Thursday, December 29, 2005


Although the current exhibition of works of one of my favourite Sydney artists, Grace Cossington Smith, has been on at the Art Gallery for nearly two months, I have only just managed to find the time to see it. It was, however, worth the wait. Many of the paintings I had already seen before in other exhibitions and galleries, but there was one that I found mesmerising: Sea Waves, a simple study of the ocean at Thirroul, a pretty little seaside hamlet south of Sydney (famous because DH Lawrence, Bret Whiteley and various other writers and artists have lived there at times).
Of course I was also spellbound once again by The Lacquer Room, a painting that I have loved for a long time -- I once decorated my dining room in colours and furniture inspired by it. The series of images of the Sydney Harbour Bridge being built are quite breathtaking: Grace Cossington Smith really captured the general sense of awe and disbelief that was prevalent in Sydney in the 1930s as this marvellous structure was erected. Would the arch meet in the middle? Would the city ever be the same? In hindsight, obviously "yes" and "no", but you can imagine at the time the doubt and fear in the minds of many Sydneysiders, especially when you see Grace's paintings.
I've been fishing around for another embroidery project, similar to the moonscape which I enjoyed stitching so very much. The Sea Waves painting inspired me -- which will come as no great surprise to those of you who know my obsessions -- and at first I thought that I would reproduce it in stitches: but later (thinking about it on the bus) I felt that I should choose a seascape that was more personal. Though I like Thirroul very much, it's not my favourite beach. Diamond Beach, on the other hand, comes close.
Here is the page of initial notes from my visual journal. Stay tuned for more images of the work-in-progress.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Christmas moon

This photo was taken at Sydney Airport, 2.30am on Christmas day. The moon had just risen over the buildings on the horizon.

Bah! Humbug!

Well, maybe Christmas is not so bad after all, thanks to Santa's little helpers, the Maltesers...

Saint Ness...

The Glamour Girls...

and Wonder Boy, henceforth to be known as the Dude.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Moon Box

Step 1: Punch holes around the edge of the box lid with a large needle.

Step 2: Baste padding to reverse of embroidery.

Step 3: Stitch embroidery to box top with strong thread, keeping the fabric stretched as you stitch. Run a gathering stitch around the excess fabric to draw it up.

Step 4: Add a wide ribbon (not very successfully) to cover the edges of the fabric. This is the step I am least satisfied with -- the ribbon is a bit wrinkly. I may need to rethink this. My stepdaughter, the Drama Queen, suggested using a narrower ribbon and wrapping it around several times, which is one option. Only I am not going anywhere near Bondi Junction on Christmas Eve, so a trip to Spotlight will have to wait until after the festive season.

Step 5: Fill box with moonstones (thanks for the idea, Maureen).

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Moon Rock 6

For those of you who have been interested in my moon embroidery, I apologise for the lack of updates in recent weeks. I have been working on it, but my trip to China interfered with my ability (and time) to upload images. And, of course, one is not allowed to do embroidery on planes any more, even if one has one of those groovy safe thread cutters with the blade inside a metal disk, because sharp, pointy needles are sooooo dangerous (although Amanda Vanstone can do a lot more damage with an HB pencil). But now my moonscape is finished: at least, the embroidery part of it is finished.

Here is the original image (from a document released by NASA/JPL) for comparison:

I have washed the embroidery in mild detergent, stretched it in the hoop again, and found an appropriate round cardboard box to attach it to. The next step is to stitch the embroidery to the box lid, pad it and then find some ribbon or braid to trim the edge of the lid and hide the excess fabric. More photos to come!
I will also accept suggestions as to what I can keep in the box when I have finished it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


I have finally uploaded a selection of the best photos from our trip to Shanghai and Hong Kong to my flickr account. If you're interested, check them out. Then you can say you've already seen them, when I try to force you to sit through the whole boring slideshow!

Diamond Beach

Oh, don't you love summer! I've just spent a couple of days with my mum at Diamond Beach. Spectacular weather, spectacular walks on the beach, and spectacular star-gazing (actually planet-gazing: we looked at a brilliant crescent Venus and at Mars) at night through Terry's new telescope.

Down at the beach the tide was out and the sandbar was making the waves do crazy things, such as this amazing crossover manoeuvre:

After dark, all the pretty lights came on, including the ones in the sky. Here's a picture of Venus and some Christmas lights across the road from mum's house.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Congee and other delights

I couldn't tell you about my trip to China without raving about the food. The congee, of course, was plentiful -- especially in Hong Kong, where the best I had was at the Sweet Dynasty restaurant in Canton Road, Kowloon (weekend breakfasts) and next door at the Chinese Kitchen (weekday breakfasts).
Wonder Boy valiantly persisted in eating most meals with chopsticks, only occasionally begging for a fork to cope with particularly slippery comestibles. We made a pact to try everything -- well, almost everything. (I draw the line at thousand-year-old eggs, which I have tried before and really can't bring myself to eat: they're an acquired taste that my life is too short to acquire.) So we ate such ordinary things as duck, goose, pork and beef as well as the more exotic offerings: Yangtse River hairy crabs, eel, snails, jellyfish and, yes, dog. The Voice of Reason prefers to refer to the dog meat by its name on the English version of the menu: pierced meat (it was served on bamboo skewers with a kind of red sauce).
All-time favourite foods in Shanghai were easy to choose: for snacks, you just can't go past steamed dumplings: six dumplings for about four RMB (80 cents). Wonder Boy and I tried hot coconut milk tea at Renmin Square. Sounds weird, but it tastes like ambrosia. We soon discovered that you can buy this beverage, as well as a chocolate version, from street stalls for three RMB (about 50 cents). It is sweet, hot and you drink it through a really wide straw so you can suck up the jelly balls from the bottom of the cup.
Favourite foods in Hong Kong were harder to find. We were heartily sick of noodles in broth after four days in the city, as this is the staple diet. We did discover a seller of tooth-shatteringly-cold coconut milk just outside the Temple Street Night Markets, and went back more than once for this refreshing drink. There were also street stalls selling hot coconut milk tea, to our delight. The congee, I have mentioned, was wonderful but unfortunately limited to breakfast time. On our first day we sampled the famous Hong Kong afternoon snack of toast smeared with condensed milk that may become a bit of a favourite source of after-school sustenance for Wonder Boy. It is also necessary to mention the mango pancakes at the Chinese Kitchen: mango-flavoured pancakes stuffed with mango pulp and sweetened cream and served cold.
It wasn't until our final day, however, when we visited the 10,000 Buddhas temple at Sha Tin, that we ate the dish that got my vote for the best meal in Hong Kong. Halfway up a mountain, a tiny plastic-walled hut in the temple grounds serves vegetarian meals such as deep-fried salt-and-pepper field mushrooms (and shark's fin soup !! -- must be vegetarian sharks). It was worth every one of the 400-odd steps to climb up there for the mushrooms, and the descent was also necessary to burn off the calories because I ate so many of the blessed fungi. Luckily I am better at using chopsticks than the VoR, so I was able to purloin the lion's share of mushrooms off the plate and wolf them down while he fumbled with the cutlery.
We saw lots of McDonalds restaurants in China but didn't set foot in a single one (no, I tell a lie, we did peek into the one on Victoria Peak to check out the menu -- they were selling tubs of sweet corn, which all the local kids were eating). We ventured into one of the ubiquitous KFC outlets, too. In Shanghai, I had noted that KFC sold steamed dumplings (twice the price of the street vendors, though, so we didn't bother to try them) but in Hong Kong we experimented with the chicken, corn and macaroni broth for breakfast. It wasn't nice, and I had to go and wash my mouth out with congee afterwards.

