Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween 2013

God I hate Halloween. My own hyper children are bad enough; as Jean-Paul Sartre nearly said, other people’s hyper children are hell.

But one has to do it, even with bad grace and no swearing.  So there is a bowl of sweets by the door. However, as a defensive measure, I have had Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels on repeat, loud, and this large dead stuffed rat by the front door:

It hasn’t stopped them. What do I have to do? Stockhausen? James Blunt?

This is what was blasting from 200 Motels as the children came home, “Magic Fingers” with Anysley Dunbar on spectacular drums. If the singers – Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan – sound familiar, that’s because they did the backing vocals on one of the best pop records ever, T Rex’s Electric Warrior:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wyndham Lewis and Jack White

Wyndham Lewis was possibly the only novelist (Tarr, The Human Age) and magazine editor (BLAST) who was also a great painter. This is what he looked like:

And here is Jack White, formerly of the White Stripes:

 I wonder if they could, by any chance, be related.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tauranga’s house of horror

Via David Slack, “Tauranga’s $12 million mansion”.  I am from Tauranga and proud to be, but sometimes the city is just embarrassing. It once elected Winston Peters as its MP, and now this. Do click the link for a walk-through.

The house has five bedrooms, seven bathrooms and parking for six cars. Odd. The real-estate agent – who is blameless – says in the video, “It’s majestic as well as sustainable.” And OMG, the furniture. It seems to be high up the Minden, which is between Tauranga and Katikati and affords wonderful views out over Matakana island and Mount Maunganui. And yet I find myself resisting its siren call.

Country matters #5: rural delivery

There has been a predictable chorus of outrage on Twitter about NZ Post’s plan to reduce mail delivery to three days a week in urban centres but keep it at five days a week in the country. Well, I have seen one tweet, but that would count as a “chorus” for the Herald and Stuff.

Urban types may think that rural delivery is just like the postie, except in a van rather than on a bicycle, but it isn’t. It’s a lot more than that. It’s a two-way service, collecting mail as well as delivering it: outside the towns, there is nowhere to post a letter. Every farm is a business that has to send and receive letters and parcels every day so rural delivery is also a courier service. In a town or city you can rent a PO box but that option isn’t available in the country. Nor, often, is the internet.

And what urban types may not realise is that rural delivery is user pays. When I send a letter or package to a client with a RD address, I pay extra. Quite a bit extra. The good people of Devonport and Wadestown can be reassured that they are not subsiding the hayseeds.

Here is what Rural Women NZ has to say on the issue:  
Rural Women New Zealand applauds today’s announcement that the special significance of the rural delivery service has been recognised in the New Zealand Post 2013 Deed of Understanding.
Under the updated deed, urban areas may see a reduction to a three day mail service from 2015, but the five day a week rural delivery service will remain unchanged, except on runs that already have a lower frequency.
“In our submission, which Minister Amy Adams has acknowledged, we highlighted that the rural delivery is so much more than just a mail service and anything that threatened its sustainability would have widespread unintended consequences,” says Rural Women national president, Liz Evans.
“It is a wraparound distribution service that is part of the fabric that holds rural communities together.“Our rural delivery contractors provide a lifeline, delivering supplies, repairs and spare parts, animal health remedies, medicines, and courier parcels.
“The five day service ensures people are able to run their farming enterprises and other rural businesses effectively, even from remote locations.”
Rural delivery contractors also pick up mail and parcels, meaning that it’s feasible to run a production-based business from a rural location. These businesses breathe life into rural communities, as we have seen through our Enterprising Rural Women Awards. Rural Women NZ’s plea to preserve the existing rural delivery service was also based on the limitations of other communications facilities, that urban people take for granted.
“In many rural areas there is limited or no cellphone coverage and we are still dealing with dial-up broadband connections in many cases.”

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Public art works in New Zealand #2

Is this a meme, a theme or just a thing? See the previous post on scarlet tubular effusions in Auckland, Hamilton and Cambridge. Here’s another one, in Palmerston North. Clearly, they are heading south. Residents of Foxton and Bulls will be apprehensive. Even Otaki cannot be complacent.

This is The Giants Among Us by Konstantin Dimopoulos. The Manawatu Standard reported on 8 May that it is:
a two-stage work made of bright, slender fibreglass rods that sway softly in the breeze, or whip wildly in the wind.  Clever lighting will seem to set them afire at night. [. . .] The sculpture is the latest funded by the Palmerston North Public Sculpture Trust; the seventh to be installed in the city.
Tomorrow, Dimopoulos will install the other part of the work across Cuba St.
The installation work is timed to be in sync with Palmerston North City Council work to the intersection of Cuba, George and Taonui streets.
More information here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Police report of the week

This just in from Perth:
A woman has been charged after police allegedly caught her driving while a man lay on her car bonnet dressed in a dinosaur onesie.
Broome police were travelling to Gantheaume Point, Cable Beach about 7.20am when they sighted a white Ford Falcon wagon travelling in the opposite direction.
Police allege the vehicle was travelling at approximately 60km/h with an adult male lying on the bonnet, facing the driver.
Officers stopped the vehicle and located the man still lying on the bonnet, smoking a cigarette, dressed in a dinosaur onesie and wearing a snorkel.
The 23-year-old female driver has been charged with excess 0.05% and reckless driving.
The vehicle was seized under hoon legislation. 
The woman will be summonsed and appear in court at a later date.
The pair are French nationals, believed to be backpackers living in the vehicle.
Via Tim Blair, who comments:
The French are a charming people whose ways are sometimes a mystery to others.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Waikato Times letter of the week #42

I made that number up as I can’t be bothered going back to count how many WaikTimes letters of the week there have been so far – possibly 23, possibly 47. But channelling Douglas Adams, I’m going for 42 for this one from today’s issue, hot off the press, and will continue the sequence sequentially:
Forbidden fruit
Within the New Zealand Parliamentary system today we note that the women members are still listening to the serpent of Garden of Eden days – the “feminist-tree” looks good to them – the eating of its fruit would ensure that they would have the knowledge of God – in fact they would doubtless be like gods!
Their rebellious imput recently inserted into our political ethos at Wellington, follows the same perverted lines as Eve’s reasoning, as she ate the forbidden fruit while heeding the voice of the serpent, and we have found out that her actions have caused us nothing but trouble and unescapable error!
A deep, evil blackness is settling down upon our society, covering the once “righteous-wisdom”,that formerly reinforced the understanding of our leaders over the centuries.  It is a known fact that our lower-natures are subjected to the lure of evil, as sure as sparks travel upward from a fire. So also with the encouragement of those “out-of-the-square” radical thinkers in power, we can only expect more pro-perversion legislation.
It is a known fact that punctuation, spelling and spacing above is exactly as printed in the WaikTimes.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pink Floyd for Safety Week

Did you know it’s Safety Week, 14-20 October? Meither. Amazing what you learn by following Judith Collins on Twitter.

So here are Pink Floyd live in 1972 with “Careful with That Axe, Eugene”. It was the B-side to “Point Me at the Sky”, which was released in December 1968 and was arguably the first heavy-metal record. It would be worth a lot of money now, so of course I sold it to Real Groovy years ago for about 10 cents. 

Country matters #4

Statistics NZ recently released the regional population figures from the 2013 census. Quote unquote:
All regional council areas showed population growth or had steady populations between 2006 and 2013, except for Gisborne, which had a small decline.
Auckland was the fastest-growing region, increasing by 8.5 percent to 1,415,550 at the 2013 Census. Auckland accounted for over half of New Zealand’s population growth between 2006 and 2013.
Nelson was the second-fastest-growing region, up 8.3 percent to 46,437, followed by Waikato, which increased 6 percent to 403,638.
The overall figures are a bit misleading as they mask intra-regional differences.  As Elton Smallman reports in the Waikato Times, Thames-Coromandel, with a growth of 0.9 per cent, showed a decline in eight of its 12 monitored areas while 10 out of South Waikato’s 16 area units recorded a decline:
“At a national level, everybody is lauding all of the growth in Auckland but the rest of the country has got to deal with it,” said [Professor Natalie Jackson, director of Waikato University’s national institute of demographic and economic analysis].
“The district councils have got to deal with these areas that are not growing and it’s all lumped onto them as if somehow it is their fault,” she said.
“It’s not gloom and doom as much as realisation, and this is to me confirmation of the reality of regional decline and that trend continuing.”
South Waikato mayor Neil Sinclair said there was widespread concern among rural communities over urban drift and the problem needed to be addressed. “Certainly our young ones are leaving in terms of jobs and that’s why my council has taken the strategy of more jobs and better promotion of our district.”
Declining population put pressure on essential services and Mr Sinclair said his council was expected to pick up “the central government slack”.
“We have a basic infrastructure to maintain and if you are losing ratepayers then you are losing your rating base. But you still have to do that infrastructure.”
Indeed. But where I live, “Swayne Road area, Cambridge”, has grown by 524%. Take that, Auckland. We now have a population of 1461. Mathematically inclined readers will be able to work out what the population was in 2006.  Truly, it were all fields around here then. Still is, mostly

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What I’m reading #103

Ashleigh Young on dressing gowns at EyelashRoaming. Quote unquote:
Don’t forget that the dressing gown can be a bustling practical garment as well as a garment of defeat.
The blogosphere welcomes Vincent O’Sullivan, New Zealand’s new Poet Laureate. Or Pirate Laureate, as his grandson has it. Or Poet Lorikeet, as I prefer. As part of his duties Vincent is blogging on poetry. Quote unquote from his debut post:
I don't think many prescriptions for poetry stand up apart from one – if it isn't individual, if it's not “the cry of its occasion”, then why aren't we doing something else?  
Stephen Poole, author of You Aren’t What You Eat, in the New Statesman on the pseudo-profundity of Malcolm Gladwell. Quote unquote:
The art here lies in making the platitudinous conclusion seem like a revelatory place to end up, after one has enjoyed the colourful “stories” about carefully described plucky individuals with certain hairstyles and particular kinds of trousers. (Actual quote: “He is a tall young man with carefully combed dark-brown hair and neatly pressed khakis.”) Such books must thus be constructed with a certain suspenseful cunning. Gladwell likes first to tell an apparently convincing story and then declare that it’s not true, like a magician pulling an empty hat out of a rabbit.  
Niall Ferguson blogs at the Spectator on the New York Times’s favourite economist, Paul Krugman, who says “I (and those of like mind) have been right about everything.” Ferguson begs to differ. Quote unquote:
Why, you may ask, did Krugman feel the need to be so bold (and so wrong) in predicting the euro’s collapse over and over again, in his column, on his blog and to every media outlet that would give him an interview? The answer is because he and his beloved economic models had so completely failed to predict the U.S. financial crisis and he did not want to repeat his mistake.  
Evan Hughes in the New Republic on the state of book publishing. Quote unquote:
What does seem certain is that, despite their legal setbacks, the major houses have done their part to uphold the value of the book in readers’ eyes. When those publishers came up with the pricing scheme that landed them in trouble, it wasn’t a grab for short-term profit; the details are technical, but the upshot was that the companies actually collect less money for every e-book sold. What they gained in the bargain was the preemptive power to prevent Amazon from lowering prices to unsustainable levels. It was a long-term play to protect the worth of their product—so that, even if the whole business does eventually go digital, there will be enough value built in to  support the books of the future.
Neil Powell in the TLS on two new books about Kinglsey Amis and Philip Larkin. He’s very good on the letters, seeing them as performances to amuse each other, and very different from their letters to others. Quote unquote:
Yet in a crucial sense the Amis-Larkin letters are a hoax: for all their intimacy, they keep one eye on a more distant audience, the reader over the reader’s shoulder. It is Amis, the more public man, who has the sharper sense of this – “God this letter is going to be a treat for our biographers, eh?” – but Larkin happily colludes. The personae these supposedly private letters create are as shrewdly crafted as anything in their authors’ poems or novels.
Laura Bennett in the New Republic on the day of the Jackal, aka literary agent Andrew Wylie. Quote unquote:
Unless you’re a terribly bad writer, you are never going to have too many readers.
Philip Hensher objects to being asked by Cambridge University to write for free. Doesn’t he realise that he should be flattered? Quote unquote:
We’re creating a world where we’re making it impossible for writers to make a living.
 Which brings us to Eleanor Catton. Hooray, obv., and what a speech! In the Guardian she said that The Luminaries was:
subject to a “bullying” reception from certain male reviewers of an older generation – particularly in her native New Zealand. “People whose negative reaction has been most vehement have all been men over about 45,” she says.
The review I think she was referring to is by Michael Morrissey in Investigate. You be the judge. It contains the immortal phrase “put to me on the phone by CK Stead just before he swore at me and hung up”.

The Guardian takes us behind the scenes at the Booker over the years, with one judge commenting on the process and/or event each year. Quote unquote from Fay Weldon, chair in 1983:
After I sat down, the then president of the Publishers Association hit my agent Giles Gordon, second best thing to hitting me. I’d used the speech to reproach publishers for giving such rotten deals to writers . . . Michael Caine [not that one], charismatic  chairman of Bookers, came up to me years later, when I had been inadvertently invited to one of the dinners, and said: “It is not by any wish of mine you are here tonight.” It’s all got rather dull since. No one hits anyone.
Way, way back in September Jillian Ewart did a thorough round-up for Booksellers NZ of the West Coast in NZ fiction and non-fiction. There’s more of it than you’d think.

So here is Donovan on the Andy Williams Show with “To Susan on the West Coast, Waiting”. Yes, TV really was like this in 1969:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Local body politics

Was she really going out with him?

It’s all people in Auckland can talk about, the two-year affair by recently re-elected mayor Len Brown with the woman pictured above. The story was broken by Stephen Cook on Cameron Slater’s blog WhaleOil. The latest post there gives much, much more sordid detail, provided by her, then says, “She was reluctant to release any more information about their affair”.

The Herald is loving this and tomorrow’s billboard is a cracker. Twitter and Facebook are loving it too. 

Meanwhile, south of the Bombay Hills, there is a state of emergency in Whanganui with 110 homes evacuated and fears that the river will burst its banks. But for the Auckland media, Len’s trouser issues will be the issues that matter.

Blog comment of the week

On WhaleOil’s Why we broke the story of the rooting ratbag mayor, a reader asks why the story didn’t appear before last weekend’s election in which the rooting ratbag mayor in question, the politician formerly known as Len Brown, was re-elected. Cameron Slater replies:
Because I didn’t have the facts or the proof. You can’t run a story based on rumour and innuendo.
And to think this man was once the editor of Truth.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Michael King on Menton and Patrick White

To mark Katherine Mansfield’s birthday, the 70th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is a letter to the editor from Michael King, in the December 1996/January 1997 issue.

I’m sure I speak for all New Zealand writers when I say I am delighted that ECNZ has taken over sponsorship of the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship. I am less delighted at the effects its promotions may have on literary history, however. ECNZ’s ad (QUQ, November) shows a picture of the Katherine Mansfield Room in Menton, France. The memorial plaques in either side of the door have mysteriously become windows (did some disgruntled fellow punch them out?); the heavy wrought-iron gate, which helps to ensure the writer’s privacy, has disappeared. More seriously, the text announces that writers will work in “the same room where Katherine Mansfield produced some of her finest pieces . . .”

Not so. That room is out of bounds in the privately owned Villa Isola Bella above the KM Room. The room in which the fellows work was, in Mansfield’s time, the cave or cellar. The only person I found in 1976 who had lived near the property when Mansfield was there, Mme Yvonne Arbogat, was adamant that the room had been used for the storage of gardening tools, The only way Mansfield could have worked there was as a gardener, cleaning implements. The “most celebrated occupant” of the KM Room, therefore, was not Mansfield, as the advertisement alleges, but Janet Frame, who was there as KM Fellow in 1974.

One further piece of literary history. One of the most celebrated visitors to the room was Nobel laureate Patrick White, in 1976. His first words on entering this revered cultural shrine were: “Where’s the dunny?”
Michael King
Coromandel Peninsula

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rob O’Neill on David Herkt

After a year off, the Sunday Star-Times short story awards have returned, and today the finalists in the open category were announced: Angela Barnett, David Herkt and Faith Oxenbridge. The winner (and winners in other categories) will be announced on 3 November.

In the meantime, here is the 69th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote, a review by Rob O’Neill of David Herkt’s poetry collection The Body of Man, from the June 1995 issue: 

David Herkt, a New Zealand-born poet now living in Melboume, is in dazzling form in the prize-winning opening sequence of The Body Of Man (Hazard, $24.95, ISBN 0908790732). “Satires”, at once a gay parody of the Henry Miller style and a kind of homage to it, is shocking and exhilarating and driven by one of the most sexually forceful and amoral narrative voices I’ve encountered anywhere.
By comparison, “Hooded In Darkness” is dense and unsatisfying and “Neolithic” more studied but marred by some awkward rhythms, as in the first section of “Fatherless Children”. “Notes From A Plague Year”, an intense poetic diary of the progress of HIV/Aids through a loved one and through society, marks a return to a kind of narrative voice that made “Satires” so compelling. Here the voice is anguished and the imagery of sex and death inseparable: “& so the moment/ which has always shouted out beginning/ now also calls the end”.
Herkt is inventive and versatile, using a wide variety of styles and structures (songs, telegrams, letters, bordered commentaries) and the cumulative resonances of one poem against another to convey his meanings.
There is a definite progression in this collection from the stridency of “Satires”, first published in 1988, to the more circumspect, melancholy later sections which also appear to have been written more recently, after the experience of illness and death.

David Herkt recently contributed this excellent profile of singer Allison Durbin to Audioculture, “the noisy library of New Zealand music”.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Report on experience #3: Rarotonga

We went to the Cook Islands recently for a week to mark our 15th wedding anniversary and my 60th. Guess which anniversary I feel better about.

What follows as an advisory for a holiday on the Cooks is just what we liked, which is not necessarily what anyone else would like, but we are probably more reliable than Trip Advisor (which a distinguished Australian publisher calls a “pile of shit”).

We stayed here, the Beach Place at Tikioki, which was fantastic. A house right on the beach – self-catering, old and stylish – and in the morning the children could play on the sand and kayak in the lagoon. Tikioki is not even a village, not even a hamlet, but is a good walk to Muri, a popular touristy village where there is a very good café, LBV (Le Bon Vivant).

In Avarua itself there is another branch of LBV, more of a restaurant, where we had a spectacular dinner. The entrée was carpaccio of wahoo, which the waiter said he had caught at 2:20 that afternoon – all 35kg of it. Fish doesn’t get much fresher than that. 

We did some touristy stuff – Koka Lagoon Cruises sets out from Muri and when the crew have finished serenading the passengers with Raro songs and ukuleles you can swim with the fishes before lunch. One of the crew, Papatu Jack (Papa Jack for short: that’s him in front in the photo above), who had been the children’s snorkelling guide in the lagoon, is the world champion coconut-palm climber and he is amazing: a total showman, huge upper-arm muscles, young, handsome, witty and charming. Bastard. He gave a masterclass in coconuts – showing what you can do with them at the three main stages of a coconut’s life – which was fascinating for the adults and the children. His machete technique was scary.

The next evening we went out for dinner and a show at Te Vara Nui. It was spectacular – drumming, singing and dancing, all over water. One of the dancers was Papa Jack – he spotted us and interrupted his routine to wave to the children. Awww.  

What else? The best coffee I have ever had – yes, I have been to Italy – thanks to NZ expatriate Neil Dearlove in Matavera. And the beer from Matutu, about 50 metres from where we stayed, was great too. It was $10 for 1.5 litres, delivered in a Sprite bottle. Can’t get more low-key than that.

I came back with a lot of CDs of ukulele bands. I didn’t really believe Tairi, the ukelele star on the Koka Lagoon Cruises boat (he was amazing: he also plays trumpet, trombone and guitar by ear as he can’t read music: that’s him behind in the photo above) when he told me that he strings his uke with fishing line. That sounded like teasing tourists, but the guy at Raro Records where I bought the CDs confirmed it. “Most of us use 30lb breaking strain,” he said. “I prefer that but some use 25lb.”

Participant observation: the 8-string ukulele rules. It is louder, obviously, and is what rules in Tahiti.  And what rules in Tahiti is what rules in Raro. NZ is not the dominant culture in the Cooks, and a glance at an atlas will show why. I was surprised and pleased by this.

And then there was the curious incident of Winston Peters turning up to my birthday lunch, which a local friend had kindly put on. I don’t know what I expected of my 60th birthday, but it wasn’t that.

Public art works in New Zealand

Auckland: Pohutukawa, Pitt Street, by Rod Slater.

Hamilton: Folk on the Street, Mill Street, by Faye Jurisich.

Cambridge: Fibre-optic Ultra-fast Broadband Cables, Norfolk Drive, by Chorus.

And, further on up the road, this installation by the same artist:

And so here is Eric Clapton with “Further On Up the Road”, a song he has performed so often he can probably play it in his sleep – and often sounds as though he is. But here, in 1981 at The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball,  he is joined by Jeff Beck who enlivens proceedings by giving it the full Roy Buchanan: 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What I’m reading #102

There is a Facebook group of New Zealand editors and others interested in editing. It is a useful group, and useful to observe.  Some posts ask for a ruling on which usage is correct – this or that? The answer, imho, is almost always “Either – just be consistent.” That is, style rules. And what you think is correct is what you learned at school from a teacher who learned from a teacher who learned from a teacher…. So it’s possibly not best practice in 2013. As always, the Economist (which is very often my style guide) has a view. Quote unquote:
Some people seem to think love for language means memorising the longest possible list of grammar rules and style shibboleths. This is too often coupled with smug self-congratulation. But a real understanding of language acknowledges which rules are truly ironclad, which ones are in dispute and which ones are mere style choices.
Matt Nolan on Max Rashbrooke on poverty. Matt is an economist, so is all about trade-offs. Quote unquote:
Many people who believe that we can take money off the rich to feed the poor simultaneously believe we are “stretching the limits” of the earth’s ability to produce food and other goods and services (such that the ‘costs’ of making more of these necessities will rise strongly if we aim to boost production significantly).  These two views implicitly contradict, and we can only understand and try to measure the true trade-off with an honest view of the change in prices!
Harping on this theme of New Zealand’s vanishingly small degrees of separation, Max might have been the colicky baby who kept me awake at nights when I lived in York Bay in 1979 next to a very nice couple called Rashbrooke.  

You probably know the Vampire Weekend hit “Oxford Comma,” in which Ezra Koenig asks, “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” Koenig has said that the song was inspired by a Columbia University Facebook group called Students for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma—and he claims that the song “is more about not giving a fuck than about Oxford commas.” But Koenig’s disdain for this bit of punctuation—which is disregarded by publications that should know better, but agreed upon by right-thinking usage nerds everywhere—appears to be shared by all of his professional peers. By calling their new album Now, Then & Forever, Earth, Wind & Fire seem intent on rubbing it in.
My bold of everything that is wrong there. See above: it’s style, neither wrong nor right. It’’s a choice. I have edited for Oxford UP and used it; I have edited for everyone else and not used it. David Cohen will start arguing with me about this within seconds on Facebook. I’ll put the timer on.

Scribd as the Netflix or Spotify for books. Well, yes. Someone was going to.

$40 million for a tablet edition of a magazine you’ve never heard of. Quote unquote:
Some $2 million of the investment went on research into how consumers interacted with content and ads. One of the most important lessons they learned was that interactive ads captured a user’s attention for an average of 9.4 seconds, compared to just 3.4 seconds for a static ad.
Ads in the edition, served every three or four pages, are designed with this in mind, such as a nail polish colour tester that enables you to try different shades on the model in the ad, or a slider showing tooth colour change.
David Thompson does a round-up of recent opinion on funding of the arts and how it favours one political side more than the other. Who knew? Quote unquote from David Mamet:
It is only in state-subsidised theatre (whether the subsidy is direct, in the form of grants, or indirect, as tax-deductible donations to universities or arts organisations) that the ideologue can hold sway, for he is then subject not to the immediate verdict of the audience but to the good wishes of the granting authority, whose good wishes he will, thus, devote his energies to obtaining.
This networking thing isn’t new, says David Bodanis in the Literary Review about Tom Standage’s Writing on the Wall: Social Media – The First 2,000 Years. Quote unquote:
Authors have it hard. Publishers scarcely exist, copyright is impossible to enforce and books become known not through stores or proper advertising, but by scattered personal recommendations. Even once-famous names end up trying to get their works noted by popular sites. The agony is not just that of our present digital era, but that of Cicero’s Rome. And 17th-century England. And pre-Revolutionary France.
On a more cheerful note, via Mick Hartley, a mural by Natalia Rak in Poland:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In praise of: Alastair Sim

Born this day in 1900 Alastair Sim (born in Edinburgh) is my favourite actor, even more so than Terry-Thomas (born in Finchley).  And here they are both with Ian Carmichael (born in Hull), and the by-golly luminous Janette Scott (born in Morecambe), daughter of Thora Hird (also born in Morecambe), in the closing three minutes of my favourite film, School for Scoundrels. Those “born ins” will mean something to English readers: what is striking is how clearly, despite their disparate native accents, they enunciate. Talk about crisp.

The film was based on the very funny books by Stephen PotterGamesmanship: the art of winning games without actually cheating, Lifemanship and One-Upmanship. (His Anti-Woo is pretty good too.)  Sim plays Potter and is fantastically insincere throughout. In this closing scene he does wonderful business in the background lighting a cigarette. I can’t find online the critical praise for his “expressive teeth” but here you see his expressive eyes as he says, despairingly,  “No, not sincerity!” My hero.

Zero degrees of separation

I spent most of the last two days reading a manuscript by a total stranger which incorporates some of his grandfather's diary from World War I, which takes in Cairo, Gallipoli and Ypres. About three quarters of the way through I realised that his grandfather's friend Stratford was my grandfather. I recognised him not just by the surname but also by the location of the bullet wound. 

My English friends think I exaggerate when I say that everyone in New Zealand is connected: two degrees of separation, max. In this case, zero.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Meet the neighbours

Eight new cows in a paddock in the next road to us. I wonder if by any chance they could be related.

Friday, October 4, 2013

On Miley Cyrus and sledgehammers

No matter how hard I try, I am not oblivious to popular culture. So I have noticed a bit of fuss about that Miley Cyrus video of “Wrecking Ball”. Sinead O’Connor disapproved:
I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way “cool” to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos.
Ms O’Connor is not alone in this but as far as I know no one has made the obvious Peter Gabriel joke. So here he is in 1993 with his single-entendre song featuring Paula Cole on backing vocals, Manu Katché on drums and Tony Levin on awesome bass and less awesome stagewear:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Landfall in unknown seas

This is the cover of the latest issue of Landfall, the admirable and longest-lived New Zealand literary journal. For Quote Unquote the magazine, we put glamorous writers on the cover – Barbara Else, Chad Taylor, Stephanie Johnson, Marilyn Duckworth, Sheridan Keith, Peter Wells, Fiona Samuel, Bill Manhire, Jenny Bornholdt, Fiona Kidman, Alan Duff and, yes, even Witi Ihimaera. But we never had a cover image quite like this. I had often wondered where we went wrong, and now I know.

But I wonder what Charles Brasch, who founded Landfall in 1947, would think. 

Sentence of the day

From David Thompson, introducing a “performance art” video:
Readers are advised there is nudity throughout, along with barbed wire, self-harm, a bicycle pump and large amounts of Sellotape.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A guest post from PANZ on copyright

Regular readers will remember the sequence of posts from author Steve Braunias, Copyright Licensing NZ CEO Paula Browning and TUANZ CEO Paul Brislen on copyright issues, arising from speeches at the CLNZ awards last month. Paula got 1600+ hits, and Steve and Paul weren’t far behind at 1000+ and 750+ respectively. OK, well behind, far enough behind to make Paula, who is a sporty sort and thus competitive, happy.   

Because I post links to these posts on Twitter and Facebook they were circulated in those closed environments, where I received a bit of abuse from the “information wants to be free” crowd. I asked the critics to comment on the blog so there could be a public debate that we could all see,  but nah. Shy guys, I guess. Still, there were good visible comments from Rick Shera, Russell Brown, Paula, Paul and others.

But wait – there’s more on copyright. I don’t print, if that’s the word, press releases but this one is worth it. It’s from the Publishers’ Association of New Zealand (PANZ) with a concrete example of how illegal file-sharing hurts New Zealand authors and publishers, and why Kim Dotcrim is not a hero.  
Kiwi authors’ income hurt by illegal file sharing
Discovery of an educational text co-authored by a New Zealander and made available for download on Kim Dotcom’s file-sharing site Mega is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ according to Publishers Association of New Zealand president Sam Elworthy.
The text, Using MIS (Management Information Systems) (NZ) by David M. Kroenke and Tony Hooper – a lecturer at Victoria University in Wellington, was shared via a link posted on the Facebook page of a tertiary institutions’ study group.
PANZ has issued a ‘take down’ notice to Mega to remove the files from its site and contacted Facebook to have the post removed.
“Educational texts are being illegally shared at an alarming rate and it’s hurting New Zealand authors, publishers and distributors to the point where earning a viable living is becoming increasingly threatened,” Elworthy says.
“Technology makes sharing files very easy but it’s the people who put in the hard work to make and supply the texts in the first place who miss out.”
The text is published by educational publisher Pearson and distributed in New Zealand by start-up business Edify. Pearson quit the New Zealand market in August this year after claiming its local business model was no longer sustainable.
“There are very few publishers now investing in publishing for the New Zealand tertiary market due to its small size. However it’s hugely important that the New Zealand context is provided to support New Zealand students in their learning of a topic,” says Edify’s Adrian Keane
“To see an author and publisher who were prepared to make this investment in publishing for the New Zealand environment treated in this way is infuriating. It will only serve as a disincentive to any other author or publisher when they see the negative impact that illegal downloading has on income.
“This particular text was even available as an eText so it’s not like it was hard to access in a digital format.
“Where we have a text that’s prescribed for a course we used to be able to rely on 80% of the students buying the book. Now that figure is more like 50% which puts the viability of publishing these books under threat. It’s safe to say that illegal sharing is really hurting both our business and the incomes of New Zealand authors who spend months creating the works,” Keane says.
Elworthy says the link posted on the student Facebook page went straight to the files on Mega meaning anyone could download it.
Kim Dotcom is fighting extradition to the United States on copyright and racketeering charges over the operation of his previous file locker site Megaupload.
In the original sequence of posts, reposts and responses, the comment on Facebook that amused me most was from a young person obsessed with the marginal cost of making a digital copy of a book, which is indeed vanishingly small – so, he asked, why should the price not be tiny, why should it be anything near that of the physical object? Why shouldn’t the book be free?  Short answer: because the author has to live long enough to write the next book, which means earning enough money to pay the bills so that he or she can live long enough. Also the publisher would like to stay in business. Which does not occur to a young person who can nick the book off the internet.

I’m glad that I am not young any more. So here is Maurice Chevalier in Gigi:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What I’m reading #101

Home Paddock reports that according to the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary “literally” literally doesn’t mean “literally” any more. It still does in my book – which is the magnificent 2011 edition of the  Chambers Dictionary (praised previously here). Chambers is austere:
Using the literal, as opposed to the figurative, of a word or a phrase; often inappropriately used for mere emphasis.
Mick Hartley on the mathematics of Paradise, or what a good Muslim man can expect in the next world according to the Saudi cleric Muhammad Ali Shanqiti (there is video). Not just 72 virgins. No way. Heaps more: “Every Muslim man gets at least two black-eyed virgins in Paradise. Each virgin comes with 70 servants girls. You are permitted [to have sex] with the virgins as well as the servant girls. For every woman from this world who enters Paradise, you get 70 black-eyed virgins.”  

Mick does the maths. Quote unquote:
Four wives, say, each with 70 black-eyed virgins. That’s... purses lips, taps figures into the calculator... 280 black-eyed virgins. And each of these brings 70 servant girls. That’s... 19,600 servant girls. Phew! And those are just the servant girls, remember. Let’s not forget those 280 virgins...and the four wives...that’s 19, 600 plus 280, plus 4, which makes.....19,884. Nineteen thousand eight hundred and eighty four women! Which is....a stunning 276-fold increase over the original 72 virgins. Now that’s progress.
Anglican sermons were never like this.
I can’t quite see what is in this for the  women. Or the men, frankly: I’m not as young as I used to be. (Also, there’s 365 days in a year, so that’s 54 women in a day for the man, and one shag a year for each woman. Sub-optimal all round, I’d say.)

Tape is back. Relax, it’s not cassettes. God, imagine. The horror, the horror.

Mary Egan, who produced Kerry Harrison’s well-received novel Wahine, blogs that “Self-publishing is not failure. It’s the new market place.” Quote unquote:
If you want a professional book, you hire professionals just as you would if you were building a house. A power tool salesman is not a builder, an art teacher is not an interior decorator and an engineering student is not an electrician. Translate this to the publishing industry: an author is not a designer, an English teacher is not an editor, a retired accountant is not a typesetter… I could go on. Just as having your house built by a registered builder protects your investment, having your book professionally produced gives you the best chance of achieving sales.
 She would say that, wouldn’t she. But then:
We understand self-publishing is unrealistic for some and it can be expensive, but you need to think of your return on investment. You may sell 50 copies of the book you produced yourself, or you may sell 500 copies of a book you had professionally done. We help you make these decisions and will prevent you from throwing away your money if the figures do not stack up.
That last sentence is why I send people to Mary: like me, she will not take a client on if the project is hopeless. There are a lot of pirates out there who will. (Long-promised blogpost on this coming soon. Promise.)

Bernadette McNulty in the Daily Telegraph traces the career of a famous band:
Fleetwood Mac were a band born out of a splintering from the Bluesbreakers, and they continued to fuse and split with a kind of nuclear energy throughout the next four decades.
I love it when arts graduates employ metaphors from science. Anyway here is Fleetwood Mac when they were good, i.e. with Peter Green in June 1969 playing his song “Man of the World” live on German TV.  It got to #2 on the hit parade that month. Yes, pop music was different then, and yes, I bought the single. Knowing what we know now about the state Green was in, and that this was reportage,  the song and performance are harrowing:
I guess I've got everything I need
I would't ask for more
And there's no one I'd rather be
But I just wish that I'd never been born.