Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wintec Press Club: Duncan Garner edition

The Wintec Press Club meets for lunch three times a year in Hamilton: guests are the students of the Wintec journalism course, important media types from the Waikato and Auckland, politicians, famous sporty types, and me. The host is Steve Braunias, Editor in Residence on the course.

Present last Friday for the first lunch of 2014 were former National and Act leader Don Brash, independent MP Brendan Horan, local Labour list MP Sue Moroney and local National real MP Tim McIndoe. Sadly National minister Simon Bridges was a no-show, as was Labour’s non-candidate Julian Wilcox. I was seated at a table with two sparky students (Rachael from Otumoetai and Jason from Whakatane, so we bonded over our Bay of Plenty origins), Waikato Times columnist Joshua Drummond, Listener and Herald columnist Toby Manhire and a very nice chap from the Act Party called David Seymour.

David and I were the first to take our seats. Showing my deep interest in politics in this election year, I asked him, “Are you standing as a candidate somewhere in the Waikato?”

He replied, “No, I’m standing in Epsom.” Oh, that David Seymour. The David Seymour upon whose shoulders rest the hopes of Act getting back into Parliament and possibly National being able to form a government, so he is kind of central to the election. The poor bastard said he has knocked on 6000 doors in Epsom already but worse was to come – Josh and Toby took their seats, to his left, and climbed into him about Act policy. I suppose he has to get used to this sort of thing – people being either entirely ignorant of politics (me) or passionate about it (Josh and Toby).

Steve insists that at these events Chatham House rules apply so nothing that is said can be reported, but I have never paid attention to him before (see my accounts of the lunches starring John Campbell, Jesse Mulligan, Robyn Malcolm, Greg King, Paul Holmes, Michael Laws and Winston Peters) and don’t intend to start now.

In his witty introduction to the guest speaker, Duncan Garner, Steve used the phrase “temporarily sober” but my notes are unclear if this referred to himself or Garner. Possibly both.

Garner was very amusing. He told lots of stories from his career, in the order in which they happened, and seemed to be winging his speech without notes. But every time he lost the thread he finished the anecdote and shouted, “And that’s why journalism is important!” The students loved it.

He said that he at 22, after only three weeks in the Press Gallery, he was summoned to then PM Jim Bolger’s office with a few others. There was whisky. Bolger left at 2am, Garner and the others left some time later. Next morning Bolger opened a childcare centre in the Hutt Valley, bright as a button, and grinned at Garner, knowing that he was suffering.

Later, Garner covered an election campaign when National hired a plane so the politicians and journalists could fly with Bolger and a chilly bin full of booze in the aisle, drinking their way around the North Island: “No one reported it.”

And this, he said, was one difference Helen Clark made, “the end of the whisky bottle”. She managed the journalists brilliantly, but didn’t depend on getting them pissed.

Garner had a great story about the Key-Banks tea tapes, which he had. John Key’s main worry about them getting out led to him ringing every night, asking “Did I swear? Did I swear?” And then there was waiting to doorstop Winston Peters in Parliament, hiding behind a pillar so Patrick Gower couldn’t see him as he would know that something was up.

Many of his stories were about collecting politicians’ scalps, e.g. David “tennis ball” Benson-Pope, and he was pretty much focused on political journalism. Rachael, the student next to me, had no interest in this kind of reporting, no interest in radio or TV: she wanted to be a feature writer for a serious magazine like the Listener. Probably, depressingly, all the other students see themselves as TV stars one day.

Garner is now working for Radio Live which, he says, is “not about scalps” but debating issues: “It’s not talkback, it’s interviews”. So he has covered print, TV and radio – all the different mainstream media the students will consider for their careers. From the students’ point of view, he was probably the most useful speaker of all the Wintec Press Club lunches I have attended.

Throughout his talk there was a bit of baiting of Brendan Horan. Well, you would, wouldn’t you. For example, on post-election coalition negotiations, Garner said, “You can’t trust Winston, can you, Brendan?” There followed some baiting about Winston’s shameful smears of Horan as a New Zealand Jimmy Savile. Horan did not take kindly to this and was heard to say – I didn’t hear it but trust my witness – “”I’m going to deck the c**t.” Afterwards Garner's people kept him away from Horan, while some locals kept Horan away from Garner. So, no decking.

Guyon Espiner was a bit of a theme, the friendship and rivalry between them. At question time Herald journalist David Fisher asked, “Guyon has been your main competition for a long time. What’s the best dicking you’ve given him?”

Random quotes:
I can’t recall the question about Key and the GCSB but the answer was: “That’s how I’d do it, two minutes every night, five nights a week, just to fuck him off.”

To Don Brash: “Do you remember this story, Don?”
“Not clearly, no.”
“Well, it’s true.”
Later, mid-story, “Do you remember it now?”

And then there was a question about journalistic ethics. Braunias quickly shut that down: “You know you’re coming to the end of the Press Club when people start talking about ethics.”

There were a dozen T-shirts as a give-away, courtesy of Brendan Horan, emblazoned “No Bullying”. As a distinguished graduate of the Wintec journalism course Josh Drummond was given one. I suggested he should get Horan to sign it but he wimped out and went to his wedding rehearsal instead.

Afterwards I made my excuses and left but all the others, apart from Brash, went to the after-match function at Bar 101 which Steve had advertised as having a pole. 

Waikato Times letter of the week #49

From the 29 May edition. Spelling, grammar and punctuation (or lack of it) are all exactly as published:
More surveillance
Who watches the watchers, the abuses of their authority are well documented. Surveillance will be increased with the desire to increase the CCTV within Auckland, the plan extend it throughout the nation with entry provided to various agencies. 
To protect us, the catch cry from whom does the actions of a few miscreants mean all are accessed, digitised, stored and monitored.
Is that information gathered, if shared without authorisation, whom actions that crime? 
Can a citizen request to be advised, each time it is shared, provided with all information gathered. Is it correct, is it used in context? 
A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both and deserve neither.
Generations fought and died for the freedoms, now blithely served up to the technology gods.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Distance looks their way

Breaking news from London: Steve Braunias complains about the dawn’s early light being too early at 4:30am. First-world problem: no sympathy.

Also from London, Paul Ewen brings news of the forthcoming issue of Five Dials, an online magazine produced by Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin. It has around 15,000 regular subscribers, and its free issues are downloaded as PDFs by, he says, up to 200,000 people: “Contributors include everyone from Nobel Prize winners to Arcade Fire, Noam Chomsky to Harry Shearer.” He almost lost me at Arcade Fire and Noam Chomsky but I did like this:
Five Dials is best downloaded, printed out and enjoyed (we hope) away from the computer.

The previous issue, #31, had contributions from Lydia Davis, Georges Simenon, Zadie Smith and Yevgeny Zamyatin among others. Topics included lovelorn manual labourers, professional chefs and the world’s most hated book.

Issue #29 investigated Nabokov’s breakfast choices; issue #28’s topics included Sonic Youth, Kate Bush, Will Self, Alban Berg, poltergeists, Bruce Willis (and the henchman he killed), west London rich people and Joan Didion as a superhero.  

Paul writes:
On Sunday, June 1st, Five Dials is launching a very special New Zealand edition of the magazine. The issue will focus purely on the work of New Zealand writers – from the poetry of C.K. Stead to the graphic novel work of Sarah Laing. It will also feature correspondence between Janet Frame and Charles Brasch, and artworks from Shane Cotton and Francis Upritchard. Plus much more. The launch of the issue is taking place in London as part of the Australia & NZ Literary & Arts Festival, and speakers at the event include C.K. Stead, Stella Duffy, and Paula Morris.  

Also at the festival will be Tim Winton, Clive James, Paul Kelly, Mandy Hager, Anthony McCarten, Fay Weldon, Anton Oliver, Fleur Adcock, Richard Wolfe, and, inevitably, Steve Braunias.  

No word yet on the full contents of issue #32 of Five Dials but that cast-list looks promising. I’ll post the link as soon as it’s online.

