Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lecturers, lispers, Losers, loblolly-men, louts

Another surmise: They aren't reading "The Hunger Games" in China. Or in Finland. Or in any of the other countries that consistently beat us in standardized tests. Fair bet is that they're reading Shakespeare, Chaucer, Austen and Hurston (or their high-culture equivalents), all of which are on the Common Core standards for high school and yet, by and large, remain ignored in the American classroom, where the intellectual rigors of the fifth grade linger right up until college.
The estimable Cheryl Bernstein posted this diatribe on Twitter for our edification, adding her opinion  in favour of Captain Underpants.

So then, what they are reading in Finland? Let's take a look. Here is the Finnish bestsellers' charts for February. Cast your gaze down to Lasten ja nuorten kirjat (children's books) and you will see three books by Suzanne Collins. At number 10 is Nälkäpeli - The Hunger Games. At number 9 is Vihan liekit - The Flames of Hatred.  At number 8 is Matkijanärhi - Mockingjay. You might also notice some other familiar names in the lists.

So how about China, then? What are the Chinese kids reading? Captain Underpants. And who, you might ask, is the fifteenth most successful foreign author in mainland China? Why, it is Jeff Kinney, author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Here's another one: who is the ninth most successful foreign author? You guessed it: Stephanie Meyer, author of Twilight. Try one more: number two. Yes, you're right again: it's J K Rowling. And (drum-roll) at number one is: Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Oh.

Well, as it turns out, One Hundred Years of Solitude has become a bestseller in China, becoming even more popular than J K Rowling, which prompted one Chinese writer to lament the quality of local fiction: "In comparison, most contemporary Chinese literary works simply charm readers with elegant words while failing to reach one's inner soul and resonate with readers' personal values."

At least Shi Yanping is interested in literary values. Alexander Nazaryan at the New York Daily News has more practical uses of literacy:
Trying to slog through Book 13 of “The Iliad” when you are 15 is probably a pretty good approximation of what it will be like to slog through a Wednesday afternoon at the office when you are 55.
"Here, son, read this; you'll thank me when you are older." In Nazaryan's library, books have social worth; they may have some intellectual benefits - problem solving skills, it seems - but the point of reading is to learn to deal with pointlessness: "the vast majority of life is doing really difficult things, solving problems that don't seem to have a point, and then doing it all over again."

If that is what it is all about, why bother with Homer? Give the little 'uns Italo Svevo's Una Vita, the collected poems of Philip Larkin, Strindberg's Indra and The Wasteland. That'll learn 'em.

Here's Orson Welles, reporting for the BBC in 1955, at the Librairie Fischbacher in St Germain des Prés, with the Lettrists: Maurice Lemaître, Isidore Isou and Jacques Spacagna.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Taking John Hood Plaza by strategy

We stand for active ideological struggle because it is the weapon for ensuring unity within the Student Body and the revolutionary organizations in the interest of our fight. Every Student and revolutionary should take up this weapon. But liberalism rejects ideological struggle and stands for unprincipled peace, thus giving rise to a decadent, Philistine attitude and bringing about political degeneration in certain units and individuals in the Student Body and the revolutionary organizations. Liberalism manifests itself in various ways. To let things slide for the sake of peace and friendship when a person has clearly gone wrong, and refrain from principled argument because he is an old acquaintance, a fellow townsman, a schoolmate, a close friend, a loved one, an old colleague or old subordinate. Or to touch on the matter lightly instead of going into it thoroughly, so as to keep on good terms. The result is that both the organization and the individual are harmed. 
... blah, blah, blah, until...
Only thus can he be considered a Student. All loyal, honest, active and upright Students must unite to oppose the liberal tendencies shown by certain people among us, and set them on the right path. This is one of the tasks on our ideological front.
Gosh, this is interesting.  I am reading this in the current issue of Craccum, Issue 4 of 2012. Fascinating though this article is the writing  seems rather stilted, It also seems rather archaic. It further seems remarkably similar to an essay written by Mao Tse-Tung, in 1937. In fact, on close examination it seems the two pieces are identical in all but two respects -  the Craccum article of 2012 replaces the word Communist in the Mao article of 1937 with Student, and the word Party with Student Body. So Mao says:
We stand for active ideological struggle because it is the weapon for ensuring unity within the Party and the revolutionary organizations in the interest of our fight. Every Communist and revolutionary should take up this weapon,
... blah, blah, blah, until...
Only thus can he be considered a Communist. All loyal, honest, active and upright Communists must unite to oppose the liberal tendencies shown by certain people among us, and set them on the right path. This is one of the tasks on our ideological front.
And the Editor does a search and replace on the significant words. So, that's it. Within four issues, the Editor - one Thomas Dykes - has been reduced to plagiarising a dead mass-murderer who wrote with as much style as he had dress sense. Such is the revolutionary fervour (and one suspects dearth of contributors) that pervades Craccum.

