Thursday, September 30, 2010


The Pew Research Center is an American polling organisation that exists to make me feel smug and superior. Why there's an entire institute devoted to facilitating what comes naturally to me after watching three minutes of commercial TV news is unknown. But I appreciate the effort.

Their latest achievement is the Religious Knowledge Survey, a poll of 15 questions based on the history and tenets of the US's dominant religions. You can try it for yourself here.

According to the survey I am more religiously informed than 99% of Americans, and thus a shoo-in for sainthood and/or holy superpowers. Although admittedly that rather depends on your esteem for the religious education of Americans.

Some interesting, if not actively startling results from the survey:

- 6% of Jews don't know when their Sabbath begins.

- 41% of white Catholics and 53% of Hispanic Catholics don't know what their church's doctrine of transubstantiation is.

- 33% of evangelical Protestants don't know The 10 Commandments well enough to pick a fake one.

Several blogs I read have been making much of the fact that atheists seem to know as much, if not more, about religions than the people who purportedly believe in them. It's a little unfair, though: there are no questions about the beliefs of atheists for the atheists to get wrong and, as a result, look foolish. I'd have a little more respect for it if the quiz had included questions on the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Darwin fish.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Friday, September 24, 2010


I've been interested to find out what sort of fuel economy the new scooter is achieving. Four stroke motors are supposed to be slightly more efficient than two strokes, and they don't burn oil with every stroke of the piston. I imagined that the savings would just about pay for the premium fuel the new scooter needs.

It turns out that “slightly more efficient” is grossly misleading. My old scooter used about 4 litres per hundred kilometres. According to the figures I've gleaned from filling up the tank this evening, the new scooter uses less than 2.4 litres per hundred kilometres!

At current petrol prices that's just over $1 to ride to work and back. By contrast the old scooter would have been $1.80. The car would be about $3.60. And The Flatmate's new Landrover Discovery 3 would be around $7. Sucker.

Now I just have to figure out what I'm going to do with the extra $200 or so a year that the new scooter will save me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I recently noticed this in the online classifieds:

I like to think that it's a couch designed to be offered for seating, then whisked away at the last second with a loud "A-HA!".

Monday, September 20, 2010


There are times when it's best to stay at home, indoors, warm and safe from the elements, preferably with some sort of exploitation movie from the 70s.

However Sunday afternoon was not one of those times. It was its antithesis: the sort of day that drags a person out of the house like a sunny, pleasantly tempered gorilla. It was a day that so perfectly typified the glory of spring that I suspect it may have received a payoff from the Tourism Commission.

I rode my scooter down to Coffea Cafe in Applecross, and sat under the jacaranda trees and Tiffany box blue skies, with the sounds of the city drifting faintly in the background and the spring sun making a welcome return from its winter hiatus, and had a pot of lemongrass and ginger tea and listened to some friends playing jazz.

It was very good. They’ve only been playing together for two months, but they sound as if they've been paired up all their lives. They play sophisticated versions of jazz favourites, in a smooth way that makes a cup of tea feel like a cocktail. Their repertoire covers classics ranging from the songbooks of Irving Berlin and Cole Porter to the work of Van Morrison and Norah Jones, but I suspect that even if I requested a number by Throbbing Gristle they could make it sound urbane.

Both musicians are prodigiously talented. The bass player trained at the Conservatorium, and has been performing in and around the local music scene for twenty years. As for the pianist, I don't know where his talent comes from, but I've narrowed it down to either the sale of his soul to the Devil, or a genetic mutation caused by a bite from a radioactive Nina Simone. Not that it really matters, although I hope it's not the first one: I'd hate to see him consigned to Hell for all eternity just so that I can hear an exquisite version of 'Almost Like Being In Love'.

Eventually autumn and winter will return, bringing their chill and damp and making it impossible to sit outdoors listening to jazz. However that's a good six months away, leaving plenty more Sundays to go down to the cafe for tea, music and sunshine.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


While my abilities in procrastination are considerable, occasionally they fail me and I actually do something. Last week I bought some reconstituted limestone blocks, and this weekend in a flash of proactivity I built the retaining wall I've been thinking about for several months.

Next thing you know I'll be painting the house or putting in french doors. Or, as you can see from the pictures, attempting some weeding.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


The history of film is a funny old story, as one can tell from a viewing of the odd 1932 drama ‘The Mistress of Atlantis’.

It’s interesting to watch movies from the early days, when actors, directors and scriptwriters were still coming to terms with the mechanics of filmed entertainment. They were learning, slowly, that making a movie didn’t just involve filming a play. Concepts like the close-up, the panning shot or even editing were still new.

The Americans released the first talking movie in 1927, and from there began their ascent into global cinematic domination. Unfortunately in 1932 the fuzzy tennis ball of world cinema was still in the court of the Germans, and while German films tend to be visually arresting and filled with symbolism, they have a tendency to drop the ball, fuzzy or otherwise, in terms of plot, dialogue and character development.

‘The Mistress of Atlantis’ is no exception. It recounts the tale of two Frenchmen who embark on an expedition to discover Atlantis, working off a theory that it was not located underwater but rather in the middle of the Sahara. Like you do. As they get closer to where they think it is, they are captured by what turns out to be Atlantean soldiers.

In Atlantis itself, they discover certain incongruities. Despite being lost for millennia the Atlanteans have gramophones that play chipper Can Can music, and the royal salon is filled with 19th century furniture, a decent wine cellar and a tittering European butler. It turns out that the Mistress of Atlantis is actually a chorus girl who captured the heart of the late Atlantean king on one of his furtive trips to Europe years earlier, and who now rules in his place, albeit with so much ennui it could suffocate a camel at twenty paces.

One of the men falls in love with the icy queen, and a servant girl falls in love with him, and the queen falls in love with the other man... and basically there's this whole bizarre love quadrangle going on. Spurned by the man she wants, the queen orders the other one to kill him, even though he is his best friend. This being nihilistic German cinema he does so, only to instantly regret it. He escapes the clutches of the queen with the servant girl, and together they ride off into the desert... only to discover that they don't have enough water. She dies, and he nearly dies, only to be rescued at the last moment. Years later, after recounting his story to another legionnaire, he heads back out into the desert to find Atlantis again, only to be swallowed up by a sandstorm and, presumably, killed. As such, ‘The Mistress of Atlantis’ presages the 70s fad for killing off most of the cast in the final reel by nearly half a century.

With that in mind it occurred to me that if 'Mistress of Atlantis' had been made 20 years later, in 1952, it would have been a far different creature. Instead of droopy French legionnaires moping about the place, we'd have lantern-jawed American heroes who manfully punch their way out of any difficult situation. Instead of an aloof and almost expressionless ice maiden, the Mistress of Atlantis would be stalking femme fatale given to camp announcements like "Guards, seize them!" and "You dare defy me?" Instead of the gratingly "comic" butler, we'd have... well, actually, he'd still be there, but perhaps with a little more physical comedy thrown into the mix. Basically it would have been a lot less dour German Expressionism and a lot more bright American Actionism.

And of course if 'The Mistress of Atlantis' had been made 20 years later again, in 1972, it would have featured even more ass kicking, more incidental nudity and quite possibly Ursula Andress in a seashell bikini. And that could only be a good thing.

Friday, September 17, 2010


There's a certain trope in cinema that tells a cautionary tale of what befalls nice, middle-class white people who venture beyond their urban habitat into the wild natural environment. If done well (ie with violence and boobies) this ends up as something like 'Slave of the Cannibal God'. If done badly (ie with resolutely clothed idiots stomping uneventfully around the jungle) it ends up as 1972's 'Piranha'.

Our film opens in Caracas, as Arthur, a diamond-seeking tourist, and his sister Terry, a photographer, arrive to go on a tour of the Venezulan wilderness. Their guide is an expatriate named Jim. They set off on their motorbikes, and eventually meet Caribe, an American hunter who has gone native. He offers to show them the depths of the jungle, and when they accept things start to turn ugly.

So far, so standard. Unfortunately the basic trope requires the protagonists to be nice, middle-class white people, and this doesn't describe Arthur, Terry and Jim. They're white and middle-class, but they're not nice at all. They're loud, bossy, entitled douchebags, and almost as soon as they are introduced the audience is looking forward to the time when they become piranha chow. And this is a problem. Frankly, you can't have heroes and heroines whom everybody wants to see dead within five minutes of meeting them.

The boys are both noisy bores, but Terry is a singularly repulsive creation. Dressed in ugly flared denim pantsuits of varying hues, she strides into each scene making imperious demands about what others are or aren't allowed to do, then collapses into a screaming helpless heap when the logical consequences of her demands unfold. Like many hippies, she has plenty of ideas about how things should be done but refuses to take any responsibility when those ideas fail.

The irony is that there's no sense that the audience is supposed to hate these people. We're supposed to be going, "Oh, no, will Terry survive?" as opposed to chanting, "Piranha! Piranha! Piranha!" every time she opens her big over-privileged yap-hole.

But having appalling protagonists is not the greatest of 'Piranha''s sins. Its greatest flaw is its misleading title.

When you call a movie 'Piranha', you make certain conceptual claims. The primary one being that the movie will contain piranhas, and not some ham-fisted point about Man being the most dangerous "piranha" of all. In fact unless you're fluent in Spanish and realise that 'Caribe' is Spanish for 'piranha', you probably won't even realise why the movie was named after a carnivorous fish at all.

Beyond all that, it isn't even a cogent metaphor. A single piranha will give you a nasty bite, true, but its mouth is tiny. The only way to get killed by a piranha is to the lie in shallow water for several hours being very careful not to move. Even Hollywood piranhas (far more rapacious beasts than their real-life brethren) are like zombies: the threat comes from overwhelming numbers, not from the prowess of an individual. So naming your bad guy "Piranha" is basically saying that he's a small, ineffectual creature who could only be a threat if you cloned him a few thousand times.

Still, he manages to kill almost all of the main cast, so in the end it's hard not to like him.

Monday, September 13, 2010


I was running a little low on material for my on-going Festival of Bad Cinema, so I went to my dealer. Sweet lady Amazon knew how to ease the pain.

70 movies, including 'Omoo-Omoo The Shark God', 'Atomic Rulers of the World', 'Menace From Outer Space' and the cult all-midget Western 'The Terror of Tiny Town'. All for $34.44, including postage. Woot!

Normal men just use the internet for looking at porn. The fools!

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Do digital cameras frighten and confuse you? Do you hate having to look at your pictures on that tiny little screen? Do you resent the fact that you have to be a “computer whiz” just to take a damn photo?

Then have we got the gadget for you!

Do you also hate being a baffled old crank? Sorry, that we can't help you with.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Over the weekend I bought myself a new mobile phone... and almost instantly regretted it.

Modern mobile telephony is an all-or-nothing kind of thing. Either you become a communication junkie, who would wither and die if forced to go without Facebook and Twitter for ten minutes, or you get left out in the cold. You can sign up for $29 cap plan that gives you $8,000 worth of talk time, $14,000 worth of texts and unlimited free Lady Gaga ringtone downloads. Or you can go away and die. If you just want to make a couple of calls and send a couple of texts each day, you are beneath contempt.

I fall into the "beneath contempt" catagory - my needs are few. Even on my chosen plan, which charges 28c per text and a kidney for each call, I still only pay around $5 a month. It's extortionate but it's cheaper than signing up for a $29 monthly plan that'll give me thousands of calls and texts that I won't use. So when my old phone started to fail, I decided to stick with my plan and just get a new handset. After perusing the very limited range of options, I decided to give a Blackberry-style Nokia a go. Naively, I thought it'd be neat to use a keyboard rather than picking my way around a numeric pad when sending texts. I paid for it, took it home, and plugged my SIM card into it. Then the trouble began.

As it turns out, the phone was designed for business people who a) need to be online constantly and b) don't pay for it themselves. Every function, from changing the wallpaper to trying to add a new contact, required it to lunge for Vodaphone's overpriced internet portal like Lindsay Lohan diving on an unguarded pile of cocaine. Even when I'd told it to use my home wireless network, it tried to use Vodaphone's instead.

And it would not be stopped. Vodaphone had fixed it so that the ports couldn't be closed. It was intended to be an online computing and communication device, and no mere preference of the customer was going to get in its way.

It only took me a few hours to realise that if I kept this phone, it'd be like having a lively toddler with me 24 hours a day - I'd have to be watching it constantly. The second I let my guard down it'd decide to download a software patch, or get my email, or look up wikipedia, or do one of a hundred other things that would go through my credit the way Tiger Woods goes through cocktail waitresses. It had to go.

So I heaved a sigh and phoned the department store, but they couldn't decide whether or not they could take it back, so they asked me to come in. I went in before work the next day, and they vacillated some more, because once a phone has data on it it's compromised as a product. So I carefully deleted the couple of messages, calendar entries, photos, notes and other input I'd made. Then they decided to be nice and refunded my money, and bundled the phone back up in its packaging to resell it.

Naturally on my way into work, I suddenly remembered that I'd added one name to my contacts list... and left the password to my home wireless network on it.... and written something on the word processor which included my full name. Gaaah! The woman at the department store had taken pity on me, given me the benefit of the doubt and refunded my money, and now I'd gone and betrayed her. Major guilt trip.

So now I have no phone and a dark cloud of shame hanging over me. Maybe I should just get two cans with a string between them.

Friday, September 03, 2010


Earlier tonight I delivered my old scooter to its new owner, a young student who wants a cheap ride for pottering about her suburb. She’d never ridden a scooter before, but she fell in love with its retro lines the moment she saw it. She didn’t even haggle over the price.

Her inexperience was so pronounced that it worried me, and I compensated by giving her ever more detailed advice. “You need to check the oil level every few weeks. Keep in the centre of the lane otherwise car drivers will think they can push past you. You need to wear a jacket and protective gloves at all times. And don’t talk to any strange boys while you’re out!”

I’m still at a slight loss to know why she chose mine. It was the cheapest functional one for sale, but only just, and it has quadruple the mileage of most other scooters on Why would anyone pick my scooter over all of the alternatives?

The answer becomes more apparent if you take a closer look at the other Vmoto Milans for sale at the same time as mine:

Example 1: Yellow 2005, 5300kms, $1,500

V MOTO MILAN Jx50 Retro-styled yellow automatic SCOOTER regularly serviced, great condition **Helmet box & Nolan helemt (size med) included** reg March 2011, $1500ono

It's overpriced and the seller misspelled “helmet”, but other than that it’s not so bad. Except for the fact that elsewhere in the ad he claims that it’s a Honda.

Example 2: Silver 2005, 4035kms, $1,050

V moto milan for sale1050 ono
year 2005 rego untill 27/07/2011 millage 4035.
very saving on feul fill in full tank only 5 dollars can make 200km.
it very good to travel around city.
very easy parking almost free every where.
it come with v moto helmet.
if you interrested can contract me on
0422------ (Matt)
location in highgate wa.

It’s nice when a seller tells you that you can contract him. You know, like syphilis.

The Milan is indeed very saving on both feul and fuel… but nowhere near 200kms for $5. Even at the cheapest petrol station in Perth, $5 would equate to around 4 litres, which would get you about 100kms. His claim is double the actual mileage. Or, indeed, the actual millage.

