Modest Expectation – The Deer Hunter

Activity in War is movement in a resistant medium. Just as a man immersed in water is unable to perform with ease and regularity the most natural and simplest movement, that of walking, so in War, with ordinary powers, one cannot keep even the line of mediocrity. This is the reason that the correct theorist is like a swimming master, who teaches on dry land movements which are required in the water, which must appear grotesque and ludicrous to those who forget about the water. This is also why theorists, who have never plunged in themselves, or who cannot deduce any generalities from their experience, are unpractical and even absurd, because they only teach what everyone knows—how to walk.

Carl von Clausewitz

I am no Clausewitz; what is going on in Ukraine probably owes something to those who are familiar with what he has said on War. War creates extraordinary times, and only a few people can survive its intensity. Zelensky is on the cusp of greatness, and unlike Churchill who was deeply flawed, could emerge as a great figure without the negative aspects – and at a younger age. Zelensky is a comedian – as such he understands the frailty of human nature; and it is that understanding, coupled with his incorruptible ferocity, which enables him to tower over both friend and foe. Before Zelensky, Ukraine was seen as a basket case, with both a succession of corrupt governments and, for a time, a very pro-Soviet Government, not unlike Belorussia.

NATO, with the escalating commitment of tanks to the War, seems to be signalling a Spring offensive, where the tactics which the Germans used in early 1940 to win the battle will be played out again, albeit in a modified form. Even without feeding the troops with amphetamine as the Reich did, it is here that NATO has an overwhelming advantage. Black soil dry is a beautiful surface upon which to launch an offensive, but if the Spring rains come, then the tanks will become less effective in the terrain. But the overall number of tanks in the offensive should be sufficient to counteract the rain – hopefully.

At the same time, intelligence is being gathered as to where the pro-Russian population resides within the Ukraine boundaries. Neither side wishes to garrison a countryside where an underground resistance movement is the last thing anyone wants, having been exhausted by war.

Nevertheless, despite the NATO decision to contain the War, the aim will be to take back Crimea, which has been considered pro-Russian. The Kerch Bridge and the land bridge from Rostov in Russia through Mariupol and Melitopol in Ukraine and into Crimea would be viable targets for an augmented Ukrainian force.  Therefore, optimistically, assuming that Crimea will be retaken and Ukraine is accepted into NATO, Russia will be strategically outflanked in the Black Sea. No need to cross the border; all so simple. Unfortunately, no. No need to garrison anybody.

One suspects that Russia is so riddled with corruption that it is hard to imagine that such a country, despite an initial overwhelming superiority in arms can endlessly prosecute conflict at the current level without a massive change in the situation it finds itself in. The refusal of NATO to allow the war to spread across the Russian border provides some relief. This allows the Russians to destroy much of the Ukrainian infrastructure, without it appears, it cowering the general population. But there are limits, and the Russians in the end have at least one viable threat – convert the Ukraine War into a nuclear war.

What puzzles me is the seeming disconnect between the everyday life – in Australia concerned with the so-called “Invasion Day” and preparing for a year with scant attention to the prospect of a nuclear war and the inexorable movement of the planet to irreversible, unmanageable climate change. A nuclear war is not being seriously contemplated.  But much of the World is being governed by old men, most of whom are in positions where they are protected from being fingered for dementia. I do not rule out that some of these grandees have tertiary syphilis, but nobody looks for the chameleon disease. In the end, the World does not need demented grandiosity.

Men are loath to go to the doctor. Putin has been subject to speculation over his mental condition, and he would have steered clear of any examination which might confirm this – especially if an organic cause were incidentally discovered.  As written in the Los Angeles Times just after the Ukraine invasion in February last year, it suggested that while Putin could be going mad, mental disability can be used as a ruse. The notion that a head of state can reap foreign policy rewards by appearing utterly unpredictable — a tactic President Nixon was said to have employed to try to rattle North Vietnam — also had recent echoes during the Trump administration, when supporters maintained he cleverly flummoxed opponents by unexpectedly breaking with established norms. I think cum grano salo, notwithstanding!

As I said, nobody seems to take the nuclear war option seriously. Russia has extensively destroyed Ukraine infrastructure which will need to be rebuilt. What will stop Russia from going the further step, if madness is abroad within the Kremlin. When the Cold War was at its height in the 1950s, and there was a real fear of a nuclear war, WWII damage in Europe at least was still evident. Russia had effectively sealed off Eastern Europe and neutralised Austria and Finland; thus, the Russian Empire had a huge buffer zone, and when rebellion occurred in Hungary in 1956, the West just sat on its hands and watched Hungary moved back into the Russian fold. Yet the prospect of nuclear war was uppermost in the American government’s minds, culminating in the Cuban crisis. However, the defences against a nuclear war were extensive – I remember seeing the nuclear shelter at Greenbriar, a historic hotel in West Virginia, where a bunker was built so the government could be transferred there from Washington in the event of a nuclear war.

Putin has shown that he is the master of divide and rule; and he has been able to exploit the narcissism of the wave of populist dictators.  Particularly troubling has been his relationship with Trump. The relationship as reported as changed from the years when Trump was hosting a “world” beauty contest as his then contribution to American foreign relations. In 2013, Trump admitted to an unspecified yet warm relationship with Putin, something he later denied. Nevertheless, what exists behind outward conflicting statements, can only be only the subject of conjecture, but it is inconceivable that the Americans are not well acquainted with Trump’s behaviour in compromising his own country.

Another game changer the Russians must be contemplating is the assassination of Zelensky, and reckoning that the Ukrainian resolve will crumble, given that Ukraine was perceived to be corruption-ridden not so long ago. Zelensky, from his recent action, is acutely aware that corrupt behaviour must be combatted quickly.

Then what is to stop Putin slinging a few nuclear warheads into Poland to test reaction. Once the tide turns as inevitably it must, Russia must face defeat, whether they cut off her head by employing nuclear devices or mounting an invasion by technology superior to any the Russians can muster. Presumably NATO has enough data to assess the risk. NATO is in a bind. Things were fine when it was just a case of brinkmanship, but Putin changed the game when he invaded a country close to the heart of NATO.

He had telegraphed his tactics by the brutality in the Russian Caucasus, and in Georgia where he took a piece of that country because he could. Armenia was another playground, but rather than upping the ante there, he turned to the Ukraine. He predicted after his takeover of Crimea, that the Ukraine would be easybeats.

Chernihiv, Ukraine

Nevertheless, he has shown that while he may be losing the ground war, he can destroy the infrastructure of the country with impunity. He may believe that Europe is not ready for the same level of destruction in order to prevail over Putin. Putin may, as I wrote above, send a few missiles into Poland to see whether NATO has the appetite for a war as bruising as it has been for Ukraine.

In one way, the deployment of the leopard tanks is symptomatic of this hesitancy, which dictators view as weakness, and others bureaucratic sluggishness. Presumably if someone decisive in NATO said, “let’s muster all the tanks and let’s go!”, there would be a flurry of reasons advanced not to send them. Masterly inactivity; and all the while the Ukrainians keep defending their country, despite it being gradually destroyed. Anyway, Spring will come at the beginning of March, and it will be Autumn in Australia. I’ll be celebrating St David’s Day, eating Welsh rarebit and watching “On the Beach”, so as not to worry about the cloud on the horizon.

But in the end, what would I know, as Clausewitz said about just telling everybody how to walk without, I suggest, sucking an egg or two. I can’t even swim.

The Battle for Alice Springs 

William Tilmouth

Our major aim would be the central remote building construction. It is one that the government worked very closely on, through the Indigenous Housing Authority of the Northern Territory. It was one where they changed the procurement process from each community having a pick of housing to it being under one project manager. The project manager had the responsibility of allocating the houses as well as the funding, so it was vacant of any deception or manipulation. That having been done, the standardised designs and standardised specifications came in. It got rid of a lot of unscrupulous thinking and made it workable. That is the way that the community had control over the apprentices, where they wanted the houses and the designs, and the money came directly from my hand into the project. – William Tilmouth Executive Director the Tangentyere Council 2005.

The Alice Springs debacle challenges the relevance of the Voice. The NT government virtually gave open slather to the town camp inhabitants to be intoxicated at will so that domestic violence has increased and the young kids rampage through the night, showing a combination of boredom, recreation and pilfering.

It is summer and the Aboriginals tend to come to town to avoid the heat of the outstations; but as I always remember when I was visiting towns where there was a high proportion of Aboriginal people, there would be talk about the “bad people” coming to town, without specifying who they were. But if you worked in a place long enough, you had a good idea. The other influence which was mentioned to me was the kadaitcha man, unseen whose power was exerted over spiritual totems, but nobody identified anyone to me, although I met a number of ngangkari, (medicine men had a number of names).

Alices Springs has presented a chronic problem of alcohol abuse. It is commonplace to have loud shouting matches in the streets, and at the root of the problem is alcohol, drugs, neglect, boredom. These need addressing, but not by a fleeting visit by a Canberra entourage. Each of these demands strengthening traditional structural change and a willingness for this to occur.

Years ago, William Tilmouth, when he was the Executive Director of Tangentyere Council, took me around the camps where Aboriginal people live for at least part of the year. It was a time when his elder brother, Tracker Tilmouth was still alive. It was clear that William and his brothers carried authority. He was intent in improving the standards of town camps, at a time when outstations were the winter accommodation. When I met him, he was one of Arrente brothers, who were described to me as graziers. Between 1989 and 1997, his brother Tracker planned and oversaw the purchase of five pastoral leases for Aboriginal traditional owners. As Warren Snowden said about Tracker at the time of his death in 2015, “He was an enigmatic figure but he had a real passion for getting people involved in employment.”

William did, and the youngest, Patrick, also have similar passions. In explanation, the three brothers were the last trio of children born into a family of eight. Ostensibly because of their darker colour, these three were sent north to Darwin in the first instance. The first five because their skin was a lighter tone were sent to Adelaide. The whole family were part of the Stolen Generation – dispossessed from their lands. Hence when they returned, the three brothers gained influence through the land acquisition.

In 2018 William had moved to head Children’s Ground, (inter alia its aim is to secure the fundamental rights of the child, the family and the community, wherever intergenerational inequity pervades). Yet Tilmouth said, When my father’s traditional lands were given back, my brother and I were not even notified of the ceremonial handback. The apology meant nothing to me – there are too many sorries and not enough truths.” In other words dispossession is a great weapon which the white populations so exploited.

The point is that William Tilmouth is not a blow-in. Yet when the Prime Minister dropped by and presented himself as an exemplar of old whitefella paternalism, Tilmouth was apparently not invited. After all, Linda Burney and Pat Dodson came too – talking the normal banal stuff, to which the nation has become inured.  It should not take a gaggle of photo opportunity prone politicians pontificating to reinstate the alcohol bans, which should have never been removed.

Marion Scrymgour

The local Member of Parliament for Lingiari is Marion Scrymgour. I thought she looked distinctly uncomfortable as part of the Prime Minister’s entourage. I knew her when she served as director of the Wurli Wurlinjang Aboriginal Corporation, co-ordinated several trial community care programs around Katherine, and as Director of the Katherine West Health Board Aboriginal Corporation. She did a very good job, and I remember she had a corps of very good Aboriginal health workers (as they were then called). I had always identified her with Katherine and the Jawoyn people, but she is half Tiwi; half Arrente – which does give her sufficient standing to sort through the challenges this Alice Springs crisis presents.

The problem is that it is said Canberra only listens to Aboriginal people, who some deride as “coconuts”.  The currently most influential of the Aboriginal bureaucrats seems to be Tom Calma who has walked that edge. He is an Aboriginal who has immersed himself in the Canberra bureaucracy since 1992 and become the convenient authority for the media to consult. He is the whitefella anodyne, who has an exceptional ability to collect laurel wreaths and shiny baubles, the latest being Australian senior citizen of the year representing the Australian Capital Territory. It is not an unfamiliar trajectory, as in 2012 he was named ACT Australian of the year, only to be defeated by Geoffrey Rush for the gold medal. The nature of the man is not to give up in the quest for ongoing deserved recognition.

His trajectory has also shown a canniness of being given credibility without leaving Canberra, without the unpleasant task of doing anything but pamphleteering – a blackfella Fabian. He has left that activism to his mate, Marcia Langton, and Noel Pearson; demonstrating what can be done by a distant megaphone? History will judge whether Calma will have any legacy but a trail of documents and whether he will have any impact in solving the problem with black and white relationships, as shown by this latest trouble.

I have a simple solution as a start. Sit with William Tilmouth and whoever else he believes relevant and review what has worked in Central Australia, and as often happens what has worked for more than just a couple of years, generally until the governing “mob” changes. A common scenario is that a different mob gets control, and matters go back to square one.  Feuds are common among Aboriginals, but whether these are greater than in the whitefella world, it is for others to provide objective evidence. I was not aware of that having been shown in Alice Springs.

I was amazed to see the Congress (Central Australian Aboriginal Congress) buildings vandalised. Congress, I remember, was integral in assuring Aboriginal social and health status in Alice Springs.  At the time I was most closely involved with Aboriginal people the idea that it would be vandalised would have been unimaginable.

However, I am haunted by the time when standing in an Aboriginal quarry elsewhere with an Aboriginal elder. We were accompanied by a woman doctor. I turned to him and said, “This is men’s business”. He looked at me for a minute and replied, without directly responding, “When the young fellas moved the corroboree stones to do burn-outs, I gave way and do not care any longer.”

Thus goes Aboriginal elder authority. 

Hog Deer, Anyone?

Control measures for deer have not been extensively investigated as priority has been given to other pest species in Australia… once and future bureaucratic published excuse!

Deer are the next pests to be exterminated. They are just big rabbits. So, while they will eat out native vegetation, unlike the rabbits, they are hoofed animals so they also trample it and as such are enablers of weed infestations. Deer spread disease, and foot and mouth disease is an everpresent scourge which has been kept out of Australia. Then there the incurable wasting Johnes’ disease (JD), caused by a paratuberculosis bacteria. Reservoirs of this disease are known to occur in deer, very germane to this comment from the Queensland Government where the highest risks of spread of JD into and within Queensland is the movement of livestock from high-risk populations interstate and from properties where infection is known or suspected. It is unsurprising that deer are considered a feral pest there.

Thus, some states and territories consider feral deer to be pests (WA, SA, QLD, NT, ACT). Yet States with the largest deer populations (VIC, NSW, TAS) give deer full or partial protection status and ostensibly manage deer primarily for recreational hunting. In Australia there are estimated to be two million deer, in 1980 there were 50,000. This is despite an estimated legal harvest in Victoria in 2011 of 41,000 deer, including 34,000 Sambar.

The Victorian laissez-faire attitude is exemplified by the fact that Hog, Red, Sambar, Fallow, Rusa, Chital, Sika and Wapiti Deer are defined as protected wildlife under the Wildlife Act 1975 (Wildlife Act). Hog, Red, Sambar, Fallow, Rusa and Chital Deer are further defined as game, which means they can be hunted by licensed game hunters. All other species of deer are declared as prohibited pest animals under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 (CaLP Act).” The whole of the Victorian approach is that Victoria is akin to the Scottish Highlands, where deer hunting is a recreational activity, where class distinctions are acted out. Take the Victorian concern that hunters must also follow approved hunting methods and equipment; must comply with bag limits, seasons (for Hog Deer), and hunting times (no recreational night hunting); and must have a current Game Licence endorsed for hunting deer: either stalking and/or hunting Sambar Deer with hounds.

So much rubbish only in place to protect the hunting lodges which do a lucrative trade in providing accommodation for the deer hunters and charging fees to hunt on their property. Hardly a sufficient excuse, but enough to have the funds to lobby politicians.

Culling feral deer in NZ

Tasmania still has legislation which has protected the deer population up till now. In Tasmania the deer are fallow and, it is estimated, now number, 100,000. This has ignited the people with a green edge to campaign for the unequivocal declaration of the deer being vermin, with no limits on the number killed. The Tasmanian government is about to embark on aerial shooting of deer using firearms and night spotting equipment not readily available in Tasmania. Aerial culling has been shown to work in New Zealand.

Move across the South Australian border, and the incidental comment that deer have been eradicated from Kangaroo Island just confirmed the tenor of the South Australian approach. Hunting the deer which are considered a pest was the responsibility of the landowners, with the intent of culling the number of female deer, so the number of fawns falls. The small and relatively localised deer population on Kangaroo Island made the eradication program feasible and possible because of community involvement, particularly in reporting sightings. What did not work was use of stalker dogs and food lures. However, with the bush fires in 2020, while the level of destruction was in region of 44,000, most of which were sheep, deer casualties were not mentioned, suggesting that the previous eradication had been successful, but the original numbers were comparatively small.

Kangaroo Island deer became a problem when a deer farm collapsed and the deer were set free. This is one of the common reasons for the explosion of the deer population – deer farms that fail and the deer are let go. The other major reason for the deer explosion has been the “salting” of the environment by deer hunters, who want variety in what they bag. In all these endeavours, there are devotees in high places, who have blocked any endeavours to change the system,

Deer have a number of advantages. There is this lack of recognition of how dangerous they are. Unlike feral horses in the high country, they hide away from urban Australia. Their destructive effect is complicated by perceptions of deer, either being dewy-eyed fawns – the bambi effect, or alternatively projecting the majesty of the Monarch of the Glen. The hunter lobby is very powerful given that, in both the Victorian and New South Wales parliaments, there are representatives of Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party.

As a footnote, what intrigued me is that enshrined in Victorian Law concerning deer is the inclusion of wapiti as protected species. We know them as elk, and for hunters the antlers are irresistible as wall hangings, and the elk sausages I once had when staying with a family in Montana – very tasty. Australia, you have been warned; elk are loose in the South Island of New Zealand.

Time to develop a national plan to rid Australia of a pest, before the eastern States release elk into the wild, adding to the list of feral animals destroying Australia. Or is the shootin’ and huntin’ lobby and its votes in parliament just too strong in Victoria and NSW?

Mouse Whisper

In a recent issue of The Economist when the future of the Walt Disney company now that it approached its centenary was being considered, the writer reminded us of what Walt Disney said on the eve of the first Disneyland opening: “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”

Modest Expectations – Swansea

Saigon River

For the next two weeks, we are cruising the waters of Vietnam. Commencing in Ho Chi Minh City, we have just pulled out into the Saigon River as I write this continually changing blog. It is Tuesday just after seven am, four hours behind Sydney time, on a day when the Treasurer will empty his pot of gold or whatever over the Australian people. Past cranes, moored tramp steamers, the container barges, the tugboats, house boats and small craft, it is raining and for a working port, it is strangely silent.   Clumps of water hyacinth, a skerrick of Mother Nature, defiantly float down the heavily industrialised river. We await the delivery of our breakfast. It is four hours to the sea.

Once Miss Saigon Now Don’t Miss Ho Chi Minh City

We landed in Ho Chi Minh City, which we all once knew as Saigon. Here in a city of about 10 million people, most seem to live on motor bikes and scooters. This is the inescapable impression one gets of this city as you drive from the airport. Gone are the days of wandering the city. My images are those of a man encased in a vehicle being driven hither and thither. The city I knew as Saigon shows little signs of what they call “The American War”. Our guide drives us past the War Remnants Museum where, we were told, the detritus of the War abandoned by the Americans as they retreated from Vietnam in 1975 is on show. To the people it is there to serve as a reminder; and it is in a distinct space away from the Military Museum, where the success of the Vietnamese people is remembered. Its forecourt is littered with planes, helicopters and tanks, mostly Russian. We did not go in.

My experience of the Vietnam War was examining those young men whose birthdays came up in the lottery, drafted if classified as medically fit. These young men were 19 years old; and now these ageing veterans are beset by the demons of having experienced war in a land that they hardly knew for a cause disgracefully misrepresented by the politicians of the time. I well remember the Federal election of 1966 when Harold Holt won in a landslide victory, interpreted then as a ringing endorsement of the War.

Võ Nguyên Giáp

Unlike the Second World War, where Australia was threatened briefly with invasion, this was a War concocted by a few men, some of whom should have known better. It then descended into an obsession, a delusion, and the young people rebelled. After all, it was a war for the Americans to save face “by soundly defeating a third world country with third world socialist ideals with third rate communists like Ho Chi Minh and Võ Nguyên Giáp”. How so very wrong were these assumptions. Lyndon Johnson found that out when he poured over 500,000 troops into battle with over 58,000 casualties. Australia, his “all-the-way” fellow traveller, committed 60,000 army, naval and air force personnel for 521 deaths and over 3,000 wounded.

For what? I am no longer the young doctor who examined conscripts, but someone being driven around a bustling metropolis. We stop at the Presidential Palace where a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gates on 30 April 1975 effectively ending the War.  Now the grounds are a place for families to walk around, children to play, and there is only one small reminder when a uniformed man officiously challenged my wife while she was photographing, but did not prevent her from doing so, once reassured she was not trying to evade payment for entry into the grounds by crashing the gate. He nevertheless made her stand behind a mythical white line he had drawn with his finger.

Being a young doctor in the 1960s, the money for recruit examination came in handy as I was living on a meagre post-graduate scholarship and had a family. It gave me a perspective on the young men who had been called up. Only once was I confronted by a young man in beard and the uniform of the Woodstock set. He refused to be examined; I and a young fellow doctor whom I knew well were left as the night went on trying to induce him to be examined. A bloody martyr. Save us the histrionics, I thought at the time.

There was no way we were going to pass him, but we stupidly thought we could save him from being arrested if he would consent to be examined. We watched and he watched back. Eventually, the other young doctor calmly explained that eventually we could just leave him and then what may happen would be beyond our control; we were not infringing on his rights any more than any other doctor except that we could not explicitly say anything to him about what we found. While he was in this room he was totally under our control; we just had a job to do – and the word repeated  several times struck a chord.

It did not take us long to find a reason for failure to pass his medical examination. He had the loudest machinery murmur that either of us had ever heard, indicative of a septal defect in the heart.  The only further requirement for us then was to ascertain whether he was symptomatic, which he wasn’t. As this was going on, the defiant demeanour had given way to the fearful request asking if anything was wrong. We could only respond to by saying he should go and see his local doctor as soon as possible. He did not have a local doctor – “only the sick had doctors” – we shrugged and told him to get dressed and find a doctor anyway; that was all.

Given the buggery he had caused, which just meant we got home about eleven in the evening, we had a wry laugh about it. Reflecting on that episode now from a distance in time, it was just an example of bureaucratic anomie we had to tolerate to get and maintain our employment; and rationalise that there were three groups of  examining doctors – one looking to fail and one with the zeal to pass them. The third group who were those encased in their pure objectivity. Of course, you knew in which group my friend and I lay.

All these memories came back as we were driven around this city, where the French influence is still evident in the wide boulevards lined with tall resin trees. The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica is encased in scaffolding and is temporarily closed. Yet you see it is derivative from the Paris Cathedral of the same name, except that the Saigon version is built of Toulouse bricks, which have retained their bright red colour even after so many years. The French were here in Indochina from 1858 until 1954 when its army was crushed at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, a defeat which should have alerted the Americans to the robust strategic combativeness of the North Vietnamese – and their courage.

Bánh Mì to go

Today is near the end of the rainy season, and while the hotel is ablaze with Singapore orchids and hydrangeas, the streets are beige and grey, there was frangipani in leaf but yet to flower. Shop fronts cluster – cafés, a motor bicycle repair shop, bánh mì outlets, craft shops. Then we drive into the street lined by the likes of Hermes, the flash Takashimaya and all the other suspects for the wealthy shopper.

We stayed at the Hyatt, an excellent hotel where the standard of Vietnamese cuisine raises the bar for their cousins in Australia. As I gaze around this spacious hotel with its people, obligingly going out their way to cater for me, I thought, how pointless the aptly renamed American War was. Unfortunately, there are those in power who cover their eyes and create memorials to those who so unnecessarily died or were so crippled not only physically but emotionally that they are the legacy for a fruitless war. Yet the raided bluster still goes on, even if the aim is the destruction of a War Memorial rather than Vietnam.

Medicare Lost

There are a number of elements in the Australian Health system which are both misunderstood and misrepresented. The 1946 Referendum granted the Federal Government the power of providing a financial benefit for medical, dental, pharmaceutical and hospital services. The benefit goes to the patient; it is not a fee charged by practitioner or institution. It is the amount of funding to be paid as a “benefit” to the patient for a particular item of medical service. A dental scheme has never been enacted.

In 1974, optometrists gained limited access to benefits on the grounds that they were deemed “medical”. It was a propitious time for that profession because of the number at that time who were members of parliament. It helps. The consequence of this generosity was the potential for this to cascade to every health professional being able to be deemed “medical”.

That has yet to happen, even though it is every central agency’s nightmare, given that Medicare is one of few expenditure line items not to be capped, although from afar, it is evident that capping is being undertaken by subterfuge. This generates its own problems for patients as the gaps between medical benefit and actual fee charged inevitably widens.

Finally, doctors are free to charge what they believe fair and reasonable. The Federal Government has no control over prices and incomes, last tested by the Referendum result at the end of 1973. The States do have the ability to fix prices, but in this day and age that would be politically suicidal – even if a Government tried to isolate one group of professionals.

When Medibank and Medicare were being brought into being, both Bill Hayden and Neil Blewett, as Ministers of the Crown were very knowledgeable and spoke the language of “health” fluently. So did Michael Wooldridge on the Coalition side later. All three were effective. From the commencement of my graduation in medicine at the end of 1963 to the present, there have been 22 Australian Health Ministers. Bill Hayden in fact was never Minister of Health, but as the Minister responsible for the introduction of Medibank, he may as well have been. Most of the others are in the same basket as is the current incumbent, Mark Butler. They neither speak “Health” nor know much about it. Thus, they are very susceptible to those influencers, whether these are in fact knowledgeable or not. Health has its fair share of the evangelical, the biased, the bigoted and the just plain stupid. Imagine you are standing in a marketplace where everybody is speaking a different language that you barely understand, but you are the newly appointed consul from Rome and everyone is speaking Arsacid Pahlavi.

All three mentioned above had very good bureaucratic backup; people knowledgeable and able to speak “Health.”  The problem is that a Head of the Department over a 12 years’ reign who does not really understand her portfolio, save as being very good at keeping her Minister on side irrespective of party has been accompanied by the decline in the quality of health policy. This modus operandi essentially ensures that nothing of importance gets done; especially if you use the ruse of shuffling everybody every few months which is a recipe for destroying the corporate memory.

There are a number of bureaucrats who believe that bureaucratic management can be content free.  The late John Paterson clearly believed this, but he was not alone. This theory does not work in health. Having been around longer than most in health policy and politics, I remember well the axiom that it takes 18 years for any reform to be sustained; and that is what has been lacking. John Deeble and Dick Scotton were working on the reform of medical financing from the mid 1960s, with important input into the influential Nimmo Inquiry in 1969. The culmination of their work was the passage of the Medicare legislation in 1983. That sounds about the expected time, and the scheme was successful. But over time, with the loss of these two especially, when dysfunctions in the ongoing implementation emerge, remedies are not found.

Corporate memory is shown to be in short supply. Since Medicare from the start provided the right balance between government funder, health provider and patient, it nevertheless was susceptible to gaming. First there were the State governments who, once the Federal Government allowed them access to Medicare payments, privatised a substantial amount of their services or, in the case of Victoria, just diverted health payments to other parts of the State budget. So, the first impediments were rogue State governments compounded by a weak Federal response.

The second element in maintaining stability which was very important were the periodic Inquiries into the Fees Schedule between the AMA and Government, the last being in 1984. The value of these Inquiries was that they made both sides produce data, however imperfect, instead of opinion. As such, these data could be examined objectively and a negotiated position agreed. After these Inquiries finished, which were essentially exercises in cost accounting, the consultancy which Robert Wilson and I were involved in looked at in depth into several of these exercises, quasi-inquiries between government and specific segments of the medical profession. There is no doubt that the Fees Inquiries were not conducted with the level of complexity now required in costing medical services and practice arrangements.

However, it is fair to say that costing radiation oncology practice in the 1980s approached this level of complexity. There were a number of lessons which still can be learned from this exercise. The first was that when the professional relativities were being developed, most of the radiation oncologists were employed in the public sector. Hence the only reference point to Medicare benefits was the salary they earned from the particular State-run facility.

The technical staff were salaried – the radiographers, the scientists and all the others essential for treatment. Capital expenditures by States was on machines – when funds were available new equipment would be purchased – with no thought given to amortising the cost of these facilities. At the same time technology was improving with development of linear accelerators, the most commonly used treatment machines, and there were calls for such machines to be funded.

Essentially then we had to construct a cost effective model, taking into account all of the above three elements for private radiation oncology practice, which we did in association with the Federal Department of Health, involving delineation of the professional, technical and capital components. Along the way, we determined that three linear accelerators were the most efficient deployment of facilities. There were subsequently a number of Inquiries into Radiation Oncology trying to disprove our findings. Eventually politics triumphed – single treatment machine facilities were installed with all the staffing problems that entailed and the Federal government allowed the States to have access to the capital component despite the costings being based on private facilities. This decision has bedevilled the health system ever since; not only States privatising but also “double-dipping”.

The other change has been the extensive corporatisation of medical practice with both Australian and in recent years international finance company owners, and since the sustainability of the business model is profit not patient outcome, then the gaming of Medicare items becomes an essential component underpinning such a model. Nothing has been done to change this effect on Medicare. As a consequence further Medicare funding is repatriated overseas.

Finally, there are the doctors themselves. Even among the medical profession before corporatisation, some had already embarked on determining the best methodology to game the system. Medical practice loses its credibility if the objectives are all financial. With seemingly endless differentiation of the specialties and the chopping and changing of item descriptors, the number of items expand and their descriptors have expanded. With volume comes complexity, and therefore some doctors have been known to employ people specifically to work out the optimal profitability by manipulating the value of various items of service, whilst maintaining the broad lines which the Health Department has established, such as for general practitioners the 80/20 rules (seeing more than 80 patients for 20 or more billing days a year) and more recently a similar rule for consultant physicians and paediatricians in relation to telehealth.

Extravagant lifestyle becomes one driver to charge well beyond the benefit. If there were regular Inquiries, it could focus everybody’s need to have an affordable health system. If the proceduralists have good results, then the patient is inclined to accept the cost. I suspect that is why some ophthalmologists are able to charge exorbitant fees – cataract removal and lens implant gives back eyesight, in skilled hands it is swift, with little fear of complication. Moreover, we only have two eyes so there is a limit on the number able to be done on the one person! Personal willingness to pay a premium has always been an important vector. For most ophthalmologists, attention to the items of service remains an important vector for profitable gaming if one believes the recent claim that injection for macular degeneration is being overused; and here there may be more than two bites at the cherry. This illustrates how narrow is the walkway between gaming and outright fraud.

Item descriptors are the basis of relativity, the different value of one specialty against the another. The relativities were set in the early 1970s when each of the then specialties was asked to value its professional expertise, but over time, changes in medical practice should have been factored into medical practice and altered these relativities. The benefit when conceived was set based on the professional component. It assumed the cost of the technical component would be paid by the hospital or facility where the operation takes place, which led in the 1980s to recognition of stand-alone day surgery centres. The problem of capital expenditure in terms of prostheses has never been satisfactorily sorted out, and if it is not absorbed into a global benefit for a particular item of service, it will continue in a limbo state of chaos.

Now that the Government intends to place consulting firms on a strict diet, the Department should beef up its expertise in medical knowledge and cost accounting by constructing a long term Medicare Branch directly responsible to the Minister, based on the model Robert Wilson and I conceived which was successful and transparent until the content-free big consulting firms took over.

The areas to be examined should expect the AMA to develop a similar expertise and be less concerned with vapid reactive media releases. However, it also needs to be recognised that with greater complexity in medicine one organisation can no longer claim expertise across the entire medical spectrum and therefore this process inevitably involves the assistance of specialist organisations.

Then the effects of the following can be objectively examined

(a)      gaming, and when gaming becomes fraud

(b)      corporatisation

(c)      States accessing Medicare

(d)      the structure of items and their descriptors to incorporate the three components

(e)      the future of relativities

(f)       the re-institution of regular Health Department – AMA Inquiries

I have also not included so-called aesthetic surgery – lifestyle masquerading as health. It requires a separate line item.

As an addendum, some may say that the recent MBS Review carried out some of these tasks and, with its latest hand-picked committee, it will deal with the relevant issues. However, I don’t see all the above issues on its agenda. The MBS Review was a massive undertaking that had many critics, especially in relation to the perception of hand-picked participants and pre-conceived outcomes.

The recent media attention on a PhD about the use of Medicare items and perceptions of overuse adds another dimension. I have yet to read the 400 or so pages of the thesis, but there is clearly disagreement about what conclusions were actually reached and their accuracy; the mainstream media, as always, does its bit of headline grabbing without too much concern for the nuance. Unhelpful when the rot is widespread and entrenched.

The Throwback

Just a thought about the antics of Vladimir Putin when I heard that many of the young educated, the basis of a middle class which Russia has always found difficult to maintain, have left the country. They are those who have the funds to do it, and in a country which is essentially socially corrupt, “who you know” is paramount to achieving one’s goal.

The fool Yeltsin, who facilitated the transition of Russia to a kleptocracy enabled a large number of the financially adept without any apparent morality to carve Russian resources up into fabulously wealthy satraps. Putin’s rise from being an obscure KGB agent showed the value of contacts, in fact becoming a form of padrone, and then realising the fallibility and foibles of Yeltsin, he nestled like a cuckoo, not making himself a large target in order to be underestimated by potential rivals as he threw them out of the nest.

Putin was a shrewd, intelligent man, who yet has always carried a mystical belief in Mother Russia. Whether Putin was religious or not, he recognised that in post-Communist Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church could be an ally. After all, while the Church looms large within the framework of Orthodoxy, Moscow is not numbered among the original five Patriarchies.

Feelings of inferiority drive most political behaviour and Putin is no different. The Russian Soviet Empire in which he was born had been stripped of its Asian states and most of its European hegemony. The disdain of the freed Baltic states would have infuriated him. Khrushchev, having ceded Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet in a fit of pique, meant Crimea also need to be recovered in this post-Soviet world.

Putin still had influence in two satellite European countries – Belarus and Ukraine. Elsewhere in the Caucasus and in its former Asian empire, it has been able to ensure that what Russia determines, these states will obey, and he showed what happens with disobedience when he defeated any Georgian aspirations in 2008 and carved pieces off the country to reinforce the point.

Putin repeated the process in Ukraine by occupying the Russian speaking border areas and carrying out a bloodless annexation of Crimea, in so doing humiliating Ukraine, sending elements of the Ukrainian navy based in Sebastopol packing, as Russia assumed control of the Black Sea naval base.

Now it is a different Ukraine, Putin’s corrupt Ukrainian marionettes having been banished by a young man – Zelensky, a true knight errant. And Ukraine has significant resources and a population of over 44 million people (cf Georgia 10 million).

Putin came to office over 30 years ago with all the novelty of youth unknown; now at 70 and over 30 years later, he exists in his braggadocio shell, which threatens and threatens. The problem is that his oligarch mates have not devised the business model for a nuclear war outcome by which they can loot without having to worry about radioactive caviar and vodka laced with just a tincture of polonium. After all, the latter has been favoured Putin method of eliminating his individual adversaries.

Toilets all at Sea 

Fallingwater, Bear Run, Pennsylvania

I recall the anecdote about Frank Lloyd Wright who once said to his son-in-law, Winston Peters; “Wes, sit down will you. You are ruining the scale of my architecture.” Frank Lloyd Wright was a small man, and Wes had been helping in the construction of this extraordinary house, Fallingwater, built over a creek. Whenever anybody mentions Wright’s name, Fallingwater is the first of his many buildings that people associate with him.  Fallingwater is located at Bear Run near Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

Wes Peters, with Frank Lloyd Wright

I remember shaking Winston Peters’ hand, when we were serendipitously at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona at the same time as he was. Given that Wright built homes from the perspective of his short stature, with many of the low ceilings his houses could be described as “snug”. Winston Peters was lean and rangy. I was struck by his quiet manner and in the “old money” he was nearly six foot five inches tall. Wright was feisty. Peters was not, and he would have done what he was told and sat down.

The reason that I thought of that exchange is that it is probably best not to have airlines run by the vertically challenged. I have not travelled by air for some time, but my level of disability is gradually increasing, the price of increasing age. However, in the airplane toilets, you cannot swing a leprechaun – and manoeuvring in such a confined space, where I suspect that the partial pressure of oxygen is much compromised, I have great difficulty using a facility the size of a small wardrobe. The senior airline executives may find cleaning their backsides in an airline toilet a breeze. I do not.  For the disabled of normal size in such a confined space, especially with doors that may open out on a very narrow passage space trying to orient oneself when using canes or crutches is a learned art. This problem has been aired recently in an international travel magazine by a wheelchair bound person who now, when about to travel on a plane, prepares by eating and drinking little in the 24 hours before the flight. Probably resembles the preparation regimen before a colonoscopy.

The danger of deprivation is dehydration, since the plane’s atmosphere desiccates the traveller, and therefore depriving oneself of fluids prior to flying is not very desirable. I just use a container discreetly, and my carer empties it. You must be able to adjust yourself and take your time; and have a very understanding carer.

There are rules about toilets depending on whether the plane has a single or double aisle; and all planes with a seating capacity of over 60 passengers are required to have a toilet. In these smaller planes, the level of difficulty is compounded; and I have been in some embarrassing positions in a Dash-8, where there is no water to wash your hands, and when the door is open, it blocks access to the cockpit and the toilet itself is constructed for a midget – and a small one at that.

Smaller and smaller

I have been on long flights in small planes without toilets and have coped. Nevertheless, the convention of providing any receptacle requires knowing what it is like trying to empty your bladder when the plane is caught in even light turbulence. I am sure I am not the only one to have difficulties; but it is a topic which, like many in the shadows of disability, is not discussed very much – a taboo particularly in the board rooms of small people.

Mouse Whisper

A twitter more about men than mice.

A brilliant Merrie England twittertwist:

My son has lived through five chancellors, four home secretaries, three prime ministers and two monarchs. He’s four months old.

And as Larry the Cat would say, it’s just another new lodger at No. 10 …

Modest Expectations – Lionel Messi

The recent visit of the Prime Minister to Makassar in the Sulawesi, reminded us of the links of the Makassan traders with the northern Aboriginal people well before European discovery. It is a neglected area in the study of the cultural influence of these people.  Thus, I thought it interesting to reproduce below a bark painting which I bought some years ago on Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. You be the judge of the cultural influences at play in this painting. 

In a tortuous vein

I had a pleasant surprise the other day. This is a lesson in clinging onto a view of what you think you know, and what is in fact reality. You may be dying, but you think tomorrow you will be better. I was reminded of the time leading up to the diagnosis of my underlying disease nine years ago. There was a delay in instituting therapy, and I was largely to blame – but not totally.

This time, my legs have been beset by increasing peripheral oedema, two swollen angry red calves and feet, compounded by the sub-fascial swelling on the soles of my feet.

Overnight, the swelling has always decreased, but the level of that reduction in oedema has slowed since the start of the pandemic because of weight increase and closure of hydrotherapy facilities. I dislike exercise especially if it is painful. Hydrotherapy provided a relief from the pain. My legs began to become more and more oedematous. Nobody offered the panacea I was looking for.

Over this period, there had been mention of vascular specialists and compression stockings but, as I now realise, I need for those who advise me to be assertive and not be ambivalent. The latter gives me an excuse for inaction.

I visit a plastic surgeon, who regularly checks me for skin lesions. I mentioned my legs; and once he saw how bad my legs apparently were, he said he had a vascular surgeon colleague whom I should see urgently.

Nearly ten years ago, it was an orthopaedic surgeon who looked at me, ordered tests, and by the next Monday, due to a fortuitous cancellation, I was able to see a consultant rheumatologist, who immediately confirmed the diagnosis the orthopaedic surgeon had considered, but which had been missed by a variety of other doctors. I might add I had seen another orthopaedic surgeon a week or so before and he offered to replace my knee joint almost immediately without any tests. That is the danger of being referred to a specialist, who may be technically brilliant but would have most certainly have ensured a very stormy post-operative passage for myself.

On this second occasion, it was a Thursday afternoon, and by Monday morning first thing, I had an appointment to see the vascular surgeon.

Now this vascular surgeon is young. He shares a clinic with three others. To the best of my knowledge he is not owned by an American hedge fund. He is actually into the business of helping people, not trading a commodity for financial gain.

Vascular ultrasound image

Under one roof, I had an ultrasound of my lower limbs’ vascular system, a consultation where the specialist did not expect to sit across a desk in a consulting room – inspected, interacted with the allied health professionals, recommended compression stockings. These and the applicator were on hand and my wife was taught the optimal way the stockings should be applied. As she said, looking at me meaningfully, she did read the instructions and watched the video in addition to the initial demonstration.

All in less than two hours – a one-stop shop. We had the compression stockings and the applicator.

Here was a local product where any Medicare benefits paid remained onshore, able to be reinvested. How different to those diagnostic imaging and pathology companies allegedly repatriating Medicare payments overseas.

Over 20 years ago, the Australia Institute in a discussion paper analysed the growth of corporate medicine foreshadowing the decline in standards as the profit motive became the prime driver in health care.

As the growth of corporate medicine grew so did Medicare become the ATM, not only for private entrepreneurs but also for the States, which were up to their filing cabinets in cost-shifting. As many of the purchasers were underwritten by overseas investors, the consequence increasingly will be that Medicare funding, which should remain in Australia, ends up in overseas tax havens.

The problem is that the medical profession has ceded control and hence independence to its corporate masters. As somebody who was involved in the various Inquiries in the regulation of the Medicare Benefits Schedule, I have always regretted that the AMA gave up this privilege, which meant that there was not any regular mechanism to alter the Medicare benefit, which was constantly misrepresented as a fee rather than a financial patient benefit the government provided for payment to the doctor.

During my time at the AMA, the discrepancy between the Medibank (then Medicare) benefit and the fee charged was symbolised by the AMA annual recommended list of medical fees. This was a guide, not an instruction by the AMA. Nevertheless, it maintained a relevance, which has only persisted after the introduction of gap insurance when the private health funds, initially prohibited, were able to re-enter the medical insurance market.

John Deeble, Medicare pioneer

After 1984, when the AMA abandoned the regular fee for Medicare benefit Inquiries, it became a matter for every medical specialty to negotiate for themselves. The problem for some of the medical specialties was a function of what happened following the Nimmo Inquiry in 1969 into health insurance which was that benefit relativities were based on what were the fees charged by each specialty; and these relativities naturally created distortions in the market as technology made a number of items of service much cheaper to perform. In 1977 it was clear that technology advances with automaton replacing manual testing was enabling pathologists to make a bonanza from Medicare payments. This Inquiry into the Pathology Medibank Benefits was the first instance of government intervention into these relativities.

The AMA, through the Inquiries, had effectively maintained control over relativities. It provided a form of “flawed order” even though some of the Medicare benefits were well in excess of the underlying cost of the service while some other areas of the profession had done badly.

Thus, from an exercise where the AMA and the Government were in an edgy if not directly confrontational relationship, then there was none.

As I found out henceforth from the AMA relinquishing its position, it became a matter of having a good cost accountant to negotiate with government. With the growth of technology, while the value of the professional component of the medical service remained important, in some areas of the service there were both a substantial technical and a capital component. The “technical” component includes the cost of the scientists, the technicians, the allied health professionals including nurses required to provide services which were not medical, and “capital”, such as the cost of linear accelerators, MRI facilities and so forth.

Not all capital costs are covered. For instance, disposables were inherent in the delivery of the professional component, and not differentiated into any of the other Medicare benefit components. In fact, most of the cost of these has been borne by the hospital. Even now re-usable devices and prostheses lie outside the cost of the service.

Enter the world of the entrepreneurs, more interested in cash flows and profit rather than patient care. Some of the first were medical graduates, like the criminal, the late Geoffrey Edelsten, who gave the whole area a bad name; but it is the multinational companies that have moved behind a wall of cost accounting to dissect the Medicare schedule to exact the greatest profits, and in so doing, to enable Medicare funding to be sent to tax havens overseas.

Some may say how outrageous such a comment is; but the easiest way to deal with Medicare funding is to prohibit any profits that those companies who benefit in any way from exporting those profits.

This vascular surgeon, whose expertise spreads far wider that just advising on varicosities, demonstrated the one-stop shop advantages, which I frankly did not expect, and another fact – you don’t need to run late if you are a doctor.  And you do not need to be a multinational corporation; his rooms were modern and located within a religious hospital.  Good God, on second thoughts, located in a multinational corporation!

Such a thought in no way diminished my satisfaction with the service.

I, the Cryptosexton

I read about this complicated thing called Cryptocurrency. After riding the Algorithm Hobbyhorse around in my Virtual Nursery, I realised that cryptocurrency must be like a bit of barter behind the tog room at school. Hidden from the authority, a packet of Senior Service for two packets of brown Capstan; but not requiring the electrical power requirements of a small city to accompany the transaction.

But this cryptocurrency surely must be more complicated than that, and thus have more benefits.

Apart from plugging cryptocurrency into the cyptocharger, I decided to call it Tulipcoin. I was tempted to use “Lillionarcissus-coin”, which was the name for “tulip” before this Turkish corruption of a Persian word for “turban” was adopted. But that name was too long, would use too much power.

I thought by calling my cryptocurrency after such a famous flower, irrespective of the corruption implicit in the name, I would honour a previous occasion which may have arisen in a crypt.

Jan Breughel the Younger’s view of tulipomania

The whole saga of the tulip bubble was well expressed years ago in the 1999 book “Tulipomania”. The basic cause of the exorbitant prices which the tulip bulb reached in sixteenth century Netherlands was somewhat eccentric. A Flemish merchant found tulip bulbs in a cargo of cloth from Istanbul, thought they were onions, ate most of them and planted the rest.

The resultant blooms were overwhelmingly beautiful and attracted the eye of wealthy Dutch burghers.

The tulip is thus the most captivating of flowers, and like so many products of the Levant, this was the favourite flower of Süleyman the Great, who not only cultivated the wild variety but also initiated the science of breeding hybrids.

Thus when the tulips bloomed, the Dutch, who had the time and were a very wealthy nation due to their trade in the East (the Dutch had a monopoly on nutmeg for instance), were intoxicated by the flower; and the tulip became the signature of these prosperous people.

As was written in Tulipomania: “In 1633, the flowers served no economic purpose other than relieve the cold wet spring with petals that promised a change from the grey mist”.

Initially they were not only desirable but scarce. They attracted gardeners and the few connoisseurs, where scarcity was compounded by the search for perfection. At one stage when a skilled worker could expect 250 guilders in a year, a single tulip bulb was traded for over 5,000 guilders. A small basket was worth more than an Amsterdam mansion. It took three years for the bubble to burst, which it did in a spectacular fashion in 1637.

One of the reasons for this was that many of the tulips had been infected with a virus, which did not necessarily diminish the spectacular colours but certainly lessened the life of each infected bulb. What’s more by that time trading in bulbs had spread throughout the community into every tavern across the country. One of the supposed benefits of cryptocurrency is to be able to bypass “stodgy banks”. Just like being able to buy a cheap TV at the local pub.  But here it was the tulip bulb.

The value of the bulb during this hectic three period provided a way to extricate oneself from, if not poverty, at least to being able to afford a decent house -only if you sold early.  However, given where many of the transactions took place as the author of Tulipomania wrote: “The trade was conducted for the most part in a haze of inebriation.

How appropriate! My Tulipcoin placed into such a market – drunk with power but where the mist has yet to lift?


I wrote the following italicised in my blog on 15 January 2021 in a vain attempt to promote Craig Reucassel to stand against Falinski. My sentiments yet have been reflected in the deserved dumping of this Morrison sycophant, despite all the protestations.  Subtly, my choice reveals my deep-seated prejudice, born of over 80 years in a male-dominant world. I suggested that a high-profile male with a formidable record in climate change and waste management should mount the challenge. I discounted the fact that he lived far away in the Sydney inner west.

Dr Sophie Scamps MP

I congratulate Dr Scamps (pronounced Scomps), who has been a high-achieving, very well qualified general practitioner who both lived and practised in the electorate, before successfully challenging Mr Falinski in the recent Federal election. My sense of his vulnerability was correct, but I got the gender of the new Member for MacKellar wrong.

I would suggest one of the New South Wales’ seats held by one of the Trump neophytes would be perfect for him, given that upending Abbott showed the way to do it. Maybe Falinski, whose seat is MacKellar, would be the way to go. Falinski is the typical Liberal Party hack toeing the party line.

As Falinski said in his maiden speech full of the pieties expected:

And so a politician is accountable to their community – I am accountable to you.

Mr Jason Falinski

Wrong, he is beholden to his masters, never voted against any government.  He has a voting record which would please Donald Trump – he should be vulnerable to somebody with the Reucassel values. I would love to see them debate why, for instance, Falinski has inter alia disagreed recently with the proposition:

“The Prime Minister to attend the House by 2 pm Tuesday 8 December to make a statement to advise the House whether Australia is speaking at the Climate Ambition Summit and table any correspondence with the summit organisers relating to whether Australia is speaking at the summit.”

This is but one example, but Falinski’s voting record is reprehensible to any person who is genuinely Liberal.

Reucassel is genuinely concerned with climate change and the world becoming a rubbish dump. He should be elected to Parliament to pursue this goal and hold the government to account.  Falinski seems unwilling to do so. Is it Mitch* Falinski, or is that your second name?

*Mitch stands for that annoying Kentucky Senator, who pleads propriety but unquestionably has supported Trump. Dr Scamps reminded the electorate of the false nature of the so-called moderate Falinski’s voting record.

Janus was an EU Politician with the head of Boris Johnson

As an impotent observer of world affairs, I fret over the ambivalent attitudes of politicians over the fate of Ukraine. Angela Merkel defends her legacy in stalling the entry of Ukraine into NATO by saying that, at the time in 2008, the Ukraine was controlled by a pro-Soviet Government.

The root problem was that most governments wanted Zelensky to disappear into some hedonist exile, and he has proved to be very inconvenient.  He wanted to defend the sovereignty of his nation. Suddenly, the Ukrainians had a leader, an uncompromising charismatic leader who, in a matter of 100 days, has differentiated a country from the neighbouring Russians. The ferocity with which the Ukrainians have responded to the Russian invasion contrasts with the bloodless coup where Russia took Crimea back from the Ukraine eight years ago, and have defined a country, which no matter the outcome will never again be just a “Little Russia”.

Zelensky has thus created that which most Ukrainians have always believed; and that is Ukraine as an independent nation. He has ensured this affirmation occurred in the full glare of the World spotlight.

Putin has been revealed as a primitive hominid intent on destroying the world’s energy and food supply as he dresses up as Peter the Great, an absurd travesty of the human condition.

The New York Review of Books provide a comparison of sorts in critiquing yet another book about Anne Frank. The contention is that if only the same courage epitomised by Zelensky had been on display during the time leading up to Anne Frank’s death in a Nazi concentration camp, she may have survived. As has been pointed out, because of the lack of any ongoing focus on Dutch Jews in particular, she was always in peril.

Anne and her Diary

As part of the analysis, a harsh judgement was made about Queen Wilhelmina in that she failed to stand up to the Nazis and fled to Great Britain. She had maintained Dutch neutrality during WW1; but the only indication of her attitude to the plight of Jews was she insisted a Jewish refugee camp prior to WWII be moved further away from her summer palace than it was originally planned.

The American Government declined to give the Frank family a visa to travel to New York via Cuba in 1941. It provides an unsettling view of a country, with a quick trigger for invading non-European countries, and yet basically ambivalent against European aggressors. President Biden’s halting support of Ukraine could be the USA in early 1941. The Allies did not bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz. A matter of unimportance in the scheme of things!

Russia seemed to have infiltrated the top levels of government, politically, socially, financially, corruptly – a passage facilitated by Trump and scattered within the Conservative Party, those that worship the Infantis Johnson. However, there would not be a country in Europe where the malign Putin influence has not infiltrated.

As a result, maybe NATO could imprint the head of Janus as an emblem in acknowledgement of this influence given the way they have responded to the Russo-Ukrainian War.

Mouse Whisper

I was on a field visit when I heard a regional ABC reporter talking to a local farmer about the cost of a box of cauliflowers. He was selling them for $80 a box.

“What was the usual cost?” she asked.

“About $20 a box.”

“Oh, they’re double the cost then.”

Good to see the ABC is maintaining its standards.

Great value at twice the price, or is that four times?

Modest Expectations – Daniel Boone

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

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

That has not always been so.

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

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

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

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

The Burren

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

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

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

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

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

Albored Part V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of a Ukrainian

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

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

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

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

President Zelensky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wayne Gretzky has his Say

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

Alex Orechkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pen Nibs No More

Pieman River, west coast of Tasmania

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Osmium nib

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

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

Daylight Come and He Want to go Home

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

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

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

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

Banana boat

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

Mouse Whisper

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

OK, but small things do amuse small minds.

Modest Expectations – Leyland Sprinter

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vera Putina’s little boy

The Winter War – Finland v Russia

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

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

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

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

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

Destruction caused by Putin’s war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgotten Ohio Ukrainians rallying against Putin’s war

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

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

Albored Part IV – No Longer Unready?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maeslant storm surge barrier near Rotterdam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rupert’s Quote of the Geek

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

Try Ukraine, Buster!

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

Mouse Whisper

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

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

Modest Expectations – Jack Nicklaus

Kaliningrad, Kaliningrad, Kaliningrad.

Mr Putin, we shall tear up Kaliningrad.

Maybe, we can teach you the lines,

Mr President.

When Hitler swept across Poland, a similar terrain to Ukraine in the autumn of 1939, it took 38 days for Poland to be subdued. Hitler had help from whom else? Of course, the Soviet Union, which joined in the feeding dismemberment on 17 September; while the hyaenas were members of the Slovak Nazi militia, a by-product of the same process the year before when Czechoslovakia was occupied by Hitler.

Now Putin is out to emulate Hitler by invading the Ukraine to satisfy his imperial megalomania. Thirty-eight days is the target, Vladimir.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, the new Leader of the Free World

Putin calculated that if America did not intervene, then he knows Europe won’t because which of the NATO states will deliver the first blow. When Putin’s forces occupied Crimea, the Ukrainian reaction was to remove his ally as President, Viktor Yanukovych, who not unsurprisingly came from Donesk. Ukrainians elected a TV comedian, Volodymyr Zelensky, who seems to have more intestinal fortitude than many of his ilk. The caption on a recent photograph – “Leader of the Free World” – might have been intended irony, but much of irony can be ascribed as truth.

Nevertheless, the circumstances which enabled Putin to develop his strategy, whether complicitous or not, were due to Trump. Without the chaos Trump caused, coupled with his hatred of his own country, it is doubtful where Putin would have accumulated the resources to enable the invasion.  In addition, he fed the foetal Trump ego.

Already in the “Free World” there was too much of the appeasement mentality throughout the past two decades. Both the Bush and Obama Presidencies passed by, where the underlying determination and hatred for America by Putin lay undetected.  Even in this past week, the spokespeople from the State Department were still whimpering about diplomacy.

Before the rise of Putin, the Balkan war in the 1990s was a nasty European prelude, but it happened when Russia was a weakened remnant of the Soviet Union. However, the thugs then in the ascendency in Serbia were intent on genocide of their Muslim brothers and sisters – not to mention the Croats. All separated by religion, but basically the same Slavs with a common spoken language. Nevertheless, the Greater Serbia looms large in the mythology of Slavic dominance, allied as it is to the Orthodox Church mysticism – and another front for Putin mischief.

The spring thaw is coming in Ukraine and then the ground will turn to mud. It is black soil – lovely to drive on when dry, but when wet, it turns to mud, and then it is a nightmare to navigate, as I found out on the black soil plains of Northern New South Wales.


Despite the black soil, expansion of Russian power has been helped over the centuries by the various despot rulers having exceptional generals going as far back to Peter the Great.  It was here that Prince Menshikov’s cavalry, and in particular Count Boris Sheremetev’s infantry and artillery, was crucial in the destruction of Swedish influence at the Battle of Poltrava in 1709, thus changing the whole power relationship of northern Europe.

The obvious Soviet playbook end point for the Ukraine is a puppet state with a secret police full of sociopathic killers – but there is a cost which Russia’s economy may not, in the long term, be able to sustain. Areas where Russia derives its income will be sanctioned by the EU, Great Britain, USA and others.  Unless Putin has the capacity to further loot, where will the funding come from now? In Europe he has only Moldova, Finland, Sweden and some of the Balkan countries that are not members of NATO. Looting Belarus would be like robbing your cousin’s two-dollar store.

However, this heir to Poltrava needs many more resources to continually expand his imperial obsession – but wait, there is Serbia, a natural ally. The Serbs in Bosnia Herzegovina are restless – talks of secession in the air. More destabilisation – more misinformation.

I do not believe that NATO is sitting on its hands. It is hesitant, because even if Russia has a comparatively small GDP (look around and see what you have that is Russian), Russia does have a considerable nuclear arsenal.

You see, The Economist put forward a perfectly logical outcome to this adventurism. It was written prior to the invasion; but do we have a new logic?

Mr Putin cannot revive growth, for that would require structural reforms that would destabilise politics. He cannot reverse the brain drain, because that would require taming his security services. He cannot deal with the demands of the young or the regions, because that would require him to quit. An isolated, bored and ageing leader, increasingly reliant on a small coterie of similar age and KGB background, he prefers geopolitical posturing and war games, where results are visible and instantly gratifying. He is reconciled to ruling by fear, not guile and the cultivation of common interests; if he understands Mr Greene’s 17th Law of Power, he has failed to master the 18th: “Do not build fortresses to protect yourself—isolation is dangerous”.

Yes, but so is Putin a dangerous brooding person, who seems not to conform to any reasonable expectations. Eventually, if he survives, the Chinese will find out in Central Asia – but first “I have to destroy Western Europe”.

Good one Murdoch

The Lincoln Project has released an indictment. What it is stating, without committing to print. “Go, verify yourself, Murdoch?”

Personally given the influence of Murdoch over our government, I am affronted. Do we Australians still want to associate ourselves with this Organisation which employs such a person as Tucker Carlson?

You know what England did with the Hitler’s propagandist, the New York-born Lord Haw Haw, in 1946.

I don’t know whether being born in San Francisco would grant you an exemption, Carlson, when ultimately retribution will be handed out.

And on record, I abhor capital punishment, but at times… but let’s read what the Lincoln Project has to say.

American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines here at home and deployed around the world are being bombarded by enemy propaganda.

That’s because Fox News is the official channel airing on U.S. bases around the world.

Recently, Fox News and Russian propaganda media have been working from the same exact playbook, pushing the same anti-American and anti-democratic propaganda. 

Don’t take our word for it; the Kremlin is using footage from Tucker Carlson and the Fox crew right now to justify their invasion of Ukraine:

It would be one thing if this was the mandatory viewing at Mar-A-Lago or the halls of CPAC. Fox is the default news network at U.S. military bases across the world…and our troops deserve better. 

Kremlin propaganda is being piped into the minds of our very own U.S. soldiers while they stand ready to defend our country. It’s time for the Biden Administration to take action.

We can’t let our soldiers be victimized by pro-russia, pro-Putin Fox propaganda. Add your name so we can give the White House the support it needs to help us to #BanFoxFromBases now.

While this was alluded to on Media Watch this week, let’s delve deeper. The magazine Vanity Fair has revealed that this Carlson, this Fox opinionate, now is trying to break the land speed back-pedalling record

Prior to Thursday, Carlson was this-close to inviting Putin on his show and asking him, “Any chance we can get you to run in 2024? I know it’s a long shot but…I’d love to see it.”

Yes, if you missed Carlson‘s most recent shows, a quick recap of commentary he’s offered on the situation:

  • It’s “not un-American” to support Putin;
  • Democrats will find you guilty of treason if you don’t hate Putin;
  • The whole thing is simply a “border dispute” ;
  • “Ukraine is not a democracy”;
  • Ukraine is a “puppet of the West”; and
  • Our personal favourite, “that unless Vladimir Putin has personally had you or one of your family members murdered, you really don’t have any right to criticize the guy.”

I hate to say it, but what is the brown stuff on each of the Sky News commentator’s shirtfronts. I guarantee it is not Vegemite.

John Landy

Central Park is one of those leafy multipurpose places which are the touchstones for a garden city like Melbourne. It was very much a part of my childhood where we used to have a Sunday picnic and where, if you lived in Darling, as my family did up to when I was twelve, one walked through Hedgeley Dene to get to the Park. Later I played cricket on one of the Park’s ovals.

John Landy, the great Australian athlete, used to train there in the days when running was just a pure expression of maximising your ability.

As a boy, Landy would have been a contemporary of Rupert Murdoch at Geelong Grammar school, both of whom turned out to be men of strong will – one of whose major goals was accomplished before the other had begun.

I met John Landy several times socially. He was not a person in such an environment to make you look twice.  He was quiet and unassuming, with a curious habit of bending forward and clasping his hands before his chest when making a conversational point, as one writer observed.

It was another matter when that lithe athlete strode onto the running track. His rivalry with Roger Bannister to be the first sub-minute miler was one of those challenges that concentrated the collective mind in the early 1950s.

When Landy ran onto the track, he became a different person. He tended to run from the front and in doing so demonstrated his mastery in middle distance running. Yes, Bannister beat him in bettering the four minute mile and then because Landy looked over his left shoulder at the Vancouver Empire Games mile in 1954, lost momentum and was beaten in the last hundred metres by Roger Bannister.

I saw Landy in one of the greatest runs of his life and that was in the 1500 metres final at the 1956 Olympic games. Landy was not a tactical runner in that he liked to be in front and the others had to catch him.

In the 1500 metres final he was shuffled back and was forced to make his run on the outside of the field. I never forget this lean figure sprinting on the outside just before the turn into the final straight. The commitment was absolute; the style was flawless; he was trying to stay away from a bumping duel. Then he had gone past, and all I saw was a pack of runners at the winning post. For an instant I   hoped Landy had got up to win – but it was not to be. His was a bronze medal. The gold medallist was an Irishman named Ron Delaney, then a student at Villanova University in America. Second was an East German and then Landy. It was a magnificent run by a magnanimous man.

John Landy running at Turkü

A few years ago, I had a spare day in Finland and we were staying near the Helsinki railway station. I said to my companion, “Let’s go to Turkü.” It was quite effort – having to change platforms and Finnish train doors are uncompromisingly automatic. For disabled people this is a challenge and to avoid being wedged, you have to throw yourself on at just the right moment, crutches and all. Then when we got to Turkü, we alighted at the far end of a long windswept platform; fortunately, there was one taxi on the rank that had not been taken.

Turkü is a very pleasant place, particularly famous for its mediaeval castle. My only souvenir was a felt trivet in the shape of Finnish traditional rye bread with a hole in the centre. (ruisreikäleipä).

What had this trip to do with Landy? Well, it was a sort of pilgrimage. I had always wanted to go to the place where Landy broke the world mile record in 1954 registering 3.57.9 on a cinder track, a record which stood for three years.

At the time of his death recently, the world mile record had been progressively reduced to 3.43.13, which has stood since 1999, run by a Moroccan, Hicham el Guerrouj.

But nobody can remove from my memory that grainy photograph of Landy breasting the tape in Turkü, some 58 years ago. Just going to Turkü fulfilled a promise I made years ago that I would one day go there. Landy was just that important to a once teenage Australian.

The Oklahoma Panhandle

If you had the urge to travel around five States in America you could start on the Oklahoma panhandle – a tongue-like intrusion between Texas on the south side, Kansas and Colorado to the North and (as we have done, entered Oklahoma) on the western edge from New Mexico. Here there is very impressive sign telling you that you have entered Oklahoma.

The Panhandle is a very dry area, which in the thirties became the dustbowl from where the farmers, termed Okies left. It was a classic result of not looking after the environment. Even today, it is flat bleak landscape and as we were driving towards the main township of Guymon, a tornado warning came over the car radio. This strip of land is part of tornado alley, which stretches north from the Gulf of Mexico until the warm and cold air stream collide to form tornadoes, mostly in late spring and early summer.

On this day, the tornado warning mentioned Guymon, towards which we were driving; but after some consternation, there was relief when the tornado was moving away from ourselves on the other side of Guymon.

I had never heard of Sanora Babb until my attention was drawn to a newly published collection of essays about her: “Unknown No More” subtitled “Recovering Sanora Babb”.

Sanora Babb

Sanora Babb herself was born in 1907 in Oklahoma and died on the last day of 2005.

Then I read Sanora Babb’s autobiographical novel – An Owl on Every Post. It is a beautifully written tracery of Sanora Babb growing up with her sister, father and mother in her grandfather’s dugout. Alonso, her grandfather, is sharply drawn.

The description of childhood poverty is matched by her optimism, her sharp eye for detail and her eventual emergence being able to attend school. This emergence and her adolescence and awakening in terms of realising the importance of gender is crammed into the final chapters of the book.

Her family was forced, because of the penury caused by her father’s gambling, to move from Oklahoma to the altiplano of Eastern Colorado, where her grandfather scrabbled an existence out of growing broom millet.

If the crop failed, then they had no money and little to eat. Yet this is not a self-pitying book; one feels the impression of a life lived in an unforgiving environment where the winter was savage and the cry of coyotes a reminder of the wilderness in which they subsisted.

The family lived through the death of a brother in childbirth and their mother’s slow recovery. It was part of the self-contained existence. You survived; there were no nuances, learning to read from a Kit Carson book and Denver Post newspaper cuttings pasted on the dugout walls. There was Bounce the dog and Daft the horse, in its free-range gallop, which ended tragically in him falling into a ravine.

Then they are given a lifeline to move from the dugout to Kansas, to the township of Elkhart, which my wife and I remember passing through 70 years later. It is difficult to forget, because along the southern border where the railway line runs, so runs the Oklahoma border. That evening we stayed close by at Liberal, Kansas, but that’s another story.

There is no memorial to Sanora there, but then she had largely been forgotten. The fact that she was a Communist may have had something to do with it; others said her literary achievements were overshadowed by those of John Steinbeck. But who knows? Taste in literature is a very ephemeral matter.

As Alan Wald wrote in an essay entitled: Sanora Babb in Her Time and Ours, “In my view, however, the reconstruction of Babb’s entire career is still very much in progress … Babb may have commenced as our plebian Jane Austen of the plains with a motive of committing acts of earnest witnessing. Over time, though her art increasingly suggests a socialist Vermeer, patiently observing and chronicling daily life from angles, odd and slanted …

Craft conscious as well as class conscious, Babb’s writing can be bittersweet, elegant, and faintly wistful, sometimes with a grim documentary frisson. She can pour herself into nooks and crannies of her characters’ contradictions, even as her vision is undergirded by a Marxian awareness of the structure of oppression. The result is that she pushes the boundaries of empathy to value humanity as undivided and seemingly the zeitgeist of at least two ages – the Great Depression and the New Millennium. No wonder the faces staring out from much of her fiction at times have a startling immediacy.”

I wonder why I found Sanora Babb so entrancing, even though I have only read one of her books – I never thought of her providing me with a link between Jane Austen and Johannes Vermeer, both of whose works I greatly admire. Learn something every day.

Helô – It’s St David’s Day

In March, Paddy’s Day gets all the attention, with creatures in tall green hats and foaming glasses of Guinness searching for their Irish heritage throats. Last Tuesday, it was St David’s Day, the national day for the Welsh. Yet it is a day that goes unnoticed by most of us.

St David, with a white dove, his emblem

St David is the patron saint of Wales and St David’s Day falls on 1 March, the date of his death in 589.  It is not a national holiday in the UK or even a bank holiday in Wales, despite numerous campaigns. After all, the English first tried to suppress Wales and its language in the Act of Union in 1536.

The feast has been regularly celebrated since the canonisation of David in the 12th century by Pope Callixtus II. Callixtus was a Burgundian of noble birth. An enlightened pope, he initiated canon law decrying anti- Semitism (as well as laws forbidding simony and concubinage by the clergy).

St David for his part set up monastic communities in what is now Devon and Cornwall as well as Brittany; and his ascetic existence would have not been the most attractive as he harnessed literally his monks to plough the fields.

St David’s Day has been celebrated in Australia since at least the 1840s, as has been reported. In Melbourne, for instance, the 1865 festivities had the then Cambrian Society President B. G. Davies, MLA fulminating: “I am aware that many taunts and jeers are directed at Welshmen for so warmly adhering to the customs and traditions of their motherland… The English have their Shakespearian festivals, the Scotch their meetings in memory of Burns, and the Irish delight in commemorating their St Patrick… so why should not the sons of dear old Cambria meet in honour of their patron saint, and hold converse in the immortal language he so nobly uttered.”

So why not?

Well, it could be said the Welsh do have their Eisteddfod, and we could have Welsh choirs singing ‘Land of my Fathers” and have people dolled up in traditional Welsh dress cavorting the landscape and watching re-runs of “How Green was my Valley” or readings from Dylan Thomas.

To celebrate St David’s Day I wanted to have cawl – the Welsh national dish, but she who is the cook said she was not going to stand over a cauldron of lamb stew, replete with swedes, rutabaga, mangelwurzels, potatoes and carrots for a day and a half. Anyway we did not have access to Caerphilly cheese, an essential ingredient.

In the end we settled for Welsh rarebit and bara brith (speckled bread), leaving laverbread, and Welsh cakes for another day. Then there is always the vegetarian Glamorgan sausage where leeks are an essential ingredient. (We did have leeks cooked with Welsh balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dinner).

Laver seaweed (porphyria purpurea)

Laverbread makes the difference if you want a Welsh breakfast rather than that of a full on English breakfast. Laverbread is seaweed, dried, peppered and salted combined with oatmeal, and the best apparently comes from the Pembrokeshire coast.

So next year we shall be better prepared and we may even invite people who do actually have Welsh genes.

And talking of drops – beer seems to be the Welsh drink of choice but there is cider, perry and a form of mead named metheglin, this last predominantly a Yuletide intoxicant. But then given that the Welsh are “chapel”, we tend not to raise our voices too much when mentioning alcohol, melodious though these voices may be.

A proud brave young Australian

Below Isabella Higgins was reflecting on where she came from in a piece written three years ago. Now she is the ABC face in the Western Ukraine.

Many of us know that acceptance, inclusion and respect between black and white Australia is possible, because we’re the walking, breathing proof. Take my family for example. We’re proud Torres Strait Islanders, but we also have German and British ancestry. We are an embodiment of multicultural Australia. My great-grandmother came to this country as a WWII refugee, raised in Nazi Germany.

Mouse Whisper

Australia wants to assist the Ukraine, because the rhetoric from our political leaders is full of it. The problem we have is the technology to keep the lettuce leaves warm enough for them to reach President Zelensky is proving troublesome.

How about doing something which will hurt, and blockade the Russian bases in Antarctica, for contravention of the Antarctic Treaty of which both Australian and Russia were original signatories in 1961. There is prohibition on a number of matters, mostly related to militarisation (except for research) and disposal of nuclear waste – a case for preventing “putridisation”

Seriously, here is an area where Australia could pressure Russia, especially as Ukraine is also one of the signatories. After 61 years, it would appear to be a time for a review on the legitimacy of those countries which have established bases in Antarctica. Russia is showing that it has no legitimacy wherever it has plonked down its flag.

If Australia wishes to really cause Russia pain, the Antarctic is just the place.

But then again, I am just a humble mouse who occasionally dines on warm lettuce leaves, but I have stopped drinking Russian vodka. Putin must tremble when he hears that. 

Russia’s Antarctic base