Things go better with Santa

By Guest Writer Phil Dickie*

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Photo by Susan Brown: A sumptuous Saint Nicholas awaits customers in a Berlin department store. He’ll sit with the kids, but you have to take your own photographs.

Think Santa Claus. Think an overweight gent with a white beard wearing a distinctive red coat with white fur trim and a hat to match.

In the English speaking world, that’s it. But while the tubby one is certainly known in continental Europe, he is not alone. Often, he is not even there in the Christmas accessory departments and when you make discrete inquiries you might be told “Oh, you mean the Coca-Cola Santa Claus.”

A rough census through a well-stocked Swiss Christmas department turned up around 40 distinct Santas, absolutely none in the generic costume of the English speaking world. Most had white whiskery bits, but a goatee could be as acceptable as a flowing white beard. Some were even thin, many sported gold and silver threads and autumn colours were certainly popular.

While we have opted for the single depiction Santa, Europe continues to provide some support for the rich, varied and multilayered traditions that lie between a couple of fourth century bishops and a Coca-Cola casting couch. Our Santa, it must be said, doesn’t look very saintly anymore. On the other hand, some of the multiple Santas of Europe also would look much more at home in a pagan romp through the woods than they would preaching from a pulpit.

It is generally accepted that the original St Nicholas was the fourth century Bishop of Myra. A few remnants of Myra have somehow survived the lack of development controls on building greenhouses around the modern Turkish town of Kale – including the mostly Byzantine elements of the basilica where St Nicholas, benefactor of seamen and prostitutes, was buried in 343 AD.

But St Nicholas is no longer there. Freebooting Italians removed his bones, or at least some bones, in the 11th century. Freebooters from Bari just beat freebooters from Venice with an identical plan, so it was Bari that got to follow the usual trajectory of development in those days – bung the bones in a new crypt, build a new basilica overhead and sit back and enjoy the pilgrim trade. Maybe the Venetians were still sore about this when they diverted a crusade against the Muslims into sacking Christian Byzantium (now Muslim Istanbul) a couple of centuries later.

St Nicholas, meantime, spent the centuries appearing, disappearing and performing unexpected miracles all over Europe. To give the pilgrim trade something to fasten on to in a suitably lucrative way, churches, shrines and even villages dedicated to St Nicholas sprang up. But you have got to be careful. A Swiss St Niklaus kirch is just as likely to be for the 15th century soldier, statesman and saint who helped fit the pope up with a Swiss bodyguard. Having arranged a powerful friend, he then advised the infant nation to prosper by leaving the neighbours alone and staying out of their wars.

Other times, the stories are deliciously obscure. The Matterhorn Valley church of St Niklaus (of Myra) was meant to be constructed safely in the middle of a field but the builders kept losing their tools. Then a boy survived a rockfall, exclaimed “Holy Nicholas wouldn’t permit it” and the church was built on the site of this miracle. The church has had an accident prone existence ever since, being flattened by an avalanche in 1720. The 36-metre steeple of the much rebuilt church is now dressed up as the world’s tallest Santa Claus each December – but still looks more bishop than billboard.

Others will tell you that the ancestor of Santa Claus wasn’t St Nicholas of Myra but Bishop Basil of Caesarea. The Roman Empire had many towns called Caesarea but this one is also in modern day Turkey, not that far north of Myra as it happens. Basil, who lived around the same time as Nicholas, is rather better documented in early church records as an actual preaching, politicking and existing cleric than his rival.

In central Northern Europe, children allegedly began receiving mid-winter gifts from a former demon who had turned virtuous under the influence of a usually un-named saint. This may well have been a Christian rewrite job on earlier tales that the undisciplined Norse god Wodin was also uncharacteristically kind to children when the seasons were hard.

A mix of the Mediterranean and the northern traditions is believed to have provided the basis of both the English Father Christmas and the Dutch Sinterklasse. Sinterklasse emigrated to New Amsterdam, and Father Christmas presumably followed when the American city changed its name to New York.

Not even Coca-Cola claims to have created Santa Claus in the modern image, although he was certainly popularised in 1930s advertising designed to lift the mid-winter appeal of refrigerated soft drinks. Coca-Cola, pundits will be delighted to know, was mainly responsible for the girth of the red-robed one, although the artists were trying to convey jolliness rather than the consequences of drinking too much Coke.

