Thursday, December 17, 2009

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Time for a little facelift and detox, methinks. The semiotics of pink have changed a lot since October 2005, and not in a good way. The feline ubiquity is misleading. And I think this blog has just gone over its baggage allowance.

I am aware that this is akin to moving to Mars because we have messed up Earth, but wotthehell and toujours gai.

While Blogger still has fairly limited options, I like it, especially its 100% effective spam filters and the fact that it costs nothing. I could redesign a little, but rather than risk obliterating some or all of the last three years here by pushing the Blogger equivalent of the big red button in a fit of absentmindedness or technobabysteps, I'm just going to start a new Blogger blog.

The pink is gone, the title is no longer eponymous (though I retain the online PC ID), and the cats will be less ubiquitous than of yore, but it's really just Pavlov's Cat 2.0 -- over here.

Friday, September 12, 2008


I'm in the middle of writing a review of Amanda Lohrey's new book Vertigo but I'm finding it heavy going. Not the book, which I really like, but the writing of the review. I'm over 600 words in, which usually means a canter to the finish line, but not this time. And of those 600 words, the only ones I'm really happy with so far are the ones in the two opening sentences:

Vertigo is to dizziness what a migraine is to a headache, or the flu to a cold in the head. You don’t really grasp the difference till you’ve had the nastier one.

Giddy with the difficulties of composition and awed by the responsibilities of reviewing -- I once gave a seminar paper about reviewing that consisted entirely of an amplified list of the many different people (and things) to whom (or which) the responsible reviewer has, erm, responsibilities -- I've come over here where I can say whatever I like however I want, surely one of blogging's main attractions, to consider this health-related factoid a little more.

The older you get, unfortunately, the more likely you are to have experienced the cold/flu, headache/migraine and dizziness/vertigo distinctions for yourself. I knew I was irredeemably middle-aged the day I caught myself having the apparently insane thought 'Oh thank God, how lovely, it's an ordinary headache', but that was nothing to my first experience of vertigo, during which I would have thought 'Oh I do so wish this were just a migraine', except that vertigo renders one incapable of rational thought. It was, thank God, a fixable inner-ear disorder going by the majestic yet hilarious title 'Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo', a condition infinitely more paroxysmal than benign. And if a certain rural mate is reading this, she will laugh herself stupid at these hypochondriacal magnifications of relatively harmless, minor and temporary conditions involving disorientation and neurological brouhaha.

But since I currently don't even have so much as an ordinary headache and the review is now two days overdue, there's no excuse not to get back to work.

*girds loins, not a pretty sight*

(I might be back shortly, though, because the Large Hadron Collider has just given me an idea for a meme.)

Just as well he didn't mention silk purses

Apparently last year John McCain used the 'lipstick, pig, still pig' trope in reference to Hillary Clinton's proposed health care policy and nobody said a thing.

This was probably because everyone understood that it's a figure of speech, referring to policies not persons, and that McCain was not in fact calling Clinton a pig.

The Republicans know Barack Obama wasn't calling Sarah Palin a pig either -- if anything, he was sort of calling her the lipstick -- but it is in Republican interests to convince the US public that he was.

Given that he's black and she's a woman, if people continue to carry on in this demented fashion every time someone uses a concrete noun then the next eight weeks are going to be honeycombed with linguistic pitfalls, if not actual abysses, down which some unwitting candidate, speechwriter, administrator, journalist or gofer is going to fall about once every two minutes, some of them never to be seen again.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Happy Fathers' Day ...

... to any fathers reading this; I'm just off to the family get-together myself. But to those who no longer have fathers, I hope you are remembering them kindly and not too sadly. I remember the first Mothers' Day after my mum died and it was a complete crock, so I've got an idea how you may be feeling.

Champagne is good, either way.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Request for information

Could someone please explain to me exactly what a 'hockey mom' actually is? Has it got anything to do with that Holly Hunter Texas chainsaw cheerleader mom thingy?

