Friday, December 31, 2010


1: Two of the nicest people I ever met live in a place called Gargunnock in Scotland. I'd lost touch with them, and a few weeks ago was idly googling Gargunnock plus their names as the quickest way of finding them. The first thing that came up was a notice to a walking-tour group that for one of their walks through the area, my friends had offered their house as a place to stop for a loo break and a cup of tea. That offer was what made me absolutely sure it was them.  Then, a few weeks later, up turned a beautiful little Christmas card from them. I remember them telling me that in Scotland, New Year -- Hogmanay -- tends to be a bigger deal than Christmas so one of my New Year's resolutions is to write them a New Year's letter.

2: Five minutes' drive away from my house there is a lovely beach. I resolve to go and swim there in the early morning at least three times a week, as a way of waking up and getting everything moving, before I sit down at the keyboard to

3: finish writing this book about Adelaide. Which I am enjoying very much, but which -- as a New Zealander recently said about living in Adelaide itself -- is like trying to swim through treacle. And speaking of sweet things,

4: I am going to christen, at last, possibly today, the ice-cream maker, and make Fresh Cherry and Toasted Almond Ice Cream to go with the experimental (for me, I mean) Burnt Brown Sugar Ice Cream I also plan to make, from a recipe I like the look of very much but have never actually made, though perhaps bypassing the praline as it is much too hot to be faffing around with toffee, before I then

5: go on a diet of fresh fruit, raw vegetables, mineral water and peppermint tea for the rest of my life. Or at least until January 25, 2012 (this January being out of the question, because of #3), by which date I plan to have

6: finally got my act together and organised a Burns Supper, with compulsory singing and poetry recitation from all parties. Haggis optional; the haggis cowards can fill up on neeps and tatties and Tipsy Laird.

Happy New Year to all, and everyone stay safe tonight.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Two apologies:

(a) Comment moderation has been turned on, I hope temporarily.

(b) A couple of regular readers here will have noticed that comments left some time back have never appeared. This is because Blogger developed a Spaminator that they never told their users about. I have liberated a couple of perfectly good comments from same.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Have a good one

9.40 pm and the presents are wrapped and the cards written on. The prawns have been cleaned and so has the toilet. The tablecloth has been ironed and so has tomorrow's outfit. The trifle has been made and so have the mayonnaise and the seafood sauce, the gazpacho and the salsa.

But why, oh why, did I not do the wretched vacuuming about eight hours ago, before my feet started to hurt?

Never mind. A little Christmas blogging before the last big housework push.

Cats and music, what's not to like? Many, many merries to all.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Shame all round, boys

Now I know that with the Great Big Non-Story of Nick Riewoldt's Willy (and of course that's what this is really all about: is it that he thinks it isn't big enough, or is he embarrassed about being caught in a pose that might shout 'wanker'?) we are back in the land of what my Facebook Friend Lord Sedgwick calls the Single Digit IQ Nuff Nuff, original ref to Brendan Fevola and Lara Bingle.

But does that time-honoured 'quality' newspaper The Age, which I'm old enough to remember as a once mighty power in the land, really need to get in on the act as well? Note to Paul Millar and Jared Lynch: It's 'stream of consciousness', boys. Not 'stream-of-conscience'.

(NB: also, Elizabeth Jolley has already made this joke. But she was doing it on purpose.)

Actually, I don't see any sign of any conscience anywhere in this whole story. Not even a trickle. Just infantile narcissism and total abnegation of responsibility for one's own behaviour as far as the eye can see. That and the tip of the iceberg that is the pig-dog ugly subculture of the AFL-and-women.

But I hope that young woman is enjoying her ten minutes of fame, because the AFL is going to swing all of its power and money into action and crush her like a bug. And more vain and misguided young women will swan in to fill the tiny gap she leaves in the AFL's neverending supply of stupid girls, and nothing will change. A plague on both your houses.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Music and memory

Fans of Jimmy Webb might remember his 1970 album Words and Music (so vividly recalled by the magnificent Ten Easy Pieces 26 years later) on which as well as his own songs, including the wonderful 'P.F. Sloan' which he later disowned after a spat with Sloan himself, he included a track on which he'd overlaid three different songs of the era in such a way -- because they had identical time signatures, similar tempi and similar chord progressions -- as to make it sound like one song with a great deal of interesting counterpoint in it. Let it Be Me, an adaptation of the French 'J'appartiens' from 1955 and best known in the Everly Brothers version, the Addrisi brothers' Never My Love, recorded by The Association in 1967, and Boyce & Hart's I Wanna Be Free, which they wrote for the Monkees (a group for which a very young Stephen Stills auditioned and was rejected for not being good-looking enough, PFFFT)

were all blended by Webb's arrangement into one fairly extraordinary track called 'Three Songs' which is not, I'm glad to say in this instance, sung by Webb himself, whose voice is an acquired taste. I'd post a video or sound file if I could find a postable or linkable one, but I can't; you'll just have to imagine it.

Jimmy Webb being the clever clogs that he is not just with music but also with words, even at the age of 24 when this album was released, the counterpoint extends if only metaphorically to the lyrics, which weave ironically around each other in their varying preoccupations with love ties and freedom.

So anyway, there I was a week or two ago, mucking around with iTunes as you do, and came up with this lovely Christmas song from the Indigo Girls. (Ignore the visuals.)

One of the reasons I liked this song so much was that it sounded very familiar. This familiarity nagged at me. And then last night as I was bringing in the washing before dark, wooden clothespeg in one hand and knickers in the other, it hit me with the proverbial blinding flash:

I think you could get an astonishing effect if you gave these two songs the Jimmy Webb treatment and glued them together. Not least because of the way the refrains both open up into an affirmation of possibility: of surviving some terrible loss.

Oh, that does it

When a friend asked me last week how I felt about the whole Julian Assange thing, the best I could come up with was 'conflicted'. Wikileaks good, treating women like sh*t bad. Worse, everything I'd seen or read suggested to me that a reckless disregard for consequences seemed to be one of the things that his political activism and his sexual behaviour had in common.

I spent an hour yesterday in the Rare Books room of the Adelaide University library (stay with me, this is germane) reading the journals of one of South Australia's unsung heroes, Robert Gouger. Gouger died at 44, after suffering what his contemporaries call 'a mental malady' for some years, with steady deterioration of his faculties. If, as they argue, it was a total mental breakdown brought on by the stresses of his life, then goodness knows the stresses of his life were more than enough to do it.

But as anyone who's read The Fortunes of Richard Mahony knows, when men in the 19th century went mad and then died, there was always a chance that the reason was undiagnosed, untreated tertiary syphilis, contracted years earlier. And when it comes to tertiary syphilis, going mad is one of the less unpleasant symptoms.

So if a man has unprotected sex with (at least) two different people inside a week, it seems to me reasonable to be concerned that he might be spreading something icky. When he dismisses that concern as just a couple of silly women 'getting into a tizzy' and then being stupid enough to be 'bamboozled' by police, it severely undermines whatever confidence I might previously have had in his judgment.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A meme with a difference

Even if it were a meme without a difference, I haven't seen or done one of these for ages and right at this very moment am grateful for the displacement activity. So:

'Ten Things I've Done That You Probably Haven't'

1. Sat next to Hilary Mantel and opposite Dorothy Dunnett at dinner.

2. Rolled and wrecked a brand-new car and came within micro-metres of breaking my neck.

3. Lost my wallet at Santa Maria Novella railway station in Florence and then didn't realise at first that someone had picked it up and handed it in because the announcement on the PA was of course in Italian and the pronunciation rendered my name unrecognisable, though much improved.

4. Collected eggs laid by semi-feral chooks in and under stacks of hay bales, leaky sheds full of shed stuff, old farm machinery and new farm machinery in 40+ degree heat.

5. Negotiated the tram-infested Royal Parade / Flemington Road / Elizabeth Street roundabout at 5 pm on a Friday afternoon in the middle of a thunderstorm, including lightning and downpour, with Elizabeth Jolley in the passenger seat.

6. Fell off a cantering horse onto some rocks. It hurt.

7. Sang in opera.

8. Got a divorce and an Honours degree in the same week.

9. Found the long-lost grave of my great-grandparents and great-aunt Jessie inside a ruined church in Aberfoyle, Scotland, though strictly speaking it was the intrepid Dan Smith who found it, not me.

10. Gave a talk about Australia to a classroom full of terrifyingly sophisticated multilingual Austrian 15-year-olds.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

He just keeps on living his life

Eighteen years ago, when my parents were mere spring chickens of 65, the most recent in a long line of family moggies padded off to the big litter tray in the sky, and they swore off cats, they said, for good. 'No, no,' my father said when it was suggested they might get another. 'We're too old to start another cat.'

Shortly thereafter my sisters trundled back to my folks' place from the RSPCA with a large and rather scared grey tabby who'd been brought in by a man whose father had died and left his cat, then age 2, to be dealt with. 'Ah,' said my friend D when informed of this new development. 'An adult cat. With habits. And eccentricities.'

Tiger saw my mother through her last six years, and my dad through three bedridden months after he fell off the roof, then widowerhood, then remarriage and finally divorce before he and one of my sisters finally took her off on that last sad trip to the vet a couple of months ago.

I went to visit him today. 'Come and see the Christmas present I bought myself,' he said, and opened the door to his bedroom. A small, lithe kitty, cafe au lait, chocolate and white with bright blue eyes, leapt up off the bed and came to meet us, twining and purring.

Cecil is a rescue cat, who'd been brought in as a stray and had had a hard time before that, brought back to health and condition by the dedicated people at the Animal Welfare League. He's a snowshoe cat. Cecil is seven. My dad will be 84 in February.

Christmas Island

Cast your mind back six years to Boxing Day 2004, when a tsunami caused 230,000 deaths in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and ten other countries. The then Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham, was on holidays, and the tsunami was the turning point in his leadership: first he made no response, and then made a belated, surly, graceless, defensive response when asked by journalists whether he had anything to say. Latham's leadership was already on the nose, and he was ill, but his attitude and behaviour in the wake of the tsunami was the last nail in the coffin of his leadership. He resigned just over three weeks later.

All of which makes me hope that the Prime Minister, then a good friend of Latham's, remembers that too, and saw the warning in it and remembers that as well, and that therefore as we speak she is on a plane, hot-footing it back from her own holidays to front up and do and say whatever she can about today's tragic loss of life off Christmas Island. It's a tragedy on a far smaller scale, but the right-wingers are already wielding the fuzzy logic for which they are notorious, clearly unable to get their heads round the fact that the reason asylum seekers are crossing dangerous seas in dangerous boats is because staying at home is even more dangerous, and unless Gillard hits the ground running on this one, she will be actively helping out the likes of Blair and Bolt in their efforts to make her look very, very bad.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Which just goes to prove that a year is a very, very long time in politics

As is my wont round this time of year, I've been looking back at the bloggy ghosts of Christmases Past, thinking back to what was happening last year and the year before that and so on. Imagine my surprise when I checked the entry for a year ago today, when Kevin Rudd was still doing well as Prime Minister and Malcolm Turnbull (Who? I hear you cry) wasn't doing very well at all as Leader of the Opposition, and found this.

Sometimes I think I don't give my fortune-telling skillz enough free rein.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bright lights, bad kitty

In the first of what will no doubt be several Yule-themed posts, we bring you the latest, and seasonal, tale of Simon's Cat, here.

The genius of animator and cartoonist Simon Tofield lies mainly in the way he captures with one or two lines the essences of cat behaviour. The pre-pounce flat-eared crouch. The delicacy of the batting paw. The quick recovery from clumsy or ungainly manoeuvres, involving a combination of body language and facial expression that says 'I totally meant to do that deliberately intentionally on purpose.' The flipping-up of the erect tail when happy and communicative, often to expose what one American cat-behaviour guide calls the butt hello, and what my friend L calls the furry little date in the face.

If you are stuck for a Christmas gift, Australian publishing superstars Text are the people who publish the Simon's Cat books in Australia.*

* This free plug for Text Publishing is given for no other reason than that they are awesome. I have books coming out the wazoo and am in no need of more; au contraire. Besides, I think I would lose interest in the blog the minute it became any kind of transaction. Pity.


Assange and the sexual assault charges: essential reading. Hat-tip to my Facebook (and real-life) friend Ken Gelder.

Here's the money shot:

... Assange's status as embattled warrior for free speech is taken as giving permission – by those on the left as well as right – to indulge in the basest slut-shaming and misogyny. It's terrifying to witness how swiftly rape orthodoxies reassert themselves: that impugning a man's sexual propriety is a political act, that sexual assault complainants are prone to a level of mendacity others are not (and, in this case, deserving of the same crowd-sourced scrutiny afforded leaked diplomatic cables), that not all forms of non-consensual sex count as "rape-rape".

... It also underlies the assumption that a man's good behaviour in public life somehow neutralises bad behaviour in private ... By this measure, rape allegations against a maverick internet provocateur are diminished in the context of his crusade for truth instead of, albeit unpalatably, being capable of existing alongside it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Assange Case and the Great Feminist Schism of 2010

Guy Rundle sums up my own highly conflicted views on all this today on Crikey:

These moves are evidence of the situation your correspondent suggested in Crikey yesterday -- that the Assange case is proving to be the final process by which the second-wave feminist coalition formed in the late 1960s splits substantially, with feminists with differing attitude to Western state power finding themselves on different sides of the debate.

Indeed, it puts one in the unusual position of saying that commentators such as [Naomi] Wolf are being too anti-complainant in their construction of the charges as nothing other than a couple of bad dates. It's a strange world, and getting stranger.

In my own case it's not so much about 'differing attitudes to Western state power', and I'm not sure that's the main issue with other feminists either. Most feminists know that state power, Western or not, habitually militates against women and are therefore resistant to it on principle.

For me it's more that simple logic prevents one from doing the usual thing and taking warlike tribal sides for the mud-wrestling when there are so many different aspects to this case, so much nuance and so many different things at stake. But what does seem clear, as Rundle implies, is that this case is going to do untold damage to the rights of women with regard to sexual assault, if only by weakening and watering-down the views of those most likely, in other circumstances, to support those rights. Naomi Wolf, for example, in the article to which Rundle is referring, starts out funny and ends up, to me, downright offensive.

But whether or not the all-powerful state is opportunistically using the sexual assault charges against Assange is a completely different question from whether or not Assange's Wikileaks activities are a good thing. Which is again, in its turn, a completely different question from that of what the Australian government should be doing about his situation.

If there's anything good at all about this affair, it's that the thoughtful can use it as a way of sorting out what their own views really are on a number of questions: internet ethics, international diplomacy, sexual assault and state power.

UPDATE: It's occurred to me more than once since this all hit the fan how interesting it is to contemplate the whole Swedish aspect in the light of the Stieg Larssen books. Larssen himself was sufficiently an enemy of the state for there to have been real questions about the manner of his death; his novels reveal a startling view of corruption in high Swedish places; and the original Swedish title of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was Men Who Hate Women. Which is clearly what he, at least, thought the book was about.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pav's Almanac

Ahhh, the signs and portents of a new calendar month. The first swooping magpie of September. The first bluetongue and redback of November. The first red leaf of April, the first woolly-bear caterpillar of June, the first gigantic barfed-up furball of October from a winter-coat-shedding cat.

And today, in the mailbox, the first Christmas card of December.

'Beyond your most terrified, worst imaginings'

If you missed the Magda Szubanski episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (as did I until just then, not currently having a telly), then now is the time to watch it.

But it's not safe for work unless you don't mind blubbering in front of your colleagues.

How many of my generation of Australians owe their existence to grandfathers who somehow managed to survive the Somme, and Ypres, and particularly Passchendaele? Magda and me and my sisters, for a start. Was this some kind of hideous Darwinian bubble in the history of the 20th century? God knows there were plenty of others. Magda seems to be a survivor of several different ones. The WW2 one is worse.

Really, it is a miracle that any of us are still here. And a total disgrace than any Australian should be xenophobic or racist in any way. And considering the price that was paid for them, almost all of us should be making better use of our lives.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Silver threads among the mouse

It was brought to my attention this morning in a crueller light than usual that the whole ageing thing has finally caught up with my hair. Both my sisters are also going grey; the older one has dramatic natural silver streaking her almost-black hair with its amazing natural highlights of burgundy and indigo, while the younger has pale champagne threads through hair the colour of ripe apricots. Mine is more in the palette that goes 'mouse, ash, potato'.

There are a number of possibilities for dealing with this.

1) Go grey and be damned. (All very subtle for the blonde, just a little shift from gold to silver-gilt and pewter, and dramatic contrasts for the brunette. But the boring grey in boring brown just looks dowdy and hippieish and, um, boring.)

2) Professionally done permanent colour, which must be constantly maintained if you're not to end up with cheap-looking two-tone hair. Regardless, sooner or later the bullet must be bitten and the colour allowed to grow out, or at least mutate. In the meantime most hairdressers want to colour your hair in such a way as to make you match the tortoiseshells (a cute idea, but disappointing in practice), despite the fact that you have said you want nothing that could even remotely be called red, yellow, gold, peach, apricot, russet, bronze or, the hairdressers' favourite, "warm". Not that they don't sometimes look lovely in the first instance, but with time they all fade to a uniform washed-out orange straw.

3) Home done semi-permanent colour, which is much less hard on the hair, infinitely cheaper, can be done in your colour of choice, and if you hate it it'll wash out in 36 shampoos or whatever. Disadvantage: unremovable dark splodges all over the bathroom.

What do the rest of you do? Advice from the ladies pls.

Now you know how it feels to be a woman, Kevin (SA edition)

This is wrong on so many levels I don't know where to start.

Like his immediate and indeed only superior (structural, that is, not moral necessarily) the Premier, Mike Rann, the Treasurer and Deputy Premier Kevin Foley was assaulted over the weekend by someone he had clearly made unhappy. This happened on the street at 3 am on Sunday morning, after Foley had, by this account, been doing the rounds of the bars and clubs.

Foley is single and 50. He must have been as sad a sight in some of those clubs as poor old Sam Newman, who may be even older than that but is at least better looking. (Those of you who have never seen any photos or footage of Foley will have to trust me on this one.)

Foley was due to take over as Acting Premier yesterday morning, while Rann ran away on one of his many international trips presumably to do one of his many international deals. Rann has barely been sighted since the state election in March and the seedy and seemingly interminable scandal that led up to it.

Now, one is resigned to being ruled by people whose capacity for good judgment would fit into their left ear and leave room over for a cotton bud; it happens all the time. If the Treasurer and Deputy Premier, whose ambition to be Premier is very well known, wants to be trying to crack onto women young enough to be his daughters in clubs, and turning up in pizza bars on Adelaide streets with 'unknown' women after nights on the town with millionaire property developers, then that is, of course, his business. It's a free country.

But the sentence that keeps leaping out at me from that linked report is this one:

Ministers arriving for cabinet yesterday said Mr Foley was entitled to walk on a city street at any hour without being assaulted.

Quite. Yes. Yes he is. And I'm sure none of those Ministers would even dream of saying Well, clubbing and pissed on the streets in the small hours, he was just asking for it. I wonder if he was scantily clad.

Foley was quoted in yesterday's paper-edition Advertiser as saying 'What it does clearly show to me is the risk I now take as a senior politician out in public.'

Leaving aside the question of whether Foley was incapable of taking this message in when Mike Rann was attacked with a rolled-up wine magazine (I love that Adelaide touch, I just love it to death) way back in the mists of time and it's only now finally sunk in, I'm guessing that most of the women of Adelaide -- not only those who like to go out and have a good time at night, but those who are old and feeble enough to be an easy target for the horrible little shits who lurk around ATMs waiting for an easy handbag, and all of us in between -- read that sentence and thought Pfft, Kevin, welcome to my world.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Who needs a subconscious?

If you are badly in need of a laugh (which, at the moment, I'm), this should do it. Inexpressible thanks to the lovely Ampersand Duck for putting me on to this hysterically funny site about the perils of predictive text and auto-correct thingies. Is it my imagination or does the iPhone have an anal fixation? Have a look at some of the things it 'corrects' to. Talk about the return of the repressed.

There are up to a dozen new ones a day, as with LOLcats. I've added a link under 'Funnies' in the sidebar.

The most cheering thing about this site is actually not the larfs, but the reassurance that human intimacy is alive and well and living in our electronic toys. Some of these conversations reveal such affection, humour, goodwill and deep knowledge of each other that it gives you hope for the planet.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In your Facebook

One of my Facebook friends, a children's writer whom I've never actually met and who has several hundred FB friends herself, seems to be being stalked at the moment by (at least) two different crazies. She is responding to them a great deal more sweetly and kindly than I would in her place.

I don't know whether these people are known to her outside of Facebook or not, but it doesn't really make any difference; the way they are using her Facebook page as a place to express their own various rages and delusions, and to attack her personally, is extraordinarily disturbing on a number of fronts. I've been thinking for a while now of writing a long piece about Facebook, but my view of it gets less and less positive all the time, so I keep changing the lines of argument in my head.

It's bad enough when some troll turns up at one's blog and begins to hurl personal abuse, and I've had that happen to me a few times over the last five years, but I think on Facebook it's a lot worse, because it seems so much more of a direct personal attack; one's Facebook page is a version of one's self.

Personally I'm already fairly ruthless about accepting anyone as an FB friend whom I don't already know pretty well either in non-virtual life, through friends, by reputation, or two or more of the above, and will be more ruthless again from now on.

Why We Still Need Feminism, Part #1,908

Have you noticed that whenever The Australian wants to publish another piece of vicious, moronic, sexist crapola about Julia Gillard, they nearly always get a woman to write it? Kate Legge on earlobes, Glenda Korporaal on handbags, Planet Janet on pretty much anything you care to name, and now yesterday we have this pile of really stinking ordure by another such female OO journalist [sic] with Form in this respect, namely former adviser to Peter Costello and John Howard (about what, one wonders. Women's affairs? Nah) Niki Savva.

Greg Jericho at Grog's Gamut reckons that of all such poisonous tripe published by the OO thus far in a naked attempt to sway the stupid, this Savva piece takes the biscuit. Which is saying a lot.

Why do they do it? I think it's because they're so ignorant of feminism that when someone says 'Oi, this is vicious, moronic, sexist crapola,' they can reply 'No it isn't, because it was written by a woman.' And I really do think that they really do think that that constitutes some sort of answer.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Culture, various

Since last Thursday I've seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, gone to hear my friends D and M sing in the Mozart Requiem at St Peter's Cathedral (in Adelaide), and listened to an utterly delightful conversation on the radio between those two stalwarts of Melbourne intellectual life, Professor Stuart Macintyre and Dr Michael Cathcart.

All of these have been snuck into the cracks between the work, and I am determined to blog about all of them. Just as soon as the marking's done.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Royal ropes

Kate Middleton in her official engagement interview said she was afraid she didn't 'know the ropes'. She's known William for nearly ten years and been his official girlfriend for most of that; if she doesn't know the ropes by now you have to wonder what the prognosis is.

In the meantime, Rope #1: learn the language of the country of which you may become Queen.

She admitted joining the Royal Family was a “daunting prospect” but she added: “Hopefully I’ll take it in my stride.”

Of course, she might have simply meant that she will take it in her stride in a hopeful manner. In which case, no wuz.

Monday, November 15, 2010

This can't be right, can it? Or can it?

From the ABC website's report on the bill being introduced in Parliament tonight by the Greens' Adam Bandt in support of same-sex marriage:
Philip Ruddock, who was attorney-general in 2004 when a law was passed to define marriage as being "between a man and a woman", said marriage should be limited to those who could procreate.
So: does Ruddock think that not just gays and lesbians, but no women past childbearing age, and nobody of either sex who was born or has been rendered infertile, should be allowed to get married? And to take his remark to its logical conclusion, does he think that any existing marriage in which either partner has become unable to 'procreate' should be dissolved? Including, presumably, his own?

This man held important portfolios in the Howard government for eleven years, and is now on the front bench of an Opposition that came within the width of the fabric of a silk georgette hanky of getting back into government. If it's true that we get the politicians we deserve, then we have all been very bad, and if they are a reflection of us then clearly we have all been very bonkers as well.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I wouldn't

Leonard Cohen's giving a concert at Hanging Rock?

Is that wise?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Because everyone knows you've got a right

A British backpacker has "defended" himself against the breach-of-privacy charges laid against him for covertly filming a young woman in a 'uni-sex bathroom' at a Queensland resort by saying 'I just wanted to see her naked.'

Spot the weasel word here. Yes, that's right: 'just'.

'Just' as distinct from what? The unavoidable implication here seems to be 'I only wanted to see her naked, which is my perfect right as a man and anyway what's the harm, I didn't rape her or anything so what are you all going on about?'

His lawyer calls his actions 'a lapse in judgement.'

Me, I'm off to the bottle shop to see what Scotland has to offer. Somehow a glass of wine just isn't going to cut it, after that.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

And at the other blog, we have ...

... a new post. Gonna keep that one going if it kills me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Someone give that woman a special cookie

Book reviews: 3 down, 1 to go.

Honours theses: 9 down, 7 to go.

Words about Adelaide: 25,159 down, 24,841 to go.

Gonna stop now, have a whisky, and finish my new Ruth Rendell.

Planet Janet: populated by unexamined metaphors

You know, the Greens are - I like to call them, you know, a pack of wolves in koala costumes
-- Janet Albrechtsen

Now, presumably this is an allusion to the expression 'wolves in sheep's clothing'. Otherwise it wouldn't make any sense.

So: vicious destructive ferocious creature dresses up as innocent harmless ditto. So far so good.

But wait. The point of the wolf in the sheep's clothing is to pretend to be a sheep. Why does it pretend to be a sheep? So that it can fool the shepherd and get up close and personal with the sheep, unsuspected of being a wolf; maybe it can even get penned in with the sheep, so that in the dead of night it can unmask its wild and ferocious muzzle and midnight feast on leg o' lamb to its wild and ferocious heart's content.

That is the point, if you are a wolf, of dressing up as a sheep.

So. The Greens dress up as koalas so that they can fool ... um ... the koala shepherds.

They do this because they ... ahrrm ... want to eat the koalas.

Wait, what?

A Green. As you can see, they are intellectual ay-leets as well as wolves. Approach with extreme caution, or, better still, not at all.

UPDATE: On the other hand, if this is a real koala then it is a koala in academics' clothing. Some of you had better run for your lives.

Abandoning the good ship Apostrophe #2 (an occasional series)

Today's email bulletin has just arrived and in the subject line they were leading with the headline Swans' Budget Outlook.

Wow, I thought, that Sydney AFL team must have done something really radical with their money for it to make it to the top of the crikey news, and off-season, too.

But no. It's about the Federal Treasurer. Whose name is not Wayne Swans.

/pickety pick de la pick

Monday, November 8, 2010

Nature notes: it's that time of year again

Would you say it was good or bad feng shui that I have redbacks busily spinning and weaving around the hinges of both the front and the back security doors? (This house has only two external doors.)

I mean, on the one hand they are living creatures. And on the other hand they are, well, you know.

In other news, on my way out to the supermarket I saw a sleepy lizard calmly poised at the edge of the footpath, waiting to cross the road. Which means I've left it too late to get the back yard mowed again, and the poor yard-mowing dude will probably end up with a mangled sleepy or bluetongue in his mower again. It's a jungle out there.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Not the Social Network

I've not seen The Social Network yet, though I do intend to, maybe this weekend. But I've read a great deal about it and the more I read the more puzzled I get.

Because here are all these movie critics, mostly starry-eyed fans of Aaron Sorkin, banging on about Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg's moral turpitude in allegedly double-crossing his best mate, and allegedly cheating the Winklevoss twins, and being a vilely sexist little arse, and so on and so endlessly on. (And no doubt some of this is more or less true. I've just Googled Zuckerberg to confirm my sense of his age and was a bit horrified to discover that he is my astrological twin. Him, David Byrne, Cate Blanchett and me. Go figure.)

But what I have not yet seen one film critic do, not one so far, is question -- or even mention -- the ethics of making a film 'about' a 26 year old man that makes him look as much as possible like a dishonest, unpleasant little schmuck, but that Sorkin defends by saying it's not a documentary, it's a 'story'.

I don't know much about Sorkin, but I know enough to know that he knows perfectly well that most people are actually not all that sophisticated about these things, and that 95% of the people who see that movie will come out of thinking that they now know the whole truth about the real Mark Zuckerberg.

Imagine if an idolised and influential screenwriter nearly twice your age who'd decided he didn't like you, thought you were a moral midget, and held your invention in contempt (as Sorkin has made it clear he does, despite the fact, of which he seems proud, that he's more than happy to despise Facebook while knowing almost nothing about the uses of it) made a movie about a character with your name who invents your invention and is sued by the same people you've been sued by, and in the process makes you look as bad as possible -- and then says loftily, no, no, it's not a documentary, it's a story about great themes, so I'm allowed to make stuff up and leave stuff out and gaily mix up fact and fiction as much as I want.

Imagine if somebody did that to you. At all, much less when you were still only 26 and had to carry it for the rest of your life. What would you call that, if not unethical?


I do so love George Seddon, I just love him to bits. But I think, very sadly, that the good people of Adelaide will take a lot of persuading of the truth of this paragraph from his paper at a symposium at the University of SA the year before he died. No Adelaidean will be unaware by now of the appalling effect that the rising temperatures of the last few summers have had on the Parklands, but we cling to them regardless. Here's Seddon's vision for them, as at 2006:
In brief, there must be a major increase in urban density, and these parklands will then have a future like the squares and piazzas of Rome and other European cities. Given heavy use, most of them will need to be paved, but not with concrete or bitumen. Pave them properly with stone. Adelaide already has the best café culture in Australia, and this will be a natural extension. I repeat, think Piazza Navona, an environment well within the potential of central Adelaide's café culture. ...
So forget 'green'. Don't use the word. Adelaide is not meant to be green in summer, any more than Tangier. It raises false expectations and associations. Try 'well vegetated', or follow California, which has road signs that mean 'don't throw your cigarette butts out the window or you will set the place on fire', but they actually say 'Keep California green and golden.' It means dry and brownish yellow in summer, but it's a good sell. 'Go for gold' is my advice to Adelaide. The mid-greens are alien to the Australian landscape and its clear skies.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Guest post by TFA: more on Woodside

(In the comments thread on the last post, the one about the federal government's plan to house asylum seekers at an army base near the little Adelaide Hills town of Woodside, regular commenter and fellow Adelaidean TFA left a comment so interesting and informative in its provision of historical context that I have asked and been granted his permission to reproduce it in a separate post so that a few more people will see it. NOW READ ON ...)

First, not all those who were vocal at the public meeting were Woodside locals: some speakers travelled from towns like Mt Barker and Gumeracha, 15-20 km away.

More importantly, I'm puzzled by the vigour of the objections to refugees given the history of the area.

For those not acquainted with SA, Woodside sits in the part of the Adelaide Hills first settled in the 1840s by German refugees fleeing religious persecution. Many of their descendants still live in the area.

Woodside subsequently hosted a camp for European refugees from the late 1940s through to at least 1959, apparently without major problems. And in 1955 they weathered one of SA's worst ever bushfires without loss to life or limb, so the fire risk argument looks spurious.

So Woodside seems an unlikely centre for virulent anti-refugee sentiment.

Witnessing spite and malevolence masquerading as resolute self-determination - especially within a society that I had held in regard for its ability to accommodate difference - is hard. And examining a Hills community to find the most base aspects of Western Sydney is - well, it would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Howard, it seems, broke something fundamental and important.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Next time you're thinking John Howard was the Meanness of Spirit King ...

 ... think again.

Tony Abbott, fearless would-be saviour of the good burghers of Woodside in the Adelaide Hills from the invasion of the bomb-concealing, classroom-hogging, doctor-stealing alien hordes small handfuls, thinks that women and children in fear of their lives should be parked somewhere as horrible as possible, lest they forget that they deserve punishment for, erm, being in fear of their lives.

But then, we know what Abbott thinks about women and children, don't we.

Given the published reaction of some of the selfish, short-sighted, mean-spirited citizens of Woodside (and I bet there are plenty of Woodside citizens who don't fit that description, but did they make the papers? Oh my wordy lordy no they did not) to the idea of a detention centre being located there, I should have thought that was punishment enough. If someone threatened to plonk me down in the midst of that lot, I wouldn't care how many pretty trees I was surrounded by, I'd still be begging to be sent to the desert.

For a while I thought they had a point when they complained about not having been consulted (although, as Chris Bowen and several other people have quietly pointed out, it's government land and they can do whatever they like with it), but surely it must be clear to everyone by now, given their under-informed whingeing about how terrible it would be if they were a bit disadvantaged by a sudden influx of population, that the reason the government didn't humbly ask their permission was that if they had, they would have said No, we hate f*cking foreigners, naff off.

Now that it has been painstakingly made clear to these citizens that of course extra support services will be provided, I see they've shifted to whining about how hard it will be to get people to safety if there's a bushfire. Obviously they're not aware of this little fact about their own town:

The CFS has developed a list of townships that have been identified as Bushfire Safer Precincts for South Australia. This is a place of relative safety and may be considered as a place for people to stay in, or relocate to if their plan is to leave their home on a bad fire day. Hahndorf, Mount Barker, Nairne and Woodside are considered Bushfire Safer Precincts.

If the citizens of Woodside have ever whinged in the past about the possible influx of people fleeing from the Hills bushfire hot spots, it hasn't made the news.

And in the meantime, Abbott is having a field day doing his best to broaden and darken the mean streak in human nature, and to cosset and force-feed its fears.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

For all the good it will do ...

