Saturday, February 25, 2006

What I Plan to be Reading as Soon as I Can Get My Grubby Hands on It

I noticed in today's Age that the second instalment in Arturo Perez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste series - Purity of Blood - is out in English translation. Furthermore, the review mentions that there's to be a Captain Alatriste film later this year with Viggo Mortensen as the captain. An obvious piece of typecasting, that - like casting Antonio Banderas to play Roald Amundsen in a remake of Scott of the Antarctic.
Last Week's Lost Weekend Posts (I)
Philosophy Cornered

Sorry to go all meta on you - well no, not really - but I've been putting a bit of thought into the question why do so many bloggers and blog commenters write so much crap? This led to some reflections on the nature of human reason which, while nowhere near as detailed as Hume's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, nonetheless yielded some valuable insights that are worth sharing with you lot. That about does it for the dilatory opening remarks - you can consider yourselves bloody lucky to have got any at all - let's hop into the argument.

I. Gummo Trotsky is perfectly rational in all respects.

I see no need to defend this proposition - it strikes me as intuitively obvious. I know that there are a lot of you out there for whom it's not intuitively obvious, but this post isn't addressed to you. It's addressed to the few readers I have who are sufficiently rational to recognise the obvious truth of the proposition. The rest of you may as well piss off and read something more suited to your intellectual capacities - like Winnie the Pooh.

II. All disagreements between Gummo Trotsky and others are caused by their failure to be as perfectly rational as Gummo Trotsky.
Corollary: you lot are only rational to the extent that your opinions and beliefs agree with Gummo Trotsky's opinions and beliefs. With one exception. Obviously anyone who is not Gummo Trotsky but who holds beliefs identical to those of Gummo Trotsky believes themselves to be Gummo Trotsky and is therefore delusional - and, eo ipse dixit dominus domino theorem, not rational. Got that? R D0 I HV 2 SA IT A77 AGN N TXT?

III. Perfect rationality is only attainable by someone who is identical to Gummo Trotsky in all respects.

I know that's going to be hard for a lot of you to take but really, I have thought very hard on this. Once I realised that I was perfectly rational, I naturally turned to the question why me? How did I get stuck with this appalling burden? The simple answer is that it's partly an accident of birth, partly the result of my upbringing, education and experience. And the bad news just keeps on coming.

IV. Only Gummo Trotsky is identical to Gummo Trotsky.

That's an empirical fact, but it's also demonstrable a priori. Even if I did have a monozygoticly* twin brother (which I don't) his upbringing and education could not be identical to mine in all respects. Neither could his life experience; in fact whatever potential he might have would have been hopelessly warped by living in my shadow, always aspiring to be someone he couldn't be - me. On the whole, he's lucky he doesn't exist. It's probably better for the rest of the world too.

Conclusion: The only perfectly rational person in the world is Gummo Trotsky.

As far as I can see, that conclusion is incontestable. Quod erat demonstrandum and all that. If there's any smart arse out there thinking they can refute the argument by the simple expedient of substituting their own name for mine throughout, think again. If you really were the rationality hot-shot you think you are you would have come up with the whole thing for yourself, before I did. You didn't**.

* - Incidentally, if every human life begins at conception, every pair of monozygotic twins includes one entity which, by definition, isn't human. Bit of a puzzler that.

** - And don't forget, either, that I came up with this a week ago. So if you've just come up with a similar argument and posted it on your blog, you're still stuffed.
Last Week's Lost Weekend Posts (II)
My Saturday, By Gummo Trotsky, Age Whatever

Note: I wrote this on Saturday, 18 February. In today's Age, Ray Cassin pays out on all the TV critics who have been sucked in by The Biggest Loser. Ross Warneke isn't mentioned by name, but the "typical review" of the show that Cassin pays out on sounds a lot like Warneke's.

Zeppo Bakunin is of the opinion that I should give up reading - or at least restrict myself to fiction in future. He's got a point - reading blogs, blog comments and the papers hasn't doing much for my mood today - and he's had to put up with the consequences.

The trouble started this afternoon, when I looked in on a comments thread into which I'd dropped a little jocule, to discover that my comment had been bloody nit-picked. To make matters worse, I was pretty sure that the comment was nit free - but all I had to go on was vague memories of what I'd read in the PSSC Physics text back in the late sixties and a couple of somewhat dated books of the "complicated science stuff made more or less intelligible to the lay reader" genre. Neither of which I was able to find, naturally.

