Thursday, January 29, 2009

Flag it

Cactus Kate writes, the way she does:
As we predicted when Big Daddy Key gave the children the option to play nicely, and get a reward, Maori have failed.
If ever a better story was needed to describe the hopelessness of modern Maori leadership, then this has to take the proverbial cake. You just couldn’t have written a funnier script.
After years of wanting their flag raised, Maori can’t actually decide among themselves what flag to fly. So now no one gets the lollies and they all go hungry.
I suggest we fly the flag of KFC up there instead. It symbolises how Maori leadership have become big, fat, slothful, greasy deep-fried chickens:
Yesterday, Dr Sharples said he didn't have the time or resources between now and February 6 to complete the consultation, which was complicated by factions within Maoridom who individually supported the tino rangatiratanga flag, the 1835 flag and something new being flown.
Hamish Keith plumps (sorry, don’t have the link to his piece in the Listener) for the 1835 flag. I like the Tino Rangatiratanga flag, whatever it means, just as a design:

And also the Hundertwasswer flag:

Both are intensely New Zealandy and couldn't possibly come from anywhere else. Either would be an improvement on the current model with that awful Union Jack. But who wants to sit through a series of huis to decide?

John Updike is dead

And literature is the poorer. The English novelist William Boyd writes:
I can vividly remember my first encounter with Updike's work. When I was 17 I bought a paperback at Heathrow airport of his fifth novel, Couples, in 1969 - no doubt for prurient late-adolescent reasons - thinking it would while away an hour or two of a long overnight flight to Nigeria. I had almost finished it when we touched down in Lagos at dawn the next day. It was one of those rapt, never-to-be-forgotten encounters with literature. I was amazed and enthralled, thinking that this man, this novelist, understood human nature and its nuances and complexities like no other. A window had been opened on the adult world that I was about to enter and I decided there could be no better chronicler.
So the love affair began, and I started reading Updike: I went back to the early novels and the collections of short stories, I bought his poetry collections and read my way through the oeuvre until I reached Couples again.
No doubt during that passage of time Updike had published another two or three novels and if there is one aspect of the era of my ardent fandom that I remember it was that sensation of never quite catching up. I read everything that he published until I finally ran out of breath at his 1986 novel Roger's Version. Updike had won - forever after I trailed in his hyperproductive wake, picking and choosing.
Everyone has their favourite Updike. For me, there are two: the short-story sequence about the disintegration of a marriage, published under various titles but which I had as Your Lover Just Called, and the novel Boyd cites, Roger’s Version. It has a brilliant three-page explication of (I forget which) science theory, but what was striking was that it was not only accurate, it was dramatic – that is, it drew you in to the characters. I have never read anything like it.

Obama magic

My Japanese isn’t good enough to follow this entirely, but the few words of Obama English (“Change!”) are clear enough:

Monitor: Tim Blair

Act naturally

My oldest friend works for the Act party (I mix with these people so you don’t have to) which is having a conference this weekend in Auckland. I suggested that they might adopt the Buck Owens hit “Act Naturally”, which was later covered by the Beatles, as their theme song, but he thought not. Maybe Rodney isn’t a Beatles fan; maybe it’s the line “the biggest fool that ever hit the big time”.

Anyway, here is Ringo singing the hell out of it in, it must be, 1965. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is only two years away, and with it George Harrison’s sitar on “Within You Without You”. All Things Must Pass, still the best-selling album by a solo Beatle, was three years after that. You wouldn’t think it possible from this:

Clueless in Swansea

There’s nothing funny about Gaza, but there is about these Welsh Hamas supporters attacking a Tesco supermarket and destroying (“Destroy for Peace!”) produce labelled “West Bank”. As Harry’s Place points out, the stuff is made by Palestinians:
The West Bank currently exports around US$340 million per annum. . . So do these economically and geopolitically illiterate nincompoops from a Swansea squat really think they’re helping the people of Gaza, or the Palestinian people in general, by sabotaging their export market on the shaky basis that some products from some Israeli settlements also carry the “West Bank” mark?.
There is a clip on YouTube of these idiots in action: the self-righteousness is something to behold.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Andrew Mason

Speaking of old-fashioned quality-control, Andrew Mason, one of our finest magazine sub-editors and book editors, died two weeks ago, aged 58. This tribute by Denis Welch rightly records Andrew’s high standards and quiet, intensely practical support for literature. The magazine this blog takes its name from was one of the grateful beneficiaries of his generosity, of time and attention as much as of money.

My second favourite memory of him is of one day in the Listener’s Wellington office in 1979 when the subbery, a place of cathedral-like silence, was invaded by Tony Simpson and Brian Edwards talking in Very Loud Look-At-Me voices. Andrew turned to me and said loudly in his most withering tone, “Who are these people?” The look on their faces was priceless.

My very favourite memory is of lunch a decade or so ago when he told me that he now had a partner, Lukacs. He was almost radiant with joy. Denis describes exactly the difference this made to our old friend.

But Andrew was a more interesting person than Denis’s tribute perhaps conveys. He could be spiky, even vitriolic. This was amusing if you were on his side but very much not if not. (I’ve been on both.) As a literary editor he had the virtue of catholicism and got, among others, Shonagh Koea started as a published writer but he also inaugurated what became the least attractive of the Listener’s traditions, the deliberate hatchet job, i.e. commissioning a review from an author’s known enemy. He was a bus driver for a while, coming in to work from Mahina Bay every day on the Eastbourne bus. He had and used a rifle. (As far as I know he confined his shooting to the possums that kept him awake, but he must have been tempted by the odd poet.) As Denis says, “he was no pale aesthete”: at one after-work party a fight started. Andrew waded in and broke it up. For all these and other reasons I admired him enormously.

He was brave professionally too, and would take on any person or institution. Here he is in Quote Unquote in October 1996 having a go at Creative New Zealand. Anyone who knew him will recognise his voice:
The most dangerous thing for a government body is to lose sight of the needs of the people it has been set up to serve. Current feeling in the arts world about the new Arts Council – or Creative New Zealand, as it is now styled – is almost entirely negative, with widespread complaints that it is isolated, bureaucratic, impervious and ideologically driven. The angry recent literature “forum” in Auckland provides a graphic example. . .
There were two remarkable things here. One was the unanimity of opinion – I have never seen writers and publishers so united. The other was the fire with which their opinion was expressed. If a subconscious wish not to bite the hand that feeds had inhibited people up till now, Creative New Zealand’s patronising attitude removed any remaining restraints. . .
Was there no one inside Creative New Zealand with the nous to see that dumping the Literature Committee without warning would sooner or later cause an explosion, especially when the replacement structure would inevitably be exposed as ramshackle? If Creative New Zealand didn’t know, it was badly advised. If it did know, its actions were cynical. . .
Finally, there is the abuse of the English language by members of Creative New Zealand. They were dealing with writers and, if at times they detected a grim mirth, the cause was such expressions as “operationalising”, “growing the arts”, “sector interaction and interface”, and the priceless “visioning” – presumably derived, as writer Tony Simpson remarked, from the verb “to vision”.
Behind the mirth, though, was the realisation that this was not just professional jargon, but an attempt to obfuscate and confuse. It is the language of power: if you set the terms, others have to grapple with them in order to achieve their own aims. Surely funding to foster creativity should work the other way round.

Aisle have what she’s having

Mark Hagen, executive producer of Top Of The Pops 2, interviews Bruce Springsteen in the Observer of 18 January about the new album Working on a Dream, but they end up talking about the sexual subtext of supermarkets:
BS They opened up this big, beautiful supermarket near where we lived. Patti and I would go down, and I remember walking through the aisles – I hadn’t been in one in a while – and I thought his place is spectacular. This place is. . . it’s a fantasy land! And then I started to get into it. I started looking around and hmmm – the subtext in here is so heavy! It’s like, ‘Do people really want to shop in this store or do they just want to screw on the floor?’ [laughs]
MH Sometimes it’s about buying groceries, you know. . .
BS But maybe. . . [laughs] maybe there’s this other thing going on. In the States they’re sort of shameless, the bounty in them is overflowing. So the sexual subtext in the supermarket; well, perhaps, it’s just twisted me.
MH It must be really hard to go shopping with you.
BS I’m telling you, it’s there! So I came home, said: ‘Wow, the supermarket is fantastic, it’s my new favourite place. And I’m going to write a song about it!’
Monitor: The Week

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The shopping news

You break it, you bought it. Fair enough. But what about you touch it, you bought it? Seems so, according to this study published in the August 2008 issue of Judgment and Decision Making:
Participants in the study were shown an inexpensive coffee mug, and were allowed to hold it either for 10 seconds or 30 seconds. They were then allowed to bid for the mug in either a closed (where bids could not be seen) or open (where they could be seen) auction. The participants were told the retail value of the mug before bidding began ($3.95 in the closed auction; $4.95 in the open auction).
The study [. . . ] found that on average, people who held the mug for longer bid more for it - $3.91 to $2.44 in the case of the open auction and $3.07 to $2.24 in the closed. In fact, people who held the mug for 30 seconds bid more than the retail price four out of seven times.
This is why car dealers are happy to let you take a brand-new car for a test drive.

The paper itself has a bit to say about the “endowment effect” which will be of considerable interest to anyone unfortunate enough to be trying to buy a house right now.

Monitor: Tyler Cowen

The Katherine Mansfield fan club

Announcing the formation of the Katherine Mansfield Society, president Vincent O’Sullivan says it has been set up to promote and encourage enjoyment of Mansfield’s writing, which influenced a fundamental shift in the way stories are told:
“Katherine Mansfield’s influence is still being felt by writers and readers today, and we want to ensure this recognition continues. She is New Zealand’s greatest writer, and ironically there’s the likelihood of her becoming better known overseas than she is at home.”
To that end, he says, while the society is international, with people from England, Ireland, Australia, France and the US involved in its creation, there is a strong New Zealand focus and it is incorporated as a charitable trust here:
“The society will work to ensure Katherine Mansfield is on school and university curricula in New Zealand and overseas and aims to establish a Mansfield memorial in her home town of Wellington. We will also be creating a biennial Katherine Mansfield Society literary scholarship – a Rhodes scholarship for literature, as it were – for work in the modernist sphere.”
The society’s founders comprise Mansfield scholars from around the world: among them are Emeritus Professor Angela Smith (UK) and Professor Janet Wilson (UK); Dr Jenny McDonnell (Ireland); Dr Sarah Ailwood (Australia); Professor Larry Mitchell (USA); and, from New Zealand, CK Stead and Dr Sarah Sandley. (The latter is, incidentally, publisher of the Listener.)

The society’s website is intended to become the world’s most comprehensive hub of information on Mansfield. It includes images, literature on Mansfield and downloadable versions of all her short stories. You can join for a mere $70 a year: in return you get three newsletters, a copy of The Annual Journal of Katherine Mansfield Studies and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sub standards 2

Neil Young’s only Australian interview during his recent visit was broadcast on 21 January, and the ABC has now published the transcript online. Is “published” the right word? Posted, perhaps. Publishing usually involves editing, proof-reading, old-fashioned quality-control stuff like that. This is the start, and the rest is just the same:
for joining us. Thanks. four decades Young quung has moved to be one of rock music's most enduring performers. Now 62, Neil Young is show nothing signs of slowing down. Having survived the highs and loefs the music industry, and a life threatening brain aneurysm in 2005. He's in Australia as the headline act of the Big Day Out, playing to rapturous audiences of fans young enough to be his grandchildren. And ever the social campaigner, watching from afar, as the new administration takes over in Washington. Tracee Hutchison spoke to Neil Young in his only Australian television interview. It's 30 years since Neil Young wrote one of his most enduring songs. (Sings) # Rock oh roll never Now at 62, Neil Young is dies # the epitome of that famous lyric, performing to a third generation of fans as the headline act of this year's national Big Day Out festival. I love to play everywhere I play and it's nice to see a lot of people. But we usually see people of all I think that most of the ages.that think that the Big old people in Australia are the Day Out is for young people. It's like the people who are young in their heads don't care. (Sings) # Come a little bit close er # Young's signature strip back country rock is enjoy ing a resurgence and the artist is minding his own backcatalogue with a series of release s dating back to the 1960s.
The whole hilarious mess is here.

Monitor: Tim Blair

Friday, January 23, 2009


They are a little bit Kraftwerk, a little bit Radiohead, a little bit Abba, a little bit barking. They are Efterklang , they are from Copenhagen and this is “Swarming”:


Now for two Scottish bands you won’t hear on the radio:

That’s Ceilidh Minogue, and this is the Red Hot Chilli Pipers committing regicide on Queen’s “We Will Rock You”:

Can’t stand the music but love the names. Almost as good as the Abba tribute band, Bjorn Again.

I suppose a Ralston is out of the question

I really can’t see this term catching on, can you? It isn’t online until 7 February, but here is part of Bill Ralston’s “Life” column in the 24 January issue of the Listener, headed “Well, blow me down”:
I did a column shortly before Christmas suggesting what men really would prefer as a present. I won’t repeat the words used but the gift suggested involves a particular languid form of sex and a lie-in.
This did provoke a few horrified letters and emails from folk who obviously rate a certain act as an abomination and would never put anything icky near their mouths. I apologise for injuring their sensibilities.
However, it also produced several other grateful notes from men thanking me for the suggestion and saying they also enjoyed the lie-in. Perhaps the most alarming reaction was when, in the street, I ran into a nice woman trailing a couple of children who also thanked me profusely for the tip. She winked and said it has definitely added something to her marriage. She and her husband now quietly refer to it as a “Ralston”.

Virgin blue

Like everything else on the internet this letter complaining about the food served on a flight from Bombay to Heathrow on 7 December last year may be entirely untrue, but according to PopBitch Richard Branson said it was the funniest letter he had ever received. The heading says it all: “Which one is the starter, which one is the dessert?”
If the type is too small to read, just click on the page for a bigger version.

Understatement of the month

From the 17 January issue of the Economist:
Mr Bush struggled in part because he feared, with some justification, that the permanent bureaucracy in Washington would be hostile to a Republican agenda. He searched long and hard for loyal Republicans for nearly every post, sometimes sacrificing talent in the process. Mr Obama does not have this problem. Nearly everyone in Washington voted for him. So he worries less about loyalty and more about ability. He did not pick Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state because of her lifelong devotion to the Obama cause.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

No hands clapping

Toby Young, author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People and The Sound of No Hands Clapping, reports that he is annoying the Americans again in his new role as celebrity judge on Top Chef:
‘It is unclear why the producers chose Mr Young whose main claim to fame is f***ing over Graydon Carter, being an EPIC FAIL and who maintains an entirely deserved reputation as a self-serving whiny drunk pissant,’ wrote Joshua David Stein on Gawker, a New York gossip site. ‘My friend Gabe deftly pointed out he is like Simon Cowell without the talent or hair,’ wrote Max Silvestri, a New York comedian. ‘But I think he’s like the lady from The Weakest Link but with a more feminine physique.’ Comments like this — comparing me unfavourably to other British television personalities who’ve crossed the Atlantic — popped up all over the internet, mainly from outraged fans. But the most wounding insults were hurled by American restaurant critics, no doubt furious that they hadn’t been asked to appear on the show themselves. ‘A horror’ was the verdict of Adam Platt, the distinguished food critic of New York magazine, who dismissed me as a ‘bald-headed Londoner’ guilty of delivering ‘forced bon mots’.
Reviewers accused him of trotting out witticisms he had prepared earlier. For example, he said of one dish where the vegetables were better cooked than the two meat components, “It rather reminded me of one of those Hollywood films in which classically trained British actors have been cast in character roles. The two leads were upstaged by the supporting cast.”

However, Young says he didn’t script his jokes and, while they might have been “not exactly Wildean”, they were all ad-libbed:
. . . one of the penalties of being a well-educated Brit in America is that people are constantly accusing you of having memorised lines for the simple reason that you talk in complete sentences and — completely unheard of, this — you don’t make any grammatical mistakes.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thai me kangaroo down

An Australian writer has been sentenced to three years in a Thai jail for breaking Thailand’s absurdly strict lèse-majesty law:
Harry Nicolaides, 41, of Melbourne, appeared in a Bangkok court yesterday wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, with his hands cuffed and his feet shackled. He has already been in custody for nearly five months.
“He has written a book that slandered the king, the crown prince and Thailand and the monarchy,” the judge told the court.
“He was found guilty under criminal law article 112 and the court has sentenced him to six years, but due to his confession, which is beneficial to the case, the sentence is reduced to three years.”
David Farrar calls this disgraceful. Well, yes. But what shocked me was this:
The charge relates to a passage in a self-published novel in 2005 titled Verisimilitude. His family has said that fewer than 10 copies were sold.
Other reports have the total sales at seven copies. Even by the normally dismal results of self-publishing, that’s appalling. Has he no more than seven family members or friends?

For a Thai view of the matter, click here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Country matters

Cactus Kate is rude about this opinion piece by Don Nicolson of Federated Farmers in the SST though without saying why. She is leaving the assault to Home Paddock, who so far has stayed silent. Maybe CK objects to the absurd intro based on Alice in Wonderland (“It is magic, but so too, is farming”), though probably it isn’t Nicolson’s fault as he has staff to write this stuff.

A better idea of this thinking can be found in this piece, “Town versus Country” from The Press, which is an interview (i.e. not written by Fed Farms’ PR staff) with his actual words. Nicolson makes some very good points about townies’ misconceptions about farms and farming:
Surely everyone knows that agriculture and forestry account for 65 per cent of New Zealand’s exports? You might think Australia is a farming nation, too. Yet, despite those outback farms the size of small European states, agricultural exports are not even 4 per cent of the Aussie economy. We are quite simply the biggest dairy and sheep meat exporter in the world. Or, to turn it around, the society whose fate is most closely tied to what is going on in its paddocks. . .

Our farmers continue to be the least subsidised, the least protected, of any Western state. They are also among the most innovative and productive. For the past 25 years, farming productivity has been growing 3.3 per cent a year compared with a measly 1 per cent for New Zealand workplaces as a whole.
That last statistic is staggering. The whole thing is well worth a read.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Joni Mitchell, 44 years ago

The year is 1965 and she is 22 or so here, performing “Me and My Uncle”, a song written by John Phillips (later of the Mamas and Papas) on Oscar Brand’s Canadian show Let’s Sing Out, which from memory was on Saturday nights here at 6 or 6.30. As was The Johnny Cash Show (see here for what you missed), Hootenanny, and Hullabaloo, which featured the Stones, the Animals, Ike and Tina Turner, the Supremes. . . TV really was better then.

Monitor: Mark Ellen

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A little something for the weekend

In Japan, if you’re sad and lonely you can hire a pet to cheer you up. Perhaps a cat, or perhaps a beetle:
There are more than 150 companies in Tokyo which are licensed to hire out animals of various kinds and although beetles may be cheap, dogs are much more popular.
First you pay a deposit and a hire fee. Then you are issued with a leash, some tissues and a plastic bag and given some advice on how to handle your new friend.
Kaori is a pretty waitress who regularly spends her Sunday afternoons with a Labrador. They go for a walk in the park if the weather is fine, or if it is wet they just snuggle up in front of the TV in her apartment.
“When I look into his eyes, I think he’s my dog,” Kaori told me. “But when I take him back to the shop, he runs away from me and starts wagging his tail when he sees the next customer. That’s when I know he’s only a rental dog.”
Being Japan, it gets even weirder – you can hire a (this is not about sex) temporary girlfriend or temporary dad for your children. You can even hire a mother.

English historian Andrew Roberts sticks up for George W. Bush and his probable legacy in a piece provocatively titled “History will show that George W Bush was right”. Money shot:
When Abu Ghraib is mentioned, history will remind us that it was the Bush Administration that imprisoned those responsible for the horrors. When water-boarding is brought up, we will see that it was only used on three suspects, one of whom was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al-Qaeda's chief of operational planning, who divulged vast amounts of information that saved hundreds of innocent lives. When extraordinary renditions are queried, historians will ask how else the world's most dangerous terrorists should have been transported. On scheduled flights?
There’s a robustly sceptical view of homeopathy here, and of relativism here.

