Friday, October 28, 2005

A listicle

Today it was love at first sight when I laid eyes on the word 'listicle', which refers to the sort of newspaper or magazine article that consists pretty much entirely of a list: this year's most popular names for boys, your city's 'top' ten suburbs, the different horrible diseases from which people drop dead most frequently depending on where they live, or the inevitable What's Hot and What's Not routine when someone's really desperate to fill a bit of space.

But 'listicle' is one of those aurally evocative words that sounds like it could mean any one of a number of things, some of them not at all nice.

The really wonderful thing was the place where this word was to be found. At Double-Tongued Word Wrester: a growing dictionary of old and new words from the fringes of English, you can find such extraordinarily useful lexical items as the following:

'Blackberry thumb': RSI of the thumb caused by rapid and frequent use of tiny keypads on tiny gadgets.

'Four-boob syndrome': the appearance of having four breasts instead of the more usual two, caused by wearing a too-small bra.

'Deskfast': what you eat after you get to work, not having had time to eat before you left home.

'Shine': new word for bling.

'Spokesweasel': self-explanatory.

Touched By His Noodly Appendage

What with the sort of legislation that's being shovelled hand over fist through the Senate in ten-minute windows of opportunity whenever the country's looking in the other direction (a favourite trick; ever wondered why the Bakhtiari family got so suddenly deported in the small, dark hours following the tsunami? Tidal wave, horse race, it's all good) with no possibility of any effective opposition, it's obviously only a matter of time until, following Dubya's lead, we find creationism being compulsorily taught in schools under its spinny new name Intelligent Design, on the grounds that 'different beliefs' should be given equal air time.

That the most powerful man in the world doesn't understand the difference between belief and empirical evidence is something upon which perhaps we ought not dwell too long. But salvation is at hand (I'm sorry, I would have liked to put that another way) in the form of a third possibility that we had not even counted upon (ten points if you recognise this phrase), for there is a brave new religion afoot: Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, a.k.a. Pastafarianism.

No doubt the faithful deplore Pastafarianism as an attack on their religion as such. It's not, of course; it's an attack on the blithe disregard for the doctrine of the separation of powers in particular, and on institutionalised imbecility in general.

The central tenet of Pastafarianism is that the world was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster (see picture above). But this is silly, since everyone knows that the world was in fact created by an elegant, self-possessed, in-your-face tortoiseshell cat. She's got the whole wide world in her paws.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

iTunes, therefore I am

Technophobic in many things, I have only ever committed my credit card details to the internet, kicking and screaming, in order to buy plane tickets from Virgin Blue, since it's so bloody difficult to buy them any other way. Otherwise I have stayed away even from irresistible sites like Amazon, fearful of credit card fraud even though I know perfectly well that hackers don't need your credit card number to do you over; they can get, through the banks, at the hard-earneds even of computerless people who are still keeping secret cash stashes in the teapot.

But a new era has dawned. iTunes Australia opened today.

THEY'VE got my credit card number. If necessary I would have given them my tax file number, my passport number, my front door key and my first-born, if I had one, as well.

I've already downloaded the live acoustic version from San Franciso of Missy Higgins singing The Special Two, as well as Steve Earle's Copperhead Road which still stands my hair on end, Jane Siberry's gorgeous The Life is the Red Wagon from what I think was her first album, and Emmylou Harris singing Hickory Wind which I haven't heard for about fifteen years. For some reason it won't let me download Sting singing Fields of Gold, and they haven't got Leonard Cohen's Alexandra Leaving at all. But it's early days.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The appeal of Colin Firth

Apropos the current movie version of Pride and Prejudice, the ubiquitous Peter Craven remarked tonight on Vulture that men, gay or straight, just can't see what it is about Colin Firth that makes women's blood pressure go up.

Pausing only to ask (a) how big Craven's sample was, and (b) whether he ever actually SAW the scene of Firth as Mr Darcy emerging dripping wet from the pond in his Regency underwear, I'd say it's to do with the message Firth is projecting. That message was written for women. It's being projected to women. And if men can't see it, it's because they were never intended to.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Night at the Opera

As so many Adelaideans still have reason to do, even now that it's getting on for seven years after his death, I blew a kiss last night in proper luvvie fashion (not my style at all as a rule) to the ghost of Don Dunstan, one of the most extraordinary politicians this country has ever seen.

Said ghost was hovering benevolently around the foyer of the Festival Theatre, mingling with the opening-night audience at the State Opera of South Australia's gorgeous production of La Traviata. Highly visible in the crowd were at least half a dozen (and that's just the ones my middle-aged eyes could still discern in the gloom) high-profile politicians and heads of government departments -- including Treasurer and attack dog Kevin Foley, who has rough edges that no amount of Verdi could realistically be expected to knock off.

I don't care whether they got anything out of it or not: it was just really good that they were there. And for the Festival Centre, for the high valuation that the city puts on the arts, and most of all the notion that opera's not just for high-end North Adders and Eastern Suburbs types, Old Adelaide Money and/or surgeons' wives (a notion that had a total stranglehold on Adelaide back in the 1960s), it's Dunstan we have to thank.

The first-night audience may have been awash with sequins and such, but it still had a lot more people in it than just the preening wives of rich blokes, most of whom wouldn't know their coloratura from their elbow -- though there was one such directly in front of us: a woman frocked up in a creation she was about fifteen years too old for, a truly extraordinary strapless floor-length gown with a sort of crinoline that massively inconvenienced the people on either side of her, talking mindless rubbish in a high, strident, nasal whine (the woman, not the frock).

But there were also lots of other assorted citizens: people who had obviously come straight from work, thoughtful-looking children, a startling number of young couples, and a hefty sprinkle of elderly European-looking women who had clearly seen many productions of this opera in their long lives and were looking forward to adding this one to their memory banks while silently critiquing all the while.

Home-grown soprano Kate Ladner, now living and working in Europe, was such a good Violetta that she made the rest of the cast look more ordinary than they would otherwise have done, which is always the problem when you have one supremely good cast member in any show. Fortunately Violetta is such a huge part -- I'm sure the main reason for the two intervals was to give the poor woman a rest, as she was onstage most of the time and singing for most of that -- that it didn't matter as much as it would in a more ensemble-type show.

The plot of La Traviata -- literally 'the woman who strayed', and the story on which Baz Lurhmann's Moulin Rouge was based -- is full of holes you could drive a truck through, and reinforced my longstanding conviction (a) that opera plots are essentially silly, and (b) that this does not matter. Watching the onstage events unfold last night, it occurred to me that, while nothing could be further from realism than opera, people nonetheless really do behave like this: greedy, generous, thoughtless, passionate, sacrificial and repentant by turns, and very often inconsistent and illogical as well.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Crossing the floor

This Australian Politics Test on the Oz Politics Blog gives one a great deal to think about -- though not as much as a similar test I once did whose results showed that my patched-together DIY belief system made me some sort of default cross between a Quaker and a Buddhist. This new quiz reckons that my answers define me as half Democrat and half Green -- news to me, but there you go.

Mapped on the results graph as one is by a red (!) blotch covering the area from Centre Left to Far Left, it's a relief in a way to realise one has not yet become too rabid or too set in one's ways to be unable to make any approving noises at all about John Howard even when he does something halfway decent. Given the near-absolute power of his party, it's good to see him steadily ignoring his conservative-Catholic Health Minister's random thought-bubbles (as Julia Gillard calls them) about new and ever more insidious ways to stop women having any power at all over their own reproductive functions and activities.

