Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I am the walrus

Hear him sing, hear him roar, even hear him whistle – but can he dance?:

Danny Gawlowski reports in the Seattle Times:
Everyday is a smorgasbord of 100 pounds of fish including mackerel, herring, surf clams and squid for E.T. the walrus, who is one of the star attractions at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. The downside of his diet is, well, squid-breath. E.T. came to Point Defiance in Tacoma after Prudhoe Bay oil workers in 1982 found him as a starving orphan pup and gave him his movie star name because of the resemblance. Raised at the zoo, he now weighs about 3,500 pounds and just marked his 30th birthday. Here, staff biologist Amanda Shaffer feeds E.T.
Monitor: David Thompson via Arbroath

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hedonism and Alban Berg

The children are in bed and my wife is at her book club so I can do what I want. Stratocaster abuse, drugs, hookers – you name it. So, hedonist that I am, I have an opera CD playing in the background while I do a bit more editing of a manuscript for a Major International Publisher. 

And this is the opera. The clip is a bit dodgy, copyright-wise, because it seems to be the entire opera, Lulu by Alban Berg, which is the same as my CD-set, starring Teresa Stratas as Lulu, Yvonne Minton as Grafin Geschwitz, Robert Tear as various chaps and the whole thing conducted by Pierre Boulez. I had no idea that this fantastic performance was available on DVD and I am sure that I will buy a legal copy of it eventually:

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Happy birthday, Karl Popper

The great philosopher of science was born in Vienna on 28 July 1902 and died in London on 17 September 1994.

He taught philosophy at Canterbury University from 1937 to 1945 and while there wrote The Open Society and its Enemies (1945), which was as influential in political thought as his other books were in philosophy. The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1935) is not an easy read, but I have done it. Conjectures and Refutations (1963) may be a better place to start. Pretty much everyone since in his field has had to deal with Popper and his brilliant concept of falsifiability. Stanford University’s bio is here.

I was taught philosophy of science at Auckland University by Popper’s student and critic Paul Feyerabend. We had no idea how lucky we were: not only did he know Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos and other heavyweights who dominated the field, but he had also known Bertolt Brecht and, OMG, Ludwig Wittgenstein and probably most of the Vienna Circle. Degrees of separation…

So here are Ultravox with “Vienna”:

Friday, July 27, 2012

What I’m reading #72

Nick Cohen on the racism of the respectable, expanding on this report from the BBC. Money quote:
Britain made female genital mutilation a criminal offence in the 1980s. Later we said it was illegal for parents to take their children abroad for the ‘procedure’. Yet although thousands of British girls are the victims of wounding with intent, the CPS has not instigated one prosecution, let alone secured a conviction.
It is a harrowing read – the description of how FGM is practised is horrific.  

Matt Nolan complains that Rob Hosking goes too far.

A guide to the music of Pierre Boulez.

A.D. Miller, author of Snowdrops, talks about London novels, some of them by Martin Amis.

The madness of my brother-in-law.

What would a mole of moles look like?

In the July Uncut Dr John (not online) remembers Jimi Hendrix this way:
I liked him. I first knew Jimi when he was playing in Little Richard’s band. Jimi was real special to the guitar like John Coltrane was to the saxophone. Certain people will take an instrument further, and will open the door for people to go through and go different directions.
He wasn’t an easy person to know – I got to know him more because girls that sang back-up for me made vests and clothes for him. When he was loose, he got looser. I worried about him because one day we were playing a gig in Quebec, and the promoter had run off with all the money. Jimi came offstage, and his ears and his nose was bleeding. He’d been kneeling in front of his amplifier – it’s not a good sign. I told him something about it – but I don’t even know if he could hear me.
So here is Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsys live at the Fillmore on New Year’s Eve 1970 with “Who Knows”:

You can hear the whole album here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Margaret Mahy i.m.

Two lovely tributes from Jolisa Gracewood at Public Address and Elizabeth Knox at her blog. John Dix says that Margaret’s story  “The Procession” inspired Blerta’s 1972 song “Dance Around the World”. So here it is:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What I’m reading #71

Seven reasons not to do work for free.

