Friday, December 30, 2005

More Top Ten Listiness

Not only I am a bandwagon jumper, this week I am a lazy bloggist. But what of it? Everyone else spends this time of year making vaguely spurious lists of Things That Were Good In The Last Twelve Months, and why should I be any different? I always do what the cool kids are doing. Therefore, before I light up another cigarette and go and deface some public property, pray allow me to present you with my own top ten items. Tim has already made a damn fine inventory of bitchin' books, so here is some music what I done listened to this year. It's not necessarily a definitive list, mind you, as I tend to a) forget half the stuff I've heard, and b) change my mind fairly often. I would invite you to disagree with my choices as you see fit, music being a broad church with many altars and all that; I would, if I actually gave a damn about your opinions. So: settle back and be told what was good, philistines.

In no particular order, other than numerical -

10. Lullabys To Paralyze, Queens of the Stone Age
I'd dismissed the Queens' latest offering almost out of hand after comparing it to its predecessor, Songs for the Deaf. Such a contrast is rather unfair, though, given that scientists have since proven it can actually be harmful to your health to rock any harder than than Songs did. On subsequent listenings, LtP improves quite a bit: there is still a good deal of filler material, and I miss Nick Oliveri from the line-up, but otherwise it's good, fun, sweaty, stoner rock.

9. Takk..., Sigur Ros
Sigur Ros told a great big fib in the PR lead-up to the release of Takk..., saying that it was going to take the band in a new, more contemporary direction. I for one am pleased about the lie. Takk... is more of the same (i.e. hypnotic counter-tenor wailing about sad trolls), but the same is pretty good stuff. It's far more accessible (and pronounceable) than ( ), and has some great rock moments. For melodic, trippy Icelandic post-rock like mother never used to make, you can't go past this one.

8. Silent Alarm, Bloc Party
It's tres chic to hate Bloc Party, them being very 'of the moment' and 'derivative' and all that. Don't let their critics put you off, though - nothing I've read or heard changes the fact that they are a well-oiled, dance-punk playing machine: hell of fun to listen to.

7. Picaresque, The Decemberists
Literate, lyrical pop-folky songs about lovelorn spys, lovelorn ghosts, and lovelorn whalers and the whales they hunt (who may or may not be lorn of love).

6. The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Andrew Bird
How many rhymes can there possibly be for 'formaldehyde'? Andrew Bird knows, and makes full use of them. Like Picaresque, this is another storybook sort of indie album, full of wit and surprising musical combinations, which manages to be both frivolous without being annoying, and emotional without being sentimental.

5. Z, My Morning Jacket
A little bit country, and rather more rock and roll, Z lurches through a series of highly eclectic styles. Now raucous and bombastic, now smoother than a velvet buttock, My Morning Jacket's latest opus is filled with twitchy licks, dream-like Calliope organ keyboards, and some decently bitchin' hooks. Listening is an experience somewhat akin to being lost in a fairground filled with toothy, bearded carnies offering if not good times, then at least interesting ones.

4.
Broken Social Scene, Broken Social Scene
So good, they named it after themselves. Completely self-indulgent, over-the-top, and clamouring, BSS nevertheless comes together very satisfyingly. Fans of My Bloody Valentine should enjoy this one. It's complex, spontaneous and chaotic fun, although the last few tracks lose coherency a bit.

3. Illinois, Sufjan Stevens
Concept albums, like hurried lovers, usually come and go, but Stevens has promised 48 more in the same vein with his 'write an album about every state in the Union' project. Imagine Paul Simons crossed with Wilco, or Jack Johnson if he was actually good, and you should get the general idea: it's postmodern folk music, but apparently shorn of the irony and archness usually associated with all things postmodern. Illinois is about the Chicago World's Fair, Superman, Lincoln, John Wayne Gacy, dead friends, unappreciated stepmothers, musical epiphanies - all dwelled upon in Steven's gentle, sincere tones with full orchestral backing; it really shouldn't work, and it really does, and does so well.

2. Funeral, The Arcade Fire
Some may say I'm cheating, because this album was released first in the States in 2004. To them I reply, "Fuck you, pedants". The Arcade Fire do not put the 'fun' back in 'funeral', because I doubt any of its members have had fun, ever. This is a band who spends their time being angsty and Canadian, and that is no bad thing. These insular, urgent, structurally complex post-folk punk tunes about the way we perceive the world as children rock out pretty damn hard. Buy this album and keep front-man Win Butler in the Strepsils he must surely require.

1. Twin Cinema, The New Pornographers.
Twin Cinema just makes you want to jump up and down and enjoy yourself, and then sit down and try and work out what in the hell the lyrics are all about. It's all so upbeat and fast-paced that one can easily miss how much work has been put in to make each track appear effortless - as if the band was just sitting around jamming, and somehow managed to insert a series of breathtaking key changes and a maddeningly catchy chorus without noticing it themselves. It's friendly, exciting, and incredibly clever without needing to show off. Much like me.

Well, that's it. I was also going to post a list of enemies I intend to ensure don't see the new year, but that would be spoiling the surprise. Should you not be on that list, let me join my good wishes to Tim's in the post below; here's to an entirely nifty 2006, and many thanks to those who didn't feel the need to run off and wash their eyeballs after reading.

See You In Hell, 2005!

Holy David Faustino! It is hot! A "scorcher", as the Big Book of Journalistic Cliches has it. Because my computer room has no cooling system, time at the keyboard in summer is purchased with buckets of sweat, and blogging becomes impossible. Thus all my plans for end-of-year lists and New Year's Eve anecdotes have come to naught. Jon may well step in with something more substantial, but this will be my final post for 2005. Thanks to everybody who has read, commented upon, linked to or otherwise supported Sterne. Bring on 2006, universe, I dare you!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The People Next Door II: The Bloodening

Last night, the people next door had a party. They:

- chose to have their little shin-dig the night before many people - including Lady Sterne and myself - had to return to work after the Christmas weekend.

- could just as easily have picked another night on one of the many long weekends we have at this time of year when their neighbours didn't have to get up so early the next morning.

- started their stereo at about 7:30 p.m., pumping out the most obnoxious, repetitive, THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP techno until about 2:30 a.m.

- clearly have no musical taste.

- made lots of general party noise, which was fine up to about 11 p.m. After that, I wanted to go outside and kneecap them all with my cricket bat.

- then made lots more noise when the party ended, shouting goodbyes and slamming car doors. All this on a particularly hot night when we had no choice but to sleep with the window open - a window that overlooks our front yard, and therefore is really the only barrier between ourselves and our noisy neighbours.

- caused me to become agitated and say things like "I'm going to call the cops!" (I didn't) and "Bloody selfish cunts!" (they are).

- are hopefully tucked up in bed sleeping off hangovers while I prepare for work. They are not the only ones with a stereo, and I have some music I would like to introduce them to.

Monday, December 26, 2005

A Very Sterney Christmas

Apart from spending most of the day trying to gouge out my hayfevered sinuses, Christmas was passed pleasantly enough in the Sterne household. I ate too much, drank not nearly enough, and received some rather good presents, including a couple of interesting books. Still, for me, Christmas isn't really about enjoying the company of loved-ones, exchanging gifts and being merry. No, it's about hanging out with my extended family, many of whom are geniuses, listening to their wise words, and learning something about the world. Maybe you already know this stuff - I'm always the last to be told! - but here is a sample of the many things I discovered yesterday:

- Australia imports too many things from China. This includes men's casual shoes, Christmas bon-bons, and Chinese people.

- All Asian people are "Chinese". You can't understand what they are saying. They are probably racist towards white people, so therefore it is acceptable for us to be racist to them. Not that we are, not really. I mean it is our country, after all.

- Aboriginals don't like work. They do, however, like drinking.

- Some black people are darker than other black people. A select few are so dark they are "almost purple". Despite their obvious shortcomings, many black people have "lovely smiles" and some "can be quite intelligent".

- "Indian" or "Arab" are interchangable terms that may be used to describe the entire population of a vast swathe of territory stretching south east from the Bosphorus all the way to Christmas Island. These people are all of one faith - you know the one - and do not understand democracy, even though a billion of them live in the world's largest democratic state.

- Minorities - particularly "Arabs" - want to "steal Christmas". This is an example of "political correctness gone mad". Mr Bracks is somehow to blame.

- Blacks, "Indians" and "Chinese" make poor doctors. As taxi drivers they are fair to middling, but with questionable standards of personal hygiene.

- "Byron Bay kind of people" are "weird" and "scary".

- Vicks chest rub doesn't smell the way it used to. It is probably made in China now, and therefore inferior.

Amongst the casual bigotry, I also learned that the Diff'rent Strokes theme song was written by Alan Thicke, a.k.a. the dad from Growing Pains. Now there was a family that understood multiculturalism.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Review: The Historian

I’ve always found the term ‘chick lit’ to be a vaguely offensive one. Possibly it’s presumptuous of me to feel offended on behalf of a gender not my own, but then women are such scatter-brained little moppets that their opinions on the matter scarcely count: it’s best not to heat up minds already over-taxed by doing the washing up and considering what sort of pretty dress to buy. So leaving the gals back at the kitchen sink where they belong, let me share with you my disgust with a genre that does not propose an exclusive insight on a feminine aesthetic, or feminist values, or centre on a female voice – all of which I can understand, and often admire – so much as declare that women should settle for sub-par writing.

If the Wintersons and Atwoods of this world are grinding their teeth at this, one can hardly blame them. Chick lit, like the chick flick, purports itself as being as ‘what the girls want’, and doesn’t expect guys to understand it. In the case of both books and movies, gender exclusionism of this sort doesn’t really stand up to close scrutiny. There is either good art, or bad, and with its insistence on vacuous or simpering characters who believe that empowerment means eating as much chocolate as you like, poorly constructed plots, and more often than not plain bad writing, chick lit falls solidly in the latter category. Think Bridget Jones; think Girl’s Night Out; think Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.

If The Historian were to be analysed by Dr Phil it would be diagnosed as ‘having issues’, none of which it necessarily had to have, but which it is resolute in suffering through anyway. The first is its need to be seen as a work of genre fiction, in pursuit of which goal it attempts to insert itself into as many genres as possible. Largely it’s a vampire story (which is problematic in itself: there have been very few truly good vampire stories, either literary or cinematic. Dracula is the only real example of the former which springs to mind; Nosferatu, Shadow of the Vampire and Blackula of the latter – all else descends into high camp farce or homo-erotic whining), but not content with this, it tries to be a political history, a rather yuppified travelogue of Europe (at least half the book involves the characters exclaiming in wonder at all the lovely places they visit, and describing in detail the food to be found in various charming little cafes), and also bucks for inclusion into the recent spate of ‘secret history’ novels, the head of which pimple is formed by The Da Vinci Code.

The plot is simple enough: a young, un-named girl discovers a book in her father Paul’s library with a woodcut of a dragon and the name ‘Dracula’ in it. Asking him about it, she slowly cadges from him, despite his unwillingness, the story behind his possession of the tome. Apparently, for several hundred years promising historians all over the world have each been given a copy this book. In his research into the origins of the mysterious manuscript Paul, discovers that vampires are in fact real, and that Dracula is at large in the world. When his best friend and mentor, also a vampire researcher, is apparently kidnapped by creatures of the night, Paul sets off on a quest to track Drac back to his lair. On the way he has a deep and meaningful whirlwind romance with the mentor’s daughter; their eyes meet across crowded rooms many, many times. It’s embarrassingly coy.

Add to this a series of stunningly daft exercises in deus ex machina (‘Excuse me kind stranger, I like reading books and hunting vampires. What a co-incidence! You like reading books and hunting vampires too? And you have another clue for me to follow? Smashing! Let’s read books and hunt vampires together!’), an utter derth of character development, and a truly ridiculous sub-plot (communists want to harness the power of vampirism to conquer the world), and you have the guts of The Historian. The rest is largely a series of poorly thought out and obvious metaphors – historian as vampire, audience as vampire – and a lot of factual information on 15th century Europe with is admittedly very well researched, but shows little understanding of the true nature of history or historicism. For Kostova, history really is just a list of consecutive dates and place names. All the evidence that Paul finds is corroborating, never contradictory; and moreover there is never a question of misinterpretation or wilful misreading of sources – true students of history are always alert for the lie, the agendas being pushed, the evidence omitted, and are aware that history is always shaped by its recorders, not the other way around.

Kostova’s debt to Stoker is another weight dragging her down. Acknowledgement of a precursor's seminal work is one thing, but borrowing their lugubrious Victorian sentence structures, full of portent and morbid self-importance, does not work when they are used outside the context of a Victorian setting. The resultant slow, grindingly dull pace should have been reason enough to stop reading, even without everything else I’ve described. Why did I keep going then? Because while it owes much Dracula, The Historian owes still more to recent TV series like Lost, in which almost absolutely nothing happens for a long time… and then a brief flash of excitement, a small gleam of insight into the mystery of the plot, hooks you back just as you lose attention. At this Kostova excels, and that’s no mean feat. Should she in her next book choose to forgo arcane sentence structures and historical data, love stories that veer into the silly rather than the sublime and characters of more than a single note, that note generally being one of stoic niceness, it might turn out to be a cracker of a read. The Historian, unfortunately, is not.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Man Celebrates Not Celebrating Christmas

Christmas always comes early for Melbourne man Robert West, even though he doesn't actually celebrate the holiday.

"This is my favourite time of year," West told Sterne. "I get to show off how world-weary and cynical I am, all the while scoring points against soft targets like organised religion and mass consumerism. It's like, well, it's like all my Christmases come at once!"

West's pontificating doesn't stop at religion and shopping. The holiday season he vehemently opposes also affords West the opportunity to speak out on a range of subsidiary topics.

"I love going to Christmas lunch at my parents' place. I don't eat anything, or exchange any gifts - my constant haughty derision is gift enough. Last year I made my cousin cry by explaining in minute detail the battery-farming and slaughtering process that had resulted in the turkey she was eating. And then I sabotaged the bon-bons by replacing all the jokes with selections from Mao's Little Red Book. It was totally subversive, although for some reason everybody still laughed. But they won't be laughing after the revolution! Then there won't be any bon-bons for anybody!"

West said that while his anti-Christmas stance began as an undergraduate pose - "You know, making a point of writing 'xmas', vandalising nativity scenes, knifing shopping centre Santas, that sort of thing" - it has since become a true reflection of his character and beliefs.

"I really am this nauseatingly smug all year round," he said. "Christmas just gives me the chance to show it off."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Sterne 2005 Top Ten - Part One

For some weeks now I've been wringing my hands and pulling out my hair and cutting boy's names into my arms with rusty razor blades. At first I thought it was generalised fear of the end of the world as we know it (!), but after a few electrode-intensive counseling sections I realised that I was actually afflicted with doubt over whether I should join in the fun and post my top entertainment picks of the year. As you can see, I've answered that question in the affirmative. The scars are healing nicely, thank you.

First up, the ten best books I've read this year. Well, ten of the best books I've read this year. It's tough to be definite about these things.

10. Light, M. John Harrison (2002)
Just when I was thinking I'd never read another sci-fi novel that wasn't written by Iain Banks, along comes this bizarre, disturbing novel that ignores the self-imposed boundaries of genre in favour of knocking your brain about.

9. The People's Act of Love, James Meek (2005)
This was the first book I read on the Booker longlist. I could have stopped there, because nothing else matched it.

8. Austerlitz, W.G. Sebald (2002)
I read this in January, too long ago to be able to offer much of an opinion of it. I do however remember it being brilliant.

7. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
I don't often use the word "exquisite", but how else can I describe Ishiguro's masterful comedy of manners that slowly, with subtle precision, descends into darkness.

6. Love, Sex & Tragedy, Simon Goldhill (2005)
An excellent look at our debt to classics. Popular synthesis at its best.

5. The Catastrophist, Ronan Bennett (1999)
Historical/political thriller that ticks every box including the one labelled "Graham Greene".

4. A High Wind In Jamaica, Richard Hughes (1929)
See my attempt at a review.

3. Labyrinths, Jorge Luis Borges (1964)
2005 was the year Borges clicked for me. I had previously - and laboriously - read Ficciones (twice), and I loved the non-fiction collection The Total Library, but having slowly read through Labyrinths and enjoyed every page, I can now add Borges to my immutable list of favourites.

2. 1812, Adam Zamoyski (2004)
One of the best history books I have ever read, 1812 tells the story of Napoleon's march on Moscow and his subsequent disastrous retreat. Every page drips with learning, but Zamoyski is never dry. The action is immediate, the horrors of war unflinchingly described and affecting, and the imperialistic hubris of Napoleon and co. strangely familiar.

1. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
There are two bona fide geniuses on this list. One is named Jorge, the other is named Vladimir. This is Vladimir's most famous book. You've probably heard of it already.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bad Boss, Bad Boss, Whatcha Gonna Do?

Let’s not kid ourselves, people. I am a bonafide genius; a regular freaking font of knowledge. Pearls of wisdom, mots full of bon fall from my lips like spring rain, or perhaps more aptly the viscous drips from a bulging septic tank. Therefore, it’s only natural that my co-workers to come to me to explain for them aspects of the new industrial relations reforms. “These new laws,” they say. “What are they about? What will they mean for me? Tell us, tell us do!”

Well, yes, alright, that’s something of a lie. No, not about me - I’m ever so smart (good lookin’, too) – but when my colleagues discuss the plight of the workers, the debate usually runs thusly: “Industrio wha? Booring! Omigod, isn’t Paris Hilton just fab!” Which says a lot about my choice of workplace. But if they did finally tire of discussing La Hilton’s myriad talents and calling me names behind my back, I’m sure they would ask my sage advice on this important issue. To which I would reply, “We should be wary of these reforms, as they give employers excessive power, and leave employees few avenues of complaint. For example: if the backs of the unions have been broken, who are you going to turn to when your boss masturbates on your desk?”

