Monthly Archives: May 2013

‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’

Into Daftness

Don’t get me wrong, I do like Star Trek movies, especially the ones with the original cast and characters. The re-boot done by JJ Abrams has been interesting because we’re forced to see the characters played anew by new actors and have to readjust our relationship to the new Kirk, the new Spock in the way we have come accustomed to readjusting ourselves to the new Bond or the Doctor Who or new Sherlock Holmes. What comes out of the readjustment is an insight into just what exactly is the character, and what makes them those characters.  What exactly is the Kirk-ness in Kirk, or the Spock-ness in Spock? These kinds of considerations made the previous film at least somewhat interesting.

In the case of Star Trek series, which is an ensemble cast project, this means some characters are reduced to a trope, while others are parsed out for the sake of plot.

What’s Good About It

The film races along jauntily enough, that you never stop to seriously wonder about the plausibility of the plot. In fact, the writing is verging on ADHD as one plot point segues improbably into the next.

There’s a lot of things blowing up and breaking apart. The action is pumping. The Spock versus Khan fight towards the climax is good. The whole thing is a lot more exciting than the old, thoughtful, discursive, complex ‘Star Trek’ films of yore.

Zachary Quinto still makes a most excellent Mr. Spock. Without him I don’t think the re-boot would hold water. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan is an interesting development of that villain. Gone is Ricardo Montalban’s exquisite accent and in its place is a distinctly British kind of snark.

What’s Bad About It

The science in this film is atrocious. There are any number of science fiction movies with bad science in it, but this one happliy blows into the nonsensical in the first 10minues, when Mr. Spock uses a ‘Cold Fusion’ device to – get this! – cool down a volcano. Like… what? Cold Fusion doesn’t mean it creates lots of cold. You just wish the writers would read up some science before writing this kind of crap.

Then there is the doubly improbable moment when a space ship undergoing warp speed is attacked by another vessel undergoing warp speed. I just couldn’t figure out how they could begin to navigate at faster than speed of light, then find the target while still traveling faster than the speed of light, then fire weapons in the context of everything moving at faster than the speed of light. I mean, it looks good on the screen, but is that really good enough? Is that good enough for ‘Star Trek’? Wouldn’t this sort of destroy one of the pillars of the Star Trek universe?

The radioactive warp-core room is incredibly stupid too. It’s much bigger than the one in ‘Wrath of Khan’ where Spock sacrifices himself to save the ship, and you wonder where it actually fits on the Enterprise as presented in the film. The sequence where Kirk clambers up some massive coils to get to the warp core is more like something out of ‘Galaxy Quest’ where the ship presents itself with gratuitous obstacles. It’s just as Sigourney Weaver screams in that segment linked: “Whoever wrote this episode should die!”

I watched this thing in 3D IMAX. I hate 3D to begin with because what you get with 3D is never enough to off-set the dulled colours and contrast. I’m sorry James Cameron, but you’re simply wrong about this – 3D sucks. 3D and IMAX is like marrying the worst elements of both and celebrating the aborted foetus. Okay, so this is not the film itself’s fault but the whole movie comes across very messily in 3D IMAX. If you want to get any proper sense out of this film, I strongly advise that people go watch it in 2D.

As it is, I felt like a got a very detailed look at Chris Pine’s pores.

What’s Interesting About It

I’m really scratching here. This might be the first Star Trek film that’s actually not very interesting because it is so action-driven, there’s hardly a coherent thought about alien civilisations or space exploration or what inter-species politics might be like. It’s just smooth entertainment with the texture of a thick shake and with about the same nutritional/intellectual content. You would glean more about American thought on the alien and the complexities of multivalent politics from ‘Galaxy Quest’ than this film. The sad thing is that the parody came years and years before. In that sense the film never really rises above the challenge it sets for itself.

Drone War Abjection

The film sort of obliquely refers to the politics of drone attacks on exiled targets but it actually has very little to say except that Captain Kirk when appealed to his conscience, cannot go through with it. You sort of wonder what the big deal is really, when the President of the United States himself is mounting a reasonable argument in favour of it.

The president defended drone strikes as more precise than conventional attacks from the air, and less dangerous than operations involving American “boots on the ground”. The raid by special forces in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden “cannot be the norm”, he said. The risks had been immense, with a healthy dose of luck helping to prevent civilian casualties or an extended firefight.

