Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still

When a film is so beloved by generations of nerds (myself included) any attempt to remake it is well and truly behind the 8-ball before it even begins. It’s bound to be met with scorn, derision, calls for the heads of the producers etc.

Just put “the day the earth stood still sucks” into Google and see if I’m wrong.

A lot of the derision is around the casting of Keanu Reeves as emissary-from-the-stars Klaatu, originally played by Michael Rennie.

day_krI think it’s actually a fine piece of casting. Klaatu’s taken on human form but hasn’t quite got the hang of it yet. What a perfect excuse  for wooden acting and awkward movements.

And of course, the original being 57 years old means that a lot of the plot updates were necessary.

The threat of nuclear destruction (the original film being grounding in Cold War-era nuclear paranoia) has been replaced with the threat of environmental apocalypse, and the government security requires a bit more hoop-jumping for Klaatu to escape.

Other changes are just to ratchet up the cool factor, like the silver-jumpsuited robot Gort becoming an agglomeration of nanobugs and the flying-saucer spaceship a nondescript glowing orb.

the-day-the-earth-stood-stillThe thing I found really interesting was the Klaatu-as-Messiah imagery (only hinted at in the original) being so much stronger, giving the story a very clear link to Christian end-of-days mythology.

Watch out for references to God-born-as-human, healing hands, forgiveness, stigmata, sacrifice and a new world order. They’re all there.

Of course, the point of the film is an admonition to protect the environment and while this important point is made, in a few places it all gets a bit lost in the cheese.

For some reason modern Hollywood scriptwriters stumble when writing profound dialogue. It was managed much better in the original film, but it could be that Michael Rennie was just a better actor than Keanu.

Either way, like most modern cinematic science-fiction this manages to walks a fine line between saying something important and saying it well.

3.5 out of 5

Monday, 29 December 2008

Proof That Jesus Heals

Well, that’s egg on my face.

 Xmas 2008 008

Thanks, Jill. I mean Santa.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

One week to go

Christmas is just around the corner, which means there’s only one week left to get your entries in for the

2009 Celebrity Dead Pool !

Entries are flooding in already, you can read all the rules here and email me with your nominations at ilikeportello@gmail.com.

Don’t delay!

It’s Not Mystifying

John Clarke QC has wrapped up his investigation into the Mohamed Haneef affair, in which an innocent man was accused of being a terrorist.

Amongst all the damning evidence of Federal police incompetence and political interference, the most interesting thing was Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews’ decision to cancel Dr Haneef’s visa.

That was described as “mystifying”.

Of course it’s not mystifying at all.

Andrews was a populist little toady pandering to a government led by a racist and autocratic leader who knew that fear is a much better way to control the public than compassion.

And it was in the lead-up to an election, when then previous election had been won on the back of appearing to take a hard-line on issues exactly like this.

So where’s the mystery?

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Antikythera Mechanism

The wonderfully mysterious Antikythera Mechanism was discovered in a shipwreck off the Greek coast in 1901.

Antikythera_Mechanism

Dated to about 100BC, the mechanism’s discovery completely changed our modern view of just how technological the ancient world was.

About the size of a shoebox, it’s a steampunk lover’s dream.

A sophisticated system of hand-cranked gears and cogs provides an accurate calendar and astronomical clock. It maps the relative positions of the sun, moon and planets (or at least the ones that were known in 100BC) and the stars.

It even keeps track of the dates of the Olympic Games.

A new working model of the mechanism has just been completed, incorporating all the very latest discoveries.

The longer it’s investigated, the more amazing things are discovered.

But of course the real question is:  when can I get one?

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Chuck Weighs In

Oooh, now it gets interesting.

Entering the latest War on Christmas debate, sparked recently by that sign erected in Olympia, Washington, is none other than Chuck Norris.

Yes, the rough, tough, roundhouse kicking Walker Texas Ranger has decided it’s personal, and he’s taking it to the man.

His argument is pretty straightforward, as you’d expect from the man who destroyed the periodic table, because he only recognizes the element of surprise.

It basically boils down to “Yes, yes, First Amendment and freedom of speech is fine, but NOT IF IT OFFENDS ME”.

Which seems to be typical of your modern US Christian.

Then he proceeds to list all his grievances (both real and imagined) against atheists, while pretending that he’s not really complaining because there would be no point doing that. Or something.

It’s all a bit muddled, to be honest. But in the end, it’s just a plug for his new book.

I recommend this one instead. It’s hilarious.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Humanism in schools. Hooray.

The Humanist Society of Victoria has developed a curriculum for primary school students based on humanist ethics.

Their focus is the wonderful idea that ethics can be derived without reference to any religion; that you don’t need to defer to some magical God or ancient book or (more often) the authority of the clergy to know what’s right.

This is a really important idea, and absolutely the sort of thing we should be instilling in our children.

But of course that’s not the way it’s being reported.

Instead, we get headlines like this:

Religion in schools to go God-free

Students to be taught there's no God

This angle completely misses the point. But that’s to be expected in a culture with such an entrenched religious tradition.

And the predictable backlash from religious, particularly Christian, vested interests has begun.

This is my favourite quote, from fundamentalist godbot Jenny Stoker of Christian lobby group Salt Shakers:

"If you go there, where do you stop? What about witchcraft or Satanism? If you accredit humanism, then those things would have an equal claim to be taught in schools."

Wrong, Jenny. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If you teach Christianity in schools then all those things have an equal claim. They’ve all got precisely as much evidence as each other to support them.

Our government should never promote any one religion over another, and certainly not in our government schools.

So, Jenny, unless equal time is given to all religions (and that includes Wicca and Satanism and Scientology and The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) then no time should be given to any of them.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Raining

It's raining in Melbourne.

Raining like it hasn't rained in years.

Raining like it used to in the dim distant rain-soaked past, before the Big Dry and water restrictions and desalination plants.

Once upon a time Melbourne was famous for its rain. Tourism ads for Queensland would play on the point. A rugged-up Melburnian looks out the rain-soaked window of a tram to see... sunshine! And beaches! And bikinis! And so much of it! Just a short(ish) trip away!

That all changed with El Niño, the weather pattern in the south Pacific that sucks all the rainfall to the north and causes endless political bickering.

To recycle? Or desalinate? Costs now vs costs later. Use less! Save more! Take a bucket into the shower. And an egg-timer. Don't flush that! If it's yellow let it mellow.

And now it's raining. Beautiful, cleansing, soaking, sodding rain. It's rained for almost 24 hours straight.

So is this the end of the drought? Can we quietly forget the recent admonition to use only 155 litres each per day? (that's about 40 gallons for our Imperial American friends).

Probably not.

We foolishly don't gather storm water so most of this precious bounty will just be running out to sea.

If it rains over the city catchments we might see the dams rise, but it'll take more than a day or two to make much difference.

This is just another round in the cycle.

You know ... those droughts and flooding rains.

Just like in the poem.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Keanu . . . In . . . Spaaaaaace

Prior to its release here on Planet Earth, the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still will be beamed into space.

Why? Well, it’s not really clear why.

Presumably it’s so some intergalactic David and Margaret can tell us what they think. You know, from the aliens’ point of view.

This seems to be latest funky thing to do. I think it all started earlier this year when NASA beamed the Beatles’ Across the Universe into space to celebrate the agency’s 50th anniversary.

Of course The Day the Earth Stood Still in no way compares to that little masterpiece.

And anyway, given its theme of aliens destroying the intergalactic menace that is humanity, surely it’s not necessarily the best choice?

We need to tell the Universe how nice we are. I’m thinking It’s a Wonderful Life. Or Bambi.

However, if we must go with the alien theme then why not Contact, which shows hyper-advanced and hyper-intelligent races that we might be worth talking to?

Actually now that I think about it, it might be better to go with Independence Day.

At least that shows we’re not to be fucked with.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Get Ready for Celebrity Dead Pool 2009!

With just three weeks remaining of 2008, we're on the downhill run for the 2008 Celebrity Dead Pool, which means . . .

It's time to start thinking about who's going to be dropping off the perch in 2009 !

We've had a some surprising celebrity deaths this year, and you can bet your last dog-eared copy of Who magazine that 2009 will be no exception.

The only question is . . . can YOU pick a winner?

Just like the 2008 Celebrity Dead Pool, the game is very simple.

Simply nominate a list of 10 celebrities you believe are not long for this world, and submit them to me before 12am on 1 January 2009.

You can email your nominations to me at ilikeportello@gmail.com.

And that's it! From then on it's just a ghoulish waiting game.

Entry is free and the prize once again will be a double pass to Village Cinema Gold Class.

And finally there are, of course, some rules.

-----------------------------------------------------------

Scoring

1. The score awarded for a correctly predicted death will be equal to 100 minus Age at Date of Death.

2. A person's "age" will be defined as their Age Last Birthday. This figure is incremented at the instant of 12am on the date of the person's birthday. This means that if a person dies on their birthday, their age is taken as the age they had just become that day.

3. If a person is over the age of 100 at their date of death, the score will be zero.

4. In the event of dispute about a person's precise age, the issue will be investigated by the moderator (me) and a decision made based on the best available evidence. The moderator's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered in to.

-----------------------------------------------------------

The Rules

1. All nominated persons must be human and must be alive as at 12am on 1 January 2009.

2. If you make a nomination and the person dies before 12am on 1 January 2009, you may substitute another name. You have 1 day's grace, and the substitution must happen before 12am on 2 January 2009.

3. Nominated persons must be famous or infamous in their own right, not (for example) because they're sick, or because they're very old, or because they're hideously and tragically deformed, or because they're about to undergo an extraordinary, ground-breaking and very risky operation.

4. For a death to be valid, it must be reported by at least one major mainstream media outlet. Examples include AP, AAP, Reuters, a major national or metropolitan newspaper or a major national or metropolitan TV network. Your blog doesn't count.

5. The death of a local celebrity will only be valid if their death is reported by a national media outlet, or by a major media outlet in another city.

6. If a nominated person is on death row or known to have a terminal illness at the start of the game, no points will be awarded if they die of the expected cause. Similarly, if a nominated person is being held hostage at the start of the game, no points will be awarded if they are killed by their captors or in a rescue attempt. Points will be awarded only if such a nominated person dies from another unrelated cause.

7. Each nomination list may have at most 10 names.

8. No name may appear on a nomination list more than once. You may, however, submit more than one list.

9. Any attempts to influence the result via homicidal acts will result in immediate disqualification.

-----------------------------------------------------------

Get your nominations in before 1 January, and good luck!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Won’t Someone Think of the Cartoons?

There comes a time in every moral panic when common sense completely takes a holiday.

Case in point: the ludicrous ruling by NSW Supreme Court Justice Michael Adams that pornographic cartoons of Simpsons characters constitute genuine child pornography.

Now, tell me: when did the crusade against child pornography stop being about protecting children?

Because that has most definitely stopped. At some point it become all about political point-scoring, puritanical moral grandstanding and theocratic thought-policing.

And that’s where we are now.

If our judges can consider stupid pictures of cartoons having sex as anywhere near equivalent to actual child pornography, then quite frankly we’ve entered the Twilight Zone.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so sinister.

What’s next? Well, The Simpsons Movie will obviously have to be banned, because we got a glimpse of Bart’s cartoon willy.

Then we’ll have to ban all TV shows and films that feature crime of any sort. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t real . . . because it might encourage someone to really do it!

Then we’ll have to ban any books that describe crimes. It won’t leave us with much in the way of literature, just a selection of Dr. Seuss books (although obviously not The Cat in the Hat . . . he’s a bad influence on children) and Miffy by Dick Bruna.

And how many otherwise-abused children will be protected by all this nonsense? Precisely none.

But of course, that’s not the point is it? This isn’t about protecting children anymore. It’s about policing morals, even when those morals affect no-one except the individual.

And when the judiciary starts deciding they have the right to do that, then we’re all in a lot of trouble.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Australia

It’s entirely appropriate that a movie called Australia should be directed by someone called Baz.

Ever since Barry Crocker and Barry Humphries did Barry McKenzie it’s a name that’s more representative of the country than just about any other.

Having said that, the earlier Barries managed to make their film a genuine (if narrowly-focused) cultural article, unlike the latter Baz’s odd mixture of nostalgic jingoism, selective cultural memory and a broad-brush style intended to mimic epic storytelling.

While Australia is trying hard to be Gone With The Wind, it ends up somewhere between We of the Never Never, Crocodile Dundee and Pearl Harbour.

That’s not to say it’s a bad film, but there’s probably one too many moments that provoke an unnecessary cringe . . . I’m thinking it’s around the fourth or fifth time Hugh Jackman says “Crikey!”

On top of that, Nicole Kidman is dreadfully miscast as uptight Brit Lady Sarah Ashley. While her stony-faced persona is fine in the early stages of the film, the story demands that she soften at some point and while you can see her Acting with all her might, it just never happens.

The film is really grounded by Hugh Jackman, who manages to channel the outback spirit as the otherwise nameless Drover. But even he can’t save a relationship doomed to a dire lack of chemistry. Where was Kate Winslet when this movie was being made?

Beyond these minor quibbles though, the film ticks all the right boxes.

The cinematography is Oscar-worthy, the cast is peppered with All The Big Australian NamesTM (Bryan Brown? Check. Jack Thompson? Check. Bill Hunter? Only for about two seconds . . . but check), and the story ticks along nicely making the film seem much shorter than its almost-three-hour running time.

It’s all highly entertaining, but probably not the cultural classic some were hoping for.

Still, it’s worth seeing if only for Hugh and Nic’s incredibly awkward kissing.

Crikey indeed.

3.5 out of 5

The Apotheosis of the Dance

Hamer Hall, Melbourne

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has capped their 2008 season with a beautiful performance of 19th and 20th century pieces.

They began with Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, a fine example of 19th century water music and beautifully rendered.

Next was Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 1, a fine example of why a lot of 1920s-era orchestral music is best forgotten.

While I’m sure it takes great skill to play it, its atonality and lack of structure make it sound more like the jazz noodling than anything by the Masters.

After a brief intermission to recover from that, we were ready for the star of the show: Beethoven’s mighty 7th symphony.

This was why we’d come. The 7th is one of the finest pieces of music ever written, perfectly capturing the great Ludwig Van at the height of his passionate and creative power.

When first performed in 1813 it was so different from anything heard before that it prompted critics to label Beethoven a madman. You can see where they’re coming from: it starts slowly, winding up through two funereal movements to a third that is nothing short of joyful, before grinding out the final stages in Beethoven’s more signature heroic style.

What was he thinking? Ludwig only knows, but what he did know was how to take your soul on a journey.

The title of the concert is a reference to Wagner’s description of Beethoven’s 7th.

It was, Wagner felt, a divine rendering of the human spirit in music. And in the masterful hands of the MSO and conductor Oleg Caetani, it certainly was.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Atheists Were Here First

Before the Winter Solstice was taken over by Christians and rebranded a celebration of Christ’s birth, it was a purely secular affair.

Actually, even more than that: it was an atheistic celebration of nature for nature’s sake. A joyful recognition of the abundance of our world and the importance of looking after it.

A lot of the symbols of the original festival have survived its Christianisation, most notably the Christmas tree, which for some reason few Christians even attempt to try to fit into their story.

Given the atheistic origins of the season, it’s endlessly amusing when Christians (particularly in the US) concoct arguments against a mythical “War on Christmas” supposedly being waged by those who would have religion turfed out of public life. Most probably don’t even know that they are the invaders here.

To illustrate the point, a plaque was erected in Olympia, Washington  reading:

“At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no heaven or hell.  There is only our natural world.  Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Of course it was torn down after an hour after it was erected.

Freedom of religious expression is a decidedly one-sided affair in the Land of the Free.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Dead Pool November Update

November was a pretty slow month for celebrity deaths.

On the 4th prolific paperback producer Michael Crichton passed away at the age of 66. His legacies include the science fiction classic Westworld, the story of an amusement park where things go horribly wrong. And science fiction classic Jurassic Park, the story of an amusement park where things go . . . wait a minute.

On the 9th Jayden Federline (aka Britney Baby II) was admitted to hospital suffering a “bad reaction” to “something” he “ingested”. Uh-huh. It turned out he was fine. Sorry, Shannon.

On the 10th legendary mathematician Kiyoshi Itō died of respiratory failure at the age of 93. This guy has a whole branch of calculus named after him which enables analysis of complicated stochastic processes like Brownian motion. This is incredibly useful in financial mathematics, but most importantly it’s one of the main components of Douglas Adams' Infinite Improbability Drive.

The 12th saw the death of Mitch Mitchell, original drummer of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. As a kind of anti-tribute to Spinal Tap and their disposable drummers, he was the last to go.

Finally, on the 29th we farewelled Jørn Utzon, the Danish architect who won an award for Norway the Sydney Opera House. There is no truth to the rumour that his funeral will be delayed because of cost overruns and poor planning.

Well, that’s it for November and the scores remain as they were last month:

Spoon 17 Kate 16

There’s only one month to go for the 2008 competition, and unless something big happens it looks like it might be Spoon’s year.

But it is the silly season, so it’s not over yet.

Monday, 1 December 2008

The Heavens are Smiling

Sometimes even nature goes all 90s-retro.

Smiley 005

That’s the moon, Venus and Jupiter caught in a formation apparently only appearing once every 5 years.

Pretty.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Q2: Quantum of Solace

Daniel Craig returns for his second outing as Bond, James Bond and it’s not half as bad as a lot of reviews might have led you to believe.

Following on directly from Casino Royale, Bond is on the trail of the murderers of Vesper Lynd (remember the chick from the last movie? no? well, it doesn’t really matter) and as is so often the case, runs across a supervillian intent on world domination.

The formula is in keeping with the novels, as we have Bond managing to save the day and get the girl(s) while being a grumpy bastard who regularly flouts the rules. And on the plus side, it’s much more successful than the last attempt to turn the cinematic Bond into a renegade-on-the-outer (1989’s Licence to Kill).

There are some technical issues, with choppy editing in the action sequences rendering a lot of them incomprehensible, and some dialogue issues rendering some scenes unintentionally laughable.

Also, the plot-to-rule-the-world could have been a bit more impressive. Western society as we know it was never really threatened, so note to the producers: you’ve lost 90% of your audience right there.

But on the whole it’s a lot of fun. There’s a nod to Goldfinger (nicely following on from Casino Royale’s nod to Dr. No) and we’re starting to see the introduction of the sardonic quip.

Daniel Craig’s probably got a few more Bonds in him, and hopefully he manages to keep this same tone for the remainder. It’d be dreadful to see the series devolve into the likes of Moonraker and Octopussy.

4 out of 5

Q1: Quarantine

Ever since The Blair Witch Project, every punk with a camcorder thinks they can make the next Citizen Kane.

The latest in the don’t-worry-about-the-cinematography-cos-its-all-real-don’t-you-know genre is Quarantine, which actually owes as much to 28 Days Later and I Am Legend as it does to Cloverfield.

We follow the adventures of reporter Angela, as she in turn follows the adventures of a group of Los Angeles fire-fighters, with the disembodied voice of her trusty camera guy in tow.

A call to a city apartment block leads them to a sick old lady, and enough stereotypical residents (mother+daughter, check, grumpy middle-aged guy, check, non-English speaking couple, check) to generate a bit of incidental confrontation along the way.

The shit goes down when the building is quarantined by the Centre for Disease Control, and all of a sudden everyone is looking for a way out and wondering who’s going to get infected next.

If you ignore the plot holes (why, when infection is such an obvious risk, are the sick not being isolated?) and forgive the telegraphing of what-happens-next, there’s a lot to like here.

Jennifer Carpenter is very good as reporter Angela and the supporting cast is strong. The action sequences are reasonably well-framed (particularly given the restrictions inherent in the format) and there are some genuinely suspenseful moments.

On the downside the camera work is probably a bit too messy, and the film loses some points because it becomes pretty clear early on that some key plot developments had been given away in the trailer.

Also, they pinched the final scene from Silence of the Lambs (where it was done much better).

But still, good horrible fun.

3 out of 5

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Battlestar Clues!

Battlestar Galactica will be back with its final episodes on January 16, but the producers have decided that's just too long to wait to mess with our heads.

They've started drip-feeding some clues about the identity of the final Cylon, which will give the fans a good six weeks to tie themselves up in nerdy little knots.

Catch all the action over at You Will Know The Truth. There are currently four clues: one text, one audio, one video, and a picture.

I've long suspected that the final Cylon is, in some sense at least, the Cylon God, who has most commonly been manifest as the Six in Baltar's head (and for a while there, the Baltar in Six's head).

Clue 1 begins with "And the fifth, still in shadow, will claw towards the light", which makes me thing that the fifth will be born as the offspring of Tigh and Six. This is also backed up by Clue 4, which is this rather disturbing picture:


Clue 2 is very obscure (Kara finding her own dead body maybe?) and Clue 3 just looks like a red herring.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Jupiter and Beyond

In a lovely example of life following art, NASA have announced they're sending a robotic probe to Jupiter.

Of course the last time they did that (in 2001: A Space Odyssey) it didn't work out so well. So this time it's just the robot. No humans in danger of getting trapped outside the pod-bay doors, then. Good thinking.

Although if some NASA geek programs it to sing Daisy when it gets there, I'll be very impressed.

Anyway the probe (disappointingly called Juno instead of HAL) will do all the usual things . . . you know, take pretty pictures and look for water.

Water? On Jupiter? What are they expecting? Oceans?

Jupiter doesn't actually have a surface in the sense that Earth does. It's just a whole bunch of swirling gas that gradually gets denser and denser until you reach a planetary core of rock or diamond (depending on whose science fiction you prefer).

Any water is just going to be vaporous wisps in the atmosphere.

Still, it's worth a look.

I just hope Juno swings by the moon Europa while it's there. Now that would be interesting.

I've got five bucks that says that's where we'll find our first example of extra-terrestrial life in the solar system.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Plastic Rocks and Other Oddities

Indoor rock climbing is a very odd activity in many ways, especially for people like me who generally prefer to shun physical activity.

The object is to climb a wall into which irregularly-shaped splodges of coloured plastic have been bolted and then . . . come down again.

And that's it.

A session of indoor rock climbing involves doing just that over and over again until your fingers lose their grip and your arms begin to tremble with the strain.

It really shouldn't be as much fun as it is. But it is.

This evening I went climbing with Gayle (who, despite the appearance of her blog, has actually been back in Australia for about two months) and I very quickly realised just how long it had been since I last climbed.

First I had to get the instructor to show me how to fit the harness (my own harness!) and then a wall rated just 15 (on a scale of 1 to 30) almost broke me.

It had been a long time. The last time I went climbing was in a place that burned down in 2004. And when it burned down, it was quite a while since I'd been.

So the plan is to go again next Monday, and possibly on a regular basis after that. We'll see how that pans out.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

That's It Then

In a final termination of the vestiges of the Howard years, the question about Don Bradman has been removed from Australia's citizenship test.

Well, huzzah for that.

After years of being embarrassed by our government, this is I think the final nail in that particular coffin.

Now a year into the reign of K-Rudd, it's back to the normal pre-Howard days where our government is just a source of low-level disappointment and bemusement.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Emiliana Torrini

The Forum, Melbourne

Sometimes known as the other Icelandic waif (but only by people who deserve to be slapped for saying it), Emiliana Torrini has returned to Melbourne with her new album Me and Armini.

Comparisons to Bjork are inevitable but unfair. The fact is they're worlds apart in musical style and while I love Bjork (although I preferred The Sugarcubes to her solo stuff) Emiliana is so much more . . . adorable.

It's almost three years since Emiliana was last here, and she carries the baggage of very high expectations. Her last Melbourne gig (at The Corner, as it happens) was truly amazing. I've never before seen a Corner crowd fall utterly silent during a song, and I don't suppose I ever will again.

This most recent show didn't quite have the magic of that one (something in the air that night? Or the water?) but where it fell short in magic it was more than made up for by comedy.

Emiliana is the master of the ribald joke, and it's all the funnier coming from someone who looks and sounds the the girl next door's next door neighbour. Last time it was the story of her guitarist falling into a whale's vagina, and this time a comprehensive description of accidentally doing a show in a partially see-through dress.

To my delight it also became clear that she's a sci fi geek, when she had the audience do the 5-note piece from Close Encounters just for her own amusement.

In between all of this was a very nice selection of songs from all her albums, beautifully rendered by one of the most amazing voices in music today.

