Sunday, May 31, 2009

Gearing Up For Swine Fear

So. In not too long, I'll be off for a couple days to the mainland. National SF con time. And of course, that means airplanes, and airports, and lots of close contact and recycled air breathed by people who've been hanging around people who've been gettin' close to people who've got The Dreaded Swine Flu.

Can't really say I'm looking forward to that. Particularly as -- lucky me! -- I seem to have already caught my mandatory pre-Con Upper Respiratory Tract infection. Mild sore throat last night, felt vaguely like unwiped shit all day, increasingly irresistible and imperative cough happening now.

Well, fuck.

At least I'll have an excuse to buy a couple of those goofy masks from the pharma folk to wear on the 'planes and round the airports. I probably ought to get one and wear it whether or not I'm unwell... but if I'm coughing, people will be glad to see I've got a facefull of filter paper, I guess.


In other news, Kate the Westralian Medical Student has come a-visiting once more. She's part of a programme that seeds med students out to rural medical practices around Australia for short periods, and this is her third and final trek to Scottsdale. It's a shame, really. Kate's a sweetie. She's gone to the pub with Nat this evening to be part of the music scene - and she's even taken along the Mau-Mau, which is great. Natalie still gets to play, the Mau-Mau gets to dig on the music, and I don't have to contend with herding three increasingly boisterous kids around the pub until something goes bwoinnggg! and the wheels fall off.

Yay for Kate! Actually, all the medical students we've had come a-visiting have been great. The programme in question is called the John Flynn Scholarship Programme, and if you know any medical students, you might recommend it to 'em. They get paid to do a couple weeks in rural posts, accommodation included. They see some really interesting medicine, hang out in places they might not go otherwise, and maybe get a feel for doctoring in the bush. Good gear!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Kind Of Suspected As Much...

This is an excerpt from the abstract of an article published in the latest volume of the journal Intelligence -- which is precisely what it sounds like: a scientific journal for publication of articles on research into the nature of intelligence. It's a real-live peer-reviewed scientific journal, and has a pretty reasonable reputation from what I can glean.

The excerpt:

Conservatism and cognitive ability are negatively correlated. The evidence is based on 1254 community college students and 1600 foreign students seeking entry to United States' universities. At the individual level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with SAT, Vocabulary, and Analogy test scores. At the national level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with measures of education (e.g., gross enrollment at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels) and performance on mathematics and reading assessments from the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) project.

The full article is not accessible without pay, and to be honest, I'm not that interested. The level of debate it might provoke is almost certain to dive down to subterranean levels within picoseconds. And certainly, without being able to read the article in full I have no idea what their definitions of 'Conservatism' include, nor the degree of negative correlation, nor the statistical approaches used.

I do note the sample size is pretty decent, and the use of college students and foreign-entry students pretty well rules out this being a sample of down-home Cletus the Yokel types. Of course, going through community colleges is an interesting choice, and naturally one has to wonder what kind of stats you'd get in the Ivy Leagues and so forth. Nevertheless, it's a bold, interesting statement -- all the more interesting since it appears to originate from notoriously-conservative Singapore.

I also wonder, naturally, what would happen if they broke the picture down to differentiate between fiscal conservatism and social conservatism. I certainly see a difference there, at any rate.

In any case, it's worth a laugh, eh? No doubt it's all part of that infamous world-wide conspiracy of left-wing acadaemia...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Formal Assessment

...and that was yesterday, right there. I had the Mau-Mau and the Elder Son, and we had to go to Launceston so Elder Son could have his 'Formal Assessment'.

That's when the kid sits down with a qualified individual appointed and authorised by the Ed Dept, and they go through a bunch of tests to decide where the kid falls on various curves, and what kind of oddball needs he might have to make school work better for him. This particular version takes a bit over three hours.

So we shunted Smaller Son down to the bus stop. Then we took off for Launceston, and managed to wriggle around through the back streets by the gorge until we found Trevallyn School. We were a bit early, which caused a minor fuss because nobody seemed to know about us -- but only five minutes after we arrived, the assessing officer turned up, and everything was under control. The Mau-Mau and I left Elder Son on the job, and we took off to do our own errands.

  • New socks. What the fuck do children do with their socks? Is there an entire planetoid of abandoned socks drifting silently behind the moon, where we can't detect it?
  • Another Wii remote: yeah, okay. Listen -- any of you lot with kids, the Rayman Raving Rabbids games are pretty damned funny. They consist of a loosely-connected series of mini-games which involve the fullest range of Wii-remote manipulations I've seen yet, and between the whacked-out animation and the happily twisted nature of the games themselves, they're pretty fabulous. But the sequel is actually better, because it includes a full 'party mode' in which up to four people can play these demented games against one another. Imagine four of us there, all trying to boogie along to the cues provided while the Wii thumps out "Jungle Boogie"...
  • Dinner: I got some barramundi. And a squid tube. Just one. Plus some other stuff.
  • New plants: some thornless blackberries -- getting more later, I think -- and a pair of kiwis. (Again, getting more.) The old kiwi vines were placed right next to the deck, which was unbelievably silly. Don't plant kiwi vines anywhere near your house, unless you feel like researching a sequel to "Day Of The Triffids".
  • Books -- no trip to Launceston is complete without a buzz through the secondhand book places.
By the time we were done with everything (there was more, but I can't recall it offhand. Oh -- a long and fruitless search for some insulation material...) it was almost time to collect The Boy. The Mau-Mau and I grabbed some lunch, and picked up a few bits and pieces for Elder Son, and then the phone rocked on (my phone plays "Werewolves of London". Good thing I like the song, eh?) so we went back to Trevallyn.

Elder Son was tired and hungry, but apparently he enjoyed himself. And the assessment officer was really great -- we had a long talk about the whole edumacation thing. She's got a couple kids of her own who fall into the high-end category (possibly why she's doing what she does?) and had a lot of sympathy and insight.

We won't know the results of the assessment for a while, of course. There's another meeting to come with the school as well, naturally. But hopefully, hopefully this will see the Elder Son being officially recognised as having 'different needs', and give the school the opportunity to develop something appropriate for him.

The rest of the day? Ah, well. Natalie made it home a bit late. By that time, I'd already overseen the violin practice, the cello practice, and the typing practice. Loaded the firewood box. Brought in the laundry, put up some more. Stoked the fire. Cooked barramundi and calamari and baked potatoes and green salad. Organised the bathtime, etc.

Heh. The boys were pleased with my calamari -- because I stripped the tough outer membrane off the squid before I sliced it into rings. They were really interested in the membrane itself, and really delighted to discover that the Flinthart version of calamari isn't rubbery and stretchy. I've probably made a mess for myself in the future, though. Now they'll never be happy with cheap chippery calamari again, and I'll have to cook the stuff at home more often, and I can't buy it except in Launceston or Bridport...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Most Amazingly Depressing Conversation I've Ever Had With A Child Of Any Age

It came from Younger Son, of course. We were riding the scenic chairlift over Cataract Gorge on the weekend. The conversation went like this:

"If you fell out of an aeroplane, would it be better to fall on land or water?"