While Comrade Bakunin took himself off to the gracious City of Stonnington for a performance of Opera in the Park - which, he reported to me later, turned out as more of a Sixties style spontaneous audience participation "happening", with the singing and orchestral performance enhanced with improvisational percussion using found instruments such as wine bottles and bins, groups of amateur players performing improvised Theatre of the Banal dialogues on picnic rugs and a few solo performers on mobile phones - I took myself to the supermarket, to pick up some provender for a little ragu I decided to whip up by way of comfort food. Got home in time for MIIB on Channel Ten.

In the ad breaks I slipped out to the kitchen, sliced some celery very finely, started in on the onion, finely sliced to match the celery. I got half the onion neatly sliced before I realised I wanted the bloody thing minced and it was too late to do that little trick where you make parallel cuts down the onion, almost to the root, and then slice it and voila! Minced onion. Instead I had to do that holding the knife at both ends and chopping up the slices thing, which looks nowhere as neat in the mise en place.

Obviously, once I had the ragu cooking and the pasta on to boil (that came later) and the mushrooms had been sliced and tussed in as a last minute finisher, I started to run out of excuses to nick out of the room during the ad-breaks. Which included a fair few promos for Ten's latest foray into inspirational television, a home grown version of The Biggest Loser. The voice-over artist for the ad promised us an elimination. The ad also featured a scene where a guy was crying while a woman in a somewhat confrontational posture said something I couldn't quite make out.

After Zeppo got back from Stonnington, and reported on the avant-garde doings in Stonnington, we both sat back and watched Eric Bana play that troubled guy with serious anger management issues in The Hulk. The promo came on again and I remembered that The Biggest Loser had been reviewed in The Age Green Guide, somewhere. Somewhere turned out to be page 7 and the reviewer turned out to be Ross Warneke in his Rewind column. Whatever generation he is, he does it little credit in this article:

IT'S confession time. After more than 20 years of writing and talking about television, there are some shows that I know I will not like, even before I see them. Lately it has been reality shows built around exploitation and humiliation. Not the team game formats of Survivor or The Amazing Race, but the shows that are constructed solely around the belittling and shaming of contestants.

So when Channel Ten announced it was planning an Australian clone of the American fat-farm reality show The Biggest Loser, I knew I would hate it.


But I confess: I am hooked on this show. And I am not alone.

How did Ross get hooked, despite his belief that it was going to be voyeuristic, degrading. pathetic and tacky? Well we'll come to that later. First we have to disarm any potential critics:

... the politically correct will claim, as they were doing even before the series began, that it is no more than an exercise in humiliation aimed at serving the voyeuristic demands of the masses - and making money for a commercial TV network.

And now that's out of the way, Ross feels it's safe to tell us why he likes the show:

I was one of those who assumed much the same thing - until Monday. What changed my mind was that the producers have been smart enough to select 12 contestants with whom we can feel some affinity and some compassion.

I'm buggered if I can think of a way to satirise this blindingly stupid paragraph. All it amounts to is that the producers got Ross's number: they were clever enough to pick a group of contestants whose exploitation would give the audience a nice warm inner glow of meretricious fellow-feeling. It may be exploitation but it's decent exploitation, which makes all the difference.

It's at this point in the review that the top of my head blew off. I handed the Green Guide over to Comrade Bakunin and he actually read on from there, to the finish of the article:

These people are not being exploited. They have volunteered to appear on the show. They know from watching the American series of The Biggest Loser screened by Ten last year what they will have to endure. Some will be humiliated.

They know that lots of us will be following their progress, laughing at them sometimes, crying for them at others. And it might hurt. But is that any worse than having to live an entire life in which you know that you are seen, rightly or wrongly, as a loser?

Then he came up with that friendly suggestion that I lay off the reading for a while, or at the very least, stick to fiction. Right now that sounds very sensible, although it's going to make topical blogging a bit difficult. I'll have to consider other possible projects - a complete fisking of A la Recherche de Temps Perdu perhaps. That ought to provide a fair bit of material to be going on with.

Before we turned off the TV, I caught that biggest loser promo one more time - and finally made out the words that the female trainer was saying to that bloke who was in tears: Why do you feel you're such a piece of crap?
A Night to Remember, A Night to Forget

It happened in the back garden of one of Melbourne's most eminent conservative academics on a December night a few days before Christmas. Each year, the Professor and his family - wife Victoria and daughter Regina - put on an evening of pre-Christmas drinks for their friends. Me and the ex got invited through our social connections with the Professor's daughter, who was a little, even rather a lot, to the left of her father on political issues. As you might imagine the political positions of the guests reflected those of their respective hosts, so it was a very mixed gathering.

I forget his name - for present purposes we might as well call him Cedric Cudham and have done with it. Of his appearance, all I remember is that he wore a pair of coke bottle spectacles and academic deshabille - a pale cream open-necked shirt which may, or may not, have been graced with a cravat in lieu of a necktie. He spoke with an accent of the kind that once prompted a long-lost girlfriend - a working holidayer from the Old Dart - to ask "Why do so many people in this country work so hard at sounding like middle-class gits from Surbiton?" She laughed when I told her that they weren't working at it that, in fact, they picked up their Surbiton accents at our most exclusive private schools. In Cedric's case, I think she might have been on the money; whatever the source of his accent, he put a lot of effort into letting everyone know that he had one.

For Cedric, the Professor - who actually preferred to be called Albert or Bert - could only be addressed as Professor or Sir. Mrs Professor was Victoria and Miss Professor, their daughter, Regina. The rest of us were just you as befitted our status as nameless non-entities with no connections who could assist his rise to a lofty eminence of academic mediocrity. In other words, he was one of those kiss up and kick down guys.

The conversation was at that vague stage between the opening - when people are sounding each other out with questions like "So, what do you do for a crust?" staying well away from controversial topics, preferring to talk pop-culture instead until they've got some idea of how to get into the interesting stuff without provoking a blazing row - and the conversational middle game, when those controversial topics finally get opened. Possibly Cedric was impatient to get into his middle game. Whatever the reason, he asked apropos nothing at all "What do you think of this Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in custody then, Regina?" Talk about bringing out your Queen too early.

Regina didn't take up his invitation; she said something non-commital and turned to another topic. You might say she castled short with a view to putting together a solid pawn position, but that's straining the metaphor a bit. But Cedric wasn't to be put off that easily - he pursued the topic until someone broke in to ask: "Well, what do you think of the Royal Commission then?"

It was a voice I recognised easily. It was that of my beloved - this was back in the old days, well before the night we broke the sacred oath we took one night that we would never be that couple in the restaurant who've decided to go out and talk their difficulties over on neutral ground, with a good meal thrown in to help keep things more or less civil, then fail miserably in the endeavour and put all the other customers off their food.

I recognised the look on her face too - seeing it, the last thing that I would be inclined to do would be offer an opinion on the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody but Cedric was made of much denser stuff. "Well, I think it was gross waste of the taxpayer's money," he declared, "if you look at the statistics you'll find that most of the deaths in custody in Australia are of white prisoners but no-one's interested in having a Royal Commission into those."

Where precisely the dialogue went after that I don't recall, but it rapidly turned into one of those blazing rows that everyone had been trying very hard to avoid. Most of the blaze was on Cedric's side; there was a distinct chill on the other side of the table where my then-beloved was sitting. The two of them were gathering a bit of an audience too - there was a lot of jockeying for positions in the western stands, where it was easier to watch the spectacle of Cedric's facial expressions. All you could see from the eastern stands was the icy cold tigress-with-a-litter-of-cubs-to-feed glare of his interlocutor which, admirable as it was, was nowhere near as entertaining. Everybody looked very earnest and po-faced but there was a lot of traffic from the garden into the house, particularly the toilet, where people used the relative privacy to vent their feelings as best they could and restore their composure. I spent a good five minutes there myself, stamping my feet a few times and damn near biting off my index finger before I could get back to the impromptu entertainment.

When I got back, Cedric launched into a remark beginning "With all due respect ..." and faltered because nowhere in the course of the dispute so far had he bothered to find out who he was talking to. "Helga" offered the Valkyrie of my dreams.

"With all due respect Helga ..."

Helga pulled hard on the length of rope that he had just wound around his neck. "Don't give me 'with all due respect'," she said "We both know that means you don't respect me at all. I would never insult you by telling you that I respected you when I obviously didn't. Just come out and say what you have to say."

Poor Cedric was gobsmacked. His face glowed a deep scarlet and he sputtered a few times while he struggled to cope with the novel idea of delivering an insult without prefacing it with some mealy-mouthed periphrasis. He'd been called out to fight like a woman. It really was difficult for the poor chap so when he spoke again, it was with all the force of a stutterer finishing a long struggle with the word "pomposity".

"Alright Helga, you're a fool ..." he began, and went on to enumerate her several follies before restating his position with a few variations - there should have been a Royal Commission into white deaths in custody and the whole damn thing was a complete waste of time because no wrongdoing was found on the part of the police.

"They had a duty of care to all of those prisoners," Helga said, quietly but firmly "And they failed in that duty."

Once more, Cedric was gobsmacked. "But they all committed suicide!" he cried, "That's simply preposterous."

At this point, someone else jumped into the conversation - a retired businessman in his late fifties or early sixties, who had taken to writing crime fiction to make a few readies to pad out the income from his investments. "Actually, that's a pretty good point, regardless of whether a prisoner's black or white - while they're in custody the police do have a duty of care."

Finally, Cedric recognised that the audience was against him - he was outmatched on intellect, knowledge and simple good manners. He turned to his one last hope for salvation. "Well, what's your opinion, Professor, Sir?" he asked.

The Professor merely gave him a quizzical look and Cedric quickly subsided into silence. A few minutes later he said his goodbyes and left, working very hard at not looking like a man who is slinking away from an argument that he has just lost, making a complete fool of himself into the bargain. Once he was gone the conversation turned to the post-match commentary. Someone even made the mischievous suggestion that Cedric had primed himself for the evening by reading up on all the controversial topics he might find himself arguing about, the better to impress others - particularly Bert - with his compendious knowledge. OK, so that was me. Helga found a private moment to apologise to Victoria for her involvement in the whole kerfuffle.

"Oh, don't worry about it," Victoria reassured her, "It's about time Cedric was brought down a peg or two."

I learnt later that, in the New Year, Albert and Victoria had to get someone in to replace several cracked tiles and regrout the entire floor in the toilet.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Afloat Again!

Crossed my fingers and posted The Weaaselversary Post just now, to test whether that problem I was having on Sunday had gone away. Looks like I'm back in business.

There's still some refitting to do, come this weekend - a new template,a bit of a purge of the BlogIntern and switching fom Haloscan comments to Blogger comments. Commenting at this blog is generally light anyway but it's worth noting, so your pearls of wisdom and acerbic ripostes don't get lost in cyberspace.

The Weaselversary Post

This Week The Age is running a series on ten years of the Howard government. The general consensus seems to be that Howard owes his electoral success to low interest rates, low interest rates and low interest rates. Over at The Hun, Andrew Bolt has put a little more effort into analysing the Weasel's political success:

It seems Labor, at least, has finally learned not to be goaded into stupidity -- into monstering Howard just for saying an obvious truth, but one not endorsed by dinner-party moralists and snow-field socialists.

Of course, it should have learned this lesson long ago -- in 1996, when Howard won his first election.

That's pretty telling in my book - Howard is pretty much an expert at goading his political opponents into stupidity. It's also something of an unwitting self-revelation on Andy's part - when you come down to it, this is why he admires the little bugger. So much so, that he reckons:

LOOKING back over Howard's 10 years of government, it is in fact hard to spot anything he should be downright ashamed of having said.

That's not to say he hasn't made mistakes -- whether claiming children were thrown overboard or believing Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction.

And looking back over Andy's columns, you'd find it hard to spot anything he should be downright ashamed of having said either - most of that stuff has disappeared down the pay-per-view memory hole. But the page does feature an advertisement for an upcoming collection of Andrew's "best" columns under the title still not sorry.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Last Post

OK, so I just wiped out all of yesterday's output, yet again, by posting that last item. Which may have been wiped out by this one.

Had to happen eventually, I guess. Four years is a pretty good run. Time to arrange a temporary mooring with a view to finding a bigger berth later.

The Tragedy of the Uncommon

Courtesy of Daniel Barnes in this comment at Catallaxy, here's a tragic tale of what can happen when the irresistible intellectual force of Objectivism meets that stubbornly immovable object, human nature. If the story told here is true, I ought to be ashamed of myself for laughing at it so much. That's why I prefer to think someone's taking the piss. Here's a taster:

I have a relative in Florida who thinks my philosophy is abominable. He worked three “shit jobs” (one of them was cleaning sludge out of swimming pools), Home Depot and some other job wheeling dead patients around a morgue, all of this, while he was undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. I laud his stalwartness, but I don’t share his level of ambition to scratch in the dirt for subsistence survival. I want more out of life than working without sleep for years on end, risking an auto accident due to sleepiness, and having no time to recreate. I’ve been there, and it was insane. I once had a dream that I could save money by working 16 hours, 7 days a week. In the end, the IRS won big, and all I could save in two years was $900. I’m through with working the hard, stupid way.