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

Modest Expectation – Hiroshi Mikitani

I was sitting at the table writing. It was about midnight. No, the candle was not guttering in the fireplace, nor were the shadows sending their long indigo fingers across the room towards me.

And then there was this almighty crash against the window. Looking around the cause was not immediately obvious; however, there she was, crouched on the top of the bars on the window outside just below the curved head jamb – this tiny ringtail possum. She was peering in. This jill has been a frequent nocturnal visitor and generally likes to perch on the balcony rail, but tonight she had been attracted by the light. There are no food scraps left out nor is there a grease trap. However, there is large clump of bamboo below the balcony, and thus there must be a feast of insects in the bamboo, including cockroaches. Cockroaches infest the suburb where we live, and if this adopted Jill as she is called, can contain them, well Jill you can crash into the window any time, as long as you don’t bring a Passel, and break the pane.

Anyway, we now know when she arrives…

Just like John Elliot 

The late John Elliot and I were contemporaries at the University of Melbourne, but he did commerce and played billiards; I did medicine and played politics. I can’t remember him; he was younger than I was.

Our paths crossed in the seventies; sometimes amicably; sometimes less so as he went on his merry way building his Empire and meddling in politics.

One encounter sticks in my mind. It was about 1980, and he had been a guest speaker at an Australian Institute of Political Science Summer School.

We happened to be walking back from one of the sessions, or maybe after his speech.

He turned to me suddenly and said, “You know, Jack, the difference between you and me? I’m a success and you’re not. “

What could I say? At that point of time, these two specks trudging through the Universe, he was probably right then. Not sure that was necessarily so later, until he butted his last fag, and trudged further on from me up to that Jam Factory in the sky.

It’s a funny thing. He was lucky not to be gaoled. Yet, I really didn’t mind Elliot. A friend of mine thought of him as charismatic despite his fondness for ordering culo di maiale with his Fosters. Increasingly transmogrified into a latter-day Mr Punch, he was a creature of our time, not of this time.

Known for Potatoes and not Necessarily those in the Ground

Idaho is one of many states where GOP lawmakers have responded to early-pandemic restrictions with moves to limit public health powers, arguing that the measures paved the way for alarming incursions on people’s rights. A state law passed this March gave county leaders veto power over some orders from health boards — like the mask mandate that drew fury and demonstrations in Ada County last year. 

Former Ada County commissioner Diana Lachiondo (D) said she was used to “working quietly in the background” as a member of the region’s Central District Health Board. They monitored West Nile virus and made sure toxic algae blooms didn’t grow in lakes. Then, she said, the pandemic made public health explosively political.

Opponents of mask mandates showed up outside her home with air horns and audio clips from the movie “Scarface,” in which actor Al Pacino famously says, “say hello to my little friend”, as he uses a grenade launcher and fires a barrage from an assault rifle. At least one person was armed – from The Washington Post. 

In explanation, Ada County is located in the southwestern part of the U.S. state of Idaho. As of the 2010 United States Census, the county had a population of 392,365,  making it the state’s most populous county, with 23.3% of the state’s 2010 population. In this county, its seat and largest city is Boise, which is also the State capital. -Wikipedia

When I was undertaking the Rural Stocktake for the Commonwealth Department of Health, I visited WWAMI which were medical schools, organised under the rubric of “rural”. The University of Washington, including the main medical school, is highly rated. To get that statement into some perspective, the University of Washington is ranked 16th in the world and third among U.S. public universities according to 2020 Academic Ranking of World Universities.

At that time this University ran the Medical School for Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, in addition to Washington, hence the acronym. Given these states have sparse populations there was an avowed intention for them to concentrate on rural health. The problem, as I found out later, is that educating well-trained doctors in rural areas just makes them attractive to city hospitals looking to recruit skilled young health professionals. This hardly solves the dearth of these professionals in rural areas.

Sandpoint, Idaho

However during my visit, which started out in the very urban coastal Seattle, I ended up seeing some parts of Idaho. It is a state which gets very little attention unless one skis or enjoys the “amenities-rich” areas of the northern part of Idaho extending up to the Canadian border. The town I visited, which exhibited this “amenities rich” profile, was Sandpoint.

