Sunday, 14 May 2023

Polite Meaningless Words


Image courtesy Google

One of my favorite poems is W.B. Yeats' "Easter, 1916".

It contains the line (repeated) "polite meaningless words".

He describes how the actions of the Irish rebels transformed them from ordinary people living ordinary lives to the personification of a "terrible beauty". That "beauty" was the dream of an independent Ireland, free of the yoke of perfidious Albion.

He expresses it well, and the powerful music of the language carries the emotion of the tribute with simplicity, clarity and power.

As a child growing up in North Queensland and attending a couple of small bush primary schools, I remember daily morning parade when we recited the following -

"I love my country; I honour my Queen; I salute my flag".

These were polite meaningless words for us as school children. 

We mumbled them because it became habit. There was never any emotion or intensity behind them. We had more important things to be concerned about. We would have been able, however, to explain what these words meant, if asked.

Nobody objected. The Loyal Oath was very much part of the social furniture. This was, of course, the late fifties.

Now, in 2023, we have the routine "Welcome to Country".

It resembles the loyal oath in that it is a simple acknowledgement of history. Both the Welcome to Country and the Loyal Oath are acknowledgements of fact. The first acknowledged the fact that as young Australians, we understood that we lived in a constitutional monarchy, and we owed it our loyalty. We were not responsible for that fact of history, but were the inheritors of it.

The Welcome to Country also acknowledges the facts of history. For over 50,000 years prior to colonisation, the original inhabitants of this country had lived in this country until they were dispossessed of it. We are not responsible for that fact of history, but are the inheritors of it.

So we use a few words to acknowledge it. It may, like the Loyal Oath, become "polite meaningless words", but has value because of what it represents.

The curmudgeons who take exception to it have very little real understanding of our country's history or culture.

They will, I'm sure, get over it..... 

Tuesday, 9 May 2023



This is the restaurant version.

This is not a food blog, gentle reader, but for a slice of novelty, I'm posting a recipe.

I first discovered this tucker about fifteen years ago on a journey back to Vietnam, when I saw Vietnamese scoffing it down, usually as the first meal of the day, which we call "breakfast".

People could be seen in streetside cafes and restaurants huddled around steaming bowls of the stuff using chopsticks to manage the solids, and drinking the liquid from the bowls in which is was served. It always smelled wonderful, and they seemed to be enjoying it, because the incessant chatter, a feature of this environment, paused during its consumption. Curiosity got the better of me, and I sampled a bowl in a cafe in Saigon*. It was worth the trip.

These jars make excellent storage.

On returning to Oz, I began to seek it out at Vietnamese restaurants, but it wasn't always easy to find fifteen years ago. It is now, and has become almost a Uber eats staple, even if transporting it is a bit of a challenge.

I've never been fond of cereal, so began buying satchels of Pho at supermarkets (where it had become popular) and microwaving them for breakfast. That was a little expensive, and being a retired gent with time on my hands, I experimented with making it at home. 

It worked well, and apart from being pretty healthy, is cheap, and uses up leftover protein as a base, whether chicken, pork or beef. I brew up a week's batch in a slow cooker, store it in jars, and heat up a batch each morning. It's  great way to start the day. My version is much less decorative than the restaurant meals, and the ingredients are less visually spectacular, but it smells and tastes much the same.



Saturday, 29 April 2023

A Reconciliation of Sorts

Back in 1970, upon returning from Vietnam, I went into an RSL club in Brisbane for a beer. 

When I told an older digger that I was just back from Vietnam he told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn't welcome to join the RSL. He was of the opinion that I wasn't a soldier when I was in country, and that I was a policeman. 

He also described the conflict as a "tin-pot" political exercise. That was about the only belief he held that was correct.

I didn't join the RSL, and my father, who was a returned airman from his war in New Guinea resigned his membership in solidarity.

Thirteen years later, as principal of a special school at Petrie (North of Brisbane) I was phoned by the local RSL president just before ANZAC Day and asked if the school would accept a donation of $500 from the local RSL. 

During the conversation I let slip that I was a veteran, and he invited me to march at the local commemoration. I did so, and that was the first time I joined the parade.

Earlier this year, I was looking for a venue to interview ex-Nashos as part of my research into choices and attitudes of national servicemen who went to Vietnam, and someone suggested the Gaythorne RSL club. It had everything I needed, so I approached them and made arrangements. 

I was also asked to join the RSL, on the basis that they were happy to help. They were indeed helpful, so after years I did so. My shiny badge arrived in the post, and I wore it to this year's march.

I then stored it safely with my father's badge. Dad died many years ago, and I inherited his medals, and the RSL badge that he stopped wearing as a protest against both conscription, and the treatment we received on return.

So we are now reconciled - the RSL, my father, and myself.

It is a much changed organization since the influence of people like James Brown began to reform both its culture and role. Gone are the days when "my war was better than your war".

And that is a very good thing....


Thursday, 20 April 2023

Rupert Gets Clobbered

Image courtesy LA Times

If you have followed the history of the Murdoch media empire, you will note that it has always made money - lots of it.

It is often touted as "conservative" media, but it really is a conglomerate without genuine political affiliations or values. Rupert has only one talisman, and that is, and always has been, the almighty dollar.

Put simply, Murdoch's papers and television channels supply biased and misleading coverage to support his business interests. This is, and has been, his business model for about fifty years, as demonstrated by his support of politicians as different in their values as Sir John McEwen, Gough Whitlam, and the UK's David Cameron.

Apart from the phone hacking scandal of 2011, Murdoch's relentless pursuit of the almighty dollar has worked well for his corporation. News Limited packages and sells news, they do not report it. The "news" they sell can best be described as what they believe their audiences want to hear or read, or watch. Much of it walks a wobbly line between news, salacious gossip, stories designed to generate outrage, and total rubbish.

Hence Fox News' enthusiastic reporting of conspiracy theories about the "stolen" 2020 presidential election. The corporation knew that this would attract an audience, and would improve ratings and profit. The fact that the Fox hosts knew that they were repeating lies, was neither here nor there.

Now, as the cliche goes, this practice has come back to bite Fox News (and Rupert) on the backside. The recent Dominion settlement is unprecedented in both value and consequence.

Whether this makes any difference to the media landscape, especially in the USA, remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that the legal precedent it has set will resonate across boardrooms all over the country, and may encourage a slightly more respectful attitude towards both the truth and consumers of corporate media. 

Thursday, 6 April 2023

The Mobster Arraigned


                               Cranky Donny - Pic courtesy Business Insider

I've avoided posting about Trump for quite a while, gentle reader, perhaps in the hope that if he was ignored, he'd disappear. He reminds me of a particularly irritating carbuncle, but I guess, to stretch the metaphor a little, a carbuncle needs to be treated, so ignoring doesn't work.

The USA media certainly can't. They are addicted.

Perhaps his arraignment is the first step in that treatment. One can only hope. He remains probably the most clear and present threat to the Republic.

(Note I haven't called the USA a "democracy". After being told by many Americans that their country is a constitutional republic, and not a democracy, I'll toe their line. It is their country, after all).

Perhaps the best description is "A constitutional republic with occasional democratic features". If you like it you can use it....

Besides, an electoral system through which a President can be elected by 59% of voters, despite the fact that his rival actually received more votes than he did, cannot be defined as a "democracy".  Abe Lincoln did not talk about "some of the people" in his famous quote.

It's passing strange to understand that if you add the 41% of voters who didn't show up in 2016 to the 48% who voted for Clinton, the vast majority of American voters did not support the person elected. 45.9% supported Trump, and 41% didn't support anyone. Democracy? Not so much....

Anyway, Trump is behaving true to form and upbringing. He was raised in the tradition of the New York mobsters, which means he uses financial power, intimidation and personal threats of violence to get his way.

It looks like that formula has begun to fail him. We can only hope.

Imagine if he did end up in the White House in 2024. What price AUKUS in Trump's isolationist "America First?"

This country could be left looking like the proverbial Cervus Elaphus on an igneous object.

Wednesday, 22 March 2023

AUKUS Revealed


Details of the AUKUS programme have finally surfaced (excuse the clunky metaphor) after leaks that moved the emphasis from its content to the media reaction.

Paul Keating's criticism was characteristically direct and comprehensive, and he has been consistent on this topic for decades. His personal attacks on the current cabinet were not constructive in terms of the debate, except to give the fifth estate a serve which they probably deserved. His rationale was lost in the crossfire.

There are plenty of defence analysts who share his view, but from a different perspective.

The Chinese are not going to be worried about a few extra nuclear boats that rotate through Australian ports, even if they have hostile intent. 

What is more significant to me, as an ex-conscript who lived through the sixties and seventies, are the memories of fear being used to wedge the Australian voter into supporting US led adventures into Asia. 

That fear of isolation, of the Asian "other" and threats "coming down" from the north of the continent has always been embedded in the Australian post-colonial psyche. It is powerful, and has been used to great political effect for more than a century. 

It saw its origins in the anti-Chinese riots during the gold rush era, morphed into the White Australia policy, was supercharged by Imperial Japan during World War Two, and persisted through Korea and Vietnam.

The only time it was real was in 1942, although archival material has revealed that the Japanese had no intention of a military invasion of Australia. It helped maintain conservative governments in power until 1972, when press and electronic media coverage of the situation in Vietnam revealed that the war was a tragedy, and its rationale based on mythology.

Another thread running through our recent history as a result of the events of 1940 - 44, is the belief that we always need strong and powerful friends to have our back. We can learn two historical lessons from that era. The first is that those strong and powerful friends can be rendered useless in very short time. Fortress Singapore fell between December 1941 and February 1942, when the British and Commonwealth forces were routed by the Japanese. After the fall of Singapore Churchill made it clear that he was prepared to sacrifice an Australian division to save his jewel of the Empire in Burma.

The Americans came to our aid not to save Australia, but to establish an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the South-West Pacific. In the case of both these "great and powerful friends" their self-preservation was always the first cab off the rank. The Japanese overreached, and Australia was lucky.

We cannot assume that this history will repeat, and that the USA (especially if an isolationist like Trump is in power) will continue to support us. 

This is the fundamental weakness of AUKUS. It involves one "friend" who abandoned us in 1942 because it needed to save itself, and another who helped us only because it was in their security interests to do so.

The only lesson we can take from the recent past is that we cannot ignore the geography. We need to build alliances, strategic and economic, with our northern neighbours, and at the same time develop a totally independent defence policy.

Whilst Keating is right, he probably should have avoided personal criticism of his party, but Labor has been wedged by the politics of fear. They really had no choice but to back AUKUS, but their timidity is shameful, and it does not bode well for our future security.

The images provide a clear narrative of these politics. Recent headlines in the local media are eerily redolent of the anxieties of the past that led us into tragedies such as Vietnam and Iraq.

Sunday, 12 March 2023


Pic courtesy Kindpng

The title, gentle reader, is not a typo. Robodebt was implicated in seven suicides.

Whether the failed and unlawful scheme caused suicides or not, it has permanently stained the previous government, and the public servants who implemented it.

That's ignoring the fact that it cost the Australian taxpayer $1.76 billion in settlements, without counting $112 million in interest.

Think about it. A computer algorithm demanded refunds from people who had been paid social security payments. These refunds were based on income averaging, which apart from being unlawful, was based on a dodgy mathematical theory.

I've had some personal experience of dealing with the public service (in this case DVA) when it comes to demands for refunds. I retired in 2005, but was asked to return to work in an advisory position between 2006 and 2017. As an ex-serviceman (I don't much like the American inspired "veteran" term, so don't use it), I was drawing the old age pension from DVA earlier than my peers, and was obliged to report my financial circumstances to ensure I was receiving the correct amount.

I did so religiously, and because I wasn't always employed for the same fraction annually, my reporting was quite frequent. I probably should have smelled a rat when the pension didn't seem to change with my hours, but I kept reporting nevertheless.

Late in 2014, after two years in receipt of these regular payments, I was working in Goondiwindi when my mobile rang at 9:30 pm displaying a "private number" on the screen. I answered, and a woman introduced herself as a DVA agent working on a debt recovery team.

She began the conversation by saying "How do you feel about defrauding the Australian taxpayer?" After I'd picked myself up from the floor, I asked her to identify herself by name, but she refused. She told me that action would be taken to recover the debt ($16000) immediately.

When I got home, I went into the local DVA office (since closed) to try to work out what exactly was going on. They were courteous, but seemed to have little knowledge of the unit doing the recoveries, so gave me a number to phone whilst I was in the office. I was assigned a person who promised to follow up and get back in contact.

Thus began a series of conversations, and a flow of correspondence which lasted three years. It quickly became apparent that I had been overpaid, but the overpayments were not as a result of my failure to report, but of DVA's failure to adjust the payments. I needed evidence to show this, and requested a Freedom of Information disclosure of my file, which arrived as a CD.

This documentation showed my reports, but also included information from another file. It became obvious that they had me mixed up with someone else, whose wife or partner was also working and receiving an income. At this time my wife had been retired (without an income) for a couple of years. Eventually, I sent the material to the Commonwealth Ombudsman's office.

The upshot was an apology from DVA, and approval for me to repay the debt in instalments at the same rate that it had been accumulated. This was fair, although I had an advocate tell me that if I had insisted, the debt would probably have been waived.

The timing of this is interesting, and has a connection with Robodebt. Abbott's 2014 budget was a shocker, and Treasury made demands on a range of agencies (DVA and Centrelink) amongst them, to recover debts. This action was trumpeted by the Coalition government at the time as a way of fixing the debt problems it had inherited. It was political, not financial, in the same way that our commitment to Vietnam was political, and had nothing to do with national security.

Bashing Centrelink recipients in 2014 played well with some, as did fear of Communism with the same group in the sixties and seventies. Robodebt was the bureaucracy's answer to the political demand.

What remains to be seen is whether or not the politicians who introduced the scheme will be held accountable by the Commission when the report is published.

I won't be holding my breath.... 



Polite Meaningless Words

  Image courtesy Google One of my favorite poems is W.B. Yeats' "Easter, 1916". It contains the line (repeated) "polite m...