A well-after-the-fact pseudo-review:
mrak was back from overseas, and I had no trouble meeting up with him, Mad and her brother Richard out the front of the Coopers bandwidth-limited boozer. He looked about the same, so either the scars have healed or the Qatari know where the soft flesh is. Ralf showed up a bit later on, but I had less (actually no) success getting organised with Peodair.
It was Paris Hilton clone city, and I was forced to acknowledge the pernicious effect she has had on sunglass fashion. Apart from outsized sunnies, loads of teenage girls sported the full get up. In the words of mrak: "come sundown, they'll be wishing they'd brought more than their underwear."
Of the three or so bands I came to see, Jarvis Cocker was the first, on the main stage. I was a bit surprised he had an hour's worth of his own material, but then he did play most of his solo album and a new (?) track. As he spent too long crapping on in the first half of his set he had to gun through the last half playing songs back-to-back. For mine it was much the same as listening to his CD in the car with a Jumpin'-Jarvis swinging from the mirror while inching forward in Sydney traffic. Whatever Pulp brought to the story was missing here.
We missed the Rapture (?) as the schedule had slipped too far for them to set up by the time we wanted to be elsewhere. Though Beck opened brilliantly with his classic Devil's Haircut and the Team America marionettes sure were cute, his set soon went to shit as his vocals died. The flu, he claimed. I was saddened by the much-abbreviated Loser and could only just make out his tributary Wave of Mutilation from the beer tent.
After forty minutes in a generally amiable mosh, ten rows from the speaker stack, the main act, the Pixies: Throughout Black Francis was wearing his "I never expected to be playing Wave of Mutilation at age 41" expression, though he was gracious in accepting the crowd's adulation. In contrast the bass player and drummer wore ecstatic grins, as if they hadn't had a meal ticket during the ten-year hiatus. (More generously it was clear they were getting off on the crowd getting off on their signature rhythms, which is just as it should be.)
The mosh was quite peaceful apart from a couple of blokes trying to get a rise out of someone, anyone. mrak had been hanging out for Gigantic, with which they closed their encore. I was happy to hear Debaser, though it seemed somehow quietened, perhaps a lack of dynamics or not enough bass. I may have been deaf by then. There were two versions of Wave of Mutilation, slow and album-speed.
As Peodair said, it was pure necrophilia.
Instead of, as expected, resolving which of the two re-distributed parts of his current seat of Calare he will stand for, Peter Andren has opted to stand for election as a Senator for NSW. The Smage spins this as a failure to do something useless, viz becoming the "most successful independent of all time". I think they mean "electorally successful", which is not the same thing.
Griffith Review #15: Divided Nation: Inequality in Action (Autumn 2007)Fri, Mar 30, 2007./noise/books | Link
Another excellent edition of this journal. I only read the ones on subjects I'm interested in, but this one makes me think I should read it more often than I do. Unlike Quarterly Essay, Griffith Review is a compilation of about 300 pages of mostly interesting work centred on a particular topic (rather than just a single viewpoint). This one is concerned with the gap between how good our gangbuster economy is said to be and how those lowest on the (cough) life security ladder have it.
In this edition, in particular:
- David Burchell's Trying to find the sunny side of life is an excellent brief history of the fashions of public housing, focussing on the recent events at Macquarie Fields.
- Peter Meredith's Down-at-heel among the well-heeled is a riveting sequence of interviews of people living in the Southern Highlands.
- In Cracks in the veneer, Jago Dodson and Neil Sipe talk about the tension between oil price fluctuations and the structures of Australia's cities, reminding me of Pete R.'s PhD topic. Unfortunately their writing does not do their research justice.
- Meera Atkinson's piece on the long term effects of domestic violence, The exiled child, is so much more insightful than the Government's ads, rightly satirised by The Chaser.
- Charlie Stansfield says a lot about the state of boarding houses in The words to say it, providing a voice-by-proxy to those who lost a point of stability in their lives and are now probably on the streets.
- Natasha Cica's On the ground recounts some urban renewal projects in the housing estates north of Hobart.
- In Beyond pity, Robert Hillman recounts his experiences with an Iranian and an Afghan refugee.
Others, such as Randa Abdel-Fattah's Of Middle Eastern appearance, didn't add much clarity to the issue of identity politics:
[In Sweden, at the Göteborg Book Festival]: While we interacted with other international guests, one person asked Nabila: "Do you feel Swedish?"
"Yes, she replied. "Until you asked me."
[...] "What about your Kurdish and Lebanese background? How does it impact on your identity?"
[...] "To be honest, I'm tired of defining myself. Am I Swedish? Am I Kurdish? Am I Lebanese? I'm all of these things, and none. Sometimes I'm more Swedish than Kurdish, sometimes I'm more Lebanese than Swedish. In the end I'm just me."
Amartya Sen, in Identity and Violence, emphasises the fluidity of identity and the contextualisation of it, observing that imposed or misunderstood identity leads to such wonderful absurdities as the "end of history" and "clash of civilisations" rubrics. I guess Abdel-Fattah's piece shows some nascent awareness of these ideas, though their expression frustrated me.
The final three articles on Aboriginal dispossession by Anna Haebich, Anita Heiss and Kim Mahood make for sombre reading.
The photography throughout the journal is also praiseworthy, especially the portrayal of the Vietnam Vets.
I come to this as an interested non-specialist and hence am probably the target demographic for this journal. I wish UNSW or another of the technical universities (the University of Technology, Sydney perhaps, they tend to innovate) could do something similar for technological culture.
Is anyone else disturbed by this?
A recent survey of students at the University of NSW found an invisible malaise had fallen over the campus.
"Students felt that university had become too serious, too purposeful, too qualification-driven and there wasn't enough fun and joy, so the vice-chancellor responded to that in a number of ways and I'm one of those ways," says corporate comedian Rodney Marks, who this year took up a post as a visiting professor at large at the university.
Marks will give 52 comic hoax lectures on campus as part of a plan to bring a little more frivolity to study.
"I am the 2007 version of the wizard who was at the university 40 years ago and he took a lot of the anger out of rebellious students in the late '60s and early '70s, and the university was the most successful campus in managing that revolutionary angst."
Oh well, Vice Chancellor Professor Fred Hilmer's usual idea of "fun and joy" is sacking general staff, so I guess this is an improvement. Somehow the powers that be have slept through the last ten years.
On a related note I was a bit shocked to find that UNSW has an oral history project, complete with an interview with the Wizard (bio). Still can't find anything much about the upside down tree though.
I think we need an apathy index, drawing inspiration from Schmidt's work on sting pain.
Not really to my taste: a portrayal of a claque of women attached to one of the Generals ousted in the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. I got sucked in on the history angle, little realising the play took an iterative deepening approach to exploring some born-to-rule lives.
Iain suggested I have a crack at Mt Solitary with all my new gear, and so I did. You can get some idea of the place from this Google map, though it looks more interesting in Google Earth if you can cope with a lack of resolution. There is some great info about the walk at Oz Ultimate that I slightly quibble with in the following.
I caught the train up to Leura to meet my parents, and after a morning tea that consisted of an enormous flowerpot scone and the last coffee I'd have for a couple of days, I got them to give me a lift to the top of the Golden Stairs. These are a steep but pretty easy descent to the Federal Pass, and the flat to the bottom of the Ruined Castle is as easy a walk as one will find in the Blue Mountains. The scramble up to the ridge is mercifully short and quite worthwhile. At some point around here the drizzle set in, continuing on and off for the rest of the day.
I was all geared up for a physically challenging descent at the eastern end of Mt Solitary, and so I was expecting the western approach (the Koorowall Knife-edge) to be about as hard as all that had come before, i.e. only making me wish I got more cardiovascular exercise more regularly. To my surprise the scrambles went on for quite a while, requiring one to climb about as many metres up as forward. Fortunately I am about as coordinated with the pack as I am without, and that proved adequate, and I'm always ready to take a spell (of work or rest, as need be). By this point all the time estimates people had given me had slipped on by, but as I'd multiplied them all by two anyway I had plenty of sun left.
At some point the going-forward track dead-ended on the southern side of the mountain, but a small backtrack, some swearing and a steep hike got me to the first summit mentioned in the cheat-sheet. I pushed on for what felt like an age to Chinaman's Gully and set up under one of the underhangs. (There are truckloads of campsites on this route, complete with stone fireplaces.) Vodafone covered most of the walking trail, and so I spent some time nattering with Dave when the darkness properly kicked in.
After a very slow start the next morning I had a pleasant walk along the ridge which had some great views back to Katoomba, though I couldn't see much of the Three Sisters as they stand in line, pretty much directly north. Indeed, the haze and rain put paid to any decent photos from this trip. The more adventurous or energetic could probably climb the summit with little trouble, but I was preoccupied by what was in the offing. Continuing to the Col I made my mark in the log book and contemplated the descent to the Kedumba River. Suffice it to say that yep, it's steep, but I reckon it was easier than trying to go back down the western side with a pack on.
Again the rain started up while I was trudging along the Mt Solitary Walking Trail, abating by the time I got to the Kedumba River crossing. Due to the rain it was flowing quite rapidly, and I took the opportunity to refill my 2.4L Berri Apple and Pear Juice container (thanks, parents) and try out these water purification tablets. The result was some chemical-smelling but perfectly fresh-tasting water that didn't make me crook. Lunch was a Heinz Chunky Butter Chicken, which is just fabulous if you're eating to live. (Dinner had been their Rogan Josh.)
From the other side of the river the trail goes straight to a fire trail that leads to Kedumba Pass. An apple and a quarter-block of dark chocolate got me up the Victoria Pass-steep road in double quick time, arriving at the defunct Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital in something like an hour. I've got to find more things to do while I wait for my heart to slow down. The rain set in again, I was buggered and it seemed like a good idea if civilisation came to me in the form of an amiable cabbie. Had a beer at the pub at Wentworth Falls and was kept awake by the inane chatter of youths on the train back to Central.
In short: navigation was pretty easy, or as one guy remarked: "it's a highway". I had the Jamison Valley topo map recommended by the cheat-sheet; the Katoomba one is not very helpful as it only covers the very start of the trip which is signposted anyway. The views are great, especially on the southern side. The Docs are not the best hiking boots ever. Kathmandu really should make a big-as-can-be water bladder for their GluonTM system.
Iain is presently working at Kathmandu, and they're presently having a massive sale... ergo, I bought some gear. (The sale was a lucky coincidence, I was really there for Iain's expertise.) Here we go:
- A Vanguard v4 Rucksack with a daypack.
- A silk sleeping bag liner.
- A microfibre towel, and we'll see how much skin that takes off.
- A self-inflating mat
Suffice it to say I am well pleased. Now, to get all the other gear together... and see how far I can walk with it on.
Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison: Silencing Dissent: How the Australian government is controlling public opinion and stifling debate.Tue, Mar 20, 2007./noise/talks | Link
A talk by the authours at Shearer's Bookshop in Leichardt. For mine the corrosive effect the Howard Government has had on Australia's public institutions is both its most important and most troubling legacy. Due to our general disinterest in matters civic, the manifest concern has been economic and occasionally social, rarely structural, perhaps because such things make few people relaxed and comfortable. I find this very irritating.
If one has a rough idea where these people are coming from (traditional liberal democracy, Westminster accountability, etc.) then I expect there is little that will surprise in this book. (I haven't read it yet, I'm going on past Clive Hamilton form.) One may then wonder what the point is in producing a record of the debasement of public institutitons if it will only be read by those who are worried in the first place.
(The authors were careful to note that the Hawke and Keating Governments also engaged in nepotism, neutering, playing favourites, etc. and spent a long time disavowing the "Howard hater" tag. Clive Hamilton made reference to Judith Brett, an academic studying the Liberals, and I think there is a lot they could learn from her about wrestling their way to the centre of the public political debate.)
John Pilger asked the final question of the night, asserting that the situation is not so very different in the other Anglo democracies. Clive Hamilton's response was that the democratic processes are much stronger elsewhere. I also think it's important to note that our party structures are so much more rigid than in (say) the U.S; from Peter Garrett of the ALP we get a toe-the-party-line cop-out, as if dissent on the issues that made him famous politically would be the most heinous and damaging act imaginable. The "broad church" of the Liberals can sometimes show evidence of an internal debate, but Howard is always calling for more discipline. Are people so scared of democratic processes?
There's a review in the Smage by David Marr. I note Peter Andren patronised the book launch at Parliament House, and that Marr will publish a Quarterly Essay in June this year entitled His Master's Voice: Public Debate in Howard's Australia.
There's a classic mix of Allen Ginsberg's America and Tom Waits's maudlin saxophonic Closing Time (from the album of the same name) that Dave got me onto back in the late 90s. So when I was in San Francisco back in 2004 I naively asked at City Lights Bookshop if they had any recordings whatsoever of the poet, expecting that the place that published Howl would have a shrine or something. No joy. I now find that particular song is an unofficial home-job, most lovingly crafted.
