Sunscreen, Beatles and a Curious Incident


This post is multi-thematic and more personal than usual. Between you and me, I’m trying to become an influencer. That career didn’t even exist when I left school, or I’d have asked the careers master how to get my foot in the door.

Personal thing No.1… Last year Mrs SG was using a tube of Cancer Council UV-protective moisturiser. When she couldn’t squeeze any more out I, out of curiosity, tested the weight of it in my hand and decided that there must be some moisturiser trapped inside. So I liberated it by slicing the tube in two (see photo) and weighed the halves properly: 36g. Mrs SG and I continued using it by scooping dollops out with our fingers and when we could scoop no more I weighed it again: 15g. So of the original payload of 75g, 28% was inaccessible without slicing.

In an earlier post I think I reported that a similar proportion of an orange was peel. I’ve had avocados whose stones seemed, Tardis-like, bigger than the whole fruit.

No.2… The Beatles’ first film, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, was on the SBS Movies TV channel and I recorded it. Yesterday I settled down with a cup of coffee to watch it. I wondered if I’d respond to it differently after 58 years – and I did.  I found it so contrived, so shallow, so boring that after 15 minutes I stopped and deleted it. The film was the same, so I guess I’ve changed.

No.3… If you haven’t yet read Mark Haddon’s book ‘The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time’ please do so now. It’s brilliant. It took me 3 years to read ‘The Pickwick Papers’ and less than a week to read Haddon’s masterpiece. The story is told by the main character: a 15-year-old British boy with Asberger’s Syndrome. If you’ve ever wondered how someone with that condition sees and experiences the world, this book will tell you.

The 2023 Stroppy


This year’s winner of the Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Drivel is a Russian man called Ivan Panin (pictured left) who fled Russia for Germany at the age of 18, being condemned as a “nihilist” in his homeland, and then migrated to the USA. He studied Greek and Hebrew at Harvard and made a name for himself by applying numerological principles to the Bible.

The award is made posthumously because Ivan died in 1942. Fortunately for him the Stroppy is not subject to the same irksome requirement as the Nobel prizes, which can only be won by the living.

He was commended to me by a man called Greg whom I met in Rundle Mall. He was proffering a pamphlet titled ‘Searching for Truth?’ and I was intrigued enough to stop for a chat. He turned out to be a member of the Revival Fellowship and he invited me to one of their meetings, where I would find people speaking in tongues and thereby be convinced of the existence of God. I asked which tongues they spoke and he explained that “tongues” meant a special language used to converse with God, which ordinary people couldn’t understand. I’d always thought that the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the power to speak foreign languages so they could go out and proselytise, but apparently not.

Anyway, I recommended that he read ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins (pictured right) which I’d just finished, and he recommended that I read Romans chapter 8 and Google Ivan Panin. Ivan wins the Stroppy for this passage, but pretty much anything he wrote could be a contender:

Looking once more to the 7 periods from Adam to the Christ by themselves, covering as they do the whole Bible Chronology lacking only 33 years, we find that they cover 3999 years, a number unexpected: since man would have made it an even 4,000. But 3999 is 3 x 31 x 43. The sum of its factors is 77, itself 11 sevens, with 14, or 2 sevens as the sum of its own figures, 7, 7. The sum of the figures be factors 3, 31, 43, is also 14, or 2 sevens: of which the first two have 7, and the third has 7. This number 3999, though itself not a multiple of seven, is nevertheless found to be marked with 4 features of sevens, one for every one of its four figures.

A worthy winner, I think you’ll agree.

PS  I was nearly misled in my search for Ivan Panin, because he has a namesake who is still alive and is a noted mathematician. Amongst other feats, according to Wikipedia, he found a proof of Gersten’s conjecture in the case of equal characteristic and an affirmative solution of the “purity” problem for quadratic forms. So… no meaningless drivel there.

Last Post of 2022


Well, it’s the last day of 2022 and I’m ashamed to have made so few posts this year. I’m posting now for two reasons. First, to remind everyone that they should get their nominations in for the Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Drivel (aka The Strppy) 2023.  Deadline: 2359 GMT on Sunday 15 January.

My second reason is to muse on a question that’s bothering me. How can people of similar intelligence and more-or-less equal access to information come to such wildly different conclusions about things? Top of mind in this regard is Russia’s war on Ukraine. I have been astounded at the views expressed to me by some friends who were born during the Soviet era in countries under Soviet (and therefore Russian) domination. They buy into Putin’s propaganda about the reasons for his “special military operation” and his claim that Ukraine’s claims to nationhood and sovereignty are invalid.

From everything I know it is so obviously a case of right vs wrong, good vs evil, rule of law vs law of the jungle, civilisation vs barbarism. But these friends appear to want an opposite outcome to the one I earnestly hope for. I would like to find some common ground on which we could start to work out why our views on this important matter are diametrically opposed.

There are many other examples of course, ranging from the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex relationships to the reasons for global warming and the granting to indigenous Australians of privileged access to the democratic process through a Voice to Parliament.

The biggest disagreement is, I suppose, over the existence or non-existence of God.  I’m currently reading Richard Dawkins’ book ‘The God Delusion’, which I recommend for its clarity and scholarship.  I’m 40% of the way through and have come across no meaningless drivel yet.

Nor am I likely to hear it from the lady who is depicted here on the side of my latest acquisition – a Christmas present from my younger son.

Putin’s Troops on the Run


It’s been a long time since I posted.  I was waiting, hoping that I could include Vladimir Putin’s obituary in my next post, but… well, Mikhail Gorbachev has died, Queen Elizabeth and died, but Vlad the Invader is still with us.

He has received a bloody nose, however, and there are reportedly murmurs within Russia that it’s time for him to go.  Unfortunately the complaint is not that he has invaded a peaceful neighbour and visited destruction and death upon its people, and in the process forced his troops to commit atricities and war crimes that will stain the name of Russia for generations.  The complaint is that he is not winning!


I still hold to my belief that a comfortable majority of Russians do not support Putin’s war but fear to speak out; or support the war only because they believe the absurd lies they have been told: Ukraine is run by Nazis, Russian-speakers are being oppressed, NATO plans to invade Russia through Ukraine…

Putin’s people seem nonplussed by the humiliating failure of their army.  They overlook the simple fact that Ukrainians are fighting to defend their land, their homes and their very existence as a nation.  The Russians are fighting to gratify the ego of a deranged kleptocrat who dreams of reassembling an obsolete empire.

I assume that Putin will now resort to wholesale missile strikes against the cities, towns and villages that he has failed to subdue.  Then, at last, the Western allies will lift the ban on directing the weapons they have supplied to Ukraine against targets beyond Ukraine’s own borders.  Logically and morally there is no reason why the Ukrainian army should not destroy any site, any airfield, any vessel from which Russian missiles have been launched; and any transport infrastructure that is used to bring troops and materiel to the theatre of war.  US intelligence can surely provide very precise coordinates.

Has World War 3 Started?

Hitler and his disciple

President Biden doesn’t want to provoke WW3. But hasn’t it already started? Is the USA going to be a late arrival, as it was in 1917 and 1941?  The parallels with WW2 are so close that, if I were writing the story of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a novel, I would be open to a charge of plagiarism.

Let’s try a thought experiment. Mentally lay the history of WW2 out on a table. Now erase ‘Czechoslovakia’ and write ‘Crimea’. Erase ‘Poland’ and write ‘Ukraine’. Erase ‘Stalingrad’ and write ‘Mariupol’.

Turn your attention to the characters. Erase ‘Hitler’ and write ‘Putin’. Erase ‘Mussolini’ and write ‘Lukashenko’. Erase ‘Roosevelt’ and write ‘Biden’. Erase ‘Churchill’ and write ‘Zelenskiy’. Erase ‘Hirohito’ and write… well, Xi Jinping hasn’t yet decided if he wants to audition for that part.


We already know how to deal with fascist dictators because we did it 80 years ago. We know they can be beaten – by force of arms and with the kind of heroism that the people of Ukraine are showing us, not with half-hearted economic sanctions.

Am I a war-monger? I consider myself a realist. War in one form or another is mankind’s natural state. In good times we engage in cyber-warfare, propaganda, economic competition and sporting contests. In bad times we have to kill people.

Cancelling Russia

Dr Ann Jones

One of my favourite radio shows is called “What the Duck?”. The host is Ann Jones, a naturalist, and every week she addresses odd, extreme and downright quirky things in the natural world. In her most recent show she investigated whether any of Aesop’s Fables were scientifically as well as morally sound. Could, for example, a tortoise really win a race with a hare?

This moved me to pull down my copy of the book and browse at random. I came across the fable of The Wolf and the Lamb, which I offer below in condensed form. The moral is “Any excuse will serve a tyrant.” How apt at this moment!

The good guys (to lump a multitude of countries into one geopolitical category) have not reacted to Putin’s invasion very cleverly or courageously. The Ukrainian people’s own ferocious defence of  their national sovereignty stands in stark contrast, as does President Zelenskiy’s leadership.

Aesop’s Fables: The Wolf and the Lamb

But I am appalled by recent reports of Western institutions’ “cancelling” Russian books, music and art.  Putin and his coterie are our enemy, not the Russian people and certainly not Russia’s rich contribution to the cultural life of the world.  

Putin has lied to his people and to his own army.  True, he is mining a rich vein of nationalism and fear born of past invasions from the west, but few Russians would have supported the brutal assault on peaceable fellow-Slavs if they had known the truth.



A wolf is drinking at a brook and sees a lamb paddling a little way off. Wanting a reason to eat the lamb the wolf says, “How dare you stir up the mud while I’m drinking?!”

The lamb replies, “But I’m downstream of you.”

“Huh,” said the wolf, “I bet it was you saying bad things behind my back a year ago.”

“A year ago I was not born,” said the lamb.

“Then it must have been your father, which comes to the same thing!”

And the wolf leapt on the lamb, killed it and ate it.

History Repeats Itself


Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “History doesn’t repeat Itself, but it often rhymes.”  Seeing and hearing President Zelenskiy addressing the world, pleading for meaningful help to resist Putin’s vicious assault on his country, I realised that this was a repeat performance of Emperor Haile Selassie’s plea to the League of Nations to save Ethiopia from MussoliniClick here to read a full transcipt.

That was in June 1936.  The League of Nations did nothing.  Mussolini created his colony of Italian East Africa.  Fast-forward to April 1945: Mussolini’s corpse was hung upside-down in a public square in Milan, and three days later Hitler shot himself.  But during those nine years unimaginable crimes against humanity were committed; millions died; and much of Europe and Japan lay in ruins.

This is more than a rhyme.

Tragedy of Ukraine


The day after 9/11 I emailed George W Bush urging a moderate response. I was expressing the consensus view of my Saturday morning English conversation class in Bishkek. President Bush ignored that advice.

Yesterday I emailed Joe Biden with very different advice – too late for it to influence his State if the Union Address. Here’s what I wrote:

Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address

I am an Australia/British citizen with many friends in Ukraine and no rancour towards the Russian people.  I understand the strategy of putting economic pressure on Russia’s businesses and population in the hope that Putin will be disempowered from within.  But as we learned in WW2 the Russian people have the ability to withstand great hardship – as do the Ukrainians – and Putin has successfully mined a deep deposit of nationalism and perceived historical grievance.

Therefore I do not believe that sanctions alone will be enough to save Ukraine, the Baltic states (notwithstanding NATO Article 5) and perhaps other former members of Russia’s sphere of influence. 

Like Hitler, Putin has made his wider intentions clear.  If we choose to believe that he’s bluffing, or will be brought to his senses by non-military means, we are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.  Eventually we will have to fight him, just as we had to fight Hitler.  Now is the best time to do it, while a significant part of his military machine is engaged in Ukraine.

I spoke to a German colleague yesterday, who said that any military intervention to save Ukraine could precipitate WW3.  I replied that it’s already started.  Putin fired the starting gun.  If we (the ‘good guys’) dawdle he will only get stronger, and Xi Jinping will feel increasingly comfortable supporting him and fulfilling his promise to subjugate Taiwan.

My German colleague also pointed out the vulnerability of Europe to a nuclear attack.  The logic of that argument is that we should allow Putin to do whatever he wants, because he’s the only leader mad and bad enough to make a first strike.  That would mean that the MAD strategy has failed and we are living in a new world order in which freedom, democracy and the rule of law have no place.

Meaningless Slogans


There seems to be a new kid on the block: meaningless slogans. At first sight they may be thought to constitute a subset of meaningless twaddle, but they differ in one crucial respect. Meaningless twaddle has its origins in ignorance, sloppy thinking, or simply a disregard for truth or meaning.  Meaningless slogans, on the other hand, are carefully thought-out arrangements of words designed to bypass the reader’s cognition and evoke emotional responses.

Here are two examples that I came across and had the presence of mind to photograph. I saw one at my local shopping centre and the other on my TV screen. I have the feeling that I have seen many more, but without recording them or consciously noticing the goods or ideas that they were sneakily promoting.

By way of contrast, to shine an even brighter light on the deficiencies of meaningless slogans, I offer a quotation from the boxer Mike Tyson – an example of direct, unambiguous language conveying a simple truth.

Stroppy 2022


Sometimes I suspect that a piece has been written with the sole aim of winning the Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle, which would be cheating of course.  But I have no reason to believe that this year’s winner has even heard of the Stroppy.

The opposition was blown out of the water by 11 words of such elegant twaddle, devoid of all meaning, that it could have been crafted by Spike Milligan himself with satirical intent:

“Joint client-focused growth teams drive revenue synergies in key sectors.”

Hard to beat, eh?  It’s even more impressive because it was produced by an engineering company – Jacobs, based in Dallas Texas.  Congratulations, Jacobs!