Friday 31 August 2007

Proof instalment two takes us up to the point where the evidence needed to crucify the politician (Social Democrat) who's just won a landslide victory in the polls, is about to enter the public sphere.

It opens with Nina (Sidse Babett Knudsen) asleep at Terry Corcoran's flat. A soothing picture to start off a piece of TV drama that intends to give us a jolt.

She's not just asleep, but she's asleep alone. So: no monkey business. Next, however, we get Terry, in his shorts, reaching for an empty bottle, the contents of which were, presumably, consumed the previous evening. This establishes his cred as a 'sensitive' man (despite being in the pay of a sleazy local rag) and a man of principle.

But he's still ugly. That bald pate! Those pinched features! How could a woman who loves romance get involved with such a monster! Meanwhile, Nina sleeps, unaware that Terry is about to go into the kitchen to make a phone call!

Not just any phone call, but a call on his mobile! Doesn't he have a landline? Doesn't he know it's cheaper than a cell? And who does he call? I forget, but it's not really important. The main point is that while Terry is 'engaged' in the pursuit of whoever killed Nina's sister, Nina herself is asleep (having drunk some red wine the night before -- how 'engaged' is she?)

At this point, Nina awakes, refreshed by her senseless slumbering amid the ruins of the previous evening's mild debauch.

Incredibly, Terry somehow senses that she's now awake and reenters the living room, where the couch she slept on is situated. And he brings a morning donation to the god of wine: a glass of water!

The effect of this little refreshment is unexpected, I'm sure, to well-meaning Terry. That expression! It is a great deal more full of affect, however, than others we'll see from Nina, who is not exactly the victim but, rather, the big sister of the victim.

If we cut to Maureen, campaign secretary to the politician and ex-wife of ugly Terry, we see that it IS possible for a woman in a British TV drama to contain in her face more expression than a dead crow. Maureen, messianic, confronts sceptical journalists (see next pic -- it's fab).

She's trying to convince the hacks that her boss, the Social Democrat politician (whose victory parade will complete this week's episode), is not like other pollies but, she insists (against the incredulous hilarity of the hack), is a new type of man (for a new era?????)

She's feisty, all right, ready for anything because she knows the ropes. Who better to confront such an enemy than the ex-wife of the ur-sceptic himself: Terry Corcoran.

Next we see him with Nina, in a hallway this time: a narrow space just wide enough for two people to face each other, but forcing them to step aside in order to pass to another space. A room, for example. Or a shipping container.

As for Nina, she's blank-faced as she listens to Terry decry injustice. It was her sister who was killed and we see Terry making all the noise. Nina is a good girl: quiet (but determined), considerate (but not forgetting past wounds).

Here is a great shot, much of which is in slow-motion. Terry enters the newspaper's offices looking for vengeance, brushing determinedly past the milling hacks, ready to pour scorn on the cowardly editor who awaits in the office at the end of the news room.

Unlike Nina, the editor has the gumption to face up to Terry and even answer back. Nina, Albanian, her sister employed as a prostitute, is needy. The editor has his domain, is in control of resources, can act independently. We hear his voice and it is the voice of authority. But on whose side? Terry's? Nina's?

But is Terry's crusade all for nought? After all, the campaign manager does get the disk (not able to be copied, for some technical reason never explained). And what does he do with the evidence that will link the campaign funds to illegal sex slavery?

Thursday 30 August 2007

McEwan's Atonement will hit the cinemas in December, according to the press. A slew of media releases and shots have hit reporters' desks this week in the lead-up to what will without a shadow of doubt place McEwan in clover.

And it's about time. Once known as the 'bad boy' of Brit lit, McEwan more recently finds himself featured in such august media vehicles as Vanity Fair. The name also belongs to the 2004 movie in which Romola Garai (pic) played sense to Reese Witherspoon's sensibility. It is Becky Sharp, after all, who unceremoniously chucks Dr Johnson's dictionary out the coach window as she exits an institution incapable of containing her Romantic angst.

I had a devil of a time finding this snap, cropped in an instant. Ditto with Atonement, where Garai (whose portrayal of Barbara Spooner in Amazing Grace caught this little black duck's attention, for sure) plays the 18-year-old lead. Another actor plays Briony Tallis in childhood.

No probs finding snaps of Keira Knightley. Her natural, svelte silhouette is ideal for the post-war period but it's Garai's Edwardian Tallis I'll be watching closely.

Tuesday 28 August 2007

When is enough information too much? How to balance the need for completeness with the rituals of conviviality? And what attitude do you need to ask a pretty girl for her phone number?

I'm feeling disgruntled and it's mainly due to info overload. So if I'm feeling like this, how do colloquiters view my ability to deliver sustained flashes of (what I view as) brilliance, given their daily existence may be equally full?

At work there's a sudden need to deliver a presentation to key stakeholders as well as populate a wiki with good data. No fat, just the facts, please (you can hear them sigh). For semester two assignments there are half-a-dozen stakeholders to be held together by self-interest and the glue of quality detail. Plus the Chinese women in my team, who lag when asked to provide good data and baulk at work needed to secure media coverage. Which is the point of the unit of study.

And then suddenly I meet up with a beautiful Italian woman who was in a class last semester and she asks me to drive her to the station. At what point (en route, standing at the kerb by the station, as she turns to shut the car door) do I ask for the existentially crucial but semantically loaded piece of data?

I guess it could be done. Tie these strands together into a coherent narrative that serves to say more than each story alone. But I'm too tired. On top of this I've been offered more money by the bank, which means inspecting properties and trying to sell the one I live in.

I don't have time!

Finally, there's my brilliant, considered opinion on almost any topic with even a peripheral relation to the 18th century. I never tire of talking about it. I go on and on in any vein you please just to be able to discuss a period I consider central to my very being. To the core I believe that this period (the historian's 'long 18th century') defines what it means to be modern.

And yet despite these verbal outbursts and clever conceits, getting a pretty girl's telephone number is beyond me. Does this mean I'm a failure or that I truly live the life of the mind? If only my body would let me think so.

So I feel like John Gay with his red-heeled shoes stepping gingerly across twisted cobbles splashed with mixed effluvia, past the shoe-shine boy with his two pots (one for black, one for oil) squatting near the oyster-seller's basket. Her cry mingles in my mind with immediate demands and stretches the golden heart of my best instincts. It remains my symbol of truth, my desire for a better future. My image of the world.

Sunday 26 August 2007

A "champion of individualism"? Hunter S Thompson's wife Anita fell in love with the writer when "she started working for him" but the article by Jake McGee in The Village Voice does not give a date. Thompson died in 2005 when he shot himself.

Anita has published The Gonzo Way: A Celebration of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson demonstrating that she is "is carrying the torch that Hunter lit, shining its glorious light onto the world for generations to come", according to McGee, who labels the book "her brand of gonzo".

How did she meet the much older man? Well: "a mutual friend introduced us because I was curious about football" since she thought "it bonds men as life friends, although they have nothing in common except football".

Anita was something of a lost soul, it seems. Her mother is "very Polish". She had gone to boarding school in Switzerland because, she says, she was "sort of getting into a lot of trouble in my teens". Then at UCLA she "started getting very political".

"I was getting very political and angry."

