Saturday, December 22, 2007

And That's It for 2007

I'm taking a break from blogging, which I plan to extend for as long as I possibly can into 2008.

I have my reasons.

Freedom of Association

I can't remember when this happened - some time way back before I got married, obviously. When I'd finished Uni, had a job and enough income to afford a flat of my own.

It was a Friday night - I was in my poky little kitchen, turning a chook over in the black cast iron roasting dish, when I heard a knock on the door. "Bugger, she's early!" I thought. The chook still had a good half hour to go and so did the spuds. I hadn't got round to blanching the haricots vert yet, nor had I set the table or crammed the candles into the necks of the Mateus bottles.

But it wasn't her at the door - it was some bloke I hadn't ever seen before, and behind him a few people who all had one thing in common - they were complete strangers to me.

"G'day, I'm Eric," he said, "Tom said you might be able to help us out."

"Uh, I'm a bit busy right now - I've got a friend coming over for dinner at eight."

Tom I knew only vaguely - he was the weird downstairs neighbour with the Che Guevara poster glued to the outside of his front door who'd buttonhole you on the staircase to ask you if you were interested in going along to a forum on the socialist approach to stopping the international arms trade and other such exciting events.

"Yeah, well the thing is, we need somewhere to hold our meeting tonight."


"Well Tom told us your thinking was fairly sound - for a bourgeois - so maybe we could use your place."

"I've got a friend coming over for dinner at eight."

So then this bloke, who still hadn't introduced himself to me gives me a pointed stare and said:

"You've heard of freedom of association, haven't you? It's a basic human right."

I gave him one of those blank looks you give someone who's just said, or done something totally astonishing, then patiently repeated:

"I've got a friend coming over for dinner at eight." Since that clearly wasn't going to be enough to get the message across I spelt out the consequences "You'll have to find somewhere else to hold your meeting."

"Typical f'k'n bourgeois pseudo-leftist..." he grumbled, "Care more about your own bloody sex-life than basic human freedoms!" His firends all gave me disapproving glares and disappeared into the night.

A few days later the managing agents for the flats came round to inspect Tom's place and he received an eviction notice. Apparently there'd been a few complaints from one or two of the other tenants about loud music in the wee small hours and other strange goings on. I didn't learn about it until I bumped into him as he was moving his stuff out to his new place.

"What sort of person would do something like that?" he asked, after recounting the events just described, "Where's the class-consciousness?"

"No idea." I said and went upstairs to sit down and listen to Bach's Mass in B Minor, on vinyl, confident that this time the et resurrexit wouldn't be interrupted by The Ballad of Joe Hill coming up through the floor.

Secret Nice Guy™ Business

Nicky'n'Alex were two people I used to know way back when - in the early eighties, when I'd just finished my completely worthless first degree (it took me six years, with leaves of absence and repeated years, but I finally got there). They had been a Nitem for quite a while and it was generally assumed that they were going to stay a Nitem for life. Of the two I was closer to Alex than to Nicky.

Alex was a third generation Irish Aussie, Nicky a second generation Greek Aussie. They went well together, were very obviously in lerv, and though I'd once had designs on Alex myself I was more or less resigned to being her Nice Guy™ friend who didn't quite get what Nicky had that I didn't have but sort of hung around, willing to be a repository of confidences, in the vague hope that they'd stop being a Nitem. Then, after a suitably decent interval, I'd get to invite her out and try my chances myself. Bacause, in my Nice Guy™ way, I respected her personal autonomy too much to try to score at a time when she was feeling hurt and vulnerable. Nice Guys™ don't exploit their friends like that.

Nicky'n'Alex stopped being a Nitem in 1982. While on vacation from uni, Nicky took a three-month overseas trip - to Europe of course. When the two of them parted at the airport there was much sadness. Nicky told Alex how much he was going to miss her, she told him that she would miss him too, they hugged, promised to write each other regularly - a promise Nicky was to keep scrupulously - and finally we managed to force a crow bar between them and prised them apart so that Nicky could actually get away to catch his flight. He winged away, those of us who'd come to the airport hung around looking sheepish because we didn't quite know what how to prop up Alex's mood - nor indeed how much propping up was required.

Over the next two months, Nicky wrote regularly to Alex, as promised, with news of the sights he'd seen,the adventures he'd had, and wishing very much that Alex could be there to share it with him but of course one day, they would have the chance to go to Europe together and he would show her such fabulous things. Then he went to Athens, for the last part of his trip, an extended visit with his extended family in Greece - and his brains went South into his underpants. I got a call from Alex asking me if I could go over for a visit because she'd just had an upseeting letter from Nicky. She sounded like she had been crying. My Nice Guy™ moment had finally arrived.

The full story, though it was drawn out in the telling, was a short one - Nicky's letter had told her that he had met someone else and, much as he had struggled with his feelings, he couldn't help himself - the new woman he had met in Athens, Eleni, was the woman for him. From what Alex told me of the letter, it revealed a sentimental "romantic" side to Nicky that I'd never suspected before. We had coffee together, we went for a walk in the local park, keeping away from the lighted paths and staying in the shadows under the trees to avoid any chance that a passing stranger might gawk at her tears and I kept my hands stuffed in my pockets, walking close but not too close beside her, as a proper Nice Guy™ should. Then I accompanied her home, we had another coffee and she said "Gummo, I'm glad that at least you're not the kind of bastard Nicky turned out to be." and that was that - all my Nice Guy™ dreams scuttled in a single sentence.

As I said at the outset, the story's been fictionalised - name changes to protect the privacy of old friends with whom I've lost contact, and such. I also swapped the gender of my two main protagonists - Alex was actually a man, Nicky a woman.

Alex and I did take that walk in the park, and while we did, we talked about how he was going to deal with the news and Nicky's inevitable wish, in the letter that she had written that they could somehow find a way to remain friends. Once we'd sorted that one out - I can't remember the details of how - we had a bit of fun inventing imaginary misfortunes that would fall on Nicky from a great height if there was any such thing as poetic justice. In the secret darkness under the trees in the park, we indulged the misogynist that lurks at the heart of every Nice Guy™ with fantasies of Nicky married, up the duff, and abandoned, because the man of her dreams was only after permanent residency. But of course as we were both Nice Guys™, we couldn't really wish that on her, pleasing as the imagining was.

What happened between them next was inevitable - Alex became Nicky's Nice Guy™ and her source of consolation and advice when she had troubles with her Greek boyfriend. He was the one who got her through the lonely months of waiting for him to come to Australia. In a purely platonic, Nice Guy™ way, of course. She had hide enough to ask that, and he was mug enough to give it.

If you find that last sentence a touch misogynistic, I suggest you just swap the genders back to where they were at the beginning of the story and see if you like that any better.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Counting Flowers On the Wall, and Other Amusements

It's cost me $36.00 - for which I got two derisive E-mails, several E-mails that were not at all derisive, one Yahoo mail address, one telephone number and one and half hours of conversation over cups of flat white coffee - but I've finally confirmed something I've long suspected. There's no point wasting any of my time or money on on-line dating services.

The title of this piece doesn't adequately convey my opinions or feelings about the on-line dating service I used, but I'd probably get into trouble over trademark infringement if I'd published the original title - the four-letter acronym of the service with an "ox" on the end. Those of my friends who've also resorted to on-line dating consider it the best of the commercial sites they have tried, so it might also be a little unfair.

It's obvious from the special offers I get from the service via e-mail that they have a bit of a problem attracting men to use the service. I'm not surprised by that. From this bloke's point of view the service is woeful.

What I got for my 36 bucks was three "stamps" (yes I'm talking about RSVP for anyone who hasn't guessed already) each of which entitled me to unlimited e-mail contact for one month, with one other RSVP user. Unused stamps expire if they're not used within a month. For more money than I could afford at the time I could have bought more stamps with longer life expectancies.