So the laughs were plentiful, the band was tight, the music was lovely and Emiliana was and ever will be . . . just adorable.

4 out of 5

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

A Day at the Dentist

Before last Thursday, I hadn't been to the dentist in . . . actually I've got no idea. Ten years? Maybe more.

It was definitely time to go. Brushing my teeth was only going so far and I had the constant uncomfortable sensation that my breath was knocking people out.

I had to wait for a few weeks, what with dentists being in such high demand (apparently), so by the time it rolled around I was in the odd position of looking forward to it.

As dentist experiences go it was probably less traumatic than most. The water-jet clean was painful but comprehensive. The oddly abrasive yet gentle clean (using powder not paste) was . . . abrasive.

No major work is required. I just need to go back in January for a small filling.

The other thing making it less traumatic was the selection of Three Stooges stills on the ceiling. Right above the chair. To distract the patient, presumably.

The selection of stills was a little odd, though. Particularly this one:


It wasn't quite that bad. Almost. But not quite.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Reasonably Warm Now

It's two weeks yesterday since we moved, and I think today I experienced the first inkling of what it'll be like to feel really at home here.

You see, that, for me, is, in a round-about kind of way at least, the first sign that I'm settling in.

The next sign is the purchase of some completely unnecessary piece of furniture just because, you know, it'll go.

Anyway, back to feeling at home.

It could be that the wireless is finally working properly, but it's more likely because last night we had a semi-impromptu housewarming. A bunch of people came over in the time-honoured traditional fashion to partake of barbecue-charred meats and cold salads. And beer. Lots and lots of beer.

There's something about getting pleasantly drunk in the presence of friends that really makes you feel at home. Wherever you are.

And if you're actually at home, then all the better.

I Seem to Have Found the Problem

Apparently the modem I'm using (Dynalink RTA1046VW) doesn't like Macs to link to it using WEP wireless security.

It's as simple as that. Who would have thought it would be so picky?

Anyway, on a whim I changed the wireless security to WPA-PSK and now it's all fine. The PC works. The Mac works.

It's like some kind of freakin' CPUtopia. Ebony and (white rounded corners) Ivory.

So that's all fine then. And for anyone who's stumbled across this article while trying to find a solution for the same problem, you're most welcome.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

The Matt is Back

When I say working, I obviously mean that in a very loose and intermittent sense.

We seem to have tracked down the source of the frequent and annoying brown-outs in our wireless, and it is . . .

My wife's iBook! Yes, for some reason the router we have cacks itself whenever there's a Mac in range.

Anyone have any ideas why this might be? I thought I'd throw it out there before going to talk to my ISP who, as has been previously shown, don't like Macs either.

It could be something to do with the landline we're running through which is experiencing problems of its own. In fact, the reason I'm up this early on a Saturday is to welcome the Telstra man, who it's confidently claimed will be arriving between 8 and 12. We'll see.

I fully intend to make up for the dreadful lack of posts here, as soon as something interesting happens.

It might be a while. I get the feeling that the US election (being as it was The Single Biggest Event of the DecadeTM) may have drained the world of the energy required to generate interesting content. Entropy, don't you know.

Having said that, I'm not at all sorry I missed out on being one of the myriad bloggers breathlessly covering every tiny movement.

That must have been exhausting.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Happiness is . . .

. . . a working ADSL connection.

It's only been 11 days, but it feels like it's been years,

Does this mean I have an addiction?

Probably. At least, according to the Chinese.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Dead Pool October Update

Please accept my most humble apologies for the inexcusable delay in dead pool reporting.

After the excitement of the last two months, October has failed to set the scoreboard in motion again, but we have had some notable (and tragically surprising) deaths.

On the 2nd actor Rob Guest, star of Melbourne's current production of Wicked and stage veteran of Phantom, Les Miserables etc. etc. died unexpectedly at the age of 58. What was most fascinating was that in all of the media coverage of his death (and there was a lot) no-one mentioned Man O Man.

On the 4th, Australian Idol Season 1 finalist Levi Kereama committed suicide at the age of 27.

On the 15th Nancy Reagan was hospitalised for the second time this year, after breaking her pelvis in a fall. Again, she left the hospital two days later. She's tough, that one.

The 19th saw the death of Hal Kant, an entertainment lawyer who pioneered the retention of publishing rights by musicians and other artists. This paved the way for musicians to maintain control of their work, and effectively stick it to those evil record companies. Respect.

Finally on the 25th Gerard Damiano, director of 1972 arthouse cinema classic Deep Throat, passed away at the age of 80.

He suffered a stroke. Presumably not the first, but certainly the last. Thank you. I'll be here all week. Please try the fish and don't forget to tip your waitress.

The scores remain as they were last month:
Spoon 17
Kate 16

Thanks for your patience, and please stay tuned for next month's update.

. . . And We're Back

We've finished moving into our cool new place. Or technically finished, anyway.

We're still surrounded by half-unpacked boxes, and I'm struck by how much they resemble the half-packed boxes we were surrounded by last week.

It all went down early last Saturday when the removalists turned up just before 7am (which is not technically the "between 7 and 8" that we were quoted). Fortunately we were ready to go, so everything was on the truck by 9 and unloaded at the new place by 10.30.

Once we hit the ground at the new place, a few important things came to light. No dishwasher. Need a new one. Old washing machine doesn't fit. Need a new one. DVD player (which was on its last legs anyway) didn't survive the move. Need a new one. Aaaargh.

Most alarmingly, our previous landline provider Optus apparently aren't able to service the new place, so after years of conscientious objection it's back to Telstra.

Decorating-wise my lovely wife has put together a color palette consisting of clotted cream, cool taupe, dishevelled bronze and raspberry fuchsia. We currently have multi-coloured patches on various walls as a result of testing a number of tester pots.

Anyway, things are almost back to normal. The most inconvenient thing at the moment is that we're stuck using dial-up until the ADSL gets reconnected.

We'll be resuming our irregularly scheduled programming soon.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Michael Atkinson is Pure Evil

The Rudd Government is apparently gunning to out-conservative the conservatives, with a proposed mandatory internet filter that will

(a) significantly slow internet speeds,

(b) put Australian censorship in the same category as that enjoyed by China and Iran, and

(c) fail to stop one single person from downloading illegal content if they want to.

There's naturally been a major industry backlash, so here's hoping the whole ridiculous idea gets shelved.

Then, straight into this maelstrom of Luddite lunacy comes the announcement that Michael Atkinson (remember him?) is no longer satisfied just passively resisting the introduction of an R18+ rating for video games, but is now actively scuttling any chance of advancing the issue by blocking debate.

Back in March it was announced that there would be public consultation on the issue, which has apparently now been completed. It obviously had the results I predicted it would, because Atkinson has rejected its publication.

Just who the hell does this guy think he is?

The Five Horsemen

I don't normally put much stock in apocalyptic signs.

But surely this is a herald of the end of days.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Twilight of the Phoenix

NASA is reporting that the Phoenix lander, which arrived with much fanfare on Mars just over five months ago, is gradually being shut down.

The Phoenix has some life in it yet, but it's already outlived its original 90 day mission and now its power sources are failing.

The heaters keeping the Phoenix alive will be turned off one by one, keeping it running for as long as possible, until it can no longer be sustained.

Soon it will be over. The Phoenix will sit, still and quiet, waiting in the cold thin atmosphere of Mars.

It will wait for the day, hopefully soon, that we arrive in person on the red planet.

Then the Phoenix will be found, gathered up and preserved as a cherished memory of one of our earliest steps towards the stars.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Here 'Tis

Another minor blog drought, although not for the (occasional) lack of attempts to update.

I spent yesterday in Sydney, with a conference in the morning and meetings in the afternoon. The plane home was delayed for half an hour leading me to think: what a perfect time to blog! And to complain about QANTAS's's visibly deteriorating service standards!

But sadly free WiFi was nowhere to be found, only an outrageous $5 per hour service. I was almost annoyed enough to pay the price just so I could bitch about it. But sanity prevailed and now I'm bitching about it from home. As nature intended.

Beyond such trips to exotic places, there's been lots happening. Some bits blogworthy. Some not.

Visits to work last week by the industry regulator (nothing untoward . . . they love us). A funeral on the weekend for a friend of my wife's family. And the continuing saga of packing our lives into small boxes ready to move this weekend.

As tends to happen in these times, it'll all get distilled down to the stuff that's going through my head when I actually get around to writing.

And this time around, this was it. Hope you enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Get on the Bus

Atheism has found its voice in the UK, with a campaign to raise funds to advertise a humanist message on the sides of London buses.

And the slogan?

"There's probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life."


Not bad. I'm not a fan of the word "probably" (there's certainly no such uncertainty in religious advertising!) but I can understand why they've used it.

Anyway, the aim was to raise £5,500 for the cause (pledged to be matched by Richard Dawkins), and this goal was achieved just after 10am yesterday, the first day of the campaign. Current donations are just a touch under £60,000.

This is fantastic. It's an under-appreciated fact that for so many people, religion is an object of anxiety and distress rather than comfort.

A lot of people will find a lot of consolation in this message.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

New Star Trek Pics!

Some new images from J.J.Abrams' re-imagining/reboot of Star Trek are up at trekmovie.com.

Here is a mere sample:

On the bridge, Chris Pine doing his best Shatner as Kirk, Karl Urban as McCoy and Zachary Quinto as Spock.


Da Crew. Note Simon Pegg in the back as Scotty.


And the winner for inspired casting and make-up goes to . . . Eric Bana as bad-guy Romulan Nero.


All signs are positive, but a quick note to Abrams and Co:

"Don't fuck it up. We're watching you."

Not-So-Invisible Hands

In a move that has stunned journalists who know nothing about basic economics, house prices have jumped in the wake of the Government's increase to the first home-owner's grant.

What's really funny is that this was precisely the Government's intention in the first place. They want house prices to go up. That's what K-Rudd means when he talks about "growth in the housing sector".

At least I'm pretty sure that's what he means. It certainly doesn't mean building more houses.

We're coming off the end of one of the longest housing booms in history, and people are conditioned to see the value of their house as a measure of economic health.

What they don't seem to realise is that the economy's temperature is being taken rectally, and the thermometer is being artificially heated by a systemic colonic imbalance in supply and demand.

Prices are high because there just aren't enough houses.

A nice fibrous diet of more houses in the system would clean things out, but it would also end up very messy. K-Rudd knows this. So for the moment, he's decided it's better to stoke the fires.

Friday, 17 October 2008

(She's) Stranded

After almost two weeks in London / Barcelona / Cape Town my lovely wife is finally on her way home.

In fact, she was supposed to be here by now . . . scheduled to arrive at 6pm this very evening.

Notice the time? Yeah. 8.10. PM. A late plane and missed connection and she is still, as I write, stuck in Johannesburg.

It's obviously not the funnest place in the world to be stranded . . . highest violent crime rate in the world and whatnot.

But luckily she's managed to find herself some bodyguards. I got a text saying she was having drinks with the St. George Illawarra Dragons. And their documentary crew.

It's got to be a rare thing to be told your wife is hanging out with a football team, and for it to make you feel better.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Obama/Biden/McCain/Palin = ?

There's a sensational new meme over at Fark, in which people can elegantly express, in simple visual terms, their thoughts on the US presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

This one's my favourite:


But of course I've also gone ahead and made my own:

Bias? What Bias?

Two headlines in today's papers, both reporting exactly the same story:

In The Age:

Rudd flags rescue plan for economy

and in the Murdoch papers:

Cash thrown at economic woes.

Sigh. I thought this sort of shit went out with Howard. Apparently not.

Still, please note the number of left-leaning readers not lining up to blast Murdoch employees with accusations of nefarious and politically-motivated bias.

Battlestar Galactica Case Mod

This is one of the nerdiest things I've ever seen.

And I want one.


You can't do that on a Mac, can you? Ha.

Monday, 13 October 2008

V Returns? Maybe.

Rumours are swirling that the ABC network is in talks to re-imagine the 1980s science fiction classic V.

Even Perez Hilton (whom I would not have picked as the nerdy type) is getting all excited.

While I'm all sorts of keen too, let's not start ripping our faces off to show the reptilian flesh underneath just yet.

Producer Kenneth Johnson's official website reports that ABC is looking at developing a new pilot, but Kenny's real plan is to make a feature film.

Either way it could be great, if only so we can see this scene as it was meant to be seen, because surely this wasn't it:



Although at really low bit-rate, and if you squint a bit, it almost looks ok.

Llareggub

RMIT Kaleide Theatre, Swanston Street.

Dylan Thomas' play Llareggub (often referred to by its US title Under Milk Wood) is a patchwork of voices floating on the ether, as we imagine ourselves drifting through the minds of the inhabitants of the eponymous village.

While this makes it perfect fodder for radio (its intended medium) it's very difficult to translate effectively to the stage. But the recent RMIT production faces this challenge with some success.

In a very engaging production the setting is one of organised chaos, with all actors on the stage at all times. This seems to be an attempt, mostly successful, to recreate the wafting movement of sound implied in the radio play, by constantly having the eyes of the audience moving in circles to follow who is speaking.

While this was fine, some of the technical limitations were distracting, such as characters passing around the few hand-held microphones. Also distracting was the wide variety of accents on display (some of them somewhat impenetrable) and, as can be expected in a student production with this number of speaking parts, the range of the performers' abilities.

Overall though it was very enjoyable, with particular standouts being Samantha Bond as the harridan Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard and Sam Sejavka as the Reverend, who, amidst many other competent but mannered performances, managed to take the play into the surreal places it's supposed to go.

3.5 out of 5

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The Mentalist

It's nice when local boy makes good. And for Simon Baker/Denny/Baker-Denny, this may finally be the show that washes the vestiges of Home and Away out of our collective memory.

I'm only one episode in, but I can say with some confidence that The Mentalist is a great show.

There's the usual good writing, good characters, blah blah etc. But what makes this really cool is the skeptical tone it takes, and its outing of psychic investigation as the fraudulent nonsense that it is.

Baker plays Patrick Jane, ex-television psychic (a thinly-veiled reference to John Edward . . . notice how they both have two first names?) who now works for the police as a sort of consultant. He's one of these guys who can walk into a room, spot the important clues and have the thing solved while his colleagues are still finding their notebooks.

His powers seem paranormal to those around him, but when asked by one of the civilians he meets "are you psychic?" he simply answers, "no . . . just paying attention."

There's shades of Jonathan Creek in the crime-solving elements, and shades of The X-Files in the mood and characters. The latter is actually no great surprise, given the presence of regular X-Files helmer David Nutter as director. In addition, Baker's mentalist has a whole Mulder/Scully thing going on with colleague Teresa, but this time around, Scully's both the guy and the star of the show.

It's great to see some science-based fiction on TV, and hopefully this'll go some way towards countering the mountains of crap like Medium and Ghost Whisperer.

4 out of 5

Nuthin' Guv, I Swear!

Monday, 6 October 2008

Moving (Slowly)

It's just under four weeks until we move into our cool new place, and my lovely wife's decided to go overseas for two weeks.

Well . . . "decided" is maybe too strong a word. She's off on a work trip to Europe and South Africa. As I write this I'm guessing she's somewhere over Turkey on her way to Barcelona via London. I'm missing her terribly.

Still, that leaves me to continue with the packing on my own.

Like every other time we've moved house (and this'll be the fourth time in five years) we're going through a process of throwing away as much stuff as we can before we go.

There's something about having to pack boxes and pick them up and lug them to the truck and drive them to the new house and take them out of the truck and unpack them that really focuses the mind on a doing a jolly good cull in advance.

And like every other time we've done that, there's agonising over what to get rid of, an emotional wrench as the decision is made and then, five minutes after the load is dumped at the op shop, a struggle to name more than two of the items in there.

It's probably just in time. With international travel comes international purchases.

So I'm sure there'll be one or two new things to fill in some of the gaps.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Toni Childs

The Corner, Richmond

Not being a huge fan of hippie diva Toni Childs, I wasn't hugely keen to see her play live.

My wife was keen, but apparently only because it would in some sense be (quote) "hilarious".

While that's all very well, I'm an old-fashioned guy and I have this old-fashioned pre-post-modernist view that I should spend my time doing things I actually enjoy, rather than things I might ironically enjoy.