Howard seems to be quite firm in his refusal to wind back this particular clock, as well as to have a relatively open mind on stem cell research and even -- I find this quite amazing -- the possible legalisation of RU-486. Good on the Liberal MP Sharman Stone for her activism on this, and indeed good on what seems to be a fairly extensive network of Liberal Party women at both state and federal level for their solidarity and hard work behind the scenes to make sure the Mad Monk doesn't get his way on these questions.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

So much to read, so little time

If I remember rightly, the venerable P.D. James swore some time back that she would never write another crime novel but the impulse obviously got the better of her, for here she is, recently turned 85 but obviously with all faculties still intact, still being stern about the decline in standards yet still saying 'which' when she means 'that' (something one of her editors really ought to have told her about by now; she's been doing it for 40 years), back on England's southwest coast with the Mr Darcy-like Adam Dalgliesh in the midst of another murder mystery: The Lighthouse.

She seems to be plagiarising one of her own earlier plots, for the old-fashioned house-party convention combined with the island setting is strongly reminiscent of The Skull Beneath the Skin, in which James's long-since-disappeared and much-lamented (by me) alternative detective Cordelia Gray was the one doing the sleuthing. For a while it looked as though James was going to line up Cordelia with Dalgliesh, but she obviously thought better of it and has provided him instead with a new love interest almost as stitched-up and humourless as he is.

NB this book is much better than I am making it sound. I once saw James speak: she is a tiny, forceful, badly dressed, serious-minded survivor.

And newly out: Espresso Tales, the staggeringly prolific and benign Alexander McCall Smith's sequel to 44 Scotland Street, also previously published as a weekly serial in The Scotsman, which carries on where the last one left off. 'She would tell Peter that she did not feel ready to go to a nudist picnic just yet. Though when would one be ready for such an event?'

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Watching the Vulture

I still can't work out why the ABC has called its new arts program 'Vulture'. Obviously it's short for 'Culture Vulture', but by that logic they might just as well have called it 'Farty'. Whoever thinks these titles up was having an off day, connotation-wise: a vulture is an ugly and disgusting creature whose presence lets you know that your death is imminent.

Judging by some of the reactions to the opening night, however, this could have been pretty close to the truth. One bloke said it made him lose the will to live.

I missed the first one altogether, and had to turn the telly off and hit the bottle about ten minutes into the second one. But I made it all the way through the program tonight and it is getting much better. They have removed the much-scorned cheesy sketches, having apparently decided that anyone choosing to watch an arts program on the ABC at 10.05 on a Tuesday night is probably going to have a longer attention span than a mosquito and therefore doesn't really need to be kept amused while the grown-ups have a talk; the only sketch tonight was the 'Nick Cave meets Neighbours' number right at the end. The rest of the time, they did something really daring and just let the panelists talk. Worked a treat.

The other thing they have largely cut out is the infuriating habit the panelists started out with of constantly talking over the top of each other; tonight several people were allowed to develop, uninterrupted, an idea or opinion beyond a couple of sentences, and as a consequence were able - particularly Helen Thorn - to show us why they'd been asked to go on the show in the first place.

Either Peter Craven has become mellower and more self-deprecating over the last ten years, or TV makes him look as if he has; either way, he's okay on this show, if you don't mind the lofty allocation of each work of art to some numbered rung on the ladder of taste. There's some finely calibrated hamming-up of the 'grumpy conservative' schtick, and his take on the schizophrenic Frenchman's sad floorboard art was a little masterpiece of extempore lucidity and eloquence.

The other high point of tonight's show was Fiona Katauskas, the woman who does those clever political cartoons for New Matilda. Katauskas was funny, sharp, elegant and relaxed; she's got the good taste to be a Chisel fan and she was wearing a jacket to die for.

But the best line on the show, alas, was not anyone's ad lib inspiration. It was something that had clearly been scripted (by producer and writer Guy Rundle, would be my guess) for host Richard Fidler, who does not look at all comfortable to me and who often delivers his lines in a way that shows he hasn't understood them properly. He got this one right, though: 'Nick Cave has written other screenplays apart from The Proposition - including a sequel to Gladiator. Go figure.'