"Well -- if you fall that far, it doesn't matter. You move so fast the water hasn't got time to get out of your way, and you just go splat!"

"Oh. What if the water was really deep?"

"Nope. Doesn't matter."

"Oh." Long pause. "If I died..."

"...I'd be really depressed. Please don't do that."

"Oh. If you died..."

"No, I'm trying to avoid that too. It's boring."

"Well, if you were going to die, would you want a quick death or a slow one?"

(Pause while I look at him in some horror.) "Uhh. I'll take the quick one, thanks."

"Me too. 'Cause if you died slowly, you'd have time to realise you were dying, and then you'd be sad."

Well. Fuck me. What else do you say to something like that? There are times when that little bugger scares me a little. What's he doing thinking about something like that at age six? And being so fearsomely rational about it? Yikes!

Dammit. Just thinking about that conversation makes me sad again!

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Grind

Really, really tired. That's how I feel right now.

Natalie's working long, long hours lately. Ergo, so am I. Doesn't matter how much gets done; it seems there's always a pile more in waiting. Small stuff: laundry, firewood, cleaning, tidying, shopping, cooking, getting kids to and from all kinds of things. Medium sized stuff: clearing away felled trees, chainsawing old deadfalls for new firewood, paperwork for the ju-jitsu class, paperwork for a bunch of other things. Big stuff: working with the Elder Son at home on his studies, trying to find a little time and inspiration to work on the novel...

Maybe it's the time of year, as the days get shorter and there's less and less light. Maybe it's stress from all sorts of current events. Maybe it's just the endless grind of juggling three small, boisterous kids while trying to maintain some kind of life. I don't know. All I know is that I'm flat, dead, worn to the bone.

It's six in the evening. The kids are in the bath. I've been holding off on dinner in the hopes Natalie might make it home in time for a pleasant shared meal. I can probably give her another fifteen minutes, but by then if I don't do something to feed the little ones, it's all going to fall apart horribly.

Doesn't help that Younger Son seems to have a chronic cough following his last brush with colds/resp.viruses. We're wondering about asthma. It's a loud, awful, deep, nasty cough, but it's not rattly or productive. Unfortunately, it's also frequent, especially at night. Metronomic, in fact. It carries all the way up the stairs to our bedroom. It wakes up his brother in the middle of the night, and that's not easy.

So you lie there... one in the morning... hoping it was just a passing fit. Thirty seconds, forty seconds, a minute... maybe you can relax -- no. There it is again, like a deep, rough bark, just as you're thinking maybe, maybe it's going to pass. Wait a while, wait a while... there it is again.

What to do this time? Ventolin? A cough suppressant? Have to do something. He's waking everyone in the house, and it's not good for his sleep either...

...and how long can you go on like this?

I can hear him in the bath, right now. The house is warm, the bathroom is a little steamy. It shouldn't set him off, but there he goes.

I think it's going to be another long, sleepless night. Fifth in a row? Sixth?

Too many.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Response to the Aurealis Review of Canterbury 2100

Ordinarily, I don't respond to reviews -- good or bad. But in this case, the review is appearing in Australia's best-known SF venue, and it is appearing just two weeks before the National Convention, and of course, the subject of the review (Canterbury 2100) is on the Ditmar ballot therein.

That being the case, I think it falls to me, as the editor, to take the review on board, and use it to promote the anthology and the writers therein. The original review itself can be found right here. The response is as follows:

I’m very pleased to note that the Aurealis review of Canterbury 2100 can't pigeonhole the book as either ‘future history’, or ‘themed anthology’. Obviously, the reviewer was uncomfortable with that, and of course, his personal response — while disappointing — is entirely valid for him, as a reader. However, I personally remain very proud that the anthology was so clearly and recognisably something completely new in what has become a very well explored genre, a belief borne out by the review in Aurealis #43. A genuinely new concept in speculative fiction in itself is one hell of an achievement, and in bringing it to life on the limited budget of a small press house — well, that's something even more.

Canterbury 2100 was always going to be a risky work. One of the issues of which I was sharply aware, during the editing process, was that of internal consistency; a shared 'future history'. To that end, all the writers were given a rough outline of the imagined next hundred years so they could set up their stories accordingly.

Bearing in mind that the imagined future of Canterbury 2100 holds a period of roughly fifty to sixty years of near-anarchy in England, following massive social breakdown due to pandemics, resource and energy shortage, and drastic climate change, I always felt that there was no need for the history to be too detailed. After all, modern-day eyewitnesses at well-reported public events give highly inconsistent accounts of occurrences when called to task. So what of people reporting on events often long past?

The historical process itself is fraught with inconsistency. How many different views of the Viet Nam war existed in 1970? And how many times has that war been reconstructed, re-edited, rewritten? Is Ronald Reagan the Hero of the Cold War, or is he an elderly B-actor with dementia who kicked off the greatest economic disaster since the Great Depression with his massive overexpenditure and wholesale financial deregulation?

Recognising such issues, I felt that people telling stories to one another on a train, purely for the sake of passing the time, could probably not be relied on to offer a coherent, consistent account of an enormously chaotic period in history. Yet I also believed that if I edited carefully, and the writers caught the idea, it would be possible for the readers to look between the lines, as it were, and gain insight into the culture of Canterbury 2100. That we succeeded is obvious from Keith's review: he remarks that many of the stories revolve around 'survival' and 'loss', which I believe would be extremely powerful and central cultural ideas to a people trying to rebuild after a world-shaking disaster.

In a way, it’s a little like trying to reconstruct the early 21st Century by watching a series of prime-time TV shows. For even as television is the most widespread form of mass entertainment available today, in the world of Canterbury 2100 where technology has to be largely salvaged and electricity is in desperately short supply, I think it’s fair to assume that storytelling, perhaps the oldest form of human entertainment, would regain its long-lost position of importance. And where modern TV reflects themes of importance to 21st century culture through entertainment and fantasy, so too do the stories of Canterbury 2100 reflect the culture that spawned them. It is not a precise, mirror-like reconstruction, naturally. It is the immersive and kaleidoscopic reconstruction of popular entertainment, which relies on a set of shared cultural mores to be effective. As modern readers, we don't share the cultural assumptions of the people of Canterbury 2100, but in reading their stories, we can hope to learn what those cultural assumptions are.

In other words, a lack of ‘internal consistency’ in the Canterbury 2100 stories is not an error, nor a weakness. It is a carefully considered reflection of human nature, expressed in literary terms. Although created by very real modern authors, the imaginary tale-tellers of Canterbury 2100 are spinning yarns for one another, not for you and I. If their stories were perfectly consistent in ‘future historical detail’, the reader would be forced to raise an eyebrow and ask, quite rightly, exactly who it was that taught such a uniform brand of history to these travellers — and likewise, why they bothered telling one another about events which are obviously such common knowledge that all agree upon them.

