Paper Petrol

Cranky rants and gilded spurns

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Book Review: My Year of Rest and Relaxation

In idle moments I return to an internal conversation in which I consider the impact of September 11 on American cinema. Those before, particularly those immediately before, rest on the assumption that the only problems left were in our own head. Movies like Momento, Being John Malkovich and the Matrix mark a time where the most fallible structure was not the deep state, rising dictatorships or global terrorism but our own psyche. It seems quaint now to look back on this cultural moment of post-modern malaise, a time when history had ended before being jump-started again the instant American Airlines Flight 11 collided into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre.

In her novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation author Ottessa Moshfegh locates this epoch and conjures it up in a masterful satire embedded deep within that flawed, naive and pathologically self-obsessed world. We follow her...

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It’s time for Sam Harris to Clean House


Let me begin by saying that I’m a Sam Harris fan. I think he’s a sensible centre we desperately need in a time when we’re at a risk of being torn asunder by the titanic longitudinal forces of the left and the right. His injection of relentless rationalism serves as ballast to our increasingly “I just feel that…” culture in which emotions trump reason. His strident anti-partisan stance on issues and his tendency to take nothing at face value should earn him the title of warrior of reason.

Yet a quick survey of his Sam Harris & The Future of Reason facebook page shows that the most vocal of his fan base are far from rational actors. Instead post after post contain the most the heinous conspiracy nutterism inclined to label anything from climate change to gun debate as a globalist conspiracy.

Every corner of the internet has a troll infestation to varying degrees but within Sam Harris’...

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Book Review: House of Leaves

house of leaves1.jpeg

I had gone far far out on a limb by recommending House of Leaves for my book club. It had been in my queue since I had heard about it on Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast. For those unfamiliar with this podcast, the author of American Psycho whinges to different guests about the decline of cinema: how nobody goes to the movies, how films are made for iPads and how PC culture has made Hollywood into a moral safe space unwilling to take artistic risks. True perhaps but it would be better if he stopped pushing this agenda on guests.

He rarely mentions books and it would be far more interesting for him to talk about the state of that medium, ie the one that actually made him famous. Instead he plays the old curmudgeon drawling in fluent disaffected SoCal with the complete lack of self awareness only achievable by a native Los Angelean.

I did manage to catch a moment when he interviewed Mark Z...

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Years and Years: Dystopia Lite


What could be more chilling than Black Mirror, a show that triple distils modern anxieties into terrifying possibilities? Perhaps trading out “possible” for “plausible” to create something less white knuckled?

So, imagine a near future in which the chaos breaking out in today’s news was amplified a little - say thirty percent - then depicting how it affects the lives of people just like the viewer.

This is the premise of Years and Years, a BBC HBO co-production that follows a Manchester family as they struggle through a world in turmoil. Our world to be precise. Beginning in 2024 each episode takes place a year after the previous one.

The key is relatability - this is not some dystopian nightmare but today’s world taken to it’s logical conclusion. And unlike a nightmare, you cannot wake up because the seeds from story-lines will bombard you from every device with Breaking News...

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Democracy Subscription

You can imagine the relief. All the noise, the mess, the chaos, the crossed purposes, the convincing, the sweaty uphill climb to get anything done. This damn inefficient business they call democracy. You can understand the lure to just send in the goon squad, prod those paper pushers and make them answer questions for a change. It proved irresistible.

After it all, Peter Dutton, in Sri Lanka to discuss people smuggling, must have put down the phone and threw open the hardwood doors of his taxpayer funded rented villa to step out onto the balcony and bask in the fresh and uncontested silence.

To understand the AFP’s raid on the ABC last week, it’s important you avoid considering the national broadcaster a credible counterbalance to a government with authoritarian leanings. But for 4 Corners like some failing light on a hill, the ABC not. Rather Aunty’s ability to speak truth to power...

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Dirty Power, Impotent Media: Michael West


Last night I interviewed investigative journalist Michael West about his documentary and report Dirty Power that he completed in partnership with the Greenpeace Investigative Unit. Listen here. The report details how Big coal exerts influence on the Liberal Party.

How they do this will be of no surprise to anyone that has generated enough cynicism watching the major parties since Kevin 07. Power is exerted through three spokes - Industry groups, lobbyists and the media. Michael and Greenpeace reveal a sprawling system of influence based on existing relationships and a revolving door mentality between these organisations and the Coalition. An example from each spoke:

  • Scott Morrison’s Principal Private Secretary, Yaron Finkelstein, was the former CEO of Crosby Textor, the Lobby Group responsible for Project Caesar - a concerted media campaign to discredit renewables.
  • Morrison’s...

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What did Orwell think of Animals?


At least once every year I make it a point in my life to go over Such, Such is the Life, a collection of essays by George Orwell. It is a sort of literary pilgrimage, a spiritual destination that I can return to and feel grounded in meaning against the post-modern maelstrom of everyday life.

As a collection, Such Such is the Life is a broad cross-section of Orwell’s working the titled where the author reflects on the hardships of his school with ruddy Dickensian detail. The secret is to read it as fast as possible so that you can catch the trains of thought that run throughout the collection. Each new reading usually gives me a new train. This time I noticed his treatment of animals.

One of Orwell’s famous essays included in Such, Such is the Life, is On Killing an Elephant. It is a story from his time as a policeman in colonial Burma, in which an elephant experiencing an attack of...

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An Evening with the Trauma Cleaner


A few months ago we read The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein in our book club. So when I found out Sandra Pankhurst was talking at Preston Library I booked tickets right away. I went and saw her speak last night.

The Trauma Cleaner is the account of the life of Sandra Pankhurst. Today, Sandra is an accomplished owner of a small successful business that performs trauma cleaning - the sometimes gruesome, sometimes tragic, always putrid task of cleaning up after deaths and in the houses of chronic hoarders.

This is worth a book in itself but the second thread of The Trauma Cleaner is about Sandra’s extraordinary journey as a transgender woman. Sandra was born a man and grew up in 50s Footscray. Her childhood was horrific, suffering acute physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her mother and father. In short: Sandra escapes, gets a job, gets married, has two children, but...

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Sydney: A postmortem

“Most people I know who came to Melbourne are emotional refugees,” my mate said last Friday night. We had visited the German Tivoli Club for the same reason most people did, in the hope of finding something like we knew back home. In Sydney that is, not Germany. There we had regularly dined on the giant schnitzels and pork knuckles at Tempe’s Conchordia club. We visited lots of ethnic clubs. They are a good way to pop your bubble and interact with the city’s ethnic groups on their own terms and turf. During the Rio world cup we even did a tour, visiting any club of a national team that was playing. Who knew there was a Uruguay club in Hinchinbrook? We did. They welcomed us with open arms.

The Tivoli proved a disappointment. The food was good and in the restaurant an old man in a Tirolean cap played the harpsichord. But management had opened another bar. We did not make it to the...

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I found out about Letterkenny from one of the many facebook/reddit Always Sunny in Philadelphia pages I lurk on. Someone asked if anyone else had ever considered a cross-over episode between the shows. I took this to mean they were very similar and their worlds and styles would mesh easily. After bingeing 5 seasons I realise such an undertaking would be impossible to achieve and dangerous to try. Still I came away with a new show - Letterkenny.

Letterkenny is about the town tiny town of the same name, population 5000. It follows different crews and solo characters as they interact with one another - sometimes motivated on a quest, sometimes just pitching jokes from the sidelines. The main characters are the hicks - a group of three fast-talking, stern and biscuits-and-gravy home cooked countryfolk and the sexually promiscuous sister of one, Katy (Michelle Mylett).

The action of...

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