Australia

Losing my Virgin-ity to the veteran community

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Virgin Australia has copped a lot of flack over its unsolicited offer to prioritize veterans when boarding and to announce gratitude for their service. Sadly the plan has been savaged in the media as virtue signaling and riding the political wave of the PM to back discounts for those who served. Many veterans have come forward saying they have not asked to be saluted in this manner. Many of them wish to be thought of like you and I.

We can sit back and criticize the airline for not doing more due diligence with the veteran community, yet we should not overlook that CEO John Borghetti would have made this decision with absolute rock solid sincerity, thinking of the vets, not how he could win free publicity which is often the norm these days. Had preferential boarding treatment been given to an oppressed minority community he would have probably been championed as a hero of social justice. All of the media that smashed the airline – The Guardian, Fairfax et al would have praised the progressive action. Let us not forget that Virgin’s move was above all made with “good intentions.”

My first recollection of John Borghetti happened almost 20 years ago after some utterly dreadful Qantas service, where he happened to be working at the time. Despite receiving a relatively textbook letter of apology from the Chairman, John personally called me to “connect” with this disgruntled customer. No excuses were given. No attempts were made to cover up the pitiful customer service. He listened because he wanted to learn. He was authentic. No training manual could have taught John what he did. You cannot learn sincerity from a textbook. You either are or you aren’t. The veteran community should know that they will undoubtedly get the exact same ‘ear’ from the CEO to best address needs going forward and I encourage them to speak frankly to him.

As a civilian who is now working alongside veterans I’ve learnt more this year about how wrong many of my preformed notions were with respect to former service men and women. I’ve met veterans suffering from PTSD. I’ve met a war widows who lost veteran husbands to suicide. I spent a week at the Invictus Games seeing how these amazing warriors were ‘unconquered.’ I’ve met veterans, young and old, who are struggling to reintegrate into the workforce at an event. The issues are real. I have seen the amazing work done by veterans trying to find unique ways to help their former mates reintegrate into society. I suggest we embrace Virgin and refocus their positivity.

I am honoured to be given the opportunity to work alongside veterans to make this journey and learn every day. In a sense my mission is in part to represent the civilian community to make them understand veteran needs. There are so many positive ways to affect change and move away from the growing negativity thrown at events like Anzac Day as a celebration of warmongers where our media can be as brazen to criticize brave diggers as rapists, murderers and thieves.

Put simply, we civilians absolutely owe a debt of gratitude to those who have served. How we do it is open to debate. This is at its very roots of the Virgin move. To see the board cower to public pressure and look to rescind the offer on the basis of the constant negativity so prevalent today is the wrong move. Better still, Borghetti’s sincerity should be front and centre here. There is no market collapsing “damage control” risk for Virgin at stake. It is doubtful that veterans will desert the boarding gates of Virgin to punish it.

It would be nice to see that corporate governance today teaches that holding firm on the courage of their convictions is paramount. If the board learns that it must do more due diligence, then so be it. Learn and move on. Don’t wave the white flag. I sincerely hope that the Virgin board doesn’t flake. The board represents shareholders, not the mainstream media.

If I know John Borghetti from my own personal experience, Virgin Australia can achieve what it set out to do. Helping vets.  Does Virgin divert its planes to alternative airports when bad weather arises or do they ditch the aircraft into the sea?  The board should approach this episode with the same attitude.

16yo Aussie Billy Van Eerde wins Asia Talent Cup Championship

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16yo Aussie, Billy Van Eerde, has won the Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup in Sepang in the final race of the year. He finished second in the race which should have meant he came second in the championship but his main  rival who won the race clattered into another rider earning him a 27 second penalty elevating BVE to first with the crown.

 

Banned documentary – Let There Be Light, 1946

In compiling the book of letters from the battlefields of WWII by Lt. Norman Peterson, researching PTSD in that era has unearthed some interesting facts. A documentary made by John Huston in 1946, which chronicled the treatment of troops suffering from neuro-psychiatric conditions, was banned by the Army from release to the public until 1981. The excuse made was that it was necessary to protect the identity of the patients, despite Huston having received signed waivers. It would seem the top brass did not want to have the extent of the problem acknowledged by the broader public.

The first published book related to what we now know as PTSD was the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of 1952. It listed the condition as “gross stress reaction.” It wasn’t until 1980 that PTSD was properly recognized as a psychological issue. After WWII, veterans were told to just tough it out.

WWII British Army veteran, Victor Gregg, wrote the following in The Telegraph newspaper article on 9th November 2015 with respect to PTSD like conditions.

“I remember one day during the Battle of Alamein when my friend Frankie Batt, a man I had enlisted with in 1937, was blown to pieces. I recall trying in vain to put the bits together, to somehow bring Frankie back to life. As I picked up what was left of him I could feel the hate burning inside me. For the next three or four weeks our section never brought in a single prisoner, in spite of the fact that the battle was nearly over and the enemy were surrendering in droves. So long as no officer was there to witness, we shot as many as we could until our anger died its own death…by the time I got home I had witnessed things that I had not thought possible, and my brain was filled with images of suffering that were to haunt me for the next forty years…When I was demobbed, people didn’t talk about what was going on in their minds. It just was not the done thing; you straightened your shoulders and got on with life. The men who did try to raise the subject were treated with scorn…It was only after many years that I realised how much heartache and misery my anger caused to those I loved. 

The Cambridge History of the First World War contains an article by Jay Winter, Professor of History at Yale University, where he suggested that shell shock in WWI comprised around 20% of all troops, not the 5% often reported. His contention was that the truth was deliberately suppressed otherwise sufferers would not have received a disability pension if not accompanied by physical wounds.

In 1993, MA Kidson, JC & BJ Holwill wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia a piece titled, ‘Post-traumatic stress disorder in Australian World War II veterans attending a psychiatric outpatient clinic’. Out of 108 veterans who participated in the study 45% were shown to carry symptoms of PTSD – as defined by DSM-III – 48 years after it had ended. The study claimed, The presence of PTSD was significantly associated with the taking of casualties (an indicator of severity of war stress as reported by the veterans themselves) and with combat stress as rated by their treating doctors.”

A 2007-08 study at the University Michigan looked at 78 WWII veterans being treated for depression and discovered that 38% of them had significant PTSD symptoms.

Dr. Helen Kales, principal investigator of the geriatric psychiatry section at the University of Michigan wrote,

World War II veterans come from a generation in which expressing psychological symptoms or distress was pretty stigmatized. So these cases may have gone untreated as the vets did not seek treatment and were able to somehow suppress their symptoms and function.

Reading into Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) reveals even more concerns about the problems we face dealing with returning soldiers.

While PTSD does not necessarily require physical damage to occur, TBI, in the military, tends to occur when exposed to blast-related injuries such as artillery, improvised explosive devices (IED), land mines and rock-propelled grenades (RPG).

TBI can be the result of occurrences where an object (bullet, bomb fragments) causes the scalp/skull to break or fracture. Sometimes it is a closed injury where the outside force impacts the head but no objects manage to penetrate. Even in the case of closed injuries, the brain can experience such considerable force that it can result in torn tissues, bleeding and other physical damage which can be irreversible in severe cases.

TBI was better recognized in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) where 1.64 million served. 60% of blast injuries in those conflicts resulted in TBI. According to the US Veteran Affairs (VA), 59,000 (c.10%) Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who used the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) from 2009 to 2011 were diagnosed with TBI.

VA now records that 4.3mn receive disability benefits, up 2mn from 2000. The total budget for the VA in 2019 will total $198.6bn, up from $97.7bn in 2009. It was $43.6bn in 2000. The VA is asking for $212bn for 2020. The VA budget relative to the defense spending budget was 14% in 2000. It is now 30%. The cost of war is obscene. The cost of looking after veterans is hot on defence spending heels.

Building the Education Revolution the right way

AWM at night.

Is the $500m upgrade to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) to honour recent conflicts too exorbitant? It is a lot of money. The current building is worth $140mn. The AWM cultural/heritage collection alone is worth over $1.2 billion. Only 4% of it is on display. While some will look at the expense as extreme it is worth considering some facts. Before that let’s not forget the $442mn to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA)  allocates $42.7mn of the entire $11bn budget annually to operate the AWM. Donations of $13.8m (+150% year-on-year) were made in 2017, $4.3mn in merchandise, $2mn in interest and $2mn in net GST receipts make up the balance. If one wants to be properly cynical the expansion project is only 1% of the current amount to upgrade our submarine fleet!!

As much as the complaints will flow around wasting money on glorifying war, the stats show that interest in the museum has been rising over time.

