Thursday, May 31, 2012

All children are psychic

So says Sue Bishop, whom the NZ Herald describes as “one of Australia’s top ‘intuitives’”:
Bishop says everyone has psychic abilities, “the difference is that most people, before the age of seven, they cut that channel off”.
She says by seven the soft part of the skull fully closes and the age of reason begins, she explains.
Apart from the strange construction of that last sentence, I wonder if anyone at the Herald has ever had children. As Vicki Hyde of the NZ Skeptics comments:
Ask a medical person who actually knows about fontanelles and skulls and they’ll tell you that the soft spots begin to close at about two months, finally completing closure at around 18-24 months. But a basic sanity check of facts doesn’t seem to be required in NZ Herald articles these days....

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cow comfort farm

Stuff reports:
Cow comfort has become a key concern for farmers in the US, who have known for generations that contented cows give more milk. The traditional techniques for keeping cows happy aren't complicated – feed them well, keep the temperature comfortable and give them room to move around. But some dairy farmers are turning to a new array of creative options intended to keep cows as mellow – and productive – as possible.
Right. So how does one pamper a dairy cow?
Some farmers have installed waterbeds for their cows to rest on, while others play classical music. And some hire animal chiropractors to give older cows a tuneup and correct minor issues in calves, all part of the effort to ensure maximum milk output.
I know what you’re thinking:
Do the methods really work?
Good question. 
There’s no sound scientific data to back up the claims, but dairy farmers say they can see the difference with their own eyes – cows are giving more milk, the milk quality is improving and the herds seem to be enjoying the indulgences.
No “sound scientific data”? WTF? “Cows are giving more milk” is measurable; “the milk quality is improving” is measurable. This is what farmers do – measure stuff, to get data. If the story doesn’t give the data, that means the data do not support the claims. Which is not surprising, really.

But wait, there is more: 
And some dairy producers have employed even more unusual techniques [. . .] In Germany, for example, the Dortmund Concert Hall plays recordings of different classical pieces for specific cows. The hall then serves milk from the respective cows during live concerts featuring those same pieces.
 “Which means you’ll now be able to both listen to and taste the musical highlights,” the hall says in one advertisement.
You’d think they’d try Bruce Springsteen’s “Jersey Girl”. Or Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, the most Friesian-friendly album ever.

So here are Cream in 1967 ripping off Albert King, but doing it in style:

Three magic words: “I was right”

The press release says:
Wellington Ph.D student, Hamish Clayton has won the NZSA Best First Book Award for Fiction – the country’s highest accolade for an emerging writer – for his novel, Wulf.
The honour is one of three New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA) Awards announced today which recognise standout new writers across fiction, poetry and non-fiction categories. The Awards are part of the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Awards; the country’s premier prizes for literature.
Awards convenor, Chris Bourke says the judges described Wulf as one of the most memorable debut novels in recent times.
“Hamish Claytons first novel is a work of bravura lyricism, a brilliant feat of imagining that transforms historical events which occurred in early nineteenth century New Zealand into metaphor and myth.”
I read an earlier version of the novel in manuscript form in January 2010 and reported:
This is my most exciting discovery since Linda Olsson’s Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs. It is an astonishingly assured debut. Reviewers will swoon. It would have to win Best First Book Award for Fiction.
I was right.

Great story, great characters, great writing. Three brief quotes from the manuscript: “the season started snapping its salty teeth”; “our desire for trade always turned to the business of fucking”; “he set his carved house on fire and watched the years burn”. I was reminded of John Gardner’s Grendel and William Golding’s Rites of Passage. Yes, it’s that good. If you haven’t yet read it, do pick it up in a bookshop and have a look. Maybe even buy it. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Synchronicity

A productive afternoon writing the book – will finish another chapter tonight or tomorrow morning, and three more are nearly there. I had Warren Zevon’s album I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead on loud. Usually it’s classical music, pianissimo, but I needed something to drown out the industrial-strength lawnmower at the high school over the fence. About three o’clock I took a break and went to Facebook, as one does. Francis Wheen in England had posted less than a minute earlier and I’m sure he won’t mind me quoting this:
Yes it’s four in the mornin’ and once more the dawnin’ just woke up the wanting in me – the wanting of a first-class ticket on the Nodland Express. No chance of that while we have all the world’s starlings nesting in our eaves. Bloody desperadoes...
followed by a YouTube clip of Warren Zevon’s “Desperadoes Under the Eaves”, the song that was belting out in my office right at that moment. 

So here is Hank Snow with “Four in the Morning”:

What I’m reading: NZ edition

Rachel Stewart in the Taranaki Daily News and other provincial papers has a thoughtful column on gay marriage and civil unions and why they are not for her:
At the risk of appearing ungrateful and churlish, I’m with Mitt Romney on this one. I agree with him that marriage was intended as a union between a man and a woman. Just not for the same strange reasons as he does.
Read on.

Waikato Times columnist Josh Drummond, whom you met at lunch the other day, has published an open letter applying for the job of job of  Press Relations and Regulatory Affairs Manager at the New Zealand outpost of British American Tobacco, otherwise known as B.A.T.:
In support of my application, please observe my video resume, in which I take it upon myself to spread awareness of your suspiciously delicious, curiously addictive  (albeit cancer-causing) products, through the medium of dressing up as a large ambulatory cigarette, who I shall call B.A.T-Man. I trust this will meet with your total approval. As Freud didn’t say: “sometimes, a man dressed as a large ambulatory cigarette is just a man dressed as a large ambulatory cigarette.”
He’s not making it up – he really did dress up as an ambulatory cigarette and accost people in the streets of Hamilton, asking if they smoked and if not, why not. There is a video clip to prove it:


I haven’t heard yet whether he got the job. I hope so. It would pay better than some of the freelance “journalism” he is offered

Nicholas Reid reviews Vanda Symons’ new crime novel The Faceless. Money quote:
As an Aucklander, I applaud all the things she has got right. Some of us really are as revolting as the worst characters in this novel.
 A lovely piece by Mary McCallum on Helen Heath’s new poetry collection Graft.

James Zuccollo, an economist at NZIER, blogs on the Facebook IPO and how the media have reported the drop in share price as bad news for those who bought on Day One – though it’s good news if you want to buy shares today:
[. . . ] news needs to be normatively charged to be worthwhile. A drop in share prices is good for some people and bad for others, but it probably doesn’t involve a loss of social welfare. Yet, to be a good news story, it needs to have a normative dimension with a hero and a baddie.
Chad Taylor has a new episode of his comic out, City Lights II: Planet of Fear, a sequel to January’s City Lights. Words by Chad, pictures by Jonathan King. May contain aliens. It’s fun, and he says it’s fun to do:
It’s cheaper than making films and a break from writing prose: write the characters, action and dialogue, and ping that off / against the images. It would have cost a small fortune to print this in the old days and the night scenes would have gone to black. Now we can play with the whole digital paintbox, for next to nothing.
Philip Matthews praises Beautiful Machine, the “surprisingly excellent” new documentary about Shihad:
[. . .] the Shihad story is rare in that this is a New Zealand rock band whose story is not a failure – not yet, anyway. The band is still together and making a living and if they never conquered America and Europe, they weren’t destroyed by the effort either. 
Finally, LaughyKate has invented a new acronym, WKSGM. I fear that her colleagues and family will be hearing it a lot. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Q&A

Q: What are we on?
A: A journey.

Q: In which direction?
A: Going forward.

Q: How are our processes?
A: Robust.

Q: What else do we have?
A: Issues.

Q: Where?
A: Around that.

Q: How will we deal with them?
A: Transparently.

Q: How are we?
A: Good.

Q: How many of us?
A: We’re all good.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

What I’m reading

There is a wonderful exchange of emails between George Monbiot and Noam Chomsky here. Monbiot wrote a Guardian column on genocide and cited a book on the subject to which Chomsky had contributed a foreword. The book downplays the massacres in Srebrenica and Rwanda and Monbiot, understandably, wondered whether Chomsky had actually read it. So, being a journalist, he asked him. Anger and insults ensued. Clearly Monbiot is right and Chomsky is grievously wrong but the self-importance of both is stunning. (I have never understood the reverence in which Chomsky is held as a political commentator, apparently based on his being an authority on linguistics. Few reverers can have read his books on the subject. I have, so I am not a reverer. Also, from these emails, he seems to be a total prick.) Money quote from Chomsky:
Did you read my article before writing about it? If not, then we can drop the discussion. If you did, then you know that it brought up colossal cases of genocide denial, vastly beyond anything that concerns you, and vastly more important as well for obvious reasons. I’ll keep just to the one case we’ve discussed – there are others — but that you don’t seem to comprehend, for reasons that escape me: the denial of the slaughter of tens of millions in the Western hemisphere, about 10 million in the territorial US alone.
Behind the scenes at James Bond auditions: excellent captions.

Brian Pigeon writes:
I keep getting asked about places to stay for any pigeons visiting London this year for the Pigeon Olympics. [. . .] There’s such a wide variety of ledges available it’s often hard to choose the right one for you. Sheltered? Not sheltered? Do you share, or are you looking for something a little more private?
Accommodation advice for pigeons heading to London here.

Jillian Ewart at Booksellers NZ on the challenges facing New Zealand booksellers, and what they are doing about it. Nice to see her talking to booksellers outside of Auckland and Wellington.

Speaking of the provinces, Stuff reports via AP:
A herd of cows has crashed a small gathering in a US town and bullied the guests for their beer. Massachusetts’ Boxford police Lieutenant James Riter says he was responding to a call for loose cows on Sunday and spotted them in a front yard.
Riter says the herd high-tailed it for the backyard and then he heard screaming. He says when he ran back there he saw the cows had chased off some young adults and were drinking their beers.
Riter says the cows had knocked the beer cans over on a table and were lapping up what spilled. He says they even started rooting around the recycled cans for some extra drops.
This is a very real problem here in Cambridge. We don’t like to talk about it to strangers – it’s a bit embarrassing, really. Where we live we are surrounded by cows – there is a cow paddock about a hundred metres from our house (see below); the children’s school has a milking shed directly across the road. They are everywhere. It’s all right for the people on the south side of the river where the streets are all literary and the cows do not roam, but here on the north side it can get rugged in barbecue season when we’re knocking back a few coldies. It’s the Friesians, you see. They really like their beer.

Meet the neighbours:

Friday, May 25, 2012

Letter to the editor of the month

From the 19 May issue of the Spectator (not online yet):
In praise of darkness
Matthew Parris (5 May) does well to recommend the removal of the hideous, urine-coloured glow of sodium street lamps in the countryside; and it is highly debatable that they are needed anywhere. The eye is more confused than sharpened by bright light at night. Colours are distorted. Gaps of darkness are bewildering traps. Humans appear ghoulishly inhuman, as if made of mustard. And the lights are relentless, merciless; they never go out.
Street lighting should use tungsten and be decorative only, like the pretty strings of lights on a pier. The rest destroys night vision (the dark is never dark!). Apart possibly from places like Cordoba, this planet was totally dark at night until only very recently. It cannot be that there is anything special about the current era which demands otherwise.
William Lambton
Co. Galway
So here is George Harrison with some famous friends at the Concert for Bangladesh on 1 August 1971 performing “Beware of Darkness”, one of the best songs from his post-Beatles album All Things Must Pass. Best line: “Beware of sadness.”

Peter Bland on Gavin Ewart

The 50th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the December 1995 issue and is by Peter Bland, who wrote an occasional column for us from London, where he was then living. This one is about his friend and fellow poet Gavin Ewart, who died in 1995: the Independent ran this excellent obituary.

I had lunch with Peter and other writer friends earlier this month. For some reason Ewart’s name came up in conversation: to my amazement, three of us could recite a poem of his from memory. Peter could, of course, but so could I and Paul Litterick too. I think Paul recited the poem quoted below; the one I know by heart is far too filthy to reprint here. Let’s just say it is very inventive in finding rhymes for “Luxor”. (Judging by his poem in the latest Listener, CK Stead has been reading him too – the last line is pure Ewart.)

POSTCARD FROM PUTNEY
South-east England has enjoyed the warmest October on record. It’s been blissfully autumnal. Fruit trees are embarking on a second flowering, the swallows refuse to fly south, and our local house-sparrows are bringing up a very late second brood behind the outside hot-water pipes. I stubbornly go by the calendar year, wear my winter woollies, and point unerringly at the holly bushes, bursting with berries, as a sign of the terrible winter to come.
Most of us over 60 haven’t adjusted to global warming yet. Our minds are still marooned in the freezing smog-filled 50s, where we remain mentally crouched over a single glowing coal, toasting stale bread in our woollen mittens. Nature’s Keatsian tranquillity mellows our social scars but never completely heals them. Perhaps it’s just that the richness of “harvest home” brings with it that misty dark feeling of loss and mortality. (A peculiar mixture of loneliness and fading light that you get in the best late-Victorian and Edwardian landscape and genre painting.)
My friend and neighbour, the poet Gavin Ewart, has just died at the age of 80. He was among the most thoroughly humane, gentle and talented writers I’ve known. A master technician, with a wonderful ear for rhyme and scansion, he was also funny, irreverent and, at times, surprisingly visionary in his imagination.
Some weeks ago we lost Stephen Spender and, more recently, Kingsley Amis. Both seem much more like refugees from an early age than Ewart was. Gavin chose to write about the past rather than being stuck in it. Spender I admired more for his Journals than for his poetry. They’re full of the insights and observations of a self-questioning mind – fresh, intelligent and written in a highly entertaining and readable prose style.
Gavin, like Spender, was an Auden man, the last of that generation. Before meeting him in the late 70s I’d wrongly attributed a number of his funnier poems to Auden, including the famous “Miss Twye”: “... Miss Twye was soaping her breasts in the bath/ When she heard behind her a meaning laugh/ And to her amazement she discovered/ A wicked man in her bathroom cupboard.”
It was a poem Fairburn liked, and one that may have influenced his own Rakehelly Man. Who knows? That was one of the qualities of 30s poetry – it seemed to assume a world-wide audience and a commonly accepted public style.
As far as I know Gavin stopped writing after the war, but was encouraged to start again by Peter Porter (with whom he worked as a copywriter in a London advertising agency) and Alan Ross, editor of London Magazine, who had long admired his earlier work.
Certainly, Porter’s early 60s collections, and Ewart’s Pleasures Of The Flesh, were among the best things to come out of that Swinging London period. Both are full of a fine, irreverent, slightly flashy period flavour, sexy, colourful and technically inventive.
A traditionalist in terms of form and metre, Gavin loved language. As Fleur Adcock wrote of his work, “His technical inventiveness fizzled.” He was extremely chuffed when he became the first modern poet to be banned by the bookselling chain WH Smith.
Now, of course, I’m kicking myself for not seeing more of him. This was a man who’d swapped pints with Auden and MacNeice, who’d helped Dali put on his diving helmet at the 1936 Surrealist Exhibition in London, who’d watched Hammond and Bradman hit centuries at Lords. I wish, like the swallows, he could have lingered.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Finding Faults

My friend Steve Reay has published a paper, “Persistence of Beauveria bassiana (Ascomycota: Hypocreales) as an endophyte following inoculation of radiata pine seed and seedlings” in the latest issue of Biological Control. In case you missed it, here is the abstract:
The entomopathogenic fungus Beauveria bassiana commonly causes disease on a range of insects, including bark beetle pests of plantation forest trees. However, using broadcast application of the fungus to control pest beetles in large scale plantation forests could be difficult to achieve economically. B. bassiana has also been found as an endophyte in plants, including the main commercially planted tree in New Zealand, Pinus radiata. In this study we investigated two methods to establish B. bassiana as endophytes of pine seedlings, seed coating and root dip. Two isolates previously isolated from within mature pines were used and the seedlings monitored for 9 months. Samples of unwashed, washed and surface sterilised roots, surface sterilised needles and soil were plated on semi-selective agar at 2, 4 and 9 months after inoculation. B. bassiana was successfully established in pine seedlings using both root dip and seed coating. The fungus was found in soil, non-sterile and sterilised samples at 2 and 4 months, but only one seedling of 30 was positive for fungus in surface sterilised samples after 9 months.
Steve also has a new band, Faults, and a new EP, Invention. It is excellent. Anyone who remembers the Subliminals (not to mention the Haints of Dean Hall) will know he has form. You can download the EP for free here, entirely legally. Rude not to, really.

Doom and gloom in the Spectator

The editorial in the 19 May issue is about the Leveson inquiry into the phone hacking scandal. It argues that there is a huge market in personal data based on the leaking of illegal information to all sorts of organisations, not just newspapers, and concludes:
For the moment, with hacking in the news every day, the print media still seem important. But that is an illusion. The Leveson show, which after all sprang from a press turf war, may seem in retrospect to have been the dying gasp of an industry which will not exist, in anything like its current form, by the end of the next decade. Britain already has more Twitter accounts than daily newspaper sales. Lord Leveson has not got to the bottom of any great mysteries, nor is he likely to. His mission, it turns out, is to preside over a bizarre requiem for old news.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Anthony Stones on Frank Sargeson

The 49th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the December 1995 issue and is a letter to the editor from the sculptor Anthony Stones.

OLD LOVES
I read my friend Kevin Ireland’s memoir of Frank Sargeson (How Far Is Friendship, November) with great interest. Frank has had some odd things said about him in recent years, so I was glad to see Kevin putting the record straight on the matter of his attitude sexually to the young males who visited him at Esmonde Road. He was not – as I, too, can testify – predatory.
It must have been towards the end of the 60s that my wife Cushla and I ran into Frank in town, just before seven one Thursday evening. He was on his way to the Peking cafe to have his weekly meal with an old mate called Jack. Why didn’t we join them? Frank asked.
Jack, who looked like a version of Holbein’s drawing of John Fisher, was a pensioner who had a room in town and was in the habit of ringing Frank every evening at seven to report on his day – a litany of misadventure, ill-health and bad luck, but enlivened for Frank with the occasional comment of startling originality or unexpected insight.
Having been present when Frank received one of these calls, I will never forget the solicitude and lack of condescension with which he responded, and also his unselfconsciousness in front of me. When the tales of woe finally ran out, Frank said, “Ah, well, Jack, thank you for calling and all my love to you.”
At the meal table, Jack didn’t have much to say for himself. He was shy, a solitary, and when he did speak he was difficult to hear. Frank, however, seemed to have no difficulty in understanding him and occasionally cackled with laughter at something Jack said.
Meanwhile, conversation, as it tended to do in Frank’s company, ducked and dived all over the place, until inevitably sex reared its ugly head; something to do with an official insensitivity (which we all deplored) towards those whose orientation deviated from True North.
Cushla, who had she been a boy would have had to have been called Frank, suddenly said, “Frank! Are you queer?”
My heart sank, but a look of pure glee spread over his face. Up came his index finger. It rubbed the side of his nose. He leaned across the table and his little white goatee pointed horizontally. “I’m a gerontophile,” he said.
“What does that mean?” said Cushla.
“It means that I only fall for people older than myself. Which is all right, except that when you get to my age the supply starts diminishing fast.”
That seemed to put the situation plainly, but nothing with Frank was ever quite that simple. On another later occasion, he and I were talking about Janet Frame, whom I had first met in the 50s, when she was living in Frank’s army hut at the back of his section.
“I loved that girl,” he said. “They’ll never know the half of it.”
Anthony Stones
Oxford, England

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What I’m reading

Fur chickens. A true confession by Joshua Drummond.

The living wage: a history and economics lesson from Tim Worstall.

Never say that the RIAA lacks a sense of humour.

The link between eating organic food and moral depravity.

The Renaissance choral repertoire expands with the years: don’t we all. Peter Phillips enthuses about Cornyshe and Gombert, understandably, but now he’s bigging up his new discovery Jean Mouton, who was in the French team at the Field of the Cloth of Gold: Cornyshe played for England. We’re talking 1520.

A more recent composer is Michael Nyman who has a big sulk on: the Royal Opera House has declined to commission an opera from him. This English artist’s response to just criticism?:
Maybe I should withdraw my tax from supporting such public institutions in “my” country!
Roger Law was half of Spitting Image. He is now based in Australia, working in China, going a bit potty. He is brilliant. This half-hour film screened on the ABC last week.  

Did Putin cheat? Hmmm:
So unusual were the Parliamentary voting figures, the researchers said, that the odds of them happening by chance would be roughly one in 10^70, or one in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
For context, this number is about a billion billion times the total number of atoms in the entire planet, The Times reported.
The Economist’s Johnson on sniggerable names of world leaders. Look who’s talking. Please don’t tell Paul Henry.

So here is the Band at Woodstock in 1969:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Kate Belgrave on Jim Bolger

The 48th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the March 1996 issue and is a Kate Belgrave interview with Jim Bolger. I had forgotten how brave Kate was: journalists then simply did not call the Prime Minister “a successful shit in a suit”. Discovering her and getting her started was one of the best things the magazine ever did.

LIFE WITH JIM
Whizzing toward the top floor, the Beehive lifts emit a pained wheeze – the voice of the modern elevator. It speaks of conflict between accelerator and brake. Upon arrival, the racket cuts out, and riders are cast into a very quiet foyer, which is notable for its cuties behind the reception desk, an Economist cover picturing a gravestone and the caption “Communism II – It Lives!”, and its cloak-and-dagger air.
Everywhere, there are doors. Every few minutes, a pair of these open and a suit glides out. Its occupant has a look at whatever’s in reception, then coasts through to another set of doors. Whoosh. One such wayfarer is Therese Anders, Sen­ior Press Secretary. She comes in very quietly. She also comes with news. The PM is on the phone, so he’s a little behind. Before there’s time to kick up a stink we’re in the middle of a dialogue about my life story, which is not a bad yarn.
Next, we’re talking about office redecoration. As you will know, this comes in near the top of the list of delicate topics of this decade, no mean feat. It certainly explains why Anders takes care to point out a hoary old sofa. It is peach and it is heinous, and it is reflecting badly on our winning team. “This is what dignitaries have to sit on,” she says, rolling her eyes.
What they have to listen to is just around the corner, wearing a dark suit, a pair of light-rimmed glasses and an expression which suggests a short fuse or a long day. Then again, it may just be that this year so far is getting badly on his nerves. Let’s look at what we have here. No – let’s look at what we don’t. The America’s Cup and the French and their tests – but now they’ve gone. People want action on crime and mental health. It’s uphill stuff, and all he might end with is a grinning hippie, standing in his jandals in this very office, sharing the glory after MMP. A tunnel at the end of the light, as they say.
Still, our leader wouldn’t be our leader if he couldn’t stay on the horse, and the boys have certainly got him organised. Here, for example, is Jim at the opening of the refurbished government buildings. Here he is again, at the Sky City casino. In the flesh, steely eye contact and a no-nonsense, deliberate oratory are the features of his presen­tation, and I don’t see that changing in a hurry. We haven’t lost, as cricketers say, until they’ve won.
Interviewing him is a good way to find out nothing at all about anything much, but the thing to do is ride in fast, preferably on your high horse. After all, we’re talking higher ideals here.
To give up talking to Jim because he never says anything and you’re not always sure what he means when he does would be to let him off a hook you know he should be on. There is also always the possibility that real life might come through with a God-sent definitive moment and it is possibly with this in mind that our leader begins the afternoon by poking his head out of his door demanding a coffee. His tone, if I may be so bold, is execrable, and it adds a further dimension to the picture of a successful shit in a suit that he and the guys have been working on since the coming of big business made it groovy.
Cosmic. Everyone – interviewer, interviewee and Anders – takes a seat. Today’s subject is New Zealand’s future and so the PM breathes in and begins. “If we continue with rational government decision-making, there is no doubt in my mind that society in 20 years’ time blah blah blah blah.”
He consolidates his remarks by quoting publications which add facts and figures to the dream, or by embarking on personal anecdotes, which add him to it. It’s not a bad approach, because it doesn’t allow a lot of room for interruptions. Come to think of it, it doesn’t allow a lot of room for questions either.
“Just let me add something here,” he will say, if someone attempts to slip one in. “Just let me finish”. He is in charge and a total pro with it. Ten points, is all I can say. Absolutely no information passes between us, and in fact, the afternoon’s only real tragedy is that about 10 minutes into the performance, the entire construct is in tatters. “Nobody’s got my coffee,” the PM says, looking round. He’s right, you know. Nobody has. You’d never wait this long in a cafe.
Anders races out to see to the situation, but it’s all starting to feel a bit hopeless. Our leader’s mouth is now a tight line, but this is one guy who has been around, and if he knows anything, it’s to get back into the story. He does exactly that, and soon we’re off again. We need sensible management systems set up sensibly alongside sensible accounting systems or something to that effect – probably there’s a name for it – and New Zealand’s happy tomorrow calls for more of the same. Casing distant shores for lolly is the basic idea here and our man at the top feels the opportunities on this front are endless.
“The only thing we have,” he says, pressing the tips of his fingers together, and sending the steely gaze over the resulting pyramid, “is no shortage of markets.” The Asia-Pacific region ignites an especial fire in his eye – that great riddle of a region, laid low for a while by foreign embargoes and a long run of autocratic nutters, but happily emerging from the coma in recent times, hanging out for telephones and full of little shoppers. Get into it, New Zealand.
It’s all part of the vision Jim has of our little land as sophisticated global player, the hands of which will be joined across the water by free trade, multinational corporations, and of course, the Net.
And so on the PM speaks, verifying each passing moment that the most impressive aspect of this ideology is the extent of its grip.
Outside, Wellington’s most recent acquisition, the black tropical cloud, begins to move in. It’s still and very hot. Inside the players continue to work through it, although to tell the truth, I think we’ve all had enough. Anders sits quietly in her seat, doing her unobtrusive best to fade into it. The PM drinks his coffee and explains what markets do to people who make them cross. The only real hope now is that an SIS boy, also asleep, will crash into the room from a vent.
Other than that, all today’s story has to offer by way of hope, depth or even entertainment is its holes. “Globalisation,” Jim says at one point, grinning across his fingers. “Terrible word.”
Anders grins as well and for a few seconds, the atmosphere in the room improves as a little group fun is poked at the dream’s jargon. Heh heh heh.
On the other hand, he’ll deliver a line like “we see nothing but a forward trend-line” and nobody laughs at all. Okay, so discovering contradictions in this milieu isn’t much of a find, but at least it serves to remind that the truth in the end will out.
What am I saying? “And there was personal humanity,” Saul Bellow once wrote, “a fringe receding before the worldwide process of consolidation. This process might seem too crude to be taken seriously, but don’t kid yourself, it was shaping the future.”
Interestingly enough, Jim speaks as emphatically on social issues as he does on other topics, which is certainly saying something. “Society,” he says, “will be BETTER materially and better in terms of knowledge.” He describes crime as “one of the difficult aspects of a society that... ah ... well... I guess most of the Western World,” but points to police as a plus. “Let me give you an example of my home town of Te Kuiti,” he begins. “They have put in what they call a curfew.”
So they have, although the point I want to make is that may not be the point. The point is that lining the streets with police may be among the last, rather than first, resorts of a society in tatters. Will people construct healthy communities in the future if they’ve never actually seen one?
Unfortunately, analytical debate on these topics, fails, as ever, to get off the ground. We have a brawl instead. It’s fun and useless, and it’s also nearly home-time, so we get on to another anecdote. Back up country a while ago with Joan, Jim was reminded just how remarkable a country this is. “It is a remarkable country that our prime minister can just walk along a country road with his wife here,” he says, quoting a policeman who saw him wandering along.
He sees this as a measure of the worth of contemporary society, and probably as far as he is concerned, every day he doesn’t get shot is. It’s only a pity that the real measure is the fact that little afternoons like this still take place at all. 

The hierarchy of adjectives

Robert Colville writes in the Daily Telegraph:
A great joy of the English language is its endless capacity to delight and surprise. Yesterday, for example, my colleague Tom Chivers introduced me to the hierarchy of adjectives. This is the rule that descriptions tend to go opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose: for example, “a lovely little Seventies Bakelite radio” or “a hideous new green crinoline dress”. Put any of the words in the wrong order, and the meaning breaks down. Thus, Ken Livingstone can be a ghastly old socialist relic, but “socialist old ghastly relic” sounds off.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

The great baritone has died, aged 86. One of the finest singers of the last century, he was outstanding in everything from Bach to Britten, but especially Schubert. Here he is in Schubert’s “Der Erlk├Ânig”:

Media bites

In the New Zealand non-fiction top-ten bestseller list for the week ending 12 May there were six cookbooks – Treats from Little and Friday, The Free Range Cook, Jax Cooks, Nadia’s Kitchen, A Good Harvest and  Cakestar – and one diet book, April Loses it: 30 Kilos in 30 Weeks!. Better six cookbooks and one diet book than the other way round, I suppose.

On Friday night the 2012 Canon Media Awards, the artist formerly known as the Qantas Awards, were announced. APN’s NZ Herald has put online all the APN winners (can’t link to this, sorry, as I can’t get onto the Herald website). Fairfax’s Stuff, as far as I can see, hasn’t published anything even though Fairfax papers the Press and Dominion Post had a very good night. So here is the full list: just click on “See all winners and finalists” at top left. In this house we’re saying hooray for the Listener, the Bay of Plenty Times, Donna Chisholm and Joanna Wane.

Over at TVHE, a very interesting discussion about Media7 and TVNZ7 in general: Matt Nolan, an economist, kicks it off and is swiftly engaged by Media7 host Russell Brown. Debate ensues. More light than heat, which is nice.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The launch of the Wintec Press Club

I take back almost everything I have ever said about Steve Braunias. He has named me as the latest “winner of New Zealand media’s most coveted award”. This, of course, is the weekly Alcohol Sponsorship Press Award, sponsored by the makers of Grower’s Mark wines: 
The award recognises excellence and strangeness in New Zealand media, including social media, and is open to editors, reporters, subs, weblog writers, photographers, illustrators, critics and even tender editors of the New Zealand Herald.
The judging panel comprises a seasoned media professional in each of the four main centres, as well as Raglan and Motueka.
The full judges’ report is here at Pead PR’s blog: other finalists included Toby Manhire, Patrick Gower, Chad Taylor, Matt Nippert and New Idea.

The winning entry was Wednesday’s post about lunch with Winston Peters. Steve writes:
Stratford’s write-up was elegant, wonderfully observant, as arch as the McDonald’s sign, and mostly accurate, although he failed to note that the lunch series is no longer called Media Bites, and has been renamed the Wintec Press Club.
It’s a mark of Stratford’s influence that his blog drew the attention of David Farrar at Kiwiblog and Cathy Odgers at Cactus Kate. He’s quite viral.
 “Quite viral.” I’ll take that as a compliment. 

In his judges’ report Steve upbraids me for neglecting to mention that the lunch series has changed its name from Media Bites to the Wintec Press Club. My excuse is that it happened with such bewildering speed – we had been invited to Media Bites but at the start of proceedings Steve put a motion proposing the name change, declared it carried and said it would take immediate effect: “That’s the way we rock, Peters.”

What I’m reading

Bill Ralston tells the media to stop being so precious and harden up. Quite right. Sooks.

Mick Hartley on the birds and bees, otherwise known as a Zionist espionage plot.

Toot-toot, chugga-chugga: Scott at Imperator Fish has the real oil on the Wiggles’ change of line-up. Money quote from one of the new members (see if you can guess who):
At the moment the kids lose interest in the Wiggles as soon as they reach school age, so the group is aiming to capture an older, more cynical market. My scrappy, take-no-prisoners approach to politics obviously fits that profile.
More shortlists: the James Tait Black has been announced and one of the four finalists is A.D. Miller’s Snowdrops. Excellent.

Tim Blair spots the New York Times headline of the month: “When I root, God laughs.”

James Kirchick on misremembering Christopher Hitchens at the memorial service: don’t mention the war.

Ron Rosenbaum on that wild mercury sound.

Finally, what I’m not reading: this Herald story headlined “Radiohead are better than us – Coldplay”. We all know that. It isn’t news. Next!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Kate Belgrave on Winston Peters

The 47th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the July 1996 issue and is a Kate Belgrave interview with Winston Peters: connoisseurs will enjoy the emphasis on “accountability” and, yes, “integrity”. Thanks to Toby Manhire for jolting me into action at lunch yesterday.

HIDE AND SEEK
“Politicians,” says Peter Dunne, reflecting on some of the turns life has taken over this last while, “will always be politicians. They will work out the best ways round any situation.” In a number of ways it is a surprising comment, remarkable for both its great honesty and irony. So often nowadays both seem to have been lost. It can be hard still to believe in our way of doing things, and even harder to see the point.
Perhaps this explains Winston Peters’ extraordinary rise this year. Words like truth and fairness do strike chords, even among the cynical. Perhaps he is the exception. He is charismatic, he is clever, and his calls for justice just might take him all the way. It has to be said he seems different from the rest. Which is why it is kind of nice to be in the Bowen House elevator and heading for the offices of New Zealand First, where the air is fresh and the morals are fine and they tell God’s truth all of the time. Okay, so not everyone’s white, but they’re making an honest effort to clean things up, smoking out the gooks.
“Accountability and integrity,” says Winston incisively, tapping the afternoon’s inaugural gasper on the edge of his ashtray and gazing through the smoke that trends upwards from it. “Accountability and integrity.”
He holds my gaze steadily as he allows these words to sink in. Perhaps a little concerned that they won’t, he repeats them now and then throughout the afternoon. “Accountability. Integrity. Integrity and ac­countability. Integrity.”
As you listen to him speak, it really does become easy to see why he is so able to inspire an audience, and bring people to their feet. It is also possible to see why half the correspondents who walk out of here with an hour’s fluff in shorthand conduct the journey in tears. Getting to the point via the language is where the job lies. He is very good at his end of it, which is why keeping a grip on a chat with Winston is kind of like following those little dots which dance about in front of your eyes – up, down, left, right, then round and round and round.
There is also the fact that Winston is an emotions man. He isn’t really out there to ram the hard news home. This may be partly because he tends to be short of hard news, but it may also be because he knows that even in this callous day and age, the truly meaningful interface doesn’t have much to do with the facts. Getting along is generally about positioning, and Winston thus changes his – and therefore your – entire personality whenever he senses he has got on top of the one you’d thought for years was a winner. “Emotions” is the word, and Winston has a grip on them all.
It is thus rather unfortunate that the one first up today seems to be “cross”. Winston’s mouth is tight, his eyes are narrowed and his vowels harsh and clipped. He glares across his desk. He assumes an unlovely scowl. One wonders if it would be a good idea to ask Winston if he is a bigot. One decides it probably would not.
He is muttering about the “worst type of fascist”. He is getting worked up about “ownership”. By the time he’s hoeing into “a more accountable democracy”, a person is thinking of maybe an afternoon movie – when suddenly, things turn around.
Either the little white fan putting away in the background causes the smoke clouds to part for an instant, or the vision of Act’s Rodney Hide, which forever dances without its shorts before Winston’s eyes, effervesces – whatever, he has noticed that his audience today is a girl. True, the harsh bulbs inside Bowen House aren’t doing this girl a million lighting favours, but our man today is not hung up on skin tone. He’s looking for a woman’s depths, which shine in all kinds of lights.
Winston’s slow grin begins, the ill-will leaves his eyes, the smiling confidence replaces it, and a person is reminded that even though Winston may be a number of miles off his rocker, and is possibly booked to leave it entirely, he can be very charming. Extremely charming, in fact. He lights another cig, relaxes in his chair, and addresses himself to exuding a little of the sexual energy that has been reeling them in for years. Pretty soon, the afternoon is cracking along. From a information-gathering point of view, it’s as hopeless as it ever was, but it’s all conducive to a cheery dialogue.
The passing years, you see, are not making unkind inroads into Winston. One suspects it’ll be a bad day when they do – “I’m not that old, “ he says in a wounded voice when the subject of his political longevity comes up – but there’s no need to panic yet. The suits are great, the hair’s all there, the fags have yet to turn him into a weatherboard, and the hits just keep on coming.
Each one better than the last. Barring a yet-unforeseen turning of the world on its ear, Winston, Tau and the lads could rack up a fairly meaningful score in October. “Why?” I hear you scream. “What the hell is wrong with everybody?” Sex appeal, nice threads and paranoia: agents Scully and Mulder of The X-Files are riding high for these reasons, and Winston’s riding high too. True, the script is guilty of the occasional hole, but in the end it’s all about keeping the bigger picture in mind, and forgiving your heroes their gaps.
It must be. This very morning, our champion of accountability and integrity scored another coup by stamping out of Howick, where he’d been invited to speak to the United Asian Association Friendship Club, or something along those lines. For the sake of argument, let’s just call them You Poor Bastards. Winston couldn’t recall the name off the top of his head, but this happens. They do all look the same.
Winston isn’t usually too bad with names – Chas Sturt and David Henry, the Commissioner of Inland Revenue, are a couple we’ll all take to our graves – but further details about anything at all are not immediately to hand. Winston today is a friend not a fighter, and when a man is feeling warm, you require a lorry to stop it. He even laughs when, sinking to new lows to get a rejoinder, I ask if he’s a liar. “Heh heh heh,” he chuckles. “I’m insulted.”
Hide aside, this goodwill extends to many. It certainly embraces a number of creeds – Winston professes to be a great fan of “the miracle of Asia”, and he has “the greatest respect” for the people who brought it about. “I never actually mentioned Asians” is his catch-cry on the Asian immigration issue, and he repeats it today with that warlike sincerity he uses to such effect.
But somebody introduced and under­scored the word Asian in the immigration discussion this year, and at the time Winston struck me as the kind of guy who might collaborate on a list of suspects.
Some people blame Winston for the immigration chaos. Others blame the media. Some blame Asians. Winston blames Them. You know – Them. All They want is a consumer population. They don’t really mind what it looks like, as long as it’s out there, shopping.
They, of course, are the National Party, and more specifically, Jim Bolger. Both come in for an extended shafting, the details of which you already know. Anyway, the point perhaps is not Them but Us – the increasing numbers of us who are turning up in the polls, wanting to vote for Winston and this mad, shifting ideal that is so potent but indescribably difficult to grasp.
For Us, Winston says, the argument’s about ownership, space, and the lies They tell – and we’ve been here before, too. He grins as the phone rings. Of course there is more, but I get chucked out before it is forthcoming. Pity, this. The next 10 minutes could have been useful. The person on the phone is Michael Laws.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lunch with Winston Peters

To Hamilton this morning to attend another Media Bites luncheon in the company of another 100 or so of Steve Braunias’s closest personal friends. The guests were students from Wintec’s journalism course (where Steve is editor in residence), Waikato journalists, Auckland media types, Colin Meads, local freeloaders (i.e. me) and a gaggle of MPs: Jacinda Ardern, David Bennett, Sue Moroney, Tim Macindoe and some chap from the Greens I’ve never heard of.

Peters was late, of course. “He likes to make a dramatic entrance,” announced Steve, who seemed more concerned by the non-appearance of David Shearer, leader of the Opposition. I wanted to call out, “He’s here, he’s just invisible.” (He did turn up eventually and I had a chat with him after the show. He seems a very nice man. Who knew?)

NBR has posted online the official text of the speech here. It was the usual stuff, a mixture of charm, bluster, fudging the historical record and blaming the media – especially two social-media operatives, Whale Oil and “a mischievious [that’s how he pronounced it] blogger known as Kiwiblog” who apparently are responsible for NZ First’s dismal result in the last election. 

When in government Peters was notorious for not reading Cabinet papers. He seemed not to have read his speech either – we were all discovering it together. We were on the same journey. At one point he extemporised then went back to the speech notes – and repeated a couple of paragraphs. He didn’t notice but we all did.

There was a baffling anecdote, not in the speech notes, that started, “My father used to say, if you go out to feed the cows, don’t feed it all out at once, feed it out slowly.” Also not in the speech notes:

On Gerry Brownlee: “some illiterate woodwork teacher”.

On Paula Bennett: a sexist remark which I shan’t repeat.

On Rupert Murdoch: “Murdoch owns half the media in this country.”

On Kim Dotcom: “Tim Dotcom”.

On Jacinda Ardern: “Jacinda Ahearn”.

On the media: “The media has magical reasons to exist.”

Where things really got strange was when questions came from the floor. Joshua Drummond, the Waikato Times’s superb most-Mondays columnist, said, “I’ve read Richard Prosser’s book. Is he OK?” Peters had to defend his crazed MP but after more questions from Joshua finished, defeated, with:
We’re a freedom party in that respect.
There was a question about John Key’s recent comments about the NZ Herald. Peters replied that it was odd for Key to complain because:
The Herald might as well be his press office.
David Slack asked, “What is the next question the media should be asking John Banks?” Peters replied:
Well, Mike, why does he keep changing his position on asset sales?
More blather followed about finance and speculation, all of it about John Key and all of it economically illiterate, as I said to Joshua later. He replied, “But he’s very politically literate.” Yes. I suppose that’s why he is still with us.

Among the audience eyebrows had been raised and eyeballs had rolled throughout. But not as much as when – after some shameless pandering to the audience about how wonderful “TV7” is – he got onto immigration and Asians, as we all knew he would eventually:
Drive down Dominion Road, there’s 150 restaurants. Now there can’t be that many people eating.
Winston Peters is 67.


UPDATE: I have added (above, or click here) an interview with Winston Peters, published in Quote Unquote the magazine in 1996. He hasn’t changed a bit. Connoisseurs will enjoy his frequent references to “accountability” and “integrity. The interviewer was Kate Belgrave, who is as fearless as she is funny.

Getting away with Murdoch

The current issue (4 May – 17 May) of Private Eye is essential reading for anyone interested in Rupert Murdoch, News Corp and the Leveson inquiry – which is most of us. The Eye has really gone to town on this. Only a small sample is online. It begins:
RUPERT THE BARE-FACED...
“We have never pushed our commercial interests in our newspapers.” So said Rupert Murdoch at the Leveson inquiry, speaking under oath. We must assume that either the DPP will prosecute him for perjury… or that incidents recorded in the Eye over the last 25 years have been complete coincidences.
Read on here. It’s devastating – and funny.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Judge not lest ye be judged

As promised, more on the “Politics of Prizes” event at the Auckland Writers’ and Readers’ Festival on Sunday. This starred Dame Stella Rimington, best-selling thriller writer, chair of the judges for the 2011 Man Booker award and former head of MI5; Jenny Pattrick, best-selling historical novelist and former chair of the NZ Arts Council; and, bringing up the rear, me. I was there because I have been a judge of our national adult book awards five times. The chair was Sam Elworthy, publisher at Auckland University Press and chair of the NZ Post Book Awards Governance Group. So, a reasonably well-informed panel.

There is an account of this session at Beattie’s Book Blog but I think it is inaccurate. (Good comments, though.) What follows is not a fisking of BBB but my account of what was said – and what wasn’t. Graham Beattie wrote:
It was rather alarming to hear Stratford suggest on three occasions that he regarded book awards as largely a waste of time in terms of increasing book sales. To back this up he quoted his local bookseller in his country town and the Paper Plus chain.
I replied at BBB:
I did not say three times that I regard book awards as a waste of time. I did not say it even once. I would never say that, because I don’t think that.
What I said was that booksellers I have talked to regard the shortlist as a waste of time. I asked my “local bookseller in [my] country town” about what effect the book awards have so that the voice of booksellers might be heard in the discussion, because the chair was a publisher and everyone on the panel was a writer. I was being a journalist – not saying “this is what I think” but “this is what I am told by someone who knows more about it than me”.
Preparing for the session it seemed to me to be lacking the booksellers’ voice. Booksellers are the best people to talk to if you want to know what is happening in the book world. They see national sales data so they know not just what sells in their shop but what sells nation-wide – and they talk to customers, i.e. us. Booksellers know much more than publishers and authors do. Friends at Whitcoulls head office and at the brainiest of all urban bookshops also say privately that the shortlist is a waste of time. The question is: why?

I got grief at the session and at BBB for reporting this view which was not my own – I was being a journalist. Authors and publishers like a shortlist, the longer the better, because it is recognition. We all like to be stroked. A slot on the shortlist is helpful for a writer when putting in one’s next application for Creative NZ funding. There are lots of warm fuzzies – but if a longer shortlist doesn’t increase sales, it is not unreasonable to ask what is the point of it.

The children’s book awards are quite different – that shortlist really matters. Bookshops automatically order from it the morning after it is announced, as do schools. I don’t know why it’s so different from the adult awards but assume it’s about trust in the brand – the children’s awards are seen to be reliable, the adult awards not so much. The Booker brand is trusted because it has been around so long (also the prize is a whopper) whereas ours keeps changing its name and format.  I’m guessing here, like everyone else.

Jenny Pattrick suggested that one reason people don’t pay much attention to the shortlist is that they might already have bought the book – it had a burst of publicity at on publication and that’s when keen readers buy it. If a book came out in March last year and the NZ Post shortlist comes out in June this year, that book is old news and there have been tons more New Zealand books published since. Possibly most of its potential audience have already bought it.

My wife agrees. She used to be a journalist too so she asked the members of her book club about this. None of them pays any attention to the shortlist and a couple had never heard of it. That is a real problem – if you haven’t got the book clubs on side, you haven’t a hope.

The last question from the floor was from Dame Fiona Kidman – honestly, the room was full of dames – about the length of the shortlist which is now down to three. I had to front the media in 2010 when the shortening of the shortlist happened, and remember saying that this was a matter for the organisers not the judges, but that we hadn’t found it a problem. Authors might have, publishers might have, but the judges didn’t: if we’d had a top five, we all knew what the top three would be. So why bother with five?

After the session there were mutterings in the foyer about booksellers being unsupportive – but booksellers know their customers, and if the customers aren’t interested in the shortlist, why should the booksellers be? The shortlist used to matter, it should matter, and it could well matter again – but how can we make it so? I’m glad this is Sam Elworthy’s problem and not mine.