The Hon. Mike Rann, Premier of South Australia
The Hon. Jack Snelling, Minister for Employment, Training and Further Education
The Hon. Jay Weatherill, Minister for Education and Children's Services

Dear Messrs Rann, Snelling and Weatherill,

The Women's Studies Resource Centre has been in touch with women across South Australia asking for our help, as your government's funding has been withdrawn as from July 1 and that will force the closure of the Centre.

Observers like myself are aware of the stealth by which the Howard Government conducted a war of attrition against women throughout the eleven years they were in power: programs, organisations and resource centres like this one were slowly, steadily, almost unnoticeably discontinued, dismembered, disbanded, abolished, demolished and/or defunded, quietly, one by one.

It may be that it is the State Labor Government's policy to continue this demolition job done at federal level by its ideological opponents. But as a Labor-voting South Australian woman, educator and scholar who deplores the closure of any library, I would like to think not.

South Australia has a proud tradition of practical promotion and support of women's rights stretching back to their pioneering granting of the vote to women in the 1890s, only the second place in the world to do so.

This tradition was reinforced and much enhanced by the progressive social policies of Premier Don Dunstan's Labor government in the 1970s. It has always been my understanding that the current State Labor government is particularly proud of that era in its history, and regards Don Dunstan, rightly, as a hero. All of this surely suggests some respect for his beliefs and a willingness to honour his legacy.

I would draw your attention to these two elements in particular of the Resource Centre's work:

  • The WSRC is a not-for-profit organisation that has contributed to the practical promotion of gender equity and the improvement in the status of women in Australian for 35 years.
  • The collection is used by DECS, TAFE, ACE and university staff and students, both locally and nationally, by private schools and colleges, registered training providers, researchers and community borrowers.

I hope that the Government will see fit to re-think this funding decision.

With best wishes,
Yours sincerely,

Thursday, October 28, 2010

One degree of separation

There's a Facebook page, though it appears to have been abandoned for some months now, called "Hey, my name is ..." "Don't worry, we're in Adelaide, I know who you are."

I thought of this today when I arrived for my appointment in the sub-basement of the Art Gallery of SA where its research library resides, ready to take what turned out to be sixteen pages of truly awesome notes, and was greeted by a lovely librarian who said 'I believe you know my husband,' which indeed I did, having been on a committee with him for three years. Then I opened the file she'd kindly found and set out for me, and discovered that at least half a dozen of the items in it had been written by the father of a bloke I studied Honours English with in 1976, and whom at that point I already knew a bit because he'd gone to primary school with my sister.

The Adelaide population may now be well up over a million, but it still really isn't all that different from my home town:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Home notes

You know you're truly, madly, deeply mired in domesticity when in spite of the fact that you have to meet a weekly deadline, grade and write reports on fifteen Honours theses in the next few weeks, and deliver a completed book manuscript by February 1, your update of the calendar features things like 'It's okay to pull up those poisoned weeds now', 'Car way overdue for service', 'Time to de-flea the cats again: make appointment to sell a kidney so you can afford to buy more of the de-worming and de-fleaing gunk', and 'Oh goodie, it's my turn to have the family for Christmas lunch: find sparkly red and green knives, forks and spoons, and get prescription for Valium.'

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What education is

The announcement that Australian Army facilities near Woodside in the Adelaide Hills are to be upgraded to house up to 400 asylum seekers strikes me as an overwhelmingly Good Thing, but there's something a little strange going on with the ABC's reporting of it. The radio reporting, which I've been hearing intermittently in the car all day, has been pretty unrelentingly negative, with reports of SA Premier Mike Rann being annoyed that he only found out about it an hour before it was publicly announced (fair enough too, I guess: didn't the premature announcement of the phantom East Timor centre teach the PM anything?), reports of locals having insular, knee-jerk negative reactions, reports of the local mayor being worried about the effect on the provision of services, and nothing much positive at all.

So it was weird to check the ABC's website a minute ago and see quite a different spin on all this. Obviously quite a few people are, if not actively welcoming it, at least being accepting and open-minded (and open-handed) about it. But one local woman I heard being quoted on the radio whinged, complete with whiny upward inflection, 'But those children will be going to the local primary school? It'll make class sizes bigger? And my children will be disadvantaged?'

Tell you what, love, if I had kids at school and someone told me to expect an influx of children from asylum-seeker families, I think it would remind me of my high-school days, when I learned at least as much about the size and complexity of the world from the Italian, Polish, Russian, German and, most of all, Greek kids I went to school with as I did from the curriculum. I'd welcome the chance for my kids to find out something about the other side of the world, and what some people's lives are like there. And I'd welcome the opportunity for practical lessons in tolerance of cultural difference and generosity to people in trouble, as well as -- if necessary -- in how to stick up for kids who are being given a hard time. I think the kind of education afforded by that broadening of their horizons would far outweigh any disadvantages of being in a bigger class.

Friday, October 15, 2010

That old chestnut

I see the addiction to alliteration persists when people are trying to dream up catchy titles. The meeja seems particularly addicted to putting the words 'feminism' and 'failed' together, as indicated by the title of this forum, 'Has Feminism Failed?' I suppose we should all be grateful that there's a question mark.

But 'Has feminism failed?' is a completely meaningless question. Has feminism failed what? 'Feminism' is not a person with agency and volition. Feminism is the name of a set of strategies for viewing, analysing and dealing with the world. Strategies don't 'fail', only the people trying to use them to achieve some stated goal. And that's usually because some actively anti-feminist entity or force has intervened, whether it's John Howard quietly dismantling the government programs for women, or some single-digit IQ footballing nuff nuff who thinks any woman who's come home with one of his mates must be fair game for whoever happens to be passing, or a rabidly reactionary female journalist explaining how awful it is for the poor menz to be accused of sexual assault, or some blogger explaining how women just don't understand that men have Urges.

Putting the words 'feminism' and 'failed' together in this manner is nothing more than a fairly transparent strategy, complete with begged question (as in 'When did you stop beating your wife?), for bagging feminism and trying to make women turn away from its principles.

But if people feel they just absolutely must put those two words together in a title or a headline, here's an alternative suggestion. Instead of asking whether feminism has failed us, how about a feature article or public debate called 'Have we failed feminism?'

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why We Still Need Feminism, Part #1,763

If ever you were tempted to think that women in Australia or indeed in the West generally had finally gained some sort of equality in public life, ask yourself this simple question.

Can you imagine how it would have gone down with Australia's (these days) almost uniformly conservative MSM journalists -- and, alas, with the bulk of the populace -- if Julia Gillard rather than Tony Abbott had been photographed in Afghanistan firing an automatic rifle?

They'd be blithering and drooling for weeks. They'd start with Hanoi Jane, and they'd go downwards from there. And in the meantime, Abbott's petulant whingeing about being made to look silly is dominating the papers, most of which are ignoring Abbott's puerile narcissism and instead using this massive non-event to attack what he's calling (and calling, and calling, and calling -- if there's one thing Abbott does love, it's a bit of repetition, a bit of repetition) Gillard's 'low bastardry'.

See, it's okay for the Leader of the Opposition to call the Prime Minister a low bastard, publicly and repeatedly, but it's not okay for a woman to shoot a gun.

The rules are baroque and Byzantine, Grasshopper, and nor do they make any sense, but you break them at your peril.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Two things I read yesterday about Bob Dylan

When Bob Dylan was asked on American radio if he had been surprised by the success of Blood on the Tracks, he said, after a pause, that he didn't know how people got so much pleasure from so much pain.
-- Adam Phillips, On Balance

Bob Dylan ... mooches around backstage without too much fuss, friendly and quiet. I did four shows with him in 2001. We swapped gifts after the last show in Sydney. I gave him Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang and he gave me a big brass belt buckle -- western-style, embossed with the words THE STATE OF TEXAS 1836, which I like to wear once in a while.
-- Paul Kelly, How To Make Gravy

Late twenties blues

He was one of those miserable men of about twenty-eight, which is a very bad age to be in authority, too old to be generous and too young to be wise.
-- Peter Walker, The Courier's Tale

At twenty-nine, Hamilton had passed into that border country where middle age is still remote, but where failure (for the ambitious) can scarcely be afforded.
-- Christopher Koch, The Year of Living Dangerously

If these people are right, it might be better to go straight from 27 to 30, like those buildings in New York that have no thirteenth floor.

Not that this is of the slightest relevance to me. Besides, I remember 28 and 29 as pretty good. A tad desperada, but pretty good.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

More on Grog's Gamut

 Margaret Simons has a must-read post up at The Content Makers on the ethics of journalist James Massola's outing in The Australian of the blogger formerly known as Grog's Gamut, including a crystalline bit of analysis by Swinburne lecturer in media ethics Denis Muller.

Among other excellent points, he makes this one:
... there is another public-interest consideration to be taken into account here, and that is the public interest in having a plurality of voices in the public space or, as John Milton called it, the marketplace of ideas.  If, as a result of the outing, Mr Jericho withdraws from the public space, the Australian polity will be the poorer; it will have been harmed.  The harm would be negligible, certainly, but the principle is not negligible.  Ethical reporting requires that such possible consequences be identified and an honest rationale be developed to justify causing them.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shock, horror: atheist witches not hypocrites

In what parallel universe does it qualify as "news" that the Prime Minister and the Governor-General didn't go to church?

Can you imagine how the joyful, nay, orgasmic cries of 'Hypocrite' would have rung round the walls of The Australian's offices if Julia Gillard, who once, when asked by some journalist, readily agreed that yes she was indeed an atheist, had fronted up at church? They must have been really disappointed that she wasn't there.

What next, a trial? As Kate Grenville once said, the test is, if they drown. And if they don't drown, then that proves that they are indeed witches, and you get to burn them at the stake instead.

Reasons: a poem

Long time no blog
Cos I'm sick as a dog


Normal services will be resumed eventually.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What a surprise

This is as close to rage meltdown as I think I've ever seen the Prime Minister come, which is to say not very, but you can see it churning away there under the pastels. She's clearly not happy, and if I were Tony Abbott I wouldn't want to run into her on a dark night. He could have put Mark Latham on his arse fairly easily, but I don't like his chances with an enraged Gillard one bit.

I assume that as we speak he's gleefully dancing around giving Crabbe and Goyle and the rest of the Slytherins high fives, like the schoolyard bully he is.

Surely, though, she can't be surprised. It's not as if there's no precedent, from that quarter, for weathervane behaviour, spoiler behaviour, plotting, scheming, lying and deception.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Finished this week's copy with time to spare; lots of good ideas for the statue-of-Colonel-Light chapter of the Adelaide book that I'll be getting on with writing later this evening; new Kate Atkinson novel to read over dinner and again before the light goes out; positive loving conversations with five different people over the last 48 hours; spaghetti and pesto and a lovely big cold glass of Pike's Riesling for tea.

Oh, and the jasmine's out.

Asylum seekers: it's not rocket surgery

Founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Kon Karapanagiotidis, blogging at the Wheeler Centre (where you can read the whole thing), makes a statement that could not be clearer, simpler or more true:

In the past, I have naively thought the facts would bring an end to the fearmongering – by explaining to people that we receive just a few thousand asylum seekers each year, and that they pose no threat to our way of life or sustainability. I want to explain that 99.99% of people who entered Australia last year did so by plane; that Australia takes just 0.03% of the world’s refugees and displaced people; and that there are 76 countries that take more refugees than we do, based on wealth.

These days, I talk about a much simpler truth: the moral responsibilities that come with living in a free and democratic country, and what it means to be an Australian. This means we have a moral duty to act and show compassion to vulnerable, innocent people who are fleeing for their lives.

Being Australian should count for something greater than pandering to baseless fears.

Can't give them away with a pound of tea

I've been trying intermittently to become an official organ donor for nigh on twenty years. Anyone who watched the 7.30 Report last night won't be surprised to hear how difficult and frustrating this has been. Twenty years ago some of my organs might have been worth something, but I doubt it now, although I bet my lungs are in better shape after nearly 21 years off the nicotine.

But apparently now you really can do it online. That is, if you're prepared to register in order to use their online services and wait while they post you your password by snail mail. Which might entail ringing them up to make sure the postal address they have for you is current.

Also, whoever organised that segment managed to time the running of it so that it coincided with a period of maintenance at the Medicare site.

But if you're still interested after all that, the website is here.

Apparently Australia has an unusually low number of organ donors, but my guess is because it's been so hard to register as one. Every time I filled in a card for my wallet or opted to have 'Organ Donor' put on my driver's licence, someone would immediately assure me that it didn't mean a thing. My family has discussed this kind of stuff many times and we are all in furious agreement about the virtues of organ donation, but that decision is one burden I would like them not to have to carry if it came down to it. Hence the online registration.

But I'm wondering if there are other reasons. So by way of novelty I'm going to use Blogger's poll gadget to actually do something useful and get some information on reasons. Do feel free to play.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

City of Light

Listen to your Auntie Pav

Yes, it's Agony Corner. I haven't even been asked a question, I just feel like dispensing some good advice.

I don't know what it is about flower arranging that sets the mind to wandering, but, following a particularly leisurely train of thought as I tried to coax a bunch of curly-stemmed nasturtiums into a champagne flute, it occurred to me that I know not just one but two stories -- both told to me by reliable sources, about people I know personally -- of people being told they are no longer required by their employers. These people have, in a rage, gone straight to the computer and deleted all the records -- in both cases, indispensable, unique and sometimes irreplaceable records -- relevant to their (former) jobs.

In both cases, the dismissal was unexpected, and was not entirely kind or fair. One can understand what prompted the hitting of the red button. It's all very well having internalised excellent life rules like 'Don't slam the door on your way out', but sometimes the red mist simply descends of its own accord and then all bets are off.

But Reader, do not do it. Do not. Ever.

Because if you do, nobody will ever forget it. It's too good a story -- Shakespearean, really: power, drama, revenge, you know the kind of thing -- and you will carry it round your neck like a dead albatross for the rest of your working life. If you have any more working life. Five years, ten years, fifteen years after you do it, people will still be standing at the kitchen sink putting the first nasturtiums of Spring into champagne glasses and thinking Gee, I wonder what happened to whatsis/ername, you know, the one who deleted all the files.

Monday, September 13, 2010

That can't be right

The aircon service man came when he said he was going to, serviced the units without incident, said the whole system was in excellent shape, charged me less than I was expecting, and left no mess behind him.

After he left, I managed to diagnose and fix the problem with the computer, and was consequently able to diagnose and fix the problem with the wireless network.

Then I rang the council to try to solve the mystery of why the recycling didn't get collected last week and the phone was answered immediately by a person who was not only real but also polite, intelligent and helpful, and who organised for the truck to come by today or tomorrow.

All this and it's not even eleven o'clock yet. There's obviously something dreadfully, dreadfully wrong.

UPDATE: It gets worse; the bin-emptying dudes turned up and emptied the bin, before noon. I've already touched wood, but I might have to burn some sage and lavender oil and have a cleansing ceremony.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Seeing the future

Listening to first Tony Windsor and then Rob Oakeshott deliver their verdicts in this afternoon's press conference was a really interesting experience. I was driving home, so heard it on the radio rather than watching the teeve, of which I'm now glad, because I gather from various online commentary thus far that the media pack behaved like a bunch of hyenas: restless, noisy and disrespectful. And like them, and like, I'm sure, the rest of the country, I spent the first two or three minutes of Tony Windsor's speech champing at the bit thinking Oh for God's sake get on with it already.

Then it dawned on me slowly that this really was a fairly historic moment in the history of Australian parliamentary democracy; it deserved its little bit of theatre. More, the Independents deserved to be allowed to explain themselves in detail -- not least because they know they will be carved up by the Murdoch-dominated press and filleted by their own electorates.

Windsor probably drew the long straw; speaking first, he had the luxury of being able to announce his decision halfway through his speech, knowing the press and the country would have no choice but to keep listening. It was harder for Oakeshott, who knew that the minute he announced his decision they would all stop listening to him and he therefore had no real choice but to leave it till the end. Which was, anyway, the only possible choice, given the degree of theatre the occasion deserved and got.

In terms of one's own personal development (and the more I see of certain people in their 70s and 80s, the more determined I become never to abandon the effort to be Better), what I found very educational was my own childish impatience for instant gratification. As Windsor got into his stride, I began to ask myself exactly why I just wanted him to hurry up, when what he was saying was actually content-rich and very interesting. I seemed to myself to be a toddler squalling for her dummy. I began to be a bit ashamed, and switched to Mindfulness mode.

Which stood me in good stead when it came to Oakeshott, who set Mindfulness a bit of a test. But I don't know why a certain sort of commentator (on the Crikey liveblog, for a start) is whingeing about there being no substance to his speech. There appeared to me to be plenty.

My dad will be ropeable about this result, but then he is permanently ropeable about everything these days, so it would be hard to tell. It saddens me that I won't be able to make him see the single biggest miracle in all this, grounded in the fact that as time rolls itself out, things happen that you could never have seen coming, and sometimes they are things that change the shape of what you thought were life certainties.

Via him, I come from a family that farmed barley, wheat and sheep on South Australia's Yorke Peninsula for four generations, and lived on that farm myself till I was twelve. I was very moved by Tony Windsor's clear statement that the two things he thought would benefit rural and regional Australia most were advances with broadband and climate-change policy, because I could imagine the people I went to primary school with, and their children and grandchildren, living in that landscape I know so well, having the benefit -- not just with regard to business, but also with regard to education and health -- of the NBN, and living in a country not in denial about climate conditions under which they will be among the first to suffer ruinously.

Climate change and the internet are two things that my father's generation - indeed, my generation -- could never in a million years have seen coming. Action on both issues is currently down to the (comparatively speaking) progressives, who are, historically, anathema to the bush. But they are what will help to save it, if anything can, and Windsor and Oakeshott have had the vision to see that and the courage to act on it.

It had better be today ...

Waiting around to see who won the election has been edifying. Half the country must surely be better educated in the nature of the Westminster system and the democratic process than we were two weeks ago.

But most of us, I believe, are over it. The Independents are now saying we'll know by early afternoon, so let's hope they mean it. I'll be in a meeting, so I hope someone in the building is keeping tabs and will come and let us know.

When Howard won in 1996 (just mosey on down to the end of the porch there where the other rocking chair is and fetch me mah Zimmer frame, sonny, if ya would), I remember thinking that it was actually quite interesting to have a clear ideological enemy in charge of the country, and that I knew exactly what I would be resisting and why. But he and his mob looked as though they could at least run the country with a modicum of competence, and in spite of the horrible though predictable way they systematically ran down education, health and women's rights among other things, got us into wars we didn't have much right or reason to get into and white-anted our better natures by playing to our basest prejudices and fears, they were. Competent, I mean.

This time round I am a-beggin' and a-prayin' that the country boys will (unlike practically every other politician in the country, but in accordance with the way they have been talking) focus that long-paddock gaze to see beyond their own immediate self-interest, and go with the least worst option. Back in '96 when Howard got in, I was not a happy rabbit. But at least I wasn't scared.

UPDATE: 11.04 am, hitting 'refresh' on the ABC's 'Just In' news still yielding no result so far. Fair enough; they said this afternoon. But if I were a betting woman, I'd say we're in for another election.

UPDATE #2: 3.27 pm. OH THANK GOD!

Sunday, September 5, 2010


We're now into September (we're almost a week into September; gah) and that means that I'm getting up towards the pointy end of the deadline for this book about Adelaide. It's time to get serious. Actually I was already pretty serious, but it's time to get more serious.

To that end, I'm hoping that making a public commitment en blog to a daily minimum of work on the book, a commitment that will shame me into actually doing it.

So here it is: starting today, and working around the regular four novels a week reviewing gig, I must also do a minimum of either (a) writing 500 words or (b) two hours of work (writing, researching, self-editing, faffing around with the biliography) per day. Whichever comes first. Or both.

And not just during the working week but every day. 7/7. It works like flexitime: I can save up for a day off, or make up time afterwards. If the latter, it has to be within that working week. I'll use the appropriate blog to report back, and to shame myself publicly if need be. Perhaps the best place for updates is the readin' and writin' blog; with any luck they might spur me on to keep that a bit more alive.

(You thought this post was going to be about Relationships, didn't you. Hah, sucked in. I'm too old for that sort of malarkey. Talking about them publicly, or indeed at all, I mean. Nobody is too old for having them.)

UPDATE, 10.05 pm: three and a half hours' worth of reading/research/restructuring/faffing, which included writing 357 words. The question is, how long can I keep it up?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Writing, technology and memory

Lo these many years ago when I was writing my PhD thesis, I frequently voiced a wish that someone would invent a form of sentences and paragraphs that worked not in two dimensions, but in three: that had the structure, not of a straight line, but of a mirror ball, so that the sentence, the paragraph, the thought, the Thing would be constantly turning, revealing its different facets, and whoever was reading/looking at it could see how those different facets related to each other.

Which is how grammar itself works, really, and why Yoda funny is, but that's for another post.

I wanted this three-dimensional discursive artifact to be invented in order to be able to circumvent the problem of trying to write about something that couldn't really be understood until something else -- something tangential, or something that happened later -- had been explained. God had gone some way towards solving this problem when She invented footnotes, but there was still a long way to go.

Great leaps and bounds in this direction have been made since, of course, in the form of hyperlinks. I remember the moment when I first realised what hyperlinks were and how they worked: my first conscious thought was Damn and blast, if only these things had been invented before I tried to write my thesis.

The problem of linear chronology remains, of course, in that consciousness and its apprehensions are inescapably linear because of the way that time works, or at least time the way we understand it. You can still only read one thing at a time, and decisions must be made about the order in which you will read them. All the same, it would have been an enormous help to have been able to send my examiners (for who else ever reads PhD theses?) off at a hypertangent in order to find out extra things about the topic before proceeding further.

If I had the patience to read (and the brains to follow) Stephen Hawking, I might have a better handle on this, but life is short.

And because I am now trying to write a book, a book about Adelaide, for which I have a magnificently liberating -- and, for that reason, terrifying -- brief from the publisher (although since it's a book in a series and I'm in the fortunate position of having several earlier volumes to supply a context, it's less terrifying than it might have been), I have been thinking about ways in which technology might come to my aid.

What I need is a form of technology that will automatically record everything you're thinking as you're thinking it: some sort of microchip that reads your mind and has an Autosave function.

I'm sure it's possible. In fact someone somewhere has probably already invented it, and is merely having trouble with the patent. If so, I'm guessing the problem won't have been solved before February 1, the date the manuscript is due, which is a shame. And God knows I have wished to have one of these gadgets implanted many times before today.

But how else to record, without having to race to take notes to keep up with the brain when the brain is actually working this fast, which happens so seldom you have to grab it while it's happening, for who knows when it will come again -- how else to record the suddenly obvious solution, which came to me in the middle of dinner, to the structural problem of where to put the story of the sudden closure of Adelaide's Radio 5KA in 1941, when the government thought 5KA was being run by German sympathisers who were broadcasting in code was because said station managers were Jehova's Witnesses? For it belongs, it obviously belongs, in the section on Weird Adelaide.

What's more, as the radio station closure is all about the mood of Adelaide in wartime, I can tuck in, under that story's wing, my dad's recollections of being a 15-year-old ARP bike rider in 1942, pedalling up and down the streets of Adelaide's eastern suburbs knocking on the doors of people whose blackout curtains were not sufficiently closed -- recollections I was determined to shoehorn in somewhere but had not yet found a place for.

But I had to leave my dinner half-eaten and rush to the computer to write all this stuff down, because otherwise it would have whooshed past like a car in the rain and been lost to sight. I just wish inventors would invent things before I need them.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


This is the First Freesia of 2010.

Not only are freesias beautiful and strong -- they very rarely get chewed to bits by snails and bugs or battered by the weather, and they pop reliably up and flower every year without any help from me -- but they also smell divine. It's probably only a matter of time before we can blog smells as well, but in the meantime you'll have to imagine it.

Back to the future

I've just written an email to my very oldest friend saying 'I see from your daughter's Facebook page that you've hurt yourself -- are you okay?'

However we may have imagined the future, back in 1967 as we lolled around in our school uniforms on the lawn at lunchtime, we could never have imagined the possibility of formulating a sentence like that.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Spring ...

... in three more sleeps.

Desperate for them to come again

Read this.

Here's a taste.

It is no small thing though, to be in water with such large creatures, face to face. For they are huge, muscled and dark: they are like water made solid, they are silent and full of purpose. 

Go on, off you go, just do it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Swings and roundabouts

This morning I was congratulating myself on having managed to save a bit of money over the last month or three.

This afternoon I opened the electricity bill.

Oh well.

In which we use words to mean whatever we like

Anyone following the entertaining shemozzle that Australian federal politics has recently become (usually it's a fairly boring shemozzle) will have noticed in the last few days that Tony Abbott and his henchpersons, most recently Christopher Pearson (whom I know knows better; tch) in this morning's Australian, make reference as often as they can to Julia Gillard 'clinging on' to power.

Now call me a pedant but if anyone can show me any dictionary or lexicon in which 'clinging on' is listed as a synonym for 'following due process', I will give them $10,000. And if Tony Abbott does indeed end up Prime Minister, will they tolerate anyone talking about his having 'forcibly snatched power away from the incumbent Prime Minister'? Because forcibly snatching stuff away is what you have to do, when someone is clinging on. Live by the connotation, die by the connotation.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why everyone loves Antony Green

Dude knows his stuff, is why.

