Paper Petrol

Cranky rants and gilded spurns

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The Cruel Privilege of Being Published


I can remember the feeling of holding my book for the first time fresh from the printer. Fanning through the pages the smell of ink and paper bleach. Half a decade of striving, of fate left in the capricious hands of editors, publishers and publishing houses, was now over. Here, right here, in my hands was something that justified sacrificing career progression, time, enough cash for a house deposit, even a relationship.

The worst thing that could happen now would be that one day I would pass Bargain Basement Bookshop in the central station tunnel, on my way to work and see my book there in a stack of identical siblings - a pink flouro sticker that would leave traces of white that would turn to mouldy black over time - $34 down to $3. That I could handle.

I wasn’t going to have a launch party. It seemed self-indulgent. But friends coaxed me into it. You have achieved something - you...

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Book Review: The Looming Tower


It has been over a decade since The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 was published by Lawrence Wright. Back in 2006 George W Bush was still president, ISIS had not arrived in earnest and the civil war in Syria was still 5 years away. Then the aftershock from September 11 was still being felt, with the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq drawing international ire and a USA was still struggling to work out exactly what it meant domestically. Perhaps they still are.

As a study on September 11, The Looming Tower is unparalleled, reverse engineering the birth of modern Islamic fundamentalism through a mosaic of historical personal histories. It’s an effective method, as looking at the ideas themselves would have marooned Wright in a quagmire of lengthy theoretical discursions and the individuals are far too compelling for that.

Wright’s timeline noteworthy too - beginning...

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The Purple Eye


Events like last week’s Amazon Web Services 2018 Developer Day are an opportunity to witness the knowledge economy’s most vital dance: when sleek corporate power courts the slovenly engineer class. I arrived early and,as I waited in the foyer of the Melbourne Conference and Exhibition Centre, I thought how much it was like watching two river systems meet: engineers streamed in, wearing t-shirts with javascript code or UNIX commands and blinking astigmatically in the natural light to meet kiosks that sported the over-caffeinated, heavy branding of Amazon Web Services (AWS), New Relic and the National Australia Bank. This immense foyer has one wall where passages lead to giant lecture theatres and conference halls while the other is a steel girder ribcage looking onto a bank of the Yarra. It was a catered affair and tuxedoed catering staff carried trays of biscuits and danishes for...

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Which is the best comedy?

It was Sunday afternoon at the pub. Sunday sips. The smell of the roast, the background hubbub of those really owning the last hours of their weekend - with the backgrounded tension that it must end all too soon. The GF and I were in search of a topic of conversation that would divert our attention from this inevitable conclusion. We were trying to nail down the right methodology to determine the best comedy series. It seemed simple - you reach down and consult your guts - “which comedy made you hurt the most often and the longest?”
Poor horsie: Flogged to death no doubt

The GF is a classic diehard fan. Once a comedy has won her heart that was it - she was loyal to the end. It was The Simpsons that had won that prize. Her email address was a reference to an episode (say_chowder@***.com), the had a tonne of memorabilia packed carefully away. Yet even she admitted the party had gone on a...

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Book Review: Rogue Nation by Royce Kurmelovs


Australia breeds two opposing worldviews: the provincial and the cosmopolitan. The provincial’s world is as narrow as an island girt by sea or sometimes even narrower. It rests on the assumption that Australia is unique and exceptional and the world beyond is barely worth knowing. When the provincial does look outward it is with anxiety: he or she is relieved to tune in to familiar sounds regardless of the physical distance they have travelled from the States or Britain. The cosmopolitan nurtures a separate anxiety, that borne of an inferiority complex. The cosmopolitan sees Australian as a backwater within the world: it is never really sure where Australia stands, forever fearing that everyone else is secretly laughing at Australia behind its back.

When these worldviews collide or coalesce in Australian politics they produce the most marvellous paradoxes. Take the example of Pauline...

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Book Review: The Last Man in Europe


The Last Man in Europe by Dennis Glover is a novel that depends on its reader. For the casual page-flipper it is an historical recreation of the life of George Orwell. For the Orwell fan it’s is an indulgence, with enough winks to border on fan-fic. For the writer the book delves into the agony of writing - exquisitely detailing Orwell’s repeated, self-determined failures that paved the way to his ultimate success. For an academic, it represents the final collapse in the wall dividing fiction and non-fiction: a novel about a real-life writer, that fictionally recreates his lived experiences arranged such that they culminate into his most important work of fiction - 1984. The last interpretation is just the sort of art-imitating-life-imitating-art-imitating-life hall of mirrors that Orwell would have excoriated as irrelevant and self-indulgent. Thankfully exploring it does little to add...

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Film Review: Our Power


Last night I attended a preview screening of Our Power, a documentary film about Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. The film had already been shown in ‘the Valley’. That it was received there with high acclaim means it scaled its first and perhaps highest hurdle. Locals have become sensitive about how they are represented outside. Understandably so. All too often the Valley has become victim to drive-in-drive-out journalists looking to drum up a sensationalised story about the perils of ice addiction, skyrocketing unemployment or coal miners out of touch with a changing world. The real community vanishes through stories like these which is unfortunate because, in the Latrobe Valley, the community is the story.

In his introduction, director Peter Yacono, was adamant on this point, explaining that Our Power was designed to represent local voices of the Latrobe Valley. The location of...

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Why I don’t listen to economists.

A question: What field of study still operating today has wrought the most destruction? The closest answer to hand would be physics, the discipline responsible for splitting the atom. I can testify to a chill crawling up my spine upon seeing horizon to horizon of the Kazakh Steppe still shattered and broken nearly 50 years after its bombardment by nuclear tests. It was the same chill I felt on inspecting the ghostly decaying ruins of Pripyat, the town emptied of its 50,000 Soviet citizens after the core meltdown in Chernobyl. Others may point to Political Science and the great Totalitarian regimes and their unimaginable cost. Yet I would counter that political regimes are not justified through Political Science. It is the other way round.

Right now, however, the clear winner would be Economics. It’s destruction is less spectacular than a nuclear blast but over time it has incurred (and...

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Community Radio, So What?


Last night I was lucky enough to attend the National Gallery of Victoria’s Winter Nights. Tickets were $32 a pop but the exhibition promised a survey of the entire history of modern art. A bold promise in anyone’s book. The big names were certainly there - Warhol, Dali and Rothko and even if it was mostly B-sides on display you still in the company of greatness.

Out front the line snaked back and forward before the a glass wall with water cascading down it and floor lights beaming colours so they danced on that water. The line moved quickly through the cold, yet not as quickly as the American Express valued customer queue which much like any express queue on a budget airline, was shorter and faster. Inside the foyer’s vaulted ceiling a floor fan swung on a long white ribbon to keep air and people moving.

The exhibition itself was a huge achievement for the NGV. It began with the...

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Book Review: Down and Out in Paris and London

A couple of weeks ago I emailed John Birmingham. I was blunt. “Is there a future in writing [in Australia]?” I asked. I should have been more specific. Birmingham has set himself the task of cranking out five (!) books this year so clearly he thought yes. When I wrote that question I was inwardly referring to a particular paragraph he wrote in the closing chapter of Leviathan, his unauthorised bio on Sydney published in 1999. To connect with the Down and Out of Kings Cross - he had lived on the street with these wild-eyed locals by the fetid air belched from Kings X station. “Is there any future in that sort of writing?” I should have asked.

Of course, then, the Cross was a different place. Darlinghurst road was a throbbing gauntlet bathed in a lurid neon glow, the spruikers from the strip club “hey boys you out for a good night?”, the twitching, blistered junkies by the fountain...

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