We're back!

This morning we arrived on a red-eye flight from Hong Kong to a hot Sydney summer day, with wonderful Australian clear blue skies. How do we get the sky so blue down here? Even on the best day in China the few blue patches that could be seen through the smog of Shanghai or Hong Kong were pale grey by comparison. And my beautiful peppermint gum tree in the backyard has never looked so green!

I didn't realise just how homesick I was.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Communism at work

I've just spent a few days in Shanghai where the traffic has to be experienced to be believed. I have always thought Sydney drivers (including myself) were aggressive, selfish and at times downright rude. But a Sydney driver would get nowhere in Shanghai! The first thing I noticed was that pedestrian crossings, despite being controlled by traffic lights, mean absolutely nothing. Even with a little animated green walking man showing, you take your life into your hands when you step out onto a pedestrian crossing. Horns sound constantly, warning you to get out of the way of the oncoming cars, buses and trucks. And you can't bluff them by stepping out in front of them to make them stop -- they just swerve around you, hand on the horn.
Travelling in Shanghai taxis is something else I don't want to do again in a hurry. Merging from two lanes into one is like that scene with the Knight Bus in the Harry Potter movie: the cab driver squeezes his car through the tightest of gaps to get one space ahead in the gridlocked traffic -- I swear, if I hadn't held my breath we might not have made it through in a couple of cases. The Metro was a much better way to get around.
The most amazing thing was that we didn't see a single car or pedestrian accident in all our time in the city. The only vehicle accident we saw was on our way to the airport when we were leaving, when a truck had lost its load on the expressway.
I believe the Shanghai system of road rules (or lack thereof) is a perfect example of the result of communism. In Sydney, I often complain that certain drivers think they own the road, and act accordingly. In Shanghai, everyone thinks they own the road.
Now we are in Hong Kong and I am happy to report that vehicular and pedestrian traffic is more like what we are used to dealing with, although we were in Mong Kok this evening -- the most populated place on the planet -- and there were roads that were wall-to-wall pedestrians: I doubt a car could have got through the crowd if it had wanted to.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Rules of cricket (for Pierre)

You have two sides, one that's out in the field and one that's in.

The side that's out in the field tries to get the side that's in out.

Each man in the side that's in goes out, and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes out.

When they are all out, the side that's out comes in, and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get the side coming in out.

Sometimes you get men still in and not out.

When both sides have been in and out, twice, including the not outs, that's the end of the game.

Taronga Park Zoo

I have not posted for a week because I've been busy entertaining my American guests, who flew back to upstate New York yesterday. One of the things we did was visit the zoo to acquaint Pierre with all the Aussie animals (and a few exotics). Pictures, for those interested in a) animals; b) Sydney; and c) my family, are in my flickr album. Click the button in the sidebar.

Papal bull

I laughed out loud over at the Fafblog this morning.

Yesterday's moon

Near side (with Venus):

Far side:

Monday, November 28, 2005

Humpty Dumpty

Yesterday I went to Stroud for my beautiful niece's 2nd birthday. My sister had got out mum's old Women's Weekly Birthday Cake cook book to create a cake for her daughter, who had picked out Humpty Dumpty. So the three of us sisters all pitched in to help decorate the cake according to the picture:

We spent ages leafing through the book and remembering all the birthday cakes and who had had which over the years. There was the piano cake (with white chocolate and licorice keys) that I had one year, and the ghost that Alli had with eggshells for eyes, the swimming pool (with jelly water) that Cali had for her pool party.
Audrey loved Humpty Dumpty, but when we recited the rhyme she cried when we got to the line "Humpty Dumpty had a great fall". So this Humpty was carefully placed on a high shelf where he would not meet any irreparable end!
And here is the birthday girl, trying on Uncle Pear's hat and still with a little tear in her eye after the nursery rhyme incident:

Moon rock 4

Embroidery update. I got quite a lot of stitching done in the car on the way to Stroud (two and a half hours' drive) and back again yesterday.
Today's featured crater is Korolev, the small yellow one near the centre. Sergei Korolev designed the rocket that launched Sputnik I.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Moon rock 3

Day Three.
How fast I am scooting through this embroidery! The problem is, the Voice of Reason returned from his four-day business trip to Adelaide today, so I won't have as much time to sit up 'til very late watching my choice of videos while I stitch.
Today's featured crater is the Hertzsprung crater, the nice big yellow one just leaving the main sequence at upper right. The three smaller craters above it are called something like Katich, Ponting and Terry Alderman (or I might need glasses). I don't think they would actually name craters after Australian cricketers. Hmmmmm. Kevin wants to give the moon a name: how about Richie Benaud?

Hey, I think I know that guy...

Firefighters posing in their underwear... who'd have thought it?

This kind of thing was a daily occurence at No 27 Station. Just ask the VoR.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Moon rock 2

Here's the progress on my moon embroidery. I've just about finished the purple area, although I might scatter a few more purple knots around the edges. I've only got one two-strand length of variegated purple thread left for a bit of extra shading, so that was good planning (or luck)!
Topographically, I think this purple patch must be the remnant of a fairly large crater (I read it as lower than the surrounding areas) with lots of smaller, more recent craters scattered over it. The large purple crater at the top right of this area is the Apollo crater, commemorating the historic missions to the moon. The purple oval at the lower left is called Schrodinger -- I don't know where his cat is and whether it is alive or dead -- and the pale blue oval just above it is the Planck crater, which is, however, not 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000016 metres long.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Moon rock 1

Last night I made a start on the project I first blogged about ages ago. The project was inspired by the embroidered pebble paperweights on the UK embroidery guild website and by a colour-coded topographical map of the far side of the moon from a document released by JPL (NASA). See my earlier entry for links if you're interested.

The photograph shows the page of my visual journal with a printout of the topographic map and the beginnings of the embroidery. I decided to stitch in some of the major craters in padded satin stitch before beginning the French knots. I used three strands of embroidery cotton for the satin stitch and some of the knots. Other knots are worked in two strands. Mostly I am doing three wraps, but occasionally four or five to vary the sizes of the knots. Oh, and the fabric I'm using is salvaged from the Voice of Reason's almost-new shirt: he left an uncapped pen in the pocket, with dreadful results, but the cotton fabric was too good to consign to the rag bag. (Cherie and Peggy, I told you I'd make good use of it.)
The moon map doesn't look like much yet but I have high hopes for it. It's a little big to be a paperweight (I traced it directly from the map -- it's about 15 cm diameter) but I think it might make a nice padded lid for one of those round trinket boxes. If I really like it when it's finished, I might even frame it!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I don't like dogs.

I don't even like puppies, no matter how cuuuuute you think they look with their big eyes and oversized paws and their stupid little hats (or toys, or whatever).

I especially don't like dogs whose owners think that their dog has a right to walk up to me in a public place and start sniffing at any part of my anatomy. I don't like dogs whose owners think it is okay for me to have to cross to the other side of the footpath (or street), just so they don't have to give their dog's lead a little tug to get it out of my path. I don't like dogs whose owners say, "It's okay, he won't hurt you" as I back away from their slobbery mouths and gross tongues. Not to mention the dogs' mouths and tongues. I don't like dogs that suddenly start barking madly at me from behind a fence, when I am just minding my own business, walking down the footpath, not thinking that my ears are about to be assaulted by inarticulate, eardrum-bursting animal noises -- until I jump three feet in the air in surprise.

