Sunday, November 29, 2009

So long, Marianne

1. Dim-Post channels Marianne Moore (seen above with a cockatoo: I couldn’t find an online version of the photo from the same shoot I have on my wall of her with a zebra) with his post “Real toads in imaginary gardens” which uses a line from the original version of her poem “Poetry”. The later, much much shorter version reads:
I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.
2. The Sunday Star-Times outs Cactus Kate’s real identity, and no I’m not going to link to it. What a shabby, pointless thing to do. It had nothing to do with the story which was about a harmless bit of fun the Spiky One is having with the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award – just sheer mean-spiritedness. She seems to be OK about it, but I am so not.

3. Home Paddock talks sense about recycling and how it is not always the best option.

4. BK Drinkwater links to this brief account for dummies of Godel’s Theorem which depresses me so much: I realise that I can no longer follow higher maths. I did it only to Stage III so I am no kind of mathematician but I did love it and did understand Godel. At that level maths is like Mozart. And now I can’t do it any more. Sob.

5. Karl du Fresne praises Vincent O’Sullivan and CK Stead, the odd couple of NZ lit., for their comments on the Ihimarea plagiarism, and adds: “Otherwise the literary world observed a deafening silence.” Ahem: Chad Taylor and I have been discussing it on these very premises.

6. Phil Parker likes the new Te Mata savvy.

7. Jonny B has met Sonny Smith, best banjo player in the world.

8. Chris Bell has been reading the new Thomas Pynchon. Lucky him. I will too, one of these days.

Best job vacancy ad ever

That is, if you are a sad male hetero:
The advertised position, in the School of Sociology and Social Policy, is for: “Research Officer - The rise and regulation of lap dancing and the place of sexual labour and consumption in the night time economy”.

The advertisement further stipulates that “prior experience of conducting research in the female sex industry” is essential.
Possibly a bit of competition for the job, then.

Monitor: Tim Worstall

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy birthday, Amos Garrett

Better late than never. Garrett is regarded as Canadian but he was born in Detroit on 26 November 1941. More to the point, he is regarded as one of the greatest guitar players alive, at least in the country/roots area. He was a big influence on Richard Thompson, Mark Knopler, Robbie Robertson Jerry Donahue and many other later, more famous players, but while you may not recognise the name you have certainly heard him – he played the guitar solo on Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” which Stevie Wonder famously called “the second best instrumental solo in all rock and roll, period”. Musician magazine was a tad less generous, rating it only in the Top 25 Guitar Solos Of Rock’n’Roll. He also has a great baritone singing voice.

And about a decade ago he was playing in a tent on Waiheke. I bought him a whisky in the bar afterwards – he had a cold and was grumpy as hell, but it was a huge thrill to shake the hand that had played that solo.

Here he is in 2007 live in Japan – he’s big in Japan – playing his arrangement of the old Santo & Johnny hit “Sleepwalk”:

The song is a favourite with guitarists – YouTube has versions by Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Satriani, a whole bunch – maybe because its basic C-Am-Fm-G cycle is just twisted enough from the standard changes. Whatever, Garrett’s version is legendary. His double-stop and triple-stop bends are not impossible for mortals like the rest of us, but they are fiendishly difficult – and he not only invented them but can improvise with them. We can all copy; the real art is in making stuff up, adding something of our own to the original.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Australia is big

Just look at it – you can fit all of Europe into it and have room left over for Scandinavia and a bunch of North Africa.

But it isn’t big enough to interest the Herald or Stuff news websites when the Liberal Opposition implodes and it looks as though party leader Malcolm Turnbull will be replaced by Tony Abbott or Joe Hockey on Monday. The Liberal crisis – dubbed the biggest party split in Australia 50 years – was front-page news in the Age, the Australian and Sydney Morning Herald today.

The Herald website hasn’t mentioned it all day. Its lead story about Australia is still about some pandas in Adelaide.

Stuff, to its great credit, has a section dedicated to our neighbour but has had no room today for the current political crisis. Instead, we get a farting pig.

Map monitor: Steve Whitehouse

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Witi Ihimaera and plagiarism

Yes, a big story here. There is more in the current Listener (not online until 19 December). Apart from Jolisa Gracewood’s brilliant detective work, about the most interesting online comment – that is, comment which is informed and from a literary type – that I have seen is from Scott Hamilton at Reading the Maps where there is a (by blog standards) good discussion of the issues.

What struck me, though, was Hamilton’s discussion of T.S. Eliot’s use of quotation in The Waste Land, which he calls “the finest example of creative plagiarism” and which opens up the whole issue of appropriation and modernist/post-modernist usage of earlier works. He cites this passage:
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.
Hamilton points out that it uses the refrain from Edmund Spenser’s “Prothalamion”:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.
As a Quote Unquote reader you will of course have noticed that this passage also uses this stanza from Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”:
But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Eliot’s use of this is far from word for word, but it’s clearly based on the Marvell and is instantly recognisable to anyone who knows the poem. The thing is that Eliot would and could have expected his readers to know this.

PG Wodehouse would have expected the same of his readers: he was a very different kind of writer but used a literary allusion on practically every page. Like Eliot, he had an educated audience who knew their Bible, Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley, Marvell etc, so could trust that there was a shared store of literary knowledge between them which he could allude to (or “reference” in today’s language). Thanks to our modern education system which requires everything to be “relevant”, this is no longer the case.

The English composer Peter Maxwell Davies uses musical quotations in a similar way – it’s ironic! – and no doubt in a generation or so these too will be meaningless to most listeners. As will Stravinsky’s quotes – not just the Russian folk tunes but also those in Le Baiser de la Fee (Tchaikovsky), Circus Polka (Schubert) and more. Bartok made sarcastic use of Shostakovich in his Concerto for Orchestra. Charles Ives used everything from Beethoven’s Fifth to hymns such as “Shall We Gather at the River”. Frank Zappa used Stravinsky, Ives, Holst, Ravel and Hindemith. Every blues or folk musician has done the equivalent. (Not just blues and folk: compare the chord changes of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe”, the opening song on Dark Side of the Moon, with Neil Young’s “Down by the River” which preceded it by a couple of years.)

However, all these writers and composers assumed that their audience would get the reference. Just as Picasso knew that everyone seeing, say, his Las Meninas:

would be well aware of the Velasquez original:

That doesn’t seem to be what Ihimaera was up to, because his sources were so obscure. And that is why, despite Scott Hamilton’s valiant defence, this looks like plagiarism. Still. I have yet to read the novel and if it is good, that will be ample justification for the borrowing.

The Dim-Post, as always, has a comment too. But the best bit on his blog is a comment criticising the book’s design: “Or am I judging a cover by its book?”

Happy birthday, Mahler’s Fourth

Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, apparently his second-most popular (after the First), received its premiere under his own baton on 25 November 1901 in Munich, where it was “booed and condemned as baffling and tasteless”.

This is the last movement, with Bernard Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra with the soprano Christine Schafer singing “Wir geniessen die himmlischen Freuden”, which in English is “We enjoy heaven’s pleasures”. A poem from the German folk poetry anthology Das Knaben Wunderhorn, it is basically a child singing the praises of gluttony.

In the notes to Lorin Maazel’s 1984 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic and Kathleen Battle, Leslie Howard translates the second verse as:
St John releases the little lamb,
The butcher watches over him,
We lead a meek, innocent, mild
Dear little lamb to death!
St Luke slaughters the oxen
Without a thought or care,
Wine doesn’t cost a penny in heaven’s cellar
The angels bake the bread.
They don’t write children’s songs like that any more.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The sexiest opera scene ever

Possibly. This is the great Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel – he may look like a roadie with a mullet, but can he sing – in the title role of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, duetting with the fabulous Korean-American soprano Hei-Kyung Hong as Zerlina in what must be one of the all-time great opera seduction scenes, “La ci darem la mano”. The conductor is James Levine; the orchestra and venue is the New York Metropolitan Opera. This is from the DVD which stars Renee Fleming as Donna Elvira in the 2000 Franco Zeffirelli production.

Friday, November 20, 2009

New Zealand farmer letter of the year

In the Dominion-Post of 14 November (can’t find it online but maybe you can):
To fix the randy-politician syndrome, just get Bellamys to put some testosterone-suppressant in MPs’ meals one month before they depart for overseas.

Failing that, I have the equipment and can castrate them for no charge.

David Boddy
Monitor: Richard Fraser

Jesus as zombie: the Venn Diagram

Another Venn Diagram, this time featuring zombies, Frankenstein and Dracula (vampires are so 2009) along with you know who.

It isn’t entirely accurate: as one outraged commenter at the original host site, ClusterFlock, points out, the villagers didn’t exactly revere Frankenstein. Still, eh?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

November in Paris

If you are lucky enough to be in Paris on 21 November, do go along at 2 p.m. to the bookstore at Paris Photo (C10 in the Carrousel du Louvre shopping centre near the Louvre at 99 rue de Rivoli). Wellington photographer Bruce Connew will be signing copies of his new book I Must Behave, from which the above image is taken.

According to Bruce’s website:
This work, which examines control, from simple self-restraint to government manipulation, and how it modifies behaviour, follows on from the 2007 surveillance project, I Saw You, and is the second in a series of three projects over three years, each examining a social/political theme.

Thought for the day

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Half a man

The story on Ananova is headed: “Half man’s recovery stuns surgeons”. And it reads:
A Chinese man, who had half of his body amputated after being run over by a truck, has amazed surgeons with his recovery. Peng Shuilin, 37, spent nearly two years in hospital in Shenzhen, southern China, undergoing a series of operations to re-route nearly every major organ or system inside his body.
Now Peng – who opened his own cut-price supermarket called the Half Man-Half Price Store – has survived so well he’s being used as a role model for other amputees. [. . .]
Amazing if true. A big if. This is from Ananova, after all. But let’s not forget the “Quarter of a Man” celebrated in Frizz Fuller’s song. Here is David Lindley’s version:

Monitor: Rob O’Neill

Maori artefacts removed

The Hauraki Herald reports:
Objections to the showing of Maori artefacts at a new museum in Kaiaua in the Firth of Thames have led to their removal from display.

Ngati Paoa’s representative on the Hauraki Maori Trust Board, Glen Tupuhi, said he was opposed to the collection and display of artefacts at the new Rangipo museum. [. . .] “Ngati Paoa have a simple policy in regards to the finding of protected objects, taonga or artefacts. If it’s found in our traditional or shared tribal estate then the object belongs to Ngati Paoa or our Whanaunga of Hauraki and any decision not to declare the find is theft,” Mr Tupuhi said.

Museum owner Rob McCartie, whose family have lived at Rangipo for several decades, said he was “disappointed” at the opposition to his museum. Mr McCartie said Mr Tupuhi had not contacted him with his concerns but he had removed the Maori artefacts from display to avoid further complaints. [. . .]

Mr Tupuhi said Ngati Paoa had been forced from the Kaiaua/Miranda area in the 1860s in a “brutal attack” by the then Government. This attack left wahi tapu and other sites sacred to Ngati Paoa exposed to exploitation, he said.
Fair enough. But then:
Mr McCartie said the items in his collection had been tested and dated to before Ngati Paoa’s settlement of the area. He said they were, in fact, artefacts from Nga Uri O Te Po, a group Ngati Paoa displaced.
It would seem that there is no one from Nga Uri O Te Po available to comment.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wikipedia, pro and con

As you might have spotted in the About Me panel to the right, I’m not a great fan of Wikipedia. I use it, but not for work: a book editor really cannot rely upon it for much more than a quick rough and dirty check of a date or a location. That’s why I perhaps foolishly pride myself on never linking to it but instead hunting down what look like more accurate sources.

Wikipedia is fine for casual stuff – it’s great for uncontroversial material like geography, astronomy or sports – but above all it’s fascinating as an exercise in cooperation. This piece in the Boston Review by Evgeny Morozov (who is currently a Yahoo! fellow at Georgetown University’s E.A. Walsh School of Foreign Service – and no, I didn’t make that up) about Andrew Lih’s new book The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia examines that exercise at some length (about 3750 words – amazing for a book review these days). Morozov is not unsympathetic but does observe:
There is virtually no sense of relative importance: improving an article about a prominent historical figure is as important as writing the biography of a soap opera character, as long as both are deemed notable. One does not have to be a natural-born elitist to see that relying on this simplistic binary will inevitably keep the focus on the frivolous, which is never in short supply.
But here’s the most telling quote, IMHO:
Wikipedians are 80 percent male, more than 65 percent single, more than 85 percent without children, and around 70 percent of them are under the age of 30.
Maybe it’s time for a Chikipedia?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bunny throwing

Here in the Waikato we make our own fun. We had the world rabbit throwing championship yesterday. Hey, look, it’s not midgets or dwarves, it’s just rabbits. So it’s not weird, OK?

And the rabbits don’t mind. They’re dead.

OK, it’s a bit weird.

The Waikato Times reports:
More than 70 people took part in the event, according to organiser Barry Woods, who said it was great to see people of all ages rolling up their sleeves and taking part.

“Basically this was a stand against the PC brigade who think there is something wrong with what goes on in the real world,” Mr Woods said.

Competitors selected a dead rabbit from a pile and threw it into a trailer attached to a motorbike which, Mr Woods said, was exactly how it’s done on the farm. “Why shouldn’t kids be able to see how it’s done, handle a dead animal and learn about pests which destroy the environment?” he said.
The winner was 19-year-old German tourist Lisa Lutz, who is here on a working holiday. Honestly, what is wrong with our local rabbit throwers that they can’t out-throw a German tourist who has never (probably – you never can tell with Germans) thrown a bunny before?

All this makes Taihape look pretty silly, doesn’t it. They just throw gumboots there. No comparison.

Here is the best bunny song ever, Taj Mahal performing “Squat that Rabbit” from his 1991 album Like Never Before:

Older readers may recognise the guitar riff, used by the Rolling Stones on their cover of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips” on Exile on Main Street where, unusually for them, they credited the original composer.

The animation is from Walt Disney’s 1925 Alice Gets Stung. More info about it here.

Blog comment of the week

I rejoyce that thysse blogge hastou nat forleten. Muchel delyte founde I in the tale of the Privy Ordre of the Garter eek. Upon a tyme hadde ich bethoughte me to joyne thys fayre felweshipe, but thise knyghtes han me with despit ytreted, all for that I a womman was. "Sexiste pigges," cryde I, but al for noght. Thei wolde nat budgge. And so founde I the Oultre Secree Privy Ordre of the Garter. We are accepttynge applicaciouns.
Morgana leFaye
Yes, you guessed right. Geoffrey Chaucer is bloggynge again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Happy birthday Anni-Frid Lyngstad

That’s Frida from Abba. She was the dark-haired one, and she was born on this day in 1945. Will we still love her when she’s 64? Hell, yes.

