peteg's blog

Deb Olin Unferth: Wait Till You See Me Dance.

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Kindle. A collection of shorts, many too short, barely more than an idea or scenario, picked up on the strength of her review of T. Coraghessan Boyle's The Relive Box. Some are fun, most are tied up with being a woman in a city, often a member of the precariat, sometimes an academic, maybe a family member. I most liked Bride, on not really getting over someone while they move right along, and Online, with doubt that there is much life beyond the screen these days undermining all attempts to kick computer addiction. Within these frames Unferth is assured and funny, and quite often empathetically painful. Brief. She's such a romantic.

Helen Phillips provides a synopsis of Voltaire Night and the other more-fully-conceived stories here.

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Late afternoon lazy paddle off the somewhat filthy beach at Gordons Bay. Before the clouds came over around 4:30pm I had thought to go for a snorkel off the scuba ramp. Very few people when I was there, and just the one dog that arrived as I was leaving. Beaut once in, but still cold on the way. Afterwards I saw a girl trying to set up her Hennessy Hammock on the Coogee headland; so brave — I'd chickened out on the very same spot as it's too public. Not great conditions for drying out but I tried anyway while reading my book and eating my leftovers.

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Brief mid-afternoon soak at Little Bay. A few people there, quiet, peaceful. Beaut warm day. Light offshore wind. A bit cold getting in, but easy to stay in. Read some more of my book on the grass up the top afterwards.

The aircraft noise has increased in Randwick: the planes are flying lower and more often than usual.

A Brief History of Time

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An Errol Morris-constructed biopic of Stephen Hawking from around the time when Hawking's book of that title was selling millions of copies. It's a bit like dancing about architecture: a composite of humanising interviews with Hawking, his family and colleagues but not his ex-wife Jane, and some too-vague and overly-strong assertions about what physics might be. I thought it was settled that the universe was going to continue expanding, given "the expansion of the universe is accelerating...", but perhaps that's new since 1991. I wonder if all the recent dark matter/energy stuff plays much with Hawking's theories. I hadn't heard of "imaginary time" before this. Morris passes on the opportunity to go full 2001.

Morris reminisces earlier this year. Indeed, Hawking's mum is great. Timothy Ferris at the time.

Peterloo

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The latest Mike Leigh. Part of the British Film Festival now playing at Palace Cinemas; specifically the dear old Verona, 12:30pm, $17.50 + $1.30 booking fee = $18.80, booked 2018-10-27. It was financed by a long list of companies, most prominently Amazon.

This is a long, even overly long, and very dialogue-heavy account of the route to the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819, soon after the Battle of Waterloo that brought Napoleon to a conclusion. Leigh and Dick Pope achieve a similar aesthetic to Mr Turner: some brilliantly composed almost-painterly almost-stills, especially of the worker's homes. The class consciousness weighs heavily: the ruling class spouts implausibly crass and unsophisticated motivations that make for an almost-American moral clarity. Some threads dangle, such as what happened to the spies and local constabulary afterwards. In a cackhanded way it could be taken as an argument that the British Raj's behaviour in India wasn't as entirely transparently racist as it seemed to be. Perhaps timely what with BREXIT and all. The cast is uniformly excellent.

Errol Morris: The Ashtray (or the man who denied reality).

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Kindle. The book-length version of a story Morris started telling back in 2011 about his relationship with his onetime supervisor, the incommensurable paradigm-shifting Kuhn, and the non-relative "truth". Moving past the colourful stories of the day, some fun interviews with Kripke, Putnam, Weinberg and others, some great quotes from Bertrand Russell, the text acts mostly as a sourcebook. Morris points at the following amongst many others:

Morris sometimes seems confused: he mostly wants to be able to refer to a truth that is out there in an absolutist, realist sense, but sometimes writes as if it were a mutable thing, somehow forgetting the roles of belief and epistemology. He makes Kuhn sound like a Supreme Court originalist.

Originally a pointer from Tim Maudlin, who rails as hard against Niels Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation as Morris does against Kuhn. Laura Miller and commentary at Hacker News. David Kordahl observes that Morris is often constructing the Kuhn he is dismantling. Philip Kitcher. These reviewers and the many others should thank Morris for allowing them to parade their esoteric knowledge at mainstream venues.

