Friday, March 30, 2007

Overheard at random in the crowd at Adelaide's Central Market, Friday 6:04-6:07 pm

'You mean you were, like, sort of happy but sad.'

'... and we're launching the new series on Monday.'

'I mean, she's been very good to you.'

'Don't be rude, Vanya.'

I love the market -- lots of tiny little windows, open for just a heartbeat, onto other people's lives.

My takeaway barbecue pork buns rocked, too.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What a surprise

Pure Nerd

82 % Nerd, 26% Geek, 13% Dork

Thanks Again! -- THE NERD? GEEK? OR DORK? TEST

Link: The Nerd? Geek? or Dork? Test written by donathos on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Faster than a speeding bullet

From Henry Thornton in today's Crikey newsletter:

" ... elite athletes who failed a drug test have had Olympic gold medals taken from them. This case is different, the players concerned having supposedly not failed a test (but then, how would we know under the AFL's "three strikes" policy?)

But in this case we have the testimony of the club itself. West Coast won the 2006 AFL grand final by one point. In the light of recent revelations, can they be rightly regarded as a fair winner?"

I bet the Sydney Swans have been asking themselves that for a while now. Then again, given the 'three strikes' policy, there's no guarantee all the Swans were clean, either.

The uses of the blogosphere

That very badly argued* article about blogging in last Monday's Australian, which they syndicated from The Sunday Times and saw fit to run on Page 3 on a day when there was all sorts of actual news happening both at home and abroad, got picked up by Virginia Trioli on Sydney radio on Tuesday morning, whence it spread to a sort of meta-discussion in the blogosphere.

We were treated to the extraordinary sight of Tim Blair's and the Larvatus Prodeo Collective's hearts beating as one, regarding the silliness of all concerned in the greatly exaggerated reports of blogging's death.

(It still bemuses me that people's willingness to bang on negatively about blogging increases in direct inverse proportion to their knowledge of it. I am far more inclined to listen to, say, former blogger Weathergirl, who when last heard of -- by me, I mean -- had decided that blogging was bad for you and served no real useful purpose. I was prepared to take this seriously because Weathergirl had been an active blogger for quite a while and knew whereof she spoke.)

The ensuing discussion at LP about the nature and uses of blogging got me thinking that, say, the medical profession -- just to use one example of blogging's potential -- should be trawling the blogosphere every spare chance it gets. There are squillions of personal blogs devoted to various bodily ills -- cancer, infertility, horrible degenerative neurological things like poor Brainhell's ailment -- and many of them are written by highly articulate, intelligent and well-informed bloggers like Twisty and Lymphopo in the States, and closer to home, Stephanie at Humanities Researcher and Meredith at Marrickvillia.

If I were a medical researcher I would be looking very closely at such bloggers' gripping narratives and descriptions of their own personal, detailed, daily experiences with disease over time, and correlating data in as much detail as I could. I don't think people in general have even started to realise the potential worth and usefulness of blogging yet.

*The article's main 'argument' is that there are a lot of abandoned blogs littering up cyberspace, therefore blogging qua blogging must be 'a failure' and 'dead'. You might just as well argue that the literary novel is a stupid fad because there are so many unfinished and abandoned fiction manuscripts hidden at the backs of wardrobes all over the world. And that's only if you accept in the first place the idea of a blog as a product or a commodity, whereas it's actually a process designed for interactivity rather than for passive consumption. 'Blog' is short for 'weblog' and a log is a diary or daily record, ephemera almost by definition and never designed either for permanence or for judgement.

The people who trash blogs for being trash are applying standards that don't apply. It's like dissing a dog for not being a cat.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Oxymoron of the week

"Choc Chip Hot Cross Buns"

Jill Filipovic and the Googlebomb

Once upon a time there was a woman called Jill Filipovic, a young American law student and feminist blogger.

Jill Filipovic was beginning to make her name as a writer and blogger at Feministe when she came to the notice of a Neanderthal gaggle of male fellow-students.

The sad story of what then happened to Jill Filipovic is told here at Larvatus Prodeo by Tigtog, along with the much happier story of how the name Jill Filipovic, when Googled, began to turn up accurate and respectable results instead of the swampoid sleaze that said Neanderthals had been posting and linking about Jill Filipovic and others.

And for those not yet acquainted with the concept of the Googlebomb, Tigtog's post will explain why I have repeated Jill Filipovic's name umpty squillion times in the last four paragraphs.

Feel free to join in.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ecosystematic: what goes around ... and around ... and around ...

Ever since I realised how many blackbirds, honey-eaters and pigeons make nests in the yard and garden every year, I've been taking the lint from the clothes-dryer filter and leaving hanks of it draped around on branches and bushes instead of throwing it away.

