Modest Expectations – A Player at Kooyonga

I am from Baltimore, born and bred. Grew up at the inner harbor, Patapsco River…oh yeah Hon, ain’t the beer cold and let’s get some Natty Bohs and jumbos! I now live in Southern California. I was in the desert two days ago and a young woman, who happens to be a car salesperson (I was shopping for cars) got to talking to me about the bridge collapse. Lawd have mercy…may I repeat, she’s a car salesperson…she starts in with how the Bay Pilot did it on purpose. Steered directly for the main support pillars and took out the FSK Bridge. I said, but the freighter lost power and is more or less the size of Nimitz Aircraft Carrier going eight knots and you think he can just turn it on a dime…? Her eyes glazed over…Social media has done far more harm than good is all I’m saying. You should watch this guy on YouTube. He debunks conspiracy theories-this one pertaining to FSK Bridge. – A person responding in Boston Globe.

The above comment is from a despairing person with real knowledge, epitomised in his response to a “no nothing” conditioned by social media conspiracy misinformation, rather than looking around how much the World and seeing how vulnerable the infrastructure of the United States, both urban and rural, is at present. It is in desperate need of renewal. Above is the Tobin Bridge, the largest in New England, spanning the Mystic River connecting Boston with Chelsea, 3.2 km in length. It is a cantilever truss bridge and its structure is such that it has been considered likely to survive a hit by a 95,000 tonne container ship, unlike the FSK bridge. Yet a heavy gravel truck hit one of the pylons on the bridge in 1973 collapsing the upper deck and killing the driver of the truck. Bridges are vulnerable, especially as many are old and need updated defence mechanisms.

The collapse of the FSK Bridge is not first incident due to a ship losing power. For instance, the NYT reminded us that in 2015, a 600-foot freighter lost propulsion as it travelled along the Delaware River between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Seconds before the vessel reached the Burlington-Bristol Bridge, it crashed into the bank of the river instead, averting disaster.

As the NYT reported this week “In the days after last month’s disaster in Baltimore, officials in Massachusetts began taking a fresh look at Boston’s Tobin Bridge, a truss span that carries more than 40,000 vehicles each day across the Mystic River but does not have a protection system for its piers.”

The authorities have relied on navigation protocols including twinning of pilot vessels to take the ships down the Mystic River, but in the light of the FSK bridge disaster, everything is up for evaluation. The problem is that there is a need to renovate America and Trump controls sufficient politicians in Congress to stop anything worthwhile occurring all in the name of his narcissistic misanthropy. He wants to block everything if it enables him to become President and then he can blame Biden for not doing anything. That may give him undue credit.

Behind Trump lurks Steve Bannon. Trump was never very intelligent even before the dementia settled in, had no sense of morality and lived in a cocoon of deceit governed by infant tantrums. Nevertheless, he was enabled to become President of the United States, by unexpectedly beating an overconfident, unloved candidate.

Underlying much of the current community angst, alienation and ethnic hatred triptych was the perceived government complacency which enabled the 9/11 attack by “vile foreign immigrants” to occur. This tragedy has had this deep psychological effect on America which has never been healed, unlike Pearl Harbour which was avenged not only by Japanese surrender but also by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Bannon is the person to rip open the unhealed scar.  He is a nihilist – somebody who would create a Killing Fields in America under the mantra of MAGA inciting the destruction of all that he hates. By November, unless he is stopped, even Murdoch should be afraid if a demented Trump is re-elected as President. And just to remind those who are supporting Biden, Hindenburg was 85 years old, feeble but still able to pass Germany over Herr Hitler, then 43 years. Bannon is 70 – “the new 50”.

Revenge is the most primitive response of the person slighted. In contrast, take South Africa, where the atrocities of the white regime were forgiven by Nelson Mandela, reinforced by his reconciliation commission led by Archbishop Tutu. Enough was then done to sustain the integrity of the country, despite having to live with people like Zuma, a kleptomaniac as President.

Thus, a major bridge collapse is a metaphor for America. A rogue uncontrolled destructive event. Bridge protection has relied on timber palisades which have rotted and were never built to withstand being hit by the modern colossal container ship or cruise boats. Nationwide, little has been done to address the problem, although the technology exists with the pylons able to be protected.

Dolphins

Those structures — known as dolphins — are circular concrete constructions located near a bridge’s central supports. Vessels are meant to crash into them if they veer off track in the shipping channel, diverting them from collision with the bridge. In fact, in 1980 a cargo ship crashed into one of the dolphins protecting the FSK bridge, demolishing the dolphin but sparing the bridge. Bridges need to be more strongly protected. Dolphins, if they are the solution, need to be appropriately strengthened. Apparently, the container ship which demolished the FSK Bridge avoided striking any of the dolphins already in place. The challenge that remains is to protect these essential structures, which carry a huge amount of traffic each day remain, as does my metaphor.

The latter-day conspiratorial theorists also remain.

Brain Fog 

One of my co-morbidities is characterised by blood hyperviscosity. In other words, the blood flow is sluggish, and therefore the brain gets its nutrients just as sluggishly.  Well, that is the theory. In any event, the cause was the level of my macroglobulins which had risen to the edge of the precipice of no return, despite me being regularly reviewed by a consultant physician. The highest level my replacement consultant specialist, an oncologist, had ever seen in a patient not hospitalised. I received an urgent call when he reviewed my blood biochemistry informing me to be emergency admitted to hospital. However, to me, his preferred destination, the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital is not somewhere I wish to go.

I successfully argued against hospitalisation and fortunately, demonstrated that as I was still writing my blog, which an independent source said made sense, I sustained my contention that I did not have brain fog. Nobody had bothered to define brain fog, and if you read the narrative about the condition, you realise after the fact how unhelpful the description is. The sensation is unlike fog over the Canberra airport, the brain circling waiting the fog to clear. There the simile ends because the cerebral affliction is not fog in the meteorological sense.

I must confess I had one small episode. I looked at my watch, and I could not connect with it telling the time. I do not know how long this episode lasted, but it was so strange, and I did not realise what it was until it cleared. It was a very strange sensation – not fog – just non-recognition of what I started out to do, read the time.

There was another sensation, which I did not immediately equate to so-called “brain fog”. When I woke up in the morning, it was as though the dream had not ended even though I felt I was awake. I am a very visual person, invoking my knowledge of neurolinguistics, which explains that I need visual clues as entry to my sense of touch and all actions derived from this sense. In other words, I am very much guided by what I see before what I do; but in this case because the visual effects were so incongruous, I moved invoking the sense of touch without reference to the visual distortion. By moving, it broke me away from that bizarre visual sensation, which I have described below. It recurred every morning, until one morning it was no longer there, presumably because the therapy started to work.

Anyway, I had this vision of a wall, always red and composed of jigsaw pieces – shapes without any order – scattered across my visual fields. Then as I moved to get up out of bed, it vanished. I tended not to think further, but then after it cleared, I wondered whether this was so-called “brain fog”.

I hope theses observations may be useful in clearing any haziness that may exist surrounding the definition of “brain fog”.

Searching for Mr Lehrmann

It was on March 2, 1836, that a delegation of 59 men gathered at Washington on the Brazos River to draft a Declaration of Independence and establish a constitution for a new nation. They declared Texas a “free, sovereign and independent republic.” Washington County, the “Birthplace of Texas,” is etched in the history books forever.

Brenham is the county seat for this historic and scenic region.

         Brenham, Tx

Brenham is 113km northwest of Houston and 145 km southeast of the State Capital Austin. Brenham is where Kirby Lehrmann was born in 1927. During his long life he became a successful cotton farmer in the area and a well-respected member of that Texan community. His 2020 obituary mentions as a grandson “Bruce Lehrmann of Australia”. His wife died two years before, and her obituary mentions both grandchildren “Bruce and Bobby Jane Lehrmann of Australia”.

Bruce Lehrmann was born in 1995 in Texas. His father Robert Wayne “Bob” Lehrmann was born in 1949 and married Annie Laurie Lusk (possibly cousins) in 1970. His father in 1990 subsequently married Lynden Jane Tapscott from the NSW town of Moree. He died of a heart attack in 1997, two years after Bruce had been born in the city of College Station. The Tapscotts are a well-established family in Moree; there is even a road named after the family.

While it is not clear when it occurred, after their father’s death Bruce and his sister went back to Australia with their mother.

Bobby Jane went to the Glennie school in Toowoomba, then between 2016 and 2018 attended both Queensland University of Technology (Bachelor of Journalism) and Griffith University (Diploma of Italian Language and Literature). She then had short-term jobs, before returning to Texas in 2019.

Currently she is Assistant Director of Communication for the City of College Station in Texas, incidentally the city where her brother was born. If you look at her curriculum vitae from 2016 to 2018, she was a busy person as the Bachelor degree was three years full-time and the Diploma two years part-time; but at the same time she had a number of jobs. She left Australia in 2019 and has been employed in a variety of positions in Texas since.

Her brother’s early life is more opaque than that of his sister. He attended Toowoomba Grammar School and he lived with his mother in an exclusive suburb in Toowoomba with a guy, who apparently won The Golden Casket and turned the lottery winnings into being a successful property developer in and around Toowoomba. Bruce after he left school moved to Canberra and commenced an Arts degree at the ANU.

Once you lay out the known circumstances, how can the trajectory of Bruce Lehrmann through the lounge suites of Liberal ministers be explained? Without any apparent expertise, an 18-year-old has ended up as a close adviser to the Minister of Defence. However, his private life is speckled and his fateful encounter with Miss Higgins after an alcohol-fuelled night in Canberra in 2019 tossed him into the spotlight.

He was subsequently employed by British Tobacco, who sacked him when the Higgins allegation came to light.

Having survived his 2022 ACT trial for allegedly raping Miss Higgins in 2019, Lehrmann must now face charges of rape committed allegedly in 2021. Lehrmann was first charged with rape in Toowoomba in January 2023. The matter has been the subject of numerous hearings due to prosecutors challenging the scope of medical and phone data evidence requested by his defence team. He faces court in June this year – a drawn out process.

For Lehrmann, with so many issues that must involve inter alia engagement of lawyers, here is a man who in the cold light of asking why this outsider had suddenly become a person whom the Liberal Party – backed by the right-wing media (and, as it turns out, allegedly with some of his bills being paid by Channel 7) – seems able to afford the type of legal representation that would bankrupt most people.

However, the more important question is why was this Texan-born, undistinguished man, while still a teenager, become the centrepiece of the conservative side of politics. What don’t we know?

The overlying question is why is there so much protection being afforded to Bruce Lehrmann. There is nothing in his early life to suggest anything out of the ordinary.

I wondered initially whether he was indeed Bruce Lehrman, but someone else had assumed that identity. However, I have followed the family connection, (which incidentally has just taken time but on the face of it was not particularly difficult – it is all on the public record). Thus, it would be a very elaborate stratagem to seed all the clues in order to convince us to believe that there is this different man masquerading as Bruce Lehrmann.

Ministerial Entrance

Nevertheless, the unexplained is the most intriguing. Why was this young American catapulted into the Ministerial suite, with access apparently to sensitive documentation, including the French proposal to build nuclear submarines, later aborted.

I presume he has dual nationality, and although he would qualify for employment by the CIA for instance, it would be highly unusual. But there is a kernel of an idea, especially if this innocuous character had access to the French nuclear submarine arrangements. In other words what vital information does Mr Lehrmann have to merit such almost hysterical protection.

Obviously the attention he has attracted has not been helpful to whoever is his boss, he conforming to the adage of independence of action being inversely proportional to the controversy generated. The play acting around all of Mr Lehrmann’s behaviour may be a smokescreen, drawing attention away from the real reason for Mr Lehrmann being here and not decamping back to Texas as his sister has done.

I must not be on my Pat Malone in these thoughts. There must have been some investigative journalists who have been trawling through the real reason for Mr Lehrmann being able to afford an opulent lifestyle, and whether money is being funnelled from American sources to sustain him. But then that would implicate too many people to sustain the secrecy, or would it?

The Head Tradie 

Crikey’s Bernard Keane epitomises what has been lost in the modern journalists – an intelligent perspicacious grasp of what a journalist needs to do beyond vomiting up public relations written media releases.

Keane alluded to Dutton’s alleged strategy of trying to credibly claim to be “a party of the worker” while not being in favour of actual workers. In favour of workers, as Keane writes, means supporting an industrial relations system that delivers pay rises, rather than wage stagnation; one that enables workers to share the benefits of productivity growth and shifts some of the profit share of national income back to workers, reversing the trend of most of the past decade.

All of this goes against the traditional conservative constituency of the Liberal Party, the employers whether as described as “big business” or the small business employers, the shop keepers and other modest employers, people who nevertheless are employers of labour. Once, the Liberal Party could rely on the professions as part of its constituency, but not anymore.

Thus Dutton, in the end, cannot carry out his slogan if he were serious without alienating his traditional base. He may do so by using the Trump playbook of stimulating community anxiety and alienation coupled with demonising immigrants. I suspect that may get some purchase in this country, especially with right wing media backing. This is unlikely in the general population, but Albanese has such a “tin ear” that anything could happen by the next election.

The opportunity for Dutton to modify his slogan is glaringly obvious. His constituency is among the “tradies”. These are a growing important constituency of wealthy small business owners, who control much of the nation’s economy by providing vital services. This constituency does not arise from the leafy middle class but from the traditional working class. These mostly men are the electricians, the plumbers, the painters, the carpenters, the earth movers, the gas fitters, the builders. All these tradies I have used – notice how much they cost and yet how essential they are in a society where the provision of housing is approaching crisis point and where there is a scarcity of these skilled tradies.

This is a constituency that can afford large petrol or diesel powered vehicles, enjoy hunting and fishing, can afford to take the family on holidays inter alia to Queensland, and in the main live in a male world, in the traditional heterosexual society which does not write the opinion pieces of tomorrow’s sublimation in the media ether.

Yes, I know this is a generalisation, but analysis of the recent Dunkley election would give my hypothesis credence. Therefore, Dutton need not announce that he leads “a Party of the worker”, when tradies have separated themselves from a Labor party whose policies are now being fashioned by the cognoscenti of the inner suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne. See Sam Mostyn, yon Dutton, and see hope of your resurrection – if that is the word for a man with the mien of an undertaker if not his more aspirational worker, the grave digger.

I would be interested in Bernard Keane’s views. 

Remembrance Day

Just a reminder of what I wrote on the eve of Remembrance Day last year. I think the Australian Government should be ashamed, especially those former Prime Ministers who signed that disgraceful grovelling letter – in flowing serif, of course.

Wong, who affects this air of  concern, and Albanese who is increasingly becoming a hapless jester performing in the “Opening of an Envelope” should think deeply about whether they should resign. But needless to say, they won’t. After all, Wong was the first to achieve a life-time Platinum membership of the Captains Club, a place where concern for the masses is well tranquillised.

Netanyahu seems to be emulating a version of what the Romans did to Carthage, sowing the land with salt; Netanyahu is creating mountains of rubble. How is Netanyahu going to delight his far-right constituency enshrouded in black and hatred as they do their ritual prancing. I for one was not particularly enchanted by the sight of these people spitting at Christians. What a good idea, kill every Palestinian Christian as well.

I do not condone war. I do not condone brutality. I do not condone torture. I am ashamed of former Australian Prime Ministers being seduced by the Zionists to sign a Netanyahu panegyric. At least Gillard should have known better.  Paul Keating to his credit refused.

In many ways the USA has led the modern world, including Australia into a morass where any moral compass has been lost. In any comments, nobody would condone what Hamas did, any more than actions depicted in those confronting images provided by ISIS showing what they did to their prisoners during the Iraq conflict would be condoned.

Much of this criminal behaviour is done in the name of religion. My fellow Australians condone what is happening in Gaza by a group of adherents who constitute 0.4 per cent of our population, who seem collectively to be cheering one of the monstrous perpetrators in this morass, Bibi Netanyahu. We with connivance of the media have allowed a range of stunted sociopaths to glimmer in this morass trickling towards Armageddon.

Mouse Whisper 

As they were driving up the ramp off the freeway, they saw a Bonza 737-MAX coming in to land at Albury airport.

She commented on its purple livery, with BONZA prominently displayed on the sides of the plane.

He said: “Like seeing a night parrot.”

For those who need an explanation, the night parrot was thought to be extinct, but rediscovered, but remains highly endangered. Mouse Esq.

Modest Expectations 263 – A Frank Commentary

An Easter Poem

Albino afro

            He sit in clink

His eyes a salmon pink

 


Pigmented Southern gent

            He sit in cell

With TB racked adrenal




Jaundiced fundamentalist

            He sit in gaol

His shrivelled liver up for sale




The custodian on his plinth

            He who cry perfection

I am up for re-election




And who am I to release unto you

            And they as one cried

He who washes white




Release him, the white

            Because white is safer

Just as the Communion wafer




The three men

            There chained are led out

The restless mass as one do shout    




No that is not what we mean

             His colour out of whack

                        You take him back

and tar him pitch black.

When I was a small boy, I remember my mother had a beautiful amber necklace, the colour of which was not too dissimilar from that of the Roman perfume pot (pictured above) in the British Museum, except that the necklace was more translucent. When she rubbed it with a piece of fur, she demonstrated how the amber attracted a small flake of paper. To a small boy who had never heard of an electrostatic charge, it was magical. I was just observing what the Greek philosopher, Thales of Miletus had first observed around 600BC.

Amber has always been a favourite gem of mine. As I reported in an earlier blog, the Amber Room in the Catherine Palace in St Petersburg, 30 kilometres south of the city, is a dazzling exercise in butterscotch amber although it is a reconstruction (the Nazis having removed the original room which was never found).

Amber, the resultant of the fossilisation of pine resin millions of years ago, is found on the Baltic Coast. (It is also mined in the Dominican Republic, the source of blue amber and in Myanmar). Visiting Latvia even today, the amount of amber fashioned into cheap jewellery and trinkets is everywhere. The Latvian amber is opaque and what I would call custard yellow. I don’t find it appealing, but perhaps I was just exposed to touristy dross.

Based on the age of the amber bead, the researchers speculate that it may have reached Spain via the ancient trade networks of the Sepulcros de Fosa culture, which arose in Catalonia during the Middle Neolithic period before disappearing between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago.

To the archaeological experts of that period, it has just expanded knowledge of the range of European trade in the Neolithic period. One can still see evidence of this neolithic Catalonian culture in the funerary objects and the evidence of cave habitation. It should be realised that when our forbears linked the Aboriginal people to the Stone Age, they undervalued the level and sophistication of communication between these people, already culturally different, where language was one point of this differentiation. However, trade was one means that the various groups began to accommodate to this cultural diversity.

There are currently about 7000 languages spoken around the world, but this number is probably down from the peak of human linguistic diversity which occurred around 10,000 years ago, just before the agricultural revolution. Before that time, all human groups had been hunter-gatherers, living in small mobile tribal societies. Farming societies were demographically more prosperous and group sizes were larger than among hunter-gatherers, so the expansion of agriculturalist settlement likely replaced many smaller linguistic groups.

Today, there are few hunter-gatherer societies left and so our linguistic diversity reflects this European agricultural past. The Australian continent was the end of the line, and when an Aboriginal person boasts that his people are the oldest civilisation, he or she is saying that the civilisation is the oldest, unchanged.  There are 250 Aboriginal languages for about one million people, which tends to agree with generalisation above about hunter-gatherers (145 of these languages are still spoken).

The amber traders five millennia ago were part of a civilisation that vanished in what we call progress, but others may not. It serves to illustrate that the Aboriginal people did not conform to the whitefella progress to what is termed “civilisation”.

They developed a complex society based on being hunter-gatherers; so much so, for instance, that there was no drive to invent bows and arrows (one of the few peoples living on a land which was both tropical and temperate, coastal and desert – and where winter was comparatively mild.) White Australia failed to recognise this complexity and stigmatised them as “Stone Age” people.

This plaintive cry that the Aboriginal people did develop a post-agricultural revolution culture seems akin to the cultural cringe, which inflict some of our Australian whitefellas of Anglo-Celtic stock who have longed for the climate and mores of ‘The Old Country”.

You know being able to grow root crops was somewhat an advance on felling a wallaby at fifteen metres with a boomerang, where we whitefellas could not even see the animal. But we whitefella post-agriculturalists could plant root crops; obviously making us so less primitive. Really?

As for the Dark Emu, “Bruce, pull the other tuber – and by the way would you like a bush tomato, you know, the amber-coloured one. No need to have a sabbatical on banks of the Tigris now.”

The Most Over-Governed Parish in The World?

There he was – a man who plays the screen villain so well with a voice as beautifully modulated as that of Peter Lorre or Alan Rickman. I had sometimes wondered “Where was Eric?”

But no, on election night, we were witnessing the revenant, Eric. He was there in all his distinct personae, carefully reinterpreting fact persuasively to his extreme positions. He was this “partial” commentator, being broadcast nationally on “impartial” ABC television.

But then Eric is from “aways”, like we are. All Tasmanian invaders. Eric was more exotic, born in Stuttgart. His German lineage is what may be conservatively described as “right wing”. For example, quoting Wikipedia, Eric’s great uncle, Otto Abetz, was a Nazi SS officer, German ambassador to Vichy France, and a convicted war criminal. Eric’s grandfather was Karl Abetz, a professor of forestry science, who joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and became general consultant to the Reich Forestry Office in 1942.

But back to the main narrative. I advised Bill Snedden to develop a Tasmanian strategy after the 1974 election. I had noted there had been large swings in three of the electorates. Under the Australian Constitution each of the founding States was guaranteed at least five electorates. This led over time to the number of voters in each of the five Tasman electorates being far fewer than those of any electorate on the mainland. While other electorates could be created, modified or deleted, those in Tasmania remained much the same.

At that time in 1974 Tasmania was blessed with 79 local government areas, but Snedden wrote to each, specifying that “we were here to help”. He appointed one senior opposition politician to be in charge of the portfolio, Bob Ellicot. Labor held all five seats then, and it seemed to be a rational policy to entice Tasmanians to vote for the Coalition. Given how close the numbers in the House of Representatives were, call it “cynical” or “bribery”, it worked when the Bass by-election was called the next year with the retirement of Lance Barnard. Subsequently at the 1975 Federal election, all the seats became Liberal.

The fact that a military equivalent of a drover’s dog from aways won the Bass by-election reflected the neglect the Whitlam administration (he had excluded Barnard from discussions on the proposed 25 per cent tariff cut because it affected garment workers in Launceston) for Tasmania. The landslide victory in Bass was several months too late for Snedden’s survival.

But back to the main narrative. As one perspicacious commentator has said: “minority government is one that the majority of voters do not want.” I suspect it was Bob Brown, who consolidated this thread in Tasmanian politics by his fierce independence.

Tasmania has been lampooned as the place where if there was a tree, cut it down, especially native tree; if it was a river, dam it, and if it was a native animal, kill it. I remember when the sawmillers and the Hydroelectric Commission (HEC) ruled the State. Then there was the Mount Lyell mine, which turned Queenstown into a moonscape and the minerals used in the extraction of the copper and silver polluted the King River and Macquarie Harbour to such an extent that it was estimated that would take 200 years to clear up the pollution.

Then there was the annual Avoca wallaby shoot, counterpointed by the guilt realised of having rendered the Tasmanian tiger extinct by 1936. For years the Tasmanian press was full of reports about the sighting of this extraordinary marsupial. But these have gone more or less quiet. All that is left is the unwritten requiem.

But back to the main narrative of the recent election. Here there were two leaders. One, the Labor leader Rebecca White who has never had a real job; the Coalition Premier, Jeremy Rockliff, a farmer on a family property in northern Tasmania. Jeremy had alerted the wider global audience to spending $12m on a chocolate fountain, the enchantment of a Cadbury monument to dairy chocolate in the lead up to the election.

That aspiration was coupled with a proposal to build a huge stadium to be used a few times a year in a prime Hobart location – for an Australian Football League based in Jolimont Melbourne Victoria. This AFL office is in a choice location, so why should not a putative stadium for the Tasmanian Tigers be equally well located?

But then the AFL handed its clubs a total of $393m in funding for the 2023 season, and still made a profit of $27m. What about the foetal Tasmanian Tigers? The AFL could fund the stadium in say, Glenorchy, on cheaper land. The Premier before the election was acting like one of the “joy boys” – the cheerleaders for the Jolimont jock-strappers. There is a pathetic aspiration of wanting to be loved by the players, to rub shoulders with the liniment of champions. Will a billion dollars do?

Well, Jeremy did lose the election with a swing against his Willie Wonka aspirations – only lost 12 per cent. But he retained government.

The method of voting, the Hare-Clark system, used to elect seven members for each of the electorates based on their Federal counterparts leaves the eventual election result taking several weeks to emerge. Eighteen is the magic number for election; it was clear early in the count that no Party would reach that figure.

Labor did miserably, but the Greens picked up five seats. In other words, these two parties which have been in an uneasy alliance before totalled fifteen seats between them. As with most matters in Tasmania there are a couple of maverick independents. But then there is the charismatic populist. Jacqui Lambie is the classic authoritarian personality, who in the end will “piss” her erstwhile followers off by her actions.

Not that she isn’t smart, but one witnessed her having three of her acolytes elected in the Tasmanian election, while at the same time breaking up with her colleague in the Senate. She publicly boasts that her Jacqui Lambie Network has no policies. It exists because “La Duchessa’ is just her – a media apparition with a distinct personality and a voice which epitomises the knockabout Australian larrikin.

Yes, I do love Tasmania. It gives you everything, good and not so good, as long as you stay for enough time.

I Will Not Fly Qantas, Until They Boot Out the Joyce Clones

I remember the worst flight I ever experienced was between Townsville and Cairns in November 1956. I have written about it elsewhere, but in short, I was a passenger on TAA DC4-Skymaster, which ran into an electrical storm. Being unpressurised, the plane could not ascend above it; nor for that matter fly under it. It was dark, but I remember still clearly the beautiful sunset at the Townsville airport before embarkation. There was no hint of what was to come.

TAA DC4-Skymaster

In that year, over 400 people died in commercial flight accidents, the largest loss of life being over the Grand Canyon when two commercial airliners collided with 128 people killed. There was one fatal accident in Australia when a Royal Flying Doctor plane crashed with five on board near Derby. All died.

It was a time when flying was not as safe as it has been up until now, even though the number of flights was far less.

I used to travel over 50,000 airmiles a year, even after I retired before Covid intervened. I was a Qantas Platinum frequent flyer with a substantial cache of frequent flyer points. I never had any doubts about the safety of the airline, although I noticed that the standards in the cabin had begun to slip; damaged seats not fixed, inflight screens that did not work. The meals were increasingly frugal, and the leg room increasingly modelled on that provided for Irish leprechauns. The number of staff to assist seemed to melt away. Delay between anything happening increased.

It was about this time that I needed assistance, and as much as the ground staff tried, often I wondered whether I had been forgotten. My plight symbolised the Joycean fanatical cost cutting affecting customer service. The further one got away from this person, the service often seemed better. For instance, I flew Qantas Air Link frequently, and could not fault the service, even though the planes were increasingly shabby.

My loyalty to Qantas remained.

But not now. The constant news about the airline fills me with foreboding. Overall, the sacrifice of safety to boost the payout to Joyce will come back to haunt the Government. Joyce played the politicians with blarney and the mirror of exclusivity.

In return, I read Qantas has an ageing fleet of planes, not to be replaced because Boeing, the major supplier has also borrowed from the Joyce playbook, sacrificing safety for profits, epitomised by bits of their planes falling off or the controls being ungovernable.

Then get rid of your experienced, highly competent workforce as though there were no tomorrow. Nothing like having a disgruntled workforce or outsourcing critical areas where who knows the level of quality control. Then make sure you have no way of training and hiring a highly trained workforce – no succession planning except the top job.

The policy at present seems directed to induce artificial shortages; abandon air routes that are “not commercial”; increase the price of flying; maintain the monopoly by unfair if not illegal actions.

The resultant is a feeling of uncertainty. Yet there were no commercial airline crashes in 2023. One flight, Yeti Airlines 691, a turboprop ATR 72-500 stalled and crashed while landing at Pokhara in Nepal. All 72 people on board were killed. For some reason, it was not considered a commercial flight. ATR is a Franco-Italian aircraft manufacturer headquartered in Toulouse.

An air crash by a Qantas or Virgin flight where all are killed fortunately may be very unlikely – but is the government doing anything about confronting and minimising the rising risks, the result of compromising safety for assuring shareholder and Master Joyce’s profit?

The consequence of one disaster would be accompanied by public lamentations, pestering the relatives about the dead always portrayed as angels without fault, the repulsive sentence “we are taking the matter very seriously”, and politicians wedged in the exit doorway of the Chairman’s Lounges headed by the Prime Minister pushing son Nathan in his metaphorical pram of privilege. Then there are the endless Royal Commissions enriching lawyers and finally coming up with 500 recommendations, most of which will be ignored.

Plenty to do now I would have thought. Much cheaper and will assure safety before the fact.

Can Prostitution be Treason? Is it just a Reversible Equation?

A 2008 quote from President Donald Trump’s eldest son about his family’s assets.

“In terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. said at a New York real-estate conference that year. “Say, in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo, and anywhere in New York, we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Trump Jr.’s comment has taken on new meaning amid the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

America executed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953 for less. The Financial Times summarised the background in an article three years ago (sic). “There is now no doubt that Julius recruited Communist agents and passed information to the Russians, but recent evidence has proved that the always flimsy case against Ethel was based on nothing more substantial than personal prejudice, anti-Communist paranoia, and outright lies. On trial, essentially, were not her actions, but her political beliefs and reputation.

Ethel was pursued by the odious Ray Cohn, the aide to Senator McCarthy. Cohn later became a mentor to Trump. Cohn seemed to have sexual fantasies about Ethel Rosenberg, who at 35 years with two young boys, was executed on the order of President, Dwight D. Eisenhower for doing nothing more than being loyal to her husband, Julius, whose espionage amounted in the end to less than a row of proverbial beans. Certainly not enough to be put to death.

After all, parenthetically, is this the same America who want to put Julian Assange away for up to 175 years for telling the truth or if they could, judicially murder him; whilst letting that grub, Sam Bankman-Fried get only 25 years for stealing $8 billion from customers?

It seems so. A substantial number of Americans nod benignly towards Trump and his relationship with Putin, but then the Rosenbergs, whatever they were, did not deserve to die. I don’t think the Rosenbergs thumbed their noses at the American community as Trump has done, fomented by that metastatic Australian malignancy.

Mouse Whisper

Talking of the Orange, Trump won a couple of trophies at his own golf club this past fortnight. Rick Reilly, a golf journalist, in 2019 wrote a book about Trump’s golfing prowess entitled “Commander in Cheat”. 

“Trump doesn’t just cheat at golf,” Reilly wrote. “He throws it, boots it, and moves it. He lies about his lies. He fudges and foozles and fluffs. At Winged Foot, where Trump is a member, the caddies got so used to seeing him kick his ball back onto the fairway they came up with a nickname for him: ‘Pele’.”

Surprise, surprise. He is a no-show at projected pro-am tournament, where his booting skills would be very difficult to justify-unless he was classified as four-legged and had the stick in his mouth and named Niblick. Yuk!

 

Modest Expectations – The Pick of a Forty-Niner

Iceland

I have written about Iceland, but I’ve not been back since 2013. Therefore, I have little to say usefully from any Latter-day first hand experience. N Hallgrímskirkja is the Lutheran (Church of Iceland) parish church in Reykjavík. With a spire at 74.5 metres tall, it is the largest church in Iceland. It stands on the top of a rise, which accentuates its immense size. With a royal blue hue, it is seen here in this depiction of hell, as Iceland opens a subterranean fissure to the Underworld for the first time in 800 years. Here we have this depiction of Dante’s Inferno and him whispering in my ear (sic).

Nessun maggior dolore
che ricordarsi del tempo felice
nella miseria.

Fin troppo vero!

This volcanic outburst is on the Reykjanes peninsula in southwestern Iceland, around 50 kms southwest of the capital, Reykjavik, and 22 kms from the Keflavik international airport. One of the confronting views for the traveller who arrives in Iceland for the first visit is the lava field almost bare of vegetation. Now that the fissure has opened it is spewing forth the incandescent magma. As the photograph above shows, what a sight, but that is Iceland. Even when quiescent, Iceland is a place that if you never go, you will never know what you have missed.

Well, what do I know!

Only seven countries and three territories last year met World Health Organisation pollution guidelines for fine particulate matter, the most risky form of pollution to human health.

A recent report by the Swiss company IQAir looked at fine particular matter pollution (also known as PM 2.5) data collected by more than 30,000 ground-level air quality monitoring stations across 134 countries last year. 

Of these countries, seven had annual averages within the WHO’s guidelines of 5 micrograms per cubic metre in 2023: Australia, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Iceland, Mauritius and New Zealand. 

French Polynesia, Bermuda and Puerto Rico also met the guidelines.

Bangladesh, Pakistan and India had the highest annual averages for fine particulate matter pollution, with Bangladesh’s PM 2.5 levels averaging more than 15 times higher in 2023 than the WHO’s recommended threshold. Tajikistan, Burkina Faso, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Nepal, Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo were also among the top 10 most polluted countries last year.

Added to this is that many countries in Africa and South America had no data.

According to its blurb, IQAir is a Swiss air quality technology company, specialising in protection against airborne pollutants, developing air quality monitoring and air cleaning products. IQAir also operates AirVisual, a real-time air quality information platform. This above excerpt has been reprinted from the Washington Post.

I am not an expert on global warming. I just know it is happening, and given the signs of the planet, I’m on firm ground I would have thought, and I reprinted it because it signifies Australia’s apparent success in one parameter of global pollution.

One source of expertise made the comment that particulate matter emitted through human activities not only pollutes the air, but also cools the Earth by scattering shortwave solar radiation. Yet, coarser dust particles have been found to exert a warming effect that could, to some extent compensate for the cooling effect of fine dust. On the surface that seems contradictory, but consider the giant volcanic eruption of the Indonesian Mount Tambora in 1815. It killed 60,000 people. Moreover, as one source relates;

Mt Tambora

Because Tambora ejected sulfurous gas that generated sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere, which block sunlight, the eruption created a year without a summer, leading to food shortages — people were eating cats and rats — and very general hardship throughout Europe and eastern North America.”

By way of explanation, particulate matter  consists of compounds of sulphur formed by the interaction of sulphur dioxide and sulphur trioxide with other compounds in the atmosphere.

The result of manmade activity is to enhance global warming. There are times that nature intervenes and cools the planet but with disastrous effects. However, even though they are extreme they are in essence temporary and it would appear that the earth reverts to being warm to disastrous levels, as shown by the inexorable rise in the global average temperature.

The lack of concern about particulate matter in the atmosphere just illustrates the cavalier attitude of most of the countries in the world, given that the growth of tyranny seems to be proportional to this climate change since dictatorship breeds social pathology, a sense of invincibility and ultimately which leads to a planet enshrouded in clouds of carbon dioxide. Was the planet Venus once a green and pleasant land until life was extinguished on a planet too hot to sustain any life and enveloped in a dense cloud of CO2? 

My 30/7/21 Blog

I wrote the following (shown in italics) nearly three years ago in my blog. It is an extract, but the full text is available in that of 30th July 2021. In the light of what is happening in Queensland, it may still be of some relevance.

The problem is the business model. A group of people, a dynasty of odds-and-sods, privileged individuals with a well-developed sense of Olympus, run the selection process. They seemed to have taken it literally so that they live on their eponymous mount moved from Greece to the banks of Lake Geneva in Lausanne picking as they do, a city to hold the Games. The prestige of the games has waxed and waned, but from its inception it has been in a Leap year except in 2021 and 1900. (a little known fact is the end of year century has to be divisible by 400 – i.e. next Leap year is 2400).

The International Olympic Committee should pay? What a novel idea. Then they would reap the profits and sell the property on the open market – the Olympic Block. There would be a massive interest in stadia that could stand as a monument to excess – you can just see the cities clambering to buy a used stadium – maybe for boat people – no need to send them offshore to line corrupt pockets, of course allegedly.

Current IOC’s revenue is largely generated from royalties on licensing television broadcasting rights for the Olympic Games, as well as revenues from the commercial exploitation of the Olympic symbol and Olympic emblems.  It depends on the interest generated, and there are athletics and swimming, both of which exist basically for Olympic glory. In between the Games, these activities pale in popularity against football of all codes, basketball, cricket or baseball in generating most community interest.

Abandoned Olympic stadium, Athens – 20 years on

The problem is that there are always new sports clamouring for recognition, and while for instance wrestling in the two forms are retained in the Games, they evoke minimal spectator interest. Yet, it has powerful reasons for its retention. It is one of the original sports which were part of the Ancient Games. It is popular in several countries, where it is a national pastime – Türkiye, Iran, Bulgaria. On several occasions, efforts have been made to delete the sport, but to no avail. In Paris this year, wrestling will share a venue with judo in a stadium on the Champs de Mar. The legacy of the venue? This temporary facility will be dismantled in late 2024, and as such no trace of the Olympic or Paralympic Games will remain. It will be able to be reused with multiple configurations at another location that is still to be determined.

It is just one example in the escalating costs of staging The Games, and its ephemeral legacy, often obscured later by the weeds growing in the ruins of this  two-week vanity exercise foisted on their community by politicians intoxicated by the prospect of so much self-importance.Yet most of those who bid for the Games will have long gone by the time the Games come around. But not the gods of the Lausanne Olympus, John Coates among them, fittingly, his canoeing prowess embodied as a latter-day epitome of Charon.

They will all be there in a swill of Dom Perignon, even if the hapless Annastacia Palaszczuk is not.

As I blogged:

The local press is celebrating Brisbane for being chosen in 2032 with Coates, the driving force. In the cold light of tomorrow, Australia may realise how it has been hoodwinked by Coates, there was no other city interested apart from his adopted hometown. Nobody else wants it. It is too expensive for dubious gains.

Coates yet has rescued the IOC, saving them from going cap in hand to some other city to strike a deal. Instead, Australia, which will be coping under the economic and social cost of the COVID-19 pandemic for decades to come, has been conned into more debt. Sure, the athletes will come, and the quote from the NYT at the head of this article will ring all so true as our Clutch of politicians will bask in the sunlight of praise until, after two weeks in 2032, the light is turned off leaving the Clutch in darkness, and in debt.

The value to Sydney after the Games has been minuscular – loaded with unusable infrastructure – stadia that are dismantled or provide a haven for weeds.  Cycle paths through a wasteland are not a big deal. Such disasters writ large in both Athens and Brazil. All the while the IOC provides the world with specimens such as John Coates, immersed in formalin jars of the past.

By 2032, an Australia Olympics may find itself drowned by a Viral debt, rising seas and irrelevance, through a lack of sponsors and tourist attractions dying from global warming. I believe this is not too much a dystopian view given what’s happening, looking around the world and seeing the ecological disaster being played out well beyond the horizons of this current euphoria.

The War of 1812

I have always been captivated by the story of the Star-Spangled banner, and the innate heroism underpinning the initial verse. The inspiration of Francis Key seeing the American flag still flying on the ramparts of Fort Henry after the British bombardment is an extraordinary image. That fifteen starred flag still flies at Fort Henry and also at Fort Clatsop, at the end of the Oregon Trail, where Lewis and Clark wintered in 1805/6.

The expedition carried just one large flag, the fifteen starred flag, which probably flew above their major camps, but before they left Fort Clatsop in March 1806 they cut it up to make five capes, to trade with Indians for food and horses. That was perfectly legal then. The first law prohibiting desecration or improper use of the flag was passed by Congress in 1917.

Jim Reeves raising the flag at Fort Clatsop

When we visited Fort Clatsop, the flag was being folded up at the end of the day. I asked whether we could buy it. Yes, we could, they are for sale – for $50. So, we have the flag, descendent of the one that inspired the American national anthem. Our flag is indeed large, having been flown from the flagpole the day we came. It is beautifully made. It is one of our prized possessions.

But the story composition  tells a different reality, as this reprinted account below tells the reader.

“It was September of 1814. The British had sacked Washington and torched the White House. The conflict became known as the War of 1812, even though it was in its third year.

Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old lawyer overheard plans for a surprise attack on Baltimore. He was held on a British ship where he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry. He couldn’t tell from his vantage point who had won or lost. But at dawn, he saw the American flag, 15 stars and 15 stripes at the time, still waving over the Fort and was inspired to write a poem. Soon, it was set to the tune of an existing song.

That’s the short version of how “The Star-Spangled Banner” came to be.

The longer version was controversial.

First, a few things to know about the War of 1812:

  • the British practice of impressment — the forced conscription of American sailors to fight for the Royal Navy.
  • the British promised refuge to any enslaved black man, who escaped his enslavers, raising fears among White Americans of a large-scale revolt.
  • the men who escaped their bonds of slavery were welcome to join the British Corps of Colonial Marines in exchange for land after their service. As many as 4,000 people, mostly from Virginia and Maryland, thus “escaped”.

It’s important to know these things because “The Star Spangled Banner” has more than one verse. The second half of the third verse ends like this:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

They are clearly meant to threaten the African Americans who took the British up on their offer. Key surely knew about the Colonial Marines, and it’s even possible he saw them on the British ships that sailed into Baltimore Harbor.

Whether manipulation or not, the British kept their word to Colonial Marines after the war, refusing the United States’ demand that they be returned and providing them land in Trinidad and Tobago to resettle with their families.

Key clearly was racist. He descended from a wealthy plantation family with slaves. He spoke of black people as “a distinct and inferior race” and supported emancipating the enslaved only if they were immediately shipped to Africa.

During the Andrew Jackson administration, Key served as the district attorney for Washington, D.C., where he spent much of his time shoring up enslavers’ power. He strictly enforced slave laws and prosecuted abolitionists who passed out pamphlets mocking his jurisdiction as the “land of the free, home of the oppressed.”

He also influenced Jackson in appointing his brother-in-law Chief Justice of the United States. This Roger B. Taney is infamous for writing the Dred Scott decision that decreed Black people “had no rights which the White man was bound to respect.”

Although “The Star-Spangled Banner” and its verses were immediately famous, Key’s overt racism prevented it from becoming the national anthem while he was alive.

Key’s anthem gained popularity over time, particularly among post-Reconstruction White Southerners and the military. In the early 20th Century, all but the first verse were cut — not for their racism, but for their anti-British bent. The United Kingdom was by then an ally.

After the World War I misery, the lyrics were again controversial for their violence. But groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy fought back, pushing for the song to be made the official national anthem. In 1931, President Herbert Hoover made it so.

As one commentator wryly noted “The elevation of the banner from popular song to official national anthem was a neo-Confederate political victory, and it was celebrated as such. When supporters threw a victory parade in Baltimore in June 1931, the march was led by a colour guard hoisting the Confederate flag.”

Thus my long-kept view of the flag as a paean to freedom and against oppression is confounded by the above narrative!

Read the Australian Constitution

Section 51 (xxiii)The provision of maternity allowances, widows’ pensions, child endowment, unemployment, pharmaceutical, sickness and hospital benefits, medical and dental services (but not so as to authorize any form of civil conscription), benefits to students and family allowances.

The AMA has written to the Health Minister, Mark Butler, to express significant disappointment with the federal government’s decision to introduce legislation to remove the requirement for collaborative arrangements for nurse practitioners and midwives.

The AMA states it is very concerned this decision would lead to a fragmented, siloed approach to health care.

The AMA went on to say that when midwives and nurse practitioners were given access to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), there was a rock-solid government commitment to ensure strong collaboration between nurse practitioners and  midwives with medical practitioners. It stressed that this commitment was translated into legislative provisions requiring a collaboration arrangement, aimed at preventing the fragmentation of care and ensuring strong clinical government was in place.

“The planned removal of collaborative arrangement provisions that are intended to guarantee this, combined with the absence of any robust framework to operate in their place, will promote a siloed approach to care and is contrary to the original stated intent of the reforms. It is also contrary to the expert clinical advice of the MBS Review Taskforce.”

Reading the crystals for a Medicare benefit?

So much for the AMA defending its monopoly on its familiar ground. However, as I have noted many times previously, I fail to see the provision of patient benefits for nursing as described in the relevant section of the Constitution. Unless somebody is prepared to challenge this decision, to my mind, the payment of benefits for nursing in the absence of medical input is clearly unconstitutional. The precedent has now been established so wait for the queue of all manner of  health care providers for the same recognition. Iridology benefits anyone?

Mouse Whisper

In the last blog, completion of the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) was suggested to be the first question to the two old men wishing to become US President, each of whom has been queried as to the level of their cerebral functioning.

Well, the Boss took the test this week. He made no mistakes.

He is older than both Biden and Trump.

With apologies to Statler and Waldorf

Modest Expectations – A Failed Jackscrew

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

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

Bend Hur to Political Bias

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

Robert Hur

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alfred Deakin

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

Alfred Deakin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where the Dutch Alps are…

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

Scheveningen

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

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

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

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

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

But Maastricht has prospered in the intervening 30 years.

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

European Fine Art Fair Maastricht

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

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

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

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

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

The World of Illusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much lion’s mane is too much?

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

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

An Anecdote among the Washington Post Recipes

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

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

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

The Disgust or Paradise Soiled

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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

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

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

As one said: “I kill pregnant women.”

“Why?” asked the other.

“They are hiding terrorists.” explained the other.

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

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

Modest Expectation – Djúpihellir Cave

This is my 260th Blog, and even though Rick McLean rightly accuses me of being a mathematical dunce, my blog does represent the culmination of five years of continuous bloggery. The blog has appeared without fail every Friday morning; it’s generally about 3000 words, but hopefully not prolix.

I thought I would take the opportunity to make a comment on influencers as distinct from commentators – one manifestation of which is the pure blogger as myself. I use the blog as a memoir both of my life, the lessons learnt and my autumn views as a drift towards my inevitable meeting with the Fell Sergeant.

The influencers used to be called con artists, grifters, snake oil salesmen, charlatans, flimflam men, mountebanks. The modern so-called influencer is more often a young woman – hence just to call out influencers as men is a bit of a misnomer.

Social media has abetted this phenomenon. The remedies spruiked by these so-called influencers are at best placebo, at worst toxic. There is generally no tested scientific evidence produced to back up the claims. That doesn’t then change by wheeling out a pliant health professional to further spruik the claim, given that these professionals may themselves have fake degrees, because who is going to check whether the spruiker is in fact a legitimate doctor, for instance?

This behaviour is abetted by commercial television running some of this material as news whereas it is an advertorial at best, or some of the advertisements being run, particularly by those warehouse dispensers of cosmetics, soft toys and rubbish remedies. These straight-faced owners refer to themselves as pharmacies, because in amongst the rivers of snake oil, they are also licensed to dispense medicines that are clearly therapeutic. This licence should be reviewed, as it is not because Australia has a dearth of pharmacies who deliver their major ostensible function – that of dispensing medicines not quackery.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration looks on, metaphorically chewing a blade of grass, and does nothing. What I find particularly objectionable is the image of a seemingly healthy person coming to the checkout with a basket of whatever, promoting the image of the pharmacy as being akin to a supermarket. Perhaps one can ask the question of whether this represents the payoff to the Pharmacy Guild as being one of the biggest donors to the political parties.

What I find in need of very positive action, and I blame my own body of public health physicians for not being warriors against the anti-fluoride mob but also against the more destructive anti-vaxxers.

The brouhaha over the COVID anti-vaxxers is perhaps understandable, but those who advocate against the measles vaccine are criminal and should be treated as such, if it were not for the timid approach by government. They should be prosecuted and, if found guilty, locked up for a long time so they can’t spread their vile message. The problem is some of those deserving of being locked up are probably parliamentarians.

Let me act as somebody who deals in personal observation and experience. When I was about seven, I contracted measles, as everybody else in the class and the junior school did and was very sick. Likewise, my sons. This was before the measles vaccine was available. Measles is very contagious, so measles epidemics sweep quickly through child populations.

Most of us recover, but I was witness to the daughter of the late Gay Davidson who contracted subacute sclerosing panencephalitis following measles. From a bright intelligent child, over a few months, she declined into a persistent vegetative state in terms of her cerebral function. Tragic hardly described her decline from this rare but devastating complication of measles until death mercifully intervened.

Gay contributed her wholehearted support to Michael Wooldridge, then the newly-appointed Minister of Health, who embarked on a wide-ranging successful vaccination campaign, his major achievement. This is in danger of unravelling in the face of these anti-vaxxers and Australia, through the agitation by these malignant influencers, will be plunged back to those days when there were no vaccines but plenty of useless herbal remedies. You anti-vaxxers should go and visit colonial graveyards and see the consequences to which you want Australia to revert.

By the way, you anti-vaxxers, do you also want to see children paralysed by poliomyelitis? I have lived through an epidemic. Boys died at my school in the last epidemic when I was about ten, when there was no vaccine. Most of you would not remember that probably you as a child were given Sabin vaccine, before you could make your malignant judgement to clamour for all vaccines to be banned. But what of your children, you influencers?

You collectively disgust me.

Calculus – a necessity for being employed by Chemist Warehouse?

Almost as a footnote to the above is the announcement that the University of Sydney is abandoning mathematics as a prerequisite for a number of courses at the University. The change will mean degrees including commerce, science, medicine, psychology, veterinary science and economics will no longer require students to have undertaken advanced maths in year 12.

Degrees in engineering, advanced computing and pharmacy will retain the mathematics prerequisite. Pharmacy? Why?  For a legion of predominantly glorified shopkeepers. Maybe someone can explain the logic of this to me.

The Boyo from Fermanagh

I was surprised that Barrie Cassidy posted the following fact. The Liberal Party has held Dunkley for 23 years between 1996 to 2019. Full stop. Yes, the statement is true. Not worth the tweet, underlying the comment was an underlying innuendo that Albanese has achieved some magnificent victory.

If that is so, then I’m very surprised as I believed Cassidy, despite his Labor bias, would not indulge in this form of shorthand bias, without supplying appropriate background information to justify his innuendo.

Easy to find another source to amplify the Cassidy statement. The following was written before the 2019 Federal election. Note there is no mention made of the late Peta Murphy’s electability, although in her eulogies she was a very good local member worth at least a few percentage points.

The Australian Electoral Commission’s (AEC) 2018 redistribution shifted Dunkley’s boundaries, making the seat – Liberal since 1996 – a notional Labor one.

Centred on the city of Frankston, an outer-metropolitan hub for services, the electorate extends into the expanding suburban swath of the south-eastern sand belt.

The Redistribution Committee removed Liberal-leaning Mornington from the south of the electorate and added Labor-leaning Carrum Downs, Sandhurst and Skye in the north.

Liberal MP for Dunkley Chris Crewther has some advantage as an incumbent, but may struggle to keep the seat, Monash University political researcher Dr Nick Economou has told The Junction.

“People who are defending marginal seats whose boundaries have been altered so that’s now notionally a seat for the other side, they’ve got very little chance of defending that seat,” Economou said citing the 1994 redistribution that added Mornington, Langwarrin and Mount Eliza to Dunkley. Two years later, the Liberals won Dunkley from Labor and have held it ever since.

Yes, Barrie, respectfully given you are a child of ABC gravitas, it does seem to be a case of redistributing the sea urchins with more flounder.

Opinion of BARRETT, J.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES No. 23–719 DONALD J. TRUMP, PETITIONER v. NORMA ANDERSON, ET AL.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF COLORADO [March 4, 2024]

Associate Justice Barrett

JUSTICE BARRETT, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. I join Parts I and II–B of the Court’s opinion. I agree that States lack the power to enforce Section 3 against Presidential candidates. That principle is sufficient to resolve this case, and I would decide no more than that. This suit was brought by Colorado voters under state law in state court. It does not require us to address the complicated question whether federal legislation is the exclusive vehicle through which Section 3 can be enforced.

The majority’s choice of a different path leaves the remaining Justices with a choice of how to respond. In my judgment, this is not the time to amplify disagreement with stridency. The Court has settled a politically charged issue in the volatile season of a Presidential election. Particularly in this circumstance, writings on the Court should turn the national temperature down, not up. For present purposes, our differences are far less important than our unanimity: All nine Justices agree on the outcome of this case. That is the message Americans should take home.

This judgement is very brief and, while agreeing with her liberal-minded justices, she has a very measured approach in her views on the direction of the USA, quite the opposite to those of Trump. She may not be the lackey of Trump, given the manner of her appointment, after all.

It was galling for this obscure jurist, being catapulted first onto the Federal Court of Appeals and then onto the Supreme Court by a man known for his misogyny and belief that women are dirt. In fact, this New Orleans born graduate from Notre Dame summa cum laude came from a devout Roman Catholic family. She is married to another lawyer and has seven children, two of which are adopted Haitian orphans; the youngest biological child was born with Down’s Syndrome. Busy woman, she was first promoted to the Federal appeals court by Trump in 2017. (These appointments, like the Supreme Court, are lifetime).

She is a constitutional originalist, but a believer that she has a destiny to change the social fabric of the USA. Her views can be contrasted with some of the other conservative judges as described in The New Yorker (sic): A decade ago, Chief Justice John Roberts committed the unpardonable sin of providing a critical vote to keep the Affordable Care Act in place. In 2020, the seemingly stalwart Gorsuch delivered a blow, writing the majority opinion in a case which held that civil-rights legislation protected gay and transgender workers from discrimination.

