Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why am I singing in a fish tank?

A good question, posed here in this literal version of Radiohead’s “No Surprises”:

More irreverence for Beatles fans here with a literal version of "Penny Lane":

and even if you aren’t a Beatles fan, this treatment of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” may amuse:

Why has NZX bought CPL?

I vaguely registered from this post at Home Paddock that some outfit called NZX had bought Feilding-based Countrywide Publications, which puts out seven titles aimed at farmers. They’re quite good and when my wife and I briefly considered moving to Feilding, CPL seemed a possible source of income for me. I did wonder who NZX were, and thought it odd that they had the same corporate initials as the NZ Stock Exchange.

Now all is revealed – it is the same NZX. Why on earth would Mark Weldon want to buy a rural publishing business? Cactus Kate has a very plausible theory, and it is a bit disturbing:
See now NZX own the editorial content of every publication that FOC (Father of Cactus) wades through and trusts as the primary trusted source of rural information. Watch for these publications to cement a firm pro-listing editorial view for Fonterra. The Fonterra Chairman is already on the NZX Board and a Fonterra listing is the NZX's wettest dream. The key to the future. And cashing out those share options that they all seem to have a hand in the pie with respect to as listed in great detail in the accounts.

Poetry Month

Home Paddock regularly posts poems – I do hope she has copyright clearance for them – and her latest points out that April is Poetry Month, which I didn’t know. There has been no sign of it here in Waipa. But as this is the last day of April and thus the last reason to post a poem, here is the only one I know by heart. It is by Denis Glover. I can’t remember the title, and can’t find my Glover Collected Poems, but it goes like this (punctuation probably inaccurate):
I’m an odd fish
A no-hoper
Among men, a snapper
Among women, a groper.
Come to think of it, I can remember another one by heart. It is by my old friend (and old law lecturer) Bernard Brown from his recent collection Sensible Sinning:
There was an old cove from Waipu
Whose limericks all stopped at line two.

In praise of Friedrich Engels

Many years ago I struggled through Stage II Political Philosophy, for which I had to read not only a lot of Marx but also some Engels. It was the most boring guff I have ever read, and that’s saying something. I assumed that they must have been crashing bores themselves. That probably is true of Marx, but a different picture of the co-author of The Communist Manifesto emerges from this piece in the Spectator by Tristram Hunt, author of The Frock-Coated Communist, a new biography of Engels to be published tomorrow (May Day, naturally). We learn that on his 70th birthday:
‘We kept it up till half past three in the morning,’ he boasted to Laura Lafargue, daughter of his old friend Karl Marx, ‘and drank, besides claret, sixteen bottles of champagne — that morning we had had 12 dozen oysters.’

This was not an isolated act of indulgence. During the 1870s his Primrose Hill home had become a popular venue for socialist excess. ‘On Sundays, Engels would throw open his house,’ recalled the communist August Bebel. ‘On those puritanical days when no merry men can bear life in London, Engels’s house was open to all, and no one left before 2 or 3 in the morning.’ Pilsner, claret, and vast bowls of Maitrank — a May wine flavoured with woodruff — were consumed while Engels sang German folk-songs or drunkenly recited ‘The Vicar of Bray’.
He was also a bit of a shagger:
‘If I had an income of 5,000 francs I would do nothing but work and amuse myself with women until I went to pieces,’ he wrote to the more monogamous Marx. ‘If there were no Frenchwomen, life wouldn’t be worth living. But so long as there are grisettes, well and good!’
He was no chardonnay socialist – he was a champagne communist. Even Cactus Kate might have enjoyed his company.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wankers I have met

They say: “I’m writing a book.”

I say: “No you’re not, you’re writing a manuscript.”

Sentence of the day

I almost wish I was back in the Mt Albert electorate to vote in the by-election, even though I wouldn’t be able to vote for Helen for the fourth time in a row. Dim-Post comments on Labour’s response to another David Farrar scoop of the MSM on Kiwiblog in his reporting of probable candidate David Shearer’s experience-based views of the utility value of mercenaries:
Watching the Labour Party match wits with Farrar is like watching a band of drunks try and play tennis against Serena Williams without racquets.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Paragraph of the day

‘It is the role of key staff within my office to dispense tequila and lime juice to the minister and visiting dignitaries as requested,’ McCully said. ‘Although it is not mandatory that they allow salt to be licked from their stomachs it is expected and will be noted in performance reviews.’
Dim-Post reveals what really goes on in the Foreign Affairs Minister’s office.

In search of the Golden Fang

It’s been awhile since Doc Sportello has seen his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly out of nowhere she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. Easy for her to say. It’s the tail end of the psychedelic sixties in L.A., and Doc knows that “love” is another of those words going around at the moment, like “trip” or “groovy,” except that this one usually leads to trouble. Despite which he soon finds himself drawn into a bizarre tangle of motives and passions whose cast of characters includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, a tenor sax player working undercover, an ex-con with a swastika tattoo and a fondness for Ethel Merman, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists.
You know what this means - yes, just under three years since Against the Day there’s a new novel on its way from Thomas Pynchon. Inherent Vice will be published in the US on 4 August.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Climate Change Consensus Change

Alex Tabaroff recalls a post of his on Marginal Revolution from 20 October 2003. In it he describes taking his children to see the dinosaurs in the Smithsonian Institution the day before, and coming across an exhibit on the ice age that included this statement:
Initiation of glacial conditions may be triggered by surprisingly rapid climate changes. Therefore, the minor global cooling trend of recent decades. . . is being carefully watched and studied. Already the effects on food production are severe in many parts of the world.. . . We are now in a relatively warm period (“interglacial”) following one of several major glacial periods. It is not certain when the present interglacial period will end but. . . imagine the impact of another full scale glacial advance like that just a few thousand years ago!
He comments that “the ‘scientific consensus’ on global climate change has been much more variable than the climate”.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sentence of the day

In case you didn’t already know, my former colleague Poneke is back blogging. To celebrate the occasion, here is a line from his latest post on climate change:
Selling “carbon offsets” is nothing more than a resurrection of the religious “indulgences” sold by churches in Europe 1000 years ago, whereby those who had “sinned” could buy an “indulgence” from the church to cleanse the sin.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

UN racism conference

Kiwiblog and Home Paddock comment briefly on the absurd UN racism conference which New Zealand is not attending, along with Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the US.

The Herald and Stuff have reported the usual idiocy from Iran’s president but not, as far as I can see, the speech by Ashraf Ahmed El-Hojouj, the Palestinian doctor whom Libya falsely accused in 1999 of infecting children with HIV. UN Watch reports that:
Mrs. Najjat Al-Hajjaji, the Libyan chair, made every mistake. She interrupted the witness at 3 different points — and then gave Libya (!) the floor to make an objection, and finally cut him off. But nevertheless he got in the important parts. The room was gripped. It was the top story on Swiss TV news tonight (TSR).
This is what Dr El-Hojouj said:
Thank you, Madame Chair.
I don’t know if you recognize me. I am the Palestinian medical intern who was scapegoated by your country, Libya, in the HIV case in the Benghazi hospital, together with five Bulgarian nurses.
Section 1 of the draft declaration for this conference speaks about victims of racism, discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. Based on my own suffering, I wish to offer some proposals.
Starting in 1999, as you know, the five nurses and I were falsely arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned, brutally tortured, convicted, and sentenced to death. All of this, which lasted for nearly a decade, was for only one reason: because the Libyan government was looking to scapegoat foreigners.
Madame Chair, if that is not discrimination, then what is?
On the basis of my personal experience, I would like to propose the following amendments regarding remedies, redress and compensatory measures:
One: The United Nations should condemn countries that scapegoat, falsely arrest, and torture vulnerable minorities.
Two: Countries that have committed such crimes must recognize their past, and issue an official, public, and unequivocal apology to the victims.
Three: In accordance with Article 2, paragraph 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, such countries must provide victims of discrimination with an appropriate remedy, including adequate compensation for material and immaterial damage.
Madame Chair, Libya told this conference that it practices no inequality or discrimination.
But then how do you account for what was done to me, to my colleagues, and to my family, who gave over thirty years serving your country, only to be kicked out from their home, threatened with death, and subjected to state terrorism?
How can your government chair the planning committee for a world conference on discrimination, when it is on the list of the world’s worst of the worst, when it comes to discrimination and human rights violations?
When will your government recognize their crimes, apologize to me, to my colleagues, and to our families?
This week, at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy, the five nurses and I will present our complaint and compensation claim against Libya, filed with the UN Human Rights Committee, the highest international tribunal for individual petitions.
The slogan for this Conference is “Dignity and justice for all.” Does this include your own country’s victims of discrimination?
Thank you, Madame Chair.
Monitor: Mick Hartley

Friday, April 17, 2009

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

#4 in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the November 1996 issue, one of a series I wrote called “What the hell is. . .?” which described to readers some elements of popular culture they might have heard of but had been lucky enough to avoid. This one tackles the collected works of relationship guru John Gray. (I was right to be sceptical about his PhD – it was “awarded” after he completed a correspondence course with the degree mill Columbia Pacific University, which has since closed.)
What the hell is Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus?

Men and women are different. John Gray PhD (subject and university unspecified) says so, and he has written five bestsellers on the subject, starting with Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. There are also three talking books and even a 1997 desktop calendar with an “insight” a day from the latest in the series, Mars And Venus: Together Forever, a revised version of What Your Mother Couldn’t Tell You And Your Father Didn’t Know.

If you think the latter title sounds a trifle patronising, get a load of the book: as you read it, says Gray, “you may wonder how anybody succeeds in having a successful relationship without it”. In the acknowledgements he thanks his daughters “for their love and admiration” and his brother for “understanding my feelings and admiring my work”.

From the calendar, January 1: “For the first time in recorded history, men and women look to each other for love and romance, not survival and security. Happiness, intimacy and lasting passion are now requirements for fulfilling relationships.” This sets the tone: ignorant of both history and a world outside affluent middle America. The sexism comes later.

January 2: “What your mother couldn’t tell you and your father didn’t know is how to satisfy your partner’s emotional needs without sacrificing your own personal fulfilment. This new agenda can be accomplished only through the practice of advanced relationship skills.” In other words, if only our poor parents had read Gray’s books and listened to the tapes.

“Never before have relationships been so difficult for men.” How could he possibly he know? “Modern women are overworked, overstressed and commonly feel unsupported and overwhelmed with good reason. At no other time in history has so much been expected of them.” No other time? Not the Middle Ages? The Industrial Revolution? Mammoth-hunting season?

The apocalyptic tone is catching. I’d say that at no other time in history have we been subjected to so much phoney bullshit.

What is true in these books is banal. Unconditional love means sticking around through the bad times, despite your partner’s occasional grumpi¬ness. Say what you feel and think tactfully, in terms your partner can understand. That’s about it.

Men are fragile creatures needing constant support: “To offer a man unsolicited advice is to presume that he doesn’t know what to do or that he can’t do it on his own. Men are very touchy about this, because the issue of competence is so very important to them. Asking for help when you can do it yourself is perceived as a sign of weakness.”

This is why men will never stop to ask directions: “Mary had no idea that when Tom became lost and started circling the same block, it was a very special opportunity to love and support him.” Most women I know would think it was a very special opportunity to tell him not to be an idiot.

In Men Are From Mars Gray lists 101 ways to score points with a woman, such as put the rubbish out, offer to build a fire in wintertime, occasionally offer to wash the dishes, wash before having sex. Well, maybe it’s worth a try. . . Then there are the 101 ways a man can “keep his partner’s love tank full”, among them offer to carry the groceries, compliment her cooking (in Gray’s world women cook, men compliment), buy her flowers, even “make her a cup of tea”. In a restaurant, he should ask her what she’d like and order it for her. This “makes dinner special”.

A woman, on the other hand, scores 10-20 points when “she is happy to see him when he gets home”; 20-30 points when he gets lost (again – can American men not read maps?) and she says, “We would never have seen this beautiful sunset if we had taken the most direct route”; up to 40 points if she really enjoys having sex with him and “shares her negative feelings in a centred way”.

Mars And Venus In The Bedroom aims to teach “advanced bedroom skills”. One good thing for a woman to say is, “I’m feeling really wet.” There’s a wider range for men, from “Your earrings are really great” and “You are so stunning” to “I love your legs” and “You are so hot”.

And there’s a revealing glimpse of the Grays’ home life: “Sometimes when my wife is really tired and goes to bed without cleaning the kitchen, I will stay and do the dishes. When she gets up the next morning and finds a clean kitchen, she feels an incredible mixture of joy and relief. In an instant, her love for me dramatically goes up. On many occasions, she has come back upstairs to awake me in the most delightful manner. As she gently strokes my thigh, she whispers in my ear, ‘Was that you who cleaned the kitchen?’ I smile and say, ‘Um-hum.’ She smiles back and continues providing me with a most enjoyable and pleasurable morning delight. . . Doing the dishes com¬monly turns into sex because it makes her feel loved. Naturally, she begins to feel turned on.” Naturally.

It’s not so much that men and women are from different planets, as that – if this is anything to go by – Americans are.

Sentence of the day

In these dark days it’s somehow comforting to think that someone, somewhere, has been spending their time fitting eye-patches on bees.
It’s for research into asymmetrical brain development. Mick Hartley has the story.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Frank Zappa is Victor Meldrew

Or was. “I don’t believe it!” was Victor’s catchphrase in the English TV series One Foot in the Grave. And here is Frank Zappa in 1974 with a cracking performance of one of his prettiest tunes, “Oh No (I don’t believe it)”, a riposte to the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love”, from the 1970 Weasels Ripped My Flesh album. The band here is Napoleon Murphy Brock on vocals and sax, George Duke on keyboards and vocals, Tom Fowler on bass, Chester Thompson on drums and the wonderful Ruth Underwood on percussion. And there are two FZ guitar solos. Who could ask for anything more?


The Daily Telegraph reports that after 145 years the Swan Hunter shipyard in North Tyneside has closed. The north-east of England once built two out of every five ships produced in the world. Now that Swan Hunter has gone – its last crane went to the Bharati shipyards in India – there are no shipyards left there.

So here is Robert Wyatt, live on the Old Grey Whistle Test, singing Elvis Costello’s “Shipbuilding”.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Don’t trust Google Maps

Not in Australia, anyway. On Easter Sunday my wife’s cousin in NSW wanted an easy route for the 40 km cycle from Orange to Millthorpe to get there by 9 a.m. She consulted Google Maps, which gave her a route that covered 52,795 kilometres, three different countries and would have had her arriving sometime in August. Direction #41 says “Kayak the Pacific Ocean”. Then, entering Japan, direction #42 says, “Continue straight”.

Laughy Kate has full details with some very amusing screenshots as evidence. The Daily Telegraph picked up the story and asked Google what was going on:
a spokeswoman said the claims could be a hoax or the result of a “tongue-in-cheek” prank by Google engineers.

“You’ll also find our engineers had a bit of a laugh when they were putting (the service) together,” she said.

“It’s possibly part of a tongue-in-cheek thing (the cyclist) has experienced.”

David Farrar is a genius

His score on this IQ test was 160, which apparently makes him an “extraordinary genius”. So I had a go. What a loser:

Mensa IQ Test - Mensa IQ Test

According to Sam who comments on Kiwiblog, my score of 144 puts me among the “Highly gifted (e.g., intellectuals)”.

Intellectual, my arse. I know some intellectuals – Vincent O’Sullivan and CK Stead, for a start – and they don’t waste their afternoons doing stupid tests on the Internet.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Flight of the Conchords travel poster

My Auckland friend Rob rang the other day. He’s a journalist, so he wanted something – in this case a contact phone number for someone important I know and he doesn’t. (That’s the thing about being a journalist, you don’t really know famous people but you know people who do.) Knowing he would never leave his discomfort zone of Newton, I invited him to come and stay in the country for a weekend. Wake up and smell the cows, that sort of thing. And he said, after a thoughtful pause, “There’s no reason not to.”

Brilliant. That is so a travel poster in Murray Hewitt’s office in Flight of the Conchords. Totally in the spirit of:
New Zealand – like Scotland but further
New Zealand – take your mum
New Zealand – it's not going anywhere
And now:
New Zealand – there’s no reason not to

More Easter music

I couldn’t find a clip of Bootsy Collins’s seminal “1st One 2 The Egg Wins (the human race)” from 1988, but then it’s not really an Easter egg he has in mind – this is far from being the first song about sexual reproduction but is perhaps the only one to feature singing spermatozoa. So it will have to be Parsifal, already.

Many years ago I had Mike Williams – yes, that one – to my house for dinner and it was all going swimmingly until he noticed I had no Wagner in my record (it was many years ago) collection and he got cross with me. Seriously cross, especially when I quoted Rossini’s line, “Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour.” Anyway, I’ve since come around to Mike’s way of thinking, at least about Wagner, so here is one of those lovely moments. It isn’t the famous Good Friday music but the last eight minutes of Parsifal from the 1988 Bayreuth production conducted by Giuseppe Sinopoli.

Sentence of the day

Deborah Ross in the Spectator begins her review of The Boat that Rocked (you know, the new movie about pirate radio in the 60s):
Now, although it has always been fashionable to take a bit of a pop at Richard Curtis and his ‘feel good’ movies (Four Weddings, Notting Hill, Love Actually) and I’ve been as guilty as anyone — I am just naturally bitchy, I’m afraid — I do think it is perhaps time to move on and take it up a gear: this man has to be stopped.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Easter music

Handel died 250 years ago, on 14 April 1759, and as Bob Dylan observed in “Just like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, it’s Easter time too. So here is Sir Colin Davis conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and the Tenebrae choir in “For unto us a child is born” from Handel’s Easter oratorio Messiah.

Also from Messiah, here is Renee Fleming singing “Rejoice greatly”, and here is Lynne Dawson in “I know that my redeemer liveth”.

The Devil may, as they say, have the best tunes but thanks to Handel and Bach among others (including, if you ask me, William of Stratford) the other side has some crackers.

Inconspicuous consumption

In a feature on how the rich are coping with the world-wide recession, the Economist reports that:
Bulgari of Italy reported a 17% drop in jewellery sales and a 28% decline in watches in the fourth quarter; Tiffany’s said sales in its American stores dropped 35% in November and December; Richemont, a Geneva-based group with brands such as Cartier, saw its sales fall by 12% in the three months to December. . .

There seem to be two main reasons why the wealthy are tightening their purse strings. The obvious one is the hit to their portfolios from the equity and property markets. “It’s not just that they’ve lost money,” says Russ Prince of Prince & Associates. “They’re not sure how much more they’re going to lose.”

The second reason is a feeling that it is wrong to show off at a time when the economy is in recession and people are feeling poor. Conspicuous consumption is out. The top end of the watch market is suffering, not least because such watches are often bought out of bonuses in the financial sector, which have largely dried up.

Mr Taylor of Harrison Research points to a boom in sales of used luxury cars. “You don’t want to pull up in your driveway with a new Mercedes when you know your neighbour is suffering.”
A particularly telling example is the luxury shopping website Net-a-porter, which now “offers to deliver designer outfits to its customers in brown paper bags”.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Mayoral knives

Tim Shadbolt and Gary McCormick have been rightly praised for coming to the rescue at a car crash on Saturday. They could hear screams coming from inside the car but couldn’t smash the windshield’s safety glass to get in, so Shadbolt used his hunting knife to cut a hole big enough for McCormick to climb through and relese the seatbelt that was strangling the occupant.

Three cheers for Tim and Gary, but questions arise. Why was Shadbolt carrying a hunting knife? Is this standard mayoral issue? Are Bob Harvey, John Banks and Michael Laws, to name only the three maddest mayors, similarly equipped? I think we should be told.

Monitor: Home Paddock

Cowboy poetry

It’s big in Colorado. It’s big in Nevada. It’s quite big elsewhere too – the Economist reports that there are more than 200 readings of cowboy verse this year in the US and Canada:
The rise of the cowboy poet coincides with the virtual disappearance from popular culture of another Western figure. Hollywood used to churn out dozens of films a year about square-jawed gunslingers. It now produces almost none, and there is currently no new Western series to be found on broadcast television or basic cable. But the departure of the heroic cowboy has opened some room for gentler, more reflective voices. Although it is growing, their audience is smaller: unlike Western films, cowboy poetry is mostly produced by Westerners, for Westerners.

It is no less romantic for that. Cowboy poems are filled with horses, campfires, strong coffee and strong women — what writer Wally McRae calls “things of intrinsic worth”.
Hey, if writing poems about horses is good enough for Bill Manhire, not just once but twice. . .

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Guardian goes Twitter

The Guardian reported yesterday that it would no longer be available in printed form:
Consolidating its position at the cutting edge of new media technology, the Guardian today announces that it will become the first newspaper in the world to be published exclusively via Twitter, the sensationally popular social networking service that has transformed online communication.

The move, described as “epochal” by media commentators, will see all Guardian content tailored to fit the format of Twitter’s brief text messages, known as “tweets”, which are limited to 140 characters each. Boosted by the involvement of celebrity “twitterers”, such as Madonna, Britney Spears and Stephen Fry, Twitter’s profile has surged in recent months, attracting more than 5m users who send, read and reply to tweets via the web or their mobile phones.

As a Twitter-only publication, the Guardian will be able to harness the unprecedented newsgathering power of the service, demonstrated recently when a passenger on a plane that crashed outside Denver was able to send real-time updates on the story as it developed, as did those witnessing an emergency landing on New York’s Hudson River. It has also radically democratised news publishing, enabling anyone with an internet connection to tell the world when they are feeling sad, or thinking about having a cup of tea. . .

A mammoth project is also under way to rewrite the whole of the newspaper’s archive, stretching back to 1821, in the form of tweets. Major stories already completed include “1832 Reform Act gives voting rights to one in five adult males yay!!!”; “OMG Hitler invades Poland, allies declare war see for more”; and “JFK assassin8d @ Dallas, def. heard second gunshot from grassy knoll WTF?”
Examples from the Guardian’s Twitterised news archive include:
OMG first successful transatlantic air flight wow, pretty cool! Boring day otherwise *sigh*

W Churchill giving speech NOW – “we shall fight on the beaches ... we shall never surrender” check YouTube later for the rest

Berlin Wall falls! Majority view of Twitterers = it’s a historic moment! What do you think??? Have your say.
Actually that last one sounds like a full report on Stuff. More local stories over at Home Paddock.