Thursday, December 31, 2009

To Do list on this Blue Moon New Year's Eve

TO DO (in order of importance)

Pull oneself together

Accept the fact that it's going to be 41 degrees today and suck it up; everybody's hot

Finish and file weekly book reviews column

Make Eton Mess for fourteen (go out in the heat and buy more eggs because one is an idiot and forgot; make meringues; hull, slice and Kirsch-macerate strawberries; whip cream)

Work out appropriate bowls and plastic containers for transportation and serving of said Mess

Run a load of washing including half of tonight's outfit

Check the rest of tonight's outfit, bearing in mind that there's going to be a cool change in the middle of the event which may involve the hand-washing of a pashmina, and do necessary ironing etc

Cover up the lemon tree or all the lemons and leaves will get scorched

Call father for weekly yarn

Wonder, given the full-on car park rage hissy fit at 8.23 am (see 'forgot eggs', above), what sort of state one will be in by the end of tonight's six-hour* dinner
*well, it was last year

Meditate on art, age and womanhood. Here's Joni Mitchell at around 50, no backup (and almost no makeup), singing about a blue moon, which is what it is tonight: the second full moon in a single calendar month. 'Night Ride Home' is a happy love song, which for Joni is a blue moon event. Look at the length of her fingers, and the expression on the face of the little dude watching her right at the end.

And a very happy New Year to all.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve cake post

Some may remember my first-ever foray into fruitcake-making back in November when I got inspired by Deborah Strange Land and her grandmother's Christmas cake. It came out better than I could have dared to hope, perfectly shaped and fragrant, and I wrapped it in layer upon layer of greaseproof paper and tinfoil, and took it down out of the cupboard every week or two to feed it more brandy.

Came the day -- the 42 degree day -- when the decorating of the cake could no longer be put off, viz yesterday. I had been putting it off because the more I read about making and using fondant, the more difficult and fraught with dangers it appeared to be. But the fondant needed to dry for 24 hours before you could put anything else on it. So there was nothing for it but to begin with the icing-sugar mountain.

If I were my mother I would have sifted this three times

I did take a photo of the well in the centre of the icing sugar into which had been poured the dissolved gelatine, glucose and glycerine, but it looks just a bit too much as though a child has been peeing in the snow. I would have taken a photo of the kneaded lump of fondant, but it looked just a bit too much like a giant puffball.

The giant puffball wrapped and put aside for the moment, the next thing was the preparation of the cake for its cloak of fondant. Part of the several hours' reading up on the subject of fruitcake decoration that I'd done was a suggestion that the top edge of the cake should be bevelled with a small serrated knife so that the fondant would not tear on the sharp edge.

Sorry the focus is a bit doolally there, but this bevelled-edge thing is exactly the sort of detail one cannot possibly leave out of a blog post.

Next, a concoction that the sainted Rose Levy Berenbaum, author of The Cake Bible (Her gingerbread cake! Her Piña Colada cake! Her buttercream! Her utter devotion to perfection!) suggests as a 'crumb coating': something to seal the crumby surface of the cake so the crumbs will not come off into the fondant, and to provide a sticky surface for the fondant to, um, stick to. Berenbaum calls it Jewel Glaze, and so it is.

Actually it's just half a cup of apricot conserve and a tablespoon of brandy, warmed and sieved and applied with a pastry brush

Next, you take the big fondant puffball, knead it a bit more to get it smooth and pliable again, and roll it out in a circle whose diameter is the same as the cake's plus double its height plus an extra inch of margin for error. This is where I started to think it really might all work; to my astonishment it looked exactly the way it was supposed to.

As you can see, it's not called 'rolled fondant' for nothing.

And then, as with the pastry for the top crust of a pie, you roll it up loosely around the rolling pin, position it carefully, and unroll it so that it drapes over the cake. This is only about four hundred times as hard as it sounds. And this is the point where, if you're going to blow it, you blow it all. You only get one shot. In this case, I could not have come any closer to the abyss without falling into it.

C'est magnifique, n'est-ce pas? Observe cake plate elevated to near eye level so one can get at it and see what one is doing.
Fondant, fortunately, is forgiving. This one does not stretch, but it is pliable -- we didn't used to call it 'plastic icing' for nothing -- and with a smoothing here and a coaxing there, a nudging and a bumping and a gentling of the fingers, it was made to shift a bit up one side and down the other, drape softly over the bevelled edges, fit snugly down over the sides, and generally do as it was told. Second most brilliant hint in my background reading: trim off the excess fondant with a pizza cutter.

Finish trimming, admire handiwork, marvel at the fact that there seems to have been exactly the right amount of fondant, put cake in box and put box in wardrobe away from marauding cats, for the fondant to dry and set.

24 hours later, make a glue with icing sugar and water and use a matchstick to apply small dobs of it to sparkly things and cement them to cake. Allow to set. Take photo.

And a very happy Christmas to all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Anyone who's read Helen Garner's The Spare Room will probably remember this scene. For those who haven't: Nicola is in the advanced stages of cancer, and has come to Melbourne to stay with Helen while she has 'alternative' treatment. Helen's granddaughter Bessie lives next door. Now read on ...

Flamenco shoes tapped on the bricks, thundered on the veranda. The back door burst open.

'Here I am! Are you ready for my show?'

Nicola couldn't turn her head. She had to swing her whole body around. 'Who is this glorious señorita?'

Bessie leaned back from the hips and flung her arms in a high curve round her head. The blood-red nasturtium she had stuck into the elastic of her ponytail trembled there, its juicy stem already drooping. She bent her wrists and began to twine her hands round each other. her fingernails were grimy, her palms padded with thick calluses from the school-yard monkey bars. She lowered her brow in a challenging scowl and paced towards us, flicking aside the bulk of her skirt with every step.

Nicola reared back on her stool. 'Stop. What's that cack on your lip?'

Bessie dropped her arms and ran the back of one hand under her nostrils. It left a glistening trail across her cheek.

'Oh shit.' Nicola got off the stool and backed away. 'I'm sorry, darling, but you can't come in here with a cold. I've got no resistance left. Helen, you'll have to send her home.' She shuffled as fast as she could down the hall into the spare room, and pulled the door shut behind her.

I picked up a pencil and took a breath to start explaining cell counts and immune systems, but Bessie didn't ask. She stood in the centre of the room with her arms dangling. Her face was blank. I heard the neighbour over the back lane slam his car door and drive away. At once his dog began its daily barking and howling. We had adapted our nerves to its tedious racket and no longer thought of complaining, but maybe the wind that morning was blowing from a new direction, for the high-pitched cries floated over the fence and right into our yard, filling the sunny air with lamentation.

One of my oldest friends is due just after Christmas for her third round of chemo. She has become a connoisseur of anti-nausea drugs. The wig is fabulous, though she says it's very irritating when people who haven't seen her for a while come up to her and say 'Wow, what have you done to your hair, it looks fabulous!'

I've known her since we were in our late teens. We shared a student house in our early twenties for two and a half years; we used to sing together a lot, and the other week we were driving to the supermarket when the young James Taylor appeared on the compilation CD singing 'Sweet Baby James' and we swung in behind him with two different harmonies. I was a witness at her wedding and a wet mess at her husband's funeral.

Now on the day before Christmas Eve I'm recovering from a very bad upper respiratory tract infection; though functional, I am still a little rattly, sodden and febrile. Every day, by email, she and I defer and renegotiate a meeting to exchange Christmas greetings and presents, which may have to become Proclamation Day greetings and presents (special SA public holiday) or possibly even New Year greetings and presents. Because she must not catch this. It put me in bed for the best part of three days, and my immune system's pretty good.

What floors me is the power of the drive to disregard it: the ferocious sense of what's good and proper that tells me I can't possibly not see her and her daughter, the fourth-year Aerospace Engineering student who at the age of eleven introduced me to Harry Potter, for Christmas. Everything about staying away seems mean-spirited, ultra-cautious, ungenerous, unloving. Which in the face of the immunological facts is clearly absurd.


The forecast maximum temperature for Adelaide today is 42 degrees. South Australia is divided into fifteen 'districts' and the fire warning for two of them is classified as 'Severe'. For five more, it's 'Extreme'. And for the remaining eight, it's 'Catastrophic'.

This new classification system was activated for the first time in the heatwave of mid-November when my tiny home town came under threat. And it was very worrying to see interviews afterwards with people in other parts of rural South Australia who complained 'Oh but it wasn't classed "catastrophic" here so we thought it would be all right.' Others complained that they had been classified as 'catastrophic' -- and at the last minute, too! "They" had kept changing the classification! -- and yet there had been no fire. They were outraged that their lives had been, however briefly, disrupted.


Human nature being what it is, there are a few things about this that are very worrying. One is the dependence mentality that seems already to be setting in, the expectation that there will be full correlation between what's predicted and warned and what actually happens, and that, somehow, magically, "they" should and will fix it all. Another is the apparent ignorance (and I know for a fact that country people are not ignorant about this, so there is clearly some other psychological gremlin present) about the unpredictability of fire conditions and their aptness to change and turn on a sixpence.

And maybe the most dangerous is that suggestion that if the danger is not officially classified 'catastrophic' (code for 'If there's a fire, get out of your house to safety: you can't save it and we can't save you') then there is no danger at all and it's safe to stay home and do nothing. The lure of the false binary is strong, Grasshopper, but in this instance it could lead to unthinkably tragic consequences. If I were the state government I'd be fast-tracking the use of the education department to disseminate clear thinking about fire, warnings, and the limited power to predict and fight fires of the state authorities -- about which, ironically, country people are usually all too sceptical.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Scraps (it's all I'm good for) regarding Christmas

I spent most of the weekend in bed, snoozing, sneezing, coughing, groaning, spluttering, blowing my nose, monitoring the headache and the earache and the chills and fever, drinking four-hourly Lemsip enhanced with extra lemon juice, honey and hot water, and generally wishing I were dead, a wish the granting of which seemed imminent.

I got out of bed on Friday only to put some clothes on over my aching skin and drive to the supermarket to get supplies. Having done a big shop only the day before, I had relatively few things in my trolley, and while queueing at the checkout did the usual stickybeaking at what other people had in their trolleys and made deductions or guesses about their lives. Big dog. Small baby. Type 2 diabetes.

Anyone looking at my own trolley -- big box of tissues, two packets each of Strepsils and Butter Menthols, decongestant nasal spray, three packets of icing sugar and various containers of gelatine, glycerine and glucose syrup -- would have thought 'Hmm, person with a bastard cold who has plans to make fondant for the Christmas cake.' (Or possibly 'Hmm, type 2 diabetes.')

The time in bed was not wholly wasted, as in between the snoozing and the self-pity I read two and a half novels for work, one of which, by British professor of literature Rebecca Stott, describes a character whose attitude (in 1815) to his own Judaism gave me some insight into my own secular embrace of all things Christmas.
'And Silviera?'
'He goes to synagogue. He reads the Torah. He keeps the Sabbath.'
'He believes?'
'No. Silviera has no God. He says it's a Christian obsession, this insistence on God, on belief, on talking about it all the time. For him it's the rituals, his people, l'histoire that matters. It is his anchor.'

Which is sort of more or less what I was saying in the 2007 eve-of-Christmas-Eve post at t'old blog.

It was fortunate that by 9 am this morning, when I had to meet my sisters in the city for some legal discussions about which there had previously been some, erm, dispute, a meeting the cancellation of which would have been more than my life was worth, I was starting to feel human again. (Deciding last night at 10 pm that I really had to dust and vacuum before I put the tree up was, I think, the product of a fever dream, and naturally I was so deranged by the time I had dusted and vacuumed that I was too knackered to put the tree up and went to bed instead.) I was feeling so human that I went and did a little shopping after I'd had post-lawyer coffee with the sisters and sorted out who was doing what for Christmas day lunch. From my morning in the city, I bring two questions:

1) At what stage of his or her cognitive development does a child come to be able to work out which direction an escalator is going in just by looking at it?

2) At what stage of his or her cognitive development does an adult come to understand that if you want to get into an elevator or a parking space, you need to move your arse out of the way so that the current occupant can get out?

Putting up the tree this afternoon and decorating it with ornaments some of which I brought back from Europe ten and/or fifteen and/or 25 years ago for my mother to put on the family tree, and some of which are still wrapped in yellowed tissue paper with her handwriting on it despite the fact that she died almost eleven years ago, brought a flash of insight about her: that one of the great tensions of her life was that she combined a lifelong passion for self-improvement with a likewise lifelong resistance to self-analysis. She forgave herself nothing, excused herself nothing, indulged herself with nothing and strove to strengthen weaknesses and solve problems whose genesis she wasn't prepared to investigate, never able to separate the concept of 'reasons' from the concept of 'excuses'.

So there was just this relentless drive, physically and morally, to be better: hard-working, skilled, groomed, orderly, and ruthlessly self-disciplined. The self-discipline in particular was, I think, why so many people trusted her with secrets: while she enjoyed discussing personalities, I never once heard her gossip, and while she enjoyed an occasional brandy-and-dry, I never once saw her drunk. She believed that discretion was the essence of loyalty and she consciously practised both.

Tomorrow, in her honour, the kitchen: fondant icing and gingerbread cats. There will be photos.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A better noun, a better verb: more thoughts on copy-editing

When writing first drafts I will usually bung in instructions to myself as I go along, most often [CHECK] where I have relied on memory for an author's or a character's name, or a fact, or a guess at spelling, or whatever, and [FIX THIS] where the sentence clearly doesn't say what I wanted to mean. The combination of square brackets and caps makes the instructions stand out to an eye that has learned over decades of reading plays to associate caps in square brackets with instructions to act. As it were.

Anyway, there I was a minute ago squinting at a sentence from a book review I started a few days ago, in the middle of which I had written 'The story is marked by [FIND A BETTER NOUN AND A BETTER VERB, THINK WHAT YOU REALLY MEAN] the weird Scottish combination of wry understatement and behavioural excess.'

I like that last bit, but 'story is marked' is all wrong. Both the narrative and its narrator feature this, I think, very Scottish combination, so 'story' isn't really what I mean, and that combination is intrinsic to both the story and the storytelling so 'marked' (which implies something on the surface that was put there later) isn't right either. I have to figure out a way of saying it that is both more accurate and less awkward. Which means that the instruction in the square brackets is a bit misleading. As so often, one can get hopelessly bogged down in trying to come up with a different word when what's really needed is a re-structuring of the entire sentence.

Actually I'm ahead of schedule and the reason I'm working at all is that, on the weekend before Christmas when like everybody else I'm supposed to be running around like a mad rabbit planning this and buying that and nailing down the other, I've been struck down with the most disgusting coldy fluey thing I think I've ever had, with the full range of symptoms and every one of them floridly in evidence, so I'm not fit to do anything requiring physical energy or anything requiring going out. If I get further ahead with the work I'll be freed up to do Christmasy things when I get better, which please Goddess will start happening tomorrow if not sooner. But a head full of glue, cement and cotton wool is maybe not the ideal tool for trying to re-write a recalcitrant sentence, either.

My eye keeps going back to those square brackets, though. If I were allowed to say only one thing to a class full of writing students, it would probably be that. THINK WHAT YOU REALLY MEAN.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

And meanwhile, back on Planet Janet ...

I missed Janet Albrechtsen's bizarre paean of praise to Tony Abbott's honesty, sexiness and social grace in yesterday's Australian and frankly I wish I'd missed it altogether, but since it has been called to my attention, here is an interpretation.

Her overall argument appears to be that, in general (and in spite of the ghost of the example of Mark Latham that is forever before us, and away from which few of us can tear our gaze), a propensity for physical violence self-expression holds irresistible sexual allure. If I were Abbott, I would be backing away from that one at a run and yes I am sure he is indeed fit enough to run backwards. NOW READ ON ...
[Abbott] has something that is rare in the hermetically sealed, carefully controlled politico-bubble of Canberra. It's called authenticity.
That will be why his pronouncements on climate change (or, rather, on the government's actions on climate change) suggest that he wakes up every morning and tosses a coin to decide whether he'll believe in it today or not, depending on what he thinks is more likely to win votes.
And I'm betting women kind of like that.
Really? How much? Double or nothing?
Sure, some will never admit it openly.
How handy for your argument, then, Janet, should anyone ever challenge you to prove it.
Aghast, they will tell you that his religious convictions about abortion, RU486 and stem-cell research jar with a modern girl's feminist choices.
They are not 'feminist choices', and here you are showing, yet again, just how little you know or understand about feminism. They are human choices, to which, feminists argue, women have at least as much right as, say, the 20-year-old Tony Abbott you refer to below, the one whose frankness about his abandonment of his pregnant girlfriend you find 'graceful'.
But sure enough, many of these same women may find themselves muttering quietly among their closest girlfriends that, secretly, they find Abbott attractive.
I've certainly known more than a few women to mutter that secretly they found Turnbull attractive. Abbott, not so much.
While Abbott is known in today's neutered world of politics
This, of course, is nasty code for the inoffensive-looking and quietly spoken Kevin Rudd. Who, when last one looked, had a wife who looks like she has lots of fun, plus an assortment of happy-looking children.
for his off-the-cuff clangers
'Clangers' are the opposite of 'neutered', got that? Yeah, see, some of us think of Abbott's clangers .. erm .. no, I can't go on.

*Sticks fingers in ears, sings LA LA LA very loudly*
he is also a complicated mass of contradictions
About things like whether or not he believes in AGW from one day to the next, you mean? Or perhaps whether or not people should be allowed to choose whether or not they're ready to be parents?
The antithesis of the political nerd,
More nasty code for K. Rudd.
he is a head-kicker with a brain and a heart.
If either his brain or his heart were working properly, he wouldn't be a head-kicker. QED. Head-kicker. A kicker of heads. Think about it.
Sounds kind of interesting, doesn't it?
Um, no.
There is a candour to Abbott that is disarming.
Perhaps it disarms you, Janet. Personally I find it very, very arming.
He has admitted that as a 20-year-old, he was callow and unprepared for fatherhood. "I was psychologically unready for parenthood: that is the sad truth about me at the time. I just wasn't ready for it," he told The Bulletin in 2005
*Waits for other shoe to drop*

*Crickets chirping*
Try lining up the men in Canberra. Now look for the one who is the quintessential Aussie bloke
Because as we all know, the quintessential Aussie bloke is what we want running the country. No women, no poofters and no bloody foreigners thank you very much. Nobody with glasses, either. Or who speaks Mandarin. Especially not who speaks Mandarin.
try telling me, girls, that this mix is not even a little bit fascinating.
Janet, this mix is not even a little bit fascinating.
Compared with, say, Rudd.
THAT was unexpected!
So carefully controlled is his exterior,
Some of us call that 'grown up'.
few have any idea about the real Rudd.
MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA *Sound of sinister organ music*
He could not be more different from the new Opposition Leader.
Well, quite. And how fortunate we all are that that is the case.

I was going to say something about Albrechtsen's misty-eyed paragraph about Abbott's self-described 'love rug' and her hint (made via Nigella Lawson so it wasn't actually really Janet who said it, was it) that women who don't like Tony Abbott must be lesbians and everyone knows lesbians are, you know, icky. I was going to say something about it. But it is too, you know, icky.

As an old hippie myself I have neutral feelings about hair. I am far more interested in what is inside the hair or the absence thereof. It's this article's disturbing 'Doesn't being a hairy boxer make Tony sexy!' approach and its dreadfully clumsy attempts at effective rhetoric for propaganda purposes that are the real turnoff here. That, and the viciously unpleasant insinuendo about Rudd, and Planet Janet's generalisations about 'women', to whom she refers throughout not as 'we', but as 'they'. So it's not her that's thinking all this crapola about how sexy Abbott is, oh no. It's just 'women'. Because of course any real woman is far more interested in alpha-male body hair, head-kicking and punch-throwing skills than in wanting to keep her own freedom and live her own life in her own body.

This time of year everybody's got one

TO DO: THURSDAY 17/12/09


1) Make a list*

2) Check it twice (and do naughty/nice triage)

3) Shop for cutlery for C, DO NOT forget to print out email w. details of pattern etc. Also, next time, try not to lock keys in car. Or iPhone, RAA card and spare car key. Yes yes, I know this is the second time in a year.

4) Ham. (NAUGHTY. You have lied about this to the ob-com sibling so if the Special Ham Place has run out then you will have to SUCK IT UP) Whew.

5) Ring father

6) Depending on outcome of (5), visit father and stepmother, with 70% fruitless detour to cake-decorating specialist shop: tiny decorations for Christmas cake, tubes of edible red and green icingy stuff for Christmas bows on the gingerbread cats (see #9) NICE

7) Remaining cards -- to D, P, L, J (and an electronic one next week for S as per tradition) but MAKE AND POST SNAIL MAIL CARDS TODAY or it will all get a bit pointless

8) Think through appropriate gifts/visits for D&M, also R&N (see Master List)

9) Make gingerbread cats. (Mind out for breakable tails) NICE

10) Buy some Useful Tins to Put Things In (especially gingerbread cats)

11) Buy a paper (look what happened this week when you didn't have a quick TV guide handy -- DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN AGAIN)

12) Get tree and decorations out of cupboard in garage -- mind out for redback infestation

13) Ring accountant for appointment IT IS A MATTER OF HONOUR to do this before Christmas, so you had better hope he is not on hols: NAUGHTY

14) Spend 5 hours (as timed last year) getting tax records into shape: NASTY

15) Housework, cat care, day job etc etc

* A Master List, viz a list of the lists you have to make

Usage FAIL #2

It's a witty, funny, fast-paced book with some grit and some edge and it's the sequel to a best-seller, but I'm only up to page 77 and it has just failed a second basic screening. I've already come across 'hone in on' for 'home in on', and now we've got 'disinterested' for 'uninterested'.

I know there's been a GFC but you'd think the New York stronghold of Simon & Schuster would still be able to pay for the services of a good copy-editor. You really would.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A breef resent histry of Teh Cowalish Co-uh Librul Partay

After the shockingly outrageous and unfair events of 2007, when the natural party of leadership somehow inexplicably lost its eleven-year squirrel grip on the Australian psyche and its master narratives, it was deemed appropriate to elevate a Sacrifical Brendan to the leadership.

Sacrificial Brendan had a leadership style all his own.

Chafing in the wings, however, there was an Upstart Malcolm. (Sort of like in Macbeth, also November 11 1975, maintain the rage, etc.) And, being the sort of chap he was, Upstart Malcolm was in too much of a hurry to time his run properly.

Upstart Malcolm also had a leadership style all his own.

But 'Old' Nick Minchin wasn't having a bar of Upstart Malcolm, who was acting far too much like someone from the 21st century for 'Old' Nick's liking. And so, like a chess player, Nick manoeuvred his pieces with care. After giving it a great deal of thought, he decided to play the Sacrifical Joe. But he knew he needed to handle his pieces carefully, and give them the illusion that they were helping.

Sacrifical Joe, not unreasonably, expected to be rewarded for doing what he was told.

But then, in an admirable outburst of integrity, Sacrifical Joe decided at the last minute that he would try to make room for opposing views on the sofa benches. Unfortunately 'Old' Nick and his henchpersonsmen and minions weren't having a bar of it.

This threw the Coalition into the sort of disarray that produces a result nobody was expecting,

and to everyone's surprise including his own, Tony 'Slugger' Abbott found himself in charge.

And so Slugger was obliged to play the hand he had been dealt, otherwise known as the Hopelessly Divided Coalition, and sort himself out a new front bench.

Having hand-picked a team that would ensure rich pickings for columnists, cartoonists and comedians for the foreseeable, and having promised that this motley crew would give the Government 'the fight of its life', Slugger was then obliged to whip his team into shape sharpish.

His plan was to resurrect the long-dispersed and in any case largely mythical fighting force known as 'Howard's Battlers' (though he knew he would need to re-educate them as to the identity of the enemy) and then, having resurrected them, to get them to join forces with his new Front Bench and unleash the result on an unsuspecting public.

And meanwhile, from behind the sparkling Venetian blinds of her spotless kitchen with its empty fruit bowl, a mystery redhead watches closely as the story unfolds.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Twitterature: some highlights

From Macbeth

Banquo seems to have died in the forest. Oh well!

From Hamlet


From Emma

Jane and Frank were together all along? Who saw that one coming? Good thing I was never interested. Not in the least.

From Frankenstein

I'm definitely not responsible for this.

From Anna Karenina

Alright, twenty rubles says that I can toss my bag in the air, run across the tracks, and catch it before the train arriv–

From Mrs Dalloway

On a side note, has anybody noticed that @Septimus's posts have become a little erratic since the war ended?

From In Cold Blood

My Southern background and career as a New York literary homosexual will no doubt win me the trust and favor of these Midwestern farmers.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Return of the Three Stooges

Just happened to catch Tony Abbott's press conference live, the one where he announced his reshuffled front bench. Didn't catch all of it, but here are three of the new faces:

Kevin Andrews
Bronwyn Bishop
Barnaby Joyce


Heh heh heh.

Tell you what, too, Mr Abbott, you know that thing you do with your rhetoric, where you say 'contest' or 'fight' or 'battlelines' or 'tough' or 'wimp' about once every 30 seconds? That's really really good. Excellent stuff. Keep doing that.

Also, you know the way you kept ostentatiously picking out and loudly naming female journalists in order to answer their questions? Most of us know you probably wouldn't have done that unless somebody had had a wee word in your shell-like about it beforehand. Wonder who it was.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

How to tell if it's December

Quiet Friday night lull in the local big bright Coles and so when the voice starts up I notice it at once. Long supermarket experience and my peripheral hearing conspire to mis-identify it at first as a small-child problem: there's a wailing, insistent, pre-hysterical note and it is going on and on and on.

No, perhaps it's an older-child problem. The rhythms are those of fully formed sentences. Whoever it is is not any kind of a happy bunny.

No, I now think it's some kind of teenage girl or very young woman fighting with her boyfriend. Whatever else it is, it certainly sounds like a fight. My shopping list says SOAP. I head for the soap aisle. The voice gets louder and is sounding more and more upset. I notice for the first time that although there are occasional pauses in the monologue, I have, from the beginning, heard only the one voice. It's now speaking sufficiently loudly that I can make out what it's saying from two aisles away.

'It's not fair! I said if we go there then we won't get to see the others at all and he said well we can go round there after lunch and I said but we're going to Jen's for tea, what, do you want to spend practically the whole day driving around and he said well it's not my fault, they just put pressure on and said it like it was a done deal and I can't ring them up now and say we're not coming after all!'

At this point I round the end of the soap aisle and there she is, long black cotton dress with spaghetti straps over plump flawlessly-skinned shoulders, black hair up and starting to come down, I'd say mid-twenties, scarlet in the face, staring ferociously at a shelf full of skin care products and yelling into her mobile. As she comes into my line of sight, her voice cracks in the middle of the word 'mum' and she begins to sob without restraint.

'But muuuummmmm! I knowww! I want us to come to your place! But Darren says he wants to see his family too and it's stupid, there's only two of them, there's only Lauren and John, it's stupid, it's not fair! They think they own Christmas!'

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Abbott and the Women: some thoughts

Those who, like me, have been visiting the ABC's website daily since Annabel Crabb began her pointy, sparkly political columns for them will not have missed yesterday's account of Tony-Abbott-as-leader's virgin encounter with Kerry O'Brien on The 7.30 Report. I was struck by Crabb's version of this moment:
O'Brien's aims for the interview were the same as usual; a light tenderising, and promise of brutalities to come.

The new Liberal leader's aims were rather more specialised; to begin the task of discarding the Abbott stereotypes of the past, to lay down some sensible, unexceptionable-sounding policy basics, to avoid getting into strife, and most definitely to not say anything that might annoy or startle female voters.

Oh, she's good. She's good the way Jon Stewart is so often good, nailing her target through ventriloquy, implying that for Abbott and his team it's a matter of 'annoy or startle', as though women were high-strung (oh all right, irritatingly neurotic) brood mares who needed to be tricked and soothed into their proper place and function in the world. O'Brien gave him an opportunity to 'annoy or startle', too:
Kerry tried again.

"One voting demographic where the Liberal Party suffers badly is women, particularly younger women. Coming back to that hardline image of yours, you're not exactly a pin-up boy, are you, as a political leader?"

"That might be the case," grinned the Liberal leader. "Notwithstanding the photos of last weekend."

Cue despair and garment-rending in the Abbott control tower, where all involved thought it had been made perfectly clear that no voluntary mention was to be made of last Sunday's shots of the new Liberal leader wearing a tantalisingly brief swimming costume, a slightly foolish hat and what looked like about ten ferrets' worth of torso hair.

But their man brought matters under control by supplying an important piece of context.

"Speedos are compulsory if you're in the club swim at Queenscliff."

And what a very interesting segue we have right there. First Abbott spins a serious question (and a very serious ballot-box issue) about his unpopularity with women: he fudges on about how he's not going to change his views (the Goddess help us all) before, in response to O'Brien's 'pin-up boy' line, making the stupid crack (I'm sorry, I would have liked to have put that another way) about the Speedo photos.

Got that? Women's attitude to Abbott is suddenly somehow all about Tone's Body, to the unseemly exposure of which he has seen fit to draw further attention. And then we move on to the next topic. As commenter Emmie remarks at that ABC site:
I thought Abbott's reference to the budgie smugglers was quite deliberate, as if making a joke of it was the best way to put the story to bed (it would be awful if it gained the same momentum as Alexander Downer's fishnets, after all). But as a woman, I was insulted by the fact that he pushed that line, when O'Brien had asked a fairly serious question about TA's lack of appeal to women voters - which, you might note, was never answered.

Nor has it, that I can find, been seriously addressed anywhere else. Tony Wright, 'The Goanna', went down the smirk road about 'the sterner women in the political firmament'. The notoriously reactionary Miranda Devine was using the growing volume of muttering about Abbott and women to launch yet another badly argued attack on that perennially unidentified rabble, 'the feminists'.

And post-spill discussion threads at the large left-leaning blog Larvatus Prodeo, if they mentioned the 51% of voters who are women and the implications this might have for Abbott and the Coalition at all, mentioned it only in passing. Most of the readers and commenters there are young and/or progressive and/or educated and/or enlightened men who mostly abominate Abbott, but little awareness appears in those discussions of the concrete, material, immediate nature of women's concerns and only a very few commenters made it clear that women's chief objection to Abbott is the unashamed way he has attempted in the past to enforce his own religious views on their -- our -- reproductive freedom, and no doubt will again. (That remark in the O'Brien interview about how he's not going to pull the wool over women's eyes was a warning shot across the bows, in case any of you didn't recognise it.)

It's not that the men discussing Abbott's electability in the MSM and at the blogs are necessarily opposed to women's rights. Some of them actively support them. They are not deliberately attempting to stifle or ignore. It's that they simply do not see women in conversations like this, when it is so much more fun to talk about tax and carbon credits, and likewise do not see the implications for the women's vote.

And while these things should not be sidelined as 'women's issues', the sad truth is that they are, even by the men one might generally regard as on side. And given the rarefied yet brutal world of federal politics, where Tony Abbott had successfully wielded enormous power at the highest national level within hours of being voted in as leader -- of the Opposition, mind you -- women need to stay focused on the realities of what he might do and how soon he might do it.

Most Australian women are too young to remember what life was like when abortion was illegal, divorce was a protracted and vicious nightmare of compulsory demonisation, you couldn't get a prescription for the Pill unless you were married, and keeping your own surname after marriage was rendered bureaucratically impossible by -- to take a random sample from personal experience -- the taxation department, the university and the pre-Medicare health insurance people, none of whom had the sorts of forms that would allow for it.

Those young-to-youngish women, more than anyone else, need to not drop this ball, because unless you're very careful you might find out what life was like back then. You and your daughters are the ones who would suffer most if a head-kicking conservative Catholic were ever to become Prime Minister.

What Australian women need to understand about the ascent of Abbott is that all this other stuff about Speedos and personalities and icky feminists is, compared to the real thing, smoke. The real thing, the thing that must be recognised and fought every inch of the way, is nothing less than an assault by stealth on your own body. It is not about annoyance or startlement. It is not about the ten-ferret pelt and the displays thereof. It is not about behaving like a bully-boy and standover merchant, which is the main thing that women disliked and distrusted about Mark Latham. It is not about a willingness to do anything that will disrupt or demean any woman standing up to him ... or even any woman standing up with him, as Julie Bishop discovered immediately after he became her new leader when he gave her a cuddle and a pat for the cameras and called her a 'loyal girl'. (And many thanks to the lovely Zoe for that last link.)

No, the real, crucial, immediately dangerous area for Australian women is the place where biology meets the budget or the law. No matter what fluff or snark you read in the Op Ed pages, what coy, snide, smarmy or foam-flecked references to the skittishness of easily-startled women or the hatefulness of not-easily-startled women, it's not about the mysteries of the female vote; it's not about Abbott's personality; it's not about anyone's behaviour; it's not, for the moment, about whether something is or is not perceived to be a 'women's issue'; it's not even -- again for the moment -- about the way this brand of conservatism seeks to diminish and control the place of women in society.

Here and now, in the immediate future, it's about that stick you pee on and what colour it turns. It's about the red dot on the calendar and how worried you are about it. It's about the condoms that have passed their use-by date unnoticed, or the contraceptive drugs that are not quite 100% effective. It's about stuff that every girl and woman of childbearing age has to think about, today and tomorrow and next week and the week and month and year after that. At 56 I am thankfully beyond being personally affected in this daily way, but I had my share, and I fear for women younger than I am, the shiny new fabric of whose post-feminist personal freedom may soon be put under unbearable strain.

It's about bodies, medical procedures, drugs, laws and money: Gardasil, RU486, abortion, IVF, stem cell research, no-fault divorce, access to health services without being nagged by fundies, and whether you, as a woman, want to choose between living a life of celibacy and taking the chance (and if you think this is unlikely, look around you) of various worst-case scenarios: living below the poverty line; looking after at least one unintentionally conceived child by yourself until the kid is 18 and probably much longer than that; forgoing any proper career in work that you love, any decent income, any role in public life, any power at all. It's about your own daily life-in-the-body: its dignity and its freedom.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Federal Opposition Follies: how it looks to a feminist

1) This is what happens when the adversarial model dominates a society. The core imagery is of whupping wild beasts, women and each other with clubs, and to hell with hunting, gathering and finding nice warm dry caves.

2) There's a moment at which ego investment in a position becomes so entrenched that the stand being taken becomes indistinguishable from the sense of self, and not even the person in question -- especially not the person in question -- can see or understand where and how that shift happened. But everyone else can see the results. Especially on a 47 degree day in early November.

3) This, young Australian feminists everywhere, is the moment to show what you are made of. You need to understand just exactly how much danger is waiting in the wings for Australian women's status as equal and autonomous human beings. If you don't believe me, have a look at the systematic erosion of women's rights under Howard. And Abbott will make Howard look like Germaine Greer.

4) I'd really love to know what Julia Gillard is thinking, right about now.

It's Abbott

Who beat Turnbull by half a toenail, 42-41, after the surprise elimination of Joe Hockey in the first vote.

Holy sh*t. As it were.

Of course you realise this means they will never beat Kevin for the foreseeable.

*Does little dance*

Not to mention the ongoing Liberal Party nomenclaturial farce if Julie Bishop retains the deputy leadership.

Are they mad? I mean, like, barking?