Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rooting in Taihape

In an email today from a Quote Unquote reader who remembers this post about the world’s worst tourism slogans:
By the way, on the subject of branding towns in NZ, we passed through Taihape and bought some plants from a shop called “Born in Taihape”. The sub headline of the shop was, wait for it: “Thoroughly rooted”.

British is best

I always think that Australian politics is so much better than ours. It is bigger, ruder, faster and let’s face it, more important.

But English politics is better still. The End Of The Party, a new book by journalist Andrew Rawnsley, details stories about PM Gordon Brown’s rages. According to the Daily Mail:
Mr Rawnsley was responsible for revealing that an unnamed senior adviser to Mr Blair said Mr Brown had ‘psychological flaws’. The Mail on Sunday later reported that the adviser was Mr Blair’s spin doctor Alastair Campbell.
Look who’s talking. And then:
One of his books described how Labour's welfare reforms were wrecked by the bitter feud between Harriet Harman and Frank Field.
In one exchange, Ms Harman said: ‘I can’t work with someone who thinks I’m a liar.’
Mr Field replied: ‘And I can’t work with someone who’s a ******* liar.’
It all makes Helengrad or the Key d’Orsay look very mild.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Charlie Brooker on how to report the news

In the vein of the metablogs mentioned on Thursday, here is Charlie Brooker on BBC’s Newswipe with a satiric news clip showing how news clips are made:

Blue moon

Tonight there is a blue moon – there was a rose moon on 1 January and a blue moon tonight. That’s what the first and second full moons in a months are called. They are not rare, but as they come only every two or three years they are not common.

And nor is Cybill Shepherd, seen here singing the Rodgers and Hart standard “Blue Moon” in a scene from Moonlighting with Bruce Willis pretending to be Dizzy Gillespie:

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Steve Meier and Transpower

An Auckland friend emails:
Please make sure the trees on your property aren’t interfering with my electricity supply.
This, South Islanders and international readers, is what he is referring to, if you will excuse the split infinitive:
Power was lost to more than 50,000 Auckland and Northland homes, traffic lights were out, and some businesses were forced to close when pylons sparked a fire in trees on a Waikato property about 4pm.
The fire caused a fault on two of the transmission lines that feed the region. With the Otahuhu power station out of action for maintenance, Transpower declared a grid emergency and called on electricity retailer Vector to reduce pressure on the network by implementing rolling outages.
Transpower and Vector both said this afternoon there would be no compensation for customers.
The outage was drawn out after linesmen were barred from entering Steve Meier’s farm near Hamilton to make repairs following the fire.
The linesmen required a police escort onto the property, where police seized 11 guns and Mr Meier’s firearms licence.
Mr Meier blamed Transpower for yesterday’s cuts, saying he warned the company five years ago that a fire on his 13ha property would happen.
Transpower chief executive Patrick Strange said Mr Meier had obstructed the company when it had sent staff to trim the trees back from the pylons.
Mr Meier has fought a five-year battle, along with about 50 other landowners in the area, upset at the company’s refusal to pay for easement rights for hosting its structures.
Mr Strange said Mr Meier was the most difficult person in the country to deal with.
Yes, he is obviously a very difficult person to deal with. Some of us might say, if pushed, that he is possibly a f―ing idiot. But “the most difficult person in the country to deal with”?

I have some other candidates, and I bet you do too.

Storm warning

There was an electrical storm here in Waipa last night. It was spectacular – it went on for at least an hour and a half, and the thunder was constant for three hours or more. Not a bit of thunder and a minute later a bit more, this was constant noise. We had an hour or so without power, but it was worth it: at the storm’s height we went outside to stand in the rain to enjoy the view. The sheet lightning came every few seconds, along with – I don’t know, forked, several other types:
The storms resulted in more than 13,400 lightning strikes across the central and upper North Island last evening, with an estimated 5000 of those in the Waikato.
Then came the deluge:
Environment Waikato’s Hamilton rainfall graph showed a spike in rainfall around 10pm last night, with about 23mm of rain recorded between 6pm on Tuesday and 6am this morning. [. . .]
Last night’s storm produced bursts of heavy rain and wind, and hail was reported in Cambridge. Matangi weather enthusiast Tim Gunn . . . said his instruments had recorded 64.6mm of rain in the 24 hours to midnight last night.
“This is probably the best Waikato storm we’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s pretty damn good.”
As a result:
A Grey St couple were watching TV when they noticed water trickling down the walls of their lounge just before 9pm.
“It was absolutely pouring down. I couldn’t believe the amount of flash lightning – I’ve never seen anything like it,” the man said.
They thought they’d got through the worst of it but this morning the roof in their hallway partially gave way.
“Now there’s a bit of concern it may do it elsewhere, so it’s not ideal.”
“It’s not ideal.” I bet.

And tonight we may have a repeat:
Wild evening electrical storms lashing the Waikato are set to continue, with forecasters saying conditions are perfect for generating thunder, lightning and downpours.
Perfect indeed. Show time!

Predictive blogging: after posting that I went outside to fetch the recycle bin, and already the thunder rolls. No let-up – it is a long way away at the moment, but it is constant. It will be a long night.

A green thought in a green shade

So, farewell then Jeanette Fitzsimons and welcome to Gareth Hughes, the 28-year-old “environmental advocate” who replaces her as Green list MP. Stuff asks, “Who’s this clown?”

A fair enough question. The answer is here, on the Green Party website where his profile page introduces him:
Gareth is a vegetarian and currently works for the Green Party on. . .
If the most interesting thing about him is that he is a vegetarian, we don’t need to read any more, do we? Some of my best friends are vegetarians, just as some of my best friends have beards, but in neither case is it a defining feature, or anywhere near it. Who cares what he eats? It’s what he thinks that matters.

And here he is blathering about how having a child makes him special, or his views special, or makes him care about the planet and stuff, or something. As if he wouldn’t care about these things if he was childless. As if childless people don’t care. As if. . .

It’s not to do with making hard choices between competing interests. No, it’s all about the kiddies. Aaarrgh.

Cambridge fact of the day

Cambridge University has produced more Nobel Prize-winners (87) than has France (57).


Dim-Post quotes this brilliant self-referential blogpost by Chris Clarke at Coyote Crossing titled “This is the title of a typical incendiary blogpost”:
This sentence contains a provocative statement that attracts the readers’ attention, but really only has very little to do with the topic of the blog post. This sentence claims to follow logically from the first sentence, though the connection is actually rather tenuous. This sentence claims that very few people are willing to admit the obvious inference of the last two sentences, with an implication that the reader is not one of those very few people. This sentence expresses the unwillingness of the writer to be silenced despite going against the popular wisdom.
That’s just a small part of it. It is quite long and very funny. Amazingly, the comments are just as funny. (You don’t get that at Kiwiblog, now, do you?)

But even better, possibly, is the one that inspired Clarke, this one by Jim Henley, titled “Blog”. The post consists of one word, “Blog”. This is what follows:
1. Comment by Reader —
April 7, 2006 @ 9:10 pm

2. Comment by Jim Henley —
April 7, 2006 @ 9:12 pm
Deadpan rejoinder.

3. Comment by Michael —
April 7, 2006 @ 9:14 pm
Oversharp disagrement based on unstated differences in paradigms.

4. Comment by Steve —
April 7, 2006 @ 9:34 pm
Bad, marginally on-topic pun.
(Parenthetical complaint regarding tags permitted in comments!)

5. Comment by Brian C.B. —
April 7, 2006 @ 9:51 pm
Egregious mspelling.

6. Comment by Eric Scharf —
April 7, 2006 @ 10:11 pm
Off-topic, self-promoting link.

7. Comment by Kevin B. O\'Reilly —
April 7, 2006 @ 11:12 pm
Nazi analogy employed; Godwin’s law invoked.
Thread over!
But there is lots more…

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Stockhausen’s grave

He designed it himself. I don’t know what the image on the back is (upper photo), but on the front is some of the generating material for Licht, his extraordinary series of seven operas, one for every day of the week, with a quote from the text of the closing scene of Mittwoch (Wednesday), the really mad one that features the Helicopter String Quartet. Yes, a string quartet playing in helicopters. Separately.

I’m a Stockhausen fan, and love the three of his operas I have on CD, but I have to admit that even by his standards this piece is really barking. You can see a bit of it here:

George Clooney and his new beard

Last month I posted a photo of the glamorous English celeb Katie Price (to illustrate an item about Martin Amis, obviously) and have just realised that I haven’t posted anything equivalent for my female readers. So here, just for you, is George Clooney and his new beard. That’s his girlfriend, Elisabetta Canalis, beside him.

But don’t panic: according to this report from San Francisco,
Clooney has confirmed there won’t be a wedding any time soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

That’s me in the spotlight

This press release went out today announcing the judges of the 2010 New Zealand Post Book Awards. These are the awards formerly know as the Montanas and before that the Watties.

I was a judge in the last-ever Wattie Book Awards in 1993 and convenor of the first Montanas in 1994. I was a judge again in 1999 and convenor in 2000. Ten years later, I am convenor of the inaugural NZ Post Book Awards. This must be some kind of record.

But that’s enough about me. The new awards have a simplified structure with only four categories – poetry, fiction, illustrated non-fiction and general non-fiction. There will be five finalists in the non-fiction categories, three each in fiction and poetry.

Present company excepted, the judges are a stellar line-up. Every one of us is a published author and two were category winners in the Montana Book Awards. We all have to read the 160 or so entries and select the shortlists – without too much blood on the floor – before the announcement on 22 June. Then we have to choose the winners before the main event on 27 August.

