peteg's blog

Fay Grim

/noise/movies | Link

Ah, at long last, another film from Hal Hartley. I first heard about this, his sequel to Henry Fool back in 2005 or so.

The plot is pretty much spaghetti, and while it demands a lot of suspension of disbelief it is easier to follow than The Girl From Monday. Most of the old characters return, though the old familiar settings of the neighbourhood, the garbage processing facility and the deli are replaced by some fairly generic European ones, as one might expect from Hal Hartley's assertion that making movies in New York is too expensive these days.

Give it a go, it's a lot of fun.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

/noise/movies | Link

One might view this as the culmination of a thirty-hour David Lynch movie (the Twin Peaks TV series), and as such it is pretty pointless, just making explicit what we already knew or guessed from the show. I think he should've ridden the ambiguity a bit more.

Anyway, from the TV show: "Denise" is David Duchovny's cross-dressing DEA agent character. Apropos schoolgirl Audrey, who has just kissed FBI Special Agent Cooper full on the mouth:

Denise: I may be wearing a dress, but I still pull my panties on one leg at a time, if you know what I mean.

Cooper: Not really.

Hmm, perhaps you just have to watch it for yourself.

Darlinghurst Theatre: This is a Play and Never Swim Alone

/noise/theatre | Link

Apparently these Daniel MacIvor efforts date from the mid-to-late 90s. The first, This is a Play, is a short piece where the actors articulate their inner monologues and stage directions for the most part... a meta-activity that I found funnier than I would have expected, perhaps due to the (as usual) excellent acting.

The meat of the evening was definitely the longer Never Swim Alone, where a woman in a blue swimsuit (Lotte St Clair, also in the first play) referees two suited men in a mostly-verbal contest of masculinity. The recycling of cliché and drifting in and out of sync of the two actors' schtick (Tim Major, Michael Howlett) is fantastic, and clearly requires immense concentration from them. It's difficult to say much beyond what's in the blurb without saying too much.

The Smage review is a bit cooler than I would've expected.

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
Early afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Quite warm out of the water today too, at 24 degrees.

The Penguin Henry Lawson Short Stories

/noise/books | Link

Edited by John Barnes. There's not much point to this collection, given that you can get most/all of Lawson's work online, for free, or, if you prefer, his complete prose works in book form. (In my defence it cost me two bucks at the UNSW book fair, one of the more expensive acquisitions of the day.)

Having said that I did quite enjoy the Joe Wilson and his Mates yarns. These serve as a sort-of autobiography of the man, purportedly written while he was in London. His prose is mostly prosaic, with the occasional flinty observation tossed in, just to check you're paying attention.

Bastard Boys

/noise/movies | Link

The Weather Underground

/noise/movies | Link
With Sarah and flatmates at the Black Rose Anarchist Bookshop on Enmore Road.

(Part of?) The Benowie Track, Mt Kuringai to Berowra.

/travels | Link

After doing the eastern side of the ridge, I figured I'd return to the beautiful Berowra Waters for an overnight day-length walk. Unfortunately the map from the Great North Walk info pack led me astray — their estimate of a day for this trek was wildly inflated. Starting at 1:30pm I did the loop in less than four hours, getting home in time to watch Australia steal a win against Wales in the first rugby international of the season. So yeah, it was pleasant taking the tent/sleeping bag/mat/cooking gear/... for a walk, but in this weather one could get by with just a litre or two of water.

I had in mind to head up past Berowra Waters on the Sunday, as the camping options are a bit limited north of that point, but it seemed pointless to pitch a tent at 5pm. The track itself is very well signposted and quite a bit runs along fire trails, allowing a decent pace. There is some up-hill just near Sam's Creek, but nothing too arduous.

Fiascos at UNSW.

/noise/politics | Link

This is so strange; somehow in these past few weeks UNSW has garnered a lot of press for what look like pretty shitty reasons:

  • The Arts faculty can't afford teaching support staff (tutors). While I sympathise with this predicament and fully expect the students' experiences to slide even further down the crapper, I'm not sure Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Social Sciences Dr Sarah Maddison is completely right to sheet the blame home to the Feds:

    "The Federal Government has abandoned the humanities in higher education funding and we are bearing the brunt. It has consistently underinvested in this area over the past decade and we are now at a structural disadvantage when compared with other disciplines."

    My understanding (and I'd like to be corrected if wrong) is that the funding decisions at the Faculty level are handled by the Chancellery, within the uni. Sure, the Feds may well have decided that a NICTA-like entity for the social sciences would be tantamount to offering an arse-cheek to a tiger, but that is about research, not teaching. Let them blame Professor Fred Hilmer, I reckon, then sack the lot of them.

  • In the same Smage article, the uni has announced that it will reduce the academic session to twelve weeks from the current fourteen. Justification?

    The staff cuts follow the announcement of a number of streamlining measures at the university, including the reduction of the teaching semester from 14 to 12 weeks and a review of the bachelor of arts degree. Under the review, the number of courses in which students can major will fall from 45 to 37 in 2009.

    The university administration claims the changes are designed to "streamline teaching and learning".

    In a message sent to students on Monday, the pro-vice chancellor, Professor Joan Cooper, said the reduced semester would bring "UNSW in line with other Australian universities" and "facilitate new pedagogic practices".

    Yep, I regret that my education was not streamlined. According to JAS the main operational implication is that all courses need to be adjusted (mangled) into this new format, and apparently the Chancellery is yet to propose how this will be funded. Blame Professor Fred Hilmer I reckon. You'll note the reasoning is similar to his world class policy on general staff numbers. Still, I'm sure the clown will be all cashed up for another year of hijinks. "I came to UNSW for the morale of the student body," I can hear it now.

  • Strangest of all is the closing of the Singapore campus (UNSW Asia) after less than a session:

    The university has already spent $17.5 million on the project, but it had guaranteed a further $140 million for the construction of a permanent campus in South Changi.

    Professor Fred Hilmer said the university had lost $15 million in not reaching its anticipated enrolment numbers, and as a result it was unable to borrow the money it needed. "I don't want to play a blame game [but] I inherited a situation," he said.

    Those enrolment numbers, from an email he sent to staff:

    The UNSW Asia campus currently has 148 enrolled students, with some 100 of these being Singapore residents. The anticipated enrolment for the initial intake in 2007 was 300 students. Second semester enrolments were anticipated at 480 students but it is clear that this target would not be met.

    Those enrolment numbers, from the advertising agency:

    Singapore - The University of New South Wales Asia (UNSW Asia) has awarded its regional creative and media accounts to AGI Communications - the agency won the business without a pitch.

    The new tertiary institution made the retainer appointment - understood to be valued at around $1.5 million - on the back of its launch in Singapore, in an effort to achieve its first year admission target of 1200 students through attracting students from across Asia.

    Still, I'm glad he can exercise the wagging figure this time, for otherwise one might get the impression there's something rotten in the administration of this world-class institution.

Now, if they were in any way serious about bringing "UNSW in line with other Australian universities" or being even more world-class they'd be looking at the University of Melbourne's "Melbourne Model" and wondering if they couldn't interest the Sydney market in something similar, or perhaps even better.

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
Morning snorkel at the north side of Gordons Bay with Sarah. I, wimpishly, broke out the wetsuit for the first time this season (in Sydney). It wasn't that necessary in the water but it did help immensely with the scoot in the windy shade back to the car. Once again, loads of fish and the weather was beautiful. It seems the blue gropers assemble just east of the ramp, out in the mouth of the bay.

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
Very brief snorkel off the north-eastern rocks at Gordons Bay in the early afternoon. The wind made the scamper up to the car pretty uncomfortable; the wetsuit would block it much better than a dripping wifebeater. Loads of fish again today, perhaps the most variation I've seen there yet.

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
After putting my parents on the plane to London-via-Singapore, I went for a swim at Gordons Bay. Beautiful autumn weather presently, though I feel the need to wear a wifebeater in the water now, it makes just enough of a difference.


/noise/movies | Link

At The Ritz. An interesting subject (an FBI agent, devout Catholic, etc. selling U.S. secrets to the Russians), a boring portrayal. Reality is too tedious for these Hollywood monkeys, so we get a sexed up thriller that omits such things of general interest as motive (why continue to pass information to the K.B.G. for ten years after the cold war came to an end?) and the nature of the secrets that were passed (OK, don't speculate, just tell us that remains classified). But hey, bright shiny thing, we've all got ADD now.

The last time I looked at Laura Linney and had any other reaction than "oh, that's Laura Linney" was when she played the wife in The Squid and the Whale. I thought she was wonderful in that role. The lead young bloke struck me as a proto-Matt Damon (shudder).

Shaun of the Dead

/noise/movies | Link

The Fountain

/noise/movies | Link

Mr Cranky says it all:

Frankly, I think getting off in public over the fact you married a hot, famous woman is kind of rude. Why couldn't Aronofsky and Weisz celebrate their love by doing what everyone else does and film themselves having sex?

The Shawshank Redemption

/noise/movies | Link

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
Mid-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. Loads of fish, including a solitary blue groper, thousands of the usual stripey little fellers, a school of thin, long-nosed silver ones (swordfish?) swimming just under the surface. The water was quite pleasant once in, though staying in is getting harder. Time to get out the wetsuit, methinks.

The Book of Revelation

/noise/movies | Link

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward: All the President's Men

/noise/books | Link

The book which, while preceding the movie, was apparently written because of it. Again, the irritation is that it focuses on the authors' part of the story, and suddenly stops when things get really weird (p331, five pages to go):

On Saturday the 14th, Woodward received a phone call at home from a senior memeber of the [Senate] committee's investigative staff. "Congratulations," he said. "We interviewed Butterfield. He told the whole story."

What whole story?

"Nixon bugged himself."

I would have preferred the narrative to be situated in history a bit better, such as by clueing us into other events in the U.S. by providing some correlative newspaper headlines.

True Romance

/noise/movies | Link

Darlinghurst Theatre: City for Sale.

/noise/theatre | Link

With Sarah. A flash-in-the-pan script, saved by some great actors. The plot ambled along in a somewhat predictable fashion, with the requisite double, triple twist and a half-pike. The NSW State Government has been replaced by a mortgage board and the citizenry is stratified according to their real estate interests in a semi-articulated spaghetti of health insurance and voting rights. Marrickville is now part of Balmain, just "several stone throws" from the harbour. Melbourne has, of course, managed to retain its social democracy and is otherwise the usual cliché of itself.

Sydney has supposedly gone bonkers over this play, and while it is a sharper comedy than Sold, it comes at the cost of being blandly impersonal. The characters, while amusing and well played, are all scumsucking bottom feeders.

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
Mid-afternoon swim at a flat-as-I've-ever-seen-it Coogee. It was quite cool on the promenade while I was waiting for Lev.


/noise/movies | Link
At the Verona in the early evening. There seem to be a gazillion movies with this name.

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
Early afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. The beautiful weather continues.

The Thaw at the The Pitz.

/noise/music | Link
With mrak. Here's the flyer. I somehow enjoyed their set more than last time, though the other bands left me cold.

Pymble Players: Travelling North.

/noise/theatre | Link

Trekked up to Gordon/Pymble, mrak territory, who had the good sense to be in Newtown. The second-hand bookshop there is a real trove of Australiana, and Gordon Thai is not terrible for a non-inner-city Thai, albeit not somewhere one can rock up and expect to get a table without a booking.

What drug me up here was a production of David Williamson's venerable Travelling North, purportedly one of his best. I still haven't seen the movie, featuring Graham Kennedy, much to my chagrin.

This production, being community theatre, was a bit uneven but of high standard. The dialogue was quite amusing, and great use was made of the large fixed set. The play itself has mildly dated, with some cultural referents likely to be missed by people born around that time who aren't politics junkies.

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
Mid-afternoon dip at Gordons Bay. Quite warm in and out of the water, very sunny and clear.

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
Early afternoon snorkel with mrak and Deb at Balmoral. Absolutely perfect day for it, apart from some fairly cloudy harbour water.

NUTS: The Festival of Light and Dark.

/noise/theatre | Link

Specifically, Brecht's How Much is Your Iron? and Woody Allen's God: A Play. The Brecht play left me a bit cold, which was perhaps the intention. It smacked of the classically unsettling First they came... poem.

The night definitely belonged to Allen's raucously irreverent play, with the first third being so chaotic that one can barely draw breath between such gags as:

ACTOR: You idiot, you're fictional, she's Jewish - you know what the children will be like?

By the time the chorus issue the instruction:

CHORUS: Let's go, Phidipides, the play is bogging down.

the play has indeed bogged down and become quite difficult to follow, which was probably intentional. Heck, it was all intentional; hassling the audience, that's a bit cheap... until you realise they're all plants, every last one of them.

Again, it's a shame NUTS doesn't run this one for longer to larger audiences.

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
Late afternoon swim at Coogee. The days are getting quite short. Quite a few people there, pleasant water and cold sand, classic dumpers.

Total Recall

/noise/movies | Link

Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison: Silencing Dissent: How the Australian government is controlling public opinion and stifling debate.

/noise/books | Link

I finally finished reading this book, so long after the book launch. In many ways I found it unsurprising and somewhat pointless; it catalogues and sometimes adds to the vast piles of evidence that the current government is a mendacious, insecure mob of control freaks. I can't imagine anyone who doesn't already suspect that will read this text, and so I have to wonder what the target audience was imagined to be. The only things I found novel were the instances of modern-day heroism in the public service, and even those couldn't keep me awake. (I mostly read it after midnight.)

One thing that struck me as less than helpful was the stridently bare ideology in this potted take on public choice (p32, Dissent in Australia, Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison):

At a deeper level, the revisionist view of democracy advanced by the Howard Government rests upon a particular belief about human nature. This view considers that it is normal and natural for people to be the self-interested 'rational maximisers' known as homo economicus in the economics textbooks. In this view human beings are understood to be 'fundamentally acquisitive creatures' for whom 'consumption and acquisition are the means to happiness'. The purpose of society, then, is 'to provide the secure space in which these naturally self-interested individuals are left free to discover and pursue their own (basically material) happiness'. This is hardly a modern view; the idea of government as being structured around the self-interested individual dates back to Hobbes and Locke. In the modern variation — known as rational choice theory, and its offspring, public choice theory — citizens are regarded as having little concern with democratic participation unless it is in their own material interests. In turn the model of government designed to support the activities of the 'instrumentally rational egoist' is a 'minimal democracy' that can at best provide 'few safeguards against tyranny'.

Offered up to support the quotes are Australian Politics (Emy and Hughes) and Deliberative Democracy and Beyond (Dryzek, what a great name). Me, all I've got is Wikipedia and a smattering of Amartya Sen's work. While I agree that taking any of these theories to be normative might lead one to think their conclusions are profoundly distasteful, the mostly negative mathematical results are enough to convince me that they're still working on the foundations. Rationality here is just the set of extra assumptions needed to make the model tractable, and it clearly is a poor approximation of human behaviour. No surprise that the hot new trend has a strongly psychological flavour.

Still, this paragraph does make a good point (by example) in conflating the limitations of the models with their supposed support for a highly artificial set of desiderata, something I'm sure the political public choice theorists encourage. Take, for example, Jane S. Shaw's overview of this discipline for The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:

One of the chief underpinnings of public choice theory is the lack of incentives for voters to monitor government effectively. Anthony Downs, in one of the earliest public choice books, An Economic Theory of Democracy, pointed out that the voter is largely ignorant of political issues and that this ignorance is rational. Even though the result of an election may be very important, an individual's vote rarely decides an election. Thus, the direct impact of casting a well-informed vote is almost nil; the voter has virtually no chance to determine the outcome of the election. So spending time following the issues is not personally worthwhile for the voter. Evidence for this claim is found in the fact that public opinion polls consistently find that less than half of all voting-age Americans can name their own congressional representative.

Public choice economists point out that this incentive to be ignorant is rare in the private sector. Someone who buys a car typically wants to be well informed about the car he or she selects. That is because the car buyer's choice is decisive — he or she pays only for the one chosen. If the choice is wise, the buyer will benefit; if it is unwise, the buyer will suffer directly. Voting lacks that kind of direct result. Therefore, most voters are largely ignorant about the positions of the people for whom they vote. Except for a few highly publicized issues, they do not pay a lot of attention to what legislative bodies do, and even when they do pay attention, they have little incentive to gain the background knowledge and analytic skill needed to understand the issues.

Public choice economists also examine the actions of legislators. Although legislators are expected to pursue the "public interest," they make decisions on how to use other people's resources, not their own. Furthermore, these resources must be provided by taxpayers and by those hurt by regulations whether they want to provide them or not. Politicians may intend to spend taxpayer money wisely. Efficient decisions, however, will neither save their own money nor give them any proportion of the wealth they save for citizens. There is no direct reward for fighting powerful interest groups in order to confer benefits on a public that is not even aware of the benefits or of who conferred them. Thus, the incentives for good management in the public interest are weak. In contrast, interest groups are organized by people with very strong gains to be made from governmental action. They provide politicians with campaign funds and campaign workers. In return they receive at least the "ear" of the politician and often gain support for their goals.

I guess you can see where that is going. I find the use of rationality here persausive, even if the portrayal of private enterprise is overly narrow and rose-tinted; my experience of corporate Australia is that the meat is not lean, and most are awestruck by the Enron fiasco. And yet there is an alternative to the right-wing minimalist (or absent) government: a more participatory democracy, a path that the Swiss have taken without apparent catastrophe. As Australia's infrastructure crumbles (specifically universities and urban transport, at least in Sydney), the populace will have no choice but to turn away from the high-def plasma for long enough to make their opinions felt.

None of this is to say the book shouldn't be read, indignation raised, action taken, but when the revolution comes I doubt anyone will say this is what got them off their arse. David Marr wrote an upbeat review for the Smage, though his closing observations are similar to mine:

The trouble is, the nation seems to care little about the successes or the failures in Canberra's long war against information. "While Australia has been transformed," Manne writes, "large parts of the nation have seemed to be asleep."

I have to say, bleakly, that these days this is only rational.