Friday, November 8, 2013

What I’m reading #104

There is a rule, which may even have a name, that the answer to any newspaper headline that is a question is “No.” Here is a recent example from the Guardian, a prime source:
Has David Birnbaum solved the mystery of existence?
Quote unquote from the article:
“To my mind, this is beneath my level of discussion,” he said. “It’s beneath your dignity, also.” His exasperation was understandable. He believed he had worked out what made the universe tick. How could questions about publishers’ logos or cheques for a few thousand dollars be anything but annoying?
Booknotes Unbound, from the NZ Book Council, will be a regular must-read for anyone interested in New Zealand books. Jillian Ewart of Booksellers NZ greets it here. Quote unquote:
A lot of work has gone into this, in both content and design. Visually it looks great – it is a clean, well-lighted place. Content is strong too, with author interviews, book excerpts of, for example, the new Fiona Kidman, and a round-up of reviews of The Luminaries with links.The news section is particularly good – there is a strong filter so what is published is relevant, at least to me. I like that – the signal-to-noise ratio is admirably high.
I completely agree with the person quoted who said that. He is seldom wrong.

Via Mark Amery on Facebook, Dean Parker’s response to Fiona Samuel’s letter to the Herald on Auckland Theatre Company’s treatment of women playwrights. This is from Playmarket’s email newsletter (not online that I can see):
I’d like to take Fiona Samuel’s comment at the top of the last Bulletin a bit further. Her comment was: “I want to see stories with complexity and depth that are about my own society and culture. In the struggle for funding, the money is going to the bright and the colourful, the lovely, the entertaining, and to me it's all cocktails and pudding. Where's the meat? Where are the vegetables? I surprise myself to be asking for vegetables, but that's what I want -- substance. I want to see substantial work, and I want to write it.” Years ago, ten years, eight years, I went to a play in Sydney about the war in Iraq. The play was written by English playwright David Hare. How it’d come to be written was the Artistic Director of Britain’s National Theatre called David Hare in for a meeting and said, “We’ve got to have a play about the war in Iraq!”  Now that could never happen here. Because, for a start, an Artistic Director would never call a writer in. Theatre here is not about writers. Writers are seen as similar to set designers; the writer has a function in the weeks leading up to a production but once the show opens, that’s the finish. Second, even though the Artistic Director might have known there was a highly controversial war going on in Iraq, they’d feel the subject matter somehow not really appropriate.  I was astonished at the treatment of Fiona Samuel’s 2010 play Ghost Train. It was a play that came out of those rape charges against predatory police gangs in Rotorua and the Waikato. What happened to Ghost Train? No one’d touch it. Everyone gave it a reading, but a production—no way. Look at Afghanistan. For a decade we had troops being killed there. One of our longest wars. But not one play about the war appeared on our major stages. And that’s the striking failure of theatre here.  If you wanted to know what was happening in New Zealand, what the undercurrents were, you wouldn’t go to the theatre. Theatre’s not really alive in the sense of being part of the national conversation. You’d never hear anyone on talkback radio getting furious over something they’d seen or heard about in a play. The main theatres are not writer’s theatres—writer’s theatres in the sense of new, local writing. They seem to be performer’s theatres. The paradox is if you ask performers what they like doing they’ll tell you—new writing.
Dwight Garner on the art of criticism. Quote unquote:
When I was an editor at the Book Review, the idea of writing for the Times would make some writers freeze up. You’d assign them a book, then you’d talk to him or her on the phone a few weeks later and they’d say, “Why did you send me this steaming pile of dog waste? This book is criminally bad.” Then the review would come in and it would be eight paragraphs of the most tedious plot summary topped by a word like “lyrical.” I was often in the position of gently reminding reviewers, “You’re not writing this for the author’s mother. You’re writing it for the tens if not hundreds of thousands of serious and inquisitive people out there who will be reading you.”
Eat Here Now on Coco’s Cantina, my favourite place to eat in Auckland. I have taken Bob Harvey, AD Miller and Vincent O’Sullivan there. All were impressed that upon entry a beautiful young woman flung herself at me and delivered a big kiss. (There is less to this than meets the eye.) Quote unquote:
When Coco’s Cantina opened four years ago, it somehow defined a moment in Auckland: these days, it’s everyone’s favourite bistro – and you get the impression owners Damaris and Renee Coulter prefer it that way. The music is loud, you will wait on Saturday night for a table and the waitresses still wear bright red lipstick. It is warm and comforting, the kind of place you should settle in for a befuddled evening over too much red wine. It is as good late on Tuesday as it is on Saturday night.Inside, a clutter of bric-a-brac and memorabilia and hand-written signs; outside red-and-white chequered table cloths. Next door is the newer Coco’s Barretta, part bar, part waiting area, part spillover on busy nights from the main restaurant. Their mum does the accounts; sometimes families of the staff might come in for dinner.It’s a cantina, see: rustic, homely and not very expensive. The polenta fries ($8.50) are a work of minor genius and so is the tiramisu. The steak ($31.50) is brilliant – it’s Scotch fillet, cooked medium rare and sliced, trattoria-style, with salsa verde and some of the best hand-cut chips you’ll ever taste. It is defiantly simple. So is the spaghetti with meatballs ($29), and the seasonal pasta of the day ($25). In the cooler months, there might be a slow-roasted pork belly with Italian slaw ($32.50). All the seafood is from sustainable sources. Auckland is lucky to have it. 
The polenta fries are indeed a work of minor genius.

