I am grandfather of just one and I think it's destined to stay that way.
When I was young, my grandparents had all their grandchildren visit around Christmas and any other time they could, and there were about six or seven of us. I was the eldest, just over a year older than my favorite cousin who lives in the UK. There were other grandchildren in Canada but air travel was expensive and we didn't see them often. For medical reasons, my eldest daughter cannot have children and she is the closest to me; my youngest daughter is totally estranged from me and I haven't seen my grandson since he was a toddler and that was a long time ago.
The reason for bringing this subject up is not to parade personal tragedies or reasons for angst. The reason is far more prosaic: a little while ago I was going through my music library and found and a copy of Kermit the Frog singing: "It's not easy being green."
A wave of nostalgia swept over me. Both my daughters are in their early 30s but when they were small, Sesame Street and The Muppet Show were staple fare. Though there were problems with pronouncing the letter z - zee to North America and zed on Sesame Street. My favorite was the Count accompanied by thunder and lightning, while Kermit was my oldest daughter's favorite, and the Cookie Monster my youngest's - especially when a local ice cream was made using the Cookie Monster for advertising.
There is no monetary value that can be placed on spending time with your kids; a great sadness comes as you grow older and apart and that's without taking divorce into account. Kermit could sing: "It's not easy being green" while I could say that owing to the nature of my work it wasn't easy being dad or any color. I have been musing about such memories while sick and that's when the mind freewheels and memories surge back.
It's not easy being green these days. I maintain that anyone who doesn't appreciate the beauty of the natural world, especially through the key seasons of spring and fall, is somehow deficient. They tend to be the only people whose interest in green is the color of a bank note.
I don't intend to follow Kermit's little song through all the colors, primary or otherwise. In some places, it's very hard to be black or brown; in others yellow or white and if you start talking about this subject, inevitably you run into the hands of the politically correct thought police.
I'd been thinking about Kermit when I saw a giant bloated frog-like creature on TV. I turned up the sound and sure enough, it was the high priest of the green movement: "Tennessee Al" Gore, the man who for a while introduced himself by saying he was going to be president of the US. A considerable number of people whom I know think that he would've been a great president but for various reasons, I don't share their views.
It was hard to equate the bloated specimen on my screen with the young, fit and obviously virile young man who accompanied Bill Clinton. The camera close-ups showed a greasy complexion and hair slicked back, a far cry from the days when he was The Veep and gunning to be The Man.
I was once asked why so many Australians were receptive to Gore's global warming film An Inconvenient Truth and dazzled by his Nobel Prize: it is extremely difficult to explain. In an earlier article, I wrote about the size of Australia and how there were only 23 million of us somewhat precariously hanging onto a continent the same size as the US, and I mentioned the aridity of the land.
In neighboring New Zealand, farmers are asked how many sheep can they run on an acre; the answer is a lot because New Zealand is blessed with more regular rain, lush pasture, and pretty good soil. By contrast, in Australia the farmer is asked how many acres it takes to run one sheep and that's not a joke.
Viewing Australia from the air, especially what we refer to as the Outback or the Interior, doesn't seem terribly different from some of the excellent photographs from Martian rovers. In fact, some of the Mars pictures appear only to lack the odd beer can.
Most of central and and northern Australia is red-ochre and from the cruising height of airliners, it sometimes seems that there's no life below. Of course there is but it's tough land, usually hot, dry and no soil to speak of; much of our arable land would not be farmed anywhere else because there's no guarantee of rain.
If viewers in the US were treated to pictures from Australia last week, they would've seen Sydney covered in dust, blown in from the Outback, producing sky scapes from blood-red through to yellow. For asthmatics, it was a case of staying indoors or getting home as quickly as possible to avoid inhaling particulate matter and anything else in the atmosphere.
It's only the second time in about 30 years that I can recall a dust storm on this scale but in the 1980s in Melbourne, the West Wind blew topsoil across the city: the skies darkened, birds roosted in trees and the streetlights came on automatically. It was also rather hot, somewhere over 40°C and that can be very unpleasant. I worked late that night and when I got home, the washing on the line was soiled and my vegetable garden had been top dressed free of charge.
It's very easy to beat up on conservationists but I can't. Where mainland Australia has had its warmest winter on record, we have had our coldest, wettest and longest - an amazing contrast.
For as long as our land has been settled, trees have been cut down by hand and more recently mechanically. I have no objection to selective logging provided that the end product is used in the construction of houses or the making of furniture - we have a lot of craftsmen engaged in the latter.
What distresses me most is to see trees that are hundreds of years old cut down, chipped or pulped and sold abroad at rock-bottom prices. Our state government brags about the great areas of restricted or "locked up" land where trees cannot be cut down, but inspection reveals that much of the "protected land" has no trees and is comprised of button grass, something of no practical value.
In many respects, it is natural that Tasmania is pretty much the home of the green movement in Australia. The greens claim that the state was the first to elect Green members to Parliament at both state and federal level. It's probably true and I don't have the energy or the disposition to challenge the claim.
But it is fairly natural that two senators from this state, Bob Brown and Christine Milne, are faithful disciples of the chosen one - His Greenness the great Al Gore. They make an interesting trio: Gore tall and flabby; Brown gaunt with haunted eyes; and Milne, the harridan with a voice like a dentist's drill.
At state level, the greens regularly pull in around 20% of first preference votes - we have compulsory voting. When it comes to the election of politicians, these days I'm a maverick and I won't vote down party lines.
I could wax lyrical about some of our so-called politicians but readers would not believe a great deal of it, except when it comes to corruption and shady deals between businessmen and government. For good or ill, the greens appear to be squeaky clean in that department. Some say that they are too good to be true but if they weren't that good, they wouldn't be in Parliament.
I certainly have no objection to casting a meaningful vote for the leader of the Green party in the state parliament. What you see is what you get and he appears to be honest and accepts that we agree to disagree on certain matters. And he's the least fanatical of the lot.
Alas, in seeking to be more competitive in electoral contests, the Greens have adopted policies which I cannot accept in all conscience. I won't list what they are but most Americans I know would reject them outright.
So we come back to the mystique and the fearful drawing power of Al Gore. With Senators Brown and Milne, he has more than adequate leading disciples in this country; they believe any load of codswallop that he cites as truth. Being scientifically trained, there are plenty of holes I could shoot in his global warming argument.
It has been amusing - or it least it would be if it were not so serious to see that the national broadcaster, the ABC, subsidized by our taxes has taken on global warming (or should that be climate change?) as a mantra.
I have been blackballed for being a contrarian and I'm not alone. However, as an empirical social scientist, Gore and environmentalism have become a contradiction in terms known as a secular religion.
The interesting point is that Australians generally support alliances with the US but at the same time we have a sizable anti-American antidiluvian strata across society. It can be found in politics, the law, civil liberties, academe and just about anywhere you care to turn over a rock. Yet many of these people follow the great guru and hang on his every word whereas in other situations, they would be the first to throw stones against US imperialists.
That's a fairly crude summation but essentially that's what the attitude boils down to, and as befits this country it is crude. An Australian intellectual (often pronounced interlectual) is virtually a contradiction in terms. It is no small wonder that our brightest and best leave for overseas, never to return. In their place we get people who could not get a job in the US, UK or other parts of the English-speaking world.
It says a great deal for the gullibility of the Australian people that they are perfectly prepared to support America when circumstances demand, then turn around and revile the US especially the Bush presidency while becoming lapdogs of a man who has latched onto environmentalism and cuts a bigger figure than John the Baptist.
Given half a chance, I think I would have to move on to other shores because my disillusionment grows greater by the day. I'm tired of trying to argue with those who are blinded by the honeyed words of the extreme left and the extreme right. Logic is virtually unknown.
To the best of my knowledge, no-one has conducted a meaningful study of those Aussies who support the greens and follow the teachings of the blessed St. Al. Observation suggests that it cuts across party lines, social class, education and any other meaningful societal indicator. We have green businessmen; green tradesman, green academics, those from the upper middle classes and from the lower classes. His appeal attracts all and sundry.
I don't like scaremongering of any description, having lived under the shadow of war for most of my life and with the threat of terrorism lingering everywhere in the Western world. We currently have three rather large cases before the courts of would-be mujahedin, but there is a complete lack of interest because this is the Lucky Country. We have never been invaded, suffered civil war or undergone a revolution. There is no such thing as "being Australian" largely because no one knows what it is to be Australian - there are no defining points or characteristics apart from residency.
We have a derivative culture: until the 60s, many Australians referred to the UK as home without ever having been there. With the swinging 60s and protest came Americanization and so we have the wannabe "interlectuals" on our airwaves complaining about American influence, American spelling, American politics and most of them don't know why. In the phrase used by a certain discredited VP of the US, Spiro T. Agnew, "nattering nabobs of negativism" rather regrettably describes too many.
And so we are easy prey for fast-talking foreigners with a message. The late Billy Graham was big during his visits and so too, Pope John Paul II, but at least they made sense. LBJ had eggs thrown at him as well as some unsavory packages, but other smooth-talking types with a message appear to entrance many.
It's usually not for very long: generally speaking those affected have short attention spans, and I've seen them in all walks of life.
Part of the Gore mystique is the way that he has drawn people to his cause and they have stayed loyal, defying logic or evidence to the contrary. I've never seen so many glassy-eyed fanatics in my life as during his public appearances, nor so many people affected when they have seen him on TV. In some respects, it resembles marching bands, frenzied rallies and the adoration of der Fuhrer.
I don't know how popular the man who would be President (and who will never be) fares in his own country. Does he have the same magnetic appeal? Do people flock to public meetings, hang on every word and come away converted? How many are prepared to finance his campaigns and appearances? Is he taken seriously?
These are questions I cannot answer but I have read accounts which claimed that he still drives gas-guzzling limousines and has a huge house in which a few people rattle around. What's more, he continues to have unsavory connections which have largely been ignored in America.
His father was friends with Armand Hammer, a big oil man and friend of successive Soviet governments. Hammer was always viewed with the deepest suspicion by certain government organizations who regarded him as a KGB agent of influence. Like father, like son, and in this case Al Jr. still has connections with Big Oil. Surely if he were genuine, some of his millions would be poured into alternative energy especially for motor vehicles.
And lastly, for me, there are several unanswered questions about his dealings when he was vice president under Clinton when he and Strobe Talbott were involved in taking capitalism to Russia. There is a particularly good Congressional paper on their activities. The word "carpetbaggers" springs very readily to mind, but after reading that report, I saw that it had almost no impact on the American body politic: it would appear that you can indeed fool most of the people for most of the time.
And now to my chagrin, when I finished dictating these few words, I find a copy of Mother Jones on the Internet, dated September 21, 2009 bearing a review of a forthcoming book based on interviews with Bill Clinton in which he describes Gore by saying "I thought he was in Neverland." Enough said I guess.
Kermit had it right: it's not easy being green even when your state is being trashed in the interests of the few and the greedy. However, I would far sooner listen to his little song than the impassioned pleas of Tennessee Al and his "planet savers."
Sometimes I think my American friends don't know how lucky they are - a President to hate, the Second Amendment, cheap gas and things to see, places to go. Excuse me folks, I need my afternoon snooze.