Lynley Stace's Blog

December 26, 2015

BEST MOVIES

I watched a lot of movies this year because: Netflix.


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What Maisie Knew: I showed this to my seven-year-old because she was complaining that her parents always ‘agree with each other’ (and not with her). So I showed her what the opposite looks like. A lot of parents wouldn’t show this film to their seven-year-old kid because there’s a bit of shouting and swearing, but actually the title lets you in on the nature of the film: The audience only sees the things six-year-old Maisie sees during the break up of her parents and, like her, we’re left to piece things together. It’s very well done. The seven-year-old loved it as much as I did and is showing no signs of disturbance.


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Tomboy: I would watch this with an adolescent — she’d need to be old enough to read subtitles because this one is from France. There are a few transgender kids around our area and at some point I’ve tried to explain what that’s all about. In the meantime, I’ve noticed every second kids’ film involves a man dressing up as a woman as part of a comedic sequence, which shits me to tears. (Here’s looking at you, Paddington, 2015.)


 


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We Are The Best: Similar to Tomboy, but featuring two punk rocking 13-year-old girls and their reluctant Christian sidekick, this is a nuanced film from Sweden which actually does bullying right. These aren’t kids’ films I’m talking about here, but I kept thinking how brilliant they would be for watching with adolescents — this one does an excellent job of ‘consent’, but, unexpectedly, in a non-sexual context. The adults as well as the adolescents are rounded and complex individuals.


Starlet: This is an odd-couple story about a 21-year-old and a woman in her 80s. Most ‘odd couple’ movies stink in my opinion, but not this one. The adult rating applies in this case. Netflix tells me it’s ‘gritty’ and ‘steamy’. I’d call it neither of those. ‘Sweet’ and ‘unexpected’ fit better.


 


BEST TV SERIES

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Freaks and Geeks. Watched it twice. I was sooo unbelievably sad to learn that not enough people watched it when it was made and so season two was cancelled. On the other hand, I did find something online in which the creator let us in on what probably would have happened to the characters during the second season, and I didn’t really like where he was going so it’s probably just as well it ended where it did. It’s kind of like The Wonder Years but Wonder Years is very melancholic and does a good job of ‘othering’ female characters at every opportunity, whereas Freaks and Geeks co-stars a female and male lead as they make their way through high school in 1980. There are some very funny moments. You’ll feel you know these characters — you probably went to school with a Kim and a Daniel and a Neal. My favourite character is Lyndsay and Sam’s mother, which probably reflects upon the age at which I’m watching.


We also rewatched Breaking Bad this year — binge watched it this time instead of spacing it out waiting for the next season to get made — and although it was still enjoyable this time round despite knowing the outcome, I ended up having to agree with my friend who argues that the sexism surrounding audience response to Skyler and Marie is indeed partly the creator’s fault, due to the way their characters are written.


I was further disturbed while sitting in the doctor’s office and somehow getting into a conversation with a middle-aged man about Breaking Bad and other excellent TV series: He insisted the show would have been better had Walt shot his wife in the head in the first season. Why? Because she is annoying. Also, she slept with another man. (After she left her husband, I might point out.)


An average of two women were murdered by men each week this year in Australia, and I emerged from the doctor’s office blinking and feeling rather disturbed. I think that local just ruined Breaking Bad for me a little bit.


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The Killing is an excellent crime series — I watched the American remake but haven’t seen the Danish original, which for all I know is even better. I know that Americans can sometimes stuff remakes right up (Kath and Kim) or change the feel a little (The Office), but judging The Killing as a standalone product, the American version is excellent. I have to say, though, I’m reaching my limit of stories about the murder of beautiful young women. The current crop of crime show writers seem to be ‘feministing’ their stories not by changing the main victims of their stories but by writing about female police officers.


BEST BOOKS

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Goodreads tells me I read just over 20k pages this year, which is a few thousand fewer than last year because: Netflix. I managed this page count by giving up quickly on books I wasn’t enjoying and by listening to audiobooks while doing mind-numbing tasks. I’ll forever associate the Lonesome Dove series with those hours I was manually removing cape weed from the lawn paddock grass. Lonesome Dove is the first series I’ve ever read to completion, which is testament to its enjoyability. Lonesome Dove is an anti-western (like most Westerns written since the war), but to the writer’s horror, the audience who loved the first instalment largely interpreted it as a glamorisation of that brutal era. So Larry McMurtry felt the need to finish the job he started, and though he proclaimed to be utterly sick and tired of Westerns by the time he’d finished Comanche Moon, his subsequent novels make damn sure you’re not going to accidentally glamorise the Wild West.


I may be influenced by recency bias, since every new book becomes my latest favourite, but the most enjoyable fiction I read in 2015 was Alice Pung’s novel about a fictional Australian private girls’ school, Laurinda. It felt a bit like Chris Lilley’s Summer Heights High but a lot more nuanced. I am obviously drawn to stories about high school, though I’m pretty fussy, with a low tolerance for reliance upon featureless archetypes. I listened to the audiobook of Laurinda and it was narrated very well, which is unfortunately not the case for most audiobooks (especially those narrated male actors who give all female voices the same breathy, helpless voice).


I read some fascinating non-fiction:


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Missoula by Jon Krakauer would have to be one of the most important books to come out recently, though I warn you it’s not in the least bit enjoyable. Whatever can be said of Missoula can no doubt be said of Australia when it comes to rape culture.


Whipping Girl by Julia Serrano, a transgender woman, is a thought-provoking insight into gender and sexism, and will have you pondering your ‘subconscious gender’, which probably lines up neatly with your perceived gender, though it may not.