The American Santa then travelled everywhere that Coke did, which was everywhere US service personnel were sent or stationed during and after the Second World War. In other words, nearly everywhere there is.

Coke’s artists were working up an image that had been built up by a succession of earlier American poets and artists who transformed Sinterklaas and his English relative into Santa Claus. A satirist gave him a wagon in 1812, a poet turned that into a sleigh in 1821 and another poet added eight reindeer and a preference for diving down chimneys a year later. Santa gave up smoking (a pipe) in 1849, got the basic costume from a commercial artist in 1863 and a North Pole address from another poet in 1869.

“Which Santa sells best?” I ventured to ask Maurice Schilliger, proprietor of the Swiss store where I conducted my census. He wasn’t sure. “I do design, not commerce,” he said. Maybe, but maybe he also majored in diplomacy.

“Er, where are all these Santas made?” I asked. I was thinking, I must confess, of some vast factory floor in China where the proletarian masses are stitching up Santas to any requirement.

“The North Pole,” he said. Of course. Where else.

*Phil Dickie is an expatriate Australian journalist and author best known for ‘outing’ corrupt police and politicians in Queensland. Together with an ABC Four Corners programme, his series of investigative articles led to the Fitzgerald Inquiry in the 1980s and won him a Gold Walkley award. Phil, now based near Geneva, Switzerland, recently concluded a five-year stint as inaugural global issues manager with WWF International and is again available for interesting assignments or employment.

www.melaleucamedia.com.au

(Bob and She Who Is 10% Irish are on holiday!)

Elephant captured on Nullarbor Plain

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Photo by Mario Micklisch https://flic.kr/p/peLSQA

An African elephant dubbed ‘Ferd’ by social media followers has been cornered in an industrial shed near a roadhouse on the Nullarbor Plain. Ferd escaped from the Perth Zoo three months ago and has been spotted variously in WA and the Northern Territory. Facebook posts claimed sightings on Groote Eylandt.

Shed owner Tony is making a bit of cash on the side charging travellers $10 to pose for an elephant selfie. The Grey Nomad website www.welikefreestuff.dot described this as “exploitation” and lamented the lack of a seniors’ discount.

“It’s weird,” said Tony. “Everybody takes selfies to post on Facebook but nobody actually wants to talk about the elephant in the room.”

At which point you can see this  story about Ferd the elephant is not unlike the proliferating fake news stories on social media which commonly use a  headline and intro like this to suck you in. The more insidious fake news items, however, are portrayed as legitimate news stories and are often picked up and shared.

Satire is not fake news and vice versa

Some of the fake news websites which churn out stories cast themselves as satirists, but it is a loose label, apt to blow off in the wind. A yarn about an elephant wandering the Australian desert is probably satire.

It is satire when someone suggests the Pope is marrying (famous female pop singer) and running for the White House. Fake news is a story about the Pope endorsing Donald Trump (quickly debunked by hoax tracking website www.snopes.com.

WTOE 5 News, which broke the story, claimed that news outlets around the world were reporting on the Pope’s unprecedented endorsement. But Snopes found that no reputable news publications confirmed it, because WTOE 5 News, masquerading as a local television news outlet, does not publish factual stories.

But social media is not so discriminating. As Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab pointed out, this fake yarn, which appeared in July, was shared almost 1 million times, versus 36,000 shares for the story debunking it.

One such story prior to the US election suggested the Amish had committed their vote to Donald Trump. Only 10% of Amish vote at all.

Another story suggested Barack Obama was abolishing the oath of allegiance in US schools. Sounds believable but simply not true.

Before people caught on to the idea of making money by spreading fake news on social media, the so-called supermarket tabloids cornered the market.

Here you will see obviously misleading headlines like “Diana is still alive” or “Hillary Gay Crisis” or “Aliens settle in San Francisco”.

By contrast, fake news stories circulated on social media prior to the election were entirely plausible – until you read to the end or read the website’s disclaimer.

But who has the time to (a) read the whole article before (b) sharing it or (c) checking out the veracity via factcheck.com or snopes.com?

