A hill is a difficult and annoying thing to climb: this is what I was meditating as I climbed a very tall, very steep hill yesterday afternoon. Perhaps, if I had been younger, I would have found the climbing of the hill slightly less difficult and annoying, but it still would have been exceedingly difficult and annoying thing to do. I do not, as a rule, like hills.
Some might say that the hill should never have been invented. I don't know about that. I treat hills as a fact of nature, and the facts of nature are often difficult and annoying. I have been lucky, myself, to grow up in an exceedingly flat country that presents no surprises, hill wise. Balranald was on the Hay Plains, an accurate name in more ways than one, but at least it never possessed any of those frustratingly uneven and lumpy bits of ground that necessitate the sweaty climbing up one side and undignified hurtling down the other.
Some might maintain, in defence of the hill, that the adventure in climbing to the top is rewarded by the view attained once reaching the top. However, it must be pointed out that that view would be so much easier and more readily seen if the hill was not there in the first place: it obstructs rather than makes available a view. The invention of that man made hill, the skyscraper, at least represents a slight improvement on the natural contours of the geographic hill, thrown up as some kind of geological razzamatazz, the fancy of some preposterous and mad god. Thanks to those handy little glassy holes in skyscrapers, you are able to see into, if not right through, them: they've got that one up on their natural hilly counterparts.
Why do we have hills at all, though? Life would certainly be better without the hill: imagine the calming flat contours of the world without the hill: just a single, level plain stretching in all directions, with nothing impeding the view, and nothing presenting anything more than ordinary effort to the casual or serious traveller. Ideally, the view would be grey. It is, really, the perfect egalitarian dream. It's not particularly happy, but at least it would require less effort. Some might argue that hills are picturesque, and could improve the view a little bit. I suppose that is true; hills are so picturesque that they would make excellent pictures. They could be hung up, here and there, to improve the landscape without, you know, actually needing to be climbed.
I climbed the hill yesterday. I climbed the hill again today. I shall probably climb the hill again tomorrow. And, as I climbed the hill, I could not help but thinking of the point of hills, and why such frustrating things should exist that we need to climb down them only to climb up them all over again once the exercise is done.
I'm toddling off for Christmas this afternoon, but I shouldn't go without mentioning that I've got a new zine out. It has poems by me, the Baron, and Michael Reynolds, as well as assorted other musings and artworks. Like to get a copy? You can buy it, online, at Etsy. Also, there are five four copies at Sticky Comics in the centre of Melbourne, though they close on Christmas Eve, right up to the new year, apparently.
The other day I was driving to Coldstream. This is how I did it: I sat in the left-hand seat while the Baron turned the engine on, maneuvered the wheel, pressed the various pedals that sent the car into a non-static state, flicked various switches on and off, steered around, over, under, or through various obstacles, and drove. I suppose you could say that that technically meant that the Baron was driving, and you'd technically be right. Anyway, I'm surprised at how simple driving was, and I'm looking forward to driving again in the near future.
The reason we were going to Coldstream was this: to give my brother his birthday presents - a cooking pot, a Larry David DVD, and some chocolate beer. We had the DVD so my brother would have something to cook in the cookpot, and we got the beer so that he'd have something to drink with it. We're logical like that. (I can't quite account for the beer being chocolate, that was pretty out there.)
I should mention that I had, in my lap, a small book. Another advantage of driving, of course, is that you get to read on the way. Unless you have to steer, that is. It's unfortunate that the book was a street directory, but that's life. Until I took up driving, you know, I used to think that streets were simple straight objects that took you to where you wanted to go. I used to think that you'd just aim the car, and keep on driving until something got in the way, and then you'd stop, and you'd be there. That's generally how it worked when I walked, anyway, and I almost never got lost - or at least, I never lost myself, which was the main thing, although sometimes the world around me got a bit confused.
Anyway, according to this street directory, the streets were anything but straight with us. They'd pootle along, in their streetly fashion, and then all of a sudden change their names. They'd loop around and back like tangled pieces of string for no particular reason. I'm one of those people who has to actually turn the street directory on its side to get the orientation right, so on some of these streets I was having to turn it upside down, turn my own head sideways, then meditate until I had achieved a Zen-like state of bliss, and then attempt to read the map. Pretty soon I had started doing advanced tai chi positions in the car, and I still wasn't sure whether I got it exactly right.
