Thursday, December 31, 2009

New year's resolutions

I make 'em all year round... and I'm not very good at keeping 'em. This year, I refer you to my friend Shayne's blog for a list she posted from a teacher at her daughter's school.

Happy new year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Quantum lords a-leaping

"Quantum leap" is one of the most misunderstood terms in the modern idiom. People use it to mean an enormous, almost impossible passage from one point to another, and then others complain that, because quantum theory is actually used to describe the universe at the most minuscule scales, a quantum leap is actually a very tiny step. I was one of those people, until yesterday.

I finally finished reading The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene. This marathon explanation of the workings of String Theory took me a few years to digest, mainly because I was mostly reading it in bed–and there is no cure for insomnia like a good dose of supersymmetry!

Despite regularly feeling as though I'd never wrap my brain around the concept of branes, I must have managed to absorb some fundamentals, because it occurred to me in the middle of Chapter 13 that a "quantum leap", like a four-dimensional sphere, bridges both a very short distance and a very large distance, depending on how you look at it. So the idiom as it is widely understood is actually correct, and the pedants (me included) are not wrong, but not completely right either.

Last night when I closed the cover of the book for the last time and turned out the bedside light, I dreamed of Calabi-Yau spaces. Now I've ticked that book off the list of classic texts I must read before I die, I'm not sure what's next: perhaps it's time for me to tackle Marcel Proust at last. Can anyone recommend a good English edition of Swann's Way?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cutting off your nose...

While I'm on the subject of politicians who can't make a brave decision (*cough* Copenhagen *cough*), what's up with the Greens? I can't believe they voted against the proposed emissions trading scheme (ETS).

As my grandmother used to say, it's like "cutting off your nose to spite your face".

When John Howard begrudgingly gave us the chance to vote on whether Australia should be a republic, he framed the question so that we had to agree to a particular presidential model at the same time. So, despite the fact that more than two-thirds of Australians want to live in a republic, many of them voted "No" in the referendum because they didn't like the model that was proposed. And many of them told me, "We'll vote 'Yes' next time, when they offer us a different model".

I argued that any republic is better than no republic, and any model of presidential election is not going to please everyone. I warned several of my friends and family that there would not be a "next time": Hello! Ten years later, is there any sign of another referendum? Not even close!

This, it seems to me, is what the Greens have done with the ETS. Surely, any ETS is better than no ETS: but, no, the Greens said, "It doesn't go far enough, so we'll vote against it". What they should have done is voted for it, then campaigned for additional, stronger measures in subsequent bills.

There are an awful lot of noseless politicians around Canberra this year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Playing politics

So, I sent off my protest against the stupid Reclaim Your Vote campaign that the Sydney Morning Herald is running. Today's newspaper claims they have collected approximately 19,500 signatures online and 3000 by mail, and the accompanying opinion piece (written by an Opposition flunky) declares this evidence of the need for a public recall option for elections in NSW. He does, however, add the following caveat:

Yes, recall elections would represent a serious constitutional change. The proportion of the population petitioning for a recall election would have to be suitably large so that interest groups are not able to hijack the political process.

Note those words, it would require a "suitably large" proportion of the population. Now, let's do some maths, kiddies:

Let x= the number of people who want to "reclaim their vote"; let y= the population of NSW. If you divide x by y and multiply it by 100, you get z= the percentage of the population who want an end to fixed terms for state pollies.

22,500 divided by 6,980,000 equals approximately 0.32 per cent.

That means a whopping 99.68 per cent want to stick with fixed terms, either because they believe it's a good system, or because they don't really care either way. What do you think, Andrew? Is 0.32 per cent a suitably large proportion to justify faffing around with the Constitution?

I agree that the current government is doing nothing for the state. I think they should suck it up, spend the next 12 months making hard, unpopular decisions that will have a lasting, positive effect on public infrastructure and social issues, then get voted out with a small shred of their dignity intact at the end of their term. I know that, instead, they will probably spend the next 12 months fighting internal faction wars and achieving nothing of importance. But I don't think that allowing a disaffected minority of the population to petition for more elections (when we can hardly be bothered to vote wisely in the ones we've got) is going to make the pollies of any stripe more accountable; I think it will make them even less likely to do anything that takes real political courage.

His Honour quoted something he'd read recently, and I'm not sure who wrote it: "The Right Wing of the Labor Party are not interested in running the state, they are only interested in running the ALP". I think that just about says it all.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Xmas tree

Here's this year's christmas tree. It's about 50cm high, with a base the size of a dinner plate. I made it out of green wool bouclé, stitched over a cardboard cone. Giant gold rick-rack stands in for a strand of tinsel. The star is a pale creamy-gold printed cotton fabric stuck to a cardboard template, with the edges turned under: I made two and whip-stitched them together around the edges.

The green bouclé fabric remnant was 2.5m x 140cm wide; so I've got more than two metres left over. I think it might make a nice winter skirt, but there's probably enough fabric for two or three skirts. Who wants the leftovers?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Democracy: can't live with it...

This is the form I'm going to send in to the Sydney Morning Herald to add to their call for a referendum on fixed terms for the State Government of NSW.

Yes, we are all sick of the current Labor government with its faction-based leadership spills every other month but, hey, we voted for them. It's time the electorate faced up to the consequences of their actions.
It's all very well demanding the right to force a democratically elected government to hold an election every time they make a policy choice you don't agree with, but what are you really going to achieve by doing it? You'll just vote in another slightly different bunch of politicians, none of whom will be prepared to take any really tough but necessary decisions, for fear of losing power at the next (early) election.
In this particular case, look at the options: if you were able to put public pressure on the government to hold an election now, who would you vote for? Or, more importantly, what would you be voting for? Can you tell me what Barry O'Farrell's party policy is on any of the major issues that are facing our state? Or do you just want to get rid of Kristina Keneally because you don't like her American accent, or her friends?
Instead of wasting our time complaining when the democratic processes of our constitution actually work--that is, we had a change of leadership in a majority parliamentary party without an assassination or military coup--we should remember the other way that democracy works: if you don't like a government's decision, lobby your local member; join a public advocacy group; sign or start a petition to the government about a REAL issue. Don't just stamp your feet and say, "I want an election, and I want it NOW".

Friday, November 27, 2009

Street art 2

I'd read about these artworks in the newspaper (question and answer) but hadn't seen one in real life until a few days ago. This is the city bus stop opposite David Jones in Castlereagh Street.

Here's a close-up of the installation:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Street art

This is literally a piece of street art: I found it lying face-down in the road. After rescuing it from the wheels of passing cars, I propped it in the bus shelter nearby in case the artist came back for it.

Two days later, it was still there, so the Dude and I brought it home. Maybe we'll finish it, or maybe we'll just paint over it.

There's nothing like a found object for inspiring creativity.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Emissions of hot air

With the imminence of legislation for an emissions trading scheme, yesterday's newspaper printed pro and con pieces. Cory Bernardi, speaking against the motion, raised the argument that Australia can't afford to be a world leader in this matter: "Introducing an ETS in Australia before the rest of the world is not in our national interest."

I've previously recommended a Pascalian wager on climate change, so I want to ask the honorable member, "Can we afford not to?". If everyone is standing back and waiting for someone else to go first, why shouldn't Australia be the one to dive in? Then K-Rudd could go off to Copenhagen with a real reason for his self-satisfied smirk.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

World gone mad

Am I just out of step with reality, or do other people find these things weird, too?

1. There is a sign up at my local shopping mall advertising a day on the weekend when you can bring your pet to get its photograph taken with Santa. I'm considering turning up with a goldfish in a plastic bag... but you don't get a prize for guessing that 99.9 per cent of the pets that appear on the day will be dogs. I'll say it again: dogs are not people! They're not naughty or nice, they're just dogs.

2. I visited a major grocery chain store, where my purchases included two polystyrene trays of meat, firmly wrapped in clingy plastic. I produced my own shopping bag. The motherly looking check-out chick asked me if I wanted the meat trays in a plastic bag, to which I replied, "No, thank you" – the meat was sealed, my other items were sealed, and if the worst came to the worst I could always wash the shopping bag. She proceeded to place the meat trays in a plastic bag anyway. When I repeated that I didn't want a plastic bag, she gave me a disdainful look over the top of her spectacles – as if to imply that I didn't know what I was talking about – and said in a pedantic tone, "You'd better have one just in case." I gave up arguing at that point.

So, is it just me?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Warning: contains nudity

Nakedness at Sculpture by the Sea on Sunday:

A modern version of the bounteous-breasted Venus of Willendorf.

The Lost Boy: I didn't crop out the annoying woman, who is about to ignore the "Please do not touch the sculpture" sign, to indicate the actual size of the sculpture, which was finally allowed to be exhibited sans budgie smugglers.

This is my favourite photograph, not because it has nude men in it, but because I -- completely by accident -- lined up the horizon with the guys' feet, so it looks like they're walking on water!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Pascal's wager on climate change

Got 10 minutes to change the world? Watch this.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Are we Victorian?

When morals campaigner Hetty Johnston hauled Bill Henson before the courts for taking non-sexual photographs of a topless adolescent, we had some enthusiastic debates on the subject at our house. A few weeks later, when we went to see an exhibition of Degas' work, there were no public objections to his depiction of a naked 14-year-old ballerina who looked much the same as the subject of Henson's photograph. The latest controversial artwork to draw the ire of the super-moral is a sculpture of a one-year-old boy, installed for this year's Sculpture By the Sea. A further article in today's newspaper said that "some women" whom the writer spoke to agreed that the figure should be covered up. I hope these women never have to change a baby's nappy.

I believe there is nothing necessarily sexual about nudity, no matter what the age of the person who is naked. Nudes of all ages in art imply many meanings; sometimes sexuality and pleasure, but often (as in the case of the Lost Boy sculpture) innocence and vulnerability. I think our culture is losing sight of the beauty of the human body in all of its conditions and limiting our appreciation of nudity to its sexual form. In contemporary popular media, this appreciation is more and more constrained by the tendency to fetishise nudity; with implications of bondage in restrictive lingerie and impossibly high stiletto heels; expectations of a slim body with plump breasts (mostly only attainable by synthetic means); as well as my pet hate, the banishment of pubic hair.

Yes, there are some people who look at a one-year-old and have a sexual experience. Unfortunately, this will probably happen whether the child/sculpture is wearing Speedos or not. As I argued at the time of the Bill Henson case, demanding that artists stop depicting nude children (which raises problematic issues of drawing the boundaries: What constitutes "nudity"? How old is a "child"?) is tantamount to saying that women should not be allowed to dress in certain clothes because a miniskirt is an implicit invitation to rape the wearer. The viewed is not responsible for the actions and reactions of the viewer.

I recently visited a friend of my sister, who has two gorgeous little girls. We were sitting on the front porch, when the children ran out of the house at the sound of the ice-cream van: the three-year-old was completely naked, having removed all of her clothes while playing. None of the adults or other children who were playing in the street batted an eyelid as she sucked on a rapidly melting iceblock, rivulets of red liquid cascading down her body. Later, her mother said to me, "I don't bother to argue with her. I don't see the point." Neither do I -- and it made the post-iceblock clean-up easier, for a start. It was just a perfect summer afternoon, everyone enjoying themselves, nobody passing judgement on anyone else's choices. If we have to go back to the Victorian era when even the furniture had to wear skirts in case someone accidentally got a hard-on from a glimpse of a shapely table leg, I think we will all be sorry.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's raining men...

Actually, it's just a baby shower! My friend is expecting a little boy, and I wanted to make a gift, rather than buy one. So I dug up last year's bib pattern.
I also made a bottle bag and, if I have time, I will make a slipcover for a portable sachet of baby wipes. The bottle bag just needs a little drawstring of chocolate grosgrain ribbon, and the bib needs a bit of Velcro.
I'm pretty pleased with the result: I think the chocolate brown theme makes a nice change from pastels.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Greenery for the Nelly Bag, part 7

I spent some time doodling with a needle and thread on the weekend, trying out different stitches for the greenery between my daisies. I will be happy to accept feedback and votes: which stitch do you like, or do you have some other suggestions for filling the space? I am also considering an all-over background of seed stitch.
The stitches are, left to right: feather stitch, fly stitch, stem stitch with lazy daisy leaves, outline stitch, stem stitch (with optional fly stitch at the end), padded satin stitch, chain stitch.
And here, thanks to Photoshop, are the test stitches approximately in situ:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

World's most delicious cookies

Pine nut and almond paste cookies, baked yesterday afternoon. There are none left, because no-one can eat just one.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Daisies: Nelly Zhang bag, part 6

Here's the daisies, with all the satin stitch done. (Compare the colour of the silk thread with the previous image -- that's the difference between artificial and natural light!) I'm thinking about reworking the purple centres, and next I will sketch out some greenery in the gaps between the flowers. I thought I would work some fern stitch leaves, or perhaps some feather stitch, or even some swirls of chain stitch. I think some experimentation is called for. Fortunately I have plenty of green silk!

I had bought two skeins of the golden variegated silk for the petals, and as I worked my way across the bag I began to be concerned that I had underestimated the amount required. But you can see from the picture below how much thread I had left over after I placed the last satin stitch: showing that I should never underestimate my skills at estimating!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Tea for two

Last night His Highness broke my Royal Crown Derby tea mug, the only china piece I was allowed to keep out of storage in preparation for our forthcoming move. Like the spoilt child I am, I insisted that I could not possibly drink tea out of a pottery mug, and made HRH drive me all over Sydney in a search for a suitable replacement from which to sip my steaming beverage. Here's what I brought home:

They are not by a recognised manufacturer, the glaze is starting to wear off, and they don't even match. But, crumbs, they're gorgeous! Look at that gold paint! The iridescent glaze! The little legs on the front cup and the lacy cut-outs on the saucers! I haven't seen anything so kitsch in ages...
I'll be Mother and pour out the lavender Earl Grey, shall I?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

15 minutes and counting...

Check out today's Column 8 (Sydney Morning Herald), paragraph five, where I got my name in print today. Such erudition!

Do I get my C8PhD now?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Vaccination in the news

An article in this morning's broadsheet about complaints to the TGA over homeopathic immunisation claims caught my attention. I know many people who subscribe to a belief in homeopathic treatments without really understanding how they work.

The fear of vaccination, like the fear of dentists, is irrational and unjustified. As Dr Ken Harvey is quoted as saying in the article, "overall [vaccinations] have been one of the most powerful health interventions we've had to eliminate infectious diseases". I will not claim that there are never any adverse reactions to vaccinations, just as I can't promise that it won't hurt when the dentist needs to drill your tooth, but the fear of the risk seems to be out of all proportion to its actual chance of occurrence.

Immunisation is not foolproof: two children I know and love have both suffered from whooping cough in the epidemic of the past year. Both were fully vaccinated, but were immune-compromised because of other chronic illnesses, and the lowered herd immunity that arises from people turning to things like homeopathy instead of proven medical treatments must take part of the blame for their illness, as it must in the case of the tragic death of Dana McCaffery in February this year.

In the same issue of the newspaper was a story on a new vaccine against HIV. Its effect, of preventing around a third of infections, is not a complete cure or a total preventive, but it would be a shame if people's irrational fears of vaccination did not allow the vaccine to be further developed and offered to people at risk.

I was never more appreciative of the efficacy of modern vaccinations than the day that I took the Dude for one of his early immunisations. Ms ND, who was about 10 years old, asked what the vaccinations were for: "Diptheria, whooping cough, tetanus", I replied, "and polio". She asked, "What's polio?" That's how you know vaccination works!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Scam spam

Yesterday I received this scam email.

I knew it was a fake straight away: I can't understand why the people who come up with these ideas (and go to the trouble of setting up websites to phish for your bank details) can't even be bothered using a spelling check! I mean, "imputs"? Another clue is the use of exclamation marks: that's not something a government department would be likely to do. And it's hardly worth mentioning the bad grammar and punctuation.

At least we know it didn't come from the office of Steve Fielding, since they managed to spell the word "fiscal" correctly.

When I checked the source code, I found that the link that appears to go to the ATO website actually goes to, where, I assume, I would find a page asking for my bank account or credit card details and PIN or other ID. Not going to happen.

Children, this is why correct spelling and grammar is important. Here endeth the lesson.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Twitter for luddites

Via Keri Smith

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nelly bag, part 5

Finished the outline and fill of the daisy petals on the Nelly Zhang shopping bag inspired by the character in Michelle de Kretser's novel The Lost Dog. I'm about to start the satin stitch over the petals.

I stitched the cutting line of the bag front to help with placement of the daisies. For the other pieces of the bag (back and strap/gusset) I've ironed on interfacing and cut out the shapes. I've also cut out the lining pieces, ready for assembly. The silk shantung and hand-dyed silk thread are working together quite nicely.

I am considering working some daisies on the strap, as well, but there are some logistical problems about placement. What do you think?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Take that, Ratzy.

The welfare state is perhaps the greatest altruistic system the animal kingdom has ever known. But any altruistic system is inherently unstable, because it is open to abuse by selfish individuals, ready to exploit it. Individual humans who have more children than they are capable of rearing are probably too ignorant in most cases to be accused of conscious malevolent exploitation. Powerful institutions and leaders who deliberately encourage them to do so seem to me less free from suspicion.

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, chapter 7. On why the welfare state must be accompanied by access to contraception.


Monday, September 14, 2009


I almost forgot that I'd bought this gorgeous card of vintage buttons (in the "Latest Style") at the Roycroft antique store in East Aurora, NY. They're almost too pretty to use!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Too Ys?

Having worked for Parents magazine in the nineties and dealt with the hundreds of photographs of babies with food on their faces that were sent in each month for the Happy Snaps page, I've been aware of various annoying trends in baby naming in the past: just ask me about "Wraith" or "T'neal", or the 17 different permutations of Brittany. Then there's the one my sister recently told me about: "La-a", pronounced "Ladasha". Obviously.

Apparently in vogue around 20-something years ago, a trend is appearing among young males (particularly footballers) to have a Y in their name, whether one is required or not. Here are the three examples that irritate me most, in reverse order:

3. Rugby League's 2009 Dally M medal winner Jarryd Hayne. He's got one in his surname, which can't be helped, but why complicate the whole matter by putting a Y in his first name as well? It's not as though it changes the pronunciation: everyone still calls him "Ja-rud", not "Ja-rid".

2. Another offender is the illiterately named Tarkyn Lockyer, who plays for Collingwood in the AFL. Once again, a Y in each name is gratuitous, and what is wrong with "Tarquin"? I mean, if you're going to make a literary reference, at least spell it the way Shakespeare/Shakspere/Shaykespyre did.

1. The most gratuitous Y award goes to Danyle Pearce, who plays AFL for Port Adelaide Power. Despite all appearances, his name is pronounced "Dan-yull", as in Daniel, not "Dan-isle". People complain that English spelling is illogical, then change the spelling of their children's names for no apparent reason, and not even to increase the chance of it being pronounced correctly.

And don't even get me started on Jaxson Barham or Eljay Connors...

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Nothing to write home about

Hope I don't need to send these postcards on my next holiday.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Nelly bag, part 4

Working the daisies: the petals will be in padded satin stitch, like the centres. I'm doing all the outlines first, so that I can stop redrawing the design all the time, as the white fabric pencil comes off very easily with all the handling.

I've also realised I probably should have worked the petals before the flower centres, but I can always go back over the centres after the petals are finished. At least I can do my embroidery at night now, as the yellow silk thread is easier to see under artificial light than the purple against the black background!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The oldest oppression

I was listening to the latest Humanist Network News podcast this morning, in which Norma Ramos talks about her work to illegalise prostitution. The sex industry's effect on the women who are trapped in it and on the rest of women in society is something I have never been comfortable with, no matter how many happy hookers the pro-lobbyists trot out to try to support their argument that it is harmless.

It is difficult to argue that prostitution is bad, without being made to feel like a prude or a hypocrite. Some of the things that Ramos said, however, helped me to formulate a new argument (or at least, one that is new to me): making sex a purchasable commodity is bad for all of society because it implies that sexual satisfaction is a right to which we are all entitled whenever we want it, rather than a relationship (of whatever depth or duration) between two people.

Proponents of sexploitation often argue that sex is natural, that we as animals evolved such an appetite and are thus naturally entitled to fulfill it. But even in the wild, animals must earn the right to fulfill their instinctive desires: by attracting mates through elaborate displays and courtships, providing food and protection, etcetera. These behaviours are part of a relationship. People who visit prostitutes or view pornography (and I have never been able to see the difference between the two, from an ethical point of view, except on a cost-per-unit basis) are asserting their right to sexual satisfaction, now, without reference to the needs, wishes or rights of the object of their immediate desire.

I'm not trying to put a social value on sex in a backhanded way, by insisting on a certain amount of time or number of dates before two people are allowed do the deed. I'm not even saying that it's wrong to have sex with someone you've just met and will never see again. Or with someone anonymous. Or with more than one partner. Or even by exchanging money, gifts or favours for sex. If that kind of relationship is okay with everyone involved, it's okay with me.

However, while a sex drive is natural, it is not an imperative. There is no inalienable right to sexual satisfaction in the articles of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. On the other hand, article four asserts an inalienable right to be free from slavery in all its forms, and I believe that the purchasing of sexual satisfaction is a form of temporary (or, for some, more permanent) slavery.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Nelly bag, part 3

Design sketch and daisy centres.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Flowers for Vivienne

My first Strelitzia of the season...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Nelly Zhang bag, part 2

These are the materials for my Nelly bag, inspired by one belonging to a character in Michelle de Kretser's novel, The Lost Dog.

I've drafted a pattern, bought lining fabric and interfacing, and I'm almost ready to sketch the daisies onto the black silk fabric. The threads are hand-dyed silk from Dinky Dyes: gold and green, and purple for the daisy centres. Yummy!

Keep your eyes peeled for updates as I get to work on this bag.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I think... I need a new T-shirt

At a recent lecture about Charles Darwin's impact on the modern world, I was looking at an image of the familiar "I think" page of his Notebook B. This diagram represents the early crystalisation of the ideas he brought home from his voyage on the Beagle. It's incredibly simple and, to the modern eye, obvious. So I thought it would make a cute design for a T-shirt:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Birth choices for women

I've just fired off this rant to the Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, and thought I'd reproduce it here (with hyperlinks to references added).

Dear Ms Roxon,

Leslie Cannold's article in yesterday's Sun Herald newspaper drew my attention to the issue of birth choices in Australia. It particularly concerns me that the Government is pursuing a course of action that will disadvantage independent midwives and reduce the choices for women giving birth, when all credible scientific evidence throughout the world shows that homebirth is at least as safe as hospital birth for both mother and baby in low-risk pregnancies.

I expect that Government policy should be based on such scientific evidence, with the public's safety and freedom to choose in mind. In this case, it appears that the policy has been set largely by a lobby group (obstetricians and gynaecologists) who have long been outspoken against independent midwives but have not been able to produce any credible scientific studies or statistics to back up their case that homebirth is dangerous.

I recently read Dr Marsden Wagner's book, Born in the USA, which contains terrifying anecdotes about women being strapped to hospital beds by court order and forced to undergo caesarean surgery when they opted for homebirth with a trained midwife. Is that what is in the future for Australian women who choose homebirth? I recommend that you read this book, written by an obstetrician and former Director of Women's and Children's Health at the WHO, to compare where Australia sits with regard to the rest of the world on these issues.