The doctors here were well served by students from the University whom they taught. It was a great environment for those wanting a conventional conservative community framed by ski slopes and mountain trails. Nevertheless, it was prosperous and undeniably rural with a population of just under 9,000 and intensely conservative.

There is a division between the northern part where the picturesque forested area is; what one expects of the Pacific North-West.  The southern portion, essentially altiplano and much drier, is where the capital Boise is located. The transition from north to south seemed to be Coeur d’Alene, a large undistinguished town, where I visited an Indian community medical service. I use an ordinary general practice as a yardstick for effectiveness. I grew up in an era of busy general practices and even though I never practised as a general practitioner, I did many locums, including for my father. Later I was associated with many rural general practices in establishing rural intern training. There were very few indigenous medical services which measured up to that yardstick, and a casual view of that one at Coeur d’Alene then would have needed a longer visit, given I visited when there seemed not to be many patients.

The amount of money allocated between Washington and Idaho was starkly demonstrated when I visited the two WWAMI campuses. It was clear that Washington State puts far more resources into education than does Idaho. Buildings, staff, programs – adjoining but so different.  They are in Pullman in Washington and Moscow in Idaho- only the border separates these two campuses.

Boise at that time was a small city, like so many of the state capitals. Unlike Sandpoint, which is at a forested 639m, Boise is on the altiplano at 832 m. So different in rainfall. At that time over 20 years ago, the guys I had lunch with were already talking about Boise becoming the new Silicon Valley; but it took almost the intervening time till now for the concept to stir into reality.  Nevertheless, from a business point of view, Idaho is on the move. On the basis of cumulative GDP and domestic migration plus non-farm employment growth, Idaho ranks 8th in the nation, and yet it lags badly in social expenditure, including that spent on public health.

This has been brought into relief by the COVID-19 crisis. Here is a State still rooted emotionally in a conservative agricultural and mining past of rugged individualism, yet paradoxically dependent on neighbouring Washington State to soak up those that it cannot treat because of the lack of health facilities.

I visited Spokane from where a member of the WWAMI faculty, who accompanied me around Idaho, was based. Spokane is a city of 230,000 in Eastern Washington, only 29 km from the Idaho border and 55 kms from Coeur d’Alene.

Spokane county itself is 53 per cent fully vaccinated (overall 63% Washington State) and across the border the corresponding Idaho county is 39 per cent fully vaccinated (overall 45% Idaho).

The current death rate from COVID-19 in Spokane County is far higher than anywhere else in Washington, being 5 a day based on a 7-day average. Spokane is bearing much of the Idaho caseload. In other words, Washington, where outdoor masking is mandatory, is having to treat the consequences of a State that discourages vaccination, masking, social distancing.  The problem is the area incorporating both States is uniform geographically and unsurprisingly attracted the same people with whom each hence shares much of the cultural heritage and attitudes. The only difference is how each State is coping with the Virus.

The Palouse

Individualism and pig-headedness are cut from the same cloth. As we drove back from Boise, we crossed the fertile Palouse, wheatlands where the differentiation between the two States was lost. I always thought that education with dispersal of the health knowledge capital into such areas would produce a more rational view of health. Yet Idaho still ranks 37th and Washington 14th in public health measures; but does that apply where the WWAMI campuses intersect at Pullman and Moscow?

In terms of its economic development Idaho is said to be a progressive state. But COVID-19 has questioned its worth, given the macabre report that so great have been the Idaho COVID-19 related deaths lately that the funeral homes are running out of space, being forced to hire mobile morgue facilities and admitting that cremations are running two weeks behind schedule. As the deaths are among the unvaccinated, someone opined darkly that no further government action in this State – where the Lieutenant Governor, Janice K. McGeachin wants to ban mask wearing – may be needed.

Yes, reinforcing the report at the head of this piece, Idaho is the State where some joker threatened to kill the doctor if he did not treat his father with ivermectin for his COVID-19. Is it really the Gem State?

And by the way, it does say something about border closures.

Plat de jour – Tehan-boned stake

While France’s military is dwarfed by that of the United States or China, it remains one of the world’s strongest and is backed by a world-class domestic military industry.

With 5,000-7,000 soldiers in the Pacific region, 20-40 military aircraft, and seven naval ships, France is the only European nation with genuine military strength in the region. The French air force has also carried out exercises deploying Rafale fighters from France, halfway across the world, to the Pacific as a show of strength.

