Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bloggers bite back

An email from Cactus Kate informs me that someone I have never heard of called Richard Henry has an online “men’s magazine” called Get Frank, which likewise I have never heard of. For two or three years now he has been using some NZ bloggers’ material, with their permission, on the understanding that when the site started making money from advertising he would split the income 50-50 with said bloggers on a page-view basis. Sadly, he was as trustworthy as a Nigerian widow who would like to give you $US5 million in exchange for your bank account details. He seems to have been stealing the bloggers’ work and then lying about the profitability, or lack of it, of his site. 

He has annoyed Cactus Kate, WhaleOil and David Farrar, which is really, really silly. Cactus has the clearest account here, WhaleOil the angriest – yes, really – and most detailed here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

While I was out

 I have been in Dubai, living in luxury – did I mention that yet? That’s me above right on the MV Moonlight, last Sunday (photo courtesy of Robert Lowe). Strange to relate, in my absence New Zealand blogging continued:

Ally at Today is My Birthday! had a justified crack at Gary McCormick and his pet doggerel.

Chad Taylor paid due tribute to the late Ingrid Pitt.

Stephen Franks made some observations on the Marine and Coastal Area Bill.

Mary McCallum had this to say about Bill Manhire.

Laughy Kate, who works in TV and knows a bit about it, got cranky about TV’s reporting of the Pike River mine disaster. . .

and Home Paddock who knows a bit about grieving had this to say.

Danyl at Dim-Post got hot and bothered about the latest Wikileaks. . .

while Paul at Fundy Post had seen it all before.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Travel notes from the United Arab Emirates

The Armani Hotel in Dubai – in the world’s tallest building, the 828-metre Burj Khalifa – serves an excellent black truffle risotto. And the rooms are splendid, as they ought to be for $NZ3000 a night. (That’s the Burj Khalifa in the distance on the left, above.)

Getting on a camel is easy. Riding one is like being on an undulating horse. It’s the getting off that is a challenge.

There is a lot to be said for spending a Saturday afternoon on a 148-ft super-yacht watching the Louis Vuitton Cup races with a bunch of attractive young Italians.

Flying Emirates business class is nicer than cattle class. First class is nicer still – they serve Dom Perignon whereas in business it is merely Moët. (Merely.) But even in cattle class you get the 1200-channel ICE system (information, communication, entertainment). Heading north I listened to Palestrina and Monteverdi (and a little Webern and Schoenberg, just because I could); coming south it was all Rossini and Haydn, plus a little AC/DC to wake myself up before arrival.

In short, I have had worse overseas trips. It was a sybaritic press junket to end all sybaritic press junkets, but one of the main pleasures was to be reminded how much I enjoy the company of proper journalists – they were smart, funny, interested in and informed about all sorts of stuff.

I don’t have jet-lag, but I am suffering from luxury-lag big-time.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Coming attractions

No blogging for a few days because this evening I fly to the Middle East for a week. What to read on the plane? I have briefing papers for the meetings I have to attend, but what else? Tim Wilson’s new novel Their Faces Were Shining, Elizabeth Smither’s newish novel Lola, Les Murray’s latest but one collection The Biplane Houses and an Aussie crime novel, Peter Temple’s Truth. Sorted!

I will be flying on an Airbus A380, the aircraft that has been in the news a bit recently. On the other hand I will be up the sharp end of the plane, which is always nice.

Coming attractions when I return:
Bill Manhire and Dr Feelgood – the missing link.
Rob O’Neill on Rosie Scott.
Mark Amery on Maurice Gee and on Witi Ihimaera.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Keith Stewart on Mary McIntyre

The 25th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the September 1996 issue. It is an interview with the painter Mary McIntyre – Listener readers will be aware from the current issue that there is a fine monograph on her by Robin Woodward of Auckland University’s art history department, published by Whitespace gallery. (Disclosure: I edited the text.)

A further disclosure: I once sat for Mary. We had been good friends for a decade or so but, as Keith hints, it was disconcerting to sit and be gazed at in silence before drawing began. Just look at the photo of Mary on page 38 of the Listener and you will see how closely she scrutinises her subjects. I was lucky with the resulting portrait – no nudity was required and there are no parodic elements as in the wonderful Mickey Mouse and Robert Muldoon of 1984 (page 33), in which a laughing angel with Mary’s face hovers behind Muldoon. Or the great Peter McLeavey as a Nun from 1986 (page 72). The photo above, from Mary’s show at the  NZ Portrait Gallery in April, is of my portrait (left) beside Dick Scott in a Rain of Parts (1985). And yes, there is quite a story behind that one.   

