peteg's blog

Omar El Akkad: American War.

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Kindle. The first two paragraphs Michiko Kakutani's review sold it to me as having a rich conceit: that the United States has a second Civil War. I've thought for a long time that the U.S. Federal Government is too powerful for anyone to challenge, but the divisiveness of the recent election result struck me as a plausible mechanism for El Akkad's premise coming to pass. Unfortunately he opts for a retread of the actual Civil War, pitching South against North once more, rather than mining the city/country schism suggested by current-day Trumpistan.

The book squanders its promise with too much detail (irrelevant to this story, and better treated in factual accounts) and an eye-for-an-eye causal determinism where everything is justified by completely unimaginative conjoined events (cf Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist). The tight linear structure and somewhat formulaic, exacting prose made me think that El Akkad was a computer programmer, but the author's bio states he is in fact a journalist.

Concretely we get accounts of life in a container in Louisiana (familiar to fly-in-fly-out mining employees), climate change (look outside), a refugee camp (see the newspaper on Manus Island and Nauru, and sundry Vietnamese accounts), the full Gitmo experience (see Michael Mori's book etc.), child soldiers, a Quiet Egyptian (see Graham Greene), a love-it-or-leave vibe, a mixed martial arts non-novelty, mindless capricious drones (newspaper), and an uninsightful take on Southern culture (see Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full for a better effort). OK, we're yet to see biological agents kill millions of people. Sarat is the great woman in history, and pivot around her the country does, her being an otherwise empty vessel with no stake in creation. The interstitial faked news is a move lifted from John Brunner.

Reading Kakutani's review to its end just now: she is right that the morality does not escape the Star Wars universe. Justin Cronin took a second bite for the New York Times. Both act like they've never heard or thought about any of this stuff before.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

A beautiful day, warm in the sun. I had lunch at Pinocchio Sushi, corner of Barker and Anzac, for old times' sake: their Korean Fried Chicken (karaage) was about the same, as was the sushi/sashimi. After I left there was a queue out the door for a table. I decided to go for a swim/paddle/soak at Little Bay, which was clean. The ride back was a little tricky as the sun is now so low in the sky. Turning into O'Riordan St from Gardeners Road is a joke: there's a lane, but no arrow on the lights. Thanks guys.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

Beautiful sunny day, slightly cold wind. Rode over to Gordons Bay at 12:30pm, had leftover pizza for lunch on the northern Coogee headland. I got in off the beach, but the tide was up, the surf quite rough, and the flotsam from the rain a few days ago too thick for comfort. The temperature was fine though, even when I got out. The ride back was placid. I was sufficiently preoccupied that I got stuck behind some cars that were thinking even less hard about the traffic than I was.

King Street Theatre: Down An Alley Filled With Cats by Warwick Moss.

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$35 + $0.30 transaction fee, booked 2017-05-12. King Street Theatre is pretty much in St Peters. I think Judith Greenaway's review sold it to me; in any case I was misguided. (Other reviews are similarly incoherently tepid and boosterish: Matthew MacDonald for instance, gives it three stars but highly recommends going.) She was right about the 80s classics during the interval (Redgum, Midnight Oil, etc.) but the play itself was not that close to her description. Sure, there's two blokes in a bookshop (filled with anachronisms for 1984), but they tend to shout at each other and ham it up in between. I couldn't tell if it was the production or the play itself that was letting things down, so perhaps both. The spontaneous revelations were nowhere plausible.

The writer and (I think) director were in the audience for this closing night, which lead to an awkward outro.

The Depot Theatre: Educating Rita.

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I scored a free double pass to this preview (or one to the opening on Friday, but Dave was heading out for a tango that night) from somewhere; I've subscribed to too many arts newsletters, and still I hardly go to anything. The Depot Theatre is in the same community area as The Bower, on Addison Road in Marrickville. I hadn't seen the movie. We grabbed some dinner before (a decent laksa at the Mekong Noodle Bar in Marrickville, near the post office) and a coffee from Pagoto gelateria on Victoria.

