Emma Alberici, you’ve done it again!

Even casual stock-watchers know shares of vaccine-maker CSL go for around $180. But not the ABC’s go-to market guru, stumblebum chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici. She didn’t bat an eye while presenting the closing price as $7.31

emma IIAmong the members of our retired guys’ tennis club there is a boffin who used to work at Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL). When it floated at $2.30 in 1994, he used an idle $10,000 to take up the staff offer. He never sold the parcel. You probably know that CSL has been a sensational long-term investment. When this guy returned my serve, I’d think, “Nice slice, James Packer!”

CSL is one of my rare good picks. I bought  160 shares at about $31 donkey’s years ago, a $5000 investment, and I’ve watched my parcel rocket to around $28,000. So whenever CSL’s share price flashes up on the finance segment of the ABC’s 7pm news, I salivate like Pavlov’s dog. On Friday (May 18) it was ABC chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici handling the finance section. She did an excellent intro comparing Australian and NZ budget and economic parameters. Well done, Emma!

See also:  The ABC’s Alan Sunderland rallies the troops

The great thing about Emma’s stuff is that you can be sure every element has been fact-checked with fantastic thoroughness. That’s because she got the ABC into a wagon-load of trouble with her news story and commentary in February on businesses’ alleged tax  scamming.[1]

Her nine errors in the news piece and general ignorance of the subject saw a cringing ABC beaten up by an outraged Prime Minister, the Treasurer, plus the Communications Minister and business leaders.[2] It turned out that even a prior two-hour briefing from Australian Taxation Office Deputy Commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn had failed to enlighten her to the basics of company tax. For example, tax is paid on profit, not on revenue. Concepts such as carry-forward of losses (think Qantas) were way beyond her reach.

A Treasurer’s adviser  on February 14 sent the ABC a 1600 word email concluding,  “Ms Alberici’s story reveals an inherent bias and is ­activism disguised as journalism, and we would expect more from the ABC’s chief economics correspondent.”

See also: ABC to Complainant: Drop Dead

ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie blamed “inadequate editorial resources” — $1.2 billion a year only goes so far, you know –  for the publication of the articles. The national broadcaster has since increased editorial oversight, she said.

So last night, after New Zealand, Emma moved on to the boilerplate finance stuff — the day’s exchange rates, global indexes and, finally, local stocks.

“Shares in CSL put in a stellar performance today on the back of a fairly harsh northern hemisphere flu season,” Emma said as I drooled at the thought of my expanding wealth. She didn’t mention the price but my eyes flicked to her graphic alongside. The prices listed at the closing bell for Woodside and Santos were spot-on, but was this about CSL?

OMG! According to the ABC, my favourite stock was wallowing at $7.31. Last time I checked it had been over $170. Some utter catastrophe had occurred. Should I hang on – a strategy that served me badly throughout the Great Financial Crisis, or sell and garner $1170 (less brokerage) towards my half-yearly electricity bill?

error albericiNothing to see here, folks, especially subject knowledge and editorial rigour.

Surely, given Emma’s history and  Michelle Guthrie’s “increased editorial oversight”, this $7.31 couldn’t have been just another ABC cock-up? Surely, as the ABC’s go-to guru on matters financial, she would checked the facts and details of her report before going to air?

I checked the price: Oh happy day! My CSL babies were actually at $183!

There’s quite a difference between Emma’s $7.31 and the actual $183. It’s not like she mistook $183 for $138 or $173. If Emma knew just a tiny bit about the company sector, she would have known before going to air and, presumably, eyeballing her script, that $7.31 didn’t compute.

But why $7.31? At first I thought it was confusion with builder Downer EDL which had a $7.31 high on Friday. But the explanation is much simpler: $7.31 was CSL’s increase yesterday, which Emma presented as the actual price.

The ABC– all muscle, no fat –  gets its share prices garbled not just occasionally but often. To the green/lefties there, sharemarket prices must be gobbledegook.[3] Their retirement lifestyle is assured by that 15.4% super contribution from the ABC – all muscle, no fat.[4]

So no-one there has noticed the CSL howler – I’ll demand a correction, just for entertainment. Oh, and Ms Guthrie, ramp up that editorial oversight a notch.

Tony Thomas’s book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here


[1] One piece was headed “Tax-free billions: Australia’s largest companies haven’t paid corporate tax in three years”.

[2] It became a double-header embarrassment last month when ABC political editor Andrew Probyn got busted by ACMA for his anti-Abbott rant last October

[3] More than 40 per cent of ABC journalists who answered a survey question about their political attitudes are Greens supporters, four times the support the minor party enjoys in the wider population.

[4] ABC veterans on the old defined benefit super schemes enjoy 20% plus as equivalent super contribution

Footnote: The ABC has issued a correction as a result of my complaint.

Duffy’s Truck and Me


It would be rash to declare that a 1926 Whippet Six taught a young man invaluable lessons in the ways of the world, but in the Western Australia of the 1940s it did encourage a future artist’s creativity, a healthy regard for self-preservation and, when the clutch failed, a certain skill with obscuring the truth

old whippetAt age 16, in 1940, I was offered a job at Kendenup Stores, a typical country store selling everything from bread to bolts, owned by Mr David H Duff, usually known as Dave Duff, and more usually as Duffy.[i] My appointment was as a result of a recent sacking, which came about as a result of an unexpected return to the Stores by Duffy, who had been checking something on his nearby farm. The sack-ee had been engaged in sexual intercourse with the comely young woman who also worked at the Stores.

I obtained the news of the cause of the sacking at first-hand, as possibly many people did, as Duffy was not a taciturn character. I heard him telling Herb McClure, “I came in just as he was pulling his pants back on, and she, well…” (pointing at the floor) “… there are her heel-marks.”

My days at Duffy’s were most interesting, not least because Duffy was a manager in the true sense of the word. He understood the ways of country people, whether they were old or young. My first name is Samuel but no-one in our large family was called by their christened name.  Mine had suffered, through three elder brothers and no doubt my elder sister, the usual fate of transmogrification to “Plum”. Sam…Samson…Damson…Damson Plum…Plum. I hated Plum as a name, and I had never heard of a damson plum, unbelievably in a township that grew the best apples and stonefruit in the West.

kendenup II

At the Stores (above, as it exists today), I decided I needed a change of name. I said to Duffy, without giving any reason, and of course he knew the nicknames of every child in the district, “I want to be known by my second name, Geoff.” He, being a sensitive soul, and also being built like the man on the label of the Holbrook’s Worcestershire sauce bottle, spread the word and there were no transgressions, bless him.

Duffy had a truck, a very famous truck. It not only was used to deliver all of the merchandise to the Stores from the railway siding, and to deliver orders of goods to some of his clientele, but was the only truck big enough to carry loads of children from the local school to annual picnics. Not many local farmers had cars or trucks even then, the horse and buggy being the usual mode of transport.

Duffy’s truck was a 1926 Willys-Overland Whippet Six (a careful restored model is pictured below). It had a manual gear change, with no such thing as synchromesh, let alone automatic transmission. Its electric charger had long since given up the ghost, and the engine consumed large quantities of lubricating oil. The gear box tended to drop out of any of the higher gears unless the gear lever was held in place tightly, but perversely would remain stuck in low gear of its own accord. Duffy had a peculiar knack of exacerbating these malfunctions, and would ask in his uniquely gravelly voice whether anyone in creation could sort things out.

I had such an ability, even if it was embryonic at this stage. Duffy told me to take off the top of the gearbox, and maybe something would come to mind. There was an internal lever which was partly distorted, and I could see that it had been welded previously and was somewhat misaligned. Maybe if one was careful with the gear stick, some sort of truce could be maintained. I could see that Duffy was not going to spend money on mechanical maintenance, and that tightening up the nuts holding the top of the gearbox was going to be a waste of time.

whippet truck

Sure enough, a couple of days later Duffy arrived at the Stores, and both he and the truck were at boiling point.  Trembling with rage as he made his way into the shop, his portly figure shaking, he roared, “Fix the bloody truck, Geoff!” He had got the gears stuck in low gear at the farm five miles away, and had driven the truck to the Stores at a steady walking pace, engine roaring all the way.

I deftly removed two floorboards, undid four nuts on the top of the gearbox, unstuck the gear, put everything back, and filled the radiator with tank water.  Then two minutes later I announced to Duffy’s bewilderment that the truck was ready. “Christ almighty, how did you do that?”