My nextdoor neighbour Jon is in this workshop ("Gala") performance of this new play, Codgers, alongside a raft of older Australian gentleman-actors. The gambit is to tell a story about the modernisation of Australia from the perspective of blokes who fought in the Second World War. It's quite funny and the semi-polished performance worked quite well.
Ross Gittins is the editor of the business section of the Smage and writes the occasional edifying column on economics. (Andrew Norton observes that he tends to alternate commentary on social policy with demystification.) This was the launch of his book, a distillation of (mostly other people's) wisdom apropos living a good, or perhaps even happy, life in an age of excessive consumerism and dearth of time.
Richard Glover was his partner in conversation, and was quite a bit sharper than I would have expected by his Saturday Smage columns, particularly when he was summarising questions for repetition through the microphone. We heard about an itinerant childhood, being the son of two Salvo officers, and much was made of the recent work in behavioural economics. I asked Gittins at the end if we would see a return to collectivism, and earnt a very Maynard-Keynes response: "Just wait, it will be back".
John Gall: The Systems Bible, The Third Edition of Systemantics.Mon, Mar 12, 2007./noise/books | Link
Finally got around to finishing this one. It's a book to savour, though the newer sections are a lot drier than the sharply observed witticisms of the first two editions. From the preface to the second:
Things have never been better — but they're improving.
Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem.
The departure point is the insight that new systems mean new problems, married with the even deeper insight that there need exist a treatise on a general theory of systems that apes the lingo and pomposity of truly excellent academic work. I'm sure a lot of the concepts are treated formally elsewhere — feedback, for example, and the trickiness of making observations — and as such the book serves as a great overview of the field. Also memorable are the discussions of humans embedded in a system, the possibility of changing system behavior and the likelihood of success.
There's a whiff of the Vietnam War in the air, and it must be an election-year-of-sorts in the U.S. This movie also broods on contemporaneous events such as the murder of Martin Luther King Jr and the Prague Spring. It's not particularly subtle, with the sledgehammer implication that Camelot could perhaps have saved us all the mess between then and now. Chomsky, of course, disagrees.
An excellent doco on the top technocrat of the Vietnam War. In this instance Chomsky is right, McNamara does come across as a small-time manager/engineer charged with optimising the means of destruction, showing little concern for the non-American fallout.
Heroic Bushwalk: Cowan to Jerusalem Bay, and up to Brooklyn.Sat, Mar 03, 2007./noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
Shelly drove Iain, Vicki, Eoghn and I up to Cowan, where we proceeded to take a wrong turn and needed to bushbash our way back to the pedestrian bridge over the F3. The walk from there down to Jerusalem Bay was not too hard, and it was a pretty spot for lunch and a swim. It's a semi-popular spot to head to on a boat, and somewhat strangely goes from half a metre to two metres very quickly.
As the NPWS website says:
Jerusalem Bay Track (to Brooklyn)
11 km, 4.5 hours, difficult
This track covers a small section of the 250 kilometre Great North Walk, which goes all the way from Sydney to Newcastle. Starting at Cowan station, take the steep descent through thick scrub, across a creek, past the ruins of Rhodes boatshed and on to the beautiful Jerusalem Bay. From here you can grit your teeth and head towards Campbells Creek and Brooklyn (where you can catch the train home from Hawkesbury River station). Expect spectacular views.
The "grit your teeth" stage was pretty exhausting, but at the top we found this section of the Great North Walk to be a fairly wide and easy firetrail. Bloody hot day, not at all ideal for such an arduous trek.
First published as The Empty Raincoat in Britain.
I am not in the target demographic of this book. The style is chatty, presupposes a disposition towards competitiveness, material success and traditional (authentically conservative) values. This is philosophy for managers, low on empirical or even argumentative justification, expressed in inimitable corporate språk. Their let's-get-on-with-it attitude, even in the face of vague goals and the damage inflicted on larger or external systems, is perhaps what grates the most with me.
Even so, he's not bereft of ideas, or perhaps of synthesising other people's ideas, that one might hope will improve the status quo of capitalism. (There is a bibliography but the main text does not cite it.) Handy himself implies his goal is pre-scientific (p246):
... [Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind] ... American college students, he observed, were not only lifeless and ignorant, they were reluctant to offer or to hold any opinions at all. People who thought that they were right in the past did terrible things as a result, therefore it is best to have no opinions at all. The only true knowledge is science. Everything else is wishful thinking. From that it follows that it is wrong to take a position on anything, worse still to try to impose your wishes on your bit of the world. A passive voyeurism will have to suffice, preferably uncritical and politically correct because it is wrong to suggest that any one way of life is superior to another.
I tend to agree with him here, largely as I have found discourse on ideas largely absent in my university experience, especially between the faculty and student bodies. From my perspective it might help if the profs remember that they were once naive and that formalisation may better come after the idea or intuition, not before. I'm sure they have corresponding advice, unarticulated, for the students. Handy says (p218):
Portfolio workers need more than agents, they need somewhere where they belong. Learning is alienating if you do it all by yourself. Teleworking is fine in theory but lonely in reality. That asset which is yourself can atrophy is isolation. ...
Wow, only thirteen years later this has come to pass.
Handy's "inside out doughnuts" with "cores" and "empty spaces" (p69) reeks of a desire to have a diagrammatic shorthand for an ill-formed concept. NICTA's logo must be a sophistication of this idea:
A quick stab at Handian analysis would be to say that NICTA has two self-identified cores (permanent staff, intellectual property?), one centred and the other overlapping the big don't care (?) space, there is an anonymous auxiliary core-like thing (???), and that they feel ambiguous about their empty space (non-permanent staff, students?). I think there's scope for a profitable new form of logo analysis based on these insights.
Similarly the corporate social contract is hexagonal (p165) though the traits tend to be enumerated in the rank order that reflects a particular corporation, or nation-stereotypical corporation.
The apparently enduring Handy classic, the sigmoid curve (p49 etc. etc.), is a strange one. (See here or ask Google.) The focus is on the second hump, the bit where we have overmilked the cow. Sure, I'll buy that, but little explanation is given for the initial downward dip. For it to encompass relationships as well as business I would have to think that before I enjoy the company of a significant other, first I must suffer. Perhaps he is talking about capital, not success, or maybe the early stages of a "successful" relationship puts a crimp on his liberty.
Why carp about his iconography? Well, as my friend Sus says at the end of every email: "Confusion and clutter are failures of design, not attributes of information." (Edward R Tufte)
To move onto perhaps more substational criticism, Handy has a habit of being a bit wrong with some of his examples. Apropos the computer industry, he claims (p20):
... In theory, anyone can be intelligent in some way or can become intelligent and thereby have access to power and wealth. There is little to stop a small firm muscling in on Microsoft's territory just as Microsoft did to IBM. When the key property is intelligence, you do not have to be big or rich to get in on the act. It is a low-cost entry marketplace. It should make for a more open society.
I'm sure Netscape would agree wholeheartedly with him, and they sure weren't small in the mid-90s, soon after this book was published. Moreover while I would concur that the cost of entry to the information processing market is low, the end result seems to be Google, i.e. a de facto monopoly. (A general criticism of capitalism seems to be that it tends to oligopoly, in which case his faith that low entry cost implies a more open society is misplaced. By way of evidence I offer up the state of the car industry in the U.S. and otherwise pass the buck to Google.)
Also irritating is his enumeration of "intelligences" (p204) which actually reads more like a shopping list of talents or skills. I don't think of Shane Warne's bowling action as physical intelligence any more than I elevate a pain reflex to the status of a thought. I do grant that Warne is a cricketing genius, but not merely because his fingers have been taught how to behave.
My carping could be endless, so I will stop after just one more: his response to "what is the point of it all?" is (p245):
... We are all accidents in the evolutionary chain. We can lie back and enjoy it, or we can occupy ourselves, as scientists do, in trying to understand more about what is going on. There is nothing we can do to alter it, even when we understand it. We can only play with it. Man is as the smallest piece of dust in the universe. ...
I find this fatalism misplaced and irritating, perhaps because engineers are charged with altering things. In any case, Systemantics treats this issue more broadly and insightfully, and with more humour.
On a more agreeable note, he does propose:
- A decoupling of credentialism from age, allowing for the differing rates of individual maturation;
- A proper mutual obligation scheme, the "double bond" where the state pays for education and employment for a limited period with the intention that these be learning experiences that repay society in the long term;
- Decentralisation of control in companies.
...and many more. I guess I'd prefer to read something more factual and logical.