Mr Dykes was elected in  obscure circumstances. His predecessors, Spencer and Rhys (nobody remembers their surnames) infested the mag with mutual adoration and dick jokes. They had no space for the student body, since they were busy admiring each other's inconsiderable wit. Clearly, they wished to use the student mag as a springboard into a career as drive-time DJs.

As Joseph observes in the comments below, Spencer stood for editor again, with one Sophie, but they lost on penalties. Anyone who has further information about this matter is welcome to comment.

Mr Dykes does not do dick jokes. There is no such thing as a Dykes joke. Humour, clearly a decadent capitalist tool to distract the proletariat into a state of false consciousness, is now entirely absent from Craccum. As is colour: the magazine now comes in two colours: grey and beige. Polychromy is for liberals.

Mr Dykes is, you see, a prophet. Consider these opening paragraphs from his Letter from the Editor in the same issue; the original spelling and punctuating has been retained, for ease of lulz:
Weirdo's, crazies, hippies and idiots.

If  you ever try and do something serious and yet slightly outside of the perimeters of normality's boundaries, if you ever try and address an issue that is of vital and immediate importance yet feel as if a petition or operating within the usual beurocratic process won't quite be sufficient, you can be sure when mainstream media come to 'report' on your activities they will be quick to interview the man in the dress. The burnt out activist that has had too many mornings and a thousand miles away or the lady that walked past in the night after a tad too much gin, whilst looking for one of her lost cats that she never had, will be the characters sure to take center stage.

The tactic of derailing a movement because it doesn't operate within the current paradigm, because its meaning cannot be captured or understood by people who are at odds with what that movement is trying to communicate, is an obvious one. Don't criticise what you can't understand. when you want something that doesn't exist yet it's often hard to point to it in order to explain what it is that you're after or trying to achieve. Simple people need to be shown objects, material things, shiny synthetic plastic or polished metal, in order to conceive of goals and destinations.
No, me neither.  I think what Mr Dykes is trying to say is that we are all too stupid to understand his vision and that we need shiny things (in synthetic plastic - as opposed to the real stuff - or polished metal) to help us. I think also he is saying  that he is an overbearing pompous git, so convinced that he alone follows the true path that he has followed it halfway up his own rectitude. But I may be wrong. I am a liberal after all. Perhaps I shouldn't criticise what I cannot understand. Ask the man in the dress.

There are pages of this twaddle. Most of it is not written for Craccum but found on Internet, such as the serialised rant, The Comming Insurrection, written by the Invisible Committee (ooh, spooky) who it seems are a dedicated group of French miserablists. Here is a passage from this week's directive from the invisible committee room:
The flames of November 2005 still flicker in everyone’s minds. Those first joyous fires were the baptism of a decade full of promise. The media fable of “banlieue vs. the Republic” may work, but what it gains in effectiveness it loses in truth. Fires were lit in the city centers, but this news was methodically suppressed. Whole streets in Barcelona burned in solidarity, but no one knew about it apart from the people living there. And it’s not even true that the country has stopped burning. Many different profiles can be found among the arrested, with little that unites them besides a hatred for existing society – not class, race, or even neighborhood. What was new wasn’t the “banlieue revolt,” since that was already going on in the 80s, but the break with its established forms. These assailants no longer listen to anybody, neither to their Big Brothers and Big Sisters, nor to the community organizations charged with overseeing the return to normal. No “SOS Racism” could sink its cancerous roots into this event, whose apparent conclusion can be credited only to fatigue, falsification and the media omertà. This whole series of nocturnal vandalisms and anonymous attacks, this wordless destruction, has widened the breach between politics and the political. No one can honestly deny the obvious: this was an assault that made no demands, a threat without a message, and it had nothing to do with “politics.” One would have to be oblivious to the autonomous youth movements of the last 30 years not to see the purely political character of this resolute negation of politics. Like lost children we trashed the prized trinkets of a society that deserves no more respect than the monuments of Paris at the end of the Bloody Week- and knows it.
Indeed. One wonders if the prized trinkets were made of synthetic plastic or polished metal. One wonders why these people bother; their coming insurrection clearly is going to be no fun at all and everything is just going to turn out awful. One wonders also what all this has to do with Auckland University and its students.

Closer to home though, one Melora Jovich writes as An Anxious Activist. Here are some liberally edited highlights:
Attending university as a student places you in a rather awkward liminal space in society. You are not quite a worker.... however, nor are you a child... The ambiguous legal status of protest means that should the police show up in full force to impinge on your right to assemble and express your dissent,  you are young and fit enough to make a run for it... When you're on the sixth floor of a hideous glass penis extension, affectionately known as the business building... The collective of pople cannot be understood through, or claimed by, particular people or particular experiences. The fact that everyone comes together can only be understood through the entire state of affairs that are being opposed.... When you exist as part of a collective, your individual presence is transcended.

Or, to put it more kindly:  hey there, liminal girl, swinging down the street so fancy-free, nobody you meet could ever see the loneliness there - inside you.

 And then there's the letters to the Editor. One Thomas Vasey wrote a letter to the Editor. The Editor printed it, with his responses - not at the end of Mr Vasey's text but throughout it, in parentheses and in red. Here is an artist's impression of part of that text, again in the original language:
I love University for what it is (It is a barren landscape full of corporate sponsorship, financial tentacles and a market rational that commodifies knowledge and people) and for the people who populate it (We love the people, otherwise we wouldn't be trying to save them), and if you don't like it then nobody's asking you to stay (Profound logic, your intellect is as acrobatic as an doughnut and it seems to have a big hole in the middle).
At least Mr Vasey did not mention Palestine. One correspondent did, and also pointed out that "Israel values freedom of speech and religion." The official response, longer than the letter, ends "Stop being a deluded hypocrite, it's not a good look. Hypocrisy and democracy will never go hand in hand."

There is though a glimmer of hope for the next edition.  Let me explain. Mr Vasey ends his letter thus:
What you're writing is not profound. It is whiny and uninformative. If you want to help people deal with the challenges of student life, then put in at least one joke, some item of levity. THAT is what will help us to come to terms with the challenges of student life, not writing some revolutionary rubbish with unimaginative cover art. You should be ashamed.
Well, yes. But more interesting still is the Editor's response:
(we're proud and the Comedy issue comes out next week, if you have something funny to say contribute, I guess so as long as we laugh hurtling head long into the abyss, participating in a system that is based on infinite growth while living in a world that has finite resources everything will be fine, every catastrophe that takes place today is man made, but your fine with that, cool, we're not and we want a change, and anyway the point is that the jokes in last years magazine weren't funny, so Ha)
So, jokes next week then, for one issue only; a saturnalia for the student body, in which the poor bloody infantry of the class war will be allowed a rest and a laugh, while they hurtle into the abyss.

It's the way he tells them.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

How to blog

It's all about the keywords.

And the Pixies. Few things on this Internet annoy me much more than footage of bands playing gigs obtained by fans waving cellphones, footage that is posted to Youtube where it messes up your searches; footage of people doing guitar solos at home annoys me more, but not much more. Back in the day, people had video recorders, with microphones; and they stood near the front; at Glastonbury, in 1989.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Shakespeare's sister

Sally Ridge is an interior designer and former television presenter living in Grey Lynn, a middle class suburb of Auckland, New Zealand.
Yes, but, what is Sally Ridge for? I only ask because she seems so present and yet so absent. There she goes, there she goes again: you can always find her in the camera at parties, grinning and putting her head close to that of one or several of her BFFs. But what does she do in daylight? Supposedly, she designs interiors; she is also an artist, apparently, one with the quintessential tips that Kiwis love. As one of the many stories about her in the Women's Weekly revealed exclusively, she is mother to Jaime (17), Boston (13), Astin (7) and oclane (WTF?); she is no friend of the NewYork Five and a patroness of the arts:
“I’m not the type of person who likes stark, minimalist interiors. For me, it has to be comfortable and personal, where the kids feel they can do what they like and not worry about it.” The entrance hall’s main feature is otis, a full-sized model of a cow, decorated by the iconic Kiwi artist otis Frizzell. In the post-separation 50-50 split of their belongings, Sally has no doubt who gets the funky artwork. “otis is mine, he’s coming with me,” says Sally. “Adam and I bought him at a charity auction not long after we first got together. I absolutely love him. Home isn’t home without otis.”
It seems Ms Ridge's taste and enlightened patronage may finally have found her a purpose. The resourceful Chris Saines, Director of the Auckland City Art Gallery (a nice atrium with a musuem attached) has a use for Ms Ridge:
Gallery director Chris Saines says key stakeholders received complimentary tickets, based on their contribution to the gallery or their governance roles. "I believe Sally Ridge and the other celebrities were invited because of their ability to connect with the social media audience. They are about town attending events and tweeting and so forth and that is part of the publicity for the exhibition." Ridge is this week's Herald on Sunday guest editor in the Spy section in View magazine, and has covered the opening.
She is a conduit.  She will channel the wishes of Director Saines to her audience, her teeming mass of 1309 Twitter followers. Obviously tiring of the sort of people who go to his gallery all the time - art lovers - Director Saines has struck out forcefully moving forward to optimise Ms Ridge and thus outreach her fans. Quite who are these fans is anyone's guess; mine is that they are the sort of people who don't know much about art but know what they want,  people who know a bloke who could do a much better job (at mate's rates) of laying bricks than that Kate Newby, who know that is not art and that a five year-old bricklayer could do that.  In short, they are the ghastlies;  and Sally Ridge is their queen.

While the Art Gallery's collection does not include a funky cow decorated by the iconic Kiwi artist Otis Frizzell, it does have a few works by his father. It also has, for a limited time only, From Degas to Dali, an artlessly mis-titled exhibition from viewers in Scotland that includes the crashing seas of Courbet and the gritty realism of Freud, a painter of people who do not diet and probably do not floss.

It was to the gala opening  or opening gala of this exhibition that Ms Ridge was invited, free of charge, while art lovers had to pay. Director Saines' cunning plan was not entirely successful - Ms Ridge covered the opening in the Spy section by showing some photographs of some other celebrities - doubtless ligging like her -  but said nothing of the show. She may well have tweeted about the event, but I cannot be bothered to find out.

Gentle reader, I did not attend the gala: I was not invited and I certainly would not pay to attend an opening; oh, the vulgarity. However, I did have a spy there on the night - a woman who of course is beautiful, exotic and talented. She reported that the speeches were very dull; that of the Minister, Chris Finlayson, was quite irrelevant to the gala or the exhibition. The quality of Finlayson was also strained: my spy opines that the effort of maintaining his celebrated celibacy seems to have done something to Mr Finlayson's vocal chords. I think she reads Freud's grandfather.

There! I have done it. I have gossiped about the gala, giving the Gallery valuable free publicity. Now put me on the guest list.

Speaking of inappropriate guests, look at this bunch. They get to see the Smiths play, yet they look like a party of school kids forced to visit an art gallery. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