Anatomy Of Story by John Truby is a book I accidentally came across while looking for a neighbouring book in the university library. I’ve read it cover-to-cover twice, and keep dipping in and out. I think this book may have ruined stories for me. Either that or I’ve gained a lot more pleasure out of them, because this book explains the architecture of story like no other. I warn you it’s not a light read. If I could change a few things about it I still would: There is no good reason to be using the masculine pronoun just because it makes for ‘good English’ (Richard Dawkins does the same thing, and makes the same disclaimer in his preface to The Blind Watchmaker), and I happen to be not the slightest bit interested in any of those old blokey Hollywood films which make up the case studies in Anatomy of Story. I’ve had to watch a few of them just to know what he’s talking about.


CHILDREN’S BOOKS

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I read about 20 novels to the seven-year-old and an uncounted number of picture books. Her favourite chapter book was — unexpectedly — Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes. As the one who read it aloud I wasn’t so taken, because the chapters are of an uncomfortably old-fashioned length, and the final chapter should really have been scrubbed altogether. Then again, I can see why my dog-loving kid loved it. It’s excellent… in hindsight. Though I much prefer Estes’ other big success: The Hundred Dresses, which had a big effect on me when my year six teacher read it to us back in the 80s.


In picture book world, Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey has been a countrywide hit this year, which is a lot better than its sequel, in the same way that Z Is For Moose is a lot better than its sequel. It’s time publishers started being a bit more discerning about sequels to bestsellers — picture books are so difficult to get right that a sequel isn’t necessarily going to work, even if you lift a lot of the exact same verses, in which case I feel doubly ripped off.


If I never have to read another book about bums I’ll be happy, though those are the seven-year-old’s enduring favourites, which I now insist she read on her own. I did read her the first few chapters of The Day My Bum Went Psycho, which goes rapidly downhill despite my being impressed about how many dual audience jokes he manages to get in. Let’s just say I can see the appeal but aargh.


 


MOST EXCITING PURCHASE

One of my neighbours said that I missed my calling as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesperson after I waxed lyrical about the awesomeness of the stick Dyson vacuum cleaner. I was telling my mother-in-law about it last week, because she has stairs. She told me her neighbour had recently bought one and had already brought it over and shown her all of its wonderfulness, which saved me a bit of breath. I conclude that I should team up with my mother-in-law’s neighbour if I want to start a door-to-door vacuum cleaner sales business.


At the risk of boring you to tears, the best thing about the stick vacuum cleaner is that it only has 22 minutes’ charge. So when you pick it up, you know you’re only going to be vacuuming for 22 minutes. Moreover, if you do this every day, you can keep the entire house clean without ever having to drag out your big mother, which feels ridiculously unwieldy and pain-in-the-arse to plug in when you’ve become used to the stick. We have a big hairy indoor dog and a lot of red dust coming in the windows, so I am particularly grateful such appliances exist.


It’s especially good at getting rid of spider webs in high places.


BEST APPS

I’ll preface this with the shittiest app of the year: SBS On Demand, which simply doesn’t work. Next shittiest (possibly because you’re probably paying a subscription fee) is the Scribd app, which also fails to work a lot of the time, despite the fact that the subscription service itself is pretty good value. I cancelled our subscription because of their app.


All this to say how pleased I was to discover that both the Netflix app and Bolinda’s BorrowBox app work beautifully. BorrowBox resources can be accessed with an ACT library card. It’s great (along with the OverDrive app). I can’t see myself being short of audiobooks anytime soon. You have to go on a waiting list to borrow most of the stuff you want, but you can reserve up to 10 audiobooks and 10 ebooks, and the entire process is automated. This is the year I became a reader of ebooks, almost preferring, now, to read a book on my phone, one-handed and in semi-darkness.


For young kids, Toca Boca continue to put out interesting kids’ apps.


 


BEST SOFTWARE

For Mac only at this point: Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo. I don’t know all that much about how to work them yet, compared to all there is to know, but if these guys manage to keep going and expand, a lot of people will be giving their expensive Adobe CC subscriptions the boot. Especially recommended for Australians, who get to pay a heap more for boxed versions of Adobe products than Americans do. Yay us! Enough reason to switch to Mac if you’re a user of Adobe products.


For kids: Minecraft Story was a big hit in this house this year, mainly because we already have a Minecraft nut. Is that the future of books?


My Pomodoro timer has come in handy this year also, not because I have a problem sitting down to do stuff but because I have the opposite problem — getting too immersed in things and forgetting to take stretch breaks.


 


 


 


 


 


 


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Published on December 26, 2015 19:09 • 21 views

December 4, 2015

Scientists at the University of Auckland have been studying bones and calcium supplements, and I think it’s of interest to all women, in particular, not just for bone reasons.


Prof Ian Reid talks to Kim Hill about it here. His study has not been funded by commercial enterprise (such as Fontera, which you may well assume given the importance of the dairy industry in NZ), but by the NZ Government, which is the only sort of food research anyone should take any notice of.


If you’re taking calcium supplements — perhaps they’ve even been prescribed by your doctor — I recommend listening to the podcast for the latest research, which has yet to filter through to many GPs (as is usually the case).


Even if you already steer clear of calcium supplements, what I find interesting about this discussion is the politics of obesity. When these bone scientists found out that ‘the heavier you are, the stronger your bones’, doctors working in other areas of health were alarmed that this news might ‘promote obesity’.


Let’s all go out and get fatter now. Phew! That’s a relief. (Seriously?)


The fact is, humans naturally get fatter as we get older. For women, ‘healthy weight’ is really quite different from ‘fashionable weight’, because of this skewed era we live in. Weight gain correlates with increased age, across the world in every society, and has been the case for eons. Is it time, perhaps, to accept that there are very good evolutionary reasons for this? That our wider hips keep us balanced as we head into old age, and our increased weight in our pre-menopausal years is preparing our bones in case we make it past four score and ten?


Take away points from the interview:



Osteoporosis will lead to fractures in: 56% of women over 60 and 29% of men. [When we think of the big killers we think of heart attack and stroke, but ‘falls’ in the elderly can be lethal.]
Nearly 20% of people with hip fractures will die from related complications within one year.
The latest research says that calcium supplements don’t actually help bone density. They could even increase the risk of heart attacks. No one knows why exactly but data suggests people on calcium supplementation programs suffer 25% more heart attacks and 15% more strokes (which are both outward manifestations of arterial disease.)
Educated speculation about why calcium supplementation might lead to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke: Some of the calcium in supplements might stick to the bones but it’s just as likely to stick to the arteries. Taking Vitamin D with your supplements doesn’t really help, either. There’s nothing you can take to whack calcium into your bones and teeth, where you want it to go.
Extra calcium in your body is just one more thing your body needs to get rid of. You don’t want it to mineralise your soft tissues, just your bones. You don’t want calcification in your muscles or kidney stones, either. (Kidney stones occur for all sorts of reasons but giving people calcium supplements increases the risk quite considerably.)
Calcium from tablets is ‘not clever enough’ to know how to go into the bones and not into the soft tissues.
Skeletons are not like something you’d find in a cave — bones actually have a lot of fat etc — bones are complex things more similar to organs than rocks. We’re all laying down new bone and taking away old bone all the time. The skeleton is like all of our other tissues. Each year we replace about 10% of our skeleton, which is why it lasts as long as it does. We’re always losing small amounts in our sweat/urine, so you do need a bit of calcium regardless of bones.
Counterintuitively, calcium supplements seem to increase the risk of hip fractures. Auckland University didn’t believe their own results but 3 other groups have found the same thing.
There are hormones which control levels of calcium in the blood — e.g. parathyroid hormone, which stimulates the formation of osteoblasts to lay down bone and also stimulates the widening of the femoral neck which happens to all of us when we get older. This is the bit that breaks when the elderly have a fall. (We are SUPPOSED to get wide in the hips as we get older.)
We could get older people at risk of osteoporosis to take parathyroid hormone but it’s extremely expensive and needs to be given daily by injection. At present it’s only given to the most extreme at risk population. The Japanese are working on it. They’ve worked out how to make it a once a week injection so far.
Osteoporosis seems to be an inevitable part of getting old, and perhaps shouldn’t be regarded as a disease but rather as an inevitable consequence of living beyond 45-55. In women there’s a huge change at menopause which has a profound effect on bone. From menopause women progressively lose bone. Whether it results in fractures depends on how strong our bones are at the peak of adult life.
Don’t smoke. The evidence is strong on that, even specifically for bone health. Smokers fracture more, perhaps because smokers tend to be thinner.
Also don’t live too long, if you want to avoid osteoporosis. In your 80s and 90s bone loss is substantial and risk of fracture suddenly becomes high and a major public health problem. It shortens life but also substantially reduces the quality of life. Continuous back pain destroys the benefit of having a longer life, for example.
Women who are very thin have significantly more fractures than people who are a healthy body weight.
“The fatter you are, the stronger your bones.” This finding caused an incredible stir, because it was thought the bone doctors were “encouraging obesity”.
Alcohol is not all bad when it comes to bones. The Double Osteoporosis Study just outside Sydney found that women who have a couple of drinks per day was fine for their skeleton.
On the issue of ‘healthy body weight’, here’s what Dr Reid has to say: For average height women aim for a weight between 60-70kg. Being fatter makes your bones stronger because fat cells produce hormones themselves and people who are fatter also have changes in hormone levels. A number of hormones are involved, and these hormones either switch on or off the activity of the bone absorbing cells.
Someone who is 120kg actually has a wonderful bone density. But someone that large will be more prone to falls. [So perhaps aim for as heavy/dense as possible without it affecting your joints and balance.]
After a certain age it’s thought that you’re not going to get any more bone so more calcium isn’t going to help you. Prof Reid added that calcium doesn’t seem to make much difference all throughout one’s life — even in children. African children, who have a low average calcium intake, are fine in regards to bone health (excepting those with rickets).
Dark green vegetables are as good as dairy products when it comes to bone health, as long as the calcium is received via the diet.
Are calcium supplements ever useful? Prof Reid hasn’t prescribed them himself in the last 5 years because of the latest research. Certain people who have abnormalities in their calcium regulating hormones who need to have their levels maintained but for people without specific illnesses like that there seems to be no benefit.
The calcium you get in a supplement is not the same calcium you get in your diet. The fundamental difference is that some calcium supplements contain more calcium than you would take in all the meals of the day. Blood levels can climb above the normal range in the hours after you’ve taken a supplement and can stay up there for more than 8 hours. But if you get calcium via a meal your blood levels rise very little. Extra calcium can cause higher blood pressure and coagulate your blood which can obviously be a bad thing.
The dairy industry has been keen to promote the idea in the past that the more milk you drink the stronger your bones, but that isn’t true. However, the dairy industry will probably be fine with these results which show that calcium should be sourced via the diet rather than via supplementation.

People in Paleo diet world have been aware of the genuine role of calcium in good health for some time (because Paleo enthusiasts are consistently ahead of the curve from what I can see), and tend to downplay the importance of dairy for various reasons, including this one.


Current thinking in Paleo world is that magnesium is as important for bone health as calcium, but hasn’t had the same press (and when I say ‘press’ I mean, ‘advertising push from the dairy industry’). I was hoping Professor Reid was going to talk about magnesium, but it doesn’t seem to have been part of his research.


Can some government please fund that? K, thanks.


 


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Published on December 04, 2015 16:54 • 4 views

October 2, 2015

My love of online shopping correlates exactly with my hatred of going to the actual shops. Why do I dislike shops so much? I don’t know. It’s crowded. I can never find stuff because shops keep rearranging their floor plans. I have to drive there (and back). Self-serve checkouts provoke a weird kind of anxiety. Something always goes wrong with me and self-serve checkouts. I realised exactly how hopeless I am with self-serve checkouts when I visited the exact same supermarket where I used to work as a teenager, processing thousands of customers without incident during that year and a half, only to attempt a journey through their brand spanking new self-serve checkouts, and completely flub it up.


The main bad thing about online shopping is how you need to be around to sign for the goods. A number of companies make use of a company called StarTrack. I don’t know if it’s a directive from the top or if it’s the local delivery contractor who has a fear of dogs and a pragmatic attitude towards time management, but StarTrack will not come and knock at your door. Not in our area. I know this because I have been home, drinking a cup of tea on the veranda, seen the StarTrack car turn up, watched him shove a postcard into our letterbox, then tear off before I could do a slow blink. A similar thing happened yesterday, actually. There were three kiddies playing in the front yard at the time.


Upon retrieving the postcard I read: “Sorry we missed you! You weren’t home when we called! I’m sorry to say, we don’t use the local pharmacy for package pick ups — like all the other companies do — you’ll have to drive all the way to the Yass Depot to pick up your nano SIM.”


I’m paraphrasing. To make things more annoying still, even though it’s my own SIM card that arrived, it has my husband’s name on the package because he ordered through his work. Apparently, my husband would have to pick it up, not me. I can’t remember the last time my husband drove to Yass during post office opening hours. Yass is in the opposite direction from Canberra, where he works.


No problem, I think. I’ll get him to call the Yass Post Office from work and tell them he has a package, but his wife is going to pick it up, because as it happens, I’m planning on a trip to Yass this afternoon anyhow.


He calls me (via landline) some time later and says, “So I got through to the Yass Post Office.” He explains that it’s absolutely fine if I pick up the package addressed to him, since the address and our surnames will be the same. All he has to do is “write a note on the back of the postcard to say that your wife is picking it up.”


Wait, what? No, he tells them, actually his wife didn’t change her name after we got married. So our last names are different.


“Sorry, that’s probably not going to work then,” says the post office person.


DH says to me, “So what are you like at forging my signature?”


At his request, I write a sentence about his wife being authorised to pick up a package, and for some reason I find myself writing in the small, slopey letters which is a general approximation of my husband’s hand, even though I know that my husband has never once in his life visited the Yass Post Office let alone written anything for them to compare it to. I have this small epiphany by the time I get to the part where I forge his signature, which in fact looks nothing at all like his signature.


Steeled to break the law, I make it to the post office later that afternoon, where I thankfully remember to buy a stamp as well as break the law, because I need to fill out a form for the tax department and keep forgetting to buy a stamp because who sends letters these days? (The reason I need to fill out a form and send it by snail mail is because without a mobile phone number you can’t make full use of MyGov. Circle of life, you see. I haven’t bothered with a mobile phone in 8 years after several went through the wash cycle/fell into a squat toilet etc.)


The woman at the counter is smiling and not at all suspicious of me. For some reason I’m expecting slitty eyes and ‘Mm-hmms. Your husband, eh?’


I’m surprised to see her bring out a huge A3 sized envelope. “Wow,” I say. “That is a very big envelope for a SIM card.”


“Oh, is that what it is?” she says. “It feels like there is nothing in there at all.”


I realise that this makes me sound legit. I mean, I know what’s inside the package. I wouldn’t have that information if I had been stealing from other people’s letterboxes, now would I? This will come in handy, later in court.


“I just need your first initial,” she says. I tell her L, and am surprised when she hands me the signature machine that she has written A. She hasn’t heard me correctly. Not only has she written A, she has written A. Hare. My husband’s last name is Hare. OBVIOUSLY, I’m a Hare. I mean, WE’RE MARRIED.


I realise it would be best not to quibble about this minor detail. But for some reason my mind is cast back to that moment in the kitchen earlier when I forged my husband’s signature. I am horrified to see that I am ‘signing’ my husband’s name into the machine.


“Oh boy,” I say. “I’m writing my husband’s name. What a fool.”


“It’s Friday,” says the post office woman behind the counter. “Tough week, eh?”


“Yes. It’s Friday. That’s definitely my excuse,” I reply, realising that I would make an absolutely terrible criminal.


It doesn’t even cross my mind that I should invent an entirely new signature on the spot — one that I might use if I had changed my name to L. Hare some years ago when we got married. Instead, I wrote my own (completely legible) signature Lynley Stace, and she didn’t even look at it. Suddenly I found myself in possession of an ill-gotten SIM card. I thought I’d better make a quick getaway.


I drove home and, after watching two YouTube videos, finally worked out how to insert the tiny bit of nuisance cardboard into my new phone. So now I have a smart phone and I WILL TAKE VERY GOOD CARE OF IT and remember to charge it before I leave the house.


