Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mad about the toys


Toy Story 3 - Review

You don't need me to tell you it's good. The critics are hardly divided. I've read a grumble or two about the gender imbalance in the power structure - like that don't reflect real life. The stereotyping is an in-joke that is far more toy related than gender specific. Ken does squeal at one point 'I am not a girls' toy' but turns out to be far more vain and vacuous than Barbie. It's not going to make little girls feel like they don't belong in an adventure and I'm not going to waste my feminist angst on number crunching over a series I absolutely adore.

This last Toy Story film pulls together every thread from the first two with meticulous care. It's Pixar so you know it's going to be witty and tight and play your emotions like they were Mozart. But it's also much better than that. There is not a cynical pixel in this film. It is made with great respect and affection for the children and adults who will see it and the world they share with their toys or their remembrance of toys past. It's quite a radical film because it introduces small children to a number of sophisticated and complex social concepts.

Andy's toy box is both a functional workplace and a healthy democracy. Woody the cowboy is the nominal head by virtue of being Andy's favourite toy. But he's not a viceroy. He's the one who calls meetings and makes suggestions but decisions are always made by consensus. If Woody fails to convince, as he inevitably does to serve the drama, he defers with reasonably good grace. Everything these toys do is the result of talking a problem through and facing its consequences together. They are a community of equals whose common concern is to preserve their 'village' from external threats.

The first Toy Story film (1995) begins with the toys facing an annual threat - Andy's birthday. The older toys fear obsolescence, and with good reason in a throwaway society. There is also the possibility that any powerful new presence could disrupt the social harmony. High-tech toys that could potentially corrupt the affections of a child are being produced all the time. The difficulties occasioned by Buzz Lightyear's appearance may well have justified the military precision with which the Andy's birthday offensive was carried out. The genius of the Toy Story trilogy is that the anxiety played out in this long exposition is sustained over the three films.

When we meet these characters, Andy is young and the toys are new. They survive a house move in the first film and a garage sale in the second. By the third, the toys have have been through an awful lot together and have experienced the loss of a number of 'good friends' who are mourned with some poignance. They are still a strong team but they are aware that they face their greatest challenge yet - redundancy.

Toy Story is an Upstairs/Downstairs melodrama. The characters are in service to a master who, in their case, is benevolent. As in the Harry Potter series, parallel worlds intersect but only one is aware of the other. It echoes the tales of Coppélia and Pinocchio who come to life initially to assert their own identity but ultimately contribute to the betterment of humankind. Andy's toys have a decent but not uneventful life. In the first film they come face-to-face with Sid, the evil kid from next door who cannibalises toys. They are moulded by this experience to always look out for each other.

Andy is on his way to college at the beginning of Toy Story 3. He must clear his room for his younger sister Molly. There is a certain disgruntlement amongst the toys as they are no longer played with and, although a toy box is safe, it ain't exactly purposeful. The toys retain Andy's affection but not his interest. The great Toy Story conceit is that there is always a diasporic separation beginning with a misunderstanding, followed swiftly by an accidental fall from a window and completed by the meteoric capacity of Andy's mother to produce cardboard boxes.

The challenge in Toy Story 3 begins in the traditional way, with a cardboard box and a black marker destination. But the stakes are higher this time because there may not be an actual Andy to get home to. The toys arrive in a dystopic day care community ruled by a very large and exceptionally damaged strawberry-scented bear.

Abandonment has been a theme in Toy Story from the start. The favoured toys hide or protect the broken or less played with as well as they can. The second episode focuses on Jessie's betrayal by her beloved Emily but is resolved when she is reunited with her 'wood' family. The final chapter deals with a much darker cause and effect scenario. A trio of toys is left out in the countryside where their young owner falls asleep. Their leader Lotso, the strawberry-scented bear, guides them home to find he has been replaced. He pushes the trio on until, soiled and battered, they find shelter at a day care centre.

Lotso imposes a regime of abuse tempered by his own experience. Andy's toys are sent to a room where they are shocked to find themselves in the 'age-inappropriate' hands of toddlers. Some commentators have chortled at the supposed middle-class outrage expressed by the toys but why shouldn't they object to a) being treated badly b) directly observed poor management? They don't tolerate it for a minute. They immediately organise and act. This is a great message for kids.

The crisis is just about as fearsome as a crisis can be and the resolution just about as satisfying as a resolution can be.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The spy who came back from the mall

The Drop by Pants

Now this is a job I would love to have had. Eleven Russian 'sleeper' agents have been arrested in the USA. Apart from the odd cold warlike assignment, all they had to do was live like Americans. You know, eat only take-out meals, go to baseball games and pretend not to know where Asia is.

In the age when one assumes all spying is conducted by pimply computer hackers in darkened bunkers it is refreshing to know that there is still a little old-fashioned espionage going on. According to the New York Times, FBI agents who'd been tracking the sleepers for about ten years, (another doddle of a wage packet there), observed,

Spies swapping identical orange bags as they brushed past one another in a train station stairway. An identity borrowed from a dead Canadian, forged passports, messages sent by shortwave burst transmission or in invisible ink. A money cache buried for years in a field in upstate New York.

Invisible ink! Shortwave radio. Oh happy John le Carre. Hang on, the question Why is tugging at my sleeve. What is it? I'm trying to write a blog post here. Oh, yes, good point. The question Why would like to know how come the Russians didn't just hire a Rolling Stone reporter if they wanted American military secrets. They could have saved themselves a lot of money.

It does seem as if some of these deep-cover spooks were stringing their employers along a bit. The FBI intercepted a couple of 'please explain' memos re expenses such as US$1,125 for 'trip to meeting' and US$3,600 for 'education'. Hey, the wily spies wrote back, you want authentic American, that means conspicuous consumption. However the spymasters don't seem to have bought the efforts of one enterprising family to blend in by acquiring real estate with this reasoning,

“From our perspective purchase of the house was solely a natural progression of our prolonged stay here. It was a convenient way to solving the housing issue, plus ‘to do as the Romans do’ in a society that values home ownership.”

Pull the other one Boris, it's got Beluga caviar on it.

It is all quite curious. Perhaps it's an exercise in nostalgia, like the Russian equivalent of setting up a Gilbert and Sullivan Society.

Monday, June 28, 2010

So you think you can can-can?

Kodaked from youtube by Pants

A French exotic dancer thought it would be a nice tribute to Aboriginal people to strip off on Uluru.

I pay respects to the Anangu people who have been offended by what's happened.

I really don't know why anyone would be shocked that foreigners have no respect for Aboriginal sacred sites. Has anyone looked at the Tourism Australia homepage lately? It features a blonde, Caucasian woman in a white singlet top looking very sexy with Uluru as a backdrop. If you search for information about Uluru on the site, you'll discover,

Uluru / Ayers Rock is Australia's most recognisable natural icon. Standing 348 metres high, the monolith has a great cultural significance for the traditional Aboriginal owners, the Anangu people.

'Great cultural significance' is not exactly a red light if you know what I mean.

Pants is not without sin. I have been in a state of similar undress in any number of countries where I felt my need for a spontaneous swim overwhelmed any requirement to conform with local protocol. I would not have done so, however, if specifically requested not to.

It's time to respect the Anangu people's demand for a total ban on climbing Uluru.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Big Country, Small Minds

Illustration by Sir John Tenniel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The table was a large one but the three were all crowded together in one corner of it. "No room! No room!" they cried out when they saw Alice coming. "There's plenty of room!" said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.

This exchange from Chapter 7 of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland entitled A Mad Tea-Party, is a useful lens through which to view Australia's relationship to the outside world. Despite the fact that there are almost as many people living in Beijing as there are in the whole of Australia, many residents think the country is 'full' and that adding even a boatload or two of desperate asylum seekers is 'unsustainable'. No one's bothered to consider that refugees don't tend to have big appetites.

An announcement has come today from our new Prime Minister Julia Gillard, (for whom I have not yet thought of a clever moniker - suggestions on an e-card if you think you're hard enough). Ms Gillard says,

''I do not support the idea of a 'big Australia' with arbitrary targets of, say, 'a 40 million-strong Australia' or 'a 36 million-strong Australia'."

There is something about Australia that makes it resolutely averse to living in the present. We are either obsessing about past events that we can't change or stressing about things that may never happen. It's either 'I bought some shoes I don't like and couldn't afford but can't take them back because I've worn them already', or it's 'we must prevent young people from encountering alcohol or strangers or the internet or Europe.

Only in Australia, the land where everyone knows the exact number of annual motoring fatalities and the alcohol content of every single eligible beverage including mouthwash, could there exist a notion that an isolated island, that is almost impossible to get into if you weren't born here, needs to concern itself with population targets.

Britain is an island nation. Actually, it's made up of quite a few of them but most Britons live on the big one. People keep telling me it can fit into the state of Victoria five times, (although I seriously don't believe that - and draw your own conclusions about the battiness of the assertion in this particular context). It has three times our population. You can safely swim to Britain from Continental Europe, although I personally prefer the Eurostar. That's the Europe, by the way, from which every single EU citizen has the right to emigrate to Britain permanently without notice if they so desire. Even in the present circumstances, Britain is not twisting up its knickers over population the way we are.

"Australia should not hurtle down towards a big population. We need to stop, take a breath and develop policies for a sustainable Australia," says Ms Gillard.

Okay. Everyone, stop fucking right now! No more babies until the government has set up a task force to work out how we're going to feed the poor mites. Ah, 'sustainability'. What an insurmountable challenge for a country with no arable land, no mineral resources, no habitable coastline, no wind, no sun... I can't go on, it's just too depressing.

''If you spoke to the people of western Sydney, for example, about a 'big Australia', they would laugh at you and ask you a very simple question: 'Where will these 40 million people go?' '' Ms Gillard concluded.

My maths is a little rusty but I'm thinking that if we already have 22 million settled then we only need to find shelter for 18 million more on these figures and they probably don't all want to live in western Sydney. I know I wouldn't. In any case, these projections are for 2050 aren't they? A handful of Amish could build that many homes in forty years. But what about infrastructure? you cry hysterically.

Ah yes, the infamous 'infrastructure'. That mysterious phenomenon that we've forgotten how to manage for the last sixty years. It's really very simple. Most 'infrastructure' comprises buildings that are a variation on 'a house'. (See Amish, above). It's basically a box with a roof and it's a different size or a different shape or has different things in it depending on its purpose. Most of the rest is 'cables' which are long bits of wire or 'pipes' which are long, round tubes of plastic and 'roads' which are flattened bits of land over which is poured little chips of stone mixed up in a hot liquid called 'tar'. If you need a recipe, ask the nearest Ancient Greek.

And then there's public transport, something regarded as both essential for achieving this mythical 'sustainability' and more difficult than intergalactic space travel. Again, not completely pie in the sky. Quite a lot of short-range public transport can be achieved via something called 'a bus'. It's a bit like a car, only bigger. And then there is the holy grail of public transport puzzles - the railway. Horribly tough this as it requires slabs of wood to be placed on the ground and strips of iron to be laid across them. You can see why governments run screaming in horror.

"Come, we shall have some fun now!" thought Alice. "I'm glad we've begun asking riddles."

All quotes by Julia Gillard from The Age (27/6/10)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Up in the air

Flying into a shitstorm by Pants

The sheer volume of political shenaniganery of the last few days has given me a perpetual headache - and a larger than average phone credit, er, deficit. Sorry, we poor people have to budget everything. I will return to the subject of politics soon as it seems to have plenty of juice left in it and I have at last found something in Australia to be interested in. I was afraid I was going to be snap frozen in 1965 there for a moment. But today I just wanted to talk about something idiotic. Here's a little Pants tip for you. It's possible to lock onto the very finest idiocy to be found anywhere in the world at any time by simply googling 'Ryanair'.

Everyone's favourite post-apocalyptic fantasy of an airline is forever finding new and inventive ways to make headlines. It's an interesting service they offer. You pay them 99p and they lock you in a tin box with lots of screaming kiddies and torture, starve and mug you for an indefinite period then deposit you at an airfield which is hopefully reasonably close to the border of a country you wish to visit. Much better value than paintball.

Faced with slowly escalating tension occasioned by a four-hour tarmac wait at Glasgow's Prestwick Airport and passengers, many of them children, getting a little thirsty and peckish what did Ryanair staff do? They considered the barrage of refreshment trolleys containing food and drink they had lined up specifically for this eventuality of course. But ah, in regulatory speak, because the trolleys have alcohol on them, this makes them technically 'a bar'. Airline rules prohibit the 'opening of a bar' until the plane is in the air because, clearly, it is much safer to have people getting drunk while the plane is flying around than if it is parked on the ground.

No problem. Someone just called the authorities and got permission to remove the couple of bottles of booze off the top of the trolley effectively 'de-barring' it, right? Well, possibly, but since it didn't happen, I'm guessing not. So, with that option scuppered they moved on down the list, right? There's a contingent of ground staff, most of whom presumably have functioning legs. There's airport catering and there's an entire food court a few feet away. A few phone calls, a couple of signed chits and no deaths from dehydration, right?

Apparently not. Faced with a dilemma rivalling that of the good burghers of Leningrad during the Siege, the staff seemingly became catatonic with the enormity of it all. Fortunately, the passengers provided the slap of reality in the form of a threatened but sadly unspecified 'mutiny'. So someone made an executive decision and broke out the trolley - booze and all, right?

Err, no. They called the police. It is nice to know you can rely on the cabin crew to make calm, logical decisions in a crisis isn't it? So, the police told them to stop being so daft and break out the wee trolleys, yes? Err, again, no. They sent a response team to WH Smith to buy water and chocolate for all the passengers, and they paid for it themselves. If you have shares in Ryanair, I congratulate you. You have made a canny investment. This airline will never waste any of your money on preventing little children from suffering.

Prestwick Airport's slogan is,

Pure dead brilliant

They might want to rethink the 'dead' part if they plan to continue with Ryanair.

To be fair Ryanair is not the only airline making headlines this week in Britain for reasons of newsworthy idiocy. British Airways has been in court after a male passenger sued it for treating him like a 'child molester'. Mirko Fischer was told he could not change seats with his pregnant wife as this would place him next to an unaccompanied male child and the airline 'has a policy' disallowing this. You never know what a man will get up to surrounded by hundreds of people and with his wife sitting right beside him. Isn't that just a tragedy waiting to happen? Mr Fischer won his case and donated his settlement to charities who support the victims of real child molesters. You know you've completely lost it as a culture when you need a lesson in common sense from someone who hails from Luxembourg.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ruddy Hell

Kevin Rudd yesterday, ABC News

Everyone is talking about Kevin, (thank you very much Lionel Shriver), but no one is stating what appears to me at least to be perfectly obvious. The man was having some kind of personal and/or professional, stress-related meltdown.

I once worked in an arms-length government agency where the boss flipped out. It happened quickly. By quickly, I mean over a period of months. She had been an extremely capable, highly qualified and mostly efficient boss. She appeared savvy with the media. At least she was when we were getting good press. She was a good team communicator, when she remembered to be. She could be a bit short with you if she was under stress but there were usually flowers on your desk in the morning if there had been a temper spill the night before.

And then a few really disastrous things happened in a row. Some flagship projects sank. Some of it was our fault, but mostly it was due to the turbulent political environment in which we were working. Government ministers change. New ones often want something different. That's just how it is sometimes. The local press not only turned but grossly overreacted to what they perceived as mismanagement. The board, (who were mostly lay people), imploded. There appeared to be embezzlement by a board member. We were suddenly working alongside forensic accountants.

Our boss appeared to be coping well at first but nothing she did to get us back on track was effective. She started to withdraw from the staff, appearing to trust no one. Her instructions became vaguer and vaguer and then stopped altogther. Her occasional forays outside her office would either be punctuated by gauche explosions of confected cheerfulness or suicide-inducing portends of doom that would have us adjourning to the nearest pub to swap notes on our latest personal exit strategies. Outbursts of seething rage were no longer tempered by floral apologies.

It's a horrible situation to be in because there is nothing you can do about it, except to enquire pointlessly, 'is there anything I can do to help?' You can only hope for a deus ex machina to descend and deliver you from your daily misery. In the meantime you concentrate on getting your CV around and worry that it will be forever tainted if you don't get your butt out of there before the inevitable moment when the excrement collides with the cooling device. And all the time this is happening, absolutely no one is functioning at any level of effectiveness. Not the boss, not the staff, not the board. You're working in a vacuum with one purpose only - to get through the day.

Eventually, our boss was signed off on long-term sick leave. An interim manager was horrified to find her office in chaos and her personal assistant in tears. The poor PA had not been allowed anywhere near any paperwork for weeks and had been sworn to secrecy. We had hoped against hope that our boss had been locked in her office all that time working through our difficulties, trying to get us help. But she wasn't. She was sitting in there quietly turning into a puddle. The interim manager arrived in the nick of time. Sanity returned surprisingly quickly. The mess was not nearly as bad as it seemed.

Why am I telling this story? Because I think this is what was happening to our former Prime Minister. Kevin Rudd was fine and effective in an approving political environment but not so brilliant at fire-fighting in a hostile one. A good leader needs to be both. There's been all sorts of squealing about 'political assassinations' and 'disloyalty' today but we're not living in the era of the mad King George here. A Prime Minister showing signs of paranoia cannot be propped up out of misguided politeness. It was terribly sad to see Kevin Rudd publicly humiliated but no one forced him to give that speech. It is perhaps an indication of just how precarious his mental state was.

The first duty of a government is to maintain itself. It's not likely a political party is ever going to say to the opposition, 'look, we've ballsed-up here. It's only right that we hand over to you.' The public will be the judge of who seems most fit to govern. There was a very narrow window of opportunity for Kevin Rudd to be replaced cleanly and efficiently, and it was opened and shut decisively. Frankly, I would have been much more worried if the party hadn't had the bollocks or indeed the skill to get him out once it became apparent that such action was crucial to its immediate and future prospects.

You don't have to go back very far for evidence of how bad things can be if a wobbly PM isn't successfully deposed before an election. Compare and contrast the atrocious goings-on in the UK in the year before that recent election. Everyone knew Gordon Brown had completely lost it. It's no time to lose your nerve.

Julia Gillard has had to jeopardise her own political future by taking up this challenge. If she loses the election it's unlikely she'll get another shot. She'll know that only too well. She'll be aware that such an eventuality will also set back the chances of another woman being electable for some time too. These are big odds. Not that she had much of a choice, mind. It's a brave decision and she's to be admired for setting her own long-term interests aside to take on this risk.

I've seen claims today that Kevin Rudd is the shortest-serving PM in our history. Not so. That honour belongs, I believe, to Arthur Fadden (Aug-Oct, 1941). In the unthinkable scenario that Gillard loses the election, she probably won't suffer the ignominy of that fate. Fadden's record of forty days would be hard to beat. It's also worth noting that the PM he deposed, Robert Menzies, was retained in Fadden's cabinet. He later became Australia's longest-serving Prime Minister.

There you go Kevin. Come to your senses, stop playing silly buggers and that could be you one day. In the meantime, straighten up and fly right.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Julia Seizes Dais

Photo by Mark Tsikas/Reuters

Australia is a funny place. Nothing interesting happens in politics for months and then you wake up one morning and suddenly there's a new Prime Minister installed. And it's a woman. Our first woman Prime Minister. And she actually seems like someone who is not in imminent danger of disappearing up her own behind. What's going on here you may well ask.

But no. It seems real enough. There is a human at the helm. My goodness it's refreshing to see someone there who looks like she genuinely belongs. Kevin Rudd had the appearance of a man on temporary secondment, one who never truly believed he was worthy. Julia Gillard has the confidence of a woman who has had to fight like Boudicca on Benzedrine for every advancement in her career and who knows she deserves to be where she is. And she can verbally string whole sentences together the old-fashioned way - you know with a verb and a subject and an implied full stop at the end. And she confines herself to words that actually exist. That makes a nice change.

She's childless and unmarried. Her live-in (male) partner is a hairdresser. Her hair always looks nice, and normal. She comes from working-class immigrant family. She doesn't wear insane clothes. In fact, she seems notably sane, and normal. It isn't until someone with a natural demeanor comes along that you realise just how mechanical and invented most politicians seem to be.

This is good. It seems correct in an almost karmic way. All she needs to do now is get herself elected. She's not taking any chances. She's refusing to move into the PM's residence until she wins an election. Maybe she's superstitious. God, I hope so. I never trust people who aren't superstitious.

No one seems to know how it all came about. The media was caught off-guard. Kevin Rudd's departure speech was excruciating - clueless and sad. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he's been in the throes of some kind of emotional breakdown. He's been acting like a man who's completely lost it for weeks. It was unbelievably gloomy.

Everyone seems to have quite cheered up, and with good reason. Julia, you go girl!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Another fine mess, Stanley

Desert Storm by Pants

I've just read the full Rolling Stone piece on Gen. Stanley McChrystal by Michael Hastings. You will all know its contents by now. Any given precis will have furnished you with a more than fair summary. It's worth reading the whole article for the studious context that is the signature of Rolling Stone at its in-depth best.

The title of the piece is The Runaway General. The long subtitle reads,

Stanley McChrystal, Obama's top commander in Afghanistan, has seized control of the war by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.

Is anyone surprised that the US military is composed of good ole boys of a calibre that even Stanley Kubrick would have been hard-pressed to imagine? Is anyone vaguely perplexed that a general with a reputation for waywardness would turn out to be a pftr-baitin', nggr-hatin' redneck? Does anyone even think President Obama didn't know what this guy was before he put him in the job?

I am in the same age bracket as Stanley McChrystal. Rolling Stone was huge to our generation. It was our lone voice back then. Even growing up in Australia, I lavished some of my babysitting and milkbar-tending earnings while I was still at school on airmailed Rolling Stone. If you wanted to know what was happening beyond your comfortable, middle-class upbringing, you went to Rolling Stone. It was the place where every important edge got cut. Rolling Stone was the outlaw of journalism. It went for power's jugular, and often struck like a vampire of truth.

There is no way, even if he had been brought up in a bunker, that General McChrystal could have not understood the possible implications of having a reporter from Rolling Stone embedded in your Paris hotel suite and subsequent sortie to an Irish bar where generous amounts of alcohol were apparently imbibed and lips loosened accordingly. McChrystal can only have wanted this confrontation.

The grenade is now in President Obama's court. Like he's got nothing better to do right now. Very obviously he has two choices, neither of them particularly pleasant.

If he sacks McChrystal, he'll need a better general standing by. Someone he can trust and who can potentially prove more competent as the military commander in Afghanistan. He's already sacked one - two might not look good. If he does have that ace in that particular fox hole, now would be good time to play it.

More likely, he doesn't have that dream general in his pocket. If he forgives McChrystal, he'll have to find a way to do it that triggers a paradigm shift in the way Americans perceive strength and weakness in leaders. It could be a golden opportunity, albeit cast in an extremely narrow band.

McChrystal has pegged Obama as someone who is 'uncomfortable and intimidated' in the presence of the military establishment. Hell, who wouldn't be? Imagine having a skinny, scowling man in full camouflage gear come and sit on your sofa for an informal meeting and pierce you with his slate-blue, drill-down eyes. Dubya loved to get all tostie with the military but that's not Obama's style. Yet, he's McChrystal's boss and, indeed, the boss of everyone in the military.

What President Obama can do, and I hope he knows it, is deploy the one great power that he really does wield in this situation. He has the opportunity to exercise tolerance in his dealings with a subordinate. He has the authority to chastise with kindness a man of lesser character. And most importantly, he has a chance to change the 'kick ass' nature of the power dialogue that he's been so tragically drawn into by the Mexican Gulf oil disaster.

He's the President - right here and right now. Maybe he can use this opportunity to step forward and say, 'you know what, wouldn't it be great if we didn't do stoopid as our default response to absolutely everything?' It is one of those times when changing up the language might really matter.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Plane Sailing

Larrikin International Airport (LAX) by Pants

We are blessed in Larrikin's End to have a fine international carrier. I speak of none other than Larrikin Airlines. LA International has a fine accident record. I believe it averages about two serious incidents per flight. You won't find too many other airlines able to boast that level of excitement. There's Aeroflot of course but it relies quite heavily on blizzards.

Plenty of people travel on LA International purely for the fine in-flight service. As you can see, a high priority is placed on ensuring there is enough rough red to go round. Some of the finest red you'll ever get in a cardboard box comes from this region. We are truly blessed. Once the casks are empty - usually about a half-hour into the flight, someone blows up the bladders and we take turns in trying to kick them between the pilot and the copilot, whose heads make very good goalposts.

The cuisine is, of course, superb. You won't get it fresher on any airline in the world. While passengers are clearing customs, the aircrew chuck a line into Lake Larrikin and pull up a couple of gummy sharks to barbecue on the trip.

Customs can take a while. It's not that Snr. Sgt. Bullox from Larrikin's End Police is a particularly thorough customs agent. He's just a little lacking in the numeracy department so counting up the bribe money can be a lengthy business.

Just before takeoff, someone rushes over to McDunny's and picks up a pot of steaming super-spicy 'neeps. Regular readers will recall that shark'n'neeps is our world famous local dish.

I read today that Thai International has branched out into the takeaway food business. I expect they'll be starting record companies and flogging condoms soon too.

Thai Airways will start selling seven ready-made curry sauces later this month at its Puff & Pie Bakery shops in Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai, marketing director Kasem Sriprapakara said.

It's aiming for the business traveler (sic) who had a good in-flight culinary experience but has no time to whip up tasty Thai food at home, said Kasem.

'The business traveller who had a good in-flight culinary experience'? Mmm. That would be a niche market.

It's also a way to help the airline recover from losses due to recent political unrest in Bangkok.

I see. I guess selling sauces could be seen as a form of liquidation.

The airline is also trying to standardise its Thai curries after passengers on inbound flights from Europe complained the food lacked the Thai touch for balancing sweet, spicy and salty.

Now that does make good economic sense. You get passengers to do free market research for you.

The new line includes favourites like Massaman, Penang and green curry sauces which - like airline food - are designed to last.

"It has a one-year shelf life," Kasem said, thanks to an innovative pouch that eliminates the need for preservatives and enables the curry to taste almost as fresh as in a restaurant.

Ah. Now this is becoming clearer. All those delayed flights. All that unused food. 'Almost as fresh as in a restaurant'. Isn't that, like, the best USP you ever heard?

"It definitely tastes almost the same. I'm sure you cannot recognise the difference,"

No, no, Kasem. Stop, now. Victor Kiam is dead, man.

McDunny tried using an 'innovative pouch' once. We had to tell him to stop as it was quite disconcerting having to upend a wallaby to get at the sauce. Quite put you off your 'neeps. We're much more comfortable with liquids dispensed in cardboard. We're a cardboard culture.

I think there could be a business opportunity here for McDunny though. He has certainly solved the sweet/salty/sour balance problem. I'm sure he won't mind if I let you in on the secret. Truckloads of sugar, mountains of salt and handful of BP shares.

I can see McDunny's stalls being set up in airports all over the world, hawking our fine shark'n'neeps, putting Larrikin's End on the map. Now that would be a feat, as it's never been on a map before...

All quotes from The Australian.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ring cyclone

Eagle and Wolf by Pants

Last night I dreamed I'd turned into a surrealist. It's probably no more than I deserve. Just lately I've had a bit of a concentration breakdown. I've had to rethink the way I do things. Not the basic stuff. I still cook on Sunday, wash on Monday and rule the Independent Republic of Barnswalia on Tuesdays, Thursdays and alternate Fridays.

Once I was like that guy in Nick Hornby's About A Boy. I was able to compartmentalise my activities into modules comprising multiples of hours. In an hour-long block I could go for a jog or respond to emails or get in a handy amount of gardening. Two hours was a decent amount of time to play the piano, execute a drawing or create a blog post. I needed half-day blocks at least to write or paint. I use acrylics and you have to paint until you've used up what you've mixed, otherwise it's wasteful.

I used to operate on strict(ish) regimes that at least paid lip service to my physical and mental optimality. Depending on where I was, I would always jog for an hour. If I was staying with Ma Pants in Noosa in the middle of summer, I would get up at 5.30am to do that, otherwise my Reeboks would have melted into the pavement. Here in Larrikin's End, I go out about 11.30am in mid-winter. I'm almost defrosted by then.

Until recently, I was able to switch reasonably effortlessly between disparate tasks. I guess I've been conditioned to work like this since secondary school. I could always get through Maths knowing it was followed by double Music. Sport was considered a reward rather than a punishment when I was at school. I looked forward to hockey practice. It was only an hour. I used to take a weekly tennis lesson. I loved it. I looked forward to it.

I don't know what's going on with me now. I just know that I can't put down a book and pick it up a week later and remember where it is I left off. I know that I can't make notes one day and make sense of them the next in quite the way I used to be able to do. I know that I must make changes to the way I do things, and I will.

I'll still jog every day because I need the exercise and I enjoy looking at the birds and fishes, but I've decided to ditch the modular approach. Instead, I'm devoting whole days to whatever needs a whole day's concentration. I'm not saying I haven't worked this way before. When I've been absolutely absorbed in a project, I've hardly drawn breath. I'm saying I can't shift focus like I've been able to do in the past.

What am I talking about? I've no idea. The eagle has landed on the wolf and it wasn't pretty.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Image problem

Marilyn and Maf the dog by Pants

I was listening to an interview with Andrew O'Hagan in which he discusses his latest book The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of his friend Marilyn Monroe. I made a mental note to fill in a request form at the Larrikin's End Municipal Library. I hope it arrives before I lose my marbles, or the ability to read, or both.

It sounds like an interesting book. I wonder if Maf's view of Mistress Marilyn deviates substantially from that of, say, Norman Mailer. I was thinking about this as I was listening to this man regurgitate the classic Marilyn fixation thesis. She's been dead for nearly fifty years, yet represents an enduring ideal of womanhood, even to men who were born long after she died.

The thing about Marilyn that appears to fascinate O'Hagan is that she is a creature entirely of her own invention, a collage of acquired aspirations. Perhaps the source of her enduring attraction to men is that she somehow invites completion. She was never quite able to put a life together in a demonstrably viable way.

Since I've been back in Australia, I've had to reacquaint myself with this country's broken egg of an ego and it strikes me that the popular version of DIY Marilyn is a bit of a template for looking at my birth-parent nation. It too is beautiful to look at and does something dazzling often enough to divert attention from its inner turmoil and inability to confront all the nasty bits of its past.

The bad things don't go away though and this week some internal rot has broken through the glossy veneer. Two football personalities delivered up racial slurs about black players. We're not talking slightly dodgy stuff here but full-on confrontational insults that leapt from the speakers' lips straight onto every news website in the country.

And the Government's response? The Finance Minister, Lindsay Tanner, ambled out a few days later, after having presumably drawn a short straw, to offer a vaguely stern rebuke. Did he counsel the offending men to confront their inner arsehole? He did not. He advised them to think before they spoke in future. It's okay to be a racist in this country, as long as you don't voice it. You never know when potential tourists might be listening. Image is all that matters.

Marilyn Monroe was a child/woman. Australia is a child/country. It isn't enough to dress up and smile beguilingly whenever a camera is turned on you. Marilyn Monroe may still be worshipped and adored but she actually had a short and mostly unhappy life...

Saturday, June 19, 2010


#501 by Pants

I'm not sure if this post is going to publish. Don't you just hate living in an uncertain world? I'll keep it short.

Today, in between attempting to sort out my dongle problems (Barney will you shut the fuck up and take your damn pill), I created this homage to the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. In tribute to Mark Rothko, I've given it only a number. I'm fresh out of names today.

The Rothko Room in London's Tate Modern has always been one of my favourite places. Rothko is on my mind lately because I'm reading the Taschen edition devoted to his work authored by Jacob Baal-Teshuva. The Taschen series gets the balance of reproduction and biography about right most of the time. The commentary is intelligent without being pompous. It's mercifully lean and the quality of the prints is exquisite. Colour matters enormously with Rothko and the attention to true likeness can only be described as loving.

Rothko had quite a lot to say about art, most of which is readily accessible so I won't bore you with it here. I was very interested in what he had to say about his and his colleagues' collective artistic response to World War 2. The European Diaspora of artists who predominated in the New York School and the dealers and buyers (not least of all Peggy Guggenheim) who provided the other two legs of the stool, were overwhelmingly Jewish. New York must have been a kind of artistic periscope for what was going on across the Atlantic.

The Axis taste for Imperial visual and musical symbolism was countered with freedom-loving pop culture by the Allies, whose iconography came to be dominated by American 'brands'. The stern Goddess Diana faced in cultural combat the chirpy Goddess Betty Grable and The Glenn Miller Orchestra pitched up to swing Stars and Stripes Forever just in case anyone waylaid by the Valkyries needed a signpost to the free world. It seemed a very clear distinction between old world and new.