Have I mentioned that I don't like dog owners, either? I mean, it's hardly fair to put all the blame on the stupid animals.

And dogs are animals, not children: but even if you think they are like children, I wouldn't let my child run up to a stranger in a public place and start slobbering all over her and sniffing her in inappropriate places. Or start yelling at a passer-by over the yard fence. And then say, "it's okay, he won't hurt you".

The Voice of Reason says, "a dog is just one meal away from being a wild animal". Or, in my opinion, less than that.

I may have found a soul mate in Hemlock. See the diary entry for April 12th. Via Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry.

With apologies to Sam, Nelson Mandela, Sprocket and other dogs of my acquaintance whose owners I can also tolerate.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sculpture by the Sea

At first I thought the creature above was a beche-la-mer but the catalogue claims that it's a diatom. Hmmm.
We braved an overcast sky and the worst Bondi traffic jam since the City to Surf to take a walk along the cliff tops and enjoy the annual Sculpture by the Sea show. As well as enjoying the art, we also enjoyed the company of our newly arrived visitors from the USA, my sister and her husband, who can be seen catching a wave on the Tamarama clifftop below. (They don't look too jet-lagged!)

Below is a photo of one of my favourite artworks. (The photo is upside down, so that the lettering is right-side up. That's why it looks a bit weird.) What I especially liked about it was the elderly woman in a pink bikini, who swam her lesiurely laps of the pool (paddling along on her back, without getting her perfectly coiffed hair wet at any time) oblivious to the hundreds and possibly thousands of art-loving onlookers staring down at her as they passed.

Or perhaps not oblivious? Whatever, I hope I'm like her when I get to that time of my life! (I doubt I'll look that good in a bikini though.)

Click on the flickr button in the sidebar to see some more photos of the artworks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A theological argument against ID

The Sydney Morning Herald is running a series of feature articles this week reporting on the growing controversy about teaching ID in NSW schools. You can follow it on the SMH website if you don't read that newspaper. The articles so far seem to me to be presenting "both sides" of the argument in a rational manner: the claims of ID supporters are routinely answered and refuted by scientists in succeeding paragraphs, not left to stand unchallenged.

The best analysis I read this morning, however, was an opinion piece by a professor of theology at the Australian Catholic University. Arguing from theological principles, he disclaims the validity of ID:

Much depends on what its proponents mean by the term "intelligent design". If they mean that the universe as a whole displays a profound intelligibility through which one might argue philosophically that the existence of God is manifest, their position is very traditional.

However, if by intelligent design they mean that God is an explanation for the normal course of events which would otherwise lack scientific explanation, then this is opposed to a traditional Christian understanding of divine transcendence. In seeking to save a place for God within the creation process, the promoters of intelligent design reduce God to the level of what the early theologian Thomas Aquinas would call a "secondary cause".

This is just a more sophisticated version of so-called "creation science", which is poor theology and poor science.

There are some assumptions in the full article that I would take issue with, but it is worth reading. It supports the assumption that looking for a "God of the Gaps" to fill holes in human knowledge is self-defeating: using faith to excuse and explain ignorance is forming a creator in your own image, for selfish purposes. If Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, metaphysicians, astrologers or those of any other mystical persuasion want a prop for their faith, they are not ultimately going to find it within the limitations of intelligent design. (Not that I have met with or heard of anyone but Christians -- and followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- attempting to promote ID, which puts the lie to some of the claims of impartiality and universal relevance of the "designer".)

If you do believe in a designer, creator, god, or transcendent supernatural being/force of any description, Intelligent Design is not the way to prove its existence. Choosing faith in a God of the Gaps will only lead to your god and your faith diminishing as your understanding of science and nature increases. Of course, if you are happy to let your brain stagnate at its current level of scientific knowledge, your god will at least always be what you understand at this moment. But if your understanding of your god is to remain unchanged, you might as well just slit your wrists now. If you were designed and put on this planet for the sole purpose of knowing the designer better, and you're not going to advance your knowledge at all from this point, then the purpose of your existence is at an end.
As is the purpose of the existence of ID. At a dead end.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Be a man

This community service announcement is brought to you by the Southern Cross Crazies Nowra retreat. If you are a real man, get a prostate cancer checkup. Thank you.

And now for today's blog entry. After the National Retreat in CanBra last year, where we were challenged to create embellished bras to raise money for breast cancer research, this year's focus for the fundraiser challenge was on raising money for prostate cancer research and public education. Although there are currently no male members of the Southern Cross Crazies (Hi, Tom!), many of us have friends and family who are men, so we still care about them.
Instead of bras, the instructions were to make and/or embellish a pair of men's underpants. Once again, the imagination and stitching skill of the participants were unbelieveable and we had a hilarious time as the underwear was paraded around the room. The fundraising part consisted of voting for one's favourite pair of underpants by coin donation. The underpants that raised the most money were declared the winners.
Today I have images of the first, second and third place winners. The entire parade can be seen on flickr (click on the flickr button in the sidebar to check them all out and go to the Nowra set of images). We are looking into posting hi-res images on a website soon, if you want to see the embroidery close up, so stay tuned for the details.
And now... drum roll, please... the winners are:

Third Place: Maureen III's Cod Piece

Maureen's wicked sense of humour once again came to the fore this year with a three-dimensional interpretation of a traditional male undergarment. She had a lot to live up to after her Maurdonna bra construction, but she never disappoints her fans!

Second Place: Maureen IV's Crown Jewels

The front of this pair of cotton jocks is encrusted with jewels and treasures and surmounted by an applique crown and an ermine shawl -- very regal. Maureen wanted to highlight the need for men to take care of their crowning glory. She also said that she would have added more of the handmade beer-bottle-cap buttons (contributed by her husband) but she didn't have time to drink any more.

First Place: Florence's Crazy Pants

Florence's bra was much admired last year and now hangs in her local hospital's oncology ward. She plans to donate the matching pair of undies to the same institution. Lavishly embroidered and decorated with jewels and feathers, it's no wonder this pair received the most votes.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bond, Chesty Bond

Hugh Jackman reportedly turned down the role of James Bond in the upcoming movie, much as he turned down the opportunity to be the in-house underpants model for the Southern Cross Crazies' Prostate Cancer fundraiser. In Mr Jackman's absence, we turned to another Mr Bond as his replacement: Chesty himself, to be precise.* Delivering their near relation to the green glades of the Shoalhaven were those gorgeous Bond girls, Maureen and Catherine, who unearthed this Aussie original in an op shop.
Mr Bond was the ideal model, tractable and complacent through approximately 20 changes of underwear. I am not sure how well Mr Jackman is endowed, but ol' Chesty didn't even bat an eyelid when assistance in that department was required (in the form of pieces of fruit) to help him fill some of the larger pairs of jocks.
More photographs of the weekend are available on my flickr account, where I will soon be adding the long-awaited underpants photographs. Stay tuned for further developments.

* Those of you who don't know Chesty Bond should go here. On the Bonds website, Chesty seems to have been made redundant by Pat Rafter.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

News from Nowra

Oh, whiter than the surf was she
That breaks those coasts along;
And redder than the coral tree
That grows by Gerringong;
And graceful as the springing palm
On Illawarra hills;
And sweeter than the meadow balm
By cool Shoalhaven rills.