Toby Young on bluffing. Quote unquote:
In my experience, the best way to bluff a girl into bed is to tell her you really fancy her and, if only you’d met her a week earlier, you would definitely be interested in her. But unfortunately you’ve just started seeing someone else. Works every time. 
Not everyone is a fan of Russell Brand. Alex Massie in the Spectator, for one. The headline “Russell Brand: an adolescent extremist whose hatred of politics is matched by his ignorance” may give a clue. Quote unquote:
Brand is entitled to despise the ordinariness of contemporary politics. But if you believe politicians really are just ‘frauds and liars’ then there comes a point at which your contempt for the governing classes must eventually spill into contempt for the people who elect them. Brand salutes apathy. It is, he says, the rational response to our present predicaments. Again, many of us sometimes think this. But we also think that sometimes even doing a little something is the best we can do. We certainly don’t think that the rationally-disengaged are, per Brand, wiser, superior, people to the poor saps and sheep who take part in our rotten democratic (sic!) process.Voting only encourages politicians, sneers Brand and again, of course, this is a sentiment to which many of us subscribe occasionally. But deep down most of us know that it’s a juvenile sentiment and a pose that, though good enough to win a laugh sometimes, is cheap and lazy. It’s all too easy.It is certainly easier than actually being a politician. But, in this country at least, most of our elected politicians do the best they can. Some of them will fail and some of those failures will be the result of indolence or stupidity. But most of the time most of them grapple with a job that, though one they asked for, is more difficult than most of us imagine most of the time.
Ashleigh Young goes to Feilding, kinda. Kauwhata marae, which seems to be near Bunnythorpe, maybe. Out of comfort zone, certainly. And she writes a brilliant report. Quote unquote:
Naomi, eight, has an asymmetrical haircut and a toothache. ‘Mum keeps forgetting to ring the dentist.’ She swings between laughter and whole-hearted misery because of her sore tooth. She’s the daughter of one of Paul’s brothers. When I’m in the wharenui, writing in my notebook, mostly because I’ve run out of steam and feel too shy to keep talking to everyone, she sits next to me. Because I wasn’t quick enough, I’ve ended up with the mattress right next to the deceased man Paul’s empty mattress – there’s a photo of him in a frame propped against a pillow. Naomi strokes the photo and says, ‘Hello Paul.’ Then she asks me to sing something, and we battle about this for around twenty minutes. ‘Aue, please! I’ll sing if you sing. What if we go over to that corner where no one can hear?’ ‘No, I just really don’t want to sing. I only sing when there’s no one around.’ ‘But what if I block my ears?’ ‘Then there’s no point.’ ‘What if you sing some Miley Cyrus? I don’t know what it’s called, but that song. I really like that song.’ ‘I don’t like Miley Cyrus that much. You can sing that song, though, if you want, and I’ll listen.’ She starts half-laughing, half-singing, then buries her head in a pillow. ‘I can’t do it!’ This conversation is repeated several times. Whenever I sit down outside the wharenui to put on my shoes she sits next to me. ‘Do those shoes really fit your feet?’ She hugs me a lot. ‘You’re warm. Have you been sitting the sun?’ When we sit down after being welcomed back onto the marae, after the unveiling of Paul’s headstone at the cemetery, she sits next to me and presents a crumpled cleansing wipe like one you’d get on a plane. She wipes my hands with it and grins up at me. Then, during the speeches, she wipes my bare legs, meticulously, as if she’s dusting furniture. I can’t really do anything so I just sit there being wiped.
An obituary  of a great left-wing blogger, Norman Geras. Quote unquote:
Both Norm’s intellectual talent and his moral clarity made him a beloved and important figure on what is sometimes called Britain’s “decent Left”—men and women who believe in social-democratic principles and are also consistently anti-totalitarian, opposing tyranny and tyrannical violence whoever commits it. This group includes writers and thinkers like Nick CohenDavid AaronovitchEve GarrardOliver Kamm, and Francis Wheen, and serves as a modern analog to the anti-Stalinist New York intellectuals of the mid-20th century. Much of their energy focused on opposing terror and tyranny arising from radical Islam and its Western apologists.Norm served as one of the intellectual and political leaders of this informal group. His blog and its considerable influence culminated in his co-authorship of the Euston Manifesto in 2006. The manifesto was a collaboration between around 20 members of the “decent Left,” with Norm as the principal author. It called for a “fresh political alignment” according to 15 categories, including democracy, equality, internationalism, universal human rights, and opposition to tyranny, terrorism, and racism. One of the things that set it apart was its emphasis on anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism as forms of bigotry equally dangerous as others emphasized by the Left. It sought, in other words, to purge progressive thought of its most self-defeating tendencies.
Which brings us back to Francis Wheen and the Beard of the Year contest. Have you voted yet? Here is why you should vote Wheen, as I have along with some of New Zealand’s finest poets, novelists and journalists. You will be in exalted company. Vote here.

Speaking of beards, here are bearded guitarist Billy Gibbons (pinched harmonics! which I can do, did I ever mention that?) and bearded bassist Dusty Hill with beardless drummer Frank Beard:


Paul said...

A lot of work has gone into this, in both content and design. Visually it looks great – it is a clean, well-lighted place. Content is strong too. Maintaining it at this level will be a challenge. Trust me – I’m a blogger.

Read my blog at

Stephen Stratford said...

Ho ho, very satirical.

Anonymous said...

You are such a stupid Cunt Stratford

Stephen Stratford said...

Would you care to elaborate, O brave Anonymous?