Why My Local Upper House MP Bernie Finn Deserves A Knighthood

People reading my blog are going to surmise after a while that despite my libertarian convictions, I am pretty conservative on a lot of things, if not downright reactionary.

For example, as a property owner and a ratepayer, it appalls me that mere tenants are able to vote in local government elections. I consider this as ‘representation without taxation’, and I blame this to some extent for the appalling size of my council rates bill.

I also would like to see reform of the state upper house. It needs to return to representing the propertied classes, ie people like me who own their own homes and pay property taxes, rather than the Hoi Polloi. Home owners need constitutional protection from those who might tax the roof over my head out of existence.

Given that I think this way, you would not be surprised that I was quite disappointed when Tony Abbott was forced to back down on the reintroduction of knighthoods under the Order of Australia a few years ago. The Federal Government had abandoned imperial honours on the election of Hawke in 1983 and the last state based knighthoods went out the window with the election in Queensland of a Labor government in 1989.

Of course, I would go further than just conferrals under the Order of Australia. I would like to see knight bachelors awarded, and knighthoods under the Orders of the British Empire, the Bath, and St Michael and St George. Those are the sorts of imperial honours we used to give out.

Which is a way of segueing to my favourite local MP (well, what else can I say given that I put most of the others very low on my ballot), the Hon Bernie Finn, who has represented the Western Melbourne Region in the Victorian Upper House since 2006. He recently celebrated a cumulative total of 20 years in parliament, when you add in the 7 years he spent in the lower house as member for Tullamarine back in the 1990s.

He is more colourful and visible than most upper house MPs (he used to have an office in Sunshine next door to a bar I used to frequent, but this is a mere happy coincidence), and there are people out there who have chronicled his career with more detail than I can:


I believe that when Mr Finn retires from his seat, either from wearying of representing the 20% of people in the area who voted for him, or forcibly from being denied endorsement by misguided grassroots members of his own party to run for a fifth consecutive term, he requires suitable recognition.

As a precedent, I will cite what happened after his fellow Liberal, Clem Newton-Brown Esquire lost the lower house seat of Prahran several years ago after one term. Mr Newton-Brown was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in the Australia Day Honours for ‘Services to the Victorian Parliament’.

If a backbencher can get awarded the OAM for one single term in the Parliament (and there are many who have not gotten any honours at all), then what should someone get who has served for over twenty years and six terms in total?

I think a knighthood is in order. Of course, not an AK, as they are too prestigious and should be reserved for Governors-General, High Court Justices, and commanders of the defence forces. But a lower order knighthood, like a KBE or perhaps a Knight Bachelor (ie one without membership of a particular order), might be an appropriate recognition for his lengthy service. After all, we have the Newton-Brown precedent to abide by.

Cross Bench MP Suddenly Realises Election Is Approaching, Puts Fridge Magnets In Letterboxes Of Constituents

I have been reading the somewhat satirical Betoota Advocate a lot lately, which claims to be one of the oldest newspapers in Australia (it actually did not exist until its online edition was introduced a few years ago, in case you are inclined to take it seriously). Hence you might see a resemblance in the style of that masthead’s headlines to what I have used as the title of this post.

Back before the ‘reform’ of the Victorian Legislative Council in time for the 2006 State Election, it was easy to know who all your MPs were. You had your Federal MP (MHR as we used to call them), your State MP (MLA), and the 2 upper house state MPs (whom we called MLCs, and to whom were given the prenominal title of ‘The Honourable’ to mark the fact that the Legislative Council used to represent the Gentry’s interests). [Let’s not mention the 12 senators representing the whole state – that is far too much to remember.]

The MLCs used to be elected to a double term in Parliament, one per election, two in each upper house seat. The upper house seats were called ‘provinces’ and each covered 4 lower house seats. So they could sit and be complacent and colourless for up to 8 years, without being noticed by their constituents.

But there were only two of them, and they were there for a long time, rather than a good time, so you could, if you had more than a passing interest in politics or good citizenship, know who your local MPs all were.

That changed when the 22 Provinces were replaced by 8 Upper House ‘regions’ each covering 11 lower house seats, each with 5 MPs elected by proportional representation.

So much for the lesson in Victorian Constitutional Law.

When you have 5 MPs representing your local upper house area, plus your Federal MP and your lower house state MP, it is quite a lot to remember who all these civic minded individuals are. And because they are only there for 4 years at a time, as well as so many of them, it is very hard to memorise their names or what they do.