It’s out! A 2.1 Mb PDF download here. Table of Contents:
Correspondents: Amidst the rubble and broken glass, John Ewen learns to go without
Three Pieces: by Micah Ferris
An Address: Frankfurt, 2012.By Tina Makereti
Three Lists: by Lynn Jenner
Jobs: The burden of working at the Mansfield birthplace.By Ashleigh Young
Graphic Novel: Katherine Mansfield considers her hair. By Sarah Laing
Two Poems: by Alice Miller
Two Remembrances: Paul Ewen accompanies a friend home; Stella Duffy watches rugby
Music: Roy Colbert was there
Three Poems: by C.K. Stead
Fiction: by Paula Morris; by Pip Adam

Saturday, May 24, 2014

What I’m reading #119

Toby Young in the Spectator explains why so many Brits get top jobs in the US media: because they are “ghastly knuckle-dragging troglodytes and, when it comes to man’s inhumanity to man, about as sentimental as a bog brush”. In a good way, obviously. Quote unquote:
You can get a sense of what American journalists’ priorities are from looking at a 96-page report that the New York Times has just produced about… the New York Times. I’m not talking about the words, obviously, which are far too boring to read, but the pictures. On page three of the report, there’s a photograph of the paper’s top brass gathered around a computer terminal, having just discovered that the Grey Lady has won yet another Pulitzer prize. The staff are gathered around them on the stairs — hundreds of them — and one of the editors is looking up and humbly applauding them: ‘Well done, folks. You knocked it out of the park… again.’ 
That’s what most American journalists care about — winning prizes that affirm just what noble tribunes of democracy they are. In Britain, we have less lofty ambitions. For us, it’s all about selling newspapers.

Edward St Aubyn’s novel Lost for Words, a satire on book prizes, has won a book prize,  the 15th Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. Quote unquote:
The prize for winning the award is a locally bred Old Spot Gloucestershire pig, and a selection of Bollinger champagne, which will be presented to St Aubyn at the Hay Festival on Saturday May 24.

The Telegraph review was less enthusiastic but found lots to admire. Quote unquote:
I wonder, for example, whether the retired spy-turned-thriller-writer who chaired the Booker panel in 2011 will read the bits about a civil servant who cranks out spy novels using a computer program called Ghost (you type “assassin” and it spits out “his eyes were cold narrow slits”) with an entirely quiet mind.

That retired spy-turned-thriller-writer would be Dame Stella Rimington, whom we met previously here in 2012.

Matt Nolan at TVHE expresses his views on the 2014 Budget. He is an actual economist so knows what he’s talking about. Quote unquote:
[Our] centre-right party is currently more focused on social inequities than both of our centre-left parties.  I first realised this when Cunliffe took charge, and I said to Labour party supporters “why doesn’t he take on welfare/education instead of IT as his shadow portfolio, and focus on these outcomes” – they told me there was no votes in that, because people don’t really care and there wasn’t much need to do anything different to National.  If that is the case, I don’t know what the left is offering other than industrial subsides – and I find those abhorrent, and a direct affront to social policy issues. 
This is unnatural to me.  I grew up in the 1990s, and had it ingrained in me that National was the party that reduced transfers to the most vulnerable, while Labour was the party who would go the other way.  It is an illustration of how changeable actual political parties are.

A discussion at Tim Worstall’s blog about where the money goes in pop music, after Lily Allen complained about getting only ₤8000 for singing on an ad for retailer John Lewis. Tim rightly points out that songwriters make the dosh – Lennon and McCartney made more than Harrison and Starr, Jagger and Richards more than Wyman and Watts – but the comments, mostly informed, go further. Quote unquote from “Squander Two”:
As the KLF pointed out, music copyright law was written by white Europeans in the 19th century, so songwriting is legally 50% vocal melody, 50% lyrics; had it been written by black Americans in the 20th century, it would be 10% vocal melody, 10% lyrics, 80% groove, and Bo Diddley would have been one of the world’s richest men. Which he arguably deserved to be.

I met Bo Diddley in 1989. In Hollywood, on a movie set, just saying. He was nice – loomingly large, but nice. And so here he is, on 20 November 1955, on the Ed Sullivan Show, performing “Bo Diddley”:

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bonnie and Clyde – and Brigitte Bardot

Today is the 80th anniversary of the deaths of bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, ambushed and shot by police in Black Lake, Louisiana on 23 May 1934. We’ve all seen the 1967 movie starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty but how many of us know the Brigitte Bardot version?

Here she is in 1968 with Serge Gainsbourg performing his song “Bonnie and Clyde”, which appears on both his album Initials B.B and their joint album  Bonnie and Clyde:  

Monitor: Home Paddock

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Led Zeppelin and plagiarism

There are recent allegations that Led Zeppelin – specifically, Jimmy Page – nicked a bit:
Accusations of plagiarism in music happen every other day, but what if a song that defined a genre came into question? What if Stairway To Heaven was ripped off another song?Love it or hate it, Led Zeppelin’s 1971 eight minute folk-rock opus is one of the best-known and most covered pieces of modern music. And it is estimated to be worth more than $560 million.The trust of the late Randy California (born Randy Wolfe) from the band Spirit, and the band’s former bassist Mark Andes, want to see California receive a songwriting credit on the coming remastered re-release of the untitled album widely known as Led Zeppelin IV. Their lawyer, Francis Alexander Malofiy, will seek an injunction against the release of the album and also file a copyright infringement lawsuit.

There are also old allegations. The clip below details half a dozen examples of shameless plundering, each time playing the original and then the Led Zep version from their first album. Page plagiarised  minors like Anne Brendon and Jake Holmes and majors like Bert Jansch, Howling Wolf, Albert King and Jeff Beck. It’s a pretty devastating indictment:

The case for the defence is that in the folk and blues tradition you take existing songs and rework them slightly, maybe add a verse here, change a line there, and now it’s your song. The case for the prosecution is that no one was making any money out of songwriting back then and no one got royalties for anything. Led Zeppelin and the equally shameless Rolling Stones were well aware of the value of songwriting credits because they were professional musicians, and the money was huge. To his great credit, Eric Clapton has always been scrupulous about giving writing credits to blues songs he has covered, no matter how different the arrangement from the original. Well, apart from the Albert King solo he copied note for note on for “Strange Brew”.

The Spirit lawsuit is silly. That picking/chord sequence was standard at the time. Led Zeppelin just did better with it than anyone else. It's like suing someone for using C-Am-F-G. Or Neil Young suing Pink Floyd because “Breathe” on Dark Side of the Moon uses the same chord sequence – in the same key! – as his “Down by the River”. These changes were in the air at the time. As an example, the introduction to “Stairway to Heaven” equally derives from Davy Graham’s introduction to his version of “Cry Me a River”:

Let’s leave the last word to Francis Wheen (on Facebook): 
When I started in Fleet Street, soon after the relief of Mafeking, my first editor said to me: “Always remember this simple rule, laddie. ‘Dog Bites Man’ isn’t news. Nor is ‘Jimmy Page Accused of Plagiarism’.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

John Lennon and Yoko Ono on Winston Peters

NZ First leader Winston Peters today implied in Parliament that former NZ First and now independent MP Brendan Horan is a paedophile:
This House should not be used in that way particularly by the Jimmy Savile of New Zealand politics.

And later:
He referred to the word ownership and Jimmy Savile ought to know better than that.

So here are John Lennon and Yoko Ono live in concert with Frank Zappa and the Mothers at the Fillmore East, New York, in 1971, pre-recording their comment on Peters’ behaviour:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Waikato Times letter of the week #48

From the 14 May edition. Spelling, grammar and punctuation (or lack of it) are all exactly as published.
Running on flat
When the car tyre is flat you take it to the garage and put more air pressure in and in many cars the tyres are unevenly inflated and you feel the car pulling to one side. Now your footwear reacts in a similar way like your car tyre, when you are tired you are in a way running on flat tyres.  You can’t have your footwear inflated but that’s how accidents happen when you are running tired just like a car with a flat tyre in some ways.
The right tyre and the right shoe for the job.
Active footwear for active lifestyles means the shoes that match your lifestyle walking/working or standing still for periods of time.
Overheating – consider that during the summer e.g., over heating of footwear (perspiration) can add to the risk of unnecessary accidents. In sub tropical conditions particularly both feet will produce more than a table spoon of moisture, (perspiration) per hour.)
Footwear plays a insignificant part in almost all daily activities than is commonly appreciated.
Are your shoes running you tired on low and irritable foot pressure?