In contrast, I can go to any Australia Post outlet at any time and buy a book of standard paper stamps that I can stick on an envelope, also at any time, and shove in the mailbox when I get around to it. The stamps don't expire - if standard postage rates go up I can buy additional stamps, of smaller value, to top up the value of the out of date stamps I already own. Within the limits of standard envelope sizes I can put whatever I like in an envelope, address it, shove it in a post box and Australia Post will deliver it. It won't come back with a purple ink hand stamped on the front, pointing to the stamp I bought back when, with the message "This series no longer recognised".

Yes, I'm comparing snail mail with e-mail, which looks like comparing apples with oranges and if you think that, you've missed the same central point that RSVP has missed - if I prepay for a service which allows me to contact other people at my own discretion - which is where Aussie Post and RSVP are no different - I expect, quite reasonably I think, that "at my own discretion" will mean just that - not within an arbitrary time which has very obviously been designed to push me into spending more to increase both the number of people I might contact and the period over which I can do so.

I've used two of those stamps - the first in response to someone who actually initiated contact with me through an RSVP "kiss". That got me the two derisive E-Mails. The second got me the good things - the e-mails that weren't derisive and so on to the hour and half of conversation over coffee, an undertaking to get in touch again in the New Year but not the free steak knives.

And the third I simply can't be bothered using, at least not this year. I've got until the middle of January so the prospect of blowing it early in 2008 can't be ruled out. Whatever occurs, that will be me done with on-line dating.

Leaving the next appalling contrived option to sonsider - joining a book group. Not yet though. For now I think it's time to find a pack of 51 playing cards to while away the time as I wait for the skies to open and Ms Adequate to fall into my lap. It's happened once or twice before so the possibility can't be ruled out completely.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Then ... Now

THIS may be my last column. If you don’t see me again, you’ll know the Pinata Left has whacked me, too.
You see, Kevin Rudd’s victory has unleashed a horde of haters with sticks who are trying to sack conservative commentators and close down debate.

Their demands are simple. They won. So shut up. No more of these “culture wars”. No dissent.
Andrew Bolt, yesterday, toeing the "if I do get sacked it will be because Rupert Murdoch is a tool of the left" line first enunciated by Tom Switzer.
And The Age gives this woman [Tracee Hutchison] a platform. Has it no shame, or even a sense of self-preservation?
Andrew Bolt, today.
I suppose by The Hun's standards, calling on the management of your major commercial rival to show some shame or even a sense of self-preservation and sack one of its columnists is a responsible and proper exercise of free speech.

(Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Germs in the Soil?

(An exercise in meta-pointlessness)
For goodness sake, I was kind of hoping, with the end of Howard would be the end of the minority bash. The germs must have been left in the soil. (comment from joe2 on that thread
at LP)
It shouldn't be any surprise that the germs were left in the soil - they were already there before Howard was first elected. Howard's political success was based on cultivating them, and spreading them. It's a little disheartening to discover that they've become so widespread. That discovery has wiped away the last of the cosy post-electoral tristesse I've been feeling since the Rudd victory. In its place there's just a weary relief - things are crook in this country, but nowhere near as crook as they'd be under three more years of Howard, or one and a half years of Howard followed by another one and a half of his anointed successor, now mentoring up-and-coming Liberal talent from the Opposition backbench.

I'm not in the habit of explaining how, or why, I write posts or offering justifications for my choice of topics and the way I treat them. "Wait, I can explain" isn't a particularly inspiring personal or family motto. However today I'm at the arse-end of one unwanted stoush too bloody many, so I've decided to indulge in a little personal reflection and contemplation of how the latest happened. If that results in "fightin' words" then so be it.

Song for Andrew

Australia should be like America!
With gun owners free like America!
Try shooting spree in America!
Get shot by me in America!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

PC Santa No 1 - Santa Clara the Wimmin's Santa

I put this image together for my own "art" challenge at Larvatus Prodeo. So far, it's looking like an easy winner - it's the only entry.

But that might change, thanks to this fulminating post at Slattsnews. It seems Port Phillip Council tried, and failed to put the kibosh on this years Santa Pub Crawl. Just as every Australian kid has a right to Santa, every red-blooded Australian male has the right to put on a Santa suit, go out with a few mates and get blind drunk - so long as it raises money for charity. And if a left-leaning city council tries to get it called off, with a lot of cant about public safety, it becomes an act of civic protest into the bargain.

Only a few days into this year's season, and we're already seeing some top quality Santa-bothering. Makes you proud to be an Aussie, doesn't it?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Word of the Day: Kirpan

The kirpan is one of five items of faith which are worn at all times by orthodox Sikhs. We'd call it a ceremonial dagger. It's worn (or carried) as a symbol and the Sikh religion prohibits its use in anger or malice.

Today's Rupertian reports that the Education and Training Committee of the Victorian Parliament has recommended...

... that schools should work with the Sikh community to allow male students to carry a kirpan - a small, curved ornamental steel dagger carried by all initiated Sikh men.

The Committee also recommends that female Muslim students should be allowed to wear the hijab at school.

Under Victoria's Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, it's unlikely that the committee could have recommended otherwise - one of the rights protected by the Charter is "freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief". Since, for some Sikhs, carrying the kirpan is integral to the practice of their religion, a blanket ban on kirpans in schools would be a denial of this freedom.

Brian Burgess, head of the Victorian Association of State Secondary School Principals reckons the committee got it wrong on this issue (so do a couple of bloggers, which is how I picked it up) and it may be that there are one or two school principals,m and school councils out there who share Burgess' fears of what a kirpan armed Sikh student might do in response to one playground taunt too many, or what might happen if the kirpan falls into the hands of another student.

Expect a pointless controversy over this committee reccommendation; that's what happened in Canada when a Sikh student accidentally dropped his kirpan in the playground, in 2001. The result was a dispute that dragged out until March 2006, when Canada's Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that:
a total ban of the kirpan in schools violates the Charter of Rights because it infringes on the Charter’s guarantees of religious freedom. But it does allow school boards to impose some restrictions on the carrying of kirpans to ensure public safety. (CBC News, March 2, 2006)
In fact, such a solution had been proposed, adopted, and then withdrawn earlier in the Canadian case:
Quebec Superior Court Justice Danielle Grenier rules that because the kirpan is an integral part of his religious beliefs, Gurbaj can wear a real one to school as long as he follows several conditions. The kirpan must be sheathed in a wooden case, wrapped in heavy fabric and worn under his clothes. The belt holding the kirpan must also be sewn into his clothing. The judge calls these conditions a reasonable accommodation of Gurbaj’s religious freedoms and the need for public safety. The school board, backed by Quebec PQ government at the time, appeals. (as above)

You'd think that with such stringent safety precautions, and the Supreme Court ruling that would be the end of the matter. Not for some of Canada's bureaucrats:

Quebec's biggest school board is successfully accommodating the religious and cultural differences of its diverse student population — unless a student wants to wear a ceremonial dagger or a face-covering niqab, the head of the board told the Bouchard-Taylor commission Tuesday.

These are simply not allowed, the chair of the Commission Scolaire de Montréal, Diane de Courcy, told the Quebec commission on reasonable accommodation of ethnic and religious minorities, which returned to Montreal Monday for its final hearings. ((CBC News, November 27, 2007)

It would be pleasant to think that we could avoid imitating the Canadians on this issue and following them down the same weary road to obstinate idiocy; but I'm nowhere near that much of an optimist.

(Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo in Exile)

Pre-Christmas Vinyl Chuck-Out

I've just finished sorting my collection of old vinyl recordings into two classes - those I definitely want to keep, and those I can live without.

If there are any Melbourne readers out there who might be interested in acquiring some old 70s and 80s pop, one hit wonders and other stuff I've come to regard as so much musical dross, just drop me a line (gummo dot trotsky at gmail full-stop com).

