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I just got back from the airport where I was seeing off my BESTEST BUDDY IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, Chris. He’s flying to Broome, taking a bus to Derby and then working at an eco-tourism camp in the Kimberley for the next five months. Since I’m probably going to Korea in about a month or two, we aren’t going to see each other for more than a year. This is after seeing each other more or less every single day since 2002 or thereabouts. He is the Riggs to my Murtaugh; the Marty to my Doc; to the Carl to my Lenny. We’re like an old married couple. You know the kind that’s been together for ages and actually can’t stand each other anymore so they fight and bicker all the time? Like that. This break will probably be good for us, so that when we eventually go backpacking together he get fed up, slip drugs into my food and sell me into sex slavery in Cambodia.

In any case, let’s take a retrospective look at the GOOD TIMES we’ve shared over the last seven years (for best results listen to “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen while doing so):

Yes, we’ve certainly had some crazy times together! And hopefully, unless Virgin Blue’s shoddy maintenance record leads to Chris’ bones bleaching under the sun in the Great Sandy Desert, or I get framed for a crime I didn’t commit and bleed to death in the shower room of a Seoul prison, we shall have some crazy times together again in the future! Until next time, folks!

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Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851) 625 p.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.

Thus begins Moby-Dick, a heavy novel both literally and figuratively, considered one of America’s finest tales and written by a master of the English language. It took me nearly three weeks to read this gargantuan book, which I suppose is appropriate.

It is a fascinating novel. On the surface, Moby-Dick appears to be a simple adventure tale about the ill-fated voyage of the Pequod, a vessel commanded by the monomaniacal Captain Ahab, who lusts for vengeance against the infamous albino whale that cost him his leg in a previous encounter. It examines the whaling industry in every stark, grisly detail, sparing no account of the dismemberment of the whales or the horrors of the voyage, and while this life may seem romanticised and exotic now, at the time it was a profession regarded on the same level as meatpacking or carpentry. It should not be a masterpiece – and yet it is.

Almost the entire story takes place aboard the Pequod, and there are less than ten major characters. Despite these constraints – or perhaps because of them – Moby-Dick is an epic, sprawling novel, touching upon hugely complex themes. The characters speak in grand Biblical and Shakespearean fashion, soliliquising about life, death and the universe, speaking to the reader in frequent asides, contemplating the meaning of their voyage, of their desires, of their true nature. Whalers spent a lot of time at sea, sometimes going years without sighting land. With nothing to look at but the depths of the ocean and the depths of the stars, it’s not surprising that their minds turned to thinking about some heavy shit.

Ishmael, though he is the narrator, is no major character – this is Captain Ahab’s story, the story of a tragic hero in the Greek fashion, his fatal flaw being a completely illogical thirst for vengeance. Ahab is not a bad man, nor a bad captain. He is simply mad, yet not so mad that he does not realise it, and not so mad that he does not take pains to hide it from his crew. The second most important character is Starbuck, the first mate, and the only member of the Pequod’s crew who does not get swept up by Ahab’s grand, hypnotic speeches and declare to follow the captain into the jaws of hell. Starbuck voices his doubts regularly, frequently clashes with Ahab, and towards the end of the voyage contemplates murdering the man before he gets them all killed. As the book and the voyage draws to a conclusion, and both Starbuck and Ahab grow more tortured and melancholy, this becomes a truly sad story.

Melville displays a much greater command of the English language then he did in Typee; almost every page contains references to great stories that came before him, to old English literature, to the Bible, to the Greek and Roman canon. Likewise, his own skill with words creates powerful imagery:

By midnight the works were in full operation. We were clear from the carcass; sail had been made; the wind was freshening; the wild ocean darkness was intense. But that darkness was licked up by the fierce flames, which at intervals forked forth from the sooty flues, and illuminated every lofty rope in the rigging, as with the famed Greek fire. The burning ship drove on, as if remorselessly commissioned to some vengeful deed. So the pitch and sulphur-freighted brigs of the bold Hydriote, Canaris, issuing from their midnight harbors, with broad sheets of flame for sails, bore down upon the Turkish frigates, and folded them in conflagrations.

…Here lounged the watch, when not otherwise employed, looking into the red heat of the fire, till their eyes felt scorched in their heads. Their tawny features, now all begrimed with smoke and sweat, their matted beards, and the contrasting barbaric brilliancy of their teeth, all these were strangely revealed in the capricious emblazonings of the works. As they narrated to each other their unholy adventures, their tales of terror told in words of mirth; as their uncivilized laughter forked upwards out of them, like the flames from the furnace; as to and fro, in their front, the harpooneers wildly gesticulated with their huge pronged forks and dippers; as the wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship groaned and dived, and yet steadfastly shot her red hell further and further into the blackness of the sea and the night, and scornfully champed the white bone in her mouth, and viciously spat round her on all sides; then the rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness, seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul.

Any masterpiece has its flaws, of course – Moby-Dick’s is the enormous pile of tedious chapters in which Melville, via Ishmael, feels obliged to dump all the knowledge of the whale he has accumulated over his career onto the reader. He discusses the head, the spine, the tail, the skeleton, the whale’s distribution, whale psychology, whale herding behaviour, laws pertaining to whaling and so forth. He gushes on and on about the whale’s sublime form, its majesty, its titanic beauty, that I eventually felt like shouting “JUST HAVE SEX WITH ONE ALREADY.” Moby-Dick has been successfully adapted to the stage for three reasons: the small cast of characters, the single setting, and the fact that at least half the book consists of completely superfluous chapters that can easily be cut. I understand why they’re there, but there was no need whatsoever to have quite that amount of them, or even to award them separate chapters rather than weaving them into the main narrative.

In spite of its flaws, I was impressed by this book. It did grow tedious towards the end, and I do have trouble reading stories more than a hundred years old (let alone those that employ lofty Shakespearean dialogue). It is not an easy book to read, and I wouldn’t exactly say that I enjoyed it. But I was intrigued by it, and swept up in it, and as the tragic overtones became more explicit towards the conclusion, I was moved by it. I am glad that I read it, and glad that it exists. Moby-Dick is truly an amazing piece of writing, and has rightfully earned its place in the firmament of literary history.

http://www.omegle.com

A chat site that matches you up with a random stranger. More often than not the stranger will yell profanity and immediately disconnect, but every now and then you’ll have interesting conversation – whether it’s because you’ve chosen to be genuine, tried to get as far as you can copying and pasting the text of Moby Dick, or weaved an elaborate lie about being a former child soldier in Chechnya who fought his way to freedom in the West, is up to you.

“Homecoming” can be read for free online in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #40.

What is it with Australians? Why are most of us such irredeemable fuckheads?

A bunch of refugees show up in a rickety boat, having crossed thousands of miles to escape the kind of terror and misery that we can’t even begin to imagine, and Australians react by writing angry letters to the The West Australian about how we should “send them back where they came from” and how “we decide who comes into this country.” The West feeds the fire by regularly splashing photos of boat people across the front page with headlines like “STRAIGHT TO OUR DOORSTEP.”

I hate the West. I really do. I read it because I don’t have much of a choice, it being the only daily in the state. The highlight of each paper is usually the letters to the editor, a seething nest of xenophobic snakes that lash out at anything remotely foreign and lament the road to ruin that we are surely rocketing down. And you know, the funny thing is, the day that the most recent SIEV exploded out near Ashmore, killing two and severely wounding dozens, the West ran two editorials by Andrew Probyn and Paul Murray. Both of them dispelled the notion that there is a “tide” of illegal immigrants threatening to “swamp” Australia, and pointed out some facts:

1. In 2008, 4750 people applied for (“applied for,” not “were granted”) asylum in Australia… compared to, say, 36,900 in Canada and 31, 200 in Italy.

2. Less than 1% of the global population of asylum seekers wind up on Australia’s shores.

3. The vast majority of asylum seekers (95% to 99%) in any given year arrive by plane, not by boat. The vast majority of illegal immigrants in Australia are not those who apply for refugee status, but rather those who arrive here legally on tourist or working visas and then simply remain when they expire.

Why does the West concurrently run reasonable, sensible articles on the one hand, and throw fear-mongering headlines around with the other? A rhetorical question. It sells papers, and all you need to give up in return is your journalistic integrity!

The fundamental truth is that asylum seekers are not, by any stretch of the imagination, a threat to Australia. They are poor, ragged, desparate human beings who throw themselves on our mercy. The fact that the previous government exploited them as a convenient political scapegoat, pandering to the worst kinds of ugly, racist elements in Australian society, is disgusting. The fact that the current government maintains the status quo for fear of being seen as “soft” is disgusting. The fact that most Australians still see refugees as a threat, a problem or an inconvenience, rather than as human beings who need our help, is disgusting.

We went camping on the weekend. Chris and I had an argument with the adults about the whole issue. I find it shocking that these people, mature adults whom I am very close to and whom I greatly respect, have such ignorant and bigoted views on the issue. My father complained that all the medevac flights and Navy rescues and surgical operations will cost a lot of (PRECIOUS TAXPAYER’S) money. What is the alternative? Letting them burn to death, or drown? How warped does your moral compass have to be to put a price tag on a human life? “They’re not from our country,” he said. How warped does your moral compass have to be for you to think that, simply because somebody was not born on the same patch of soil that you were, you have no obligation to PREVENT THEM FROM BURNING TO DEATH?

One of my aunts said “where do you draw the line?” I repeatedly tried to explain to her that there is no need to draw a line; that boat people are a non-issue; that the numbers are so miniscule as to be completely irrelevant. She stubbornly repeated the same line over and over.

Another of my aunts said she was genuinely concerned that Muslims could become a majority in Australia and somehow destroy our culture and not let us raise the flag, sing the anthem etc etc. Apart from being a mathematical impossibility, the fact that people view Muslims as some kind of all-devouring force of subjugation and destruction is so hysterical as to be completely laughable. “They come here and tell us how to live,” “if we tried that in their country we’d be shot,” “we’re not allowed to celebrate Christmas anymore” BLAH BLAH FUCKING BLAH. I’m so goddamn sick of hearing the same old, tired arguments with a foundation in nothing more than a filthy swamp of prejudice and xenophobia.

And this didn’t fucking happen by accident. Yes, the urge to fear and destroy anything different from us is deeply embedded in our genes, but it was fucking Howard who carefully, painstakingly nurtured that urge into violently nationalist sentiment over his eleven years in office. Now it’s part of the zeitgeist and it isn’t going away. We still have people perceiving a handful of Muslim refugees in leaky boats as some kind of MASSIVE OVERWHELMING THREAT to the Anglo-Saxon juggernaut that straddles this massive continent. Racism and intolerance has become a social norm.

I can’t wait till that generation dies.

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OH NO THE IRA FINALLY CAUGHT UP TO ME

– This was a decent episode. I’ve always liked Miles more than I should have, because he’s an insufferable sarcastic prick (note to self: do I like characters who are insufferable sarcastic pricks because I am one myself?), but if the show is going to explore his character more than I can justify it.

– Bram, who nabs Miles in the van in Los Angeles, was also on Flight 316 and was first seen backing Ilana up last episode, when she knocks Frank out. I’m interested in these people – at first I thought they were working for Widmore, but he suggests in this episode that they’re against him. So they’re either with Ben, or there’s a third faction struggling for control of the island. Also, let the record show that Bram looks like a poor man’s Brendan Fraser.

– What exactly is the Lostie’s game plan? Jack’s dusting blackboards, Hurley’s making sandwiches for people… are you guys actually going to, y’know, try and get back to the present? Or are you just gonna live out your life in the 1970s DHARMA Intiative? Showing a lack of curiosity about the island is one thing, but this is something else entirely.

– Lol @ Sawyer punching out that jerkass Phil.

– Faraday returning was great. If my “he went through the wheel” theory fails, I’m going to fall back on “he has told Chang everything.”

I just got all my documents back from the Irish Embassy, with a little form enclosed telling me that “the following highlighted items are missing, incomplete or were not the acceptable version.” The highlighted item is “Proof of identity for the person witnessing the application (business card, letterhead etc).”

Which is odd, because I’m HOLDING HIS BUSINESS CARD RIGHT NOW, and it CAME OUT OF THE ENVELOPE FULL OF DOCUMENTS THEY JUST SENT BACK TO ME.

update: I rang them up and apparently they just didn’t notice it. “AW JAYSUS BEGORAH SONNY JIM HOW BLUDDY STERPID OF ERS! JUST MAIL IT BECK TO ERS, THARS A GEWD LAD, MUST BE ERF TO THER PUB NOW FER NINE SOLERD EWERS ERF DRENKIN GUINNESS”

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murdered locke, blackmailed jack, made sayid a killing machine, shot desmond, terrorised innocent plane crash survivors, authorised mass murder... this ain't looking good

– This episode was a good one, but not quite as great as I was expecting it to be. I’m glad we saw more of the smoke monster, although graphically it’s gone back to looking as terrible as it did in the first season. (Its sound effects have always more than make up for that, however).

– Lost is sometimes excellent and sometimes awful at handling characters at different points in history. On the one hand, the casting for different actors is always top-notch: 10-year old Ben looks exactly like the kind of kid 40-year old Ben would have been, and 40-year old Widmore looked exactly like a young 70-year old Widmore. When using the same actor, however, the crew always seem compelled to use a bunch of terrible wigs and/or haircuts. Ben’s hair in the scene where he was banishing Widmore was ludicrous.

– “I never pictured you leading your people from behind a desk – it seems rather corporate,” Locke says, as he SITS DOWN BEHIND THE DESK.

– What was up with Ben being a fully-fledged Other? He was supposed to be their inside man in the DHARMA Initiative right up until the Purge. Instead he seems to be hanging in their camp and raising a kid 24/7. Ethan was too, pre-Purge. I can maybe buy Ben going back and forth between the two camps, but no way would a 12-year old kid have been able to. (Also, shouldn’t Danielle have recognised “Henry Gale” as the man who took her daughter?)

– Saying “tell Desmond I’m sorry,” was a cheap shot, but fairly well-done. I’m pretty happy with how Ben’s attempted revenge turned out (and “Our Mutual Friend” was a nice touch), though I hope this isn’t the last we see of Desmond. My first thought was that Ben killed Penelope, and Desmond therefore returned to the island to seek revenge; my next best guess is that Faraday goes through the frozen wheel, lands in the present and finds Desmond, convincing him to return for… some reason or another.

– So Caesar’s dead, which is a shame because he was shaping up to a be a decent character. I like anybody who shows even a shred of resourcefulness/curiosity on this fucking island. Ilana + co would appear to be going insane, presumably from “the sickness.” Either that or they’re agents of Widmore. I’m a lot more interested in the island in the present, and the fate of the 316ers, than I am in the island in the past and the 815ers. I wonder what’s in that big metal crate?

– When Ben said his final line of the episode, he seemed to be absolutely miserable: “It let me live.” I don’t think he was “spared” at all; I think that being forced to abdicate the throne in favour of Locke is, for him, worse than death.

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we learn the shocking truth about alpert's sexual predation

– Kate is a pretty boring character and all the times in this episode when she was tearing up about Aaron I just could not give a shit. Everything about Cassidy and Clementine was also fairly obvious from last season. Nonetheless, this was still a better episode than last week’s.

– Jack is a total asshole this season, and his motivations are all over the joint. Why would he suddenly decide he doesn’t want to save Ben when he had previously gotten over the fact that Ben was an EVIL SON OF A BITCH WHO AUTHORISED THE MURDER/KIDNAPPING/GENERAL TERRORISING OF YOUR FELLOW CRASH SURVIVORS and worked together with him to get back to the island? Either he’s completely inconsistent, or he was doing it because he was bing a sulky little bitch about the whole Kate/Sawyer thing. I concur with Kate when she said that she liked the old Jack better; unlike her, I did in fact like the old Jack.

– Another shitty thing about New Jack is his remark to Juliet when he was getting out of the shower: “I came back because I was supposed to.” Jack is the last person who should be getting corrupted by Locke’s stupid mysticism.

– I liked the little pat-on-the-back comraderie between Sawyer and Miles. After three years together, the Left Behinders should be closer to each other than any of the Oceanic 6. Which is also why Kate’s return should not even begin to matter to Sawyer and Juliet.

– Hurley and Miles’ time travel discussion was cute.

– So Sayid was responsible for Ben becoming an Other? Way to go, Sayid. Also: Richard talking about “taking Ben’s innocence” was very creepy in a pedophilic way.

– I literally laughed out loud at the ending. Locke has presumably been sitting next to Ben’s bed 24/7, waiting for him to wake up just so he can see the look on Ben’s face as he scares the shit out of him, and using the time to run through a mental shortlist of the smug remark he will make upon Ben’s awakening. Classic.

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell (1999) 436 p.

Ghostwritten is the first novel by British writer David Mitchell, who also wrote the Booker-nominated Cloud Atlas, a book I read earlier this year which I loved to a degree words cannot express. Naturally eager to read the rest of his works (of which there aren’t many), I started with Ghostwritten. In the same style as Cloud Atlas, this novel is a series of short stories or novellas that have wildly different settings but are linked through multiple connections, sometimes large and obvious, sometimes small and subtle.

Whereas Cloud Atlas is a voyage through time and space, Ghostwritten is merely a voyage through space, taking us from the busy subway of Tokyo, to the empty deserts of Mongolia, to the gloomy streets of St. Petersburg and to the thousand of little rooms, attics and offices of London. There are nine stories in total, some better than others. Mitchell has lived in Japan, the U.K. and Ireland, and these locations are portrayed more vividly than the others – particularly Petersburg, which didn’t sit right at all with me. Likewise, some plots are stronger than others; I was naturally more invested in the Irish physicist on the run from the CIA who makes a last stand in her hometown than I was in the thoughts and feelings of a jazz store clerk with a crush on a customer.

What’s the book about? A lot of things. The major one would seem to be the connectivity of the world, how everything we do has repercussions and how we are all linked together. This didn’t impress me much – it’s been done before and is somewhat gimmicky. But there’s a myriad of other themes present: destiny, desire, responsibility, identity, globalism, helplessness… the problem is that there’s far too many of them, and they’re expressed rather clumsily. While Cloud Atlas focused on one major theme (power), Ghostwritten has a hundred little morals elbowing each other out of the way for stage time. Nonetheless, there are a few pieces of thoughtful wisdom littered throughout. This was my favourite, a depressing condemnation of the existence of altruism:

“A traveller went on a journey with an angel. They entered a house with many floors. The angel opened one door, and in it was a room with one long bench running around the walls, crammed with people. In the centre was a table piled with sweetmeats. Each guest had a very long silver spoon, as long as a man is tall. They were trying to feed themselves, but of course they couldn’t – the spoons were too long, and the food kept falling off. So in spite of there being enough food for everyone, everyone was hungry. ‘This,’ explained the angel, ‘is hell. The people do not love each other. They only want to feed themselves.’

“Then the angel took the traveller to another room. It was exactly the same as the first, only this time instead of trying to feed themselves, the guests used their spoons to feed one another, across the room. ‘Here,’ said the angel, ‘the people think only of one another. And by doing so, they feed themselves. Here is heaven.'”

Tatyana thought for a moment. “There’s no difference.”

“No difference?”

“No difference. Everybody both in heaven and hell wanted one and the same thing: meat in their bellies. But those in heaven got their shit together better. That’s all.”

Having said all of this, it’s unfair to compare Ghostwritten with Cloud Atlas. This was Mitchell’s very first novel, and for a debut it’s quite impressive. Yes, the message is a bit messy, and yes, some of the sections are weak. Yet it still drew me in, and entertained me, and presented a thoroughly interesting and well-constructed world.

As a novel, Ghostwritten is quite good, and as a first novel it’s amazing. It’s just a shame for Mitchell that the first of his novels I read was Cloud Atlas, one of the crowning literary masterpieces of this decade, and thus I envisage him as a godlike being of pure energy that pumps out miracles 24/7. It’s the same damned thing that happened with Michael Chabon and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

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