Monday, December 30, 2013

Great men are all alike

Christopher Hart reviews the “wonderfully entertaining” Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work by Mason Currey in the Literary Review. Quote unquote from V.S. Pritchett:
Sooner or later, the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.

Monday, December 23, 2013

What I’m reading #107

Lloyd Shepherd wonders in the Literary Review whether pirating books on the Internet is as bad as people like me and my colleagues at Copyright Licensing NZ make out. Quote unquote:
Markets such as Russia remain a problem for publishing. By some estimates, 95 per cent of e-book downloads in Russia are illegitimate. But the big players in e-books – specifically Amazon – do not operate in Russia and there is a paucity of legitimate titles available (perhaps only 60,000). […] In such an environment, piracy becomes the convenient option, not the outlaw one.
All of which raises an interesting question: if your book isn't being distributed in Russia but is being merrily downloaded there, how should you feel? Before the internet, such piracy (in physical formats) would have been invisible to you. Now you know about it, what should you do? Should you even be (secretly, of course) pleased?Neil Gaiman, whose titles seem to make up a large proportion of all the books on Library Genesis, has said that piracy in Russia has, in fact, increased his sales there. In this light, there is only one thing worse than being pirated and that is not being pirated, at least in those countries where you’re not receiving much distribution anyway. […]And that itchier question remains: if you find a copy of your book on a service such as Library Genesis, what do you do? Do you hit the ‘takedown’ button in Muso and get it removed? Or do you ask yourself whether it’s better to be read illegitimately than not to be read at all? It is, at the very least, a question worth asking.
There is a new edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses. I have two already – what’s weird about that? – so am afraid I don’t have room for this one, and not just because the entire novel has been hand-written by Charlene Matthews onto 38 seven-foot tall, two-inch diameter poles. Quote unquote:
Each pole has sixteen ‘cels’ comprised of four pages, a total of sixty-four pages per pole.  The first cel has the first line in it and then Matthews measured down 9" and wrote that line in the next cel and so on, with the last cel containing the last line on the pole. 
You know it makes sense.

A.D. Miller (here is my diary of a weekend with him) in the Economist on Nowheresville. Quote unquote:
Trowell service station, slap in the middle of England on the M1 motorway, is not a place many people would associate with intrigue or passion. For most people motorway services are scarcely places at all, but blurred nowheres on the way to somewhere else. Spend 24 hours here, however, and this bland yet strange locale—a sort of amenity that almost everybody visits but hardly anybody notices—emerges as a microcosm of modern Britain’s complexion and pathologies. A day here reveals Trowell’s special rhythms and ecosystem, its microdramas and eccentricities, murmured sadnesses and hopes.

Economist Matt Nolan on empty calories and fake food. Spoiler alert:
In this case I purchased the Tim Tams and had a few with a coffee.  
Matt Nolan again on that Avatar deal that sees three sequels to a film I hope never to see being made here in New Zealand. Quote unquote:
We may say “the government is doing it, because people feel good having a movie shot here – it makes us proud!”  Yeah sure, that is relevant – so we need to think about it.
Ok, so who are the people who get all this “pride” from the movies?  Generally, middle class New Zealanders.  Who is paying, generally wealthier New Zealanders (as they pay most of the tax).  What spending is likely to be sacrificed in order to pay for subsides, poor New Zealanders.  Directors law, once again.  If you don’t agree with how I’m conceptualising it, then why don’t we get government to get private New Zealander’s to pay into a fund based on the “pride” they get?  You may complain that people will “free-ride”, but then I would quickly point out that merely imposing a preference for “pride” on everyone in order to get them to pay for something you want is problematic!
It is inconsistent, nah hypocritical, to support this type of protectionism and then complain about inequality and poverty in New Zealand.  And yet, that is what I see a bunch of people doing as they see it as “sexy” – and also because they don’t actually know what the terms “poverty” and “inequality” mean.  If only more people thought clear, transparent public  policy based on the positive economics that allows it was sexy instead …
A graphic tribute to Peter O’Toole from JAKe in the Guardian.

Finally, a book. Distant Intimacy: a friendship in the age of the internet, by Frederic Raphael and Joseph Epstein (Yale University Press, 2013), in which two Jewish men of a certain age who have never met, one English, one American, email each other to kvetch about life, the literary world, politics, stuff like that. Wonderfully funny, often suddenly poignant – they have grief to spare – and either of them is quotable on any page. Here is Raphael being rude about Malcolm Gladwell, discussed here recently):
I call publications such as Outliers skipping-rope books: they’re meant to give you a little gentle mental exercise, or the illusion of having had a mental work-out, but raise no kind of a sweat.You think you’re learning something because that kind of text almost always has diagrams to make it look academic. The marketing persons always bulk them up fatter than they need to be, rendering their prosthetic prose as void of meaning or flavour as those jelly-fishy mammary inserts which raise a girl’s alimony prospects along with men’s amorous propensities (Dr Johnson again, re Garrick’s chorenes, I think).
And here, later, is Epstein to Raphael, being rude about Saul Bellow:
At the centre of Bellow’s fraudulence is his creating in his fictions figures clearly intended to be he who are inevitably sensitive, kindly, sweet, not to say great souled, whereas in so-called real life Bellow was touchy, unkind nasty, and black-hearted: a prick, in other words, and a particularly malevolent one. Bellow and my dear friend Edward Shilswere once close friends, but had several fallings out. When Edward lay on his deathbed, Bellow asked if he might come over to make things up. Edward told me that he didn’t want him to come over, that he had no wish to make things easy for “that son of a bitch”. After Edward died, Belllow put a character clearly meant to be Eward in his last novel, Ravelstein, claiming that he smelled (which Edward never did) and that he was homosexual (whch he most distinctly wasn’t). Ah, me, why is it always raining in the Republic of Letters? 
Good question. So here is Rick Danko in 1989 singing Buddy Hollo’s “Raining in My Heart” with Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band (Levon Helm, Joe Walsh, Dr John, Billy Preston, Clarence Clemons etc):

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Metro and embarrassment

Simon Wilson, editor of Metro, tweets about our mega-city’s mega-embarrassing mayor Len Brown:

If you can’t read the text, it is: “Brown will survive no confidence attack but his position is now intolerable.”

Intolerable? By whom? Simon possibly means “untenable”. A mere slip of the tweet. As one does. Forgivable, unlike the carefully considered cover of the new issue:

Metro was a bit ick in the last issue about the roast busters. To have this photo on the cover is even more ick. Call me old-fashioned.

Composer or pasta?

Classic FM asks the serious questions in this quiz which presents some Italian names, e.g. Donizetti and Bucatini. Composer or pasta? Easy as. But what about Bertali? I got 19 out of 21.

What was striking was this portrait of the composer above, who to my eyes looks uncannily like that fixture of the Sunday Star-Times’s social pages, Colin Mathura-Jeffree.

So here are Jethro Tull with “Song for Jeffrey”, live at the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus with Tony Iommi, later of Black Sabbath on guitar. Not all “classic rock” is totes classic:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What I’m reading #106

Keith Richards in the Wall Street Journal – where else? – on how he wrote and, more important, recorded, “Street Fighting Man”. Quote unquote:
Charlie had this snap drum kit that was made in the 1930s. Jazz drummers used to carry around the small kit to practice when they were on the bus or train. It had this little spring-up hi-hat and a tambourine for a snare. It was perfect because, like the acoustic guitar, it wouldn't overpower the recorder's mike. I had Charlie sit right next to the mike with his little kit and I kneeled on the floor next to him with my acoustic Gibson Hummingbird. There we were in front of this little box hammering away [laughs]. After we listened to the playback, the sound was perfect.
Why French books don’t sell outside France. Quote unquote:
I often joke that the only way to get published in Britain if you’re French is to pretend you’re Spanish. If you’ve been a best-seller in France, it's a sure-fire recipe for not getting a deal in the UK.
Peter Simpson joins me in praising Peter Bland, specifically his Collected Poems. Quite right, too. It’s a shame that the bulk of the Collected has somewhat obscured this year’s new collection Breath Dances, which is Peter on top form.

Speaking of poets, Vincent O’Sullivan, the current Poet Laureate – Pirate Laureate, I believe a mokopuna calls him: I prefer to think of him as the Poet Lorikeet – is blogging. Not a natural form for him, I imagine, but it is part of the job. Here is his first post. Quote unquote:
The obvious point of this site is to celebrate and present the breadth of experience and formal variety that poetry embraces. I shall be inviting a guest poet to contribute work of their own, and to select a poem by a living writer they value, as well as a poem from an earlier era that continues to matter to them.
So, cunning as ever, he plans to outsource much of the writing to other poets, in this case Jennifer Compton. The male as evader, obv, but a brilliant idea.

Want more poets? Two for the price of one: here is Paula Green on Elizabeth Smither’s new collection Ruby Duby Du. Quote unquote:
This delightful book signals the burgeoning output of small presses –- handcrafted books with smallish print runs, scope for new poets to emerge, and established poets to publish miniature gems or take sidestepping risks. Elizabeth’s book, published by Dunedin’s Cold Hub Press, is a gold nugget of a book and deserves to be under the pillow of every new mother and father, and in the gift box of every newborn child. It is an utter delight from curling fingertip to wriggling toe.
What chefs think of food bloggers. Egon Ronay comes out of it well. Quote unquote:
So I say this to food critics and bloggers (and I am a blogger myself) – do you have what it takes to work 12 to 15 hours a day everyday on your feet in a room that is 35 to 50 degrees? Or let me put it this way – try to write your articles in a room with no air conditioning in the middle of the desert summer and see how difficult it is.
Emmaa Jacobs in the FT on home libraries with some wonderful photos and some depressing text. Quote unquote:
The digital era has in some ways made book collections harder to justify. With so many of us opting for ebooks over paperbacks, what is the point of keeping books? Just as many decided to ditch their record collections for a digital library, might the same happen to books?
Hilary Mason, data scientist in residence at Accel Partners, believes it will. She only acquires physical books that have sentimental attachment or are written by friends. Anticipating emptier bookshelves, Ikea has introduced a deep version of its “Billy” bookcase. The flat-pack furniture retailer believes more of us will in future line our shelves with objects rather than books.
Rather than replace books, the internet has created another space to portray our bookish credentials. A number of websites, such as Bookshelf Porn, have sprung up to showcase users’ book collections. Others, like Goodreads and Pinterest display digital bookcases.
StatsChat’s Thomas Lumley defends scientists against Auckland University’s arts faculty’s claim, which is not in any way self-interested, that without heaps and heaps of more arts graduates we could lose “an informed and thoughtful citizenry which understands the history and cultures of a diverse nation and supports social and economic innovation and international engagement”. Quote unquote:
[When faced with this claim] we’d hope that someone with science training would ask if there’s any empirical support for the idea that people with science degrees are less informed and thoughtful, or less supportive of social and economic innovation and international engagement. We’d also hope that they would have some idea how empirical support or refutation could be generated if it wasn’t available.
And so, without the usual segue, here is the late Peter O’Toole on stage in Keith Waterhouse’s play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell as Bernard, whom I almost met but was too frightened to, as recounted here

