Thursday, January 30, 2003

A week without groceries and the Fridge of DOOM!

I’m not entirely sure how I achieved this, but after my long weekend in Sydney I managed not to go grocery shopping. This is a big thing for me.

I like groceries, I like cooking myself dinner – and I need a full lunchbox to get through the day. This is one of my notable eccentricities. I always have a lunch box full of tasty bits and pieces. I was packing my own lunch right through late primary and high-school and I just carried the habit on into uni and work. A few uni friends began referring to it as “the magic lunchbox”. I think they had the idea it was bottomless or self-replenishing. (I now have a tin Batman lunchbox I got myself as a “you’re a solicitor now” present – it holds easily the banana, apple, muesli bars, piece of chocolate and sandwich it takes me to get through the day.)

So, anyway I save heaps of money every week by making myself a sandwich for lunch on “school days” and buy myself a CD with the money I save. But the bottom line is I am a thin boy with a hummingbird metabolism; I need to snack regularly not to get grumpy or weird. (Mornings in court can be really trying on that front. Very hard to snack in front of a judge.)

All this food does tend to add up, so there is some saving in not shopping.

How the hell have I got through this week, though? Well, the Monday flight back served a psuedo-dinner and I had toast when I got in. At breakfast there’s been enough porridge to scrape by, and there’s been cream in the fridge that hasn’t gone off yet. (More on the Fridge of Doom later.)

I also had a “this is one I prepared earlier” emergency tuna-and-pasta sauce in the fridge, that got me through Tuesday and Wednesday dinner. (Last night was a couple of bolted sausages before catching up with Beth of fridaysixpm at Kelvin for drinks, again.) Lunch one can go out with work colleagues, especially with this many farewells on. (All the guys at my level are leaving in the next month, with a very few exceptions; their contracts are up and they’re off to greener pastures, dammit.)

The more surprising thing than meals has been scraping though the day without snacks. “I like snacks … No, my snacks, it’s OVER!” (One for the Zim fans.)

I’m surprised I haven’t gnawed the leg off passers by yet. Fortunately there have been farewell afternoon teas, sometimes recycled into morning tea the next day. I’ve poached fruit (with permission) from my flatmate. Somehow, I’ve scraped by. So maybe I can wean myself off the snacks …

Anyway, there’s a strong argument against buying groceries to begin with – my flatmate/landlord’s Fridge of Doom. The thing is an environmental menace: it leaks cold (thermodynamically impossible, I know, but anyway) making it very energy inefficient; and it doesn’t really keep things too cold in summer, making it a health hazard. Thickened cream (for my porridge) will keep for maybe a week in a cool spell, and we haven’t had much of that this bushfire season. Last night’s dinner of sausages were my flatmate’s new sausages; he’d had to throw out the ones I’d bought just before going away for the weekend.

Basically, if you buy groceries, you’re on a hiding to nothing as the Fridge of Doom wages attrition warfare on your investment in healthy fresh food. Still, we are apparently at risk from too little bacteria exposure in modern life, so maybe my game of domestic salmonella roulette is good for me.

I am not really used to living like this.

According to this crap survey (the gendered assumptions nearly drove one friend to distraction) I am “balanced” as between my masculine and feminine sides, and not the sort of lad’s lad who thinks cleaning the house is a bi-annual event and that domestic hygiene was something one did to the servants last century to prevent lice outbreaks. Further, as Marissa has so kindly pointed out in the guestbook:

… the current running theory [is] that he is, in fact, a lesbian woman trapped in a straight man's body. Sorry Doug, couldn't resist. OK, maybe I could have. But I'm eeeevil.

Yeah, cheers mate.

Still my Fridge of Doom does not compare to one share house I knew in Canberra that had a second fridge that kept an even 14 degrees centigrade year round. In a Canberra winter they would have done better leaving the fridge door open to heat the house.

Hmmm … I wonder if my new comments system is working?

Seems not, so comments here.
The minor joys of wage-slavery: commuting is fun.

Five things I enjoy about the trip to and from work everyday:

1. People watching: there are always interesting looking people on the train; or people with animated faces, conducting conversations I can’t hear.

2. Doing the minderella thing and listening to CDs and pretending you’re in a film clip (or, more likely given my penchant for jazz or soundtracks, a film).

3. The fact that I can read on public transport without ever feeling sick. Greatly increases my chance to read novels/dull work stuff.

4. My train station is literally right beneath my workplace, so I can get from my front door to my desk in about half an hour. I can normally get a seat, too.

5. Weird-out “recognition” moments: when you are convinced you’ve seen an ex-girlfriend or long lost friend on public transport, only to realise its someone with the same body shape, or similar hair, or the same taste in clothes (or all of the above). Strangely pleasurable and often triggers neglected memories. Particularly if the person you’re thinking of lives far away.

Things that peeve me about commuting:

1. Loud imbeciles. I should be more tolerant of slack-jawed jackanapes whose parents may well be cousins, but I don’t have it in me not to find the braying of idiots irritating. This especially includes backpacker drunkards.

2. The way people will read their free copy of MX (a mini-paper targeting commuters in major cities for those who’ve not seen it), then will throw it in the bin at the station when they get out. We have recycling bins people! Also, if you finish with it at your departure, put it back in pile for someone else!

3. Days when I have to stand. Much harder to turn pages while clinging to a pole. Still, often better for eavesdropping on the conversations of strangers.

4. Failing to recognise friends (current or long-lost), especially if they sit down beside me and have been staring at the side of my face for minutes before I look up. Damn lack of peripheral vision.

Thoughts? Put 'em here.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Reviewed with extreme prejudice: Gould’s book of Fish
(The perils of a good run of novels)

I have just finished Richard Flanagan’s “Gould’s Book of Fish”, and normally it’s the kind of work I’d review at some length. However, it’s on the Book Club of Intestinal Fortitude reading list, and I don’t want to prejudice other BCIF member’s reactions too much just yet. So, a few (hopefully) brief comments. This is a clever novel, and has one of the most intriguing premises in its first 40-odd pages that I’ve read in a while. I strongly recommend pages 1 - 45.

It’s central theme of forgery (or fraud) is interesting: fake antiques, forged art, the modern forging of historical records, the forging of records in 1828 to attempt to write (in advance) the future history of a penal settlement, the notion of the efforts of colonial government to recreate Europe in Australia as a particularly shabby act of forgery, and re-inventing yourself as a different person (or stealing someone else’s identity) – all make intriguing recurring elements and variations on a theme.

It also muses on the difference between (supposedly) aboriginal perspectives of time, being circular, and European concepts of time and progress, being linear. Unfortunately, I think this is used as an excuse to reject the need for a comprehensible plot or characterisation.

The voice of William Beulow Gould, and its rollicking, larrikin first-person narration, is an achievement: it is prose written by someone with a considerable talent.

But I don’t like it.

While much of the book is concerned with the artistic impulse by which the narrator transforms his miserable existence as a convict into the fish he paints (thus making the world fish) there is really a different transformation at work:

… the slime of rotting geranium petals was underfoot everywhere, the scent of pink dissolving into brown, the carnal transforming into the faecal.

Shit, thought the Commandant when the men he derided as traitorous mutineers had surrounded him & ordered him on pain of death to surrender, It’s all gone to shit.

This pretty much sums up the world Gould inhabits, where every aspiration is reduced to excrement.

I have no doubt convict life in Tasmania was nasty, brutish and short.

The problem with this technically clever novel is that it is nasty, brutish and long.

I look forward to the reaction of other BCIF members, provided I can still persuade anyone to stick with reading it. I think a novel that provokes strong reactions is good book club fodder, but we’ll see.

A large part of my problem with the novel is that I did not really enjoy the actual process of reading it, and had just come off a run off novels I really did enjoy. Things I lost sleep over, sitting up late and just turning pages until the wee smalls. Devouring the prose like I was hungry for it.

For example, Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections”, a really intriguing, layered social novel and exploration (or explosion?) of ideas about family – and a modern society where we take (illegal, legal or borderline) drugs for our every problem. A modern novel about big, difficult issues and ideas that has a story and characters who seem like real people. Why is that so much to ask for?

I followed that with Phillip Pullman’s entirely brilliant fantasy trilogy for adolescents, the “His Dark Materials” sequence (“The Golden Compass”, “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass”) – as exciting as Harry Potter, but much darker and prepared to tackle philosophical issues from the end of childhood to the death of God.

More recently I read Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History”, an elegant psychological thriller and study of murder and regret, littered with brilliant prose and compelling characters (even if they had Dickensian names, such as the cold, un-emotive Henry Winter).

All these novels had great plots, interesting action, compelling ideas, and portrayed a richly detailed world populated with memorable characters. They were “big” books, but intensely readable. Of these qualities I think “Gould’s Book of Fish” has only a detailed recreation of a particular world, strong ideas and technically brilliant (if not compellingly readable) prose going for it. I have been able to sustain interest in novels without much by way of characters or scintillating plots before, if I find the prose and the narrator’s voice sufficiently compelling (example: most of the work of Raymond Chandler), but somehow “Gould’s Book of Fish” failed to grab me.

Maybe that would have been enough if it hadn’t come as a disappointing final course to such a rich feast of other, better reading. But what do I know? Most critics have hailed it as a masterpiece, so maybe I’m out on a limb here.

Like I said, I’m looking forward to the BCIF discussion.

Comments? Put 'em here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

A market opening: consulting to Bond villains?
(Or, what I did on my long weekend)

So, I passed the long weekend mostly at my ex-flatmate, Madness Boy’s, new Coogee flat. Being back in Sydney was weird. I compared notes with someone who’d just returned from a long posting to Melbourne and we agreed that we both stepped out into the Sydney CBD induced feelings of nostalgia and, oddly, fear.

Madness Boy’s new flat is great: huge balconies, fabulous location, views of the beach and oval. He and his flatmates were extremely generous in hosting a long-weekend itinerant population of friends, girlfriends, host-sisters and ex-flatmates that drifted through. I think the population of the three-lad-pad peaked at about seven. It made for a great beach-and-brunch sessions.

Another highlight was the Sunday night watchin of “Die Another Day” in the company of lads (and women who were prepared to act ladsy for the occasion.)

I’d largely agree with Marcus’ review of the new Bond flick. It’s the best Bond film in a while, even the invisible car didn’t seem as stupid as I expected. (Though the improvised wind-surfing chunky-ass CGI effects belonged in “Ice Age”, not an action flick.) It was replete with improbable villains, exotic locations, hideous punning and had a classic Bond titles sequence. Also a villain finally had the sense to pick up a car as heavily customised as the Bond-mobile. Lots of cute references to old Bond films, too (Q’s vintage gadgets, a UK flag parachute, the line “Well, after all, diamonds are for everyone”).

And Judi Dench, who rocks my world as a harder-than-even-the-old-boy’s-club M. (OK, I admit the Miranda Frost character did it for me as well.

She had an English accent.

And a sword.

What’s a boy meant to do?)

My favourite bit though, a truly classic piece of Bond character exposition, was the first appearance of Graves, parachuting out of the sky before being knighted: in a 30 second press conference we learn he owns a diamond mine in Iceland (!), is an Olympic level fencer, an adrenalin junkie adventurer, requires no sleep, owns a private space program and is politely concerned “not to keep Her Majesty waiting any longer”. And he achieved all of this in under 14 months.

My first thought was, right, there’s my goal for 2003: reinvent myself as a diamond-magnate Bond villain.

But then I had another think about the film. I’ve written before about the role of 2IC’s to arch-villains in action films. Provided you have no technical or combat skills you tend to survive the film (do not operate computers, build gadgets or carry guns for a bad guy – you get exploded, stabbed, frozen or sucked out of aircraft). Now, I can see myself in that niche: I’ve always liked being the lieutenant who keeps things running smoothly in the background.

And there’s a lot of turn-over in major Bond villains. Which must create a market opening.

Think about it. They have huge start-up costs: you need the secret lair, money laundering, you have to recruit goons and build an orbital weapons platform (or put a base on the moon). Then they die at the end of the film and the next guy has to re-invent the wheel.

But what if you were a 2IC super-villain consultant: rolling that corporate knowledge over from one mad world-domination scheme to the next? Smoothing the way, recruiting the goons, getting the HQ built and attending to those pesky interior design details. The loyal retainer with clipboard, funky three-quarter length-suit jacket and fancy vest and your own company: “Loyal Retainer Consulting: smoothing the way for start-up Arch Villainy in the new millennium”.

Yes sir, will you be requiring the depleted uranium round tankbuster this morning? Unfortunately space platform construction is running behind – I’ve already activated the penalty provisions in the contractors’ agreements and put our solicitors on notice. Relocate operations to Cuba by Tuesday? Not a problem, I recall excellent suites that were available while I was working for Mr Blofeld. You recall, chap who wanted the US bullion reserves. Excellent man to work for, before he was sucked out of that plane.

Most unfortunate.

Will that be all for the morning? Excuse me then while I go clear the e-mail.

Yup, close to the action, yet unlikely to get shot, or to have to come up with a world-conquest plan from scratch.

All as an independent consultant of course.

Employee goons never make any money.

Comments? They go here.

Friday, January 24, 2003

League of Extreme Dating Sports: Update

So, I was at a dinner hosted by a member of the Book Club of Intestinal Fortitude the other night, when the topic of the “Kelvin Dating Challenge” came up again.

A person present, with a truly staggeringly impressive track-record as a set-up queen informed us that it was a bad idea (and with four long-term couples, including a marriage or two to her credit, she should know). She pointed out that it was not a very respectful thing to do to a potential date, dragging them into some venue where one’s friends would be watching. (And on the merits of respect in dating see missjenjen’s recent comments.) I would certainly agree that it could be a little hard to laugh off if you wanted to see them again.

So our new mentor suggested what we needed to do was go out and find a date for someone else in the League. She thought we were far more likely to get tag-alongs on the basis of “oh, that sounds like a bit of fun”. I have dubbed this the Kris Kringle dating challenge. She also suggested a dinner party, not a bar, as the venue.

And she reserved the rights to make the documentary.

She also thought our present 3:1 female-to-male ratio risked making this look like an exercise on the part of three single women and weirding people out. (I’m not so sure about that, though.)

Anyway, potential problems: one Leaguer has said, “But what if the person you bring doesn’t hit it off with the person you’ve chosen them for?” I say, “Why tell them who they’re meant to ‘meet’?” keep it fun, low pressure – a way of meeting new people.

My problem is bigger. I know no single men who are not work colleagues or Buddhists. Bringing a work colleague I think is just a bad idea; and one of the Leaguers has sworn off dating Buddhists in a big way.

Please tell me if this is all going horribly wrong … or if we’re wimping out and watering down our “extreme” outlook into a mere “mystery guest” dinner party.

And another thing …

I may have found someone to help me upgrade this site to a level compatible with minimum technical competence. Yay!

Catch of the day

If only this site were real:

Thursday, January 23, 2003

“State and Main”: authorship and what I didn’t learn in law school, or commercial practice

So, in another flatmate bonding moment, we watched "State and Main" on Foxtel the other night. A big part of what my flatmate and I have in common is taste in movies, which is all good by me.

"State and Main" is a small, tidy, well-crafted ensemble piece that comments on the myth of the auteur. We attribute films to their directors when, as often as not the director is apparently just the guy standing in the eye of the tornado, juggling chainsaws, to mix a metaphor. The point being that movies are a collaborative medium, works of joint authorship.

Sure, the director and director of cinematography are going to be important, but at the end of the day you’re dealing with a chaotic system: there are too many people, externalities and random elements to maintain complete control. Also, potentially, far too many egos - people who believe he or she is the "author" of their little part of the film.

From the get-go, the plot of "State and Main" is littered with the seeds of this film-in-the-making’s destruction: financial trouble; lawless, promiscuous, ego-maniac stars; local dignitaries to butter-up; and romantic triangles set to implode. As a gentle farce, it neatly keeps all the balls in the air, and very nearly successfully pulls off their resolution. (But hey, if we’re prepared to accept the end of the average Shakespearian comedy, nothing in contemporary drama will look that implausible.)

Anyway, it’s up to the director (William H. Macy) to direct chaos trouble-shoot and just try to keep the damn thing afloat. It’s a great role. Macy’s director is no auteur, he’s just a crisis manager (his lucky pillow reads, "shoot first, ask questions later"). I like Macy, and it was great to see him in something other than the softer-edged (or plain looser-ish) roles he’s had in "Fargo", "Mystery Men" and "Magnolia".

The chaos of the film is summed up by the situation the writer of the screenplay (played with brilliant haplessness by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) finds himself in. The film, "The Old Mill", is already in trouble. The town, in fact, lacks and old mill and there is no budget to build one. As Hoffman says to the local bookstore owner: "How am I supposed to write a film called 'The Old Mill' when we don’t have an old mill?" To which she pragmatically replies: "Well first thing, you’ve gotta get yourself a new title."

There is no single "author" - just people collaborating, and doing the best with the hand they're dealt. The ultimate results are not quite what anyone expected.

Anyway, my second little joy in the film was the entertainment lawyer gone feral, Marty played by David Paymer. Marty really just wants to see everyone get along - provided he gets his film on time and on budget, no matter how sharp, nasty or money-driven he has to be to get it. His job: defend the film, and crush the opposition. The sum of the attributes he exhibits is I think called "being commercial" in private practice. He conducts a great little negotiation with a local town councillor who wants to de-rail the film. It’s exactly the kind of stuff no-one taught me in law school, or at a big firm, dammit. (No-one even told me to make sure I’m carrying cigars either). Here’s Marty’s vision of, legal negotiation the way it should be done, lawyer to lawyer:

Now what is this, you sonofabitch,
because if you haven't heard about the
laws of Malicious Prosecution, you're
There's an old saying, two scariest
things in the world, a black man with a
knife and a Jew with a lawyer. Now, I am
a lawyer, and I am The Jew, and you
continue ONE MOMENT with this slanderous
shit here in this public place, I'm going
to have your ass over my mantleplace.

… Look in my eyes: I made
eleven million bucks last year and I
don't like being trifled with. Now I
think that the better part of valor,
though we've got your back up here...the
better part of valor is to step away.
Or, before God, I will see you disbarred.
Now, what do you think?
We all have a movie to make. Now, can
we stay together here...
What do you say...? Have a cigar.

Remember children, smile as you put the knife in - and play nice afterwards.

Comments? Post ‘em here.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

A scrapbook moment

1. Canberra, again

While the bushfires around Canberra may be temporarily abating, there are still fires near Yass and Queanbeyan. Yass is out my parents’ way and my father went out at 5 am this morning with his volunteer bushfire brigade. It’s unlikely the fires will come anywhere near my parents, and Dad has gone out with a crew largely staffed by a highly experienced, long-established local farming family. Still, it’s hard not to be concerned, and has given me a renewed sense of what is going on for those living in fire-affected areas.

It still doesn’t compare to actually losing a house, or loved one, of course.

2. A “Yahoo Serious” moment

As Lisa Simpson once said on seeing Mr Serious’ name: “I know those words, they just don’t make any sense in that order.” This neatly summarises my reaction to W.H. Auden. Love his poetry, but his use of everyday words often adds up to a surreal, unfathomable whole. These, admittedly melodramatic, lines caught my attention yesterday:

Nights come bringing the snow, and the dead howl
Under the headlands in their windy dwelling
Because the Adversary put too easy questions
On lonely roads.

So remember, stop, revive, survive. Or something.

3. The death of my productivity

Online comic-strips offer swift, easy chuckle-worthy desktop entertainment. I now follow a few too many and may need to rationalise when my job gets busy again.

Highlights include:

Red Meat: The Secret Files of Max Cannon. Seriously weird, seriously disturbed, seriously good. A bizarre look a suburbia as if drawn by an alcoholic monopoly-board illustrator of the 1950s. Updated fortnightly (or less), but huge archives to keep you entertained in the meantime. Watch out for Milkman Dan.

Dilbert. Essential reading for anyone trapped in an office.

Sluggy Freelance: a kinda quirky, ladsy serial that’s been running quite some years now, and like Buffy is becoming a little burdened by its own history. (Yes, the cute talking bunny is heavily-armed psychopath who has become the living incarnation of Easter and Groundhog day, and is conducting a private war with Santa Claus. No, seriously.) Often very silly, and often takes off films as comedy plot lines: the best is probably the horror-genre rip-off “The Evil”. (There has of course been a sequel, “The Evil II”).

Just had someone direct me to Bite Me yesterday. It also comes recommended by Neil Gaiman and Scott McCloud, so it must be good. Download speeds not always great, and it takes a little while to get going. Laughed out loud when I hit “revolutionary tubers”. Oh yeah, it’s a comedy about vampires in the French Revolution. Don’t let that put you off. You watched the stupid historical episodes of Buffy and Angel, didn’t you?

For strips commenting on the Blog phenomenon, check out the dialogues between Grumpy Girl and her Questioning Ant. (You may need to scroll down the current page to see it ...)

Final recommendation? Dykes To Watch Out For: mostly a Doonsbury style talk-fest, but does contain the very, very occasional MA-15 visual that may offend against your friendly, local work-related internet use policy. Lotsa in-jokes for anyone who’s ever crossed swords with an academic, or done any kind of gender-theory course. No, seriously – it is funny. Recommended to me by The New Academic, who I think has a grant that covers this sort of stuff, so it’s all OK.

4. DateWatch: the missing website

After the cocktail hour of madness (see last Friday’s entry) I expected to find a plethora of semi-comic dating sites. I’ve finally found something close: a full-throttle advice column from two New Yorkers who will help with any problem - the em & lo down: advice from near experts. If you ever thought relationships were weird, you have not covered the half of it. Check out their take on the phenomenon of “casual intimacy” , for more outlandish topics see their archives.

Comments? Post them here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Facing tragic loss, and a media beat-up

I have to agree with Jason’s view that the demands for an inquiry, or accusations residents are “angry” at the fire-fighters, are largely a media construction. ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has already directed some of the blame to the questions of visiting journalists – saying the line they’re running is right out of touch with the reality of reaction in streets and shopping centres. Negative spin, it seems is inevitable. Jason has pointed out the Sydney Morning Herald as an offender, but I am afraid I will have to add one of my beloved media outlets – the ABC.

Not only did they jump straight onto Wilson Tuckey’s comments about lack of management of fuel-load in national parks as an attack by a Federal Liberal Minister against a Territory Labour Government, they showed they only two clips I’ve seen of people questioning emergency services performance: a local ABC talkback radio clip when a woman talks of confused signals on local radio as to what residents should do; and a man describing how he waited over an hour for assistance from fire trucks before abandoning his parent’s house. The talkback sound-bight was repeated on the 7.30 Report. Frankly, this is going out of your way to look for bad news – and with the Tuckey focus to aid the politicisation of tragedy.

The extraordinary lack of sympathy in much SMH coverage is also disheartening. They have managed several “Canberra complains” stories like this, this and this. They are already reporting possible “class actions”, while all their “human interest” stories about the tragedy faced by real people appear to have been picked up from The Age.

Frankly, the thing to keep in mind, as The Age has done a better job of doing, is the human dimension. Michelle Grattan has an impressive piece, and The Age also very sensibly sent a number of its journalists or photographers with family in Canberra back home to cover the story, including Paul Harris and Dan Silkstone (Dan’s full article is not available online for free, but a somewhat trimmed version was put up in the SMH online here). I highly recommend these stories of ordinary people facing the unimaginable and of the impact upon what is, essentially, a country town.

I only wish a few other media outlets had taken the same approach. For a balanced view on the cause of the fires and the challenge of rebuilding, see local journalist, Crispin Hull (again, unsurprisingly, in The Age).

I am keenly aware though that in this posting I too run the risk of simply participating in a discussion of “the story” and how it has been covered, rather than in any way giving a space for the stories of real people. It's something I'll bear in mind if I write more on this subject.

Thoughts? Post them here.

Fires in Canberra: the blame game?

It is intensely disappointing that already, so soon after the devastation of the Saturday Canberra fires, that some people are already looking to apportion blame. I hope this is attributable to shock, as I believe that the majority of those who have lost houses are preparing to rebuild their lives with quiet dignity. However, if I think of the tenacious litigant spirit of some families of September 11 victims in New York, I am not certain that there will not be a protracted, litigious blaming process. I sincerely hope the Canberra community will not go down that path. Still, angry voices have been raised, and that anger has become an issue deserving some comment.

“Why were we not warned earlier?” some have asked. At the risk of sounding callous, we were, as long ago as November, if anyone was listening. But bushfire, like fatal traffic accidents, are things we believe happen to other people, not us. There is a price to be paid for living in and around the bush, and while that price should never be your house, it is – at least – vigilance. Yes, the victims of this disaster should be able to expect state assistance. Yes, they may feel angry. But, no, in a time of disaster and scare public resources they are not owed an explanation as to why their particular home was destroyed - harsh as that may sound. That question is simply unanswerable: as are many of the questions posed by tragedies.

We have lost, in our secular, scientific age, some of our ability to cope with disaster. In a time when we are taught there is an explanation for everything, we have come to believe everything that happens is someone’s fault, and implicitly - that it was preventable.

There certainly are structural issues that need to be addressed. Canberra’s pine plantations were laid out long ago and it was never seriously anticipated at the time that houses would ever back onto them. The “bush setting” of seventies and eighties suburbs lined with native trees did put a heavy fuel load among houses. The consequences for an urban environment are now apparent.

Also, at the level of highest co-ordination and control, there are worrying signs that the ACT Emergency Services elites may not have a chain of command that allowed for suburb-by-suburb coordination, meaning that bushfire-fighting units that rushed into the city arrived on the scene and found no-one to whom to report. (These command failures, even if they are found to have happened, of course do not reflect on the heroism of fire-fighters in the front line, some of whom lost thier own homes while defending others'.) Also, despite talk of the need for firebreaks, the army, presently on a high level of readiness and equipped with bulldozers of its own, was not requested to make those firebreaks.

All big-picture stuff, clear with 20-20 hindsight. Would any of it have prevented property loss? I doubt it. With a heavy fuel load in national parks and winds gusting at 100 kilometres an hour, as soon as the fires were able to outrace the fire trucks there was going to be significant loss of property. Could the city have used another dozen fire-trucks? Certainly, but it could also use more teachers, hospital beds and better remand centre facilities. Public resources will always be finite, and will not always be enough to prevent disaster.

Yet, like the congressional inquiries in the US into “intelligence failures” in the CIA and FBI, we will see things with vision shaped by tragic experience that in retrospect look like palpable, inevitable threats that were impossible to ignore – and yet were ignored. We have to distinguish learning from what is, for a particular community a vast, previously unimaginable disaster; and a need to apportion blame for it. We must also bear in mind how lucky we have been that the loss of life has been so limited, compared to other, greater unexpected calamities of recent times.

If there are questions to be asked, it can be done at the coroner’s inquest and in any parliamentary investigation. For once I agree with a the Prime Minister, there will be a time for reflection and asking questions, but it should be without acrimony and apportioning blame, and that time is not now. Also, given his own recent involvement in an impromptu rescue operation that clearly left him shaken – I think Jon Stanhope’s “blame me, not the fire-fighters” stance is a rare and noble exercise in ministerial responsibility.

Frankly, the press-gallery piranhas trying to stir up a controversy out of the comments of Wilson Tuckey, a figure usually best ignored, need to take a long hard look at themselves. (Mr McGuiness' bitter little aphorisms are also beneath comment.) This is a time to pull together, and that includes responsible reporting.

Comments? Criticisms? Views? Post them here.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

The unfriendly fires of home: events in Canberra

My regular blogging seems inconsequential in the face of what is happening in Canberra, where I have family and friends. Like much of the Canberra diaspora in Sydney/Melbourne I’ve spent a fair bit of time on the phone. With many land-lines down and mobile phone reception at times patchy, I was for a while the only person who could relay messages between family in Canberra and relatives in Victoria. (My parents live north of the city on forty acres, just off the highway to Sydney, before you pass Lake George. They are in no immediate danger, but in the event of a northern fire front opening, I imagine my Dad will be going out with his volunteer bush fire brigade.) But telephone contact, and watching the dramatic coverage on BBC world, was as close to the action as I got. Though I heard about the crisis on Saturday, it was Sunday before the scale of what was going on set in for me. I now know that while nobody I know is hurt or injured there have been a few close calls, and one friend is among those who have lost their family homes.

Canberra is a small town: there are at best two degrees of separation between people. With 368 houses gone, everyone will know someone who has lost their home. There are perhaps two thousand people now without a housing. Fortunately, there has been very little loss of life, but emergency rooms are stretched. Twenty-five percent of the city was without electricity for up to two days. (There are fears loss of refrigeration could lead to an outbreak of food poisoning.) The city’s sewage treatment plant has suffered three fires and the emergency holding dam will overflow after tonight. In the worst affected suburbs apparently it sounds like a war zone: there are explosions as natural gas mains, even petrol stations, went up.

In some ways it is astonishing nothing like this has happened before: Canberra sits in grasslands, and most suburbs are surrounded by (and contain corridors of) native scrub, pine plantations or parkland. This provides a lot of fire “interface”, in the emergency services jargon. The night-time television footage was astonishing: strips of fire marching across the valley beneath a sky of orange and black smoke. Simply apocalyptic.

I know people who have been fighting spot-fires in their garden; another who has seen the houses behind his go up in smoke, his own back fence consumed in the flames. My best friend volunteered at her local emergency centre for registration duty, and would up registering her own aunt for relief.

There have been moments of human incompetence and greed: Saturday there were reports that when water restrictions were lifted so people could hose down their homes, a number of idiots began washing their cars; and a young man has been arrested for burglary of an evacuated home.

However, far more inspiring have been the acts of heroism by everyday people, and news of a community pulling together. There has been a the story of a man going to help fight fire at a friend’s place, only to hear his own suburb was in flames: on his return he found his house standing, while neighbours had been burnt out. When his neighbours realised they couldn’t save their own homes, they fell back to defend others’, including his. A man in Duffy, where the worst fire was, drove back through flames several times to ferry out seven stranded residents. I’ve also heard a friend’s sister put herself in real danger to help horses from a fire-threatened paddock.

On a lighter note, Canberra’s citizens have been asked to minimise water going into the drains to prevent sewage overflow into the river system. One friend has taken to showering with a variable hose-head on the front lawn in his underpants. He claims if high temperatures persist, he may have to make it a habit.

The community has also rallied around the emergency centres with food, clothing and mattresses, and in making food for the fire fighters. Despite this, civic infrastructure in terms of medical centres, a school, pathology labs, RSPCA buildings, parts of the CSIRO and the entire Mount Stromlo observatory are gone.

Still, what do we say to those who have lost homes? Survivors may philosophically declare that they were only possessions, and that the main thing is they still have each other. This is certainly true, but how to measure the loss of what those possessions represented, a connection with one’s past? People are combing through the wreckage, not so much to retrieve lost things, but merely to find mementos. Memories. The test of the community, and these families, is going to be in the rebuilding.

Friday, January 17, 2003

DateWatch: the cocktail hour of MADNESS!

Rash pacts get made at work Christmas parties. Sometimes well before the bar-tab runs out. Mine was to be part of a team, it’s mission to go out every night through January (it’s a slow month for us). Well, "Team January of Madness" never really made it off the starting blocks. Thus, I had to institute my own campaign to see how many nights I could be out this month. Given that I am a morning person and really not a Party Demon of Unflagging Fortitude, I am rapidly redefining the challenge to see what kind of a weeknights-I-go-out-on average figure I can produce. It’s about 3.5 at present, which isn’t bad considering how little I got out as a corporate lawyer in Sydney. It’s this weeknight effort that has got me into yet another rash pact, but more of that later.

Part of the batting average for this week has been a string of social drinks events. Wednesday I accompanied Beth of fridaysixpm to her first "Blogger meetup" (see some reports by nice people here, here and here). That went well, drinks were drunk, and without bizarre consequences or pacts. Not so last night, gentle reader.

Last night, with my book club group, I had a cocktail and scrabble night at Kelvin in Northcote: one terribly funky little bar that serves the smoothest of Toblerones. (But man, do creamy cocktails creep up on you – note to self, remember they are not milkshakes.) So anyway, I was there with three female friends (yes, all my friends really are women, and yes they all really are just friends): the two other existing members of the Book Club of Intestinal Fortitude, and our newest additional member. (The BCIF name has a history too tedious, and silly, to relate at present.)

