Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Janet Wilson on Frank Sargeson

Another reminiscence of Frank Sargeson from the November 1995 issue of Quote Unquote. This one is by Janet Wilson, organiser of the Katherine Mansfield Centenary Conference in London in October 2008.
Visits And Visitors
Frank Sargeson’s had been a name uttered in our household with reverence ever since I could remember, because my father Phillip was both a friend of his and an admirer of his work; he modelled his first published story, “Charlie”, on the example that Sargeson had set and received encouragement and support from him during the early days of his literary endeavours. As a little girl I gazed at the books in my father’s bookcase and remained fascinated by the title of one novel: I Saw In My Dream. What visions did one see in a dream, I wondered, important enough to write about?

On one of our rare trips to Auckland, the family accompanied my father to meet him. Our shyness and awe in his presence of this man was quickly overcome when he gave us a two-shilling piece each, unheard of riches for us. But when we all went outside to inspect the garden at the back of the house, my little sister Katie, then three, lost hers among the cabbages, and after our frantic scrabblings among the earth and leaves failed to find it, started sobbing into my mother’s skirt.

Sargeson, noticing a family drama going on in whispers behind him, stopped his conversation with my father, and led us back into the house, where, lo and behold, another two-shilling piece was produced, and the tears instantly ceased. Despite it being the obvious solution to the calamity this gesture struck me, at the age of eight, as an extraordinarily generous one; and even now I would see it as a sign of the concern that Sargeson so often displayed for those in any kind of distress.

I met him again, perhaps 20 years later, when I returned to Auckland to live and would sometimes drop my father off at the house in Esmonde Road on a Sunday afternoon, usually stopping to come in for a brief exchange and a glass of Lemora straight from the flagon.

But my most vivid memory of Frank came from our visit to the antiquarian and scholar, Ralph Bodle, who lived at Kaukapakapa. The trip was planned several weeks ahead with infinite care, my contribution being to provide the transport (I drove an old blue Morris in those days) and act as chauffeur.

My father and I arrived at Takapuna early on the appointed day, a November morning, bright and clear after showers. Frank emerged prepared for the journey with a thermos of tea, but also laden with several mysterious parcels wrapped in newspaper. He immediately gave me a $5 note to cover the cost of the petrol, waving aside my protestations, which I finally ceased after a warning nod from my father.

Wisely, as he had not driven with me before, he insisted on sitting in the back seat, and as the blue Morris bounced along the country roads past grassy paddocks and bush-covered slopes, my delight at visiting this unfamiliar hinterland of Auckland was fuelled by hearing my passengers’ reminiscences of earlier days. Before we reached our destination at Oyster Point Road, Frank asked me to pull in along a side road which led to a large farm extending back into the hills. We stopped by the gate, and here the meaning of the parcels became clear as he explained that they contained bones to be left at the gate for the farmer’s dogs, which we could hear barking in the distance.

As Sargeson walked towards the gatepost, the parcels clutched under his arm, a small stooped figure with hat aslant his head, and coat loosely hanging, I saw him for the first time in the midst of the raw environment about which he had written so powerfully: sinister-looking macrocarpa-clad hills, rugged outcrops, austerely sweeping contours of land, and the house set back from the road, partly obscured by trees. Here, I thought, is the true New Zealand farm, set on sprawling and untamed countryside, and with that my mind turned to thoughts of the Depression, the bleakness of life in this country in the 1930s, and its puritan repressiveness.

But the sobering recognition which this setting inspired, of how the man and his works had encompassed the darker side of New Zealand life, was quickly dispelled by Sargeson himself as he proceeded to entertain us with stories of the ageing farmer. He had recently taken a new wife, a mere 20-year-old, who amused herself in the mornings by bouncing on the newly acquired marital bed, up and down said Frank, until she exhausted herself, or woke her husband, or fell out on to the floor.

The North Auckland landscape soon yielded a kinder, more accessible aspect, for Bodle’s cottage, barely five miles further along the road, tucked into the hillside, surrounded by a profusion of flowers, was tranquil and welcoming. Our arrival was punctuated by the appearance of the ther¬mos flask, and we washed off the dust of the journey with some tea.

I paused to admire the banana passionfruit vine which was lovingly entwined with the hedge, but soon followed the others over to the rain tank where a family of frogs sat, barely perceptible at first against the moss and green slime, clinging to the moss-covered edges. We marvelled at their glowing jewel-green skins and softly palpitating throats until, suddenly alert to our presence, they dived in, then emerged unblinking, their long legs shooting out behind them like tails as they hovered around the sides of the tank.

One, sitting on the green vine in the middle of the tank, stared at us fearlessly, looking just like the frog prince, before suddenly disappearing; and Frank was moved to comment on how many people had misinterpreted the sequence in Memoirs Of A Peon of the tiny webbed frog’s hand grasping the broken edge of the leaf in the lily pool as it came up out of the water, as a gesture of survival.

But it was our meeting with the goat which really set the seal on our tour, and crystallised the day’s events for me. Tethered to a stake (she would otherwise eat everything in sight, Ralph explained), she came prancing forward to meet us, butting our legs with her horns. We stood in a semi-circle looking at her and discussing the intelligence of goats and their cleverness; but none of us was prepared for the sudden display of agility and energy to which she treated us.

By encouraging her to leap up, and by laughing at her eagerness, Frank must have inspired a burst of adrenalin, released her high spirits, or maybe she saw her chance to impress her circle of admirers, for then she was leaping and bounding through the air, hardly restrained by her lead, her long legs tucked under, then flying out in all directions. Over and over she jumped, twisted and turned, her feet hardly touching the ground. And for a few moments the day took on a heightened glow, sun and grass seemed to blend in to one dazzling picture of the huge white goat jumping endlessly and joyously, leaping through the air, just like the farmer’s youthful wife bouncing upon her bed, and our spirits, sharing in her abandon, soared and flew with her.

There were so many sides to a person and writer as gifted as Sargeson that it is impossible to convey the impression of a personal acquaintance, especially one as modest as mine was; but suddenly visible on that sunny day was the infinite presence of the man and the writer rolled into one, at one with his surroundings, and bringing to them a new sense of life.

So finally, this is how I remember Sargeson best; not just for his stories, but for the way he cherished the moment, and perceived something extraordinary in the simplest, most familiar features of the world, and how in so doing, he gave that world of nature – the green frogs, the white goat – the chance to revel in its own existence.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Kevin Ireland on Frank Sargeson

To mark the publication of Michael King’s biography of Frank Sargeson, who died 27 years ago in March 1982, the magazine Quote Unquote published in its November 1995 issue four reminiscences of Sargeson. This one is by Kevin Ireland.

How Far Is Friendship?
The streets of Takapuna are like ribs running out from the spine of Lake Road towards the beach in one direction and the mudflats in the other. Until the harbour bridge made this divide socially irrelevant, it served as a useful distinction for those who cared about such things. You either lived on the mudflat side or the beach side.

Frank was the first person who pointed this out to me, and it added in a small way to the subversive pleasure I felt when I visited him (at least once a week) in the mid-1950s, walking over from my family’s Rewhiti Avenue house to Frank’s little cottage halfway to the mudflats.

Frank was extraordinarily generous to all young people (and absolutely never exploitative or sexually predatory), and he was especially extravagant to me with limitless time, talk, food and books. After Janet Frame left for England he invited me to take over the army shed at the end of his section to do my first stint of fulltime writing.

So, some years later in London, it was a pleasure to feel that I was making a return for all that attention when I found myself part of a chain of coincidences that helped revive his career as a novelist. Through my New Zealand friend Neil Perrett, I met Martin Green, who was instrumental in getting Memoirs Of A Peon published, and Neil and I used to meet up with him in now-vanished Soho dives to fortify his resolve and feed his enthusiasm, and even have a drink or two.

In 1974 I was back in Auckland and one of my priorities was to drop in on Frank. Luckily, I was warned off by Tony Stones and Bob Dudding. Frank, they said, now had a telephone and he liked to be rung before a visit, even by old friends. He was also anxious, they added darkly, that since I had become a cosmopolitan I might come on a bit heavy and overpowering.

I rang, only for Frank to ask me exactly how long I would be in Takapuna, then to tell me that he wasn’t quite up to a visit, but he would get in touch when he felt he could manage it.

Days, then weeks, went by. Tony and Bob gave me updates on Frank’s health and disposition, and said I’d receive a summons shortly, but still no invitation.

Then, only a few days before I was to leave, Frank rang to tell me to call the following afternoon. I couldn’t have been more mystified – only to find, when he opened the door, that nothing had changed. Frank was as brilliant, perky and mischievous as ever. He opened a bottle of Lemora citrus wine, which he said he had gone to some trouble to find, and we passed hours in non-stop chat. It was exactly like the old days, except that every now and again he would drop in some reference to my having become a cosmopolitan. It was that word again.

Eventually, I objected by telling him appalling anecdotes against myself to prove that although I now lived far away, I was still an incorrigible Kiwi hick. Though I also contrarily pointed out that cosmopolitanism was one of the worst heresies against Stalinism, so where was the fault?

It was the single irritation in a marvellous afternoon. We were back on an old wavelength, so who cared about a mild touch of crankiness? Then, just as I was going, Frank said he believed my family had shifted – where had they gone?

Still in Takapuna, but further up the bay, I replied.

Still on the beach side? he asked.

Yes, Earnoch Avenue, I said.

That also puts them further up the social scale, he observed.

So far you’d call them bloody cosmopolitans? I asked.

He looked at me in surprise for a moment, then burst out laughing. That memory of Frank laughing is my last. The next time I was in town he was genuinely unwell and I took advice not to disturb him. I wish I’d been more cosmopolitan about it. I suspect my dear old friend could have done with a brandy.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Earth Hour

Kenyan journalist Aidan Hartley is making a film about India’s coalfields:
Outside, Jaria’s collieries are a vision of hell. Open-cast mining has destroyed the landscape, exposing seams of coal to the air so that they oxidise and then spontaneously ignite. The conflagration is out of control, spreading underground, spewing blue flames and poisonous gases from yawning cracks that swallow up entire villages. Chimneys belch smoke and coal dust hangs in a soupy smog.
It’s hard to see how turning your lights off for Earth Hour will make much of a difference, really. Speaking of gesture politics, the Age reports that:
the event, in its third year and rapidly expanding internationally, is being criticised from both the left and the right.

Aware of the criticism, Earth Hour’s organisers last year countered it with something concrete: businesses that signed up would need to pledge to reduce their emissions over the following year by 5 per cent. But this year, even that requirement has been dropped, and there has been no accounting of whether last year’s sponsors lived up to their pledge.

“We decided we’d actually downplay (concrete cuts) this time,” says Greg Bourne, chief executive of Earth Hour’s organiser, WWF Australia.

An analysis of the key sponsors of Earth Hour (among them Fairfax Media, owner of The Sunday Age) reveals that most have reported increased emissions in their most recent figures.
Monitor: Tim Blair

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Swedish Pirate Party

Those concerned about Judith Tizard’s s92A, which is most of us, may be inspired by the example of the Swedish Pirate Party which, according to Der Spiegel, will field 20 candidates in the coming elections for the European Parliament:
“If the politicians want to prevent ordinary citizens from sharing films, music and other forms of culture, they have to constantly expand the ability to monitor—because as soon as the authorities close down one culture-sharing facility, another pops up very quickly,” says Christian Engström, who is the primary candidate for the party.

Monitoring has already gone too far, Engström feels. “There is a law on the way in Sweden which is already in force in Denmark. Rights owners to a film, for example, can demand the name of the person who pays for an Internet connection if they are able to track a person uploading or downloading films illegally,” Engström says.
I can’t tell if these guys are linked to the Swedish copyright-busting download site The Pirate Bay, but the full story is here.

Suffer the little children

The Economist describes how, in the aftermath of the credit crunch, the very poor will get even poorer:
As capital inflows and export earnings vanish, poor countries face a mountain of debt: $2.5 trillion-3 trillion of emerging-market debt falls due in 2009—as much as the American and European budget deficits, plus Europe’s bank bail-out costs. The World Bank puts emerging markets’ financing shortfall between $270 billion and $700 billion.