Though strikes by distant drones were legal and had saved lives, Mr Obama announced that he had signed a new framework of guidelines, oversight and accountability governing the use of force against terrorism. Describing the deaths of civilian bystanders in drone strikes as “heartbreaking tragedies”, the president pledged that drone strikes would only be used when the capture of terror suspects was impossible, when terrorists posed a “continuing and imminent threat to the American people”, when no other government was capable of effectively addressing that threat and when there was a “near-certainty” that no civilians would be killed or injured.

In a reminder that the majority of the American public takes an essentially parochial view of drones, Mr Obama also found time to address the paranoid concern raised by such Republican senators as Rand Paul and Ted Cruz that the government might send armed drones to prowl the skies over America, to take out Americans suspected of terrorism without a trial. For the record, Mr Obama said, he did not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any American citizen—whether with a drone or a shotgun—without due process. Nor should any president deploy armed drones over American soil, he added.

But he defended the killing of Anwar Awlaki, accusing him of plotting to blow up airplanes, and saying that when an American goes abroad to wage war against America and cannot be captured before carrying out a plot, his citizenship should no more shield him than a sniper shooting on a crowd should be protected from police marksmen.

Which, might not be convincing to some, is still a fairly bland proposition regarding the use of drones. It is easily conscienable for Barack Obama. You wonder why it’s not conscienable for Captain Kirk in this movie.

Racist Discourse

One of the more ugly developments in the Star Trek universe is the propensity for Klingons to be played by black actors. This is doubly underscore by Lt. Uhura played by Zoe Soldana mysteriously knowing how to communicate in Klingon. Yes, the easy answer is that she’s the communication officer so she might have had training in Klingon, but you have to wonder whether it’s easier to have her do it because she’s black. I find that kind of thing a lot more disturbing about the newer Star Trrek movies. It’s just as disturbing as seeing Orcs predominantly played by Maoris in what is a predominantly white-European cultural landscape of Middle Earth. Although, the laughable apotheosis is how the Clones in ‘Star Wars Ep. II The Attack of the Clones’ show us that Django Fett, Boba Fett and all the clones are Maoris.

All the same, what all this tells you is that the zero-zero coordinates of fictional space, even in 2013, is going to be located as ‘white’ and ‘male’ and that’s just about the speed of it.

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Movie Doubles – ‘Gangster Squad’ & ‘Fair Game’

Sean Penn Special

Today’s movie double is hanging off the veritable Sean Penn. Sean Penn plays the historic boxer-turned-gangster Mickey Cohen in ‘Gangster Squad’, then plays a morally outraged Joe Wilson in ‘Fair Game’. it’s purely coincidental I caught these movies back to back but it made me think a bit about Sean Penn’s contribution to cinema in the last decade. Most memorable of his roles in the last few years include his portrayal of Harvey Milk, a scary gangster in ‘Mystic River’, and a fictional burnt out rock star in ‘This Must Be The Place’. When you look at all these roles, you’re struck by the variety of roles he’s taken on seemingly without fear. It’s an astounding body of work if there was nothing else, but of course, there’s loads of Sean Penn movies that came before this decade.

So this seems like a good time as any to try a Sean Penn movie double entry. Hey, usual spoiler alert.

True Story, Better Fiction

Both these films are the typical Hollywood fare where the plot is “based on a true story, loosely based on fact”. ‘Gangster Squad’ might be stretching things a lot harder than ‘Fair Game’ because it has an action movie quotient to live up to. ‘Fair Game’ on the other hand seems to re-touch the facts in other ways to put a  story across with an unequivocal capital ‘t’ Truth.

Still, it’s interesting going through wikipedia to pick out the bits that people think is distorted and both films provide ample ammunition for veracity-complaints. The tallest tale might be the big shootout that brings Mickey in to a fisticuff confrontation with Josh Brolin’s Sgt. O’Mara. It’s a strange climactic fight because on one level you know Mickey gets taken down and so you know he’s going to lose.

The veracity-complaint on ‘Fair Game’ might be ore problematic. The central plank of the war on Iraq came down to this notion that Iraq might have bought enough yellow cake for their own nuclear bomb project. In the movie, Joe Wilson’s visit to Niger is made out to be conclusive truth that the Iraqis could not have bought the yellow cake. However, logic also betrays the fact that if an Iraqi delegation had visited Niger to talk about buying yellow cake, that in of itself points to a nuclear project. It’s a double edged sword whether Joe Wilson’s findings in the movie actually prove there were no WMD programs inside Iraq. If it does, then it raises the question of what the Iraqi delegation were doing in Niger.

Expediency Is Politics

Both films portray the extent of the power of the state. What’s disturbing about ‘Gangster Squad’ is that the Gangster Squad assembled by John O’Mara essentially dwells and acts outside the scope of the law. They’re equally gangsters in prosecuting their cause. All of this gets put into play because the police chief Parker (played by Nick Nolte) wants to achieve this objective without being hindered by process or courts or law or facts.

Eerily, this is exactly what the Bush-Cheney administration wanted to achieve when they decided to go to war with Iraq. They knew the conclusion first – they were going to whack Saddam. The rest of it was to find any shred of evidence using the CIA to pin the blame and therefore discover a just cause they can sell to the electorate for going to war with Iraq.

In both films, the government unilaterally decides to bend all rules and protocols to get at their targets – Mickey Cohen the criminal boss or Saddam Hussein, dictator – and this is seen in the light of people who must go out and do the bidding of the state.

Interestingly, in both films, he unilateral conduct of these actions translate as the unmitigated reach of the powerful, disguised as justice. Now, the law can be good, the law can be bad. (Just ask Gary Gygax). The law on its own does not represent good. Indeed, power tries to make itself good through the selective application of the law. Both ‘Gangster Squad’ and ‘Fair Game’ are shot through with the idea that one has to go rogue and outside the law to achieve a greater good.

“Lawful Evil Is Still Evil”

Just to expand on the observation about lawfulness here… The Dungeons & Dragons view of the world through alignments is pretty interesting, because Gygax devised a world view in which people/beings are naturally mapped into a grid of Lawful-Neutral-Chaos on one axis and Good-Neutral- Evil on another. So the characters might be any combination of  qualities from both axes, such as Lawful Good or Chaotic Evil or for that matter True Neutral.

A very astute boy somewhere in North America made the observation “Neutral Evil is still Evil” – which is to say it is possible to be lawful and law abiding and be evil. Like, say an evil magistrate as they appear in Chinese fiction, or a crooked judge who uses the law to pursue nefarious ends.  When you consider the three lawful options of Lawful Good Lawful Neutral and Lawful Evil, you have to concede that the law in of itself has nothing to do with good or evil. This seems to be the great insight coming out of North America with the advent of post-modern cop dramas like ‘Gangster Squad’ – that there is great confusion as to what is lawful and what is good. And America at its heart does not embrace the Socratic adage about obeying laws even if they are bad laws.

You wonder why the Christian Right and the gun lobby align themselves closely. They all want to marry up lawfulness and goodness when in fact there is an essential disconnect between that which is lawful and that which is good. Similarly, the impulse of the Bush-Cheney government was to dress itself up as doing good deeds while going outside of the law for exactly the same kind of impulse as ‘Gangster Squad’, but of course this results in the great injustice of what happens in ‘Fair Game’.

Penn Plays The Grotesque In Society

Sean Penn’s greatest roles seem to hover around the miserable and grotesque. Even Harvey Milk, in the context of the 1970s, was conceivably socially grotesque in its time. The rock star he plays in ‘This Must Be the Place’ extends on the grotesque angle of a rock star who cannot go out without makeup, while Mickey Cohen in ‘Gangster Squad’ oozes misfit and alienation to the point of being grotesque. Joe Wilson, as played by Penn in this context then, seems to be far away from the grotesque except for one quality, which is his inability to shut up about the misdeeds of the government.

Penn is of course one of the actors lampooned mercilessly in ‘Team America’ and going back further, was much maligned for being “Mr. Madonna” and a Hollywood bad boy. Combined as a whole, the Penn oeuvre and persona seems to have evolved into a kind of expression of aching conscience and disruptive honesty. He’s come a long way from being the professional misfit of ‘We’re No Angels’.

Interestingly enough, the discourse about wanting more by an outsider, as expressed by Penn’s Mickey Cohen has an important antecedent in ‘Untouchables’ with Robert DeNiro offering up an equally grotesque Al Capone. There are echoes of that performance in Penn’s offering in ‘Gangster Squad’.

Everybody’s Good Looking

There’s a Sheryl crow song where she describes movies based on fact with people who are too good looking to be true. If you watch ‘Fair Game’, you’re constantly struck by how much better looking the actors are than the real people. But the only way you’d get the people to watch a movie like this is if you got good looking people to play people who are not as good looking. This aestheticisation is actually at once fascist as well as consumerist pap, but it’s Hollywood and you accept it.

Sheryl Crow’s song goes on to sing about how the facts are embellished until the story is unrecognisable. This is particularly true in ‘Gangster Squad’ where certain key facts are re-written to suit the dramatic arc. The point being you wouldn’t get people to watch a movie that doesn’t have a dramatic arc that is recognisable as a dramatic arc. To that end screenwriters toil and bend and twist the truth to make a palatable narrative. This is also a kind of aestheticisation that is fascist and consumerist pap.

Take a bow Sheryl.

Ten Years After

I just want to point out how depressing it was to revisit the events that led to the invasion of Iraq. The rhetoric and the arcane, twisted pseudo-logic that dominated the news headlines at the time were simply abominable. If there ever was a sign that American hubris had somehow derailed the nation, it was the moment American media played along and convinced the people of America there was a legitimate anti-terror cause in invading Iraq. The events that unfolded as a result of the invasion have shown just how idiotic the insistence about ‘weapons of mass destruction’ turned out to be.

Beyond that is the carnage and the media circus and the inevitable movies about the invasion like ‘The Green Zone’ as well as accounts of pursuing Osama bin Laden like ‘Zero Dark Thirty’. ‘Fair Game fits right into the awful genre of rewriting and re-couching the immediate past when in fact the memories are fresh and pain still throbbing. The least admirable thing about American politics might be its incessant need to have patriots, and talk about patriots, all the while doing the most inhumane things. We are none the better, none the wiser, none the richer for the misadventures in Iraq. We are robbed of our dignity and integrity, thanks to the leaders we elected in good faith, who then lied to us in what can only be described as immense bad faith. We are less informed, less educated of the facts, and materially poorer for having expended the stupid sums of public monies to fight Saddam and his ‘weapons of mass destruction’.

And if what we get out of all this is ‘Fair Game’, maybe it’s exactly the kind of grim entertainment we deserve for letting the bastard politicians get away with it. To those politicians – George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair and John Howard, I still say, “Fuck you, you motherfuckers, may you all rot in hell”.

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Kraftwerk – Live at the Sydney Opera House 25/May/2013

Trans-Europa Express

I got lucky this week as inherited a ticket to see Kraftwerk at Vivid Live this year. There’s a lot of eletronica about today but once upon a time the leading purveyors of ‘techno’ were the unparalleled, idiosyncratic, machine-minded Kraftwerk. They’re doing a series of concerts in Sydney for Vivid Live where they play their 8 albums and then let loose with the hits.

What’s Good About It

Kraftwerk on stage is unlike any other rock act, and that alone is refreshing. There’s no small talk, no chitchat about what the songs mean, no introduction of members. They just get on with it. The barrage of songs is overwhelming. The sound mix is astounding, what with the surround sound play on the filter sweeps and looped audio. The 3-D video is at once referential to their film clips as well as adventurous and surprising. The little LED light strips on their consoles are also amazing.

The whole  integrated experience is mind-bending and unlike anything else you will see.

What’s Bad About it

Nothing. Next!

What’s Interesting About It

Kraftwerk have streamlined their stage presentation to 4 people at consoles and the 3D video playing in the background. The Bauhaus Modernist aesthetic is pursued to extreme refinement. The guiding vision  for the entire experience is this controlled, sustained, designed look as well as sound. The experience is at once, forward looking as well as retrospective, but filled with an irony of having predicted a different kind of future to what took place.

The grid motif on the high collared coats and trousers is also fascinating because together with the wire-frame graphics, it harks back to the style of ‘Tron’ where horizons spread out infinitely. Indeed, the horizon seems to inform the concept of Kraftwerk greatly, as we are made aware f it over and over in the clips for ‘Autobahn’ as well as the video for ‘Spacelab’. It seems they want to peer out to the horizon of technology and yet at the same time they have been standing on that edge for the 40-odd years of existence.

Aniother aspect of the astounding nature of the performance is that Kraftwerk’s music is like a decontruction of music itself. Melody is cut away from Harmony; timbre is abstracted through use of synthesisers; beats are pulled apart and reassembled to be more evocative of machines, not less; the resulting reconstructed gestalt is a kind of critique of the assembly of music.

The dispassionate playing is also interesting because by the end of the night, their resistance to their own output breaks down, and they’re all foot tapping on stage as they play the music. All in all, it’s the most mind-bending show I’ve seen in a long time.

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Anti-Intellectualism In Australia

We Hate Thinkers? That Would Take Some Thinking

I was going to ignore this one but Pleiades sort of prodded it back into view so I thought maybe I should chip in my two cents. It’s a rather oblique bit of commentary and maybe even a little whiny. 23000 people have already expressed their like for the article so it’s not like the wider public don’t feel sympathy for the intelligentzia in this country. But that number suggests also that it’s the intelligentzia feeling sorry for itself.

To be honest, it’s quite an irritating piece, so I’m going to pick out sections and point out why it’s a faulty piece of commentary.

Each week I watch Q&A praying for an expert, begging for someone who knows what they’re talking about. And each week I get Joe Hildebrand accompanied by a flurry of tweets by the emotionally unstable. In fact Nick Osbaldiston and Jean-Paul Gagnon recently found in their research on Q&A that only 5 per cent of panellists since 2008 had a research background. Even in an entire show devoted to education issues, Professor Gonski sat in the shadows while Pyne and Garrett proffered glib inanities and vapid insults. No one learned anything.

My problem is not that our public sphere harbours ill-educated members (like the imbecilic Andrew Bolt who never made it past first-year uni). I think we need commentators from all walks of life. The problem is that as a country we are hostile to those who are well-educated. We prefer home-spun wisdom to years of research. Our language is peppered with vitriol reserved for those who think for a living: “chattering classes”, “latte-sipping libertarians”, “intellectual elites” and now Nick Cater’s most unlovely term “bunyip elite”. If we want to emphasise the importance of something we say that the issue “is not just academic”. Any idea that takes longer than a nano-second to understand is howled down. Or perhaps, more precisely, any idea that threatens conservative orthodoxy is consigned to the divine irrelevancy of the academy.

There’s a lot of name-calling going on there. 🙂

Quite frankly I’m not even convinced that the people I meet are hostile to intellectual pursuits or that they resent people with a higher educational attainment. My own take on this is probably more hostile than the average Australian, and maybe even more resentful about people’s letters than the average Australian. So I guess this is going to be a kind of retort to somebody who is an adjunct lecturer at law at UNSW from somebody who flunked out of Med Shcool at Sydney University. You could say that we’re diametrical opposites: Lecturer versus drop-out, UNSW vs University of Sydney, Law versus Medicine and all that.

My own view is that some intellectual concerns genuine *are* academic and there’s nothing wrong with it being academic, but it takes a bit of honesty on the part of academia to admit that which is academic may not be easily transferred as wisdom for those who live in the practical end of the world. The reason why the dismissive phrase “just academic” comes about is not to stop ideas that threaten conservative orthodoxy but a frank and honest bid in not wasting time applying the inapplicable.

The point of the intellectual elite is not to “think for living about how the world can be a fairer place” for a start. A better place, maybe. But it’s simply not true that such a task is the burden of the intellectual elite. Some are going to write books and others are going to devise engineering solutions to problems that have nothing to do with fairness. And those who undertake practical pragmatic tasks in our society are not any less intellectual than those who toil in the halls of academia.

The complaint that only 5% of the panelists were researchers is also a bit misleading. This construction suggests that those who are not researchers do not have valid credentials to be asked questions about our society on television, when in fact most of politics is reducible to opinion and not knowledge at all. Politics is the enemy of epistemology, but you can’t really live without having politics so we all indulge in it, and we all form opinions. But here’s the thing: opinions are always *merely* opinions and it doesn’t matter who expresses theirs and how they do so in the context of a TV show like ‘Q&A’. the very demand that ‘Q&A’ ought to have more intellectual gravitas misses the point that it is a show about opinions masquerading as something more insightful than it really is. Personally I find it laughable that an adjunct lecturer of law is using it as a benchmark to show how anti-intellectual Australia is.

The flipside to what the writer is saying is that people who aren’t researchers and therefore not at the cutting edge of knowledge practice ought not to be heard on ‘Q&A’ and that seems like a terrible conceit on the part of academia.

There’s also no room for cleverness in our models of masculinity or femininity. For women, intelligence equates with a dangerous independence that doesn’t sit well with your role as a docile adoring fan to the boys at the pub. It’s equated with sexual unattractiveness. And for men, carrying a book and using words longer than one syllable is a form of gender treason. It’s as good as wearing bumless chaps to a suburban barbecue. Real blokes have practical wisdom expressed through grunts and murmurs. Real Aussie chicks just giggle.

This bit is simply not true. It is not true of both men and women I deal with every day. I categorically reject the notion that – even in the blue-collar context – that people do not try to express themselves in the most articulate manner. This reads more like projection on the part of the writer. I can easily imagine many contexts where this might be the case, but it is not any kind of a universal portrait of Australian life. If she thinks this is an accurate description, she needs to get out of the ivory tower more often.

It’s not just a hostile public sphere that keeps thinkers at bay. Academics may also not want to enter public debate. And I can understand why. Firstly, they receive no rewards in terms of career advancement for writing for the public. And secondly, many may not want to engage with a knife-drawn public prone to Goldstein-style Two-Minute Twitter Hate Rituals. Academics are often timorous folk who specialise in showing the complexity of issues, not offering tweet-sized solutions. Social media doesn’t democratise debate. It limits it to the resilient. Snark triumphs over insight, and commentary is reserved for those with voluminous folds of scar-tissue. Sensitive thinkers rarely fit this bill.

That’s just weak. If there’s something that needs to be said in the public sphere, and an Academic won’t venture forth to say it, then that’s dereliction of duty and we ought not be paying them to be our academics.

If the reason why they don’t come forward is because there aren’t enough rewards in coming forward, we should sack these academics and start again because they’re not fulfilling their social function. If there is a truth that needs to be spoken, it shouldn’t be about personal reward should it? In fact the writer goes on to mention the monetary motive twice more in the article so clearly it bugs her that academisc don’t get paid like bankers. Here’s a newsflash lady: only bankers get paid like bankers.

If they live in fear of public rebuke, then that’s also unacceptable and weak. It really doesn’t matter that the public might excercise its Goldstein-style two-minutes-hate; if you don’t have the conviction of beliefs as a scholar, what good as a scholar are you? Indeed, proper academics stand up all the time, like Tim Flannery. Why don’t they do it more often? Why make excuses as to why they don’t?

It might seem hard to take for the writer, but the biggest enemy of intellectualism in this country is exactly this kind of cloistered, self-interest-driven, condescending, patronising academia. They’re not helping the wider society in the least bit. They can hardly complain then when the outcome is for the wider society to snip their budgets.

As rants about anti-intellectualism in this country go, I actually found this one pretty lame, unhelpful and mostly disagreeable.

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Tenacious D At The Sydney Opera House

It Seemed Even They Couldn’t Believe They Were There

I’ve seen Tenacious D live before. They were supporting the Foo Fighters. I’m trying to think of  international acts I’ve seen twice and the list is actually bizarre:

  • Yes
  • Foo Fighters
  • Jon Anderson*
  • Phil Collins*
  • Tenacious D

And that’s it. I’ve seen Pink Floyd once, Genesis once. Led Zep – never. Almost saw Jason Bonham tour with his Led Zep cover band but he cancelled the Australian leg of the tour. Never seen King Crimson. Didn’t see the Who because it seemed really hard to call Pete & Roger & hired hands ‘The Who’. I wish I could see King Crimson – that would make my year.

The asterisks next to Jon Anderson and Phil Collins are there because I’ve seen both gents as part of their band and as solo acts. The most understandable is Yes, at the top with a bullet and it’s only twice because they’ve only toured twice in the last 45years.

The Foo Fighters is weird. The only reason I saw them the second time was because Tenacious D were playing support. So I must really like these guys.

What’s Good About It

It’s Tenacious D. Of course they’re Awesome. Everything about them is awesome. They even tell you this is so. It was all good.

That being said, there were some unexpected stand out moments. They do a quick cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Rock’n’Roll’ The first verse was sung in a low register that exposed the blues roots of Zeppelin, but the second verse is sung with a falsetto that actually sounded like Robert Plant. It was amazing. They also did a cover of ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ and ‘The End’ by the Beatles that was a show stopper.

Jack Black is an amazing vocalist. Kyle Glass is an amazing guitar player. Between the two of them, they obliterate the need for the rest of the band. It’s a great night of entertainment

Speaking of which, even the comedian who kicked off the support was great. Very funny man with some sharp insights, fully deserving to be aired in the Sydney Opera House.

What’s Bad About It

This is the tough bit. I don’t think they were quite as energetic and clownish as the last time. I could do with more clownish physical comedy. Also, the gag where they fight and Kyle leaves the stage, setting  the stage for ‘Dude I really miss you’ wasn’t done as well as the previous tour. The artifice felt forced. But that’s trivial. It was a thoroughly enjoyable show.

What’s Interesting About It

The Jack Black rock-buffoon persona is actually quite a work of performance art. I’m not sure  when the first time was that I saw Jack Black on screen and noticed. It must have been  ‘Mars Attacks’ or ‘The Jackal’. It’s really only since ‘High Fidelity’ that we’ve been graced with his “Musical Moron” rock persona that has segued into ‘School of Rock’ and the ‘Tenacious D’ movie. He is a superb singer, a delightful comic actor and author of some kick ass songs.

Somehow he sews together these diverse talents and presents to us the Jack Black rock buffoon persona as his pristine rhetorical device to critique contemporary culture, through rock music. It’s an interesting rhetorical structure because not since has Spinal Tap has there been such a forceful satire of rock music that has also been embraced so tightly by the rock audience.

The irony of two middle aged guys with steel string acoustics claiming to to be the world’s greatest rock band underscores a mordant wit that finds its target in sexual mores to self-help to enlightenment and religion. The catalogue of songs they bash through is like an Odyssey of post-modern neuroses (and faulty self-examination) that culminates in their encore song finale – and sublime masterpiece of idiocy – ‘Fuck Her Gently’.

The Closest Thing I Could Think Of

…was ironically Jon Anderson live at The Factory. Except Jon Anderson is the author of first order texts where Rock’s foundational beliefs are laid out in song. Then along come these two jokers and create a raft of second order texts that mercilessly parodies the metaphysical and social content but in actual fact the most similar show I could think of was Jon Anderson cracking jokes in between bashing out songs on his acoustic.

Rock’s come a long way in a short time. The two Tenacious D members are laden with Generation X cultural baggage, which is in a sense, the result of trying to make sense of the inherited wisdom from the first order texts from the Baby Boomers. It’s not surprising the deliberately garbled bad information results in fine comedy as presented by Jack and Kyle.

You can sort of see how I end up seeing Jon Anderson and Tenacious D live twice.

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Here Comes The DLP

The Liberal’s Own Fracture

As a progressive of sorts, I’m sick of bagging out the ALP. I wish they’d do better but they won’t. They won’t because they’re who they are at this minute in history and more’s the shame. It’s been interesting watching the Libs this year doing their best to keep their noses clean and names out of the paper. Even Tony Abbott has been making himself scarce (as if that’s going to convince undecided progressives to vote for him), but occasionally something bursts to the surface.

This week it was leaked that Alex Hawke doesn’t think much of Abbott’s parental leave scheme. This is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a sign that the Liberals under Tony Abbott are not a monolithic right. It appears, there’s a sort of spectrum of Wet Malcolm, Soggy-Bottom Joe Hockey, Dry Tony Abbott, Fresh-Wheatbix Julie Bishop, and Bone-Dry Alex Hawke. And we have to remind ourselves that the drier they are the whiter and more private-school they get (unless of course they’re the scion of escaped European Fascists, it won’t matter what their school ties looked like).

Secondly, it is interesting that the reason they don’t like it is because the architecture of the plan so to speak hinges on taking the 3200 top companies to pay for it, and try as they might some people on the right just can’t stand the thought of another tax. Now, it appears to me that this kind of tax the big companies and pay the people dosh mentation is largely of the old DLP mold, so it surprises me none that Tony Abbott thinks this is the way to go, and for Joe Hockey to concur. (“Do you concur?” “Sorry?” “Do you concur!?”)

The other news from the Liberal side is that not only are they likely to repeal the Carbon Tax, some would want to abandon their ‘Direct Action’ policy – which interestingly enough involved taxing the biggest polluters – which is a bit like the gun lobby wanting to repeal gun laws in Australia:

Two Liberal MPs want Tony Abbott to review or consider abandoning parts of his $3.2 billion plan to combat climate change in light of ”dire economic circumstances”.

Mal Washer and Dennis Jensen made the comments about the Coalition’s Direct Action plan in the same week MPs broke ranks to publicly criticise Mr Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme as economically irresponsible.

Western Australian MP Mal Washer said: ”If we are not going to get a big environmental bang for our buck then we ought not to do it. The policy needs to be reviewed and only the valuable parts need to be retained … in light of dire economic circumstances.” Dr Washer added that he agreed with the tree planting initiatives in the scheme.

I guess the point there is that there  are some pretty crazy people on the right end of the conservative side of politics and it’s a miracle they don’t all jump ship and join Bob Katter or Clive Palmer. (This has already happened on the Left – and let’s be honest, that’s what the Greens are: the political hidey-hole for old time communists and assorted marxists, Lesbian Separatists, piratical whale-huggers, disorderly tree-huggers, illustrated people with socially unacceptable piercings and consciousness-altered hippies and dope fiends… You know, the people who used to make up the ALP Left faction).

The great irony in all of this is that the current carbon pricing policy is something the coalition came up with way back when and Kevin Rudd co-opted it in order to win the election. Now, that was a famous drubbing, but that shouldn’t mean the Carbon Tax should be against the Liberal Party’s ideological framework of free markets unless of course it is even more important for the Liberal Party to be the party of climate change scepticism. Of course, Tony Abbott himself is famously a climate change sceptic which not only robs him of intellectual credibility, it robs him of having a mandate when he wins this September.

But here’s the thing. This model of taxing the biggest companies and handing out the spoils is classic old school Leftist thinking – like, the splittist Democratic Labour Party of old. After all, Tony Abbott cites B.A Santamaria as his political inspiration. It’s exctly the kind of policy style that B.A would have approved. It’s a bit of a miracle the WASP types in the Liberals have tolerated Tony Abbott and his DLP ways until now. And maybe now that they’re so confident they are about to win, they want to re-stack the policy deck.

I guess all this goes to show it is pretty deplorable that the ALP had to be forced to the table by a hung Parliament to put through the Carbon tax by the aforementioned Greens, and then utterly failed to sell it. Now that they are about to lose badly, it’s all going to get undone and the climate sceptics are going to have their day, which is tragic.

Maybe they can take comfort in the fact that their old time brethren/apostates of the DLP have infiltrated the Liberals and are putting in policy on their behalf. You sort of wonder how the old Masons look at all this. I guess it’s no surprise hyper-WASP Malcolm Fraser walked out on the Liberal Party. What kind of Liberal Party is it with a Jesuit at the helm?

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News That’s Fit To Punt 10/May/2013

Not Wilton, Surely Not Wilton

The Federal Government and transport minister Anthony Albanese in particular has been leading a strange crusade of his own to put an airport at Wilton. To that extent his department has somehow deleted references to an old study done into Wilton which categorically rejected Wilton as a site for Sydney’s second airport; then commissioned a new study based on the fact that Wilton was about the 9th best candidate in a field of 9, and then finally released those findings to find that there is yet another reason to do another study.

Chief executive of Urban Development Institute of Australia Stephen Albin, who is backing another airport at Badgerys Creek, said the further studies into Wilton were a waste of time and the public had ”report fatigue”.’

‘They don’t believe what they are hearing from the politicians,” Mr Albin said. ”Decisions need to be made to ensure that community confidence in government plans is not eroded.”

Mr Albin, as well as the NSW Business Chamber and the Tourism and Transport Forum, said Badgerys Creek was clearly the best option.

”The biggest surprise out of this report was that they’ve said they’re going to do another report,” Mr Albin said.

That’s exactly it.

It’s all pretty strange with its fixation on Wilton if it didn’t keep costing millions in tax money to keep conducting these studies that basically keep saying Wilton is a bad idea. Even if it were an average idea, the Federal Government already owns land to what everybody knows is the right idea, which is Badgerys Creek. But no. They’ll do another report into Wilton. So here’s another one of those facepalm moments you can chalk up with this ALP government.

Anyway. Crikey has this piece here, thanks to Pleiades.

Labor is under suspicion of protecting someone’s pecuniary interests in not building Badgerys Creek, which a brand new suburban railway line, the SW Rail project, could be extended into at trivial cost  on its completion to Leppington in less than two years time.

It can’t possibly be acting to protect the public interest in depriving western Sydney from having its own airport, and the jobs and additional public transport infrastructure that come with it.

Labor even sponsored a supposedly independent federal/state study into a site for a 2nd Sydney Airport which overwhelmingly endorsed Badgerys Creek, which the Commonwealth owns, and the minister, Anthony Albanese, trashed its independence in about 20 minutes after its official release by rejecting the finding as incompatible with party policy. That development, a year ago, then lead to today’s ridiculous and useless quest to ‘independently’ come up with a Wilton answer that would justify turning over the Badgerys Creek site to whatever private interests will benefit from such a decision.

Minister, the answer is not another or further studies. The answer is change the policy.

That about sums it up. But of course this government is pathologically incapable of doing the obviously correct thing. As with the other white elephant study – the one into a high speed rail link they have no intention of building – this one has sucked a lot of government money and public confidence. I’m amazed that Julia Gillard gets given so much credit for her policies when in fact her ministers are off creating this miasma of nonsensical studies and non-decisions.

For those of you short of a laugh, here’s something you might like: Some black-humoured wags are saying that the reason Anthony Albanese is insisting on Wilton is so that Badgerys never gets built. The reason why they don’t want to build on Badgerys Creek is because that’s where all the corpses are buried by hitman Lucky Gatellari and hitman-hirer-about-town Ron Medich, so it would be a terrible thing to dig anything up out there. That sort of thing just might fit the bill of pecuniary interests, no?

Jokes aside, you do wonder what on earth the ALP is up to with this charade. If they want to build the second airport in Badgerys, they should just come out and say so. Everybody knows it’s the only real choice.

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