The English classical music magazine Gramophone has put its entire archive online, so you can read interviews, articles and reviews going back to 1923. It’s astonishingly useful, and astonishingly generous. Look up any performer, any LP, any CD, and if they were worthy of note they’ll be there. There are 35 search results for Frank Zappa, 5507 for Handel. Speaking of whom, it’s 250 years ago that he died, so there will be a flood of CDs and guff this year. Here is Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing “Bane of Virtue” in the 1996 Glyndebourne production of his opera Theodora. And yes, that is Dawn Upshaw in the white frock in the close-ups.

Sub standards

Something sub-optimal is happening with the sub-editing of our top magazines. In the old days (not wishing to sound like an old codger such as Warwick Roger, Garth George or Gordon McLauchlan) when I was one, the subs were the unsung heroes. The journalists and columnists wrote the words, but they depended absolutely on the sub-editors to ensure that what was printed was both readable and true. Not any more. APN has for a while now outsourced much of its subbing to an outfit called Pagemasters, with pretty poor results, and it looks as though ACP has done the same, judging by the quality of the product.

One recent issue of the Listener, an APN publication, listed on its content page an interview with one Norm Chomsky, whom one assumed was a distinguished Australian. Nope, it was Noam. A couple of pages over, Deborah Hill Cone referred to Michael Lewis’s modern business classic Liar’s Poker as a novel. All writers make mistakes, but they should be able to count on a sub to save them from embarrassment.

And there was a lulu in last month’s issue of ACP’s North & South, from Peter Shaw of all people. Peter knows more about music than the rest of us put together, but this is what was printed:
In September, EMI wisely decided to include a classic 1968 recording of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time in their series Great Recordings of the Century on EMI 212 6882. Played by the violinist Erich Gruenberg, clarinettist Gervase de Peyer, cellist William Pleeth and pianist Michel Beroff, this recording provided many people with their first Messiaen experience – and a great one it was. Now paired with his Chronochromie, a huge orchestral piece featuring an arsenal of percussion instruments, the Quartet is perhaps the quintessential Messiaen work, even though it does not feature any keyboard instruments.
I can’t believe Peter made that mistake, but any half-decent sub would have spotted that a piece whose performers include the pianist Michel Beroff does indeed feature a keyboard instrument. It rather undermines one’s confidence in the rest of the magazine.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Oh you Pretty Things

There’s probably not much of a crossover between Blur fans and those who remember the Pretty Things, who toured NZ in 1965. But Blur know the Pretty Things, or at least guitarist Graham Coxon does. Here is Blur performing “Death of a Party” from their 1997 album Blur:

And here are the Pretty Things with “Baron Saturday” from their great 1967 album S.F. Sorrow, the first rock opera (it came out a year before the Who’s Tommy). Yes, the two tunes could be related. There are no clips available from the excellent DVD of the Pretty Things' 1998 performance at Abbey Road, so this sound-only clip will have to do:

You can also hear a version of the riff on the Oasis song “Bag it Up” from their 2008 album Dig Out Your Soul. At least they’re listening to more than the Beatles, but talk about diminishing returns.

Speaking of Blur, their bass player Alex James is now a farmer, cheese-maker and columnist for the Spectator. His memoir Bit of a Blur about his time as a rock pig is a hoot.

Font of knowledge

Hey, an international typographic conference! In Wellington! Break out the Bembo!

TypeSHED11, which will run 11-15 February in Shed 11, is organised by Typevents Italy and Wellington designer Catherine Griffiths, who says:
TypeSHED11’s aim is to raise awareness of typography’s role – socially, politically and culturally. It provides a framework for content, where typography is the thread, leaving ground for practitioners, students, academics and theorists to take hold, and use this as a forum to tease out ideas and critical thought, and to participate in rigorous debate and dialogue.
Speakers include New York’s Christian Schwartz, one of the world’s most influential contemporary type designers; Melbourne typographer Stephen Banham, described by Eye magazine as a “typographic evangelist”; Japan’s Masayoshi Kodaira, recognised for pushing into three dimensions with his large-scale typographic installations; and influential Amsterdam trio Experimental Jetset, who starred in the film Helvetica and whose work was recently acquired by MoMA.

Register for the conference here.