Now, do you see what I’ve done there? I started off all topical and then used that to segue into what will hopefully be a semi-amusing anecdote. And it was absolutely seamless, no?

Let’s just put poor lead-ins aside, shall we, and concentrate on this disgusting-yet-true tale of sticky desks and bad career choices. Who here remembers the high and far-off times of the year of our lord 2002? Those were the days in which cargo pants were still in, in which we were just beginning to realise that tattooing the Japanese character for ‘beetroot’ on your arm might not be such a smart idea, and in which I – a lad of few discernable talents – had risen to the heady heights of middle management in a financial planning firm. And when I say ‘middle management’, I mean glorified office-bitch. And when I say ‘firm’, I mean I worked out of a converted garden shed. When they talk about backyard industries, this was the acme. I shared my office with the occasional spade, an interesting collection of venomous spiders, and an elderly collie.

My boss and owner of the shed tended to put people in mind of Tony Soprano, not merely in his looks or rotundity, or his propensity for using the word ‘cunt’ as both noun, pronoun, verb and adjective, but in his business practices. Example: he once re-negotiated my pay system while leaning on an axe. He had three secret loves, and none were his wife (having met her, this was understandable): the first was writing fan-fiction, which was unbelievably, hilariously adolescent in content and infantile in grammar; the second was the bottle of whiskey kept in the bottom of the filing cabinet, for the boss enjoyed a tipple after a hard days bitching; the third, which I discovered while browsing through his computer files, presumably illegally, during idle moments, was pornography. Being well aware of his character, this came as no real surprise – one of my many duties was cleaning the office, dusting down the shelves with an ancient hole-infested t-shirt kept specifically for the purpose, and I’d previously turned up a few inexpensive stick mags during a tidy-up (left on top of a pile of folders, they disappeared without mention the next day) – and as it was really none of my business what he got up to in his private life, I put it out of my head.

That all changed one fateful Australia Day. Despite my earlier protestations of genius – accurate protestations, mark you, and don’t dare deny it – little things can slip my mind…dates, places, girlfriend’s name, simple stuff like that. As it was, I’d forgotten the public holiday. Traipsing all innocent up to the office that morning and whistling a merry tune, I prepared to open the door. It was locked: very unusual. I thought I heard an intake of breath, but ignored it and jangled through my keys to find the appropriate one. Then a voice came from inside, low and fearful, “Who’s there?” After a few moments to consider the possibilities, I elucidated, “Um, me?”

“What the fuck are you doing here?” This barked visciously.
“Well, I work here…” This being a display of unusual perspicacity. A long pause followed.
“Just…just hold on! Wait outside! I’ll be there in a minute.” This growled with desperate venom. In a state of mild confusion, which I admittedly inhabit a lot of the time, I waited, listening to a series of grunts, bumps and panicked curse words floated from under the closed door, which, after a few minutes, slowly opened.

The boss’s head emerged, blinking in the bright January sunshine, followed by his torso. He was dishevelled, unshaven, his comb-over in disarray, and clouds of whiskey-fumes rose in a steady haze from between his chapped lips. But, horror of horrors, though he concealed himself as much as possible behind the door, I could see he wore only the old, tiny, stained t-shirt I used as a cleaning rag. Under it strained his heaving belly, and from beneath its tattered hem coquettishly poked a hint of his hairy, naked hip. I shuddered visibly.

There followed a brief but vigorously-worded conversation about the existence of public holidays, as all the while I fought desperately to keep my face straight, my eyes from straying south, and my feet from running, running and never stopping. Eventually and with false jollity, I apologised for my mistake, told him I’d see him tomorrow, and got the hell out of dodge. I spent the rest of the day conducting experiments which ran along the lines of “How much beer is required to forget your naked boss?” They were all unsuccessful.

It was the next morning that was the clincher, however. The office was unoccupied when I arrived, and the boss’s car wasn’t in the drive. The empty whiskey bottle and the t-shirt were lying on the floor, though, and the computer was on, open to the file where he kept his ‘collection’. And on the desk… oh gods. Let’s just say he’d obviously celebrated Australia Day several times over. I went and found some disinfectant and a pair of rubber gloves, and spent a busy hour with a scrubbing brush.

I’d put up with a lot in that job, and from that boss – poor work conditions (i.e. garden shed), constant ‘unprofessional’ language, unreasonable workload and below award wages, having to fire subordinates according to his whims, and occasional suggestions that it would be a good move to date his step-daughter – but that was the last straw, and I handed in my notice later that week (although, coward that I am, I did not state my reasons as ‘having to clean up your jism’).

This, this is why we need unions, people. If, like me back then, we have no representation, or our representatives are rendered effectively powerless, who is going to stop our employers just jerking off wherever they like, hmm? Was that amendment covered in Howard’s 700 page blockbuster? I think not, and I for one won’t rest easy until it is.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Ah, Um, Er, You Know: An Audioblog

A couple of days ago, Mr Lefty did an audio post that seemed to work quite well, so I have decided to jump on the bandwagon with an audio post of my own. It's four minutes of me talking nonsense, the sound quality is poor, but you may get a laugh out of how awful a speaker I am, and perhaps realise why my preferred form of communication is the written word.

Download:

Sterne Audio Blog #1 (4MB)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I Know Where You Live #6

I have been contemplating another installment of I Know Where You Live for some weeks now. The only problem is, I haven't been anywhere interesting. I have, however, been to Nunawading.

Nunawading is a residential suburb in Melbourne's east and...actually, screw this. An introduction to Nunawading requires only two words: Wobbie's World. Yes, this unassuming suburb was for many years home to Melbourne's favourite piss-weak theme park, beloved by many, be-loathed by many more. Having never visited Wobbie's World, I can't tell you much about it, or even offer more than a guess as to what a "wobby" might be. It sounds like a juvenile euphamism for genitalia. As in, "Mummy, that man over by the crappy helicopter ride showed me his wobby!"1

The dubious delights of Wobbie's World may be long gone, but thankfully Nunawading has other claims to fame. For example, statistics show that you are significantly more likely to be beaten up by a Neighbours cast member in Nunawading than in any other Melbourne suburb. The show is filmed at Ten's old Nunawading studio, with many outdoor scenes also shot locally. Residents are accustomed to sharing their suburb with the likes of Lou Carpenter and Doctor Karl, but it is not uncommon for visitors to become star struck. My parents once found themselves eating lunch in the same cafe as Ian Smith (Harold Bishop). Their food went untouched due to nerves, although my dad maintains that it was not so much star-power that put him off as it was the hypnotic dangling of the actor's jowls.2

Despite its status as the Hollywood of the Belgrave/Lilydale line, Nunawading is perhaps best known for the so-called Million Dollar Mile, a stretch of the Maroondah Highway where all the country's largest retailers have set up shop. Architecturally speaking, there is little of any worth in Nunawading, so developers are given carte blanche to clear whatever they like in order to build acre upon acre of retail space. The long-term plan is to demolish the entire suburb and replace it with an enormous Bunnings, with residents to be offered first dibs on prime shelf space in the hardware section. Yet I hope that somewhere amongst this consumer utopia there will be some acknowledgement of the Nunawading of times past. A statue of a giant wobby would not be out of place, methinks.3

Nunawading: three Toadfish Rebecchis out of five.

Notes:

1. For a trip down cheapskate memory lane, see Adam's road trip to Wobbie's World.
2. Bet you didn't see that one coming!
3. Christ, this is a terrible post. You would think a suburb called "Nunawading" would provoke unrivalled hilarity. You would, however, be wrong.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

...Although You Might Want To Wipe The Bumper-Bar Off Later

I’d planned to post something reasonably amusing (read: the usual crap) today, but the taxi ride home late last night not only changed my mind, but left a residual taste of bile in my mouth that had nothing to do with the quantity of beer I had been drinking earlier. By the time I arrived home, I was feeling decisively sober, and quite, quite ill. The driver, a ragged, pock-faced old curmudgeon was listening the 3AW (home to the incisive social commentary of Neil Mitchell, Ernie Sigley, Ross Warneke et. al.) “Overnighters” program, a talkback forum catering to the insomniac fringe of Melbourne’s over 40 redneck community. I’ve no idea who the regular host is, or if what follows is typical of the program, but I thought I’d reproduce a snippet of the conversation for your enjoyment and edification. I can’t claim that my transcript is verbatim, but it’s pretty damn close:

Caller: Y’know, there was this famous Aboriginal woman a few years back - she said that the Aboriginals weren’t going to be able to move forward as a race until they stopped blaming the whites for their problems and started owning up to the fact that what happens to them is their own fault.

Radio Host: Yeah, I remember, that’s right. I think they have to do just that.

C: Yeah, I mean, like, in most cases they should know better. I mean, you know when an Aboriginal gets hit by a car? That’s 'cause one of them’s drunk on petrol and just standing in the road.

RH: Yes, it happens all too often, doesn’t it?

C: Yeah, like that recent case where the guy hit this Aboriginal girl with his truck…

RH: Yes! And it wasn’t his fault. He was an experienced trucker. He’d done, like, a billion kilometres all over the Northern Territory. But the woman comes out in front of the truck, all juiced up on that high-octane fuel or whatever, waving her arms and what-not, and bang! And she died, which is sad. But the driver was a good bloke, so he reported it.

C: ...And he didn’t have to do that. But he wanted to show it wasn’t his fault. But he’s afraid of revenge attacks by her family. They don’t understand she shouldn’t have been out late at night near a road.

RH: (Laughs) Yeah, but if you hit an Aboriginal woman with your car in the Northern Territory, don’t stop – just keep driving!

C: Too right! One of her boyfriends’ll come and try to beat you up.

RH: (Laughs) Yeah, they’re like that. They’re a terrible problem! Just keep on driving!


The PM is absolutely right when he says that Australia is not an essentially racist nation. Spot on, Johnny!

Regular blogging, minus the self-righteous, indignant outrage, will resume tomorrow, right after I finish throwing up.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Lady In Red

Most women with six months of pregnancy quite literally under their belt would be trying to relax and not take on extra jobs. Lady Sterne, however, not only continues to keep her workplace running, but last week volunteered to be Santa Claus for her office Christmas party:

I guess if you've got a belly that shakes when you laugh like a bowl full of jelly you might as well put it to good use.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Blogging Is The Real Winner

I don't care if you vote for Sterne in Vlado's 2006 Australian Blog Awards (hosted by Collective Apathy). Whoever heard of blog awards, anyway? What a load of elitist ego-stroking. Next year we'll be dolling ourselves up and treading the red carpet for blogging's "night of nights" at Crown bloody casino! I'm tempted to quit blogging altogether now it's gone so mainstream and safe. This awards thing is rubbish, so even if you think we're so fucking awesome that you simply must vote for us, don't, whatever you do, don't do it for my sake.

You may, however, vote for Sterne for Jon's sake. He's desperate to win something.

Here are my noms:

Best Overall Australian Blog
Barista

Best Post on an Australian Blog
Ask a Hyperactive Fat Kid (OK, I realise that I wrote this myself so nominating it might be bad form, but look at all the people I've nominated for other catagories! And that aside, is blatant self-promotion really so bad? Well, anyway, Ms Cynic nominated herself for Best SA Blog, so, like, back off y'all.)

Best NSW Blog
The Adventures of Queer Penguin

Best Victorian Blog
fridaysixpm

Best Tasmanian Blog
piss 'n' vinegar

Best South Australian Blog
Watchdog of the Wankers

Best Northern Territory Blog
Troppo Armadillo

Best Overseas Australian Blog
The Road to Surfdom

Best Humourous Australian Blog
Freeway 9

Best Designed Australian Blog
Glutbusters

Best Australian Personal Blog
Ladycrackerland

Best Australian Political Blog
Anonymous Lefty

Best Australian Photo Blog
Sorrow at Sills Bend

Best New Australian Blog
Will Type For Food

Best Australian Collaborative Blog
Labour First Blog

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Wig Out

"Photographs of bald men make me want to hurl!" Susan Sontag, On Photography

Every couple of months I get my hair buzzed with a number two clipper blade. It really is the hairstyle of choice for today's busy gentleman. Whether you're impersonating Speed-era Keanu Reeves or joining a gang of sun-safe skinheads, the number two buzz will do the trick.

Because I hate doing anything to improve my appearance (hey, I'm in a "marriage-like relationship", so I don't need to impress anybody), I tend to put off getting my hair cut for as long as possible. I like being scruffy, and it adds interest to waking up in the morning: what shape will my hair be today? Eventually I get sick of it, and trot along to get it cut. The problem is, my scalp generally hasn't seen sunlight for some time, and has turned a rather unpleasant shade of white. This is fine in itself - a week or so later and my scalp will be the same delightful hue as the rest of me - but it has an unusual side-effect that is not fine, not fine at all.

Put simply, my newly-shorn scalp reflects light. Not to the extent that I blind passing motorists or summon rescue planes, but there is still discernable reflection. And nowhere is this reflection more obvious than in photographs, particularly when a flash has been used. Then - oh, and you'll laugh at this - then I appear to be bald. Or if not bald, then balding. Often the top and front of my head seem to be exploding with some kind of divine light, while my hair retreats beyond my ears. Other times, it looks as though I've had a short back and sides that's left me with nothing but short back and sides.

Now, I don't mind admitting that I have a few grey hairs, and were I actually balding then I'd admit that too. I'm not a particularly vain person, but I do prefer that photos of me have at least some passing resemblance to the actual me. The thing is, the only times I have my photo taken are on special occasions - birthday, Christmas and the like. And when do I usually have my hair cut? That's right, just prior to these special occasions. So, with very few exceptions, my family's photographic record of the past couple of years shows a Tim who has apparently just returned from a Kojak look-alike competition where he was mistaken for Patrick Stewart. If I do end up going bald, then people will assume I have been that way since my mid-twenties. If I don't go bald, people will look at old photos of me and assume that I was bald but that I have since had hair implants or started taking extract of Greg Matthews. With every snapshot of my stupid grinning face, a false past is being created. And I don't want a false past being created!

Obviously I must either stop getting my hair cut short or, if I continue to do so, stay away from cameras until my scalp's light-reflecting properties diminish. There is also the wig option, or the baseball cap option, or the decapitation option, which I think I'll pass on. Maybe I should grow my hair into a dense, black, Ray Martin-esque helmet into which light, and passing spacecraft, will be inexorably drawn. Or maybe, when somebody points a camera at me, I should dash it to the ground and accuse them of trying to steal my soul. Behave like that often enough and people will stop even inviting me to special occasions. Problem solved.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

English Language, You Are My Bitch

Ladies! Gentlemen! Your task for today, should you choose to accept it, is this: raise the level of regard in which bloggists are held by the community.

Too long, brothers and sisters, have we who blog been perceived as pale and obsessive nerds, hunched over our computers like unwashed, pimply gargoyles - lumped in with porn enthusiasts and Star Trek fans. Too often have our blogs, carefully constructed works of thoughtful genius, been dismissed as disturbing polemic rants, poorly conceived social satire, or self-aggrandising onanism (try and guess which category this post falls into).

Enough! This will not stand.

Here is the challenge: let's see if Mr Orwell was doubleplusright about linguistic determinism. The word 'blog' is already in use as both noun and verb; see if, at least three times today, you can employ it as a superlative adjective - polysemous, but roughly synonymous with 'fucking amazing'. I predict the term catching on pretty quickly. In the tiny, ape-like minds of the general public, 'blog' will become naturally associated with all things fine, and those who blog as purveyors of wonderment.

Some suggested usages:

Wow, you look totally blog! (to someone modelling a new outfit)
I want to be as blog as Jesus (at church)
The food in that restautant is really quite blog (with appropriate smacking of lips)
Oh blog, oh blog, ooooooooooh BLOG! (during orgasm)

Prizes will be awarded for the most creative use of the word 'blog' (note: probable lie). How can this plan fail, people? How?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Cheap Shot

Sterne is proud to be the first media outlet to present a picture of Lleyton Hewitt and Bec Cartwright's new baby, Mia. She's a real cutie, and even at this age it's amazing how much she looks like her mum and dad!


Awww!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Review: Haunted, Chuck Palahniuk

Haunted is the most compulsive, not to mention repulsive, book I've read this year. It is horror fiction with brains, a satire of the intertwined cults of victimhood and celebrity, and a neat analysis of the storytelling impulse. It is funny, disgusting, and often sad. In other words: you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll hurl.

Having answered a newspaper ad for a writer's retreat ("Abandon your life for three months"), a disparate group of people find themselves locked in a derelict theatre. Sensing an opportunity for celebrity, they set about exacerbating their already unpleasant circumstances, effectively writing the story of their ordeal as they experience it, in anticipation of cashing in once they are rescued. Meanwhile, they tell stories. Autobiographical stories, fantastic stories, stories that play out like urban myths. Stories that, for all their horror and desperation, constitute the heart and soul of the book.

Palahniuk isn't being pretentious when he calls Haunted "a novel of stories". The stories, and to a lesser extent the short poems that precede each tale, are the book. The bridging sections, in which an unamed narrator (or narrators?) tells the "real" story of life in the theatre, tend towards the jocular and cartoonish. The characters as depicted in these sections are at once insubstantial and larger-than-life. It is only through their stories that we gain access to their true psychology. The traditional critical admonishment to distinguish between a writer and his or her work is discarded. These writers are their stories, and their stories are Palahniuk's story.

Apart from being formally innovative, Haunted is also a disturbing, yet oddly fun, read. With few exceptions, the twenty-three stories are excellent. Palahniuk is often accused of covering similar ground in each book, but in fact his concerns are far broader than many contemporary novelists, and he refrains from providing easy answers, or blanket condemnations. The stories are varied in theme and tone - the very sick humour of "Guts", the pathos of "Post-Production", the chill of the contemporary werewolf story "Dissertation" - and the prose brisk and witty. What I really loved about Haunted is that it is addictive not only because of its gross-out factor, but also because it is intellectually provocative and amusing. That said, Haunted's brand of horror is very explicit, and a quick scan of online reviews reveals that pretty much everybody hates it except for me and the man from the Guardian. If you can take it, however, Haunted is a dead-set winner.

