Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How our two biggest dailies view the Pacific

This afternoon’s headlines on this morning’s earthquake off Samoa and the resulting tsunami:

Dominion Post: Deaths after 8.3 quake, tsunami hits Samoa

The Herald: At least two NZers hurt in Samoa tsunami

I think I will be following this story on Stuff.

The Stratford Theory of Numbers

Further evidence for my theory, which holds that
almost every number in a newspaper or magazine is wrong, because it has been misreported and/or misunderstood by the journalist.
The Daily Telegraph reports:
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the death on stage of the great comedian Tommy Cooper. A complex man, Cooper could be warm and thoughtful but was renowned for being cautious with his money. On exiting a taxi he would famously tuck something crinkly-feeling into the driver’s top pocket and depart with a ‘There you go – get yourself a drink.’ The cabby would reach in and find a tea bag.

But as a new book makes clear, when it came to the gently surreal gags that he so winningly combined with conjuring tricks in his act, he was prepared to put his hand in his pocket. On a visit to New York he hit the jackpot when he met a comic called Billy Glason who had compiled a 26-part ‘Funmaster Giant Encylopedia of Classified Gags’. Cooper baulked at the asking price of $3,000, eventually securing a copy for a more teabag-like £900.
And how, pray, did £900 compare to $US3000 at the time? It sounds a lot to me, but was it half? A third? A quarter? A tenth? Or was it about the same? I haven’t a clue and can’t be bothered trying to do the sums. Just like the reporter and sub-editor.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Moët is murder

People who drink champagne – like, say, Cactus Kate – are destroying the planet. That is the only conclusion one can draw from this report in the Guardian:
French researchers used a mass spectrometer to analyse component chemicals as wines effervesce. Led by Professor Gérard Liger-Belair, from the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne in France, they estimated that an average 75cl bottle of champagne produces 100m bubbles and releases 5 litres of carbon dioxide.
But I’m afraid that if I have to choose between drinking champagne and saving the planet, Gaia can look out for herself.

Monitor: Mark Broatch

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pamela Anderson at NZ Fashion Week

The Sunday Star-Times About Town section quotes Fashion Week visitor Pamela Anderson as saying of New Zealand, “It’s just like Canada.”

Pamela, please. As my mother always says, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Charles Darwin at NZ Fashion Week

I’m back! I was away in Auckland for Fashion Week and let me tell you, I had a front row seat in Halsey Street on Thursday night. I couldn’t see Adrian Hailwood, Pamela Anderson or my old friend Stacey Gregg anywhere. Then I saw my old friends Stephanie Johnson and Peter Wells and realised that I had come to the wrong venue.

This was a publishing event, the CLL Writers’ Awards. So instead of gorgeous young models we got Martin Edmond talking about “doubt and wonder”, extrapolating wildly from a phrase Charles Darwin wrote in his journal upon seeing New Zealand for the first time in December 1835. (Read more about this in Martin’s brilliant book from earlier this year, Zone of the Marvellous.)

Still, I reflected after a second glass of Peregrine pinot noir at Soul later that evening, literature is fashion of a kind. Just not so glamorous. And with fewer Pamela Andersons.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Champagne Charlie

The Waikato Times reports (not on-line), via sister paper the Matamata Chronicle, that Dion Anthony Gugich has been convicted of shoplifting two bottles of Veuve Cliquot from the local Super Liquor on 26 March.

The question arises, why would a Matamata wine shop hold stock of French champagne? It can’t be for the locals. Perhaps they keep it on hand for when Cactus Kate comes to see her family.

But what impressed me was Gugich’s technique:
He smuggled the bottles out of the store in his shorts.
Imagine the scene. Picture you, or anyone you know, with two bottles of Veuve in your shorts. Shorts, not trousers. I can imagine a fat person wearing really baggy trousers tied around the knees so that the bottles, one per leg, can’t slip down or clank against each other. But shorts?

What sort of body shape do we have here?

A wee bit of humour

His majesty’s urinator, Mr Curtis, published in the Gazette, how he had practised.
That wasn’t just any old his majesty, that was Charles II. The sentence is from a letter by Robert Boyle, quoted in Samuel Johnson’s great Dictionary of 1755. The word meant then “a diver; one who searches under water”.

Which just goes to show how language changes and why we shouldn’t always fight it. Writing about Johnson to mark his birthday last week, Dot Wordsworth (yes, it’s a pseudonym for a chap but I can’t remember who) quotes from his preface to the dictionary:
words are hourly shifting in their relations, and can no more be ascertained in a dictionary than a grove, in the agitation of a storm, can be accurately delineated from its picture in the water
I wouldn’t recommend his novel Rasselas to anyone, but as that brief passage shows, Samuel Johnson was a great writer.

This reminds me of the joke in Chapter 1 of Ulysses about old mother Grogan who says, “When I makes tea, I makes tea. And when I makes water, I makes water. ” To which Mrs Cahill replies, “God send you don’t make them in the same pot.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The curse of Kevin Rudd

Apparently the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, swears a bit. A lot, actually:
It was revealed yesterday that at a meeting between factional bosses in Mr Rudd’s office, the Prime Minister launched an expletive-laden tirade over MP allowances.

Sources say that Mr Rudd told the MPs: “I don’t care what you f...ers think!”

He then singled out Senator David Feeney by telling him “you can get f...ed” and “don’t you understand?
This has caused controversy among Australians, who aren’t used to this sort of talk. But deputy PM Julia Gillard couldn’t see what the fuss was about:
“Look, I think as adults in the Labor Party from time to time we might say the occasional robust word,” she said.

“I am known to do that as much as anybody else.”
This revelation doesn’t seem shocking at all to me. Gillard has red hair and so must be a hot-headed sort. One would expect her to swear.

Rudd, however, looks like a dentist, and whoever heard a dentist drop the F-bomb?

Incidentally, Joe Hildebrand has a copy of the speech Rudd is due to give in Copenhagen at the conference on climate change. If genuine – it’s hard to tell – it will startle his audience. And the translators.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mike Moore on mates

David Farrar quotes a great line on Q&A from Mike Moore on the people in Jim Anderton’s Progressive Party:
they’re the chardonnay socialists who use the word mate because they think workers use it.
I have a friend who is a truck driver and votes National. I have another friend who is a media company director and votes Labour. Guess which one calls me “mate”?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol and the Warehouse

You might have heard that Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, has a new novel out called The Lost Symbol. I asked my friendly local bookseller a couple of days ago how many copies she had ordered.

“Seventy-five,” she said. “It’s a $60 hardback.”

“Have you read it yet?” I asked.

“God no,” she said. “We’re not allowed to open the cartons until Wednesday. And even then . . . ”

I saw her again the afternoon the book went on sale and asked how many copies she had sold. “Fifteen,” she said. “But the bloody Warehouse is selling it at $31.99 so we have to too.”

She buys the book from the publisher at about $30, sells it at $32 to match the Warehouse, and so she makes $2 per copy. That doesn’t begin to cover the costs of staff opening the cartons, stocking the shelves and patiently dealing with the idiots who want to buy the thing.

This is not a story about how evil the Warehouse is. It isn’t – it’s simply using its market power the same way supermarkets use loss leaders. And really, this is all driven by customers, i.e. you and me, who want to buy stuff cheaply. But who’d be a small retailer in a town with a Big Red Shed?

Michael Laws, mayor of Whanganui

The city of Wanganui should be officially renamed ‘Whanganui’, the New Zealand Geographic Board ruled today.

The Geographic Board’s decision was unanimous.
This wasn’t an issue that concerned me at all, though I did think – and it appears that the Geographic Board agrees – that the local iwi may have a better idea of how to spell the place names thereabouts than the English settlers ever did.

But the basic principle here is that anything which annoys Michael Law must be good.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Climate crime at Mount Maunganui

The Herald reports on the Greenpeace invasion of a ship bearing palm kernel to feed our starving cows:
Ms McVeagh said the police came past this morning and removed a protester who had chained themselves to the pilot ladder.
Must be one of those multiple-personality types.

The persons in the photo above who have attached themselves to the anchor of the East Ambition are waving a banner bearing the legend “Fonterra Climate Crime”. But John Lea of Fonterra’s subsidiary RD1 says his company has nothing to do with the ship or its cargo. Oops.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sentence of the day

Jonnyb of Private Secret Diary has been to the big library in the big town, and didn’t care for it much:
Automatic library machines are shit, and whoever installed them should be made to read ‘On the Road’ repeatedly whilst strapped to a shelf of Catherine Cooksons and pelted with tins of globe artichokes.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In defence of Donald Rumsfeld

Not a phrase one hears very often, but here goes.

A recent poll by the Plain English Campaign put George Bush top of the list of manglers of the English language and Arnold Schwarzenegger second, which is fair enough. But it puts Donald Rumsfeld third for this much-derided statement from 2002:
Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
But that makes perfect sense. When teaching editing courses I have used it as the best advice I could give an aspiring editor. It’s about humility: you don’t know anywhere as much as you think you do. What you are certain of, you don’t have to check, and what you’re not sure about, you do have to check. That’s all clear. But it’s the stuff that you don’t think to check – because it doesn’t occur to you there may be a problem – that will trip you up. Unknown unknowns, as Rumsfeld puts it.

Two examples:

1. I was asked to edit a memoir by an elderly former journalist and assumed it would be a breeze as he was such a pedant that I wouldn’t need to fact-check. On the first page when he referred to his favourite piece of classical music he got its title wrong and called it a symphony when it was a brief tone poem. I had to check every other “fact” in the manuscript in – I kept count – 23 reference books. There were lots of errors, mostly small but they were all things he didn’t know as well as he thought he did. Unknown unknowns.

2. When at Metro I edited one of the big murder stories the magazine was keen on in those days. The writer opened with a lyrical paragraph describing how at dawn the first rays of sunlight began to glint on the ripples in the swimming pool at the local primary school just as the killers were about to encounter their victim. It was a very affecting passage. The day after publication we got a letter to the editor pointing out that the school in question did not have a swimming pool and so the rest of the article was clearly unreliable and not worth reading. I had checked the spelling of every name, all the timings, every detail that I could – but it hadn’t occurred to me to check whether the school pool existed. It was an unknown unknown.

So I would tell my students to remember Donald Rumsfeld and his lesson in humility.

And now I wonder, if he wasn’t wrong about unknown unknowns, could he have been right all along about Iraq, rendition and Guantanamo Bay?

No, on reflection, perhaps not.

Phil Goff says sorry

The editorial in today’s Sunday Star-Times points out that no one who is not attending it has the slightest interest in anything that may be said or done at this weekend’s Labour Party conference. Phil Goff can apologise for the last nine years all he likes, but we’re not listening.

True enough, but some of us will be curious about any text messages he may receive from the UN this afternoon.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Life on the Key d’Orsay

A comment on David Farrar’s comment on Trans-Tasman’s comment on how a Radio New Zealand journalist picked up a notebook which had been dropped by a Treasury official and contained details about the review of the intelligence services:

A friend at Treasury reports that John Key rang the official in question and told her consolingly, “Shit happens.”

He was probably relaxed about it because Trans-Tasman had twice reported that the review was happening, so it was news only to Radio New Zealand. Still, I can’t imagine the previous Prime Minister reacting so calmly.

One imagines that life on the Key d’Orsay is rather more relaxed than it was in Helengrad.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Richard Wolfe on Alex Ross

A few months ago the Sunday Star-Times asked me to review The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross. Distributed in New Zealand by HarperCollins, the book is a snip at $35.

Some time later another Auckland newspaper asked Richard Wolfe, my friend and occasional colleague (he writes books, I edit them when I get lucky), to review it too. For some reason his review, which is so much better than mine, was never published. So here it is for all Quote Unquote readers – hey, it’s just like the old days. Thanks, Richard.
If you have a curiosity for ‘an obscure pandemonium on the outskirts of culture’, this is the book for you. In 2001 Alex Ross, music critic for the New Yorker, set about writing a history of 20th-century music. Quickly realising the immensity of the task, he decided to restrict himself to modern classical composition. The result is The Rest Is Noise (the title mirrors Hamlet’s ‘The rest is silence’), which tells the story of the 1900s heard through its music.

It opens in the Austrian city of Graz on 16 May 1906, when the curtain went up on Richard Strauss’s opera Salome. All the big names of European music were there, to experience something reportedly ‘more satanic and more artistic’ than anything yet seen on the German opera stage. It was brazenly modern and hugely popular, and Ross describes its climactic moments: ‘the horns play fast figures that blur into a howl, the timpani pound away at a four-note chromatic pattern, the woodwinds shriek on high. In effect, the opera ends with eight bars of noise’. That was the sound of a musical world on the verge of dramatic change.

Ross’s first draft for this book was too long by far, and the process of reduction has given his descriptions added potency and colour. In the first chapter we are introduced to Gustav Mahler, who displayed ‘a kaleidoscope of moods – childlike, heaven-storming, despotic, despairing’, while the harmonic series in his 10th Symphony was spelled out by strings and harp like ‘a rainbow emerging over Niagara Falls’.

At the heart of the book are three chapters looking at developments in Russia, America and Germany from 1933 to 1945. Ross considers the role of the dictators as patrons of music, and how composers dealt with the challenges of totalitarianism. He gives a lengthy account of Hitler, who as a 17-year-old may have attended that performance of Salome in 1906. Classical music seems to have been one of the few things that brought out a certain tenderness in the Fuhrer, and Ross examines the concept of a ‘Nazi sound’. Russian composers produced some of the wildest sounds at this time, frequently ‘out-cacophonising’ Western counterparts, and the explosion of music after the end of World War II reflected a different world, one needing to deal with physical and intellectual violence.

As Europe was being introduced to Salome, the Mississippi Delta was incubating another new and influential sound. The blues lie largely outside Ross’s study here but he acknowledges its pervasive power. It was, for example, just beneath the surface of the first major American musical, Jerome Kern’s Show Boat of 1927. And while discussing the revolutionary rhythm of the ‘slightly insectoid’ Igor Stravinsky, Ross refers to bluesman Bo Diddley’s trademark syncopated beat.

Music is meant to be listened to rather than read about, and Ross has exploited the internet to provide a comprehensive audio guide to accompany this book. Some 300 clips, of samples ranging from Salome to John Adams’s 1987 opera Nixon in China, offer dozens of hours of instructive listening. Viewing is also possible, thanks to YouTube, and includes such gems as American John Cage’s startling ‘Water Walk’, as performed with bathtub and radios on a 1960 television show. The radical Cage felt music was lagging behind painting, in particular the all-white canvases of Robert Rauschenberg. He also absorbed ideas from trail-blazing Frenchman Pierre Boulez, while Ross dates the origins of this avant-garde movement to a concert performed before an international audience in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1941.

Twentieth-century classical composition has had less effect on the outside world than its equivalents in other media, such as the abstract paintings of Jackson Pollock. But its three distinguishing features of atonality, dissonance and minimalism have crossed over into other areas, cropping up in jazz, film scores, and pop and rock music. Thus John Cage paved the way for Karlheinz Stockhausen, who is likened to some great adventurer ‘proceeding through jungles of sound’. His use of electronic layering and tape loops influenced the Beatles on their Revolver album, while minimalism was explored by various artists including the Velvet Underground and David Bowie, and Bob Dylan on his 1965 proto-rap rant, ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’.

Ross enlivens his story throughout by relating the music to contemporary art. He connects Debussy (a ‘sonic adventurer’) with Gauguin, Schoenberg (‘sharp-witted, widely cultured, easily unimpressed’) with Klimt and Kandinsky, and American Steve Reich with sculptor Donald Judd. This is an immensely readable and highly opinionated perspective, written with unflagging enthusiasm. It’s a chronological account, linking music with its times, and packed solid with details and personal insights. Among these is the claimed disproportionately large contribution to the subject by homosexual men.

If classical music appears to have gone into decline during the course of the 20th century, it now reaches larger audiences than ever before. Modern composers may never match the instant impact enjoyed by their popular counterparts, but Ross does not anticipate the genre disappearing in a hurry. On the contrary, he suggests this 1000-year-old tradition may even be on the verge of a new golden age.
Richard’s most recent book is the brilliant New Zealand Portraits (Viking, $80), which he talks about here to Christopher Moore of The Press.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Climate change in which direction?

New Scientist reports that we could be in for a bit less warming than predicted:
Forecasts of climate change are about to go seriously out of kilter. One of the world’s top climate modellers said Thursday we could be about to enter one or even two decades during which temperatures cool.

“People will say this is global warming disappearing,” he told more than 1500 of the world’s top climate scientists gathering in Geneva at the UN’s World Climate Conference.
I bet they will.
“I am not one of the sceptics,” insisted Mojib Latif of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at Kiel University, Germany. “However, we have to ask the nasty questions ourselves or other people will do it.”
I bet they will.
[. . .] Another favourite climate nostrum was upturned when [Vicky Pope of the UK Met Office] warned that the dramatic Arctic ice loss in recent summers was partly a product of natural cycles rather than global warming. Preliminary reports suggest there has been much less melting this year than in 2007 or 2008.
It’s déjà vu all over again: as David Crosby sings, we have all been here before. When I was at school in the 60s, climate scientists were warning of cooling. When my children started school, climate scientists were warning of warming. Now they talk of cooling again. Talk about blowing hot and cold.
[. . .] In candid mood, climate scientists avoided blaming nature for their faltering predictions, however.
That’s nice of them.

And of course none of this has implications for a New Zealand ETS.

Monitor: Tim Blair

Modern art is rubbish

Home Paddock has alerted the world to Waikato’s shame – no, not dirty dairying (now that the Crafars are selling up) but the winner of the Waikato National Contemporary Art Award:
Berlin-based Dane Mitchell picked up $15,000 for his entry, Collateral, which consisted of the binned wrapping from other award entries tipped on to the floor of the Waikato Museum, in line with his written instructions submitted to gallery staff.

He had not seen his entry when it won.
Some of the other entrants are not impressed, among them Mark Hayes, who built a sculpture for the award, entitled Domestic Violence is Not Okay.
“If I had known that the contents of my rubbish bin would make the winning sculpture I would not have spent 26 hours cutting, welding and grinding,” he said.

“Contemporary art needs to say something to you and make you think. I am sorry but I just cannot see the ‘clever’ and ‘cheeky’ in the winning sculpture. Is someone trying to make [sponsor] Trust Waikato look like a joke?
But what says the most about the state of contemporary art is this comment from Waikato Museum director Kate Vusoniwailala defending the decision of the judge, Charlotte Huddleston:
It had achieved an objective of getting a lot of people talking about the awards, she said.

“There will always be people who love things and those who hate them. The bottom line is we always ensure the judge we select has an excellent reputation.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Insincere sentence of the week

Or is it ironic sentence of the week?

I can never tell with the ever-excellent David Slack who comes from Kiwitea in the Manawatu, which is not far from Halcombe where my wife’s whanau is from, but that’s not the only reason we like him. Anyway, here he is at Public Address:
I am sitting at a long table in Clooneys about to begin a whisky degustation and I am thinking to myself “Whatever I write about this, I intend to make it as interesting and unpretentious as Peter Calder or Simon Wilson would.”
As Schumann said of Brahms: “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius.”

Now that’s what I call climate change

Birmingham has never been cool but this is ridiculous. According to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change:
The UK Climate Projections published last month show that if we don’t take action by 2080 the temperature for the hottest day of the year in the West Midlands could increase by a scorching 100 C by 2080 and even by 2040 there could be 11 per cent less rainfall in the summer leading to subsidence, lower crop yields and water stress.
As Caroline Ahern would say, “Scorchio.”

Monitor: Tim Blair

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The best lemon tart ever

Occasionally Home Paddock treats us to a recipe, such as this one for spicy lime biscuits. Clearly she is positioning herself as not only New Zealand’s foremost farming blogger but also our foremost foodie blogger before Annabel Langbein, Jennifer Yee or Ray McVinnie get started.

Hmmm. What can I do to meet this bake-off challenge?

Quite a bit, actually. Watch this space for my Gai Pad Med Mamuang which rivals the Mai Thai’s, but for now here is an amazing lemon tart we had last weekend for a whanau luncheon. My wife found the recipe from James Martin’s book Desserts in the 14 April issue of The Week. She realised early on while making it that Martin had cunningly put the wrong quantities for several ingredients – as chefs do. So here is a reworked and hence copyright-free workable version. It serves eight, more or less, depending on greed.

Classic lemon tart
5 eggs
190 g caster sugar
250 ml double cream
zest and juice of 4 lemons
butter for greasing
225 g sweet shortcrust pastry
1 tbsp icing sugar for dusting
double cream to serve

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Break the eggs into a bowl, add the sugar and whisk gently, then add the cream and the lemon juice and zest, and leave to rest.

Butter a 20 cm loose-bottomed flan tin and roll out the pastry to a thin but even
depth. Using a rolling pin, carefully lift the pastry and place it over the tin very loosely. Press the pastry into the bottom and sides of the tin, but don’t trim it.

Line the tart with a circle of greaseproof paper that is bigger than the tart and fill with dried pulses or ceramic baking beans. Bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, take out the beans and paper then put back into the oven for 3 or 4 minutes.

Turn the oven down to 110°C/225°F. Pour in the lemon mix and bake for one hour until the tart is just set. Remove from the oven and trim the edges. Leave to cool for one hour.

Dust the tart with icing sugar and put under a hot grill to caramelise the top. Serve with thick cream. Eat. Enjoy.

Brian Jones and Anna Wintour

One was a Rolling Stone. One is editor of US Vogue. Could they, by any chance, have been related?

More nominative determinism

The art director of Fairfax’s excellent magazine Your Weekend is Ingrid Opera.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Whale Oil applies for a job

Clearly smarting from his separation from Cactus Kate, Whale Oil responds to Garth George’s latest dribblings in the Herald:
I wonder sometimes about the standard of the commentariat that inhabit the local news media. Time and again their short-comings are shown up. Surely it is time for a new breed of commentator to come to the fore instead of the blatherings of senile old folk.
And which fine upstanding example of the new breed of commentator would Whale Oil suggest? He is far too modest to propose himself, but I think we can take a hint.

Nominative determinism

Nominative determinism was first identified by New Scientist in 1994, when it drew readers’ attention to a British Journal of Urology article on incontinence which had been written by J.W. Splatt and D. Weedon.

Later examples supplied by readers included Rod Muddle, head of planning for British Airways, Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, and Alan Heavens, an astronomer.

Today I received a letter from the Justice Department excusing me from jury service. It was signed, “Bambi Sheriff, jury officer”.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A moving tribute to Cactus Kate

Cactus Kate has moved her blog and shacked up with Whale Oil and others at Gotcha!.

The front page is full of the others but – life being too short etc – you can get to her directly here.

Update: It’s all over. The relationship has ended and both sides ask the media to respect their privacy at this difficult time for both of them.

On the bright side, Whaleoil gets to keep the toaster and Cactus Kate is single again.