Waikato Times letter of the week

It has been a while since the last one. Apologies. This is from the 15 May edition:
Tell terrible truth
I am writing regarding the reporting of the current world economic crisis in the mainstream media. I wish to make a constructive criticism of the way you convey information on this subject to the public. I say this with all respect to your professional skills and knowledge.
I draw your attention to the contrast between how the internet media conveys information on this crisis and how the mainstream media does it. The mainstream media seems to be saying things are slowly improving and we are headed for a better place.
However, the internet media show very starkly we are heading for a world economic collapse and a 1930s-type depression.
From what I can gather from internet blogs, we are headed for a terrible time of trouble like no other! Truth is truth, no matter how terrible it may be.
I will give you one example. The United States Department of Homeland Security has ordered 450 million rounds of .40 ammunition and an unknown number of bullet-proof checkpoint booths. What are they preparing for? What do they know?
I feel it is your duty to convey the facts and wake people from their entertainment stupor!
ANDREW MITCHELL
Hamilton

AWRF diary

I went to Auckland for the weekend to perform at the Auckland Writers’ and Reader’s Festival: once as chair of Snowdrops: A.D. Miller, just me and a total stranger on the main stage of the Aotea Centre (seats 2256) for an hour; and then the next day on a panel with Jenny Pattrick, the best-selling historical novelist, and Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5 who is now a successful thriller writer and last year was chair of the Man Booker committee that shortlisted Snowdrops.

Friday
Lunch with four poets and a blogger. Karyn Hay was supposed to join us but she emailed to say she would be a no-show. Bitter disappointment all round. I explained to Peter Bland, “She does this a lot. She’s a lunch-teaser.” Other topics of conversation: work in progress; a mutual writer friend who has gone mad; the works of Geoff Dyer; the excellence of Dan Poynton’s recordings of Lilburn’s piano music and the new Naxos CD of Ross Harris’s Second and Third Symphonies; ARD Fairburn; and, as always, smut.

I went to the afternoon session on “Broken Britain” with Dame Stella Rimington, A.D. (Andy) Miller and Geoff Dyer, with Robin Congreve chairing, mainly so I could get a sense of what Stella and Andy were like. I took a seat on the aisle in the back row and had to leap up eight times in a row as eight attractive women came in, each one going “M-wah m-wah” at me. I do not get this response from the other mothers when I do the school run.

Andy seemed harmless so after the book-signing session I introduced myself and we arranged to meet later for dinner. I took him to Coco’s Cantina because I like it there and because I was pretty sure I would be greeted with a kiss by Damaris, the beautiful co-owner, which would impress him. I was, and it did. We hit it off, had a great time then went back to the hotel for more intensive preparation for Saturday’s session, i.e. another drink.

Also at Coco’s were Jeffrey Eugenides, Geoff Dyer, Anthony McCarten, Sebastian Barry and several other famous writers. It’s quite the Les Deux Magots of K Road.  

Saturday
I was pacing nervously in the foyer of the Aotea Centre. Fergus Barrowman, who is mostly harmless, asked why. I said I was about to chair an event and, when chairing, I try to stay out of the way and let the star shine though I do try to be entertaining: “But I’m not as funny as I think I am.” 

Fergus said kindly, “Don’t worry, you’re funny enough.” I thought, brilliant, I can use that: “Stephen Stratford – he’s funny enough.”

The session went off well. We had a Q&A for 20 minutes, Andy read from the novel for 10 minutes, then another 15 minutes of Q&A before questions from the floor. This is the terrifying part – you don’t know who is out there. Nevil Gibson had had to turn the mike off when a loony began ranting in the session he chaired on Consumptionomics just before us. We were lucky: no bozos. But an hour is an awfully long time.

Sunday
My second event, the panel on book awards. Stella Rimington is not harmless at all but she was great – friendly, funny and super-smart. As are Jenny Pattrick and our chair, Sam Elworthy of AUP, so it was a very relaxed discussion.

There was one weird question from the floor for Stella: “Given what you did in the miners’ strike in 1984, what does the literary community think of you?” She started to explain why it was totally legit for MI5 to get involved (a foreign power was funding locals who said publicly they wanted to overthrow the elected government) but stopped and said, “Why am I talking about this? It’s ancient history. What has it to do with book awards? And what is the literary community? Who are they?”

There is a lot to be said for a brisk Englishwoman of a certain age.

The liveliest part of the discussion was about the importance or otherwise of shortlists. This has been misreported elsewhere, so I’ll do a separate post later on what was actually said.

Monday, May 14, 2012

What I’m reading

Visualising word origins. Money quote:
I absolutely LOVE the fact that Caleb Gindl uses two Old Norse words to describe the weather conditions during the game. It provides a certain primal, unhinged quality to the situation and adds a third element — nature — to the contest.
Judge not lest ye be judged; copy-edit not lest ye be copy-edited. Money quote, in the comments:
Thank you, Doug, for reading our newsletter so closely.
Mathiness – statsiness? – from the Dim Post and in the comments. Elegant graph, too. Money quote:
I believe the Loess filter has an adjustable window-width parameter, and the default in R is to use one based on the data length, which tends to over-smooth.
Crotch funk as art via David Thompson. Money quote:
Hold still, goddammit. I’m nailing some culture into you.
Confessions of a Columnist by Mark Dapin in Meanjin. Money quote is from Lionel Shriver:
the unremitting revelation that so many readers cannot comprehend standard prose—that so many people prefer to make up what they wish you had written so they can object to it; that, not to put too fine a point on it, readers cannot read—[which] exposes the whole business of writing comment pieces as utterly pointless.
Don’t get me started… 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Every writer should read this

Seriously. It’s about archiving stuff – not just backing up your work in progress but how we should think about archiving for the very, very long term as well as for the short. Paper doesn’t last. Floppy disks? Hah. Not even CDs will preserve our work and nor will this year’s devices. The Internet isn’t that great either. The only thing that will do it is carving every word in marble, possibly.

This article is by novelist Julia Jones, partner of Francis Wheen who recently lost his library, mementoes and the manuscript of the novel he has been writing. So she knows whereof she speaks. Chilling.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What I’m reading

Gogol. No, really. For both work and pleasure. My copy of “The Overcoat” went in the Great Book Robbery of 1998, so hooray for Project Gutenberg.

Chad Taylor on technology and the curse of “upgrades”. Money quote:
I don’t need the web to find out what I already know. If it’s online I'm grown-up enough to look at it. I want my laptop to work like a typewriter and my phone to work like a phone and my camera to have shutter speed and aperture and focus: if I need to get closer to the subject I can walk there. I would just like things to function. And I would like to not be thinking about this. The only reason I am is that there’s writing I need to get done. Whatever happened to welcome distractions?
 Nicholas Reid has a good go at Frank Sargeson. It’s up close and personal.

Questions we can answer: Are Govt spin doctors writing Stuff’s headlines? No. But how refreshing to see Fairfax newspapers accused of being right-wing and in the thrall of the Nats: roll over Rod Oram and tell Anthony Hubbard the news. Perhaps if those on the right think that Fairfax writers are all lefties, and those on the left think they are all righties, they may be, on balance, balanced. Well, not Michael Laws, obviously.



Finally, via Word magazine, proof that Marcel Proust invented air guitar 120 years ago. The photographer is unknown; the caption here reads, “Marcel Proust et ses amis au tennis du boulevard Bineau (au centre Jeanne Pouquet), 1892”: