I have been to more conferences than I care to remember and have often listened to old, old fogeys spouting forth. But one of the more fascinating experiences is when some very old man or woman ends up delivering a mish-mash of odd ideas, if not simply rambling on incoherently. I have wondered about knowing when to stop, when your mind and mouth are no longer what they used to be. I guess it requires someone else to tell you.

But over the last few days another idea hit me: an old fogey panel or series of panels. This would be reserved for exactly such garbled presentations, full of vague and wandering ideas. How would it work? The inspiration comes from China. A couple of years ago I attended a large conference, where one particular very old invited speaker was less than impressive. In fact, it was pure rubbish. Yet, after his presentation, countless people came forth, shook his hand, wanted photos taken with him and so on.

Puzzled, I asked the person next to me, ‘How can people be so impressed when what he said was so bad?’

‘Oh’, said my colleague. ‘We deeply respect old people, especially the very old. We show them the utmost respect. But we don’t listen to a word they say’.

Exactly why there should be old fogey panels.

Have you ever met people who are afraid of trees, animals, or indeed anything that resembles nature? Our strata executive seems to made up of such people. For them, trees are dangerous, threatening to overwhelm us all unless we fight them and subdue them. Any animal that may even dare to be in the vicinity is a ‘rodent’. This includes possums, birds, snakes, cats, dogs, lizards and the usual types you find around our place. What next? Perhaps all the green areas will be cemented over. Or they may start poking rifles out of their windows, picking off any animal that dares venture within range. Did I mention that many of us think they are barking mad?

On our recent 9,000 kilometre rail journey, on one of the trains we were given a little bag with lost of interesting items. One such item had this on the back:

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The long list of items are fair enough, but ‘positive energy’? I couldn’t help wondering if it too is organic.

On our journey across the Gulf Country – the Gulf of Carpentaria – we happened upon this intriguing piece of art amongst the graffitti of a rest stop:

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One cannot help wonder what situation generated this one.

By the early 1930s, Klara Zetkin was suffering from the heart problems from which she would soon die. In the meantime, she needed injections of camphor to raise her blood pressure. On the occasion of one such injection, the nurse administering the stimulant began to prepare her left buttock. Zetkin instructed the nurse to find another site on her body. ‘That one’, she said, ‘belongs to Dr Zamkov’.

In December, 1933, Stalin did an interview with a correspondent from The New York Times. Already there is a glimmer of the potential for the cooperation between Stalin and Roosevelt in the Second World War, although his comment on United States solipsism still seems to apply.

Roosevelt, by all accounts, is a determined and courageous politician. There is a philosophical system, solipsism, which holds that the external world does not exist and the only thing that does exist is one’s own self. It long seemed that the American Government subscribed to this system and did not believe in the existence of the U.S.S.R. But Roosevelt evidently is not a supporter of this strange theory. He is a realist and knows that reality is as he sees it (Works, volume 13, pp. 284-85).

Indeed, a little earlier a certain Colonel Robins from the United States, also in an interview, expressed a strong wish for the two countries to work together.

I am not a Communist and do not understand very much about communism, but I should like America to participate in, to have the opportunity of associating itself with, the development that is taking place here in Soviet Russia, and I should like Americans to get this opportunity by means of recognition, by granting credits, by means of establishing normal relations between the two countries, for example, in the Far East, so as to safeguard the great and daring undertaking which is in process in your country, so that it may be brought to a successful conclusion (Works, vol. 13, p. 277).

Makes one wonder what might have been possible instead of the Cold War.

Recently I visited New York – the first time in 15 years – and had the pleasure of sitting next to an American man travelling with me from Beijing to New York (over the north pole). We talked for a little and then he asked me what I do in China.

‘Teach’, I said.

‘But what you teach?’ He asked.

‘Marxism, philosophy and religion’, I said.

‘Marxism? What’s Marxism?’ He said.

‘Karl Marx …’ I said.

‘I’ve never heard of him’.

I sat pondering the long shadow of that alcoholic, Joseph McCarthy.

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