E.J. Brady, "Keira"

On Friday afternoon I drove my car down the hill from Nowra and rounded the bend that brought me out of the tall trees on the ridge and into view of the lush Waterslea paddocks on the banks of the Shoalhaven river. What a breathtaking sight, and a great precursor to a fantastic weekend!
It was the annual retreat of the Southern Cross Crazies. Those of you with whom I was lucky enough to share the past four days will be impatient to see more pictures, especially of underpants, and I promise I will get them up as soon as I can -- look out for further instalments over the next few days. Meantime, I have a lot of catching up on work to do today, so just enjoy these pictures.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


I'm listening to Great Big Sea's hymn to summer:

Everything's gonna be all right when summer comes
The darkest stars will burn so bright when summer comes
We will open up our bodies to the warming of the sun
When summer comes

The words are not so very poetic on their own, but combined with the lyrical, folky melody and the gentle, raw voice of the singer, it makes me feel quite alive. The sun is shining through the window as I type this and I'm waiting for a subtle sea breeze to stir the leaves of the peppermint gum outside and answer the starlings that are twittering away in its branches. The native irises around the base of the tree have exploded with white flowers that come in waves every few days. Summer is already here, although the calendar doesn't recognise it yet.

The poignancy of Great Big Sea's song makes me realise how the coming of summer must seem even more miraculous to someone who lives in Newfoundland than it does to an antipodean. The frosts of winter, with plants and animals hibernating and dormant under a thick blanket of snow, must be a stark reminder of death every year, while the revitalising spring thaw must seem like an annual miracle. No wonder so many ancient civilisations worshipped the sun!

In the Australian climate, especially in Sydney, the contrast between winter and summer is not so stark. There are flowers and animals all year round, of some sort or another, and it never gets so cold and dark that the world seems frozen and dead. In Australia we always live among "the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky" (those are e. e. cummings words, but they fit) so summer seems less miraculous to us. Perhaps that's why Aussies are so typically carefree: we don't have that annual reminder of death to tell us that "She'll be right, mate" is not the answer to everything.

Those who live in the tropics must truly think themselves indestructible! No wonder they are so notoriously relaxed about time. I think that's why I love visiting Vanuatu so much: it makes me feel immortal. I can spend hours on end every day swimming around the reef and watching the denizens of that underwater civilisation going about their business: an eternity passes in every moment.

An aside: I wonder if Bruce is still running the restaurant on Hideaway Island, and if his daughter Alison is still bewitching the guests to worship her. She was five and Wonder Boy was eight last time we went: she was such a tiny thing but she would call him into her presence like a monarch when he came down the steps to the beach: "Come," she would command, with her impish smile, leading him away for some game of collecting broken coral, or chasing hermit crabs, or splashing in the shallows and examining giant blue starfish that looked like velvet but felt surprisingly hard and brittle. He looked so big and pale and grown up next to the dark, quick, lithe child, but he would follow her around like a faithful puppy. (End of aside.)

Another thing I love about Vanuatu is the genuine reverence for nature. Last time we were on Hideaway Island, a baby coconut palm just 20cm high had sprung up a couple of metres from its parent, right in the middle of the path between the steps and the jetty. Instead of digging it out or snapping it off, the island's inhabitants simply stepped off the path to skirt around it, and built a little coral wall to protect it from being accidentally damaged by passing traffic. There was no sense of being inconvenienced or outraged by the chance intrusion of nature: no need to bend nature to human will. Just acceptance.

Now that is a true recognition of immortality. To acknowledge that a palm has as much right as you have to be in that place, and may be there when you are gone: not to claim any privelege on the earth because of the species to which you belong. To know that everything is part of a continuum of existence, and to live fully in the moment. To quote cummings again:

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

Terror Australis

Last night the news reports said that the Federal government claimed to have discovered a new and credible threat to Australian security, giving this as a further reason for rushing their appalling anti-terror legislation through parliament. Apparently (I have been told by a reliable informant) this threat is neither new nor imminent: in fact, NSW Police have been working on the case for some time, and officers at high levels are dismayed at the way the government is seeking to use their ongoing investigation as a political football. That's all I'll say, because if the legislation does go through I won't be able to protect the identity of the source of my information or myself.

At the same time, I finally received an answer to my email (it was a copy of what I wrote here) from my local Federal representative, Tanya Plibersek.

Thank you for contacting me about the proposed anti-terrorism laws. It is important to note the legislation has not yet been presented to the Parliament by the Howard Government, so I have still not seen a finaldraft. It is disgraceful that the government plans to introduce laws which it expects Members of Parliament to vote on immediately, without even having time to read the legislation. It is undemocratic and it undermines my ability to do my job on behalf of my constituents. Like all members of the ALP, I have grave concerns about the legislation and I am determined to see a number of changes in the Bill from the time it was posted on the internet by ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope.

Federal Labor has been calling for strong safeguards on any new anti-terrorism laws since before the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Premiers on 27 September.

Kim Beazley has called for safeguards such as:

* A sunset clause for the entire legislation to ensure these new powers will not be permanent and will need to be revisited by Parliament for them to continue (and that susnset clause to be shorter than the ten year one proposed by the Prime Minister for just one section of the legislation);
* Meaningful judicial review of the substance of claims, not just on points of law, and an independent oversight and appeal process for control orders and preventative detention;
* parliamentary oversight to ensure the use of the powers is accountable to Parliament,
* expanded resources for watchdogs like the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security to investigate any abuses of the powers,
* new watchdogs like a national Public Interest Monitor, and
* an independent statutory body to oversight the Australian Federal Police.

Federal Labor and the Premiers have successfully forced some of those changes in the draft legislation and we are hopeful we can force more. We are determined to keep up the pressure by exposing the flaws in these laws.

Kim Beazley has also called for a proper parliamentary process so this legislation can be debated in the community and we have said we will look to move sensible amendments to reflect commonly held concerns about issues like the sedition provisions.

Kim has also made very clear when a final binding agreement between the Premiers, the Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister is reached, the Federal Labor Caucus will examine the Bill and make a final decision. Kim, like many members of the community, genuinely believes (based on intelligence briefings) that Australia is at more risk today from terrorist threats than we have been at any time in the past.

That is at least in part due to this Government's negligent foreign affairs policy, including our wrong-headed, foolish decision to follow America into the debacle of the Iraq war. Kim has written to the Prime Minister restating Labor's concerns about
the Bill and calling on the Prime Minister to put politics aside and work in the national interest, so that strong safeguards can be attached to extra powers to protect Australia from terrorist incidents. I have attached a copy of the letter for your information.

We are asking the Prime Minister to make the required changes to the Bill, allow proper time for debate, and then turn his mind to the practical measures highlighted by Labor, which will make a real difference to prepare Australia for the threat of terrorist attack: measures like increased intelligence resources, better security at
airports etc.

For your information, I have attached a number of recent media statements from Federal Labor addressing these points, as well as a copy of Kim Beazley's letter to the Prime Minister.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me. I agree this is very important legislation and that our future as a decent democratic society depends on not giving away the rights and freedoms we hold dear.

I post it here without comment, because I promised to do so, and I haven't had a chance to digest it and decide on my response to it yet. On first read, she seems to be saying, "don't trust the Liberal Party, trust the Labor Party" but I am inclined to do neither in the current political climate.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I intend to be myself

Reading DH Lawrence after Jane Austen is something of a leap, leaving the refined drawing rooms of one -- where passion is always expressed in proper sentences, no matter how deep it runs -- to enjoy the untamed physicality of the world with men and women who barely restrain animal sensation behind fin de siecle propriety. Yet there are not so many differences between the two, because the characters in both are well-realised portraits of human beings with feelings and thoughts that must be subdued to social expectations. But that's an essay for another day.
I hadn't read The Rainbow since I fell in love with Ursula Brangwen while I was studying the book at university. Or rather, since I recognised echoes of myself in Ursula Brangwen while I lived through her university studies in the book. (That is the test of a good book: if you can recognise yourself in the protagonist. And I believe DH Lawrence is one of the few male novelists who can do a really good female protagonist.)
Having been recently involved (see this blog entry) in a discussion of whether there is a separate "spiritual" existence above and beyond humanness, or whether the feelings of "goodness" and "transcendence" are explainable by purely physical phenomena, I read this section in the penultimate chapter of The Rainbow with some delight:

...she was fretting over a conversation she had had a few days ago with Dr. Frankstone, who was a woman doctor of physics in the college.

“No, really,” Dr. Frankstone had said, “I don’t see why we should attribute some special mystery to life—do you? We don’t understand it as we understand electricity, even, but that doesn’t warrant our saying it is something special, something different in kind and distinct from everything else in the universe—do you think it does? May it not be that life consists in a complexity of physical and chemical activities, of the same order as the activities we already know in science? I don’t see, really, why we should imagine there is a special order of life, and life alone——”

The conversation had ended on a note of uncertainty, indefinite, wistful. But the purpose, what was the purpose? Electricity had no soul, light and heat had no soul. Was she herself an impersonal force, or conjunction of forces, like one of these? She looked still at the unicellular shadow that lay within the field of light, under her microscope. It was alive. She saw it move—she saw the bright mist of its ciliary activity, she saw the gleam of its nucleus, as it slid across the plane of light. What then was its will? If it was a conjunction of forces, physical and chemical, what held these forces unified, and for what purpose were they unified?

For what purpose were the incalculable physical and chemical activities nodalised in this shadowy, moving speck under her microscope? What was the will which nodalised them and created the one thing she saw? What was its intention? To be itself? Was its purpose just mechanical and limited to itself?

It intended to be itself. But what self? Suddenly in her mind the world gleamed strangely, with an intense light, like the nucleus of the creature under the microscope. Suddenly she had passed away into an intensely-gleaming light of knowledge. She could not understand what it all was. She only knew that it was not limited mechanical energy, nor mere purpose of self-preservation and self-assertion. It was a consummation, a being infinite. Self was a oneness with the infinite. To be oneself was a supreme, gleaming triumph of infinity.

Here Lawrence has captured the transcendental experience of human thought and feelings, without turning it into an external deity. For the algae on the microscope slide, existence is a Platonic "thing-in-itself" and Ursula finds in that a consummation between the physical world and the infinite.
I have never felt consummated by an algae (although I remember being mesmerised by the light from my little microscope shining through the rainbow colours of skin cells on a slide I had made when I was 10 years old), but that is the kind of transcendent human experience I feel when I listen to music, or read poetry. It's the kind of experience that turns people to seek God as an explanation for their thoughts and feelings and, according to Lawrence, it doesn't really matter whether or not they find a religion that satisfies them, or some more pure unification with the gleaming triumph of infinity.
As someone said during last week's discussion (in an email), "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts". The meaning of this quotation, however, depends on the definition of greater: the whole of human consciousness may be "greater" -- beautiful, transcendent, infinite -- but yet not "more than" -- that is, it may still ultimately be explained by a combination of finite chemical reactions without needing recourse to a deity to fill in the gaps of understanding.

To be myself is a supreme, gleaming triumph of infinity. Thrilling!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Now I've seen everything...

There's an article in today's newspaper about the latest baby accessory: the "Thudguard". It says:

Toddlers can be a handful to keep safe, especially between the ages of seven and 20 months when their tender heads are egg-soft but their knack for finding peril is at an all-time high.

Hmmmm: seven-month-olds bungee jumping off change tables. When Wonder Boy was seven months old he was anchored to the ground by a couple of kilos of plaster of Paris, but even so, I doubt many properly supervised babies of that age can do more than roll over a few times.

I note this warning on the Thudguard website:


Well, I don't know any 20-month-olds who can cycle, skate or rollerblade, so that's that danger out of the way. And the dire warnings about the chin strap, ventilation slits and (elsewhere) the danger of overheating if they wear the thing too long make me think the helmet itself may be more dangerous than the odd bump on the head that comes in the normal course of a toddler's exploring.

Babies have long survived the normal trials and tribulations of toddlerhood without the protection of a helmet for their egg-like crania. My own mother recently confessed to having dropped a tin of jam on my head in the supermarket when I was a baby... which might, come to think of it, explain a few things.

And as if a baby helmet is not a ridiculous enough concept on its own, they put EARS on it. WTF?

If I ever see a baby actually wearing one of these things I'm going to report the parents to DOCS for endangering their child's sanity by making them the laughing stock of the neighbourhood.

Friday, October 28, 2005


I'm feeling a little down because of something that happened this afternoon, so I'm susceptible to a melancholic frame of mind.
Over the past week I've been re-reading Jane Eyre. And this afternoon as I worked, iTunes delivered up the song "Love is Blind" by my favourite Aussie boy band, Human Nature.
I like this song for its pretty piano accompaniment and lovely harmonies, but in the mood I'm in it seemed particularly poignant. Do you think the lyricist had been reading Jane Eyre when he/she wrote it?

Silent night, a lonely night
I didn't mean to wake you up
I was leaving anyway.
We never asked each other why,
We only made each other cry.
When the day becomes the night
And all that I have left inside
Is scattered on the wind
Didn't I give you all that love can bring?
Didn't I give you more than everything?
You know it hurts to end like this
When we've come so far.

Don't tell me love is blind
'Cause I know what I see
Tell me how you walk away when all you know is me?
And all that might have been,
And what we left behind...
Don't ever let a living person tell you love is blind.

Memories of summer days
Laughing like a little child
Lying in your arms
We would own the stars like days of old
We'd make a vow to have and hold
Now we see the empty stage
The actors gone, the empty page
The tears between the lines
Save me from these wild imaginings
Try to stop my heart remembering
Acting like there's someone else
When there's only me.

So tell me what to say
Tell me what to do
Tell me how to walk away when all I see is you.
Shadows on the wall
Pictures in your mind
Never let a living person tell you love is blind.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Shoot it down

Today I am going to have a rant about the proposed anti-terror legislation that our government is trying to rush through parliament. (If you don't hear from me for a couple of weeks, you can guess where I am, though I won't be able to tell you about it afterwards.)
According to the lead article in today's newspaper, nearly three-quarters of Australians think it is fine for people who may be suspected of terrorist activities to be detained without charge, for periods of up to two weeks, without being able to reveal their whereabouts to family and friends; with no judicial review (that is, the police don't have to have any actual evidence, let alone enough to procure a warrant), and no right to tell their version of the story afterwards.
All anyone (at least, about two-thirds of the population) seems to care about is the "shoot to kill" provisions: that the police should be allowed to shoot someone who runs away when they try to arrest them, even if they turn out to be innocent. As if the police don't already have the power to do that: remember Roni Levi, and David Gundy? (And that's just in New South Wales.)
Am I alone in thinking that the "shoot to kill" clause in the legislation is a smokescreen, inserted to shock the public (which it has done) and divert our attention from the other, more insidious, aspects of the legislation that have the potential to turn our democratic nation and justice system into a big-brother state? To muzzle the press and violate the trust of families?
We should not just be protesting against a few aspects of this legislation; we should let our democratically elected representatives know that the whole thing is unacceptable. And as for the Federal Opposition, where are they? Where is the voice of conviction standing up in Federal Parliament and speaking out for their beliefs? You know, actually opposing?
Come on, Kim: It's Time.
I don't know any other way to make our voices heard than to urge a visit to GetUp!'s website, where you can send an email to the appropriate parliamentary representative, although I am afraid even GetUp! is focussing on the shoot-to-kill aspects rather than the idea of defeating the whole bill.
But go on, make a stand for human rights and democratic freedom in Australia. While you still can.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Good God!

