Saturday, March 18, 2006


I don't know who John Armstrong is (and I don't have much desire to find out right now) but he sure knows how to hackney a phrase:

The problem with the extremist is the lack of generosity towards the crooked timbers of humanity. The failure, that is, to recognise just how hard it is for most people to live out ideals...

The crooked timbers aren't just to do with possessiveness, although I think that's a big component, but also with the inescapable messiness of life...

The central problem of civilised life - and civilisation - is in holding onto our ideals and putting them into workable versions, given the crooked timbers of humanity...

An essential part of being civilised, in this respect, is empathy with the crooked timbers of humanity. One should not mock people for being what they are; instead it is important to entice rather than berate...

This goes to the heart of being civilised, for being civilised is to do with holding onto good ideals while recognising and working with...
[no prizes for guessing what comes next]
(All quotes from Armstrong's article In search of the civilised life in today's rainforest version of The Age)

Look, I haven't had a cigarette in three and a half hours, so don't expect me to be in a particularly civilised mood.

The Enchanted Toasting Fork - Episode 9

Petro thumbed the Talk button, ending the telephone call. No luck again. He settled himself a little more comfortably in the bed - he felt something small and hard press into one of his shoulders. Thinking it was perhaps a bread or biscuit crumb he reached around, feeling for it with his fingers. Before he flicked it away onto the carpet in the corner of the room he noticed that it was a small russet gem. He put it on the bedside table.

Ruby came back into the room, dressed only in a light gown of silk or polyester - Petro wasn't good on fabrics, particularly the shiny ones. He picked up the gem off the bedside table, holding it up for Ruby to see. "I think you lost something." he remarked.

Ruby held out her hand and Petro dropped the stone in it; there was a slight edge to her vibrancy that made Petro uncomfortable. "Garnet," she said, "Not much more than two carats, if that. Might make someone a nice earring." She flicked it at the waste bin in the corner by the door, but missed. "Bugger it, I'll clean it up when I vacuum next." she finished, as vibrant as ever.

Petro was struck by how casually she had discarded the stone. He said so: "You're pretty casual about losing your jewellery."

"Plenty more where that came from," Ruby replied - Petro wasn't sure, but there seemed to be an edge of sarcasm to her vibrant tone.


Ruby took off her robe, revealing her jewel studded back, then slipped under the doona beside him. With her head resting on the hand of a crooked arm, she said "Well, I suppose I have to tell you about it sometime."

No you don't thought Petro, as he realised that he had, however inadvertently, invited Ruby to tell him her back story. We could just go on as we are for a couple of weeks and then break up. But of course there was no going back - he could either listen to Ruby's tale or be sent packing to spend an uncomfortable evening with a bag of frozen vegetables pressed to his testicles. And have it noised about that he was a selfish, insensitive bastard for the next few weeks into the bargain. Petro wasn't up for that so he shifted his pillow and sat up a little.

"I was born a princess, in case you haven't figured it out," Ruby went on, "You've studied magic, right?" Pedro nodded, "OK, so you know how these things work."

"There isn't a royal family anywhere that doesn't have at least one pissed off stepmother or spinster aunt kicking around the palace and if it's not that then you've got the usual gaggle of well-meaning fairy godmothers and the wicked one. Makes royal christenings - especially of girls, pretty bloody fraught occasions, as you know."

"One thing I've never figured out," Petro remarked, "Why don't they hold the christenings in secret?"

"Because of the bloody tabloids of course!" Ruby snapped - vibrantly, "There's always some bloody overpaid chambermaid who's prepared to leak news of an upcoming christening, and once that happens you get the paparazzi and the editorials about how the King and Queen have forgotten their duty to their subjects, blah, blah, blah. Believe me, it's been tried and it never works out."

"So you got enchanted by your evil stepmother at your christening then?" asked Petro, fascinated despite himself.

"No, I got the idiot good fairy-godmothers and smart-arsed wicked fairy-godmother package." Ruby lay back and stared at the ceiling. Abruptly she lay back, staring at the ceiling. Petro turned so that he sould see her face in profile - were her eyes a little brighter than usual?

"So, as usual, the christening was a disaster. One of the idiot good fairy-godmothers decided that her blessing on me was that I'd always present a cheerful face to the world, the second said something about how I'd be prized above rubies and then the third FG - the bitchy one - came in to screw up the whole thing. Are you sure you want to hear the rest of it?"

"Why not?" answered Petro. Bugger he thought now she thinks I'm really interested.

And the real bugger of it was that he was interested in hearing the rest of Ruby's story.

More back story: Episode 8. Episode 7 and links to previous episodes.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Magic Macaulay Moments

A historian's achievement lies in the advancement he makes upon his predecessors, and the giants of the nineteenth century are too often castigated by the ungrateful dwarves who stand on their shoulders.
(from the Introduction by AG Dickens of King's College, London)

... even in the sixteenth century a considerable number of those who quitted the old religion [Roman Catholicism] followed the first confident and plausible guide who offered himself, and were soon led into errors more serious than those which they had renounced. Thus Matthias and Kniperdoling, apostles of lust, robbery and murder, were able for a time to rule great cities. In a darker age such false prophets might have founded empires; and Christianity might have been distorted into a cruel and licentious superstition, more noxious, , not only than Popery, but even than Islamism.

... Whoever, knowing what Italy and Scotland naturally are, and what, four hundred years ago, they actually were, shall now compare the country round Rome with the country round Edinburgh, will be able to form some judgement as to the tendency of Papal domination... Whoever passes in Germany from a Roman Catholic to a Protestant principality, in Switzerland from a Roman Catholic to a Protestant canton, in Ireland from a Roman Catholic to a Protestant county, finds that he has passed from a lower to a higher grade of civilisation... The French have doubtless shown an energy and an intelligence which, even when misdirected, have justly entitled them to be called a great people. But this apparent exception, when examined, will be found to confirm the rule; for in no country that is called Roman Catholic, has the Roman Catholic Church, during several generations, possessed so little authority as in France. The literature of France is justly held in high esteem throughout the world. But if we deduct from that literature all that belongs to the four parties which have been, on different grounds, in rebellion against the Papal domination, all that belongs to the Protestants ... the asserters of the Gallican liberties ... the Jansenists, and ... the philosophers, how much will be left?

In natural courage and intelligence both the nations which now became connected with England ranked high. In perserverance, in selfcommand, in forethought, in all the virtues which conduce to success in life, the Scots have never been surpassed. The Irish, on the other hand, were distinguished by qualities which tend to make men interesting rather than prosperous.
(All from History of England, Chapter 1)

Well, He Would Say That, Wouldn't He?

Prime Minister John Howard has denied Labor's accusations that he lied about the government's knowledge of kickbacks paid by AWB to the former Iraqi regime.
(The Age)

And of course she'd say this too:

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today praised Australia's support for the war on terrorism.

After holding talks with Prime Minister John Howard and Cabinet's national security committee, Dr Rice told reporters Australia was "a steadfast friend''.

(Same Source)

In other news, de-preselected Laboral Party frontbencher Gavin O'Connor is pissed off with Puff Daddy and New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma has been sighted taking coffee with the Preselectinator at a Melbourne CBD cafe. I wonder who had the longer teaspoon?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Done Dirt Cheap

According to today's Age, Martin Pakula, the ALP power-brokee who couldn't knock off Simon Crean for federal preselection has scored a safe seat in the Victorian Upper house ahead of sitting MP Elaine Carbines. Pakula will get the winnable third spot on the ALP ticket for the new seat known as Western Metropolitan Region while Ms Carbines has been relegated to a hard to win third spot in the seat of Western Victoria.

Also shafted was Mr Sang Nguyen who got shunted aside to allow Marty to enter State Parliament.

Today's business section of The Age includes an opinion piece by Senator Stephen Conroy on Helen Coonan's media options paper. Which I haven't read, because Conroy's opinions on policy interest me about as much as policy interests Conroy.

We Now Have Book Buddy!

This is what I'm reduced to reading at the moment:

I propose to write the history of England from the accession of King James the Second down to a time which is within the memory of men still living. I shall recount the errors which, in a few months, alienated a loyal gentry and priesthood from the House of Stuart. I shall trace the course of that revolution which terminated the long struggle between our sovereigns and their parliaments, and bound up together the rights of the people and the title of the reigning dynasty...

[The next sentence is a real corker]

... I shall relate how the new settlement was during many troubled years, successfully defended against foreign and domestic enemies; how, under that settlement, the authority of law and the security of property were found to be compatible with a liberty of discussion and of individual action never before known; how, from the auspicious union of order and freedom, sprang a prosperity of which the annals of human affairs had furnished no example; how our country, from a state of ignominious vassalage, rapidly rose to the place of umpire among European powers; how her opulence and martial glory grew together; how, by wise and resolute good faith, was gradually established a public credit fruitful of marvels which to the statesmen of any former age would have seemed incredible; how a giant commerce gave birth to a maritime power, compared with which every other maritime power, ancient or modern, sinks into insignificance; how Scotland, after ages of enmity, was at length united to England, not merely by legal bonds, but by indissoluble ties of interest and affection; how, in America, the British colonies rapidly became far mightier and wealthier than the realms which Cortes [sic] and Pizarro had added to the dominions of Charles the Fifth; how in Asia, British adventurers founded an empire not less splendid and more durable than that of Alexander.

(MacAulay, History of England, Chapter 1)

I'm about 30 pages into the first of four volumes - that takes you from Britain under the Romans to the Tudors. According to MacAulay this is a necessary preamble if his account of events from the accession of James II to his own day is to be understood. It's good rollicking, nation-building stuff - the sort of history quite a few people think we should have - but it's not exactly reliable on matters of fact. As MacAulay says in a footnote:

In this, and the next chapter, I have very seldom thought it necessary to cite authorities; for in these chapters I have not detailed events minutely, or used recondite materials; and the facts which I mention are for the most part such that a person tolerably well read in English history, if not already apprised of them, will at least know where to look for evidence of them. In the subsequent chapters I shall carefully indicate the sources of my information.

Well, it's good for the occasional giggle at any rate. Particularly when Lord Macka gets onto the subject of the Normans as the flower and epitome of chivalry, repeating the Norman propaganda that his far from recondite sources have swallowed wholesale. But right now there are a lot of books that I'd much rather be reading than mid-Victorian late night soporifics. Here are a few of them, in no particular order:

The Logic of Suicide Terrorism by Robert Pape. I've cited reviews of this one occasionally in comment threads where the subject of suicide bombers has come up. It would be pleasant to have the book for the next time the subject comes up, so I'vegot more detail to call on. Not that it will make any difference - anyone who insists that suicide bombing is a uniquely Islamic phenomenon will ultimately retreat to the intellectual highground of rejecting Pape's findings, end of story.

The Thousand and One Nights. I came across the second volume of a complete Thousand and One Nights while I was browsing a second hand bookstore not far from Melbourne's Dental Hospital. I ask you - what kind of arsehole buys half of a two-volume set from a secondhand bookstore and leaves the other behind? The tales, as we all know, are pure fantasy but reading between the lines you get some idea of the attitudes of the author and his assumed readership, just as this little passage from The Knight's Tale tells you a lot about attitudes to war in 14th Century England:

Whan that this worthy duc, this Theseus,
Hath Creon slayn, and won Thebes thus,
Stille in that feeld he took al nyght his reste,
And dide with al the contree as hym leste.

To ransake in the taas of bodyes dede,
Hem for to strepe of harneys and of wede,
The pilours diden bisynesse and cure
After the bataille and disconfiture.

That fat-arsed two volume history of the Hundred Years War, published by Faber.

Froissart's Chronicles. It used to be available in Penguin Classics - I've yet to come across a copy second-hand. Often hilariously funny as Froissart tries to put a noble, chivalrous spin on acts of outright brutality or conspicuous cowardice.

Mandeville's Travels.

Infidels by
Andrew Wheatcroft. "My" copy has to go back to the library before it starts accumulating overdue fines, which makes it useless for ready reference.

Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt. "My" copy - the one where someone had torn off the corners of several pages to light cigarettes from the gas heater, or something similar, had disappeared from the library stacks last time I tried to borrow it. Oh, and it wasn't me who tore off those page corners, OK?

If This is a Man, The Truce and The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi. Don't ask why - it's too complicated.

The Mountain People by Colin Turnbull. Another book that's likely to disappear from the library stacks between now and the next time I decide I need to refer to a copy.

Feudal Societies by Marc Bloch. Also stacked.

Helga and Berndt Demonstrate Love Positions. I actually know where I could lay my hands on a copy of this sixties classic, if I had a set of housebreaking tools. The book is actually German - I've translated the title. It features Helga, decorously clad in a flourescent pink leotard, and Berndt, in a black leotard, demonstrating various forms of sexual gymnastics. At the very least, someone might care to scan a few of the choicer images and post them on the web.

That's probably enough to be going on with right now so let's get down to brass tacks. You might have an unwanted copy of one of these books sitting on a bookshelf somewhere, gathering dust. If so, why not drop me a line, and we'll work out a way for you to get it to me. That's probably going to involve you shelling out some money for postage but when it comes down to it, that's not much different to hitting a Paypal button and kicking in to the operating costs of a blog you like. And while money might be an issue, there's no way in all conscience that I can ask you to kick in for server rent I don't pay. Especially as I don't have a credit card account to pick up the paypal bucks and I don't plan to get a credit card just for that purpose.

On the other hand, I'm not too proud to ask you guys to kick in with a bit of interesting reading matter that won't bore me witless. Because when I read stuff that bores me witless, I often end up writing stuff that bores you witless and none of us want that, do we?

Incidentally, your contributions won't benefit me alone - Zeppo Bakunin has dibs on all the stamps.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Reading Matters

I finished Andrew Wheatcroft's Infidels a few minutes ago. It's an interesting read - according to some, a well balanced account of the ongoing feud between Christendom and Islam from 638 to 2002 (the book was published in 2003). I'm not so sure about the "well balanced" bit - from an Australian point of view Wheatstone is a bit slack in keeping track of the body counts and I doubt that everyone would agree with his treatment of the Reconquista. It doesn't present much evidence that Wheatstone understands the fundamental moral difference between Christians sacking a town and putting the inhabitants to the sword - something that we should of course understand as a normal part of Norman (and Frankish) military strategy - and Muslims sacking a town and putting the inhabitants to the sword, which has no military or political justification whatsoever. Regardless of whether you're applying modern standards, or the standards of the time, by which of course, I mean the standards of medieval Christian scholars and philosophers - not those of the Byzantines, the Muslim hordes, the irrelevantly distant Chinese or the lawless Irish. Especially not the Irish.

For future reading, there are several boxes of Folio Club books in the dining room - you know, those modern classics and great works in machine tooled imitation leather bindings with brass leaf embossing. There's a lot of Somerset Maugham in the mix - does anyone read Somerset Maugham any more? But there are also several Russians - with luck, Gogol's Dead Souls is in one of them somewhere. And George Orwell's 1984, which looks completely wrong without the paper cover with that detail from the Civil Defence painting on the front. I suppose that it's too much to hope that Froissart's Chronicles and Sir John Mandeville's Travailles will also turn up in one of the batches to come.

Monday, March 13, 2006

How to Discredit a Scientific Theory (Without Really Trying)

The Tim Blair Method
  1. Create an association between the Theory and a well-known target of ridicule.
  2. Cite the opinion of an obscure Canadian columnist who disagrees with the Theory in question.
The Jennifer Marohasy Method
  1. Make sure that your readers know that you learnt of the Theory from the ABC. Don't forget to mention the professional incompetence of any ABC journalists you might have spoken to.
  2. Invite your readers to provide anecdotal evidence to challenge the theory.
  3. Repeat as necessary.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Don't Forget Our Sponsors!

Find out more here.

South Dakota Abortion Checklist

(As approved by South Dakota State Senator Bill Napoli*)

Section 1
  1. Were you a virgin before the rape?
    If your answer is Yes go on to question 2. If your answer is No consult your parents or Minister of Religion. It is never too late to find the Lord. And please fill out Section 2.
  2. Are you religious?
    If your answer is Yes go on to question 3. If your answer is No, it really is time you consulted a Minister of Religion. Please fill out Section 2.
  3. Were you saving yourself for marriage?
    If your answer is Yes go on to question 4. If your answer is No, please fill out Section 2.
  4. Were you brutalised? If so please describe your experience in the space below (no attachments please).

  5. Were you sodomised? If so please describe your experience in the space below (no attachments please).

  6. How would you rate the sodomy?
    - Kinda enjoyed it
    - I've had worse
    - I can take it or leave it
    - Bad
    - As bad as you can possibly make it
Section 2:
The personal details you provide below will be forwarded to one of our community-based Pray for All the Poor Sinners teams. Be sure you enter all information correctly - the Lord doesn't like people wasting his time.
Christian Names:




* - napoli definition by courtesy of Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Novels.

Afterthought: Bill Napoli's idea of a real life situation where abortion might be justified has me wondering just what the hell goes on in South Dakota. It just doesn't bear thinking about.