Friday, December 02, 2005

What Won't Kids Buy?

Kids, as one time comedian and noted fuddy-duddy Bill Cosby is wont to observe when anyone will listen, say the darndest things. A corollary to this pithy truism is that kids will also accept the darndest things. Or, to put it slightly less formally, children are credulous little fuckers. I know there’s a certain type who will claim that kids are unfailingly honest, especially to themselves – you can’t pull the wool over their eyes; but the dewy-eyed baby boomers who usually spout this claptrap also tend to go in for such improbable clichés as the impossibility of keeping a good man down, or a bark being worse than a bite. Or, less formally again, they are quaintly deluded morons. No, children are not only deeply uncritical in their beliefs, but often deeply materialistic, too: happy to put up with any amount of twaddle so long as it either reifies or increases the chances of their ownership of some plasticky/sugar-laden nonsense.

“Now hold on there, Jon”, do I hear you say? “Can you back this cynical hyperbole up? Wasn’t the only time you spoke to a child this year to suggest it ask it’s daddy why mummy’s kisses are always so salty?” Well yes I can, and who’re you to doubt me anyway, you ass? This is of course my cue to entreat you to join me on a brief trip down memory lane. Follow me, be mindful of the potholes of nostalgia and sentimentality, and we’ll either find all the proof your heart desires or die trying, or something.

Those of you who have them should cast your minds back to about 1980, when American toy companies first cottoned on to the idea (i.e. stole it from the Japanese) that you could cross-promote a product with a cartoon show. Show and product ideally each become the raison d'etre for the other, and as evil marketing ploys go, it's a pretty damn clever one. Except for the fact that none of the shows in question ever made a lick of frikkin' sense - not that this appeared to matter to the gleeful imbeciles watching (i.e. me). Every single one of them was based on a silly, shaky premise which was unfolded in plots of an utterly implausible nature.

Now, before you go all power-of-the-imagination-harry-potter-kids-minds-are-magical-places on me, please consider this: shut up. I'm well aware of that stimulation of the imagination, unexplained mysteries and flights of fancy are all necessary parts of good kids' stories - of good stories period, in fact - but a recognisable basis in reality is required as a position to depart from. Not only did the cartoons in question lack such grounding, they lacked internal sense, and coherency, and relished in it. The toy company/network execs were not just operating on the grounds that their watchers/consumers were pituitary retards who would accept pretty much anything, they were throwing it in our faces with every episode. And we lapped it up, and we bought the toys, and were happy.

Chew on such examples as these: He-Man, the masculinely moniker'd hero of some planet where wearing furry underpants and little else was regarded as the height of good taste, was a muscle-bound blonde chap whose sidekick was a big green talking cat, and who hung around with a guy that revelled in the ownership of both the improbable name 'Man-at-Arms' and a moustache that would have made any of the Village People jealous. He-Man's alter-ego, Prince Adam, the identity he assumed to protect, uh... well, I'm not sure, given that everyone else on the planet used to gad about in furry undergarments, sporting their disturbingly large muscles and laser weaponry as well - Prince Adam was a muscle-bound blonde chap whose sidekick was a... you get the picture; despite this, everyone went around wondering who He-Man really was. Oh, and he regularly fought with a blue fellow who, though his head was merely a skull, did not let his handicap stop him from talking, eating, keeping his brain from dribbling out, etc. And He-Man was one of the more plausible cartoons.

The Transformers, robots in disguise, never refuelled. They never accidentally ran anyone over, or squished members of the public during their heated battles. And the bad guy, Megatron? The good robots feared him, for he had no known weaknesses - this despite the common knowledge that he could transform into a gun, but couldn't fire himself. Needless to say, he lost every battle, often simply because the good robots turned up and called him mean names. Especially interesting was the writers/execs' ploy of introducing a human father and son as characters; when asked, the crusty but kindly dad would tell his child that, yes, he could go and play with the Transformers (as they fought their terrible laser wars - vive responsible parenting). Naturally, the kids watching would ask the same question of their own parents, who need only oblige by sacrificing wads of cash rather than sending their offspring to enter into pitched combat against evil mechanoids.

And pushing credulity to the limit were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You'd think the name said enough, wouldn't you? But no: the turtles' nemesis was a giant whiny pink brain from another dimension that lived in a robot's stomach. And did we buy it? Did we what.

"But this was all years ago, when some of us, not pointing fingers, were young and stupid," you may claim. "Things must've changed by now." Well, yes, they have, but not for the better. In the interests of good (or at least vaguely amusing) blogging, I have spent a few mornings watching the crap channel 10 spews onto the TV screen, and if anything, kids' cartoons have become dumber; the marketing campaigns behind them, however, have become far, far more insidious. Take the Pokemon craze for instance: while nearly dead now, praise Jebus, it was at one time the most successful children's fad ever. The accompanying cartoon did not reflect this. It was not only badly made, it was repetitive and it was boring. Why was it so popular, then? The underlying conceit is that kids are encouraged to wander around the world unaccompanied by adults, catching wild and endangered animals, and then training them to fight one another - neat. The fact that all the adults in the cartoon actively encourage kids to collect Pokemon is a good pointer as to the products success, letting kids know that to buy, buy, buy has parental sanctioning, even if it's not from their own parents. And the steady, dull repetition in each episode reinforces the key concepts again and again: collect Pokemon, make them fight; collect Pokemon, make them fight.

This is taken further still by what my pre-adolescent cousins tell me is the latest big thing, Yu-Gi-Oh! I'm not entirely sure what a Yu-Gi-Oh! is, even after watching a few episodes (it sounds like a virulent toe infection); what I do know is that the marketing behind it is obviously being steered by Satan. The cartoon takes place in a world entirely and inexplicably devoid of adults - you don't need to ask them, just buy the game anyway, kids! - in which our hero, a big-eyed emo boy with bad hair and worse taste in jewellery, has to play a card game which, if you lose, will steal your soul. Every episode basically consists of the hero and his latest foe squaring off, tensely looking each other in the eye, and making their card-monsters fight each other in a game in which there are apparently no rules. There is no plot, none whatsoever; each show is exactly the same as the last. And the script consists largely of aphorisms along the lines of: "I believe in my cards", "I trust my cards", "I belive in myself, and the game", repeated over and over again. It's brain-washing 101, and presumably the toy company is laughing all the way to the bank, via hell.

If anything, TV programs like these render assertions along the lines of 'children have brilliant imaginations', 'children won't buy into insincerity' meaningless. Imagination and sincerity are wonderful things, but children are apparently happier with a mass-produced piece of garbage they can hold in their hand while they watch cartoon characters mouthing reinforcement at them. What won't kids buy? Not a damn thing.

Which is why I recommend clipping the next one you see around the earhole, just on principle.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Digital Love

One of the nice things about impending parenthood is that people sometimes give you presents. Mostly they're things for the baby, but every so often you get something that adults can enjoy too. (And I don't mean a year's supply of baby oil.) Thanks to Lady Sterne's dad, we are now the proud owners of a digital camera. I took it down the park this morning, hoping a Blow Up-esque scenario would develop (sinister doings or kinky threesome, I wasn't picky), and ended up with a large number of pictures of bobbing ducks. While the results may have been less than thrilling, it's always fun to muck around with a new gadget, even one that makes dodgy old-style-camera sound effects.

The camera is going to see a lot of use, what with a seven-year-old regularly in the house, a baby on the way, and plenty of ugly friends to document.

Best of all, when I don't have anything to blog about, I can just post a picture of the cat. Isn't he cute?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tome After Tome

In high school, there was a poster near the staff room that featured beloved televisual stereotype Con the Fruiterer appealing to the community, in his inimitable and rather irritating way, to care for their backs. "Bad Backs!" read the text above Con's head. "Watch out for him!"

It seems I haven't been watching out for "him" as well as I should have been, because this week I have been struck down with an achy breaky spine that has pretty much killed my enthusiasm for anything beyond slumping on the couch in front of the cricket. And now that the cricket is over I have nothing to do but fan myself with the tv guide and try not to think about all the work I'll have to do when my summer semester starts next week.

Obviously I need a project. I contemplated beginning my long-awaited novel (the semi-fictionalised story of my time as a transexual cabaret dancer in pre-WW2 Berlin), but that seemed too much like hard work so I turfed the idea. But what to do, what to do...

I know! On my book shelves are a number of big books. Big, motherfucking books that I fully intended to read when I bought them, but that have sat there unmolested for several years, collecting dust as only books large enough to have their own gravity wells can. The solution is clear: read one of these behemoths and blog about it as I go. Or until I get sick of blogging about it, or sick of the book. Given my predilection for books under 300 pages, the latter seems a likely outcome.

The question is, which book to read? Well, who better to decide than you, the loyal Sterne reader? (The answer is: anybody. But you'll do.) It's a toss-up between the following:

1. Underworld by Don DeLillo. Modern classic or turgid housebrick?

2. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Modern classic or even turgider housebrick?

3. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. Turgid? Housebrick? What's a Gödel? (As if I'm ever going to understand this book...)

Cast your votes and seal my fate!

(I just know this will be one of those posts that nobody comments on. So fuck you in advance.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bad Sex

The Bad Sex award is given annually to the author of the most risible sex scene in mainstream literature for that year. The 2005 longlist has been announced, the nominees including such heavyweights as John Updike, Paul Theroux and Salman Rushdie. Theroux's "offending passage", which purports to describe a male character's orgasm, is as follows:
"...not juice at all but a demon eel thrashing in his loins and swimming swiftly up his cock, one whole creature of live slime fighting the stiffness as it rose and bulged at the tip and darted into her mouth."
Classy.

Although it is tough to compete with such bad, bad writing, I'm still a little shocked that this scene from my yet-to-be-published novel failed to make the cut. (You can see where this is going, so if you insist on a mature attitude regarding sex, or object to the word "knobcrackle", please stop reading now):
As Butch cunnilingered in her loins, Maria felt her woman-juices stir, and abandoned herself to his skilled exertions. He lapped her like Michael Schumaker overtaking a particularly sluggish backmarker, coming up occasionally to wipe his mouth with the back of his hand, as though, Maria thought with a thrill, he was auditioning for the role of "satisfied drinker" in a VB commercial. When finally she came, Maria squeezed Butch's head between her thighs, as the pleasure-demon coarsed through her veins, its tiny demon-penis releasing inside her what felt like a cocktail of sulphuric acid, tabasco sauce and love that set her every nerve ending on fire.

With her bosom still a-quivering, Maria sat up and smiled at her flushed lover before reaching down for a handful of knobcrackle. Butch groaned and closed his eyes as she took him to paradise, as though she were some kind of ocean-going catamaran and he the eager tourist looking to travel to some moist, tropical destination where sensual delight was all but guaranteed. When it seemed that Butch could take little more, Maria allowed him entry to her anxious tunnel, and after a minute or so Butch cried out with joy, his manly fluid bolting from him like puréed oysters fired from a shotgun. Satisfied, they lay in one another's arms and counted sheep, until Maria asked Butch to shoo them away, saying that she'd prefer it if it were just the two of them next time.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Leslie Converts to Ninjaism, Silences Critics - Forever!

In a surprise move, Australian model Michelle Leslie, who returned home last week after being convicted of drug possession by an Indonesian court, has converted to ninjaism.

"I know I've only been a Muslim for three months," Ms. Leslie said in a statement released today, referring to her conversion to Islam while awaiting trial in Denpasar, "but that was long enough to realise that it wasn't for me. Ninjaism feels like the right fit at this stage of my life - and don't tell me it isn't, or I'll cut you with this big freakin' sword!"

Some commentators have alleged that Leslie's Islamic faith was nothing more than a cynical attempt to curry favour with the Indonesian judiciary. This time around, the pundits appear to be rather more tolerant of Leslie's caprice.

Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt told Sterne that he has spoken to Leslie about her latest conversion, and he is satisfied that her motives are sincere.

"When I came home and found Michelle in my lounge room, in full ninja garb, throwing shirukens at the cat, I admit I was sceptical. It just seemed too convenient. But as the evening went on, and Michelle explained to me what she could do with the still-beating heart of a victim, I realised that I was speaking to a young woman of great probity. She also has excellent aim, as anybody who saw the photos of what she did to Derryn Hinch will attest."

Ninja Council of Australia president Akimoto Ibuki said that Leslie has widespread support amongst Australia's ninja population.

"It's great to see young people devoting themselves to ninjaism. It is a pathway to peace and enlightenment, and the ability to catch bullets with your teeth, which is pretty fuckin' cool, huh?"

Leslie declined Sterne's request for an interview, but did say that she not only has the ability to kill a man with her little finger, but she also knows where we live. So, good luck, Michelle. May Ninja be with you, always!

Bound and Free

There's a big pile of unwanted books next to my computer, and I have finally figured out what I'm going to do with them. No, I'm not going to give them to an op shop or sell them to a second-hand store. I'm not going to offer them to friends or give them away as pre-loved Christmas presents. What I am going to do is leave them in public places and hope that an interested party will pick them up. It's littering with altruistic intent, with the added geeky bonus of (possibly) being able to track whether somebody does indeed adopt them.

So if you are keen to nab some free books, you'd better sign up and watch for alerts in Melbourne's east.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving For Dummies

For you and I, gentle readers, today will be spent like any other, i.e. practicing swallowing smack-filled condoms in preparation for the 'Big Event'. But for our trans-Pacific cousins, it is a special day indeed. Let us extend warm congratulations to the Americainians: today (our time) is their Thanksgiving day.

For those poor dullards not in the know, Thanksgiving marks the end of the virulent Turkey Plagues of 1621, the worst natural disaster to beset continental Americainia since Chicxulub played corner pocket in a game of cosmic snooker. Thousands of hapless Pilgrims died - drowned, their buckle-hats slowly sinking under flash floods of fowl. Beaks everywhere, there were! With the unlooked for assistance of the Americainian Indians, the feathery hordes were eventually beaten back. As a token of their deep gratitude for help in a time of trial, the descendants of the Pilgrims presented the Indians with infected blankets and the opportunity to open casinos on their reservations. A pretty good deal!

To remember their triumph over adversity, Americainians will today butcher the remnants of their Old Foe, for to eat their tasty, gamey flesh. Enjoy your stuffed bird, noble cousins! We salute you.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Aussie Battler Trapped In Asian Hell-Hole

In a year during which it has had to cope with scandal after scandal, the Department of Immigration is yet again in a fluster with the news just come to light of another Australian citizen repeatedly forced overseas against their will. Surprisingly, however, instead of pursuing its usual modus operandi - i.e. rushing for cover, denying all knowledge, casting aspersions against the unfortunate exile’s character and refusing to sack any responsible parties before sweeping the entire matter under the carpet – the federal government has quickly stepped into the thick of the affair, and vowed that the situation will be righted with all due haste.

In a hastily convened press conference, handsome Prime Minister Howard declared, “It is neither right nor fair that this man has been sent from our fair shores, and we are endeavouring to rectify matters as soon as possible. However, let me make it perfectly clear to you: this sad turn of events is not the responsibility of my government – the fault lies with the Australian people themselves. If they weren’t constantly whinging about ‘falsely deported’ this and ‘on death row’ that, then poor Alexander Downer would not have been forced out of the country time after time.”

Last seen gulping white wine on a garden terrace and indulging in a hearty giggle with Asian diplomats, Downer’s health and safety are feared for. The wine was revealed to be a distinctly second-class Chablis, and it is uncertain just how long the Minister can survive on tax-payer funded caviar, especially considering the silver spoon jammed in his mouth keeps getting in the way of food.

“Never fear,” said the Prime Minister at the close of the conference, “This travesty will not stand; Alex will be brought back home safe and sound, as quickly as humanly possible. We’re not going to leave this Australian national stranded or under threat. I mean, it’s not like he’s mentally ill or one of those chinky nip types, or anything.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sweet Memes Are Made Of This

Memes. They're annoying, pointless, and self-indulgent. I have even read pundits who say that they're elitist, and anything that pundits say is elitist has got to be bad, right? Well, fuck it, I'm elitist, and I've been tagged, so here is my contribution to the rather unwieldy meme of the moment. Hopefully Jon will post something tomorrow so you won't have to put up with this at the top of the page for too long.

10 Years Ago:
I was drunk, or stoned, or both. In other words, I was in Year 11. My girlfriend's name was Nicole, I spent my spare time seeing bands and writing for zines, and I had as little going on between my ears as any seventeen-year-old. I also had long hair, ripped jeans, and a penchant for flannelette shirts.

5 Years Ago:
I had just met the future Lady Sterne, I had no idea what I was doing with my life apart from drinking and writing zines with Jon. I had recently cut my hair, and in about six months I would give up smoking.

1 Year Ago:
Much the same as now, minus blogging.

Five Yummy Things
Yummy? Doesn't sound like a word I'd say. Anyway: Lindor balls, beer, butter popcorn, lasagna, ginger beer

Five songs I know by heart:
Ah yes. There's always a place in every meme where you get to show off your musical taste. So, in the spirit of the occasion, I'll go you one better and list five albums - amongst many others - I know by heart. Note for note, word for word. In my head, of course, not on the piano accordian or anything, so don't ask me to run through them. Just take my word for it that my aural memory is prodigious. (I'm also very fucking cool, as you've probably already worked out.)
We're Only In It For The Money, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
Chairs Missing, Wire
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco
Animals, Pink Floyd,
Hi Fi Way, You Am I

Five things I would do with a LOT of money:
Erect billboards all over town with technically inoffensive yet strangely disturbing words written on them. Eg. "Fist".
Walk into JB Hi-Fi and other decent record stores and tell disbelieving shop assistant to grab a trolley, 'cause I'm taking the lot to go.
Ensure my kids could follow their dreams without having ever to utter the words: "Can I help you?" or "Would you like fries with that?"
Do something for Africa, the forgotten continent. (Bit grim, I know, but this is fantasy with a moral dimension.)
Buy the Herald Sun and run the fucker into the ground.

Five things I would never wear:
A McDonald's staff badge.
An Elvis costume.
Overalls (suitable only for pregnant women, tradesmen, and Nintendo characters)
A flannelette shirt.
A bib.

Five favourite TV shows:
The Simpsons
The Sopranos
The Office
Futurama
Er, can't think of a fifth.

Five things I enjoy doing:
Leaving aside the obvious physical activities...
Listening to music.
Thinking about music.
Writing.
Reading.
Writing or reading about music.

Five people I want to inflict this on:
Some people get shirty when you tag them, so please note: you don't have to do the meme if you don't want to! Like, if I told you to jump off a cliff would you do it? You would? Well, that is interesting...
Ladycracker
Mel
Agent Fare Evader
Armaniac
NS

Something Fishy*

What smells like fish and rhymes with "punt"? Why, Rex Hunt, of course. Australia's favourite fish-kisser/footy commentator/street brawler has a gnarled finger in many fishy pies, and it seems that if there's a dollar to be made Rex will not hesitate to stick his rod in, often in conjunction with aforementioned gnarled finger. (And you thought this was a classy establishment.) One of Rex's crowning achievements is his Port Melbourne fish 'n' chippery, D'Lish Fish, where the sights, smells and oily ambience of a suburban fish 'n' chip shop are painstakingly recreated for the benefit of snooty locals who would not be seen dead in a suburban fish 'n' chip shop.

The key to this kind of thing is to make the experience as "authentic" as possible while never ceasing to remind patrons of the inherent faux-ness of the place. It is dining as theme-park experience, and D'Lish Fish pulls it off with aplomb. The decor is all formica benches and vinyl stools - as in seats, although the other sort of stool is present in the form of seagull shit, which drips like a Dali clock from several of the outdoor tables. From the hand-written menu (the hand in question being that of a professional sign-writer, rather than a chalk-weilding proprietor) to the open kitchen area, no effort has been spared in approximating a proper fish 'n' chip shop without deigning to actually become a proper fish 'n' chip shop. It's all surface, no substance. Some will see in this nothing to complain about. I, however, like my fish 'n' chip shops to have a bit of atmosphere in the air, a bit of honest grease on the walls. Oh, and a semi-derelict Street Fighter II arcade machine in the corner. D'Lish Fish doesn't even have pinball!

Then there are the meals. Wrapped in faux-newspaper (all the "stories" concern the exploits of one R. Hunt), the food does a good impression of hearty fare - until you start eating it. Then the chips are revealed as sub-standard, with more eyes than a bucket-full of jumping spiders. The fish itself is terrible, a sliver of pallid flesh encased in three inches of batter that appears to be flavoured with some kind of fish-extract in order to give the impression that you're getting what you paid for. The potato cakes aren't bad, but you're not there for potato cakes. You're there for fish, preferably fish that has been caught, kissed, and beaten to death by Rex himself. And what do you get? A travesty, that's what.

*Can you believe I actually used that title?

Dilemma

Say you're reading a book that runs to about 400 pages. The first quarter is excellent, but over the next eighty pages it becomes repetitive, the plot lags, and you start to wonder why you should care. With just over half the book to go, do you a) put the book aside and instead read that brisk, funny Nicholson Baker novel you've got sitting on your book shelf; b) continue reading for another fifty-odd pages in the hope that things will pick up and with full knowledge that even if they don't you'll probably end up finishing the thing out of a misplaced sense of duty; or c) finish reading it because you've come this far and you might as well see how it turns out.

The book is The French Lieutenant's Woman, by the way. Perhaps I ought to add a fourth option, d) flick through until you find the sex scene, read it, then put the book aside and read the Baker.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Freaks and Geeks

The Guardian lists the twenty best geek novels in English since 1932. The Morrow smells a meme: "Bold the ones you've read and show the world how big of a geek you are."

1. The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- Douglas Adams
2. Nineteen Eighty-Four -- George Orwell
3. Brave New World -- Aldous Huxley
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- Philip Dick
5. Neuromancer -- William Gibson
6. Dune -- Frank Herbert

7. I, Robot -- Isaac Asimov
8. Foundation -- Isaac Asimov
9. The Colour of Magic -- Terry Pratchett
10. Microserfs -- Douglas Coupland
11. Snow Crash -- Neal Stephenson
12. Watchmen -- Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
13. Cryptonomicon -- Neal Stephenson
14. Consider Phlebas -- Iain M Banks

15. Stranger in a Strange Land -- Robert Heinlein
16. The Man in the High Castle -- Philip K Dick
17. American Gods -- Neil Gaiman

18. The Diamond Age -- Neal Stephenson
19. The Illuminatus! Trilogy -- Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
20. Trouble with Lichen - John Wyndham

Just over half. So I'm a geek, but I still get girls. Neat.

Meanwhile, here's something about Proust that I haven't read but that may well be interesting.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Blogrolling (In My 5.0)

I'm slowly cleaning up our blogroll, a process that has involved a small amount of culling. If I've deleted you and you think I oughtn't have, have a whinge in the comments and I'll see what I can do. Meanwhile, there are a few new/recent additions that are worth highlighting.

- I just discovered - like, literally, half an hour ago - that Martin Newell, poet, writer and pop music genius is also a blogger, and a damn interesting one, too. So he's on the 'roll.

- Rejoice, for Rex (late of Rex in the City) has returned to analyse, comment upon, and generally mock the powers that be at LabourFirstBlog.

- Of the many literary blogs I read, the one I have been most enjoying lately is The Mumpsimus. The emphasis is on sci-fi, but Matthew is broadly read and regularly offers some nice insights.

- A couple of local blogs I've been enjoying: Things I've Written, which features some excellent film reviews and other pop cultural observations. I particularly like the regular feature in which Ben pans the Herald Sun's ridiculous "55 words" section. Then there's Sorrow at Sills Bend, a superior culture blog whose author is both witty and intelligent.

There, that filled in a post and allowed me to make a Vanilla Ice reference. Bravo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Public Transport Challenge

That is it. I've had enough. I am mad as heck, and I'm only going to take it a little bit more.

Readers who have been bothering to pay attention will remember that I have not had a wholly successful career as a regular commuter. But damaged dwarfs, flagrant fellatio, occasional knife fights, gang vendettas and cult activity are just the exciting tip of a decidedly annoying iceberg. I ride the rails on a regular basis, and I don't enjoy it. Three guesses why, anyone?

Melbourne's public transport is consistently as late as a whore without protection.

Every month, Connex posts a self-congratulatory little notice at every station announcing that 97 or 98 per cent of its trains run on time. How is this possible? I don't think I've been on a train in the last 2 months that's run on time. Is there a different definition of the phrase 'on time' that I'm not aware of? If it was only a few minutes late, fine: that's irritating, but I can live with it. Lately though, and with no explanation, entire trains have apparently gone missing - they just never arrive. And in the last week alone, I've been on trains that sat at the station for over 20 minutes, waiting while the driver hummed and hah-ed about technical difficulties.

I concede the possibility that I'm the only one this is happening to, that I'm under some sort of curse. And it's true, I should never have urinated on that gypsy woman. But surely there are others of you out there in blog land who have been forced to regularly endure similarly poor service. If so, why not join me in a little project.

For the next month, every time a train, tram, bus, hovercraft or autogyro arrives late, or fails to arrive at all, or breaks down and the driver does not arrange for an alternate method of transportation, or whatever, I intend to make a note of when, where, etc, and at month's end send this to the services in question and ask for an explanation. I invite anyone else who regularly takes PT to join me on my self-righteous little crusade. C'mon, it'll be great! Everyone loves a whinger, don't they?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

By guest reviewer Lynne Truss

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? I'm fairly certain there ought to be some punctuation in that title. Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, perhaps. Or Kiss, Kiss; Bang, Bang. I'd even accept Kiss, Kiss; Bang! Bang! Luckily, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (as it insists on being known) makes up for its title's lack of punctuation by featuring several scenes in which characters correct one another's grammar. Obviously writer-director Shane Black is, like all sensible people, a fan of my book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. (Available now in paperback just in time for Christmas.)

In any event, grammar and punctuation are last year's bees in last year's bonnet. This year, I'm establishing myself as a manners nazi with my new book, Talk to the Hand. (Available now just in time for Christmas.) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang fares poorly in the politeness stakes, and I intend to give it the verbal equivalent of a rap over the knuckles with a hard, blunt object - say, one of my early, justifiably-overlooked novels. (Available now in a budget-priced bulk set just in time for Christmas.)

I ought to preface this talking-to by asserting that, contrary to what you might construe from the way I'm always telling people off, I am in fact a liberal. I mention this to pre-emptively assuage the guilt I will feel later on when I quote approvingly from the right-wing polemic of Theodore Dalrymple. I will also serve up a smidgen of self-deprecation and say that I am by no means perfect myself, so any criticisms I make are more in the way of grumbling than preaching, even though it is painfully obvious that my analysis of society's ills is based on the presumption that I am right and everybody else is wrong, and the world would be a better place if everybody would just do as I say. Yes, I have authoritarian tendencies, but I feel bad about them - yet more proof of my left-wing credentials.

Now, on with the review. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is funny, exciting and often very clever. Nevertheless, I loathed it. (Just so you know, when I wrote the word loathed, I actually mouthed it to myself and felt a small thrill at the way a single word can simultaneously summarise and justify one's carefully cultivated superiority complex. I must use it again soon.) Yes, I loathed it. (Ahhh...) Why? Because it is rude. A rude, grotty American film about rude, grotty Americans doing rude, grotty American things. (Editors of syndicating American newspapers, please remove previous sentence and replace with: "Because of Val Kilmer's double chin.")

For one thing, the narrator constantly interupts the story. Some call this "post-modern", but in a better time (i.e. whenever I get around to ruling the world) it will be known for what it is: rudeness. Likewise the excessive swearing. Yes, one of the characters does apologise for the heavy use of the f-word, but no contrition is evident concerning the c-word, which makes a surprise early appearance. Oh, but Lynne, I hear you say (by the way, I prefer Ms Truss, thank you), the f- and c-words are so common, even children are using them these days, surely nobody could possibly find them offensive. Well I find them offensive, and I'm clearly the one that matters. As Theodore Dalrymple says, "People who swear should be hung." (I'm paraphrasing. Dalrymple actually says that people who swear should be hung, drawn, and quartered and the pieces mailed to potential swearers as a deterrent.)

Then there is the total lack of courtesy shown by the characters. Yes, Robert Downey Jr. does mumble an apology when he cuts in front of somebody in a doorway, but other than that it's all hanging up phones without saying goodbye, punching people in the jaw, and generally behaving as if civilisation as we know it has ended, which, by the way, it has. The actors are complicit in this display of poor manners. Take the female lead, Michelle Monaghan. Her attractiveness is very rude to the unattractive women in the audience, not to mention their husbands who might find they tumesce, quite unwillingly, every time she is on screen. How dare she impose her perky breasts on an innocent audience. Finally (although I could go on), I dislike the lifestyle depicted in the movie. Sex and drink and murder and girls with dyed pink hair - is this the contemporary world, or some post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-esque scenario? Whatever it is, I find it highly offensive. As Theodore Dalrymple says, "People with dyed pink hair are scum." (I'm paraphrasing again. Dalrymple actually says that people with dyed pink hair are scum who should be killed and their bodies rendered into nutrient-rich feed for battery hens. The man is nothing if not an astute analyst of the modern condition.)

I loathed this film with my every fibre, especially since the time I spent watching it and writing this review could have been more profitably spent supervising the production of my forthcoming book, Can't Truss It: The Collected Works of Lynne Truss. It will be available just in time for next Christmas. If you don't buy a copy, you are obviously a rude person who probably doesn't understand punctuation, and I shan't hesitate to drive over your legs if I see you in the street.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Another Review? What Fresh Hell is This?

The Proposition has been out for, oh, couple of months now, I think. But is the fact that everyone who was going to see it has probably done so by now going to stop me adding my two cents? What, and be relevant? Piss on that.

There’ve been several excellent reviews by local bloggists kicking around the inter-web for a while now: click here for Ben’s and here (scroll down) for Lucy Tartan’s if you’re desperately looking for an excuse to navigate away from this post, you churls. However, as Monsieur Cave’s little riff on post-colonialism is one of those films that everyone seems to have a decidedly different take on, I feel completely unabashed in throwing my belated opinions into the ring.

For those few not in the know, the plot of The Proposition is a fairly simple one. Rubicund Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), anxious to assert his authority over the surly locals and having captured two-thirds of the notorious Burns brothers following their latest episode of rapine and pillage, offers middle sibling Charlie (Guy Pearce) the eponymous deal: to go and kill his older, madder, badder brother Arthur (Danny Huston), or watch his handsome but half-witted younger brother dance the Tyburn jig. Charlie takes the deal, and Cap’n Stanley heads home to his wife (Emily Watson) to await the fruits of his labour. This being a Nick Cave story, said fruits inevitably arrive rotten.

Lucy Tartan has made note of the similarities between this film and Jarmusch’s superlative Dead Man, but I think such an assessment is perhaps unfair. There are a couple of superficial parallels, true - although Lucy is spot-on about the “misanthrope” scene, a piece of dialogue apparently torn wholesale from Jarmusch and shorn of proper context; this is both annoying and bewildering – but elements like the episodic journey through the wilderness, the spear which pierces Pearce close by the heart: these are not the central aspects of the plot, but merely devices by which to drive it slowly forward.

It’s the plot that rules The Proposition; everything hinges on its ineluctable movement from points A to B, and character, script, and subtext are often left floundering in its wake. Stanley’s deal with the reluctant devil lies at the heart of the film, and everything that occurs after can only do so as an expansion on or consequence of that pact. This results in, for many including myself, the film’s greatest problem, as the story bifurcates early, and we are essentially left with two different films pushed to arrive at the same conclusion without ever really intersecting: Charlie’s shoot ‘em up outlaw tale, and Stanley’s psycho/sociological exploration of colonialism. The upshot of this is loose ends and characters whose actions are justified only by the auspices of the plot, and not by internal logic – witness that the cruel, hypocritical Stanley who dreams up the proposition is largely irreconcilable with the stern but just Stanley with whom the audience is asked to sympathise thereafter. The script often appears to reflect this schizophrenic approach as well, and veers between period-piece realism and heavy stylisation, either of which would be fine, but not both.

The great triumph of The Proposition is its cinematography. Here there can be no similarities with Dead Man. In the latter film, the landscape, the camera angles, all are drenched with a slow, elegiac lyricism – entirely appropriate to the subject matter. The Proposition does exactly the opposite, with the Australian landscape presented as a Drysdale painting: stark, severe, wracked and tormented. It is deeply compelling and deeply ugly, shorn of all lyricism and romantic notions. It eats romantic notions for breakfast, in fact, and this is surely the point of the movie. All efforts at civilizing, poeticising, beautifying, quickly evaporate in the heat: the Stanleys' garden, pathetically pretty with its white picket fence a poor shield against the encroaching wasteland, which will come charging violently in before the end; Arthur, crouching on the ridge, mouthing poetry into the great emptiness and decorating his cave with scraps of erudition – and then burning them, in favour of decorating the walls with John Hurt’s spattered blood. Australia is presented as a killer of meaning, turning attempts at civilization into exercises in brutality.

If any direct comparisons can be made, more applicable ones might be to Heart of Darkness or, of course, Apocalypse Now – studies of the horror (if you’ll forgive a particularly bad reference) of colonialism and the imperialistic mindset. The similarity is particularly true when considering Pearce’s sojourn into the wild to find and kill his brother. It is no accident that his character is named Charlie. And it is to Danny Huston’s great credit that he manages to keep his character from becoming Brando-esque, which it so easily could. Instead he plays Arthur as a terrifying yet avuncular figure, apt to switch from jovial bonhomie to murderous rage with lightning speed.

Would that other roles were played so well. Hurt attempts to chew as much scenery as he can fit into a toothy mouth, and knock over everything that he can’t with his flailing arms. And David Wenham... egads. That horse! That accent! That moustache! What was he thinking? Dick Dastardly by way of Little Lord Fauntleroy? Both are normally fine performers, but whether it was their own poor choices as actors or the film trying to beat us over the head with unsubtle subtext, as it does on a regular basis, I’m uncertain.

The other two major criticisms I’ve heard launched at the film are its violence and its use of Aboriginals, but I found neither to be major problems. I have no trouble with the level of violence portrayed – it’s entirely suitable to a colonial society – only in the way it’s meted out. A lot of blood gets spilled, and it’s aesthetically unpleasing. The Proposition takes the gore to splatter film proportions, and while I love splatter films, this shouldn’t have been one. It’s the implied violence that is most effective – it’s not the sight of the flogged boy’s back or the moment when his screams stop, but the buzzing of the flies and the number “38” that had me squirming; not Winstone’s mashed-up mug, but the look on Emily Watson’s face as she listens to the muffled thuds coming from the next room.

As for the film’s portrayal of Aboriginals, I fail to see the problem: no, we don’t see them or their plight much past the middle of the movie, and at the beginning it's all dealt with a bit simplistically; important though this subject is, however, it is not one that the film claims as key. This could easily, like Dead Man, have been a film about race, or about the treatment of women in colonial Australia for that matter, but it couldn’t have dealt with those issues while retaining the same plot – which is, as mentioned, of greater importance to Cave. Instead, and laudably, the film allows for the existence of these concerns, and more than acknowledges them, before going on to play out the consequences of Stanley’s bargain.

The Proposition is, to be fair, a long way from being perfect; that said, it is utterly and refreshingly different from all other recent Australian fare, is mostly well acted, and is fascinating ugly. Go and see it before it closes. All four of you who haven’t already, and bothered to read to the end of this spurious review, bless your little hearts.