Monday, February 27, 2006

Of time and lists

It's Festival of Arts time in Adelaide and like several of my fellow-bloggers I am so flat out at the moment I scarcely know what day it is. My Festival commitments include a heavy Fringe (as it were) theatre reviewing schedule and several Writers' Week duties, a timetable into which I need to weave the counterpoint of my share of family support for my sister (who had reconstruction surgery on her right hand last week and has it wrapped and strapped and slung and completely useless for weeks and weeks), plus the ground bass of the ongoing patchwork duties of the freelance littery person.

(I got a letter last week addressed to '[Insert Real Name Here], Freelancer', and it made me think momentarily of myself as some sort of medieval mercenary, with a pen for hire instead of a lance. But I hope it won't come to that.)

As I read with foreboding the news that Qantas is going to take advantage of the new anti-worker legislation to slash the wages of the people who keep its planes safe and in the air, and contemplate with even more foreboding the Qantas flights to which I have just committed myself, I find time to thank the gods for giving me an opportunity to set up life as my own boss.

The excessively modest turnover of this one-woman small business -- for which I work not only as primary producer but also as unpaid accountant, typist, filing clerk, receptionist, tea lady, driver, cleaner, courier and cat wrangler -- is compensated for, a hundred times over, by the freedom of it.

For even when driven by external schedules as I am at the moment, there's still the extraordinary freedom and happiness of not being a creature of the institution -- any institution -- and not having to play by anyone's rules but my own. I finished work at 3 am this morning when I hit the 'Send' button on the third of three theatre reviews, drained the glass of lovely lovely Nepenthe sauvignon blanc (budget priorites firmly in place here), and stumbled off to bed, which is why I've given myself permission to spend this morning blogging and gossiping on the phone.

What keeps me one step ahead at times like this is my love of the list as a literary genre, which reaches its apotheosis whenever I have a party and begin with a list of the lists I have to make. Today's To Do list looks like this:

* read 2 late-submitted Honours theses and write examiner's reports
* pack for overnight stay at convalescent sister's house tomorrow
* set timer for premiere of Commander-in Chief (Donald Sutherland rules)
* clean out cat litter tray
* rig up Heath Robinson arrangement with extension cord from kitchen to laundry now that laundry power point is comprehensively stuffed and lethal
* research adult entry one-semester Home Maintenance for Dummies course
* pick up new glasses (first pair of THREE: can't wear graduated lenses, and need prescription sunnies)
* mortgage cats, house, soul etc to pay for 3x new glasses in spite of Extras "cover" in insanely expensive health "insurance", snarl, spit
* chase up tickets for Wednesday's Fringe show (al fresco commedia dell'arte -- the mind boggles)
* go to Bunning's to buy lightweight folding picnic chair for al fresco etc, to be used again on Friday night when the Festival proper opens and the spectacle of painted and illuminated giant hot-air balloons will float across the night sky above the river as we scoff our gourmet picnic supper and local wine: Adelaide at its best

and finally

* rearrange all this stuff into a logical running order.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Prime Minister Fails Remedial Feminism 101 for Dummies

'Mr Howard said he did not believe the ads implied that Australians had bad manners.

"I think watching that young girl walking up the beach, I don't think there's anything bad mannered about that," he said.

"I think it's a very attractive image and I don't think people will see that is in any way bad mannered, quite the reverse."'

[From here.]

Absolutely. Use a shot of a girl walking up a beach to sell something. Now there's a novel idea.

Post-neanderthal, too.

(Stereotype subversion rules. Image from here.)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Labor in the Wilderness, Part 497

This morning over at Larvatus Prodeo they're talking about the current recycling in the op ed pages of the mantra 'Labor needs ideas'.

I think 'Labor needs ideas' is a fairly dopey thing to say once, much less over and over again. We all need ideas; it's like saying the sun rises in the east.

But on the other hand, some ideas are really, really bad ideas. In this consumer culture, the notion that 'ideas' are something tangible that you get from the idea shop, and that all one needs is to acquire a mixed half-dozen, is actually quite a dangerous -- erm -- idea.

The unheard word in this mantra is 'new': behind the argument that 'Labor needs (new) ideas', as behind so many other things, lies the assumption that innovation is always a good thing in and of itself. I've never really understood why people think this. Novelty for its own sake is useless at best, and at its worst can be extremely destructive. If, instead of writing about Labor's need to acquire new ideas, the columnists were writing about its need to get rid of some of its old ones, I might think they were on to something.

I think it's entirely possible that various senior members of the Party have lots of (good) 'ideas' that are, for various reasons, not being allowed to see the light of day. But what Labor really needs is a leader who (a) understands the party's diseased and outdated culture, (b) can see that until it's radically reformed they will never reclaim either the worker heartland or the intellectual headland they used to be able to take for granted, and then (c) can do something about it -- without melting down in the process.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Circle Game

Thanks to BlueBolt for this more than usually challenging bit of Q&A. Unfortunately they've just abolished Limbo, so who knows where I'll end up?

I see from this that I am a lustful but otherwise virtuous non-believer who is never ever wrathful, gloomy or, erm, repentant. I must have lied about the wrath, but all the rest sound -- relatively speaking -- about right.

The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to the First Level of Hell - Limbo!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)High
Level 2 (Lustful)High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Moderate
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Very Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Moderate
Level 7 (Violent)Moderate
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Moderate
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

Take the Dante's Inferno Test

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Thoughts of the Spinmeister

I can't link to this because I heard it on the radio and can't even remember on which program, but two things struck me about the Prime Minister's response to the vote on yesterday's RU486 Bill.

It was sad, he said, to see a majority handball the decision-making process to someone else 'because it was too hard'.

*Gasps at unmitigated rodentitude, turns up radio*

*Thinks: No, PM, it's by no means too hard. They made a decision that the decision should be made by experts in the field. It's not called bailing out. It's called intelligence. The Libs who voted in favour of the Bill must be spitting nails at this naked insult from their leader.*

But wait, there's more; then it got worse. Parliament, said the PM, should have retained power over this decision because, and I'm fairly sure I quote, 'We are as expert as anybody else.'

The really frightening thing is that I think he truly believes this. All his public life, Howard has been profoundly anti-intellectual in word and deed, and I always thought it was because scholarship in politics, philosophy and history was a threat to his belief system, but the real reason has finally dawned on me. It's that strutting vanity of a certain kind of right-winger, usually a man, who can't bear to think that someone else might be better than he is at anything -- combined with the insecurity of knowing that there are some kinds of knowledge he simply does not have and will never be equipped to acquire. And what it produces is such truly extraordinary conclusions as 'Just because you've studied this subject for decades and written books about it, it doesn't mean you know more about it than I do, so nyerdy nyer.'

This is a common enough right-wing bleat. But you don't expect to hear it from the bloke in charge of the country.

Friday Moggblogging

This cat position is known in my family as 'practising for the Dilly Duck Prize'. I don't think I've ever known what the Dilly Duck Prize was for, but my wild guess would be deportment.

This position is particularly effective when taken up on a mantelpiece, as it allows one to drape one's tail gracefully.


Here's a thing: from the day the century turned until the day before last, I never heard a single other person refer to this century as anything other than 'two thousand and [insert number of relevant year here]'. This year was called 'two thousand and six', the 9/11 year was called 'two thousand and one', future projections were made for 'two thousand and thirty'.

Then, the other day, I heard two completely different people in two completely different contexts say it, erm, differently. One was forecasting figures for 'twenty-ten'. Another was referring to some date last year as 'twenty-oh-five'.

Have there been other sightings? I'm not objecting to it or anything; it seems quite logical. We say 'ten sixty-six', not 'a thousand and sixty-six', after all. But two people in one day, suddenly? Is it a viral thing? Something in the water?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

It just gets worse and worse

From the ABC news website:

However Prime Minister John Howard says he believes control over RU486 should remain in the hands of the Health Minister.

Mr Howard has told Southern Cross radio it is not something he can support .

"My view on this is that in the end, something as significant as this should still be left for political decision making," Mr Howard said.

"I don't hold the view that you should work hard, get into Parliament, cop all the opprobrium when something goes wrong but when it comes to decisions you hand it over to a bureaucrat."

So there you have it. Two inescapable conclusions:

(1) The Prime Minister thinks direct control over other people's bodies and lives is a legitimate reward for hard work.

(2) The Prime Minister holds his own public service and other properly appointed national authorities in contempt and mistrust.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Pollies tally on RU 486

Following Zoe's good example and using the list of addresses she provided, I emailed the MHRs over the weekend about the passing of the Private Members Bill on RU 486 and the TGA.

Here are the replies I have had to date (not including a number of Out of Office Auto-Replies and 'your email has been brought to the attention of X' type replies):

Trish Draper: detailed explanation of position: NO
Julia Irwin: brief personal reply saying 'I support your comments 100%': YES
Kim Wilkie: detailed explanation of position: YES
Rod Sawford: brief personal reply, clear and unequivocal support of Bill (and my own MHR, yay): YES
Lindsay Tanner: clear indication of intention to support Bill: YES
Tony Windsor: courteous, cautious reply about the value of feedback from the electorate: NON-COMMITTAL

So far, so good.

Instant psychoanalysis

I got this lovely 'word cloud' thingy from Quirkie:

Apparently my favourite words, in alphabetical order, are 'Adelaide Australia cat good home like mean movie one Pavlov people story think time.'

I find this reassuring on the whole, though the narcissism implicit in 'Pavlov' is a bit of a worry, and I'm hoping that 'mean' means mean as in signify, not mean as in skinflint or mean as in setting fire to small children.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Lie back and think of Strayya

When I was in Vienna in 1997 I went to the Jewish Museum, which was holding a special exhibition about the Holocaust. In a hallway linking one stage of the exhibition to the next, a number of documents from the Nazi regime had been framed and hung at eye level where the faded typescript on the yellowing paper could be more easily read.

One of these was a report on 'scientific' research into women's fertility, with the stated aim of producing a fertility drug that would ensure that 'every German mother' would conceive twins or even triplets as often as possible, with the aim of reproducing the master race at least twice as fast as before.

For some odd reason this memory surfaced this afternoon when I heard Danna Vale on the car radio, fretting about the prospect of abortion-happy Australians being out-bred by Muslims (since, as everybody knows, Islam is a hereditary condition). Can it be possible that Ms Vale doesn't understand the implications of what she's saying?

Kate has a good post about this truly barking and utterly repellent pronouncement of Ms Vale's at Larvatus Prodeo.

Never mind the truth, what about the profits?

Watch Four Corners tonight and find out more about this.

Still not rid of Grendel's mother after all these years

take the WHAT BAD BOOK ARE YOU test.

and go to not as good as reading a good book, but way better than a bad one.

To ruche or not to ruche

A comments thread developing (being spun?) on the previous post includes the question 'What is ruching?' Ruching (right) is an allegedly decorative effect created in fabric by making gathers in it. It is the coarse cousin of smocking (below), which is cool where ruching is naff. Don't ask me why; it's just one of those things.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Rosaries, ovaries, penis, Jesus: in praise of prosody

In another life as an academic, I frequently fell foul of simple-minded yet well-meaning ideologues (they didn't mean well towards me, of course, but that's another story) who sneeringly decried any attention paid to literary technique or the craft of writing as 'formalism', which they regarded as the demonic half of a simple and oddly Manichean dichotomy. If one paid any attention at all to the aesthetics of any text, literary or other, one was deemed automatically to be not just ignoring but actively denying its function as a carrier of ideology.

This was and is the biggest load of bollocks I've ever heard in my whole life, and that is saying a great deal. It seemed and still does seem obvious to me that understanding the micro-details of the craft of writing gives one far more skill and scope in both the decoding and the production of meaning, including, obviously, its ideological dimension.

And this is why I have joined the ranks of those offended by Senator Kerry Nettle's silly t-shirt. Not because I object in any way to the message, but because 'rosaries' and 'ovaries' is as half-arsed an attempt at rhyme as the original slogan on which I presume it's a variation: 'Get your Jesus off my penis.'

Both of these slogans are pretending to be using rhyme when they're actually not, and in both cases that's the reason why they come across as kind of lame. Three of these words are actually quite hard to find rhymes for, but the fourth is relatively easy: Jesus rhymes with breezes, cheeses, freezes, eases, geezers, pleases, seizes, sneezes, squeezes and teases, and that's just off the top of my head. If you were in Gollumspeak mode you could even rhyme it with 'treeses', a construction for which the Greens might well, at some point, find a use.

'Penis' is more difficult but still possible if one is creative. Conceivably you could rhyme it with, say, 'Uh oh, the headmaster has seen us.'

But 'ovaries' and 'rosaries' don't rhyme with each other or anything else much, although at this point I do feel a competition coming on. I have no prizes to offer -- but can anyone think of full or 'perfect' rhymes for either of these words?

Friday, February 10, 2006

If a cartoon falls in the forest, does anybody laugh?

I had decided to do no blogging on the subject of Those Cartoons, partly because it has all been said and partly because I am in not just two but five or six minds about the whole thing. Freedom of speech good. Bomb-throwing bad. Responsible and intelligent behaviour doubleplusgood.

So I was glad to see that Garry Trudeau, one of the world's greatest cartoonists, is currently having his say on the subject here, where he articulates what is more or less my position much better than I ever could.

From this interview, which includes a link to Trudeau's cartoons on the subject of the Rushdie fatwa in 1989, here are some highlights:

"The Danish editor who started all this actually recruited cartoonists to draw offensive cartoons (some of those he invited declined). And why did he do it? To demonstrate that in a Western liberal society he could. Well, we already knew that. Some victory for freedom of expression. An editor who deliberately sets out to provoke or hurt people because he's worried about "self-censorship" is not an editor I'd care to work for. ...

Just because a society has almost unlimited freedom of expression doesn't mean we should ever stop thinking about its consequences in the real world."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

After taking the cake

Over at Larvatus Prodeo a well-known anti-abortion blogger has posted a link to an article about the death of an American teenager after taking RU-486. There is no gloss but the message of the link is clearly meant to be "someone died after taking it, therefore it should be banned". The flaw in logic here is obvious, since there's no necessary 'therefore' about it, and most of the rest of the commenters on the thread make the point that if one's concern about RU-486 really is its safety, then the control of the drug by the TGA ought to be supported rather than opposed.

The link, in the ninth comment on this thread, is titled 'Teen dies after abortion drug'.

If one were to take the implied logic of this post to its logical conclusion, think what could come of such headlines as the following:

Patient dies after taking cancer treatment

Infant dies after taking polio drops

Man dies after taking Viagra

Man dies after taking part in 100m race

Boy dies after taking ride at Disney World

Motorcyclist dies after taking sharp turn

Teenager dies after taking mother’s car

Ban them! Ban them all!

Monday, February 06, 2006

True confessions

And it's a shocking one: insofar as one is stuck with the politicians one has, within the party that one must suffer to be in power, I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Amanda Vanstone.

No, no, stay with me. If they're accurate, and one assumes they are, the figures in this piece by the Age's Andra Jackson this morning speak for themselves:

"Ms Rau's ordeal prompted a department audit that uncovered more than 200 cases of possible mistaken detention, including the wrongful deportation of Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez Solon. The Palmer inquiry into Ms Rau's treatment found a departmental culture characterised by secrecy and denial, and recommended greater scrutiny and openness.

In the Rau case fallout, besieged Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone promised a departmental overhaul.

Children and families were released. Numbers in detention centres dropped dramatically as the issuing of temporary protection visas expanded. This time last year there were 1445 detainees in Australia; now there are 768.

A controversial special visa category was created for long-term stateless detainees.

The department's information and database systems were reprogrammed to streamline tracking across its divisions. Measures were adopted to check identities with federal and state police missing persons' lists.

A mental health assessment is now conducted as soon as a detain is taken in. A psychologist is on hand at all detention centres."

Yes, there are still problems. Yes, her hand was forced. But you've got to admit it's all a lot better than it was, in a relatively short time and in spite of the escalating tensions about the durn furriners.'s Christian Kerr, who used to work for Vanstone, occasionally gives us hair-raising glimpses of what he saw. But I kind of like her anyway. Whatever her failings may be, she is one tough sheila with lots of chutzpah, she doesn't take any nonsense from anybody, she's a survivor, and she's funny, if you like that kind of thing.

But what sticks most in the memory is a radio interview I heard with her one day a few summers ago. She was on holidays and could have fobbed the radio station off, but she didn't. She was relaxed and off the chain, talking about feminism in such a way as to indicate that she knows a hell of a lot about it and that her beliefs and choices in public life, at least as far as women's issues are concerned, have been firmly underpinned by feminist principles.

Best of all, she was talking not in airbrushed soundbites of one syllable, but like the best kind of lucid, user-friendly intellectual. And while not even her worst enemies would ever call Vanstone stupid, the depth and breadth of her intellect and her grasp of what was at stake in feminism was a revelation. Given that the Libs are in power and look as if they're going to stay there forever, I'm quite glad she's one of them.