Gorsuch is also a strong defendant of native American rights, shown in his judgements.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, after a messy nomination process, has allegedly been a disappointment to Trump because he seems to hew to the more orthodox conservative line of the Chief Justice. In 2023, he and the Chief Justice joined the three liberal justices in striking down the Alabama racist gerrymander aimed to limit the number of black districts in Alabama.

Commentators have waxed lyrical about Barrett’s two paragraph judgement, as though its laconicity resembles that of the Gettysburg Address. Far from my optimistic first paragraph, it may be alternatively interpreted as just a shorthand for her avowed world domination belief, but in a more acceptable form than that of her sponsor, the orange buffoon. We await her next move.

Another model?

I have reprinted this Washington Post article about how the retail firm, Costco is run in USA.

There are 15 Costco outlets in Australia, and on the positive side, they are said to have inter alia a wide selection of quality meat and seafood at competitive prices, and an exceptional hassle-free returns policy for non-perishables. On the negative side there is very little in the way of in-store customer service, minimal brand selection, inconsistent product availability and bulk options only, as one source opines.

The warehouse stores need a lot of space, therefore there may not be one close to where you live. This may even mean paying tolls to get there, some Costco stores charge for parking and then there are the crowds – fighting them for parking, for getting a trolley, for space along unmarked aisles, getting onto the lift with your trolley, and the queueing! Overall, it is a lack of access and convenience.

If Coles and Woolworths were forced to release the land they are hoarding so there was a level ground for access, would Costco expand? Or what if access remains distorted? Will Costco leave Australia?

If measured against a competitor for fresh produce in the USA, Costco fared worse in five out of eight fruits and vegetable, but it was just a one-off limited sample. Unfortunately this type of sampling has a tendency to spread like wildfire.

However, back to “the Costco American Shangri-la”, which should give the industry food for thought (pardon the pun); but how applicable is it to Australia?

In the nearly 40 years that The Economist has served up its Big Mac Index, the price of the McDonald’s burger in America has more than tripled. In that same period the cost of another meaty treat—a hot-dog-and-drink combo at Costco—has remained steady at $1.50. Last year customers of the American big-box retailer devoured 200m of them. Richard Galanti, Costco’s longtime finance boss, once promised to keep the price frozen “for ever”.

Customers are not the only fans of Costco, as the outpouring of affection from Wall Street analysts made clear. In nearly 40 years, the firm’s share price is 430 times compared with 25 times for the S&P 500 index of large companies. It has continued to outperform the market in recent years.

What lies behind its enduring success?

Costco is the world’s third-biggest retailer, behind Walmart and Amazon. Though its sales are less than half of Walmart’s, its return on capital, at nearly 20%, is more than twice as high. Costco’s business model is guided by a simple idea—offer high-quality products at the lowest prices. It does this by keeping markups low while charging a fixed membership fee and stocking fewer distinct products, all while treating its employees generously.

Start with margins. Most retailers boost profits by marking up prices. Not Costco. Its gross margins hover around 12%, compared with Walmart’s 24%. The company makes up the shortfall through its membership fees: customers pay $60 or more a year to shop at its stores. In 2023 fees from its 129m members netted $4.6bn, more than half of Costco’s operating profits. The membership model creates a virtuous circle. The more members the company has, the greater its buying power, leading to better deals with suppliers, most of which are then passed on to its members. The fee also encourages customers to focus their spending at Costco, rather than shopping around. That seems to work; membership-renewal rates are upwards of 90%.

Next, consider the way the company manages its product line up. Costco stores stock a limited selection of about 3,800 distinct items. Sam’s Club, Walmart’s Costco-like competitor, carries about 7,000. A Walmart superstore has around 120,000. Buying more from fewer suppliers gives the company even greater bargaining power, lowering prices further, and better in maintaining quality. Less variety in stores helps it use space more efficiently: its sales per square foot are three times that of Walmart. And with fewer products, Costco turns over its wares almost twice as fast as usual for retailers, meaning less capital gets tied up in inventory. It has also expanded its own brand, Kirkland Signature, which now accounts for over a quarter of its sales,

Finally, Costco stands out among retailers for how it treats its employees. Some 60% of retail employees leave their jobs each year. Staff turnover at Costco is just 8%; over a third of workers have been there for more than ten years. One reason for low attrition is pay. Its wages are higher than the industry average and it offers generous medical and retirement benefits. Another is career prospects preferring to promote leaders from within.

A Brief Moment of Culinary Joy

There is no better breakfast delight than to have lamb’s fry with bacon and onions or grilled kidneys on toast. It used to be a regular on the menu of country pubs, and even down at my favourite watering hole in Balmain.

They, particularly liver, have now become almost impossible to obtain. The reason is that that these products are being exported, unless one buys in bulk. The local butchers shy away. It has become unfashionable because as it is unavailable then the younger audience miss the ecstasy of liver and kidneys properly cooked. Tomato and smashed avocado on toast have intervened.

But heaven came unexpectedly, when we picked up lamb’s liver – the “fry” from the local Strahan supermarket.  Monday night’s dinner was a return to gastronomic bliss.

But remember, add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce to enter a state of hyper-bliss.

Moladh le Clann MhicIlleathain

(Jack Best is) not only an occasional belletrist and litterateur, but also poet, policy expert and polemicist, and a curious researcher.

I have read many of his blogs although I must admit not all of them. They have all been wonderfully entertaining and I relish opening up a new one each Friday morning.

And with his blog, he has taken to linking words, in the form of titles, to numbers in the most challenging way.

Sometimes I can provide some feedback, primarily just to show that I have read it, rather than provide anything useful or insightful.

But then it takes much longer than the time required to read the blog to try to work out the link between the blog number and the blog title.

In the beginning, or for at least the first 10, it was mostly simple but it has now become increasingly difficult because he does not reuse the same link each time.

If the title is “T” and the number is “N” the link “L” could be, for example, that the city T is N kilometres from a particular place L on one occasion. But on another occasion, it could be that flying in the air of a particular island T there are N species of birds – L. Or that if a particular US football player T has his playing number L linked to the name of his team, you end up with N.

So, the victor in the Battle of Association is the person who can come up with the link L between title T and number N, which I suggest be known as the Tit-Li-Num to explain it a bit better. Probably sounds a bit better than the Num-Li-Tit which sounds like an endangered bird species.

I used to get a few right but most recently, it has been next to impossible. I must admit that if I do get one out, I feel quite pleased with myself and when I don’t, despite learning lots on the Internet about esoteric places or strange people, I need to ask for the link just to see what I missed. Very occasionally I have detected an error in the number, which is probably because he isn’t good at maths, but it could also be just to see who does their research properly!

I think he would say, to paraphrase Hilaire Belloc, ‘When I am dead, I hope it may be said: “His sins were scarlet, but his blogs were read.”

Bring on the next one!

Rick McLean’s alter ego

The author of the above, Cardinal Rick McLean is a friend, who has been consistent in attempting to solve the number of the blog and attempting to make the link with the title. For instance, the 260th blog is the name of a cave in Iceland which is 260 metres long. It enables those intrigued to indulge in a hunt for the association; and from my point of view it has been increasingly difficult in associating the name with the number without repeating myself. Some have become close, but I have not taken the easy course, by labelling each blog with, for instance, the first 260 ranked tennis players in the World. That would have been tedious, predictable and the curse for all bloggers – that of being boring.

By the way, 261 is A Failed Jackscrew, for those wishing to join in.

Mouse Whisper

Ms Dichlicka, the CEO of Doolittle Airlines has announced that small pets may be carried on board provided they can be crammed under the passenger seat in front. To enquiries as to whether Irish wolfhounds would qualify, she said yes provided that they fit under the seat in front of the owner. There would be no measurement, this being left to the owner’s discretion in order to speed up the boarding so that the Doolittle Express planes can take off on time. She added that the airlines’ guests, as she categorised the paying passengers, would be asked to tolerate the barking, mewing and other animal speech, as a concession to the airline’s fauna friendly policy.

If the trial was successful, expect perches to be discreetly arranged in the aircraft, in order that birds of appropriate lineage can be accommodated. First class would be fitted out with mews to house one’s hunting falcon.

Pardon, a shivering mouse used to the aircraft pantry when he flies. I now may be therefore construed as a small pet and as such I may travel at my boss’s feet. I hope that if consigned to the middle undercroft, I am not placed between two voracious felines.

Finally, there is hope.  Ms Dichlicka said that the changes would be instituted later in the century, long enough away for everybody to forget that this brilliantly ludicrous policy has well and truly been consigned to the public relations office wastepaper basket, especially if you look at the various policies the nine American airlines have confusingly introduced – namely United Coyote, Alaskan Mush and Delta Caiman.

Large enough for your cat to stand up and turn. Small enough to fit under the seat in front? Well … not so much.

Modest Expectations – Padraig Harrington

Memo to President Biden: One way to facilitate the end of the current Gaza Massacre is to sanction Netanyahu and his cronies while disrupting his Shekels to Switzerland mule train. In the same way the USA has sanctioned the Russian Oligarchs. Get him to prove you wrong, Mr President; meanwhile just pick his cronies off one by one – and see who screams. Then sanction them.

One of the many direct daily flights between the Channel Islands and Switzerland

The European Union is obviously getting sick and tired of Netanyahu’s posturing. The European Union has indicated it will release 50 million euros (USD54 million) to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees next week, after the United States and other countries paused their funding due to Israel’s allegations that a number of its staff were involved in the October 7 attacks. Yes, Senator Wong you can stop shielding your eyes from the Gaza famine, come out of your pose of timid pomposity and follow the humane lead of these other countries.

The long drawn out trial of Netanyahu has revealed a man who has walked for many years on the dark side of humanity – a man accused of secret accounts, accepting bribes, a propensity for pink champagne and cigars as he plans the importance of this trade in Palestinian lives for his freedom from conviction and custodial sentence.

Ask Arnan Michan, the Hollywood film producer, for starters without forgetting James Packer’s loveable contributions. Once reported in the AFR “… as a recent Israeli citizen (who) happens to live next door to Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. James, you are now the first non-Jewish Zionist in history.” This media statement was subsequently denied, but what does it matter in this world of misinformation of which this cute Bibi is a past master.

I was also drawn to this report from the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation a decade ago, during a time when the world was not completely aflame with misinformation and the cynical destruction of human life to preserve the Bibi skin. In part, the Report read:

About one-fifth of the Israeli economy, or 200 billion shekels ($53 billion), is estimated to go unreported, more than twice the U.S. rate, according to a World Bank study. Israeli tax authorities say some of the unreported income is in accounts Israelis maintain abroad.

“There are media reports about ongoing tax investigations of Israeli citizens by the Israeli Tax Authorities,” UBS said in an e-mailed statement. “UBS is not subject to these investigations. We have no further comment on this.”

The UBS adviser was responsible for managing Israeli accounts. He was arrested in Tel Aviv in June and is suspected of intentionally helping clients evade taxes, the Tax Authority said.

According to investigators, the adviser would come to Israel to meet clients because they didn’t use telephones, e- mail, or faxes to communicate with the bank to avoid detection. He was arrested with a client after they met at a Tel Aviv hotel. His hotel room and UBS offices in Israel were searched, and a list of hundreds of Israelis with unreported accounts in Switzerland was found in his possession, according to the Tax Authority.

I doubt if anything has changed.

Further, there is a large cohort of rabbinical thought from the ultra-orthodox about the justification for not undertaking national service – another initiative by Netanyahu for humanity – his own. And I forgot. Arab Israelis are exempt from service as well. You see, well balanced, although there is some suggestion that the Netanyahu support from this ultra-orthodox exemption depends on him getting the requisite support in the Knesset to stay in power. Hey, Bibi, I’ve got an idea – exempt everybody from National Service – and then you should get everybody voting for you, using your impeccable logic. As someone opined recently, war has never solved anything in the Middle East.

In the meantime, now that the Israelis are gunning down the famished Palestinians by the lorry load, and Hamas has revealed that Israeli “friendly fire” has allegedly killed eight more hostages, the Israeli apologists too are being wedged into a space say, the size of Rafah, where over a million Palestinians have been herded. Well, metaphorically, at least. All in the end for the defence of Netanyahu.  Feeling comfortable, are we?

Hans Christian Burgess

There he was, on the stage, regaling us his updated version of the Ugly Duckling.

Right now, there is a particular team in a particular foreign intelligence service with a particular focus on Australia – we are its priority target. Many of the people here tonight are almost certainly high value targets. The team is aggressive and experienced; its tradecraft is good – but not good enough. ASIO and our partners have been able to map out its activities and identify its members.

The A Team

We call them ‘the A-team’ – the Australia team.

Several years ago, the A-team successfully cultivated and recruited a former Australian politician. This politician sold out their country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests of the foreign regime. At one point, the former politician even proposed bringing a Prime Minister’s family member into the spies’ orbit. Fortunately that plot did not go ahead but other schemes did.

One year ago, Mr Burgess was reported (sic):

On February 21(2023), Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Director-General Mike Burgess delivered his annual threat assessment, stating that ‘more Australians are being targeted for espionage and foreign interference than at any time in Australia’s history’. He referred to a recent removal of a ‘hive of spies’ in Australia by ASIO and described efforts to battle foreign interference as presently feeling like ‘hand-to-hand combat’.

The Director-General also made particular mention of ‘senior people in this country who appear to believe that espionage and foreign interference is no big deal; it’s something that can be tolerated or ignored or somehow safely managed.’ He said: Individuals in business, academia and the bureaucracy have told me ASIO should ease up its operational responses to avoid upsetting foreign regimes…in my opinion anyone saying these things should reflect on their commitment to Australian democracy, sovereignty and values.

Director-General Burgess

Now just who is this head spook, who seems to emerge as the budgetary processes are in full swing. Presumably these February utterances are designed to ensure he gets a bigger slice of the budgetary pavlova. At the same time, he sows uncertainty in the community, and about de facto traitorous activity and nobody seems to have done anything about it.

Who is the ludicrously described A-team. Who plays Mr T.?

The problem with spooks is that they have a tendency to fantasise, and while not accusing Burgess of being one such, it is important that the facts of the matter with names attached are disclosed. It is intolerable that the Government has been so seemingly inert in the face of treason.

One man, an English expatriate stands up and besmirches Australia without Prime Ministerial rebuke. Instead, the Government Ministers seem to condone this behaviour. Here is a man who in his speech characterises Brigadier Spry’s embarrassment, the then Head of ASIO, because some old codger, a relative of one of the ASIO men refused him entry to some function because he didn’t have his identity card. Really, is that worth reporting except to illustrate the ludicrous piddling nature of ASIO?

Well, what do I know? Not much since ASIO tried to actively recruit me in 1960 I can only hypothesise. The leopard has the same spots despite there being six inquiries in the security services since that time. The ASIO operatives in my day were fanatically anti-communist, and I suspect the dial has not shifted that much – if at all.

Whitlam was the only Australian Prime Minister who has called out ASIO. The tension between Whitlam and his then ASIO Chief, Peter Barbour, was demonstrated when Whitlam banned all contact with the CIA. Barbour conveniently ignored the directive and went underground. At least Whitlam tried to control his phantasm of spooks with a modicum of success followed by a bucket of failure. He was never able shake to off the CIA interference.

Now Barbour was a product of Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, known then for recruiting College members to be operatives. Attempts were made to recruit me when it was suggested that I file a report about visiting Russian students. I was not sure why I was approached, apart from being a Trinity College student, the then  President of the Student Representative Council and having shared a study with Sam Spry, aka Ian Charles Folkes Spry, Brigadier Spry’s son, the previous year.

I was flattered given that the approach was initiated by Michael Thwaites, then Spry’s deputy, through his son Peter Thwaites. Michael Thwaites was also a highly regarded poet. Both father and eldest son were linked closely with Moral Rearmament, an anti-communist organisation headed by Frank Buchman who had, in an unguarded moment, once expressed admiration for Hitler before War II.

I met with ASIO operatives in the old Theosophy building in Collins Street, was shown a few news clips and other miscellany, and then went back to College. I did not accept the offer, if there was an offer – and as far as I was concerned, that was that. I was never aware that I was proscribed after that. Anyway, I’m not concerned at being frank, naming names and disclosing the facts as I experienced them.

Thus, I have some insight into the world of spooks and gabardine overcoats, albeit long ago. However, I would suggest a relevant observation, Mr Burgess, given your tale does not suggest you are talking about a cybersecurity breach, but one of interpersonal treasonous behaviour by not one person but an undisclosed number. Australians have a right to know why you have not seen fit to disclose such information. Your reasons may satisfy a pliant Minister, but not the Australian community.

Incidentally, I find objectionable the gratuitous comment by the smug Senator Paterson who says he has a good idea who the traitor is. Mate, this is treason. Everybody must stop being coy.

Now, Master Burgess, oh you spinner of tales, we know that you are not referring to yourself. You said the unnamed man was a former politician. 

Odysseus, the great spinner of tales

Here we go Again!

When I was undertaking the Rural Stocktake for the Department of Health in 1999, I wrote the following of what a successful Aboriginal health program had achieved. My reference to the Kempsey-based Aboriginal Health Service is mentioned together with the then Marlba Environmental Health Unit based at Port Hedland. At that time, the Aboriginal leadership in these two programs was strong and hands-on. One of the problems with most Aboriginal Health programs is the lack of tangible ongoing results. Succession planning in terms of Aboriginal workforce management adopted from us whitefellas as distinct from the whole business of culture preservation has been a difficult concept to perpetuate in rural and particularly remote Aboriginal Australia.