Abba broke up in 1982, the same year she released her first English-language solo album, the Phil Collins-produced Something’s Going On, which spawned a hit single that was No 1 in France for five weeks and reached No 13 on the Billboard pop chart.

This song is from her 1996 Swedish-language album Djupa andetag, which means “Deep breaths” or maybe “Deeper breathing”. It reached No 1 in Sweden, not bad for a 50-year-old. I have no Swedish so don’t know this song’s title. Perhaps a Swedish reader could tell us.

Monitor: Home Paddock

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The worst website name in the world

An outfit called Unleash It! claims that it “harnesses the creativity of everyone in your workplace”. To find out how they do this, visit the website here.

Yes, the address really is

Friday, November 13, 2009

Librarians promise to read a book a month

The NZ Society of Authors weekly newsletter announces today:
NZ Book Industry Alliance formed
A protocol was signed this week to mark the formation of a book industry alliance between the National Library of New Zealand and the Publishers Association of New Zealand, Booksellers New Zealand, New Zealand Book Council, New Zealand Book Month and the New Zealand Society of Authors.

“We formed the alliance to establish closer working relationships and to work together to promote and celebrate books“ Penny Carnaby National Librarian and Chief Executive, National Library of New Zealand.

In support of the protocol Wellington head librarians have pledged to read a book every month and challenge all kiwis to do the same.
Isn’t that great! Wellington head librarians have committed to read a book a month! Next thing you know, Jeremy Wells will commit to watching a bird and Leonard Maltin will commit to watch a movie.

Emily Perkins ate my kiwifruit

I was at a Sargeson Trust lunch-time meeting in Auckland yesterday at the Mai Thai, where you get a tiny fruit salad after your Gaeng Kiew Wahn or whatever. I was between Emily Perkins and Kevin Ireland and I got distracted by gossiping with the Cook Islands secretary for Foreign Affairs, as you do, so this happened:

Emily Perkins ate my kiwifruit.

And I thought, that’s a great title, but for what?

Sub standards in Toronto

When APN, publisher of the Herald and Listener, outsourced much of its sub-editing to an outside firm the result wasn’t pretty – standards plummeted. The Toronto Star is about to do the same, and this apparently hasn’t gone down well with the staff, as Torontoist reports:
Earlier this week the Toronto Star announced, among other changes, that it was planning to outsource some one hundred in-house, union editing jobs. In the press release issued by the union in the wake of the announcement, union chief Maureen Dawson explained that "Journalism is a collaborative effort, the product of a team of reporters, photographers and editors working in concert to produce the kind of activist agenda that has served Star readers and our community so well for so long... To remove a critical element of that work is to shortchange everyone who depends on it."

Now, one (apparent) editor at the Star has decided to show us all the benefits of collaboration. An extensively marked-up copy of Publisher John Cruickshank's internal memo announcing the changes was sent to Torontoist by a self-described “intermediary who was asked to send this for a friend who works at the Star” this morning; it’s, allegedly, “the work of a Star editor.”
It’s a large graphic so you’ll have to go to Torontoist to see the whole thing: anyone who has ever worked in the media will enjoy it, as will anyone who has ever had to wade through a pompous, illiterate and weasel-worded memo from an idiot in a suit.

Fun food fact of the day

From a special report in the Economist (available online to subscribers only): Nestlé, the world’s biggest food company, earns most of its revenues “from selling treats like chocolate, ice-cream, coffee and flavoured milk”. It also owns the Jenny Craig chain of weight-loss centres.

Talk about clipping the ticket both ways.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

BK Drinkwater on corporatism

I do hope that this becomes a series, as he threatens:
“Product dumping” — exporting stuff for less than what you sell it for domestically — is supposedly some big bad thing, presumably because it provides consumers with affordable goods while giving people in the developing world jobs: two truly horrible outcomes that no man with a genuine commitment to social justice can tolerate.

So, the powers that be became persuaded by vested interests—an unholy alliance of corporates and unions—to place levies on products so “dumped”.

Enter Michael McCormack, an Island Bay artist. He designs diaries adorned with Wellington scenes, has them printed in China, and sells them here. Everyone wins, right? He makes a bit of money to finance his passion, some printers in China get paid employment, and consumers get pretty diaries. Right?

Oh no. He gets slapped with an anti-dumping levy, because he doesn't sell the diaries to all those people in China desperate to have scenes of Wellington life in their stationery.
And the villain in the story? Read on.

The case of the vanishing Crafar rustlers

Remember this story? Under the heading “Heifer heist mystifies Crafar receiver”, the Herald website breathlessly reported on 1 November that rustlers had struck the troubled Crafar farms:
Michael Stiassny is missing a few cows – more than 1000. Stiassny was appointed receiver of the Crafarms group in October after the family-owned company collapsed under heavy debts and multiple prosecutions for effluent discharge.

Until its fall, the Crafar family had run the largest privately owned dairy company in New Zealand, with 20,000 cows spread across 22 properties.

But now some of those cattle have been taken – in possibly the biggest rustling operation this country has seen. Well, the “biggest one that anyone’s ever had proof of”, Stiassny said.
There was no further coverage that I saw in the Herald or on Stuff. The story seemed to vanish, as the cows had. But it turns out that they weren’t rustled at all. Their rightful owners had just retrieved them, as they were apparently entitled to do. Richard Rennie writes in the Farmers Weekly of 9 November:
Stock uplifted from three Crafar farm properties last week were subject to a security claim by Hastings stock leasing company StockCo.

News media reports intimating the 2000 cows had been “rustled” stemmed from claims by receiver Michael Stiassny that the stock movement contravened a court order put in place just prior to the operation.

One thousand cows out of a 1300-head herd were removed from one property, 250 from another 450 cow herd and 300 from a 1000 cow herd. [. . .] Investigation by Farmers Weekly indicated StockCo. has a Personal Money Security Interest (PMSI) registered against the Crafars, registered in April 2007 specifcally against dairy cattle. [. . .] Legally a PMSI gives a creditor priority of claim on a specifc named asset. It puts that creditor ahead of the banks’ claim on general assets. PMSIs are commonly used in trading businesses where assets can be clearly identifed and uplifted from the business premises.

A Hamilton solicitor said that while it was common for small businesses to have PMSIs lodged against their stock items, computer equipment and EFTPOS machines, it did not occur as frequently with dairy farm operations. She was strongly advising clients supplying the sector to consider such security if they were concerned over the business’ status.

“Having the security gives the owner of those assets the right to uplift, as has happened in this case. It is hard to see how the receiver could be surprised at this happening,” she said.
Do have a poke around the Farmers Weekly website, or rather the digital part of it. It’s amazing. You can see the story in question here, and zoom in or out across the page as it suits. You can also download the entire issue as a PDF, or just a double-page spread (which is what I did so I could cut and paste, i.e. steal, the text above).

I don’t know what the future of newspaper or magazine publishing is, but I suspect it looks a bit like this.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Apocalypse soon: 2012 in the Sunday Star-Times

The Sunday Star-Times says:
If a growing body of speculation is to be believed, then December 20, 2012 (20/12/2012), is a date with destiny.
That’s a big “if” right there. Why should we believe speculation? This article is presented as normal newspaper material, i.e. stuff that is factual and has been checked by other journalists, but it is completely bonkers. It’s of interest that people believe this stuff, but that’s not the angle the story takes:
The genesis for much of the 2012 2012 material revolves around the ending of the Mayan calendar. Archaeological records indicate the Mayans were a highly advanced civilisation who seemingly appeared in the remote areas of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico more than 1500 years ago, built an advanced agricultural-based society and then abandoned their greatest cities around the ninth century.

Although much about the Mayans remains a mystery, we do know they were master stargazers, who devised one of the most sophisticated calendars for tracking galactic time based on a traditional 260-day count intertwined with a traditional 365-day calendar.
What is galactic time? How could the Mayans have “tracked” it? How does one “track” time? How could we know what the Mayans measured or even thought about anything? How can we know that they were “master stargazers”? They left no written record, apart from some hieroglyphs whose meaning we can only guess at. Could they have been any good at predicting the future if they couldn’t even predict their own demise?

Frankly, this is all bollocks. And actual Mayans, or at least descendants of them, say that this is all bollocks too:
“If I went to some Mayan-speaking communities and asked people what is going to happen in 2012, they wouldn't have any idea,” said Jose Huchim, a Yucatan Mayan archaeologist. “That the world is going to end? They wouldn't believe you. We have real concerns these days, like rain.”
The SST article goes on to quote “one of the most referenced 2012 2012 authors, Mayan expert and self-described visionary Jose Arguielles”, who says:
our science is fatally flawed and offers only a linear view of reality, which is multi-dimensional.
In a recent book by Stephanie South, 2012: Biography of a Time Traveller, he argues that modern science is based on matter and therefore falls short of accurately defining the nature of reality.
“It does not admit that there could be other realities, other dimensions co-existencing with this reality.”
Which is absolutely, unequivocally, wrong – other dimensions are one of the more interesting features of the new cosmology. But not as wrong as this:
Mayan science assumes that the key factors in universal operations are factors of resonance – vibratory cycles or vibratory waves.
How would he know what Mayan science assumed? Again, there is no written record. We simply do not know what these people thought, and because they did not have telescopes there is no chance that they had any knowledge whatsoever of the solar system or anywhere beyond it.

This article would have been fine as a New Age column. It would have been fine as an opinion piece. But presented as a piece of journalism, on the same page as a serious piece from the UK Sunday Times about the Obamas, it is not fine at all. Whoever approved it for publication should be ashamed of themselves.

There is is sensible comment on all this here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Country Channel

John Drinnan says in the Herald that:
An out-of-pocket founder of Country Channel says anybody who invests in the current media market needs “big balls”.

Presumably the farmer-cum-TV producer Andy Tyler means big balls of baling twine, or confidence. Haystacks of money would be useful. Tyler says he is out of pocket more than $1 million and trying to recover money owed by Country Channel Ltd, the company that ran the premium tier channel on the Sky platform. [. . .]

Tyler said it had been been difficult to build subscribers from scratch after the launch in October 2008 with Country Channel struggling in a tough market. 
Drinnan sagely concludes:
These are tough times in the media business.
Yes they are, but times are always tough in the media business. It probably makes it even tougher when your target market, i.e. everyone in farming, spends all day working outside and all night inside watching TV One, like everyone else. And they don’t all have Sky.

It must make it even tougher when your interviewers, on the all-too-few segments of local content, are comically clueless about the industry.

Christina Lamb on Afghanistan

Christina Lamb is Washington correspondent of the Sunday Times and won this year’s Prix Bayeux Calvados for war reporting for her coverage of Afghanistan. She has twice been named Foreign Correspondent of the Year in the British Press Awards. She is, in short, really good. (As is her most recent book, Small Wars Permitting, a collection of her journalism.)

She writes in the Spectator:
In the late 1980s I lived in Peshawar and travelled with many of those we now consider bad guys, but who were then on the same side against the Soviets. I even spent three weeks going round Kandahar on the backs of motorbikes of the incipient Taleban. These long links enable me to travel to areas few other foreign journalists can go to. But for the last two years, each time I visit Afghanistan, I find I can travel to fewer and fewer places, my Afghan friends insisting it is too dangerous to travel on the roads built with billions of dollars of our taxpayers’ money. Last time I went, in August, I barely ventured outside Kabul. Even in the capital foreign residences are surrounded by ever more concrete blocks.
She says that she used to think the answer was to send more troops, but no longer. She sets out her case at length – it really is worth reading the whole piece – but here is one example of why she has changed her mind:
A recent report from the Institute of War details how British forces took the district of Nad Ali last year, losing a number of soldiers. They then handed control over to the Afghan police, who set about raping young boys. Eventually the people got so fed up that they asked the Taleban to come back to protect them.
She lists some of what she sees as the West’s biggestmistakes since ousting the Taleban eight years ago:
getting distracted by Iraq; giving Karzai too much leeway; supporting warlords; being unable to differentiate tribal infighting and Taleban; bombing wedding parties; believing Pakistan shared our interests; putting the Italians in charge of building a justice system.
That last one is quite amazing, really.

Joe Hildebrand on racist food

Home Paddock alerted us to the fuss in Australia about creole creams, a trans-Tasman sequel to our own fuss about marshmallow Eskimos. But wait, there’s more.

In this three-minute video, Joe Hildebrand presents a shocking exposé of the real situation confronting sensitive shoppers in Australian supermarkets:
VIDEO: Politically incorrect groceries

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Was Pope John Paul II anti-Semitic?

The question is posed in this week’s Spectator Diary by Neil Tennant, the articulate Pet Shop Boy, following their tour of the Americas – Montreal to Lima. He rates the food in Peru, and is annoyed by fans snapping pix of the band on their cameras rather than watching the show, but more to the point he says:
One of the books I read on tour was Fritz Stern’s Five Germanys I Have Known, a memoir by the distinguished Jewish-American historian who grew up in pre-war Germany and emigrated with his family to the US. The five Germanys are Weimar, Nazi, capitalist West Germany, communist East Germany and today’s unified Germany, and he provides an insider’s account of his experiences of all of them and America’s interaction with them. In 1987, he met Pope John Paul II and enthused about the large number of bright Asian students there are at American universities these days, remarking, ‘They have taken the place of the Jews.’

The Pope’s response was a little chilling: ‘Yes, but they [Jews] still control the media and finance.’
I think that there we have our answer to Tennant’s question. On an anti-Semitism scale of 10, I’d give that an 8.5. You can take the Pole out of Poland but. . .

They invented algebra, and now. . .

Arab News reports:
A new TV show that discusses issues concerning teenage girls and female university students was recently broadcast with Saudi presenters dressed in black from head to toe.
As Mick Hartley says, such a show:
would make for a devastatingly incisive critique of contemporary celebrity culture; alienation and conformity; the fetishisation of women; the impossibility of meaningful personal communication within the dehumanising environment of commercial television.
Well, yes. The Arab News report continues:
The show — named Asrar Al-Banat (The Secrets of Girls) — is broadcast on Awtan TV, a Saudi religious channel that was first aired in August 2008 and has women broadcasters who are covered in the all-enveloping abaya and niqab. [. . . ]

Answering a question about some opposing religious views that regard the voice of women as Awrah (something that cannot be revealed in the presence of men), Sawsan said that scholars deem women’s voices as Awrah only if they are speaking softly or on immoral topics.

She added that the Prophet’s wife Sayyidatuna Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her) would verbally issue religious rulings (fatwas) to men and that none of the Prophet’s companions criticized her at that time.

Commenting on whether her appearance on TV would now lead to women appearing on cooking and children programs, she said, “When it comes to cooking, men can present them. However, there are some issues relating to women which men cannot handle in the way we can.”

Happy birthday, Ike Turner

Well, it would be if Ike was still with us but he left for the Great Gig in the Sky nearly two years ago, on 12 December 2007.

Even if we allow that Tina Turner’s autobiography might have been a tad biased, he does seem to be been a monster. A great musician, though: his “Rocket 88”, credited to Jackie Brenston, is generally held to be one of the first, if not the actual first, rock and roll songs. He was a hot pianist, a fine guitarist and a brilliant band leader. Here he is with Tina in February 1971 performing “Proud Mary”, a version which features his baritone voice and great guitar work – he was from Mississippi, after all. It’s funny, sexy and great showmanship throughout. The Ikettes are pretty good too – I can’t find their names (many Ikettes went on to stardom of their own, most notably PP Arnold) – but the entire show is on an Eagle Vision DVD called Ike and Tina Turner Live in ’71. It’s all as fantastic as this:

My favourite Ike Turner story concerns another great guitar player who might not have been a very nice man either. Frank Zappa recorded some of his 1973 album Overnite Sensation at the Turners’ studio, Boltic Sound. As Zappa told interviewer Simon Prentis (quoted in Ben Watson’s The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play):
I wanted to put some back-up singers on the thing, and the road manager who was with us at the time checked into it and said, “Well, why don’t you just use the Ikettes?” I said, “I can get the Ikettes?” and he said, “Sure.” But you know what the gimmick was? We had to agree, Ike Turner insisted, that we pay these girls no more than $25 per song, because that’s what he paid them. And no matter how many hours it took, I could not pay them any more than $25 per song per girl, including Tina.

It was so difficult, that one part in the middle of the song “Montana”, that the three girls rehearsed it for a couple of days. Just that one section. You know the part that goes, “I’m pluckin’ the ol’ dennil floss...”? Right in the middle there. And – I can’t remember her name, but one of the harmony singers – she got it first. She came out and sang her part and the other girls had to follow her track. Tina was so pleased that she was able to sing this thing that she went into the next studio where Ike was working and dragged him into the studio to hear the result of her labor. He listened to the tape and he goes, “What is this shit?” and walked out.
Wonderful. Zappa continued:
I don’t know how she managed to stick with that guy for so long. He treated her terribly and she’s a really nice lady. We were recording down there on a Sunday. She wasn’t involved with the session, but she came in on Sunday with a whole pot of stew that she brought for everyone working in the studio. Like out of nowhere, here’s Tina Turner coming in with a rag on her head bringing a pot of stew. It was really nice.
Monitor: Home Paddock

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The best dictionary ever

Robert McCrum writes in the Observer that the Chambers Dictionary may be no more. Its owner, Hachette UK, a subsidiary of the French company Lagardère, can see no future for it.

This dictionary has been in print since 1867 and for me is the best available. Oxford is the conventional authority, Collins is useful and we need the Americans when editing for their amusing language, but Chambers is the business.

It is as good on phrases as it is on individual words, and it has by far the best attitude. My favourite entry is this, under Charity:
charity begins at home, usually an excuse for not letting it get abroad.

The inland seal of Matamata

The Waikato Times reports on its front page today:
Matamata farmer Nigel Buckley had to rub the sleep from his eyes to make sure he wasn’t seeing things when he stumbled across a young New Zealand fur seal in his paddock. In the dawn light yesterday as he headed to the milking shed, Mr Buckley first thought the seal, which his 2-year-old labrador/retriever cross Sassy gave chase to, was either another dog or a possum.

“But when I got a bit closer I wondered what the heck Sassy was chasing – this thing just turned around and snapped at her and it turned out to be a New Zealand fur seal.”

The seal, 100km from the sea, frightened a paddock full of calves before making its way across the farm, where it took shelter under a tree. About the size of an adult dog and thought to be up to 3 years old, the seal crawled under a disused milk tank, where it took a nap which lasted most of the morning.

Conservation Department staff captured the seal, which was around 90cm long and which weighed an estimated 20kg or more, in a net and released him yesterday at Pauanui, on the Coromandel Peninsula.

It’s thought the seal made its way from the sea, an estimated 100km away, via the Waihou and other rivers and farm drains. The seal was first seen about 1km from a drain. [. . .]

Marine ecologist Kristina Hillock said seals that travelled this far were usually just curious. “It might have been just chasing a fish.”
As you do. Matamata is a much pleasanter town than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and there is the attraction of the excellent Kaimai Cheese Company for lunch in nearby Waharoa, but really if I was a seal it wouldn’t be enough to entice me to swim 100 km up-river from the Firth of Thames.

To give you an idea of how far the seal swam, here's the Waikato Times's map:

My local news is so better than your local news.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In praise of Prince Philip

Yes, I know. It is not a phrase I thought I would ever use. The Duke of Edinburgh does seem to be, frankly, a total shit. And yet, and yet.

Few of us in New Zealand have ever heard of Gyles Brandreth, who is a household name in England, writing loo books, appearing on TV, doing all the things a publicity-hungry person does, and by all accounts he does them well. Last month he published his diaries, Something Sensational to Read on the Train. The Spectator reviewer Sam Leith writes:
There’s a sort of running joke of Prince Philip — with whom Brandreth first comes in contact through his work at the National Playing Fields Association — thinking he’s a nincompoop. Introduced at a reception to “the President of Pakistan”, Brandreth is hopelessly tongue-tied. Prince Philip returns, and intuits what’s going on: “He’s the president of the Pakistan Playing Fields Association, you idiot. He is not General Zia. Does he look like General Zia? Good God, man, do you know anything?”
Later, Brandreth tells the Duke that he’d had breakfast with “Blake Carrington from Dynasty”. Prince Philip replies:
I haven’t the first idea what you’re talking about. I had breakfast with the Queen.
There’s not much you could say to that.

Later still, Prince Philip comes upon Brandreth among the dignitaries lined up to receive him and the Queen:
‘What are you doing here?’
‘I’m the Member of Parliament.’
‘Good God, are you really?’
What an astoundingly rude man, but imagine how satisfying it must be to be able to talk like that to people.

Sheer brilliance from Dim-Post

How the Herald’s next interview with John Key will read.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I want a Kindle

Clearly the e-book is the future of publishing and the Kindle has always sounded better than the competition. I could see it as a working tool for publishers, as Geoff Walker of Penguin Books outlines here, but I’ve never quite seen the point of it for me.

It’s not just that I make my living from books – editing them, writing them and, as a manuscript assessor, helping others get their work into a publishable form. It’s more that that I like books as a medium – they’re portable, readable under all but the dimmest light, the big expensive ones have nice pictures and the little cheap ones you can throw away after reading or pass on without caring if you never see them again.

Also, I spend half my day at a computer screen, so I prefer to read anything else in printed form. So why would I want a Kindle?

Now I know. Rory Sutherland, the Spectator’s IT columnist explains:
The Kindle is different from other e-book readers in being permanently connected to a mobile phone data network. This seems to me a great advantage over the competition. It means you can stand in the middle of a field in perhaps 50 countries in the world and order a copy of any of 350,000 digital books to arrive through the ether in 60 seconds. More important, this connectivity makes it a potent news-reading device — it automatically receives digital copies of chosen newspapers and magazines the instant they hit the newsstands.
But wait, there’s more:
Already, browsing Amazon’s Kindle store in anticipation of what to buy has led to some happy discoveries. The Spectator is already available in Kindle form. So are a few hundred other periodicals, including the TLS, the Telegraph and the New York Times. Ninety P.G. Wodehouse novels and stories can be bought as a bundle for less than $8.
It’s the instant access wherever one is that appeals. That, and the bundling. (There is an outstanding bundle coming of New Zealand books, thanks to Martin Taylor’s work with the Digital Publishing Forum, which was set up by Copyright Licensing Ltd.)

There are problems for authors with all digital rights. As Sutherland says:
What can you charge for an electronic book ($4-10 seems the current norm)? How much of this money will go to Amazon, which created the Kindle and owns the rights to the Kindle file format? How much will go to the publisher? How much will be lost to piracy?
Even the NZ Society of Authors, which is currently revising its contracts manual for authors, The Business of Writing (I did the previous revision a few years ago, before any of this was an issue), doesn’t yet have a definitive view on what we want for our digital rights, and I suspect local publishers don’t yet either. We are very much in uncharted waters.

But the Kindle is coming to New Zealand, and I want one.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Phil Judd: stranger than fiction

The Herald says:
Phil Judd, a founding member of New Zealand band Split Enz, has admitted stalking young girls in Australia. The Melbourne-based Sunday Herald Sun reported today that 56-year-old New Zealand-born Judd was convicted in Heidelberg Magistrates Court, north of Melbourne, earlier this year of stalking the two sisters since 2004.
What the Herald-Sun really said:
A former rock star stalked three young girls over five years.
Split Enz founding member Phil Judd, who lives in Eltham, has admitted stalking the children since 2004, when the youngest was in year 2 and the eldest in year 6.
Not that the number of girls is really the point, but how could the Herald turn three into two when cutting and pasting from a news feed? More seriously, why not make it clear that they were not just young girls but very young girls? Year 2 is a six-year-old, Year 6 is 11 or so.

Judd has had his problems – the first Split Enz album wasn’t called Mental Notes for nothing, it would seem – and has been admirably open about them, including being bi-polar. Good for him, and we are all fans of his music. But his response to all this is appalling:
I only had a crush on one of them – I’m just a silly old man. This has been blown way out of proportion. The only mistake I made was getting on to Facebook one night after a few too many drinks.
Which is the same as saying, “The only mistake I made was getting caught.”