I hope you will reconsider the registration scheme that is limiting women's choices, for the good of your constituents and under the principle of freedom of informed choice.
The newspaper article was in response to changes in the Government's registration requirements for midwives, which allows a fine of $30,000 for practicing without malpractice insurance (which they can't get). Last I heard, it was still the case that women who elected to have a homebirth had to pay the full cost themselves, with no Medicare rebate or private health cover available.

If you agree that mothers should have the freedom to choose the best care options for themselves and their babies, you can visit Homebirth Australia and sign the petition or buy a virtual rally ticket for the Mother of All Rallies at Parliament House on September 7th.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Beware the Spinal Trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

Simon Singh

On 29th July a number of magazines and websites are going to be publishing Simon Singh’s Guardian article on chiropractic from April 2008, with the part the BCA sued him for removed.

They are reprinting it, following the lead of Wilson da Silva at COSMOS magazine, because they think the public should have access to the evidence and the arguments in it that were lost when the Guardian withdrew the article after the British Chiropractic Association sued for libel.

We want as many people as possible around the world to print it or put it live on the internet at the same time to make an interesting story and prove that threatening libel or bringing a libel case against a science writer won’t necessarily shut down the debate.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Northern exposure

I took this picture out of the upstairs window last night, using the windowsill as a tripod and a 60-second exposure. Despite not really being able to aim the camera where I wanted it, I managed to capture the constellation Ursa Minor with Polaris in its tail, thus proving that I am really in the northern hemisphere. In the lower right-hand corner, you can see the lights of Buffalo glowing behind the top of a spruce tree.

I'm no astrophotographer, but I'm quite proud of this effort considering the limitations of my equipment. And I'm pretty sure I've identified that little blob of pixels correctly: I checked it against the Your Sky map. Although I've been in the northern hemisphere several times, last night was the first time that I have had the opportunity, the weather and the reference material to go out and look for the north pole star. It's an unfamiliar sky, for me, but now I know where I am.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fresh as a daisy

I am reading Michelle de Kretser's Booker-Prize-non-winning novel The Lost Dog. I hadn't really intended to read it, despite the fact that I was intrigued by the interview with Michelle on The Book Show, because I don't like dogs. However, when I saw it in the bookstore I picked it up because I liked the cover and, when I read the first page, I didn't want to put it down.

It's one of those books that has the remarkable ability to stir memories and illuminate coincidences and spark tangential trains of thought. It represents new ways of looking at the world that chime in with everyday events and put a new spin on ordinary things -- even changing my nephew's nappy (or diaper, as they must be called in the USA). Also, there's not too much dog lovin' in it.

So here's how I came across the inspiration for my next embroidery project:

Early one Sunday he went fossicking with Nelly at the flea market in Camberwell. There was a purposeful air to her, signalled by the black bag worked with yellow daisies carried over her arm. She avoided the professional dealers; lingered among the offerings of stallholders who had turned out their cupboards so they could go shopping again.

If you haven't read the book and don't already know Tom and Nelly, this might not seem a very inspiring image. But as soon as I read this paragraph I knew I had to have a bag like that. I could immediately see it in my mind's eye; now I need to convince my extremely pregnant sister that we simply must make a trip to Joanne's for some black fabric and yellow embroidery thread. I'll keep you posted as the project develops.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

But is it art?

I went to an exhibition today, called Reality Cheque, which comprises artists' responses to the GFC. A friend of a friend has a work in the show, but I don't want to talk about his fluffy chickens here.

Many of the artworks were thought-provoking, some were funny, and some were simply weird. The one that stood out for me, however, was a photograph of a refrigerator with the door open. The photograph itself was not the artwork but was representative of the "art", which was that the artist, Mark Dahl, left his fridge door open for the duration of Earth Hour.

My first reaction was that such an act of social sabotage was not only pointless but disgustingly selfish. I was incensed. How dare he negate the environmental goodwill cerated by Earth Hour in this way? How can this be art?

But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that this moment of rebellion serves to draw attention to the hidden meaning of Earth Hour and of people's participation in it. It provokes thought and assessment in the viewer; it points out that Earth Hour is no more than a token gesture; that those who participate and feel they have fulfilled their debt to the future for the year are hypocrites; and that deliberately leaving a fridge door open for an hour is probably no greater crime than running an air-conditioner on a hot day.

So, despite my initial reaction to the work, I came to the realisation that this piece of art is actually my favourite of the whole exhibition: it best achieves the aim of all art, which is to reflect the world back to the viewer and change the way they think about reality.

What do you think?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Investing in gambling

Further to my recent rant about gambling, today's newspaper features the following letter (emphasis mine):
Share it around
Now that Oz Lotto has reached the absurd surplus of $90 million, isn't it about time it considered taking divisional prizes that have not been won and spreading them down through lower divisions in the same draw?
That way, those who have invested in a particular draw can enjoy a proper share of the prizemoney.
David Dolphin Summer Hill
Despite the fact that His Honour often refers to buying a lottery ticket as "Financial Plan B", it is not, in fact, an investment of any sort. It is, purely and simply, gambling. If David Dolphin doesn't like the odds, he should "invest" in something more likely to give him a return, such as hiding his money under his mattress.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hyperbolic crochet

I've been busy crocheting hyperbolic coral for the exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in August this year. Here are some of my contributions, just using up scraps of yarn that I had accumulated.
The hyperbolic crochet project was all started by a mathematics professor in 1997, who worked out that it was a simple way to demonstrate complex concepts. It was taken to new heights (or should that be depths) by Australian sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim of the Institute for Figuring. There is a great tutorial on the IFF website about hyperbolic space if you want to know more.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Overheard on a bus

As I took my seat on the 310 to Circular Quay last week, I couldn't help but overhear one end of the mobile phone conversation of the woman who twisted and squirmed in the seat opposite. She was dressed in faded black jeans and a brown hoodie jacket, with a bubble-gum-pink knitted beanie pulled down over her lank, mouse-brown hair. I'd estimate her age at around 30, although her skin showed the sallow, wrinkling effects of a nicotine addiction.
Having described at some length the state of her pet cat's digestive problems and toilet habits, I heard her say to her interlocutor:
"Yes, you'll see me at the pokies tonight."
"Someone is going to sit with me and show me what to do..."
"...yeah, I really need it. I only had $10 to live on last week."
At this point, she leapt up and got off the bus, dashing across the road to catch the tail end of the traffic lights. All her movements were jittery and rapid, as though she were a bundle of nerves.
It made me really sad to think that the best financial advice her friends could give her for making $10 last a week was to feed it into a poker machine. I wonder how long it will take her to learn the hard way that she'd be better off using the money to line her cat's litter tray, because at least then she wouldn't have to buy the newspaper as well.
I know that there are lots of people who can afford to put $10 through the poker machines and walk away thinking, "you win some, you lose some". His Honour regularly splurges on Lotto or Powerball tickets, saying "it's a cheap way to buy a dream for a few days". But if your dream is just to have money for enough food, and the lights of the poker machines are winking at you and promising fun and riches, what happens when all you get is eyestrain and an empty belly?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Living for the moment

Like, I don't love Graham Rawle enough already.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Pet hates

Yesterday it was the Pet Shop Boys, today it's just the pet shop. Ms ND and the Dude came running this morning to see what had me groaning in frustration. How many times do I have to say it? Pets are not people.

If it is true the highest test of a civilisation is the way it cares for its most vulnerable, then Australia's animal welfare record has nothing to do with it. Australia's human welfare record does: we could do a lot better when it comes to the way we treat the disabled, the mentally ill, the elderly -- who ARE our civilisation's most vulnerable members. Pets are not members of civilisation, they are commodities and luxuries.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it's okay to mistreat animals. And I'm not saying people shouldn't keep pets. In fact, I agree with the majority of the article: owning a pet is a choice and a responsibility, not a right, and people need to think carefully about doing so. However, humanely killing unwanted dogs and cats that are incapable of existing by themselves in an environmentally friendly way is not a violation of civilised standards. It's a shame, but it won't be the downfall of our society.

Argue with me if you like: I'm sure Dr Peter Singer would.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Drawing a long bow

This morning's newspaper included an article about the Pet Shop Boys, one of His Highness' favourite bands. I was astonished by a claim in the second paragraph that they were on a surge of "Obama-inspired positivity"; I mean, the boys are Londoners through and through, somewhere between indie and UK Pop -- so NOT the sort of thing you'd associate with hopping on a US bandwagon.

I had to read right through to the end of the article to find the throwaway line that led Bernadette McNulty to this extraordinary leap of logic:

"We did feel quite positive making this, because you could sense the times changing," Tennant says. "It was the same as at the end of '88 when we recorded our version of It's Alright. The Berlin Wall was coming down, Nelson Mandela was coming out of prison, acid house was starting. It was an astonishing period of change. And last year, it was the same. When Obama was fighting Hillary it was like the future versus the past, and George W. Bush was finally going."

And now I'm thinking the PSBs have lost the plot. Obama is not Nelson Mandela, by any stretch of the imagination. The Berlin Wall coming down was an iconic moment that is not in any way to be compared with George W Bush's retirement. And they're only 50! Gah! That means senility is just around the corner for me as well...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

How to talk about books you haven't read

I found How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read (by Pierre Bayard, Granta, 2008) on the sale table at the bookstore on the weekend, and couldn't resist taking a peek inside. By the end of the first page, I was hooked. Written by a professor of literature, it begins with the premise that there are millions more books you have never read and will never read than you have actually read or will read in your lifetime. Of necessity, you will therefore spend the majority of your life talking about the plethora of books you have not read.
He further categorises books into four categories: books you have skimmed (encompassing most of the books you've read), books you have heard of, books you have read but entirely or partially forgotten, and unknown books. Bayard is French and unsurprisingly leans towards a Derridean theory of reading, espousing the postmodernist precept of multiple readings of any given text. That's a concept I particularly like, since it would be a boring world indeed if we all got exactly the same meaning out of every single shared book (although it would certainly save time in our household, in which one or the other of us is generally to be found loyally but disappointedly ploughing through books recommended by another member of the family -- the phrase "you MUST read this, you'll love it" is almost never, in our experience, true.)
Bayard says that you can say a lot about books you haven't read, just by being able to place them in your personal library. If you know what books they'd be filed next to on your mental shelving, for example, you can learn a lot without ever opening the cover. For instance, I just bought Ransom by David Malouf (which is presently a book I have heard of, but I hope to make it a book I have skimmed soon). I have read other David Malouf books (although it was some time ago), so I'll mentally shelve it with The Great World (a book I have mostly forgotten). I know it's a retelling of the Iliad, so on its other side I'll shelve the original Iliad (in translation, a skimmed and partially forgotten book), as well as other Greek literature, mythology and history (skimmed, heard of and wholly or partially forgotten). Thus, without having read past the cover blurb, I already know a great deal about what the book is like and can attend the Writers' Week seminar with impunity.
Isn't that fantastic! Think how much time and stress you'll save now that you know you don't have to read your next book-club book before you get to the meeting! I feel so free...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Philosophy of journalistic ethics

The Philosopher's Zone podcast this week featured an interview with David Neill from the University of Wollongong in which he said much the same thing as I said in my previous post, only better and more philosophically.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How advertising ruined my life

A couple of days ago I promised a rant about the insidious effects of advertorials on good journalism, so here it is.
There are really two forms of advertorial. In most cases, an "editorial" mention is promised to accompany an advertising booking. This can be done reasonably, if the journalist writing the article is free to include non-advertisers' products and services as well (although it is still not ideal). For example, I recently wrote an article recommending certain restaurants in Sydney, in which three of the four I was required to mention had full page ads in the same publication. This kind of advertorial is usually fairly obvious to the reader, who can easily see the ad near the editorial and infer a link between the two. I don't believe it is harmful, because it is simply a recommendation; I wasn't writing an exposé on health inspections, for example, or pretending that the list was comprehensive.
A more insidious form of "advertorial" is when journalists cannot write anything in editorial that may have a negative reflection on an advertiser. Here's an example: when I was employed on a parenting magazine, I wrote an article on the pros and cons of the use of disinfectants in the home. As part of this story, I related a true personal anecdote about a television advertisement for an unnamed cleaning product. When the camera "zoomed in" on scary-looking green germs on a pristine white surface, the friend with whom I was watching burst out laughing. She was a microbiologist, and immediately recognised that the supposedly scary "germs" were just yeast, a substance which we all have in our gut nearly all of the time.
When the article including this anecdote was printed, a major advertiser threatened to withdraw advertising from all of the company's publications. I was forced to apologise in person to the client, who claimed that, although I hadn't mentioned their product specifically, it was obvious that it was their ad to which I referred, since I had correctly identified that the "germs" were yeast! As well as grovelling to the advertiser, I was made to write a short news item in the next issue of the magazine specifically promoting their product. (As there was nothing inherently wrong with the product itself, but only the advertising for it, I felt able to do this without compromising my principles, thus keeping my job.)
Related to the use of advertorial pressure to compromise journalistic standards, as well as to compromise the finances and ethics of the publication in general, is the use of contra. For those not in the industry, "contra" is the name given to payment for advertising in kind, rather than in dollars. Used properly, contra can be great: for example, every time you get a free gift with your magazine you are probably getting contra -- free gifts boost copy sales, so a magazine will accept 100,000 tubes of lip gloss in exchange for a double-page spread of advertising. This works out well for publisher, advertiser and reader.
The problem I have with contra is when it doesn't feed back into the finances of the publication. At some publishing companies I have worked for, there were credible rumours among the staff that the CEO or senior executives were using contra ad bookings and editorial coverage to supplement their personal lifestyles -- for home renovations and holidays, for example. The problem with this is that there is no feedback into the economics of producing the magazine (I'd bet my bottom dollar that the execs didn't take a pay cut to make up for the freebies they were receiving). Less real advertising revenue means budget cuts for editorial expenses and no pay rises for journalists, while the execs and senior staff enjoy virtual, tax-free, pay rises. The reader receives no benefit at all.
As in my last post, having raised this issue I really have very few ideas about changing the industry practices. These days, as a freelance journalist, I can to some extent choose who I work for and what I write, but I actually have very little bargaining power if I want to continue to get regular work. (And that's another rant.) Enforcing ethics is hard, particularly in this economic climate.

Death of the journalist

Dr Steven Novella, at Skepticblog, asked the question: Is journalism dead? and naturally I can't help putting in my two cents' worth.
I agree with Dr Novella, that the internet is changing the way we learn about news, and the sources we choose to obtain it from. This is the future, and we need to strap in for the long haul and ride out the transition. However, I'm sure there were similar complaints when both radio news and television news first came on the scene, so reports of my death are exaggerated.
Publishers have a bottom-line-driven attitude to their output. Advertising has always been the main revenue source, and editorial is valued only as the stuff that fills the space between the ads. These days, it is often bastardised by tacit "advertorial" content (that's a whole different kettle of fish that I'll save for another rant), or produced on a shoestring by overworked journalists trying to find a balance between the good reporting that their personal standards demand, and the lack of time and resources to do it properly.
Nevertheless, publishers will all agree that good editorial draws in more readers, thereby attracting more advertising dollars. This is where I want to put the spotlight back on readers: do you really care about good journalism?
Let me ask the question this way: how much are you prepared to pay for a newspaper or even a website that delivers really good quality journalism? One hundred years ago, a newspaper cost between about threepence and sixpence. (For the sake of argument and decimal currency, we'll say five cents.) A quick conversion to today's relative value reveals that the modern equivalent, based on the average unskilled wage, would be more than $5.00. How much do you pay for your newspaper? My home-delivery subscription costs less than a dollar per day, and the internet edition is free.
The main effect of the cheapness (or free-ness) of news sources is insidious. It's a well-known marketing adage that you don't value something you can get for free (or cheaply). YOU don't expect your internet news source to be accurate, you just want it to be timely. YOU don't care if Pauline Hansen's racist policies have changed, as long as we find out if those nudie photos are really her (see the front page of today's Sydney Morning Herald). If you had to pay a fairer rate for it, would you be more picky about what you read?
Dr Novella asked the question, and so do I: what business model can we develop that will allow journalists to make a decent living out of doing a good job? I'm no economist, but I think that at least part of the answer is in the readers. If YOU demand the truth, and are prepared to pay for it, we'll all be able to eat tomorrow.

(Come back in a few days for my rant on advertorials: another economic rationalist reason why good journalism is in decline.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Yesterday I returned to the old alma mater for a public lecture by Dr Karl in the Eastern Avenue Auditorium (formerly known as Carslaw, with new bits and a water feature). I've been to the uni regularly in recent days, mostly by car, but this was the first time I'd strolled down the pedestrian mall that now runs between Fisher Library and the Wentworth Building.
I was totally gobsmacked and impressed by the new law school building next to Fisher library. It's so sleek and, surrounded as it is by open space, I felt as though I had somehow slipped into a Brobdignagian architect's model. Who knew those old fogeys on the Sydney Uni Senate had it in them to approve such a breathtaking postmodern structure? It certainly makes Carslaw (what's left of it) look like the muddle of mid-century utilitarian garbage that it is. And the Chemistry building should hang its head in shame.

On a side note, it always amuses me that the Transient Building is still there, now more than 20 years after I graduated.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Postcard from home

Graham Rawle, author of one of the best books I read last year, is running a workshop at the V&A on Friday, and he posted the instructions on his blog so that those of us on the wrong side of the globe can participate. The idea is to make a collage from magazines to represent what "home" means to you. Here's my effort:

Something to read, something to look at, something to sew, a window on the world, a comfy chair and a cuppa -- bliss!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fun with fungi

Not mushroom for art in your school curriculum? I love this project and am off to make my own brown-bag basidiocarps. [Pics to come.]

Monday, January 26, 2009

Australian of the Year

Congratulations, Mick Dodson. This appointment, following on the heels of Barack Obama's inauguration, ushers in the unofficial Year of the Black Leader.

Next on the agenda: restoring human rights in Aboriginal communities. Yes, we can!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Art or nature?

Yesterday a soccer player, whose name I have thankfully already forgotten, was interviewed for one of those 20 questions-style profiles in the Good Weekend magazine. I was impressed by many of his answers, thinking that he showed a surprising amount of intellect and originality for a footballer.

Unfortunately, he undid all his good work with his answer to the question: "What is your favourite work of art?" He replied, "a woman's body".

NO! Wrong answer! Do not objectify women! Admire all you like, but remember that a person's body is the result of genetic inheritance, not of anyone's creation.

Sigh. Football Australia, back to the drawing board.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Aelita's aesthetics

I've been stewing on this story for a couple of weeks now, trying to determine what I think about it. Further thoughts on the subject were sparked by a brief discussion with my philosophy teacher as I drove her home last week, after a class of which aesthetics and the philosophy of art was the subject. In class, we had discussed the definition of art, and words like "creativity", "intention", "evocative" and "emotion" were tossed around. For the purposes of philosophising, we decided that anything that is considered an artwork is fair game. But can the work of a two-year-old be considered art?

My initial reaction was ambivalent: a two-year-old could have little intention of "making art" as opposed to "playing with paint and canvas", which works against the idea of it being art. On the other hand, even at two there can be an aesthetic sensibility; Aelita's paintings appear to show a rudimentary use of balance, proportion, colour and other appealing characteristics of abstract art. I would hang one on my wall, which makes it art by a broad definition.

In some ways the child's parents (also artists) are thumbing their nose at critics; deliberately poking out their tongue at the hackneyed phrase, "a child could paint that". By presenting Aelita's work as art, they are drawing attention to both the roots of abstraction (form over content) and the fact that, although a child could paint it, not every child can or will do so--artists are still an elite (or aelita). In this way, they are echoing Duchamp's Readymades (some of which we saw on the weekend in the National Gallery).

On the other hand, one must wonder whether a two-year-old's work is different from a painting by a chimp or an elephant, both of which have recently been exhibited and bought by galleries and collectors. What is the elephant's intention, or the two-year-old's? I am all for creative expression and art education in early childhood, but is it art?

Part of the problem, as well, is the element of deception involved. The paintings were presented as the work of an artist, and critics were initially not informed that the artist in question was slurping on a rubber teat as she worked. Postmodern theory would claim it doesn't matter (although in this case the artist is not so much dead as yet unborn). In this sense, it falls into the category of deception like the faux autobiography made famous by the case of Norma Khouri. The reason I felt ripped off by Forbidden Love was that it was boring and badly written; I felt I'd been tricked into reading it, when I would normally have put it down after the first chapter or two. I think this is how many people feel about Aelita Andre's art: they might have liked it well enough, but they don't like feeling tricked.

The last issue this case raises is of exploitation. Is Aelita really creating art for her own aesthetic reasons, or is her creativity being used by her parents to make a point of their own? Will Aelita one day look back on these paintings and regret her part in the controversy? These are echoes of the arguments used in the recent Bill Henson case, in which parents were accused of making bad decisions on behalf of their children. I wonder what Hetty Johnston thinks of this exhibition?

Speaking of Hetty Johnston, I didn't see her picketing the Degas exhibition at the National Gallery, where sculptures, drawings and paintings of nude adolescents proliferate. Degas' study of a 14-year-old dancer is no less naked--and evocative--than Bill Henson's portraits. Of course, the original sculpture, clothed and with real hair, caused a controversy in its time too. In a lovely but almost accidental juxtaposition, a set of Henson's Paris opera images hangs only two rooms away from the Degas collection.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


I think I may have to change the title of this blog to "Curmudgeon's Corner", since my two cents' worth these days is more often a whinge or a complaint about modern society. Here's another:

A couple of days ago I went to one of my favourite clothing outlet stores, where you can buy off-season stock and seconds and samples of certain designer labels under a different name (they stock Hammock and Vine, for example, which is Trent Nathan Resort in disguise). I purchased two tops and two pairs of pants. The thing that's bugging me is the size difference between the two pairs of pants. The black linen capri pants are a snug fit even though they are nominally a size larger than the black denim shorts that sit loosely on my hips, so much so that I might have bought a size smaller if they had them. This means that there is roughly two actual sizes between the two pairs of pants I bought on the same day in the same store, as the pair that is labelled with the smaller size is bigger than the pair labelled with the larger size.

Why does this annoy me? Because I have enough trouble buying clothes that fit (since I am short and apple-shaped rather than tall and pear-shaped), that look nicer on me than they do on the hanger, and that don't make me look like a) mutton dressed up as lamb or b) mutton dressed up as even-older-mutton, without having to GUESS at the size I should try on!

There should be a national standard of sizing. How much easier would it be to go shopping? How many fewer trips to the change room, thus saving time and money for shop assistants who have to rehang and replace the discarded clothes? Clothing manufacturers should employ quality controllers to make sure the sizes are correct and Standards Australia should fine those whose garments don't fit people with the measurements indicated by the size on the label.

As the great Afferbeck Lauder said, "Aorta do something about it! Aorta puttem in jile an shootem."

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Another year of curmudgeonry

Quote of the year (2009), from a woman making her way through the post-fireworks streets in the centre of Sydney:

"I can't stand crowds."

Um, probably should have stayed home on NYE then....