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Cloud Atlas in Clown Town

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By one of those synchronicities of action and interconnected information that others like to call ‘coincidences’, ‘weird’, or even ‘fate’, I had just finished re-reading the Cordwainer Smith short story ‘The Dead Lady of Clown Town’ (1964) when I happened to watch Cloud Atlas (2012) again.

I was surprised to find a similarity of theme and content I had not heard mentioned before.

The Cloud Atlas script is credited to its directors: Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, and Andy Wachowski. That it is based on David Mitchell’s novel of the same name is less well advertised, as is the influence on him and the Wachowskis of mystic and/or philosopher Ken Wilber. In the segment telling of the rebellion by ‘fabricant’ Sonmi-451, cloned for slave labour, against a society she regards as unjust for consigning her and others to a less than human status, to be treated like animals, and killed off at whim.

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All judgement flees: cretinism gets a ‘hip’ new brand

Maybe it was always there and I didn’t see it, or didn’t care. Or maybe it is a more recent phenomenon. Perhaps a bit of both: it might have been that I didn’t care for the isolated instances of bad or missing judgement, but now that they are popular, populist, and even ‘trendy’, I find myself galled almost daily by their intrusive ever-presence.

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War Machine (2017)

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Brad Pitt as General McMahon and Ben Kingsley as President Hamid Karzai

In 2010 I remember reading about US General Stanley Allen McChrystal, the warrior monk runner, eating only one meal a day, and subsisting on four hours’ sleep in every 24. Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings painted him as a bizarre figure, like George C Scott’s Buck Turgidson, or perhaps just as a consequence of Hastings’ antipathy for the military in general and McChrystal in particular.

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What have they learnt?

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Watching events unfold from far away sometimes offers a fresh or detached perspective. At other times it is confusing because salient facts obvious to those close to ground zero are hard to make out.

Then there are events that are so simple and obvious that it’s hard to mistake them, even if doubts are raised about the culpability of many who refuse to draw the obvious conclusions.

The obvious conclusion drawn all over the world, and by large swathes of the American population, is that President Trump must be deposed for the good of the country. Why is there still hesitation?

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Fuelling Abbott’s arsonism

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Islam is not a source of feminism or liberation for women.  Secular liberal democracies are.

Arguing the former might be trendy, but plays into the hands of Australia’s worst xenophobes.  Arguing the latter might defuse that xenophobia, but only if we stop reifying Australian Mulsims just for being Muslims.

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Citizen Cohn (1992)

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Watching this old favourite again reminded me that US history is littered with corrosively corrupt people, some of them still inexplicably alive to continue damaging their nation and the people they ruin. Some are thankfully dead and unable to spread more of their virulent influence. One of the latter was Roy Cohn.

James Woods plays the malevolent Cohn with a relentless ferocity that made me wonder whether the actor hadn’t lost his mind when I first saw his performance in the early 1990s.

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Thirty years tracking Hannibal Lecter

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Imagine a world in which Hannibal Lecter was unknown.  It existed until 1981, when Thomas Harris published the novel ‘Red Dragon’.  My own relationship with the Hannibal Lecter myth now spans three decades and takes in unimaginable changes in the world as well as in myself, which is to be expected in the span of almost half a life.  That relationship began when I was an undergraduate student, still naïve and inexperienced in the ways of the world with which I coincided.  That’s why I think of it as a personal experience.  A journey that has significance to me because of the way I experienced it, not as an impersonal series of film reviews.  A journey that did not come about as unaffected by changes in the real world, and the fictional ones I traversed.

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The Expanse (2011 – )

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The series of books is definitely entertaining, and often genuinely engaging, even if each 600-page book is probably a third longer than it needs to be.

Authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, writing collectively as James SA Corey, pad their narratives with long character ‘insights’ that are often counterproductive in exposing the authors as not quite as insightful as they may think they are. Or as being slightly contemptuous of an audience they regard as simple-minded enough to think of other people as simple-minded.
Nevertheless, they have a winning formula.

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Free speech does not reveal truth

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Brendan O’Neill is a controversial polemicist whose radical politics are difficult to unpick and fathom. When he wrote about truth and free speech in the March 2017 edition of Spiked, of which he is the editor, I found myself nodding in full agreement with some paragraphs, but recoiling from others as misrepresentation and bad reasoning. I think O’Neill is pushing his own agenda, which has free speech in mind only so long as it serves his own interests.

Here’s my own reasoning, staring with a summary of O’Neill’s argument.

Broadly speaking, his argument is that we are being lied to and censored in the name of truth by ‘what we might call the new clerisy: the insulated, technocratic-leaning political class that has dominated public life for the past 30 years or so’. The term clerisy is borrowed from extensive but tendentious Milton quotes. It is extended by referring to ‘the political and cultural establishment’ as a new kind of church assembly functioning to determine what topics can and cannot be discussed, and what is the truth of them.

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