Thursday, June 28, 2007

Searches: Warren Oates 3, Google 2 (Dave Graney 5 million)

Walkin' alone, drinkin' alone,
Ridin' slow, parked outside your home.
Sleeping just like everybody else.
There with no grace of god you go,
through the United States of Warren Oates.

Ahh, the Soft 'n' Sexy Sound of Dave Graney... well, in this case, one of his rockers, and a good one that I haven't been able to get out of my mind recently.

You might think that Google can turn up anything if you give it the chance. Put in a few consective words that quote, well anything... and if it's there, it will turn up. I do this a fair bit as a shortcut to details of what I'm after.

Now I'm not so sure.

Take the Dave Graney song above, The United States Of Warren Oates. Do a search on "200 miles of country road": 2 results - the correct answer, to my knowledge.

"Walking alone, drinking alone": none.

So the way Google indexes is not even. I suspect it breaks things up into phrases - for the less popular sites only - and only stores the phrases, not the full set of words. However, for the more popular sites, it indexes the lot.

Just something to watch out for. Try to quote a whole phrase, not two different but consecutive bits.

Over to you, Dave...

...A lead singer in a rock 'n' roll band,
you're poor,
you're stoned,
you're a slave to an unnameable half-forgotten ambition,
you're just another guy on the lost highway
a ramblin' man,
a pirate of love,
rider on the range,
a seventh son of a seventh son,
a love rustler,
a desperado,
a bastard right royal historically entitled to be bad,
the man in black
john da conkeroo
the world's forgotten boy
meat man,
mr blues,
the velvet fog,
the silver fox,
the little cloud that cried,
the best dressed chicken in town...

(Rock'n'Roll Is Where I Hide)

(...and it's where I hide too.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The tragedy of the children

Noel Pearson was eloquently blunt on Lateline last night, talking about the tragedy of the rampant sexual abuse of children in aboriginal communities. Inter alia, "I'm amazed that anybody would put the protection of children secondary to anything."

As a black leader, he can say things that many blacks would treat with suspicion if they heard coming from a white.

Not that there's unity within the aboriginal world on the issue, far from it. Rumours are rife and suspicions are high. It's a land grab, it's paternalism, it's interference, it's the Stolen Generation all over again.

That last comment hits a particular sore spot with everybody - and it was something said by a black leader.

But refer back to Pearson's statement above. And the title of the Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse: Children are sacred.

They are, absolutely. Yet the inquiry found firm evidence sexual abuse in every single Aboriginal community they visited in the Northern Territory.

So the Federal Government sends in the cavalry.

I would, too. So would Noel Pearson.

With any luck they will prevent a fair amount of abuse.

But, as a number of people have pointed out, this issue is merely symptomatic of a much wider range of issues. Indigenous MP Barbara McCarthy: "if the Federal Government sincerely saw a national emergency it should provide money for alcohol rehabilitation and immediately fund the construction of 1000 houses to ease chronic overcrowding. Twenty or more people commonly live in shacks."

The cavalry will help. But unless there is serious work, money and resources dedicated to the wider issues, there's nothing to stop this utter tragedy resurfacing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Snape: whose side are you on?

Is Snape bad?

Reading around on the internet, I see this question is a subject of much more debate than I expected.

When I read in The Half-Blood Prince that Severus Snape made an unbreakable vow to help and protect Draco Malfoy, I figured it was a ploy. But by the time I got to the end of the book, I’d changed my mind.

Now I’ve come full circle, and my reckoning is that there is still a lot of mileage in him.

JK Rowling has said that Snape is a “gift” of a character. I take this to mean his is a deeper well to draw from than most.

Compare The Half-Blood Prince with the first in the series: Philosopher's Stone was obviously aimed at younger readers, and although it showed much imagination and complexity, it was not very subtle. Rowling’s writing is now undeniably more subtle, more complex, and evidently framed with an eye on the older reader. Although it remains a mixed bag for either audience, it is generally quite a pleasure to read: not a challenge, of course, but usually quite engaging. Darker, deeper, and longer.

By this point - and despite Snape's heinous deed - I have concluded that it would be far too simple for Snape to remain on the side of evil, and the Harry Potter books have become richer than that.

I also note that there are a couple of books on the internet that dare to speculate what will happen in the new book, Deathly Hallows.

I'm doing what I usually do. Re-reading the previous book just before the new one comes out. After I've read the new book, I might find the speculative books worth a read, simply as an "alternate universe", what might have been and wasn't. Mugglenet.Com's What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7 has the highest recommendation, and is in the bookshops in Australia. Also possibly worth a look: The End of Harry Potter? by David Langford.

Rowling said Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows were very much companion books. Time to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Wise Blood (US, 1979)

John Huston looms large in the Hollywood pantheon. His career was lengthy, his films were epic.

In a Huston retrospective at the Sydney Film Festival, features included African Queen, Maltese Falcon, and The Man Who Would Be King.

So it was a surprise to see Wise Blood, from the twilight of his career. Small in scope, low-budget in feel, it is quite a prickly film populated by lost souls that are not especially likeable.

Wikipedia has a good synopsis of the eponymous source novel by a Ms Flannery O'Conner, and the film seems to follow it faithfully most of the way. In brief: a young war veteran, Hazel Motes, returns to the US South [it's filmed in Macon, Georgia]. He has a lot of tension inside him, as befits a preacher-type who doesn't believe. His non-belief is like a crown of thorns for him, as he was subjected by his hellfire preacher grandfather to the guilt of the unsaved, yet still he disbelieves. He encounters various characters who can sway him from neither his denials nor the vehemence of his delivery.

He does indeed suit the putative church of Christ without Christ. He has a preacher manner and happens to dress like a preacher. His self-imposed penance includes putting stones in his boots. He eventually blinds himself, in echo of the shyster preacher [Harry Dean Stanton] who doesn't believe either, but is less fervent about it, and so has feigned his own blindness.

As ever, Stanton plays his role with ease and credibility. But the bravura performance comes from Brad Dourif as the protagonist. Surprisingly, it doesn't seem to have delivered him a career except as a character actor. He can also be seen hiding under the makeup of his other notable role, Wormtongue in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

A troubling film about a troubled person. It hangs around in my mind, I have no choice. Is that the mark of a good film?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"Soft" voters rule us

A newspaper report today on Liberal party polling [in marginal electorates, of course]. They seemed to be quite clever identifying what it is about the so-called "soft" voters - those that have no strong inclination - that can be influenced, and how they can be influenced.

From the survey of soft voters, they came up with a list of ten top concerns:

1 Water
2 Education (skills training)
3 Economy/cost of living
4 Industrial relations
5 Immigration, multiculturalism
6 Border/homeland security
7 Climate change
8 Health (ageing, hospitals, mental health)
9 Infrastructure (transport, roads, schools)
10 Tax

* Source: Focus group research conducted by Mark Textor.

"The research, by the Liberal Party's chief pollster, Mark Textor, to help develop the business community's pro-Work Choices advertising campaign, also finds very few of those surveyed have experienced first-hand any evidence that the laws are unfair."

"But their suspicions are fed by the sheer weight of voices in the community who are opposed to the new system," it says.

"At a deeper level, there is virtually universal concern for the plight of individuals who might not be able to stand up for themselves, even though they are unable to cite any specific examples and do not believe they are at risk of unfair treatment themselves.

"The threat of a vulnerable individual being treated unfairly is the only reason they can put forward as to why Work Choices should be scrapped or wound back."

Tellingly, "despite months of heated debate on industrial relations and attacks on Labor by business and the Government, voters could not recall what business and business associations had been saying."

The whole experience suggests that if you can identify concerns in such a way as you can best exploit them, the world’s your oyster and the winner is the one with the best pollster.

This would seem to be a weakness with a system of compulsory voting. It's a bit sad, really, although I remain an advocate of compulsory voting, for the marginal level of encouragement it gives people to at least try better to understand the forces that govern them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The old right-wing peeves

Gee, Michael Duffy is a duffer.

"If John Howard loses the forthcoming election, I fear for the mental health of our left-wing intellectuals. The experts have told us many people need a bogyman in their lives, some figure to represent their darkest insecurities and fears. Howard has long performed this valuable role for many on the left, so his loss of office could have unfortunate consequences."

Yeah, sure.

Duffy is a rightwing columnist for the Herald, and presenter for ABC radio. I suspect they both keep him on as a counterpoint to claims of leftwing bias in each media. In fact, Duffy's programme is called Counterpoint. Some of his guests are real doozies.

Anyway, the above quote leads his latest column in the Herald. He just doesn't get it, does he? Like quite a few of those pet rightwing lightweights (yes, you, Miranda Devine).

He does himself quite a serve in that column. I noticed another blog commentary on His Duffishness, in The Road To Surfdom - picking up on the endpiece this time.

So the left won't have a bogyman if Howard loses? Sure they will. It'll be Kevin Rudd.

You don't really think the ALP is left wing, do you? If you do, you're probably Michael Duffy.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A country that has stopped thinking

A rather apposite subheading appeared in the above-titled article in Saturday's Herald:

"Prosperity has brought us ... a lack of vision and an absence of courage"

This is a pithy illustration of the difficulty this country - this world - has in coming to grips with long-term issues. You'd think prosperity would afford us the breathing space to tackle the harder - and more pressing - problems of the future. But it's the reverse: we use our vote to entrench short-termism.

With wealth and prosperity, we find it paradoxically difficult to invest in our future. We are persuaded to subvert all other values to monetary ones... in the aggregate, this is what has happened in the last few elections.

Stunning Photography: Stephen Dupont

On Saturday, around 5pm in Redfern, Mark and I were caught in a sudden squall. We sheltered under a canopy of an old pub that had closed down several months back. Then I noticed it had been turned into an art gallery: Byron McMahon, open Monday to Saturday, to 5pm. I wandered in while we were waiting, and saw two of the most stunning photographs I have ever seen.

They were both reproduced on very large canvas. The resolution is very high; the reproduction is top quality; the photographer is Stephen Dupont.

Most of the photos didn't particularly interest me. But there were four that were reproduced on that large size (something more than 2 metres by 1 metre). Two of those four were especially striking. The first was the one above, taken in India. A mass of people, indifferent to and unknowing of the camera. It was captivating particularly because of the size. The representation above gives an indication of the subject matter and composition, but it's absolutely no substitute for seeing it in full glory.

When I walked into a back room, then turned towards the back wall therein, I was compulsively drawn towards, drawn into, the picture below.

Again, without being there it's impossible to get a sense of the effect of the image wrought large. It was thoroughly compelling, magnetic.

Well placed in the space, too. A credit to the gallery.

For both pictures, half the effect is in the photo, the other half is the reproduction: size and quality. The tagged price: only $4000 each. Worth it.