27 November 2006

Remains of a Christmas beetle

This is the time of year when, if you see a jewel, it's likely to be a beetle, or what's left of one.There is a great richness of beetles here in southeast Australia, and many emerge now.

This scarab is a type of Christmas beetle (Anoplognathus) of which there are so many species in New South Wales that Chris Reid and Kindi Smith, of the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Research, Australian Museum, Sydney have produced an illustrated guide.

Ants do a marvellous job eating out the soft flesh of insects.

23 November 2006

Books in Russia: A true story by a friend I'll call 'Ж'

Independent writing and publishing is under threat in modern Russia. The government regularly publishes a list of 'banned books' which are not to be sold in bookshops. Though legitimately published, these books are now in the strange position of being circulated like the samizdat books of the Soviet era (and subsequent editions must presumably be printed in the old basement style.)

Ostensible criteria for the banned list are: books which 'promote' drug use, books which directly criticise the present government, and (ironically) books which criticise the Christian church.

The publisher of William Burroughs' 'Junky', Hunter S Thompson's 'Fear & Loathing' and Tony White's 'Satan Satan Satan' (all banned) has suffered at the hands of the Russian government, waking up one morning to find his bed surrounded by police, and awaking shortly after that in a mental hospital — this was a mere 'warning' (he was released after two weeks by an annoyed doctor, who found he was healthy and was baffled as to why he was there). The publisher was also locked out of his bank account.

While in some Western countries the police are seen as a state-sponsored street gang, in Russia the government hire actual street gangs to carry out some of their work for the purpose of deniability: this year the offices of T-ough Press were fire-bombed and a year ago two independent bookstores underwent a similar attack. In many ways the government has changed only in name and the system continues much as before, using many of the same techniques.

Some new methods have been imported from the capitalist West, however. While the Soviet government claimed to have eliminated class but only eliminated the middle one, the vast gap between haves and have-nots is now a matter of money as well as influence. The uncategorized mish-mash of 'modern' and Soviet-style manipulation in Russia is hard for western commentators to get their heads around and requires too much 'backstory' to describe, and so most western media simply ignores it (until someone known to the West is assassinated, and still the story is not adequately explained).

There was more coverage of Russia when the original Iron Curtain existed, because criticism could be used for political ends. Now the Russian leadership is a 'friend' and his methods too similar to those of Western countries to make criticism of it a comfortable experience.

10 November 2006

Dung beetle ambulating on a piece of paper

An extremely reluctant model, who just wanted to rush off. Built to dig in, the dung beetle found paper quite unsatisfactory. This allows you to see contrast, so I heartlessly frustrated its racing till I got one sort of satisfactory shot. After the session, a nice pat was found for it, and in just a few movements, it disappeared.

06 November 2006

Dear Associate Director, Fulfilment,

I do 'rely', as you say, on your magazine for some things, but I never expected Fulfilment! When does it begin? I have, as you should know, been a subscriber for some time, and have not received Fulfilment yet, even with your bumper issue.

I don't doubt your 'Sincerely', but you state categorically: 'The time will never be better.' By whose authority, when, and for whom? I saw a stone inscribed with these very words in Tutankhamen's tomb, and what did he get?

Not to say I don't trust you, but please have the Fulfilment Director write to me, if he writes. Or he could just Make Himself Known.

Better yet, just send me a 3-wish lamp. Your firm must have a warehouse full of them. At the stroke of my third wish's Fulfilment, you can consider your offer Accepted.

PS A friend who Reads Over My Shoulder has just interrupted, saying that Fulfilment doesn't mean you fulfilling my wishes, but me fulfilling yours. If that's true, this is a special offer indeed, if you think I should pay you for the privilege. If, however, you wish to query my rates:
1) I am not that kind of woman, not without a picture of you, a list of your skills, and your cooking creds, to begin with.
2) no apologies, but I don't discount.

So this aspersion can't be true. Nosey friends have suspicious minds. I look forward to saying hah! to her, having rubbed my lamp with Complete Satisfaction. You wouldn't simply want me to renew a subscription. btw, I enjoyed your magazine's favourable report of Professor Daniel Oppenheimer's 2006 Ig Nobel Literature Prize for "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long words Needlessly"

04 November 2006

November VIRTUOUS MEDLAR CIRCLE features Steve Aylett

I don't usually use the 'm' word. But aylett's deceptive 'm' (and possibly 'm's) made me do it.

In The Virtuous Medlar Circle you'll also find the latest delicious column by A.C.E. Bauer (which changed my cooking plans) . . . and then, going down:
More Irresistibles (links) including:

  • The Coup de Grâce, Alistair Rennie's latest short story
  • a wonderfully tacky mnemonic from Matt Kuchta of Research at a Snail's Pace
  • an instruction to find a wrongly out-of-print, totally irresistible guide to joyful poetry of a type (which includes the Reverend Edwin Emmanuel Bradford, who put women in their place and celebrated the beauty of handsome boys)