1.12 million visited the AWM in the 2017 fiscal year. A total of 844,899 people visited the Memorial in 2007. That is a 33% increase. Time spent on the AWM website totaled 5.61mn up from 4mn in 2007. Anzac Day related searches in the period just past were up 47.7% year over year. Facebook followers hit 100,000, a 27% year on year increase. So much for those who think nobody cares anymore and that there is a drop off in interest in honouring our military history. Clearly not.

Honouring the brave soldiers who have defended our freedom in recent conflicts are no less worthy of being shown respect. Should we scale the funding dependent on the number of deaths. Should we pro-rata the investment based on the 64 killed in action in armed conflicts since Vietnam to the 102,792 prior?

The AWM is already an exceptionally well designed and curated museum. The reality is there is no space to augment the collection without a rebuild.

Canberra got 4.95mn visitors annually in 2017 (+10.6% on 2016) adding $2.26bn to the ACT economy.

Expensive yes, but to ensure the aesthetics are kept tasteful and in the spirit of the 76yo AWM, it is hardly going to be worth erecting a corrugated iron shed with a few ceiling fans. Building underneath the current site will take some pretty serious engineering feats.

And to the Anzac haters whose cheap shots remain too frequent.  Even our own state broadcasters can’t resist the temptation to demean those who served. Anzac Day is treated more and more as one of resentment, not honour and sacrifice.

ABC presenter Jonathan Green protested by saying Anzac Day is “our collective quest for a military history that we can drape around us”.

Scott McIntyre, formerly of the taxpayer funded SBS, tweeted with respect to those commemorating Anzac Day,

Wonder if the poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers pause today to consider the horror all mankind suffered.

He had also tweeted,

Remembering the summary execution, widespread rape and theft committed by these ‘brave’ Anzacs in Egypt, Palestine and Japan.

As well as,

“The cultification of an imperialist invasion of a foreign nation that Australia had no quarrel with is against all ideals of modern society.”

Not to be outdone the left leaning mainstream media journalists stepped into the fray. Geoff Weinstock of Fairfax wrote on his twitter page with respect to the sacking of McIntyre,

“Ridiculous. Frightening. I also think Anzacs were racist yobs and Anzac Day is a death cult. Sack me Fairfax.”

Michael Leunig’s Anzac Day cartoon in The Age, depicted medals with a legend against each: Fear, Hate, Anger, Violence, Homicide.

Guardian columnist Catherine Deveny called Anzac Day a

“Trojan horse for racism, sexism, toxic masculinity, violence, homophobia and discrimination.”

Perhaps these people might reflect on the reality of Lt Norman Martin Peterson’s letter of 7 May 1943 which reflected on Anzac Day

“Perhaps you may think, at times, that I’m a moaner. — but it’s not that the life here (in spite of a few hardships) doesn’t agree with me, but the fact that wharfies, and coal miners, and munition workers go on strike, or want extra pay for working on Anzac Day , while the soldier (for whom Anzac Day is for), puts up everything with a wisecrack and forgets days and dates. I though finely, when we brought in a wounded bloke on Easter Monday, shot like a sieve, while in his homeland his fellow countryman strike for more pay, or holidays. Was his shocking wounds worthwhile in keeping his country safe for racecourse wages, “sportsmen (?)”, strikes, and absentees?—What do you think!!!!”

or just the general conditions these soldiers endured under constant attack by an enemy sworn to kill them. From his despatch of 5th February 1942,

“This bloody war is a terrific mental strain, you can get shot anywhere by snipers, (who never live more than two hours anyway, after they’ve climbed the trees, because our blokes comb the branches with Brens and they dangle like rabbits from their perch). I’ve lost about 2 stone {he was 154lb at the start] since I’ve been in action here, it’s tough, believe me…

“I decided to risk it and make a dash for it, a man every two minutes. Without mock heroics, my knees were knocking as I got to my feet and darted around the 200 yard long bend, expected to get one in the guts any moment. To my sorrow, around the corner we came across poor old George Jenkins, who had been guide, —shot, —our first casualty and we had only been in the place 5 minutes and a sniper had got him. The bullet had plowed through his scalp from ear to ear, and his face was a mess. Poor buggar, all he was worrying about was that he wasn’t able to tell us about the sniper and was we alright. I slapped a shell dressing on his skull, and we carried him back, —lucky buggar, he’ll go home now.”

We spent $16.2bn on Building the Education Revolution. $500m for the “educational” value in a society in desperate need of waking up to how good they have it is quite frankly cheap at twice the price.