When I had been there for a few months, Duffy’s confidence in me grew enough  for him to leave me in charge while he went to Perth for two weeks, probably to cement firm relations with the insurance company he was agent for, “Sun Alliance”.

I was putting the truck away at evening closing time, and I could not resist flooring the accelerator on the gravel approach to the garage, which was just rough sapling posts and rafters clad with corrugated galvanized iron sheeting.

Unfortunately several mechanical failures occurred simultaneously. The clutch linkage broke, the gear lever stuck in low gear and the accelerator jammed.

With great presence of mind, I kept the front of the truck heading for the open front of the garage, and I realized that the only way to arrest its progress was to cut off the ignition. I stabbed at the switch just as the radiator went through the back wall of the garage. Why Duffy even bothered to garage it, or to even have a garage for such a heap of junk, I sat pondering as I listened to the last sheet of corrugated iron hit the gravel. The echoes died away and a sprinkle of chaff and a couple of feathers from a bird’s nest in the roof timbers landed in my lap. Luckily the roof stayed up, and even more luckily, I was the only witness to the episode. An early arrival next morning armed with a hammer and some springhead nails would be required to carry out necessary repairs.

I began more sophisticated vehicle handling techniques after this. Having to hand-crank the engine was acceptable but if it started with the throttle advanced and jumped into a forward gear I was a dead man. Surely a safer method would be to put the gears into reverse, so that when and if it started, I could leap through the open side of the cabin, disengage reverse, engage a forward gear and proceed upon my way. I tried the method a couple of times, but getting run over by the front wheels as they overtook me from behind was less attractive than leaping out of their way as I faced them.

My favorite method was to lock the handbrake, pull the choke out, ignition off, gears in neutral and prime the engine with four turns of the crank handle. Then change the gears to extra-low forward, off with the handbrake. Advance the throttle one third, ignition on, and position the crank handle and heave.  A leap to the left, reach into the cabin to grab the wooden steering wheel and manipulate the gear lever to arrive at a suitable forward speed for the voyage to the next obstacle – the gate to the paddock with the killing shed where the mutton was ready hung for delivery back to the Stores. After a time I became so adept at changing gears without the assistance of the clutch that I wondered why clutches were ever fitted to vehicles.

Nearing the gate I would change noisily down through the gears to extra-low again, reduce the throttle setting, align the front of the truck roughly with the gate centre and leap out. I would race the truck to the closed gate and would barely have it open while the driverless truck ambled through with mostly an inch or two clearance to the gate post. I would close and fasten the gate, as any careful farmer would, and race off after the truck if it looked as if it was going to collide with the fence. Otherwise I would roll a smoke as the truck did a wide circle or two around the paddock before we met on the way to the killing shed. I would stop the engine there, load up the mutton and the entrails and be off to the Stores with only three stops to go. One for the gate, one for the pen containing Duffy’s pigs to dump the entrails (waste not, want not), and one to pick up any deliveries from the railway station.

When Duffy came back from Perth, I had to tell him about some of the additional faults in the truck, convincing him that these had occurred gradually and despite the gentlest of handling. Even the glistening new nails in the end of the garage were explained away with brilliant lies. Maybe the fact that I had managed to cart 50 tons of superphosphate from the railway station to the shed at the back of the Stores during the period of slow but steady mechanical breakdown was believable. However when I tried to show him how to drive the truck without using the clutch, he pursed his lips a bit and rubbed his forehead. “I’m not as agile as you, you young coot! Take it over to Colmer’s and get it repaired, but mind you get a quote first.”

The gearbox remained in a terrible state. Apparently the quote was too high, and as long as I was around, Duffy’s truck would be on the road somewhere. A whippet, it wasn’t.

Quadrant Online readers owe this memoir of life in the vanished West to contributor Tony Thomas, who explains that Geoff Allen was his uncle on his mother’s side. We don’t know when he wrote Duffy’s Truck or, for that matter, where and when the cantankerous vehicle ended its days. Geoff (1924-2000) was a Perth artist and later a maker of bespoke jewelry. Some of his pieces are in the collection of the WA Art Gallery.

[i] Kendenup is a hamlet (pop today, 1000) 70km north of Albany.


Monash Uni: Mad, Rad and Dangerous to Knowledge

Green/Left groupthink at Monash University has reached the point where the brains trust thought it a good idea to woo prospective students with a collage of violent social-justice film clips presented against a soundtrack of violent rap lyrics. Here’s a better idea: don’t send your kids there

monashUrgent! Urgent! If you’ve got a degree from Monash University, don’t let anyone know. Your alma mater has completely lost its mind. Who would want to be associated with its agitprop video for recruiting teenagers?  There are more than 11,000 views so far and a swathe of hostile responses from once-loyal alumni and potential students.

The violent and mendacious 60-second montage is also on the university’s home page, creating a university’s minute of infamy. Which of its clips would you vote as the most creepy?

  • A young Monash woman walks up (at 50secs) and defiantly rips down a lecture-theatre wall chart being discussed by three males, two in suits and one is balding. No reason can be ascertained for her wimmynly  rage. The text says, “Our Clayton campus  is committed to being a living example of positive change.”
  • Someone shimmies around wearing a Donald Trump mask. The backing song goes, “Yeah the big bully killed ‘em all”.  The video text blames “populism” for Trump’s election. (The video is supposed to advertise the university’s sophistication in international relations).
  • Monash students demonstrate for “Grants not Fees” – other suckers can pay for students’ privileges. An Aboriginal and a shaved-head woman are to the fore.[1]
  • Aborigines demonstrate (at 40secs) to “Stop the Genocide” (what genocide?) and for treaty-backed sovereignty
  • A polar bear plays hopscotch on ice floes, as proof of global warming’s  veracity (even Monash might have checked that Al Gore’s polar bear peril was and remains a crock)
  • Any of the violence-porn clips crammed into the 60 seconds – from the opening sucker punch by a masked “punch a nazi” hooligan, to injured or dead Arabs to explosions and an elephant crumpling when shot by poachers.

A Monash University spokesperson responded to on-line criticism (emphasis added),

As an institution, we firmly believe in its message. This is us drawing a line in the sand about what we think a top university [Monash ranks equal 80th worldwide] has to contribute to the world. In 2016 we encouraged our community to challenge the status quo and question what is put in front of them in order to move forward. Now we want people to take action.”

The video’s background “song” is Blaccout, shouted by Aboriginal hip-hoppers A.B. Original.  Lyrics with the video include:

Yeah, the big bully built the wall (y’all feel that?)
Yeah, the big bully killed ‘em all (y’all feel that?)

A line from the song, “What the fuck we doin’?” applies equally to Monash’s administrators. Many adults wouldn’t trust teenagers with their car keys or an empty house. But Monash literally demands that its would-be students challenge the social order:

“For sixty years our work has changed the world.
But this is only the beginning. Now it’s over to you. 
Because we’re not asking you, we’re telling you:

The Blaccout song per se appears to incite its audience to start fires, one hopes metaphorically but maybe literally. Mercifully, the lines below didn’t make it to the video:

What you doin’ with your life, boy?
Stand up and then fight, boy
You wanna change their minds, boy?
You wanna start them fires, boy?
What you doin’ with your life, girl?
Better stand up and then fight, girl
You wanna change their minds, girl?
You wanna start them fires, girl?

Another clip shows US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, banging down his gavel. In linked sub-text, Monash claims loftily that its brain researchers are “identifying why some humans can’t help but agree – even when the stakes are high”. The clip seems another cheap shot at the US, not that it makes much sense.

There are two iterations of the video. You can play the 60 seconds straight through on youtube  (the version embedded above), but Monash prefers you play the one on its home page and hit “pause” to bring up an official text/explanation for each element of footage in the clip. About a third of the video is worthy stuff — Monash researching diseases, PTSD, conservation, aged care, obesity and so on.  The rest is green/Left propaganda, such as boat people’s ‘rights’ and jejune pacificism.

An early clip appears to show US troops in Afghanistan. The grammatically confused sub-text begins: “We’ve waged war on ending wars.” It continues with grotesque overstatement, “Our Gender, Peace and Security Centre seeks out roadblocks to peace and demolishes them. [As in the Middle East, not.] We’ve partnered with the Department of Foreign Affairs to help shape policies that work in Asia and beyond. If you don’t like war, change it.” The get a idea of what the centre gets up to, click here for a briefing on gender-related climate matters. And do notice how the research is funded by Action Aid Australia (AAA). Where does AAA get the money to wage its green/Left campaigns? Well, according to the organisation’s 2016 annual report (page 30), from you, taxpayers, via a $3 million grant from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

We should be grateful that Monash psych whizzes will solve the North Korean nuclear crisis. Against a clip of a Kim Jong-un missile launch, they explain:

“Why do we play global games of chicken? Our School of Psychological Sciences applies principles of psychology to topical issues digging to the root of controversy and current events to work out the why behind retaliation and other destructive behaviours. If you don’t like mutually assured destruction, change it.”

Again, Monash offers this dated, corny rhetoric while bragging about its international-relations sophistication.

Other messages suggestive of low-IQ or naive Monash administrators include, “If you don’t like bombing kids/armed conflict/gender inequality/ change it.”  There’s a predictable hint of anti-capitalism ignorance: “If you don’t like boom and bust, change it”. Maybe Monash’s students include lots of little Lord Keyneses.

Equally ludicrous and no less ignorant is a clip of a cyclone with the message,

“Humans are partly to blame for freak weather that destroys our economies and environment.[2] We owe it to the Earth to fix this.[3] In the meantime, our Centre for Excellence of Climate Extremes is improving weather predictions and developing strategies to reduce devastation. If you don’t like freak weather, change it.”

Hmm. Could Monash  also organise some rain on my garden please?

A shot of a glacier calving has text:

“It’s actually not too late to save the planet. We’re at the forefront of efforts to stop climate change and environmental devastation…our researchers are world-leading. If you don’t like global warming, change it.”

Wow, after 4.5 billion years, no more climate change, thanks to Monash’s claque of climate scientists.

It takes only 26 seconds for the virtue-signalling by Monash dilettantes to spectacularly backfire. Fulminating against cyber-bullying, they cite as “hate speech”  a tactless tweet in 2013 by a 30-year-old American PR manager, Justine Sacco, who was then subjected to an on-line pile-on by tens of thousands of social justice warriors. One  example, “We are about to watch this @JustineSacco bitch get fired. In REAL time. Before she even KNOWS she’s getting fired.” Fired, she was.

Her 2013 tweet, which she says was silly and self-mocking, read, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She later told the New York Times, “I cried out my body weight in the first 24 hours. It was incredibly traumatic. You don’t sleep. You wake up in the middle of the night forgetting where you are.” She released an apology statement and cut short her vacation. Workers were threatening to strike at the hotels she had booked if she showed up. She was told no one could guarantee her safety. All-oblivious to her destroyed life, the bullies at Monash write:

“As cyberbullying and trolling become increasingly common, our Education faculty is focused on examining their impact and developing strategies to protect the vulnerable from being drowned out. If you don’t like hate speech, change it.”[4]

The video includes the obligatory bleeding-heart clip of boat people being rescued. “Conflict. Persecution. Eviction. We’re seeing unprecedented numbers of displaced people denied access to the most basic right: safety… while in sharp relief, our Australian Border Deaths Database aims to prevent grave tragedies becoming banal statistics. If you don’t like social injustice, change it.” A glance at the data base shows well over 2000 deaths, the vast bulk from foundering of people-smugglers’ leaky boats during Labor’s permissive regime. The Monash intellectuals fail to notice any connection.

Monash is located close to the epicentre of Sudanese teenage home invasions. But it’s hard to know what to make of this Monash entry:

“Being safe in our own homes should be a right not a privilege. Our Civil Engineering department serves as a leader in engineering for extremes, protecting society by making our infrastructure more resilient to the pressures of fire, flooding and attacks [by whom?]. If you don’t like unsafe housing, change it.”

Perhaps Monash engineers now design steel-grilled safe-rooms in houses against ethnic gangs, as used in South Africa and PNG.

In a few cases the text gets Monash off the hook. For example the brutal opening clip is of a man in suit talking on a Washington street and getting sucker-punched by a masked Antifa-style thug who runs off. The speaker was real life Richard B. Spencer, a (non-violent) white supremacist. The sub-text includes,

“The rise in extremism is undeniable.  Crying ignorance doesn’t cut it. Our Global Terrorism Research Centre  gives us a view, and our partnerships with the UN ensure a clear direction. Understanding the underlying causes are (sic) the first steps to eradicating terror. If you don’t like anarchism and terrorism, change it.”

Although fatuous, the message seems to disapprove of both parties. Oh, and predictably, the entire video contains no hint about  the Islamic terror convulsing Western countries.

Hostile on-line YouTube commenters let rip.  Note they seem to emanate from the Monash and student community, not from political junkees.

“Xal: Crossing this university off the list, anyone who wants a future as anything other than a whining self righteous parasite should do the same.”

Only Guest claims the video was “(p)resented to a group before official release. In Q&A somebody asked if this video will deter some researchers and students and your answer was ‘We don’t want them’. So much about diversity and inclusiveness.”

AndyZ: I was considering doing a PhD at Monash. Forget about that. This is a classic example of  what Jonathan Haidt describes as an ‘activist’ university.[5] I am much more interested in going to a ‘truth’ university; that is where you will find open minds.

Even loyal Monash alumni are appalled.

GR writes, “I absolutely applaud the achievements of your alumni and researchers. It is my opinion that this video is rife with a political agenda from the imagery and the backing track. Extremely well produced and edited, I might add, I really liked it. But as an educational institution, funded by the public, why are you taking an obvious (to myself and clearly a few others in the comments) political position? This video, I interpreted as a dog whistle to the minority of radicals that have interests in tearing down institutions, values and traditions that built the free world.”

A blogger names himself as a Monash academic and writes

“Shame Monash Shame! Great way to start the day opening up the ‘my.monash’ page on my office desktop to have this ‘Rubbish’ in front of me. This does not reflect a politically bi-partisan viewpoint and if it is intended to attract students, it’s (a) poor marketing tool. As a teacher at Monash are we  expected to have this looping on big screens during our enforced attendance at the next open day?”

Luke replied:

“You’re a brave man. I advise you to screenshot this exchange should a kangaroo court inquisition follow. Thanks for tackling the serious question of overt political bias in academia.”

Eddie, self-described as a former soldier and alumnus:

“I’m saddened by this aggressive propaganda, which blatantly endorses extremism.”

Chowzoo: “Even worse, they’ve somehow entitled themselves to the moral high ground. Many, many people aren’t receptive to that, in fact it turns them off completely.”

Pramoda: “You lost me when you put Donald Trump’s effigy in the video. From that point you lost your plot that you are talking about global issues as (the) vast majority of us don’t see a democratically elected leader is a problem. …(It) would have been more appropriate to show an undemocratically elected  leader Xi Jinping. You know, the guy who’s just elected himself leader forever! But that might alienate your core customer base. Chinese students… :)

The Monash officials took fright at the hostility and began posting rationales, referring critics to the pause-and-text facility on the version of the clip at their website. Their efforts reinforces the criticisms. They appear delusional about Monash and its 80th place on the world rankings:

“This isn’t about Monash taking a position — political or otherwise. We are tackling the questions of the time and not just taking a stand on global issues, but working towards solving them.”

That wan response did nothing to mollify critics:

Julius: “Ridiculous. How are you ‘solving’ the problems of the world? You aren’t.   You are actually creating more hate and fear by making a nasty video that preaches anarchy and violence.”

Rex: “Whether a student decides to engage in political discourse or not should have nothing to do with you. By taking a position, you alienate the students attending Monash that hold different political views to the ones presented here.”

Karl: “Cultural (M)arxism needs to be thrown in the dustbin of history. Instead of trying to fallaciously ‘fix’ society, how about fixing yourselves?”

Bernard: “I thought going to Uni was about getting an Education and not about solving someone’s personal anger management issues.”

These drew more response from officials:

“We think of a university as a place to develop critical thinking abilities and challenge the status quo to make the world a better place. What students choose to do beyond that is up to them. It’s our job to equip them with the tools to enact the change they want to see.”

Once again, the university’s response prompted obvious — and angry — comments:

 Graniteau: “Caption — ‘Rebellion strongly encouraged’. You must be kidding yourself if you couldn’t see how this can be interpreted as partisan propaganda.”

M-L: “Monash University is now seriously off (my)  list or at least at the very bottom. I’m so disappointed because I was impressed with The Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and it was a serious consideration for me together with the Qld Con. How can you allow such radical political propaganda to be representative of Monash?”

The officials tried again:

“We firmly believe attending Monash will help contribute towards change. What students choose to do while they are here, and beyond, is up to them… We’d love to have you join us! … Universities enable students to develop critical thinking skills, feel encouraged to challenge the status quo and be exposed to diverse people and cultures, broadening our understanding of the world and the issues we all face. Progressing positive change can be as simple as having the ability to consider different perspectives and cultures and have (sic) a more open mind. And that does the whole world good.”

More criticism

Ralph:  “My children wont be going anywhere near your pathetic university. I’d like them educated not indoctrinated.”

This prompted Monash’s online sophist to respond:

“Monash is not taking a position – political or otherwise.”

Which again incited furious responses

Jon: “Not taking a position? Pffft, just look at the lyrics of the music you have chosen. ‘Changing minds by fighting people’… honestly this is so dumb.  By a ‘university’ too! WTF?”

Julius: “Monash, is it an IT bot replying to posts? The replies by Monash are inane and blah blah robot leftist speak.”

Saturn580: “Go ahead, turn your once-respected institution of learning into a playground for radical left-wing activists. See how well that worked out for Universities in the United States.”

Summing up, the video disaster is an all-too-revealing insight into the monoculture at Monash. In most large institutions, review processes cull outrageous material before it can cause any public disgrace.  At the Monash Monoversity, the groupthink is so strong that no-one imagined the video could backfire.

Tony Thomas’s book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here

[1] The next clip features anti-gun bisexual Emma Gonzales 18, a survivor from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

[2] Losses  from  weather disasters have declined since 1990 after adjustment for population increases and density. The IPCC 2013 report disavows that warming has increased most forms of violent weather.

[3] Note the quasi-religiosity

[4]  A similar instance of Monash know-nothing (or deceit) is the familiar pic of power chimneys belching the supposed black clouds of CO2: “If you don’t like our future going up in smoke, change it.” The university pledges to be 100% renewables powered by 2030, “acting as a living lab to prove that a sustainable future is possible.” I suspect they’ll keep emergency diesel generators in the basement.

[5] Haidt is an American social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University‘s Stern School of Business

Warmism Gets a Courtroom Thrashing

While professed journalists were taking dutiful dictation from local alarmists keen to blame bushfires on global warming, a telling court case has been unfolding in California, where catastropharians set out to sue Big Oil for wrecking the planet. It hasn’t gone as planned

gavel globeThe current tactic of global-warming catastrophists is to sue major oil companies for wrecking the planet — never mind that fossil-fuel energy has lifted billions from squalor and back-breaking toil during the past 150 years and continues to do so. The most advanced of these cases is now playing out in a US federal court in San Francisco before Judge William Alsup. Because he’s insisting on evidence about human causation of warming, the case has tested the soundness of orthodox climate science and so far found it wanting.

Leading sceptic scientists have also submitted briefs, opening up a climate debate warmists have been desperate to avoid for the past decade. This article will look at the court case and then at the history of climate debates.

In the US there’s a rash of lawsuits by green/liberal plaintiffs against the federal government and oil majors, with one echoing the ‘children’s crusade’ of 1212. The plaintiffs, 21 kids the youngest no more than ten, have been marshalled to sue the US government for allegedly fostering climate warmth  and degrading the kids’ “rights to life, liberty and property”.[1] One plaintiff, 19-year-old Sophie Kivlehan, is the granddaughter of James Hansen, godfather of the global anti-CO2 jihad and a man who has obscenely compared coal trains with those that transported Jews to Nazi extermination camps.[2] [3]

But the big excitement last week was the so-called “Exxon knew” lawsuit brought by the cities of San Francisco and neighbouring Oakland against  five  oil majors.[4] The two plaintiffs claim the oil producers conspired Big Tobacco-style to conceal the climate harm of their products. The majors are supposedly responsible for the local sea level rise and should therefore pay billions of dollars for sea walls, dykes, whatever.

Well, yes, it’s all ridiculous. The San Francisco tide gauge (1854-2016) shows an upward trend complicated by some sinking of the land — the city is, after all, in an earthquake zone, and has been rocked repeatedly — but the “rise” is still a mere eight inches over the past 100 years. The plaintiffs’ lawyers are nevertheless making their song and dance about the rise, savouring a reported 23% of any damages to be paid by Big Oil. Their case relies by necessity on future sea-damage forecasts by the shaky CMIP5 suite of climate computer-models, and then they need to demonstrate that the oil majors are responsible, as distinct from, say, car and truck drivers who actually pump out the emissions. Another six Californian counties and cities are trying to run similar cases and in New York, the city wants $US20 billion restitution from the oil majors (less, of course, a hefty cut for the lawyers).

Keep in mind that the San Francisco establishment is a cat’s cradle of loopiness. Power prices have risen at five times the rate in the rest of the US while California leads the US (like SA here) in generation from renewables. Ex-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose beefiness apparently extends to his brain, is preparing his own lawsuit suing the oil majors for first degree murders of the populace.  While posturing about Big Carbon’s lethal climate vandalism Schwarzenegger continues commuting in his king-sized Hummer and helicopter.[5]

In the San Francisco-Oakland case, the two cities were immediately wedged by Big Oil’s lawyers, who noticed that they had issued billions of dollars worth of civic bonds with no alerts to investors about the watery peril they now claim to be facing. Ergo, these bond issuers either deceived investors or their current protestations about the peril of rising seas is intended to deceive the judge. That has been far from the only embarrassment. One example: Professor Gary Griggs, of University of California Santa Cruz, warned the court of  San Francisco being engulfed by ten feet of water. This was countered by Chevron’s lawyer, who noted that in a recent state government document the very same Professor Griggs put the chance of California seeing a ten-foot sea level rise at just 0.1%.

What’s more exciting is that the case has become a trial of the warmist orthodoxy which insists most of the global warming of the past 50 years is anthropogenic. In the recent past warmist zealots have argued for  punitive fines, jail and even the death penalty for those disputing their catastrophism.

Judge Alsup is a Bill Clinton appointee, which might at a glance suggest a likely affinity with the plaintiffs’ cause. But he is also a former engineer and, before that, a B.Sc. in mathematics. Moreover, he has a reputation for personally probing complex non-legal issues, rather than relying on rival expert witnesses’ to-and-fro. While presiding in Uber v. Waymo, for example, he asked for a tutorial on self-driving car technology. In Oracle v. Google, he taught himself some Java programming language, to help understand the case. This time Alsup asked the climate-case parties to each give him tutorials on the science of global warming. Of the majors, only Chevron did so. Leading sceptics also presented their own case as amicus curiae or “friends of the court”.

The warmists’ top academic presenter was  Oxford physicist Myles Allen. He has long been itching to see oil majors sued, telling the BBC in 2003,

“The vast numbers affected by the effects of climate change, such as flooding, drought and forest fires, mean that potentially people, organisations and even countries could be seeking compensation for the damage caused…

 “Some of it might be down to things you’d have trouble suing – like the Sun – so you obviously need to work how particularly human influence has contributed to the overall change in risk.

“But once you’ve done that, then we as scientists can essentially hand the problem over to the lawyers, for them to assess whether the change in risk is enough for the courts to decide that a settlement could be made.”

Judge Alsup handed down a list of nine questions, some sagacious (What are the main sources of heat that account for the incremental rise in temperature on Earth?) and some naive (Given the increase in human population on Earth [four billion], is human respiration a contributing factor to the buildup of CO2?). When the five-hour tutorial unfolded in court last Wednesday he had done such massive homework that he could correct the experts.  At one point a discomfited Myles Allen confessed, “You may know more of this history than I do.”

The judge had a good  grasp of climate issues: “Nuclear would not put out any CO2, right? We might get some radiation as we drive by, but maybe, in retrospect, we should have taken a hard look at nuclear?” Alsup asked plaintiffs. “No doubt solar is good where you can use it, but do you really think it could be a substitute for supplying the amount of power America used in the last 30 years?” Alsup also created a flurry by commenting from the bench that the “conspiracy” of oil companies (to disguise the climate harm of their products) looked far-fetched: “From what I’ve seen, and feel free to send me other documentation, but all I’ve seen so far is that someone [from an oil major] went to the IPCC conference and took notes. That’s not a conspiracy.” He hasn’t dismissed the lawsuit (as often misreported) but the plaintiffs now have an uphill battle.

Reporter Phelim McAleer reports that Alsup also mocked the numerous times IPCC predictive models got the current climate trends wrong, the judge saying to Chevron’s lawyer: “So your point is that [IPCC] models overstate the problem. Instead of doom and gloom, it’s just gloom”.

Chevron endorsed the IPCC orthodoxy but enjoyed citing the many caveats in the body of the 2013 report that were glossed over in the Summary for Policymakers.[6] One example: climate models run hot compared with actual temperatures. This has forced the warmist plaintiffs into “denying” the IPCC itself. Katherine Heyhoe, a Texas Tech University climate scientist, now argues the 2013 IPCC report has been made obsolete by newer climate models. Predictably she now says everything is all much worse than we were formerly told to believe.

The sceptic case was presented in briefs by one team – Christopher Monckton, Willie Soon, David Legates, and William Briggs — and another from William Happer, Steven Koonin and Richard Lindzen. Another sceptic-like brief was from the Concerned Household Electricity Consumers Council. The Happer team’s summary is

  1. The climate is always changing; changes like those of the past half-century are common in the geologic record, driven by powerful natural phenomena
  2. Human influences on the climate are a small (1%) perturbation to natural energy flows
  3. It is not possible to tell how much of the modest recent warming can be ascribed to human influences
  4. There have been no detrimental changes observed in the most salient climate variables and today’s projections of future changes are highly uncertain

The Monckton team case is here, with summary:

There is no “consensus” among scientists that recent global warming was chiefly anthropogenic, still less that unmitigated anthropogenic warming has been or will be dangerous or catastrophic …

Even if it be assumed [for the sake of argument] that all of the 0.8 degC global warming since anthropogenic influence first became potentially significant in 1950 was attributable to us, in the present century little more than 1.2 degC of global warming is to be expected, not the 3.3 degC that the   IPCC had predicted.

Put side by side, the pro and anti IPCC cases create a high-level “climate debate” which warmists have long fought to prevent. “Do not debate!” has been warmist policy  ever since their talent was trounced by the sceptic team in a two-hour New York public debate at Radio City Hall in 2007.[7]The audience initially polled 57.3% to 29.9% for a “Global Warming Crisis”, but after the debate that flipped 46.2% to 42.2% in favour of the sceptics.

US warmist “experts” subsequently refused even to share platforms with sceptic rivals if informed critics of their shtick are given equal standing. In March, 2013, Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA/GISS climate group, fled the TV interview room (from 6.20 mins) when he learned Roy Spencer, an expert on earth temperature readings from satellite, was arriving and would subject him to questions. A year later Dan Weiss, the director of climate strategy at the liberal Center for American Progress, did an equivalent runner rather than face sceptic Marc Morano in debate, as did Hollywood icon and “Titanic” director James Cameron in 2010.

In a recent exception, warmist Jon Christensen (UCal LA) and sceptic Willie Soon (Harvard) went head to head at a Comedy Club in Los Angeles in January. The result was not scored but the audience jeered whenever Christensen denied California’s soaring power prices were hurting low-income families. The debate can be viewed below.

Several debates have been run in the UK, although BBC Scotland in 2014 banned broadcasting thembecause they would “be in breach of the editorial guidelines on impartiality”.[8] The BBC, notoriously, lied for years and fought FOIs in the courts to maintain that its policy to muzzle sceptic views on climate had been recommended in 2005 by a panel of top science experts. It was finally revealed that 25 of the 28  panel members were green activists and journalists. Only three were current scientists (all alarmists).

The ABC’s Robyn Williams on the Science Show last June 24 purported to run the sceptics’ caseunder the teaser header “Has ‘Denying’ Won?” but in multiple ways stacked the deck to ensure warmist Andy Pitman had the last word on all sceptic propositions.  Those points, in any event had beenpicked and snipped by Williams.

Gillian Triggs, former head of the Human Rights Commission, last Friday backed the ABC’s one-sided handling of the climate debate, saying,

“Should we give equal time and weight for ignorance? Interviewers often employ the technique to put an opposing view and asking the interviewee to comment. The consequence of repeating the ill-informed view as a provocative question has quite the opposite effect in giving air time, oxygen and apparent credibility to a false view.” [9]

It is remarkable that, despite all the warmist establishment’s efforts to suppress criticism of the tattered Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming narrative, most of the Australian public (54%) has seen through it or aren’t convinced. Don’t believe me? Believe this CSIRO survey.

Judge Alsup will throw out the San Francisco City’s lawsuit, for sure. But, meanwhile, the case is shedding delightful light on the wobbly warmist case, and putting sceptic science on to the world stage.

Tony Thomas’ book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here


[1] The kids or their mentors demand that CO2 be brought down from 400ppm now to 350ppm in 2100.

[2]Extreme weather events, including Hurricane Sandy, have caused Sophie to miss school on many occasions; hailstorms have damaged her house; floodwaters often inundate roads to her house; and Sophie has even been forced to prepare for tornado warnings, which are very unusual for the area where she lives.”

[3] This case is rolling along, with an appeal court this month requiring the Trump administration to submit to trial, likely some time this year.

[4] Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, BP and Royal Dutch Shell

[5] As a Republican and governor, Schwarzenegger signed into law in 2006 an Act for the State to cut emissions by 2050 to 80% below 1990 levels.

[6] Exxon’s official position is: “The risk of climate change is clear and the risk warrants action. Increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere are having a warming effect. There is a broad scientific and policy consensus that action must be taken to further quantify and assess the risks.”

[7] The warmist team: Gavin Schmidt (NASA),  Richard C.J. Somerville (Scripps), Brenda Ekwurzel (Union of Concerned Scientists). Sceptics: Richard Lindzen (MIT), Philip Stott (U. London), Michael Crichton (physician/novelist).

[8] The BBC refuses any balance between warmists and sceptics because sceptics’ views are  “based on opinion rather than demonstrable scientific validity”.

[9] Integrity/Jim Carlton  Annual Lecture at Melbourne Law School.

Allah is an Englishman

Holding a critical opinion of Islam is now grounds to be locked up by British officials, particularly if you intend to speak about terrorism, homophobia, misogyny and other unfortunate elements of multicultural enrichment. Indeed, being ‘right wing’ is enough to see the door slammed

gagged toleranceOn May 31, 2015, I did a Sunday gig at Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner, which since 1872 has been an icon of free speech and British tolerance for dissent. I spoke with gusto, as pictured below, on the global warming scam but it was a rainy Sunday and my audience ranged from zero to five. My wife alerted me that none of the five, all fellow-tourists, were fluent in English.

How times have changed.

tony thomas pulpitLast week Her Majesty’s Government thwarted an attempt by Generation Identity’s Austrian leader Martin Sellner, 29, to speak at Speaker’s Corner on “threats to free speech in the modern world.” He had been scheduled to speak at a UKIP youth-member forum but Leftists as usual threatened violence and the forum was cancelled, re-scheduled, and cancelled again for the same reason. He then forewarned authorities that he would give his speech instead at Speaker’s Corner.

Therese May’s “conservative” government responded by detaining him on arrival on March 9 at Luton Airport, claiming he was a racist who would provoke violence among spectators in Hyde Park (i.e. by Leftists). As persona non grata he was deported two days later. Sellner said, “I think it’s embarrassing the government is so afraid of me speaking. You can hold the speaker but you can’t hold the ideas.”

His lady friend Brittany Pettibone, 25, a Kansas-raised gonzo YouTuber and author, was with him and got the same treatment. Her main work this year has been filming a documentary on the murderous attacks on white farmers in South Africa. Sellner, with Pettibone accompanying, was a leader of the “Defend Europe” campaign last August, ineffectually targeting boats run by NGOs which sought to “rescue” illegal immigrants off the Libyan coast and bring them to Italy.

Pettibone was deemed by UK authorities a threat to civilisation because she planned to interview Tommy Robinson, another right-wing blogger whose past included anti-Islamic polemics and stints leading the English Defence League (EDL), along with gaol terms for a variety of “political” and ordinary offences. A complex character, he is by no means the Satan he is officially designated. See the Pettibone interview below.

