peteg's blog

Making Rain Productions: Coronado at the Cornservatory, 4210 N Lincoln.

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Goldstar ticket: $10.00 + $3.75 service fee = $13.75, bought 2015-07-14. Lunch was so-so Vietnamese chicken curry noodles at Simply IT, followed by an attempt at snoozing next to the golf course at Belmont Harbor which was stymied by vast numbers of biting insects. Loads of dragonflies also, which don't seem to bother humans. Dinner was Singapore noodles at Asian Mix Cafe, similarly meh. Warm, but not too humid for long bike rides.

This is something like the Dennis Lehane version of Gone Girl. The acting was quite solid but the scene changes were frequent and momentum-destroying; the play is cut up like a modern movie. The use of physically-dissimilar actors playing the same characters in different threads was an effective way of prolonging the mystery. The title had me going because I thought it referred to the actual locality in San Diego, whereas I think Lehane's Coronado is everywhere small-town USA, somewhere affected by hurricanes, with enough unsavvy trailer park residents to sustain a livelihood from insurance scams. The compromised shrink was little more than a cliché. The Gone Girl herself was a bit too controlling, to no particular end; her raw need was enough. The source material garnered a damning review in the New York Times.

The Cornservatory is one of those "shopfront" theatres a long way from the Loop, in this case up Lincoln (and not Broadway), and it typically hosts comedy. I rode home via Lincoln/Damen/Clybourn, trying to avoid the bros of Lakeview, lit by a big full-ish moon.

The Ruling Class

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Another suggestion from David S:

In this movie, Peter O'Toole plays the new Earl of Gurney (the last one died wearing his naval uniform and a tutu in a fit of autoerotic asphyxiation). He also happens to think he is Jesus. His idle rich family try to change his disposition so that he won’t embarrass him when he goes to the House of Lords. Then things get weird. Great send up of the toffs with lovely musical numbers.

More at Wikipedia. I enjoyed it. Clearly of its day: the post-"I'm Jack" sequence nods to A Clockwork Orange's "I was cured alright!" and presages The Shining, and concerns around the AC-DC messiah (electro-convulsive therapy) also aired in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. O'Toole at his fruity best. Mike Leigh's A Sense of History is marginally more respectful.

The 606.

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The 606 trail (aka Bloomingdale Line) opened back in June, but it's taken me this long to find a spare school day to ride the length of it, east-to-west. The bridge on Cortland is being reconstructed, so it was a little tricky to get to the trail head on Ashland (traffic sewer beyond compare). They've done an awesome job, and I expect it'll be even nicer when the plants mature. Rode back to Atomix, where I read up on various tax codes.

A Red Orchid Theatre incubator: Celebration by Harold Pinter infused with the music of Mauricio Kagel.

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$10.00 + $1.00 Convenience Charge = $11.00, bought 2015-07-22. Presented by the incubator, "a caKe experiment with music by beyond this point". Directed by dado, who also played the role of Julie. Two-thirds packed, and where else are you going to be on this Friday night? Ran for about an hour, played for laughs and cut up with miscellaneous po-faced percussion. The raw material is a brutal accounting of the Posh-and-Becks nouveau riche trash culture of the late 1990s. Elliot Baker as Lambert nailed his part of that; Dan Wenzel as Matt was suitably inert. The interjecting waiter spouted a mix of the true, the plausible, and the manifestly fraudulent, all of it tosh, embodying the earlier English tradition of guilt by association; Stephen Walker's fine comedic timing made that all work. Maria Stephens nailed the creepy slutty resistability of Prue, and Carolyn Molloy may have been reading the BBC news while recounting her complete faith in the flaws of her beau Russell, played with perfect insouciance by Michael Doonan. David Weber as Richard the restaurateur was cannon fodder.

Annoyingly the Chicago Reader has decided to severely reduce the number of theatre reviews they publish.

New MacBook Pro.

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It's been about four-and-a-half years since I bought the last one. I'd been hanging on for Apple to release a machine with the latest quad-core Intel processors, but those got released just before these new models, back in June, and so I am stuck with some earlier year's. (I think Apple might have known that the yields were poor.) What forced my hand was that Isabelle started reliably crashing the old machine, perhaps due to the heat, dust and possibly borderline support for the memory I put in it. Or maybe it did have the infamous GPU hardware bug, despite getting a new mainboard in September 2013.

Anyway, what I give up with the new machine is a DVD drive, which I only ever used to reinstall the machine, and an ethernet port, which I will miss if I ever get back to hacking hardware. Also they have gotten rid of the Kensington lock slot. I now have to use Yosemite, which is not hugely different to Mavericks, so shrug. What I gain is USB3, a superfast SSD, a very sharp screen, and less weight to lug around. I doubt the battery life is going to matter, or the extra ThunderBolt port. So faster, yes, but otherwise pretty much a wash. I do like having a machine where the only moving parts are the keys and the fans though.

Buying the thing was an ordeal. It was quite expensive: $2.5k and another $230 in Illinois state sales tax (I mind paying money to the state less than to the Fed), but amortised over four years it's not so bad ($2 a day). I live quite close to the Lincoln Park Apple Store and figured that if I put enough cash on my Visa debit card, things would go OK. But when I got there I figured what the hell, let's try putting some of it on the credit card. This failed, and the card got totally blocked. They like doing that to me — why they can't just reject the transaction and notify me I don't know. I'm never going to rely on it when I'm overseas. Then the debit card got blocked too, as it has a $2k daily limit. The lady at my credit union told me about that, and said I could go pull another $1k in cash from an ATM. Another two calls to them got it unblocked, two trips to the ATM ($600 limit per withdrawal there) got me the difference, and an intervening switch of sales assistant finally allowed me to pay for it. The machine was brought up from the stockroom three times, by the same girl, to my excruciating embarrassment. They insisted I take my 84 cents in change. This is why I shop online.

After that I spent the whole afternoon sitting in the Apple store reinstalling Yosemite (all for a case-sensitive root partition) and Xcode. Everything comes off the internet now, so it's slow. At home the Migration Assistant took five or more hours to scrape my data off the Time Machine backup. After that, reviving the usual arcana (MacPorts, the venerable perl blogging script, some settings) went far more smoothly than previous times.

Sideshow Theatre Company: Stupid Fucking Bird

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Goldstar ticket. $20.00 + $6.00 service fee = $26.00. 3pm. On the suggestion of Adam, the ever present barman at the Chopin Theatre, who is doing this company's books. Had a late lunch at Simply IT Vietnamese, a not-so-tasty ginger chicken claypot. The Taste of Lincoln got between me (at Fullerton) and the Victory Gardens no-longer-Biograph Theater. Apparently based on Chekhov's The Seagull, about which I know nothing but am guessing is the source of his principle about stage props. This has its moments but I felt a similar distance from it as I did from Three Sisters; wallowing in lurv-induced self pity does not make for good drama, and no amount of "new kind of theatre" contrivance is going to change that. The cast did modulate the emotional temperature quite well, but it's oftentimes a long slog between meaty bits. The set and scene transitions are nicely handled, with Katy Carolina Collins belting out some tunes. I didn't recognise Nina O'Keefe from The Other Place. This is a reheat from last year, with the same cast.

Ian Watson: The Embedding

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I asked David S. at work for a suggestion and this came up first. Here's his summary:

A French anarchist studies the complex language of an endangered Amazonian tribe while aliens make a strange deal with the United States government. Short (~200 pp) and very interesting.

The Chicago Public Library's copy is authentically 1973. The title refers to centre embedding, a syntantic/grammatical concept that is explained briefly towards the beginning; it was and remains unclear to me why it would contain the secrets to the universe. I was expecting something more semantic, like homomorphic encryption, or Douglas Adams's idea that understanding life, the universe and everything demanded the construction of the Earth, or Kurt Gödel's cute syntactic tricks. The violent response to the coldly transactional aliens was somewhat predictable given the time it was written. I chugged it over a few days and enjoyed it for what it was. There's the odd gross out (a witch doctor munching on a living child's brains, for instance) and I guess I have never felt comfortable with English notions of mental healthcare since I read Will Self's Quantity Theory of Insanity. The ending fails to evoke the emotional state that the aliens purportedly sustained for 12,000 years.

