Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Schemes and scheming

Reading the excellent Rod Oram's article in the Sunday Star Times on the Emissions Trading Scheme (which has been republished as a guest post on the excellent Hot Topic), one cannot but help think that something is amiss. We had an ETS, the previous Government saw to that; the present Government made some remarks about adjustments to ensure that the Scheme's requirements were not too onerous; but now we have been presented with something else altogether. The amended ETS is not an ETS at all, but a scheme whereby the taxpayer pays off the polluter. It is a corporate welfare system, in which we subsidise the polluters for their inability or unwillingness to clean up their act.

What's more, it looks like the revised ETS will put forest plantings back for a decade. So we will be less wealthy, more polluting and less arboraceous, all to help Mr Key and his backers.

And let us not forget the Maori Party; as Fran O'Sullivan observed on Saturday, their remarkable volte-face is in response to the demands of their own backers, the iwi corporations. The Maori Party have received little reward from the Government for their treachery, other than the bizarre promise of a racially based home-insulation plan.

During the General Election campaign, a friend (who was doing some contract work for the National campaign), was told by a group of National Party's backers that they regarded Mr Key as their investment. We can now see what they meant.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I cross the room like a dancing architect

More scenes from the Dan Brown feeding frenzy: at Unspeak, a consideration of skulls and wine; at The First Post, some alternatives; at Language Log, a classic analysis; in the Daily Telegraph, Dan Brown's worst sentences.

And here is some wisdom:
It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you're in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you're dealing with someone who can't.

(By the way, here's a simple way to find out if you're a writer. If you disagree with that statement, you're not a writer. Because, you see, writers are also readers.)

The Loud Family:

Bangor: a call to arms

Tesco has been accused of religious discrimination after the company ordered the founder of a Jedi religion to remove his hood or leave a branch of the supermarket in north Wales.

Daniel Jones, founder of the religion inspired by the Star Wars films, says he was humiliated and victimised for his beliefs following the incident at a Tesco store in Bangor.
Don't you just want to hit some people? No, that's a really bad thought; but still, people who seriously claim to profess the Jedi religion deserve correction. When a mock religion is just a jape to make fun of the churches or to upset the census, then all is well and good; but as soon as the adherents start whining about religious discrimination, you know they are taking themselves too seriously.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is time to persecute these people.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Washington squared

Mr Dentith has gone to the trouble of reading the latest Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol. We should all be grateful to him. Now we do not have to read this book and, since it apparently is much the same as the last one, we are saved reading that as well. Not that we were intending to read either, were we?

Well, no, but I couldn't resist having a look at the new one, since I was in a bookshop which had a display of its many unsold copies. The last word in the book, I can reveal to you, is "hope." In fact, I can reveal to you the closing paragraphs, since another Dan at Canongate (in a piece smartly named The Crazy World of Dan Brown) has gone to the trouble of writing it down:
As the sun rose over Washington, Langdon looked to the heavens, where the last of the nighttime stars were fading out. He thought about science, faith, about man. He thought about how every culture, in every country, in every time, had always shared one thing. We all had the Creator. We used different names, different faces, and different prayers, but God was the universal constant for man. God was the symbol we all shared . . . the symbol of all the mysteries of life that we could not understand. The ancients had praised God as a symbol of our limitless human potential, but that ancient symbol had been lost over time. Until now.

In that moment , standing atop the Capitol, with the warmth of the sun streaming down all around him, Robert Langdon felt a powerful upwelling deep within himself. It was an emotion he had never felt this profoundly in his entire life.

Atop... streaming down... upwelling, especially upwelling: this is classic dud prose, of a kind one rarely finds these days. It was not a dark and stormy night, but a bright new morn; but it makes no difference. Incidentally, this is not the first time that Robert Langdon had an upwelling: in The Da Vinci Code he had a sudden upwelling of anger, preceded (only moments earlier) by a sudden surge of uneasiness. Incidentally still, upwelling is:
In ocean dynamics, the upward motion of sub-surface water toward the surface of the ocean. This is often a source of cold, nutrient-rich water. Strong upwelling occurs along the equator where easterly winds are present. Upwelling also can occur along coastlines, and is important to fisheries and birds in California and Peru
No man is an island, but Professor Robert Langdon is an ocean.

So, you might be asking (as, according to T.S Eliot, the taxi diver asked Bertrand Russell), what's it all about, then? It's about the Freemasons, the architecture of Washington DC and Albrecht Dürer, that's what it's about. Of all people, Albrecht Dürer: the book has a chapter entitled Albrecht Dürer? So who, you might ask, is this Albrecht Dürer? Not the artist you thought he was, it seems. Apparently he was well versed in the Mysteries (with a capital M) and there are many clues in his works (this is a book about clues, you will understand). I must have missed this aspect of his work, as has every other Art Historian. For he always seemed to be the most lucid and rational of artists. But Brown has him as yet another initiate of the Mysteries, who cannot but help leave bleeding obvious clues to said Mysteries in his otherwise lucid and rational works of art.

You would have thought, would you not, that, if you were a secret society trying to keep a secret, you would not recruit to your membership artists, who would leave clues about your secret in their works. It seems an odd way to go about things. The best way to keep a secret is to tell no one; the second best way is to tell one other person; the worst way (to skip a few other ways) is to tell a Northern Renaissance artist who leaves clues about the secret in his engravings. Telling an Italian Renaissance artist who makes frescoes including the secret he has been told is just as bad.

Another bad way to keep a secret is to have clues to it built into buildings. Worse still is to build them into cities. This, apparently, is what the keepers of the secret did in Washington DC. Franklin Square is a square; a square is made from right angles; a right angle is an angle of ninety degrees; there are thirty-two degrees of Freemasonry. Go figure. No, me neither. As it turns out, Mr Brown gets Washington DC quite wrong in this book. But this will not stop hordes of idiots descending upon us Architectural Historians to demand that we tell them the secrets that we must know.

We, after all, are not Freemasons. It is the Freemasons who know the secret. Now, the only Freemason I have known (knowingly) in recent years is Ryan Sproull, who edited Craccum in 2006 and has since slipped into obscurity. I was quite surprised when Ryan became a Freemason, in the first degree because he was so candid about his membership: I had thought it was meant to be a secret, communicated only to other Brethren. In the second degree, I was surprised because Ryan professed to be (a) an Anarchist and (b) a Buddhist. Being (f) a Freemason seemed contradictory to these professions. One could hardly accuse Ryan of being a feminist, but being a member of an organisation which excludes women is not what one would expect of progressive people. Not that I am an expert, of course; it may be that the Durutti Column was also a Lodge, but I doubt it; it may be that Noam Chomsky is On The Square, but again I doubt it. It may also be that some Buddhists raise a trouser leg before meditation, but I doubt it still. But then, perhaps Ryan was putting aside any concerns of allegiance for the greater good of discovering the secret.

As I mentioned earlier, there are thirty-two degrees of Freemasonry, in the Scottish Rite at least, and one has the opportunity of becoming an Intimate Secretary (ooh-er Master) before going on to even greater things. Once one reaches the thirty-second degree, Master of the Royal Secret, presumably they tell one the secret; otherwise, it would be a complete waste of time, wouldn't it?

On the other hand it may be that there is no secret, and that the Freemasons are a bunch of petit-bourgeois misogynists who like nothing more than to scratch each others' backs while they dress up in silly clothes and recite ridiculous incantations, all the time believing that they are part of some esoteric tradition which is so much more important than the base self-interest and corruption for which they are known. But then, I would think that, wouldn't I? I have never been much of a joiner, let alone a mason.

Still, they must be rather pleased by Mr Brown's book, which not only portrays them as keeper of the secret but apparently as the good guys. Mr Brown's publishers must also be pleased, since theirs is the largest print run in publishing history. The Catholics have nothing to complain about this time. So everybody is happy, apart from the Art Historians and the Architectural Historians and the literati. But what do we know? We don't have a secret, after all.

But we do have the Interactive Dan Brown Plot Generator.

Tales from the cloister

I suppose this sort of thing happens all the time: a Jewish Aucklander who found Yeshua and now lives on Mount Carmel preaches in Gloucester Cathedral that President Obama is the Antichrist's John the Baptist and so provokes an angry response from an anarchist Curate who is then set upon by members of the congregation and then arrested and then de-arrested.

Look who's coming to the Forum

Meanwhile, Mr Key and Mr Goff - who thinks the issue of child-beating to be a distraction - today will be hanging out with this mob:
Over 120 delegates representing 70 family-focused organisations are gathering in Auckland today for the fourth annual NZ Forum on the Family, hosted by Family First NZ.

The Forum line-up includes the Children's Commissioner John Angus, Families Commissioner Bruce Pilbrow, Maxim Institute's Greg Fleming, Maori Child Advocate Bev Adair, Opposition leader Phil Goff, and the Prime Minister John Key.

"This will be the second time that John Key has spoken at the Forum but the first as Prime Minister," says Forum spokesman and host Bob McCoskrie. "It will be especially significant as many groups present have opposed the anti-smacking law and welcomed the Referendum result - a result which the Prime Minister has failed to act on. It will make for an interesting question time - both with the Prime Minister and also with Mr Goff. We are grateful that they have both been willing to 'front up' to these organisations.
But why? Why should Messrs Key and Goff collaborate in the hijacking of family issues by the Christian Right? Here, take a look at the agenda:
Topics to be discussed include tax policies for families, the anti-smacking law and the Referendum, practical and relevant solutions to child abuse and domestic violence, support for beneficiary families, rights of the unborn child and the elderly, parenting and marriage issues, broadcasting standards, and acknowledging and resourcing the invaluable work being performed by our charitable organisations.
In short, tax breaks for stay-at-home mothers, the right to abuse, abortion, euthanasia, moral panic and the out-sourcing of welfare. Regular readers of publications by the Maxim Institute (an educational charity) will recognise some of these concerns. And look who is coming:
Organisations represented include Family First NZ, Family and Child Trust, Sensible Sentencing Trust, Focus on the Family, Families Commission, For the Sake of our Children Trust, Vision Network. Royal NZ Plunket Society, FamilyLife NZ, Voice for Life, Family Life International, Media Matters, Maxim Institute, Right to Life NZ, and many others.
Quite how Plunket got involved is anyone's guess, but the rest are the usual gang of moral thugs and hystericals.

These are the people who ensured that Labour lost the Election and that social progress has been put back a few years at least. It is not that smacking, lightbulbs and showerheads were distractions, it is that Labour and the broad left allowed the nasties to command the territory. It is not that Labour did not listen but that it did not listen to talkback radio. These people made sure their prejudices, panics and self-interest dominated the discourse. And now Mr Goff is "fronting up" to them.

Whatever next? No, don't tell me.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Telling stories

Prime Minister John Key warned Labour yesterday against pressing for any disclosure of the Endeavour Trust documents of Finance Minister Bill English over his Wellington home.

Responding to calls from Labour's Pete Hodgson to see the trust documents or the minutes of its meetings, Mr Key said:

"I caution the member if he wants to have an open disclosure of every trust document and every superannuation document of every single member of Parliament, it would be a very interesting road to go down."
It is at times like these that you find out who people really are. That nice Mr Key, it turns out, is really not that nice at all. Mr English is a crook.

It is only because Honourable Members can make the rules to please themselves that Mr English is at liberty. Anybody else who pretended he had no financial interest in his own family's trust would be laughed out of court, which is where he deserves to be. And yet Mr Key is backing him to the hilt. One wonders what hold Mr English has over Mr Key; after all, it is common knowledge that they cannot abide each other and they are seen together rarely. Perhaps it is Mr English's knowledge of the details of that other trust -The Waitemata Trust by which National's backers make their anonymous donations - that keeps him where he is. Or perhaps it is something to do with the Hollow Men scandal.Or perhaps neither of the above. Perhaps it is simply that sense of entitlement, which motivates Mr English to take what he wants and Mr Key to do what he wants.

In any case, it is a shame that Mr Goff is about as useful as a one-legged man at an arse kicking party. And it is a shame that his is an arse-kicking party. We wait for that moment when Mr Goff will take command and show his principles and his vision, but it may never come. When Mr Goff muttered about smacking, lightbulbs and showerheads it showed no more than his lack of substance. The only political idea with which he has been associated is Rogernomics, a dogmatic attachment which mysteriously did not prevent him achieving the leadership.

One ought to say something about Mr Goff's deputy, international woman of mystery Annette King, but it difficult to think of anything she has said or done.

So Mr Key can continue to do whatever he likes, safe in the knowledge that Mr Goff would not be so impolite to make any real objection. Mr Key also has the support of Rodney Hide's Two Percent Solution, and of the Iwi Party, who have their own corporate interests to serve – as was shown by their recent reinterpretation of the phrase bottom line. Even the Green Party has sold its birthright for a mess of pottage - an organic, fairtrade mess, but pottage nonetheless.

Which leaves you and me. Cold out here, isn't it?

The Charlatans

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pedantry for pleasure and profit

Man came on the radio to tell us about Zimbabwe. It was Adam Mynott, of the BBC. This of itself is unexceptional, but at one point he used the phrase "the wheels of industry are grinding slowly forward." This seems a peculiar metaphor. The sort of wheels that grind are those found in mills, for the making such things as flour or coffee; these wheels do not move forward. The sort of wheels that move forward are usually the sort that propel vehicles; but these do not usually grind, unless they are moving on roads made of grain or coffee beans.

Mr Mynott, of course, is using a confused adaptation of the metaphor "the wheels of justice grind exceeding small." This, in turn, is an adaptation of the phrase "though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small," which is a translation by Longfellow of a verse by Friedrich von Logau.

I thought you should know. Carry on with whatever you were doing.

The bully pulpit

Larry "Seething" Baldock has submitted his latest CIR question to the Clerk of the House, as Idiot/Savant reports. Apparently, this is standard procedure. The Clerk is now inviting comment on whether the question should be such as to:
• convey clearly the purpose and effect of the indicative referendum,


• ensure that only one of two answers may be given to the question.
So, what happened last time? Why did we spend all that money and effort on a question that made no sense?

This time, at least, Mr Baldock's purpose is clear: "Should Citizens Initiated Referenda seeking to repeal or amend a law be binding?" He wants a CIR about CIRs, a meta-CIR if you will. Having failed to bully the Government into overturning the "anti-smacking" legislation by means of a referendum which almost half the elecorate ignored, he wants to make his silly stunts mandatory. Before us, we see a political landscape of constant referenda, on any subject which irks Mr Baldock and his miserable band of Christian Rightists. Doubtless, he would try again to have the Prostitution Reform Act abolished; doubtless too, he or others like him would try to have abortion made illegal and capital punishment revived.

It may be worth noting that we live in one of the world's most democratic countries, with short-term Parliaments elected by proportional representation. Despite this, the Christian Right's attempts to establish a bloc in Parliament have failed, because the electorate do not want that sort of thing. So Mr Baldock wants to force his odious views through by binding referenda on questions that he sets, aided by the forces of talkback radio and the grumpy old men who dominate public opinion.

I wish he would go away.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lorem Ipsum

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The phrase metasyntactic variable (pronounced /ˌmɛtəsɪnˈtæktɪk ˈvɛəriəbl/) is a neologism that is used in some programmer communities to describe a placeholder name or an alias term commonly used to denote the subject matter under discussion or an arbitrary member of a class of things under discussion. The term originates from computer programming and other technical contexts, and is commonly used in examples by hackers and programmers. The use of a metasyntactic variable is helpful in freeing a programmer from creating a logically named variable, although the invented term may also become sufficiently popular and enter the language as a neologism. For example, in Terry Pratchett's book Men at Arms, the dog Gaspode says, "Clothing has never been what you might call a thingy of dog wossname", and then adds, "Two metasyntactic variables there. Sorry." The word foo is the principal example.
Wikipedia: where the simplest ideas are described by the clumsiest definitions (and a reference to Terry Pratchett).

Here is a cartoon called ASDF; it was made by a PhD student in the Low Countries, and was made known to me by Cass Goodwin.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A heartbreaking poem of staggering genius

Why is poetry so awful these days?
I only ask because
I was listening to Jenny Bornholdt on
Nine to Noon and thought to myself
"This is crap."

I blame the Montana Book Awards
They encourage this sort of thing:
Me Me Me poems
which state the bleeding obvious
in words the People can understand.

So its all "everything is sad" and
"bad things happen," in blank verse
without difficult words, or metre:
the Nouvelle Hallmark style.

Of course, Nine to Noon
is all hospitals and Tragedy
and Heartbreak these days;
I would use the word maudlin
but that would be elitist.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Under the mountain

At the most basic, vulgar level, landscape expresses itself in a specific price: the added cost of a beautiful view in real estate, the price of a plane ticket to the Rockies, Hawaii, the Alps, or New Zealand... at the same time, landscape represents itself as "beyond price," a source of pure inexhaustible spiritual value... an "ideal state" quite independent of "real estate"... the land, real property, contains a limited quantity of wealth in minerals, vegetation, water and dwelling space. Dig out all the gold in a mountainside, and its wealth is exhausted. But how many photographs, postcards, paintings and awe struck "sightings" will it take to exhaust [the value of iconic natural landmarks]?
Thus wrote W J T Mitchell in Landscape and Power (1994, University of Chicago Press, p15) as abridged by Claudia Bell in Inventing New Zealand (1996, Penguin New Zealand, p34). I only mention it because it was written by someone from Overseas, and New Zealanders only take notice of the bleeding obvious when it is said by foreigners, so quoting it here might have some effect.

Or not, as the case may be. For the Government's simple plan to dig up the Conservation Estate to see if anything shiny can be found underneath is motivated as much by spite as by greed. Spite, after all, is an essential component of Government policy-making. It could be seen in the decision to bring back the Knights and the Dames: the Labour-led Government had done away with pomp and circumstance, so they must be brought back; and, as a bonus, the people who were honoured during the Interregnum were given the opportunity to upgrade their awards to Business Class. Spite guides the the odious lifeform known (for the duration of its stay on this planet) as Gerry Brownlee: digging up the bush will make some people very rich indeed, but it will also annoy the Greens.

Because if there is one thing the Right hates more than Labour, it is the Greens. The Grumpy Old Men who dominate the daytime airwaves attest to that. They demand the removal of the Resource Management Act, so that men like themselves can chop down trees and cut up hills. They call for the building of nuclear power plants, not because there is any need for them here (there is none) but because they cannot abide this country being nuclear-free. They scoff at schemes to limit plastic bags, as if the livelihoods of humble plastic-bag makers were threatened by middle-class environmentalists with hessian sacks.

More reasoned voices of the Right have rushed to the Brownlee's defence. That Mr Hooton was on the radio last Monday, to tell us that there would be no damage to the Environment, because the miners would not set foot on the Conservation Estate: they would mine under it. Of course! How silly of us to think otherwise. Mining operations could be based in some undesirable part of the country - Penrose, for example - and miners could commute to their work through tunnels leading to resources under the National Parks. On the other hand, Mr Hooton could be talking out of his adit.

Mr Farrar, on another hand, takes the view that we will lose only piffling amounts of clean and green New Zealand. It will barely be noticed. Besides,
A conservationist will look for the balance. They may say okay that 11 hectares of land has huge economic value. What if we purchased 500 hectares of land over there to replace it in the conservation estate. The conservation estate gets to grow, we get the economic benefits of the land’s economic value – a win/win. That is what we should look for.
Yes, that's it. Let's replace these 11 hectares of native bush with 500 hectares of farmland. We can grow a new bush on that, a bigger and better bush. If we don't, then schools and hospitals will suffer.

You see, the problem with the natural environment is that it is not economically useful. It is all just unimproved land, slovenly wilderness, sitting there and contributing nothing to our standard of living. It really is time the environment bucked up its ideas and started making an effort. And it really is time the Greens had those smug looks taken off their faces. There is gold in them thar hills and there are Greens in Grey Lynn who are going to be very upset. At the end of the day, it's a win/win.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Competition is killing our kids

Mr Pilbrow insists its concerns about regulation are valid. Vodafone had "educated'' the charity on the issue. "They asked us, if we felt compelled to be involved, then they would appreciate our part of the argument. "They said we raised valid concerns and they needed to be heard and it is a lot easier for us to say those things than Vodafone, because if Vodafone say things like that, [people] would say it was just Vodafone saying that.''
In which Parents Inc, the ever so slightly creepy charity run by Ian and Mary Grant, is shown to be owned by its sponsors; Hat-tip to Mr Farrar. Meanwhile, Megan Wegan has much to say about the Grants' new book.

Is it just me, or does Parents Inc look more like a business than a charity? And does it have any factual grounds for the assertions it makes - that women should get back to the 1950s? And do the Grants have any real knowledge to bring to their chosen field, or is it all prejudice?

Answers on a postcard to the usual address. In the meantime, I shall be looking for a new phone provider.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Allo Allo!

There is a muttering campaign amongst members of the pro-child abuse community, to the effect that Te Government is using various diversionary tactics to avoid the consequences of the referendum on child-beating – the imperative of changing the Crimes Act to allow Christian Fundamentalists to torture their children with weapons (as James Dobson – principal sponsor of the No means Yes campaign – once said, "a little bit of pain goes a long way"). The mutterers further allege that Te Government's agents of influence are complicit in these stratagems.

J'accuse, M. Farrar! Your attempt to divert readers with Nancy Wake clearly is one such move. There is nothing (apart from kittehs) more distracting than honours and awards. War heroine - SS - French Resistance - airmen - Gestapo- RSA - this will keep them busy for weeks. Of course, it is outrageous that she has not been given the highest award this country can offer; {sotto voce} until one remembers that she was two years of age when she was taken from this country by her parents.

Just follow the thread, children, and don't look around you.