A quick look online tells me that my 5 upper house MPs comprise 3 Labor (Kaushalia Vaghela, Cesar Melhem, and Ingrid Stitt), 1 Liberal (Bernie Finn) and 1 Independent (Catherine Cumming).

I will say that I have not heard the names of two of those three Labor MPs before. They do not put anything in my letterbox and are probably busy congratulating themselves on their achievements. Cesar Melhem, on the other hand, has been in the media for a $20,000 fine over breach of rules of the Australian Workers’ Union a couple of years ago, which shows what a fine upstanding representative he is.

As for Bernie Finn, the sole Liberal, I refer you to the following recent link to see all the news unfit to print about this upstanding and devout practising Catholic:


The final joker in the pack is the former mayor of the City of Maribyrnong, Dr Catherine Cumming (the doctorate is in alternative medicine). She currently sits as an independent, having initially won her seat as a representative of the Deryn Hinch Justice Party in November 2018, and promptly resigning from that party as soon as the poll was declared.

This evening when I checked my letterbox, I found a fridge magnet from the aforementioned upper house MP.

I am delighted by this. None of my other upper house MPs have done anything about sending me fridge magnets (or giving any account of what they have done for the area), but I suppose that they have political parties backing them, and in any event, there are lower house MPs in the area to actually represent it (I think I regularly put newsletters and fridge magnets from Bill Shorten and Ben Carroll in the bin).

Of course, the state election is due in November 2022, and Dr Cumming would like to be re-elected. So now, some two and a half years since she started her term by resigning from the party under whose auspices she got elected, it is time for her to start campaigning.

To get her 16.68% quota to win a second term is going to need a lot of personal name recognition, particularly as one of the reasons she gave for falling out with Hinch was acrimony towards the Upper House numbers Svengali known as the ‘Preference Whisperer’, who has helped minor parties win many upper house seats right around Australia.

In recognition of this, I have not tossed out this fridge magnet like the others. Instead, I have hung it upside down on my fridge, in what is a universally recognised sign of distress.

What a Dumbarton Idea!

Last year, I wryly noted in this blog that a future former friend (whose delusional tendencies border on the certifiable) had once caused me to make a spectacularly unsuccessful speculative investment. At that time, I wrote that the director of the company at the heart of that investment had already prepared a shopping list of luxury purchases for when the company took off and made everyone (including, possibly, me, but especially him) rich to varying degrees.

One of those luxuries was to buy a title of nobility from Italy’s former royal family, the House of Savoy.

That would-be noble is apparently dead now, so I will never get the chance to tell him that he was already 80% of a Count in my book, he merely needed to buy a vowel. A minor regret.

But I suppose, in the current context of nomenclature amongst the upper classes, it is fortunate indeed that the British use the title Earl instead of the continental equivalent of Count.

The breaking news that Prince Harry and his wife decided not to allow their son Archie the immediate usage of the Sussex subsidiary title Earl of Dumbarton not because they wanted him to have a normal life (well, as normal as you can have with the House of Windsor on one side, and a horde of grasping vulgarians from a trailer park on the other), but because that title contained the word ‘Dumb’ in it appears even more salient to me given my above brush with would-be nobility.

After all, imagine what a Count of Dumbarton would get called at prep school….

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge supporter of the current constitutional monarchy in Australia and the rest of the former British Empire (may the sun never set on it!). In my mother’s eyes, Prince Harry, even now, can do no wrong. The 2019 Prince Harry calendar I bought her for a Christmas present still hangs on her wall in its plastic wrapping because it is too valuable to use.

But the delusions and pretensions and mixed messages emanating from the Sussex’s Californian Court in Self-Imposed Exile are starting to wear thin with me.

On the one hand, we are told that the Sussexes want to live a life away from the toxic media glare of the British press. And on the other, they are making a much larger media spectacle of themselves through their interviews with people such as Oprah, their special media deals (of course those based on their unique talents, rather than the fraying affiliation with the other descendants of William The Conqueror), and their pattern of leaking their side of their supposedly confidential interactions with Prince Harry’s family to their favourite royal correspondents, such as the oddly named Omid Scobie.

I use the word ‘correspondent’ rather than ‘journalist’ intentionally here, as I cannot consider someone who uncritically reports whatever crumbs are handed to them, regardless of whether they are true or contradicted by evidence to the contrary, as meriting the title ‘journalist’. Omid Scobie may have now become undeservedly rich on writing ‘Finding Freedom’ on behalf of the Sussexes, rather than in attempting other works of Science Fiction, but he has not earned the title of journalist, although perhaps we could confer on him the sort of variation on Count of Dumbarton which the Duchess of Sussex’s fecund imagination could easily come up with.

A number of apparently awful people on the Markle side of the family have tried to cash in on their family’s leading light’s rise to fame. The half-sister whose memoir is titled ‘The Diary of Princess Pushy’s Sister – Volume One’ springs to mind. Less well known is the TV producer ex-husband, Trevor Engelsson, who was working on trying to get a TV show off the ground about a man whose wife leaves him for a British prince. Thomas Markle, to his credit, seems to be playing Falstaff in this drama without any overt profit motive.

However, with every multi-million dollar deal, every mixed message about abandoning the privileges that come from being part of the Windsors, and every inherent contradiction about why their children do not have titles and whether or not or why they want or don’t want them to have them (FYI Lilibet, as daughter of a Duke, is entitled to be called Lady, and any further sons that may come along are entitled to the courtesy title Lord), the Meghan Markle show is starting to resemble not so much a Court in Exile as a circus, complete with tightrope walkers galore and a few clowns. I am just not too sure who is the ring master.

Dark Emu and Other Great Australian Literary Hoaxes

I once almost was a neighbour of the great Australian poet John Shaw Neilson. For the first seven years of my life, I lived in Gordon Street Footscray, number 156 to be precise, in a neighbourhood which was gobbled up in 1976 by the Footscray Hospital when the brutalist concrete psychiatric facility was constructed behind our homes.

The brutalist concrete building still stands there, ominously empty for many years, and the main entrance to the Footscray Hospital now runs through what was my childhood home.

To the south side of that entrance, there is a historical marker erected in the early 1990s, indicating that from 1927 to 1941, Footscray poet John Shaw Neilson lived at number 152 Gordon Street.

So I am separated by two doors and 28 years from being a neighbour with John Shaw Neilson.

I remember the family that lived there. Robert, the son, was a year older than me and we would play together in the muddy dunny can lane behind our homes. My parents would call the father of that family ‘professore’ because Italians call any teacher with a degree ‘professore’ (he actually was a phys. ed. teacher), just like Italians call anyone with a degree ‘dottore’ (with a small ‘d’).

Footscray has very few famous writers of its own aside from John Shaw Neilson. The playwright Ray Lawler, who wrote ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’, was originally from Footscray, although he has long since left and hopefully is still alive, having turned 100 last month. We still claim the memoirist A.B. Facey as one of our own, and have named a laneway in Footscray West or Maidstone after him, despite his having moved to Western Australia as a child.

And then there is Ern Malley, who mentioned Footscray in one of his poems, and whom we might claim as one of our own except that he was (a) originally from Sydney, (b) living in a room in South Melbourne, and, most importantly (c) non-existent.

Ern Malley was the big literary hoax of the Australian literati of the mid 1940s, the fictional creation of two bored Sydney Uni graduates serving in Melbourne in the Army, which discredited the avant gard Angry Penguins with a hailstorm of derision.

But some, like me, would argue that Ern Malley’s talent as a poet still existed, even if he never did.

Take the following snippets from the purported Malley poem Documentary Film:


Samson that great city, his anatomy on fire

Grasping with gnarled hands at the mad wasps

Yet while his bearded rage survives contriving

An entelechy of clouds and trumpets.

There have been interpolations, false syndromes

Like a river through the hand

Such deliberate suppressions of crisis as


The slant sun now descending

Upon the montage of the desecrate womb

Opened like a drain

The young men aspire

Like departing souls from leaking roofs

And fractured imploring windows to

(All must be synchronized, the jagged

Quartz of vision with the asphalt of human speech)

And what about the poignant words in Petit Testament, where Ern laments:

Where I have lived

The bed-bug sleeps in the seam, the cockroach

Inhabits the crack and the careful spider

Spins his aphorisms in the corner.

I have heard them shout in the streets

The chiliasms of the Socialist Reich

And in the magazines I have read

The Popular Front-to-Back.

But where I have lived

Spain weeps in the gutters of Footscray

Guernica is the ticking of the clock

The nightmare has become real, not as belief

But in the scrub-typhus of Mubo.

Ern Malley’s two ghost writers did what no other writers have done – they anchored the obscure industrial town of Footscray, then on the edges of the Melbourne metropolis, to the rest of the world, to great cities like London, and to major contemporary tragedies like Guernica.

‘Twere he was real.

Ern Malley was the first great hoax of Australian literature. We had to wait some 50 years for the next one, the literary prize winning sensation that was The Hand That Signed The Paper, a novel about an elderly Ukrainian living in Brisbane who had been identified as a Nazi war criminal.

The author was a 23 year old Queenslander of Ukrainian origin, Helen Demidenko, which lent great authenticity to this dark and confronting story.

Except that her real name was Helen Darville. She was about as Ukrainian as Ern Malley was.

Perhaps the Latin quoted on the dedication page was a sly hint: Vox et praeterea nihil – ‘voice and nothing more’, which we would probably translate less literally as ‘sound without substance’.

I am not sure that it stands the test of time as a great literary work, 27 years after publication and 26 years after the exposure of the hoax. But for a 23 year old to write something like that took both great talent as a writer and great imagination, and perhaps her accomplishment was all the greater because she was not of Ukrainian background and could not draw on any cultural capital from such origins.

Perhaps. But despite that, the lack of authenticity has been held against both the book and the author and it cannot be found in bookstores anymore, either under the name Demidenko or Darville. It has been cancelled, like its author.

I will detour for a moment away from overt or apparent hoaxes to mention Nino Culotta, the sometime pen name for John O’Grady, who was writing from the perspective of a Northern Italian migrant making his way in Australia in the 1950s and 60s. As Nino says in the opening to Cop This Lot, the first sequel to the beloved classic They’re a Weird Mob:

“Who the hell’s Nino Culotta? You will say this is an easy question to answer. Nino Culotta is John Patrick O’Grady. So I will ask another question. Who the hell is John Patrick O’Grady? And how can he be Nino Culotta when not even I, Nino Culotta, am Nino Culotta?

“It is true that my name is Nino, which comes from Giovannino, which comes from Giovanni. But it is not true that my name is Culotta. When I wrote the story of my troubles in Australia, I used the name Culotta so that Australians and Meridionali would not throw stones through my windows. I hope they are not throwing stones through this O’Grady’s windows.”

He does go on to say:

“I think that perhaps this John Patrick O’Grady is one of the Meridionali who is only pretending to be an Irishman so he can say he is me.”

He concludes:

“I would like to meet John Patrick O’Grady and bump him on the head.”

Which brings me to Dark Emu and its author, the purportedly indigenous Bruce Pascoe. This book is not fiction and it is not poetry. It is meant to be a history book re-examining the nature of indigenous civilisation in Australia pre 1788. It claims that there was more sophisticated agriculture and building construction prior to 1788 than commonly believed.

The conservative magazine Quadrant has, for some time, expressed considerable doubt about the authenticity of the claims in Dark Emu, and of the ancestry of its author, to the point where the Quadrant website prominently promotes a book published in 2019 rebutting Dark Emu, Bitter Harvest by Peter O’Brian.

[News commentator Andrew Bolt has also weighed into this discussion for quite some time, but as I find him dogmatic and unconvincing on most things, I do not pay attention to what he says.]

Now two academics, Peter Sutton (an anthropologist) and Keryn Walshe (an archaeologist) have weighed into the discussion with the publication of their book – Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate. They have raised concerns with the nature of the research, the lack of sources for some of the material, and claim that it distorts and exaggerates many points, ignoring information which does not support the author’s opinions.

Some 7 years after it’s initial publication, it appears that Dark Emu may be exposed as somewhat of a hoax, given that the newly published academic rebuttal is gaining attention and discussion in the way that Bitter Harvest has not.

The question arises as to whether this matters? Is Dark Emu any different from our various literary hoaxes of the past century?

In the case of Ern Malley, much as I wish he were a real person writing about Footscray, the main significance was to discredit a Sydney literary movement which was essentially a one-man band.

The Helen Demidenko business, aside from causing various public intellectuals to turn viciously on the judges who had awarded her literary prizes, caused us to be denied further novels by someone who was, essentially, a talented and imaginative writer.

As for John O’Grady’s Italian avatar Nino Culotta, all that happened was that migrants were made to feel more accepted in Australia, and we all got to enjoy his books and the fantastic movie which was made of it.

History is a different matter entirely from literature. History is essentially the record of how humanity has developed since we started writing on cave walls (or were created by God 6000 years ago if you prefer). The writing and rewriting of History is a serious business, as it involves a deeper engagement with human nature and the past, and an attempt to arrive at the truth. History is often not what happened, but what we believe happened. And that is where authenticity will matter far more than in the expression of artistic license.

Vale Dr Edelsten

I think, when I was younger, I had a rather blindly Manichaen view of the world (ie good versus evil and all that). Hopefully, I have outgrown such simplistic views as I have accumulated life experience.

Perhaps a remnant of that puerile Manichaenism is my love for villains. I greatly enjoy the Shakespearean villains (Iago, Richard III and Macbeth are my favourites) and of course the Bond super villains. You probably get that from reading my blog for long enough.

As your typical Victorian in the early 1980s, I was very resistant to the growth of the Victorian Football League into other cities and states. I wanted it to stay at the 12 Victorian teams that it had been since 1925. That the hugely mismanaged South Melbourne Football Club had been strong armed into moving to Sydney in order to survive was not something I or other Melbournians were prepared to accept.

And then the cash strapped Sydney Swans, as they now were, could no longer survive as a public club, but were to be sold off to a private owner. To me, this appeared to be an awful act of villainy by the VFL.

And the biggest villain of the whole sorry saga to the teenage version of yours truly was the fellow who was so ostentatious as to offer to buy the Sydney Swans, Dr Geoffrey Edelsten, who was some sort of medical entrepreneur (ie he figured out a way to get very rich very quickly on the newly introduced medicare bulk billing).

The ‘pink doctor’ as he was then called, lived a highly flamboyant life. He had a pink limo, a pink helicopter, and a trophy wife 20 years younger than himself. Myself and my teenage friends suspected that the wife was what we would now call a ‘beard’ to cover up for a gay lifestyle. [His subsequent history with two further and more showy wives has shown me to be probably wrong in this suspicion – he was a sleazy straight man in early middle age who moved onto be a sleazy straight man in his senior years, one with probably very shallow judgment in his choice of life partners.]

But it did seem very sinister to me the way that he went and bulldozed through the sentiments of the remaining Swans supporters and took control of the club. I wonder if he would have behaved that way if someone similar did likewise to Carlton, the club he really barracked for?

He did however, during his brief tenure of the ownership of the Sydney Swans, do some good for the promotion of Australian rules Football in Sydney. He injected money into attracting some stars and a decent coach and even got a cheerleader squad of pom-pom girls (sadly only for home games).

But then it all fell apart as his links to various crime figures came out, and he ended up spending some time in gaol for something or other nefarious.

So, by 1990, you might think that the comet of self-promotion that was Geoffrey Edelsten had disappeared into the void, never to appear again.


He was to reappear, unchastened, with a new fortune (which he lost yet again) and with a couple of colourful new wives, perhaps to match the colourful suits he would wear at high society events.

Whilst we in Australia have never had a show like Keeping Up With The Kardashians, I believe that Brynne, Mrs Edelsten number 2, did have some sort of show for quite some time on pay TV here.

I have occasionally reflected on this blog about how crassness is when rich people behave badly (probably vulgarly is a better description). And there always was something fascinatingly crass and vulgar about the conspicuous consumption on display when Dr Edelston was around, wife in tow.

For a very clever man who had both medicine and law degrees, and who had been able to make several fortunes, I do something wonder at how he was able to lose those fortunes on appallingly bad investments, to the point where he brazenly claimed that he had to rely on his elderly mother in a nursing home to fund his lifestyle (now that was a bit of what New Yorkers would call Chutzpah), as she did not want him to be sad (I think he had been smart enough to make sure he bankrupt proofed himself with a trust fund in mum’s name).

I suppose that the Achilles Heal to Dr Edelsten was not his cleverness, but his lack of a sense of shame and an urgent wish to be loved, and how he confused love with the attention of some beautiful women and regular appearances in the society pages. To achieve all that attention and those headlines, he was prepared to make some appallingly bad investments, starting with the Sydney Swans in 1985 and then continuing a long time later with at least one local film company – appearing at a movie premiere would be a very costly ticket.

I no longer think that Dr Edelsten was a villain. I think, a bit like Timon of Athens in the Shakespeare tragedy, he was a more tragic figure than that, more Quixotic clown than hero, and apparently abandoned Timon-like by his supposed friends when the money mostly ran out. And I will miss him and his public quest to party hard for as long as he could.

My Kingdom for a Horse! Reflections on Malcolm Gladwell’s Latest Book.

For want of a nail, a shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, a horse was lost. For want of a horse, a rider was lost. For want of a rider, a message was lost. For want of a message, a battle was lost. For want of a battle, the war was lost. For want of a war, the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a nail.”

The above time hallowed rhyme (nursery or otherwise) is apparently what actually did happen in the demise of the reign (and life) of one of my favourite Shakespearean villains, Richard III.

And whilst it is not quoted by Malcolm Gladwell in his latest book, The Bomber Mafia, it represents a chain of reasoning which does unpin his book.

Gladwell is one of my favourite non-fiction authors. He has an almost unique ability (shared with Nick Taleb of Black Swan and Steven Levitt of Freakonomics) to see patterns in human behaviour that others cannot, and to explain those patterns in an engaging narrative.

He also seems from what little I know of him, to be a really nice guy.

The Bomber Mafia is rather different from his usual books. He is not so much trying to find and explain patterns in human behaviour but to write a history of an aspect of warfare, specifically the US Air Force’s development of the doctrine and technology behind precision bombing, first in the 1930s, and then in its practical failure in application during the Second World War.

This failure in the practical application of the theory then under the military theorists who at first led the US B-17 and B-29 bomber forces in that war is what led to the alternative – the indiscriminate fire bombing of Japan (even without the A Bomb) under the more pragmatic general Curtis LeMay.

It is a riveting read. Everyone has heard of LeMay of course. But who has heard of the Quixotic General Hayward Hansell? Or of any of the other strategically brilliant men who invented the precision bombing doctrine? Or of the Norden bombsight, an analogue computer of intricate and precise components, which supposedly could drop a bomb into a pickle barrel from 30,000 feet?

Theories and brilliant inventions do not always hold up in real world conditions, and in the 1940s both the Norden bombsight and the theories behind precision bombing did not measure up in the fog of war.

But, as Gladwell tells us in the conclusion, the technology now does allow the USAF to live the doctrine of precision bombing in the present day.

And this is perhaps where this fascinating book falls down. It is a history of half the story, of how the innovative mavericks in the US Army Air Corps developed their strategically brilliant doctrines and what happened to those ideas in practice then. It does not really talk about the here and now.

To go back to the rhyme at the start of this post, For want of a nail, we can get to the crux of what precision bombing doctrine was all about. How about, if, instead of armies, navies, and air forces slugging it out for many year at great cost of lives and suffering in total warfare, there was an alternative? What if the alternative was that you could knock out a key component here or there of the enemy’s war effort or economy in one precise surgical attack, which could quickly bring them to their knees, ending the war almost immediately?

The ‘Bomber Mafia’ of the book and of the US Army Air Corps thought that they had an answer like that, and developed a doctrine that was the basis for US air power planning in the Second World War.

The main example used is ball bearings, which most complex machinery needed (and still needs) to operate. If there was one particular ball bearing factory in Nazi Germany that could be sufficiently damaged or destroyed, then the Luftwaffe would cease to fly within weeks, and so too most other motorised transport in Germany.

But there could be other examples. Railway junctions, pipelines, crucial factories of other components. A complex machine is only functional when all its many parts come together.

The US Army Air Forces failed to take out the ball bearing factory in question, and as a result, mostly abandoned the attempts at precision bombing in Europe. In the Pacific, the risk averse Hansell was not even able to try hitting such targets.

Gladwell is a great storyteller and he does build a great picture of the motivations of the brilliant men who tried to limit the ferocity of warfare with this idea of the surgical strike.

But uncharacteristic of him, he leaves the narrative incomplete, to my mind at least. The idea of taking an enemy out with precision bombing is an idea which can be extended far beyond the realm of air combat, particularly in contemporary times, and I am surprised that a pattern finder like Gladwell has not followed this idea further down the rabbit hole.

We are all, to this point in time, becoming increasingly aware of cyber warfare. Only a couple of days ago, someone caused several popular global websites to crash. A few weeks ago someone closed a fuel pipeline in the USA and held it to ransom, seriously disrupting the US economy. Last year, a cyber attack caused banking systems in Australia to be disrupted for a morning (I did notice this as my credit card did not work immediately when I was buying something).

You do not need bombs, drones, missiles, or fast high flying aircraft to take out key components of an enemy’s economy or infrastructure. You just need a very clever computer hacker with a very powerful computer. [Or at least so I think – what do I really know about what technology a hacker needs?]

