peteg's blog - noise

T. Coraghessan Boyle: The Relive Box.

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On the strength of Deb Olin Unferth's review. Well, her review is better than the source material. The titular story made me wish for Charles Yu's inventiveness (time travel via tenses); this one is more mechanistic, less playful, and small minded. Addiction, escapism: the modern world is fully horrible or at least thoroughly incapable of satisfying. The story on Argentine Ants was nothing special, and the one about the classic spam fraud/hoax somehow left out all novelty whatsover. Well written, sure.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Since the demise of Paris Seafood (sniffle) I've been trying to find another place for decent salads and fish. Today it was the turn of Ramsgate Beach Seafood, who do a moderately priced grilled fish, small greek salad, chips sorta thing. Afterwards I wandered down to Dolls Point Beach, stopping for a passable but nonfunctional coffee at Coffee in the Park (next to Le Beach Hut). Being so close to the Georges River, jetskis make the beach a little unpleasant and unsafe (see here, here, and then start googling). I got the impression that watercraft were supposed to out past a pylon, and most where, including a boat marked "maritime" that was going lightspeed northwards, but not the jetskis! Still cool getting in, but pleasant once that's done. No breakers of any kind; just the wakes of passing boats. The beach is a strange hard flat expanse that presumably gets mostly covered at high tide. Read a little more of my book while drying out.

The biggest turnoff about that part of Sydney is the traffic horrorshow that is The Grand Parade.

The Eye of the Storm

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"They printed the reviews of your King Lear in the Sydney papers..." — mum Rampling to son Rush (real life version).

In two sittings. This is an adaptation of a Patrick White novel, and is almost entirely a bust. Perhaps it might work on the page, given White's facility with language and artifice, but definitely not on the screen.

The stars are Australian matriarch Charlotte Rampling, daughter Judy Davis (an insecure made Parisian princess), son Geoffrey Rush (a London thespian of some stripe). Robyn Nevin. Helen Morse. Colin Friels turns in an all-ocker effort as the 1972-will-to-power Whitlam/Hawke "Athol Shreve". Nurse Alexandra Schepisi (daughter of director Fred Schepisi) is a (naive?) cultureless social climber, who initially doesn’t like being called on it but realises after she is thwarted that she belongs with her familiar working-class milieu. Rush utters a "yum" in her direction; somehow the ladies slaver over him. Go figure. The plot boils down to the kids returning to Sydney with expectations of imminently receiving their inheritance from their diminishing but still domineering mother. I get the impression that Rampling falls off the throne in a similar manner to White's own mum. The concerns are his usual preoccupations: death, sex, social class, social mores. The obvious point of comparison (beyond King Lear) is Magnolia (this came after, White's novel before): Tom Cruise's "respect the cock" is a lot more powerful than twee observations about the word "penis", and so forth. The settings show a now-deceased old new-money Sydney that might just be zombie-shuffling to the races even now.

This was a bit of a dry run: Sydney Theatre Company is putting on A Cheery Soul soon and I wonder if it's worth going to. The synopsis sounds sketchy.

Manohla Dargis. Jim Schembri. Jake Wilson: the novel got boiled down to a soap opera.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early evening snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. Decent visibility, but not really necessary as all the big fry (including the big blue groper) were close to the shore. Saw about five stingrays settling in for the night, and some massive wrasse. Windy, so drying off was no problem but hanging onto the hat was.

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.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

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.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

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.

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.


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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.

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.

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.


/noise/movies | Link

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.