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

Thursday, September 22, 2005

In Memoriam

This week is the third anniversary of my dad's death. I was thinking about him the other day (not because of the anniversary; I think about him all the time) and remembering the days when dad was the only man in my life and the only male in an all-girl household (for a while there, even the animals were all female, including the dog, the cows and heifers and 40-odd sheep). He was a bloke, a man of his time: he liked drinking beer and watching sport, playing golf with his mates, hairing around on his motorbike and tinkering in the shed. I used to tease him about being a male chauvinist.
Now I've seen a lot more of the world and had other men in my life, including some real male chauvinists, I can look back and see that actually dad was one of the most sympatico males I have ever known, in his own way. I'm the proof: I believe that I can do anything I want to do and be anything I want to be because he always supported my choices and encouraged me in my endeavours. The phrase, "girls can't do that," was never heard in our home.
I used to wonder what it would be like to have a brother, and for dad to have a son. Whenever he was asked, he always said he wouldn't have it any other way, that his three girls (well, four including mum) were all he ever wished for. And he was telling the truth: we were his children, he loved us unconditionally, and the fact that we were all girls was a bonus.

I miss my dad.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Self-congratulatory note

Blogspot seems to be having some problems, and my posts aren't publishing. Nevertheless, I've checked in on my own blog several times today just to ogle that picture of Hugh Jackman.
Love it!

Good news

Front page of today's Sydney Morning Herald: our new High Court judge is a woman, Justice Susan Crennan.

She will replace Justice Michael McHugh, who challenged the Government last month to appoint a woman when he reached the retirement age of 70 on November 1.
But Mr Ruddock said he was appointing "the best person for the job" and that she would "make an outstanding member of the High Court regardless of gender".
Victorian barrister Kate McMillan, SC, said Justice Crennan was one of the last generalists - those who can tackle almost any area of law.

Not only that, but apparently she plays a mean bodhran as well.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Proof that proofreaders are a dying species

A report in today's newspaper would have made me laugh if it weren't so awful. The Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers (ACLO), who largely deal with alcohol-fuelled social disruptions, received vests with the acronym "ALCO" in large letters on the back. Somehow these were ordered, printed, checked, received and dispatched to police stations without anybody noticing the error.

In the same issue of the paper, a breakout quote says "Is Oaklahoma! a stepping stone to Mozart, Puccini or Wagner?" (It's correct in the text of the article, and on the web.)

It's Oklahoma, OK?

(If you think this post was just an excuse to put a picture of Hugh Jackman with his shirt off on my blog, you wouldn't be very far off the mark.)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Spelling test

What's wrong with this ad for Westfield shopping centres?

accessorize, metallicize, glamourize

We won't be pedantic about the American "-ize" suffix, even though we really prefer the Australian/English "-ise" version.

But if you add glamour to something, you make it glamorous or glamorise/ize it. Even in Australia.

What's so stupid about this is that the copywriter chose to use the American spelling for the suffixes then, with some kind of misguided sense of patriotism, tried to revert to the Australian spelling for glamour, and put in a "u" that shouldn't be there in either case.

I don't know what kids these days are learning at school! Certainly not how to use a dictionary, or even (heaven help us!) a spell-checker.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The more things change...



ydoan o
yunnuhstand dem
yguduh ged

yunnuhstan dem doidee
yguduh ged riduh
ydoan o nudn



lidl yelluh bas
tuds weer goin


I keep remembering this poem by e.e. cummings every time I hear George W Bush or John W Howard speak about the war on terror.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Apropos of nothing

It's one of those days: Cats in sinks. No comment required.
(Thanks to the Phantom Professor.)

And for those who love to relive a moment of pure magic: the final moments of the Swans game last week, courtesy of another Swans fanatic.

For a bit of a cerebral hit, take a look at the Bad Astronomer's blog and check out his link to the map of meteor impact sites. At first glance it seems like there's a heavy hit-rate in Europe and North America: should those bastions of first-world civilisation beware of future fire and brimstone? Maybe it's evidence for an Intelligent Designer after all -- or it might just be bolognese sauce.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Vernon God Little

I think about all those days when the alarm wakes me up and I wish I could stay in bed all day, or at least a couple of hours longer. But when I'm stuck in bed because being upright is agony, the place is less than appealing. Even the thought of doing nothing but reading is anathema. And it's hard to do crosswords with a pen that doesn't write upside down.
Nevertheless, while spending the last two days in bed I got stuck into Vernon God Little, the 2003 Booker prize-winning novel by DBC Pierre. It was a compelling story, and was enjoyable in a grungy kind of way. It reveals the dark side of small-town life, populated with characters whose dark sides aren't far from the surface at all times. In some ways, Pierre reminds me of Patrick White (and the Australian love-hate relationship with this Nobel prizewinner's work).
White and Pierre both scratch the thin skin of social acceptance and reveal the raw bones and blood underneath. You can't love their characters because you can see them with all their inner conflicts exposed, but you have to marvel at the writer's ability to reveal deep meaning with a deft phrase, or even a single word. There's no happy ending, although there is satisfaction in the conclusion. Reading Vernon God Little makes me want to go and dig out my copy of Voss, which I think is one of Patrick White's best (I did recently enjoy The Eye of the Storm). I'll have to add it to my reading list.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Revenge is a dish best served cold