Perhaps it was not so simple an analogy for the New York exiles. The Ancients were a part of their artistic heritage, and one they were not willing to hand over to the fascists without a fight. Rothko, together with Adolph Gottlieb embarked on a series of works inspired by ancient mythology in the early 1940s as a direct response to the brutality taking place in Europe. Of this endeavour he says,
'Those who believe that the world today is less brutal and ungrateful than in these myths, with their overwhelming primeval passions, are either unaware of reality or they do not want to see it in art.' (The Portrait and the Modern Artist)

I find it fascinating that an artist like Rothko, who was depressive by nature, found explanation, even solace in the classics powerful enough to go up against the madness that was devouring Europe. And it's especially interesting considering the post-World War I tradition from which this movement largely evolved. I think of the gruesome paintings of George Grosz and Otto Dix in which the dead are depicted as skeletons and the living only one step up from skeletons.

It seems there is no golden thread. I often wonder why the wars and genocides of my generation - Viet Nam, Cambodia, East Timor, El Salvador, Chile, Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Gulfs 1 & 2, Afghanistan - to name just the most prominent in my memory, haven't sparked a coherent response in painting. Perhaps painting has been usurped by more immediate platforms. Protest songs for Viet Nam. Literature for El Salvador and Chile. Feature films for Cambodia, Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Gulf 1. Blogs and Youtube posts for everything post-9/11.

Well, I'm still living in an uncertain world, at least dongle-wise (Barney, I will not tell you again. Please bring me my vodkamisu now, and none of your lip on the side). It only remains for me to publish, or be thoroughly pissed off...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Coffin up

Howl by Pants

I think I really need to start a new label - parallel universe. I spent most of the day considering a subject for this, my 500th post. I imagined I would turn out something thoughtful. And then I found this story. It would appear to carry the necessary, er, gravitas.

Sydney's first 'natural burial ground' has just opened! Hurrah!

One doesn't like to be a party pooper but wasn't Australia just one big 'natural burial ground' before the British arrived with their hang-ups about hygiene and epitaphs? Forty thousand years vs a couple of a hundred - mmm, I'd say more of a rebalancing of the natural order of things than the great social advancement being claimed by the Minister for Lands, Tony Kelly who presided over the grand opening of St Francis Field.

Should you choose a 'natural burial' for your Sydney-based loved one, rest assured this does not involve being chucked down a lime pit but rather skipping the chemical-intensive embalming process and being laid to rest in a 'biodegradable' (i.e. cardboard) coffin. On second thoughts, the lime pit sounds rather more pleasant, but let's move on.

So your dearly departed is tossed into the modern day equivalent of a pauper's grave saving you several thousand very useful readies. And the news just gets better. There are no headstones. Bonanza! Not so fast, ungrateful offspring. Your adored antecedent might be turning into organic fertiliser faster than you can say 'what time's the will reading?' but just because a grave is unmarked, it doesn't mean it's untraceable. Naturally, the age of surveillance has the perfect solution, as the minister gleefully explains,

'The latest GPS technology is used to ensure the location of the deceased is noted and recorded. Tenure is also limited to 30 years, with the option to renew if desired. In this way the St Francis Field may become a sustainable burial ground for Sydneysiders for generations to come.'

Yes, all that will be left of your esteemed expired will be a little tracer of the type they put on whales. You will be able to take your flowers to a set of co-ordinates and beg an indeterminate patch of untended ground for guidance at times of great emotional need. You will probably be able to locate your still-present-in-spirit dispatched via your mobile phone. You could perhaps use some of your maximised inheritance for a suitable upgrade if your present phone doesn't have the appropriate 'app'. Perhaps your pre-deceased has had the decency to programme in a series of pat text responses just in case.

What's this about a thirty-year tenure? Bones tend to last an awful long time in the ground. Is the local authority going to dig them up if someone doesn't pay? Perhaps they'll just turn off the little beep in the ground that was keeping that poor soul's memory alive. How sad is that?

But why, Mr Kelly?

'Together with renewable tenure, natural burials are just another way of making better use of a scarce resource, while still maintaining a wide range of options to cater for the personal, cultural and religious preferences of Sydney’s diverse community.'

Of course. Australia has hardly any land to spare for burying dead people. It is such a tiny country. The 'resources' for burying the equivalent volume of at least one family member a week in non-biodegradable garbage for every household in the country is easily enough located. But we won't go into that right now.

And finding a one-size-fits-all solution, quite literally, for the diverse 'personal, cultural and religious preferences of Sydney's diverse community'? How clever is that? Perhaps very clever in that so many of them would have to find other arrangements. This is a Catholic cemetery, sorry, 'natural burial ground'. 'Sustainability' in the interment business is possibly not as broad a church as is suggested by the Minister.

I have put it in my will that I want a proper burial, in a proper coffin, with a proper headstone. I feel my 'carbon' frugality over a lifetime has earned me that much. I don't mind if no one visits. Well, I'm confident I won't be in a position to be offended, put it that way.

Although even my dearest friends will tell you I'm not exactly hygiene obsessed, I am very firmly of the epitaph tradition. I have been a regular visitor over the years to cemeteries, and I don't think my life is the poorer for having visited the final resting places of Karl Marx, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, all the Brontës and Oscar Wilde - whose Jacob Epstein designed tomb is one of the highlights of a visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where one might also go to dance on the grave of a certain Jim Morrison if one is of a mind.

I have frequently sat and enjoyed a quiet lunch in any number of inner London graveyards. Bunhill Row was a particular favourite. It contains the graves of John Bunyan, William Blake and Daniel Defoe. And I have been to Laugharne,'the strangest place in Wales', where Dylan Thomas is buried and his epitaph does, unsurprisingly read,

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

If you like, you can listen here to Dylan Thomas reading his poem The Tombstone Told When She Died. It speaks of a woman's life. A life Thomas draws from scant information. 'Her two surnames stop me still'. He extrapolates from two dates and two names an entire life and, in so doing, enshrines her in our minds forever. How many poems and novels have begun life at a tombstone?

For some of us, that slowly eroding stone might be the only evidence that we ever existed.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Boweled out

Rogues by Pants

The most frightful storm is raging outside. Happily I have already been to the letterbox. There were two items. The first I opened was from my local MP asking me to participate in a sham public consultation exercise to do with water conservation. Maybe he could backdate that to the 1950s and we might be in with a chance of approaching a point. I make a mental note to bump rainwater tank further up my to-get list.

The second letter had the Australian Government logo on it. Naturally I froze. I admit that lately I have become paranoid about getting into trouble for breaking one of the vast numbers of local, state or federal laws that have made their way onto the statute books in the quarter century I was absent from this country. I do not like letters from Government with my actual name on them.

Friends in Melbourne were recently fined $2,000 for removing a rotten limb from a tree that was overhanging a footpath. It was probably cheaper than being sued by a passerby for allowing it to fall on their IVF twins, killing both instantly. What I do to the Seat of Pants trees is more akin to barbarism than arborism. They do have a particularly nasty habit of growing sideways towards windows and fences and I do have a bow saw. There can be only one winner in this situation.

Back to the letter. It is about bowel cancer. Oh jolly. With this hideous gale blowing outside, I certainly needed that to cheer me up. It begins,

Did you know that around 80 Australians die each week from bowel cancer?

No sir, I did not know that. I consider myself intellectually enriched, and ever-so-slightly squeamish. The letter informs me that I have been 'invited' to participate in the 'National Bowel Cancer Screening Program'. Gosh, I think I might be washing out my organic waste container that day.

I plan to RSVP in the negative and perhaps request a rain check along the lines of 'if I actually do get sick one day, that would be the time I would love to receive your profuse concern. In the meantime, please note it is my firm view that bugging people who are in fact well is not sensible prioritising, however easier it may be than attending to the suffering of the people who are sick right now.'

But wait, I am wondering if this 'invitation to participate' is more of a directive than a request, for further down I read,

If you are already being treated for bowel cancer or have a health condition which your doctor suggests may be affected by participating in the Program (sic), you can choose to opt-off (sic).
It's not sounding particularly voluntary at this point. You have to get a note from your doctor to exempt you from paying much closer attention to your own poo than is strictly desirable? I also notice that there is a unique number attached to my name which is not my Medicare number or my Tax File Number and that 'opting-off' requires the completion of a form. To think that one of the reasons I wanted to get out of Britain was the escalating authoritarian creep. You can't even have a dump in peace in this country.

Needless to say, I will be scouring the fine print for disobedience opportunities that do not culminate in a summons. I am prepared to accept that further down the line there might be repercussions. It's hardly worth living if you spend your life in fret over illnesses you probably won't get.