The horses are back, or, Why I never get anything done

Today is an absolutely beautiful, perfect, blue-and-gold Adelaide day, much to the pleasure and relief, I'm sure, of everyone involved in the Royal Adelaide Show, which is currently on, and is the reason why it took me at least fifteen minutes longer than it usually does to get home from morning coffee. Last year's had a huge hole in it: the outbreak of equine flu meant massive quarantining, and that meant no horses at the Show at all.

This year, they're back. And as someone freshly reminded by the Olympic equestrian events of how much I love these beautiful animals and what a solemnly horse-mad little kid I was, I am going to make time to trundle down to Wayville next week and watch some of the gorgeous beasts in action.

What's made me think of this is the Saturday arvo task I've just been doing, a fifteen-minute module (the only way I can bear it) of cleaning up the great mass of paper and other junk in the study, which included coming across one of the more maverick choices of book for review that I've been sent over the last few years: Wild Horse Diaries by Lizzie Spender.

Ripping out all the yellow Post-Its as a prelude to putting it in the Red Cross shop box, I came across a passage I'd marked that made me think again of the recent Olympics events. Both the precision and delicacy of the dressage and the combination of control and recklessness required by the showjumping and (especially) the cross-country showed up how crucial the relationship between horse and rider really is. It's like watching couples ice-dancing: one small wrong move, one tiny moment of miscommunication, and you are stuffed, if not savagely maimed. 'A horse is no household pet,' says Spender,

their size alone can imbue an edge of danger, and so there is the challenge of reaching an understanding with an animal that is powerful enough to trample you to death. Dogs are privy to every facet of home life and give unconditional love, while horses are infinitely less available. They don't sit in your lap, lie on your bed, or jump up and down when you suggest a walk; nor are they as independent or capable of disdain as a cat, and they never sharpen their claws on your furniture.

Horses are wonderfully attentive, even when putting on a show of bad behaviour they always remain somehow connected. [This bit in particular spoke to me; remember the several horses in Beijing that got spooked and carried on like pork chops when planes went over? You could just see them communicating protest and displeasure to their riders and the crowd.] It's as if they enjoy hanging out with people -- sometimes I get the distinct impression that we amuse them. It's a sincere, strong connection of the senses, centred around touch and constant interpretation of each other's body language. ... Horses have a sense of fun which I will not even attempt to describe, but anyone who has spent time with them will know what I mean. There are horses that seem to be always smiling.

Naturally, writing this post has made me wonder what I actually said about the book in the review, and since it's no longer online I went looking for it in my records. For those of you who may be wondering who Lizzie Spender is, here's the first paragraph:

Privilege is a weird commodity, stemming sometimes from things other than wealth. There are one or two moments in this book that make you want to ask Lizzie Spender who she thinks she is, but you already know what the answer would be: she is the daughter of Sir Stephen Spender, god-daughter of Sir Laurens van der Post, childhood friend of Anjelica Huston and wife of Barry Humphries, and furthermore she is a gorgeous half-Russian five-foot-ten blonde, so yah boo sucks to you.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Her petite pussy lips, his bulging trousers, and the immemorial magnificence of mystic palpable real otherness*

*All genuine quotations, verbatim

I should like to nominate newbie novelist Kerry Reichs, daughter of the more famous Kathy, for the annual Bad Sex Award offered by London's Literary Review.

Here, from Reichs' debut novel The Best Days of Someone Else's Life, is the nominated entry:

I savoured remembering the First New Kiss, knees touching on the couch at Russia House right before last call, and felt a trail of sparks shoot down my hoo-hah highway.

You have to really work on prose like that.

Yes yes, it's chick lit. But still.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Enough already

When I was a kid my sisters and I spent years being chucked out of Religious Instruction in primary school because my father had firm views on the subject and had instructed the school, probably in colourful language, that his children were not to be exposed to such a thing. I can't remember when this eventually let up; my mother probably intervened, not because she was any more Christian than he was (except in her values; he's more your rugged individualist), but because she didn't want to expose us to the humiliations of being thus singled out, especially in such a small town.

Not that I cared; it meant I got to sit under the pepper-tree, reading my book of choice, rather than listening to the tedious dronings-on of the RI teacher. If we'd had a good teacher who concentrated on the music and the stories, it might have been a different matter.

It is to this singular childhood that I attribute a paradoxical respect for other people's religious practices and beliefs, though not for the organisations to which they belong. And when I say other people I mean all other people, all over the world. Growing up secular means growing up with no barrow to push and no bone to pick about any religion over any other. Some of my best friends really are Christians, not to mention the Buddhists. And, unlike various other friends I've discussed this with, I have no problem with the concepts of the numinous, the spiritual and the sacred. It's organised religion I have a problem with, and even then I can tolerate it as long as it leaves me alone under my pepper-tree.

If the Assemblies of God, for example, want to turn up the lights and turn on the giant closed-circuit screens when they pass around the money buckets (one for each row) so that everyone including the pastors on the stage can see exactly how much money you're putting in the bucket, then it is the devotees' choice and the devotees' right to be thus manipulated, surveilled and conned. And if parents want to send their kids off to be sexually abused by priests, then nobody can say these days that they haven't had fair warning and it's no business of mine.

But in the spirit of 'Your right to swing your arm ends where it meets my eye', I draw the line where religion starts to influence politics. And as far as Australia is concerned, it's not too much of a stretch to say that John Howard's term as Prime Minister -- not his own colourless, constipated Methodism, but his vote-grabbing open collusion with religious loonies and his barely-concealed hatred of other cultures -- opened up a space in which Kevin Rudd's own much-publicised Christianity became far more acceptable to Australian voters than it might otherwise have been. We're living in a country where the doctrine of the separation of church and state is no longer, even in theory, a given. Naturally the cultural domination of the US has had a lot to do with this, although those who remember anything about the history of the DLP in Australia will know it's not new here.

Now, I've been unduly preoccupied over the last few days with Sarah Palin because the silly woman has invaded my darkest nightmares. I think she is more terrifying than anything the Americans have so far come up with, and that is saying a great deal. If they don't dump her, and the Republicans win the election, and then McCain drops dead of a heart attack that night from the strain, the most powerful person in the world will be someone who is not only dumb enough to believe that the war in Eye-rack is 'God's plan' and that fighting in it is 'a task that is from God', but is also dumb enough to say so in public. Not even Dubya, to my knowledge, has ever gone quite so far.

Yesterday I was mulling these things over in the supermarket carpark, as you do, when I heard a loud female voice behind me. 'PRAISE THE LORDJESUSCHRIST, THE SUNNAGOD!'

Turning to see where this exhortation might be coming from, I saw a large blonde woman in a strange and exotic assortment of clothing. She seemed quite mad, and was glaring straight at me. Why, no thank you, ma'am, I don't believe I will, I muttered -- well below the audibility line, for engaging with the mad in a public place is even more foolish than engaging with them online. But it shook me up a bit. Maybe she wasn't mad at all. Maybe this kind of stuff has just made its way across the Pacific and is infesting the suburban car parks of small Australian cities, and in five years we'll all be doing it.

If we're still here in five years.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

They must be grinding their teeth

Having scaled back their convention plans in deference to what looked like becoming the second Louisiana mass tragedy in three years, the Republicans must be a tad annoyed that Hurricane Gustav turned out relatively harmless. Which, of course, they can't possibly say.

Little wonder then that the Convention seems to lack a certain sparkle, at least according to Guy Rundle as he reports back to today:

Levi Johnston, Bristol Palin's baby-daddy was a good place to start, a dude in a football jersey with a haircut that screams 'roped in to a year 12 production of Footloose' and a MySpace page that reads – I kid you not – 'in a relationship but I don't want kids'.

Bad luck dude. ...

By now the whole thing has become well-meta with the main story being the pitiful failure of the vetting process, the suggestion that McCain dug his heels in so long ... and [was] facing the invidious choice of either saying 'yes I was bamboozled I didnt know any of this stuff' or 'no I was aware of it all the time and I selected a 44-year-old mayor of a place with the population of 40 blocks in Manhattan, who publicly suggested the job is pointless, is currently under investigation for misuse of power, and all that other crap as well. Next question. Hey let's put sugar in the tank of the Straight Talk express.'

Would team McCain actually ask Palin to resign? Would she resign of her own accord, given the heat now coming down on her family? The fact that this sh-t is even possible is a measure of just how unbelievably dumb this choice was. Hang on to her, or drop her out the bombbays. Either way, it's a helluva choice. This may be the worst executive choice since Aaron Burr, who actually tried to kill his boss. ...

Laura wrapping it up now, and we're seguing into a film tribute to Reagan who HAS BEEN DEAD FOR TEN YEARS. Or so.

The fundies made him do it

According to this report on the ABC's website, Sarah Palin was a last-minute second choice after McCain's first pick as running mate, Senator Joe Lieberman, was rejected by the fundie lobby. The evangelical Christians threatened a revolt at this week's Republican Convention, saying they would overturn the decision on the floor, as the saying goes. Picture the scene. Oh never mind.

Without the support of 'the conservative Christian base of the party', McCain was told, he would certainly lose the election.

Lieberman is an Independent Senator and a former Democrat. He is Jewish. And he is pro-choice.

I particularly like the punch line of the ABC's report:

[Palin's] selection by Senator McCain immediately excited the evangelical base and his campaign received around $US10 million in donations over the weekend.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Yes, she's gorgeous; now can we talk about something else?

Predictably, depressingly, talk in certain sections of the blogosphere has already turned to the looks of mooseburger-eatin' VPILF Sarah Palin, John McCain's surprise choice of running mate.

Other possible talking points (always with the caveat that what you read online, and certainly on Wikipedia, might not be accurate):

-- Of all womankind, only Geraldine Ferraro has ever got this officially close to the presidency until now.

-- Palin is a pro-life, pro-death-penalty gun nut who loves to kill animals. (Are we confused yet?)

-- The various nicknames and titles earned in the course of Palin's interesting past include Mayor, Sarah Barracuda, Governor, and Miss Congeniality.

-- Palin is a member of that strange organisation Feminists for Life, and props to her for not shying away from the word 'feminist', which indicates to me that unlike many of the right-wing men, um, dribbling over her image as we speak, she actually knows what the word means and understands that there's more than one way of being a feminist.

-- She has visited precisely three countries outside the US: Ireland, Germany and Kuwait.

But never mind what she knows or thinks about the world, life, death, gender, family or any of that stuff -- because lo, she is fuckable. And as we all know, that's all that matters.


The closest thing I have to a goddaughter is M, the soccer-playing soprano and third-year Aerospace Engineering student who has made occasional appearances on this blog before, and of whom I stood in awe even before she reported earlier this year that she'd scored a 95 for a subject called Space Vehicle Design.

Her birthday is on the last day of winter -- I remember the first one well; I have a vivid memory of sitting on some hard institutional seat in the maternity hospital with her late father, handing him the hip-flask of brandy that my own father had thoughtfully provided for his use -- and yesterday she turned 21, an occasion celebrated with an afternoon tea party.

As she floated down the hall of her auntie's house to greet me I was dumbstruck by what she was wearing --

-- not only because of its perfectly-preserved beauty as a piece of vintage clothing but also because the last time I'd seen it, her mother (above right, and below) was wearing it at my own 25th birthday party, 30 years ago:

I don't get a lot of opportunities to observe the young en masse, but there would have been about 60 people there yesterday, of whom only ten or fifteen were my generation or older. Most of the more-or-less-21-year-olds would have been from either the soccer team or the Adelaide U Choral Society, though in their tea-party clobber -- there were some very pretty floral frocks, waistcoats, bow ties and so on -- it was impossible to tell these two groups apart right up to the moment, not long after that photo was taken, when it came to sing Happy Birthday, which was the most brilliantly tuneful and certainly the only eight-part rendering of Happy Birthday that I've ever heard in my life. Having warmed up with that, the AUCS members present -- at least 25 of them -- sang several other things, most of them through mouthfuls of cake or champagne, and were magnificent.

To a person, the younguns were friendly, sociable and courteous, some of them showing a degree of social adroitness that I don't even have now, much less when I was their age. I saw a great deal of thoughtful behaviour, particularly towards M. Nobody was rude, nobody got drunk, nobody whined and nobody behaved like a prat. Perhaps young persons who join choirs and soccer teams are not necessarily representative of their generation, but I'd like to think they are. Watching and listening to them made me very happy.

Safety and danger

If the name of the chap who was chatting on Friday afternoon to ABC Adelaide's Carole Whitelock about security is anywhere on the ABC website then I can't find it, but he made for riveting listening. He was an Israeli who'd been involved in high-level international security for a very long time, and he was giving a few tips and hints to improve the lives of the mostly safe and innocent citizens of Adelaide, who for the most part are a very long way indeed from the kinds of things he's seen.

But a couple of things he said made a lot of sense to me, as things that an ordinary citizen in a small city in a relatively safe country might well be moved to do. If there is some unforeseen disaster or attack, he said, the first thing that will happen is that communications will go down, which will mean you can't contact your family or any of the people who are important to you; it's therefore a good idea to prearrange a meeting place that everyone will make their way to, especially if your house isn't there any more. This, as Carole Whitelock pointed out, will have struck a chord with Adelaide Hills residents who have been through some of the worst bushfires, and for whom the idea of a prearranged meeting place is a very familiar one.

The other thing he said that was simple common sense, really (though have I ever been sufficiently organised to do it myself? Of course not), was that it's a good idea to make copies of all your important documents and keep them together and waterproofed in one envelope, somewhere they're easily retrievable. Ideally, he said, they should be in the small bag you've packed with emergency supplies of muesli bars, water bottles and anything else that might contribute to your short-term survival when the sky falls in.

It's easy to make fun of this kind of apocalyptic imagination. Peter Cook et al did it in Beyond the Fringe ('Have you got the tinned food?' 'Yes.' 'Have you got the tin opener?' ' ... ') -- but they did it, as they well knew, at a time when what was comedy sketch one day might well have become autobiography the next. And I couldn't help thinking of my friend R, who was living in Manhattan and working at the UN when the planes flew into the towers, and who for months afterwards carried around with her, as instructed by the authorities, a bizarre assortment of survival-oriented stuff. I also couldn't help thinking of the contemporary fiction I read for review as it comes out, and how much of it tells stories of utter ruination, destruction and disaster from the Second World War.

That might be part of the problem. Most Australians think of such events as the stuff of fiction and movies, stuff separated from our sense of ourselves by its packaging as cultural artefacts. Australians who live in the line of natural disasters, say the coastal North Queensland folk or those in the habitual paths of bushfires, have some sense of their indifferent and inexorable destructiveness. But with a handful of exceptions -- people with military training and experience; elderly European-born citizens -- I doubt very much whether any of us has a realistic sense of what a political attack would be like. Even the people fleeing the Gulf Coast in droves as Hurricane Gustav heads north-west have at least had a little bit of warning, but the people at the World Trade Center seven years ago, like the citizens of Dresden and Hiroshima in 1945, had none.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Reasons why a blogger might suddenly not be blogging

It would be comfortable to think that the reason I've not had much of substance to say here over the last week or three is that life has been particularly busy, intense and fraught; several major tasks and crises have coincided, some of them not of a bloggable nature and/or in any case more likely to produce a thoughtful silence than anything else.

But I think the main reason is probably this thread and all that it implies. Regarding the original post, there are good arguments to make, and IRL in conversation with the author of the post one would probably at least try to make them. But any post about rape, abortion, breasts or any other area of contest and incomprehension between men and women is always going to bring misogynists, extremists and full-on florid nutters out of the woodwork and into the comments thread, and that is where you need to stop and ask yourself what on earth you think you're doing. Such is the charm of blogging that you sometimes forget how much precious time you're wasting in engagement with people you'd normally walk five miles through waist-deep mouldy custard to avoid.

Not always, though.