Friday, October 31, 2008

Ice-cream the world!

According to this analogy, a vote for Barack Obama is like voting for the kid in the class room elections who promises everyone ice-cream. Oh, man, I wish - I'd totally cast my vote for the ice-cream party....


Ice-cream doesn't come from Washington. Ice-cream comes to Washington.

Ice-cream will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the ice-cream that we seek.

I was drawn to the power of the African American religious tradition to spur social ice-cream.

I will never forget that the only reason I'm standing here today is because somebody, somewhere stood up for me when it was risky. Stood up when it was hard. Stood up when it wasn't popular. And because that somebody stood up, a few more stood up. And then a few thousand stood up. And then a few million stood up. And standing up, with courage and clear purpose, they somehow managed to ice-cream the world.

A vote for Barack Obama is a vote for ice-cream!


Poem written on seeing a peculiar car drive past my workplace this afternoon

That car is pink!
It makes you think.
UPDATE! - New Zealand version
Thut car us punk!
Ut makes you thunk.

Zimbalkavietnovietunionisation , the economic theory

CANBERRA, Thursday - Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has defended himself against charges that he has failed to completely Zimbabwifie the Australian economy yet.

"Zimbabwefication of the Australian economy is a hard task, and it takes prudent fiscal management and conservative economic policy to completely Zimbabwifie our accounts," said Mr Rudd.
Mr Rudd went on to outline his plans for the complete Zimbabwification of the economy. "First we have to Balkanise it," said Mr Rudd. "We hope to make significant gains in making significant losses soon."
In a snap meeting of ministers yesterday, Mr Rudd outlined his plan to make Australia the first first-world country to achieve third-word economic conditions.
However, the Opposition Leader, Mr Turnbull, has criticised Mr Rudd's approach, arguing that he may not even be able to achieve significant Balkanisation of the Australian economy.
"In order to achieve Balkanisation, Mr Rudd should be taking steps to make Australia into a new Vietnam. But we are far from confident that he's even done that."
Mr Rudd argued to journalists yesterday that his approach to Balkanisation was not to make Australia into the 'new Vietnam', but instead, he was aiming to turn the country into the 'old Soviet Union'.
"We'll get there," said Mr Rudd. "We're the little country that couldn't. But I'm confident that with a little carbon tax - in addition to conservative economic management - we'll achieve our goals!"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Review of a cereal program, in two parts

Sultana Bran is an exciting cereal program in two parts. The first part, the Sultana, is most exciting, while the Bran provides an adequate, though in some ways unsatisfying conclusion.

As far as morning cereals go, Sultana Bran provides more than adequate entertainment, but it is still a little way behind those other exciting morning cereals, Rice Bubbles, which concludes with some very exciting, um, Bubbles, or the mysterious Special K. (To this day, critics have not been able to work out what the 'K' is, or why it's 'Special', but that mystery just makes it even more exciting.)

(Can we continue making bad jokes about food? Yes we can!)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Important points to consider

In order to be sympathetic or empathetic you have to start off being pathetic.

If you want to be compassionate, you have to begin by being passionate.

It's probably better to be tautological than oxymoronic. Being logical is better than being moronic.

I really don't know which is better, a colonic or a semi-colonic. But it's probably best to avoid both of them.

But as for choosing between Labor and Liberal? That depends on your feelings. Would you rather start off being Abor or Iberal? No, I don't know either.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Inclusive and happy song for colour-blind people

Grey and greyer and very dark grey
Light grey and white-grey and grey!
I can sing a rainbow!
Sing a rainbow!
Sing a rainbow too!

Listen with your eyes!
Listen with your eyes!
And sing every shade of grey you see!
Then you can sing a rainbow!
Sing a rainbow!
Sing a rainbow with me!

(To be sung in a monochrome monotone)

Culture jamming

Sometimes, if I have a tub of natural unflavoured yoghurt, and I want to make it sweet, I put some dark cherry jam in it and mix it all up.

What sort of culture jamming have you got up to lately?

Somebody send for the Zeppelin man!

I got my brother a birthday-present DVD of 20 Buck Rogers' short films from the 1930s on the weekend, and had a chance to watch some of them last night. They're pretty good, one of the best birthday presents I've never got, in fact. I have an uncanny knack of selecting fabulous birthday presents for myself and then giving them to other members of my family - good policy when I'm living in the same house with them, not so good when I'm living a thousand kilometres away.

So apparently Buck Rogers is a zeppelin pilot who crashes his vessel and is sent into suspended animation at the last moment - his buddy, helpfully named Buddy, turns on the magical suspended animation gas, and there you go. Five centuries later, they are dragged out of their zeppelin by dudes in weird suits with lasers, and made prisoners. Buck is unphased by this, apart from a brief commentary on the costumes: "What sort of uniforms are you wearing?"

They then noodle along in a rocket into a mountain that apparently doubles up as a garage door, and are taken into a hidden city helpfully named The Hidden City. They get shown this footage of an evil dictator, thoughtfully named Killer Kane, putting Amnesia Helmets on the people of the world (every evil dictator needs an Amnesia Helmet to turn the populace into robotic slaves, don't you know). For some reason, Buck's knowledge as a zeppelin pilot turns out to be just the qualification he needs to pilot a rocket ship, and... well, that's just the start of many adventures.