Sayonara Japan

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Today CM leaves Japan after 20 years. This was the first time I’d actively seen passport control beg me to keep my permanent residency. For 5 minutes she painstakingly asked her senior colleagues and tried to reason with me. My comment to her was “don’t worry, I’m not drunk” after repeatedly checking whether I was sure about the decision. She asked what were the reasons. “Where do I start?”

First of all I want to thank the Japanese for their custom, politeness and privilege to stay in their country. It has been truly amazing and life changing.

Sure the honest service drives one batty with its inflexibility but to those who whine about it can always choose to live somewhere else. Respecting a culture is true of any land one visits. Note to Western civilizations. It’s up to others to fit in with the host, not the other way around. Japan has this nailed.

What was the lasting memory of Japan? Simple really. The earthquake, nuke explosion  and tsunami of 2011. What it allowed was a clear cut look at a society that is so well bonded. People didn’t loot. Nor did they greedily hoard essentials. People just took what they needed. Had this been HK or anywhere else it would have been pandemonium. Keep calm and carry on typified Japan.

The lasting photo memory was during a motorcycle trip to MinamiSanriku. This image of a tsunami darkened Minnie Mouse sent chills down my spine. Staring up at the trees on the hillside, the leaves had turned purple because of the sea water which had risen almost 20 metres high. Car wrecks ragdolled in the rip. Windows smashed out of all levels of a 5 storey apartment block. Mother Nature was angry.

When my kids begged to go to Hawaii, they protested about my suggestion to see the devastation first hand. To see with their own eyes. Video and pictures do no justice, I told them. It turns out they appreciated the experience. I gave my younger daughter – then 7 years old – my camera because I wanted to capture images through her eyes. Amazing results.

There is too much to write about with 20 years under the belt.

As the sun sets in the land of the rising sun for me personally journey it shines brightly 9,000km south.

The next stage was a no brainer. So much for dealing with alpha types in finance, many of who’d sell their grandmother given half a chance. I’m overwhelmed with excitement about the prospects of saving the lives of people who know sacrifice and have protected our freedoms. The small team I will work with are as dedicated, hungry and inspired as I am.

My life needed a reboot. Sometimes there is a touch of Tom Cruise in Risky Business in our lives where we must make hard decisions and simply say, “what the f”

Writing this novel about my grandfather’s experiences in WW2 has inspired me to think of living life to the full. How most of us have got it so easy even though some pretend we’ve never had it so bad.

I will always have a soft spot for Japan. Handing back a permanent residency might seem mad in the overall scheme of things but it was the right decision. You can’t make a new start holding onto the past.

Sayonara Japan.

40 Maseratis for PNG shows commitment to combat climate change

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Last month Australia was beaten over the head for not helping the Pacific Islands cope with the dangers of climate change which is causing those countries to supposedly slip below the waves. What better way to use part of the $150mn in aid money from Australia to buy gas guzzling sports limousines from Italy.

Of all the 4-door cars least suited to the PNG climate, Maseratis would be top of the list. Pot holed roads, firm suspension  and 20inch alloy rims wouldn’t work so well neither would the high performance V6s help lower the CO2 content that is such a grave risk to their survival. Lord only knows why anyone would pick an Italian car to stand up to corrosion by the sea side?!? To the best of CM’s knowledge a Maserati Port Moresby dealership does not exist,

Yet we shouldn’t forget that as angry as we have every right to be in Australia, these islands know how strategically important we are to them for national security that we should count ourselves lucky they didn’t go for the 4.7 litre high performance V8s with the optional high performance pack.

China’s President Xi has visited these islands in the Pacific. Our Aussie PMs Turnbull and Morrison have just sent the Foreign Minister showing a lack of priority. We just take for granted that cutting cheques should be enough to curry favour.

Do we really believe the $12mn gift from China to install CCTV cameras in PNG is for the locals’ benefit? Beijing will happily monitor everything, including facially recognizing our politicians when they visit. Might as well bug the meeting rooms while they’re at it! All because we’re too daft to think just because we have history that gives us a leg up over China. Best think again.

At the very least signing FTAs with these island nations won’t even be a rounding error for China’s GDP but there is no question we are way behind on diplomatic negotiations.

So when they buy Maseratis with our taxes we should not bat an eyelid. It’s a pittance in terms of what places like PNG mean to our long term security.  In fact we might have been better off suggesting the PNG government buy Rolls-Royce Cullinans as  a more sensible alternative given its SUV abilities.

If we’re so keen to stick to Paris should we feel guilty about nuclear power?

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Australia seems keen to stick to the Paris Accord. Despite knowing whatever we do on saving the planet through following the politics of Paris will result in no palpable change in world temperatures at considerable economic cost to overstretched taxpayers. If we seem so keen to do our bit for tokenism, why not copy so many signatories and build nuclear plants? After all if we don’t want to be censured for abandoning the accord should we feel any sense of guilt if we adopt the very same CO2 limiting measures of others? Safety in numbers – literally.

CM was privy to a meeting with a former US Navy officer who was speaking about how negative PR can create false narratives. Nuclear power was one of them. He argued that the US & Japan were losing the PR war hence technological leadership on civilian nuclear power. The likes of Toshiba-Westinghouse are now shrinking minnows whose dwindling order book looks like the victim of a sunset industry when in reality it has been terrible program management. However why should it?

Nuclear power is set to be 14% of global electricity generation by 2040 from 11% today. Emerging Asia get the practicalities of nuclear power. Affordable and sustainable baseload with virtually no emissions.

Of course the horrible outcomes of poorly managed nuclear plants has come at great financial cost as experienced most recently  with Fukushima but the safety record of nuclear power is astonishingly good. Quantum levels more people die in coal mine accidents every year than the combined deaths from radiation from Chernobyl or Fukushima meltdowns since either occurred.

The misplaced fear of Fukushima was so high at the time that Americans across the Pacific were stocking up on radiation masks and Geiger counters in preparation of impending irradiation. It seemed the further one got away from the reactor the more hysteric people became. Deaths in the US as a result of the Fukushima meltdown? Zero!

As it stands, the US has two nuclear plants under construction at present which are saddled with delays and costly overruns based on incompetent execution. The Chinese have twenty in the build phase. India 7. Korea and the UAE 4 each. Russia 3. Even Bangladesh & Pakistan have two in the pipeline using technologies outside of the US/Japan.

There are about 150 power reactors with a total gross capacity of about 160GWe on order with about 300 more proposed. Where are the former world leaders in power technology? Next to nowhere. Cowering in a corner and allowing themselves to be beaten up senseless over false statistics. Where is the PR reporting reality? It’s as if they’ve given up. Where is the media lambasting China, India and other nations for putting our lives at risk? That’s right – nowhere.

What probably escapes many people is that for all the negative news cycle around nuclear power and the thirst for renewable alternatives, many Americans are already surrounded by active nuclear plants. While they visit a zoo or the beach they are blissfully unaware that at all the naval ports dotted around the mainland (e.g. California, Connecticut, NY, Florida, DC, Texas, South Carolina etc) and islands (e.g. Hawaii, Japan) there are 100s of nuclear reactors sitting safely in close proximity to millions of civilians. Yet where is the outrage? Not a peep.

Shout from the hilltops at the efficiency of renewables all you want. Then explain why those with higher levels of renewables as baseload power end up with the highest incidents of blackouts and steepest prices.

South Australia is the case in point. Australia is home to the cheapest materials (gas, coal and uranium) to make affordable electricity but we have caved to the green madness and saddled ourselves with punitive power prices to meet goals based on unproven and often whistle blown manipulated science. If climate scientists were subject to the same punitive damages that players in the financial industry are then it is likely the “targets” leading to our ecological disaster would be pared back to such a degree we’d just keep calm and carry on. Yet because there is no risk of jail sentences the tax dollars get misappropriated, funding an industry whose survival and growth depends on fear. Talk about a lack of ethics.

Even worse we want to double down on this inefficient renewable technology (where claims are often made on 100% capacity rather than the 20% they truly operate on) despite having empirical evidence of its all too obvious shortcomings. Virtue signaling actions such as blowing up old coal fired power stations has ironically proven the stupidest of moves in that all the while demand hasn’t changed reductions in reliable baseload supply makes us vulnerable.

Throw on the desire to electrify the automobile  and we already know that existing base load won’t cope with the increased demands. Take a look at Britain as an example. Apart from the risks of losing massive fuel tax levies (around 5% of total government revenue) the power industry’s current projections of new electricity generation additions can’t meet the expected demand if we all plug our EV in overnight.

So Australia should quit worrying about what others think and act in its own best interests. Maybe Canberra needs a PR agency more than the nuclear industry does. High time to look at real data and sustainability.