So, no pressure.

Sorting out the men from the soy

Stuff reports that:
An Auckland gym franchise owner has apologised for a newsletter to members which included a link to an article entitled "Soy is making kids gay".
Club Physical member John Kingi said he planned to cancel his gym membership after the article, by conservative American writer Jim Rutz, which said “homosexuality is always deviant”, was included in the gym's newsletter.
In the article, Rutz claimed soy was “feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality”. [. . .]
Attempts to contact Club Physical chief executive Paul Richards were unsuccessful, but reported he had today apologised for linking to the article, and had only wanted to drum up feedback from members.
“I was on a tight deadline and in the back of my mind I realised it might provoke comment. I'm afraid I didn't put enough thought into it.”
He can say that again.

In his acerbic comments on how stupid this was in so many ways, Fundy Post makes the funniest use of a photo as comment I have ever seen.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Karl du Fresne’s curmudgeonly questions

In his recent Curmudgeon column in the Post-Dominion, my old (sorry, former) colleague Karl du Fresne poses some “vital questions”. Some of them I can answer, I think.

Has there ever been a less flattering male fashion than three-quarter pants?
Yes. Walk shorts.

Why do birds make a point of defecating on newly washed cars? Have they got something against us, or what?
Yes. It is revenge against cat-owners. And fair enough too.

Is this the only country in the world where people say “yeah no”?
Yes. This is a dinky-di New Zealandism.

Would you feel your life had been wasted if you died never having seen an episode of Outrageous Fortune?
Yes. My friend Ben had a small part in it as a vain and stupid porn star called Ben. “Hardly a stretch, acting-wise,” I told him.

Is bowls the only sport, apart from sumo wrestling, in which overweight men can hold their own?
No. There is also darts. Possibly billiards. And let’s not forget that Richie McCaw was described as obese because his BMI was above 25.

Why doesn’t the letter “u” come straight after “q” in the alphabet, just like it does everywhere else?
Not on Qantas it doesn’t.

Ever found yourself grappling in a hotel shower with a slippery shampoo sachet that was impossible to open, other than with your teeth?
Yes. This is why one should always share the hotel shower with a younger, more attractive woman. They are better at this stuff.

Can’t Americans accomplish anything without whooping and hollering?
Yes, but only in Boston.

The full list is here.

China fact of the day

A recent Economist article examining the similarities between China today and Japan in the 1980s, and asking whether China too may follow a boom with a prolonged slump reports on the housing market there that:
One-quarter of Chinese buyers pay cash. The average mortgage covers only about half of a property’s value. Owner-occupiers must make a minimum deposit of 20%, investors one of 40%.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bill Manhire channels Leonard Cohen

Or do I mean Ray Davies? Yeah, probably Ray Davies.

I haven’t read Bill Manhire’s The Victims of Lightning yet, just the taster, Rough Bounces, a lovely hand-made (the cover is a potato print, Agria of course) 100-copy edition of 10 poems from the new collection, which is due in March from VUP. Rough Bounces isn’t a re-mix. I guess it’s a pre-mix. Bill does these small publications each year, I gather, and all the ones I have been privileged to see and/or receive have been wonderful.

Nine of the 10 poems in this one are lyrics for Norman Meehan’s forthcoming CD Buddhist Rain. The poem that gives the album its title includes this stanza (flagrant breach of copyright ahead):
I closed up my umbrella
And stood there in the rain
I told her that I loved her
She told me much the same.
That could be Leonard Cohen, but is so Ray Davies, such a lot packed into those simple words. “Waterloo Sunset”, anyone?

And here is a taster of what the album might sound like – singer Hannah Griffin and reed player Colin Hemmingsen with Meehan on piano performing his setting of EE Cummings’ “who are you, little i?” from Sun Moon Stars Rain. Spookily the poem includes the phrase “high window”, a pre-echo of the Philip Larkin poem and collection of almost that name.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Beware the naked man

No, not the Randy Newman song from 1974’s Good Old Boys but a serious warning from New Zealand police:
At one stage Werimu Rangi Hauraki was caught and handcuffed by police, but while being escorted he managed to dive from balcony over a steep cliff head-first.

He escaped late this morning – police have not yet said how – and was thought to be in a confined area bounded by Commerce Street and Waiewe Streets in Whakatane.

Police staff including dogs and a helicopter searched for him and managed to corner him at least twice but he evaded them both times, including the balcony incident.

“He is currently naked, except for some weed matting he is wearing and handcuffed,” acting Inspector Tony Jeurissen of Whakatane police said.

“Unfortunately he is being very evasive in very difficult terrain. This man is determined and does not want to be apprehended.”
Naked men can be evasive at times. Also determined.


Friday, January 22, 2010

PopBitch quote of the year (so far)

In today’s newsletter of stuff that really matters:
Just what the chap needs, another reminder of where his big toe’s been.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kate McGarrigle i.m.

Another mighty totara has fallen: Kate McGarrigle died yesterday. Younger readers will know her as mother of Martha and Rufus, but to the rest of us she was, with her sister Anna, half of the McGarrigle Sisters.

The McGarrigles are/were two great songwriters and wonderful harmony singers, whether together or backing Emmylou Harris, Richard Thompson and countless others. They forged a distinctively Canadian sound – yes, I know, that sounds boring but their fusion of the French and British influences is really something – and their all too few recordings are gems.

Here they are– that’s Kate at the piano and lead vocals – performing Anna’s “Heart like a Wheel”, one of the most heartfelt, heartbroken songs ever:
Some say a heart is just like a wheel
When you bend it, you can’t mend it
And my love for you is like a sinking ship
And my heart is on that ship
Out in mid-ocean.

Robert B. Parker i.m.

Sad news for fans of the long-running Spenser series of crime novels: the Boston Globe reports that author Robert B. Parker has died, aged 77, at his writing desk:
Publishing 65 books in 37 years, Mr. Parker was as prolific as he was well-read. He featured Spenser — “spelled with an ‘s,’ just like the English poet,” he said — in 37 detective novels. He also wrote 28 other books, including a series each for Jesse Stone, the police chief of fictional Paradise, Mass., and Sunny Randall, a female PI in Boston.

His latest book is “Split Image,” part of the Jesse Stone series, and is due out next month, his agent, Helen Brann of New York City, said today.

Mr. Parker’s marquee character became a TV series, “Spenser for Hire,” starring Robert Urich. “Jesse Stone” became a TV vehicle for Tom Selleck, and “Appaloosa,” his 2005 Western, was made into a 2008 movie directed by and starring Ed Harris.

“He was a master of the genre, as many have noted,” said Brann, who has represented Mr. Parker for 42 years. “And he was the most fun, the most real, highly intelligent, witty, down-to-earth, warm, endearing guy I’ve ever known. I adored him.”
Fellow author Jim Fusilli remembers him this way.

The Globe has added a good 2007 interview with Parker. He sounds as though he would have been terrific company.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Joe Bennett’s private life

No, I don’t know anything about Joe Bennett’s private life. I met him once in Dunedin and he was very jolly, so jolly that even five minutes later he would not have recalled having met me. Other than that, all I know about him is that he is an excellent writer, that he likes dogs, and that I invented him.

I blogged last month about weird Google searches that have brought people here looking for, among other things, images of Toby Young, Ike Turner and Russia’s hairy sausage. (They also come from Eastern Europe looking for images of Emily Perkins, but there is nothing weird about that.) The weirdest Google search to date, I thought, was the one for “hilary barry xmas cake recipe”, which sadly I could not provide.

But someone came here today having typed into Google the phrase “Joe Bennett private life”. That is now the official world champion Quote Unquote weirdest Google search ever.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Toffs behaving badly

Lewis Jones in the Spectator reviews Marcus Scriven’s Splendour & Squalour, four mini-biographies of 20th-century toffs behaving badly. One is Angus Montagu, 12th Duke of Manchester (d. 2002), whom Scriven describes as:
Squat and ugly, with appalling taste in clothes (drip-dry blazers and shoes with Velcro fastenings), he worshipped money and devoted his life to binges, strip clubs, limos and inept confidence tricks. The Old Bailey judge who tried him over some forged bonds in 1985 described him as ‘absurdly stupid’, an assessment vindicated by a letter he wrote from a state penitentiary in Virginia, where he served two years for fraud in the 1990s, in which he confessed, pathetically, ‘I AM VERY VERY WARY OF EVERY THINK.’
Others are Edward FitzGerald, 7th Duke of Leinster (d. 1976), Victor Hervey, 6th Marquess of Bristol (d. 1985) and his son John Hervey, the 7th Marquess, who died on 19 January 1999 aged 44. Victor was bad news but John was even worse: Jones calls them “this unappetising pair of Bristols”. (For US and other international readers, that is a rude joke based on Cockney rhyming slang.) John Hervey spent his life, as Jones puts it, on:
wrecking his inheritance and health by spending about £20 million on drugs. He preferred boys to girls — Rupert Everett makes a cameo appearance, sulking in leathers and a diamond choker — and his marriage was not a happy one. Shortly before dawn on their wedding night his bride found him in the East Wing at Ickworth, freebasing cocaine with some friends. She told him she wanted to go to bed, and he told her to fuck off.

He loved fast cars, and used to take the drive at Ickworth at 100 mph in his Ferrari, scattering National Trust visitors with their children and dogs; he also liked to brandish his shotgun at visitors and call them ‘fucking peasants’, and to ram his friends’ cars with his own. He was especially fond of helicopters, and after a few bottles at dinner would hover over the quarters of the estate’s National Trust employee and scream abuse at him through a megaphone. Flying home from London once while smoking heroin, he mistook his house for a sugar beet factory in Bury St Edmonds and landed on its roof.
I don’t know. That sounds rather fun. The next time I am smacked out on heroin flying my helicopter, I think I shall hover above my employees’ cottages and scream abuse at them through a megaphone. There’s a first time for everything.

Brian Eno quote of the week

Paul Morley – yes, he’s still with us – interviews the ever-articulate Brian Eno, the thinking musician’s thinking non-musician, about, as always, everything. It’s fabulous. Two snippets:

On listening:
If you think of the mid- to late-50s when all of this started to happen for me, the experience of listening to sound was so different from now. Stereo didn’t exist. If you listened to music outside of church, apart from live music, which was very rare, it was through tiny speakers. It was a nice experience but a very small experience. So to go into a church, which is a specially designed and echoey space, and it has an organ, and my grandfather built the organ in the church where we went, suddenly to hear music and singing was amazing. It was like hearing someone’s album on a tiny transistor radio and then you go and see them in a 60,000-seater. It’s huge by comparison. That had a lot to do with my feeling about sound and space, which became a big theme for me. How does space make a difference to sound, what’s the difference between hearing something in this room and then another room. Can you imagine other rooms where you can hear music? It also made a difference to how I feel about the communality of music in that the music I liked the most, singing in church, was done by a group of people who were not skilled – they were just a group of people, I knew them in the rest of the week as the coal man and the baker.
On the end of an era:
I think records were just a little bubble through time and those who made a living from them for a while were lucky. There is no reason why anyone should have made so much money from selling records except that everything was right for this period of time. I always knew it would run out sooner or later. It couldn’t last, and now it’s running out. I don’t particularly care that it is and like the way things are going. The record age was just a blip. It was a bit like if you had a source of whale blubber in the 1840s and it could be used as fuel. Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you’d be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate – history’s moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it.

An inconvenient oops

The forecast for climate-change science seems to be unsettled. The Sunday Times reports:
A warning that climate change will melt most of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 is likely to be retracted after a series of scientific blunders by the United Nations body that issued it.

Two years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a benchmark report that was claimed to incorporate the latest and most detailed research into the impact of global warming. A central claim was the world’s glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035.

In the past few days the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist [. . .]

It has also emerged that the New Scientist report was itself based on a short telephone interview with Syed Hasnain, a little-known Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

Hasnain has since admitted that the claim was “speculation” and was not supported by any formal research.
Fred Pearce, the journalist who carried out the original interview for the New Scientist, says he rang Hasnain after seeing his claims in an Indian magazine:
“Hasnain told me then that he was bringing a report containing those numbers to Britain. The report had not been peer reviewed or formally published in a scientific journal and it had no formal status so I reported his work on that basis.

“Since then I have obtained a copy and it does not say what Hasnain said. In other words it does not mention 2035 as a date by which any Himalayan glaciers will melt. However, he did make clear that his comments related only to part of the Himalayan glaciers, not the whole massif.”
The World Wildlife Fund cited the article in a report called An Overview of Glaciers, Glacier Retreat, and Subsequent Impacts in Nepal, India and China (available here):
But it was a campaigning report rather than an academic paper so it was not subjected to any formal scientific review. Despite this it rapidly became a key source for the IPCC when [Professor Murari Lal] and his colleagues came to write the section on the Himalayas.

When finally published, the IPCC report did give its source as the WWF study but went further, suggesting the likelihood of the glaciers melting was “very high”. The IPCC defines this as having a probability of greater than 90%.
Lal now says that “he would recommend that the claim about glaciers be dropped” from IPCC reports. I wonder if he has checked this with IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri, who has previously dismissed criticism of the Himalayas claim as “voodoo science”.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The saddest song ever

You can keep your Tallis Lamentations, your Victoria, your Palestrina, your Lassus, your Byrd. You can even keep your Leonard Cohen. This is melancholy, baby. The late great Roy Buchanan makes his Telecaster gently weep in C minor on “Wayfaring Pilgrim”:

Those first few minutes are as bleak, lonely and desolate as rock music gets. Younger guitar-players (yes, I’m looking at you, Angus Fraser): notice that he does nothing with his feet. He uses no pedals. He gets all his effects just from his fingers on the strings and the tone and volume knobs on the guitar, which was not modded. There’s a bit of echo at the amp but technically this is as pure as blues-rock guitar gets.

One reason that Buchanan never became famous outside the small world of guitar geeks is that he was married with children and didn’t want to tour. I can’t find the reference online but an interviewer once asked him how he could look so impassive while playing such searingly intense music. He said something like, “But I’m screaming on the inside.”

He hanged himself in jail in 1988 after being arrested for drunkenness. He wasn’t yet 50. There are loads of vids of him on YouTube. All the ones I have seen are fantastic. But you can see the car-crash coming.