Monitors: Philip Matthews, Peter Keenan, Jennifer Collinson 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Nothing is real

In breaking universe news, Nature reports:
A team of physicists has provided some of the clearest evidence yet that our Universe could be just one big projection.
In 1997, theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena proposed that an audacious model of the Universe in which gravity arises from infinitesimally thin, vibrating strings could be reinterpreted in terms of well-established physics. The mathematically intricate world of strings, which exist in nine dimensions of space plus one of time, would be merely a hologram: the real action would play out in a simpler, flatter cosmos where there is no gravity.
Maldacena’s idea thrilled physicists because it offered a way to put the popular but still unproven theory of strings on solid footing — and because it solved apparent inconsistencies between quantum physics and Einstein’s theory of gravity. It provided physicists with a mathematical Rosetta stone, a ‘duality’, that allowed them to translate back and forth between the two languages, and solve problems in one model that seemed intractable in the other and vice versa. But although the validity of Maldacena’s ideas has pretty much been taken for granted ever since, a rigorous proof has been elusive.
In two papers posted on the arXiv repository, Yoshifumi Hyakutake of Ibaraki University in Japan and his colleagues now provide, if not an actual proof, at least compelling evidence that Maldacena’s conjecture is true.
In one paper, Hyakutake computes the internal energy of a black hole, the position of its event horizon (the boundary between the black hole and the rest of the Universe), its entropy and other properties based on the predictions of string theory as well as the effects of so-called virtual particles that continuously pop into and out of existence. In the other, he and his collaborators calculate the internal energy of the corresponding lower-dimensional cosmos with no gravity. The two computer calculations match.
Monitor: Paul Litterick

The executive summary: life is a hologram and nothing is real. So here are the Beatles with “Strawberry Field Forever”, in which John Lennon spookily predicts the new non-reality of reality. Because you are worth it, this is Take 7, not the version as released on the B-side of “Penny Lane”:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Santa Claus meets Suzi Quatro

English comedian Andrew Watts writes in the Spectator about playing Santa and difficult it is in a large shopping centre in a multi-cultural area when there are two of you, plus elfs:
Father Christmas must never make assumptions: we shouldn’t ask about Mummy or Daddy when a child might have just a Mummy, no Mummy, or two Mummies; likewise, we shouldn’t try to guess the identity of any accompanying adult. ‘There’s no place for prejudice in a grotto situation,’ we are told. ‘Everyone is treated the same.’
And no one gets special treatment either — we are to act just the same if a celebrity visits Father Christmas. My fellow Santa’s top grotto moment was meeting Suzi Quatro; she sat herself on his knee, wriggled, and asked him whether it was true he only came once a year.
And then this:
The shopping centre to which I’m assigned is in north London, and favoured by Jewish women. The busiest time is Friday afternoons, when schools finish early for the Sabbath and boys in yarmulkes visit the grotto. (Everyone visits Santa: women in burkas bring their children too.) They are delighted if I remember to say ‘Shabbat Shalom’: I am a philosemitic Santa.
It is conceivable to be an anti-Semitic Santa: my father grew up near where Sir Oswald Mosley lived, and every year he would, very properly, invite the children from the village to the big house for a Christmas party. Mosley himself would dress as Father Christmas, but — for this was before the Coca-Cola corporation standardised red livery — his fur-trimmed suit was black.
YouTube doesn’t have a clip of Mosley as Santa, sadly, but here is Suzi Quatro in 1973 with “Can the Can”:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

NZ Herald letter of the month #2

To mark 11.12.13, here is the wonderful Marti Friedlander in today’s issue of the Herald:
Anti-apartheid voice
I cannot comprehend why John Minto feels he should be part of the New Zealand delegation at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
Many of us had been protesting against apartheid for years before the 1981 protests. I remember, particularly, that first protest I attended in New Zealand at Myers Park in 1960. It was a very moving and heartfelt one.
The exceptional lawyer Frank Haigh articulated our mutual concern. Such protests continued for years around New Zealand, and Hart and Care reallied people together in unity for this cause.
Mr Minto should stop believing he gave voice to our anti-apartheid movement in New Zealand.
In other Minto-related news, BK Drinkwater tweets about the online fuss about the government not inviting Minto and/or Trevor Richards to what’s basically a state funeral with world leaders. I was interested in BK’s view because he is far too young to remember 1981, so is unsentimental about it. I lived in Auckland then, went on every protest march, drove down to Hamilton for the game there – fortunately I arrived a couple of minutes too late to get on the field: it was frightening enough outside – and at the Eden Park game got whacked by a cop from, I think, the Blue Squad. And, like Marti, I had been an anti-apartheid protester long before 1981. So I was present and engaged, but am unsentimental about it. Anyway here is BK with a bunch of tweets about what he sees on Twitter:
Dear people my age and younger: it is moral complacency, not moral sensitivity, to assume you would have been anti-tour had you been alive.
 I’m seeing a lot of talk about 1980s new zealand and not much about apartheid south africa.
 1. I am sympathetic to the people seeking to use Mandela’s death as an opportunity to relive the discord of their New Zealand youth...
2. it must be nice to look back and feel that you once meant something and were a part of something more important than yourself...
3. It is a pity that these people’s lives have clearly not since meant anything or been part of anything but more important than themselves.
4. So out of pity, I’m prepared to let them feel alive again, even if their way of doing this involves...
5. appropriating a dead man’s struggle for their petty partisan ends. But I won’t engage.
So here is a snippet of Neil Young on 21 March 2013 in Auckland with “Danger Bird” from his 1975 album Zuma. Frank Sampedro’s good, isn’t he:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sentence of the day

Hamish Keith in the Listener online criticises Creative NZ’s decision to decline Sport’sappplication for funding after 25 years and ends:
Beyond the All Blacks being unbeaten for a whole season, and Emirates Team New Zealand coming second in a two-boat race, what put New Zealand on the world’s front pages in 2013 was a novel, a song and a film.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Sport and Creative New Zealand

Sport, the sportingly named literary magazine that began in 1988 as a biannual but for the last decade has been an annual, has lost its funding from Creative New Zealand. Its editor, VUP’s Fergus Barrowman, will be on National Radio at 2.35pm tomorrow (Sunday) to talk about what this means – as far as one can tell, it’s the end.

I hope not. Sport introduced me to Ashleigh Young, Tina Makereti and many other terrific writers, alongside new work from more established names such as Andrew Johnston, Bill Manhire, Kate Camp, Bernadette Hall, Elizabeth Smither and Vincent O’Sullivan. It has always been a good mix with great quality control. (Apart from the time it published me.)

But now it is endangered. There has been coverage about it on Stuff here and here, and a Twitterstorm – Fergus is good with old and new media, and also the magazine is held in great affection and regard.

Creative NZ has been subsidising Sport for 25 years so it came as a surprise that this latest application for funding was declined. The money involved isn’t much in the scheme of things – $5000, tiny compared to what dance and theatre companies get, let alone literary festivals. Nothing at the magazine seems to have changed: the quality is as high as ever, Fergus still takes no money from it, the writers still get paid. Not much, $15 a page I believe, but it’s something.

Actually, it’s more than something – it’s a lot. For a poet or short-story writer, being published anywhere is a big deal, and being paid even a token amount is hugely validating, for want of a better word. It’s a confidence-booster, and the fact of publication also helps when talking to mainstream publishers – or, I suppose, when trying to promote your self-published e-book. Publication in a magazine run by a serious editor carries a lot more weight than publication in an e-zine.

So, what went wrong? I have no inside information but I have been involved in similar decisions in the past because I was on the funding panel for 15 years off and on. Which I’m not allowed to talk about, Chatham House rules, etc. But the hell with that. Here goes.

I have no idea about Sport’s sales and costs, but I saw the budgets for other literary magazines. It amazed me what they spent and how little they earned. One journal spent $20,000 an issue but sold only 275 copies (80 copies retail – yes, 80 copies in bookshops throughout New Zealand). That made a unit cost of $73 (I am rounding these figures heavily to obscure the title in question) – and I could see from other grant applications that a novel might have production costs of $12,000 and a print run of at least 3000, expecting to sell 2000 copies. To put it another way, annual production costs of that magazine were about the same as for seven medium-size novels. And from memory $3500 is a standard subsidy for a literary novel, so $5000 isn’t out of line for an issue of Sport, which at 288 pages or so has been bulkier than most novels. And better-written.

On the other hand. . . I know people who make a strong argument for no funding of the arts. They say, if you want to consume it, pay for it yourself: why should taxpayers in Taumarunui subsidise seats at the ballet or opera for rich people in Wadestown? There are holes in that argument (one is called Lotto) but it is possible to make a coherent case against subsidising literature and the arts that the literary luvvies™ need to answer.

Almost no one in the arts/literary world thinks about opportunity costs – that is, if we fund Project X, we can’t fund Projects Y and Z, or possibly even A, B or C. This may be a factor in Creative NZ’s decision – that there could be bigger bangs for the 5000 bucks that might have gone to Sport. Without knowing the numbers, it’s impossible to judge and the people at Creative NZ are infuriatingly discreet. If Sport was selling only 50 copies, fine – but I think we should be told. Is there a journalist out there who can dig this out?

On the third hand. . . I can’t remember the numbers exactly but Quote Unquote usually got a grant from Creative NZ and every year we paid out to contributors, almost all of whom were authors, more than 10 times what we received in the grant. So there can be a multiplier effect with these grants. And, as above, there is a confidence boost to any writer, not just the beginners, when they are published in a magazine that is actually read.

I can’t see a commercial sponsor taking Sport on – but I have every confidence that it will survive. It’s too good not to.

So here are Godley & Creme with “This Sporting Life” from their 1978 album L:

Kyle Mewburn, president of the NZ Society of Authors, comments on Facebook:
Literature is, sadly (and rather short-sightedly, if you consider the wider social impacts), at the bottom of the CNZ priority list. It receives less funding than interpretive dance. The rapid growth in the number of “literary practitioners” over the last decade (which, I’d suggest, has been far greater than in any other cultural sector) has not been matched by any substantial increase in funding, rather the reverse. There is also no broader, long-term strategic planning – it’s simply a narrow box-ticking exercise exacerbated by the fact the boxes have more to do with cultural pretentions than literatrure, and nothing whatsoever to do with underpinning a vibrant literary scene. So ad hoc decisions/choices are made and the icing spread ever thinner.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Dusty Springfield: the Francis Bacon years

That frame around her is totally Francis Bacon crossed with Bill Culbert. Television set designers were artier then.

The B-side of Springfield’s 1970 single “How Can I Be Sure” is a cover of the 1968 Classics IV hit “Spooky”. That band re-recorded it in in 1979 as the Atlanta Rhythm Section, whom no one remembers now but were really good even by the standards of 1970s Southern bands.

Classics IV did it in F minor, thereby terrifying the guitarist; Dusty did it in A minor. Played double-time, it is pretty much “The Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression”, which Frank Zappa played in G minor. This version, one of many, is from Shut Up ’ N Play Yer Guitar and recorded in 1980 with Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. The piece is basically a duet for electric guitar and drums, so the versions with Chad Wackerman are, like, OMG awesome. Takes the piss out of Santana, in a good way.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Neil Finn in my favourite church

I am fond of St George’s at Gate Pa, aka Pukehinahina, because that was my childhood church where I was baptised and confirmed and it was lovely in the classic Anglican style (it isn’t now). I am fond too of Christ Church in Russell, the oldest church in New Zealand, which is even more austere than St George’s used to be and still has bullet holes from the unpleasant events at Kororareka in 1845.

Salisbury Cathedal, whose construction is recounted in William Golding’s The Spire, is another favourite. (The Spire is the best novel about architecture, ever. Yes, even better than that one by Ayn Rand.) Gloucester Cathedral has its good points, as do St Paul’s, the Duomo in Florence and the cathedral in Siena which has one of the great floors. In France, Notre Dame is creepy and Sacre-Coeur is vulgar. I haven’t seen Chartres or York Minster – last time I was in York was just after the bishop had declared that he didn’t believe in the resurrection and three days later a lighting strike destroyed the south transept so the building was closed for repairs. God is not mocked, even in Yorkshire.

But of the churches I have seen, St James’s in Picadilly is the best. It’s in a nice part of town, there is a decent bookshop around the corner, there are good shirt-shops next-door in Jermyn Street. Even better, William Blake was baptised there. Font memories! But the main thing about the church is the interior. It is lovely, and has carvings by Grinling Gibbons.
So here is the Daily Telegraph on Neil Finn’s recent performance there. Quote unquote:
The last time Neil Finn made a solo album was in 2001, when he released 7 Worlds Collide, but at last he has completed another one. Dizzy Heights will be released in February, and Finn has been warming up with some low-key dates, premiering his new songs accompanied by a small string orchestra.
The recorded pieces are intricate mosaics of tones and textures coloured with hints of Minimalism and electronica, occasionally reminiscent of Finn’s buddies Radiohead. In these live performances (with string arrangements by Victoria Kelly, who also contributed keyboards and backing vocals), the approach was more organic, focusing on the melodic essentials, with Finn’s voice squarely in the middle.
He isn’t one of the great rock’n’roll bawlers or a flashy vocal technician, but he sings with an unforced expressiveness which perfectly matches the wistful qualities of his songs. In My Blood, for instance, exuded a lingering air of nostalgia and regret, while Recluse was a meditation on the perils of isolation and of mistaking the internet for real life (“it’s people that you lose when you become a recluse”).

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What I’m reading #105

This, just because I like the idea of an Albert Camus book club, and also it’s an excuse to show that photo of the great man dancing. There is a story in, from memory, Olivier Todd’s biography, of Camus being in a heated argument with Sartre one evening in occupied Paris when a beautiful woman walked past the café. He stopped mid-sentence, leaped to his feet and ran after her. Scored, too.

Oz foodie Prick with a Fork is very sound on pasta – you and I know not to over-sauce but apparently Australians don’t – and delivers Sophia Loren on a plate.  

Paul Litterick on architecture for girls.

Polish writer Jacek Dehnel gives a jaundiced author’s-eye view of the kind of person who attends literary events. Quote unquote:
The negative obsessive has come because he has a passion, and there’s something he hates. Here’s one I encountered in Warsaw, for example: “What do you think of Tuwim’s poetry?” So I replied that I read it and think highly of it; then I said why and even embellished my answer with an anecdote about reading Tuwim. “But do you know that Tuwim was a Jew?” the obsessive digs deeper. I say that I do, and that so were lots of Polish poets, and so on. Finally he puts his cards on the table: “Don’t you think there are too many Jews in Polish literature?” I say no, I don’t, and explain that I myself was once included in an online “List of Anti-Polish Jews” (for translating Mandelstam), by which token I meet the worst expectations of the questioner, who demonstratively leaves. Of course, negative obsessives are not limited to the so-called Jewish Question; sometimes they merely have a bone to pick with the Municipal Parks Service which has ordered the felling of a poplar “which has stood here for thirty years, sir, and never hurt a soul – on the contrary, it has adorned our city!”
Jonathon Owen at Arrant Pedantry lists “12 Mistakes Nearly Everyone Who Writes About Grammar Mistakes Makes”, a response to the very silly “Grammar Police:  Twelve Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes”. He is sound on the foolishness of so-called rules, and gives good links. Quote unquote:
5. Turning proposals into ironclad laws. This one happens more often than you think. A great many rules of grammar and usage started life as proposals that became codified as inviolable laws over the years. The popular that/which rule, which I’ve discussed at length before, began as a proposal—not “everyone gets this wrong” but “wouldn’t it be nice if we made a distinction here?” But nowadays people have forgotten that a century or so ago, this rule simply didn’t exist, and they say things like “This is one of the most common mistakes out there, and understandably so.” (Actually, no, you don’t understand why everyone gets this “wrong”, because you don’t realize that this rule is a relatively recent invention by usage commentators that some copy editors and others have decided to enforce.) It’s easy to criticize people for not following rules that you’ve made up.
And also:
I may prefer serial commas, but I’m not going to insist that everyone who doesn’t use them is making a mistake. It’s simply a matter of style, and style varies from one publisher to the next.
As anyone who has worked for more than one magazine or publisher knows.

Continuing the grammar theme, David Thompson reports on a crushing injustice on a US campus in Don’t Oppress Me  With Your Commas.  Quote unquote:
by highlighting spelling and punctuation errors, the professor is contributing to an “unsafe climate for students of colour.” Reminding students of the basic rules of English apparently helps to create “a hostile and toxic environment” in Professor Rust’s classroom. Such are the mental and emotional traumas of the modern grad school intellectual. These, remember, are people studying for master’s degrees and doctorates. 
Malcolm Gladwell has a new book out and is on the cover of the current Listener because inside is a interview/profile (not online yet) which takes him pretty much at his own very high valuation. Personally, I think he makes Alain de Botton look deep. For an alternative view, here is John Gray in the New Republic. Quote unquote:
Pretending to present daringly counterintuitive views to his readers, he actually strengthens the hold on them of a view of things that they have long taken for granted. This is, perhaps, the essence of the genre that Gladwell has pioneered: while reinforcing beliefs that everyone avows, he evokes in the reader a satisfying sensation of intellectual non-conformity. […] Speaking to a time that prides itself on optimism and secretly suspects that nothing works, his books are analgesics for those who seek temporary relief from abiding anxiety. There is more of reality and wisdom in a Chinese fortune cookie than can be found anywhere in Gladwell’s pages. But then, it is not reality or wisdom that his readers are looking for.
Tim Newman on that Latvian supermarket disaster and what the government’s reponse tells us. Quote unquote:
Russians often like to disparage the Baltic states as being insignificant entities with no oil and minuscule economies.  That may be so, but in this last week Latvia has demonstrated more signs of a functioning, modern society and government than Russia has in a long time.
Mick Hartley on UK universities’ guidelines on gender segregation – yes, seriously, this is happening. It is not driven by Anglicans. Quote unquote:
But why should everyone's views be accommodated? Should a Nazi speaker's demands to have Jews separated out (but of course not at the back, now that would be discriminatory) be accommodated? For too many people in higher education the demands of Islamists just cannot be challenged, because they're......well, because they're religious "deeply held" demands?...because they're people from a minority culture and to deny them would be racist - or at least would allow the racist card to be played?...because they're not going to change so we have to? Or because they're not afraid to resort to intimidation? Whatever the reason, the rot seems to be spreading.
It can’t happen here. Who could imagine? So here are Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in 1966: 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Waikato Times letter of the week #44

From the 23 November edition of the Waikato Times:
Species integrity
Where is the SPCA to prosecute the TV3 programme Hamish and Andy’s Gap Year – Asia, and the Broadcasting Authority for the 7.30pm screening on November 18 of a cultural revulsion: eating fertilised duck eggs?
I can’t argue jungle law being jungle law, but I will spew venom on human obscenity. The issues is [sic] species integrity, isn’t it?
Evolutionary and devolutionary laws; yin and yang; generate and degenerate. Let that particular culture learn its poverty.
I say prosecute the ignorance that would screen this as entertainment.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Vote Wheen and vote often: Part 3

The scorecard today for the Beard Liberation Front’s 2013 Beard of the Year award reads:
Francis Wheen         53.64%
Jeremy Paxman       13.93%
Gareth Malone         10.6%
Other                          8.26%
Russell Brand            6.66%
Fancy that, Russell Brand rating as the mark of the beast. The online polling booth closes tonight, I think, New Zealand time. So vote here to make sure that the best beard wins. Do the right thing – vote Wheen.

The Beard Liberation Front is also running a poll to determine the Moustache of the Year, but that’s just silly.

300 pieces of Karl Marx

I know what you want for Christmas – you want a 300-piece jigsaw puzzle of Karl Marx, don’t you, but you’d given up hope of ever finding one. Well, I bring glad tidings – here it is at Amazon for a mere ₤19. Don’t say I never do anything for you.

Also available: Margaret Thatcher and David Bowie

Monitor: Francis Wheen

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bay of Plenty Times letter of the week

From Buddy Mikaere of the Pukehinahina Charitable Trust, which is organising a commemoration for 29 April next year of the 1864 Battle of Gate Pa,  in the 23 November issue of the BOP Times
Gate Pa commemorations
Your badly misinformed correspondent R Paterson has a real bee in his/her bonnet about the commemorations eh? Here’s my response to the “points” made:
• There will be no clash with Anzac day 2014 and R Paterson is welcome to join the “Maori” dawn service next year at Hungahungaturoa Marae at Matapihi to remember the many Maori soldiers who have fallen serving their country from the Boer War to Afghanistan.
• We have never used the word “celebrations” to describe the commemoration.
• All our events are free access to the public except for the commemoration dinner.
• I’ve tried to explain in words of one syllable or less how the community funding process works here in Tauranga. The failure of one individual to comprehend the process is a sad comment on my skill set. 
• Clearly the charitable trusts, businesses, service organisations, schools and individuals in the community supporting the commemorations have a different perspective to your correspondent.
 • I am writing a history of Gate Pa in conjunction with my Pakeha colleague Lt Col Cliff Simons. We will likely have a different perspective. But in conjunction with previous writings it will serve to constitute a composite history incorporating the eye witness accounts of people such as Hori Ngatai and bringing it up to date by exploring aspects James Cowan never contemplated e.g. the impact of the battle and its aftermath on race relations.
 • I don’t see how references to Pakeha and Maori have racial overtones – I am proud of my Maori ancestry and just as proud of my Pakeha ancestry (my whanau come from Normandy and went with William the Conqueror to England in 1066). Being brown and looking Maori means people automatically think of me as Maori rather than French Pakeha. I’ve managed to cope with the disappointment of that so far in my life! But I’m also extraordinarily proud to be a Kiwi in a land where more than any other country I know we have never stopped trying to make cultural differences part of our national heritage. You need to have the good fortune to be at Twickenham when the ABs lay down the haka challenge to appreciate and experience what that means. Fifteen v 80,000+ – bring it on bro!
• I invite R Paterson to meet with our Trust or myself anytime to discuss his/her issues. Buddy Mikaere Project Director Pukehinahina Charitable Trust
I am so looking forward to this book, and I hope to be at Gate Pa/Pukehinahina in April to attend the event. I was very lucky to grow up there. The image above is the flag of Gate PaI have ordered a lifesize replica. Every home in Tauranga should have one, as well as this home in Cambridge.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Metro on Roast Busters

Is it just me, or is this a bit ick? According to a well-placed spy in Auckland media, in the December issue of Metro the usually amusing “20 Questions” column kicks off with:
1. After the Roast Busters saga, should there be a new criminal charge: “Drunk in charge of a vagina”?
I used to write tasteless jokes for Metro, so can hardly criticise, and I’d always regarded the Holocaust as the only subject that was off-limits for “humour”, but actually rape is another.  

Waikato Times letter of the week #43

From the 22 November edition of the Waikato Times:
Threat to PM
I have had a sense of foreboding about the event, wherein John Key was blessed by a Buddhist cleric.
I have no problem with his visiting the temple, but to receive such a strangely worded blessing, “to be Prime Minister forever”, rings an alarm bell with me.
Eternity is a field that speaks of death, soon, to be able to attain what it has in store for the recipient. Assassination could well be used by malevolent persons. It’s a case of watch this space.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Neptune, Titan, stars can frighten

You try editing the most challenging Vincent O’Sullivan short story in his new collection while making a papier-mâché scale model of the solar system with an 11-year-old. I have not worked with papier mâché since I was that age, so am a bit rusty. Plus, the VOS collection was due at VUP last week and the solar system was due at school yesterday. No pressure. As Syd Barrett would say:
Floating down, the sound resounds
Around the icy waters underground.
Jupiter and Saturn, Oberon, Miranda and Titania,
Neptune, Titan, stars can frighten.
So here are Pink Floyd live in 1967 on the BBC’s Look of the Week performing “Astronomy Domine” and being interviewed by the combative, Vienna-born musicologist Hans Keller. It’s as if a Bob Jones version of William Dart were to interview Lawrence Arabia on prime-time TV instead of Concert FM.  Syd Barrett speaks and makes perfect sense; Roger Waters is pleasant. Two surprises right there.  

Keller, who smokes magnificently throughout, says of the band, “To my mind there is continuous repetition and proportionately they are a bit boring”. He complains that they play too loud but “Perhaps I am a little bit too much of a musician to fully appreciate them.” He concludes, “My verdict is that its a little bit of a regression to childhood. But after all, why not?" So, one might think, a dinosaur – but he knew they were loud because he had attended Games for May, the Pink Floyd concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall commemorated in their single “See Emily Play”.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Poet of the day: E.E. Cummings

 Or e.e. cummings, according to typographic taste. This is him in 1930 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The photo appears in Portrait of the Writer: literary lives in focus with a foreword by Goffredo Fofi (Thames & Hudson). It contains 250 photos of writers, each with a brief biography alongside. As the Spectator’s reviewer Christopher Howse writes:
The image is surprising. The defining feature is a wide-brimmed felt hat that Tom Mix might have been proud of, in the tradition of J. B. Stetson’s ‘Boss of the Plains’ creation from 1865. Cummings wears a neckerchief over an open shirt and is enjoying a cigarette, the smoke of which adds atmosphere. He is as spruce as a plainsman fresh out of the barber’s after delivering 300 head of Texas longhorns. The unknown photographer has smoothed over the skin tones.
The picture was taken three years before Cummings published his first verse collection. In 1920 he was busy with his memoir, The Enormous Room, about his experiences as an ambulance driver on the western front in the Great War and his three-month imprisonment while facing charges of spying. None of this is to be guessed from the photograph. Apart from the cigarette, he looks very unlike his image in later photographs, from which you might think he was a private detective.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Wintec Press Club: John Campbell edition

The Wintec Press Club meets for lunch three times a year in Hamilton: guests are the students of the Wintec journalism course, important media types from the Waikato and Auckland, Metro operatives, politicians, famous sporty types, and me. The speaker this time was John Campbell of Campbell Live.

The photo above is the cover of the book they produced this year, Lunch and Journalism: The Wintec Press Club, which has interviews with all the speakers and some of the more celebrated attendees over the last few years. From left to right, top to bottom: David Bennett (local MP), Michael Laws, David Farrier, John Campbell, Greg King, Te Radar, Colin Craig, Roger Laybourn (local lawyer), Michelle A’Court, me, Robyn Malcolm, Margaret Wilson, Jon Stephenson, Paul Holmes, Jesse Mulligan, Winston Peters, Carly Flynn, Colin Meads, Jacinda Ardern and Patrick Gower. 

I got there for lunch on Friday early, i.e. on time, entered the room and my heart sank. So it’s come to this, I thought – the only person I know to talk to is Winston Peters. I said, “The last time I saw you was lunch at Mike’s in Rarotonga in August.” He grinned, held up the book and said, “I was looking at this and thought, I recognise this fellow.” Pretty good, considering how long the Raro lunch was.   

There was mingling. There was Guy Williams who, I can reveal exclusively, is tall. There was Donna Chisholm of Metro and North & South, who kissed me and I liked it. There was Toby Manhire, David Fisher, Don Brash, Matthew Hooton and Russell Brown, who didn’t kiss me. I liked that too.

Then came an unapologetically anti-semitic lunch – ham wrapped in bacon, with a bit of asparagus on the side. Fantastic, obv, but not from an Ottolenghi cookbook. At my table were Hamilton East MP David Bennett, rowers Margaret Webster and Emma Twigg and some very pleasant others and lashings of pinot noir. 

To business. The hotly contested Wintec Press Club awards went to:
Writer of the year: Josh Drummond.
Friend of the year: Annette Taylor.
Sentence of the year: Jade Laan for (according to my notes): “Listening to Te Radar talk it is easy to imagine a dog snacking on a bull’s testicles.”
That’s $500 for 17 words. Possibly the highest word rate in New Zealand journalism ever.

Steve Braunias, our host, explained that the first speaker this year was Jesse Mulligan of Seven Sharp, a “lovely boy” but “his show is vile and revolting”. Even though, or perhaps because, Seven Sharp outrates Campbell Live. My report of that event is here.

Second speaker this year was Patrick Gower. I missed this one, because I was in Rarotonga having that long lunch with Winston, but apparently Gower rated. Steve: “He told a story that made grown men cry. I cried too.”

Then, introducing Campbell, Steve made the baffling claim that the reason Len Brown went on Campbell Live to explain his sub-optimal mayoral behaviour with Bevan Chuang was that “it’s the best programme”. Not because it was the softest option, oh no. I would have heckled but Steve – who is no fool – had seated me at the front table, hi-viz. If I’d been at the back…

Campbell was brilliant, I have to say.  He spoke for 20 minutes unscripted. He was very generous to the students and what they could expect from the industry, how he got to where he is, and stuff like that. Very impressive to give up so much of his time. He had to get back to the studio by car, not helicopter, and he hid it well but – it takes one to know one – was clearly very stressed. I can’t really quote him – Chatham House rules – but can say that he has very highly polished shoes. Unusual for a hetero guy to notice another guy’s shoes, but there it is.

He swore a bit. No, he swore a lot. More than Steve , which is saying something. He called Steve a “total f—ing arsehole” and later, on the same subject, “f—k that c—t”.

I was more shocked by his saying “congradulate” twice. And by this selfie: he described himself as “profoundly compassionate”.

On the other hand, he said, “There are brilliant bloggers in this room.” Bless.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

NZ Herald letter of the month

In which CK Stead comments on “this embarrassing delirium” about the Roastbusters. His first paragraph refers, I think, to the Mazengarb Report of 1954. I cannot claim to have read all of that report,  but am pretty sure it didn’t cover 16-year-old boys getting 13-year-old girls drunk so they could rape them.
Roast Busters delirium
I have arrived back after two months overseas to find New Zealand in a state of collective hysteria similar to a time I remember in the 1950s when the nation discovered that teenagers at Hutt Valley High were engaging in sex in their lunch breaks – with the difference, however, that it is now more or less universally accepted that if sex occurs between minors and there is anything unlawful, immoral or otherwise distasteful about it, the male is entirely to blame, and the female a victim.  
The police are being harried and bullied to press charges they do not believe they have sufficient evidence to sustain; and in the nation’s present state of mind, it is hard to see how any young person brought to trial could get a fair hearing or a just outcome. The press, radio and television should stop encouraging this embarrassing delirium. 
We should all step back, cool down, and stop sounding off as if the bad behaviour of the young has come upon us like the revelation of something new. It is time to change the subject. 
C.K. Stead 
Eleanor Catton comments on Twitter:
Rape culture is: people who want to shut down conversations about rape. From a NZ writer, this is disgusting. 
Charlotte Grimshaw writes in the Comments below:
CK Steads letter sets out an incorrect definition of the issue and then calls for the argument to be closed down. The issue is not, as he describes it, a moral panic about teenagers having sex. Everyone knows teenagers have sex. It is legitimate public revulsion to men bragging on line about having sex with drunk young women without their consent. The issue is consent. Sex without consent is not simply bad teenage behaviour, it is rape.