The ideas that the strategic minds in the US Army Air Corps were developing in the 1930s are ideas which, if we look at them properly, are now, in our far more technologically sophisticated era, ones which no longer need to ride airplanes into battle to wage sinister warfare. This is the theme which Malcolm Gladwell and other clever and imaginative people need to explore further.

Geez Louise!

Readers of this blog (and there are 3 or 4 I suppose, even though I appear to have lost all the readers from the PRC since the start of January, causing me to suspect my blog has been blocked in Communist China) would know that I am not a great admirer of the technocratic dictator of this state, Daniel Andrews.

However even I draw a line somewhere.

Rumours about the cause of his back injury several months ago abound. Even my mother has heard some of those rumours.

The more PG-rated ones involve an all night drinking session (an admirable pursuit, although I would say that I would probably stop at midnight myself) at the holiday home of a certain very rich bloke, followed by an accidental stumble down the stairs. There are others which involve provoking a sound thrashing to within an inch of his life – the sort of thing which might best be explained by a fall down the stairs rather than more awkward questions and answers.

Much as some members of the public might feel that Premier Andrews richly deserves a sound thrashing (I actually don’t – horsewhipping a cad is a tradition amongst the gentry, not the peasantry from whom I hail, plus I believe in due process, and he has not in his public duties done anything except abuse governmental powers to the full letter of the law), pandering to such rumours is the sort of thing which might rightly be compared to accepting the conspiracy theories of QAnon etcetera ad nauseam.

Which brings us to Louise Staley, the Victorian Opposition Treasury Spokeswoman. She has this week asked several questions, laden with innuendo, about the circumstances of Premier Andrews sad accident.

Even Dan’s sidekick, Jimmy the Echo, has been able to ridicule her:


So, what do I say? Right up until this week, I considered Louise Staley, one of the most competent and definitely the most hard working member of the state opposition, as probably the only member of the state opposition who is a viable replacement for the sullen non-entity (Michael O’Who?) currently serving as opposition leader.

But now? By pandering to the kind of rumours which people talk about in pubs (when pubs are actually open) or in the sort of work places frequented by credulous bogans (and Louise is not a bogan), Louise Staley has in one fell swoop destroyed all the political credibility she has built up with lots of hard work in the six and a half years of her long sought parliamentary career.

Geez Louise. I thought and expected far better of you. I believed you had more substance. But you had to go and outdo Tim Smith in the sort of clumsy wannabe populist political tomfoolery which the state opposition has turned into its trademark under Michael O’Brien’s leadership.

Now there is no remaining alternative but for Michael O’Brien (the bland and invisible man with a face only a mask could love) to saddle up on his battle-llama and lead the Victorian Liberals to oblivion at the November 2022 state election.

Collingwood’s Catbird Seat

Collingwood Football Club’s boast in their theme song that the ‘Premiership is a cakewalk’ is not borne out by recent history. In my 50 plus year lifetime, they have been runners up 8 times and won 2 premierships, as compared to the 11 they won in a 36 year period leading up to 1936.

However, this boast is, when compared to that of other AFL clubs, not particularly extravagant. You can see the comparisons here:

AFL Club Songs Ranked by Ambition and Boastfulness

Rather than Cakewalks, Collingwood seems more preoccupied at the moment by what might be called a ‘Catbird Seat’.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines this term as meaning:

‘a position of great prominence or advantage’

I am particularly interested in the use of this 1940s American idiom in relation to the Australian context of the Collingwood Football Club because of the recent eruption of infighting between the recently installed president and board on one hand, and an alternative candidate for club president on the other.

It becomes particularly interesting because the alternative candidate appears to be heavily backed by the immediate past president of Collingwood, the extremely annoying and oafish looking Eddie Maguire, who was forced to step down as president several months ago after a long reign, brought to an undignified end due to various club cultural shortcomings which had come to light, as well as a list management debacle which has caused the club to turn from recent premiership contenders into cellar dwellers virtually overnight.

Eddie Maguire is clearly sitting in the catbird seat, or at least thinks he is. He believes that he can force the newly installed president out, and replace him and a large chunk of the club board with his own proteges.

This would be to ignore the sad reality that the problems faced by the Collingwood Football Club at the moment are ones which occurred on Eddie’s watch, and that turning back to him and those of his ilk would not give the current board a chance to move on from his plethora of mistakes, but rather to allow them to be repeated.

However, Collingwood supporters are rarely known for their Nobel Prize nominations, or for the scholarly tomes they produce on the lessons of history. We probably should be grateful for that.

The phrase itself first emerged in a 1942 short story by the American humorist James Thurber, which features a battle of wits between the manipulative Mrs Barrows, who constantly brays out ‘Are you sitting in the catbird seat?’ and the mild mannered Mr Martin, the latest target of her office machinations. As it turns out, Mrs Barrows is not, as she thinks, in the catbird seat, and is tricked by Mr Martin into making accusations which cause her to be perceived by their mutual employer as paranoid to the point of insane. Perhaps there is a lesson there for Eddie Maguire.

You should read some Thurber, starting with The Catbird Seat. It is laugh out loud funny, in a rather wicked way, and far more entertaining than anything going on inside the Collingwood Football Club.

Except of course on those occasions when Collingwood loses an AFL Grand Final and causes great existentialist suffering to the myriad legion of their dentally challenged supporters. That of course is always great entertainment.

The Victorian Government’s Not-So-Clever Plan to destroy the Laneways of Melbourne

The 1980s was a more innocent or naive time. Or at least it seemed so to me, given I was a teenager for much of them. Once, circa 1984, I was on an English class excursion to the city to see a movie, and we actually took a chartered bus rather than public transport, and I remember it driving past the Flagstaff Gardens.

I was quite impressed to see a dero strewn on each park bench in the Gardens as our bus drove past. My dad had told me that the Flagstaff Gardens were a bit of a no-go area due to their proximity to a Salvation Army depot in Franklin Street, which was regularly frequented by the deros. It was a bit of an eye opening experience for me then.

Nowadays, if I am on the south side of Victoria Street in North Richmond, between the station and Lennox Street, I barely bat an eyelid when I notice ice users swatting away at invisible demons.

There happens to be a safe injecting room somewhere around there, to the chagrin of local shop keepers and residents.

Now there are plans for the state government to open another safe injecting room within the Hoddle Grid, ie the centre of the city. More particularly, there is a specific site in mind on Flinders Street between Elizabeth Street and Swanston Street.

This proposal has Bad Idea marked all over it, but the brainiacs running the state have not twigged to this yet.

You see, that particular city block has two important Melbourne landmarks located there. One is Young & Jacksons, the most iconic pub in Australia. The other is Degraves Lane, a 100 metre long alley festooned with restaurants, bars and cafes along almost its whole length.

Y&J can probably survive a safe injecting room located several steps away. It has plenty of in-house security, lots of police regularly walking by, and being on the busiest pedestrian intersection in Melbourne will mean that the punters continue to flood in and spend their money in one or other of its bars.

Degraves Street is a totally different proposition. Like a lot of Melbourne’s laneways (of which it is one of the two best ones), it relies on a la fresco dining – tables located on the lane outside each restaurant.

Whist it is not totally unknown to happen, vagrant drug users rarely enter actual bars and restaurants to beg money or otherwise harass the clientele. But they do have a marked tendency to infest outdoor dining and drinking areas on footpaths and in lanes.

Take a case in point from a few years ago. Myself and some colleagues were out one Friday night having farewell drinks for a colleague moving overseas. We were outside a wine bar in Little Bourke Street at the Spring Street end of town. One vagrant, whose face was well known to various of us as he regularly worked that block, came up and bothered me for loose change. In the hope that he would go away and leave everyone else alone, I gave him all the coins in my pocket. Sadly, he then tried to work the entire table for more cash, which struck me as quite impolite, to say nothing of the lack of consideration for the bar owners, who were trying to make an honest living running that business.

Imagine what will happen if a safe injecting room is placed in the proposed location in Flinders Street. Virtually overnight, the a la fresco dining scene in Degraves Lane will be destroyed.

If such a place needs to be imposed in the CBD rather than in a ghost town like Docklands, some more thought might be given to where such a room might be placed, so as to minimise the damage to the laneway culture of Melbourne. It definitely needs to be far away from Degraves Street, or Hardware Lane, or the elbow of a la fresco dining along Bourke and Spring Streets.

I would suggest some moribund pocket, like Flinders Street at the Spencer Street end, where there are abundant bouncers from the King Street nightclubs and strip joints to prevent any flotsam from disrupting those businesses, and where, aside from the after dark life of King Street, the city closes outside of weekday business hours.

Otherwise, the best aspects of laneway and restaurant culture in central Melbourne will be destroyed quickly.