Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Live by the boot, die by the boot

Couldn't help snickering this afternoon as I listened to radio reports of today's health debate debacle, particularly the tape of Tony Abbott -- who had arrived 34 minutes late for this crucial and nationally broadcast affair -- muttering at the end to his Opposite number Nicola Roxon, even as he shook her hand, that in making the most of his lateness (in what I thought was a rather gently witty way), she was 'being deliberately unpleasant' and that she 'couldn't help herself'.

So. Had the boot been on the other foot, had Abbott arrived on time and Roxon been over half an hour late, how would the government's chief attack dog and head-kicker have behaved? Would he have been deliberately pleasant? Or perhaps accidentally unpleasant? Would he have been able to help himself?

(There is no tape being played, at least not on any news broadcasts I've heard/seen so far, of Abbott apologising for his lateness to Roxon herself, which, as any student of basic good manners will know, should have been his first priority.)

Spinning the questions

I've never had any media training myself but I'm guessing that every Federal Minister I've heard being questioned by the press over the last few days is faithfully following a simple question-answering formula, strictly in this order:

JOURNALIST/INTERVIEWER/DEBATING OPPONENT: [Insert question here. Any question at all.]


1) The Opposition is worse.

2) Look at all these good things we've done and are doing and intend to do.

3) Have you all forgotten what the question was yet? Good. Next question.

[Repeat as necessary.]


Here on the Eve of All Hallows I am reminded by the Weatherpixie's pumpkin, which I probably wouldn't have noticed (being too focused on the lovely lovely rain) if Elsewhere hadn't mentioned that her own Weatherpixie is also accompanied by a big orange veg of the gourd persuasion, that I am likely to be constantly interrupted watching House and Criminal Minds tonight by local children and, alas, mid-teenagers (if the last few years are anything to go by) out bashing on the neighbourhood doors demanding chocolate with menaces.

I'm a bit torn about this. I have gone so far as to buy a couple of supermarket bags of so-called 'fun size' Mars Bars and things to distribute to such small ghosts and witches and skeletons as may happen by at dusk, but anyone who knocks on my door after 8.15 pm will be told that if they're old enough to be out cruising the streets after dark then they're too old to be bludging chocolate from strangers. I might even seriously torture them by giving them a lecture on the evils of cultural imperialism and the details of the original Samhain.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

La chanson des vieux amants

I have been asked to remove the spider from the front page, so here is something much prettier: James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, performing together in 1970 as new lovers when he was 22 and she was 27.

And here, 30 years later, they are at the Joni Mitchell Tribute concert in 2000.

If you're in your 20s and in the middle of a hot love affair, here, if you're lucky, is how you'll feel about each other thirty years from now. And ladies, you may find this hard to believe, but if he's still this attached to you and still singing your songs, you won't mind at all about what's happened to his hair.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Missus Pav's Almanac

If the guelder roses are in bloom and there's a huntsman spider in the mailbox, this must be the fourth week of October.

Time to bury a lamb's fry at the roots of the passionfruit vine while muttering Shakespearean incantations under the full moon. (Better still, time to chop down the passionfruit vine and plant another one that actually fruits after it flowers.)

And if there's a huntsman spider in the mailbox this week, then next week will be the week that two huge fat blue-tongues will come rustling up onto the doormat outside the back door looking for water and frighten the bejesus out of the cats.

I can step over the blue-tongues, but if anyone knows how to get a huntsman spider out of the mailbox without either [EEEWWWWW SHUDDER] touching it or killing it, please let me know.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The things you find out when you're fact-checking your book reviews

Pav knew she had cousins in Sydney, but this is ridiculous.

I'm in the middle of doing a final copy-edit and fact-check draft of my SMH weekly fiction review column, which this week includes a short review of a novel called Natural Selection by New Zealand writer Neil Cross, the lead writer on Series 6 of the BBC's Spooks and clearly one of nature's storytellers.

There is, in this novel, mention of the Beast of Exmoor and it's quite important to the story, so I thought I'd better Google it rather than relying on my memory. (Yes yes, I know one's memory is often more reliable than Google, but this is where training and experience as an academic come in very handy, as with, I should think, being a detective: if one is to survive in the profession, all one's natural gullibility about truthiness must be bashed out of one sharpish.)

So I Googled the Beast of Exmoor, followed a few links and ended up here.

Eek -- and I've been in western Sydney within the last ten days. Good thing I'm a cat myself.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Debate: the first four minutes

In his highly focused and content-packed two-minute opening statement Kevin Rudd made clear promises of the following:

Abolish WorkChoices -- check
Ratify Kyoto -- check
Take responsibility for hospitals -- check
Implement an exit strategy from Iraq -- check

Ratty wallowed on his laurels, misrepresented Rudd, harped on at Rudd about something he hadn't actually said, and went over time.

First blood to Kevin.

Pink Tim Tams and other offences against nature

Stephanie from Humanities Researcher has a must-read article on the multilaterally dubious pinkness of the breast cancer awareness campaign in today's Sunday Age.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Satire, the crevasse at your feet

The standard of debate around the traps on the subject of Andrew Hansen's infamous 'eulogy song' on Wednesday night's episode of The Chaser's War on Everything has been pretty deplorably low, with most people apparently unable to get past the 'for/against' dichotomy and expressing their positions, either way, in unattractively primitive terms.

[UPDATE: apparently this song was actually written by Chris Taylor -- my bad. Auto-correct as you read.]

As with so much expression of public opinion, much of this has been not about the subject in question but rather about thinly disguised self-aggrandisement. Either you proclaim your own respectability by saying loudly and indignantly that trashing the dead is icky, or you trumpet your own honesty and fearlessness by savagely attacking people who are no longer in a position to defend themselves, regardless of how ruthlessly they may have done so before they carked it.

I'm no fan of the Chaser boys as a rule, and must be the only person in the country who thought the APEC stunt was puerile and dangerous, but I admit it: when I watched Hansen singing his song, I laughed. Not least because he actually understands how to scan verse lines and what a real rhyme is, and the cleverer and more precise the scansion and rhyming, the funnier that Tom Lehrer-style song always is.

I'm in the camp (see self-aggrandisement and respectability, above) that says there is something uncivilised and savage, something pathetically cowardly, even something a bit evil, in the trashing of the newly dead. It reminds me of that 'Teenage King of Werribee' caught last year on video pissing on the head of an intellectually disabled girl, simply because he could do so without fear of repercussion. But I wasn't 'for' or 'against' the song. I thought it was funny, which is a different thing. (Although, having said that, one saw far more brilliant and subtle satire about Kerry Packer back in the 80s and 90s when he was still alive and richly equipped to wreak revenge, and did.)

One defining characteristic of satire is its profound instability of meaning. In good satire, you know that something is being sent up, mocked, savaged, traduced -- but, try as you might and using every tool of literary criticism that you have ever met or heard of, you just can't ever quite put your finger precisely on the word or moment that pins down the satirist's meaning. Think of Edna Everage, or, even more so, Sandy Stone. Think of Swift's 'A Modest Proposal', a savage essay on, among other things, English-Irish relations in which a straight-faced projector proposes (modestly) that the solution to the problem of the Irish poor would be for the Irish to farm their richest resource -- their children -- out for food.

(I thought of this great Swift piece during the Adelaide Festival of Ideas before last when economist Clive Hamilton got up on stage and, also with a straight face, proposed that the solution to the over-population of Kangaroo Island with disease-ridden and habitat-destroying koalas (given that the SA government refuses to allow culling on the basis that it would harm the tourism industry if the news got out -- particularly if it got as far as koala-loving Japan -- that people were shooting koalas out of the trees) would be to develop organised koala-hunting tourism packages and market them to Americans. It would, he predicted, be so popular that they'd end up deliberately breeding more koalas on KI in order to provide enough targets for the sporting shooters of the US.)

But back to the eulogy song. As many have already commented (including, after a fashion, the Chaser boys themselves), the Belinda Emmett moment was the song's self-deconstructing mechanism, making the double point that (1) yes even satire needs to draw the line and (2) anyway, more importantly, Belinda Emmett was, in fact, a sweetheart, so there was no satire-inviting hypocrisy involved in the modest public mourning of her death.

So far, so good.

I maintain, however, that the song had a second and more important self-deconstructing moment, and this brings me back to the point about satire's instability of meaning. For what are we to make of this?

... her dress was wet with Arab semen stains. / Stan Zemanek was a racist jock ...

Regarding this crashing non-segue from racial profiling of hypothetical semen stains (and all that that implies) in one line to scornful accusations of somebody else's racism in the next, there are only two possibilities: either Hansen did this on purpose, or he didn't.

If he didn't do it on purpose, then it reveals a staggering hypocrisy all its own, far outstripping the mild and culturally understandable hypocrisies involved in eulogising the newly dead that were the ostensible target of the song's satire: an even-less-than-skin-deep racial problem that smacks very nastily indeed of the classic white male fear of miscegenation, of 'our women' being sexually appropriated by men of other races.

But if he did do it on purpose, then it means that he was satirising his own song, which would then call its entire message into question. And if he was calling its entire message into question, then what was it really about?