I always feel a bit mad doing this, and it makes the garden look extremely strange. But then in late summer when I haven't used the dryer for months and am cutting back the overgrowth, or in midwinter when I'm doing the pruning proper, it always makes me glad that I did it whenever I come across yet another one of these from the last nesting season, the way I did today:

'Gaston Bachelard, writing about nests in The Poetics of Space, quotes from Jules Michelet's L'Oiseau (1858): "There is not one of these blades of grass that, in order to make it curve and hold the curve, has not been pressed on countless times by the bird's breast, its heart."

... Although Bachelard writes about the naive wonder we feel when discovering a nest, I disagree when he suggests that a living, useful nest is valid to our set of images and metaphors associated with nests but that the empty, abandoned nest is nothing. ... The delicate structure; the natural, dulled colour of the materials; the shaping; the accidental debris, the memory only, of seasonal usefulness; the architecture, the shaping of the space but not the space itself in Bachelard's philosophical terms -- the beauty that literally takes my breath away sometimes -- have nothing to do with images of home, warmth, security, refuge ...'

-- Gay Bilson, Plenty: Digressions on food

Better, if not bigger, than Ben Hur

Did anyone see K. O'Brien and K. Rudd on The 7.30 Report just then?

They were both at the top of their respective games, and they are conversationally really good for each other. O'Brien asked tough questions without spin or bullying; Rudd answered them all directly. Each was doing his life's work and doing it flawlessly. It was a meeting of minds in overdrive. As Gregory House would say, it was a beautiful thing.

I'm neither Kruddy's nor Red Kerry's biggest fan, but I have to admit they were both fabulous. Rudd's wonderfully articulate responses alone would have got me sucked in even without the obvious ease with which he was all over everything he was asked about, to say nothing of his obvious comfort in the interrogee's chair in front of the camera.

Given the shocking things that have been done to the ABC over the last few years, one forgets that in spite of it they can still turn on that kind of quality. It made me so happy I'm going to have another glass of wine.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Pardon my French

Over at Larvatus Prodeo last night, regular commenter Nabakov used the expression l'esprit de l'escalier and I was vividly reminded, as I always am whenever anyone says this, of the first time I ever heard it. I was deeply puzzled. '"The spirit of the ladder"? I said. 'What on earth is "the spirit of the ladder"?'

'It's the wit of the staircase, you dope.'

'Oh. Um ... I still don't get it.'

'It's the really witty thing that you only think of to say after you've left and are halfway down the stairs. The thing you wish you'd said but didn't think of till it was too late.'

I'd always thought there had to be a name for that. I might have known it would be in another language and not immediately obvious to a citizen of a country where housing sprawls laterally and most of us don't live upstairs. Even then, it's the kind of metaphor that goes straight to the emotional core of the experience. Idioms get to be idioms for the same reason that clichés get to be clichés. They're a kind of nail in the heart.

Coincidentally, the poetics of idiomatic French were brought to my attention again this morning when I read an overnight email from my insomniacal and generous-handed friend R, currently working in Geneva and collecting new and useful examples of idiomatic French: 'I have "dormir avec les deux oreilles" - to sleep like a log, and "faire la folie, " to splurge. So far my interest groups are being covered.'

The literal (more or less) translations are 'to sleep with both ears' and 'to make the craziness', neither of which needs further explanation. But whenever I look at things like this I'm reminded of the most enchanting French phrase I've ever come across, and one of the great quests of my life: a line from a Jacques Brel song that I first heard on Judy Collins' album Wildflowers when I was seventeen.

Deep in swotting for Matric French at the time, I could hear everything she sang in La chanson dex vieux amants, the song of the old lovers, except just the one line that seemed to make no sense no matter what I "heard" it as. Maybe I would have got it if I'd been older, but at seventeen you can't imagine the particular kind of world-weariness this song conjures up, the kind where lovers have been through vingt ans d'amour, twenty years not just of love but of being lovers.

And somehow the French model of love wherein one has adventures instead of settling down, and then spends one's old age reading old letters and looking at faded photos, found its way into my grey matter (actually I don't think brains had much to do with it) and never went away.

La chanson des vieux amants is full of haunting, bittersweet feeling and images of great beauty and weirdness. The third verse, where the mystery phrase occurs, is all about how you feel after twenty years of what love does to you: how you feel and the things you've learned, and how you feel about the things you've learned.

I hunted high and low, albeit intermittently, for many years to find the written-down French lyrics -- we're talking pre-Google here -- so I could see what words Judy Collins was actually singing, and finally tracked it down in a good big French-English English-French dictionary with an emphasis on the idiomatic. It was 'le fil de l'eau' -- 'the thread of the water' -- which though very beautiful still didn't seem to make a lot of sense.

But it means the current. Dangerous, secret and strong. On se méfie du fil de l'eau, one is wary of the current.

Too right one is.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Rudd held responsible for smallpox, illiteracy, drought, rise of Nazism and lots of other icky stuff we don't know about yet

Undeterred by the flood of public disgust that followed his disgraceful smear of Kevin Rudd last week (and there's a beautiful response today in the SMH by Richard Walsh), Tony "Swiftboat" Abbott has just this minute appeared on the ABC TV news sniggering and smirking about the fact that Queensland failed to get fluoride organised into its water supply while Kevin Rudd was, well, you know, living there. Quinceland full of rotten teeth? Well, we all know who to blame for that.

Given his slurs on Rudd's family and memories, one wonders what Abbott would say of poet Les Murray, whose mother died -- Murray, too, was still only a child -- when the doctor refused to send the ambulance to their dairy farm in time because Murray's father couldn't bring himself to use words like 'haemorrhage' and 'miscarriage' to another man on the phone and had only his anguish, whch wasn't enough, to help him convey the urgency of the situation. Would Abbott say 'Well, there you go, typical dirt-farmer and it was his own fault'? Quite possibly, if Murray got in his way.

Either Abbott doesn't read the Letters to the Editor or he is obsessively staying on-message -- and the same goes for Christopher Pearson, who backed up Abbott in today's Australian. Pearson's version was more temperate and skilful (except of course the shocking, for him, use of the popular misquotation 'gild the lily': it's paint the lily, CP, and I can't believe you didn't know that). The headline was less grotesquely offensive, and less attempt was made in it to disguise the smear as an argument that all smearing should end -- but the net effect was to bolster and reinforce Abbott's suggestion (and this from a Riverview boy; quantum potes, tantum aude, indeed -- audacity is right) that a man who grew up the hard way really didn't have as hard a time of it as he says he did, and even if he did, well, it was his father's own fault. Wasn't it.

Now I'm not a huge supporter of Rudd myself, though his statements and behaviour don't appal me in anything like the way Mark Latham's always did. Rudd is too conservative for me in a number of respects, and considering the implosion of his predecessor-but-one, the arrogance is a worry as well. Anyone would think these people had never heard of hubris, the way they carry on. Rudd may well have mentally rubbed his hands in glee at the prospect of messing with Ratty's mind, but to say so in public was probably a tactical blue and may yet prove to be the equivalent of the Handshake of Doom.

But the idea that Rudd's father's tragic early death and the family's subsequent hardship is fair game in the electioneering stakes is one that only a fellow politician would be sufficiently deluded to entertain. The voters have dads, and the dads aren't perfect. (The dads are also voters.) I'm astonished -- for neither Abbott nor Pearson is by any means a stupid man -- that they haven't got the message that Joe Public despises this kind of thing, and backed off sharpish.

But then, given the effect it's having, why ever would one want them to? From the Letters section of the SMH's website:

'SOME politicians rate pretty highly - on the irritation meter - and Tony Abbott took the No. 1 ranking this week for his piece on Kevin Rudd's background. Deluged, bombarded and overwhelmed would be inadequate to describe the response. And the letters were not short on fruity language. Some of the more publishable included Brendan Rogan's: "Well done, Tony, your latest attack is a new PB in gutter politics." David Marks: "Under Howard and his attack dogs the party has become nothing more than the slime on the gutter of politics." Maureen Chuck: "I don't recall the Opposition trying to make political gain on your rather awkward personal situation in 2004." Gordon and Marie Rowland: "For sheer hypocrisy, Tony Abbott's pontification about 'slippery' Kevin Rudd takes some beating." Colin Kennedy: "If he devoted half as much of his time, spleen and knuckle-headed determination to his own taxpayer-funded day job instead of to his apparently full-time gig of attempting to drag good men down to his own subterranean moral universe, we'd probably have a cure for cancer by now."'

Les Murray, on the subject of making light of a parent's tragic rural death, is kinder:

Perhaps we were wrong
to make a scapegoat out of you;
perhaps there was no stain
of class in your decision,

no view that two framed degrees
outweighed a dairy.
It's nothing, dear:
Just some excited hillbilly -

Friday, March 16, 2007

Time for a meme

Now that the Miles Franklin longlist has been announced, Peter Debnam has all but conceded the NSW election, and Senator Santo Santoro has, astonishingly, resigned after the double-backhanded shares/donations/God-botherin' wimmin-hatin' scam, it's time (as Ampersand Duck would say) to Remember to Breathe.

