Monday, April 14, 2014

QUQ: a progress report

When I started this blog the intention was to put online material from Quote Unquote the magazine (1993-97) because, as Rob O’Neill, a contributor to the magazine, observed over lunch at Squid Row in December 2008, “If it’s not online, it doesn’t exist.”

Although he is a Fairfax journalist, Rob is not always wrong. I realised that all the interviews with New Zealand authors and other NZ literature-related material that Quote Unquote and its contributors had spent so much time on would be invisible to today’s students who think that Google is a research tool. So the next week Quote Unquote the blog was born.

The posts which are not from the magazine have been just a way of keeping the thing alive until the next blast from a past issue (and to amuse my friends). The main thing was to make available whatever was in the archives that might be of use to students and other interested parties. But I was never sure that schools were using it the way I had intended. Until late last month.

In one day there were more than 30 hits from a South Island school – not sure if it’s a single school, possibly from a content aggregator – on this post from 30 August 2012 of Kate de Goldi’s interview with Owen Marshall in the November 1993 issue. There have been other visits to the blog over the years from schools, and private queries to me from students who had been directed to me by their teachers, but never such a concentrated burst on one post.

Thirty-plus hits a day since then and 463 in total so far don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy blogosphere but are a big number at QUQ. Last week there were dozens more hits from schools on that post, and still they come. Good. It’s also good to see that students are interested in Owen, Kate or both. (Owen has a new novel, Carnival Sky,  out on 2 May. Just saying.)

Other recent visitors to QUQ have been sent by Google because they were looking for:
1. allen curnow skeleton great moa
2. shonagh koea
3. judith baragwanath
4. oscar kightley profile
5. topless strippers
6. guitarist dressed like zorro
7. 18th century philosopher chamfort.

The first five search items are indisputably New Zealand culture. I have no recollection of the sixth – it is possibly something about Gore or Taihape. The seventh is frankly French. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

So here is French singer Francoise Hardy singing “Suzanne” with French musicians and French people in the audience:

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Magazine publishing sentence of the week

From the Economist’s obituary of Khushwant Singh, who died on 20 March aged 99. In the 1970s he was editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India:
Over his nine-year tenure circulation soared from 60,000 to almost 400,000, more then the publisher could cope with; he was therefore fired, and circulation collapsed.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Uneaten whales

This week’s Economist has a report on the International Court of Justice’s ruling that Japan’s “scientific” whaling is commercial whaling in disguise.  Quote unquote:
Over 5000 tonnes now sits unsold in deep freezes.

I wonder how many whales that represents.   

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Poem of the week: E.J. Thribb on the internet

Private Eye’s perennial youthful house poet E.J. Thribb (17½) celebrates the WWW’s 25th birthday with this poem in the 31 March issue:

Lines on the birthday of the internet
Congratulations to
The World Wide Web

It is your 25th
Anniversary today.
Or so I read on
Wikipedia, so it
Probably isn’t true.

I would have
Double-checked in
A book bought on
The High Street,
But thanks to
You, that’s
Not possible.

                        E.J. Thribb
(73½, according to Wikipedia)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Topless Maori dancers

In case you aren’t a regular reader of the Daily Express, an English newspaper, here is a headline from today’s edition:
Maori dancers asked to cover up to not embarrass the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

The intro says:
Topless Maori dancers have been ordered to cover up so they do not embarrass the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their tour of Australia and New Zealand.

The story follows:
Male dancers wearing grass skirts have also been told to wear pants which goes against their ancient traditions.
Kate, William and baby George fly out this weekend for the three-week tour Down Under.
Tomorrow, when they arrive in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, they will be greeted with a Maori powhiri, a ceremonial welcome with the topless dancers.
Maori expert Tredegar Hall said: “For important occasions like this the women go topless. It’s tradition but because this is a big occasion they’ll cover up out of respect so they don’t embarrass Kate and William. Usually the men do not wear anything under the piupiu, the flax skirts, but because of the high-profile guests they’ll wear black undies to welcome them.” 
Kate, 32, and William, 31, are especially sensitive about the issue because Kate was devastated after being photographed sunbathing topless during a holiday in the South of France two years ago. 
They were staying at a chateau in Provence belonging to William’s cousin Viscount Linley. 
The couple will be greeted with the dances and a Maori ceremony in which they have to pick up a leaf, one of a minefield of customs they must negotiate.
According to tradition, if they pick the leaf up in the wrong way it could be deemed an act of war, with an international fall-out. 
They will also be offered traditional food including a native bird, the kereru, which is on the verge of extinction. 
Prince William is a keen conservationist who has campaigned to save the rhino and other endangered animals. 
The bird and other meats or sweet potato are cooked in hot ashes in a hole dug in the ground which is covered with a lid to function as an oven.
“They cook beef, pork and chicken, and kereru if they are lucky. It is a native bird that is nearly extinct because the possums and rats go for them,” said 25-year-old Mr Hall, a New Zealand-born leader of the haka. 
“The kereru is an endangered species. They will have to warn William if he’s having that.”
The titi, a sea bird from New Zealand, will also be on the menu along with local watercress called puha, fried bread balls and rewana, a Maori bread.
Kate and William have been learning the hongi nose-press greeting for when they meet the Maoris, another protocol the royal couple have to get right. 
The visitor and host press noses, then breathe in. Experts warn that if they do not perform it properly and step back too quickly, it is seen as a snub. 
“It’s a bit of a minefield,” admitted Mr Hall. 
“This is a sign of a warm welcome. Kate and William will do it at formal welcomes. It’s quite fun but if you pull away too soon it would be pretty rude.”

“Maori expert Tredegar Hall” is possibly the Tredegar Hall whose LinkedIn profile says he is an “Immigration Officer at New Zealand Immigration” in London. Previous positions were at the Tuwharetoa Maori Trust Board, Waikato Regional Council and Te Arawa Fisheries. So he is a Maori and is clearly having a laugh at the gullible English. The empire strikes back, etc.

Not counting the topless women and underpants-less men, how many deliberate mistakes can you spot?

Monitor: Buddy Mikaere

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What I’m reading #116

The Daily Telegraph interviews linguist Geoffrey Pullum about grammar Nazis. Quote unquote:
The trouble is, most of these rules are wrong. “I’ve never seen a book so bad on my subject,” says Pullum of Gwynne’s Grammar. “It’s the familiar old nonsense, modified through 200 years of rubbish, from teachers who didn’t quite understand it to students who understood it less.” Split infinitives, for instance, have been commonly used for hundreds of years. Another myth is that the word “none” is always singular (so you can’t say “none of them are coming to the party”, you have to say “none of them is coming to the party”), even though it’s been used since the 1640s and the plural version was the more common form for 300 years. There’s a similar ruling against using “they” to refer to a single thing. “That would mean that you’re not allowed to say ‘nobody seems to think the rules apply to them’,” Pullum says. None of these are uneducated mistakes or modern slang: as Pullum points out, William Shakespeare and Jane Austen use singular “they”. But still, a certain kind of person insists that it’s bad English.

Music to my ears. The Mozart clarinet concerto, say. Or a Haydn string quartet.

A Los Angeles Times editorial on copyright in the 21st century. Quote unquote:
It's appropriate that content owners bear the responsibility for enforcing their copyrights; after all, they're the only ones who know for sure whether an upload was authorized. But the notice-and-takedown system isn't much help against foreign sites that ignore takedown notices or neuter them by rapidly re-posting pirated files. One potential answer is for search services (e.g., Google) and copyright owners to find a way to allow the rapid removal of an extremely large number of links to sites that are offshore piracy hotbeds, cutting off much of their traffic. The challenge is to ramp up the takedowns without overwhelming sites with notices or removing links that aren't infringing.

Drama title of the year so far: a new play by Rodrigo Garcia called I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me of My Sleep Than Some Other Arsehole.    

Spectator editor Fraser Nelson writes in praise of sub-editors, specifically his magazine’s brilliant Peter Robins. Quote unquote:
I’ve worked for newspapers that have unwisely cut back on sub-editing. It seems to work, at first, because there is no immediate cliff-edge drop in quality. But the rot accumulates. Errors creep in that would have been unthinkable a few years earlier. Sloppy writing goes unchecked, flabby ideas go unchallenged. And even then, the newspapers don’t suffer immediate penalty – readers who have been with the same title for years put up with a lot, before giving up on it. But when they do, the reputation for quality is hard to win back. The management respond to falling revenues with even more cuts, which send even more readers into despair. This is what I call the cycle of doom.

Which brings us to John Drinnan, the New Zealand Herald’s media writer. Here he is on Wednesday reviewing Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report:  
Guyon Espiner and Susie Ferguson breathed fresh air into the new Morning Report today.They added some long lost assertiveness to New Zealand's only public radio breakfast show.The format for the Radio New Zealand show has only been tweaked.But the return of an assertive interview style is a blessed relief and may bring back lapsed every-day listeners like myself .With the lead story there are signs of a fundamental rethink of news values at the state broadcaster with the lead story.The story Peter Jackson's jet being chartered for the MH370 search – which was sort of interesting.But Morning Report seemed more enthusiastic than myself that it was the biggest story of the day.In the two pillars of news stories – important and interesting – to me it was fifth story interesting.It was a self generated story based on a tip given to an RNZ reporter and so unlike RNZ you can see why they used it so strongly.

No sub-editors were harmed in the production of that story. But a few hyphens were.

Danyl McLauchlan at the Dim-Post on the relative popularity of PM John Key and Opposition leader David Cunliffe, with graphs. Quote unquote:
Key has been running the country for almost six years and seems pretty good at it and Cunliffe is this guy you’ve never heard of who wants Key’s job, but the very first thing you heard about him is that he had some kinda dodgy secret trust and wasn’t straight-up about his first policy launch. It’s a bit like having an old friend and a total stranger dressed in a pirate costume both turn up at your house and ask to borrow your car. Who are you going to give the keys to?

David Thompson brings us the good news from academe:
Skidmore College, ranked as one of the nation’s most expensive private colleges in the country, is now officially offering a course on Miley Cyrus: “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender, and Media.” The 2014 summer course will be taught by assistant visiting professor of sociology Carolyn Chernoff. “I am interested in cities, arts, and social change, particularly on the level of social interaction and the production of ‘community,’” Chernoff’s professional bio reads on the school’s website. “I investigate the role of culture in reproducing and transforming social inequality, and research conflict around diversity and difference.”

Speaking of diversity and difference, if not Miley Cyrus, here is the cover of tomorrow’s Listener, starring my friend Deborah McKinlay and her brilliant novel That Part Was True. Hasn’t she done well! 


Books I shall not read #1

A Brief History of Whistling by John Lucas and Allan Chatburn, published by Five Leaves Press: ₤9.99, 196pp.

It is reviewed in the Spectator here; the Nottingham Post has much more. At least the book doesn’t come with a CD.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Yeah, nah: coasters of the month


I bought these in Cambridge last week, from my friend Carrie’s craft gallery. They were made in Raglan and are the most New Zealandy coasters ever. We all say “Yeah, nah” even if we think we don’t.

But I thought there was something missing.  “Yeah nah” has been adopted by some right-wing bloggers to depict Labour leader David Cunliffe as making inconsistent statements.  So these two represent the Labour Party. But I want balance. I need a coaster to represent the National Party.

So when I bumped into Carrie outside her other shop, Wholly Cow which sells meat from her and her husband Tommy’s farm, I commissioned another one. It will say “Look”. As in the full John Key prime ministerial “Look, yeah, nah.”

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Facebook comment of the month

Katherine Rosen, a student at Harvard, posts on Facebook:
Two assignments from a magazine journalism class last year (which counted for 3/4 of the final grade): a Q&A and a personal essay. I chose two exceptional subjects to interview, both authors in England. After multiple revisions and endless emails in to the wee hours of the night, our professor told us to cut our Q&A’s by half. The Q&A was a visual feast prior to being chopped, or so I thought. I read Strunk and White as an undergrad, and know to drop all adjectives and adverbs. Yet I still struggle with this. Any thoughts?
Ever generous, Francis Wheen replies:
Elmore Leonard’s fourth rule of good writing: “Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’…he admonished gravely.” Note, however, that he doesn’t say “Never use an adverb”. When I was running the New Statesman weekend competition, more than 30 years ago, Graham Greene wrote in to complain that one of our prize-winning entries in a competition for Greene parodies included an adverb. He challenged us to find an adverb in any of his books: it was a point of honour with him never to use them.* But why? It’s like a cook boasting that she/he never uses thyme. Presumably (sic) Greene disapproved of John Keats, who had his knight-at-arms “alone and palely loitering”; and, even more, of James Joyce, who included in Ulysses one of the loveliest adverbs ever minted: “The ghost walks, professor MacHugh murmured softly, biscuitfully to the dusty windowpane.” And here is the last paragraph of Joyce’s The Dead: “Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, further westwards, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” Would it be better without those adverbial grace notes? I’d say not.
[*Ha! “Never” is itself an adverb – though, like “seldom”, it disguises itself by not ending in “-ly”. This was a good enough disguise to fool Graham Greene. Apparently.]

Take that, Twitter!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Happy birthday, Aretha Franklin


Born in 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, the Queen of Soul is 72 today.

Here she is live on Soul Train in 1973, performing “Rock Steady” from 1972’s Young, Gifted and Black, her fifth gold album. I’m not sure how live this is, actually – the vocals look and sound it, but we can’t see the band who sure sound like Cornell Dupree (guitar), Chuck Rainey (bass) and Bernard Purdie (drums) and the Memphis Horns (horns, obv.), not to mention Donny Hathaway (organ) and Dr John (percussion)  who played on the album track. Whatever, it is imperishably glorious. Every home should have a copy of this album and 1970’s Spirit in the Dark. The later albums are, to say the least, patchy but anything on Atlantic is worth buying and the Arista albums have their moments, especially the first two. You don't need me to tell you how good the gospel albums are. After that, you're on your own. But always, that voice: