March 10, 2008
SCIENCE: July 05, AU Edition
Entrepreneurial American scientists are destined for the dog house, says Susanne Quick
It’s just another brown brick building in a suburban American business park. But Suite J at the Waunakee Business Center in Wisconsin is about to turn into the animal cloning debate’s ground zero. Genetic Savings & Clone Inc. – the entrepreneurial outfit that introduced the first cloned pet cat to the world in December – is opening its doors in this small Madison, Wis., suburb this month. The company’s CEO, Lou Hawthorne, has promised that by year’s end, a dog will be born here.
In the eight years since Dolly the Sheep’s birth was announced to the world, research into animal cloning has progressed in ways few dreamed possible a decade ago.
Scientists have now cloned barnyard animals and endangered species. They’ve created cloned cows from frozen steaks and cloned mice from cancer cells. They’ve talked about resurrecting extinct creatures such as woolly mammoths and Tasmanian tigers. And with the news on Thursday that soft tissue from dinosaurs had been discovered, re-creating these giant lizards does not seem so farfetched. Despite the scientific excitement, creativity and ingenuity that have inspired and driven this research, cloning remains uncomfortable – even freakish – for many people.
Who and what are the clones? Are they healthy animals or deformed monsters? How many animals are sacrificed in the pursuit of one healthy clone? And, in the end, what will it lead to?
As ethicists and scientists weigh the motivations for animal cloning – improving the food supply, fighting disease, saving endangered animals – the arguments for and against cloning mutate and evolve along with the research advances.
That debate is now moving to the backyard.
In December, Genetic Savings & Clone announced the birth of Little Nicky, the first cloned cat to be sold as a pet. The recipient, a Texas woman known only as Julie, paid $50,000 to have her beloved – but dead – kitty cloned. While some say she was swindled, Hawthorne believes she was given an incredible, if expensive, gift.
‘Our product is based on love’, Hawthorne said.
David Magnus, director of Stanford University’s Center for Biomedical Ethics, scoffed at this claim. He said the high death rates and possible cruelty that go into cloning make Genetic Savings & Clone’s product anything but ‘loving’.
Also, he and other critics said consumers are being duped: The animals they think they are getting – their original pets – cannot be reproduced.
And finally, they think Genetic Savings & Clone’s product is grossly frivolous in light of the number of animals in shelters who need homes.
‘Everything about this is objectionable’, Magnus said.
But Autumn Fiester, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, said there isn’t evidence to show that animals are suffering – at least any more than commercially bred dogs or cats.
She added that the claim that pet owners are being duped is condescending. As for the frivolous argument, she says, ‘Then you’re arguing against buying any luxury good.’ Among those involved in cloning, she is in the minority.
Robert Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific development at Advanced Cell Technology – a Worcester, Mass., company at the forefront of cloning technology – called it ‘troubling.’
Rudolf Jaenisch, a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a researcher at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, called pet cloning ‘ridiculous’ and ‘preposterous.’
Somatic cell nuclear transfer – the shop name for cloning – is conceptually a pretty easy process.
A cell – such as a skin cell – is taken from an adult animal. The nucleus, and the DNA it houses, is sucked out and placed next to an empty egg cell that’s had its nucleus removed. The new egg-nucleus combo is then jolted with electricity or bathed in a chemical cocktail.
‘What you want to do is basically trick the egg into thinking it’s been fertilized by a sperm’, said Neal First, a retired professor of animal sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the first researcher to clone cattle.
If all goes well, the duped egg starts to divide, eventually creating an incipient embryo, which researchers implant into a surrogate animal.
While this may sound pretty straightforward, it’s actually a messy, hit-or-miss process that yields few successful clones.
Depending on whom you talk to, the number of successful clones – i.e., those which survive beyond birth – can run as low as one-in-1,000 to as many as 15 percent.
Researchers believe this is the result of a host of molecular issues, some they can pinpoint, others they can’t.
The mystery is in the egg. ‘There are molecules in the egg that allow the DNA to reprogram’ and start anew so that it’s read as the blueprint for an embryo, not an old skin cell, Lanza said.
But what those molecules are and how they work remains elusive.
There is also an issue of extra DNA in the egg. Even though the egg’s nuclear DNA is removed, other genetic material remains floating around the egg cell in a form known as mitochondrial DNA.
No one knows for sure what effects this might have on a developing clone embryo, but it does mean that the clone, despite its name, is not an exact genetic duplicate of the donor. It has some other DNA that may or may not affect its development.
Then there’s the issue of imprinting. Mammals carry two copies of each gene: one set from their mother, the other from their father. But only one of these copies is active at any one time.
In a clone, ‘the normal battle between mom and dad’ is not taking place, Lanza said. The end result: critical messages from the genes are being lost during an embryo’s development, potentially leading to cardiac problems, respiratory ailments and ‘a messed up placenta.’
The hurdles don’t end here.
When DNA is in a quiescent state, it looks like spaghetti noodles with proteins attached to it. This means that when the skin cell DNA is sucked out, it’s carrying a lot of protein baggage. It is possible these proteins may get in the way of the egg-skin cell DNA fusion.
Researchers at Genetic Savings & Clone say they have solved this problem by using a new technique called chromatin transfer that cleans the DNA. The result, according to Hawthorne, is higher efficiency.
‘Our losses are well under 50 percent’, he said, adding that such losses are typical in commercial breeding.
Magnus and others question these claims; scientists at Genetic Savings & Clone have not published their results. But Jim Robl, president of a South Dakota biotech company called Hematech and one of the developers of chromatin transfer, said he, too, had gotten good results using this method to clone cows.
Yet, the battle over pet clones only partially hinges on technical and molecular hurdles.
These animals are behaviorally complex. They are not just products of a strict genetic blueprint, but of the multicolored and textured tapestry of their environment and experiences.
This means that a consumer who’s paying thousands of dollars in hopes of getting the same dog or cat will be getting an animal that behaves differently than the original. That, said Magnus, is ‘a rip-off.’
Finally, critics of pet cloning said there’s the issue of the millions of animals who don’t have homes that are living on the streets or housed in shelters.
Magnus and Spiegel-Miller believe Hawthorne’s business is minimizing the plight of these animals.
They charge that the money Hawthorne’s clients are willing to spend on a clone would be better used on these other animals, that Genetic Savings & Clone clients should head to a local shelter, pay $50 for a cat or dog that needs a home and donate the rest to the shelter.
That would be a more ethical way to spend their money, they say.
Fiester and Hawthorne dismiss the criticism as baseless.
‘Why should someone who loves their cat be more obligated
to donate money or help shelter animals than someone else?’ Fiester said.
He also threw back the notion that cloning for agricultural or medical purposes is somehow more ethical.
In the end, he said, the future of the pet cloning business will depend upon the quality of the product.
If Genetic Savings & Clone can create animals that pet owners are happy with – animals that aren’t sick or compromised and behave in ways similar to the original – the business will succeed, Hawthorne said.
His scientists also are looking into how to enhance pets and make them live longer and healthier.
‘Our clones will be better than normal,’ he said. ‘Clones are going to become the preferred pets.’
TECHNOLOGY: July 05, AU Edition
IT’S A SMALL, SMALL WORLD
From cough syrups to eyeglasses for cows, Martha McKay takes a peek into a very tiny future
At the nanotechnology show in New York City recently, companies touted the state-of-the-art, from quantum dots to microscopes powerful enough to see atoms.And then there were two guys from Cleveland hawking cough syrup.If you follow the nanotechnology industry closely, this sort of thing isn’t surprising.
But if you don’t, such seemingly humdrum technology on display alongside the advances at the fourth annual NanoBusiness conference might seem unusual.
Spend time with nano-experts and one thing becomes clear: nanotechnology is more commonplace than you might think – from nano-engineered eyeglass coatings used on one in five pairs of eyeglasses, to sunscreens and stain-resistant fabrics.
One of the most hyped areas of technology since the Internet, nanotechno- logy is the study and engineering of really small things – particles and gizmos from 1 to 100 nanometres, or a billionth of a metre, in size to be specific. The paper you are reading this on is about 100,000 nanometres thick.
As you might expect, there are hundreds of ways of using nano-sized particles and devices, with new ideas popping up all the time.
The U.S. government will pour an estimated $1.3 billion into nano-based R&D with a particular emphasis on such areas as cancer research. Here in Australia, governments are putting up $100 million for domestic nanotechnology research this year.
Jeffrey M. Jaffe, president of research and advanced technologies for Lucent Technologies’ Bell Labs, told conferees how telecommunications networks could be transformed by nano-sized devices. Tiny power supplies working together with nano-sized microphones, tiny sensors and video displays could one day give us a communications ‘wallpaper’.
Even the ability to have ‘several microphones inside a phone would be a tremendous (sound quality) improvement’, he said.
Out at the New Jersey Nanotechnology Consortium, university researchers have 60 to 80 nano-based projects under way.They include building a stress gauge to strap on the back of a fruit fly. The tiny device will enable scientists to tell if the drosophila is asleep (they don’t have eyelids, in case you wondered). Researchers, who
study fruit flies because they are well-suited to genetic studies, want to be able to test whether their modifications to the fruit fly’s sleeping patterns work.
They are also looking into ways to build an electronic nose that can smell, a real-time DNA analyzer, and what they call a ‘rubber mirror’, which would map the imperfections of your eye and allow the creation of perfect corrective lenses.
‘We could fit a cow with glasses’, says David Bishop, vice president of nanotech-nology research at the labs.
But along with purely scientific uses for nano-devices, many companies hope to turn a profit – the motivation behind Cleveland-based Five Star Technologies and its cough formula. Nano-emulsions and dispersions made using a patented technique called controlled-flow cavitation make the cough syrup adhere to the throat better.
Gerry Weimann, Five Star’s CEO, doesn’t think consumers really care about the ‘nano’ aspect of the syrup, which is made by another company called Improvita Health Products.
‘Most people are just looking for a good experience – not a lot of people wonder about the technology behind it’, says Weimann.
July 05, AU Edition
THE GOOD OIL
Are we heading for a world with less petrol, or is there enough black gold in the ground to keep us driving 4WDs for five hundred years? CLARE SWINNEY looks at ‘peak oil’, the latest cry of ecological doomsayers and wonders if this time, the sky really is falling
Sydney, 2019. Centrepoint Tower basks in the glow of the sun’s last rays of the day before it slips below the distant and hazy ranges of the Blue Mountains. The motorways though, are almost empty, as they have been for most of the previous 18 months – ever since petrol hit the latest in an ongoing series of highs – $8 per litre. These days, the traffic is mostly buses and trucks, commuters having long ago given up on runs into the CBD each day in preference for telecommuting from their home computers. The ambitious and expensive network of tunnels built under the city are now largely falling into disuse by everyone except for squatters; it’s too expensive to keep it all roadworthy for the few remaining paying coustomers. And in the CBD, luxury high-rise ghettoes are crammed with people trying to escape now-isolated suburbs.
Such a scenario may sound outlandish, and perhaps it is, but according to a growing number of energy analysts Australians are in danger of living the dream-turned-nightmare. Oil, they say, is running out. The ubiquitous black gold that lubricates our daily lives and makes the economy hum is getting harder and costlier to extract from the ground. On this much virtually everyone, even the skeptics, agrees.
What they don’t agree on is when it’ll happen.
‘In the next three years’, argues author and researcher James Howard Kunstler in a recent interview with Grist magazine in the US, ‘we are going to be feeling the pain. Our lives are going to be noticeably beginning to be disrupted. In the next ten years, you will see the beginning of a major collapse of suburbia’.
Australia is a country heavily reliant on oil. Our strength as one of the world’s leading agricultural producers hinges on not just fuel oil for transport, but oil by-products as fertilizers.
According to Kunstler, rising fuel costs will force city-dwellers to grow their own food literally in household backyards and farms on the back doorstep. Many people, he says, will find their lifestyles change to accommodate a necessary grow-your-own component. Prices for lifestyle blocks and large city sections will soar, while prices of apartments will plummet.
Although Kunstler was speaking to an American audience, there are those in Australia, like the Green Party, who are convinced by his message, and throw the threat of falling oil supplies into an already-confused local debate over environmental policy and where the country – and world is hidden. For while on the one hand, environmentalists worry that the world is running out of oil (though they never mention that such a scenario would also go a long way towards cut greenhouse gas emissions), on the other, scientists such as Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, disagree. According to Lomborg, there are vast reserves of oil in tar sands and shale, and while it is more expensive to extract, these sources could also keep the well from running dry for many, many years – 5,000, to be exact.
It’s not hard to understand why the skeptics would be, well, skeptical. After all, back in the 1970s environmentalists were predicting that today civilization would be beating back glaciers and that nations would be going to war over food. And there’s currently huge debate over whether rising temperatures are the result of man’s planet-destroying hubris which needs urgently to be put in check, or simply caused by natural long-term fluctuations in the climate. After all, if meteorologists can’t predict whether Saturday’s trip to the beach will be a wash-out, what makes them think they can project the temperature, five, ten, or fifty years down the track?
So is this matter of peak oil really much ado about nothing and another tactic by the Greens to garner inner-city votes and reduce vehicle emissions? Or is it the skeptics who are misinformed?
New Zealand-based geologist Alan Hart, who has worked on the frontline of the oil industry for 30 years, believes the ramifications of this ‘final’ oil crisis will be very serious indeed and our media has fundamentally failed to alert people to the realities of what lies ahead. Born in Texas in 1951, he graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with advanced degrees in petroleum geology in 1974 and 1979, and has worked for several oil companies, including the 7th largest US petroleum company, ARCO. Since 2002, he has been on the board of directors of Canadian company, TAG Oil, which is concentrating on exploration efforts in New Zealand.
‘These journalists and radio hosts are entitled to their opinions and can denigrate spokespersons like myself all they want, but I personally know that peak oil will arrive in two or five or ten years. From that point on, the world as we know it will be changed unless the global community meets it head on and begins its preparations now.’
The act of taking oil from the ground is called producing it. Since the start of oil production in the nineteenth century, the world has produced about half of its ultimately recoverable oil resource. At the halfway point, the world will achieve what is referred to as its production peak – more oil will be produced in a year near the halfway point than ever before – or thereafter. This is what is referred to as peak oil.
There are varied opinions regarding when peak oil will occur. Dr Colin Campbell, a petro-geologist who is perhaps the world’s foremost expert on predicting oil trends, calculates that it will occur in 2006. Dr Campbell, who was conferred with a PhD from Oxford University and has worked as a geologist, manager, and consultant for a variety of oil companies, is currently the convener and editor of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) and a Trustee of the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre in London. He told the Guardian in late-April 2005 that about 944 billion barrels of oil have thus far been extracted, some 764 billion remains extractable in known fields or reserves, and that a further 142 billion of reserves are classed as ‘yet-to-find’ – that’s the oil geologists expect to be discovered. He said if this is so, then the overall oil peak arrives next year – with unpredictable and perhaps drastic consequences for the world.
Optimists focus on the figures and assume that just because the production peak has arrived doesn’t mean that oil is under imminent threat. But Campbell and James Howard Kunstler argue the petro-optimists are missing the point.
‘We don’t have to run out of oil or natural gas to have severe problems’, says Kunstler. ‘All you have to do is head down the arc of depletion on the downside of world peak production.’
In other words, as production decreases yet demand continues to increase, oil prices become problematic for the world long before the wells actually dry up.
The peak oil debate has recently heated up especially across the Tasman, where Energy Minister Trevor Mallard told Investigate the Government stands by its view that peak oil will occur sometime between 2021 and 2067, with ‘probability highest around 2037’, statistics that come from the United States Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration.
‘I stress that other estimates abound’, concedes Mallard, ‘and that I’m not claiming that this is the right one, but it’s in our view the best estimate we have to work to for now’.
But critics say politicians like Mallard have no choice but to play it cool, lest the healthy economic outlook be exposed as a fraud. The man who just purchased a new 4WD on hire purchase would think the bottom had dropped out of his world and the young couple who’d just built their dream home an hour’s drive from their work places, where there was no alternative but to drive, would be gutted. It’s far simpler, say petro-pessimists, for the Minister to use smoke and mirrors to provide an illusion of a rosy future, which allow for the continuance of current trends over the coming years, rather than to tell it like it is. It’s like booking us to go First Class on the Titanic and moving all the furniture towards the end that will sink first.
It is significant that peak oil is getting much more coverage in the international media than it is in Australia’s daily press. But this will change. Ordinary people are learning about the theory, thanks largely to word of mouth and the internet. One who ascribes to this view is Kiwi builder Robert Atack. For six years now, this 47-year-old has been a modern Jeremiah informing people about the impending oil crisis. He, like some experts in world energy studies, believes it will have a catastrophic impact on humanity, an impact which could be lessened if we start our preparations now.
Atack has plunged $9,000 of his own cash into the issue, printing and distributing leaflets, CDs, DVDs, videos and books, which carry information from experts of Dr Colin Campbell’s ilk, to members of the public and parliament.
‘During the last term of government I had 10,000 copies of The Oil Crash And You printed and sent about 5 copies each to every MP. And I’ve sent a lot of e-mails – and I think probably most of the current government have had something sent to them’, offers Atack.
‘Trevor Mallard’s been in denial. Any official reply I’ve seen from his office since he became Minister of Energy is just the regurgitated rubbish Pete Hodgson’s secretary sent out, who became Mallard’s when he took over the job of Minister of Energy.’
Beyond the rhetoric, there is evidence that the oil industry really is in dire straits. According to oil geologist Hart it is an industry virtually working at full capacity now. It’s being pushed to its limits. He can tell by the number of oil tankers traveling around the world, the number of seismic vessels gathering seismic data for oil companies, as well as from the number of oilrigs in use.
At present, the world can produce about 84 million barrels of oil a day at the most.
Over 82 million barrels per day are being used at present and there’s an increasing demand for more. The world economy grew by 5.1% in 2004 – the fastest in nearly three decades. Among the leaders were China, (with around 1.3 billion inhabitants), expanding at 9.5%, Argentina at 9% and India at 7.3%, (around 1.1 billion people). Projections for the fourth quarter of 2005 indicate that 86 to 87 million barrels of oil a day will be required and this won’t be met. Although the biggest oil companies, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Texaco, and BP talk about there being ‘plenty of oil’ and being able to produce more, their production figures are actually going down every year, a problem compounded by a lack of refineries that create supply bottlenecks and push the price of petrol north.
While the oil industry can function well at the moment, it won’t in the imminent future. Compounding the oil availability problems is that for the past 20 years the industry has failed to attract enough new personnel. Faced with the choice of studying oil geology or the glamour of IT during the dotcom boom of the nineties, many students chose IT. The grim period of mergers and downsizing in the oil business added to the perception that the oil business was a beast in its death throes. As perhaps it is.
Managing editor of the Oil & Gas International Journal, Dev George, puts it, ‘It seems as though every major petroleum industry conference these days has at least one session devoted to bemoaning the critical shortage of new blood, the lack of young professionals – engineers and geologists and geoscientists as well as business and industry generalists – entering the industry.’
Hart says this spells doom for the oil business, because the ability to successfully locate and drill for oil is highly dependent upon having an employee base with extensive work experience.
‘In 1985, the average age for a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists was 38. The average age last year was 53. This shows that at this critical time when the industry really needs experienced employees, they won’t be there. It is really a dreadful situation we face’, offers Hart despondently.
The American Association of Petroleum Geologists has been providing videos and encouraging its 31,000 members to speak in public forums about the possibility of future oil shortages for the past 15 years. Hart began making presentations to various civic and business groups down under several years ago in an attempt to alert the public to the coming end to cheap oil, but finds it difficult to disseminate the message because the public is chiefly ‘unbelieving.’
‘Some people think that “peak oil” is nothing but evidence of a greedy oil industry trying to talk up the oil price’, but this is not so, says Hart: ‘Why would the industry manipulate prices so high that they drive away the very customers that are required to keep them in business? The last thing the oil companies want to see is a chaotic global event [peak oil] that destroys their carefully cultivated consumer base. If there was anything the producers – especially OPEC and petroleum companies could do to slow the price juggernaut,
believe me they’d be doing it now, not tomorrow.’
Hart says it’s the plight of his own four children that motivates him to inform the public about peak oil, because while he can educate them on the impending oil crisis, without the cooperative efforts of the rest of the community and nation, their entire livelihood is threatened by the coming dilemma.
Dr Peter Ballance, formerly Associate Professor of Geology at Auckland University, specialised in sedimentary and oil geology and holds a Doctorate of Science from the University of London. He contends that the threat of peak oil should be taken seriously. ‘It’s a physical fact. One which we may reach this year or in 10 year’s time’, he warns.
In regard to whether skeptical cientists such as Bjorn Lomborg are correct in claiming that there is plenty of oil, Dr Ballance admits that ‘people who say there’s plenty of oil are right in one sense, but in the sense of plenty of the ideal oil, they’re wrong. Much of that remaining oil will be in tar sands, oil shales, deep-sea locations and Arctic locations. All of that’s very expensive and environmentally damaging to extract.’
The cost of oil is not the real issue. The availability of oil is. It is currently cheap because we’re extracting fuel from easy fields whose technical infrastructure was put in place and paid for decades ago. When those fields empty, sooner rather than later, prices will rise.
It is commonly suggested that technological advances will play a role in finding meaningful quantities of more oil. Unfortunately, according to Hart, while technology has and will continue to enhance the oil industry’s ability to locate significant new accumulations of petroleum, it cannot compensate for the huge amounts of cheap oil we are chewing our way through.
‘Anyone who believes that technology will “save the day” like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster is not facing up to reality. Technology alone cannot replace the amounts of cheap oil [less than US$10/barrel to produce] we are currently consuming on a global scale. It’s going to take a conservation effort too’, he asserts. Wishful thinking, whilst correct to a point, still ignores the reality that markets rely on plenty of advance warning and new discoveries, not magic wands, and that if another chemical existed that could replace oil as a fuel, or in plastics or any of the other myriad uses for oil, we ought to know about it by now. And we don’t. And on a worst case scenario those ‘markets’ may only have another five years to find the mystery new elixir, test it and produce it.
Yes, solar power can help reduce some of the dependence on oil, but currently we use oil to create solar generation capacity. The power and telephone lines into our homes are manufactured from oil. Computers are dependent on oil. Many pharmaceutical and health products require oil. For the markets to truly ‘take care of it’, planning has to begin immediately, argue petro-pessimists.
Some still refuse to face the possibility of a world with less oil, however, like those who believe Thomas Gold’s theory that oil is abiotic, or non-organic in origin. This theory, which holds a growing number of followers, suggests that oil is being produced within the mantle of the earth, from where it continually moves upward, to provide an unlimited supply. Dr Ballance says that there is no substance to Gold’s theory. ‘It’s one of the many myths on which people build hopes’, he says.
Although the oil industry has repeatedly proven that oil is biotic, meaning that it is derived from the degeneration of organic plant and animal remains from which the carbon molecules have been converted to complex hydrocarbon molecules through pressure and time, the Gold theory has retained many believers for a number of reasons.
There are genuine accounts of oil wells refilling, and drilling at levels deeper than 10,000 metres, which some say is evidence that has supported Gold’s theory. Ballance counters that the reason the wells have been refilling is not because oil is being magically produced deep within the earth, but simply because oil moves through permeable rocks in response to a pressure gradient. It can continue to move after a well has ceased to provide economic quantities of oil. Thus, it’s to be expected that old wells will in some cases refill with oil, but in no where near the quantities that will make any difference to a world that uses over 82 million barrels a day.
Likewise, the drilling beyond 10,000 metres does not lend support for the abiotic theory, either because when hydrocarbons are subjected to the temperatures and pressure that exist below 9,000 metres, they are generally destroyed says Hart.
Former industrial chemist Kevin Moore, who has an Honours degree in chemistry from Auckland University, has studied the abiotic theory and says its proponents are asking us to accept a process that defies the laws of chemistry. ‘Until the proponents of abiotic oil present a plausible theory, and they’ve presented none to my knowledge, it’s just junk science’.
The deepest bore to date was drilled by Russians in the Kola Peninsula to 12,262-metres from 1970 to 1994 and cost more than US$250 million. However, it was not drilled in order to search for oil or natural gas, but to study the nature of the earth’s crust. ‘While there’s no ultra-deep oil except in a couple of unusual fields, there is ultra-deep gas in many places. No matter where people get their information from, they can be assured that petroleum is not generated in the mantle. And if Russia, which passed peak production in the late-1980’s, has all of this deep oil, why isn’t it selling it on the world market?’, questions Hart.
According to peak oil advocates, Australia should be doing a thorough analysis of each sector of the economy to understand how vulnerable it is to oil prices and shortages and what can be done. For example, can our food be grown closer to where it is eaten? How do we maintain soil fertility without nitrogen-based fertilizers – which are made from fossil fuels? Can we invest now in expensive infrastructure that will be hard to afford when oil is expensive – like rail, wind turbines and solar technologies, to say nothing of nuclear power, which is once again on the agenda.
Australia is competing against the world for a limited amount of liquid energy. As long as oil demand outstrips the industry’s ability to supply oil, the prices will continue to rise. When global oil production does peak, and it soon will, the disparity between demand and supply will continue to grow and the situation will so worsen. It’s not a case of if, but when. While one can hope and pray that gigantic new sources of petroleum will be found tomorrow, if the majority of people working in the petroleum industry are correct, this won’t happen and continuing our gas-guzzling ways is only going to add to an already critical situation.
July 05, AU Edition
How do you take a radical idea and turn it into a market leader? JAMES MORROW talks to Ross Cameron, Managing Director of Dyson Appliances’ South-East Asian operations about how he took a vacuum cleaner developed in a Bath, U.K., coachhouse and turned it into one of the fastest-growing brands in Australia – and in the process
For almost eighty years, the first three words most people came up with when asked what they thought of when they thought about vacuum cleaners were ‘big’, ‘loud’, and ‘ugly’. But in the past decade that has changed radically, thanks to the work of British inventor James Dyson and his Australian counterpart Ross Cameron – two men who have not only turned the prosaic market floor cleaners upside down, but in the process introduced a new word to the language – ‘Dyson’ (as in ‘I have to Dyson the carpet’, or, just as common, ‘sucks like a Dyson’).
Today Dyson is the number one vacuum cleaner brand in Australia in terms of both volume and value, the result of a remarkable story that brings together radical thinking, a will to win, and a lot of dirty floors.
The story of how Dyson came to be a brand-leader not just in Australia but in Britain and the United States is a classic tale of an inventor working through prototype after prototype in a lab; of highs and lows with business backers; and lots of old-fashioned door-to-door (or rather, store-to-store) salesmanship. In 1979, British designer James Dyson – who had already invented a series of marine and gardening products – realized the common flaw of all vacuum cleaners, namely, the bag, and like all true revolutionaries, decided to do something about it. He sold his shares in one of his previous inventions for GBP10,000, and spent the next five years making 5,000 prototypes before coming up with his unique Dual Cyclone Technology in 1984.
But despite the genius of the technology, not everyone was interested. For one thing, big multinationals were reluctant to back a product that could, if it succeeded, do to the vacuum cleaner bag market (worth GBP100 million a year in Britain alone at the time) what digital cameras have done to makers of 35mm film.
Fast forward to 1989, and enter James Cameron.
Cameron, who at the time was working for S.C. Johnson Wax as part of their global team trying to develop equipment that would go along with the firm’s already-existing chemicals lines, recalls the first time he heard about Dyson’s product as a real eureka moment in his life. ‘I said to myself, wow, there’s the answer! I have an engineering background myself, and knew we had to do this’. So Cameron set about convincing his company to buy the commercial rights to Dual Cyclone Technology, and sat down with Dyson to make a viable vacuum cleaner for the marketplace.
‘So we had the backing of S.C. Johnson and James had a little coach house in Bath, in the U.K., and we had a couple of engineers. He would be designing, and we would be getting prototypes made, and finally we had the design sorted out’, says Cameron. ‘We were also meeting up regularly with the global marketing people from S.C. Johnson to make sure there were going to be buyers for this thing, and got them to spend $3 million on tooling. We got the machine produced in Italy, launched it in 1990, and did very well with it across Europe.’
Soon, though, the other shoe would drop – in the form of a corporate edict from on high that said vacuums were not part of the company’s core business, and therefore, the Dyson operation was shut down. Of course, it’s pretty hard to keep a good idea from eventually forcing its way to market, and that’s just what happened as Dyson and Cameron teamed up to take on the world. James Dyson started selling vacuums in the U.K. in 1993, and as soon as a barrel vacuum was developed in 1995 – about eighty percent of the floor cleaner market down under is for barrel vacs, as opposed to upright models – Cameron flew down to start breaking in to the local market. Of course, that’s the sort of thing that’s easier said than done – and as Cameron quickly discovered, his first problem was getting into a retail market he didn’t know about with a product no one had ever seen before.
His solution? Hit the streets.
‘I took it out to the stores, and was pretty persistent. A lot of people told me what I could do with my vacuum cleaner!’, laughs Cameron as he remembers some of the less-than-diplomatic receptions he was accorded by store managers. ‘But I wanted to win. I believed in the technology, and I made a decision that this was going to go, and I know it was just a matter of getting in the door and showing retailers the technology’.
This faith in the product – and the fact that the product was so unique (as opposed to other manufacturers who had for years been essentially repackaging old technology in new housings) – is what sustained Cameron, who notes that that sort of passion is necessary for anyone trying to get a business off the ground.
‘I suppose I was a bit naïve, but I’m bloody-minded, and I just wanted it to work.’
Eventually, though, Dyson’s break came, and David Jones placed an order for 120 vacuum cleaners in May of 1996. They sold just 24 through the following month, a number which Cameron still remembers vividly to this day. But better luck came in the form of a deal with Myer’s: ‘They said they’d put it on sale and placed an order for 170, and we’ve never looked back’.
But while this was the break Cameron was looking for, he realised that managing growth was going to be tricky, and that continued success – predicated as it was, at the time, on so much word-of-mouth advertising – depended on more than just being able to get more product to market. So Cameron and his team spent virtually every night of the week going out into the stores and training staff in how the Dyson worked. ‘We would take the thing out, pour fine powder on the ground and let them see how it separated it out, and even let them take them home to try them out’, says Cameron, who never moved the product out to market without also giving this sort of support to retailers. ‘They realized it was different, but it was damn hard doing all that training’.
From there, Dyson’s Australian operation grew at ‘a ridiculous rate’, with giant retailers like Harvey Norman and Retravision quick to sign on. All of which led to another problem that Cameron never imagined: many of his employees at the time did not want to work for such a high-growth company, having joined up thinking that they were going to spend their days at a staid little operation without too many demands being made of them.
‘In one year I lost 70 per cent of my staff – they couldn’t handle the pace. That was the year our sales doubled. They said they wanted to work for a little company and have a little job – and I knew they couldn’t meet our expectations’, says Cameron, adding that he went through a great deal of soul-searching about his hiring processes. And, as Cameron discovered, getting the right team on board was key as the company was tipped for major growth.
‘One of the things I said was that I didn’t need a lot of little Ross Camerons around’, he says, describing his hiring philosophy. ‘The important thing is to find people who have a vision, and who’ve got passion – the most important thing is that they have that.’
Cameron adds that this quest for strong, diverse people leads to a much stronger team, especially when there’s conflict over an issue.
‘I’m a hard taskmaster, but my people push back. If they defend an issue, I’m very likely to accept what they’re trying to say – I want strong people around me’.
July 05, AU Edition
NEW RUDD ORDER
Iraq, the United Nations, and the threat of terrorism in our region: What is Howard doing wrong? How would Labor do things differently? Investigate editor JAMES MORROW recently sat down with Shadow Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to find out
INVESTIGATE: Do you think Iraq is better off now that Saddam Hussein is gone?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, the fact of the matter is Saddam’s gone, but to state the bleeding obvious we didn’t support the war. The fact of the matter is that that advice was not accepted by the Australian government, the Australian government fought in the coalition to remove Saddam Hussein, and in fact succeeded in removing him. Therefore we are, as people interested in and committed to universal human rights, happy that he’s gone.
But what one is concerned about is the stability of the country, and the regime which replaces him. What we’re uncertain about is how all this will shake down in the years ahead, particularly once there is an eventual withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
INVESTIGATE: On the subject of the US’s eventual withdrawal, where do you stand on the question of keeping Australian troops in Iraq? After all, Mark Latham promised to have the troops home by Christmas, but Howard has committed another 450 troops.
RUDD: We think that [increasing the deployment] was an inappropriate decision for a number of reasons, one of which is the prime minister’s election commitment, to the Australian people in black and white, which was that there would be no substantial increases. Prior to the election from memory we had in country something in the vicinity of 300 troops if you add another 500, it’s basically a breach of undertaking.
INVESTIGATE: So what’s Labor’s plan?
RUDD: When I visited Iraq and spoke with Ambassador Bremmer, one of the things he impressed upon me was the problem of the porousness of Iraq’s borders, and of insurgents and jihadists coming across from Syria and Saudi Arabia and Iran and [the need] to do what was necessary to enhance the systems, procedures and personnel tasked with providing Iraq’s border security. We can provide a very effective training package for that as well as effective packages to assist Iraqis on the humanitarian front.
INVESTIGATE: In that vein, did you see Syria recently nabbed 113 people trying to make it into Iraq from Syria?
RUDD: I have not seen that particular report, but those figures would not surprise me. I stood in Bremer’s office in Saddam’s palace and examined a very large map of Iraq and its contiguous land borders with Iran, Syria and Saudi. These are borders that probably in the best of times were never properly policed. Now that we’re in the worst of times, in terms of Iraq, to paraphrase [CIA Director] Porter Goss, it has become something of a magnet for training jihadists from around the world.