Touch of Evil

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David Scott Mathieson likened Mae Sot, Thailand to the Texas/Mexico border town of this black-and-white Orson Welles classic. Apparently second time around, and still highly rated at IMDB but not in the top-250. Inflation I guess.

This is Welles in whale mode, holding that cinema can tell sophisticated stories while blithely skating over modern sensibilities such as cultural stereotypes and appropriation. Briefly, an American cop (Welles) is called in to investigate the bombing murder of a local magnate and his stripper acquaintance. High-ranking Mexican law enforcer Charlton Heston (in blackface (?), a sorta plausible American accent, and looking a bit like Omar Sharif a half decade early) has an American wife in the form of Janet Leigh (too credulous, and that 50s underwear!) and just happens to be on the scene. Conflict ensues. Marlene Dietrich plays a smokey-eyed bar operator, Zsa Zsa Gabor owns a strip parlour, Dennis Weaver is a proto-Lynchian, seriously unhinged night manager, and Mercedes McCambridge's "I wanna watch" could have come from an Andy Warhol. The opening tracking shot must be famous. There is something of a commentary on the then-future war on drugs. A bit of a feast.

A Hennessy Hammock, again.

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Today the replacement Hennessy Hammock arrived from Wild Earth, as well as some XXL snakeskins from Tom's Outdoors. I set up amongst the dunes of La Perouse with glimpses of the port. Suffice it to say it all works, and the snakeskins do make for a very quick tear down. My hope of keeping a sleeping bag in them as well is probably optimistic. Of course I left a tree hugger behind. I still have to figure out how to pitch the fly. To that end I bought twenty metres of 4mm shock cord from Bunnings, and also about the same of 50mm webbing to make some longer tree huggers.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir

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A Rex Harrison and Joseph L. Mankiewicz jag from Cleopatra. More Gene Tierney completism: she's more arch than usual, and sports an English accent of sorts. A fantasy post-war black-and-white romcom: seafaring Captain Harrison haunts his seaside cottage until the widow Tierney turns up and convinces him that she's alright. Suicide? Pfft! It was those blazing gas heaters. They write a book together and do the happily ever after thing, eventually. Naff, funny and fun.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Headed up to Manly for lunch (sushi from Randwick) and an early afternoon snorkel at Shelly Beach. The walkway along Marine Parade seemed a bit familiar. The ride up was pleasant-ish (via the city and then the tunnel). Parking around there is a bit weird: it's two hours everywhere, or pay parking right at the beach, but only to 6pm. I thought I was being clever by parking just before a sign but afterwards it became clear that the "area" encompassed the whole street. I guess that's a trap for the non-locals.

It seemed a bit colder near the beach; once in it was pleasant. I started up the eastern side, towards the breakwater. There's not much to see there. The western side has a lot more vegetation, and Pawel tells me there's more heading north-ish towards Manly beach proper. Visibility was OK for the most part. I didn't see much, perhaps it being the wrong time of day or me being impatient. There was one large groper turning blue, loads of trumpetfish (?), a large senator wrasse getting cleaned and irritated by some small fry.

Afterwards I went for a wander up towards North Head. There are some large burnt out areas up there, perhaps due to a fire in 2016 or a planned burnoff earlier this year. (It's similar at the Coogee headland.) The ride back was a bit horrible: it started out quite pleasantly on a road that runs along the harbour and went sour in the heavy Military Road traffic: parked cars all the way along.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

First paddle of the season at Gordons Bay, late afternoon. A bit cold but probably no worse than when I was last in, back in May. BeachWatch reckoned the water was about 19 degrees, and suggested that Coogee was polluted but somehow Gordons wasn't. That was sort-of true once I got past the usual jetsam near the shore; I could indeed see my feet in maybe a metre of water. Afterwards I dried off on the northern Coogee headland and read a bit more of my book.

A set of Oxford P50R Panniers.

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Oxford Panniers at BikeBiz.