France also has a seat on the United Nations Security Council, giving it a measure of hard power around the world. But for the great power that France once was, it is sometimes just not enough.

“The decline of France is a theme that emerges often, especially during electoral periods, and is popular among the right and far right. It’s the idea that France used to be extremely powerful and influential, and that the France of today is insignificant and contemptible. It’s obviously a narrative that can be questioned for a number of reasons.”

This is a very sober analysis. Having been against the intrusion by the French into the South Pacific with their nuclear testing program in the 1990’s, I worked to try and improve the co-operation throughout the South Pacific between the public health services. This cooperation was also forthcoming in relation to the nuclear testing.

Understandably, at that time there was complete silence shown by the Francophone area. Nevertheless, the problem went away, with the French buckling and ceasing nuclear testing. Language differences remain one of the difficulties, but even at that time the South Pacific Commission, as it was then called, was based in New Caledonia and the recently-appointed Director General at that time was an Australian. This situation is currently ironically the same, with another Australian now heading up the now South Pacific Community – another time of crisis.

When I headed the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Physicians (AFPHM) as President for three years, I made a point of visiting New Zealand at least twice a year, and with the assistance of the then Minister for Development Cooperation and Pacific Island Affairs from 1993 to 1996 was developing a strategy for public health in the South Pacific. My last act, despite my prominent anti-nuclear testing stance, was a meeting in New Caledonia of the then Commission. It was supposed to herald further co-operation.

Unfortunately, two things changed, the Labor Party was voted out. Bilney lost his seat – and the interest from the incoming Government was zilch -and it was also near the end of my fixed term in office. My successor showed no interest in pursuing the matter. He had achieved his standing by being an expert on the anatomy of the rat brain – says it all really.

French nuclear testing, Bikini Atoll

The French could have been interested and it is important if you want to meaningly communicate with the French to speak the language and know more about them, apart from their cuisine. In the original makeup of the South Pacific Commission, both Great Britain and the Netherlands were members, but they relinquished their seats with the loss of colonies (the Brits did a “Melba” but that was short-lived). However, the French have held onto New Caledonia, the Wallis & Futuna Islands and French Polynesia, and maintained a strong presence. They reluctantly agreed to the creation of Vanuatu in 1980 out of that strange condominium arrangement with Great Britain then called New Hebrides.

There are 26 members of the community incorporating Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. So, although its title is “South Pacific Community,” the Micronesian nation members are in the Northern Pacific.

And when Pitcairn Island is incorporated, then the members are guardians over great amounts of the Pacific Ocean.

Thus, the recent clumsiness of Australia has yet to be worked through. I wonder if Morrison even knows we have Our Man in Noumea. Yet I’m sure Morrison would be having regular conversations with His Man in the OECD. At least Corman speaks French fluently – I do not know about the new Australian Ambassador to the OECD, Brendan Pearson, or whether he speaks fluent French.

Morrison has managed to tie himself up in a number of showboats, because of his desire to hold a megaphone. One of the latest, the QUAD– where the quid pro quad is not immediately evident – hope it won’t end up in a Quad wrangle. Now, it’s AUKUS (if you introduced Canada, it would be CAUKUS and Russia, it would RAUKUS). I also thought Mirage was only a fighter airplane; not a nuclear submarine fleet.

Now the South Pacific Community is one of the only landlines with a French connection left to Morrison. Here there is a common interest, protection of the Pacific Ocean in all aspects for all the nations within the South Pacific Community. Who knows how valuable they will be in the future?

Before WW11 the Japanese had sampans all over the South Pacific, doing a bit of pillaging, fishing and gathering intelligence. The Chinese now have what are euphemistically called “fishing boats” roaming all over the Pacific, doing much the same but in a more sophisticated way. As with Afghanistan and Iraq, we are being dragged away from our base. It is not the South China Sea where our interests lie. There is great deal of ocean for the Community to patrol, let alone the waters of China. At least the French have naval bases in New Caledonia and Tahiti if justification for their interest in the Pacific was needed.

Then, with all this breathless collection of acronyms that Morrison has brought back in his Gladstone bag, why snub New Zealand? After all, New Zealand more than Australia shares a heritage with Polynesia and the South Pacific. Wait a minute, there is another alliance where New Zealand does have a monocle in common with us – Five Eyes. Is that a true sharing arrangement?

Five Eyes

But then the cold sixth eye – that of Dawn comes. Australia wakes in a sea of acronyms triumphant, but for what purpose?

At dawn, China remains our major export market (42%) followed by Japan (13%) then the South Koreans (7%), USA (5.5%) and UK and Singapore (4% each) India and New Zealand (3% each). France ranks 22nd; not Asterix but not that much, predominantly coal.

Now didn’t Paul Keating question the Australian policy of cutting off our noses…

So which of our alliances incorporates China? Or do we have a Backdoor Alliance somewhere, maybe CAOZ?

I would get confused if I did not know Morrison was a marketing man, and the author of “Where the Bloody Hell are You?” Perhaps you can answer that, Prime Minister. You know you never ask a question without knowing the answer.

The Fragrance of France

I still cannot let go of our crass behaviour in regard to French sensitivity, even though I personally am very ambivalent about the French. That ambivalence is encased in some of my poetry, but I do love my memories.

Vanilla flower

Coming out of that reverie, I have to say I have journeyed across French Polynesia, as well as visiting, with a dose of malaria, one of the French Indian Ocean Département, Réunion, where grows much of the vanilla, ylang-ylang and vetiver, and also has produced a French Prime Minister, Raymond Barre. There is a French naval base there and last year France and India held sea exercises around the Mascarene Islands.

Turning to the South Pacific Ocean, before Bali became the Australian tourist destination de choix, New Caledonia and Tahiti were popular with Australians. This was not because of a love of the Melanesian and Polynesian populations necessarily, but it was a taste of French life in the South Pacific. The lure of Club Med was everywhere. That is the problem. The island population are the backdrop, only incorporated as far as women in shimmying in grass skirts and smiling faces proffering coconut or some other tropical delicacy, or booze.

The myth of the South Pacific was embodied in a popular musical “South Pacific”, based on the American, JM Mitchener’s novel, Bali Ha’i. The French colonies escaped the barbarity of the War in the South Pacific, it was nevertheless very important to the Americans. Australia was in French Polynesia in the espionage business there when there had been a battle for control between Vichy and Gaullist forces and particularly before the Americans arrived in 1942 and took over control.

During WWII, the American presence in the French Pacific was significant. Noumea was the main US base with 22,000 troops, but it had air bases at Efate and Espiritu Santo in the then New Hebrides where there were 4,300 stationed.  There were 2,600 on Wallis Island, and 4,000 at a refuelling base at Bora Bora and the Raiatea meteorological station in French Polynesia. An uninhabited French possession, Clipperton, served as a meteorological and radio base.

It has been said that the American interlude enhanced the way the French handled these areas post-war as distinct from Vietnam or North Africa. The French were poor colonists in terms of their treatment of the indigenous people, and if one discounts Corsica, the only other remaining overseas territories are in the Caribbean and, uneasily, French Guiana. The French hate giving up their overseas possessions as witnessed by the difficulty in the achievement of Vanuatu’s independence, which only occurred because of the unique condominium relationship with Great Britain; this is worthy of a standalone blog.

When I first visited New Caledonia and sought to buy an artefact which typified the culture, the shopkeeper laughed and said the genuine old stuff had all been taken by the Americans during the War – and then in Noumea, the indigenous people were backdrops to colonial French life.

Fortunately, I have been acquainted, through the diaries of a young man who worked on the island of Eromanga in the 30s, of the New Hebrides, then  jointly administered by the French and British. His diaries provided a tantalising insight.

In Vanuatu where I stayed with my friend on his island off Efate in the lagoon, there was more contact with the local indigenous people.

While staying there, we did fly to Tanna. Standing on the edge of an active volcano Yasur on that island was one of those experiences that is hard to forget – no railings, just the hot lava spurting out and upwards  – the trade winds blowing the sulphurous smoke away.

Yet the Americans left a quasi-spiritual legacy in the John Frum movement, but this nation in all its diversity exemplifies the challenge the whole of Melanesia presents, whether being colonised by France, Great Britain and in the past Germany and The Netherlands – and not forgetting now Indonesia.

French Polynesia is where I did have direct contact with the local people when in the Marquesas far out on the edge of French Polynesia. Perhaps of all the places I have ever visited in the South Pacific, this is where I became more immersed and able to observe the interaction between the French colonists and the Islanders. It is said that the Marquesans are the closest to the New Zealand Maoris in both their customs and language.

At the time we visited, very little English was spoken, but we got by. However, French Polynesia is spread over a large area of the Pacific Ocean, and therefore strategically it remans important; but even more so now at a time where there are social disturbances whether due to climate change or from disease. Even given French aloofness, it is important not to gratuitously insult the French.

So where does that leave us in relation to the South Pacific Community. Great Britain left in 2004, and the direct American interest is through American Samoa (if one discounts the nations north of the Equator). Apart from the all-pervasive influence of USA, what is the relevance of the albatross called AUKUS?  Especially as I repeat the following from one of my blogs written in May last year by a person far smarter than most, certainly Morrison, i.e. if manned submarines are really needed, Australia should buy nuclear, reducing the number to six and buy them completely constructed and fitted out in France.

I was not aware of any major investment by India in the South Pacific, and Japan certainly was a pest before WWII especially with continuing harassment over the Australian mandate over New Guinea. More recently, trade between Japan and the South Pacific nations is uneven. The largest exporter to Japan from the region is Papua New Guinea, mainly liquefied natural gas (LNG) while other countries export a variety of primary products. More than 95% of exports to Japan from these countries are based largely on mining and fishing-based products. Not particularly useful in terms of either COVID-19 or climate change.

As for India, it has a great facility for getting involved in all sorts of relationships and talking a great deal; but as far as can be discerned, its contribution to the South Pacific in tangible terms has been minimal, and only the ethnicity of Fiji provides any Indian footprint. So much for the QUAD being relevant.

China is a different matter. I could not say this better. While China is by no means the dominant donor in the Pacific, the way in which it delivers its aid — large infrastructure projects funded by concessional loans — makes these projects stand out. Chinese lending has also been used as a vehicle to get Chinese state-owned enterprises into the region. These companies are now competing in commercial activity across the board. According to China’s own investment statistics, Chinese construction activity in the region was $958 million as of 2017, almost six times greater than its foreign aid activities.

For instance, China owns Tonga (unless it can reschedule the debt) and it is only recently that Samoa has ditched the proposal for China to build a port. Vanuatu continues to flirt with the Dragon.

But the Chinese own neither French Melanesia nor Polynesia. Not yet anyway; and Australia with its heightened sense of Sinophobia snubs the French. Incroyable!

Willow is not Necessarily Shallow

This push for ridding the language of gender differentiation has reached another closing of the fork, in this case that of between batsman and batswoman. The resultant of closing this fork is “batter”.

“Batter” is a word of violence. “The batter battered the bowling.” or

“Bumper battered, the batter succumbed.”

“Batter” is also that mixture of flour and liquid. There are three types – “drop batter” as in he was “the first drop batter”; “pour batter’ obvious but get your spelling right, and “coated batter” which you find on a village pitch in Yorkshire on a mid-summer day.

There you go, for the sake of gender anonymity, “Going out to open the innings is a violent mixture of flour and water.”

My solution is to call them Willow.  The bats are willow. Calling the bat handlers “willow” is environmentally conscious. Notwithstanding “Out for a duck, the weeping willow trudged back to the pavilion”, the name is more euphonious, and instead of “bumpers”, we could have “wind in the willows.”

However, as you go out to the crease, would you prefer to be called, “the batter coming to the wicked” or “these willow have the wood on these bowlers”.

Some blogs ago, I also questioned…

Mass General Brigham, the state’s largest health care provider, said Tuesday that it will not administer Biogen’s controversial new Alzheimer’s drug to patients, dealing another setback to the Cambridge company and its expensive treatment.

The network, which includes the flagships Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is the latest major US health care system to opt against offering monthly infusions of the drug, called Aduhelm, over concerns about its safety and effectiveness. – from The Boston Globe

Mouse whisper

The matter has been raised by the cartoonists already. However, my New Zealand friend Kioreann has a taken this idea for protestors to a far more serious level. The police should be armed with specially designed dart rifles where they fire syringes full of vaccine into each of the protesters. These rifles would fire very penetrative darts since the hides of these protesters are particularly thick.

As compensation, these protesters will be able to collect their “Freedom from COVID-19” certificates as they are driven away in those comfortable vans and the protest date when they will receive their second dart.