You Know You're Too PC Dependent When ...

... you take a break from working on a complex tonal drawing and your first thought is that it's time to hit "File → Save".

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Our Official Values

According to the DIAC booklet Becoming an Australian Citizen, these are the main values that matter in Australia. The ones that matter enough to be included in the Citizenship test that was introduced earlier this year by He Who Is Occasionally Giving Brendan Nelson Friendly Advice on How to Run the Liberal Party:
Values which are important in modern Australia include:
  • respect for the equal worth, dignity and freedom of the individual

  • freedom of speech

  • freedom of religion and secular government

  • freedom of association

  • support for parliamentary democracy and the rule of law

  • equality under the law

  • equality of men and women

  • equality of opportunity

  • peacefulness

  • tolerance, mutual respect and compassion for those in need.

It's no great mental exercise to run through the list, take a look at the previous Government's actions and a lot of the attitudes expressed in posts and comments on blogs and conclude that none of these ten values is particularly important in Australia at all. I could easily get a quick post about the rank hypocrisy of testing would-be citizens for a willingness to uphold these lofty values when the government routinely flouts them and a lot of the existing citizenry treat them with disdain.

It's more interesting - and more in the new spirit of "slow politics" to take a look at where this declaration of our official values came from. Let's start with the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, which created the citizenship test:

Application and eligibility for citizenship

General eligibility

(2) A person is eligible to become an Australian citizen if the Minister is satisfied that the person:


(d) understands the nature of an application under subsection (1); and

(e) possesses a basic knowledge of the English language; and

(f) has an adequate knowledge of Australia and of the responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship; and


(2A) Paragraphs (2)(d), (e) and (f) are taken to be satisfied if and only if the Minister is satisfied that the person has, before making the application:

(a) sat a test approved in a determination under section 23A; and

(b) successfully completed that test (worked out in accordance with that determination).



Citizenship test

(1) The Minister must, by written determination, approve a test for the purposes of subsection 21(2A) (about general eligibility for citizenship).

Note: The test must be related to the eligibility criteria referred to in paragraphs 21(2)(d), (e) and (f).

Successful completion of the test

(2) A determination under subsection (1) must specify what amounts to successful completion of the test.
In short, it is up to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship to decide what goes into the citizenship test, and what rates as a passing score. So DIAC's list of official Aussie values originated from the desk of Kevin Andrews. Obviously, Andrews didn't compile the list, or devise the test himself - that's what flunkies and bureaucrats are for - but it was his signed approval that made the test legally valid.

So our official Australian values are what the last Minister for Immigration and Citizenship decided they should be; but, interestingly enough, there's nothing in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, to prevent the current Minister, Christopher Evans (no doubt at the behest of Kevin Rudd) from getting his flunkies, and the bureaucrats who devised the Andrews test, to come up with a new test, more in line with the ideology of the Australian Riff-Raff Party.

It gives a whole new meaning to the saying "when you change the government, you change the country" doesn't it? The obviously sensible solution to this problem - and if you don't think it's a problem, you've got talc between your ears - is to reform the 2007 Act. Alternatively, we could roll things back to its predecessor - the Citizenship Act 1948, while we all have a good long think about whether we want a set of official Aussie values in the first place, and how to get them expressed in law if we do.

(Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo in Exile)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Slow Politics - It's the New Zeitgeist

... Let me make this point, Virginia, when you have a change of government, by this stage shouldn't you have had the announcement shock horror, Budget secretly in deficit, books cooked?
You know what's amazed me? Just the quietness of this week. There's been no revelations about the Budget...

Let me tell you when I was elected, the Monday afterwards, what had supposedly been a Budget surplus was $10 billion in deficit and the thing that amazes me about Labor is you know, all the equanimity around the place.
No hidden skeletons, no hidden shocks.
(Peter Costello on Lateline)
Well, that was last week. My first serious dip into current affairs this week was the first ten minutes of last night's 7.30 Report and Kerry O'Brien's interview with Wayne Swan:

WAYNE SWAN: Well Kerry, we have had six interest rate rises on the trot and they have flowed from the inflationary pressures in our economy that have been building for a long period of time.

Now, I could go on in this interview and bag the Opposition for the fact that they didn't deal effectively with inflation. I'm not going to do that tonight, because what I'm really interested in doing is putting in place the necessary reforms that expand the productive base of this economy and put downward pressure on inflation and downward pressure on interest rates...
Swan's refusal to bag the Opposition was a bit of a personal disappointment, but it's an interesting contrast with Costello's first major act as Treasurer - the revelation of the "Beazley Black Hole". A big shocker of an announcement, clearly intended to discredit Kim Beazley in the eyes of the electorate and dismay Australian Riff-Raff Party and its supporters. Fast politics, played for maximum emotional impact.

Naive optimist that I am, I think the days of fast politics - of manufactured crises, dog-whistling and campaigns based on vacuous promises ("Interest rates will always be lower under the coalition") and fear ("70% of the Rudd front bench are former trade-union officials") are over for now. We won't be seeing any triumphalist humiliation of a defeated Opposition for a while either.

As for the hidden skeletons - well it's early days yet. There are plenty of areas outside the budget - areas of substantive policy - where they might be found. See, for example, this post by Peter Martin and this AM interview with Kevin Rudd. Rudd's response is nothing like the "OMFG, we're nowhere near meeting our agreed Kyoto target and it's all the Opposition's fault!" that we would have got from He Who Has Passed Into Political Oblivion.

Over the next few months, as Labor gets to grips with the administration of areas like national security and immigration, I expect more of these revelations. They may lack drama, but the cumulative effect on the Coalition's credibility as an alternative government will be just as damaging as Costello's dramatic announcement of the "Beazley Black Hole".

(Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo in Exile)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Definitely an Own Goal - but Whose?

A week's supposed to be a long time in politics but it seems that it's nowhere near long enough for those insightful people over at the Rupertian to get over their peevishness at the way the voters let them down by electing a bunch of trade union leaders and other assorted riff-raff to replace what's his name and his annointed successor, Chinese submariners willing. However this morning's opinion section brings one promising sign that the engorged spleens and gall bladders of the editors and commentators at our rag of record are now merely distended - the task of paying out on the people for electing Kev, Julia and the ARRP (Australian Riff-Raff Party) has been contracted out to an overseas supplier for the day.

The supplier is Mark Steyn. His article "A loss for civilisation" is a good follow on from Paul Kelly's last piece, where he argued that what Australia had on November 24th wasn't any ordinary election: it was a great national enema, a purging of the bowels of the body politic with the warm soapy waters of democracy.

Steyn begins:
ACCORDING to my Oz-watching pals in Britain and the US, John Howard is not a failure but a victim of his own success. He made Australia safe for the Labor Party: or, at any rate, safe enough that a sufficient number of bored electors were willing to take a flier on a house-trained Labor on the short leash of a quasi-Blairite leader.

That, at any rate, is the spin. Even if it's correct, and accepting that in parliamentary democracies even the greatest generals go a bridge too far, I regret Howard's end. True, I object in principle to Australia's gun laws, and I regard much of the Aussie economy as embarrassingly overregulated after a decade of supposedly conservative rule. But, as the former prime minister put it in one of his most famous soundbites, this is no time to be an 80 per cent ally.

I am a 100 per cent ally of Howard.
It strikes me that there's really only one sensible place for Mark to go from there - and that's a final paragraph announcing his voluntary retirement from the columnising game in favour of a job as humble library technician which will allow him to mentor new up and coming columnists. That after all, is where all the 100 per cent allies of John Howard in the Liberal Party are headed - with the possible exception of Tony Abbott. In fact, Steyn goes on for several boring paragraphs to belabour us - the people who voted Rudd in and the Rat of Straw out. By his own admission Mark isn't arguing from an informed, knowledgeable position (you'd no doubt have guessed that from his objection "in principle" to Australia's gun laws - which are none of his damn business because he doesn't bloody live here):
From my perch several thousand kilometres away, I won't pretend to be an informed analyst of the internal dynamics of the Liberal Party. During my last visit, en route to yet another meeting, there'd usually be someone in the car explaining why the fellow I was on the way to see was on the outs with whichever prime-minister-in-waiting I'd met the day before...
Mark doesn't let his admitted ignorance stand in the way of giving us a good telling off for letting down Western civilisation - and hence the whole world:
What mattered to the world was the strategic clarity Howard's ministry demonstrated on the critical issues facing (if you'll forgive the expression) Western civilisation.
There's more absurd bollocks after that declaration, and a lot of name-dropping to let the reader know Mark's actually met some Aussie politicians. We natives might find them laughable, but Mark's willing to wise us up on a few points, such as this:
Costello's exhortation to Aussie couples - have one for mum, one for dad, and one for Australia - gets the stakes exactly right...
The Coalition was all but unique in understanding the three great challenges of the age - Islamism, demography, civilisational will - that in other parts of the West are combining to form the perfect storm... I liked to call Alexander Downer my favorite foreign minister, which, in hindsight, was damning with the faintest of praise.
Yes, we had our chance to re-elect the Rodent, and we blew it. Nonetheless, there's still a way that something might be salvaged from this - not for Australia specifically, but for the Western Civilisation of which we're a small corner:
As a distant observer of Australian affairs, I had some small personal contact with Howard and co. over the years. Merry, feisty, blunt and fair, they were exactly what we need at this moment: happy warriors. I'm saddened Australians feel differently. But if it's too late to get the US constitution amended in time for them to run for president next November, the savvier candidates ought to snap 'em up as speech writers.
There's no way I can beat that for a punch line.

(Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo in Exile)

Friday, November 30, 2007

Dwarf of Dwarves Redrawn

A distinct improvement on the first version - and probably the last John Howard graphic I'll ever produce.

Supererogatory Liberal Leadership Joke

Q: How do you slash Tony Abbott's wrist?
A: Stab Brendan Nelson in the back.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Now What?

Two days on from the big national organism, and the post-electoral tristesse still hasn't worn off. But what's a boy to blog about, now that the unmissed, unregretted Howard era is over? It's not just John Howard I won't be missing - there's a long list of cabinet ministers who are beyond missing - Phil Ruddock, Kevin Andrews, Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott for starters.

Still, I'm in no hurry to find a new direction for my writing and commentary in the post-Howard era. Not so Glenn Milne, who's devoted today's column to kissing up to Kevin Rudd (and the next leader of the Federal Opposition) by sinking the boot into our thoroughly down and out ex-Prime Minister. Some entertainment to be had there, I guess, as the opinionators and editors of the ex-Government Gazette desperately ingratiate themselves with the new regime.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bare Bones

I botched this one. I drew it after leafing through one of those "anatomy for artists" books. It was drawn from touch as much as it was from sight, poking fingers into various parts of my face to find the bony structures holding up the muscle, fat, skin and hair. With those details picked out with faint lines (4H pencil), I figured I could build up a more accurately proportioned and shaded face.

It didn't work out that way, for reasons I won't go into, so it's time for a break from the drawing for a day or two. Then I might try it again.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Looking Better

Almost human in fact - give or take a little bit of leftie bias - for some reason the right side never comes out as good looking as the left side.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Bugger of a thing to draw, transparency.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Vale Megan Meier

This sordid story via Hoyden about Town.

What & Who?

Part 1: What am I?

I am a world famous building, in a world famous city. According to local folklore, I used to have the best views in town. I was originally built as the head offices of an insurance company; after a period of social upheaval in the early 20th Century I became the headquarters of a government organisation.

I am a massive edifice, but my design avoids an impression of heroic scale. In 1940, my country's most famous architect was commissioned to double my size, to provide extra office space for an increasingly cramped staff. The re-design emphasised neo-renaissance detailing. Only half my facade was remodelled during this reconstruction, leaving me with an asymmetrical facade. This defect remained uncorrected until 1983, under a later successor to the patron of my designer.

Who am I?

I was born on September 26, 1873 and died on May 24, 1949. I am the architect of the 1940s reconstruction the building in part 1. I have a museum of architecture named after me.

Magpie Feather

Doing some things - like drawing this feather - just takes as long as it takes. Afterwards, you look at the clock at the bottom right of your computer monitor to check the time and realise that it's pointless because you have no idea when you started. This is not a bad thing.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Surfeit of Plethoras

Blubberland by Elizabeth Farrelly, UNSW Press, 2007

Somewhere in Elizabeth Farrelly's Blubberland, there's a good essay on architecture and urban design struggling to get out. It first shows itself in this passage on sustainability and the city:
If we were ... to design a green settlement-pattern from scratch, the product would not be suburbia, or urban villages, or Greek fishing towns or even, say, Barcelona. Itwould be Manhattan. Manhattan – or something like it – is the greenest city on earth...
This surprising assertion is actually substantiated with a few impressive facts – Manhattanites' high use of public transport and low rate of carbon dioxide production (7.1 tonnes per person per year vs a US wide average of 24.5). It's followed by a couple of pages of lucid argument that might actually convince you that “Cities benefit nature by keeping us out of it” and that inner city living might offer more interest than suburbia.

The first sentence of the Introduction – where Farrelly's argument starts – is a beaut: “Want used to mean need.” That's an interesting claimand, as it happens, true. The thought isexpanded over the rest of the first paragraph, but the second sentence is enough to indicate where it's going:
Want was life or death stuff, as in 'the lad wants feeding', 'the horse wants putting down'.
Later (in Chapter 1) Farrelly declares that this shift in the meaning of the word “want” occurred recently – within a century or so since Dickens' time. There's a precise term for claims like these – one that Farrelly herself is acquainted with. That's a topic I'll return to later.

“Blubberland” is where we'll find blubber; blubber is:
... the world of vast, glittering malls and dreary look-at-me suburbs intersprsed with limitless acreage of concrete, asphalt and billboards ... cashed up pension funds forcing their market-driven conservatism across the the corporate world, terrified women with silicone breasts and plastic relationships locked into the fearful luxury of gated communities ... dead-hearted towns with 'their grilles and burger joints, litter and their obese, sportswear-clad, snarling crop-haired families yoked in greed and hatred ... (p 10)
[and their]

... sweaty mindless oafs from Kettering and Boventry in their cloth caps and their cardigans and their transistor radios and their 'Sunday Mirrors', complaining about the tea... (Monty Python, 1972)

In short, “Blubberland” is our modern consumer society – where we want too much of the wrong things - things we don't really need - at great cost to our own well-being and to our environment.

Why we want so much, and so wrongly – why we “miswant” - is the subject of Chapter 1 “Desire body: wanting it, all, now”. Here, Farrelly explores the nature of the nature of human desire, drawing on a wide range of thinkers in a various academic disciplines and other fields, starting with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. From there, Farrelly moves on to canvas the opinion of William Irvine (the first of 4 philosophers cited in the chapter), then a quick survey of the place of desire in drama, literature and legend (George Lucas' Star Wars saga, Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Melville's Moby Dick and the Story of Siddhartha) before moving on to the evolution of human desire. From there it's no big jump to take a look at the findings of psychiatry and psychology, starting with the opinions of John Schumacher (the first of 10 psychologists, including Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman).

Farrelly's survey includes religious sources too – the Zen Buddhist tradition, St Augustine, Star Trek and the Vedic Scriptures.

In all, there are somewhere between 50 and 60 references to the works of thinkers who have preceded Farrelly in examining the subject of human desire. These are dealt with in all the depth and detail you could reasonably expect from an author who takes on the task of producing a synthesis of so many varied sources in 23 pages.