I trekked out to Parramatta today (two fine days in a row!) to try out the Oxford P50R panniers that BikeBiz had ordered in for me. I was concerned that they wouldn't clear the CB400's upswept exhaust, but I need not have feared. Matt helped me plonk them on, and suggested stuffing all the straps under the seat for added laziness. They're capacious, though $289.95 is a bit steep and apparently precludes anyone stocking them. One bonus is a nice pair of waterproof liners that double as stuff sacks, which might make it easier to remove the contents if and when I get anywhere. It'll take a bit of cunning to avoid melting something.

The ride over was quite pleasant in placid traffic. I exited early at James Ruse and not Church St, oops, but that was easy to fix. Afterwards I headed over to the Newington Armoury to eat my sandwich and grab a coffee. It's a pretty little spot opposite the mangrove swamps on the river, next door to Silverwater gaol. The touristic bits are only open on weekends. On the way back I hallucinated a memory of a BP in Marrickville. I ended up refuelling at Kingsford for megabucks.

I'm nowhere close to joining the Iron Butt Association.

Solo

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I don't think it could have been much worse. Ron Howard extracted the action essence of Star Wars and made one of the dumbest episodes yet. The plot is knowingly threadbare. Alden Ehrenreich does what he can. Phoebe Waller-Bridge pitches for topicality as the brassy feminist/droidist L3-37. Emilia Clarke, wooden, is better here than in the Terminator thing. Erin Kellyman fares worse. Thandie Newton, squandered. Paul Bettany, squandered. There'll be a Hairpiece Harrelson figure out there now. It closes with threats of a sequel.

A. O. Scott.

David Runciman: Politics: Ideas in Profile.

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Kindle. A brief introduction to political philosophy. The first section is on violence and Hobbes's insight that any politics is superior to an every-man-for-himself "state of nature". This sets the explanatory bar quite low, so we get some Machiavelli, and Max Weber's definition of the state as "that entity which successfully claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of violence." The second section wants to separate out political knowledge from the technical, and technocracies are bad, ok. The final section slides into philosophical ethics though it wants to talk about justice. Runciman observes that democracies don't fight each other but are extremely brutal in warfare. Fukuyama is rehabilitated. Amartya Sen and Rawls are name checked.

As with How Democracy Ends, but more so, Runciman is quite sloppy: he often cutely phrases a series of overly strong assertions that are not causally or necessarily connected before weaseling out of drawing their (implausible, ridiculous) strong conclusion. These presentational failures detract from the fine points he makes. It strikes me that Rousseau's notion of the social contract was a way to progress past Hobbesian inertia, but Runciman does not go there.

An excerpt at the Guardian is probably most of it.

How I Ended This Summer

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I've had this one on the list for ages (since 2010). Two blokes stuck in a meteorology station on an island in Chukotka, Russia (opposite Alaska). The younger one starts acting up for no good reason. I wonder if they really do have radioisotope thermoelectric generators still lying around out there. Initially quite slow, and then the plot gets a bit too horror/survival to care about. In two sittings. Some of the cinematography is gorgeous.

Stephen Holden.

Four Lions

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Second time around while waiting for the storms to arrive (supposed to be here by 2pm-ish; eventually showed at 6pm-ish). Still transgressive and very funny at times.

Steven Johnson: Farsighted.

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Kindle. Adam Grant led me to believe this book would have an interesting take on decision making. I read it closely and got bored by its repetition and failure to map well-known techniques for groups to individual circumstances. Recounting the final days of bin Laden and praising story-telling and novel-reading as empathy-building was tendentious at best. I didn't see what Collect Pond and NYC's High Line (cloned by Chicago's The 606 and Sydney's Goods Line, and doubtlessly others) had to do with much of anything. At best a pointer to other works in the area.

Better value are the comments at goodreads.

A Hennessy Hammock.

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Hanging in Centennial Park.

One thing that puts me off camping is that I never get a decent sleep on the Thermarest, so I figured I might try a hammock. (Sure, it's not going to help with the paranoia.) Some casual googling suggested there's been a lot of rethinking of these things over the past decade (see Derek Hansen's site and book for instance). I settled on a Hennessy Expedition Zip from Wild Earth in Burleigh Heads via eBay (who were running a site-wide 5% discount). This thing is not cheap, being essentially a tent without the support structure. Dries has the shorter Explorer Zip; the "classic" bottom entry doesn't look so practical for lounging around during the day, though apparently it can be done.