I've harbored a grudge against Geelong Football Club supporters since 1997, when I was walking out of the SCG with a two-year-old Wonder Boy on my shoulders after the Cats had beaten the Swans. A Geelong fan walked up to me, bent down to shout right into my face and yelled, "Oh look, a whole family of losers." I've never been able to forgive the ungraciousness of that comment and I admit I have allowed it to colour my view of all Geelong supporters ever since.
But last night, as we were leaving the SCG again, this time after an amazing last-second win by the Swans (I don't carry Wonder Boy on my shoulders any more -- soon he will be carrying me!) I finally had my revenge.
A disconsolate Geelong supporter grumbled, "Don't celebrate too early, you've got St Kilda next week." To which I replied, "Mate, at least we've got next week."
Tickets to the semi-final: $150
Hideously expensive and tasteless catering: $37
The look on the Cats' supporter's face: Priceless!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Jeans bag update

I thought it was about time I posted another picture of my jeans bag work in progress. I am having so much fun with a huge pile of deluxe threads, beads and other treasures, although my fingers are a little the worse for wear from pushing the needle through the denim.
I've started working from right to left across the front of the jeans, filling in gaps as I go. This is one lush reef.
The Voice of Reason keeps asking, "Are you finished yet?"
Of course not: you can still see denim!
To see my progress so far, you can click on the Flickr link on the right, or click on the Bags of Fun button to find out more about the challenge.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

15 minutes and counting

Did anyone else see my name in print on the weekend?

More oohing and aahing

The sun is setting behind the row of trees on the hill, and you can just make out the wink of Venus over the smiling moon. I set up the camera, take a few pictures and sit down to wait for the sky to darken. Some kids wander over to see what I'm doing. Jake knows all about Venus and Jupiter: "I've seen Venus before." Adam can top him: "I've seen Pluto," he claims. Hmmmmm.
Jake, who's eight, knows quite a lot about the planets, but he can't understand why Jupiter is closer to the sun than Venus (as they appear in the sky), so I draw him a mud map of the solar system and and we have an interesting discussion about why Venus is brighter than Jupiter even though Jupiter is so much bigger. "Venus is my favourite planet," he admits.
Soon, their dads arrive to see what we're looking at and one expresses doubts about whether the bright star can be Venus -- "isn't it always around in the morning?"; meanwhile, Jupiter has winked into view. I wait a bit longer: the sky is darkening and everyone is going home, although Jake is keen to stay and see Spica appear. Just as he and his dad reach the bottom of the hill, I am able to call out, "Look, there it is." The tiny spot of blue is just visible to the left of the moon.
I move the camera over the hill, away from the sportsground lights. Now I can get the shot I'm waiting for. And here's another one of just the moon, Venus and Spica. Not bad for a park surrounded by city light pollution, if I say so myself.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Oooooh Aaaaaah

I am so damned pleased with this photo I took tonight I've gone all egotistical and uploaded it LARGE so you can all get a good look at it. Even at lo-res, it's quite spectacular. Look at the moon: you can almost see the man in it! Look at lovely Venus, with Spica as her sceptre and Jupiter grovelling at her feet. Look at that light pollution creeping into the bottom left corner where the street light is...
Just wait until tomorrow when that Cheshire Cat smile of a moon will be between the two planets. Oh please, please let it be a clear night.

If they need a proofreader, I'm available

I've just finished reading a book that is a prime example of appalling proofreading, and it was published by no less an illustrious international publishing house than Penguin Books. In contrast, the edition of To the Lighthouse that I recently read was a cheap paperback (I bought it for less than $5.00) and when I came across one or two typos in that book -- such as then instead of them -- I put it down to keeping the costs down at Wordsworth Classics. But this other book was from Penguin, a new-release trade paperback that cost close to $30, and I felt it should have been done better.
To list just a few of the egregious errors (the ones I can remember without looking them up): at least twice, "women" was used to describe a single female person; the author felt that her holiday was a "right-off" instead of a write-off; she found that she couldn't "breath"; there are many sentences with dubious grammar and missing words; and, probably the most laughable, in one paragraph a rescue officer was trained in ropes and rappelling, but in the next paragraph, on the same page, he was trained in ropes and repelling!
Well, I was repelled.
Okay, nobody's perfect, but Penguin should be more perfect than most if it wants to maintain its reputation.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Metaphorically speaking

We were out in the car, on the way to the movies, having one of those conversations about current events.

Voice of Reason: You don't judge someone by the way they perform when they're at the top, but by they way they handle the bad times. When you're on the crest of a wave, it's easy; but when you've been dumped, your jocks are full of sand and you've been through the washing machine, that's when you see someone's true character.
Beche-la-mer: Yes, but it seems that in this case [the fall from grace of the former NSW opposition leader] there were a lot of machinations from within his own party. I mean, the prime minister hung him out to dry.
VoR: Okay, but he [Broggers] handed them the weapon. He loaded it up with ammunition and they shot him with it.
Wonder Boy (from the back seat): Are you using a metaphor? Because I'm confused... first you're talking about waves, then weapons.

Sometimes, you just forget that the other person in the car is only 10 years old. At this point the VoR nearly drove off the road as he did a double-take at his offspring's use of the word "metaphor". Correctly, I might add. (See, he is my son.) Later, we continued:

Beche: I'm really impressed that you recognised your dad's use of a metaphor.
WB: Well, why do you use metaphors?
VoR: You know when you watch football on television, and there's one guy who says, "Now he's got the ball and he's running up the middle of the ground". He's the commentator. Then there's the other guy who says, "He swooped on the ball like a hawk on a sick chicken". He's there to provide the colour, and he uses metaphors to do it.
Beche: Actually, that's a simile.

Oh well, you can't win them all.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Yum cha

Went out for yum cha after Wonder Boy's football grand final yesterday and, for once, they brought around the chicken feet at the beginning of our meal. I've always wanted to try them, but they usually bring them around at the end when I'm absolutely stuffed and certainly don't want to eat something that I may not enjoy.
So I can now report that I've eaten chicken feet and survived. They were quite edible -- tasted like chicken -- with the texture of gelatinous cartilage. I can't say that I'll be adding them to my list of favourite yum cha dishes, which includes: sticky rice, fried prawn dumplings, sweet potato dumplings, steamed bok choy and that crispy grass (seaweed) with candied walnuts, not to mention mango pudding.
As we were leaving, the head waiter was up a ladder, tying a lettuce with a lucky charm wrapped in it over the restaurant door. I asked what he was doing and he said it was to feed the dragons, which were approaching to the sound of the beating of drums; apparently, if you feed them they won't wreak havoc on your business.
Personally, lettuce is not the kind of food I thought a dragon would eat: I thought they were mostly carnivores. But I guess it's hard to tie a goat carcass above the door of your restaurant without ruining patrons' appetites.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Venus & Jupiter, part three

I managed to get a nice shot of Venus and Jupiter on Friday night, when they appeared pretty close together in the sky. Now I'm just waiting until next Wednesday when they will be making a nice threesome with the crescent moon.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Margaret Preston

I had some spare time today so I went to the Art Gallery to finally see the Margaret Preston exhibition.
On the left in this image is her well-known picture of gum blossoms, and on the right is the needlepoint version I stitched when I was at university (I bought the kit at the Australian National Gallery). So I was quite pleased to see that there were stitching kits available in the gallery shop today and bought another, this time a cross stitch version of a massed vase of wildflowers.
I love Margaret Preston's flowers, from all the different periods of her art. It is fairly obvious that she loved them too, as she imbued them with such vibrancy and vividness. Even at her most extremely modernist, or in a woodblock print where the petals have artificial black outlines, the flowers just leap out of the frame at you, begging to be plucked. You can almost smell them: cinerarias, pelargoniums (pelargonia?), dahlias. Of course the most amazing are the natives: bright orange-red coral flowers, stark red-and-black Sturt's desert peas, furry flannel flowers, delicate rock orchids and gnarly banksias. It's just too much for the senses.

Take a look.

Katrina relief

I just bought an embroidery sampler pattern in aid of the victims of hurricane Katrina. It's only US$10 and it's such a pretty design -- the purchase price goes to the Red Cross. Check it out if you like to stitch and you'd like to help.

Thanks to Sharon B who has listed a whole lot of fundraising efforts, from knitting to quilts, in her blog.

Fellow jazz fan, Bitch PhD, also has some links for donations and notes that Fats Domino is currently listed among the missing in New Orleans.

Spring is sprung

It was the first day of spring, in all its glory: a bright blue sky, a breath of wind, layers of clothing shed and time to throw open all the doors and windows and let the musty old house fill with fresh air. That clear sky would be perfect for observing the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, I thought.
Then, just around sunset, the temperature suddenly dropped by several degrees and a southerly buster blew up. Wonder Boy's piano teacher ran in shivering, and I hastily shut all the doors and windows to keep out the chill. I went outside to set up my camera and tripod in the back yard for the perfect photograph of Venus and Jupiter, when I saw the ominous front of clouds coming up from the south. No stars tonight! (Well I did manage to get one ridiculously poor snap through a gap in the clouds but it's not even worth showing you.) I hope the bad astronomer had better weather in his part of the world.
To console myself, I spent the evening sewing shells and beads onto my jeans bag. Here's a picture of the ocean floor, featuring the glass bead (with orange spots) that Wonder Boy called the beche-la-mer.