One of the great things about being in remote parts for a while is that you miss out on the news. So I returned from the latest bicycle tour to find out that the pugilist Tony Abbott (our despised prime minister) has finally managed to pick a fight. A boxer from way past, he was known as a fighter with a simple, crude, but effective strategy: breathe heavily, sweat, close your eyes and throw everything at your opponent. He won all four of his bouts in the second round. Disdaining headgear, he seems to have blocked any punches thrown at him with his face. He took up boxing after being dropped from the rugby team, but while he did play rugby, he was the first to sink a short jab into an opponent when he thought the referee wasn’t looking. He carried this pugilistic approach into student politics, on one occasion hitting the wall with his fists on either side of the head of an opponent. Fast forward to today: when stuff-up after stuff-up happens for a prime minister like Abbott, what do you do? Pick an international fight. First, he tried to pick a fight with Russia over Ukraine, proposing to send Australian soldiers. Putin, it seems, found it nothing more than amusing. Now he has picked a fight with the Islamic State, and succeeded. Busting to send soldiers to Iraq before almost before anyone else, he pulled a political stunt. Last week a massive police operation threw everything at supposed ‘terrorists’. The result: two arrests, with most of the sixty odd people detained released soon afterwards. The Islamic State obliged with a fatwa against Americans, Europeans – ‘especially the spiteful and cursed French’ (love that phrase) – and as an afterthought, Australians and Canadians. Abbott has the fight he so desperately wanted, except that now it is on the international stage.

Meanwhile, there has been much talk of ‘intelligence’ by ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation). They now have yet more powers to monitor anyone in Australia and to decide who might be a ‘risk.’ As they do so, I can’t help remembering an insightful piece I read many years ago concerning the recruitment profiles for such organisations. They prefer people of moderate intelligence. Too little and you can’t do the job; too much and you may question the nature of the work you have to do. But a moderate intelligence ensures you are more likely to do the job faithfully, without asking questions. Obviously, we are in good hands.

Why is a long-distance bicycle tour always too short? A week seems way too short, since I still want to be on the road, pedalling to the next stop. Anyway, the ride to Canberra went through some serious mountains, with some climbs feeling like walls:

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Sometimes we had bitumen,


sometimes not:

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But it is stunning countryside:


At one point, the only food available in the one shop (a pub) was …


Yes, chunky beef pies. We bought out the whole supply. By the time we arrived in Gunning, they also had bumnuts:


Along the way, we stayed in pubs for next to nothing:



At the end, I decided to introduce my grandson to the glory of bicycles:


And then read him a bedtime story (ht cp):


As we set off today to ride to Canberra, about 500 km, I decided to do the following in 2017: to ride the 5000 or so kilometres from Perth to Newcastle:

The Australian coal industry is scrambling today with the news that China’s National Development and Reform Commission has banned the import of sulphurous or dirty coal. Any coal with more than 16% ash and 3% sulphur is out from 1 January 2015. And who are the prime producers of such coal? Australia and Indonesia. 50 million tonnes of thermal coal comes from Australia, over one third of the total 140 million metric tonnes exported every year. Most of that is mined in the Hunter Valley and goes through the port of Newcastle.

The major reason: to cut air pollution. For instance, in 2012, 25% of Beijing’s energy was produced by coal. The immediate aim is to get rid of dirty coal, but the larger aim is to bring down the amount of coal used for power to 10% by 2017. By 2020 the sale and use of coal will be banned in Beijing’s six districts. To be added are the facts that the increase in coal imports has come to a halt and that while China is the still the largest user of coal in the world, it has also become a global leader in hydro, wind and solar power. The trend is reasonably clear.

What puzzles me is the way this has caught the Australian coal industry by surprise. I recall a few years ago the clearly stated aim of reducing China’s reliance on coal, due to its high price and the pollution effects. Further, demands by the populations in China’s major cities have been loud and clear – clean up the air. So this one has been coming for some time. A further factor is geopolitical: the shift to closer ties with Russia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This includes significant energy deals. Along with BRICS, it makes the efforts by the USA and NATO to ‘isolate’ China, Russia and the others rather futile.

One of the great contributions to literature is what may be called the socialist footnote, or, rather, the communist party footnote. These immensely pleasurable texts appear, for instance, in the footnotes for each volume of Stalin’s Collected Works. Here you find that glorious language of communist depiction of one’s opponents, whether the ‘fifth column’ within the party or external and even international opposition. A few choice morsels from a rich feast. To begin with, nothing much seems to have changed with regard to newspapers:

Novoye Vremya (New Times)—an organ of the reactionary aristocratic and government bureaucratic circles. The Times—a London daily, founded in 1788, influential organ of the British big bourgeoisie. (p. 437)

As for one’s opponents:

The conference condemned the opportunist, capitulatory position of Kamenev, Rykov, Zinoviev, Bukharin and Pyatakov, who opposed a socialist revolution in Russia and took a national-chauvinist stand on the national question. (Works, vol. 3, p. 420)

J. V. Stalin sharply criticized the speeches of the traitors and blacklegs Kamenev and Zinoviev on the question of armed insurrection. (p. 450)

Here’s to restoring such glorious language to footnotes: opportunist, capitulary, traitor, blackleg …

As promised, here they are: a few shots of the grand-grand-grand-grand … son (75th generation) of Confucius (Kong Zi). Kong Xianglin is his name, speaking at the World Confucius Forum:


Since he spoke in Chinese (of which I actually understood a little), a translator was at work as well (in the background):

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And then the two of us:

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Thanks especially to Flavia Watkins, who did a briiliant job organising the event.

I have just met one of the descendants of Confucius. Kong Zi’s great-great-great … grandson is Kong Xianglin, and he spoke today on the old man himself at the World Confucius Forum, held here in Adelaide. I held forth on Confucius and Mao Zedong, but I also managed to get a photo Kong Xiangling and myself. It is for the next post, but here is Kong himself.


Add a beard and long whiskers and he could be a spitting image: