Monday, 18 October 2021

A Pinch of Common Sense

Courtesy www.statesman.com

I found this posted in Facebook a few weeks ago, when the faux outrage about mandated vaccination first began to appear in local and overseas media.

Unfortunately, I didn't take note of the poster's identity, so can't attribute it.

Anyway, after looking at it again, I've decided that it's worth posting, as it reeks of real common sense, which trumps faux outrage every time -

Vaccination history has long been required to travel (if you have been in countries where some of those ‘old’ diseases still persist) and they’re also required when you enrol your children in most kindergartens and  schools. 

When I was studying in the 90s, I had to show proof that I had been vaccinated for hepatitis B too. We can be stopped by police at anytime and asked to submit to a test to prove that we are not intoxicated and we carry licences to prove that we have passed our driving test, library cards, club cards, reward point cards, train/bus passes, credit cards etc.

 All of these cards are required to prove something at different times and places, and many of them track where we go, what we buy etc. (For the insidious purpose of making us buy more of the same usually too). Not to mention phones which record where we go (by GPS tracker no less), our heart rate, our bank balance, where we shop, what we listen to, what we read, what we look at online etc., AND we live with CCTV pretty much everywhere these days. 

So, we have not lived in a ‘free’ world for a long time, and I personally, don’t really have a problem with carrying a card which shows that I’m happy to help keep my community safe and limit my use of hospital resources should I happen to get sick. 

I’m just really grateful that I live in a country that can afford to vaccinate everyone for free, and also that I’m not living in Afghanistan or any other country at war (civil or otherwise). 

There are a huge number of people out there who are living through traumatic experiences every day and experience limitations on their rights and freedoms that we cannot even begin to imagine. I imagine that they would be astounded that we’re kicking up a fuss about government regulations which are being put in place to protect our lives and limit the spread of illness.

Saturday, 16 October 2021

I Don't Wish to Know That*

Image courtesy Penguin Inc.

One of the most interesting books I encountered when studying years ago, is Neil Postman's Teaching as a Subversive Activity.

That was in the mid-seventies when I was completing my education degree. From memory, it was a set text. Postman's book was ground-breaking in that it rejected traditional educational practice by encouraging teachers to ensure that their students questioned everything. It set out to promote the importance of teaching enquiry skills that could be applied to a world increasing in complexity and encouraging students to question many of the half-truths western culture had accepted for centuries.

This was a revolutionary concept, especially viewed from the American notion of education which was largely about filling students up with knowledge and dogma whilst at the same time expecting them to accept it all without question.

More recently, I'm observing that same unquestioning attitude to on-line information, emanating mostly from the USA, and driven by the profit motive assaulting our local media landscape. What is now called the MSM (Main Stream Media) panders to one extreme of the political spectrum or the other and makes a dollar from selling opinions that are consumed like breakfast cereal. The consumer will always pay for what he/she wants to hear, and as the song goes, will disregard the rest.

Facts no longer matter, and reporting them has become a lost art. 

The outcome of this media manipulation is social division, the likes of which is tearing the USA apart. Unfortunately, it seems to be oozing across the Pacific. 

This post, gentle reader, offers advice on how you can discriminate between truth and misinformation when you encounter material on-line.

First up, there are a multitude of fact checking sites out there. 

Locally, we have TheConversation FactCheckAAP FactCheck, and RMIT FactCheck.  The last of these is used by the ABC, which puts it, in my book as less reliable because of its affiliation with a mainstream media organisation.

In the USA landscape you will find FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com,  Snopes.com, and PunditFact. There are others that are part of media organisations like the RMIT ABC site, such as FactChecker (Washington Post) but I have not included them in my list as they aren't independent.

The four listed are run by non-profit groups, as they refuse to accept money from mainstream media or PACs in order to maintain their independence.

Apart from using these sites, there are few fairly simple verification strategies that the average punter can use. The first one is "triangulation", whereby you search for three different reports of the same incident, and find aspects on which they agree. Generally (but not always) these points of agreement approach the truth.

Then there is a strategy I've used, especially in regard to recent reports of BLM activity, particularly in the USA. Reports from deeply aligned media (such as Fox News) have promoted the notion that rioting and disorder have become daily events in locations such as Portland. At the height of this reporting, I would check two or three of the local (generally non-aligned) news websites, and a completely different picture would emerge.

A very good example of this phenomenon is revealed when you compare the local coverage of the Arizona County Mariposa audit as it is reported in the local media with how it turns up in NewsNow. 

This, from the Huffington Post, is a pretty good summary -


Postman's work is as relevant now as it was in 1971, and is still available in paperback.

It's a recommended read.

*From a running joke in the original series of the Goon Show

#Inbuilt Crap Detectors


Sunday, 3 October 2021

A Very Bad Example

Pic courtesy CNBC

I've always believed that watching what is going on across the Pacific is a pretty reliable way of predicting the future of this country.

This rule of thumb has held historically for a wide range of cultural phenomena, including media trends, music and changes in lifestyle. Note I wrote "changes", not "improvements". 

Recently in the USA, we've seen the election in 2016 of a populist one-term POTUS, who effectively destroyed whatever remained of his country's unity in his term, and then refused to accept that he was defeated at the election of November 2020. His break with the democratic tradition has plunged his country further into the pit of division that he exploited to get elected in the first place.

As part of the exploitation of this division, the Republicans (or at least some of them) instituted an audit of the presidential vote in Maricopa county in Arizona, the state which, when called by Fox News for Biden, broke the news that Trump was a one-term president.

The goal of the audit was to prove fraud in order to get Biden elected. It was not an objective exercise.The results of that audit have finally been released, but without the blaze of publicity that was associated with the announcement of the audit in the first place. The report can be found here. 

An extract - 

What has been found is both encouraging and revealing. On the positive side there were no substantial differences between the hand count of the ballots provided and the official election canvass results for Maricopa County.

Remember, that is a summary of the major findings of the Trump-inspired exercise carried out by his supporters - exactly the opposite of what it was intended to find. 
So the official results stand. In fact, the audit found that Biden actually won by 360 more votes than the official results, winning the state by a margin of 45,469 ballots.  You get the best reporting by reading the local non-aligned media. 

So in the washup, the audit was an exercise in maintaining the rage and frustration felt by Trump supporters with the goal of keeping his run in 2024 in the news, and maintaining a fund-raising base. It had absolutely nothing to do with election integrity.

In other words, it's now OK across the Pacific, that if you lose an election, to simply deny the fact, put it down to fraud, and throughly weaken your country's confidence in the democratic process as you go along. 
That is obviously extremely dangerous, and throughly immoral, and reminds me of Abe Lincoln's speech in which he quoted Matthew 12:22-28 - 

A house divided against itself cannot stand. 

So we should look across the Pacific, note the mess the USA is in, and use it as a reminder not to follow down that road. There are so many examples of this in terms of firearms legislation, a largely non-existent health system and the USA's dysfunctional electoral process itself.

The Americans could do with our independent Electoral Commissions, both state and federal, and our system of compulsory voting. They could also do with our NFA, our public health system, and our largely non-partisan judiciary.

Never take your own country for granted.

Monday, 27 September 2021

Going Jack

 

Image courtesy Lion International


When I served in a rifle platoon a very long time ago, one of the worst insults you could offer to a fellow soldier was to refer to him as "Jack".

The term came from the phrase "F**k you Jack, I'm all right". 

Essentially, any soldier going "Jack" was either selfish, stupid, or both. 

Stupid, because our lives depended on each other. 

Selfish, because he was putting considerations about his own well-being ahead of that of his comrades.

A good example would have been a digger who coughed, sneezed, smoked, snored or farted in an all-night ambush. Such a soldier would have been given a swift kick up the backside by an NCO (or perhaps a fellow soldier, depending on who got to him first).

That principle of collective loyalty and cooperation is fundamental to success in any undertaking where disunity is death, and it is illustrated so clearly when we look at statistics emanating from the USA, where states with high vaccination rates are suffering far fewer Covid 19 deaths than those where vaccine hesitancy is rampant. 

It is almost a perfect negative correlation.

And yet we observe people of little brain and miniscule moral comprehension taking to the street in the name of "freedom" in this country. In the process, they have casually desecrated the Shrine of Remembrance.

The "freedom" they're advocating is the freedom to jeopardise the well-being of the group in favour of the selfish demands of the individual. I've blogged previously about how that glib notion has fallen in a heap with the advent of the pandemic.

We have also observed the phenomenon (relatively new to Australia) of rent seeking politicians appropriating the anger and frustration inevitably generated by the restrictions to their own ends.

This is one cultural trend that should be swiftly booted back across the Pacific from whence it came.

It is divisive, destructive and dangerous.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Under the Radar

Cartoon courtesy The Guardian

The story of the week is Australia's move to acquire nuclear powered submarines.

But under the radar, is a much more important story, that is all about taking our foreign policy priorities back to the sixties.

Let's first examine the outcome of the decision to cancel the French project and consider the realities. Hugh White does just that.

The likely acquisition date of replacements for the Collins class boats is now further down the track than it was for the abandoned French project. We're talking about the 2040s. Let's hope our enemies, imagined or real, are prepared to give us that much start.

In addition, it is going to cost more, even before we compensate the French for the cancellation.

As Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said a few days ago -

"The irony is that when we chose the French-designed submarine a few years ago we actually took a nuclear-powered submarine and have been spending millions of dollars turning it into a diesel submarine."

So we have moved from modifying a nuclear powered boat to take diesel electric propulsion (a complicated and expensive proposition) to going full circle and deciding that we really wanted nuclear all along. That is at least bizarre, and almost unbelievable.

But it's real...

What is far more significant is the return to the strategic alignments of the sixties. A glance at a map reveals that Australia is located in the South Pacific, a very long way from both Pennsylvania Avenue and Downing Street.

We are much closer to Jakarta, Singapore and Hanoi. Yet, apparently there was no consultation with any of our neighbours. There was also no negotiation with the French at government to government level. The French are more than a little miffed - hardly surprising.

Perhaps if some real consultation had taken place, we may have been able to set up a deal where we leased the nuclear powered version of the Barracuda from France whilst we were waiting for the Yanks and Brits to get their act into gear.

As it is, we seem to have come out of the whole debacle with more expense, greater delays, and some seriously fed up neighbours.

But most significantly, any real sovereignty that we had in terms of our relationship with the USA has gone down the plughole. Perhaps we could be optimistic and hope that in the fullness of time, the acquisition of these boats may allow us to develop our own independent deterrent, rather than depending on the Americans, but how much time do we have?

As it is now, we are tied to them, and to their capricious foreign policy which bangs backwards and forwards like a dunny door in the wind driven by their dysfunctional and erratic domestic politics. 

If I'm still around when these subs finally hit the water under their own steam, (I'll be in my nineties), I'll be fascinated to observe what form of leader occupies the White House. Recent history has shown that the Yanks have the capacity to "elect"* complete snake oil merchants to that position.

And there will be five different POTUS elected between now and 2040. By the law of averages, at least one of them is likely to be a lunatic.

You only need to consider the results of domestic driven interventions and withdrawals in recent foreign wars (Vietnam Iraq, and Afghanistan) to understand the utter incompetence of the Americans. And we went along with them each time.

I lived the consequences of that incompetence fifty years ago in Vietnam. 

Let's hope that no more young Australians will have to do the same in the future.

*Probably the wrong word to use to describe the process.


Saturday, 11 September 2021

Israel and Delta

                                           Pic courtesy WSJ



Israel's experience with the Delta strain of the virus, and the success or otherwise of its vaccination programme is instructive for Australia, given the likely rocky road ahead on the road map set out by the PM and the NSW Premier.

As this is written, Israel is dealing with a third wave of the virus, specifically the Delta variant. On September 9th 2021, Israel reported 5861 new cases and 6 new deaths. This contrasted with the situation in 2020 when the country went into lockdown averaging 4000 new daily infections, and daily deaths reached a high of 101 on January 20th 2021.

So the rate of infection is higher in 2021, but the death rate lower. The other change since a few months ago is that the lockdowns in Israel were lifted prior to the increased rate of infections.

Because we are not comparing like with like in two aspects (a different more infectious variant and lighter restrictions) it is difficult to come to definite conclusions, but some things seem evident.

1.  More people are becoming infected, but fewer are being hospitalised and dying.
2.  The lockdowns were effective in reducing transmission, and lifting them has increased transmission.
3. More people are recovering, but it is too early to understand the nature of that recovery.

All of this suggests caution. 

This caution should emanate not only from the figures above, but also from the possibility (or likelihood) that new variants will emerge. That is, after all, how viruses behave.

Vaccination is not the silver bullet, but it does seem to help. It needs to be remembered that even in Israel, only 61.1% of people are fully vaccinated. 

That doesn't bode well for Australia, where the figure stands at 32.6% fully vaccinated as this is posted.


Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Song for Adam Goodes



Apart from the fact that this is a great song, it has an interesting back story.

It was written by Paul Kelly for the documentary "The Final Quarter", which looks at the last few years of Goodes playing career.

It won the Best Original Song Composed for the Screen in the 2019 Screen Music Awards.

Because Goodes' had the temerity to object to the crowd booing every time he touched the ball, he came in for a lot of criticism.

Indigenous players are supposed to accept that casual racism without a murmur.

He didn't. Well done that man.....

The song is about his mother, and how her values forged his success as a footballer and Australian of the Year.

  

Monday, 30 August 2021

Good News and Bad News

Pic courtesy Al Jazeera

Some elements of the old joke hold in relation to Afghanistan, but the good news pales somewhat in relation to the cost of the twenty year commitment.

We lost forty-one Australian soldiers, and that will always be the greatest cost. The damage done to all who served there, and the aftermath of the defeat also comes at enormous cost.

Vietnam veterans are only too familiar with that.

Frankly, the reputation of the US is neither here nor there. That reputation was permanently damaged in March 2003 when the Neocons invaded Iraq on a lie in order to "get square" for 9/11. What was David Kilcullen's reaction?

There has always been something entirely childish about US responses to terrorism, which in the final analysis, ensures that it will continue to be a problem into the future. Arrogance and ignorance creates its own issues.

All presidents since Bush have been trying to extract the US military from Afghanistan, and it would not have mattered in the long run who was in the White House when it happened. The fact that the deal that Trump "negotiated" included no consultation with the people or government of Afghanistan is more than a little responsible for the chaos we have seen during the last week or two.

But there is some good news.

No more American or Australians will die in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan we know now is a very different country from what it was twenty years ago. There is a generation of young Afghans who have known a different experience. 

Afghani women know a different way of life, and most young women have had some experience of schooling.

How these changes will play out will depend on a whole heap of imponderables, most of them poorly understood by westerners. 

There is very little we can do about it, so pragmatic optimism is as viable as despair.

What is absolutely essential is that we don't treat Afghanistan veterans in the same shabby manner as Vietnam veterans were treated, until they took reconciliation into their own hands with the 1987 Welcome Home march.

The other essential is that we treat Afghan refugees as generously as we treated the Vietnamese in the late seventies and early eighties. Since the poisonous atmosphere created by the Tampa incident in August 2001, I sincerely doubt that possibility.



Wednesday, 11 August 2021

The Thrill is Gone


For years (foolishly perhaps) I've been lurking on a blog that described itself as "Libertarian". It was fun whilst it lasted. Thanks, Professor Davidson.

It's gone. It persists only in archive. And this little blog survives, gentle reader. Darwin was spot on...

At the same time, a pandemic has killed six hundred and twenty-seven thousand in the Land of the Free. It's reasonable to conclude that the two situations (the deaths of over half a million Americans, and the demise of a "Libertarian" blog) are linked.

Libertarianism has always been a romantically destructive philosophy. It is associated these days with the American Right, but ironically has its origins in the later works of Marx and Engels (Ernesto Screpanti, Libertarian communism: Marx Engels and the Political Economy of Freedom, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2007).

Its ideological base has been co-opted by politicians such as Rand Paul and many Americans who admire the thought of writers like Ayn Rand. There is a depth of irony in this association, of course. You have only to read a few of Ayn Rand's quotes on  Libertarianism to understand that - 

Libertarians are a monstrous, disgusting bunch of people: they plagiarize my ideas when that fits their purpose, and denounce me in a more vicious manner than any communist publication when that fits their purpose.

Libertarianism has always been impossibly romantic, espoused by dilettantes, and deemed fashionable by the shallow. It has always lacked substance and pragmatism, and of course, as a system of association and organisation, is entirely impossible. It is essentially the refuge of the intellectually lazy and the naive. God knows there's a few of those loose in the Land of the Free, and many of them post in the lunatic Right blogosphere.

That has been revealed so clearly by the consequence of the pandemic across the Pacific, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth caused by the attempted application of science to its management. The non-existent US health system has a lot to do with it, of course.

An even deeper irony holds when you consider that by most recognised criteria, The USA is not up there on international comparisons when it comes to actual Liberty.

The 2021 Index of Economic Freedom which promotes economic opportunity, individual empowerment, and prosperity puts the US at twentieth on the scale, well below countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Ireland. 

And I didn't use this post as an excuse to play some BB King. That's my story and I'm sticking to it, but the thrill of Glibertarianism has indeed gone...

 

Saturday, 24 July 2021

The War on Terror - Guest Post - by Panda General

 

                                               Pic courtesy the denverchannel.com

I have decided to add a little variety by providing a guest poster. This person is less than half my age and has a unique viewpoint. He provides an original point of view, and his analysis is comprehensive. Let me know what you think.

 Though it's not really *over* over, I think it's fair to say that we're reaching a point where the War on Terror will no longer be the primary paradigm through which western powers engage militarily with the world in short order. So what I am thinking at the moment is - how will future historians define this era? Where does it start? Where will it end? 


The 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US seem like the obvious starting point - however, there had certainly been related actions to these attacks leading back to the 80's. Osama Bin Laden had officially declared war on the United States in 1996 - and he had actually already organized attacks on US targets repeatedly before 9/11 (most notably embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the USS Cole near Yemen). 9/11 is probably when these conflicts entered the greater public consciousness, but even afterwards the goal of fighting terrorism became murky. Did they mean terrorism as a phenomenon? Did they mean Islamist terrorism specifically? Did they mean states that had sponsored terrorism? 


The answer was, of course, all of the above, but if that's the case then things go back much further than 2001. The countries that ended up on the 'axis of evil' - Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, were all countries that had had antagonisms for the US stretching back decades (back to the 50's in the case of North Korea). There were also secondary 'axis' countries - Cuba, Libya, and Syria. Ideologically, none of these countries have that much in common, exemplifying a series of world views that include Marxist-Leninism, Ba'athism, Khomeini-brand Islamism, Juche, and whatever the hell Qadhafi thought he was doing that week. They weren't really allies (Iraq and Iran, in particular, were sworn enemies) and had few formal connections or organised alliances between them. All they really had in common were the fact that the US had beef with them. 


Also notable, none of them really ideologically aligned with Osama Bin Laden's own perspective - Salafist Jihadism. No state was really. The Salafi movement had been around for a while, but it really began to pick up steam in the 80's, when various states including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan essentially started exporting it throughout the Islamic world, pumping money and Wahhabist clerics (the particularly conservative brand of Islam that prevails in the KSA) into every mosque and madras they could - partially for religious reasons, partially as an ideological counter to Soviet Communism, Arab Socialism, and Iran's newly emergent Shia-infused Islamism. 


The combination of the Siege of the Grand Mosque by the sons of Ikwhan fanatics, the Iranian revolution, and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan meant that much of the 80's was spent pushing this ideology everywhere they could. and it became very strong in the Islamic world. 


In the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan, and the collapse of the USSR, these guys basically reached the height of their prestige within the Islamic world - there were seen as heroes who had destroyed an evil atheistic empire. Foreign veterans of the Afghanistan war returned to their home countries and used this momentum to attempt their own overthrows there - this happened in Algeria most notably, but also in Tajikistan. Islamist-aligned officers overthrew the government in Sudan, setting up an Islamist-themed military dictatorship. 


The Taliban defeated the Afghan Warlords, remnants of the Mujahedeen, and set up their brand of Deobundi Islamist Fundamentalism in the country. Salafist Jihadists joined in secessionist and ethnic conflicts in Chechnya (Russia), Xinjiang (China), Kashmir (India), Palestine, the Philippines, and Bosnia. A lot of these insurgencies would become targets of the War on Terror paradigm after 9/11, but at the time most Americans, in particular, had no idea they were even a thing. 


So where does it start? It's fair to say its origins lie in the Cold War. but where does this conflict actually begin? In the 50's in Egypt, when Nasser banned the Muslim Brotherhood and drove them underground (and into more militant formations)? In '79, when the Iranian Revolution, the Soviet-Afghan War, and the Grand Siege of Mecca all occurred within a few months of each other, leading to the violent (and state-sponsored) radicalization of Sunni militants? in '96, when OBL declared war on the US, marking it as a direct target for these movements? Or 9/11, when the largest terrorist attacks in history bought this conflict to world attention? 


Trying to map things after this gets even murkier - trying to figure out how a solid *end* point might be murkier still. A lot of the states the US has problems with are still around, but blocs have been forming between them and more powerful nations. Salafi terrorism is still around, but its ability to strike much outside of Islamic-Majority countries is becoming increasingly limited. US security infrastructure is in the midst of pivoting away from focus on those groups, abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban, and no doubt minimising their footprint in Iraq before too long. They aren't looking at the little fish so much anymore - Russia and China have captured their imagination far more (though they remain, as ever, fixated on Iran and Cuba). 


This is a very different world to the one that dominated headlines for most of the 00's. 


Comments closed.

Friday, 16 July 2021

The Librarian

 

Image courtesy Braceworks - not the librarian

Back in the seventies, I worked as a teacher in a special school in Brisbane. 

The school was the location of a great deal of innovative practice, and the charity it serviced was equipped with a pretty comprehensive library that specialised in books and journals about cerebral palsy.

The resident librarian was a young woman with cerebral palsy, who, despite the fact that she was aphasic, ran a very efficient library.

If you failed to return a book or journal by the due date, you pretty soon heard the hum of her powered wheelchair at your classroom door, as she chased you down to deliver a reminder. She used notes tapped out on a communication machine to let you know the details, and she'd turn up with these notes pegged to her wheelchair. It paid to read them. 

In the three years I taught there, I got to know her pretty well. Both of us attended evening lectures after work at the University of Queensland, St Lucia, and I used to give her a lift once or twice a week after school to the campus. Her parents would collect her at the end of the class to get her home. 

We shared a couple of Education faculty subjects, and her machine ticked away as she took copious notes at lectures. Her notes were always more comprehensive and better organised than mine, which was useful as she shared them generously.

At one stage she had to have surgery on both her legs to remedy contracting large muscles, a common problem when you have athetosis. Both legs were set in plaster which became a problem when I had to get her into my Renault R12 to drive to uni. No matter how far back I set the passenger seat, she would not fit behind the dashboard with legs unable to bend, so I got creative and put her in the back seat sideways.

This was fine until we were driving through Fortitude Valley on the way out to St Lucia, and I had to brake hard to avoid skittling a careless pedestrian. I heard a muffled thump and looked around to see my passenger on the floor wedged between the rear seat squab and the backs of the front seats. I pulled over and attempted to lift her back on the seat, but when I got one end of her located successfully on the seat, the other end would fall again. My few unsuccessful attempts attracted the attention of a passing police constable, who thought initially that I was up to no good.

With him at one end (the traffic side) and me at the other, we managed to get her back on deck. What sticks in my memory is that she thought the whole thing was hilarious. She had an amazing capacity to find the funny side of most situations, a talent that no doubt stood her in good stead given the issues she had to deal with daily. 

She had a very dim view of the notion of charity for people with disabilities, as I discovered one day when I drove her out to the airport to meet a plane. In those days, Brisbane domestic airport was adorned with one or two plaster statues of a child with cerebral palsy complete with a little money box into which you could stuff coins and notes if you felt inclined. Jess (not her real name) carried a walking stick which allowed her to occasionally stand upright with assistance for short periods.

She motioned me to push her wheelchair (a manual chair - the powered one stayed at work in the library) over to one of these plaster monstrosities. Thinking that she was going to generously donate to the cause, I did as I was asked.

When she was close enough, she grabbed the stick and began to bash the living daylights out of the statue, which caused great embarrassment to me, and confusion and consternation to the people behind the counter in the store where the statue was installed.

Offending statue (Pic courtesy Pinterest)


I wheeled her away in a great hurry. A little later she typed a note which read - "Sorry, but I hate those bloody things".

I lost track of her after I left the school to work elsewhere, but she has left me with lots of memories of a courageous, talented and assertive person.

She completed her course at the same time I did but could not be awarded a B Ed St, as she wasn't a registered teacher. I think she went on to earn a B A using her Education subjects.

Comments closed

Friday, 9 July 2021

The Graveyard of Empires

Pic courtesy Britannica.com

The news emanating from Afghanistan lately has a familiar ring.

 The same cadence emanated from Saigon on 20th April 1975.

There are some similarities when the situation is compared with Vietnam. Each conflict persisted for more than a decade, the most powerful military in the world has failed in its attempt to stabilise each country, and locals who supported the West's commitment are now in fear of their lives.

Both countries were utterly devastated by the conflicts. In the case of Vietnam, the best figures indicate that over 2 million civilians were casualties by 1975, and over 562,000 Afghans have been killed and about 6 million have fled as refugees since 2001.

Both countries were cockpits during the cold war, with the Russians invading Afghanistan on Christmas Eve, 1979, and the Americans deploying into Vietnam most significantly in 1965 after the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

The proxy wars fought were similar in nature and outcome, with the Americans supporting the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, and the Russians the Communists in Vietnam.

There are also some significant differences.

The outcome for the Vietnamese was unification under a culturally Confucian style of Communism, but for the Afghans, although it is not yet resolved, the likelihood of a cohesive central government seems remote.

If history is a guide, and the country returns to default mode, a series of tribally based spheres of influence, competing with each other in a deadly struggle for land, wealth and raw power seems the most likely result.

The Talibs will have their work cut out trying to establish a national government.

Afghanistan has defeated both colonialism and enduring central governance for centuries.

The Duke of Wellington, who knew a thing or two about military attempts to establish empire, spoke in the House of Lords in 1838 condemning the British invasion of Afghanistan saying that the real difficulties would only begin after the invasion's success, predicting that the Anglo-Indian force would rout the Afghan tribal levy, but then find themselves struggling to hold the terrain of the Hindu Kush mountains. 

He noted that Afghanistan was a land with no modern roads, and called the whole operation "stupid" given that Afghanistan was a land of "rocks, sands, Deserts, ice, and snow".

I've blogged before about the difference in scale between the Australian casualty figures in Vietnam and Afghanistan, but this difference probably matters little in terms of the individual grief shared by their friends and families.

Whether our involvement in these wars was ill-advised or not, they died in the service of our country and should be honoured for that. Unfortunately, the enduring controversy about the behavior of Special Forces in Afghanistan has put at risk the reputation of those involved. They deserve better, just as those returning to Australia after Vietnam deserved better.

Whether the same honour is due to the politicians who committed them to both conflicts is another matter entirely. 

Given the history of well-intentioned, but ham-fisted attempts to impose Western-style democracy on a pair of countries whose cultural history would indicate that it was an impossible task, these governments were either completely ignorant or more focussed on domestic politics than the welfare and collective freedom of Vietnamese and Afghans.

You decide...

Comments closed.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

Symmetry

 


My youngest daughter has been left in limbo in the UK after the recent National Cabinet decision to cut the cap of returning Australians by 50%.

She is a very well-organised young person and had booked her return airfare at the expiry of her two-year working visa. She had vacated her accommodation and resigned her job in Bristol to correspond with the expiry of her visa.

Now she is vulnerable, at the mercy of her friends. 

She paid about four times for the return fare as it cost her to travel to the UK in June 2019, before Covid was around. 

Her dream of working in England, and travelling all over the continent, financed by working two jobs in Brisbane for two years turned to dust. She got as far as Iceland and Portugal, and that was it.

Now, her government has prevented her from coming home.

Consider the strange historical symmetry in this situation remembering that fifty-two years ago, I was forced by my government to leave my home and fight as a conscript in a civil war on foreign soil.

And on each occasion, the government in power is the Coalition.

For the second time in a little over fifty years, young Australians are convenient political collateral.

So much for the Liberal Party's regard for personal freedom......


Comments closed.

Friday, 2 July 2021

Sinéad O’Connor & The Chieftains


An inspiring piece of music.

The words -

I was down the glen one Easter morn
To a city fair rode I
There armed lines of marching men
In squadrons passed me by
No pipe did hum, no battle drum did sound its loud tattoo
But the Angelus Bells o'er the Liffey swells rang out in the foggy dew
Right proudly high in Dublin town
Hung they out a flag of war
'Twas better to die neath that Irish sky 
Than at Sulva or Sud el Bar
And from the plains of Royal Meath
Strong men came hurrying through
While Brittania's huns with their long range guns
Sailed in through the foggy dew
Their bravest fell and the requiem bell
Rang mournfully and clear
For those that died that Eastertide in the Springing of the year
While the world did gaze with deep amaze
At those fearless men but few
Who bore the fight that freedom's light
Might shine through the foggy dew
And back through the glen I rode again
And my heart with grief was sore
For I parted then with valiant men
Whom I never shall see n'more
But to and fro in my dreams I go
And I kneel and pray for you
For slavery fled oh glorious dead
When you fell in the foggy dew. 

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

The Consent Dilemma

 

Image courtesy ICT works

Lately, gentle reader, we've been hearing a great deal about consent.

The discussion has generally been about consent for sex, against the background of a high profile incident in parliament house, the awarding of Australian of the Year to Grace Tame, and school students becoming active about the issue.

But consent operates in a range of other contexts, notable amongst them the use of personal data. How often have you given consent for your information to be shared online, and how much thought do you put into that question? Look at the image above to get a handle on the complications.

Now we're hearing about consent in relation to medical matters, specifically the AstraZeneca vaccine. I had the first dose back in mid-April, with no ill effects. The flu vaccine, on the other hand, left me with a very tender left arm for a few days. 

I needed no persuasion to have either, so consent was not an issue, but in the past, it has been.

Many years ago (1982) my bride and I lost our first baby (full-term) through stillbirth. A post mortem revealed the cause was a cerebral aneurism, the consequence of a minor malformation which meant the baby could not survive the rigours of birth.

We were asked by the obstetrician at a debriefing appointment after my bride's discharge from the hospital whether we were planning to have more children. When we answered in the affirmative, he suggested that future births should be cesareans.

We made no decisions at the time, but went home and discussed the suggestion at length. It was clear that my bride did not want to go down that path, so we went back to the doctor, and asked him to explain simply the dimensions of the risk we were managing. He said that there was an 80% likelihood of safe childbirth.

Put this way, it was easier to make a decision, which was to opt for normal delivery, and four healthy babies later, that worked out well. What the experience did for us, was to highlight the issue of consent, and which player (or players) in the scenario have the right to provide it.

I was reminded of consent again when completing my St John's CPR refresher the other day. The instructor reminded us that first aid cannot be provided to a conscious lucid individual who refuses it. 

I hope I'm never put in that situation.

Now we have National Cabinet deciding that the AstraZeneca vaccine can be provided to people under forty if they give informed consent. Again, that consent needs to be weighed against the background of a risk/benefit analysis. 

Sometimes I think that the medical profession has a problem with allowing consent to be the prerogative of the patient, and I'm sure I understand why. It must be mortifying to know that the decisions the patient makes may not be in his/her long-term interest. It must butt up against the "first do no harm" principle something fierce.

Consent is also a critical factor in any discussion about euthanasia, but maybe I'll look at that another time.

In summary, medicine, whilst a noble profession, runs the risk of assuming a power it does not have. I'm talking about the "playing God" cliche.

I hope my GP brother doesn't read this.

Sunday, 27 June 2021

TGA

Picture courtesy ABC - Not my bride.

 June 22nd started up as a routine Tuesday. 

I went to the gym, and my bride headed out to meet a friend for coffee, something that happens most weeks. I got home first and emerged from the shower, got dressed, and heard the car draw up, but my bride didn't come into the house.

This was strange, so I went into the garage and found her standing beside the car with its back door open, looking with a puzzled expression at a bag of bits and pieces obviously bought from a nearby shopping centre. She asked me "Where did this stuff come from?".

I rummaged in the bag and found a docket that showed the items had been bought half an hour earlier at a shop that my bride frequents, but she was adamant that she hadn't bought them. 

We went inside, and she kept repeating questions like "Where have I been and how did I get here?" I phoned her friend who reported that they had parted company after a chat and a coffee, and a mention that she was going to do a bit of shopping on the way home. My bride had no recollection of any of this.

By this time I was very concerned, so sat her down and went through the stroke test that I'd learned when I did my first-aid certificate. All seemed normal, but I drove her to casualty at the hospital less than a kilometre away. There, the triage nurse put her through the same stroke test I had applied, and then when the emergency registrar tured up, he did the same. That made three stroke tests in one hour. The registrar ventured a diagnosis, (probably a bit premature at that stage) of TGA (Transient Global Amnesia)

Then followed an admission after a bed had been found and the beginning of a series of tests across the next three days including an electroencephalogram, an MRI, a Carotid duplex, and a CT scan. She was discharged on Friday evening after an examination from a visiting Neurologist who came from the big smoke.

He endorsed the registrar's diagnosis.

My bride is back to her old self, after one day (Wednesday) when she said she felt a bit fuzzy, and all memory has returned with the exception of a gap lasting from about noon Tuesday until Wednesday morning. For her, the most frustrating consequence was being locked out of her phone because she kept punching in the wrong login sequence during her confusion on Tuesday. 

An hour on the phone with the helpful Glen from Apple online help fixed that.

It was certainly a great relief that recovery was so quick and complete, and also that there were no nasty migraines that apparently can accompany these episodes.

Typically, the origin is unknown, so we're left with a mystery. 

It was, whilst it lasted, pretty frightening.

 Comments Closed 

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

A Tale of Two Myths

Gymnastics can be verbal.

 

The origin and tenacity of long-held Australian myths is a fascinating study.

To name a few of the more well-known, Ned Kelly, (as the Australian Robin Hood), Lassiter's Reef, Drop Bears, and the Inland Sea - they abound and persist.

The ANZAC myth is one of the most enduring, and the Dark Emu narrative the most controversial.

The first of these has been around for a very long time and the second is a recent phenomenon.

I've personally been guilty of exploiting one of these myths. To my eternal shame, I used the Drop Bear narrative on a Sydney-based soldier when we were at Shoalwater Bay in November 1969. He had never spent time in Central Queensland and swallowed the story whole, avoiding setting up sleeping space directly under large trees.

For a short time, it was funny, but we were sternly told to desist by our platoon sergeant when he sussed out what was going on.

The ANZAC Myth (rugged volunteer soldiers fighting for king and country when we were under threat) persists, but it was a very poor fit with our Vietnam experience. Somehow the contradiction between that historical construct and the fact of conscripting twenty-year-olds to fight in peacetime on foreign soil spilled through to the keeper.

The "primitive savage" narrative which describes the indigenous inhabitants of the country at the time of colonisation as useless and incompetent nomadic hunters and gatherers, also persists but has been challenged recently by Bruce Pascoe.

Now, let's get this clear. I'm not challenging either of these two narratives. Rather, I'm looking at the reaction when they are challenged.

In the case of the first, when I challenged the "every National Serviceman who went to Vietnam" narrative (an integral part of the ANZAC myth when applied to Vietnam) I was first ignored, but eventually, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the fact of history was grudgingly ceded, but not until there had been a great deal of ducking and weaving.

Some of that ducking and weaving was epic. 

There were those who maintained that young men, who had their birthdates drawn in the National Service ballot were somehow "volunteers" because they went along with a posting to Vietnam.

Others were convinced that anybody who didn't join the CMF to avoid the possibility of operational service was also a "volunteer".

The logical gymnastics involved would have made Nadia Comăneci look like a rank amateur.

In reference to Dark Emu, the reaction to Pascoe's thesis has been epic.

How dare the notion of the noble, but incompetent savage be challenged? Pascoe's work was condemned by shock jocks, culture warriors, and serious politicians who suddenly assumed the anthropological mantle. 

I've read Pascoe's book and found it engaging and interesting, but I believe he has crossed a bridge too far with many of his assumptions. Having said that, the elevation of the issue in the public consciousness has probably done the study of indigenous history a good turn, and schools all over the country are including a discussion of the issue in curricula.

Pascoe, in the meantime, is laughing all the way to the bank. 

Contrasting the reaction to the busting of two myths has revealed a great deal about us as Australians. There are two basic lessons.

The first is - be prepared to be savagely attacked if you have the temerity to put a challenge forward to a myth that has become institutionalised.

The second is - the facts of history will always play second fiddle to long-held prejudices and bigotry.

Comments closed.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Review: The Long Shadow


This book has been a long time coming.
 
It provides vindication for surviving Vietnam veterans, although a bit late for the 500 who didn't come back, and those who have died since.

It was commissioned by the Australian War Memorial under Brendan Nelson's sponsorship and offers a riposte to the Evatt Commission and its findings.

That Commission, which pitted volunteer Vietnam veterans against highly paid silks, came to a set of conclusions that treated veterans as disposable political collateral. That set of conclusions has been well and truly eviscerated by Yule's comprehensive and patient research.

 The health outcomes for Vietnam veterans post-conflict are stark.

Of the 60,000 troops who went to Vietnam, 74.7% are classified by the Department of Veterans Affairs as suffering from some form of service-related health impact. These include physical disability, health problems related to chemical exposure and varying degrees of psychological trauma. The 3,129 who were severely injured suffer the resulting long-term effects. Many more were subject to less severe but still debilitating injuries such as hearing loss, which affects around a third of all Vietnam Veterans today.

What made Vietnam different was that it was the first conflict that saw the widespread use of herbicides such as the defoliant Agent Orange. Exposure has been linked to cancers, fertility issues, and birth defects. An extensive 2005 study by the Department of Veteran Affairs found that male Vietnam veterans have an increased cancer rate overall, including significantly higher rates of Hodgkin’s disease – explicitly linked to herbicides – as well as prostate and various other cancers. 

A connection has also been established between service in Vietnam and higher rates of skin and lung cancer which can be put down to higher rates of sun exposure and smoking. 

The long-term impacts of non-combat chemicals such as DDT, now banned in Australia due to their potentially carcinogenic properties; and  the use of Dapsone as an anti-malarial drug, which has been linked to circulatory and digestive disorders are still not completely understood.

Also not yet well understood are the intergenerational impacts of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but it seems that the consequences of this conflict may be felt by generations to come.

The Evatt Commission plagiarised huge slices of the evidence of chemical companies and used them on the floor of the Commission. Veteran witnesses at the time believed they were deliberately intimidated and completely disadvantaged by the legal representation.


Dr. Yule interviewed many veterans, and their voices can be heard through the pages of his book. His approach is compassionate, fearless, and meticulous. The extensive bibliography, notes, and indices are evidence of the work he put into his research and the deep understanding of veterans he developed in the course of this project.

It was gratifying to note the half dozen citations from my memoir. There's plenty out there, and Peter Yule has obviously read them all.

He contextualises the war in Vietnam across conflicts going back as far as the Romans, the Medieval wars, the Napoleonic era, and the American Civil War. He describes the impact of industrialised warfare on soldiers during the First World War, and the beginnings of the understandings of the effects of psychological trauma.

He outlines the institutionalisation of repatriation in Australia after the first World War and traces the development of policy and practice in the area. He compares and contrasts the Australian experience of war in Vietnam with other conflicts, and points out how factors such as exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and the lack of a front line were particularly impactful. The lack of a front line meant that there was no safe place, even for those behind the wire. For those outside the wire, there was simply no respite from deadly threat. Survival depended on hypervigilance. When living with this hypervigilance across a ten-week operation, it became an ingrained habit that persisted even when the threat was no longer a reality.

His description of the ten-plus years of relative silence post the Australian withdrawal in 1972, and the fall of Saigon in 1975 lead the reader into a very comprehensive treatment of the Agent Orange controversy and ultimately the Evatt Commission. Yule is especially critical of F.B. Smith's official history. Smith seems to have made up his mind that the veterans were simply in pursuit of financial benefit, and wrote his account with that notion as the only consideration. The fact that recent research, including a number of morbidity studies, have largely vindicated the claims of the veterans has exposed Smith's bias.


We are grateful to the War Memorial Council and to Dr. Brendan Nelson for this opportunity to correct this long-standing blight on the reputation of Phil Thompson and his team of campaigning Vietnam veterans and to correct the long-standing misinformation on the veterans’ case before the Agent Orange Royal Commission.

The title of the last chapter of Yule's book is War Without Purpose, War Without End.

He closes the book with a quote from veteran Graham Chandler -

I've nothing to hide. I'm proud of what I did. I'm proud of the mates I was with.

Most veterans would echo this, and it is this truth-telling about the war and its aftermath that is so important. 

Peter Yule has eloquently exposed the truth of the experience of Vietnam veterans during the last fifty years, and hopefully, this truth will be the last step to the final reconciliation of these men with the community that sent them to war, but initially rejected them when they came home.

Included in this review is the youtube video of the book's launch, which had to be conducted remotely because of the pandemic.


Buy the book, or search it out in the library, especially if you're a friend or family of a Vietnam veteran. It's a great read, and it may help you understand him better.




Tuesday, 8 June 2021

An Interesting Encounter

            Pic Courtesy The Guardian

Sunday was interesting.

It was my sister's 70th, and she was celebrating with extended family in a resort out of town.

So we could catch up with her, my bride and I arranged to meet her and BIL at a country pub for lunch on their way back from the resort.  It also meant we were able to take advantage of some interesting roads out that way. These things demand to be driven.

The pub was empty except for about half a dozen blokes with big lumpy and shiny bikes, tatts, and leather embossed with club insignia.

There was nobody else in the lounge except the four of us and these guys. They were obviously having some kind of semi-official club meeting.

It's ill-mannered to listen in to others' conversations, but on this occasion, we didn't have much choice. The beer flowed - the conversation at the other table (interspersed with lots of profanity and colourful descriptions) rumbled on and we ate our lunch as we listened. It was, to say the least, entertaining.

They were discussing ways of increasing and maintaining club membership, which, by the sound of it, was declining. I remember thinking that they were having much the same problems as were other enthusiasts' groups, as the demographic aged, and machines like bikes and sports cars are no longer seen as engaging by Millenials.

I did harbour some suggestions but decided to keep them to myself. Discretion, after all, is the better part of valour. Besides, my bride wasn't keen on getting involved. This may have had something to do with the fact that besides my sister and her, the only other female on the premises was the middle-aged woman behind the bar. 

What really surprised me was the continual references being made to "inclusion" and "participation". These terms are used more often by social justice warriors than bikies.

We left before they had resolved anything. The biggest issue seemed to be organising working bees to renovate the clubhouse. 

I was thinking that they should employ a stripper or two, and perhaps some jelly wrestling after a day's work on the renovations.

I shared that thought with my bride but she didn't think it was a good idea.

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A Pinch of Common Sense

Courtesy www.statesman.com I found this posted in Facebook a few weeks ago, when the faux outrage about mandated vaccination first began to ...