*


to why it is still completely normal, and often expected, for women in the West to change our names after getting married. It turns out all your ladies who did change your names knew something that I did not: Women who keep our birth names are making things so darn confusing for everyone, as my father explained after he expressed disgust at my decision not to change it. (He has since made a point to address me as ‘Mrs Hare’ at every opportunity.)


Is this a small taste of the sort of shit gay couples have to put up with?


I happen to listen to the Slate Double X podcast. In one recent episode June Thomas (the LGBTQ editor) mentioned that there is a modern trend (in America, at least) for lesbian couples to share their last name. Whose last name? In a curve-ball throwback to the 1950s, according to Thomas’s observations, a lesbian couple who decide to share names tends to take the surname of the woman with the more masculine role in the relationship. This is apparently because, personal gender politics aside, everyone wants to share a name with any children they may have.


It is true that if you don’t share the same last name as your child/ren, even in 2015, it will be assumed that the family is a separated one. My daughter’s principal, who is not an old man, addresses me in writing as ‘Miss Stace’. If it were simply a matter of him using old-school honorifics, I’d expect him to default to ‘Mrs’, in acknowledgement that a man must have been involved at some point. (Though it pisses me off even more that he addresses my daughter as ‘Princess’. At least he used to. *clears throat*)


I’m a big advocate of ‘Ms’ as the default honorific for women, though in fact I wish we could do away with compulsory honorifics altogether. When I registered at the new local doctor’s office last year, I left the honorific section blank, only to be told that it was a required field, and that I couldn’t be put into the computer unless I chose something from their list. This, even though I’d already been required to give my gender and marital status elsewhere on the form. How much information did they really need?


The dog also received some mail yesterday. He’s delighted to know it’s time for his heartworm vaccination. It was me who registered him at the vet’s, and I wasn’t asked for any honorific for the dog, which is how I know it can be done. However, I did go the old-fashioned route, and enrolled him as ‘Flicker Hare’, after his ‘father’. The letter that came is always addressed to ‘Mr & Mrs Daniel & Linley [sic] Hare [double sic]’. This is all my own fault, of course, because I didn’t think to tell the vet’s secretary that we were, at that point, living in sin.


I really don’t know how the Chinese manage. I mean, there are rather a lot of them, and still, women don’t change their names after marriage. Forget the billion Chinese who somehow don’t get dazed and confused: How on earth do South Koreans manage? Not only do women keep their birth names their entire lives, but half of them are called Park, half of them are called Lee and the other half are called Kim. How do they even know who they are?


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Published on October 02, 2015 14:23 • 15 views

August 1, 2015

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If you’re in the habit of second hand shopping for books at the Mitchell Dump you end up with a rather strange collection on your reading pile. One of my finds is a falling-apart Penguin paperback (it’ll probably last one more read and that’s it) first published 1952. It’s called The Shocking History Of Advertising and it’s written by E.S. Turner.


I imagine it’s something Peggy Olsen would’ve read, if Peggy Olsen existed and wasn’t just a character on Mad Men. I imagine such a character would have read everything about advertising that she could have laid her hands on. In which case, the antics in the SC&P Office probably wouldn’t have shocked her all that much.


Here is my favourite passage from the book:


Almost every social foible was reflected sooner or later in the advertising columns. At the end of the [eighteenth] century a country gentleman in Lancashire was advertising for a recluse to sit permanently underground in his hermitage, for 50 pounds a year. The successful candidate had to be willing to let his hair and nails grow as long as possible.


The main thing I got out of this book is the answer to a question I’ve wondered since starting to poke about on this newfandangled thing called The Internet: Are humans really as strange as cyberspace would suggest, or is the medium the message, so to speak, making humans seem weirder simply because we’ve found each other online?


Using the above as evidence, weird humans have always attempted to find partners in weird, and though they may have been unsuccessful in their unions, humans have always been weird.


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Published on August 01, 2015 23:20 • 7 views

July 31, 2015

 



The Wire Is NOT Like Dickens from Salon
A poster with all the main characters from The Wire on it , from co.Design
What Stringer Bell Can Teach Us About Gangs , from The Society Pages
An interview on Radio New Zealand with writer Dennis Lehane , who has written for The Wire.
An Oral History Of The Wire by Aaron Cohen
Why ‘The Wire’ Worked So Well , at Blue Milk
The Visual Style Of The Wire , Kottke
There is a Wire Reddit . Of course there is.
Then there’s The Wire Wiki .
David Simon, who wrote “The Wire”, said this [about writing female characters]. He couldn’t figure out how to do it, so he just wrote his women as though they were men, he said, and left it up to the actresses to perform their roles in ways that would make up for his inability to write for female characters. (from the comments section; no primary source link provided). While I suspect this lack of confidence on Simon’s part meant that there might have been more female characters, or at least more female characters interacting with female characters, maybe he’s onto something there. Maybe writers should just realise that women are actually the same species as men, and construct them accordingly. See: Men And Women May Be The Same Species After All.
Louis Theroux’s documentary Law And Order In Philadelphia is kind of like the real life The Wire, set not far from where The Wire is set.
Another real-life story from The Wire territory is the excellent and moving documentary The Boys Of Baraka , which follows the lives of a group of 13 year old boys who have been chosen to attend a school in Kenya. Part One is here
The Gals In Blue — Bitch Media asks whether real female police officers are as well represented and respected as their fictional representations. SPOILER: No.
Anthropology By The Wire website
The Wire Lives On from Here and Now
The Wire And Rational Choice Theory from The Sociological Cinema
Rewriting The Wire So It Includes Female Characters from the late Kat Muscat

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Published on July 31, 2015 20:00 • 11 views

July 15, 2015

There’s this study where people are asked which movies off a list they want to watch. People pick the movie equivalent of Literature, the good films they think they should watch in order to be cultured. Then they’re asked, ‘And which film do you feel like watching right now?’ The responses are completely different and run to no-brainers, rom-coms and action flicks. Which explains exactly why these things exist.


The same thing happened when we subscribed to Netflix, and I suspect it’s common when anyone subscribes to any of these on-demand servies like Stan or whatever. (What’s with Australia’s new Stan’service? All I think of when I hear ‘Stan’ is a seventy-year-old man called Stanley, complaining to no one in particular about everything.)


You’d be quite impressed to see all the wonderful cinema that’s in my Netflix queue right now. I’d show it to you if I could, because it’s quite impressive. However, this is what I’ve actually been watching, instead of blogging, obv.


Crappiest of the crap things: Dance Moms Collection

Dance Moms Collection


I started this one just to confirm how rubbish it was, and before I knew it I’d watched the entire first season, slightly disappointed that that’s all there is available on Netflix. IT ENDED ON A CLIFFHANGER.


Abby Lee Miller is the perfect baddie. Then you realise that the real baddies are the fat-shaming, toxically competitive dance mothers she has to work around. As despicable as Abby Lee is, the interesting thing about any narrative is that a terrible character seems wonderful if you place her alongside even worse ones. Think of Jessie Pinkman in Breaking Bad, who ends up smelling of roses, because we compare him to the more exaggerated evil of Walter White, who is in turn quite moderate alongside the likes of Tuco.


I’m not the slightest bit interested in dancing per se, but watching this show I learnt to admire the skill of these young girls who perform amazing tricks and display eye-watering flexibility, but even more impressively, are able to memorise new routines very quickly — a new one each week.


As the season progresses we learn a little more about Abby herself: She has a dog (spoiler alert: it dies and she gets it stuffed) and the main person in her life is her meek mother, Mrs Miller. There’s a wonderful shot of Abby asleep unselfconsciously on a coach, with her mouth wide open and snoring. When one of her little dancers puts something into her gaping maw as a joke, that’s when my sympathies turned and I started to see Abby’s ever-so-slightly human side.


Abby’s nemesis is the hilarious woman who runs Candy Apples dance studio. I honestly can’t believe these women are the slightest bit real, but I don’t care. It’s a great script.


NAIL-BITING FAKE DANGER: MOUNTAIN MEN

Mountain-Men-300x217


In this reality series, the camera crew follows various old white men in who have decided to live off-grid, in Alaska and places like that. They hunt, they fish, they build their own log cabins. One of them lives off his extensive land but can’t afford to pay his rates, so the local government is threatening to take a portion of his land away from him as back payment. This leads to drama since he has no way of making a living without all his land. He hosts other hapless men who are finding life a bit much. These men do stupid things like leave his chainsaws out in the rain to rust. This pisses him off and creates extra drama.


Another fellow is a trapper up in Alaska, flying a rickety old plane through snowy skies, then riding on a snowmobile to his remotely placed traps. The snowmobile is always breaking down, and he is consistently on the verge of death. Of course, the unseen camera crew are probably not on the verge of death. They probably have far more reliable equipment than he has, and could give him a ride back to civilisation if it weren’t for the attractive near death experiences he is supposed to endure.


Knowing there’s an unseen crew on the scene turn these near-death experiences into quite good comedy.


A HORRIFYING GLIMPSE INTO PURITY CULTURE: PREACHERS’ DAUGHTERS

preachers-daughters


The camera follows three or four preacher families in various parts of America. Each preacher has a daughter who is pushing against the limits set by his church. We have the loveable Tayla who wants to be a singer/dancer in music videos and loves to hang out with boys. Another easily-led (sheltered) young woman took some drugs and got pregnant at 18. Another is the fourth daughter in a long line of oppressed girls, and both of her parents are equally crazy. When she made friends with a lovely boy from school, her father threatened violence and her mother went through an extensive checklist including invasive questions about his attitude towards sex.


This show is disturbing because although it’s set in a particular milieu that feels quite foreign, on the other hand we see more subtle policing of teenage girls’ bodies right here in Australia, with many parents just as scared of their girls’ burgeoning adulthood as any parents anywhere. Watching Preachers’ Daughters is like watching all of these anxieties everyone seems to have about teenage girls in harrowing technicolour.


THE ONLY COOKING SHOW I’VE EVER WATCHED AN ENTIRE SEASON OF, TWICE: THE PIONEER WOMAN

Pioneer Woman


I’d never heard of Ree Drummond until I read a think piece about someone’s six-year-old daughter who was watching a whole lot of Pioneer Woman episodes. The writer assumed her daughter loved country-style cooking, so bought her aprons and baking equipment for her birthday. But the gift fell flat, because it turns out the six-year-old was really in love with Ree Drummond herself, the ‘accidental country girl’ whose cooking and photography blog took off and resulted in a show on the Food Network, among other things. From what I can gather, there are now at least nine seasons, and the first season is available on Netflix. I happen to know most of the rest is available at lower res on YouTube, because I have watched them.


To be clear: I don’t like cooking any more than that six year old likes cooking. For one thing, we eat a Paleo diet, and Ree Drummond is pretty fucking far from paleo. Perhaps, three years on, I’ve been missing the nuisance of baking. I used to bake every week, and after some initial disasters in my early twenties (too much baking soda, no sugar, forms one memorable occasion), was getting quite good at cakes by the end of my twenties. Perhaps my fascination with the Pioneer Woman is to do with nostalgia. Perhaps it’s because our view of hills and a rolling plain is currently being developed into a suburb and I can no longer pretend we live in the country. Perhaps it’s because my house is constantly in need of some TLC, whereas TV houses have unseen cleaners toiling away. Ree has a great kitchen, with prettily coloured appliances and a fridge freezer that looks like a cupboard, not a big white metal thing. Wow. Or perhaps it’s because I also have a brother called Tim, who is also married to a woman called Missy. Parallel universes, man. I AM THE MURRUMBATEMAN PIONEER WOMAN.


Most of all, my own seven year old is totally in love with Ree Drummond. She’s not in love with any other cooking show, so I must conclude, as the woman in the think piece did, that my daughter is actually in love with Ree.


Ree is always smiling, always has a positive attitude, always looks forward to simple things like family gatherings and eating soup in front of the TV, and tells us with a wink and a nudge that if we ‘cheat’ by using processed ingredients or drop some mixture on the floor, she’s ‘not gonna judge’.


She has homeschooled four children who help their father on the ranch (when they’re not playing sport together outside or having riding lessons). This life is a veritable Pinterest life — one with no real worries other than if a cake is going to fall out of its pan without breaking (and if it doesn’t, well, you can always cover it in cream. I won’t judge ya.)


I’ve had to turn away a few times because those ice cream cookies looked really delicious. But skipping forward to season nine on YouTube, Pioneer Woman is on a self-described ‘health kick’, assembling more salads and eating fewer carbs. I believe she even goes gluten free at one point. Her children are grown now, presumably with lives of their own, and we hardly see them anymore. I realise it’s the family I’m most interested in. (The girls look exactly the same these days. And by the way, doesn’t Ree’s mother look UNCANNILY LIKE GERMAINE GREER??)


gee-213x141

I suspect other similarities aren’t many…


This is the most bizarre thing, because I really don’t care about someone else’s marketing of family. Of course none of it’s real. The only glimpse I’ve seen ‘behind the curtain’ is when Ree is helping herd cattle, then tells her family that she’ll have to go inside to start on some dish she’s preparing for everyone. Ladd the husband snidely says, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll do your work,’ thereby fracturing the mood just for a moment, enough for me to think that maybe he is one of those grumpy men who always seem to end up with over-the-top accommodating women. What does he really think about his wife’s celebrity enterprise? Did she find herself an ‘accidental celebrity’, or is she a shrewd business woman, ruthless off-camera? Is she bringing in more money than his cattle are, these days? Has Ree’s little hobby become just a little too intrusive?


This I’ll never know, and I don’t want to know, because in the words of my seven-year-old daughter, ‘Ree has such a nice life.’


RETRO CREEPY: THE INCREDIBLE HULK

hulk_tv_series


I think I had nightmares when I watched this as a kid back in the eighties. I have recollections of it screening on TV in NZ on Sunday afternoons or something like that, because I can see our whole family sitting round watching it. I’m sitting near the door. It screened before or after another equally rotten show called ‘That’s Incredible’.


I have a seven-year-old who still likes superheroes, and this one fits the bill. It’s still just as attractively creepy for the kid as it was for me, but I think it’s pretty hilarious these days, because I am thinking how different it would be if done with CGI. CGI has a lot to answer for, come to think of it.


There you have it, my trashiest TV fixes of the first half of 2015. I’ve also watched some resonant, thought-provoking shows recently, but I’ll leave that for another post.


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Published on July 15, 2015 05:12 • 16 views

July 12, 2015

Helen Garner writes of the real life friendship between Anu Singh and Madhavi Rao in her book Joe Cinque’s Consolation:


Perhaps they are most flagrant in adolescence: one girl is wild, bossy, selfish, flaring with hormones, crackling with sexual drive and careless of risk, but still dependent on the ballast provided by her companion, who is prim and cautious, not yet at the mercy of her body, one foot still planted in the self-containment of girlhood. They need each other. The well-meaning ‘supportive’ one trails along in the wake of her narcissistic friend, half aware that she is being used — as a cover against parental suspicions, a second fiddle, a handmaid, a foil. But she also feeds off the wrecker’s high-voltage energy.


The tendency to form such partnerships doesn’t end with youth. Every woman I have asked about this knew immediately what I meant and could provide examples. Many a woman has shifted, as different stages of her life brought forth different needs, the paring most poignantly when it inspires comedy: Dame Edna and her drab bridesmaid Madge; Kim and her browbeaten best friend Sharon Strzlecki in Kath and Kim. Even as we laugh, the spectacle disturbs us: we wait breathlessly for the worm to turn. And yet it is a relationship that benefits both partners. It would be hard to say, at its height, whose power is the greater.


Edna and Madge


Kim and Sharon


To Helen Garner’s examples, I might add the following fictional friendships:


Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme were another real-life couple whose friendship was depicted as toxically imbalanced in Peter Jackson’s film Heavenly Creatures, though to what extent can one girl influence another? That’s the interesting question.


Heavenly_Creatures_Poster


Orange Is The New Black arguably has a number of such partnerships. The most extreme and disturbing of those is between Crazy Eyes and Vee, because Vee knows exactly what the relationship is, and how she’s using another person for her own gain.


Crazy Eyes and Vee


The friendship between Alex Vause and Piper Chapman might be a better example, at least in the prequel years leading up to their time in prison.


Piper and Alex


Most television series with a wide cast of characters, and which also happen to pass the Bechdel Test, have at least one relationship that fits this description. In Mad Men there was Joan Holloway’s friend and room mate Carol.


Joan_s-roommate


In Six Feet Under it was Claire Fisher and Edie. It seems writers (and audiences) find such friendships especially interesting when one has lesbian interest in the other. But I haven’t seen exactly the same dynamics become so common in fictional male friendships, unless I’m missing something.


Claire and Edie


Mena Suvari was cast as a very similar sort of girl by Alan Ball in American Beauty, using Thora Birch’s character as her supporting role. Of course, the plot subverts audience expectations about how this friendship really works, therefore relying on the audience’s implicit understanding of how these friendships tend to work before the reveal is at all surprising.


american_beauty_18


In Freaks and Geeks, the relationship between Lindsay Weir and Kim Kelly is difficult to understand unless you understand this particular power dynamic. The writers did a bit of lampshading in order to explain the relationship, making Kim’s interest in Lindsay very obvious: Kim was trying to show her parents that she had turned a new leaf in order to keep her car. Befriending the study nerd was part of her plan.


Lyndsay Weir and Kim Kelly


In Gilmore girls we have Paris as a comically A-type personality who needs a cast of supporting characters in order for her to feel competitive and worthy. Paris only has ‘frenemies’. Though her relationship with Rory gradually becomes more like a friendship as the seasons progress.


Paris and her supporting cast


Can you think of any others?


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Published on July 12, 2015 18:03 • 13 views

June 22, 2015

If you have an iPad and/or a Mac and an offbeat sense of humour you may be interested in downloading Diary of a Goth Girl, an illustrated short story for YA.


Dairy of a Goth Girl--Cover


I wrote it in 2009, it was published in 2010 by a small British publisher, went out of print pretty much as soon as it went in, I asked for the rights back, and finally in 2015, here it is. Illustrated with doodles and with the setting changed from an inner-city English area to outback Australia, because let’s face it, Australian goths are even more ironic than English goths, with their garb and our climate.


In the meantime, Chris Riddell published the first of his wildly successful Goth Girl series in 2013, won the Kate Greenaway award, the Costa Book Award and was recently named children’s laureate, and no I’m not jealous in the slightest!


Haha. Well done Mr Riddell, you are my hero.


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Published on June 22, 2015 22:37 • 20 views

June 4, 2015

A guy walks into a bar, slips a pill into a woman’s drink. But it’s okay you see, because he’s set up cameras. Surprise! This is a public service announcement. “I wouldn’t drink that if I were you,” he tells the women when their gaze reorientates to their drinks. “I just slipped a pill into your beverage. I’m doing this to show how easy it is to get date raped.”



The women are sobered. This guy offers to buy them another drink. The first woman feels so bad about leaving her drink unattended that she says he doesn’t have to.


What would you do if a guy performed this trick on you in a bar? Would  you feel bad? Guilty? Like you’d only just avoided disaster? For averting your eyes for a moment, or for trusting that your male companion is going to keep an eye on your drink for you?


I am so sick of this kind of public service announcement. Another recent example is Australian women being told to keep out of public parks. I kind of don’t even want to share this video, because the main thing it does is reassure potential and existing drink spikers how easy it is to do.


What is the take home message? That women should keep our eyes on our drinks the entire time? If this video is at all useful, it’s because it shows just how impossible it is to foil a person with terrible intentions. This little experiment also shows that:



Women are prone to feeling guilty no matter what a random guy in a bar does to them.
Women are still being told to ‘take responsibility’, once again, for avoiding their own rapes.

If one person wants to spike another person’s drink, the drinker might well keep their gaze on their sip-hole all evening, staring at it like a madperson, or they might not drink at all, or they might not go to bars, ever, because we all know how much less likely it is to get raped (and murdered) in one’s own home.


If that guy had slipped a pill into my drink to illustrate a point, I like to think I would have told him to fuck the fuck off.


Where are the public service announcements by young men encouraging basic human empathy in their potential rapists? A video outlining what it’s like to suffer from PTSD, or from unwanted pregnancy, for instance?


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Published on June 04, 2015 16:10 • 15 views

April 4, 2015

Now, I am not generally given over to excitement, but Neutral Milk Hotel sort of changed my life. They released this absolutely fantastic album called In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in 1998 and haven’t been heard from since, purportedly because their lead singer lives in a cave in New Zealand.

– from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan


How is your country generally depicted in fiction, by writers outside your country?


New Zealand, not surprisingly, is the stock country for ‘a place really, really far away.’ Most recently I noticed in Last Tango In Halifax, a relative��who came from New Zealand to England had made a REALLY big effort to be at a wedding celebration, and therefore his��very presence was amazing.


New Zealand sometimes even gets a mention in American fiction. Even in Breaking Bad! In this case, New Zealand is the stock country that ‘no one knows anything about':







: Right on. New Zealand. That’s where they made “Lord of the Rings”. I say we just move there, yo. I mean, you can do your art. Right? Like, you can paint the local castles and shit. And I can be a bush pilot.


– from Breaking Bad, penultimate episode of season 2


Ask an Australian and they will tell you that New Zealand is nothing but sheep. Sort of like Tasmania, but a different country. New Zealanders are also good at rugby, but not cricket.


Lord of the Rings allowed marketers of tourism to sell New Zealand as a really beautiful place, almost other-worldly. The Hobbit has probably turned it into ‘takes really long to get there and is actually pretty boring.’


What is New Zealand really like?


Here’s an article from a European whose version of New Zealand — from books introduced by his Kiwi girlfriend– turned out to be quite different from the New Zealand he met when he eventually visited the country.


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Published on April 04, 2015 17:31 • 23 views