Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Wednesday Quiz in Exile XI: Location, Location, Location

The penultimate week of the first season of the Wednesday-Quiz-in-Exile is a game of photo-identification. Below are 12 sets of three photos, all taken in or of one of Australia's World Heritage Areas. All you have to do is name the location (or the World Heritage Area, where it has a different name (two ways to win!)) to score the points.

Name that place.
Please leave your answers in 300x200px format in the comments.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Council Elections 2010

I had intended to make this a big long post about the relative merits of all the candidates in my local council election, another satisfying brick in the wall of my blog of things that nobody actually cares about, but a few things stopped me:

1. They're all so darn similar that it would make for mighty boring reading. They all say they want steady council rates, the garbage collected, etc. etc. (Considering the "trenchant" nature of my Senate posts, when I say boring, you can believe that I really mean it).

2. Finding any even moderately interesting information is incredibly difficult due to the new restrictions in place this council election on online information. Mail-outs are better, but I've got post from only a few candidates, so I can hardly give a fair picture.

3. Turns I that I don't care either.

I find this all terribly depressing given my usual rabid enthusiasm for elections, and especially considering that this is the last one I'll get to be a part of for a few years unless I join my local bowls club or the Federal Labor government collapses, but there you are. I really wanted to get excited about this election too, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, my local council (City of Burnside) has been in the news over the last few years for all the wrong reasons, and the community is crying out for change.

More importantly, though, local Council elections are the only ones in our three-tier government system in which you don't have to vote. I can exercise my faith in the democratic system with enthusiasm and freedom, not just because I have to if I don't want to be fined. It makes me feel lke a real voter, not just one of the sheep.

So I've collected my junk mail, scoped out my candidates, put down all my preferences and sent my little cards in by mail, but I really don't care enough to blog about it. I do care enough to blog about not blogging about it, which I am tempted to call zen but suspect is really just insomnia.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Vignette: Marriage

A young couple are walking back to their car after dinner in town, pleasantly ignorant of the world moving around them as only young couples can be, when arising out of the dark comes a hulking figure, gaunt and unshaven and smelling never-so-slightly of alcohol.
"Arg, why don't you two just get married?"
The lonely figure disappears into the darkness again, no doubt in search of other people to accost, leaving our two young heroes to their thoughts. After a short moment, the gentleman turns to his partner:
"Laura, hang on a sec...ah..."

The look on her face was just priceless.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Filk Fiction

As I was reading through the archives of the newly-discovered blog of a dear friend of mine recently, I stumbled across a meme that she'd filled out. Ever keen to learn more about a friend, and partial to a little meme myself, I perused her answers, until I found that she'd refused to put an answer down for "Favourite Fan-Fic".

Now not being much of a fan-fic man myself, I can sympathise, but I wondered if her lack of response was down to not having a good answer, or just being too embarrassed to share it with the rest of the world. Well, just in case the second option happens to be true, but mostly because I'm feeling inordinately punny at the moment, here's a snippet of one of my favourite fan-fics for you all.

I'm not a big fan of fandom in general, the fascination with sex and sexuality is something that I just don't understand or approve of (and this particular peice is no exception, so look away now if you're particularly easily offended), but occasionally you run across a little gem, as I did when I was listening to "Death Sheep Radio" the other night.

So without further ado, here's an excerpt Tom "The World's Fastest Filker" Smith's seminal musical work "Hey, It's Can(n)on":

Ye've read the Harry Potter books, ye think ye know 'em through
But there's something that ye may not know, and here's a little clue:
The female of the Trio has her birthday on
Talk Like A Pirate Day. So heads up, Harry and Ron!

When she found out, her eyes she rolled, she went on knittin' socks,
But Harry said, "I've got the gold, let's head down to the docks,"
They traded lots o' Galleons for a lovely brigantine,
And now they're her young scallions and she's a pirate queen!


Now here's the part we talk about: with whom she's lockin' lips,
'Cause after all, a pirate queen has got to have her 'ships.
Some say Harry's her true love, or Ron she will betroth,
She finally cried, "I can't decide, I'll have to have 'em both!"

Who's the sassy bossy witch that all the boys pursue?
Grander than the Golden Snitch and more elusive too.
One may Seek'er, one may Keep'er, both know how to score, with
Hermione Granger, the Pirate Queen, the pride of Gryffindor!

Sorry about that. Sometimes I can't resist.

Thursday, 4 November 2010


I know I should be focusing or reading Limits and Renewals and thoroughly getting my Kipple on, but I slipped last night in a fit of bad judgement brought on by my perpetual insomnia and picked up one of my favourite books, Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8). This was a bad idea, because it means that my head is now constantly swimming with cryptic crosswords clues and terrible wordplay, so you can probably expect either a tidal wave of punnage or the production of a cryptic or two in the coming couple of weeks.

Those of you were unfortunate enough to know me during my brief stint at university will remember that my on-again-off-again obsession with cryptic crosswords was the defining feature of my life at the time, and combined with my fondness for card games caused my premature and unceremonious departure from academia after just one year. We can only hope, for the sake of my employment and the sanity of anyone in a 100m radius, that this phase is not as disruptive or enduring as it was last time around.

The main point here, though, is that you should totally read it. If you're an Adelaidean, I have a copy I can lend you, just drop me a line sometime. If you're not, do yourself a favour and get a copy of Sandy Balfour's clever, quirky and someway eccentric little book, it's fun times.

Just don't get too involved.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Wednesday Quiz in Exile X: Once Upon a Time...

It's that time of the week again, time for the Wednesday Quiz in Exile in it's tenth week of its first, and hopefully last, 12-week season, which this week is focused on the short, bloody and generally tragic history of Australia since European occupation. Below are the names of 12 actual events in Australia's history, all of which changed Australia dramatically in some way, all you have to do is let us know which of these descriptions are true and accurate representations of events as passed down by the history books, and which are fallacies and misdirection designed to fool you into looking woefully and immeasurably ignorant, or worse, American. Looking up answers in any way will be judged harshly by history.

Did these historic events go down like this?

1. The Dismissal, 1975
The Whitlam Labor government was elected in 1972 without a senate majority, and in 1975 the Coalition began blocking appropriations bills until a House of Representatives election could be called. When Whitlam refused to call the election, the Governor-General removed him from office and appointed the leader of the opposition, Malcolm Fraser, as PM. Fraser passed the appropriation bills (taking advantage of the confusion in the Labor ranks) and the parliament was dissolved in a double dissolution. Though little constitutional reform resulted from the incident, the nature of Australian politics was changed forever.

2. Australian Antarctic Expedition, 1911
In November 1911, Robert Scott and his team set out to travel to where no other man had ever been, the South Pole. After a two month trek , the 5 of them reached the Pole, only to discover that Roald Amundsen had beaten them by two weeks. Defeated, they set off back north, but they would never make it home. One died falling down an ice shelf, an the other four were running out of supplies, despite the selfless sacrifice of Oates with the famous words “I am just going outside and may be some time”, the remaining three died in March and would not be recovered for another 8 months. Scott and his men would become national heroes and inspiration.

3. SA-VIC Border Dispute, 1868
Due to an error in calculation, the South Australian and Victorian governments both laid claim to a 3.6km wide stretch of land on their border. Although the land was officially to the west of the agreed border, Victorian squatters had settled the area and refused to move out. Matters came to a head in April 1868, when a party of Victorian soldiers fired on and killed 4 South Australian farmers for trespass near the town of Serviceton. South Australia began mobilising troops, but to avoid conflict the Victorian government paid 215,000 pounds in reparations and the disputed territory has been considered Victorian ever since. The incident is considered Australia's first and only 'civil war', and is one of the major reasons for the deep-seated and bitter SA-VIC rivalry.

4. Gallipoli Campaign, 1915-1916
The Australia and New Zealand Army Corps was formed to serve as part of the attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula by Allied forces in April 1915. On April 25th, a day NOW celebrated as ANZAC day, Allied troops landed on the beaches, and they would remain there for 9 months, ultimately making few gains. When the Allies finally retreated in January 1916, 500,000 of the 9,000,000 men who served there on either side were casualties. This is widely considered to be the true birth of the Australian conscience independent from Britain, and French and British contributions in the theatre are often ignored in Australia, though the Turkish forces are acknowledged.

5. Egon Kisch Visit, 1934
When famed Jewish Communist Egon Kisch reached Sydney to speak at anti-Nazi events in 1934, he was denied entry. Australian law at the time dictated that any visitor to Australia could be turned back if they could not demonstrate fluency in a European language. Kisch was asked to write the Lord's Prayer in Scotch Gaelic, and when he was unsuprisingly unable to do so, he was taken into custody. The language test remained part of Australian Immigration policy until 1958, but the Kisch case was critical in its eventual removal.

6. Ash Wednesday, 1983
On the 16th of February 1983, numerous bushfires caused the deadliest bushfires in Australia (up to that point, we've since recently passed the terrible record), killing 75 people, 340,000 sheep, 18,000 head of cattle and destroying 7000 buildings across South Australia and Victoria, at an estimated cost of 1.7 billion dollars. This became known as Ash Wednesday across the country, except in South Australia, where another fire had claimed that name just 3 years earlier, and resulted in Australia developing one of the world’s most effective and modern regional fire services.

7. America's Cup, 1983
After 132 years of successive victories, the New York Yacht Club was challenged by the Perth Yacht club for the oldest continuous sporting prize in the world, the America's cup. After being 1-3 down after 4 races, the patriotically named Australia II equalled the scorecard, and in a nationally telecast final race won the Cup for Australia. Inspired by the victory, PM Bob Hawke informed the media that morning in his usual larrikin fashion that "Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum". Australian sporting smugness has never again known such lofty heights.

8. WA Referendum, 1933
In 1933, Western Australia, fed up with the focus of the federal government of the Easter states, held a state referendum in which 65% voted to secede from Australia and return to being a governed British colony, they even made a flag up and everything. It was sent to London, where the British government decided after 18 months that it was a federal matter for the Australian government to decide. Needless to say it never came to a vote at a Federal level. Thus, short of declaring war, no state can successfully secede from Australia without the agreement of the other states and the federal government.

9. Batman's Treaty, 1835
On the 6th of June 1835, John Batman signed an agreement with aboriginal elders in the area around modern-day Melbourne, buying 2,000 square kilometres of land for a years supply of red shirts, jackets and scissors. Most probably the elders (if they even were elders) didn’t know what they were signing, but it was the first recognition of Aboriginal ownership of the land by the European settlers, and would be an important part of the native title debate. When the Governor found out about Batman’s treaty and it’s implications for the British claim on the rest of the country he immediately absolved the treaty.

10. Mabo Vs Queensland (II), 1992 (Earlier typo has been removed, thanks John)
On behalf of the Meriam people of the Murray Islands, in 1992 Eddie Mabo (and other, but frankly their names weren’t as cool) contended that the Meriam people were the owners of the Murray Islands. The exact proceedings are somewhat complicated to describe here, but the general vibe is that the High Court ultimately ruled that the idea of Terra Nullius, or unoccupied land, did not apply, and that Australia’s indigenous people had native title rights to Australian territory.

11. Rum Rebellion, 1808
Governor William Bligh was not a happy man. He’d suffered the infamous mutiny of the Bounty, and now the New South Wales Corps were mutinying over a little thing like putting their leader up on trumped-up charges and stopping their alcohol allowance and production of the early currency of the colony, rum. The Corps (the only armed men in the area) simply marched up to Government house and arrested him, and thus ended the tenure of the 4th governor of New South Wales. This led directly to the appointment of Governor Macquarie, who would loom large amongst those building the future of the Australian colonies.

12. Burke and Wills 1860-61
In the most expensive and spectacularly mismanaged exploratory expedition in Australia's history, the Victorian government funded an expedition commanded by Robert Burke, in an attempt to make the first overland passage from the South to the North of the continent. Burke was not an experienced bushman, and though the party eventually travelled 3250 kilometers north they were forced to turn back just 5km from the coast, and came at a terrible cost. When Burke and Wills returned to their base camp in Copper Creek 9 months after they began the expedition, they found that their support team had left for home just that morning having waiting for 5 weeks more than they were directed, and short of supplies, they both died there. The expedition left Burke and Wills as Australia's most famous explorers, much to the chagrign of South Australians.

Leave your answers, with citation where appropriate, in the comments.

Read: Songs of the Dying Earth

When I was at primary school, in one of the earlier aeons of this earth, I always felt myself intractably drawn to the school library, berth of knowledge and wisdom in an academy which was generally unencumbered with these dual virtues, situated as it was in the more uncivilised quarter of Adelaide's suburban sprawl. Being a young gentleman of not inconsiderable intellect, and not being at all recalcitrant in broadcasting the fact, I was ever attracted to the most massive tomes and took great pleasure in loudly announcing these intellectual tendencies to all and sundry.

As you, dear reader - steeped in wisdom and possessed of a certain presence of mind as you undoubtedly are - can probably see, due to these and other egotisital tendencies unrecognised by my juvenile self at the time, I was a somewhat unpopular and lonely child. Thus I took an unsurpassed comfort in the fantastic world summoned to mind by the most weighty of the tomes of that establishment, J.R.R. Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring and its sequels*. From this beginning was born my enduring love of fantasy, a love far in excess of my love of the mundane world for many years, much to the dismay of my parents and anyone who had the misfortune to attempt to engage me in conversation.

Even after I came once again, under the dual influence of the regular companionship of like-minded individuals and my 'getting religion', to appreciate the delights of this present Earth - around about the time I began my secondary education -, my love of fiction's fantastic worlds continued unabated. I discovered the works of G.R.R. Martin in a book of short stories entitled Legends, which I checked out of my local library to read the Terry Pratchett story contained within, and within a few months I'd collected - through various back-room deals and association with a number of shady characters possessed of a dubious aroma - the first three volumes of his A Song of Ice and Fire, undoubtedly the most engrossing fantasy epic I've had the privilege to partake of since Tolkien.

So I began to frequent the mainstream bookstores, waiting impatiently for more Martin to become available, and consumed it whole as soon as in became avaiable here in Australia, sadly still Terra Incognita where fiction is concerned. I became the proud owner of the next in the series in 2005 and his Rretrospective in 2006, and since then I have haunted my local bookstores, searching unceasingly and impatiently for the next book, a book I know does not yet exist. So I wear holes in the carpets of the fantasy/science fiction sections of my local Angus & Robertson, prowling the Martin shelves in vain hope.

We come, finally, to the entrance into our tale of Songs of the Dying Earth, which sent my heart soaring when I noticed it on the shelf, then plummeting when I realised it wasn't pure Martin, but a dreaded anthology. Visit after visit I was stopped by its dark, forbidding countenance, but I passed it over in favour of other volumes. Finally, though, on the visit that inspired my current new book drought, I succumbed to its unfailing desire and purchased it, fooled by warm memories of Legends into persuading myself for a moment that anthologies have done more good for me than harm.

I had purchased a volume of short stories in homage to and set in the world of Jack Vance's The Dying Earth series. A ridiculous thing to do, having not read The Dying Earth, but the promise of G.R.R. Martin - with an the added Neil Gaiman carrot in this case, too - drives one to ridiculous extremes on a seemingly daily basis. I own and have read Vance's Lyonesse series, which I enjoyed, but not enough to look into finding more of his work. Thus it was with great trepidation that I opened the massive tome, began to peruse...

...and fell in love. With an unceasing parade of paramours, each lovlier and more beautful than the last, none of them what they seem. With countless magicians, warlocks, mages, enchanters and wizards, distant, proud, jealous, cruel and unservingly petty, shaping the earth and its inhabitants to their every whim. With cunning heroes and terrifying beasts, all doomed to die, either by the hand of another or by the inevitable death of the world when the red sun ceases its burning. I fell in love with the imitation of Jack Vance, the homages of 22 authors who fell just as sorely for him many years before my birth.

I fell in love with the uncompromisingly lavicious style of prose, ever expansive and generous, suddenly brutal and always leaving as much to the the reader's imagination as anything I've read yet -I hope you noticed my unsubtle and inferior attempt to replicate it here-, soaring, intimately detailed, but somehow leaving so much unsaid. I fell in love with this Dying Earth, its sweet sorrow and cruel justice, without even reading the original. The 22 selected authors built around Vance's core, further colouring and impressing their own personalities on the Dying Earth, yet very few times did anything feel forced or out of place. Somehow this broad, emcompassing world, an Earth in its inevitable decline from enlightenment even as its solar system collapses around it, seems to have room for all these authors, al these dreams, and so much more. Quite the acheivement for four books written almost 50 years ago, when fantasy was a much younger genre than it is today.

In conclusion, I've put the omnibus edition of Tales of the Dying Earth, which includes all four Dying Earth books, onto my list of books to acquire by foul means or fair for my library, and I have a number of science fiction and fantasy authors with whom I have previously been unaquainted whose original work I will have to investigate if I ever manage to fight my way through this ridiculous backlog.

Oh, and G.R.R. Martin and Neil Gaiman's contributions were my least favourite of the lot.

Favourite Quote:
I didn't have any one section really jump out at me, as the whole was so overpowering, but this gives an idea of the tone, methinks:
Once a mighty city rose beside the head of a deep gulf in the Sea of Sighs, its ships plied their trade, and the magnificence of its buildings proved its wealth...but in these latter days, only a dusty town remained, buldings shabby, patched with stones from its earlier grandeur. A minor port, a stop on the caravan route across the land, Uskvosk had shrunk and faded in the bleak millenia of the sun's decay.
Page 456 (123 is an introduction):
"The Crimson Messuage is gravely suspicious of me, as you well know, but that's never stopped them from wanting me to join their retinue as Court Incendiary. In addition, I have a toruous history with this particular Paeolina. He made disagreeable suggestions to me many years ago, and, when rebuffed, gre surly and resentful. I am certain that his invitation will lead me into a trap."
Reading Project Status

Read: 2/74
Australian Ratio: 1.045:0.955 (1 out of 22 counts, alright?)
Next Up: Limits and Renewals, Rudyard Kipling.

*actually in these particular volumes, The Two Towers was slightly more massive, but what are such schemantics amongst friends and in the face of poetic license?

Monday, 1 November 2010

Double Date™

When I was committing the horrible crime of book-buying, as described in the last post, I also picked up a 2011 pocket diary, in the vain hope of becoming the kind of organised and dependable person I've always secretly wanted to be.

Unfortunately, I left it in my shirt pocket, where it was discovered and from where it was subsequently 'liberated' by a 'friend'. The long and short of the story is that my nice crisp clean sensible pocket diary now includes the useful entries 'AN ENGLISHMAN, AN IRISHMAN AND A SCOTSMAN WALK INTO A BAR' on November the 12th and 'DON'T FORGET THIS DAY!' on May the 21st.

Thus, we get to your bit. You, as my favourite readers of my blog, may enter something in my 2011 diary, and provided this thing is not illegal or morally questionable I will endeavour to carry out this action on the date proscribed. The catch, to prevent me having to do the absurdest things your diseased minds can come up with, is that you must do it with me. For those of you in Adelaide, this means getting together, and for those of you in other places, this means performing a similar or equivalent diary entry for yourself and informing me about it in a manner that will amuse me.

Do you have a special holiday that you celebrate and wish you could propagate? A zany act of bravado you've never wanted to do alone? A dish you need a fellow culinary master to aid you with*? A wedding you actually want me to attend? This is the place to let me know, whereupon it will be entered in...the Diary**.

I'm not exactly expecting to fill up the book in this manner, but the more things in there the more likely I am to actually continue to use it. Thus, if you are an enemy of entropy or simply a fan of people turning up to things they said they would, it's your duty to open up the comments and take me on a Double Date™.

*Actual culinary mastery is not guaranteed.
**No, that was not a deliberate Pratchett reference, but good work for picking up on it anyway.