Saturday, October 31, 2009

Silliness from Colin James

This is from today’s Waikato Times – I can’t find the column online at Stuff; maybe it will be there tomorrow. Anyway, under the heading “National’s success bad news for Labour” – you don’t say – Colin James is trying to explain National’s high poll rating and Labour’s conversely low poll rating:
The fourth reason is Labour’s invisibility. That is not Labour’s fault. It has an innovative website which is scoring well. It pours out press statements, many of which make a real point. It joins protests and organises meetings. Labour is not silent.
Who but a political journalist would think that voters might rate a political party on the basis of how many press releases it produces or how “innovative” its website is? Who but a political journalist would even look at a political party’s website?

All of us outside the beltway detest the expression “inside the beltway”, but that paragraph is so inside the beltway.

The Stratford theory of numbers confirmed

Cactus Kate comments on the hoo-ha about Rodney Hide taking his girlfriend on overseas trips. The original Herald story begins:
Former perkbuster Rodney Hide has used his MP’s travel privileges to take his girlfriend on an overseas tour, leaving the taxpayer with a $25,163 bill for her flights.
The parliamentary data disclosing members’ expenses is here.

The numerate Cactus Kate fisks:
But isn’t the Herald’s math a little off? If Hide’s part of the trip cost $26k then there is no way having a partner accompany him cost $25k unless their expenses mirrored each other’s and they stayed in separate rooms.
Not bloody likely.

She continues:
Actually the $25k included flights domestically from July to September, well apparently. The NZ Herald once again reaches for the bucket headline. Having the partner on this trip could not have cost $25k. The $25,163 referred to was actually from the Members expense disclosure and includes Hide's own travel which considering his electorate is in Epsom it is reasonable he has to travel back to.
In short, the journalists got it wrong. I do wish that sub-editors would check numbers as carefully as they do spelling, punctuation and grammar – as so often happens, these numbers simply do not mean what we are told they mean. As my theory of media numbers holds.

Pink Floyd in the garden

The November issue of NZ Gardener arrived today. On page 10 it announces the latest varieties of flowers, fruit and vegetables. They include Pink Floyd, a new amaryllis, as well as a carrot called Purple Haze (a 1967 single by Jimi Hendrix) and a sunflower called King Kong (a Frank Zappa tune from the 1969 album Uncle Meat). It can’t be long before we see a capsicum called Sergeant Pepper.

Here is Zappa and the original Mothers performing “King Kong” live for the BBC in 1968. It’s a bit different from most pop music of the day. It’s in 3/8, for a start. Maybe it's a bit different from most pop music, full stop.

Australia, climate change and uranium

Peter van Onselen writes in the Australian about the Labor government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme:
The Australian energy sector as it stands is far too dependent on dirty coal. The concept of clean coal technology is exactly that, nothing more than a concept. It is not achievable at the moment and there are no indicators that it will be achievable any time soon (if ever). That, of course, hasn't stopped us pumping millions of dollars into trialling the technology. Research and development spending is crucial, to be sure, but not without tandem investment in proven technology such as nuclear power.

The most internationally proven way to address energy needs in an environmental and sustainable way is to go nuclear. [Kevin] Rudd likes to extol the virtues of the Group of 20 nations, but I can't recall hearing him comment on their overwhelming dependence on nuclear power as a means of carbon pollution reduction. Nineteen of the G20 nations already have nuclear power in their energy mix or are planning the construction of reactors; 15 and four nation-states respectively.
The one non-nuclear member of the G20 is Australia, which just happens to have the world’s largest reserves of uranium and is the third-biggest exporter of the stuff.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Nick Smith and Sam Mahon

Sam Mahon has made the papers again:
Environment Minister Nick Smith has been immortalised – in cow dung.
Canterbury artist and campaigner Sam Mahon created the manure sculpture as a protest against water pollution in the region. He is selling the artwork on auction website Trade Me.
Mahon said the cow manure was the perfect medium for a sculpture of Smith, who he believed was doing too little to protect New Zealand’s waterways from dairy farm pollution. [. . . ]
Dry cowpats were collected from an organic dairy farm in Waikari, ground through a coffee blender, mixed with a polymer resin, and pressed into a mould to set. The finishing touch was a beeswax polish.
Yes, of course, they would have to be organic cowpats, as opposed to the other kind. But let’s not have coffee at Sam’s any time soon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Trevor Mallard and Chris Finlayson

I was in a meeting some years ago that Chris Finlayson chaired and was hugely impressed by him. Even if I hadn’t been, even if I’d thought he was as big a dick as Trevor Mallard is, I’d still be appalled by what David Farrar reports:
Labour MPs – especially Trevor Mallard – yell out Tinkerbell at the Attorney-General constantly in the House [. . .]

