What to make of Australia’s Newest Newspaper

The times have long been ripe for The Saturday Paper. With News Corp Australia accounting for nearly two thirds of national newspaper circulation, and with Australia’s credibility as a liberal democracy taking some hard hits overseas, due in part to the lack of diversity in the national media, there has for some time been a growing feeling in educated and left-wing circles that some form of new, independent, progressive national news service ought to be launched.  The appearance of the Guardian Australia website last year went some way towards plugging the gap. What simpler way could there be to solve the problem, after all, than just importing the major British left-wing newspaper and modifying it for the Australian market? Yet Melbourne publisher Morry Schartz, who is the man responsible for The Monthly and the Quarterly Essay (via his Black Inc. press), has gone one better: launch an entirely new, homegrown weekly newspaper all of our own. The first edition of The Saturday Paper came out today. Continue reading


The Mantel Paradigm

Thomas Cromwell was born in obscurity, the son of a blacksmith, sometime in the 1480s. In 1540 he was executed for treason by his master, King Henry VIII. In between, he achieved one of the most impressive feats in the history of English politics: he successfully transformed England from a Catholic kingdom into a realm where the church came under the law of the king, and the king alone. Cromwell engineered the annulment of Papal authority and the establishment of the Church of England, and he did it so well that his creation survived the next several decades of feuding and backsliding by England’s demented Tudor kings and queens. He was the father of the English Reformation, the man responsible more than any other for the form that English Protestantism would take. Strange, then, that popular histories of Cromwell’s era have for so long cast him as a villain. Continue reading

Unprofessional Conduct: Abbott and the ABC

Earlier today, Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke in a radio interview with 2GB about what he believes is the bias in the ABC’s political coverage.[i] He remarked that the ABC “instinctively takes everyone’s side but Australia’s”; he said of the network’s Edward Snowden coverage that it “seemed to delight in broadcasting allegations by a traitor”; and he said of the recent controversy over the Navy’s treatment of asylum seekers that “You can’t leap to be critical of your own country”. I will leave it for others to explain exactly why it is so wrong to imply that a news service should be on anybody’s “side” at all, let alone the side of a nation state. Plenty of journalists are already at work detailing what is so dangerous about the suggestion that the media ought to take national loyalty into consideration when reporting the news. Plenty of people have already pointed out that for Abbott to pressure the ABC to alter its coverage is for him to compromise its independence, because he has the power to slash its budget if he so chooses. There are a great deal of very serious reasons why the Prime Minister’s comments today have made my blood boil. Continue reading

What we Need from Peter Capaldi

Or perhaps that should be, “What we need – now – from Steven Moffat”. The key responsibility does lie, after all, with the head writer. Matt Smith’s performance as the Doctor was unremarkable, but never exactly bad. The bigger reason why Doctor Who in his era became so lamentable was the poor quality of the scripts, and for that it is Steven Moffat who must answer. Yet now Moffat has a perfect opportunity to redeem himself. In Peter Capaldi, he has the right actor with whom to make a new start. Just as importantly, he has also engineered the story in such a way that he has license and justification to put a different slant on the show. Will he follow through with it? I don’t doubt that Capaldi can give us what we need, but I worry that Moffat might not give him the scripts that will let him do so. Continue reading

Deafheaven – Sunbather

SunbatherThis decade’s Loveless? Perhaps not quite, but the comparison is apt. It’s hard to imagine that San Francisco black metal band Deafheaven didn’t have Loveless in mind when they were composing and recording Sunbather. It may even be that Sunbather’s pink cover is a deliberate allusion to My Bloody Valentine’s shoegaze masterpiece. For a band who have set out to apply the shoegaze aesthetic to metal, there can be few more fitting touchstones. And with Sunbather, Deafheaven have accomplished something like what My Bloody Valentine accomplished with Loveless: a rock album loud and harsh and dense beyond measure, which nonetheless achieves a kind of fragile beauty. They cannot replicate the mysterious alchemy of an MBV record – no band can – but they can take something approximating the same screechy-yet-tranquil aesthetic, and pour it lovingly over a set of epic metal songs. The results are very striking indeed. Continue reading

The Red Lantern Shining

China, 1899. A storm is brewing. For the past half-century, Europeans have been steadily entrenching themselves around the fringes of the country in their “treaty ports,” playing the long game of economic exploitation. As the Qing dynasty ever so slowly implodes, and as the power of Beijing seems ever more fragile, the British, the Germans and the French have all secured their footholds. China is too big and unwieldy to be colonised and carved up to enlarge the European empires (though this hasn’t stopped a few excitable commentators back in Europe from forecasting a “scramble for China”). It does offer some perfect opportunities, however, for Western businessmen to turn a profit. This is something that the British have been doing with gusto ever since 1842, when they forced the Qing to open their country to trade after a humiliating defeat in the Opium War. Where the British led, others have followed, and now China is crawling with foreigners. And after the merchants, fatefully, have come the missionaries. Continue reading

Reflections on Breaking Bad

Three months ago, on Sunday 29 September, “Felina,” the final episode of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, aired in America. The show which began five years ago with a minor cult following now commands a greater level of popular success and acclamation than anything on television except, perhaps, Game of Thrones. Is there anything I can say about it that has not already been said? The story of Walter White (Bryan Cranstone), who begins cooking crystal meth in order to save up money for his family when he is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, has already generated more debate and analysis than any novel published in recent memory (a meaningful comparison, as I will explain). The tortuous moral ambiguities of Walt’s story, and his equally tortuous relationship with his ex-student and sometime distributor, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), will doubtless continue to be debated and discussed for a long time to come. Here in this brief note I can simply remark on a few of the reasons why I believe Breaking Bad is seminal, era-making television. Continue reading

Lawrence of Arabia

There is an image that recurs twice or thrice in Lawrence of Arabia. The screen shows a vast, blank, impossibly empty expanse of flat desert, filling the lower half of the screen, while the unforgiving sky stretches above. Both land and sky are featureless. It is a vision of unforgiving, infinite, primal absence. Absence of anything made by human hands, absence of thought, of feeling, of morality, of all things human. It is a blank canvas on which anything might be drawn. Then, on the exact centre of that flat line dividing land from sky, a tiny black dot appears. You have to search the screen for it, but it is there. A little black vertical line, standing out against the sky behind it. This tiny black line is a man, coming towards the camera. First there was only emptiness; now there is a man who by his coming has created something, something drawn on the canvas of nothing.  “Nothing is written,” declares Lawrence. Fate is a lie: a man may come, and a man may work change by the power of his will, and his will alone. Continue reading

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Modern Vampires of the CityModern Vampires of the City is a treasure of a pop album. It’s one of the most thoughtful, tuneful, and moving records released thus far in this century. It came out in May and I still can’t stop listening to it. Since we are now in the thick of list-making season, and every music site on the net is laying out its top ten songs and albums of 2013, I’d like to take a moment to retroactively review what I am convinced is the finest record of the year. With this album, Vampire Weekend have become one of the most important American bands of their generation, and I will consider my time well spent if I can bring it to the attention of just a few more people. Continue reading

Arctic Monkeys – AM

AMWhen British music magazine NME reviewed this year’s Arctic Monkeys album, which is simply called AM, it enthused that this is not only the band’s best record yet, but it “might also be the greatest record of the last decade.” Which is, you know, typical NME. One day the British music press might learn to tone down the hysteria and stop declaring that they’ve discovered a new John Lennon with every year that goes by. Given certain qualifications, however, this particular statement is not as outlandish as it might seem. If you substitute “greatest record of the last decade” with “greatest British record of reasonably conventional rock music of the last decade” (these are, after all, the terms of greatness in which NME usually deals), and you still might not agree, but the claim does seem suddenly reasonable. For make no mistake: AM is a startling, seductive, and unmistakeably excellent record. Continue reading