Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Not exactly cowboys, not exactly gay

*** WARNING #1 ***
Long post

*** WARNING #2 ***

In Laura's great Australia Day post from Sills Bend, she reflected that on the afternoon of what might be some people's last paid public holiday, many would opt to get out of the heat and into an air-conditioned cinema in order to see one of three movies: Munich, Walk the Line or Brokeback Mountain. We went for the third of these, to a nearly-full late-afternoon session in the blessed aircon. Sure, Eric Bana is Australian, but so is Heath Ledger, after all.

And as the opening wide-angle landscape shot loomed and a single plangent drawn-out Wyoming-sounding guitar-string note rippled through the cinema, I had a flashback to the beginning of Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, whose opening guitar moment, courtesy of the legend that is Neil Young, was so very similar that this one may have been an act of hommage. The music-to-landscape is a perfect match all through, and enriches the effects of both.

And if you think the music at the beginning is good, wait till you get to the music at the end, where Rufus Wainwright is sounding if not in pitch and timbre then sure as hell in vocal and musical inflection an awful lot like his mom and his Aunt Anna. And Rufus singing 'Git along, little dogies' is quite something, even though the animals in the movie are actually sheep.

Which brings me to my title. These blokes are not 'cowboys' in the way we understand that term. If they are to be defined by the critters they tend, then strictly speaking they are shepherds. The story, and the movie, call them ranch hands. Don't be confused by the hats. The Jake Gyllenhaal character, Jack Twist, is a rodeo cowboy but that is a different and particular beast. The hats and horses may make it all look like the Wild West of the 19th century, but this story begins in 1963 and when the characters discuss the possibility of getting 'caught by the army', they are talking about Vietnam.

The first part of the movie sets it up as pastoral idyll: figures in a landscape, in harmony with nature and its peaceful summer rhythms. Part of this setup is a series of shots indicating, wordlessly, both characters' skill, empathy and pragmatic tenderness with other living creatures: sheep and lambs, dogs, horses, even Jack's rodeo bulls. When it comes time for the clinch in the tent, you almost expect it, because you've already seen their life-affirming behaviour with other fellow-creatures.

Add to this their youth and isolation, and the sex seems almost inevitable: something that occurs along a couple of continuums, one of explosive young-man energy and the other of non-specific, unfocused tenderness for harmless fellow-creatures. Not polymorphous perversity so much as polymorphous physicality, a seamless transition rather than any kind of transgression.

Director Ang Lee, screenwriter Larry McMurtry and Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar do a wonderful job among them of bringing into plain view the fairly deeply buried subtext of Annie Proulx's spare and heartbreaking story: this character is badly damaged and the damage was deep and early. Ennis Del Mar is so closed-off and defended a character that he can barely open his mouth to speak, and the depth of emotional release is what turns an almost accidental drunken fuck in a tent on a cold night into a lifelong love affair, the defining relationship of both their lives.

One of the truly great achievements of this movie is to explore the overlaps and the disconnects between physical passion and enduring love, while remaining simultaneously aware not only of the separate dimensions of these two things but also of the realities of how human beings manage -- or fail to manage -- endless love and/or affectionate tenderness and/or really raw, detached, cut-off sex, often with more than one person at a time.

And as for 'gay' -- well, this word has a long history of denoting sexual 'irregularity' of any kind; in Victorian England, if you were 'gay' it meant you were a female prostitute. As used in contemporary parlance it's mainly about either identity politics or so-called lifestyle, where practice and preference are much less at variance than, of necessity, they used to be. But the word doesn't really fit either of these characters, or their time, or their place.

Jack Twist is closer to what we understand as 'gay': the initiator, apparently experienced, possessed of some self-knowledge. His scenes indicating what was available in the way of a gay scene to a rodeo cowboy in that time and place are among the most desolate in the movie.

And Ennis is utterly outside any possible classification of sexual identity -- and here as elsewhere the movie is making quite a statement, if always only implicit, about its fluidity -- and for Ennis, there is only ever Jack; the rest of his sexual life, such as it is, is a complex and compromised set of responses to his wife, and the rest of his emotional life invested mainly in his elder daughter.

And the story is at least as much about class as it is about sex. One of the things that can stop any kind of love affair in its tracks is money, or a lack of money: a lack of options, a lack of mobility, a grinding, closed-down life. One scene makes it painfully clear how a gay man in that milieu might marry for the comfort of a guaranteed income as well as the comforts of social acceptance and openly expressed affection. The staggering poverty of Jack's parents, revealed very late in the piece, comes as an almost physical shock.

And while some terrible things happen in this movie, for me its saddest line comes early on, a line straight out of Proulx's story, when Ennis tells Jack that he had to drop out of high school after only a year, because he couldn't get there any more after the transmission went on the pickup and there was no money to fix it.

I read the Proulx story first and went into the movie knowing exactly what would happen, which enhanced rather than diminished the experience. I love adaptations; there's always a whole extra dimension of pleasure in thinking about how it's been done, whether you think it works, what sorts of technical problems have been solved. Given what happens to Jack in both the story and the movie (it's a very faithful adaptation), Proulx's writing of it could easily have been another act of homage, this time to the influential black American writer Richard Wright and his iconic short story 'Bright and Morning Star'.

The audience that I was part of had a very strange reaction to the first half of the movie: they seemed to think it was a comedy. The shattering scene in which Ennis's wife looks out the window and catches sight of her husband and Jack in a passionate and unambiguous embrace is an absolutely wrenching one in both story and movie, but for reasons quite beyond me, at least half of the cinema audience laughed. It made me wonder how many of them had experienced sexual betrayal themselves, and whether the laughter had its roots in ignorance or in denial.

One thing that really did make me laugh was a memory of a story about director Ang Lee. Emma Thompson kept a diary, through the spring of 1995, of the shoot of Sense and Sensibility, and at one point she describes the problem they were having with the picturesque English sheep. They were, says Thompson, 'very bolshie "period" sheep with horns and perms and too much wool. If they fall over, they can't get up. Someone has to help them. ... Ang, after a particularly trying time with our flock: "No more sheeps. Never again sheeps."'

But as those who have seen Brokeback Mountain will already know, there is a veritable torrent of sheeps in it. One particularly graphic scene demonstrates one of the story's rueful mini-morals, which is that if you spend your time sexing on with your incredibly dishy workmate while you're supposed to be looking after the sheep, the coyotes will sneak in and rip their guts out, and Ang Lee seemed to take special delight in a close-up of one of the victims. Maybe it was his long-delayed revenge.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A comparison that may never have been made before

An eerie likeness has been spotted by eagle-eyed Zoe of crazybrave.

Hoist with his own petard

From the Doonesbury site's 'Say What?', a quotation from George W. Bush on the outcome of the Palestinian election:

"I remind people, the elections ... um ... democracy ... uh, is ... can open up the world's eyes to reality, by listening to people."

Teflon is nothing to it

For a giddy minute, until my actual brain kicked in, my heart began to beat a little faster as I watched this morning's email land in the Inbox and saw the subject line in the Age's AM Alert: Letters Link PM to Wheat Scandal.

Of course it was only a rush of blood to the head. He will do what he always, and so very effectively, does: dig his heels in, stick his bottom lip out, and say 'I did not' until it all goes away.

And as we know from bitter experience, even if it is proved beyond all shadow of a doubt that he did, people will vote for him anyway.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A sobering experience

(Image from here.)

Following the sad affair of the doomed New Year kitten (see January 2), I dutifully turned up to the Animal Welfare League first thing on Friday morning for my Volunteer Information seminar.

This was a rather thorough three-quarters-of-a-day session in which those who have registered their interest (as I did a few days after I found the mangled kitten and sadly handed it over to them to be put out of its misery) turn up to be told a few home truths about human nature, infection, danger and cruelty, in order to determine who, knowing what we all knew by the end of the day, was still up for a few volunteer hours a week.

The Animal Welfare League is a South Australian organisation begun in the sixties by a woman called Joy Richardson who saw an injured dog lying in the gutter one day with people walking past and stepping over it, and in that moment, as the sweet and earnest instructor put it, 'found her passion'. The League works in tandem with the RSPCA, doing the same things except for inspections.

Here are some of the things I learned:

* 9,500 cats and kittens go through that place per year. That's more than 25 cats a day, in a city with barely a million people, and with the RSPCA as an alternative. Most of these cats are euthanased. Many of them are brought in by the same people several times a year: 'Oh, my cat's had kittens again, could you take them?' Naturally these people never donate any money, and nobody knows why they don't have their cats desexed. Too much money? Too much trouble? Or are they the sorts of people for whom sex is the main reason for living, and who therefore think it's a destruction of feline selfhood to excise cats' bits, and/or cruel to deprive cats of nookie?

* If your cat or dog goes missing, the first 72 hours are crucial. Most people are on the alert about dogs straight away -- but don't wait a day or two for your cat to come home, either. Ring all the animal shelters in your city as soon as you realise you haven't seen it for a while.

* Collars and tags are good, but microchips are better. Collars can be torn off on fences and trees, and can choke an animal who gets caught on something by a collar with no elastic panel.

* A dog terrified by something, usually fireworks, can escape from enclosures that a calm dog can't get out of. If it's a fireworks night or a thunderstorm, bring and keep your dog inside.

* After I get home from a shift I will have to shower, change and chuck my clothes in the washing machine before I touch my own cats. Because, among other things,

* ... one infected hair follicle can cause a ringworm epidemic. (Am I sure I want to do this?)

* Cats have a double or 'bicornuate' uterus. After multiple matings when they're in season, it's quite possible for them to produce a litter of kittens with up to four different fathers. Take that, you anti-promiscuity abstinence-peddlers.

* The shelter has a 'euthanasia room', from which we were instructed to avert our eyes. Oops, I've written 'euthanasia', and now every raving right-to-life Googler on the planet is going pop up like a rabid meerkat. Go away, please.

* But here's a nice one, running contrary to popular belief: every dog and cat that turns up at the shelter is extensively tested for temperament and health before it's put up for adoption. But once it passes the tests and is offered for adoption, it's kept until somebody takes it.

* "Dogs find out a lot of information about each other by smelling each other's bums. So when they sniff your crutch, they're just using their skill base."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Hooray for Charles Richardson

From crikey.com.au yesterday:

Even cancer's good if it stops kids fooling around

Charles Richardson writes:

'A team led by Australian of the year professor Ian Frazer has developed a vaccine against the viruses that cause most cases of cervical cancer.
But [Senator Barnaby] Joyce and others are concerned about using it in case it "would promote teenage promiscuity." According to The Australian, Joyce "said he would be 'personally very circumspect' about giving such a vaccine to girls who were too young to cope with the potential consequences of s*xual activity."

Just think about what that means. These people are saying that teenage girls need to be scared off having s*x by the threat of getting cancer.
Not just that teenage promiscuity is bad – reasonable people can disagree about that – but that it's so bad that cervical cancer is an appropriate punishment for it.

And they have the gall to call themselves "pro-life"?'


When I was at high school, my two best mates and I were referred to by most of the teachers as the Terrible Trio. After we left school we stayed in touch, meeting once a year or more, until the winter that one of these two women was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer. Surprisingly it responded to massive (and massively debilitating) radiotherapy, but less than a year later she developed secondary tumours in her lungs and elsewhere.The third friend and I sat with her in the oncology ward every Thursday afternoon for six weeks and reminisced about our school days to take her mind off the evil useless chemo. She died a few weeks after the last of these sessions, at 46, when her kids were 15 and 13.

I wonder how those kids are feeling this week about the suggestion floating around in the public domain that their mother's death was simply her punishment for having been a naughty girl.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

An Australia Day post

This map of Sydney Cove, from the National Library of Australia, was drawn by one of the transported convicts in April 1788.

My great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Jane Langley, a wild girl and no mistake, is on one of those little boats, pregnant to someone other than five-greats grandpa Thomas Chipp, a Marine on one of the other little boats, whom she was yet to meet.

And this is a bit from The Timeless Land by Australian novelist Eleanor Dark, written in the early days of the Second World War and published in 1941 as borders and sovereignties were shifting all around the world. The novel is a landmark in Australian literature; the quotation is dedicated to Dr Sigmund Freud, who escaped from Vienna just in time to die of cancer instead of in the gas chambers. He died while Dark was writing this novel. She was a fan.

It's 1788 and a 'winged boat' full of strange-looking people has arrived on the beach at Port Jackson; the Aboriginal people are watching from the cliffs, including Bennilong, who's only six:

'Bennilong was particularly interested in the doings of a small group of men who were carrying a tall, slender sapling down to the eastern shore of the cove. Here they set it upright in the ground, embedding it firmly in a deep hole in the ground, which had been made ready to receive it, packing stones and earth about it so that it stood at last as if rooted. Could there, By-gone demanded, be wisdom in the minds of people who felled a tree for the express purpose of setting it up in a different place? But suddenly there fluttered out from its top an object so bright and beautiful that Bennilong, who dearly loved splendour and gay colours, felt his heart lift and turn in an anguish of admiration and covetousness. A rapt silence fell upon the watchers. They had never seen anything half so beautiful as this thing which was red as blood, and white as a cloud, and blue as the sky above it; they could not tear their eyes away from its brilliance, the lovely way shadows ran and coiled along it as it flapped in the afternoon sunlight, the gaiety and cheerfulness of its fluttering corners.

They were not at all surprised when they saw that it was to be worshipped. All the people assembled beneath it ... and then suddenly a noise shattered the silence.

Bennilong and his friends never knew how it happened, but they, who a moment ago had been lying or sitting on the ground, were now on their feet, strung to a desperate tension ... Far down in the harbour, curling round the distant headlands and away into the hills, went the echo of that appalling sound, and above the strange weapons of the invaders a little smoke hung, and then vanished.'

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Past modernism

Oh for God's sake it's too hot for this kind of nonsense.

Have just seen the PM on ABC TV evening news, banging on in his Australia Day address about how Australian history, 'along with other subjects in the humanities', is being taught in that nasty amoral po-mo relativistic way and a stop ought to be put to it at once.

Now, I would be willing to bet a biggish fraction of my extremely modest assets that Howard couldn't give you an accurate and detailed definition of post-modernism even if you offered in exchange to put Costello and all the Nats on a slow boat to Easter Island. I wonder which heroic RW culture warrior wrote the speech for him, or provided the notes to his speechwriter. Whoever it was, Howard was reading very carefully from his script at this point. Postmodernism was clearly not a theme on which he felt confident to extemporise.

He is absolutely correct in his claim that history in this country, and the history of this country, should be taught better, and taught more. But he and his speechwriter are completely wrong in blaming an abstraction called 'post-modernism' for the fact that it isn't. Maybe he should, for example, have a look instead at the relative amount of funding going to private and public schools, or at the workplace conditions under which dozens if not hundreds of teachers a year collapse into an extended period of stress leave. Postmodernism is the least of anybody's problems.

Whoever wrote the speech needs a bit of a lesson in clear thinking, too: there's a doozy of a mixed metaphor in there. Australian history, said the speech, is taught as a 'fragmented stew of themes and issues'. A stew is not fragmented; on the contrary, the point of a stew is to combine things.

On the other hand, the PM obviously relished the phrase and had lots and lots of fun saying 'fragmented stew', so maybe that's the most important thing.

What the PM wants, as one exasperated-looking history teacher pointed out when asked to comment, is to wind the clock back several decades: to reinvent, as with the wheel, the time when Australian history was taught as a triumphalist grand narrative of grand middle-class white male triumphs.

Which is, after all, like, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. As everybody knows.

Giving the game away

With a link to the press conference in question, here's a sharp-eyed response from crikey.com.au today:

'Look at [the Prime Minister's] response to a question on Julian McGauran's future: “that pre-selection won't come up for another four or five years, ask me then.”'

Four or five years?

Ask him then?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Couldn't you just cry

Filled yet again with despair (ever noticed how purging oneself of despair using sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, alcohol, conversation, exercise or an excellent movie has the downside of leaving newly-created room for fresh despair?) at the state of the world, the overflowing washing basket, the absolute dominance over men's tennis of Roger Federer, and the abysmal ignorance of history (mainstay of the despised 'humanities' and therefore on the slide interest-wise, except in the rabidly reactionary and denialist paws of the Keith Windschuttles of the world) that has our masters at local, state, federal and global levels reinventing the wheel over and over again, round and round as you might say -- filled, as I say, with despair at all these things, I turned to my favourite online community for some intelligent and well-informed discussion of an era other than our own.

VICTORIA is an online community of 19th-century scholars and other interested folk, covering mainly literature and history but with lots of other input, of which I've been a grateful listmember for something like 15 years. Established, maintained, and run with a light hand by the wonderful Patrick Leary, VICTORIA has been characterised all its life by the courtesy, intelligence, literacy and erudition of its posts and threads, so it should be needless to add that I mostly lurk and admire in silence, but these days its civilised qualities make it a quite unusual online place to be.

So, turning to it this morning for some badly-needed perspective and quietness of mind, I was rudely reminded by this post from Bob Lapides of what the 19th century, especially in its early days, was actually like. The phrase 'blacking days' refers to Dickens' stint, at age 12, at work in a boot-blacking factory after his father had been imprisoned.

When his father was arrested for debt in 1824, Charles Dickens
(then 12) had to appear before an appraiser to make sure his
personal property had a value of less than twenty pounds. In a
piece of autobiography he wrote some years later, he described
his anxiety about a silver pocket watch his grandmother, Lord
Crewe's housekeeper, had given him:

"I recollect his coming out to look at me with his mouth full, and
a strong smell of beer upon him, and saying good-naturedly that
'that would do,' and 'it was all right.' Certainly the hardest creditor
would not have been disposed (even if he had been legally entitled)
to avail himself of my poor white hat, little jacket, or corduroy
trowsers. But I had a fat old silver watch in my pocket, which had
been given me by my grandmother before the blacking days, and I
had entertained my doubts as I went along whether that valuable
possession might not bring me over the twenty pounds. So I was
greatly relieved, and made him a bow of acknowledgment as I went

Monday, January 23, 2006

And then, light-headed from the heat ...

I got this irresistible bit of craziness from Kate who got it from Ampersand Duck who got it from Ladycracker who doesn't say where she got it from. But the footnotes are all my own work.

Ten Top Trivia Tips about Pavlov's Cat!

  1. The average duration of sexual intercourse for Pavlov's Cat is two minutes.
  2. Pavlov's Cat can squeeze her entire body through a hole the size of her beak.
  3. You should always store Pavlov's Cat in an airtight container in the fridge.
  4. The horns of Pavlov's Cat are made entirely from hair!
  5. Pavlov's Cat can drink over 25 gallons of water at a time!
  6. It takes 8 minutes for light to travel from the Sun's surface to Pavlov's Cat.
  7. All shrimp are born as Pavlov's Cat, but gradually mature into females.
  8. The opposite sides of Pavlov's Cat always add up to seven!
  9. Pavlov's Cat is the only bird that can swim but not fly.
  10. If you lie on your back with your legs stretched it is impossible to sink in Pavlov's Cat.
I am interested in - do tell me about

1. Depends on who ... oh, never mind.
2. I wish.
3. In the current weather, this is correct.
4. There are some who think I have horns (to say nothing of the forked tail), but whether they are made of hair is a moot point. On any given day there is enough cat hair in this house to knit another cat, so it's more than likely.
5. See 3.
6. See 5.
7. I'm going to ignore the slur here and simply point out the tautology implicit in the phrase 'gradually mature into females'.
8. Opposite of what?
9. I can swim but not fly, but I'm quite sure I'm not the only chick of whom this is true.
10. See notes #1 and #2.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Not fit for human habitation

For the third day in a row, the temperature here in sunny Adelaide today went over 40 degrees. The tender new leaves on the lemon tree have crisped and blackened, the cats lie sprawled on the bathroom floor gazing at me reproachfully as though it were my fault, steam came off next door's outside wall when I hosed it this evening while watering the garden, the water from all the cold taps is permanently tepid and I've nearly run out of Gastrolyte.

Hot day drink:

1) find your biggest glass, and put in it
2) one slosh of Buderim Ginger Cordial (half an inch or so), then
3) half fill the glass with Berri's 'Apple juice with a hint of green tea' from the Harmonics range,
4) fill up the rest of the glass with soda and ice, and
5) sip slowly

You will feel much better. Especially if you drink it while dripping wet and standing under the ceiling fan.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Mystic Mogg

I liked Tim Dunlop's predictions for 2006 so much that I have decided to put on my amateur astrologer's hat, the pointy one with the planets and spiders on it, and see what lies in store for us all star-wise.

You people are such children it won't really matter to you what's happening in the wider world. You will be too busy chasing after shiny things, courting applause, and twirling around in your red satin threads trilling 'Look at moy!!' Some people will indeed look at you, but probably not for the reasons you would like.

We Taureans are good with money, so will probably be able to find an up side to this year's combination of rising costs and falling wages. But if deprived for too long of the silk sheets, Veuve Clicquot, handmade Belgian chocolates and individually hand-fried wedges with imported Thai sweet chilli sauce and gourmet sour cream that our souls crave, our legendary rumbling-volcano tempers could erupt into a full-on china-shop situation. You have been warned.

Ah, the intellectual bling of the zodiacal department store. There's nothing you love better than a mixed metaphor, and most of you can come up with a much better one than that last sentence. This year will provide an unprecedented smorgasbord of opportunities to theorise, analyse, philosophise and opine rings around friends, colleagues and family, which will annoy the bejesus out of all of them and probably lose you a promotion. Hah.

Oh, get over yourselves. 2006 is going to be dangerous and depressing, so suck it up. Sulking will not help, and neither will passive aggression or hysterical sobbing. And for God's sake get out of the house occasionally, even if it does mean you have to dodge the shrapnel on your way to the milk bar. Pull yourselves together.

John Howard is a Leo, what can I say. You get to spend the year making Peter Costello's life a living hell, along with the lives of countless other Australians. You may even get to watch some of them being stomped on by the much-vaunted Elephant in the Room, the one that your fellow Leo the PM's good buddy Dubya had lowered into the room by crane after he had the roof blown off the house specially. Enjoy the spectacle while you can, since an elephant will avoid a lion if there are other things to step on. The rest of us are the spectacle.

Virgoans will be in their element this year. So much to be censorious about, so little time. Your obsession preoccupation with health will be well-founded as an epidemic of clinical depression looms in tandem with a bird flu ditto, while petrol prices rise so high along with the unprecedentedly outrageous cost of life-saving pharmaceuticals that the possibilty of buying food and clothes as well will retreat into the middle distance, where it will sit staring at you sullenly. If things get as bad as they well might, the expression 'nit-picking' (a favourite Virgoan pastime) could take on a new, less figurative meaning.

Even those Librans most determined to pour oil on troubled waters and make peace come hell or high water will be defeated even more often than usual this year. With any luck you will still have a bathroom vanity or well-lit dressing-table and make-up mirror to which you can retreat, and where you can spend the year trying to make up your mind which of your many lipsticks tones in best with your hair. Female Librans, your year will be even more exciting than that.

No Scorp understands that the reason why the stage is always littered with corpses by the end of a Shakespearean or Jacobean revenge tragedy is that revenge is rightly the prerogative of the gods, not of men. Nor do you get it that the only route to redemption in Greek tragedy is to break the cycle of revenge. If you try to read Anna Karenina you will not get past the epigraph: 'Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord: I will repay.' The universal Scorpionic failure to understand this basic truth is the reason why it's a bad idea for any of you to enrol in a degree in literature this year. Or any other year. Now get away from me.

The state of the world this year will give you an unprecedented number of choices for adventure, good works and triage. Since what you call your cheerful honesty and everybody else calls your incredibly hurtful tactlessness will alienate many of your friends, this makes it an extra good year to travel, especially since your freakish luck will keep you safe while all around you succumb to personally invasive legislation, religious martyrs in all their manifestations, and up-themselves customs officials. You will be able to write your second-higher-degree dissertation in airports, bus stations, bomb shelters and yurts in the lulls between the exciting things. Tuck a jumbo box of condoms, a surgical mask and some Tamiflu into your luggage just in case; even Saggos get unlucky once every trillion years or so. Bastards.

Capricorns are dour, earthbound folk, not unlike Taureans except less sensual, more ambitious, and surgically scarred by the humour bypass. Lighten up, people, it's only the most multivalently dangerous period in living memory -- there's the revival of the Christian Right, for a start. No, scrap that -- most of you are probably central figures in it. Anyway, with any luck you will be so focused on getting your foot onto the next career rung you won't even notice the screams.

Earth to Water Carrier, do you read me? Over. Hello? Um ...

Just keep on taking your meds and everything will be all right.

Oh, he's good

Another really distinguished post from Alex Ross, on the reasons why 'emotional truth' -- invoked as a defence of non-truthful non-fiction -- is actually a furphy, complete with its very own slippery slope.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

If it looks like a language Nazi ...

I really love watching the tennis. I love watching the tennis so much that I have now missed several deadlines and we're still less than three weeks into January. But given how much tennis commentators get paid (actually I don't know how much they get paid but I bet it's a lot more than anyone will ever pay me), I really do think it behooves them to get a little polish, pronunciation- and usage-wise. So here are some things I really, really want the tennis commentators to do:

* Learn how to pronounce the name of every player in the tournament, preferably before the tournament begins. There are usually rules for these things, like the Slavic women's names that go almost universally mispronounced.

* Stop saying 'bundled out', forever. This idiotic expression is overdue to be bundled out of the language.

* Stop calling Mark Philippoussis 'Scud'. Scud missiles were a popular feature of a now-almost-forgotten conflict in the Middle East, the one that started over the summer of 1990-1991. That's fifteen years ago, folks. Time to move on. (God, is the Poo really that old?) (They may call him the Poo if they wish. Roy and HG rule.)

* Stop saying 'back-to-back' when they mean 'consecutive'. 'Back-to-back' is not only inaccurate but sounds kind of rude. So does 'the Poo', I know, but in a nicer way.

* Stop saying 'parochial' when they mean 'partisan'. What do these people think the OED is for?

* John Alexander: you need to stop raving about Lleyton Hewitt for long enough to draw breath occasionally, especially when the other bloke is the one making the shot. We know you're a Hewitt fan but you need to tone it down. People will talk.

* Mark Woodforde: you're a champ. You've got a lovely voice. You say really, really interesting and intelligent things about the tennis. But 'anything' and 'something' do not end with the consonant K. The word for the letter H is not pronounced Haitch. And the given name of Xavier Malisse is not even pronounced 'Ex-Avier', much less 'Egg-Zavier'.

I feel better now. Thank you.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Colette's French household hints

I'm working my way up to a patch of full-blown food blogging, where I shall divulge not only the recipe for Home-Made Fresh-Cherry and Toasted-Almond Ice Cream but also a 'fragrant and magical' cantaloupe ice cream recipe adapted from Jane Grigson. The beauty of these two is that (a) neither requires an ice-cream maker, and (b) they taste fine, and look utterly spectacular, when served together, one scoop of each on a white plate. (Or more, of course.) In the meantime, though, here's a little jewel from one of the more oddbod books on the cookbook shelf: Laura Fronty's Aromatic Teas and Herbal Infusions.

The French novelist Colette, says Fronty, was writing for Marie-Claire during the harsh winter of 1940, with provisions in short supply and the Nazis moving inexorably towards the occupation of Paris. For this issue of the magazine Colette provided a herbal recipe for violet cough syrup: violets have been used for respiratory disorders since the Middle Ages. She added a tip about how to gather the flowers that sounds just a tiny bit on the Weird Sisters side -- one is tempted to reply 'Well, eye of newt and toe of frog to you too, old girl' -- but at the same time is oddly compelling and memorable. It might be something as simple as Colette's matchless gift for sensory, and sensual, imagery:

"Pennywise housewives who gather medicinal flowers and leaves properly at the right time of the year, do you know why you find that your violet infusion is so bland? It's because you picked your violets in the sun. They must be picked in the shade, when they first begin to bloom. Pick only the blooms without the stems and dry them in the shade, on white paper and not a cloth. Here, we say that the cloth drinks the perfume. Also, beware of marble tables: when they are cold, the chill 'shocks' the flowers, causing them to fold up and lose part of their soul."

'Education: what is it?' -- Part Two

In his current Weekend Australian column, Christopher Pearson is bemoaning a decline in standards, which is something that all good right-wing pundits need to do on a regular basis if they want to keep their edge. This week it's the decline in standards of education (or is it literacy?) in Australia (or is it the US?), which he blames on changes in reading-education techniques ... or is it the opening-up of the universities?

For which in turn he blames Dawkins (or is it (gasp) Menzies?), and which has resulted in the dumbing-down of curricula in, of course, wait for it, the humanities. Ah, a clean well-lighted RWDB position at last, and Pearson nestles into it, rhetorically speaking, with an almost audible sigh of relief.

All of which is to say that the column is oddly scrambled and self-contradictory, as though Pearson had set himself the challenge to cover every possible right-wing pundit party line and cliche on the subject in the course of a relatively short piece of writing, even if it meant directly contradicting himself in almost every paragraph.

But the out-of-left-field (so to speak) criticism of Menzies gives a glimpse of the Pearson of twenty years ago, who was an independent thinker with a razor-sharp brain. Conservatism seems to have blunted it (twenty years ago he would never have committed to paper such an egregiously mixed metaphor as 'a burgeoning vicious circle', for a start. Circles don't burgeon, they expand. Sheesh) but every so often one gets a quick glimpse of what he used to be like. Criticising Menzies?

Ah, but no, wait, what was he criticising Menzies for?

Wait for it: the trouble with Menzies was that he was not conservative enough.

Two things about this piece:

1) It's another example of the very nasty drift on the right towards the notion that facts and opinions have equal status and validity. Pearson's opinions are presented rhetorically as facts. This kind of thing at its worst results in wild rants from the right about non-existent global warming on the one hand and demonstrable 'intelligent design' on the other, where failure to acknowledge that some people 'believe in' ID and/or not in global warming is decried as a lack of 'balance'.

2) It's all about the party line. There's no way that anyone could even begin to get to the truth of the enormously complex and endlessly changing state of education in a thousand punter-friendly words. But my sad suspicion is that the truth about the situation isn't what chiefly interests Pearson, or any other pundit anywhere on the political spectrum with a barrow to push or a flag to wave. Public signalling of one's allegiances is becoming the journalistic substitute for finding out and reporting on what has actually happened.

Pearson's characteristic tutting in this piece is -- uncharacteristically -- half-hearted and unfocused. As so often with his op eds, he's torn between the intellectual attractions of truth and complexity on the one hand and the comforting clarity of the party line on the other. (My guess is that being a highly intelligent right-winger is bloody hard work; think of all the internal contradictions that need to be resolved.)

This piece could easily have been an interesting and thought-provoking sweep across the broad range of reasons why literacy in particular and education in general, in Australia and elsewhere, might have changed the way they have over the last few decades. It could have examined what I think is the single central issue, which is the rapidly-increasing commodification of education and the distortions and dumbing-down effects of that -- but no right-winger's going to touch that one; Pearson merely mentions in a neutral tone the current cost of education as though there were a direct and self-evident correlation between the amount of cash you fork out and the 'quality' of the education your kid gets. (One of the most dismaying effects of this kind of thinking is that it constructs education as a one-way street, something that you passively 'get'. But that's a whole other discussion.)

It could easily have been a really good piece of op ed writing. But in the end it simply rumbles away from behind its cigar in its comfy leather chair at its gentleman's club, getting no further than 'Things were better in my day' and using the crucial, massive problems and issues in contemporary education as just another stage on which to do the 'I told you so' dance.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Meme of Four

Florence, January 1983. Note authenticity-indicating rips, stains, faded non-permanent Italian Kodak colours and such.

Here's a 'Four Things' meme I nicked from The Rest is Noise and felt compelled to have a go at.

Four jobs you've had in your life:
Dishwasher in a Greek restaurant
Magazine editor
Research assistant for an economist
Singer with a band

Four movies you could watch over and over:
Some Like it Hot
Strictly Ballroom
Billy Elliot
West Side Story

Not quite the same thing as 'movies you thought were brill' or Dead Man, Fargo, Trainspotting, Broadcast News and The Piano would all be in here. Note predominance of performance/spectacle in listed 4, something which has only just occurred to me.

Four places you've lived:
Port Adelaide
Klagenfurt in Austria (very briefly, but I was working -- counts as 'lived in').

Four TV shows you love to watch:
Will & Grace
Boston Legal

But nothing on the teeve these days can touch Cracker, Prime Suspect, Northern Exposure or Hamish Macbeth. (NB -- new 2-hour reprise ep of Cracker, made 2005, coming up shortly!)

Four places you've been on vacation:
Coffin Bay
Kings Cross

Four websites you visit daily:
ABC News
Larvatus Prodeo (I assume blogs count)

Four of your favorite foods:
Only four, huh?

My homemade fresh-cherry-and-toasted-almond ice cream
Fresh pineapple
Haigh's dark chocolate truffles.

Four places you'd rather be:
The Scottish Highlands
Younger (see tastes in TV, above) and fitter (see Haigh's truffles, above)
Singing in opera

Four tagged (heh):

Thursday, January 12, 2006

That weird time of year

Given what pleasure there is in putting the Christmas tree and decorations up, I suppose it's only fair that taking them down again should make a person sad. I took them down on the correct day (Twelfth Night, Jan 6th) but it's taken me nearly a week to get round to packing them up properly and putting them away.

During the twenty years I lived in a different city from my family I used to come home every year for Christmas, and some years I'd bring home some new decoration for the family tree that I'd found while travelling, to replace things that had become shabby or been smashed.

After my mother died, my sisters and I each took back whatever we'd originally bought. So when I was packing up the decorations this afternoon in their tissue paper, my mother's handwriting leaped out at me unexpectedly again -- see December 12 post -- in a note featuring my own family nickname (hereafter 'X'), which was the only thing she ever called me except when she was white-knuckle angry with me. My ma was the kind of person who not only wrapped all the decorations in tissue but wrote on each parcel a note saying what was inside. The note said 'Pearly white bells and icicles, X, Christmas 1987.'

This year I had a tree for the first time in five years, since the cats moved in. I decided to chance it, and it was a good call; to my astonishment, they completely ignored it. I'd anticipated something along the lines of the Get Fuzzy Christmas classic, with Bucky Katt swinging wildly from a string of exploding lights in the topmost branches of the about-to-come-crashing-down tree, Satchel Pooch looking horrified in the foreground, and the caption 'Bright Lights, Bad Kitty'.

In the event, the tortoiseshells couldn't have been less interested, and left it aloofly alone. It's a great little tree, a completely non-realistic looking arrangement of stylised gold-coloured 'branches' that look like something out of Michael Leunig's Mr Curly cartoons. It was decorated with red, white, silver, gold and crystal ornaments that mostly take the form of critters and musical instruments. I hated taking it down.

But my consolation, as I look around the blogosphere and see the spectrum of reactions from stoicism to real despair that people are describing about going back to work, is that I don't have to. Sure, the workload itself is piling up, the phone is starting to ring, the deadlines are starting to loom. The income is wildly irregular and overwhelmingly modest; I sure as hell don't get leave loading; and if I get sick then that's just too bad. But my workplace is my desk and my boss is the woman in the mirror, and there's no feeling in the world quite like it. If anybody out there is contemplating the jump -- just do it. Life is short, and you only get one.

Graeco-Roman wedgies and the biggest game of blackjack in the world

Patrick Cook's obituary of Kerry Packer is less sycophantic and possibly more accurate than most.

"I began with the desire to speak with the dead."

Pavlov's Cat cannot quite provide medium services, so there'll be no actual speaking with the dead. But I can do the second best thing and invite you to listen to the dead, which I promise you is quite spooky and sobering enough to be going on with, not least because of the innocence and promise in those 19th-century words.

If you can't quite make out what he's saying, here it is:

“America, centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike, endeared, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the earth, with Freedom, Law, and Love.”

Now go here.

Whitman, Walt. "America" (audio file). The Walt Whitman Archive. Ed. Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price. 11 September 2003 .

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Imagine being loved like that

I don't surf the net so much as lurch it, like someone staggering drunk through the snow whose attention keeps getting distracted, so it's no real surprise that, having started out checking the blog of a Scottish Highlander called Pat the Chooks, who runs poultry of all sorts and spends a lot of time walking through and taking stunning photos of the Highland landscapes, I've somehow ended up in the great John Huston's final film. I assume this kind of thing happens to everyone.

A commenter was asking the Scottish blogger whether there were any 'snipes' in the region he lives in, and the word tripped a memory of one of the most astonishing poems I've ever come across, an anonymous Gaelic poem called 'The Grief of a Girl's Heart' that one of the dinner guests recites a bit of in Huston's 1987 film The Dead. When he finishes reciting, one of the guests says wonderingly: 'Imagine being loved like that.'

The poem, for which back then I searched for days in libraries but which is of course now online, was translated from the Gaelic by Augusta, Lady Gregory (above, image from here -- Yeats's Lady Gregory, whom I discovered, while I was looking for a pic of her (see 'lurch', above), that Colm Tóibín has written a biography of, called Lady Gregory's Toothbrush, which I'll now have to chase up as well. But here's the poem.

The Grief of a Girl's Heart

O Donall og, if you go across the sea, bring myself with you and do not forget it; and you will have a sweetheart for fair days and market days, and the daughter of the King of Greece beside you at night.

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you; the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh. It is you are the lonely bird through the woods; and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me, that you would be there before me where the sheep are flocked; I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you, and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you, a ship of gold under a silver mast; twelve towns with a market in all of them, and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible, that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish; that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird, and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

O Donall og, it is I would be better to you than a high, proud, spendthrift lady: I would milk the cow; I would bring help to you; and if you were hard pressed, I would strike a blow for you.

O, ochone, and it's not with hunger or with wanting food, or drink, or sleep, that I am growing thin, and my life is shortened; but it is the love of a young man that has withered me away.

It is early in the morning that I saw him coming, going along the road on the back of a horse; he did not come to me; he made nothing of me; and it is on my way home that I cried my fill.

When I go by myself to the well of loneliness, I sit down and go through my trouble; when I see the world and do not see my boy, he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you; the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday. And myself on my knees reading the Passion; and my two eyes giving love to you forever.

O, aya! My mother, give myself to him; and give him all that you have in the world; get out yourself to ask for alms, and do not come back and forward looking for me.

My mother said to me not to be talking with you to-day, or to-morrow, or on the Sunday; it was a bad time she took for telling me that; it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe, or as the black coal that is on the smith's forge; or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls; it was you put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me; you have taken what is before me and what is behind me; you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me; and my fear is great that you have taken God from me.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Let's not get carried away

I love my home town dearly. I made cataclysmic life changes in order to return home to it, after 20 years away, and I have never regretted the move for a nanosecond.

But this doesn't mean I look at it through rose-coloured glasses (why would I need to? It's almost always either blue and gold, moss-green and mother-of-pearl, or rose-coloured off its own bat: see above, courtesy SA Tourism Commission), so I had to have a little cackle at the deadpan summary I just read over at crikey.com.au of an article about drugs in today's Advertiser: 'Adelaide cracks down on ecstasy.'

Ain't it the truth. Comfort, yes. Contentment, absolutely. But ecstasy? Isn't that just a little bit, well, excessive? In, perhaps, doubtful taste? I'm reminded of the Alex Ross link a couple of posts back; if you read his long article on the John Adams/Peter Sellars opera Doctor Atomic you'll see that it contains a detailed and admiring profile of Sellars as a major heavy hitter in the world of the western stage. But here in Adders the dangerously edgy and radical Sellars was dismissed and undermined right and left from the outset by staid Adelaideans who thought he was a peculiar-looking little sausage and/or didn't want their arts festival hijacked by a feral director.

It's true that the Sellars festival turned into a disaster, though bravely salvaged at the eleventh hour by a tactful, professional, conscientious ring-in from Victoria. But Sellars' real and fatal mistake was to misjudge the essential nature of Adelaide and of the ways in which the Festival heavies, still largely soi-disant socialites and Establishment pillars, were likely to react to the radicalism of his politics and his general vision of what art is and what it's for.

He probably made another basic error to do with economies of scale. And he may have wrongly deduced that local arts legends Robyn Archer and Greg Mackie were typical of the joint. Whatever it was, it was a major mis-fit with the realities of this our small-but-perfectly-formed city-state. Ecstasy? Not in my back yard.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Hours of harmless fun ...

... as Dubya's speechwriter, here!

(Pinched with thanks from Health ... and other rants.)

What's trash to you is treasure to me and vice versa

This morning there's live blogging going on from the Sills Bend garage sale, with some excellent illustrations that make you really think about the things we accumulate in life and how and why we keep them, or get rid of them as the case may be. I am still wondering how the Sills Bend household acquired the photo of the young Her Maj a-horseback and the wooden doll with the giant penis (not together) in the first place.

But what this post has reminded me of is my own experience last year with the local council's hard rubbish collection round, something I'd never actually made use of before. I put out a dead microwave oven, a wheelbarrow made of rust, a pair of small wrought-iron gates ditto, a big ancient lawnmower (also mostly rust) from which bits of metal had begun to fly off when in action and to which I had Blu-Tac'd a sign saying NO PETROL IN THIS MOWER, the frame of a folding tatami screen which got destroyed by the cats when kittens, an ancient suitcase that had travelled the world and was now full (after several years in the garage) of teeming insect life, and a lot of anonymous bits of wood of unknown origin.

And by the time the council truck arrived mid-morning, EVERY SINGLE THING HAD GONE.

Is this what usually happens?

What's Your Sign?

"Wrong Way, Go Back."

Ahem. Here from Scrivener in Atlanta, Georgia, via Sills Bend, a quiz called 'Here's Your Sign', and my own tragically inevitable result:

There's No Such Thing As Too Many Books

Here's Your Sign {pictures included}
brought to you by Quizilla

Funny, I always thought I was a Taurus. I like this one much better.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

On housework

An only partly light-hearted item about gender and housework, posted at Club Troppo and then cross-posted to Larvatus Prodeo by Nicholas Gruen, has generated a number of comments on both blogs and spun discussion off into others. So here's my two cents.

1) Ideology is the enemy of housework. As a feminist all my adult life I have always resisted the idea that making a mess and not cleaning it up is somehow worse if you're a woman, or that the many activities traditionally lumped under the heading 'housework' are in any way gender-specific. On the other hand, I also have political objections (weakening as I age, but still strong enough to prevent it) to the idea of employing a cleaner, particularly since almost all cleaners are women. I can't quite shake the idea that there is something simultaneously undignifed and anti-democratic about not cleaning up one's own mess.

2) I therefore live in a much bigger mess (speaking of undignification) than I would like. Nothing chez moi actually smells or festers, and the bathroom does not look as if I am developing a new species of penicillin in it, but the untidiness is chronic and in one room in particular the chaos would be regarded by some as a mental health issue. There's a proliferation of displaced or homeless items in this room that it would take three or four weeks to sort, deal with, throw out or find a home for, even if I could get the carpenter in to build the cupboards I can't afford in the space I don't have.

3) The bringing-up of children and the cooking of meals are both arts. Housework is a chore. Under no circumstances should they all be considered as part of the same deal.

4) If you're a woman, it's all about your mother. You have either internalised her standards and followed her example, or wildly over-reacted against them. This applies at both ends of the spectrum, whether she was an unutterable slob or Mrs Sparkle incarnate.

5) Ironing is less unbearable than cleaning the bathroom.

6) The piano looks better without the paw prints.

Friday, January 06, 2006

And this is why he got the job

The sheer intellectual exuberance of this wonderful post from New Yorker music critic Alex Ross takes my breath away and fills me with wicked envy. One of the most enviable gifts of people with this kind of quicksilver brain is the combination of a rich horde of varied, detailed knowledge with an ability to make instant connections across those bodies of knowledge: music to poetry to history, all with no apparent effort. Do check out both of Ross's links even just briefly because neither that post nor this one makes much sense without them.

A 'chaconne' is a particular kind of musical form in slow waltz time. I know this because I have just looked it up.

And just to prove (since I have been sounding more than usually snarky lately about Christians when actually it's not Christians as such that I mind at all, it's morons) that I am actually not particularly anti-God, here for the hell of it is the poem to which Ross is referring, which has been one of my favourites since I first struggled through it at school. If there's one thing that I love it that John Donne loves, it's labyrinthine grammar, and if there's another, it's the inescapable erotic dimension of religious ecstasy, which he had the brains neither to repress nor to deny.

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for You
as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
that I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
labour to admit You, but O, to no end;
reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
but is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love You, and would be loved fain,
but am betrothed unto Your enemy.
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;
take me to You, imprison me, for I,
except You enthrall me, never shall be free,
nor ever chaste, except You ravish me.

Sharon gravely ill, nutters in overdrive

Spokespersons for Hamas plus other radical Palestinians and the President of Iran have all unwittingly joined the barking US God-botherer Pat Robertson in claiming that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cerebral haemorrhage was a punitive act of God.

So there you go. You can be an overweight 77-year-old taking blood-thinning drugs and living under the unbearable stress of running one of the most controversial countries on earth, but if God loves ya, ya safe -- and if He don't, ya doomed.

Dubya, meanwhile, is in sparkling form. Just saw him on the news, where he announced at a press conference about Sharon's condition that he was "prayin' for him" -- and then, in the next sentence, began talking about him in the past tense.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

And on a considerably lighter note

Still in holiday-mucking-about mode, I tried that thing where you Google your name plus the word 'needs' and write down the first ten things that come up. My name isn't one that Google recognises much, so I tried my family nickname instead and got thousands of results. Here are the first ten: taken as a whole, this list makes me sound as though I am running a brothel.

1) Pavlov's Cat needs an Avatar
2) Pavlov's Cat needs your input
3) Pavlov's Cat needs to have a new one
4) Pavlov's Cat needs volunteers
5) Pavlov's Cat needs a home with adults who have time to continue her training
6) Pavlov's Cat needs to match the needs of the individual with the specialist room and products provided
7) Pavlov's Cat needs to be evenly matched with the ignition source
8) Pavlov's Cat needs a boob job
9) Pavlov's Cat needs medication
10) Pavlov's Cat needs money

I swear this really is how it came up (substituting blogname for nickname, of course) and most of these things are, alas, all too true, especially #9 and #10. Those who know me well will know just how funny #8 is. #3 and #7 are intriguing, but #5 is just sad.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Too good to last

It was a textbook New Year this year: dinner in the Adelaide Hills with three of my oldest friends. A yummy fresh-Adelaide-food dinner it was too, a triumph for the cook and hostess, who has been a close friend since school and I am not saying how long ago that actually was but we're talking decades here. She and I saw the New Year in while Glad-Wrapping the remains of the summer pudding and clearing up the snapper scraps. The cool change swept in overnight and in the morning we sat around in the dressing-gown stage, exchanging views, memories and philosophies as is our wont. It was an excellent way to see in the New Year.

But on the rainy drive home, less than a kilometre from my house, I caught sight of something in the gutter that resolved itself, as I drove past, into the terrified face -- big eyes, big ears -- of a grey and white kitten. While clearly still alive, it would not have been in the gutter in the rain unless it couldn't walk.

Long story short: irretrievably and desperately damaged kitten (broken leg/hip, obvious internal injuries, possibly dog-mauled for good measure) retrieved, brought home where I then could not bring myself to kill it, so given a pile of clean bedding in the corner of the garden shed where it could die in relative peace, dry and unmolested, overnight. Came the dawn and the little bugger was STILL alive -- just -- so I hauled him off to the Animal Welfare League, who were extremely nice, and who relieved me of my tiny, filthy, mangled, unbearable burden.


1) If you have a cat, (1) have it spayed, (2) have it microchipped, (3) make sure you know where it is at all times.

2) If you run over a cat, or a dog, don't just keep driving. At least have the decency to stop and make sure it's dead or do something if it isn't.

3) Read J. M. Coetzee's *Disgrace*. If you've already read it, read it again.

4) If you have any spare cash, pet food, bowls or bedding lying around, take them to the Animal Welfare League or the RSPCA. Today. Now.