Indeed, it seems to me that even Chaucer took this into account. I note that “The Knight’s Tale” is not a true and accurate accounting of Chaucer’s historical era. It is, in fact, a fantasy set in an impossible Ancient Greece, where Greek Gods and celtic fairy-myths rub shoulders with knights in armour. And yet the reader is not distressed with Chaucer for playing fast and loose with myth and history. Nor does the reader believe Chaucer failed to realize that the Ancient Greeks didn’t fight according to the rules of 14th century chivalry. Chaucer’s readers understand that the Knight is weaving a story to pass the time, for the entertainment of his imaginary fellows. And for the modern reader, that in itself is fascinating: a glimpse of the themes and ideas that constituted ‘fantasy’ and ‘entertainment’ in Chaucer’s time.

There’s no such thing as a perfect work. Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ suffers from a sameness of voice, despite putatively moving from narrator to narrator with each tale. (Boccaccio’s Decameron is even more flawed in this fashion. Oh - and Boccaccio’s framing narrative is a completely unbelievable fig-leaf, a wholly trivial throwaway device designed to do nothing more than showcase Boccaccio’s lovely stories. And as for offering any kind of ‘internally consistent’ history... the idea is hilarious.) Nevertheless, the tales are lively and vivid and greatly enjoyable even today, so long as we understand the work for what it is: not a historical document, but an entertainment, and an exploration of human nature through the medium of late-medieval storytelling.

Canterbury 2100 was never going to be perfect either. Yet to criticise it for a lack of internal consistency, or to suggest that the stories don’t sit comfortably in the framing narrative is no criticism at all. This is not ‘future history’. It is at most a form of imagined “oral future history”, necessarily replete with the kind of problems which any historian can explain at length. (We do, after all, study history from written texts, not from anecdotes.) And of course, since the narrators of these stories are consciously setting out to entertain rather than inform, it is by intent something altogether different to even an ‘oral future history’.

The Aurealis review, while clearly reflecting the reviewer’s own disappointment with the work, gratifies me as the editor considerably. Stevenson devotes the first six paragraphs of an eight-paragraph review to the manner in which Canterbury 2100 does not behave like the two forms of SF anthology it superficially resembles. This argues very strongly indeed that we achieved exactly what we set out to do, and created something genuinely new. Since the last two paragraphs of the review speak kindly of a number of the stories and contributors, I suggest that this review represents the strongest endorsement yet of the anthology, and on that basis, I recommend you track down a copy to enjoy for yourself.

It should be appearing on Amazon within two weeks!

Aussie SETI Signal Excitement

So it turns out an Australian astronomer has decided to help out SETI in a different sort of way. Fuck all that radio shit, he says. ET is gonna zap us all with frickin' laser beams. And whaddya know? Maybe he was right.

Not that it really matters. Because if the Internet has taught us anything, it's not goddam Klingon Carl Sagan we should expect to hear when we finally get a signal from Out There. Nope: odds are the first genuine alien signal we discover will be porn.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Two From The Munchkins

The Mau-Mau first. She got up this morning a little under the weather. Unfortunately, she's not a good patient. When she gets sick at all, she immediately moves to Full Drama Princess Mode -- demanding attention in every possible way. She howls and wails at the slightest problem. She staggers about looking wan and sad, begging for medicine. And virtually anything at all can become a huge issue.

Case in point: she sticks out her tongue over breakfast, and says miserably "I've got lumps on my tongue."

"Where?" says Natalie. And there ensues a short session in which Doctor Mum tries to discover the source of the terrible inflammation. Not much later, Natalie has discerned the problem. "Those are your taste buds," she says. "They're part of your tongue."

The Mau-Mau sticks her tongue out farther and goes cross-eyed, trying to look at the thing. Then in a tone of panic, she announces: "I don't WANT them! GET THEM OFF!" and promptly starts scraping her tongue with a spoon.

Then there was Younger Son. Today was a big day. Natalie is on call all weekend, so it's mostly me and the kids at home. We had all kinds of shopping and errands to do in the morning, and then this afternoon they had a birthday party to attend while I had to go (honestly! It was an obligation!) to a wine-tasting soiree up at Mike the Historian's place. I let the kids party down for about three and a half hours (only one of which I was at the wine-tasting, thank you very much!) and then collected them and came home.

Right away, we're into firewood-gathering, and musical instrument practise, and dinner-making and all that good stuff. Poor little Younger Son is definitely getting tired. So we're sitting there, over the last of his Thai Beef Salad dinner, and I'm trying to encourage him to finish up. They want to watch a Jackie Chan flick later, and have popcorn - and I'm not feeding the little beasts popcorn unless they do a credible job on their tasty, healthy dinner.

But Younger Son is tiring, and he's at the point of asking me after every bite: "is this enough?" So finally, I figure -- mostly as a joke -- we'll do the aeroplane thing. I mean, he's six. The aeroplane game is for little ones.

He's sophisticated enough to recognise the joke, however, so he giggles and knocks off a big forkful of beef salad. And as I'm loading the next fork, it finally dawns on me: just how fucking macabre is this game anyway?

You know: you're flying this fork towards the kid's mouth, for fuck's sake. Making aeroplane noises. But what's gonna happen when that goddam aeroplane finally gets clearance to land?

So, in mid flight, my spiel changes:

"Vroom! Vroom! Here comes the aeroplane, loaded with fat happy tourists coming home from an overseas holiday. Little do they know the aerodrome has been taken over by aliens, and as the aeroplane taxis into what they think is a hanger, GIGANTIC WHITE GNASHING MONSTROUS THINGS COME DOWN AND CRUSH EVERYONE ABOARD TO DEATH AS THEY SCREAM IN PAIN AND FEAR!

(cue screaming noises from Dad, hilarious giggles and much noisy chomping from Younger Son)

"Meanwhile, the next unsuspecting passenger craft circles. Completely oblivious to the awful fate that awaits them, the pilot reassures the passengers as the aircraft approaches it's final landing..."

There was a lot of screaming, and a lot of giggling, but he finished the whole meal. I, however, may be traumatised for the rest of my life...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Afternoon In The Museum

Big day yesterday! We finally got that backstage visit to the museum that Elder Son earned with his science visit to the beach a couple weeks back. Of course, it wasn't as easy as that. Oh, no.

First, the cello lesson. Natalie handled that, getting Elder Son to the high school by 0830 to meet his teacher. And of course, that got him back to his own school just after 0900, so essentially as soon as he went through the door he was rushed into the Statewide Testing programme. They've been doing it all week -- the standardizing tests that all schools go through to discover what sort of level everybody's at. Elder Son had the written English stuff on Tuesday, then the reading part on Wednesday, and yesterday was math -- or 'maff' as he pronounces it. Can't convince him yet to enunciate his 'th' properly. Gonna be some grief there sooner or later.

Smaller Son hung out with me and the Mau-Mau for the morning, but as soon as the primary school went to their morning break, we were down there collecting Elder Son. Then the Mau-Mau went off to visit her very best friend, three-year-old Miniblonde who lives at the nursery down the hill. Miniblonde's mum was prepared to keep the Mau-Mau for the afternoon, which was a tremendous relief.

We met with Dr Lisa Gershwin, the curator of Natural History at the Queen Vic Museum, just in time for lunch. I liked her instantly: she's a ball of energy with tremendous enthusiasm, quite a breadth of knowledge, and a delightfully open and encouraging attitude. If you google her up, you'll discover she knows waaayy too much about the most brutal and vicious of the jellyfish species -- but that hardly touches the surface of her interests.

Conversation with Lisa is entertaining as hell. The only problem is I've got too many questions to ask all at once!

The museum visit itself was really, really tremendous. Lisa sat the boys down and gave them a very clear, very careful explanation of the rules about touching things -- and then plunged us into the deep end. We met various of the collection managers, and the boys were shown what seemed to be an endless sequence of treasures. Drawer after drawer of specimens -- platypus, devil, thylacine (definitely 'no touching'!)... a drawer full of stuffed bats and bat skeletons that nearly sent Younger Son wild with excitement... another draw full of whale earbones, dense and heavy and stony but elegantly curved and curled like works of art. There was a tiger skull that Younger Son held, working the jaw and growling fiercely. There was a stuffed raccoon that excited Elder Son beyond belief. (Not sure why he was so excited by a raccoon, but he was.) Porcupines, hedgehogs, echidnas, possums, Opossums, bandicoots, quolls, birds, turtles, snakes --

The 'no touch' rules were carefully enforced for the delicate specimens -- which means, of course, the boys got hands-on with many, many different things. They stroked the fur of a stuffed koala, and compared it with a platypus and a wombat and a possum, and we discussed the whys and wherefores of habitats and furs and so forth. They exclaimed over the lightness of bird bones, and the heaviness of whale earbones, and admired dozens of different skulls.

Then we went down to the insect section, and if anything, they became even more excited. Butterflies, beetles, grasshoppers -- I think what really excited them was the fact that the things they were seeing were things they knew from home. They exclaimed over ladybird beetles, and weevils ("Look! We found one of those!") and dung beetles ("It's blue like the one we found!"), jumped up and down over praying mantises and and phasmatids, and even managed to be interested in the biting flies.

Now, you'd think after an hour and a half of that sort of thing, they'd be slowing down. But no: the collection manager for the minerals and fossils section got hold of them, and they vanished into one of the back rooms down under the museum while I stopped and chatted with Lisa. And what kind of adventures were they having? Well -- when I found them again, they were babbling delightedly about fossil dinosaur poo (they called it a 'coprolite', quite correctly) and about dinosaur gizzard stones, and all kinds of crystals and minerals and gemstones.... I interrupted them long enough to ask Tammy (the minerals collection manager) if the boys could try lifting a couple large samples of Cassiterite (tin ore) I'd spotted, to illustrate a discussion we'd been having about the concept of 'density'.

Tammy shrugged, and said she could think of something better to illustrate density. Then she opened yet another cupboard, and out came a couple of football sized iron meteorites!

That's about when I started getting jealous. I'd never handled a goddam meteorite! And despite my plaintive hints, I still haven't! The boys hogged them completely, and there wasn't enough room for me to slide around the open cupboard door and just grab the damned things away, so my meteorite-lust went completely unrequited. Bah!

The final revelation... well, I'm pretty sure I can't talk about it. Let's just say this: we were shown a fossil specimen which is genuinely on the absolute cutting edge of science. It's not even written up yet, but if and when it is, the thing is going to significantly alter our picture of early life on the planet. The boys thought it was 'cool'. Having a little more perspective and training, I thought it was fucking mind-blowing... so yes, by the end of our backstage pass tour, even I was reduced to a state of childlike excitement. Yahoo!

We made best speed for home afterwards, collected the Mau-Mau, and then I promptly started the whole fire-building, cooking, evening stuff routine. It was all going just fine until Natalie called to say she'd locked her keys in the surgery... sigh. So the kids got up from the dinner table (chicken, leek and chorizo risotto) and we bundled into the car (again) and scooted down to Scottsdale to the rescue. Then back home again... finish the dinner, bathtime for the kids, and finally, finally off to bed.

I'm completely delighted by the museum visit, and all the museum staff. Everybody we met was friendly, and they seemed really pleased to have a couple of small, enthusiastic boys (and one large, enthusiastic father) underfoot. There's something here that needs to be done, I can see. I know the various Field Naturalist clubs around Tas are ageing, and I know that birdwatching societies, etc are having trouble finding new, young people to come aboard. Yet I know my kids are excited as all hell by the natural world, and the science they can see and touch and be part of. Likewise, I know of other kids around here who are likely to be just as excited. And then there's the museum, with this massive pool of expertise and enthusiasm -- and no mechanism to really reach out to the kids in a way that brings them into the process.

Interactive displays are well and good, sure. But the chance to actually be part of the science of the museum? That's pure gold. So the boys are going to sign on as museum volunteers, and I'll make sure the proper forms go to various other parents around here, and then, time permitting, we'll start putting together small science and nature-based projects and excursions. These kids are smart. They can catch and label small specimens. They can definitely collect and press botanical samples. I already know they can spot fossils -- we've done that before. So... if we can get a bit of guidance and support from the museum (and they seem only too eager to be involved!) I don't see why we can't go a long way towards giving the kids a chance to get really hands-on at the most basic level of scientific fieldwork.

Jeez, I wish this kind of thing had come my way when I was eight!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Joys Of Weirdness

I did a nasty thing to the Cool Shite lads the other night. They're a fine lot of chaps who hang out in Launceston, review all kinds of SF/Fantasy and other geeky stuff on TV, movies, games and so forth. We get together of a Tuesday evening and watch all kinds of oddball media - which is pretty much my ration of adult social company for the week, so if you suspect I'm growing gradually odder, there's probably a good reason.

Anyway, this week there was a little bit of discussion about what we were going to watch. Bruce had dug up a copy of The Wizard Of Speed And Time, but nobody was much enthused. Tragically, I could even remember seeing the original Disney-release short film, and while the longer version may have a cult following, I didn't think I could bear it.

Another sterling option was the wonderfully-titled A Lonely Cow Weeps At Dawn, but there were two problems. First, ALCWAD is short -- sixty minutes -- and we were looking for something more feature-length. Secondly, nobody was really braced for an hour of weird Japanese softcore porn, so (perhaps foolishly), they let me talk them into Option Three: Meet The Hollowheads.

I first saw this truly extraordinary film at the South Brisbane cinema sometime around 1990. I have a suspicion that Guru-Bob may have talked a bunch of us into going, but I'm not sure. To be honest, the film fucked with my head so much at that first viewing that to this day I can't recall who else came along.

It's hard to explain why this film is so disturbing. In effect, it's nothing more than an extended episode of some classic 1950s sitcom, completely with cheesy narration voice-over from the precocious kid who plays the lead. But... oh, Cthulhu... it's so difficult!

First, imagine the sitcom episode is set in an alternate universe. Where everyone lives underground. And technology is mostly biological, or pneumatic. And everything is delivered through tubes. Lots of fucking tubes, oh yes.

Next, add a serious dash of black humour, including weird-as-fuck drug references, grotesquely senile grandparents in the cellar, aged, naked dog-things infested with horrid blood-filled parasites, sexual harassment, violence... no. Dammit. I'm not getting it across.