In Episode Two, they find themselves caught on the surface of Saturn, being hunted by Kane's men, and they are captured by an army of Zogs and taken into the caves below. This episode also has the dodgiest cliffhanger ever:

HIDDEN CITY GUY 1: That's one of Kane's ships! But how could he have found the Hidden City?

HIDDEN CITY GUY 2: He must have caught Buck and got the location out of him.

HIDDEN CITY GUY 1: Send to them on our secret radio frequency, quick!

(CUT TO: Onboard the rocket ship)

BUCK: It's a pity our radio isn't working!

WILMA: That's okay, I know the way to the Hidden City...

Episode 3, Buck and Buddy go undercover in Killer Kane's city to kidnap the Prince of Saturn who has come to sign a peace treaty with Kane and his men (they tell him 'Kane is a peaceful and just ruler' and he falls for it, you see.) After they get hold of the kid, they show him video footage of Kane's Amnesia Helmets, and he's dead against the peace treaty. Diplomacy, it's tough all right!

That's about all I saw last night. Pretty good I reckon. Here's just a few indisputable facts I learned from watching Buck Rogers last night:

- Piloting a zeppelin looks really good on your resume in the 25th century

- Radio reception is astonishingly good on Saturn. You can breathe there pretty well, as well.

- Amnesia Helmets - every responsible parent needs one!

- Lasers can do just about anything. Shoot Zogs, open doors that are jammed, bugger up the enemies radio reception, power underground space rail lines once the electricity has been cut off...

Now I'll just have to arrange for myself to go down for Christmas so I can see the rest...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Our new marketing scheme is nuts, not to mention cashews

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) on Friday launches a responsible children's marketing initiative, under which manufacturers will vow not to advertise products to children unless they promote a healthy diet and lifestyle. - The Age
Suggested ad slogans for the AFGC's 'responsible children's marketing initative'

Only cool kids eat spinach bars!
Only cool kids eat spinach bars!
Only cool kids eat spinach bars -
They make you big and strong!

Join with us! Eat VIRTUE CHIPS! It's chips for kids who don't want to be fat!

(Accompanied by hypnotic spinning and flashing televisual mandalas, a la Vertigo )
Eaaaaaaaaaaaaat Broccoli!
Eaaaaaaaaaaaaat Broccoli!
Eaaaaaaaaaaaaat Broccoli!
Eaaaaaaaaaaaaat Broccoli!
Eaaaaaaaaaaaaat Broccoli!
Eaaaaaaaaaaaaat Broccoli!

Freddo Frogs! Now with 100 per cent less chocolate, 60 per cent more cauliflower, and 110 per cent more goodness!

Beans, beans, the musical fruit!
The more you eat, the better you spell!

Beans, beans, the musical fruit!
The more you eat, the nicer to one another you are!

Join with us! Eat VIRTUE CHIPS! For kids who want to be part of the group!

Please eat your carrot, kids! Don't make us pay you!

Subversive plus permissive equals submissive!

Subversively non-subversive!
A cutting edge international comedian conformed to bourgeois expectations by subverting them yesterday in his one man show!

The comedian, who refuses to be named except by his first and last titles, is just one of many exciting international comedians and artists to be in Melbourne in the coming weeks, all of who promise to subvert bourgeois expectations in unexpectedly expected ways. It's all part of the MELBOURNE SCRINGE FESTIVAL! (Disclosure: this paper has nothing to do with the Melbourne Scringe Festival, apart from being a major sponsor.)

Excitedly anticipating excited anticipation!
And this year's Melbourne Scringe Festival has been greeted with excited anticipation by those people who normally excitedly anticipate such events!

MARIE, 42, works at an inner-city bookshop, selling books written by middle-aged inner-city dwelling people to other middle-aged inner-city dwelling people about the narrow, inward-looking bourgeious world view shared by middle-aged inner-city dwelling people. "I love the Melbourne Scringe Festival," says Marie. "I really look forward to having my narrow, inward-looking bourgeois world-view shattered this year, just as happens to me every year."

ROD, 45, owns and runs a busy cafe on Lygon Street, Carlton, but feels guilty about it. He says of the coming Scringe Festival: "Finally, my conservative world-view will be confronted and subverted. I feel comforted by this."

COLLETTE, 33, runs a clinic in St Kilda for recovering bogans. "It's about time I was taken out of my staid old life and introduced into the vibrant, cosmopolitan world of modern art," she says. "Thank you, Melbourne Scringe."

Events that may or may not happen!
Just some of the acts at this year's Scringe:

REN TODGE is an internationally respected artist, from one side of Fitzroy to the other! He specialises in subtly exaggerated stereotypes of bogans he grew up with. "It's not racist," he cries, "because I am a bogan!"Ren Todge's cutting-edge conformist comedy is sure to make a hit on the Melbourne stage again at this festival!

DANNY MUDDLE's comedy is like no other. Muddle's startlingly original act consists of performing left-wing stereotypes of right-wing politicians before a left-wing audience; by mocking people of different races, subversively. As one reviewer says, in reviewing his show, "If it wasn't subversive, it would be offensive!"


Friday, October 24, 2008


An ode to the beagle in the park

Hark! Hark!
There's a beagle in the park!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Unhappy chappy

Our society, though it is rich, has failed to deliver meaning or happiness to Clive Hamilton, argues professor of public ethics Clive Hamilton.

As an unhappy professor of public ethics, who just happens to be called Clive Hamilton, has put it in his latest book, 'Economic growth does not create my happiness: my unhappiness sustains economic growth.' In short, Clive Hamilton is suffering from "affluenza" on our behalf, a condition whereby other people earn money and Clive Hamilton feels unhappy about it.

Hamilton's arguments have proved especially influential in modern economics, as the so-called field of "happiness research" shows. In "happiness research", surveys are performed into the amount of wealth in modern nations and the data is examined as to how closely it correlates with Clive Hamilton's personal happiness about that economy. Remarkably, the wealthier a modern nation is, the unhappier Clive Hamilton generally feels about it, while the poorer a nation is, the more cheerful and lighthearted Clive Hamilton becomes.

This research, much of which has been carried out or collected by professor of public ethics Clive Hamilton, is not conclusive, but still, argues Clive, something should be done about it, especially before he gets any unhappier.

Nevertheless, others who have investigated the "happiness research" of Clive Hamilton argue that anything that makes Clive Hamilton unhappy makes them happy.

Unhappy Clive

This is also reported to have made Clive Hamilton, who is a professor of ethics, unhappy.

Draw your own conclusions

The kid in the new Baz Luhrmann ads for Australia reminds me of the kid on the cover of this book, which was around our house when I was young.

The book also had an awesome ad for Violet Crumble on its back cover. It featured an aeroplane flying over a desert, distributing packets of Violet Crumble into the upturned hands of a crowd of happy children.

I can't for the life of me understand why Violet Crumble don't use that ad anymore. Maybe they should talk to Baz...?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Advice to Politicians

Always put on clean underwear. Change for Votes and people will Vote for Change!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Occasioned for the prime

It's an amazing discovery - a new prime number with 13-million digits. To write it out by hand would take two-and-half-months. But with a computer it doesn't take anywhere near as long.... That's how the team at the University of California at Los Angeles found the number - by linking up 75 computers and harnessing their unused power. That allowed them to perform the enormous number of calculations needed to find and verify the new prime...

... ALISON CALDWELL: Have you actually seen this 13-million digit number.

TERENCE TAO: Yes well, it's on the internet but you know you don't learn anything by seeing it. I mean it's 10-million digits long. I don't think I would get much out of staring at 10-million digits. I think they're planning to make a poster with all the digits in a very, very tiny font. I think it will just have artistic value. It won't actually be of that much use...

Suggestions for other things to do with this new prime number

Use it as a name for your baby.

Put it on a coffee cup to amuse guests. A really, really big coffee cup.

Use it as an aspirational target for your nation's budget deficit.

Release it as a coffee table book.

Trial it as a sleeping drug. ("Count up to this number of sheep, and when you've reached it, stop...")

Use it as a friendly greeting to other people on public transport.

Teach it to your dog as a command to fetch the paper.

Use it to test your child's basic arithmetic.

Create a new system of telling the time, based around this number.

Strictly regulate the number of hundreds and thousands to be found in the standard family-pack of chocolate freckles according to it.

Use it as an atheist parable, or a religious metaphor, to either prove or disprove the existence of God.

Try it out as a notional phone number. (It would certainly discourage telemarketers.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

That wonderful, all purpose food product, mostly used for eating

"In the United States, only two foods are really made from corn," he said. "One of them is corn flakes, you know, cereal. And the other is whisky, for drinking, which is made directly from corn."

I can think of a few other foods that are made from corn. Corn, for instance. And that bread - what's it called? - corn bread. Amazing!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Poem for the day

Observe this man: George Bernard Shaw.
His beard is long! It scrapes the floor!

It makes him look quite shrewd and grave -
(A Shavian, he never shaved.)

Though Fabian, he told no fables,
But told the truth whenever able.

A noted modern dramatist,
And famous epigrammatist,

He'd love to epi- me or you.
I'd like to epigram him too:

I can't. Alas! He is quite dead!
This is an epitaph instead.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How to get into arguments with inanimate objects

On Saturday's I toddle down to the newsagents on the corner of High Street and get a copy of The Herald Sun (which I almost never read, but is good for the movies) and The Australian. Once I have my Oz, I throw out the business and sports and employment and health and whatever special report it is they have going almost immediately, and get down to business with their Review section. Within minutes my feet is up and the coffee is out and I begin skipping and sorting through each article, reading at my will, and the result is almost exactly like a conversation. I won't say that I shout or grumble or start talking to the newspaper - but I certainly think up responses. They're generally of the form of an argument, though vociferous agreement also takes place.

This week as usual I started with the back-page column. 'Earlier this year somebody took a scene from the film Downfall (set in Hitler's bunker as the Russians approached Berlin) and subtitled it with a script that had then NSW premier Morris Iemma blaming everybody for the failure of his power privatisation plan.'

'Mmm,' I thought, 'Must have seen a different one to that thing Tony ran on his blog a while ago.' (Ironically, the article was about how newspapers were still more important than blogs, though for some reason I couldn't be bothered arguing with this - maybe Steven Matchett looks too nice.)

I noodled on then to the interview with Tilda Swinton, which contained the ominous quote 'The bitch witch franchise is now closed....' To which I could only reply, 'What???? Who's going to play the White Witch in upcoming Narnia films then?' The article also quoted Swinton, 'My face was like a mirror ball because I hadn't discovered powder yet and I was shining like the back of a spoon.' 'What a weird way to describe yourself', I thought.

There was little ground for argument here, so I leafed through until I got to the reviews. There was a review by Michael Ignatieff of a political book, which should have been good for an argument, but I turned over to the Overflow column by Rosemary Sorenson, where I read,

'Thirteen: that's how many unauthorised biographies have been written about Shane Warne. And now there's to be a Keating! - style musical.... the show is aiming to portray the cricketer's human side...'

I snorted. (Inwardly. (Trying doing THAT with your brain when you're at home!)) 'The songs are written by Eddie Prefect! I doubt that he'll be able to pull that one off.'

Over the page, I got into a brief altercation with the review of Kate Grenville's latest novel. The book is about the earliest attempts to write down an Australian Aboriginal language, and contained two passages from the novel: 'Not just the words were opaque, even the cadence was unlike any language he had heard. Trying to hear its form was like trying to take hold of running water.' ('Nice metaphor!' I cried.) And this: 'Learning a language was not a matter of joining any two points with a line. It was a leap into the other.' I snorted again - possibly outwardly, this time - and said to myself, 'Preposterous, there's no way an eighteenth century character is going to use such a pretentious turn of phrase as this.'

I got into a brief gossip with the article on page 13 about literary magazine. Turning over the page again, I looked down and saw the title of Robert Adamson's new book of poems

The Golden Bird: New and Selected Poems.

I screwed my eyes up quizzically and muttered, 'The Golden Bird? Isn't that the title of a George Mackay Brown book? Is that a reference?' The review didn't say. Up above, there was a longer review of the latest Granta edition, with a 'nature writing' theme. Gosh, that got me cranky:

'Probably most readers these days, if they thought about nature writing at all, would picture some idiot - as Jason Cowley in his introduction confesses he once did - "badly dressed, ascetic, misanthropic", standing alone... seeking communion with nature via a notebook and a pair of binoculars. But this was never nature writing...'

Me: 'Ridiculous! Sounds like a perfectly charming way to write about nature to me. Hasn't this idiot ever read Thoreau's chapter in Walden about his measuring of the Walden ponds?'

'Nature writing, if it's any good, isn't merely writing about nature. It's writing from nature's point of view.'

Me: 'Ludicrous! Nature is an abstract concept, and doesn't have a point of view! This is just misguided theology!'

There was a bit of waffling about '... the earth': '... the nature writer recalls the earth, the biotic reality of every human life.'

Me: 'What's so special about 'the earth'? What's it got to do with nature in the abstract? You're just looking for a good metaphor. This isn't it.'

Over the page there weren't any more book reviews, so I folded up the paper and went and had my lunch.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"Media" "Watch"

For over a decade and a half, the ABC's Media Watch has been lumbering and creaking its way through our television screens like a great creaking and lumbering thing. Sometimes Media Watch has something important to talk about. Sometimes it just goes to air anyway.

It's purpose as a show is to find purpose in the slip ups and mistakes of journalists on other shows and networks. Often the mistakes these journalists make have no purpose, which makes MW doubly purposeless when it tries to catch them out. To provide balance MW occasionally watches itself, but the resulting 'Media Watch' watch is a largely perfunctory exercise - not a judgment on itself, but an excuse to continue to be judgmental towards others.

I was listening to this item earlier in the week: it really was pretty silly. It identified a scandal that turned out not to be scandalous, in which commercial television stations, commercial radio stations, and commercial newspapers were caught out being commercial. Basically, American Express was launching a new credit card and they got a pretty face (Megan Gale) to promote it. It got minor coverage in the stations and newspapers, which appeared in synch with a couple of commercials and competitions, an utterly banal situation that occurs on the stations and in the newspapers every day. MW somehow managed to portray it as 'this sea of nauseating hypocrisy and back-scratching'(!). If you're in charge of the MW investigation unit, you see, it's important to position your show as the only show able to distinguish between commercials, press releases, and reality - as opposed to all those passive, mindless viewers out there who actually watch commercial television stations.

The analysis* that MW presented was full of its characteristic stylistic tics - selective quotations from articles and radio and television studio presenters, correspondence with the journalists involved, selective quotations from such correspondence, read by sarcastic voice-actors, and even more sarcastic editorial commentary from the Media Watch team. You can just imagine how Jonathan Holmes would read this:

What an extraordinary thing! A credit card! With reward points! You can use it anywhere!

If Holmes could actually pronounce exclamation marks, he would.

Also of minor noteworthiness in this MW item was the way the show used voice actors to sarcastically quote the brand names of companies. I'm not sure why they thought this gimmick would work, or how on earth the actors managed to bring conviction to this particular job.