"I came to Aspen for the rest of the semester to ski. But then I discovered snowboarding, and I really loved the carefree lifestyle here. I was working in a snowboard shop and snowboarding every day. Then, during the summer, I was a nanny. And then I met Hunter."

What type of 'work' she did for Thompson isn't described in the piece. But she enjoyed his first book, The Rum Diary (not published until 1998). "I was fascinated by this guy's mind," she says.

Her legacy will be to promote things important to the writer: "politics, literature, history, and journalism." The new book is part of her program.

Sounds neat. Thanks to Conversational Reading for the heads-up.
Kerry Walker, described on The Home Song Stories' Web site as "one of the 'grand ladies' of Australia's entertainment community", is a highlight of the film, which chronicles the vicissitudes of life in 1960s Melbourne for a migrant from China and her two children, Tom (Joel Lok) and May (Irene Chen, also shown in the pic).

Playing Norma, Bill's (Steven Vidler) mother, Walker is stunningly realistic in the way she encapsulates an entire socioeconomic category despite appearing on-screen for a few brief scenes only.

There is a (possibly unnecessary) framing device: adult Tom is a writer recounting his life's events. The movie opens with a panning shot showing the writer's back as he sits at his desk in front of a computer.

The fact that Rose (Joan Chen) is a torch-song diva is largely irrelevant, so if you are looking for a steamy, romance-drive film, you'll be disappointed. The film is sponsored by, among other organisations, SBS. This tells us a lot.

For example, it explains why Norma is so dislikable. Representing the worst side of the Anglo establishment, Norma is hard to like. In fact, we're meant to dislike her. This is unfortunate and, being the type of person I am, I chose to put Norma in my opening sentence.

But the film does show a clash of civilisations. It's not a tear-jerker. The most apt word I can think of is 'dispassionate' (apart from the Norma factor). Near the end, May demonstrates what she, a child of Chinese heritage brought up in Australia, wants from life. And it's definitely not to marry at the age of 17 a man much older than her, as her mother (we get the flashback) did.

Suicide is the only option for Rose. Nevertheless, due to the vantage we're given via the eyes of children, it is not over-hyped. It serves to illlustrate the realities of life in a foreign culture, as Australia is for Rose. Her kids do not think so.

Rose does a lot to undermine our sympathy, however. She is demanding, uncultured, headstrong, ambitous, capricious, and in all very traditional. Aspiration is a major element, at least in my mind. But because she feels excluded from mainstream society, her options are severely limited. So she relies on the men she partners with, to provide avenues to a better life.

Naturally, they cannot give her what she wants. As a result, she is constantly thwarted. But this destructive thread seems not to damage her children. So Tom the writer, in recounting these events from his early life, is carrying on the traditional Chinese model of family first.

Saturday 25 August 2007

Proof is an Irish crime drama with the ugly (bald, enervated) Finbar Lynch playing Terry Corcoran, a name with a reassuring collection of 'r's and 'c's that almost (but not quite) matches for street cred the name John McCain (Bruce Willis' persona in the Die Hard series, the most recent of which I saw tonight).

Lynch plays a journalist. Hence the 'ugly' epithet. I mean, how do you plausibly cast an investigative journalist who writes for a local newspaper? Totally bald, Corcoran is the ex husband of the stunning Maureen Boland (Orla Brady, what a gorg gal!) and he is not impressed with her new squeeze (sorry, the hard-boiled style comes with the territory).

DVD Verdict, a review Web site, says Corcoran is "a once-respected member of the press now stuck in a dead-end job with a hack rag newspaper". OK, that's how you bestow grace: make him suffer enough and we'll forgive the journalist for being our conscience. No matter how corrupt we are, we always find someone to blame.

The blurb on most sites addresses the more visible elements of the plot, which has something to do with illegal migrants from eastern-European countries. There's a shipping container-load of dead bodies. A politician is present so, we assume, he'll be implicated. How the most prominent institutions (journalism, politics) have sunk in our esteem!

People keep getting killed. And because we're talking prostitution of the young women coming in, we've got plenty of segments inside 'low' dives where men of substance get their cheap thrills. It's like a Bangkok strip club.

Corcoran's sidekick is Albanian defector Nina Kurpreka (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and she's looking for her sister. When she takes evidence in the form of a page spat from a printer in the coroner's office, she falls in with the journo and they scope out the safe houses where the girls are housed.

We witness a rape by the darstardly pimp who metes out rough justice to keep the chicks in thrall. Against such moral terrorists, it's easy to make even a journo look good. This is what they're supposed to be doing (uncovering corruption), not like ex-wife Maureen, conscripted into enemy territory when she starts work as media relations manager for the soon-to-be-exposed politician.

A flack's worse than a hack any day.

The makers of the drama also made Spooks, a spy drama that also aired on the ABC, but ended (alas!) last year. Proof will air again for the next three Fridays. To be sure, I'll watch.

Friday 24 August 2007

Anthony Lane's review of Becoming Jane, the latest in a welcome series devoted to the world's favourite novelist, makes me see red. Here's Lane at the bottom of the first column of text:

The scene [Jane's father going down on Mrs Austen], though charming, entails a slight divergence from the habits of the actual Reverend Austen, whose idea of a wild time was to read aloud the poetry of William Cowper.

OK: I promise not to rant. But believe me, the urge to do so is very pressing and I feel a letter to The New Yorker, where Lane has a regular film column, coming on.

Let's make a useful comparison. If the movie, which hinges on the alleged romance between Jane and the relative of a very good friend, is based on, say, ten lines from Jane's letters to her sister, Cassandra, then (I believe) it is not too much license. If you read a top biography of Austen such as Park Honan's, you'll see how those intimately acquainted with the author interpret the milieu.

That's one thing. More evil, because completely unwarranted and due to simple ignorance, is Lane's slur on Cowper, Austen's favourite poet (although a case could also be made for the unregenerate Augustan, George Crabbe). I bet you a thousand smackers Lane has been told who Cowper was, and has never read a single line of his work.

Lane furthermore makes an error at the top of the second column by saying Lefroy (the love-interest) was "a friend of her brother's". It's indicative of the lack of knowledge that is general, in terms of the history of the 18th century.

But to libel Cowper as 'boring' needs some rebuttal and the least powerful argument is that, if he was so boring, why did Jane enjoy his work so much? Is Jane boring too? Evidently not, and we know this if we read her juvenilia. At the same time she wrote these (or a bit later) the first drafts of her first two published novels, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, were written. This was the 1790s -- is this era 'boring', too?

Lane would simply not know. As to Cowper, his poetry was read by Nakokov while the writer-turned-academic researched the tone of 18th century English poetry for use in his outstanding translation of Eugene Onegin. He read everything and the only poet whose work he praised, in artistic terms (clearly the religious content of some of it is slightly ridiculous to the atheist), was Cowper. The only one.

Lane needs a good kick up the arse. In fact, we should not stop at Amazing Grace. A million good 18th-century stories are ripe for script development.

Our lack of interest in the period may be due to the simple fact that 19th-century men wore pants similar to our own while those in the 18th wore breeches and stockings.

Wednesday 22 August 2007

We know Natascha Kampusch by now and we know it was feared damage was sustained over a 10-year period under Wolfgang Priklopil's dominion. But it's not true.

Kampusch went on Austrian TV to tell people a few truths we may not have expected. Including that "bit by bit, I feel more sorry for him" and "poor soul - lost and misguided". No lasting scars evident. While enjoying archery (!) and "listening to a saxophone player on a boat" (!!) she said she "wanted to be taken seriously", but on her own terms. She wants Priklopil to be remembered and the ordeal too.

But please don't take photos without asking permission. Reasonable request, I think.

For some reason the program was "shot mostly in a television studio and in Barcelona". A dash of exotic locale added for the 'star' effect, perhaps?

While Natascha shows us how to be sane -- not just in the face of her experience but also as public property -- Harper Lee shows us that you can be both popular and a goose.

Lee has been inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honour. But instead of giving us some indication of sustained thought since last time she 'came out' (who can possibly remember?), she comes up with a nugget of 'home truth' for the yokels she presumably holds close to her heart.

Apparently "it's better to be silent than to be a fool". If you believe that, you'll believe anything. And talk about brief! The entire story runs to just over 110 words.

Both stories from the Web site of The Sydney Morning Herald.

Tuesday 21 August 2007

Aurion TRD's interior is flashy in red but compared to some of the 175 comments on the blog post by Toby Hagon in The Sydney Morning Herald's Drive section, it's tame.

Two days'-worth of comments bring up a diverse set of views from the frankly xenophobic, to the cliched (of the cardigan-and-slippers sort), to the enthusiastic, to the technical. Some people have a deep vein of car lore and in the blog they draw on it to either celebrate or savage Toyota's new 'beast'.

Which is manna for the automaker charged, as I mentioned yesterday, with having produced a car that's "got no soul". The religious theme used by Poland in his February video clip was apt. Toyota have answered the challenge but the cost (starting at just over $60,000 for the TRD) is a curse, I fear. They anticipate sales of 500 to 1000 annually.

Which means it's experimental. And statements by interviewed managers, who say they're not targeting Ford and Holden enthusiasts, are not credible. My model, the basic, $35,000 unit, is well-appointed and less likely to attract thieves than the TRD. But will it turn heads?

I remember, when opting for the Echo in 2005, I did a lot of scoping out the goodies on the streets of Sydney. The car popped out at me all over the place. Now it's the turn of the Yaris. And the Aurion. The style appeals and the stats reassure. Who will complain if it keeps performing reliably for years? Why complain about the resale value?

I think there are a lot of men out there who would love to drive one but don't want to make a choice they feel inclined, by tradition and bias, to avoid. For myself, I'm a dedicated Toyota fan and have been since I drove the first car I owned: a 1976 Corolla.

Where's my cardigan?
Dealing with the Media, a unit of study name (we're in week five in a 13-week subject), is deceptive. Karen and Samantha are in my group and both are young Chinese women. Then there's Matt, our tutor, and Richard, the program supervisor. Plus the client official. A media relations staffer at a peak body. A dementia research fellow. You see, I've got a lot of people to deal with, not just the media.

I went to see Richard today to voice concerns that I am shouldering too much of the burden of the campaign we're trying to run. The aim, of course, is to get media coverage. In the final weeks we'll be evaluating the campaign as part of the assessment process.

Basically it boils down to this. I selected the issue, did the best part of the research, wrote the initial piece to attract a client, made appointments, and did most of the talking in the meetings last Friday. But today Samantha has shown -- we discussed this in a debrief session following the meetings -- she has initiative. It looks as though she's lined up two interviews.

Assessment will be based on a number of deliverables. They include a profile, backgrounder, media release, op-ed piece (or letter to the editor) and some other items. I feared I'd be doing most of the writing. But there's a nice, atypical strategy in the offing: Chinese newspapers.

If we do this, the writing will be much more interesting for the two women. It is, I admit, hard for them to get their heads around how to frame a story for the English-language media in this country. Cultural divergences render a Western approach highly problematic.

I am hugely relieved by Samantha's emails detailing the leads provided by one organisation we met with on Friday. It takes an enormous weight off my shoulders. I can divert my mental resources to further research so that, if we do get a call from a reporter who wants to run our material, I can supply relevant data with confidence.

It's all hugely exciting once more. I'm thinking that Karen can do one interview and Samantha the other. Time to get serious.

Monday 20 August 2007

Aurion TRD seems designed to rebut the assessment of Drive reviewer David Poland that the Aurion has "got no soul". TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development, drawing on the auto maker's F1 expertise as it has always done with the Aurion.

The Toyota Web site says a lot comes from the racing element. The dashboard, for example, is "a reflection of the race cars that have inspired its design and technology". Details of the mechanicals don't point that way, but the car's 200kW output is compelling evidence of a lot of thought, trial-and-error, and track-tested development.

Poland's 6 February video review now has a defined response. But Toyota Australia executives are coy about any idea the new car is aimed at drawing rev-heads away from high-performance models long offered by the two main 6-cylinder brands here.

“It wasn’t really surprising to learn that the Toyota brand was strong in terms of quality, durability, reliability, affordability, safety and the environment,” says Toyota Australia divisional manager of the product management division Peter McGregor. “But missing were attributes such as style, colour, the ability to turn heads, performance, vision and excitement.”

I'm not convinced, and neither is Drive's reviewer Toby Hagon. Unfortunately, as he notes in his piece, a trial vehicle wasn't available, so we must content ourselves with a prefabricated video release from the manufacturer.

Which is not enough to satisfy a dedicated Toyota freak like me. The company wants the car to “stand out from the crowd without looking like a hoon”, which is perfectly on-pitch and perfectly within the scope of the company's traditional image as a supplier of long-lasting and dependable cars.

Spokespeople say the car is aiming, rather, at competition with premier European and Japanese models. "Toyota says it is working on a family of TRD vehicles designed to inject some spark and excitement into the brand," notes Hagon.

How about a TRD version of the Yaris?

Sunday 19 August 2007

In Sicko, Michael Moore points the accusatory finger at Republican presidents Richard Nixon, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush when looking for someone to blame for the crisis in health care.

Rapid and assured, Moore's cutting and script rollick along. It starts with setting up a Web site soliciting input from citizens. Their stories follow. In true journalistic style, that is with a 'hard' news methodology, Moore visits London and France to get the other side of the story.

It's incredible how simple the plot and script are. The closest thing I can think of is Looney Tunes cartoons I watched as a kid. It's also incredible that 68 per cent of American kids do not know where England is. Let alone that some countries, in this case England (he calls it Great Britain for some bizarre reason of his own, probably not knowing the difference between, say, England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom) and France, supply free health care.

I pity the poor American person who cannot access health care due to cost. Moore's stories of woe are simply pathetic. No wonder the country's presidents thump the drum so often, banging on in a nationalist strain. It's the only way to keep people on side.

Canada also gets a mention.

To treat Moore in the same way he treats his targets, there are clearly some issues in terms of selecting subjects to cover. The French people he talks with are very obviously of the middle class, whereas his American subjects all seem to be rather lower on the economic scale.

I walked out before he got to Cuba, since I'd read about that in the paper. One problem with a documentary like this is that the tone is unvarying. As a result, small elegances used to segue from one segment to the next are frankly irritating. If we know for sure there will be more of the same, we are not enticed to stay.