It showed up last Friday. Today being the first dry day in an age, I thought I'd give it a go in Centennial Park, largely because I wasn't sure there'd be suitable trees elsewhere. It is easy to pitch, even using just the suggested lashing with the provided ropes, though adjustment is a bit tedious. The ridgeline is key to this, I think: get that flat, and the ropes at roughly 30 degrees, and you're home. Pegging out the sides makes it far easier to lie flat-ish across the centreline. The provided tree-hugging straps where a bit too short, but that doesn't seem to matter. I didn't try pitching the fly. There's no chance of falling out. At 5.45pm, after about three hours of experimental hanging and book reading, a ranger told me I couldn’t attach things to trees in the park.

Disappointingly one thread near the end of the the lower nylon was broken. While it was some distance from the main load-bearing part of the fabric, I was concerned it was no longer insect proof, and that the damage might spread. Wild Earth told me that this was the pretty much the first Hennessy they'd sold and more-or-less insisted I return it to them for replacement, which I did on Wednesday. I'm wondering it's worth getting some snakeskins.

Aidan Truhen: The Price You Pay.

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Kindle. Not exactly what Charles Finch (New York Times) promised: it's a dumb revenge fantasy screenplay, though I grant it is vicious and sometimes funny. A detached bloke with a twenty-first century revenue stream (no-collateral cocaine provision) wreaks havock on the gang of supposedly professional assassins, the Fincher-/Tarantino-derived Seven Demons, capriciously sent to deal with him. Being written in occasionally-obscuring first-person, you can imagine how it goes. The author avoids 'of'. The Demons are dumb enough to miss the obvious move in the coke wars: don't introduce a new brand (Beyoncé) but instead assume the protagonist's (Pale Peruvian Stallion); retaliation would have been so much harder. Fun for what it is, which isn't much.

Yes, Tony White, it's often just like a Carl Hiassen.

Griffin Theatre: The Feather in the Web by Nick Coyle.

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$20 rush, the first Monday for this production, and therefore about 80% full, 7pm. Rode over to Duff Reserve (was aiming for McKell Park) and read a bit more of my book on the Harbour. The on-and-off showers continued in the morning, but by 4pm had ceased where I was; I could still see other areas getting soaked.

It was an evening of crashy hardware at Griffin Theatre: first their ticket machine wasn't printing, and during the performance their audio/visual computer packed up (three times!). The front-office lady made me a serviceable coffee, but despite it being my third I still wasn't up to enjoying this piece. It's a disjointed composition of sometimes no-more-than-skits that attempts to probe the acceptability of power and sexual relations in twenty-first century. A helplessly transgressive lost soul (Kimberly, played by Claire Lovering) falls in love-at-first-sight with Miles (Gareth Davies) when she crashes the party for his engagement to Lily (Michelle Lim Davidson). Earlier we got a car scene, a makeover, a shrink, and after a banal home life. Tina Bursill plays a few characters, including his mother. Some really got into it, others took notes. Loads of f-bombs. I struggled a bit with the strobe, perhaps because the tech failures made for an overly long period of arse work.

Apparently I saw Gareth Davies a long time ago at Belvoir. He keeps his clothes on here.

Cassie Tongue saw more in it than I did, as did John Shand. Suzy went to see. She reminds me that comedy has its own Overton window, and narrow it is.

Operation Finale

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Oscar Isaac is now bigger than Ben Kingsley. Another kidnapping movie: the Israelis exfiltrate Adolf Eichmann (a mostly effective and mildly charismatic Kingsley) from Argentina. The focus is Isaac's Peter Malkin and playing up the conflict amongst the squad. Greta Scacchi is unrecognisable as Vera (Eichmann's wife). Strangely everyone almost always speaks English, making the spoken Spanish and written Hebrew jarring. Mélanie Laurent is completely auxiliary. A possibly-good story told mediocrely.

A. O. Scott. Robert Duval played Eichmann in the same story in The Man Who Captured Eichmann back in 1996.

Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado

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Del Toro, Josh Brolin but no Emily Blunt. Matthew Modine plays the secretary of defence. Far more paint-by-the-numbers than the original: plot and action driven, not psychological. Good to see some sign language. Catherine Keener is ineffectually stern. A kidnapping goes wrong. There'll be another sequel.

A. O. Scott.

Bad Times at the El Royale

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A predictably soggy day with unpredictable breaks in the sogginess. Walked down to Coogee, ate my sandwiches, read my book a bit, had a coffee the Pavilion, now overstuffed with bottle blonded MacBook wielders. It's a bit cold. Headed up to The Ritz for the 3:40pm screening of this, in cinema 2, $10, and had another coffee at a little place opposite that shut promptly just after three. Still a zombie, and that might be the best way to face it. Maybe twenty other people on this opening day.

There's not much more to this than its influences, which might be summarised as a selection of Tarantino; a check that very few, including this, can cash. The main draw was Jeff Bridges, who does fine as an aged and doddering priest, secondarily John Hamm (never quite enough; resting on his Mad Men laurels?), and being idly curious about Chris Hemsworth's acting chops (mostly irresistible Hutchence swagger; less successful with the pathological). Dakota Johnson does her thing. It's the fading fifties and sixties, blue-collar crime still pays, Cynthia Erivo dreams of being a Supreme, the family is nascent. Things take their time getting moving, and for a while it seems that things could go full horror; instead we only get the pro forma death-by-numbers schema with an unsatisfying Hollow Man ending. Less is made of the motor lodge straddling the California/Nevada border than is said. A good setup, slightly wrecked by deus ex machina, suffering from a lack of convergence over too long a running time.

I'd suggest not watching the trailer before seeing the feature. Manohla Dargis.

Asimov: Foundation and so forth.

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A new Kindle from Amazon AU turned up back on 2018-09-18 and I cleared most of the dead tree backlog about ten days later. This time it's a Paperwhite, $AU179 minus a $AU30 credit for having a dead, now discontinued Voyage, and a too-cheap but well-designed origami case for another $AU14. So far the touchscreen is far better than its predecessor's ever was.

It's been an age since I read Asimov. Last time I chugged through these seven books (this time in publication order!) I was underage, and now I can detect his influences more transparently: there's a lot of stock (Roman) history in there, some stock 1984 or Brave New World dystopianism, a naive fascination with the "too cheap to meter" nuclear technology of the day, an empty-headed teleology that is trumped by statism. The 1980s fat books are tediously repetitive. I'll resist too much critique as none of that is the point.

Asimov reckons that something like psychohistory is only going to work if those the subject of its predictions are oblivious to those predictions. At the time he was formulating this position, others were making self-reference mathematically respectable, leading to the solution concepts of game theory and similar that account for the effects of reasoning about other's strategies and knowledge. Asimov's position might be rescued by considering it more like biology: the existence of a reflexive entity stymies many desirable properties (e.g. locality, robustness, sustainability). I wonder if his take on zombie ideas (that they get tried repeatedly because they're not fatal) really holds.

Since I first read this series Asimov has passed and others have added their bits. I'm sure the canon is now as confused as every other.

Casino

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Apparently the third time around, and so much less impressive than I remembered — perhaps I was thinking of a different movie, or have seen too many Sharon Stones recently. She only has one mode, and Pesci struggles at time to hold up his end of their dialogues, especially in that first confidence-spilling scene. Scorcese, of course. I wasn't that persuaded by De Niro, even less than usual. James Woods has so little to work with. I couldn't connect Kevin Pollak here with him in The Usual Suspects. Still #143 in the IMDB top-250.

Brilliant Lies

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Second time around maybe. I think I fished this one out of Dr What! in Bondi back in the days of DVDs. Gia and Zoe Carides play sisters in this David Williamson take on the sexual politics of the day: it's a mid-90s he-said she-said and then she-really-said #metoo sorta thing with a side of unconvincing lesbian taxi driving and all-too-authentic inhalation of those fatal Winfield blues. Punching bag Anthony LaPaglia scored a wife (Gia, now separated) out of it, which is more than we do. Perhaps this was where the wave broke for Williamson, when Australia could finally tell the difference between the cask and the bottle.