Quality journalism in New Zealand

Stuff reports that:
A sex tape allegedly . . . is reportedly about to be made public. . . is said to be . . . which could be about to appear. . .
And the alleged tape – tape? in 2010? – was made by “a waiter from a chain restaurant”.

Right . . .

Katherine Mansfield has a blog

Yes, she is dead but she is online and blogging. Isn’t modern technology wonderful? The Katherine Mansfield Society says:
Every day you will be able to see what KM was thinking, feeling and writing on that day, in a particular year. We have started with 1920, since material for that year is abundant. . . Each extract is annotated with instant “cloud tags”, enabling the reader to view at a glance who/what is being described.
Chair of the society, Gerri Kimber, says that the blog will bring to life the innermost thoughts and feelings of a quintessentially modern woman and writer:
The courage that Mansfield showed at a time of great fear – exiled abroad by the TB which would eventually result in her death, and facing life without her husband – is present in every entry. The letters and fiction that she wrote at this time have justly inspired generations of writers.
So it isn’t going to be a barrel of laughs but is a great idea. No doubt this concept will be copied for other writers, artists, composers. Do go and have a look.

I hate my cat

We adopted her when Keith Stewart’s daughter decided she didn’t want a cat any more. Keith explained that if we didn’t take her she’d go to the SPCA and would probably be dead within a week. (The cat, not the daugher. At least I think that is what he meant.) And you know what Keith is like – another glass of Central Otago pinot noir and I’ve had said yes to anything. And the little furry object was a cute kitteny thing.

That was then.

We took her home and over the last few years she turned into a whiny, moany, yowly cat. The children adore her, my wife doesn’t mind her, but I work from home so I get her all day every day and she drives me nuts.

However, much as I dislike her, tattooing her would be, I feel, somehow wrong. Call me old-fashioned. But some people feel differently:

Friday, January 15, 2010

All the news that’s appropriately phrased

In an Atlantic piece on racist remarks, sparked by a current fuss about what Senate majority leader Harry Reid said about Barack Obama (i.e. that Obama was “light-skinned” and “had no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one”), Michael Kinsley recalls that:
In 1976, on an airplane, the singer Pat Boone asked Earl Butz, President Gerald Ford’s Secretary of Agriculture, why there were so few black Republicans. Butz replied that “the only things the coloreds are looking for in life is a tight pussy, loose shoes, and a warm place to shit.” (Or, as the New York Times put it in Butz’s obituary in 2008, “satisfying sex, loose shoes, and a warm bathroom.”)
It was an incredibly offensive remark and rightly ended Butz’s career. But what on earth was the point of rewriting it so it lost all its pungency? A kinder, gentler racism is still racism – and you are either a newspaper of record or you’re not.

It’s as if the New Zealand Herald were to say in Hone Harawira’s obituary that he had once opined that Pakehas had Oepidal tendencies.

An Irish joke

Q: Why is Iris Robinson like Ikea?

A: One dirty screw and the whole cabinet falls apart.

Monitor: PopBitch

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The depressing truth about Michael Caine

He is my favourite actor. He can do menacing, charming, urbane, witty, rough trade. He has a great voice, a superb nose and he always fills the screen. Even in terrible films (yes, even Blame it on Rio) he is always watchable.

But now this: asked last month which book he would take to a desert island if allowed only one, he chose The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.

(Portrait by Steve Pyke)

Avatar in China

Herald reviewer Peter Calder calls Avatar “inane and implausible”. Dim-Post responds:
I had similar concerns, feeling that the scenes in which the soldier inhabiting the body of a giant blue alien used his magic powers to beseech the planet’s aid via a giant glowing tree were not handled with the care and factual accuracy appropriate to the material.
Looking slightly further afield, Andy Yee at Global Voices reports that some Chinese viewers also object to what Calder describes as “cringingly stereotypical noble savages who apparently know the meaning of life but still must be saved by the lantern-jawed Marine”. A sample:

男主角得是一个外星人, 当然,他会是外星人的叛徒。在这部

Oh all right, here is the translation:
From Madame Chrysanthème to Last Samurai to Avatar, when could Westerners stop seeing foreign cultures as female and themselves as male? And when could they stop the cross-cultural narcissism that, no matter how unsuccessful the Western man is, he will be loved by the Oriental woman?
Two comments at EastSouthWestNorth:
Some Chinese movie critics think that while the movie is not bad, parts of the plot were too mundane. I completely disagree, because brute-force eviction is unimaginable for audiences in other country because they think that it can only happen on alien planets or in China.

Avatar let me realized how far our movies are from simple perfection; how far our movies are from crystal-clear purity; how far our movies from passionate dreams; how far from genuine sincerity are we who are embroiled in grim entanglements and dim vulgarity! We ought to ashamed in the face of the purity of Avatar. This is a complete defeat that we Chinese filmmakers must collectively witness and concede.
And four from ChinaSmack:
Strongly condemn the Western director for using Avatar to allude to China’s current situation!!

China’s demolition crews must go sue Old [James] Cameron, sue him for piracy/copyright infringement.

Seeing Pandora’s beautiful scenery, I think of the environment around me that has suffered serious destruction.

Seeing the main character’s dauntless energy in fearlessly raising the resistance against the powerful, I think of the LZ and similar people reacting to society’s injustices only by hiding here [on a BBS forum] and spitting [their complaints].

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Boys and girls are different

Who would have thought? But now we know for sure, thanks to Google. Dan Ariely of Predictably Irrational writes:
You know how Google sometimes “predicts” what you might be searching for by giving you a little drop down menu of suggested search queries? These suggestions, of course, are based on what other users frequently search. So I tried teasing out some gender differences.
Here is what girls wanted to know:

And here is what boys wanted to know:

Says it all, really. As does this clever-clogs comment at Marginal Revolution:
It is interesting how both of them mostly answer each other.
They so do.

Matt Nolan comments further.

Kiwiblog linked to the same story on 16 January – three days after this post – as did Dim-Post in response. Come on, David and Danyl – you guys really should try to keep up.

Time bandits

Christopher Caldwell writes in the Financial Times:
Unpleasant things are supposed to drag on and on: dentists’ visits, workplace orientation sessions, almost all speeches. Yet no one complains that “this decade seemed to last 15 years”. Decades never do. Time may slow down from hour to hour, but from year to year it has a uniform tendency to accelerate.

We can demonstrate this with a little game. We are now in the year 2010. Measure the number of years back to a certain event in your life – say, your entry into university, if you attended one. Then measure the same number of years back from there. Invariably, the event in the middle will seem closer to this year than to the older date, even though it is equidistant from the two.
Righto. Then consider this:
The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks (1977) is closer to the second world war than it is to the present. The Beatles’ release of “Love Me Do” (1962) is closer to the first world war than to us. Bill Haley’s "Rock Around the Clock" (1954) is as close to the Spanish-American war (1898) as it is to us. There is nothing hipper than hip-hop, but the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” (1979), the first rap song, is closer to Al Jolson’s last hits than to the songs in the rap charts now.
How old does that make you feel?

11 obvious newspaper articles

Sam Greenspan of the excellent 11 Points writes:
Without the immediacy of the Internet, the disregard for ethics and proper reporting of the blogs, or the classifieds – and prostitutes – of Craigslist, the print media simply isn't viable in the modern world.

And that’s sad for many reasons... but today, I'm going to call it sad because it means that, one day, there will be no more printed stories like…
and then he lists the 11 Most Painfully Obvious Newspaper Articles Ever. They include “Studies show frequent sex enhances pregnancy chances” (above), “So far, they have determined that the crash occurred when the plane struck the ground”, and – ta-dah! – “Death is the nation’s top killer”. You will also be surprised to learn that “teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25”.

Whoever wrote this stuff must now be working for the Herald on Sunday.

Strip tease

Home Paddock posts on stripping as therapy, the saucy minx.

How to succeed in business

UK business writer Martin Vander Weyer looks back at the technological achievements of the last decade and singles out low-cost carrier Ryanair’s website:
The story of how it came into being is told in A Life in Full Flight, Alan Ruddock’s biography of cost-slashing Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary — who initially rejected the e-commerce concept. When he was finally persuaded that a website was essential, the first quote for its design came in at £3 million from some fancy consultants who O’Leary disliked on sight. So he gave the task to a 17-year-old Dublin schoolboy, John Beckett, and a dentistry student, Thomas Linehan, who proceeded to create a simple but workable site, with the characteristic Ryanair feature that it was almost impossible for the customer to contact the company if anything went wrong.
Excellent. But the story gets better:
The agreed fee for the task was £15,500, but when it was completed O’Leary tried to chisel them down to £12,000.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

NZ blog round-up

One of these days I’ll think of a generic title for this, like NZBC’s “Mixed Lollies” or “Something for the Weekend”. Suggestions welcome. Until then, this:

David Cohen is unimpressed by the coverage sad old, mad old John Minto got with his absurd noise-making about Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer. Yes, Israel-Palestine is the real hard yards but what has that to do with her? An individual professional, she was hardly what the Springboks were in 1981. As Prince put it so eloquently, “Shut up, already.”

Karl du Fresne does not agree with Chris Knox that the Beatles were punk. He says: “revisionist bullshit”. He also reveals that the title of Knox’s most famous song, “Not Given Lightly”, comes from the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs”. Well, I never.

Laughy Kate blogs about the younger daughter. Well, she is adorable. Her mother’s daughter. I shall say no more.

Phil Parker rates The Lovely Bones. Unlike many reviewers of the movie, he has read the book.

Cactus Kate talks sense about Whale Oil’s breaching of name suppression by posting the name in binary code, or possibly hexadecimal converted into binary (as David Farrar, who knows this geekery, suggests). Mac Doctor also has a view.

On the same subject, Andrew Geddis comments at Dim-Post:
I’ll go on record as saying I had no idea who it was until I ran Slater’s binary code through two internet decoders (that took me one Google search and two cut-and-pastes). Finding out his partner’s name took one further Google search. I stopped looking at that point, having no desire to learn the alleged victim’s name.
The Fundy Post has performance issues. That does not excuse his posting a picture of Jonathan Ross.

Home Paddock has been out driving and isn’t happy about the other drivers. She reckons that roads would be safer if:
People who drive slowly would let others pass.
People who drive slowly wouldn’t speed up when others could pass.
People in the vehicles behind slow vehicles would pass when they could or keep back far enough to allow others to pass them.
People wouldn’t try passing when they can’t see what’s coming the other way.
All true. But imagine how cross she’d be if she had been driving in Northland recently, as I was. Tutukaka is a wonderful place, but getting in and getting out is a challenge. Still, look at this, the view from where we were:

Yes, it was totally worthwhile.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Frank Zappa ringtones

Happy new year everybody.

A new decade, a new mobile phone. My wife has a Blackberry so I have inherited her not-very-old one which has camera, music, email, Bluetooth etc. This is all new to me. I figured out how to make my own ringtones with the help of the brilliant free program Audacity and even – without the help of a teenager – how to associate a different ringtone to each caller. OK, this is five years later than everyone else, but still.

What I wanted was to make my phone sound different from everyone else’s – not because I’m a wanker, or not only because of that, but because sometimes I have to endure an all-day meeting with seven other people, all of whom are likely to get a call at some stage. Their phones sound more or less the same so we all dive for ours every time one rings. What, I wondered, was the least likely source material for anyone else to use and so the best choice for me? Obviously, the Frank Zappa songbook.

So far I have my wife as “Peaches en Regalia”. Mark from NZBC is “Willie the Pimp”. I’m not sure what to choose for Laughy Kate as there are so many options: “Oh No”, perhaps. Or possibly “No Not Now”.

Rob from NZBC is “Filthy Habits”. Chris from NZBC is “For the Young Sophisticate”. I’m not sure to whom I should assign “Treacherous Cretins”, but “Cocaine Decisions” is pretty clear. As is “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Sentence of the day

From Chad Taylor’s novel The Church of John Coltrane:
Living in Auckland was a disadvantage if you had aims, but if life had unfolded in the opposite direction, then it was perfect.

Happy New Year 2010

New Zealand blogging has been quiet for the last few days. Which is a good thing. As Cactus Kate says, “Anyone who blogs over Christmas I have decided is a wee bit sad.”

Among the other local bloggers I follow, Fundy Post managed a cracker on Christmas day, with a massive serve to Glenn Cardy, the vicar – actually no, he’s an archdeacon now, just like Richard Prebble’s lovely dad was – at St Matthew-in-the-City. Cardy is the one who hired Saatchis to put up that challenging billboard of a post-coital Joseph and Mary which challenged some believers so much that they vandalised it.

No one came out of that looking good – not the fanatics and certainly not the egregious Cardy. (I met him when he baptised my eldest and he really is the sort of pleased-to-be-me progressive Christian that gives progressive Christians a bad name. Sort of like a Bob Lowe for the Noughties.) One wonders how much Saatchis charged, and what the parishioners thought they had got for their money. UK blogger Mick Hartley, among others, noticed and lifted Cardy’s profile even more. Which, one suspects, was the point of the exercise.

Chad Taylor is conducting “an experiment in making previously unavailable fiction available to readers”. There are five pieces on his website, including a chunk of his latest novel, The Church of John Coltrane, the sequel to his 1994 novel Heaven. I have a copy of the whole thing which I am part-way through (though I have forgotten almost everything about Heaven and cannot now refer back to it to get my bearings as my copy was one of the casualties of the Great Book Robbery of 1998 when almost my entire library was stolen. Yes, I know, who would steal books?). The new novel is, as we literary types say, shit-hot so I cannot understand why it has been published only in France. New Zealand publishers truly move in mysterious ways.

Phil Parker talks sense about wine fashions.

Home Paddock doesn’t approve of Helen Clark being made a member of the Order of New Zealand.

Karl du Fresne gets a bit snippy about Snoopy. Maybe I don’t go to enough malls – you try when you’re surrounded by cows and horses – but I quite like the cheerful Christmas ditty that enraged him so much. However, he goes on to make some eminently sensible points about modern Christmas music in general. (In our house it was Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Would have been A John Prine Christmas too except my wife can’t stand country music. But when she’s out. . . )

BK Drinkwater is still on sabbatical.

As is Laughy Kate, but that’s because she is still infesting our house and I won’t let her near the computer. One tries to do one’s bit for humanity.