This TLS review of Peter Clarke’s Mr Churchill’s Profession (the title is a play on the title of George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession, which is about prostitution) reminds one that Winston Churchill was a freelance journalist, and a very successful one. At 24 he was one of the highest-paid in the world. Money quote:
Clarke has thoroughly scrutinized Churchill’s personal finances by way of his correspondence, his bank account, his tax returns and even his predictably impressive wine merchant’s bills (running annually at “about three times the earnings of a male manual worker at the time”).
Second money quote, from Evelyn Waugh on Churchill’s Marlborough, a biography of his ancestor:
“I was everywhere outraged by his partisanship & naïve assumption of superior virtue”, Waugh ruthlessly replied to Randolph. “It is a shifty barrister’s case not a work of literature.”
More on Finnegans Wake, last mentioned here in April and this will be the last time this year, promise: but this is by Michael Chabon in the New York Review of Books. He is wonderful about Ulysses which:
struck me, most of all, as a book of life; every sentence, even those that laid bare the doubt, despair, shame, or vanity of its characters, seemed to have been calibrated to assert, in keeping with the project of the work as a whole, the singularity and worth of even the most humdrum and throwaway of human days. I had just begun it when news came of the death, from cancer, of my best friend’s teenage daughter, and over the week that followed I found myself reaching gratefully into the book’s pages, tucking my cold hands into its pockets for comfort and warmth. It was a lighted house in a dark night.
When I reached the last page I immediately turned to the first to read it all over again, and then I made my way back through the stories, the first novel, the poems, unwilling to relinquish the company of Joyce. I read the letters and the Ellmann biography, and checked out the lone play, Exiles, even though I hate reading plays almost as much as I hate listening to recitations of other people’s dreams.
After that there was nothing for it: the bottle must, at last, be unstoppered, the safety perimeter breached.
What he means is, he read Finnegans Wake. And he is wonderful about that. Money quote, which is just as true of Ulysses:
Read aloud—ah! read aloud—it was fun, headlong fun, as you shot the rhetorical rapids in a spinning, swamped whitewater raft.
It is a brilliant piece and even if you have no interest in the Wake, or in Michael Chabon, it’s worth a look.

Word of the day: sprunting. Let’s hear it from Mark Forsyth in the Daily Telegraph with the latest lexicographical news:
Some of the words you find in old dialect dictionaries make you want to build a time machine and head straight off. Given the choice, I would emigrate to 19th-century Roxburgh, where they had a single word – sprunt – meaning to run after girls among the haystacks after dark. The idea of a place where that activity was so common that they needed a one-syllable word for it makes me feel that I was born too late.
Monitors: Chris Slane, Steve Whitehouse

Monday, July 23, 2012

Golfing for Jesus

In the 14 July issue the Economist reports on religious consumerism:
Last year sales of religious books in America grew by 8% in a declining industry.
Three years ago Fehmida Shah set up Smart Ark, a London-based online firm that sells Islamic books, toys and gifts, mainly for children. “HSBC [a bank] was doing Islamic bonds and religious books were selling well, so I thought why not tap into the niche but growing market?” she says. Customers from Britain to Singapore have bought her products. They include a pricier Fairtrade range that includes stickers of mosques around the world and a book on why Muslims should recycle.
It’s a big market for both faiths, with 2.2 billion Christians and 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. Unsurprisingly, Christians have a wider choice but most goods are aimed at evangelicals:
Specialist retailers in America sell “Smile, Jesus loves you!” blankets and nail files emblazoned with “Woman of God”. Swanson Christian Products of Tennessee sells golf balls alluding to scriptural texts and devotional sayings, such as: “I once was lost but now I’m found!”
Don’t believe it? Have a look at the online store, where you can find Christian towels, Christian T-shirts, Christian whatever you want and yes, inspirational Christian golf balls.

They come boxed in sets of three: “Golf balls are great for sharing your faith on the golf course, and for Pastor Appreciation.” 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Poetry porn

Well, honestly, what else would you call this line from Henry Newbolt’s “He Fell Among Thieves”?:
He felt her trembling speed and the thrash of her screw
The preceding line has “ploughing the foam”. Phwoar, etc. This is from a review in the Spectator by Juliet Townsend of The Fishing Fleet: Husband Hunting in the Raj  by Anne de Courcy which explains:
The Fishing Fleet originated in the days of the East India Company, when carefully selected potential wives would be sent out for the Company’s employees, those who failed to find a match being sent home under the rather unkind title of ‘returned empties’.
Vile. Sounds like a sheep farmer’s expression. A few pages later, Cressida Connolly reviews her godfather’ latest, Stephen Spender: New Selected Journals 1939-1995, and quotes:
To be totally honest now, I should ask whether Auden was not a bit envious of me because I had a large penis.
One looks forward to the published journals of male New Zealand poets.

