Thursday, March 29, 2007

There she goes, there she goes again

Span has linked to my link about the S59 protests and is now hosting a discussion on repeal. I am linking back in a great circle of link.

Meanwhile PC also has photographs of the protests, including one of the same holder of a really good placard whom I had featured and her fellow protesters, whom he refers to as "plain Janes".

Now, as it turns out, I was writing a piece on Objectivist Aesthetics; really, I was. My thesis will now have to be revised. It seems that PC would prefer to see photographs of Lindsay Perigo (wearing a shirt that says "politically incorrect" when "morbidly obese" would be more appropriate) to a woman in the upper quartile of attractiveness (trust me, I am an Aesthetician) and her not unbecoming sisters.

This worries me. I had thought that Objectivists had a standard of beauty. I now realise how wrong I was.

Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather

Focus on the Family New Zealand has come out whining after the Prime Minister attacked them in Parliament. While Section 59 was being discussed in Question Time, Dr Michael Cullen asked the PM a somewhat helpful question:
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Is one of the groups advertising against the bill a group called Focus on the Family, which was founded by Dr James Dobson, and is this the same Dr James Dobson who has likened proponents of gay marriage to the Nazis, backed political candidates who called for the execution of abortion providers, defined embryonic stem cell research as State-funded cannibalism, and urged Christian parents to pull their children out of public school systems; if so, would she rather be associated with UNICEF, Save the Children, Plunket, and Barnados in supporting the bill?
The PM replied:
I most certainly would rather be associated with Plunket, Barnados, and Save the Children, which are reputable organisations that stand for decent values and for not having violence in our homes, than with the extreme right-wing fundamentalist groups that do not care about those issues.
Piqued by these comments, FOFNZ sent out a media release called "Government needs to learn to sling mud that’s accurate." Sorry to be pedantic (no I am not) but shouldn't that be "Government needs to learn to sling mud accurately?" After all, accuracy is not a quality possessed by mud but it is one that can be associated with slinging. Oh, that analytical philosophy has got me in it's spell...

Anyway FOFNZ's point was that it didn't have one: Kiwi Mums and Dads want to thrash their kids, Dr Dobson is a great man and the Government hasn't spend one cent on newspaper advertising. See, it stands to reason, doesn't it? FOFNZ also warns that "there is a real danger when politicians and the media take US-centric language and transfer it to our culture."

There is also a real danger when fundies talk bollocks. The briefest glance at the FOFNZ website shows it is steeped in language that is not just US-centric but fundy-centric. Leaving aside the Purity camp for the time being (soon, my pretties, soon), follow the links to the Pure Intimacy site. Turn down the lights and read. It's all about "recovering the heart of sexuality." No, not really, its about gays and girls and gay girls. Fancy some Endogenous Temptation and Spiritual Warfare?
The desire to masturbate, to indulge in a book or movie that leads to sexual fantasy and masturbation, temptation to seek out a sexual contact, or to just allow fantasies to go unchecked, can become a major problem. When these feelings affect night-time dreaming, too, a woman may become depressed and guilty over how out of control she is.
How about a Christian sex guide or dating advice from Christian stars. I know; it's all a bit too up close and personal. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

So how about Intelligent Design? What's that got to do with the family, I hear you ask? Nothing, but these are fundies. In fact, not so long ago, FOFNZ sent a DVD about ID to every secondary school in NZ.

And what about this James Dobson, then? One of the most powerful evangelicals in the USofA, hotline to the President, etc, etc; he runs a huge organisation, dispensing advice and judgement in equal amounts. Here's some advice from his 1977 book, Dare to Discipline (still yourselves, it is not like that; really it isn't)
"[P]ain is a marvellous purifier... There is a muscle, lying snugly against the base of the neck ... When firmly squeezed, it sends little messengers to the brain saying, 'This hurts; avoid recurrence at all costs.'"

"I suggest [spanking with] a switch (a small, flexible twig from a tree) or a paddle… if it doesn't hurt it doesn't motivate."
And here's some judgement: "Communities do not let prostitutes, pedophiles, voyeurs, adulterers, and those who sexually prefer animals to publicly celebrate their lifestyles, so why should homosexuals get such privileges?"

And then there is SpongeBob. I know I like to mention this at any opportunity, but it is just so darn funny. Dr James Dobson accused SpongeBob SquarePants of being pro-gay, because he appeared in a video about cooperation and unity (socialist values) made by Nile Rogers, the writer of "We are Family." The New York Times covered the story with one of its best headlines ever: Conservatives Pick Soft Target. If you can't be bothered to register, here is news from the BBC. The full rap is on Toon Zone.

And then there is the misuse of scientific data. I could go on; I could go on all day. But suffice to say, Dr James Dobson is a bully, a fraud and a something of a creep.

The uncertainty of the poet

Faith, my flatmate, gave me some bananas. I was reminded of the video on Godtube, to which I linked a few posts back. Here is a viewers' guide to that video, which can be seen in full here.

The two men who present this video are sitting on high stools which are on a rug beside a lake. These men obviously want to be close to nature, which is God's Creation, but not that close.

The man on the right is Kirk Cameron. He is an actor. He played Mike Seaver in Growing Pains. When his acting career stalled... sorry, when he accepted Jesus into his heart, he started evangelising with the man on the left.

The man on the left is Ray Comfort. He is a New Zealander. He came from Christchurch. He is very big in the United States, where he preaches outdoors. He lives in Bellflower, California, a long way from New Zealand. For over two years, he preached outside the Bellflower courthouse almost every day, until the judge issued a court order forbidding him from preaching on court property; the judge had earlier made the public property outside the court, where Comfort preached, court property. Comfort sells millions of tracts each year. Most are of the same intellectual standard as this video.

The type of banana which Ray uses in this video is a Cavendish. It was not created by God but developed by banana growers from a plant found in Saigon. It is one of 300 varieties of banana, many of which are quite difficult to either hold or eat. The banana Ray is holding and eating is a clone. Cavendish bananas are propagated asexually. The Cavendish is the most popular cultivar of banana in the West, although its future is threatened by a fungal disease called Fusarium wilt. Whether God designed Fusarium wilt may be known only to Ray, who claims to receive his teachings directly from Jesus. There are no bananas in the Bible.

The people to whom Kirk talks in this video are claimed to be Atheists, although Ray says they are really agnostics. Ray does not really know what is an Atheist, although that does not matter to him.

Kirk does not seem to have much success using Ray's techniques for sharing the Love of Christ with Atheists. The first man to whom Kirk talks does not seem that bright. The second one is an Intellectual, as can be seen by his glasses and beard. His comments have been edited, crudely. The other Atheist is a woman. She is hot. She is also smarter than Kirk. Neither Kirk nor Ray realise this.

This video contains absolutely no homoerotic sub-text.

The painting above is by Giorgio di Chirico. Making images like this contravenes the Second Commandment, a fact that men like Ray and Kirk never mention. This painting inspired this poem by Wendy Cope.

Carnival of the intellectuals

Here are a few things I have been reading, some found on 3 Quarks Daily, others on Arts and Letters Daily and others still which I found myself. The NY Times articles require you to create an account, which you should do because it's free and its fun. Feel free to comment and add your own links.

Christopher Reid on Howard Hodgkin: Smallness of scale, which nowadays means domestic, has tempted a number of commentators to disparage Hodgkin as a latter-day Omega Workshop bibeloteur. Being related to Roger Fry and having a studio in Bloomsbury probably haven’t helped, but the put-down is facile and misleading. Not only is he vastly more skilful than either Fry, Vanessa Bell or Duncan Grant, but his understanding of what painting can and should do exceeds theirs as well.

Gavin Stamp on Scotland's lost houses: The architectural historian is soon confronted by the melancholy truth that human beings can take as much pleasure in destruction as construction.

Clive James on Leni Riefenstahl: After unrolling her usual impatient rigmarole about having known nothing about any Nazi atrocities, Leni made the mistake of saying that she sometimes, against her will, had to do what Goebbels wanted, because she was afraid of being sent to a concentration camp. Schulberg asked why she should have been afraid of that, if she didn’t know that concentration camps existed.

Adam Kirsch on Clive James: Mr. James's definition of humanism is as good as any ever proposed: It is "a propensity to increase the variety of the created world rather than reduce it." In this book teeming with variety, he offers proof that such a humanism is still our best chance for a rich, happy, and decent life.