So, we were playing obscene scrabble with double points for swear words and cocktail names. The word “obscene” was actually used (scoring much less than it deserved). The absolute top moment of the game, however, was when someone realised she had a four-letter noun available (hereafter, “the noun”), normally not repeatable in polite company (which unfortunately must include this genteel and well-mannered forum). Her problem was she had to wait for others to finish their turns before she could play it. Just as a member of the barstaff walked up, her turn came, and she cried excitedly: “I can still do [the noun]!”; to which the dry rejoiner from the new BCIF member was: “Are you sure? It’s been a while.” We like her.

Well, maybe you had to be there.

Though it does illustrate the point that, let’s be frank, none of us BCIF types were getting any, whether it be that particular noun, or others one might find desirable - if perhaps trickier to fit on a scrabble board. Adding insult to injury was the fact that the more we looked about us, on this quiet Thursday night at my local, the more we saw it was infested with people on dates.

Actually on dates. In a bar.

We were, of couse, shocked and outraged.

Okay, we were amused. And started a running commentary, which lead to the excitable scrabble player remarking “We are such bitches!” and the pointing at me to add “And I include you!”. (Always nice to be accepted by the sisterhood, doncha know.)

Kelvin isn’t a bad place for a weeknight date, really. Casual, not crowded, subdued lighting, good atmosphere, killer $10 cocktails. And people were making the most of the potential. There was couple no. 1, who had fallen for the classic awkward first date mistake of accidentally sitting side by side on a couch: eye contact tricky, awkward body-space issues injected instantly into proceedings, no-one can reposition to a chair without sending totally the WRONG signals. It took them the whole four hours we were there to get to the point of their shoulders more or less touching.

Far better were couple no. 2, who had armchairs at 90 degrees to each other and a square table between. Lots of opportunities to casually lean into each other’s space, for crossed legs to get close, etc. Much better dynamic.

Couple no. 3 were denim and blue singlet guys at the bar: good man-to-man technique, able to lean forward with one arm onto their knee simultaneously creating a very intimate personal space.

Couple no. 4 included a woman we dubbed “the grad student bored of her thesis”, it had to do with her hair and glasses. Cruel, but true. The direction her evening was going to be taking was revealed by the overheard comment: “*giggle* How big a party is it going to be?” Yup, his party. That’s what she’s interested in. Uh huh.

After the hideous voyeuristic fun we had, I thought there’d be an hysterically funny “DateWatch” website with a scoring system, technique analysis, roving reporters and witty body-language commentary. There’s not. Just plain dumb bunk like this and even more embarrassing, this. Not even a formula predicting the outcome of the night by relating drinks consumed (“D”), hours at bar (“T”), contraction of physical space between daters (“S1 – S2”) and intensity of body language (“BL”, rated out of 10). I suppose it might look something like – chance of a “snog or better” result-event is: BL x (S1-S2) / (10 – D) + T. Or whatever, it’s been a while since I did algebra. I do know some Sydney lads with an amusing site “droughtwatch” with an elaborate point-scoring system to rank their “dating” achievements (maximum score of 100 points may be scored with each new dating partner, a snog ranks as about 50 – you do the rest of the maths). I think it was really meant as an incentive system, but due to certain recent successes across the board, it appears that several droughts have broken and the site is down.

So, after all this came our stupid cocktail induced, post Tarot-card reading Pact of Doom (BTW, all our romantic futures are a disaster). We, the Book Club of Intestinal Fortitude, would regroup in Kelvin on a Thursday night two months hence, and bring a date of our own.

I think our working definition of a date is: you care what you’re wearing, you get nervous if they’re late, and there’s a prospect (in your mind) of a snog, no matter how naive a hope this may later seem. (Yes, I concede this means you can have a “one-sided” date where the other party has no idea what’s going on.) So, ruled out as cheating are: asking a friend, or we four pairing up into “designated dates” for the evening.

The challenge is on, and the only question is whether the BCIF (or maybe that should be League of Extreme Dating Sports) is up to it.

We are so doomed to humiliation …

Comments? Invective? Post it here .

Thursday, January 16, 2003

The gift of TV: how to be a bloke, or perhaps not …

I’ve had a number of chats with friends about whether there are TV characters they empathise with, and many say that while they enjoy certain programs, they don’t see themselves in them. Perhaps as the result of an over-active imagination (I suffer from a condition I call “acute vicarious shame” where I feel the humiliation that people or characters on TV are too stupid to feel for themselves), I think from childhood through high-school and into early uni there were certain characters I always empathised with, possibly even modelled myself on. I certainly felt a “represented type”: the skinny funny guy on the sideline, who everyone likes well enough but doesn’t get the girl (cue the “ahhh” track of self-pity: I am fully aware that in high-school/early uni everyone sees themselves as not getting the guy/girl, even if they have one. I’m talking about perception here, not reality.) Anyhoo, here’s some thoughts on what certain fine figures of fiction taught me. (And strangely, not a one of them is a TV lawyer ...)

1. Giles (Antony Stewart-Head) in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. I was a part-time librarian at uni, and I had a tweed jacket I was inordinately fond of wearing to work, often with cord trousers. Sad, but true. This man allowed me to pretend it might pass as “sexy, in a stuffy kind of way”. Or at least show some kind of style. Seriously, though, some people are obsessed with him. Must be the accent. Mr Stewart-Head seems a really nice person in interviews as well. I could also list Xander from “Buffy” too, I suppose. I loved him in the early series, before he became whiney, useless and marginalised. He was geeky, witty and his best friends were all girls. Tick, tick and tick. He lost major points for actually kissing his best friend though. (Even if you do think you’re about to die and suddenly decide to “go there”, it clearly (a) will never work and (b) you are so obviously going to be rescued by your respective dates at the last possible moment. Besides, I hate plots that succumb to the “When Harry Met Sally” view of male/female friendship.)

2. Kenny (Lee Ross) in the immortal BBC cult series “Press Gang”. Kenny was my great idol of high school. Here was a nice guy’s nice guy:

"Nice? Me, nice? Listen, you're talking to a world champion nice here. I'm so nice I get socks for Christmas and like it. I could nice for Britain. I'm so sweet and loveable that cuddly toys just sneer at me."

His best friend was also a girl, and he managed never to kiss her. He never quite got the girl, but achieved a certain amount of recognition through public performance – I could empathise with that, although not the bit about musical talent. He was also a patient, tireless, second-in-command behind-the-scenes type, which I think has an under-rated nobility. And, like Xander after him, he had a keen sense of humour about himself.

