For those of you not up to speed Australia’s recycling king Richard Pratt passed away this week. The Australian (supposedly Rupert Murdoch’s conscience to his mother to counteract the tabloids) published this:


Without trivialising the outbreak of Swine flu, here are some dumb questions us smart people are probably thinking.

Thanks to Dean of Public Health at Deakin Uni, Prof Calvert for this:

How unusual is this strain?

It is unusual because normally swine influenza doesn’t affect humans and when it does it often doesn’t survive. The fact that in Mexico so many people have been affected has suggested it’s a mixed human/swine virus. That is to say a person gave it to a pig before it crossed back into humans. So it’s unusual that it has affected so many people and so many young people. It is a cause for concern.

How serious is it when it can be transmitted from human to human?

It’s normally not very serious, people recover very quickly, but in Mexico there have been deaths. There have been some cases in the US — 20 today — but they’ve responded well to treatment.

People with reduced immunity — commonly very young or old, or people on drugs, or sick for other reasons — will be more vulnerable. …The level of deaths is still quite low in Mexico and of course in a country like that they don’t have a very good healthcare system and that seems to be the issue, they’re not using anti-viral medication.

How does it morph from bird, pig and human?

It’s a complicated process. The influenza virus is a street smart bug, it’s continually changing. That’s why we have different vaccines every year, our immune systems aren’t effective against it. You come up with a new variant that is potentially effective in humans, and it can be passed on from one person to another.

Bird flu is a similar situation, you get it when people and birds are close together, mixing. Flu is common in most animals and there are many different variants. The trouble with humans is that when we come across a flu strain we haven’t encountered before, our immune systems can’t cope and we get really sick.

With previous pandemics, people have had no resistance and the virus swept through the world accompanied by deaths.

When did we last see a strain of this type?

We think this is a new strain and we don’t know a great deal about it. Swine flu is present all the time and there have been occasions before when people have picked up swine flu. This is still a very early stage in trying to work out what’s going on here.

How quickly can it spread?

This swine flu is quite infectious, but in some cases it might not be a serious infection. You’d just have flu like symptoms, but there is also diarrhea and vomiting in this variety too. But in the early stages it will seem just like an ordinary flu.

How easily can it jump borders (go from country to country)?

People can pass the virus on very easily by crossing borders and we’re very used to flu, and people having those symptoms. In Australia we’re well equipped to deal with it.

How easy could it have been to arrive in Australia undetected?

Quite easily, if someone had quite recently visited Mexico or the US, they may not be very sick when they travel. It is impossible to stop it coming into Australia.

What’s the quickest way to shut it down?

Treatment of people who are sick. Our bodies will become immune if we do catch it and recover. It’s still early days to guess how virulent or serious it is.

Is it more serious than the Avian flu that we’ve heard so much about?

It depends what it is, we don’t know yet.

Why did it originate in Mexico?

Who knows? They’ve got a lot of pigs infected with human flu. It happens anywhere there’s a lot of pig farming. I don’t think there are any particular issues specific to Mexico but personal hygiene might be different, living conditions, contact with animals, and so on that is different in Australia.

Can we still eat crispy bacon?

You can indeed, there’s no reason you can’t eat cooked pork. That would kill the virus.

What about crackle? (we really love crackle)

Certainly, I imagine roasting would kill the virus nicely.

[thanks Crikey]



Boston Globe has a week to live. The Boston Globe inches ever closer to becoming the latest newspaper to shut down. Thursday, Janet Robinson, the chief executive of the New York Times Co., reiterated that the paper’s union has one week to agree to $20 million in concessions or follow Hearst Corporation’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer into the great newspaper bin in the sky. The Beantown paper is on track to lose $85 million this year.

[Media Bistro]






Wall Street Journal mini-site maps out newspaper woes. The Wall Street Journal on Friday launched an interactive mini-site that displays “adverse events” at the biggest US newspapers from 2006 to the present. Pressure on the Presses includes a US map plotting out events at the top 50 circulation newspapers. Users can drag a mouse over the market to get a pop-up description of problems at the individual paper. A color-coded guide indicates the troubles faced by the particular daily, including bankruptcy, reduced printed editions and closing.