Which brings us to EL James’s hypermegabestselling erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey. I haven’t read it either and nor has Paul Thomas which didn’t stop him from expressing a view about it in the Herald. Joshua Drummond skimmed it in a bookshop and expressed his view in the Waikato Times. On principle I didn’t read Paul, who would have been amusing, and skimmed Joshua, who was amusing. UK novelist Andrew O’Hagan did read the novel and this is his review. Money quote:
To say the woman in this book is submissive won’t cover it. She likes to compare herself to the heroine of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which is nice. But Tess has the whole of Victorian hypocrisy to contend with while Anastasia just has to worry – between delicious ‘humiliations’ – whether she’s got the right music on her iPod.
One unintended consequence  of the novel’s success is a surge of interest in the music of the great Tudor composer Thomas Tallis, whose magnificent 40-part motet Spem in Alium went to #7 in the UK classical chart thanks to a mention in the novel. So here are the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips:

And here are the just as wonderful but different Winchester Cathedral Choir under David Hill:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cute cats and repressive regimes

The Irish Times of 16 May carried a report on the Media Future conference held in Dún Laoghaire. Much of it was about digital in the newsroom, but not all. Some was about unintended consequences:
Bilal Randeree, social media and web editor for Al Jazeera English, told the conference that attempts by regimes in some parts of the world to close off access to social media are usually counter-productive because of “the cute cat theory”, he explained.
“People like to share pictures of cute cats on social media. When you block Facebook for 10 days, you’re basically pissing these people off. They get upset because they can’t share pictures of cute cats any more, and they get politicised,” he said.
More here and here.
Monitor: Private Eye

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bastille Day is Serge Gainsbourg day

Here is the great man in 1979 with his version of “La Marseillaise”, recorded in Jamaica with Sly and Robbie as rhythm section and the I-Threes (Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths) who were maybe the Jamaican equivalent of the Sweet Inspirations:

And here is the dub version.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Advertising on Stuff

Fairfax has given up on quality editorial content, hasn’t it. This vid of Miranda Kerr making an ad for Victoria’s Secret is not a news story in any way, it is an advertisement. So is this piece about an art auction later this month in which the dealer explains that buying paintings, specifically these paintings right here, is a really good investment. In the accompanying video – I wonder who paid for it – the dealer says, “There’s huge opportunities there for buyers.” Well, he would, wouldn’t he. 

The “story” on Stuff is illustrated with the opening still from the video, an arresting image of a woman whose head but not face is covered with bees. Neither painting nor artist is identified. (I can do that: Bee Lady by Joanna Braithwaite was first exhibited in 2002 at Milford Galleries.) I wonder why no one at Fairfax thought that might be useful information for readers. 

Advertorial and product placement is to be expected in suburban giveaways and James Bond films, but it’s not what one expects from one of our major media companies. Oh, wait…

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What I’m reading #70

Speed is bad. Especially for journalists.

Industrial music from North Korea: an excellent horse-like lady.

The future of non-fiction, possibly. One lives in hope.

English language:
Now that the Tour authorities are finally getting on top of the doping problem, we British are sensing a genuine sporting challenge at last, and showing how it should be done....with grit, determination, and a shitload of expletives.
Mick Hartley has the full story. See you next Tuesday.

Australian language:
When I told a former coworker of mine that I was leaving New York City to spend three months in Australia and asked whether he knew what to expect of its inhabitants, he told the story of the first Australians he’d ever met, fellow attendees at an event in Manhattan. This man is a professional writer and his stockpile of adjectives is not small, but he strained to find one that would convey not only the volume but the unblushing boldness of their conversation, much of which was unrepeatable to a young lady like myself. I asked him whether it was fair to base his impression of Australia on a group of individuals who, from his description, could have been backpackers just escaped from their hostel. He said it was the UN delegation.
The writer is Helen Rittelmeyer whom this guy regards as “the most disturbing human being I have ever encountered” and who must be quoting Kevin Bloody Wilson’s cousin Kevin Fucking Rudd.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Even if the midget is willing

Dizzee Rascal, born Dylan Kwabena Mills in East London in 1984 and now a big hip-hop star and co-owner of his own label Dirtee Stank, tells the Guardian about his new life in Miami: 
I’m not going to lie, it can be fun throwing money over a naked midget in one of the most famous gangster strip clubs in America. But after a while, throwing money around is not sensible, even if the midget is willing.
 So here, after you skip the terrible ad, is Dizzee Rascal with “Bonkers”:

Friday, July 6, 2012

Paragraph of the week

Aidan Hartley, a farmer in Tanzania, explains in the 30 June issue of the Spectator why he bought a pedigree Boran bull despite knowing that he was paying too much: he wanted “some pizzazz” in his herd:
After all, few are the joys left to a man of 47. I haven’t got a mistress. I do not feel the need to ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles. I like wine too much and while dodging bombs and rockets in Sudan the other day I thought it might be a good idea to retire from covering African wars. But what comes after the adrenalin of being shot at? I rise early, I work hard, I love my family, but I just seem to spend my life paying utility bills or talking about petty-cash vouchers.
The bull, we learn, is named Ollie and has a “lustful look in his eye. He’s heavy but not coarse-boned, not too loose, with length and a great top line.” Sounds like a bull, and sounds like a couple of Ollies I know. Later in the column Hartley says:
To launch the herd, my wife Claire bought me three heifers for my birthday.
I have a birthday coming up. I wonder…

Thursday, July 5, 2012

What I’m reading #69

A drive-by art preview in Christchurch.

The last Word.

Your e-book reader is watching you.

Via TVHE, Cormac Herley of Microsoft Research answers the question, “Why do Nigerian scammers say they are from Nigeria?” (The PDF of his paper is here: it’s a fascinating and entertaining read). It’s blindingly obvious once he points it out. Money quote:
By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select, and tilts the true to false positive ratio in his favour.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Keith Stewart on Gordon Walters, part 2

The 54th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the December 1995 issue. A sequel to this article from the December 1994 issue, it was based on conversations Keith Stewart had with Gordon Walters from November 1994 to October 1995. The intro read:
The artist Gordon Walters died last month. In conversations throughout the preceding year, Keith Stewart talked to him about the freedom he found in tight limits, and the balance between control and feeling in his paintings.
Gordon Walters has always made his art under his own jurisdiction, uncluttered by the influence of any criticism but his own, yet his paintings are a powerful response to fundamental elements of New Zealand, unmatched by few, if any, other 20th-century artists. His lucid simplicity, proportion and clarity have given art here a special vitality that seems to suit us, but in spite of his years of neglect by the wider community – even by most of the art world – he does not see his art as isolated.
“Art doesn’t come of out nothing,” he says. “And everything that I have done has come from people who have gone before. Not that I copy what they have done. It’s not that, because I transform things into my own sort of image. But to say that these things are completely original is not right.”
Indeed, there have been accusations of appropriation of Maori forms from academics who argue for an institutional form of isolation for culture. Walters, however, does not accept that responding to influences as he has done is anything other than the normal process of making art. He doesn’t deny the immense influence Maori culture has had on his own work, in particular the traditional forms of Maori art, or that he went looking for it – not that it was hard to find.
“Driving around the country I got to know, to almost sense, the Maori environment, and knew when I saw these places that there would be a meeting house around, and there was,” he says of his many journeys through rural New Zealand. “There is a peculiar quality those places have got, and this was very much the case in South Canterbury, which is all farming country, but where you get those limestone outcrops, cabbage trees, and a really unique little micro-atmosphere – you knew it was a Maori place. I love that feeling, that quality. It brings home to you strongly what the country used to be like.”
However, the process of turning those experiences and his strong feeling for the Maori presence in the land into an equally powerful element in his art was not instant. In spite of Walters’ awareness of the influence of African, Central American and Pacific art on European artists, he could not make the visual contact himself.
His awareness was no glib response in search of novelty. “At first Maori stuff seemed remote to me, very opaque, and I couldn’t get into it, couldn’t see how you could use it. But that was my limitation at that particular time. I tried to make use of Maori design, tried to take elements from it, but I couldn’t do anything with it. I couldn’t see properly at the time, and couldn’t see how I could ever use it.
“In the end one of the things that led me to use the Maori stuff was that I deconstructed things. I would take a particular Maori arrangement, say just a small koru thing, a bulb like that, and another piece coming back on the same thing, and I would keep the movement, take the bulbs, the circles off, so the thing would be deconstructed,” he explains, pointing to one of his now famous paintings. “I found that opened up possibilities.”
Possibilities that introduced a particular New Zealand feeling into paintings that were already heavily influenced by his voracious appetite for contemporary European art. His discovery of the kowhaiwhai pattern’s potential coincided perfectly with his awareness of the modem Europeans.
“The two areas came together. The modem European art that I was fascinated with, that I had travelled away to see, and the Maori stuff that had been there for all of my life and that I was working with regularly, came together. The timing was crucial. It is with those sorts of things. They just sort of worked themselves together and then there it was. I knew I had it immediately.
“When I went into work I would often sit down at my desk and just start drawing, just doodling around on a notebook or a piece of paper. And I was just drawing these kowhaiwhai patterns, trying them out in different ways, and there it was. The positive and the negative in one thing and at that point I knew I had something good, and at that point I started to go all out to develop it. But it took me a long time, a bloody long time.”
And it didn’t result in a rush of images. Gordon Walters’ career has been a steady, meticulously worked and crafted flow of paintings, rather than a gushing frenzy of paint and canvas.
“I didn’t develop that as far as I could,” he points out. “Because I already had enough. The thing is to know when you have enough, and I like those limitations because it enables me to go deeply into a thing. It is the struggle to get that thing working that somehow causes something to flow from you into the work. It’s an intangible sort of thing but it keeps on working.
“You can’t really plan that consciously, it has to be felt. It may only be a simple thing, but that is what is nice about it. I love those restrictions.”
And he continues to love them, worrying away at the “one picture” he says he is painting all the time, expanding our horizons, our view, by limiting his own material. It is a process that has produced some of the purest art possible, and he speaks of it with a candour and refreshing simplicity that almost matches the clarity of his paintings.
“I control things with my feeling, only my feeling,” he says, introducing the artist’s own view of making works that have been called excessively cerebral. “I move those things around, working with small studies. I have an idea. I put it down very roughly. If it doesn’t look right, I cut it up. I stop working with my mind and freely move things around until something stops me, and I feel that there is something there, so I work with that. I keep moving it around.
“There is this point where I stop working with my mind, where I am very relaxed, where something else takes over. But you have to be very alert or you miss something.
“I feel that my works are static, basically. The movement in the thing is resolved, is brought into a kind of tension, a balanced tension. Your eye has got to move around them. There are lots of things I could do with them that I haven’t done, but that’s from choice.”
But not too much choice. Walters returns to the theme of restriction, reducing options. “The forms in the thing are limited, and my use of the forms is limited. You have to put limits on what you do to operate freely. This is the contradiction. The works are very strict – you’ve got those horizontal bars, those circles. That is very limited, and you think how the hell can you make art out of that? But out of that incredible strictness you get tremendous freedom at the same time.”
So how does he feel about his enormous contribution, a career that has flourished in recent years as the price of his paintings spirals upward and critics refer to his greatness. A legend in his own lifetime?
“At the time you are doing it, you don’t think about the relationship of what you are doing to the community or anything like that. You are too involved in what you are doing, in making the actual work,” he declares matter-of-factly. A lifetime of making art in a country where artists are well down the status chart has ensured no glittering prizes, and more than his share of smacks in the face. The respect may be nice, but it doesn’t change the art. Or the approach.
“When I look back, my life looks like a whole lot of incidents which have jogged me on a step further. My earliest attempt quickly reached an impasse because I didn’t have the skill I wanted, and it was a terribly slow and lonely business to slowly make concrete what I felt, and to respond to what I had seen,” he says.
But he has done it, no compromise. To paint or not to paint is the only decision. From there on the choices are limited and are not reliant for success on anything as transient as popular acclaim. “I don’t know what makes me paint. I think it’s a very selfish thing in a way,” he reflects. “The reason I did so many of those koru paintings is that it took me a long time to get it to my satisfaction. It looks so easy now, so simple. It looks as if I have taken something and just put it down, but I haven’t.
“I am very aware of the business of making art just because it sells, but I don’t do that. You can’t do that. You have to have your sights set on things, and that’s right and proper. It’s not like being careerist, it’s just that you have to cut out anything in your life that is going to in any way delay your real aim.
“Art takes the whole man, it takes everything. You can’t fudge it.”

Monday, July 2, 2012

Amelia Earhart, first lady of the air

Home Paddock reminds us that on this day in 1937 Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan were last heard from while attempting to make the first equatorial round-the-world flight. Conspiracy theories abound. Were they spies? Did they run out of fuel and crash into the ocean or were they captured by the Japanese? Was Noonan beheaded on Saipan?

We will never know but at least the English band Plainsong got a concept album out of it, In Search of Amelia Earhart, in 1972 when bands made concept albums. This was one of the better ones. So here they are with “True Story of Amelia Earhart”. Four musicians, four-part blissful harmonies. Lead vocalist is Iain Matthews who was between  Fairport Convention and a successful solo career in America: