on the NZ housing bubble and looming economic disaster

 

This article from Forbes is pretty interesting reading, essentially arguing that our economy is due to pop at some point due to our overinflated housing prices, the resulting exposure and risk our banks have, and the large borrowing National has been doing. Well worth familiarising yourself with.

Review: The Wind Is Rising

 

Miyazaki’s (alleged) final work. Felt very personal as a film, moreso than his others, with a greater depth and emotional resonance.

Really good. Mature (seems like a weird word to apply, but perhaps less whimsical comes closer), beautiful, daffily romantic. Somewhat dour and dark. Occasional dreamy wonderfulness, but very grounded in reality, with the shadows of war and Japan’s strained history looming over everything.

Essentially seems to argue that being courageous and honourable and following your dreams is the way to go, even though we live in a fucked up world full of awfulness and tragedy; and that precisely because the world is the way it is, that is why we must live, and live well.

Glad I saw it, though I enjoyed it less than several of his others; and I think it is the first of his films that will haunt me a little.

Reading Feb/March 2014

Missed a month. I doubt anyone noticed.

 

A Life Decoded – Craig Venter

Autobiography by Venter, the scientist who led the team which sequenced the human genome, and is now the only scientist since Louis Pasteur who has his own research institute and enough funding to do whatever he wants. Fascinating insight into the process of big science – the pressures and corruption in both government and private funding – the truly other world billionaires exist in – big pharma being evil, etc. (Venter has been right at the heart of gene patenting issues, since he has identified more genes and synthesised more DNA than anyone else.) It is also an extreme introduction to the state of the art in biotechnology, as he explains what they did and how they did it (which involved inventing techniques and methods etc – forefront of science type stuff.)

Venter himself is an intense, interesting guy. Seems to deal with life crises by going on reckless dangerous boat adventures and achieving epiphanies. Definitely framed by his experiences as a medic in Vietnam. One of the people alive right now to watch, as what he does next has genuinely potential to change the world forever. Currently he is trying to synthesise life in the lab, and create custom bacteria to do useful things.

Richard Yates – Tao Lin

I didn’t finish this tale of a dysfunctional relationship between deeply dysfunctional people. The book reads like Tao Lin is probably mentally ill, and at least autistic. (So did the last one of his I read a few years back, Eeeee Eee Eeee, which I liked a lot more.) Unique prose and sensibility. Occasionally quite funny. But this one was ultimately broken and not giving enough back.

Mockingjay – Suzanne Clark

Last of the Hunger Games books, first I read, as I didn’t feel like waiting for two years and two more movies to find out how it ends. Fast easy enjoyable read. Bloody and surprising. Jennifer Lawrence nails Katniss. Definitely pleased this is mainstream, as it raises enough issues about mediated society and social control etc to make people think a little.

The Charwoman’s Shadow – Lord Dunsany

A classical fairy-tale style novel from Dunsany, steeped in old-fashioned magic and a bygone era. Gorgeously told, simple and wise. The magician is something else; a truly disturbing rendering of an archetype. He looms over the whole story, and at the end, we realise it was his all along.

ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age – Andre Gunder-Frank

Had been meaning to read this for about 15 years. Economic historian argues persuasively that there has been a global economic system for hundreds if not thousands of years, which was always centred on Asia except for the blip of the past two hundred years. Further, he argues that the West’s recent success was not due to Western exceptionalism – ie not due to our values talents or character, in the process demolishing the axiomatic framework of most pillars of western social theory (Marx, Weber, etc) – but rather to the macro scale forces of the global economic system. Excellent stuff. Summation of a life’s work. Gunder-Frank probably died too soon after this came out to really push it as far as it deserves to go. The historical analysis is essential to any serious student of the world, and what is going on.

The Four Hour Body – Tim Ferriss

Life hacking to the extreme. There’s a lot in this volume, and yeah, it seems quite major changes and improvements are possible with surprisingly little effort, but the real value is the underlying philosophy of the Minimum Effective Dose, and finding out what that is for whatever it is your goals are, and just doing that. Definitely recommended for anyone into hacking their diet, fitness, health, etc.

Total I Ching – Stephen Karcher

Kind of the ultimate I Ching book from my favourite interpreter of the I Ching. Great. Though really just opens a window into another culture and world, and makes one realise how vast, complex and coherent it is, and how much further one would have to travel to really grasp it.

Enochian Vision Magick – Lon Milo DuQuette

DuQuette’s introduction to Enochian magic (part of the magical system channelled via angelic communication by Dr John Dee and Edward Kelley several hundred years ago.) Grounded, lucid, practical.

The Vision and the Voice – Aleister Crowley

Crowley’s account of performing the Enochian Aethyrs while travelling through North African desert in the early 1900s. Eye-opening.

Poor Charlie’s Almanac – Charles Munger

Sort of legendary book of business and life advice from the guy who is silent investment partner to Warren Buffet. Haven’t quite got to the meat of it yet, but definitely a sharp, if dry, mind.

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First read through of the draft of the non-fiction book I wrote late last year which I’m not really talking much about. Pleasingly solid.

The Ebony Tower – John Fowles

Short novel. Astoundingly good piece of fiction addressing big questions about life and art and relationships and meaning and love and the intensities we experience along the way. This ranks way up there as a prose work. Highly recommended.

 

free fantasy giveaway: Eddison’s Zimiamvia

So longtime readers will know I am something of a nerd in general, and a fantasy nerd in particular.

My favourite fantasy author is E.R.Eddison. He was pre-Tolkien (and indeed, the only thing they could compare Tolkien to), and wrote great demented parallel-worlds, time-distortion, hi-concept philosophical-exploration through fantastical imaginative literature, back when there was no conceptual roadmap for what he was doing; ultimately it is pure Art. His prose is astounding, deeply affected, and not always easy. There is really nothing else like him. He is, as they say, the shit. He gets it like no one else and taps an unearthly vein of joyous wonder.

I have one copy to give away of his epic masterwork Zimiamvia trilogy – comprising Mistress of Mistresses, A Fish Dinner in Memison (aka the best fantasy novel I have ever read), and The Mezentian Gate (the most complete version of this unfinished novel) – in an annotated edition containing over a hundred pages of scholarly notes. It is the best available edition of Zimiamvia.

If you want it, post in the next few days explaining why you will treasure this. It helps if you are in NZ, but maybe not essential.

Waitangi Day-ish special cultural appropriation post: The Plunder of Glow Worm Grotto

 

How about this (laughable, terrible) episode of an obscure cartoon from the 1980s which makes remarkable use of “Maori” culture and “New Zealand” as a backdrop. Presenting: M.A.S.K S01E55: The Plunder of Glow Worm Grotto.

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All natives are basically interchangeable, after all.

(Sometimes, despite how much further there is to go, maybe we need to reflect on how far we have come.)

 

Reading January 2014

A slow start to the year…

Falling Man – Don DeLillo

Nah.

I have had a mixed run with DeLillo. Underworld seemed brilliant to me. Years later I got half way White Noise then gave up on it until someone told me they thought Don DeLillo was really funny, which confused me, so I picked it up again and saw that it was meant to be funny, though I didn’t think it was funny, and finished it.

Falling Man attempts to grapple with the fallout from 9/11 on the American psyche. Which is admittedly a huge endeavour. But mostly it devolves into DeLillo’s empty characters having empty dialogue and empty interactions which leave all sorts of room for implication but ultimately doesn’t satisfy.

I suspect this will be the last DeLillo I read. (Though Cronenberg’s film of Cosmopolis was interesting.)

The Unfoldment – Neil Kramer

Autodidact spiritualist gives his take on what is happening. Interesting in that it grapples with the modern world as a whole – politics, economics, conspiracy, spiritual malaise – and the forces that keep us down, locked into a false model of reality, as well as providing a relatively functional take on personal spiritual development. Interesting, would probably speak to a younger generation raised on internet research and weird documentaries (and how freaky is it to say that!) Bought it on the strength of this fantastic interview he did on Occult of Personality, which from my perspective remains much meatier and more interesting than the book.

The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles

Wow. Paul Bowles is an amazingly talented writer. His grasp of the nuance of human interaction is startlingly precise. Here again, Morocco looms – almost the major character – as an intoxicating and alien otherworld, one which has shaped and inspired so many writers (Gysin, Burroughs, Shah.) Sort of an existential horror novel, the bleakness and meaningless and loneliness of existence writ large; when love is all that holds us together, what happens when that love frays? Who are we? What are we? An extraordinary, beautiful and disquieting book.

The Sheltering Sky is probably better than his later novel Let It Come Down. And I wrote a song about Let It Come Down. Both, along with his short story A Distant Episode, have the same arc; entering into an alien landscape and utterly losing oneself with nightmarish consequences.

The Fool: The Jersey Devil – Andrew Mayer

Novella in beta, so probably shouldn’t comment on it, just logging for my own records.

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Have also been reading a bunch of short stories from various collections.

Review: American Hustle

OK, so I saw this based on seeing the posters before going away to the burn, and on some idiosyncratic vibing decided it was what I should see on returning. I went in knowing nothing but say three images and the name, and then the projectionist telling us right before screening that it was up for like 10 Oscars, to which I was like huh.

Here goes.

What a waste of talent. There are some pretty good actors doing pretty good work in the service of a story which does not need telling and has no content worth imparting. It creates emotion in the viewer and does nothing with it. All this film has to tell us is that people are scum who look out for themselves, and occasionally their friends and loved ones. It is long, feels longer than it is, and then stops abruptly. Walking away, it just seemed to have no point. An empty and confusing experience of cultural production. Distraction and glitz. Will doubtless win big at the Oscars.

 

Disconnect – block tracking scripts

 

This tool is pretty neat – Disconnect – basically it blocks invisible tracking scripts and advertising scripts and other junk. Combined with adblocker, it makes for a smoother internet. You can also use it to search on Google without them tracking your searches. (It was created by an ex-Google employee.) It is a wee bit fascinating watching which sites track you the most, too, as it tells you the number of scripts etc it is blocking, and often where they come from.

A simple way to fight back a little in the online privacy wars.

Within Temptation – Elements

 

(Maybe I will blog more this year?)

So this is random. Within Temptation are a band I am very fond of the past couple of years. They announced a big ass fancy 15th anniversary show with a choir and orchestra and additional theatrical performers etc which they were going to film for a DVD. Then afterwards apparently they decided to not release it as a DVD.

So their fans have combined footage from people who were at the concerts and edited it together into a full length (two hour) concert video.

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The video is a pretty good effort. I can see why the band didn’t want to release it, but honestly I think that is 80% due to a weird song selection that inexplicably does not showcase the band at its best. (Though part of what is awesome about them is that they just do stuff that seems like a good idea to them and even when it is daft it is sort of charming. Like release a concept album with a comic book. Great songs. Daft idea.)

Anyway, I am just struck by the surreality of this happening, and being able to watch it on the other side of the world, free. These are the new days. People have more power. What will we do with it?

reading December 2013

 

Last of the year…

Jerusalem – Guy Delisle

Cartoon diary of a French guy spending a year living in Jerusalem while his wife works for Doctors With Borders (he has done similar ones for Pyongyang, Burma, and Shenzen, which are all worthy and have been reviewed elsewhere on this blog.) Jerusalem is a strange strange place with multitudes of complex layers. The religious history and sites – and people who believe in it – all crammed together. And the surreality of modern life amid insane politics, the separation wall, violence and lies. Intense, fascinating, full of insights and observations. A charming journey; valuable if you want an experience of living in the place without having to live there.

Half the Blood of Brooklyn – Charlie Huston

Early Huston novel, kind of noir vampire stuff, tight and gritty and rockets along, but much less interesting than his excellent non-genre later stuff (Sleepless, Skinner.)

Satantango – Laszlo Krasznahorkai

Jeepers. Extraordinary Hungarian novel from the 1980s. Sort of classifiable as “reality examined to the point of madness”. Intense, dark, powerful, challenging, exhilirating. Krasznahorkai’s sentences are super long and take a while to get the hang of, but once in the prose drowns you cheerily in the endless rain and mud. A bleak apocalyptic-esque tale, an abandoned industrial estate in the countryside, and the hangers on who remain, and their chance at salvation… except it isn’t and never was. A grimy view of what people are with all the varnish removed, a superb revelation of what human is. Yet also challenging and transcendent in places, too.

Bela Tarr famously adapted this into a long slow film of the same name. I need to see it now, since I love Tarr, and cannot imagine this being filmed in any conventional fashion, and the prose is so intensely interior to the characters and their way of seeing. (Tarr also adapted Krasznahorkai’s ‘The Melancholy of Resistance’ into Werckmiester Harmonies, which is still a favourite film, so I will definitely need to track that book down, too.)

On Looking – Alexandra Horowitz

Charming miscellany, an intellectual chocolate sampler. The author walks around the block with eleven different “experts”, to learn about how they experience the same place. The experts range from a toddler, a dog, an insect specialist, an architect, a geologist, a blind person, a sound engineer, and so on, and the walks serve as a launching point for many whimsical tangents. Lightweight fun on the theme of perception, and how we limit our perception and experience.

 

***Statistics***

So apparently I have read 63 books so far this year, at least that I have blogged, not counting all the stuff I skim as research and general browsing, and a bunch of comics. 32 non-fiction, 31 fiction. Which is a better balance than I would usually expect. Has been a bit more random quick reading genre fiction this year. So it goes.

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