Modest Expectations – A Failed Jackscrew

Sunday was St Patrick’s Day. I could not resist reprinting the diagram from the Economic & Statistics Administration of the US Department of Commerce of the concentration of people of Irish heritage in the USA. There are emerald-green pockets everywhere. The emerald-green colour is unsurprisingly concentrated in New England, and eastern seaboard states, particularly New Jersey and New York, although seemingly less so.

We dined on Irish sausages, boxty and colcannon, washed down by Black Label Jamesons. Sorry, I don’t like Guinness, too much like stout. Old man’s drink. Pardon me did I hear right, you seanfhear of Clare.

Bend Hur to Political Bias

Over more than four hours, Hur repeatedly tried to steer the questions back to the facts he uncovered and his legal reasoning for not seeking charges. The politicians weren’t having it. Hur repeatedly tried to steer the questions back to the facts he uncovered and his legal reasoning for not seeking charges. The politicians weren’t having it.

Robert Hur

Robert Hur in a 345-page report commissioned as Special Counsel by Merrick Garland, the US Attorney-General concerning retention of classified documents by Biden after he had left his Vice-Presidential post in 2017 had concluded that Biden should not be prosecuted, but he listed as part of his reasoning that Biden was an elderly man on the verge of dementia. Not that explicit, but sufficient to light a fire in the form of a partisan Congressional committee hearing.  Robert Hur, as reported above, tried to impart objectivity, but he shows a basic misunderstanding of how the political process is aflame in the lead up the Presidential election later this year.

Eric Swalwell, a Democratic Congressman from California took the opportunity to screen a video of Trump obviously showing severe signs of cognitive deficiency – a concentrate of Trump’s failings which Fox was compelled to show because it was part of the Congressional hearing.

What is so crazy about this concentration on these two old men’s mental states is the apparent refusal of the two to submit themselves to independent cognitive testing. Here the world is on the brink of a catastrophic change in climate, where political gangsters in the name of patriotism are indulging in genocidal inhumanity, and we have the prospect in the near future of the most powerful leader in the Western World being reduced to a dribbling lump of suet, as was Pope John II, once one of World leaders.

In a beautiful example of a prequel to the current situation is the Wikipedia, the following (sic): In 2001 Pope John Paul II was diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. International observers had suspected this for some time, but it was only publicly acknowledged by the Vatican in 2003. Despite difficulty speaking more than a few sentences at a time, trouble hearing, and with severe osteoarthrosis, he continued to tour the world, although rarely walking in public.

In temporal terms, 81 when diagnosed, 83 when disclosed, 85 when died.

Take note, America, of your Presidential aspirants. But of course, from those sycophantic scheming advisers surrounding each of them, you won’t hear any disclosures. You’ll keep the fiction of these guys being totally compos mentis. Each party, now with access to artificial intelligence, presages a “pile-on” by each party. Objectivity will be lost. The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) takes fifteen minutes. It should be administered as the first question in the first Presidential debate.

Alfred Deakin

I have just finished reading Walter Murdoch’s biography about Alfred Deakin, Australia’s second Prime Minister. Described as a Sketch, Murdoch had extensive access to Deakin’s diaries, courtesy of his wife. The biography was published just four years after Deakin’s death. Murdoch was founding Professor of English at the University of Western Australia, and even though he was passed over for the Chair in Melbourne, he never lost his love for Melbourne where he gone to school and university.

Alfred Deakin

He wrote this book about Deakin while back in Melbourne in the early 1920’s. Given the source of the material, Murdoch was circumspect, tending to skate over Deakin’s failures and praise his successes of nevertheless a very productive life.

In this context, there is a poignancy of a man who wrote of his cognitive decline. Deakin realised that he was not up to public life as early as 1912, when he lost leadership of his party. By 1914 when Joseph Cook, the Prime Minister at the outbreak of WWI, appointed him to chair a Royal Commission on Food Supplies and on Trade and Industry during the War, he recognised his deterioration. By November he had gone from the Chairmanship. At the same time, as recounted by Murdoch, Deakin wrote in his diary the following, presaging his mental decline.

Sometimes with a fairly working memory I can temporarily disguise my plight. But these flashes of restoration are neither frequent nor durable. Knowledge comes and goes; after I have seen the natural development of an argument or a situation perfectly clear before me, most and sometimes all of it vanishes so quickly and so absolutely that I cannot retain or describe a single feature of all that was obvious and lucid a second before. I am without command of memory and almost without understanding.

By 1915, Murdoch writes that Deakin’s diary was increasingly incoherent until his last entry, which retained some insight, was written in 1917. This transcribed entry was written in 1916.

“Not only has my memory foundered as a whole, but I have now become a mere juggler with myself – misleading and misconstruing myself. My helpless attempts to read the riddle of my mind and thought must be abandoned. So far I can claim nothing; next to nothing remains with me. My life as a politician has died out so absolutely that I really remember nothing of it possessing any practical value. I have no real past to which I can turn for help or means of escape. I gain nothing by repetition. I learn nothing new that exists for me more than a few days.

What I think I have learned soon dies away into a mere tag and tangle of words, words, words. Why babble more? Since 1912, I have lost grip of everything actual, practical or purposeful … All is loss, diminished outlooks, insoluble problems, endless forgetfulness, oversights, and misapprehensions. I cannot even write English simply or plainly. I have shed, once and for all, my past as a whole – my present fruitless – my future a hapless mass of wreckage and of misunderstanding.”

A tragic account by a great Australian, who is chronicling his mental decline. He died in 1919 at the age of 63. Alfred Deakin was excruciatingly honest, more than you can say of both Biden and Trump. Deakin had been in public life since he was 22 years of age.

Where the Dutch Alps are…

When I read about the Art Fair in Maastricht, it brought home to me how many places with which I’ve had an association. In 1993, I opened an international society’s annual conference there. It was a time when I was its President, and the previous year, I had opened the conference in Mexico City speaking Spanish. I was quickly dissuaded from repeating the feat in attempting my opening address this particular year in Dutch.  I was prepared to give it a go. Inter alia I had practised giechelende jongleur (giggling juggler) and n scheve schaats (a crooked skate.)  


In particular I also practised saying the Dutch resort name Scheveningen (a word the Dutch used during the War to detect Germans, who pronounce it sufficiently differently).

Meteorologisch is alleged to be the hardest word to pronounce in Dutch. I do not believe I would have needed to use the word in my speech, but in my Mexico address I did successfully negotiate  the pronunciation of the two volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl.

Maastricht is the capital of the Limburg province. It is best known as the birthplace of the European Union (the treaty that created it was signed here in 1992) and where the common currency, the euro was flagged as well.

As a result, the conference centre had been nearly newly-minted when my conference came around in the same location, a light airy experience in this small city surrounded by what was whimsically called the Dutch Alps (Cauberg is the highest dwarf mountain at 134 metres). Maastricht, unlike most of the Netherlands, is built on rock foundations, not on the sandy knolls of the Rhine delta. It was said that Napoleon had carved his name in one of the caves, but I had not the time to see if that was true.

I have some memories of a conference, when so many of the participants were young and enthusiastic. I remember sitting at the other end of the long table and noticing the young Russian, bearded and gaunt, a silvery image who well fitted the image of the young intellectual. I don’t remember his name, although he was supposed to be part of the Brezhnev office. How far we have travelled with our aspirations – not!

But Maastricht has prospered in the intervening 30 years.

I was attracted to the following item about Maastricht, now one of the major trading sites for upmarket art. As with everything Dutch, they are very thorough in anything they do, as witness the way this fair is conducted.

European Fine Art Fair Maastricht

Every March since 1988 the European Fine Art Foundation has put on a fair in this Dutch city. It’s where museums and art aficionados come to shop and buy. “Maastricht”, as art-world insiders call it, is “the most important fair by a mile for classical paintings and works of art,” The eight-day fair opened this year on March 7th.

Maastricht is not the only fair where expensive art is sold, but it probably boasts the largest concentration of museum curators on the hunt for their next acquisition. Among this year’s 50,000 visitors are some 300 museum directors—including Laurence des Cars, who runs the Louvre in Paris—and 650 curators. It is the premier destination for old art, as opposed to the contemporary paintings that fairs like Art Basel in Switzerland and Miami favour.

What happens before the fair begins is also unusual. For a day and a half 230 specialists come in to vet works’ authenticity, as well as their descriptions and stated provenance, bringing x-rays and other technical machines with them.

The specialists have the right to ask for descriptions to be changed. Objects can be removed if the experts believe they are inauthentic; they are locked in a cupboard until after the fair. “You come back in and hope to God that nothing has been thrown out,” says one dealer, who calls Maastricht “the best-vetted fair in the world”.

Maastricht offers a window on the art world and current collecting trends. The fair is best known for Old Master paintings, but the number of contemporary dealers in attendance has been growing—because that is where most of the activity in the art market is. Last year European Old Masters (defined as work produced by artists born between 1250 and 1820) accounted for less than 4% of the value of sales at auction globally, according to a new report by Arts Economics, a research firm. In 2003 it was 16%.

The World of Illusion

The article below is a very good example of the rise of remedies of dubious nature to improve cognitive abilities.  I have lightly edited the article. Note the role of the celebrity mountebanks, the risible influencers in modern parlance.

I find the quest for a mental elixir as understandable not the least of which is the riches a drug, if proved successful, would attract. I am somewhat of the belief that the search for the anti-ageing potion in direct competition with Nature’s demand for renewal will be difficult. A miracle drug would change society. In my lifetime the discovery of antibiotics and improvement in both number and level of cover of vaccines are prime examples of miracle medicines. Infection disease hospitals were closed – prematurely as the HIV/Aids epidemic showed.

Reference is made to the 2011 film “Limitless”, which describes the effect of taking such an anti-ageing drug. The main character, played by Bradley Cooper, pursues a dark course in what is described as a thriller. Given it is also depicted as science fiction it seems to move from one aspect of the dilemma with the requisite violence to maintain the audience’s attention at the same time as the dilemma of interfering with natural order is magnified. Has the Bradley Cooper character weaned himself off the drug while retaining the mental prowess, thus in effect conquering Nature?

“Limitless” is often credited with driving an uptick in interest in products that improve focus or enhance memory. It depicts a struggling writer whose life is transformed by a smart pill. More recently the real-life version of nootropic supplements, as such boosters are called, have received celebrity endorsements.

Bella Hadid, a supermodel, is behind Kin Euphorics, a brand which offers consumers the chance to “achieve an elevated state of health, mood or well-being”. Joe Rogan, the alpha-male host of the world’s most popular podcast, endorses “Alpha Brain”, which, he says, “seems to fire up” that organ.

Alpha Brain is made by Onnit, a supplements firm co-founded by Mr Rogan in 2010 to “inspire a journey towards total human optimisation”. The brand caught the eye of Unilever, a soup-to-soap conglomerate, which bought it for an undisclosed sum in 2021. Its consumer-goods rivals have piled in. Reckitt Benckiser, the parent company of brands such as Durex and Strepsils, sells Neuriva. They are competing with—and eyeing up—a slew of supplements startups. Polaris, a research firm, reckons global sales of nootropics, which hit $11bn in 2021, will grow at an average annual rate of almost 15% until 2030.

Nootropics are usually an alphabet soup of ingredients: amino acids such as L-theanine, herbal extracts such as ashwagandha, probiotics, vitamins and a bewildering variety of mushrooms. Neuriva contains branded forms of coffee-fruit extract and phosphatidylserine, a type of fat. The ingredients are being combined to form novel products that claim to offer various brain-stimulating benefits. Their emergence has coincided with a post-pandemic interest in wellness. They appeal both to older consumers concerned about cognitive decline, and to younger ones keen to excel in the face of millennial angst.

To manufacturers, their appeal lies both in growing demand and in the ease with which supplements can be put on the market. Many countries regulate the health claims that can be made for products but also leave their producers plenty of wiggle room.

It helps that it is hard to say whether nootropics actually work. There is some evidence that they might. Andrea Utley, an expert in motor control and development at the University of Leeds and a self-professed nootropics sceptic, tested one supplement. Her randomised study found that it speeded up decision-making and improved memory.

How much lion’s mane is too much?

But few such studies have been conducted. Richard Isaacson, of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Florida, recalls a patient whose liver function was so “all over the place” that it pointed to too much boozing. It turned out it was in fact too much Lion’s mane, a mushroom with supposed nootropic benefits. Trying to arrest cognitive decline with lab-tested supplements tailored to an individual patient’s needs is one thing, Dr Isaacson says. Stimulating an unimpaired brain without knowing what risks lie down the road is another.

As I reflect on the above, I believe genetic influences are paramount in the retention of one’s mental prowess as we age. What does my heredity tell me before I indulge on what in the end constitutes a form of mind alteration – or cosmetic!

An Anecdote among the Washington Post Recipes

I tried to think whether I could rival this anecdote. No wonder, I’ve always had too much of a sweet tooth.

I grew up in a soup-loving family. One of my dad’s favourite stories to tell is that once when he was a kid, his family went to a restaurant famous for its split pea soup. When the server came around to ask if anyone wanted dessert, my dad ordered another bowl of split pea soup. 

Not funny, but what kids do – unashamedly without regard for convention.

The Disgust or Paradise Soiled

The following is typical of what passes as public policy. Mr Burgess stands up to the mike and makes serious allegations. The matter remains both unsubstantiated and unresolved. The news cycle moves on, and this week it is TikTok, but the Chinese have conveniently removed the tariff on wine, so the Prime Minister, as he does under stress, nervously flicks his tongue when speaking about any issue where he unsure.

The media have established that Burgess meant China, (no speculation on CIA or Mossad or Russian SVR) before its caravan moves on in a cloud of invective – but please not too much; remember the lucrative Beijing wine trail. But then Australia has never abandoned the White Australia policy – so it is convenient to concentrate the xenophobia on those released 149 boat people that are accused of terrorising the streets, raping our blanched citizens and warping our culture of 26 million people. No evidence of such, except being wrongly arrested.

Please do not mention the actual criminals, many of whom were socialised in war torn Beirut, but they are excused. They came by plane bringing their shooting gallery and drug trade with them (and their motor bikes).

The difference is that these wretched boat people have not the money to bribe. That is the real challenge, you bunch of Captain Clubbers, who of course are above bribery.

Mouse Whisper

Over 9,000 women have been killed since the invasion of Gaza. An unknown number of these women were pregnant.

Two Israeli Soldiers were sitting in the rubble of Northern Gaza.

They were comparing the number of innocent women they had killed.

As one said: “I kill pregnant women.”

“Why?” asked the other.

“They are hiding terrorists.” explained the other.

Apocryphal? Maybe. However, read the Israeli apologias for murdering over 30,000 Gazan citizens as if they were all Hamas. Then it is not so apocryphal.

Israel has previously said it has killed about 9,000 Hamas militants, though it has not provided evidence to back up the claim.  (ABC report)

Modest Expectations – Anno Quattuor


There’s a difference between psyching yourself up and misrepresenting yourself, and the latter is where “fake it” has gone too far. We need a reset, and to find a way to once again prioritize and reward diligent, honest effort over faux success. Government needs to return to enforcing meaningful financial regulation; politicians and entrepreneurs who deceive their supporters need to face consequences. And we need to be less credulous and stop falling for the next shiny thing. – Helaine Olen, Washington Post

So here we are the end of my fourth year writing a blog each week.

Sometimes I feel like the Beatles’ Father MacKenzie – writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear; no one comes near; look at him working, but then it goes on to something about darning socks in the night when apparently everybody has deserted him, but he yet retains a priestly insouciance. From this chiaroscuro cell of mine, may I thank Frank Meany for his encouragement in ‘mousing’ my first one in 2019. My socks remain undarned.

Nevertheless, Ms Olen’s observation remains very pertinent to me every time I pick up my mouse. I publish one blog a week; they have grown to over 3,000 words, but it has meant I read widely, and republish with acknowledgement information I find interesting. I write a blog as now I have the time to write.  Now I have time to reflect I can leave a legacy for what it is worth. So here goes into my no. 208.

I was talking to a friend of mine who had returned from a very comfortable dinner. I mentioned to him the breakdown of the refrigerated truck bringing food, in particular meat, to our village. It is a 45 minute drive to the next towns – one was over the range; the other over more undulating territory. We were expecting friends for dinner, and my wife happened to be at the only supermarket in town to hear the news that explained the empty fridge shelves. She was able to snaffle some chicken legs, but there was not much more to be had.

The weather was unexpectedly bad for this time of the year. Low weather fronts coming through, rapidly dragging thunderstorm, rain and gusts up to 100 km/hour. At about two am, the power went off. There was a pole fire nearby. This day was cold; there was no heat. Despite the house being built as a wilderness pole house, there is no chimney. A gas fire better heats the house; you do not have to cluster around an open fire trying to keep warm. But it needs electricity to create the spark to light the gas and run the fan.

Fortunately, we have a gas stove and could cook; and with battery and candle, we survived 18 hours without electricity. Having listened to what my friend said that he feared that there would be more outages, his prediction seemed self-fulfilling. True to his prediction, next morning, another outage shut down the Sydney rail system; the day after it was the turn of two large public hospitals in Melbourne. In neither case was it thought to be due to a malignant cyberattack.

Meanwhile, the flooded Kimberley region is running out of food – not just one lorry broken down as happened to us. All the roads are now cut off; and then next day, it was the turn of Mount Isa and all the rivers that flow north of the Selwyn ranges are now in flood.

We went for 18 hours without heating, and it was very cold. But think of the deprivation that so many people across Australia have suffered alongside COVID-19. Sure, I have had a bout of long COVID, but we’ve not been flooded or burnt out – yet! Our deprivation this time was really a nothing compared what else is happening and has happened over the past few years to so many people.

Thus, our deprivation was just an irritation and perhaps a harbinger of things to come; but look at the government priorities! Nuclear submarines for God’s sake! Moreover, the sabre-rattling group assembled by the SMH was predicting a war with China in three years.

As reported in the SMH: “Former Defence Department deputy secretary Peter Jennings estimates the eight boats will eventually cost taxpayers the equivalent of 1 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product or some $20 billion each year.

That’s roughly the combined annual revenues of Australia’s wheat and beef industries, or more than the cost of the NDIS last year. The problem is, the submarines are not expected to arrive for 15 to 20 years, which could be on the other side of a war with China.

“On the other side of a war with China.” What does that mean?

Admiral Chester W Nimitz, Fleet Admiral, United States Navy, former leading US Navy authority on submarines

As part of the agreement, the United States and Britain will rotate nuclear-powered submarines into port in Perth by 2027. One such submarine, the U.S.S. Asheville, is already there now on a port visit, before the formal schedule of rotations.

At that time, I must have dropped off to sleep because I dreamed a dream. Somebody nudges the March Hare to wake him up.  Meanwhile, the dormouse strewn with marigold flowers has arrived at the table and pipes up being asked to defend the purchase of these expensive toys, said: “This is about jobs … and Adelaide in particular will be a big beneficiary of this announcement, as well as Western Australia in particular”.  Just before being shoved into the AUKUS teapot, somebody watching asks aren’t the nuclear submarines about the defence force capability. The answer is lost in the gurgles, but the word “capacity” does get a mention before the dormouse goes down for the third time. I shake myself awake; was that a dream?

Call me the HMAUKUS Pinafore

Before contemplating further let us consider whether we have combatted our internal challenges. Our ability to cope with floods has come up short. Too much of our domestic and commercial infrastructure is built on flood plains and, with climate change heralding more extreme weather, there are large infrastructural costs awaiting Australia. Promises are easy, but nothing much seems to be done, given it is estimated that one million homes are at risk from flooding by 2030. Brisbane and the Gold Coast local government areas are the most vulnerable in numbers, but the Greater Shepparton area in Victoria has the greatest percentage of such homes (56%) with nearby Wangaratta not far behind (43%) – a total of nearly 3,000 homes. Increasingly such places are uninsurable, which leaves only we, the mug taxpayers, as the reconstruction funder.

Australia does not have the equivalent of the US Army Corps of Engineers, which, among its many functions, is flood mitigation, and although there were criticisms for the levee construction in New Orleans, there is consolidated expertise. A recent report in 2022 noted that “Seventeen years after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers has completed an extensive system of floodgates, strengthened levees and other protections. The 130-mile (210-kilometre) ring is designed to hold out storm surge of about 30 feet (9 meters) around New Orleans and suburbs in three parishes.”

Even so, Nicholas Lemann, writing in The New Yorker, was not so sanguine.

After Katrina, as after Betsy, such plans were drawn up, but nobody wanted to pay for them. New Orleans had to settle for levee enhancements that fell far short of providing invulnerability to a Category 5 hurricane, and wound up returning to something not too different from its pre-Katrina state. The city is an irresistibly alluring place that does far better by its white citizens than its Black ones. Life is sweet when it isn’t tragic. Lodged somewhere in everyone’s consciousness is the knowledge that what happened in 2005 is going to happen again.

Eleven months after the Lismore floods, a Northern Rivers Reconstruction Authority has been set up and $800 million promised, but nothing much seems to have been done, which is visible to the community. Somebody might echo Lemann and say it will happen again because no government is prepared to spend the money to 100% guarantee waterproofing the current Lismore, but as with Lismore residents nobody wants to move away.

Cockatoo Island Sydney, once a ship builder, then a submarine repair yard, now an art precinct and “glamping” site

Now as the sabre-rattling group would insist Australia faces war with China. Do we wish to contemplate that? An old doctor in conversation with me years ago told of when World War I was declared, there were celebrations in the streets – he remembered hats being thrown in the air – excitement was everywhere. War was a jolly adventure in exotic places. Then, Australia was not threatened directly.

The last time Australia was directly threatened was 1942 – the population was mobilised – the dread when the postman came with news that your father, son, close relative had been killed. Food and clothing were rationed. But bombing of urban areas of Australia was restricted to Darwin and Broome – northern Australia. The Japanese onslaught was halted, they suffered mortal wounds as the War was washed north.

Volodymyr Zelensky has proved an unexpected obstacle. Given that we were fed a diet of Ukraine being corrupt, essentially a Russian satrap, and the line of least resistance was taken in relation to Crimea. Putin anticipated; NATO anticipated that Ukraine would just fall into the Russian sphere of influence.  Conventional early wisdom was that Ukraine would be partitioned with the Russians ceded the eastern fertile black plains, while the truncated Ukraine would retain Kyiv and the Polish border areas – at least pro tem.

But Zelensky had different ideas, and he inconveniently precipitated NATO leaders out of the cocktail circuit into a world bereft of Louis Vuitton and Dom Perignon. Zelensky has created the nightmare; he stood up to Putin. It was not expected that a comedian had transformed himself into a resilient warrior.

Nevertheless, the Americans always seem to have a war on the go, dragging us with them. However, none of the recent Wars have the European backdrop Ukraine has provided. So, destroying a country where the infrastructure is notably European is thus enough to put the fear of God into the Europeans. It is they which, even with the diminishing number that directly experienced the horrors of WWII, see it now being re-run in the Ukraine.

Forget the power of the people; unless they inconveniently have the power that Zelensky has. Looking around our leaders there is no-one who reminds one of this man. There seems nobody else who can lead a popular revolution.

And what of China? They assumed control of Hong Kong, breaking the terms of agreement with the United Kingdom.  There were street protests. There have been draconian measures put in place. There has been no urban warfare from those who opposed this take over. The sun still shines. The horses still race at Happy Valley and Sha Tin.

Power means control of the security forces. The street protests of the sort seen 40 years ago have been studied by those in authority and measures implemented to contain the people; these measures are increasingly perfected with more and more sophisticated brutality and repression.

The Chinese have not participated overtly in any war, apart from border skirmishes and the annexation of Tibet about 70 years ago, while in that same period the Americans have been in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan – for what reward? I forgot Grenada, which the USA invaded in October 1983, a conflict which lasted four days before the Americans declared victory over a country of 113,000 people.

In fact on March 9 it was reported: that Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) announced on Thursday that air routes between Taiwan and 10 Chinese cities will be reinstated on Friday, with 13 other Chinese cities selected for cross-strait charter flights. Starting on Friday, flight routes will be re-established between the Taiwanese cities of Taoyuan, Taipei and Kaohsiung, and the Chinese cities of Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Fuzhou, Qingdao, Wuhan, Ningbo and Zhengzhou.

Ok … but that statement does not suggest war footing. The Americans were not part of this decision, I note.

So, what is the point of all this purchase of extraordinarily expensive toys of war? Can anybody in words of one syllable tell me how the current expenditure will help defend this country? The Taiwan response – a video of a young woman running with rifle, stumbling, with her helmet falling over her face, and then giggling. War footing? More like slippage.

Yet Taiwan has the perfect terrain for guerrilla warfare, but has anybody got the stomach for a war? What is Taiwan’s appetite for war? The Chinese would prefer a compliant Taiwan commercially strong, but avoiding a potentially destructive conflict with China. Where does Australia’s acquisition of nuclear submarines in the mid 2030s fit that scenario?

There is thus a possibility that China and Taiwan will reach an accommodation that avoids outright war. Nevertheless, some Chinese with assets are moving them to Singapore and elsewhere including Australia. Yet let us not be under any illusions that the Chinese diaspora is anti-China; some estimated that the pro-Chinese element in Australia would be about 80 per cent.

At the 2021 census, 1,390,637 Australian residents identified themselves as having Chinese ancestry, accounting for 5.5% of the total population. How is the Australian Government planning to deal with them in case of direct conflict with China. Internment? I think not. Think of the expense… but then again, those advocating building more and more sports venues, maybe they will have a secondary use. After all, the Melbourne Cricket Ground was requisitioned by the Americans and Australian defence forces between 1942 and 1945 with up to 200,000 troops using the ground facilities as barracks. Would we need it again – but now for an internment camp?

In any event, the last sentence in Helaine Olen’s opinion piece quoted at the beginning of this blog is particularly germane.

Billy Graham with a Pole

Bob Richards has recently died in Waco Texas aged 97.

Bob Richards

His would not be a familiar name today to anybody in Australia unless you, like myself, were a spectator at the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956. He had been the Olympic champion in the pole vault in 1952 in Helsinki and had come to Melbourne in the USA team to defend his title. Pole vaulting was an unfamiliar sport in Australia, and I remember being seated close to the action. Australia had two competitors, but they had been knocked out in the preliminary round, finishing last and second last respectively.

Richards had not vaulted very well in the preliminary round, but in the final, he won with an Olympic record. As he freely acknowledged, even though he was able to surpass his Olympic record by pole vaulting over 15 feet many times, he was never able to surpass another American, Cornelius Warmerdam, a Californian who had set the World record in the early 1940s, but whose exploits were overshadowed by WWII. Warmerdam used a bamboo pole, which replaced the early solid ash poles; but by the time Richards was at his peak, the technology of the pole had moved to poles made of tubular aluminium.

Today’s top male vaulters, with refined techniques and springy fiberglass or carbon fibre poles that bow almost to U shapes, routinely soar over crossbars set above 19 feet (5.8metres). The world record is held by Armand Duplantis, an American-born Swedish athlete known as Mondo, who recently vaulted 20 feet 4-3/4 inches (6.22 metres). That height surpassed his own previous five world records, all over 20 feet (6.1 metres) and all set since 2020. From the Australian point, from the dismal performance of 1956, our standards have risen markedly.  An Australian, Steve Hooker won the Olympic pole vault at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

It is the one event, where it seems that there has been no brake put on the technology; and how far will such technology take man and woman into the ether. Hooker eventually jumped a height (6.06m), which remains the fourth highest height ever attained; in the end he lost his head for heights, who wouldn’t but anyway what a career!

As it was with Richards. With his etched looks he reminded me of Billy Graham and was, to some extent, much the same evangelical as he was ordained into a Brethren when he was only 20. He was given the nickname of the “Vaulting Vicar” by some, but all I  knew was that he was a pastor for one of those evangelical Christian churches, which find the Southern American States such fertile ground. Sagebush piety, cowboy strong face enabled him to be, between 1958 and 1970, the face on the General Mills “Wheaties” packet, the  cereal known as the “Breakfast of Champions.” He became director of the Wheaties Sports Federation, founded in 1958 after President Eisenhower called for a national physical fitness campaign.

So he was, his pole vaulting seemed to be a symbol of his form of Christianity where an aluminium pole and a bar being raised set against the sky were his basic Assumption.

An Added Thought from the Vault

Women’s pole vaulting does not easily fit into the Bob Richard narrative. Currently Australia has the number two rated woman pole vaulter in the world – Nina Kennedy. Last year she won the Diamond League title with a vault of 15ft 1.5in (4.61 metres) slightly less than her best, but would Australia ever know.

The first recorded woman’s world record holder was a Ruth Spencer, an American who vaulted 4ft 9in (1.44 metres) in 1910.  The height is testimony to the change in times, when modern female athletes would high jump way higher than that. The current world pole vault record was set in 2009 by Russian Yelena Isinbayeva with a vault of 16ft 7in (5.06 metres). She held sway in the first decade of the 21st century, and with arched eyebrows, one can say that her record has not been challenged in the last thirteen years – but she was Russian.

Women’s pole vaulting attained prominence when first introduced as an event in the Sydney Olympic Games, when Tatiana Grigorieva, a Russian-born Australian, unexpectedly won the silver medal. During the 1990’s repeatedly breaking the then world record, Emma George was dominant.

Emma George

I remember for many years driving into Beechworth, her name was emblazoned on her hometown signage. But her dominance ended in tears, as the stress induced by pole vaulting caught up with her.  She vanished even before the 2000 Olympic Games with a mess of chronic injury without any comment on her mental health.

In fact, she has become the mother of three boys, seemingly happy, still greatly attracted to the outdoors as judged by her profile in the media, where she acts as a free-lance journalist – a world which I once knew as that of a stringer.

A Sense of Theatre

Col Hodges

My eye caught the following on Twitter. “Race caller Col Hodges lives in flood ravaged Forbes. After having a cold shower this morning Col hitched a ride on a fire truck to get to a boat which took him to within 50 yards of the other side where he waded in knee deep water to get to a borrowed car to travel to Bathurst {to call the races}.”

Race callers are so much part of the heritage of the country.  They all have their individual ways of learning. No University course here. Col Hodges started shooting marbles around the backyard pretending that they were racehorses. I knew one other bloke who started calling matches floating down a gutter.

When you note how many race meetings there are, it means that while the race callers in the city seem to form a kind of Establishment, there are many other meetings that need to be called. On this periphery are race callers like Col Hodges. I note that he called his first race meeting in a tiny place called Fifield, which lies between Trundle and Tullamore in the Central West of NSW with its hotel known as the Pub in the Shrub. We stopped there once just up the road from what looked like an old boarded up mill; yet as I noted in an earlier blog, there was a late model yellow Ford parked out the front and an array of expensive solar panels on the roof.

Col Hodges called a race meeting there in 1971. As he recalled “It was a picnic meeting at Fifield on Easter Saturday. It was a dirt track, there were fields of between six and 10 to describe and around 500 people were in attendance. In those days a lot of tracks didn’t have photo finish cameras. A lady in the crowd called out after a close finish that I was trying to influence the judges. I went to a lot of meetings that didn’t have photo finish cameras so that’s where I learned to be pretty diplomatic in photo finishes. If I’m sure I’ll call it but there’s that many different angles, I call at about 30-35 race tracks, and some tracks you’re right on the line but unless I’m pretty sure I’ll just say it’s between this horse and that horse. I’ll have a go if I know the angle of the track and I’m confident but I don’t like letting people down by taking a guess when I’m at a bad angle just for my own glory.

Yet Col Hodges was the last to call a triple dead heat in Cowra in 1997, and even ventured at the time that it might be the result. This was rather adventurous given that there have only been four in the whole history of Australian horse racing since the introduction of the photo finish camera. It took the stewards 30 minutes to declare the placings.

As is said, race callers need to have a sense of theatre.

Such sadness

Last week I recalled our time in southern Malawi.  To quote local sources this past week: Heavy rains that triggered floods and mudslides have killed at least 199 people in Malawi, authorities. President Lazarus Chakwera declared a “state of disaster” in the country’s southern region and the now-ravaged commercial capital, Blantyre. Some 19,000 people in the south of the nation have been displaced, according to Malawi’s disaster management directorate.

This suggests that the Satemwa tea estate, a source of employment for many Malawians, which is only 43 kilometres South of Blantyre could not conceivably have been unaffected by Cyclone Freddy, to say nothing of the thousands of Malawian subsistence farmers whose farm plots crowded the river floodplains. Another country needing our help.

Mt Mulanje in southern Malawi in calmer times, now with floodwaters to the north and south

Mouse Whisper

He was complaining about the comment that bushfires had been reported as having decimated the ozone layer by five per cent. Five per cent is one twentieth. So, it is hardly “decimate”. Well, add this word to vocabulary to kill only five per cent – vicesimumate. In other words, we are going to be merciful – we are going to vicesimumate you lot.  Instead of two for the chop, you lot will only lose one.



35 Poems by Jack Best

An illustrated collection of poems

Order your copy of 35 Poems now – $30 plus postage.
Email to for your copies. Any profits will go to the Ukrainian cause and Malawi relief.

Jack’s poetic side finally gets an airing in this, his first book of poems. Described in the foreword by John Bevins as:

“… a joy … indeed, hoped-for gifts beat surprises. In one of Jack’s deeply personal poems (some are jolly folly), we learn his Father urged him to read Xenophon. ‘The sweetest of all sounds’, Xenophon said, ‘is praise’. Well, this body of work — with its own sweet sounds, ‘sounds sizzling in the wires’ — gets my praise. All the more so because of Jack Best’s courage to say what he feels in a way that allows us to feel what he says”.