Pettibone tweeted the official letter explaining her deportation. It is vulgar, Orwellian and weirdly illiterate. Any sane person would dub it a hoax. It maintained that this intelligent, outspoken young woman threatened “the fundamental interests of society”, no less, and would “insight” local tensions.

To: Brittany Alicia Merced Pettibone:

You have asked for leave to enter the United Kingdom as a visitor for 5 day (sic) but as you stated in your interview, I have reason to believe that you are seeking admission to the United Kingdom to interview Tommy Robinson – a far right leader whose materials and speeches incite racial hatred.

You stated at the interview that you will be filming your boyfriend Martin Sellner speech (sic) at speakers (sic) corner (sic) in London Hyde Park (sic).  Your boyfriend admitted in the interview to being a co-founder of the Austrian branch of  ‘Generation Identity’ which is viewed in the UK as a right wing organization.

Furthermore, Your (sic) boyfriend  have (sic) in his possession the Leaflets (sic) with scenarios regarding (sic) possible violence in his speech.

I believe that your planned activities whilst in the United Kingdom bear (sic) a serious threat to the fundamental interests of society and are likely to insight (sic) tensions between local communities in the United Kingdom…”

On the same weekend the UK’s Border Force swooped on a third potential wrecker of civilisation, Canadian Lauren Southern, all of 22 years of age. Like Pettibone, she happens to be drop-dead gorgeous, and a scourge of Left feminism. She’s a sponsor of right-of-centre views on the internet (half a million followers), author and creator of amusing stunts at the expense of the politically correct and the Religion of Peace.[i]  In one I really liked (below) she tested Ontario’s  sex-identity regime by firstly persuading a GP that she identified as male (30 minutes) and then using that doctor’s letter to get a driver’s licence as a male from a state public service (another 30 minutes). She fronted in make-up, high heels etc and just said she’d felt like a male for years and now liked hitting on women. The clerk immediately began addressing her as “Sir”.


She was about to enter the UK via bus but was hauled off at Coquelles, at the French end of the Chunnel, and interrogated for six hours under Section 7 of the Terrorism Act (2000), which deprives her and anyone else of normal rights such as to remain silent and have access to a lawyer during the first hour’s interrogation. The Act was brought in to thwart imminent terrorist atrocities. Ms Southern is about as likely as Bambi to stab or blow up British citizens.

Interviewed on-air by Tommy Robinson (below), she told of being asked by Kent-based police, “Are you a Christian extremist?” And “How do you feel about someone driving a car or truck into a group of Muslims?”

Southern: “I literally started laughing. ‘What? Sorry I’m laughing, obviously I think that is horrific, in general a pretty bad thing to run a car into a bunch of people. I think you have your priorities messed up.’”

Police: “How do you feel about right-wing terrorism anyway?”

Southern to Robinson: “It was insanity.”

Robinson: “Do you think they would ask a Muslim detainee, ‘How do you feel about people running cars over non-Muslims?’ It’s scandalous, it would never happen.”

To keep her spirits up, she did successfully identify herself to the police as “Pakistani”.

Eventually they agreed to phone her father to let him know she was detained. Although awoken at 4.30am (US time), he had the wit to record the conversation. The official said Southern was “just answering a few questions” under the Terrorism Act.

Official: “Just so you know (laughs), it sounds worse than it is. Not that we suspect her of being a terrorist or anything like that. We have the power to stop anyone who meets certain criteria.” [at 7.30 minutes]

From his own lips, an admission that their use of the Terrorist Act was an abuse of State power…

The authorities deemed Southern a racist because, if you believe the main media (a bad mistake), she had handed out tracts saying “Allah is gay” in Muslim-heavy Luton, Bedfordshire. Put aside the authorities’ mistaken belief, also held by our ABC, that to be anti-Islam is to be ‘racist’. Here’s the facts:

Vice magazine, which has a British operation and edition,  ran a story  by Jules Suzdaltsev in 2015 asserting that Jesus was gay. He wrote,

“Worshipping at the feet of a ripped, hung man, seems at least a little homoerotic. But it’s Jesus himself who lights up my gaydar like a Christmas tree. He’s a skinny young otter-like guy, flocked by a mess of dudes, telling everyone to love and care about each other, who later gets the shit beaten out of him by a bunch of closed-minded conservatives who are terrified of change… As it turns out, this is not a unique theory. Dr. Reverend Bob Shore-Goss, an openly gay senior pastor, has written several books on the subject, including Queering Christ and Jesus ACTED UP: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto…”

Southern, an avowed Christian, wondered how Muslims would respond to their own fountainhead being branded gay. So with anti-Islamic crusader Tommy Robinson, she unveiled posters and handed out fliers in Muslim-heavy Luton with a faked “LGBTQI for Islam” message, namely, ‘Allah is Gay, Allah is Trans, Allah is Lesbian, Allah is Intersex, Allah is Feminist, Allah is Queer, Allah is All of Us.’ Who could object to that, in this LGBTI-friendly and gay marriage era?[ii]

Big  surprise! A great many bearded gents did object. The police shut her show down for the sake of public safety, but laid no charges. The authorities bided their time and struck by deporting her this month.

Southern complained, “I would hope that [the UK] would be pro-freedom of speech, and support people’s right to question Islam, to even have cheeky posters, make jokes and social experiments, to give a speech at Speakers Corner.”

The UK government’s vigilance in intercepting two young Christian women at the border contrasts with their official bumbling which recently allowed more than 400 British fighters for ISIS to come home  from Iraq and Syria and disappear into the community, for good or more probably, for ill.[iii]At the same time the authorities have cranked up desperate attempts to equate the menaces from Islamic and from far-right terrorists. Any terrorism is vile, but the relative UK body counts speak for themselves. If the letter to Southern is a guide, even to be “right wing” affronts the “conservative” May government.

The BBC in weasel words reported that the three deportations were “a move that some say is part of a crackdown on the far right”.

The media piled on by soliciting Leftist groups such as HOPE not Hate and the US-based Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) to slander the deported trio. The SPLC, for example, claimed Southern’s YouTube interviewees “tiptoe at the precipice of outright white nationalism” and branded her the “alt-right’s Canadian dog whistle.”

HOPE not Hate CEO Nick Lowles let a cat out of the bag by saying the government is now going after “softer targets on the hard right”. “These are people who have huge reach on social media, they are peddlers of online hate, and the online reach of right-wing hate preachers can have disastrous consequences.”

In other words, this new phase is naked political censorship. Ben Wallace, May’s security minister, dismissed complaints that he was treating two young Christian women as greater threats than  jihadis. “Total bollocks,” he tweeted.

Bollocks? You be the judge.

Tony Thomas’ book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here.

[i] Barbarians: How Baby Boomers, Immigrants, and Islam Screwed My Generation. Written when 20.

[ii] Note that the mainstream media, by abbreviating her words to “Allah is gay”, distort her  message to discredit her.

[iii] Research by The Soufan Centre estimated that only Turkey (900), Tunisia (800) and Saudi Arabia (760) had larger numbers of returned foreign fighters.  About 300 fighters have returned to Germany and 271 to France.

Welcome to Palermo, but Don’t Mention the Mafia. 1/10/2014

Laden-down and confused tourists, we arrived at Palermo central station on a quiet Thursday evening. We found the taxi rank, where a helpful concierge directed us to a taxi in the middle, a small surprise. We showed our apartment address to the driver and he got under way while chatting on his mobile. The route seemed very circuitous and the bill came to seventeen euros. Giving the driver the benefit of the doubt, I tipped him one euro. We found next day that the direct route was a mere three kilometres, which we later walked. The taxi concierge had directed us to his pal as specially plump victims. The driver also turbocharged his meter.

It’s small-scale stuff but part of the culture here: if it’s a tourist, fleece it. On the grand scale, the local mafia has dominated the place for a century, except for a bloody interlude in the 1980s when intruders from Corleone killed 1000 city rivals.

The mafia’s heyday was between 1950 and 1980, when it literally ran the place, selling parklands, school sites and clinics to builders of shoddy apartments. Remembering the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 AD, the locals here refer to the mafia’s “sack of Palermo”.

Mussolini saw the mafiosi as rivals and imprisoned hordes of them. The arrestees persuaded the invading Americans that they were the cruelly-treated anti-Fascist resistance, and were rewarded with government posts and mayordoms.

Lately, the mafia has been tapping funding from the European Commission. Robbing ratepayers is naughty, but who is the victim if a few billion euros of EC and World Bank funding vaguely dissolves in shabby Palermo projects? The Italian Foreign Ministry estimated this year that total Italian mafia turnover is 200 billion euros a year, compared with the EU budget of 140 billion. I have an image of the mafia as Danae, naked and with legs akimbo, being fertilised with showers of gold from the EC playing Zeus.

On Sunday evening we went to see Bellini’s Norma at Palermo’s opera house, the biggest in Europe behind Paris and Vienna. The acoustics were as good as claimed but the production director, a German, for some reason had updated Gaul’s Druidic struggle against the Romans to the 1960s, with men in suits armed with rifles and the hero in horn-rimmed glasses. Yawn.

The opera house shut in 1974 for some safety improvements, but thanks to mafia-augmented cost overruns and official red tape, the funds ran out, the roof leaked, and this magnificent place mouldered away for twenty years, finally reopening in 1997. Try imagining the Sydney Opera House as a spectacular ruin for twenty years.

Just north of the opera house is the Palace of Justice, a huge monolithic building flying the EC and Italian flags. Its site must have involved a hectare of slum clearance, and slums still border the precinct. The style? Mussolini would love it. The builders? Count in some mafia companies.

The mafia’s bread-and-butter business is protection money from business, called the pizzo, and unlike official taxes, payment is enforced from 80 per cent of Palermo businesses, who pay about 160 million euros a year. In 1991 a small business refusenik got three bullets in the head. Supermarkets in Palermo are also mafia-influenced, rather as if Coles shoppers were assisting the Bandidos while Woolies shoppers were being skimmed by the Comancheros.

In 2004 a group of five young graduates revolted against the pizzo and started a community-wide movement called “Addio Pizzo” (“Bye bye Pizzo”). Motto: “A whole people that pays the pizzo is a people without dignity.” About 200 businesses have put up Addio Pizzo logos, seeking preferment from shoppers, rather like use of the “Australian made” logo. I didn’t notice any logos, but wasn’t looking out for them.

We were rubbernecking in the 900-year-old Palermo Cathedral, which is austere compared with the Baroque-run-riot style of some churches and the lurid gold-and-mosaic-encrusted palaces from the time when Palermo was one of the top four cities in Europe. The cathedral had the usual niches for long-dead saints and big-wigs. But in the middle of the south side was a modern niche with a brown marble tomb and educational signs and posters.

The tomb commemorated Father Giuseppe Puglisi, then fifty-six, who was shot in 1993 with a silenced pistol by a mafia hitman, Gaspare Spatuzza, for proselytising among youngsters in the slums where the mafia recruits its foot-soldiers. He also caused offence by refusing to let mafiosi “men of honour” march at the head of devotional processions, a long-standing Palermo tradition. Puglisi’s archbishop, Cardinal Ruffini, used to deny the mafia even existed: “So far as I know, it could be a brand of detergent,” he commented.

The assassination caused an uproar and, to some extent, forced the Church to stop pussy-footing around with the mafia, one edict ordering that not even a dead mafioso should be admitted to a church unless he had repented. Puglisi was beatified in May 2013 as “the first martyr of the mafia”.

We had another take on the problem when we went on an ill-starred expedition to the stunning Norman cathedral at Monreale, which crowns a steep hill about eight kilometres out of town. We waited an hour for the late bus and when we arrived all on the bus were tipped out at the foothill, without explanation even for the out-of-town Italian sightseers. It turned out that we needed to transfer to a mini-bus for the final stage. Anyway the cathedral lived up to its reputation of 1000 years and was covered with quaint mosaic versions of medieval-biblical life, with a Noah’s ark including peasants poking their heads out of the portholes. There had been some extensive renovations and I learnt later that the Bishop of Monreale, no less, had been indicted for siphoning renovation funds.

I was intrigued by a map reference to a piazza of the “Thirteen Victims” at the seafront end of Via Cavour, imagining these were mafia victims. On the way there to inspect, I noticed a placard outside a tobacco kiosk featuring a pig’s head and a header (translated): “New Mafia, Old Horrors”. It took me a while to work out that it was a Palermo magazine, and I bought a copy for three euros, which turned out to be good value for ninety-eight pages of anti-mafia stories by a gutsy editorial crew. Strangely, the production was as glossy as Marie Claire, and with twenty pages of full-colour ads from equally gutsy businesses. (The first ad, I’m embarrassed to report, featured the “F**k Boredom” fashion label, and used unexpurgated English.) Contents were a montage of anti-corruption and mobster exposés, with plenty of incriminating scanned documents, portraits of malefactors and leaked cop-photos of homicide crime scenes. It seems that the mafia is no longer willing to enter the glare of publicity by bumping off respectable and prominent opponents—clerics and, dare I say, journalists—and instead diverts its energies into lucrative white-collar crime. The magazine has been coming out monthly for seven years. Notwithstanding some of our local unions, I can’t see Melbourne supporting a 100-page monthly of crime and corruption exposés.

When I got to the Thirteen Victims piazza, I headed for the old-fashioned monument on my right, in a patch of weeds, untended shrubs and junk. I felt a bit indignant, but zooming in for a photo I discovered that the victims were executed there in 1860 as revolutionaries by Bourbon soldiers, not mafiosi. My tunnel vision had distracted me from a red-rusted steel tower four storeys tall in the centre of the roundabout, within a neat sea of grass. The script (translated) read, “To the fallen in the fight against the mafia”.

I couldn’t get up close because the park was railed off, but I noticed a wreath against the railing on the other side. I went around and found the flowers were real, not plastic, probably put there the day before. There was a picture of a bloke in a white suit with his baby-blue Fiat and a three-word message translating to “You are our life” but no name or detail. Weirdly, his original pork-pie-type hat was literally spiked on the fence. My wife later suggested that it was an anniversary of his murder.

An open-decked red tourist bus went past and I watched to see if anyone turned towards the steel tower. No one did. Clearly this was not featured on the pretty-Palermo commentary.

Right behind and alongside the waterfront were several lumps of what was left of a big castle, set in a paddock. This had been a complete-ish castle with a fine history of repelling invaders, until 1922 when the port authority on a whim knocked it down for some project that never eventuated. The paddock is now in use for hideously amplified night music entertainments, which we suffered that night at our flat twelve blocks away.

Back at central station, our scheduled train had become fictional. I can’t believe that even Mussolini made the Italian trains run on time.

The Wedding Brawl on the Road to Goroka

When I organised a lift with some locals in their ute from Mount Hagen to Goroka, I little foresaw the cultural complexities.

It was mid-April 1986, and I waited for some newfound friends in the main street. A stranger sidled up—he must have been keeping me under observation. “Beware of those men. They are bad and you will be in danger. I am from the CIS,” he whispered urgently. The CIS was the prisons service. As my three new friends emerged, the CIS man delivered his faux-Wagnerian punchline: “This,” he warned, “is Hagen.”

I was a fairly timid accountancy editor on a study of tax-effect accounting and lease-or-buy decisions in the highlands. At least, that’s what I put on my expenses claim.

Hagen is indeed a tough town. A few months earlier, a potential investor had flown in and teamed up with an accountant at the airport. They arrived in town as the police were tear-gassing rioters. Every shop window in the town had been smashed in retaliation for some offence to clan honour by a white man. Paybacks are fairly indiscriminate, as I was soon to discover.

Nevertheless I had reasonable confidence in my new friends. Victor, aged somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five, wore a Talair Airlines promotional T-shirt, once white but now dark brown, and ragged shorts. He was bare-footed. We’d struck up a conversation in the local ANZ bank where I entertained him with the holographic bird on my Visa card. He sported a bushy black beard coated with dust. But he had an open, happy face and his grins displayed Hollywood-standard flashes of teeth.

I told him of my problem. I had to travel 150 kilometres from Hagen to Goroka in three days in order to catch my plane back to Port Moresby. An expected lift had fallen through, I had no driver’s licence for a hire car, and I’d been strongly warned never to ride in the PMVs (public motor vehicles, or minibuses) used by the nationals. One expat had told me that a white passenger had been dumped by a PMV driver fifty kilometres from nowhere.

So I asked Victor, should I risk a PMV? He laughed, and said, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

Victor turned out to be an elementary school teacher on a few days’ furlough. He was mission-educated, with a copious store of biblical allusions, folk wisdom and proverbs. “Fear not my beard,” he said, or quoth.

I suggested he come on the bus to Goroka with me. He had a better idea. A friend had a Toyota Scout ute and would take us in style.

We found the ute at the registration office where the driver, Bocil, was having difficulty getting a roadworthy certificate. The ute consisted of little more than the metal cab, chassis and tray from which the plastic and other non-steel materials had disintegrated. But by some miracle (don’t ask) the roadworthy was obtained and the Goroka trip was stitched up for the following morning.

I was still perturbed by the CIS man’s warning and confronted Victor. “I do not know that man. He should not judge a book by its cover,” he replied. I decided Victor was trustworthy, but it turned out the CIS man was not wholly wrong about Victor’s pals.

The truck rolled up an hour late next morning with Victor, Bocil and two escorts. One of them, Mick, was older and wiry. He wore a sort of turban over his balding pate. In attire and comportment, he made Victor seem a Beau Brummell.

Neither Victor nor I had mentioned paying for the trip. This issue had to be resolved sometime, somehow, but it seemed uncouth to raise the subject up-front. Mentally, I was trying to estimate fair payment for man-days, petrol, whatever, but it was all too hard. Victor likewise had his expectations, but these were enmeshed with highlands culture. His expectations of me, while dramatic, had nothing to do with wage rates and out-of-pockets. The misunderstandings formed the sequel to our adventure.

The trip began as a rural idyll—the ute labouring up hills to vistas of dark blue mountains, lush high-country forest, patchwork gardens and little clusters of huts. Our engine roared through rust-holes in the muffler.

As we made our way along the rutted road from Hagen to Goroka, civilisation’s infrastructure faded away. The track became a goat-trail and bridges were a few wobbly logs stretched over the creek beds.

It seemed a day marked for festivities. We stopped in front of a band of forty villagers, the men near-naked and carrying bundles of spears. The bare-breasted women wore elaborate feathered headdresses and shell necklaces. A trio of them giggled flirtatiously with our party. “Nice little bitches!” Victor said to me sotto voce—his only vulgar remark for the whole trip.

One man was totally blackened with oily gunk, as though he had been dipped into a pond of warm tar. His eyes gleamed whitely out of his black facial carapace. He raised a quivering spear and ran at me, stopping just short while everyone laughed at my ill-concealed fear.

The party divided to let us drive through and we continued for half an hour through roadsides of cane and scrubby vegetable plots. The fresh spring morning was giving way to a hot midday.

Suddenly Mick banged on the cabin roof. He had heard singing of some sort down to the left. Soon we caught up with a throng of excited people hurrying to a big wedding.

We stopped the ute and I distributed my valuables—cash, cards, travel bag and air tickets—among my four pals, since nothing could be left in the ute.

The groom was from the Arnge clan on a hill near the road while the bride came from up the further hill. She was being decked out in her finery by relatives.

The day before, a dozen pigs had been slaughtered and on the ground was a pyramid of blackened cooked pigs’ heads and great slabs of fat. On the groom’s hill four young women, gorgeously decked out, were dancing and singing, welcoming the bride to the clan.

The village courtship is rather like ours—the couple live together for several months before the marriage bells (or drums) tie the knot. The bride’s price was $6500 in cash, eighteen live pigs, twelve dead ones and one live cassowary. This bird or beast, eyes glaring hate, was trussed to pinion its powerful legs.

I was a most acceptable guest as all parties loved being photographed. My ever-present notebook cramped my photographer style, so I gave it to Mick. We got separated.

A number of tablecloths marked out a clearing, with respective clans at each end. The bride-to-be capered across, her tall headdress of red and yellow bird-of-paradise feathers bouncing. She huddled briefly while presents were fished out of a well-made wooden box. Then she capered back with bunches of banknotes now pinned to her blouse and long skirt. She kept repeating the trip and her pinned-on money stacks got ever more lavish.

As a courtesy to an honoured guest, they handed me a piece of pig fat. I expected it to be similar to the fat bits on pork roasts at home. But it was undercooked and shockingly rank.

Shortly, a commotion broke out on the bride’s hill. People began running and shouting and whacking each other with their long sticks. Something barbaric and un-Melbourne-like was happening. “Get back in the truck!” shouted Victor as he ran towards the fight. The cab was locked so I tried to make myself inconspicuous on the tray.

After some time, Victor returned looking distressed. Just as suddenly the combatants cooled down and I could walk about again. My valuables had been secured or retrieved—possibly ransomed—but my shorthand-filled notebook was lost. “Someone is hiding it, don’t worry,” said Victor.

It transpired that the groom’s clan had grabbed the notebook and now wanted an unspecified sum for it. Their justification was that I would probably write bad things about their village.

The drama began to crystallise. A small group of elders squatted on one side of a dip in the ground; Victor, myself and one escort on the other. Haggling was in plestok, the local language. I fed Victor some good lines about my high status with the PNG government and how I would post my best photograph of the bride to the village. Their disbelief was manifest.

As far as I could make out, the notebook’s ransom was around $A1000. I was delighted when Victor eventually retrieved it for what he said was $1.40. The real figure, I found out later, was $30, which he had paid secretly from his teacher’s $75 weekly pay-packet. The notebook was crumpled and damp with someone’s sweat but I could have kissed it, given the many days’ work it contained.

Our escort Mick turned up with a bloody nose, split lip and swollen face. He set off on foot back to Hagen and thus ended his active role in my story.

There were other ripping yarns on the road to Goroka. But it all ended happily as I smuggled my three remaining pals into my hotel room for the night and treated them to their first ever hot baths, television and clean sheets. Several hours of television wore them out, especially Victor, who had made determined efforts to write down every joke in an episode of The Two Ronnies. The three lay on the double bed like sardines and were asleep in seconds.

In the morning I gave Victor a good grilling about the fight and the following story unfolded.

Our escort Mick was a slightly bad man, and when some of the groom’s people had been in Mick’s territory he and his friends had beaten them up. The clan could hardly believe its luck to find Mick in their midst carrying my valuables. He claimed some sort of diplomatic immunity, which they chose not to recognise. They set about giving him a thrashing, which had drawn Mick’s own people into the fight.

My valuables had been captured, then recaptured. Mick’s survival prospects had seemed dubious but he managed to flee into the hut of a Christian woman, who then refused entry to the revenge-seekers. Eventually he had crept away and rejoined us.

Victor had sufficient status to act as peace-maker, running between the combatants and shouting “Stop the fight!” in plestok. He assured me that if anyone had attacked him, his friends would have fought to kill. “Our wontok system is very tight indeed,” he said.

Victor confided his hope to win a seat in Parliament in Moresby next year and expel an expat lecturer who had given him a “fail” grade at teachers’ school. He also wanted to visit me in Melbourne. “But not all dreams come true,” he said wistfully.

I gave him what I thought was generous pay for the trip, although finance in these parts didn’t seem to make sense. For example, the $6500 bride price was astronomical, even without the supplement of the pigs. Maybe these weddings kept everyone poor but chuffed.

Back home in Melbourne, I noticed that women in Little Collins Street kept their breasts covered, and was relieved that waiters at lunches for the press did not serve semi-raw pig fat.

In the mail about two months later came an envelope with a PNG stamp. Victor, in good copperplate, hoped I was well, and asked if I could send him enlargements of the colour photos I had posted. No problem.

As I recall, the letter finished:

Right now we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed. The coffee harvest was very bad and coffee prices are bad too. We also bet on the forward market that coffee prices would go up. We’ve paid all we can but we don’t know how to get the $14,000 still left.

How is your wife? Give her our best regards.

Your best friend, Victor.

My heart sank. I couldn’t become guarantor for their coffee speculations. I posted off the enlargements with a friendly letter, but knew I was letting Victor down. He would lose status mightily in Mount Hagen.

Nor is there any tidy way to wrap the story up. For me, life went on and memories faded. I hope Victor came through all right, and doesn’t think too badly of me.

Later, an old PNG hand was able to explain to me the high bride prices. Some funds were recycled from earlier bride exchanges. Clans are often large and each member can be arm-twisted to put in, say, 100 kina from sources like coffee sales. No one bothers about savings so anything in the bank is taken out. “And anyone who has a government job might ‘find’ a bit of cash stashed somewhere or get their hands on a saleable asset,” my informant said.