Archives: October 2007

31 Oct 2007, Comments Off on Joining the Liberal party: Is it a perversion?

Joining the Liberal party: Is it a perversion?

Author: Helen

My brother rang me last night foaming about a piece he’d seen in the Sunday paper about Pastor Peter Curtis, Federal Liberal candidate for Lalor. That’s Julia Gillard’s seat, so this affable Barney Rubble lookalike hasn’t a hope in hell, pardon the expression, Pastor. My brother’s upset because the northern suburbs are kind of a spiritual home to him, and he’s looking to move back there soon – Preston or Thornbury. [Update: He’s safe, because as a kindly commenter on Road to Surfdom pointed out, the suburb of Lalor and the seat of Lalor are two different pancakes, and the seat of Lalor is a bit further south and to the west. Phew.]

It was interesting to put a face to the name, because he’s a prolific nutter who’s been getting letters published in the AGE letters page year after year, espousing wonderful Christian values like rabid homophobia, returning Australia to its rightful place in the 1950s and hearty Howard-hugging. The first and last item may seem like a contradiction, but this man contains multitudes.

FEDERAL Liberal candidate Pastor Peter Curtis says homosexuality is a perversion and that gay men die from disease at many times the rate of heterosexuals.


Standing for the second time as the Liberals’ candidate in the safe Labor seat of Lalor against Labor’s deputy leader Julia Gillard, Mr Curtis said he was still hoping gays and lesbians would vote for him.

Rightyo. Good luck with that.

But be not smug, heteros; he shall make thy offspring study questionable DVDs from Discovery and crap published by Answers in Genesis, or similar…

He said that, if elected, he would be urging the Liberal Party to introduce intelligent design to state school science classes. Intelligent design is an assertion that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, and not by natural selection.

“I would be very much in favour of intelligent design being taught in public schools,” Mr Curtis said. “Just as the theory of evolution is taught as well — in my view regrettably taught in science classes, because I think it’s a theory and not a science.”

What is it about the no-talent bums the Liberals are putting up in the Labor held seats, my brother moaned. He would like to know whether
(a) that’s all the talent the Liberal party grass roots has to offer
(b) it’s a deliberate insult to the citizens in safe seats who they know are going to vote Labor anyway?

As you can imagine, I could only nod and commiserate with him, but I have no real explanation of the phenomenon, except that Mr Curtis’s candidacy fits the current Liberal love affair with US-style Christian wingnuts, as exemplified by Danny Nalliah, the fun crowd at Hillsong, Tony Abbot’s friend George and of course the Exclusive Brethren.

It may be that a US-style Christian Right may never take off in Australia, but at the moment they’re getting wayyy too much encouragement.
Crossposted at Road to Surfdom

29 Oct 2007, Comments Off on Emma Larkin: Finding George Orwell in Burma

Emma Larkin: Finding George Orwell in Burma

Author: Helen

Emma Larkin is an American journalist and writer who has visited Burma several times since the 1990s. Finding George Orwell in Burma (first published in 2004) is a travelogue of Larkin’s visit there to follow in the footsteps of Orwell, visit the places where he lived and worked, and even find traces of his extended family.

Burma, of course, has been in the news again- I think you know what I’m talking about, and like many other people I felt ignorant of that insular and secretive country. I picked up this book to educate myself a little, and it was a wonderful introduction to Burma – the sights, the smells, the tea shops, the eccentric anglo-Burmese community, the buildings, the resilient and long-suffering people. And of course, the continual presence of the repressive government. Think Stasiland, perhaps a bit slighter and more easily digested.

What has Burma got to do with George Orwell? You might ask, as I did. Quite a lot, as it happens.

From the Prologue:

Orwell had lived in Burma in the 1920s as an officer of the Imperial Police Force. For five years he dressed in khaki jodhpurs and shining black boots. Armed with guns and a sense of moral superiority, the Imperial Police Force patrolled the countryside and kept this far-flung corner of the British Empire in line. Then, suddenly and without warning, he returned to England and handed in his notice. Just as abruptly, he began his career as a writer. Exchanging his real name, ‘Eric Arthur Blair’, for the pen name ‘George Orwell’… Orwell based his first novel, Burmese Days, on his experiences in the Far East, but it was his later novels such as Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four that would turn him into one of the most respected and visionary writers of the twentieth century.
It is a particularly uncanny twist of fate that these three novels effectively tell the story of Burma’s recent history. The link begins with Burmese Days, which chronicles the country’s period under British colonialism. Not long after Burma became independent from Britain in 1948, a military dictator sealed off the country from the outside world, launched ‘The Burmese way to Socialism’, and turned Burma into one of the poorest countries in Asia. The same story is told in Orwell’s Animal Farm, an allegorical tale about a socialist revolution gone wrong in which a group of pigs overthrow the human farmers and run the farm into ruin. Finally, in Nineteen Eighty-Four Orwell’s description of a horrifying and soulless dystopia paints a chillingly accurate picture of Burma today, a country ruled by one of the world’s most brutal and tenacious dictatorships.
In Burma there is a joke that Orwell wrote not just one novel about the country, but three…

From chapter two:

I met one university lecturer who told me she had tried to put Animal Farm on the syllabus for English Literature students, but the authorities had warned her off: the text was just too similar to what was going on in Burma. A few years ago Animal Farm was serialized on the BBC’s Burmese radio service. For weeks afterwards, Tun Lin told me, Mandalay tea shops were abuzz with attempts to match the animal characters to Burma’s own leaders. Could you compare ‘the Lady’, as democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is known, to the exiled porcine revolutionary Snowball? And which pig was General Ne Win? Was he Major, the imperious old pig with a vision who died so suddenly? (Hopefully.) Or was he Napoleon, the grotesque ruler who grew stronger and more deranged each day? (Probably.)

I’m sceptical of her thesis that Orwell’s novels sprang from his Burmese experience, perhaps because I’m blinkered by my own school studies of the novels which were firmly based on the assumption that they’re parables of the Russian and Eastern European experience. After all, Ne Win came to power long after 1945-49, when Animal Farm and 1984 were published. It’s a seductive theory though, and it’s served up with many fascinating conversations, places and people in the cities and countryside of Burma— Larkin always walking a tightrope trying to collect material for her book while not bringing trouble or punishment to the people who are her sources.

I recommend this book highly to people who, like me, might want an introduction to life in that mysterious country.
Crossposted at Road to Surfdom

28 Oct 2007, Comments Off on Not just pretty (type)faces

Not just pretty (type)faces

Author: Helen

Besides entertaining us all with writing, many of my must-read bloggers have started some exciting real-life projects. Here’s some of the things people have been doing.

Ampersand Duck and Crazybrave Zoe have started up a website for Artwranglers. As well as publishing posts on art, artists and exhibitions, Artwranglers does collection management, conservation, valuation, database management, transport and all kinds of useful technical stuff. Zoe is running the blog and Ducky is doing the printed material. Here is something very frightening from the earliest posts on the blog. Oy.

Laura of Sills Bend (and Sarsaparilla) is putting together a Jane Austen and Comedy conference for late November. As a non-academic I was inspired by the idea of going to hear the Germaine Greer lecture. Girlchild and I are going. We’ve got tickets! Way-hey!

I didn’t know that Spiceblog Anthony had a magazine in addition to the blog. The mag is called Spice, of course. A year’s subscription is a mere $30, which would only buy you three Monthly mags.

Link’s cafe is getting off the ground, and the Blairites are turning themselves inside out, logically speaking; The rightwing penchant (in Australia, that is) of valorising the small business as the highest human endeavour – rank sentimentality, as they really prefer big business- has come up against someone whose politics they don’t agree with actually having one. So they’re trying to make a case that this small business isn’t worthwhile, because it’s, you know, a leftie small business, which leads to various hilarious hippy jokes. Hilarious in their lameness, that is. I’ll make sure I drop into Link’s cafe should I ever be doing a leisurely driving tour through NSW (which might be dimly, remotely possible, if I get my arse into gear, which I rarely do.)

Slightly off topic, because not a blogger, but someone who was mentioned on this blog: Mrs Wainwright has released a new CD, Clickety Clack. Genre: Country /pop/folk (including the subgenre which Trish describes as “Celtic Tragedy”. It’s a fine effort from Trish and the boys. (Channelling Ma-sha): You did good, girlfriend. Well done, darlin’.

Who have I missed? Post a comment with a link to your new business startup, artistic project, recording or imminent world domination.

Coming up: an exciting announcement from the Balcony household. It’s SO’s project, and he’ll want a dedicated post.

27 Oct 2007, Comments Off on Acca Dacca is the new Schubert: a Miscellany

Acca Dacca is the new Schubert: a Miscellany

Author: Helen

Last night we were watching the ad for bottled salad dressing in which the main character complains that his grandma makes (eww!) Devilled Kidneys! As opposed to his mum, who makes salads drowned in nasty sugary delicious bottled salad dressing.

Me: “They say that like it’s a bad thing.” ( I have to say I don’t eat liver or kidney much any more, because of thinking too much about how they’re filters for toxins. But I have fond memories of offally deliciousness.)

Boychild: “Mum! You’re so old.

…And Dad’s so old, too. He was playing AC/DC on the car radio yesterday!”


And here I was thinking that the music teachers at his school were so progressive and all, giving them Highway to Hell and TNT to learn for the school concert.

I’m ashamed to say we were watching Friday Night Download, which really was a worthless heap of shit, except for this Japanese potty training clip.

Boychild also disapproves of this weekend’s listening, Mia Dyson’s new CD Struck Down, and I’ll Kill Her, by Soko (thanks to Zarquon at LP.)

Thirdcat is also feeling like a relic of the 80s. Us old farts rock, I say! (and you’re still younger than me, Thirdcat.)

25 Oct 2007, Comments Off on Feminism Failed according to AGE op-ed page (again)

Feminism Failed according to AGE op-ed page (again)

Author: Helen

What a steaming pile of dingoes’ kidneys we found on the opinion page of the AGE today. “Ja’mie [of We can be Heroes and Summer Heights High] is an unintended consequence of feminism.” Because, like, my go-ad, no WAY could she, or any of the other characters in these series, be an overblown caricature!

Image from I can haz cheezburger, of course

Furthermore, there were never any selfish, egotistical, controlling alpha-bitches before twentieth-century feminism. (By now, you can hear the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Thackeray rolling in tears of laughter on their cloud.) Jennifer Sinclair is billed as a lecturer in sociology but she doesn’t offer any hard evidence to back up her thesis that selfish, overprivileged youngsters are worse behaved when they are brought up feminist. That’s probably because she hasn’t got any. Evidence, that is, not youngsters.

She also shows a depresssing (given her academic status) lack of understanding of what feminism is about.

The problem of Ja’mie is not because the wealthier classes and private schools have somehow been shielded from or stubbornly resisted feminist ideals and principles. On the contrary, many private girls schools, in particular, have taken up feminist principles with gusto. Girls are encouraged and trained to be independent, assertive leaders and have instilled in them a conviction that they are able to do and be whatever they want. Ja’mie certainly demonstrates this aspect of feminism — the “I can do whatever I want” aspect — albeit in a mutant form, which makes one wonder if Ja’mie isn’t feminism’s Frankenstein.
Feminism has challenged the idea that women should be quiet, docile and nice.
On that score, Ja’mie could be feminism’s poster girl. The gung-ho “you go girl” kind of feminism that swells the chests of principals of private girls schools when their students outgun the boys at whatever endeavour is on the go is just what the feminist doctor ordered.
The idea that girls should ever take a moment to consider other people in their quest to be and do whatever they want is simply not on the radar.

In her appeal for a “nicer”, more feminine feminism, Sinclair falls right into the trap of saying that the same faults – thoughtless egotism, controlling behaviour, and the rest of the Ja’mie trainwreck – are somehow less acceptable in girls than in their male peers. I’m all for niceness and nurturing qualities, but as second-wave feminism has taught us, it’s a crock to put all the responsibility for nice behaviour on our daughters and to raise them as a civilising influence on the barbaric boys. I’d also point out that schoolchildren (gasp!) are often immature! (It’s true!)

I don’t quite know where Sinclair got the idea that feminism is about riding roughshod over everyone in your path. Feminism is about the idea that women are are fully realised human beings, exactly as men are. That means we are going to get some wonderful, well-behaved specimens, and we are going to get some mediocrities, but the rules of good behaviour apply to men and women equally.

Rather than self-assured, Ja’mie is egotistical and insensitive but in a nastier way than that other famous egotistical and insensitive TV character, David Brent from The Office. Perhaps it has something to do with my age, but for an image of women behaving badly I’m much more attracted to Eddie and Pats of Absolutely Fabulous fame — at least there’s some sign of vulnerability and humanity underneath their self-indulgence and irresponsibility.

And with Brent you’re in no doubt that those around him recognise him for the total loser he is, despite the fact that he is (inexplicably) the manager.

It’s a common practice in tabloids and womens’ glossies to make out that feminism is about women having to be perfect superbeings, either professionally or morally. Actually, that has nothing to do with it, and we would expect better from an academic. Sinclair thinks that Ja’mie is “nastier” than David Brent (another overblown caricature); but she really can’t give a convincing explanation as to why that should be so. Is Ja’mie’s cynical faux-adoption of an African girl, for instance, worse than David’s sadistic game-playing with Dawn, when he tells her as a prank that she’s been sacked for stealing? Is there an Insensitivometer by which we can calibrate their badness, and is Sinclair giving extra weight to Ja’mie’s insensitivity? Who, out of these two fictional characters, has more power over others?

And this:

For the likes of Ja’mie, however, it’s a no-brainer. Along with sugar and spice, a soul seems to have been deleted from the new, improved girl formula.

(Bangs head on desk)- maybe because she’s a cartoon character?…

As a sociologist, refusing to look at any other cultural developments to explain why a privileged white western teenager might have internalised an ideal of ruthless competition and self-actualisation, well… I don’t think Sinclair’s really doing her job.

Ja’mie is only one idiot – and she’s a fictional idiot. I really think this is a flimsy scaffolding to hang your moral panic on. The question I leave you with is: why must the AGE trot out these pieces of strawfeminist bashing every week or two? Was the editor once frightened by a feminist in his pram, or something?

23 Oct 2007, Comments Off on Who do you trust to keep interest rates low?

Who do you trust to keep interest rates low?

Author: Helen

Why, J-Ho, of course! He and Peter Costello have been going on and on and … on about how interest rates are lower than they were under Paul Keating and even if interest rates are going up, well, they’re still lower than they would be in some, well, parallel universe where Labor is governing, and, well, did you know that interest rates are lower than they were under Paul Keating?

I’d got used to this as a kind of background noise while I got on with living, blogging and Howard hating, and it’s such a familiar cornerstone of the whole Liberal edifice, that reading this in the AGE made my brain go sproing:

The HIA-Commonwealth Bank Affordability report shows with house prices surging in the September quarter and higher interest rates, affordability fell by 2.1 per cent, and 8.3 per cent over the year.

First home buyers nationally are now spending 31.7 per cent of their income on mortgage repayments, the highest on record, and Melburnians are spending 30.7 per cent.

But Prime Minister John Howard said the affordability problem had eventuated because the cost of housing had risen sharply in recent years “and it’s risen very sharply because we’ve had very low interest rates and … people have been able to borrow a lot more and buy more expensive houses”.

Wh… whaaaa?… You wha…

So, let me get this straight. The proportion of our incomes going to house repayments is due to … those very same low interest rates you’ve been doing such a great job with?

So, in the Liberalverse, one can simulataneously harp on about the virtues of maintaining low interest rates (although everyone must know by now that the government doesn’t control interest rates any more) and blame the housing affordability crisis on those selfsame interest rates?

This is the same Liberalverse where we need to downgrade our wages (and therefore living standards) to third world levels to “become competitive” with third world economies, so we can, er… maintain our status as a first world country…and where all we need to do to develop our economy is to dig up and cut down more stuff, educate as few people as possible and make as few things as possible. All while foreign debt burgeons and everyone’s in it up to their eyeballs, but apparently that’s not a problem.

Do you see why I have trouble accepting this crowd as the party of responsible economic management?

Crossposted at Road to Surfdom

23 Oct 2007, Comments Off on Whacking Day

Whacking Day

Author: Helen

This is the spider pinata which Boychild and I made for his last birthday party.

It looked even better when its ten ping-pong ball eyes were still in situ.


21 Oct 2007, Comments Off on The evil that men do lives after them, etc.

The evil that men do lives after them, etc.

Author: Helen

Well, well, well. Isn’t this funny!

Not so much the Chaser’s Eulogy, but the reaction to it from mainstream Australia (ACA, Bolta, talkback radio, tabloid newpapers (“Chaser’s war on good taste,” they scream, while publishing an ad banner “Meet SEXY SINGLES through confidential email”; uh-huh), pollies.)

These are the people that think Humourless Feminists™ should just learn to take a joke and that people reporting sexual harassment in the workplace should just lighten up already and stop finger-pointing. These are the same people who would see the concessions made to aboriginal culture with regard to portrayal of the dead on ABC TV as being politically correct. They’re the ones who say that complaints about unfair or hateful portrayal of racial minorities in cartoon or other form is a denial of their freedom of speech and a transgression of Enlightenment values, plus, that useful catch-all epithet again, politically correct. And Howard was the one who dismissed the KKK-costumed antics of the ADF as merely a bit of high-spirited boyish fun.

Then the Chaser goes and sings a rude song about rich, powerful white dudes and dudesses, and look at the uproar.

And oh, irony on top of irony, that the song is performed by a guy called Hansen, while it was a politician called Hanson who goaded that same audience into a lather of resentment towards politically correct elites and upheld the “right” of white Australians to hate and persecute people of other cultures.

This really demonstrates the fact that the white, heterosexual “majority” in countries like Australia, UK and US are blind to their privilege. How many times have you heard someone huff, “Well, you just can’t say anything any more!” but treat dead white people with disrespect, and listen to the howls of outrage.

Readers from outside Australia should click on the Youtube link – you may not recognise some of the names, but it’s still pretty funny. More discussion on Larvatus Prodeo. Pavlov’s Cat has more to say too.
Crossposted at Road to Surfdom

20 Oct 2007, Comments Off on Ride to Work Day

Ride to Work Day

Author: Helen

It was time. I’d been meaning to return to riding to work after a hiatus of a decade or more, but acting on that intention kept getting pushed back. One reason is my tendency not to have much money to spend just on myself once the family budget has eaten my salary (Two children and two orthodontists to support). The other was simply fear.

The 17th was Ride to Work day, so I made that my Return to the Bike day, although it felt a bit lame. Fancy someone from the Netherlands or Beijing thinking they should get a special breakfast put on for them simply for riding their bike to work. Still, it helped set a drop-dead deadline.

I found my bike at a garage sale for $80. It was a hybrid, probably at least a decade old, and without a visible brand. It looked as if it had been a good bike in its day, and the frame was properly made with cut-outs at the joins instead of the ugly blobs of weld metal which pass for bike frame construction these days. The gears and other bits were all good. I took it to the bike shop to be refurbished, expecting that shop person thing: “It’ll cost yer more to replace all this stuff than to buy a new bike. Now, we just happen to have one here…” But the bike shop guy had a good attitude. “I thought you’d try and talk me into buying a new one,” I said. “No, it came up nice,” he said. There wasn’t as much wear in the moving parts as I’d assumed there would be, so he didn’t have to replace expensive things like cranks and gear derailleurs.

No, the problem was me.

It wasn’t always thus. When I was in my early twenties, my boyfriend was a hardcore road bike enthusiast, and during our two year relationship I was always supplied with the very latest in unobtainium frames, feather-light gears and up-to-the minute wonders like cotterless cranks (gasp!) In those bygone days, I had the advantage of the twentysomething delusion of immortality which allowed me to ride properly and assertively in traffic without losing my nerve completely. Of course, the car and truck traffic has increased since then. But I was fast and relatively fearless. I’d even ride the two-lane blacktop to Warrandyte, Kinglake, and up to central Victoria – Mansfield. Toolangi and other lovely places.

An unscheduled meeting between the road and me, resulting in quite a lot of damage and medical expenses, wasn’t the only thing that drove me from the bike. The other was learning to play kit drums. The station wagon and panel van inevitably took over the bike as I entered a decade or two of lugging large amounts of equipment around. This meant that as someone who previously hadn’t owned a car, and really had biked everywhere, I got to experience the road from the point of view of a driver.

And holy crap, it scared the living daylights out of me.

Off-road bike paths are fantastic, but those so-called “bike paths” (bike lanes) which are painted onto an existing road next to lines of parked cars: no thanks. I’ve lost my nerve. I don’t remember being doored back in the 1970s, but for now I fear being doored more than I fear being knocked off by a passing car. If that happens, I might get away with merely being flung into the gutter and injured. If I cop someone’s opening door at a 45 degree angle, I’ll be horribly injured and my teeth knocked out and then I’ll be flung sideways into the traffic to incur who knows what additional horrors. It helps not to have an imagination, but articles like these show I’m not just being a worry wart.

And of course, there’s always encounters with dangerous animals.

So, this was my experience of Ride to Work day:

The actual riding part: wonderful. And I wasn’t as slow and unfit as I’d expected to be.

The fearing for my life every minute part: Not so wonderful.

Conclusion: I’ll be fine riding as far as my nearest hub station and catch the train the rest of the way – train times permitting (they’re too packed to do this from seven to nine in the morning, so I can’t do this most days when I have to be in early). Riding the rest of the way through the inner suburbs and CBD: Nyet. When the council and/or the RTA get around to properly separating bicycles and other traffic, then I’ll consider it. Otherwise, it’s too much of a near-death experience for me.

Big kudos to Cileo, Suz and David who do this scary traffic dance every day.

Boynton has a post on Ride to Work day, with a link to this intriguing image – Young Ladies in my suburb, before the cars and trucks took over.

15 Oct 2007, Comments Off on My Aristocratic Title

My Aristocratic Title

Author: Helen
My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Venerable Lady Helen the Convincing of Lower Wombleshire
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Hey, what’s peculiar about that?

Via Ron Sullivan.