[Editor and Publisher]

Three big elections in the space of a month: Indonesia, then India, and now South Africa, the last to commence voting but the first to report results .This was the country’s fourth post-apartheid election, and widely expected to be the most interesting, but the outcome showed very little change. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) was returned with 65.9% of the vote, down just 3.8% on its 2004 vote. That will give it 265 of the 400 seats (down 13); the Democratic Alliance, in second place, has just 67 (up 17). The Congress of the People, a breakaway from the ANC formed with high expectations last year, faded to win just 7.4% of the vote and 30 seats.

ANC leader Jacob Zuma will be the new president. Constitutionally, South Africa is unusual, having an executive president and no prime minister, but also no strict separation between legislature and executive: the president is elected by parliament, which functions more or less in Westminster fashion. The president can be thought of as a sort of super-Gordon Brown, who has taken over the functions and title of the head of state.

Newspapers in Australia previewing the election last week said that “Polls suggest Mr Zuma’s team might be struggling to get more than 64 per cent of the vote”. In most countries, a party with 64% of the vote wouldn’t be described as “struggling”, but to see why the word came to mind here it’s useful to understand some electoral history.

There’s a common pattern across Africa and much of Asia: where countries that were freed from colonialism developed a political party based on the liberation movement, that party proved almost impossible to displace electorally. Some continued to win democratic elections, while others outlawed all opposition; many were removed by military coups. But some rule their countries to this day: FRELIMO in Mozambique, SWAPO in Namibia, even (shakily) Congress in India.

In South Africa the oppressors were native whites rather than only colonial powers, but the dynamic was the same, and the accumulated prestige and organisational power of the movement that led the struggle for democracy has been strong enough to withstand serious challenge. And, of course, the Nelson Mandela factor. The first years after apartheid was characterised by ‘government by charisma’, and whites queued up to pay homage to the most famous Freedom Fighter of them all.

The opposition scored two important milestones last week: the ANC has (just) fallen below a two-thirds majority, and therefore lost the ability to amend the constitution on its own; and the Democratic Alliance has won a majority in one of the provincial parliaments, Western Cape, where its leader Helen Zille will become premier. The Western Cape is the tourist centre of the country so it’s a big win for stability.

As liberation movements go, the ANC has behaved creditably in power, and despite its huge majority in parliament it has not sought to de-legitimise the opposition; elections continue to be fair and democratic. While many observers have concerns about Zuma, it is only fair to point out he was one of the few in the ANC to criticise the autocracy of Robert Mugabe in neighboring Zimbabwe, at a time when the supposedly “moderate” leadership under Thabo Mbeki refused to speak out. Mandela gave Zuma his blessing before the election – something which surprised watchers (especially ex-pats) but Madiba is a pragmatic politician.

Nonetheless, South Africa faces major challenges, and its prospects for surmounting them can only be helped by the emergence of a strong opposition that will be a credible competitor for office and a focus on service delivery to the masses. It is heartening that President-elect Zuma has intimated that Trevor Manuel will be moved from the (highly successful) portfolio of Finance to a new and more powerful one, Planning to oversee Government delivery and performance. The markets will give this one a big tick, particularly if the new minister of Finance is his current deputy or, as the rumours go, Cyril Ramaphosa.

While, thousands of ex-pats might not like to hear this, the ANC can be proud of its achievements over the last 15 years. However, no record justifies remaining in power for ever.


Pink dots are where it’s at and blue is ‘possible’.


As Serge the painter made the finishing touches to Maison Olive’s kitchen, EasyJet was touching down at Marseilles airport bearing the Major-General Harvey and his entourage, Carolyn and Robert.

This week we’ve been touring with the Harveys. We kicked off with a visit to Saint-Didier to show Robert the Jardintrein – an amazing 53 model trains running through a well-kept and sculptured garden. Alas, EDF (French electricity) had decided to pull the plug and to the owner’s chagrin, refused to tell him when it would be re-connected. We spent the time helping him with a petition for EDF, and looking at stationery trains.

On to Gordes and Carolyn’s credit card started to warm up.

A visit to the Asparagus farm was a highlight for all with Robert and Caro travelling with Jean-Pierre in his Citroen de chevaux (so named due to the two little silver horses on the bonnet).

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Buying fresh asparagus is a serious business –

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    A visit to Louramin meant that the credit card really started to click into top gear. Here’s the MG bemused and trying to be patient outside a store not quite believing the purchases –

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   On the construction front. Jose and his compadres have been busy enjoying the glorious spring weather and the pool house has reached maximum wall height. This was achieved by Friday lunchtime – guess who didn’t work on Friday afternoon!

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     Two wonderful characters have arrived to do the paving on the front steps and around the pool. We can’t find out their names simply because they refuse to take the brown roll-ups out of their mouths long enough for us to understand their names. They appeared for a day, left, re-appeared sometime between 6pm and 9pm (we were enjoying some vin and manger at the Fox-Duncans) and have not re-appeared.

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    Needless to say, the job is half-finished.

Our entrance has started with Jean-Pierre’s wall in the middle completed and an old Roman Sarcopage lifted on to it by a benevolent delivery crane.

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Saturday night was a night out at a local Bistro in Maubec. The owner/chef is an accomplished jazz musician and the Harvey, Fox, Duncan and Burrow clan mixed with the locals for a feast and some great jazz.

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The Harveys have moved off to Nice for a week, the spring weather has broken with some welcome rain for the garden (Simon nearly had to start repairing the irrigation system) and we’re taking a breather.

Au bientot!

Lovonne and Simon


Ahhh the Kiwis. The New Zealand government has realised that the two islands of which the country is substantially composed have never been officially named, and is holding a competition to do so.

Some suggestions:

North Island: Nuth Island, South Island: Suth Island
North Island: Nowheresville, South Island: Sheep Brothel
North Island: South Fiji, South Island: North Ice
North Island: Dom, South Island: Femme
North Island: East Bondi, South Island: South-east Bondi
North Island: The Big Rubber Gloved Hand Helping Round The S-Bend A, South Island: Post-Six Guinnesses Turd (sounds better in Maori)
North Island: The Island North of the more Southerly of the Two Islands, South Island: Sheep Brothel
North Island: Luctor, South Island: Emergo
North Island: Landmass East of Australia No.1, South Island: Landmass East of Australia No.2
North Island: Z-z-z land, South Island: Shee- you’re way ahead of me



To-day is William Shakespeare birthday. He was born in 1564 – making him 445 years old.

Critic Peter Craven has some insightful words about the event:

“He’s still the yardstick for the sort of people who make The Bill (thousands of British actors make the jump from playing a crim or a cop to mouthing blank verse). Neil Armfield told me that Heath Ledger a couple of years before his death was talking about playing Hamlet in Australia. (He apparently caused quite a stir when he did it at school in Perth.)

And there is nothing like Shakespeare to indicate to a young actor the elasticity and grandeur that acting can effect if the actor has the equipment. In January, Cate Blanchett was absolutely compelling in Sydney as Richard II in Benedict Andrews’ The War of the Roses (despite the gender bend) and then turned up hours later in the midst of a hit and miss and remorselessly cutting edge abridgement of the History Plays — sometimes with chaps like Benedict so much edge is cut you wonder what’s left — and gave as fine a performance as Lady Anne in Richard III as the world has seen.

Two years ago Melbourne got see Ian McKellen’s King Lear, directed by Trevor Nunn for the Royal Shakespeare Company, with all the savagery and music that a great actor can bring to that most exacting of all the great tragic roles.

Lear’s Howl over the body of Cordelia is like the death of the family and of every human hope. When I was a child, a lifetime ago, I saw John Gielgud do the last scene of King Lear with the tears pouring down his face. It taught me, in a way nothing else could, that there was more to Shakespeare than eloquence.

That was a one-man show, an actor and bare boards. Anyone who saw John Stanton do his one-hander about Shakespeare’s Kings, And When He Falls, which he was doing at 45 Downstairs in Melbourne a few weeks ago would have felt the dazzle of the greatest range of moods and machinations behind the rhetoric and poetry of the language.

Of course you have to surrender to eloquence in the first place which is why kids should be subjected to the Ian McKellens of this world. As John Cleese said once, no one would know how Shakespeare was done unless they saw it. More particularly, unless they heard it. If you want kids to cotton on to Shakespeare encourage them to listen to the Gielguds and Oliviers, the Vanessa Redgraves and the Judi Denchs. The story goes that when Marlon Brando was lined up to play Marc Antony in the old MGM film of Julius Caesar (with James Mason as Brutus and John Gielgud as Cassius) he shut himself in his trailer and the man who made Stanley Kowalski part of modern memory proceeded to listen over and over to recordings of Laurence Olivier. The upshot in the film is staggering and absolutely classical for all its apparent iconoclasm.

Brando learnt to feel Shakespeare by learning to hear him. It’s something we can give our children. It’s easy to shy away from being blimpish about this kind of thing and think that every young teenager should be left to her Twilight and her Gossip Girl or whatever comes in its wake. In fact, Shakespeare is the essence of the glamour of our entire dramatic tradition.

Even though glamour is something he can always transcend. Think of Miriam Margolyes (performing in the new Australian play Realism for the Melbourne Theatre Company at the moment). In Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet, Leo and Clare Daines don’t sound as if they’ve been paying any mind to the cadences of Gielgud or Maggie Smith but Miriam as the Nurse was completely undeterred by the Mexicano accent she had to assume and gave a wonderful performance as that sublime garrulous dolt of a woman. In fact, if you want a kid to get intimate with the music and drama of Romeo and Juliet you might try them out on that late sixties version that Zeffirelli put on celluloid. A few years later Peter Brook made a film (shot by Ingmar Bergman’s cinematographer Sven Nykvist) of Paul Scofield’s King Lear.

And you can get God’s plenty of Shakespeare on DVD: Ken Branagh or Mel Gibson as Hamlet, Laurence Fishburne as Othello, Al Pacino as Shylock, the Branagh/Emma Thompson Much Ado About Nothing, Burton and Taylor in Taming of the Shrew, Olivier or McKellen as Richard III. Two recent additions to the catalogue are Maggie Smith as Portia in The Merchant of Venice and a DVD of the McKellen/Nunn Lear.

Or, if you want to invest in the Complete Works and you’re willing to shop around on the net, you can get the whole BBC Shakespeare for about $300. You’ll need to ensure that your DVD player is zoneless but assuming this you’ll get everything in this 1980’s recapitulation of Shakespeare’s dramatic corpus from the young Helen Mirren in As You Like It and a Midsummer Night’s Dream, Anthony Hopkins as one of the last white Othellos, Derek Jacobi as Hamlet and Richard II, Elijah Moshinsky directing a superb Coriolanus with Alan Howard.

It’s a steal and the thing really is the greatest sentimental education the English language has on offer.

Remember Cleopatra saying, the asp at her breast, “Peace, see you not my baby that sucks the nurse asleep. Or Hotspur — I always hear Sean Connery’s voice say the words, as I first heard them in childhood — “Die all, die merrily”. Or Falstaff saying to his old tiresome friend, “We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow.”

We tip our hat to the Bard.


Seth of sister site, made a rather rash promise to cruise down Camps Bay, Cape Town strip on Election Day wearing a leopard skin thing if he won the local 2009 Blog awards. Well, the gongs came flowing in – so he had to front up.

We like a man who pays his dues.

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