Friday, March 30, 2012

My neighbours are better than yours

Craig from over the fence came bearing gifts just now. One item was a load of snapper he caught yesterday. The other was a large piece of smoked trevally: he was a bit apologetic about it as he smoked it last night using a new technique – he’d added a little maple syrup and brandy to the usual brine and wasn’t sure we would like it.

I said we would.

So here are the Rolling Stones, live in Paris in 2003, with Keef delivering the full Chuck Berry:


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Is the Pope a Catholic?

Not necessarily. The Copts have a pope too. Pope Shenouda III died last week aged 88. Before he was buried he was seated on his throne in gown and crown. They do things differently in Egypt:
Tradition dictates that a blindfolded child will decide the next pope for Egypt’s 12 million Coptic Christians.
The voters in Hutt South may like to consider this as an alternative to their usual candidate selection process.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Gauche caviar

My French is truly execrable but I like to add to my small stock of phrases when I can. From a piece by Mick Hartley quoting Richard Wolin on revolutionary tourism I learn that the French for “champagne socialist” is “gauche caviar”. (In fact the French is the original and the English is a derivation, as is the American “limousine liberal”. Pleasingly, there is a bar in East Beirut called Gauche Caviar.) Among the revolutionary tourists cited are – quelle surprise – Roland Barthes and Julia Kristeva visiting Mao’s China. Sample:
Barthes observed that, since communism had cured “alienation,” psychoanalysis had been rendered superfluous in China... In Les Chinoises (Chinese Women), Kristeva went so far as to justify the traditional Chinese practice of foot-binding as merely a harmless, female variant of male circumcision. In any event, remarked Kristeva, Chinese habitudes and mores could not be judged by Western standards, since the latter were pervaded by petty bourgeois biases and prejudices.    
I wonder what the French for “useful idiots” is. Hartley says of Kristeva:
It’s a reminder that making excuses for the most extreme manifestations of misogyny, as long as they’re practiced by non-Western societies, is a form of blindness that has a long and discreditable history among sections of the feminist left.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Happy birthday, Sarah Vaughan

Born 27 March 1924, died 3 April 1990, Sarah Vaughan was imho the best jazz singer ever, with an immaculate technique – pitch, phrasing, timbre – allied to an extraordinary interpretive imagination. I sat about 10 feet behind her on-stage in the Michael Fowler Centre when she performed with piano, bass and drums at the Wellington Festival in 1989 – the same festival where Pierre Boulez, who turned 87 yesterday, conducted his Ensemble InterContemporain in Birtwistle, Boulez and someone else, probably Messiaen.

Vaughan was fantastic. Of course she was, but what I really appreciated was how often she turned around to us in the cheap seats and made sure that we were included. I could just about touch her pianist. A year later she was dead.

Here is the young Sarah Vaughan singing “Over the Rainbow” which is not her core repertoire but it shows her warmth, technique and gorgeous tone: 

And here she is a few years later with “I Got Rhythm”. Who could ask for anything more?:

Country matters

You know you live in the country when big green rubbish bins at the posh private boarding school have large labels saying:
No hay or manure

Monday, March 26, 2012

I have never stolen a live peacock!

Sam Leith reviews Strindberg: a life (Yale), Sue Prideaux’s biography of the 19th-century playwright August Strindberg. All I knew about him was that he was a Swede who wrote a play called Miss Julie. I figured him for a gloomy sort, Ibsen without the jokes with added misogyny. But no:  
Strindberg was attacked by feminist contemporaries not because he wanted to keep women down, but because his ideas for female emancipation went far beyond what they found comfortable. And in addition to Miss Julie he wrote 60 plays, three books of poetry, 18 novels, nine autobiographies, 10,000 extant letters, tons of journalism ... and the contents of a green flannel sack he hauled around after him, described thus by his second wife:
   “About one yard in length, with gentle billowing valleys and summits and fastened by a cord. It contained all his manuscripts. It contained his theory that plants have nerves. It contained his theory that elements can be split. It contained theories that refute Newton and God himself.
So, more interesting than one had supposed. Leith summarises the life thus:
Born in 1849, he had a horrible childhood, and was bullied by both his parents. He rejected his father’s snobbery and his mother’s pietism. He was, for the most part, kind. Even when he was flat broke, he bought handfuls of cherries twice a day to feed a bear in the zoo that he had become fond of. The bear was called Martin. When Strindberg behaved badly — as he did towards his first wife, Siri and their children — guilt weighed on him. Having once been falsely accused of stealing a peacock, 18 years later he startled a bookseller by exclaiming at random: ‘I have never stolen a live peacock!’
Nothing was ever simple for him. He fell in with crooks, swindlers and Satanists. When he was accused of impregnating an underage girl, he denounced his blackmailer to a policeman — who himself turned out to be being blackmailed by the same man. Strindberg was repeatedly sued for blasphemy. {. . .]
 He lived, gregariously, in Stockholm, Paris and Berlin — everywhere he went cultivating a more or less drunken salon of some sort. His love life was a non-stop disaster, and his finances were always precarious — a clue to the reason for which can be discerned in a triumphant letter he wrote to his wife: ‘I’ve succeeded in borrowing some money, so we are debt-free!’
Leith ends by saying:
you can see in the prose how much fun the author is having with Strindberg. Anyone reading her marvellous book will have that much fun too.
I so want to read this.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What I’m reading

Terence Blacker seems a good egg – writes books for adults and children, active member of PEN, helped publish Jerzy Kosinski, writes and sings amusing songs such as “Sad Old Bastards with Guitars”, and has a lively blog. A recent post suggests that the truth about creative writing is that, as William Goldman said of Hollywood, nobody knows anything: Blacker goes on to offer a wonderfully contradictory selection of quotes from writers on writing. 

Paul Litterick reads the Auckland University student newspaper Craccum so you don’t have to. It’s not like it used to be, and the new editor plagiarises Chairman Mao, possibly a first for Craccum and New Zealand journalism in general. Sample (from the editor, not Paul or Mao: sorry, can’t find it online but Paul swears the spelling, punctuation and grammar are as in the original):
If  you ever try and do something serious and yet slightly outside of the perimeters of normality’s boundaries, if you ever try and address an issue that is of vital and immediate importance yet feel as if a petition or operating within the usual beurocratic process won’t quite be sufficient, you can be sure when mainstream media come to ‘report’ on your activities they will be quick to interview the man in the dress.
Parnell/Remuera has the NZ Herald’s Shelley Bridgeman (full background via Cactus Kate here) who recently revealed that she was having trouble reading text on an iPhone so thought she needed to get her eyes tested:
Having always enjoyed excellent eyesight, I wasn’t sure where to begin. I made an appointment at my GP. . .
Taranaki/Waikato has Fairfax’s Rachel Stewart, who as a provincial lesbian feminist is perhaps the Platonic ideal of an anti-Shelley Bridgeman. Her latest column in the Taranaki Daily News, Waikato Times and who knows where else complains that the wrong sort of lesbian i.e. Alison Mau is popular with the public, and ordinary women are stupid. That’s not actually what she says, but is what she means. Sample:
Hey sister. If you see me sporting a curled lip and vague sneer while squinting at you in the supermarket checkout line, know this. I am actively judging you.
It won’t just be your heaving trolley stuffed full of processed, sugary, tooth-decaying death that I am condemning you for. It will also be because you boldly and proudly placed its close partner in crime on the top of your junk pile. Just what is the perfect condiment to your toxic take-home fodder? The women’s mag, of course. [. . .]
It’s a really strange world, don’t you think, when people know more about Angelina Jolie’s right leg than the plight of the 200-plus species going extinct every day?
Or why hairdressers can’t even begin to conceptualise the fact that some of their female customers might actually prefer to read a National Geographic or a New Yorker while their hair is being coloured?
Maybe I’m missing something. Does my intellectual snobbery just need a good dose of lightening up and chilling out?
Rachel, Rachel. Don’t tempt us.
Sorry, sister, but I guess I’m just an uptight, all-knowing harridan. Might I be so bold as to suggest your mindless escapism doesn’t bring you joy. You want fluff? Go and stroke a real live whio rather than just foolishly handing over the $10 note to buy this rubbish. Get outside and see some non-human wonders before they’re gone.
Above all, stop buying something that makes you feel worse about yourself every time you pick it up. Follow my sage advice for free. Three words. Just for you. Here they are.
Get a life.
Superb. How long before Rachel Stewart gets a column in the Sunday Star-Times?

Steve Jobs on why the Kindle will fail

Randall Stross in the New York Times of 27 January 2008 quoted Mr Jobs as saying that Amazon’s Kindle book reader would never fly:
“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is; the fact is that people don’t read any more,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year.”
Philip Stone in The Bookseller of 2 November 2011 reported that:
Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs sold 379,000 copies in the US in its first week on bookshop shelves, BookScan US data has revealed. [. . .]
Despite being on sale for just six days in the US, Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography is already the 18th bestselling book of the year. [. . .]
Earlier today (2nd November), The Bookseller revealed that the UK edition of the book became one of the fastest-selling non-fiction books since records began thanks to a sale of 37,244 copies in its first week on release.
Monitor: Private Eye

Friday, March 23, 2012

Carry that weight

Paul Litterick says that Nick Lowe will be on Kim Hill tomorrow.

So here is Nick Lowe with Wilco and  Mavis Staples rehearsing the Band’s classic song “The Weight” backstage at the Civic Opera House in Chicago in December 2011. Jeff Tweedy claims in the March issue of Word magazine that this was their first run-through: 

The rogue apostrophe strike’s again

Holiday’s in Victorian England: images of the past has had it’s cover image photoshopped on Amazon to remove the errant apostrophe but as you can see the book itself definitely feature’s it.

According to Amazon the author, Gordon Thorburn, is a former advertising copywriter but the rest of his bio is possibly a pack of lie’s. Its so hard to know whom to trust these days, isnt it.  

Monitor: Francis Wheen via F/B

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What I’m reading

Mick Hartley on “honour” killings in England. It’s always the women who are killed to save the family’s honour, never the men. And it’s women’s behaviour that needs to be controlled, not men’s. Why would that be? Sample:
The suicide rate amongst south Asian women in Britain is three times the national average, as women who see no other way out of an abusive marriage take what they see as the only way out and kill themselves.
Michael Wolff in the Guardian tries to defend Mike Daisey, the actor whose show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs about Apple in China has been shown to be economical with the truth:
Most journalists are terrible writers. Their copy is either overhauled by diligent editors, which produces something formulaic and generic, or not, and then it is often a sludge of convolutions and clichés, a graveyard of prose. This is the product that is so intensely, with almost religious fervor, defended by, well, journalists themselves. [. . . .]
Journalism today speaks to no one as passionately as it speaks to other journalists. Fewer and fewer people believe it, feel informed or entertained by it, or find themselves compelled to seek it out. The journalism priests would say that one reason for our ever-shrinking following is because sinners in the profession have undermined our credibility.
I would say it is because journalism – calling it so is a recent and self-serving bit of professional elevation – is not our real job; writing is. And it is not Mike Daisey's factual lapses that we should be so focused on, but, rather, how he writes so well.
“He writes so well”. That’s all right, then. Never mind the truth value.