3. Nice guys with a cynical sense of humour, who are hopeless with women? Well, at uni I also felt I had a certain amount in common with, of all, people Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) in “Friends” (come on! The first season wasn’t that bad! Was it?) “The world is my lesbian wedding.” Indeed, Chandler, indeed.

4. Tom Baker as “Doctor Who”. Tom was responsible, single handed, for imprinting a vision of fashion on my five-year old brain it took twenty years to escape. The Giles-tweedy look was really the toned-down version of what I felt was an appropriate way to dress. To those who remember - or have photos of - my university phase of wearing pressed shirts, long scarves, many-pocketed jackets with eccentric lapel pins and a dizzying array of waistcoats – I can only say, “I’m sorry, and I know where you live”. (I once went to a “children’s characters of the seventies” theme-party dressed, very convincingly, as Baker’s Doctor, and was recognised by not one person. The other guests were all born at the wrong end of the seventies, apparently.)

On the upside Baker’s “Doctor” was an impeccable gentleman – how many other men could swan around the universe for years with a pre-Xena leather-clad female warrior without his eye level slipping below Leela’s chin height even once?

And he had a robot dog, robot dogs are cool.

5. Diver Dan (David Wenham) in “Seachange”. Yup, I’m never going to be him, but he did make so-laid-back-you’re-falling-over a male attribute worth aspiring to. One of the first seriously outdoorsy male characters I got.

6. Finally, GIR from “Invader Zim”, just while we’re speaking of robot dogs. If you have Foxtel and have never seen this Nickelodeon cartoon, you are living a life half-lived. GIR is the hapless alien invader’s loyal robot slave who disguises himself in a singularly unconvincing dog suit (it’s green and you can see the zipper).

Well, GIR would be a loyal robot slave if he weren’t a terminally bewildered, childish thing that acts like he’s on a permanent, nasty sugar bender. His “Hooray! We’re Doomed!” joy in life every morning at seven a.m. was the only thing that got me through the dark days of corporate law. If you’ve never heard “the Doom song” – you need to, right now.

Invader Zim Quiz v2.0 @ Space Monkey Mafia

Comments? Put 'em here till I get a proper comment system ...

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

The perils of a one-superpower world: what does “fair trade” mean to me?

Just reading Salman Rushdie’s “Fury” at the moment (a brilliant, funny take on the significance of America, and particularly the synecdoche of New York, to the rest of the word) and I hit this sentence, that struck a real chord:

"Even anti-Americanism was Americanism in disguise, conceding, as it did, that America was the only game in town …"

Not only is America the only superpower, it is the architect of the only remaining international ideology - Von Hayek/Chicago School/economically dry “free trade”.

I’ve been having “it’s the only game in town” thoughts recently about development/trade law and the WTO system, particularly given the excellent SBS documentary series, “Commanding Heights” on the development of the international economic order. My only beef with the series is, despite interviewing dialled-in WTO protesters and Naomi Klein and talking about Russian “crony capitalism”, it tends to be a Whig history: the present state of affairs comes across as inevitable in the onward march of progress. (And before the rest of this Blog has me labelled a reactionary Tory, I’m just a change the system - not smash it - kinda guy thinking out loud.)

Anyway, I think the series has reinforced a couple of key points for me. First off, it is important that we criticise national and international institutions and try and hold them to their promise; but by protesting the power of the WTO we acknowledge that it is, indeed, the only game in town. The answer, whatever it may be, is not dismantling it. Second, free-market capitalism has won the war of ideas. Communism, and for the moment, post-War British Keynesian socialism have been exiled to what Rushdie in “Fury” calls “the Elba of ideas”. The reason the free market has won is the same reason Thatcher got re-elected the first time: popularity with workers.

In the prologue to his incredible “From Hell” (made into the apparently sucky Johnny Depp film), Alan Moore gives Inspector Abbeline this dialogue:

“I mean MOST socialists are middle class … Now meself, I come from a working family. We vote Tory, always have done. The Working class don’t WANT a revolution, Mr Lees; they just want more money.”

This is essentially the theme of Peru’s newest pop-icon, and author of Peru’s biggest selling book of all time. It’s called "The Mystery of Capital", by economist Hernando De Soto. (Seriously, this guy goes to remote townships and is greeted like the second coming of John Lennon.) His essential argument is that humans, as individuals, are inherently capitalist. Put simply, the poorest people in the world want to get richer, and want to run their own businesses to do it. In his view the biggest obstacle to development in poor countries is not multinationals, but the lack of an efficient Anglo-European property-law system. In most parts of the world people cannot prove their ownership of land, they have no paper title, and therefore cannot borrow against the value of their land to get business capital. Staggeringly simple thought, really. In the same vein, the fiercest arguments for real free trade come from poorer nations: it’s artificial barriers like the US quota system for textile imports that holds some economies back.

Third, why have our politicians given up talking anything other than free market economics? Because, largely it seems to work. Collapsing Russia ended food shortages overnight by declaring a free market. The US was Keynesian into the 1970s, but heavy government regulation brought the unthinkable: shrinking employment and rising inflation. Also, “free trade” is a simple, sellable idea. It has a seductive intellectual cohesiveness. People understand the basics of user-pays, earning your own money, running your own business. By contrast, “fair trade” at the moment is mostly rhetoric, and can be painted as first-world unions protecting their own in the guise of supporting workers’ rights abroad. I don't get what it is meant to mean, and no-one is explaining it to me.

Okay, time for my middle-class socialist scepticism. The triumph of “dry” economics is as historically contingent as the triumph of Keynesian or communist planned economies. There may be no going back to a post-war British socialist golden age, but this new order too may be dust in fifty years. “Shock therapy” economics did not save Argentina, and the jury is out on Russia. Against villages in China that have their first paved roads, electricity and local schools, weigh spiralling gangsterism – a market that is more like 1930s Chicago than Wall Street, the new Wild West of capitalism. Also, unless I missed it, “Commanding Heights” did not address poverty traps. The best example has to be remote aboriginal Australia or Nauru: give people just enough money to abandon traditional lifestyles and buy canned foods, but without real economic opportunity, and you get massive public health problems in the form of diabetes, excessive weight, etc. The developing world doesn’t need to be lifted up just enough to get stuck as “separate but equal” client states.

Ultimately, trade has to be the answer. You won’t get less poor without money, and you won’t get money without trade. At the moment, it is the only game in town. I want it to be fairer in outcomes, but I need someone to explain how that might work.

