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.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In praise of: Kelly Ana Morey

Excellent news from the Michael King Writers’ Centre, which has announced its fellows for 2014 – Anne Kennedy, Alice Miller, Peter Wells and Kelly Ana Morey. Full details here, but this is what they say about Kelly:
Kelly Ana Morey, who will take up the Maori Writer's Residency, has written four novels, three social histories, a memoir, poems and short stories. She won the First Book Prize at the NZ Book Awards in 2004, received the Todd Writer's Bursary in 2003, the Janet Frame Literary Award for Imaginative Fiction in 2005, and was highly commended in the BNZ Short Story Awards in 2012.She also won the Copyright Licensing NZ Research Grant last year to research her novel about Phar Lap and she plans to complete the project while she holds the residency in 2014. She believes the book, called Daylight Second, is the first New Zealand literary novel about a racehorse. As a horse-lover all her life, she says the subject matter is in her DNA and Phar Lap is a great story. The book will also examine “why this horse meant so much to people, why they made him a Depression-era hero and a national icon for both New Zealand and Australia, and the passion and compulsion that drives people within the industry”.
I really like Kelly but she is the worst student I ever had. She attended an editing course I ran some years ago for the Auckland Writers Festival, and sat at the back of the room and talked non-stop throughout. Grrr. She must have been hell for her fourth-form teacher.

But she can really write. I read her first three novels in manuscript for Penguin and they all jumped off the page. The published versions are even better. It was high time she won a fellowship; and it is high time we had a new novel from her. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Report on experience #4

My wife is in Auckland overnight for a meeting of her glamorous media coven. For the children’s dinner I made the quinoa-crusted salmon dish from the first Ripe Recipes book. (I didn’t use quinoa – I am not that much of a wanker – but substituted panko. No complaints from the diners.) Now that they are in bed reading about ponies I am going back to work to edit a sex scene. I have edited many novels but have never had to work on an explicit sex scene before,  apart from the one in Danyl McLauchlan’s Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley, but that was comedy sex. This is… well, it’s a slightly odd way to spend a Saturday night.

So here is Tom Waits in 1975:

Friday, November 8, 2013

What I’m reading #104

There is a rule, which may even have a name, that the answer to any newspaper headline that is a question is “No.” Here is a recent example from the Guardian, a prime source:
Has David Birnbaum solved the mystery of existence?
Quote unquote from the article:
“To my mind, this is beneath my level of discussion,” he said. “It’s beneath your dignity, also.” His exasperation was understandable. He believed he had worked out what made the universe tick. How could questions about publishers’ logos or cheques for a few thousand dollars be anything but annoying?
Booknotes Unbound, from the NZ Book Council, will be a regular must-read for anyone interested in New Zealand books. Jillian Ewart of Booksellers NZ greets it here. Quote unquote:
A lot of work has gone into this, in both content and design. Visually it looks great – it is a clean, well-lighted place. Content is strong too, with author interviews, book excerpts of, for example, the new Fiona Kidman, and a round-up of reviews of The Luminaries with links.The news section is particularly good – there is a strong filter so what is published is relevant, at least to me. I like that – the signal-to-noise ratio is admirably high.
I completely agree with the person quoted who said that. He is seldom wrong.

Via Mark Amery on Facebook, Dean Parker’s response to Fiona Samuel’s letter to the Herald on Auckland Theatre Company’s treatment of women playwrights. This is from Playmarket’s email newsletter (not online that I can see):
I’d like to take Fiona Samuel’s comment at the top of the last Bulletin a bit further. Her comment was: “I want to see stories with complexity and depth that are about my own society and culture. In the struggle for funding, the money is going to the bright and the colourful, the lovely, the entertaining, and to me it's all cocktails and pudding. Where's the meat? Where are the vegetables? I surprise myself to be asking for vegetables, but that's what I want -- substance. I want to see substantial work, and I want to write it.” Years ago, ten years, eight years, I went to a play in Sydney about the war in Iraq. The play was written by English playwright David Hare. How it’d come to be written was the Artistic Director of Britain’s National Theatre called David Hare in for a meeting and said, “We’ve got to have a play about the war in Iraq!”  Now that could never happen here. Because, for a start, an Artistic Director would never call a writer in. Theatre here is not about writers. Writers are seen as similar to set designers; the writer has a function in the weeks leading up to a production but once the show opens, that’s the finish. Second, even though the Artistic Director might have known there was a highly controversial war going on in Iraq, they’d feel the subject matter somehow not really appropriate.  I was astonished at the treatment of Fiona Samuel’s 2010 play Ghost Train. It was a play that came out of those rape charges against predatory police gangs in Rotorua and the Waikato. What happened to Ghost Train? No one’d touch it. Everyone gave it a reading, but a production—no way. Look at Afghanistan. For a decade we had troops being killed there. One of our longest wars. But not one play about the war appeared on our major stages. And that’s the striking failure of theatre here.  If you wanted to know what was happening in New Zealand, what the undercurrents were, you wouldn’t go to the theatre. Theatre’s not really alive in the sense of being part of the national conversation. You’d never hear anyone on talkback radio getting furious over something they’d seen or heard about in a play. The main theatres are not writer’s theatres—writer’s theatres in the sense of new, local writing. They seem to be performer’s theatres. The paradox is if you ask performers what they like doing they’ll tell you—new writing.
Dwight Garner on the art of criticism. Quote unquote:
When I was an editor at the Book Review, the idea of writing for the Times would make some writers freeze up. You’d assign them a book, then you’d talk to him or her on the phone a few weeks later and they’d say, “Why did you send me this steaming pile of dog waste? This book is criminally bad.” Then the review would come in and it would be eight paragraphs of the most tedious plot summary topped by a word like “lyrical.” I was often in the position of gently reminding reviewers, “You’re not writing this for the author’s mother. You’re writing it for the tens if not hundreds of thousands of serious and inquisitive people out there who will be reading you.”
Eat Here Now on Coco’s Cantina, my favourite place to eat in Auckland. I have taken Bob Harvey, AD Miller and Vincent O’Sullivan there. All were impressed that upon entry a beautiful young woman flung herself at me and delivered a big kiss. (There is less to this than meets the eye.) Quote unquote:
When Coco’s Cantina opened four years ago, it somehow defined a moment in Auckland: these days, it’s everyone’s favourite bistro – and you get the impression owners Damaris and Renee Coulter prefer it that way. The music is loud, you will wait on Saturday night for a table and the waitresses still wear bright red lipstick. It is warm and comforting, the kind of place you should settle in for a befuddled evening over too much red wine. It is as good late on Tuesday as it is on Saturday night.Inside, a clutter of bric-a-brac and memorabilia and hand-written signs; outside red-and-white chequered table cloths. Next door is the newer Coco’s Barretta, part bar, part waiting area, part spillover on busy nights from the main restaurant. Their mum does the accounts; sometimes families of the staff might come in for dinner.It’s a cantina, see: rustic, homely and not very expensive. The polenta fries ($8.50) are a work of minor genius and so is the tiramisu. The steak ($31.50) is brilliant – it’s Scotch fillet, cooked medium rare and sliced, trattoria-style, with salsa verde and some of the best hand-cut chips you’ll ever taste. It is defiantly simple. So is the spaghetti with meatballs ($29), and the seasonal pasta of the day ($25). In the cooler months, there might be a slow-roasted pork belly with Italian slaw ($32.50). All the seafood is from sustainable sources. Auckland is lucky to have it. 
The polenta fries are indeed a work of minor genius.

Toby Young on bluffing. Quote unquote:
In my experience, the best way to bluff a girl into bed is to tell her you really fancy her and, if only you’d met her a week earlier, you would definitely be interested in her. But unfortunately you’ve just started seeing someone else. Works every time. 
Not everyone is a fan of Russell Brand. Alex Massie in the Spectator, for one. The headline “Russell Brand: an adolescent extremist whose hatred of politics is matched by his ignorance” may give a clue. Quote unquote:
Brand is entitled to despise the ordinariness of contemporary politics. But if you believe politicians really are just ‘frauds and liars’ then there comes a point at which your contempt for the governing classes must eventually spill into contempt for the people who elect them. Brand salutes apathy. It is, he says, the rational response to our present predicaments. Again, many of us sometimes think this. But we also think that sometimes even doing a little something is the best we can do. We certainly don’t think that the rationally-disengaged are, per Brand, wiser, superior, people to the poor saps and sheep who take part in our rotten democratic (sic!) process.Voting only encourages politicians, sneers Brand and again, of course, this is a sentiment to which many of us subscribe occasionally. But deep down most of us know that it’s a juvenile sentiment and a pose that, though good enough to win a laugh sometimes, is cheap and lazy. It’s all too easy.It is certainly easier than actually being a politician. But, in this country at least, most of our elected politicians do the best they can. Some of them will fail and some of those failures will be the result of indolence or stupidity. But most of the time most of them grapple with a job that, though one they asked for, is more difficult than most of us imagine most of the time.
Ashleigh Young goes to Feilding, kinda. Kauwhata marae, which seems to be near Bunnythorpe, maybe. Out of comfort zone, certainly. And she writes a brilliant report. Quote unquote:
Naomi, eight, has an asymmetrical haircut and a toothache. ‘Mum keeps forgetting to ring the dentist.’ She swings between laughter and whole-hearted misery because of her sore tooth. She’s the daughter of one of Paul’s brothers. When I’m in the wharenui, writing in my notebook, mostly because I’ve run out of steam and feel too shy to keep talking to everyone, she sits next to me. Because I wasn’t quick enough, I’ve ended up with the mattress right next to the deceased man Paul’s empty mattress – there’s a photo of him in a frame propped against a pillow. Naomi strokes the photo and says, ‘Hello Paul.’ Then she asks me to sing something, and we battle about this for around twenty minutes. ‘Aue, please! I’ll sing if you sing. What if we go over to that corner where no one can hear?’ ‘No, I just really don’t want to sing. I only sing when there’s no one around.’ ‘But what if I block my ears?’ ‘Then there’s no point.’ ‘What if you sing some Miley Cyrus? I don’t know what it’s called, but that song. I really like that song.’ ‘I don’t like Miley Cyrus that much. You can sing that song, though, if you want, and I’ll listen.’ She starts half-laughing, half-singing, then buries her head in a pillow. ‘I can’t do it!’ This conversation is repeated several times. Whenever I sit down outside the wharenui to put on my shoes she sits next to me. ‘Do those shoes really fit your feet?’ She hugs me a lot. ‘You’re warm. Have you been sitting the sun?’ When we sit down after being welcomed back onto the marae, after the unveiling of Paul’s headstone at the cemetery, she sits next to me and presents a crumpled cleansing wipe like one you’d get on a plane. She wipes my hands with it and grins up at me. Then, during the speeches, she wipes my bare legs, meticulously, as if she’s dusting furniture. I can’t really do anything so I just sit there being wiped.
An obituary  of a great left-wing blogger, Norman Geras. Quote unquote:
Both Norm’s intellectual talent and his moral clarity made him a beloved and important figure on what is sometimes called Britain’s “decent Left”—men and women who believe in social-democratic principles and are also consistently anti-totalitarian, opposing tyranny and tyrannical violence whoever commits it. This group includes writers and thinkers like Nick CohenDavid AaronovitchEve GarrardOliver Kamm, and Francis Wheen, and serves as a modern analog to the anti-Stalinist New York intellectuals of the mid-20th century. Much of their energy focused on opposing terror and tyranny arising from radical Islam and its Western apologists.Norm served as one of the intellectual and political leaders of this informal group. His blog and its considerable influence culminated in his co-authorship of the Euston Manifesto in 2006. The manifesto was a collaboration between around 20 members of the “decent Left,” with Norm as the principal author. It called for a “fresh political alignment” according to 15 categories, including democracy, equality, internationalism, universal human rights, and opposition to tyranny, terrorism, and racism. One of the things that set it apart was its emphasis on anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism as forms of bigotry equally dangerous as others emphasized by the Left. It sought, in other words, to purge progressive thought of its most self-defeating tendencies.
Which brings us back to Francis Wheen and the Beard of the Year contest. Have you voted yet? Here is why you should vote Wheen, as I have along with some of New Zealand’s finest poets, novelists and journalists. You will be in exalted company. Vote here.

Speaking of beards, here are bearded guitarist Billy Gibbons (pinched harmonics! which I can do, did I ever mention that?) and bearded bassist Dusty Hill with beardless drummer Frank Beard:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Vote Wheen and vote often: Part 2

The scorecard today for the Beard Liberation Front’s 2013 Beard of the Year award reads:
Francis Wheen         56.39%
Jeremy Paxman       14.29%
Gareth Malone         14.04%
Other                              9.52%
It’s looking good but let’s not be complacent, people. Vote here to make sure that the best beard wins. Do the right thing – vote Wheen!

Stealing “The Luminaries”

I was curious, so I downloaded the ePub file of Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker-winning The Luminaries from [insert name of illegal download site]. I own a copy of the book – hardback, signed by the author – so it’s hardly a lost sale. And as a board member of Copyright Licensing NZ I was curious to see what people get when they nick these things.

Then I had to download a new program so I could open the file, as I don’t have an ebook reader. This was a mission, because every program free to download was so clearly full of spyware and dodginess. Eventually I found a trial version of a kosher one on CNet, which is a trustworthy provider, and clicked to open.

Horrible, horrible, horrible. I’m sure the novel looks fine on a Kobo or Kindle or whatever as an ebook, but on a PC screen – no. Far easier to buy the dead-tree version.

But I did like this, on the very last page, faithfully reproduced:
All rights reserved. This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publisher, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorized distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights, and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
It’s always good to see copyright acknowledged. So here is Alanis Morissette:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Vote Wheen and vote often

Francis Wheen is not a household name in New Zealand but he should be. He has been mentioned here before as biographer of Marx (he talks in a TV interview about the book here); author of How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World; long-time mainstay of Private Eye; and a frequent entertainer on English TV and radio. His very amusing Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion is a permanent fixture on the bedside table of our guest room.
Clive James says of him:
His gift for invective can be uncomfortable for those who find themselves on the other end of it, as I know to my cost, but there is no denying the continuing relevance of his fine anger. His book Hoo-hahs and Passing Frenzies: Collected Journalism 1991-2001, which came out in 2002, remains a model of the genre: it deservedly won the 2003 George Orwell prize. To hindsight, the book, from which the pieces featured here are taken, proves that Wheen, while blazing away at all the expected targets, was already preparing himself for a new impatience: the Left, to which he nominally belonged, was starting to worry him with its incurable yearning for something more decisive than democracy. This new impatience broke into the clear when he gamely pilloried his own newspaper, the Guardian, for apologising – cravenly, in Wheen’s view – to Noam Chomsky over its supposed misrepresentation of his views on the massacre in Srebrenica. Wheen was a valuable addition to the list of signatories on the Euston Manifesto in 2006. The manifesto marked the point when a left-within-the-left lost patience with the host body’s sympathy for any force, no matter how extreme, that might embarrass the Western democracies. Along with Nick Cohen and Christopher Hitchens, Wheen became a target for unreconstructed radical journalists who found their breakaway colleagues guilty of Liberal Universalism. It was an accusation that Wheen, in particular, was well equipped to counter with learned scorn. As a Marxist who had actually read Marx (his biography of Marx was another prize-winner), he has the advantage of being able to provide his own theoretical back-up. But finally what makes him stand out is his inclusive style, sensitive to everything that is happening, and sometimes, remarkably, to what will happen next.   
Francis has been laid-up for a while post-op – very serious post-op – and is unable to shave, so he now sports a magnificent beard, Marxian in its magnificence. It is so magnificent that he is a nominee for the Beard Liberation Front’s 2013 Beard of the Year award.

Other nominees include Billy Bragg, Tony Benn, Jeremy Paxman and Michael Eavis, the bloke who runs Glastonbury, so the competition is fierce. The shortlist will be announced on 28 November, and the winner on 28 December.

Francis has appointed me his New Zealand campaign manager, so let’s get out the vote. I hope that all my friends will vote, even those in the VRWC, plus the entire population of Australia. You can vote here at Keith Flett’s blog (“bloggings about beards, beer & socialism”), as long as you vote Wheen. I have promised him a host of post-colonial votes.

So here are the Beatles in their last live performance with “Don’t Let Me Down”:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bill Manhire has a new fan

This afternoon I took my 88-year-old mother to the Tauranga Arts Festival to hear Hannah Griffin sing Norman Meehan’s songs that set the poems and lyrics of Bill Manhire. It was a great show and if you ever get the chance to see it, don’t miss it. Mum liked Hannah Griffin’s singing, appreciated Norman Meehan’s piano playing, but she really liked seeing and hearing Bill Manhire reading his poems. She was very taken with Bill.

So after the show I introduced her to him. This is possibly the first time I have ever impressed my mother. 

Opportunity knocks at the NZ Society of Authors

The NZSA is looking for a new executive director. So if you are looking for a challenge. . . The organisation has been dysfunctional for several years but wouldn’t be hard to fix, as there is a surprisingly deep reservoir of goodwill from the rest of the sector.  
You get to travel around the country, meet famous people, and make a difference to a small but, in the context of New Zealand’s literary/publishing world, important organisation. Apart from that, it’s a simple matter of  herding cats. Here is the ad:
Executive Director
NZ Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc)
Work type: Arts Administration
Contractor: 30-40 hours (negotiable)
Location: Negotiable
Base Salary : $55 - $65,000 (negotiable)
Brief job description:
The NZ Society of Authors is seeking a highly motivated and capable person to help lead it into a second successful 80 years of service to writers.
We are seeking excellence in:
Knowledge of the NZ literary scene
Arts management
Communication and media skills
Liaison, lobbying and fundraising
Research, report-writing and the creation of business plans
You will report to the NZSA president and board and oversee an operations manager responsible for administration. 
You will need to be highly innovative and collaborative as the NZSA refocuses on how best to continue serving its more than 1200 members throughout the country.
Closing date: 5pm Friday, November 22
To receive a copy of the full job description please contact:
So here are the Silhouettes in 1958 with “Get a Job”: