peteg's blog - noise

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.

Ensemble Offspring: Spectral Tech.

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A freebie from the UNSW Creative Practice Lab (thanks Tom). Lev was in town so he got to partake in Maccas for dinner at the Quay (automat orders only; where else to eat dinner down that way?) and four new pieces from 7pm in the Sydney Con's Music Workshop. Maybe half the seating was occupied, and the vibe was clearly friends, family, composers, enablers. Wikipedia's notion of spectral music differs from the description we got partway through, which IIRC suggested this style had roots in the early 20th century. Nothing much for me to grab onto, and too sparse to space out to. Very angular.

Patrick White: Flaws in the Glass: A self-portrait.

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A dead Kindle means extracting dead trees from the library, in this case from Compactus (their stacks) at the Maroubra branch of the Randwick City Library.

White clearly resented writing this autobiography, so much so that one wonders why he bothered doing it straight when he might have made some theatre of it. It's pedestrian and there's less score settling than I was led to expect. I skipped the second section Journeys. We get a very few anecdotes about fellow culturalists (Brett Whiteley and fam come to visit for instance, also the Nolans, an early encounter with Melba he tells twice) but little about other sybarites (Norman Lindsay for instance) who were further down the food chain in his eyes. There are some clangers: no clear picture emerges of life-partner Manoly, or the basis of attraction; at some point White decided to move to Centennial Park and we don't hear from the other parts of the household. Somewhere in there White observes that Aussie women are blokey (there's some truth in that), but also somehow concludes that the blokes are feminine. London, World War II in North Africa, nothing much about the jackerooing, the Queen comes to Sydney Harbour and other old, upper-class Sydney, when all the money was young.

As with everything White, reviews and commentary are legion. I think I read C. K. Stead's contemporaneous review. Similarly Humphrey Carpenter. More colour on the Castle Hill of the day from Mireille Juchau. David Marr on scattering Manoly's ashes at Clovelly. He says "Howard appealed to something in Australians that White knew, feared and fought all his life: our yearning for small comfort and respectability." — and yet White himself never did motivate many Australians to reach for more than this.

Don's Party

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Another David Williamson classic that I hadn't seen in an age. The copy I have has a terrible sound mix: it's very difficult to hear the dialogue at times. Somewhat #metoo topical. The blokes — Ray Barrett, John Hargreaves, Harold Hopkins (did he really just say that?), Graham Kennedy, Graeme Blundell — all were or got famous, but the ladies — Clare Binney, Pat Bishop, Veronica Lang, Candy Raymond and with the exception of Jeanie Drynan — slid into obscurity. Hmm. The credits suggest it was filmed in what is now Baulkham Hills. Great days...

The Club

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Last seen an age ago; we studied this David Williamson classic for the HSC in the mid-90s, and even then it seemed archaic. Jack Thompson goes all-in as the true-believing VFL coach at a time of rapid commercialisation. Graham Kennedy is solid as the petit bourgeoisie, similarly Frank Wilson as the hypocritical keeper-of-tradition Jock. Harold Hopkins plays the loyal but fading captain, John Howard the rising champion. Alan Cassell nails the greasy sports administrator. It's all canonical stuff and an ode to a dead Australia.

Tasmania Performs: The Season by Nathan Maynard at the Seymour Centre.

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Another sort-of freebie from ShowFilmFirst, who trousered $3 on 2018-09-18. Everest Theatre, G9, 7:30pm, packed but with the first five rows strangely empty. I had my lunch for dinner in their courtyard. A bit cold; rode over from Randwick as I'd left it too late to walk.

This is a comedy about an Aboriginal clan who have a claim to a mutton bird rookery on Dog Island (which is close to Flinders Island in the Bass Strait). The humour is coarse and knowing, unapologetic. There is something of a handover from one generation to the next, seemingly suddenly, unexpectedly but unforced. Fun with an undertow of elegy.

From Dusk Till Dawn

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The most dispensable Tarantino?

Don Walker: Shots

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Another dead tree from the Randwick City Library. Second time around, and just as good. Here he is on zombie ideas (p106):

Ideas are the oldest software virus, the history of ideas being written by those fortunate enough to get born into enough physical and mental spare time to think beyond food and shelter and the protection of those they love, always blind to the resulting bias, the resultant imbalance of perspective. Ideas kill and maim as many children as any epidemic, they mutate and reappear as new strains, now immune to the propaganda that killed them off a generation ago, the science of actively combating a virulent idea being still rarely more sophisticated than crude attacks on the hardware, the meat. "Enlightened" people claim ideas should be free to spread and compete in our soft minds, always, you'll find if you really talk to them, with the exception of one or two ideas considered beyond the pale to people like them for no consistent reason beyond their mounting rage and fear as they spray you with the reinforcing dinner-party repartee of their peers, the soothing commentary and opinion published in broadsheets and parroted by the gazette brains of public broadcasters and the social and political satirist "comedians" who comfort them all in their othodoxy.

The Big Sleep

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Apparently the third time around, and I still didn't remember anything. Bogart is somehow a babe magnet and has some fun with Bacall. A still highly rated Howard Hawks classic but no longer in the IMDB top-250. William Faulkner got a writing credit for adapting a Raymond Chandler short story. The dialogue is pretty funny.

The Usual Suspects

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A Kevin Spacey / Gabriel Byrne / Bryan Singer classic. Still #26 on the IMDB top-250.

The Loved One

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Second time around. The screenplay based on Evelyn Waugh's book is ascribed to Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood.

Quarterly Essay #70, Richard Denniss: Dead Right: How Neoliberalism Ate Itself and What Comes Next.

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More dead tree from the Randwick City Library. Denniss pushes a simple argument: the right's decades-long pitch that politicians are untrustworthy and government is the problem, not the solution, or is anyway ineffective, has come home to roost in the form of the fragmentation of their parties; for what does it matter who you vote for if these assertions hold? Adding in a war on expertise, waged on the public service in particular, has made for some dire political times.

The title is a bit confused as the neoliberal/economic rationalist project is still broadly supported across the political spectrum, having been started by Hawke and Keating, furthered by Howard and Costello, and now zombie-shuffling along as even Keating now accepts (and rants about; Ken Henry was there a lot earlier). Denniss wants the parliament to respond to popular ideas (i.e., to destigmatise populism to some extent) and makes a few suggestions along lines he thinks are non-partisan. However it's clear from other polities that even civics education (p68) is contentious; one route forward for parties with demographically declining support is to doctor the electoral process with gerrymandering and voter suppression, as the Republicans are apparently doing in the U.S., and to generally discourage citizens from engaging in politics. Perhaps his best argument is that economics be put in a proper perspective; that Australia is richer than ever but can't afford the services of previous years is absurd.

Ross Grittins is a bit skeptical, and he's right this is a book more for the heart than the head. Many other responses were predictably reactionary.

The Game

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David Fincher, not at his best. Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger, none at their best either.

Janet Maslin calls it: just a bunch of scenes wedged together. I see it now as an echo of a 1980s genre: After Hours, and Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. There's also the whole Gordon Gekko thing.

Modern Gong Ritual @ The People's Republic.

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Two guitars (Kent Steedman of the Celibate Rifles, Michael Trifunovic) and a bloke banging things (David Bullock, who seems to have such a vast collection of things to bang that Ensemble Offspring should be jealous). Billed as "ambience with attitude"; the first set brought the attitude, the second the ritual. I enjoyed spacing out to the latter and the accompanying video projections by William Bullock.

I stumbled upon Patrick White's Memoirs of many in one by Alex Xenophan Demirjian Gray on Nick's vast shelves. Sounds more promising than Flaws in the Glass, so I'll try to read both.

The Lord of the Rings movies.

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Specifically the three extended editions over three nights for the second time. The first one promises more than the second two deliver. The bits lifted from Tolkien are not great but the non-canonical parts are a lot worse. The dialogue and asides-to-camera are occasionally comically risible, as is some of the CGI; even the actors playing hobbits look uncomfortable at the King's coronation. I got bored with the endless battle scenes. It's epic, but nowhere close to the classics.

Quarterly Essay #60, Laura Tingle: Political Amnesia: How We Forgot How To Govern.