Example 3: Black and aqua 2006, “187907”, $600

Hi, I'm selling a vmoto milian 2stroke scooter in avarage condition no major damage has a few crack in plastic but easly fixable also has a mirror that came off but can be put on very easy. I have brought brant new lights an indercaters for it and the regostration has been payed and is vaild till September next year I put the wrong fuel in the scooter so you need to drain the fuel from it and put in unleaded really easy job can do bye hand. The scooter runs very very well it can reach 70kph and 65kph on a flat road. if you wish to buy please email me - or txt/call me on 0406------

Sweet merciful crap. This ad contains 119 Words, 12 of which, or approximately 10%, are spelled incorrectly. There’s also 1 missing hyphen, 8 missing words, 3 missing full stops and 3 missing capitals. And we’d better not judge his grammar… he might think we’re insulting an elderly relative.

Beyond the technicalities, this ad poses any number of bafflements. In the fact box he claims that the odometer reads “187907”, but does the odometer even go that high? If the multitudinous repairs are so easy to do, why hasn’t he done them? How can a scooter with cracked bodywork, a missing mirror and a tank full of the wrong fuel be described as being in average condition? Is a scooter capable of reaching “70kph and 65kph” actually doing 135kph? And if a tree falls in a forest and hits this guy in the head, will it make a blind bit of difference?

Example 4: Red 2005, 66kms, $2,000+

red and cream coloured scooter for sale, made in 2005 only ever done 66ks. Hi my name is Shantell and I have a great condition scooter up forsale it works great and is a gem to handle i bought it for 5000 and unfortuantly have to sell it, but the great part about it is. Im selling it loads cheaper, $2500, or 2000 cash upfront, can deliver if needed, it is not licensed as i have not been able to ride it for a while due to illness. if you are interested please contact me on (08)9351---- (08)9351---- or email me on

The Flatmate and I have seriously discussed whether Shantell is mentally disturbed or just a compulsive liar.

This is actually the second version of Shantell’s advertisement - in the first she claimed that she had imported the scooter from Italy. Given that Vmoto is an Australian company, and their scooters are manufactured in China, I’d wager that the closest this machine has ever been to an Italian is when a pizza delivery guy drove past the showroom.

She did not buy this scooter for $5000, because they can be purchased brand new for less than half that price. It’s unlikely to have only done 66kms in five years, since it’d be almost that far to drive it from the dealership to her house. It’s also unlikely to be in great condition if it’s been sitting around with an expired registration. And judging from the photo the floormat is missing.

I understand that some people do not speak English well, or are dyslexic. I understand that some people don’t have any respect for the art of language. I even understand that some people are dumber than a sack of doorknobs. What I don’t understand is the listlessness with which these people are attempting to sell their scooters. Is it really that hard to find out the name of the manufacturer, the fuel economy or the odometer reading?

Of course the really terrifying thing is that all of these people are endorsed by law to get behind the wheels of cars and drive on public roads. Albeit backwards, in a cloud of oily smoke, with one wheel missing.


This article caught my eye while I was logging out of my hotmail:

Man admits seeking girls for sex on net

A man sought girls? For sex? On the internet? Well colour me shocked!

Not mentioned were some equally groundbreaking scoops:

Man admits going to nightclub to pull chicks rather than to dance

Man admits pretending to enjoy latest romantic comedy on date in order to get laid

Man admits watching beach volleyball for reasons other than a love of the sport


By 1977 blaxploitation was on the wane. The classics of the genre – Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), Shaft (1972) and Foxy Brown (1974) – were all in the past. However nobody seems to have mentioned this to the producers of ‘The Guy From Harlem’.

Al Connor is a private eye who left New York for the tropical life in Miami. But trouble seems to follow him around, especially when an old friend asks him to act as bodyguard for the beautiful wife of an African head of state.

Personally I like to live by my family’s ancient motto, “Never do anything suggested by a man in a lilac suit”, but since Al doesn’t have my proud lineage he takes the job.

He soon gets to meet Mrs Ashanti. Never mind that, judging by the accent, Mrs Ashanti is about as African as Conan O’Brien. She has everything that a female blaxploitation character needs – huge hair and an ability to take her clothes off.

Oh no! It’s almost as if the director didn’t realize that the mirror was ruining the whole point of the actress disrobing with her back to the camera!

Ahem. Despite the fact that she’s married, Mrs Ashanti soon succumbs to Al’s smooth lines. A little while later they leave her hotel room and head back to his place.

Mrs Ashanti admires Al’s Gay Pride bedspread and wallpaper stolen from a 10 year old girl’s bedroom, then she changes into a white burqua and prepares for the greatest 48 seconds of her life.

Ah the 70s: when a man could wear enormous blue satin Y-fronts and still get laid.

Afterwards, in the manner of all good one night stands, Mrs Ashanti VANISHES FROM THE MOVIE ENTIRELY. Apparently there is a deeper plot afoot than the threat to an African chieftan’s wife. The next day Al’s office is invaded by some loud, angry men in loud, angry suits.

This screengrab presented without comment. Other than SWEET MERCIFUL CRAP!

One of the men, Harry de Bauld, has learned that his daughter Wanda has been kidnapped by a local crime lord named Big Daddy. This seems to have occurred because Harry has been trying to muscle in on Big Daddy’s cocaine trafficking game. Rather than viewing this as an opportunity to give up drug trafficking, Harry hires Al to make the drop with the ransom, or, if possible, to rescue Wanda.

Al takes the job, mostly because Wanda is hot. After leaning on some sources, he follows one of the kidnappers back to his hideout, fights a number of bad guys, and rescues Wanda. Then they head back to his place to have sex.

You’d think that following a kidnapping ordeal featuring multiple attempted rapes Wanda wouldn’t really be in the mood. But it seems that 70s women were made of sterner stuff than the ladies of today. Or maybe she was just stunned into submission by Al’s décor.

Wanda: Nice place you got here.

Me: Yeah, nothing says class like gold velour.

The next day Harry and his men return to Al’s office to collect Wanda and the ransom of money and cocaine. But Al decides to lay down the law. He returns the money, but he tells Harry that he’s turned the coke over to the cops, and that he’s banged Wanda. Harry is understandably upset… about the drugs. His reaction to Al taking advantage of his little girl is one of, “Oh well, you earned it. To the victor goes the spoils, eh! Well done old son!”

My viewing buddy: I don’t think that I could wear that pink suit to work.

Me: I don’t think that Barbie could wear that pink suit to work.

There’s just one loose end to clear up (other than the complete and utter disappearance of Mrs Ashanti). Big Daddy wants revenge on Harry and Al, and to that end he sets up a rendezvous. He has a sniper waiting in the trees ready to blow all of our heroes away.

However, possibly because the sniper is dressed in an aqua leisure suit with a yellow shirt, he’s discovered by Harry’s men and disarmed. Infuriated, Big Daddy challenges Al to go mano-a-mano.

Big Daddy: I want a piece of your black ass!

Me (as Al): Well, that not usually my thing, but… oh, wait, you mean a fight.

So Al and Big Daddy fight, and righteous blackness beats evil whiteness. It’s not entirely clear if Al kills Big Daddy or just incapacitates him, but everyone seems satisfied that he is vanquished. The film ends with Al and Wanda going off to have more celebratory sex, while her father and brother laugh about it.

As I said at the start of this review, ‘The Guy From Harlem’ comes from the tail end of the blaxploitation era, and it's one of the genre’s lesser examples. Our hero, while charismatic, lacks the physical presence of a Richard Roundtree or a William H. Marshall. The rest of the cast range between “competent” and “more wooden than a sequoia”. Most of the dialogue appears to have been ad libbed, as if the script were just a few helpful ideas jotted down on a McDonald’s napkin and circulated amongst the cast. The sound was patchy and the fight scenes were choreographed by someone who’d never seen a fist raised in anger.

It did, however, have some truly awesome costume and set design:

Did I say awesome? Is that the word I want? Or can you think of a better one?