Still, long story short: I had no intention of going, someone cancelled at the last minute, and I went.

And to be fair, I quite enjoyed it. The band was great and the show was energetic. Toni's vocals aren't quite what they were back in the day, but she still managed to belt out a decent version of Don't Walk Away.

Stop Your Fussing was just as annoying as it was 20 years ago, but at least it was the opening number and so got out of the way early.

Following that, the show was good if not startlingly good, and the usual dip-in-the-middle that comes as they launch into tracks from the new album was actually a highlight, because I hadn't heard them enough to be sick of them yet.

2.5 out of 5

Which is good. I was expecting to give it 1.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Dead Pool September Update

The competition's heating up.

The 1st of the month was a veritable celebrity catastrophe, with no less than three notable personages dropping off the perch.

There was Australian actor Michael Pate, the first man, in a 1953 television production of Casino Royale, to play the iconic Felix Leiter.

Then there was Don LaFontaine, a man whose name you may not know but whose voice you certainly do. This was the guy famous for his narration of film trailers, particularly the way he would say "In A World . . ."

Still on the 1st, we bid farewell to television gardening presenter Kevin Heinz. I remember as a youngster turning on the TV to see Sow What, and getting annoyed because it meant The Goodies wasn't on. Cheerio, Kevin.

On the 6th silent movie star Anita Page, the last living attendee of the original 1929 Academy Awards ceremony, died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 98.

On the 15th musician Richard Wright, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd, passed away at the age of 65.

Finally, on the 26th the world lost Paul Newman; legendary actor, director, humanitarian and racing car driver. The outpouring of emotion that accompanied news of his death was huge . . . not least amongst our dead pool entrants, as a prescient tip meant that first-place holder Kate was usurped by Spoon.

The leaderboard now stands thus:

Spoon 17
Kate 16

But there's three months to go, and a lot of precarious names among the nominations. So anything could happen.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Private Spaces

A common theme in science fiction is the domination of space by private corporations. This has always seemed to fly in the face of our government-dominated space programs, but now that's all changed.

Yesterday SpaceX successfully launched Falcon 1, the first privately owned liquid-fuel rocket to achieve orbit.

Along with Virgin Galactic, SpaceX are trying to position themselves as a player in this brave new off-world. But unlike Virgin, SpaceX aren't planning tourist rides.

They're aiming to provide the serious stuff . . . satellite launches, freight services and transport to the International Space Station. And it's no coincidence that this is all happening just two years out from NASA's planned decommissioning of the shuttle program.

This is all very exciting. It seems the only question now is not when will we get back to the moon, but rather who will the major sponsors be?

Sunday, 28 September 2008

RSC Renames LHC

The Royal Society for Chemistry has conducted a public poll to choose a better name for the Large Hadron Collider.

Apparently just naming something after what it does is soooo last century.

Anyway, the resounding winner was "Halo".

Which I must admit has a certain ring to it.

Tintin Movie News

Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson's much-talked-about Tintin trilogy has hit a small bump in the road, with Universal pulling funding after getting nervous about the $130m price tag.

Word is that Paramount is in discussions to step into the breach, although given Spielberg's DreamWorks studio is in the process of a protracted and messy divorce from Paramount, negotiations could be interesting.

On the casting front, it's rumoured that Nick Frost and Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz will be playing the Thompson Twins.


Note that that's these Thompson Twins . . .


not these ones . . .


Of course the latter was named after the former, but I'm still not expecting Hold Me Now to make it onto the soundtrack.

Hoping. But not expecting.

Paul Newman

Screen legend Paul Newman has passed away at the age of 83, following a long battle with cancer.

This drastically changes the leaderboard for the 2008 dead pool, with Spoon taking the lead on 17 points.

It's a close-run thing, however, with Kate coming second on 16 points.

There's still three months to go, so anything could yet happen.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Closing Hospitals in the Name of God

In a staggeringly arrogant move, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart has threatened to close Catholic-run hospitals if proposed changes to abortion laws in Victoria are passed.

His position is that Catholic employees would be required to perform abortions and they couldn't possibly do that in good conscience and maintain their religious freedom and blah blah blah.

Please.

I'll leave aside the rightness-or-otherwise of the proposed changes, and I won't dwell on the fact that not all employees of Catholic hospitals are necessarily Catholic, and just say that this beautifully illustrates the danger of allowing essential services to be hijacked by religious interests.

Churches have long made a habit of attaching themselves to charitable enterprises. This is partly out of a genuine desire to do good works, and partly out of a genuine desire to promote their brand . . . much like a Hollywood celebrity being photographed holding a starving African child.

But like the child being unceremoniously dropped when the next $20m pay packet comes up, the charity will always come second to maintaining the Church's perceived moral authority.

So good works are done and people are helped. It's all well and good until they start believing their own publicity.

Case in point: Mr. Hart seems to think that if he makes good on his threat, medical services will suffer because surely nobody other than Catholics would have the social conscience needed to run a hospital.

Doesn't he realise there'll be a huge line of providers ready and willing to immediately step into the breach? There's lots of money in medicine.

But of course he knows that.

After all, that's the other reason the Church got into it in the first place.

Monday, 22 September 2008

WALL-E

After its US release almost three months ago, Pixar's new film WALL-E has finally been released here in Australia.

Presumably local distributors are banking on the just-begun school holidays to rake in the crowds, but this is far from just a kid's film.

It carries a deep environmental message without moralising, a level of character development rarely seen, and some of the most sophisticated CGI animation around.

I won't bother recounting the plot (you'd have to be living under a rock not to know what this film's about so if you have been living under a rock, you can read all about it here), but I will say that for all its complexity this is paradoxically one of Pixar's most accessible films, and it's not nearly as preachy as you might expect.

As a science fiction movie it ticks all the boxes with technology writ large on a dystopian future, the theme of what-does-it-mean-to-be-human explored in some new and interesting ways, and repeated references (both explicit and implicit) to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

While the film is generally brilliant the opening scenes are the strongest, with little robot WALL-E working away conscientiously on a devastated Earth. The film loses focus a little when the story moves into space and we see what has become of the human race, but it all comes together in the end.

And like most Pixar films it's well worth staying through the credits to catch the artfully-rendered epilogue to the story.

It's been well worth the wait.

4.5 out of 5

Friday, 19 September 2008

Later That Week

I've been a little distracted this week, hence the lack of updates here.

And it's actually been a good week for blogging. There've been so many interesting things to write about.

We've had alien signals from space, clergymen coming out and openly admitting that God probably isn't real (well, duh), the resignation of Michael Reiss (the Royal Society's Director of Eduction) over his comments about teaching creationism in science classes (actually I might still do one on that), and I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight.

Well, I'm back now.

And the reason I've not seen fit to blog about any of this is . . . we're moving house!

We're buying a cool new place not far from where we're living now, and so have spent the entire week talking to (in no particular order) real estate agents, solicitors, bank people, land surveyors and building inspectors.

I'll try not to let the blog devolve into a blow-by-blow on the trials of moving, but it's sure to impose in some sense, particularly given that one of my major life goals right now is the acquisition of appropriately-sized cardboard boxes.

Anyway, here's a couple of pictures.




These are obviously the real estate ad shots and therefore very flatteringly lit.

It is pretty cool, but of course the main thing is it'll be great to once again live in a place where we can bash holes in the walls if we want to.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Another Argument

Following on from the last one I have once again been arguing with Stan over at the Atheism Analyzed blog.

It's not quite as philosophically analytical as the last one, but still interesting nonetheless.

You can follow all the action here.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Atheism and Me - Part 2

There are many reasons to be an atheist.

There are arguments from materiality, from nature, from the philosophy of logical positivism, and lots of little contradictions in religious scripture which you can have endless pedantic fun pointing out to believers.

But when you get down to it, these arguments are just artifacts of non-faith, in exactly the same way that the rejection of such arguments is an artifact of faith.

I didn't become an atheist because of any of these arguments. And I wouldn't expect anyone to reject their beliefs on the basis of these arguments.

So why atheism? It's actually very simple. The most obvious reason to accept atheism is the simplest.

And it's simply this: every religion is clearly and evidently the invention of humans.

There is nothing in any religion that's even mildly convincing as an argument for the existence of a deity.

Every piece of scripture that is oh-so imperfectly worded, every purported miracle that turns out to be a hoax, every claim of Godly omnipotence that can't seem to do anything more than bestow a "good feeling" in its believers . . .

This is supposed to be an all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent God. So why is he completely and utterly invisible, literally and metaphorically?

Why are so many of the claims of His believers so patently false? Why can't they agree on even the basics of the "truth" that has apparently been divinely revealed? Why are there are no miracles? Why are there no healings?

But most importantly, why is there no power in religion? It all so embarrassingly weak.

If all this theology is the construct of a God, then that God is hardly worthy of our praise.

And if it isn't . . . well that would certainly explain a lot, wouldn't it?

Doomsday . . . ?

Just looked at my watch and realised the LHC was scheduled to be fired up 22 minutes ago.

Assuming it's all gone according to plan, and the fact that I can say categorically we're still all here, it looks like it hasn't caused the end of the world after all.

Given all the build-up, hype, and death threats pointed at the CERN scientists, a lot people are going to be very disappointed.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Monday, 8 September 2008

Seen on Collins Street

Last Saturday employees of the new Rolex store in Collins Street were handing out copies of Saturday's Age.

By an astounding coincidence, that particular edition featured a large wrap-around ad for their shiny new store, although observers noted that the wrap-around had mysteriously migrated from the innards to the outards.

Anyway, like most attempts to give away anything for free, these bastions of charity were met with suspicion, derision and in some cases, outright hostility. Which just goes to show, once again, that no good(ish) deed ever goes unpunished.

I can understand the frustration of the less well-dressed who oddly weren't offered a free paper, but I'm a little more bemused by the people who refused to take one in livid protest at the recent cutbacks at Age publisher Fairfax.

Apart from the fact that these people are obviously bleeding-heart lefties and therefore probably not in the market for a Rolex anyway, I doubt Ron Walker et.al. will be all that worried.

After all, the paper had already been paid for.

People are funny.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Distant Digital Futures

An article in today's Age talks about the eventual switchoff of Australia's analog television signals and the permanent move to digital.

The point of the article is that, for the Luddites among us . . .
". . . the Federal Government is considering offering financial and other incentives to convince people to upgrade from analog to digital television before the 2013 analog switch-off."

I would have thought that the option of digital-or-nothing would be incentive enough. But hey, what do I know?

Anyway, the switch-off date made me do a double take. It's 2013 now?

The last I heard it was going to be 2010. And that was after it had already been pushed back from the original target of 2008.

This is bad. Until the analog signals are gone and we've opened up the (much wider) digital spectrum to some decent competition, there's no incentive at all for our oligopolous free-to-air stations to lift their game.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that the FTA stations have engineered the delay in an attempt to retain the status quo. If they have, then it'll prove a costly mistake.

They desperately need someone to drag them into the 21st century. In five years' time, free-to-air television will be even less relevant than it is now, with downloadable, streaming and subscription content continuing to take over.

If our FTA stations are still doing then what they're doing now, then before long they'll be nothing more than a distant memory.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

An Interesting Argument

When I'm in the mood, I sometimes wander around the intertubes looking for arguments, particularly of the theism/atheism variety.

An interesting one is going on at moment over at Atheism Analyzed. Stan has written a really interesting multi-part series of posts on why rejection of deism on the basis of scientific argument is irrational.

I've been meaning to write a post on this myself (with, as it happens, very similar arguments but different conclusions) so I jumped on in. My comments are on #4 in the series, although I'm mainly referring to the argument in #2.

It's all a bit wordy and analytical, but I know some of my readers are into that sort of thing. So feel free to jump on in too.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

L to the H to the LHC

Just one more week until the Large Hadron Collider is cranked up to full power and starts bashing particles together at close to the speed of light.

There've had a couple of successful runs bashing particles into blocks of concrete, but really. One does not applaud the tenor for clearing his throat.

So hang on to your hats, kids. The secrets of the Universe are about to be revealed. We might even find that legendary Higgs Boson.

But to keep you amused until then, here's a brief introductory video.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Scorched

Last night we were treated to the world premiere of Scorched, a new Australian bushfire disaster movie.

It was disappointing, to be honest. But this isn't completely surprising. Apart from a brief flirtation with low-budget exploitation films in the seventies, Australian filmmakers don't have a great history when it comes to genre films.

In a sense, we've been victims of our own (limited) success.

Muriel's Wedding sent everyone scrambling to produce the next low-budget family comedy, and Lantana prompted a huge volume of overwrought family drama.

While these were great films and it's all very well to try to produce more stuff like that, you can't make a living from it.

You need a regular round of crowd-pleasers to fill the coffers, which can then in turn support the quality productions.

So where are the action movies? Where are the buddy comedies? Where are the horror films? Where are the gangster/heist/caper movies?

We have hordes of great screenwriters, directors, and actors ready and willing to ditch their artistic integrity and pump out some lowest-common-denominator dross for a quick buck. So what's the problem?

Well, it's actually quite simple. In fact, Scorched typifies precisely what the problem is, and it's this:

Australians just don't get how to make genre films.

Example: Scorched is a disaster movie about a ring of bushfires threatening Sydney. As such I, the viewer, go in expecting three basic elements:

(1) A shot of an enormous fire-front looming over the city, silhouetting the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge;

(2) A group of wild-eyed characters realising the ground is shaking, just before being almost trampled by a herd of kangaroos fleeing the flames, preferably down George Street; and

(3) A crazed religious character from Queensland, screeching that the fires are God's wrath against the city of sin, and then attempting to stop the flames with prayer before meeting a fiery death.

These are the basic, basic elements of this sort of film. And they just weren't there.

What we got instead was a film with far too much introspection and far too many attempts to be clever.

And that's the problem. This sort of movie isn't about chin-stroking reflection.

It's about visceral reaction. It's a popcorn movie. It's a gee-whiz special effects thrill ride.

This is disaster porn, for goodness sake.

Now do it properly.

A New French Verb

To Google.

This is a regular verb, and hence takes the form googler.

The conjugation is as follows:

Je google
Tu googles
Il google
Nous googlons
Vous googlez
Ils googlent


Babelfish doesn't appear to recognise this. But I suppose that's not surprising.

After all, it's owned by Yahoo.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Dead Pool August Update

With four months to go until the end of the year, August has been characterised by some celebrity deaths that might best be described as . . . unexpected.

On the 9th comedian Bernie Mac passed away at the age of 50, which prompted an outpouring of tributes from everyone he'd apparently ever met.

Then on the 10th musician and sometime voice-actor Isaac Hayes passed away at the age of 65. 'Shaft' to his older fans and 'Chef' to his younger fans, this prompted yet another outpouring of tributes.

On the 17th Dave Freeman, author of 100 things to do before you die, died after a fall at his home. And apparently he hadn't done all 100 of the things. Awkward.

The 27th saw the tragic death of All Saints actor Mark Priestley, who committed suicide by jumping from the window of his high-rise hotel room in Sydney's CBD.

And finally, on the 28th tech news website Bloomberg published the obituary of Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc.

He wasn't actually dead, and the document was quickly withdrawn. But it was up for long enough to get copied and re-published elsewhere and it's now available all over the web for all the world to see. Have a read.

And that's it for another month. The rankings haven't changed, with Kate still leading on 16 points.

An Innocent Russia Writhed

St. Paul's Cathedral. Flinders Street.

One of the final events of this year's Melbourne Writer's Festival was a reading this afternoon of works by Russian poet Anna Akhmatova.

Akhmatova lived through some of the greatest upheavals of the twentieth century: the Russian revolution, two world wars, the rise of the communist state and the awful tyranny that accompanied it. These were the times that unalterably shaped the political landscape of Europe and the world.

Her poems were banned for many years by the Central Committee, and hearing their passion and power it's not surprising. They capture the feeling experienced by a people trapped by their history, and a people powerless to fight the forces arrayed against them.

But while her words reflect the despair for what has been lost, they also shine with the hope for what may be retrieved.

It's a celebration of the human spirit, best summed up in this beautiful piece read by Helen Garner.

Everything is plundered, betrayed, sold,
Death's great black wing scrapes the air,
Misery gnaws to the bone.
Why then do we not despair?

By day, from the surrounding woods,
cherries blow summer into town;
at night the deep transparent skies
glitter with new galaxies.

And the miraculous comes so close
to the ruined, dirty houses --
something not known to anyone at all,
but wild in our breast for centuries.

Anna Akhmatova, 1921

Friday, 29 August 2008

Actuaries Gone Wild

It's been a whole year since the last one, and so this week it was time once again for our annual actuarial company dinner.

The venue this year was the Rendezvous Hotel in Flinders Street, which featured lots of alcohol, some passable food, and a waiting staff whose command of English was roughly comparable to John Howard's command of Klingon.

"Can I get a beer?"

blank stare

"Beer"

blank stare

"HIq?"

nervous sideways glance

"Oh, never mind."

For some reason the entertainment (once again provided by those "fortunate" enough to have completed their actuarial training since the last dinner) sat at the let's-get-the-crowd-involved end of the spectrum, rather than the more palatable (for the audience, at least) let's-put-on-some-silly-costumes-and-do-a-skit end.

And so it came to pass that the people at our table had to construct a story and improvise a play using some found objects, including two small suction cups, a bottle of liquid paper, a roll of yarn and a hot pink fright wig.

The details are too tedious to recount, so I'll leave it there.

Anyway, thank God there was beer.

At least, there was once I found a waiter who spoke Klingon.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

When Idols Cry

In the wake of the sad train wreck that was Big Brother 08, Australian Idol has reared its ugly head once again.

Like most years, I feel compelled to watch the auditions, if only for the occasional musical gem hidden amongst the festering pile of people who've clearly never bothered to actually listen to themselves sing.

Mercifully, the hideous multi-headed beast that is the judging panel has been downgraded from a four-headed Hydra to a mere three-headed Cerberus; somewhat appropriate given their (purported) guardianship of the gate of musical quality.

The prize is still a recording contract, although that must have less and less appeal for contestants.

Once upon a time such a thing was the only way for a young artist to get an album made and distributed, but that's just not the case any more. Any teenager with talent and some bootlegged software can record a track in their bedroom and sell it all over the world.

The only real benefit Australian Idol imparts upon its contestants, and admittedly it's not an inconsiderable benefit, is publicity. But all the contestants get that, or at least the final 12 do. It's not just the winner.

In fact, I could see someone going into Idol with the clear intention of getting kicked out before the final three.

They'd get all the publicity, no parasitic record company leeching off them afterwards, and an independent album where they get to keep all the profits.

Sounds like a plan.

Friday, 22 August 2008

This is what it feels like

This most excellent cartoon by artist Justin Bilicki was the winner of the 2008 Science Idol competition.



I'll think of this every time I read yet another climate change denial article by Andrew Bolt.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Doomsday Delayed

I posted previously about the Large Hadron Collider, and some of the talk surrounding it, vis-a-vis its potential to destroy the Universe.

Some of you may have noticed that two-week deadline came and went, and we're still all here.

Don't worry, it's only because the switch-on date has been pushed back to September 10.

So we've got another 20 days at least.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The Burlesque Hour

fortyfivedownstairs, Flinders Lane

Moira Finucane has returned to Melbourne with her latest show, combining grand old saucy burlesque with some other stuff you probably wouldn't show your granny.

Borrowing elements from gothic horror, Virginia Woolf and Japanese lolita culture, it manages to cross every line you think of, some you don't, and ultimately plays like Cirque de Soleil on magic mushrooms. There's acrobatics, dancing girls, nudity, adult themes and some violence.

The revue format is good, mainly because it means that if you don't like this act, the next one is not far behind. Also, there's no common theme, except in the most general burlesque tradition of sex-as-comedy.

And make no mistake, it is very very funny.

Some will find the show offensive, but those will invariably be the same people guilty of taking sex far too seriously. The show is more or less designed to offend such people.

In fact, the beauty of this style of burlesque is that it dares to treat sex precisely as it should be treated . . . as something wonderful and something to be enjoyed, but at the same time something very human, a bit grotesque and most importantly, faintly ridiculous.

3.5 out of 5

Cool Warming Vase

Science meets art in this cool vase.



Produced by artist Nathan Martell, the shape is based on this graph showing average world temperatures over the last 150 years:



The apocalypse as art. Eat your heart out, Albrecht Dürer.

On a related note, people like Andrew Bolt are fond of showing only the last few lines of this particular graph, dominated by the El Nino peak in 1998, and claiming that warming has stopped.

If you find someone who insists on doing that, smack their fingers out of their ears, force their eyes open, and show them the whole thing.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Monster Wine

On the weekend Ty and Debbie dropped in from Sydney. Which was awesome. Particularly the dinner we had on Saturday night at St Jude's Cellars in Brunswick Street.

Their coffee venison is worth a blog of its own, but I'll leave that to my loyal commenters (if they care to expound).

Instead, I wanted to mention some of the wine we had. One bottle in particular caught my eye:


It's a Riesling from the Clare Valley, on the Some Young Punks label. Check out the website.

I've no idea what it tastes like. Haven't cracked it open yet. But really, that doesn't even matter.

Nerds and wine. A beautiful symbol of a great weekend.

Area Blogger Returns to Home, Sanity

The final three days of the BLP were much like the first two.

We stayed inside as it rained outside, we studied case studies, we played roleplays, and we stopped semi-regularly to watch the Aussies win gold.

Like most of these sorts of things, there was a certain amount of useful and practical information, tempered with lots of touchy-feely bullshit.

Whether it makes me a better manager is yet to be seen. I'll let you know if my minions see any difference.

All in all it was a good week, but it was truly lovely when I managed to escape on Friday afternoon, and come home to my lovely wife and furkids.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Merely a BLP

Two days into the Business Leadership Programme, and the part of my brain that deals with acronyms and buzzwords is full.

My personality has been analysed, my coaching style matched with its corresponding learning style, and we've had a rousing game of Simon Says.

In the midst of all that I've probably learnt something, but I've no idea what. Ask me at the end of the week.

On the upside, the food's not bad and I can honestly say I haven't been bored yet.

But there's still three days to go.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Gone Leadin'

Next week as previously reported, I'm off on a Business Leadership course.

It's a multi-day extravaganza, so it involves being away from work (and home) for a whole week . . . and I'm not sure what else.

It's all a bit Secret Squirrel with previous participants being irritatingly tight-lipped (so as not to spoil it . . . oh please) and the pre-reading is, it seems, deliberately vague.

Preparation has been minimal but interesting. Last week I got the results of a personality assessment, based on a survey of my workmates (boss, peers, and minions). This was followed up by a deconstruction of same with a psychologist, who pretty much managed to figure me out in one 55-minute session.

And apparently the personality flaws highlighted from all this are what I'll be working on next week. Can't wait.

So it sounds like I'm in for a week of delving into my own head, with the occasional excursion into someone else's to break the monotony.

The one thing that might keep me sane is if I'm able to blog from within the compound (yes, I'm choosing to think of this as an embedded-in-a-war-zone thing).

If not, I'll have to gather up all my thoughts and post them in a single diatribe when I get back.

I don't think anyone wants that. Here's hoping they have WiFi.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

A Very Probable Controversy

Brisbane schoolteacher Jim Dooley has taken a group of kids to the races as part of a maths lesson on risk and probability.

What a truly brilliant idea.

Horse-racing odds are a fascinating application of probability theory. And where better to learn about how it works, and how much it's a mug's game, than there in the midst of sweaty panic and soul-crushing dismay that is the pointy end of the gambling world?

He should follow it up with a trip to the casino.

They can talk about the probabilities of the roulette wheel, the fact that in the long run the house will always win, and point out the desperation in the eyes of the pensioner feeding the last of her housekeeping money into a poker machine.

If it's done right the kids will learn a bit of maths, and learn a lot about the risks, personal and financial, of gambling.

But like so many brilliant ideas, it's been roundly criticised by self-appointed moral crusaders.

In easily one of the most inane comments I've ever heard on this topic, Australian Family Association state secretary Michael Ord said "one may question why you would need to involve gambling to teach maths".

Has this guy ever studied maths? If he has, he clearly wasn't paying attention.

Probability theory is all about flipping coins, choosing lottery numbers and the chances of getting a Royal Flush.

You can't study probability without studying gambling. Gambling is why probability theory was invented in the first place.

And when you get down to it, it's just about the only practical application it actually has.