Now I think everyone knows Chris is gay. He doesn’t make a big fuss about it, it is just the way things are. But Labour seem obsessed with the fact an openly gay politician is a front bench National Minister. The so called party of tolerance and equality call him Tinkerbell. Maybe Rainbow Labour would like to show some balls, and point out to their own Caucus why this is a bad and stupid thing to do.
It’s not just bad and stupid. It is all of that, but also one wonders: if this is offensive to me, a straight man, how offensive can it be to the gay Labour MPs, male and female? And if it isn’t offensive to them, it should be. And to all Labour MPs. Actually, to everyone.

Imagine if a National MP called out homophobic epithets in Parliament – the Opposition would (rightly) be down on them like a ton of bricks, as would the newspaper columnists.

Well, maybe not Garth George.

My first dictionary

That’s today’s new entry. Here is another recent one:

Yes, they are all like this. Collect the set of My First Dictionary here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Happy birthday, Hank Marvin

Home Paddock reminds us that it is the great Hank Marvin’s 68th birthday. (His real name is – whisper it – Brian Rankin.)

She chooses to show him performing “Apache”. Hah. In August I chose to showcase him playing on Sir Cliff’s great 1969 single, “Throw Down a Line”. It’s as close as Cliff ever got to Donovan with Jeff Beck.

But wait, there’s more: the great “Devil Woman” from 1976. Cliff sings, “She’s gonna get you from behind.” Sadly there is no vid of Cliff and Hank performing this that I can find, so this Cliff-only version will have to do, though that is definitely Hank/Brian on guitar:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Silliness in North & South

In the November issue of North & South there is a profile (not online) of Judith Collins, billed as “MP for Clevedon, Minister of Police, Corrections and Veterans Affairs”. No apostrophe for Veterans’, though there is on her website and also Parliament’s. Perhaps, like the Herald, North & South has outsourced its sub-editing and proofreading to the Australian barbarians.

But who these days cares about punctuation? No, the issue is content. So let’s check the content. The article says:
Yes, her parents were dairy farmers but they were not Daimler-driving, gin-swilling plutocrats.
The original North & South was aimed at readers in the provinces. Perhaps the demographic target has changed. Why else would the magazine now want to annoy every reader who knows anything about dairy farming or, indeed, life in the provinces?

Collins was a child in the 1960s, and her parents’ farm was near Walton, which is outside Matamata. It’s lovely country and good dairy country, but in the 1960s no dairy farmer there would have driven a Daimler, and none was a plutocrat. None is even today. Cactus Kate, whose family farm is not a million miles away from Walton, may back me up on this.

(UPDATE: Cactus Kate obliges: “What the fuck is a Daimler?” she begins. See her full response in the comments.)

I wonder if the journalist who wrote this could name a single dairy farmer of his acquaintance.

He also notes that:
One of the few previous profiles of her was in student newspaper Critic, which took the time to note that she had “one of the few decent racks in Parliament”.
Perhaps that is true. But if the writer thought so, why not say so himself? Using a sexist quote in this way does not absolve one of being sexist oneself.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Silliness in Cuisine

The pleasingly plump – 188 pages! – latest issue of Cuisine arrives in the mailbox. Excellent. But what’s this? On page 45 the normally sensible wine columnist John Saker writes:
Watch Delegat’s share price in the wake of the news that Oyster Bay Chardonnay was Sir Howard Morrison’s favourite tipple.
That must be the silliest comment ever made in any New Zealand magazine that isn’t called Investigate.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stockhausen and Abba at home

I realised this afternoon that ours is not a normal household. The wife is in Palmerston North for a while. The seven-year-old was on the computer checking out the website for her current reading, the Rainbow Magic series of chapter books about, frankly, a bunch of fairies. The five-year-old was in the small persons’ living room dancing and singing to the Mamma Mia album I made her from my Abba’s Greatest Hits: she knows all the words to every song. And I was in the grown-ups’ living room reading the Waikato Times and listening to Stockhausen’s Zyklus, a piece for solo percussion.

Maybe all this explains why the wife is in Palmerston North for a while.

Anyway, here is percussionist Nick Tolle performing Zyklus:

But this version below, sound only, is better recorded. I don’t know who the performer is – it’s not any of the versions I own. The music is from 1958 so it pre-dates the Beatles. (That’s Stockhausen in the top row of the cover of Sgt Pepper’s, between Lenny Bruce and W.C. Fields.)

Joyce DiDonato and Renee Fleming

Two spectacular sopranos. Here they are in a 2007 concert performance of the aria “Ah, guarda sorella” from Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutte. Briefly, their characters Fiordiligi (Fleming) and Dorabella (DiDonato) are gazing at portraits of their boyfriends and praising their handsomeness. The last line which they sing in unison translates as: “If this heart of mine ever changes its desire, may love make me suffer while I live.” Guess what happens next?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

George Strait on divorce

A friend is experiencing marital problems. He has already had two divorces, so is very unkeen on another. Just for him, and anyone else who appreciates a) the genius of George Strait and b) a really, really good divorce song, here is the hardest-working man in country music at his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame with his #1 hit “Give it Away”.

You have to sit through a minute of Kris Kristofferson explaining why Strait gets the induction, but that is no hardship. This is from 2006: Strait was 54.

The key line in the song is when the wife says, “There ain’t nothing in this house worth fighting over”. My friend says that this sentiment is the diametric opposite of that expressed by his first two wives.

Could they by any chance be related?

This headline and this one in today’s Herald:
World’s most at risk cultural heritage sites named

Loaded Hog Wellington shuts down

John Hood leaves Oxford University

John Hood, former vice-chancellor of Auckland University, has stood down as vice chancellor of Oxford University after five fractious years of trying to knock the dreaming spires into shape. In this week’s Spectator, novelist Justin Cartwright says “I have repented of my rather casual remarks about him in my book on Oxford”. What follows is an unexpectedly moving account of Hood’s farewell speech.

This is what greeted Hood on arrival at his new job:
Oxford dons are constitutionally disputatious; their purpose is to have opinions and to propel them to the top of the pile. But while they were disputing, the unpaid bills and the unsent invoices were gathering like autumn leaves in the university’s Dickensian offices, which were staffed by untrained people and bedevilled by two new computer systems that had failed to deliver.
Hood fixed all that, despite constant criticism from the dons.

His speech in the Sheldonian Theatre opened with a list of projects and successes, says Cartwright:
But I have the feeling that sooner or later he will get to what we have all been waiting for, his own role over the last five years. Finally, the moment arrives: ‘I come next to changes in the administration. In Michaelmas term, 2004, the university’s administration was under considerable stress...’ Yes, the university was four weeks from bankruptcy, and was unable to file its accounts for ten months. But Hood does not put it like that. He says the ‘institution was exposed to an unacceptable level of risk. There was no comprehensive list of capital expenditure commitments and there was no clear system to allocate capital according the university’s strategic priorities.’ This is diplomatic or perhaps accounting language for saying that the whole thing was an absolute bloody shambles when he arrived, sunk in amateurism and incompetence.

The heads of colleges, the incoming vice chancellor, the various donors and guests, are attentive: Ritalin is not something they have ever been prescribed. They know that behind this rather dour delivery is a man who has been hurt by his treatment and they sense that this is his moment. The repair work was undertaken, Hood continues, ‘in an environment too often, unfortunately, tarnished by gratuitous criticism, rather than stimulated by constructive dialogue’. [Chancellor Chris] Patten nods assent, from his gilded chair. His face is now oddly like the figurine of a Chinese emperor, massive and philosophical. What we are seeing, behind the formalities, is an intense human drama.
Cartwright concludes:
John Hood may not have that playful and caressing wit which is said to distinguish an Oxford man, but he was unmistakably the right man for the times. I owe him an apology.

Oxford owes him both an apology and a debt of gratitude.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Even Bono is not a cool dad

English radio star Christian O’Connell writes in the Word:
I was interviewing Bono. Here he is, multi-millionaire, best friends with statesmen and – how many? – four or five kids. And I told him I thought there was no such thing as a cool dad and he said, “I totally agree with you.”

He had Jay-Z and Beyoncé staying the other week and you’d think any teenagers would think, “You rock!” But he goes into the kitchen to get another bottle of wine and there’s his daughter on the phone going, “Yeah, he’s in there now boring the arse off them about Africa probably.” And he was!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Happy birthday, Rita Hayworth

Home Paddock reminds us that on this day in 1918 Rita Hayworth was born. Her real name was Margarita Carmen Cansino, her five unhappy marriages included one to Orson Welles, and she had a very sad end, dying in 1987. But in her prime she just glowed.

She said of herself, “I always considered myself as a comedienne who could dance.” And boy she could dance. Here she is with Fred Astaire in “So Near and Yet So Far” from the 1941 movie You’ll Never Get Rich. The dancing starts 45 seconds in to this 4:25 clip of bliss.

In the early 60s when I was a kid, old movies like this were on every Sunday afternoon at, maybe, 2pm. At my friend Rod Barnett’s (my family didn’t have TV till much later) I saw ancient Westerns, Buster Keaton, Busby Berkeley, dramas like Brief Encounter, all the Ealing comedies. . . so much great stuff.

Paul Simon’s song “Kodachrome” says that “everything looks worse in black and white” but I have never thought so. Watching Hayworth and Astaire in movies like this, black and white is just fine by me.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Stratford Theory of Numbers #7

As regular readers know, my theory holds that almost every number in a newspaper or magazine is wrong, because it has been misreported and/or misunderstood by the journalist. Here is a passage from the Listener editorial in the issue of 17 October:
In the past 20 years, the proportion of primary school children being driven to school has gone from 31% to 56%. The number biking is down by two-thirds, and the number walking has almost halved. Among secondary school children, the number of walkers is the same as 20 years ago, but biking is barely a quarter of its 1989 level, and the number being driven is up from 20% to 35%.
I don’t know whether these numbers are accurate. This being the Listener, no doubt they are. But I do know that they are incomprehensible. We are presented with percentages, fractions and raw numbers, and expected to draw a conclusion from comparing them all.

We can, most of us, convert the fractions to percentages or vice versa to make the comparisons – though we shouldn’t have to – but what we can’t do is tell what the last sentence means. In the last 20 years the number of secondary school children has grown and if the number walking to school hasn’t changed then the proportion has dropped – but by how much? Almost halved, as with primary children, or more than halved? Much more, or just a bit? Can’t tell.

And you couldn’t calculate it from the increase in the number of children attending secondary school – you need to know the number living within walking distance, which changes when circumstances change. In Auckland, my children walked to school. Here in the country, they have to go by car.

What would be meaningful would be a comparison over time between the number of children living within walking distance of school who do walk, cycle or are driven. But that would be asking a lot of a journalist, even a Listener one.

Nigel Cox on Doris Lessing

The ninth in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is a February 1995 interview by novelist Nigel Cox with Doris Lessing, who had recently published Under My Skin, the first volume of her autobiography. The interview was recorded for the TV show The Edge, but was never screened.

What started you writing your autobiography?
Well, the worthy reason is that I was part of that colonial experience, the experience has now totally vanished, that’s the end of the Raj in Southern Rhodesia, 90 years of British occupation – which is nothing. People have forgotten what it was like, so a lot of information is in there. And the other thing, the unworthy reason, is that people are writing biographies – I thought I’d get in first.

You’ve said that one thing about the writers you know, that they have in common, is that they had stressed childhoods. Is this a recording of the stresses in your childhood that made you a writer?
Yes it is. There’s a lot of discussion of that, and some unanswered questions because I don’t know, at least certain things, at all – probably I never will. But it is interesting that practically every writer will say that they had a complicated childhood, though not necessarily an unhappy one. I think that if children travel a lot or have a complicated family background, it makes them observers because they’re so used to watching their parents’ faces all the time for reactions, for survival. It’s a good training for writers.

Autobiographers seem to find it easy to write about their childhoods, but then they get into terrible knots when they come up to the period of their life when they’re adults and they have to justify their actions. Have you found that a problem?
No, because I don’t really feel very good about myself as a young woman. I was a pretty graceless creature. I think that some people are going to be rather disappointed; because you become a kind of sacred cow, you know, you’re old and respectable and all that, and they don’t really want to know about that graceless youth that I’ve been writing about.
But the real problem wasn’t that at all. The problem was, I remember far too much to go into that kind of space, so you have to choose. And when you start selecting, that’s not very far off a novel, right? So you think okay, so how does this differ from a novel?
The other thing is, if you use dialogue which I do, to cheer things up a bit, that’s the same thing. So I’ve come to the conclusion that the difference between fiction and autobiography, which is very narrow, is the autobiography is very messy and doesn’t have any shape. Whereas a novel has shape, you cut a lot out, make things new.

You’ve often been an innovator in the genres you’ve used. How did you approach writing an autobiography?
Oh, very conventional. I started at the beginning and went on to 1949, which is before most of the people in this room were born, very likely. So I have been saying to myself, why should anyone care about a country that they probably haven’t heard of, Zimbabwe, Southern Rhodesia, and about people and events long since dead?

And do you see it as a particularly different form of writing from the other forms?
Well, you spend much more time trying to get it right. It’s not easy to know what’s true and what isn’t, because I can say about myself at least that I’ve seen my life differently at different times. When I was a young woman I was extremely belligerent about what had happened to me; and then I went through a phase when I was wallowing around in guilt: how have I done that? Why did I do that? And now I’m extremely detached and curious. You very often see old people looking back into their past, they’re curious: how did that happen? Why did that happen?

Are you coming up with any answers?
Well, I think we’re much less free than we think we are in our choices, which is not a very comforting conclusion to come to.

You’ve always seemed a writer determined to remember accurately. Did writing this book bring back memories even you had forgotten?
Yes it did. And people I’d completely forgotten. Then you ask, were they really so unimportant to you that you’ve forgotten about them? Why are some people important and others not? I was trying to remember a group of people I was associated with in the early 50s, it was a Communist Party writers’ group in Britain – there was somebody doing some research. I couldn’t remember two of the people that attended that group regularly, whereas I remember all the others in the greatest possible detail. How do you account for that? I had to ring up friends and say, “What have I forgotten?”

People writing books of this sort always seem to have to steer around the worry of offending those who are still alive. Have you run into that problem yet?
Well, this first volume, you see, is easy because nearly everyone’s dead, I don’t think they care. But volume two will be very difficult because since I came to London I’ve known an awful lot of well-known people, and I’m not one of those who think you should “spill the dirt”. I think I shall leave out all the personal stuff, and write about the politics, which is fair game, because some of the things I was involved with are completely unlike the myth that has grown up about this or that – so that’ll be interesting.

In future volumes, how close to the present do you intend to come?
I might write the third volume and leave it for publication after I’m dead, and the people who might be hurt by it. Because there are people close to me who would be terribly hurt, so perhaps that’s what I’ll do. I’ll write volume two and leave all the painful stuff to volume three, and lock it up.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sentence of the day

From the wonderful Mary Killeen in her Spectator posh person’s agony-aunt column, “Your Problems Solved”:
Much depends on the dimensions and agility of the countess.
You do want to read the whole thing now, don’t you?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A merry Bob Dylan Christmas

Who’d have thought? Bob Dylan has released an album of Christmas songs, Christmas in the Heart.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, In “Hey Mister Tambourine Man” he almost sang:
In the jingle bells jangle morning
I’ll be following you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More of my kind of meaningless statistics

Further to my report of 25 August , via Home Paddock (#15) I learn that on Tumeke’s (#12) highly scientific ranking of New Zealand blogs, Quote Unquote has shot up seven places and after a mere 10 months of blogging is now ranked #93. Thanks again to all my readers, etc.

As before, if I were a competitive person, which I’m still so not, I would look up the ranking of my distinguished former Listener colleagues Karl du Fresne (#123, up four places) and Denis Welch (#159, down nine places).

Among my other distinguished former colleagues, Poneke is on #22 (down three) and Chris Trotter is on #68 (down six).

More dramatically, my former colleagues from Quote Unquote the magazine, Rob O’Neill and Mark Broatch, who with Chris Bell are NZBC, have dived to #108 (down 18). Though now that Mark has started promoting his book, that should pick up.

No oral sex, says ute crash waitress

That’s the headline on this story – pure Aussie gold – by Rebekah Cavanagh in the Northern Territory News.

But if I had been the sub-editor who worked on it, I think I would have changed, in the last sentence, the word after “allegedly”.

Monitor: Laughy Kate

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Happy birthday King Crimson

It is 40 years since King Crimson’s debut album In the Court of the Crimson King was released. It still sounds amazing. The opening track, “21st Schizoid Man”, probably invented heavy metal. The title track was spooky as. Other pieces were delicate pastorals with lots of flute and acoustic guitar (“I Talk to the Wind”) or doomy cinematic epics of vast dynamic range (“Epitaph’). The Mellotron was a big feature throughout.

Maybe it helped to have four great players – guitarist Robert Fripp (that’s him on David Bowie’s “Heroes” and loads of Peter Gabriel albums), sax and keyboard player Ian McDonald (later of Foreigner), bass player and singer Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake and Palmer) and jazzy drummer Mike Giles. Boy, they could play.

This version of the band broke up when they toured the US to support the album – apart from the usual personal problems, the music was so dark that they couldn’t all handle it. But this one album set a bar so high that no subsequent prog rock album ever reached it again.

Amazingly, King Crimson is still a functioning unit though with a new cast alongside Fripp. Even more amazingly, their music in the 21st century is still as genre-bending and challenging as their early stuff was in the 60s. Unlike that of any of their contemporaries. Fancy a new Stones album, anyone?

I can’t find any YouTube clips of that first edition of the band, so that one above is by a good later one, with Adrian Belew on guitar (Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Talking Heads), Tony Levin on bass (Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Seal – more good music than you’d think humanly possible) and Bill Bruford (Yes and jazz) on drums. The song is from this unit’s first album Discipline and is called Elephant Talk. Possibly because Belew can make his guitar sound like an elephant. Bit of Fane Flaws in the performance too, if you ask me. The famously serious Fripp smiles at 1:35, and again later at 2:25. This is probably late 1981, so 28 years ago.

And here they are playing “Frame by Frame” on The Old Grey Whistle Test about that time. Which is mostly 7/4.

Any version of the band is worth hearing but this one was followed by an even better one IMHO, a double duo – two guitars, two basses/Sticks and two drums. Again there are no YouTube visual clips but this track from the live double album B’Boom will give you an idea of the power of the double power trio. Play it loud.

Dave Witherow on motorbikes

The eighth in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from a January 1994 feature called “I Get a Kick Out of This” about 20 of life’s extraordinary pleasures. Back in February I posted James Allan’s piece on the pleasure of leaving early. Here is Dunedin writer Dave Witherow on motorbikes:
Speed, Aldous Huxley said, is probably the only really novel pleasure of modern times. Throughout history, until the invention of the combustion engine, top-whack for mankind was a horse-gallop. (It was possible to reach a higher speed in free-fall off a precipice, but this was a once-only experience, never popular and not much fun.)

Aldous loved speed. He had a stable of big, American cars, in which he used to blitz the Pacific highway near Big Sur. This was in the 50s, when the coastal highway was a lovely, empty road, swooping through forests and along the cliffs, a skid away from the ocean. But his love of the fast life was tempered by failing eyesight. He was dependent on having a driver, and none of his friends drove fast enough. None of them had a motorbike either.

Cars are all right, in principle. But modern cars are bland, deliberately engineered to deny their occupants any hint of raw velocity. And all of them, old or new, share the defect of enclosure. The passengers are isolated from the world outside. They sit in a small, upholstered room, watching the shifting scene glide past a cage of windows. There is no visceral response, except in an emergency, and speed, insofar as it is sensed at all, is sensed visually, like a movie.

A motorcyclist’s experience is nothing like that. To the biker the world begins at his nerve-ends. The sound of his motor echoes in his ears and the road flashes past beneath his feet. The biker is exposed, like a horseman. He feels the elements he passes through. His breath streams behind him in the wind, and speed is a physical impact.

Aldous was right. He recognised a unique pleasure that most of us have never known, or have forgotten. The remedy is the motorcycle. Two wheels, a frame, and a basic engine and gearbox – an iron horse. As sweet and fleet and functional as its original incarnation. Aldous would have loved it.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Anyway, it is what it is, at the end of the day, you know? Whatever.

Marist Poll has produced a table – I’ve no idea how to blog it so you’ll have to go and see for yourselves here – that shows by region, income, education, race, age and sex what category of American finds which of the above five expressions the most annoying.

Personally I hate them all – but not as much as I hate “I mean”. Like those examples above it’s a form of phatic communication and harmless enough, but I used to have to endure work meetings at which one participant said “I mean” in every clause of every sentence. Seven times in one sentence was the record.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Penny Wise on Dim-Post on Roger Douglas

To celebrate the return of my internet connection – rural wireless broadband is a lovely idea, and sometimes it even works – here is a guest post by Penny Wise, an economist who has seen a thing or two in her time. Specifically, in this case, what happened in the 1980s at Treasury and with the Roger Douglas reforms.

Dim-Post wrote a few days ago about Revolution, the four-part documentary about the reforms of the 80s, which he rates as “excellent”. Then he muses:
I wonder to what extent Douglas was the architect of Rogernomics. Before the 1980s he was a standard Labour style socialist, in the 90s and beyond he’s a crackpot. It’s only during his tenure as Finance Minister there is an intellectual framework and ideological coherence to his policies. But during the documentary in both the interviews and archival footage he only speaks about economic issues in very broad terms – the need for change, the need for it to be ‘bold and radical’ and the need for extraordinary speed. I suspect the real architects were his advisors from Treasury and the Reserve Bank (many of whom began the 80s as civil servants and ended the decade as multi-millionaires running the companies they helped Douglas privatise).
I thought Penny would have a view on this, and you know what? She does. Here she goes:

So Dimpost reckons it was the advisors in the Treasury and the Reserve Bank who provided the intellectual framework for the Douglas reforms. Well yes, of course, that’s their job, it is bread and butter to them.

But what they were recommending – all conveniently summarised in Economic Management, the published advice to the incoming government in 1984 – was all pretty much bog-standard economic advice, the sort proffered to western governments around the world by their economic advisors, and by the OECD. That orthodoxy may have come as a shock to those of us living in the sheltered and decrepit economy that was NZ by the early 1980s, but more fool us. Now that we have seen similar things – indeed, much more radical reforms – all around the world, looking back it all seems rather timid and not at all novel. Compare NZ’s reforms with the adoption of flat-tax systems in some of the former Soviet bloc countries, the education voucher system of Sweden, the privatisations pretty much everywhere.

What was needed in NZ was a politician brave enough to start doing what had to be done. I believe it is called leadership.

It could have been done much better, but all politicians are massively constrained by the practice of politics and the limits of what their particular parties can do, given the constituencies they represent. So Labour was able to rip out farm subsidies whereas National could not; and National later was able to bring some much-needed labour market reform (which if it had come earlier would have saved many jobs) but Labour could not.

Essentially, Douglas stands accused of being a politician, not a policy wonk. Well, guilty of course. And proudly so, I imagine.

The focus in the Revolution series on the sharemarket crash – which was an international phenomenon – is a distraction from the main point, which was the necessary restructuring of the economy, the need to get fiscal balance (same fiscal problem today) and the need to get inflation under control. All these were huge tasks, and inevitably took many years to achieve.

As for all the civil servants who are supposed to have gone off and become multi-millionaires running companies they helped Douglas privatise, oh the shame of it. I suppose he is thinking of Rod Deane, but in fact most of the public servants who moved went into other businesses, finance in particular as that was the best fit for the skill set that most had. Many did quite well, and some who went overseas did extremely well. All that shows is that many of them were talented people, with highly marketable skills, and that a more liberal economy offered more opportunities than working hard in the bureaucracy for little reward.

It seems a little petty to grumble about that.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

#7 in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the June 1996 issue. It is one of a series I wrote called “What the hell is. . .?” which described to readers some elements of popular culture they might have heard of but had been lucky enough to avoid (see my account of John Gray’s Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus here). This one tackles James Redfield’s New Age bestseller The Celestine Prophecy:
What the hell is The Celestine Prophecy?

Quite possibly the most annoying book ever written, that’s what. There’s this manuscript – sorry, Manuscript – dating from 600 BC that has surfaced in the rainforests of Peru. It contains nine “insights” into the meaning of life, and the novel traces our hero’s exploits as he tracks down each successive portion of the Manuscript and learns a greater spiritual wisdom.

As a novel it’s risible, with nil characterisation and dialogue that has all the wit and brio of the Road Code. So why has it been on the New Zealand bestseller lists for, at last count, 35 weeks, having already sold some two million copies in the US?

Because, sadly, of its message. This is that “we’re all looking for more fulfilment in our lives, and we won’t put up with anything that seems to bring us down. . . most of society’s recent ills can be traced to this restlessness and searching”. Forget poverty, starvation, racism, war, drugs – the major problem in the world is that a lot of middle-class white persons are feeling a bit sad.

The first step in your own personal evolution is to realise that every coincidence is meaningful. Always follow your intuition rather than rational thought. Then, understand that “every event has significance and contains a message that somehow pertains to our questions”. This, of course, is the world-view of the average paranoid schizophrenic.

The book has several versions of the ever-popular concept (UFOs, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the CIA killed Kennedy) of a secret idea known only to a few initiates, and at the same time to the government, which is trying to suppress it. As most governments leak like sieves, this is a preposterous notion, though maybe not to devotees of that other pop-culture paean to paranoia, The X-Files.

“The Manuscript says we will learn that sudden, spontaneous eye contact is a sign that two people will talk.” We are told to approach everyone whose eye we catch, as they will have a message for us. In some places I know, this message will likely be “Who you looking at?” followed by a swift blow to the head.

The culmination of the book is the Ninth Insight, which says that in the future we “will find alternative solutions to the pollution problem because someone will intuit these alternatives”. So, all you scientists, get intuiting.

What’s more, in an echo of fundamentalist Christianity’s “Rapture”, eventually we will “continue to increase our vibration. . . Whole groups of people, once they reach a certain level, will suddenly become invisible to those who are still vibrating at a lower level. . . At some point everyone will vibrate highly enough so that we can walk into heaven, in our same form.”

This is what happened to the Mayans, who were so evolved and vibrating so much that they all one day “crossed over together” and disappeared. Perhaps this also explains the vanishing of the dinosaurs? A cynic might observe that the Mayan classical period lasted until about 925 AD, so how did the Manuscript’s author in 600 BC know this – and come to think of it, how did the Manuscript survive in a rainforest?

Redfield is a Carlos Castenada for the 90s: for all the high-minded talk of spiritual bliss, he’s really describing a drug experience without the drugs. In some ways this goes beyond daffiness. The book is, to say the least, polite towards fundamentalist Christianity (Redfield is from Alabama) but hostile to Catholicism for being slavish to authority. At the same time it respects unquestioningly Native American (alternative-spirituality flavour of the year) traditions, and its own “wisdom” is not to be questioned, but elucidated for our benefit by more highly evolved beings.

In the Ninth Insight there is a curious passage on the economics of the future: “our gifts should go to the persons who have given us spiritual truth. When people come into our lives at just the right time to give us the answers we need, we should give them money.”

You can easily do this for James Redfield, because an advertisement at the back of the book suggests that you send him $US43 for a monthly newsletter with “more information”.

In Russell Crowe’s trailer

A friend who lives in England writes about a recent holiday in Scotland, where she met the clan chief of the Macdonalds, some millionaires, the odd sculptor and so on. More interesting to me was this snippet from someone’s niece or god-daughter Emma:
who plays polo and knows lots of famous and interesting people (her father has just given Princess Anne a puppy, for instance) and when we asked if she has any friends at uni who didn't go to public school she said “No not really. Put it this way, I share a house with 5 others and all our families have their own shoots”.

She had just come from a holiday job as an extra on the new Robin Hood film starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. She says Russell Crowe is very rough and swears the whole time but is very friendly to everyone and had just given one of the makeup girls £5000 because she wrote off her car one night.

She says he and Ridley Scott spent several days watching the Ashes in their trailers until late afternoon and then emerge, by which time the whole day had cost the producers in excess of a million pounds!

Emma also said Nicole Kidman is supposedly immensely thick.

Marching girls

There are marching girls and there are marching girls. And then there are these marching girls, from China’s 60th anniversary celebrations in Beijing.

Monitor: Mick Hartley

Friday, October 2, 2009

Linked in

1. Shameless self-promotion from Mark Broatch – he has a new book out and he wants to tell you about it. It’s called In A Word and it’s really rather good.

2. At a guess, I’d say that this means Rodney Hide is getting his oats.

3. PopBitch has a list – with scary, scary pictures – of the world’s ugliest animals, right at the other end of the scale from Charismatic Mega-Fauna such as pandas, tigers and whales. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the somewhat less charismatic Mary River Turtle, the Helmeted Hornbill, the Desert Grassland Whiptail Lizard, the Coconut Crab and the Aye-aye. I’ve seen coconut crabs but sadly never eaten one – they may be ugly but I bet they taste good.

4. Joe Hildebrand celebrates the life and work of Patrick Swayze, with special reference to 1991’s Point Break:
Seeking the ultimate acting challenge, Swayze pitted himself against the virtuoso talents of Keanu Reeves and there are few critics who would not say that the two were evenly matched.
5. The Weird Book Room at Abe Books offers such titles as A Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown, The Social History of the Machine Gun, How Green were the Nazis?, The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories, Bombproof Your Horse and The Haunted Vagina.

Cubism in the Waikato Times

New Zealand sub-editors really are the gift that keeps on giving.

In last night’s Waikato Times, a brief item on former UK health secretary Patricia Hewitt’s son being busted for possession of cocaine reported that:
police saw him throw a plastic bag containing a cube-sized lump of the drug out of a car in North London.

Wiggles irony

According to the 18 September issue of the excellent Australian edition of The Week (not online – publisher Felix Dennis isn’t silly), Anthony from the Wiggles suffers from depression.

And which one, you ask, is Anthony?

Is he the red one? No

Is he the yellow one? No.

Is he the purple one? No.

Anthony is the blue one.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

2009 Nobel Prize for Literature – the odds

Here is the list of odds that Labrokes is offering: Amos Oz is the 4/1 favourite, followed by Assia Djebar and Joyce Carol Oates at 5/1 and Philip Roth at 7/1.

Further down the list are Thomas Pynchon at 10/1, Les Murray at 16/1 and Alice Munro, Bob Dylan, Don DeLillo, Margaret Attwood and Ngugi wa Thiongo all at 25/1.

Paul Auster and William H. Gass are both at 100/1.

Of the 60-odd authors listed, I’ve read properly (i.e. at least a whole book) only 25 of them. How embarrassing.

Monitor: Mick Hartley