31 July 2006

Big Brother: Take The Money and Run


Well, Channel 10 must be thrilled with themselves; their hard programming work has paid off to give them the Big Brother result they always wanted.

In the end it came down to Camilla and Jamie. Camilla was the sentimental favourite to win, but after all, the main group of people who vote for Big Brother are teenage girls. Who also happen to be the target audience...

At the start of tonight's eviction show, the tally of votes was split 50/50 ("Only 300 votes in it!" parrotted Gretel) between Jamie and Camilla. And as we caught up with the former housemates and reflected on this year's show, there was of course footage of both the housemates...heavily wighted in favour of Jamie. We saw Jamie's tearful reunion with Katie, met Jamie's lovely family, and saw almost nothing of Camilla.

And as the broadcast went on, the voting tally began to slide heavily in favour of one housemate...Jamie, in fact, for of course he won.

Am I implying that the producers...rigged the outcome of the show? Oh good heavens no.

But consider...Big Brother is a huge money earner for Channel Ten, and naturally they'd be eager for a seventh series if it's at all possible, considering the scandals of this season. What could help this happen? Well, after all the winner of Big Brother does become the face of the show for the year. Who would be a more PR friendly Big Brother poster kid - the male half of Australia's sweethearts, or the girl involved in the turkey slap?

27 July 2006

Let's Celebrate


Last night Channel 10 news reported on a study of 2500 Australian women about their fascination with celebrities. Apparently 66% of women discuss celebrities at least once a week; the percentage of women who discuss politics in a week is only 6%. Favourite celebrities were ranked - Nicole Kidman was No.1 for the women, Johnny Depp was No.1 amongst male stars - and it even looked at the effects celebrities have on peoples' lifestyles: since Angelina Jolie adopted a baby from Ethiopia, applications to adopt Ethiopian children have reportedly doubled.

Where did the cult of celebrity come from? There's always been famous people. But it's only in recent years that celebrities have become fascinating for their own sake. I bet Judy Garland was never the subject of a magazine spread merely for taking a holiday. Visit any newsstand today though and the shelves are packed with magazines solely about the famous; the exploits of stars are presented on evening news bulletins as though it all were, in fact, real news. There are more celebrities these days than there are things worth celebrating. Who are these people anyway? I feel like I fell asleep in 1998 and woke up to a world filled with Linday Lohans, Hillary Duffs, Sienna Millers, and the Olsen twins. (Ah now, the Olsen twins I do know. They played that toddler on
Full House - essential viewing for a ten-year-old in the late Eighties.)

Anyway, I don't know what they do. We even have our local Australian abberations, such as Bec Hewitt - pretty blonde girl who appears in a soap, quits to marry a petulant tennis player, and is suddenly splashed across magazines as though she'd achieved something, from her romantic "the suspect was led away from the court..." hidden under a blanket apperance at her wedding to protect the photo exclusive, to articles telling us all just what a joy she finds motherhood. For the love of God, can the next we hear of her please be "Brave Bec Hewitt faces life after Lleyton"?

And why are we so interested in celebrities anyway? What do they have to say?
I performed a little experiment. Kate Hudson was (for all I know, still is) recently in Australia to promote her latest film, You, Me and Dupree. I watched all the interviews and publicity events surrounding her that I could find on TV.

It was all truly awful. Ms Hudson answered the same questions, made the same cheery remarks (and apparently yes, she does love Australia and the movie was fun to make), gave the same giggles, over and over again. It was coma-inducing to watch; I can't even imagine how boring it was for her to do. But then I thought about how much money she must be getting paid, and I stopped feeling sorry for her.

Sure, I guess most people would say that the fascination with celebrities is a form of escapism. But is it really? When you look at a magazine spread of the stars in their frocks at the Oscars, or showing off their new Malibu dream house, the basic message is You don't have any of this, and you never will.

Maybe it is for the best though. Imagine a world where the cult of celebrity revolved around the kind of luminaries folks like me admire. No one would want to "follow Michael Moore's diet plan", it would be hard to report on Margaret Olley's wild drinking spree when she's probably never had one (certainly not recently) and who'd want a fashion magazine telling people how they can get the Bob Ellis look for less?

25 July 2006

True Democracy For The Middle East


Well, US Secretary of State Condileeza Rice has arrived in the Middle East for talks aimed at negotiating a ceasefire, and to announce humanitarian aid. All well and good. Dr Rice has also said that the long term solution lies in "peaceful and democratic society" in the Middle East.

Ah, peace and democracy! They go so well together, like strawberries and cream, Paris Hilton and scandal, blogger and opinionated know-it-all. Though Israel is a democracy, and so was Lebanon
last time I checked. The problem is, of course, that free voting means that people are free to vote for Hezbollah, or conversely Likud.