Obviously people could get suckered into getting this credit card on the strength of a dubious press release and pretty face. But would these people be watching MW at all? Why bother watching such a tired old show with worn out presenters using hackneyed techniques to sneer at commercial enemies?

Media Watch - it's not particularly important, interesting, or serious. But at least you can say it's there.

*'Analysis' - this is perhaps too strong a word for what Media Watch serves up these days.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Laxatives for leftists

If public transport ran time travel...

(Inspired by the exciting new service offered at a Melbourne train station - spotted by Tim!)

Attention, platform 2. The 5.14 to next week has been delayed. The 5.14 to next week has been delayed. It will now be arriving in 20 minutes.


Good evening passengers. There are significant delays on the Past Travel train line to yesterday evening. Instead of arriving on the previous days within our scheduled time of four minutes, we anticipate significant delays of up to half an hour.
However, en route to yesterday evening we will be stopping at Box Hill station. All passengers who wish to alight there and take alternative transport may do so.


The train to the previous fifteen minutes has been delayed because the driver has just sprained his ankle. We are currently sending a paramedic back two minutes in time to stop the train driver spraining his ankle one minute ago so that the train will arrive on time.
But in the meantime, please enjoy a performance of Lennon and McCartney's 'Yesterday', performed by a Christmas card our driver bought in Tattersalls.


Now arriving at The Crusades. Please alight here for train changes to the Norman Conquest, the Viking Depredations, the Elimination of the Picts, or stay on the line for the previous thirty seconds.


Sir, this is a zone one ticket and does not allow you to travel to the future. I suggest that you get off when we stop at the nineteenth century. Now, I will have to just ask you for some details...


Due to a rail upgrade, this train will now not stop two days ago. However, we will be stopping on the weekend prior to this, where you have the choice of either changing trains, or simply getting off and waiting to arrive at the right time.


Attention passengers: the future-travelling train to Armageddon and the end of all things is currently on time.


Welcome to the future! Sorry about the state of our train station, we'll get around to cleaning it up... tomorrow. Maybe.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A little talk about death

I have been asked to talk to you tonight about death. A few of you in the audience may not have experienced death yet, while some may be significantly more dead than others. Some will be looking forward with anticipation and a little trepidation to the event, whilst others will be looking back with that combination of nostalgia and regret that we all view significant past events and achievements in our lives (or lack thereof). To those members of the audience who are dead already, I ask you to return the evaluation forms at the end of class to me.

In any case, death is something that has happened, will happen, or may be currently happening to you at the moment, so we can be relatively certain about it to an unprecedentedly ambiguous degree.

It is easier to be dead than alive. Statistics prove it: nine times out of ten you are more likely to be a non-living entity than a living one. But in one hundred years time, according to the figures, this will be even more so. Some people, it is true, have attempted to raise the dead. However, those who have attempted to raise the dead are now dead; and many of those living people who attempted to make dead people out of other living people will shortly become dead people themselves. Death is, then, just about the only thing that happens to us all, which makes it nothing more than a generalisation. But if you look at it in a certain way (the right way) it is a vast overgeneralisation.

As the poet puts it, death is the great inevitable ineffable. In fact, it is so inevitable that it may be said to be the only inevitable inevitable, which is what makes it so ineffable in its inevitability. This inevitably ineffable inevitability inevitably could confuddle even the most infallible with its indelible incredibility. Or, as another poet puts it, "Death? That's some scary shit, man."

We can of course console ourselves by reasoning that death is a part of life. Then again, life is a part of death as well. Death is mysterious. But then, so are cream puffs. It is reported that the great essayist Emerson contemplated writing about his death after the event, but he was not there at the time. A pity: it could have been quite a scoop.

Many famous people have died. Amy Winehouse is reported to be working on it. In fact, one of the best ways to ensure a famous life is to have a famous death. However, there is no way of being certain about this: you may end up being more dead than famous (which is bad) or more famous than dead (which is worse; just ask John Howard). And the quality of life for dead people is reported to be worse than the quality of death for live people. However, officials at the Department of Human Services are working on it.

Why do we die? The answer to that is unclear, but customer service representatives recently reported increased satisfaction rates with the quality of life for dead people. Let's look at these surveys in detail:


1) How long have you been dead for?
a) 10 years.
b) 100 years.
c) 1000 years.
d) None of the above.

2) How do you find it here?
a) Great!
b) Could be better.
c) Lousy (literally).
d) None of the above.

3) What are somethings that we could do to improve your quality of life as a dead person?
a) Better room service.
b) Better trained maggots.
c) Cheap drink nights.
d) None of the above.

4) As a dead person, what do you prefer doing?
a) Having long walks on the beach.
b) Having one-on-one sessions with a highly-trained masseuse.
c) There's nothing better for my necrotic rotting corpse than a bit of me-time.
d) None of the above.

5) Who is your preferred Prime Minister?
a) John Howard.
b) Kevin Rudd.
c) Napoleon.
d) None of the above.

PART TWO: Personal evaluation.
We describe below several personal attributes, and ask you to rate them on a scale of one to ten, one being 'not like me at all', and ten being 'exactly like me'. Write the number in the box provided below the description.

6) I have a lively sense of humour.

7) My favourite colour is blue.

8) I have the most handsome corpse on the street!

9) I am kind to maggots and small animals.

10) I have a strong belief in the power of positive thinking to make a change for the better in my death.

Thank you for participating in this survey.

Of the ten thousand copies we received back of this survey, nine thousand nine hundred and ninety eight dead people had not filled out the survey, which were ranked as 'none of the above'. Two other copies of the survey had some questions filled out, but we ranked that as experimental error. However, I would note in passing that there does seem to exist one dead person out there whose favourite colour is blue.

In conclusion, I would like to end my talk conclusively by saying that while death is the conclusion of life, you wouldn't want to do it too assertively: you might end up ending it all before things have really got going, which would be a bummer.

Thank you for your time.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I couldn't be prouder

During my visit to northern climes I stayed at my parent's place. And you can't imagine how surprised I was when I bumped into my nephew on the Monday morning.

I suppose if I had been wittier I might have thought of something to say like 'so, do you come here often'? Or 'pistols at high noon, sonny'. But as it was, I just ended up catching balls, playing scrabble, and throwing paper aeroplanes with him.

I also folded some origami for him, during which he expressed the following wish:
"I want to make one of those paper things that girls use at school so I can write 'You stink' in it."

Ladies and gentlemen, I am related to this kid. And I couldn't be prouder.

Overcrowding on the trains

I've just been in a place... a mysterious and wonderful place! It was the train.

No matter how many people got off this particular train, it still remained as full as it had been before they got off. People just sort of... expanded out to fill the vacancies that the departing passengers had left. Maybe they spontaneously multiplied while I was looking in the other direction - I wouldn't put anything past your average Melbourne commuter.

Like the proverbial cup that you drink and you drink and you drink and you drink from, never managing to empty it, I am convinced that this train had similar magical properties.

*Exits to Twilight Zone music*

Friday, October 03, 2008

Amazing technological developments!*

Yesterday at work, instead of sending me a technical email about the job we were doing over the internet, C. sent me the email using her voice. It was a nice thought - it reminded me of the time that we all sent one another emails using our voice, all the time. We called it 'talking'. Also, instead of typing in emoticons into the computer using apostrophes and semi-colons and em-dashes, we'd broadcast the emoticons to one another using our faces - a process we called 'smiling' or 'frowning'.

Now, call me an old fuddy duddy if you will, but I think that that old method of sending emails to and fro, and communicating inconsequential but nonetheless interesting facts to one another, by 'talking' and 'smiling', had its charms. I think we should all do it more often. I myself have 'talked' to several people today, and received emails back from them. This 'talking' is quite useful and fun, in its own way.

So much so, that I'm going to do it for a few more days - I'm going to Newcastle, where I'll be sending a wide number of emails to my parents by means of my hitherto little-used 'mouth' (the software which I use for 'talking' and 'smiling'). It's true that it may be a little difficult to do blog posts with this 'talking' technology, so don't expect too much out of me for the next few days.

Have a great weekend!

*Amazing technological developments: this title does not apply to Jetstar, who are taking me to Newcastle via the amazingly circuitous route of Sydney, from whence I will be catching a bus up the Pacific Highway.

One talking aping two - thoughts on some poetry by C S Lewis

It may be time to reassess C S Lewis as a poet. Critics, biographers, and like people who have made it their business to criticise and biographise Lewis' life and works have tended to sideline his poetry. But all criticisms and biographies of Lewis seem to me to be limiting and reductive: it is as if they were mistaking the lamp-post Lucy finds in Narnia when she goes through the cupboard for the whole of Narnia. Many people tend to look at Lewis as the writer of the Narnia books, and write and talk as if his whole life led up to and fell away from that point. Others might curmudge at Lewis' curmudgeonliness, and his dislike of writers who were his contemporary. Or they might take issue with his conservatism; in particular, Lewis' Christianity for many is an issue in a way that it is not when they look at the writings of authors in the nineteenth century or before.

But Lewis himself admitted to many of his personal foibles, and many of his vices turn out to be virtues in disguise. He was private, and said that he wanted to 'be left alone'; he was easily moved to rage or contempt by poetry he disliked; he was credulous, though awareness of his own credulity was turned to good use in many of his critical essays - he was no more sparing of himself than he was of others. Reading his critics, you nevertheless get the impression that they took his vices for granted and refused to see his many virtues.

Lewis had for many years the ambition to be known as a poet, and maybe that ambition never left him. I have just been leafing through a volume of his poems, collected by his friend and secretary Walter Hooper, many having been originally written on the backs of scraps of paper, and others scattered through his novels. Another smaller volume might be collected of goodly Lewis poetry by a judicious editor, able and willing to sort through his scraps of juvenilia and the earlier published volumes of narrative poetry. I know of at least one short lyric amongst Lewis' best that is not included here:

We were talking of dragons, Tolkien and I
In a Berkshire bar. The big workman

Who had sat silent and sucked his pipe
All the evening, from his empty mug
With gleaming eye, glanced towards us;
'I seen 'em myself,' he said fiercely.

