Apr 25
Finito
icon4 Apr 25th, 2012 | icon2 Bric-a-Brac | icon3No Comments »

OK, so I had to move everything to a different server and managed to lose the last post – coincidence as it’s ANZAC Day today – as well as my so-called “Reading List” which thankfully I also have in a spreadsheet.

The Snubian blog is like the thylacine, not officially extinct but there haven’t been any recent credible sightings. Please stand by for a new and (I know this is difficult to believe) even better thingy.

Au revoir.

Aug 13
So You Think You Know How to Vote?
icon4 Aug 13th, 2010 | icon2 Bric-a-Brac | icon3Comments Off

So there’s an election coming up in a week’s time. Maybe this is the first time you’ve voted, maybe you’ve been voting since Harold Holt was a nipper. But do you really know much about the voting process? It’s surprising how many people are under strange misapprehensions about how their vote will be distributed and counted. First and foremost among these is what I will now call …

The “preference myth”:

The political parties make preference deals and can distribute my vote any way they want to.

So many people believe this is the case, but it is most definitely not true!

When you walk into a polling booth you can be certain that only you can decide who gets your vote. Let’s look at the ballot paper for the House of Representatives:

You can see from the instructions that you need to number every box. Maybe you like Candidate D the best, so he or she gets a “1″, but you still have to put numbers in the other boxes, in the order you like. These are your preferences. Your vote will be distributed according to the order in which you number the candidates. Nobody else has any say in it! (There is one possible exception to this when voting for the Senate, see below.)

But what’s all this stuff you hear about parties making preference deals? All this refers to is how each party or group will choose to order candidates on the “how-to-vote” cards that they will distribute at polling booths. You know those annoying people who want to hand you a wad of papers as you walk in to vote? All those ex-trees they are handing you are how-to-vote cards.

Here’s how it works: parties make agreements with other parties about the preferred ordering of candidates, then they publish these on a how-to-vote card and try to force it upon you as you arrive at the local primary school gates on election day. And that’s the beginning and end of it! In this great and democratic country of ours you are of course under no obligation to follow your favourite party’s how-to-vote card, you can vote any way you want.

Here’s a quote from the website australianpolitics.com which neatly sums up the whole “preference deal” malarky (note the section which I have emphasised):

Decisions about preference allocation are made by the political parties, sometimes after negotiation and agreement with other parties, but there is no way of enforcing these agreements other than by issuing how-to-vote cards.

I suggest you now take a few minutes to watch an excellent short video by the Australian Electoral Commission which explains beautifully the process of counting votes for the House of Representatives using the preference system (it may take a few seconds to load).

If you enjoyed that video, you can try this one about the counting of votes for the Senate. It’s a little more complicated but worth watching. Trust me, you will learn a lot in just a few minutes!

If you just watched the Senate video, you’ll see what I meant earlier about an exception to the rule that “nobody else has any say” in your vote. When voting for the Senate you have two choices as to how to place your vote. Let’s look at the ballot paper for the Senate:

You’ll see there are two sections, “above the line” and “below the line”. If you vote above the line, then you must only put a single “1″ in the box corresponding to your preferred party. If you choose to vote above the line, then (from the AEC website, my emphasis):

By casting a vote this way, voters are allowing the order of their preference to be determined by the party or group they are voting for.

So you see, only in this particular case can someone else decide your preferences for you. The party to whom you give your “1″ vote above the line may get to ultimately determine who gets your vote. But even so, each party must have lodged what is called a “group voting ticket”, a written statement which clearly lists each party’s preferences. These group voting tickets will determine the order in which the AEC will allocate “above the line” votes. In effect, you are voting for which group voting ticket you want to be used to distribute your vote.

(Importantly, all group voting tickets are available at polling booths on election day. So even if you choose to vote above the line, you can request to view your party’s group voting ticket at the polling booth, prior to casting your vote.)

Better still, you can choose to vote below the line in the Senate. If you do this you must number every candidate in your preferred order, just like the House of Representatives ballot paper. Sometimes the Senate ballot papers can be enormous, so this may seem a daunting prospect, but if you want to remain in control of your vote this is what you may choose to do.

So there you are. Your vote is your vote, end of story. Ignore all the crap you hear about “preference deals” and most importantly ignore ridiculous headlines such as this:

THE preference deal between Labor and the Greens has injected a radical new note of uncertainty into the election campaign, says Tony Abbott.

What bollocks! Number every box on election day!

Spoken by Snubian
Authorised by Snubian
Snubian Party
May 20
R.I.P. D.I.O.
icon4 May 20th, 2010 | icon2 Music | icon3Comments Off

Heavy metal’s own woodland elf, singer Ronnie James Dio has died, aged 67.

Dio has a rock pedigree as long as Gene Simmons’ tongue. After more than a decade earning his rock’n'roll stripes, in 1975 Dio joined ex-Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in the first line-up of Blackmore’s post-Purple project Rainbow. Their debut album is a classic of mid-’70s rock, an overblown, rich, creamy Baked Alaska of an album, full of guitar-posing, pseudo-classical wankery. (Here’s one of my favourite tracks, “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves“.)

Fast forward a few records and Dio has split with Blackmore to take over vocal duties for Black Sabbath, following the departure of Ozzy Osbourne. This is where I first came across the pint-sized vocalist, on his first outing with Sabbath, Heaven and Hell from 1980. What a corker! Sabbath fans could rest assured that their beloved band was in good hands.

Here is the promo video for the first track, “Neon Knights”, a manic rocker which has our friend Ronnie James delightfully invoking dragons, kings, circles, rings, and a host of other quasi-Tolkienesque imagery. Sort of like Bilbo Baggins on speed. (Please ignore the sloppily tacked on faux applause.)

Dio stayed with Sabbath for one more studio album and also appears on their double live record “Live Evil” – which I begged for, and happily received, for my 14th birthday. Yippee!

In the years that followed, Dio released numerous solo records, re-joined Sabbath and lived life to the full. Perhaps he should be best remembered for his stirring vocal on the 1974 hit “Love Is All”, the animated video clip for which I have fond memories of watching as a youngster. (It still brings a tear to the eye…)

Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010)

May 16
It’s a Small World After All
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Heard yesterday on the radio as Jessica Watson sailed into Sydney Harbour:

“I’m sure Jessica’s knockers have been put right in their place.”

Good to know.

The first circumnavigation of the globe is usually credited to Ferdinand Magellan, although he was killed in the Philippines midway through the journey. His expedition, led by Juan Sebastián Elcano, went on to complete the round-the-world voyage, arriving in Spain in 1522. The first Englishman to achieve this feat was another name you might’ve learned in primary school: Francis Drake. He did it in 1580.

The first solo sailor to make it round the world was the Canadian Joshua Slocum, who completed his voyage in 1898. Slocum’s method of navigation was “dead reckoning”, which involves estimating your current position based on your previous position and taking into account a guesstimate of your speed, direction and elapsed time. (It’s believed that certain animals, including ants and rats, use a version of dead reckoning to return safely to their home after a foraging expedition.)

“Around the world” in yo-yo terms means to fling the yo-yo outwards and then, with the yo-yo at full extension, to have it spinning in a wide circle to the side of your body. Don’t do this in front of a mirror or large glass window.

Apr 29
I Don’t, I Don’t, I Don’t
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I recently discovered, to my amazement, that it’s perfectly legal in Australia to marry your aunt, uncle, niece, nephew or cousin.

The Marriage Act 1961 SECT 23B specifically defines a “prohibited relationship” as being with a descendant or ancestor, or sibling. So you can’t marry your grandparent, parent, child, grandchild, etc. And you can’t marry your brother or sister (even adopted and step-children are considered blood relatives for the purpose of marriage, so Woody Allen would be out of luck here*). And that’s it. Everyone else is up for grabs.

Of course, all this assumes you are of the opposite gender to the close relative you wish to marry. The Marriage Act 1961 SECT 5(1) defines marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”. As you would be aware, marriage between same-sex couples is not legal in Australia. But you can marry your uncle Rodney. That is pretty fucked up. (To all my gender-reassigned readers, you will be pleased to know that you can legally marry as your reassigned gender, thanks to the successful case Re Kevin in the Family Court in 2001.)

Aside from the “yuckiness” of marrying a close blood relative, there is the issue of increased possibility of genetic disorders in any children that are produced. It’s for this reason that I’m surprised that marriages at first cousin level or closer are not banned. (Apparently the US is the only country to outlaw cousin marriage). In general, the Australian marriage restrictions as described above are typical of those in most Western societies. A few countries are even relaxed enough to decriminalise incest – Belgium, for example, where the age of consent for incestual sex is 16.

So, if there’s an aunty or nephew you’ve had your eye on, go for it!

—-

* This refers to Woody Allen’s marriage in 1997 to Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of Allen’s long-term partner Mia Farrow and Farrow’s previous husband André Previn. In fact, Soon-Yi Previn was never legally adopted by Allen. It was probably that Allen had known Soon-Yi since she was 10 years old, and the 35 year age gap, that led many people to think this was a tad creepy.

Apr 26
Vandenberg Unearthed
icon4 Apr 26th, 2010 | icon2 Memories, Music | icon3Comments Off

Rach and I spend a fair amount of time in op shops, and often the pickings are slim. The most disappointing area of the op shop, for me, is usually the record bin. Most op shops have one, and they are typically crammed with the absolute worst horrors ever committed to vinyl: pan pipe music, Hammond organ instrumentals, strange German orchestral easy listening (often with saucy semi-nude women on the cover), Kamahl records, and so on.

Imagine my surprise when on a recent op shop excursion, among the usual dross I came across this record sleeve:

It was a little beaten up, and had a large black texta mark diagonally across the cover, but nevertheless my pulse quickened considerably. To explain why, let me go back in time 25 years or so …

In 1984 I was committed to the cause of metal. But owing to my miniscule music-buying budget I was interested in only the best that metal had to offer, and I was especially keen on any record that could offer up some killer guitar solos. Around this time a good buddy of mine –  let’s call him Pete – travelled to the US with local High School concert band The Marching Koalas. On his return he had a suitcase crammed with records and cassettes from the States, apparently having spent his entire travel budget on music. One of the tapes he brought back was by a band I had never heard of, called Vandenberg.

Vandenberg were a Dutch metal band that formed in 1981, centred around the guitar exploits of Adrian Vandenberg. The tape Pete had bought was their second album, Heading For a Storm, from 1983. The cover illustration, featuring a pack of sharks cruising down a desert highway, is surely a classic of the genre.

The first I heard of this record was a song called “This is War”, specifically the guitar solo. Pete played it to me on his ghetto-blaster while we were on a bus during a school excursion. My mind was well and truly blown. We must’ve listened to the guitar solo fifty times on that bus trip, until someone threatened to throw Pete’s tape player out the window. You can hear the song in the clip below (audio only). Mr Vandenberg starts warming up his fingers around 2:03 and hits full stride at 2:30. Imagine it’s 1984 and you are an impressionable 14-year-old wannabe metal guitar hero …

Anyway, the years passed. I made a dodgy copy of Pete’s cassette and eventually bought the Heading For a Storm LP (available here only as an expensive import) in the late ’80s, but never got around to tracking down their first, self-titled album. Which brings me back to the Gosford Vinnies in 2010.

There I was, standing at the record bin, with a copy of the first Vandenberg album in my hands. Questions flooded my brain. How the fuck did this record get here? Who donated it, and where are the rest of their records? Am I dreaming? I quickly slipped the disc from the sleeve to make sure it wasn’t some shitty Perry Como LP, which thankfully it wasn’t. The vinyl was even in decent condition. The asking price was $1. Thank you very much.

The circle is closed.

POSTSCRIPT:

Vandenberg split in the mid-’80s after a third LP, with Adrian leaving to join David Coverdale in Whitesnake. Here’s a video of Vandenberg’s biggest “hit”, a classic metal-ballad called “Burning Heart”.

Apr 20

OK, it’s been a few weeks since I posted about our regular Sunday Night Classic Movie. Let me get up to date by quickly running through our last four films.

Electric Dreams (1984)

A piece of mid-’80s tripe from director Steve Barron. Nerdy architect Miles Harding buys a computer with a mind of its own. The computer, named Edgar, somehow manages to interface with every appliance in Miles’ apartment, and also falls in love with neighbour Madeline, a cellist (played by the delightful Virginia Madsen). Miles’ budding relationship with Madeline leads to a bizarre love triangle, with human-to-human love thankfully winning out in the end. The only saving grace of this cinematic disaster is the occasionally fantastic soundtrack, most notably the title track “Together in Electric Dreams”, performed by Philip Oakey (ex-Human League).

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

John Sturges’ classic Western remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai was Gum’s inspired choice for Sunday Night viewing. A poor Mexican village is under the thumb of a gang of nasty bandits. An emissary from the village heads off to find some good guys willing to help. They bump into ace gunslinger Chris (strange name for a gunslinger) played by Yul Brynner, who decides to help out, bringing with him six others including Charles Bronson, James Coburn and the one and only Steve McQueen. The eponymous Seven return to the village and lay in wait for the Mexicans to return so they can kick some bandit ass. Eventually good prevails, although not all seven make it out alive. Brynner and McQueen are left standing of course, and ride into the sunset as the soundtrack swells.

No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

Absolute rubbish. Young karate student Jason Stillwell watches as his karate teacher father cops a beating from some gangsters set on taking over his dojo for money laundering purposes. The family moves to a distant city, the father a broken man. Jason struggles to fit in to his new environment, quickly getting on the bad side of local karate hoods. Taking inspiration from his love for the late Bruce Lee, Jason works night and day to improve his karate technique, with the aid of Bruce Lee’s ghost and some very unusual (and occasionally homo-erotic) training methods (see clip below). As with many other films that follow this same path (Karate Kid anyone?) Jason has his shot at redemption when the gangsters arrive in town, bringing with them Russian karate expert Ivan Krushensky (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Of course, good wins out in the end, with Jason gaining respect and the girl.

Batman: The Movie (1966)

Way before Michael Keaton or Christian Bale there was Adam West as the square-jawed millionaire crime-fighter Bruce Wayne. This barely watchable film is the distillation onto celluloid of every implausible, stupid, camp moment from the TV series, stretched out to a mind-numbing 105 minutes. The Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman have banded together in an effort to take over the world. It is up to Batman and Robin to stop them. Every imaginable bat-device gets an outing here: the bat-copter, the bat-boat, the batmobile and other bat-related technologies too numerous to mention. The scene where Batman dangles from the bat-copter with a large, rubber shark attached to his leg is one of the great moments of cinema (see below). I forget what happens at the end, but needless to say the day is saved.

Apr 18
The Black Midget Phase
icon4 Apr 18th, 2010 | icon2 Television | icon3Comments Off

In the late ’70s and early ’80s two new faces appeared on our television screens. They looked like this:

This was when TV entered what I call its Black Midget Phase (BMP). That’s Gary Coleman on the left. He played wise-cracking Arnold Jackson on Diff’rent Strokes. On the right is Emmanuel Lewis who played the eponymous Webster.

Gary Coleman really got the ball rolling as far as the BMP was concerned, when Diff’rent Strokes became a major success, with Coleman as Arnold its most popular character. (In several countries the show was retitled as simply Arnold.) I watched Diff’rent Strokes religiously as a kid, and even then I realised something was not quite right with little Arnold. Rumours in the school playground said that he was actually a thirty-year-old dwarf, or that he had an incurable reverse-aging disease. In short, he was an adult trapped in a child’s body.

Whatever the cause of Coleman’s short stature, for some reason I’ve always assumed that Gary Coleman was indeed an adult when he was hired to play Arnold, as though the show’s producers had found a new kind of loophole in the child labour law; that is, to hire an actor with the appearance of a child but with the sensibilities and work ethic of an adult. But in fact Coleman (born in 1968) was only ten years old when Diff’rent Strokes first aired, his stunted growth caused by a congenital kidney disease. In hindsight, it’s amazing that a desperately ill black kid could rise to such dizzy heights of sitcom stardom. His famous catchphrase – What’choo talkin’ ’bout, Willis? – still reverberates in the minds of thirty-somethings worldwide.

And then came Webster. I was never a big fan of Webster. This blatant Diff’rent Strokes rip-off (both shows involved poor black kids being taken into an affluent white household) arrived in 1983, when I was moving onto more adult televisual fare, such as late-era Cop Shop. What made the comparison between the two shows even more acute was that Emmanuel Lewis who played Webster (full name Webster Long, now there’s a piece of trivia!) was, like Gary Coleman, a person of small stature, 12 years old when the show began. The BMP was now in full swing.

It’s difficult to find much information on Emmanuel, as even his Wikipedia entry is uncharacteristically sparse. It does give his height as 4′ 3″ – presumably his adult height, and certainly taller than he appears in this humorous clip of his appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

It’s clear that Emmanuel (then in his early teens) had a good grasp of comedic timing, presumably why he was chosen to play a smart-talking eight-year-old on Webster. But as with Arnold on Diff’rent Strokes, Webster’s precocious cuteness could only carry the show so far. Webster limped along until 1989 when it was finally put out of its misery. Thankfully it is yet to see DVD release.

Thus ended the Black Midget Phase, some would argue a low point in American sitcom history. Nevertheless, I liked the Black Midget Phase much more than the earlier Red Dwarf Phase.

Feb 21
A Neighbourly Visit
icon4 Feb 21st, 2010 | icon2 Neighbours | icon3Comments Off

A strange thing happened last night. It was about 9:15, Rach and I were sitting in our darkened living room watching ABC iView on the laptop when a noise at the front door caught our attention. (We usually leave the door open of an evening, to let in the cool breeze.) We both turned towards the door, and standing there, silhouetted by the lights from next door, was Frankenstein’s monster. He was breathing heavily, making laboured huffing and puffing noises, while his huge frame rocked to and fro, blocking the doorway. Nothing stood between him and us except for a few flimsy pieces of hanging fly-screen.

“Just wondering if I could have a word, eh?” said the monster.

Relief flooded through us. Our nocturnal visitor was not a monstrous apparition from early 19th century literature, but just our neighbour, Mr Takalua [not his real name]. The fact that we and Mr Takalua had never previously exchanged words in the two-and-a-half years we had been neighbours hadn’t deterred him from popping by at 9:15 PM for a chat.

I went out and greeted him with a friendly “What can I do for ya, mate?”

He first apologised for being out of breath, but he and his family had just returned from an evening stroll, and the last section up our steep street and driveway had just about done him in. Mr Takalua is a big bloke, you see. As he caught his breath I wondered exactly what the hell he wanted to talk to me about. It didn’t become much clearer as he began to speak.

“Was just doin’ the mowin’ this afternoon, eh?” he said, pausing to make sure I was following. I nodded for him to continue.

“And I was just mowin’ the bit down here” – he pointed to a section of grass where our properties meet – “and there was a lot of, uh, cat poo there, eh?” He chuckled at his use of the term “cat poo”, and perhaps also to put me at ease. This was a friendly visit after all. “So when I put the mower through, all this dust from the cat poo” – he chuckled again – “went everywhere, eh?” He waved his hands wildly around in the air, miming the movement of millions of tiny particles of dessicated cat shit.