So I have asked Suse at Pea Soup to give me a letter for the Scrabble meme, and she has given me an E; the rules are that you have to write a list of beautiful things that you like and that begin with the letter that has been allocated to you. But that is quite hard and needs to be thought about, so while I'm thinking about it, here's another one instead, one with only two questions.

(And thanks to Fyodor the Blogless for the suggestion.)

You are one of the people at the end of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and you have elected to memorise a book, to save it for posterity. Which book, among all others, would you choose?

And -- no abstaining allowed, either, so let's say you have to throw one book on the fire in order to be allowed to memorise another one -- which book would you burn?

Feel free to explain yourself, if you wish. Or not. Whatever blows your hair back, as my friend Leonie would say.

For me it would depend on what day it was, but today I'd burn, oh, say, Men are From the Planet of the Apes (and Women are From Toorak Road) or whatever the hell it's called, so I could earn the right to memorise The Tempest. 'Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises / Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.'

Full fathom five thy father lies
Of his bones are corals made
Those are pearls that were his eyes
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Hark, now I hear them
Hark, now I hear them
Ding dong bell

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Miles Franklin: isn't this an awfully short longlist?

Only eight books (compared to last year's twelve) have made the cut this year onto the Miles Franklin Literary Award longlist, announced today. They are

Peter Carey: Theft: A Love Story
John Charalambous: Silent Parts
Richard Flanagan: The Unknown Terrorist
Sandra Hall: Beyond The Break
Gail Jones: Dreams Of Speaking
Kate Legge: The Unexpected Elements Of Love
Deborah Robertson: Careless
Alexis Wright: Carpentaria

To my mind the most arresting thing about this list is that it doesn't include former winner Andrew McGahan's Underground, a funny, angry dystopia about Australia in the near future. I thought it was a good book within the parmeters of its generic aspirations (or, as a Margaret Drabble character with curly red hair, high cheekbones and big eyes says somewhere, probably in The Gates of Ivory, 'I was a great beauty, in my genre'); maybe not the kind of book that actually wins major fiction prizes, but I'm very surprised not to see it even on the longlist.

And if Peter Carey wins for Theft, the game's crook.

UPDATE, 16/3: Carpentaria, Careless and Theft: A Love Story were all on the shortlist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize Regional Best Book Award but were beaten to it today by New Zealander Lloyd Jones, who has a number of substantial novels to his credit and has had lots of good press for the novel he won this prize with, Mr Pip, reviewed here. (NB that shocking grammatical error in the third to last paragraph was introduced by a sub-editor. Just so you know.)

'Tell it the wrong way and you won't be back'

Even if you don't read anything else today, read this.

Then remember that David Hicks, wherever he has been, whatever he was doing there, no matter how repugnant his beliefs, if he has any left, may be, is doing time for a crime that wasn't a crime at the time.

A futuristic dystopia based on this fact might begin with a scene in which an ordinary character -- you, say -- is walking down an ordinary street in [insert name of Australian city here], chatting on her mobile phone. A year later we are mid-world-war and chatting on your phone in public has been criminalised, along security-breach and bomb-detonating lines.

And there's footage of it. There you are in the Channel 9 archives, tootling along the footpath in the background, phone to ear, as Kylie gets out of her limo.

You're stuffed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Santoro's "charity" of choice: 'to counter feminism, defend the unborn and the traditional family'

As investigated and reported by Radio National's The World Today this afternoon, Senator Santo Santoro's idea of what constitutes a 'charity' is a bit looser than the one most of us have.

Sprung owning shares that put him squarely in the centre of a conflict of interest, given his portfolio as Minister for Ageing, Santoro claimed that he had donated the profits to 'charity' after selling shares that he should have been sacked for holding at all. But, as (unlike Senator Ian Campbell) he wasn't getting in the way of any Prime Ministerial attempts to smear the Leader of the Opposition, it hasn't been deemed necessary to remove him.

The 'charity' in question turns out to be something called the Family Council of Queensland, which, far from being a registered charity, is actually a conservative lobby group: a loose affiliation of mainly Christian groups with policies their president describes as 'pro-family' -- a term recognised by people on both sides of the debate as a dog-whistle/euphemism for 'anti-progressive in general and anti-women's rights in particular'.

While the above ABC link quotes the president's examples of 'pro-family' policies as being anti-child abuse and anti-pornography, a look at their website and those of the different organisations that belong shows that other policies include anti-abortion, anti-stem cell research, anti-contraception, and open, hostile anti-feminism. (Though you have to wonder what they think 'feminism' is.)