Simon Jenkins on Terry Eagleton: As a cultural historian Eagleton has made a thing of typologies. He can strut the campus juggling modernism, postmodernism, neo-structuralism and pseudo-reductionism until girls swoon and review editors queue for autographs

The truth about blogging: Though the numbers and breadth of blogging are indeed astonishing, it's not at all clear what the numbers mean, if they mean anything at all. Much of what constitutes the phenomenon of blogging is apt to be inconsequential for the simple but powerful fact that nobody reads most of them. That is, aside from their authors, literally nobody.

The lost world of Australian culture: ‘The Victoria and Albert Museum is hosting an exhibition of Kylie Minogue’s costumes’ said Sandi Toksvig on a recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz. ‘It’s on loan from the Australian Arts Centre, which is now presumably empty.’

The essays of Susan Sontag: To the academic reader, these are provocative, even flashy performances. To the common reader, they’re like shots of intellectual espresso. You want to tear through the Duino Elegies in time to make it to the Whitney, a fringe production of Aristophanes and a coffee-house poetry reading of a Latvian √©migr√©.

The legacy of Tony Blair: Yet the record of his governments has been one of opportunities half-caught or missed entirely, of impulses that were sometimes admirable but rarely acted on, of reasonable but not unusual administrative competence, of some genuinely wrong-headed or shameful policies and, of course, a disastrous adventure abroad. Its overall record is incoherent, and becoming more so. His political leadership has also been paradoxical. He has given the Labour Party those unprecedented victories but done more to destroy it institutionally than anybody.

The cool of the Velvet Underground: What binds fans to the Velvet Underground – fans in private – is this closet character in a band that was supposed to be the epitome of cool: a fantasy of an underground world of S&M dungeons and shooting galleries that offers pleasures similar to those to be had from ‘underground’ books in the hip-Gothic tradition of Sade, Georges Bataille, William Burroughs, Hubert Selby Jr and whoever serves as a present-day inheritor (Chuck Palahniuk?). Reed rewrote these books, in essence, as songs.

The politics of zombies: That’s an irresolvable setup, but it gets to the heart of what makes our zombie friends such paradoxical creatures: metaphorically potent because they’re grounded in a mundane reality, spiritually provocative because they dispense completely with spirituality, symbols of class warfare that posit a classless society as the ultimate horror. The zombie embodies the greatest horror of death: the inescapable sameness of it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Good news for Architectural Historians

Sophie Ellis-Bextor's latest video was shot in Venice.


Here, without further ado is a brief round-up of some pages I have been reading; posted with thanks to Craig Young for sending news stories.

The Pope goes on about gay marriage again, while his forthcoming visit has stirred up the great Brazilian condom debate and Popetown continues to make itself unpopular, now in Lithuania. Elsewhere in Eastern Europe Satanic bar codes frighten the peasantry and here is some more about Poland. In Slovenia, people are disappearing; Mother Jones reports. Back in the USA Albert Mohler wants to have the gay gene removed before birth, which rather contradicts all that guff about homosexuality being a lifestyle choice. Meanwhile, rights are an issue for Melanie Phillips.

Enough of bad news. For your edification, amusement and time-wasting, here are a few other things I have been reading. If you like art, try Cabinet Magazine. If you like toast, try Dr Toast. If your redeemer has blessed you with broadband, here is Godtube; as a taste, see why atheists should be scared of bananas . If you are unsure of what GLBTQ2IA means, here is a politically correct lexicon. On the other hand, you might want to know how to be right. Here is some clever stuff by Harvest Bird and a new edition of Foucault's Madness and Civilisation gets roughed-up by the TLS.

Finally, CBTP has found Billy Bragg and Bill Bailey playing together.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Where were you last night?

I was here.


And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo-bee

Just when I thought I would have a quiet day nursing the hangover that resulted inevitably from drinking with Craccum editors past and present, Craig Y has sent me this ominous report from Doug Ireland. It's crazy, but it's true: The World Congress of Families will be holding its fourth world congress in sunny Warsaw, a city famed for its concerto, its convention (International air travel, in case you care) and its appalling Stalinist architecture.

Who, what and why (you might ask) is the World Congress of Families? It is a confederation of wild and wacky fundamentalist groups who come together every few years to listen to 'papers' by pseudo-academics on the favourite fundy topics: girls and gays. Its members or delegates or representatives or whatever include:
The Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, International Campaign for the Family, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, Family Caucus, Familias Y Sociedad (scorchio!), The Howard Center For Family, European Federation for the Family, Family First Foundation, Red Familia, World Family Policy Center, United Families International, Church of God – Family Ministries, Latin American Alliance for Families
You will by now have learned to be suspicious of any organisation with 'family' in its name, just as you learned to be suspicious of funny men offering you sweeties. You would be right. These people are dreadful and Warsaw is welcome to them.

But (you might ask) why Warsaw? Don't get me wrong: I have nothing against the place, having never been there. I know almost nothing about it, other than that the food in the Polish restaurant near the V&A was very good and what I learned from a Polish ambassador's daughter over dinner not so long ago. It just seems an unusual choice for a world conference destination. Like, I mean, have you seen A Short Film about Killing? The reason why the fundies are going there is on the website:
Europe is almost lost; to a demographic winter and to the secularists.  If Europe goes much of the world will go with it.  Almost alone, Poland has maintained strong faith and strong families, though even Poland comes under severe pressure to change.  Poland has saved Europe before. It is likely she will save Europe again.  On family and population questions, Europe is the battleground in the early years of the 21st Century, and Poland is the pivot point.   It makes abundant sense that The World Congress of Families IV meet among the brave people of Poland.  Poland’s central location will give pro-family groups across the Continent easy access to this Congress.
You see, Poland is now run by twins. One is President and the other Prime Minister. They are identical, so they could swap jobs without anyone knowing or one could have a night off while his brother does the round of diplomatic receptions. A convenient arrangement, you might think, but unfortunately Doug and Dinsdale Kaczynski are even nastier than the World Congress of Families. If you read Ireland's article rather than this one, you will see why.

I could go on but I won't. It's a nice day and I want to have happy thoughts now. So here is one organisation with family in the title that you can trust: Sly and the Family Stone.

If only the fundies would get the message.

A spy in the house of dull

I am informed that my former employers have placed a notice in the members' newsletter to say that the Fundy Post is not an official publication of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (Inc).

I am glad they cleared up any ambiguity. I don't know about you, but I think only a spectacularly dim member would think this blog an official NZARH publication, since I am consistently rude about the Association and its inactivites. However, if you were under this delusion, I am sorry to disappoint you. You can at least console yourself by reading some of the fascinating articles in the NZARH Journal.

Even better, you can go along tomorrow to the Open Forum on the National Statement on Religious Diversity. I am sure it will be a hoot. I would go but the NZARH filed a trespass order against me.

On the other hand, you could stick around here. I have nothing positive to say about Planetary Humanism but I do occasionally post really good cartoons, such as this one from Wondermark. It was sent to me by Samuel. ROFLMAO

postscript: this one is good as well.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The dog ate my homework

My apologies, gentle reader, for being somewhat inactive of late. For the last few weeks I have been preoccupied with events at Princes Street, all of which has been very distressing. These activities have prevented me indulging in the living part of life and caused me to miss the Hussell for Rustle, which I regret deeply, and The Clean. I have also moved out of Absurdist House and into The Edge of Niceness, that part of Grey Lynn where Bohemia meets the auto trade. Oh, and I have also been appointed News Editor of Craccum and invited to contribute to an encyclopedia of philosophy. Yay me.

Enough of excuses. Here is something I wrote for last week's Craccum.

Sometimes, it's hard to be a tory. Outside traditional conservative areas like Remuera, being right-wing isn't fashionable. People don't want to know about your views on immigration or political correctness (gone mad). In Grey Lynn and Ponsonby, being Right means being lonely.

It is not that there is any shortage of places to voice your opinion. Call any talkback show at any time of day or night (especially at night) and you can express your right-wing views to a sympathetic host. Write to almost any newspaper and your warnings of moral decline are almost certain to be published. But being a critic is a solitary occupation. Where can you go to be among your own kind, to share thoughts, make friends and get things done- the RSA, the Rotary Club, Church? Maybe none of these are really to your taste. And maybe you might find the opinions you hear a little short on substance, detail and, for that matter, thinking.

It's alright for the lefties; they love a meeting. At the drop of a hat they will gather round to complain about the oppressive patriarchal system of gravity and its effects on millinery workers. The left lives to meet, to protest, to talk, to argue, to split into factions.

What's more those lefties have so much to talk about. They have Theory. Lots of it: Chomsky and Gramsci and Trotsky and Laski. They have Opinion as well: Robert Fisk, George Monbiot, Jon Stewart, Tom Tomorrow. They also have Fact: statistics, indicators, all that Social Science stuff.

Worse still, New Zealand is full of lefties. They are everywhere. They have been in power for eight years and New Zealanders seem to like all that social democratic, pinko greenery. What is a decent, moral God-fearing right-winger to do?

Join a group. That's what to do. In a group, you can meet others, discuss things, get ideas. You can get together and share your grievances. As an added bonus, a group can give you a theoretical basis for your thoughts.

So, which group to join? There are so many to choose from. Some can be a little disappointing and possibly not worth the subscription. Take, for example, Catholic Action; that is, if you can find them. They are Catholic and they take Action, don't they? Well, yes, sometimes. Way back in 2004 they wrote a press release about the Civil Unions Bill which said:

"Any MP who votes for the 'Civil Union' Bill is diabolically disorientated. Any MP who votes for the 'Civil Union' Bill is on the road to Hell for all eternity. Any MP who is cast into Hell will burn forever in an unquenchable fire."

It didn't work. Most of the MPs were not afraid of the unquenchable fire and voted for the Bill. Later, in February of last year, they protested against the South Park episode that featured the Virgin Mary in a bit part. More viewers watched the show than ever before. Since then, Catholic Action has not found anything to be active about.

How about the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards, then? They have a website and they have Objectives, which include:

To encourage self-respect and the dignity of the human person, made in the image of God.


To focus attention on the harmful nature and consequences of sexual promiscuity, obscenity, pornography and violence.

They are certainly active. If anything, they are obsessive. Their main target is the Chief Censor, the man who puts R18 on all those films you really want to see when you are 16. The trouble for SPCS is that he does not ban enough films, especially art films which include graphic depictions of you-know-what. He is also a homosexual and they don't like that one bit. What's more, his Deputy is a woman in sensible shoes, if you know what I mean. So they spend a lot of their members' money ($35 a year for individuals, $45 for families) taking him to court to try to get his decisions overturned. When the Chief Censor allowed a French film called Baise-Moi (translation available on request) to be shown at the Incredibly Strange Film Festival, the SPCS took him to the High Court and then to the Court of Appeal.

The results were not quite what they expected. Baise-Moi originally was classified to be shown only at festivals and by film students. After the court decisions it was reclassified and made available for general release. The notoriety it gained made it rather popular. So, rather than being seen by a handful of swots, it was shown in several cinemas to many people.

Never mind. The SPCS carries on regardless. At the moment they are trying hard to have Big Boob Lesbian Cops II banned, because it involves the use of batons.

Perhaps spanking is your thing. In which case, there are loads of groups you can join, because the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act is going through Parliament. A lot of decent, God-fearing people are against this, because The Bible tells them they must smack their children to get the evil out of them. In fact, the SPCS are against the repeal of Section 59. So, while they don't like people spanking each other for pleasure and profit in movies, they do like it at home, for children. For the specialist, however, there is only one group: Family Integrity.

It's a family affair. Family Integrity (“our home...our castle”) is run by Craig and Barbara Smith and their eldest daughter Genevieve. Not only do the Smiths campaign vigourously for the right to spank, they provide a handy guide on how to do it. The Christian Foundations of the Institution of Corporal Correction is available as a PDF from the Family Integrity website. It includes this testimonial:

I freely admit that I do not understand the connection between a physical smack on the bottom and a rebellious spiritual condition of the heart, nor how the first drives out the latter. But the Scripture declares it is so, therefore I am obliged to believe and practice it. In addition there is the verifying testimony of untold generations who have gone before, my own memory of how it worked with me, my observation of smacking’s cleansing effect on my own natural and adopted and even fostered children, plus the positive testimony in favour of even more diligent and consistent smacking from my adult children!

Not enough for you? Well then try new, improved, Family First which has campaigned against the repeal of Section 59 and against Hell Pizza distributing condoms. As the smart new kid on the block Family First is the one to watch. Many more campaigns are to come. And it has a former TV weatherman, a former children's TV presenter and a former All Black on its Board.

Speaking of former All Blacks, we come to the Maxim Institute. John Graham - former All Black Captain, Headmaster of Auckland Grammar School and Chancellor of Auckland University formed the Maxim Institute right here in his office at the University. Maxim is a cut above the other groups of the Right. It likes to be thought of as a think tank or, more properly, as a social policy research group. It would like to be thought of as a lot of things but one little thing it likes to keep under wraps is that it is largely staffed and supported by members of fundamentalist Christian churches. Instead it poses as a “social policy research group:”

“The Institute has undertaken comprehensive analysis and made innovative recommendations to select committees and policy-makers on a range of issues...”

Ah, yes, but, when you look at this analysis, you find it is decidedly dodgy. Maxim's lengthy, ponderous submission on the Civil Unions Bill made much use of 'research' from crazed American right-wingers obsessed with homosexuality. It throws figures around with gay abandon and looks professional but there is not much behind the flow charts and footnotes. Maxim's staff don't have the background in social sciences to be able to talk about social affairs with any authority. Maxim is about marketing, not research.

Then there was the unfortunate business of Mr Logan. Since its inception, Maxim's intellectual gravitas was provided by Bruce Logan, whose essays and opinion pieces showed learning and erudition. Regrettably for Maxim it was not his own learning and erudition. He was copying large chunks of text from right-wing writers overseas and passing it off as his own. His plagiarism was uncovered in 2005 by the diligent research of an intrepid investigative writer (me, in fact). Since the scandal that ensued, Maxim has downsized its operations and rebranded itself as a more caring, sharing bunch of folk. It is now concerned with 'social justice' and 'compassionate conservatism.' Sadly, nobody takes it seriously anymore.

Still, at least it is active. Maxim produces pamphlets and books. It runs campaigns and helps its supporters write letters to the editors. Maxim tried very hard to get National elected in the last General Election, on the quiet of course. It didn't win that battle or any of the others it has fought; but it keeps on trying.

Try as they might and will, groups like Maxim have a problem: they don't like ideas. Conservatives despise intellectuals and they afraid of thinking. Their politics are based on emotion and on nebulous concepts like authority and tradition. Their opinions are reactive. Ideas are new and suspect. Religious conservatives are unhappier still: theirs is a politics of fear, stalked by the spectres of anarchy and moral depravity. You can talk as much as you like about the foundations of civil society and the centrality of the family but it all comes down to gays and girls – moral prejudices amplified into political concerns.

Perhaps all you can do is form your own group. Here's how to do it. Choose a name, preferably involving 'family' and something like 'foundation' or 'institute' to suggest a degree of academic respectability. Get a website. Get some corporate sponsors. Find an issue to complain about; something to do with sex is always a winner. Tell everybody that the sky will fall if the Government goes ahead with its plans to legislate on this issue. Generate some outrage and fear. Then you can sit back and enjoy the moral panic you have created.

Perhaps it's not so hard to be a tory after all; at least you don't have to think.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Adam Owens of the Christian Heritage Party has been charged with his mother's murder.

Social clamouring

Gentle reader,

I should post more often but I am busy writing a self-help book for existentialists, At Home With Unheimlich. What follows is something I wrote a while back on the same theme as the previous two posts. I will write something new soon, I promise.

Leaked memo reveals truth about Herald on Sunday

The Herald on Sunday has been rocked by scandal following the leaking of an internal memo which reveals that many of the people in its celebrity photographs section are nobodies.

The paper has gained widespread acceptance for its insightful photographs of people standing around at parties, some of whom are known celebrities but many who are only vaguely recognisable, if at all. With the release of the memo comes the shocking truth that they are not remotely famous.

The memo was written to Herald senior management by sub-editor Justine de Vlaminck, whom sources say was known as Debbie Smith when working in her first job on the Porirua Gazette. It details the strategies behind the making of the celebrity photos section: "really there are not that many real celebrities in Auckland and there are not that many places where they congregate. It can be a hard job filling three pages with photographs. "

"We have a bad time finding places to go to photograph people who are even mildly well-known. Theatre openings and art gallery viewings would seem the obvious choices but real A-list celebs are mostly pretty stupid and try to avoid people who talk in complete sentences. The folk who do hang out at these events are generally old, ugly and badly-dressed, even if they are the intellectual capital of the knowledge economy. Besides, our readers wouldn't have a clue who they are. Our readers are morons.

"So, once we have taken the week's snaps of Charlotte Dawson and Marc Ellis, we look around for people who are tolerably recognisable. Usually, there is not much in choices of location: the opening of yet another Parnell restaurant, some party at a posh car dealership, the unveiling of the first collection by this week's breathtaking new fashion talent. It is all pretty humdrum. There are few pickings when it comes to star quality either: what genuine paparazzi-bait would bother going out on a wet Tuesday night to a piss-up at a hairdressing salon?"

"What we do is find anyone who looks hot and could pass for a bit-part player in Shortland Street. It's not that difficult for the photographers: most of them only picked up a camera in the first place so they could ogle girls' boobies without being arrested. At this kind of bash there will usually be a bunch of Dio girls who would do pretty much anything for a Strawberry Vodkatini. As for men, we can always find a few foppish boys who look as if they might be heirs to vast manufacturing fortunes, even if they came on the bus from Avondale.

"We then top off the evening by taking a picture of any bald guy with no neck who happens to be passing. The mid-life crisis blokes all try to look like former All-Blacks when they are dangling their BMW keyrings in front of nail-technicians at Sponge Bar; if it fools those floozies, it will fool our readership. Actually, those floozies are our readership: ask the marketing department."

"When we crawl back to the office the next morning, we are usually too hung-over to remember who we photographed or where, so we just make stuff up. That's why everyone in the photographs has such silly names, like Clint Rutgers or Pollyanna Caboose. Most of the events are just as fictitious. A lot of them are just staff parties; sometimes we don't even have to leave the building to get a photo shoot."

"It might all seem just a tad ethically challenged, but what does it matter? Nobody's going to win a Qantas doing this sort of work and Robert Fisk isn't going to come looking for a story about us. It doesn't matter to the readers anyway. Down the line in Waiwhatever, they think anybody in the big city who dyes her hair blonde and cultivates an eating disorder must be famous."

No spokesman for the Herald on Sunday was available for comment.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

NZ Listener now to be available as soothing Gel

A reader commented about the Listener's falling circulation. A while back, I wrote the following for Craccum and posted it on Kete Were as satire; it may well be useful to the Listener's publishers as a marketing proposal.

Following top-level discussions at APN Media, it was today announced that the New Zealand Listener would now be produced in three formats: print, web and gel. Editor Pamela Stirling commented: "our market research shows that readers can find it quite stressful to read about the dangers of botox poisoning, the imminent decline in house values or the worrying trends in garden design. So what better way to relax than with Listener Gel? It rejuvenates the skin, removes unsightly blemishes and calms aching muscles. Best of all, it removes middle-class anxiety in an instant."

Responding to criticism that this new format represents a dumbing down or smoothing out of the long-established literary and political magazine, Stirling commented, "New Zealand Listener readers are not the same demographic as they used to be and our paradigm must achieve synergy with their lifestyle priorities. We like to call our product range New Listener, because we have responded to focus groups just like that nice Mr Blair has done with his New Labour, which of course is not the same as that grumpy old New Labour we once had here."

Warming to her theme, Stirling continued: "our readers enjoy the finer things in life. They are achievers and trend-setters, who want to spend their high disposable incomes on products that make them look good and feel good. They deserve it. They have worked hard and played hard. Now it is time to unwind."

"Since I became Editor," she continued, "we have managed to remove almost all traces of the difficult stuff which used to fill up the old Listener's pages. It really used to be quite hard work reading all that political commentary and those cranky reviews of difficult books that nobody I knew ever bought. I don't think our readers want all those boring, intellectual things cluttering up their aspirational lives. I know our advertisers don't!"

"Still, the Listener is not all about holiday destinations and tasty treats for summer barbecues. Many of our lead articles are very challenging. Some are really quite icky. This could be a problem. The consumers who fit our readership profile like to chill-out after an invigorating pilates session by enjoying a glass of unoaked gewurztraminer and the company of some business friends. We would not like their sparkling conversation to be impaired by the thought that some hair products might cause cancer or that the costs of vein replacement therapy are spiralling out of control. We try to make all our stories about boomers positive and uplifting, but the reality is they still fear their lives are effectively past them and they will die embittered and lonely."

"That's where Listener Gel comes in. Its special compounds, suffused with aloe vera and hand-pressed extra virgin olive oil, simply take away all sense of existential crisis. It removes the worry and makes you feel like a consumer again."

"Best of all, add it to pan-fried snapper on a bed of wilted spinach and it makes a delicious meal for friends and family alike. Listener Gel: it beats thinking every time."

Monday, March 05, 2007

It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world

Which well-known blogger will be having this week's edition of About Town framed? I can exclusively reveal to you that friends of the fragrant Pamziewamzie, star of Red Confectionery, are positively littering the society pages of the Sunday Star Times lifestyle supplement. The shy and reclusive Pamziewamzie is not pictured herself, but a sizeable portion of her social coterie is shown posing at Boy George's concert at the St James.

Why does Bridget Saunders, About Town gossip columnist, this week quote extensively from a rather uninteresting blog post by Cactus Kate about the very uninteresting Charlotte Dawson? Did Bridget not have enough tittle-tattle to fill the spaces between the photographs? At least she has the good grace to flatter Kate by describing her as an evil genius, when Kate is obviously neither adjective nor noun.

Must every gossip column in New Zealand mention Rachel Hunter? Why did no-one tell her that naming her swimwear range Lola is inadvisable, given the song by The Kinks of the same name about a boy who gets off with a transvestite?

When did Ms Saunders, the former lunch partner of Don Brash, start believing she is Joseph Addison? Take, for example this piece of political wit:
"John Key (rhymes with Vote 4 ME!) even did a fashion shoot for Remix magazine the other week!"
Or is she employing teenage staffers, as the txt spk, ignorance of scansion and overuse of exclamation marks suggest?

Could those cryptic and irrelevant bits of gossip in the We Live In A Small Town section be motivated by a fear of defamation lawyers? Why else would we be asked questions such as
Which cheerful local celebrity's motto may as well be "Accentuate the positives, medicate the negatives"?
Go on Bridget, tell us who it is. After that, tell us how many syllables are in the word "medicate."

Does Bridget Saunders think of herself as a political insider when she writes:
What on earth was Taito Phillip Field thinking when he invited a certain attractive MP, who has posed for a calendar (with lifesavers in swimming trunks), "to come out of the closet"?
So what are you implying about Lockwood Smith, Bridget?

Does Bridget employ teenage subs, who don't know where to put quotation marks or when to use capital letters?

Should this section of About Town be renamed "We Have Small Minds?"

About Town has always stuck in my craw, not just for stealing its name from the site where I got my first blogging job, but also for being consistently air-headed. Recently, however, it has been upstaged in the froth department by Sunday, another of the many advertising containers that so easily fall out of the SST into the nearest bin. Whilst About Town makes no pretension of being anything other than puff pastry, Sunday has delusions of journalism. Not only does it have feature articles on such compelling topics as the hen night and the girl crush, it has an editorial, which summarises these in-depth investigations for readers who do not have the stamina to read Deborah Hill Cone's eloquent prose.

Sunday also has a letters column. Amazingly, readers bother to write to the Editor and, more surprising still, she publishes their ramblings. Unfortunately, the readers cannot write. Here is an example which continues to perplex me:
My letter ["Sunday - a love story," February 18], subsequently printed, referred to the Braunias-Simpson relationship. It lost context when Emily took leave.
I can only assume this is some sort of code. At least it reminded me that Sunday has Steve Braunias as a staffer. New Zealand's funniest writer is now serving time with a back page article that is a cruel shadow of his Page 94 in the Listener. Readers will no doubt remember that Braunias had been removed from the Listener and replaced by an utterly unfunny writer called Joanne Black, as part of new Editor Pamela Stirling's descent-into-bathos policy. I assume he has now offended someone else; or perhaps being a good writer is a quality the SST management now feels deserves punishment.

I suppose this ersatz magazine is designed for women who are presumed to find reading the broadsheet SST too tiring on the arms and taxing on the brain. Instead they are comforted by articles about shoes.

Perhaps it is all an in-joke, designed to encourage the useful idiots in advertising to spend more of their clients' money, while having a good laugh at the readers' expense. Evidence for this thesis comes among those crushingly pompous letters to the editor, where a glimpse of the fourth wall being broken can be seen this week:
Your mag is utter rubbish, along with the entire Sunday Star-Times. I have persisted for years to keep buying same, but no more. There is no substance in anything you write and it is an insult to the media in general. From now on I will just read a good book.