I think I was getting the picture now. What Mr Takalua was hypothesising was that one – or both – of our cats had been shitting in his grass. Then when he mowed the grass he churned up the dried cat poo, which was a most unpleasant experience. Even though I was pretty sure that our cats were not entirely responsible – the Takaluas also own a cat – I quickly decided that the best thing to do would be to accept the blame gracefully.

“Gee, sorry ’bout that, mate,” I said. “Look, don’t worry about that bit of grass, I’ll look after that bit from now on.”

Mr Takalua nodded. ”Yeah, because as I was putting the mower through, all this dried cat poo came up, eh?” He chuckled and did his little mime again. “Big clouds of cat poo.”

“Right, well just leave that bit next time.”

“We’ve got a cat too, eh? But he poos over there most of the time.” He gestured toward the opposite side of his yard. “And when I put the mower through down there” – the cat poo zone – “all this dried cat poo went everywhere, eh?”

“Right. Well, next time I mow I’ll do that bit too.”

The conversation went around in circles like this for a few more minutes, Mr Takalua chuckling occasionally so I wouldn’t think he was having a go at me. (And really, I don’t mind. I’m happy to do the extra three square metres of mowing rather than start a feud with the Takalua family over some old cat poo.) Eventually, when Mr Takalua sensed I had fully grasped the finer points of his argument, and after I’d agreed another four times to assume custodianship of the affected area, he changed tack.

“So what do you do, eh?”

Ten minutes later and we were still there, standing on the driveway in the pitch dark. Maybe Mr Takalua needs a friend. He’s a nice bloke, really. Still, I’ll be the one picking up the fossilised cat shit from now on.

Jan 27

The full title of this ridiculous disaster movie from 1979 is The Concorde … Airport ’79, making it one of the few films to have an ellipsis (…) in its title. And that’s about all this pile of trash has going for it.

This is the fourth film in the Airport franchise, which began in 1970 with what is perhaps the archetypal disaster movie, called – you guessed it – Airport. Next came Airport 1975 and then Airport ’77 hot on its heels. (I remember seeing Airport ’77 at the Tuncurry Cinema with my sister during Christmas holidays when I was a kid. This was the one in which the plane crashes into the ocean and sinks to the seabed with all passengers trapped alive.) These first three films were fairly serious dramas, but for Airport ’79 they decided to take a slightly different approach.

For starters, the movie is essentially an extended advertisement for Concorde. Which is strange when you consider that the plot revolves around repeated attempts to blow it out of the sky, culminating in a crash landing in the Swiss Alps. Not exactly the positive image of air travel that you’d expect from an aircraft manufacturer.

Anyway, to the plot … Jesus, I can’t even be bothered explaining it. Let’s just say that there’s a bad guy who wants to blow up the Concorde, which is on some sort of good will trip from Washington to Paris and then on to Moscow as a lead-up to the 1980 Olympic Games. The passenger list is your typical disaster flick fare: desperate mother transporting a new heart for her terminally ill child; doobie-smoking jazz saxophonist (played hilariously by Jimmie Walker, aka J.J. from Good Times); group of stereotypical Russian athletes; and so on.

One of my favourite moments is when Captain Joe Patroni (played admirably by veteran George Kennedy) attempts to distract an incoming missile by firing a flare gun out of the open cockpit window … while the plane is upside-down and travelling at Mach 2.

The dialog is often hysterically bad. When a female flight attendant makes a comment about the male chauvinist attitudes of the flight crew, the Captain replies: ”Why do you think they call it the cock pit?”

To be honest, it’s likely that Airport ’79 was never intended as anything but a self-parody. Indeed, it wasn’t long after that we got the hilarious Flying High. And that put an end to the Airport series once and for all.

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