Sunday, April 28, 2013

What I’m reading #97

Courtesy costs nothing: Schumpeter, the Economist’s US columnist, recently renewed his driving licence at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in Washington DC. Quote unquote:
The queue moved at a glacial pace. The staff alternated between hostile and indifferent. There were lengthy forms to fill in, six documents to produce, confusing instructions and, hanging over everything, the warning that any false answer is a crime. One man said he had sent his paperwork by fax only to be told that the DMV does not accept faxed documents. Then why do you provide a fax number, he asked? “We do it as a courtesy.”
Also in the Economist, AD Miller on the Navalny show trial. Quote unquote:
There is another possible reading of these antics. It is that, at least in part, they are knowingly ridiculous and sloppy. 
In other words, they may be designed to show that the regime is powerful and unaccountable enough to be as sloppy and ridiculous as it likes. The extravagance of the amateurism unmistakably conveys to the accused, and their supporters, that everyone is vulnerable, and that the state doesn’t much care how outlandish its pseudo-judicial repressions may appear. In a way, the more outlandish, the better to send a message of unrestrained power. As in much of Russia’s foreign policy, the regime here behaves like a man in a pub who picks a fight by accusing you of spilling his pint. You know you haven’t spilled it, and he knows you know—and the fact that you both know is part of the point. Forcing the lie on you is part of the thug’s power.
Josh Drummond on the interfaith prayers that open meetings of the Hamilton City Council. Quote unquote:
Zoroastrianism, a traditional religion of Persia, is tragically missing from the list of religions represented by the interfaith prayers, possibly because their chief deity is called Ahura Mazda. Having this name evoked at council meetings could give rise to accusations of inappropriate commercial relationships.
John Birmingham on why unauthorised downloading is wrong. He would say that, wouldn’t he, because he is an author but he is right, especially about the cheese analogy. Quote unquote:
For instance, when I write a book, I could, I suppose, invite you to my house and read it to you. But that is inefficient. So I allow my publishers to create copies and distribute them. I get paid for each copy thus sold.
Let me repeat that. I get paid for each copy sold. If lots of people buy the copies, I get to write more. My readers get to read more.
I get paid nothing for each copy distributed outside the channels I authorised. I created value by doing the work, but I realised that value by controlling the distribution channel. When you make your own copy you have, quite literally, robbed me of that value.
Please don’t expect me to be your friend when you do that. Please don’t tell me I actually benefited because it raised my profile or you told your other friends to get the book. And please don’t tell me that copyright is dead and I need to develop a new model. I really don’t want to have to invite people around to my house and charge entry to the garage where I can do paid readings and sell a few overpriced T-shirts.
David Lynch’s hair and its fine art equivalents.

Tim Worstall on why Amazon doesn’t have to pay tax on its UK operations.

Distance looks our way, or at least Rod Liddle in the Spectator does in the case of Ronald Clark, pixie-fancier. Quote unquote:
First, catch your elf, etc. It is only rarely that one chances upon such beings these days and they are notoriously difficult to entice with promises of boiled sweets or puppies.
Also in the Spectator, Philip Hensher gives Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists 4, edited by John Freeman, a mixed review. Quote unquote:
The list has gained a substantial reputation for an authority beyond literary prizes, though many large talents have been excluded in the past, either through their age (Ali Smith) or working in a genre (Douglas Adams) or just short-sightedness about excellence in an unusual form. But Granta has done well to identify future stars, even if it has also pinned too much on a few novelists who have never come to anything.
John is leaving Granta after five years. Bah.

Advice of the day

From the vegan cookbook I have just finished editing:
A good root will smell lightly of walnuts, while one that’s gone bad during transport will smell anywhere from slightly rancid to giving off an aroma of moth balls.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Poets don’t retire

In February CK Stead, born in 1932, published The Yellow Buoy: Poems 2007–2012 (AUP).

On 5 May Peter Bland, born in 1934, will launch his new poetry collection, Breath Dances (Steele Roberts).

On 18 July Kevin Ireland, born on 18 July 1933, will launch his Collected Poems (Steele Roberts). Not a bad 80th birthday present.

And then there were four: a reader advises in the comments that Fleur Adcock (born 1934) has a new poetry collection, Glass Wings, due about now from VUP

Colin Craig and The Civilian

Those of us who pay little or no attention to the posturing ninnies of minor political parties may wonder who Colin Craig is. All I know is that he is rich enough to have his own political party, the Conservatives. I suppose it is good for a man to have a hobby — I have my vegetable garden, Trevor Mallard has TradeMe and Gareth Hughes has #HeyClint.

Craig has hired Chapman Tripp to threaten Ben Uffindell, who writes the satirical website The Civilian with a libel writ. Faugh. In my experience, if people are going to sue they issue a writ, they don’t piss about with a threat. Chapman Tripp’s letter is here, and Uffindell’s robust response is here.
The offending passage appears in this piece about Maurice Williamson, which begins:
Pakuranga MP Maurice Williamson is acknowledging that he looks pretty stupid this morning after a series of floods in the Nelson, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions appeared to contradict his assertion that nothing bad would come of the passing of gay marriage legislation.
And here is the passage of offence:
Conservative Party Leader Colin Craig was among the first to point out the National MP’s mistake.
“Williamson likes to talk about big gay rainbows,” said Craig, “but it would help if he understood what the rainbow actually means. After Noah’s flood, God painted a giant rainbow across the sky, which was a message that he would never again flood the world, unless we made him very angry. And we have.”
Over at The Dim-Post, fellow satirist Danyl McLauchlan has a revealing interview with Mr Craig:
Many people have been wrong about Colin Craig, dismissing him as a political lightweight or  a bible-thumping, homophobic misogynist reactionary dick, but Craig simply shrugs off the criticisms and when you see him squeezing into a red latex dress and tugging a chain-mail hood over his head you realise there’s more to Colin Craig than his critics are willing to allow. They underestimate him at their peril.
The Dominion Post reported at 1:33pm this afternoon:
Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has decided not to take any defamation action against political satire website The Civilian.
Fancy that.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Ten Commandments of Book Reviewing

The 60th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the November 1996 issue. On the last page we would have snippets of amusingness from around the world or, in this case, Chris Else. His Ten Commandments of Book Reviewing were:
1. Thou shalt not be nice to thy mates.
2. Thou shalt not give away the entire plot.
3. Thou shalt not review some other book.
4. Thou shalt not conduct a personal vendetta.
5. Thou shalt not operate a double standard.
6. Thou shalt not indulge thy literary propensities.
7. Thou shalt not ride thy hobby horse.
8. Thou shalt not work without payment.
9. Thou shalt not seek thine own glorification.
10. Thou shalt not forget that thy readers pay good money to read thy maunderings.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Nelson Wattie on Shakespeare and Tusitala

The 59th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the October 1996 issue. It is a theatre review by Nelson Wattie, who to our delight became our Wellington theatre reviewer when Vincent O’Sullivan suddenly became unavailable. It has taken me a while to realise that QUQ’s book and theatre reviews are as worth  preserving on the internet as are the interviews and articles. More to come. I am using a new OCR program so there may be errors in this post: as always, corrections are welcome.

Danish Ham
TUSITALA, Pacific Theatre
The production team at Circa tried hard, but failed, to render Hamlet boring. Andrew Moyes’ set was drearily conventional; Helen Morrish’s costumes almost comical and, worse, meaningless; Bruce Phillips directed the play as if we were in the 50s, the 30s, or even Victorian times. It was mainly Shakespeare himself that defeated them, but also some spirited acting.
Plays within plays — and not only in the players’ scene. Hamlet’s acted “madness” only partly convinces the court, and we, one audience, are held in tension by the uncer­tainties of the audience within the play. Tim Balme was physically exciting and spoke his lines “trippingly” and sometimes with a flash of illumination that made the familiar new, yet he was often dangerously close to ham, in keeping with the production values. Paradoxically, he was also a touch too nice, just as Jim Moriarty’s Claudius was too nice for a murderer playing a royal.
Ophelia, a nice girl, plays a role for Ham­let with Claudius and Polonius as audience; Hamlet, seeing through the mask, banishes her from his life. This was the most moving scene, Katie Wolfe’s performance being exquisitely judged. Her Ophelia was neither pathetic nor bold, a woman in feeling, a troubled child in understanding and a reluc­tant actor in the play her elders directed. Hamlet, as unwilling audience, was as moved by her performance as we, and Balme’s acting, never inconsiderable, here  rose above its (or the director’s) limitations.
For reasons of state, Hamlet’s friends act roles within roles as well, and Jacob Rajan as Rosencrantz was especially effective. He (who also shone as the player queen and as Osric) is a young actor worth watching closely. Only Polonius never seems to act a part in a part, which is why he can almost bore us.
Grant Tilly did not, partly because he spoke well and was thoroughly nice, more permissibly in his case, and partly because of support from Ophelia and Laertes (Jed Brophy): their loving tolerance of the de­cent old fool was well expressed. There was something too nice in this state of Denmark, yet never a dull moment.
In Paul Simei-Barton’s Tusitala and the House of Spirits, the play’s the thing wherein the Samoans catch the conscience of the German oppressor. Here again there is play within play, some of the internal ones more telling than their frame. The Samoan performers are true tellers of tales in word, dance and music: tales that are entertaining, hilarious, moving and politi­cally explosive, all at once. Terrifying masked spirits (called “brownies”) perform a Highland fling to Samoan drums, wearing partly Polynesian, partly colonial dresses that blend the genders as confusingly as the ethnicities. Martyn Sanderson’s Tusitala (looking more like a tortured van Gogh than a warm-hearted, diplomatic Stevenson) paled beside the brilliant performances of Joesefa Enari, Shimpal Lelisi, Cadada Alofa, Olivia Muliaumaseali’I and Tausili Mose. This and Arthur Miller’s are the best new plays seen in Wellington this year.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman

Petronella Wyatt is an English journalist who seems a good sport: she is most famous for shagging Boris Johnson when she was the spinster deputy editor of the Spectator and he was the married editor. Born in May 1968 (an interesting time in Paris) in St John’s Wood, a nice part of London where she still lives, she will be 45 next month. Her father was Woodrow Wyatt, a Labour politician who trended to the right in later life, so Ms Wyatt first met Margaret Thatcher when she was nine, and many times later. In the Evening Standard she remembers Thatcher this way:
I can hear her now, sensible and eminently kind. She was the best and wisest person I have ever known. Countless tributes will be made and countless books will call her one of the greatest figures in British history. But now I am remembering the woman who made a shy girl feel important, and the touch of her cool hand. Margaret Thatcher is dead, but I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.
In the Daily Mail, under the heading “It’s hell being posh but poor”, Ms Wyatt explains the difficulty of subsisting on “between £80,000 and £100,000 a year” in St John’s Wood:
At a dinner party last week, a friend renowned for her wardrobe of designer outfits and Louboutin heels asked how I was getting home. A criminal lawyer, she earns upwards of £120,000.
‘Do you want to share a taxi?’ I asked hopefully. ‘No, I’ll take the Tube,’ she said. ‘These shoes cost £370 — it was either them or taxis.’
The deprivation gets worse:
In my social circle, marrying for love alone is becoming rare among both sexes. […] We of the Broke Generation have discovered penury is not only a financial privation, but also an emotional one. We are damned if we follow our hearts and inclinations, and damned if we don’t.
As the money trickles away, prices rise ever higher and the loans we took out so carelessly haunt our dreams, a take-out from the local pizzeria seems our only option.
More and more of us are finding ourselves alone, or unhappily married. I wish I could say, in the words of the old song, that I had my love to keep me warm. But, like so many others, I don’t even have the consolation of that.
Yes, sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. So here is Lyle Lovett singing “Stand By Your Man” (not allowed to embed it but it is brilliant and well worth a view). And here is Tammy Wynette, live in the 60s:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The news from England

The current issue (5-18 April) of Private Eye is a cracker. Worth every cent of the $10 cover price. A brilliant Boris Johnson cover, snarkiness about university vice-chancellors’ salaries (that whooshing sound you hear is Paul Litterick rushing out to buy a copy), Craig Brown filleting Paulo Coelho, and this from the “Street of Shame” column :
Last week Independent hack Tom Peck struck a blow for over-informed journalists everywhere when he finally snapped and sent a reply to the 9994th email from a PR pushing a product and claiming “I hope this news story brightens up your Wednesday!”
“Well it doesn’t brighten up my fucking day does it, because it’s fucking bollocks, and I will get a million more like it within the next ten minutes, making it near on impossible not to miss the important stuff I do need to read, because you pricks insist on sending me cosmic fucking wank like this,” ran his unimprovable riposte.
Was he congratulated by grateful colleagues for this constructive feedback? Was he heck. When the PR company in question complained to Indy editor Chris Blackhurst, Peck was hauled into the editor’s office, bollocked, and ordered to write an apology.
This item on the Miliband brothers is even better, at least for those strange people interested in UK politics:
So. Farewell then David Miliband, who has decided to swap his part-time jobs in Norway, Denmark, California, Pakistan, the UAE, and South Shields where he is the Labour MP for a role with the International Rescue Committee in New York.
Older readers may recall that there were some family tensions at International Rescue during the Thunderbirds episode “Atlantic Inferno” when eldest Tracy brother Scott badly bungled his attempt to lead the organisation in the absence of his father Jeff, and was forced to concede his position as pilot of Thunderbird One to his younger brother Alan. F-A-B!
There is also an item about conman Giovanni di Stefano, jailed last month for 14 years. Older readers may remember his escapades in Auckland in May 1990. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.

In the Spectator, Kate Chisholm reviews David Hendy’s new series for Radio 4, Noise: A Human History:
In the first week, he took us inside the caves of Arcy-sur-Cure in Burgundy where archaeologists have discovered fragments of paintings of mammoths, bears, fish, even the delicate outline of a bird, dating back 40,000 years. That’s extraordinary enough, but when musicologist Iegor Reznikoff went into the cave to look at the paintings he found that 80 per cent of them are posi­tioned precisely where, if you make a sound, there is an unusual resonance, an eerie, echoing presence.
The paintings are not close to the entrance of the cave, where the light from outside still penetrates, but deep inside where it would have been pitch-dark and to paint would have been difficult. Here, though, the ech­oes are more pronounced. If you clap in certain rhythms beside the painting of a mammoth, for instance, the overlapping reverberations sound like hooves gallop­ing towards you from deep inside the cave. Reznikoff believes the images are connected to these audio effects. Sound is as important a part of their creation as the visual image. In effect, the images are signposts into an aural world, connecting the hearer, or rather listener, to another- dimension of experience.
So here is Beck performing David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision” with a cast of thousands in the round. He must have been listening to Gabrieli and/or Stockhausen.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Monday, April 8, 2013

Listener letter of the month

In the 13 April issue  of the NZ Listener South Island novelist Laurence Fearnley writes about the unusually light representation of Mainland writers at this year’s Auckland Writers and Readers Festival:
A hundred and fifty guests from around the world, including more than 80 writers from New Zealand, will be taking part in over 100 events at the 2013 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival — the “biggest line-up yet”. Of those 150 guests, four are writers from the South Island.
This raises several points. Attendance at international writers’ festival enable writers to increase their profile, reach new audiences and make important contacts within the writing/publishing community at large. The benefit for audiences is that they are introduced to new writers, or have the opportunity to meet established writers from locations other than their hometown.
The South Island is struggling to provide festivals for writers. Dunedin does not have a writers’ festival. Christchurch is doing a fantastic job, but faces difficulties post-earthquake. Invercargill, Nelson and Wanaka produce lively — but small —national festivals. Creative New Zealand funding is tight and smaller towns/venues cannot raise money to host events.
This is why festivals such as the international Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, which received $168,000 from Creative New Zealand for 2013/14, are so important in terms of promoting New Zealand literature. It is a great pity audiences in Auckland will be denied the opportunity to hear South Island voices. In fact, it is shameful.
Laurence Fearnley
(Opoho, Dunedin)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

What I’m reading #96

Guy Kawasaki offers The Top Ten Mistakes Writers Make When Self-Publishing a Book. There is gold in the comments. Quote unquote:
You need to start building a marketing platform as soon as you start writing because the process takes a year. You should already have thousands of followers on social media on the day that you ship.
On Friday I had lunch with an old friend – from Glenfield, now lives in Devon – I haven’t seen for 25 years. She has published several non-fiction books and one novel. For her second novel, due out in January, she has Tom Wolfe’s agent and Scott Turow’s editor. She has 8000 followers on Twitter and is a genius at using Facebook for promotion without it looking like promotion. Her agent flew from New York to take her to lunch in London and wouldn’t let her order until she had outlined her next two books: they want one a year. So, a treadmill, but a good one. Show me a better treadmill, frankly. 

Craig Cliff on being edited. Quote unquote:
Getting edited is a bit like receiving the worst review ever. 
Paul Litterick on marking essays by architecture students who get it wrong – as we all do – about the Sydney Opera House. Quote unquote:
If only they were to read this blog, then they would know how to avoid humiliation and failure.
Mick Hartley on transgressive art. Some of it is officially approved, and some of it isn’t. Guess what the difference is? Contains the phrase “What could be more subversive than challenging the hegemonic discourse”, but in a good way, i.e. ironically.

Matt Haig makes 20 sensible points about writers and money. Quote unquote:
12. As a writer you have to wear two hats. There is the writer’s hat and then the business hat. But you must know when to take off one hat and put on the other, as wearing two hats at once looks stupid.
And here he is in the Daily Telegraph with 30 things that every writer should know. Quotes unquote:
Literary fiction is a genre that pretends it is not a genre.
Everyone is worried about the future of the book. But that is because people hate uncertainty. On the other hand, if you hate uncertainty you shouldn't be a writer in the first place.
Patrick Wensink says that having an Amazon “bestseller” doesn’t mean riches, just a measly $US12,000. I feel his pain.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Nice work if you can get it

The Daily Telegraph reports that Baroness Ashton “will be entitled to £400,000 at the taxpayer’s expense over three years for doing nothing after finishing her five year term as the European Union’s foreign minister at the end of 2014”:
[…] the Labour peer, who finishes her job as High Representative of foreign affairs in October next year, will be paid £133,500 a year, 55 per cent of her basic salary, until the end of 2017.
The “transitional allowance” does not require her to do any work at all and she will be paid under reduced rates of EU “community” tax, rather than the standard British rates of taxation for high-income earners.
The allowance is defended as “the price for the total independence” of senior EU officials like Lady Ashton, who is also a vice-president of the European Commission, who must also “ask permission for any job they would like to do for 18 months after leaving”.
“It’s important that commissioners don’t start looking for a new job during the last months of their mandate, and that they take their time over finding appropriate new employment,” said a commission spokesman.
“That way, they can continue to give 100 per cent to the job taxpayers are paying them to do, and there is much less risk of a conflict of interest.”
Well, obviously. So here is the peerless Peggy Lee with Frank Sinatra:

The Frank Sargeson fellowship

Graeme Lay writes in today’s NZ Herald magazine Canvas about the Sargeson fellowship and how it has lost its sponsorship by law firm Buddle Findlay. I was a Sargeson trustee for some years and saw what a difference that sponsorship made. Buddle Findlay was an exemplary sponsor and always a pleasure to deal with. Sad that the partnership has ended but no surprise given the climate. Seventeen years is a very good innings. Quote unquote:
Over the years the Buddle Findlay brand became closely associated with local literature, so much so that in 2007 the law firm won the National Business Review’s award of New Zealand Arts Sponsor of the Year. This was the crowning point of a fruitful partnership between literature and the law.
So this year’s Buddle Findlay Sargeson fellows, Hamish Clayton (Wulf) and Tanya Moir (La Rochelle’s Road), will be the last. I hope the Trust finds a new sponsor who will carry on the good work.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Clean money from clean energy

Win-win! AFP reports on the close interest some Sicilians have taken in wind farms:
The seizure of a record 1.5 billion euros from a Sicilian businessman known as “Lord of the Wind” has put the spotlight on Mafia money-laundering through renewable energy ventures.
“The Mafia use clean energy to invest dirty money,” Sicilian journalist Lirio Abbate told AFP after police confiscated the assets from businessman Vito Nicastri on Tuesday.
The haul included no fewer than 43 wind and solar energy companies and around 100 properties including swank villas with swimming pools in Sicily’s western Trapani region, along with cars, a catamaran and bank accounts, the interior ministry said.
The infiltration of organised crime into the renewable energy sector is “a combination that is only now coming to light” in terms of legal action, said Abbate, a specialist in Mafia affairs who is under police protection.
“In the countryside it’s been apparent for longer because wind farms are springing up on land belonging to people with ties to the Mafia or obtained through violence,” he said.
Opposition Senator Giuseppe Lumia lamented: “The Cosa Nostra has managed to infiltrate the wind energy sector in the past few years by taking advantage of bad policies and bad bureaucracies.” […]
“It’s obvious that these companies were tied to the Mafia because they have never been targeted, while construction sites in other sectors have been attacked,” he said. […]
The seizure of Nicastri’s assets “confims the interest that organised crime has in renewable energy, which several annual reports on environmental issues have already stressed,” said Beppe Ruggiero, an official with the anti-Mafia association Libera. […]
The Mafia interest in clean energy is explained by the fact that it is a “new sector where there is more public money and less control”, Ruggiero said. “It allows the creation of new companies, and so the recycling of money. For organised crime, it’s a sector that was still unknown 15 years ago, but is becoming very important.
“They steal money from the state and in addition they sell them the energy they produce. They win twice,” Ruggiero said.
Via Tim Blair, who comments:
The case dates back to 2010. According to Arturo de Felice, head of Italy’s anti-Mafia agency: “This is a sector in which money can easily be laundered.”