For instance, we'd come to roundabouts in the middle of the street, and I'd look in the map and they wouldn't be there. Some of the streets in the street directory would be orange, but I'd look for the orange streets in the actual street, and they'd remain their usual colour of asphalt grey. I mean, this was outrageous - how could we tell which were the orange streets if the people who built the streets didn't read the instructions on the street directory properly? At other times, it seemed clear that the people who wrote the street directory clearly didn't take in mind the people on the street. For instance, just at the intersection of X___ Street, and V_____ Street, a kid ran across the road, and it didn't say anything about that on the street directory. And another thing: it wasn't very far at all from Thornbury to Coldstream on the map, just a few pages or so, but when we drove it was almost as if we drove for kilometres and kilometres, and still didn't get there. Amazing!
But what ho, this driving lark is quite fun really. We'll be driving all over the countryside in a couple of days, and here's how I imagine it will go: we'll open up the windows of the car, and I will toss my hair in the winnowing wind while clutching a cigarette in my cool and poised fingers, as we speed far far away from civilisation. While the Baron drives. I can't see anything wrong with this plan.
Problem: we seem to spend so much time rushing around doing things for Christmas that we don't have any time left over to do all those things that we want to do, ie, waste time.
Proposal: We simply take Christmas, the day that we do all the rushing around before; and swap it around with Boxing Day, a day which we don't do any rushing in preparation for, whatsoever. That way, we have an extra day to spend time on before Christmas, wasting time, and therefore we have got all the wasting time out of the way by Christmas time.
Difficulty with proposal: we'd probably end up rushing around on Boxing Day anyway, and spend all that time that we should have been wasting our time buying the presents, etc, that we should have bought beforehand. Maybe we could solve this by having an extra day for doing nothing after Christmas anyway. 'Triangulation Day', perhaps?
Further difficulty: I'm not quite sure what would happen to Christmas Eve. Presumably it would go just before Boxing Day, but then we'd have to call it Christmas Eve Eve, which could become confusing.
Although my idea has its difficulties, I suggest we send it off to the governmental department in charge of Christmas right away, so we can get this up and running before next year - perhaps regulated by an appropriate civil servants agency.
Santa also has pie charts on the naughty and nice ratings of girls and boys, a print out of macros and formulas he needs to record changes in details about particular gift recipients, and regular meetings with his little helpers which help him maintain and update his extensive databases and timetable planners for his yearly journey.
Copenhagen, eh? That sounds like a lot of fun. Let's see how events have ended up over there, why don't we?
Summary of events at the Copenhagen Summit.
Day One: Copenhagen is buzzing! Delegates begin to arrive. Emissions for the planes are offset by various schemes involving stock markets, private investment schemes, forestry subsidies, and moonshine. African leaders stage a walk out, but then realise that other world leaders haven't yet arrived, and take the rest of the day off. Day Two: Delegates eagerly begin to set out plans for future tensions and disagreements which they will use to break down further talks on the matter. Day Three: African leaders stage a walk out, to the applause and mutual satisfaction of all the delegates. Protesters stand outside in the Copenhagen cold singing their favourite Christmas carols, 'We are all guilty! Guilty! Guilty! The world's going to die!' Day Four: African Leaders stage a dramatic walk-in, causing uproar at the talks. Matters are resolved only when it is discovered that they walk in only to be able to stage a walk out again. Meanwhile, outside, protesters, having got their lungs ready, progress to singing polyphonic Bach chorales and seven-part fugues. Day Five: A protester holds up a protest banner that is actually witty, pithy, and pointed, but it is in an obscure Ural-Altaic dialect only spoken by him and his grandfather. He promptly dies of embarrassment. Phelim McAleer dresses up in a polar bear suit to make a point, but nobody can hear the point he is making because the polar bear suit gets in the way. In the conference, rousing applause greets a keynote speech by the delegate from Albania, until the other delegates discover that the Albanian delegate was just saying, in heavily accented German, "Please. I need to get to the toilet. Can you tell me where it is?" Day Six: A polar bear gets dressed up in a Phelim McAleer suit, and hands out pamphlets in a bid to alert people of the plight of endangered fat middle-aged political documentary makers, and how they could be affected by the climate crisis. Uproar at the conference as delegates discover that the carbon offsets for their plane flights could themselves have caused extra carbon emissions, and they agonise over how to offset their offsets, and, for that matter, offset their offsets offsets. Day Seven: Somewhere in the world, a little child cries. The Delegate for Tanzania, Mr M'wub M'wub, immediately claims that we must do something about climate change. Then he realises that he has just staged a walk out and thus nobody has heard a word that he has said. Day Eight: Top-level negotiations commence over where the world is to put in place an ETS, a CPRS, GHG reduction scheme, action by NGOs, or a combination of all the above, called ETSCPRSGHGRSNGO, which shortens to E. Al Gore arrives dressed as an emo and is immediately mobbed by protesters wanting to murder him. He reads out some poetry to them and immediately wins them over to his cause. Day Nine: Kevin Rudd arrives at the conference! For a change, all the other delegates join the African leaders and walk out. Out in the cold, protesters are in the middle of Gustav Mahler's epic Das Lied Von Erde, but start having disputes over an E flat. Day Ten: The polar bear and Phelim McAleer gang up and start eating the protesters. The carnage is horrible. They scream and writhe on the ground in the pain. Delegates in the Copenhagen conference look on the dreadful scene, shake one another's hands, and say they must meet again sometime. Then they pop down the street to get a nice cup of tea before catching their flights home. The end.
FACT: Dan Brown loves facts so much that he begins all his books with the word ‘fact’, followed by a series of assertions, that could, in fact, be facts. His favourite adverbs are ‘really’, ‘literally’, and ‘actually’, which he uses with liberal abandon in his books.
But anyway, the opening sentence to The Da Vinci Code really is a doozy. Check it out:
Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the Grand Gallerie of the Louvre Museum, clutching at his chest.
That, I submit to the reader, is pure genius: something horrible happening to a very famous, though fictional, person. Fame is just like reality, only better. And of course, when something bad happens to a famous person, it’s a something that is even worse than the something that would happen to an ordinary person. Brown simultaneously appeals to the sensibilities of the readers of Who magazine and the purchasers of true crime novels, with a nod in the direction of Sister Wendy fans as well.
Dan Brown doesn’t so much take the truth for granted as he takes it to be a liar. His next favourite words, alongside ‘really’, ‘literally’ and ‘actually’ are ‘secret’, ‘symbol’, ‘code’, ‘cipher’; and his codes and ciphers, once revealed, nearly always lead to other codes and ciphers. A symbol is no good unless it symbolises another symbol, which is itself a code for another code, which is also a secret. The secrets themselves, once you get to them, are not very good, but the investigation that uncover the secrets is of some interest. The last secret in Brown's books are always the most disappointing.
Once you become familiar with Brown’s favourite terms, it becomes quite easy to devise a few standard Brown sentences for yourself: ‘The symbol for the code was literally embedded in the cipher, and the symbol…’ This is perhaps an exaggeration, but not much.
You can have a good game with the sentences in Brown’s novels, finding mistakes and grammatical errors and ambiguous descriptions and repeated terms and clichés and unrealistic descriptions, but you don’t have to. It provides literary critics with an entertaining exercise and an opportunity for them to demonstrate why they have been given the job they have. I can think of two examples off hand: in The Lost Symbol, Langdon and his friend Katherine Solomon narrowly escape from the CIA in a subway train that ‘whisked them to their destination’. In Da Vinci Code, Langdon and Sophie Neveu await for a box in a French bank which is both ‘mysterious’ and ‘whose contents were unknown’. But who cares? The plot is what is important.
I suppose I shouldn't admit to enjoying Dan Brown. I don't think I've ever read a favourable review of his books. Funnily enough, though, when I read Brown I find myself, again and again, encountering ideas and plot points that I've encountered in books by authors that are taken much more seriously. In The Lost Symbol Brown goes on about telepathy and the development of mental powers: look in the pages of a few Brian Aldiss books and you can find the same. Brown's plots, with their elaborate three-act structures, echo those of Michael Moorcock. He's nowhere as thoughtful or as well crafted as those two writers, but still, he's a lot of fun.
I was listening to radio the other day, and some paper shuffler from some paper shuffling agency was taking a break from his paper shuffling in order to bang on about how great his state was. "Oh, this is fantastic," he said, "We've cut the predicted road toll right down from last year's predicted road toll!"
It's just such a tragedy when predicted people die as the result of a predicted road toll, after all. If only we had a reliable way of cutting back on the predictions in order to save all those predicted lives lost!
If you thought that this quaint concern about the predicted loss of lives was limited to just one person, you'd be quickly proved wrong. Look on the internet at all the horrible terrible disastrous definite disasters that global warming is predicted to maybe possibly in some potential future lead to. And the UK Met office has been making similar predictions.
Of course, if all these predictions were so devastatingly tragic as some people have been making them out to be, you might think the people making them were wilfully committing genocide. Instead of, you know, drawing attention to their pet cause or attempting to fill out column spaces in the local Dullsville Times.
Making paranoid prognostications about the future is a pretty pointless exercise, but in the future, it's predicted that this tragic prediction count will only increase.
Such a pity that all these predicted predictions won't come to pass because the entire human race will be wiped out at three pm tomorrow by a gigantic cyber toad from the other side of the galaxy who decides to eat our planet for his dinner, according to a prediction made by me, Tim Train, today. Predictable, isn't it?
Inaudible Man Donning his amazing cloak of inaudibility, Inaudible Man enters the lift amongst the evil supervillains, and lets fly with the most amazing series of farts that you have ever not heard in your life!
Non-existent Man When mild-mannered Clinton Kurt puts on his Anti-ontogenical ring, he gains amazing powers of non-existence that allows him to enter into the very ranks of an army of psychopathic genocidal maniacs with demonic powers, and combat them with complete and utter nothingness.
Superfluous Man He, also, can leap tall buildings in a single bound! He can outrace speeding trains - as well! In addition, he is faster than a flying bullet! And plus, he just saved the entire galaxy from being blown to smithereens by a zillion Ultraatomic bombs with his amazing powers, not to mention also, in addition, and as well! He is...
WILD CHEERING MOB PILES ONTO THE BLOG, SHOUTING: Look! Superman has just saved Paris Hilton's puppy from getting a paper cut! HOORAY FOR SUPERMAN!
CANBERRA, MONDAY - After months of debate, Federal Parliament has finally cemented into place legislation that has been agitated for over the course of several years by some guy with a blog called Matt.
The EML (Everything Matt Likes) bill was passed by both sides of Parliament with only one dissenting vote from the Liberals and none from Labor and the Greens. Although some amendments were originally proposed by the National Party under the name of STSDAWMA (Stuff That Simon Doesn't Agree With Matt About) clause, they were eventually struck down by the Coalition whip.
Simon, as was revealed over the course of the months-long debate, was a guy who regularly commented on Matt's blog and got into arguments with Matt and other commenters over various points. However, after scrutiny by the media, his disagreements with the policy positions held by Matt and other commenters were found to be too unworkable, principally because Matt didn't agree with them.
Schemes for the Everything Matt Likes bill have been outlined over the course of several years on Matt's blog, http://iamabsolutelyandutterlyrightabouteverythingandyouallcanjustgohometobed.blogspot.com.
Although the EML bill is still to go before the Senate, it is expected that it will be passed before long and become part of Australian law before next election.
"Finally, we can rest easy, knowing that Australia is going down the right path - the path agitated for by years by some obscure commenter on the internet with a blog," said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in a press conference yesterday.
"I have had conversations with Matt, and I have found him a fair and reasonable person to work with," said Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott in reply to media questions, "especially when every single detail of every single policy passed in federal parliament is something that he agrees with."
HOW THE EML BILL COULD AFFECT YOU The Everything Matt Likes bill, experts predict, will have important impacts upon Australian life. There are four major tranches to the Matt-based legislation:
- The JWATFROA (Just What Are Those Feminists Really On About) scheme;
- The LOGWBWRUSCWAP (Let's Outlaw Global Warming Before We're Really Up Shit Creek Without A Paddle) plan, basically enabling parliament to pass legislation outlawing global warming whenever they feel like it;
- The ANRFEIWSNIMBY (A Nuclear Reactor For Every Idiot Who Says Not In My Backyard) rule;
- And the LMAFLANSBMICIAS (Let's Make AFL A National Sport By Making It Compulsory In All Schools) plan.
Although quibbling over the details, almost all the experts interviewed for this article agree that, once the EML legislation is set into place, the world will become a utopian paradise. Australians concerned about how a utopian paradise may affect their way of life are urged to call up the hotline number, 1319 87, and speak to an expert in the Matt-inspired legislation.
However, one prominent expert disagreeing with Matt is Simon, who has decided, now that the Everything Matt Likes legislation has been set in place, to set up his own blog, http://mattisanabsolutelycompletelystupididiotandheisonlyrightaboutsomeofthethingsheisbloggingabout.blogspot.com.
Matt is reportedly pleased about these developments, and is now wondering "what to do next" with his blog.
A recent post on the Overland blog asks the reader: 'Art and sexism: is it acceptable?' Good question. I'd like to pose a related one in this thread today at Controversy Corner: should sexism be banned because it leads to art?
On the one hand, we must admit that there are many non-artistic sexists in society today, innocently practicing their sexism without ever producing art, great or otherwise. However, the fact remains that there is a small minority of sexists who produce great art, which goes on to pollute our galleries, clog up our bookshops, and fills up our airwaves which could be better used for other things. Should we continue to tolerate a system of sexism that can be misused to produce great art?
There is of course a compromise solution: the innocent practices of sexists everywhere should be strictly regulated so that their sexism would have less danger of turning into great art. For instance, we could introduce a sexism license, administered by an appropriate government department. (At a pinch, we could probably get the entire National Party of Australia to become the relevant 'Department for Sexism', or 'Department for the Subjugation of Women', or whatever).
The counter argument must nevertheless be proposed: there are some artists who will continue to practice their art in spite of these discouragements, psychopathically creating new works to confuse and irritate the ordinary citizen. Can we ever do to much to stop these detestable villains, these invidious craftspeople? Perhaps sexism should simply be banned outright to stop them. But then, sexists everywhere would protest at these infringements of their liberties.
What is more important: the freedom to practice sexism, or the eradication of art from our society for once and for all?
That was Controversy Corner for another week!
Next week: we pose the question, 'Does racism lead to origami!' Tune in to Controversy Corner for another erudite discussion!
The Hey Hey Blackface segment: could this seemingly innocuous incident have lead to dangerous outbreaks of origami?
I was thinking about doing a blog post inspired by this blog post by Maria about hating job interviews. But then a week passed and I forgot. But then another week passed and I remembered - so here we are!
Job interviews. Man, I've been to them. I've been to interviews where the employer just spent the entire half hour rambling on about whatever took his fancy, and didn't bother asking anything vaguely job related. I've been to some interviews where the employer just gathered all the interviewees together in a huge board room and tried to interview everyone of us, all at once. Other interviews were just preliminary interviews to see if you would make the grade for further interviews down the track. Some employers, I found, liked to give you little general knowledge tests, while others just asked you along to an exam that lasted for two hours or so. I even did interviews at several temping agencies around Newcastle where they got you to perform pointless psychological tests on the computer before ushering you out the door and promising to call you the moment a job came up. (Strangely enough, they never did.)
It eventually got to the point where I could have seriously considered listing in my resume - Significant experience in preparing for and attending job interviews; answering pointless questions; filling out meaningless general knowledge quizzes; participating in baffling psychological tests; and generally sitting in waiting rooms for medium to large amounts of time while the interviewer prepares to see me.
I suppose I could have seriously considered going back to uni or TAFE and getting some more practical experience and trade qualification, but hey, I'm never one to do something practical about a problem when I can whinge about it.
Anyway, in all that time, there was one sort of interview that I haven't attended. Here's how I imagine it would go. SCENE: A cavernous boardroom. MARIA is sitting at a large polished oak desk slowly eating creamy, golden puftaloons. She contemplates each puftaloon before lowering them into her mouth, munching contentedly on them, and licking the cream off each finger. Eventually, she puts her head up, wipes her hands on a tissue, and calls out across the room...
MARIA: NEXT! (There enters into the room a SHY YOUNG BUSINESSMAN, JONES, carrying a briefcase which has been polished up to look incredibly important. JONES has to walk all the way across the room to get to his seat at the table).
MARIA: Ah, good to see you, Mr.... (reads from a sheet of paper) Jones. Puftaloon? (Pushing the box towards him).
JONES: (Looking slightly confused.) Oh, uh, er, no, thanks.
MARIA: Now congratulations Jones. You're among our top ten applicants.
JONES: Ha ha, thanks.
MARIA: Now let me put it to you straight away, Jones. This is an important position you're applying for. You're now interviewing for the job of the person who will be interviewing me for the job. Do you think you have what it takes to be my interviewer?
JONES: Oh yes, Ms...
MARIA: Maria, please.
JONES: ... Maria. I have extensive experience interviewing other people for a job.
MARIA: How much?
JONES: I interview on Mondays, Tuesday, Thursday, and Fridays.
MARIA: That's a lot of interviewing.
JONES: And sometimes on Sundays. Extensive interviewing, as my resume...
MARIA: Do you do anything besides interviewing?
JONES: What... (looks confused)
MARIA: Does your job entail anything other than interviewing?
JONES: Oh, administration, filing...
MARIA: Hmmm. (Frowns). How many people have you interviewed?
JONES: (Looks embarassed).
MARIA: Jones, it's going to be a tough job interviewing me. I want to be sure you have what it takes. Can you fire a couple of application criteria at me?
JONES: Oh... sure! Maria - are you a people person?
MARIA: Ha! Cliche. A good start! (Makes make on form).
JONES: Do you work well on your own?
MARIA: Well how on earth would I answer that? It's in complete contradiction to your previous description - brilliant! (Makes another mark on form).
JONES: (Nervously) Do you have good communication skills? Are you outgoing?
MARIA: Yeeeeeeerrrrs. Not bad, but I'm not really intimidated by these. (Makes more marks on form).
JONES: (Quaking with fright, very quickly). Are you able to use Word, macros, Excel, formulas, and do you have industry experience with Quark, HTML, and Illustrator?
JONES: (Finishing off, utterly ruined). But most of all, are you warm, efficient, bubble, down to earth, competitive, friendly, with a co-operative and go-get-em attitude? Are you born-to-win and born-to-grin or born-for-fun and born-to-rule?
MARIA: Excellent! (Ticks form). How could anyone possibly be expected to answer such fatuous criteria? Jones, one last question. Why do you want to be my interviewer?
JONES: Because, I... I... I... (flustered, fumbling around for an answer)... um, I look forward to the challenge?
MARIA: Hmmm. Interesting. Anything you want to ask me?
JONES: Oh, nothing much, just...
MARIA: (Cocks eye). Mmm?
JONES: When will I know if I've got the job of interviewing you?
MARIA: We'll call you, Mr Jones. Well, thanks for taking the trouble to come all this way. (Walks around the table and shakes Jones' hand.) Have another puftaloon. And help yourself to some coffee on the way out. JONES makes his way to the door. MARIA waits 30 seconds before taking the puftaloon box back to her side, sitting down, and picking another puftaloon up, turning it this way and that so she can admire its golden glow in the light of the sun beaming in through the window, and then slowly lowering it into her mouth...
Never use a short word that makes sense when a long word that doesn't make sense is available. Instead of 'probably', say 'probabilistically'. Instead of 'problem', say 'problematically'. Instead of 'impress' say 'impressionistically'. Avoid 'making up' when 'reconcile' or 'reconciliation' is available. Never say sorry or 'apologise' when an 'apologia' is available. And don't stop at pretentious English words, take words out of context from the works of difficult-to-understand French philosophers: don't say 'differ' or 'difference', say 'differance'!
Example: "Well, we'll just have to agree that we have a differance over this problematic, and probabilistically we'll never reconciliate our differances. However, your argumentations are very impressionistic, and I offer an apologia up in advancement."
I recently used 'apologia' in an email, but unfortunately I didn't follow up the opportunity and use any of those other words. Bollockifications!