The intro read: 
She may be one of our best portrait painters, but Mary Mclntyre doesn’t get many commissions. ”Mostly people are too worried about what I will do,” she tells Keith Stewart.
Mary McIntyre has made her own way as an artist, producing work which follows no fashion and no particular ideology, other than to attend to the personal drive which keeps her drawing, keeps her at her easel. Paintings which are painfully honest in their characterisation, at once raw and tender, but always full-frontal exposures of what she sees, carefully rendered in the sort of detailed, painterly realism that has kept generations of calendar artists as comfortable as their clients.
McIntyre’s difference is that she is not interested in comfort, but in showing, warts and all, the world she knows – a world superficially real, but honestly surreal. Her paintings watch from the walls of her home with bright-eyed uncertainty, declaring their danger. “You can’t sell us,” they say, but McIntyre suspects her vision would not be as sharp were she pampered by steady sales.
“I can see the advantages in not selling well, because once you’ve struck a formula for something that’s very saleable, there must be a terrible pressure. If you did want to change, you would face a dilemma. You are constrained by that, and not being commercially successful might have been a good thing for me in some ways.”
Not that she is an obvious stirrer. Small, attractive, bright, she could be taken for a charming Remmers matron, the glint in her eye reflecting past adventures. Except the adventure continues, her eyes as sharp as her mind, and the challenge persists, in the nicest possible way. The quiet stirrer?
“Yes,” she concedes. “My feelings and the painting combine to give that impression. I think when it appears in all one’s paintings, it must be part of my personality. It is something I want to express, or by doing it I am satisfying some inner urge. I’m not madly a stirrer, I don’t think, but there are some things in life that I see, things that I don’t like terribly. Pretension and dishonesty, especially in the art world, and probably everywhere else as well. I don’t like that and it makes me uncomfortable, so I respond by saying an uncomfortable thing.
“It’s an element in my work. I don’t think it makes things any easier for me. It would be easier to just go along with a normal lubrication of life.”
There is a sense about her work that she is seeing into her subjects, observing behind the mask of social respectability that we hold up. It is a challenge that her paintings, especially the portraits, convey, a discomfort which comes from a sneaking suspicion that you are being watched by the artist – an artist capable of revealing things we would rather keep hidden.
“We are all human. I have never worried about image, about painting people as they are, or even nude. I do notice that quite a lot of people are worried about their image,” she says. “I see myself in a way speaking for us poor little tragi-comic humans. Rightly or wrongly, I don’t know, I feel that I am an average, reasonably normal human, and the things that I feel and do are what everyone feels, what everyone does, because everyone is basically the same. So it has never worried me to paint people nude, or how they are. I mean, what does it matter?
“But it upsets some people. They don’t want their image that honest, or they think I’m weird. I find the best thing is for me to just do it. Not justify doing it. Just do it. It gives meaning to my life.”
Just do it. It could be a motto, a sign of strength. It is also very selfish. “I think painting is very self-indulgent. And to do anything exceptionally well, to seize the exact time when it’s right, to be able to put the effort in when it’s needed, you have to be very selfish. There’s a paradox here. Painting, good painting, does add a dimension and a richness to the human race. A great painting, a great cathedral, any great art, does enrich.
“On the other hand, to get that enrichment and to get it to an edge, artists need to put absolutely everything in to make it work. Everything they can drag out and draw upon. So doing it is very self-indulgent.
“I discover things in my work. I’m a slow worker and I’m thinking all the time, and I’m often not sure if what I am doing is working or not, whether I can make it work. I often think like that for quite a long time, and even at the end I don’t know whether it works or not. I get so bound up in it. Perhaps I never really know. All I can do is feel that it is about as close as I can get to the vision that I had of what I wanted it to be. If I can do that, if I can get close to realising my vision, then that is all that I can do. Whether it’s successful or not, I don’t really know.”
On the wall opposite, a large portrait of painter Don Binney looks down on our afternoon tea with the authority of a member of Stalin’s cabinet. Stern, aloof, but also human, his confidence tempered by a tangible fallibility.
“There’s a bit of humour in Don [the painting]. He takes up this stance with his hands gripping the arms of the chair like that, and a number of people who know him have said, ‘That is Don.’ I felt that straight away when I drew him. That is him, his hands, the way he looks.”
Binney is someone she knows well, as is the case with other portraits which line the high walls of her Mount Eden villa: Louise Henderson, Dick Scott, Michael Smither, Stephen Stratford, Tony Fomison, John Gow and Gary Langsford. “If you want to do a decent portrait you will do far better if you know people fairly well. Little aspects of people strike me, aspects that I really like because they convey something special about each person,” she explains.
“With Don it was his buttons. He likes those buttons done up, and it makes really lovely pleats from the buttons, over his belly, and I got visual pleasure from the way they went. And it also said quite a bit about Don, who is overweight, but very much likes to do his buttons up. I think I do that sort of thing partly unconsciously, but I’m always looking out for little things which will make the portrait more like him, or whoever it is.
“For instance, when Michael Smither put his finger over his nose, when he did that it was so striking. I asked him if he did it very often and he said he did it a lot. I thought it was very much like a helmet, only upside down. You know, those helmets with the nose piece coming down. It’s sort of a masking thing, covering his mouth and his nose. So I did him like that.”
All were happy to sit for her initial drawings, and even for stages in the painting process, but McIntyre also paints portraits of less willing subjects. “Peter McLeavey didn’t like what I did of him, but then he didn’t pose for me. I decided I would do a portrait of him because I could see that I could do it. I get this feeling that grabs me, an epiphenomenon, and I know. It’s sort of a sense of power, and once I get it I know that if I pursue the feeling I will do a painting the way I want to.
“I got that with Peter McLeavey. I decided that I was going to paint him because he is such a distinctive person, and I saw quite a bit of him. I followed him around, looking at him, and he knew I had it in mind. He said to me, ‘I hope you are not going to paint my portrait.’ Then I saw him at a party in this nun’s outfit, and he was marvellous. Totally marvellous. He just looked like tough old Mother McSomething-or-other who had taught you at school and cracked you over the knuckles with her stick. A nun from my childhood. My god, he was like it. And of course he was brought up a Catholic.
“I put the convent in the Rimutaka Hills in Wellington in the background, and Terry Snow’s daughter when she was little. She posed for us and pulled this face, which was perfect. So I put her in. And I gave him this apple for his role. He was the pre-eminent dealer in New Zealand at the time. He still is. He’s a very fine dealer. So I gave him the apple.”
And it is a very fine portrait, combining all the elements which make McIntyre’s paintings so persuasive and simultaneously unsettling: carefully crafted realism, recognisable humanity, humour and a good dose of bizarre. It is a mix which keeps commissions away from one of the best portrait painters in the country, but McIntyre, as always, sees advantages in this, too.
“I have done a few commissions, but mostly people are too worried about what I will do,” she agrees. “I always pursue the way I want to do it, and I am always trying to make some comment about the way life is, the way this person is, and the way we all are. The three things together. If I did a lot of commissions I would have to flatter, and then I couldn’t do what I am doing.”
Why? Why not moderate her attitude to people’s sensitivities in order to make more sales? Why not move her considerable painting skills into abstraction, where fashion currently resides?
“It is all a mixture of one’s personality, the way you have been brought up. Early on I did lightly abstracted landscapes, but I have got more realistic as I have progressed. I went to England a good many years ago and saw a huge amount of Renaissance painting at the National Gallery. I was struck by how wonderful they were, and perhaps I shouldn’t even be trying to do anything as wonderful as that, but I thought, it doesn’t matter that much, I’ll just do it.”
But it obviously does matter, and the mattering shows. She continues to return to the old masters for guidance, and inspiration, and to the surrealists who have also made an impression on her work. “I am fond of surrealism. I am fond of the way surrealism says that the answer is, there isn’t any answer. There’s a sort of jokey aspect to it, too, and I enjoy those visual puns.
“There’s also a cruelty in surrealism, a cruelty that underlies life. I feel that surrealism is always referring to chance, to the contention that our life is based on an infinitesimal chance.”
For all that, the referencing, the influences, hard-core McIntyre is about doing it for herself, taking what she needs, and showing the world her way. Speaking for “us tragi-comic humans” as best she knows how. “I have loads of reproductions. And whenever I go back to London I go to the National Gallery. I go back when I have a problem, look at the Masters again and see how they solved it. It seems awful looking back like that, and some painters just won’t, but I believe that human beings haven’t altered very much, and the solutions to human problems are pretty much the same. But I just do it. In the end it’s easier just to do it, not worry about it.”

His master’s voice

This is for anyone who has had a wife. His own, I mean, not someone else’s.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sentence of the day

Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-born columnist and public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues, responds in the Toronto Star to Saudia Arabia getting a seat on the the board of UN Women, which is dedicated to gender equality around the world:
It took years to make the United Nations’ newest agency, UN Women, a reality, and then just one day to effectively kill it.
Monitor: Mick Hartley

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Around the blogs

Chad Taylor has lead in his pencil and he  likes The Social Network:
If TV, as someone once said, is about people walking in and out of rooms, the internet is about them being locked inside.
Matt Nolan says precisely what I thought vaguely about the Herald’s article on Great Chocolate Shortage, that it was bollocks because it ignored how farmers respond to price signals: 
Also note that these poorer farmers in Africa are getting higher incomes now – as the price of what they produce compared to, say washing machines, is higher … so they can buy more washing machines.  Why is this article begrudging them that?
Tim Worstall proposes a convincing-sounding derivation of the word “posh”. It is possibly from Farsi, he suggests, which was the language of the Mughal court. Warning: may contain cross-dressing.

Danyl Mclauchlan aka the Dim-Post has given up:
In our current situation we have a government that knows much about theatre and politics and almost nothing about government and an opposition that probably knows much about government, but in vain because they know nothing about politics or theatre.
Anyway, I’ve reached the point where it’s all too banal even to laugh at so I’m taking a break from blogging for an indeterminate period.
In the comments – really warm, generous tributes from his fans – Russell Brown™ says:
Not concerned. You will torment your friends and family with your opinions so terribly that they will demand that you start blogging again. Just you see if I’m not right.
That may tell us something about the Brown household, but I do hope Russell is right. The Dim-Post has been a must-read.

Paul Litterick at the Fundy Post despairs of England. And, I regret to report, he has a crack at Stephen Fry.

Speaking of Stephen Fry, here he is with Clive Anderson in 1991 complaining about the “sheer vulgarity” of the Conservatives, their bad taste. Just look at what he is wearing:

Too much information

Last week’s Economist had a special report on smart systems and, inter alia, the enormous quantity of information generated: 
Estimates by IDC, a market-research firm, need to be taken with a pinch of salt, because they are sponsored by EMC, a maker of storage systems. But for what they are worth, they suggest that the “digital universe”—the amount of digital information created and replicated in a year—will increase to 35 zettabytes, or 35 trillion gigabytes—enough to fill a stack of DVDs reaching halfway to Mars.
And this is creepy:
Facebook users, by tagging friends in the pictures they upload, allow the service to recognise these people on other pictures.
Thanks a bunch, Facebook users.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Google search term of the day

Google’s algorithm placed this blog at the top of the list of search results for the query “Oh my god ! My mother was playmat”, well ahead of St Augustine’s Confessions at #5 and the Moses and the Ten Plagues Figurine Set at #6. Doesn’t Google Japan look pretty with all that Kanji?

I try not to speculate about what people are looking for, but really, “My mother was a play mat”? How does that work? It must be a Japanese thing.

The Talking Michael Caine Blues

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan duke it out:

Monitor: Kottke.org

More Stephen Fry on himself

In the aftermath of the fuss about his reported comment (obviously a misquote) about women not enjoying sex, Stephen Fry explains himself on his blog. At length. On and on he goes, on and on – it’s a classic case of onandonism – about how being misrepresented is the price a megastar pays for being famous and much-loved, and how he doesn’t enjoy the attention at all. After four pages declaring his modesty he ends with this:
No one can say my life isn’t unpredictable, interesting and...  well, Fryish…
Not even Paul Holmes has invented a word to describe himself.

Monitor: PopBitch

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What I’m reading: Frank Zappa edition

Shocking, isn’t it, that you can download books from the internet. Except this one, The Frank Zappa Guitar Book, is long out of print so I couldn’t pay the author and publisher if I wanted to (second-hand copies go for as much as $US175 at AbeBooks). The bars above are a bit of it for your reading pleasure (click on the image for a bigger version). They are the opening of the guitar solo of Frank Zappa’s “Outside Now” from his album Joe’s Garage as transcribed by SteveVai, who got the job of stunt guitarist in Zappa’s band on the strength of his transcriptions. (Zappa was a bandleader on a par with Miles Davis and Charles Mingus: other alumni include Lowell George, George Duke, Adrian Belew, Vinnie Colaiuta and the best-named drummer ever, Chad Wackerman.)

The song is in 11/8 – as you can see above, it’s notated as 6/8 + 5/8 which makes it easier to count but does not explain how Zappa could create such astonishing guitar solos over it. There are many on legal CDs and other (illegal, I guess) downloads on both sound and vision. 

Here is one, a 1980 performance in Paris with Ike Willis (guitar, lead vocals), Ray White (guitar, vocals), Tommy Mars (keyboards), Arthur Barrow (bass) and Dave Logeman (drums). Zappa looks dorky as hell, but boy could he play guitar.

All together now: “These executives have plooked the fuck out of me. . .”

Mrs Merton on Silvio Berlusconi

Kindly, twinkly, avuncular billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian PM, has been helping yet another attractive young woman, Karima el- Mahroug (that’s her above), with her career, as the Guardian reports:
Berlusconi has been at the centre of a series of scandals in recent years, including claims by a prostitute, Patrizia D’Addario, that she had sex with him in 2008. Berlusconi has denied paying for sex. There was also controversy over his friendship with a teenage model, Noemi Letizia.
Neither of the most recent allegations, however, would seem to make the prime minister liable to criminal charges, even if they were true. The age of consent in Italy is 14. Prostitution is not illegal, though profiting from it is. And there is nothing in what is so far known of Macri’s statement to indicate Berlusconi himself supplied the drugs allegedly used at the holiday estate where he has hosted Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin and other world leaders.
The biggest legal threat arose from another young woman, Karima el-Mahroug, a then 17-year-old belly dancer who is reported to have told prosecutors in Milan that she attended three parties at Arcore, but denies any sexual entanglement with the prime minister.
Mahroug was detained by police in May on suspicion of stealing €3,000 (£2,620), but after a call from the prime minister’s office, she was handed over to a Berlusconi acquaintance – his former dental hygienist, who was this year elected to the Lombardy regional parliament.
His former dental hygienist, you say? Gee, I wonder what she looks like:

Actually she looks like my dentist in Cambridge, but with a way different stylist. That pic is from a Daily Telegraph report back in February:
Silvio Berlusconi has shortlisted his dental hygienist to contest crucial elections next month. The 73-year-old premier was apparently unable to resist the charms of Nicole Minetti, a showgirl turned dental hygienist who he met when his teeth were being repaired after he was attacked in Milan in December.

Helpfully the Telegraph has a picture gallery of nine other young women the kindly, twinkly, avuncular billionaire has helped with their careers. They are all a bit like that. And one other:
Veronica Lario, 52, Berlusconi’s long suffering wife of 20 years and mother of his three children. They started an affair while he was still married to first wife and he saw her topless on stage.

Jimmy Goldsmith was not the first rich man to say, “When you marry your mistress you create a job vacancy,” and he will not be the last. Mrs Berlusconi surely cannot be surprised at her situation. What a man does once and gets away with, he will do again.

Back to that Telegraph gallery. All the women are stunnas, as the Sun would say. One can see what he sees in them, but what do they see in him? Cue Caroline Aherne’s character Mrs Merton interviewing Debbie McGee: “What first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”

For all his faults, Edward Heath never embarrassed the English the way that Berlusconi embarrasses the Italians.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Why I cannot stand Stephen Fry

Yes, I know it’s a minority view. Everybody else adores him. He’s intelligent! He speaks nicely! He’s gay but in a cuddly way, so all the mums like him! He’s … aargh. He’s so pleased to be him while all the time pretending not to be.

My aged dad enjoyed the Book of General Ignorance by UK comedy god John Lloyd and John Mitchison, so on Saturday I bought him the sequel, The Second Book of General Ignorance, which I am reading before passing it on. I recommend it to the max. This link is to Amazon but it would be cheaper – and just better – to buy it from your local bookseller. Retail in NZ is $25.

Both books are great, stuffed full of surprising facts.But this new one has a foreword by Stephen Fry called “Forethought”. He calls it this so he can talk about Prometheus and the gift of fire and how the Greek name “Prometheus” means in English “forethought” and OMG the whole thing is so arch and pretentious and self-regarding that I wanted to hurl the book across the room. But I couldn’t, because it is a present for my dad. 

Anyway, Fry begins with this quote:
Now, what I want is facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything elsc. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!
He continues:
Nothing but a shudder runs up the spine of the sensible man, woman or child as they read these well-known words of Thomas Gradgrind in Dickens’s novel Hard Times.
‘But surely, Stephen,’ you say, in that way of yours, ‘QI and General Ignorance and all that they are or hope to be represent nothing more than the triumphant distillation of Gradgrindery, fact-dweebiness, trivia-hoarding and information-hugging. The world of noble ideas falls before your world of grinding facts. Facts are the abrasive touchstones on which we test the validity of concepts! Surely, Stephen. Surely, surely, surely! I’m right, aren’t I? Aren’t I? Oh do say I am!’
Well now, bless you and shush and oh you dear things. Calm yourselves and sit down in a semicircle on the play mat while we think about this.
No, I cannot calm myself and sit on the play mat while I think about this. Instead, I say, “Fuck off.”

UPDATE: Stephanie says in the comments:
I once stayed in the same hotel as he in Bali: we shared the same pool areas and dining rooms over a few days, and there was something about him I couldn't quite put my finger on, as the saying goes. [. . .] Now I know what it was, that aura of smugness hovering around him despite the humidity.
I have added a photo of him with his mother. (Yes, I spoil you, because you deserve it.) My mother has never gazed up at me quite so adoringly, but then I am not Stephen Fry.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell was born on 7 November, 1943, which makes her 67 today. Here she is in Japan playing “Hejira” from her 1976 album of the same name.

This performance doesn’t have Jaco Pastorius on bass, as on the album, but it does have jazz great Wayne Shorter on saxophone. The vid may not have the highest production values, but the music is exceptional.

Joni Mitchell sure has a unique guitar style – it’s not just the array of tunings, it’s also that she always uses an upstroke for the chord. From memory it’s because of a weak wrist since childhood, which explains why open tunings have been so important to her.

If you want to try this at home, the tuning is CGDFGC, and here are some chords: Dm11, Eb6/9, C6/9, Fsus2+4, F, C, F+9, G+9+4, G9+4. Good luck with that.

Monitor: Home Paddock

Saturday, November 6, 2010

National standards disinformation

Rob Kidd reports in today’s Waikato Times:
The Government may be dismissing the 10 per cent of schools shunning national standards as a minority but Waikato principals say it is just the tip of the iceberg.
This week, about 30 Waikato school boards of 225 nationwide joined a coalition withdrawing co-operation over the controversial national standards, which were introduced by the Education Ministry at the start of the year.
As part of the protest, the schools said they would not send student achievement targets (due in February) to the ministry.
The rest of the story is here, but what is not online is the list in the print version of “Unhappy Schools: Waikato schools involved in possible withdrawal from national standards”. Included in that list of 30 schools is the one where my children go. (Fun fact: Cactus Kate used to go there too.)

I don’t know much about national standards but I do know this – the school newsletter that came home yesterday says:
Despite our huge concerns about National Standards [. . .] we are reporting your child’s achievement against these Standards in Literacy and Numeracy because we are legally obliged to do so.
 So Kidd cannot have spoken to the principal at our school, one of the 30 alleged to have joined the coalition. I can only assume that he got this disinformation from a NZEI press release and didn’t check with our school – I wonder if he checked with any of them. 

This makes a nonsense of “about 30 Waikato school boards” in the story’s second par – and how many other schools are like ours, listed erroneously to make it seem as though there is more “shunning” of national standards than there actually is?

How very Stieg Larsson

Nature imitates art, etc. The private life of the King of Sweden is no longer so private:
In a new biography of the King — who is our own Queen Elizabeth’s third cousin — he emerges as an habituee of wild sex parties involving strippers, sometimes hosted by an infamous Mafia boss in a Stockholm club.
Perhaps most damaging of all is the allegation that, over many years, he has been protected by the Swedish secret service, Sapo, hoovering up embarrassing material in his wake and pressuring women to hand over compromising pictures.
As the book, The Reluctant Monarch, sold out its entire 20,000 initial print in Swedish bookshops yesterday, this normally unshockable country was shaken by the startling details amassed by its three ­investigative authors about the secret life their King has apparently been leading.
More here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sentence of the day

Paul Litterick at Fundy Post has blogged his entire paper “At last happy, normal buildings: the invention of Art Deco and the reinvention of Napier”, which he delivered yesterday at  the art history department of Auckland University’s inaugural Art History Postgraduate Conference:
Someone at the conference asked me what I was doing with my thesis, to which I replied: “making enemies.”
The paper is really good, the most entertaining architecture writing I have read for a very long time and well worth reading if you have even a passing interest in Napier and its distinctive building style. The whole thing is a gleeful assault on the idea of Napier as an Art Deco city – it didn’t become one, he argues, until the 1980s. Paul gives due credit to Peter Shaw’s writing on the subject, is very sound on typefaces and he delivers a zinger of a last sentence.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Australians deserve a lot better

The Australian reports:
Just hours after the Reserve Bank of Australia increased its cash rate by 25 basis points, to 4.75 per cent, the Commonwealth Bank lifted its variable standard mortgage rate by 45 basis points.
The Treasurer [Wayne Swan] responded by foreshadowing government moves to make the banking sector more competitive, although he admitted there was no “no instantaneous solution”.
Mr Swan also hit out angrily at the Commonwealth Bank.
“This is a cynical cash grab by the Commonwealth Bank, there is no other way to look at it,” Mr Swan told reporters in Brisbane.
“I think Australians deserve a lot better ... it’s no wonder Australians are so angry with our banks after watching the behaviour of the Commonwealth Bank.”
I saw Sky News’s report on this a few minutes ago. What Swan actually said was:
I think Australians deserve a lot better and especially on Melbourne Cup day.
Can’t swear that’s the exact wording because I wasn’t taking shorthand, but I swear that’s pretty close. Swan must have backed So You Think.

My name is Stephen and I am an introvert

Last year Home Paddock outed herself as an introvert. It’s a constant surprise to me how many other current and former journalists are introverts – I’d better not name any because we tend to be shy about it but believe me, there’s a lot of it about. One colleague who taught me more about writing than anyone since former Listener editor Tony Reid is widely considered an affable extrovert who is gregarious and the life and soul of every party. A couple of years ago I met him again and after just a few minutes realised that he is a massive introvert who uses humour and anecdotes to keep people at bay. We can fool most of the people, most of the time.

Many editors are introverts. Quite a few musicians are introverts too. And when you get people like like me and my friend John who are both musicians and editors, you get a double dose. How lucky our wives and children are.

Well, maybe so. Apparently we introverts are quite nice, really, and not always difficult to manage. Here is the great American journalist Jonathan Rauch writing in the Atlantic about what an introvert is and how to care for one. I’d always thought it was about being shy but he says not. Which makes sense: if John and I can get up on stage and perform, we can’t be shy. No, it’s something else, and Rauch totally nails it. He begins: 
Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?
If so, do you tell this person he is “too serious”, or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?
If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands – and that you aren’t caring for him properly.
Later he says:  
My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn’t antisocial. It isn’t a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: “I’m okay, you’re okay – in small doses.”
My favourite sentence: 
Remember, someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts.”
Totally. Over the last few years I have passed this article on to a dozen or so friends whom I thought were introverts or lived with one, and all said: “Thank you. It explains so much.”

Does a bear shit in the woods?

Monitor: Tim Worstall

How to find Quote Unquote

Here are the 15 most recent ways that readers have come to this blog – first the search engine, then the search term, and then where the reader lives. This is via StatCounter which I’m not sure is totally accurate, but it’s probably close enough for jazz:

 www.google.co.nz, lease signs in Hamilton: Hamilton
www.google.co.nz, Graeme Lay on dogs: Auckland
www.google.com, George Strait divorce: St Louis, Missouri
www.google.co.nz, Frank Sargeson: Auckland
www.google.ca, sexiest opera ever: Barrie, Ontario
www.google.co.jp, Pink Floyd - Atom Heart Mother: Tokyo
www.google.com, quote telemann: Flagstaff, Arizona
www.bing.com, george strait & wife divorce: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
www.google.co.nz, Tim Wilson’s novel “Their Faces Were Shining”: Wellington
www.google.co.uk, internet addiction sayings: Glasgow
www.google.com.ph, men are from mars women are from venus quotes: Quezon City, Philippines
www.google.ch, excellent russian mistress session: Waltenschwil, Switzerland
www.bing.com, frank zappa filterui:imagesize-large: Horsham, Pennsylvania
www.google.com.mt, school holiday quote: Gzira, Malta
www.google.com.mx, the butterfly effect quotes: Hermosillo, Mexico

That one from Switzerland is a bit of a worry.

Election day in America

Here is a website for voters wondering where the closest voting booth might be. 

I tried entering my location but got a very rude response. You may have better luck.

Monitor: Kottke.org

Monday, November 1, 2010

Denis Edwards on Stephanie Johnson

The 24th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the March 1996 issue.

The intro read:
It’s Stephanie Johnson month, with a new play at the Watershed and a new novel in the shops. Her writing is sharp, penetrating, witty and restless – and as Denis Edwards discovers, so is she.
If there is such a thing as a writer’s blackjack, Stephanie Johnson has just drawn the perfect hand. First off the dealer’s stack is a picture card, the stage play Folie A Deux, which she co-wrote with Stuart Hoar. It sees life on the boards on March 7 at Auckland’s Watershed Theatre. Following that is the ace, making up the blackjack and guaranteeing that the house pays out – the publication of her second novel The Heart’s Wild Surf, her rolling, spinning tale of little Olive McNab’s life and times in Fiji towards the end of this century’s second decade.
Random has bet the house on it. It has the best production values seen in a local paperback in years, a big print run of 10,000, and it’s being distributed in three countries: New Zealand, Australia and England. Random’s New York office has asked for a look-see for the US market, and her Australian agent, Rose Cresswell, is said to have trawled the book past those arbiters of tasteful moviemaking, and generators of vast amounts of money, Merchant Ivory.
These would be enough to make most writer’s swell up and sit back, secure they’d made it. For Stephanie Johnson they are the latest chapters in a career of startling success.
There’s the stage play, Accidental Phantasies, which won her the prestigious Bruce Mason Award for 1985. There’s the poetry, 1987’s The Bleeding Ballerina, and the short-story collections, 1988’s The Glass Whittler and 1993’s All The Tenderness Left In The World. Then there’s the first novel Crimes Of Passion, shortlisted for the Wattie Book Awards in 1993.
There’s the journalism (she interviewed Salman Rushdie for February’s Quote Unquote), the reviewing of both books and movies, and there’s the acting. She had a part in the Australian movie Dogs In Space, in which she did a turn as a punkish lesbian.
Throw in the radio plays and the television scripts for Marlin Bay, Shortland Street and Riding High – and words like “seriously talented” and “unbelievably successful” come to mind.
This isn’t quite how Stephanie. Johnson sees things. At least it isn’t on a hot February afternoon, after her partner Tim Woodhouse, a television documentary editor, has taken their three young children to the Point Erin pool. She hasn’t been looking forward to our chat at her Grey Lynn villa: “I should have organised it for first thing in the morning, and then I wouldn’t have had to worry about it all day,” she says.
“I don’t really see myself as a huge success or anything. I’m just a writer. I sit in a room and write all the time. Honestly, there are times when I would have loved to have travelled and done all sorts of things, like other people.”
That theme comes up frequently throughout the conversation – that she isn’t like other people, or that she is an outsider; the preferred vantage point for a writer, watching for the cracks in either character or the established order of things. It’s territory she is comfortable with, producing work that is sharp, penetrating, witty and restless. This could also serve as a working description of Stephanie Johnson.
Her outsider stance goes back to childhood, when she arrived in the world 34 years ago with serious problems with her feet. There were lots and lots of operations. Add the resulting calipers, a scowl and being sent along to Auckland’s Diocesan School for Girls. “I was in trouble a lot and not at all witty or clever. I was just unlikable.”
Looking back, it’s the first road sign to Stephanie Johnson the adult with “attitude” and ready to have her say without particularly worrying whether or not it is acceptable in terms of political correctness.
For example, she was an early defender of playwright and drama teacher Mervyn Thompson after he was physically attacked by feminists accusing him of sexual harassment. Technically hers wasn’t the most correct of stances, which worried Stephanie Johnson not at all. Then she took a well-publicised chip at the Listener Women’s Book Festival, querying the need for it at all. Fiona Kidman led the chorus of rebuttal, branding Johnson, then 30, a callow youth.
Her play Dancing Out Of Time was on the brink of stage production, but stalled, because Johnson insisted that a disabled person play the lead, since the subject matter was disability.
It didn’t become a movie either. But then, and this is another glimpse into Johnson’s persistence and attitude, that wasn’t for want of trying. She showed it to a film producer. Much excitement, followed by a descent down scriptwriter’s levels of inferno. She did 11 drafts, being paid for each draft before the project went into “further development”, the dark valley where scripts go to die.
Her subsequent Australian experience was important, wrenching her from “what had so far been a sheltered and academic existence”. “I got a BA with a major in English, and lots of history papers as well, as a straight C student.”
Arriving in Australia in 1985 meant surviving away from the network of friends, grants, PEP schemes etc. “I went along to business college and turned myself into a wee secretary.” The attitude came with her. One employer felt the acid which had isolated her from the Clearasil crowd at Diocesan. “He started out calling me to ‘get a cup of tea for me, girlie’.” Not long after he was calling her Miss Johnson.
In 1989 the Australian sojourn ended with her having met Tim, partnering up and eventually producing their first child. They came back to New Zealand, buying the Grey Lynn house, and they’ve been here ever since, visits to the Australian relatives excepted. She dabbled successfully with stand-up comedy, specialising in a nice line in mimicry, but problems with her feet, the ones which helped nourish her independent outsider stand towards the world, have forced her to call it quits on her acting.
Life since has been a mix of two more babies and writing, writing, writing. “I once found myself standing on the porch at the front of the house, with my head spinning from having all these made-up people in my head. They outnumbered the real people, and it was a very strange feeling.”
That’s why she doesn’t watch too much television. “I keep getting this feeling of being overloaded. My brain feels completely scrambled.”
There’s nothing scrambled about her brain when she’s being interviewed. “I’d sooner be the interviewer,” she says. She gets her chance. There is a lull in the conversation, while I try to think of the next question. Johnson quickly turns the tables.
She discovers that I don’t have children. Her reaction, of wonder at how strange that must feel, becomes a glimpse at the workings of a successful writer’s mind. It quickly becomes a musing on the emotional impact of being a sperm donor walking down the street and seeing one of his children.
Difficult to describe in print, it is quick, seamless and brilliant. In a few seconds she’s got a workable story constructed, complete with emotional resonance. It’s sobering to see how quickly it happened – story-development on steroids.
Don’t bet against a radio play in, say, 1997 about a sperm donor who meets one of his children. Or a character in a book, or a stage play. She has a lot of options for placing a usable story.
She’s looking to curb her ferocious work rate. Once her youngest, currently two, is on her way to school, Johnson aims to head back out into the world.
“Before I went to Australia, I did work on a part-time basis. I had a job where I used to work on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, looking after intellectually handicapped adults. You feel good at the end of the day after a job like that. You feel as if you have done something concrete. My leg has deteriorated a bit since then and I don’t think I could do the heavy lifting. But I want to do something like that again. Get out and be doing something outside, working with my imagination all the time.”
From there, things flick back to the interviewer’s family. I admit to having five brothers and sisters. “I would have liked to have come from a big family!”
It’s another story beginning. It’s run up for inspection, for development or rejecting. It’s another moment in the life of Stephanie Johnson, writer.

A glimpse of Frank Sargeson

The 23rd in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the March 1996 issue. The intro read:
After reading the memoirs of Frank Sargeson in the November issue, and then Michael King’s biography, DAVID MACKENZIE was prompted to pass on his own memories.
A year or so after the end of World War II, Canterbury College held an Open Week in a Christchurch winter, when I attended an address by ARD Fairburn given at a church in the area, on the Romantic Movement in poetry as I recall; details of it escape me after this gap but his presence was impressive. Tall, dark, sun-tanned with strong features and well modulated delivery, he dressed casually in sports coat and grey flannel, a plain shirt and subdued tie. Into the pockets of the large checked tweed he thrust his hands deeply, gesturing with a big hooked pipe from time to time for emphasis.
At question time a few had their queries urbanely handled and then came Ron Scarlett, one of those who seem to be a student forever, who loved to argue the toss at any chance. He challenged the speaker on his main thesis, putting his points with much vigour and the ensuing debate took all of half an hour, both obviously enjoying the cut and thrust. Scarlett subsided at last without giving way, though I feel Fairburn had the better of it in a good-natured way and, as a practitioner of romantic poetry himself, a memorable figure. Much later Scarlett worked on the Pyramid Valley excavations of the giant eagle for Canterbury Museum, and became an authority on New Zealand fossil homes.
Johannes Andersen, head of the Turnbull library, wrote on Maori mythology and nature notes of the most engaging kind for the Christchurch Press. George Bernard Shaw said that his most outstanding experience in New Zealand was Andersen whistling the native birdsongs to him in the study at the Turnbull, so transporting him to the heart of the bush.
This remarkable man was diminutive, his fine features brown and delicately wrinkled, his brow high, above it a mane of silver wire hair beautifully brushed and the man impeccably attired. He began by saying that his subject, “The Literature of the Maori”, was a contradiction since Maori wasn’t a written language, but that he hoped to prove that this speech deserved to be regarded as literary by its poetic nature.
As a young man of 17 he became an interpreter for the Maori Land Court and told of a time in Gisborne where an elder giving evidence recited his genealogy back to the canoes, taking two days to do so. That evening the Judge said, “Andersen, that man is inventing, so tomorrow you are to tell him you’ve lost your notes.” When asked how to explain this, he replied, “Oh, invent anything – they were accidentally burnt, maybe.” Next day the old man’s face fell as he was told he’d have to repeat his recitation, yet he did so and when the two records were compared, they were near enough to identical.
Feats of memory such as this were not unusual, but Andersen’s point was that they were expressed in poetic ways, indeed the everyday Maori giving directions or explanations, such as describing the plants in his district that were safe to use, did so in graceful literary terms. So he argued his case with examples, some of these the old folk tales.
At the end of the spellbinding session a man stood to thank him. He was dressed in a trench coat, navy blue suit with wide chalk stripes and cuffs on the trousers, had square-cut features, basin cropped hair, not sun-tanned. He was Frank Sargeson.
He spoke eloquently in a Kiwi voice, flat vowels and a somewhat metallic note, saying that he’d been privileged to hear such a wonderful lecture and that he felt certain he spoke for us all when he assured Johannes that he had persuaded us that Maori deserved to be regarded as literature – and that the account of Rona in the Moon came across so well it made him think he must use the story somehow in the future.
So it was, 50 years ago three of my heroes from the printed page were made manifest.

Diplomatic immunity

Parting Shots: The Undiplomatic Final Words of Our Departing Ambassadors by Matthew Parris and Andrew Bryson (Viking), collects extracts from British ambassadors’ farewell confidential letters to the Foreign Secretary. For example, Sir Bernard Ledwidge, Finland, October 1972:
It could plausibly be argued that it is a misfortune for anybody but a Finn to spend three years in Finland, as I have just done. Finland is flat, freezing and far from the pulsating centres of European life. Nature has done little for her, and art not much more. [...] Finnish cooking deserves a sentence to itself for its crude horror; only the mushrooms and the crayfish merit attention.
Sir Christopher Meyer, Germany, October 1997:
Variety shows on German television make Des O’Connor look like alternative comedy. But by 11.30 many channels are deep into medium-hard pornography. Ancient 1970s British rock bands rumble like Chieftain tanks across the North German plain, while, to wild applause, three naked male Japanese ballet dancers stand motionless on a Hamburg stage, while a fourth crawls backwards and forwards dressed in a nightie.
Lord Moran, Canada, 1984:
Anyone who is even moderately good at what they do... tends to become a national figure... and anyone who stands out at all from the crowd tends to be praised to the skies and given the Order of Canada at once.
Hugh Glencaim Balfour-Paul, Jordan, September 1975:
Genuinely attached to their country, they know next to nothing of it; and desecrate what little they explore. They point proudly to their traditional arts and fill their houses with the vulgarest imported kitsch. The feckless hedonism of so many of the rich, and the grasping incivility of so many of the poor (especially those “dressed in a little brief authority”) are balanced in both cases by virtues that Western civilisation seems sadly to have discarded.
Sir Julian Bullard, Germany, March 1988
I think it is still possible to talk of German national characteristics, and one of these is the seriousness, thoroughness, humourlessness, perfectionism and pedantry which have made the German the butt of so many anecdotes. (To quote a true one, the artist Philip Ernst painted the view from his window, leaving out a tree which spoilt the design: that night he was attacked by remorse, got up from bed – and cut down the tree.)
Sir Rodric Braithwaite, Moscow, May 1992:
All those who have dealt with the Russians over the centuries have commented on their indifference to the truth. The lie in Russia has indeed gone far beyond its original purpose and has become an art form. Russians lie when they feel they need to... But they also lie without reason, by some inner compulsion, even when they know that their listener knows that they are lying. The Russians have a word for it - vranyo - which in their usage has acquired almost benign overtones. The latest example I have come across occurs in hotels frequented by foreigners: the notice in five languages on the lavatory: “Disinfected for your comfort and safety.” Every Russian knows that this cannot be true. Only the most naive of foreigners would think any different. Yet in a great country, you disinfect the lavatory seats. So the notice has to go up.
Monitor: The Week