I was having an email discussion that arose as an indirect result of the previous blog entry, and I am finding the debate so compelling and stimulating, that I thought I would raise it here in my blog.

The question my friend asks is, isn't the human concept of "goodness" evidence for the existence of God? Where did we get our moral and ethical structure from if there is no God to provide the pattern?

A few days ago, for example, I read that oxytocin makes you more trusting. (Via the Tangled Bank.) This seems to support the idea that even those qualities that we consider virtues are more or less dictated by chemical reactions in the brain, and raises the question of how we came to value them as "good".

I am interested in having more input on this subject and hope you will let me know what you think, either by leaving a comment here or emailing me privately, if you prefer. (No holds barred: I don't mind which -- if any -- god you want to presume, although I especially welcome followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.)

Friday, October 21, 2005

ID yourself

Last night Catalyst, the ABC science program, ran a piece on Intelligent Design. Presented by a palaeontologist who noted from the outset that if evolution is wrong, his life's work is also wrong, it seemed to be a fairly balanced report. I thought it gave way too much time to Michael Behe, one of ID's main apologists, without actually challenging him or his presumptions directly. This may have been because they were using footage from another provider (I doubt the ABC budget would stretch to sending a reporter to Lehigh University for a 15 minute program segment). He trotted out the "irreducible complexity" argument using the example of a bacterial flagellum. An Aussie academic was happy to point out the flaws in this argument, although the point was rather glossed over, probably due to lack of time.
Today, scientists in Australia have released an open letter entitled "It's Not Science" (see this report in today's SMH). A friend copied me in on a letter he sent to his local newspaper after watching the Catalyst report last night. In a nutshell, his argument is that scientists do science under the auspices of their internal moral compass, and without an Intelligent Designer or God -- whatever you like to call it -- where do you find the lodestone for your moral compass?
My response is that science is empirical. Whether the morality that guides your inner compass is Christian, Hindu, atheist or even Pastafarian, when you put together two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom you get water. The question of whether the joining of the atoms is random chance, or because someone glued them together with cosmic glue, is not science -- it's philosophy. It may even be called the philosophy of science. But in most universities, that's a separate course, in the philosophy department, in the Arts faculty.
The other day I had the misfortune to watch part of a TV show called "Australia's Brainiest Kid" or something like that. In one part of the show, six children had to choose a subject in turn and answer questions on that subject. As a subject was chosen, it was deleted from the board. Guess which subject was left until last (12th pick)? Science. This shows that we have enough trouble teaching science to children, even to these "brainy" kids, without introducing elements of philosophy into the science curriculum.
Teaching ID in science classes is like teaching history in maths classes, because you believe that Pythagoras' theorem can't be properly proven without an understanding of Pythagoras' stint as a priest in Egypt and the formation of his school of the mathematikoi in Croton. And any maths teacher (especially mine, poor souls) will tell you it's hard enough getting calculus through to a class full of teenagers without having to put it into a historical and philosophical context. (I'm really sorry, Mr Verhoeven.)
So I agree with 70,000 Australian scientists: it's NOT science. Teach it at home, teach it at church, teach it in philosophy or religion classes, but keep it out of the science labs.


Never enter your PIN number on an ATM machine. You could get the HIV virus.

From Anne_Jumps via the Carnival of Feminists.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bra and undies

Last October the Southern Cross Crazies, an online crazy-quilting group I'm a member of, held a retreat. A challenge was set, for participants to embellish a bra to raise money for breast cancer research. Here's mine:

(Okay, technically it's not a bra, it's a bikini top I bought at an op shop and crazy quilted over.) At the retreat, we had a women-only fashion parade to show off our bras, then we put them on display and everyone voted for their favourites by coin donation.
In a month, the New South Wales branch (plus some interstate members) of the same group is getting together for this year's retreat and the challenge this time is to embellish a pair of men's underpants, with the aim of raising money for prostate cancer research. The question is, how will we run the fashion parade? Someone suggested we get celebrity models. I wonder what size boxers Hugh Jackman wears?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Crochet, anyone?

Here's the Crochet Dude. Check out his groovy loops.

Via mish mash etc.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Shines Right Through

CD I'm listening to: Great Big Sea, a band from Newfoundland who combine traditional Celtic-style Newfoundland sea shanties with pop ballads. My sister and her husband introduced me to their music and the lovely VoR found me their latest album when he was in Canada last week.

Here's a snippet.

Found object

We stopped in at a garage sale on the way home from the cinema (we saw Wallace & Gromit -- Wonder Boy's choice), and I found this marvellous pair of opera glasses. The case is credit-card size and the lenses pop up when you press the catch. They are very old and dusty, and the leather that once covered the metal case is all but gone, but they'll clean up quite nicely, I think.
They're the perfect size to pop into an evening bag; all the better to watch Jud Arthur with, my dears. They might come in handy at the football as well.
And just $1.00!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Fresh Ink

He did it. He really went and did it.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Girls govern!

Last Saturday our inner-city community had a big day out at the local park. The event was a celebration of the life of Ted, a resident of our suburb all his long life, who passed away last year. Ted was the patriarch of the community in more ways than just because half of the homes in the suburb are inhabited by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; he was active in local government and in initiating community activities such as the Junior Neighbourhood Watch and having the playground at the park upgraded to meet safety standards.
To cut a long story short, the whole community turned out on Saturday at a giant barbecue and fun day. Wonder Boy and I went along to eat sausages and ice cream, pat rabbits and guinea pigs, climb into an ambulance and fire engine, and smile at the neighbours.
During the formal part of the proceedings, such was Ted's standing in the community that our elected representatives at all three levels of government attended in person: Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of Sydney (our local council is Sydney City); Christina Kenneally, our State parliamentary representative; and Tanya Plibersek, our Federal MP.
It was only then that it occurred to me that we have a woman as our representative at every level of government: local Council, state Legislative Assembly and federal House of Representatives. I am sure that we are one of the few seats/areas in the country that can boast of really doing our bit to correct the under-representation of women in government at all levels.
Not that it makes me think Clover Moore is doing a good job as Lord Mayor, just because she's a woman. I voted for the other bloke.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


A couple of nights of determined stitching and I can now report that my jeans bag for the Bags of Fun challenge is finished. Sort of.
I've added handles (made from the legs of the jeans) and stitched in a lining. But I reserve the right to add more embellishments at a later stage if I feel like it.
I didn't photograph the back, which is much the same as last time I photographed it.
If you'd like to see the work in progress, click on the flickr button in the sidebar. If you'd like to see other examples of jeans bags in this challenge, click on the Bags of Fun button.
Next project I think will be my block for the Katrina Survivors crazy quilt challenge. Although I am quite keen to start on my moon rock...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Moon Rocks

The Bad Astronomer featured a document from JPL (NASA) about the Moon (you can download it, but it's a big one). Amid the esotery were some really great diagrams and pictures that even I could understand, such as the scale diagram of the Earth/Moon system, showing where the centre of gravity is located inside the earth (see my entry about planetary semantics below).

On page 21 is a fabo colour-coded topographic map of the far side of the moon. Now I have the inspiration I need for the pebble paperweight project that I have been planning. More pics as soon as I find time to start it! Here's a picture of the original pebble paperweight idea from the Embroiderer's Guild of the UK:

How does my garden grow?

Those of you who read my blog to see how my embroidery is progressing must have been frustrated for a while now... if you're still bothering to visit! Work on the jeans bag is continuing slowly, but to keep you interested, here's an update on my latest additions to the underwater garden.

You can see other people's work on the jeans challenge by clicking on the Bags of Fun button in the sidebar: there's a lot of stitching going on. Laura Lea's mermaid is worth a look, as is Curli's "Growing Old Disgracefully" and Allison's beautiful rose garden is already finished!

La Boheme

Last night the VoR and I went to see La Boheme at the Opera House. I love this opera: it's a nice mix of romance, comedy and tragedy. I had a little tear in my eye at the end.
The role of Marcello was sung by an understudy, whose name happens to be the same as a recently retired AFL player, so VoR was delighted to be able to comment on them leaving out of his bio that he played half-back flank for North Melbourne (they only listed his musical and operatic credentials). Coupled with the fact that this opera is in four acts (quarters), and Rodolfo was sung by the same tenor who sang Cavaradossi in Tosca -- 'he must have been traded in the off-season' -- the VoR was in his element with sporting analogies.
I thought that Marcello (admittedly, the understudy) and Mimi had been cast with looks in mind rather than voice: both of them looked quite young and boho but seemed to have very thin voices. In their duet they both struggled to be heard above the orchestra, which was a shame.
But I do have a new opera hero: Colline was sung by Jud Arthur in some impressive blonde dreadlocks and a very bohemian goatee. He sang the role with just the kind of strong thoughtfulness I always like in a philosopher. (I have also seen Jud performing impressively as a bare-chested Mikado, although only on television.) It's a shame he's a bass/baritone: I could easily fall in love with him if he was to sing the role of the poet Rodolfo. Why do tenors get all the good parts?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Needs meme

Do a Google search on "[Your first name] needs" to find out what's missing in your life. Here's my list:

Melody needs... rhythm as feelings need guidance
Melody needs... new words
Melody needs... to kill
Melody needs... to be sufficiently simple
Melody needs... to be known
Melody needs... your help
Melody needs... a catch
Melody needs... to be modified
Melody needs... a baby brother or sister [this might comes as a shock to my mum]
Melody needs... to be saved
Melody needs... a ride tomorrow night
Melody needs... to ring out
Melody needs... that.
Melody needs... to brush her teeth
Melody needs... more 'shaping'
Melody needs... words
Melody needs... a bit more colour
Melody needs... to grab the listener's attention
Melody needs... contour
Melody needs... forward momentum and direction
Melody needs... to set it off
Melody needs... to stand out very clearly
Melody needs... to flow
Melody needs... him
Melody needs... to be memorised
Melody needs... altering
Melody needs... to be passed around

(and that's just the first four pages).

Via Pharyngula.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The best medicine

I laughed out loud at this blog I found today.

Handcuffed Lightning

As Molly would say, do yourself a favour.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Two at a time

With just one shared award, Australia has doubled the number of living Nobel Prize winners that we had last week. Congratulations to Professor Barry Marshall and Dr Robin Warren, and kudos to Prof. Marshall who even went to the extent of drinking a glass of ulcer-causing bacteria and giving himself gastritis to prove his point.

(Our other living Nobel laureates are Peter Doherty and John Cornforth -- and I will admit to cheating on the last one and looking it up, as I was only a little tacker when he won his prize in 1975.)

The boy wonders

Wonder Boy: It's so hot today, I'm feeling laxative.
Beche-la-mer: Laxative?
WB: What did you say before that the heat makes you feel?
Beche: I think you mean lethargic.
WB: What's laxative?
Beche gives basic physiological explanation.
WB: So if someone says I have a lax nature, what does it mean?
Beche foregoes opportunity for humorous one-liner in view of not offending 10-year-old straight man's sensibilities.

Semantics and astronomy

The recent discovery of what might become known as the 10th planet in our solar system, temporarily designated Xena, was pretty exciting. Not least because it revives the controversy that has for a long time surrounded the definition of a planet, and whether Pluto (and Xena itself) should be called one.
Since you asked, here's my two cents worth: I don't think Pluto should be a planet. Because I'm a student of language and literature, I'm looking at the problem from a semantic point of view, rather than a physical one. I think that planets should be defined (simplistically speaking) as gravitationally spherical bodies (that is, large enough to be pulled into a sphere-like shape by their own gravity) that formed in the main rotational plane of the the solar system and that orbit the sun. This discounts Pluto, the orbit of which is too tilted from the plane of the solar system for my liking, and also Xena, which is even more tilted. These two "planets" should become known as the largest and first discovered of the Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).
Which brings us to the question of moons. Xena has a moon, which has been playfully called Gabrielle. Does having a moon make it a planet? The Xena discovery team likes to think so. Pluto also has a moon, a huge moon. But so do several asteroids (not including Ceres, which is, however, more or less spherical and would just about fit my definition of planet). And Mercury and Venus don't have moons. According to the definition I proffered above, there are plenty of moons in the solar system (including Earth's) that should be classed as planets, as they almost all orbit the sun more or less in the plane of the system. Even by adding some kind of clause about the primary orbit being around the sun rather than a nearby large planetary body doesn't really help: the moon doesn't actually orbit the Earth, but both bodies orbit each other around the centre of mass of the two (which is inside the Earth but not at its centre).
There are plenty of astronomers at the International Astronomical Union and in universities around the world who are scratching their heads over this whole definition thing, but there doesn't seem to be a consensus in sight for many years yet. This might be a good thing, because you never know what the properties of the next major solar system object to be discovered will add to the controversy.
If, like me, you're interested in the ongoing semantic debate about planetary status, you can get a more erudite view of it from the Bad Astronomer or more information about bodies in the solar system from The Nine Planets, where Bill Arnett has revealed his preference in nomenclature by updating the title.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The VoR has a good year

The Sydney Swans won the AFL grand final; the Tigers won the NRL; the Newtown Swans under 10s made the grand final and even the Sweaty Penguins (the B-grade volleyball team he plays for) won their comp.

But he's only allowed to get one tattoo.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Pride & Prejudice

Still on my Jane Austen marathon, this morning I re-read Pride & Prejudice. [Sense & Sensibility was yesterday. I was rather dissatisfied with that one this time around. I don't remember thinking it before, but this time I felt I would have found it more pleasing if Marianne and Elinor had ended up with each other's lovers.]

But I digress. Having just had a visit from my mother, I couldn't help but see her in P&P's Mrs Bennet, constantly saying things that probably should be left unsaid, without realising her words' effect on other people's feelings. Here's something my mother said to me during her visit:

"When are you going to move to the north side, so that we don't have to pay the toll when we come to visit you?"

By the "north side" she doesn't mean the nearby North Shore, she actually means the north-western outskirts of the city, where her boyfriend's daughter lives. No, I don't think we will uproot our family to live somewhere more than an hour's drive from our friends, Wonder Boy's fantastic school, the VoR's workplace, the beaches and our favourite local entertainments, just to save her $3.50 a few times a year.

When she says things like this, it's hard not to be offended. She is always in such raptures about her boyfriend's daughter's big, new home and its location, and they prefer to stay there than with me (I can understand that: my home is old, small and sometimes crowded, and there is occasionally a queue for the only bathroom). But I like where I live, I think my home is quite comfortable and I wish my mother did too.

Last time my mother asked whether I would consider moving (or rather, asked when I would move, as though it is already decided that I want to), my feelings were hurt but I bit my tongue and let it go -- I thought it was just one of those throwaway comments that are said without thought and regretted afterwards. The fact that she repeated it during this latest visit, however, makes it appear that she actually thinks it's okay for her to suggest I move to the other side of the city for her occasional convenience!

My gracious sister, the Country Pumpkin, who is so much more patient than me, I am sure would be like Jane Bennet and try to soothe my ruffled feelings and teach me to overlook the hurt. And some others of my friends (yes, you know who you are) would say I am, as usual, being over-sensitive. So I will try to imitate the lovely Country Pumpkin's forbearance. I do love my mother, despite her foibles.

Gemini rising

I turned to the back page of the Good Weekend magazine to check the quiz answers and was horrified to see an astrology column had replaced Mark Dapin's droll satire piece.

My first reaction was to condemn the Good Weekend for lowering its fairly rigorous journalistic standards. But something made me read the StarLite column anyway. Perhaps it was the byline: Ptolemy II. (Makes a change from "Athena Starwoman", "Emily Leo" and "Lilith".) So here are my stars for this week:

Be realistic about your attractiveness to the opposite sex. A handy rule of thumb: if you haven't had sex for a month, relax and enjoy the break; for a year, you're either not trying very hard or trying too hard. If you've been celibate for two years or more, time to go online.

By the time I got to Scorpio -- "Dress warmly when outdoors or that annoying sniffle of yours could disintegrate into full-blown pneumonia" -- and Aquarius -- "Your lucky book recommendation this week is Ulysses by James Joyce. Why lucky? I have no idea. I'm just a conduit here." -- I was hooked.

My very favourite entry was for Leo: "Sorry I can't be more specific, but a massive flurry of comet dust is obscuring your vital signs."

I wonder if this will be a regular column? I can't wait to see what the stars have in store for us all next Saturday. And I was so pleased to see that the Good Weekend can safely remain part of my favourite Saturday reading, from Dr Karl's mythconceptions to the inspiration for tonight's dinner menu (mmm: prawn, celery and white bean salad). Who knows, maybe Ptolemy is Mark Dapin's middle name.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bon voyage, VoR

How heavy do I journey on the way,
When what I seek, my weary travel's end,
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say
'Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend.'

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 50

The Voice of Reason is currently winging his way across the Pacific for a visit to San Francisco and Vancouver. I kissed him goodbye at the airport an hour ago and I miss him already.

Meanwhile, Wonder Boy and I are going to run amok for 10 days!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Intelligent Design

This morning I was reading a newspaper article about the test case in Pennsylvania over Intelligent Design being taught in schools; and I was reading Anton's arguments for intelligent design in the comments on the Bad Astronomer's post on Intelligent Falling. Then, on the bus, I was reading Chapter XI of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species:

He who rejects this view of the imperfection of the geological record, will rightly reject the whole theory. For he may ask in vain where are the numberless transitional links which must formerly have connected the closely allied or representative species, found in the successive stages of the same great formation? He may disbelieve in the immense intervals of time which must have elapsed between our consecutive formations; he may overlook how important a part migration has played, when the formations of any one great region, as those of Europe, are considered; he may urge the apparent, but often falsely apparent, sudden coming in of whole groups of species. He may ask where are the remains of those infinitely numerous organisms which must have existed long before the Cambrian system was deposited? We now know that at least one animal did then exist; but I can answer this last question only by supposing that where our oceans now extend they have extended for an enormous period, and where our oscillating continents now stand they have stood since the commencement of the Cambrian system; but that, long before that epoch, the world presented a widely different aspect; and that the older continents formed of formations older than any known to us, exist now only as remnants in a metamorphosed condition, or lie still buried under the ocean.

Plus ca change, plus ca meme tout.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


This weekend I took a detour off my current reading list to re-read an old favourite: Jane Austen's Emma. I was inspired to read it by a newspaper article discussing whether Jane Austen is nineteenth-century "chick lit" or a real classic author(ess), but it took me this long to find my copy of the book.
I love Emma best of all Jane Austen's heroines, mostly because it is easy for me to relate to her with all her flaws. She is clever and pretty but she can be thoughtless and selfish, just like me when I was 21 (and 31, and possibly when I am 41...). She has the steadying influence of Mr Knightley to gently remind her when her behaviour transgresses the bounds of social acceptance, and still be madly in love with her despite it (in that sense, he reminds me of the Voice of Reason.)
It seems to be the fashion these days to classify books by the great female writers of the past as "chick lit". See my earlier blog entry on To the Lighthouse. Why, because they're by and about women?
I have to say that, in my experience, very few male writers can create a convincing female protagonist. For example, the VoR loves sci-fi and begged me for years to read Contact by Carl Sagan (you know, the one they made into a movie with Jodie Foster). It's a great story, well-written and with a convincing use of real physics to back up the fiction, but the main character left me cold. She thought too much like a man, especially when it came to her personal relationships. I have read a few other sci-fi novels, mostly at the VoR's request, and the overriding social motivation in many of the futuristic societies seems to be sex without consequences. (The female sidekick is generally a willowy blonde with an insatiable sex drive and no personality to speak of: Ringworld, by Larry Niven, for example.) There's no getting-to-know-you action: attraction followed by assessment and then overcoming misunderstandings and social or temporal obstacles. All the things that make Jane Austen's novels so difficult to put down.
Is sci-fi the male equivalent of "chick lit", where sex-without-consequences is used as a condiment to add spice to an adventures-in-space narrative structure? Whereas in chick lit, either old-fashioned or modern, sex/attraction always has consequences for the protagonist and the society at large (as it does in real life).
Is the "chick lit" classification of Jane Austen et al a misguided attempt to help people see past the old-fashioned manners and social mores that constrain the behaviour of the protagonists? To get back to Emma: modern readers might find it tiresome to have to wait right until the end of book two before Mr Knightley even takes her hand, and there's certainly no suggestion that they ever kiss before their wedding day. A modern Emma would not be forced to deny physical attraction to any of the three contenders for her affections. But despite this Jane Austen fills the narrative with delightful frisson and URST that build up by tiny steps to a satisfactory conclusion at the end of the book. That prime example of chick lit, Bridget Jones' Diary, is simply (I understand: I haven't actually read it, or seen the movie) a bringing of the Pride & Prejudice story into the 21st century. Yet I've read parts of the next Bridget Jones sequel, which is being serialised in my local newspaper, and I can't say I admire the writing style or identify with the character as strongly as I do with Emma Woodhouse, despite the fact that Bridget Jones is my social and moral contemporary.
Is Emma chick lit? It's about a female protagonist dealing with human relationships, so if chick lit is defined by those terms, then that's what it is. But the implication is that any book about those subjects is only for "chicks": and I think that is underestimating the skill of Jane Austen as a writer. I only know a few males who would bother to read or confess to enjoying Jane Austen's books because of the social stigma they would be under if they did. There's no social barrier, on the other hand, to chicks reading and enjoying "bloke lit" like Moby Dick, Ernest Hemingway, or even science fiction (if they like).

Sunday, September 25, 2005