We could be heroes

Michael "Jock" Hobbs was born in Christchurch on 15 February 1960 and was educated at Christ's College and at Canterbury University where he studied law, graduating LLB in 1982. After practising law for a time, becoming a partner in a law firm, he gave it up for business. In 1999, he became a director of the Strategic Property Group, taking a Master of Business Administration at Henley College in London in the same year. He stepped down as chief executive in 2005.
Nek minnit:
So far, secured debenture holders have received 7c in the dollar, equating to $26 million. Many investors were elderly people, whose life savings were lost in the collapse of the Princes Wharf-based businesses headed by rugby legend Jock Hobbs, alongside Marc Lindale and Kerry Finnigan. Strategic ceased trading in March 2010.
NatRad's rather coy obituary, which fails to mention the collapse of Strategic Property Group and that Hobbs was still a director when it fell, is as nothing to Emerson's memorial in the Herald: "the final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men, the conviction and will to carry on..." Well, there were no convictions but what Hobbs left behind was a collapsed busines and thousands of elderly people who had lost everything by investing their savings with him. And while we are on the subject of leadership, listen to what NatRad says:
Following his All Black career, Mr Hobbs captained the rebel team on the 1986 unauthorised tour of South Africa, which he later regretted. National teams at the time were effectively banned from playing South Africa because of the republic's apartheid policy but when the planned All Blacks tour was cancelled, all but two of the 30 selected players defied the government of the time and toured as the Cavaliers.
So, let us get this right: he captained a team that defied our government and the United Nations to play rugby in South Africa, thus supporting the Apartheid regime for no better principle than making money. What a bloody legend.

Monday, March 12, 2012

What does a chap have to do to get a drink around here?

Forms sent with a typed name in the signature box will usually be rejected - they must have the signature of the Staff member(s) responsible, and contact extension number. On the "for and on behalf of" type of signature, if you are signing you are committing someone else to serious responsibilities so please ENSURE THIS IS KNOWN AND UNDERSTOOD! 

Forms should be submitted for single events only. For example, "Friday (staff) drinks" with dates during the next six months will not be approved. Any event which is a "regular" planned event would again normally require consideration of a special licence or a response that regular events should take advantage of licensed premises. Unofficial or official "club"-like activities where it is not the University per se extending reasonable hospitality, will also require special licences. 

A spontaneous informal gathering in a Faculty office for "drinks" should where possible be covered by an approval form. In such circumstances, verbal approval might be requested by calling 87754, and with the form following by fax/scan noting "as approved verbally" for sign off. However in this case, it would become the Faculty/Service Division's responsibility to advise Security immediately. Verbal approvals would be given on very rare occasions, dependent on the Registrar's availability, and may not be given at all!
Gentle readers, let me introduce you to the University of Auckland Alcohol on Campus Approvals Guidelines (PDF), the work of the University's Registrar and General Counsel, and one of the most vigorously punctuated documents in the history of guidelines.  I hope you will understand that the reason why you have not been invited for a spontaneous informal gathering in my office is that  I do not have a fax machine with which to send the form to Security.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

You're to pretty when you're unfaithful to me

What becomes of the literal-minded? They try to interpret Pixies lyrics on SongMeanings:
1. when he says "preachy-peach" he's sarcastically mocking the guy that she's cheating on him with.
2a. he goes to talk to this guy to find out what's up with him and the girl, and the guy, seeing that he likes him more than the girl, trys to win him over by getting him a soda and then he puts the moves on him.
2b. he's using a warped meaning of the word molested. the guy buys him a soda to win his trust and then trys to kick his ass
2c. the guy wins his trust and he trys to molest his feelings to get him to give the girl up to him.
There are pages and pages of rubbish like this on SongMeanings, all but a few written by junior epistemologists who think that words have simple meanings, as do words combined into sentences, as do sentences combined into song lyrics. All they need to do, thinketh these thinkers, is sit down and listen, then interpret. The meaning can be found. It is a linear process. The song, this song, any song, has a meaning that will be found, sooner or later.

You see, song lyrics refer to true events in the lives of their writers. The interpreter must listen carefully and then relate the words of the song to known events in the life of the writer.  For example:, Charles Thompson III lived in Peurto Rico for a while:
I think "rice and beans in horse's lard" specifically refers to the diet Charles has often spoken of subsisting on when he lived for a short time in Puerto Rico. He even named his publishing company Rice and Beans Music because of this. It's hard to tell what he is saying about "our love" with that metaphor, though. Is he saying our love nourishing and simple or is it boring and a bit disgusting? Who knows.
Who, indeed? Not the author of this comment, who then - tragically - almost gets the point:
I don't think it should matter too much, but it sounds cool which is really the point.
Yes, that's it. It sounds cool. If only you had said just that, thereby defeating the prolix purpose of this entire website. The words in songs sound cool; it's not that difficult, boy. But no, you go on to discuss the possibility of "blistered (herpetic?) lips." Boy, you need to think more, say less and get a girlfriend.

And try reading some Wallace Stevens. Analyse that.

Friday, March 02, 2012

All depends on a red cart wheel

I am a member of three groups on Facebook: We Waste Time, Save Bearsted Cricket Club and Fans of the Girl in the Safety Dance Video. On the latter's page, one Nik Mark White has posted the following contextual analysis:
Does anyone know if Jon Ronson (British journalist of 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' fame, which was later a George Clooney movie) ever wrote anything about the video?

I'd heard that there was a plan to do one, if it hasn't been done, it really ought to do. Tim Pope's visuals are outstanding in this video (I assume you agree!).

It's not just the 'Wicker Man' look but the contrast with everything going on around it (in the UK at least). 1983 was the year Ian McGregor became head of the UK's Coal Board - it might not sound like much, but within 12 month's his appointment would kick off the 1984 miner's strike. Probably if you're not English, that's a completely insignificant event but, over here (where I am that is), the miner's strike was the most momentous event since the end of WW II.

If you don't believe me, Thatcher said of the miners: 'We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty'. And by liberty, she meant allowing business and finance to have a free hand. Thatcher herself won her second election in 1983 with a massive majority, largely due to the huge popularity she gained on the back of the crushing defeat of the Argentines by British armed forces in the South Atlantic, i.e. the Falklands. Rather ominously, it turns out that same election was the first year that Tony Blair, Thatcher's true son and heir, entered parliament as an MP for the first time.

But the economy was still tanking (then as now) at the time, so the majority that Thatcher won in parliament that same year meant she could carry through massive spending cuts to welfare and other social programmes. There'd already been a wave of riots in 1981 (Think 'Ghost town' by the Specials, 1981).

Put it another way, massive cuts to welfare, rising crime rates, crashing standard of living, soaring unemployment, free-falling economy, expensive foreign military adventures, inner cities burning night after night, Royal Weddings a recent memory (then the mother, now the son) ... it's not hard to see a mirror of our own times in the turbulent waters of that particular looking glass.

And then you have this video. The beat is repetitive and infectious, yes, but it's also sinister. Pope did a fantastic job of foregrounding the darkness behind the track - the lead singer's angry, glowering face, the idiot dwarf and ... well, you know better than I do who the other one is!

All those Red cart wheels ... they come straight out of Breughel's 'Triumph of Death' - you can see them in the background here (note also the bright red cross in the bottom left (

This is a dance macabre and .. honestly, when 'La loca' springs up out of the bottom of the screen with a sunny 'And sing!' before a crossroads, forking either side of a hill ... they are taking death and rage and madness into that village over the hill.

But it's that contrast between that girl's astonishing, exuberant energy, hammered out on the very edge of mortality ... holy sh*t! I'm not surprised she has her own Fan club. It's more surprising to me that she hasn't become more widely-known (that is to say, the video incarnation of her - I'm not advocating that anybody disturb her, especially if she has let it be known that she'd rather not be reminded of what she did when she was younger).

That essence of kinesis in the face of nemesis - that's the heart of Eros.

And then also this was in the age of the music video, MTV had only recently reached the UK but was a massive hit. This was the decade when 70s rockers could be heard grumbling like old men in a gentleman's club about the literal expense of the music video and how they were becoming more important than the music itself. I mean very few things, surely, capture the 80s zeitgeist better than Music Videos (I'm not counting John Cusack movies or the Breakfast Club - they were music videos more than they were anything else).

Don DeLillo had Mao II, JG Ballard Crash ... Seriously, a history of the making of this video - the crew, the budget, the set, the lighting, the storyboarding, the context the ... well, yes, the band, sure, Tim Pope without a doubt, the Dwarf, the extras and the Morris dancers but, inevitably and absolutely ... the girl in the safety dance video.
A little learning is a tedious thing.