Friday, January 31, 2014

What I’m reading #111

The Economist decided to put a figure-skating Vladimir Putin on the cover of its new issue: “What better way to depict the Russian president’s predilection for self-promotional stunts, of which the winter Olympics in Sochi is merely the most prominent example?”

There was just one little problem: the New Yorker had much the same idea. Quote unquote:
So we considered switching our cover to show Mr Putin engaging in a different winter sport, such as skiing or ice hockey. But without the camp flamboyance of ice-skating, it just wasn't as funny. Moreover, Mr Putin has recently been photographed skiing and playing ice hockey in Sochi, which reduces the scope for satire. Indeed, the Russian diva-in-chief's outlandish antics (driving racing carsdemonstrating judo movesswimming bare-chested in Siberian riverspiloting fire-fighting planestranquilising tigersdiscovering Greek vases underwater) are making it increasingly difficult to create an image of Mr Putin that is obviously satirical. Perhaps that is his aim.
In the London Review of Books, Adam Mars-Jones reviews Claudia Roth Pierpont’s Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books, a literary biography of Philip Roth. Quote unquote:
Portnoy’s Complaint is a book that is somehow protected by its own indefensibility. It’s so obviously going all-out to cause offence that offence seems ruled out as a reaction. (It’s rather satisfying that the most un-PC book imaginable, though written before political correctness was a trend, should have PC as its initials.) 
At the Dim-Post, Danyl McLauchlan reviews Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, and finds it wanting. Quote unquote:
Can a book with several extended sequences so dull they’re essentially unreadable really be a masterpiece, even if some of the other passages are sublime? Or do people who praise it so highly do so partly as an act of signaling to display that they’ve read a very long, very difficult work of literature?
At White Sun of the Desert, my favourite oil-industry-and-hedonism blog, Tim Newman reports that he is learning French. He has to, because he lives in France now. Surprisingly, knowing Russian has helped. Quote unquote:
It’s funny how many French words spill over into not only English (which is well known), and Russian (slightly less well known) but also Welsh.  The French word for church is “eglise”, and in Welsh it’s “eglwys” (pronounced “eg-loise” for my readers who didn’t learn Welsh at school).  I assume the French-speaking Normans introduced the concept of a church to the Welsh, who hitherto were worshipping local rugby players and shagging sheep. 
For anyone tempted to take the Daily Mail seriously as a news source, Jon Danzig offers a thorough fisking of its reporting on the impending flood of Romanian immigrants. It seems the Mail not only made up the numbers, it also made up its interviewees. Quote unquote:
Claim 12: Another, at coach firm Balkan Horn, said: ‘It is very busy, many people want to travel to England, especially with the change in EU rules. But everything is booked up, it’s hard to get there.’
Balkan Horn deny any knowledge of ever talking with the Daily Mail, and say they would never have given such a quote as it wouldn’t have been true; there were seats available on their buses to London, and no increased demand because of the change in EU rules.  In fact, demand for bus journeys to England had gone down.
The recent death of singer/songwriter Pete Seeger has had reverential coverage. Here are two alternative views, one from Stephen Mihm praising his entrepreneurial skills that made him millions, and one from Mick Hartley that questions the whole folkie programme and refers us to a Rian Malan piece alleging plagiarism. Quote unquote:
The Weavers’ appeal was inexplicable to folk purists, who noted that most of their songs had been around forever, in obscure versions by blacks and rednecks who never had hits anywhere.What they failed to grasp was that Seeger and his comrades had managed to filter the stench of poverty and pig shit out of the proletarian music and make it wholesome and fun for Eisenhower-era squares.
Frederic Filloux on French print-media companies, in a 19 January report that possibly has implications for non-French print-media companies, says that “Two weeks ago, with a transaction that reset the value of printed assets to almost nothing, the French market for newsmagazines collapsed for good.” Read on for the financial horror show.  Quote unquote:
The case of Le Nouvel Observateur is the perfect example. This iconic magazine of the French social democrats perfectly fits the picture of a nursing home where residents don’t do much while waiting for the unavoidable end.
Happy new year to all my Chinese readers. My horse-mad daughters are delighted by this year’s animal. But Brian Pigeon has issues:
Back in 2007 I raised the issue that every other animal has its own Chinese year, so why not a pigeon? I brought it up again in 2011 when it was the rabbit’s turn, and still no year. I mean we’re talking rat, ox, pig, rooster, the list goes on. 2014 is, I’ve just discovered, the year of the horse. A fucking horse? Since when has a horse been able to fly using hedges for navigation? Or carried messages for hundreds of miles whilst being shot at by enemy fire? And when was the last time a horse wrote a decent song or some poignant poetry? Thought so.
Fair point. Still, it is the year of the horse, so here is a song about horses. No, not Patti Smith, not America, but Eddie Vedder. The backing band is pretty sloppy but they manage:


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sentence of the day #2

Danyl McLauchlan in the comments on his post about Cunliffe’s recent snafu:
And maybe Labour should stop liquidating senior staff whenever they change leaders so they get to retain some institutional knowledge in their party?

Sentence of the day

Tim Newman is in France:
The French discuss food like Brits discuss house prices, and I know whose dinner table I’d rather sit around.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The kindness of strangers

It doesn’t happen often but if ever I feel a bit sad and in need of some positive reinforcement I just look at the unpublished spam comments on this blog. They are relentlessly positive. The latest:
That is rеally fascinating, Уou аre an excessively skilled blogger. I have joined your feed and sitt up for seeking extra of your excellent post. Additionally, I have shaared your site in my socіal networks. Ϻy website -[name of dodgy website].
Bafflingly, no one has ever called me “excessively skilled” before. No employer, no client, no friend, no wife, not even the children. One does sometimes depend on the kindness of strangers.

So here is Vivien Leigh as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar named Desire:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Whip it. Whip it good.

On Twitter today who cares about National’s education policy, what matters is that the excellent Lawrence Arabia – I really am a fan – is cross. First this:
Had to turn off the Panel due to some fool scoffing at ELO/Olivia Newton John's "Xanadu." What a fucking pleb.
Fair point. And then this:
PS. an indication of my rage is that that was the first time I have used the F word in a tweet.
Another fair point. Lawrence is a very polite tweeter. Next he posted a link to Olivia Newton-John performing ‘Xanadu’. The vid is a bit Mary Poppins at first with all those umbrellas and then later a bit low-budget Busby Berkeley. But still, Olivia:

But wait, here is Jeff Lynne of ELO with ‘Xanadu’. Fair enough, he wrote it:

With all due respect to ELO and Olivia Newton-John, there is another ‘Xanadu’. Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich of Wiltshire – Salisbury, most of them – had a hit of that name in 1968 and here is their wonderfully insincere video of it. Parental advisory: contains a whip:

Fun fact: DBMT had more Top Ten hits in New Zealand than anywhere else. Among them was “Bend It”, a great favourite of Gilbert and George. Also “Hold Tight” – the Stones weren’t the only band playing like that in 1966:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

NZ Herald on Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party

A technology writer in the New Zealand Herald on Kim Dotcom’s latest PR stunt:
There’s a lot at stake, ignoring these issues at a political level could have impacts that’ll reverberate throughout New Zealand’s future.
No sub-editors were harmed in the production of this column.

In other Kim Dotcrim-related news, Stuff has a review of Kim Dotcom’s new album by Jack Tomlin who has bravely listened to all of it. He is negative, frankly. I have listened to two songs, if that is the right term, from the album and can report that they are Scheiße. Tomlin links to the vid of “Live My Life”, which features three hot babes getting excited about a nerdy geek for no discernible reason, undressing whenever they see him. This is so not the story of my life.

The vid also contains ice cubes rolled over cleavage, ice cubes rolled over lips, and a Scheiße-load of other music-vid clichés from the 1980s. Plus some scenes of toast, which to their credit Duran Duran never thought of. 

The album is a free download, which I suppose is one way to stop the pirates.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What I’m reading #110

Unethical soda. New York magazine reports that this is a genuine problem, known to caring people as “blood bubbles”. Quote unquote:
Novelist and Code Pink activist Nancy Kricorian uses similar rationale when confronting friends about their SodaStreams. “The bulk of the profit comes not from the machine but from the refill,” she said. “If you can find an alternative source for the CO2 you can decrease your guilt by about 75 percent.”
Good to know.

A.D. Miller in the Economist asks “Who is a Jew?” Not a simple question; no simple answers. Quote unquote:
The Pew Research Centre recently surveyed American Jews, who account for almost half the global total (see chart). The responses confirm that Jewishness is not thought to consist mostly in belief: 22% of American Jews described themselves as having no religion (swap “Christians” for “Jews” and the statistic becomes nonsensical). Even among the avowedly religious, two-thirds did not think it necessary to believe in God to qualify. To widespread communal alarm, Pew also found that intermarriage has rocketed and now predominates among the young. Excluding the Orthodox (about a tenth of the American total), 72% of Jews who wed since 2000 married “out”.
David Thompson gets the best comments on any blog I read. His replies are good too. Quote unquote:
As a post-imperial guilt fetishist, Ms O’Toole would probably swoon at the word ‘primitive’. One of her Guardian columns bemoaned the colonial propagation of Shakespeare, whose works she denounced as “full of classism, sexism, racism and defunct social mores.” And worse, “a powerful tool of empire, transported to foreign climes along with the doctrine of European cultural superiority.” The possibility that at any given time one set of values might be preferable to another, even objectively better, bothers her quite a bit.
Her article was accompanied by a photograph of New Zealand’s Ngakau Toa theatre company performing Troilus and Cressida in a distinctively Maori style. To me, it looked fun and worth the price of a ticket. But this cross-cultural fusion offended Ms O’Toole, who dismissed notions of the Bard’s universality as “uncomfortably colonial.” She then presumed to take umbrage on behalf of all past colonial subjects, whose own views on Shakespeare and literature she chose not to relate. 
Joanna Harris, author of Chocolat and other novels, argues cogently for copyright. She offers a simple test, eight quick questions. Quote unquote:  
If you answered YES to most of these questions, then you’re either: a hardcore copyright denier, a masochist, a psycho, or a saint.If you answered NO, then – congratulations! You are in favour of copyright and artists’ rights. 
They order this matter differently in Norway, where libraries allow free access to digital files of copyright books and the authors and publishers get paid.

Elsewhere, authors aren’t happy with publishers. Yes, really. Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest surveyed 9000+ US authors and came up with some categories new to me, including “hybrid authors” and a genre called “New Adult”. Quote unquote:
Interestingly, hybrid authors reported being able to negotiate for a slightly higher royalty, possibly due to the publishers’ awareness that these authors have the ability and fan base to self-publish their titles instead.
On the other hand, there is OUP. In the Guardian, Bernard Porter reviews The History of Oxford University Press, Volume III: 1896-1970 edited by Wm Roger Louis. Quote unquote:
It is the only one of my own publishers that hasn’t once changed ownership. One of them, in its new hands, seemed to know nothing about books, and didn't even edit mine. One shudders to think what OUP might have become if it had been similarly “privatised”. Whether this is enough to allow us forgive it for its elitist Oxford ways is a matter of opinion. I’m prepared to.
Yes. OUP was good to me. Some of us even overlook its comma policy.

Fake signs on London’s Underground.

New Yorker Una Ayo Osato confronts climate change with burlesque. Why did no one think of that before? Quote unquote:
At first, it’s funny — a polar bear stripping! And then at the end, “Oh, the polar bears are going to die.”
Finally, Idealog has a lovely photo essay by Tony Nyberg on the joys of letterpress in Te Puke.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

In praise of: Bernarda Fink

My favourite Slovenian, Bernarda Fink was born in Argentina but her parents were Slovenian and according to the internet her husband is Austria’s ambassador to Slovenia so she must live in Ljubljana now. More to the point, she is a super-fabulousistic singer. Great in Bach and Handel, shines in Mozart, and her Schumann recital makes me think that maybe I’ve been wrong about Schumann all these years.

Ms Fink doesn’t perform much in opera now but everything on YouTube is great. Here she is in Handel’s “Ah, whither should we fly” from Theodora, I think at Salzburg in 2009:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

About those Waikato Times letters of the week

Someone at the Waikato Times reads this blog, or perhaps has a copy of Lunch and Journalism: the Wintec Press Club which contains interviews with a bunch of famous people – Colin Meads! John Campbell! Robyn Malcolm! Paul Holmes! Jacinda Ardern! – plus me talking to Wintec journalism student Sophie Iremonger about why I sometimes blog the letters to the editor. (In the book I am placed between Michael Laws but ahead of Winston Peters. And that’s me on the cover between Robyn Malcolm and Michele A’Court. Mustn’t grumble.) Quote unquote:
He travels up and down New Zealand, and he reads the letters pages in newspapers in both islands, but he says nothing approaches the level of wackiness in the Waikato.
So true. Today’s edition of the paper has what promises to be the first in a series of interviews by the excellent Denise Irvine with regular writers of letters to the editor.  It kicks off with Paul Evans-McLeod. Quote unquote:
He also mentions this advice from his mother: "If you can't be good, be careful. If you can't be careful, buy a pram. If you have to buy a pram, the next time you visit, you should have the pram, and the lady on your arm."
Can Ken Weldon, Glywn McInnes and Barry Ashby be far behind? I shall renew my subscription.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What I’m reading #109

Yes, yes, I will soon get back to posting material from Quote Unquote the magazine, but meanwhile:

On our holiday – we went up north for a while – my wife read a few books plus The Luminaries which she loved. I read six books –crime,  music,  maths/philosophy and most of Middlemarch which is possibly even longer than The Luminaries.  Competitive readers.