Fake news here to stay

David Glance, writing in The Conversation, says fake news is driven by advertising and is here to stay. Glance, Director of Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia, says a great deal of the recent fake news targeted at Trump supporters appears to have originated in the Macedonian town of Veles. Websites with legitimate-sounding names fed pro-Trump fake news, which in turn generated large revenues from traffic generated through Facebook shares.

Glance says it may be tempting to think that news from reputable media organisations is more reliable, but they too are still influenced by partisan opinion and the pressures to advertise and generate traffic and sales.

“Ultimately, there is no protection from fake news other than to adopt a sceptical view of all news and take the truth of it on balance of likelihood and confirmation from multiple reputable sources.”

Facebook and parent company Google say they are going to crack down on fake news sites. The New York Times reported last week that Google would ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service. Facebook updated its policy, which already says it will not display ads on sites that show misleading or illegal content, to include fake news sites.

Paul Who?

So who are the people who spend their days (and nights) churning out fake news? Some publications have identified Paul Horner, described by Wikipedia as an internet news satirist and writer. Horner confesses to being as described and highlights a few of the stories he has written that have been picked up and shared by internet news sites. The Amish was his, so too Obama banning the oath of allegiance and Horner has recently told the Washington Post that he helped get Donald Trump elected.

Horner’s various websites pose as legitimate websites, but if you jump to the disclaimer, the author leaves himself an out by clearly stating that “…all news articles contained within are fiction, and presumably fake news.”

As David Glance observed, mainstream media is not immune to fakery, or at least allowing embellished news to be published. The blame is placed upon gutted newsrooms, where veterans with 20 years’ or more experience are replaced by school leavers and interns. The Guardian quoted an (un-named) journalist who described the pressure to perform online:

“So much news that is reported online happens online. There is no need to get out and doorstep someone. You just sit at your desk and do it and, because it is so immediate, you are going to take that risk. Editors will say, ‘The BBC got that six seconds before we did.’”

Some editors defend the bull at a gate approach as online news can be instantly updated (or taken down), when errors become obvious. FOMM can confirm this strategy as we have occasionally corrected minor errors on our website (it’s Hillary with two l’s, Bob).

Fake news is nothing new. As David Glance says, quoting French philosopher Michel de Montaigne (re the turmoil and divisions of 16th century France):

“Is it not better to remain in suspense than to entangle yourself in the many errors that the human fancy has produced? Is it not better to suspend your convictions than to get mixed up in these seditious and quarrelsome divisions?”

Fake news stories only a problem if you read them

Facebook has been blamed by some commentators for helping The Donald get elected, but it’s a specious argument. Filmmaker Michael Moore said people in America’s forgotten ‘rust belt’ made their minds up about Trump years ago.

Moore was interviewed in July by www.cnn.com (a real news website), where he talked about the reasons why Trump would win.

If he’s able to pull it off, it will be because on that day, a lot of angry white guys, a lot of guys who have a justifiable right to be angry — guys and women– who have suffered during the last decade,” Moore said.

The Pew Institute says 13% of Americans (about 41 million, 41% of whom are over 65); do not have internet access because: the internet is too difficult to use (34%), they have no interest in going online (32%), or internet access is too expensive (19%).

Moore’s angry white men were never going to be swayed by fake stories about the Pope or the Amish, if indeed they read them in the first place.

 

Surfing the gender vote

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Photo “The Watch” by Eric Neitzel https://flic.kr/p/kQRQLp

So we’re walking along the beach, me feeling over-dressed in board shorts, t-shirt, socks and joggers (to protect a bruised toe). We passed a group of more appropriately beach-clad women and girls (though one wore a wet suit), taking surfing lessons from a sun-worn guy in his 30s. Not that I ever surfed, but it seems to me that in the 1960s, surfing was something boys did while the girls sat on the beach, admiring their boyfriends and guarding personal items.

Later, She Who Always Wears Sunscreen came out of the change rooms wearing shorts and a bra.

“Seems I left my t-shirt on the beach,” she mused. “And I don’t feel like going back to get it.”

It says a bit about feminism in 2016 that a woman can feel OK about going around in public in a bra, however temporarily.

It covers considerably more of me than some of the women I’ve seen on the beach,” she rightly observed.

Despite statistics that suggest women make up only 15% of the surfing cohort, the sport is rising in popularity among the under-20s. There’s lots of research about this, though you need to get behind click bait articles like “Top 20 Hottest Girl Surfers” to find there has always been a determined posse of women who wanted to surf waves – since the 1920s even.

Yet Cori Schumacher, writing in The Guardian, contends that despite female pro surfers pushing the standards ever higher, they still have to compete with a double standard that demands they define their femininity within ‘a male sexual economy’.

Schumacher explained this double standard goes further than female surfers feeling pressure to surf in a bathing suit. Body image issues aside, prize money for professional surfers is skewed heavily in favour of men.

In 1976, the first year pro women surfers were paid, 20% of prize money was allocated to women. In 2011, when Schumacher wrote this, 22% of the total prize purse went to female surfers.

The ‘babes in bikinis’ gender caricature aside, there are plenty of strong female role models listed in Surfer Today.

In politics, as in surfing, one not ought to confuse a woman’s right to compete with an assumption that being female equals feminist ideals and/or leftie politics.

There have been more than enough female world leaders to suggest that they are just as likely to lean to the right as the left of politics.

It is now known that 42% of women voted for Donald Trump in last week’s shock election result. The New York Times noted that 70% of those participating in an exit poll said they thought Trump’s behaviour toward women was ‘a problem’, yet 30% of people who said that voted for him anyway.

One can hardly rely upon US election statistics to define social trends when 46% of Americans did not vote at all.

The Atlantic tried to set the record straight about gender voting in the US, maintaining that 54% of women voted for Hillary Clinton and 42% for Donald Trump (it also means 4% voted for someone else, but let’s not muddy the waters).

Exit-poll data indicated that 94% of black women and 68% of Hispanic women voted for Clinton, The Atlantic reported a few days ago.

The article cited Kelly Dittmar from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University: “If only women voted in this election (and no one else), Clinton would have won.”

That kind of wishful thinking aside, the more relevant number is that roughly 100 million eligible people (approximately 48% of whom are women), did not vote. Many journalists opined that those who did not vote were lazy or apathetic.

Yet the Pew Institute’s research on non-voters said only 2% cited ‘laziness’ as an excuse, the same proportion of those who said they could not vote because they were in jail or on parole.

The five main reasons for not voting were:

  • No time or just haven’t done it (voted) 19%;
  • Recently moved 17%;
  • Don’t care about politics 14%;
  • No confidence in government 12%;
  • Not a US citizen 7%.

We have seen many successful women come and go in the ruthless sphere of international politics. Recent female Prime Ministers include Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley (New Zealand), Julia Gillard (Australia) and Portia Simpson-Miller (Jamaica). Incumbent government heads include Theresa May (UK), Angela Merkel (Germany) and Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

Forbes Magazine recently published a list of the world’s most powerful women, currently headed by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen. After November 8, 2016, Hillary Clinton may be off the list altogether.

One might also expect First Lady Michelle Obama to drop off this list too, although she has plenty of support to have a crack at the top job.

The list included 11 heads of state, one 90-year-old monarch, two first ladies and two top-seed diplomats.

A FOMM reader greeted me at the markets one day, suggesting as a future topic the humble bicycle’s role in gender relations, circa 1890. Simply put, the bicycle allowed Victoria-era women freedom of movement; moreover, the practicalities of riding a bike dressed in hoop skirt and girdle led to less cumbersome garments and, ahem, greater freedom of movement. David Hendrick remarked upon this in a paper for the University of Virginia, noting that the advent of the bicycle gave Victorian women autonomy and a way of leaving the house without relying on men for travel. He agreed with women’s rights advocate Susan B Anthony that the bicycle had “done more to emancipate women that anything else in the world”.

This was a good 30 years before the first Wahine took a long board out beyond the breakers, but perhaps you’ll see my point.

Cori Schumacher, an openly gay, world-ranked surfer, says she grew up surfing in California in the 1980s and 1990s, but very few women surfed in the earliest days of her youth.

Surfing was then described as a ‘male-dominated’ activity, but even with the growing population of female surfers, there has not been a corresponding increase in representation or equal pay.

Schumacher said “…rather than surfing being merely male-dominated, it is also a farm for masculinity and androcentrism.”

No doubt someone is running a book right now on the prospect of an androcentric Trump presidency appointing any women (apart from the third first lady, if you get my meaning), to a position of influence.

The odds of a prominent Muslim woman being appointed, even as a White House advisor, are longer still. Interestingly (facts gleaned from my kind of surfing), show that two of the Muslim women described in this article were appointed as White House advisors.

As if that were not enough, FOMM’s online surfing also uncovered three new words: androcentrism (placing the male human being at the centre of one’s world view), Wahine (female surfer) and Awk! (old school cry of alarm or excitement – e.g., spotted an excellent wave).

 

 

Refugees travelling light

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Sri Lankan refugees – photo climatalk.com flickr

As I was packing a bag for a few days away at the beach, news items I had just read about refugees began to trouble me. Most of the articles were about people being shunted out of Calais, not knowing where they were going next.

We’ve all read about ‘The Jungle’, a ramshackle refugee camp at Calais, located close to the cross-channel tunnel which carries commerce between France and England. Since 1999, the camp has developed in an ad hoc way, attracting refugees and migrants from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. People in this camp attempted irregular entry to the UK via the Port of Calais or the Eurotunnel, stowing away on lorries, ferries, cars, or trains travelling to the UK. The French began evacuations in late October 2016, with 170 buses carrying people to French towns and villages. Predictably, this has galvanised people from the near and far right to form Not in Our Village groups.

There has been much consternation about the fate of 1,600 or so unaccompanied minors (mostly teenagers), who have been rehoused temporarily in converted shipping containers. News reports about this aspect of the evacuation are quite bleak.

Many volunteer groups have formed in the second half of 2016 to fill the void left by a lack of state support from Britain and France.  Grassroots campaign Calais Action updated the state of play in the Jungle on its Facebook page.

About 1,600 minors remained, with more than 100 sleeping rough in the burned and demolished camp, fed only by groups of volunteers. Calais Action said 1,626 minors were transferred on November 2 to reception and accommodation centres across France.

The thousands of people crammed into the camp at Calais had been given almost no notice they would be moved and few seemed to know where they were bound.

This is not something we first-world Australians tend to think about, although our 105,000 homeless people might disagree. The latter, their accumulated belongings in storage, maybe, the vital stuff in carry bags, or trolleys; they are a bit like refugees in that they are often on the move, rarely able to plan ahead.

So yes, it makes you think, when packing for a beach holiday. She Who Signed up for Airbnb managed to snaffle a beach-front villa for a few days of R&R. By definition, R&R means take almost nothing from your regular life. A few changes of clothes, a smart casual set on a hanger in case we go out, a pair of shoes, a pair of sandals, togs and a hat. And the tote bag with one’s toiletries and medications. Best not forget that.

Discretionary items might include books, DVDs, e-reader, laptop, iPod and a scrabble set.

I’m eyeing my 12-string guitar, sitting in its case with shiny new strings.

“They’ll need bedding in,” I say, taking up a degree of space in the back of the wagon, “the strings, that is.”

We have to take our own linen,” She said. “There’s still the eskies and boxes of groceries.”

Brits who took up the sponsored immigration option in the 1950s and 1960s will know that luggage was restricted to one sea trunk per person. You can get quite a lot of stuff in an old sea trunk, but inevitably bigger items like bicycles, billy carts and pianos got left behind.

It is far worse than that for so many refugees. The lucky (and smart) ones have a mobile phone and charger, a portable and powerful ally for people on the move. But for the rest, it’s a daily ritual of washing and drying their scant supply of clothes and bartering with others – a cigarette for a Band-Aid.

You may be surprised to learn the subject of what refugees take with them on the road has been well documented. Quite a few of the people depicted in this Mercy Corps article fled with just the clothes on their back. If they had personal items like jewellery, watches or beads, they were often gifts from family left behind.

These vignettes include a photo of Muhanad, 7, whose family had lived in Jordan for two years. The seven-year-old is holding a robot toy, a birthday gift from his grandfather ‘who is now in heaven’.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) interviewed 30 refugees in its 2015 feature “What’s in my Bag”.

In 2015, nearly 100,000 men, women and children from war-torn countries in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia fled their homes and travelled by rubber dinghies across the Aegean Sea to Lesbos, Greece.

“Refugees travel light, for their trek is as dangerous as it is arduous. They are detained, shot at, hungry. Smugglers routinely exploit them, promising safety for a price, only to squeeze them like sardines into tiny boats. Most have no option but to shed whatever meagre belongings they may have salvaged from their journeys.”

Aboessa, 20, a mother from Syria, left home with a packing list almost wholly dedicated to her baby, including a hat, an assortment of medication, a bottle of sterile water, and a jar of baby food.

Iqbal, 17, from Afghanistan, at the time stranded in Lesbos, brought a tube of face whitener cream.

“I want my skin to be white and hair to be spiked — I don’t want them to know I’m a refugee.”

The contents of Iqbal’s kit: one pair of pants, one shirt, one pair each of shoes and socks, shampoo and hair gel, toothbrush and toothpaste, comb, nail clipper and bandages. He also had 130 Turkish lira, US $100, a smart phone and back-up cell phone and SIM cards for Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey.

So just for the sport, I’m drawing up an emergency list of stuff I’d need if I had to flee without notice: medications, glasses, hat, one change of clothes and a jacket, wife, one pair of shoes and a diatonic harmonica on which to play Aussie campfire faithfuls like ‘The Road to Gundagai’. Of course I’d take a smart phone and charger, and a small laptop with which to read online and write and broadcast the news.

February 24, 2019: “Conditions are bleak here in Moree, where we have been herded across the border. Since the Make America Great Again Act of 2018, Queensland and the NT have been annexed as the 57th and 58th States respectively, quarantined as key US defence and resources protectorates. Marines and ‘volunteers’ have built a wall, to keep us out and essential workers in. A source tells me a nuclear power plant, fed from new mines in western Queensland and the NT, is being built at Port Douglas. The Great Barrier Reef is being dredged to provide new export shipping channels. Anyone ethnically or culturally suspect or over 50 and not employed in essential industries has been deported.

So thousands of us are squatting here in the dusty showgrounds, Muslims, grey nomads and a few hippies, squabbling over water and shade. The dump point has overflowed, it is 38 degrees and a storm is brewing. No-one knows when we will be moved on. I’ve run out of Lexapro and the chemist is boarded up. More later. Battery dying.”

 

Trump, Clinton and the third candidate

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Aussie tourist poses outside Trump World Tower, Manhattan. Photo by Laurel Wilson

Who, except Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, would want to be leader of a nation today? The manic, 24/7 pressure of life in the top job makes old men (and women) out of youthful candidates in no time. At home, we saw the pressure tell in quick succession on Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and now Malcolm Turnbull, who no longer resembles the debonair bon vivant who aspired to high political station. In the US, Barack Obama’s eight years in the job is etched into his face.

Yet the aspirant leaders keep coming. Hillary wants the top job, even though she saw what it did to her husband, not to mention Monica Lewinsky, these days engaged in anti-bullying campaigns.

Donald Trump wants to make America great again (though no-one has yet proven when the US was ever great). Former Australian PM Tony Abbott was cited (from afar), telling high-ranking people overseas he planned to make a leadership comeback. Whether he did or didn’t say this, on his return, Abbott and Turnbull clashed jousting sticks in the House, prompting gasps and gossip amongst Canberra lobbyists.

Who’d be a world leader? US presidents get asked to make awful decisions, to wit Harry Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on two Japanese cities in 1945, killing between 130,000 and 226,000 people. Harry didn’t drop the bombs, but it was his head that nodded when the generals asked him if they should.

Even Australian Prime Ministers are asked to make unpalatable decisions which may come back to haunt future generations. Bob Menzies bowed to pressure from Great Britain, who wanted to test atomic bombs in Australia’s western desert. After all, they could hardly do it in Manchester or Liverpool. People would have complained.

Some impressions of this seldom-scrutinised period in our history are captured in Collisions, an 18-minute multimedia film by Lynette Wallworth. The Monthly’s Quentin Sprague reviewed the ‘immersive’ film which premiered in Adelaide and is playing as a ‘virtual reality experience’ at Melbourne’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image until mid-January. Nyarra Nyarri Morgan, a young man in the 1950s when he witnessed the mushroom cloud above the desert, recalls its impact: “the surrounding waterholes boiled and kangaroos fell to the ground under a drifting blanket of ash.”  Later, when people became sick after eating the fallen kangaroos, they mused: “What god would do such a thing.”

Harry Truman recalls approving the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In a biography written by his daughter, Margaret Truman, Harry’s decision to over-rule the general who believed the Japanese would surrender under the onslaught of conventional bombs, was aimed at saving Japanese and American lives. Almost 80,000 died after the firebombing of Tokyo, part of a planned programme of incendiary bombing.

“It was not an easy decision to make,” Truman said. “I did not like the weapon. But I had no qualms if in the long run millions of lives could be saved.”

After a successful testing in New Mexico, Truman approved the bombing of four targets – Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata and Nagasaki

Given the history, you do wonder about people like Donald Trump, a self-described multi-billionaire who has no material need, apparently, to live in the White House. There are bigger and better mansions and easier jobs than making America great again, or even for the first time.

Why would he want to be the one with the power to pick up the red telephone? There is no guarantee either that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t pick up the red phone.

The media is making much of the Clinton-v-Trump clash, mostly ignoring a third candidate, Libertarian Gary Johnson and his running mate Bill Weld. Johnson and Weld say they have a master plan to sneak the presidency from under the noses of Trump and Clinton.

The Washington Times reported on Monday the pair say they can change history and win the election through a combination of quirky political circumstances, voting variables and polling inaccuracies. Polling data shows Johnson and Weld have greater support in 20 states than the margin between the Republican and the Democrat, neither of whom will find it easy to snare the necessary 270 votes. One or two states could determine the outcome.

Former Republican adviser Bill Whalen agrees there is a scenario where neither Hilary Clinton nor Donald Trump wins the presidency. He told ABC Radio’s Eleanor Hall on Wednesday much hinged on the outcome in Utah, where candidate Evan McMullen has snared enough votes to win that state. It could be that the House of Representatives will decide who is best suited to the Oval Office: Trump could be deemed ‘unsuitable’ and Clinton’s election risky, as it could spark a constitutional crisis if a Federal investigation finds against her. Enter stage left, Evan McMullen, an inscrutable former CIA operative who has a theoretical chance at the White House.

Here is yet another reason to cite The Simpsons. “Citizen Kang(season 8), still rules as the best piss-take of the two-party political system. Homer is abducted by aliens Kang and Kodos who demand he takes them to his leader. When Homer explains about the (1996) election, the aliens kidnap presidential candidates Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, placing them in suspended animation and assuming their forms through “bio-duplication.” The one-eyed aliens plan to ensure one of them will become the next leader succeeds, despite their alienating habits of walking hand in hand, drooling green slime and talking in robotic voices (“Klin-ton”). Kang is subsequently elected, enslaving humanity into building a giant ray gun, to be aimed at an un-specified planet:

Meanwhile, the global media obsession with Trump vs Clinton, which promises to continue until January, provides perfect cover for our conniving government, which seems intent on homogenising the arts and making sure people who tried to get to Australia by boat go (somewhere else), and never return. Comedian Lucy Valentine suggested they should make this law retrospective to 1788.

Of lesser significance, maybe, but mean-spirited nevertheless, Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced cuts to student loan funding for 57 creative arts diploma courses including circus, screen acting, stained glass, art therapy and jewellery. Additionally, the government capped loans for creative diplomas to $10,000 compared to $15,000 for agriculture and engineering.

Birmingham said the changes were made to focus on courses which would ‘benefit Australia economically in the 21st century’.

“Currently there are far too many courses that are being subsidised that are used simply to boost enrolments, or provide “lifestyle” choices, but don’t lead to work.”

Predictably, this decision brought forth a torrent of commentary on social media, ranging from reasoned debate to outright vitriol.

This issue, however, has slipped behind the international smokescreen which is the US presidential election campaign; a litany of (alleged) lies and counter-lies, insults and counter insults, accusations of defamation and one lawyer’s letter, published in the New York Times, which is very much worth reading.

If Donald Trump does not win the election, he has promised to sue everyone who has accused him of behaviour unbecoming of a US presidential candidate. It will be a long list.

He should probably just go back to building high-rise towers, hotels and golf courses and making money. He claims to be pretty good at that.

Independent journalism, commentary, satire and droll humour, posted here on Fridays.