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I read this on the dying iPhone and laptop via Overdrive, on loan from the Randwick City Library. From circa November 2015, which may have been when Turnbull had some amnesiacs thinking he could take things somewhere. Tingle bemoans the loss of institutional governmental memory, and cites several egregious examples of it. This process has been ongoing since at least the 1980s as part of the neoliberal / economic rationalist project, so one has to wonder why it took so long for the journalists to catch on. (I saw some of this lobotomising towards the end of my father's career at the NSW Department of Agriculture.) The active destruction of expertise and resulting churn is overly familiar to anyone who works in the modern computer industry; a case in point is Javascript and the perpetual motion machine of user interface frameworks, which inevitably converge on the old ideas.

Tingle seems to be sparring with David Marr on the tired and frankly empty topic of political leadership in Australia. As she observes here, the best functioning parts are those that self-evidently do things only governments can do (e.g. the Reserve Bank, the military, foreign affairs); perhaps those contain governance and structural expertise that can be transferred to other spheres, and Australia can have the technocracy she deserves. Her commentary on Shorten is dated: it doesn't seem that he'll need much of a policy agenda to ascend to the throne, given Tony Abbott's destruction of the Liberal party. The stuff on the Roman Empire is completely dispensible. Much concords with Donald Horne's classic critiques of the Australian situation; I tend to think that more technocrats will increase the luck that our second-rate politicians lean so much on.

Andrew Leigh observes the fine prose and corrects the framing (as economists are wont to do). Surprisingly Andrew Elder did not take this one apart at the time (or since AFAICT); this defence of the Canberra press gallery reads like classic special-pleading material custom designed to press his buttons. Tingle wrote the current Quarterly Essay, on authoritarianism.

Wayne

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At The Ritz, 18:10, Cinema 2, $10. Two blokes and me I think. Very few sessions, and this was the only one I could make on a work day.

This film by Jeremy Sims documents Wayne Gardner's rise from racing dirtbikes near Wollongong to winning the Moto GP in 1987. It showcases the height of Australiana in the 1980s, specifically the Bicentennial in 1988, and the shysters and sportcasters of the day. Taking up more than a third of the story is his girlfriend, later wife, later good-friend ex Donna Fraser.

I didn't and don't know enough about the Moto GP to understand what he was riding when (there is some early talk of 250cc and 500cc classes, and the smaller three-cylinder bikes being far easier to ride than the monstrous fours) but it's clear from the footage that the bike Honda supplied him with in 1988 was not up to scratch. The way they concurrently hired his arch-rival Eddie Lawson has got to make you wonder. Some time is spent on the construction of the Australian GP at Phillip Island. Most of the interviews are gold. Casey Stoner is a notable absentee (and a fellow victim of Honda engineering?).

Afterwards I aimed for Jack's Pizza on Coogee Bay road, but he's decided to retire from Mondays, so I ended up at the North Indian Diner closer to the beach.

Paul Byrnes.

Josephine Wilson: Extinctions.

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My Kindle Voyage died (bought for $US263 in August 2015; the touchscreen was always a bit dicey and is now unusable). Needing some escapist fare I extracted a dead tree edition of this Miles Franklin 2017 winner from the Randwick City Library. (I bought a Kindle edition of this last year that was so broken I got a refund.) So far I've found the Miles Franklin-awarded novels mostly a bust, though it sometimes surfaces authors worth reading for their other works; David Ireland being a case in point. This novel unfortunately doesn't prove the rule.

Zooming right out, this is a (Perth boomer's?) take on on the boomers and their children, which might lazily be branded Generation X, and the cultural appropriations that arose from good intentions and the stolen generations. America intrudes in the form of vernacular and a Jewish ex-NYC wife who was somehow bowled over by a English concrete engineer, and later an Australian blowhard. After a dolphin brings a radical personality shift, we're on the road to Cloudstreet with some David Williamson characters and settings (a university engineering department, suburbia) in decline.

I was frustrated and bored by many things. The observations tend to the banal. The dialogue is weak. The male characters are poorly drawn: patriarch Fred considers himself a monster, in an especially tedious, self-absorbed narcissistic boomer caricature. Wilson seems convinced that the stuff that has come to own the boomers is desired by their children; is that true? There is so much death.

I came away thinking that Anne Patchett's Commonwealth was a more successful execution of similar ideas.

Roslyn Jolly. Dorothy Johnston observes the heavy-handed metaphors etc.