Monday, October 10, 2005

Music in Adelaide: October 2005 Calendar

"I've been a music tragic all my life."
-- Danny Katz, The Age 6/10/05

Friday October 14th
Elder Hall, Adelaide University, 1.10-2 pm
* EGGNER TRIO (Musica Viva)
Adelaide Town Hall, 8 pm
Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, 8 pm
Bridgewater Mill, 7.30 for 8 pm

Saturday October 15th
Adelaide University, 6 pm (?? Barr Smith lawn)
* ELDER SCHOOL OF MUSIC - Handel's Israel in Egypt, conductor Carl Crossin
Elder Hall, Adelaide University, 6.30 pm

Sunday October 16th
Rundle Park, Hackney Road, 1-8 pm
The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, starts 7.30
Adelaide Town Hall, 8 pm

Friday October 21st
The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel

Saturday October 22nd
Grace Emily Hotel, Waymouth St, 9 pm
* STATE OPERA OF SA - La Traviata
October 22, 25, 27 and 29, Festival Theatre

Sunday October 23rd
Rundle Park, Hackney Road , 12.30-10 pm

Pavlov's Kitten

Schroedinger's Cat

Saturday, October 08, 2005


From A-Line Pictures in New York:

We are pleased to announce the release of ‘Capote,’ the first film to be produced under the A-Line Pictures banner. ‘Capote’ tells the story of legendary author Truman Capote, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, on his odyssey to create the landmark bestseller "In Cold Blood." As Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote in his review of the film-

“it's the riveting focus on that period that lifts Capote above the herd of biopics...first-time feature director Bennett Miller won praise for his 1998 documentary The Cruise, about a Manhattan tour guide, but nothing about that romp prepares you for the dramatic fireworks of actor Dan Futterman, in a vividly impressive screenwriting debut, for carving an astutely narrowed script out of Gerald Clarke's 1988 Capote biography...Philip Seymour Hoffman's unmissable and unforgettable performance as Truman Capote should make him the front-runner for every Best Actor prize in the book...Capote is a movie that doesn't pull its punches. It's a knockout.”

Capote opened this Friday, September 30th in New York and Los Angeles. In the weeks that follow it will be opening wider at cinemas near you. Please spread the word!

A-Line Pictures is an independent film production company representing the union of producer Caroline Baron and her producing partner/husband, writer-director Anthony Weintraub.

A-Line Pictures
The 'Capote' website
The NY Times review
How 'Capote' came together

Dubya joke

A senior aide hurries into the Oval Office with more bad news. 'Mr President,' he says, 'I'm afraid three Brazilian soldiers have been killed in Iraq.'

Dubya looks horrified. 'That's terrible,' he says. 'That's such bad news. That's very, very bad. Um ... exactly how many is a brazillion?'

Three Books

I'm about two-thirds of the way through Vikram Seth's new book 'Two Lives', about his London-dwelling aunt and uncle: the German Jewish Henny and the Londonised Indian Shanti, who married in 1951. They had been close friends before, during and after World War 2, in the course of which Shanti had his right forearm blown off; he didn't let this stop him going back, after the war was over, to the profession of dentistry for which he had been trained.

What emerges from nearly every sentence is the often-violent force of history, and the way it collaborates with geography to produce the trajectories of people's lives. Henny's sister Lola died in Auschwitz and Seth gives a clinical, detailed, almost unreadably distressing account of what her death would have been like.

Then there's Robyn Williams's novel (yes, the ABC Robyn Williams) '2007', in which all the animals of the world get together and decide to stage a revolution to save the planet; he was telling Philip Adams all about it on Late Night Live last night. Whales sink the boats, pelicans clog the airports, cows stop traffic by producing unpassable piles of poop, domestic pets turn on their owners, and the British Prime Minister finds himself negotiating with the animals' emissaries: two Border Collies.

And finally there's this brilliant review in the current TLS of Iain Sinclair's 'Edge of the Orison', a wonderful-sounding book about psychogeography, post-industrial Britain, walking, psychosis, and the fragile 19th century English poet John Clare.

Friday, October 07, 2005


Today both the current and the former Australian Federal Ministers for Immigration denied responsibility for the case of Vivian Alvarez Solon, wrongly deported and not yet repatriated; nor do they take responsibility for the official report's description of the case as 'catastrophic'. (Neil Comrie, you rock. I remember this bloke from his early days as Victorian Police Commissioner, and he was nobody's fool and nobody's patsy then either.) Amanda Vanstone and Phillip Ruddock both blame the toxic culture of the Immigration Department for the attitudes that produced the Solon sequence of events.

While many don't accept this as any sort of responsible adult reaction, I've noticed that nobody has questioned the notion of a toxic culture as such. It might even be said that Vanstone took her cue from Mark Latham's analysis of the Labor Party -- and nobody seems to be arguing about that, either.

Where a toxic culture prevails, where does the buck stop? And -- since such cultures are self-perpetuating after the manner of compound interest -- where does one start to stop the rot? I've been enmeshed in three such: the hothouse, cut-throat mini-world of the postgraduate students in a university department in which I used to teach; a department of the Commonwealth Public Service, where trivial rules ruled and no genuinely productive work was ever done, in which I used to 'work'; and the scary South Australian cowboy culture that prevails on the roads here, to which all shattered interstate and overseas visitors who have ever tried to drive in it will attest. In all three cases, some of the victims have been physically or psychologically scarred for life.

The worst of these malignant growths is that they are so stealthy, and by the time anyone notices them they are too deeply entrenched in the belief systems of those who live inside them for change to be anything but excruciatingly slow and profoundly resented. And nobody can say what turned these cultures poisonous, or when, or why. Maybe it's time for a bit of public discussion about the reasons why workplace or other public cultures go bad.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

This is the link to a brilliant photographic and journal record of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, from US photographer Clayton James Cubitt, whose New Orleans family went through it. His story is heartbreaking and dramatic (spoiler alert: happy ending), and his photography is stunning.

Princess Mark

Somebody should do a comparative background study checking out the genesis and history of things that appear on public view at the same time. Can it be entirely coincidental that Australian Princess (on Channel Ten) and Mark Latham Answers Your Questions (on crikey) debuted on the same day? Both brought to mind the early dumpee from last year's Australian Idol who was 'not a fuckin' diva'. The main difference is that Latham knows a lot while the aspirant Princesses' general ignorance is truly breathtaking.

Australian Princess is unintentionally hysterical, with not one of the contestants recognising their own sisterhood with Kim Craig nee Day ('It's pronounced kardonnay, you pack of shunts'), or registering the difference between royalty and celebrity. Princess Diana, Bill Clinton, Madonna, it's all the same to them.

Apart from the pretty, bolshie Tasmanian stripper ('Of course I wiggle when I walk -- I'm a stripper! I've got booty!'), whose clothes and makeup are better than any of the judges', they were also all gobsmacked by what they saw as the classiness of their judges and tormentors: the hatchet-faced 'expert' in grooming and deportment whose bad 'blonde' hair, visible patches of orange-based blusher and densely black pantyhose all clashed nastily with her candy-pink suit; the ex-butler to Princess Diana and dollar-grabbing tabloid telltale Paul Burrell; and the rude, horsy sister of toe-sucking Fergie, who fronted one of the petrified contestants at the 'Cocktail Party Challenge' with the extraordinarily bad-mannered question 'What do you think of my sister?'

Then of course there's the show's hostess, the self-styled Jackie O, who presumably thinks an unimaginative appropriation of the real Jackie O's tabloid tag confers upon her a bit of extra class -- oh, doesn't she wish. Four girls were eliminated last night amid painful scenes reminiscent of Australian Idol. Do viewers watch this stuff in the spirit of the mobs who used to turn up at public hangings?

And speaking of public hangings, there's Iron Mark on crikey, answering subscribers' questions with a great deal more measured serenity than he has ever evinced in public life so far. Must be all that time at home loading the washing machine and wiping the egg and porridge off the floor.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Introducing Pavlov's Cat

This is Pavlov's Cat, not salivating. Cats are the personification of Unconditioned Response. They will respond when they feel like it, and the rest of the time, they won't. Nor will they ever respond the same way twice.