On the positive side, it's valuable to watch a master polemicist at work. But if there were more nuance and real analysis as to why America is like it is, I would be happier.

Saturday 18 August 2007

Snow Cake is the Canadian version of the American Beautiful Mind, which fed off the success of Shine, the film that launched Geoffrey Rush into star territory. It is quite lovely, though.

I wept frequently. Autistic Linda Freeman's (Sigourney Weaver) daughter Vivienne (Emily Hampshire) is killed in Alex Hughes' (Alan Rickman) car after he gives her a lift. Because she is autistic, Linda's responses are not ordinary. It is refreshing and it is meant to be. The movie thus runs commentary on conventional behaviour in a way I have not seen for a while. In literature, the precursor would be Camus' The Stranger.

Alex' being English adds a touch of the exotic to the scene, a small Canadian town where everybody knows everybody. But it is the character of Maggie (Carrie-Ann Moss), a stunning and promiscuous dark-haired liberal, that makes the movie sing. In addition to 'adopting' Alex and bedding him, she keeps in touch with the plodding cop Clyde (James Allodi), whose impotent suspicions provide benign background noise that serves to highlight the eccenticity of the situation without causing anxiety.

This is not Mad Max. When finally Dirk and Ellen Freeman (David Fox and Jane Eastwood) arrive to mourn the death of their granddaughter, there is no need for them to legitimise an otherwise odd menage-a-trois. Even the dog, a scruffy animal fed bananas and cake icing, injects pathos and humour into the movie by throwing up on the carpet (which sends Linda into paroxysms of grief the death of her daughter didn't elicit).

Weaver is stunning. And Rickman's low-key attentions give a solid profile to her eccentric compulsions. And while the filmmakers make light of them we are never led to either fear or deride her. Although this is the third in an eloquent series, I do think that the more of this type of film that gets made, the better.

Thursday 16 August 2007

Megan Jaegerman's news graphics from 1990 to 1998 are acknowledged as good by Edward Tufte, who includes explanatory text for a large number of example images.

During this time, Jaegerman worked at The New York Times. Tufte says she is "fierce" as a researcher and reporter, adding: "she writes gracefully and precisely". She contributed to a book by Tufte who says "the color usually has a distinct substantive point and is not just used to depict surfaces or to decorate the news".

He also points to her use of "short visual noun-verb sentences" to get a point across. "Her elegant, clever and detailed work in news graphics is the best I ever seen," says Karen Collins in an email to Tufte.

Thanks to Paperpools then Light Reading then Edward Champion for the heads-up.

Wednesday 15 August 2007

Murakami is always news, an article by Bryan Walsh for Time magazine implies. Because this feature says nothing hard-core Murakami fans don't already know. Or almost nothing. A single reference to a "212-hour conversation" makes all the difference.

Was the conversation with Walsh? We don't know. To write a 1300-word feature that's replete with truisms and disconnected quotes from 'reliable' sources seems a bit unnecessary. Walsh notes the author's "bushy eyebrows bobbing" and segues from this into Murakami's dislike of the recently-reelected mayor of Tokyo. Yes, Bryan, some older Japanese have odd-looking eyebrows, but it doesn't make them into sages.

Which is what he has become for liberal Westerners, a category that includes practically every journalist in these countries. So the contest between the writer and the politician becomes an "enlightened cause". As if Ishihara cared at all what Murakami thinks.

"Before, I wanted to be an expatriate writer," he admits. "But I am a Japanese writer. This is my soil and these are my roots. You cannot get away from your country."

And then there's the teaser I've mentioned before on this blog. Murakami "hints" that the next book will address the issues he's been so vocal about in the recent past. Having noted the eyebrows, you'd think Walsh could do better than that. Surely with an extra 500 words the feature would still make it into the mag?

I skimmed this piece, looking for something novel, and was thoroughly disappointed. A marathon interview must surely require more exposure than this? Is Walsh planning to publish the whole thing? Nothing else will pacify my appetite for Murakami's words, liberal as I am.

Thanks to Ed for the heads-up.

Tuesday 14 August 2007

Manic El Masri? A new column in a new vehicle in a new way. This is what The Sydney Morning Herald reports today in a story from AAP. This is the third time I've posted about and each time we get a little more info.

Founder Charles Firth now says the paper, to be launched on 25 August and to appear both online and in print, will be "unashamedly populist". The El Masri column is part of this desire for broad appeal. Other writers will include Erin O'Dwyer, with a Media Watch-type column and, the Herald's story tells us, Pinky Beecroft, who is (apparently) known from her time singing in a band.

The 'g' word appears again, with Firth saying "the weekly publication will use the gonzo-style of journalism". Now, gonzo was pioneered by Hunter Stockton Thompson in the mid-sixties and so it has always had an irreverent element as part of its public persona. If done well, it can be at the same time both entertaining and deadly serious. So how can a football player and a rock musician fare against this, frankly astonishing, standard?

O'Dwyer told me during class tonight that they are seeking contributions.

The platform that launched Firth, The Chaser's War on Everything, is nowadays extremely popular. So part of his work is already done. But I've never read any serious analysis of how the TV program operates. So I'll put here my opinion. Its irreverence is partly a response to ethical and moral dishonesty.

Here's Firth today:

"We should say straight away that it will be proudly pro-worker," Firth said.

"The best of The Chaser is when it takes on political stuff in a larrikin way, bagging those in power. So we're taking that to another level."

The main point of difference between Manic Times and The Chaser comes in the fact that rather than fabricating news stories for laughs, Manic Times is actually getting "real" stories.

"The idea is we take a stupid idea and actually put it to the people in charge," Firth said.

"In the media, spinmeisters are constantly spoonfeeding stories to journalists so our tack is that we want to go to the spinmeisters with our own spin."

Having just read Bob Burton's new book on the Australian PR industry, I feel as if I have a bead on Firth's target.

Burton basically says he wants three things:

  • More regulation of the PR industry
  • Closer examination especially in the media (for example, The Australian newspaper runs a supplement every Thursday on the media)
  • More disclosure by clients of PR operatives (in the same way that an advertisement by the government always closes with a screen identifying who paid for the ad)

The ABC's Media Watch is an important institution in terms of regulating the media and associated industries. But it only screens for ten minutes on one night a week: Monday (the starting time of 9.20 is, further, a bit inconvenient). Many people would rather miss the last train than miss the program. Nevertheless, we must honestly declare its demographic to be somewhat higher than that which Manic Times is aiming for.

It launches in less than two weeks, so be sure to pick up your copy of issue one!

Monday 13 August 2007

The First Annual Haiku Slam of the Sydney University Writers' Society was held tonight in the Isobel Fidler room, Manning House. About thirty people turned up. All participated.

A poetry slam, pioneered at the Green Mill, a Chicago jazz club, in 1986, is a curious spectacle. But by being part of the action your heart starts racing especially, as happened to me, if you start winning your rounds.

To start, everyone pairs up and, after getting a word to include in the haiku, writes their piece. You then read it out at the mike. Two judges, in this case both officials of the society, decide who gets to go to the next round.

Haiku is quick to write because the limited number of syllables (17) make you condense an idea (preferably only one per poem) into its simplest form. The sudden impact of an image ("usually involving nature" our printed guide reads) is quintessentially Japanese.

My efforts follow, with a brief guide to my progress into the final four (our prize, a copy of the society's annual anthology, is pictured).

First round: lost
Mandatory word: 'leaky'

Leaky summer sky
Rains in gouts on the window
Delays laundry day

Second round: won
Mandatory word: 'unicorn'

Big blue truck passes
With cages stacked on the back
Three white unicorns

Third round: won
Mandatory word: 'gauntlet'

Toyko train packed
Tight so the doors barely close
My morning gauntlet

Fourth round: lost
Mandatory word: 'kiwi'

Competition in all things
Means we hate kiwis

The girl who won had an inspired idea using the word 'gypsy': the first refugees.

There were a lot of styles. A problem for me was hearing all the words. Impact is lost if a word is.

Sunday 12 August 2007

Kyla McFarlane says this photo is "beautiful, but also slightly discomforting". Photographer Anne Noble took the shot of her daughter, Ruby's Room #23 (2000-02), and displayed it along with photos by other artists at Monash University Museum of Art (1 September to 23 October 2004) under McFarlane's curation.

McFarlane says the viewer "winces" because the photo is "an intrusion into our notions of what a representation of a child should be". The "maternal relation" is "a tightly negotiated space of compromise and conspiracy". The exhibition was called The Line Between Us: The maternal relation in contemporary photography and all the artists in it were mothers of small children.

But a strikingly similar photo is added to the last page of Marc Baptiste's Innocent: Nudes (2007, Universe Publishing, a division of Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.).

A page of copy by photographer and academic George Pitts attempts to give the book, which I mentioned earlier this month, a gloss of stern appraisal. One artist writes about a colleague, lending cred to what is, essentially, soft porn.

"The innocent gamine is a type ... that jars the eye with her beauty; in her delicacy, inhibits the viewer's drive; and, with her sweet and seeming lack of full maturity, inhabits the viewer's soul," writes Pitts. Such figures have always worked to "compel the viewer's absolute attention", "elicit in the viewer an ache, an unfathomable pang", and "demand a rarefied sensitivity".

In the exhibition catalogue, Polixeni Papapetrou is quoted saying that an image of a naked child "becomes complicated by our own fears" (because seen "[t]hrough our jaded twenty-first century eyes", adds McFarlane).

"As outsiders, we can only look longingly in on [the world of play inhabited by mother and child] from beyond the looking glass." Pitts calls Baptiste's work "philosophical" and "richly and cheerfully sensual". He describes the photographer's vision as having "the controlled poise of a gallant, agile performer".

I loaded these photos because it struck me that, on the same day, I was confronted by two such similar images from such diverse sources. In one, the mother-photographer is described as recording "small moments of play" and in the other, we are given a glossy, expensive set of perv prints.

No wonder kids are confused. The Summer 2007 cover of film director Francis Ford Coppola's All-Story magazine illustrates the point. While browsing around Ariel, the bookshop in Paddington where I bought the Baptiste book, I came across other evidence of raunch culture aimed at young people. Rather than shocked, I am puzzled.

The prestigious bookshop has always promoted a sophisticated identity. Pitt's copy in Baptiste's book and McFarlane's persona (the catalogue and exhibition were an "extension of [her] recently submitted PhD thesis") comingle in my mind to form a picture of what is acceptable.

Rather than 'disturbing' it seems as though representations of young people as objects of sexual desire are proliferating. And this kind of Web site (the link arrived unbidden in my inbox) is particularly frank. Most unsettling are the colours, fonts and generally 'childish' design plan. The girls whose pictures it contains may all be over eighteen years old in real life, but the implication of its overall look is quite explicit.

Saturday 11 August 2007

An Aurion Web site has a little movie to compare the acceleration of the four Aussie sixes. In the line-up:

  • Holden Commodore Omega (180 kW 3.6-litre V6)
  • Ford Falcon XT (4.0-litre in-line six-cylinder, 190 kW)
  • Mitsubishi 380 ES (3.8-litre V6, 175 kW)
  • Toyota Aurion AT-X (3.5-litre V6, 200 kw)

The result is astonishing. In addition, Toyota claims the engine uses less fuel than the others. Note the engine size is actually smaller.

I just bought an Aurion AT-X. This new Toyota represents a big upgrade from my current vehicle, a 2005 Echo. The Echo was replaced in 2006 by the Yaris.

The six-cylinder, 3.5-litre Aurion drives beautifully and is the most powerful car in its class. Compare it to the 1.3-litre Echo I'm using now and you'll understand how excited I am by the purchase, which I'll complete on Thursday week with pick-up after work.

Australian Car Advice says June demonstrated an "improved large car segment" so I'm part of a trend. Toyota was the top-selling brand in July with 19,047 sales. Next came Holden with 12,343. But Holden's Commodore is the best-selling large car, says GoAuto, with 5134 sales. Aurion sold only 1925, with "sales of 13,199 year-to-date to July" according to Toyota's Web site.

"We had a record month [in June], quarter and six months for our locally manufactured cars - Aurion V6 and the four-cylinder Camry," [Toyota senior executive director of sales and marketing David] Buttner said.

The car will include some add-ons (I wavered a bit and they were eager to sell): alloy wheels, reverse-parking proximity sensors, 'weathershields' on the front windows (strips of perspex running across the tops of the windows), and two floor mats. The Echo's mats, post-purchase, were $70.

Aurion is manufactured in Melbourne, where Toyota has had a plant since 1963. It also makes the Camry there. The car's designer, Nick "Hogios claims that the Toyota Aurion follows the traits of current Australian styling, with a tendency to look towards European designs for inspiration". It was introduced in 2006.

Toyota and Hogios claim 'vibrant clarity' for the design. This catch-phrase is best described by the designer and more details are available on the Web site:

"Some cars are overly balanced with predictably constructed design elements. These cars may have immediate appeal, but the design does not stand up to the passing of time," Nick Hogios continued. "Other cars attempt to create excitement by being overly imbalanced. They have an immediate impact because of their odd shapes, but they have limited market appeal. Aurion achieves perfect imbalance - the best of both worlds.

"It has design features which deliberately provide a counter-point to others, and are therefore both interesting and appealing. Due to the proportions and character in the car, people will like it from the start, yet won't grow tired of it," surmised Mr Hogios.

With trade-in I paid $25,000 cash to Pennant Hills Toyota, with the listed extras thrown in. I guess that's pretty standard and the figure tallies with published list prices. The Echo as trade-in was worth $10,000.

A big difference is the analogue instrumentation. The Echo's instrument pod is centrally-positioned with a large, easy-to-read digital display. In the Aurion, I'll need to be more careful about speeding.

The photo clip shows my chosen colour: beige mica metallic. The interior is dark grey. A "PHT Mechanical Protection Plan" means I can get service done cheaply.

Friday 10 August 2007

Odd things at LibraryThing! In the main I don't really notice LT much any more. I joined in August 2006 and when I get a new book, it gets added to my database. But in the last day or two something has caught my attention.

This blog holds a feed from LT. So on each refresh a new list of books shows in the right-hand column. I've gotten used to the regulars showing up. Now a new crop of book covers are appearing, some very local (i.e. Australian titles and not best-sellers).

I wonder what they've done to cause it? It is perhaps due to other Australian members' scans registering with the 'engine' (whatever it is that causes books to appear). Further, these new covers are all relatively large in size.

They don't conform in dimensions with the regulars I've become acquainted with ever since pasting the code for the feed into the 'template | edit HTML' page in my dashboard view. It's worth a post on the LT bulletin board. I'll post the result of my query later.

Update: The LT blog has an answer. "In the course of fixing that problem I created another," writes Tim, the founder of the site. The "long-standing" problem of some covers not appearing was fixed. In the process of fixing it, some covers got larger.
Taslima Nasrin "has lived in Kolkata for the last two years", according to The Guardian (displaying its elemental liberalism), where "staff and agencies" report that the author's book launch was crashed by a posse of vigilantes determined to keep women in thrall.

The city, previously known as Calcutta, is close to her native Bangladesh, which she fled in 1994 "when Islamic extremists threatened to kill her after an Indian newspaper quoted her as saying changes must be made to the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an, to give women greater rights".

She denies the charge. Nevertheless, she has been "outspoken in defence of minority and women's rights". The paper's reluctance to use a by-line implies some concern for the journalist's safety.

My colleagues are both fundamentialist Christians and both went to see Amazing Grace before I did. No doubt both would applaud renaming the city Nasrin now calls home. One of them recently caused me to give a lecture on the East India Company, which was ultimately responsible for the existence of the city in the first place.

In fact, one of my colleagues went to see the movie due to the influence of her church, Hillsong. This is disturbing. I doubt she would know, for example, that William Pitt, one of the 'good guys' of the movie, is the person Sydney's Pitt Street is named for. His father was responsible for the naming of Pittsburgh.

I guess what I'm saying is that unless you understand these connections (there are a thousand other facts the movie presents that most do not recognise for what they are) the movie will be simply what she wants: a booster for the church.

Will she see that Nasrin is fighting for the same kinds of 'rights' (I usually detest the word) as Wilberforce? I doubt it. As a result, the hyperventilation we are meant to experience at the end of the movie will be remembered for the wrong reasons. And people like Nasrin will continue to struggle against the forces of reaction.

Ahmad Pasha Quadri, a politician involved in the protest against Nasrin and who is named by the British paper, is cut from the same cloth as Lord Tarleton in Amazing Grace. Equally corrupt is Brian Houston, the pastor of Hillsong church. These people seek to subdue, for their own selfish reasons, the progress of society from ignorance (we have a loooong way to go even in Australia) to full consciousness of self.

Thursday 9 August 2007

Any press good? Charlie Rimmer of A&R Whitcoulls Group, the holding company that owns the Angus & Robertson stores (or, at least, those not owned by franchisees), may not think so after reading a post on the Undercover blog.

Asked to pay for the privilege of displaying his books in A&R stores, Michael Rakusin, director of Tower Books Pty Ltd, sent the letter of demand to The Sydney Morning Herald plus his reply. Both are on the blog.

Rukusin says both David Jones and Myer cut small distributors from their book shelves. "We survived and prospered but" both stores' book departments now languish.

He has several demands to Rimmer's own. But Pacific Equity Partners, the investment firm that owns the chain, is unlikely to be sympathetic. The company "strives to deliver superior returns to [its] investors" and has a "distinctive approach", says the Web site. They "link rewards to investment returns", it goes on. But so do the 53 (at time of this posting) comments on Undercover. A few of the choisest bits follow.

Derek in his comment says: "I think it would be a mistake for people to boycott A&R without knowing whether the store is company or franchisee owned. I suspect most A&R franchisees would be horrified by the corporate arrogance displayed by Mr Rimmer."

KSC: "The Australian public will react by taking their book-buying dollars elsewhere."

Ray: "Since I don't know who are franchisees or company-owned stores I'll boycott all A&R bookstores."

Glenn White: "The letter from A&R seems to reflect the ethos for the whole business."

Natasha: "I never fail to be disappointed by visits to A&R bookstores. Now, I know why."

I'm with Natasha. The only thing that will get me into an Angus & Robertson store is a sale. The selection is heavily Anglo-centric, parochial, unimaginative, predictable, and depends heavily on new releases and bestsellers (see graphic).

Franchises try harder. Even the company's ordering system prevents A&R getting my business. Recently, I wanted a book on dementia I'd read so I could send it to mum. Her local A&R in Maroochydore would not order it in. I called a franchise in the inner west of Sydney, and they would.

The thing is that company-owned stores can only order from a prescribed list. If you want a book they don't list, then too bad. Go elsewhere.

I will.

Wednesday 8 August 2007

It's been 18 days in the latest incarnation of the digital village and I think it's time for a Facebook reality check. Since 21 July, when I joined, I've joined six groups, have nine friends, and am content with the version of myself visible in my profile.

Getting the last right took a week or so. The first attempt was too trite, a label easy to fall under given the herd mentality and the standard features available. I decided finally to remove the 'sex', 'interested in', 'relationship status' and 'looking for' bits. I'm an ex-husband and the picture clearly shows I'm male, so give me a break. The rest is just silly. No-one's going to send passionate emails just from seeing this data.

I figured that any such approach would be inspired by my online persona. By what I write, in other words. All the other junk developed for Facebook by the seeming legions of eager geeks (stuff you never saw in the Bible) has been given a wide berth.

On joining, I used an 'invite' feature that crawls through your email accounts, displays a list of potential 'friends' and sends an invite to those you choose to invite. Five people I already know accepted and it's educational to note that I met all of these people online. Apart from one encountered originally via LibraryThing, they're all blog buddies.

One group I'm now a member of is a "closed group", meaning that members must be "invited or approved by an admin". The group is vocational and associated with my place of work. Approval was granted and I've since posted on their 'wall'. A 'wall' is an unthreaded text-capture feature. There is also the 'discussion board' which, in the tradition of the Internet, is threaded.

There seems to be no real difference between the two, only that the 'wall' is more ephemeral and not topic-based. Opening a topic on the 'discussion board' flags a greater commitment to the theme raised and opened for comments from other group members. There's less commitment on the 'wall'.

One 'friend' is a publishing house based in Minnesota but I've never read any of their books. I assume they sent the friend invite due to my blog, which has been heavily literature-oriented, by design, since its inception in January 2006.

Another group is not vocational but refers to my interest in creative writing (is journalism this?). A nice feature is that people can send out notices that go to your email inbox, with a single action. A one-to-many scenario that could easily be exploited for work purposes.

In the end, however, the overall tenor of Facebook, like most of the Internet, is that the herd instinct is powerful and thus content tends to the conciliatory, ephemeral, screwball, bum-sniffing kind that I detest. Threads that promise something more substantial -- a real opportunity to express ideas within earshot (eyeshot?) of similarly sophisticated surfers -- can die in the bum if the tone is serious.

My blog currently attracts about 50 hits daily. Meagre in the eyes of marketers, it's true. But I know there's a small group of regular visitors who enjoy reading what I post. Similarly, I visit perhaps a couple of dozen blogs regularly. The reality is that most of what's available online is pure crap.

Facebook can deliver better outcomes but this will depend on how it's used, the people you associate with, and the motivation they have to read what you write. Without that motivation, verbal commerce in this online "aggregator" and social space will remain ephemeral and, ultimately, unsatisfying.

The ability for third-party developers to add applications to the list of what's available is also attractive. For example, I added an app that imports my blog posts. Sometimes it works instantly but often you wait for hours before the post appears in Facebook. There's also an app that posts LibraryThing additions on your profile page. There's potential for better integration and I've told the developer about it.

Tuesday 7 August 2007

Restless in the night I got out of bed and worked on my Web site for about 90 minutes. This turned out to coincide with The Sydney Morning Herald's new home page launch. I keep the page open in one tab of IE all the time and when I went to bed it was the same old. At 2am I got quite a shock when the new layout burst into my unsuspecting browser.

Today's print version gives top of page four to details of new features. But it doesn't interest me as much as the fantastic, airy feel of the new design. Even though you scroll more, you enjoy it more due to larger font size, more white space, bigger images, and generally a more generous look-and-feel.

The story gives some interesting facts, though. The SMH Web site is, it says, Australia's premier news site. A 12 per cent increase in "unique browsers" (I've never heard of the metric before, but there you go) to 3.7 million monthly. The nearest competitor, NineMSN, recorded a five per cent drop.

The Australian Press Council Web site has statistics for print circulation. Between 2002 and 2006, the SMH saw sales drop from 229 thousand to 212 thousand. Only The Australian recorded a rise among the broadsheets, and that was very small. Melbourne's The Herald Sun sold 6000 more copies in 2006 than in 2002, and beat the biggest-selling Sydney tabloid, The Daily Telegraph, which lost readers.

The Net is where it's at, and growth in communities such as Facebook attest to its 'stickiness'. I joined a couple of weeks ago and I've met new people with similar interests. Of course, most interaction is fairly ephemeral. It'll never replace blogging for me, but offers me a third 'hook' in the Web.

Monday 6 August 2007

Review: Wet Ink: the magazine of new writing, issue 7, Winter 2007. In Austlit, the mag is said to promote "a generation of emerging writers who are largely uncatered for by existing publications". It's a little lit mag, published in Adelaide. Expect the unexpected.

And that's what Dena Pezet gives us. Dirty pictures runs for three pages and neatly deals with the vexed question of pedophilia. Some photos are found. She is distraught. He admits they're his. Little Jake enters the room.

It's at this point that the story falters. When he sees a photo, "Jake's eyes grow wide like the boys in the photograph. As he recoils from the printed image in his hand, his face goes taut, his mouth tight." I think Pezet gives nine-year-old Jake more maturity, and an ability to fathom adult ways, than really applies at that age.

Up til then, the story was sure and serene. It's got the refinement of an Edwardian poem. Pezet is an assured writer and if this is anything to go by (her bio says she "has had numerous short stories published") we can look forward to great things in future.

Jessica Au's story, Nautilus, likewise gives considerable pleasure. It is a coming-of-age tale in the mode of The Virgin Suicides. As in that movie, the cool dream hunk turns out fat and unhappy when he matures. It's a neat punishment for jilted teenage scribblers: there's no avenue of reply.

Two pages long and framed in the second person singular ('you'), it's about a young man in love with a girl with only one leg, who likes swimming. It's clear he deserves her but she has eyes for another. The tension that could have existed between the brothers is fairly weak; an opportunity for improvement.

Writing in this mode is notoriously difficult as it can tire the reader out. Here, although we do not know who 'you' is for several paragraphs, I felt in safe hands. The language is abrupt and quite tasty, mirroring the best type of Australian demotic. There's a clean feel and no redundant constructions to impede the flow of the narrative.

Other stories in the mag lost me within two paragraphs, as I stumbled along under the weight of sloppy phrasing and extraneous wording. 'Natural' speech has nothing to do with establishing a 'true' Australian aesthetic: either it's clear and forceful or I turn the page.

Luckily, Pezet and Au gave me what I was looking for: promise and current achievement.

On the topic, many Australians will have seen a slim book on the 'new release' shelf with a plug from Christos Tsiolkas. The weekend Spectrum explains how it happened. First-time author Andrew Hutchinson won a "mentorship" with Tsiolkas in 2005 and the older author workshopped the novel (Rohypnol):

As Tsiolkas helped him polish the manuscript, the book became more intense. "He said you need to write from your cock more and it needs to be really strong."

A media monitor by day, Hutchinson did work at a hair salon for some time before enrolling at Box Hill TAFE, in Victoria. Erik Jensen's mention of 'Diamond Creek College' is the sole available result in Google so the reporter got the name of his school wrong.

Whether Tsiolkas is spruiking the book out of vanity or if he does think it's good will need to wait. But I intend to buy the book, described in such words as "a story in which you never pause for breath", "the violence is never contextualised", "I think you can relate to the aggression".

Among Hutchinson's favourite books is Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club (1996). The 1999 adaptation was one of the most intriguing movies I've ever seen. But I've never before heard anyone claim the novel as a favourite. That's original. We'll see next year if this book is, too.

Sunday 5 August 2007

Amazing Grace is a dull film on a big topic. The fight against slavery began, says the Wikipedia, in 1783. The film starts in 1797 and there's soon a flashback "15 years" at which time (1782) Wilberforce first meets Thomas Clarkson and Hannah More.

The screenwriter, Steven Knight, apparently "read English literature at University College London" so we must trust he's better informed than the Wikipedia, which provides dates that do not tally accurately with those used in the film. It says that "while he was in Cambridge, in 1785" Clarkson "entered a Latin essay competition" with a piece titled 'Is it lawful to enslave the unconsenting?'.

Other writers got busy. In 1788, William Cowper wrote two poems: 'The Negro's Complaint' and 'Pity for Poor Africans'. Cowper's first book, Poems by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple, Esq. (1782), includes a preface by John Newton (played by Albert Finney in the film). The two had worked together on Olney Hymns (1779) after Cowper suffered a psychotic episode and, in despair, turned to god.

Posters for the movie include an extraordinarily misleading subtitle: 'One Man's Fight to Change History'. Even the film explicitly shows that Wilberforce was asked to take on the cause by his political ally, William Pitt (the younger). Clearly this movement, which started with a group of concerned English Quakers, was a shared destiny for many.

The real heroes are more likely the novelists read by girls such as Barbara Spooner (played by Romola Garai, like Ioan Gruffudd, who plays Wilberforce, suitably handsome). Such as Samuel Richardson. A printer with a lucrative government contract, Richardson published three highly influential works between 1740 and 1753.

It is Spooner (aged 20 in 1797) who says the most compelling things in this film, such as when, in a sitting room alone with Wilberforce, she tells him she would, at the age of 14, tell her friends not to eat sugar because "each spoonful contained the actual blood of a slave".

Spooner was two years older than Jane Austen, and would have read the same books. Austen's dislike of Whigs and 'radicals' of any kind (evident in Mansfield Park as well as her letters) was due to her natural fear of revolution.

This fear is expressed by Wilberforce in the movie when, toward the end, he tells Thomas Clarkson (played by a suitably earnest-looking Rufus Sewell) never to speak of revolution in his presence again.

The evangelicals who pushed against slavery were not revolutionaries but Christians who believed that every person is equal under god. It is this that Austen admired in Cowper's work (apart from the fact that Cowper was a very good poet).

The film is not all earnest posturing and undried tears (though there is a lot of both). A good scene comes at the end, after the war against the French has been won, when Lord Tarleton (played by Ciaran Hinds very well) senses something wrong in a seemingly-routine bill being introduced by an uncontroversial member of parliament. What sets him off is Clarkson entering the gallery above the pit. He runs out of the house seeking to gather his party members. But they've gone to the races.

I also must admit to feeling a warm glow when Hannah More (played by Georgie Glen) entered Wilberforce's house. More wrote plays with a puritanical cast and, though no great name now, was influential in her time.
Miranda Devine agrees with Greer? Will the globe stop turning? Is this the start of a new Age of Aquarius? It seems the impossible just became possible: Devine says magazines are "driving girl-poisoning culture".

I've written about this before on this blog, first in December last year when The New Yorker entered the fray. It started earlier, though, in October, with a story by Caroline Overington. Then in April SBS's Insight program held a forum. Later in the same month I posted after watching the podcast.

To gauge the real nature of the issues, I started buying the types of magazines usually bought by young women and older girls. The most recent purchase (yesterday) was Russh, which seems to be edgier and more serious than other titles. The image below is from page 34 of the July-August issue. That a soft-porn title can get 'book of the month' billing is instructional. Also cogent is that the mag sourced it from Ariel Booksellers, an upmarket store located in a highly-prestigious area of Sydney.

In her 2001 study, Sex: A Natural History, Joann Ellison Rogers, a journalist (who interviewed dozens of scientists to make the book), suggests that sexuality is conditioned by the survival imperative.

According to Rogers, "the bodies and looks we prefer got to be that way because members of the opposite sex not only found them, over evolutionary time, to be pretty good signals -- clues to sexual desire, availability and fertility -- but also developed their own ongoing responses, even trumping the others, to set in motion sexual desire for these traits and more responses" (p. 84).

"The body's naked truth in advertising, ultimately, is a matter of survival."

I heard recently on the radio (ABC afternoon drive-time) that kids are reaching puberty at a younger age than even thirty years ago. If this is true, the imperative seems, now, in the type of cultural product Devine and Greer, Overington and Dr Joe Tucci, chief executive officer of the Australian Childhood Foundation, find offensive, to be expressing itself.

I chatted with a mate at work on Friday about these issues. He and I both thought immediately of Bill Henson. The kind of images he produced in the mid- to late-eighties appear to be prophetic. Against this imperative Devine quotes Melinda Tankard Reist, "mother of three daughters, author and founder of the feminist think tank Women's Forum Australia".

The messages in magazines from Dolly to Cosmopolitan is that "women have never-ending sexual appetites - to be satisfied they must be continually available to men for sex". Teen magazines are similarly focused on "how girls can make themselves desirable to get a boyfriend". Over time, the effect of reading such magazines, say Reist and Ewing, is that women come to see themselves and other women merely as objects to be evaluated.

It would be interesting to get some scientists involved in the debate, instead of just relying on the standard type of prolocutor: social academics, peak body heads, and think tank pundits.

Saturday 4 August 2007

Charles Firth's new "gonzo journalism" Web site, first mentioned here on 20 June can now be revealed to be "an online gonzo Sunday newspaper", according to Susan Wyndham, writing on the Undercover blog.

Firth says it is "an antidote to mainstream news and bedroom bloggers" but "the audience will be trained to go into the world as citizen gonzo journalists". I see a logical disconnect there. Even bedroom bloggers can be gonzo, surely? I guess the operative element is "bedroom" in place of his desired progress "into the world".

It will be launched this month. Today we also got to learn the opinions of Andrew Keen (Internet critic) in the same issue of Spectrum (The Sydney Morning Herald's weekend culture supplement).

Keen would deplore Firth's initiative. The paper's Web site doesn't hold the piece and I've never heard of Keen before despite having been a regular blogger for over 18 months. I agree with some of his ideas: bloggers are subjective (that's the point!), we need not simply eject 'experts' just because they get paid to do what we do for free, a lot of bloggers are not very well read (tho he goes further: "I don't think bloggers read"), and there is "some quite good writing on the internet written by people who don't care about making money out of it".

His battle is already lost, however. As to his dislike of amateurs, I disagree severely. In the not-so-recent past, amateurs were very influential. It is only very recently that most areas of culture have been dominated by professionals. Keen's The Cult of the Amateur is out soon.
Black Snake Moan is self-consciously controversial. There's the white girl/black man thing. And there's the 'nymph[ette]' tag the movie's Web site kinda outrageously exploits (you can do a quiz that gauges your 'nymph' status) that ties in with the script's rather gothic pedophilia/nymphomania theme.

The first of these things is age-old. According to Edmund S. Morgan in American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (Norton, 1975), the anti-miscegenation act of 1691 "gave less attention to intermarriage than to illicit relations of white women with black or mulatto men".

"A free white woman who had an illegitimate child by a black or mulatto father was to be fined 15 pounds [the fine for men was 10 pounds]. If she could not pay, she was to be sold for a five-year term. The child, though free because its mother was free, was to spend the first thirty years of its life in servitude for the benefit of the parish ... If the woman was a servant, she was to serve her master an extra two years, as the law provided for servants having bastards, and then she was to be sold for another five years."

A revision in 1705 did not change these provisions but watered down punishments for men. Popular culture feeds on the same fear. It's easy to find porn sites showing white women having sex with black men.

Christina Ricci's fey appearance as Rae lends itself to the second thing I mentioned. Of course, she was sexually abused as a child by her father. Her mother, who now works in the town's grocery store, seems not to know about it, to her detriment. Rae grabs a broom (icon of domesticity) and summarily beats her with it.

Timberlake as Ronnie, Rae's boyfriend, is absent for most of the film. His friend Gil hears something from Rae as he drives her home from a party and he bashes her viciously, leaving her on the road, where Lazarus (Jackson) finds her the next morning. A farmer, he sells produce in town.

The chain thing is interesting and is exploited nicely. Again, I point to the gothic mode creeping in here. Rae's sexual cravings (pure gothic) make her wrap it around her. They go away.

Lazarus' wife has just left him, which brings in a domestic-drama element that sort of makes room for the edgier stuff. This girl appears. He ties her up. He tries to address her problems. Music is nicely used as a bonding agent. The pink guitar Lazarus keeps under the bed serves him well. There's also a Matrix-like dance scene (healthy) that is opposed to the frat-party shenanigans (unhealthy) Rae involves herself in following Ronnie's departure for the theatre of war.

The healing power of Blues works like a charm on the audience. You lap up Lazarus' solos and when he gets up on stage for the bar crowd, you really get into it.

Both kids are 'damaged' (Ronnie experiences what he says he was told was "anxiety" when he hears loud noises, hence his return from action early). Lazarus provides a father figure Rae can bond with, presumably something she missed in her minority.

And Lazarus has a love-interest too. Angela (S. Epatha Merkerson) is a 'good' woman. Slightly bulky withal, she exudes health and clean emotions. Along with the other black characters, she puts forward an alternative to the destructive urgency of the 'white trash' characters epitomised by Gil (extremely well played by Michael Raymond-James) and Rae.