Tragically, these problems follow a decade of growth that has lifted millions out of poverty. According to Martin Ravallion of the World Bank, roughly one person in six in emerging markets had raised themselves above the $2-a-day poverty line in 2005, though they still got less than $3 a day. Many may now slip back. Mr Ravallion thinks that 65m people will fall below the $2-a-day poverty line this year, 12m more than he had expected a month ago; 53m will fall below the level of absolute poverty, which is $1.25 a day—compared with 46m expected last month.

The consequence will be dreadful. The World Bank reckons that between 200,000 and 400,000 more children will die every year between now and 2015 than would have perished without the crisis.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Best newspaper headline ever

As quoted in Simon Louvish’s biography of Charles Chaplin, Chaplin: The Tramp’s Odyssey:
Film Comedian And His Moustache Return To Los Angeles Exuding Gold
Monitor: The Word

In praise of foreign ownership

Home Paddock takes Finlay McDonald to task over his Sunday Star-Times column objecting to foreigners coming here and buying land and businesses. (Personally, I found it amusing – a Pakeha complaining about immigration, and a weekly columnist in an Australian-owned newspaper complaining about overseas ownership. That’s beyond even Dim-Post’s powers of parody.) She points out that foreign investment brings benefits to New Zealand and New Zealanders, giving this example:
One of the farms we visited last week is owned by immigrants who brought a lot of money with them when they came. They poured it into their property and have worked hard to increase its productivity and improve it not just economically but environmentally. They employ other New Zealanders, send their children to local schools, are active in the community and have strengthened the economic and social fabric of the district.
I can give another example from the Waikato. The Walker family immigrated here in 2003 and bought 60 acres of rough, hilly farmland. Here’s what they are doing with it:
We are slowly converting our land from an extensive and neglected sheep farm to a more mixed and sustainable enterprise. We are finding the process incredibly gratifying, pleasurable and damned hard work!

Our aim is that the trees we plant should enhance the landscape, provide shelter for the animals, and timber for the holding. Our stock should graze next to and within the woodlands and be in balance with the capability of the land. We want our pigs to forage on the woodland floor, our sheep and cows to work the open pasture, and our goats and chooks to fit somewhere in between. We are trying to build a system which is as self sufficient as possible, working closely with nature, to produce high quality, really great tasting meat, vegetables and fruit. . .

In 2006 we joined an organisation called WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms and small holdings). This is a world wide network of farms and small holdings where the owners host travellers (“WWOOFers”) who receive food and accommodation in exchange for half a day’s help.

Here at Soggy Bottom we have so far hosted German, English, French, American, Irish, Japanese and New Zealand WWOOFers.
So it’s all free-range, organic and tourist-friendly – what on earth is there not to like about this? But if McDonald had his way, the Walkers would still be in England, the land would still be unproductive and I wouldn’t be able to buy the superb Soggy Bottom sausages at our local farmers’ market. The sausages clinch it for me.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Subjunctive Soul

Gladys Knight and the Pips with “If I Were Your Woman” on the Ed Sullivan Show, 7 February 1971.

This is what television was like before Pop Idol and Dancing with the Stars. Real stars, live, making mistakes but being brilliant. The band drops out at 1:00 and then her mike does too when it kicks in again at 1:22 until 2:00, but even so, it’s great stuff. I’ve no idea why they’re all dressed like Robin Hood.

Sentence of the day

Cactus Kate comments on reports that morale at TVNZ is low and explains why it always has been:
It’s largely a vacuous shit-hole of nepotism, a large casting couch, backstabbing bimbos, himbos, overpaid middle management who would sink the Titanic in weight - scattered with many very talented creative people who continually get shafted because they aren’t “in” with the “in”crowd as at the end of year balance date.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The English abroad

The Telegraph has a list of 20 of the most ridiculous complaints made by holidaymakers to their travel agent, taken from research by Thomas Cook and the Association of British Travel Agents. They include:
“No one told us there would be fish in the sea. The children were startled.”

“We bought ‘Ray-Ban’ sunglasses for five euros (£3.50) from a street trader, only to find out they were fake.”

“It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England it only took the Americans three hours to get home.”

“My fiancé and I booked a twin-bedded room but we were placed in a double-bedded room. We now hold you responsible for the fact that I find myself pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked.”

“There are too many Spanish people. The receptionist speaks Spanish. The food is Spanish. Too many foreigners.”

“I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.”

“We had to queue outside with no air conditioning.”

“On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food at all.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

As ye sew, so shall ye reap

The Week reports that recent prohibitions by the Taliban, Afghanistan’s equivalent of the Green Party, include:
any equipment that produces the joy of music, pool tables, chess, masks, alcohol, computers, VCRs, anything that propagates sex and is full of music, wine, lobster, nail polish, firecrackers, statues, sewing catalogues and pictures.
Sewing catalogues?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Das Kapital, the musical

Danwei, a Beijing-based website about Chinese media, advertising and urban life, reports:
Drawing inspiration from a best-selling Japanese manga adaptation of Das Kapital, Chinese theater producers are planning to bring Marx’s masterpiece to the stage.

Yang Shaolin, general manager of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center, told the Wen Hui Bao that, together with Fudan University economics professor Zhang Jun and other experts, he is preparing a dramatization of Das Kapital. They’ve already decided on a director: He Nian, who directed the stage adaptation of the hit martial-arts spoof My Own Swordsman (武林外传).

He Nian says he will combine elements from animation, Broadway musicals, and Las Vegas stage shows to bring Marx’s economic theories to life as a trendy, interesting, and educational play. . .

To director He Nian, Das Kapital and the theory of surplus value are serious issues, yet he wants to make them fun to watch.
But don’t worry, says Danwei, there will be no dumbing down: “the creators have expert consultants on hand to ensure the project stays true to Marx’s theories.”

If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, as Frank Zappa said, what is the analogy for singing about economics?

Monitor: Tyler Cowen

Sentence of the day

The higher nonsense, from Professor Donna Haraway, chair of the History of Consciousness department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in a paper titled “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others” (yes, “Inappropriate/d”):
Excruciatingly conscious of nature’s discursive constitution as “other” in the histories of colonialism, racism, sexism, and class domination of many kinds, we nonetheless find in this problematic, ethno-specific, long-lived, and mobile concept something we cannot do without, but can never “have.”
Monitor: Butterflies and Wheels

In praise of bogans

Tim Blair rises to defend his people. Among the many points he cites in their favour:
Beneath our dual-tone hair and within our illustrated clothing – as I write this, I’m wearing a t-shirt promoting the excellent Wodonga auto parts supplier Jappo Donks – all bogans are equal.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Fonterra blues

Funk, actually, and funny as anything: this is Texan guitar great Johnny Guitar Watson in 1977 with “A Real Mother For Ya”, predicting the Fonterra-Sanlu scandal:
Wanna buy a new car but the price ain’t right
Be a damn sight cheaper to start riding a bike.
They making milk out of powder
Got the babies crying. . .

The other side of Watson, the slow balladeer, is at its best here in “I Want to Ta Ta You”. He has a capo on the 11th fret, picks with his thumb and. . . well, just listen to that.

The UN discovers its true purpose

The Chicago Tribune reports that on Tuesday 17 March the UN will hold a panel discussion on how the TV series Battlestar Galactica has:
examined issues such as “human rights, children and armed conflict, terrorism, human rights and reconciliation and dialogue among civilizations and faith,” according to Sci Fi.

The “Battlestar” contingent on the panel will consist of executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, as well as stars Mary McDonnell (who plays president Laura Roslin on the show) and Edward James Olmos (Admiral William Adama).

UN representatives on the panel are Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Craig Mokhiber, deputy director of the New York office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Robert Orr, assistant secretary-general for policy planning, executive office of the Secretary-General.

The panel will be moderated by “Battlestar” fan Whoopi Goldberg.
You couldn’t make it up.

Friday, March 13, 2009

At least there wasn’t a taniwha

Michael Lewis reports for Vanity Fair from Reykjavík, “where men are men, and the women seem to have completely given up on them”, and tells how Alcoa, the biggest aluminium company in Iceland, wanted to build a giant smelting plant in 2004, but first:
it had to defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it. It was a delicate corporate situation, an Alcoa spokesman told me, because they had to pay hard cash to declare the site elf-free but, as he put it, “we couldn’t as a company be in a position of acknowledging the existence of hidden people.”

Sentence of the day

Mick Hartley on the impending civil war in Madagascar:
General Edmond Rasolomahandry... President Marc Ravalomanana... opposition leader Andry Rajoelina... Colonel Noel Ndriarijoana: newsreaders everywhere are praying for a swift resolution to the crisis.

Book of the month

The title is Birth Control is Sinful in the Christian Marriages and also Robbing God of Priesthood Children!! The author is Eliyzabeth Strong Anderson. The price on Amazon is $135, reduced from $150. The product description is too long to quote but does warn that (capitalisation and punctuation as in the original):
Those computer dictators strike again.

Monitor: Tim Blair

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sentence of the day

Stephen Streat on the woeful first episode of Diplomatic Immunity (TV1, Tuesday, 10pm):
Acting more wooden than a West Coast beech forest, script duller than the third reading after midnight of the Local Bodies Revenue and Reporting Requirements Amendment Bill -- Revision #3.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Waikato Times letter of the month

The Waikato Times is an excellent newspaper but its Letters to the Editor are the dottiest in the country. Here’s an example from the 9 March edition (not online yet):
Stop imports
The root cause of unemployment is employers moving local business overseas.
The only solution is to ban the import of goods manufactured overseas.
The NZ Army uniform order which was supplied by a local firm is now being supplied by China.
If the local manufacturers’ cost is high, the army should set up its own factory inside the prisons and put the prisoners to work for 10 hours a day and pay minimum Chinese wages.
The product will be cheaper, quality will be good, prisoners will learn a trade, and the money will circulate within the country.
Telecom and the banks should not be permitted to operate in New Zealand if they want to have their call centres overseas.
The Government should ban all imports including shoes and refrigerators, which will give birth to new industries in New Zealand.
It will provide more employment and consumers will not have to purchase the poor quality imports that flood the market. Ban imports for at least five years; it is not necessary for New Zealand to depend on imported goods. (Abridged)
Note that this is the abridged version. What can the original have been like?

Leaving aside the economic illiteracy – just for starters, why would other countries buy our exports if we don’t buy theirs? – and the resulting sadness at the supermarket with no pineapples or bananas to be found, could Mr Manoharan possibly be an import himself?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sub standards

Newspaper sub-editors tend to be literate but innumerate, and rarely check that the numbers in an article make sense. Those at the Sunday Star-Times seem to be geographically challenged as well. On page 12 of yesterday’s “Escape” section, Geraldine Johns writes about a café in Geraldine:
The address is a popular stopping off point for the Queenstown to Christchurch, or vice-versa, travellers during their 90-minute drive.
From Christchurch to Queenstown is 480 kilometres. To do that in 90 minutes you’d have to drive at an average speed of 320 kph, which even in the South Island is illegal. Unless you’re Helen Clark and you’re late for a footy game, that is.

A Swedish model

All libraries should be like this: Gunnar Asplund’s 1928 Stockholm Public Library. There’s a short film of it here, with English subtitles, showing exterior and interiors, furniture etc.

Monitor: Tyler Cowen

Friday, March 6, 2009

Christopher Hitchens on offending Islam

Lou Dobbs, the host of this CNN piece about the UN resolution on defamation of religion (i.e. Islam), is irritating but the blessed Hitchens kicks in at about 4:30. He reminds me yet again of what the Times said about a famously thirsty minister in Britain’s Labour government of the 1960s, that “George Brown drunk is a better man than Harold Wilson sober”. (The standing pop-up at lower left, “F*** Islam and their bitch ass prophet”, is unpleasant as well as ungrammatical but I can’t find a better version of the clip.)

