Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Country life

On Boxing Day Laughy Kate asked for directions back to where she was staying with the other in-laws.

I said, “Turn right from here past the footy field, cross over SH 1B, you’ve got the racecourse on your right, now turn left at the first horse.”

It worked.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

In the true spirit of Christmas, the Times asked a bunch of arts-connected people to talk about the classics they can’t stand. Yes, it’s listmania as the silly season starts. There is a certain amount of shooting fish in a barrel (i.e. Oasis) but there are some gems, notably Spectator columnist Matthew Parris on listening to the Beatles in the 60s:
Well, it left me cold. I just thought it was crass. All that banging about, boring, babyish tunes and noisy choruses. I slightly fancied George Harrison, but that was all.

Well, yes. And theatre director Jude Kelly on Rubens:
His cherubs seem far too knowing and they always seem to me to have a slightly sexual, devilish air. They always look as though they have eaten enormous amounts of chocolate. They seem to be the antithesis of spirituality, the way they prop themselves up with their head on their hands, sort of languorous. Where’s their work ethic, that’s what I want to know.

A happy Christmas to you all. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to prepare for the arrival later today of my sister-in-law. And when I say “prepare”, I mean “drink”. Yes, it’s a bit early in the day but that is, frankly, how one prepares to face Laughy Kate.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy birthday, Adrian Belew

Born on 23 December 1949, Belew is famous for the extraordinary range of animal noises he can produce on his guitar – in this Japanese TV ad he imitates a chicken, a cat and an elephant, in this one a monkey and a seagull, and in this an entire orchestra.

Which would be of interest only if he made music from it, and he does. He got his first break with Frank Zappa, whose band he recorded (Sheik Yerbouti) and toured with 1978-9. Then he worked live and in the studio with David Bowie (Stage, Lodger) Talking Heads (Remain in Light) and since then he has released 20 solo albums since 1982’s Lone Rhino, and has been a member of King Crimson continuously since 1981. He seems always to have other side projects on the go as well.

In October I posted a happy 40th birthday to King Crimson with a clip of them doing “Elephant Talk” in which Belew performs extraordinary Strat abuse. Here he is with them in 1982 performing “Matte Kudasai”, one of the band’s rare ballads:

But to really see what he can do, take a look (embedding is disabled) at him live in Rome in 1980 with Talking Heads, soloing twice on the ecstatic, apocalyptic funk of “The Great Curve” (at 2.00 and again at 5:20). Talk about abstract.

YouTube has another nine videos from the same concert, filmed (not very well) for TV. Belew is amazing on “Cross-eyed and Painless” – which, Tina Weymouth fans, features her a lot. And in “Psycho Killer” she even smiles. Despite the occasional out-of-tune singing, it’s a hell of a show.

Isn’t YouTube Downloader great.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy birthday, Robin Gibb

Home Paddock reminds us that twins Maurice and Robin Gibb were born on 22 December 1949, three years after their brother Barry. Together they were the Bee Gees, and they were fabulous. (Maurice died on 12 January 2003.)

The Heebeegeebees released “Meaningless Songs (in very high voices)”, in 1980. They called themselves Dobbin, Garry and Norris Cribb, but were really the comedians Angus Deayton, Michael Fenton-Stevens and Philip Pope who performed on the BBC Radio 4 comedy show Radio Active.

Once you have heard this mercilessly accurate parody, it is quite hard to take any real Bee Gees song seriously. Which, I gather, is one reason why this has never been released on CD: the Bee Gees were not amused. Everyone else was, though, and it became a surprise #2 hit in Australia. All together now:
The world is very very large
And butter is better than marge
And love is better than hate.
The world is very very big
And bacon comes from a pig
But it’s you I really want on my plate
So I sing you
Meaningless songs in very high voices
And then a little scream – ah!
Meaningless songs in very high voices
Until the record ends and when it does
We’ll simply start again yelling
Meaningless words, meaningless words, ah ah ah

Why we should recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia

The Los Angeles Times reports:
The tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, with its phosphate mines nearly depleted and without any other significant natural resources, has only one thing left to sell: its international reputation. Enter Russia, which is more than happy to buy.

That’s how Nauru this week became the fourth country to establish formal relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The other three countries are Russia, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Unfortunately for the Kremlin, that’s all it has to show after 15 months lobbying its allies to recognize the two breakaway republics, which are trying to assert their independence from Georgia with Russia’s backing.

Russia insists it didn't provide incentives to Venezuela and Nicaragua in exchange for their support. Coincidentally, though, both nations subsequently signed big arms and energy deals with Moscow. The payment to Nauru seems to have been more direct. According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, the country requested $50 million in economic aid in return for its diplomatic gesture.
The population of Nauru is 14,000, so that works out to $US3570 per person. Nice.

According to Statistics New Zealand, the population of New Zealand today is 4,345, 716. If Russia is prepared to pay us the same for each New Zealnder’s support as it is for each Nauruan’s – and why wouldn’t it? – that would bring in $US15.514 billion. The BNZ’s currency calculator has an exchange rate of 0.7444c today, so that comes to $20.84 billion in our money. Frankly, we could do with it.

So screw Georgia, which, let’s face, it hasn’t done much for us lately. Let’s recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia and have a party on the proceeds.

Monitor: Steve Whitehouse

Friday, December 18, 2009

Geek love

My wife works in a science organisation and is the only member of the senior management team without a PhD. She is brainy, but the others are officially brainy. And almost all the statisticians are tall, dark and handsome Latin Americans. Not that I’m worried, but I will be if she starts taking tango lessons.

Anyway, she overheard this at work:
“He’s interested in gene discovery. I’m more interested in physiology.”
The course of true love never did run smooth.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

In praise of Wild at Heart

I was up at 5.30am yesterday to fly to Wellington for a four-hour meeting. Meeting over, three of us arrived about 3pm at the aitport for the 6.30pm flight home. We were saved by the new lounge which had opened the day before. Wild at Heart is upstairs where the Qantas lounge used to be: it’s a bit like the Koru Lounge except there is no exorbitant annual fee – you pay as you go.

It costs $25 to get in, discounted to $19 until March, and what you get is peace and quiet, free food (not flash but all you need in the way of cheese and crackers and salamis and such) and free tea, coffee, beer and wine. There’s also Wi-Fi and an array of PCs to use, and Sky News runs continuously on a large screen.

It is a clean, well-lighted place and, frankly, a haven. It may not be that for much longer as more people realise it’s there and take their children, but yesterday it was just what we needed.

Copenhagen climate change shock

David Williams reports for Stuff:
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has been embarrassingly dumped from a climate change debate by the BBC in a move that may stoke trans-Tasman rivalries, Key has been elbowed out of the BBC World “Greatest Debate on Earth” on Thursday by his Australian counterpart, Kevin Rudd.

The debate in Copenhagen’s New Concert Hall will include Mexican President Felipe Calderon and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, before an audience of 1000 people. [. . . ]

Greenpeace political advisor Geoff Keey said the dumping was a “bit of a knock back”. He thought Rudd’s role as a special negotiator in Copenhagen may have led to the Australian leader being preferred for the debate.
You don’t say.
“Maybe we’re [New Zealand] simply not seen as a player.”
You don’t say.

Monitor: Steve Whitehouse

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Strangest Google hit ever

This blog has been going for a year now. The idea was to post material from Quote Unquote the magazine, but I don’t have the digital files any more and it’s quite hard OCRing the text, proofing it and getting the writers’ okay. I don’t strictly need to for most of it, but it’s polite.

And most people are happy for the articles to be posted – after all, these days if it isn’t online it doesn’t exist. But some people are not.

Exhibit A: Tim Wilson, who was a taxi driver when I discovered him for Metro and launched his career, but having lived in New York for a few years and working for TV he is now too grand to respond to email entreaties, the ungrateful wretch.

Exhibit B: There was a serious objection from the subject (name on application) of a Nigel Cox piece so I had to pull it after posting – that was after about four hours’ work.

So there has been less from the magazine than I had planned, but hey, next year will be different. Don’t we all always think that?

What I have noticed over the last year is the weird ways people around the world come here. There are a number of regular readers in New Zealand, which was the plan. There are also a number of regulars from overseas, which is a pleasant surprise. Hello, Vila! Hello, Hong Kong! Hello, Rarotonga! Hello, Sandwich! (No, really.) But hundreds and thousands of people have come here by googling for images of Toby Young. That is weird. Why would you?

Most recently, there has been a spike from people looking for information on Ike Turner. That is weird too. The hairy sausage was also a hit. (As, less weirdly, have been Witi Ihimaera, Phil Judd, Frank Sargeson, and that stupid, stupid book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.)

But the weirdest of all Google searches is this one today: “hilary barry xmas cake recipe”. I really like Hilary, who is a friend of my wife’s: she is one of the funniest people I know, she is gorgeous and she can really cook. So, three out of three. But why on earth is someone in Napier trying to find her Christmas cake recipe? Isn’t it a bit like trying to find Elizabeth Knox’s gardening secrets, or CK Stead’s favourite knitting patterns?

UPDATE: I take it all back about Tim Wilson. He is not an ungrateful wretch. He has been in touch and has granted permission to post. Watch this space, and watch for his novel due next year from VUP.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Paul Holmes is an idiot

He isn’t, not really – he’s a very bright guy. But like all columnists he sometimes has to wing it when faced with a deadline. Why else, for example, was Finlay Macdonald getting angsty about the colour pink in yesterday’s SST? Holmes even admits at the start of his column that he didn’t know what to write about in this week’s skanky HoS:
I was not going to write about Tiger this week. My wife suggested I leave him alone and the rest of the world should too. But what else is there? ACC levies going up next year? The Easter Bill being defeated in Parliament? The Labour Caucus being completely united behind Phil Goff? Hardly.
Yawn. But then he explodes with silliness:
The sudden, incredible destruction of the career and image of Tiger Woods just continues to amaze. In terms of destruction it is rivalled only by the Titanic. It is the human equivalent of the giant, unsinkable ship colliding fatally with the iceberg in the dead of the cold black night in the wastes of the North Atlantic, to lie within a couple of hours dead, 3000 ft below the frigid ocean floor.
No it isn’t. Not at all. But the Fundy Post got to this before I could, and got to it devastatingly well.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pot and kettle of the week

Patrick Gower reports:
Local Government Minister Rodney Hide accused North Shore Mayor Andrew Williams of “madness” as their spat turned nasty yesterday. [. . .]
Mr Williams said Mr Hide’s madness comment was “ungracious”.
Auckland and North Shore readers will know that Hide’s description of Williams as mad is not unprecedented. For other readers, here is an example of Williams’s legendarily batty and yes, ungracious, late-night emails – click on the jpgs for a larger version. This exchange seems to be pretty standard fare.

Sadly, the Mayor Andrew Williams is Mad blog hasn’t been updated since 24 March. Somehow I don’t think this is because of lack of ungraciousness-related material.

UPDATE: Williams is at it again, this time tormenting the Prime Minister:
An exasperated John Key has confirmed that Williams, mayor of Auckland's North Shore City, has on several occasions sent “aggressive” and “obnoxious” texts as late as 3.30am. [. . . ]

Asked how late was too late to text people such as the prime minister, Williams said: “Are text messages time-sensitive, are they?

“Sometimes something pops into your head and you send off a message, not really knowing what time it is.”

Newsreaders in niqabs

Amani Fikri of the BBC Arabic Service reports:
Until recently you would never have seen women presenting television programmes dressed from head to toe in the niqab or burqa. But on the Saudi religious channel Awtan TV [shown above] it has now become the norm.
Female broadcasters at the station are draped in the all-enveloping dresses, which are usually black and also cover their faces. The work environment too is very different. Male technical assistants do not enter the studio while the women are presenting.
There are more than 60 religious channels across the Middle East. Some allow women to present programmes without being fully covered or dressed in black. Others have no women presenters at all.
Awtan TV decided to take a unique approach. The station was launched in 2008, and last month it set a precedent by allowing women to present, but only on the condition that they wear the niqab.
Ola al-Barqi anchors a breakfast show, as well as a quiz show for girls called Mosabqat Banat.
A key element of the programme is the relationship built between presenter, contestants and the audience – something that might be more difficult if the presenter is totally covered up.
“The face is not the only way to build a relationship,” explains Ms Barqi [. . . ] “We’re always receiving calls from viewers in various countries encouraging us to keep doing what we do.” [. . . ]
Ms Barqi says there are other good reasons why she wears the niqab.
It helps her to concentrate more on her work rather than anything else, and what she looks like is irrelevant. “We don’t introduce ourselves as beautiful women who put on layers of make-up. Our audience is focusing on what we present to them, our ideas and our discourse.”
Ms Barqi believes some people work in the media to become famous. But that is not why she became a presenter. “We don’t need fame,” she explains.
Which raises the question: will Ms Barqi ever appear on the cover of Sayidaty, Oasis or any other Saudi women’s magazine? I guess not. At least she will never have to suffer the indignity of her face appearing on the back of a bus, as happened last year to TV3 newsreader Hilary Barry. And yes, the obvious joke was made many, many times.

Monitor: Mick Hartley

Advertising masquerading as news

Edting the Herald is calling for nominations for the Golden Garths, the inaugural awards for the Worst Opinion Columnist, Most Egregious Example of Advertising Masquerading as News, Biggest Media Beat-up and Worst Article in the New Zealand Herald in 2009.

That’s a superb idea and I hope someone else does something similarly snarky for the Sunday Star-Times, which has in every issue an Egregious Example of Advertising Masquerading as News. Here’s one that occupied a quarter of a page in the 6 December issue:
Garden snapshot seals reality TV debut
Cameras have started rolling for a new garden show hosted by green-fingered celebrity Lynda Hallinan and featuring an Auckland family who will transform their backyard into a vegetable paradise for the reality series.

The show will screen on Prime early next year, with the aim of illustrating how even novice gardeners can grow their own food and become more self-sufficient.

Freshly picked star Devoney Scarfe, 34, who will appear on the show with husband Jon Coles and their two young sons, reckons it was the charms of two-year-old Otis that swung it with the producers. “He was just cute, waving at the camera and stuff.” [. . . ]

One of the big drawcards was getting to work alongside Hallinan, who edits NZ Gardener and is a Sunday Star-Times Sunday magazine columnist.
Who publishes NZ Gardener? Fairfax.

Who publishes the Sunday Star-Times? Fairfax.

Was this a news story? No.

Was it an ad for a sister publication? Yes.

Gnome Chomsky

Stuck for a Christmas present for that special person? Here’s an idea:
Ever wanted your very own gnome for your garden? Ever wanted to have a linguist and U.S. foreign policy critic in your garden? Now you can have both!

Standing at just under 17 inches [43 centimetres], Gnome Chomsky the Garden Noam clutches his classic books, ‘The Manufacture of Compost’ and ‘Hedgerows not Hegemony’ – with his open right hand ready to hold the political slogan of your choosing. His clothes represent a relaxed but classy version of regular gnome attire, including: a nice suit jacket-tunic, jeans, boots, traditional gnome cap, and glasses. Additionally, Noam Gnome stands on a base complete with a carved title – for anyone who may not immediately realize the identity of this handsome and scholarly gnome.
It is made by Just Say Gnome! in Portland, Oregon and costs $US 175 fully painted, $US 65 unpainted, shipping extra.

I want one.

Monitor: Pop Bitch

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Listener letter of the week

From the 12 December issue (not online) of the Listener: Robert Bryan of Upper Hutt writes in reply to the 28 November article on climate change (cover line: “Last chance to save humanity”):
The world is actually run for the benefit of the big corporations and they are not going to change their habits any time soon. [. . .] Consider also the hold that these companies have on US politics. Most senators and congressmen rely on huge champagne contributions from business to get elected [. . .]
If I were a senator or congressman, whoever gave me champagne contributions would have my unswerving support.

Witi Ihimarea and plagiarism, Part II

Further to my 25 November post on the Listener’s 19 November article detailing the plagiarism in Witi Ihimaera’s new novel The Trowenna Sea, the 12 December issue lists more examples, all of them pretty blatant. (The preview is here: the full story will be online on 26 December. The print edition says that all 34 examples of uncredited “borrowings” are on the website but I can’t find them.)

So far, so entertaining for those of us not directly involved. But this struck me:
The Listener asked Penguin whether the usual editing checks were done on the novel before it was published. . .
Penguin hasn’t answered that one, but I think I can. Of course they bloody were.

The thing is, “the usual editing checks” in book publishing are quite different from those in magazine journalism. When editing a novel (I have been a book editor on and off for 26 years) I do a lot of fact-checking as well as sorting out spelling, grammar, structure, pace, all that stuff. But I don’t look for passages that might have been purloined from another writer. You don’t look for them because you trust the writer, as does the publisher. I don’t think the relationship would work if it was as suspicious as the one between a reporter and a news editor is, or should be.

What’s more, the author has signed a contract specifically declaring that the manuscript is free from plagiarism. In my last Penguin contract, Clause 7 begins:
The Proprietor [i.e. the author] hereby warrants to the Publishers and their licensees that [. . .] the Work or any alteration is original work and is in no way whatever an infringement of any existing copyright [. . .]
In the next paragraph:
If it is the Publisher’s belief on reasonable grounds that the Work does infringe any existing copyright [. . . ] the Proprietor shall return to the Publishers any royalty advances paid to that date and reimburse the Publishers for any costs incurred in preparing the Work for publication.
I advise on contracts for members of the NZ Society of Authors so apart from my own with Penguin, Random House, Tandem, Godwit and Cape Catley I have copies of contracts with David Bateman, HarperCollins, Scholastic and several other publishers. Every single one has a clause like Penguin’s Clause 7: every author guarantees that the manuscript is all their own work.

That’s why it is unreasonable to expect that the editor (or, gossip has it, editors) of The Trowenna Sea should have picked up Ihimaera’s borrowings. Jolisa Gracewood did a great job uncovering the 34 – and who knows, there may be more – but she does have the advantage of a background in comparative literature and also (here I am speculating) as an academic she probably has access to Turnitin, the program universities use to “detect potential plagiarism by comparing student work against 3 massive, continuously updated databases of content”. And she wasn’t under extreme deadline pressure, as this novel’s editor was.

My sympathies are entirely with the publisher here. I have no inside information, but from what I know of the process they were committed to getting the book out before Christmas: they had booked the printer (you simply can’t be late or you go to the back of the queue); organised the marketing and publicity campaigns, including paying for advertising in the Christmas catalogues; entered it in the 2010 NZ Post Book Awards (the successor to the Montanas); and all the rest of it. For a big book by a well-known author, there are a host of expensive things to organise well in advance – and they all depend on the publication date being set in stone and the author delivering the work on time. Handing in even just a part of a manuscript on the day it is due at the printer is an appalling way to treat your publisher.

Jolisa Gracewood provides a chronology of the story so far here at Busytown, and also a long consideration of the issues raised followed by a LUQ, or list of Lingering Unanswered Questions.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The funniest thing I have seen this year

Especially the pie graphs.

The story goes like this: Australian adman Simon Edhouse asks designer David Thorne for a logo and some graphs to present to prospective clients. David Thorne replies, including this pie graph:

A lengthy correspondence ensues. A sample:
Dear Simon,
[. . .] I would no doubt find your ideas more 'cutting edge' and original if I had traveled forward in time from the 1950's but as it stands, your ideas for technology based projects that have already been put into application by other people several years before you thought of them fail to generate the enthusiasm they possibly deserve. Having said that though, if I had traveled forward in time, my time machine would probably put your peer to peer networking technology to shame as not only would it have commercial viability, but also an awesome logo and accompanying pie charts.

Regardless, I have, as requested, attached a logo that represents not only the peer to peer networking project you are currently working on, but working with you in general.
Regards, David.
The graphic is stylish and witty but far too rude to reproduce in a family blog. (You can see the whole exchange here.) Edhouse replies:
You just crossed the line. You have no idea about the potential this project has. The technology allows users to network peer to peer, add contacts, share information and is potentially worth many millions of dollars and your short sightedness just cost you any chance of being involved.
And Thorne comes back with:
Dear Simon,
So you have invented Twitter. Congratulations. This is where that time machine would definitely have come in quite handy.
There is lots more text and graphics in this vein. Unfortunately, Edhouse says that none of it is true. Apart from the pie graphs – I think we can take them as an accurate portrayal of the situation.

Monitor: Tim Blair

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Happy birthday, Little Richard

Prince might possibly have seen a few Little Richard clips in his time. What do you think?

Richard Wayne Penniman was born on 5 December 1932 in Macon, Georgia. This is him in 1956 singing “Lucille” on the Ed Sullivan Show. His first big hit was “Tutti Frutti” in 1955. That’s the one that starts “A wop bop a lu bop, a wop bam boom!”, still unbeaten as an intro to a song.

On 30 May this year, while performing in “The Domino Effect”, a tribute concert for his old friend Fats Domino, Little Richard was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame. Photos, a ton more information and some great sound clips from throughout his career here.

Monitor: Home Paddock

Friday, December 4, 2009

Penny Wise on Climategate

The most sensible comment I have seen on the whole climate-change email scandal now known as Climategate was by Clive Crook of the Atlantic:
Climate scientists lean very heavily on statistical methods, but they are not necessarily statisticians. Some of the correspondents in these emails appear to be out of their depth. This would explain their anxiety about having statisticians, rather than their climate-science buddies, crawl over their work.
That hadn’t occurred to me but is obviously true. Science and statistics may be bedfellows but they are not at all the same thing, and expertise in one area does not confer expertise in the other.

So, as I do when the maths gets too hard, I asked my economist friend Penny Wise for a comment. She writes:
Yes, it is not hard to see how and why a group of scientists decide to just do the statistics themselves, all having done a little bit of statistics in their science courses. But statistics (or in economics, econometrics) is a specialty like all the rest and, having struggled through a second-level econometrics course myself, I know how hard it is.

It is also very easy to do badly, as you can use any number of off-the-shelf stats packages to do the work for you in a rudimentary way. I recall an hilarious paper where some top-level econometrician absolutely shredded a paper by Milton Friedman.

Macroeconomic models of the economy are unstable enough and require all sorts of “tricks” and judgements to keep them giving sensible results. Portfolio optimisation models are wildly unstable. So it is no surprise that a full climate-change model, which must be massively complex (in the sense of having a huge number of correlated variables) must reflect a large number of scientists’ judgements.

The good to come out of this will, I hope, be to force data and methodologies to be made widely available to scrutiny. As I understand it, you cannot publish in a quality econometrics journal unless you also provide your data and methods. If nobody else can replicate those results, there is a problem.

It is astonishing that NIWA has been so protective of this for the NZ temperature record. I don’t doubt they have done a reasonable job of it, so why not put it out for review?

Martin Amis, gentleman

That is Martin Amis above, and this is Katie Price, also known as Jordan, below:

The Times reports that literary authors in the UK are miffed at the attention paid to celebrity memoirs, and rejoice that the genre seems to be in decline. However, Tom Weldon of Penguin says that “the biggest selling authors this year will be Ant & Dec, while Jeremy Clarkson, Chris Evans, Frankie Boyle and Peter Kay will also be in the top ten.”

No, apart from Clarkson I don’t really know who these people are either, but they are clearly outselling A.S. Byatt. And if the genre is in decline, some of these non-books (as my late friend Andrew Mason called them) are still shifting units:
The literary career of Katie Price, however, has more often made such books worth the gamble. Her first memoir, Being Jordan, sold more than 720,000 copies and, despite some diminishing returns, the former model’s fourth-volume autobiography released in October is still selling relatively well.

This causes consternation among other authors who complain that the life blood of their profession, as well as their cash advances, are being sucked dry by celebrities.

In a speech to the Crime Thriller Awards this year, Lynda La Plante implored publishers to “stop spending your millions on this tripe ... on these reality TV writers who are here for their 15 minutes of fame”. Pointing out that Price’s book had outsold the Booker Prize list, she added: “She is a terrible thing for young girls who just want pink welly boots.”
Martin Amis, ever the gentleman, weighed in with this comment on Ms Price:
“She has no waist, no arse,” he said. “All we are really worshipping is two bags of silicone.”
What a charmer. Later in the article we learn that “sales of Martin Amis’s books totalled £200,000 last year”. The standard royalty rate authors receive is 10% of the retail price (yes, he has a top agent so could well be on 15% or more, but then his agent will be taking at least that, but just for the sake of argument…) which would indicate that last year Amis earned £20,000 in royalties.

That’s not a lot of money, really. Quite a few New Zealand authors earn more. Amis would get a hefty sum each year from the Public Lending Right which compensates authors for the loss of royalties because of library borrowings (even an obscure author like me gets enough each December to pay for a very merry Christmas), but still I think we can see why he is affronted. Many, many people would rather read her than him.

Monitor: Tim Worstall

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Here’s looking at her, Kim Il Sung

Mick Hartley is a great resource for Thirld World stories. Some are extremely upsetting, such as the ones about women being stoned to death and, in general, most of the ones from the Middle East. Some are infuriating, like – well, most of the ones from the Middle East. And some are amusing, even the ones from the hell-hole that is North Korea.

Here he links to a story from Korean News Services (the two last words are deeply but unintentionally ironic), a website hosted in Japan. That’s understandable given North Korea’s relationship with the Internet, but weird given Korea’s relationship with Japan. However, the story is:
Deep Emotion of Girl Chairperson of Management Board

Pyongyang, November 30 (KCNA) -- President Kim Il Sung gave field guidance to the Samjigang Co-op Farm in Jaeryong County in mid June Juche 65 (1976).
After asking the girl chairperson of the management board of the co-op farm when seeds were sown and what amount of humus soil was carpeted, the President let her elaborate her experience in properly nursing rice seedlings.
After listening to her, the President praised her work, looking at her lovely [my italics]. And he instructed officials to let her participate in a Political Committee meeting.
The officials were surprised by his words because it was beyond imagination for a young girl chairperson to take part in the Political Committee meeting.
Her surprise was not inferior to that of the officials.
As Mick Hartley observes, a word or two is missing. “looking at her lovely… ” what? Seedlings, one supposes.

Ten Tiger Woods jokes

1. Tiger Woods is so rich that he owns lots of expensive cars. Now he has a hole in one.

2. What's the difference between a car and a golf ball? Tiger can drive a ball 400 yards.

3. Tiger Woods wasn't seriously injured in the crash, but he's still below par.

4. What were Tiger Woods and his wife doing out at 2.30 in the morning? They went clubbing.

5. Tiger Woods crashed into a fire hydrant and a tree. He couldn’t decide between a wood and an iron.

6. Perhaps Tiger should be using a driver?

7. This is the first time Tiger’s ever failed to drive 300 yards.

8. Apparently, Tiger admitted this crash was the closest shave he’s ever had. So Gillette has dropped his contract.

9. After a wayward drive, Tiger Woods found water before nestling behind a tree.

10. Apparently, the only person who can beat Tiger Woods with a golf club is his wife.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Clerical rule in Australia

The new leader of the Liberal party is Tony Abbott; his deputy is Julie Bishop. One of them should hire Margaret Pope as a speechwriter.

What this means for us is that the Liberal caucus also declared that they would vote down Kevin Rudd’s ETS in the Senate. This could lead to a double dissolution and a general election next year. Joe Hockey was eliminated in the first round; the final vote was 42 for Abbott and 41 for Malcolm Turnbull.

There was minute-by-minute coverage at The Punch – it won’t stay on the front page but you will be able to find it on the site somewhere.

UPDATE: the story isn’t on Stuff or the Herald website yet. Perhaps all the reporters are at lunch.

UPDATE 2: Stuff had the story online at 12.25; the Herald didn’t get back from lunch until 12.57.

UPDATE 3: David Farrar at Kiwiblog had it online nine minutes after me at 12.25, the same as Stuff. That’s OK – he’s busy and has a proper job and everything. And he can still scoop the Herald newsroom by 32 minutes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

So long, Marianne

1. Dim-Post channels Marianne Moore (seen above with a cockatoo: I couldn’t find an online version of the photo from the same shoot I have on my wall of her with a zebra) with his post “Real toads in imaginary gardens” which uses a line from the original version of her poem “Poetry”. The later, much much shorter version reads:
I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.
2. The Sunday Star-Times outs Cactus Kate’s real identity, and no I’m not going to link to it. What a shabby, pointless thing to do. It had nothing to do with the story which was about a harmless bit of fun the Spiky One is having with the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award – just sheer mean-spiritedness. She seems to be OK about it, but I am so not.

3. Home Paddock talks sense about recycling and how it is not always the best option.

4. BK Drinkwater links to this brief account for dummies of Godel’s Theorem which depresses me so much: I realise that I can no longer follow higher maths. I did it only to Stage III so I am no kind of mathematician but I did love it and did understand Godel. At that level maths is like Mozart. And now I can’t do it any more. Sob.

5. Karl du Fresne praises Vincent O’Sullivan and CK Stead, the odd couple of NZ lit., for their comments on the Ihimarea plagiarism, and adds: “Otherwise the literary world observed a deafening silence.” Ahem: Chad Taylor and I have been discussing it on these very premises.

6. Phil Parker likes the new Te Mata savvy.

7. Jonny B has met Sonny Smith, best banjo player in the world.

8. Chris Bell has been reading the new Thomas Pynchon. Lucky him. I will too, one of these days.

Best job vacancy ad ever

That is, if you are a sad male hetero:
The advertised position, in the School of Sociology and Social Policy, is for: “Research Officer - The rise and regulation of lap dancing and the place of sexual labour and consumption in the night time economy”.

The advertisement further stipulates that “prior experience of conducting research in the female sex industry” is essential.
Possibly a bit of competition for the job, then.

Monitor: Tim Worstall

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy birthday, Amos Garrett

Better late than never. Garrett is regarded as Canadian but he was born in Detroit on 26 November 1941. More to the point, he is regarded as one of the greatest guitar players alive, at least in the country/roots area. He was a big influence on Richard Thompson, Mark Knopler, Robbie Robertson Jerry Donahue and many other later, more famous players, but while you may not recognise the name you have certainly heard him – he played the guitar solo on Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” which Stevie Wonder famously called “the second best instrumental solo in all rock and roll, period”. Musician magazine was a tad less generous, rating it only in the Top 25 Guitar Solos Of Rock’n’Roll. He also has a great baritone singing voice.

And about a decade ago he was playing in a tent on Waiheke. I bought him a whisky in the bar afterwards – he had a cold and was grumpy as hell, but it was a huge thrill to shake the hand that had played that solo.

Here he is in 2007 live in Japan – he’s big in Japan – playing his arrangement of the old Santo & Johnny hit “Sleepwalk”:

The song is a favourite with guitarists – YouTube has versions by Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Satriani, a whole bunch – maybe because its basic C-Am-Fm-G cycle is just twisted enough from the standard changes. Whatever, Garrett’s version is legendary. His double-stop and triple-stop bends are not impossible for mortals like the rest of us, but they are fiendishly difficult – and he not only invented them but can improvise with them. We can all copy; the real art is in making stuff up, adding something of our own to the original.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Australia is big

Just look at it – you can fit all of Europe into it and have room left over for Scandinavia and a bunch of North Africa.

But it isn’t big enough to interest the Herald or Stuff news websites when the Liberal Opposition implodes and it looks as though party leader Malcolm Turnbull will be replaced by Tony Abbott or Joe Hockey on Monday. The Liberal crisis – dubbed the biggest party split in Australia 50 years – was front-page news in the Age, the Australian and Sydney Morning Herald today.

The Herald website hasn’t mentioned it all day. Its lead story about Australia is still about some pandas in Adelaide.

Stuff, to its great credit, has a section dedicated to our neighbour but has had no room today for the current political crisis. Instead, we get a farting pig.

Map monitor: Steve Whitehouse

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Witi Ihimaera and plagiarism

Yes, a big story here. There is more in the current Listener (not online until 19 December). Apart from Jolisa Gracewood’s brilliant detective work, about the most interesting online comment – that is, comment which is informed and from a literary type – that I have seen is from Scott Hamilton at Reading the Maps where there is a (by blog standards) good discussion of the issues.

What struck me, though, was Hamilton’s discussion of T.S. Eliot’s use of quotation in The Waste Land, which he calls “the finest example of creative plagiarism” and which opens up the whole issue of appropriation and modernist/post-modernist usage of earlier works. He cites this passage:
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.
Hamilton points out that it uses the refrain from Edmund Spenser’s “Prothalamion”:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.
As a Quote Unquote reader you will of course have noticed that this passage also uses this stanza from Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”:
But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Eliot’s use of this is far from word for word, but it’s clearly based on the Marvell and is instantly recognisable to anyone who knows the poem. The thing is that Eliot would and could have expected his readers to know this.

PG Wodehouse would have expected the same of his readers: he was a very different kind of writer but used a literary allusion on practically every page. Like Eliot, he had an educated audience who knew their Bible, Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley, Marvell etc, so could trust that there was a shared store of literary knowledge between them which he could allude to (or “reference” in today’s language). Thanks to our modern education system which requires everything to be “relevant”, this is no longer the case.

The English composer Peter Maxwell Davies uses musical quotations in a similar way – it’s ironic! – and no doubt in a generation or so these too will be meaningless to most listeners. As will Stravinsky’s quotes – not just the Russian folk tunes but also those in Le Baiser de la Fee (Tchaikovsky), Circus Polka (Schubert) and more. Bartok made sarcastic use of Shostakovich in his Concerto for Orchestra. Charles Ives used everything from Beethoven’s Fifth to hymns such as “Shall We Gather at the River”. Frank Zappa used Stravinsky, Ives, Holst, Ravel and Hindemith. Every blues or folk musician has done the equivalent. (Not just blues and folk: compare the chord changes of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe”, the opening song on Dark Side of the Moon, with Neil Young’s “Down by the River” which preceded it by a couple of years.)

However, all these writers and composers assumed that their audience would get the reference. Just as Picasso knew that everyone seeing, say, his Las Meninas:

would be well aware of the Velasquez original:

That doesn’t seem to be what Ihimaera was up to, because his sources were so obscure. And that is why, despite Scott Hamilton’s valiant defence, this looks like plagiarism. Still. I have yet to read the novel and if it is good, that will be ample justification for the borrowing.

The Dim-Post, as always, has a comment too. But the best bit on his blog is a comment criticising the book’s design: “Or am I judging a cover by its book?”

Happy birthday, Mahler’s Fourth

Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, apparently his second-most popular (after the First), received its premiere under his own baton on 25 November 1901 in Munich, where it was “booed and condemned as baffling and tasteless”.

This is the last movement, with Bernard Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra with the soprano Christine Schafer singing “Wir geniessen die himmlischen Freuden”, which in English is “We enjoy heaven’s pleasures”. A poem from the German folk poetry anthology Das Knaben Wunderhorn, it is basically a child singing the praises of gluttony.

In the notes to Lorin Maazel’s 1984 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic and Kathleen Battle, Leslie Howard translates the second verse as:
St John releases the little lamb,
The butcher watches over him,
We lead a meek, innocent, mild
Dear little lamb to death!
St Luke slaughters the oxen
Without a thought or care,
Wine doesn’t cost a penny in heaven’s cellar
The angels bake the bread.
They don’t write children’s songs like that any more.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The sexiest opera scene ever

Possibly. This is the great Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel – he may look like a roadie with a mullet, but can he sing – in the title role of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, duetting with the fabulous Korean-American soprano Hei-Kyung Hong as Zerlina in what must be one of the all-time great opera seduction scenes, “La ci darem la mano”. The conductor is James Levine; the orchestra and venue is the New York Metropolitan Opera. This is from the DVD which stars Renee Fleming as Donna Elvira in the 2000 Franco Zeffirelli production.

Friday, November 20, 2009

New Zealand farmer letter of the year

In the Dominion-Post of 14 November (can’t find it online but maybe you can):
To fix the randy-politician syndrome, just get Bellamys to put some testosterone-suppressant in MPs’ meals one month before they depart for overseas.

Failing that, I have the equipment and can castrate them for no charge.

David Boddy
Monitor: Richard Fraser

Jesus as zombie: the Venn Diagram

Another Venn Diagram, this time featuring zombies, Frankenstein and Dracula (vampires are so 2009) along with you know who.

It isn’t entirely accurate: as one outraged commenter at the original host site, ClusterFlock, points out, the villagers didn’t exactly revere Frankenstein. Still, eh?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

November in Paris

If you are lucky enough to be in Paris on 21 November, do go along at 2 p.m. to the Schaden.com bookstore at Paris Photo (C10 in the Carrousel du Louvre shopping centre near the Louvre at 99 rue de Rivoli). Wellington photographer Bruce Connew will be signing copies of his new book I Must Behave, from which the above image is taken.

According to Bruce’s website:
This work, which examines control, from simple self-restraint to government manipulation, and how it modifies behaviour, follows on from the 2007 surveillance project, I Saw You, and is the second in a series of three projects over three years, each examining a social/political theme.

Thought for the day

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Half a man

The story on Ananova is headed: “Half man’s recovery stuns surgeons”. And it reads:
A Chinese man, who had half of his body amputated after being run over by a truck, has amazed surgeons with his recovery. Peng Shuilin, 37, spent nearly two years in hospital in Shenzhen, southern China, undergoing a series of operations to re-route nearly every major organ or system inside his body.
Now Peng – who opened his own cut-price supermarket called the Half Man-Half Price Store – has survived so well he’s being used as a role model for other amputees. [. . .]
Amazing if true. A big if. This is from Ananova, after all. But let’s not forget the “Quarter of a Man” celebrated in Frizz Fuller’s song. Here is David Lindley’s version:

Monitor: Rob O’Neill

Maori artefacts removed

The Hauraki Herald reports:
Objections to the showing of Maori artefacts at a new museum in Kaiaua in the Firth of Thames have led to their removal from display.

Ngati Paoa’s representative on the Hauraki Maori Trust Board, Glen Tupuhi, said he was opposed to the collection and display of artefacts at the new Rangipo museum. [. . .] “Ngati Paoa have a simple policy in regards to the finding of protected objects, taonga or artefacts. If it’s found in our traditional or shared tribal estate then the object belongs to Ngati Paoa or our Whanaunga of Hauraki and any decision not to declare the find is theft,” Mr Tupuhi said.

Museum owner Rob McCartie, whose family have lived at Rangipo for several decades, said he was “disappointed” at the opposition to his museum. Mr McCartie said Mr Tupuhi had not contacted him with his concerns but he had removed the Maori artefacts from display to avoid further complaints. [. . .]

Mr Tupuhi said Ngati Paoa had been forced from the Kaiaua/Miranda area in the 1860s in a “brutal attack” by the then Government. This attack left wahi tapu and other sites sacred to Ngati Paoa exposed to exploitation, he said.
Fair enough. But then:
Mr McCartie said the items in his collection had been tested and dated to before Ngati Paoa’s settlement of the area. He said they were, in fact, artefacts from Nga Uri O Te Po, a group Ngati Paoa displaced.
It would seem that there is no one from Nga Uri O Te Po available to comment.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wikipedia, pro and con

As you might have spotted in the About Me panel to the right, I’m not a great fan of Wikipedia. I use it, but not for work: a book editor really cannot rely upon it for much more than a quick rough and dirty check of a date or a location. That’s why I perhaps foolishly pride myself on never linking to it but instead hunting down what look like more accurate sources.

Wikipedia is fine for casual stuff – it’s great for uncontroversial material like geography, astronomy or sports – but above all it’s fascinating as an exercise in cooperation. This piece in the Boston Review by Evgeny Morozov (who is currently a Yahoo! fellow at Georgetown University’s E.A. Walsh School of Foreign Service – and no, I didn’t make that up) about Andrew Lih’s new book The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia examines that exercise at some length (about 3750 words – amazing for a book review these days). Morozov is not unsympathetic but does observe:
There is virtually no sense of relative importance: improving an article about a prominent historical figure is as important as writing the biography of a soap opera character, as long as both are deemed notable. One does not have to be a natural-born elitist to see that relying on this simplistic binary will inevitably keep the focus on the frivolous, which is never in short supply.
But here’s the most telling quote, IMHO:
Wikipedians are 80 percent male, more than 65 percent single, more than 85 percent without children, and around 70 percent of them are under the age of 30.
Maybe it’s time for a Chikipedia?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bunny throwing

Here in the Waikato we make our own fun. We had the world rabbit throwing championship yesterday. Hey, look, it’s not midgets or dwarves, it’s just rabbits. So it’s not weird, OK?

And the rabbits don’t mind. They’re dead.

OK, it’s a bit weird.

The Waikato Times reports:
More than 70 people took part in the event, according to organiser Barry Woods, who said it was great to see people of all ages rolling up their sleeves and taking part.

“Basically this was a stand against the PC brigade who think there is something wrong with what goes on in the real world,” Mr Woods said.

Competitors selected a dead rabbit from a pile and threw it into a trailer attached to a motorbike which, Mr Woods said, was exactly how it’s done on the farm. “Why shouldn’t kids be able to see how it’s done, handle a dead animal and learn about pests which destroy the environment?” he said.
The winner was 19-year-old German tourist Lisa Lutz, who is here on a working holiday. Honestly, what is wrong with our local rabbit throwers that they can’t out-throw a German tourist who has never (probably – you never can tell with Germans) thrown a bunny before?

All this makes Taihape look pretty silly, doesn’t it. They just throw gumboots there. No comparison.

Here is the best bunny song ever, Taj Mahal performing “Squat that Rabbit” from his 1991 album Like Never Before:

Older readers may recognise the guitar riff, used by the Rolling Stones on their cover of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips” on Exile on Main Street where, unusually for them, they credited the original composer.

The animation is from Walt Disney’s 1925 Alice Gets Stung. More info about it here.

Blog comment of the week

I rejoyce that thysse blogge hastou nat forleten. Muchel delyte founde I in the tale of the Privy Ordre of the Garter eek. Upon a tyme hadde ich bethoughte me to joyne thys fayre felweshipe, but thise knyghtes han me with despit ytreted, all for that I a womman was. "Sexiste pigges," cryde I, but al for noght. Thei wolde nat budgge. And so founde I the Oultre Secree Privy Ordre of the Garter. We are accepttynge applicaciouns.
Morgana leFaye
Yes, you guessed right. Geoffrey Chaucer is bloggynge again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Happy birthday Anni-Frid Lyngstad

That’s Frida from Abba. She was the dark-haired one, and she was born on this day in 1945. Will we still love her when she’s 64? Hell, yes.

Abba broke up in 1982, the same year she released her first English-language solo album, the Phil Collins-produced Something’s Going On, which spawned a hit single that was No 1 in France for five weeks and reached No 13 on the Billboard pop chart.

This song is from her 1996 Swedish-language album Djupa andetag, which means “Deep breaths” or maybe “Deeper breathing”. It reached No 1 in Sweden, not bad for a 50-year-old. I have no Swedish so don’t know this song’s title. Perhaps a Swedish reader could tell us.

Monitor: Home Paddock

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The worst website name in the world

An outfit called Unleash It! claims that it “harnesses the creativity of everyone in your workplace”. To find out how they do this, visit the website here.

Yes, the address really is www.unleashit.co.nz.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Librarians promise to read a book a month

The NZ Society of Authors weekly newsletter announces today:
NZ Book Industry Alliance formed
A protocol was signed this week to mark the formation of a book industry alliance between the National Library of New Zealand and the Publishers Association of New Zealand, Booksellers New Zealand, New Zealand Book Council, New Zealand Book Month and the New Zealand Society of Authors.

“We formed the alliance to establish closer working relationships and to work together to promote and celebrate books“ Penny Carnaby National Librarian and Chief Executive, National Library of New Zealand.

In support of the protocol Wellington head librarians have pledged to read a book every month and challenge all kiwis to do the same.
Isn’t that great! Wellington head librarians have committed to read a book a month! Next thing you know, Jeremy Wells will commit to watching a bird and Leonard Maltin will commit to watch a movie.

Emily Perkins ate my kiwifruit

I was at a Sargeson Trust lunch-time meeting in Auckland yesterday at the Mai Thai, where you get a tiny fruit salad after your Gaeng Kiew Wahn or whatever. I was between Emily Perkins and Kevin Ireland and I got distracted by gossiping with the Cook Islands secretary for Foreign Affairs, as you do, so this happened:

Emily Perkins ate my kiwifruit.

And I thought, that’s a great title, but for what?

Sub standards in Toronto

When APN, publisher of the Herald and Listener, outsourced much of its sub-editing to an outside firm the result wasn’t pretty – standards plummeted. The Toronto Star is about to do the same, and this apparently hasn’t gone down well with the staff, as Torontoist reports:
Earlier this week the Toronto Star announced, among other changes, that it was planning to outsource some one hundred in-house, union editing jobs. In the press release issued by the union in the wake of the announcement, union chief Maureen Dawson explained that "Journalism is a collaborative effort, the product of a team of reporters, photographers and editors working in concert to produce the kind of activist agenda that has served Star readers and our community so well for so long... To remove a critical element of that work is to shortchange everyone who depends on it."

Now, one (apparent) editor at the Star has decided to show us all the benefits of collaboration. An extensively marked-up copy of Publisher John Cruickshank's internal memo announcing the changes was sent to Torontoist by a self-described “intermediary who was asked to send this for a friend who works at the Star” this morning; it’s, allegedly, “the work of a Star editor.”
It’s a large graphic so you’ll have to go to Torontoist to see the whole thing: anyone who has ever worked in the media will enjoy it, as will anyone who has ever had to wade through a pompous, illiterate and weasel-worded memo from an idiot in a suit.

Fun food fact of the day

From a special report in the Economist (available online to subscribers only): Nestlé, the world’s biggest food company, earns most of its revenues “from selling treats like chocolate, ice-cream, coffee and flavoured milk”. It also owns the Jenny Craig chain of weight-loss centres.

Talk about clipping the ticket both ways.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

BK Drinkwater on corporatism

I do hope that this becomes a series, as he threatens:
“Product dumping” — exporting stuff for less than what you sell it for domestically — is supposedly some big bad thing, presumably because it provides consumers with affordable goods while giving people in the developing world jobs: two truly horrible outcomes that no man with a genuine commitment to social justice can tolerate.

So, the powers that be became persuaded by vested interests—an unholy alliance of corporates and unions—to place levies on products so “dumped”.

Enter Michael McCormack, an Island Bay artist. He designs diaries adorned with Wellington scenes, has them printed in China, and sells them here. Everyone wins, right? He makes a bit of money to finance his passion, some printers in China get paid employment, and consumers get pretty diaries. Right?

Oh no. He gets slapped with an anti-dumping levy, because he doesn't sell the diaries to all those people in China desperate to have scenes of Wellington life in their stationery.
And the villain in the story? Read on.

The case of the vanishing Crafar rustlers

Remember this story? Under the heading “Heifer heist mystifies Crafar receiver”, the Herald website breathlessly reported on 1 November that rustlers had struck the troubled Crafar farms:
Michael Stiassny is missing a few cows – more than 1000. Stiassny was appointed receiver of the Crafarms group in October after the family-owned company collapsed under heavy debts and multiple prosecutions for effluent discharge.

Until its fall, the Crafar family had run the largest privately owned dairy company in New Zealand, with 20,000 cows spread across 22 properties.

But now some of those cattle have been taken – in possibly the biggest rustling operation this country has seen. Well, the “biggest one that anyone’s ever had proof of”, Stiassny said.
There was no further coverage that I saw in the Herald or on Stuff. The story seemed to vanish, as the cows had. But it turns out that they weren’t rustled at all. Their rightful owners had just retrieved them, as they were apparently entitled to do. Richard Rennie writes in the Farmers Weekly of 9 November:
Stock uplifted from three Crafar farm properties last week were subject to a security claim by Hastings stock leasing company StockCo.

News media reports intimating the 2000 cows had been “rustled” stemmed from claims by receiver Michael Stiassny that the stock movement contravened a court order put in place just prior to the operation.

One thousand cows out of a 1300-head herd were removed from one property, 250 from another 450 cow herd and 300 from a 1000 cow herd. [. . .] Investigation by Farmers Weekly indicated StockCo. has a Personal Money Security Interest (PMSI) registered against the Crafars, registered in April 2007 specifcally against dairy cattle. [. . .] Legally a PMSI gives a creditor priority of claim on a specifc named asset. It puts that creditor ahead of the banks’ claim on general assets. PMSIs are commonly used in trading businesses where assets can be clearly identifed and uplifted from the business premises.

A Hamilton solicitor said that while it was common for small businesses to have PMSIs lodged against their stock items, computer equipment and EFTPOS machines, it did not occur as frequently with dairy farm operations. She was strongly advising clients supplying the sector to consider such security if they were concerned over the business’ status.

“Having the security gives the owner of those assets the right to uplift, as has happened in this case. It is hard to see how the receiver could be surprised at this happening,” she said.
Do have a poke around the Farmers Weekly website, or rather the digital part of it. It’s amazing. You can see the story in question here, and zoom in or out across the page as it suits. You can also download the entire issue as a PDF, or just a double-page spread (which is what I did so I could cut and paste, i.e. steal, the text above).

I don’t know what the future of newspaper or magazine publishing is, but I suspect it looks a bit like this.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Apocalypse soon: 2012 in the Sunday Star-Times

The Sunday Star-Times says:
If a growing body of speculation is to be believed, then December 20, 2012 (20/12/2012), is a date with destiny.
That’s a big “if” right there. Why should we believe speculation? This article is presented as normal newspaper material, i.e. stuff that is factual and has been checked by other journalists, but it is completely bonkers. It’s of interest that people believe this stuff, but that’s not the angle the story takes:
The genesis for much of the 2012 2012 material revolves around the ending of the Mayan calendar. Archaeological records indicate the Mayans were a highly advanced civilisation who seemingly appeared in the remote areas of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico more than 1500 years ago, built an advanced agricultural-based society and then abandoned their greatest cities around the ninth century.

Although much about the Mayans remains a mystery, we do know they were master stargazers, who devised one of the most sophisticated calendars for tracking galactic time based on a traditional 260-day count intertwined with a traditional 365-day calendar.
What is galactic time? How could the Mayans have “tracked” it? How does one “track” time? How could we know what the Mayans measured or even thought about anything? How can we know that they were “master stargazers”? They left no written record, apart from some hieroglyphs whose meaning we can only guess at. Could they have been any good at predicting the future if they couldn’t even predict their own demise?

Frankly, this is all bollocks. And actual Mayans, or at least descendants of them, say that this is all bollocks too:
“If I went to some Mayan-speaking communities and asked people what is going to happen in 2012, they wouldn't have any idea,” said Jose Huchim, a Yucatan Mayan archaeologist. “That the world is going to end? They wouldn't believe you. We have real concerns these days, like rain.”
The SST article goes on to quote “one of the most referenced 2012 2012 authors, Mayan expert and self-described visionary Jose Arguielles”, who says:
our science is fatally flawed and offers only a linear view of reality, which is multi-dimensional.
In a recent book by Stephanie South, 2012: Biography of a Time Traveller, he argues that modern science is based on matter and therefore falls short of accurately defining the nature of reality.
“It does not admit that there could be other realities, other dimensions co-existencing with this reality.”
Which is absolutely, unequivocally, wrong – other dimensions are one of the more interesting features of the new cosmology. But not as wrong as this:
Mayan science assumes that the key factors in universal operations are factors of resonance – vibratory cycles or vibratory waves.
How would he know what Mayan science assumed? Again, there is no written record. We simply do not know what these people thought, and because they did not have telescopes there is no chance that they had any knowledge whatsoever of the solar system or anywhere beyond it.

This article would have been fine as a New Age column. It would have been fine as an opinion piece. But presented as a piece of journalism, on the same page as a serious piece from the UK Sunday Times about the Obamas, it is not fine at all. Whoever approved it for publication should be ashamed of themselves.

There is is sensible comment on all this here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Country Channel

John Drinnan says in the Herald that:
An out-of-pocket founder of Country Channel says anybody who invests in the current media market needs “big balls”.

Presumably the farmer-cum-TV producer Andy Tyler means big balls of baling twine, or confidence. Haystacks of money would be useful. Tyler says he is out of pocket more than $1 million and trying to recover money owed by Country Channel Ltd, the company that ran the premium tier channel on the Sky platform. [. . .]

Tyler said it had been been difficult to build subscribers from scratch after the launch in October 2008 with Country Channel struggling in a tough market. 
Drinnan sagely concludes:
These are tough times in the media business.
Yes they are, but times are always tough in the media business. It probably makes it even tougher when your target market, i.e. everyone in farming, spends all day working outside and all night inside watching TV One, like everyone else. And they don’t all have Sky.

It must make it even tougher when your interviewers, on the all-too-few segments of local content, are comically clueless about the industry.

Christina Lamb on Afghanistan

Christina Lamb is Washington correspondent of the Sunday Times and won this year’s Prix Bayeux Calvados for war reporting for her coverage of Afghanistan. She has twice been named Foreign Correspondent of the Year in the British Press Awards. She is, in short, really good. (As is her most recent book, Small Wars Permitting, a collection of her journalism.)

She writes in the Spectator:
In the late 1980s I lived in Peshawar and travelled with many of those we now consider bad guys, but who were then on the same side against the Soviets. I even spent three weeks going round Kandahar on the backs of motorbikes of the incipient Taleban. These long links enable me to travel to areas few other foreign journalists can go to. But for the last two years, each time I visit Afghanistan, I find I can travel to fewer and fewer places, my Afghan friends insisting it is too dangerous to travel on the roads built with billions of dollars of our taxpayers’ money. Last time I went, in August, I barely ventured outside Kabul. Even in the capital foreign residences are surrounded by ever more concrete blocks.
She says that she used to think the answer was to send more troops, but no longer. She sets out her case at length – it really is worth reading the whole piece – but here is one example of why she has changed her mind:
A recent report from the Institute of War details how British forces took the district of Nad Ali last year, losing a number of soldiers. They then handed control over to the Afghan police, who set about raping young boys. Eventually the people got so fed up that they asked the Taleban to come back to protect them.
She lists some of what she sees as the West’s biggestmistakes since ousting the Taleban eight years ago:
getting distracted by Iraq; giving Karzai too much leeway; supporting warlords; being unable to differentiate tribal infighting and Taleban; bombing wedding parties; believing Pakistan shared our interests; putting the Italians in charge of building a justice system.
That last one is quite amazing, really.

Joe Hildebrand on racist food

Home Paddock alerted us to the fuss in Australia about creole creams, a trans-Tasman sequel to our own fuss about marshmallow Eskimos. But wait, there’s more.

In this three-minute video, Joe Hildebrand presents a shocking exposé of the real situation confronting sensitive shoppers in Australian supermarkets:
VIDEO: Politically incorrect groceries

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Was Pope John Paul II anti-Semitic?

The question is posed in this week’s Spectator Diary by Neil Tennant, the articulate Pet Shop Boy, following their tour of the Americas – Montreal to Lima. He rates the food in Peru, and is annoyed by fans snapping pix of the band on their cameras rather than watching the show, but more to the point he says:
One of the books I read on tour was Fritz Stern’s Five Germanys I Have Known, a memoir by the distinguished Jewish-American historian who grew up in pre-war Germany and emigrated with his family to the US. The five Germanys are Weimar, Nazi, capitalist West Germany, communist East Germany and today’s unified Germany, and he provides an insider’s account of his experiences of all of them and America’s interaction with them. In 1987, he met Pope John Paul II and enthused about the large number of bright Asian students there are at American universities these days, remarking, ‘They have taken the place of the Jews.’

The Pope’s response was a little chilling: ‘Yes, but they [Jews] still control the media and finance.’
I think that there we have our answer to Tennant’s question. On an anti-Semitism scale of 10, I’d give that an 8.5. You can take the Pole out of Poland but. . .

They invented algebra, and now. . .

Arab News reports:
A new TV show that discusses issues concerning teenage girls and female university students was recently broadcast with Saudi presenters dressed in black from head to toe.
As Mick Hartley says, such a show:
would make for a devastatingly incisive critique of contemporary celebrity culture; alienation and conformity; the fetishisation of women; the impossibility of meaningful personal communication within the dehumanising environment of commercial television.
Well, yes. The Arab News report continues:
The show — named Asrar Al-Banat (The Secrets of Girls) — is broadcast on Awtan TV, a Saudi religious channel that was first aired in August 2008 and has women broadcasters who are covered in the all-enveloping abaya and niqab. [. . . ]

Answering a question about some opposing religious views that regard the voice of women as Awrah (something that cannot be revealed in the presence of men), Sawsan said that scholars deem women’s voices as Awrah only if they are speaking softly or on immoral topics.

She added that the Prophet’s wife Sayyidatuna Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her) would verbally issue religious rulings (fatwas) to men and that none of the Prophet’s companions criticized her at that time.

Commenting on whether her appearance on TV would now lead to women appearing on cooking and children programs, she said, “When it comes to cooking, men can present them. However, there are some issues relating to women which men cannot handle in the way we can.”