At the time I wrote:

A model of a good Aboriginal environmental health worker program is that at Marlba Environmental Health Unit at Port Hedland. Marlba provides a visiting service to each community three monthly for a one-week stay. The services provided are solid waste and land management, water and sewage management, managing the dog program, zoonotic disease control, and helping people with housing advice. Homeswest starter kits are provided for new home occupants, and Marlba encourages stores to stock the products. A nursery is being established for the land management program, using both exotic and native plants. 

Dog programs always needed

The training of Aboriginal environmental health workers is undertaken locally through the Pundulmurra College. While a certificate course is available at Pundulmurra and locally in the Kimberley and the Midwest/Gascoyne, other courses are provided elsewhere in Australia – at diploma level (Batchelor College in the Northern Territory), and at degree level (Cairns TAFE). On a budget of $363,0000, eight are employed in Port Hedland, (three being funded under CDEP). There are three field support officers – two in Marble Bar and one in Roebourne. All the current officers are Pundulmurra trained. While there are no entry educational standards, literacy and numeracy are highly desirable, although there are a number of surrogate measures. There was a meeting convened in Port Hedland proposed to investigate national standardisation of the environmental health worker courses.

The morale is high and there is evident pride in the Marlba Environmental Health Unit uniform. A display of the activity was prepared to show me the variety of skills. There is an emphasis on generalist skills. The equipment is appropriate – they have a Bobcat, a truck, and dog cage. They have embraced the appropriate technology – such as the insertion of microchips into dogs to monitor coverage.

Much of the success of the program can be ascribed to the leadership of the Senior Environmental Health Worker, and as with the example of the Durri Health Service, the common thread is leadership – an ability to garner respect from both the indigenous and non-indigenous communities.

I have searched around for some meaning of Marlba, and I’ve only found one reference in that country stretching between Kalgoorlie and the Kimberley including the Gascoyne Region and the Western Desert. The Kalaku location is described as (sic): Grass Patch to north of Widgemooltha; east to the red ochre deposit west of Fraser Range; west to Bremer Range; north of Norseman towards Cooigardie Both ‘Marlba’ and ‘Kallaargu’ are described as separate dialects of one language, Ngatjunrna. Morphy includes Ngatjunma as part of Karlaku.

This week, I could not find any reference to the Marlba environmental health unit (a Marlu Environmental unit is mentioned with scant details and seems to be headquartered in Perth with no mention of what it does). The Pundulmurra College TAFE still exists and offers some trade courses such as carpentry, but it is hard to judge the actual effectiveness of this TAFE apart from its obvious advocacy role.

I raise this because of the Federal government wanting to replace “sit down money” aka the Community Development Program (CDP) (a work-for-the-dole scheme, requiring unemployed people to work five hours a day, five days a week in supervised work or training).  A failure, an expensive failure.

Nevertheless, here we go again.

The Albanese Government has announced a new Remote Jobs and Economic Development Program (RJED) that will help close the gap in employment outcomes by creating 3,000 jobs in remote Australia. This $707 million investment is the first step in delivering on our commitment to replace the failed Community Development Program (CDP) with real jobs, proper wages, and decent conditions.

As usual, preparatory for this funding, there was a round table discussion with the usual wish list. No methodology, just handing out the money cloaked with a new acronym, but basically the same handout. The problem I have found with Canberra bureaucrats is that they want to shovel the money out as quickly as possible irrespective of its management and realistic outcome. Then the Audit Office tumbril rolls in a few years later and slammed the administration and the project waste. Then there is always fraud uncovered.

Geoff Clark

Geoff Clark, chair of ATSIC until it was disbanded in 2004, together with members of his family, had been set down for trial in the County Court last year on 476 fraud charges but the charge seems to have vanished from that Court’s schedule. Suppressed for some reason? Why? One can only speculate. Nevertheless, Aboriginal funding has not been a happy place.

It is one thing to have great ideas, and have a generous allocation of money, but it is another for Aboriginals to accept the rules of good management and not fritter the money away as one family’s income until that family is kicked out and another family takes over the money pot.

That was why I highlighted in a little detail that project while briefly mentioning the other in my Stocktake. Each project was run objectively without any evidence of malfeasance by an Aboriginal person. I saw the West Australian program on several occasions and travelled with the Director as far as Jigalong in the Western Desert.

In the Durri program, the manager had been able to ride the family disputes over ownership and hence retain control of the funding.

The problem with so many of the programs is that management is given over to whitefellas, who run the program without any idea of meaningful delegation, let alone succession planning so they can plan their own redundancy. Since some of these whitefellas are themselves marginal in the conventional workforce, retention of a person with appropriate skills in any remote Aboriginal community is essential for successful outcomes.

I don’t underestimate the difficulty. I can only reflect upon my long association, but I have not covered every community in Australia. The term “First Nation” is in many ways a misnomer, because there is a wide diversity in the Aboriginal population despite its modest size. I have never been to the Tiwi for instance (that was an oversight I regret); and from a distance the Tiwi seem to be well organised. But this is the problem with being a whitefella, one often only seen from afar – participating in Canberra round tables in an air-conditioned environment.

What does Australia Share with Monserrat?

A question was asked in the regular set of impossible questions in The Guardian Weekly. What do Australia, Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand and Tuvalu have in common? The answer is each retains the Union Jack in their flag. Here we have Australia and the New Zealand in amongst the tax haven minnows of the increasingly threadbare British Commonwealth.

Hawaiian flag

Apart from Hawaii that is. In 1816, King Kamehameha commissioned the Hawaiian flag, Though Hawaii’s independence was briefly challenged, Great Britain sent Admiral Thomas to officially restore and recognise Hawaii’s sovereignty and the official flag was instituted in 1843.

The British never colonised Hawaii, but the King did retain British advisers, and the King had a sense of international politics. The eight stripes, while ostensibly representing the number of islands constituting the Hawaiian archipelago, were the colours of the Tsarist Russian flag, now reintroduced after the fall of the Soviet Union. The King realised the pervasiveness of Russia then in the Pacific Ocean.

Australia needs a new flag even if Hawaii doesn’t; and for that matter so does New Zealand; but the Union Jack zealots remain in sufficient numbers to block any reform. Indifference is the other enemy for change.  About eight years ago when New Zealand was seriously considering a new flag, a poll of potential designs for a new Australian flag was done in Australia. There was a focus on replacing the Union flag with the Southern Cross – and recognising that navy blue is not the national colour, most of the designs emphasised the green and gold. Most of them were a mish-mash and not very good. The Eureka flag scored fifteen per cent in that poll. The Southern Cross does not belong to Australia, but to all nations south of the Equator. Yet we seem to have appropriated it.

Personally, I prefer the Aboriginal Flag as our national flag. It embodies more of what I love about my country. I do not see much chance of change. But you always can hope. 

Mouse Whisper

Emanating from the USA in the past week, a report of one of the worst blizzards ever in the Sierra Nevada.

At the same time, massive wildfires in the Texas panhandle extending into Oklahoma, yet amid snow flurries.

The Australian firm, Woodside, in 2023 had increased its total carbon emissions by over 70 per cent from its 2021 levels.

And the butterfly flapped its wings.

Modest Expectations – Herbert Strudwick

Benito Mussolini

Hitler didn’t need Instagram. Mussolini didn’t need to tweet. Murderous autocrats did not need to Snapchat their way to infamy. But just imagine if they’d had those supercharged tools. Well, Trump did, and he won the 2016 election, thanks in large part to social media. It wasn’t the only reason, but it’s easy to see a direct line from FDR mastering radio to JFK mastering TV to Trump mastering social media. And Trump didn’t do it alone. Purveyors of propaganda, both foreign and domestic, saw an opportunity to spread lies and misinformation. Today, malevolent actors continue to game the platforms, and there’s still no real solution in sight because these powerful platforms are doing exactly what they were designed to do. 

Writing the above, Kara Swisher says it elegantly and succinctly. Her sentence attracts attention, but when one analyses what she said, is that only because of the cuteness of her reference to the various forms of modern communication juxtaposed against Hitler and Mussolini. But what is her point? One may as well say that Julius Caesar would have been more effective if his army had Kalashnikovs.

Leni Riefenstahl

Hitler had a very skilled publicist in Leni Riefenstahl. Testimony is her film Olympia – a tribute to the Berlin Olympic games. Pictures of Aryan youth running in dappled woods, swimming in sparkling pools or dancing in diaphanous dresses were images of racial purity. Lurking in other forests were concentration camps being built at the same time to remove those that did not conform to that “purity”– not featured. Pagan imagery was never far away in the magnification of Hitler and his grasp of the world. Why ever mention Instagram?

Mussolini it should be remembered came across positively between the two World Wars, at least until his invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935.

In the United States, as noted elsewhere, he was perceived as a charming, masculine and romanticised anti-Bolshevik leader, just as Rudolf Valentino, his contemporary, rose to fame as an exemplar of the Mussolini image. That image of Valentino was refined by his ghost writer and publicist Herbert Howe. He combined ideas of traditional marriage and limits on women’s rights with antidemocratic theories that embraced forceful leadership, woman subservient. Both Valentino and Mussolini gained seductive authority thanks to such antidemocratic and misogynistic language. I’m not sure how relevant lack of the access to twitter enhances your argument, Ms Swisher.

Both Hitler and Mussolini were successful until they over-reached as Hitler did, or as Mussolini did by backing the wrong horse and moreover encumbered by a poor armed force; unlike Franco, who sat on the metaphorical railing throughout WWII. What would Franco have done if he had “snapchat” available? Another totally irrelevant musing.

Nevertheless, the comments about Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy make more sense, in that these men, particularly the former, figuratively came into the living room with his fireside chats. As I personally know so well, he had to compensate for his lack of freedom of movement. After all, he was paralysed from the waist down due to the effects of contracting polio. The fireside chats with the implied intimacy were well suited to his modulated East Coast Brahmin voice.

Sure, Kennedy was adept with television, and his televised debates with Nixon attest to that. But Nixon was such a damaged, warped individual, whose five o’clock shadow just served to emphasise the dark side of his personality that he was easy meat for the personable Kennedy. Kennedy was essentially declamatory, where his rhetoric was attuned to a positive future; Obama was obviously a student of Kennedy. Both men had an exquisite sense of timing; both exuded youthful optimism and accommodated to the whims of the contemporary media, but to what lasting effect?

Now Trump. Is it his mastery of social media? I would argue that it is not mastery but just use of an amplified megaphone. No different from Hitler spewing forth at Nuremburg, but just with a greater reach.  Much of the world recognises Trump for what he is, a potential despot given to wild accusations and outright lies, with a fanatical group who distort the Bible to justify all the vile actions they commit. The key is that Trump has a committed audience, which Clinton described as “deplorables”. It was the wrong word, however appropriate a moniker it may have been, Hilary.

The problem with the Old Testament is that much of it can be interpreted as depicting God as a vengeful entity, much as Trump is. Much of creationism with its literal interpretation of the Bible reinforces a rigidity of thought easily transposed into intolerance. The poetry of the Bible is thus lost. As a young grieving teenager, I was exposed to one of these groups (the Brethren) – smiles without humour, initially for the disturbed youth a faux-understanding, quickly transposed to the wrath and psychological torture ending in isolation without any mental health tools to cope. I was never dependent, an essential part of this evangelical tyranny, so I could escape without a trail of mental brimstone.

The idea of the “Chosen People” suggesting an elite validated by their God again fits within the Trump narrative, as it emboldens his acolytes.  The platforms Ms Swisher mentions are largely dependent on the perpetuation of “Trump Truth”.

No, Ms Swisher, despite your persuasive writing, I believe it is not simply mastery of the social media. It is what the jargon call product differentiation. Two old men. One projects a golden image, however ridiculous to the educated, but one which can be related to the Exodus description of the Ark of the Covenant namely: “make an atonement cover of pure gold – two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a cubit and a half wide. And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover” – welcome to Trump’s bathroom.

The other person is just an old white metal man, who has no such glowing image but one steadily meandering up the Parkinsonism escalator. Not the right image.

Still, the emergence of a sparkling Kamala Harris from her Vice-Presidential platinum chrysalis has been noted by at least one political geo-entomologist.

Transactional Change 

This week I received a communication from Diners Club effectively terminating my credit card from April as they are no longer offering a business card. I have been a Diners Club card holder since 1971, at a time when it was the prime credit card. However, over the years, with the entry of other credit card schemes, often linked to banks, Diners Club acceptance levels have fallen. Diners Club’s rewards scheme was generous for the card holders but demanded a bigger percentage from the vendor than other credit cards.

Ad in “Time” 8 June 1998

I grew up in a world where cash and cheque were the only ways for day-to-day transactions. Then there was the village sense of familiarity and trust being able to buy your purchase “on tick” – one way of describing an informal account. One transaction, I remember very well, was after we stayed in a hotel, my mother always put a two shilling piece under the pillow for the maid who was going to clean the room. It was her way of saying “thank you”.

My parents did not use traveller’s cheques. For whatever reason I never asked, because even though they had been available since 1936, my parents never used them. In the meantime, I grew up with a piggy bank and then a savings bank account with a passbook, which I kept long after they fell out of general use. In fact, it was only after a colleague of mine showed a mixture of incredulity and disdain that I abandoned my passbook.

One grew up at a time when cash transactions were determined by the opening and closing times of the banks, and when obtaining cash after hours was often very difficult. Australia well defined death after life by Sunday; and the extreme being Anzac Day and Good Friday, when the country was draped in sackcloth. Convenience was a word applied to the public toilet.

The first ATM

Even though the first automatic telling machine was introduced in Sydney in 1969, the first user friendly computerised ATM was not introduced until 1977 in Brisbane. Even then it took a long time before I obtained an ATM card. I was the ultimate conservative in financial transactions, and the modern ways such as PayPal, I have never used. I have never progressed beyond the cheque book.

That is the price of dependency of now being anzio – and presumably of progress.

Taking Coles to Canberra to Find out what is Wool Worth?

The supermarkets do not so much give money to the political parties as they make money for them, a role that embeds them all the deeper in the political establishment. Malcolm Knox 2015

Watching the two Chief Executives being interviewed by ABC reporter Angus Grigg for the Four Corners program, which was out to pillory the supermarket monopoly (and for that matter monopsony) of Coles and Woolworths was fascinating.

The neoliberal response which has contaminated public policy since the 70’s is sewn into the belief system of so many conservative economists and has never been unpicked despite its underlying cause of the GFC disaster in 2007. Before neoliberalism, it was tariffs – one was either for free trade or for protection.

But the unstated way these hidden cartels have enabled them to distort the socio-economic fabric of this country, is exemplified by the way these two companies have manipulated the food market. At the same time it just shows how weak our governments have been over the past decade or so in assuring equity.

Brad Banducci

Most of the contumely has rested on Bradford Banducci, who resigned as Woolworths CEO after his performance on Four Corners. A great amount of attention has been drawn to the fact that the interviewer so much got under his skin that he made some unwise, if not completely incorrect, comments about a former Chair of the ACCC, Rod Sims.

Nevertheless, he committed the unforgivable sin of getting up and making to leave the interview. There is a flurry of activity as off screen the Woolworths PR flack could be heard trying to smooth things over, and Banducci returned. That was even more unforgiveable, because he came back when he had clearly lost the power of the situation to the interviewer. He should have stuck to his decision and gone.

Why? That was his normal persona – a man so used to controlling the situation that when he normally gets up to leave, he takes the power of the situation with him. In this case, if he had continued to walk, it would have taken a good interviewer to retain that dominance which he had in inducing Banducci to flee or leave, whichever way you want to interpret it. Banducci coming back certainly made the editing easier.

It showed that Banducci, South African born of Tuscan heritage, who graduated in law and commerce from South Africa’s 4th ranked University, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, is not used to his power being challenged.

Who is Banducci? Yes, he graduated MBA from the UNSW Graduate School of Management, his ticket to life in Australian business. Nevertheless, South Africa was obviiously very important in developing his social norms.

Yet Banducci when only eight, would accompany his mother to her fashion store in the gold-mining town of Boksburg called “The Web.” He would help with packaging and visit wholesalers. After a few years, he joined his father’s sewing machine business. The apprentice-cum-gun salesman in the making.  While he had spent most of his career climbing the Woolworths ladder where compassion and humanity are not rated highly on the list, he has recently put Woolworths money into causes defending human rights, much to the disgust of the political right. So, they also pounced on Banducci this past week.

Yet reading the “pilgrim progress” of Banducci, there is his underlying business brutality, not suffering (or mistaking) fools, culminating in losing his temper on national television. Just a normal business executive, with a faint thread of compassion. To the neoliberal right, an unforgiveable sign of humanity – but he has now more time for recreational instead of business risk-taking, kayaking, open water swimming, and whitewater rafting.

Leah Weckert, Coles CEO

I found the interview with Leah Weikert, the CEO of Coles more interesting. She is very well qualified, and since recruited to Coles has shown her management skills, extending to the demerging from Wesfarmers.

She is a completely closed personality and being almost monosyllabic proved almost impossible as such to interview. She smiles without mirth; she talks without saying much. She has learnt to become a media automaton. Essentially, she has that personality of media success – she is totally boring.  She has the defence of Coles behaviour off pat. She is somebody who should not be crossed.

Weikert went to Marryatville High, (founded in 1976 during the Dunstan era, from the amalgamation of the Norwood Boys’ Technical High School and the Kensington & Norwood Girls’ High School), where in year 12 she demonstrated the Honey on Toast principle. Using her knowledge of calculus she predicted this rapid change, from the point where the honey is hardly moving to when it suddenly drops from the spoon onto the toast.

She grew up in an environment of wholesale primary produce. The Weikert heritage is Silesian, but unlike the Lutheran diaspora refugees from 19th century Prussia to South Australia, the Weikarts were Roman Catholic.

She is not unexpectedly a very private person, admitting to two children and a husband, who is not named. Not surprising given her closed personality. She should be aware that you can block for so long, but she should beware of the skilled interviewer who has unblocked persons of her ilk, irrespective of whether being able to predict the time it takes to get your honey onto toast.

Given she is only 44, she has the opportunity to lift her eyes from the balance sheet and refine the business school definition of “humanity” – or is that word still anathema in the world of the MBA graduate.

Thank you, Four Corners, for such an interesting case study about those who traditionally screw us customers, especially when the government scuttles away, headed by such a timid prime minister.

My aim in this piece was to concentrate on what common traits were revealed by these CEOs, whose approach has led to the current situation in regard to obtaining in alia a cheap banana. The aim was not to weep over the demise of being able to discuss the quality of the banana. That has long gone, but helpful comments upon the persons who control the banana may help in ensuring the banana is ripe.

Meanwhile back in Blighty

The UK Post Office scandal has been the subject of a documentary fronted by Toby Walsh playing the Welsh sub-postmaster, Alan Bates, titled Mr Bates vs The Post Office. A four-part series, it has attracted the largest BBC audience ever of over 10m. This is the story of Bates’ crusade to represent 700 sub-postmasters who as it turned out had been wrongly accused of stealing money, with many imprisoned.

In reality, it was a glitch in the Horizon software program, which the firm Fujitsu had been contracted to introduce, which they did in 1999. It was a flawed program whereby the governments and public service fought to not only preserve but also perpetuate the litany of wrong decisions. The flawed program indicated that there was a massive malfeasance among the sub-postmasters as revealed by the post office receipts.

It has taken a long time to redress, but it is estimated that the UK government will pay more than £50m extra after the first payment was largely gobbled up by the lawyers.

Below is the sorry story, which prompted me to add an inglenook to my blog outlining how the response to the many episodes of questionable behaviour by Australians in authority has yet to progress to suitable retribution.

The Post Office is owned by the government. However, the Post Office Ltd board is responsible for day-to-day operations. 

Former Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells resigned in 2019 over the scandal. In January 2024, she said she would hand back her CBE after a petition calling for its removal gathered more than a million signatures.

In August 2023, the current chief executive Nick Read agreed to pay back his bonus he received in relation to his involvement with Horizon. Part of that bonus included payment for his participation in the Horizon inquiry – an amount of £54,400. In May he agreed to pay some of that back – £13,600. But he has now agreed to return the remaining £40,800. He apologised for “the procedural and governance mistakes made”.

Fujitsu Europe director Paul Patterson says it has “clearly let society down, and the sub-postmasters down” for its role in the Post Office scandal.

Paul Patterson admitted there were “bugs, errors and defects” with the Horizon software “right from the very start”. He had previously told MPs that Fujitsu had a “moral obligation” to help fund compensation payments.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey is among several politicians facing questions over the scandal.

Davey was postal affairs minister during the coalition government. In May 2010 he refused to meet Alan Bates, the sub-postmaster who led the campaign to expose the scandal, saying he did not believe it “would serve any purpose”. He now says he was “deeply misled by Post Office executives”.

David Cameron’s government knew the Post Office had ditched a secret investigation that might have helped wrongly accused postmasters prove their innocence.

Even recently Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch has denied claims from the former Post Office Chair, Henry Staunton, that he was told to delay compensation payments to allow the government to “limp into the election”.

The 2016 investigation trawled 17 years of records to find out how often, and why, cash accounts on the Horizon IT system had been tampered with remotely. Ministers were told an investigation was happening.

But after postmasters began legal action, it was suddenly stopped.

The secret investigation adds to evidence that the Post Office knew Horizon’s creator, Fujitsu, could remotely fiddle with sub-postmaster’s cash accounts – even as it argued in court, two years later, that it was impossible.

The revelations have prompted an accusation that the Post Office may have broken the law – and the government did nothing to prevent it. Paul Marshall, a barrister who represented some sub-postmasters, said: “On the face of it, it discloses a conspiracy by the Post Office to pervert the course of justice.”

Paula Vennells

The Post Office boss during this period, Paula Vennells has justifiably been subject to continuing retribution. She has yet to finish up in gaol, but all the baubles which she had accumulated are gone, except she does remain an ordained Anglican priest.

But where is the retribution for our own version – the Robo Debt scandal? The commission reported nearly a year ago with its recommendations. Maybe Australia needs an ABC documentary rather just the passing gust of a 4 Corners piece.

Oh, by the way, the Horizon program is still being used by the UK Post Offices, allegedly suitably modified to eliminate the glitch. We shall see!

Mouse Whisper

As I have run around many a stately library with venerable books piled in bookcases reaching the ceiling, I have wondered how often each of these venerable books has been opened, let alone read.

My boss tells the story of a young librarian who happened to retrieve such a long unread book in the library at Queens College in Oxford University. It apparently had not been accessed for a long time, as when he removed the book, a piece of ancient Egyptian papyrus fell out. He presumed that the last person to borrow the book was using it as a bookmark, whenever that was – two centuries ago?

Modest Expectations – Flying in the Faroe Islands

Together, Omar Abudayyeh, 33, and Jonathan Gootenberg, 32, have probed the mysteries of genomic editing and COVID detection. They co-published 10 scientific papers, helped launch two medical-diagnostic companies, and cofounded a Watertown startup, Tome Biosciences, that reengineers genes and cells to cure diseases. They also run the Abudayyeh-Gootenberg laboratory.

Gootenberg and Abudayyeh are an unusual pair, two scientists — a Jewish American and a Palestinian American — who prefer working together in a field that often draws solitary researchers and rewards individual achievement.

As depicted above, this Amoeba proteus is among a range of snails, algae and amoebas that make programmable DNA-cutting enzymes called Fanzors. Fanzors are RNA-guided enzymes that can be programmed to cut DNA at specific sites, much like the bacterial enzymes that power the widely used gene-editing system known as CRISPR. The reported research in this area comes from the team headed by Gootenberg and Abudayyeh.

I thus could not bypass the report of such a collaboration, which has this air of exceptionalism about it. The two seem to be highly regarded in cellular engineering, given they have raised enough funding to set up their eponymously named laboratory at MIT. The sunny publicity photograph of their team shows them flanking eleven researchers (four women and seven men). One of the women is wearing a hijab. The others show a variety of heritage; but why comment?

This is how research should be conducted, free from political and religious manipulation, and the depressing detritus of misinformation strewn by evil men. Oh, that this collaboration between Jew and Palestinian could be generalised into wider behaviour between the two peoples.

The Barnaby Grudge

The man of many self-inflicted memes

Barnaby Joyce, lying flat on his back on a Canberra street, swearing into his mobile phone, obviously pissed out of his mind – allegedly – was such unbelievable fodder for the media. The response has been predictable. Joyce is a serial roisterer; he is lazy, whether intellectually lazy beggars the question of whether he has the intellect. He collects money for doing nothing; he is completely ill-disciplined.

He is the sort of character who probably refined his skills at school, where he would have been expert in forming gangs. Where there are gangs, then there are bullies. Bullies with a smile; who have size and, in Barnaby’s case, a ruddiness and exophthalmos giving him the expression of a grinning toad, seems to some of either gender to be compelling. After all, he has a reputation of being a high-profile philanderer as well as a bar-breasting “jock”.

Joyce was once said to be the best retail politician in the country. But what did that mean? Being able to wear an Akubra without looking like a dill or effortlessly downing a schooner in a country pub? Barnaby, the engaging.

As they used to say about Bill Clinton, when you met him for 30 seconds you felt that you were the most important person on Earth. Has Barnaby emulated that?

The previous leaders of the National Party that I have met would have dismissed Joyce as a buffoon, but Joyce survived because paradoxically he had this level of “jock” charm, which none of these immediate predecessors have had.

I have not been blameless, but the only time that I emulated Barnaby’s exploit was one time when I was about 20 and stupidly lay down on a quiet piece of bitumen on the Gold Coast. Why?  Because it appeared a place of rest for this “tired and emotional” young bloke. I was fortunately rescued by a young lady who shielded me from curious police, who were inquiring about why this young man wanted to sleep on the macadam. The helpful police assisted me to my feet, suggested that a bed would be the best place to sleep it off, and spared me from the accommodation, which they could have provided.

Now Barnaby was reputedly swearing into his phone; and it would have presented a problem for any potential “good Samaritan”. After all, don’t we have the police and ambulance officers to assist such a person resting on his back in a public space, spitting invective?

Anyway, there is not much information following the photograph of the laid back Joyce. What happened? Oh, well according to unofficial authoritative connections with the National Party, Barnaby just got to his feet, dusted himself off and went into one of his favourite retail Barnaby outlets to have a hamburger and then went home, presumably to read his children a bedtime story. This last has not been confirmed.

Next day, there are reports of Littleproud and Dutton warming some lettuce leaves before meeting Joyce for a friendly chat about the dangers of the slippery surfaces of Canberra streets, not to mention plantar boxes which throw innocents from their “sovereign borders”, particularly after imbibing a mixture of prescription pharmaceuticals and alcohol, despite a warning not to do so – Joyce’s explanation for his dilemma. However, this simply highlights his irresponsibility and echoes the excuses of others for their own bad behaviour – if you are warned not to mix drugs and drink, then don’t. It’s an indictment not an excuse if you do.

Now getting serious, mate. Barnaby, take a hike. Australia has enough parasites already, even if they are good at retailing themselves.

Yet some urban parliamentarians may disagree with me. They found out that having photos of Joyce and his exploits posted around an electorate just reminded potential voters how good he is in retailing women candidates who despise his vulgarity – as a considerable proportion of urban Australia do.

Meanwhile

Feeding on the Corpse – Living the Nightmare 

A regular feeding frenzy

The entry of Morrison into the feeding frenzy over the AUKUS boondoggle has generated a thought bubble. He joins a whole group of former politicians who are clustering around the huge mound of money labelled AUKUS, which has no sensible conclusion. Spending money on potentially obsolete technology while saying they are tip-toeing along the edge of major technological advancements is meaningless. Fancy language like “pillars one” and “pillars two” just increases the arcane shroud covering the Aquatic Boondoggle.

A giant scam perpetuated by politicians who have bought us Australians sports rorts, money laundering through casinos, a gambling industry out of control, acquisition of land for the Badgerys Creek airport, handouts favouring a shady boyfriend, car park rorts, the building better regional National Party slush fund,  the PwC tax leak scandal, Dutton and offshore detention corruption within his portfolio responsibility, Morrison’s secret ministries … and it goes on and on.

The thread is that politicians, especially Ministers, can be as corrupt as they like and their retribution is placed on the equivalent of the Slow Boat to China

The actions remind me of two films.

The first is the Italian film La Grande Bouffe.

This is the story of four men who wish to gorge themselves to death, which they do in the most degenerate way. All die; the film is a disgusting exercise in gourmandising. But where the story line diverges from the Australian gourmandising on taxpayer sweetmeats is that in the film there are only three prostitutes.

Preparing to move to the Front Bench …

The second is yet to be released, but has the tentative title, The Vultures. But the images are so horrible, so depraved that a prequel called Nemesis has been released to condition the Australian nation. The spectacle of vultures alternatively preening and clawing over the carcass which was once Australia is bad enough, but the scene where the vultures are transformed into human form is particularly disturbing. Discussions are continuing, but some say, the transmogrification of the Lammergeiers to the Front Bench is just so horror-full that nobody living outside our borders could believe the debauchery through which this country has lived.

However, as part of this film in the making the Consultants, a shadowy group of vultures have been filmed stripping this aquatic Boondoggle of its monetary flesh. Most Australians will be so revolted by the blizzard of banknotes being gourmandised by this band of slavering Vultures, that they will call for it to be immediately banned.

Yuk…but unfortunately it has been bought as a training film for each member of Parliament. 

In Our Times

In Our Times is one of Hemingway’s earliest works, a series of short stories, for the want of any other words. He wrote it in around 1924 or 1925, a time when he had recently arrived in Paris and was under the thrall of Ezra Pound. His alter hero-ego, Nick Adams, appears in a large proportion of the stories, which vary from a few pages to the accepted length of short stories, in the region of 5,000 words. Before reading this book, it was helpful to know of Hemingway’s wartime experiences and his passion for bullfighting, which he consolidated into two of his best books, both written not long after “In Our Times”.  They were “The Sun also Rises” and “Farewell to Arms”. The first is structured around bullfighting in Spain and the second, his experiences of WWI in the Alps where the Italian and the Austro-Hungarian armies are locked in combat.  This Hemingway story for me is one of the greatest twentieth century novels.

Nick Adams as Johnny Yuma

The name “Nick Adams” resonated with me for another reason. Nick Adams was an actor who, in the early 60’s, featured in a western television series, The Rebel where he played Johnny Yuma, an ex-Confederate soldier now paladin. Late at night when we were doing our women’s hospital stint, we used to go across the road to the Italian trattoria and watch Johnny Yuma while having a veal parmigiana. For a group of us it became a reason to escape briefly from the stifling atmosphere we were forced to experience for ten weeks while we learnt the obstetrics trade, delivered the requisite numbers of required babies, and were rostered on the episiotomy schedule to sew up the perineal cuts. Ah, the joys of being called at 3am.

In any event, Nick Adams was a name that loomed large. He was a handsome bloke of pure Ukrainian heritage and his stage name was a contraction of his actual name. He was friendly with both Presley and James Dean. A troubled character, he died of a drug overdose in 1968. There has been some controversy over his death, but to some accident and murder seem more palatable as a cause of death than the eventual verdict of suicide. Controversy thus occurred. He was an image of his times.

What I found somewhat spooky, when I started reading In Our Times, was Hemingway’s adoption of the alias of Nick Adams. Hemingway blew his brains out in 1961.

What’s in her Name!

(The Passionate Years is a) mad, amusing, and revealing look at Paris in the twenties and at the people Caresse Crosby knew—Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, James Joyce, Picasso, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Lawrence of Arabia, and a host of others. In a single day, a visitor to the Crosby home outside of Paris might have found Salvador Dali at work in one room, Douglas Fairbanks Senior playfully swinging from the rafters, and D. H. Lawrence sunning himself by the pool. 

Caresse Crosby and her whippet, possibly named Clytoris

The edition of In Our Times that I picked up in some shop somewhere which took euros as payment was published in Paris as one the books in the Crosby Continental Editions series in 1932. It was an ambitious project by this woman who had adopted the name Caresse, (she had toyed with the name Clytoris but eventually gave that name to one of her pet whippets) when she married Harry Crosby in 1920. He was her second husband and, given their massive wealth, they lived a completely luxuriant hedonistic life, with Caresse and Harry as the centrepiece against the Bohemian backdrop in Paris as languidly described above.

She was born Mary Phelps Jacob into a well-to-do New York family. She early demonstrated her eclectic talents. For example, she invented the backless bra, when she decided to ditch the whalebone corset. The bra started off as two pink handkerchiefs stitched together, was refined and it proved very comfortable and was adopted by her friends. She sold the patent for $1500; the buyer went on to make millions.

She is even credited with having held the 220 yards record, but given that women’s athletics were hardly recognised then, why should her feat be singled out?

She was first married in 1915 to Richard Peabody, a Boston businessman, called herself Polly, had two children, and after tiring of him struck up the relationship with Crosby as noted above. As token of their love they sealed a suicide pact. Harry Crosby stuck to his side of the bargain and committed suicide in 1929 after murdering his lover at the time – not Caresse who lived on until 1978.

Among Caresse’s venture was establishing these Crosby Continental Edition books – ten of them- and yet as reported in a short biography of herself, it was a total failure.  As has been pointed out, it … may partly have been the choice of titles.   Although Hemingway, Faulkner and Saint-Exupery sound an impressive selection of authors, it was competing with Albatross, whose first ten books included titles by James Joyce, Aldous Huxley, Sinclair Lewis, Virginia Woolf, A.A. Milne and Edgar Wallace.  Caresse had been keen to launch her series with a best-seller and was delighted to get Hemingway on board, but ‘The Torrents of Spring’ is probably not his finest work.  Albatross, which later published ‘The Sun Also Rises’, then got the better deal (Tauchnitz, had earlier published ‘A Farewell to Arms’).

Overall the Crosby list contains 6 works by American authors and 4 by French writers in translation.  Was it insufficiently cosmopolitan, or even insufficiently British, to appeal to the readers of English language books in continental Europe, many of whom would have been British expatriates or tourists?

The question is totally rhetorical, but Caresse did underestimate the experience and strength of the opposition.

Albatross Books, founded in 1932 by John Holroyd-Reece, Max Christian Wegner and Kurt Enoch was a German publishing house based in Hamburg that produced the first modern mass-market paperback books.

The name was chosen because albatross is the same word in many European languages.

Based on the example of Tauchnitz, a Leipzig publishing firm that had been producing inexpensive and paper-bound English-language reprints for the continental market, Albatross set out to streamline and modernise the paperback format. Tauchnitz was established in the eighteenth century, and in 1841 started publishing English editions, including inexpensive English-language reprints of American and British authors, and then sold them in all parts of the world except the British Empire.

However, the Albatross Modern Continental Library stood out in the marketplace “with an eye for design and colour”, which included the introduction of colour-coding for different categories of books” in the form of fully saturated covers: red for crime, blue for romance, yellow for literary novels and essays, purple for biography and history, green for travel, orange for short stories, and improved typography and modern editorial policies. These modern looking volumes sold in huge numbers, and were the template for The Penguin Books, which Alan Lane started publishing in 1936. Kurt Enoch later went to work for him, after he escaped from Nazi Germany via France, as his American director.

So successful was Albatross Books that it absorbed Tauchnitz, but it was caught up in WWII and ceased publication in 1940.

By that time Crosby Editions had long gone, but fortunately I have one of the surviving copies, in moderate condition complete with its nondescript cover with the Crosby monogram.

Mouse Whisper

The Boss was President of the Student Representative Council at the University of Melbourne at a time when there were delicate negotiations to re-admit the Council back into the National Union of Australian University Students (NUAUS). He sent what he thought was a reasonable letter to his counterpart at the University of Sydney. In one sentence, he meant to use “imprudent”, but he failed to pick up the missing “r”, and the word read as “impudent”. Talk about the “War of the Missing R”. In the end, the explanation of the typo was accepted, but not before The Boss had a severe case of burning ears.

He was reminded of this when we all read in The Boston Globe of what happens when one does not pay enough attention to what in isolation would appear to be trivial. However, in context…

Lyft took investors on a brief but wild ride when it announced earnings this week. In a press release issued after the end of regular trading on Tuesday, the ride-hailing company said it expected its profit margin to increase by 5 percentage points this year, a huge jump. Investors sent the stock up by as much as 67 percent in after-hours trading, according to Bloomberg. Later, on a conference call, the company copped to making a big typo: Margins would increase by just 0.5 of a percentage point. Its shares retreated.

Lyft isn’t the only company that’s had problems with typos.

·       In 2010, JPMorgan Chase signed a trader to a contract with a salary of 24 million rand ($3.1 million), instead of 2.4 million rand. The trader sued to enforce the deal, but a judge let the bank off the hook.

·       A Maine dairy settled a case for $5 million after a judge ruled in 2018 that a misplaced comma in a state law meant that its drivers were entitled to overtime pay.

·       Last month, Boston real estate agency Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty sued the developer of the St. Regis Residences, alleging it was short changed by nearly $400,000 in commissions because of a misplaced decimal point in a contract. The developer, Jon Cronin, called the lawsuit frivolous.

It is always a case of not getting things write.

The case of the missing R

Modest Expectations – Place of Caves

Two of Trump’s committees, Save America leadership PAC and the Make America Great Again PAC, spent $55.6 million on legal bills in 2023, including $29.9 million in the second half of the year, according to the new reports released Wednesday. Washington Post.

Robert Hur

The calculated insult that Biden is a well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory, apparently appears in the report commissioned to assess the extent and reasons for Biden retaining classified files after leaving the White House. Robert Hur was the author of the comments. Attorney General Merrick Garland had appointed Hur, a former Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for Maryland, as Special Counsel in January 2023 after Biden’s aides discovered classified files when they searched his home and office. The problem was that Biden reacted to the Report’s comments like an affronted old man, and his anger caused him to do himself no good; and then to confound his protest about his mental ability, he referred to the Egyptian President as the Mexican. Not a good look!

So as someone has said, the American people are potentially faced with the choice of two old men, neither of which they particularly want.

I would suggest that the first debate be constructed to test the cognitive ability of these old men. After all, it is the talking point. It should be scientifically put together by independent experts. Even floating this possibility and suggesting your use of two younger aspirants as “controls”, would result in the Trump bluster. This would be predictable in terms of his trying to distract and yet in the end it would focus on the dilemma he has, and which he may not comprehend, which is the progressive impact of his failing mental state. And couple that with how he is spending so much of  the money raised  to save his carotene-stained skin by his employment of lawyers. What a look!

Biden would, I predict, be more nuanced; but in the attempt to justify his cognitive abilities, he has shown a lack of insight and judgement by appearing in front of a braying media pack. He is prone to lose his temper and with that he loses the plot. He will be 86 years old at the end of another putative presidency; and I’m afraid another demonstration of a lack of insight, this time driven by his innate vanity will only magnify his flaws as the mental cracks widen. No solace that Trump already lives in such a mental abyss.

But there is one other matter in relation to Biden which some of my colleagues suspect, judging by his stilted demeanour and gait. They all reckon he has Parkinsonism. Presumably he has been checked out, but if he does not have Parkinsonism then Trump does not have dementia.

But nobody is frank. Neither of these guys will see out a four-year period when the potential for the world to catch alight has never been more so for decades.

What a terrible choice for the USA – and ourselves.

How much will you sell me the Harbour Bridge for?

What a great theme for this Year – the Year of Making My Lying Great. But there are other themes in this year when the Olympic Games in Paris will be epitomised by a crew of emaciated dwarfs running the streets of Paris in an increasingly gross spectacle called the Marathon. Look for rhabdomyolysis in the extreme summer heat, where these vulnerable paradoxically highly trained athletes may well become “plats de jour.”

This year then serves to remind us that Brisbane will be the host of the Olympic Games. It is a year when we should not forget John Coates will be 82. He, the Hidden Hand in the award of the 2032 Games to Brisbane, having successfully engineered a change in the rules in awarding the Games, so a small cabal now decides which city would be awarded. Then he recused himself from the actual awarding. Of course he did, being a person within the inner circle for years and being close to the President. He was the Bite for Bach. All those “Coatsian” machinations; and then alas, nobody else wanted it. All in vain?

Six months ago, the Brisbane Times reported: With Brisbane 2032 already having experienced massive cost blowouts – the Gabba rebuild went from $1 billion to $2.7 billion – questions were naturally asked about Queensland’s commitment to host the Olympics. But Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the state was “100 per cent committed” to hosting the Olympics.

The Gabba

Palaszchuk has now gone, but is Coates’ manipulative input diminished? Redevelopment of the “Gabba” has been pronounced dead. Coates, trying to remain in the loop, has agreed. Six months ago, no such judgement; but the new Premier, Stephen Miles, has put the kibosh on the expenditure, and especially rebuilding the Gabba.

My initial pessimism about Brisbane being awarded the Games is rapidly being confirmed. As a teenager I well remember the Melbourne Olympic games with all the bickering and the threats from the then appalling long-term IOC president, Avery Brundage, the American Hitler admirer. In the end, it went ahead, but had some other associated problems. In the latter part of 1956, the northern hemisphere was aflame with the Suez crisis and the Hungarian rebellion. In the end, Melbourne hosted one of the smallest Olympic Games in modern times.

In addition, because of the tough Australian quarantine laws at the time, the equestrian events were held in Stockholm. But let us say, the management of the whole Games, from its award in 1948 almost to the opening by Prince Phillip, was questionable. It had elements of farce mixed with administrative bungling. The Games were held with some stumbles; but there are fond memories and Australia did well. I believe having the Melbourne Cricket Ground and other readymade venues helped a great deal.

There are two important factors between success and failure that I have observed. The first is the profitability. The total cost of staging the Sydney Olympic Games was $6.5 bn. The Federal Government contributed $194 million, and the private sector $1.3 bn, while the NSW State Government contributed $2.3 bn. The profit is always more than a touch fanciful.

In the past three decades, two Olympic Games stand out for their overall net positive results.

Los Angeles was the only city to express interest for the 1984 Olympics. After Munich’s terrorism, Montreal’s cost overruns (it took Montreal 30 years to pay its Olympic Games debt) and the Moscow Games, most countries shied away. It was also the time that Samaranch, a Catalan by birth yet a Spanish Falangist by political affiliation, became IOC President following the hapless Irish peer, Lord Killanin. Samaranch was a very smart operator.

The US city exploited its unique negotiating position: it would host only if it could use existing facilities from 1932’s previous LA Games and house athletes in university dormitories. The city ended the Games with a US$250 million surplus.

Despite exceeding its budget by more than 400 per cent in 1992, Barcelona reaped long-term benefits from the Games. The city wanted to re-invent itself and improve its harbour facilities. Having been to Barcelona when the Olympic stadium was being built in the late 1980s, I remember having a meal on one of the old wharf restaurants, and so the changes wrought obviously due largely to Samaranch’s shrewdness, have been remarkable.

I remember that there was no work being undertaken on La Sagrada Familia, it being fenced off at that time. That neglect changed as Barcelona changed.  The tempo of construction accelerated markedly, and it was partially opened to the public in 2010. The final huge steeple is now under construction, and the finishing date is estimated to be 2026.

It was also a time when the Barcelona football team (“Barca”) started on its winning ways, attracting a huge degree of worldwide support. I have visited Barcelona several times since.  On one of these occasions, the city was out in force when the Barca football team crowded on the top of an open-aired double decker bus being driven through streets after winning the European Cup. Messi was very recognisable at the front of the team holding onto the bus rail.

But these Games were a long time ago, and the Brisbane Games appear to be a hollow tribute to one man’s ego. This current situation reminds me of the Melbourne troubles. The bickering has started, and there are so many sports now crowded into the games, each demanding their own venue, and cost is beginning to become a major issue. The other major issue is the management.

The strength of management is critical. Sandy Holloway is widely credited with successful management of the Sydney Games and, having experienced the Games first-hand, given the crowds and the logistic problem of clearing venues of people, he did a good job – if that was the major criterion of success. He keeps bouncing around with his views on display. He welcomed the appointment of Cindy Hook as the Brisbane Olympic Games CEO. She headed Deloitte in Australia previously, but Holloway was critical of her accompanying “megaboard” as he termed it.

The Chair, an expatriate Australian chemical engineer who headed Dow was appointed President of the Games Committee, as reported to be one of the last actions agreed by the Morrison Government. Andrew Liveris has an illustrious, if speckled, career. One of his contributions was floating the use of nuclear power. Last year, he was reported in the AFR as saying the Games were forecast to cost taxpayers $7.1 billion over the next decade.

Liveris said that the share of the broadcast rights, sponsorship opportunities, attendance (in person and virtual) and the better utilisation of existing venues provides a different model and that 84 per cent of our venues are already in place.

Moreover, the major new projects – $2.7 billion to redevelop the Gabba as the main Olympic stadium and the building of the Brisbane Arena at a cost of $2.5 billion – will create an “urban spine for Brisbane which will bring it into the 21st century in terms of entertainment, restaurants, museums and art galleries to make the city vibrant with the two big sports arenas… If we do see cost escalations, here’s what we will do, we’ll find more revenue”.

That was last year, said at the time Melbourne withdrew its sponsorship of the Commonwealth Games which created a “one-day” furore and now has been forgotten except by those who know it was just an expensive cynical exercise to shore up Labor-held seats outside Melbourne.

The Liveris solution – improve the revenue stream in the face of the inevitable cost blow-out – is not the way the Queensland authorities operate. Cut costs is more the flavour.

More ominously, recent reports suggest Coates is throwing his weight around. Probably fears a case of sudden infant games death syndrome. But the last thing the organisation needs is an interfering old man trying to call the shots without any formal responsibility.

But let us see. It is only a matter of time before all will be revealed. Cities will jack up against the increasing burdens imposed by the IOC, who skim their take, without doing anything but pick the “sucker” city. Gone is the canniness of Samaranch – all that is left is residual rapacity.

The thought of having to assume management and financial responsibility must send shudders through the plush halls of Lausanne. But then to paraphrase those famous words uttered by Humphrey Bogart: “We’ll always have Saudi Arabia.”

But wait, don’t forget Qatar. Who would  have thought it … favourite for the 2036 Games already.

Bird of Paradise

Whatever industry the Chinese have attacked they have captured; whatever they have attempted they have mastered; whenever there has been an encounter between them and our own people they have come off victorious. And these are said to be the very offscouring of the Chinese ports. – San Francisco Chronicle 1875

I have only been to Papua New Guinea once, in 1973, when Papua was in the throes of transitioning from an Australian protectorate / colony to eventual independence in 1975. I remember dinner with a number of up-and-coming politicians and bureaucrats in Port Moresby. It was a boozy affair. John Knight, later Senator for the ACT, was with me that night and provided a degree of DFAT dignity to the proceedings. But it was not a time when there was much vision of the future emerging from the bottom of wine and beer glasses. The world would take care of itself. Michael Somare was their hero; and his friendship with Andrew Peacock was a symptom of how attitudes were changing between our two countries. John Knight got on well with Peacock.

I remember flying up to Lae, a distance of 325 km to the north-east of Port Moresby, to see a friend of mine with whom I had worked in the research laboratory. I had not seen her for a few years, and in that time she had married and had a child.

However, the lasting memory of Lae, and probably my strongest recollection as I have lost my notes of that visit, was visiting the war cemetery there, carved from the jungle, with its neat array of white crosses.  So many Australians are interred there. There was nobody else in the cemetery, but I skirted the graves making sure I did not walk on any of them. I stayed there for a long time until I realised that I had to catch the plane back to Port Moresby. When I got there to check in, even though I had been allocated a seat, there was no seat. I had my first lesson in Melanesian bureaucracy but somehow, through both cajoling and “pulling rank”, I got on the flight. The rest of the return home was uneventful. It was the last day TAA flew into Papua New Guinea.

I have known many doctors who have done stints in New Guinea back in the 60’s and much later. They have always been pessimistic about the quality of the care, even in the larger centres. When I organised a meeting of the South Pacific public health physicians as part of the anti-Mururoa nuclear testing project, with the support of the Australian Government, many of these nations sent representatives, but not PNG.

At the end of school in the 50s, PNG offered careers as patrol officers. One of the Cadet Under Officers at school went off to become one, and I never heard of him again. Well, that is not true. Mick was a very good hockey player and it was reported in the 1958 Pacific Island Monthly that he was best and fairest playing for Rabaul, although beaten by Port Moresby in the final. Ah, the days of patrol officers sipping Pimms No. I after the game. But thereafter?

Fuzzy-wuzzy angel

It was just New Guinea then, with the wartime stories of the brave fuzzy-wuzzy angels and the march down the Kokoda trail and the victory over the Japanese at Milne Bay, Australia triumphant. WWII thrust this second biggest island in the world into one of great relevance to Australia.

PNG was shown to be a buffer, in addition to its underlying mineral wealth and its varied cultures. Like so much of the world in the nineteenth century, New Guinea was subject to being sliced up by European powers. New Guinea was notionally Dutch, until the British prised the Eastern part of the Island away in 1824. The British hold on this part of the island was flimsy and the Germans, in consolidating their place in the Pacific, had originally centred on Samoa. However, in 1884 they established German New Guinea, incorporating the Bismarck archipelago, and the next year, the northern Solomon Islands, Bougainville and Buka. The British government annexed the remaining Papua in 1888, and then in formal terms:

The possession was placed under the authority of the Commonwealth Australia in 1902. Following the passage of the Papua Act of 1905, British of New Guinea became the Territory of Papua, and formal Australian administration began in 1906.

This suggests that the British government was only too happy to have their fledging dominion look after “British New Guinea”. With the outbreak of WWI, it did not take the Australians long to defeat the Germans and take over German New Guinea. In December 1920, Australia was granted the mandate of all German possessions South of the equator except Samoa and Nauru by the League of Nations. It was not the happiest time, with continuing conflict with the League of Nations. Billy Hughes, Prime Minister at the time of the Treaty of Versailles, set the scene for our relationship with his truculence and the attempts to apply the White Australia policy to New Guinea. Hughes loathed the League of Nations, but then he did not like much anyway – miserable little man. In all, Australia did not handle the Mandate well; starved it for funding and did very little in providing education and social support in New Guinea, leaving that to the Christian missions.

Geography didn’t help. The Owen Stanley Mountain Range was a significant barrier to travel, and the people lived in tribes, often at war with their neighbours in the next valley. So, granting independence was always going to be problematical.

Michael Somare in East Sepik tribal ceremony

Fortunately, Michael Somare, the classical charismatic leader, was there at the right time. Born in 1936 in Rabaul, he grew up in the East Sepik district, where his father, Ludwig, was a policeman. His early schooling was provided in a Japanese-run school during wartime. He eventually became a teacher, having reached the equivalent of Year 11 education. He formed a close relationship with Andrew Peacock when the latter was Minister for Territories in the Coalition Government. What Peacock did with his relationship with Somare was to break down colonial patronising attitudes. Somare promised so much at the time.  Such a relationship has never been repeated, more’s the pity.

Japan ostensibly had little interest pre-war in New Guinea, Japanese sampans zipping around the Pacific more a pest than a threat. Japanese pearl divers were located throughout the area, where there were significant amounts of mother-of-pearl. However, as a demonstration of the White Australia policy, Australia removed all Japanese from New Guinea.

Japan in 1914 had occupied the Caroline Islands, the southernmost islands of Micronesia, and built a naval base on the island of Truk. Japan achieved a sort of revenge by occupying the old New Guinea Mandate area during WWII, so much so that in the Allied battle to regain its lost Pacific, the Americans bypassed Rabaul because it had been so fortified by the Japanese. They a feared that a hostile base there could be a springboard for bombing Truk by the then new Flying Fortresses. Papua was never occupied by the Japanese, although they inflicted significant damage on Port Moresby.

This demonstrated so clearly the importance of the island as this buffer to the North, without bothering to demonise “the yellow peril” as pre-war Australia labelled the Chinese and Japanese. The problem which, even now, Australia must deal with is the level of corruption in PNG, as instanced by the administration of offshore detention centres – the spectacle of private consulting firms ripping off the Australian Government, with obvious internal corruption here and among people in the PNG administration. And for what?

Australia has provided direct assistance when asked — handing over more than a billion dollars in low-interest loans to support PNG’s budget since 2019. Australia tolerated the PNG Government when it pegged the kina to the Australian dollar so the “elite” could afford to buy property in Australia and educate their children in private schools; and then expected us to bail them out.

The Dutch annexed the island as a single entity. Then from 1824 the disaster started, as the Europeans “sliced and diced” the Island. In 1962, as the Indonesians inherited the Dutch East Indies territory, as eventually the Dutch, who were awful colonists anyway just gave in and the Javanese dominated Indonesians swarmed into a Melanesian culture with their normal cultural sensitivity. Thus, West Irian is a festering sore, which the World conveniently ignores. PNG does not have the power to affect what is happening in West Irian to their Melanesian cousins.

The Chinese have offered to bring in a so-called team to train police and the military. The level of lawlessness is out of control if one can believe the media reports, and the spectacle of buildings burning in Port Moresby. I remember the “rascals” – Chimbu tribesmen who had descended on Port Moresby, and found it was far from El Dorado formed criminal gangs. If the PNG accepts the Chinese “law and order offer” it will be a Faustian bargain.

As for the future of PNG, there is talk about a Free Trade Agreement as there also is with China. PNG depends heavily on agriculture for export income. If nothing else the biosecurity measures imposed by Australia makes this difficult; and the major export to Australia is minerals, most of which have significant Australian ownership of the mines.

China is now a factor in funding PNG; the Americans are issuing warnings to us about this, but what have they done for the Island? And what of our legacy, a bodgie exercise to maintain asylum seekers from entering Australia because they had the temerity to come to Australia by boat.

That is the story of the last 50 years. Just provide annual funding – has that been a good investment? Especially now that the Chinese have appeared on the scene (just wait for them wanting to build a harbour). Our investment has gone sour; and what with Bougainville to be sorted through, not to mention the other countries of the South Pacific, Australia may pay a price which we were not expecting. Australia had funded PNG as a security buffer.  The buffer is in danger of disintegrating, as the Solomon Islands government have shown recently despite our involvement through RAMS (Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands) of restoring the country after a period of civilian anarchy in the early 2000s.

Just because the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea travels to Canberra and gives a talk to Parliament, did anything material occur? Was there any free trade agreement finalised? The answer of course is no.

There may be smiles all round, soaring rhetoric, promises litter the Statement by Albanese and Marape released on February 8. But the failed State to our North just rumbles on, and now with China well and truly in the mix.

Prime Minister James Marape

The visit of Prime Minister Marape has made me think.  Here, we have a country, which I remember coming towards independence nearly 50 years ago. A brief association: I never returned. I’ve been to many Islands in the Pacific, but never have been back to PNG. Why? I think I did not want to be disappointed.

Yet how different the actuality of the present from the optimism of 1973. Nevertheless, as part of the 50th celebration next year, a memorial to our patrol officers will be built. My schoolmate of so long ago, Mick, would be pleased.

Mouse whisper

Talking of additional sports being added to the Olympic Games. Gliding was a demonstration sport at the Berlin Games. It was so popular, that it was included among the scheduled 1940 Games events for Tokyo. The Games were cancelled, and therefore gliding was the Olympic sport which never was.

Modest Expectations – Melville has some Depth (+1)

Taffy Jones died at the end of last year. Taffy Jones was in my year of medicine. Moreover, he was in Trinity College at the same time as myself.

When we graduated near the bottom of the year, we found ourselves as first year resident doctors at Box Hill & District Hospital, then an outer suburban hospital where it was considered a training ground for general practice. It was in the days before intensive care or coronary care units, before emergency physicians existed, before all the accumulated rules policed by nurses bearing clipboards in the name of “Quality Control”.

We all shared Casualty duty – all six of us. One night when Taffy was on duty a man in his thirties presented with acute chest pain. Fortuitously, Taffy thought he may have a ruptured oesophagus, an uncommon condition where the pain mimics that of cardiac pain. Taffy was right. In those days, the operation to repair the oesophagus was undertaken locally. To-day, he would have been admitted to a major teaching hospital. The chances for survival were not good, but Taffy looked after him literally day and night. One day when Taffy was sleeping in the same room, obviously not the patient, some over-zealous nurse tried to do his four-hour observations. Knowing Taffy’s innate affability, I’m sure he took it with the good grace any exhausted doctor being woken up in the middle of night to have their blood pressure being taken would. The patient recovered.

I was reminded of this when I recently went the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH)with a 36-hour nosebleed, which had been imperfectly staunched. I was deposited in a wheelchair to wait six hours to be attended while subject to the torture of the clipboard mania laughably called “quality control”. I, the patient vanished under a pile of protocols, even being admonished at one interval for having the temerity to question the need for blood tests when I had had them done only two days prior

Eventually, I was seen by the emergency physician and her trainee sidekick. Well, what do you know! They did not have the instruments to stop the bleeding. So, I was transferred to the ear, nose and throat (ENT) clinic late in the afternoon, having been in the emergency department since mid-morning. I was the last patient in the clinic. All the ENT specialists had left. There was no-one else but the ENT registrar. Again, I waited – after about a further 20 minutes, the registrar emerged. She treated me; she was very competent. It took 20 minutes, if that. By the way, there are four ENT registrars all of whom could have seen me during the course of the day. She did a good job, and I have had only one small bleed since; it is part of my disease spectrum.

It happened to me this week again; I, an immunologically compromised person having to wait two hours to be seen, when this time I did have a designated appointment time. This time I was very angry; the oncologist apologised. He said that the hospital administration, whom they never see, just keep loading him up with patients. Predictably from being in this poorly ventilated hospital three days later I developed what I initially thought was an upper respiratory tract infection, but then tested positive for COVID.

I was once a senior medical manager in a health service the size of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, admittedly some years ago. I always made a point of being seen around the hospital, listening, encouraging efficiency and effectiveness and at time criticising when I thought it warranted. The only place I failed but still developed a mutual regard was with the head of the eye clinic, which we maintained until his death some years ago. He was an interesting case study.

The administrator who remains office bound, giving a semblance of business by always being at meetings, at conferences, on days off, is more the profile these days. It is even worse now since the pandemic; apparently, they work from home. It is about time the government woke up and see who is ostensibly running the hospitals, looking after or ensuring that health professionals can work in a way that the patient, such as myself, feels satisfied and safe. The RPA has always been near the bottom of the pack, at least since Dr Don Child retired in 1987.

My Tasmanian Response

Somewhat impetuously, I said that I would write a piece about my Tasmania, in response to the tourist blurb distortion which appeared recently in the NYT, and which I found projected a very limited view of Tasmania.

But when I calmed down, I realised over the nearly five years I have been writing a blog each week without a break – this week at blog 255 it’s just five away from my fifth anniversary. Mostly I write about 3,000 words, including the various quotes and outside opinion which is baked into the blog. Generally, my wife waves much of my writing through, with variable degrees of editing.

Here even with so many words clocked up on my blog, my wife pointed out that my first draft wasn’t up to scratch, particularly as there is such a great amount of material to be written about this island and which I had barely touched upon. She was right.

Now, I first came to Tasmania, to Hobart in 1950, when I stayed with my parents at the Wrest Point Hotel when it was an art deco creation at Sandy Bay, an upmarket part of Hobart. So, I have a long association, but only acquired a property here 20 years ago.

I learnt over the years that it is the land itself which makes the whole of Tasmania attractive not just one small segment on the north-east coast, however beautiful. Despite the action of us white people, there is enough remaining Tasmania upon which to marvel. Tasmania is not only one particular walk through a confected culture.

Opium poppies in flower

Strangely, I like this island because the blend of exotic flora seems to augment the attractiveness of the island in addition to the underlying uniqueness of the local fauna and flora.  There are the tulips in bloom in October; the month that the red Tasmanian waratahs are in bloom. The next month it is the fields of opium poppy with its distinctive, delicate mauve blooms; and then it is time for the clouds of lavender to take the stage. Also at this time in the early new year, the leatherwood are coming into flower, its pollen harvested by the bees ending up as the eponymous dark honey. Down south, there are the cherry orchards stretching across the hills to the west of Hobart; then in January, the berries are harvested. Raspberries, never better.

But let’s get rid of the dark side of the Island originally peopled by convicts and their guards in the south, Port Arthur as a grim symbol. Then as one of the monographs from the Launceston Historical society states in the north “Anglo-Indians (in its nineteenth-century sense of the British in India), leaving India and emigrating to Australia wished, it seems, to escape, not recreate, architecturally at least, the oppression of India. In Van Diemen’s Land they could build an English cottage, not a bungalow, although a verandah may be useful. To these immigrants the concept of ‘home’ was still English – not Indian – although they chose not to return to England.” They quickly outnumbered the Aboriginal population and the story of their elimination is one of the less savoury episodes in Australian history.

Thus, despite all the efforts to promote continuity in Aboriginal heritage, it is unfortunately largely confected, as I’ve written. After all, Milligan writing in 1890 estimated that there had been only 2,000 Indigenous people when colonisation commenced. Truganini, traditionally the last of the Tasmanian Aboriginals, had died in 1876.

As has been well-reported: When Truganini met George Robinson , the chief Protector of Aborigines in 1829, her mother had been killed by sailors, her uncle shot by a soldier, her sister abducted by sealers, and her fiancé brutally murdered by timber-cutters, who had then repeatedly sexually abused her.

Then there was the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger, and the years of guilt-ridden search for them and then the hope one could rescue enough DNA from a formalinised specimen to somehow clone the animal. Arrant nonsense, the whole scenario.

Yet the Tasmanian Government never learns that there is more money in tourism, including ecotourism than the rapacious destruction of the forests and remote areas. Now it proposes allowing logging in the habitat of one of two rarest parrots – the swift parrot.

The other parrot, also migratory, the orange-bellied parrot is critically endangered. There are very few orange-bellied parrots left in the wild. Their last remaining breeding site is in the moorland and button grass around Birch’s inlet on the west coast of Tasmania. We once went searching for the parrot in this location; saw a great number of blue-winged parrots but sadly nothing with an orange belly – at least not a parrot.

Then there are well-recorded attempts of buggering up the Tasmanian environment by government’s insistence on damming every river in sight and cutting down all the old growth forests and a cavalier treatment of the Wilderness, including its refusal to stop the spread of invasive species – gorse being a case in point. Mining on the West Coast around the town of Queenstown still shows the scars in the surrounding hills, and the King River and the Macquarie Harbour contain a toxic cocktail of arsenic, cadmium, mercury and other metals. Sulphur coats the King River banks and then along the Harbour foreshore; one should not disturb the delta of the river which is rich in cadmium. Two hundred years may rid these waterways of the pollution.

Having lost Lake Pedder with its unique pink quartzite beach to inundation for a dam, the battle to conserve Tasmania has been robust, heightened by the spectacular efforts of Bob Brown and his supporters in scuttling the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam project in 1982.

This is well-known but sometimes you need to retrace such a well known series of events, which ended up largely preserving the South-west temperate rain forest for now.

This win and the preservation of these rivers in their pristine state was brought home to me when we were flown by a friend over these rivers flowing through the Southwest National Park, the wilderness area. The Franklin and Gordon without a concrete abomination to dam them. At South-west Cape, we turned east and flew along the coast and then up the Derwent estuary, re-fuelling in Hobart. We then flew following the Derwent River until we turned to the west over the Walls of Jerusalem and across the range, over Queenstown before proceeding to land in Strahan – the airport located on a hill above Macquarie Harbour. That day, it was a perfect, cloudless day – no wind.

It is a flight to see the wilderness where the adventurous slog through or climb up or kayak down, taking days if not weeks to experience whereas we had seen it all from above. I’m afraid I did not feel guilty because there was no pain in our achievement even not being close to elemental nature; it was still a magnificent experience.

After all, living in Strahan there was the walk to Hogarth Falls, a trail carved through the rain forest where myrtle, sassafras, and celery pine grow. There is little or no Huon pine; it has long since been logged from along the rivers, but there remain a huge number of logs retrieved from the rivers and which lie in a woodyard in Strahan.

Reclaimed Huon pine

Our house is a timbered pole house – the poles are blackwood except for one  pole of King Billy pine; the floors and window frames are celery top pine; the kitchen Huon pine and the panelling mountain ash. The bathroom door is cedar, a somewhat anomalous Queensland intruder. The house which we bought is built with both new and recovered wood.

All very personal – so lucky to have this tribute to Tasmania – so lucky – surrounded as I am by Tasmanian artifacts as I write this blog.

Sexual Violence Tra-la-la

Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding

It is a strange sensation when you see revival of the mannered films in which actors such as Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding starred in the 1940s to realise you grew up when that era was ending. Pretending to be bright young man and woman in love was very much of a stretch in their very popular Maytime in Mayfair. Anna Neagle was 45 and Michael Wilding 37 years when the film was made.

They were impeccably dressed according to the times.  She wore a long flowing gown; they both smoked; she wore a corsage; he wore a dinner suit; they drank champagne from those shallow wide bottomed glasses introduced in the Prohibition era in America to disperse the bubbles so champagne was always drunk flat to fool “the fuzz”, they danced the dances of the age.  I remember learning at dancing class to the sound of a reedy voiced crooner. “Quick…quick…slow”.

Twenty-one was still the age of majority, and it was a time for a celebration. It was all Maytime in Melbourne, but on one night in 1961 I revealed the imp in me, an unfortunate trait that comes out when I’m bored and sober. The woman’s magazine reporter came up to us at this 21st shindig at the then exclusive location in Darling Street in South Yarra. My then fiancé was beautiful, which attracted “her gushiness,” and when asked my name, I gave the name of the Warden of the University College in which I was residing at the time. Where did I come from? I said Trawalla, which was a suitably upcountry location on the edge of the Western District.

I thought no more of it, but the photo of us appeared in the magazine complete with the alias. It was not long before the mother of the bloke whose 21st celebration it was wrote me a letter apologising for the error, which she had made clear in no uncertain terms to the magazine editor was unforgivable.

I heard nothing from the Warden; I was not the first to take his name for such an alias.

I have reflected on this piece of what I thought at the time was just me being clever and I used to regale people over the years with this anecdote. But really was I betraying an unfortunate attitude to women? Would I have done the same if the reporter was a male from a daily newspaper?

I had never thought about this until I was seeing this frothy comedy, with musical interludes. At one stage Michael Wilding bursts into the room and forcibly planted a kiss on Anna Neagle’s lips, at a time when the film storyline had them alienated. Then he departs gaily, and Anna Neagle instead of a normal reaction to being thus assaulted just simpered.

While it could be passed over in the entirety of the film, that action would be unacceptable these days in any script to picture a woman unaffected by this encounter. The arraignment of the former head of Spanish football for an uninvited kiss on one of Spanish woman footballers demonstrated at least universal distaste for such sexual violence.

Back when I made that gesture, what was sexual violence? Nothing to do with “me and my mates”?  Oh, really!

Getting it Right

Once when I was the medical administrator at a country hospital it was reported to me that an international medical graduate(IMG) from China, who had been assigned to the hospital as part of his registration process, was accessing pornography on hospital computers. Unlike the normal run of risk averse medical administrators, I neither did nothing nor did I “handball” the case to central office so they could organise the normal investigation.

Instead, I asked one of the staff very conversant with computer usage if he would accompany the doctor, who admitted that he had been accessing computers after hours. What he was doing was trying to find one where he could contact his sister in China. She wished to come to Australia to undertake a nursing course. He showed my colleague the computer which he had found enabled him to contact his sister in China, and the so-called porn glimpsed by the passing nursing staff was in fact pop-ups of Asian women in lingerie, incidental to his access. He had been successful in finding an appropriate computer, but I asked to see him.

I said in future not to do any further activities without asking permission, especially after hours. He was just not wanting to bother us, he explained. Nevertheless, he got the message. 

Some Like it Hot

Shamar Joseph has burst onto the cricketing scene from a shack in the back blocks of Guyana to win a test match for the West Indies, despite nursing a very bruised big toe. The amazing fact about this very fast bowler is that he is small for such a task. Standing alongside Steve Smith who is 176 cm, he seems to be slightly taller; and the source which says his height is 178cm seems to be the most plausible figure.

I thought the following recipe for Pepperpot would give the reader a touch of Guyana.

Now for the recipe, which appeared recently in the NYT, and has been modified. Cassareep, the essential ingredient is available in Australia.

Warm with sweet orange peel and spices like cloves and cinnamon, Pepperpot, a stewed meat dish popular in Guyana and the Caribbean, is traditionally served on Christmas morning. But one can make this version any time you want to celebrate. What gives it its distinct taste is cassareep, a sauce made from the cassava root. If you can’t find it, wiri wiri peppers or Scotch bonnets or a mixture of pomegranate molasses (1/3 cup), I tbsp of soy sauce and I tbsp Worcester sauce will work. Whatever you do, don’t forget to serve it with thick slices of white bread, or rice to sop up that delicious gravy.  Scotch bonnets, supposedly shaped like a tam o’shanter, are very hot chilis, ten times the Scoville unit measurement for jalapeño peppers. Apparently they are the go-to chilli of the Caribbean; but be warned!

FOR THE PEPPERPOT

4 pounds bone-in stew meat (oxtail, beef chuck, goat
or mutton), cut into 3-inch pieces
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, chopped, plus
more to taste
1 large yellow onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup cassareep (or substitute)
¼ (lightly packed) cup brown sugar (dark or light)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon whole cloves
3 medium cinnamon sticks
Peel from 1 medium orange
4 spring onions, cut into 4-inch lengths.

… now the process

Step 1
Prepare the green seasoning (onion, garlic, pepper, chives, coriander, thyme, basil): Add all ingredients to a food processor. Blend, adding water a few tablespoons at a time, until you get a thick purée. (Makes 3 cups; keep any extra in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.)

Step 2
Season the meat with 2 cups green seasoning, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Marinate at room temperature for 1 hour or overnight in the refrigerator.

Step 3
Heat the oven to 190 degrees. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons oil and transfer the meat into the pot, leaving behind any excess marinade. Brown the meat in batches. Transfer to a plate.

Step 4
Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan, if necessary. Add Scotch bonnets and onion; sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, another 30 seconds.

Step 5
Add in the cassareep, brown sugar, ginger, cloves, cinnamon sticks, orange peel, spring onions and bay leaf. Add back the meat and the juices from the plate and add water to cover the meat. Let come to a boil over high heat.

Step 6
Cover the pot, transfer to the oven and cook, covered, for 2 to 2½ hours, until the meat is tender. Skim as much fat as possible from the top.

Mouse Whisper

When I got in my car at the Grand Marais Airport in rural northern Minnesota, where I’d left it, I noticed something peculiar: tiny footprints across my dust-covered dash.  Washington Post

How it all started.

The photos show what happens when a wildlife photographer finds that a white-footed mouse has decided to squat in his car. He named the mouse Morticia and she stayed there. She was more than just a subject; she was his resident model. Then she brought in a mate.

Symbiotic relationship – if that is the word.

There were rules. No food left in the car. No wires chewed in return. Mouse droppings cleaned away. Photos taken. Then the mice were gone sometime before his car had reached its time to be scrapped. Auto death at 250,000 miles.

But he still had his pictures.