Friday, March 12, 2004

To Err Is Human

I wasn't entirely comfortable with Professor Bunyip's description of me as "gentlemanly" last week - it makes me feel like I should have a couple of "seconds" for other gentlemen affronted by this blog to call upon, to make the traditional arrangements for a meeting at dawn. I really wouldn't want to get into that sort of gentlemanly behaviour, unless I could be absolutely certain that I could manage things so that I had choice of weapons whenever I found myself faced with a demand for satisfaction.

Still, I'm sure that the appellation was intended as a compliment, which I'm pleased to be able to return - so all credit to the gracious and gentlemanly Gudgeon, S.

Studiously Ignoring Madrid

Just up on the ABC web-site this World Today report covers the three competing theories on who was responsible for the Madrid bombings:

Three theories are emerging. The first, favoured by the Spanish Government is that this was the work of the Basque separatist group, ETA.

The bombs are said to have been made with the same type of explosive used in the past by ETA terrorists, though the leader of a Basque political party linked to ETA has denied it was involved.

The second theory is that Muslim extremists possibly linked to al-Qaeda were behind the bombings.

This has been given substance by the discovery of a stolen van containing detonators and a cassette tape of Koranic teachings, and the delivery of a letter to a London Arabic language newspaper purporting to claim responsibility for the attack on behalf of al-Qaeda.

And the final theory is the chilling possibility that this is the work of two terror organisations, which have put aside their ideological differences in order to target a common enemy.

I don't think it's worth adding anything to that. Not even the instructions on how to make "pump canals" for which, according to the Google Translator you need "5 ... spoonfuls" of ETA's favourite explosive.


While I was Googling up references for another post, which has so far been about two weeks in the making and probably won't ever appear here anyway, I found this interesting tidbit from a famous historical document:

10. If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective of whom he holds his lands. If such a debt falls into the hands of the Crown, it will take nothing except the principal sum specified in the bond.

11. If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it. If he leaves children that are under age, their needs may also be provided for on a scale appropriate to the size of his holding of lands. The debt is to be paid out of the residue, reserving the service due to his feudal lords. Debts owed to persons other than Jews are to be dealt with similarly.

I'll leave it to you to track down the document in question; it should be simple enough for proficient Googlers. I think you'll be surprised when you find it.

Thursday, March 11, 2004


Fancy yourself as Maxwell's Demon? (link via boynton).

And here's the latest news on the Florida end of Collins Street.

Finally, a slightly overdue hello, to new readers who found this blog through Tim Dunlop's Blogjam at Web Diary. I would have posted this yesterday, but I was too busy trying to come up with something that dealt with the events of the day in a quirky way. It ain't all beer and skittles being one of the blogosphere's real discoveries.

Another Di[s]appointing Homonym

Victoria's Chief Police Commissioner, Christine Nixon, was on the radio this morning, talking to Jon Faine. One of the subjects they discussed was the fact that the Australian Crime Commission will be assisting the Victoria Police with their inquiries in the Piranha investigation. Well that's what I thought she said. Twice. On checking the printed media, it turns out that the investigation, into Melbourne's recent spate of gangland killings, is called Operation Purana.

It had me going for a moment there; I was looking forward to reports that the case had been cracked by an undercover policeman who had adopted the persona of Sancho Panza from Man of La Mancha, complete with outrageous Welsh accent, to penetrate Victoria's underworld and find the guilty parties.

The Talented Mr Copperfield

I've been reading bloody Charles Dickens again. The last time I was in my local library, looking for something by Phillip K Dick, there wasn't anything there I hadn't re-read at least once in the last two years, so I succumbed to the temptation to look a couple of shelves lower and came away with a copy of David Copperfield. It's the 1996 Penguin Classics edition with a post-structuralist introduction by Jeremy Tambling; Derrida, Foucault and Deleuze all score a mention in the first paragraph.

Now, we all know that life was tough in Dickensian England - that's why we call it Dickensian after all. The poor lived out their lives in squalid, drastically underlit hovels walled only by cheap painted canvas flats, while the more affluent middle class could afford more robust constructions of wallpapered plywood, with a birdsong atmosphere track and a yellow flood outside the cellophane window to simulate the afternoon sun. The affluent and the poor alike were all pretty shabby people, dressed in re-tailored cast-offs from last year's serialisation of Pride and Prejudice. It's hardly surprising that people living in such deprived circumstances would have such a high mortality rate.

But the body count in David Copperfield is pretty high even by Dickens' standards. In Chapter IX, David has a memorable birthday; he is told by Mrs Creakle, the wife of his school headmaster, that his mother has died of Supernumary Character's Disease (SCD). By the time he arrives home for the funeral, he learns that it was, in fact, a highly contagious form of SCD which has carried off his step-brother as well.

In chapter XXX, Barkis, the carrier who has married Peggotty his childhood nurse also succumbs to SCD. In the following chapter, Little Emily, his childhood friend, abandons home and fiancee to become a fallen woman - in due course she will suffer a Fate Worse than Death (FWD) and achieve eventual redemption in chapter L. Chapter XXXVIII brings the Mysterious Sudden Death (MSD) of David's employer Mr Spenlow who is also the father of David's intended Dora. By chapter XLVIII Dora, now married to David, is showing the first symptoms of an obviously terminal case of SCD herself. In chapter LIII ( a good 57 pages later), she too dies, but not before infecting her dog Jip.

In between the deaths of Mr Spenlow and Dora, David and his friend Mr Peggotty (brother of his childhood nurse) prevent the suicide of another fallen woman Martha. Finally, at the end of chapter LV we learn of the death of the estranged husband of David's aunt Miss Trotwood; a death which releases the last slender hold the obsequious Uriah Heep might have over her.

At least three of these deaths - the deaths of Mr Spenlow, Dora and the dog Jip - occur in circumstances which suggest that there might be darker forces at work than the ordinary risks of being a minor character in a Dickens novel.

Spenlow is found lying by the road a mile from his home, after his horses and carriage arrive there without him. His death occurs the very night after he has confronted David with the love letters that David has sent to his daughter Dora without Spenlow's knowledge. Their confrontation includes the following revealing exchange:

'... you can hardly think,' said Mr Spenlow, 'having experience of what we see, in the Commons here, every day, of the various unaccountable and negligent proceedings of men, in respect of their testamentary arrangements [i.e. making their wills] - of all subjects, the one on which perhaps the strangest revelations of human inconsistency are to be met with - but that mine is made?'

I inclined my head in acquiescence.

'I should not allow,' said Mr Spenlow ... 'my suitable provision for my child to be influenced by a piece of youthful folly like the present. It is mere folly ... But I might - I might ... be induced in some anxious moment to guard her from, and surround her with protections against the consequences of, any foolish step in the way of marriage. Now, Mr Copperfield, I hope that you will not render it necessary for me to open, even for a quarter of an hour, that closed page in the book of life, and unsettle ... grave affairs long since composed."
[My emphasis]

Later, after giving an account of the rest of his day, and how he spent the evening, David describes how he arrives at work the following day to learn that Mr Spenlow is dead, and includes this hearsay description of Mr Spenlow's corpse:

"[he was] more than a mile off [from home] ... lying partly on the roadside, and partly on the path, upon his face. Whether he fell out in a fit, or got out, feeling ill before the fit came - or even whether he was quite dead then, though there is no doubt he was quite insensible - no one appears to know. If he breathed certainly he never spoke. Medical assistance was got as soon as possible, but it was quite useless."

Very strange; was Spenlow's death the result of a desperate author realising that he has painted himself into a corner plot-wise, or did a certain protagonist decide that he would actively prevent the father of his beloved from opening "even for a quarter of an hour, that closed page in the book of life"?

The case of Dora and her dog Jip is even more troubling. The basic facts are these; by chapter LIII, Dora's Supernumary Character's Disease has progressed to the point where she is bedridden and, as is typical of these cases, aware that she only has another dozen pages, tops, before she's out of the story. The dog Jip, has also aged rather rapidly ovee the course of fifty or so pages and is now quite decrepit. Dora has also developed the remarkable insight into her own situation and the motivations of other characters that is often seen in patients in the late stages of Supernumary Character's Disease:

"I am going to speak to you Doady [David]. I am going to say something I have often thought of saying lately. You won't mind?" [Dora said] with a gentle look.

"Mind my darling?"

"Because I don't know what you will think, or what you may have thought sometimes. Perhaps you have often thought the same. Doady, dear, I am afraid I was too young."


"I am afraid, dear, I was too young. I don't mean in years only, but in experience, and thoughts, and everything. I was such a silly little creature! I am afraid it would have been better, if we had only loved each other as a boy and girl, and forgotten it. I have begun to think I was not fit to be a wife."

Dora's thoughts on her marriage to David aren't far from thoughts of his own that David has revealed to us. But the most remarkable part of this episode is yet to come.

David's real love Agnes is also present in the house (at Dora's request). After this last conversation with David, Dora tells him that she wants to speak with Agnes in private. So David returns to the parlour, where he is alone with the dog, while Agnes is upstairs alone with Dora. Here is how the chapter ends:

He [Jip] comes very slowly to me, licks my hand, and lifts his dim eyes to my face.

"O, Jip! It may be, never again!"

He lies down at my feet, stretches himself out as if to sleep, and with a plaintive cry, is dead.

"O Agnes! Look, look, here!"

- That face, so full of pity and grief, that rain of tears, that awful mute appeal to me, that solemn hand upraised toward Heaven!


It is over. Darkness comes before my eyes; and, for a time, all things are blotted out of my remembrance.

The coincidence of the dog dying immediately before David learns of Dora's death is striking; but we can't help wondering what Agnes got up to while she was alone upstairs with Dora. Did she rearrange the pillows with extreme prejudice while David was downstairs seeing off the dog? Was it just Dickens, glossing over the detail to get Dora out of the way so he could move onto more interesting* things, or did something darker happen here?

* "more interesting" in the same way that you might consider scratching your balls more interesting than scratching your arse. Or vice versa; your scratching preferences are your business. Let's keep it that way.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Santoro Watch

I learnt a new word today: winegate. It's a Queensland word for "storm in a teacup". Star Coalition bench-warmer, Senator Santo Santoro used the Adjournment debate yesterday to give the Beattie government a good hiding over the fact that "an illicit $10 bottle of cab sav" found its way into a dry Aboriginal community on a government jet carrying Queensland Indigenous Affairs Minister, Liddy Clark.

Senator Santoro began by making it quite clear that he had no personal axe to grind with Ms Clark:

Tonight I want to speak about the disgraceful behaviour of the Queensland Premier in relation to what has become known as the winegate affair. At the outset, I want to say to honourable senators that I have thought very deeply about all this before deciding to speak out publicly. I did so because the Queensland minister who managed to enmesh herself in this unseemly display is Liddy Clark, the person who defeated me in my state seat of Clayfield in 2001. For three years I have purposely not made any critical public comment on her so that no-one on the Labor side of politics or indeed anywhere else would be able to claim that it was sour grapes on my part. But tonight I am duty bound to comment on the moral bankruptcy of the Premier of Queensland and the government that he leads—the government that he leads from well behind the action if we are to believe what he has a track record of claiming when in difficulty that he did not know.

No, it is Senator Santoro's painful duty to tell it like it is; to call a spade a spade and an incompetent an incompetent:

It is inevitable that my comments tonight will necessarily go to questions of Ms Clark's behaviour as a minister. The shameful farce that she and the Premier have visited on my state for the past week as they try to evade what otherwise would be the inevitable penalty for their stupidity is a disgrace to public administration and to the government of Queensland. It is hardly possible to credit that an illicit $10 bottle of cab sav somehow flew all the way from Brisbane to Lockhart River in the far north of Cape York Peninsula in the government jet with the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy aboard, via an overnight stop at Weipa, and failed to come to her attention. My comments will inevitably raise questions about Ms Clark's suitability for ministerial office after one term in parliament as a backbencher in which the closest she came to setting the world on fire was to sing a song in parliament and stage a smoking ceremony to chase away the spirits when she took over the electorate office I had just vacated.

Senator Santoro then turns his forensic intellect to an analysis of Peter Beattie's nefarious involvement in "winegate":


In relation to the so-called winegate affair, there is very strong evidence of ministerial impropriety by Mr Beattie, among others. At the height of the Netbet affair Mr Beattie finally stood aside his then Treasurer, David Hamill. On the face of it, the winegate affair is less serious. In fact, it is a farce. But, politically, it is a bottler. The conflagration that Mr Beattie is now battling is one he started himself. The Premier's conduct in all of this has been completely inappropriate. The conduct of his office also demands close scrutiny ...

and finishes with a timely warning that "winegate" is no laughing matter:

... The people of Queensland, and doubtless others in other places, are having a rare old laugh. As Peninsula Regional Council chairman, Eddie Woodley, and Cairns Regional Council chairman, Terry O'Shane, said in a statement they released yesterday, the attention being given to `a single bottle of unopened plonk' is just unbelievable. And that is it in a nutshell. The Premier has brought this crisis on himself. He is in grave danger of making himself a laughing stock. That would be tragic because he does not deserve that. He deserves to be seen as an antidemocratic wrecker of the process of government and of the lives of people who get between him and his image ...

Postscript: Senator Santoro was also busy on Monday, when the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties considered a proposal that Australia withdraw from the International Fund for Agricultural Development. As Senator Santoro is at his best as a committee performer, I might give that the once over later this week.

Pop Culture Gender Bender

A friend has passed on a marketing E-Mail about "VC Andrews" latest posthumous novel Celeste:

Cleo Virginia Andrews was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, and initially made her living as a fashion illustrator and ad designer. She published her first novel, Flowers in the Attic, in 1979. More than 40 novels later, there are over 90 million copies of her works in print. Following her death, the Andrews family worked with a carefully selected writer to organize and complete Virginia Andrews' stories and to create additional novels inspired by her storytelling genius.

In Celeste, the first book in the new Gemini series, Celeste and her identical twin brother, Noble, are as close as can be -- until a tragic accident takes Noble's life. It's a loss that pushes their mother, a woman obsessed with New Age superstitions, over the edge.... Desperate to keep her son "alive," Celeste's mother forces her to cut her hair, wear boys' clothes, and take on Noble's identity.
[my emphasis]

At, Flowers in the Attic is described as a "dark, terrifying tale of passion and peril in the lives of four innoocent children". Celeste just strikes me as dim.