Saturday, October 30, 2010

Paeroa as food mecca

Bruce Holloway reports in yesterday’s Waikato Times (not online):
Paeroa has long been world-famous in New Zealand for the fizzy L & P drink it gave its name to – but now it is poised to get the burgers, fries and shakes as well.
A new McDonald’s franchise is to open next month in Paeroa’s main street on the site of the old Criterion Hotel, which was demolished in June.
Meanwhile, mayor John Tregidga said rival brand Burger King had “made inquiries and was possibly looking” at a Paeroa site, and also recently opened in the town have been The Bakehouse café and a Chinese restaurant.
Sitting in the belly of Hauraki, Paeroa was ideally positioned to develop as a food mecca for people heading to and from Thames and Coromandel, Mr Tregidga said.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Headline of the week

The Economist introduces China’s new vice-president and leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping:
Xi who must be obeyed

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Misadventures in newspaper publishing

More evidence for the Stratford Theory of Numbers. The Herald reports that:  
Drinking water flowing to almost one in six New Zealanders either failed to reach Ministry of Health (MOH) standards or escaped testing during 2007/08, the ministry says.
It has released its annual drinking water quality review , conducted by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research.  
So I did what I do and went to the source, the Ministry of Health website, and downloaded the full report, a 2MB PDF. Cambridge gets a tick, as does the children’s school which, being a country school, is probably on its own supply. Phew. The report was published in June (the file was created on 10 May and last modified on 17 June) so why it is suddenly news?

But the evidence for my theory is this: the report is not for 2007/08, but for 2008/09. Herald journalists can’t even cut and paste from a MOH press release without screwing up a number.

Stuff got the date right, printed a lot more data, and even added a comment from Labour’s water spokesman Brendon Burns who said the June report had been “buried”. Isn’t it his job to bring it to our attention?

Adventures in newspaper publishing

The Herald reports: A British newspaper launched its condensed and cheaper version today in hopes of luring back dwindling numbers of paper readers and resuscitating poor sales.
The Independent, owned by Russian tycoon Alexander Lebedev, launched the spin-off called “i” – a daily tabloid that shares the main paper’s editorial staff, but focuses on news briefs and digested opinion pieces aimed at “time-poor newspaper readers” and younger people.
Fairfax could do something similar here with the Sunday Star-Times. They could produce a pygmy version and call it PSST.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sentence of the day

I don’t know where she got it from but Home Paddock has this gem of a quote about the olden days when she and I were young:
Mum cooked every day and when Dad got home from work, we sat down together at the dining room table, and if I didn’t like what she put on my plate, I was allowed to sit there until I did like it.
As the parent who is privileged to make dinner five nights a week for two children with wildly divergent tastes, this approach to kid-wrangling appeals to me.

What I’m reading

Matthew Dentith has some Paul Henry-inspired apologetic syllogisms.

Eric Crampton has some JRR Tolkein-inspired Sharkeyisms:
Hobbits are known for their earthy pragmatism. Never interested in grand schemes or lofty ideals so much as in good beer and a good breakfast (and second breakfast, and elevenses, and lunch...). And so New Zealand seemed the right place for filming of The Hobbit.
But if you recall your Tolkien, you’ll remember also that Saruman came to Hobbiton, in disguise and calling himself Sharkey. Sharkey sold the hobbits on a grand scheme – a scheme to share the wealth and make everyone better off. Except the only ones that did well out of it were Sharkey and his gang.
Which leads us to Laurie Anderson and her Sharkeyisms, from her 1984 album Mister Heartbreak:

Chad Taylor too has been reading the Hobbit news and is dismayed to find himself agreeing with Fran O’Sullivan. Chad, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to many men as they get older.

Simon Hoggart reminisces about English PMs. Margaret Thatcher, he says, was a mistress of the innocent double-entendre:
I recall Thatcher being asked in the Commons about pacifists handing out leaflets outside an army barracks. “I’m sure soldiers will know exactly what they can do with those leaflets!” she said, to outright laughter from the Labour side and surreptitious giggles from the Tories.
At a training centre in Putney, she was introduced to an extremely large youth who was working with a giant wrench. “Goodness,” she said, “I’ve never seen a tool as big as that!”
But Thatcher saved the best of all for her victory tour of the Falkland Islands. She was taken to inspect a large field gun, basically a ride-on lawnmower with a barrel several feet long. It was on a bluff, overlooking a plain on which another Argentine invasion might one day materialise. She admired the weapon, and the soldier manning it asked if she would like to fire a round.
“But mightn’t it jerk me off?” she replied.
Nick Cave outs himself as a fan of King Crimson:
Oh yeah, I love that stuff. They’re a strange group, because they go to places that I don’t really understand. I love the guitar work on Larks Tongues in Aspic, the first three quarters of that album is just blissful.
Hence the blistering guitar solo by Robert Fripp on “Super Heathen Child” on Cave’s new album, Grinderman 2.

Finally, the saddest sentence of the month:
Cindy Crawford takes pole-dancing classes to keep her marriage alive.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Competitive gardening

Danyl from Dim-Post writes:
Yes, I planted tomatoes. An heirloom tomato and a cherry tomato, surrounded by basil, marigolds and mustard. We shall see.
Stephen from Quote Unquote rises to the bait:
You say tomahto, I say what sort of tomayto?
I’m planting Black Krim from last year’s seed – yes, I am awesome – and some sort of cherry tom for the children. Basil seeds will go in tomorrow, plus Thai eggplant and some more broad beans as it’s probably not too late. Chillies (saved seeds, three varieties of size and thus hotness, awesomely) and spring onions, and no need to mention the varieties of lettuce cos that would just embarrass Danyl. And you.

Potatoes always go in at Labour Weekend so I planted a bunch of Jersey Bennes for Christmas, obviously, plus a couple of sports that have sportingly sprouted: probably Agrias. More of them will go in later. The baby Red Rascals that sported will make potato-salad lunch tomorrow. Wedges issues, baby!

I was too polite to mention in my comment at Dim-Post the passionfruit vines, grapevine (possibly not ideal time to plant but it was the only window open) and pumpkin.

Yes, pumpkin. Last year my wife’s farmer/scientist workplace had a pumpkin-growing challenge so she tried to grow some. Epic fail. I had a sport in the vegetable garden and delivered about a tonne (slight exaggeration). I have kept some seeds from the biggest specimens so I think I shall take on the farmers/scientists of the district for this year’s challenge. My wife may cheat by growing hers at our friend Jane’s dairy farm which has a vegetable-garden wilderness with all-day sun and, like, totally organic fertiliser. As Danyl says, we shall see.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Deep thought of the day

I’ve been assessing a thriller manuscript for a client. It’s good – it has legs. But every conversation is presented simply as dialogue, as in a playscript. I have been trying to explain why that’s not enough, why you have occasionally to show one or other character moving about, scratching their head, pulling a face, whatever – something the reader can see so they can picture the characters in the setting reacting to each other. In short:
Fiction is a visual medium.
Speaking of legs:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dairy farming gets a bad rap

So here’s a good dairy rap from Yeo Valley in Somerset, one of the nicer parts of England:

Sample lyrics:
Yo I’m rolling in my Massey on a summer’s day
Chugging cold milk while I’m baling hay
Yeo Valley’s approach is common sense
Harmony in nature takes precedence
My ride’s my pride
That’s why you’ll never see it dirty
And I love it here man
That’s why I’m never leaving early.
Heterosexual males may – look, this is a wild guess, a total stab in the dark – enjoy the bit at 1:54:
Big up your chest and represent the West

Channelling Chad Taylor

New York novelist Jay Caspian Kang has a gambling problem and writes at length about it in the excellent internet magazine The Morning News:
Twelve thousand dollars lay wadded up in the glove compartment. I was trying to decide if I had what it took to drive home. To help delay a decision, I remember turning the radio to a Dodgers game. I don’t know how long I sat there listening to Vin Scully sing his nasally song of balls and strikes, which, even in the age of digital radio, still sounds as if it is being transmitted through a tin of victory cabbage. I remember thinking some nostalgic, self-pitying thoughts about my younger days. I forced myself to say out loud, “You are a degenerate gambler,” but doing so only made me giggle. I opened the glove box, pocketed the cash, and walked back through the sliding doors of the Commerce Casino, back to my table in the Crazy Asian 400 No-Limit Game and to the eight friends at my table who had kindly managed to save my seat.
Some time later, I drove home. All the money, of course, was gone. As I drove home through the network of highways that tie up a concrete bow just east of downtown Los Angeles, I felt no compulsion to slam the Outback into a guardrail. In fact, losing almost all the money I had in the world in six hours stirred up only a cold, scraped-out feeling of knowing-the calm that freezes out your brain when you watch someone younger make the same mistakes you made at their age. Staring out at the empty skyscrapers, I tried to figure out what might be the right reaction to losing $12,000. At the 7-Eleven on Venice and Sepulveda, I bought a bottle of Nyquil, drank half of it in the parking lot and drove the rest of the way home in a warm, creeping fog.
Don’t know about you but – apart from the setting – that sounds to me like something from a  Chad Taylor novel.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What I’m reading

Karl du Fresne in the Australian edition of the Spectator has a vigorous go at TVNZ in the wake of the Paul Henry hoo-hah and, oh, all of it. His advice? Sell!

This is an obituary for stained-glass artist Michael Lassen who died from a fall in Durham cathedral while repairing a high window. No I hadn’t heard of him either, but it is a beautifully written piece that places him in a line of direct descent from the medieval craftsmen who built Europe’s great cathedrals. 
Brian Turner is interviewed by Unity Books here.

Joe Hildebrand laments the passing of the ham and cheese sandwich:
Congratulations Australia, you have managed to kill off a sandwich with its own Wikipedia entry. [. . .] This is an outrage that in any civilised country would be a national crisis. And yet no one has the courage to speak out about it. Not even Bono.

How J.K. Rowling writes her novels

The Order of the Phoenix, the original spreadsheet (click on the image to see a larger version). Why doesn’t she just use Excel like everyone else?

Monitor: Marginal Revolution

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sentence of the day

Man Booker-winner Howard Jacobson writes about the battle between Ed and David Miliband for leadership of the Labour party, and what it says about their mother:
To bring up one son to be prime minister may be regarded as a misfortune, to bring up two looks like carelessness.

Honour among thieves

The Local (a website of Swedish news in English) reports that a thief stole a professor’s laptop – then mailed the contents to him on a USB stick:
Having recently had surgery, the professor could not be bothered to drop off his backpack in his apartment before first going to the laundry room. He instead left the bag behind a door in the stairwell, thinking it would be safe for a few minutes. But when he returned a short time later, the bag was missing, along with the computer, keys, calendar and other documents inside.
The professor was most upset by the loss of his calendar. “It is my life. I have documented everything in it that has happened in the last 10 years and beyond,” he told the newspaper.
He then called the police to report the incident and blocked the credit cards which were also in the bag.
But when he went down to the stairwell a short time later, he couldn't believe his eyes. “The backpack was there again. With all the papers, calendar and credit cards. It was just the computer that was missing,” he explained. “Unfortunately, I have been bad at backing up my computer.”
Resigned to having lost his computer, the professor was nevertheless happy to have the rest of his belongings back. But the considerate thief had yet one more surprise in store.
About a week after the theft, the professor returned home to find an envelope containing a USB memory stick which had been taken along with the computer.
The professor was shocked to discover the thief had copied all the documents and personal files from his laptop to the memory storage device, a process which likely took hours.
All things considered, the professor is delighted at the outcome, despite the loss of his computer. He hopes, however, that other thieves can learn to be as compassionate.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What I’m reading

The Institute of Modern Letters reports via Twitter:
We hear that Vincent O’Sullivan has snapped up all copies of his first 2 books, Our Burning Time and Revenants, that recently became available.
He must be cornering the market, knowing that the price will spike spectacularly sometime soon. Excellent. I have several copies of both books, preserved here in the Waikato out of harm’s way. When the earthquake hits Wellington and destroys all other copies, how sad we all will be, but the value of my collection will soar.

Ally writes on modern romance in her Unremarkable Adventures:
I think romance is as dead as the pukeko my flatmate hit on the way back from Greymouth last weekend.   Not just because of classic Kiwi lines such as the ever-fresh, “Everyone’s going to think we slept together anyway,” but because whenever romance comes alive for me it has a horrible tendency to be the Frankenstein sort of alive, the product of an interesting idea and a poor execution and, of course, the winning combination of electricity and other people’s body parts.
Alexis Petridis recalls the strange world of 1970s cabaret pop:
The cabaret scene lurked just below the surface of British pop in the 60s and 70s, a hinterland of uncool to which you got packed off when you could no longer keep pace with the then-dizzying speed at which rock and pop developed. You can see them on these DVDs, the artists swept away – by Merseybeat, psychedelia and glam. Some of them were former legends who would become legends again: Dusty Springfield, belting out a song for Morecambe and Wise in the midst of the slump that began with the commercial failure of Dusty in Memphis and would only end when the Pet Shop Boys stepped in; Roy Orbison, looking as lost as you would if you were Roy Orbison and you found yourself on The Wheeltappers' and Shunters' Social Club, sandwiched between the Krankies and a Bavarian folk band [. . .]
It’s a very funny piece, written from the heart – and yes, TV really was like that then and it is better now:
People like to say, a little peevishly, that The X Factor and Britains Got Talent represent a return to the days of Old Fashioned Light Entertainment, but I can tell you, a little peevishly, that the artists on The X Factor look like the very acme of sophistication and bleeding-edge musical excitement compared with cabaret pop. Imagine that: music that actually makes you appreciate Simon Cowell. 
 Food horror ad of the month:
The rumors are true!  We’ve married two of life’s most tastiest foods... Bacon & Chocolate.  We start with hickory smoked bacon and it’s cooked in the oven until golden & crispy then we smother it in our special blend of chocolate, to give you a taste sensation like nothing else you’ve ever had before. 
For another outrageous bacon sensation, Try our Vegan’s Nightmare Ice Cream.  Delectable chunks of our crispy chocolate covered bacon in maple syrup ice cream, it’s crazy good!
I bet it crazy isn’t!

Here is a good discussion at Marginal Revolution attempting to answer the burning question, “Which ingredient most signals a quality dish?”. The first stab looks good to me:
For me it is scallions [spring onions]. If it’s got scallions in it, it’s gotta be good. Scallions have never steered me wrong. I think it’s because no one really starts with scallions. They get added later to take a proven dish from good to great.
And this later on in the comments:
Lime is awesome. I love lime. It can cover up a weak dish, so thank goodness for lime in the grand scheme of things. I can't say that it's a reliable signal of something special, but insofar as food needs a sugar/acid balance, lime offers a lot of complexity for the trouble. We take it for granted, but it is still a positive signal for many dishes. Imagine cooking without citrus! Eff that.
Quite right. Smug bastard note: I have both growing in my garden and use them all the time.

White Sun of the Desert, a recent discovery, works in the oil and gas industry and posts a list of phrases which are commonly heard but not to be believed:
1.  Somebody will be there to meet you.
2.  It’s only for a few weeks.
3.  You don’t need to bring anything.
4.  This project must be finished by [insert date here].
5.  The procedure will explain how.
6.  It is important you attend this meeting.
7.  HR will take care of that.
8.  Transport is available.
9.  He speaks English.
10. It’s pretty much finished, it just needs a little tweaking.
11.  We will decide that later.
12.  Not for personal use.
13.  All necessary tools and equipment will be provided.
14.  Competitive rates.
15.  It’s fairly straightforward.
And here he praises British Airways – no, really – and describes what it is like to be a newbie in Lagos, having spent a long period working in Sakhalin. It is a fascinating, very long and very personal first-hand account. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Graeme Lay on New Zealand English

A guest post by North Shore writer Graeme Lay, author of, most recently, the novel Alice and Luigi and the non-fiction books In Search of Paradise: artists and writers in the colonial South Pacific and Whangapoua: a history.

A sacred New Zealand institution is in peril. It’s not Richie McCaw, Margaret Mahy or the seabed and foreshore, it’s something much more precious. I’m referring to the English language, with which most New Zealanders communicate, in speech or writing, every day of our lives. The abuse of our Mother Tongue has become extreme: obfuscation abounds, mispronunciation is rife, jargon proliferates, clichés thrive. Our use of language is similar to our driving habits – careless, thoughtless and potentially hazardous.

Having to listen to or read the words of those who show no regard for the proper use of English is infuriating. Language should be used as an instrument which is as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, and to see that instrument chipped and blunted is sickening.

How do the abuses of English happen? How did the word ‘feedback’ replace ‘reaction’ and a ‘result’ become an ‘outcome’? Why did a simple ‘problem’ transmute into an ‘issue’? Why did ‘medicine’ expand into ‘medication’? Why were the ghastly ‘appropriate’, and its even ghastlier antonym, ‘inappropriate’, allowed take root and flourish? Why is everyone now saying ‘absolutely’ instead of ‘yes’? Why do they keep referring to that cliché, ‘The elephant in the room’?

I saw a notice in downtown Auckland this week. It read: ‘Can you help those who have been impacted by the Christchurch earthquake?’ Impacted? It could have been worse: they could have used ‘effected’ for impacted instead of the proper word, ‘affected’. The fact that nouns can so readily be converted to verbs (‘impacted’,’ marginalise’, ‘prioritise’ ‘verbalise’) is both a strength and weakness of English, the strength being its flexibility, the weakness being the creation of verbs of abiding ugliness.

A dangerous linguistic development is the recurring use of the expression ‘of course’. Prefacing a sentence or phrase with ‘of course’ is to ascribe to it a presumption which is seldom really there. For example, the sentence, ‘Of course we all know where that policy will lead us’ is an attempt to clump everyone into having the same opinion of the speaker, when in reality we well may not know, or agree, where the policy is leading us. Such presumptions can be dangerous.

Of the current crop of carelessly used words, one in particular incurs my ire. That is the word ‘basically’. ‘Basically’ has come to mean absolutely nothing: it provides only meaningless padding whose sole function is to gain time for the speaker. ‘Basically’, I believe, came from the United States, and like a viral infection it has spread throughout the English-speaking world.

Another parroted phrase which originated in England, where I heard it for the first time, is the silly phrase, ‘To be honest’. It too has spread to New Zealand where it has replaced the perfectly good adverb, ‘frankly’. ‘To be honest’ has been snapped up by Kiwis with enthusiasm, even though beginning a sentence with the words ‘To be honest’ is an unconscious form of self-condemnation, carrying as it does the inference that everything else the speaker utters is dishonest, which may not always be the case.

Another example is ‘going forward’. This expression has become a catch-cry and an obfuscation, a cover-up for those who wish to con us into thinking they are actually concerned about our future. Going forward, we have the solutions to welfare abuse. Yeah, right.

Of those who consistently debase our language, it is advertisers, PR people and politicians who are the worst offenders. Academics, art critics, educationalists and literary theoreticians also employ language which can be fully comprehended by no one except other academics, art critics, educationalists and literary theoreticians. It was also probably inevitable but still regrettable that we now have on National Radio reporters who pronounce Maori words impeccably but are frequently imperfect in their pronunciation of English.

Our political leaders set a poor example to the nation. Like one of his predecessors, ‘Stumble-Tongue’ Bolger, our current Prime Minister is a regular gabbler and mangler of English. Why hasn’t John Key learnt that the plural of ‘woman’, ‘women’, is pronounced so that it rhymes with ‘swimmin’? Why does he talk about meeting with something he calls his ‘kebnit’? Why does he keep saying that, ‘The people of Can’bree are virry resill-yinn?’ (Probably the only thing that former Prime Ministers Robert Muldoon and Helen Clark had in common was their crisp command of language. Or at least Muldoon’s was crisp when he was sober).

There are few voices more appealing than that of an articulate Kiwi. It’s always a pleasure to listen to a Kim Hill or a Maggie Barry or a Max Cryer (or even a Jim Mora when his many ‘I mean... I mean’s’ are disregarded). And language lovers will forever miss the most articulate of them all, David Lange. There was no room in David’s language locker for such hideous expressions as ‘at this point in time’ or clichés such as ‘in a nutshell’.

Yet occasionally the language abusers become a source of amusement, albeit unintentionally. There was the drug squad man who, when questioned about an investigation, replied, ‘What we’re looking for, basically, are the people who are manufacturing P, in a nutshell.’

And I particularly enjoyed the Shortland Street starlet who, seeking to explain the secret of her success to an interviewer, gushed, ‘It’s all due to my dialogue coach. She taught me everything I know about prenounciation.’

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Media Bites: the APN version

The Herald announces:
APN News & Media, the Australia-based parent company of, the New Zealand Herald and the Herald on Sunday, has appointed a new chief executive officer. Mr Brett Chenoweth, 41, replaces Brendan Hopkins who retires at the end of this year.
According to an APN press release [this, remember, is from an APN website], Mr Chenoweth has had “a distinguished, varied and successful career with a proven track record in media, communications and technology. The appointment will serve to drive APN's expansion of its multi-media and integrated audiences in both existing and new markets.” 
 Mr Chenoweth is currently Managing Director and Head of Asia-Pacific for The Silverfern Group, a New York-based specialist merchant bank.
That last sentence is the one that chills. That last clause, really: “a New York-based specialist merchant bank”. Just the person to put in charge of not only the Herald and all APN’s regional newspapers but also its magazines, the biggest two being the Woman’s Weekly and the Listener.

Eating Media Lunch: the sequel

Every few months Steve Braunias puts on a convivial lunch, Media Bites, for his 200 closest friends and his 26 journalism students at Wintec. It is sponsored by NBR, and good on them. Last time Paul Holmes was the guest speaker and dwelled on his awesomeness for an hour. There were way more than 60 minutes in that hour. Jim Anderton would have been more modest.

This time the speaker was Michael Lhaws, former mayor of Whanganui and currently employed as a talkback host and Sunday-Star Times columnist. He is not a journalist, then, but he has been on the receiving end of journalists a fair bit. Braunias gave a brilliant – no, really – introductory speech in which he explained that there had been many no-shows and cancellations because so many who had accepted now found that they couldn’t bring themselves to be in the same room as Laws, presumably because he had recently said something stupid, embarrassing and offensive. When they accepted I guess they never saw that coming. 

I had been promised that fellow attendees would be Wendyttle, whom I know slightly, and Bill Ralston, whom I don’t but would have liked to have met. Both sadly were no-shows. 

Unlike Holmes, who granted us an hour of unscripted idiocy, Laws delivered half an hour of scripted idiocy. He was wrong about almost everything, as ever. He talked 90% bollocks, 5% sense and 5% was unintelligible. But at least he was funny. 

Among the bits that made sense, he said of the journalism students present:
They should be doing something useful like saving children in third world countries, or sweeping the streets. But no, they want to be in journalism.
Every time there’s an opinion poll, politicians and journalists always feature as the least trusted people in society. We all know why politicians are there. But why are the media there? Maybe it’s something students need to ask themselves as they consider joining their blighted profession.
He claimed that Finlay Macdonald was a liberal. Who knew? But he seemed to be using the word in the Republican sense, i.e. as shorthand for commie. I do hope this usage doesn’t catch on here. 

He claimed that the fuss about Paul Henry was “a gratuitous gang-bang of an individual by the media”. He meant the MSM, but as far as I could tell bloggers were uniformly hostile to Henry too, as were, you know, ordinary people.

Then he started talking about himself so I tuned out. But he was undeniably entertaining – is that blusher above his cheekbones, I speculated, or natural ruddiness? At his age you’d expect the latter, but the colour demarcation was so sharp that I leaned to the former. Perhaps he was going for the inverse Adam Ant look? – and if he steered some of the students away from journalism and towards a more honest and lucrative trade he might, on balance, have done some good.

The best bit of the lunch was when a tall, slim, pale, grey-haired and well-groomed man in a white suit – he looked like Neil Tennant, the Pet Shop Boy – turned up early with a loudhailer and announced that Laws was a fascist bastard. This was not a stunt, Braunias said later – the man was a genuine lunatic.

But then Braunias is a journalist, so can he be trusted?

Here is an account of this event from a proper journalist, Bruce Holloway.

Rodney Hide vs the Spider God

Classis Dim-Post satire here.

A small sample:
According to biographical notes on its Facebook page the Spider God is older than our universe by more time than we can imagine, has left countless billions of worlds lifeless and shrouded in silk and has served on the boards of Lion-Nathan and Huljich Wealth Management. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The man at the bottom of the list

The Waikato Times reports (not online) kindly but amusingly about the lowest-polling candidate in the recent local body elections. Take it away, Bruce Holloway:
Democracy can be a cruel business when you are at the bottom of the heap. Take the case of Te Kuiti’s Percy Malcolm Ern­est Growden, the most unsuccessful candidate in the greater Waikato region.
The unemployed beneficiary topped the poll for being the candidate to attract the least number of votes, with a mere 49 residents seeing him as the answer to the political challenges of Waitomo District Council’s Te Kuiti urban ward. [. . .]
Not only did Mr Growden almost totally fail to connect with the electorate, but he was also arguably the most uninformed candidate. Until contacted by the Waikato Times on Monday he was not even aware he had utterly failed in his bid to capture one of three ward vacancies. “Nobody rang to tell me,” he said. “And it hasn’t come out in the paper here, so I don’t really know how I did.”
But Mr Growden took defeat on the chin, saying it looked like just friends and family had voted for him. “I thought I might have got a bit more, but without a candidate photo it was always going to be tough.”
He could not afford to have a passport photo printed.
He declined to rate his performance out on the electoral stump, saying he did not attend meetings. “I’m not much of a public speaker.” [. . .]
Mr Growden’s political ambitions remain unbowed by this minor setback. “I might do it again in three years’ time,” he said.

Blog comment of the day

Hats off, everyone everywhere, to Andrew Geddis, responding to the Dim-Post quoting from Tau Henare’s Twitter feed (yes I checked, it’s what I do, and the Henare quotes are genuine):
OMG! nathan guy looks so like bieber OMG! OMG!
Now you so want to read the source material which Geddis parodies. It is here, in all its awesomeness.

Howard Jacobson wins the Man Booker

Good. The novel is called The Finkler Question.

More here.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why teachers oppose merit pay

The view from America. Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker observes that:
Not surprisingly, teachers unions fight hardest against reforms that change the way teachers are paid, especially when they introduce incentives for teachers to perform more effectively.
In response, Bryan Caplan says:
I don’t doubt that unions tend to oppose merit pay, but the reasons are unclear.  Profit-maximizing monopolists still suffer financially if they cut quality; the same should hold for unionized workers.  Why not simply jack average wages 15% above the competitive level, and leave relative wages unchanged?
Or to put the puzzle another way: Once you've secured a raise for all the workers in your union, why prevent employers from offering additional compensation for exceptionally good workers?
To which Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution replies:
One simple model is to invoke the median voter as either ruling the union or constraining it.  The implication is that most union members fear they will lose from greater accountability, even if the total size of the pie goes up.
Here in Cambridge working parents – which is pretty much all of us – are thinking of teachers this week, because on Thursday our children’s primary school closes for the day at 12.30 p.m. so the teachers can have a paid union meeting. I suppose they have their union meeting at that time because, as so many of them are parents themselves, it would be really inconvenient for them to have it after work. 

Chris Bourke on Ian Morris

The death of Ian Morris is a major shock for his family, friends and music people throughout New Zealand. Certainly there is nobody who taught me more about pop music. He had phenomenal ears, great taste, the talent to realise his ideas – and could be extremely opinionated and funny.
There is more here, including a Rip It Up interview Chris did with Ian in 1988.

ArcAttack do Dr Who

This one’s for Delia Derbyshire

That is Arc Attack performing the theme music to Dr Who which Derbyshire worked on: she didn’t write the tune (Ron Grainger did) but she created the electronic sounds that made it so memorable.

What these guys do is use a pair of Tesla coils, invented by the remarkable Nikola Tesla:
It is essentially a high-frequency air-core transformer. It takes the output from a 120vAC to several kilovolt transformer & driver circuit and steps it up to an extremely high voltage. Voltages can get to be well above 1,000,000 volts and are discharged in the form of electrical arcs. Tesla himself got arcs up to 100,000,000 volts, but I don't think that has been duplicated by anybody else. Tesla coils are unique in the fact that they create extremely powerful electrical fields. Large coils have been known to wirelessly light up florescent lights up to 50 feet away, and because of the fact that it is an electric field that goes directly into the light and doesn't use the electrodes, even burned-out florescent lights will glow.
Arc Attack also do an even more spectacular instrumental version of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, in which the guitarist uses an iron guitar in a Faraday cage. You can see it here. It is amazing. This was on the semi-finals of this year’s America’s Got Talent, for which one of the judges was Sharon Osbourne, who said, “The next time you do ‘Iron Man’, I know somebody who can sing it for you.”

More spectacular Tesla coil photos at this Australian site. For example:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What I’m reading

Helen Heath of VUP guest posts on TimJonesBooks about the view from the publisher’s side of reviews, book blogs and such. Useful stuff for authors, who as a rule don’t hear enough from publishers, imho. 

A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand by Graham Oppy and NN Trakakisis, published by Monash University, is available for free online here. So it would be churlish to complain, but has that ever stopped us before?

The entry on David (D.M.) Armstrong seems skimpy for his stature. The entry on Auckland University is written by Robert Nola, a good choice as he is such a good writer. (He taught me Marx, so I am the only person I know, left or right, who has actually read Das Kapital, with the possible exception of Chris Trotter though I bet he skimmed.) But it is unavoidably a partisan account, and I don’t believe that anyone at Monash would have been able to check it for bias, so I bet all the other entries for other universities are similarly skewed. 

But as always with a big book like this it’s not who’s in that matters. it’s who’s not. The elephant not in the room is Armstrong’s colleague at the University of Sydney, David Stove. Whatever one’s politics (guess which side he was on to deserve being airbrushed out of the record?), a book calling itself A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand that does not have an entry for Stove is a joke.


Chad Taylor has communication issues.

Paul at Fundy Post has furniture issues here and here.

Danyl at Dim-Post has idiocy issues as always, but this and this in particular.

Matt Nolan has film-industry issues.

Jonathan Franzen just has issues. I spent some time with him a few years ago as his chauffeur for a day and liked him a lot, but boy does he have issues. The latest is that his new novel Freedom has been pulped – well, some copies of it that had minor errors. Only 80,000 copies, which is about five times more than my biggest-selling book sold, and this is a tiny part of the total print run. And then in London some idiot kidnapped his spectacles. Ho ho,what a jolly jape  but I think that Jonathan is like me and basically blind without his spectacles so for him it wouldn’t have been very ho ho all. The adulatory reviews may be some compensation. Too many and too boring to link to, but they are calling it a masterpiece, even (Philip Hensher in the Spectator) a Great American Novel.

The Commonwealth Games

Finlay Macdonald, a columnist, wrote in the Sunday Star-Times on 26 September:
And if Delhi does – as some fear – risk the future of the Commonwealth Games in general, it may be no great loss. They are bit of an anachronism anyway, with most of the athletic codes that attend all having far more serious world championships to focus their efforts on. Given the choice, one would guess, they'd ditch the Games over their respective specialist events any day.
I wonder if he has spoken to any, you know, athletes about this. For example, Nikki Hamblin, a 1500m and 800m runner, who said this on Stuff today:
“I remember watching the athletics in Manchester in 2002 and there was a girl from my county who was competing as a 16-year-old,” Hamblin said.
“She was a surprise England qualifier and she made it all the way to the final and ended up about sixth. That was awesome. She was from my county and I knew her. It made me think, if she can do it, so can I.
“Definitely from then on I always wanted to run at the Commonwealth Games.”
Nikki works in our local bookshop. She is lovely. Everyone in Cambridge is rooting for her.

UPDATE: Nikki was third in her heat and is through to the finals.

UPDATE 2: Nikki has been included in Stuff’s list of Commonwealth Games hotties. She’ll be unstoppable now.

UPDATE 3: She wonsilver, a superb result. The winner was current Olympic champion Nancy Langat, whose time was a Games record of 4mins 05.26sec. Nikki’s was 4mins 05.97secs, 0.71s behind. 

UPDATE 4: Nikki won silver in the 800m, running just 0.04s behind world champion Nancy Langat. It was a stunning finish, with Nikki sprinting from seventh to second: you can watch it here.

Sentence of the day

Chris Carter announces the withdrawal of his nomination as Labour’s candidate for Te Atatu: 
But you know, I don’t want to sound bitter, nasty or unhappy.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Not all social media is bad

This on Twitter is one of the funniest things I have read recently. Possibly just one for editors, but.

Monitor: Modern Letters

The author’s reply to unjustified criticism

In this terrific piece by Stephen Budiansky about book reviews, he quotes Paul Fussell’s essay “The Author’s Reply as a Literary Genre” (Harper’s, February 1982):
He or she reads the unfavorable review, which is of course a shock, since author, editor, family, and friends have been telling each other repeatedly how great this book is. Finding out there a stranger who doesn’t think so, the author takes pen in hand and dashes off a letter of protest, quite forgetting Harry Truman’s maxim “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”
Fussell in turn quoted Edna St Vincent Millay:
A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down. If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book, nothing can help him.
And also EM Forster:
No author has the right to whine. He was not obliged to be an author. He invited publicity, and he must take the publicity that comes along.
Tell that to [insert name of over-sensitive author other than oneself].

Sentence of the day

It’s only when you’re flicking through your laptop in a cafe that you realise how much porn is on it...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sentence of the day

Here comes the Sun
The biggest shock for Samantha was not her dad being a lesbian, but that Jasmine was just 23.

Sub-editors are born not made

Just now I walked past the room where the children are doing whatever it is they do on their mother’s laptop. Their mother is in Tashkent so I don’t care.

What I heard was the six-year-old telling the eight-year-old:
The full stop doesn’t go there.
And she would have been right.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Paul Henry and Anand Satyanand

Everyone else is having a say about this, so why not me?
Henry caused a storm after he said this morning that Sir Anand [Satyanand] did not look or sound like a New Zealander when he asked Prime Minister John Key whether the next Governor-General would be more Kiwi.
Danyl at the Dim-Post seems to be leading the charge against Paul Henry, and good for him. Ben Gracewood has resigned from the programme, and good for him.

Three observations:
1. John Key has been criticised for not laying into Henry instantly. This is unfair. I have done lots of live TV and it is really hard. You are the guest on the show, so you feel like a guest in the host’s home; you can see how stressful it is for them so you try to make it easy for them; and when you are cursed with the politeness gene you can’t switch into Bob Jones mode when the host says something stupid. I bet Key was stunned by what Henry said, as any of us would have been, but if you don’t react instantly it’s too late. All the commentators have the luxury of reaction time. Key didn’t.

2. David Farrar has, uncharacteristically, missed the point. He says:
If TVNZ don’t take firm action on this one, they will find themselves in a very umcomfortable position. They should also arrange for an apology to the Governor-General. He was born in New Zealand, and is every bit as much a New Zealander as Paul Henry.
The fact that the G-G was born here is irrelevant. That wasn’t Henry’s point. He said the G-G didn’t look like a New Zealander. WTF does that mean? I have friends who are third or fourth-generation Chinese and Indian who are just as New Zealandy as I am. And, as most of us do, I have friends who were not born here but were raised here or moved here by choice and have committed to life in New Zealand. Some are white, some are brown, some are other. They are all New Zealanders. Older readers may remember Rob Muldoon in the Auckland Town Hall responding to a heckler who had an English accent, “You’re not a real New Zealander.” Muldoon was a prick, and so is Henry.

3. I feel really sorry for Peter Williams who has to work with Henry. Peter is an old-school journalist, having been trained back in NZBC days. I can’t find the link but the other day Henry was making great sport of the name of Delhi’s chief minister Sheila Dikshit. Peter interjected that the name is pronounced “Dixit”, which didn’t stop Henry from making more adolescent jokes. And Peter was right, as he always is on factual matters. He is a serious journalist. Paul Henry is not. As the great Marcia Russell once said of a colleague of ours, he is not even a journalist’s arse.

UPDATE: Stuff reports:
TVNZ has come in for fresh criticism over its handling of Breakfast host Paul Henry’s Indian slurs after it continued to prominently feature a clip on its website in which he ridicules the name of Commonwealth Games troubleshooter Sheila Dikshit.
TVNZ has received at least four complaints about the clip, in which Henry deliberately mispronounces Dikshit, despite being told it is said “Dixit”. He also says the name “Dick Shit” is “so appropriate” because she is Indian.
The case for the prosecution rests.

School holidays

School hellidays, more like. The eight-year-old had a sleepover on Friday at a friend’s – her parents call their place a farm. It isn’t. It is a lifestyle block. Still, it has sheep and chickens and stuff, so it’s all good – and one of the other mothers took pity on me the next day and had the six-year-old over to play. Which left me home alone with a very tired and cranky eight-year-old. All afternoon. It was a long afternoon.

On Sunday it was our turn to host, so I was home alone with six small children. Six. That is a lot of small children, if you ask me.

Next Friday my wife returns after three weeks away. I shall be quite pleased to see her.