Sunday, May 29, 2005

Free Schappelle!

A syrupy protest song to the tune of Michael Jackson's "Heal the World"

There's a place in the north
We all know it's name well
Used to be a paradise
But now it's more like hell
The police and judiciary are corrupt
They'll throw you in a cell
Especially if you're an attractive beauty therapist
Like our poor Schappelle

There are ways to help her
If you care enough for the good-looking
Make a little space
For such a pretty face!

[chest-pumping chorus]

Free Schappelle!
Get her outta that place
Far away from Bali
And the entire Indo race
She's a foxy white girl
Falsely convicted and jailed
Let's bring her home
Schappe-elle Corby

There are things you can do
To support Schappelle's appeal
Ask Red Cross for your donation back
Take away some poor Indo's meal
Ring up a radio station
And say "Hey, what's the deal?"
And generalise using racial epithets
About "those monkey people who can't feel"

Sometimes it feels that self-rightous fury's
The only way to get things done
And make a little space
For such a pretty face!

Free Schappelle!
Get her outta that place
Far away from Bali
And the entire Indo race
She's a foxy white girl
Falsely convicted and jailed
Let's bring her home
Schappe-elle Corby

[embarrassing hip-hop interlude]

Yo Australia
Let's make some noise
Wanna hear some racket
From you girls and boys
Sure we're hypocritical
When we say
No to Corby's verdict
While Hicks rots in G Bay
Protesting and complaining
About lost innocence
When we vote for locking reffoes
Behind a barbed wire fence
But never mind consistency
Never mind you might be wrong
Just get up on your soap-box
And let the media string you along

[seemless segue back to emotion-charged chorus featuring a massed choir of b-grade singers and minor celebrities]

Free Schappelle!
Get her outta that place
Far away from Bali
And the entire Indo race
She's a foxy young white girl
Falsely convicted and jailed
Let's bring her home
Schappe-elle Corby

UPDATE: Nic White has an excellent round-up of the media/public response to the Corby verdict. You can't sing it, but it makes for amusing/terrifying reading. Nic also received hate mail as a result of an earlier post on the subject. Some people have all the luck!

Friday, May 27, 2005

This Is An Ex-Parrot

A couple of months ago, I attempted to start an mp3 blog. After a couple of days, the publish function stopped working, the template went all funny, and in my rage I trashed the whole idea. It was probably for the best, as mp3 blogs are a dime a dozen, most of them are crap, and mine didn't really look like it was going to be much of an improvement on the average. Still, my desire to illegally post copyrighted material has not ebbed, so I am pleased to present my first, and possibly last, pointless mp3 post!

(Mp3s can be downloaded by left-clicking the link (or opening in a new window/tab), then clicking the "Kostenlos" button, then the "1hr Download Link". It is quite possible that this site will swear at you in German, and equally possible that you will swear back in whatever language you feel most comfortable with.)

Today I'm taking a look at novelty songs. Now, the history of popular music is riddled with novelty hits, from "Louie Louie" to the Beatle's "Her Majesty" to the collected works of Weird Al Yankovic. Some musicians - Frank Zappa being the obvious example - used their novelty-hit-making skills to finance more serious work, while for others the novelty song is both means and end. The novelty song takes many forms, and can stem as easily from a band's desire to record something light-hearted for a change (e.g. Anthrax's "I Am The Man") as from a band's desire to make shitload of dosh with an annoying, yet inexplicably popular, ditty (e.g. Weatus' much-maligned "Teenage Dirtbag").

What is more interesting, however, is when a band's entire raison d'etre is a novelty. For example, when a friend who lives in England told me of a death metal band fronted by a parrot, I was inclined to suspect he was pulling my leg. However, Hatebeak are very much a real band, and their lead singer Waldo is very much a real parrot. Some of Hatebeak's best work can be heard on "God of Empty Nest". It's fucking awful, but worth hearing. Sort of.

Slightly more appealing is MC Hawking, a rapper/producer purporting to be the wheelchair-bound scientist Stephen Hawking, complete with speech synthesiser. The joke gets tired fairly quickly, but "Fuck the Creationists" is a pretty cool tune, expressing an admirable sentiment to boot.

It's tough for new metal bands to find a gap in the market. Grind-core, jazz-core, math-metal, and now death-parrot - the sub-genres are many, but original ideas few. A burgeoning trend in the Scandinavian metal scene is so-called troll-metal, which takes the traditional fast-paced riffing of death and mixes it with horns and oompa rhythms to create something that sounds like a Satanic hoe-down in Middle Earth. Finland's Finntroll are one of the best-known exponents of this particular style, which is to say that they're not actually very well known at all. Their songs are a little bit folky, a little bit piratey, and a lot bit growly, and they all sound much the same so here's "Forsvinn Du Som Lyser" for your listening pleasure.

Finally, BS 2000 was a side-project of Beastie Boy Ad Rock and former Suicidal Tendencies member Amery Smith. Their first album was a limited edition vinyl release and is quite hard to find, but their second (or "sophomore", as music critics like to say) album is readily available, and not a bad buy if you're after some quirky keyboard-punk ditties. Several tracks achieve novelty status, but none more so than "Wait a Minute" which recounts that infamous day when Fabio, the World's Sexiest Man, was struck in the face by a bird while riding a rollercoaster. It takes a certain genius to use such an incident as the subject for a novelty song, and for that, BS 2000, I salute you.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Are You The Next Washed Up Member Of A Formerly Popular Band?

Following the announcement that INXS will use a new reality show to find a replacement for the late Michael Hutchence, it has been revealed that a second reality show will seek to replace the rest of the band as well.

"Michael's brooding, faux-Jim Morrison schtick was really all we had going for us," INXS saxophonist Kirk Pengilly told Sterne over coffee in his run-down shack on Sydney's North Shore. "We've tried to keep up the charade that we're still a vital, creative unit, but frankly it's getting a little old. However, that doesn't mean we don't want to keep making money out of it."

Pengilly, who recently featured in the documentary film The 1980s: The Decade That Destroyed The Saxaphone As A Means Of Artistic Expression, says that the new show will be a combination of Big Brother-style reality and American Idol talent quest.

"The idea is to set up franchises - an American INXS, an Australian INXS, a Japanese INXS. Let somebody else play our unique brand of dull, pub-cum-stadium rock for a change. And let's face it, we're a pretty colourless, personality-free bunch, so replacing us isn't going to be too hard.

"What is really important is to re-establish INXS as a brand, just getting the name out there. We've already had in excess of twenty people audition, and I'd say the average level of talent is in excess of our expectations. How's your coffee? Is its temperature in excess of your tolerance?"

Pengilly, who vehemently denies once being married to Deni Hines, said the rest of the band were one hundred percent behind the project.

"Since Michael's death, we've all despaired on occasion. I mean, if we couldn't make a go of it with Jon Stevens or Terence Trent D'Arby, what hope is there? But I believe that by selling our last vestiges of credibility and joining the desperate world of has-been reality TV we are sowing the seeds of our future success while truly honouring Michael's legacy."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Blogging Big Brother

As an elitist wanker, I don't actually watch Big Brother. In fact, I once punched somebody in the face who said those two words in sentence. And she - it was my grandmother - wasn't even talking about the TV show. Anyway, all prejudice aside, Big Brother is nothing more than a sick piece of quasi-pornographic humiliation television, and I spit on each and every one of you who watches it.

Having said this, it may come as a surprise that I'm quite fond of Blogging Big Brother. The reason is quite simple: I'm in it. Ms Cynic has thrown me into the "house" with a bunch of other bloggers and is asking you - yes you, the Australian public - to vote us out. At the time of writing I am yet to receive a single vote. This could be because my blog is the least popular of the twelve, but I like to think it's because people are so scared of my rapier wit that they dare not cast their vote for me. Or it could be just to keep me around in order to ensure future humiliation.

If you feel inclined to do so, head on over and vote. But not for me.

UPDATE: Only hours in, and Lefty is already "playing the game", moaning about how he never got picked for anything at school so that people will feel sorry for him. While I sympathise, it's nothing compared to my own case. I never even got to go to school, instead spending my childhood working first in a blacking factory and later as an attendant on the Vomitron, the throw-upingest ride at Luna Park. Because of this, I never had any friends, and still struggle socially, and - I'm not ashamed to admit I have tears in my eyes as I type this - being in the Blogging Big Brother house is the first time I've ever felt part of something, you know? And do you know what happens to people who deliberately ostracise outcasts like myself? If you don't, watch Carrie sometime - you'll get the picture.

More Than A Weatherwoman To Me

Night comes early at this time of year, bringing loneliness and depression. No sooner have I extricated myself from my twisted, sweat-stained sheets, wiped the vomit stains from my chin and cracked open a stubby than the cruel, white disc of the sun sinks beyond the horizon and it is time for The Price Is Right. There is nothing to do but sit in my chair listening to the inane staccato of the theme song, smoking filterless Malboros, peering through the haze at my ever-retreating prospects of happiness.

Then, just as I'm reaching for a bottle of vodka and a copy of Finally Legal, a shaft of light illuminates the gloom. I fall to my knees, arms raised in ecstacy, as a sensibly-dressed goddess manifests before me. It is 6:25 p.m., and Livinia Nixon is about to present the National Nine News weather report.

This is my little dawn, a brief moment of sunshine before darkness closes in on me like a pack of knife-wielding werewolves in the carpark of a deserted 7-11. Livinia! - prinked and perky, dainty fingers tracing isobars like veins, soft lips mouthing forecasts, of cold fronts and possible showers and probable heart-break. Oh, my sweet, angelic former co-host of Hey Hey It's Saturday! If only you knew how much I desire you, how much my body trembles at the touch of the hand I have shaved and manicured and nail-painted and christened Livvy in your honour!

Please don't think me sick or perverted. This is a pure love, one that has been developing ever since you first graced Australian TV on those Malteser commercials. I had fantasies - oh, this is silly, but I've confessed so much already! - fantasies of metamorphosing into a Malteser. You would slip me into your mouth and I would melt into you. Can you imagine it, Livinia? Then I would open your sweet petals, and...well, a gentleman thrives on mystery, so I will leave the rest to your imagination.

I have stayed true, Livinia, even when you were running around with Lord Mayor John So. I knew it wouldn't last. All that talk about this "gwik city" could never to impress a woman like you. Now I hear you are going to co-host the new Sale of the Century. Well, if you're selling, Livinia, I'm buying - buying up big for the winter. There's a lot of lonely nights to fill, but with you on the screen and Livvy in my lap things aren't quite so bad.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Musical Baton

Passed to me by Ladycracker.

Total volume of music files on my computer:

15000 songs (most of which are ripped from my own CDs, not downloaded, although I'm not sure if that sounds more or less geeky)

Song playing right now:

Black Napkins - Frank Zappa (Make a Jazz Noise Here)

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me:

Pyramid Song - Radiohead (Amnesiac)
Hat and Beard - Eric Dolphy (Out to Lunch)
Stereo Sanctity - Sonic Youth (Sister)
How Soon Is Now? - The Smiths (Meat Is Murder)
Narc - Interpol (Antics)

Three people I'm throwing the baton to:

Le Driver
Binnsy
Ms Cynic

Monday, May 23, 2005

Communication Breakdown

We need to talk. I've been doing a lot of thinking, and have concluded that our relationship is not working out. There are serious communication problems. You never ask me what I think, or what I feel. It's like my opinion doesn't count. That's why I've taken up with somebody who is interested in my views. Yes, it's true - I'm with Channel Nine, now.

Things came to a head last week when I wanted to go to the filming of Nine's Schapelle's Nightmare: The Untold Story and give my judgment on the case. You said something like, "It's not up to us to decide, we aren't in possession of all the facts, and participating in this sort of populist, justice-as-entertainment bullshit demeans Corby and may even jeopardise her case." You're always such a downer about this sort of thing, with your ethics and "let's get our facts straight" and "what do we know?" and so on. For Christ's sake, it's not about knowing! If people had to know about every subject they voiced an opinion on, there'd be nothing to talk about. So because of your negativity, I missed out on my chance to influence the worm. Do you know what that would have meant to me? More than you can possibly imagine!

I'd had enough. I started visiting ninemsn and participating in their daily polls. You're not expected to weigh up evidence, or debate ethics or law, or any of that silly stuff. You just have to give an opinion. For instance, today's question is, "Will Schapelle Corby's letter to the Indonesian PM assist her case?" I voted yes, because I think her true-blue honesty will shine through, and if she's enclosed a photo then she'll have doubled her chances. She's a very attractive young woman, you know.

The point is that Nine doesn't expect me to engage in rational debate. Nine holds my every reaction dear, the more knee-jerk and ill-considered the better. Nine wants my opinion on questions like "Do you believe drug use is 'commonplace' among football players?" even though any answer I give will be, at best, an uneducated guess. That's the kind of trust that comes with true love. You are always doubting, always asking questions, wanting more evidence. Well, I'm with Channel Nine now, so I don't have to worry about any of that stuff anymore.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Four 'n' Twenty Pies Ad: The Rejected Script

Scene: A suburban street, one p.m. Two overall-clad men are sitting in the cabin of their truck, eating Four 'n' Twenty Pies. Through the window of a nearby restaurant, the workmen are watching a couple of businessmen eat a fancy meal. The stage is set for some good ol' culinary class warfare.

Workman 1 (nodding in the direction of the restaurant): Do ya reckon those blokes know what they're missing.

Workman 2 (wiping tomato sauce from his lip with his sleeve): They wouldn't have a bloody clue.

W1: Yeah, they're sitting there in their imported suits eating that expensive meal, prepared by a trained chef from the finest ingredients, served with what looks like a particularly fine white wine by obsequious waiters who desire nothing more than the complete satisfaction of each and every diner and are willing to do anything, up to and including oral sex, to make that happen. I mean, call that living?

W2: Not in my book, cobber.

W1: Meanwhile, we're sitting out here, tucking into these revolting pastry shells filled with preservatives and offal, smothered with tomato sauce in a desperate bid to make them palatable, pausing every few seconds to swig from plastic bottles of Coke to wash the taste of pig intestine from our mouths.

W2: Wouldn't be dead for quids!

W1: And don't you just love the subtext of this little tableau: that there is something inherently honourable about being an average Joe with no real hopes or dreams, not merely content with his lot, but openly disparaging of those who have, or desire, more from life?

W2: Didja see the footy on the weekend? Cor, bloody good stuff!

W1: Not to mention the irony that this campaign was probably created by some guys in suits not dissimilar to the objects of our proud scorn, who look like they're moving onto dessert and another bottle of plonk, the bastards.

W2: Ya want a Choc Wedge from the milk bar or sumfin?

W1: It's all part of being an "ordinary Australian". You not only watch shitty tv shows, listen to predictable radio stations, and vote for terrible governments, you are goaded into being proud of it! Your largely self-imposed limitations become virtues and there is little need to look beyond your own prejudices for guidance.

W2: Fwoar! Check the tits on her!

W1: It makes living in Australia feel pretty futile, sometimes.

W2 (finishes his pie, belches loudly): Too right - best country in the world, mate!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Academic Gets Medieval On Civilisation's Ass

Legal ethics expert Professor Phillip Shard has generated widespread controversy with his recent paper Forward To The Fourteenth Century, in which he argues for a return to the "values and systems of a better time".

Perhaps the most contoversial of Professor Shard's recommendations is that torture be made legally available for use against suspected terrorists and criminals. Professor Shard has been quick to point out that any such methods would be strictly controlled.

"I envision harm-minimising, pain-maximising techniques such as needles under the fingernails, or the rack. Torture would be reserved only for suspected wrong-doers. If you've done nothing wrong, you would obviously have nothing to fear."

Forward To The Fourteenth Century, the details of which were revealed to Professor Shard in the entrails of a chicken, outlines an extensive programme of reform, including a return to the feudal system, institutionalised slavery, compulsory church attendance, and the prohibition of all musical instruments save the lute.

"Sure, we have gained a lot through the rational, scientific approach of the past few hundred years, but what have we lost? The Middle Ages had stained-glass windows, buxom wenches and dragons; we've got a spherical earth, Britney Spears and Ricky Ponting. Somehow, the latter just doesn't do it for me."

Critics have lambasted Professor Shard's paper, calling it "unworkable" and "irresponsible". Professor Shard, however, remains adamant that it is time to wind back the clock.

"I'm surprised at all the fuss, especially regarding torture. It's not like I'm suggesting we threaten people with death or anything, just the physically and psychologically debilitating application of extreme pain. Some people would pay good money for that.

"Anyway, look around you: crime, terrorism, single mothers running rampant. Surely it is obvious to any thinking person that only by completely undermining the foundations of our civilisation will we be able to save it."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Mary Shelley

I don't know about you, but whenever I've made a dramatized documentary about historical figures whose appearance is reasonably well known, I've tried to hire actors who vaguely resemble the people they are portraying. Not so the producers of the Mary Shelley doco, Frankenstein: Birth Of A Monster, which the ABC aired on Sunday night. Ok, Lucy Davenport made a good, if prettified, Mary, but the male casting was terrible. The guy playing Byron was more Jerry Seinfeld than George Gordon; meanwhile, Oliver Cris had obviously decided to portray Percy Shelley as he might have looked after a few too many nights down at Smorgy's. Worse, the fact that P.B. Shelley was something of a cad seemed of far greater interest to the producers than the fact that he was also a brilliant poet and thinker! And although the show was obviously intended to boost Mary Shelley's reputation, it barely mentioned her other five novels, making Frankenstein seem like a fluke product of a young woman's overactive imagination, rather than the work of the genuinely gifted writer she was.

Monday, May 16, 2005

A Pointless List

Or: The last 11 songs played at random by my portable mp3 player which, for the sake of conformity, I'll call an iPod.

I Need Somebody
- The Stooges
Sweet and Tender Hooligan - The Smiths
The City Sleeps - MC 900 ft. Jesus
Coffee and TV - Blur
Constant Velocity Is As Natural As Being At Rest - Candiria
New World Water - Mos Def
The Wrong Way - TV On The Radio
Ken (Mother Nature's Son) - You Am I
Gotta Kill Captain Stupid - Suicidal Tendencies
Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs - The Minutemen
Should Have Done What My Mum Always Told Me To - Spiderbait

Friday, May 13, 2005

Nerd Corner

A round-up of recent computer games

I've never been attracted to first-person-shooters, but Bloomsbury Soft's recently released Virginia Woolfenstein 3D may well convert me. The player is cast as William "Face Cutter" Ford, a young social realist writer, whose progress through the 1920s London literary scene is hampered by a constant stream of "Georgian" writers and critics, whom he must dispatch using a range of weaponry, including barbed put-downs and bazookas. So far I have been unable to get past the third level boss - a giant E.M. Forster with laser beam eyes and chainsaw arms - but I hear that the final showdown with Woolf in the middle of a river is a brilliant piece of game design.

Unfortunately, the latest Sim City game, Sim City: 12000 BC, is something of a letdown. Once you've managed to erect a few makeshift tents, fashion some crude stone tools and got everybody rugged up in animal skins, there's little left to do but watch the cavemen mate. Rumour has it, however, that an extension pack enabling the invention of the wheel will be released around Christmas, which should provide some extra value.

Another disappointment is Final Fantasy LXXXVIII: Uh, Where Were We?, released last week to almost universal derision. While the graphics and sound are of a fairly high standard, gameplay is dull and aimless. The central quest involves searching a giant, sparsely-populated world for the lost plot threads of the previous fifty-seven Final Fantasy games, for what purpose we are never really told, although one suspects it is merely to enable programmers to begin work on installment fifty-nine.

One game that has really got me hooked is Vetris, the latest update of the classic Tetris formula. In Vetris, various organs descend from the top of the screen which the player must manipulate in order to fit them back into the animal waiting anaesthetized on the table at the bottom of the screen. As with the original, Vetris' simplicity belies its addictiveness - trying to cram all four stomachs into the cow on level six is a challenge to rank with any in gaming history!

Forthcoming releases:

Tom Clancy's Babysitter's Club
Resident Evil: Neighbourhood Watch Meeting of Doom
Grand Theft Auto Box Hill
Turok IX: Dinosaur Skeleton Reassembler

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

1000 Hits and Other Bits

I am pleased to see the counter for this blog has hit 1000, just under four months since my first post. It is gratifying that so many people have bothered to have a look at my writing, and I hope visitor numbers continue to increase. Thanks are due in particular to those folks kind enough to link to Sterne from their own blogs. I'm doing my best to return the favour, but if I've failed to do so in any case, please let me know.

I have just spent a very busy weekend in Sydney, where much beer and food was consumed, and conversations about rugby avoided. Unbeknownst to me, I was staying just down the road from the RSL where a number of bloggers gathered on Saturday night. What a coincidence! Well, not really.

Not sure how often I will be posting in the next couple of weeks as uni work is beginning to bite. I'll try to keep to my usual schedule of every two or three days, but whether I can do it remains to be seen. Anyway, this has been a bit of a bullshit post, so I'll just sort of trail off now...

Friday, May 06, 2005

Friday Five #2

For no other reason than I'm flying to Sydney in few hours and I need to write something to calm my nerves, here are five authors I enjoy. Readers are invited to leave a comment with their own suggestions.

Richard Dawkins

A genuinely accessible yet challenging science writer, Dawkins shares with the likes of Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould a concern not only for science itself, but for society in general. Over the past thirty years, Dawkins has outlined a highly persuasive theory of evolution, while simultaneously defending science from the superstition and religious fundamentalism that seeks to undermine and distort it.

Martin Amis

The most brilliant English novelist of the past thirty years, and he's up there as a critic, too. Best books: The Rachel Papers, Money, London Fields, The War Against Cliche, Experience.

Christina Stead

Unjustly neglected Australian-born author, best known for The Man Who Loved Children, although the only book of hers I've read so far is The Salzburg Tales. It's essentially a collection of short stories, framed by the Decameron-esque technique of having each tale related by one of a group of Salzburg Festival attendees. Many of the stories are fantastic or simply odd, and Stead's dense, descriptive prose suits the mood well.

William Hazlitt (with a doff of the hat to Ladycracker)

A grumpy old man even in his youth, Hazlitt had an impressive range, his essays covering everything from the Lake poets (with whom he was on familiar, if not always cordial terms), to painting, politics (he was a staunch Bonepartist), and general reportage. Best of all, in contrast to many 19th century essayists, he remains a highly enjoyable read, in the vein of an angry, radical Montaigne.

John Mortimer

Defense attorney Horace Rumpole is one of the most endearing comic characters of recent decades. The tv series was before my time, but if it was anything like the books I'd love to see it. The Rumpole series is one of the greatest pick-me-ups devised by man, and from what I've heard, Mortimer's non-Rumpole work is almost as good.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Gooogle Madness

The extra "o" is for "obviously running low on ideas"

Like most bloggers with visitor counters, I frequently find myself baffled by the Google searches that have directed people to my site. While "on bullshit" or "alcoholic flush" or even the strangely specific "anemic vegetarian girlfriend jokes" (do the jokes have to reference both anemia and vegetarianism, or is either suitable?) are conceivably things that a normal (or not-too-abnormal) person might type into a search engine, some requests are downright disturbing.

Take "boy's winkie", for example. It's difficult not to draw certain conclusions about the person who performed that particular search. Likewise the individual who desired "plastic sexual gasping suffocate". Methinks that, although directed to Sterne by Google, bookish satire and geek humour was not exactly what this person was after.

"masturbation advice homemade or diy" directed one horny Googler to this story, where I trust his or her onanistic dreams were realised. The man (for only a man could think of this phrase) searching for "vaginal inebriation" would have been disappointed, however. Just what "vaginal inebriation" is, I have no idea. Any guesses?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Philosophy For Dummies

What is philosophy? Stanley Doubty, in his new book Think: A Biography of Western Philosophy, defines his subject thus: "Philosophy is concerned with certain fundamental questions. What can we know? How do we come to know it? What, if any, ethical or scientific consequences does the acquisition of this knowledge have? And, perhaps most fundamental of all, who is going to pay me for finding out all this stuff?" Given its breadth and complexity, philosophy can be daunting to the layperson, yet there is evidence of a widespread interest in the subject. Professor's Doubty's book is intended to provide a plain English overview of Western philosophical thought, with the subsidiary aim, the author notes, of "perhaps inspiring a few readers to take up what Socrates famously called 'la vida loca' of a philosopher".

Doubty, whose previous books include Hume & Rousseau: A Love Story and Erasmus: A Spazmus?, begins his exposition with "the ancient progenitors of Western civilisation", the Greeks - "a disparate people, united only by a desire to fight one another while shirtless". After a brief discussion of the pre-Socratics, including the little-known Ananamanader of Crete who maintained that the primary substance of the universe was prunes, Doubty moves onto Greece's Golden Age, where he allows his formidible intellect full reign. Doubty is alive to the contradictions of Socrates' personality ("contrarian and conservative, moral lighthouse and boy-buggerer") and his elucidation of Plato's philosophy is second-to-none. "Plato believed mankind had been born in a cave. Philosophy, he wrote, is the box of waterproof matches that ignites the campfire of intelligence that boils the kettle of knowledge in which the noodles of truth are cooked."

Having established the Greeks at the centre of Western thought, Doubty ranges freely over the following two and a half thousand years. While his analysis is consistently strong throughout, I found his chapter on Descartes to the be of a particularly high standard. Descartes, Doubty writes, "discovered modern philosophy inside a mechanical dog. (This was later denied, but not refuted, by Voltaire.) His chief insight was that God can be perceived as a piece of wax, and his most famous formula - cogito ergo sum - continues to have enormous influence amongst those with access to Latin dictionaries."

Doubty is not afraid to simplify when necessary, but he takes pains to retain the kernel of a philosopher's thought. For example, his chapter on Kant is comprised of one sentence - "Kant was an old man who liked going for walks" - but in context it reveals an acute knowledge of the Kantian system. Likewise, Doubty's description of Hegel as "really, really difficult to understand, and probably not even worth reading" recalls Bertrand Russell's similarly frank dismissal of Nietzsche as "a cranky Kraut with more facial hair than sense". The traditional British disdain for Continental thought has, it seems, a new champion in Professor Doubty.

Think: A Biography of Western Philosophy is an informative, challending and often exhilerating read, and I recommend it wholeheartedly to anybody who is curious about its subject. We can only hope that Professor Doubty and others like him continue to explicate this most interesting of subjects in a manner accessible to the common man or woman. For as Francis Bacon said, "In vino veritas". Professor Doubty, I am certain, would be the first to agree.

Monday, May 02, 2005

101 Things To Do Before You Die

1. French kiss the inside of your elbow
2. Clock Super Mario 64
3. Attend the opening of a supermarket
4. Perfect your ironing technique
5. Learn to order McDonald's in Esperanto
6. Stay up until midnight
7. Start writing a novel, then give up a few thousand words in
8. Send a message in a bottle and get fined for littering
9. Stalk a celebrity
10. Learn to hula
11. Read the Cliff's Notes for War and Peace
12. Build a garage out of cardboard boxes
13. Train a dog to hunt slugs
14. Go to Walden Pond and throw your copy of Thoreau at a duck
15. Use the words "Jean-Luc Goddard" in a conversation
16. Spend a night in the gutter
17. Learn to play Go Fish
18. Spackle something
19. Shave your genitals
20. Spend Christmas Day vandalising church nativity scenes
21. Change your name to Kimberly
22. Buy a sensible car
23. Give to charity
24. Make sure everybody knows you give to charity
25. Pash the Blarney Stone
26. Fart in a dog's face
27. Grow a double chin
28. Wear a hat with a pompom
29. Tell a random stranger they have a pubic hair between their teeth
30. Throw a huge party to which nobody is invited
31. Host a parasite
32. See the Eiffel Tower on a postcard
33. Enjoy an episode of Golden Girls
34. Spy for the Russians
35. Heckle a bus driver
36. Watch a documentary about the Sahara
37. Misquote Shakespeare
38. Compliment somebody on their facial warts
39. Invent false etymologies for six common words
40. Spit on a newsreader
41. Pretend to care who shot JFK
42. Brew your own beer
43. Pour your own beer down sink
44. Spend a weekend in Albury-Wodonga
45. Write a poem about yeast infections
46. Arbitrarily boycott consumer items and claim to have principles
47. Come out of the closet and hit somebody in the eye
48. Burn a witch
49. Record an ultra-low-fi album on a dictaphone
50. Keep a detailed record of your bowel movements
51. Go skinny-dipping in a pool of radioactive waste
52. Exaggerate your Trivial Pursuit prowess
53. Attend a wife-swapping party without bringing a wife
54. Drive a ride-on lawn mower
55. Mispronounce the word "library"
56. Seduce an inanimate object
57. Start an unpopular cult
58. Pierce your eyeball
59. Buy a qualification from a dodgy online university
60. Travel back in time, kill your infant self
61. Neglect your aging parents
62. Learn how to use an obsolete piece of technology
63. Pine for the good old days
64. Be condescending towards an ethnic group
65. Like a band's old stuff better than their new stuff
66. Write a letter-to-the-editor beginning, "Why oh why..."
67. Compare a loved-one's head to an artichoke
68. Put out a match on your tongue
69. Snigger at the number 69
70. Use the phrase "know what I mean?" while waggling your eyebrows suggestively
71. Utter nothing but the word "fist" for an entire day
72. Develop a fetish involving bazookas
73. Think Shannon Noll is "all right"
74. Bash somebody with a stocking full of Ninja Turtle figurines
75. Make out with your conjoined twin
76. Write something witty in the dirt on your car's rear window
77. Develop pelvic floor muscles of steel
78. Enter a house in winter and say, "Brrrrrr!"
79. Fill out your tax return using Egyptian hieroglyphics
80. Quit smoking and take up self-righteous posturing
81. Pretend to be possessed by the spirit of Emily Bronte
82. Know nothing about art, not even what you like
83. Spend your life savings on mixed lollies
84. Worry inordinately about leaves getting into your house's gutters
85. Vote for somebody who lies to you
86. Be delighted, yet provoked, by the whimsy of Michael Leunig
87. Perform stand-up comedy on a tram
88. Take Andrea Bocelli seriously
89. Bake a file with a cake in it
90. Plait your eyebrows
91. Defend your right to own a gun by shooting somebody
92. Clean that weird stain off the couch
93. Use the words "doof doof" to describe dance music
94. Learn to paint shitty watercolour landscapes
95. Become gripped by existential dread
96. Develop incredibly elastic jowls
97. Learn to pilot a tugboat
98. Use your stomach as a stable table
99. Get really fucking sick of writing a "101 Things To Do Before You Die" list
100. Fail to complete tiresome tasks, no matter how close you are to the end