In Chapter 2, “Beauty and the struggle for power over death”, Farrelly opens up a deep vein of self-contradiction that runs through the rest of the book. In this chapter, Farrelly's aim is to convince the reader to put aside the commonplace, pleb-in-the-street view - “Beauty mate? It's in the eye of the beholder, innit?” - and recognise the truth (and beauty) of Keats' dictum “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”. Or, failing that, at least that objective standards of beauty exist.

First she sets out to establish that our culture has generally shared, consensual, ideas of what is beautiful:

Picasso's Boy with a Pipe which sold in 2004 for US$104 million, is worth all those millions only because it satisfies some unwritten but still largely consensual code of the beautiful. Otherwise it'd be trash; some obscure personal treasure of the artist's great grand-nephew's daughter-in-law. (p 43)
Unfortunately Farrelly's examples and arguments support the pleb-in-the-street view of beauty, rather than Keats'. If, as Farrelly later asserts, beauty is as objective as truth, the artistic merits of Boy with a Pipe don't depend on its sale price or who owns it.

Picasso scores two later mentions in the book. In Chapter 3, “Against beauty: the search for honesty through ugliness”, Picasso is cited as an example of how modernist painters turned their backs on beauty and sought truth in its opposite:
After the fuss about Manet's Olympia, too beautiful to be a whore, Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas made headlines by painting prostitutes and ballerinas without trying to perfect them. A century later Picasso, who greatly admired Degas' 'pig-faced-whores', developed his armpit-test for real painting. 'Is this woman real?' Picasso demanded of his friend Georges Braque. 'Could she go out into the street? Is she a woman or a picture? Do her armpits smell?' (p 62)
Finally, on page 73:
Arthur Koestler recounts an anecdote of a woman who, finding her favourite Picasso print to be in fact an original, promotes it from staircase to drawing room. When queried, she insists that her judgement was revised on strictly aesthetic grounds...
How does a writer get from offering the inflated auction price of a Picasso painting to outright derision of Picasso a mere 19 pages later? Wilfully bad argument, that's how.

Farrelly's style of argument is scrupulously consistent with her attitude to “modernism” - it's a big bad thing that has ruined the visual arts, architecture and a slew of other things. The one thing worse than modernism is post-modernism. One of modernism's besetting sins – as we're told repeatedly – is its insistence on classification, distinctions and specialisation. We think too much like Aristotle. Farrelly's response is to think as little like Aristotle as possible.

If “modernist” artists have betrayed their calling, and culture, by turning away from giving us inspiring depictions of generic beauty – leaving beauty to the fashion industry and Hollywood - who is left to serve the truth that is beauty and vice versa?

How about - architects:
Twist and turn as one might, there's no way around the fact that architects, by and large, are the last remaining beauty professionals. Beauty is about the only territory that architecture hasn't relinquished to other, more predatory professions. Beauty is the only thing that no one else does. (p 54)
That's another questionable assertion that will be repeated later in the book, more than once, with a signal lack of supporting argument or evidence – just a lot of hyperbole, mixed metaphor, name dropping and idea dropping.

All this is accompanied by the frequent sound of exploding petards, as in Farrelly's exposition of the sixteenth century Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, an aesthetic idea “loosely associated with Zen Buddhism, that some see as the next big thing in Western misappropriation of Eastern ideas” (p 64). Over the next three pages Farrelly stakes her claim to a position in the vanguard – sorry, avant-gard – of the misappropriators.

I remarked earlier that there is a precise term for claims like Farrelly's claim that the meaning of the word “want” has shifted dramatically. That term is provided by philosopher Harry G Frankfurt, cited by Farrelly on page 112 of the book (bang goes another petard): bullshit.

Ignore all of the books rhetorical blubber - the bombast, the grotesquely mixed metaphors and the hilariously inept and easily lampooned imagery that Farrelly offers as a surrogate for the intellectual muscle of real argument - and it quickly becomes obvious that Farrelly has no coherent idea of what she wants to say, how to say it and more to the point, how to convince the reader. This leaves her in the position of Frankfurt's bullshitter who “while not necessarily lying, wishes to get away with something, something 'not for real'”.

Is it true, for example, that “want” and “need” were once synonymous but that a dramatic shift in the meaning of the former has occurred since Dickens' time? The first part is true – want and need did once mean the same thing. But the divergence of meaning occurred well before Dickens' time. According to the 2000 edition of Chambers' Dictionary of Etymology, the first recorded usage of “want” to mean desire, or wish for, was in 1706; its first use to mean something desired in 1578.

Mean-spirited smart-arsed nitpicking? Perhaps – but it's the willingness to casually mix fact and falsehood that makes a bullshitter.

Farrelly's opening declaration that “Want used to mean need” is the mirror image of the modern economist's declaration that there is no such thing as a “need”. For economics there are only wants; “needs” are just wants that are felt particularly intensely. In both cases, a commonplace and useful – though often imprecise - distinction is being effaced – that between the things we must have (as a plant must have water and sunlight to grow) and things that we can do without.

When economists efface this distinction, the result is often enough sophistical arguments about whether people really need clean drinking water. According to a lot of health workers, and aid agencies, the answer is yes – otherwise you get epidemics of enteric disease such as typhoid and cholera. To the economist the answer has to be no – unclean drinking water is an inferior substitute to clean drinking water. If people choose to drink unclean water it's because they have weighed up all their other choices and decided that avoiding the risk of cholera and typhoid isn't worth what it would cost them, in money or effort, to obtain clean drinking water.

At least economists know what they're doing when they reduce needs to very intense wants; and while there are sophists who use that reduction to produce arguments like the one in the previous paragraph, there are plenty of economists who recognise that the reduction isn't always valid. Farrelly effaces the distinction to no purpose at all – unless you count confusing yourself so that you can go on to confuse the reader as purposeful.

Farrelly's inflated claim that architects are the last remaining beauty professionals is obviously false. She offers no grounds for rejecting, as beauty professionals landscape designers and gardeners, cosmetic surgeons or professional artists who persist in painting traditional subjects, such as nudes, landscapes and still life, in way that doesn't set out to be irredeemably ugly. In fact, she offers stronger grounds for rejecting it, in a two page meditation on why architects no longer wear bow-ties (pp 55-56).

What's left, after we have cleaned away all the blubber and bullshit? Bald statements of opinion, masquerading as statements of fact. McMansions are ugly and visually illiterate. All the beautiful buildings of all the great civilisations were created by architects with a professional understanding of the nature of beauty and its power for good, working with enlightened clients. That the profession of architecture is the last bastion of beauty preservation in a decadent and degenerate age.

Despite Farrelly's occasional protestations that she's a pleb, just like you and me, she is, in fact an unmitigated intellectual and social snob. Her intellectual snobbery reveals itself in the self-consciously casual name and idea dropping throughout the book; the social snobbery in phrasing her “man-in-the-street” (my pleb-in-the-street) quotes in fluent literary Cockney and that “architect + enlightened client = beauty” thing. Her snobbery leads, finally, to the baldly anti-democratic declaration that opens Chapter 8 “Why so ugly? Archiphobia and the politics of Blubberland”:
Democracy, despite having generated the most fertile cultures of modern times and the most successful economies ever, may yet prove an own goal. Not only are its cities extraordinarily unlovely ... but its societies suddenly seem as incapable of real adaptation as were the Easter Islanders ...
Here Farrelly moves on, in a dangerous fashion, to posit that “democracy + personal freedom = ugliness, overconsumption, social and environmental collapse”. Farrelly will no doubt protest that she loves democracy, despite its evident flaws, but such protestations are already hollowed out by her stark division of the populus into two groups – architects, the last defenders of beauty in our built environment, and everybody else – the non-creative garbage who live in McMansions, and the creative garbage who debase art by making it ugly. It's an attitude that's already been thoroughly lampooned, once again by Monty Python in their 1970 “Architect Sketch”.

Later in chapter eight, Farrelly declares “There is ... a level at which architecture is and must be its own judge and jury”. Like hell, there is, if the result is the building of beautifully designed slaughter-houses when the client just wanted a simple block of flats.

The worst feature of this book is not that so much of Farrelly's argument is self-contradictory and self-defeating. If she had confined her friendly fire to her own feet, little harm would be done – except to Farrelly's reputation as a writer and critic. However much of her intense pique at “Blubberland” is justified on environmentalist grounds - “Blubberland” is eating up our environment. According to Farrelly, democracy is ill-equipeed to deal with this problem.

Where does that leave us, if we want beautiful urbanity and an environmentally sustainable future? Farrelly shirks spelling it out, but the only conclusion that's tenable, if we accept her premises on how and why democracy cannot adapt to environmental crises, is an undemocratic one – autocratic rule by a philosopher king, perhaps, with an enlightened understanding of architecture and urban planning. Farrelly is openly dismissive of the capacity of elected politicians and democratic consultation to deliver the goods.

Global warming denialists and conservative blowhards who rail against the evils of “enviro-fascism” will welcome this book as a godsend.

Postscript: there's a lot of editing and rewriting I could do on this piece and still not get it right. I'm sick and tired of the mess of confusion, self-contradiction and hyperbole that is Blubberland.

(Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo in exile)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Self Portrait With Receding Hairline

Postscript (14 November): now that you think you know what I look like, maybe you should go back to Missing Link and check out the stuff that's actually worth reading!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Alarmism 101

I've been reading another bad book over the past week - a really bad book. It's a long spray at consumerism and urban sprawl. It follows a fairly familiar formula - after the introduction (where you tell the reader what you plan to say), the author moves onto a quick survey of the human condition, cramming in as many references as possible, then launches into several chapters of condemnation and denunciation.

Writing that first chapter is a complex job. To show readers you're not an intellectual snob, you have to mention popular culture, so references to pop music and movies (but not cinema) are a must, the earlier the better. Of course you naow have to convince them that you're not a bogan either, so you bung in the literary references. Reference one or two web-sites to show that you're not a complete Luddite (very necessary in this writer's case). Top that off with some guff about human evolution, neurology and psychology, add a dash of philosophy and religion and there's your first chapter written.

Pull it off, and your readers will be convinced that you're a very knowledgeable person, whose facts are reliable and opinion trustworthy. Well, some of them - enough, you hope to preserve you from the ingnominy of the remainer bin. As long as no-one notices the non-sequiturs and the fact that you're relying completely on emotive argument - including the odd dose of alarmism - you're home and hosed.

Here's an entertainingly alarmist passage from that first chapter, with some explanatory notes from me.
The fantasy [of a world without pain or mental suffering] approaches. A recent Scientific American article by Stefanie Reinberger showed how unpleasant tastes could be eliminated with a new type of food-additive called adenosine monophosphate (AMP).
A very good start - scare the reader by dropping in a frighteningly polysyllabic chemical name lifted from one article in Scientific American. On no account should you do any background reading - you might learn a couple of facts that might get in the way of your very enjoyable self-inflicted panic:
  • Adenosine is one of the four nucleosides that make up RNA - a vital part of the biochemical mechanism that transcribes DNA sequences into proteins. Without adenosine, there would be no life as we know it.

  • Adenosine monophosphate is a precursor to two other compounds - adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). All three compounds are used within living cells to transfer energy obtained from breaking down sugars and lipids (fats) to processes that build other cell constituents - like proteins. Without AMP, ADP and ATP there would be no life as we know it.
Moving on:
AMP is a 'bitter blocker' that overrides our ancient sensitivity to bitterness, acquired to protect us from eating toxic substances like strychnine, by preventing communication of the recognintion of bitterness from tastebud to brain.
A good, strong continuation: OMFG! They could use this "new" food additive to poison us all with strychnine and we wouldn't even know it!
The additive has already (2004) been approved by the US Food and Drug Admininistration; the application of similar principles could mean we never have to taste anything unpleasant.
A bit of a slip there - noting the US FDA's approval of the drug was a plus, but the second clause of the sentence is a bit of a let-down. Most of us prefer to avoid unpleasant tasting stuff, most of the time, which is why some cook, others eat out, and others buy take-away. But this is bad for us:
Brussels sprouts could taste like gruyere, or ice cream, or chocolate and still be as good for us as the bitter cruciform original.
It's important, in alarmist writing, to strike the right note of hysteria and the prospect of chocolate flavoured brussel sprouts is certainly hysterical. Also, while a malapropism (cruciform for cruciferous) assists in convincing the reader that you're hysterical, it reinforces the reader's tendency to respond with the kind of hysteria you don't want to engender.
But is this really what we want? Do we, even at the relatively trivial level of taste, want a world where our only sensations are pleasurable ones? Will pleasure have meaning when that's all there is?
Poor execution, but the author of this passage has the right idea - miss the major issues completely so you can pose a set of rhetorical questions whose answers will strike guilt and fear in the hearts of all but the most decadent of hedonists. The reason that adenosine monophosphate poses such a threat to civilsation and culture as we know it is because it's us that have gone soft - it has nothing to do with anything the food processing industries might do. Nothing at all.

The book, by the way is Blubberland by Elizabeth Farrelly, of the Sydney Morning Herald. This post is a by-blow from a more extended review that the anonymous one appropriated for another shot at temporary notoriety and a bit of ready money, fame and fortune being completely beyond his capabilities. No doubt that review will turn up here, later in the week.

(Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo in exile)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Comic Relief/Election Trivia


"Parachuting" - it's what members of local branches of the major parties bitch about when they find themselves saddled with a candidate who they've never met. Someone whose last job was as a staffer to a party big-wig. But minor parties do it too.

A quick check of the House of Reps candidates list (downloaded from the Australian Electoral Commission web-site), turned up no fewer than 19 minor party parachutists - 15 of them from the LDP. Victoria scores 5 of those, all with contact addresses in Queensland.

The other 4 parachutists? One Independent and one candidate each from the Australian Democrats, the Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group) and the Socialist Equity Party. No, never heard of that last lot before either.

(Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo in Exile)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Just Out

New Model: PGK-QE-KW1, "Windy".
Note: This model supercedes model PGK-QE-PPMcG1, which has been discontinued.

(Hat tip to The Unknown Googler)

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Dried Out Leaf (V)

Seam Carving

This morning's drawing exercise was another one of those "expand your comfort zone" exercises. The result was a drawing of yet another leaf (a different one this time - I'm considering the possibility of embedding the last leaf in epoxy resin, to make a cute little paperweight for sale with the ink drawing of it that's already on offer. If only I had the skills, and the time, to craft a matching set of steak knives). This morning's drawing is on Conte crayon on cartridge paper, initialled and dated by yours truly and definitely not for sale. It has a crap half and a not so crap half.

So let's file that one away in the manila folder of "Drawings - Exercise" for now and take a look at that noxious little genie I mentioned in the first post in this series - his name is "seam carving". You can check him out in this YouTube clip. What seam-carving promises is "content-aware image resizing". I find the results a bit of an eyesore.

(Note: although the link points to a video plugging commercial software for seam-carving, there are open-source packages out there as well).

Seam-carving is a way of taking "unimportant" detail - typically background detail - out of an image as it is resized, without altering the "content". That is whatever a web-page designer decided is important in the picture. It's a "solution" to the "problem" that arises when a computer user resizes a browser window and the the text adjusts to the new window dimensions, but the images just sit there, obstinately refusing to shift from their current 500x375 pixel resolution.

Here's that leaf again (the hilariously over-priced one), in a new visual context that I'll be using to illustrate what happens to an image when it's seam-carved for resizing. In this image the leaf is placed at the centre, on what appears (thanks to the perspective of the chequerboard) to be a flat, horizontal surface. Behind it, I've implied a vertical surface, or just open space.


Let's set some conditions for how the image is to be resized, if it is stretched in any direction - horizontally, vertically or a combination of both. They are:

The leaf is to remain at the visual centre of the image;
It is to stay the same size throughout the transformation.

Now let's look at what happens, under those conditions, when we reduce first the height of the image, then its width, then reduce both to smallest size we are prepared to accept.

Minimum Image Height

Minimum Image Width

seam-carve-04Minimimum Image Area

I hope it's obvious from examining and comparing these three images that the alterations to the background we've made to keep the leaf centred at the same size have altered our perception of the leaf - particularly in the last image, where the leaf appears to have grown a lot larger. To watch the process happening dynamically (in the YouTube video) is, for me, quite unsettling and a little fatiguing.

I'll leave this topic here for now and come back to it either in a new post or an update. Now that I've hit the topic of "seam-carving" we're starting to get to the meat of this series.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Dried Out Leaf (IV)

(With Defi)

First up, here's a little affront to your visual perception:

There's not much to say about the production of that one - I GIMPed it out quickly this morning, as a sop to the left side of my brain - the half that went into a screaming hissy-fit yesterday morning because "I can't do that stuff and it's not fair - you're giving all your time to right half ..." etc, etc, etc. That moment was a long time coming but it was inevitable - I shouldn't have been so dismissive of the frequent remarks in the teach yourself drawing book that sometimes the process would be emotionally disturbing. One thing I'm sure of, after yesterday's experience - at $100 (or 100 francs) a two minute drawing by Picasso was dirt cheap.

There is quite a bit to say about what the image does to your visual perceptions - and how that's achieved - but I'm setting that aside for later. There's at least one more illustration to produce first. For now I'll content myself with stating, quite emphatically, that the one thing the image is not is an optical illusion. Quite the reverse - it combines three standard techniques for producing the impression of depth in a two dimensional image to produce a result that is quite simply, irreconcilable as a whole image. You'll see what I mean if you sit and look at it and let it jangle your brain for a bit. Don't spent too long - it's very discordant and might upset you. Seriously. It's complete visual nonsense, so there's no point working yourself into a tizzy trying to make sense of it.

Today's teach yourself drawing exercise is to flog off the original drawing for the princely sum of $200 (AU). I have several good reasons for doing this. At the more respectable end of the list - the justification and rationalisation end - getting rid of the original is a good way to detach from it (it's only a piece of paper with ink and pencil markings on it), so I can concentrate on its uses - partly play, and partly to illustrate and drive home the occasional point about visual perception and the veracity, authority or integrity of images. Not as a souvenir of a fraught day where I got far too upset over the fact that I'd just botched a drawing of a leaf, then came home after a visit to my one and only friendly ex-wife (as in, I only have one ex-wife, we're still friendly, and she's a very unique individual) to knock off the drawing in a few minutes.

Why $200? Well, it's a nice round figure but it comprises 3 components - eight hours work at or around the minimum wage ($132.00), Workcover compensation for the self-inflicted emotional trauma and, finally, postage and handling (all up, the other $70). What you get - in the unlikely event that you take up the offer, is an A4 sheet of graphic artist's tracing paper, with the drawing rendered in ink and pencil. And that's it, so we'll move on to the less respectable end of my list of reasons - sheer emotional and financial desparation, of which I've had a gutful.

Buy the Drawing

I'm quite sure at this stage, that I've delivered a second affront to a few readers - those of you who're scrolling down the post to hit the comments link so that you can denounce this as nothing more than on-line begging - a blatant bleg. Don't waste your time - comments is gone. You might, however, be interested in the alternative, which I'll describe later.


Begging my arse. It's an open, and honest free market transaction. The merchandise, as described, exists. It will be despatched to the first purchaser to stump up the $200 through that PayPal button that's been sitting idle over on the left-hand side of the page. If anybody does buy the drawing, I'm not interested in their motivations for doing so. I don't expect them to be to interested, respectful, or sympathetic to my motivations for selling. You want the drawing - it's yours, for $200, take it or leave it. You'll get more for your money than Helga got for the $4000 she spent ordering a Hewlett-Packard computer, from a "reputable" major retailer (the story's probably hit the business news by now, but I haven't been tracking it). The day after she ordered the computer, the company went into receivership. As an unsecured creditor, the most she can realistically expect out of the transaction is a dividend of 10 cents in the dollar - $3600 down the tubes in 24 hours. That's reputable Australian business practice.

Still got some abuse to vent? Well, here's the deal - the replacement for the comments facility I mentioned earlier. Use the "Flame Gummo" button - for a mere $5.00 donation via PayPal, you can vent your spleen, your gall bladder and your flatus-bloated bowels in an e-mail to me. I'm not kidding.

Flame Gummo

Now that's really affronted you, hasn't it? I can hear the huffing and puffing already - what have we come to, when someone is prepared to cop online abuse for $5.00 a throw. What sort of debased individual would demean himself that way?

Still not prepared to part with your money? Well, that leaves two last options.

If you're really so sickened by this post as you profess, put your vote where your mouth is. It won't cost you a cent. In the coming election, cast your vote so that it ends up - via whatever circuitous perambulation through our system of preference allocation suits you - so that it ends up with the ALP.

I'm not entirely rapt with Kevin Rudd either, but I'll still be casting my vote for the ALP. Because I want to live in a civil society again - I'm bloody desperate to live in a civil society again. Because I'm sick of the Liberal Party's Theatre of Cruelty - the ongoing soap opera of Work for the Dole (with the new spin off show, Welfare to Work) the big spectacles like Tampa and the Northern Territory intervention, the little kitchen-sink dramas like Federal Police raids on the homes of Australian Muslims that turn up nothing, the trashing of Mamdouh Habib's reputation, the Haneef Affair. This is a government that has repeatedly, and routinely, victimised private citizens for no better purpose than to give all you nice people out there someone you can despise.

As Ziggy Stellenstaub, my head-care specialist, said at our last get-together, if the Liberal Party win this one, they'll believe they can get away with anything. As someone who can confidently expect to be on the debasing and demeaning end of whatever "anything" succeeds Welfare to Work, whose next change of residence if something isn't done about providing affordable rental accomodation is going to be from an almost, but not quite affordable suburban house to the street, with all the asset losses that entails, I've got a very strong vested interest in seeing that "anything" forestalled.

Don't think much of that option either? Well, you can always don the mantle of sanctimonious hypocrite and denounce me in whatever public forum - be it a blog or a newspaper column - you can use. Just don't come around here expecting to kick Trotsky unless you're prepared to pay for the privilege. Your bigotted, "one-dream-fits-all and if it doesn't we'll bloody well make you fit it", idea of what this country should be doesn't interest me. It never really did.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Dried Out Leaf (III)

Nailed the twisted little sucker! Now maybe I can move onto some more interesting stuff (in both the drawing, and the writing).

Harry Nails It.

It being his own metatarsus:
Howard closes in on the riff-raff.
Everything that's wrong with, and wrong about, conservative commentary on this election and the conservative attitude generally in just seven words.

There's more too, but nothing that you couldn't find elsewhere, no less ill-considered, and no less shitty-livered.

Thanks for the "Cheerful Friday thought" Harry - it's brightened my day up a lot. Which it needed.

A Dried Out Leaf (II)

I recently heard, or read, an amusing little anecdote about Picasso. I've forgotten where.

Picasso was asked - no doubt by somebody equally famous - for a drawing. He took a table napkin, drew on it for a couple of minutes, handed the napkin over and asked for a hundred dollars. Or francs maybe.

"A hundred dollars for that? But it only took you two minutes to draw!" was the aghast response.

"Plus fifty years of learning how to do it."

Today's teach myself how to draw exercise was to render the pencil sketch of the leaf in ink. It didn't work out very well as you'll see from the scan of the result: 13 pen strokes on a carefully drawn grid before I decided that I'd botched the job and gave up.

The exercise wasn't an attempt to outdo Picasso: my aim was to attack a problem that's stuffed up other drawings I've produced: the problem of hand tremor. You can see the effect of hand tremor in the image below, a detail of a panel from a new comic strip I've started working on. And stopped again, for this week at least.

Despite a generous application of blurring (using the GIMP's Gaussian blur feature) the lines of the Parliament House flag-pole are noticeably wobbly. That's because they were traced slowly, giving the Trotsky nervous system too much time to fret about the fact that I was working with real, indelible ink on an expensive piece of quality tracing paper (well, more expensive than the crap, picked it up cheap at the newsagent, paper I usually use for drawings that are going to end up digitised).

Three simple mistakes killed today's drawing.

First up, I left the diagonal in the 6x6 grid of rectangles I drew as a guide for the copying. The diagonal was only there as a guide in the grid construction. But, because I neglected to erase it, as soon as I started drawing strokes that crossed it, it became attractive as an additional guide. The inevitable result - confusion, and misplaced strokes.

Second, I bottled out. Instead of pushing through that "OMG I'm actually going to use 110 gsm cartridge this time" barrier, I went the cheap crappy paper option.

I've forgotten the third. Whatever it was, it seems to have been fixed by taping the pencil drawing on a clean kitchen chopping board, and then over that a sheet of that tracing paper, so that I can work on a firm surface that I can tilt to any angle. That's a gunna do solution until I've got budget for a drawing board.

And with those mistakes identified and out of the way, what did I get right?

Well, first up, taking it slowly, visualising each stroke - even practising it in the air above the paper - before actually touching pen to paper worked well. That technique is a keeper.

Bizarre as it sounds, consciously putting white space between strokes works better - at this stage at least - than trying to connect them. The aim was to get used to drawing ink strokes quickly and cleanly - worrying about whether they connect just gets in the way.

Third, I stopped when as soon as it became obvious that it wasn't working. I'll tackle the job again later, under better conditions. There's a whole can of worms hidden in the previous sentence but I'm not going to open it today. Let's just say that some days, and for some purposes, it makes a lot more sense not to get back on the bicycle straight away. You need to take a little time to rub your sore bum first.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Dried Out Leaf

Partly it's the season and partly it's the prospect that the Howard years really are ending on November the 24th that has me in a good mood today. The seasonal part is that whole
Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyn in swich licour
Of which virtu engendered is the flour;
thing. I don't think my attitude to the election needs much explanation - once again, we've been given the chance to get rid of Australia's worst Prime Minister this century - probably the worst since Federation, for the meiosis challenged - and this time it looks like the electorate is finally going to take the opportunity.

There's one other major contributor to my good mood - I've found a new skill to learn. This time it's drawing. Looking back now, I realise that I was doomed to start teaching myself - or re-teaching myself - how to draw from the very first time I used The GIMP to doctor a photograph. Another major steps along the road to this new perdition was producing that first picture of The Indefatigable Wingnut (Episode 6 currently in production).

So now, every day starts with me running up the blinds in my study/den/home office and sitting down at the desk for a drawimg warm up. Today's warm up was drawing a dried out leaf I found in the back yard - the one in the picture (my HP OfficeJet LX lost a lot of the pencilled shading, so I've colorised it to bring out some of the contrast that was lost).

Drawing the leaf was a two stage process (just in case anyone's thinking of trying it at home). The first stage was to draw the leaf with the desk set up so that I couldn't see the drawing paper (a portable file holder works quite well for this if you're using A4 paper). The second was to draw it with the paper visible, but with my attention on the leaf, not the drawing. The only times I look at the drawing are when I've lost my way a bit, and need to reposition the pencil.

One interesting side effect of this new avocation is that I'm looking at the world around me with a new set of interests. A similar thing happened in my shutterbugging days - I would spend a lot of time thinking about how ordinary everyday scenes would look through a camera viewfinder and a lot more alert to the part light and shade play in our visual perception of our everyday world.

A second interesting side effect is that when I'm writing things in my head, they're more likely to be about the imaged world - the world as depicted in photographs, drawings and paintings - and how that imaged world can be manipulated. One form of digital image manipulation I serendipitously discovered yesterday gives me the willies - it's a dangerous little genie indeed and one day I'd like to thoroughly anethematise the idiots who decided to open its bottle.

But not today. I'd rather sit and look at the original drawing behind that scan and mentally rehearse the process of converting it to a line drawing in ink. I reckon the first stage will be to copy it with a 2H pencil to reduce it to a set of pen strokes that can be produced quickly and smoothly, with neither hand tremor or smudging from supporting the pen on the paper. Then a couple of rehearsals on scrap paper before I tackle it on 110 gsm cartridge.

To finish, I'll just throw out a couple of quick remarks that would otherwise nag at me, demanding to be written about, so that I can keep my head clear for what's important to me right now.

First, at the end of the nineteenth century, the French Third Republic was riven by The Dreyfus Affair. it divided the nation into two bitterly opposed factions - Dreyfussards and anti-Dreyfussards. According to the Wikipedia article cited (which prima facie is not to be trusted):
... The right-wing Vichy Regime was composed to some extent of old anti-Dreyfusards and their descendants. The Vichy Regime would later deport Dreyfus' grand-daughter to her death at Nazi extermination camps.
Any historians out there looking for a topic for a blog post? A quick compare and contrast might while away an otherwise boring afternoon.

I'll conclude this not so quick remark by noting that since the turn of the century this government has managed to produce quite a few scandals of its own: the Tampa incident, the Habib case, the cases of Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon, the Haneef Affair and Kevin Andrew's stupid remarks on Sudanese immigrants. Any would-be Zolas out there? Hello?

That wasn't so quick, really, was it? Let's see if I can get number two out of the way with a little more dispatch.

It's pretty bloody ludicrous when a soi-dissant iconoclast derides an artist for producing works with obvious iconoclastic intent as his (said blogger's) Lameass of the Month. Still, the blog's name is apt.

Yep, that did it. Just the right balance of pith and vinegar.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Week with Wingnut

Monday Morning: Some diarist, eh? Two days into this silly venture and I've already missed a day.

So, what happened yesterday? Nothing much. A bit more sketching and scanning, ant then a lot of time out in the afternoon to put together a picture of the giant helium balloon I expect the ALP to enter in this year's inaugural Sydney Christmas (and not Thanksgiving) Parade. If the reports that the election will be Saturday November 24th are right and the polls hold up, it might turn out to be a thanksgiving parade anyway.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

My Week with Wingnut

Saturday Morning: Check comments at Larvatus Prodeo and learn that "Doink!" - the sound of a wingerang bouncing off Wingnut's head - was once used by Mad Magazine's Don Martin. Oops! What the hell - I'll go ahead with the next episode, more or less as I planned it on Thursday, taking up a suggestion of Zeppo Bakunin's. Time to start drawing up the storyboard.

Instead of starting on the storyboard, I make the mistake of checking out some of the latest links to LP and discover a blog post by a strident fallacist on LP's most recent Flying Monkey incident. Like any fallacist argument, the post is riddled with fallacious reasoning - according to the post author's own taxonomy of fallacies, it's a pretty good example of browbeating. The taxonomy itself proves to be unreliable - it includes, for example, "Moral Equivalence" with this definition:
The advocate seeks to draw false moral comparisons between two phenomena which are not morally equivalent.
Ethics 101: ethics isn't about phenomena but human actions, choices and decisions. If for example, you want to argue that it's wrong to kill Tom, Dick or Harry but OK to kill Ahmed, you have to mount a pretty good case to show that Ahmed is so very different from Tom, Dick and Harry as to justify your position.

I put off the storyboard work to knock out a quick drawing of an arse-clown:

There, that's one distraction out of the way.

Postscript: no Theo, you don't have my permission to use the picture of the arse-clown in future.