Monthly Archives: October 2008

Bad blog space

It’s been a winter of discontent for me. I think the reality of being in a strange land has hit home, especially with the deaths of people in my family, and the poignancy of losses elsewhere. I’ve been working, in paid employment, and while that has been nice for us (it pays for lessons – ballet, drama, piano, singing), it has sapped my energy. (The work itself was very, very enjoyable.) But today I taught my last tutorial for the semester, and for reasons (TM), I don’t intend to look for paid work again until next year, so for the next few months, I am quite at leisure, aside from the usual housewifery and caring for my beloved daughters.

I have also been somewhat, or indeed a lot, occupied by singing. I’m enjoying it so much. Perhaps it’s the sheer joy of finding something new to do. Or perhaps it’s the delight of finding that something that I thought I might be able to do really is something that I am capable of. NOT that I am the next Cecilia Bartoli (who is, in any case, a few months younger than me, so I would be hard put to be the next one). But I can sing, in tune, and in reasonable voice, over a reasonable range. (This is not false modesty: I really do have no more than a reasonable voice.) My teacher is urging me to sing in his end of year concert, but I am not sure of my abilities yet. I confessed to him that I was scared to do it, that I didn’t trust myself. He scoffed, loudly. “But you lecture at university,” he said, “to large groups of students.” Well yes, I thought, but that’s easy. Singing is altogether too new and too precious to me to venture it in front of an audience of strangers.

So between singing and discontent and the time taken up by work, I have not been in much of a mood to blog. I have plenty of ideas! But I lack the energy, and the time, to write about them. However, I’m hoping to get two posts up next week, one about “Re-imagining work”, and one where I admit that “Craig was right.” I’ll be saying that latter one very quietly indeed.

In the meantime, I’m off to Canberra for the weekend, to stay with a beloved, newly-single friend, and celebrate her birthday with her. I have had a winter of discontent; she has had the winter from hell. I am so looking forward to seeing her tomorrow, and to just being with her for a couple of days. She’s planning to make me walk up mountains (‘though in the old country we would call them hills). I’m sure it will be good for me.

Drunken loquats

The conversation about loquats has wandered to memories of a film that some of us saw back in the 1970s, with a memorable sequence about drunken elephants and baboons. Here’s the clip.

(HT: Steven, in comments.)

Who else remembers seeing it back then? I saw it in 1977, when I was 11.

Friday Feminist – Carole Pateman (3)

Cross posted

An old anarchist slogan states that ‘no man is good enough to be another man’s master’. The sentiment is admirable, but the slogan is silent on one crucial issue. In modern civil society all men are deemed good enough to be women’s masters; civil freedom depends on patriarchal right. The failure to see patriarchal right as central to the political problem of freedom, mastery and subordination is so deep-seated that even the anarchists, so acutely aware of subjection among men, have had few quarrels with their fellow socialists about sexual domination. From the beginning of the modern era, when Mary Astell asked why, if all men were born free, all women were born slaves, feminists have persistently challenged masculine right; but, despite all the social changes and legal and political reforms over the past 300 years, the question of women’s subordination is still not seen as a matter of major importance, either in the academic study of politics or in political practice. Controversy about freedom revolves round the law of the state and the law of capitalist production: silence is maintained on the law of male sex-right.

Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract, 1988

Are the Maori seats undemocratic?

I’ve put up a long post about the Maori seats at Larvatus Prodeo. It’s written for Australian readers, but there’s some arguments about the alleged undemocratic nature of the seats that NZ readers might be interested in. So I have copied the post here too.

There’s a lot of huffing and puffing and chuffing going on about the Maori seats. In particular, the usual suspects (read, the National party) have been asserting that they are undemocratic and they should go. Of course, the Nats would say this: until very recent elections, the Maori seats have been solidly Labour. Ordinarily, that doesn’t matter so much under MMP, where for the most part, the proportion of seats that each party holds is determined by the party vote. As long as the number of seats a party gets based on the party vote exceeds the number of electorate seats that party holds (see the primer on MMP for how this works), then the fact that electorate seats go Labour or National or Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden Party doesn’t matter in terms of the overall makeup up parliament.

But this time round, things might be different. It looks as though the Maori party will take five or six or maybe all seven of the Maori seats, but only take about 3 to 4% of the party vote. 4% of the party vote would give them 4.8 seats in parliament (call it 5 seats). So if they take seven electorate seats, there will be an overhang of 2 seats i.e. two extra seats in the house. That means that the house will have 122 seats, and the governing coalition will need to hold 62 of those seats. All of which is a little worrying if you are the National party, hovering around 50% support, but not sure whether or not you will have any friends to play with in the big house. In your worst nightmares, the nerdy-swot kid (Labour), who is not very popular but nevertheless has lots of friends, might get to be the government instead, all courtesy of the overhang.

It’s not only the National party getting uptight about the Maori seats. Peter Dunne, leader of United Future, is fulminating about the Maori seats too, claiming that they distort democracy, and pervert the will of the majority. Which is just a bit bloody rich, considering that his micro party only makes it into parliament courtesy of his own electorate seat, and the way the polls are panning out at present, he’s highly likely to be an overhang all by himself this time around. (If you want to check the state of the polls in NZ, try Curiablog, for a rolling poll of polls, and reports of each poll as it comes out.)

So are the Maori seats undemocratic?
Continue reading

Friday Feminist – Jane Tompkins

Cross post

These beings exist separately but not apart. One writes for professional journals, the other in diaries, late at night. One uses words like ‘context’ and ‘intelligibility’, likes to win arguments, see her name in print, and give graduate students hardheaded advice. The other has hardly even been heard from. She had a short story published once in a university literary magazine, but her works exist chiefly in notebooks and manila folders labelled ‘Journal’ and ‘Private’. This person talks on the telephone a lot to her friends, has seen psychiatrists, likes cappuccino, worries about the state of her soul. Her father is ill right now, and one of her friends recently committed suicide.

The dichotomy drawn here is false – and not false. I mean in reality there’s no split. It’s the same person who feels and who discourses about epistemology. The problem is that you can’t talk about your private life in the course of doing your professional work. You have to pretend that epistemology, or whatever you’re writing about, has nothing to do with your life, that it’s more exalted, more important, because it (supposedly) transcends the merely personal. Well, I’m tired of the conventions that keep discussions of epistemology, or James Joyce, segregated from meditations on what is happening outside my window or inside my heart. The public-private dichotomy, which is to say, the public-private hierarchy is a founding condition of female oppression. I say to hell with it. The reason I feel embarrassed at my own attempts to speak personally in a professional context is that I have been conditioned to feel that way. That’s all there is to it.

I think people are scared to talk about themselves, that they haven’t got the guts to do it. I think readers want to know about each other. Sometimes, when a writer introduces some personal bit of story into an essay, I can hardly contain my pleasure. I love writers who write about their own experience. I feel I’m being nourished by them, that I’m being allowed to enter into a personal relationship with them. That I can match my own experience up with theirs, feel cousin to them, and say, yes, that’s how it is.

Jane Tompkins, “Me and My Shadow”, in Linda Kauffmann (ed.), Gender and Theory, Blackwell:1989, reprinted in Sandra Kemp and Judith Squires (eds.), Feminisms, OUP:1997

I love Emma Thompson

Outraged to discover that Atwell was under instructions to lose weight before playing Julia – the enigmatic older daughter with whom Charles falls in love – [Emma Thompson] threatened to quit unless the film’s producers accepted Atwell’s size. They did.

In contrast to mainstream cinema’s rollcall of skinny leading ladies with washboard chests, Atwell looks sensual, womanly and normal as a result. “This is where I get a bit fundamentalist, I’m afraid,” says Thompson, a long-time feminist and activist.

“It’s no joke: I would have made a big fat fuss and walked off.” She laments the body fascism of the film industry and, indeed, of society in general. So what can be done?

“Put on weight and say, ‘F..k off!”‘

Read the whole article.

70s retro chocolate sponge roll – the healthy version

Given recent discussions about food, I thought that it must surely be time for some baking blogging. Chocolate sponge roll is one of my favourite desserts: it’s easy to make, comparatively cheap, and it can be very low fat, or outrageously high fat, if that’s the way you want to go. It’s easy enough to find pictures of high fat versions, but I find them off-putting. So here’s how to make a low fat but nevertheless exceedingly delicious chocolate sponge roll.

Preheat your oven to about 200 degrees Celsius (about 400 Fahrenheit), and get your baking tin ready. I use a sponge roll tray that is 38cm long (15 inches) by 25cm wide (10 inches). You need to either line it with baking paper, or grease and flour it.

To line it with baking paper, cut a piece of paper bigger than the tray, then fold a margin on each side of the paper, so that the folded paper is the same size as the tray. Then you can either just nestle the paper into the tray, fold the margins up to line the sides, and scrunch the corners so that they fit, or you can do a proper mitred corner.

To make a mitred corner, while holding the folded margin down on one edge of the paper down, push your thumb into the other margin, to make what looks like a little tent for your thumb. Then push the tent down with your fingers, to form a squashed triangle of paper. Do this on all four corners. It doesn’t matter which way your squashed triangle goes: we’re lining a cake tin here, not doing fabulous origami.

Then unfold each margin so that the side stands at right angles to the base, and pinch the triangle around the corner. Nestle the folded case into the tin, and you’re done. The paper case won’t stand up perfectly, nor will it look beautiful, but it will do the job nicely. In any case, I don’t think it matters too much with this recipe, because you will be cutting the crusts off, so the cake won’t be ruined if the corners turn out to be a bit wonky.

If you don’t have baking paper on hand, then grease the tray with butter. When it is greased, put about 1 tablespoon of flour into it, and shake it about gently, so that the surface is coated with flour. Then turn the tray upside down, and tap it smartly, to get rid of the excess flour. It is not a good idea to do this inside – you will wake the baby and end up with flour all over your kitchen.

To make the mix,start with three eggs which you beat until they become soft and frothy. Ideally, you will be doing this in your wonderful Kenwood mixer, which is the kitchen appliance you would throw off the sinking boat last of all, but you can do it perfectly well using a hand egg beater.

Then, slowly, bit by bit, add 2/5ths of a cup of sugar and beat well. You can use caster sugar if you prefer, but ordinary old white sugar is fine. I don’t have a 1/5 cup measure, so I just get my 1/2 cup measure, and try to remove about 1/5 (think through the fractions: removing 1/5 from a half will leave you with 4/5 of one half, which is equal to 2/5 of a whole). If you want to be exceedingly accurate, then remember that a cup is 250mls, so a half cup is 125mls, and 2/5 of a cup is 100 mls. Measure a half cup of sugar, and take out 5 teaspoons (5mls each). I get my daughters to do this: it’s a very practical way to help them to understand fractions and parts and the relationship of parts to wholes, and there’s nothing quite like a little mereology to give your mind a work out.

Keep on beating. Beat some more. Then do it again. You are aiming to get the egg and sugar mix to the ribbon stage, which means that when you pull the beater out of the mix, a soft ribbon of the mix drapes down and holds its shape for a while. Don’t cut the beating short – you want your sponge to be light and fluffy, and the way to do that is by having a light, fluffy egg and sugar mix.

Next, sift 2/5 cup of cornflour, 1 tablespoon cocoa, 1 tablespoon plain flour, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. Sift the dry ingredients a couple of times, because you want them to be very finely grained when you add them to the egg mix.

Then very gently and carefully, incorporate the dry ingredients into the egg mix. Fold them in by hand, going round and round the mixing bowl in a figure 8 with your spatula. The idea is to get the dry ingredients mixed through without losing the fluffiness of the egg mix. You can use your wonderful Kenwood mixer to do this, but it’s not really advisable – you tend to lose the fluffiness.

Gently spread the cake mix into your prepared tray, and bake it for about 10 to 12 minutes.

When you take the cake out of the oven, turn it out of the tin top side down onto a clean, dry tea towel. If you have used baking paper, very gently peel the paper away from the cake. If you greased and floured your tray, you will need to run a knife around the edge of the cake, then keeping the cake as close to the tea towel as possible, use the knife to slowly peel the cake out of the tin and face down onto the tea towel.

Cut off the crusts (about 2cm – 1/2 inch), and give them to your daughters for a snack. You need to cut the crusts off, so that the cake will roll up easily. Then very gently, so that the cake doesn’t crack, roll it up in the tea towel, so that the tea towel is layered into the cake. If you don’t do this, the roll will stick together, and you will end up with chocolate sponge sticky mess. Leave the roll to cool on a rack until you are ready to use it.

When you are ready to serve the cake, unroll it on the tea towel, and fill it. The filling is entirely up to you, and at this stage, if you really want to, you can add whipped cream. I prefer to spread raspberry jam (jelly) over the cake, and then add what the strangelings call secret ingredient x.

Which is just a bar of flakey chocolate, crumbled over the jam. Then carefully, reroll the cake, put it onto the serving plate, and dust it with icing sugar (or decorate it with whipped cream, if you really want to). Slice it using a bread knife, so that it keeps its shape. I serve the cake with fresh berries, and yoghurt or cream on the side.

I prefer to let people put their own yoghurt or cream on, so that I am not “forcing” them to have all the saturated fats, and they can regulate their own intake. And that’s how you can keep the heavy fat content of this dessert down to a reasonable level.

As for cost, I estimate that this cake costs about $2 to make. Adding the cream and yoghurt and jam and berries and secret ingredient x might add another $6 to $8 or so, depending on the season, and how much you decide to add. You could serve this with just jam and yoghurt, and that would make the total cost about $4, which is not too bad at all.