Friday, October 31, 2008
The USA and New Zealand both enter their last week of crucial election campaigns, in which the issue is "Trick or Treat?"
I do so hope the voters will see through all the right wing trickery and opt for Obama and Clark, the ones who will treat us the best.
"In ancient Egypt they were worshipped as gods. This makes them too prone to set themselves up as critics and censors of the frail and erring human beings whose lot they share."
- P.G. Wodehouse
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
There's no inquiry into how representative the sample for a phone-in poll might be, but the results are trumpeted as if having any authority at all.
Last night another of these sickening pieces of garbage was dished up by TV One. Viewers were asked to "vote" whether they wanted to retain or ditch the MMP electoral system. And the commentators appeared to take the "result" seriously, despite the momentary hitch when the laughable "result" (75% anti MMP) was incorrectly reported as 75% pro MMP. (A subversive act perhaps, by scandalised technicians, disgusted by the right wing bias of the "poll" as well as the "panel" hired to "discuss" it?)
Not one of the so-called "experts" commented on the unreliability of a text-in poll that cost $1 per vote, and how that favoured the rich, and therefore was skewed in favour of a right-wing big-business response.
And the wording of the poll was so opaque that even TV One wasn't able at first to interpret whether the results were in favour of or against the Mixed Member Proportional voting system.
I wasted my time on Sunday watching the ultra right-wing Guyon Espiner on Agenda nanny-coach an insipid John Key. Whenever Key flagged in his self-promotion, Espiner gently provided sympathetic avenues to explore. (Eg: GUYON: You talked this week about a five headed monster when talking about the prospect of a Labour led government, do you think that international investors and perhaps even credit rating agencies are going to be worried about the prospect of a multi party coalition under Labour?)
And is it only me, or is another TV one "commentator" Therese Arseneau coming across this year as though she's a paid-up PR lackey for the right wing?
So why is MMP suddenly under attack? And why is the right wing media so desperately launching a last minute attack on the credibility of MMP?
Because the opinion polls that matter are starting to turn in the favour of a coalition led by Labour.
So we have the fanciful (and frankly desperate) suggestion that a Labour-led coalition is a "monster". Hehehe. Just imagine if Key and his journalist minions got their way and persuaded the country to accept a National government merely on the basis that the National party had more votes than the Labour party (never mind the minor parties).
Huh? But the votes were garnered in an MMP environment. So every vote for a minor party was motivated by the knowledge that minor parties count.
The first time this monstrous National minority government tried to pass a bill, they would soon discover they were outvoted by a majority of MPs (Labour, Green, Maori and Progressive, and maybe the self-serving fence sitters NZ First and United as well).
The nation would soon discover the truth, that it is not useful to analyse or declare an MMP election in FPP terms.
If National were in a position themselves to cobble together a 5-party coalition do you think they'd hesitate for a moment? Of course not!
Roll on the only poll that counts, on November the 8th.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
[From French esprit de l'escalier, from esprit (wit) + escalier (stairs).]
Easy to see where the name came from. You leave the lively, verbally jousting company, and halfway up the stairs think of that clever riposte that would have gone down so well a moment or so ago.
The distance between the gathered throng talking at the top of their game and your lonely boudoir at the top of the stairs is a large part of what separates you from Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde.
Simon Barnes suggests that "this affliction, esprit de l'escalier, is one of the principal reasons why people become writers.
"I wish I'd said that!"
"You will, you will..."
Writers sit up late in their solitary rooms and put the one-liners down on paper, cleverly taking out any evidence of the time delay, and what's more, if they're skilful enough, they can take credit for both sides of a witty exchange.
Having a tendency to hindsight wit clearly suits the blogger rather than the user of a real-time forum, such as MSN or a chatroom, where it is necessary to think, and type quickly.
I do understand the concept of staircase wit, but I can't say I have ever suffered from it.
I'd be over the moon if I ever thought of the clever rejoinder as soon as halfway up the stairs!
Is there a kind of wit called three o'clock in the morning two days later?
Friday, October 24, 2008
Saw this movie the other day and was very impressed. Brilliant. Another masterpiece from the Coen Brothers.
I laughed like a drain all the way through. It's pretty funny. Or at least I thought it was.
Most of the rest of the audience were silent though, but I didn't find that surprising because Dunedin audiences are usually quite repressed. I watched a movie once in Dunedin that scarcely raised a titter, and watched the same one again in a Sydney theatre that had people falling off their chairs and in fits of hysterics.
I put the lack of response of the rest of the audience to Burn After Reading down to the dour Dunedin Presbyterian Scots heritage.
But I have been surprised to find since watching it, that many of the NZ reviewers of the movie don't agree with me about Burn After Reading. Critics seem to be finding it disappointing and not up to the usual standard of the Coen brothers.
Why are people not getting it?
In my opinion, they are not getting the point of the film. OK it doesn’t have the surface glitter and easy wit of some other movies. But you can’t read it literally, you have to see it as a metaphor.
It’s powerful, it’s deeper, its emptier.
It’s dealing with paradoxes by becoming a paradox itself.
It’s more than nihilism, which offers no solution. Because of its art, and the way it steadily unflinchingly examines the empty heart of today.
It mocks that old paradigm of the cold war: the enemy is no longer Russia, the new enemy is ourselves, and we’re divorced from ourselves.
The new conflict is in all of us and we are all corrupt and we have lost something – we don’t even know what it is, but all we strive to be now is hard bodies, and we’re empty hard bodies.
The ‘hard bodies’ is a central concept. People are so hollow, all they’ve got is their shell.
The hollow heart is the subject. It’s a very powerful satire on the fruits of the Bush era.
In a way it is an old-fashioned movie.
Because of the art in showing the corruption, the focus on the hard bodies (we’re always working on our outer being and not addressing our inward being) we see what a hell of a world it is without a core.
It is vicious satire. And yes it is bleak. But because of its dispassionate examination of this contemporary syndrome there is muted potential for change.
The film doesn’t suggest how to solve our dilemma, but it coolly offers a diagnosis, which gives hope for a cure.
And starring the politically enlightened and frankly adorable George Clooney and Brad Pitt, among other acting luminaries (John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton), what's not to like?
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Sooner or later our cats have to pay for all that adulation and pampering. That seemingly implacable dignity must be challenged. Every household cat at some stage has to put up with having stuff put on it.
There's even a website called Stuff on my cat where you can send in your own photo of your attempt to break your cat's composure, by putting something on it.
The cats in the supplied photos are long suffering and usually seem oblivious to having a variety of inappropriate objects put on them. That's what makes it so funny I guess.
I tried it with the Tabby and discovered she's not a good subject for having something strange put on her. The Tabby is a scientist and naturally curious. She responded with interest.
A good "stuff on my cat" will rarely even roll its eyes.
But we don't generally indulge in tormenting cats, even mildly, in this household. They have too many ways they can seek revenge.
She's fresh, competent, energetic, smart, runs a small business, has a young family, and she has been a tireless campaigner. She has a great team behind her. The Dunedin South electorate is what is called a "safe Labour seat" but nobody is being complacent this year, given the wave of misleading propaganda the right wing have been pummelling the public with for years now, attempting to blind them to the value of the strong reliable leadership Helen Clark's coalition government has delivered for the past 9 years.
The tories want the people to think there won't be much difference under a National/Act regime.
I strongly disagree. The difference is very clear to anyone who remembers the last time those types were in power.
Our assets get sold off so that private interests can strip the profits. The rich get tax breaks and the poor get wage cuts. Beneficiaries get penalised and blamed. Social services that were funded through responsible taxation are run down and user pays introduced even for people who can't afford them.
No way. If a sharebroker is elected as Prime Minister of this country I will be so ashamed, I will be on the first plane to Australia.
Good luck Clare! I'll be happy to deliver leaflets over the holiday weekend if that helps at all!
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
My sincerest apologies to the person from Lithuania who Googled "volcanic eruption" and was directed to the Tabby's blog. I'm sure the last thing they wanted to come across was whimsical pictures of somebody's moggy interspersed with poetry and obscure references to local body politics.
At a stretch, if they were keen to hear first-hand anecdotes of falling ash, or see eyewitness photos of lava explosions, they may have been mildly entertained by the snapshots I've posted, of steam trains I have known. But that's about as exciting as my life gets, I'm afraid.
I do wish I had more to say about volcanic eruptions. I only mentioned them in a book review.
I do wonder why my poor blog even figured in the Google search, given the competition. Or was the researcher so obsessed they had already trawled through 25 pages of results?
I like to think that the person in Pretoria who Googled "DH Lawrence cat poems" and was carried swiftly on a smooth cyberwave straight to Schroedinger's Tabby, would have found more to detain them, in the company of The Paradoxical Cat, who is a great fan of Lawrence's poetry.In fact I too must go now, and Google "DH LAwrence cat poems" and see if I can find one.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Where else can you spot the likes of Keri Hume, Maurice Gee, Owen Marshall, Witi Ihimaera, Roger Hall, Sam Hunt, Peter Olds, Cilla McQueen, Brian Turner, Ian Wedde, David Eggleton, Paula Boock, Renee, Stuart Hoar, Rawiri Paratene, Catherine Chidgey, Ted Middleton, Christine Johnston, Philip Temple, Lynley Hood, John Dickson, Alison Wong, Jo Randerson, Bernadette Hall, Laurence Fearnley, Elspeth Sandys, James Norcliffe, Michael Noonan, Nick Ascroft, Kate Duignan, Paddy Richardson, Sue Wootton, all at once?
There was also a launch of an anthology of reminiscences of and the work of all former fellows. (And the current fellow Sue Wootton.) Fascinating reading.
Crime writer and blogster Vanda Symon has reported on several Burns Festival sessions in her blog - Vanda's summaries make excellent reading: she attended panels on Maori Writers, NZ Identity, and a stunning stock-taking session including a rare and memorable appearance by the great novelist Maurice Gee.
I was there too and taking it all in. There was a poignant side to the celebration; I was also at the similar reunion 10 years ago for the 40th anniversary, and this time a lot of the faces were missing. Couldn't help feeling that loss keenly on occasion as the familiar names came up again and again. I've counted quite a few Burns Fellows as personal friends - lucky me to keep such exalted company! - and so also have many other of the other attendees, so the tribute session for those fellows who aren't amongst us any more, was a real tear jerker. Just this year three fellows have died - Hone Tuwhare, Ruth Dallas and Diane Pettis, and the memory is also fresh of the recently departed Janet Frame and Michael King, who were both present and larger than life for the 40th anniversary celebrations.
Can't stay sad all day though - and there were plenty of convivial gatherings in the spirit of Robbie Burns himself. A magnificent banquet was hosted by the University - including bagpipes and haggis of course - and the wit and wine and warmth was overwhelming. Saw quite a few peaky faces the next morning.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Thursday, October 9, 2008
An excellent and revealing article on the travesty that is Wikipedia at MIT's Technology Review.
It seems that it is generally agreed that Wikipedia is very unreliable, for various reasons.
Many people find the handy availability of smug factoids makes up for the fact that details are possibly inaccurate or have been presented in slanted contexts.
But why should we care?
"Because Wikipedia's articles are the first- or second-ranked results for most Internet searches."
"On Wikipedia, truth is received truth: the consensus view of a subject."
On Wikipedia "something is true if it was published in a newspaper article, a magazine or journal, or a book published by a university press--or if it appeared on Dr. Who."
If the person something purportedly happened to, knows it isn't true, that cuts no ice with the mob rule.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
So when I heard that a bunch of his Sunday columns had been collected and published as Fish of the Week, I ran to the UBS and bought a copy immediately. Brilliant. Now I could have saved myself $29.99c if I have cut all the columns out and carefully filed them in a folder, but we have already established that I like books. And I have a nice new one now. Among the highlights I have spotted already, there is also a very funny take-off of a blog, that if I had read in time might have served to prevent me being here now talking like this. Too late, alas.
I stopped. He looked quizzical. We were on a hill and I could just have been catching my breath. You could tell that was what he hoped it was, anyway.
"Are you Steve Braunias?" I said.
He flinched. And straightened up. And winced. And backed away, just a bit. He was ready to run or be kicked.
Who was I, and how had he offended me? I could tell it was a constant threat.
There are two other recent titles from Steve Braunias. He's been highly praised for How to watch a bird - I haven't yet managed to look at it, but as it's so highly recommended maybe I'll put it on the Xmas list.
Monday, October 6, 2008
There is a luscious book on my coffee table. The substantial volume A Continent on the Move: NZ Geoscience into the 21st Century is just what the doctor ordered for me - a penetrating look at a subject I love, but as I'm no expert, I do appreciate that it's not too obscure and academic. On the other hand it isn't simplistic or patronising either. It's a challenge, an education and an entertainment all rolled into one and it gets top marks.
And at only $50 NZ, what amazing value, compared to some of the exploitative poorly written pap that gets churned out at the same price range.
This book has been published by the Geological Society of New Zealand in association with the government-owned research organisation GNS Science. It is a New Zealand contribution to the 2008 International Year of Planet Earth:
Earth scientists are today’s key players in building a sustainable world. For our children’s sake we must be able to use the Earth’s riches without wasting resources that cannot be replenished, and without upsetting the dynamic equilibrium of the Earth System that sustains us all.
Chief Editor Ian Graham, of GNS Science (they're the ones who are already my heroes because they run one of my favourite websites Geonet that has info on, among other things, the latest earthquake in these shaky isles) says the book has a dual purpose – to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Geological Society of New Zealand, and to provide a useful guide to the diverse applications of geoscience in today’s society.
“I hope this book helps to further enlighten policy-makers and the public, as well as providing an inspiration to future generations of geoscientists.”
The book explains that geologically, New Zealand is an exposed fragment of a large continental landmass – Zealandia – split by the boundary of two large geological plates. It is directly in the path of the moisture-laden winds of the ‘Roaring Forties’.
This means New Zealand experiences frequent earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, rapid erosion, and landslides. New Zealand also has supplies of natural resources – metallic minerals, coal, oil, gas, and water.
“This puts New Zealand in the position of being both ‘the best of worlds and the worst of worlds’.”
I have to agree with that!
It's a beautiful book, attractive design. Highly recommended. But sorry - you can't borrow mine, I'm going to be burrowing away into it for a long time to come...
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Here are some of the stats for how many people share some of my enthusiasms, enough to have said so on their profile:
Bloggers with an interest in travel: 129,000
Bloggers with an interest in family: 79,800
Bloggers with an interest in coffee: 23,800
Bloggers with an interest in trains: 1,600
Bloggers with an interest in earthquakes: 112
Bloggers with an interest in cats: 23,800
Bloggers with an interest in politics: 84,000
Bloggers with an interest in movies: 244,000
Bloggers with an interest in Buddhism: 5,000
Bloggers with an interest in reading: 533,000
Bloggers with an interest in writing: 254,000
Bloggers with an interest in fireworks: 1,300
Bloggers with an interest in space: 3,100
Bloggers with an interest in thunderstorms: 2,200
Bloggers with an interest in sunflowers: 458
Bloggers with an interest in poetry: 2,200
Bloggers with an interest in Josquin des Pres: 8
Bloggers with an interest in vampires: 203
Bloggers with an interest in dictionaries: 479
Bloggers with an interest in phrase books: 4
Bloggers with an interest in booksbooksbooks: 13
Bloggers with an interest in satire: 86
Bloggers with an interest in silence: 524
As a consequence I've come face-to-facebook with a social networking identity crisis. I spent many hours totally engrossed in the endeavour of deciding how to represent myself. But I'm not much closer than when I started out, to solving any of the myriad problems one faces when setting up a nice cosy profile and sitting down for that first scribble on the wall of an old chum.
Setting up on the likes of Facebook involves struggling with some of the most persuasive and annoying software I've ever tangled with and also involves the heaviest attempts at manipulation that I've ever encountered apart from door-to-door evangelists. For a start, some of the most unwise things you can ever do (like tell everyone your birthday and your email address) seem to be the default. So you have to run around catching all the horses and putting them back in the stable.
And that's even before you face the decisions about who to tell you're there, and whether it's work or play you're really there for.
Should I have TWO identities, like I do in blogland: one that's only for work and one that's only for ME? (This is the personal one, btw, if that wasn't obvious!)
One for work and one for play works reasonably well here in blogland. But then again I doubt whether readers of the work blog are going to be particularly thrilled to hear about my latest outstanding meal at Plato (it was a whitebait omelette so delicious I swear the tender tasty little fishies had leaped into the frying pan voluntarily just to be part of the exquisite dish).
But it does seem a little weird dividing me up into who I am and what I do, because that's always going to be an unnatural division, so if possible I don't want to run with the dual identities that are working so well on blogland. But will that mean some important part of me will have to be repressed?
Am I going to "go there" into that tricky field of politics, when some of the contacts are going to be work ones? And how about my poems? Will I post them? Or should I just have another location where I only put my poetry and nothing else? (I've seen some people do that.)
After all the decisions about photos and quotes and favourites and invitations and groups to join and what colour to paint the walls and shall I decorate in art deco or bauhaus, zen garden or pop art, it was nice to get back to homely little Schroedinger's Tabby and find the cat purring contentedly on the hearth and the green linoleum recently swept. That other stuff is far too razzle-dazzle for me. I'm certainly too old for Myspace, it seems, and I suspect I don't nearly have enough friends to justify being on Facebook!
And the sound-bites are way too brief for a long-winded old battler like meself...
So why did I go there? Well - whether or not you are on one or some or all of those sites, you will at least have experienced the regular procession of email invitations to join, sometimes from someone you haven't spoken to for five years. And you'll also probably be familiar with that part of the conversation with an old or new friend or acquaintance, that goes: "Look me up on Myspace/Bebo/Facebook/whatever else there is".
I had resisted blogland so well until recently, but the experience has been so positive for me now that I've at last succumbed and bought the t-shirt and got the tattoo, that it just took one more invite from a friend to join Myspace/Facebook to convince me I was missing out on a good way to keep in touch. So I went and signed up for Myspace. But then when I went looking for the friend who had invited me there, I found that I'd got my wires crossed and discovered they weren't on Myspace, the invitation had actually been to join Facebook. But now I was signed up for Myspace!
So I joined up on Facebook as well. Boy am I connected, eh.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
We'd been at Eureka - another favourite restaurant - for an early evening meal and I had emerged after consuming a very pleasant hot smoked salmon filo parcel on greens, washed down by a glass of crisp Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc, into what seemed like a film set full of improbable sights.
My first clue that the lunatics had taken over the asylum, was that a tall slender young man wandered past me, glassily eyed, swigging from a large beer bottle. He was naked except for a loin cloth, but his whole body was painted with mud, ash and paint. He seemed to have come through a time warp from some primal era. He walked out in front of passing cars as though he'd never encountered "traffic" before, but somehow managed to survive to plod out of view around the corner of the University Print Shop. I fully expected to see mammoths wander by.
To my eyes there had been a rift in space/time admitting a parallel chaotic universe. It seemed as though there was, or had been, or was about to be, a riot. Which is not unknown in this area by any means. Piles of rubbish were burning in the streets. The fire brigade was attending one massive couch fire on the pavement, alarmingly very close to parked cars - including ours! - and it was still only dusk. The streets were full of impossibly drunk students and most of them were dressed in picturesque costumes. A twittering angel in bare feet fluttered brainlessly across a debris-bedecked street. Filthy rubbish was strewn everywhere, upturned from bags and bins, and there was a sound of crashing and breaking glass. Thankfully we spotted no angry scenes, just a senseless vandalism that seems to have become an unfortunately expected part of the culture at the University of Otago.
Rebels without a cause: one of the attractions of tertiary student life in Dunedin appears to be the much bemoaned couch burning culture
I was not impressed, and grumped on about these same selfish stupid little prigs being destined to be right wing parasites by this time next year, and that I was quite sure they were all studying commerce and were from Auckland, and were all full of middle class entitlement, their drunken couch-burning bankrolled by mummies and daddies who encouraged them to come all the way down here so they would do their foul initiation rituals in someone else's nest.
We would never have done such things in "my" day. And if we did we had a damn good cause to do it for. We had political nous. We protested, we didn't just mindlessly destroy things.
Or did we?
Or is it just that I am the one who has slipped through the thirty-year rift in the space/time continuum, taking one day at a time to find myself on the other side of the generation gap?