Virus struck last year.

There were two occasions during the week, when I experienced two tastes that reminded me of a couple of meals – one about a decade ago in New York and one in Manaus in 2019.

The first was when I asked for a gin martini in this restaurant near the Jolimont station. The best martini I have ever drunk was in the Morgan Library and Museum on Madison Ave on the west side. We had ambled into this place, not knowing that it originally housed Pierpont Morgan’s and found that there was a restaurant situated in the middle of a library.

The ornate chamber was lined with bookcases and the filtered light gave us a gauze covering. Now I thought this is going to be one of those tea cake places with delicate cups of Assam tea and dainty neatly-shaved cucumber sandwiches. No way, the only cucumber was infused into the martini. Cucumber and martini when balanced is a superb drink. It is still my benchmark as the best martini I have ever tasted. It helps if you have a cucumber infused gin at the outset.

Some years ago I managed to corner the only remaining bottles of Gordon’s cucumber gin in the distinctive green-labelled bottles available in Australia. It seems that the only gin now available with a passing nuance of cucumber is the Scottish gin, Hendricks. So was I surprised when I ordered the martini last week, and the only gin I recognised was Hendricks, not being familiar with all these boutique gins popping up all over the place.

I was thus pleasantly surprised when the Hendrick’s martini was presented to me with a generous ribbon of cucumber in what could have passed for a sherry glass. Immediately I thought I was being short changed, and yet the martini was brilliantly balanced to highlight the cucumber infusion. There was one shortcoming, with which I confronted the martinista, and that was water in the martini. It is a bit of a conceit to pour you a gin straight from the freezer in the glass wetted with dry vermouth, in so doing limiting the water content and in a commercial world increasing the cost. The other problem is that gin watered down or inferior gin coming out of the freezer half frozen is not a good look for the martinista.

But back to the Morgan – we had the meal, but as we knew nothing about the place, we left without looking around this ornate building. It was just another place to have a feed. Pity we missed the Gutenberg Bible and the only remaining first edition of Paradise Lost. Mr Morgan had a great deal of money.

The other memory last week was when ordering kingfish ceviche at a Spanish restaurant in Richmond. It brought back memories of that morning in Manaus two years ago when I remembered the ceviche I had ordered. As background, we had arrived there around 2am after a five-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro and gone straight to bed.

In the mid morning, we had woken up to one of those overcast tropical humid days. It had been raining. Food was being served on the same level as our room in an open eating area overlooking the courtyard. It is somewhat disconcerting arriving into a city so far up the Amazon, knowing that we had to board the ship to take us up the river in a few hours, but not knowing quite when.

The only option was to have a meal, before being scheduled to be picked up. There was a tropical fruit collection to start. Ceviche was on the menu, in big white chunks marinated in a lemon marinade with red onions. The fish used in Manaus was tambaqui, an Amazon freshwater fish with a passing resemblance to the piranha; tambaqui has been overfished, and its future depends now on aquaculture.

It was a very memorable feast upon the ceviche. Nevertheless, we have moved on, as we do, even though this blog is somewhat wistful for a world that has gone.

Maundy Thursday – The Lavage of Feet

As I finish this blog in preparation for it being published, tomorrow is Good Friday. Now, it is the night that Judas Betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. When I was younger, attending a midnight vigil, where the whole church is draped in black, was one of my most compelling involvements. As a Christian, I was brought up with a belief that this was the one day of the year that we should collectively mourn with the day completely closed. However, this religious quirk has been the victim of multi-culturalism; it is no longer a national expression. However, for someone who was brought up to believe in the sanctity of this day, I cannot help being uncomfortable with this change.

Maundy Thursday as the name is thus described, is the day when Jesus after the Passover supper washed his disciples’ feet as a sign of his humility.  The British Monarchy has its own interpretation of acknowledgement of the poor. Rather than washing feet, the Queen hands out Maundy money, with the number of coin sets equal by gender; the actual number determined by the age of the monarch – in 2021, 94 sets for women and 94 sets for men.

1902 Maundy money

I have a 1902 Maundy money set featuring Edward VII – a silver one penny, twopenny, threepence and fourpence laid out on blue velvet in a small red box. Given the size of the coins, it literally is a miracle that this small box given to my mother, who had nursed this very widely-travelled lady who gave her these coins, has survived intact.  I remember seeing it first as a very small boy.

As my Cypriot doctor friend said: “Jesus is the reason for the season”. Especially appropriate comment, given I don’t remember any rabbits hopping around the Cross with baskets of eggs.

Mouse Whisper

President Biden pledged to have 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered by the end of his first 100 days in office. That’s double the goal he set in December and reached earlier this month before his 60th day in office. 

The mausmeister, who was so critical of Biden in the lead up to the election, grudgingly backing him to win, is holding back judgement, but has been pleasantly surprised. However, he was worried when the President stumbled three times on Air Force One stairs. He will have to realise rather than trying to appear decades younger by jauntily approaching the red carpet, that his behaviour will need to be modified. Fortunately, the last steps up to the plane entrance showed no evidence of a barked shin – no sign of limping. Good sign, but as my mausmeister found out, never be ashamed to use a cane – or hold onto the railing.

Modest Expectations – The Armstead

I suppose when you follow the Woody Allen trail of filmic apologia for his fascination with young women, the lens settles on the troubled mind. The pursuit of the younger woman by the older man is not only the preserve of Mr Allen.  Try Mr Polanski. The seventies seemed to be a time when the world was cluttered with these creeps “outing themselves” – a pride of predators – so to speak.

However, it was 20 years before in the early 1950s that I first encountered this syndrome in the film Baby Doll. I was a teenager and older men chasing young teenage women confused me, but then I had the naivety of no sexual experience.

There was this societal response of averting one’s eyes from such behaviour. At school, there was never an open forum to discuss what was happening in contemporary society. Looking back at the trailer of the film, the voice over has a dark, oleaginous, lascivious tone. While there was widespread “tut-tutting” about the film, what was the long-lasting effect? The creation of short revealing nightwear for young women. Yes, a life lived constantly with Women Objectification.

A new book entitled “Consentement” has been published as reported by the Guardian Weekly. The author is Vanessa Springora, who was abused by one Gabriel Matzneff, another writer who preyed on the underaged. When he was interviewed on a talk show in 1990 in Paris, Matzinoff is reported to have responded to a question about his penchant for women under 20 by saying the older woman has known “disillusionment” whereas the “not yet hardened” are nice to sleep with. This statement enraged a Canadian author, Denise Bombardier, who called out his actions. For her action the Paris male-dominated intelligentsia mocked her; called her bitch.

Twenty years later, same location, Paris, Ms Springora releases the book, described as a memoir of being abused by Matzinoff when she was 15 and he three times her age. This time, his casual insouciance has been replaced by his flight from Paris and a trial set down for September this year.

As the Washington Post reminded us this week, France prohibits sexual relations between an adult and a minor under the age of 15 but has no minimum age of consent. The French government has said it will “act quickly” to amend statutes so that an adult who engages in sex with someone younger than 15 would be charged with rape.

I have placed an order for the book.

Machias Seal Island and the Improbability of Puffins

I was reminded of a trip to Machias Seal Island when I read about the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine to the remote islands off the Maine Coast. But the ownership of one of these islands has been disputed between Canada and the United States.

I have previously written about the Canada and Denmark dispute over the Hans Island between Greenland and Canada.

This is another of those anomalous situations that is the subject of an ongoing dispute between Canada and USA.

In 1783, the Treaty of Paris settled the Revolutionary War, but it left unanswered questions about the Maine–New Brunswick border. In 1820, when Maine became a state, its government defined its boundary as far north as it could. The so-called Aroostook War ensued, with militia mobilisation on each side and cross-border arrests eventually leading to a solution brokered by diplomacy rather than force. The resulting treaty, signed 175 years ago, determined the current crooked shape of northern Maine and should have solved the cross-border tensions, except that it failed to account for Machias Seal Island and the smaller adjacent North Rock.

Our American friend who owned a house in Maine knew that the only way to get to this island was to take a boat from the Maine port of Cutler.

The reason was that Anonymouse wanted to see the puffins, which nest every year on Machias Seal Island in late spring. During the nesting season these crazy looking little birds have flaming orange beaks.

The North Atlantic Ocean can be a very rough journey for a small, converted fishing boat. However, this day, the swell was tolerable. This was essential because alighting from the boat on the slipway can be too dangerous to land safely and you can go there for nought, not being able to land.

This day we landed and were led by a grumpy Canadian marine scientist up to the lighthouse. This lighthouse was built by the New Brunswickers in 1832 and has been manned by the Canadian coast guard or its former equivalent ever since. We sheltered against the lighthouse and in pairs we were led to a hide. There were several small hides in the middle of the puffin colony. The puffins clustered around and all over the slightly undulating and rocky surrounding area. The puffins used the roof of the hide as a landing strip, and repeatedly there was a crash as they landed hard. They then hopped away off the “runway” to allow the next bird to land.

Queuing for takeoff

Normally a hide is a place which allows you to wait and wait until the bird turns up for a brief sighting. Not in this case – the puffins were in their hundreds nearby, they waddled, they posed, they are an unforgettable little auk, each with an individuality known only to each other’s partner. These birds are completely unknown in southern waters just as penguins are unknown north of the Equator.

After about half an hour, the experience is ended, one is escorted back down the boardwalk and as we were about the last pair to visit the birds, it was not long before we were boarding the boat and heading back to the American mainland. No, we did not need a passport, nor on the other hand were we allowed to roam the Island.

The puffin had been an emblem on a series of books in my childhood, and this was the first time I had been up close – if not personal – with an improbability of puffins. A remarkable experience capped off by the extraordinary return when the Ocean was a millpond, a gentle end to a long day.

Mathias Made it – Freed from Morrison 

“Cecilia Malmström consistently received broad support from the Member countries, and the outcome was close. We are grateful for all of the support throughout the process. Sweden will now join the consensus behind the Australian candidate” says Minister for Foreign Trade and Nordic Affairs Anna Hallberg.

In commenting about his bid to run for this position, I was biased because of his political antics in Australia, but then he became more recognisable as a chameleon – a very clever one, who has used Australia as his stepping stone back to Europe. He is the ultimate mercenary, and there is no doubt in my mind that it was the United States as the deciding factor. Biden’s staff recognised that he was not bound to any ideology but is very smart and any indiscretions like being “outed” as one of the puerile “big, swinging dicks” was only his attempt to acclimatise to the maturity of Australian culture.

While being supported by Australia was essential, I suspect that the Americans may have been lukewarm towards Malmström and in the end I suspect the US needed Australia more than Sweden at this time. It would not have escaped Biden’s attention that Australia has had an excellent record in containing the COVID-19 virus and Sweden not so much.

Let’s face it, Cormann is a German, being born in the German-speaking sliver of Belgium. As I have stated, he has a good working relationship with the German Government, and as it became increasingly clear, he was only using Australia as a temporary watering stop. His charm, his fluency in the influential languages enabled him to gradually gain traction from a perceived “no hoper” position. This only reinforced the fact that he had maintained his own counsel and had sounded out his potential allies among the German-Benelux mob. Possibly the attempted intervention of certain local political figures to try and stop his appointment may have brought a transitory shadow, but political feather dusters tend to be blown away rather than have any lasting effect.

Remember the OECD is the successor to the Marshall Plan. For the past 16 years, the Secretary General has been a Mexican; for the previous 12 years a Canadian – one just South; the other just North. Very close for comfort. Also note the time these guys held office. Cormann may still be there when Morrison is just a Johannes Leak painting in some distant alcove of Parliament House.

I have been scanning both the New York Times and Washington Post for news of the Cormann appointment. Nothing. I am nevertheless reminded of the late Jim Wolfensohn, who grew up in Australia to become an international banker. He set his sights on becoming the President of the World Bank. To further this ambition, he became an American citizen. Some 15 years later his long game was rewarded, and he headed the World Bank from 1995 for 10 years. There was no chauvinistic roar as I remember it when he got the job. In 2010 he quietly reclaimed his Australian citizenship.

Cormann has  been underrated; but he was the European who wanted to return there and get Morrison to back him. Very smart, but if not for this personal armoury, it is doubtful whether he would have won. Despite the so-called public relations propensity of the Prime Minister (and those “puff pieces” from DFAT through their Shield mouthpiece) to try and get the credit, it was Cormann himself who convinced the panel.

Congratulations; and thus I know where you will be in six years’ time unless there is a skeleton whose rattling has yet to be heard or that your youth doesn’t assure against your mortality. I am not so sure about Mr Morrison or  Cormann, your successor in the role of Minister of Finance in six years’ time.

Stroll along the Seine anyone?

And talking about political timing, there would have been a problem if he had remained a Liberal strategist after the annihilation of the Liberal party last Saturday. But he had long since gone. Now he can stride to work from June along the Seine in the 16th Arrondissement with an independent air.

And for your successor as Minister for Finance, two questions: How much this circus cost Australia? And for what purpose?

But in the words of those McCain ads, ah Mathias, you’ve done it again.

A Violent Society ready to be Tamed?

Ever since Cain killed Abel, human beings have killed one another, and those closest to the person with the weapon are often the least immune.

I watched the gun culture of the United States grow and remembered that decades ago I penned a piece on the Hoddle Street massacre. It took another massacre at Port Arthur for most of this country to wake up to itself. Therefore, the anonymous random murders of those who are a victim of one person’s accumulated hatred were laid to rest by the incoming Prime Minister, John Howard, an unremarkable man achieved a remarkable outcome.

The country has been ravaged by criminal gangs killing one another in order to control the dark side of our economy. A multicultural society admits those who have been brutalised as young children, whether Lebanese, Iraqis, Sudanese to name a few – who have come to accept death on the street as part of everyday life. In contrast, our children can stroll through a shopping mall where there are no gun-toting security people at every corner, but on returning home are able to retreat into a virtual world of cyber violence. Cyberspace is full of it. Aggression and violence underlie the promotion of sport.  Then have we addressed the acceptable level of violence. Can it be zero ever?

When my then teenage sons were working through the pentathlon sports, they then had to learn how to shoot with a centre fire pistol at a stationery target 10 metres away. Owning these pistols required me to be fingerprinted and to have a secure pistol safe. What struck me about the pistol club crowd was how normal, almost introspective they were. They never paraded around in combat uniforms. They treasured their pistols; they would come to the range and fire repeatedly at the one set of targets. Walk down the range, check how they had done, replace the target, walk back up the range, confer with their fellow members and start again. They were quiet, and frowned upon any activity that could be interpreted as aggressive. It was important to be calm as firing the pistol was synchronous with your heartbeat, and the slower that was, the more time to get your aim correct. My sons never pursued pistol shooting, but they learnt the etiquette. Technology for pentathlon now allows the pistols to be simulated with laser weapons and live ammunition is no longer required.

John Howard’s response to the gun culture was immediate. After he made his stand, for a time he wore a bullet proof vest when addressing crowds. As you watch Morrison, you just get the feeling that he would not emulate John Howard. He would just be over-run by the Shooters and Fishers sympathisers for a start. They were not as organised in the 1990s and probably the mood following Port Arthur would not have given them much oxygen.  The West Australian family massacre in 2018 is the only mass shooting in Australia since Port Arthur. In fact, both suicide and homicide by guns have fallen since the 1980s and this fall was not interrupted by the COVID-19 virus outbreak. Therefore, the gun mob now have gained some more oxygen, especially as the need to get rid of feral animals is looming as another battleground to justify the wider use of firearms.

The Christchurch massacre two years ago in New Zealand was particularly vile. Perpetrated by an Australian, the mosque massacre showed that the New Zealand gun restrictions needed to be tightened. However, the terrorism in the wake of the American invasion of Iraq, plus 9/11 maybe have had a desensitising effect on all of us.

While there is a great deal of talk of Muslims being part of the community, especially after the Christchurch massacre, much of that empathy is as superficial as green drought. How can a Society increasingly brought up in an egalitarian world not be affronted to see the blokes in casual wear being trailed by women in complete shapeless black clothing from top to toe? Publicly we are affronted by the antics of One Nation, but much of the racism just as publicly identifies deeply held biases. Yet why am I not affronted by the Christian sects that insist on the women wearing bows in their hair so Christ can recognise when he, enraptured, comes again. I just dismiss it as “quaint”. Yet why do we tolerate Scientologists to exist despite their repressive tactics? They are not a quaint group. As we single out groups our biases just hop around.

Most of us keep our biases to ourselves and the ballot box is where we can unleash them – at least somewhat. It leads to the appearance of civilisation. Nevertheless, ongoing violence is often rooted in differences in belief, which is ever present in a so-called multicultural society.

This country is a long way from resolving its problem with systemic violence. I thought that once the use of weaponry has been put in its rack, Australia could now concentrate on violence abatement.  For in the USA this question has not been resolved because the right to bear arms is an excuse for violence as recently shown in Washington. The Constitutional mantra begins: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…” – however, those January 6 images just evoke a hollow laugh. The one thing Trump exposed was the fact that America is at heart a violent society, obsessed with firearms and which treats women like dirt.

Women’s movements seem to flame up and then the gender mismatch resumes, with a few male sacrifices, but nothing really changes.

Here in Australia, the knife has replaced the gun as the instrument of choice when the fist and the rape are not enough. There are now young women who do not need fancy plumage to attract attention. They have existed but they have been pushed aside to be a voluble fringe, living your life on talk shows being very clever but totally irrelevant.

Grace Tame

Ms Tame, beware the elements of sleeplessness, isolation, burnout and boredom. Fortunately, Grace Tame has been given a year to continue her quest, but her challenge is to destroy the novelty of being just a young articulate woman and lead a well-resourced crusade to displace the male and female misfits and rent-seekers who dominate the parliaments – especially those who have formed cute gangs called “wolverines” (I suggest Ms Kitching ditch the group) and the like.

The ballot box is Ms Tame’s ongoing relevance. I am sure she does not need any help in identifying the targets, but make sure that those who stand and may be pre-selected be assessed by someone like Cathy McGowan, who engineered a remarkable outcome in her seat of Indi – orderly non-dynastic succession planning by an Independent.

My epilogue to Meekness

Remember, children, particularly those of you dressed in pink.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

Lamb of God, I look to Thee;
Thou shalt my Example be;
Thou art gentle, meek, and mild;
Thou wast once a little child.

Lord, I would be as Thou art;
Give me Thine obedient heart;
Thou art pitiful and kind,
Let me have Thy loving mind
.

As a child I recited the first verse before bed.  But I always had difficulty with the word “simplicity”. Still have.

Needless to say, these verses by that great feminist irony, Charles Wesley are sung often by all girl choirs.

Mouse Whisper

An alternate view of Big Swinging Dicks as said to me in Fred Brophy’s pub in Cracow is that they were in fact metroGnomes.  It depends on your way of assessing these things.

Fred Brophy’s Hotel Cracow

Modest Expectations – The Size of the Universe

Is Australia an ochlocracy?

The Ancient Greek historian, Polybius drew on the traditional theory of the three constitutions: monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, which may decay into their perverted versions becoming respectively, despotism, oligarchy and “rule of violence”.

Okhlos

Okhlos is Greek for “mob”. Its potential was seen briefly in the storming of the US Capitol on January 6. It goes to show how rattled the Prime Minister continues to be when he invoked the spectre of mob rule such as that; and substitutes an irritating mantra of “the rule of law” (or does he mean lore and he has not bothered to read the evidence – but then he admits he never reads anything any time).

Morrison’s retreat behind a line of feeble excuses, backed invariably by people of privilege in the end is unsustainable. One transformation occurring in Australian culture which has probably been an important undercurrent in this societal change has been the appearance of the articulate young women who have had enough of the brutal misogyny, which hides behind the veil of Australian “mateship”.

This rise in the women voicing their experience of the underbelly of Australian social life is far from mob rule; it shows the best aspects of democracy, thriving on freedom of speech and the actions of a new leadership led by at least three young women – and presumably more of them to come.

Yet another Liberal Woman?

I watched Kate Jenkins’ underwhelming performance last Sunday morning on television. She is the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, having jumped ship in 2016 from her role as the Victorian counterpart which she held for less than three years. Her successor in Victoria, Kristen Hilton, is about to finish a five years’ stint and is a female lawyer who came to the position from Legal Aid and community advocacy. Jenkins was from a different legal background and was a controversial appointment by the then Victorian Attorney-General, who happened then to be Liberal. She was appointed despite the selection committee unanimously recommending someone else, and indeed a number of the selection panel resigned in protest. After all, Jenkins had form, having worked for 20 years for Freehills, which was a law firm aligned to the employers in work disputes.

There was a change of Government in Victoria late in 2014, and despite her saying that the manner of appointment had been smoothed over, nevertheless when the opportunity arose to move back to a similar position under a Liberal government it is not surprising that she did.

It is somewhat of a dejà vu situation when, as Kate Jenkins was reported saying in 2018 after some Liberal Party MPs raised concerns about bullying inside the party, she suggested the community response would prompt conservative politicians to push for change. Her comments came at the same time one West Australian Liberal Senator, Linda Reynolds said it was time for Liberal MPs to stop talking about themselves and allow the party to deal with the bullying issue internally – the rule of lore methinks.

Now Kate Jenkins has been entrusted to look at the dysfunctionality of the Parliament House workplace, encouraging people to tell all but with no authority to name names. Initially, the Prime Minister had assigned one of his female colleagues, but after all what do you have a sex discrimination commissioner for? It seemed somewhat of an afterthought, but in the blokey culture in which the Prime Minister finds himself comfortable, it is unsurprising. After all, in this culture Kate Jenkins has to examine, the Office of Women has barely been heard. She has to report by November.

However, one suggestion that the office appointment be made by some independent body is ludicrous. Most ministerial offices have departmental liaison officers in any event. In many workplaces, one needs a police check. The problem lies in the fact that there are just too many parliamentary staff, the employing Minister needs to be confident of their loyalty and their moral compass. Cut back on staff numbers and get rid of the condottiere culture – 95 per cent of the time hanging out and five per cent ultimate brutality in the case of the Mafia. Applying that to the parliamentary office is boredom, gossiping and bullying – in varying degrees. Occasionally, they may contribute a snippet of relevance to portfolio deliberations.

As for the percentage of sexual harassment and assault admixed, that is surely the major task for Kate Jenkins. In her favour is that she seems to have been involved in sport, in particular the Carlton Football club. That probably has given her an insight into the blokey culture which, fuelled by alcohol and drugs, can become a very unpleasant scene.

However, the most obvious recommendations are that all cases of sexual harassment and assault they be immediately referred to the police and that Parliament House have a 24-hour counselling service on hand for the victim. The first harasser charged should be refused bail and have the case held over for a few months. This would be somewhat of a deterrent, as well as the name being on the public record instead of appearing nowhere but everywhere on social media – a case of “porterisation”.

Insurrection

When I was a medical student, there was only one medical school in Victoria. It was a traditional medical course, which had its roots in the Great Britain “honorary” system and Nightingale wards.

There was a vision of medical students in the mould of the 1950s series of “Doctor in the House” books, which were popular and vaguely true of a vanishing world.

We “fresher” students had a term of botany to start us in the world of human biochemistry, physiology and anatomy and then moving on to years in clinical medicine where we were introduced to our human pathology. However, that pathology included an introduction to the world of the medical hierarchy, enmeshed in a different pathology. It was a world of innate privilege. For instance, from my boys only private school about ten per cent of the students in my first year were old boys from my school; and most of those had been with me at school the previous year.  Therefore, there was an easy familiarity when we all gathered for our first term. None of the guys then from my school were more than acquaintances, as the friends that I had at school tended to be on the “arty fringe”, not on the treadmill of a year 12 two maths, physics and chemistry.

Despite having a headmaster enlightened for his time, having a factory to ensure a stream of first class honours and the academic superiority of the school, in the end, the school encouraged privilege and misogyny. After all, it was still a school where the boarders were banned from playing hockey, because it was a sport played by girls. Then there was the cruelty, both physical and mental. Until just before I entered the senior school, the prefects were allowed to cane, which some have reported did it with relish.

The masters – note male – were allowed to cane. I remember one time when I was framed as the instigator of a class riot and was caned in front of the class with a large wooden compass. This old boy had played tennis at championship level and his backhand was still a powerful weapon. Oh, such a wondrous time. And there we all were on the threshold of a career of caring and compassion.

There were few women then doing medicine, about 25 per cent at that time. One of them was a feisty blonde who as child had migrated with her parents and elder sister to Australia from Central Europe after the war. She attracted attention because she was always impeccably dressed, even down to her use of Mitsouko as a trademark, very good looking with a strong sense of morality, and willingness to engage men as equals.  This frank engagement was often misinterpreted. Because she was a fraction over 160cm, there was tendency by some to see her as a doll, unable to resist the fragrance of the male pheromones. Nothing was further from the truth. One professor, who had the reputation as a Lothario tried it on, got nowhere very quickly and punished her with a supplementary examination in his subject, which she ultimately passed. The professor wisely absented himself from this further examination.

There was the instance in one of those crowded raucous medical student parties, when a drunken male lifted her up and tried to sling her over his shoulder. Others intervened and he dropped her. In a flash she had flattened him with a fist which travelled from below knee level and he, helped by an inebriated lurch forward, copped the full intensity of the blow. She never gave any quarter; a remarkable woman (in the 1960s she was a pioneer in and passionate advocate also of early childhood education) who followed up with a successful career until she suddenly decided that she had had enough of a male-dominated world and retired. It was a pity.

The white shoe brigade

In our fifth year we had to undertake 10 weeks in the Women’s Hospital where during that period were to do twenty deliveries on our own, including two instrumental deliveries. That was one roster; the other was the episiotomy roster, where we had to go and sew up the incision made in the perineum when extracting the baby to avoid a tear. In those days it was a regular occurrence and we medical students had to do the suturing repair. It was an introduction to being on-call at night.

We were not to leave the premises without permission over the ten weeks and to compound this imprisonment, we had to wear all white – all white short coats, white shirt, white tie, white pullover, white trousers or skirt, white socks, white shoes. The one luxury we afforded ourselves when we were far enough down each list not to be immediately bothered being called was to go over the road to the Martini Bar at about eleven o’clock, have a veal parmigiana and watch a TV Western called The Rebel-Johnny Yuma.

The Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology was an owlish misogynist who had crawled up the pole of success by judicious naval service, membership of the Masons, a fortuitous lack of interest in the professorial post when he applied, allowing him to slide into academia without much, if any academic qualification. Then there he was, a graduate who had needed supplementary examinations to pass and was forced to undertake his first post graduate year at Tennant Creek, on the brink of a stellar career. He had a ruthless streak which, coupled with a few shrewd appointments, provided him with an aura of success. However, his most memorable utterances related to a distressed pregnant woman who came to him threatening suicide. His response – as recounted by him to us fifth year medical students – was that he showed her the window of his office and invited her to jump. The fact that she did not just proved triumphantly his insight into women. To our shame we just absorbed what he said and did nothing.

However the atmosphere, because of the activities of his lieutenants called “First assistants”, became so repressive with them singling out a Malayan Chinese student for special punishment. That was the trigger point. We students declared that enough was enough and petitioned the Professor in a written document signed by all but one of the cohort. We thought it an impressive display of solidarity, and the First Assistants were clearly rattled. Nothing happened immediately and then we felt the full force of the Professor; he isolated those he thought were the leaders and suddenly the rebellion melted away. After all, this guy could have a serious effect on careers. He enforced the punishment, “gating” the whole student cohort. This was eased as it gave the First assistants a “humane role” in releasing us from our imprisonment.

In the end a few of us, but particularly myself as I was by then Chair of The Medical Students Society, had a rough time, even though it was almost 18 months later before we faced the examiners. That is another story, but I evaded the trap – and passed, admittedly near the bottom of the year.

As to the fate of the petition, it was never seen again, except there was a second copy – signed similarly by the same set of students. I have it in my possession as an example of what he probably thought was an attempt at mob rule, but a useful document that can be added to his “in memoriam”.

After all, he was not the only disgraceful example of this disrespect for women. It was rife among obstetricians back then, but now change has occurred, especially with more female role models in the field with exemplary professional behaviour.

Then, as students, we accepted the mores, such as lining up to do an internal examination on a woman who had supposedly consented to the invasion. Some of those in my cohort, who signed the petition, became well-respected obstetricians and gynaecologists.

As for the Professor, he was knighted and acquired a trail of honorary academic degrees from all over the world, had a building named after him at one of the teaching hospitals in Melbourne and died as a revered misogynist in 1983.

IVF – Great Expectations?

The role of IVF as a ‘cure’ for infertility was crucial to the discursive construct of law as a barrier. ‘If medical advancements can help these people, it is not the role of Parliament to prevent it. Science was posited as a progressive force, aligned with nature, or perhaps with natural progress, which parliament should not impede. Paradoxically, then, law becomes both the problem and the solution as it ushers in a new era of reform.

In April 1988, my team reported to the then Commonwealth Department of Community Services and Health on the status of in vitro fertilisation (IVF). The Department prepared a summary report because some of the data we collected was confidential. The Departmental summary made the comment that the good data collected by my team “cannot be matched with good output data collected by the National Perinatal Statistics Unit (NPSU). (I use the term IVF, although ART, assisted reproductive technology, of which IVF is one, may now be more commonly used.)

To put our consultancy into perspective, the first in Australia and when 2503 pregnancies had occurred with 1851 live born infants. That was the raw statistic, and we looked at data from 1986 onwards from 15 units across Australia.

It was a time when the tabloids would pounce on any multiple pregnancy as though non-viable octuplets were in some way a blessing from God, a scenario which some members of the Roman Catholic Church applauded. It was just an instance of appalling practices, loading the woman up with fertilised eggs, on the grounds it was more likely one would be implanted.

I entered this review in a very positive frame of mind, because I knew Professor Carl Wood, who was part of the vanguard in the introduction of IVF.

The one invariable feature when we arrived at any of the units was the pictures of beaming bonny babies, so even from the early days the public relation teams were in the picture, so to speak.

Then our team confronted reality. The processes involved in IVF mean that the woman goes through a harrowing experience to conceive. Then there was the waiting period to know that the process was successful. There was some difficulty initially in finding the actual success rate. The success rate was a live baby in the basket – and multiple pregnancies counted as one. Full stop.

It was a problem in the early days and in one State where there was an “IVF cowboy” at the helm, because of his propensity to place multiple eggs into the uterus for implantation.  Of the 55 live births following IVF, 27 per cent were multiple births compared to 0.01 per cent of the total. There were 15 multiple births due to IVF of a total of 264 multiple pregnancies. Five sets were triplets born from IVF pregnancies during the time when there were only a total of 15 sets of triplets born across Australia.

The problem in assessing the “live baby in basket” against the number of IVF cycles was not made easy, because those who ran the IVF clinics were not the same team as those who delivered the women. There was thus no uniform data collection. This presented a difficulty since there were a number who might have been assessed as pregnant but who actually had a chemical pregnancy that did not progress.  This was another practice uncovered at the time – to count a rise in the hormone bHCG as a “successful IVF treatment” – a fancy bit of data manipulation since many never got beyond this stage.  In the absence of any reliable data collection, it was left to us to make the best estimate.

We noted that even at that time of our review four women had already undergone 13 treatment cycles without becoming pregnant. Considering the stress that one IVF cycle entailed, failure was a nightmarish experience – and 13 times! Added to this was a cohort of infertile men whose failure to acknowledge their own infertility created other problems. With the intracytoplasmic injection of one spermocyte into one oocyte, it always seemed to me the height of arrogance that a scientist could pick the right sperm for the right oocyte – a form of cellular eugenics. Yet in one way what could one expect. IVF was the product of veterinary medicine.

I came out of the experience of our consultancy rather differently from the person who was commissioned to undertake this review. Our reports received a mixed reception. For the most part of the succeeding 33 years, I have written nothing. Nevertheless, I have been disturbed by commercialisation of the expectations of women increasingly delaying their families – for many reasons. There is an increasing number of women in their forties seeking IVF treatment when they have certainly reached the fertility savannah if not the desert.

I was prompted to write by the following comment:

Going through IVF is the worst thing that has ever happened to me physically and emotionally. The financial costs made the whole thing far more stressful and limited how many attempts we could have. I know of people who have sold their houses and given up everything to pay for cycle after cycle to have the child they always dreamed of. What’s so infuriating, though, is that it absolutely does not have to be this expensive. This is what happens when medical care is run for private profit instead of public good.

At the time we undertook the review it was well before IVF became a hedge fund commodity like so much of health care now. One of the major reasons for the 1988 review was to understand the costs, and the report was inter alia a masterpiece in cost accounting (because of the involvement of Dr Robert Wilson).

IVF is now big business. It would be a brave politician or Department to establish an independent review as ours was. It is very difficult to work out the real success rate; it is in the interest of the industry to conflate the success rate. But the more important issue is that this is an industry that is in a position to prey on those who are so willing to give up so much for “a baby in the basket”.

The problem I have is “what is truth?” I could not believe this nonsense written by one of IVF specialists. His thesis that increasing IVF could replace falling migration levels is backed by this following burble:

Arguments based on a sense that IVF is futile for women in their 40s also hold little water these days. Twenty years ago, when I first began training in IVF, pregnancies in older women were a rarity. Yet 2017 data from Australia show that, for women aged between 40 and 44 using their own eggs, the cumulative live birth rate is well over 10% for the first cycle of IVF treatment and runs to as high as 40% by their eighth cycle of treatment.

The eighth cycle of treatment, I ask you! The cumulative live birth rate is simply, “if I keep going, what are my chances of pregnancy if I have another cycle, or another two cycles, or another three …”. Dangling a 40% success rate in front of a desperate person who is prepared to sell the house …. those who are running IVF clinics are in a position of  power -the sort of power men use to manipulate women.

Has the misogyny which once burned bright among obstetricians and gynaecology not been extinguished? Anybody making statements as airily as that suggests that it has not. Statements as that above should be tested urgently by another independent review.

I remember one piece of data that stuck in my mind. It was an early study that compared women who had undergone at least one IVF cycle and then gone back to conventional ways of procreation as those who had persisted and delivered an IVF baby. It was about the same – nine per cent.

This is another statistic that would be worth reviewing now.

Any advances on that?

Mouse Whisper

Witnesses under cross examination, however mighty their stature outside the courtroom, very soon became meek and mild and well-behaved in his hands. If they did not—if they paltered with him, or evaded his questions, or did not do justice to their testimonial responsibilities— the smell and sight of cordite smoke soon drifted into the courtroom.

I have never read a more flower-encrusted definition of bullying – in this case a description of the late Tom Hughes’ court antics.

These words are by Dyson Heydon, in a book review of Tom Hughes’ biography, in turn authored by one of those guys my mousemeister knew at school.

Attorney General Porter or his successor should not palter over the Dyson Heydon sexual harassment report in the wake of the Chief Justice’s condemnation last year of him.  Porter received a separate Departmental report on 25 February; and to all intents and purposes it is unsurprising he has done nothing since.

Modest Expectations – Dalmatians

“The label racist is not one I would apply like that,” Garland said evenly — without a hint of are-you-a-dolt? in his voice. “Implicit bias just means every human being has biases. That’s part of what it means to be a human being. The point of examining implicit biases is to bring our conscious mind up to our unconscious mind and to know when we are behaving in a stereotyped way. Everybody has stereotypes. It’s not possible to go through life without working through stereotypes. Implicit biases are the ones we don’t recognize. That doesn’t make you a racist.”

Merrick Garland

In his current Senate confirmation hearings for Attorney-General, Merrick Garland shows in this above response to one of those rubber red-necked Republicans what an acquisition he would have been to the US Supreme Court if it had not been for the Kentucky Kernel, Mitch McConnell refusing to let his nomination be considered. Yes, the sobriquet kernel. Is that not a nut case? 

The Sewers of Canberra are not Backchannels 

And less welcome sexual attentions in the form of sexual harassment also have been a standing problem. In decades past there was a discreet backchannel operating between the prime minister’s office and the opposition leader’s office to keep sexual misconduct in check. Each side kept an eye out for rogue behaviour by members of the other and duly alerted the leaders’ offices accordingly. That system fell into disuse years ago. 

I was surprised reading that piece by Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald. Given that I was very senior in one of those offices, the “backchannel” must have been sealed up at the time I was there. I knew of no conversations. It was a time when Parliament House was much smaller, and there were few offices which were not the size of shoeboxes; people lived cheek by jowl. Yet it was a time when there was considerable fraternisation across all political parties and the media, with the non-members bar the central meeting place. Parliamentarians came down rarely.

The Lobby was the place where there was considerable mixing, and I remember one prominent journalist supressing his laughter. Something was happening at a table behind us. Judi Morosi was feeding Jim Cairns. Well known non-relationship, as there was considerable smokescreen about extra marital calisthenics. I was not around during the Ainslie Gotto saga, but hardly a time I thought when Gorton would have been exchanging notes with Whitlam. These were the few associations then which attracted notoriety in the media.

The number of staff was far smaller, but even so, there were not many inglenooks in the old Parliament House where inappropriate behaviour would not be discovered. In fact, given the intimate environment, not much was unknown around Canberra. There were a number of consensual arrangements, but drunkenness was more the problem.

King’s Hall

It was also somewhat ironic that in those days, having finished in the office when I left Parliament House often after 1.00 am, it was just a wave to the guys on the reception desk at the King’s Hall entrance. King’s Hall was a very open space – especially at 1.00 am. Any antics would thus have been on a large stage.

The advent of security, presumably at the Ministerial entrance of the new Parliament House, did not save Brittany Higgins; as has been reported the security even facilitated the entry into the Ministerial office, although it must have been clear that she was too drunk to sign her name properly.  These days it would appear that there is a very short backchannel between security and coverup within the burrows of government

Facesaver?

To my everlasting shame, I have never used or looked at Facebook. I must have missed something judging by all the furore. Facebook is a free service. I choose not to use it. I remember when Facebook first came into prominence at a time when Zuckerberg had not yet worked how to make it profitable. It was originally a means by which a kid in college could communicate without the distasteful business of actually meeting somebody face to face. There was more than a hint of misogyny in the original motivation for Facebook.

Zuckerberg introduced advertisements into Facebook very early on after he launched it in 2004, but not until 2007 did he launch the first co-ordinated advertisement campaign.

He said at the time: “The core of every user’s experience on Facebook is their page, and that’s where businesses are going to start as well…The first thing businesses can do is design a page  to craft the exact experience they want people to see.”

Before he even made money, there was a film made in 2010 about Zuckerberg called “The Social Network”.He was only 26. Aaron Sorkin, the guy who wrote “West Wing” wrote the screen play and promulgated the Zuckerberg myth – the socially awkward nerd who created the greatest social communication platform the World has ever experienced. To put that into perspective, Rupert Murdoch was a running a small Adelaide newspaper when he was 26.

Zuckerberg did not start making money on Facebook advertisements until 2012, and apparently the business has worked. He never promoted Facebook as a news channel. It just happened that organisations jumped on it because of the popularity of that and other platforms the company acquired. In initially opposing the Australian law, Facebook argued that publishers willingly post news to its site, which helps them reach a larger audience. It says that the model differs from Google’s, as publishers don’t voluntarily provide articles that appear in the firm’s search results. The Australian proposal penalises Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for.

As the Facebook boss in Australia went on to say – “The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content. It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia.

In the Washington Post this week, Roger McNamee, in reviewing “the current state of play today with the tech industry” has stated “Internet platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter aided the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and have contributed to the slow national response to a deadly pandemic. The algorithms on which the firms rely amplify hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy theories, and their recommendation engines manipulate behaviour because doing so is good for business.”

Has Facebook learnt from the experience with Cambridge Analytica, which shamelessly stole data and manipulated data as part of the Trump 2016 election?  Arguably Facebook served to amplify such behaviour and this remains an unanswered question in the reports of this feud the Australia Government is having with Facebook.

Facebook pulled the plug on the news pages, and there was the predictable response of those deprived of a free service. However, it gave Facebook an opportunity to see in the real world what the response was. In fact, the news media responded very quickly, by setting up alternative pathways to Facebook. Therefore, in a far-off country, Facebook was able to sample the reaction and appear to give the politicians a victory.

Zuckerberg is obsessed with maintaining his monopoly. He believes he has the “old media” covered, but by his actions, in a few hours he set up a “wildfire” of innovation to compensate for the loss of Facebook. If this goes on long enough, the next raft of innovators will appear to challenge the Facebook sovereignty.

On Monday, Facebook agreed to the Australian government’s added amendments to the proposed code. That included a two-month mediation period, giving the two sides more time to negotiate commercial deals that could help Facebook avoid having to work under the code’s provisions.

In other words, Facebook has not lost – not by a long shot. They have bought time, and to Zuckerberg, what does he care if Morrison and Frydenberg claim victory. “To me, victory in always unconditional”, Zuckerberg might say.

I still believe that if Facebook is making such big profits in this country, the Government should tax them more than the current 2% for the benefit of the community; not push them into a Mafia-style protection racket to benefit a lot of old men who are on the obsolete side of history. Just the normal lazy politicians not prepared to confront the need for an equable tax.  And what they said originally probably remains true. Facebook is expert in gathering data – and they certainly gained some this week in the response to their actions, which they will already be dicing and slicing to work out what is what. Has the Government collected the same data to use in future negotiations?

Quids from Quarantine

Anonymouse

You always know there’s a quid to be made when the big players start to throw their hats in the ring, and in the past few weeks we have had the Wagners in Queensland, Lindsay Fox in Victoria, and now Sam Shahin in South Australia, all wanting to get into the quarantine business.  The Howard Springs facility has shown the effectiveness of a low-tech facility offering separate cabin accommodation, individual air conditioning, access to fresh air, and importantly, little requirement for staff to enter cabins while they are occupied; worker accommodation on site is an added benefit. Re-purposed it might be, but it’s turned out to be a good solution. Nevertheless, it is subject to the vagaries of a monsoonal wet season

Wellcamp Airport outside Toowoomba has ‘abundant’ room for the proposed 1,000 bed quarantine facility, with another 300 beds for staff.  As noted in an earlier edition of this blog, a Boeing 747 can land at Wellcamp – it was designed for large scale cattle export, avoiding the need to move the cattle through Brisbane. Unlike the backward planning endemic in government circles, Wellcamp has much forward capacity – its terminal is large and there is plenty of space. International flights can go direct to Wellcamp.

The Wagner Brothers own the land around the Wellcamp airport so they could start work immediately – and seemingly they already have the blessing of the Queensland Government.

Lindsay Fox’s Avalon Airport proposal already has the imprimatur of the Victorian Premier, which might well see a sod turned for a facility for up to 1000 international arrivals before the others.

Mr Shahin’s proposal to develop a “purpose built” facility outside Tailem Bend was very promptly booted by the SA Government which then announced the opening of a dedicated CBD hotel for positive COVID-19 cases. The SA Health Minister said the Tailem Bend plan lacked a hospital in good proximity. Tailem Bend’s hospital is not the “level” of hospital required because, according to the SA Health Minister, “If someone develops COVID, they can very rapidly develop to the level that they need an ICU and isolation – Tailem Bend doesn’t have an ICU.” Tailem Bend is one hour from Adelaide on a dual carriageway. The problem with health care perspectives in South Australia government is that it is a health care wasteland once you lose sight of North Terrace. For goodness sake!

All of this raises a few questions:

  • If the Commonwealth plans to continue keeping its hands off the quarantine reins, why did it commission a report by former Health Department Secretary and Crown Director, Ms Jane Halton AO PSM, into hotel quarantine?
  • Is there an agreed position on the optimum template for quarantine facilities and is there agreement on how long they will be required – something the Australian community isn’t being told?
  • The figure of 40,000 Australians wanting to return home has been quoted for months. Why is this number not falling? Given the difficulty of getting an exemption to leave Australia – unless of course you are a celebrity or ex-politician – who are taking up the hotel quarantine places if not returning Australians?
  • What is the optimum location for these facilities? Do they really need to be in the middle of the city a block from a tertiary hospital?
  • What percentage of COVID-positive cases in hotel quarantine end up in hospital, and of those, what percentage require ICU (and tangentially, if ICU is such a pressing requirement, why not upgrade ICUs in regional hospitals where quarantine facilities can be located)?

Hotel quarantine is now the single source of any new COVID infection in the Australian community.  “Escaped” COVID has caused problems in Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia, with a greater or lesser impact. Currently Australia faces a hiatus with no new cases. The media is focussing on vaccination. Even with the vaccines rolling out, no one knows how effective they will be at large scale prevention of COVID (as opposed to prevention of serious illness). Quarantine is here to stay for the foreseeable future and is likely to remain the key to opening Australia’s international borders to business and tourists and allowing the Australians overseas who want to return to do so. But it needs to be more affordable and the metropolitan hotel-based quarantine has lost any lustre it had. Did Halton comment on affordability, talk about fair and reasonable charges? See above questions?

The States do not appear in any hurry to hand quarantine back to the Commonwealth; on the contrary, it is the States looking to develop permanent quarantine facilities, presumably with funding by the Commonwealth.

Which brings us back to the National Review of Hotel Quarantine and the point of it all. The sum of the recommendations was that States and Territories should have quality assurance mechanisms and continuous improvement. There needs to be information available to travellers, quarantine options developed for National Cabinet, travel bubbles, and finally the Commonwealth Government consider a “national facility for quarantine”. Did we need this Review to tell us any of this which is just stating the obvious? The undated report was released around October 2020. The author’s name appears only once, in an appendix.

The report did highlight one thing however, and that is the lack of a comprehensive set of data on hotel quarantine.  Then, as now, there appears to be no single accessible source and the daily data are just that. The data provided in the National Review report are as opaque as they are revealing; they highlight the fact that no one knew what was happening with flight crews (we know that now), or exemptions, still a matter of extreme annoyance to the general population who have been serving their own time locked up, and the lack of demographic and hospitalisation data on quarantine inmates. Together with the total number of beds and quarantinees, this is the information most relevant to planning.

What is interesting however, is how difficult it is to find out something as fundamental as how many quarantine places there are – what is Australia’s current quarantine capacity (even the maximum and minimum based on a sliding scale of demand)? Phone calls to State health media elicited no information:  for example, NSW Health – send us an email; Vic Health – we don’t run quarantine, email the Department of Justice; Qld Health – talk to State Disaster Management, Health doesn’t run quarantine; SA Health – send an email; NT Health – has no media contact and no one on the only phone number knew who knew anything … and so it went on. Tasmania was the standout though – there is a media page, headed “Media” – it’s blank. More next week, if any information is forthcoming.

After a year of COVID the matter of quarantine is still being bounced around – a dedicated series of regionally-located facilities (as recommended in this Blog #76 and 78) could have been constructed and commissioned by now, but perhaps doing that lost out in the economic rationality of providing an income stream to the hotel industry while tourism has been shut down. But without the data that show the vaccines are very effective in preventing transmission of COVID, quarantine is here to stay. They may be expensive to develop, but the need for dedicated facilities should not be taken off the table in the current excitement about vaccinations. These facilities can be mothballed and then rolled out again (as with Howard Springs) for the next pandemic – or even a variant of the current – which, as those who analyse these things have said, could be just around the corner. And after all, Ms Halton did recommend a national quarantine approach. 

Déjà vu

I was alerted by the recent activities of that Texan, Senator Ted Cruz … his antics this week reminded me very much of those of another politician early last year, much closer to home.

Let take up the story of Senator Ted. As been reported, the weather in Texas has been appalling – it has taken out the energy grid for the simple reason that the State does not invest in infrastructure, it is a mighty big land mass and the State is run by a group of climate change denialists, including Senator Ted.

So, there is no heating, but further, there is more.  Water pipes have frozen, burst, or the water has become contaminated. In other words, much of the State is without running water; and in any event where it can be tapped, it needs to be boiled.

Pictures of pileups on the interstate highways compound the chaos.

Senator Ted Cruz took a trip out of Texas because his alliterative children, Caroline Camille and Catherine Christiane wanted to go to Cancún in the middle of a Catastrophic pandemic.

As he is alleged to have said, “Look my wife Heidi said to me our children are freezing, let us get out of the hell-hole and go south to Mexico.” As the newspaper said “Also, way to throw your kids under the bus, senator.”

In contrast, as the paper went on, “most responsible parents would have told their tweens that the closest they’re getting to Mexico these days is a chalupa from a drive-through at Taco Bell.”

Instead, the Swift Family Cruz packed a suitcase “the size of a steamer trunk”, left their poodle, Snowflake, behind and dashed off for fun in the sun. This action contravened what CDC has recommended for nearly a year, i.e. that US residents should avoid travel to other countries. The advice was ignored but that it is the way of the Cruz. His problem virtually duplicates that of Australia’s Prime Minister, who disappeared to Hawaii, did not let us in on this voyage north, and all this while Australia burned. The American media, which is less controlled (and apparently more observant) than Australia got onto Cruz almost immediately and there he was, scuttling back to Texas mouthing a number of mutually-conflicting self-serving reasons for him going to the Mexican Resort in the first place.

The American media has shown its public service usefulness (without recourse to Facebook). “There’s no need to reiterate the extraordinarily poor timing of Cruz’s trip while Texas froze. That burro has been beaten to death, shamed, and then beaten some more. This is a look at a man who should be setting an example for the millions of Texans who are aching to travel. But in order to be able to see their families and friends again safely in the future, they’ve followed Dr. Anthony Fauci’s advice and stayed home as much as possible. They’ve worn their masks, practiced social distancing, and washed their hands diligently.”

But not our Boy, Ted.

The Prime Minister apparently has stopped asking his wife Jen for advice, at least publicly. There is a political playbook, where “mistruth” is very much part of the narrative – an uncaring narrative which Trump over the years exploited even beyond the wildest nightmare of the original Florentine Editor.

Politicians who flirt with the edges of the narrative, hide in the marginalia, indulge in palimpsest or have their own scriptorium where their life becomes an illuminated manuscript finally have to face that question – are they up to the task of being a genuinely caring person, sensitive to their constituencies? Let’s face it, most aren’t. Unfortunately, the community elects images, not the sordid reality.

By the way Prime Minister, when did you last go to the bushfire ravaged communities to see evidence of the fruits of your Government’s response?

This quote below sets out the damage that Trump has done, and how an insidious callousness has invaded the proto-narcissist political mind, and unfortunately the Cruz scenario will increasingly play out, especially when nobody is told or worse ignored. 

As Jennifer Rubin wrote incisively in the Washington Post in the past week: “Incompetence is not the purview of one party. But when you view politics as theater and grievance-mongering, chances are you are going to shortchange governance, elect a president with no public-sector experience, no interest in learning, no desire to hire competent people and no ability to accept responsibility, and you get something like the covid-19 debacle. Moreover, if your party is hostile to government and exercising regulatory power because it is beholden to a donor class and right-wing ideologues, you will not be prepared for disasters when they strike.”

How very true!   

The King lived; the Prime Minister died

And the Answer is…

a red dawn

where laid

morula upon blades of green

urgency to become

spiky quilted ectoderm

sprouting

teal topknot

emergent wave to

a new world

where neighbours in serried ranks

wave back

until

with swelling yellow belly

we stand among the green detritus

of yesterday

proud that we alone know the answer.

I have a particular reason to remember my time in eSwatini. My wife has a friend who has a large plant nursery in Malkerns in what was Swaziland when I last was there, but is now renamed eSwatini. The Swazis have their own country, ruled by a king who has a penchant for wives. Once a British protectorate, eSwatini is a tiny enclave wedged into a corner between South Africa and Mozambique. It is one of the last absolute monarchies in the World. The capital, Mbabane, lies in the Highveld (1000+ metres), whereas Malkerns lies in the Midveld, (770m), a fertile valley where the mountains form a distant hazy rim.

This is the country like so much of Southern Africa when you leave the coast, the climate is milder, less humid but nevertheless tropical. Behind her property stretched a huge expanse of pineapple cultivation, which prompted me to write the verse which heads this piece.

Our friend’s property was unusual because close to the house she had a large dam, constructed to provide a reliable water supply for the nursery. The dam also attracted hippopotamuses, who would wander up from the river in the nearby Mlilwane wildlife sanctuary, through the pineapples, to spend quality time in the dam. Then they would leave. Several years ago, a worker accidently got between a mother and calf and was trampled to death. Otherwise, the pilgrimages have been peaceful.

More recently, a large Nile crocodile came to share the dam. Crocodiles apparently intermittently appear. This means that going outside is a hazardous exercise, especially for Suzy, her large black dog, which had to be kept inside until the crocodile was captured and returned to the river. Hippopotamuses and crocodiles will happily co-exist, but this crocodile’s presence has acted as somewhat of a deterrent to the Hippo Walk.

What I remember clearly was that the day before we left, my wife and I went for the longest walk that I had done for months because of my progressive tiredness. I knew even then that all was not well, but the walk enlivened me. I felt more freedom, less stiffness, the weakness had evaporated and the pain in my legs had been reduced to a dull ache. The pineapple stroll had been recuperative – or so I thought.

The pineapple stroll

The next day, the pain, the weakness, the stiffness had come back with a bang. For the first time, my denial fell away. I knew that there was something wrong. Fortunately, the bathroom was well supplied with therapy aids which had been installed during my wife’s friend’s husband’s terminal illness.

However, it was not for some weeks later that I saw the doctor on return to Sydney, who immediately diagnosed me and ordered tests, which confirmed the diagnosis. I had seen or been close to a number of doctors in the preceding three months – and this was the first doctor who diagnosed me. Yes, the diagnostician was an orthopaedic surgeon.

As a footnote to describe the headline, King, Mswati III, has just recovered from his COVID infection. His Prime Minister was not so lucky. He died in December of the Virus. Currently, the number of infections in eSwatini is nearing 17,000 with 13,500 having recovered and there being 645 deaths. eSwatini brought in strict anti-COVID measures very early on. In perspective, the population is 1.14m. Infections seem to be dropping as the second wave rolls on.

Mouse Whisper

Tegestologists and labeorphilists. Now there are words which you don’t often use to describe obsessive losers.

Tegestologists have a great excuse to spend time in bars since they collect coasters or beermats. They should probably team up with labeorphilists, or collectors of beer bottles. Having decried the above, I must admit to souveniring the odd coaster, but as for beer bottles, I have transitory labeorphilia but only when they are full of beer.

The object of transitory labeorphilia

Modest Expectation – The Ton

This is my centennial blog. I haven’t missed a week and most of my blogs hover around the 3,000 words. People have chipped me because a few, trying to find my blog, ended up enmeshed in advertisements for mouse traps; as a result I have the link to the blog at the bottom of my emails.

My blog has served a number of purposes. It is occupational therapy, and in the swelter of words being gushed forth every second around the world, the expectation that anybody will read anything is minimal. The second consequence of the blog is that you can invite not only comments but also contributors. However, this then requires time spent soliciting and cajoling for a possibly nano-audience. I have been appreciative of those who have written and Charlie McMahon’s diary of his time in the Desert should have a far wider audience, but that itself is the subject of a future blog.

Time in the desert …

I started with an advantage. I had stacks of journals I had never had time to read, and yet never had thrown out – on the grounds that I would read them next week, although that mythical “next week” never came. There was no time to read them while I was working.

The blog serves at one level as a self-educational tool, and in its weekly discipline makes one forage far and wide in order to write a coherent argument.  Therefore, time spent seeking other authors becomes a question of priority for a one-man-blog. In the end you have to write the bulk.

To back up a blog, there has been no better time to invest in newspaper and magazine subscriptions.  Online subscriptions allow ready access to the Boston Globe, The New York Times and The Washington Post, The Guardian and The Economist as well as The Sydney Morning Herald locally. I gave up reading the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly on line – interesting, very lengthy articles, but disrupted by just too many advertisements. I still subscribe to the New York Review of Books, even though the articles are often more prolix than pithy.

Currently, I receive only two medical journals, The Medical Journal of Australia because I am life member of the “Union” and the Harvard Medical Letter, which is a very interesting publication because it is directed towards advice – mainly for sensible ageing – and has a commonsense approach, albeit from an American perspective.

A friend of mine said I should stop at the centennial blog.  I shall ponder on that advice, but for the first time in my life I have written how I actually feel, and do not have to show respect to some whom, over the years, I have despised but held my tongue because career was all important.

That summarises my view of why Australia is in the state it is. To me those in the middle political ground have held their tongues for too long.  Too many have held their tongues while Murdoch and his minions have rolled over us. It is such a pity that in this old but still very smart man the only residue of his privileged Australian upbringing is a pathological hatred for the country that bore him.

It is not obvious to me who will save the Lucky Country. I have been alive long enough to share the blame. Denial is the new policy. I was not smart enough to lie – enough!

Maybe this blog is a strange form of penance.

Navalny – Mother Russia

When the data in relation to the GDP of Russia and Australia are compared, this country’s GDP is very close to that of Russia, and over the past year the Australian economy probably has performed better than Russia’s. Yet here is Russia trying to match it with the United States.

I remember a very well-connected Professor in the early 1980s telling me that Reagan and his government would drive Russia into the ground within the decade. All America had to do was continue to increase the stakes until Russia could no longer compete – “until the pips squeak”. Already then the borders of the Soviet empire were widely spread and the cost of garrisoning an increasingly restless empire became less economic than continuing the looting of captive peoples.

Russia reset itself. Gorbachev came and went. So did Yeltsin. Assets were acquired by the few who revelled under the name “Oligarch”. Then came Putin. I remember George W Bush saying he could look into the Putin soul. Really!  As many commentators have observed, Putin came of age as a secret service police officer in the Soviet Union, and he approaches his job through the lens of a centuries-old tradition of secretiveness and authoritarian power politics. No soul on view here.

Russians understand power. Russians are renowned for their ability to play chess, and if you split the game into opening gambit, middle game and end game then you begin to see how the Russian mind works. The person from whom I learnt a considerable amount was Russian born. His family came to Australia as did many, trekking across Russia, through the Manchurian city of Harbin and then by ship to Australia.

I well remember when I was on the S.S. Taiping at the beginning of 1957 a group of these emigrés came on board in Hong Kong bound for Sydney. I stumbled upon one of their Russian Orthodox services being held in steerage and was confronted by this mixture of octavist solemnity and suffocating aroma of incense. It was my introduction to Russian emigrés.  Even existing as they did as lower deck shadows, they set forth this unforgettable expression of Mother Russia – a fealty no matter the circumstances.

As someone who played mediocre chess, I learnt from my Russian-born boss. Opening gambits are often flashy and are the province of those who want a quick killing and without the patience or the concentration to survive the middle game where the thrust and parry delivers the tactical advantage; and where you worked with an end game expert, it helped to use the midgame to bottle up the adversary. The Russian mind has an eye to the end game, and I certainly learnt from a master.

I have only been to Russia once and then only to St Petersburg. It was “early Putin”.  We went there via a Finnish train from Helsinki as was recommended in 2005. We were advised to have someone looking after us – a Russian guide and driver – and when we walked the streets unaccompanied to leave our passports at the hotel but have copies in case some officers of the law wanted to “shake you down”, as it was termed.