Anoop Sarkar explains the linguistics some more, and is right to observe that Watson's cynicism is wearing.

David S.'s second suggestion was Gene Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus, which I also got from the Chicago Public Library but didn't get far into: the prose is a bit impenetrable. That first novella may have been a little heavy on the centre embedding.

Kamila Shamsie: A God in Every Stone

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Pankaj Mishra pointed at another book by Shamsie in his Dear Uncle Sam... essay; this one looked the most promising of those I could find at the Chicago Public Library. Shamsie writes some quite fine sentences and sometimes evokes the Peshawar of her imagination, but is let down in the large by focussing overmuch on the fictional parts of her reconstruction of history, at significant cost to the facts. The Englishwoman-archaeologist is too much of a cliché to anchor anything, and who could be so clueless about the status of minorities in hostile host countries? Helen Dunmore has it right. I found the ending conceit, of showing the same scene from three (four?) different perspectives, failed to ratchet up the tension that was clearly intended. I read it over a few days, and substantially finished it between snoozes in Tom Ping Park on Sunday afternoon.

Ahmed Rashid: Pakistan on the Brink: The future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

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Borrowed from the Chicago Public Library. Rashid is fine in the short form but is quite repetitious and loose in this longer exposition of what ails Pakistan. Also the book has dated quite rapidly; the situation with Iran has evolved significantly, for instance. The opening chapter recounts exactly the tale of bin Laden's demise that Seymour Hersh has recently called into question. I get the impression that there's more value in his earlier books on the rise of the Taliban.

Hal Hartley: The Book of Life

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Wow, it's been an age. Hartley clearly tried to mine the Wong Kar-Wai school of impressionistic cinematography with patchy results. The whole thing is a shambles.

Hal Hartley: Amateur

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I enjoyed it this time around. Perhaps it takes more patience than I've had before. The first half is funny, and the second is a little too heavy in comparison.

Terminator Genisys

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With Christian. 6pm, 3D, River East 21, $16.56 + $9.93 in beer, which I sorely needed. Mostly turkey. At least Arnie can still deliver a one-liner. I had expected endless action scenes and explosions, and left wishing there had been more action scenes and explosions. Jason Clarke should have signed up for the next Star Trek reboot instead. And let's not talk about Emilia Clarke.

Manohla Dargis.

Oracle Theatre: The America Play at the Public Access Theatre.

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It ended up being a beautiful day despite the dire warnings of thunderstorms for the afternoon. I got some lunch at the Simply IT Vietnamese on Lincoln. The curried chicken was quite OK. Afterwards I cycled up to the eastern side of Belmont Harbour, which is as pleasant and secluded as anywhere near the city. Between snoozes I ploughed on with Ahmed Rashid's Pakistan on the Brink, which is sadly dated. The first chapter is precisely the story that Seymour Hersh has called into question. Had an early-ish dinner at Asian Mix Cafe, the same-old chicken laksa, which was its usual tasty self.

The theatre was almost at capacity. The play itself is sometimes difficult to grasp, being somewhat surreal, though the production is top-notch and the humour leavens the opacity. In particular Travis Delgado was great as the "lesser" Lincoln. The grave-digging second half was harder to get into.

Chloe Riley at the reader. Jacob Davis.

John Brunner: Total Eclipse

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Extracted from the Chicago Public Library. Brunner's fat books are great, if not always convergent, but he is deeply suspect in the shorter form. The premise here is mostly 2001-style alien archeology with a dash of Stranger in a Strange Land; not spectacularly original by 1974 but sufficiently intriguing. Nothing however is made of the original telescope conceit, and his gestures at economics lack the conviction he previously brought to ecological issues. The "one of everything" trope makes no sense as they made four large statues, and multiple cities. This is a skeleton that he tired of before putting on the flesh.

