Modest Expectations – Indium

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

Alistair Cooke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there were the two flat tyres.

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

But back to Bill. The highly qualified Bill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure” said Bill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Door County

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honeycrisp apples

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

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

Anyway, we must get a candle making kit.

Need to Ramp Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardly the Little Match Girl 

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

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

The Little Match Girl, Norman Rockwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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

Modest Expectations – 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.

Strahan

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 putting 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.

Poltrava

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

Modest Expectations – Harry & Izzys

Old Geelong Grammarians?

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

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

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

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

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

Pity that Albanese hadn’t seen it either.

The Mammoth in the Room

Mammoth – looking for a room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruden Farm, Langwarrin

The Slivers of War or Putin’s Lebensraum

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

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

Kiev

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

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

The ripples of War.

Then what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soviet nuclear expertise … Chernobyl

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

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

May I introduce Q fever

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

Sir Macfarlane Burnet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ground hog days in New Hampshire

On the way up

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

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

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

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

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

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

How long before this practice hits Australia?

Massachusetts General Hospital

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

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

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

What Bird is That?

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

Red browed finch

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

A hairy wren’s nest

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

Mouse Whisper

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

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

Modest Expectations – Tomas Machac

In 1994, I bought the April edition of the Atlantic Monthly because it had an article entitled “What is Political Leadership?” The author was Garry Wills, a conservative Catholic historian, with whom I had become acquainted through reading his book reviews in the New York Review of Books. Increasingly he has taken positions in relation to civil rights and then Vietnam which, in conventional terms, would seem to belie his conservative Catholic stance, especially given William Buckley was an early mentor. However, to be socially progressive is not incompatible with conservatism.

When this article was published he was 60 years old and had been in the History Department at North Western University since 1980.

Eventually, now that I have read the piece, I believe he was probably recycling long held views given his concentration on Lincoln, Roosevelt and to a lesser degree Washington.  Interspersed are anecdotes about his relationship with his father, whom he resented when he left his mother to marry a much younger Hollywood model. The disdain drips, but nevertheless he worked for his father. As he says: “That is the way leadership works – reciprocally engaging two wills…”

He makes the obvious comment. A leader must have followers, but he describes the patriarchal society concept personified by Pericles in Athens as described by Thucydides, “enabled by the respect others had for him and his own wise policy, to hold the multitude in a voluntary restraint”.

There is no doubt that Pericles was a great orator and a competent general, initially prevailing over the Spartans. Yet Wills tends to dismiss Pericles as an applicable role model. As he does also with Dale Carnegie – with his “win friends and influence people” dicta as though the leadership is customer dependent.

Wills makes the simple fact that to be a leader, one must have followers. As such, it is not a quality that is proportional to the cleverness of any advertising campaign.

I have always wondered what constitutes leadership, as though there are rules. My own observations about leadership have relied on the tripartite Weberian definition, where there are “traditional leaders” who have been afforded this role by their inherited position. Many of this class have followers only as long as the dynasty survives, because of the many “grace and favour” positions which accompany such leadership. The various Arab desert States epitomise such leadership in the modern world where once it was European royalty or Asian emperors. Often there were religious tags built into such leadership.

Pericles

I have witnessed the second type, charismatic leadership as epitomised by Pericles. In my life I have followed one charismatic leader – someone whom I never met and who, since his death, has been revealed as a very flawed character. However, a leader elicits an emotional response from the followers wanting to aspire to a goal (or goals), irrespective of the actual nature of the man (or woman).

Wills makes a very insightful observation when he said that a leader needs to understand his followers more than they need to understand him. John F. Kennedy used rhetoric in a way that drew people like myself to ideals of service – to a better world. The idea of a Peace Corps appealed because it provided evidence of a shared goal, irrespective of whether or how obtainable it actually was. The concept implied concern and actual commitment to both communities or individuals in need.

Wills makes the point that Lincoln based his belief around the Declaration of Independence as a vital aspect of his leadership. Yet he fails to acknowledge that assorted charlatans, who have not only used the Declaration of Independence but also the Bible, to further their image. To my mind, invoking such texts provides no indication of the quality of leadership; it just suggests that the person has read a desk calendar or some such.

Lincoln was assassinated, as was Kennedy. Therefore, there will also be an expectancy in leadership unfulfilled. Roosevelt was a different person, a model of leadership that Wills attempts to define. Roosevelt went from a comparatively young man of privilege to the older man who faced and battled the legacy of poliomyelitis for the rest of his life.