In this column on Slate, Hitchens explains that:
the U.N. resolution seeks to extend the whole area of denial from its existing homeland in the Islamic world into the heartland of post-Enlightenment democracy where it is still individuals who have rights, not religions. See where the language of Paragraph 10 of the resolution is taking us. Having briefly offered lip service to the rights of free expression, it goes on to say that “the exercise of these rights carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to limitations as are provided for by law and are necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals and respect for religions and beliefs.” The thought buried in this awful, wooden prose is as ugly as the language in which it is expressed: Watch what you say, because our declared intention is to criminalize opinions that differ with the one true faith. Let nobody say that they have not been warned.
Monitor: Mick Hartley

Sentence of the day

The Believer giving its fifth annual Believer Book Award to Emily PerkinsNovel About My Wife:
A story that so perfectly sums up the zeitgeist of the late ’00s that if you could bottle it, like a perfume, it would smell like missed mortgage payments and terror.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Watchmen: the movie

The Dim-Post is right on the button here:
I don’t trust movie reviewers – they spend most of their lives watching terrible films so when something slightly less mediocre comes along they tend to praise it to the skies.
Now he has taken up movie-reviewing himself. He hasn’t seen Watchmen but says it isn’t any good:
I doubt any of the people making this movie actually ‘get’ Watchmen on anything other than a superficial level. They know its cool they just don’t know why. So they’ll try and stay as faithful to the source material as they can but in the process of adaptation they’ll be forced to make creative decisions that undermine the point of the characters and the story.
New Yorker reviewer Anthony Lane has seen Watchmen and says it isn’t any good:
Incoherent, overblown, and grimy with misogyny, “Watchmen” marks the final demolition of the comic strip, and it leaves you wondering: where did the comedy go?
Maybe Dim-Post could review some other movies he hasn’t seen – he seems to be quite good at it.

Sentence of the day

Teresa Nielsen Hayden on being a Mormon and then excommunicated (the full piece, originally published in Telos, is fascinating):
In my early teens I did take part in a temple ritual-baptism for the dead - that involved my getting dunked thirty times in an afternoon, in a great circular baptismal font supported on the backs of twelve life-size bronze oxen, on behalf of the inhabitants of a seventeenth-century Bavarian village; but that's another story entirely.
Monitor: Tim Worstall

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In bed with Barack Obama

Not everyone loves the new guy. This Frenchman at Viedemerde, for a start:
Aujourd’hui, ma copine est fan de Barack Obama. Pendant notre câlin, sentant l’extase approcher, elle a décidé de me motiver en criant : “Yes, you can! Yes, you can!” Eh non, je n’ai pas pu. VDM
There is an English-language (OK, American) equivalent of this Twitterish concept at Fmylife. An example:
Today, I was laying with my girlfriend on the couch. I looked at her and says “You’re so beautiful. How did I ever get you?” She replied, “I was drunk.” FML
Monitor: Rory Sutherland

Bedtime stories

It isn’t going to be the same post-Kindle, is it:

Monitor: Alex Tabarrok

Blossom Dearie

The great jazz singer Blossom Dearie died on 7 February, aged 82. I first came across her when I saw Linn Lorkin performing “Peel me a grape” and went to the source. She was amazing – even Miles Davis, who said some harsh things about white musicians, was a fan. You might have heard her on the soundtrack to Kissing Jessica Stein, My Life Without Me or The Squid and the Whale. Possibly you heard her duet with Lyle Lovett. She was still performing in 2006.

She had a girly wisp of a voice, a piano style that swung hard and that’s all she needed to entrance. With added Ray Brown on bass, Herb Ellis on guitar and Jo Jones on drums, as on the album Blossom Dearie recorded in New York in 1956, she was stunning. Quiet, but stunning.

I have never been able to find a copy of Blossom Dearie Sings Rootin’ Songs. Life is like that sometimes. Still, here she is performing “Surry with the Fringe on Top” some time in the early 60s:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Vileness in Cuisine

In the March 2009 issue, page 160, that fine food writer and restaurant reviewer David Burton channels Dame Edna Everage:
In the past, I must admit, I secretly sympathised with the Luddite naysayers, guiltily banishing my microwave to the back passage.
Still, all his books are excellent. Every home should have the lot. Here he is in a previous issue of Cuisine trying to persuade us that tripe is nice. It’s almost convincing.

Sentence of the day

From the Dim-Post, whose car was keyed this afternoon:
Obviously there have been amazing strides in anti-asshole with keys car paint technology over the last few years.