“Little prick” postscript.

      This piece is intended to reassure two old (as in the long time rather than advanced age sense) and dear friends who kindly contacted me on Messenger to express their anxieties for me after perusing my previous post, and any other readers who may be similarly concerned for my physical and mental health.

     Yes, I admittedly did turn up for my appointment with destiny in the form of my first AstraZenica shot two days ago. And for all those who suspect me of thus flirting with fate, I’m happy to be able to report no sign whatever so far of anaphylactic shock or any others in a long list of potential after-effects.

     Though of course I can’t be too sanguine yet about my chances of surviving the vaccination, as the rare blood-clotting condition associated with if not caused by the AstraZenica agent reportedly takes between four and ten days to rear its ugly head.

     All that being said, however, I’m aware that most readers of my “Just a little prick” piece will be in suspense, not about my post-jab well-being so much as whether the lady who administered it prepared me for the experience by uttering that magic but menacingly ambiguous phrase.

     And I can now reveal that she didn’t, thus disappointing me and no doubt many of you too. Instead, in the event, the best she could come up with as she prepared to plunge the needle in was the comparatively simple and straightforward caution that I “might feel a slight sting.”

     Which I did, I suppose, though it was far, far slighter than many other stings I have experienced physically from such sources as sunburn and insect bites, or psychologically from painful rejections of my social and/or sexual advances and countless other similarly stinging and otherwise painful pricks to my self-esteem.

     A thought brings me sharply to the point of this piece, which is that my initial dismay at being deprived of more opportunities to try and entertain myself and even perhaps you with word-plays on the word ‘prick’, has been greatly diminished by my subsequent realisation that ‘sting’ can also has serve this punny if not particularly funny purpose,

     Because the entire anti-Covid vaccination campaign in Australia has been a series of stings as in con-jobs on us citizens by the Morrison-led federal government.

     The first sting was Morrison’s attempt to Morriscon us months ago into believing that Australia was at the “front of the queue” for supplies of vaccines. And since then he’s attempted a whole series of other typical Morriscon-jobs on us. First claiming that it was the fault of the European Union that not enough vaccine doses had arrived here, and that the various Australian states had been slow in dispensing those that were available.

     And now he’s desperately trying to Morriscon us into trusting the AstraZeneca vaccine if we’re over 50 years of age, and waiting for the Pfizer or other one if we’re younger, having meanwhile himself received the Pfizer one, and probably also having thus safeguarded his own family.

     The all-too-predictable result of this series of stings is that only a tiny proportion of Australians so far have fronted-up for their jabs, or, if you prefer, little pricks, and the numbers of vaccine vacillators like my aforementioned anxious Facebook friends have absolutely soared.

     As, I presume, have the numbers of the absolutely numb-minded among us, the anti-vaxxers.

     But as far as I’m concerned personally, it’s a case of so far, so good, AstraZenecawise, and I’ll be happy to keep you posted on my progress with further postscripts; always presuming, of course, that I manage in the meantime to avoid my own post-mortem.

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“Just a little prick.”

I just can’t wait for my first dose of an anti-Covid vaccine that’s scheduled for tomorrow morning, because during the long, weary wait for it the suspense has been almost killing me.

As always, for a start, I’m dying to discover whether the medical professional who administers the shot will prepare me for possible pain with what I have found to be the phrase most commonly employed for this purpose, and which I have employed for the headline of this piece.

These words are always well-intended, I know, but far from diminishing any physical discomfort I may experience from the jab, always strike me as so ambiguous as to send me into agonies of self-appraisal.

Not, as I hasten to assure you, because I have any anxiety in the penile dimensions department, having long come to accept that about average seems both adequate to me personally and perfectly acceptable to my partner(s).

But in the psychic rather than the physical sense, the reminder of what a right little prick I’ve all too frequently been, or at least behaved like, in the past, and presumably remain capable of even at my present advanced age and late stage, I find painful in the extreme.

Admittedly the theory of human psychological development that I most admire, the one famously proposed by Erik Erikson, posits that we face inner conflicts in each of eight stages of life, and by successfully resolving these in each stage we can advance to the next.

Thus, or so Erikson’s story goes, we evolve from infancy through childhood, adolescence, adult good-sense and so on until, if we survive long enough, we experience and hopefully resolve the ‘integrity Vs despair’ conflict of senescence.

However, as I can’t help being reminded by the “just a little prick” message, according to Eric Berne, founder of Transactional Analysis, which he brilliantly explained in his best-selling book “Games people play”, we are all forever capable of reverting to earlier psychological life stages, and that we veer wildly between the ‘ego states’ of child, parent or adult even from moment to moment.

Thus each of us can be an ‘adult’ responsibly driving a vehicle at one instant, a ‘child’ reacting with road rage at the next, and a ‘parent’ punishing ourselves for being so easily upset by others’ behaviour after our fit of childish rage is over.

Certainly this is all too evidently and often embarrassingly true of my own behaviour. And I don’t have to examine my entire life’s history to illustrate this. In the space of just this morning, for example, I’ve already switched from my inner ‘child’ who tried to refuse to get out of bed, to my inner ‘parent’ who made me do it anyway, then to my inner ‘adult’ who proceeded to a favourite café for coffee and grown-up conversation with one younger and another older female friend, and then to my inner ‘adolescent’ or even ‘adulterer’ (neither, I think oddly, not mentioned by Eric Berne) at the sight of attractive women on Facebook.

So you can see that I’m perfectly reasonable in hoping that my vaccinator won’t spoil my morning tomorrow by, albeit with the best of intentions, reminding me what a right little prick I’m doomed to be forever being capable of behaving like.

Nor, I fondly hope, will he/she mention the word blood, as that would only cause me a quite unnecessary stab of anxiety about the one-in-a-million chance of experiencing AstraZenica-related clotting.

And would additionally trigger my inner child’s infantile rage at all the bloody clots, from outright Covid-deniers, through anti-vaxxers of all varieties, to the members and ministers of the current Australian Government who’ve once again so vividly revealed that they’re incurably clueless and truthless in their seemingly endless vacillations when it’s come to rolling-out this vaccination program.

Even worse, it would even further enrage me at the fact that that some people, like, for example, Brazil’s president Bolsonaro, who are such supreme bloody clots when it comes to caring for the welfare of their people that they’re absolute bloody blots on the human race.

A thought that serves to console me a little that, as much of a little prick I apparently can’t help being at times, despite Eric Berne’s expert assistance with pin-pointing my ego state at any given moment and, if necessary, changing it for the better, the world is full of far bigger and badder little pricks than I could ever possibly bear to be.

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Horticulture versus warticulture.

     I know, I know. Incurable optimists and proponents of positive thinking will reprove me for not counting my blessings, looking on the bright side, and monkeying around making an effort at seeing, hearing and speaking no evil. But there are times when I just can’t help letting life get me down.

     Like today, for example, when one of my principal refuges from the woes of the world, horticulture, is once again feeling more like warticulture, fraughticulture, or even as my friend PV has suggested in a comment, hurticulture.

Because the bandicoots about which I wrote almost a year ago in posts including ‘Guardin’ the garden’, ‘The garden plot thickens’ and ‘Bandicoots and BNdicoots’, and long ago thought I’d banned from my small plot of land, are back.

     Or maybe they’re not the same band of bandicoots as before, but new bandirecruits that are so busy bandirooting-up my plants once more. But whatever, they’re going to be the banedicoots of my existence until I can bandiboot them out, or, if you prefer, persuade them to exporticulture themselves away someplace else.

     And I’ve got the same problem with the kind of love that’s even dearer to my heart than horticulture, human amourticulture. Because while everything’s as much a Garden of Eden as ever in my consorticulture, daughterculture and moreticulture departments, there are so many serpents in the grass, worms in the apple and other forms of warticulture around in the wider world as to threaten to overwhelm my feelings of adoreticulture with abhorticulture.

     Closest to home for me are the revolting revelations of rape, sexual abuse, whoreticulture and rorticulture that have been breaking over Australia’s Parliament House in Canberra in recent weeks.

     I have to confess that I have mixed feelings on this matter.

On the one hand I’m both sad and mad as in angry about all the allegations of rape and other forms of sexual abuse of women.

And on the other I’m glad that it’s the current Liberal-National Coalition federal government that has been revealed as going so feral, as these scandals could spell the end of its efforts to turn parliament into its partisan parliarment and Canberra into its own Conberra.

Or, when it comes to accepting the scientific and starkly evident reality of climate change, or taking any action whatever to ward it off, Can’tberra.

But, as Prime Minister Morrison/Morriscon/Morriscan’t so self-destructively remarked last week about the recent Women4Justice march on Parliament/Parliarment House in a misguided attempt to appease female voters, at least his regime doesn’t shoot protestors on the streets.

A statement that, however flawticultural it was proved to be in the opinion of feminists, and indeed all of Morrison’s enemists, was at least a change in that it was true, and drew attention to the slaughterculture currently being inflicted on the people of Myanmar by its goreticultural generals.

I’d like to go on a good deal longer about all the other flawticultures and aborticultures that I’m feeling soreticultural about today, like, for example, the perennially Planet-plaguing problem of human greed for power and possessions, or what can appropriately deplored as more, more, moreticulture, and get back to some healing horticulture.

 But after a couple of hours and 500 words or so of hard thoughticulture here at the old keyboard, I’m so tired I need a nap. Or, in other words, a retreat from all the nightmares of wakefulness into the blissful unconsciousness and hopefully sweet dreams of snoreticulture.

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Rain reigns.

Maybe I suffer from water on the brain, as my darling wife is fain to complain, because I really am somewhat insane on the subject of rain.

While recognising that rain can be a bane for those who, like my spouse, hail from Malaysia or some other similarly wet and humid domain, to me it’s hardly ever a pain.

In fact there are few greater pleasures than falling asleep, or even, as I am here and now, trying to stay awake and do some tapping on the keyboard, to what the old Cascades classic calls “the rhythm of the falling rain”.

Or, come to think it, now that I’m musing on music, feeling as delighted as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid did when I’m outdoors and realise that “raindrops are falling my head”.

Because that these song-celebrated “pennies from heaven” are very likely also falling on the gardens, parks, farms and bushlands that all too often in this land Down-Under, are both figuratively and literally dying for a drink.

Or even a life-saving sip. After all, as the old local cliché goes, Australia is the most rain-poor continent on earth after Antarctica, even though sometimes, like today, it pours.

In fact it’s a continent and country of extremes, as expressed in the most celebrated work of one of our most famous poets, Dorothea Mackellar (1895-1968), the first verse of which goes:

I love a sunburned country

A land of sweeping plains,

Of rugged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains.

This wild oscillation between too little or even no rain and far too much is doubtless what explains, if not in my wife’s view excuses, my obsession with the weather. Or, in other words, with the question of when it will rain, or whether.

As I rather dimly understand it, this significantly depends on whether the so-called Southern Oscillation across the Pacific Ocean is in the grip of El Niño, its heating, drying and bush-firing of Australia phase, or of its opposite, the cooler and rainier La Niña.

The most extreme example of this switch between the two that I recall ever experiencing, was back in 1972, when I and my wife at the time bought a farm near the town of Wellington, about five hours’ drive west of Sydney.

As my beloved now London-based son will surely recall, at the time that we closed the deal and decided to take-up residence at this property, it was looking depressingly like a desert as a result of year after dreary year of what the local old-timers deemed a once-in-a-century drought.

But the very day we moved in it started raining, and didn’t stop until the creek between our homestead and the town was impassably flooded, and the formerly parched soil was so waterlogged that our car, Landcruiser and tractor kept getting bogged.

And just recently we’ve seen a similar switch, from the heat-waves and firestorms of our ‘black’ summer of 2019/20 to the far greener summer and now autumn of 2020/21, during which the customary sun, sand and seaside holidays have been mostly a series of drizzly or showery brollydays, and today, as for the past week, it’s raining, as they say, cats and dogs.

While of course welcoming the rain, I’m always sad to see that so much of it that falls on the city goes down the drain. And even sadder to witness the woe it causes people in the country when too much of a good thing causes rivers to overflow and flood farms and towns.

As is happening right now in a great many districts north of here, and even threatening parts of Sydney itself. With the result that, as fervent a rain-lover as I am and presumably always will be, I wish that at least the heaviest of the downpours would stop.

But I’m afraid this won’t happen until the currently-reigning La Niña finally either rains herself out, or, if you’d rather, reins herself in.

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I don’t know about you, but I’m becoming more and more angry at algorithms that are not nearly as artificially, let alone smartificially intelligent as they and their creators apparently imagine that they are.

A particular example of an algorithm that inspires my angst is the one that Facebook employs in its sadly misguided aim to target me with only the posts and match me only with the people it thinks it’s figured-out that I’d prefer.

Presumably one of the ways in which it attempts to plot my preferences and prejudices is to record the items and individuals I click on.

But, as efficiently and accurately as it performs this, let’s face it, relatively simple arithmetical task, the algorithmic decisions it then proceeds to make on this evidence are alarmingly lacking in rhyme or rhythm.

With the result that, while it aptly interprets the love-hearts I plentifully award to posts of and by attractive females, and acts as a positive galgorithm to give me more, it’s a complete malgorithm in its inability to interpret the ‘ha-ha’s I give to pests promoting UFO sightings, alien conspiracies and other such piffle as meaning that I can’t stand them.

Similarly, it seems saddeningly, maddeningly incapable of making up its mind whether to be the palgorithm, botanicalgorithm, animalgorithm, satiricalgorithm, comicalgorithm, or, in short, the algoodrithm that I personally prefer it to be, instead of an alGodrithm that persistently permits the pious to prey on my patience with posts about praying.

Speaking of preying, however, the Facebook algorithm is in this sense vastly preferable to the one employed by the current feral federal Australian government’s welfare agency, Centrelink.

For years Centrelink pestered and punished its hapless clients with a program dubbed Robodebt, which was based on an algorithm that allegedly identified people suspected of rorting the system and receiving payments larger than they weren’t entitled to, or weren’t entitled to at all, and automatically demanded repayment from them.

The trouble was, however, as it eventually turned out, that the Robodebt algorithm was a total Robodud at distinguishing between the truly-indebted and the genuinely debt-free.

And though the courts finally deemed this scheme illegal, and the government was forced to repay around a billion dollars to its innocent victims, this wasn’t much consolation to those who’d been figuratively hounded to death in the process, or literally driven to suicide.

All of which puts my misgivings about my mistreatment by Facebook’s algorithm seem pretty petty if not totally trivial. A thought that reminds me of how much happier I’d be with it if only it didn’t, in addition to alGodrithmically annoying me with cod religious beliefs and malgorithmically with UFOlogy and other such foolish fantasies, keep trivialgorithmically irritating me with such idiotic inconsequentialities as Harry and Megan’s Oprah interview.

But hey, that’s enough writing for now. Time to get back online and take a look at Facebook, and see whether its algorithm is performing algoodrithmically in my favour or algrrrrithmically against me today.

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Bamboos and bamboo-boos.

As bombastic as I am about the beauty and bounty of the entire botanical world, I have special affection and appreciation of bamboos.

Members, surprisingly, of the grass family, and astonishingly variable in size from dwarf to gigantic species, to me they’re unsurpassed for both their elegance, as displayed everywhere from nature, through ornamental plantations to oriental art, and their virtually limitless versatility.

They serve almost every conceivable purpose from essential fodder for giant pandas and dietary delicacies for species ranging from mountain gorillas to humans; as aids to eating in the form of chopsticks, and to cooking in a wide range of culinary equipment; as materials for making other domestic articles like mats, sun-blinds and furniture; as construction materials as strong as timber yet infinitely lighter; as rafts and other craft; as conduits for household and irrigation water; as sources of fibre for the manufacture of fabrics and paper; as and, perhaps most importantly in this era of increasingly serious global warming, tremendous resources for the capture and sequestration of atmospheric carbon.

And also, for all I know, some people make bamboo leaves, stems or both into refreshing beverages or bambrews, or even ferment them into various kinds of bambooze.

But who am I to be going on about what an amazing boon bamboos are? Most of you, my valued readers, are either in or from Asia, and thus are far better-versed than I’ll ever be in the virtues of bamboos, and the astonishing inventiveness of their various users.

Among the most awesome of whom that I’ve witnessed in action being the erectors, often working in husband-and-wife teams, of the bamboo scaffolding used in the construction of Hongkong sky-scrapers, who ply their trade in apparently blissful disregard of the dangers of a single mistake, mis-step, or, if you prefer, bamboo-boo.

As a long-time bambooster of the virtues of this fabulous family of plants, the only major bamboo-boo I’ve made with regard to them is to grow far too few of them in my own garden(s).

Though I did strike a major bamblow in their favour years back by sneakily planting a small clump of giant bamboo in the shockingly uncared-for park opposite my parents-in-laws’ house in Ipoh, where it has since not only survived but mightily thrived.

And, though again far too many years if not decades ago, I did formerly have a large pot of a bambeautiful black-stemmed variety at various houses I inhabited here in Sydney.

But in recent times I’ve been so neglectful of bamboo culture and cultivation as to leave myself totally bamboo-bereft.

Admittedly I’ve long grown some so-called ‘bamboo’ palms, some Japanese so-called ‘sacred’ or ‘heavenly’ ‘bamboo’, and a bamboo-like plant called ‘tiger grass’, but none of these is the genuine article. In short, I’ve been making-do with shamboos.

So I thank goodness that I’ve recently been inspired to make amends for my lack of the real thing by adopting some from a neighbour.

For ages I’ve been passing his house on my walk to or from my favourite café, and wincing at the sight of four tubs of clearly dying bamboo on display in his painfully-neglected front ‘garden’.

And finally, rather than just feeling sorry (bamboo-hoo?) for the pitiful state of these plants, I asked their owner if he’d sell me one or two to take home and try and revive them.

I was expecting, of course, that, nice, friendly guy as he is, he’d simply give me some free of charge. But to my surprise his come-back (bamboomerang?) was to suggest that I take some for myself, and in return do what I could to help him nurse his remaining plants back to health.

He’d tried for years to make this bamboo grow, he said, even to the extent of watering it daily, and was completely ‘mystified’ (which of course I immediately translated in my mind to ‘bamboozled’) by the situation.

I confidently assured him that I could easily fix the problem, which must, I reasonably but erroneously thought, must be that the plants were what’s commonly called pot-bound. Or, in other words, they’d filled their containers so full of compressed roots as to deprive themselves of water and nutrients, thus stunting their own growth and eventually ensuring their extinction.

But when I returned with my wife and co-worker to my neighbour’s house next morning and tipped the bamboos out of their tubs, I realised that I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

In fact I felt like a complete bambooby to see that, far from completely filling and compacting in their tubs, the plants’ roots had hardly grown at all, as the potting-mix in which they’d been planted was so loose as to let any rain or other water run right through and out of the drain-holes.

Thus, in effect, they’d always been dry to the point of death.

But that was easily fixed by tamping and stamping (bambooting?) the potting-mix firmly down after replanting them, and later doing likewise with the two sad specimens that I claimed for myself.

So now, since their raging thirsts have been quenched with bucket after bucket of water from me, and a bout of heavy rain that absolutely bucketed-down last night in a storm, I’m confidently expecting all the plants concerned to make a spectacular, or, more appropriately, bambooming recovery.

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Growing old gratefully.

In the 14 years since I angrily wrote ‘Age rage’, and even in the nine months since I republished it in July 2020, I seem to have become somewhat more sage. Or else, as some might suspect, reached my dreaded dotage.

Whichever, last Monday I found myself sitting in my folding chair in the shade and savouring a coffee and a smoke while my wife and daughter did some swimming at our favourite Sydney beach, Balmoral.

Or what some more modest or positively prudish readers might perceive, in view of how scantily-clad so many of its crowd of sun, sand and water-worshippers were, as usual, as Bal-immoral.

Though for my part the sight of all the semi-bare bodies against the backdrop of sparkling blue sea and rock-fringed green headlands, plus the sensation of a balmy breeze on my skin, and the delight of seeing my darling girls disporting themselves in the distance, only served to remind me of the bally importance of counting my blessings.

But then, given that the word ‘blessings’ implies the existence of some imaginary benign Being, I thought I’d change that to ‘blissings’.

Blissings so countless that I’d find it virtually impossible to verbalise them all, ranging as they do all the way from still being alive at my age to all the people and pastimes that make my life such a prolonged pleasure.

Blissings for which I feel I should be endlessly grateful, but far too frequently take for granted, or else find that I foolishly forget when confronted by all the bastards who need blasting for making life such a hell rather than heaven or haven on earth for so much of humanity.

Here and now, this minute, the blasteds I have most immediately in mind are the ministers, members and supporters of the current Australyin’ government who are desperately and disgracefully striving to defend the alleged Austrapists in their rank ranks.

All the while, of course, persisting in their metaphorical if not literal rape of everything and everyone in sight, from Australia’s workers, welfare recipients and asylum-seekers to the country’s ever-threatened environment and the world’s dangerously- warming atmosphere.

And then, though a little more distantly, there’s the ever-malignant military that’s murdering people in Myanmar who are so courageously protesting against yet another political coup.

Of course I’d also be hopping-mad about the perennially parlous state of politics in Malaysia, as I was for 12 years as a columnist for Malaysiakini, if only I could possibly comprehend the present foggy, froggy situation there.

 if all else fails to make me forget to look at life on the bright side, there are always such apparently permanent temptations to switch to the blight side, like the criminal Kims of North Korea, the power-crazed potentates of the ‘People’s’ Republic of China, the crooks in Russia’s Kremlin or rather Krimelin, and the religionist ‘Right’ committing its customary wrongs virtually everywhere else.

But here I go, as usual, wasting even more of what should be my golden years by letting myself feel grated-on by grotty people and grubby events instead of gratefully growing old gratefully and gracefully.

Or, as I’d actually prefer, if only I still had the energy and enough partners in partying, emulating the blatantly bisexual old-Hollywood hell-raiser Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968) in her famously self-declared determination to grow old “disgracefully”.

But like Tallulah, I’d mean disgracefully as something like outrageously or even scandalously enjoyably, not despicably and joylessly as such mouldy oldies as the ninety-something despoiler of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, and the slightly younger but equally mendacious and malevolenty Rupert Murdoch seem to be hell-bent on.

Oops! Regretfully, at the very thought of the Mahaters and Merde-ochs of the world, I can feel another bout of old-aged outrage coming on.

So I’d better put an end to this discussion while the going’s still good. Or, in other words, finish it by focusing on how thankful I am to all those family members and friends, and, of course, to you, dear reader, who’ve so generously helped me perform the tricky or better yet geriatricky task of growing old more gratefully, as I fondly hope, than hatefully.

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Year of the Merde Ox for the Murdochs?

I feel I should apologise for going on and on and on about the Year of the Ox, but have decided not to on the grounds that Chinese New Year itself goes on for so long, I might as well do likewise.

So here’s hoping yet again that the Year of the Metal Ox has started as fortunately for you so far, my friends, as it seems to be fated to prove faecal for at least some of my foes.

One of the chief among these being the malignantly mendacious Murdoch media, the most profitable of which, Fox fake News and flake views, miserably failed in its bid to save the stinking Trump presidency even before the start of this Lunar New Year.

And that seems to have turned-out to be a most inauspicious omen. Because, though the Murdochs’ many other toilet papers, TV stations and websites might appear to be still flush with success, they and the political – or rather poolitical – parties they support are smelling less and less like roses.

In fact they’re increasingly on the people’s noses both in the UK, whose Tory government and Brexit that the merdy Murdoch media have been supporting are clearly in deeper and deeper Brexshit, and also down here in my natal if not native Australia.

Even the most conservative or, in other words, socially and politically constipated of my fellow citizens must be dimly starting to realise (diarrhoealise?) that the Mursdoch/Merdeoch media-supported and increasingly feral current federal government is turning this nation into a sewer of deception and corruption.

From its shameless degrees of voter bribery that’s traditionally euphemised as ‘pork-barrelling’ through its pig-headed, persistent refusal to take action against fossil-fuels-induced climate change to the recent revelation of a rape that allegedly occurred two years ago in the office of a government minister to its provocation of Facebook to block Australian news, the Morriscon/Morriscum-led Liberal-National ruling regime stinks to high heaven.

And now, on top of that, there’s the ongoing Faceblock fiasco in which this coal-loving coalition is falsely claiming that, in its planning of legislation designed to quite properly force tech giants to finally pay for content that they’ve thus far filched for free, it is acting in the interests of commercial fairness.

But the fact it’s clearly been inspired in this uncommonly-altruistic move by – yes, you guessed it – its political propagandists the Murd/Merdeochs, who, contrary to laws intended to ensure fair and balanced chares of the nation’s news have somehow managed to achieve ownership of a vastly-disproportionate amount of Australia’s media landscape.

Morriscon and his minions, chief among them treasurer Josh Freydenburg aka Fraudenberg, are desperately striving to portray themselves as paragons of the principle of freedom of the press in general rather than as promoters of the interests of the Murdochs’ News Limited, aka by millions of fellow sceptics, Limited News, and simultaneously position Facebook as the villain of the piece.

But, while Facebook is viewed and valued by flat-earthers, UFOlogists, anti-vaxers and a fantastic variety of other fantasists as their favourite Farcebook, by religionists as their heaven-sent Faithbook, by sex maniacs as a rich source of Facebonks, and by one of the highest-profile bullshitters in the ranks of the increasingly rank-smelling Morriscon/Morriscum regime, Craig Kelly, as virtually his own personal Flakebook, nobody in his or her right mind could possibly see Facebook as a legitimate source of true news or trustworthy views, or, in a word, as anything remotely resembling a Factbook.

So that, rather than getting long faces at the current Faceblock, as the Australian government is, in its own and the Murdochs’ interests, so insistently inviting us to do, we should just get on with it and source our news and other important information from trustworthy websites.

Which, along with decidedly untrustworthy ones ranging from The China People’s Daily to any of the crappy News-Limited aka Limited-News collection like, to name a select few, Fox aka Fux News, The Australian aka The Australyin’ alleged ‘newspaper’, Sky aka Pie-in-the-Sky News, or the Melbourne Sun- aka Shun-Herald, are all easily and instantly accessible, at least thus far in the Year of what I hope turns out to be of the Merde Ox for the Murdochs, on Google.

Or, in the interests of even-handedness, on any other reputable search-engine.

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Finally the year of the detox?

Thus far for me, this Lunar New Year of the Ox has been nothing but a series of writer’s blOx. So, in a desperate bid to write something – anything – to celebrate this occasion in 2021, I took a look back at what I had to say about it 12 years ago, which went as follows:

Surfing the Chinese horoscope sites recently in a desperate search for good omens for the forthcoming year, I was delighted to see one of them listing Barack Obama as an Ox person.

     But my happiness quickly turned to horror when I read further down the list and discovered that the roll of famous Oxen also includes Richard Nixon, Saddam Hussein and Adolph Hitler.

     So what, I wonder, can the world expect from President Obama? Will he prove a good Ox, characterized by one soothsayer as “a born leader to be followed with trust and a good partner for life filled with good fortune”?

Or a bad Ox, one of those who can be “stubborn, bigoted and easy to anger, and “whose blind pursuit of their plans can make them harsh dictators”?

One encouraging sign, apparently, is that in 2009 “the bullish and belligerent aspects of the Ox are toned by this year’s nurturing earth force”.

Thank goodness for that, as the world needs Barack Obama at his Oxic best if he’s to have any chance whatever of cleaning-up the toxic mess that Bush and his neo-con cowboys have handed him.

Billions, trillions and squillions of dollars in toxic debt, for a start, thanks to the ill-planned and monumentally wasteful War on Terror and the obscene greed of the warriors of Wall Street.

Financially speaking, Obama and most other world leaders are faced with not so much the year of the Ox as the year of the paradox: having to spend huge quantities of public money – taxpayers’ money, our money – on rescuing the very thieves and incompetents whose expertise we believed we were banking on.

And even worse than having to be cash-cows to offset all the toxic debt has been having to stand by and witness a ceaseless tide of toxic misery and death.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians killed and maimed in US-led attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan and proxy-wars on Southern Lebanon and Gaza. Millions left for dead in Zimbabwe, Sudan, the Congo and other cesspits of corruption and lawlessness in Africa. More millions left to their fates in dictatorships just as evil as that of Iraq, like Burma and North Korea.

I can’t wait to see whether the Obama administration will prove more even-handed, compassionate in its advocacy of genuine international freedom and justice than the Bush regime has been.

But at least it’s signaled its intention to work fast to fix one situation that the civilized world has a major beef with, Camp X-ray at Guantanamo Bay.

Of course the US can’t solve all the world’s problems, especially given the resolute opposition of the two anti-democratic would-be superpowers, China and Russia. But it could certainly do a great deal better if it spent more money on genuine aid and less on armaments, or at least used its military might to protect more of the “forgotten” victims of the terrorism it so abhors, in locations like Darfur and Somalia.

But whatever Ox President Obama may or may not do to bring about the changes of which he speaks so eloquently, my astrological sources inform me that this year promises to bring “good fortune to troubled economic times,” but “only through discipline and hard work”.

This prediction will seem strange to the citizens of Kuala Terengganu, no doubt, who’ve already achieved an astonishing degree of good fortune before the Ox year’s even started. And with no hard work whatever on their part beyond putting-up with the inconvenience of a by-election.

According to a list compiled by Malaysia’s National Institute for Electoral Integrity, Barisan Nasional showered the voters of KT not just with early ang pow, but everything from a RM1 million ‘fishermen relief fund’ and free weaving machines and e-books, to RM10 million for a cardiology unit, RM50 million for Chinese schools, RM100 million for low-cost housing and RM408.6 million to the State of Terengganu in oil royalty payments.

And most astonishingly of all, given that gambling is as haram as corruption is, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak conducted a lottery that awarded 583 prizes of tender-exempt projects worth RM15.8 million.

Najib even reportedly had the gall to brag that “this is a world record. In this lucky draw, everyone wins. Everyone gets a contract,” adding that if BN won the election there would be more and bigger such contracts so that Class F contractors would “continue to make money and the country’s economy would continue to grow”.

No problem with toxic debt in Malaysia, apparently. Just the same old toxic government up to its same old toxic tricks, in anticipation of yet another year of milking the nation’s economy for all it’s worth.

But, like the electors of Permatang Pauh in the previous by-election, and those of five states back in the March 2008 general election, the majority of voters in Kuala Terengganu showed that they’re sick of being bought and sold and treated like so many lembu by BN.

As a Horse myself, I see that, though I can’t expect much good luck in the Year of the Ox, at least I can look forward to a “significant improvement” compared with the Year of the Rat. Any improvement is fine by me, and I can hardly wait for it to start happening.

Meanwhile, here’s wishing you and your loved-ones a hearty Kung Hee Phatt Choi. Here’s wishing Barak Obama lots of luck in ridding the US and the world at large of the poisonous legacy of George W Bush. And here’s hoping that all Malaysians who are no longer cowed by BN threats or misled by BN bull can finally rid themselves of this political pox, and make this the Year of the Detox.

As you see, my hopes of any signs of detox were dashed back then, and have been every year since. Now we’re still all threatened by the pox in the form of Covid-19, and most governments are even more of a pox on their people than ever, as evidenced everywhere from China to Malaysia, the UK and Australia.

And the doomsday clock tick-tocks closer than ever towards the tipping-point of global warming. But, whatever, let’s keep hoping that opportunity still knocks, that the human race still has a chance to pull-up its socks, and that this year of the Ox will prove to be at least the start of a desperately-needed detOx.

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Good and bad news for love-birds.

NOTE: The following piece is old, indeed ancient, dating back as it does to 2005. But I’ve been too busy being lazy lately to write a new one, and in any case nothing has changed.

I must confess I’ve always felt somewhat half-hearted about celebrating St Valentine’s Day.  Nothing against love or romance, you understand.  It’s just that the whole thing has seemed a tad suspect.  Like one of those fake anniversaries people keep inventing in all altruism – Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and the more recent Secretary’s Day, for example – but which quickly degenerate into commemorations of nothing but the age-old urge to stimulate us suckers into orgies of spending.

So this year I decided to settle the question for once and for all, beginning with a check on whether there was ever a Saint named Valentine.  An early Christian florist, perhaps, torn to pieces by a mob of women enraged by his refusal to divulge the names of guys who’d sent them bunches of flowers with anonymous love-notes attached.

And yes, or so my trusty encyclopaedia informs me, there was a Saint Valentine, or more likely two of them.  Both of them Christians put to death during third–century Roman religious persecutions, and both sharing the Feast Day of February l4.  But – now for the bad news – neither St Valentine is known to have ever said or done anything to warrant the association of his name with a hearts-and-flowers love fest. 

Or, for that matter, with the event in l929 that linked February l4 as strongly with killing as with kissing, the cold-blooded slaughter in Chicago of seven associates of George “Bugs” Moran by Al Capone hitmen in what is remembered as The St Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Which brings me to a thought to which love has tended to blind us.  The fact that, for countless living organisms on this planet, every St Valentine’s Day is a massacre.  Forests of trees are sacrificed to produce paper for soppy cards.  Whole crops of cocoa beans plucked for processing into heart-shaped chocolates.  Flowers beheaded by the ton to make bouquets.  Schools of fish, herds of livestock and who knows how many hectares of vegetables slaughtered, filleted, dismembered, sliced, diced and turned into candle-lit dinners.  Millions of bees worked to death to produce all that candlewax.  Gargantuan quantities of grapes crushed to make the reds, whites and bubblies required to render the occasion utterly intoxicating.

And let’s not forget the latest generation of casualties, those streams of hapless electrons – not living things, I grant you, but neverthless moving – that get shot, beamed and streamed into hyperspace if not utter, everlasting oblivion by the senders of erotic emails and sexy SMS messages. 

It’s enough to bring a whole new dimension of meaning to the term “fatal attraction”.  And all for what?  So that should we get lucky, what with the flowers, chocolates, dinners, flattering light, honeyed words and all, untold squillions of sperm will perish in the ensuing excitement.

If you’ve started to think by now that St Valentine’s Day sounds to be pretty much for the birds, you’re absolutely right.  Because it’s actually with our feathered friends, or so some historians would have us believe, that the whole thing actually started. 

About mid-February, apparently, after the long, cold Northern-Hemisphere winter, all the birds start to feel spring in the air and take to pairing-off, necking, billing, cooing, getting on the nest and so on.  In other words, it’s on or around February l4 that, as the old English proverb so succinctly puts it, “birds of a feather flock together”.

Many centuries ago, it seems, humans took a gander at all this amorous avian activity and started thinking it might also be good for the goose.  “If birds of a feather can do it”, people of medieval times must have reasoned, “we might as well have some flocking fun too.” 

But even in those rude, unsophisticated times it probably wasn’t considered nice to come right out and say “flock” to respectable chicks.  So ye olde pubic-relations consultants gave the event a more soulful and spiritual image by naming it for the Saint(s) whose anniversary it happened to be.  All of which accounts for the fact that, to this day, but only on February on l4, it’s considered perfectly proper to ask any flockable person of an appropriate gender to be your “Valentine”. 

It pays to be pretty sure the sentiment is mutual before asking, though.  After all, it’s a terrible downer to shell-out good money for a card and flowers and a lovey-dovey dinner, only to be told at the end of the evening that a flock is entirely out of the question.

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