Speaking of which, this must be true because it was on PopBitch:
John Pilger took friends to his home  in Italy. They were sitting on the patio drinking wine. “That’s my vineyard at the end of this garden,” points out Pilger.  “The wine you are drinking comes from there.”
“Hmmm,” said one of his friends taking a sip. “Doesn’t travel well, does it?”
Finally, Rod Liddle in the Spectator:
[. . .] a 19-year-old British man was arrested in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, for having posted something on his Facebook [page] which apparently constituted, in the eyes of the police, a ‘racially aggravated public order offence’. A spokesman for West Yorkshire Police said that Azhar Ahmed had written something about the press coverage afforded to the deaths of British soldiers in Afghanistan compared to the, in his view, scanty coverage accorded to the murder of Afghan civilians by a deranged US soldier. And the unnamed copper concluded: ‘He didn’t make his point very well and that is why he has landed himself in bother.’
Now, this is obviously a problem for journalists. I didn’t know the police had the powers to arrest people who don’t make their points very well. If so, that’s the Guardian closed down overnight.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

More Lee Hazlewood

As a footnote to yesterday’s brief mention of Lee Hazlewood, Richard Hawley interviewed him not long before he died and asked, among other things, about producing Duane Eddy. Hazlewood replied:
It worked out good, you know, about 25 or 26 million records later. I guess it worked out all right.
After Hazlewood went to the Great Studio in the Sky, Hawley paid tribute in the Guardian. Sample:
I asked him about how he got that great reverb sound on his early records and he said they used to rent a grain store from a farmer that they knew. The funny side of it was they used to hire someone with a pellet gun to shoot the birds off it so they didn’t make any noise.
I remember asking him about his favourite cover of one of his songs because there’s so many. He just goes: ‘Well, they’re all shit. [Pause] In fact, the originals weren’t much better.’
He went on: ‘Actually, there is one that was great. My son called me from Las Vegas once and said: “Pops you’ve got to get yourself down here. There’s a girl in a club doing a cover of ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’”. I said, why the fuck do I have to get on a flight from Phoenix to Las Vegas to see someone do a crappy version of one of Nancy’s tunes that I wrote? And he said, “Yeah, but dad, you’ve never seen it done with a girl playing piano with her breasts.”’
If you don’t know Hawley’s music, I thoroughly recommend investigating it. NZ crime writer Ben Sanders is a fan too, judging by the reference in his 2011 novel By Any Means. Here is Hawley with the title track of his 2005 album Coles Corner:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Project Frozen Dumbo

An unusual problem. The Economist reports that:
the gene pool among captive African elephants has grown woefully small. A single bull named Jackson has sired many of the calves born in the United States in the past decade, and scientists say new bloodlines are needed to avoid future inbreeding among his many progeny.
So the Pittsburgh Zoo, which keeps Jackson at a conservation centre a little way outside the city, has joined an international effort to establish North America’s first elephant sperm bank. The plan is to distribute from it semen collected from wild elephants in South Africa and frozen. Project Frozen Dumbo, started two years ago and led by a German researcher, has already set up an elephant sperm bank in France in the hope of resolving a similar predicament in Europe. [. . .]
Just 39 of the 213 African elephants believed to live in North America’s zoos, circuses and a few private parks are bulls, and even fewer of them are suitable for breeding. Jackson stands out for his “fantastic libido” and highly productive semen, says Deborah Olson, who heads International Elephant Foundation, a conservation group. But this means that too many of the existing elephant stock are now related to him.
So here are Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra singing “Jackson” from their classic album Nancy & Lee, recorded in 1968 when she was hotter than a pepper sprout:

And here are Jenny Morris and INXS in 1985 with the same song. If you watch closely you will understand why I always say that the worst job I have ever had is playing guitar on-stage behind Jenny. It was very difficult to concentrate on the fretboard:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

What I’m reading

Nigel Williams on what it was like to work with William Golding on the stage version of Lord of the Flies. Sample:
He went backstage afterwards and said to the boys, “Did you like being little savages?” “Ye-e-eahhh!!” they shouted. “Ah,” he said, “but you wouldn’t like to be savages all the time – would you now?” They looked, suddenly, like the boys in the story do when the adult comes to rescue them at the end – cowed and, indeed, awed by what the world might hold in store.
 Mike Daisey on his hit theatre show/podcast The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs about Apple in China:
I'm not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard.
Hey, it’s worked well all these years for Winston Peters.

