Friday, January 28, 2011

Go away

This T-Shirt was a Christmas present from my wife, who understands me. It relates to this earlier post. If the image isn’t clear, the printed text is “Hello my name is” and the handwritten text is “Go away”. I love it, but I don’t wear it to the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings.

It is from the marketing empire of David Thorne at 27b/6, who is the funniest blogger in the world (possibly). This is from his latest post:
As an Australian staying in the United States, I have been lucky enough to experience many things previously unavailable to me. Although I still flick the switches the wrong way, think the electrical outlets look upset and cringe whenever the word aluminium is pronounced, I have fallen in love with many of the things I assume most Americans take for granted – like snow and having four actual seasons.
The four seasons in Australia consist of “Fuck it’s hot”, “Can you believe how fucking hot it is?”, “I won’t be in today because it is too fucking hot” and “Yes, the dinner plate size spiders come inside to escape from the heat. That is a fucking whopper though.” I hate spiders. If I am reincarnated as a spider, I will bite myself and not seek medical assistance.
I highly recommend his book The Internet is a Playground, a collection of his emails and articles, which I bought as a Christmas present for myself. It is so funny that I haven’t told LaughyKate I have a copy for fear she will want to borrow it and then I would never see it again.

Breaking Auckland news online

Last night National selected its candidate for Botany to replace the disgraced Pansy Wong. It’s a solid-blue seat so the winner is assured of a long parliamentary career – which makes the selection and the March by-election more than just an Auckland story. 

Of the five candidates, Jami-Lee Ross was the local boy while Maggie Barry was the celebrity outsider. Ross’s advantage was his track record  – though still only 25, he was elected to the Manukau City Council in 2004 and is currently on the Auckland council where he is co-leader of the Citizens & Ratepayers ticket. Barry’s advantage was her national profile – she would appeal to NZ First’s audience and so selecting her could be a cunning plan to stave off Winston.

The winner on the night was Ross. Fairfax’s Stuff website had the result online at 10:25 pm. At 11 pm I gave up waiting for APN’s Herald website to report it – perhaps they were all over the road at the Shakespeare. The story eventually appeared there at 5:30 am. 

Moral of the story: for breaking Auckland news, don’t go to the Auckland newspaper – check Stuff.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Today is Australia Day

But to more important things. For example:

If I could be in Auckland on 30 January, I would be at the Bamboo reunion. They were a great band, and I bet they still are. Best drummer I ever worked with. The guitarists are pretty good too.

I want this, and I want it now.

The 25 commandments for journalists from Tim Radford, former Guardian science editor, letters editor, arts editor and literary editor. Bloggers could learn from this too. Best bit: the correction of his misspelling of Dashiel Hammett’s name in the first version. Even Homer nods. Good comments too.

Tim Worstall explains why food speculators are a force for good. No, really. Adam Smith understood this 235 years ago so why can’t we? 

The pic above is from Things Real People Don’t Say About Advertising. Lots more like it there, all good.

Speaking of branding, Chad Taylor has issues. When does a muse not amuse?

The Swingers sprung! Rifftastic! Chris Bourke presents the Pretty Things’ 1966 “Come See Me” and the Swingers’ 1981 “Counting the Beat”. Try to slip a thin sheet of paper between them. I suppose Phil Judd would call his song an hommage. Have to admit that the Swingers’ video is much better, though. It’s that Elam training.

And just because she was wonderful, here is Dorothy Dandridge singing “Cow Cow Boogie” in the Abbott and Costello movie Ride ’em Cowboy. More about her not so wonderful life here.

Blinding me with science

A headline in today’s Waikato Times announces that “Beauty sleep is no myth”. Do tell:
The key to looking attractive and healthy is as simple as a good night’s sleep, new research suggests. {. . . ]
Writing online in the British Medical Journal, the team concluded: “Our findings show that sleep-deprived people appear less healthy, attractive and more tired compared with when they are well rested. This suggests that humans are sensitive to sleep­-related facial cues, with potential implications for social and clinical judgments and behaviour.”
Who knew? Nice to have that settled, etc.

The researchers were from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden; they used 23 subjects. Yes, 23. Not convinced yet? Then you may care to read the full text of “Beauty sleep: experimental study on the perceived health and attractiveness of sleep deprived people” here. Inevitably, it calls for further research.

And here, inevitably, is Thomas Dolby:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Young love on the West Coast

A friend from Westland writes:
We have had really nice balmy clear days here now that I’m back at work. But boy, we had some crazy rain over Christmas, even by Westland standards. The river was a soup of sheep, deer, cattle and silage bales – a friend counted 85 boiling past in 20 minutes.
Our last exchange student, our niece from Denmark, had been staying with us since July. We were in her room one day and I noticed that the recently painted window sill showed signs of wear. Sure enough, whilst mowing the lawn, I found scuff marks on the outer wall. I couldn’t help myself and went and got some fishing line and set up a (very parochial) trap with a large empty coal bucket balanced on a steel hearth shovel balanced on a gold pan.
The young chap who had been tapping on her window is probably still running.

Split Enz go commercial

In 1974 Split Enz recorded the music for a 60-second TV ad for Suzuki motorbikes: “Get it together and let Suzuki blow your mind.” Not embedded because I can’t, but it is worth a look – a listen, really – here.

The NZ Film Archive is in two minds about the writing credits, first listing:
Music: Tim Finn, Phil Judd
Performed by Split Enz
and then:
This TVC is particularly significant as the song was written [by] Lindsay Marks and performed by Split Enz.
Possibly both are true: it could well be lyrics by Lindsay (who used to flat with the band’s then drummer, Geoff Chunn) and performance by Split Enz. It’s definitely them performing and the lyrics do sound like Lindsay’s. Next time I have dinner with him in Ngunguru – which won’t be until next January at the earliest – I’ll ask him. I bet he will deny all knowledge of it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Listener paragraph of the week

In  the 29 January issue of the Listener, Bill Ralston writes in his excellent “Life” column about his rubbish disposal problems. For UK readers: this does not mean that his disposal problems are sub-optimal, just that he has problems with how he disposes of his long-term detritus. For US readers: we’re talking garbage. [Insert your own joke here.]

Anyway, this week Bill writes that he puts out a jumbo bin every year because the Auckland City Council’s bi-weekly collections are not enough to contain his annual output of rubbish [insert your own joke here] so at the end of the year he needs to do a major clear-out  and put out an industrial-size bin. And what happened this time?:
I discovered the author of this magazine’s Cultural Curmudgeon column [Hamish Keith] passing and peering into my jumbo bin. “Your rubbish isn’t as interesting as last year’s,” he said dismissively. Ever the critic.

Martin Devlin comes out

From Stuff today:
Sports broadcaster Martin Devlin has outed himself as the “celebrity” in the Auckland disorderly-behaviour name suppression case.
Devlin’s statement says:
I have no problem in admitting that I behaved like a right plum that morning on Quay Street. My wife, two young sons and I missed the 11am ferry sailing because I was watching Manchester United draw with Birmingham.
As a result, the atmosphere was a little frosty and my wife dropped me at the terminal and drove away without realising my bag and wallet were in the boot.
I walked across Quay Street into a lane of traffic to stop the car and get my bag.
Once stationary, for some inexplicable reason I sat on the car’s bonnet. It was stupid and I apologise. [. . .]
In an unconfirmed and unattributed report by the NZ Herald and last week, the newspaper claimed that my wife and I were having a “rowdy tiff” on Quay Street. In yesterday’s Herald on Sunday in another unofficial report, the newspaper claimed we were having a “blazing row”. Those reports were incorrect. In fact, we weren’t actually talking to each other.
What I know about PR could be written on the back of a stamp with marker pen, but that strikes me as the way to do it. Possibly he should have done it earlier, but the tone is perfect.

Stuff headline of the day

On the front page as a teaser for this story:
Italy’s Berlusconi digs in heels
I’d like to see that. Sounds tricky. Personally, I dig in Redbands.

Friday, January 21, 2011

I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more

This wonderful map in last week’s Economist shows how all the US states rank internationally as economies, on 2009 or later figures, as measured by GDP in US dollars. California’s economy is slightly smaller than Italy’s, so if it were a country it would rank 8th, ahead of Brazil. New York state is Australia; neighbouring Vermont is Yemen. Way down south, Texas is Russia and Mississippi is Bangladesh.

And Kansas (GDP: $124.92 billion) is the new New Zealand ($117.79 billion).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Australian weather report

This just in from a cousin-in-law across the Tasman:

The Church of St Elvis

Regular readers of Chad Taylor will be aware of his recent novel The Church of John Coltrane and that there is such a church in San Francisco, the Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church at 1286 Fillmore Street.

It came as news to me, via Rory Sutherland’s Wiki Man column in this week’s Spectator, that there is a Church of Saint Elvis, on the Pembroke coast in South Wales. It seems to have been built in 1784 and was a ruin by 1990.

Saint Elvis did exist: he was an Irish bishop in the sixth century. Elvis is the anglicised form of the saint’s name: he was known as Ailbe of Emly, also as Aelfyw, and in Latin as Albeus. But let’s remember him this way.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Peter Feeney on Michael Galvin

The 29th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the December 1996/January 1997 issue, and celebrates the return of Shortland Street to our screens this week. It still stars Michael Galvin, who was in the first episode on 25 May 1992. He’s a good writer too: spookily, three years after this interview both he and interviewer/fellow actor Peter Feeney were published in Graeme Lay’s 2000 anthology Boys’ Own Stories.

The intro read:
Is there life after Shortland Street? What’s your off-screen life like when you’re on-screen in prime time five nights a week? Do you get better service in cafes? Do you worry about being more famous than other actors who are (let’s not be coy) better? What’s John Hurt really like? PETER FEENEY grills the former Dr Warner.
I began by showing Michael Galvin a letter from my very own fan: the only public recognition I received from my brief appearance on Shortland Street. He read it and said:
If I got a letter like that I’d completely ignore it. We got a lot through Shortland Street, mainly from teenagers, mainly girls, really young. They were like: “Hey you’re really cool and Chris is really cool and my cat’s called Tiddles and my dog’s called Muffie. . .” It’s great they took the time. Very sweet.
You once said that after four years on Shortland Street there was so much of you in Dr Warner you weren’t sure where he ended and you began.
Maybe all that happened is that just because of the luxury of actually getting in there and acting every day, maybe I just became more natural at it. So maybe it seemed to me like it was more of myself.
But maybe that’s a good thing, because whenever you play any role there should be as much of yourself in it as possible: you should use the role as a form of self-discovery. Rather than trying to escape yourself and going, “How do people like this behave?”, try to think instead: well, what would I do if I was that person?
I think Shortland Street has made me a much, much better actor. No one at Shortland Street regards it as a soap, and if any actor does, then they’re in trouble, and they’ll do crappy work.
You were there from day one. The initial public reaction was lukewarm. . .
No, it wasn’t. It was freezing cold. It was glacial. What normally happens overseas is that a show has a pilot and all the experts sit around in a room and watch the pilot and go, “No, we’ve got to do this, and we’ve got to change this, and change that”. Shortland Street and City Life, and basically every New Zealand show I know of recently, didn’t have the luxury of a pilot. It’s a bit unfortunate.
To what extent were you affected by that feedback?
I listened to criticism, if it was coining from someone I respected, but if it was just abuse from some yob on the street, well then, you know that’s not going to do anyone any good.
Do you look at Shortland Street like the modern equivalent of the old Rep theatre in terms of the training actors?
The obvious difference is that in Rep you do a different play every week and we’re doing the same play all the time, although you’d be in a completely different emotional universe every week. [In Rep] you’d have some tragedy, then woof, you’re into farce, then you’re into straight stuff again. The main similarity is just the sheer luxury, as I say, of being able to get in there and do it every day. That’s the best way to learn. Provided of course you are committed to learning, watch the tapes and think, “Did that work well?” and “How could I do that better?”
Are you worried that people will only ever see Chris Warner on stage, not the character you’re supposed to be playing?
Honestly, that really doesn’t bother me. I toured two theatre shows while I was still on the Street, and I’m sure it wasn’t a prob­lem. In Blue Sky Boys I think as soon as Tim [Balme] and I came out singing “Wake Up Little Susie”, people bought it pretty quickly that we were the Everly brothers. With Phantom of the Opera, people would say, “Oh, it was really strange – at first.”
Every individual has a different experience when they watch something on TV. It’s not for me to try to second-guess that. It’s just for me to make the role as fresh as I can. And the way to do that, often, is not to self-consciously try to get it different from the last thing you did.
With Cover Story, I started off doing that for the first scene or two and it just wasn’t working, so I thought, “Forget this, the stuff that worked on Shortland Street worked when I was just using me.” So I did the same thing with Cover Story, with slightly different parameters, because the character was different in certain ways: more withheld, cooler and more in control of things.
So the Shortland Street experience has helped your career?
Oh God, without a doubt, in every way.
Is Australia the obvious next place?
I just want to work and if I can get it here, that’s great, and if I can’t, then yeah, I guess I should go on over. I’ve just been over to Sydney to meet a few of the casting people over there and give them my show-reel. It looks like a good place to be, because of their quota system. The amount of film and television being made over there is stagger­ing compared to here.
Does that mean taking the plunge and going over there, and camping for six months, waiting on tables and audition­ing for everything?
Oh, absolutely. That’s what it needs. You’re lucky to get auditions over there. It’s an achievement just to get auditions. If you want to break in to the scene, you have to take that six months out, not expect to get work immediately, and when it does come, expect it to come in dribs and drabs.
What have you got coming up?
I’ve got a role in one of those Montana Theatre TV plays, so that’ll be fun, and I may be doing a play. . . and if I’m not doing that play, I might be doing another one. But I don’t know.
What about making The Climb with John Hurt?
He is literally my favourite actor. It was bizarre, because this was my feature-film debut. The first line I say in a feature film is to him. It was a nightmare, because I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I really did think I was going to have a heart attack – my heart was beating so hard that it actually hurt. But I survived. It must lift your game when you work with people who are that good. I think you do your best work when you’re relaxed and focused on it, and I think often it’s harder to do really good work if you’re in a situation where you’re allowing your­self to be intimidated. I thought, “You’re allowed to be in awe of him for this scene but that’s it, after that get over it!” That’s why I think sometimes, on Shortland Street, scenes would just be brilliant – because people were so used to it, they were so relaxed, it would just soar. If you’re too tense or nervous, you’re just shutting your­self off and nothing terribly interesting is going to happen.
There’s an old cliché that the hardest part to play is the nice guy.
Yeah, because you have to find a way to make it interesting. There’s a reason why people like Kevin Costner and Cary Grant and Harrison Ford are so famous, and so rich – it’s because it’s really difficult to do something that looks that easy.
At Drama School, Stuart Devinie said this great thing to us: “You find your own points of rest. You can always be better, but sometimes you just think to yourself, well, I’ve done this before and I can do it well, and so I’ll give myself a break and allow myself to do this thing.”
If you’re out there acting and criticising yourself at the same time, that’s going to come through and the audience are going to pick up on it.
On The Climb the lead roles were taken by foreigners. Is that an issue with local actors?
I thought my own part on The Climb was a great opportunity: I got to work with John Hurt. It wasn’t a huge part, only about three scenes, but I’m still really happy I got to do it. But generally, sure, we don’t want to be turned into a kind of colony of the American film industry. The best stuff that we do is Once Were Warriors and Heavenly Crea­tures. That’s the really good stuff, our own stories, and they’re also the most success­ful.
Having these overseas productions over here is not going to help us make our own movies – there has to be New Zealand money for that to happen. Though it will train people more than we may otherwise.
In the last three years you’ve done TV, film and stage musicals. What’s the difference in approaching these different projects?
The difference isn’t usually in the actual acting itself. For me, it’s in the environ­ment. Obviously, when you’re in a 1200-­seater you’re acting differently from when you’re in front of a camera. But not as differently as I used to think. Last year I saw Michael Gambon in Moliere’s Volpone. For starters, it was a farce, but he – and this in a big theatre, and I was closer to the back than the front – wasn’t doing much, but it all communicated.
Often the lead needs to be more con­tained, because he or she is on stage so much, but the contrast of “bigger” char­acter work by the other players is just as critical to the overall effect. That is definitely something to be consid­ered: the function of the lead is often to draw you into their world by being very minimal in emotional range compared to the, shall we say, “character actors” – but I still think that emotions can be “big” and draw you in without the performances be­ing big and putting you off. The more I do it, the less of a difference I think there is between theatre and screen acting. It’s all just about truth.
With Ladies Night, Blue Sky Boys and Phantom Of The Opera, you’ve been involved in some of the most successful stage shows in recent years. How do you see theatre’s role?
I believe that it’s good for a society to have theatre. The really successful shows in this country are the ones written about our­selves. I went to the latest Roger Hall play and I loved it. I just thought, “Oh my God, it’s a bunch of Kiwis.” There was something just so nice and affirming about hav­ing that on stage.
It made me think: this is what’s great about theatre, it is satisfying and affirming to see a genuine reflection of your own life on a stage. It helps you sort out your own life, because a play is a work of art, and it takes certain things from the chaos of everyday life, and gives them an order that helps you bring that order to your own life.
If you go to Sydney or Melbourne, or any of these centres, it’s not questioned, it’s taken for granted that it’s good to have a good theatre and a strong theatre, the way it’s good to have a good library.
Do you ever feel guilty that you’ve achieved such fame when other actors who might have been working longer and harder are less-known?
Well, it’s not the civil service. It does hap­pen in the theatre that someone might get the part because of their pulling power when someone else was better for that part. But all of us know that, and we all know why it’s like that – it’s got to do with whoever might help the box office at any given time.
What I found when I was doing Shortland Street early on was that some of the people who hadn’t done much beforehand, for whom this was the first thing, would say, “Oh, I’m going to leave it, I’m sick of it”, and I would think, “You are really lucky to have this job, being unemployed is a real drag.” I had acting ups and downs before Shortland Street, and that does give you a better perspective on things. It was a good place to be – it wasn’t perfect, but nothing is, and compared to the alternatives out there it was pretty damn good.
Tell me about this “fame” thing.
The trap is to regard it as a normal human interaction. Once you get over that you’re fine. If you say to yourself, “I am a person, and people have rights”, like they can expect not to have people be rude to them – if you carry that around with you, you’re going to get really pissed off really quickly. Because it’s not like that.
Now for the critical question of our time: do you get better service in cafes? Sometimes, and sometimes you get worse service, because people are making a point that they’re unimpressed. It’s a thrill at first, and it’s amazing that the thrill fades. When you start off you just think how neat it will be to go somewhere and people will know who you are, and say hello when you don’t even know them! You can’t wait for that to happen. And then it happens, and you think, “I’ll never get sick of this, this is fantastic.” And it’s amazing, but you do, and it doesn’t take very long.
Then you go through this phase of really resenting it, thinking, “Look, I’m just here to do something that doesn’t involve you.” And you either stay resenting it or you accept it. I remember someone once saying that the character that got the most fan mail ever on American television was a dog. That’s what it’s about. I mean, it’s great that people get excited enough to write fan mail and go “Hi” on the street but you just can’t give it too much value – the same as if they hang their head out a window and go: “You wanker!”
Some people are much more believable as health professionals than others on Shortland Street.
Credibility. I learnt a lot off Tem Morrison. When I started off I thought, “I am going to make this so dramatic, everything is going to be so dramatic.” I had this completely inappropriate intensity. But Tem would come along and just float through the scene and he was just so much more watchable than me when it started. I’m sure people thought, “Oh thank God it’s him, because he’s just relaxed and doing it – and who’s that blond idiot dancing around.” You learn fast.
Having solid work for four years seems unusual in a profession that is quite stressful, with loads of unemployment and uncertainty.
You go down two roads in this business: the road where you get anxious about not hav­ing work, and bitter about it when you don’t get work and other people are getting it. Or, you try to develop a kind of a faith and a confidence: a faith that you will actually be okay, you will get something.
What I’m trying to do is develop that kind of inner strength – which you need to do to stop yourself from turning into a bitter old man before your time, which is what
happens to some actors. I may not get there. I may just find it too difficult and have to just throw it in.
But the more I stick at it, the more I feel that I have a place in this industry as an actor. And because I have a place I’ll always find something.
You don’t feel any need to diversify?
I have bouts where I start to write things, but mainly I’m just focusing on my acting. Do you find your focus can get disrupted with that sort of activity?
Once I start saying to myself, “I’m not just an actor. I’m a writer and director, I’m a this, I’m a that”, I could spend my whole day running around chasing my tail.
If I just say to myself, “I’m an actor”, it gives me more energy to focus just on that. It’s also quite nice, because you don’t have so many excuses, you don’t have the escape clause of going, “Oh, I didn’t put much effort into that, but it doesn’t matter because I can always do this writing.”
Auditions are a good example. You really have to work at them – and it takes a lot of effort sometimes to really get the words down to a stage where you’re flying with them. It takes a bit a discipline, because you’re not getting paid for it. And you do so many auditions that go nowhere.
But if you say to yourself, “I’m an actor, this is what I do”, that in a way is an encouragement to yourself to really put in a lot of effort. Then, of course, you do a better audition and you’re much more likely to get the part.
Do you find it a solitary profession?
Ultimately it is. There’s usually an ex­change of ideas, but most of your decision­making takes place within the confines of your own head. On Shortland Street I learned very quickly that the real work is done at home when you go over the lines. That’s the time to try out different ideas and see what works and what doesn’t.
And on The Climb, it was more or less the same. You come along with a finished performance that the director can fine-tune if they want to. Even auditions are like that: what they really want is for you to front up with a finished performance.
Unfortunately, when you come out of Drama School that’s not what you think. You think what you’re looking for is potential: “I can dye my hair, I can get that accent – if you just give me another week.”

Facebook, Silvio Berlusconi and me

I like two things about Facebook, which I have recently started using, just out of curiosity:

1. Contact. Having read that “young” (i.e. under 40) people don’t do email any more, I “friended” a few of my actual “young”  friends and send and receive messages that way. It works!

2. Prurience. Karima El Mahroug (see previous post) is now 18 and legal as a prostitute if indeed she is one, though that may not save Mr Berlusconi because she wasn’t 18 and legal when they “friended”: Italian law can be murky but it is very clear on this. Ms El Mahroug mostly goes by the name Ruby Rubacuori (in English, “Ruby Heartstealer”) and she is on Facebook, where I learn that she is now friends with Fistagency Milano. I have no idea who or what that is, and I am certainly not going to look but – call me old-fashioned – I do not like the sound of it.

The Berlusconi story is of marginal interest in New Zealand (the Herald’s latest report is here) but anyone who has been to Italy for longer than five minutes loves it and would wish to see it better governed. A good source for in-depth reporting and long-view analysis on this is the Economist, which has been detailing Berlusconi’s personal and business corruption for years.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Silvio Berlusconi and me

The Internet’s a funny old place, isn’t it. In 2008 I start a blog to archive online some material from a 1990s books magazine called Quote Unquote because if something isn’t on the Internet and hence Googleable it doesn’t exist. Intermittent posts of jokes, stupidity and other forms of light entertainment keep the thing alive between the serious author interviews etc. Guess which posts get the most hits?

Until recently it was a tie between a happy birthday for Ike Turner (if he had been still alive), the Venn diagram aboutTwitter and the one about cows.

Saturday was OMG the most spectacular day ever – I got six times the normal number of visitors. Hardly Kiwiblog, but quadruple figures all the same. But. . . people weren’t coming to read Mark Amery on Maurice Gee; Tim Wilson on Shonagh Koea or Sam Hunt; Iain Sharp on Bill Manhire or James K Baxter, Barbara Else on Annie Proulx; not Kevin Ireland’s reminiscences of Frank Sargeson; not Nigel Cox on CK Stead; not even me getting all snarky about The CelestineProphecy or Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. 

What were these people looking for? What was the key driver, going forward? Was it my wit? My political acuity? My literary insight? Was it even anything to do with me?

No. The spike in stats, as we bloggers call a sudden increase in viewing figures, is caused by the toad Silvio Berlusconi. He is in the news again because of his mucky private life and as a result people (i.e. heterosexual men) all over the world are looking for photos of his young friends Nicole Minetti and Karima El Mahroug. A photo of each can be found on this blog here. If you do a Google search for either of them, Quote Unquote appears in the top row. I have no idea why. Can anyone explain? 

For no good reason here is Nicole Minetti (left) in one of Mr Berlusconi’s TV shows, Scorie, a version of Candid Camera: I remember the original black-and-white show from the 1960s and am pretty sure it did not include half-naked women. My Italian isn’t good enough to translate the article or comments accurately, but if you click through I think you’ll get the gist. 

When I was in Rome about 20 years ago I was amazed at Italian television which all seemed to be like this: basically, variations on the theme of stripping housewives. I did wonder what the guys in the Vatican watched. And what happened to the Romans – how did they get from, say, Catullus to this? 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Paragraph of the day

Competitive gardener Danyl at the Dim-Post returns to blogging, as we all knew he would:
Spend the evening at a thermal resort. Expensive, but worth the novelty of soaking in a hot pool without thousands of children running about trying to kill each other, as this place restricts entry to those over 14. The pool extends into a  cave-like grotto providing shelter from the sun. We go inside. It’s peaceful in the dark. The warm water feels good on my raw thighs and I mention this to my wife, only to turn and find she’s swum off and I’m speaking to a young man with blonde hair and an alarmed look on his face. He also swims away leaving me alone in the grotto.
 Parental advisory: the whole post is totally worth a read (and explains the chafing reference which is not what you think it means – shame on you) but may contain product placement. But the product placement is Bay of Plenty-related, as I am, so that is fine by me. 

I wonder if Danyl has been reading one of my other all-time favourite bloggers, Jonny B at Private Secret Diary. Spooky if he hasn’t. (This is meant as high praise.) 

Speaking of favourite bloggers, today the Sunday Star-Times dubbed Ally Mullord at Today is My Birthday as New Zealand’s hottest blogger. Quite right too. The three runners up were Ben Gracewood,  Hussein Moses and, ahem, me. At my age, being considered in a hotness contest is nice.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The enigmatic Steve Braunias

NBR is quite rightly behind a paywall but I hope that Mr Colman won’t mind me quoting this brief report:
The popular Sunday Star-Times column by the enigmatic Steve Braunias has been axed from the pages of its Sunday magazine supplement and the departing columnist hasn’t held back from hacking into his former boss.
Sunday Star-Times editor David Kemeys said Mr Braunias’ last column would run on February 5 and seemed nonplussed at the high-profile departure.
“Columnists come and columnists go,” he said. Mr Kemeys was unwilling to elaborate on the reasons for Mr Braunias’ sudden exit. “That’s private between us and Steve,” he said.
”No it’s not,” said Mr Braunias.
He said Kemeys had been wanting to rid the column for some time, and that a mutually abusive email correspondence between Mr Braunias and a reader precipitated the departure.
Mr Braunias said of Mr Kemeys: “Editors come and editors go. I expect the paper will soon enough despatch the mediocre hack back to where he came from, which I understand is nowhere.”
The loss of a column is unlikely to leave the mercurial Mr Braunias with nothing to do.
In addition to regular features in North & South and Metro, he is a panellist on TV books show The Good Word, editor in residence at Wintec in Hamilton [no, that was 2010 and doesn’t roll over to 2011 – SS], and last year received a $35,000 grant from Copyright Licensing to publish New Zealand: The Biography.
Steve’s a good guy: he’s from the Mount and I’m from Tauranga so we semi-share our turangawaewae. But from what I understand, he called the reader in question the C-word. Possibly justified, possibly not. But the first rule of journalism in my book is that you don’t insult the reader. Even if they write in green ink.

On the positive side, now that Steve is no longer writing the column, perhaps he will turn his energies and attention to completing the novel for which in 2009 he received $20,000 from the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship and five months of solo residence in the Sargeson flat in Albert Park. I lived there briefly – it’s a nice flat and very conducive to writing. I hope to see Steve on Monday in Auckland so, as I always do when I see him, I will cheerily ask how the novel is going.

Footnote: The Auckland occasion is former Quote Unquote contributor Tim Wilson in conversation with Noelle McCarthy about his novel Their Faces Were Shining, which is really, really good. Everyone is invited as long as you let Lily know you are coming.

Page 8 of today’s Herald on Sunday has the full email exchange between columnist and reader, for those interested. Main story here, emails only in the paper paper.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The best UK statistics of 2010

Returning from a blissful week in Tutukaka, we found the end-of-year issue of The Week in our letterbox. Among its round-up of the year is a “Statistics of the Year” section. Here are three samples:

1. The Guardian on the benefits of higher education:
One in three call-centre workers in the UK has a university degree.
2. The Financial Times echoes Charles de Gaulle’s oft-quoted quote about the impossibility of governing France:
There are 700 varieties of cheese made in Britain – 100 more than in France.
3. The Guardian on jumping the shark:
About ten people a year are killed by sharks, and about 73 million sharks are killed by humans.
I’d call 7.3 million to one a pretty good ratio in our favour.

4. The Times Education Supplement on literacy and numeracy:
22% of English 16 to 19-year-olds are functionally innumerate, and 17% are illiterate.
So their employment prospects in journalism are excellent.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year

Going up north for a while so no blogging for a week. In the meantime here are some links that I never got around to posting in the run-up to Christmas. Hey, sometimes leftovers are just what you feel like, especially this time of year. In no particular order:

The top 14 astronomy photos of 2010.

The hazards of Wikileaks: I sent this to David Farrar at Kiwiblog because he does politics and I don’t and he has a few more readers. Just look at the discussion that resulted – 102 comments last time I looked.

Bryan Caplan on hypersensitivity, via Eric Crampton

A free download from Buddhist Rain, the excellent new CD by Norman Meehan and Bill Manhire (more on this in a week or so).

Savvy Phil Parker checks out the new sauvignons.

Kevin Rudd on Twitter. OMG, frankly. Here is a sample:
Visited the Qalandia Girls School in the Palestinian territories. Told the students that ‘girls can do anything’ KRudd 7:14 AM Dec 14th
Just spoke on peace process at the King David Hotel. Big obstacles. Big possibilities. KRudd 3:15 PM Dec 13th
Spent today talking with Israeli leaders on the stalled Middle East peace process. KRudd 3:13 PM Dec 13th
Haven’t the Palestinians and Israelis suffered enough?

The Independent on Sunday’s “index of the year's insufferably self-satisfied”. The top four in order are 1. Bonused-up, blackmailing bankers: Parasites; 2. Julian Assange: Leaker and condom-phobe; 3. Ricky Gervais: Comedian; and 4. Jeremy Clarkson: Loud-mouth. I got this via Facebook from Toby Young who was ranked 26th (“Narcissist”). He says, “ Bit insulting. I was aiming for a top 10 finish.”

And finally here is Blerta with “Dance All Around the World” for all expat New Zealanders who may enjoy the song and the accompanying images of summer all around New Zealand.