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Vale, Omar Sharif.

Theatre Y: The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez by Peter Handke.

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$20 + $2 booking fee = $22.00, booked 2015-06-04. A beautiful day for cycling around Chicago. Had a so-so lunch at Pei Wei, and got suckered by Parts and Labor, a theme pub on Milwaukee with a veneer less than an inch thick. Coffee? Not really, but please be seated anyway! Grr.

This is a summer dialogue between a man and a woman, more presences than characters, set in a forest or garden. The premise is that there be no action, just talking. The bloke is a botanist (a nod-to-self by Handke), while the woman is emotional. As Melissa said afterwards: the man looks at the world, and the woman at the man.

It was damn hot in the back of the church (hotter than hell, some may say), pretty much packed, and the beer beforehand left me feeling spacey. I enjoyed the interaction of the two actors, the sting of the man's occasionally prurient questions, and the woman's evocation of her past. It went all Hal Hartley at times, with the two talking past each other. (I'm thinking of The Unbelievable Truth, where Adrienne Shelley is not getting a lot of understanding from her highschool sweetheart.) An apple passes between the pair, a clear riff on another kind of subverted creation. I found it meditative and may have to go back to study the filigree.

Afterwards Melissa Lorraine and her co-star Kevin V. Smith held court over more beer outside, in a narrow space running alongside the church, with Kevin's parents and another older couple. I hope this helps them to decompress. I got talking to her husband Evan at some point about philosophy, and later Melissa about the kinds of works she's keen to realise. Pressed on the misogyny of the work (which, in my valueless opinion, was plausibly realistic), she commented that as a woman she would have gone further. I noted afterwards that the playwright copped some stick for his commentary on the Serbian/Croat war in the 1990s; in particular, Rushdie took a spray that I presumably read in the late 1990s in his essay collection Step Across this Line.

Tony Adler got into it. I wish he'd expand on his beef with their production of Happy Days; that was enough to bring me to everything Theatre Y does while I'm here. Jacob Davis.

Hal Hartley: Fay Grim

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An unsuccessful riff on the chickens coming home to roost for the U.S. clandestine operations. There are some funny bits. Apparently the third time around; the second clearly didn't stick.

Công Huỳên Tôn Ñư Nha Trang and William L. Pensinger: The Moon of Hòa Bình

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I learn so much from these magazines Mr. Dang, and I refuse to discriminate between modes of knowing.
Henry Fool

I ordered a copy of the two volumes directly from Bennett Books on 2015-01-28, $90 + $7 for the USPS, arrived 2015-02-07, wrapped in plastic and with the auxiliary paraphenalia. This was after reading the first 350 pages or so of a copy that Chicago Public Library drug up for me from some other library, and I was planning to leave the remaining (approx) 1350 until my consciousness was in the mood for expansion. It made it increasingly clear that that day would never come, and so I've been chugging it in large slugs for the past 2-3 months. I completed it on the plane back to Chicago from PLDI in Portland, Oregon just now.

There's no beating about the bush: this is an expansive and rambling rant by someone who knows too much. (It is mostly clear that this is Pensinger as those sections are substantially autobiographical.) The charge of quackery floats in the air, especially as most of the work is long on assertion and not fussed about bringing the reader along with it; for instance the last hundred-plus pages of the first volume is notionally a bar scene but only amounts to a repetitious rant about miscellaneous "theoretical" topics (in the critical theory sense) minimally reworked into a mostly one-sided dialogue. Mixing that with quantum mechanics, relativity, meteorology, mathematics and a lexicon larger than any dictionary yields large swathes of dead tree that I skipped. It is so broad and referential that almost everyone will find some of it inpenetrable. For all that the bits that do work are too erudite for me to dismiss the whole thing out of hand.

What made the thing essentially worthwhile to me are the accounts of the streets of Saigon circa 1968. In particular they use the old names and locate many now-gone fixtures, such as those of the U.S. military, and observe many things about the traditional lifestyle of the Southern Vietnamese. Pensinger's fascination with the structure of the Southern insurgents is almost infectious, if only he'd aimed for the didactic and not the shameless intellectual exhibitionism that Banerian accuses him of in his review. (World Literature Today, Vol. 70, No. 3, Literatures of Central Asia (Summer, 1996), pp. 765-767.) There is an account of how to interpret Nha Trang's name (arising from her royal ancestry). There are also, of course, many sexy bits. These are lightly garbed in consciousness-sharing ("identity-transparency") lest the reader get the idea that the authors are merely purient. All the women are beautiful, willing and able, and there are no children to crimp anyone's style. The descriptions of Japanese culture, and the participation-mystique of Japanese gardening, left me a bit cold.

Perhaps the central failing of this book is that Pensinger invested more effort into trawling the esoteric Eastern literature than the esoteric logic literature of Australia, and so forth for every other scientific endeavour that he rubbishes. If he had he would have found several of his ideas developed using the very methods that he decries as incapable of doing so, and at approximately the same time as he was writing this book. (I have in mind Priest et al.'s paraconsistency and dialethism, and the related relevant logics, multi-valued and substructural logics, etc. developed by many people at ANU, the University of Melbourne and UNSW and sundry other places when I was a kid.) I am sure he would find still more outré things to bang on about, though it may have quelled his endless carping about the modern scientists' inflexibility of mind.

There is no point in trying to touch on everything in this book, but I did record a few pointers as I went.

Volume I:

  • p302: Drawing on Marxist criticisms, capitalism is likened to cancer (in growing unboundedly) and said to be incompatible with nature.
  • p412: Village life in and near Saigon.
  • p892: Self similarity is a property of fractals and not holograms.
  • p893: Kali Yuga is the name of The Scrapes best album thus far.
Volume II:
  • p203: The Maxim bar sounds a lot like the Khong Sao Bar, as Kimberly tells it.
  • p469: An excellent account of special forces medic training.
  • p618: "Imagine what an electronically-minded D. Ellsberg could do these days."
  • p668 gets particularly Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
  • p709 (bibliography): Greg Lockhart's study Nation in Arms: The Origins of the People's Army of Vietnam is a respectable-history companion to Pensinger's interest in the organisation of the Southern insurgents.
  • p762 (bibliography): Some arcane comments on Gleick's Chaos.
  • p790 (bibliography): Some comments on von Hayek.

Banerian identifies Liana as "an early sexual image" but to me she was something closer to Diana in Twin Peaks: a passive receiver of revelation. Also there is not much cosmology here, which is somewhat strange as the American fascination with it paralleled their misadventure in Vietnam.

There are scraps of the authors' bios scattered around the internet, for instance on Nha Trang's old Geocities page, the book's own Geocities page and a review at duversity. I believe there is a copy in the ANU's Menzies library.

No Tears for the Dead

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Ben Kenigsberg at the New York Times. There aren't too many ideas on the table, and the blood sprays are pure new wave Korean cinema. Lee Jeong-beom’s shade of red is not as stylish as Park Chan-Wook's, and nothing here is as memorable as Oldboy.

Piven Theatre: Melancholy Play

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Goldstar ticket: $12.50 + $4.00 service fee = $16.50, bought 2015-05-26. Took the Metra to Davis, Evanston, notionally the downtown, thronged with kids studying at Northwestern. The wifi at the Unicorn Cafe is pretty bad, and it got a bit colder than I expected. Dinner at Siam Splendour Evanston, a mostly-decent Bamee something-or-other. I went on the suggestion of Eric at work, who did warn me that it was a piece of fluff (or almond shells). Marissa Oberlander at the Reader says similar things, but I evidently lack the ability to relate like she can. The vacuity sucked the fun out of the fluff, and turned the harsher observations (paraquote: "American men only experience/express happiness and anger") into clangers. The cast was valiant, and the musicians able in support. Some people left at interval, and I was tempted but wedged in by the generally aged crowd. I can't complain too much as it was solidly in the tradition of the American musicals I saw at The Muny several years ago. The space was quite pleasant, and they take their community art development seriously in that part of Evanston.