And the sun rises in the east

Today's horoscope: 'You're easily irritated today.'

"Easily irritated"? Me? What the f*ck do they mean by that?


Friday, October 19, 2007

Pro-business = anti-worker, as everybody knows

Is it just me or is everyone else also finding the Coalition's saturation union-hatin' bogeyman's-gonna-getcha TV ad campaign intolerably crude and stupid? I've only watched an hour of commerical television (House, Wednesday night; does anybody agree with my best mate that House has jumped the shark?) since the election was called and by the end of it I was already climbing up the walls. The idea that this is going to go on without respite until November 24 (or whenever the blackout starts) boggles the mind.

The 'reasoning' behind these ads appears to be as follows:

1) All them Labor types are 'union officials' or at least used to go out with one which as we all know is the same thing.

2) Unions are there for the support and protection of the workers. That is, they are pro-worker.

3) As everyone knows, if you are pro-worker then you must be anti-business and vice versa, because, as everyone knows, the relationship between business and labour is always simply and precisely adversarial.

4) We haven't actually realised yet that running this argument makes it crystal clear that we are, in an absolute sort of way, anti-worker by definition.

Not being likewise a seer in black and white, I'm not all that thrilled about the unions myself. But that is strictly from a feminist viewpoint and based on bitter experience of masculinist values and tactics observed over many years -- values and tactics exercised mainly by those who have shouldered, bullied and bludgeoned their way into union officialdom in the first place. If I were in charge of an anti-union campaign, it would be run from a viewpoint even more horrifying to the current regime than that of the unions themselves.

Queen Pavlova the Abrupt, c'est moi

I found this over at Helen Cast Iron Balcony's place and just had to have one.

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Imperial Majesty Pavlova the Abrupt of Nether Wombleshire
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Thursday, October 18, 2007

October 18th 1947

My mum and dad were married 60 years ago today.

She died in 1999. He's still physically and mentally fit enough at 80 to do an unscheduled speed run to the airport to pick up a sick daughter.

When this wedding photo was taken, she'd spent four years in the workforce and a year in the WAAF. He'd matriculated, learned how to run a farm, done some accountancy training and spent two years in the Navy. They were both 20.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Not a well person

Before I succumbed completely to whatever virus or bacterium it is that currently has me in its icky clutches, Stephanie from Humanities Researcher and I went out to the University of Western Sydney's Bankstown Campus last Friday as guests of Professor Ivor Indyk's Writing and Society Research Group to talk about blogging and writing and literary criticism. Judith Ridge, who was there, has written about it here at Misrule (found via Matilda).

Stephanie and I are old friends and regular readers of each other's blogs, so it was a different sort of occasion from the usual more formal academic presentation -- something I don't think, after ten years away from the academy, that I could convincingly do any more in any case. (Though it does appear to me that in terms of intellectual influences and fashions, of new habits and modes of theory and critique, time has stood still while beleaguered academics everywhere instead spend their time being forced to do endless, pointless administration, sit on committees, find new ways of raising funds, and get dragged down by the never-ending nightmare of the compulsory ARC grants application cycle as by a giant squid, so perhaps I could.)

Giving a joint presentation with a dear friend is something I recommend highly, and I think it's probably fun for one's listeners as well; it adds an extra (and extra-benign) dimension of performance dynamic and a light blanket of warmth to what can otherwise be quite a challenging situation.

But the session was further complicated for me by the intermittent spinning around of the seminar room as I attempted to deliver my spiel and respond to questions. I'd been flat out meeting deadlines, having assorted dramas and doing various bits of organisation before I left for Sydney and I figured the week of early-warning momentary room spins was just the effects of tiredness and stress, but alas, it wasn't.

Apart from a lifelong predisposition to motion sickness that sees me permanently stocked up on medication for it wherever I go, and a very good thing that has often turned out to be (or not; at least one regular reader of this blog will not have forgotten the unfortunate flight over the Swiss Alps to Florence in 1993), I very rarely catch anything infectious or indeed get sick at all, so the opportunities for pathographyblogging here at Pavlov's Cat have always been thin on the ground.

The last two weeks, however, have been quite something. If you see an infection approaching that appears to include a virulent sore throat, head cold, chest cold, headache and apparent middle/inner ear thingy involving attacks of vertigo lasting, at their height, up to five or six hours and involving violently nauseatingly spinning rooms, and that seems to go on and on and on and bloody on with ever-new and more charming symptoms, tell it you don't want it and to please go away.

Especially if you are alone in a hotel room in a city not your own.

Alternatively, you could try very hard not to get so run down that not even your normally very resistant immune system can repel this little charmer. At least, having checked in with my GP, I'm now at the entertaining stage where I can feel the bug and the drugs fighting it out in my bloodstream.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

'Writing & Society' blogging seminar: Friday October 12

Stephanie has (as usual) been better organised than I about publicising this, but we are doing this joint gig at UWS in Bankstown next Friday afternoon.

Please note that this is part of a writing program, so I expect there'll be little or no discussion of the more usual things -- politics, influence, so-called 'citizen journalism', the American blogosphere and so on. Stephanie and I are both literary types to the core, and the focus will be on writing, scholarship, criticism and literature.

Friday 12 October

"The Uses of Blogging"

with Kerryn Goldsworthy, literary critic & author of
the blog Pavlov's Cat

and Stephanie Trigg, medievalist & author of
the blog Humanities Researcher

University of Western Sydney, Bankstown campus
Building 23, conference room 1
(via the Henry Lawson Drive exit of the M5)

All welcome - lunch served at 1pm.

Monday night gardenblogging

Here are a couple more things I can't believe I actually grew; my mother would be proud. And it looks like next year will be raked Japanese pebbles and maybe the odd cactus, so I'm showing these off while I can.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

How to live your life

With extraordinary courage, a desperately and incurably ill friend of mine trundled halfway across the country two weeks ago, supported by his devoted family, in order to give a conference paper.

I think he did this partly in the spirit of 'ride it till the wheels fall off' and partly to continue his life's work as long as he could, in accordance with the ethos of service by which both he and his wife have lived all their adult lives. The paper contained research results that will be of immediate practical use in his own field and also in court cases and legal judgements. It will also give a couple of his junior co-authors a refereed publication to add to their CVs.

I saw him today and he is very weak, breathless and permanently exhausted. He finds talking difficult, though he is still making jokes. I can't imagine what torment the travelling must have been, never mind delivering a conference paper to a national organisation -- not even with the support of the rock he's married to, who's been a dear friend of mine since we were in our early 20s.

Looking at him today, I had no idea how he could have done it. Often barely able to walk or speak, he's continued to be active and productive for as long as he possibly could. I was reminded of stories I'd heard about the late and much-lamented John Iremonger, publishing legend, charming dude and general force of nature, still sitting up in his hospital bed reading manuscripts in the last days of his life.

This is the second time in eight years that I've watched a friend my own age dying of cancer and have had to take, willy-nilly, the role of useless, helpless bystander. As experiences go, there are two things I can tell you about it:

(1) It is a complete crock.

(2) It doesn't get any easier with practice.

Friday, October 05, 2007


Today is my second blogiversary, but I'm feeling very muted about it.

At the moment I'm not at all sure whether this blogging caper is any kind of good idea, and am wondering whether the several friends who pour scorn on the whole notion might not, after all, have a point.

And at the moment I have nothing to say, so instead might take a leaf out of Elsewhere's book and celebrate the day with some linkin' to a few ghosts of postings past, over the last two years.

On Latham and Beazley, 2/11/05: of historical interest. Note no mention of Kevin, who at that point was the merest speck in the distance.

On Kathy Reichs, Dorothy Dunnett, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, the Rolling Stones and Tolstoy, 16/12/05

On Brokeback Mountain, 31/1/06.

On A.S. Byatt's Possession, 22/3/06.

Anzac Day Ode to the Grandfathers, 25/4/06.

On gardening and memory, 29/8/06.

On education and the Howard government, 7/10/06.

A recipe for Christmas trifle, 23/12/06.

On French, 21/3/07.

And finally the obligatory meta-post, 12/7/07.

Monday, October 01, 2007

They all look the same to him

Today at, Mungo MacCallum summarises a recent monstrous bingle in the Coalition's Clayton's campaigning:

'Even [Howard's] shameless attempt to duchess the Chinese community went wrong: his staff produced a glossy invitation lauding the achievements of Chinese Australians, but through either blind racism or pig ignorance sent it not only to the Chinese, but to their sworn enemies, the Koreans and Vietnamese as well – after all, they all look the same and they all have funny names.'

Three questions:

1) What does he mean, either blind racism or pig ignorance?

2) Was there really no minion anywhere in the process of formulating and disseminating this message who heard alarm bells? If the answer is yes, then the Rodent has one or more, erm, rats in the ranks.

3) Does anyone plan to point out to Howard that if only he knew a little more about the postmodernism and/or the multiculturalism against which he so tirelessly rails and legislates (or even just about the history he never tires of talking up as though the rest of us didn't know any), he and/or his People would never have made this grotesquely insulting and, one hopes, fatal mistake in the first place?