We had perhaps the best seats in the house (right from the entry corridor, front row furthest along). Like the last thing I saw (A Clockwork Orange, two months ago!), this one is venerable and stood in need of some modernisation, or at least adaptation to the current day. The acting was solid (Emily McGowan, David Jeffrey), and the set worked well, and I wasn't at all bored with the episodic nature of it. It now seems so tame when set against something more recent like Oleanna. These days it's probably more typical to go looking for a self to actualize, and after coming up empty-handed proceeding to vacuous power games; things no amount of Blake is really going to help with.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

Lunch at Tum's Thai then a soak at Gordons Bay. Pleasant in, not too cold getting out. I headed back to UNSW Library to complete the day's work to find it absolutely packed with students. I had fears of not being able to park but there was plenty of room on Botany St near High, just past Tigers childcare.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

Lunch on the Coogee headland and an early-afternoon sort-of-snorkel at Gordons Bay off the beach, along the southern rocks. Quite warm in the sun, the wind was not too cold, and the water remains OK once in. The ride over and back was fine. I stopped in at Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket on the way back to get some advice about a new front tyre for the CB400. Friday, Phil says, and the back one is good for a few thousand yet.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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Palace Cinemas, Norton St, $16, 9pm. 7 people total in the theatre. Wasn't feeling like going home, so I had a pizza at Da Noi a flat white at the cinema, and read my not-great book for an hour in their foyer. It was almost totally dead.

This movie is boring. It has loads of clangers and cliched humour, pauses signalling where the audience should be laughing. Some of the visuals are fun, but there's nothing new here. I should have braved a movie made for grown ups.

Manohla Dargis.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

Lunch at Al-Rayyan Indian Restaurant on Elizabeth St. I opportunistically parked on Kippax, later to be shown by a no-namer motorcycle delivery bloke that you can park out front. There was a protest about something to do with Syria on Elizabeth that combined with the roadworks around Central to make a total mess of things. I eventually got over to Gordons Bay (more new mess on Allison, more righteous drivers on Cowper) by around 2:30pm. The water is not too bad once in, though I remember now it was the hot shower soon after getting out that made all this possible in the colder months. Read another chapter of my book on the northern Coogee headland. The traffic back was incredibly bad; I think there was a Swans game, or maybe a Sydney FC one, at Moore Park. Once I got to the CBD, things were OK.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

Rode down to La Perouse at 2:30pm. The traffic around Broadway Shopping Centre was still crazy. Beautiful day, 25 degrees or more. Lunch at Paris Seafood. Dip in Frenchmans Beach, the first for a month. Clean water, a tad cold but still OK. The traffic on the ride home was not so bad.

District 9

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Second time around, late, with Dave, for a Sharlto Copley fix. Neill Blomkamp is gifted but he has yet to surpass this initial outing.

A Lego™ Technic BMW R1200GS (set #42063).

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For when you don't want the full-size one.

While in Zurich I heard (along with everyone else) that Lego™ is releasing a Saturn V set in June. This prompted me to see what other models they have now, which in combination with a sale by Myer, led me to buying this one. It ended up a bit messy: in order to get a 20% discount I needed to buy two sets, and to get free shipping I had to spend $AU100. It took me a while to settle on the Lego™ Architecture Chicago set #21033 — it would've been a lot quicker if they'd had a model of a Volvo 240! As Myer couldn't scare one up in the following week, I came away with the beemer alone for $AU72 delivered.

Assembly took most of an evening. I still have to put the stickers on. There's a little 40 years of Technic piece in there somewhere; I guess that makes my old studdy kits some of the first. The suspension is pretty awesome, as are the signature boxes, but the model of the boxer engine leaves a bit to be desired, and the seat is missing.

Difficult Pleasure (1989)

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At the State Library, mid-afternoon, one hour. I sought out this interview with Brett Whiteley after visiting his studio a few weeks back. He was definitely at the mystical end of things; by declaiming in the style of RJL Hawke, dropping names, conceptualising, swearing and no-nonsense rank pulling gave some gravitas to his pretension to being a philosopher-artist. His comments on his Alchemy strongly suggest that it is incoherent.

The Equalizer

/noise/movies | Link

I've been meaning to watch more of Denzel Washington's movies since forever. This one, from 2014, suggests that for all his good and early hard work he's slipped into a comfortable formula of vigilantism, the man with the secret (violent) past who really just wants to help. They play New Dawn Fades late on, just before the credits, which of course was but one aspect of the far richer Heat from almost twenty years previous. And that was indeed Chloƫ Grace Moretz playing the Russian sex slave, showing just how far she's come from Kick Ass. Really just a sop to those who pine for B-Movies (ala Gil Scott Heron).

Man on Fire

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Proceeding with another past-prime Denzel outing (this time from 2004), I really ended up watching Fantastic Mr Fox on the screen of the kid in front of me, between the seats, on the flight from Doha to Sydney. Once again this is pure formula, with some choppy camerawork that often makes for motion sickness. Dakota Fanning was pretty good as the kid. If I got it right, crooked Mickey Rourke doesn't get any comeuppance. Christopher Walken is similarly phoning it in. Drecky.

Assassin's Creed

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I feel that good movies are not wasted by watching them on aeroplanes, so on the Zurich to Doha leg of a trip back to Sydney I sought out this piece of uniformly-panned dreck from 2016. The draw was Fassbender, who somehow thought this was so worth making (or would make enough to be worth it) that he produced it. The rest of the cast is also excellent elsewhere, but not here: Marion Cotillard so far from Lady Macbeth, Brendan Gleeson (again as Fassbender's Dad), Michael Kenneth Williams (memorable in The Night of). The whole thing is risible and nonsensical.

Graham Greene: A Burnt Out Case.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. A not-too-long novel from 1960 that I completed on the plane from Doha to Sydney. Mostly Greene sticks to his usual preoccupations (Catholicism, colonialism, journalism, character sketches, scenery, the exotic, suffering and hypocrisy, power plays) so there's a lot of talking but not action. We're in the Congo, at a Belgian leproserie, where the new drugs are eradicating the scourge of millenia and a womanizing architect seeks isolation from the maddening world. The gun that goes off in Part V was never on the table. In some ways it has a similar structure to, and is less successful than, his canonical The Quiet American.

Robert Gorham Davis reviewed it back in the day.

Passengers

/noise/movies | Link

I'm not a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence (I liked her in American Hustle), and while Chris Pratt can be some fun I avoided this largely due to the dodgy premise of a woman, woken into a hopeless situation, forgiving the man who dun it. Also the reviews were so-so, and now I see the editing was a bit crap too. Morpheus doesn't work any magic before he croaks, and there isn't any kind of twist at the end. I enjoyed the aesthetic, perhaps because it is so reassuringly unoriginal, and I guess it's nice to see interstellar lurv too weak to bend the universe out of shape. Got the first half between Zurich and Doha, and the second half from Doha to Sydney.

Another problem that I couldn't get out of my head: how was JLaw going to get back to Earth after her year on Homestead II?

Benyamin: Goat Days.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Mostly read on the short (~6 hour) flight from Doha to Zurich. Somehow I mostly slept through the long leg (~14 hours) from Sydney to Doha. Qatar Airways must hire a lot of Russian pilots, and they seem less bothered about safety than any other airline I've flown with. The stopover definitely evokes this book, as did the previous one I read.

This is a tale of recent-day enslavery and possibly human trafficking in the Gulf states. It's at its best when talking about the harrowing conditions of the first-person goatherd / general dogsbody who was sold a visa for a construction company but got abducted by an opportunistic Arab ("arbab") with pens (essentially a feedlot) on the edge of the desert. The author claims to have sourced this from someone's direct experience (see Wikipedia for details). There's a lot of empathy demonstrated in his connection with the animals. My only real beef was the slow progress through the desert. I wonder if things are improving at all.

The Arabic translation was apparently written by an Indian expatriate in Doha.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

Last gasp soak at Gordons Bay. I had some vague aspiration to see if the squid had come to say goodbye, but the water was too filthy to stick my head into. Quite a few people on the rocks, soaking up the sun, but only five or so in the water, and the surf lifesaver boat that seemed to be drifting out with the tide. A beautiful day, perfect temperatures all round. Had a snooze on the headland and lunch at Yen's afterwards.