We stayed in the Astoria Hotel opposite the commanding St Isaac’s cathedral, at a time when there was a meeting of oil oligarchs in the hotel. The number of men in long, belted, dark overcoats provided a sinister backdrop to our vodka martinis. We happened to overlook the square. James Bond did not appear but out of one of those limousines stepped somebody with whom I had been friendly but had not seen for years. He worked for British Shell, and when I tapped on the window, he emitted a cry of surprise, and seconds later his long lanky figure bounded in through the revolving door and then there were three vodka martinis and a background to the Conference.

If you have money, preferably without political ambition, then one has a privileged existence in Russia. There was no waiting in a queue to enter the Hermitage – we were ushered directly into the museum. I said all I wanted to see were the Rembrandts on this day, not only just seeing them but also absorbing these masterpieces, being able to go back and forth, and not be constrained in a shuffling queue pushing one inexorably out the exit door. The Hermitage has the greatest concentration of Rembrandt paintings in the World, and this was my only shot at seeing them. Not obeying our guide obviously annoyed her, but we did what we wanted to do. We had paid for that privilege.

Yet saying St Petersburg is Russia is as true as saying that New York is the United States of America, but it is not. St Petersburg was built from a swamp by a series of enlightened despots. New York emerged from a swamp but without an imperial stamp, formed by capitalism rather tyranny. Within both there was both extreme exploitation and misery to achieve the current situation. Russia achieved magnificent opulence before the United States, but at a high cost.

One of the two places in the world where I could stay and look for as long as the proverbial length of string is the Amber Room in the Summer Palace. The Summer palace was virtually destroyed by the Germans, the original Amber Room dismantled, who knows whether it was reduced to shards. Russians faced with restoring this royal palace after the War recognised its cultural importance and rebuilt it, complete with the Amber Room.

The Amber Room

One trip to one city – but life is a collection of impressions. And one of those has been to never under-rate the Russians. Never.

Now almost two decades on, Russian despotism is alive and well. It flies under the icons of the intensely conservative Orthodox Church, which provides that conservative framework upon which fascism can now flourish.

Putin has reasserted State control. With Trump as his marionette, he was allowed to rectify a number of the weaknesses which had preceded the fall of the Soviet Union. His experience as an officer in the secret police enabled him to put the pieces together which he had to do before he could bring his own “wild men” into line, which he has showed with middle game strength.

Putin no longer has a fragmented restless set of satraps to govern, and he has built the military power into a disciplined unit. He has probably looked very carefully at and used Israel as a model. He realised unlike Stalin that it is unwise to murder most of the senior ranks of the military.  He has revitalised and streamlined his armed forces – particularly the army and air force. Putin disentangled from Afghanistan, and now watches how the United States have handled this Tar Baby inheritance. His reported system of bounties on American lives there elicited a limp response from Trump. No wonder he was emboldened to see how far he could go in weakening America.

The problem is that Putin has used that four years in which Trump was in the White House to polish his routine, which was the real “fake news”.

It means that with a modest investment, Russia could outwit an unwary America – or a country then in the thrall of a narcissistic ponce.

The Biden Forces are presumably isolating and neutralising the Trump legacy so as to free itself to deal with Russia. How does Biden deal with Russia, its cyber games have been magnifying its influence far beyond where it should be?

Maybe Biden may look back at the Kennan legacy, given that during his time in the Senate, Biden would have met Kennan on a number of occasions.

George Kennan was an American foreign affairs expert who, over his long life, came to know Russia extremely well.

George Kennan was not everybody’s cup of tea, He started his involvement with the Soviet Union when he was a junior diplomat in Latvia, then an independent republic created after World War I, in 1932. Among a number of ambassadorial roles, he served as Ambassador to the Soviet Union; yet spent most of his life advising the American Government with varying degrees of direct influence; but let us say he was not very far away from the ears of the Great and Powerful.

As Susan Glasser, former editor of Foreign Policy has written:

It is because of Kennan’s meticulous observations, incisive prose and deep knowledge of the country and its people that 20th-century Americans were lucky enough to have him as witness to the monstrosities of Stalin’s Russia — one who didn’t merely throw up his hands in confusion, or succumb to wishful thinking or fellow-travelerism or any of the other diseases endemic in so much Western writing about the Soviet Union.

This is a relevant legacy of Kennan’s, and one that we have yet to fully absorb. Indeed, the tradition of getting Russia wrong has a distinguished Washington lineage, and one that I witnessed while covering the rise of Putin for The Washington Post in the early 2000s. In those years, Putin was reconsolidating power in the Kremlin, taking over independent media, jailing or banishing potential political opponents, shutting down elections for governor and putting into place a new security-state apparatus from such remnants of the Soviet police state as had survived the 1990s. Yet back in Washington, there were those who persisted in believing for years that Putin was not exactly as he seemed. Remember when George W. Bush looked into his “soul” in 2001?

Much of Kennan’s genius about Russia is contained in what has become known as the Long Telegram, which he wrote to the then US Secretary of State in 1946 while he was US Chargé d’Affaires in Moscow. He made this very perspicacious observation: The very disrespect of Russians for objective truth–indeed, their disbelief in its existence–leads them to view all stated facts as instruments for furtherance of one ulterior purpose or another.

The fact that Trump also subscribed to destroying objectivity thus made it very easy for Putin to flummox the West.

Putin is careful to target his intervention to areas which he can control, or where surrogates will substitute. As a Sunni Syrian from Aleppo said to me once, the country had been seized by a coalition of small minorities replete with a sociopathic mentality, in this case the Alawites, a sect of the Shia. Iran is the centre of Shia Islam. Putin has demonstrated his game plan and can be a continual irritant in the Middle East, Ukraine, Crimea, Armenia, Belarus. What next? Cyprus, the Balkans – in mufti or uniform his operatives are spread out? Now that Trump has connived with his screams of “fake news” and “Hoax”, Putin can gleefully keep on starting cyber fires to compound the Chaos.

After all, Trump has been gold in the way that he saved the Russians money, because the American oligarchs have done it for the Russians and filled the Trump coffers to enable him to keep helping Putin, especially now he may feel bullet-proof following the failure of his impeachment twice.

Russia is living beyond its means, especially if the game changes from chess to poker. Raising the stakes and watching who will call whom bluffing. It should not be the Americans. Oil prices are not high enough to bail Russia out; and what if the Americans seize the gambling licence, (i.e.  in less colourful terms, tighten the sanctions) so that the Russians are denied the chips with which to play. That may not be enough, but it may cause the Russians to stop meddling.

In his famous Long Telegram, Kennan reminded his countrymen that Russia lost some 20 million during World War II, and yet rose as “a single force greater than any other that will be left on the European continent when this war is over” yet there would be the cultural factors that would eventually prove the communist state’s undoing.

“The strength of the Kremlin lies largely in the fact that it knows how to wait,” Kennan wrote. “But the strength of the Russian people lies in the fact that they know how to wait longer.”  Therefore, this time the Americans must join the end game, and assure checkmate. Putin has shown that given what he has, he has had to play the long game, but his end game is beginning to become unstuck.

Trump remains some sort of political force, but suddenly some of the Republicans have obviously been receiving information. Mitch McConnell’s alluding to criminal charges suggests that he has been made privy to some information.

What is more immediately pertinent is that the Russian people have found an alternative leader in Alexei Navalny and multiple clandestine attempts to assassinate him have failed. Putin could execute him and may still do so -it’s a very Russian way of dealing with dissidents. The problem that Putin has with Navalny is he is intelligent, speaks English, knows how the system works in its deepest recesses, is a populist with a huge social media audience – and has tremendous resilience. He is the epitome of Mother Russia and that must infuriate Putin because Navalny has shown him up as the dwarf that struts.

The demonstrations against Putin can be subject to overwhelming force under the guise of government security, but unlike that of Stalin who executed or sent dissidents to Siberian concentration camps. Therefore, he cannot lock up all the dissidents without a very great economic and social cost.

However, Navalny needs the help of the Americans. The Biden administration concurrently needs to root out its own internal sedition and treason, which has been creeping in under the cover of the First Amendment.

The Americans must target Putin without targeting Russia. They must surreptitiously promote Navalny as Mother Russia. They need to test the Russian commitment for expenditure to protect Mother Russia. As I have said before, Kaliningrad, the exclave where, despite the Germans being moved out by Stalin and replaced by Russians, there has been suggestion of “Germanisation” since the population tends to go next door to Poland and Lithuania for their supplies; an ageing Baltic fleet lies at anchor as it is currently the only ice-free Russian harbour, and indeed the navy is said to be only a coastal fleet of ships. What does that mean; whereas the European Union may call a particular ship a trawler the Russian may call it a corvette. Who knows what is truth, but geography does not change and one can only speculate on what would happen if it could be publicly shown that most of that Russian cyber mischief is being orchestrated from Kaliningrad. Did someone mention blockade?

While this is going on perhaps attention needs to be paid to Putin welshing on the deal to hand back at least two of the Kuril Islands to the Japanese, which he apparently agreed to do. It means diverting resources to the other side of the continent. The Russians have already done that with a few tanks, but America may get serious and say: “You agreed to one thing; and now?”

All the strategies rely on there being sufficient will to turn to someone, who epitomises somebody who flies in the face of Russian Government – democracy. Among the Slavonic nations, democracy is an uncertain concept.

However, Biden cannot let Putin get away with continuing to sow chaos. Democracy depends on an underlying certainty, which Trump tried to upend on 6 January with his motley group of fascist thugs – a reminder of Putin’s love too of the leather and tattoos and wearing machismo as his favourite fragrance. He loves to incite disorder, but not in the Kremlin.

But elsewhere, Putin is Chaos.

Searching for a remedy for Chaos, my eyes alit on the following entry: “You can easily counter Chaos Knight’s illusions with ES Echo Slam + Veil of Discord or Lion Finger of Death with Aghanim’s Scepter, since illusions take more damage.”

There you are – never thought it would be that simple. That is the problem, treat life as a Game; and meanwhile, Navalny – Mother Russia – is executed.

A Turnup for a Swede?

The Government has nominated Cecilia Malmström as Sweden’s candidate for the position of next Secretary-General of the OECD. The Secretary-General will be appointed by the OECD member countries by 1 March 2021 and will begin their five-year term of office on 1 June 2021.

Cecilia Malmström

Cecilia Malmström is a Swedish politician with solid international experience, including as EU Commissioner for Home Affairs in 2010–2014 and EU Commissioner for Trade in 2014–2019. She was also Sweden’s Minister for EU Affairs in the Reinfeldt Government in 2006–2010 and a Member of the European Parliament in 1999–2006. 

That is the unemotional way the Swedes last year announced the nomination of Ms Malmström’s candidature for the position of OECD Secretary-General. Since the appointment is imminent and our own Mathias remains in the running, I was curious to see how she was perceived in Sweden.

Ms Malmstron speaks Swedish, English, French and Spanish fluently. She has a good working knowledge of German, Italian, Norwegian and Danish. Our Mathias has Flemish to himself. We underestimate the multilingual capacity of the European intelligentsia of which she is a member. I remember well being invited to a family gathering in Stockholm to celebrate the graduation from school of the son. When we arrived, all the family switched to speaking English in our hearing, such is the understated courtesy of the Swedish. After about an hour we excused ourselves so a more family gathering could proceed in Swedish – just returning the courtesy.

When I asked my friend about Ms Malmström, he replied (sic):

How very singular to learn about the OECD race from Down Under. At least I had forgotten about this nomination.

Not much has been written in the press, signalling that there is no great controversy regarding the nomination. Although a Liberal Party representative (in the conservative block) she was nominated by the government of socialist greens. 

Ms Malmström has a very solid background in the EU, and has been instrumental in several significant trade deals which will impact world trade in the years to come, mitigating the four lost USA years, as well as the Brexit disaster.  She is quite competent!  

In further explanation, she seems to have wide political support across the eight political parties in the Rikstag.

She is currently marking time as Visiting Professor, International Trade and European Affairs, University of Gothenburg School of Business, Economics and Law, Sweden, from where she received her PhD some years ago. Her professional life has been spent bouncing around the European and Swedish political system. Therefore, with the exposure she has had in Europe, she has had plenty of time to run the gamut of being universally respected or universally loathed.

There are 23 EU countries voting, plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, whereas in Asia and the South Pacific – Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Australia are the only members. In addition, Canada, the United States and the recently-divorced Great Britain… well who knows. However, there will be questions relating to Johnson’s threat of green tariffs to be negotiated, particularly by Matthias. He certainly would have not burnished his green credentials by flying in a government plane all over Europe.

The remaining four thus remain agog, waiting for the announcement probably in the first week in March.

This Pot is Truly Black

Parliament House is a saucepan containing a broth of consensual relationships. Increasingly, the broth has been allowed to boil over, and the mess on the stove reported by people such as Louise Milligan.

Brittany Higgins is in different pot. She says she was raped at night in Parliament on March 23, 2019 by a fellow Liberal male staffer.

Rape is rape, a criminal act. Nothing consensual about rape.

The unmitigated arrogance of the former Brigadier Reynolds in intervening in the case and conducting her own investigation in the office where the alleged rape occurred.

The delay.

Then a young woman hand-passed between two female Ministers of the Crown, both coincidently from Western Australia

It is as much anybody in power can do to provide succour in such cases when faced with a traumatised individual; not frighten the bejeezus out of her or him.

Where are the police called in to investigate the rape? Specialist police who have witnessed this situation before.

No, another Western Australian Member of parliament of the same deeply conservative ilk as her Ministerial colleagues now called in to investigate.

Enough has been said about the inappropriateness of the Prime Ministerial response.

The Prime Minister spoke about the “perpetrator” as he calls him. Note, he did not used the word “alleged”. The Prime Minister said that the perpetrator had been sacked. He now knows who the man is, even though as usual he crouched beneath the convenient toadstool of “I was not told”.

Let’s stop this political charade of complaints committees/commission/star chamber. Everybody knows it is a device for flannelling the exposed political backsides, just because they can hear bones jangling in every Party Room cupboard.

The alleged rapist is known. Unmask him. Presumably the evidence is there. Charge him. As Margaret Thatcher may have said, “Tell us his name”.

If found guilty, put him away. The judicial gloves should be removed.

However, Ms Higgins has innocently uncovered a subplot in the actions which were taken in response to her situation.

As for having investigations, maybe it is time to review the level of influence a few Western Australians now have on the Government of Australia – and the destiny of my family. They are allowed too much time flying in RAAF VIP or the NevJet across Australia to plot.

Mouse Whisper

People initially had a hard time finding this blog because it invariably ended up in online mousetrap advertisements.  This has been rectified.  Apparently, “mouse”, in this unfortunate context dates back to 1965, when the name was first documented. An American engineer named Bill English, named it after me instead of using the term “computer pointing device”. Named for the fact that the original “mouse” had a cable and therefore resembled my tail without the elegant swish. In keeping with the tendency to modernise plurals rather than reflect my ancient English origins, those nerds rampant have agreed that a mouse in each hand are “mouses”. At least you must have a certain hereditary escutcheon to be known as MICE.

Modest Expectations – Luther

Just before we left Manaus, I told the driver to stop so that I could purchase an Amazonas flag. It was full sized. Flags interest me because they have meaning and the Amazonas flag is no exception. The flag has a central red band enclosed by white bands, representing hope. In the corner is a blue quadrant representing the sky; stars represent the Amazonas municipalities with Manaus as the central big star. The red band represents what Manaus must do – overcome difficulties.

Manaus – poor Manaus – a place neglected – a country defiled. Virus ridden, unable to cope.

So different from the cheery countenance when we visited Manaus. It was winter 2019. We had arrived early in the morning on a flight from Rio de Janeiro via São Paulo; the flight had taken us the best part of five hours. When you are in a cramped space, time becomes either something to be ignored or to drive one mad by looking at one’s watch, constantly nagged by “are we there yet?” But the bed, once reached, compensated.

Yet although we spent most of the time on the Amazon, the bookend times were in Manaus, the port where we boarded the cruise ship. We arrived after one in the morning in this old hotel which was in a narrow street littered with graffiti. There were signs of it being left to its own devices, with a few mango and banana trees thrown in to give it tropical colour.

It was a late breakfast highlighted by the best ceviche I have tasted. White fish, normally an enemy of my gut, was succulent, with the various additions centring around the lime juice marinade it was perfect.

The only problem was that I thought I had lost my wallet, and the room was turned upside down by long suffering staff, until I found it nestling in my documentation. My companion just looked at the ceiling.

The new bridge across the Rio Negro

The transfer to the boat soon after midday and then on return only a day before we were scheduled for a late afternoon flight meant we saw very little of Manaus. The opera house and many of the old buildings reflected the heyday wealth of Manaus from its then rubber monopoly; the wharf side markets, and the exotic nature of the produce reflected the present day source of wealth. Manaus was alive and the day was full, going all over the city and even crossing to the new bridge across Rio Negro to the city of Iranduba. By way of explanation, Manaus is technically on the Rio Negro, which lives up to its name – as we witnessed when this river joined up with the upper Amazon (Solimōes) River very near Manaus.

Açaí berries

Given how much açaí fruit has penetrated our health food industry, there was a certain luxury of actually eating the fruit from this palm in Manaus, with its agradável flavour to best to describe it. However, the grapelike fruit provided a brief novel pleasure.

That was the problem, the pleasure of being in Manaus was so brief. We would have liked to have stayed a week longer; as with many of these exotic places, they seep into the cracks of one’s personality – and one is left with a feeling of nostalgia compounded by a strange sense of grief reflecting on what the city is going through now.

With all the tragedy being enacted in Amazonas, I only hope the red band in its flag burns bright with its white companions providing the hope. What else can one say, because among other matters far away in urban Brazil, the people there have bet on an unintelligent narcissist to lead them to a better life. I do pray for Manaus – and indeed for the whole of the Amazon basin.

The problem with Age

When Biden was a young man of 20, a 43 year old war veteran and Senator from Massachusetts was inaugurated President.

The Senator’s 71 year old father looked on proudly.

Now Biden is an old man; as a 78 year old he has been inaugurated as President of the United States. His 50 year old son and 40 year old daughter looked on proudly.

By the end of John Kennedy’s first year of Presidency, his father had had a profound stroke, which left him severely disabled, unable to talk. He lingered, dying, at the current age of President Biden.

John Kennedy’s election could be seen as a reaction to the ageing heroes of World War II – the fifties had seen a demented Churchill pushed into retirement, but not until he was 81, to be replaced by an ageing, ill, long term protégé-in-waiting, who miscalculated badly over Suez and in turn was replaced by another World War warrior.

Eisenhower, later in Presidency when he was nearing 70, was wracked with health problems, including a heart attack, while in Europe De Gaulle was nearing 70 and German Chancellor Adenauer was well over 80.  Australia contributed the ageing Menzies who was nearing 70.

Before Kennedy arrived, it was an old man’s world.

Recently in America there has been a tendency for an old President to be replaced by a younger one. If this succession holds true, then Trump has no hope, even before his trial, even if his diet does not kill him before.

There are a couple of factors which are different now from 1961. One is that there are many more avenues for treatment of the ageing body. One area in particular has been treatment of cardiac disease. Then at Kennedy’s inauguration there were few if any coronary care units, no cardiac surgery on a regular basis, no stenting, and over all treatment of high blood pressure was far from today’s standards. Smoking was still rife. When I was an intern in the early 1960s, the treatment of a heart attack was symptomatic, namely bed rest and analgesics with digoxin and heparin if needed. However, every time I see Biden break into that arthritic jog I shudder and think of his succession.

This then other unknown is the presence of a female Vice-President. Good God, replacement by a younger woman!

I can see Vice-President Harris developing a close relationship with Prime Minister Ardern, but whom from Australia? The most obvious is Penny Wong.

Nevertheless, I would like to be there when Marise Payne rocks up to Washington. But then the Vice-President has been exposed to some of those delightful Republican women in the past, and no doubt in her own courteous way would politely call forth “A chi tocca” when she meets these Australian Republican simulacra, represented by the fruity Marise.

Australia Day

Once in 62 upon a pastured lawn 

The Pom called Robin Day did ask 

To serried ranks we stood

Respectful 

Should we seek republic

And the answer unexpected

From knees once genuflected

To Day we all said aye.

 

January 26

A day of Independence 

When India

Grew up and threw away its swaddling clothes

A cope with mace and orb and sceptred scrap

Lie shattered ‘pon brown flattened earth

For people confused by Battenburg

But now Republic Day they all say aye

 

January 26

A day 

For we still caught in cream bassinet 

A good man stood on Botany shores

Sent from porphyric hungovered king

Possession gained with jack of Andrew, Patrick, and of George

But no place for David, no daffodils nor leek

Yet this Southern harsh and sunburnt land a dump for human waste

He christened his green and pleasant New South Wales

In homage we whitefellas celebrate this day

 

January 26

Summer invasion to those not tanned

To frolic in illusory freedom

The Jack still flutters

A cornered eye

The Southern Cross is overseen.

By stiffened queen

To celebrate a day of smoke and sand and foaming ale 

 

Robin Day is long since dead

That rank of 62 is thin and worn

Who once called aye for change

Yet Her of steely Albion eyes

Or He of fumbling foreign voice survive

Shall we now spent and grey

Not live to have a true Australia day

Which we can call our own

 

A lone voice rings out

Make September First Republic Day

Is it not the first day of Spring

Is it not when wattle bloom 

A sprig for all

Is it but a symbol of youth and vigour

This day which is

The First of September

The back story of this poem was the Australian visit of Robin Day who, for many years, was the face of the BBC program “Panorama”. It was either 61 or 62. “62” in the poem is poetic licence.

Robin Day

Day had approached Zelman Cowan, then the Dean of Law at the University of Melbourne, to round up the usual suspects of Bright Young Australian Youth to be interviewed. It was a time when Great Britain was showing an interest in joining the European Common Market.  Menzies’ Australia was opposed to this course of action. Robin Day wanted a bit of colour for a piece to show on Panorama to highlight the squabble.

Zelman asked Phil Cummins, then a prominent law student and student politician, to collect his then mates. I was part of the crowd invited, and there we were, arranged outdoors “in serried ranks” as if we had won some trophy. Day was among a caste of interviewers whose unctuous style enabled him to cleverly manipulate his interviewees in the way he wanted. He was thus working his way down the student line until his flinty eyes alit on this impeccably designer dressed tramp. He asked this young bespectacled scarecrow for his opinion on the stoush, who in response brushed aside whatever had been asked and said: “I am a republican, and you Brits can do what you like.”

Then a bloke in the front row chimed in: “I don’t like the Poms either.”

This then unleashed a number of insurrectionary comments.

Zelman Cowan

From then on Mr Day found himself one out, such that in the end he was led away from the group by Dean Zelman with the words “Totally unrepresentative opinion”.

When the program was ultimately released in Australia, I saw it by chance. I had just delivered a baby as part of my student rotation at the Royal Women’s Hospital and happened to come into the student common room and there he was – Zelman Cowan wandering down one of the paths leading from the Melbourne Shrine, burbling about “the indissoluble links between Australia and the Mother Country” or some such words. Our student interview was on the cutting room floor.

Anyway, a good training run for a Governor General aspirant. After Kerr, Cowan restored a great deal of dignity to the position and ironically later in life became a republican. Pity the intervening 30 years.

As for Great Britain going into the European Union then, Menzies was just as irrelevant then as he had been during the Suez crisis in 1956; and for Great Britain then, as always, De Gaulle was la mouche dans la pommade. 

The Pardoner Prologue

With this trick, I’ve earned myself a salary of about a hundred gold coins a year. I stand up there in front of the people like I’m a priest or something and preach and tell just like the kind I just mentioned. All the stupid people sit in front of me and soak up every word I say. I make a good show of it, straining my neck to look at all the people to the right and left of me, just like a bird in a barn. I gesticulate with my hands and speak quickly, which makes my speeches dramatic and fun to watch. I always preach about greed and the other deadly sins, which makes them happy to give away their money—namely, to me. I’m only in this for the money you know, not for cleansing immortal souls. Why, I don’t give a damn if their souls are as rotten as garbage when they die! Of course, I’m not the first person who’s preached with an ulterior motive either. Some priests give sermons to make people feel good about themselves so that they’ll get promoted to bishop. Others preach for love of fame or to fan the fires of hate. I only preach to make money and sometimes to get back at people who’ve said nasty things about me or my fellow pardoners. I can rail against a person in the audience to ruin his reputation, for example, and, even if I don’t mention his name, everyone will know whom I’m talking about. That’s how I get back at my enemies, by spitting out my venom under the guise of being holy and virtuous.

This is an excerpt from the Prologue from the Pardoner’s tale.  One of the Canterbury pilgrims Geoffrey Chaucer recorded, each providing his fellow pilgrims with a tale to while away time as they rode towards Canterbury. The Prologue and the Pardoner’s tale itself have so much of Trump in them that if there were to be a further film made then Donald would fit the role of Pardoner.

The Canterbury Pilgrims

The tale told revealed three men from Flanders, the worst sort of “jocks” in their unbridled roistering decided to confront and kill Death. They were on their way to the village where they had heard Death had killed everybody when they encountered an old man who said that Death lurked behind a certain oak tree. When they reached the tree, instead of Death they found a substantial cache of gold. Now in the time-honoured way groups of three behave, two of them plotted to kill the youngest one, thereby reducing the division of spoils to two.

In the meantime, they sent the potential victim into the village to buy provisions. However, this young man had similar views, but he wanted to reduce the three-way split to one – himself. He thus went to the apothecary bought some rat poison and put it into the wine that he had also purchased.

He then went back, and his two companions killed him, but then drank the poisoned wine.  Therefore, they all ended up dead. For us, the future generation, the lesson of the tree hoard is the basis of the aphorism that greed is the root of all evil.

After the story, the Pardoner increases his sales pitch and starts flogging relics. This angers the Host who in part replies with the following:

But by the croys which that seint Eleyne fond,

I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hond

In stede of relikes or of seintuarie;

Lat cutte hem of, I wol thee helpe hem carie;

Thay shul be shryned in an hogges tord.

In modern terms something equivalent to having intestines for garters, but somewhat lower in the male body. Before the two descend into any rough stuff, the Knight intervenes.

Which leaves but one question, how much did Donald the Pardoner rake in from his 143 pardons.  Say an average of US$10, 000 – more you say. Probably impossible to find out, anyway I wouldn’t bother looking behind any of the trees on any of his golf courses. But you never know, given that Donald is probably out to kill Death.

Hib-brawl-tar

I was reminded of a photograph which was pulled from my father’s collection when he was touring around Europe in the late 1960s. The slide was of the Rock of Gibraltar.

The Rock had always been on my “bucket list”, and I was not alone. When I used to mention that I wanted to go there, it seemed to have a romantic connotation and it was the surest way of attracting interest.

When my father saw the Rock, it was then off limits after Franco closed the border in 1969. Spain did not re-open the border until 1985, and in the meantime Great Britain built a fence on neutral ground within which it built a modern airport. Therefore, it is an interesting experience driving across the border and the runways in order to arrive in Gibraltar proper.

Gibraltar and its airport

One thing Gibraltar knows is how to disappoint. Even though there is a polyglot population boasting an impressive heritage, Gibraltar just felt like a Butlin’s holiday camp.

The Gibraltarians have their own dialect, but most of the voices in the hotel sounded as if they were born within the sound of Bow Bells.

However, the Rock was something else.  The view across the Straits of Gibraltar is spectacular, as Africa looms through the haze and the harbour is dotted with myriad shipping.

The resident monkeys on the Rock like most of their kind are more annoying than dangerous. These Barbary apes, as they are misnamed because they have no tails, are the last wild monkey population in Europe.

The other distinct aspect is the tunnels in the Rock. The tunnel network is far larger than the roads, but not unsurprising given the Rock has been a target since its acquisition by Great Britain in 1703 as a spoil during the War of Spanish Succession, legitimised by the Treaty of Utrecht eight years later.

Spain has always tried to reclaim it, by complaint or force. In response Great Britain has reinforced the defences on the Rock, most recently during World War II. We were afforded a glimpse of these tunnels, but as far back as the late 18th century, their existence reflected this animosity with Spain. The five-year siege late in that century saw the successful experimentation by the British in being able to fire on the siege ships, and a certain Lieutenant Shrapnel lent his name to an invention, which the Spanish found disconcerting. Eventually after five years the siege was lifted.

Gibraltar has picturesque reminders of its Britishness – telephone boxes and policemen in bobby hats. However, nobody mentioned the fact that our Spanish-registered rental car had been illegally if inadvertently taken into Gibraltar. But then Gibraltar for all its professed loyalty to the British flags has a dark side, the scourge of all these overseas territories still controlled by Great Britain. In a report by the European Union released in December 2019 entitled Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Measures, the following gives a flavour to the lackadaisical way the regulations are administered by the Gibraltarians.

Gibraltar has a sound legal framework to exchange information and cooperate with its foreign counterparts in relation to money laundering (ML), associated predicate offences and financing of terrorism (FT). Nevertheless, the timeliness of the information exchange is hindered by the shortage in human resources and the lack of clear guidelines in relation to incoming Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) requests. Legal assistance has been sought, primarily from the UK and Spain…The indicated delays in receiving replies to requests for assistance and the limited resources that law enforcement agencies have at their disposal to pursue evidence abroad impede their capacity to investigate and disrupt transnational criminal networks involved in ML, drugs trafficking and tobacco smuggling. There have been no outgoing requests related to confiscation during the review period.

Gibraltar’s economy is primarily based on tourism, financial services, online gambling and shipping. Trade is concentrated on refined petroleum, passenger and cargo ships, cars, and recreational boats. The UK, Spain, Mauritania, Italy and the Netherlands are Gibraltar’s main trading partners.

Reading between the lines, a major activity is smuggling and generally living on the dark side of the law. Admission that Mauretania is one of the major trading partners is interesting, given that Mauretania retains the pre-eminent world position in slavery.

Gibraltar is part of that stain on the World – the United Kingdom Overseas Territories, the home of all the shenanigans which are the dark side of capitalism – tax havens being the centrepiece. However, this dark soiled hidden hand is allowed to persist since it allows Capitalism to show the other philanthropic clean hand, immaculately manicured. The current situation suits those in power, having one hidden dirty hand.

As for Gibraltar, it may as well be part of Spain if it were not for it being virtually this open slather for criminal activity, which seems to be tolerated here but wouldn’t be in either Spain or Great Britain.

Gibraltar nevertheless provides employment for 10,000 Spanish citizens who use only their ID cards to cross daily from the depressed area of Spain adjacent to the Rock in which they live.

The current situation allows Gibraltarians to live in a far cheaper place and the last minute deal between Spain and Great Britain will continue to allow Gibraltar to have closer ties with the EU as a party to the Schengen Agreement. It means that Gibraltarians can move without passport through those 28 European countries which are part of the Agreement and vice versa. This closeness to the EU is what 96 per cent of Gibraltarians wanted.

Paradoxically the British, who claim sovereignty over Gibraltar, now must present passports when they want to enter because Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland are outside the Schengen Area, but the Spanish are not.

Let’s see how long before the Gibexit. But why? Criminality thrives on chaos. Look, no passport needed.

Curiae Amici Inusiti

Mouse and I have got together and present this verbal diorama. Below are the evergreen Fauci’s comments made to NYT.  Since liberation from Trump’s circus, let us say, the old boy is a wily coyote in being able to survive for 40 years in the headlights without being accused of compromising his integrity, unlike the unfortunate Deborah Birx.

The NYT interview has been published widely, but the reason for this quote is to highlight political interference for another reason. Whereas the bottom-feeders were hanging around Trump bleating that everything bad for business was the fault of these wacky (unspoken) scientists, who wilfully disregarded their suggestions to the Trump.  There is an image of scientists deep in the American psyche which associates “mad” with “scientist”. When the President is uneducated and has a prejudice against education and probably Jews, especially little rational Jews who refuse to be baited but are also very nimble in the face of bullying, there is a strong chance that the President would be infuriated.  Thus there was no chance of the man called Fauci being listened to, but becoming a figure to hate targeted by the Trump followers. He was lucky to emerge unscathed.

And the other thing that made me really concerned was, it was clear that he was getting input from people who were calling him up — I don’t know who, people he knew from business — saying, “Hey, I heard about this drug; isn’t it great?” or, “Boy, this convalescent plasma is really phenomenal.”…….He would take just as seriously their opinion — based on no data, just anecdote — that something might really be important. It wasn’t just hydroxychloroquine; it was a variety of alternative medicine-type approaches. It was always, “A guy called me up, a friend of mine from blah, blah, blah.” That’s when my anxiety started to escalate.

My own current anxiety has begun to escalate in proportion to the impatience which comes when the solution is onerous compliance.  Vaccine then becomes that Magic Potion. Clamouring for the vaccine is partially driven by such cases so eloquently outlined by the quote in the Whisper below. The fact that the guy was 92 is immaterial; it is the way he met his death. Vaccine provides the shortcut, the panacea.

Thus, the vaccine will save the world. The cry goes out if only there had been a vaccine for Mr Chapski…

Yes, if only there was a vaccine that worked. The politicians, even here in Australia where there should be no rush, want us all to be inoculated. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has given provisional approval to a vaccine which needs to be stored at very low temperatures, has been associated with a number of deaths in Norway (although there has been no adequate explanation as to why the vaccine was administered to terminally ill patients) and where there are apparent production problems, which means that the timing of the second injection, which seems essential, must be under some scrutiny. In other words, there are still a large number of unanswered questions. I note that the TGA have given provisional approval only for two years. That is the first vaccine; what about the others?

Now I would hate to suggest that whereas the fleas in the government ear in March last year would be moaning about business being ruined if you shut the country down, there are now the same fleas, different irritation. These fleas are the ones who want to resume international jaunting, chafing at being confined to barracks as it were. Vaccinate and we can go anywhere, and the Virus will buckle. Wrong; so wrong.

However, those fleas with their billion-dollar lifestyle require winter in the Northern Hemisphere. They do not want any quarantine. You just have to view the antics of some of the tennis players to get a flavour of this sense of entitlement, which the Virus does not observe. Therefore, attention is directed at Government. Vaccines must work – and if we say that often enough, it will become truth, no matter the level of evidence. This level of evidence is compromised by the cacophony of academic experts wrestling for the megaphone.

As I have written before, Viruses love Chaos.

The Prime Minister and his Ministerial congregation want to run around the World, trying to collect up the pieces of our coal-tarred reputation. Fine. That is what the vaccine rollout is all about, well not all perhaps but let’s keep it in mind, gentlemen … and oh there is a lady in the room.

Mouse whisper

Just the other day…

On the other side of 2-North, Al Chapski’s door was closed and his eyes were shut. There was no more happy talk of childhood. Before being stricken with coronavirus, Chapski’s wife said, he “never had so much as a headache.” Now, his chest rose slowly in shallow breaths. The television that once ran CNN on loop had gone black. By nightfall, the virus had overcome the 92-year-old and he died.

The nurses gathered his belongings. A sprawling life of more than nine decades textured by second-chance romance, cruise trips, Market Basket doughnuts and a love of World War II aircraft was reduced, in that moment, to a plastic bag filled with a picture frame, a pair of hearing aids, a plant in a disposable cup, a pile of clothes, and a $100 Starbucks gift card.

Then they rang his wife, who had not seen him since December.

Not quite Gray’s elegy, but a very clear one from the Boston Globe writer who had been “embedded” in the Hospital and had watched Mr Chapski die. Nobody should die like that was his thesis, but at least the nursing staff shed a tear.

And even me, Mouse who will never see 92 months let alone 92 years, shed one too.