You may be interested in this interview with British-based academic John Adams who has identified an institutional disorder which he has named Compulsive Risk Assessment Psychosis, the acronym for which is CRAP. I think we may have an application of CRAP theory here.

Fortunately I had the presence of mind to visit the woodshed before the storm and I have a roaring fire going. Both letters will be going into it in the next few minutes...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Better read than dead

Window cleaning by Pants

The first book by William Faulkner I ever read was Light in August. That was in about 1974. I loved it and I've read many others since. I'll always remember our tutor (for it was at university that I first read Faulkner), reading aloud the opening lines,

Sitting beside the road, watching the wagon mount the hill toward her, Lena thinks, 'I have come from Alabama: a fur piece. All the way from Alabama a-walking. A fur piece.

She was an American, our tutor. The subject I was studying was American Literature. I don't recall her name. She'd be long dead now. She was old then. A classic blue-stocking, she'd lived in London in the 1930s and had been on the fringes of the Bloomsbury group. She corresponded with Quentin Bell and once let me read an aerogramme he'd sent. I don't remember anything about the contents but it was in fine fountain script. I remember that.

I remember her reading those opening lines from Light in August and especially the way she pronounced the word fur. She said 'frrrrrr' with a passion that makes me think she may have actually come from the South. She was a lovely, patient person. It may surprise you to learn that I did reasonably well in my study of literature, (earning a Distinction for my dissertation on Jack Kerouac), since I don't seem to be able to remember too much about anything. Then again, neither could Kerouac, so we got on 'like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars', if you know what I mean.

What I do remember about the opening sentence of Light in August is that Lena notices not 'a wagon' and 'a hill' but 'the wagon' and 'the hill' and that Faulkner's decision to place Lena in a definite rather than an indefinite landscape opened a literary window.

On the subject of windows, Faulkner said,

“Read, read, read. Read everything - trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window.”

I started thinking about how I'm not reading with deep enough concentration lately after listening to an interview with Jane Smiley last week. She made the time to read 100 books in a few months and totally devoted herself to that pursuit. I thought, 'I could do that!'

I actually do think I'm overspent at the moment, trying to read but feeling I should be either writing or drawing instead (don't panic, Phil, I'm still working). So I have decided to allocate a much bigger chunk of time to reading with serious intent.

Ma Pants, (aged 80), is the sort of reader that Faulkner would have loved. I don't know if Ma Pants has read any Faulkner, but she probably has. She is well-read in classics and enjoys both contemporary literature and popular fiction. Frequently we read the same books. She and I read Tim Winton's Breath within days of each other when it first came out and both loved it. Last week I read it again and remembered both the primal appreciation and the secondary joy that I could discuss a book that is basically about surfing and auto-erotic asphyxiation with my mother.

This week Ma Pants and I both have both been reading Ian McEwan's Solar. I spoke to her yesterday and discovered we were at exactly the same point. We giggled over various comedic episodes. I asked her if she'd ever read any Magnus Mills. She hadn't. I made a mental note to get her The Restraint of Beasts for Christmas.

I finished Solar this morning. I had to, it was due back at the library. They have a special system. You can request that they buy a book - which I did, and they did. When it finally arrives, you get first dibs but it goes on high rotation. I'm not complaining. Books in this country cost as much as a case of potable wine and you can't borrow wine from the library.

I was going to write a review of Solar today but, as you see, I haven't. What I am going to do is spend more time reading than worrying about what I'm not writing or painting. (Don't panic Phil - I'm still reading/writing/drawing on ongoing projects, just parking everything else).

The review of Solar will come in a few days, after I've had time to really think about it, and maybe even talk to Ma Pants again. I'd really like to know what she thinks about the ending.

My priority for this week is to finalise the specification for the book and file storage units in my study. It's going to cost a lot of money to get these units made. I only mean 'a lot' by my low-income standards. Our wonderful furniture shop gets everything made locally at about the same price you'd pay for nasty imported stuff.

I really think that having my books in total disarray for the last two years has not done me any good at all. Happily, I can lie here and goodleoogle book references, as I admit I did for Light in August. If I'd had my books on shelves, it would have been easier to go to the source. I admit that I don't know exactly where my copy of Light in August is in this house at this time. I need the units. I'll get the units.

And I'll be reading, 'trash, classics, good and bad' as Faulkner suggests, but also the newest books, that I haven't been able to just order up as I used to do. I'll be haunting the Larrikin's End Library from now on with requests for books that cost as much as a case of wine...
I almost forgot, a Happy Bloomsday to all.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Spooky teeth

Open wide by Pants

About half of my bad dreams involve teeth. I'm either being threatened by something with nasty choppers, like a shark or rabid dog, or I dream all my teeth have fallen out.

Several years ago I discovered that I suffer from something called bruxism which means I grind my teeth while I'm asleep. Eventually I succumbed to wearing a mouth guard at night. It is a horrible thing and it has added to my nightmares. I now often dream that I will swallow it.

I don't like waking up in the morning with clenched teeth. I suspect that the mouth guard exacerbates the grinding and clenching but it at least prevents the teeth from being damaged.

The common consensus is that bruxism is the result of 'stress'. But everything that can go wrong with you is supposedly caused by 'stress' these days. Most of it I ignore. External forces will bludgeon their way into your peace of mind no matter what you do. Best to treat them like an elephant in the room. Just stay away from their feet.

Yesterday I determined that I would filter out any idiocy from the outside world. So far I'm doing a pretty good job. I admit twenty-four hours is probably too short a period of time to arrive at a positive evaluation but I think it will get better.

Maybe it will even cure the bruxism. It would be nice not to have to sleep with my mouth in traction.

Monday, June 14, 2010

On giving peace a chance

Soft Setting Sun by Pants

I'm always moaning about the Chav-on-Sea town in which I live. But I came from the ultimate chavurb of Hackney, East London. Truth be told, I'm a chav in all but taste. So, how come I'm not doing the Lambeth Walk over my little bit of bloomin' luck then? Fresh air? Fresh food? Surely, by Pants standards, this is living high on the hog as opposed to getting high on the smog.

I moaned about Hackney, as some of you may recall. (If this applies to you, please seek medical help as you have been reading this blog for far too long.) Moaning is my default response to anything that is not alcohol-based. It's not that I think everything apart from wine is crap, it's just that I'm far too optimistic about how things could be if stupid people weren't running everything. Vintners are never stupid. Why don't we put them in charge? Just a thought.

Larrikin's End is a serious step up for the Pantourage, it must be said. Although, from Hackney, going in the other socio-economic direction would have landed us in Harare.

This morning I was listening to a radio broadcast of Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton addressing the annual Sydney 'Happiness and Its Causes' Conference * on the subject of Forgiveness. If you are old enough to remember floral yoke dresses, you may recall her as the woman who was convicted of murdering her new-born back in the early 80s. It turned out a dingo took the baby as retribution for the stolen generations. Don't all gasp - Lindy says she found some of the dingo jokes in circulation at the time of her unimaginable ordeal 'hilarious'.

Her talk was touching. Even though almost the entire human race had given up on her, in her darkest moments, she hadn't given up on us. As a gesture of magnanimity, it seemed gigantic. I find it hard to forgive being imprisoned in a ludicrous conversation for more than five minutes. How could it be that this woman could endure the loss of a new baby and an unjust murder sentence, not to mention global ignominy and put it all down to experience?

Selfishness, she said. Get your head around that one if you can. (Barney,will you shut the fuck up, and have you not noticed I'm nursing a half-empty glass here. You just can't get the staff). Yes, she was a Christian and forgiveness was a cornerstone of her faith, but actually it was a pragmatic decision. She found forgiveness a handy ritual, a convenient full-stop. The 'stewing' she said, did no one any good. Makes sense, but all the same, that's some dump.

It set me thinking. (Don't all panic at once - the internet is apparently a delicate apparatus). I stew over the stupidity of others for far too long and I'm going to stop doing it. Yes, the world would function so much better if folk would cease their daftness but it works well enough and I do now have the luxury of not having to care too much. Apart from the small matter of having Lindy C-C rewrite my Joseph K fixation very large, I'm enjoying reasonably rude mental health at the moment.

After listening to the broadcast this morning, I spent the rest of the day finding cheer in Larrikin living. I went for an elderly jog along our sparkling lake, taking particular care to appreciate the pristine quality of the water. For a very long time I watched our healthy pelicans take off, fly about carelessly and land. They are blissfully unaware of the pelicanocide that is happening in the Mexican Gulf. I am more than aware of the oil and gas rigs dotted along our coast.

I positioned my deck chair in a sunny spot and read some of Ian McEwan's Solar. When it got a bit too cold to sit still, I worked in the garden for an hour and then in the naturally solar-heated tin shed for another hour. And for most of the time, all I could hear was birdsong. That's quite luxurious in these parts as flora-grinding equipment is frequently deployed in rainless moments.

And then, the sun signalled its intention to set. It's impossible to adequately photograph the beauty of our winter sunsets on the pocket Kodak. The borderless vastness coupled with the nursery intimacy of baby pinks and blues simply does not translate into postcard format. Forgive me, I have tried, because that's what I'm doing now.

*I'm adding the link just in case you think I was messin' with ya.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Abby's Code

Photo by Richard Hartog/AP

Three weeks ago I speculated on how differently things might have turned out had our newest Australian youth icon Jessica Watson met the wrong wave. And now we know. A simple act of climatic caprice has produced the converse of Jessica's triumph for Abby Sunderland who had to be rescued from the Southern Indian Ocean yesterday.

The flag waving has flipped into hanky wringing faster than you can say oops, there goes the parrot. The elements are nearly all the same. A sixteen-year-old girl with 'a dream', go-getting parents, an arch, shekel-trousering, middle-aged misogynist who probably fancies her trotting out non sequiturial I-told-you-sos and a global Colosseum of spectators, thumbs eagerly extended for the moment fate decides to stick or twist. The element that really matters is always the one great unknown - the weather.

Abby Sunderland met that wave that couldn't be tamed. By all accounts apart from that, it went well. Wild Eyes, the vessel that back-stabbing boat builder Jon Sayer said would not sink did not, in fact, sink. The young sailor managed not only to stay on the boat and instigate emergency procedures, but remain calm for two days in extreme weather conditions until rescuers could get there. I would say that, in the circumstances, that's about as good as it gets. So, I for one am at a loss to fathom Sayer's assertion that,

"She wasn't physically or mentally strong enough to handle a 40-foot boat in those winter storm conditions."

Is he perhaps suggesting that a big strong man is capable of preventing a mast from snapping, or perhaps ordering a storm to abate?

And another expert, Ian Kiernan, slinks from the primordial slime and slates the poor girl for failing to 'respect the sea'. What should she have done, sacrificed her My Little Pony to Poseidon before setting off?

"We need adventurers but not adventurers who do foolhardy things and put their rescuers at risk, it should not be allowed," he opined helpfully.

This is one of those situations where relativism is the enemy of logic. The steady stream of unconscious thought that has vomited from the international media would appear to be advising young people simply to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time if they do not want to incur the vengeful wrath of we adults who like our pubescent heroism risk-free.

What does he suppose should not be allowed? Sailing? Solo sailing? Girls? What? And who is going to oversee this proposed disallowing?

A few years ago six sailors were killed and five yachts sank in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. They were all grown men sailing not very far in the middle of summer who happened upon some very big waves, much bigger than they could handle. In all 55 sailors were airlifted by helicopter during that race which involved 35 military and civilian aircraft and 27 Royal Australian Navy vessels. It was the largest peacetime sea rescue ever undertaken by this country and it was under treacherous conditions. Was there ever any serious talk of discontinuing that race? What do you think?

As in the case of Jessica Watson, on whom we had to rely to reset our moderation meter after nearly capsizing on our own wave of hysterical nationalism, it falls to Abby Sunderland to reintroduce a little perspective into the post-mortem. Here's what she has to say on her blog.

'Within a few minutes of being on board the fishing boat, I was already getting calls from the press. I don't know how they got the number but it seems everybody is eager to pounce on my story now that something bad has happened.

There are plenty of things people can think of to blame for my situation; my age, the time of year and many more. The truth is, I was in a storm and you don't sail through the Indian Ocean without getting in at least one storm. It wasn't the time of year it was just a Southern Ocean storm. Storms are part of the deal when you set out to sail around the world.

As for age, since when does age create gigantic waves and storms?'


The logic bypass has also infected the Australian media as we tangle ourselves up in the perennial argument over the costs and risks of sea rescue yet again. Since we are one of the few land masses in these parts, we get to do rather a lot of it. You'd think we would have hit upon a standard ethical position on the subject by now. Not a bit of it. Every new case seems to raise a complex equation of 'deservedness' factors that would have pole-axed Pythagoras.

It was rather ironic to hear a government spokesperson claim that no expense or effort would be spared in carrying out our maritime duty to locate and rescue Abby Sunderland knowing that distress signals from asylum seeker boats carrying hundreds of people, many of them children, have gone ignored in the past with tragic consequences. It would be so much easier for everyone if all imperilled human life was thought to be of equal value.

I'm glad she's safe. I hope she tries again. I applaud her courage and her ability to think clearly and coherently and with a maturity and sense of purpose that infantilises her critics.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

All Quiet on the Austin Front

Maim Street, Larrikin's End, Saturday by Pants

The world sometimes seems like a very dangerous place...

Excuse me, I have incoming intercom.

What's that you say Barney? You need me to go downtown to get what? A dozen wombat eggs?

He's doing eggs Vladivostok, his signature dish. Only the finest wombat eggs will do. And they are only to be found in Maim Street, Larrikin's End.

Okay Barney, but there'd better be a vodkamisu-to-die-for if you expect me to launch myself into that melee. You're on.

Nightmare. On a Saturday afternoon, Larrikin's End Maul (pictured) is chaotic.

I finally find a park for the Pantibago and battle my way to Larrimart, where all our local produce is traded via a method called 'world's best practice'. Here that means they shout at you until you buy it. It works quite well with wombat eggs. They've never been a quiet trade anywhere in the world.

I exit, my ears ringing. I look around me. I think of the history of our extraordinary town. Here I am, standing in Maim Street. It is named after our town's founder Sir Joseph Furphy Larrikin's Auntie Maim, the woman who took him in, fractured several of his limbs and fed him the sugar-intensive diet that fueled his ambition to found a great town and neglect his dental hygiene. On this ethic was the industry of our town built and on its flimsy memory does it continue to thrive.

Thanks Barney for sending me down to Maim Street for wombat eggs. Sometimes I just need to be seduced away from productive intellectual effort and reminded of who I truly am...

Friday, June 11, 2010

A kid pro quo

Hungry like the wolf by Pants

Maureen Dowd writes in the New York Times of nasty goings-on at an elite Washington boys' school. The charming young scions of American power and industry have apparently created a whole new approach to dating. In the spirit of comradeship, they've hit upon a unique method of maximising their collective chances of scoring a fresher-week legover using scientific method.

Eschewing that crusty old tradition of asking a fellow human that you quite fancy to accompany you on a pleasant evening of fun and precocious revelry in accordance with your mutual tastes, these bastions of decency decided it would be much more productive to pool the girls whom they would first grade and then select after the fashion of an NFL draft. Ms Dowd takes up the story,

Before they got caught last summer, the boys had planned an “opening day party,” complete with T-shirts, where the mission was to invite the drafted girls and, unbeknownst to them, score points by trying to rack up as many sexual encounters with the young women as possible.

“They evidently got points for first, second and third base,” said one outraged father of a drafted girl. “They were going to have parties and tally up the points, and money was going to be exchanged at the end of the season.” He said that the boys would also have earned points for “schmoozing with the parents.”

His daughter, he said, “was very upset about it. She thought these guys were her friends. This is the way we teach boys to treat women, young ladies?”

I don't know, Dad from DC. Who do you suppose this 'we' who is assigned to teach boys how to treat women and young ladies is, exactly?

Ms Dowd expands,

Landon is where the sons of many prominent members of the community are sent to learn “the code of character,” where “a Landon man” is part of a “true Brotherhood” and is known for his good word, respect and honesty. The school’s Web site boasts about the Landon Civility Code; boys are expected to “work together to eliminate all forms of disrespect” and “respect one another and our surroundings in our decorum, appearance, (sic) and interactions.”

To 'work together to eliminate all forms of disrespect'? What's that about? Are we to assume that a culture of 'disrespect' is the status quo? A default position for the high-born perhaps? That disrespect, in its presumably many forms, exists in nature in order to be eliminated by the fine young bucks of the US of A? What?