Tim Parks on competitive authors:
Pick up a copy of Rushdie’s memoir Joseph Anton (the pseudonym that aligns Rushdie with two of the greatest writers of modern times) and you find that almost every relationship, whether it be with friends and rivals at school, with his wives and partners, with fellow writers, and finally with the world of Islam is seen in terms of winning and losing. And at the painful core of these struggles, at least early on, is “his repeated failures to be, or become, a decent publishable writer of fiction.” This is the competition of competitions. Publication. [. . .] Why do we have this uncritical reverence for the published writer? Why does the simple fact of publication suddenly make a person, hitherto almost derided, now a proper object of our admiration, a repository of special and important knowledge about the human condition? And more interestingly, what effect does this shift from derision to reverence have on the author and his work, and on literary fiction in general?
I met that Salman Rushdie once, when he was a target for assassination and I was standing between him and a large window of assassin-opportunity. I bailed, leaving CK Stead somewhat exposed.

Club boss ‘kidnapped by strippers in miniskirts, Daisy Dukes and stilettos’
Talk about first-world problems.

Authors who complain about not selling more copies than they deserve might contemplate this John Cheever quote in the NY Times:
I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss — you can’t do it alone.
Quite. Those who have no sense of their audience will soon end up with no audience. Unless one is a genius – but who among us is?

So here, via Mick Hartley, is David Bowie tossing up with Angie between his two best possible post-Ziggy identies, Aladdin Sane and Cobbler Bob:

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Waikato Times letter of the week #45

From the 7 January edition of the Waikato Times:
Drones future of farming
The future of modern farming holds more weather-control possibilities: low-flying or high-flying for fertiliser application or drought anticipation. Whatever the future holds, it will involve a new technique, the “Farming Drone”, to improve crop yield.For the first time in history, there is a real chance of greater weather control, from emptying rain-filled clouds before they are over the cold sea, either to download a cloud when there is too  much water on the ground causing floods, eg Bangladesh annually, or the dry Middle East. One are has too much water; the other, not enough. The potential of the farming drone will be in boosting food crops in countries where they are much-needed. Impossible thinking but they could be practical for the space programmes of tomorrow, such as Mars and Venus etc. 
New Zealand is a world leader in crop dusting and this complements modern farming techniques and has enormous potential because it is the best labour-saving machinery since the tractor. 
A new farming tool in waiting. 
I asked a friend who works at AgResearch if they had ever considered using drones to control the weather and stuff like that. She said, “No.”

Monitor: Joshua Drummond

Thursday, January 2, 2014

What I’m reading #108

Some people have too much time on their hands: here is a sonnet whose every line is an anagram of the title of the famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware”. An amazing feat. Pointless, but then so is golf. The poet was David Shulman, who died last week and seems to have been a bit, well, odd.  

Good news in the Washington Post about proper bookshops. They’re back! At least in Frederick, Maryland. Quote unquote:
The American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstores, says its membership — it hit a low of 1,600 in 2008 — has grown 6.4 percent in 2013, to 2,022. Sales were up 8 percent in 2012, and those gains have held this year. […] E-books, however, have not come to overwhelm bookselling as many experts predicted five years ago. Statistics from earlier this year showed that e-book sales were up 5 percent in the first quarter, compared with 28 percent in 2012 and 159 percent in 2011.
Whatever we think of James Blunt’s music, he’s very funny on Twitter. Can’t quote: far too rude.

The New Yorker’s Alex Ross in 1995 on New Zealand indie music. Quote unquote:
The major rock bands of New Zealand show few traces of classic punk, and with good reason; the urban spite of the Sex Pistols or the Ramones must have seemed a little overwrought against landscapes dotted by sheep. 
Distance looks our way and, er. . . Still, his description of the Chills’ “seductively morose disposition” is spot-on.

Over at Standpoint, Lionel Shriver gets on her bike. Quote unquote:
Oh, no doubt my half-baked Hindu happiness won't last. Still, whatever our mode of transport, we could all stand to dial back emotions in traffic that increase risk-taking, aggression and abuse of others’ rights of way.
Well, yes.

Bookwise I’m reading – or will read over the next couple of days – John Eliot Gardiner on Bach, Edward Behr on food, Judy Golding on her father William, and Middlemarch (too shaming that I have not already). My wife is reading The Luminaries. She reports, “It’s really good!” Who knew? Honestly, nobody tells us anything.

No blogging for a bit because I’m off to Tutukaka. Yes, Tutukaka. Also Ngunguru and possibly Matapouri.  

So here is Frank Zappa – subtitled in Italian, because he was Sicilian – with “Let Me Take You to the Beach” from his 1978 album Studio Tan, with Max Bennett on bass (he played with Peggy Lee) and Paul Humphrey on drums (he played with Wes Montgomery and Charles Mingus), Eddie Jobson (who replaced Eno in Roxy Music) on keyboards  and Don Brewer – surely you remember Grand Funk Railroad – on bongos. Listen carefully: