Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Circle of Friends Christmas Horror Story Challenge

                               Pillow Talk -  A Christmas Story by George Smiley

There is this soft arm across my face. “Sunday!” I say, “and we have a lot to do beside get ready for that barbecue tonight.”

She says “Oh god what time is it?”

She looks across to the dressing table. “Jesus Christ it's only five o'clock and you're wide awake. No wonder you don't get any sleep!”

No, it's 5:45 and the sun has been up exactly 16 minutes. Someone left the curtains ajar. Why it's necessary to open them every morning I have no idea but I love you anyway. Which automatically makes me feel guilty as hell because I worry that I might love you less if you weren't so small and soft and beautiful AND there would be so many more things I would hold against you.”

You wouldn't love me at all if you knew what I did to the T-bones,” she said.

I had a hard night too. One of our close family members had a virtually incurable disease that would be fatal without a transplant. They searched the world for a DNA match - there was only one and I had to fly to South Africa to pick it up. The match was with this transgender guy who had died of an overdose and I went out to a post- apocalyptic Johannesburg suburb to meet his mum and dad at the squat where he had lived. The suburb was bad, this place was horrendous, no plumbing, clothing and every class of waste and garbage strewn everywhere and mum and dad showed up about the same time. They were middle class, sad but resigned and wanted to talk about their son. We settled on the masculine 'he' – they had never come to terms with the idea that he had become their putative daughter and it suited me too because male had been an essential part of the tissue match.

Of course they put me through the whole transplant shtick; they told me what a wonderful but troubled person he had been with his estrangement and poverty and drugs and sexuality. I had to say how much we respected his integrity and how grateful we were that he had thought to offer his body to give life to others after his own really lousy one.

They had brought what we needed with them in a refrigerated container because they knew I had to catch a plane back as quickly as as possible. They opened the box and showed it to me. It was the size and shape of the guy's heart but basically just an amorphous ragged and bloody hunk of meat with no distinguishing features at all. Whatever it was, the only sure thing was that an apprentice butcher was unavailable when it was hacked out and they filled me in.

This was his re-engineered 'lady parts',” his mother said. “It's all that was left. He has helped so many people.”

We knew it would suit your purpose,” said his dad.

Which was true. They were very clued in. Our sick loved one had lymphoma, leukemia or somesuch and we only needed undamaged stem cells for an infusion to replace his gamma-blasted/ chemotoxified bone marrow rather than an actual healthy working organ of any sort. I think I was expressing surprise at the huge post- mortem popularity of this outcast when I noticed the sunlight coming in on my face.

So what did you do to the T-bones?”

She was looking at me somewhat stunned, then shrugged; dismissively, reproachfully. “Just forget about it, OK?”

She knows I almost never remember my dreams. “You just didn't expect to be trumped,” I said.

Being a reticent and proud person I would never have stooped to actually sitting down and inventing a surreal or prurient story like this for any reason unless it was for real money, and least of all a 'Circle of Friends Christmas Horror Story Challenge'. But it had just appeared; given miraculously; and about giving too which is so Christmasy I couldn't resist passing it on for the world; joining Bing Crosby and O. Henry with my contribution to the genre. My regular fans will thank whatever gods there be that one more poncey and verbose jerk has finally come off his pedestal to cater to the common taste. But it isn't me, I don't have that kind of imagination. So what alternate universe or dimension did it come from? After some head scratching I discarded the possibility of channelling leaving only one possibility which had to do with the pigs.

Earlier the previous day while making polite conversation over a cup of tea I said, “Now that we are getting on we have to start thinking about mortality and its possibilities. Now about the pigs for instance– they may seem friendly enough but if you were to have an unfortunate heart attack in the pen they would eat whatever parts of you were uncovered. If you were saved you would probably need a face transplant like that French girl on account of her dog.”

You are a lot older than me and you're the one who always goes in there anyway,” she answered “but I don't know that I could get used to looking at someone else across the table or in my bed.”

We men are different,” I answered. “If you were a recipient I could probably become accustomed to say Nicole Kidman or Katie Holmes, although they are looking somewhat shop-worn these days at best. And even with probable nerve damage like a partial rictus or a dropped lower eyelid I wouldn't kick either of them out of bed as long as I knew it was you underneath it all. Tom doesn't want either of them anymore and I think they left the church too in which case they are 'fair game.' “

But I know she would be back rebuilding me when she regained her speech so it would be a brief and illusory vacation at best, not even a change being as good as a rest. When you love someone they are already beautiful and in my case I am far ahead on a related count; not on a single morning have I ever endured the career- hazard curlers- and- mudpack crap screen celebrities inflict on their partners.

Then she thought maybe she could get used to George Clooney and diplomatically suggested that it was only because I resembled him a bit already.

I don't think George is on the outer with any particularly vicious and vengeful faith and so you might have to wait until he dies;” I answered. And I know she wouldn't be happy; beneath the superficial close resemblance between George and I there is a distinct unlikelihood that I might simultaneously find the savoir faire, strength and moral courage of his screen personae which she would automatically expect as a Clooney fan. I am a practical person, and in a 'Perfect Storm' I would certainly choose to get out of the wheelhouse and pop up to the surface along with Mark Wahlberg on the off-chance rather than pip- pip straight- upper- lip, old school tie, go down with the ship. And in the unlikely event of survival I could probably bear the sneers and contempt of my fellow man which takes both a reverse contempt and courage in itself. We don't get many visitors around here anyway. Or invitations, although people have noticed wonderingly that I have a nice dog; probably imagining I would be pleased with the inference.

So the barbecue was a rare exception. And early in those things everybody separates and the guys gather around the snag burner and discuss notable cars while the girls catch up organizing the plates and salads. Our host's home is brand new and I was helping with some small building chore. Eventually my wife came over with a plate of dinner lest I miss out. There was salad and a small mutton chop. So I understood hers wasn't a dream after all. Just what the hell did she do to the T-bones?

I will never know; sometimes magnanimous is more strategic than curious or vindictive. If I asked it would prompt some circuitous rationale to save face at whatever cost which annoys me no end and it would descend into a total s*** fight and it's the time of year to be making nice.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

And In Darkest Tasmania. The Horror......

It's deja vu all over again.” (Yogi Berra)

Who could forget that moment in a classroom full of little black girls when the heroically unfazed or utterly clueless George W. Bush got the whispered word on 9/11?   He sat looking on quietly and stayed to fidget with and famously to read a chapter from the now famous “My Pet Goat“ to the kids.

Well, I personally forgot. My own memory had him looking up with a mix of shock and triumph, as if he had instantly grasped the significance; which was that he would be comfortably re-elected to enjoy unfettered spending and personal power as a 'wartahm president'.   And that he had then settled comfortably back to the book without bothering to have the airforce scrambled, appropriate red alerts issued, airports and government buildings locked down and commercial flights suspended including that of the scarpering Bin Laden family.

The shock Brexit vote has upended the markets; which had previously discounted the affair; it was to be business as usual thanks to the failure of pundits (and more inexplicably bookmakers) to notice the existence of inarticulate, uninformed aged, unemployed or working classes in regional England.  Did our own silver-spoon end -of- term somewhat brighter Prime Minister instantly twig to the chaos that would play into his electoral hands?

Only the coalition has the economic plan in place and credibility yada yada..... “

So he is to be a Depression Prime Minister.  Public demand will see to it that any remaining credibility on budget balancing will not tie his hands.   Conservative governments are often cursed by gaining office in hard times. That initial certitude, dignified restraint and responsibility is comforting to most until they discover the real upshot: for true believers ideology trumps everything but self- interest and between elections it will be business as usual, cutting services while throwing public money at already leveraged, friendly zombie corporations and every spiv who blows in with grand ideas to 'make jobs, and 'get the economy moving again.'  And of all the states Tasmania is an especially famous destination for such all over the world; where venture capitalists (if you can still call them that) supply ownership and unaccountable management expertise while the public supplies workers AND capital in return for growth and jobs; facilitated by elected party machine mediocrities.   But for a while Turnbull will fill the bill. Although the trogs in the party suspect his liberal inclinations he is still a very attractive candidate, as was Herbert Hoover – a potentially great man in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong paradigm.  Austerity and economic rationalism just didn't cut it when unemployment reached 30% nor was there a social security net.

All this is not to say that Brexit will be the cause of another financial crisis.   It's still the same old, the last one never went away nor did or could the governments of the world bite the bullet with meaningful reforms to themselves, institutional practices
and central bank ideologies.  But any coincidental but significant event that imprints on human consciousness like the crash of '29 is automatically assigned the blame. You can take that anywhere, like why not pin the whole mess on the bellboy who told Rockefeller to buy RCA in the lift; famously initiating his well- timed sell orders. In fact it was already written in stone and needed only Chaos Theory's 'flapping of butterfly wings in the Amazon.'

The interesting thing about the volatility following Brexit isn't so much the drop in share market indices but a more telling yield spread on German vs. Italian 10 year notes, the German yield now -.1 % from +.1%, the Italian equivalent 1.3 up to 1.5 percent which is a change of 40 basis points, (.4 of 1%) for a total spread of 1.6%.  Over 10 years that reflects significantly on book values of these things held by financial institutions.   So the market is announcing internecine frictions: yet more trouble for the PIIGS to finance deficits, more responsibility on Germans and French taxpayers to shore up weaker member states, more pressure from and on same to commit to austerity, PIIGS to bail so as to fly, large institutions to bail who made the wrong bets on expectations of community support; price fixing and on it goes. The Grexit kerfuffle was only the beginning.

Everybody's stylish young facebook friends in that hemisphere are gutted. The old and the ignorant have broken the dream of a united Europe, which is disturbing when you remember Coventry, Ypres and the Somme.   But like Walt Kelly's Pogo said, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.” Or the fatted fools in Bruxelles and our own faith or toleration of the same. To quote another commentator, the well-known Richard Smiley:

“Of course the world markets went a little wild on the news. This will pass. I want to say a word in favour of small.

“Does anyone really believe that the EU will dare punish Britain for voting to leave? In the days of interlocking economies, that would be shooting yourself in the foot. There are also a number of other countries that are planning their own exit votes, and I highly doubt that they would support onerous conditions being imposed on Britain which they themselves would have to swallow in the future. The world has hundreds of years experience in dealing with relationships between nation states: lessons learned through bitter experience and countless failures. If there is anything that we have learned from all this it is that one size doesn't fit all, that the potential of advancement through diversity is still not exhausted and is unpredictable.

“We are now asked to believe by the EU diehards that the artificial creation of a United Europe, the fruition of the dreams of many politicians, political scientists, and economists (three groups of people that I wouldn't trust as far as I could throw them) somehow both foresaw and prevented all possible permutations of failure and crisis, and its unraveling will mean the end of the world as we know it; a disaster for the region.

“Ask yourself a few simple questions: Did the EU prevent the banking contagion of 2008-9 or any of the other crises that have hit the world economic scene? The profligate economic policies of the states of Southern Europe? The destructive austerity imposed by the European Bank on these countries? The answer is no to all. If fact, they made it worse. The regulations promulgated in Brussels not only didn't prevent our sociopaths and psychopaths in the multinational banks and governments from gambling, they enabled them to increase their activities to the point that for normal people, the numbers no longer have any meaning. The notional value of derivatives - what has to be paid out if the gambling bets ever have to be paid off - in the global economy have ballooned by another 20% since 2008 to over 700 trillion dollars, and in some circles are believed to be twice that. The banks have become too big to bail out in the event of a crisis. Now ask yourself another question: What is the chance that there will never be another crisis?”

Another crisis? My own personal estimate is 50/50 in the next 6 months. $220 trillion actual corporate, consumer and govt. debt priced for crazy low yields such that the principles of longer government debt are leveraged for 50%, others risk up to 100% losses if you consider the 2008 failure even for SGE's like Fanny Mae.   This is only measuring against normal market rates WITHOUT considering panic spikes, currency collapse, derivative failures and fractional reserve privileges enjoyed by the financial institutions of the world. The US Fed, Euroland and Japanese central banks have no more interest rate bullets at zero percent (ZIRP and NERP) outside of desperate and massive quantitative easing as purchasers of last resort to hold the line. 

And yet on July 2 our pols want it all and so bad, still.   Maybe those 100 thou indexed pensions will still be there after retirement. But not if they have to give me back my stinking 70 bucks a week and yours.

Last night I had risen in the small hours to a crazy vibration in the ceiling, a ragged thrumming followed by a similar pause; incessantly, like someone snoring.  It was a rat in a cage trap and I had never heard anything like it; normally they only make random scufflings.   I climbed up a ladder to the ceiling hatch and he snapped at my arm through the mesh as best he could - several times as I reached over for the handle.  This morning I pulled the cage out of the frogpond and tried to reconstruct the noise.  My conclusion was disturbing – he was big and obviously old enough to know the score and he must have been concentrating exclusively on the door, grasping the bars with both hands; shaking furiously then pausing momentarily to recover his strength, just like a man.  Raging yet focused; never losing hope.    But there could be no raxit.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Ultimate Comfort Food

They look wearily out from the seafood display at Coles, eyes slightly sunken but nevertheless fat and shiny. And it's the best bargain on the floor, Atlantic salmon heads for 5 or 6 $ per kilo. They are at peace after a hard life crammed into pens and fed nothing but cylindrical pellets, shot across the water from gunboats, for which they do battle at close quarters, pectoral to pectoral, while the smell of urea wafts up from the bacterial mats beneath them on the sea floor. None could have known a good night's sleep in their lives but it's still better than the world outside. Occasionally there are storms, or seals break through the nets and escapees swim off freely for the first time. But soon they discover the truth of Orwell's slogan; “Freedom is Slavery!” for there is nothing to eat out there in the wide world that looks or behaves like a fish meal pellet and they find themselves completely at a loss; growing gaunt and fading slowly away even in the midst of plenty. Enterprising locals hook or net them while they are still prime; they will always strike at a pellet. Farmed fish are too fat anyway and the west coast Indians of North America before the white man apparently felt the same way about fat fish but for more practical reasons.

A real wild salmon is a pelagic fish which means they swim freely anywhere most of the time except during the spawning season when they congregate at the mouths of the great rivers and are easily netted. The fish stop eating when they enter fresh water and battle their way inland against the current for as much as 500 kilometres to their spawning grounds, following memories and impossibly diluted scent trails to arrive at the gravel beds where they were born. When it is all said and done they die and wash up on the shingle where predators and scavengers of all stripe take them coming, going and gone. Skunks, ravens, eagles, bears, lynx and cougar- transfer their nutrients to the surrounding forests which grow giant trees like nowhere else in the world. But somewhere in between, the skinnier and exhausted fish were caught, smoked and dried by man for winter rations and there were major trading routes by which these were packed all the way back down by the inland people to trade to coastal tribes. The trade must have been an unimaginable hardship. The Indians would have stuck to the higher country as best they could, for along the river trenches the huge igneous mountains, thousands of metres high stabilize at murderous grades as was noted by uncounted Chinese labourers who later perished in the Fraser Canyon while building our road and rail infrastructure. And the Coast Range continues all the way north to Alaska, borded by the ocean and the rivers pour into the cold, deep fjords which are absolutely perfect for....salmon pens!

The Norwegians were just the people to put them there; provincial governments are always suckers for moneyed big-mouths from out-of-town, bearing gifts. It hasn't done the hugely important wild fishery any more good than the forest industry however. In early spring the eggs in the river gravels hatch and the fry begin their journey to the ocean, growing en route in waters fertilized by the bodies of their ancestors. Beset by increased water temperatures, silting and faster run-off they nonetheless arrive at the salt water and the pens, where disease is rife. The farmed fish are fed fungicides and antibiotics to control disease, and unprotected exposure means a high mortality for the young wild fish. Worst of all are the sea lice that swarm around the pens and an attack by two or more is enough to kill a salmon fingerling. But the permanent residents have been coddled along in hatcheries and aren't put out until they are relatively large and strong. As for their own feed, as a cold-blooded organism they grow at a fairly economic yield around 1:10. We take everything so for granted, as if wild salmon or the tenfold mass of baitfish, and bycatch that make up the captive's rations is unlikely to have had any other traditional takers in the food chain. But a shortage of seals has turned killer whale diets to smaller and previously unnoticed creatures; specifically sea otters whose own diet was sea urchins and now the giant kelp beds are being decimated by the same. They were the nurserys for the young fish of so many species, including wild salmon. Who would have thought that other creatures near the top of the chain might be essential in maintaining balance and productivity on our behalf. But in the antipodes there are no wild salmon so farmed fish are all we get. Although the same pellets and chemical brews sustain them North and South don't worry, or at least take comfort - it was worth the sacrifice.

                                         Comfort Food – Fish Head Chowder

Take 3 large salmon heads as fresh as you can find, which should be about $5 worth and carefully scale anywhere that has been missed. Rinse and put them in a medium pot, cover well with water and bring to a boil. When they are cooked but still intact remove from the broth, cut away and discard the gills. These have a very unpleasant texture and if you don't get rid of them early you never will. Return the heads to the broth and meanwhile cut a large potato into thumbnail sized cubes, and a large onion to a similar size. When the heads have fallen to pieces completely and the gelatinous bits separate easily from the bones you have gone far enough for the moment. Allow to cool somewhat and remove the fins and a lot of of the bones with a fork. These are surprisingly plentiful but so thin they are almost insignificant in terms of the mass of meat and gelatin you are getting for your money. If you let the broth cool now for later use, a fork will stand up in it.

Add the onion and potato and go on cooking until these are tender. Add basil, black pepper and any other sweet herbs like marjoram or chopped fresh parsley that would be nice with fish keeping in mind the milk hasn't yet been added; and to make something truly wonderful add an optional large handful of cooked and shelled prawns. Add the better part of a litre of whole UHT milk. It's only a dollar a litre on special and is revolting in tea or coffee but here it is perfect. Add salt to taste – you have left it out until the end so the meat and vegetables will tenderize more quickly and it should still be just the right temperature to serve. With a loaf of bread this will make a capital meal for at least 3 people. Serve in a large bowl with a small saucer alongside in which to spit the endless bones of infinitely varied shapes and dimensions; not suitable for small children. Too bad for them - somehow we are wired to measure proteins - not necessarily as a flavour so much as a feeling of pure pleasure and this has it all.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Logging the Tarkine: Lapoinya, An Australia Day Special

Having honoured those inexplicable, rare people who do wonderful things without pay for the public good; we mostly follow through on the day with an orgy of self-congratulatory chauvinism, frog tupping and ferret racing.  In Bermagui a coffee shop owner put a sign in the window 'Open on National Dickhead Day' and many patriotic souls deluged him with threats of violence and death; as if eager to prove his point, yet he did a roaring trade nonetheless.   I stayed home and celebrated with some long- neglected work on a frog pond, organizing stones and relocated a smallish tiger snake my wife had inadvertently picked up in an armload of trash; my duty of care to her and the frogs.   Next day was also about unpaid work for the public good.   I joined the forest protest at Lapoinya; but no medals for standing between the task at hand and the rights of honest men to an honest living.

It must have been disappointing for the media with nothing like the old copy of hard-hatted bogans damaging cars with sledge hammers or cat-calling “Shree Minerals yes! Greenies No!” at creaky, earnest old pensioners like me.   Perhaps I might commission a commemorative t-shirt, just to remind people.  Send your orders in and enjoy at least some of the satisfaction you might have found sporting a genuine “Free Manson” one.

The police intercepted three of us on the road down into the coupe, probably the only cleanskins who by then hadn't yet received our warning and 90 day exclusion order and having failed to even approach the roadwork we could do little more than waste a few moments of their time.  Politely and professionally they read their script, took the obligatory names, rank and serial numbers, and recorded a short statement of our motives. At the mention of Ta Ann my interrogator explained that the logging was NOT specifically on their behalf and it would also produce eucalypt sawlogs and blackwood for Britton Brothers.   We were strolled off the premises; hardly a Cooke's Tour of the coupe but from what I saw I think he has been badly misled.

It's a regrowth forest that was logged sixty years ago and has a very beautiful mix of tall straight regrowth gums and worthless blackwood that may have grown up or previously escaped logging.  It's the sort of place to which Forestry Tasmania occasionally brought na├»ve visitors to prove their scorched earth policies had a happy ending.   A large landing has been cleared and there were five little eucalypt logs that had been set aside, the ends already opening up in the sun. In the walk up and back I saw only one possible Cat. 1 euc. sawlog, barely more than a butt.   The blackwood all looked like paddock trees or worse; contorted and filled with long-dead branches.  When I was salvaging timber I used to get a lot of good blackwood shorts and split timber because the crown millers were very fussy.   Many of these are probably reject trees from last time and if they had to mill this stuff, the Britton Brothers would puke.  So would I if I had to mill virtually ANY of it as salvage or otherwise– all the eucalypt is too young; small and hence unstable.

It is exactly the same stuff that the Forestry Tasmania brains trust in the 'nineties thought we country sawmillers could process successfully via their mad dream of twin sliding saws on a single shaft; cutting equal 1 or 2 inch flitches simultaneously from both sides of the log by which it might remain straight for the next pass.  Unfortunately eucalypt timber is normally cut on the quarter, with growth rings as close as possible to right angles to the plane of the board, which is towards the heart to impart stability as moisture levels change.  And that requires a bigger tree.   Although the log might have tended to remain straight, the useless boards would have come curling off like barrel staves,and cupped into the bargain as they dried.  

 Even then most of us understood the game was over.  There would soon be nothing and for a few years thereafter when the Hampshire satellite mill was in operation we were taunted by the passing truckloads of perfect young logs, just like these at Lapoinya; skinned and split for woodchips.   It would have taken another fifty or eighty years to become real timber and our overcommitted forest service couldn't wait. Woodchips are now and forever.   It's a global problem – you don't see truckloads of good logs anywhere now in the developed world nor do you see legal truckloads of good logs in the third world.  In western Canada they call them 'pecker poles'.   There are very few jobs in the industry there either.  Although conifers are relatively stable and perhaps as little as two or three 4x2 building studs or even small floor joists come out of a log in an automated mill, most of it is for chips.  The lumber contains the heart and is alright for home building for Joe Average, just not for schools or other government contracts.  And when the Burnie pulp shut down they continued to make paper for a while with better quality imported spruce pulp from all the way over there.   It came in looking like big stacks of watercolour paper, which didn't suggest we should have much confidence in the Howard government pulpwood plantation schemes.  And wonder of wonders those all fell over later in spite of massive subsidies by the public through taxes foregone.

The problem is that between clearing for agriculture and the age-old marriage of political influence and corporate greed we have been cutting our forests probably five or ten times faster than old growth could be replaced.   Selective logging was a necessity when it was being done with oxen but it wasn't good enough for corporate bottom lines and what the hell, there was all that waste that would otherwise be left on the forest floor and could be turned into a whole new pulp and paper industry that would bring new jobs and massive capital expenditure and wouldn't impact on existing...yada yada... But it turned out that woodchip producers had to compete too - customers didn't like the rot or charcoal or bark in defective logs or ANY of the crap from the forest floor.  And to maintain volumes it was necessary to shorten rotations to the high growth phase of a tree 'crop'; back from say 150 years to as little as 40 or 60 and down to 17 on our pulpwood farms. And with each rotation and subsequent burn the crap from the forest floor along with the soil structure and the topsoil itself is destroyed and 40 % of the necessary chemicals for fertility go up in smoke or run into the ocean with the winter rains.  Having been a farmer for a while I can guarantee that trees are NOT just another agricultural crop.   If you treated farmland the same way you would be walking off after three rotations and hunger would be our lot before the kids ever went off to school.   Our grandchildren may be out of the forest forever on a similar logic.

And so in the Lapoinya coupe there are virtually no desirable mill logs yet and there may never be.  Some might be stockpiled as such and FT can tot up the contribution to their legislated quota even while it breaks up and rots away unwanted on the landings and the brash know-nothing Paul Harriss can hold forth and probably replace the Forestry people who did know something and walked away in disgust.  Because there is the one option that it was all about anyway – these are great peeler logs.  It's a relatively new market and luckily we are paying an Asian timber company tens of millions of dollars a year to take them off our hands and process them with local labour. It is in that last we set ourselves apart from little third world nations like the Solomons or Vanu Atu where 'big men', crooked bureaucrats and politicians are simply paid off, the companies rip the heart out of their little islands and are gone.  And if they aren't transfer pricing any profits out of the country rather than pay tax; they are stupider and more upright than reputed, or than everyone else in business these days.

The operation here smacks of desperation.  Somehow the experts got their figures so wrong that we are having trouble finding half the peeler logs that were thought to be available and now we pay 'compensation'.  Have the people responsible lost their jobs or gone onto greater things?   Generally the latter which says a great deal about just who we all are. Or worse was the whole fiasco engineered for personal gain regardless of pending impairment to public finances.  

To dig down and make sense of it all is not easy – the FT annual report is available but detailed figures are simply not there. What is the domestic peeler log or any actual royalty for instance? The first at least seems to be protected by the old 'commercial in confidence' saw by which our leadership hides their secret malfeasances with industry on our behalf. However a 'back of the envelope' calculation for a perfect world might be 260 thousand tonnes maximum times maybe $40 per tonne equals about 10 million dollars. In fact we supply a miserable 147 thousand tonnes (a 100,000 tonne plus shortfall) and pay out at as 'compensation' at least double the maximum royalty revenue that might have been achieved in a perfect world!  Even if it was possible to follow the money trails to the bitter end without the authority of a Royal Commission there is a question of whether the criminal code would be adequate nor do we hang traitors from lamp-posts or put heads on spikes for the forest ravens.   It's just part of the deal; when the government is involved, moral hazard stands commercial logic on its head.   

When Gunns Ltd. gave me the flick along with dozens of other contractors, firewood cutters and other small business people there were no tears or compensation, we just had to move on. We just wouldn't be 'big men' in our village any more and better get used to it. That's how it used to be in the real world, but what rankled most was to see so many of our elected reps vying to be seen shaking hands with that pusillanimous little hillbilly who was going to acquire a 'world class pulpmill' for Tasmania.

Some of us had figured out early in the piece the unpalatable fact it could never happen. Something that large would have sucked up virtually all the Tasmanian forests could deliver via natural increase and in that particular place would be hamstrung by cartage costs which are calculated on a per tonne/kilometer basis. State royalties were already being used to subsidise distance to the processing point by which pulpwood royalties for the Burnie mill were reduced to peanuts from as far as the once magnificent Bulgobac coupes on the edge of the Tarkine.  Add wear and tear on transport infrastructure, the cost of financing a billion dollar plus loan, the ups and downs of the commodity cycle; and the pending glut of plantation wood on local and world markets, the state government was going to have to come to the party with unaffordable subsidies and loan guarantees.   And the frightening part of it is that the lemmings were busting to take us all over the fiscal cliff if only they personally got a job out of it and elected officials and their appointees were willing to string them along like fools.

It's good to remember how it was and everlastingly is on Australia day.  There is always that annual outpouring of patriotic republican fervour and a hope we might transcend our present limitations if only we were on our own.   But we are anyway.   Perhaps the monarchy is irrelevant to our supposedly modern nation and maybe some of them are dunderheads.  But the nice thing about them is that with a hereditary position they can endure their 'noblesse oblige'; they are beyond corruption and the petty power plays that are the preserve of liars, bounders, sociopaths and eager glad-handing little nobodies who lust after the limelight of public office; those who most need to be numbered amongst the winners will sink to whatever it takes.  Would a republic make any difference with coal miners lining up to carve into the Liverpool Plains or Galilee Basin or the gas frackers compromising water tables and geological strata the world over, losing on average 4-8% of production into the atmosphere (80 times worse than carbon dioxide) even as reports come in of the warming Arctic Ocean bubbling out methane like seltzer water in places? If true and trending we will blow through the 2 degree supposed limit in little more than a decade. Will the Trumpish fool of the president we are likely to elect serve us better than Howard, Abbott, Rudd, etc.? Recall we almost had Joh Bjelke Petersen by acclamation. I couldn't give a rat's in this context.

At .8 degrees and an 'unprecedented' el nino I thought much of the state would begin to burn this year and spent the spring putting mains water lines underground and standpipes about the yard and sheds, sold over half my sheep which had already eaten the place flat, put the rest onto the hopeless hay crop and installed a large water tank that can be hooked to the water system at a moment's notice. So my productive capacity for the year has been cut to less than half, and last 48 hours 3 inches of rain suddenly arrived to green my paddocks for a week and destroy the harvest of better situated cropping farmers nearby who have dams and irrigation to grow poppies and such which were on the verge of harvest.  Modern agriculture is unlikely to survive a 2 degree temperature increase, in which case neither will our civilization.  The world population will settle, fast or slow at fewer than the billion souls in a past, pristine world who nevertheless struggled violently against each other for a hundred centuries before fossil fuels, super phosphate and industrial fertility.  Or is there some miracle (definitely not the Paris Agreement) by which can we avoid the apocalypse?  Or maybe even hang onto a paternal government and tiny amounts of nature for it's moderating effect and genetic reserves in the face of our exponentially growing demands for more of everything and above all money at any cost?   Who can tell.

This timber thing gets in the blood - our whole species just can't stop - and if the logs and loggers and machinery are all gone not too long before my 90 day exclusion finishes I will go back to Lapoinya with a permit and poke around.   If someone else like me or the firewood cutters don't get in first I will chip the bark of each blackwood still lying wretchedly in the dust or mud and one or two out of a hundred might just be that ugly but special tree that Brittons couldn't be bothered with.   It's the treasure at the bottom of the garden.  If I find it I will cut it up on the spot and carry off flitches and blocks that are exactly right for people I still know – who make veneers, guitars, turnings, carvings, sideboards or the beer coasters that define us as a tourist destination- or even do something with it myself one day.