They have no interest in actually helping people in need; they seem 'pro-family' chiefly in the literal sense of wanting to produce more and bigger families, via the enforced compliance of traditional baby-making machines, also known as "women".

At least one of the bodies that form this Family Council is somewhere on the nutso side of truly barking. The Festival of Light is a member, but the Festival of Light looks sober and rational next to this mob here.

One wonders just how much money Senator Santoro got for his shares, and what the Family Council of Queensland plans to do with it. In the meantime, this sequence of events is being held up as an example of the Ministerial Code of Conduct at work.

Make them laugh till their knickers fall down

Sophie Cunningham had a terrific article in The Age over the weekend about sex, love and partnership, and one of the things she talks about there is the ridiculous equation in public/popular culture of sexiness with (in particular) skinniness and/or buffness.

Now, as I'm a rather traditionally built lady myself, the Mandy Rice-Davies argument ('Well, she would say that, wouldn't she?') might be said to apply, but my thinking here is actually to do with various well-padded blokes. Who among us would deny that Robbie Coltrane is sexy? Gerard Depardieu? John Howard the-actor-not-the-politician? Well, who with any brains, anyway. Who with any heart.

It's not about the voyeuristic, one-way effect of the still photograph; it's about the vitality and humanness and connective spark of the way that people talk and move and -- most of all -- interact. Which is, after all, what sex is supposed to be about, rather than onanistic drooling over a photo of some C-list celebrity's lumpy, surgically enhanced bazoombas.

It's not all good, of course; I've just been reading a novel in which the wife of a corpulent but enthusiastic husband says that having sex with him is like having the wardrobe fall on top of her, and I'm sure many a partner of many a porker will recognise the feeling. But as Sophie correctly points out, part of the appeal of the above-named and many other well-upholstered chaps is that they're funny:

'As Hollywood actor Will Smith put it, somewhat inelegantly, in Britain's Empire magazine: "Comedy is better than muscles, better than money, better than looks. It's like if you can make a girl laugh out loud, you're in. It's almost like the pressure of the laugh makes her underwear fall off."'

Can he be serious?

In The Age this morning, the Prime Minister responds with more aggression and spin to the latest polls showing that Australians are sick to death of aggression and spin:

'PRIME Minister John Howard has vowed to launch a more aggressive attack on Labor's economic credentials in a bid to secure his fifth term in office, conceding he cannot ignore the Government's poll slump.

After yesterday's ACNielsen/ Age poll found Labor had surged to a 61 versus 39 per cent two-party lead over the Coalition, Mr Howard acknowledged the difficulties facing his Government.

"I can't ignore the fact that we have had quite a series of bad polls over the past few months and I ask myself: why is it that the polls are so bad for the Government at present?" he said on a two-day official visit to Japan.

"I think one of the reasons … is that the Labor Party has successfully created the impression that … the economy runs on autopilot and it's got nothing to do with good governance. That, of course, could not be further from the truth."'

Shorter John Howard: 'Hmmm, a vicious, unsubstantiated attack didn't work ... I know! I'll try a vicious, unsubstantiated attack!'

Is he really so deep in denial that he can't see that the answer to the question he asked himself has nothing to do with the economy and everything to do with his own behaviour? That the spinning, lying and muckraking which apparently make up about three-quarters of Australian political life have finally begun to repel 'the Australian people'?

But it's part of the subculture of politics, as the title of Graham Richardson's Whatever It Takes a few years ago made repulsively clear. And beyond politics you see the same pattern in every corner of life: people inside any subculture -- not just politics, but any distinct social group -- refer everything back to its often unspoken rules, within which their behaviour seems to them to be perfectly normal. They act accordingly, and are then very startled when the big world crashes in, in the shape of the bank, the AFL tribunal, the defamation laws, the police or the opinion polls.

It's the same reason why the 14-year-old girl in hospital over the summer with serious injuries from a crash on her illegal jet ski said confidently to camera 'Oh yes, I'll do it again. Everybody breaks the law -- it doesn't matter.' It's the same reason why I have become, to my horror, much more of a potty-mouth than I was before I took up blogging. It's the same reason why so many footballers went feral over the summer. And it's basically the same reason why the Prime Minister appears unable to see, even now, what's sitting right under his nose.

Monday, March 12, 2007

New prize on the horizon (with the inevitable segue to Patrick White)

Susan Wyndham at Undercover has some advance knowledge of a new Australian literary prize to be announced at the end of this month.

If it's as lucrative as the Miles Franklin and its terms 'are likely to be inspiring to some but also controversial', then it should get a lot of press when the official announcement is made on March 31. What the 'controversial terms' part suggests to me is that the prize may favour a particular demographic. The young? The female? The gay or lesbian? The *gasps, makes sign of cross* multicultural?

If that's the case, here in the land of literary hoaxes, such a substantial offering will no doubt attract people out to make some sort of point. I know other countries have literary hoaxes too, but it seems to me that what with Ern Malley, Gwen Harwood, Helen Demidenko, Paul Radley, Wanda Koolmatrie, Wraith Picket and that's just off the top of my head, we are punching well above our weight.

I've been on a few judging panels for literary prizes over the last decade or two, and in that capacity have kept an increasingly jaded and suspicious eye out for anything that looks as though it could be a hoax. Most of these things are perpetrated by people out to either get around the terms of the prize in order to (a) win it (Paul Radley's uncle wrote the book he won the Vogel with), (b) fight skirmishes in ideological/aesthetic flame wars (Ern Malley), or (c) (closely related to (b)) make various ideological/political points (Demidenko, Koolmatrie, Harwood, Picket. Spot the real person in that list).

The 'Gotcha!' impulse behind this kind of thing has always struck me as a bit of a double-edged sword. If the motivations of the people behind the Wraith Picket/Patrick White hoax (and I still think that if they were going with anagrams then they should have called him Keith Crapwit) had been different, they could have spun that puppy 180 degrees and said 'Look: no fewer than twelve literary experts have said this guy isn't any good. Perhaps it's time to re-evaluate him. Perhaps his work was mediocre all along.'

Not that I would ever claim such a thing myself, believing as I do that literary value is not absolute, and belonging as I do to the generation for whom Patrick White's work was a major formative experience, for whom his literary gifts are self-evident, and for whom his ideological freight was and is a great deal less simple and more radical than was claimed in Simon During's correct-line little book. But it's something that they could, if they'd been on the other side of the culture wars, have very easily done.

As it is, the conservative hoaxers seem to have shot themselves in the foot. What they wanted was to cause further damage to all those naughty lefties who are trying to destroy "our" heritage by not teaching Australian literature in "our" universities. (Which is, of course, factually quite wrong, as with the claims from other conservative culture warriors that "the feminists" have been silent on the subject of repellent fundamentalist-Islamic practices and beliefs regarding women. When in doubt, make stuff up.)

What they have created instead, quite unintentionally I'm sure, is a new upsurge of interest in White himself: there's now a blog devoted specifically to an online Patrick White reading group, an upcoming conference devoted specifically to his work and reputation, and an all-day event at the National Library, where Friday March 30th will be Patrick White Day.

But creating this new wave of interest in a writer who was an acknowledged homosexual and whose work introduced the country's fiction readers to new ways of thinking about Aborginal Australia, about class relations, about multicultural issues long before that was what they were called, and about autonomous, unforgettable female characters at the centre of a story (Theodora Goodman, Laura Trevelyan, Elizabeth Hunter, Ellen Roxburgh ... the list goes on) may not have been quite what the conservative elements had in mind when they set out to humiliate the contemporary literary left and score points in the culture wars.

Cross-posted at A Fugitive Phenomenon.

Friday, March 09, 2007

In a Pollyanna moment ...

... I have, yet again, attempted to jump-start my litblog A Fugitive Phenomenon, which was dying a slow ugly death from neglect. Its name, orginally a quotation from an essay by Nicholas Jose that was published in Australian Book Review in (I think) November 2005 to describe 'Australian literature' as such, has become even more gnomic since I turned it into a blog about literature generally, rather than just Aust Lit.

Anyway, for those who just want to read about books and writing without having to wade through the tomatoes and the cats and the feminist cultural analysis and so forth, that's the place to go.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A must-read

In case, like me, you missed it at the time, Aussie Bob had a brilliant bit of media analysis up yesterday morning about the weekend's events in politics, the responses to the events in the polls, and the responses to the polls in the papers, directing us to a piece by Paul Kelly:

'It’s titled “No evidence to put Rudd in the doghouse”, and then goes on to tell us Rudd’s in the doghouse, based on the amazing logic that because Paul Kelly has to tell us Rudd’s not in the doghouse, this means that Rudd is in the doghouse!

... While assuring us Rudd did nothing wrong, Kelly then proceeds to tells us just why Rudd’s character is compromised anyway: basically because the likes of Paul Kelly have to explain why it’s not.

Totally circular logic. You figure it out.

... I wonder if they realise just how out of step they really are with public opinion? Public opinion was expressed in the latest Newspoll.

... If Rudd had tanked, we’d be reading how “the public has spoken”. We’d be reading about his “demise”. They’d be crowing from the rooftops.

But because the numbers for Labor actually went up, we’re being treated to the unedifying spectacle of pundits everywhere spinning the result.'