It strikes us that the best thing to do is help the Iraqis build better border control and better border security systems. That’s something we’re not bad at.
INVESTIGATE: To bring the United Nations into the conversation for a moment, you opposed going into Iraq; does Australia always need the UN’s mandate to use force, or is there a danger that that limits our options?
RUDD: We take the UN charter seriously, and the reason we take the UN charter seriously is that, prima facie, it is better to have an international rules-based order than to have no international rules-based order. And to state the bleeding obvious, of course it’s inefficient. The bottom line is it was put together by a committee of nations in 1945. But critics of the UN don’t argue what sort of rules-based order, if any, should replace it. Are they arguing for the pre-‘45 world order, the pre-1919 world order, what sort of world order are they arguing for creating? Back to Westphalia, back to pre-Westphalia?
If you’re going to take the classic neo-conservative critique of the UN multilateral order, then think in the great tradition of Burkean conservatism, you should argue for something to replace that which you would tear apart. I don’t hear a coherent program along those lines other than occasional bursts of unilateralism when you judge it absolutely necessary. A lot of capabilities are divided within the strength of the UN charter: Article 42, which provides for collective action through the Security Council (that’s how we managed to achieve our outcomes in East Timor). You’ve also got Article 51, which provides for an opportunity to defend yourself against attacks, and Kofi Annan has argued for a further examination of that given the advances in weaponry in recent times. Then you’ve got doctrines of humanitarian intervention, which are much more controversial provisions.
INVESTIGATE: How does that all fit in, then, with the crisis in Darfur?
RUDD: The challenge at stake with Darfur is the question of whether it is a failure of the UN or the member states of the UN.
INVESTIGATE: Then isn’t the problem with the UN that it is only as good as it’s member states?
RUDD: Most cooperative endeavours are.
INVESTIGATE: Sure, if you’ve got an organisation with lots of different states that are not democracies and a few that are, don’t you wind up getting pulled down to the lowest common denominator, because those dictatorships keep one from being able to act?
RUDD: If you look back to the Commission on Human Rights, which is the subject of such comprehensive reform proposals by Kofi Annan’s reform panel, that is the inherent problem of having a democracy of states, states which irrespective of their internal political composition all having equal say in the general assembly.
But again, the critics of the UN system fail to argue the alternative. I don’t hear that. I don’t even hear that from the neo-conservative critics. Would it be the death of Westphalia? Would the sovereignty of individual states go out the door? If so, what replaces it? I just think that reforming the current system is the most practical way to go. I put in these stark terms and your readers will be familiar with Churchill’s great critique of democracy, and I think the same is true with the United Nations.
So it’s not about some belief in chanting the UN mantra for the sake of chanting the UN mantra. No, it’s not ideological, it’s practical. And contrast that with the various international systems of the pre-1945 period. And in this country which tends to be pro-American, and I have a career record of being pro-American myself, support for the UN tends to poll over 60 percent.
INVESTIGATE: On the issue of pro- and anti-Americanism, what did you make of that report from the Lowy institute which said that more Australians were more afraid of the United States than Osama bin Laden?
RUDD: I was actually in China when that poll came out so, so I haven’t gotten into it, but in terms of the responses in the poll that supported the US alliance, I think the figure was 38 per cent, and for America itself it was 58 per cent. That I think is an interesting insight into the way Australians think. Australians, since 1941 when [Labor] ran the country, we had an alliance with the United States for the first time, which was under an Australian Labor government, and we took a lot of criticism from those who accused us of departing from the mother country. We have been consistent supporters of a military alliance with America, and that has not changed and that will not change.
However, support of the US military alliance does not mean that you have to subsume every tenet of Australian foreign policy to American foreign policy. There are going to be areas of difference. There have been in the past, and you know what? There will be in the future. This is not the sort of thing where you just go and tick every box.
INVESTIGATE: Back to the whole concept of multilateral alliances and structures, what do you say to the criticism that if we were in the ASEAN treaty a few years back, we wouldn’t have ben able to liberate East Timor because we would have had to respect the sovereignty of Indonesia?
RUDD: I think it’s an intellectually incoherent argument, the reason being that in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation refers to Article 42 of the UN charter, which in turn provides for collective action by states. It was only when the UN mandated action in East Timor that the Indonesians withdrew and we entered uncontested under the terms of the relevant UN resolultions. To use the ancient Latin phrase, that argument is complete bullshit.
INVESTIGATE: Where do you see China fitting in to geopolitics these days, especially with the Taiwan issue?
RUDD: I think the central foreign policy challenge for Australia in the next quarter-century is China. I don’t think the Howard government necessarily grasps that. If you look at the Prime Minister’s speech to the Lowy Institute recently, he described us Asia as constituting the stadium of international affairs for the century ahead. Well, that’s terrific that the Prime Minister has discovered a pre-existing reality which is staring the nation in the face for the previous quarter-century. Anyway, leaving that to one side, the core component of that is China. Why? China is the dynamic, and it is an unfolding story of rapid economic growth. Back in 1984 it has an economy slightly smaller than Canada and slightly larger than that of Australia. Now, depending on the measure, you’re talking about an economy that’s the fourth-largest in the world and getting larger.
INVESTIGATE: There’s a lot of economic growth there, but not much political freedom…
RUDD: The open question is, is China going in the direction of a democracy? Anyone making bold predictions on that I think has an excess of courage and a possible deficit of wisdom. It is a very difficult question to predict. To answer to the question how China will evolve politically, well, frankly it is impossible to predict.
On the question of China’s foreign policy behaviour, China now in terms of diplomatic and foreign policy activity in the region is much more activist than it has been in the past. China in the 1980s did not have much of a view of what was going on in the region. Now it has an acute view.
On the question of Taiwan, it is one of continuing core sensitivities, not just in terms of peace and prosperity across the Taiwan straits, but peace between China and the United States, peace between China and Japan, peace within the wider region. This is the core question within the core question.
INVESTIGATE: So if China makes a play for Taiwan, and the US ends up on the side of China, where does that leave Australia?
RUDD: The answer I will give is that it is not productive for the government or the alternative government of this country to speculate on how our alliance relationship with the United States will apply given future strategic circumstances.
INVESTIGATE: But how do you feel about Taiwanese independence in the meantime?
RUDD: We’re long term supporters since 1972. Remember, Labor Party history isn’t bad on China is not a bad one. The conservatives pretended China didn’t exist for 23 years, and you know, we thought that was kind of stupid. Our treaty with China remains unchanged, and we don’t budge from that. Now what is involved domestically within Taiwan, in terms of a liberal democratic principle of management, that we of course support, and I have long been on the record supporting that. I studied in Taiwan as a student, and I’ve seen Taiwan change over the years, but that doesn’t alter our view of the One China policy.
INVESTIGATE: Moving elsewhere in the region, regarding the insurgency in the Philippines, we’ve got a story on the al Qaida-linked Islamic problem. Should Australia be doing more?
RUDD: The connections with the wider al Qaida networks in the southern Philippines has been the subject of some study, and I’m of the view that there are connections. Based on advice I’ve seen it’s quite clear to me that there are connections. That leads to Labor’s fundamental premise in its policy on counterterrorism in the region, that is, beyond rhetorical flourish by a government with an eye on opinion polls in this country, as opposed to doing the hard yards of actually tackling terrorism on the ground, we argue that to be effective in the war against terrorism, what you need is a comprehensive, regional counterterrorism strategy which covers each dimension of the problem. That means, for example, effective intelligence coordination across all south-east Asian states, police cooperation across all south-east Asian states, and on top of that it means dealing with some of the underlying social and economic factors which make it easier for terrorist organisations to recruit. That is the sort of strategy we need. At present what we’ve got is a bit of money here, a bit of money there; fund that capability-building unit in Jakarta; who knows what the one in Kuala Lumpur is doing; what about the one in Bangkok?
As a starting premise, what we argue for is a comprehensive region-wide audit of our counterterrorism capabilities if you’re serious the enterprise, that’s where you start. Then the second thing you do is identify capability gaps, and you agree on a strategy across the region in order to clear the gaps. This is not happening. You have a bit here and bit there, usually in response to an event, and that is a classical conservative party misunderstanding of a fundamental national security challenge.
INVESTIGATE: It sounds like you’re talking civilian operations – but what about on the military side. If we had knowledge of someone with a suitcase nuclear weapon somewhere bound for Australia, does Australia have the right to go stop it?
RUDD: That’s a fantastic hypothetical…
INVESTIGATE: Perhaps, but so was 9/11 before it happened.
RUDD: Look: the only way Australia, a country with twenty million people and limited national security resources of our own, both military and non-military, could do so is collaboratively, with the states of the region.
I mean, John Howard by talking about unilateral action is alienating regional states and the diplomatic support necessary to actually engender the cooperative relationships which are necessary to stop terrorists on the ground. This is a mindless piece of politics and hairy-chestedness.
Ask yourself this question: if you’ve got a problem with terrorists in south-east Asia, can you concede that Australia could in any way act other than collaboratively with the local state involved?
July 05, AU Edition
He’s won a fourth term, faced down a revolt from backbenchers, and has historic control of the Senate. So what next for the Prime Minister? ALAN ANDERSON provides an inside account of the power struggles within the Liberal party, the outlook for succession, and Labor’s last best hope.
With the Opposition languishing in the polls, the new Senate under Coalition control and the issue of the Liberal leadership at least tem-porarily quiescent, one would imagine John Howard to be at the peak of his power. Yet the past few weeks have seen him locked in tense negotiations with four of his own backbenchers, culminating in a partial repudiation of the policy with which he is most closely associated in the public mind. As we eagerly anticipate the Government’s legislative agenda, how far will Howard really be able to push things in a fourth term?
The revolt led by backbencher Petro Georgiou against mandatory detention has been an unsettling experience for the Government. With big ticket items like industrial relations and Telstra on the agenda, together with smaller but equally controversial reforms like voluntary student unionism, Howard will not want policies that should form his legacy to be watered down by nervous backbenchers.
Howard’s response has been to portray the revolt as a strength rather than a weakness. His welcoming of fresh ideas from the backbench carried a disturbing touch of Chairman Mao’s exhortation to ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’, although one hopes his motivation is less sinister.
Certainly, Liberal MPs identify the party’s capacity to generate ideas as a key advantage over Labor. ‘We are winning because we are about ideas’, one South Australian Liberal MP told Investigate. ‘They are more interested in factional politics.’
This is more than rhetoric. Two new policy journals, The Party Room, edited by former federal director Andrew Robb MP and tax crusader Senator Mitch Fifield, and Looking Forward, edited by South Australian Liberal MP Dr Andrew Southcott, have sprung up in the last few months. Freed of the discipline of staring down the barrel of electoral oblivion, Coalition MPs have greeted Labor’s decline with an eagerness to conduct their own policy debates in public.
The Coalition is providing its own opposition, while an impotent Labor Party is relegated to the role of spectator. There is every reason to believe that this is not a passing phase. Labor was sidelined before Coalition control of the Senate; deprived of its upper house veto it can only become less relevant. Policy is in fashion this season, and there is no doubt that it is making the Liberal Party look like the natural party of government.
Yet while Howard’s portrayal of the Liberals as the ‘party of ideas’ may encompass calls for tax reform or school vouchers, it was a contrived explanation of his surrender to the mandatory detention rebels. Howard’s line has only passed media muster because the press gallery were so keen to see immigration policy watered down.
The days of a meek and compliant backbench are gone. ‘There are two ends of the spectrum’, another Minister explained. ‘On one hand you have people like Georgiou, who know that they’re never going to get a position on the front bench. What has he got to lose? He figures he might as well do what he believes.
‘At the other end of the spectrum you have young, ambitious backbenchers. If you’re in your thirties and on the backbench, you want to make a name for yourself. You see there’s a logjam on the front bench at the moment, and you don’t expect promotion any time soon. So you’re thinking long-term, beyond this Government’.
In other words, the Coalition’s policy debates are partly a symptom of its success. Howard has an abundance of talent in the Parliament, much of it quite experienced, but there are only so many ministries to go around.
The two major themes championed by the party’s backbench this year have been tax reform and softening of mandatory detention. They represent two different models of backbench activism, at least one of which poses a direct challenge to Howard’s authority.
The so-called tax ‘ginger group’, led by Fifield and Victorian Liberal MP Sophie Panopoulos, was careful to give credit to the Government for past tax cuts while lobbying for more. They portrayed their cause as consistent with the direction of government policy, and their form of contribution is doubtless what Howard has in mind when calling for debate. But to be fairto Petro Georgiou and his mandatory
detention rebels, consistency with government policy would not have been a credible claim for their group to make. Asked to comment on where the line is drawn between healthy debate and white-anting, one Liberal Senator saw the policy itself as the main distinction. ‘The difference is about whether you are agitating to advance Liberal values, or to overturn them; whether you’re trying to get us to go forward or to reverse’.
Yet there is a distinction of process as well as substance. Sophie Panopolous invited controversy when labelling Georgiou’s group ‘political terrorists’, yet there is no question that their campaign was conducted using the threat of private member’s Bills and an embarrassing split in Government ranks. If not terrorism, it was at least blackmail, and it worked.
Media commentators, seeking to excuse Howard’s capitulation on a policy they detest, suggest that it sprang from his belief that ‘disunity is death’. But if disunity is death, has Howard not encouraged it?
The Coalition party room was solidly behind Howard on this issue. Had he wanted to stand firm, there is no question that Georgiou and his three colleagues would have been isolated and defeated.
Instead, Howard spent nine hours negotiating with the group, delivering substantial concessions that undermine the mandatory detention regime for any asylum-seeker accompanied by his family. To extend the Panopoulos analogy, Howard broke the rules and negotiated with terrorists.
One Victorian Liberal backbencher sees the rationale for Howard’s move as being specific to the issue. ‘The Palmer Inquiry was going to criticise the [Immigration] Department and recommend reforms. Howard was just moving first, so that when the report came out he would already have fixed the problems’.
Another explanation is that Howard was driven by memories of the dissipation of Malcolm Fraser’s authority in the face of regular defections. Yet the broader precedent has been set. ‘It will certainly encourage others to think they can get away with breaking ranks’, according to the Victorian. The incident has cast doubt over whether Howard be able to rein in the excesses of this phenomenon.
Of course, the one force that could reverse this trend is the federal Labor Party. Were it not for the absence of effective opposition from the benches opposite, Coalition parliamentarians might be more circumspect in airing internal policy debates than they have been in recent months.
What are the chances of a Labor revival bolstering discipline in the Coalition ranks? The prospect of a Labor leadership change, unthinkable before the Budget, is starting to look like a real possibility.
Returning to Beazley seemed a safe option at the time, but the Labor caucus must be wondering whether they have made their third mistake in a row.
Yet Coalition MPs see Beazley more as a symptom than a cause of the Labor disease. For one thing, a change in leadership will not alter the high ‘hack factor’ that is so apparent from a perusal of Labor CVs, or the resultant intellectual vacuum.
‘It’s about personnel’, was the Minister’s explanation of Labor’s woes, but it was not just a reference to the leadership. ‘Labor’s benches are full of trade union reps and former staffers. None of them have had any real world experience, and they’re not representative of the community. Our party room looks more like Australia’.
‘They just don’t have any ideas’, adds the South Australian MP. ‘They seem to be getting all their policy from one or two sources: tax policy from one think-tank conference; health policy from Catholic health groups. It’s because their MPs are basically just union and party hacks. They aren’t coming up with anything themselves’.
Equally damaging is the fact that Labor continues to break the primary rule of politics: look after your base.
This is perhaps Howard’s most important political legacy. Since 1996, ‘Howard’s battlers’ have continued to upset the traditional political balance. Won over by Howard’s rejection of the culturally elitist Keating agenda, a few battlers went home to Labor over the GST in 1998, before being cemented back into the Coalition’s corner by the border protection debate in 2001.
In 2004, the focus returned to domestic issues, with a traditional class warfare campaign under Labor’s pie-eating Aussie bloke, Mark Latham. Yet in spite of scare campaigns on health, a polarising debate over private schooling and a barrage of self-serving stories about Latham’s Green Valley upbringing, the battlers voted Liberal in greater numbers than ever. This, together with the abject failure of Labor’s anti-Costello campaign, suggests that Howard’s battlers have become the Coalition’s battlers, increasingly wedded to its aspirational economic message as well as its culturally conservative one.
Is this reversible? Beazley’s ham-fisted efforts to block Costello’s tax cuts suggest that Labor still believes it can regain its traditional support base. Yet it is questionable whether Labor can ever win back its socially conservative core demographic until it finds the courage to confront its latte set of academics, teachers and lawyers and reconcile the conflict between what Beazley’s father memorably called ‘the cream of the working class’ and ‘the dregs of the middle class’. Increasingly, Labor looks like it is just sitting back and praying for a recession.
This may well be Labor’s only chance. Asked to explain the Coalition’s electoral dominance, three Liberal parliamentarians independently came up with the same phrase: ‘strong economic management’.
It is interesting that Costello’s mantra is now echoed even by MPs more traditionally associated with Howard, given that it relegates Howard’s personal appeal to being a subsidiary cause of success. Yet it is a tribute to the Howard-Costello partnership that the Government has acquired a confident identity beyond the personality of its leader, in stark contrast to the personality cults of state Labor administrations.
This ongoing dominance leaves Howard with great responsibilities, and with the challenge of managing a restless backbench. He is the trustee of years of intellectual and political effort by liberals and conservatives, which have finally delivered the opportunity for serious reform. There are two tasks by which Howard will be judged.
The first task is to maintain the reform momentum. Kevin Andrews’ ambitious industrial relations reforms exceed the meagre expectations created by his ambiguous post-election pronouncements. If implemented in their current form, they will be a fitting capstone to Howard’s career-long struggle to liberate Australia from its antiquated IR system.
Peter Costello’s last budget also exceeded expectations, although purists will continue to call for a more radical flattening of the income tax system. Liberals have good reason to be satisfied with their Government’s fourth term performance thus far.
But Howard has yet to negotiate passage of his industrial relations laws, which have offended federalists and face a possible defection by Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce. The sale of Telstra also faces hurdles, with some Nationals likely to complain so long as one farmer has mobile reception problems when trying to call the sheep in his back paddock.
On a smaller scale, there are also rumblings of dissent over voluntary student unionism, raising the fear that the policy will be watered down into insignificance as it was under Jeff Kennett in Victoria.
Securing passage of these reforms will be a test of Howard’s authority, not to mention his negotiating skills. This once-in-a-generation opportunity must not be squandered. Howard has acquired a large reserve of political capital over the past ten years. This is the time to spend it.
Yet there will be a temptation to do the opposite. Fear of a possible leadership battle in the coming year could cause Howard to question whether he should keep his powder dry; whether a ‘steady as she goes’ approach and the appeasement of dissenters is a more prudent course to maintain poll numbers and party room support in the short term. It can only be hoped that the surrender on mandatory detention was not a sign of such an approach.
This brings us to Howard’s second great task. Even he must appreciate that the end of his career is approaching. If Howard fights the 2007 election, it will be as a 69-year-old. And even if he fights and wins, what about 2010 and 2013? No one believes Howard will be around for those elections.
One senior Liberal told Investigate, ‘Our newer MPs are looking at the long term. They know the best chance they have of a long career is if the leadership transition is timed right and goes smoothly’.
The Liberal Party’s future does not end with Howard’s career; nor does Australia’s. Howard owes it to his supporters to devise a credible succession plan that bequeaths to his successor a legacy that does not die with Howard’s leadership. His aim should not be one more victory, but many, through a long period of conservative dominance of which he is merely the founder. At the recent Liberal Federal Council meeting, blatant promotion of Alexander Downer, a strong contender for the Deputy’s position under Costello, suggested that succession planning is very much on Howard’s mind.
Thus we have arrived at a crossroads in Howard’s career, which will determine whether he is a politician or a statesman. Howard the survivor can spend his final years in office ducking and weaving to dodge the inevitable final blow. But he is enough of a student of history to know that Australian Prime Ministers are remembered more by their leaving of office than by their holding of it.
Accordingly, Howard should use the authority that four election successes have conferred upon him to advance the Liberals’ ideological cause, applying the bold template of his industrial relations reforms to other areas and creating a policy agenda that will extend beyond his reign. If Howard departs office voluntarily, with his Prime Ministership not a finished book but the opening chapters of a work in progress, he will have earned an exalted place beside Menzies in the Liberal pantheon.
FIRST DRAFT: July 05, AU Edition
We sneak a peek at the Senate’s new workplace agreements...
Standard Contract (“Senator”)
Terms and Conditions of Employment
Howard Holdings Pty Ltd
You are employed as a full-time Management-Staff Liaison Officer (“Senator”). As described in the Company Charter (“Constitution”) of Howard Holdings Pty Ltd, your continued employment is subject to ongoing review by employee-shareholders (“citizens”). These reviews (“elections”) occur at regular three year intervals in all branches (“cities and towns”) of the corporation (“Australia”).
The exact date of the next review will be chosen by the Chief Executive Officer (“Prime Minister”) after consultation between the Management (“House of Representatives”) and Board of Directors (Messrs Murdoch, Packer, Stokes, et al.).
2. TERMS AND CONDITIONS:
It is your duty to faithfully and diligently facilitate the implementation of Management decisions (“policies”) made in the collective pecuniary interest of all 20,342,715 Howard Holdings employee-shareholders.
Pursuant to this, on occasion, you may:
• Make minor adjustments to these decisions in response to employee-shareholder input (“public opinion”).
• Politely express reservations about the nature of these decisions in response to your own personal code of business ethics (“conscience”). Under exceptional circumstances these may take the form of signed petitions (“private member’s bills”) against certain aspects of company practice*.
• Excessively zealous collective expressions of discontent regarding any aspect of the company’s performance in the global marketplace (“rebellions”), and/or surreptitious dissemination of company records (“leaks”) – particularly those aiding and abetting known anti-corporatist forces (“ABC”, “Fairfax”,”Greens”) – may, at Management’s sole discretion, be seen as breaches of these Terms and Conditions. As such they attract severe penalties, up to and including dismissal (“disendorsement”).
• Extra prudence must be applied while performing any of your duties related to the recruitment of overseas personnel (“immigration”) and the nature of the processing thereof (“border control issues”).
• Any and all of the above Terms and Conditions may be subject to change by Management at any time without notice.
* N.B.: While some junior Management staff (Georgiou, Moylan, et al.) have recently invoked this particular clause – and have not been penalised as of this writing – Management-Staff Liaison Officers are still strongly advised not to follow suit.
TOUGH QUESTIONS: July 05, AU Edition
The death of a child
I suspect many people remember this song: ‘Would you know my name, if I saw you in Heaven? Would you be the same, if I saw you in Heaven? I must be strong, and carry on, because I know I don’t belong, here in
Heaven…’ When rocker Eric Clapton wrote those words, he was thinking not of the potential success of a hit record, he was writing from the heart. On March 20, 1991, just a week after my own son was born, Eric Clapton lost his four year old son Conor in a tragic, heart-rending accident. It happened on the 53rd storey of a New York apartment building. Conor, like all boys his age, was full of energy.
Unfortunately a cleaner had just finished wiping a large floor to ceiling window and left it open to dry. Conor was running and, before his mother could grab him, simply fell out the window, plunging 49 stories to the rooftop of an adjacent four storey building.
There are so many ‘if- only’ elements to this sad event, and Clapton took nine months off to grieve. As commentators noted, when he returned to performing his music was much more powerful and more reflective.
The other week, someone I know lost a child in an equally tragic accident in Auckland. Again, the ‘what-ifs’ and pain swirl in an endless cyclone of recriminations wishes by the parents that they could turn back time and do something – anything – differently.
Death comes to all of us, yet it is incredibly hard to deal with. The pain, the trauma and the emotional loss from an event like these is like a jagged blade in the heart, and the wounds take a long time to heal. So if religion is supposed to answer these “meaning of life” questions, if religion is supposed to help us deal with the ultimate question, how do the various religions stack up when it comes to death?
If you don’t believe in any kind of afterlife, I suspect coping with death is hardest for you. And indeed, medical and psychiatric studies have repeatedly found that a spiritual belief makes people cope with life better than those who don’t have one. For a non-believer who loses a child, there is no hope, just an aching hole in the heart where their baby used to be.
For Buddhists, Hindus or follower of New Age doctrines, life is a cycle of reincarnation, and the grieving parent at least is comforted by the idea that their child will return as someone else’s child. The downside to this is the loss of personal identity. In the Eastern faiths, you become one with the universe, recycled and then spat back down to Earth again where past identities and memories of those you loved are lost to you - a meaningless, cosmic Groundhog Day.
It is Christianity, I suggest, that offers the only tangible hope for non-Christians and Christians alike.
The central theme of Christianity is triumph over death. Death entered the world through the fall from Eden. Now imagine that sequence in reverse, where a kind of supernatural Earth (Eden) is poisoned,, in a massive universe-wide dimension shift that kicks humanity and the world it occupies out of the heavenly dimension into a dimension where death and decay exist. This was the first separation of humanity from God.
Jesus Christ came back to Earth to offer an invitation back for those who believed. In regard to children, it is widely believed from Christ’s comments that children who die are accepted into Heaven by God’s grace. For a grieving parent, Christian or not, God’s grace is equally available by invitation. Only Christianity and the example of Jesus’ resurrection, offers the hope of seeing a dead child alive again.
And yes, Eric, little Conor will know your name, if choose to join him, there in Heaven.
LEFT HOOK: July 05, AU Edition
Now’s your chance, Mr. Howard: Go, Johnny, go!
Australian politics is entering unfamiliar territory in that, for the first time in a quarter of a century, the government of the day now controls both Houses of Parliament. Having spent the duration of the Howard Government arguing against their agenda, I guess their Senate majority is a cue for me to redouble my efforts and do what I can to critique and resist what already seems to be a bad bunch of policy options.
But I realise that this moment actually offers me a chance to give John Howard a piece of gratuitous, though sincere, advice. Believe me, my inclination is not to do him any favours, but maybe I’m just homesick enough – I’m about to head back to Oz after three years in the United States – to see what maybe we should all see more clearly, namely, that sometimes politics offers us opportunities.
People argue that history is bearing down on Mr. Howard and that he shouldn’t waste the opportunity of his Senate majority in the way he himself believes Malcolm Fraser did after 1975. I’d like to suggest
another historical possibility.
The fact is, like no prime minister in recent history, Mr. Howard is on the verge of greatness.
Indeed, he is in the rare position of being able to implement change that would not only honour the liberalism that underpins his party philosophy but that would end some of the most divisive and intractable debates since the Dismissal. Plus, it would undermine his opponents such that there would be virtually no challenge his government couldn’t undertake.
In short, the prime minister would so reek with political credibility that all would wilt before him.
The first step would be to offer an apology to Aboriginal people for past injustices. Think about it. He would in one stroke provide the basis for the sort of symbolic recognition that he himself admits is needed, without for one second undermining his insistence on ‘practical reconciliation’. His opponents would be blind-sided and could offer nothing but praise.
Second, he could embrace the Georgiou reforms on immigration and asylum seekers and end the utterly illiberal policy of indefinite detention, freeing children and their families, without at all undermining his government’s basically sound stance on border protection. Once again, his opponents would be floored.
Finally – and admittedly, most difficultly – he could ignore the special interest calls for a ‘more flexible’ workforce and publicly recognize that a worker is not just another factor of production, but that work itself is the basis from which people find a sense of personal identity and through which our society builds a stable and prosperous nation. He could level the playing field without at all damaging the economy.
Having thus transformed the political landscape, he could even do what so few political leaders get to do: retire gracefully at the top of his game.
It should be obvious that any one of these options would be personally difficult for the prime minister – though far from politically impossible – and that any attempt to do all of them would require an almost transcendent sense of duty and will power.
But that’s what greatness demands. A willingness to defy expectations. If he chose to grasp the moment, Mr Howard could seal his place in history as the most audacious leader of the modern period. Probably of any period. Johnny B. Great.
Tim Dunlop is a homeward-bound writer and author of Australia’s most widely-read left-leaning blog, www.roadtosurfdom.com
RIGHT HOOK: July 05, AU Edition
Gagging on ‘Deep Throat’
My only regret is that Mark Felt did not rat out Nixon because he was ticked off about rapprochement with China or détente with the Soviets. Rather, Felt leaked details of the Watergate investigation to the Washington Post only because he had lost a job promotion. This will come as small consolation to the Cambodians and Vietnamese slaughtered as a direct result of Nixon’s fall. Oh, well. At least we got a good movie and Jimmy Carter out of it.
Still, it must pain liberals to be praising an FBI man who ordered illegal searches of their old pals in the Weather Underground in the early ’70s. For those searches, Felt was later prosecuted by the Carter administration.
Ironically, only because of Watergate, which Felt helped instigate, could a nitwit like Jimmy Carter ever become president – a perch from which Carter pardoned draft dodgers and prosecuted Mark Felt. No wonder Felt kept denying he was ‘Deep Throat.’
Also ironic is that Felt’s free-love, flower-girl daughter was estranged from her father for decades on account of her rejection of conventional bourgeois institutions like marriage. A single mum, she is now broke – because of her rejection of conventional bourgeois institutions like marriage.
Of course Felt wasn’t Deep Throat. There was no Deep Throat. Now we know.
As most people had generally assumed, the shadowy figure who made his first appearance in a late draft of All the President’s Men was a composite of several sources – among them, apparently, Mark Felt. And now the jig is up.
The fictional Deep Throat knew things Felt could not possibly have known, such as the 18 1/2-minute gap on one of the White House tapes. Only six people knew about the gap when Woodward reported it. All of them worked at the White House. Felt not only didn’t work at the White House, but when the story broke, he also didn’t even work at the FBI anymore.
Woodward claimed he signaled Deep Throat by moving a red flag in a flowerpot to the back of his balcony and that Deep Throat signaled him by drawing the hands of a clock in Woodward’s New York Times.
But in his 1993 book, Deep Truth: The Lives of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Adrian Havill did something it had occurred to no one else to do: He looked at Woodward’s old apartment, and found that Woodward had a sixth-floor interior apartment that could not be seen from the street.
In another scene in All the President’s Men, Woodward’s sidekick, Carl Bernstein, goes to a porno theater to avoid a subpoena – and the movie Deep Throat happens to be the featured film! Havill points out that Washington, D.C., had recently cracked down on porno theaters and Deep Throat was not playing in any theater in Washington at the time.
Woodward and Bernstein’s former literary agent, David Obst, has always said Deep Throat was a fictional device added to later drafts of All the President’s Men to spice it up (kind of like everything in a Michael Moore film).
Obst scoffs at the notion that the No. 2 man at the FBI would have time to be skulking around parking lots spying for red flags on a reporter’s balcony. ‘There’s not a chance one person was Deep Throat’, he told The New York Times.
So it’s not really that amazing that the identity of Deep Throat managed to stay secret for so long.
LAURA’S WORLD: July 05, AU Edition
Big boys should stop crying
Many of my male friends, colleagues and contemporaries are of the opinion that the women’s movement has gone too far. An opinion shared, it seems, by a majority of males.
The gist of it is, men are not free to be men any more. The male spirit has been gradually eroded away by the disapproval of women and replaced with a neutered, domesticated, femme-friendly New Age model of manliness. Real men feel ripped off, as if they have to apologize for simply being blokes.
These frustrating emotions are behind men’s revival movements such as Australia’s Promise Keepers who claim much of society’s problems relate to the displacement of men. Restore the male to his position of leadership and authority and you will reassert his sense of pride and responsibility. Crime will fall as a result, says this theory.
If men’s roles are not restored, crime, violence, war, and a host of other horrors will continue to rise. The responsibility for this horrible scenario rests squarely on the shoulders of those feminists who upset the order of things by breaking out of their traditional role and stealing men’s thunder.
An astonishing piece of blackmail really. Essentially, if women don’t give men what they want, men will wreck the planet and blame women. So what do men want? I have asked this question of my disgruntled friends and I can only describe the response as elusive. Men only know that they feel vaguely threatened and undermined in subtle ways, but they don’t know how to fix it. Some comments I’ve heard cited by challenged men are: women’s wants never end, you give them some ground and they want more. Women have gone way beyond 50/50; they are at about 70/30 now and won’t stop until they have it all. Men are sexual beings; sex is a physical requirement and if women continue to deny men then rapes will logically increase. Divorce courts favour women by giving them automatic rights to children and to half the husband’s assets regardless of whether she helped earn them.
Some of these examples of discrimination, such as the parental-rights issue, do appear real. But there are glaring omissions in this summary of women’s power and territory. I have my own way of assessing gender equality and it is quite a simple formula. Power is associated with voice. Who gets heard, who gets published, written about, who stars in movies, who gets radio airplay, who runs businesses, who leads countries.
Applying this formula shows women at best account for 20% of who gets heard, seen, reported on, and who holds power. All it takes is one day of observing to come to this conclusion. Listen to the radio, read the paper, watch TV news and check out what’s on at the box office. Roughly 80% of all that is newsworthy, all radio singers, all movie top-billers, all movers and shakers are male.
How this equates with women having gone too far in the minds of men is a little scary. Women have a long way to go before they are anywhere near equal to the actual wealth, earning power and overall status of men, and yet men feel robbed.
The hue and cry over boy’s second-rate performance in schools is a fine example. No complaints were heard when girls came second, as it was expected of them. Now that girls have caught up, there is a feverish scramble to overhaul education. Why don’t boys simply do what girls did: try harder?
THE WATCHER: July 05, AU Edition
ALAN RM JONES
Media Watch pays homage to Phillip Adams
Australian perceptions of the media are incredibly poor. According to a Roy Morgan poll conducted last September for The Reader, only 18 percent of Australians believe the media is doing an unbiased job reporting on controversial issues; nearly 70 percent believe newspapers do not accurately and fairly report the news. No Australian media organisation escaped a mention.
With such consumer discontent evident one might expect a program like ABC Television’s Media Watch to make the most of what appears to be a target-rich environment. Yet the vista – or at least one side of it – from Media Watch’s studio appears sparse. Such is the state of the state-owned broadcaster’s optics.
While Fairfax (with the exception of conservative columnist Miranda Devine) and the ABC itself never get hit with anything firmer than Paul Keating’s famous piece of wet lettuce, the so-called ‘Murdoch press’ and its conservative columnists remain the show’s perennial target. True, The Australian’s most conspicuous lefty, Phillip Adams, has felt the romaine and radicchio lash, but only just. And the attention he once received was only a convenient artifice to launch another attack on Media Watch’s favourite right wing target, columnist and now ABC board member Janet Albrechtsen.
Weblogger ‘Professor Bunyip’ (http://bunyip. blogspot.com), as he is known, imagined former Media Watch Host David Marr stitching the program up with Adams: ‘We’ll pretend that the item is about you, but what we’ll really present is another attack on Janet Jackboots.’ And, on that occasion, when Media Watch bothered to take any notice of the sins committed by a fellow traveler, the case was weakly presented and was indeed used to attack Albrechtsen (who now has a Media Watch hat-trick to her credit).
In a 1997 speech to the International Documentary Conference in Brisbane, Adams said paying homage was merely a posh term for plagiarism.
What animates Adams’ critics so much is not that he has borrowed a phrase or two now and then; it is that he is seen to be habitually ‘paying homage’. And even when Adams is caught out, he re-offends.
If you like to read the fortnightly New York Review of Books (NYROB), at A$6.00 a copy on the street in New York (far more in Oz), in addition to plenty of time, you have an expensive reading habit. So here’s a tip: affluent Adams reads the NYROB, too – though I expect his copy is paid for by the ABC Radio where he hosts Late Night. Fortunately, you can get theReader’s Digest version in his Australian column.
Evidently, the ABC gets just one copy of the NYROB and Adams permanently absconds with it as he leaves his Radio National studio to write his column, and the ABC, with its beggar budget of $750 million, apparently can’t afford a second copy for Media Watch. Just as well for Adams, lest it fall into Media Watch executive producer Peter McEvoy’s deft hands.
But something tells me it’s not lack of resources that keeps Media Watch from focusing on filching Phil; rather, it is the ABC’s institutional bias and lack of regard for journalistic standards and the ABC’s code of practice which is to blame. How else to explain the rubber glove and cavity search treatment reserved for conservative columnists like Albrechsen or Miranda Devine?
When shown the goods on Adams, McEvoy finds reasons to look the other way. On one occasion he defended Adams by lamely claiming he had ‘sufficiently re-written’ the work (a 2003 NYROB piece) he was alleged to have lifted and that he had cited the work with the words ‘history tells us’.
When Adams is not technically committing plagiarism, even those who share his worldview should feel cheated. Adams is not overworked (he puts in four hours a week on air at the ABC in addition to his newspaper column). Yet his work product is either fundamentally dishonest (i.e., pilfered), or it looks as though it has been.
Here’s one example, provided by the aforementioned Bunyip, involving a piece by Michael Massing in the 29 May 2003 edition of the NYROB, followed by Adams, six weeks later in the Australian. In this case, Adams lets on that he has read Massing’s piece, but he then either paraphrases or copies Massing verbatim:
Massing: The Coalition Media Center is managed by Jim Wilkinson, a fresh-faced, thirty-two-year-old Texan and a protégé of Bush’s adviser Karen Hughes. Wilkinson made his mark during the 2000 presidential election when he spoke on behalf of GOP activists protesting the Florida ballot recount. To run the media center in Doha, Wilkinson, a member of the naval reserve, appeared in the same beige fatigues as the career officers working under him.
Adams: The centre was managed by Jim Wilkinson, a 32-year-old Texan and protégé of the brothers Bush. When last seen, Wilkinson had been speaking on behalf of Republican activists protesting against the Florida ballot recount...In Doha, the Bush activist was repackaged as a member of the Naval Reserve, appearing in beige fatigues identical to the career officers working beneath him.
Adams goes on like this for paragraphs, until near then end when he finally puts quotes around a few of Massing’s words – leading readers to believe everything else Adams has written is his own:
Massing: CNN International bore more resemblance to the BBC than to its domestic edition -– a difference that showed just how market-driven were the tone and content of the broadcasts. For the most part, US news organizations gave Americans the war they thought Americans wanted to see.
Adams: CNN’s international service was repackaged, bearing more resemblance to the BBC than to its domestic – and domesticated – edition. Massing emphasises how market driven was the tone and content of the broadcast. ‘For the most part US news organisations gave Americans the war they thought Americans wanted to see,’ he says.
Adams’ column is, at the very least, an abject embarrassment to The Australian. That is, unless you subscribe to the Adams school of conspiracy. In which case, Rupert Murdoch has taken a page out of Karl Rove’s play book and instructed The Australian’s editors to keep Adams right where he is in order to discredit the left.
And what of Media Watch? Professional review is one thing, but there is something odious about a state-owned broadcaster sitting in judgment of private news broadcasters and newspapers. Sure, the ABC is not the same thing as the government swinging the billy club. But the ABC is a state habitat, populated overwhelmingly by leftists and funded by taxpayers, and Media Watch uses its resources to advance elite left-wing biases in a shrill, predictable and boring way which no commercial broadcaster would dare do.
Media Watch’s supporters would say that’s precisely why state-owned broadcasting is necessary. Well, no, actually. The ABC enjoys its budget, free of commercial constraints, not so it can fill the airwaves with ‘soft lefty’ attitudes masquerading as upholding professional standards. It is required to be fair. Entertaining would be okay, too.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
At the time of this writing, The Australian published another Adams piece, which looks … well, over to you Media Watch. On 4 May, retired U.S. Army Colonel David Hackworth died. Hackworth, who became a trenchant Pentagon critic, lived for a time in Australia, where he apparently befriended Adams. Six weeks after Last Post was played for his buddy ‘Hack’, Adams finally got around to eulogizing him. That was a cinch, because Hackworth’s obit writers at the Toledo (Ohio) Blade had done Adams’ homework for him...
Toledo Blade, 7 May 2005
As a 15-year-old orphan in Southern California, Mr. Hackworth joined the Army at the end of World War II, surviving four battle wounds in Korea. His heroics earned him a Silver Star, a battlefield commission to second lieutenant, and his own commando unit.
Colonel Hackworth, then a major, was promoted out of Vietnam in June, 1966 – 11 months before the unit’s first documented war crime. From May to November, 1967, some soldiers turned their rifles on hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children in what became the longest-known string of war crimes by a battle unit in Vietnam.During his fourth tour of duty in Vietnam, he spoke out against the war in June, 1971, prompting an Army investigation of his background.
He and his supporters portrayed the probe as retaliation against a whistleblower, but investigators uncovered widespread rule-breaking, including operating a gambling house and a brothel for his troops.
He defended both, arguing that it kept his soldiers disease-free, and the profits helped buy supplies for his men and local schoolchildren.
However, investigators concluded that the colonel enlisted his men in a black-market currency scheme that netted him tens of thousands of dollars. He would admit only that the men smuggled $100,000 of his poker winnings out of the country.
The Secretary of the Army allowed the colonel to retire to Australia, where he made millions in a restaurant business and duck farm.
Phillip Adams, The Australian, 18 June 2005
Born and orphaned in 1930, Hack was raised by a grandmother whose bedtime stories were about the family’s military history, going back to the American Revolutionary War. Faking ID papers, Hackworth joined the army in 1946, aged 15. He served in Korea and by Vietnam was regarded as one of the United States’ most brilliant commanding officers.
During his fourth tour of duty he went public with criticisms of the Pentagon. The army tried to discredit him, threatening him with a court martial for operating a gambling house and brothel for his men. Hack’s defence? The brothel had saved his men from disease, while profits from the little casino were used to buy supplies for the troops and local schoolkids.
Nonetheless, there was evidence of smuggling $200,000 out of the country.
To avoid scandal, the Secretary of the Army allowed Hack to retire to Australia where he continued his winning ways, making millions out of a restaurant and, of all things, a duck farm…
With Desert Storm, Hack once more became a Pentagon critic. Describing the war as ‘a raging atrocity’, David fought for ‘the young soldiers that our country sends to bleed and die on our behalf’…
It seemed that a unit called Tiger Force, established in 1965, had committed escalating atrocities – including turning their guns on more than 100 unarmed civilians…
THE ARENA: July 05, AU Edition
Sixty million Frenchmen – and even several Age readers – can’t be wrong
A good friend of mine recently acquired an antique Atomic brand coffee maker. You know the ones I’m talking about: they’re curvy, stylish and Italian, and have more class in their steam control nozzle than any modern $1,999 job that grinds the beans automatically and can be picked up at any big homewares store has in its entire plastic housing. He was telling me about the great history of the things (during World War II, for example, workers at the Atomic factory in Italy stamped the filter’s drip-holes in a Star of David pattern, in quiet protest against the Nazis), and we mused on how amazing it was that, back when the machine was invented, the word ‘atomic’ was the advertising copywriter’s ace in the hole. The boundless promise of the future, the power of science to solve problems, the latest and greatest in technology and design – all were summed up by that one word: ‘atomic’.
Indeed, we were all supposed to be commuting back and forth to the moon in our atomic flying space-cars by now.
But in 2005, Holden’s not making any nuclear-powered Commodores, car makers still tout road-holding – rather than gravity-defying – ability as a selling point, and the word ‘atomic’ has long-since been hijacked to represent everything bad that the men (and they’re always men) in the white lab coats can come up with.
It is time for this to end. Australia, and the world, are on the brink of serious energy shortfalls, yet one of the safest, cleanest, and even greenest electricity supplies in the country is still only being talked about by most politicians in sideways whispers. Fortunately, since I broached this topic in this column two months ago, things have started to change. The Chicken Little propaganda that has, with the help of compliant journalists, teachers unions, and politicians, scared normally-unflappable Australians into thinking that nuclear power will see mushroom clouds rising over Sydney Harbour, is beginning to come undone.
Without mixing fairy tale metaphors too much, it is becoming ever more clear that the anti-nuclear emperor has no clothes.
It all started when NSW Premier Bob Carr released a trial balloon suggesting that, just maybe, it was time to build a nuclear power plant to help meet the electricity needs of Australia’s most populous state. Of course, the move was exactly the sort of cynical ploy that has made Bob the Builder the longest-serving premier in New South Wales history: what he really wanted, of course, was more coal-burning power plants, and the nuclear option, he figured, would scare voters into sticking with the lung-blackening devil they know.
And just in case people missed the nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say-no-more nature of Carr’s nuclear option, he underlined it by pointing out that while a swell idea in theory, state law forbade the opening of any nuclear waste dumps in NSW (while at the same time conveniently ignoring his legislative power to change such a rule).
Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the furphy: an awful lot of Australians took a look at the idea and said, hey, maybe nuclear power isn’t such a bad idea after all.
The first sign that opinion had changed came from the letters pages of Melbourne’s Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, both left-wing echo chambers where correspondents routinely compete to out-radical each other, and conservative voices are so rare that they deserve endangered species protection. (By way of illustration, the day after Peter Costello delivered his widely-praised budget speech earlier this year, the Herald was unable to find one single correspondent who thought that it was a good idea).
Yet on 15 June, for example, the Herald’s lead letter came from one Richard Paulin of North Ryde, who wrote, ‘Some questions for Professor Stuart White, resident anti-nuclear advocate. If nuclear power is so inefficient, why does France, which is 80 per cent nuclear, export $5 billion of electricity annually? If nuclear power waste is an insurmountable problem, why is that country not a nuclear wasteland? If nuclear power is so expensive, why does [sic] France’s steel manufacturers use electric arc furnaces, powered by electricity, rather than Australia’s coke-fired blast furnaces?
‘We need to be far more energy efficient’, Paulin continued. ‘But [Professor White] has done nothing to disprove the fact that nuclear power remains the single most efficient and sustainable energy source for the future.’
A few days earlier in the Age, columnist Terry Lane wrote that ‘Chernobyl frightens us away from nuclear power, but the Canadian province of Ontario, not unlike the state of Victoria, gets 40 per cent of its power from nuclear plants and, as far as I know, has not had a single nuclear accident…
If the likes of the letters editors at the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald are any guide, there is a real shift in sentiment in the community, towards a position that accepts that electricity is needed to run our modern, technological society and that there are trade-offs with any form of electricity generation. Australians recognize that green holy grails of endlessly-renewable power simply don’t exist, that wind farms are ugly and shred kookaburras, solar is impractical, and coal and oil are both dirty and ever-dwindling resources. Under this line of thinking, people recognize that nuclear power might not be perfect either, but that it is well worth discussing.
Indeed, the question of renewability and dependency is one which reverberates through this entire debate. While Australia’s coal resources are abundant, it is hardly a great way to generate power: even clean coal is still pretty dirty, and for all the talk about the potential danger of nuclear power, precious little is said about all those lives lost or shortened due to cancer, in mining accidents, and otherwise as a result of this form of power generation.
Petroleum, meanwhile, is a more complicated question, but there is a growing concern (see Clare Swinney’s feature story, ‘The Good Oil’, on p. 52 of this issue) that mankind may be a few decades away from having seriously depleted the planet’s easily-accessible crude supplies. And while that may seem like a long way away, building infrastructure to cope with a changing energy use profile takes.
DIARY OF A CABBIE : July 05, AU Edition
THAT’S MY BOY
When a night out goes horribly wrong, it can leave scars that might never heal
On a recent Friday night I carried a fifty-something fella from the North Shore down to Sutherland. After a day on the grog at a convention junket he was wasted. Yet not so wasted he couldn’t relate a chilling tale involving his son. It was a tale I readily identified with, as his ‘boy’ was around the same age as mine.
My passenger recounted how several years ago his then 18-year-old son was in the City on a night out with some mates. Late in the evening, one of his friends became involved in a scuffle outside a Hungry Jack’s. On moving to help his mate, my passenger’s son was stabbed some ten times around the body. In an instant he was bleeding profusely, his life literally draining down the gutter. News of what happened came at 4:30 am, when the local police knocked on the door after fruitless attempts by the hospital to contact him and his wife.
Despite losing litres of blood, the boy recovered. What a guy. The assailant was apprehended, char- ged, convicted, jailed for a few years, then released – only to knife someone else and return to jail. What a waste.
In relating this tale, my passenger had obliquely voiced his concern over his son’s ongoing fight for justice. The boy was still in court, seven years later, pursuing a matter of principle relating to the attack. After advising the boy to finally put the saga behind him and get on with life, the kid emphatically responded, ‘Dad, the physical scars may have healed, but in my head it feels so raw I’ll never get over it’. My passenger looked across at me and shaking his head said quietly, ‘It’s killing me to imagine what he feels’.
My passenger had been a knockabout bloke most of his life, growing up in the tough inner-west of Sydney. By his own admission he’d made many mistakes over the years. And despite his age he insisted how, much to his embarrassment, he often felt the same hopes and vitality as that of his son. So much so he couldn’t wait for the arrival of the first grandchild. A sentiment we both shared, and had a good laugh at our encroaching dotage. It was a warm exchange on which we parted.
One week later, I came across an item in the Daily Telegraph entitled, ‘Leave people to their peril’:
Citizens are under no obligation to rescue strangers in peril, a court had ruled in dismissing an appeal by a man stabbed after he sought sanctuary in a fast-food restaurant.
Eron Broughton was out in Sydney’s CBD early in 1998 when he and three friends were threatened by a knife-wielding gang...they sought refuge in a Hungry Jack’s restaurant, asking a security guard to call police.
But the guard pushed them back into the street where Mr Broughton was stabbed 10 times. He sought damages in the District Court in 2003, claiming the guard’s negligent or reckless actions led to his injuries...The then 24-year-old lost his claim after Judge James Black found the chain did not owe Mr Broughton a duty of care.
Mr Broughton appealed the verdict but it was dismissed yesterday by the Court of Appeal.
This boy’s personal struggle brought to mind something I heard recently. A terminally ill patient had commented to his mentor, ‘Sometimes it’s best to simply give up’. I interpreted this to mean that in life, you must pick your battles.
This advice seemed especially pertinent to my distraught passenger and his son’s long road to recovery. For them, those grandkids can’t come soon enough.
Read more of Adrian the Cabbie at www.cablog.com.au
MUSIC: July 05, AU Edition
VAN’S STILL THE MAN
The grumpy Irishman brawls with mediocrity – and wins – while Nash and Stigers show where jazz is headed
‘Magic Time’, Geffen
After four decades of peerless soul music, Van Morrison has nothing left to prove. No wonder he complains that ‘you gotta fight every day to keep mediocrity at bay’ on ‘Magic Time’: Even when he coasts, his deeply embedded mastery of blues, jazz, Celtic and R&B styles ensures a consistently high baseline.
‘Magic Time’ holds few surprises, and Morrison knows this: ‘You can call it nostalgia, I don’t mind’, he sings in the title track. With three covers of jazz standards, two songs (‘Gypsy in My Soul’ and ‘The Lion This Time’) that allude to his 1972 classic ‘Saint Dominic’s Preview’, and several doses of Celtic mysticism and misanthropy, he’s revisiting styles and themes that have long preoccupied him.
But it’s hard to complain when Morrison sings gently rolling ballads as beautifully as he does ‘Celtic New Year’ and ‘Stranded’, or swinging blues as locked-in as ‘Evening Train’ and ‘I’m Confessin’’.
Reviewed by Steve Klinge
Ted Nash and Odeon
‘La Espada de la Noche’, Palmetto
Jazz was born in a cradle of many cultures, and the music’s future is likely to be full of cultural excursions to new realms. Ted Nash pulls off such a fusion. He uses a primarily tango vibe to create a kind of film-noir jazz that’s engaging and probably even better live than on disc.
The son of trombonist Dick Nash and nephew of swing saxophonist Ted Nash, this saxophonist has recently made a career swinging with the backward-looking Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the forward-careening Jazz Composers Collective.
His band here is anchored by Clark Gayton on tuba, trombone and baritone horn. Violinist Nathalie Bonin and accordionist Bill Schimmel enhance the tango feeling, while drummer Matt Wilson is a jazz cat with Latin moves.
The session makes for good bullfighting music. The quintet covers two Latin jazz standards, ‘A Night in Tunisia’ and ‘Tico Tico’, with tango high in its consciousness. But elements of klezmer and traditional New Orleans jazz creep in, forming a worldly stew.
Reviewed by Karl Stark
‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’, Concord
How many singers make a rock recording that sells nearly two million copies and walk away to be a jazz vocalist? Curtis Stigers, whose self-titled hit came in 1991, is one.
Stigers is not, surprisingly, a high-voltage artist. He’s an expressive character who looks for some heart in a song and often plumbs it. The Idaho, U.S.A., native shows an independent-cuss view of songs, expanding the usual suspects here to include ditties by Randy Newman, Sting and Tom Waits.
He shows an affinity for country on Willie Nelson’s ‘Crazy’ and gets folksy and direct on the title track, a poignant Newman original.
Waits’ ‘In Between Love’ carries the emotional oomph of an old Tin Pan Alley standard, and Willie Dixon’s ‘My Babe’ gives Stigers soulful credentials. Keyboardist Larry Goldings is a big collaborator here, creating the sympathetic backing with a revolving cast that includes bassist Ben Allison and drummer Matt Wilson.
Reviewed by Karl Stark
MOVIES: July 05, AU Edition
Also: DreamWorks’ latest fails to excite, and don’t expect
a rush of copycat oyster farming flicks any time soon
Released: July 14, 2005
Boy, is the cast of Layer Cake ugly! But that’s the joy of British gangster films – forget Hollywood glamour, in these flicks the mobsters aren’t pretty or even all that smart. Instead they all have bad teeth and wear horrible parachute-cloth tracksuits.
Layer Cake is a great name for the film because the viewer is taken through several character stories in rapid succession. Don’t go to this movie tired or you’ll never keep up.
Daniel Craig plays the lead role as the most attractive gangster (which is not saying much; he is still horribly pock-marked). He’s so successful as a top-level drug dealer that no-one knows his name – and neither does the audience. He’s planning to pull off one last deal before early retirement. No surprise when it all goes terribly pear-shaped.
To offload a shipment of ecstasy, our main man has to deal with crooks further up the drug food chain than he’s used to. Enter Jimmy Price, played by Kenneth Cranham, an unattractive dealer in every sense of the word. Of course, that leads to dealing with an even more unattractive mobster even further up the food chain, Eddie Temple, played by Michael Gambon (it’s hard to believe he played the loveable Professor Dumbledore in Harry Potter). Oddly enough, they don’t want one of their best dealers simply retiring. Go figure.
(There is one notable exception on the ugly front, the gorgeous Sienna Miller – who’s more famous for being engaged to Jude Law than for her acting – has a small part as the hero’s love interest. Her role is tiny but then so is her lingerie. One for the fellas.)
Add to that a drug deal gone wrong in Holland and a pissed-off Slavic hitman and the viewer is left with a lot of action that turns out to be smart, funny and ugly.
Just the way it should be.
Released: June 16, 2005
Whenever I hear DreamWorks has a new animated movie, I hope for a Shrek. I always forget that DreamWorks also made the disappointing A Shark’s Tale. Madagascar falls into the second category. It’s not a multi-leveled family film that adults can get a kick out of too. This one is for the kiddies.
The animation is reliably impressive and the story has a lesson, so as a film for ankle-biters it’s fine. It’s the tale of a group of animals from the New York Zoo. Alex the Lion (voiced by Ben Stiller) is living it large on steak and adoration from his fans. His friends include Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) who wants to break free, Melman the hypochondriac Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the streetwise Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith).
Marty leads a break-out of the zoo in search of adventure and they all get caught and sent to Africa. But on the way they get shipwrecked in Madagascar. They have no idea how to act in the wild. It’s like Survivor for accountants. They stumble across a colony of lemurs ruled by the amusing King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his right-paw-man Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer). Insert musical number here.
Trouble is brewing (or should that be stomachs are grumbling?) because Alex the Lion misses his daily steak fix. He’s a meat-eater. He starts seeing Marty the Zebra as food. Alex even tries to take a bite out of Marty’s butt. I can only assume forcing the kiddies to confront the dynamics of the food chain is the reason for the
There’s a great running-gag involving a pack of plotting penguins that act like elite special forces soldiers and a funny re-enactment of an American Beauty scene. But that’s it for the grown ups. So if you are a non-breeder who has to take someone else’s bin-lids to the movies, Madagascar is non-offensive and slightly amusing. But that’s it.
They can’t all be Shrek.
Released: June 30, 2005
From the very first shot you can tell Oyster Farmer is using the scenery as another character in the film. It shows the Hawkesbury River as a stunning yet isolated place to live. And the people who live and work on her banks have to cope with its ebbs and flows.
Oyster Farmer is a gentle movie about a young guy (played by Alex O’Lachlan) who escapes a pain-filled life by working with an eccentric community of, you guessed it, oyster farmers. His love interest (played by Diana Glenn) is a local who grew up in the area but longs for the trappings of city life – like fabulous shoes.
Both have secrets. And yet both are drawn together. There’s stealing, lying and jumping to conclusions. O’Lachlan is handsome in a typically Aussie way and brings the right amount of depth to his character Jack to show just how uncomfortable he is in his own skin. Glenn captures a naivety you’d expect from someone brought up in those conditions. Both play true Aussies without falling into parody.
The standout role is Brownie (played by David Field). He’s a weather-beaten farmer battling a temperamental crop of oysters. Field is best known for his performance as Bob Hawke in A Night We Called It A Day, but I think this is some of his finest acting yet. His estranged wife (played by Kerry Armstrong) is sexy and strong but ultimately under-utilised.
The trouble with the film is that the story line meanders along like the Hawkesbury River. There isn’t enough drama. Too much is left unsaid; each sub-plot needs more guts. Yes, Oyster Farmer feels like a film about real people, but as we all know, real life can be a tad boring.
I wouldn’t recommend rushing to the cinema to see it, but if you’re looking for a rainy night DVD selection it would be a comfortable choice. Perhaps with a half-dozen Sydney Rocks on the side.
BOOKS: July 05. AU Edition
GREAT MAN THEORIES
Curl up this winter with these tales of occupation, exploration, and depredation
By John Man
Bantam Press, $39.95, ISBN: 13579108642
Of all would-be world conquerors, Attila the Hun (406-453 AD), self-declared Scourge of God had the worst reputation. And his ferocious Hungarian hordes – reputed to be descended from the Xiongnu – were the subject of some very bad early PR: ‘They were squat, with thick necks, so prodigiously ugly and bent that they might be two-legged animals ... there was nothing like them for cruelty and ugliness ... they knew nothing of metal, had no religion and lived like savages, without fire ... eating their food raw ... once they put their necks into some dingy shirt, they never took it off until it rotted ... their legs so bowed that they could hardly walk ... stunted, foul and puny ... pinholes rather than eyes’.
You get the idea.
If the Huns swept all before them, due to their mobility, horsemanship and rapid-firing archery, the victims were determined to have the last say. Since the Huns had no written language, it is others who have described their culture – and their appearance. John Man, while not exactly an apologist, balances up the evaluation by telling us of the Huns’ metal work, cooking, religion and even, at times, their comely women. Above all, he vividly details the formidable power of their archery: 2000 arrows could hit 200 of the enemy in 10 seconds, a rate equivalent to ten machine guns as they wheeled in whirlwind fashion, even firing back over the shoulder (the parting or Parthian shot.) The trick is to hold a bunch of arrows in your bow hand and fire when the galloping horse – which you control with your knees – is off the ground.
Priscus, Attila’s principal historian, describes him as ‘excellent in council, sympathetic to supplicants, gracious to those who received his protection’. Not to be outdone, Man adds, ‘I think he had a sudden smile that could melt rocks.’ At least this item of whimsy is prefaced by the words ‘I think’. Man’s book is well written and a good read, but suffers from certain disturbing oddities in its approach. There is, as suggested above, a tendency to novelise history and to add in embellishments or dialogue that are blatantly of Man’s own imagination, not historical fact. Surely this sort of thing is better left to historical novelists – or is the writing of history undergoing a quiet revolution?
Man dismisses or challenges traditional accounts of the time. Pope Leo’s miraculous turn-around of the Hun hordes was the result of a bribe not a miracle; the great defeat of Attila by Aetius was a stalemate followed by a strategic withdrawal; the 11,000 Ursuline virgins were really 11 – an ‘M’ which stood for martyrs was mistakenly interpreted as ‘1,000’. Then he adds one of his own – he muses that had Attila played his cards right, Britain would have fallen to the Hun and Chaucer and Shakespeare would have written in Hunnish!
The book also has an odd structure. Attila is briefly mentioned in the first few pages, then disappears for over 100 pages. This long lead time is used to describe theories of origins of the Huns and the political situation that preceded their dramatic arrival on the stage of history. Fair enough, perhaps, though a trifle imbalanced. There is a detailed account of Lajos Kassai – a contemporary – who has remastered the art of mounted archery. Fascinating stuff to be sure, but why place it before outlining Attila’s military feats? Surely it would have been more appropriate as an appendix instead of as a ‘flash forward’ in the historical backdrop to the saga of the Huns’ brief domination of central Europe? Once you get used to Man’s time machine approach to history this is an enjoyable and informative read – I learnt, for example, that the habit of referring to First World War German soldiers as ‘Huns’ was derived from a 1902 poem by Rudyard Kipling.
THE FINAL SOLUTION
By Michael Chabon
Fourth Estate, $24.95, ISBN: 0007196024
I throughly enjoyed The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a romp through the golden age of American comics, but this short novel by Michael Chabon is a much lesser work. A note on the copyright page notes that this book was published in an earlier form in the Paris Review in 2003. So it is a backdated, then updated, work written prior to the rambunctious Kavalier & Clay work. It’s cruel thing to say but The Final Solution would have been better left in the prestigious pages of the Paris Review, otherwise noted for its definitive interviews with world-famous writers.
The basic plot is – depending how one chooses to look at it – either preposterously whimsical or intriguingly colourful. An 89-year-old Sherlock Homes (only ever identified as ‘the old man’) encounters a mute nine-year-old boy with an African grey parrot that spouts numbers in German. The numbers are subsequently speculated to be a top-secret Nazi code.
I have no quarrel with resurrecting the world’s greatest detective and surely one of the most well-known characters in literature. After all, Conan Doyle (though admittedly under publisher and public duress) did the same after he had killed off Holmes at Reichenbach Falls. Other crime fighters like Bulldog Drummond and James Bond have been revisited by subsequent admiring author-fans.
Chabon has successfully rendered the high Victorian prose and elegant speech of Doyle, plus the surprise villains and implausible plot but there is something slight and flimsy about the work as whole. Now and then, Chabon writes a dazzling sentence that hints at the stylistic splendours manifest in Kavalier & Clay. Even the fanciful plot fizzles in a way that would have dismayed the plot-conscious Conan Doyle. I look forward to new novels by Chabon that are not rewrites of minor material.
OVER THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
By Laurence Bergreen
HarperCollins, $24.95, ISBN: 0007118317
Great as was Columbus’s voyage to America, it was exceeded in length, duration and endurance by the globe-encircling expedition led by Ferdinand Magellan 27 years later in 1519. Indeed, as Laurence Bergreen notes in this excellent biography, Magellan’s voyage was fifteen times longer and encompassed far greater hardship and adventure as well as more spectacular feats of navigation. The discovery and navigation of the 300-mile-long straits that now bear his name is regarded as the greatest single feat of navigation of all time. Magellan was also the first to cross the vastness of the Pacific Ocean in a single journey – 7000 miles of uncharted water. The mediaeval map-makers of Europe did not know of its existence – hence their estimate of the circomference of the earth was about 18,000 miles instead of the true figure, 24,900.
It should be made clear that educated people of Magellan’s time did not believe the earth to be flat. The whole expedition was predicated on the globularity of the planet – in particular, the possibility of approaching the Spice Islands from a westerly instead of an easterly direction. The motive behind the expedition was to grab the spice-rich islands off the Portuguese who had a passion for secrecy and had been harvesting them for some time.
Apart from any few remaining doubters of a round planet, the men may have feared that they would boil alive at the equator, meet a variety of monsters (including the wondrous Socolopendra with a face of flames) or sail near a magnetic island that could pull nails out of ships. They did meet sharks, whales and flying fish, but ultimately the greatest dangers they encountered were those of scurvy and mutiny. Bergreen notes that Magellan and his officers did not get scurvy while many of the men succumbed. The explanation, unknown at the time, was because the Captain and his officers were eating preserved quince which had enough vitamin C to keep them healthy. It is humbling to think that without a few regular helpings of preserved fruit the expedition might never have succeeded at all. Magellan and others thought the cause of scurvy was ‘bad air’.
All in all, there were four mutinies. Magellan, a man of his time, didn’t treat the ringleaders lightly – they had to endure strappado, a thoroughly nasty form of torture involving weights tied to the feet and being hoisted and violently dropped. Bergreen doesn’t spare us the details. In reading about Alexander the Great, Captain James Cook and Magellan, a strange similarity becomes evident: all came to be treated as gods, and when they came to half-believe it themselves, they became arrogant and cruel.
Some three years later, one ship out of an original five and 18 battered survivors from an initial crew of 260 arrived back in Spain to tell the tale of the greatest sea voyage of all time. Without Antonio Pigafetta, the ship’s chronicler (also a lucky consumer of preserved quince), we would know almost nothing of these extraordinary events.
This is a grand tale, perhaps the grandest in all sea-faring history, and it is thrillingly told by Bergreen. This will be the definitive biography of Magellan for quite some time.
THE MERMAID CHAIR
By Sue Monk Kidd
Review, $36.99, ISBN: 0755307623
Many satisfying novels have been written about what is cynically called the eternal triangle – the situation where one partner strays from the marital bond and has an affair with a third party – but regrettably this is not one of them. In today’s up-tempo world, it’s risky to set in motion a plot of this kind – attractive married woman and rookery-minding monk about to take his final vows meet and are overwhelmingly attracted – and not have anything happen between them until more than half through the novel. They ‘make love’ twice at my count and their dialogue is unlikely to set the world on fire: ‘I can’t believe how beautiful you are’; ‘I’ve wanted you from the beginning.’
It’s hard to get interested in the jilted psychiatrist husband who does a good turn in angry jealousy but otherwise is fairly ineffective as a character. Two women sidekicks also fail to rouse interest. Then there’s the dog, Max (yawn). I’ve tried to warn writers about allowing in dogs as characters in serious novels but to no avail.
There is also a saint-demented mother who keeps lopping off digits and apparently is intent on severing all ten – though thankfully the narrative only takes us up to two. (How do you chop all ten anyway? The way I figure it is, it’s got to be damn difficult to finish the job after you’re chopped off eight of them).
It’s a convention with this type of story that the sudden rush of blood to the head (and other parts) isn’t always the strongest foundation for new lasting relationships. Whatever, Graham Greene did this sort of thing infinitely better a generation ago. Ms Kidd also needs to work on her style: ‘He stood. He lifted his shoulders. I don’t think he knew what to feel any more than what to say.’ I rest my case.
By Augusten Burroughs
Hodder, $29.95, ISBN: 0733619002
Most of us want to be thought of as nice people but Burroughs has made outrageous capital of the opposite tactic. By his own confession (though can we always believe him?) he is cruel to mice and children, hates babies and is promiscuous as an alley cat. By way of self-deprecation, he tells us he has an undesirably skinny ass, is domestically grossly untidy, and once had sex with an undertaker. And in case you’re wondering, yes, there was a body only 20 feet away.
Depending on the location of your funny bone, there is black humour to be extracted from these real life tales.
Burroughs’ accounts of his frequent meeting of partners through ads, picking them up willy-nilly, affirms the stereotype of the extremely promiscuous homosexual. With paradoxical humour, Burroughs reports there was one fellow with whom he was sleeping but not having sex with – ‘I told him how it’s really difficult for me to have sex with somebody unless I know them very well and am extremely comfortable with them. This sounded better than the truth which is I can’t have sex with somebody unless they’re a stranger and I’m drunk’.
The sexual high jinks (or low jinks) quickly pall and it’s easier to feel more sympathetic to Burroughs at his missing out on being in a TV ad as a child and – after goggling at a sumptuous Vanderbilt mansion – informing his parents that they had kidnapped him and in reality he is a Vanderbilt who wants to go back to where he rightfully belongs.
‘You’re monsters. I hate you I hate I hate you’, he screams at his parents. Confirming the impression he was a difficult child and maybe a worse adult, Burroughs cheerfully lists his flaws as a ‘wide, deep cruel streak’ plus ‘fear of intimacy, sexual dysfunction, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, social anxiety disorder and mania’. (And don’t forget that skinny ass.)
Looked at from the outside, all of Burroughs’ weirdness belong to a tradition of potentially harmful eccentricity and self-endangering lifestyle which we can readily identify as a sub-set of American behaviours most frequently associated with the inhabitants of California or New York (Burroughs is a Manhattanite). Burroughs’ rollicking lucid style make for an easy read though it leaves the reader jaded after several very same-sounding chapters about casual sex. The reader, whether bemused or shocked, must be wondering if Burroughs is a nice guy pretending to be an asshole, an asshole who somehow wants us still to like him, or a guy who just can’t help himself – or a combination of all three?
Money, July 05, AU Edition
GET UP, STAND UP
Customer service is an ugly joke in Australia.
Here’s what you need to know to not give up the fight
When I was a young lad, there was corner shopkeeper on our street that looked after our family. His name was Mr Cooley. He would see me (or my mother) and provide our family with the groceries, tell us about new products, order in specialised needs for us and simply update us on gossip. He provided exemplary customer service and treated everyone as an individual and as if each person was his only customer. In today’s jargon, that’s called ‘one-to-one marketing’.
Back in the 1990s, ‘one-to-one’ was all the rage. Very few people understood it, but most organisations and associations wanted to do it, somehow. And there are still a number of companies who claim that is happening today, but overall, I do not believe that Australians are currently getting good customer service. What’s worse is the concept of one-to-one marketing is now all but extinct.
Corner stores used to do one-to-one marketing consistently – they had no choice. Understanding the uniqueness of each customer was what kept them in business. They knew the difference between customers who had a large or a small family. Those who worked longer than others. Those that ate more meat than others and so on. Sadly, large companies seem not to want, or perhaps are not equipped, to practice these philosophes of customer service.
Over the past six months I have been keeping a log of bad customer service stories that have come across my desktop; they include everything from run-ins with bureaucratic overseas call centres to companies that require someone be home sometime between 9am and 5pm to take a delivery or let in an installer. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, loyalty seems to count for next to nothing in the corporate customer service stakes. Regular readers of this column will know of the plight of a Mr J who had been corresponding with the National Australia Bank to try and get some answers to some very reasonable questions about a problem with a credit card transaction. After more than three months of e-mailing back and forth, each one sending Mr J’s complaint up to a higher level of management, he finally got a note stating, ‘I have no details as to what your enquiry is about. Should you have any further queries do not hesitate to contact us’. Looks like Mr J, a long-time and loyal customer of the NAB, was escalated right out of the bank.
A similar thing has happened to another gentleman, one Mr P, who has been a long-term, card-carrying ‘preferred customer’ with AVIS Car Rental. On a recent trip to the United Kingdom he hired a car for two weeks, and dutifully filled it with petrol and cleaned out the inside before returning the car. The AVIS employee who received his car at Birmingham Airport even remarked what good condition the car was in, stating, ‘I wish they were all returned like this one’. They jointly went over the outside and inside of the car and gave it a very clean bill of health.
So imagine the surprise that Mr P received when he received his credit card statement and found that the rental was about $500 more than the agreed price – with no explanation why it was so much over the contractual amount. And, you guessed it: the monies had already been deducted automatically.
Mr P quickly rang and wrote to AVIS Australia. His complaint was escalated from Australia to the USA, then to New Zealand, on to the UK, back to NZ, and back to Australia. Three weeks later he found out that there had been some sort of damage to the car. Now this was a real surprise. Mr P knew that the car was in showroom condition and asked what the damage actually was, and could it have possibly happened after he returned the car. Again: Australia to the USA, then to New Zealand, on to the UK, back to NZ, back to Australia, and then off the planet. Six months later and he still doesn’t have an answer. It is still unresolved! Needless to say, he doesn’t like the way AVIS prefer their customers.
Why is this so?
If a customer goes to the effort of making a complaint it is because they care. They are committed and involved with that organisation. They are loyal and they are probably the company’s most valued customers. So why lose them? A customer who is handled correctly will become the biggest advocate instead of the biggest detractor of an organisation, providing the sort of priceless viral marketing no money can buy. We all respond viscously if we believe our loyalty is being abused. I believe that currently our loyalty with many organisations is misplaced – it is not reciprocated and the customer is not rewarded. And, marketers please note: reward points do not automatically buy loyalty.
I am an adjunct lecturer at Sydney University and I teach my students that the gap between reality and expectation equals anger. The bigger the gap the more anger there is. Organisations cannot promise something that they cannot deliver. It sounds simple, but it is rarely practiced. Why?
Richard Batterley is a thirty-year veteran in what is now called relationship marketing. He is the chairman of Relationship Alliance, a Sydney-based firm which helps companies build stronger relationships with their customers. I asked him what should companies be doing to better service their customers?
‘It is important that all big organisations have customer feedback loops’, says Batterley. Instead, he says, ‘most large organisations have procedures in place to block you and your complaint.’
‘Bad customer service affects the brand and reduces integrity, and destroys brand essence. This has serious financial implications. Yet the easiest way for big organisations to behave is to ignore complaints’, explains Batterley.
Interestingly, Batterley had his own recent run in with bureaucracy. When ringing Telstra he asked to be put through to their complaints department. The call centre said they could not do that because the Privacy Act required him to give his full name and the number he was calling from before he could be transferred. He said that he would be more than happy to give his details to the complaints department but not the call centre, but he was still not put through. He researched this and according to him, there is nothing in the Privacy Act that prevents someone from being transferred to a complaints department. It seems that customers of all sorts are being managed out of existence.
What can they do?
Even if it takes more effort – and maybe causes a short-term hit on the bottom line – it is to the benefit of an organisation if they provide stellar customer service. If one organisation does it better than another then they will grow at the expense of their competitors. They will reduce churn, increase retention, and attract new customers.
So what do companies need to do?
1. Practice active listening. Reading from a script and a page of a standard-operating-procedure manual is the worst type of customer service there is, yet most organisations do exactly this to their customers.
2. Say sorry. This means the most to most people. But this is only true if it is a real apology and not a scripted, condescending, patronising way of getting someone off the phone.
3. Understand what is being said and be empathetic.
4. Respond in an understanding manner which treats the
customer as a human being and a loyal person with whom they have a relationship.
5. The simple question a service person needs to ask is: “Would I treat my mother/father/son/daughter/brother/sister/wife/husband like this?”
6. And a radical suggestion: If a small amount of money is in question, say anything up to $200, just give it back to the customer. This will strengthen a loyal relationship beyond belief. It turns a negative into a positive and, really, in the greater scheme of things, for most large companies it is a fraction of a fraction of a decimal point somewhere in an annual report.
What can we customers do?
1. Firstly, you must complain to the organisation. Even if they block you, at least you have started the process. Don’t be apathetic and just take it, you will feel better if you take control.
2. Don’t pay the bill. Yes, this is fraught with danger and could get you on the list of a debt collector or in court. Strangely though, many accounts departments provide better customer service in this instance than front line customer service staff. But I would not recommend this action unless you have an agreement from the organisation that they will not act on you not paying.
3. Write to the ombudsman. In the case of banks and tele-
communications companies, there is a specific ombudsman that investigates these complaints. It is time consuming but is usually
4. Tell the media. This is becoming increasingly more popular and unfortunately in many instances the only way that customers can get noticed. Be warned though, some companies close up tighter than Scrooge’s wallet if the press is involved.
5. Take your business elsewhere. This will make you feel better but most large organisations don’t really care.
6. Send them a bill and be prepared to follow it through. If you believe you have given an undue amount of your time and your own service to an organisation then send them a formal invoice requesting that you be paid. It may not work, but I have heard of people getting positive responses to this sort of action.
7. The action I have had the most luck with is to write to the CEO or even Chairman. Mark your letter (not email) private and confidential. Be factual, honest, objective, and admit if you have made a mistake yourself, but explain to him how the poor service of his organisation has displaced your loyalty and damaged their good name.
But it’s a big company...
In the 1976 milestone movie “Network”, evening news anchor Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch in his Oscar-winning performance, felt the same way that many of us are feeling now about how we are being treated by large organisations. His response?
‘You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a human being, Goddammit! My life has value!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’
Have we seen the death of customer service? Being a glass half full kind of person I am hoping that large organisations learn how we want, and need, to be treated. But as Howard Beale said, we have to get out of our chairs. We cannot let good old Australian apathy get in the way of what we deserve. Be as mad as hell and let organisations know that you are not going to take this any more. Perhaps they could learn from the corner shopkeeper. The spirit of Mr Cooley must live on as a benefit to all of us. See you around the traps.
TRAVEL: July 05, AU Edition
Close encounters with orangutans, birds, and the largest flower in the world all await in Borneo, writes Georgia Tasker
THE DANUM VALLEY CONSERVATION AREA, SABAH, Borneo – Just after daybreak, we climb the 30-metre-high canopy walk in a lowland rain forest, watching for birds. Moving in a bouncy gait along the suspension bridge, we are discussing the orchids on the trees when suddenly a blurred flurry of orange hair in a wild fluttering and bending of leaves and branches is so startling that at first we don’t know what’s going on.
Then we realize we have awakened a mother orangutan and her son in their nest a few feet below us, and they are scrambling for cover.
The youngster is 3-to-5 years old, still without the dark face and cheek pads of an adult. His hair is wispy and thin on his round head, and his eyes are brown and serious, but ever so often he offers the briefest smile. While his mother stays hidden, he perches on a branch to watch us watching him. After a few minutes, he picks up a vine and twirls it like a lasso.
We have traveled halfway around the world to experience this moment, which never can be guaranteed. But here we were, 30 metres up on a tree platform in the largest virgin rain forest on the island, thrilled to be watching an orangutan in the wild.
Asia’s only great ape tops the list of wildlife and plants that brought us here. Male orangutans can reach 140 kilograms, twice the size of females, but this youngster probably weighs around 35. He will stay with his mother until he’s seven, after which he will become what his Malay name means: a man of the forest.
Bornean forests are home to Asian elephants, leopards, sun bears, orangs, even the world’s smallest squirrel (when scampering up a tree, it looks like a windup toy). An impressive bird list includes hornbills, storks and kingfishers. Huge numbers of orchids, palms, ferns and that bizarre parasitic flower, the rafflesia, are waiting to be seen.
Temperatures in places approach 40 degrees, and humidity is 95 percent. We encounter leeches, rats in a ceiling (one dropped onto one of us at 3 a.m.) and a cave tour that leads us on a grimy boardwalk above tons of bat guano alive with uncountable roaches and poisonous centipedes.
Oil palm plantations, land clearing and timber harvesting are destroying forests in Borneo (70 to 85 per cent of the forests had been felled in the last 30 years), and we decided to see this incredible biological richness before it disappears.
Mount Kinabalu, the highest in Southeast Asia at nearly 13,500 feet, is our first stop. For orchid lovers, it is Mecca. Some 1,000 species have been found on and around these slopes, including the imperiled lady-slipper, Paphiopedilum rothschildianum, which was discovered in the 19th century. That orchid’s location was falsified by early collectors to keep the source secret and the price up. Somehow it was lost until 1970, when the slipper was rediscovered in Mount Kinabalu National Park, now a World Heritage Site.
On the way to the park, our guide Adrian Chan leads us to a species of rafflesia, the largest flower in the world. The flower’s 17 species grow only between 500 and 600 metres on Borneo, Sumatra, Java and the Philippines. It is primo sight for plant lovers.
This one is orange, rubbery and decorated with raised spots. It parasitizes a specific vine. Both vine and flower are clinging to a ravine behind a residential house in a village just off the main road. Forty-four of 83 known flowering sites on Borneo are on private property, and landowners protect the habitat while earning money from tourists eager to see flowers that may reach three feet across.
Named for Sir Stamford Raffles, British founder of Singapore, our rafflesia has been open for five days and is disintegrating slightly at the edges. Its notorious rotting-meat smell has dissipated, however, so we can look into the center bowl, where a disc with fingerlike projections glows in an eerie light. Around it on the ground are flower buds ranging in size from golf balls to volleyballs. Each bud takes 10 months to develop and open.
Mount Kinabalu, where the spirits of the Dusun and Kadazan peoples are believed to reside, was sculpted by glaciers, left naked on top and punctured by a gully a mile deep. We set out the next day before sunup for bird-watching on its slopes, then tour the park’s orchid garden after breakfast. Scores of orchids and carnivorous pitcher plants, such as the Nepenthes rajah, with liter-size burgundy traps that digest scores of insects, are displayed in the mountainous setting. We see only one orchid along a hiking trail, however, a jewel orchid, collected more for its velvety, striped leaves than its tall spike of small flowers.
From Kota Kinabalu, known locally as KK, we fly to the city of Sandakan, on the northeast coast, and board an outboard to Selingan (Turtle) Island to overnight and watch sea turtles nest. A turtle hatchery was set up here in 1966. Every night, rangers patrol the beaches, quietly searching for green and hawksbill turtles that come ashore to lay eggs. They collect the eggs, count them, tag the mothers and move eggs to hand-dug sandy holes protected with wire cylinders.
Within swimming distance of the Philippines, Selingan is a desertlike research station so hot at midday that we retreat to our monastic room to catnap and read. Powerful black monitor lizards and rats stalk the dry forests and steal turtle eggs. Some of the rats have taken up residence in the ceiling of our room, which has a closet, small chest, twin beds and a sink. In late afternoon, it’s cool enough to snorkel, so we venture into the Sulu Sea.
After dinner, we sweat and wait for a signal that a turtle has nested. In a warm rain, we watch a three-foot green turtle squeeze out 124 eggs. She is untagged, so this is her first brood. Each of us in a group of a dozen visitors holds a small, leathery egg, then we gently place them in their new sand pit where, in two months’ time, hatchlings will fight their way to the surface.
Finally, we are allowed to hold a hatchling, feel the power of those tiny flippers, enclose it in our cupped palms before releasing it.
It is after the release of the hatchlings that sleep is undone by the falling rat. My friend’s scream jolts me awake, and I see her sitting bolt upright in her bed. The rat had fallen, probably from the window curtains, and landed, plop!, on her face. She lies awake until dawn.
From the island, we boat back to Sandakan, spend a couple of hours at the Sepilok rehabilitation center for orangutans, then board another boat on the Kinabatangan River. We disembark at the Sukau Rainforest Lodge, tucked snugly in the middle of a wildlife sanctuary. The next two days, we go everywhere by longboat, and it seems the height of eco-luxury to be guided (even in rain) up and down the longest river in Sabah looking for wildlife.
We gaze and peer and find purple herons, a Brahminy kite, a serpent eagle, darters, imperial pigeons, swifts, kingfishers, white-crested and black hornbills, sunbirds, and our prize, a rare and seldom-seen Storm’s stork.
From our skiff, we watch a large proboscis monkey with his wives and babies occupy an enormous tree at dawn and dusk along the river.
At the lodge, built on stilts in Malaysian style, ceiling fans and hot water run on solar power. A small library is in the main building, as is the dining room and a lounge with sofas. Over the river is a sun deck for candlelight dining or morning coffee. We wear sarongs to dinner, and leave shoes at the door.
After rain, these lowland forests are full of leeches. They attach to the ends of leaves and perform leechy belly dances trying to sense the heat of a passing mammal or even bird. We leave our little boat and confront them on our single hike in this forest. Thin as matchsticks before finding you, they inject an anesthesia at the sucking spot, and drop off when full. A rule of thumb is this: the lead hiker’s body heat alerts the leech, the second hiker gets the leech, the third hiker is free to pass untouched.
My friend, second in line, gets a leech on her arm, but cavalierly insists I take a picture of it. Didn’t feel a thing, she says, plucking it off. Later, though, she feels a tickle and a short engorged leech on her stomach, and she doesn’t wait for a photograph. She gets the guide to pull it off. Now.
Yet, in this remote and wild place, where friendships over dinner are easily struck and nature is at her fecund best, our lives seem graced indeed.
Our last stop in Borneo is Danum Valley, where we arrive by car. We stay at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, with enormous open-air lounge, dining room and bar on the second floor overlooking the Danum River. It is here that we see the orangutans, watch rhinoceros hornbills play tag in the morning, admire a metre-at-the-shoulder bearded pig, and climb a 1,000-metre-high hill to see red-throated barbets. On the way up, our guide shows us the way his tribe buries its dead: in caskets made of tree trunks that are hoisted by ropes to ledges of limestone cliffs. We scale a tree-limb ladder and find human remains.
We drive back to KK, and spend one day getting to our next stop: Miri, a tiny coastal town. At Miri, we pare down baggage to 40 pounds, and hop into a small plane to Mulu in Sarawak, where a swamp and four caves are waiting.
I’m not overwhelmed with the idea of caves. On our drive from Sukau to Danum Valley, we visited the Gomantong Cave and it had been an unexpected horror. This is the most famous cave in Sabah. Three kinds of swiftlets nest here, but only those in the highest reaches build their nests of pure saliva. These are the delicacies made by the Chinese into bird’s-nest soup. A single nest may sell for $4,000 U.S. The government regulates harvesting now, but four times a year men are strapped to 100-foot ladders and raised up to remove the nests, once babies have fledged.
They’ve been doing that for 400 years. Not once has the floor of swiftlet and bat guano been cleared out, and the smell is ungodly. Little wonder the roaches are more plentiful than stars. The narrow boardwalk and handrail were slippery with guano, the roaches and giant centipedes were on the walls and the floor, and stretching my T-shirt to my nose, I was so appalled, my toes curled. Outside, all I could do was shudder. But at least, I told myself, I had seen it and now understood why those bird’s nests were so dreadfully expensive.
Mulu’s caves, however, are more rewarding. Three of four are lighted to show beautiful formations; the fourth, Deer Cave, is the world’s largest cave passage and home to millions of bats. The caves make up the world’s largest-known cave system, yet only about a third of the passages have been explored in the mountains that now are in a national park.
Perhaps the best part is the nightly emergence of the bats, which come out in waves of hundreds and stay in formation until they reach a certain altitude to disperse for nightly insect-eating. We watch a doughnut-shaped group stay perfectly in formation until it disappears.
Then we head back to the five-star Royal Mulu Resort, where dinner’s a buffet, and the rooms are air-conditioned.
Throughout the year, Intrepid Travel operates a number of fantastic adventures that will have you exploring Malaysian Borneo, either with a small group of like-minded travellers or independently on an arranged itinerary.
Sabah – Land Beneath the Wind
13 days ex Kota Kinabalu
Trip Style: Intrepid Original
Highlights: Kota Kinabalu, Mt Kinabalu climb, orangutans, Turtle Island, Malay homestay, jungle camp, Sandakan
Brief: Sabah, the land beneath the wind, is simply breathtaking. Join Intrepid as we meet orangutans and sea turtles on a trip that will have you lazing on beaches, soaking in hot springs, exploring tribal villages and climbing the mighty Mt Kinabalu.
Departure: Departs every Sunday
Price: AU$860, plus Local Payment of US$200 per person
A Taste of Sabah
6 days ex Kota Kinabalu
Trip Style: Intrepid Independent
Highlights: Mt Kinabalu climb, orangutans, Turtle Island, Sandakan
Brief: A fantastic introduction to natural Borneo, from the giant turtles to the awesome peak of Mt Kinabalu. Sabah is filled with rare and exotic wildlife and this trip takes in the very best.
Departure: Departs daily
Price: from AU$890 per person (seasonal pricing applies)
For more information on travelling in Borneo with Intrepid Travel, please visit www.intrepidtravel.com, free call 1300 360 887, or come and see us at 360 Bourke Street, Melbourne.
Know before you go
Best time of year to travel? Borneo has a typical tropical climate - generally hot and humid throughout the year. Temperatures stay in the high 20’s most of the year dropping back to the low 20’s at night. As in most tropical areas the rain falls in short heavy bursts with sunshine following. In theory, the wet season runs from November through to February, but in reality you can expect some rain at any time of the year. Sabah is famed for being below the monsoon belt and is known as the ‘Land Below the Wind’
Religion: Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Animist & other spiritual & tribal beliefs
Language: Bahasa Malaysian, Chinese & many other tribal languages and dialects
Currency: Ringgit (MYR)
Visas: A 3-month visa is free on entry into Malaysia. (Please note: If you are planning on sidestepping to Brunei, you may need to obtain a visa prior to arrival.)
Electricity: 220 - 240V, 50hz AC
FOOD: July 05, AU Edition
Eggs aren’t just for breakfast anymore, says Eli Jameson.
Just make sure they’re fresh
I had a friend, many years ago, who was terrified of eggs. He wasn’t plagued by dreams that involved giant eggs coming out of the sky, or having to stand up naked and give a speech to the annual convention of the Egg Marketing Board. Instead, it was the mere sight of an egg outside of its shell that absolutely horrified him. One of his more darkly hilarious monologues involved his horror at going out to a pizza restaurant in Paris once with a large group of relatives and an even larger hangover the day after his sister’s wedding, and having a pie with a quivering fried egg cracked into the middle of it placed in front of him by a smirking garçon.
Oddly, though, ‘hidden’ eggs didn’t bother him. Sauces made with eggs, meatloaves bound by eggs, French toast soaked in eggs – all of that was fine by him, so long as he wasn’t around to see the preparation. Which shows that even if he had a few screws loose in the food department (it would take a Freudian half a decade to work out how his mother gave him this particular phobia), he at least had pretty good taste.
Needless to say, I’ve never known this terror. Poached on toast with a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt; fried in butter and drizzled with hot sauce (Tabasco is great, but my new favourite is a Mexican brand called Tapatío); or gently scrambled with lots of cream, chives, and smoked salmon, I just don’t think it’s possible to go wrong with eggs. Unless, of course, one overcooks them.
But it is this first preparation, poaching, that seems to cause many home chefs the most grief. Raised to believe that poaching an egg involves some sort of complicated French alchemy involving whirlpools and vinegar, and until recently unable to get anything fresher than supermarket eggs that have spent days or weeks in trucks and on shelves, even many good cooks I know just don’t care enough to bother.
Which is a shame, given that it is so easy, and the results potentially fantastic. Nothing showcases a really good egg like poaching. All one needs to do is heat a pan of water – about an inch or so deep – with a slug of good white wine vinegar to the just-bubbling point, slide the eggs in one by one, and wait a few minutes before pulling them out again with a slotted spoon.
Which brings us to the first problem with eggs, no matter how they are prepared: most of the eggs found on supermarket shelves are not truly fresh, and are laid by chickens fed in an insipid diet that leaves their product as tasteless as the factory tomatoes over in the produce section. This means they won’t poach properly – instead, they’ll run all over the pan (don’t ask me to explain the science, just trust me on this). Worse, they’ll be tasteless. Although there are many instances where an ‘organic’ label is just a marketing con to separate greenies from their money – more on this in a subsequent column – when it comes to eggs, every input counts. If your farmer is playing music to his hens, make sure it’s calm and relaxing stuff. You can’t get good eggs from chooks whose nerves are being jangled up by a Wagner fetishist.
I get my eggs from my local farmers’ market, where they sell free-range eggs from Chanteclair Farms, outside Sydney. These eggs, which can also be found in some supermarkets, are always fresh, and the hens have been fed a special diet that makes their yolks rich, golden and creamy – as well as high in Omega-3, which fights cholesterol and helps mute the chant of
‘remember, thou art mortal’ that tends to play in the back of one’s head when one eats as many of the things as I do.
BEST-EVER BEANS AND EGGS
When the mercury is low and the bank balance lower (or even if it’s not), this is a great, cheap plate of comfort food that elevates its humble ingredients to far more than the sum of its parts.
• 1 800g tin of Heinz baked beans in tomato sauce
• 1-2 brown onions
• 3-4 tablespoons brown sugar
• 50 grams butter
• Balsamic, red wine, or sherry vinegar
• White wine vinegar
• Dijon mustard
• 4 slices bread (I like Helga’s Light Rye)
• Salt & pepper
• 4 eggs
1. First, caramelize the onions. Slice the onions into thin half-moons, and put them into a wide pan over very low heat with the butter, and just let them sit there, stirring them occasionally. The more time you can devote to this, the better: you want them to slowly sweeten with just the barest of heat. About ten minutes in, throw some brown sugar in – this will really up the sweetness factor. After about twenty minutes, turn up the heat to medium and throw in the balsamic (or red wine or sherry) vinegar until it reduces, and then add the beans, stirring in Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper.
2. Meanwhile, get another pan out to poach the eggs. Put in an inch or so of water, add the white wine vinegar (this helps hold the eggs together), and heat to the barely-boiling. One by one, crack the eggs into a cup or small bowl and slide them into the water.
3. Toast the bread, and cut it into quarters. Assemble by putting half the beans on each of two plates, arranging the toast quarters (using the French and calling them croutons would be too pretentious in this case, even for me) around the beans, and putting two poached eggs on top of each. Season with a bit more salt and pepper, and serve.
‘SPECIAL’ EGGS, ITALIAN STYLE
I first saw the great American-Italian chef Mario Battali make a variation of this in the U.S. many years ago; since then, I’ve discovered that poaching eggs in some other sort of sauce is a staple dish in many cultures. The Persians, in fact, do a remarkably similar version of this; they call it gojay farangi; in our house, what my three-year-old calls ‘special eggs’ is an unbreakable Saturday tradition.
• Olive oil
• 1 good-sized brown onion
• 2-3 (or more) cloves garlic
• ½ birds eye or bullet chili, chopped (optional)
• 2 x 400g tins peeled Italian plum tomatoes
• Dried mint
• 4 slices of thick, crusty Italian bread
• 4 eggs
1. Make a simple red sauce. Dice the onions, slice the garlic, and throw it in a hot pan of olive oil with the optional chili. Feel free to throw in a slug of the previous night’s wine at this point if there is any left over; red sauces are a very personal thing. Add the tomatoes (make sure they’re imported from Italy; if you want to buy local, avoid Aussie tins and make the sauce with fresh tomatoes instead), breaking them up with a wooden spoon. Add some dried mint, which is my personal touch, and let simmer, uncovered
2. Once the sauce has cooked down a bit, use a spoon or a ladle to make a depression in the sauce, then crack an egg into the well, repeating until all the eggs are in. Cover and let simmer.
3. Meanwhile, toast the bread – I like to rub the slices with olive oil and a smashed clove of garlic, but that’s not 100 per cent necessary – under the grill. By the time the bread is ready, the eggs should be coming pretty close to done as well. Plate them up by putting two pieces of bread on each plate, then topping with an egg and red sauce.
HEALTH: July 05, AU Edition
CRAZY ENOUGH TO WORK?
Bad movies and worse ideas contribute to our misunderstanding of mental illness
The infamous Australian stockbroker Rene Rivkin was convicted of insider trading in 2003. Now my understanding of insider trading is that you know something other people don’t and use it to make money on the stock market. Dangerous criminals such as Martha Stewart have been jailed for this heinous crime, as was Rivkin, who was given nine months periodic detention. He fell to pieces in prison and was hospitalised. There was little sympathy for him at the time, perhaps because he didn’t suffer from something nice and straightforward, like epilepsy or a stroke. Of course he did have that benign brain tumour, but since it only affected his mental health and not, say, his ability to walk, no one cared. That and bipolar disorder. ‘The big baby’, people thought, ‘trying to get out of his prison term by saying he was unbalanced. Pull your socks up Rene, you big faker. Get over it and do your time.’ Rivkin was divorced from his wife and committed suicide at his mother’s home earlier this year. He was survived by five adult children.
Great attitude towards the mentally ill, huh?
About a month ago I saw one of the local mums in the playground. New babe in arms, looking drowsy, and could this supermum be her pre-pregnancy weight? ‘You’ve got it going on’, I commented. I waited for the inevitable litany: ‘oh no, I had terrible morning sickness, I actually lost weight…” Well, I should have known her better; she has integrity. I have never known her not to be straight up and she was. ‘No, it’s crap. I’m depressed.’
Give the woman a medal: it takes a hero to stand up and shine the light on the proverbial black dog. It really stood out for me because of the rarity of both insight in a person with a mental illness, and the raw honesty she displayed.
The movie Me, Myself and Irene was about a ‘schizophrenic’ who had two personalities. More like Jekyll and Hyde, really. I asked around and apparently a lot of people believe that schizophrenia is something that gives a person a split personality where normal self is intermittently replaced with a Jim Carey character who thinks he’s Jesus. Kinda fun-sounding, almost. Another film, Girl, Interrupted, features Winona Ryder as a young woman with ‘borderline personality disorder’ (and the tagline, ‘sometimes the only way to stay sane is to go a little crazy’) who suffers psychological distress and in the end receives enlightenment. It could happen to anyone, right? Well, no. Personality disorders are pervasive, life-long, and serious. Meeting Angelina Jolie does not provide any insight for the patient, and for their poor families, it probably makes things worse.
Mental illness affects a lot of people, but the statistics are different depending whom you ask: 1 in 4, 1 in 10, 1 in 25. In the end, what difference does it make? We’re still talking about a lot of people. And yet we still can’t decide whether mental illness is a big deal or not. People seem to talk a lot more about it (Rivkin was very upfront about it), but as a community we don’t seem to do much to help. Do we even know much about mental illness? Mostly it seems to depend on which campaign the health department is running at the time.
Aside from the really esoteric out-there stuff (rare specific psychoses about shrinking genitals, Munchausen syndrome, and so forth), when people talk about mental illness they seem to mean either the psychotic illnesses where the patient sees, hears or believes things that the rest of us do not (yes, it’s complex, and there are many other symptoms) or affective disorders (disorders of mood). Aside from the obvious symptoms, mental illnesses have many other symptoms, such as disordered thinking, sleep disturbance and so forth. They are not fun, nor are they easy to deal with. They can either be managed and lived with in one way or the other (for most people), or they can spiral out of control, ruining the lives of everyone they touch. The homeless guy ranting on the street corner? How do you think his mum feels?
Maybe the term “mental illness” is too broad. It describes everyone from the person who gets mildly depressed and then mildly manic, also known as cyclothymic disorder (which can even at times be an advantage in life) to the person who is totally divorced from reality. Rivkin was desperately seeking help and understanding. The illness that gave him an energetic business edge also gave him week after week of abject misery. His family was shattered, over and over again. And Rene got the best medical care that money can buy. What do you think you get if you can’t afford private treatment?
You get a prescription. And that’s about it, unless you happen to be competent, live in an area where mental health services are accessible, and be referred by someone who knows what help is available. Private psychiatrists charge fees. Psychiatrists in public services have time to treat people in crisis, and that’s about it.
We know that early intervention works. But unless you (or a family member) have the insight and the cash to front up to the appropriate specialist(s) seeking and paying for help, you are unlikely to get help until you show up in an emergency room with a gut full of booze and grandma’s sleeping pills. People with severe mental illness don’t advocate well for themselves. The ranting homeless are sleeping under the letters to the editor, not writing them.
Perhaps part of our problem is that mental illness is a new frontier. For the longest time, we have acknowledged the existence of mental illness, but effective treatment and recovery is a new thing. The first effective treatment for a mental illness was lithium carbonate, accidently discovered by an Australian doctor in 1948, to be a highly effective treatment for mania. This was back in the days when you could just test any old theory out on your hospitalized patients. The occasional person died from lithium toxicity, of course, but suddenly we had a medication that specifically treated mania. This assisted in refining the distinction between psychotic mania and other forms of psychosis. It also allowed very sick people to quickly get better and be treated as outpatients.
Iproniazid, the first modern antidepressant, was originally developed to treat tuberculosis in the early 1950’s. In addition to treating tuberculosis, iproniazid was observed to elevate mood and in many patients. The first tricyclic antidepressant – no longer used due to toxic side effects – was likewise discovered accidentally in the search for a treatment for schizophrenia. The first modern selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (Prozac) was released in 1987. There are now a whole new generation of treatments for depression. There are now anti-psychotic medications that do not belong to the “major tranquilizer” group, because they are not majorly tranquillizing.
Our understanding of these drugs gave us insight into how mental illnesses might work, and not the other way around. As medical treatments to treat chemical imbalances in the brain get more refined, our knowledge of mental illness increases. Go on, write me. Perhaps the odd person goes nuts and kills their family entirely due to taking Prozac. It’s very, very rare, if it happens at all. But certainly a significant number of people destroy their own lives and families (literally and figuratively) as a result of their untreated – or perhaps untreatable – mental illness.
We don’t do well at handling mental illness (in ourselves or others). Should, but don’t. The last sixty or less years have been a sharp learning curve. Sorry, Rene, you deserved better.