Saturday, November 20, 2004

This Time, It's Official

Gone for Good.

Well, that's short, sharp, to the point, and up to the usual standards of accuracy around here. But it is time I took an extended and official break from blogging.

I admit the timing's crap, for two reasons. Anyone who's feeling a little bummed out at Chris Sheil's recent departure from the 'sphere has just been handed another bummer. It's not exactly the best way to respond to all the encouragement and compliments I got on Thursday night from them as attended the meet up at the Golden Terrace Restaurant. It's way overdue.

Sorry folks, but the ideas just aren't coming. It's that simple. Looking back over the posts of the past few months, and looking back on the writing of them, I've come to the conclusion that I've been trying too hard. The horse I've been flogging might not be quite dead, but it's certainly in a critical condition. To put it another way, no-one's going to be fooled by nailing the parrot to the perch – especially not me.

By way of passing on wisdom to other bloggers, I'll restrict myself to two simple apposite rules:

  • Don't force it.

  • Know when to stop.

Disabling comments doesn't seem to be an option with Haloscan so I've banned you all instead. Or tried to. We'll soon know if this last petty act of censorship and suppression of free speech has worked.

I'll probably update this post later, with links to the all-time greats; you know penis-gourds, possum-packers, libertarians at yum-cha, drunken bankers ...

Penultimately, the fact that this post has been the easiest one I've had to write in a long time ought to tell you a lot about why I'm off.

Finally, and most important, a big apology to David Tiley, Nabakov, Boynton and Helen from Cast Iron Balcony who are among those who came up with encouragement and compliments.

ve been going through the archives to locate a selection of better than mediocre posts from the past. Perhaps it's my personal bias, but there appear to be a few more than I thought, so this could take a little while to finish.

Here's the first batch from 2002:

Penis Gourds

Spy for the Dole

Modern Wage Theory

Slavery and Double Effect

The Courage of a Modern President

Walking Through Wills

Coiffeuses sans Frontieres


The Tug Boat History of Australia

Gummo Does Just War Theory

Gummo's Adventures on the Public Transport System

The Secret Origin of “Colostomy Lugs”

Phil's Amnesty Badge Speaks Out

Santoro Watch

Double Backflip With a One and a Half Twist

Palliative Care for Cats

Repeat Offender

Can Libertarians Do Yum-Cha?

There's No Damn Bird in the All Green Hand

Appalling People I've Known

Grandma Trotsky's Mandolin

Well, It Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time

The Annotated Henry Reynolds

From the sizes blow (and other poetic gems)



Culture Crimes

If You're Happy and You Know It, You're Probably Wrong

Drunken Banker Week

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Chris Sheil is taking an indefinite break from blogging. His last post is up at Back Pages.

I've little to add to what Ken Parish and Tim Dunlop have already said.


At 2.9 million light years from the Earth, the Andromeda Galaxy is the most distant astronomical object visible to the named eye. According to one discredited but still popular theory of the origins of life on Earth, it probably shouldn't be visible at all.

Similarly, the Large Cloud of Magellan isn't due to become visible for approximately 170,000 years. Assuming, of course, that the apocalypse doesn't intervene in the meantime.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

A Middle-Class Hero is Something to Be

Today's Age reports:

Government action could cut the flow of millions of dollars of unionists' money into ALP coffers, sparking fears in the party of a financial calamity.

The Labor Party could face a financial crisis as the Federal Government considers banning trade unions from funding the party without their members' consent.

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews has told The Age the Government could force unions to let members vote on political expenditure.

Andrews justifies the proposal thus:

Mr Andrews said unionists should know where their money was going.

He acknowledged that the question of how the ALP was funded was not a matter for the Government, but said he received regular complaints from unionists unhappy about their money being handed over to a party.

"I've had many people raise this issue and I tell them that as a general principle, people... ought to have a say in where it is going," he said.

Various union and ALP heavies are variously pissed-off or shit-scared by the idea which seems to fly in the face of the Stainless Steel Weasel's statement (on the 7.30 Report) that:

I want industrial relations change in this country not to satisfy some ideological drive of mine, but because I think it's good for the country, it delivers productivity and higher wages and more jobs and greater growth in the Australian economy. [my emphasis]

On the face of it, Andrews' proposal appears to have as little to do with delivering higher productivity as the introduction of “voluntary student unionism” (VSU) has to do with improving the efficiency, competitiveness and worldsbestpracticiness of Australia's higher education sector. I'm well out of student politics these days, so I'll leave the VSU issue to the young 'uns even though the recent Pandagate affair which exploded across the blogosphere does suggest that Brendan Nelson may have a point when it comes to using students' fees to fund student politicians.

I think it best to accept the sincerity of John Howard's statement that the government's industrial relations agenda is not ideologically driven; after all he's an honourable man who certainly didn't become a liar in the last two years. No doubt whatever regulatory regime the government imposes on trade union funding of political parties will be matched by equivalent restrictions on peak employer bodies.

Afterword: The Australian Electoral Commission now has a handy on line report generator for those who're curious about where our political parties are getting the money from.

Pompous Prelate Pontificates Preposterously

Yesterday must have been a slow opinion day at Fairfax; it's the only explanation I can think of for the appearance of that silly article by Australia's own prince of the church, George Pell.

As The Age notes, at the end of the article, it is in fact

an edited extract from his address to the annual dinner of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

This gala shindig took place in Grand Rapids, Michigan on October 12th. No doubt Prince George's remarks over the brandy and cigars went down a little better with the assembled members of the institute than they have with Ken Parish and a few others.

While Ken makes some interesting and very salient points in his rebuttal of Pell's fact-neutral, logic-neutral arguments, it seems to me that he's been a little misled by the dislocation of the article from its original time and place. Pell made the speech to a coterie of American god-botherers in the lead up to the US presidential election. His remarks on liberal, or as George prefers secular democracy, would have obvious relevance in that context. Whether they are relevant here is another matter.

As we all know, and have known since 1999, Australia is not a democracy in any way shape or form; it's a constitutional monarchy. Whatever deficiencies there might be in Australian public life, they're not the deficiencies of a “secular democracy”, except coincidentally. And unlike a secular democracy, a constitutional monarchy has, in the persons of the monarch and royal family, a continuing demonstration of “the transcendent dignity of the human person”.

This is why I haven't been moved to a state of decadent panic by Pell's piece. True, Australia has pornography and abortion, marriage breakdowns, IVF and stem cell research – all things which, according to George define secular democracy and disfigure democracy (there's no point arguing with George's position here; by the time he gets to this point in his argument it's become completely reason-neutral and possibly sanity-neutral as well). But in 1999 we decided that for the foreseeable future we were going to stay a constitutional monarchy. So I can't see much point in worrying about the alleged evils of secular democracy until something resembling secular democracy is actually on the cards in this country.

So, if Pell's argument is irrelevant in the Australian context, is it at all relevant to the US? Well, he manages to sound one timely, if inadvertent, warning:

The recrudescence of intolerant religion is not a problem that secular democracy can resolve, but rather a problem that it tends to engender.

Now there's a petard if ever I saw one.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Read it. Weep.

Cultivating Inconvenience

I'm waiting for a break in the weather so that I can go and buy a Saturday Age. It needs to be a good long break, because I'll have to walk about half a kilometre to the nearest newsagent, instead of the three doors down the street to the corner convenience store.

You might think it perverse to wait for a break in the rain so that I can walk half a kilometre just to buy The Age but there's a principle involved. I've been mulling over Tony Abbott's latest comments on abortion, particularly the bit about women being railroaded into abortions by “the culture of convenience”.

When I first read it, I thought the idea of people being railroaded by a culture of convenience sounded a little oxymoronic (with the first two syllables optional) but, on a little reflection, I've decided there might be something in it. And, as I'd be no more willing to have an abortion than I would to have my balls cut off, the idea of contributing, even in a small way, to a situation where others might feel compelled to have an abortion is pretty repugnant. So I've decided that from now on I won't be having any part of any “culture of convenience”. And I'll be taking a longer walk to get my Saturday paper.

It's not all self-sacrifice, though; I'll get some healthy exercise out of the trip and while I'm up at the newsagent's I can check out some of the magazines. Now I think about it, I might as well pack up my dirty clothes and take them to the laundromat while I'm out. I can read the paper while they're washing.

Item 35643

Like Scott Wickstein in the comments to this post at Troppo Armadillo I so wasn't going to get into the debate on Tony Abbott's recent posturings on abortion. I especially wasn't going to go anywhere near Abbott's claim that Australia currently has an “epidemic” of abortions with 100,000 abortions performed a year. No way known was I interested in checking his figures to see how accurate they were.

I absolutely refused to waste any time googling up the Health Insurance Commission to get figures on the number of abortions funded by Medicare. No way was I going to use the HIC's online report generator to extract data for the years 1994 to 2003. So I can't tell you that the average number of Medicare funded abortions each year between 1994 and 2003 was about 25,000 short of Abbott's figure.

Not only that, but I steadfastly refused to do any data analysis, not even the sort of cursory data analysis you can do with the statistical functions of a standard spreadsheet program. So I'm absolutely not going to claim that the trend, if any, has been for the annual number of abortions to decline slightly.

It's just a bunch of pointless facts that are totally irrelevant to Abbott's position. So why should anyone give a rat's arse?

Friday, October 29, 2004

Pop Quiz

In a fine demonstration of rhetorical overkill, George W Bush recently described John Kerry as:

... the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong time.

This raises an interesting question. Is George W Bush:

A. The right man for the wrong job at the wrong time?

B. The wrong man for the right job at the wrong time?

C.The wrong man for the wrong job at the right time?

D.The right man for the right job at the wrong time?

E. The right man for the wrong job at the right time?

F. The wrong man for the right job at the right time?

G. All of the above?

H. None of the above?

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Local News

Hairy-legged rider flashes on path

A MAN on a bicycle exposed himself to a woman in Brunswick.


Detective Senior Constable Tony Moussa said the man was wearing a helmet and blue parachute material shorts, in his late 30s and described as having big thighs, dark hairy legs and possibly southern European ...

A COBURG man was stabbed when an alleged property dispute turned ugly on October 15.


The man was taken to the Austin hospital and treated for a stab wound to the back and head injuries, while his wife was hit on the head with an iron bar...

Police Beat, Moreland Leader 25 October 2004

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Bird Song

Mellifluous my eye. There was nothing mellifluous about the inane twittering and chirping that broke out at four o'clock this morning just when the Monica Seles/Kim Clijsters fantasy was starting to dissolve into something resembling sleep. With the possible exception of crow calls, it's difficult to capture bird-song verbatim but the gist of it went something like this:

“Any chicky-babes, out there for a hot stud with his own tree?”

“Shut up loser! Over here babes! The tree's not the only thing that's bigger over here!”

“Who're you calling 'loser'? You don't watch it, I'll come over and give you a face full of beak, shit-head!”

“Go on, try it. I'll rip your hackles out and shove them where the sun doesn't shine.”

“You and whose convocation?”

And so it went. Isn't nature faaaarkin' wonderful?

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Innocence Lost

He lay atop her,bracing himself with knees and elbows so that his full weight would not descend on her. her legs surrounded him; her thighs clamped tight against his hips; her hand slipped between their bodies, seized him, guided him into her. She began to thrust her pelvis up and down. He caught the rhythm of it shortly, and matched her thrusts with thrusts of his own.

So this is sex, he thought.

he wondered how a woman felt about having something long and hard pushed into her body like that. Evidently they enjoyed it; Lilith was gasping and trembling in what seemed like delight. But it struck him as an odd thing to covet. And was pushing yourself into a woman all that thrilling? Was this what the poetry was about, was this what men had fought duels over and renounced kingdoms for?

After awhile
[sic] he said 'How will we know when it's over?'
From Tower of Glass by Robert Silverberg.

Sunday, September 05, 2004


... I believe and I think most Australians believe that John Howard is an honourable person.

Certainly he hasn't become a liar in the last two years.

Michael Kroger on Lateline

Friday, September 03, 2004

5 Seconds Short

This appeared on the Letters page in this morning's Age. I'd be very pleased if my recollection of events allowed me to claim it as one of mine, but even if my recollection of events were along those lines, I'd come unstuck on the documentary evidence, like the signature on the letter.

All you didn't want to know, in under 51 seconds

At the Senate committee meeting on Wednesday, Liberal Senator George Brandis put it to former federal public servant Michael Scrafton that a second phone call that had lasted only 51 seconds could not have been long enough to cover all the matters Mr Scrafton thought he recalled saying to the PM in it (The Age, 2/9). Mr Scrafton agreed this might be so.

This has been used to raise doubts about the reliability of Mr Scrafton's recall. But neither Senator Brandis nor Mr Scrafton is an expert in timing dialogue; television drama writers are. The following is the script of a hypothetical phone call that might have taken place between the PM and Mr Scrafton:

PM: John Howard again, Mike.

MS: Yes, Prime Minister.

PM: Hope you're not in the middle of dinner?

MS: That's all right.

PM: Just want to get this quite clear. You're sure the video is totally inconclusive?

MS: That's right.

PM: There's no doubt about that?

MS: No.

PM: What about the photos? You can see children in the water. Couldn't they have been thrown in? That's what we've . . . Reith's been out there telling everyone.

MS: The photos were taken when the boat was sinking. Days after . . .

PM: But we were advised by Defence . . .

MS: Well, that's not their view any more. The minister knows that. I told Miles (Jordana) that weeks ago. (Silence from PM.) In fact, no one in Defence that I know of believes that children were thrown overboard at all.

PM: I see. Thanks, Mike.

MS: Prime Minister.

This has been professionally timed on a stopwatch at approximately 46 seconds.
Bill Garner (100 hours of TV drama writing and editing credits), St Kilda

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Talented Mr Howard's Game

Jonathon Trelawney: I know that I should thank you because I wouldn't be alive now if you hadn't helped me but I can't say it. I can't say ... thank you. I know I don't know anything about you. Who are you?

Tom Ripley: I'm a creation. I'm a gifted improviser. I lack your conscience and when I was young that troubled me. It no longer does. I don't worry about being caught because I don't believe anyone is watching ...

KERRY O'BRIEN: ... In Mike Scrafton, you have a former senior Defence official who says he made clear to you at at the time that no children were thrown overboard.

He is backed up by two senior Defence officers, a serving major-general and Navy commander and also another senior Defence official.

They say he told them all at the time that you knew that you had been told that no children had been thrown overboard and yet you continued to tell Australian voters the opposite.

What do their accounts and recollections say about your honesty?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, they're not direct evidence.

There are only two people had that conversation and I dispute his recollection.

This is all known.

People know that I dispute that recollection and I continue to dispute it, but there is really nothing I can add to that and my recollection is consistent with the recollections of my staff, but in the end, people will make a judgment about that.

I don't seek to denigrate Mr Scrafton.

I'm sure he believes what he is saying.

I am simply saying my recall is different and I'm also saying that what people remember about that issue is that we stopped the boats.

We were very strong on border protection and the Labor Party was weak.

7.30 Report (my emphasis)

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Corned Beef

Years ago I picked up a little book with a title something like A Simple Cookery Book for the Working Classes. The author was Queen Victoria's chef, apparently.

My favourite recipe in the book was the recipe for jugged hare; now and again I would consider varying the dinner menu at home by getting hold of a dead bunny and jugging it. Readers of a certain age will readily infer from this fact that Ihave never read Watership Down nor the Fabula Petro Cuniculo which was equally celebrated in its own era. This latin classic, which Zeppo Bakunin is fortunate enough to have in his personal library, begins:

OLIM erant quatuor cuniculi parvi, et eorum nomina erant -
Cauda Linea

Cum sua matre in arena infra radicem abietis maximae habitant.

The recipe for jugged hare begins in an equally idiosyncratic manner. As I don't have the book to hand, I'll have to quote it from memory. It goes something like this:

If you are a tenant on a great estate, it may sometimes happen that the owner will make you a gift of a hare which has been taken by hunting. And if you do receive a hare in this way, this is the manner in which you should cook it.

Although I don't particularly want to turn this blog off into some kind of foodie diary, I'm starting to think that I might occasionally write on the theme of practical cookery for the politically correct. The seed was planted by a remark to the effect that there weren't enough people writing about how cooking is actually done; a lot of the foodie press, and the foodie television, is about how cooking could be if you only were a celebrity chef or had the time and money to get off to specialty food stores and buy bizarre ingredients like dried sour cranberries (which featured in the epicure section of Tuesday's Age in a recipe for "cobbler", the American equivalent of our crumbles). That ought to do it for the prefatory remarks, let's get down to business.

If you live close to a tram line that runs past Melbourne's Victoria Market, it may sometimes happen that you will go there and buy a one and a half kilogram piece of corned silverside from one of the butchers there. And if you do purchase corned silverside in this way, this is the manner in which you should cook it1.

Take a large stockpot and place an inverted dinner plate into the base of the pot (if you live in a shared household and the plate is not your own, you should obtain the owner's permission to use the plate). Alternatively, you can use one of those poncey, expensive stainless steel pots with a colander insert that I saw in the window of a kitchen equipment shop in the eastern suburbs the other night. If I could afford one of those, I might not be cooking corned beef, except as an occasional exercise in culinary slumming2.

Fill the electric kettle and plug it in to boil while you prepare the beef. Rinse the beef in cold water and place it in the pot on top of the plate (the plate is there to prevent the beef from sticking to the base of the pot as it cooks). Add the water from the kettle, and top up with cold water until the beef starts to float. Now add:

A couple of bay leaves;
Some peppercorns (just grab a few more than you can count from the jar or packet);
Four inches or so of greens of leek or
A whole onion, halved and peeled;
A dried out celery stick from the fridge (as long as it isn't mouldy) or
The entire stems and leaves of a celeriac.

You can also add any old turnips, parsnips or radishes you might have hanging around the fridge. Beetroot and pototoes on the other hand are a definite no-no; beetroot will obviously discolour the beef and potatoes will leech starch into the poaching broth and cloud it3.

(In some households, you may have to deal with housemates who object to the idea of spending $9.00 out of kitty on a slab of corned beef and then putting it into a pot of water with a load of kitchen garbage that's only fit for throwing out. The simplest way to deal with this is don't get caught. I hasten to add that this is not a problem here in the Pascoe Vale dacha.)

Bring the water to the boil and lower the temperature so that the stock is simmering. This can be a bit tricky to detect with the plate in the bottom of the pan (the steam from the boiling will collect underneath it; at irregular intervals there will be enough pressure to lift the edge of the plate and release the steam).

Simmer for an hour and remove the garbage from the stock. Finally allow the beef to simmer for at least another two hours. The timing isn't all that critical and the pot can be left to simmer unattended while you write a blog about how to cook corned beef. Of course it is prudent to check on it occasionally. And perhaps turn it over at least once during the simmering, so that the top of the piece gets to sit in the deep water as well as the bottom of the piece.

Once the beef is cooked you can, of course, serve it up for dinner. There's nothing wrong with the traditional accompaniments of cabbage (preferably Savoy) and mashed potato (Desiree or Bintjes, if you can get your hands on them). Before you carve the beef, you'll need to remove it from the stock and sit it on a clean plate for a few minutes to drain off excess moisture that might otherwise run into the mash and turn it into an unsightly sludge. After you've carved off enough beef to serve, the remainder goes back in the pot.

If you're going to use the beef for cold cuts and sandwiches, leave it in the pot once the heat is turned off and allow it to cool overnight. Remove it to a clean plate the following morning, cover it and put it in the fridge.

1: I think a few words on the selection of the beef might be useful. I find it easiest to trust the butcher on this one. The first piece of corned beef I cooked this way was selected this way; the butcher held it up and said "How about this one? It's got a nice eye piece in it." It was, indeed, a nice eye piece and after cooking it, I trimmed out the eye. After I had removed some fat, the eye slices presented very well on the dinner plates with the Savoy cabbage and mash. Today's piece was also butcher selected. It's not quite as good looking as the eye piece, but it's a good middle cut with a consistent grain throughout which is good for sandwiches.

2: Another alternative is to use one of those fold out steamer things you can often pick up in the kitchenware section of the supermarket for a few bucks. I used the plate because I didn't have one of these to hand. And I may as well grudgingly admit that I wouldn't mind having one of those poncey stainless steel pots with the colander insert in the kitchen cupboard because they're bloody useful and not just for boiling pasta.

3: If you're wondering why swedes don't score a mention here it's simple; swedes are not a vegetable, they're cattle feed. Why they turn up on sale for human consumption is beyond me. I wouldn't be surprised if feeding people swedes turned out to be one of those wartime austerity measures that just stuck after the Second World War ended, like the Japanese "tradition" of eating whale meat.

The Potemkin Museum of Antique Humour

Recent Acquisition: Clarke, J (aka Fred Dagg), Australia
An Honest Man (circa 1979)

Ah, yeah g'day. Now I'd like to have a few words with you concerning the very interesting remarks made during the year by that nice little Mr Howard who is employed as a reader by Malcolm. And now that the dust has paid settlement tax a couple of things do seem to demand analysis.

The first of course is that Small John has been making a courageous attempt to redefine the concept of the honest man. Now you, or I and certain other head-in-the-cloud no-hopers I can think of might cling to the antediluvian view that an honest man is a man who is honest. And, on a purely superficial level, this would appear to be not totally unreasonable. But apparently, on close and heavily subsidised inspection, this transpires to be unsatisfactory thereby failing to incur satisfaction tax as laid out in Schedule 6E of the annual map of the buried treasury.

An honest man is not a man who is honest; an honest man is a man who is dishonest but is quite honest about it. A man who hides his dishonesty, now he'd be a dishonest man. But disarming honesty about previous dishonesty is apparently OK. Of course the dishonesty in the first instance is annulled by the subsequent honesty and any reference back to it would be the act of a dishonest political point scorer.

If a man decides to be honest about his dishonesty, not only is he an honest man but, if he does it consistently, he can be said to be a man of principle. Although having to be dishonest in the first place, in order to be honest about it later might worry some of you older people who foolishly accept that being a man of principle is something akin to being a man of principle.

A good example of all this, is the way Malcolm and the Gang of Plus Fours have turned the country upside down in order to get inflation down. And now they say this time next year, inflation won't have come down. And unemployment won't have come down either and the CPI won't have come down and the only thing that will come down is the honest and highly principled August Budget and with any luck, it'll go down with all hands. I'll get out of your way now, I'll see you later.

Acknowledgements: Thanks are due to Chris Sheil at Back Pages for linking to this report in the SMH and to Zeppo Bakunin, who turned up the cassette tape from which this transcription was made. Any errors of spelling punctuation etc are of course down to the curatorial staff and not the original artist.

Friday, August 27, 2004

The Adlympic Experience

I finally managed to watch an entire Olympic event last night. It wasn't one of the major events, like the crucial play-off between Australia and the US in the women's water polo to determine who got to take home a job lot of bronze paperweights and who got sent packing with a clip behind the ear and an admonition to try harder next time; it was a later game between a couple of those minor European countries. The kind of countries that are full of people who bang on and on about their long history and rich cultural heritage because basically they're no good at the things that really matter in this world like sport and free-trade negotiations.

Seven's coverage of the game had a promising beginning; Tony Squires deftly introduced the cross to the Aquatic Centre where Mike McCann and Debbie Watson took up the commentary. There was a bit of a hitch getting the game telecast started; first they had to get a small presentation ceremony out of the way. This took a couple of minutes, then the referee blew his whistle for the swim off. Greece took possession of the ball and the game was on.

Something mildly dramatic happened (I forget what) and in the lull that followed, as the teams repositioned themselves for the next passage of play, someone decided it was the perfect time for a word from our sponsors. I estimate that Greece scored the first goal of the game while that rock group were onstage in that outback pub singing "We Are One but We are Many" on behalf of Telstra. Within a couple of minutes, three more goals had been scored and Mike announced:

Greece take the lead, three goals to one.

I think this might be one of those subtle points of water polo; you're not really winning until you're at least two goals in front; if there's only a one point difference the game's more or less drawn. Especially if you're scoring goals when the ads are on and the TV audience can't actually see them happen.

With the Greeks in the lead, Italy very naturally found "themselves with a bit of work to do", managed to equalise again after two more beautiful goals (all the goals were beautiful, except for one or two which were either magnificent or spectacular). But Italy's work wasn't over; as Mike said:

The Greeks are on absolute fire here.

There were some amazing things going on in that swimming pool, let me tell you. But the game wasn't just a scientific marvel; it was a sporting marvel as well:

No one would have anticipated these two countries playing for the gold medal and not only are they playing for it but the Greeks are leading the Italians...

I was starting to feel the tension a little myself, but Seven very thoughtfully inserted a soothing series of advertisements for: Hi Fi Supermarket; the video and DVD of Mel Gibson's The Passsion of the Christ; that new Nivea shower oil that makes it impossible for idiots to tell whether they're touching a woman's skin or her underwear; the Mitsubish Magna; and all the new crap Seven will be showing once the Olympics are over. While those were showing, Italy scored another goal but I have no idea whether it was beautiful, magnificent, spectacular or merely perfect.

The play went on, and with it, the commentary:

There goes another one [shot at goal] which just about beat the keeper but she knew it was just a touch wide... [Debbie]

What a game - worthy of a gold medal match... [Mike]

It was good to know that even though Greece and Italy don't really rate in world water polo, both teams had managed to rise to the occasion and produce the sort of game we're entitled to see when an Olympic gold medal is in contention. I only saw the last quarter of the US/Australia game so I can't really say whether it was worthy of a bronze medal match or not. It may well have been, but it doesn't seem politic to say so. However that may be, there was one revealing moment which showed that the lessons of the Sally Robbins affair are starting to sink home, at least in some media circles: we saw "Jo Fox taking a break for Australia". It's good to see that the commentators have picked up on the need to give public recognition to those who also serve their country by putting a one hundred and ten percent effort into being comfortable and relaxed for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, back in the less than crucial play-off to decide who whether it would be gold, gold gold for Italy, or gold, gold, gold for Greece, the score reached 6-5 in Greece's favour and once again it was time for a word from: LG, official sponsors of bloody annoying interruptions; Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ; New Idea; Ingham Chicken Nuggets; Adidas and Qantas, the airline that still calls Australia home. Both teams may have been slacking off a little, because the score was still 6-5 when the ads finished. A twenty second exclusion for a major foul and Mike announced:

Now it's Italy with a man up...

So it seems I missed the substitution of the entire Italian men's water polo team for the women's team thanks to the ad-break. It might have been this that sent the Greek coach into the hissy fit that got him yellow-carded. How the referee managed to miss this substitution, which left in charge of a women versus cross-dressers match, is beyond me. Perhaps there's some arcane set of Olympic rules for water-polo which allow this sort of thing (perhaps on equal opportunity principles) in the same way as it's possible, under the rules of Olympic boxing, for one of those kid's punching toys (the ones that always roll back from a punch) to gain points and even win a match, just by being hit very often about the head.

Italy equalised with 2 minutes and 28 seconds of the quarter left, which provided the perfect opportunity for Samsung and Herbal Essences to slip in a quick word. Italy managed to get a man up a second time before the end of the quarter, but the scores remained tied when the quarter finished and we heard some words from Extra Thick Sorbent, Live NRG, Hungry Jack's, Extra Thick Sorbent and a couple of Seven's other Olympic partners. While those cute little kids in the junior football team were giving themselves concussion on the banner made from Extra Thick Sorbent, the score went to 7-6 in Greece's favour.
Shortly after the instant replay of there was another twenty second exclsuion which, Mike noted, put:

Arriucca in the sin bin for Italy...

That's the great thing about the Olympic ideal; there are so many ways you can bring credit to yourself and your country. If your game is a bit off on the day, you can take a break for your country as Jo Fox did in the Australia/US match or you can get yourself sent off for your country as Arriucca did in the Italy/Greece game. When you consider the possibilities, the notion of just going out and playing your best looks a little pedestrian; when you take a break, you have to make it your best break and when you get sent off, you have to make it your best send off.

The scores were equalised again with a goal that, according to Mike:

was there for the taking and it was taken by Micelli...

With the game drawn, two three minute periods of extra time were added to decide the outcome, but first there was a short pause, which Seven used to remind us that: Qantas still calls Australia home; Australian Oranges are full of good stuff like vitamin C and folate; Seven will be running a season of "Disney Classics", starting with Mary Poppins next Friday; Thrifty Link is a good place to buy Father's Day presents as long as your dad isn't Red Symons; and Ryan Bailey went for gold for Australia in the kierin and got it (this Seven High Performance moment brought to you by Holden). Then it was back to the game.

For once the players got their timing right: Greece scored the first goal of extra time after the ads had finished. It was difficult not to share Mike's excitement at the Greek team's brilliant new tactic of trying to win by scoring more goals:

What a way to start! What a way to start! It's Greece in front!

Once again, Italy equalised and then took the lead; by now fatigue was taking its toll on the players. As Mike observed:

These players must be absolutely dead on their feet at the moment...

It was pretty clear that fatigue wasn't just telling on the players; it was getting to Mike as well. Realising that he had strayed into one of those "and here, unless I'm very much mistaken, and I am very much mistaken" moments, Mike attempted to recover with a remark to the effect that well their feet must be dead too because of course the players aren't allowed to stand on the bottom of the pool but must tread water at all times. You could tell that Mike was dead under his hair at this moment.

But the Greeks, who had been on absolute fire in the first quarter were well and truly burnt out; the Italians held on to win the game and it was all over bar the philosophising. Mike rallied long enough to provide a few critical insights:

There will be some disappointment, some despair for the Greeks ... A case of so close but so far for the Greeks ... but in time they'll be very proud of their silver medal...

Indeed so. And the United States' women's water polo team will be very proud (but not quite as proud as the Greeks, because that would be unseemly) of their bronze medals. And the Australian team have probably got something to be proud of as well, but it wasn't mentioned in any of the commentary so I can't tell you what it is.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Disaffected but not Dispassionate

A week or so ago, commenter SP remarked, apropos this post that:

By my reckoning Gummo you must be cooking up a storm by now...

I am prepared to own up to creating a respectable low pressure system in the kitchen over the past few days. But, once you've used every clean mixing bowl and cooking pot you can find, you realise it's time to stop at least long enough to wash the large stock pot you'll need to cook the lump of corned silverside you're buying tomorrow. We've nearly used up last week's lump so it needs to be replaced; if it isn't there's half a large jar of mustard in the fridge that will just go to waste. That's not the sort of thing you can afford to allow to happen when you're on a tight budget. Plus there's always a moment of guilt when you throw away mouldy condiments for which those starving orphans in Africa would have given their eye teeth.

Give or take the occasional fit of stove rage - I'm having a few difficulties adapting to working with an under-powered electric stove after years of working with under-powered gas stoves - the activity in the kitchen has been a pleasant escape from sitting in front of the computer, cranking up the word processor and then staring at a blank screen for the next thirty minutes thinking so, what the bloody hell am I actually going to write then?

This whole kerfuffle over Mike Scrafton's recent revelations is a case in point; the Prime Minister lied, the Prime Minister knew he lied so what is there to say about it that hasn't already been said. In two words: sod all.

Actually, there's still some room to doubt the proposition that John Howard knew that he wasn't telling the truth, and you don't have to go through the sort of bizarre reasoning that Henderson, G produced in his weekly Fairfax column on Tuesday; According to Gerard, it wasn't so much conscious dishonesty on the PM's part as a failure of empathy and, despite the fact that the current law on detention of uninvited immigrants appears to be stuffed enough to have troubled a few of our High Court justices, we now have Amanda Vanstone as minister for immigration and we can expect to see her use her ministerial discretion with a compassionate, woman's touch.

As I said, there's no need to trot out such bizarreries as "it's not so much that the PM is a liar as a bit unimaginative and narrow-minded" to arrive at the conclusion that the PM didn't consciously mislead the Australian public. You might consider, as an alternative explanation, that the PM wouldn't recognise the truth if it came up and punched him on the nose. I think I've put just such an argument several times before; writing the previous sentence produced very strong feelings of deja-vu. This time around, it's looking like the truth might go in hard and give the PM a well-deserved slippering too.

I have this vague feeling that I ought to be getting more satisfaction, or at least amusement, out of Children Overboard II but at the moment it's all looking like a rehash of the original. Even the jokes, like Senator George Brandis' extended performance on Lateline last night, are being recycled.

No doubt about it, I've got a bad case of the henries. I think it's time to pop out to the supermarket and buy a pack of instant cake mix so I can benchmark the oven. Zeppo Bakunin suggested this simple test the other day; you get a pack of cake-mix and prepare and cook it according to the instructions on the pack (particularly with regard to the oven temperature setting and cooking time). If it comes out burnt or soggy, you know that your oven thermostat's a bit off and you can either abandon the idea of ever baking in it, or adjust your temperatures and times a little to compensate. Of course if the cake comes out more or less to the manufacturers specification, you might have trouble resisting the temptation to eat it. I think that rules out using anything with chocolate in it.

Afterword: I've just seen Max Moore-Wilton on The 7.30 Report paying out on Mike Scrafton. His concluding remark "I consider myself quite warm and cuddly sometimes" has me thinking that there's some hope that Children Overboard II might yet have some amusing surprises in store after all. If I had the funds, I'd put in a bid for the rights to do the soft-toy merchandising.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Eine Schwalbe* ...

I don't usually buy The Oz but I made an exception today after hearing that Mike Scrafton, a former Defence Department adviser to Peter Reith, had written them a letter casting serious doubt on the Stainless Steel Weasel's claim that he did not mislead the Australian people, Mr Speaker, he did not. In his letter to The Oz Scrafton says:

What would I have told the Senate committee? On the evening of November 7, 2001, after having viewed the tape from the HMAS Adelaide at Maritime HQ in Sydney, I spoke to the Prime Minister by mobile phone on three occasions.

In the course of those calls I recounted to him that:

a) the tape was at best inconclusive as to whether there were any children in the water but certainly didn't support the proposition that the event had occurred;

b) that the photographs that had been released in early October were definitely of the sinking of the refugee boat on October 8 and not of any children being thrown
into the water; and

c) that no one in Defence that I had dealt with on the matter still believed that any children were thrown overboard.

During the last conversation, the Prime Minister asked me how it was that he had a report from the Office of National Assessments confirming the children overboard incident.

I replied that I had gained the impression that the report had as its source the public statements of the then minister for immigration, Phillip Ruddock.

According to Scrafton, he was prompted to make these damning revelation (or scurrilous allegations, depending on your personal bias) by the gang of 43 daiquiri diplomats' recent statement on "truth in government". I doubt that it will be long before we hear from various informed sources that:

a) If Scrafton thinks he can win a pissing contest about personal credibility with the Prime Minister, maybe he should take a look at what happened to Andrew Wilkie and think again;

b) It's obvious from the timing of Scrafton's letter that he's part of some shadowy, elite cabal of ex-bureaucrats who are working hand in glove with the commentariat to bring down the Howard government so they can get cheaper chardonnay and cafe lattes under a Latham ALP government;

c) The whole children overboard affair was so turn of the century and even if Scrafton turns out to be telling the truth, anyone who thinks it matters whether the Prime Minister was telling the truth is completely out of touch with mainstream opinion.

* Sorry about the pretentious German title. I just wanted to avoid any suggestion of the sort of innuendo that would result if I'd the English "One Swallow ...".

Olympic Moment

... and Sara Carrigan joins Kathy Watt [in/from Barcelona*] as the only Australian Olympic gold medallist in the Women's Road Race.

I heard that on ABC radio this morning. I understand exactly what the commentator meant; I come from a family of four only children. But I've yet to hear anything to match my personal favourite in Olympic sports commentary, from the Los Angeles Olympics:

... we're nearing the end of this gruelling, ten-event, decathlon.

There was a bit of grousing from Jon Faine and others this morning about the poor crowd turn-out for a lot of the televised events, with a hint that we'd been short-changed on the atmosphere by poor organisation on the part of the Athens Olympic Committee.

Maybe they could make up for it by re-arranging the schedule a little and giving us a baker's decathlon of eleven events although, to be fair to the competitors, the additional event ought not be too strenuous nor too difficult to learn.

There's probably a pool table in the Olymic village somewhere that they could press into service. Obviously they'll have to get their skates on to organise television coverage but, as the Greeks apparently like to leave things to the last minute, they'll no doubt be able to come up with something and give us some Olympic memories truly worth treasuring.

* I didn't quite catch this bit, but I'm pretty sure that Barcelona was mentioned, with one or other of the two prepositions cited.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

My Weekend, By Gummo Trotsky Aged 48 3/4

I wrote the following couple of posts over the weekend. It might not have been quite as exciting as barbecuing yabbies and chops in the Mallee or cooking up a pot of Mauritian monkey curry but I had a good time and got a fridge full of comfort food out of it to boot.

(Incidentally, I'm whether rabbit, which is available at the Victoria Market would be an acceptable substitute for monkey, which isn't. The point's moot anyway as I don't have access to anything like an "ardent flame" in my kitchen; the stove's electric).

Gummo's Veal Shank Casserole (A Step by Step Preparation Guide)

(A simple, hearty meal which is either perfect for eating on cold winter evenings or for throwing out - the results aren't in yet)

Two Days Before Cooking: go to the Victoria Market and buy two veal shanks at two dollars each. Forget to ask the butcher to cut them (this is very important - on no account should you remember to ask the butcher to cut the shanks into shorter lengths). While you're at the market, buy a shitload of whatever else is cheap. Take the lot home, pack it into freezer backs and freeze it, except for the veal shanks.

Two hours before cooking: get out of bed, go to the fridge for milk for your morning coffee and notice that the fridge smells of meat. Realise you forgot to freeze the veal shanks. Ask Zeppo Bakunin what vegetables you have in the house, then go to the supermarket and obtain some carrots, celery and turnips. Forget to buy the ground almonds you were going to substitute for coconut (or muesli) in the PMWU recipe for apple crumble.

Final Preparation: Pre-heat oven to halfway between 150 and 200 degrees Centigrade on the temperature dial. Take two of the onions Mr Bakunin told you that you had in the house and slice them finely. Slice three sticks of celery to more or less the same thickness as the onions.

Take the veal shanks out of the fridge and find your favourite casserole dish; the big oval cast-iron one. Pour enough olive oil into the dish to completely cover the bottom. Place on the stove to heat.

Once the oil is hot, attempt to put one of the veal shanks into the casserole dish to brown and discover that it is too long. Take the shank out of the dish and place it on a chopping board. Search the kitchen drawers for some implement capable of cutting the shank in two. Extend your search to the back hallway cupboard where you keep the gardening tools.

Return to the kitchen and remove the casserole from the heat. Open the kitchen window to clear the smoke from the olive oil. Resume your search for some way to cut the veal shanks.

Take one shank, and with a sharp kitchen knife, cut through the meat about halfway along its length, until you expose the bone. Take the old claw hammer you found in the back hallway cupboard and strike the exposed bone several times until it breaks. Repeat with the other shank.

Return the casserole to heat and try to place all four pieces of veal shank in it to brown. Discover that only two will fit in at a time. Brown the first two pieces, remove to a plate then brown the second two. Set these aside on the same plate, which you now discover is too small to accomodate all four pieces comfortably. Carefully arrange the veal shank pieces in a pyramid on the plate.

Put the sliced onion and celery in the casserole dish, taking care not to disturb the pyramid of veal shank pieces on the plate. Saute until the onion is a translucent white and the celery is bright green. Return the veal shank pieces to the dish. Rearrange them with a wooden spoon and a pair of kitchen tongs until they more or less fit in.

Take a large can of chopped tomatoes from the cupboard, consider the space left in the casserole dish and put the can away again. Take out a smaller tin, open it and pour it over the veal shanks. Discover that there was probably enough room to fit in the larger tin after all.

Peel the carrots and turnips from the supermarket and slice them to bachelor thickness; that is, no thinner than one centimeter. Toss them into the vacant space around the shanks. Open a bottle of pub trivia quiz second prize red, pour one glass and add it to the casserole. Check the remaining empty space in the casserole dish and the remaining level in the wine bottle, and add as much wine as you are prepared to forego drinking.

Raise the heat under the casserole dish until the liquid starts to simmer. Put the lid on the casserole dish. Remove the lid and, with kitchen tongs and a wooden spoon, rearrange the contents until the lid will fit snugly on the rim of the dish without too much forcing. Remove the lid again, and add a generous pinch of ground black pepper and a bay leaf. Place the casserole in the oven and go to your computer. Write up the preparation so far.

After Writing the Final Preparation: Remove the casserole dish from the oven, and taste the contents. If fit for human consumption, remove the bones and serve with potatoes boiled in their jackets, green beans and bread.

Tarte Tatin

I've just taken one out of the oven and turned it onto a plate. It's a real beaut; the apples have cooked to a gorgeous golden brown colour and there are little dribbles of caramelised sugar oozing out around the pastry base onto the serving dish. OK, so the pastry is a fairly straight forward sweet butter shortcrust, instead of the frozen sheet of puff pastry Jenny Sheard went with in last week's Good Weekend and I put the thing together in an ordinary baking dish, instead of building it up in an oven-proof frypan like some bizarre fusion of cookery and ikebana but it looks pretty damn good, smells just as good and Zeppo and I are looking forward to tucking into it for dessert tonight. And, as I'm still thoroughly bored by the political scene (I've tried, but every new controversy that comes up, like the kerfuffling over the Flood report, just strikes me as more of the same old same old. Maybe, as Shaun Carney suggested in Saturday's Age, John Howard's main strategy for winning the next election is to bore us all shitless), I decided I might as well follow on from the veal casserole with a classic dessert.

I think we'll have to go with the step by step description I used for the veal shank casserole thing because, while I tackled cooking the tarte tatin a lot more methodically than I did the veal I did a lousy job of keeping track of quantities, except at a couple of points.

Three Days Before Cooking: pick up two kilos of Granny Smith apples at the Victoria Market for one dollar a kilo. Take home and refrigerate.

One day before cooking: pick up two 250 gram bricks of unsalted butter and a bag of dark brown sugar from the supermarket.

Final Preparation: First make the pastry for the base of the tart. Cut off half of one of the bricks of butter, and cut it into small cubes (roughly 1 cm on a side). Astute mathematicians will realis that this is 125 grams of butter, give or take a gram or two, but it's better to think of it as half a brick. Otherwise you're likely to get upset when I tell you to weigh 5 ounces of flour into a bowl. Add one ounce of granulated sugar, or castor sugar if you're the kind of ponce who keeps castor sugar in the house. Toss in the cubes of butter.

Go and wash your hands. Then wash them again, this time in cold water (seriously: it's uncomfortable, but it's better for the pastry). Rub the butter into the flour and sugar with your fingers, until most of the mixture reaches the consistency of bread crumbs. It's better to underdo this than overdo it; you'll probably find that however hard you try, you'll still end up with a few large flakes of butter that refuse to mix properly with the flour. Deal with it and move on.

Get a cup of very cold water; the precise quantity doesn't matter, you won't be using all of it anyway. Start adding small dribbles of water to the pastry. Really small dribbles. Each time you add water, press the pastry into it with the tips of your fingers. Stop adding water once you have a smooth ball of pastry which you can roll around the sides of the bowl without it sticking (once again, it's better to use too little water than to use too much). Cover the bowl and put the pastry in the refrigerator.

Peel the two kilos of bargain basement Granny Smiths. While you peel them indulge your sensitive, feminine side, by trying to take the peel off in a single continuous strip, which you can toss into the air. According to an article I read in Ma Trotsky's copy of The Australian Women's Weekly many years ago, folklore has it that this will give you the first initial of your destined one true love. Apparently, my destined one true love is an ancient Mayan who died many centuries before syphilis arrived in Europe.

Once you've finished piss-farting around with the apple peel, quarter and core the apples. Ponces who keep castor sugar in the kitchen probably keep an apple corer around the place as well; if so, you can core and quarter the apples instead.

Now check the cupboard for a baking dish; you want something with sloping sides. The one I found was about twelve inches in diameter. Coat the sides of the dish liberally with butter, then put a dessert spoon of brown sugar into one of those flour dredging things that ponces who use castor sugar and apple corers usually have in the kitchen somewhere. Attempt to coat the base and sides of the baking dish evenly with brown sugar, using the dredge.

When you realise that the brown sugar is just getting stuck in the mechanism of the flour dredge, give up, and tip the sugar straight in the baking dish. Rub it over the base and sides of the dish by hand. Repeat with another dessert spoon of brown sugar. If you've been liberal enough with the butter, you should have a dense coating of brown sugar on the inside of the dish.

Now cut some of your quartered apples into thin slices (about 2 to 3 mm) and arrange them in a poncy pattern in the base of the dish. Slice about half the remaining apples however you like; No one's going to see them under the decorative layer anyway.

Melt some butter in a frypan, add a small piece of cinnamon bark*, a quarter teaspoon of cardamom powder and a dessert spoon of brown sugar. Add the chopped apples, stir and saute gently until the apples have started to take on colour from the brown sugar. Leave out the cloves; I've read frequently that cloves complement the flavour of cooked apples but in my view this is like saying that tsunamis enhance the rustic tranquility of Japanese fishing villages. OK, if you really want your cooked apples to smell and taste like a home remedy for toothache, toss some cloves in. See if I care.

Put the cooked apples into the baking dish. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it out until you have a circle, or something approximating to a circle, or something which is nothing like a circle, but at least big enough to cover the baking dish and hang over the sides most of the way round, except for that one gap you can plug with a piece trimmed off the other side of the dish. Allow the pastry to rest for a couple of minutes (this will prevent it from shrinking to a small circle the size of a bread and butter plate when it bakes). Place the pastry over the baking dish, trim it and put it into an oven preheated to 175 C**.

Fret over the oven for approximately 20 minutes to half an hour, then check to see if the pastry has cooked; the tarte is cooked when the top is a light brown colour more or less all over. If it hasn't fully cooked, continue fretting for another 10 minutes.

While you're fretting, you can cook up the remaining apples in the butter, brown sugar and spices mix described above. They can be refrigerated until you need them for your next big batch of comfort food.

Once the pastry has cooked, remove the baking dish from the oven and run a table knife gently around the inside edge of the dish. Place a plate on top of the dish, and invert the plate and baking dish together. Lift the baking dish gently and admire your handiwork.

* I know, this sounds like one of those pieces of ginger 5 cm long and 2.5 cm wide, except I haven't even specified the length and thickness have I? Well, it came out of a bag of stuff labelled "Cinammon Bark" and I suppose it was somewhere between 5 cms and 6 cms long. If it really bothers you, you can either leave it out or go with a teaspoon of the powdered stuff. The cardamom isn't essential either, but it's definitely worth adding.

** On balance, I think this temperature was a little too low; the pastry would probably benefit from a few extra degrees on the oven thermostat, so next time I'll be upping the temperature to somewhere between 180 C and 200 C.

Friday, July 23, 2004


After seeing Lateline last night, I thought today might be a good time to attempt a return to form on the political front. I figured there'd be a lot of kerfuffling about the Flood Report and John Howard's classic performance on The 7.30 Report. I thought maybe we could revisit Mr Howard's Address to The Nation. Back then, Mr Howard was pretty clear on his main justification for going to war:

Therefore the possession of chemical, biological, or even worse still, nuclear weapons by a terrorist network would be a direct undeniable and lethal threat to Australia and its people.

That is the reason above all others why I passionately believe that action must be taken to disarm Iraq. Not only will it take dangerous weapons from that country but it will send a clear signal to other rogue states and terrorists groups like Al Qaeda which clearly want such weapons that the world is prepared to take a stand.

Or we might revisit Sixty Minutes interview with Charles Woolley - the one where Woolley lumped opponents of the war into the "mob" and Howard picked up on the usage and ran with it. Howard's line back then was pretty much that if the mob knew what he knew, they'd be a lot happier to go along with him.

But today, I checked out Troppo Armadillo and decided that it would be a waste of time. Because faux-centrist Ken Parish has gotten hold of a rhetorical Ramset gun and nailed it good and proper.

I guess I'm going to be stuck with topics like Tarte Tatin for a while longer. But here's an invitation from the Stainless Steel Weasel I'd urge everyone to take up come October (or November, or whenever that photo of Mark Latham with the gumboots and ewes ever does turn up):

To those in the community who may not agree with me, please vent your anger against me and towards the government.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Ivy & Zeppo & Me

I still haven't shaken the disgust fatigue that brought on the long hiatus. I thought I might be on the road to recovery, but recent events in the news brought on a relapse. It started with Paul McGeogh's report in Saturday's Age of the allegations that the new Iraqi Prime minister had personally topped six prisoners to demonstrate the sort of procedural fairness he expected from the police force in the new Iraq. Then there was the report in Monday's Age of Martha Stepford's little chat with Barbara Walters over the weekend, where Martha had a good whine about the injustice that's been done to her by the American legal system.

The Martha Stepford thing looked promising as blog material, until I mentioned it to Zeppo Bakunin; he was taken by Ms Stepford's remark that "Many good people have gone to prison. Look at Nelson Mandela.". It didn't take him long to develop a completely new theory of why Nelson Mandela got jailed in the first place; it was for insider trading in apartheid futures. Where Mandela went wrong wasn't in opposing the apartheid regime, it was in going short on apartheid on the Johannesburg futures exchange, then setting out to wreck the regime so that he could cash in big-time. And getting caught at it, of course. Had things gone according to plan, Mandela would have been a national hero years earlier and a rich man into the bargain.

That's more or less Zeppo's take on it; personally, I think he got done for growing hydrangeas, rather than an acceptable South African native plant like the Protea. Life in prison for growing hydrangeas does seem a bit harsh; although if he was fart-arsing about treating the soil with lime or potash to manipulate the flower colour, I can understand that being considered an aggravating circumstance warranting a more severe sentence. Particularly if the hydrangeas are in pots, set out in a row of with the pink and blue flowering bushes alternating. Call me soft-hearted, but I wouldn't even call that criminal; more like an unconscious cry for the sort of help that the Backyard Blitz crew inflict on hapless suburbanites at the behest of friends, neighbours or family. The real criminals, here in the Great Southern Land at least, are those stupid bastards who plant ivy in their gardens.

The ivy in "our" garden is coming along quite nicely; that cold snap over the weekend did for the stuff clinging to the big date palm in the south-west corner of the yard. The ivy dropped enough leaves that you can see the twelve to sixteen year old vines wrapped around the trunk of the tree and the branches up around the roof-line of the house. You can also see all the dead palm fronds that fell into the ivy and got stuck. It's a very left-wing garden feature; it's been thoroughly undercut up to a little above fence height leaving the bulk of the overgrowth to wither away and die until we can borrow a ladder from somewhere. If we ever do, we can add the ivy from the date palm to our other main garden feature, the big pile of ivy cuttings under the back bedroom window.

I suppose, in our own small way, we've been doing our bit for our land, as featured in the latest series of government advertisements which have nothing at all to do with any upcoming election, in the same way that a big bank of cumulo-nimbus on the western horizon has nothing to do with an impending piss-down of rain. But the work on the ivy had nothing to do with a patriotic attachment to the golden soil of our whale foot oiled land girt by sea, nor was it motivated by a desire to garden - well not in my case anyway. And for Mr Bakunin, clearing up accumulated garden waste doesn't count as gardening; it's what you do so that you can start gardening, in the same way that I regard measuring out ingredients as what you do so that you can start cooking and John Howard regards running a lot of government announcements as what you do before you actually call the election and start the real campaigning (which by my reckoning won't happen until someone comes up with a good photo of Mark Latham wearing gum-boots in the vicinity of a flock of ewes). Our big motivation to get rid of the ivy was to get rid of the bloody wasps that came with it.

Apparently, the little buggers love the stuff - at least that's what this site says. So do several others. I have found nursery sites around the place where ivy is proudly offered for sale, and sites listing ivy as a suitable plant for low-allergy gardens, on the strength that it's not a big pollen producer. I guess it's not very common for people who are allergic to pollen, like some asthmatics, to also be allergic to wasp stings, like some asthmatics. But not necessarily the same asthmatics. So that's alright then.

I was going to segue into the cooking section of the post around about now, with a consideration of Tarte Tatin, the classic French upside down apple tart. I now know at least three versions. Jacques Pepin offers one in La Technique of which he says:

There are many interpretations of [Tarte Tatin] which are quite simple and satisfactory. The one below is a little more involved, but the result is quite distinctive.

Then there's Jenny Sheard's version, featured in last Saturday's Good Weekend, which makes Pepin's version look like a quick roadhouse cafe knock up. And there's the one I might try later this week, which ought to provide a simple and satisfactory test of what the new oven can do. But I think we'll skip the details for now and finish off this week's home hints from Gummo with a couple of tips on surviving a wasp infestation in your backyard:

  • If you must go out into the backyard for a morning heart-starter cigarette, leave washing your hair until afterwards. Especially if you use a herbal shampoo, like Clairol Herbal Essences for Receding or Thinning Hair.

  • Never wear a brightly coloured machine fairisle jumper in the backyard during daylight hours.

  • Wednesday, July 14, 2004

    As Cooks Go ...

    I've been hitting the books pretty hard lately. To be precise I've been hitting the recipe books, in particular The Essential Madhur Jaffrey, Italian Food by Elizabeth David (co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking) and Zeppo Bakunin's copy of the PWMU Cookey Book. This is what happens when you move in with someone who expects you to be a gourmet cook; you find yourself under pressure to deliver, and you spend a lot of time re-acquainting yourself with basic stuff that you used to take for granted, like how to crack an egg.

    I'm not convinced that it's been paying off, particularly when it comes to cookery in the Indian style, which is what I'm looking to Madhur Jaffrey for. I know, this isn't the sort of acerbic comment on political events you came here looking for, nor is it particularly irascible, but give it time; I'm still warming up after a hiatus of more than 40 days, so bear with me. In any event, there's only so many jokes you can make about John Howard's prime ministership before you start repeating yourself and you'd be damn lucky if you end up having to take off at least one sock to count them.

    Madhur Jaffrey has been high on the reading list because I've been looking for "interesting things to do with mince". I think you'll admit that this is a challenge; mince is inherently boring in the same way that ivy is inherently garden waste (since moving into our new place, Zeppo Bakunin and I have thrown out 1.25 cubic meters of the stuff; we think it was orginally planted as ground cover, but sometime during the past twelve to fifteen years (I counted the growth rings on one of the stems we cut down) it turned into a rampant fence and generic-shrub-with-orange-berries-that-give-birds-diorrhea cover as well). So far the results I've had following Ms Jaffrey's recipes have been a bit disappointing and I'm beginning to wonder if it's worth the effort. It's a bit like trying to convince yourself that John Howard has the quality of statesmanship, which I suppose makes him the political equivalent of mince and I may have to take that sock off after all.

    I used to get perfectly acceptable results by grabbing a jar of Patak's Madras paste at the supermarket and tossing it in a pot with some chopped onions, garlic and tinned tomatoes. Which is a lot easier than the rigmarole of measuring out spices onto a saucer in at least two piles (one to go in with the browning mince, the other to go in when you add the tinned tomatoes), plus the intellectual effort of working out how many teaspoons of crushed garlic out of a jar of the same make up four cloves and how many teaspoons of crushed ginger amount to "1 piece fresh ginger 5 cm (2 inches) long and 2.5 cm (1 inch wide), peeled and coarsely chopped".

    I don't think I really have the right attitude to get the best results from Madhur Jaffrey's recipes anyway. Take the recipe for kheema (minced meat) of which Ms Jaffrey says "This is the first Indian dish all Indian students abroad learn to make." It includes the following instruction:

    ... In about 10 seconds, when the peppers turn dark, add paste from blender, keeping your face averted.

    I'd take that as a pretty clear indication that, despite the fact that in some of Ms Jaffrey's recipes various ingredients are identified as "optional" or "if available", when it comes down to putting the whole dish together, you have to approach the task with a proper sense of religious dedication. On that score, I'm afraid I'm an abject failure; I can't see any good reason why I should be restricted to seeing only the nether parts of what I'm cooking. In fact, I'd rather not see the nether parts of what I'm cooking at all, because I find the whole idea of cooking nether parts rather unappetising.

    Even if I were inclined to follow a recipe with the sort of religious devotion Ms Jaffrey implicitly demands, I couldn't; I don't have a blender, so there's no way that I can turn two medium sized onions, four cloves of garlic and the aforesaid piece of ginger into a "paste from blender"; the best I can manage is a pile of finely diced onion (see Mastering the Art of French Cooking for the definitive approach to dicing onions; be sure that you use a very sharp knife and well refrigerated onions) topped with similarly diced ginger and garlic. Unless you really want to show off your knife technique, you might as well use the stuff in jars. I really don't have time for quasi-religious culinary rituals that require the use of electricity. Unless it's beating egg whites into stiff peaks; one of those electric beater things will spare you a lot of inflammation of the elbow and shoulder joints.

    Elizabeth David's Italian Food got on the reading list because I was looking for good desserty/cakey things that I could whip up that would fit within budget. Mastering the Art of French Cooking has a recipe for a killer chocolate cake but it takes about 800 grams of good quality dark cooking chocolate to do it justice (around 400 for the cake from memory, and another 400 for the ganache, (which you'll find in Jacques Pepin's La Technique - or Larousse, which has specific recipes for the essential stuff, and enough descriptive notes on obscure things like panade that you can figure something out for yourself). When you factor in the eggs and butter (but not the flour, which you should have in the larder already), it costs big time to produce a good quality chocolate cake. And I'd be working with a new, totally unfamiliar, oven, so I'm not going to spend all those ackers until I know how the bastard behaves. Nor until I have some occasion that warrants all the time, effort and money that I'd have to put in.

    So I was looking for an alternative to cooking up elaborate and hideously expensive chocolate cakes, and I found a recipe for Torrone Molle, which requires no baking at all. You need 6 ounces each of cocoa, butter, sugar, ground almonds and plain biscuits such as "Petit Buerre or Osborne"; I'm not sure what that translates to in an Australian supermarket, I suppose you could see how you get on with Arnott's Scotch Fingers or Milk Arrowroot. You also need one whole egg and one egg yolk. If you don't know how to acquire an egg yolk, ask your granny; as long as you haven't ignored the proverbial advice, I'm sure you'll find her guidance useful. If you haven't, please don't invite me around to your place for coffee and Torrone Molle; I'm not confident that it will be hygienic. And if your idea of good coffee is that Vietnamese weasel coffee stuff, just forget the whole idea.

    Basically, you combine the butter and cocoa into a soft paste, then stir in the ground almonds; melt the sugar in a saucepan with a little water and add it to the cocoa mixture (if you've got a good kitchen reference, like Larousse, check out the section on stock sugar syrups for guidance); stir in the eggs and finally the biscuits and turn the whole mixture into an oiled turban mould and put it in the fridge. I'm not sure waht a turban mould is, but Ms David provides the following informative footnote:

    That [the turban mould] is what was used by Lina, the Tuscan cook who introduced me to this delicious recipe, rather different from the one usually known under this name in Italy. The torrone is easier to turn out from a rectangular loaf tin, or a cake tin with a removable base. The oil should be sweet almond oil (to be bought from the chemist) - E.D. 1963

    If this all sounds too elaborate, you might prefer a simpler home grown equivalent. Particularly if your granny's advice on the egg yolk has left you with the impression that separating eggs involves considerable discomfort in the nether parts. According to Zeppo Bakunin's copy of the PMWU Cookery Book you'll need 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons cocoa, 1 egg and 250 gram biscuits.

    You put the butter, sugar and cocoa in a saucepan over low heat and dissolve the sugar. Once it's dissolved, take it off the heat and add the egg. Then combine it with the crushed biscuits. If you have a turban mould coated with sweet almond oil from the chemist, you could toss the mixture in that and pass it off as Torrone Molle as found on page 277 of the Penguin edition of Italian Food by Elizabeth David. If, like the rest of us mere mortals, you don't, you'll just have to settle for pressing it into a flat tin, putting chocolate icing over it, cutting it into squares and calling it "Hedgehog". I think that it will probably taste more or less the same.

    Tuesday, July 06, 2004

    24 - The Final Season

    I think I'm probably the only person I know who's still watching 24 on Monday nights; the sensible thing woould be to check out the episode guide, find out the ending (which has something to do with the world being kept a safe place for democracy) and have done with it. Looking back on the previous 21 episodes (or at least those of them I didn't miss), the whole series has been one big shark steeple chase.

    For those who came in really late, or had the good sense to skip it entirely, the series kicked off with the discovery of the corpse of someone who had died from a deadly haemorrhagic virus which had somehow got into the hands of Latin American drug-lord, Hector Salazar. Hector's brother Ramon, a psychopath whose lawyer should really have insisted on hazard pay, was in a Los Angeles prison and Hector wanted him released. Hector more or less got what he wanted, thanks to CTU agent Jack Bauer who, in pursuit of his sworn duty to keep the US safe from the threat of all forms of terrorism, engineers a prison riot to cover his escape with Ramon (this happens at around 4:56 pm).

    Over the next couple of hours, Jack flees Los Angeles with Ramon, arrives in central America where he appears to be working with Hector and Ramon to obtain the virus that they used in their attempt to blackmail the US Government to obtain the release of Ramon. I can't remember the rationale, but a lot of money was involved; I think the idea was to buy up the entire world supply of the thing, then sell it on to someone else at a profit. If that makes any sense at all to you, I can put you in touch with someone who owns the exclusive world commercial rights to the bubonic plague.

    Later that night (or perhaps some time in the wee small hours of the morning) we learn that, contrary to appearances, Jack hasn't decided to take early retirement from the bureaucratic drudgery of defending whatever it is he defends, in fact the whole engineer a prison riot, get a few guards killed, run away in a hijacked helicopter business was an elaborate sting operation, which was intended to get the virus out of the hands of the terrorists (who can't be trusted) and into the hands of the Counter-Terrorist Unit (who can be trusted, but only by definition).

    By the next morning the sting operation has gone completely wrong, the virus is back in the hands of another terrorist, who enhances and weaponises it, releases it into the air-conditioning of a Los Angeles hotel and sends the US President a special cell-phone so that he can make his demands without his calls being traced; presumably he was able to pick up what's left of the Iridium satellite telophone network at E-Bay, or wherever it is that international terrorists get their stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if were E-Bay; the terrorists on 24 are very web-savvy; they even run to creating their own "hostage-cam" sites when they want to need to do a spot of personal extortion.

    I'm not sure if there's going to be a fourth series of 24; if there is, I won't be watching it. Unless they shift the action from Los Angeles to Washington, and the first episode starts out something like this:

    Wide Angle view of committee hearing room in congress. Senator John Keeler is centre screen, flanked by several other senators, obviously committe members. The room is crowded with journalists and onlookers. Senator Keeler raps the table with his gavel.

    SENATOR KEELER: This hearing is now in session. We will continue with the testimony of CTU agent Jack Bauer. As Agent Bauer is already under oath, I propose to proceed directly to my next set of questions.

    Agent Bauer, is it correct that last year you were involved in a CTU sting operation and that during that operation you held prison guards at the Downey federal holding facility and demanded they release all prisoners from their cells?

    Cut to: Jack Bauer at the witness table. He takes a sip of water from the standard senate committee tumbler, next to the standard senate committee water jug and mutters something to the woman sitting beside him, who is obviously his lawyer.

    JACK: Under legal advice I wish to assert my fifth amendment rights in answer to that question Mr Chairman.

    Cut to:

    SENATOR KEELER: So far agent Bauer, this committee has put 168 questions to you and you have answered every one by asserting your fifth amendment rights. At any time in your career with CTU did you ever do anything you can tell us about without risking self-incriminination?

    Cut to: Jack, in
    sotto voce discussion with his lawyer again.

    JACK:, it's OK, I can answer this one. On my first day at CTU, I had to go out for the office lunches. They always make the newbies do that (his lawyer interrupts - they mutter some more) ... under legal advice I must assert my fifth amendment rights in relation to any further questions on CTU lunch procurement.

    Monday, July 05, 2004

    Vince Gair and the Sioux Nation

    Yes, it's true, I did see Boynton last wednesday night night and we did exchange a few messages by semaphore and she has been trying to persuade me to get back to blogging and I guess she finally succeeded. I thought I'd start with some long overdue words of explanation for my absence form the blogosphere. There's a piece on a hard disc somewhere called Long OVerdue Words of Explanation but the title doesn't work for me. Every time I see it I get depressed and a little guilt stricken and decide to do something else while the piece writes itself in the back of my head. As if.

    The something else is playing FreeCiv, which is installed on my new Linux box. It's not really new - it used to be a Windows box at a Roman Catholic secondary school somewhere. Shortly after Zeppo Bakunin andI moved in together, we decided to replace our dud PCs and paid thirty sevendollars each for a couple of Acer boxes through an on-line auction place. Iturned mine into a Linux box by getting rid of the old hard-drive and whackingin the Quantum Fireball hard-drive from my old PC with the dead motherboard.That was pretty much it, apart from flashing a new BIOS to get rid of thepassword protection on the old BIOS so that I could add a CD and a Floppy discdrive. Two days after Zeppo brough the boxes home, I had a functioning Linux PC.

    Complete with FreeCiv 1.12 which I find perversely fascinating; perhaps I enjoy being irritated by obvious absurdity.

    Getting a game started is one of those slightly roundabout nerdy Linux tasks; suffice it to say you first start the game server which actually runs the game, then you start the game client which actually allows you to play it. Thisisn't absurd; it's designed to be played as a multi-player game over theinternet, so a client/server setup makes sense. Once the game's started you chooseyour nation from a list of about fifty. I usually take the Australians, ruled by Vince Gair. I tried out a few other names for rulers (in preference to the default Robert Menzies) like Alan Cadman, Rex Connor and Joh-Bjelke Peterson but the game seems to go best with Vince.

    The object of the game is to conquer the world, or something like that. You begin by building a couple of cities, explore your local neighbourhood, do the scientific research which will eventually enable you to become a world-dominating superpower. If you're lucky, you'll make it; but what usually happens is that around 50 BC, when the Australians, under Vince's benevolent despotism, have just mastered the wheel so they can build chariots and finally knock off the bloody Welsh (or the Incas, Welsh, Cornish, Mordors or Dunedan depending what nations the server picks for the AI players) the bloody Irish (or the Russians, Arabs, Israelis, Canadians, French or Lithuanians) turn up with steam-powered warships and level Canberra.

    The trick, I've found, is to survive long enough to research two key "technologies" - communism and powered flight. It's remarkable how easily you can take over a coastal city with a galleon stuffed with knights in armour, as long as you have air support. Imagine what Henry the Fifth could have done at Agincourt if he'd had a couple of Sopwith Camels on his side; history would have turned out pretty much the same.

    The idea of knights conquering cities with the assistance of fighter aircraft, bombers and helicopters doesn't irritate me; it's actually quite amusing. It's the designers' ideas on the nature of government, and the way those ideas are reflected in the game that gets my goat.

    There are five forms of governemt available; despotism, monarchy, republicanism, democracy and communism. Here's how they're described in the game's help system:

    Under Despotism you are the absolute ruler of your people. Your control over your citizens is mainitained largely by martial law. Despotism suffers the highest level of corruption of all forms of government.

    Under Monarchy, a king or queen serves as the hereditary figurehead for your government. Monarchy suffers the same amount of corruption that the Republic does.

    Under a Republican government, citizens elect a representative who will govern them. Since elected leaders must remain popular to remain in control, citizens are given a greater degree of freedom. Citizens under a republic become unhappy easily but the self-sufficiency of your citizens allows high levels of trade.

    Under Democracy, citizens govern directly by voting on issues. Democracy offers the highest levels of trade, but also offers to most potential for unhappiness. There is no corruption during Democracy, but citizens become very upset during wars.

    What all this boils down to when you play the game is very little: the whole thing runs on a soviet-style command economy anyway. It's just that if you choose one of the openly authoritarian or repressive forms of government, the bitizens will indulge in some pointless electronic pilferage which cuts into your ability to raise funds, research your next major scientific advance (such as Literacy) or distribute "luxuries" (the digital equivalent of baby-bonuses) to keep the population docile.

    The end result is, that if you have the sentimental idea that freedom is a good thing and you want all your bitizens to enjoy a representative form of government, you're stuffed. The most practicable forms of government are despotism, monarchy and communism; you can keep the populace under control with martial law, you don't pay heavy penalties to maintain your knights, galleons, fighter aircraft and attack helicopters and it's cheaper to maintain the work-crews which build your infrastructure (like roads). On a good day, I can have King Vince of Australia turned into Chairman Vince of the Australian Union of Soviet Republics by around 1650 AD. Then it's time to start creating lots of spies to run around nicking the really advanced technologies (like Gunpowder and steam engines) off everyone else.

    I reckon I'll probably give up on it in a couple of days or so; but first I want to find out how the Sioux nation will stand up to a mass invasion of charioteers. After the shock and awe bombardment with cruise missiles it ought to be a walkover.