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.

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.


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.


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

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

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

Best Australian Personal Blog

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!


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 clich├ęs 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?