And what are we to make of disrespect's converse 'respect' being limited to the brotherhood's 'one another and our surroundings in decorum, appearance and interactions'?

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, this sort of thing didn't happen when boys and girls dressed in the same clothes. Yes, back in the seventies, the decade that style apparently forgot, we hated sport and advertising and corsetry. Those were the things our parents valued. We all* wore the same baggy bell-bottomed trousers and cheesecloth shirts and had Neil from The Young Ones hair. Then, in 1976 we all* miraculously did a straight swap for black pants, ripped shirts and Vyvyan from The Young Ones hair. No one clocked what anyone else was wearing, much less thought it a factor in fanciability. We used our imaginations, because we still had them then. Life and sex were so much more liberated in those days - for both genders.

Even with the mounting body of evidence that the power dynamic between men and women is backpedalling faster than a politician en route to an election, few make the obvious connections. Mystified Dad from DC, unless he is in fact the Dalai Lama, is part of the problem. Maybe he doesn't have sons to whom he ought to be giving the 'how not to be a total cunt' speech. But he could at least mentor his daughter. He could convey to her that she is not an amalgam of products culminating in a package. And, that she is emphatically not the freshman version of a swap option.

The imprint of the marketing culture is now causing collateral damage. I'd always scoffed at my parents and what I thought of as their very 1950s concern for appearances. Sis Pants and I did really quite a good job of trashing all over that. We certainly broke out, but not at the expense of our morality. The posturing that we railed so strongly against was just superstructure and today we both enjoy an excellent relationship with our surviving parent. Underneath the fripperies of right suburb/right car etc. lay a very strong foundation of understanding of what it means to be a free person with both a right and a responsibility to self-determination. We learn how to be decent human beings from our parents.

You can't order it from Amazon, Dad from DC. Pick up the bat, man...

*By 'all' I do mean my personal cohort obviously but certainly at my secondary school and then university of 20,000 students, everyone did pretty much dress the same.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Foetus of Nazareth

Ultrasound Jesus poster from Church Ads. Photo by Rex Pictures

Mmm, it's June. The eggs and hot cross buns have all been eaten. Mothers' Day is over with. It must be time to start thinking about Christmas. Every year the Christian churches get all fretful about the loss of the 'true meaning' of our favourite gobfest. It may come as a surprise to you to learn that 'true meaning' according to some does not involve,

- Dragging an ugly and ridiculous tree into your house and covering it with sparkly things to make it look less ugly and ridiculous.

- Spending a quarter of your annual income on 1) toys that will be broken within twenty-four hours 2) items of clothing that will never see the inside of a washing machine 3) huge hunks of dead animal, most of which will be thrown away. (There is a reason turkey only ever gets eaten at Christmas - after a year, you've just about forgotten how dreadful it tastes.)

- Dreaming about snow if you live in a hot place or going to a hot place if it's snowing where you live.

No, fellow heathens, the 'true meaning' of Christmas appears to be something akin to pre-natal care. According to one's beloved Guardian newspaper, the poster above is the brain,er,child of ecumenical charity and is backed by some of the major Christian organisations in Britain.

I'm guessing the campaign is like a very long Advent Calendar, except without the chocolate, or when a mother zoo elephant is going to give birth and she gets followed around by TV crews for six months beforehand. Every week you get to chart her progress via a breathless half-hour episode in which vets wield four-foot-long thermometers and look at their computer screens a lot. And at the end, when the baby elephant finally arrives after surviving several near still-birth experiences, you get to submit a name for it. Hang about, this baby already has a name. And there's no chocolate. Bored now.

But wait. The ad has provoked controversy. We like controversy. Apparently the ad has been perceived by some as having an anti-abortion message. This has been leapt upon with great glee by pro-lifers who've just saved themselves a lot of money. John Smeaton from The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child said,

"The advert is saying that Jesus was alive as a person before he was born. They have a halo round his head and you don't have a halo around the head of a blob of jelly or a cluster of cells. This is not a cluster of cells but a human person and it just happens to be the God man Jesus. It is about the humanity of the unborn. That is a very, very powerful statement that will strike a chord with the general population."

Well, from the look of those little flailing fists I'd say it looks like the baby is punching above its weight already. Maybe that's how they worked out it was a boy as the area where the indicator for boyness is usually found seems to have been omitted from this particular ultrasound. I'd have to agree with Mr Smeaton that it is uncommon to see a halo around the head of a blob of jelly. You certainly wouldn't expect to see one anywhere near John 'Prezzies' Prescott for e.g. I don't know that I can go along with the rest of his reading though.

Let's see what the people who made the ad have to say. Maybe it will become clearer.

"We wanted to convey that Christmas starts with Christ. That this baby was on the way. Then we thought that the scan was a way of conveying that: it is modern currency in announcing a modern birth. We put a halo on it because theologians speak of Jesus being fully human and fully divine."

Or perhaps not. That statement was from Mike Elms of Now, it's a long time since I was last at Sunday School but aren't we putting the cross before the crib a bit here re the whole divinity thing? And in any case, isn't the Messiah meant to come back fully grown? We're not expected to go through that whole Frankincense and Myrrh palaver again are we? I thought the born-again business was only for sad, desperate people with nowhere else to go. It doesn't seem a fitting re-entry for a Messiah.

Christianity managed to avoid mention of all that unseemly sex imagery by inventing the virgin birth. has gone one better and invented the motherless birth. The new Messiah will apparently spring straight from celluloid. So last millennium if you ask me. Shouldn't 'He' be arriving digitally? And surely, in the twenty-first century, we've a right to expect a genderless Messiah.

Messianic machinations aside, the big disappointment is to discover my public-participation gestation thesis has been blown out of the water. Apparently the posters are only going to be on limited display. According to Elms,

"People are entitled to talk about it, but when the posters are put up, from the 6 till 20 December, it will be seen in context and its real message will become clear."

Context? Please tell me Roman Polanski isn't involved.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Lady Gaga

Photo by Facundo Arrizabalaga EPA/The Guardian

Lady Thatcher thinks she's been re-elected. Apparently she's got no short-term memory now. So the last twenty years never happened.

'Oi, you, butler, bring me my handbag. Oh, I see you are my handbag,' she was heard to say.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Plane whistleblowing

Flying by Seat of Pants by, er, Pants

It was a dream headline - Flying doctors illegally shipped drugs for 20 years.

Oh joy, oh glee. Finally some intrigue. I'm smacking my lips with narcotic delight at the thought of our esteemed aerial medical service being exposed as the catalyst for drug addiction in remote communities and a major player in international crime.

It makes perfect sense. They're flying around the country with Class A impunity. And, well, it would certainly be very convenient to blame them since nothing seems to be going right in outback health services. I read on eagerly,

'The Federal Government has stepped in after it was revealed the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) has been in breach of the federal (sic) Crimes Act for the past 20 years.'

Mmm. Well, it is the 'Royal' Flying Doctor Service we're talking about here. Perhaps there's a particular protocol that kicks in when one of Her Majesty's special services falls foul of not-quite-rightness in the legal sense, like over-cosiness with certain Latin American-based cartels for e.g.

We are prepared to extend courtesy. We can never know when we ourselves might be stranded on a quad bike on an insanely ill-conceived media junket in the middle of a desert with the Leader of the Opposition and might need, and indeed be grateful for, some RFDS Mercurochrome, or maybe even something a little stronger. We continue reading with the openest of minds,

'The organisation was unaware it was illegal to distribute high-grade painkillers such as morphine (sic) and pethidine (sic) via Australia Post.'

Illegal to send narcotics via parcel post? News to us here at Seat of Pants. Barney - are you streaming?

'The Government will make changes to the Act to allow the service to re-stock (sic) its remote medicine chests.'

Jolly good show that. Hang on a mo, isn't this news story about planes and drugs? Apparently not,

'The Federal Minister for Rural and Regional Health, Warren Snowdon, said it was imperative the Government acted (sic) swiftly to ensure people would be looked after in medical emergencies.'

Oh, so the story is about hospitals,

"We needed to get a change to the Crimes Act effectively to make it OK for Australia Post to handle these sorts of drugs on behalf of the RFDS," he said.

And Postman Pat.

Now, I'm really lost. You mean to tell me that it would take an Act of Parliament to allow our Royal Flying Doctor Service to pop a few Pethidines in the post for registered doctors to administer to people who'd been half-eaten by a crocodile?

So, how exactly do drugs legally get to surgeries if not via a registered delivery service? Just asking.