Nonetheless "democracy" is the current US one-size-fits all solution to the problems of the world. The US is determined to impose a democratic society upon the people of Iraq, whether they like it or not. (Which provides an interesting contrast to the previous US policy of supporting the overthrow of democratically elected governments, such as in
Chile in 1973, but never let consistency get in the way of a good foreign policy).

Events are still unfolding, so it remains to be seen whether any solution comes from Dr Rice's visit, or if it will be a mere case of seagull diplomacy (term derived from
seagull manager). Though to be fair, it seems more likely not. The problems of the Middle East have defied solving for quite some time now (at least since my last coffee break). Two wrongs don't make a right. But sadly for the people of the region, it's a place where sometimes two rights don't make a right.

24 July 2006

Why Not Me?


I'd like to know, just who do you have to sleep with to get a mention in Crikey's Blogwatch? Every day, there's a list of posts that have caught the Crikey people's eye, be they insightful, irreverent or humorous...but I've not been featured even once! What do I have to do? I am willing to sacrifice my personal integrity to get on the Blogwatch. They have my number (I'm a subscriber) so I'm waiting for their call.

~~~~~~~~

I think I know from good blogs. I've been running the Pod here for nearly three years, and I know that this isn't a good blog. Nonetheless, I surf random blogs, a lot:

My BlogMad Ranking
(I've been looking for an excuse to throw this in a post), so here are my tips on what makes a good blog - regardless of subject matter.


  • Put a description of your blog at the top of the sidebar.

  • It is true that most people find it easier to read dark text on a light background (not a white background though...if you look carefully you'll see this blog has the palest pink off-white background, which is supposedly easiest to read of all).

  • Unless you're running an art blog, start your posts near the top of the page, rather than requiring visitors to scroll past large pictures to see what you have to say.

  • If you must have ads, know that they are annoying, and put them out of the way on the template. On second thought, don't have ads.

  • Name the months in your archive, to avoid confusion between those of us who think 3/6 is the 3rd of June, and those who think it's the 6th of March.

  • And lastly, a mea culpa...yes, word verification for comments is annoying. But I think everyone agrees spam is far more annoying. So I've reluctantly had to add verification, after spending two solid hours one recent morning deleting spam comments from my post. I hope you will understand.


  • EDIT: Okay, I'll acknowledge the irony of posting this before I'd fixed the problem of the blog not displaying properly in non IE browsers. An explanation of the core problem can be found here. And a huge thank you to the kindly soul from the Blogger help group who found the solution (would you believe, it was all due to the lack of a single } in the style sheet?!?)

    19 July 2006

    Most Thought Out Post Ever


    It's nothing new for Simpsons fans to lament how the show has gone downhill in recent years (I first said so here more than two years ago) so I won't revisit that argument. Nor is it original to marvel at how The Simpsons has shaped society - there's been hundreds of books, articles, academic papers and studies - so no need to add my two cents on this either.

    But when the Simpsons is good, it's very very good. In fact, it soars far and above almost all other pop culture. Therefore, I'd like to present my list of personal Best Episodes Ever. They may not tally with the preceived wisdom, but these are the ones I'd take with me to...well, anywhere. (Links where provided are to the
    SNPP capsules for each episode, if available)

    #FABF10 Co-Dependents Day
    "Sleep well, my drunken angel"
    A thin premise, perhaps - Homer and Marge on a bender. But it works. The scene where they attend the cinema is priceless; and there's no Big Message here, just fast-flowing gags.

    #CABF14 Trilogy of Error
    "I'll sentence fragment you, stupid grammar robot!"
    This is definitley the smartest episode ever. In fact, it's probably one of the most intelligent things ever shown on network TV. But even if you just watch the show for the humour, don't worry; #CABF14 has that too, in spades.

    #4F19 Homer's Enemy
    "God, he eats like a pig."
    "I dunno. Pigs tend to chew. I'd say he eats more like a duck."
    Ever wondered what would happen if the rules of the real world applied to the Simpsons? Here they do. It's completely unlike any other episode - poor Frank Grimes can see what we as the audience can, but what the Sprigfieldianties cannot, and it drives him to an early grave. It will change the way you view the show, especially Homer (don't worry, it's gone by next week).

    #DABF22 How I Spent My Strummer Vacation
    "It's only rock n roll fantasy camp"
    "But I like it!"
    The best cameo-packed episode of recent seasons, and a return to the multi-level plots of yesteryear. Most of the best jokes here are visual (seeing Homer imitating Lenny Kravitz had me in tears of laughter) - and who could forget the startling revelations of Disco Stu?

    #9F14 Duffless
    "My name is Hans. Drinking has ruined my life. I'm 31 years old!"
    Season four is generally regarded by hardcore fans as the pinnacle of the show's achievement. Okay, the animation wasn't what it is today (but the animation on Toy Story is better than anything seen on the Simpsons, and I still wouldn't want to watch it) and the Bart and Lisa sub plot goes astray, but Homer's epic struggle to give up the beer is a television moment to remember. Classic stuff.


    And the all time number one...

    #3F05 King Size Homer
    "Fat, don't fail me now!"
    Anyone who's ever feared a company exercise program, or just looked for any good excuse to skip work, will love this episode. (Even if just because I told you to).


    As you may have noticed, all of these (with the partial exception of #CABF14) are Homer-based episodes. Is anyone really suprised?

    17 July 2006

    Flag Burning City: Troops Out Now!


    I don't have Pay TV, which is unfortunate as I spend so much time reclining slack-jawed in front of the idiot box. Luckily, a friend who does have Foxtel records The Daily Show with Jon Stewart onto DVD for me in weekly doses so I can stay in touch with some of my favourite political satire.

    I imagine American liberals must be feeling the way we do here in Australia - frustrated, disillusioned and exhausted by our governments. However, at least there's a huge network in America of satirists, humourists and activists to make it all that bit less oppresive. We don't have that in Australia; there simply isn't a large enough population base. Something that's only of interest to, say, 5% of American adults still has a potential audience of about 10 million people. In Australia the numbers are tiny. (This is also why each sucessive series of Australian Idol gets worse and worse - the talent pool here is exhausted).

    There's more hope online. There are many great blogs out there, such as
    Sailing Close To The Wind, Spin Starts Here, occasional politcial gems from Ledders, and Senator Andrew Bartlett. But off line, there's not so much. There's no Australian Al Franken or Molly Ivins (let alone a Michael Moore, which is probably just as well; we have enough problems with the obesity rate already).

    As for political satire on TV...well, there's
    The Chaser. But even I have to admit that a lot of it is pretty stupid. (And I thought so before Chas got arrested. In my opinion - and apparently I'm in a bit of a minority on this - the best Australian political satire on TV was Backberner. But, just like the way companies discontinue all my favourite products, Backberner has been off the air for four years now, and there's nothing that's satisfactorily replaced it.

    Still, I suppose we should be greatful that there is at least the internet. Next year is an election year for both my state (NSW) and Australia, so I'll probably start a satirical blog of my own (oh great! An excuse to neglect this one. More so!)

    ~~~~~

    I've also started updating my
    photo gallery a bit, so there'll be more chances to goggle in horror in the days ahead...

    12 July 2006

    Mad About...Everything!


    One of my favourite TV shows lately is Grumpy Old Women. Far more so than with the grumpy men, I find myself nodding and laughing at (almost) everything they say. Now, I have taken some steam here from my elders for describing myself as old. I am old enough to realise that because those people are older, they're much smarter than me, so I'll acknowledge that they're right. However, I'd like to submit myself as an honorary Grumpy Old Woman. There's a long, long list of things in the modern world which, quite frankly, tick me off (you only need look through the archives to see that!) Anyway, stand back please, I'm going to have a grump.

    Last night the GOW were complaining about shopping. It's a frequent sore point for me. I've already complained about
    loyalty cards and other forms of shopping insanity. A major gripe for anyone has to be shop assistants. Paricularly when one emerges from the changing room and they say, "How did you go?"
    How did I go at what? I thought I was just trying on a garment, not sitting for an exam. I'm sometimes tempted to reply, "I did very well! I got my arms in the armholes on just the third try."

    Another thing I'm learning to despise are the spruikers in shopping centres. You know the ones - "Excuse me ma'am, can I interest you in five nights on the Gold Coast for just $399?". Surely people who want a holiday (or anything else the spruikers are trying to sell) don't use "wandering through malls" to research their purchase. So who is the target market for this kind of thing? Does a spruiker ever approach a potential customer and hear the reply "Do you know, I was just wandering around with several hundred dollars in my pocket and no idea what to spend it on, and that sounds like an excellent idea."

    I guess I'm just mad because a spruiker in my local mall yesterday attempting to sell some math tuition program asked me if I have school age children. Huh?!? "I'll have you know I was asked for ID last week!" I replied. (Though it does kind of shut up the people who say I'm really not old).

    10 July 2006

    Thanks For Nothing!


    Well do you want the good news or the bad news? The good news is it was my birthday on the weekend and I had a great time! Also it was the 3rd anniversary of Xander coming home, so Boof and Funky gave him a big cardboard box to play with and he was just delighted. (There was a wooden DVD case inside the box for me, but I think the box was the main part of that present). Anyway we went out to a few clubs and generally carried on like eighteen year olds, instead of just people acting like they have eighteen year old brains.

    The bad news is that none of you sent me a card! Every week I slave for minutes over these posts for you to read, and not so much as a card. So I'll be ringing you all up at home to lay guilt trips on you over next few days. Next year you will each remember to send me a card.

    06 July 2006

    What A Wonderful World


    I sometimes wonder what it's like for those born after about 1985, who cannot remember what life was like before the War On Terror (imagine going through high school without being able to call in a fake bomb threat on the morning of an exam!)* Have the grown up knowing enormous fear, or do they not pay attention to world events at all?

    North Korea has launched at least seven missiles (so far). The North Koreans haven't said why they've conducted these tests, but I think it's for the same reason that 19 year old guys drive their cars at 150km/h: they have their toys and want to see just what they can do. John Howard has condemned the launches as "provocative". I really don't think Pyongyang's top brass take Howard's advice into consideration before they make a move...so you see Johnny, this is how it feels when people don't listen to you!

    ~~~~~

    Also, anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon (though apparently not her partner Tim Robbins) and others have started
    a hunger strike to protest the war in Iraq. All very noble, though the old cynic in me cannot believe it will possibly achieve anything. Actually, it's not as noble as it sounds at first...most of the "big names" are participating in a "rolling" hunger strike, whereby they fast for 24 hours then hand over to a comrade. But even those who are participating fully (including Sheehan) are unlikely to starve to death - the strike is scheduled to end on September 21, international peace day. Now, if they really wanted to do some good, they could help people who may well actually starve to death, but donating the money for the food they won't be eating towards the relief efforts for the 11 million plus people the UN says are in imminent danger of starvation in the Horn Of Africa.

    ~~~~~

    As you will have gathered by now, I have no solutions to any of these or the other problems facing the world. If you do, please leave your ideas in the comments; I'll be sure to include them in my next letter to the editor of my local newspaper.

    *I never did this. It is a joke.

    05 July 2006

    Dumb, Or Maybe Just Happy?


    Well, I'm not afraid to go after the big targets. So today I'm taking on the awesome power of the scriptwriters of the beloved long-running soap Neighbours.

    A few weeks ago a plotline featured a character selling pirated DVDs. In order to apprehend this master criminal, four police went to Ramsey St in a squad car with the sirens and lights blazing. As the villian wasn't at home, the cops then raced off in order to arrest him in the middle of his own wedding.

    And yet...a character who has: blown up a plane, killing three people; put a bomb in his sister's car; trapped his father in a cave; put his brother in a coma; and possibly murdered an innocent by-stander, is able to wander around the street where he and his victims lived, with neither the police nor anyone else, not even Ramsey St's own Nancy Drew, Toadie, apparently looking for him!

    I almost don't have the heart to make fun of this sort of thing. It has all the challenge of hunting farmyard animals with assault weapons. It's why I think our PM John Howard, is missing the point when he
    calls for an end to "this stupid programme", Big Brother - TV is meant to be stupid. If people wanted enlightenment and intellectual rigour when they watched television, then Sunday Arts and Dateline would be the highest rating shows on TV.

    On the other hand, ratings for
    The Wedge have fallen dramatically since its debut and are now nudging into "abysmal" territory, so maybe there's hope for the viewing public yet...

    03 July 2006

    Homes, Places We've Grown, All Of Us Are Done For


    Couldn't let today go past without posting on the day's biggest story (no, not this one. There's been more than enough said about that already). What we should be concerned about it that the Earth is due for a near miss with an asteroid today at 5:25am GMT - that's 3:25pm AEST. The asteroid will apparently pass within 432 308km of the Earth - the astronomical equivalent of brushing past us.

    I just hope the scientists have their calculations right. The consequences of a collision are pretty unimaginable. For the best idea (and for so many other reasons) I enthusiastically refer you to Bill Bryson's
    A Short History Of Nearly Everything. In the chapter "Bang!" Mr Bryson describes the likely effects of a 2km wide asteroid hitting the Earth. After explaining the unfortunate fate of the immediate blast zone, Bryson goes on to say:

    "But that's just the initial shock wave. No-one can do more than guess what the associated damage would be, other than it would be brisk and global. The impact would almost certainly set off a chain of devastating earthquakes. Volcanoes across the globe would begin to rumble and spew. Tsunamis would rise up and head devastatingly for distant shores. Within an hour, a cloud of blackness would cover the Earth and blazing rock and debris would be pelting down everywhere, setting much of the planet ablaze. It has been estimated that a billion and a half people would be dead by the end of the first day. The massive disturbances to the ionosphere would knock out communications systems everywhere, so survivors would have no idea what was happening elsewhere or where to turn. It would hardly matter. As one commentator has put it, fleeing would mean 'selecting a slow death over a quick one. The death toll would be very little affected by any plausible relocation effort, as the Earth's ability to support life would be universally diminished.'...We can only guess how well, or whether, humanity would cope with such an event."

    Now, today's asteroid is only half a mile wide, and in all likelihood it's going to miss us anyway (and at least we know about this one; it's the ones we can't see coming that pose the real threat). However, today you might as well say "yes" to that extra donut at the staff meeting...

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