Tuesday, 31 July 2007

This is seriously irritating...

Handouts meant for planning my assignments somehow got shuffled up along with class readings that were MEANT to be handed back to the lecturer. Grrr. My pathetic email ("please can you load them on WebCT?") will no doubt cause teeth to gnash when she goes to her inbox.

On top of that I'm coming down with the flu. At least a cold. The blame lies with the Art Gallery of New South Wales, where organisers bungled their plans for a talk by French avant-garde artist Orlan. It really was horrible to wait outside, in a thin jacket, for an hour.

Only to be told the theatre was full and no, sorry, you can't go in.

Although I admit it was quite entertaining to mix with a crowd of 'alternatives' who turned out for the event. Even schoolgirls in their uniforms were on the steps. Waiting. For an hour.

I probably will not go to work tomorrow.

But I must make class at 5pm.

This gives me time for some study. I need it. Both units are mandatory for the course, which basically means I did all the yummy ones last year and, this year, must suffer for my earlier gluttony.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Review: Evening; directed by Lajos Koltai, based on a novel by Susan Minot, adapted for the screen by Michael "The Hours" Cunningham and Minot.

Before I start on this film, I just want to flip back to my stroll out of the cinema to my car. Opposite the glorious Leichhardt Town Hall -- a glabrous, wedding-cake edifice lit up with spots through the night -- is the All Soul's Anglican church, a fine, understated brick fabric from the century before last. It's noticeboard has a message for movie-goers: "The ending - You'll either love it or hate it". OK, finished.

The movie is too long, for a start. And before I get to praising Toni Collette (once again; see yesterday's post), I want to say that Mamie Gummer (who is Meryl Streep's actual daughter) did a great job as the girl who marries a man she doesn't love.

It's set part in the nineteen-fifties and part in the present. Clare Danes as fifties-Ann is not compelling at all, at all. Gummer beats her hands down. Danes is cinematically attractive with large, vibrant facial features that appeal to a more modern aesthetic. Some of the other bridesmaids fit the bill better.

In addition, there's the "irrepressible" (from the Web site) Buddy, played by Mel Gibson look-alike Hugh Dancy. He exudes some of Gibson's rocket-fuel unpredictability but not quite. Possibly it's the script that's at fault. It casts him as, basically, a useless lush more committed to the bottle than any prospect of husbandhood.

And these fifties girls are out for husbands. Lila (Gummer) wails that she will be 24 years old, so how can she refuse to marry the tall, boring guy (no name given online), since Harris (who Ann also wants) has been her choice from the age of fifteen. Thank god for the sixties, is all I can say (although possibly this trope would gel better with a younger, more postmodern viewer).

OK: time for Collette, who acts in the 'present' scenes.

As the slightly flaky sister Nina, she has dyed-red hair and wears grungy, dark clothes (not goth, but close). In addition (get this) her boyfriend's got a foreign accent (no kidding!). So only flaky girls who can't build a career go for the dashing, woggy types.

He, also, gets no billing but delivers a really nice performance when given a chance, as he is toward the end. He also wears a nice shirt.

The best scenes are with Richardson and Collette, without the slightest doubt. Collette's face is spontaneous and expresses a wide range of feelings. Apart from Richardson (who rocks), the other actors (pace Gummer) deliver relatively stereotypically 'good' close-ups. The difference is stiking. When Collette is on screen, you watch and listen carefully. With the others, I felt like a cigarette (c'mon, get on with it!).

Richardson delivers in spades. She is close to death, losing her ability to think coherently, and drops off to sleep a lot. She sees things, has visions. Confined to bed and dressed in a plain, white shift, she nevertheless keeps your attention throughout. A fine performance.

Overall, as I said, the movie is too long. There is no drama in some events that we should care about. When Collette tells her boyfriend she's pregnant, we are moved. When one of the actors gets killed (OK, it's Buddy, but we knew that from the beginning because Ann-played-by-Richardson tells us) it's just like TV. Big yawns all round.

There's one really beautiful scene following the accident when Ann-played-by-Danes walks down a wooden pier, onto a ramp, and finally onto a pontoon. The tide is low and the sun is low. The rocks behind her are tinged orange, and the sea to the fore is still blue. Quite lovely.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

In The Dead Girl I think Toni Collette gives the best performance. Like a lot of TV drama, such as the excellent Ghost Squad (sometimes shown on the ABC), the plot is hard to grasp, but Collette's opening performance kick-starts the movie.

The role is distinctly drab. Her mother, an abusive bitch, gives off sparks, and Collette as Arden is forced by the abuse to make decisions you feel she wouldn't otherwise make. It all starts, of course, with the dead girl Arden finds in a field.

More complexity seems to enter with Rose Byrne playing a forensics practitioner, Leah. She's got the idea the dead girl is her sister. She's also got a love interest (Derek) and there is indeed a sex scene. Collette's sex scene was far and away more compelling, because fraught with psychological subtleties Derek and Leah can't match. To compensate, the filmmakers make Leah a depressive who has had periods of lying in bed when not working.

To inject more panache into Byrne's role, her mother gives a 'fine' performance, but it's strictly routine: heavy-going verbal explosions like this give immediate satisfaction but fail to linger in the mind.

The next segment features "a housewife" (according to the synopsis on the Web site) who detests her husband and rewards his frequent absences with vitriol. You find it hard to blame him for his 'philandering'. She uncovers the real reason he wanders in a storage unit. Shades of Silence of the Lambs here, but there's little hidden and the filmmakers basically give away the secret right there.

Personally, I dislike the easy duality of crime stories, and so I feel compelled to like them for their refusal to pander to the great unwashed. Crime sells, as any bookstore owner will tell you.

Then there's the black girl who gives head for money, thrown together with the mother of the dead girl. They locate the dead girl's daughter, and there are some sensations here of crimes few would yet venture to illustrate (although it's only a matter of time, given the high profile pedophiles possess).

Last we get the dead girl, who has some sort of relationship with a guy with a bunch of tats and a big, black truck. Heavy scenes, you think. But the movie lost most of its momentum when Collette exited the viewfinder.

The film could have been a good survey of male sexuality, but Derek and Tarlow (the dead girl's pash) are routine actors. The guy who turns out to be the killer gives a good, understated performance, without the bravado of Tarlow or the new-age sensitivity of Derek. It's as if guys must be colourless or caricatures or serial killers.

As a guy, I find this regime slightly offensive. Giovanni Ribisi as Rudy the shop attendant, who gets Arden into the back seat of his station wagon, is by far the best of the guys. But it's not their fault; the filmmakers have written one good story and five average ones.

Friday, 27 July 2007

I'm setting up a new Web site but the name won't appear here. It's for images Photoshopped recently and will hopefully attract attention.

My personal site has not been hit much at all. I guess it's primarily for people who are looking for me in particular, as in Google it gets ranked well. Well, seems like nobody's been looking for me. Rats.

Closer to home, my local newsagent now brings in three (3) copies of Quadrant. When I first asked for it, mine was their sole request. The nice Asian lady is pleased as punch that she now delivers three out of the magazine's total circulated run of 5000.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Cognitive load theory says don't throw more details at a student than she or he can comfortably process. If you do, they won't reach long-term memory. The opportunity is lost. Nothing is learned.

Dr John Sweller's theories hit the news back in April, in the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald. On tonight's Catalyst (the ABC's weekly science program) we met some teachers who use Sweller's ideas.

Dr Arianne Rourke teaches at NSW Uni's College of Fine Arts (Sweller is also with NSW Uni). She teaches first-year design students. "[I]f they’ve never before learnt about, say, this Macintosh chair [learning is a problem]," she says. "They don’t know the characteristics that you need to identify Macintosh design works."

"According to cognitive load theory, when students are trying to process new information, it’s best to give them the answers."

According to Lucas, a year-8 student: "You just get really frustrated and you don’t know how you’re going to finish it all and you think about other subjects and you don’t know what to do."

It's good to see the ABC taking a story from the press and filling it out to the extent that we can see students complaining, hear teachers praising, and so grasp an idea that has gained currency in some parts of academia but is still (obviously) to reach the mainstream.

One thing the Herald's story did that missed the program was describe how to design a good PowerPoint presentation. The software is ubiquitous and, despite what our convenor said at last week's writers' workshop, will certainly be used. Whether purists like it or not.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Pollution stories are discouraged by the Chinese government, says my classmate tonight. Well, she didn't say 'pollution' stories exactly, but rather 'negative' stories. A report in The Sydney Morning Herald buttresses her words.

I'll call her 'Sandy' (because that's what she calls herself -- it's common for Chinese students to do this, adopt an Anglo name while living here). Tonight's class is again mainly made up of female Chinese students.

She tried England but, she says, she didn't like the weather. Also, her good friend is also here. In China, she worked for a Beijing TV station doing a fashion show. Her work didn't attract official opprobrium but, she asserts, it's hard for reporters to write about things that reflect negatively on the nation.

The news report says that Chinese authorities "lobbied the World Bank" to tone down data on pollution. Later the government said it was "cancelling plans to publish" a report about the cost of pollution to the economy.

Like many news stories, this one ends with a quote, here by an environmental academic. He says that including the real cost of clean technology would push down growth "in some areas".

"Many areas still place GDP above all else," he says. A page for Mitchell Landsberg, the reporter ("in Beijing"), is on the Los Angeles Times Web site. Seems it needs updating, because it shows him as a metro reporter.

The same issue reports that Fairfax managers will roll out Earth Hour in other Australian cities, and in New Zealand. Anywhere Fairfax has papers, basically.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Alan Jones pays up, reports Jennifer Cooke in The Sydney Morning Herald. Litigation pursues Jones like a curse. Chris Masters, his biographer (unauthorised) was sued by a cop last December, and now Jones will pay another to settle a grievance dating back to February 2004.

This blog wasn't around in those days, so I've not got the story to tell.

Clive Small was apparently "mysteriously" sacked from his job as assistant commissioner as a result of comment by Jones on his radio program, broadcast by 2GB. Small's most recent job was as "director of strategic operations" in another part of the force. It's obviously a euphemism for 'booted upstairs'.

Jones' remarks singled out Small's role in the fight against south-western Sydney crime that was blamed on "Lebanese gangs". Jones is notorious for targeting this sector of the community. He was cautioned by the peak media body in April following remarks broadcast after the December 2005 Cronulla riots, when thousands of patriotic Anglos stormed the beachside suburb looking for vengeance.

Against Lebanese men. The men had assaulted a surf lifesaver who had come to the assistance of a young woman who the men were harrassing. The man was injured. Remarks aired on Jones' program actually came from a caller to the station. But the media "watchdog" (sorry for the lame epithet) said Jones was at fault.
China would fragment if democracy were adopted. Why? Lack of education in the vast majority of the population is a major reason, according to a classmate I listened to tonight.

We were asked by the lecturer to say why we had enrolled in the media practice degree. Going around the class, half of which comprises Chinese (one male, the rest women), the usual comments about China popped up. The situation was improving, a few said. Recently, journalists had reported negative stories, which would not have run even a few years ago.

But this girl said something I have long thought and had never before heard from a Chinese person. The rigid control exercised by the Communist regime was necessary, she said, so that everyone spoke with the same voice (her words). I made my interpretation.

She started out by remarking on the education level of most Chinese and the large population. I had background, too. A Chinese man I worked with in Tokyo told me that differences between China's regions were as great as between Europe's countries.

The woman did her bachelor's degree in Australia, returned to China, and has now enrolled in a postgraduate degree here. Her English is better than that of many Chinese students I've encountered.

Why the interest in Chinese authorities? The class is 'Legal and Ethical Issues in the Media' so our focus is on two areas that are not necessarily close but may overlap. Freedoms enjoyed by Australians, and by our press, are clearly of compelling interest to Chinese students. "We can talk about these things, but we cannot write about them," (in China) said another young woman.

It's hard for Westerners to comprehend the woman I first mentioned. But it's the truth. Given freedom to elect governments and freedom to print what they want, Chinese people would find themselves (if not in civil war) at least hard-pressed to retain unity. I believe this is true.

It doesn't condone repressive government, but it explains the status quo.

My contribution entailed bemoaning lack of freedom of the press in Japan. I've written about it on this blog, recently in relation to the assassination of Itcho Ito, the (now-deceased) mayor of Nagasaki.

The photo was taken by my great aunt during her sojourn in Japan straight after WWII. It shows typical farm labourers (both women). Her caption (bless her, she described each photo she took, and stuck them in a number of albums): "Just look at the load."

In China, everyone still carries a similar load. Until education (a severe constraint in nineteenth-century Britain also) improves we'll likely see China remain Communist for the next hundred years (echoing a recent pronouncement on democracy by the government).

Monday, 23 July 2007

No comment, says Qantas on news of a new logo, last updated in 1984. I can feel my age with this news. The spokesman "refused to comment", says The Sydney Morning Herald.

Full exposure is due tomorrow.

The news comes on the same day I upload four images to my Web site. The timeline page covering 1991 to 2000 was a bit thin compared to others, so it's a good feeling to get them up there. The drawings for these magazine covers were done in 1995 and show, I think, the early emergence of a popular trend nowadays: the retro cartoon cover.

There's probably no doubt the style was also influenced by the pervasive manga magazines in shops in Tokyo. You could see them every corner you turned.

My boss at the time, Karen Severns, loved (and loves) them. With only a black marker, a few photos Photoshopped, and the assistance of the production company (to add red splashes in the grey), I made these images.

Most people won't get the narratives. The company I worked for makes automation products, and integrates them in clients' plants. Food, petrochemical, automotive, electrical and other plants. As well as commercial and government building automation. So it's a fairly rarefied field.

Our audience would have got the jokes, though. It comprised mainly non-Japanese engineers who worked for our joint venture partner, Honeywell. The company was bought out by Japanese shareholders in 1997 and I moved into marketing the products.

"I will always remember those five years and the International Communications Group with pride and fondness," says Karen.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

I want to compare styles in three books I've read part of today.

The first is A History of Erotic Literature (1982) by Patrick J. Kearney, a bibliographer specialising in erotic books. In a dry, meticulous fashion in his introduction (pp. 7 - 18), Kearney elencates and assesses the various bibliographies that have appeared over the past 150 years or so. All are of erotic books.

There is scope for entertainment, but it is missed. Similarly, the illustrations in Kearney's book tend to be first pages of old books containing pictures of men and women having sex, rather than the pictures of sex themselves. I didn't read past the intro, and I think that's partly the book's fault. I'm a busy man and I don't want to waste my lovely weekend reading about books about books.

I then picked up Making Books: Contemporary Australian Publishing (2007), which I bought at Kinokuniya's last Friday. The first piece is by Jenny Lee, an academic. The second piece is by Ann Galligan, a doctoral student. The third piece, by Simone Murray, is equally dry. She's an academic in Melbourne.

Here's a sample of Murray's prose:

While the East and West affair demonstrates the extent to which book publishing is embedded within the sphere of multinational commerce, the future of conglomerate media is less likely to revolve around face-offs between one medium and another (as, for example, book publishing versus television, in the Murdoch instance) than it is to focus upon potential relationships between media formats controlled by the same corporation.

My reaction is similarly cold to this type of prose. Apart from the fact that I abhor the use of 'upon' when 'on' will do just as well.

The final book I picked up today is by a journalist, Joann Ellison Rodgers, entitled Sex: A Natural History (2001). Here's a sample:

Scholars know, often from bitter experience, that without the instincts of a cold warrior, studying sex can be dangerous and getting published punitive. Nearly every scientist I interviewed (more than fifty) volunteered that she or he had felt the threat of career-killing disapproval by public and private funding agencies, politicians, institutions, and the public.

I don't know about you, but this kind of style engages and diverts, at the same times as educating me. I need those extra qualities, just as my body needs a range of foodstuffs to survive. As J. M. Coetzee has Daniel Defoe telling Sarah Barton in his 1986 novel, Foe:

'The island lacks light and shade. It is too much the same throughout. It is like a loaf of bread. It will keep us alive, certainly, if we are starved of reading; but who will prefer it when there are tastier confections and pastries to be had?'

(In the book, Sarah is the survivor of a shipwreck on the island where Robinson Crusoe lived, is rescued, and returns to England along with Friday, his companion. In contact with Foe, she tries to get him to write their story in the way she wants it told. She has many suggestions, one of which is to concentrate the narrative focus on what happened on the island where Friday and Crusoe lived.)

I prefer 'tastier confections' to dry, academic prose. This may be why the word 'academic' is used as a derogatory: the argument appears to be about something that has no relevance to ordinary people, or ordinary life. It lacks the 'light and shade' people require if they are to be engaged.

Like me, they turn off. I tried to do something lively for an assignment last semester, however, and got blasted. It demonstrates that the culture is ingrained in the academic psyche, and unlikely to be dislodged. It's a pity, because academics have a tremendous amount to contribute to society. But if they insist on being dry and 'balanced' they will not engage the populace.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

The griffin is by William Blake and is part of his art for Dante's Divine Comedy commissioned, says the caption, by John Linnell in 1824. There are many stories in this clipping.

It comes from the back of a book of black-and-white art of my grandfather's: 500 Years of Art in Illustration. The book came to me from my cousin Doug, who didn't want to store it. I find it a great source of material for my photoshopped originals.

This man, Harry Dean, married Beatrice Kewish in 1926. A year earlier, my paternal grandfather had married Phyllis Caldecott, and a year before that he had emigrated from Mozambique. Harry was very bookish, and bequeathed the vast bulk of his collection to the Communist Party when he knew he was very ill, in the mid-1950s. I will always regret this.

I include Blake's watercolour here because of the trepidation I feel at starting my final semester next week. I fully intend to pass, and this will put me in a different professional class from the past. But I will need to work for it.

It's also apposite because trepidation is the primary feeling I have when creating computer art. The fact that you have endless choice is probably the main reason for feeling like this. Unfettered freedom has a cost, because you must make the right decisions for yourself.

In society we often have no choice. A mortgage must be paid, and bills attended to. A work contract for 35 hours needs to be fulfilled because there is a penalty. I am comforted by the certainty these obligations bring, as I need only complete a task to satisfy their demands. But in front of my monitor with Photoshop open, I can do whatever I please, and the sensation is different.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Semester two starts next week, so I had a final splurge and purchased six magazines (Lurzer's Int'l Archive, Plastique, men's style, Vanity Fair, Seventeen, and Desktop) on the way home from the workshop.

Lurzer's I flicked through on the train back from the city. It's a collection of advertising art from around the world. There are pieces from South America, Southeast Asia, Europe, the United States, and Oceania. It's frankly fascinating. And especially following the Photoshop work I've done over the past week, very compelling.

This is one poster, from Britain. Click to view: it's a very nice composition, slightly retro, that places police work in an unexpected light. A strong image, I believe. The mag also served to start a conversation on the train. The woman who sat next to me obviously thought the images interesting, and we chatted for about eight stations until I alighted.


Seventeen is also interesting, as its readers are pubescent girls. The amount of information on make-up, dating, and fashion is disturbing. But four pages on skin cancer testify to a more serious element in the editorial mix.

The workshop was fun, and took place at the Grace Hotel, an old establishment in the heart of the CBD. As the most experienced participant, I enjoyed talking with the convenor, a journalist, and introduced the concept of a wiki, as an intranet medium. Two of the people gave me their cards and asked that I send more details by email.

Maybe I should go into consulting. The pay would be better, but it would be contract work, which I object to on principle. I started at my current employer as a contractor and now am 'continuing' (their euphemism for full-time). And I like the security full-time employment brings. I've got a mortgage to pay.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Semester one results are in. I bummed in Strategy Selection in Corporate PR, with a 'pass'. I won't recount what my lecturer wrote on my final assignment. Suffice it to say he found some elements "silly" and others not relevant.

In Media Discourse I did better, with a final grade of 'distinction' but there, again, the final assignment did poorly. "I might suggest you use academic writing style," he wrote. Among other things that do not reflect well on my scholarship. The good final grade was due to a 95 in the first assignment.

In other news, through Fisher Library at Sydney Uni I have loaned back issues of The Weekly Times, a Victorian agricultural paper my great-grandfather wrote for. The State Library of Victoria would sell the films to me, but the cost ($50 per roll) is prohibitive. The years I want to see are 1920 to 1930, which makes 41 rolls. Too much even for a rellie.

I also got hold of the unit history of the Seventh Battalion, in which my great uncle fought in WWI. Costing only $25 for a CD-ROM, it's well within my means.

Still no book reviews: I've been busy photoshopping images for my personal Web site (link at right). Some are not linked from the home page due to questionable content. I may set up a new domain and publish them anonymously.

Semester two starts next week, so there won't be any book reviews until the end of the year. If all goes well, I'll pass the course. Then I'll be a 'master' -- no longer just a 'bachelor', an apprentice or any other lowly grade of professional.

Tomorrow I'm booked to attend a 'Corporate Writers Workshop' in the city, which should be fun. I did a lot of press release writing when in Japan, so this is a chance to hone those skills.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Umberto Eco's On Literature (2005) follows his best-known work, The Name of the Rose (1983), by over two decades, but he's still talking about it. He would. According to the newer book, Eco has 40,000 books in his collection distributed over several houses. The medieval crime novel did his bank balance no harm.

The new book is a collection of addresses he made at events, usually those held by universities. They are part occasional pieces (he talks about what other presenters said) and part scholarship. The simple style he uses is deceptive; what he says so simply is clearly the result of a lifetime of intense study. Books Eco read at the age of twelve would frighten an average reader.

His heroes include Joyce and Borges. And Dante, for obvious reasons. Few who read for leisure will be moved to buy a copy of Dante's Paradiso (the final volume of The Divine Comedy -- not a title Dante himself would have used being, rather, testimony to the esteem the work has garnered over centuries). But his observations on Joyce strike closer to home.

Granted, many readers would find Finnegan's Wake extremely challenging. Nevertheless, Eco makes sense of it. His trick in comparing the goals of Joyce and Dante (to invent a universal language) comes off. Eco is devastatingly well-read. This also allows him to place the work of Borges in the context of Western culture.

But I found Eco a little tiresome when he talks of doubles and labyrinths. Such tropes have gathered so much baggage over recent years that you wish for something a little fresher.

Eco's discussion of Oscar Wilde's wit, apart from demonstrating the scholar's deep reading, is pleasant going compared to some of the pieces in this book.

I would certainly recommend On Literature to those who take books seriously. It will help make connections you never made, like watching a fireworks display: the colours combine in new and unexpected patterns.

Friday, 13 July 2007

My new Quadrant T-shirt arrived today. "I've never read Quadrant because I don't like it" is the slogan. True to its plain style, The T-shirt came in a plain manila envelope, addressed by hand (with two classic misspellings in my difficult name). Plain? Quadrant's circulation is 5000 per issue, of which there are ten annually.


Most of the people who were educated with me would never read Quadrant for the reason written across the front of the T-shirt. It's not for 'lefties'. And while I do not subscribe to every sentiment it contains, I read it because Quadrant takes ideas seriously.

Many pieces are written by laymen and -women, which adds to the magazine's charm. You can feel as if you're getting it straight from the horse's mouth. The editors clearly avoid fashionable orthodoxies in favour of content that challenges assumptions. And that gives a more in-depth view of the issue under consideration.

The mag also is one of the few to regularly publish original fiction, especially poetry. Some of it is very good. Some is not, but as a general rule the standard of submissions accepted for publication is high. The poet Les Murray is the mag's literary editor.

Every issue contains unexpected material, unlike other high-end mags, many of which favour canonical 'issues' such as Aboriginal land rights. Instead, Quadrant would approach the issue differently, and ask about the responsibilities of Aborigines.

The current (July-August) issue contains a dreary apologia by Leonie Kramer. There's a piece by a judge, J. J. Spiegelman, on Europeans in Shanghai that lost me within a few paragraphs, so I skipped to the next piece. Two pieces on universities approach the issues from a different angle. Both decry managerialism in academia. You wouldn't normally expect Quadrant to do this, but there you go.

Robert Murray's short piece, 'The New Story of English', looks at how recent scholarship and the science of genetics have turned accepted ideas about the origin of the English language on their head. This is a must-read and a guide to further reading if you're curious about such things, as I am.

And Bel Vidal's brief paean to stodgy old Australia takes the migrant's point of view. It also succinctly deals with recent politics in Bolivia, and sets everything in the context of nostalgia and patriotism. Alan Gould's short memoir says a lot about climbing. Trees, in his case, but the tone of the mag -- plain, unadorned, in plain language -- always prompts the reader to think laterally. What does climbing trees have to do with me?

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Global warming took up a huge chunk of time on the ABC tonight. Back in April, I mentioned a documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle. We saw it tonight, followed by an interview conducted by ABC journalist Tony Jones who grilled the filmmaker, Martin Durkin.

After that we had a bunch of scientists and other pundits talking around questions from Jones. Finally, the audience was invited to speak but most of their questions were brushed aside by Jones.

One of the audience members was a guy I spoke with on a Sydney street corner. He's a member of the Citizens Electoral Council of Australia, who believe anthropogenic climate change is a policy push by fascists who want to cull third-world populations.

Clearly, these people are wrong about the reasons for the climate debate. They are not wrong about the 'religious' aspect of the whole thing. Dissenters are vilified and belittled.

This month a letter I wrote to the editor of right-wing magazine Quadrant was published. It contains issues scientists have consistently failed to address.
For the first time a TV station has screened footage of a 12-year-old girl undergoing gential mutilation. Tonight's World News Hour on SBS featured footage that I've never seen before. But for some strange reason, the broadcaster has not posted the story on its Web site.

Which I can't fathom. Only SBS offers such features, possible because of the longer format newscast (introduced in late January) the station gives viewers. Documentary footage like this is unheard of. I can't imagine a commercial station using it, and I waited out the ABC's half-hour newscast hoping they'd follow suit. They didn't.

The girl was clearly distraught. "I won't lie down," she wailed to her tormentors: three fully-grown women, one of whom held a plain, old-fashioned razor blade. "I don't want it," the girl cried. British police are cracking down on the practice of sending girls back to African countries of origin to undergo the procedure.

On the absolute other end of the scale of consent, but within the ambit of the same trope, I received an email from Meredith Jones, who runs the Marrickvillia blog, notifying me that Orlan, "a [French] performance artist who uses her own body and the procedures of plastic surgery to make 'carnal art'," will appear at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on 30 July.

Meredith has "been busy" organising Orlan's visit "for the last month", she says on her blog, and she is "hugely excited" about the upcoming event. Her book Skintight: An Anatomy of Cosmetic Surgery (due in February 2008) contains a "whole chapter" about Orlan.

I also take heart from the Bibliobibuli blog, where Sharon Bakar posts after having read FireWife by Malaysian writer Tinling Choong.

Choong won the Henry Miller Award for the best literary sex scene for the book. As a huge fan of Miller, whose novels, memoirs and polemics I ingested wholesale as an undergrad, this is interesting news. "This is not a 'Malaysian' novel, but it is a novel with a strong Malaysian protagonist, and which features a multi-ethnic cast of characters," writes Sharon.

Choong lives in the U.S., and is of Chinese extraction so, presumably, she was raised a Christian. You could hardly imagine a Muslim writer earning such an award. We can only hope.

The Henry Miller Award is given every month to the book that scores highest on three scales: heat, literary merit, and originality.

I immediately bought the book on Amazon. It cost US$1.50 and, with postage, will come to about $16, as the Aussie dollar rises steadily against the greenback.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Callie Miller over at the Counterbalance blog has changed her stationery again. "The other one was feeling too -- preppy. Too Martha's Vineyard or similar," she writes.

This one: "feels more 'it's very hot and so let's tango in the graffiti-riddled streets.'" I like the sentiment. It's something I would have enjoyed doing in my twenties. But no longer. Nowadays, however, I still do tango, but it's mainly online or between the covers of a book. Or in my uni assignments. I feel as if the ones where I 'tango' hardest are the ones that get the best marks.

Another cool bloggy thing is Kerryn Goldsworthy's shots of Adelaide at night. There's one posted yesterday, and another the day before.

I'm especially interested in these shots, as they mirror similar things I've been doing with my Canon PowerShot A530 around the traps here in Sydney. Great minds think alike.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

John Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year has been excerpted in The New York Review of Books, as reported by Perry at Matilda. We first heard news in late January.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's Times of Feast, Times of Famine: A History of Climate Since the Year 1000 is interesting on several counts. First off, today I bought the latest Quadrant which contains a letter from me to the editor.

The letter is about climate change and the near-universal acceptance by the public that industrialisation is responsible for increases in global temperatures since the middle of the twentieth century. Naturally, I dispute this assertion.

Ladurie's book, published prior to the whole climate thing, in 1971 in English (orig. French publ. 1969), addresses the issue of warming from the point of view of an historian. He looks at agricultural records, specifically tithes and vintage dates (the date collecting the year's crop of grapes started). He also looks at glaciers and their behaviour at different times over the past 1000 years.

According to Ladurie, the current "amelioration" (his word for warming) began in the mid-nineteenth century. If this is true (and I see no way to dispute the facts he so carefully assembles) then it is clear that industrialisation is not responsible for global warming.

In the mid-nineteenth century industrialisation was so negligible as to be non-existent. The 'Industrial Revolution' had begun, in England at first, a century earlier but the scale of things was, still in 1850, small compared to what would come in the twentieth century.

Yesterday I read about half the book, and I look forward to completing it in a week or so. It is 426 pages long including front matter and index.

If you are in Australia and want to read my letter, Quadrant can be ordered at any newsagent if yours doesn't stock it. Most likely they won't as the magazine's monthly print run is only 5000 for the whole country. It is also available on the Web site. Just google it.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Richard Roxburgh's Romulus, My Father, based on the eponymous book by Raimond Gaita, gave me many moments of pleasure when I saw it today. It's the story of migrants.

It's also set in the Victorian countryside. Many of the aesthetic choices Roxburgh makes are familiar to me. This feeling of accommodation allowed me to empathise with the characters intimately. I felt as though I was guiding the lens, sometimes.

There is minimal dialogue. The film is very sensual, very 'visual' (if you like), and so when a character does put together more than three words at the same time, the impact is sensible.

I would recommend this film to all, especially to those, like me, who understand the migrant experience because either we, or our parents, experienced it.

Christina (pictured) is Romulus' wife but their marriage is complex because she often does not live with father and son, preferring Melbourne to the countryside. Raimond's father sends him to an exclusive private school, and when Christina's second husband dies, she approaches him. But he doesn't want it. There's a great little scene when Raimond happens to pass by a teacher (headmaster?) in the grounds, and says to him that "if my mother calls, please can you tell her that I don't want to see her right now".

Just like that. The choices a young child is forced to make when confronted by the complexities of adult life, have never been so succinctly portrayed.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Shakespeare appeared on Doctor Who tonight, but I didn't see much interest in the development of the character. Plenty of gags with the Doctor ("can I use that?"), who defeats a coven of witches.
Will provides the words for the dramatic moment of victory, banishing a swirl of nasty-looking critters to the other side.

In other news (not yet published), Susan Wyndham announces that Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test will be made into a movie. Variety announced it in early June.

Friday, 6 July 2007

What do Patricia Cornwell, Dick Francis, Ian Rankin, John Le Carre and Ruth Rendell have in common with Peter Temple (pictured)?

Winning "the world's richest prize for crime writing".

Perry at Matilda is gonna love this story.

One critique affirmed that tmeple's latest book, The Broken Shore, combined "first-rate" crime fiction with "a literary sensibility". So sofa-sleuths do value quality...

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

If Paris Hilton's post-prison trip to Hawaii must have made a great change from solitary, Salman Rushdie's continuing high profile, following more protests (this time in Malaysia), must feel all too familiar.

Sharon Bakar of the Bibliobibuli blog snags a choice quote from the vice-chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia, Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, who says "to riot is a misplaced action" because it may "render the community to be somewhat like a Pavlovian dog that 'salivates' at will" (The New Straits Times).

But probably most Westerners do as The Sydney Morning Herald has done: move on. Not to Kuala Lumpur or London (where Rushdie lives) but *sigh* to Paris.

The broadsheet's 'Magwatch' column today compares the heiress with one of the century's most prominent lightening rods for popular sympathy: Nelson Mandela.

NOT since Nelson Mandela walked free from prison in 1990 has the liberation of a prisoner been so highly publicised. Hearts raced and spirits soared across the globe as Paris Hilton strode the catwalk outside the Century Regional Correctional Facility towards her waiting limousine, ready to begin a new post-party-girl life of good deeds and charity work, and saving dolphins and children and stuff.

So off to Hawaii. According to blog Paris Hilton Online, she's already back in LA. Some are wondering what'll come of the good intentions that were articulated under the influence of jail, as The Sydney Morning Herald reported on 12 June:

“I used to act dumb. It was an act. I am 26-years-old, and that act is no longer cute.”

Reuters reported that “she might like to help in the fields of breast cancer or multiple sclerosis, diseases that her grandmothers suffered, or build a ‘Paris Hilton playhouse’ for sick children”.

We'll see. Maybe Rushdie will be similarly inspired toward (though, we hope, not so easily, as it appears is true in Paris' case, discouraged from) going out on a limb-never-scrambled.

Such as, in Rushdie's case, opening a school for unlettered Muslims who might want to understand a bit more about modernism, and why it is common for writers who are exponents of it to question the grounds of any and all illogical, mass delusion.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Two years ago almost exactly to the day Gill Hicks was on her way, late, to work, having argued with her partner, Joe, the night before. Then everything went black in an instant.
Coming round after the blast she felt the sweet tug of death. She was also aware of life, a force that was irritated by her flirtation with death. "It was like I was being given two brochures. One for life and one for death." She chose life. Death left straight away.
"I didn't feel hatred. I didn't feel angry. They're destructive emotions." She's now a Peace Direct Ambassador. "How can I be so liberal," she asks herself. "How can I be so tolerant?"
More attractive females in the news...

Emma Watson, whose dinkus (right) appears in a rotating feature box on The Sydney Morning Herald's Web site, is clearly no longer the schoolgirl in plaid and pigtails of the early Harry Potter films. She's interviewed by Helen Barlow.

Hermione was brainy, common-sensical and fiercely loyal to Harry. All well and good. But the new look just won't sustain that profile any longer. There's the little issue of sex appeal to consider.

You see yourself and you say, 'God, who is that girl?'.

Watson is still only 17. She says kissing Grint will be awkward: "he's not my type."

"Director David Yates describes [Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, which starts filming in September] as being about sex, drugs and rock'n'roll."

Marieke Hardy took control of the ABC's Sunday Arts (5pm) 'Rogues Gallery' segment dressed in a low-cut green-and-white-striped frock. Her subject: Helen Garner. You can vote for your favourite rogue on the show's Web site (non-Oz readers probably won't click to most of these characters) but Aunty sadly doesn't offer the segment as a vodcast.

It is worth a second look. The quality of the segment was about the same as we're used to seeing on The First Tuesday Book Club (where Hardy routinely appears as a commentator). But Garner is clearly a person worth looking at closely. Her life seems to be cut from similar cloth as, say, Peter Carey's. One of the hippie generation, Garner apparently lost her teaching job in the Victoria public school system due to her frank approach to sex education.

The quality of Garner's work is unquestionable. If you've read Joe Cinque's Consolation, as I have, you will be aware of her subtle power, her reporter's knack for the key angle, and her large heart. She's a spiritual reporter as well as a seeker of the cogent fact.

She's equally well-known for her fiction. Her output in the 1980s is renowned.

Significantly, in both Joe Cinque's Consolation (2004) and The First Stone (1995) Garner was refused access to the people most involved. But she wrote them anyway, interviewing numerous peripheral characters in an attempt to understand how and why.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

A dreaded lurgy has me in its grip (should that be 'grippe'?) so I'm not even reading the newspapers. I spend most of the day in bed trying to kick the virus but since it's not in my respiratory tract, nor in my digestive tract, there's not much in the way of drugs to help.

Checking my university email account brings some interesting news, however. Cubby Fox, one of my classmates in Advanced Writing for the Media last semester, has had her long feature accepted by The Sydney Morning Herald. Cubby was always rather quiet than otherwise but she certainly could write.

The photo is also Cubby's. Mark Mordue, our tutor, spread the news.