Suggested reading, anyone?

Links (paste these into your browser, yes I am incompetent):

“Commanding Heights”:

Page 2 of the prologue to “From Hell”:

Thoughts on development in China from someone who apparently knows:

Doug as a dictator:

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Cruel entertainments: reality TV

I went away camping with work colleagues on the weekend. A perfect excursion to Wilson's prom, hiking in to the
gorgeous Sealers Cove on Friday morning, a 10 km walk from the Mount Oberon lookout car park, carrying heavy-ish packs.

Mortification of the body is sometimes fun, as any monk with a hairshirt will tell you.

In any event, in a post-camping pub conversation, someone mentioned the concept of "survivor weekends" to me: a topic obviously inspired by the setting for our recent outdoor adventures. Apparently the idea is a group of friends stay together for a weekend, formed teams and competed in challenges for “immunity” before voting someone off after each round.

Someone said it sounded like fun, but you’d have to be careful only to invite those who could take it in the right spirit. To which I said: “Yup, it’d be great to say to someone – sorry, but you’ve failed our psychological profile for a survivor weekend. We’re not sure you can cope with rejection, so, for your own good, we think it’s best to exclude you.” OK, I’m certain it can be done in “the right spirit” - and it was very clear to me that the friend who raised the subject had participated in a weekend where everyone had kept sensible and taken it in good fun.

But I’m not sure I like, to use political jargon, the message it sends - and it's really not hard to image (or maybe "cast") such a weekend that would be a total disaster. I mean, it’s not enough that children are now imitating this kind of behaviour in the playground (because packs of pre-adolescents really need new, more subtle forms of psychological bullying) by voting kids out of their group or declaring them “the weakest link”, but responsible adults are now using this as a way to have “fun”. Yowza. It's not for me.

Of course, maybe this all just my insecurity talking. Had our camping expedition been a survivor weekend, as a clear non-camper I doubt I would have lasted long. (I turned up to the pre-camping packing fest with a pack that was, on reflection, clearly too small for several nights camping, thus probably getting away with an unfairly light load.)

Reflections on my lack of alpha-male potential aside, Reality TV it seems to me is fuelled by the promise of celebrity, but its “spice” of ostracism can carry off-screen. Zadie Smith, in talking about why she shuns “fame”, referred to seeing a British Big Brother contestant in tears on a London Street, being openly mocked by passers by. Ugly.

I can’t see that reality TV is anything but a blight on our social mores, and in an Australia where, according to some poll in The Age, only 57% of us still feel it’s the government’s job to look after the needy, I don’t think we need inducements to further callousness. At times, we’re all the weakest link, and if we can’t be compassionate enough to make allowances for that, we should at least be self-motivated enough to realise it.

Monday, January 13, 2003

Lara Croft and the Legal Fraternity

Some context: my flatmate was just back from London, I was just back from camping, we wanted two things – beer and a lowbrow action film. “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” was premiering on Foxtel. Ah, sweet cable TV, the salvation of many a ladsy bonding moment.

Straight off the bat – I liked “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”, it was one of the most delightfully silly action films I’ve seen in a while. A special effects bonanza, ripe with ridiculous fight scenes, and full of ancient cultures that had nothing better to do than come up with vastly elaborate death traps for their temples (‘cause no-one would ever want to, like, worship peacefully in them, right?). However, watching it with my professional academic flatmate, it was a little hard to switch my critical faculties off completely. The Freudian imagery was so overwhelming it had to be deliberate.

We kick off with an opening fight scene with a robot; which more or less ends with the robot beastie straddling Angelina Jolie, pinning her to the floor and forcing its smaller rotary cutting blades towards her neck/mouth. The campy sexual aggression is ridiculously self-aware. Later we have Angelina/Lara riding a swinging battering ram that ends in a needle-sharp point, in an effort to have this mighty pole penetrate a “gourd” that explodes with a weird magical liquid that brings life to a whole bunch of ugly statutes. Mary Shelley eat your heart out, here we have a fear of giving birth to monsters in all its glory. And the guns, the guns … Then Angelina and her male, rival Tomb Raider are both highly sexualised in completely unnecessary shower scenes (though really, other than in "Psycho", is there any other kind?). Both scenes end, of course, in them being naked in front of someone else. In Angelina’s case, Chris Barrie of Red Dwarf fame in a minor star turn as her compulsory, punctilious and sartorially gorgeous butler; in the case of Daniel Craig, as the rival Tomb Raider Alex Marrs, the voyuer was Jolie, an encounter leaving him, apparently, in need of a cold shower.

What else was cool about the film? Well other than being a good female-lead action flick with a great use of music to complement fight choreography (as in "Charlie’s Angels") I did like some of the small stuff. I liked Lara’s all-male cheer squad: the guys the fourteen-year-old boys were meant to empathise with. Less so Chris Barrie as Hillary the Butler (yes, that's what the credits say), but certainly Noah Taylor as Bryce the electronics/robotics genius who spends a lot of time watching Lara on screen and giving her tips on what to do (hmm …. subtle imagery fellas, especially when he can’t boot up his combat robot to ward off the bad guys and gets a “game over” message.)

And I love lawyer-stuff in movies. The improbably-named Julian Rhind-Tutt had a role best described as, well, superfluous playing “Mr. Pimms”, assistant to the arch-villain (his best line is: “Pimms, like the beverage” – oh, the charming faux-Englishness of it). The arch-villain Manfred Powell, played by Iain Glenn, turns out to be a kung-fu fightin’, orientalist, archeologist, antiquarian clock expert Queens Counsel and fully fledged member (2IC in fact) of the Illuminati of Venice. A pretty full CV for a practising barrister, really. Naturally, Powell wants to find an object that will give him the power to alter time.

And to swagger a lot.

And dismiss trifling details in a manner meant to intimate monumental hubris.

Anyway, Pimms is his “law clerk”. Now there’s an ad I’d like to answer: “prominent British barrister seeks law clerk/assistant/para-legal for a Dr. Watson/Passportu role; must be amenable to working for the forces of darkness, expect extensive jungle travel. A working knowledge of firearms and archaeology an advantage. Some occasional commercial litigation involved.” Pimms rather quietly sums up his role as: “A recent appointment, but the job’s going rather well so far.” Perhaps rather less so by the end of the film, but better to be an unemployed minion than a dead one. Though come to think of it, the idea of a world-travelling QC with weird hobbies and a lust for the power of god is eerily convincing.

Oh, and Jolie’s accent wasn’t too bad at all: not a single “crikey” or “guv’nur” passed Lady Croft’s perpetually bee-stung, ogee lips.