Many of the characteristic elements of Lewis' style appear here: the celebration of friendship in the context of a traditional English environment (a 'Berkshire bar'); the conscious imitation of alliterative verse; the improvised feel; the framing, folk-style narrative; and the paradoxical presence of the supernatural - which the poem makes both imminent and distant.

There are certainly a number of poems in this volume of Lewis poetry that take up the theme of the supernatural. Lewis seems to have had a somewhat eccentric view that poetry should be written about things like dragons - which, if you looked with an unjaundiced eye at the efforts of Shakespeare onwards, may seem unjustified. But it is true that there are certain monster stories, some of which are at the centre of literature: this has been the case since before Homer wrote about Odysseus and the Cyclops. Lewis - unlike, perhaps, some of the fantasy and science fiction authors who have written since his time - was fully aware of these traditions, and was able to turn the supernatural themes and monster stories into a fully-worked out romantic system for his poetry. So in the monologue The Dragon Speaks, his 'old, lugubrious dragon' is able to deadpan 'Often I wish I had not eaten my wife', a wonderful line where supernatural, melancholy, and satire blend together.

In other poems Lewis writes about unicorns before the Flood, Grecian, Norse, and Roman Gods, the Salamander living in his fire grate at home -

I stared into the fire; blue waves
Of shuddering heat that rose and fell,
And blazing ships and blinding caves,
Canyons and streets and hills of hell;

Then presently amidst it all
I saw a living creature crawl.

- and angels and devils. Often this love of the supernatural is aided and abetted by an affection for nonsense and burlesque. In The Last of the Wine, he ennobles the act of drinking wine by comparing himself and friends to 'A man to have come from Atlantis eastwards sailing... To Europe he comes from Lemuria'. This traveller has a phial hung on his neck, 'Holding the last of a golden cordial, subtle and sweet.' Here several mythologies are wilfully mixed up; it's as if the poem is a series of drunken images - a drinking song, in fact, for his Oxfordian friends.

Lewis' humour, seen in these poems, is characteristically generous and warm-hearted; he felt, perhaps partly due to his reading of Chesterton, that humour should be affectionate, that it should ennoble, that comedy was in some way as holy as tragedy. The poem Young King Cole is an excellent example of this: it's an obvious example of a comic reversal of a well-known theme - the nursery rhyme 'Old King Cole'. But whereas other poets might have satirised the nursery rhyme style, or used the nursery rhyme style to satirise an enemy - Lewis transforms the nursery rhyme into an extended lyric:

By enemies surrounded,
All venomously minded
Against him, to hound him

To death, there lived a king

Who was great and merry-hearted,
He ate and drank and sported,
When his wounds smarted

He would dance and sing.

Lewis doesn't exactly explain why 'Old King Cole was a merry old soul', but he does invent a history for him. You are not required to willingly suspend your disbelief about 'Old King Cole' here; rather, Lewis treats this King Cole as if he believes in him - and you are required simply to believe in Lewis' belief.

Clarity is the essence of this poetry. So much so, that when he uses a word like 'obscure', you know that it has an exact and precise meaning that is being deployed: Lewis does not convey obscurity or confusion with confusingly obscure writing (a fault which he probably would have deplored in modernist poetry.) The poems are sensual and emotional, but Lewis writes about senses and emotions with as much simplicity as he would a syllogism or mathematical formula. He frequently uses primary colours -

soft and green

burden of gold

turgid crimson, and virgin blue

Basic words - adjectives, verbs, and nouns - are frequently terse and monosyllabic, but the verse does not feel contrived:

Long had we crept

Pity hides in the wood,
The years and tides,

The earth, the bare moon,
Death and birth

Imagery is often traditional, but it is deployed economically and effectively:

A girl with bright hair

What rosy horizon

By the same token, Lewis' style is extraordinarily conservative and words which seem archaic or out of date can often be used. But even this criticism should have an important caveat: Lewis was conservative because he had come to learn something of the value and meaning of tradition, and he was able to write honestly and creatively within verse styles that seemed to others moribund. He shared this capacity with a few other modern poets - Auden, most notably - and it is probably one of the minor tragedies of the age that Lewis and Auden never met. (In his poem 'A Thanksgiving', Auden paid tribute to Lewis and Charles Williams).

And at any rate, it is difficult now to fairly criticise Lewis for using archaic diction: you can criticise a contemporary for doing that, perhaps, but to speak as a twenty-first century critic about a mid-twentieth century writer for using terminology and poetic syntax popular in the eighteenth century seems to make about as much sense as a Victorian poet criticising an Augustan poet for imitating Shakespearean poetry. There have always been modernising poets who have made even what is contemporary and new seem old; and there have always been conservative poets who have revived the old and made it seem fresh and new. This is what Lewis, at his best, does. In The Meteorite, one of his most effective descriptive poems, we see lines like this:

Thus easily can Earth digest
A cinder of sidereal fire,
And make the translunary guest
Thus native to an English shire.

What better than Enlightenment verse forms and diction - the language of an age of science discovery - to render modern, science-fictional concepts understandable?

Perhaps Lewis did not engage fairly with other poets and failed to react honestly to the challenges of modernism. (It is one thing to consciously react as a conservative; it is quite another to do so as a reactionary.) The opening poem to this volume, A Confession, sets out his anti-modernist creed fairly, and in terms that are moderately amusing:

For twenty years I've stared my level best
To see if evening - any evening - would suggest
A patient etherized upon a table;

In vain. I simply wasn't able.

I've puzzled myself over that simile by T S Eliot, and don't particularly like it either. But I presume that it was this 'huh' response that Eliot probably wanted - his simile was deliberately random. Lewis picks up on this deliberate randomness, and makes fun of it: 'Red dawn behind a hedgerow in the east/Never for me, resembled in the last/A chilblain on a cocktail-shaker's nose;/Waterfalls don't remind me of torn underclothes,/Nor glaciers of tin-cans.'

But if Eliot's point was to satirise the contrived, arbitrary nature of poetic similes by making up an extremely contrived, arbitrary simile, isn't it rather disingenuous to satirise Eliot's satire in the same satirical manner? Isn't that like making fun of Lewis Carroll's nonsense by writing nonsense in the style of Lewis Carroll? Isn't it, in fact, an unconscious homage? Lewis compares himself to

that odd man Wordsworth knew, to whom
A primrose was a yellow primrose

But anybody who is aware of Lewis' substantial capacity for rhetoric and satire will know that this just isn't true. His words and poems are, in some way, not his own; they have unintended meanings and speak to us with a conviction and truth that he was never fully aware of. His short and simple poem Prayer comes closest in divining this:

Master, they say that when I seem
To be in speech with you,

Since you make no replies, it's all a dream -
One talker aping two.

They are half right, but not as they
Imagine; rather, I
Seek in myself the things I meant to say,

And lo! the wells are dry.

Then, seeing me empty, you forsake

The Listener's role, and through
My dead lips breathe and into utterance wake

The thoughts I never knew.

And thus you neither need reply
Nor can; thus, while we seem
Two talking, thou art One forever, and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.

The music quiz!

10 quick questions to test your musical knowledge!

1. How would you describe your musical talent?
a) I have relative pitch
b) I have absolute pitch.
c) I have cricket pitch.

2. What is your favourite style of musical performance?
a) Legato
b) Staccato
c) Affogatto - hold the sugar.

3. What operatic genre is La Traviata written in?
a) Buffa.
b) Seria.
c) Soap.

4. Why was Schubert's Unfinished?
a) The same reason as Mozart's Requiem.
b) He couldn't Handel it.
c) He was unable to buy the equipment at the local mechanics.

5. You can have a polyphonic sonata, but not a sonata polyphonic. Why?
a) Cars are not ring tones.
b) Duh! A sonata is the name for an instrumental piece of music that is structured according to certain classical rules, and polyphony is merely the term for several melodies being played at once!
c) Telstra are working on it.

6. Why hymns but not hers?
a) Beats me, the entire congregation sings them.
b) Um, something to do with choirboys?
c) Sexism!

7. Conductors - who is the greatest?
a) Toscanini, the Italian conductor.
b) Boulez, the French conductor.
c) Muggins, the traffic conductor for Sydney Road at the corner of Bell Street, Moreland.

8. What is the best thing to do with scales?
a) Chopin, ascending
b) The Mephisto Waltz, descending.
c) Lock them away before you can use them, and get the apple pie out of the fridge for breakfast.

9. Out of these three listed instruments, what is the most advanced, culturally and mechanically?
a) Bagpipes.
b) Panpipes.
c) The bathroom pipes.

10. Of the following things, what would Ludwig van Beethoven find the least abhorrent if he were alive today?
a) Homophones.
b) Homophobes.
c) Telephones.

KEY! You scored -
Mostly As - there's hope for you yet!
Mostly Bs - no idea, I'm working on this one.
Mostly Cs - Hmmm. If you think legato is a type of pasta, and your closest contact with Mozart was when you drove a friend's Hyundai Sonata one time, you may have a little more to learn yet ...

Very awesome, that's what

How awesome is this story!!!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Interesting people who you probably haven't heard of

I've just been reading in my latest New Yorker (delivered uncharacteristically on time) an article about a very interesting man who I've never heard of. Not only is he very interesting, but he was apparently relatively famous at one very historical period of time, which makes matters even worse.

Not that I read the New Yorker or magazines like it to find out about very interesting people I've never heard of - I have just about as much trouble as I can handle forgetting about the very interesting people I have already heard of. I like reading magazines for the shock of the old: I enjoy meeting the familiar and the unoriginal. I find it thought-provoking (but then again, I find tying up my garbage in plastic bags thought-provoking, too.) But I don't get offended when they introduce me to new very interesting unheard of people, since I can always forget them at my leisure afterwards.

Anyway, I was reading this piece about this interesting unheard of man, and wondering why I was being told all this, and eventually it hit me - what was really bothering me about this article was not that it was about an interesting unheard of chap, and not about the fact that I could hardly understand a word of what he had wrote - but the fact that the author began by assuming that I wanted to find out about this fellow at all. Just like someone unknown had come up to you in the middle of the street and introduced their friend to you.

What bloody cheek!
Email: timhtrain - at -

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