I was directed to this magnificently clear and thorough explanation of the current and possible future Canberra scenarios by the equally excellent Bernice, who blogs here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who's sorry now?

Tim Dunlop has a sharply pointed post this morning on the subject of Tony Abbott's sudden discovery that he's actually quite sorry the Howard Government was a bit nasty to Independent Andrew Wilkie (you know, the one almost certain to win the seat of Denison) back in the day, calling him 'unbalanced' and everything.

The fact that Abbott apparently can't see how this looks tells you everything you need to know about his judgement. A nice hot cup of STFU would have been a great deal more to the point. And the waspish comment of the spokesperson suggests that news of this particular apology was never supposed to get out, which indicates that Abbott and his bad judgement are living in Fantasyland as well.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How embarrassment

The Age is reporting today that only one out of two Australian women in their 20s is having a regular pap smear test for cervical cancer.

Why? Apparently, it's because it's 'embarrassing'.

So here's what I want to know. Are these the same young women who wouldn't be seen dead sporting pubic hair?

And if they are, why is it more embarrassing to have a clinical examination done by a doctor (you can always go to a female doctor if that makes you feel less embarrassed) than it is to have your short-and-curlies ripped out by some total stranger whose training, if any, you know nothing about, and at whose hands you could end up with the most godawful rashes and infections?

If you get cervical cancer (and don't forget what aspiring Prime Minister Anthony John Rabbit thinks about Gardasil, the vaccine that could prevent it), things will be done to you by doctors that will be infinitely more invasive, painful, time-consuming and, yes, embarrassing than any pap smear. They will be done to you in an attempt -- an attempt that may well not be successful -- to save your life.

I love Gen Y. But sometimes I don't understand them at all.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

STOP THE BOATS! (in which we defy Godwin and his Law)

“Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

-- Hermann Goering

(Quoted in Gilbert, G. M., Nuremberg Diary. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Co (1947), pp 278-9.) Hi Ken! *waves*

In the words of the First Dog on the Moon ...

Australia, what have you done?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Family: the weight

Never, ever underestimate how much it takes out of a person to endure protracted emotional strain, particularly if this involves self-restraint. Example: spending an entire afternoon with your family of origin, all of whom you love, and all of whom intend to vote for the Coalition even though Tony Abbott appalls at least two of them.

Especially if it's a birthday gathering and there's a lot of pressure to play nice.

I come from a family of implacable ALP-haters who are quite happy to vote Green in the Senate and are all going to. They're all perfectly intelligent, though not what The Australian calls the 'tertiary left', and they all loathe the Shooters and Fishers and the Christian fundies and the climate flat-earthers skeptics and love Barack Obama as much as I do.

For them it's not about left and right as such: it's about teh unions and teh evil commies and teh Great Satan Whitlam and so on. Both sisters work in the health sector and have had their politics formed over decades by listening to male doctors, while my father has never forgiven the commies unions for the wartime strikes.

By the time I got home last night I could hardly walk from the exhaustion of the strain of refraining from shouting and throwing things. Fell into bed at 8.30 with my Ruth Rendell, which was as much as I could manage, lights out by nine and slept till 7.15.

The moral of this story is that the older you get, the more physically knackered you are rendered by stress. I would have been better off going for a long, long walk.

On the day of reckoning ...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The brain, she do the work for you

One has been trying in these dark pre-election days to stay a bit cheerful and upbeat and not to visualise what the phrase 'Prime Minister Tony Abbott' might mean for oneself, one's loved ones, one's fellow Australians and, of course, Australia's image in the eyes of the world, considering the damage done there during the Howard years. Or to visualise it at all, if it comes to that.

Little about the campaign has helped with attempts at cheer and upbeat-ness. Julia Gillard has come good in her personal appearances, perhaps sufficiently so to win over a big enough fraction of the population for Labor to stagger over the line, but in terms of a high standard of policy innovations and solutions, or of an even barely adequate standard of public debate either in the meeja or from the leaders, it's been pretty consistently woeful.

But I didn't realise quite how woeful I'd thought it all was, deep down in the dark crevasses where no conscious thought can penetrate, until I saw this headline this morning in Campaign Crikey -- Morning Edition:

Election Tracker: Day 32 -- Julia's trip to the west ... Abbott tours QLD ... Election hangman: _ _ R _ I _ _ L

Turns out the Hangman word was, of course, M A R G I N A L, as in 'They're scuttling around the marginals in the home stretch.' But not at that point having yet read the piece to which it referred, I looked at the Hangman thingy and my eye, with no conscious thought going on behind it, sketched out F A R C I C A L.

How sad is that.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The art of the actor

If you're a Crikey reader you may have seen this already, but if not, have a look.

I love actors, I just love them to death, and most of all I love Robert Carlyle. Their job, done well, is the most seamless imaginable combination of body, mind and soul.

This commercial was shot in one take, as you can see. Watch the way Carlyle paces the walking and talking to coincide perfectly with every prop. Watch the way he keeps it up while negotiating that rocky, rutted path, telling an engaging story, and maintaining a consistent distance from the camera. He'll be 50 next April, but he still moves like a hyperactive 25-year-old.

It's not just him, either. Everything about this ad is lovely.

Presumably Jesus wants them for sunbeams instead

One of the things that occurred to me very forcefully several times during the nightmare morning I spent a few years ago in the Assemblies of God stronghold in the Adelaide suburb of (wait for it) Paradise, researching this piece [update: they seem to have put it behind a paywall, sorry!], was that many of the less, how you say, cerebral people among Christians tend to use Jesus (Assemblies of God are very very big on Jesus) as a sort of all-purpose blank screen onto which to project their desires, fantasies and fears. So while I didn't see Q and A last night [CORRECTION: it was not last Monday's but an earlier Q and A, on April 5 this year. This error has been kindly brought to my attention by Ken Lovell. Hi Ken *waves*], the telly still being borked and me still being too disorganised busy to get and set up a new one (new antenna, furniture-moving, nine-yard logistics narrative), it comes as no surprise to read this morning a particularly stupid and indeed mildly offensive remark made last night [on April 5] by Mr Rabbit in answer to a question about asylum seekers:

"Jesus didn't say yes to everyone, Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone's place to come to Australia."

Jesus wept. 

Last time Abbott said something like this (for it is his line, and he has been holding it for some years) I was silly enough to make what I would have thought was the obvious 'No room at the inn' argument to a Christian, Abbott-loving friend of mine (yes yes, I know). It made him incandescent with rage and scorn, but I'm still waiting for him to explain exactly why it's not a valid point.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

He's grounded in a what now?

The only possible explanation for Miranda Devine's latest shamefully dishonest naive rave (Rooty Hill was not in any way scripted or rigged? Yes, and I am Scarlett Johansson) is that some sub at the website has been at the Laphroiag, for how, otherwise, could this manifestly nonsensical sentence have made it online?
His wife Margaret's amused disdain for his baby-holding abilities in the campaign gives another clue to Abbott's groundedness.
Got that? The facts that (a) by Devine's own account, his wife is disdainful of him and (b) he doesn't know how to hold a baby (which would seem to indicate that he rarely held his own when they were small), taken together, are a 'clue' to Abbott's 'groundedness.'

Remember that raspberry thing Paul Keating did in Parliament that time with his index finger and his bottom lip? Consider it done.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Quote of the day

This is an election where slogans are really wearing thin. Abbott today tried to start talk about Labor’s “Great Big New Filter”, after which most of the listeners went out and had a great big new chunder.

-- From Grog's Gamut.

Friday, August 13, 2010

When testosterone attacks

Everyone already knows that the judgement of former Labor leader Mark Latham isn't super flash (though it's better than that of the Labor blokes who put him in charge), but even Latham sank to new lows of error in choosing to confront Tony Abbott yesterday -- thereby hijacking a function for old soldiers; stay classy, Mark -- and ask him more stupid, irrelevant questions in his "job" as a "journalist" for the ever-reliably-scummy (speaking of sinking to new lows) Channel Nine, who seem to be doing an excellent job of keeping themselves in their own news. As you would, having had that amount of practice.

Because Latham may be a big hulking boofy bloke who can break cab drivers' arms and try to yank little old deaf dudes in glasses off their feet and rip their arms off while pretending to shake their hands, and he may be four years younger than Abbott,  but Abbott is a zillion degrees fitter, and he's a trained boxer with just as much, though far better controlled, natural aggression. And he would have known that had he lost his temper and beaten the bejesus out of Latham, at least three-quarters of the population would have cheered. And probably voted him in. Don't even think about it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010