Okay. That alternate universe thing? Run with it. But -- understand that even though this film has maybe four sets altogether, and no more than a dozen actors (I estimate) it is so incredibly self-consistent that it freaks the living fuck out of you. You start out going what the fuck is this shit? and by the end, you're ready to scream. What the fuck is 'softening jelly' and why did Juliette Lewis need two pounds of it? What is 'butt polish'? Why should kids say 'no' to butt polish? What did it do to that 'Oliver Digits' character? Why was a naked chicken integral to Bud's musical instrument - and how come the fucking thing can sort of talk? What's a 'punitration box'? What is 'the edge'?

And the music! Oh, don't leave out the soundtrack. No. Dear God, no. Like some kind of 1950s elevator jazztrack played through a steam calliope rejigged to sound like human sighs, the theme music comes and goes with a manic glee that at first disturbs, then unnerves, and then gradually maddens you. By the end of the film, Dion kept twitching every time the main theme cropped up, muttering "That music! It fucking creeps me out, man!"

But that was okay, because Bruce was already on the floor, alternately giggling and recoiling, periodically crying out: "Genius! This is pure fucking Genius."

I think Q-dog had it worst. I'm not sure what 'Bucket of Sub' means, nor even if I've transliterated that correctly. But as I understand it, 'Bucket of Sub' is some sort of Cool Shite code for 'my brain may be irretrievably broken. Either that, or I have become a teapot.'

Obviously, I took a great deal of satisfaction in watching the Shitesters melt down in the face of Hollowheadly oddness. Admittedly, even though this was my third viewing of the thing, the film still messed with my head too. Nevertheless, it's gratifying watching other people lose the plot spectactularly.

So, having said all that -- it should be obvious that for SF fans I'm strongly recommending this film. Sadly, it can only be had on a DVD print which appears to have been mastered from a VHS copy, but it's still good enough to Get The Job Done. The film isn't for young kids: it's so flat-out unnervingly fucked up weird that it is absolutely certain to provoke nightmares, so just don't do it to the little buggers. And I say this from the perspect of a parent who watches violent samurai movies and 'Alien' films with his two small sons, so understand that I'm damned serious about that warning.

For anyone else, though, this film is a disconcertingly tight and consistent journey into a deranged alternate universe, so cleverly and hideously done that you're unlikely to forget it any time soon. Go on: Meet The Hollowheads.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Chainsaw Chuckles II

Yeah. Right -- you know, if the chainsaw works, then the body has issues.

Last chainsaw post left me with a chainsaw whose cutting chain lay loose, free of the bar, and found me using a bow-saw to clear a tree I'd felled across the driveway. Since I've never actually removed a link from a cutting chain, and I haven't the tools for it, I decided to let the professionals look after it.

I got my chainsaw back yesterday morning, so I took it up the paddock to the big pile of wattle logs there. Wattles are an early-colonising species in Tassie rainforests. They grow fast as hell: three years can see them at five metres in height under good conditions. However, since they grow early and fast, they also senesce quickly. A wattle 20 years old can be nearly a metre across at the base, and 20 metres or so high, but it's also at the end of its life. One good wind... and we had one of those last year.

Hence the pile of logs.

After a year, I figured they would have cured at least partway, making them easier to cut, and more suitable as firewood. Of course, a year on the ground isn't long enough for the main trunk, but for a lot of the larger branches, and for secondary trunks that had already died while the trees were standing, it was a good bet. So I trundled up with my chainsaw and my trailer, my earmuffs and my eye protection and my boots and my gloves, and I went to work.

Three tanks of chainsaw fuel later, I had two trailers worth of timber which I duly loaded up, transported to the firewood zone, and then stacked. Then I cleaned the trailer up and parked it.

And then I got out the heavy splitter, and went to work. Many of the larger chunks of trunk still have bark on them, and they have to be split and stacked for another year or so -- but as I'd thought, there was also quite a lot of stuff that could be burned now. (Some of it is, as a matter of fact.) So, two hours later there was a nice new pile of firewood, plus a pile of stuff which will serve next winter.

All up? About three and a half hours of work.

Don't let anybody tell you that using a chainsaw is easy or restful. And as for swinging a four-kilo block splitter... yeah.

The chainsaw worked beautifully. The body, on the other hand, has certain regrets. Particularly between the shoulder blades!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Trekkin'

The Spawn were up early, despite dire parental threats. No breakfast in bed this year was the demand. To their credit, the boys understood. There was no Invasion of the Burnt Toast-Carrying Fiends From 0600 Hours. And I, for one, am extremely grateful.

Nevertheless, the Call of Mother's Day seems to loom large. I don't remember getting this excitable about Mother's Day as a kid, but I guess they're different. Fair enough, too. Anyway, they were up somewhere around first light, laying out a breakfast of buttered muffins, finding a cushion to go on one of the chairs, getting a nice blanket to go with it... I don't think they realised that by the time Natalie went down, a good forty minutes later, the muffins were stony cold. She ate 'em anyhow.

Then, for more Mother's Day yuks, we went through the great cycle of Louse Destruction once more. You can't just do the thing once, because any chemicals fierce enough to kill all the eggs as well as the lice would probably peel your scalp and bake your brain. So you go through a complicated routine of shampooing with evil chemistry, rinsing, repeating, and then a standard shampoo followed by conditioner, and a long, slow encounter with a fine-toothed comb. Yessir, just what a fine Mother's Day Sunday should have.

Still: I did have the foresight to check cinema times a few days back, and it turned out there was an early-afternoon session of Star Trek 90210, as I am dubbing this glossier-than-glossy reboot of the much-loved franchise. Natalie's a Trek fan from way, way back, so I figured a family visit to the new film would go over well.

It did.

I have to say that on one hand, I'm a touch disappointed. The last time I saw reviews this good for an sf/genre-type flick, it was the first of the Johnny Depp "Pirates" movies -- and that was a fucking boomer. I enjoyed the hell out of that film from one end to the other, and on that basis, I was rather hoping to be just as captivated by Star Trek 90210.

Sorry, Trek fans -- the Abrams-refuelled Enterprise isn't in the same class as that first Pirates of the Caribbean flick. It's a worthy effort. It kept my attention through almost all the film, and there were elements I greatly enjoyed, for certain. But underneath it... I think you need to be a Trek fan to really groove on the film, and to me, that's a little disappointing.

Why? Did I really have the right to expect something more? Weren't the words "Star Trek" enough of a warning?

Well -- yeah, I guess it's a bit rich for me to be expecting a film that steps up and out of the whole Star Trek thing. But, you know... I was hoping. I admit it.

To be fair, I think this is the best Star Trek film ever made. The pace is pretty good in general, though it falls off here and there. The cast inhabit the characters very well indeed. Karl Urban's take on DeForrest Kelley is so good it's unnerving, while the rest of the players step into oversized boots without missing a beat. John Cho's version of Hikaru Sulu is a delight. Simon Pegg creates a new, yet perfectly at home Scotty. Zachary Quinto's Spock is far more interesting and nuanced than the original. (Anybody else here remember Leonard Nimoy channeling a British Army Sergeant Major for his first efforts as the man in the pointy ears? Quinto is light-years better. Really.)

And of course, the new Kirk is pretty fucking good, as well he ought to be. Where his part doesn't fully come off, it's not his fault -- some damnfool slapstick stuff with swollen hands and numb tongue, a series of fight sequences in which he gets his arse routinely kicked by the same stupid roundhouse slugging punches and gormless Frankenstein's Monster strangles... Yeah, I know: original-series Kirk fought about as efficiently and convincingly as a dugong caught in a revolving door -- but that was the 'sixties, man! All the action heroes fought that way. This film -- well, shit. You should see what they let John Cho's stunt double do with a fold-out katana!

So - what's my problem?

It's really hard to convey. First, I think my problem is that even though this is the best Trek film by a long margin, it's still a Trek film. The difficulty with the whole series of films is that they've been as much about their own mythos as they ever have been about science fiction, and for many of the films, the Federation/Trek mythology has outweighed the story, the plot, the villains, and sometimes even the special effects.

The original Trek series -- yeah. Shitty SFX. Crappy sets. Hammy acting. Alla that shit. But... the Federation and the Prime Directive and the rest of it existed only as a backdrop for storytelling, and exploration. The reason that original series resonated was that they tried to do science fiction, and nobody else was doing that. They went for it: chased that sense of wonder, that gosh-wow-holy-shit! factor that has always been such a vital part of the SF literary genre. Not bigger, better, badder stunts and explosions, but ideas and themes and jeez, what if? What if?

Barnes emailed me a while back when it was announced they'd be re-releasing the original series, only with schmicked-up FX and sound and models and stuff. He asked a simple question: We hated it when George Lucas reworked Star Wars. Why aren't we pissed that this is being done to Trek?

The answer was simple, for me. They promised to leave the performances, the lines, and the stories completely the fuck alone.

With that first series of Trek, it was all about the SF, the exploration of the possible, the bold, sometimes ludicrous, occasionally poignant effort to use an imaginary future as a vehicle to explore who we are now. And for those of us who saw it back then, as kids, with the love of stories and imagination hot upon us -- we didn't see shitty sets, crappy SFX, and badly lit models. The stuff on the screen was just a guide, like a minimalist Shakespearian stage-set. What was going on in our heads was huge, epic, larger-than-life stuff that truthfully, honestly, changed us a little bit and stayed with us for years, and even decades. Why else would such a shoddy little TV show wind up spawning an entire goddam culture?

So. For me, the problem of this film is not that it treads on "sacred territory". Frankly, I think it's been enormously respectful to the original, and as a reworking, it's very effective. Plus the cunning plot device embedded in the story is such that from here, they can go on with this cast and crew without ever 'damaging' the original, if such a thing is actually possible. Full marks to Abrams and everybody involved.

No - if anything, the problem is that it's too concerned with being Trek, and not concerned enough about being imaginative, and bold, and confronting. The way I see it, if you're going to recreate a goddam legend -- and there's no other way to describe the original Enterprise and all aboard -- then you've got to reach into the spirit of that legend for inspiration.

Pirates Of The Caribbean did that. It took off from all the marvellously silly sword-and-sail swashbucklers of the past, kept the best, and stepped up a notch in performance and storytelling and scope and effects without losing sight of the sheer joy of adventure that drove those old movies. This is where Star Trek 90210 falls down, I fear -- for in ensuring that it properly enshrines the canon and the heroes and the trappings of the Star Trek franchise, Abrams has slightly, but definitely, missed the point.

He's made a film that will please Trek fans all over the world, and since we are legion, I have no doubt the movie will succeed and spawn sequels of its own. But I don't believe he's made a film that can capture the attention of a whole new generation of viewers, and touch them with the kind of inspirational madness that the original generated. It's a great Trek film, but it's still a Trek film.

I'll say this, though: if they took that same cast and let them have a cheap TV series of their own, with some decent SF writers to offer up plots and ideas... I think they might just manage to boldly go even farther than the originals, and I'd be only too happy to go right along with them.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Some Days It Just Doesn't Work

Younger Son had an attack of creativity this morning. He dragged a fucknormous cardboard box into the house -- it had previously been used as an archery target. Then, with his Christmas-present multi-tool plus a few common household items, he went to work.

Half an hour later: lo! He had his very own "Army Tank". There were guns on the front and the sides, and a flap on the back to let him in. There were vision slits above every gun, and on top there was a red radish which was, according to him, "the siren thingy."

Better still, he had mooched a bag of party-poppers from somewhere, which meant he could even fire his cardboard-tube guns at will.

I decided a brief video of the Army Tank would make a good post here. So I got out the little camera and took a couple of short clips - one of the Army Tank on the move, and one of it firing its main gun.

And that's when things went south.

First, the camera tried to run out of batteries. I beat that, though. Then Windows Moviemaker crapped out on me. It kept crashing every time I told it to assemble the small, simple movie. Eventually I went through a full reboot of the computer, and at last, I got the thing made.

It's not big. It's an easy little 1.5meg WMV file. I figured I'd just upload it to YouTube and lock it in here, the way I did a while back with the little movie that I made over the top of that Irish piece we were playing together.

Uh huh.

First there was the satellite "broadband" system to deal with. After I rebooted the actual satellite modem twice, and the LAN server once, I finally got data moving in both directions. Yay me.

Then I got into YouTube, and told it to upload the movie. Okay, fine.

Whups. No. Not fine. Why not? I have no idea. It says the movie is 0.0 seconds in length, and on my video page it says "processing, please wait". When you try to play the fucking thing, it says "this video is not available.".

I've been through that routine twice now. I'll do it once more, just for the trinity, and then -- fuck it. I've got better things to do with my Saturday.

Sorry about that.


Army Tank FTW!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Welfare And The State

I’ve never understood the loathing of welfare. The safety net thing — that’s the single biggest advantage we have over places like the US. Try talking to Jennicki for a while as to what it means to know that losing your job means losing your healthcare – and knowing there’s not even a useful equivalent of ‘the dole’ to keep you out of the gutters.

I have no problem with welfare in this country. I’ve seen too many successful and valued writers, artists and musicians get their start on unemployment. I know too many high-tax-paying businessfolk who got their start because they could afford to take a risk, knowing that if they failed it didn’t spell the end for them. A semi-functioning welfare structure acts as more than a safety net: for the young, the creative and the entrepeneurial, it provides a springboard. I'll let you in on a clue, here: most of the folk I knew through university have sucked at the government tit in one form or another. And I will bet you my last penny that every one of them has since then gone on to pay far, far more in taxes than ever they received in welfare.

You know some of those people too, if you're on this site regularly. And if that's the case, you're stuck with acknowledging this painful fact: for a (possibly) small but important class of people, the welfare system actually produces a massive profit for the government -- because without the ability to move between jobs, and to make career choices, and to further their education without the risk of drowning their futures in US-style debt, those innovative, independent-minded, highly intelligent people would probably have been stuck at the bottom of the fiscal food chain, deposited there by the lack of a parentally-provided fortune.

All that Horatio Alger myth-building stuff? It's bullshit. For ever genuine clawed-their-way-up-from-the-bottom success story, there are at least ten thousand who won the birth lottery and scored via simple nepotism and inheritance. Without a decent welfare structure, if you're born at the bottom of the heap, that's where you stay. Don't take my word for it: go and look at social mobility in countries without decent welfare. It isn't hard to do... but I suppose it's harder than sitting back and bitching about your taxes going to those lazy dole-bludging cheats, eh?

I find the resentment of tax by the wealthy predictable, boring, and more than a little painful. Welfare is enough to keep people from starving, and not much else. You should think of it as a form of insurance, because if it isn’t paid – well, history shows that starving people with nothing to lose tend to take matters into their own hands with some violence. And frankly, I'd be one of 'em in a flash. If the system wasn't there to support my family if we suffered a dose of bad luck -- and bad luck can be all it takes, folks -- you can bet I'd be only too ready to act against that system to support my children. Pay your insurance, folks: you don't want too many angry fathers working together with your comfortable, asset-rich asses in their gunsights.

There's more: idiotic right-wing religions take root amongst the poor and oppressed. Yes, the rich Saudis are Wahabi — in theory — but where do you find the suicide bombers and the fanatical jihadis? For every Osama bin Laden, there are ten thousand Mohammed ibn Mohammeds, sons of the souk and the wadi. You want to see radical Islam (or hardcore USAnian christo-fundo-bullshit) settle firmly in Australia? Cut welfare: let the religious organizations move in to support the disenfranchised. In a generation, you'll be fucked like you could never imagine.

Are there people claiming welfare dishonestly? I expect so, yes. What do we lose to them anyway? The little money we pay them is spent, not accrued. They are not becoming wealthy on your taxes. In fact, they’re shifting that money into the pockets of people even richer than you — and if you really want to get pissed off about the system, maybe that’s where you should be looking. After all, we're not a poor country. We can afford to ignore a few people siphoning pennies out of the chump change jar - especially when we're willing to throw elephant bucks at the banks every time they cry poor.

There's still more, though. This is Australia. Our national identity is all about the fair go, the helping hand, about pulling our mates up out of the mud when they fall. An Australia without a decent, comprehensive welfare structure isn't an Australia at all: it's a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fat Corporate Bastardry, the world-wide nation-state knocking on every door on the fucking planet, and I don't want any part of it.

Paying taxes isn't my favourite thing. I disagree with many of the areas where the government chooses to spend my money. But you won't hear me complaining about welfare: it's done too much for me, for my family, for my friends, my community, and my country.

Just Another Thursday.

Elder Son has cello Thursday mornings. His teacher visits the high school, not the primary school, so we have to get him there by 0830. Normally, Natalie loads Younger Son on the bus first, but today she forgot the protocols.

Ah well. She took off with Elder Son. I made a lunch, loaded Younger Son and the Mau-Mau in the car (after spraying everyone with pyrethrin/orange-oil/ti-tree louse dismayer) and scooted down to Scottsdale. Dropped Younger Son at school, reminded him I'd be picking him up after lunch for afternoon Spanish.

Had a quick breakfast at the bakery with the Mau-Mau, which made her very happy. Then we zipped round to the hospital, and waited briefly for Natalie to show up with Elder Son and his cello. Loaded up. Headed home.

Elder Son started in on his typing exercises. The Mau-Mau got a dose of ABC kids cartoons, and I answered some email for about half an hour. Then I got together with Elder Son, and we tackled science: what's the difference between living things and non-living things?

I figured we should start in on the living world. We've been playing with magnets and electricity, but now we've made contact with the natural history curator at the museum, it made sense to look in another direction. Elder Son did a pretty good job coming up with stuff to define "life". Of his own accord, he decided that living things grow; that they take in stuff from their environment, change it, and return other stuff to the environment. He also decided that living things reproduce themselves. He had to be prompted to consider the concept of irritability/response to environmental stimuli, but I was pretty happy with the discussion anyhow.

After that, he ducked outside and found five different living organisms. While he did that, I made lunch. When he came back in, he wrote a paragraph about each of his living organisms (a sample from a lavender bush including flowers, a sample from a hazelnut tree including the nut, a mushroom, a shelf fungus and a grasshopper) detailing how they fit the description of 'life' that we'd worked out. He had to do a bit of reading on mushrooms and fungi to figure out that his samples were actually the reproductive/spore-bearing parts of the mycelium, but overall he did well.

We dashed back down to Scottsdale then. Collected Younger Son from school. Collected the post. Did some shopping for dinner. Zipped back home again.

The boys had to clean the cages of the rats and mice, so I took the time to read to the Mau-Mau for a while. Once the rodents were fixed up though, it was time for an afternoon of Spanish. Then we got into the cleaning and tidying, and I had laundry to do, firewood to split, fires to lay and start...

Fucking Dog has learned to jump the low wire fence I built around the clothesline. We've had a month or more of our laundry NOT being all over the ground. That's come to an end. At least part of my weekend will be spent building a higher fence. Short of actually killing the dog -- which tempts me at the moment, I admit -- there seems to be no way of convincing him that he doesn't want to swing by his teeth from the dangling laundry. So: picked up a lot of laundry off the grass, took the next load up to the dryer in the shed.

... made Yum Cha-style steamed dumplings for dinner: pork, chicken and prawn. Also ran up some crunchy spring rolls and some steamed vegies. Natalie was late coming home, unfortunately. It's a pity, since she loves her Chinese dumplings. Still, there wasn't much I could do about it.

Finally she did get home, and I sent the kids off for their bath, fed her... and then, at last, retired to the study for a beer. Where I am. Now. Listening to Natalie wrangle the kids through tooth-brushing and pre-bed stuff. She's running late. The Mau-Mau has wound up something fierce. Ordinarily I'd step out and shut things down, but Natalie has insisted I shouldn't do that... so I figure it's her problem and she can deal with it herself. It's about time, anyhow. Figure if she's going to ask me not to intervene, then she's got to work out how to get a handle on things.

I have to admit to just a wee touch of schadenfreude here...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Decontamination Protocols: Phase One In Force

No. It's nothing to do with the Irish fiddlers. The last of them took off yesterday, full of lingering good cheer, booze, and tasty food. It wasn't a bad weekend. It could have been, if I hadn't simply written it off to music and kids. There's no way I could have actually achieved anything. But accepting it as a weekend of noise, chaos, music, kids, and so forth meant it worked just fine.

The Decon Protocols actually refer to a much more cosmopolitan and pedestrian pest: Pediculus humanis capitis, better known as the all-too-fucking-common Head Louse. Natalie's been scratching her head and complaining for over a week now, but we put it down to the change in weather. However, the Mau-Mau started scratching too, and a cursory examination showed she had rather a number of fellow travellers aboard.

Ahhhh, shit.

On the good side: my background with bugs means I don't get uptight about this stuff. Lice happen, especially when you've got a three-year-old in daycare. And as pests and parasites go, lice are really no big deal. They're vulnerable to an exciting array of chemical countermeasures, and better still, they don't survive away from the host for very long. All you have to do is kill the present lot of adults with some kind of treatment, then repeat the dose in about six days -- after the new lot hatch, but before they can start breeding.

In the meantime, it makes sense to wash hats, pillowcases, bedding and the like in good hot water (add a little bleach if you wanna get serious), then dry and air them thoroughly in the sun. Run the vacuum around the place to pick up any stray hairs that might be carrying an egg. That's it. You're done.

Except, of course, that you have to make sure you co-ordinate with the people your kids play with. There's really not that much resistance to chemicals in the louse community. Mostly, what people think is resistance is actually nothing more than reinfestation from contact with an external source.

Ergo: even though Natalie and the Mau-Mau were the only ones with any sign of buggy buddies, I've spent the morning treating everyone in the whole damned house. The girls got a Maldison-based shampoo, which is nasty but effective... and not recommended unless an infestation is confirmed. The boys (including yours truly) got a treatment involving a commercial blend of ti-tree, lemon, and eucalyptus oils. Stinky as hell, but not nearly as toxic as good old Maldison.

The Tale of the Comb was telling. (Those super-fine-tooth combs? They're fuck-all use in terms of treatment. But they can help confirm the existence of an infestation.) Natalie and the Mau-Mau were both well occupied. The boys and I - shorter hair? - were all clear.

Being Mister Overkill, the way I usually am, I also picked up a nifty hairspray. It's a mix of pyrethrum (a bug killer) plus various active, pleasant-smelling oils. Orange and lemon, just for starters. You spray it into the dry hair after treatment, and use it daily for a while. It should prevent any reinfestation. I'll keep it up for two weeks. By that time, even if there are any eggs or bugs left in the house, they'll be long dead.

The thing to remember about lice is that they're not like fleas. They stay really close to their hosts. They don't nest in bedding. They don't leave eggs and larvae in the carpet. If they're away from the nice, safe, warm scalp for long, they go belly-up.

On the whole, they're pretty pathetic as parasites go. Now, if only I could coax Natalie back down from the ceiling, where she is hanging, all a-quiver with a truly epic attack of the Ick.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Invasion Of The Irish Fiddlers.


Natalie's having one of her occasional Irish Fiddle weekends. She's brought a really good player/instructor (and family friend) over from Melbourne, and invited...umm... a lot of fiddle players for the event.

Normally I'm pretty good with this sort of thing. Unfortunately, I'm coming off a long and annoying cold I inherited from Younger Son, and a week of rather shoddy sleep, and dammit, I'm a little tired. So. Today I've done the shopping, run the pump, laundered, wrangled kids (there's my three. And the fiddle instructor's son. And several others of whose ownership I'm uncertain), prepped lunches... I've made twelve litres or so of spicy pumpkin soup complete with sour cream, chopped chives and coriander, and bacon bits. I've also made two full-size loaves of cheese and onion bread to go with the soup, and I've got a stand-by plan of cous-cous with prawns and coriander if they're still hungry later. Oh, and custard and fruit if need be, yep.

I've also prepped for a massive bonfire, to burn off the huge heap of old timber, dead furnishings, tree-cuttings and stuff that's piled up over the last year. And of course, I wrangled kids even more.

Now there's something like a dozen fiddlers outside my study. And there are kids who need to be prepped for bed, including the whole bath, toothbrush, pyjama thing. And it seems that the Mau-Mau will be sleeping upstairs with us tonight because an entire family of fiddlers will occupy her room. A couple more will apparently be on the lounge room floor. I think the Cinema Shed will hold a half-dozen or so... there's plenty of mattress space there, anyhow. Mr Fiddle Instructor has already been here two nights in the guest room, with his son, so that space is full up.

I do like a good evening of Irish music with drinks and the rest... but I'm definitely running out of energy here. Still, I suppose I can post something for the occasion...

What follows is a set of lyrics. I've got a melody for it, but I'm damned if I can be bothered trying to transcribe it for Blog, so you can make up your own if you like. Anyway, the song is called "Paddy's Day At Dooley's" and it's written in honour of that long succession of St Patrick's Day near-riots I attended at Dooley's Pub in Brisbane through the nineties. Happy days!

Paddy's Day At Dooley's

A world away from Dublin there’s a land of dust and sun
From all the corners of the earth its wild people come
It’s a land with little history, where people can be free
Their wars and grief behind them, once they come across the sea
But there is one certain thing that all of them hold dear
A special day for everyone that comes but once a year
It’s a mighty celebration, and this I tell you truly:
That everybody’s Irish, on Paddy’s day at Dooley’s!

It’s a little green pub in a big dry town
With booze and girls and music and lots of tasty grub
It brings the plastic Paddies for a hundred miles around
Because everybody’s Irish at Dooley’s Pub!

Well I met with Paddy Johnson and we stepped up to the bar
While the band struck up a chorus of “Whiskey In The Jar”
We may have had a Guinness, or maybe we had ten
And when we’d drunk the glasses dry they lined them up again!
Then Paddy Schwarzenegger went to show ‘em how to dance
With his hands down by his sides he did the Michael Flatley prance
And when the barmaid laughed at him, he said to her quite coolly:
“Eff-ree buttee’s Irish, un Patty’s dey ut Tooley’s”

There was Paddy Shostakovich playing fiddle in rare form
And Paddy Van Den Hoogenbande was singing up a storm
They were making such a racket that the band put down their gear
And started drinking Guinness, and whiskey shots and beer.
Paddy Hideyoshi, he could play the spoons right well
And Paddy Ramasita joined right in with a yell
Paddy Krasnic cried “Begorra” though he didn’t really fool me —
Still, everybody’s Irish, on Paddy’s day at Dooley’s!

The party picked up steam when Paddy Strauss came in
Picked up a wooden table, and walloped Paddy Chin
So Paddy Depardieu stepped up and kicked him in the balls
Then Paddy Jones grabbed Paddy Smith and tossed him through a wall
The fun had barely started when I heard somebody shout
"Paddy Wagon is outside and the cops are getting out!"
“I’m sure they’ll understand,” says I, “For though we’ve been unruly,
Sure everybody’s Irish on Paddy’s day at Dooley’s!”

The battle raged down Brunswick Street into the Valley Mall
Then about a million cops arrived to arrest us one and all
They took us to the watch-house but we filled up all the cells
So they stuck us in the courthouse and the city hall as well.
Then the coppers took the stand and called us a bunch of louts
But the judge banged down his gavel, and he threw the charges out
“They’re innocent,” said he, “For under section thirty-four a, paragraph 12, clause eight of Finkelstein versus O’Donaghue in a judgement handed down by the Right Honourable William de Bleriot with regard to matters of affray and other infringements on public order while under the influence of intoxicants and participating in completely unwarranted celebrations relevant to a culture which has little or no connection to that of the defendant, the law says quite truly:
That everybody’s Irish on Paddy’s Day at Dooleys!

Now... does anybody know the number of a pest control firm specialising in Irish fiddlers?