Modest Expectations – Dalmatians

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

Merrick Garland

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

The Sewers of Canberra are not Backchannels 

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

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

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

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

King’s Hall

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

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

Facesaver?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quids from Quarantine

Anonymouse

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

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

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

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

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

All of this raises a few questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Déjà vu

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

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

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

Pictures of pileups on the interstate highways compound the chaos.

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

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

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

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

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

But not our Boy, Ted.

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

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

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

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

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

How very true!   

The King lived; the Prime Minister died

And the Answer is…

a red dawn

where laid

morula upon blades of green

urgency to become

spiky quilted ectoderm

sprouting

teal topknot

emergent wave to

a new world

where neighbours in serried ranks

wave back

until

with swelling yellow belly

we stand among the green detritus

of yesterday

proud that we alone know the answer.

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

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

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

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

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

The pineapple stroll

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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

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

The object of transitory labeorphilia

Modest Expectation – The Ton

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

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

Time in the desert …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe this blog is a strange form of penance.

Navalny – Mother Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Amber Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But elsewhere, Putin is Chaos.

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

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

A Turnup for a Swede?

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

Cecilia Malmström

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Pot is Truly Black

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

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

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

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

The delay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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

Modest Expectations – Blue Balloons

There is a Bartleby cartouche in the latest issue of The Economist in which “loneliness” as one specific fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is the central point.

The actual Bartleby is the hero, if that is the word, for the main character in a short story written by Herman Melville. Bartleby is a scrivener who, after a promising start in an office, ever after replies “I would prefer not to” when asked to perform a task. There thus is a progressive decline of this person who increasingly does nothing until ultimately, he dies of starvation.

In the midst of a pandemic, loneliness appears to be an appropriate topic, even though the current columnist concealed behind this non-de-plume is a journalist who has won awards for his ability to communicate, and who previously wrote the Buttonwood column in the same journal. Buttonwood was alleged to be the plane tree under which 24 gentlemen signed an agreement in 1792 which led to the establishment of the New York Stock Exchange. Hardly loneliness.

What the COVID-19 pandemic has shown is the way society in all its forms copes with solitude. Solitude is not loneliness. Yet loneliness is a by-product of solitude when it is enforced. Solitude is the monk in the cell where solitude is voluntary. Loneliness is the prisoner in solitary confinement where the outside world is through a grate high on the wall.

Solitude you can deal with on your own terms. Often, I used to go for walks alone because in solitude there is space. Night time was always a good time. I controlled those strolls in what I did; where I went; what I avoided.

Yet it is night time when loneliness is most prevalent. In daytime there are social and business contacts complemented by family; and for those without family then there were night time activities – bars, theatre, nightclubs, gambling. At least before the pandemic. Lockdowns and curfew changed that with the advance of the Virus and enforced self-isolation has aggravated the sense of loneliness. After all, being alone and sober and awake at three am – the witching hour – is a complete test of loneliness.

I have written before of the image of the politician, the man and less commonly the woman, alone in the staged photograph. This image is interpreted as a sign of strength, until you realise that behind that camera lens is a mob, ready to engulf “the person alone” who is paradoxically the centre of attention, even when the photographic image would ask you to believe otherwise.

Now that I spend many hours in “retirement”, is it solitude or loneliness when the phones have stopped ringing and there are days when nobody calls? It must be difficult when you go into a gated community for the aged where you have no companions, except the fell sergeant. Increasingly your friends and acquaintances have gone with him – and thus it’s a lonely crowd.

But real loneliness is when your partner walks out on you, becomes demented or dies.  Loneliness thus is when you have no control, when you realise power has been taken from you, a situation which leads you to the conclusion that life eventually will become intolerable. Pandemic or not, there is an inevitability with age that once lost, societal relevance is never regained without help.

In a pandemic, there need to be ways in which loneliness can be ameliorated.  The Bartleby column provides some limp commentary. Technology does provide some relief, but there is always going to be an artificiality whenever any of one’s senses is blocked, as they are by technology. You can see and hear using texting, zooming, phoning or whatever. But you have no sense of the proprioceptive influence of the whole person with whom you are interreacting remotely.  So, when the technology is switched off, then you are alone. Normally proprioception is considered an introspective sense, like one navigating a dark room, and knowing that it is your head which bumps the ceiling not your foot.

But what I call proprioceptive influence is how you react when you meet anybody. You immediately sense the space that person inhabits and how it is affecting you. Crucially this interaction depends on face to-face contact. Zoom can cut that sense right out. You also enter into that artificial world of constant texting to convince yourself you are not alone, until no-one responds.

In doing so ever more frantically, loneliness is enhanced. The external proprioceptive influences are lost. Once the stimulus of this external proprioception is lost, then one is at first lonely and then like Bartleby – some may say profoundly depressed until death relieves the pain of loneliness.

Brisbane West – A Quirk of Nature

Below is part of an email I wrote to a friend on January 25. Having been there on a number of occasions, I canvassed the use of Toowoomba (Wellcamp) as a site for quarantine.

The Wellcamp airport facility at Toowoomba is impressive. The Brisbane Lord Mayor Quirk lived up to his surname when he objected to it being called Brisbane West. Don’t know why?

Wellcamp Airport

A quarantine facility here is very feasible, constructed at this airport which is surrounded by plenty of broad acres; the transfer time from the spacious terminal to the potential facility is negligible. It was ludicrous to hear one of those cossetted commentors on the ABC this week saying that the dangers of being cloistered in cars with others for hours, travelling to hypothetical remote facilities beyond some black stump or two. She must have been watching too much of “Back Roads”.

The Wagner brothers, who built the Wellcamp airport without subsidy, represent the very best – honest and tough, as Alan Jones found out.  It is a pity that when the Prime Minister went to Queensland recently, it seemed mostly to go to Katter’s demesne.  I hope Morrison understands that politics in Queensland is dynastic. The Premier herself is a prime example. In Kennedy, Robbie Katter is next in line, outwardly different from his father but still just as canny. John McVeigh recently stepped down as the local member for Groom, a seat his father Tom held until 1988. Pity the Prime Minister did not take in Toowoomba during that last trip. As I wrote:

To me the fact that our health system is operating well, where there is no need for vaccines, must be beneficial to the business community. Everybody wants the magic bullet, but it does not exist, except in very rare circumstances and then admittedly it changes society – take antibiotics for instance. But on the other hand, we are far from conquering cancer, but that has been factored into our daily life, and you would know as an economist. We have cancer centres, and there is thus some degree of certainty, which is bolstered by such measures as “five year survival rates”. I would not put a lot of faith in the vaccines until I know whether they work or not. Yes, they say governments have thrown a lot of money at it, but that does not necessarily provide a solution to a virus which can rapidly mutate. 

Do what we are doing? Keep it out of the country is the first response. If the vaccine works, good. But like the ill-fated App which was supposed to locate the infected, don’t bet your house on its efficacy.

Sorry about the cruises and the overseas trips. I remember my father went back to England in 1919 and then apart from the War did not go overseas until 1953. My mother never did. I do not know what your father and mother’s experience was.  The world did not come to an end, but as I remember it, travelling was expensive, especially by plane – and perilous.  When I first went overseas in 1956, I had smallpox, typhoid (which gave you a painful arm and was not very effective) and cholera vaccinations. I think it was the year we all had our Sabin. Apart from that we had triple antigen as children. Therefore, we will have to adapt to a fortress nation, just as we did between 1939-45.

Business will adapt, as I said above, to there being no magic bullet. There are always going to be smarties on the stock market, but presumably with ongoing exchanges as you and I are having, information (in the health sector) becomes less asymmetric because of such exchanges. 

What Australia needs are dedicated quarantine facilities in just the same way as we have emergency services. I advocated for them in an August Blogs (No76 & 78). We have ambulance services although less than 10 per cent of their time is spent on emergency work. But we need them standing by. Thus, there will be a great deal of downtime, but at least quarantine facilities will be dedicated, and not be non-purpose-built hotels. In the short term, because government is not faced with capital costs, they will continue to use hotels, but the Queenslanders have the solution borrowed from the NT – disused mining camps kept in good nick. If Victoria had these, it would not be going through the trauma of the tennis “bratology”.

The next argument used will be that no health professionals will want to go to them. I battled this furphy for 10 years setting up the rural clinical schools, and they have been hugely successful. Students now want to go. Therefore, following the success of clinical schools, put incentives like specialist research facilities alongside the quarantine facilities, even drug manufacturing facilities. Rural Australia has plenty of space.

Take the concept of Toowoomba being one such area. Ever been to the Wagner privately built airport? It can take the biggest air freighters, because the idea was to export beef and other livestock from there without needing to go to the coast. International planes could easily be diverted there. Exmouth is another where, when they left, the Yanks left fully operational hospital facilities. God knows whether they have been maintained. 

From the outset of the pandemic, I have always advocated permanent dedicated quarantine facilities and if this had been the original intention Australia would have been spared all the problems that inappropriate hotel quarantine has caused. The Wagners of Toowoomba have now proposed they build a large quarantine facility adjacent to the Toowoomba airport, with accommodation and facilities for staff and testing. International flights can land there and quarantining passengers would be in the facility within minutes.

While there is a reluctance to admit the original hotel quarantine had more to do with the economics of the hotel industry, hotels have been adapted, at a cost, to having a quarantine role. Having said that, I have never seen a unit cost of an average hotel stay compared with that of the Howard Springs facility, which seemed perfectly adequate for the first tranche of evacuees from Wuhan.

When I raised this idea at the time with a former Departmental head, he said that the cost of building from scratch would be daunting. However, as I replied, they would provide more protection than of couple of unusable submarines which may never be constructed, at the cost of how many millions, or billions? 

And from The Boston Globe at the weekend…

The 66 per cent global effectiveness rate for the one-shot vaccine fell significantly short of the performances of the two-shot vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna that the FDA cleared for emergency use in December. Those vaccines prevented more than 90 percent of coronavirus cases in large trials, a remarkable showing considering that they were the first to successfully use new synthetic messenger RNA technology.

Dr. Dan Barouch, who runs the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel, which developed different technology for the (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine, said the pandemic has evolved, with the emergence of more resistant variants, in particular a worrisome South African strain that was detected in the United States for the first time last week.

Several vaccine experts agreed and highlighted a particularly encouraging finding in Johnson & Johnson’s announcement last week: The one-shot vaccine was highly protective against the worst cases of COVID-19. Worldwide, the shot prevented 85 percent of severe cases, and none of the vaccinated people needed hospitalization or died from COVID-19.

Dr Fauci acknowledged last week that public health officials will likely face a “messaging challenge” to persuade people to take a vaccine that prevented 66 percent of symptomatic cases compared with roughly 95 percent.

But, he said, “If you can prevent severe disease in a high percentage of individuals [as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine did], that will alleviate so much of the stress and human suffering and death.”

He and other officials also said the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would likely get lower efficacy results now, given the emergence of the South African strain, which appears to be more resistant to immunization.

The FDA said last summer that a vaccine that was safe and at least 50 percent effective would likely be cleared for use. The annual flu vaccine is typically 40 to 60 percent effective at preventing influenza cases, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.(CDC)

The Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine relies on a design that Barouch pioneered nearly 20 years ago for two experimental vaccines that have shown promise against HIV and Zika, and a third vaccine that won approval from the European Union in July to prevent Ebola.

A Trojan Horse

It uses a harmless and relatively rare cold virus, adenovirus serotype 26 ― or Ad26 ― as a Trojan horse to deliver part of the distinctive spike protein on the coronavirus surface into cells to trigger an immune response without making people sick.

Despite its lower performance in preventing all COVID-19 cases, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has major advantages over its Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna rivals. By requiring only one shot, it would simplify and speed the vaccine campaign. In addition, it is stable at refrigerated temperatures, unlike the other vaccines, which must be frozen at ultracold temperatures when shipped and stored before use.

The FDA cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 11 and the Moderna vaccine a week later. But their rollout has been frustratingly slow and cumbersome, and public health officials want more vaccines from other drug makers to bolster the supply. As of Thursday, the government has distributed more than 57.4 million vaccine doses, and 27.9 million people have had one or more shots, according to the CDC.

Dr Eric Rubin, (the editor -in-chief New England Journal of Medicine and member of the FDA advisory panel), said Thursday that “it’s been frustrating how long it’s taken to roll out vaccines, but if everything were perfect and we had a perfect distribution system, we’d run out of vaccines really fast. We just don’t have enough supply.”

Therefore, vaccination in America has been beset by a number of problems with open criticism by the experts, especially given how slow and complicated the rollout has been, if the above quote gives a reliable picture.

One benchmark which politicians will always grasp when justifying their decisions is the places where the rate of vaccination has worked well. Israel seems to be the shining example.

Three million one hundred thousand Israelis have been vaccinated and 1.8 million have had their second dose. It is rumoured that Israel paid Pfizer far more than other countries to receive preference; hence there have not been any questions raised over the supply line integrity. Israel is a wealthy country, well able to afford paying a premium.  Israel is also the 150th largest country in the world, and that makes lines of supply relatively short; and given that Israel seems to be on permanent war-alert, then it is reasonable to believe the bulk of the population are more disciplined and compliant without coercion.

Israel has the luxury of having apparently solved the supply chain problem and systematically collected data which have shown (in peer reviewed journals) that the vaccination is 50 per cent effective 13 to 24 days after vaccination. Nobody under 16 is being vaccinated; nor any of those who have been certified as being infected before vaccines became available. 7,000 cases had thus been previously recorded with 10 per cent having had “moderate to critical illness”. There were 307 deaths. To put all of this into perspective, Israel has a population of just over 9 million.

After vaccination in the vulnerable over 60 age group, only 531 of almost 750,000 have developed symptoms of the virus, with 38 requiring hospitalisation; there were three deaths. Not a bad interim outcome, but it is early days and there is evidence of spaces in knowledge still to be filled. The obvious question is how generalisable is the Israel experience? What gives some comfort is that the Israelis seem to have an excellent data collection.

The Churches of Romney Marsh

I have stayed on Romney Marsh and have watched the eastern sky darken across the dyked flats to Dymchurch and the Channel towards the French coast as the sun set at my back and have noticed the strange unity of sea, sky and earth that grows unnoticed at this time and place – Paul Nash 1940

John Piper knew the artist who penned the above quote well. He himself was a very prolific English artist, and besides his artwork he was known for his stained glass. Much of his work can be found in churches across England.  My starkest memory of his work is the red centrepiece in tapestry daubed with Christian symbolism and surrounded with panels of purple, green and blue which shines in all its vibrant entropy out of the gloom of the sanctuary in Chichester Cathedral. Funny word “stark” to describe a brilliant multi-coloured woven cloth; but there you are. It absolutely complements the severity of its environs.

John Piper tapestry, Chichester Cathedral

I first read the name John Piper some years ago on a King Penguin “Romney Marsh”. Even before I had laid eyes on the book, the name “Romney Marsh” conjured up a sense of mystery because it always looked so desolate. Normally to offset the bleakness, the photographs were always dotted with sturdy, white faced Romney sheep with their cream fleece.

Romney Marsh as described by Piper in words and in his sketches of the villages but particularly the churches, encouraged us to visit there. This happened to be on a characteristically windy and grey day. In the distance on the Dungeness headland are the twin grey blocks of the nuclear power stations, which were working when we there, but have since been shut down for safety reasons – temporarily until the engineers get things right. Stretching away from these blocks was this severe wasteland, and one might have expected the spectre of T.S Eliot tripping through the low undergrowth and holly bushes.

The nuclear power station was not there when John Piper prepared his book. However, there were watercolours of the circular black and white painted brick lighthouse and the keeper’s house. This was replaced in 1961 by a far higher concrete structure, so as not to be obscured by the nuclear power station. This latter one is floodlit so the birds can avoid it but the two lighthouses (one now a tourist attraction from which to see the land and sea) exist side by side, testimony to the advances in “lamp” technology over the centuries since the first was constructed.

When we there we avoided the villages (Romney was one of the Cinque Ports of which our beloved homegrown Knight of the Thistle was Warden, sandwiched as he was between Churchill and the Queen Mother). We concentrated on the churches, many of which were isolated and only accessible if we walked across the squelching terrain. For although the Marsh has long since been drained, lying as it does between shingle shores, there are still marshy reedy areas.

As is said, from most areas of the Marsh, a belfry, tower or steeple are visible, so ubiquitous are these churches. Most of the Marsh population in the eighteenth century was engaged in smuggling wool and Fuller’s earth (a form of clay used in cleaning and purifying) to France; and brandy, silk and lace from France. The churches became useful storage facilities, even extending to the use of empty stone lidded coffins. The churches were therefore a crucial link in the black economy of the time.

John Piper’s sketch of St Thomas of Canterbury, Fairfield, Romney Marsh

Our visit was a far more pedestrian in more ways than one. We chose to visit the churches where, in his book, Piper had inserted coloured plates: St Thomas of Canterbury – Fairfield, St George – Ivy Church, St Clement – Old Romney and St Mary – East Guildford. We visited some others as time permitted.

There are 27 in all, one meriting a one-line description, “fragment of a ruin, near a farm”, and others not much more. Some of the churches exhibit Norman influence and can be traced back to the fourteenth century. Many have been modified and in some cases such as St Thomas squatting as it does in the middle of a field have been restored. Otherwise, the seven-word description above indicates in this comprehensive list there are still ruined remnant churches.

Wandering around Romney Marsh is just one example of being alone in history, as it can be found in the churches. In this case, we were very lucky to have this bonus, John Piper’s comprehensive and illustrated guide.

Mouse Whisper

And now again for something completely different: what a revelation to watch a film, The Man Who Knew Infinity, about the life of the Indian mathematical genius, Srinivasa Ramanujan. His mentor at Cambridge was G.H. Hardy who, with his colleague J.E. Littlewood, were already mathematical luminaries at Cambridge when Ramanujan came there just before World War 1. The fact that these men went by initials rather than names indicated the stitched-up era in which these academics lived.

The last scene in this brilliant film shows the two men, Hardy and Littlewood – Ramanujan having just died in India of TB at the age of 32 – seeing a taxi labelled 1729 and saying, we must take that one.

This taxi number, as my master found out, was a bit of a complex mathematical licence.

In fact, the actual truth was that Hardy had once taken a cab to visit Ramanujan. When he got there, he told Ramanujan that the cab’s number, 1729, was “rather a dull one”. Ramanujan said, “No, it is a very interesting number. It is the smallest number expressible as a sum of two cubes in two different ways. That is, 1729 = 1^3 + 12^3 = 9^3 + 10^3.” This number is now called the Hardy-Ramanujan number, and the smallest numbers that can be expressed as the sum of two cubes in n different ways have been dubbed taxicab numbers.

I now know what the last scene in the film is about; well, sort of. Need to consult that mathematical doyen of the murine world, Bertie Rustle.

Taxicab 1729

Modest Expectations – William Temple

Queensland was the last Australian State I visited. It was not until I was 16 years old that I ever ventured into Queensland with my father after my mother died. I suppose we needed to get to know one another, as well as have a change of scenery.  My father devised some business there. I remember only two things about Queensland from that trip.

The first was the Toll Bar road which regulated the movement of traffic up and down the Toowoomba Range. Timing was everything as the road was one way up and then down the Range, depending on the time of the day; the toll bar allowed one set of vehicles up and down the road, and if one was in the wrong line, one would have to wait hours, as we did.

The other memory was how shabby Brisbane looked. It was supposed to be a city, but the houses looked a collection of rickets on stilts, with the weatherboard more often than not in need of paint. The lack of sewerage and the gravel verges reinforced that view that Brisbane was a country town. Brisbane reminded me of that nineteenth century wisecrack about Melbourne being – “a bit far from the city”.

1950s Brisbane

World War II was still a memory, recent enough for me to hear about the long lines of troops queueing outside the brothels in “the Valley” and that here in the middle of the city there had been the so-called “Battle of Brisbane” where Australian and American troops had fought a pitched street fight for two days in November 1942.

Even so, the people of Queensland seemed laid back. Queensland was a foreign drawl for a boy from the protected south. Queenslanders never had the airs of the Bunyip Aristocracy. Years later when we were introduced to the Queensland Club, I found that there was still an aristocratic stratum – but more Pineapple than Bunyip.

However, from then on I have travelled all over Queensland, absorbed Queensland. I particularly feel very much at home in south-west Queensland when I am allowed to go there, Premier permitting. I have spent substantial time on the Darling Downs, particularly Toowoomba. In contrast I have also spent substantial periods of time in Mount Isa and North Queensland.

When I scan a map of Queensland, I have never been to Winton or Blackall, Bedourie or Birdsville, or driven beyond Julia Creek in one direction and from Charters Towers in the other. I have never driven the road north from Cooktown, although I have been to Weipa and both Thursday and Horn Island on separate trips and been on a boat which followed Cook’s route up through the Great Barrier Reef into Torres Strait and then on through the Arafura Sea. I have never been south of Boulia; I’ve been to Normanton and Karumba and Kajabbi, but not to Burketown. I have been to many of the larger Queensland islands including Mornington but not Fraser. However, the islands do number 2,000.

Before I sound completely like the “I’ve been everywhere man” Lucky Starr, some of my most lasting memories are from Queensland experiences. Lasting memories tend to leave an educative residue. 

Mate, the future is not in Coal

I have worked in my time on the number of projects in Queensland, including for the Government. It has enabled me to see much of Queensland and even shed, for a time, the “Mexican” soubriquet.

The problem with Queensland is that the inhabitants seem to be constantly trying to despoil it by voting for the despoilers. Yet Mount Isa seems to fit into its environment as though the Selwyn Ranges were always expecting this guest. But Mt Isa ain’t coal.

Queensland is a bloody conundrum.

Australia is the third biggest coal miner, behind the USA and China, and just in front of Russia. Australian coal mines are less concentrated than in these other countries. Therefore, pollution is more diffuse, and that includes the political polluters who gather in their own slag heaps.

It is ironic that at times during the Nation’s existence Australia has imported black coal. Yet the first exports of 150 tonnes of black coal from Sydney occurred in 1799 to India, since the coal seam which stretched from the Hunter to the Illawarra region was discovered in 1791 by an escaped convict. The first coal was discovered in Queensland much later, at Blair Athol in 1864, but it was not until the 1950’s that the Bowen Basin was opened up and exploited; but how much has that been with a big “E”.

It is quite a sight as we were driving east from Moura in the Basin towards Banana to see the line of open cut mines. Coal mining in this area has involved degassing the coal and then mining.  At least that is the theory. There had been a terrible mining explosion in the underground coal mine at Moura in 1994 when eleven miners lost their lives. Last year there was another explosion in an underground coal mine near Moranbah in Queensland, owned by Anglo-American. Five men were seriously burned and mining was suspended.

I remember being in Moranbah, another town in the Bowen Basin, not long after the town had been established. It’s newness was characterised, as someone said to me, by the fact that there had yet to be anybody buried in the cemetery. Moranbah was one the last settlements to be constructed as a mining town with all the facilities expected of a town of about 2,000 people.

Thereafter mining has been populated by the fly-in-fly-out brigade, who can live anywhere. The current spate of border closures has clipped their wings in regard to how they can travel without being inflicted with the inconvenience of a 14 day quarantine.

Coal activities consume significant amounts of water, even in comparison to other large water users such as agriculture and domestic usage. The amount of water drawn by coal-related activities in NSW and Queensland is more than double domestic water use and about 30 per cent more than the water used for agriculture. Considering coal mine water use in regions such as the Hunter Valley and the Bowen Basin, the impact of its use is significant in these areas.

I do not get it. We live in a dry continent where water is at a premium. Yet the State governments, at a time when it is clear that coal is a massive pollutant and with a putative worldwide move to lessen the dependence on coal, keep on advocating new mines.  This represents the lazy approach to government, so infuriating in the country where policy is “She’ll be jake”, especially if there is a brown paper bag at the end of one’s political rainbow.

Nevertheless, as listed above, the most powerful nations, unlike Australia with our laughable sanctions, are the largest coal producers with Australia.

Coal loader

If these three countries decide as one to reduce their coal output, then Australia should at least match this action. As China is showing in its trade dealings, there is a certain contempt for us.

However, there are the coldly cynical who believe this will never happen. In Trump’s America that would be true, and under cover of this Me-first American Policy, why should Australia worry? However, there has been a change of the guard and John Kerry has re-emerged. The waiting game has started in the mind of the Prime Minister – the target dates are many electoral cycles away. That is unfortunately all that politicians think about – electoral cycles. And let’s face it, the Prime Minister may be canny, but measuring this policy by electoral cycles is not particularly intelligent.

Therefore, Australian policy is unlikely to respond to the external pressure in the short to medium term, especially while the National Party, which is essentially a Queensland protection racket for the mining industry, lives on. Ever since the liberal element in Queensland was snuffed out after Mike Ahern’s stewardship as Premier (the actual reasonable Liberal Party element was snuffed out even earlier by the premature death of Eric Robertson), the National party has drifted to its current position.  In Queensland, it has monstered the Liberal party into a joint arrangement.

With the loss of the leadership of Tim Fischer and John Anderson, the brakes on the rural nativism have been unleashed. Trump has provided them with a role model of unabashed bullying and assault of the weak. Weakness is often seen and confused with compromise and consensus-seeking.

Yet the mines in the Bowen Basin have been racked with problems with methane leaking everywhere, and the Moranbah mine has not yet re-opened. The owners, Anglo-American, are in dispute with their workers, although they have yet to re-open the mine. The whole matter of coal mining is racked with uncertainty – whether it be climate change, mine safety or the market.

It is not as though coal mining provides that many jobs, and with the propensity of flying workers in, it is no longer about the survival of regional towns. About a third of the workers are itinerant; and while the convention is one week on one week off, some workers work a continuous three-month shift. The whole argument about mining being the saviour of rural Australia is contestable, if not spurious.

Finally, it is the bottom line. At two metallurgical and thermal coal mines the Basin open-cut operations have been scaled back due to less demand for lower quality coking coal. Metallurgical coal, its requirement linked to steel production, in 2020 remained at 18-20 million tonnes, but the amount produced in the December quarter was 33 per cent less than the corresponding quarter of 2019.

Thermal coal output was 4.4 million tonnes during the December period, which represented a 35 per cent drop from the prior corresponding period, leading to an overall production decline of 22 per cent to 20.6 million tonnes last year. Thermal coal is linked to the production of electricity. The world is edging towards coal-free; but the problem is that it is not instant change.

Hence, instead of Queensland anticipating the inevitable, the black drums of coal are being beaten for the long-term degradation of the State. The ultimate saviour seems to be the bottom line, but coal is losing its profitability. Senator Canavan’s brother has seen his coal mine collapse, and yet the Senator continues to pursue his fantasies about coal. Having degraded the Bowen basin, his next endeavour is to degrade the Galilee Basin to the North, encircling as it does, Longreach. Longreach is not a mining town. The Longreach Club was the centre of the old rural graziers, when the enemy were the shearers. These days if you could find one who is not a New Zealander, would the sheep shearers still adhere to the tenets of what they fought and struck for – or would they fall for the blandishments of the Hanson or Palmer – let alone Canavan?

The proposed mines will remove as much as 3,000 billion litres of water from the Galilee aquifer, but far more worrying is the interconnectivity of the Galilee aquifers with the Great Artesian Basin. Now that would be the grand climax for Australian agricultural productivity – nation-wide contamination of the water supply. Who cares? Well, it’s not Canberra’s water supply.

That yet is a crucial question which needs an answer – and soon.

The spectre of no potable domestic water should be an accelerant to stop coal mining. However, it isn’t if you listen to what the politicians don’t say. The narrative is not helped when that eco-narcissist Bob Brown led a crusade up and down rural Queensland, as he did in the last election campaign. What did he achieve beyond aiding the handing over of Queensland to the barbarians? Evangelism for the protection of the environment must come from within, and therefore there must be Queenslanders who are prepared to confront the short-term pragmatism. Memory is short, especially when the Murdoch Press strangles dissent in Queensland.

As has been shown just a year after debilitating drought or bushfires, water is again plentiful. So, what is the worry? Can’t see the aquifers.

What suffers from this continuing love affair with coal is tourism. This is increasingly the life source of Queensland. However, if the attractions are ruined then does it matter? There seems to be a very laissez-faire approach to the Great Barrier Reef, and its gradual destruction. Maybe people will just want to laze around resorts and not be bothered that those resorts are alongside a dead coral relic.

… a dead coral relic

It is ironic that the Queensland Premier’s obsession with border closures has hurt tourism to the extent that the Premier is now seeking special consideration. This reversion to a “mendicant” cry from Queensland is not that unusual, because for its first 70 years it was always considered as such. Therefore when, as has happened, the Premier has been tripped up by her own hubris, the begging bowl comes out.

I don’t get it. Tourism employs far more people than the mining industries – despite the endless mantra about “mines creating jobs”. The problem is akin to fly-in-fly-out since, in most cases, tourists come for a time and leave no footprint. Therefore some the Federal Parliamentarians do not have to bear the contumely of their electorate when the Great Barrier Reef bleaches and dies. I get it now. Coral doesn’t vote and neither do tourists when they are in the reef side electorates of North Queensland.

The problem with border closures is that they severely affect tourism. Personally, in the property we own, the bookings have increased because the option of going interstate was longer an option due to border lockdowns. However, that has its limits, especially in Queensland where 135,000 workers owe their jobs to tourism. The influence of tourism is not reflected at the ballot box, since people relocating due to a perceived better climate are a different cohort. This cohort in Queensland are part of the reason the electorates around the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast are increasingly conservative – it is the call of the concrete high rise. Over the border in NSW the call of the wild is where the vote is increasingly green and yellow. But tourism in terms of political influence is ephemeral.

The other variable, which must be factored in, is the diffuseness of tertiary educational institutions. Their influence on the electoral process, so prominent in the latter part of the twentieth century when Queensland was criminally despotic under Bjelke-Petersen, seems to be a neutral political influence now. However, this is an area where the Labor Party, despite all its so-called progressive approach to education, has been curiously ineffective at a Federal level in converting it into votes.

Therefore, what a mess the current Premier presides over. Coal is in trouble. Yet her seemingly cavalier attitude to water management forbodes a future dust bowl, and there are still some parts of Queensland gripped with drought. Prolonged border closure is the lazy public health response.

This public health performance has been characterised by the way the exemptions have been manipulated, and Queensland have been lucky – very lucky. The over-reliance on border closures, complete with a spat with the NSW Premier, may have ensured the Premier’s re-election. Yet what is the ultimate price? As they say, time will tell.

Bay State Roll-Out

I found this analysis of what is happening in Massachusetts in relation to the rollout of the vaccines revealing. It appeared in the Boston Globe earlier in the week. It has been slightly edited without altering the message. What it demonstrates is that it not just a matter of a jab.

People are more likely to accept a vaccine from their own trusted doctor, said Dr. George M. Abraham, a Worcester internist who is president-elect of the American College of Physicians, the national organization of internists.

But Abraham said that only a minority of primary care physicians — he guesses 20 to 30 percent — can manage the logistical challenges.

For example, each vial of the Moderna vaccine has 10 doses, and once the vial is open, the vaccine lasts only five hours.

“If I can’t have 10 people lined up simultaneously, I would have to discard the rest, which is a criminal waste of precious vaccine,” said Abraham, who is chief of medicine at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Additionally, people must be monitored for 15 or 20 minutes after receiving the vaccine in case they have a rare allergic reaction, and doctors need space for them all to wait, at a safe distance from others. Not every office can store the vaccines; Moderna’s requires freezing, and the Pfizer vaccine has to be kept in special ultra-cold freezers.

Forty per cent of doctors are up to the job, according to a recent survey done through several professional organizations of primary care doctors in Massachusetts. Doctors have already demonstrated they can respond creatively to the pandemic; they quickly adopted telemedicine, set up tents for testing, and opened respiratory clinics for patients with COVID-like symptoms.

“We can innovate in the same way to deliver vaccine,” one doctor said.

One family doctor put up heated tents in her parking lot in March and constructed a permanent drive-through canopy in the fall. This setup has been used for COVID-19 testing and flu vaccinations. It could be the site to administer 900 coronavirus vaccines a week, if only her practice could get some. The practice has freezers capable of storing both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and a list of patients eligible and eager to be vaccinated.

Another family doctor in Arlington and Chair of Family Medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine, gave shots in his office’s parking lot after receiving 20 vaccine doses in January, preparing for a bigger effort later. To ensure patients stuck around for the mandatory 15-minute monitoring, he wrote the time they could leave in washable paint on their windshields and had them pull over and wait to receive the cards documenting the shot. Recently Altman acquired an additional 200 doses, and all 200 slots filled up within hours.

An Attleboro family physician is also among the few who have received vaccine. He’s designated a morning when eight of the 12 exam rooms in his practice will be set aside for vaccinations and monitoring. He has received 100 doses from the state and expects to receive another 100-dose batch every week or two, as needed.

In addition, he’ll finally get to use the 70 doses left over after his staff was vaccinated four weeks ago, now that vaccination eligibility has expanded. Much to his frustration, he said, state officials previously wouldn’t let him offer the extra doses to dentists and physical therapists working in his building, and told him to put them back in the freezer.

“I never got an answer why we couldn’t give it to them,” he said.

Meanwhile, large medical groups are gearing up and have posted on their websites that they plan to offer the shots but don’t yet have enough vaccine. These organizations plan to provide the vaccine, by invitation, at their own high-volume sites rather than in individual physician’s offices.

The group is poised to vaccinate because they have built and are preparing an infrastructure to offer a vaccine to our patients in whatever quantity it comes and whenever we get it.

There are a few worrying lessons for Australian doctors in the body of this analysis, and I hope the Government experts are taking the overseas experience into their calculation for the vaccine rollout, whenever it begins.  I am sure that they are.

Not Flash at All

It is a paradox. There are groups of Aborigines protesting in the streets of the capital cities about the fact that we whitefellas celebrate Australia day on January 26 when Arthur Phillip landed with a gaggle of convicts and British marines on that day in 1788. This is the day when our white ancestors invaded a place which was named Sydney on a vast continent, where the indigenous people had colonised it 40,000 years ago – the actual date varies but we “latecomers” are not allowed to forget we have joined the oldest civilisation on earth.

While one group of Aboriginal people is protesting against “Invasion Day”, another contingent of Aboriginal people covered in oche, with clapsticks and didgeridoos, are stomping around waving gum leaves as part of what is called a smoking ceremony and seem to be going along with the whitefella celebration. In fact, it is a day where some Aboriginal people show their wares and talk up merchandise to be flogged to the community, so we can all have a part of Tradition. In fact I do not know what the Aboriginal people would do if we transferred Australia to another day, whether there could be universal joy and optimism, which we could all celebrate without division and protest.

As the Aboriginal voices have grown, so has racism not gone away. Most white Australians have never had much of an attachment to Australia Day. After all, it relates to the founding of Sydney, nothing more nothing less as a penal colony for the detritus of England. Not much relevance to the other States.

Norm McDonald

I grew up in Victoria when Australia Day was a holiday. It was convenient because it marked the end of summer holidays. After Australia Day, everybody went back to work. We never much celebrated Australia Day, and because it was in the school holidays it had no impact as a group learning experience. It was also a time when the Aboriginal people were very much a fringe group. If you lived in the city, as most of us did, one never saw an Aboriginal – and if we did, we did not see an Aboriginal, we saw Norm McDonald as a talented Australian Rules footballer who seemed to have a dark complexion. In those days, there was a series of very good Aboriginal boxers, but Dave Sands, one of our greatest, never paraded his Aboriginality.

Australia Day now has a real meaning for the Aboriginal community. Without it where could all that resentment be directed and consequently attention paid to their often-justified complaints; but also it is an outlet for their culture, confected or not. The activity on this day plays on some whitefella guilt – not mine. Having been fortunate enough to work with Aboriginal people with all their diversity, I wish that the celebrations were more varied. I would like to see more of Torres Strait culture injected; and also that of the South Sea islanders, the heirs of the kanakas, an important cultural group within this country.

After all, the real Australia Day is January 1, the Day of Federation when we became a nation, but that is an inconvenient date because it is already a public holiday, and the general consensus would be that public holidays are scarce enough without combining them. But then, what is special about New Year’s Day, except it is probably the day we celebrate the Hangover.

I have suggested Wattle Day, September 1, because of its symbolic renewal and Australia then is when its country is at its most green and yellow. It is also a time of the year when there are no Public holidays. It is a serious alternative.  But realistically, the only day is the one when Australia becomes a republic.

Anyway, in the meantime let us abolish Australia Day and see who squeals. At least we would be spared the theatre of the Australia Day Honours.

Mouse Whisper

Are you sick and tired of politicians saying that the reason for border closures is to keep people safe? Does that mean that when the Premier opens the particular border that he or she is a safe cracker?

Maybe the States should agree to call their border closure The Crowbar.

Especially applicable when keeping South Australians out of your State.

Some would associate the spate of border closures with a form of idiocy.  But beware the use of “cretin”. The latest ruling by that Judge that calling someone by the short version of a “congenital hypothyroidism” is defamatory, makes one very careful in pronouncing “Credlin” or for that matter people from the island of Crete, as well as those who inhabit the Canberra wetlands and were born in the Cretaceous Period.

Jerrabomberra Wetlands, Canberra

Modest Expectations – Luther

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new bridge across the Rio Negro

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

Açaí berries

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

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

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

The problem with Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australia Day

Once in 62 upon a pastured lawn 

The Pom called Robin Day did ask 

To serried ranks we stood

Respectful 

Should we seek republic

And the answer unexpected

From knees once genuflected

To Day we all said aye.

 

January 26

A day of Independence 

When India

Grew up and threw away its swaddling clothes

A cope with mace and orb and sceptred scrap

Lie shattered ‘pon brown flattened earth

For people confused by Battenburg

But now Republic Day they all say aye

 

January 26

A day 

For we still caught in cream bassinet 

A good man stood on Botany shores

Sent from porphyric hungovered king

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

But no place for David, no daffodils nor leek

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

He christened his green and pleasant New South Wales

In homage we whitefellas celebrate this day

 

January 26

Summer invasion to those not tanned

To frolic in illusory freedom

The Jack still flutters

A cornered eye

The Southern Cross is overseen.

By stiffened queen

To celebrate a day of smoke and sand and foaming ale 

 

Robin Day is long since dead

That rank of 62 is thin and worn

Who once called aye for change

Yet Her of steely Albion eyes

Or He of fumbling foreign voice survive

Shall we now spent and grey

Not live to have a true Australia day

Which we can call our own

 

A lone voice rings out

Make September First Republic Day

Is it not the first day of Spring

Is it not when wattle bloom 

A sprig for all

Is it but a symbol of youth and vigour

This day which is

The First of September

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

Robin Day

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

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

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

This then unleashed a number of insurrectionary comments.

Zelman Cowan

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

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

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

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

The Pardoner Prologue

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

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

The Canterbury Pilgrims

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

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

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

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

But by the croys which that seint Eleyne fond,

I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hond

In stede of relikes or of seintuarie;

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

Thay shul be shryned in an hogges tord.

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

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

Hib-brawl-tar

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

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

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

Gibraltar and its airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curiae Amici Inusiti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I have written before, Viruses love Chaos.

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

Mouse whisper

Just the other day…

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

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

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

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

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

 

Modest Expectations – Atlanta

At last he has gone. One down; at least one to go.

Now let me recall a real story based on an experience. It was the early 1980s and I was scheduled to go to America. Before I left Australia, I had a niggling tooth pain in one of my molars, but it just remained that by the time I reached San Francisco. My friend mentioned to me that the Bay to Breakers run was the next day. It was that time of my life when I was in my misnamed “fun run” phase.

San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers run starts at the Embarcadero on the Bay, where the ferry terminals are, then goes up the steep Hayes Street hill, along Curtis Street, all gay and Village People music blaring and then through the wooden shingle houses of Haight Ashbury belonging, as it did, in the world of Scott MacKenzie.  Despite being for a time a heavy drinker and smoker, I still got out for a jog every day. Although I never tried marijuana, even though it always seemed to be around, I once owned a house in Fitzroy in Melbourne which I rented out, and only after it was raided by the coppers did I find out that the tenants were growing a crop of cannabis in the back garden in what was known as the Pot House. The police were quite apologetic about the raid damage.

However, I diverge. The last part of the run was through the Golden Gate Park, strewn with pine needles. It filled me with exhilaration. My tooth was forgotten, the level of endorphins was high. The course was downhill amid the aroma of the pine forest. And best of all, the Ocean became visible, and then the run had ended.

Gradually as I wended my way back to where I was staying, the endorphin effect lessened. Celebratory drinks disguised the pain, but when I woke up the next morning, the right side of my face was blown up. I had a fever and generally had lost the exhilaration of the previous day.

I had to go to Orlando in Florida on the other side of the country that day, so we went to the local dentist, who was useless. He was busy and extracting the tooth could not be done there and then.  He prescribed oral bicillin and sent me on my way.

I don’t know how I made it across America on my own with only aspirin, bicillin and alcohol. However, the swelling was such that I drew curious glances from my fellow passengers; as far as I could remember nobody said much. But then, when you are that ill, it is difficult to remember.  I knew there was no angel shining a light on me until I arrived in Orlando very late that day where I was met by my “guardian angel”.

She took one look at me and contacted a local dental clinic. I could be seen first thing in the morning.

Alone in a bedroom overnight with only an abscess to keep me awake, I sat on the bed and watched television all night. I did not change out of my gear even though I was drenched with sweat; I washed my face but did not have the energy to shower.  I just sat and watched the time crawl past. It was probably the worst night of my life but compared to others who have been in excruciating circumstances, I at least had a goal – I had to live to my 8.15 am appointment.

I was picked up and taken to the dentist. He said as he examined me that it was lucky I was here in the United States as this was one of only a few places at that time where root canal therapy could be being undertaken. Extraction was unnecessary.

The anaesthetic was bliss and then instead of yanking out the tooth, he cleaned the infection out and in so doing, relieved the pressure, inserted local antibiotic and said the treatment would last until I got back to Australia. The dentist prescribed a powerful oral antibiotic. I remember emerging into the sunlight alone, (my angel had to go back to the Conference I was supposed to be attending). I did not feel feverish. I stood waiting for a bus, and even though the anaesthetic was wearing off, I had another bout of exhilaration. The scourge had been expunged.

I have transformed my experience into what may be considered a dental allegory when viewing the receding Rump disappearing down Pennsylvania Avenue.

When Tooth decays, gets infected and causes pain, the immediate response is to extract it and expose the underlying infection. However, if removing Tooth will cause a cosmetic ugliness, would one be tempted to treat the decaying Tooth conservatively with antibiotics and painkillers – or maybe there was nobody skilled enough to remove Tooth or cure Tooth of its affliction.

In the meantime, while there is indecision, the infection spreads and becomes an abscess, and then quickly the whole face begins to swell; and the pain becomes intense. As the affliction heightens, it becomes more difficult to control – until at last, somebody with the requisite expertise comes along and treats Tooth, drains the abscess of its golden strand purulence. A powerful antimicrobial agent is administered. It is touch and go; but the body in which Tooth lives is spared septicaemia, and able to resist a possible secondary infection from other germs.  Tooth is old, but it still can have poisonous aftermath, if infected remnants are left in the socket. Drain the cavity, is the command.

Then over time cavity is allowed to heal; not needlessly over-treated. Just gentle restorative justice for a body which had endured diseased Tooth for so long. So, impeach stage one may be all that is necessary.

Not Exactly the Jerilderie Letters

I am not sure a princess kissing Craig Kelly would turn him into a handsome prince. I’m not sure the spell being broken applies to toads.

Rather Kelly is beneath contempt, peddling the nonsense about COVID-19 cures without being called out by the Government. Rather than humouring this person, Minister Hunt should ensure he is driven from Parliament. However, he is one of the Prime Minister’s Protected Species.

Peter Fitzsimons has given us a clue in an article he wrote in September in the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Another star of the Straight Talk Show in recent times has been Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth. For while it is unusual for a public servant to take direct aim at a politician, let alone one who is a member of the government, Dr Coatsworth didn’t hesitate last week when the member for Hughes, Craig Kelly spouted stuff in Federal Parliament that came from the very lowest dregs of President Trump’s bilge tank. You remember? Kelly was insisting there is a conspiracy to stop hydroxychloroquine being used, and if not for “groupthink” and the “complete abandonment of reason” driving a “war” on the drug, it would be widely embraced. This view is, of course, dangerous bull and Coatsworth said as much, even if he dressed it up with a little humour.”

Time passes. Trump has been denounced and yesterday a new President has been inaugurated to clean the stain. Australia should do the same.

In Australia, Kelly keeps spouting dangerous Trumpian nonsense without being reprimanded. The Deputy Prime Minister thinks that having somebody running around endeavouring to compromise the health of the country is amusing. I don’t.

From her privileged eyrie in Toorak, I see the smiling member for Higgins seems to find Kelly’s behaviour amusing. Big joke is it, Dr Allen? I wonder what her peers in the Academy of Health and Medical Sciences think.

But back to Craig Kelly.

Fitzsimons gives us the clue. Coatsworth would be an ideal candidate to stand against him. Coatsworth is personable, articulate, knowledgeable, intelligent. What else would you want in a candidate to challenge the Incumbent who has none of these attributes?

You have to be strong to be a candidate standing against Kelly because much of the stuff that will be thrown at you will be from the evangelical gutter, with the nocturnal Sky trolls braying continually. Premier Andrews keeping his cool showed how it can be countered, but Coatsworth has faced Ebola, another scourge.

However, there definitely needs to be a doctor or other health professional with Coatsworth’s attributes to stand against Kelly. One thing I don’t know about Coatsworth is whether he has a sense of humour – most importantly when dealing with Kelly and his ilk is to have a sense of the ridiculous to complement one’s inherent sense of humour. The real problem with people like Kelly, and Trump was a past master, is to be drawn onto their ground and end up by arguing their ridiculous premises.

You know what they say, never wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty and the pig loves it.

Without wanting to put down other health professionals, the most familiar are the doctor, the nurse, the pharmacist – hence the need for the best available candidate to be put in the fray with the simple message that Kelly is too dangerous and detrimental the community’s interests. However, a preselection battle may settle his fate, although given the experience in Washington recently, I would not necessarily hold my breath.

Message simple – “Hughes needs better” and/ or “Kelly is trying to poison you.”

The latter comes out of the playbook of the defeat of David Hill in this same electorate in 1998. Then the head of Sydney Water, Hill was associated with the water contamination scare at the time. A variant on poisoning, but with less validity than Kelly’s reprehensible behaviour. However, it was the only NSW electorate where there was a swing against the ALP at that election.

Then there is the other local problem, which can be associated with the word “poison “. That is the steadily accumulating nuclear waste material in his electorate at ANSTO, and has Member Kelly done anything about ridding the electorate of it? After all, it is a Federal responsibility, as is quarantine.

Now to get the right candidate to send Kelly back to his cavern. 

Brief Encounter

When you arrive at a T-junction on the Murchison Highway on the West Coast of Tasmania, you can either go left to Queenstown or right to Zeehan. Now if you go towards Zeehan, you enter the tiny mining township, with its modern amenities for the fly-in-fly-out miners. Once a tin mining area, it is now a flourishing area for zinc ore extraction There is nothing much to see in Zeehan, a number of old buildings attesting to its age. Then, before you see much of the settlement, you turn left past the huge black slag heap and onto the road to Strahan, which is lined by gorse. On the hills above there is evidence of a bush fire, almost unheard of before climate change intervened.

In Zeehan, although I have never seen it (even though I have passed through Zeehan many times), there is a small reserve of land named for Eileen Joyce.

Eileen Joyce was born here in 1908. Eileen Joyce – who? Most Australians would probably scratch their heads and wonder who she was. Yet Eileen Joyce was as famous as Vera Lynn in Britain in World War II. She was a child prodigy, in that she came from very humble beginnings where there was no encouragement for her talents, until her ability to play the piano was recognised by the nuns in her school on the Western Australian Goldfields. Several years after she was born, her miner father had moved the family to a town called Boulder, where a relative owned a pub; that is where Eileen found an old piano and upon which she was given her first piano lessons.

As she tells it, she was the subject of a number of “discoveries” by the nuns in Perth where she was sent because of her piano virtuosity, and then by a series of famous musicians, starting with Percy Grainger and then Wilhelm Backhaus, who recommended that she go to Leipzig to study, which she did when she was 19 years of age.

Her breezy description in an interview disguises the extraordinary talent of this small woman with the delicate but sharp Irish features, the chestnut hair, the green eyes, the elegant backless evening dresses, and above all the flawless piano technique – and her stamina. This last was particularly shown in the war years where the number of concerts she performed was immense.

What she is remembered for, despite having a large repertoire, is her rendition of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto, where her interpretation was considered on a par with that of the composer himself. Her performance of the second movement is woven through Brief Encounter, the 1945 David Lean film starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard.

Their characters meet by chance in a railway tearoom. They are both ostensibly happily married but develop a relationship, initially platonic but then progressing to a passionate love affair until reality of their family situation makes them realise the futility of their encounter. The chance meeting in the railway tearoom ends in the same tearoom, in an excruciatingly understated way.

Brief Encounter was written by Noel Coward, who had an acute eye for relationships, and this film teases out the sadness and futility of so much of life that we, the middle class, call respectability. I first saw the film when I was young without it making much impact; reprising it later in life demonstrates its force – and the train is always a useful metaphor for life’s journey and destination.  Eileen Joyce’s interpretation of that Rachmaninoff Concerto provides a forceful sound stage, because the music is both upright and passionate; love upon a stiff upper lip.

I listened to an interview with Eileen Joyce later in life. It was not the interview of the retired woman looking back, but a woman still alive and with a very British accent, as though she was bought up in the Home Counties. While she did, from time to time, return to Australia, her grave is in Limpsfield in Surrey, not far from Delius and her beloved conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham. It is said she regretted that she was never made a Dame, but it is the problem of living too long and being forgotten.   

The defile though which Senator Lambie emerged

Sympathy for the working class has, for many, curdled into contempt. By 2016 the concept of “liberal democracy”, once bight with promise, had dulled into a neoliberal politics that was neither liberal nor democratic. The Democratic Party’s turn towards market-driven policies, the bipartisan dismantling of the public sphere, the inflight marriage of Wall Street to Silicon Valley in the cockpit of globalisation – these interventions constituted the long con of neoliberal governance, which enriched a small minority of Americans while ravaging most of the rest.

Jackson Lears, a professor at Rutgers wrote this in the January 14, 2021 issue of the New York Review of Books (NYR). I could not have put it better myself. The two leading villains in this scenario over the years were Clinton and Blair, but there have been many others.

However, Trump took it beyond any level of tolerance. He collected a constituency in Smalltown USA and elsewhere that felt angered, alienated and xenophobic.

It is said that Roosevelt had some warning of the Pearl Harbour attack but took the option that premature action was not justified. Japan had been telegraphing its punches for a long time before the eventual attack. As a result, an outraged USA arose from its isolationist position and joined the fray.

Likewise, even before he lost the election, Trump was indicating that he would not accept defeat. When it came, he then orchestrated the misinformation and stirred what others have described as his “group narcissists” to storm the citadel. Now normally there would have been “overwhelming force”. But not on January 6.

Perhaps if the normal defence response had been mounted and there had been pictures of Trump supporters being turned back, bloodied, gassed or shot, then the Trump grievance may have gained national sympathy. Instead, this was that day there was minimal defence of America against a mad treasonous President. The images of Pearl Harbour galvanised America; the Capitol invasion to destroy the Constitution has similarly galvanised America.

That pathetic bunch of Trump supporters now face the might of America if they want to continue the fight.  But does group narcissism want to see its own blood on its designer flak jacket?

Trump has joined Hideki Tojo in the Trash Can of History. Once King Leer, now the lid is being put on the Trash Can, once the stain remover has been poured in.

What are the lessons for a country which has tried to mimic Trump?

This woman storming the Capitol in the name of Trump was Ashli Babbitt, a 35 year old Californian former servicewoman, who had undertaken several tours of Afghanistan and Iraq. Her final rank was considered lower than one would have expected given the length of her service in the Air Force. She was known to have an explosive temper and to harbour grievances. She had been married twice. She had a large debt from a failed small business investment, and she had two violence orders issued against her. Although once a supporter of Obama, she had been convinced by QAnon conspiracy theories and thus was determined to go to Washington and protest on behalf of Trump.

When she reached the Capital, this is how her presence was described: The raging crowd that bashed in the windows of a barricaded door to the Speaker’s Lobby, with a short, tanned woman with an American backpack at the front of its ranks. Her attempt to climb through one of those windows, leading the way, despite a Capitol Police officer pointing a handgun in her direction. The abrupt way she toppled backward after a single shot resounded.

Ashli Babbitt died later that night, and while the word “martyr” was muttered, she was remembered as a poor, misguided person.

When I read her biographical details, her career reminded me of Senator Lambie.

Senator Lambie was born 49 years ago and grew up in a poor northern Tasmanian environment, in more ways than one. She gave birth to her first son while still a teenager, and her second relationship yielded a second child.  When recently asked about her perfect male, she was crude but direct. Her directness has been translated into being an aggressive personality. The accusations of vulgarity and bullying persist in legal action being taken by former staff members. But I jump ahead.

She joined the military with her career ending up as a military police corporal. She was discharged from the military because of a spinal injury and although she endeavoured to get a pension, she was labelled a malingerer and was refused.  That takes us up to about 2006.

Politics was an attractant. She worked for a time in the office of the Labor Senator Sherry, was an unsuccessful candidate for Liberal preselection before falling in with Clive Palmer’s Party just before the 2013 national election. 2013 was an auspicious time to be a populist and Lambie attracted a number of votes, enough to become a Palmer Senator. Populism attracts authoritarianism; Senator Lambie is no exception. It did not take her long to break away from Palmer and become an independent, maintaining her own so-called Network.

Lambie’s parliamentary career is dotted with trying to rectify her grievances, but she has a forum; she has a vote; the leaders of the nation court her; for now, she is Important – unlike Ashli Babbitt, who only had the streets and social media on which to air her grievances. Babbitt was too poor to be elected anywhere in America where, to be elected, a significant cache of cash is crucially important. However, the Australian electoral system allows for a person whose early career is not too dissimilar to Ms Babbitt to be elected.

I looked at the Senators who currently represent Wyoming, which has a population sufficient to send only one member to Congress. However, as the Constitution dictates two Senators, the same as every other State, Wyoming is well represented in DC.  In relative population terms Wyoming is the Tasmania of the USA – if only in this regard.

The senior Senator there is a male doctor; the other is a female lawyer who, when she was in Congress, was one of three women who insisted on being called “congressman”. She has held political office in her State since 1979 when she was 24. She is now 66, not a poor single mother but ferociously espousing the Trump line, even now. A different kind of authoritarian Trumpist but with the kind of power which Ashli Babbitt craved, but did not have.

It is therefore salutary to think that Lambie being elected several times assures the dispossessed that it is possible to go to Canberra, if that’s what you want: to be relevant, to be listened to – to avoid looking at the feather dusters that line the walls.

Now re-read the quote from Professor Lears at the head of this blog blot to see what Senator Lambie means in the scheme of things.

Mouse Whisper

In the last years of his life Richard Harris lived in the Savoy Hotel in London. Having become terminally ill, as he was being taken to hospital on a stretcher, he was able to raise himself up as he was carried through the lobby of the hotel and exclaim to the shocked guests, “It was the Food! It was the Food!”

Somebody should have brought the cake in out of the rain.

Modest Expectations – O Come Let Us Sing

The Gracchi Brothers

I remember in my wanderings through ancient history, that I heard the aphorism the mob that creates you tears you down. From my fading memory, I believe it referred to the Gracchi brothers, Tiberius and Gaius. They were Roman populists in the style of “Make Rome Great Again” populism of the second century BC, but unlike Trump they had an agenda beyond shallow slogans and self-aggrandisement. They were interested in land reform and giving slaves a better deal. It is a scenario which has been repeated through the course of human history, but I’ve always associated the saying with the Gracchi brothers, because they were both beaten to death at different times – one of them being killed by a slave and the other by a chair leg.

In a way, egged on by Trump who then went back to watch his incitement on television rather than leading the mob, as one would expect for someone intent on making himself Great, the mob attack on the Capitol had its roots with the Gracchi. That mob has unwittingly destroyed Trump. To the people who matter, those who run American golf, erasing him is the greatest death for the narcissist – the most potent way for a mob to destroy him, this coward narcissist. He even fears germs.  But the people he wanted to impress because of the control over his mob are on their way to an FBI charge sheet.

Those of us who have grown up in a democracy, even as we were born into a time when Hitler was rampaging across Europe, Stalin was quietly executing on sight anybody who disagreed with him and Franco was twisting his heel on the Spanish Republic, have watched from afar.  Since 1945, we have seen America become the tar baby in too many wars just to maintain some mythical machismo “greatness”. Trump has allowed the country to be pulled down even further.

He has no way to go, because the fate of most narcissistic unhinged populists is death by the mob that constructed them.

He should be reminded of Mussolini, hung upside down with his mistress in Milan, like a slab of meat on an abattoir hook.  Already metaphorically, they have done that. Trump’s only exit will be an ornate box, his pall bearers being those to whom he has awarded the Legion of Merit – or pardoned.

For my part I would not want to be the watcher on a cast iron balcony if Tinpot Trumpism leads to the burial of America which, despite its flaws, so epitomises the best of Democracy.

Craig Reucassel

He is a very personable man but wasted. Why? Because he is not taken seriously. After all, his bio says “comedian”.  The problem is that he presents a very important subject in a very engaging manner. He employs stunts, but the problem with a stunt is that when it is over it leaves no residue.

Mr Reucassel

Craig Reucassel is a serious person. I have no doubt about that. However, he is one of the Chasers and seen as an iconoclastic entertainer. When he pursued the Prime Minister, he was cast back in his role of one of the “Chasers”, a humorous irritant. In fact, what he did show very clearly was the authoritarian, humourless nature of the current Prime Minister, unwilling to confront without the public relations machinery. This inability to face up to people was clearly shown in his visit to Cobargo during the bushfires.  Since then, he has had to have a crafted scenario, and he uses the lectern and the microphone to project this crafted image.

It was so different from the time Reucassel confronted John Howard with a plastic axe to jokingly test the Prime Minister’s security arrangements and asked for a hug – Howard provided him with it. So different, but then Howard was not a one-dimensional man, despite those who sought to paint him one shade of grey.

But is it enough to try and demonstrate the foibles of the Prime Minister when you are outside the Court by clowning? After all, the fool was an integral part of many a mediaeval court. The fool  was an “insider”.

Reucassel should be in Parliament. He is far smarter for instance than another entertainer Peter Garrett, whose lack of intelligence and guile was soon shown up in his short parliamentary career.

Reucassel has built a reputation with his on war on waste, but eventually he will need to tackle the hard end of what we all want – the formation of a national policy and its implementation. The world cannot continue to accumulate waste. Waste management once could be sloughed off to China, but no more. The sea is now yielding our waste, and while having the annual Clean Up Australia days in March may make the community feel good, obviously the awareness created by such days has not been translated to a national change in behaviour.

I once was asked to review single-use medical equipment and report on those that would be economic to reuse. Of all the instruments that were reviewed, the re-use of only one could be justified in economic terms.  For the rest, to buy a new instrument rather than sterilise for re-use was the most economic outcome. The arguments to which government listened were economic; it was not an era where degradation of single-use instruments was a serious consideration.  It was the era of fear of “mad cow disease” and deadly unseen prions in the nervous system, which resisted conventional sterilisation procedures. Thus, re-use was surrounded by bogeys, some of which have been answered or rendered less relevant by technological advances providing alternative outcomes.

There are parliamentarians who attention-seek by performing stunts. These chaps are variously labelled “eccentric”, “lovable” and all the words you don’t want when you desire to be considered serious.

In any event Reucassel, with his intrinsic sense of the ridiculous, would make a perfect parliamentarian. Watching him he has a touch of the ironies which adds to his charm. There is one caveat, irony does not read well in Hansard – the printed word misses the inflection.

I think his ideas and objectives are correct, but he needs a legislative platform to achieve it. Time to stop the destruction of this planet being considered a big gag.  There is so much social media – too much communication static for that to be achieved by his current course of action.  It is time for him to take his message into Parliament and form the appropriate alliances – that is, if you believe that the Imitation of Trump is not the way to run this country – and eventually vote the denialists out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking of which…

David Sharma, suggesting some bureaucratic mechanism to review Trump followers being bumped out of social media. Since clarified…no…not really…but all things considered…

David Sharma is a Jew, an ex-diplomat and within his electorate are both survivors of the Holocaust and the heirs to those who died at the hands of the Nazis in concentration camps like Auschwitz.

I appreciate that January is the silly season for media releases, but before he provides more detail of his scheme, he should read this description reprinted from the Washington Post about the January 6 Insurrection – the consequences of a relentless misuse of social media by a sociopath in power.

Robert P. Jones, head of the Public Religion Research Institute, writes: 

There were crosses, “Jesus Saves” signs and “Jesus 2020” flags that mimicked the design of the Trump flags…

Comfortably intermingled with Christian rhetoric and these Christian icons were explicit symbols of white supremacy. Outside the Capitol, Trump supporters erected a large wooden gallows with a bright orange noose ominously dangling from the center. These Trump supporters managed to do something the Confederate army was never able to accomplish — fly the Confederate battle flag inside the U.S. Capitol. One widely shared image showed a rioter with the Confederate flag strolling past a portrait of William H. Seward, an anti-slavery advocate and Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state, who was seriously wounded as part of the broad assassination plot in 1865 that killed Lincoln.

At least one protester sported a “Camp Auschwitz” hoodie, a reference to a concentration camp where over 1 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, even as others made outlandish comparisons between Christians as victims of American society and European Jews in the Third Reich.

I wonder if David Sharma were to paraphrase the comfortable words of Prime Minister Howard by saying that the Liberal Party is a broad synagogue what would happen? I’m sure people in his Party like the Member for Hughes would offer an opinion on social media.

La Bandiera Gialla

Quarantine power is vested with the Commonwealth under the Australian Constitution. It seems such a clearly defined power that the enabling legislation beginning with the Quarantine Act (1908) has been rarely challenged. Perhaps in 1901 it was simply a matter of ensuring that ships ran up a yellow flag before entering port.

The problem was that before Federation, such as it was quarantine was the responsibility of the colonies. Enforcing quarantine costs money and while there have been epidemics before, memories are short. When COVID-19 invaded the country early last year, the public health defences were thin.  Then, using crude measures of lockdown and closure of movement including borders made sense. When in the dark, fumbling for candles and matches, it is best to make sure the doors and windows are closed. Hopefully there is enough moonlight until the sun comes up.

The other problem was that of a Federal Government being pressured by their business mentors to keep everything functioning. The decision to ensure priority be given to public health measures was touch and go; otherwise, Australia might have been placed in the same place as America and Europe are today. However, fortunately it all started in China, and given fear of the Yellow Peril lies deep in the Australian psyche, border closure initiated by Morrison, on advice, was instituted. Deep-seated prejudice led to a correct decision, but border closure should have been far more widely adopted then.

The government kept being badgered by its business mates to disregard public health, amplified by their foghorn in Alan Jones and his mates skulking in the Fox network.

Lip service was paid to social distancing, hand washing and remember the app? Before any vaccine, it was going to be the panacea. Like so much of the IT work overseen by the Department it proved to be a useless but not an unexpected piece of crap. It is fortunate that it did not interfere with the contact tracing system, where NSW in particular had a very strong system due to a previous Chief Health Officer’s foresight. Sue Morey’s work 30 years before in instituting a system saved Australia.

What turned out to be positive at the Federal level was Paul Kelly and Nick Coatsworth, public health physicians. Both of these doctors have a clear eye, and had both expertise and experience of the link between process and outcome.

They helped Brendan Murphy, who had been cast into an unfamiliar role as Head of the Department at the outset of a pandemic, the dimensions of which were not yet clear. He is not a public health physician, intrinsically shy and in the early days an appalling communicator but nevertheless assiduous, intelligent and with a proven administrative record and unlike his predecessor – as heads of the Health Department have been for nearly 40 years – he is a doctor.  This was a very important characteristic especially if you look closely at the performance of his predecessors, especially Jane Halton. You know, the person with her epidemiological expertise on display on the Crown Casino Board.

The problem with those who believe that Health can be administered by anybody is the same as saying you can govern Russia without speaking Russian. As “Pansy” Wright, that professor extraordinaire, said about the second year of medicine, one needed to increase one’s vocabulary by about 7,000 words in that year– such is the language of health. Well, on reflection, I suppose you could administer Russia if you had skilled interpreters and a very big knout.

Public health was in a lamentable state in Victoria, because its systems were tested and found wanting. New South Wales on the other hand had a system devised by Morey. The challenge of the infected cruise ships and outbreaks of the Virus in nursing homes showed its intrinsic systemic strength. Queensland with Jeanette Young at the helm did what Queenslanders always  do– keep it simple and authoritarian. The Queensland system has not been tested, and in the past, Young, who is not a public health physician, has been a bit of a “panic merchant” which suited the Premier just fine. However, there is always unease because both Queensland and Western Australia have to come out of lockdown sometime and have yet to gain the experience provided by Victoria and New South Wales.

South Australia has been tested and its Chief Health Officer like her Commonwealth counterpart has a clear eye, and therefore the State is fortunate. Having personally experienced recent travel around South Australia, everything being undertaken seemed eminently sensible. I have also been to Tasmania. I am not sure that the Burnie experience has been translated into policy reform; there was a degree of the sensible, but again the Premier likes to close borders

During this pandemic, Australians have shown compliance, unlike other countries which seem to delight in being unruly. When faced with public health advice translated into law, the number of those who have been defiant has dwindled. The Victorian experience, where Andrews initially presided over a disaster, ensured compliance which saved his political skin. He left the Trumpists in his wake. He discredited them here in Australia.

The problem is that Berejiklian still listens to them, and that is a real danger. She pretends to be liberal, on the left of her Party, when she may be a closet Trumpist. The images of her striding out to deliver her daily dictum and not wearing a mask when all others were doing so says it all and her disdain for her self-isolation is troubling; at times her behaviour seems at odds with the public health advice.

The institution of a so-called national cabinet which has no legal standing provides a public relations aura of cooperation, but it is a means of the Prime Minister taking credit for success while laying blame at the feet of the Premiers (with the exception of Gladys) when things go wrong.

Now, where are we?

Hardly a case of local viral transmission throughout Australia.

So why are the borders closed? This continued closure is shown in relief that some guy can go from Sydney to Broken Hill, which is about the same flying distance as from Sydney to Launceston or Sydney to the Sunshine Coast.

In other words, it is not about borders, it is about trust in the public health systems being uniform nationally. Where is the leadership here from the Federal Government?

Infections are all coming from overseas. Therefore, as the Constitution sets out, quarantine is a national not an individual State responsibility. The laws should be uniform. Everybody coming into Australia must be subject to quarantine, and at last there is some movement on my suggestion that there should dedicated facilities. I was only this week reflecting on the success of the original evacuation from Wuhan, where Howard Springs was successfully used. There is the furphy that the quarantine facilities should be located next to major teaching hospitals. If you drive between Barooga and Tocumwal in southern New South Wales, you can see a commemorative cairn to the 1,000 bed hospital which was built there during World War 2 – no major teaching hospitals there. That area would still be ideal for a dedicated quarantine facility.

Vaccination is now the go. Given that in the past coronaviruses have confounded the scientists wishing to make a vaccine against the common cold, why would devising a vaccine against this coronavirus be any easier, giving it is beginning to mutate – and there is no indication that it will stop at two. The protagonists would say that not at any time before has so much funding being flung at finding a vaccine in such a short time, when the technology is so clever if diverse.

I do not want to sound cynical, but Pfizer knows that to keep the vaccine which needs storage at minus 70 degrees means ultimately it is probably financially and administratively non-viable unless modifications can be made. The company needs to recoup its investment as soon as possible, and therefore it has to get its vaccine out as quickly as possible. How it is administered is not the company’s responsibility.

In Australia, John Skerritt, Head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), can be infuriating, but he is honest. The TGA Advisory Committee on Vaccines being chaired by Allen Cheng gives me further reassurance. Paul Kelly has shown a resilience not to buckle under political hysteria. His role in calming the Cabinet when they learnt that Dutton had returned infected from America last March was crucial; he made the Cabinet listen to science. Hopefully his authority now extends to those politicians caught trading in AstraZeneca shares.

There should be no hurry in Australia. The public health measures are in hand and seem to be working in isolating the infection now into clusters before it can spread, unlike elsewhere in the World.   The country must be sure there is no political interference, and all politicians’ portfolios in pharmaceutical shares should be declared now.

My greatest fear is that we live in a land where politicians are corrupt and/or corruptible with a government prepared to turn a blind eye to such activities.

I do not want to be jabbed with an unproven vaccine because some inner suburban politician is trying to make a buck out of it.

I listen to the Chief Medical Officer, and he has been mostly right during this whole saga, but nobody is infallible. I prefer to wait, even though I am a very strong advocate of vaccination, BUT when the vaccine has been proven.

Yet at a community level it is time to trust each other and open the borders, after ensuring that all measures are uniform. After all, that was the original intent of the National Health & Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) when it was set up in 1936 to be inter alia a meeting of all the Chief Medical Officers to seek a uniform approach to public health matters.

Unfortunately, it took 15 years after the Spanish Flu pandemic to be established, just before the major poliomyelitis outbreak in Australia in 1937, which incidentally started in Tasmania.

The NH&MRC is another story…

Winter on the Isle of Wight

It is on a trip like this when we expected to circle the island comfortably in a day that you meet the unexpected.

Quarr Abbey

Quarr Abbey was the place to visit. Here is a community of Benedictine monks. As we approached down the drive, this large red brick building suddenly emerged from the fields. This abbey church is not quite what one would expect. It looks modern. As we entered, the monks were filing out from nones, a short set of psalms sung in the early afternoon. The Abbey was designed by one of the original monks, who came back to Benedictine lands and helped to build the new Abbey in 1907.  The genius is in the brick arches which encase the spectacular nave, where the eye is attracted beyond the altar to the yellow light which comes through the windows at the east end of the church, in the way the light suffuses the modern red brick construction into a glorious whole that glows, even in the wintry light.

The monks were selling their recordings of Gregorian chants.  They are an accomplished choral group. The monk who served me volunteered that his voice was among the choristers, but not in the front line. The CD we purchased had been recorded nearly 10 years before. The monk himself had just celebrated his jubilee of being in the order. When he had come as a novice 50 years before, there were more than 40 monks, but the numbers had now fallen to 25. The monks live a subsistence existence coupled with devotion and the monk who served us had lived most of his life in this cloistered rustic life – where a life of tranquillity had given him age without wrinkles.

As Osborne House was closed at that time of the year, we stayed in Yarmouth some distance away, at The George Hotel, overlooking the Solent at the mouth of the Yar estuary. The room was the prized number 19 with an expansive balcony overlooking the estuary.

The George Hotel has been described as a winter hotel. Oak stairs that slope, a plaque that said that Charles 1 had been there on one of his last nights of freedom. A breakfast room that looks over the sea where you partake of porridge, kippers and that centrepiece of British life, a pot of Earl Grey, his lordship perfectly buffered in two tea bags.

Winter means virtually no tourists.  We thus were able to move about and find that the next person was likely to be a Caulkhead, as the locals call themselves. When tourists arrive then the pace picks up and time to chat to find out why and how the island ticks diminishes. The ship’s chandler in Yarmouth – Harwoods – established in 1893 is a great place in which to ferret. We ended up with two models of working fishing boats, a couple of pennants and batteries. We resisted purchasing the brass clock and brass barometer, and one of the boats anyway turned out to be made in China. But who cares – the feeling of being in a seaside community, rather than being a working fishing village was strong.

Winter in the Isle of Wight exuded a different sense of identity and that makes it charming – even when you stand on a bluff overlooking the ocean and the wind goes through you like Masefield’s whetted knife. There is always an unencumbered view to compensate, a coastline that starts West at the Needles and then along the white cliffs overlooking a surly sea.

Not a winter of discontent.

Mouse Whisper

Sometimes you read something somewhere 

“I will do my best to keep this short. I was listening to Sirius ‘Sixties’ when they were giving requests if the song had a story. This girl called in saying she was scared one night at home during a storm while listening to the radio. She called up the radio station and the DJ answered and she told him her plight. He said he would play the longest song he had just to comfort her on the telephone. Well, it was this one. They talked every night for two weeks and then he said he had some bad news. He was being drafted into the Army. He was leaving in a week. They wrote to each other when he was in basic and then he was shipped out at once to Viet Nam. They still continued to write but the letters weren’t coming as often. He came back to the States but got offered another DJ job hundreds of miles away. They still wrote but the letters were dwindling and finally stopped. She never knew what happened to him. They never met. She told Sirius that day that she prayed he was listening to this story and he would remember her. She didn’t care if he was married or not, she just wanted to hear from him. The 60’s DJ at Sirius promised to give him her number if he called in. Don’t ever know what happened. So, she requested this song, hoping he was listening.”

The song, Macarthur Park.  I have not interfered with this stream of consciousness it as I would not have done to that song. It is too compelling even for a Mouse.

Macarthur Park, Los Angeles

Modest Expectations – Iris

It was 1814, the Capitol in Washington was stormed. Then, the British not only stormed the Capitol but also burned down the White House.

Protesters scaling the wall of the Capitol building

One of the scenarios I predicted many blogs ago is that Trump would foment insurrection. I said he may set fire to the White House which, with two weeks of his gangster presidency – as one person has defined it – still leaves the metaphor to be converted to actuality. However, essentially Trump is a bully and thus by definition a coward. In his twisted mind, he wants the Biden Inauguration to be limited so that he can say he attracted a bigger crowd at his inauguration in 2017 as if that has any relevance to anything.

Trump predictably incited, and then the mob did what mobs do when they are allowed to act without adequate law enforcement. However, it could be argued that pictures of storming the Capitol, vandalising the Constitution in the name of this would-be despot, will galvanise the response of the lawmakers.  The only saving grace was that Trump had not organised an armed militia to back his activities.

However, a cynical person would believe that an undermanned police force being overwhelmed initially provided the horror of this unbridled mob, whereas the optics of a massive law enforcement force beating up legitimate protesters may have provided unwarranted sympathy for the Trump “stormtroopers”.

The award of the Legion of Merit should be returned by Morrison before it becomes his Millstone of Dishonour.  I am sure the award will be noted by the incoming Biden administration, and as the charge sheet against Trump increases this year, comparisons between Morrison and the corruption which has flourished under his stewardship with his mentor, Trump should increasingly become front and centre of the political debate.

Yet a year ago, who would have thought that the Democrats would have won both the Senate seats in Georgia. Biden has confounded me by his Presidential response to the Trump rant. He has stepped up.

Who will stand up for Australia?

Giving In without a Kelp?

This first blog blot of 2021 was prompted by an article on seaweed in a recent December issue of the New York Review of Books (NYR). I start in a laneway of Helsinki. We had just emerged from a crowded bar, where although we had booked, we were subject to the Finnish way – the people in the sitting before us were lingering and we could wait, couldn’t we, until they had finished? It was not a particularly friendly interchange, the restaurant was noisy, the atmosphere had that scurry of youth, and persons of age were regarded as somewhat out of place and thus there was nowhere to sit – and nobody moved to give us room to sit down.

Hence, upsticks literally and off down the lane to the harbour. Here on a summer’s day when you can buy cloudberries it is beautiful place to saunter in the warm sunshine, along its quay where a multitude of colourful vessels of different configuration and size are moored. But now my days of sauntering are over. Using two sticks is a very inefficient way to saunter.

This day, on turning a corner, there was a restaurant. Given that it had begun to rain heavily, it was more haven than gastronomy which drove us to enter. Instead of a noisy crowd, there were tables set in a way which beckoned the discerning diner rather than us sodden accidental tourists.

The staff were solicitous as there were few if any other customers.

We looked at the menu as something to do, and one of the waiters told us there was fresh asparagus – new season white asparagus. This dish has stuck in my memory ever since. White asparagus do not have the robustness and stringiness of the green variety; there is a certain delicate taste to them, and the way they were presented in a light coat of butter was as though we were eating the first picked.

This year as the Australian green asparagus harvest appeared, I wondered whether white asparagus would be available. At the same time, I remembered it was the time sea asparagus was harvested. Sea asparagus or samphire was somewhat of a fad a few years ago and was available around November for a limited time. It had a vague resemblance to asparagus and like much of seashore plants harvested had a salty taste, while otherwise the taste was unremarkable except that it was different from asparagus.

It was told to me that if one went to Kooweerup in Victoria, the swampland home of the growling grass frog and southern bandicoot and also home for asparagus, would be where you would find the white variety. If one went along certain Victorian foreshores where samphire was said to grow in abundance, then my lust for this delicacy would have been satisfied. However, Victoria was a prison due to the Virus at harvest time for these two commodities. Nevertheless, this year I tried to obtain some.  Being locked away in a different state leads one to yearn for that which proved, like the Holy Grail, to be unobtainable.

These are products where water is essential, but they exist very much on the edge of the western community palate. What about seaweed then?

When I buy sashimi, the accompaniment is wakame seaweed salad. The Japanese also use the black paper nori seaweed to wrap the sushi rice up with its various ingredients.

As for me, in the 1934 film “Man of Aran” that I wrote about earlier, the islanders grew potatoes in the bladderwrack, kelp left in the cracks of the stone in that harsh land.  Then “When the potatoes failed, they survived on Chondrus crispus or Irish moss.”  I once bought some carrageenan, a derivative from this red seaweed, back from Ireland. It hung around in the pantry with a ban put on it – the one which says: “if you want to cook it you can do it for yourself”. I succumbed to the blatant discrimination and eventually this vegan substitute for gelatin was thrown out unused.

Monterey kelp forest

Then there are the magnificent kelp forests. One the most spectacular is the 8.5m high one at the Monterey Aquarium, which occupies three floors of this building in this Californian coastal town made famous by Steinbeck in his writing about Cannery Row.

In the article “The Oldest Forest” Lucy Jakub who, as one would expect lives on a beach, reviews four books where seaweed is the hero. One of these books lists all the products from sunscreen to fertiliser where kelp is used. In fact, the author, Ruth Kassenger, adopts “a speculative theory, that early man had a diet rich in iodine and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) derived from algae through a number of secondary sources, which resulted in our larger brain”.

Seaweed in East Asia is a $6 billion a year bonanza, and its commercialisation was due to a British biologist Kathleen Drew-Baker, who showed in 1948 that the red seaweed, Porphyria, grew in two cycles – in the deep ocean releasing immature spores which settle closer to shore when right to propagate. (As a result of her work), Japanese scientists, in the midst of famine in US-occupied Japan, learned to pre-seed lines of nori in the lab and bring them to the ocean to grow.

Yet the article does not see any advocacy for further commercialisation. Attempts to propagate seaweed commercially as a substitute for fossil fuel in the USA have proved disastrous or viewed as Exxon’s investment as “greenwashing”. For instance, in the past decade, Exxon has spent $1.2 billion more on advertising than it has on biofuel development. After all, the Germans used seaweed as a source of potash, and the British for acetone for wartime use (WW1) when other materials were in short supply.

Yet growing seaweed is seductive as it is able to control the microblooms of the toxic algae by absorbing the fertiliser runoffs and moreover cattle fed seaweed produce less methane. However, among the experts quoted by the author, there is a consensus that where algae are grown commercially, it should be done so on small independent ocean farms. Overall, one writer Josie Iselin is quoted that we should: “leave the algae alone to do their own thing, heal the oceans as they can, and let them be, as the profound ecological engineers they are, not another for us to figure out how to manage.” After all, already “kelp forests naturally sequester 11% of their carbon in the sea”.

The NYR writer, Lucy Jakub is very perspicacious, because the prospect of worldwide famine is no longer an idle thought from a bunch of learned scientists gathering as the Club of Rome was in rediscovering Malthus. As she writes: crises lead to a search for silver bullets, in the hope they can be averted with unimaginable sacrifice, and in a spirit of optimism… (that can take) an algal-central perspective to envisioning the solution.

Just like the quest for white asparagus and samphire?

Life with the Bubble

Some years ago, I was in Brisbane staying in an upmarket hotel. I had just come in from a run along the Brisbane River. I came in, picked up a can of Diet Coke, ripped off the top and drank what would be considered a large gulp. Then, catastrophe. Let me say that it was the only time I have this intensely painful tearing sensation retrosternally. The intensity of the pain lives in my memory.

Cardiac pain has been described as a crushing pain in the same region, but one of the differential diagnoses is damage to the oesophagus mucosa, including oesophageal perforation. Perforation of the oesophagus is a potentially fatal condition as the pleural cavity and the mediastinum do not respond well to a flood of dilute hydrochloric acid or for that matter enzymic rich saliva and regurgitated gastric content.

After the acute pain, I was left with a dull pain. I rang a doctor friend, and before long I was in the intensive care unit of a major Brisbane hospital.

Fortunately, the chest Xray revealed that there was no perforation, and I was saved from a gastroscopy. The major discomfort and difficulty in swallowing meant fluids for a few days. After a few days, it settled down and I was discharged, wiser perhaps.

I had a “bit of form” as an acquaintance reminded me later when he showed me a photograph of me in a Barcelona restaurant pouring a porron of wine down my throat with the beginner’s luck in the amount of spillage being minimal.

Pouring the porron

However, I had no such luck on this occasion.

As background, spontaneous oesophageal perforation was first described by the Dutch physician Hermann Boerhaave in 1724. Boerhaave’s syndrome is a form of barogenic rupture caused by a rapid rise in intraluminal pressure when there is sudden distension of the oesophagus in a closed space.  The original case described was one of explosive vomiting.

Rapid ingestion of the cold beverage with bubbles can led to spasm of the distal oesophagus followed by expansion, resulting in a sudden build-up of intra-oesophageal pressure. The vast majority of perforations occur in the left lateral wall of the distal oesophagus, 3–6 cm above the gastro-oesophageal junction, as this part is particularly weak.

What prompted this reminiscence is the latest Coca-Cola advertisement where these jolly young things are shown irresponsibly attacking these beverages, with one complete numbskull leaning backwards and pouring the drink down her upside down throat where the forces of gravity mean the fluid has to flow uphill against them. Not like our famous Prime Minister with his imbibing a yard of beer where the beer could at least flow downhill, given presumably that Hawke, like all bright bored students, had spent time when learning this party trick to also learn how to control his oesophageal reflexes.

This particular appalling example in the obviously American advertisement was the young woman who needs to use her oesophagus musculature to ensure that the Coca Cola could flow uphill. She was obviously a performer, who had trained herself to do so. Perhaps, the whole scenario was fake, concocted. In the event of those who would dare to “copy-cat” this manoeuvre, will Coca-Cola assume responsibility for all the potential incidents that may happen?

Youth have no fear, youth will push the limits. Coca Cola is the driving force. That is always the message – derring-do with a bottle of Coke.

After all, who was the person when I was young who taught me how to open a bottle with my teeth.

Fortunately, St Paul had a message for me (sorry the political incorrectness) which I heeded through cracked teeth:

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Well, not completely. However, I do tend to learn from my mistakes.

 Tea for Two

Ceylon is always associated with tea. Just after the start of World War 2

Great Britain purchased 80 per cent of the Ceylon and Indian tea crop. Australia was left out and tea was rationed here during the War. Tea plantations in Ceylon had been associated with Lipton but together north-east India (Assam and Darjeeling) with China being there the earliest Australian source. During the War, the Australian largely garrisoned Ceylon, because the local Ceylonese were not trusted. In fact, Ceylonese troops in the British Army rebelled on the Cocos Island wanting to surrender to the Japanese, with the result that after the rebellion was quelled, three of the rebels were executed, the only time during the War that British troops were executed for treason.

Then after the War, when your relatives went “Home to GB” by ship, the first port of call was always Colombo, the tell-tale memento being the carved ebony elephant on the mantelpiece.

The other attractions of Ceylon for a young eye were the stamps. These were large rectangles with the portrait of the sovereign in the upper right quadrant. They were informative because the plates had been so finely engraved. The commonest stamp of the set sent on mail was the 20c, with deep blue engraving of coconut palms bending in an unseen wind, but distant was a two-masted boat, presumably at anchor because the sails were furled. Several years ago, I bought the 11-stamp series, admittedly with King George V’s head in the corner. Each of the stamps features one idyllic scene which is far from the current situation in Sri Lanka. The stamps nevertheless illustrate the diversity that was Ceylon.

Until 2016, I had only visited Colombo airport en route from Singapore to London on Air Ceylon in 1971. The next year the name of Ceylon, derived from the old Portuguese name, was changed to Sri Lanka – “Resplendent Island”.

Sri Lanka had been a place where there were many religions. The Buddhist Sinhalese dominate the South, and at one time the Hindu Tamils were in control the north. Independence was accompanied by a debilitating war between the two populations, and in 2016 the tourist trail was well insulated.

There are many Ceylon burghers in Australia, those the results of miscegenation with the Dutch or Portuguese; they had been emigrating to Australia post-war. This was the closest coloured people were allowed as migrants from that country while the White Australia Policy was in force. They are predominantly Christian.

Then there were the Muslim Sri Lankans. I had involvement in counselling one, an international medical graduate who was both Muslim and a Sri Lankan national. I had not realised up to that time that Muslims form a significant minority in Sri Lanka. I found out that they control the gem trade.

The other association I have made with Ceylon was its sapphires. Those whose jewellery containing a Ceylon sapphire knew it to be so because of its intense blue. However, as a change on this trip I bought a green sapphire, together with an aquamarine. The choice in that emporium in Kandy seemed endless.

Kandy

Driving to Kandy, the old capital and then driving to Galle could not be more different. They are both about the same distance from Colombo, but driving to the old Capital, Kandy was like driving along a ribbon shopping strip for 120 kilometres, without any break between the settlements for countryside. Beyond Kandy in the mountains are the terraced tea plantations where women were harvesting the leaves and placing them in a bag, the holding straps of which were firmly stabilised by the woman’s forehead. The technique is portrayed in the 9c pre-war stamp of a tea picker – a woman of course.

Galle, after a minor bottleneck in Colombo, is a four-lane drive away.  Until they started playing test cricket there, I had never heard of it. Then the tsunami came on Sunday 26 December 2004 after the massive earthquake under the sea north of Sumatra.

In the words of one of Galle citizens who was watching at the time:

A long stretch of Sri Lanka’s coast was devastated by these killer waves, with more than 40,000 dead and staggering 2.5 million people displaced. Although 1,600km from the epicentre, the waves struck with huge force and swept inland as far as 5 kilometres.  Waves as high as six meters had crashed into coastal villages, sweeping away people, cars and even a train with 1700 passengers.

One of the worst hit areas was my home city Galle, the capital of Southern Sri Lanka. The water came from two sides to Galle town giving no chance for many people who were going about their daily life…

This happened while civil war was being waged – a 25-year civil war between Tamil and Sinhalese that did not end until 2009. An estimated 80,000-100,000 people died between 1982 and 2009. The deaths include 28,000 Tamil fighters, more than 21,000 Sri Lankan soldiers, 1,000 Sri Lankan police, 1,500 Indian soldiers, and tens of thousands of civilians.

Here we were seven years later in a country that had papered over so much trauma in its community fabric, and we, the Australian visitors, were travelling around as though Sri Lanka was still the Pearl of the Orient. As our driver in Galle said, those who were within the walls of the old Dutch fortress had a far greater chance of survival when the tsunami came.

When we visited, Galle exhibited few scars and the cricket ground, where Shane Warne achieved his 500th Test wicket, looked as though nothing had happened, but then 12 years had passed before we visited.

However, one major reason to go existed beyond Galle when the road reverted to type and we travelled through seaside villages until there they were, the men stilt fishing, their bodies entwined on a pole with a cross bar several metres above the water and at the same time fishing. No fishing in waders or from a wharf. Fishing this way enables them not to disturb the water. The tsunami curtailed this form of fishing; the stilts have returned, but not to the same number.

So many recollections associated with this country, with all its various names suggesting serenity, yet so little has the community strife had an impact we could have been traveling on a magic carpet far away from all that horrendous backdrop. Life on our magic carpet seemed so welcoming and tranquil.

How far from the Truth?

As I written about the injustice meted out to them, the Tamil family, Priya Murugappan, her husband Nades, and their two Australian-born daughters – Kopika now aged five, and Tharunicaa aged three imprisoned on Christmas Island, do not think so, even though the Australian authorities seem to make sure that the horrors awaiting them are not lost in a welter of government generosity and kindness. They get none.

Unlike the time Minister Dutton laid a wreath on the altar of St Sebastian’s in Colombo in 2019. How touching! The crocodile tears were flowing everywhere as he placed the wreath for those who had been killed in a suicide bombing on Easter Sunday of that year.

Sri Lanka is not the Pearl of the Orient any longer, and certainly if you are Tamil – or apparently Christian – or Muslim.  In the previous year, those Muslim shops in Kandy that we visited were burnt down by what were described as Buddhist mobs. Muslim burial is forbidden. Nothing like a bit of religious zeal and intolerance.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

Gerry Marsden died this week. I saw Gerry and the Pacemakers and Brian and the Tremolos when they performed in Melbourne in the mid-1960s. It was around the time of the Beatle frenzy and a young lawyer mate of mine got free tickets. I was even then a trifle too old for pop concerns, but we went along. Nothing much I remembered beyond “Ferry across the Mersey”. They were Liverpool Lite, managed by Brian Epstein but without the Beatle panache.

Over the years, the song “You’ll never walk alone” was associated with Gerry Marsden and became the signature tune of the Liverpool Football Club.

However, I remember the song almost a decade earlier when it was sung by Julie Jordan in Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, as a hymn to her lost partner, Billy Bigelow, killed in an industrial accident.

When you realise that Carousel opened on Broadway on April 19, 1945, just before VE-day, and ran for 890 performances. Its London rn began in 1950 and was just as successful. Every one of those audiences included dozens of women who lost husbands or sons or fathers or brothers in WW2. This song was for them, as someone wrote.  I wonder if Marsden went to his grave realising that it was more than a disembodied dirge in the 60s, but a song which comforted those who had suffered loss at the most personal level and for whom the words had a deeper meaning than a feel good Scouse anthem.

As a postscript, in 1999, Time magazine named Carousel the best musical of the 20th century.

Mouse Whisper

The taxi driver recounted the story of the famous Australian cricketer who promised $50,000 towards the reconstruction of the Galle cricket ground since it lay outside the fortress walls and was completely destroyed by the 2004 tsunami. The amount promised was modified several times and when we asked how much this cricketer eventually had actually given, the driver signalled with his fingers – zero.

A different type of gall I would think.

Galle Cricket Ground

 

Modest Expectation – UoVa Piazza UOva

I am commencing this blog on Boxing day, another of those dubious holidays related to the British class structure in which boxed trifles were provided to the deserving poor on the day after the upper classes had gorged themselves with exotic meat, forcemeats and sweetmeats – the proclivity of the entitled for languid enquiries “Another swan breast, Andrew? Perhaps another leg, Charles?”

In Great Britain swans have received special protection by the Crown at least as far back as 1482, when King Edward IV authorised the Act Concerning Swans, which made all swans in Great Britain property of the Crown. He signed the law, which remains in force today, not because he wanted to conserve them, but because he loved eating swans. Edward, although born in Rouen, was a Yorkist who was embroiled in battling the Lancastrian Tudors and having seen Henry VI off, he died in his bed. His sons were not so lucky, ending their brief lives in The Tower of London due to a bit of nepoticide by their uncle, Richard, who became the Third.

St John’s College Cambridge

Like all British idiosyncrasy, only unmarked muted white swans fit into that protected category, and the Queen is even more discerning. She only eats swans from the Thames and its upper tributaries. Elsewhere the Crown has made a deal with the Worshipful Company of Vintners & Dyers in regard to swan ownership and from them to the Fellows of St John’s College Cambridge, who are the only chaps outside the Royal Family able to indulge themselves with roast swan on certain days of the year. These jolly fellows used to have swan traps along their College walls, but the traps have fallen into disuse. The College does not have a separate Warden of the Swans as the Crown does to maintain its swan traps.

Swan meat is said to be gamey, but tasty, presumably it is little different from goose except for the fat.  It would be fitting that when “Banjo” FitzSimons achieves his Republican Dinner to mark our eventual break from the 1788 Invasion he should institute a “Swan Song” dinner where the major fare is a muted white swan garnished to acknowledge Edward IV’s other undying contribution – Yorkshire pudding.

I am sure that we could find a suitable South Melbourne-gone-Sydney person to carve our exotic roast. In recognition of our cultural affinity, the Swans regalia has always been red and white. But aren’t Australian swans black?

Huon Pine

in Strahan, a village on Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania’s West Coast there is a two-storied Pole House called Piner’s Loft. It was the labour of love of an extraordinary builder called Dan whose partner was so important to him in providing the inspiration to construct from old Tasmanian wood. In other words, it was built as an homage to the Tasmanian forests. He used only recovered wood, except for the structural poles which were blackwood, and not completely seasoned. However, even with the cracks in the unseasoned wood, blackwood is sturdy and the cracks have stabilised with age. Blackwood is not immediately endangered and is an essential component of the temperate rain forest which covers south-west Tasmania. There are two of these lofty trees along the drive. This drive to the back door has been delivered by the local vicar, who also works in his earth-moving business – literally not only moving heaven, but also earth.

Piners Loft, Strahan, Tasmania

There is another structural pole tucked away in the Loft, and that is one of King Billy Pine. However, in the case of the indigenous pine only recycled wood was used. The floorboards, window and door frames are mostly celery pine, and outside the back door, there is celery pine growing quietly. The fascia board is of Tasmanian blue gum, the only tree whose flower is a State emblem. Blue gum is a tree whose profligate growth has made it declared verminous in California.

Meanwhile, the bathroom door is an exotic, Western cedar.

The Piner’s Loft kitchen is composed of that most beautiful of Tasmanian woods, the Huon pine. Once almost sawn to extinction, these trees live a thousand years and beyond. In the forest, their caterpillar like fronds suggest a tree which may have watched the dinosaur walk. In the wild they are the most unprepossessing trees as they age, with bare arms stretching through the canopy. The trunks are gnarled and twisted; and yet the wood is magical as it is worked.

The Huon pine used to be cut by men called piners, who would travel upstream searching for it because Huon pine grows close to water courses. These piners would stay in rough shelters enduring the rain year round, sleet in winter and mosquitoes in summers. They floated the cut logs down the rivers.  They all but cleared the forests of the pine, so now only salvaged wood can be worked. Cutting down a Huon pine is cutting off your inheritance; the remaining trees are protected.

Huon Pine

Huon pines contain a natural oil called methyl eugenol, which gives the wood both its legendary durability and its unique fragrance. They grow very slowly, requiring about 500 years to reach the size at which time the trunk can be sawn into timber. Huon timber varies from a light straw to a rich golden colour.  Fresh wood surfaces darken after contact with air and sunlight.  It is a light, soft and very fine textured wood which is easy to saw, chisel, plane, turn or sand. It is a very good timber for building boats because its close grain, in addition to its lightness and the oil in the wood assists in the waterproofing.

The shavings work well in cupboards to guard against silverfish and other insects which like to eat one’s clothing. It is thus a wood of many seasons.

I am now looking at a Huon pine bowl we mutually presented ourselves as a Christmas present. The aroma is pungent, filling the air as you would expect. It is not the smell of the eucalypt. Roger, the wood turner who made the bowl says he can no longer smell the wood, but for those of us unused to its distinctive pine oil odour, it fills the room.

The wood is known for its “birds-eyes”, flecked dark spots in the wood which is prized. This bowl has waves through the timber like the clouds in a sunset, where the pale yellow of cloud grades into ochre heavens and in so doing catches all the shades in between. It is a glorious piece of carving and like the Loft not only is testimony to the sawyers of the West Coast but also the survival of the fauna and foliage of that State struggling against the barbarian blackberry, bracken and gorse – and bushfire.

This Tasmanian heritage is threatened but unfortunately the government sits by, its hands tucked firmly under it buttocks, while it dreams of dams and concrete. This is what it terms heritage.

But perhaps I am being too critical, but this excerpt from the 2020/21 Tasmanian Budget is indicative of the priorities:

Funding of $75,000 has been provided in 2020‑21, to continue the development of bushfire mitigation legislation commenced in 2019‑20. The legislation aims to improve bushfire mitigation in Tasmania by streamlining approval processes to reduce fuel and mechanically clear vegetation, and ensuring clear accountability for landholders and occupants. Enough to clear the politicians’ country chalets; how thoughtful!

Such is this frugal cornucopia emptied on fire protection, but Captain Courageous stands on his poop deck – and emotes “Thou shalt not enter, ye vermin from other States who dare to violate the purity on my Bailiwick.”

But for the time being, I am looking at this beautiful Huon pine bowl.

Gascon Paradox

This is probably well-known; thus, I apologise for those in the know. Nevertheless, it was mentioned during the preliminaries to cooking a goose for Christmas lunch. Gascony is considered that part of France in the Southwest below Bordeaux and stretches into the Basque country at the foot of the Pyrenees and to Bayonne nearer the coast where the rivers flow from the mountains.

Gascony

Bayonne is famous for its cured ham – so the story goes, a mediaeval nobleman was out hunting and mortally wounded a wild boar which escaped, only to be found some months later dead in a hot briny pool. The carcass had been so cured by the brine in the intervening months, such that the discoverers waxed lyrical and Bayonne ham was born with all the attendant requirements, which the French love to impose, such as in this case special river salt that is needed to cure it … need I go on?

Gascons, who have affinity to these Bayonne Basques, are believed to be the owners of a gastronomic paradox. To paint a suitably gourmand picture, foie gras is one of the delicacies of Gascony but if one is to eat it one has to turn a blind eye to the process of gavage where the goose is force fed so that its liver suffers fatty degeneration, and then the bird is harvested, its liver to destined  inter alia to be spread on toast. I must admit to having had such a breakfast, beats rice bubbles and Vegemite on toast – at least in France. Sorry, I did feel not any pangs – to me it is just an exotic form of dripping .

Condom Armagnac

However, that is the Gascon way. They eat loads of goose and duck fats – saturated fats to the brim – and yet the Gascons live the longest of any Frenchman or woman, with the lowest incidence of heart disease. There are various reasons given – you know, they have an amazing leguminous diet, but the reason I like best is that Gascony is an area where  fine dry wine from Bordeaux is produced, and imbibing that in moderation has a positive effect in countering the fat. They even mention, as one moves across Gascony to Condom from where Armagnac, the source of oldest top-flight brandy, has been made since the thirteenth century, one can begin to salivate at the prospect of a cooked goose. Armagnac is the foxglove extract of France.

To make a point, our goose was moreover well and truly cooked.

The roast goose on Christmas Day was perfect; it is a difficult bird to cook well. The line for it being overcooked is thin and then, as experienced by us many years ago, the goose becomes tough and inedible. The traditional cold goose on Boxing Day was well complemented by the fennel and orange salad. The company was perfect in the Padlocked City.

But the Chateau Rothschild will have to wait.

Retreat into Reality

I am so sick and tired of incompetence and/or corruption of government, where deceit is a valued commodity in a Pentecostal cloak, which has now assumed the dimensions once afforded to the Masons’ secret handshake.

So much so, that I have retreated into the reality of the most memorable opening scenes of films that I have seen during my life.

The first is Out of Africa, where the opening scene, Kenya 1913, is of a steam train coursing across the empty savannah Plain. It is a spare train, few carriages and then the first image of Meryl Streep. She has a luminosity as though encased in an aureole.  The image is brief.

Merryl Streep

Then onwards – images of the train coming into focus, crossing more fertile country, always mountains in the background. Night falls, and only the train’s headlamp and lights in the carriage burn bright, and then it is next morning and the train reaches its destination. People, apart from that fleeting glimpse of Merryl Streep as Karen Blixen as appear for the first time.  The background wistful yet lush music of John Barry is a perfect accompaniment to this beautiful opening scene.

Then there is number two, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It is 1961. The vision of a yellow taxi driving down a deserted Fifth Avenue around dawn and depositing this slim figure in black with the beehive hairdo in front of Tiffany’s is one of minimalist elegance. Whether any actress other than Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly could have provided such panache with so little movement would have been a challenge. Eating a pretzel and drinking coffee from a paper cup without fumbling is in line with the minimalism.

For an instant, in front of the Tiffany’s window, she is the lady behind the bar at the Folies Bergère in the Manet painting of the same name, and then she is drifting around the corner, down 95th street, finally depositing the food bag in a trash receptacle. All the time, Moon River is being played.

The third is Chariots of Fire where, after the memorial service introduction, we see this phalanx of young men in the training gear of the time, white shirt and shorts running through the shallows, supposedly at Broadstairs in Kent, where the British team was in training in Paris for the 1924 Olympic Games. The fact that they were running in bare feet is emphasised in the first shot. This opening sequence was shot in Scotland near St Andrew’s Golf Course and that the other runners were essentially a bunch of golf caddies is just too much inconsequential information. The fact that the final clip from this opening scene sees the running pack traversing the first hole at St Andrew’s, rather than the Carlton Hotel’s lawns on the Kent foreshore, did not diminish the expectations for a film which celebrated an idealistic romantic notion of heroism. That is the reality I like – and the Vangelis theme helped.

I could not summarise the theme better than the composer himself – Vangelis was a somewhat more convenient name than Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou.

Lord Lindsay aka Lord Burleigh

He recalled the dilemmas of Eric Liddell, the Scottish athlete who would not run on a Sunday because it was contrary to his Christian beliefs; Lord Lindsay, who selflessly gave Liddell his slot in a weekday heat so that the Scot could compete in the Olympics; Harold Abrahams, the Jewish runner ostracised by the establishment. All were men who would not compromise on their values, no matter the cost.

“If you look for truth you have to be courageous. My main inspiration was the story itself. The rest I did instinctively, without thinking about anything else, other than to express my feelings with the technological means available to me at the time.”

The title “Chariots of Fire” brought me back to the where and now. The term derives from the Old Testament and it is adopted as a metaphor by William Blake. Jerusalem, the choral interpretation of his poem, is embedded in my brain. We sang it so often at school. The men above deserved a “chariot of fire” as their accolade.

If Blake could descend in a chariot of fire and see our Australia, would he wonder whether we could ever build Jerusalem among our own dark satanic coal mines. But we should finish the anthem – and the race which both Abraham and Liddell ran beyond their Olympic participation is equally applicable to us Australians – a universal call

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem

Safe as a Bronte Beach Santa Party

Anonymouse

First fireworks, and now cricket – what is the NSW Government thinking? Picture this: in the red corner, Cricket Australia, the SCG and the McGrath Foundation, and in the blue corner, “the best medical advice” of NSW.  So, who won the bout between cricket and good public health sense? Well, who do you think? But the more pertinent question is who lost, and the answer is the people of NSW.

At the same time as the Premier of NSW has the northern beaches locked up and the best medical advice to everyone in greater Sydney is don’t go out for new year’s eve, apparently it is perfectly OK for up to 125,000 people to travel by public transport to the SCG, mingle as they enter and exit and sit in the stands unmasked (that’s 25k for each day of the test). How can this be so?

Memo to Gladys:  Cancel the cricket, give the McGrath Foundation the million or two dollars that it raises at a Sydney test (and in the long run that will be a bargain compared with the massive cost of many COVID cases and a protracted lockdown that inevitably will be caused by the super spreader test), send the cricketers and their entourages packing to somewhere much safer for them and for NSW.  Stop mucking around with the lives of the people of NSW, lock down greater Sydney and mandate mask wearing immediately until you actually have this outbreak under control.

With the Northern Beaches and Croydon outbreaks growing and the potential for weeks or months of lockdown looming as happened in Melbourne, having fireworks and allowing five days of cricket with spectators to go ahead is about as responsible as the Bondi Beach Santa party. Time will tell – if the cricket goes ahead – whether all the predictions of it being the super spreader of all time are realised. If so, NSW’s world best contract tracing system won’t amount to a hill of beans.  We still don’t know who was the source of the Avalon cluster, or who has pushed so hard for the Test to go ahead in Sydney and why the NSW Government is taking such a huge risk in allowing it?

Mouse Whisper

I get sick and tired of hearing this doggerel. You know that one that starts “A for horses”… “B for mutton”….”C for yourself” and ends up “X for breakfast”, “Y for husband” and “Z for breezes”. For the least comprehending of you guys read, in order:

Hay

Beef

See

Eggs

Wife

Zephyr (incorporates the “for”)

I bet you are all slapping your thighs with laughter and emoting “How clever”. But it is a clue to the reason for the title of the blog in the twisted mind of my mausmeister … if you can be bothered. I believe he is going to publish the hundred Blog title names after he reaches that centenary blog.

X for breakfast

Modest Expectations – Archie MacLaren

There never was a cricketer with more than the grandeur of A. C. MacLaren. When I think of his play now, years after it all happened, the emotions that stir in me afresh, and all my impressions of it, are mingled with emotions and impressions I have had from other and greater arts than bat and ball. 

Thus spake Neville Cardus, once the doyen of cricketing savants. But what is the relevance to this Christmas blog about an English captain who never won a series against Australia. I shall leave it as a challenge to those who can be bothered, like my teenage grandson Luka who is already a cricketing tragic with better-than-average all-rounder credentials.

One of the more recent cricketing traditions around Christmas has been the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, but in 1951, the third test in Adelaide finished on Christmas Day, with only the second defeat of the Australian cricket team since the end of World War 2. The West Indian cricketers broke into a spontaneous calypso. At that time, their major West Indian strike bowlers were:

(a) Sonny Ramadhin, of Indian descent from Trinidad, who bowled both right hand leg and off break without a discernible change in his action. His off break was not the conventional “googly”. He bowled with cap on head and his sleeves done up. It is not recorded whether he ever wore an overcoat while bowling during a damp English tour. However, at 91 he is still alive. A quirky fact about Ramadhin was that he was not given a Christian name at birth, acquired Sonny later on to disguise this fact and moreover was given fictitious initials “KT” presumably for further respectability.

(b) Alf Valentine, a Jamaican who bowled left-arm off-spinners with a vicious tweak. While Sonny was tiny, Alf was tall. Alf, who was a year younger than his “spin twin”, died in 2004.

Together, they destroyed Australia that day, and everybody was able to indulge themselves in a Christmas dinner as the Test conveniently finished before four in the afternoon. Given the Australian view at that time about doing anything on Sundays and religious holidays, I have no memory of any controversy about cricket being played on a Holy Day.

Memories of Christmas

When I was small, Christmas, even at the height of wartime, was magical because there was always a large Christmas tree and it was always decorated with the mostly homemade decorations that my mother made, scrounged and generally tried to drown the tree in cheerful decoration. Whence I was a small boy I loved the intense green colour of the pine tree. In the second week of January in the hot summer sun, it was sad to see the pine tree lying, browning, discarded on the nature strip when two weeks before its brilliant green frame seemed to touch the ceiling with the star on the top. Mother was religious; father was not. I felt that the Christmas tree bound our small family together.

I learnt early to read “not to be opened until December 25”; but everybody excused Little Johnny when his sneak preview damaged the signage too much to be repaired. Poor little Johnny can’t read – you can’t expect him to know. Oh yeah!

Notwithstanding, my father seemed to be a ghostly presence in my early years during the War when he was bouncing back from naval duty and then disappearing again up North. He came back to graduate as a doctor in early 1946. When I think about it, he seemed to buy my Christmas presents with an eye to himself. I remember the Hornby replica of the Flying Scotsman train; then there was a Meccano Set, much more complicated than my competence or interest. From a child anyway I was never much interested in building things or gadgets. My father on the other hand loved gadgets; and he liked collecting them and books.

I always liked the stocking because of the mysterious bulges which turned out to be mostly edible. However, the wonderment remained until I found out that Santa Claus did not exist. Not that we ever put out a glass of milk or a biscuit or whatever. Still, it was a shock I do remember, and after that Christmas never had the same edge of belief and wonderment.

I had never thought about the underlying deceit and lies from that first encounter at Christmas. At the same time we were all solemnly told not to lie as children, and I more or less obeyed. In our society, however truthfulness is not universally rewarded while untruthfulness is not punished. Truth is slippery, and our perception of it nudges our belief system. In the case of Santa Claus, it is rationalised by adults as a good spirit, but to a small child, such abstract thought is years away.

While deception is part of life and is the basic tool of the magician, lying deliberately can become pathological, and when occurring in a person of influence such as Trump it can be destructive. His apparent success has encouraged other politicians, especially those who have had a career of essentially talking in tongues, distorting perceptions, to abandon, ignore or be extremely inventive around telling the truth.

I wonder if the underlying cause is the harsh parent syndrome, where no matter what explanation, you are going to receive a severe dose of corporal punishment. “It was not me,” Donald screamed, “It was my bruvver.”

But then Trump’s father’s second name was “Christ”. 

Ruminations prompted by St Lucia’s day

In 1700, Sweden, which included Finland at the time, planned to convert from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. 

Therefore 1700, which should have been a leap year in the Julian calendar, was not a leap year in Sweden. However, 1704 and 1708 became leap years by error. This left Sweden out of synchronization with both the Julian and the Gregorian calendars, so the country reverted back to the Julian calendar.

February 30, 1712, came into existence in Sweden when the Julian calendar was restored and two leap days were added that year. Sweden’s final conversion to the Gregorian calendar occurred in 1753, when an 11-day correction was applied so that February 17 was succeeded by March 1 that year. Not everyone was pleased with the calendar reform. Some people believed it stole 11 days of their lives.

This exercise in calendrical calisthenics was also applied in terms of St Lucia’s Day which falls on December 13, which under the old Julian calendar was the winter solstice, but the tradition has persisted despite the Gregorian calendar.

St Lucia lived in Sicily in the fourth century C.E. and was an early martyr to male jealousy. She had a suitor who would not accept her giving her life to God. He and his pagan mates tried to burn her and when that did not work, they stabbed her in the throat. She has become the patron saint of virginity, kindness and the blind.  She was also supposed to have taken food to Christians hiding in the catacombs, wearing a headdress of candles to light the way so she could have her hands free to carry the provisions. Allegedly some monks brought her story to Scandinavia and everybody was so entranced that she has her own day in the Swedish calendar.

She even has her own signature buns (lussekatter)– dotted with raisins and a touch of saffron for taste, to be eaten for breakfast.

Lucia, the bearer of light

My Swedish friend sent me a link to wonderful choral performance, to celebrate the day. It was presumably at dusk on this shortest of days. A recent quote sums to beautifully provide another insight relevant to the celebration. The most important thing is to hold that tiny spark of life, if it is in a bud, in a seed, that is our work, to hold on to life, so when spring comes back, there can be growth. 

The choir is essentially composed of young people in white robes with a red ribbon tied around the waist. Red is the liturgical colour for saints. In this video they were all young women. The lead singer of the choir had a garland on her head, with nine candles. She represents Lucia, the bearer of light. In the background are a number of young male choristers who, as distinct from those in white are well rugged up in identical clothes and a scarf twisted over to cover their necks. The viewers know the depth of the cold by the condensation in the air as they sing; no indoor auditorium for these young people.

There is a section of young children singing in a snug festive room as they make Christmas decorations, there is a music section with an alto saxophonist and double bass; in one section the singer, who is accompanied by a piano accordion, is in traditional Sámi dress in front of a lavvu with reindeer roaming in the backgound. I presumed, by the presence of Swedish subtitles, that the singing in this segment was in Sámi. The concert was an hour long, and the link: https://www.svtplay.se/video/29267198/luciamorgon-fran-jukkasjarvi

Watching and listening to this concert made me think of the paradox of Christmas. Christmas has become just that – a celebration in the snow. All the trappings, all the sentimentality is linked to images of Northern Europe or those areas of North America where the pine trees are the backdrop and the images are of clear starry cold nights with reindeer, sleigh rides, snowmen (never snow women – or have I missed something?).

But when the Nativity was wowing them in Bethlehem, there was not a reindeer or sleigh in sight.

Yet in Jordan we travelled down from the freezing mountains, where shepherds watched their flocks by night, and the skies were clear. We encountered, in this country where Christ may have walked, both frankincense and myrrh for sale. These, together with gold, the wise men may have bought on the way. Sitting in the adobe shop, I could have imagined that this could have been the case, and then the three wise men deciding whether the baby needed swaddling clothes as well.

Petra – The Treasury

Travelling through Jordan, there is the reminder of not only Christianity but of other religions, their faith and their architecture. The most stunning is the rock city of Petra built by the Nabateans, Arabs of whom there is sketchy knowledge, but they were polytheistic and important in managing the regional trade routes. Petra is just the most breathtaking manifestation of the way the peoples who populated modern day Jordan approached their beliefs. Standing on the top of Mount Nebo, one of the most sacred sites for both Christians and Jews, we gazed out over the landscape where many of the settlements have Biblical reference, among these Bethlehem lying 50 kilometres away to the west.

One of the common threads in religious belief is the celebration of the winter solstice, and Christmas is no different. However, in Jordan there is a degree of authenticity, where snow may be on the peaks, in winter while at sea level the pasture remains green and fertile along the Sea of Galilee. By authenticity, it should be recognised that the Nativity was a time when Arabs and Jews merged into a common heritage as they gathered around the newly-born Infant.

However, to have a Christmas tradition re-cast in the starkness of the Middle East, where Peace on Earth is a rare commodity.  The nativity is not just a play for infants performing before treacly parents. The Swedes showed in their celebration of St Lucia’s day that children are only one part. The problem with so many of the Christmas carols is that they refer to the Northern European latter-day traditions rather than to the Land in which Christ was born. I portrayed this conundrum in a short story I once wrote; and there are only a few that tie the birth of Christ to where it occurred in their Christmas observance. The processional “Once in Royal David’s City” is one such hymn.

Let us have a Palestinian Christmas – just once. When I went to Bethlehem, there were a substantial number of Christian Arabs. That was 25 years ago when I took a ten-minute taxi drive from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. How times have changed. Still, in Australia we can have Christmas in the desert. It would be more authentic, but it is the longest day here. After that, it is all downhill to winter.

Still, as I write I see the decorated fir tree in the window of our house. We are prisoners of tradition, no matter how this observance contrasts with what I have written. Would I substitute a coolabah tree or native cypress covered in Antipodean detritus? I think I would, and who needs candles when we have so much daylight and the Southern Cross?

 My first Christmas December 25, 1939

Winston Churchill’s message on that day:

There is a certain similarity between the position now and at the end of 1914. The transition from peace to war has been accomplished. The outer seas, for the moment at any rate, are clear from enemy surface craft. The lines in France are static. But in addition on the sea we have repelled the U-boat attack … and we can see our way through the magnetic mine novelty. Moreover, in France the frontier is maintained instead of six or seven of the French provinces and Belgium being in the enemy’s hands. Thus I feel we may compare the position now very favourably with that of 1914. And also I have the feeling (which may be corrected at any moment) that the Kaiser’s Germany was a much tougher than Nazi Germany.

I shut my eyes. It is as though Boris Johnson is talking. Churchill was lucky; over to you, Bojo. Got a rabbit foot handy?

Mouse Whisper

I understand that this was not a boy called Christopher questioning.

Apparently, this little child asked his father “where does poo come from Daddy?”

His father explained it to him and a look of horror came over the child’s cherubic face, “And Piglet?”

Happy Christmas to all and May your Yuletide never go out.
Don’t forget putting Mirth into the Myrrh, Sense into Frank and Gold into AUz.