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Not-at-all-Dolce (& Gabbana)

"We were looking to recreate a game of seduction in the campaign and highlight the beauty of our collections," the designers said.

So here's a question: if they think this image conveys a 'game' about 'seduction' and 'beauty', what sort of image would they have come up with to illustrate an actual gang rape?

Today's Crikey highlight

Under Comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ckups, journalist Diana Simmonds writes:

'While a powerful earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra yesterday in Australia, a poll was said to be indicating a softening in public attitudes towards what the Howard government sees as the inevitability of nuclear power stations being built across this country. As the Indonesians are struggling to cope with extensive damage, the deaths of more than 70 people and hospitals struggling to cope with scores of injured, it's worth remembering that the epicentre of the quake (6.3 on the Richter scale) and its aftershocks, which were felt hundreds of kilometres away in Singapore and Malaysia, is also the region where, more than a decade ago, the then Indonesian government planned to build a string of up to 17 nuclear power stations. It wasn't late onset good sense that stopped the scheme, merely a lack of money.'

Monday, March 05, 2007

The inner typing-spelling-and-usage Nazi can take no more

My right hand, arm, elbow and shoulder are all telling me that over the weekend I spent too much time reading too much of too many blogs. Which may be the reason -- that over-exposure -- why I feel compelled to offer the latest instalment of this occasional series.

1) HYPOCRISY is not spelled HYPOCRACY. It has nothing to do with democracy, aristocracy, meritocracy or any other ocracy.

2) LOSE, which rhymes with 'shoes', is a verb and is spelled like that, whereas LOOSE, which rhymes with 'goose', 'moose' and 'papoose', is an adjective denoting an absence of tightness, and has nothing to do (necessarily) with things that are lost.

3) SPEECH is not spelled SPEACH, even though it is about speaking.

4) PUBLICLY is not spelled PUBLICALLY because there is no such word as PUBLICAL. The converse is true of ACCIDENTALLY.

5) REIN and REIGN do not meant the same thing. The one with the G is about monarchs, and the one without is about horses.

6) The expression is "HOME in on", as in homing pigeons, not HONE, which is the thing one does to a knife to sharpen it. (Or to one's language skills to improve them.)

7) The word FLUORESCENT, pronounced flu--or--ESS--nt, has everything to do with fluoride and nothing to do with flour.

Thank you for your time.

Those were the days

Eleanor Hall interviews P. J. Keating on The World Today, erm, today, about the Brian Burke beat-up:

'PAUL KEATING: Oh, look, it's just Howard being Howard, isn't it, you know. The little desiccated coconut's under pressure and he's attacking anything he can get his hands on.

You know, I mean, look, Brian Burke and Julian Grill, they're the Arthur Daley and Terry of the Western Australian Labor Party, you know. They're like the wallpaper over there. You can't visit Perth without running into them ...

Look, look, Kevin has done something, he's met Brian Burke. But I'll tell you what he hasn't done - he hasn't lied to his nation about reasons for committing Australia to a non-UN sponsored invasion and war. He hasn't turned his head from the plight of a boat full of wretched individuals looking for shelter, and then adding insult to injury by saying they threw their kids overboard first, you know. And he hasn't prostituted the UN Oil-for-Food program by falsely declaring that Australia's wheat shipments were not ultra vires of the UN guidelines.

...I mean, look, you know, Howard has, you know, lied to the country about the reasons for going to war, going to war for God's sake, and now he wants us to believe it's a major problem if Kevin Rudd meets Brian Burke, you know, Brian who?

ELEANOR HALL: What did you think of Peter Costello's performance in the parliament, though, when he raised this?

PAUL KEATING: Well, the thing about poor old Costello, he's all tip and no iceberg ... he can throw a punch across the parliament, but the bloke he should be throwing the punch to is Howard. Of course, he doesn't have the ticker for it.

Now, he's now been treasurer for 11 years, the old coconut's still sitting there, Araldited to the seat ...

ELEANOR HALL: Has the Government, though, now taken the high moral ground with this by removing Minister Campbell?

PAUL KEATING: Look, for John Howard to get to any high moral ground he would have to first climb out of the volcanic hole he's dug for himself over the last decade. You know, it's like one of those deep diamond-mine holes in South Africa, you know, they're about a mile underground. He'd have to come a mile up to get to even equilibrium, let alone have any contest in morality with Kevin Rudd.

Now, my advice to Kevin is to move on, let Mr Howard, you know, he'd ... you can always tell when he's twitchy, the old shoulder starts going, and I notice on the TV lately the shoulder's going. He's in trouble.'


I miss him.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Let her eat cake

This cake, whose name is Dotted Swiss Dream and upon which you must imagine some lit candles fetchingly deployed among the marzipan roses, is for ThirdCat -- who has given me an excuse to write about the book from which it's taken, which is one of my all-time favourite books on the entire planet.

The recipe for Dotted Swiss Dream takes up three pages and involves some really majer esoterica, like wooden supports, framboise, non-bendable plastic drinking straws and something called Lemon Curd Mousseline, which is, says Ms Beranbaum, 'a thrilling buttercream to prepare because it starts off looking thin and lumpy and, about three-quarters of the way through, starts to emulsify into a luxurious cream.'

You can tell this woman is a professional cook from the way she is able to use the words 'thrilling' and 'emulsify' in the same sentence.

Copyright laws forbid me to give the recipe here for her Gingerbread cake, but let me just say that it contains golden syrup, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and marmalade, and that the method by which it is rendered sticky, moist and immortal is that you bake it first and then brush or baste it while it's still hot with a syrup made out of sugar, unsalted butter and lemon juice and then wrap it in Glad-Wrap till it's cool.

My personal variation, ginger and lime being so elegant a couple, is to use lime juice in the syrup instead of lemon. It tastes even better if you grew the limes yourself.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

One foot on the ground

Here's the first verse and chorus of 'Fidelity', a song from last year by the very hawt and very gifted Regina Spektor:

I never loved nobody fully
Always one foot on the ground
And by protecting my heart truly
I got lost in the sounds
I hear in my mind
All these voices
I hear in my mind all these words
I hear in my mind all this music

And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
It breaks my heart

Heard this on the radio today, driving down out of the Adelaide Hills in a hot late afternoon, and I wondered (as you do), could I say that? I mean, Spektor is all of 27 and she would think such caution a bad thing, and she still has lots of time. But did I ever take both feet off the ground?

Once. Just once.

And it broke my heart, and it broke my heart ... actually, it permanently derailed my life and nearly killed me. So listen to Auntie carefully, Grasshoppers: keep one foot on the ground. You heard it here.

Every move you make

Hard on the heels of the disgraceful banning of Dr Philip Nitschke and Dr Fiona Stewart's The Peaceful Pill Handbook in the early hours of last Sunday morning -- after Philip Ruddock, in cahoots with the Right to Lifers, had successfully managed to get the original December 2006 classification reviewed and overturned in short order -- comes this new bit of über-regulation from the Feds, as reported by Margaret Simons in today's Crikey bulletin:

'The infamous Big Brother turkey slapping incident may be about to lead to a turkey of another kind – unprecedented censorship of Australian books, magazines and other media material of all kinds.

The Government plans to pass legislation in the autumn session aimed at regulating all content – including text and still images – using the film classification system as the standard.

Crikey understands that publishers would have to submit for classification all material to be delivered electronically – including book and magazine content. Any content that gained an MA or R classification would have be subject to an approved age restricted access system.

... the Government Bulletin of proposed legislation states that the Communications Legislation Amendment (Content Services) Bill would "reform the regulatory structures for non-broadcasting communications content to ensure that existing policy principles for the regulation of content are consistently applied to these new audio-visual services".

The wording suggests the law is aimed at providers of mobile telephone and internet content – and that nobody has thought through the implications for book and magazine publishers who also deliver content online.'

I wonder in passing what the implictions are for blogging, but never mind that; this has far wider and more immediate implications. If most of the Right -- even the smart ones -- didn't hold literature, the history of literature and, most of all, the study of the history of literature in complete contempt, they might understand that the words 'Fahrenheit 451' have some resonance here.

So excuse me while I go and start memorising my chosen book before they burn it. I bags Jane Eyre: 'There was no possibility of writing a blog post taking a walk that day ...'

UPDATE, MARCH 2: Dr Fiona Stewart makes a similar point in today's Crikey's 'Comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ckups' section:

'Dr Fiona Stewart writes: Re. "Publish and be censored: Coonan moves to regulate everything you see and read" (yesterday, item 1). Crikey runs Coonan as No. 1, but in the same breath seems to have missed the banning of my book on voluntary euthanasia, The Peaceful Pill Handbook? It's all the same brush, guys, what's happening? We're swamped with angry Australians who a) can't believe a book banning has happened and b) want to order the PPH – still – and can't comprehend the fact that Ruddock and Right to Life (the appellants) have ensured they cannot. The "win" has been referred to by the Australian Christian Lobby as "encouraging." Who is pulling these strings? It's been interesting answering public enquiries this week. People don't understand the word "banned"; they still think they can order the book, that they can see a loophole. Alas, no. We tell them to try Amazon. ... Australia is the ONLY country ever to ban an end of life choices information book.'