Battling personal infirmity and that of the country (and the World for that matter) merged. He would not give up, and that resilience was translated into his leadership style. He was able to disguise his paralysis and yet develop an intimacy with his followers with his regular “Fireside Chats”; he gave hope to his followers with the provision of civic works such as the Tennessee Valley Authority.  Yet he did nothing about civil rights: the lynching of Southern blacks; the Ku Klux Klan, the Tuskegee experiments; as well as the isolationist foreign policy and early support for the anti-Semitic, pro-fascist Father Coughlin.

Roosevelt, who is so often used as a model of successful leadership, was flawed, got things wrong and eventually stayed too long, succumbing to a mixture of diseases associated with his long term disability. The whole product made him very vulnerable to the machinations of Stalin, whose home ground advantage at Yalta was never so evident as in the 1945 determination of spheres of influence.

In the end, Wills extensively explores these charismatic leaders yet has no more solution to the nature of ideal leadership beyond reference back to Pericles. It is as though he searched and found no better model.  Wills classified Roosevelt as Periclean, (and incidentally to reinforce the point Wills compared Roosevelt’s leadership with that of the fluffy failed Adlai Stevenson).

There is no exploration of where charismatic leadership continues through the third model, an incorruptible bureaucratic leadership even after the charismatic leader has moved on. Democracy depends on bureaucrats who have to be incorruptible; thus, if you outsource the work of bureaucracy without any apparent goal other than feathering the nest of the private consulting companies, then the leadership which competent bureaucrats could provide is compromised. I remember when bureaucratic leadership was very important, as when Sabine vaccine for polio was introduced and the country had to be transferred from believing that the initial spruiked Salk vaccine was not as good.

Wills did not analyse the qualities of bureaucratic leadership in effectively carrying out the government policy. Maybe series such as “Yes Minister”, caricaturing bureaucracy leadership, while immediately very funny, nevertheless have had an insidious effect on the credibility of bureaucratic leadership. This variability in the effects of bureaucratic leadership has been shown at various stages during the current pandemic.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear

As I was exploring this topic, I tuned into the Kentucky disaster, and noted immediately the decisive compassionate leadership being shown by the Governor, Andy Beshear. He so clearly demonstrates the qualities of the charismatic leader. It is hoped that he has the moral compass to keep going with it. His demonstration of charismatic leadership and his deft and rapid transfer of the reconstruction of his State to his relevant authorities will serve as a model.

My bias is that of a person who lived through the 60s, I believe Beshear will take a national leadership role at some point. He reminds me of Robert Kennedy. I hope his life is not cut short and he does not become a fallen idol, as a number of people of promise who have not been able to define a successful leadership style.

Always Disputin’

Putin often speaks of a “One Russia,” meaning Russia, Ukraine and Belarus — or “Big Russia” and “Little Russia,” Russia being the “big” and Ukraine the “little.” He argued in 2009 that “no one should be allowed to interfere in relations between us. They have always been the business of Russia itself.”

A few years ago, before the pandemic, I took a boat trip down to the mouth of the Danube – the enormous Danube delta, the point where the river enters the Black Sea which, for the sake of completeness, the boat nosed into before retreating back into the Delta.

Pelicans in the Danube Delta

On the Northern aspect of the delta, Romania, Moldova and the Ukraine villagers live on the sandy sediment which form islands amid the reeds and sedges above the waterline.

We stopped at one of these villages called St George, where port facilities had been constructed. Here the people in this tiny village tucked within the Romanian border are mostly Ukrainian speakers. All very quaint, with all the hallmarks of the community where time has rested, except to make itself accessible to a scant tourist trade but probably more importantly to help the villagers to get supplies from a post-feudal world which has invented vodka in bottles, tinned food and frozen fish fingers.

We pass Tulcea on our way into the Delta. This township serves as the gateway to the Delta, it is firmly in Romania but as the captain said for those who have a nose for countries, we had actually been in Moldova for a brief time – at least the bow of the boat had been.

So here we were at the intersection of three countries, with Russia not that far away looking over the shoulder of Ukraine. Russia has shown no interest in annexing Romania, although one may adduce there has been Russian mischief in the creation of the Romanian-speaking Moldova. The Russians want to keep Moldova apart from the EU, but even with a breakaway province, Transnistria, along its Ukrainian border, and even with its small population, Moldova maintains a separate identity from Romania.

It demonstrates what a jigsaw the whole area is. Both Moldova and Ukraine following the dissolution of the USSR have initially had pro-Russian governments, but that has changed. Both governments now are solidly pro-western.

Putin holds the levers of Soviet power internally through his labyrinthine security services. Having been a middle level operative at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union, he has shown his genius in assembling it again. The fact that he has done so demonstrates the skill of the person, given that it is essential that he maintain internal discipline over Russia itself. After all, he is intoxicated with the glories of Russia, and therefore the old capital of the Russian diaspora, Kiev, is the capital of the modern Ukraine but to him a crucial part of Russian heritage.

Russia is not the power it once was and the only way to invade Ukraine successfully, in his eyes, would be to ensure that potential adversaries are confused. Therefore, chaos is always his solution and fomenting chaos is one mixture of feinting, lunging, retreating and infiltrating. After all, he has worked out that America is war-wearied, and Biden has said as much. So that leaves the other members of NATO, weakened by the Brexit machinations, to come to the aid of the Ukraine. Their preferred weapon is not military but economic. The Russian economy must stagnate and then contract, which in turn starves the money trail of the Putin kleptocracy, another arm of Putin’s power. That economic rationing is the theory.

Putin relies on State sanctioned mercenaries in companies like Wagner to keep up a diet of chaos by interfering in the politics of smaller counties. At the same time he uses the Orthodox Church to spread the message of Ukrainian oneness with Mother Russia, and it worked while there was a pro-Soviet government there. After all, he repossessed Crimea with pathetic protests emanating from the West, but his incursion into eastern Ukraine seems at least to have accelerated the modernisation of the Ukrainian armed forces.

There may have been excuses for those who knew the history of the Crimean annexation. Those who knew the background of the Ukrainian hold on Crimea would have known it was a move by Khrushchev to obtain the support of the then UkSSR in his battle to oust Malenkov in 1954, even though Crimea was predominantly Russian. Hence it did not evoke the same response from the West.

Thus, the assumption is that the Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine would be attracted to Putin. In Ukraine these speakers constitute 30 per cent of the population and, as would be expected, the area where Russian is least spoken lies along the western border area, with its history of Hapsburg rule. Nevertheless, the linguistic division is not sharp, and often Ukrainians use both Russian and Ukrainian in conversation, even within the one sentence. In contrast there has been a marked change in national sentiment with the pro-Soviet President, Viktor Yanukovych and his cronies being ousted in 2014.

As one commentary has said: “The prominent role played by Russian-speaking Ukrainians in repelling Putin’s hybrid invasion has done much to alter perceptions of language and identity in today’s Ukraine, leading to the rise of a civic national identity that goes beyond the narrow confines of language and ethnicity. Many saw the election of Jewish Russian-speaker Volodymyr Zelenskyy as Ukraine’s sixth president in 2019 as further confirmation of the country’s evolving linguistic politics.”

The Ukrainians would also be less than impressed by the support of the tyrannical regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus. Belarusian is one of two languages spoken in that country, together with Russian. Since 1917, there has been an attempt by the Russians to smother the Belarusian language and merge the cultural identity. The fact that Lukashenka is totally dependent on Putin is not lost on the Ukrainians, especially his use of Belarus bastardry to create chaos along the Polish border.

Yet Putin will continue to create brinkmanship as his weapon of chaos. If he invades, then as one knows from chess, order prevails, unless the players on the other side do not know who will make the next move. If they hesitate then Putin leans across the board and makes the move himself. More chaos as he has usurped the rules.

Wait a minute, where does Putin stop his incursion? Are the Russian people prepared to pursue the Putinic folly? If he sweeps across the country, then he has to garrison the land conquered.

His adversaries watch as Putin experiments his weaponisation of chaos in Belarus. Those familiar with chess know he will start the game with fewer pieces than his adversaries, and they soon stop him reaching over the Board to manipulate their pieces. Instead, they will line their surplus pieces along the border of his exclave, Kaliningrad, along the Baltic Sea.  Perhaps the NATO countries would be tempted to annex it, given that one can hypothesise that many of the weapons of chaos have been hatched there, designed to cause the maximum amount of “cyberpiracy” with the resultant “cyberpain”. I wonder why Kaliningrad has been tolerated for so long, given its strategic vulnerability.

I wonder what I have missed within Putin’s thinking. Conventional risk analysis would say no way, but how disjointed and craven are the members of NATO?

Kaliningrad, Russia

Tread warily

I had negotiated the same set of stairs hundreds of times. I have always made sure that I grabbed the rail when both climbing up and descending. Where there was originally no rail on the short rise, one was installed. However, that still left a metre of open landing between the two staircases where a rail was perhaps thought not necessary or at least problematic. Thus, there was no rail in this “no-man’s land.

So, the inevitable happened. Tired, I tripped on the last tread of the first set of stairs and reached out to grasp the railing along the side of the second set of stairs. I missed. I fell heavily, cracking my head where the tread meets the riser. My right side bore the brunt. I did not lose consciousness, but after the fall I was prone. My head was awkwardly placed on the tread with my legs sticking out over the landing edge.

At my age, there was no way I could move myself. As the ambulance took an hour arriving, the only solution to get a more tolerable position was to slide down the stairs on my stomach. Bumping one tread at a time, legs being pulled by my wife, my arms pushing against the stair rail. At last, I was laid prone at the bottom of the stair.

My head, which now revealed a transverse cut partially covered with hair matted with blood. My forehead was bruised; yet I had not lost consciousness.

There I lay on the floor, still unable to roll over. After an hour and half two ambulance officers turned up, despite repeated calls. The initial exchange was not the stuff of the milk of human kindness. Having reviewed two ambulance services professionally 30 years ago, I had been responsible in part for the establishment of paramedic courses in universities, leading to professional reciprocity between States. One can excuse the characteristics of the emergency workers. Ambulance officers must adjust to all kinds of situations – many very adversarial. Nevertheless, there is often a fine line between the assertive and the aggressive – an appropriate response to a situation is a function of a person’s adaptability to each situation.

First, the ambulance’s lifting device was found to have a flat battery, ergo useless. The tasks were now related to the officers’ and my wife’s strength. Rolling me on my side; then stacking cushions behind my back, then the sheet its two ends under my armpits being pulled up with my feet firmly planted, I am off the floor, standing. However, on my feet, I have to be convinced that there is a now a chair behind me. It takes more reassurance than would be expected to convince me that there was a seat behind me – it is now nearly two hours since I first fell.

It is a considerable time since I last fell, that time in the garden without damaging myself, and was able to be assisted to my feet. I am now older, and my balance more delicate.

The problem of being a doctor is that you can misdiagnose anything; but once sitting in the chair I made the decision not to go to hospital, and thus go through the gamut of the emergency department – I had had enough of waiting around, and then being tested, with all the associated pain.

I found I could limp, but ensured that it was not due to hip or pelvis fracture – it was somewhere in the gluteal and quadriceps muscles – maybe even the psoas – but what would they do at the hospital, besides giving me a range of precautionary tests, perhaps a shot of morphine – and then I would inevitably vomit.  And the pain would be still there. The papers associated with my admission to discharge would be a cascade of endless questions.

Besides, even though fully vaccinated, there is always the possibility of the Virus lurking in the hospital’s corridors.

I look at my badly bruised hand. I hope I’ve made the right decision. But it is too late now. I signed a disclaimer clearing the ambulance officers from any responsibility in the decision. A very insistent request; I noted they did not ask to examine my hips or pelvis. But then I was a know-it-all old doctor, wasn’t I?

I wonder how many elderly or disabled people who fall require assistance to get off the ground or floor. Over two hours of smelling the carpet is not the best fragrance. The NSW Ambulance service averages about 25 minutes for an inner suburban urgent call. But not mine; the ambulance was based in Paddington (7.8 kilometres or 14 minutes) from my home.

I know of a private outfit which provides a pendant to be worn with an alarm system that can be activated in the event of an emergency. The reviews have not been good; and anyway, given the prevalence of falls in the elderly, why should the government not be responsible for such a service linked to the other emergency services. Like so much of aged care, government has sloughed it off to the private sector.

Ten days later, I am still bruised; my head is clear, yet my proprioception is worse, but I am improving.

Nevertheless, I have had to reflect on the ambulance response. Maybe I shall write a letter.

Was the Hunchback Saved?

Notre-Dame Cathedral was never a favourite of mine, a gloomy edifice stuck in the middle of Paris. This article by a celebrated art historian, Elizabeth Lev, is beautifully written, and in her own words a lovely example of how to extract everything from a nuanced approach. However, unlike Old St Paul’s which was demolished after it was badly damaged by the Great Fire of 1666 and replaced by the Christopher Wren ‘s masterpiece, compared with the Basilica in the Vatican, this Cathedral is being restored to modern gothic glory.

What is it about a church renovation that convinces everyone that society is fast-bound for hell in a handbasket?

I’ve been asking myself this question in recent days because of the hubbub surrounding the proposed rebuilding of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral. On Thursday, plans for the renovation of its interior spaces will be presented to the commission nationale du patrimoine et de l’architecture for approval. In advance of the review, press coverage has sought to whip decisions over Notre Dame’s “wreckovation” into an epic battle between the sacred and profane. But as with most controversies surrounding Notre Dame — and historical sanctuaries more broadly — the performative outrage obscures a more benign reality.

A recent article electrified the otherwise tranquil proceedings of clearing wreckage and stabilizing support structures in the 858-year-old church. Parisian architect Maurice Culot sounded the alarm that the plan for the interior decoration would be as if “Disney were entering Notre Dame.” Other critics accused the church of bowing before the altar of “political correctness.” Panic buttons lit up throughout the Anglosphere, recalling previous fears that the church’s roof would become a swimming pool or a car park.

But what is the hair-pulling about, really? People wept as they watched the cathedral burn, but did they know what was inside? Was it the loss of the stained glass, the statues, or the paintings that they mourned? Not until Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris fire brigade, rushed out with the relic of Christ’s crown of thorns was there general awareness of what treasures the cathedral contained.

Now critics dread the potential introduction of “modern art objects” in the two dozen-plus side chapels. But how many people remember that, pre-fire, they were an ill-kept hodgepodge generally passed over by tourists in search of an Instagram-worthy shot of the windows?

Fewer hot takes and more studied responses would serve the ancient church better. Most reactions are based on the plan for the new interior presented in May by the Rev. Gille Drouin, installed last year as a canon of the cathedral to oversee the renovation. The design calls for a “catechetical path,” in which the church’s new point of entry would be the central portal confronting the viewer with the full majesty of the space. The reconfiguration would also make better use of the side chapels, each adapted to recount salvation history from Genesis to Christ’s resurrection to the life of the church today.

Celebrated monuments that miraculously escaped the fire — the bronze crucifix given by Napoleon III, the marble Notre Dame de Paris, the 14th-century carved choir stalls, and the crown of thorns entombed in the apse — would all feature in a single coherent itinerary.

Cathedral restorers hope to collaborate with the Louvre for the restoration of “the Mays,” 76 large paintings of the Acts of the Apostles donated between 1630 and 1707 by Parisian goldsmiths. Today, some are randomly placed in the side chapels and others are in museums. The plan would return them to the nave, so that visitors would see the witness of the apostles lining the main axis of the church.

Drouin hopes to transform the cathedral, which welcomed 12 million people annually pre-pandemic, into a space that is truly “catholic,” or universal. The plan proposes five chapels for five continents, in which Bible verses would be projected in local languages. Perhaps this is what spawned the Disney comparison, a kind of Catholic Epcot Center.

But for an international icon in a city where 20 percent of residents are immigrants, what’s the problem with spreading a message of hope to every person who crosses that venerable threshold? And while some have dubbed it “Christianity for Dummies,” in a world where many Catholics are shaky on scripture and many young people are raised without religion, some back-to-basics catechetics might be in order.

While the new designs might not be to everyone’s taste, it is helpful to recall the true horrors that this cathedral has survived: French revolutionaries who beheaded its facade statues and repurposed the high altar to host a scantily clad “goddess of reason,” Napoleon’s gutting of the interior for his self-coronation as emperor, the collective neglect that spurred Victor Hugo to write “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” as a cri du coeur to preserve the building.

It is also worth remembering that St. Peter’s Basilica was knocked down and rebuilt by Pope Julius II in 1506 to similar outcry, and the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, one of the oldest Catholic churches in the world, has been rebuilt half a dozen times, each reconstruction adding a piece of “contemporary” art. In these cases, novelty in the name of catechesis has proved its worth. Indeed, the opportunity to commission new art could even revitalize long-stagnant Catholic patronage.

Regardless of attempts to turn Notre Dame’s renovators into cartoon villains, the reality is more nuanced. But nuance, unfortunately, attracts little limelight. Thus topics as seemingly tame as repairing a church after a fire become cultural flash points: Whether praising or panning, everyone gets a thrill. 

Mouse Whisper

Did you know I have an Irish cousin? The Olive-backed Pocket Mouse (Wyoming Pocket Mouse a.k.a Caic Tarbh Mouse) has a silky fur olive-grey colour, with a top band of black and olive. A yellowish-buff line marks its sides and the patches of fur behind its ears are light yellow. It is buff to pure white below, but it has a tail in the shape of a shamrock with a curious phosphorescence useful for directions to the nearest mouse hostelry. The biological name for such a tail is lanteen trefoilias.

 

Olive-backed Pocket Mouse