So here are Phish on Halloween 2010 with Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes”:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

1600 pandas in Hongkong

In French, at Fubiz:
L’artiste français Paulo Grangeon, en accord avec la WWF, PMQ et le studio de création allrightsreserved ont proposé la mise en place de 1600 pandas en papier-mâché dans les rues de Hong Kong afin de sensibiliser le public à la perte rapide et tragique de cet animal. Une initiative qui avait déjà été menée dans des villes comme Paris, Rome ou Berlin.

In English, at Artnet:
In fact, the over-the-top cuteness of the embarrassment of pandas (yes, that appears to be the technical term for a group of pandas) is what imbues the piece with such melancholy. As impressive in scope as the work initially appears, Grangeon has only created one statue for every extant panda worldwide. In fact, recent estimates actually peg the panda population at a slightly lower 1,596 bears.

Fubiz says its photos are from Hongkong but – can we rely on a French source? We cannot – most are from Taipei. As is this one, which shows 1600 pandas in front of the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall:

Speaking of Taipei, I have an article in this week’s Listener about the New Zealand publishers at the Taipei International Book Fair a month or three back. It begins:
It’s Friday, another quiet day in Hall 1 at the Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE). According to the digital display at the main entrance, only 4315 people are here – the crowds won’t descend until the weekend. But the publishers are busy enough, showing their books, their frontlists and their backlists, buying and selling rights, renewing contact with old faces and meeting new ones. This February event is Asia’s premier book fair, much more important than Beijing, says Bob Andersen of Wendy Pye’s Sunshine Books. “Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore have all got ...

And there the free preview ends. To read the whole thing, buy a copy or subscribe. The article is circumspect about what went on between publishers and others in the hotel bar but is otherwise, I think, reliable.

I will have an update soon about a New Zealand publisher, cited in the article, selling even more New Zealand books into the Chinese-language market. Globalisation works both ways.

Recipe of the week

A foodie reader emailed to say she likes the blog but there isn’t enough about food on it. So just for her, here is a recipe for peanut butter pavlova with strawberries and cream. It was devised by cookbook author and dessert chef Alice Medrich.

Lauraine Jacobs advises – I am not making this up; I got the recipe from her – using unsweetened peanut butter. Well, yes.

Friday, May 9, 2014

On literary festivals

Steve Braunias writes in the latest issue of Metro:
Everybody who is anybody in New Zealand literature will be appearing at the May 14-19 Auckland Writers Festival, but I’ve been classified a nobody. Blacklisted, unwanted, eminent non-fiction writer non grata – the festival will just have to stagger along without me. I understand that ticket sales are at an all-time high.
Fortunately I’m always welcome at festivals and various assorted literary events in the provinces, such as Wellington.

I feel Steve’s pain. I, too, have been blacklisted from Auckland this year, for only the second time in the festival’s 14 years. That’s all right – my view of literary festivals is akin  to Noel Coward’s line that “Television is for appearing on, not for looking at.” So, like Steve, I don’t attend literary festivals unless I am speaking.

As I will be later this month at Escape, a literary weekend for the off-year of the Tauranga Arts Festival, a very well-run event with big stars. On Saturday 31 May I will be in conversation for an hour on Saturday with Jo Crabb, author of the food memoir My Two Heavens, and on Sunday 1 June with Dame Fiona Kidman, author of truckloads of books. By way of preparation I have been rereading Fiona’s most recent seven or eight,  and was struck by this passage from her 2009 memoir Beside the Dark Pool, recounting a late-1970s PEN and Writers Guild delegation to the then Prime Minister Robert Muldoon:
His strands of remaining hair were like dark oil slicks on his head, his skin powdery grey. His grin quickly faded as we began our spiel. It was difficult to see why he had agreed to host the delegation as he clearly disliked [Ian] Cross and began to voice contempt for writers in general soon after our arrival. When the subject of advertising was raised, he appeared to inflate himself.
“What’s wrong with advertising?” he shouted. “I like advertising.”
Cross agreed that in terms of revenue it did have a place, but by then Muldoon was riding his own hobby-horse. “I like advertising because I get up and make a cup of tea and stretch my legs during the advertisements.” His finger stabbed the air.
This was hard to counter and besides, the Prime Minister of New Zealand was in full flight, armed guards at each elbow, as his voice rose higher and higher. “Don’t you lot come here telling me what’s good for me!” he yelled. “What this country needs is more exercise and more cups of tea, and how is it going to get that if there aren’t more advertisements on television?”

We will not see his like again. 

Waikato Times sentence of the week

From the front-page lead story in today’s issue:
Social media is abuzz over the mystery of the disappearing ashtrays, after several were stolen from homes in Hamilton, Te Awamutu and Taupo.

Later in the story we read:
Claudelands resident Matthew Johns nearly caught some butt grabbers on his property the other day.

Police say there have been no official reports of stolen ashtrays but they have advised residents to “secure their ashtrays inside, as they would with bikes and shoes”.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

So, farewell then, NZ Post Book Awards #2

It’s not often this blog breaks a story and nothing is real until it’s in the MSM but NBR confirms today that NZ Post will end its generous sponsorship of the national book awards – both the children’s and the adults’ – after this year. It’s a $200,000+ deal so impossible to justify for a company in a sunset industry:
The state-owned enterprise, which has been grappling to return its ailing mail business to profit, will give up the naming rights to the book awards at the end of 2014, after sponsoring the adult awards for the last four years, and the children's book prizes since 1996.

Nearly two decades is a very long sponsorship. Can’t complain when it stops. But there is some good news:
Backing for literacy programmes, such as those run by the Howard League, Literacy Aotearoa and Books in Homes will continue.

God knows where Booksellers NZ will find a replacement sponsor for either award. I was a judge for the adult awards five times under three sponsors – Goodman Fielder Wattie in 1993, Montana in 1994 (as convenor),  1999 and 2000 (as convenor) and NZ Post in 2010 (as convenor). I don’t know how/why Wattie became a sponsor, but I do know that the Montana and NZ Post sponsorships were driven by the companies’ then  CEOs, Peter Hubscher and John Allen, who were keen on culture and books especially. Over the years both sets of awards have made a huge contribution.

This is a less sentimental age, and the bottom line rules as never before. I could see a benefit to both Montana and NZ Post in aligning themselves with books – but how many other companies/industries would in 2014? The awards will survive, of course they will, but probably on a smaller scale.

Which is a bugger, frankly, because the bigger-scale awards dinners were always great. I have fond memories of:
1991: the booing, led by Kevin Ireland and enthusiastically joined in by the rest of our table, of the top award to Vol 1 of the NZ Dictionary of Biography. Editor and publisher got the money; the contributors didn’t.
1993: the distinguished novelist who, convinced he would win the big prize, sat beside me and was very chummy before the announcement and after it flounced off  with “Well!” He didn’t speak to me for at least a decade after. Until he wanted something. That’s authors for you.
1994: the distinguished poet who drunkenly propositioned the very proper wife of a judge – a real courtroom judge, not a book awards judge.
1999: poetry award winner Vincent O’Sullivan gracefully gliding across the dance floor with non-fiction winner Heather Nicholson.
2000: me reluctantly introducing the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, an old friend of whom I was protective, to a very pissed publisher who proceeded to set her straight on how she should be running the country.  
2010: the Tuhoe takeover of the event for Judith Binney’s The Encircled Land, and Pip Desmond’s mates coming on stage to sing in celebration of her win for Trust: a true story of women and gangs.  I was stuck on stage behind them and had no idea how long they would take. It must have been terrifying for our outwardly unflappable MC Jennifer Ward-Lealand who had to keep the show running to schedule, but I loved it. Maori as, and especially wonderful in the context of the Langham Hotel and a totally urban Pakeha audience.

Other people will have other memories. I wasn’t present, for example, when academic historian Jamie Belich caused a scene when non-academic historian Michael King won the non-fiction award. Poets, too, have been known to take exception to the ref’s decision.

In whatever form the awards take in 2015 and later, I fervently hope that bad behaviour from authors and publishers will continue.