Via IIML, Cheryl Bernstein tweets a quote from Alan Mulgan’s Home: a New Zealander’s adventure, published in 1934. Even though he was born in Katikati, close to my hometown Tauranga,  I’d always thought Mulgan a very dull fellow – all that banging on about England being Home meant nothing to my generation – but no, he was just like the rest of us:
I used to wander about Chelsea and look for green and white doors and fantastic knockers.
David Rieff on Kony 2012 argues that “the road to hell is paved with viral videos”; Charlie Beckett of the LSE has more. Charlie Brooker has a go too on Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live, with a devastating selection of clips from previous Invisible Children campaigns and funny commentary. Sample:
“What the fuck?” doesn’t begin to cover that. So, in summary, Invisible Children are expert propagandists, with what seems to be a covert religious agenda, advocating military actions…
There is much more.

This is the only thing that makes me want to go to the Olympics if I win Powerball next Saturday: the first complete performance of Stockhausen’s opera Mittwoch aus Licht (Wednesday from Light) which includes the Helicopter Quartet mentioned here before (with a YouTube clip). That’s right, the members of a string quartet perform separately in four helicopters a-hovering.

Finally, StatsChat reckons that this Herald story about World Sleep Day is a bit of a snore.

So here are Cream in 2005 with “Sleepy Time”, 39 years after they recorded it for  their debut album Fresh Cream in 1966. The guitarist may look familiar because he is Eric Clapton; the drummer is Ginger Baker, the bassist and singer is Jack Bruce, who wrote the song. Bass and drums famously hate each other, but then it was like that in almost every band I’ve been in.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Optimising Sally Ridge

Paul Litterick at the Fundy Post has a bit to say about celebs who get free entry to exhibitions at the Auckland City Art Gallery they clearly could not care less about but may possibly tweet about. Sample:
Yes, but what is Sally Ridge for? I only ask because she seems so present and yet so absent. There she goes, there she goes again: you can always find her in the camera at parties, grinning and putting her head close to that of one or several of her BFFs. But what does she do in daylight? [. . .]
She is a conduit.  She will channel the wishes of [ACAG director Chris] Saines to her audience, her teeming mass of 1309 Twitter followers. Obviously tiring of the sort of people who go to his gallery all the time – art lovers – Director Saines has struck out forcefully moving forward to optimise Ms Ridge and thus outreach her fans.
I hope to see the show From Degas to Dali on Wednesday, unless I have to queue. I am not English; I do not queue. Not even for Matisse, Picasso, Bonnard and Rouault. On the other hand: there is Bacon. Also Freud, Wyndham Lewis and Spencer. Don’t get to see them too often. Tough call.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Economist letter of the month

From the 10 March issue:
Social indicators
SIR – Your leader regarding Argentina’s dodgy inflation figures asked us to imagine a world without statistics (“Don’t lie to me, Argentina”, February 25th). In such an imaginary world, “governments would fumble in the dark, investors would waste money and electorates would struggle to hold their political leaders to account”. Please tell me: how exactly would that be different from the real world?
Scarsdale, New York

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What I’m reading

The New Zealand literary magazine Sport is 40. Not in years, but in issues. The 40th one is out now and is a cracker. Thoroughly recommended as a sampler: in its 452 pages it features 23 contemporary German writers, to mark New Zealand’s role as guest of honour at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, and fiction, poems and essays by 52 New Zealand writers. There are established names such as Bill Manhire, Elizabeth Knox, Damien Wilkins, Kate Camp and Andrew Johnston (yay); up-and-comers such as Pip Adam, Tima Makeriti, Helen Heath and Anna Taylor (yay). Good to see Virginia Were and Elizabeth Nannestad again; and there is an essay on Nigel Cox by André Gifkins. Last time I saw André he was in a stroller. Sport 40 is $40 in print but here you can get the ebook version for $15. Why wouldn’t you?

Advice for budding financial writers from one who knows. Sample:
How to write an investment newsletter: Emphasize everything that can go wrong.  Relate to your audience – elderly men who are being passed by in this world and need the reassurance that the world is going down the tubes, rather than evolving without them.  Gold mustn’t necessarily be the subject of each letter but it should at least be alluded to or serve as the unwritten subtext.
Home Paddock, who is a farmer, has a view on Labour’s proposed law on farm ownership which would require Johnny Foreigner to show that his purchase “would result in the creation of a substantial number of additional jobs in New Zealand or a substantial increase in exports from new technology or products associated with the purchase”. Sample:
Why don’t they just ban sales to foreigners outright?
It would be almost impossible to create a substantial number – whatever that might be – of additional jobs here from the purchase of a farm; new technology doesn’t necessarily increase exports – though it might make processing them more efficient and reduce jobs in the process.
It’s a funny thing but the people I know who are opposed to foreigners buying New Zealand farms live in places like Grey Lynn and Herne Bay and wouldn’t know a Friesian from a Romney. People who live and work on farms are more relaxed about it – the Crafars were not a great advertisement for the benefits of local ownership. One city friend urges me to support the Save Our Farms campaign, but people who live and work on farms tend to regard their farms as their farms, not “ours”. It’s that private property concept.

Architecture writer Elizabeth Farrelly, one of our exports to Oz, begins her latest column in the Sydney Morning Herald:
Last Thursday, the conjunction of Australian Women's History Month and International Women’s Day, was also the day of Sydney's Great Deluge. Nature wept. She stormed and stamped her feet. Yea, and mightily she flooded. What was she trying to tell us?
Tim Blair suggests:
“Go inside”, probably.
Elizabeth’s column goes on to talk about Australian women architects and how they are all, frankly, rubbish. How unsisterly. Professor Rosseforp comments:
Women architects may not have achieved much, but perhaps they have scaled greater heights than women architecture writers.

So here is a song about architecture from Neil Hannon who trades as the Divine Comedy. It’s about the enthusiasts who spend their weekends visiting Georgian houses. These be the verses:
Slip on your Barbour jacket, jump in my old MG
We’re off to the depths of Somerset to see what we can see 
We don’t wanna drink the cider, we don’t wanna walk for miles
We just want to go to a stately home built in the Georgian style
[. . .] Crunch up the gravel driveway, gasp at the grand facade
Just for today we’re lords and ladies, oh what a gay charade!
Lavinia loves the lintels, Anna the architraves
Ben’s impressed by the buttresses thrust up the chapel nave
[. . .] We’ll walk the grounds by Capability Brown
Get lost for days inside the manicured maze
We'll bump our heads jumping on a four-post bed
And we’ll ride for free
On the ladders round the walls of the circular library

One doesn’t often hear a  reference to architraves or Capability Brown in a pop song. The song is “Assume the Perpendicular” from the 2010 album Bang Goes the Knighthood and it goes like this:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Carp diem

Do you want “smooth and attractive feet”? I live in the country so do not keep up with beauty treatments but apparently fish pedicures are all the rage overseas now. More popular than fish, even. Harry Wallop reports that some English towns – Newbury, Windermere, Kidderminster, Aylesbury, Brentwood and Wakefield – have a fish pedicure salon but no fishmonger:
There are 268 fish pedicure salons, according to an analysis of business directories by the Daily Telegraph. Though this is fewer than the 992 fishmongers, as calculated by the Grocer magazine, it represents an explosive level of growth, considering the first salon opened in the UK just two years ago. [. . . ]
The procedure, which is meant to leave clients with smooth and attractive feet, has become very fashionable and many salons hire themselves out for hen nights.
It involves customers placing their feet and ankles in a tank full of about 200 fish, usually Garra Rufa, a type of tiny carp, which nibble away at dead skin.
Earlier this year the Health Protection Agency said it was concerned the procedure could spread diseases from person to person through open wounds, though it said it was unaware of any cases of infection.
So what does Nursing Times say?
Although the Sun has been carping on about warnings and alerts, the newspaper seems to have overestimated the scale of the risk, which health experts have described as being “extremely low”. [. . .].
While the report did acknowledge that the risk of infections could not be completely ruled out, it is important to view this in context and not be reeled in by fishy headlines.
Puntastic. New Zealand’s own intrepid beauty investigator Stephanie Kimpton tried it out in Thailand – that is her foot in the photo above:
I had read about fish pedicures somewhere and when on holiday in Thailand, I saw them. 100 Thai Baht (NZ$4) for 10 minutes. Sold!
Fish therapy has been in Asia for years. The Garra Rufa fish don’t have teeth. They suck at the skin and lift away dead cells revealing nice smooth skin underneath.
Being ticklish and known to boot my pedicurist in the head on the odd occasion, I knew procrastination would be dangerous. I paid my money and got my feet into the tank.
If I knew what I knew now, I wouldn’t do it. Those toothless piranhas are hungry little suckers. They swarmed at my feet, between my toes and up my legs. The nibbling/sucking sensation was not pleasant. It didn’t hurt. It was just very strange. [. . .]
I spoke to a New Zealander on holiday whose husband gave it a go and shared the same tank as her. She said the fish had a party on his feet and completely ignored hers. Could be the fact that his presented a feast, whilst hers were a famine. So, if you’re going to try it, don’t share with someone who has neglected feet or you won’t get your money’s worth.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Modern romance, Labour style

Does this sort of thing ever happen in Bellamy’s? The Evening Standard reports that:
Labour MP Eric Joyce has been banned from every pub in Britain after he admitted head-butting two Tories in a drunken rampage at the House of Commons.
Joyce, 51, escaped jail but was handed a 12-month community order, a weekend curfew and a three-month ban from anywhere selling alcohol.
[. . . In the Strangers Bar he] head-butted Tory MP Stuart Andrew and Conservative councillor Ben Maney.
In an unprovoked attack, he also struck Tory councillor Luke MacKenzie and fellow Labour MP and party whip Phillip Wilson. He also swung a punch at Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke which missed but grazed his head.
When the police arrived he told them, “You can’t touch me I’m an MP”, and said he had hit Mr Andrew because “He deserved it”. [. . .]
The brawl started when Stuart Niven, a leading amateur opera singer, who was with Joyce, began singing in the bar around 10.30pm.
There were a number of Conservative MP and the guests at surrounding tables and Joyce appeared to think they objected, announcing: “There are too many Tories in this bar.”
Mr Andrew described Joyce as being “more drunk than anyone I have seen in my life”.
Joyce is in trouble again and is possibly even more embarrassed. The subhead on this Daily Mail story says it all:
Teen lover of headbutt MP Joyce reveals his ‘clumsy and surreal’ attempts at seduction
In short, two years ago he was bonking Meg Lauder, a 17-year-old party activist who for some reason has now gone public with the tale. Sad and bad behaviour, yes, but the story fascinates for the insight it gives us into English courtship and the decorating instincts of Labour’s young activists. First, the home décor:
Back in her bedroom at home, its walls decorated with political posters, featuring Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx, Chairman Mao and Alistair Darling…
Now for the MP’s seduction technique:
Three days later, she duly turned up at his flat during a free period from school, still wearing her school uniform. She claims Joyce told her to take off her school tie because ‘it made her look so young’. After a quick lunch of filled rolls in front of the BBC news, he suddenly started kissing her.
That seems to be all that happened as Meg had to go back to school for a religious  studies class. However, three days later she returned to his flat:
where she stayed overnight after telling her parents she was going to a party and sleeping over with a friend. She says: ‘I knew what I was doing and accepted what was going to happen. We started kissing on the couch and then he said he had “something to show me”.
‘I knew what he meant, but I felt like cringing at his attempt at humour. We went through to the bedroom: one thing led to another, and we had sex.
‘There was no romance, it was almost formal and functional – nothing like I expected and nothing to write home about. It didn’t feel like it was a new boyfriend or lover.’
Afterwards, Joyce ordered a pizza and they watched a documentary.
Isn’t that last sentence depressing. At least neither of them had a cigarette.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What I’m reading

Most of us will have seen or at least received a link to that half-hour “Get Kony” viral video from Invisible Children via email or Facebook. Kony is (possibly was – one hopes that he is past tense) a horrible, horrible man but there are big questions about the video’s accuracy, whether it is helpful and also about the money involved. Mick Hartley takes an austere view: to see why, just follow his link to the photo of the Invisible Children chaps posing with guns: wankers, frankly. Grant Oyston of Acadia University has a massively detailed post with many links about what is wrong with Invisible Children (sample: “people supporting KONY 2012 probably don’t realize they’re supporting the Ugandan military who are themselves raping and looting away”). Even the Sydney Morning Herald has weighed in. Sample quote:
Others take issue with the amount of money Invisible Children dedicates to officer salaries, filmmaking costs and travel, as opposed to on-the-ground programs to help rebuild the lives of people traumatised by decades of conflict. Some have called the video a pitch-perfect appeal to so-called slacktivism, a pejorative term for armchair activism by a younger generation, often online.
Chad Taylor on copyright in France. Good links.

Tyler Cowen, an economist, asks, “Did Oprah steal book sales with her reading club?” As always, at his blog Marginal Revolution a non-economist can learn as much from the comments as from the original post.

The UK cabinet minister and arts grandee Norman St John-Stevas has died. The English do good obituaries and the Daily Telegraph does not disappoint:
Irrepressible, witty and disarmingly immodest, Lord St John was an expert on much else besides aesthetics. In the 1990s, during the break-up of the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales, he became known for his frequent television appearances in which he would give the nation the benefit of his expertise on the attendant constitutional implications, a role in which he claimed extensive knowledge of the inner workings and private thoughts of the Royal family.
It was never entirely clear how much direct access he had, though he was certainly a great friend of Princess Margaret, whose framed likeness, prominently displayed behind him, graced many an official photograph.
He was also a great friend of Dorothy:
He liked to tell the story of how he asked to be excused from a meeting because he had a reception to go to. “But I’m going to the same function,” protested Mrs Thatcher. “Yes, but it takes me so much longer to change,” replied St John-Stevas. Yet it seemed that Mrs Thatcher did not see the need for a licensed jester — particularly one so well-known for his indiscretions with the press over lunch.
For St John-Stevas did not so much leak as gush, providing an entertaining running commentary on the foibles of his colleagues (on whom he bestowed nicknames), spiced up with fruity society tittle-tattle. “The trouble with you, Norman,” one listener complained, “is that you’re such a compulsive name dropper.” “The Queen said exactly the same to me yesterday,” came the rejoinder.
At the other end of the political spectrum, David Thompson quotes Guardian columnist Laurie Pennie’s Twitter feed:
In a café. Being chatted up by aggressive lesbian waitress. My analysis of gender, privilege and travel has not prepared me for this.
Next tweet hastens to add:
Hasten to add: not all lesbian waitresses are aggressive. This one is. She’s making lewd comments about me to her colleagues in Spanish.
Fair enough. Spanish is the loving tongue.

Peter Phillips, founder and conductor of the Tallis Scholars, writes in the Daily Telegraph on William Byrd and the power of song. Money quote:
But it wasn’t just the practicalities of performance which led to Byrd’s manner of composition, it was also his way of thinking. He described how in his favoured texts there is such a deep and hidden force that the right notes would occur to him spontaneously. The same could be said about Purcell’s and Britten’s response to texts, but whereas with them the result was solo singers standing on a stage projecting outwards, Byrd thought of small groups – vocal ensembles or voices with viol accompaniment – turning inwards. He liked to strip meaning to its essence, and then express it through the interraction of several melodic lines in a polyphonic web – a method which compares sharply with the solo, hummable, melodic lines of opera and oratorio so beloved of Purcell and Britten.
Astonishing, if you can bear to watch (not recommended), how quickly even at the Daily Telegraph comments on a blog descend into abuse. Let us avert our eyes and instead watch and listen to the Tallis Scholars sing the heavenly Kyrie from Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices:

Brahms and Liszt

Harry Hutton brings news of a stoush where one would least expect it:
It gets so quiet during the second movement of the Brahms Symphony No. 2, you could almost hear a pin drop.
Or a sneeze. Or a fist hitting a face. 
Such was the case Thursday night at Orchestra Hall in a ruckus the Chicago Symphony Orchestra officially described as “an incident” between “two patrons.” But shocked concert-goers and police called it a fist fight in one of the boxes — where the elite typically sit and expect a more refined experience. 
Just as the second movement was drawing to a gentle close — with Music Director Riccardo Muti at the podium — a man in his 30s, according to police, started punching a 67-year-old man inside one of the boxes.[. . . ] 
The concert never stopped, but Muti shot a glance over his left shoulder toward the box where the punches were thrown. One concert-goer described the look as “dagger eyes.”
I wonder what the Italian for “dagger eyes” is. Riccardo Muti was born in Naples. The fighters are lucky he wasn’t born in Palermo.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Snack attack

Stuff reports:
Auckland Mayor Len Brown was the target of a lamington attack by an angry supporter of Ports of Auckland workers.
Lamingtons, you say. This is getting serious. So here are Godley & Creme with “Snack Attack” from their album Ismism:

Chocolate cake

If Wednesday is cupcakes, then Thursday must be chocolate cake. You know it makes sense.  

Nine was bored late afternoon because her sister was at school camp, there was no one else close by to play with, homework was all done, she’d finished reading her book and so – “Let’s make a cake.” So we did. Second time for her, first time in 30 years for me. All went well until I took it out of the oven. The top had split.

In his On Food & Cooking: the science & lore of the kitchen Harold McGee is eloquent on how this happens but it was a horse/stable door issue. Too late, damage done. How to salvage it? Simple. Green glace cherries for eyes and we have a chocolate cake with a smile:

So here are Cake with their really rather good version of “I Will Survive”, live in San Francisco in 2004:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What I’m celebrating

Three items of good news from the book world:
1. Jack Lasenby has won the Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-loved Book for 2012, for Uncle Trev which was the first in a series of five collections of yarns about rural New Zealand and, frankly, how much fun it is lying to children. That’s Jack above at the launch of Uncle Trev at Unity Books in Auckland in 1991. Kevin Ireland is on the right, launching the book; Christine Cole Catley, the publisher, is on the left.

2. Paul Thomas has gone straight into #1 in the NZ bestseller list with his new novel Death on Demand (Hachette). I thoroughly recommend it – it’s a cracker. I hope he is now writing a sequel. 

3. The shortlist for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards includes several friends and Tina Matthews. If the name rings a faint bell, she was the Tina Weymouth of her day – she played bass in the Crocodiles, with Jenny Morris (vocals), Tony Backhouse  and Fane Flaws (guitar), Peter Dasent (keyboards) and Bruno Lawrence (drums). They made great records but boy, you should have seen them live.

So here are the Crocodiles one more time (any excuse will do) with “Tears”.  That’s Tony B on the left with the Strat, Fane F on the right with the Gibson Les Paul goldtop. It’s pretty clear which one is Peter D, which is Bruno L and which is Tina M.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The cat shat on the mat

To be precise, the cat shat on the carpet in the children’s room. Three major deposits, as if from a medium-sized dog.

One tries to be positive and look for the silver lining. Oh, there it is – she must be unwell.
Perhaps she’ll die. Regular readers with long memories will know how I feel about the cat. That is her above with Nine.

After I had cleaned it all up in time to make the children’s dinner, Seven announced that she needed to do some baking for school camp tomorrow. Cupcakes, she thought. Swell (not actually the word used), I thought, there goes the dinner plan and here comes chaos in the kitchen.

Here are the results (glassworks behind by Sam Ireland and, to the left, Garry Nash):

Happy birthday, Maurice Ravel

Ravel was born in Ciboure, a Basque town in south-west France, on 7 March 1875 and died in Paris on 28 December 1937. We all know Bolero but it’s worth exploring the piano concertos, in fact all the piano music, in fact all the orchestral music. The chamber music is all wonderful too. He once said:
I am not one of the great composers. All the great have produced enormously. There is everything in their work – the best and the worst, but there is always quantity. But I have written relatively very little . . . and at that, I did it with a great deal of difficulty. I did my work slowly, drop by drop. I have torn all of it out of me by pieces. . . and now I cannot do any more, and it does not give me any pleasure.
Which explains his relatively small output, but what an output. Here is Martha Argerich performing Ravel’s Jeux d’eau in 1977:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Oz politics continues to deliver

If you like stock-car racing, it’s the politics for you. The Australian reports that “Julia Gillard's cabinet ministers have defended her decision to appoint former NSW Premier Bob Carr to the role of foreign minister”. Indeed they have. Let’s see how health minister Tanya Plibersek defends the decision:
Commenting on reports that Mr Carr had called the Dalai Lama a “cunning monk” in his blog, Thoughtlines, Ms Plibersek said it was unhelpful to trawl through all of Mr Carr’s former comments on foreign affairs.
“I know that the comment you are referring to is one where our future foreign minister Bob Carr has suggested that parliamentarians shouldn’t meet with the Dalai Lama, Ms Plibersek said.
“We disagree on that, but I don’t think its particularly productive to go back over every single thing he has written in Thoughtlines and say yes or no do you agree, is this Labor policy?”
She defended the incoming minister, who is understood to have made a number of controversial comments, including criticising US President Barack Obama and the humanitarian intervention in Libya.
“I think it’s just fantastic that we have a new senator and a new foreign minister who is such an intelligent man,” she said.
“I am absolutely thrilled that we have a real thinker who is on the record with a variety of very interesting positions,” she said.
 “A variety of interesting positions” must be the euphemism of the week. 

March of the pigeons

Pigeon Blog is what is says: a blog by a pigeon, called Brian, about pigeons. It is very funny. Here Brian interviews Janet and Jim Pigeon about daylight saving:
I asked Janet if she thought the clocks going back had any impact on the number of depressed pigeons in London:
“Absolutely. I think pigeons just find the whole thing quite confusing. One day they’re out happily tucking into dinner. Then they go out at the same time the next day, and it’s dark. I think it really throws pigeons, so those prone to depression are bound to suffer.”
Jim, looking somewhat grayer these days, agreed:
“Yeah. Totally. You can see it everywhere. Soon as it happens, loads of miserable pigeons. Millions of them, especially in King’s Cross. No-one gives a shit we get an hour extra on the ledge in the morning. Only thing that happens is the sun comes up earlier than it’s meant to. Load of old bollocks.”
So, there you have it. Proof from those in the know. You wait. This time next week, just watch out for the number of vacant looking pigeons shuffling about aimlessly through the streets of London. Anyone out there got any suggestions, let me know, and before you say it, we’ve tried staring at street lamps.
And then this, about the recent gathering of the Davids. Shown here are David from Cardiff on the left, and David from Swansea on the right.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sent from my iPhone

Or not, as the case may be: the Financial Times reports that:
On Taobao, China’s largest consumer-to-consumer online marketplace, merchants are offering users of QQ, the world’s largest instant messaging tool, a service to hack into their accounts and make it appear as if they were sending their posts from an iPhone.
“The iPhone is too expensive. If you don’t want to spend that money, then fake it!” says the advert of one Shanghai-based vendor. The service is Rmb6 to Rmb8 a month (around $1), and all you have to do is submit your QQ username and password. [… That] consumers would be willing to give their QQ passwords away just to help them pretend they are using an iPhone says a lot about the pent-up demand out there.
The Atlantic has a story about the collapse of advertising in US newspapers:
Print newspaper ads have fallen by two-thirds from $60 billion in the late-1990s to $20 billion in 2011. […] For decades, newspapers relied on a simple cross-subsidy to pay for their coverage. You can't make much money advertising against A1 stories like bombings in Afghanistan and school shootings and deficit reduction. Those stories are the door through which readers walk to find stories that can take the ads: the car section, the style section, the travel section, and the classifieds. But ad dollars started flowing to websites that gave people their car, style, travel, or classifieds directly. So did the readers. And down went print.
There are two graphs. The first, which Whale Oil has posted nice and big, shows “Print Advertising Revenue Adjusted for Inflation, 1950 to 2011”: falling off a cliff. The second, too big to show here but fascinating, simply shows Weekday Newspaper Circulation 1990 to 2010 for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, Daily News and New York Post. It’s amazing. The WSJ is almost off the scale with more than two million paid copies a day – eat your heart out, Grannie – well above the second-placed NYT which has crashed to about 900,000. The WSJ figures include paid online subscribers. The LAT has about half the paid sales it had 20 years ago. Two possible, not incompatible, conclusions: print news is a sunset industry; and a paywall works. (The original research by Mark Perry of the University of Michigan is here.)

George Clooney isn’t gay. It’s official. He has come out and said so in the Daily Mail so it must be true.

New research from Czech evolutionary biologist Jaroslav Flegr to show that your cat may really be driving you crazy.

Steve Braunias selected me as a finalist for the Alcohol Sponsorship Press Award but I was pipped by Abbie Jury. Steve calls me a “New Zealand gossip legend”. I shall take that as a compliment but can’t be sure.

This may be the best photo of Nick Cave ever. Not the sharpest or most artfully composed, just the best. It is from the Watford Observer and was taken to mark the occasion of Julie Howell, who has multiple sclerosis and runs a social media company  that helps people with disabilities, being recognised as “Alumnus of the Year 2012” by the Brighton Graduate Association. Mr Cave, a Brighton resident (Hove, to be precise), received an honorary degree, his third, and isn’t mentioned until the seventh paragraph.

Tim Worstall has strong views on the economics of wind farms, expressed in NSFW strong language. Money quote:
Seriously, people who don’t understand the concept of opportunity costs just shouldn’t be allowed to go outside unaccompanied.
Carole at Carole’s Chatter posts her favourite Flanders & Swann songs. Many  of us of a certain age love Flanders & Swann – “I’m a Gnu”, “A Song of Reproduction”, “The Reluctant Cannibal”, “The Hippopotamus Song” (“Mud, mud, glorious mud”) and the rest. All their stuff is available on CD but for some reason the one video of them in performance, in April l967 after their last show on Broadway performing what must have been “At the Drop of Another Hat”, has never made it to DVD. Amazon has three copies of the VHS tape for sale, starting at £58. Baffling that it hasn’t been digitised. I’d buy it.

So here are Michael Flanders and Donald Swann in a clip from that lost show performing “Madeira M’Dear”. The lyrics are here, not that you need them  because Flanders’ enunciation is so clear. Truly, he was the Neil Hannon of his day.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sentence of the day

Hugo Rifkind in the Spectator on Sean Penn, who thinks the British are guilty of colonialism over the Falklands:
He’s a spoon-faced humourless self-loathing pseudo-socialist twit, sure, but he’s not a moron.