Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sixty Six


The other night I discovered that we had a DVD on our shelves called Sixty Six, a movie I hadn't even heard of. My wife had bought it at some point unbeknowns to me.

It turned out to be oddball, funny and quite original. And it had Helena Bonham Carter in one of her 'mother' roles (as in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), which was a bonus. She has considerably more to do in this than in 'Charlie' and is a somewhat tougher mother (and Jewish). Eddie Marsen was the Jewish father - he's an actor you seldom know about in spite of his strange face - he was Inspector Lestrade in the recent Sherlock Holmes, and has appeared in plenty of movies, but is usually one of the lesser characters.

In this movie he plays the downtrodden of two brothers who run a grocer's shop that, early in the piece, is wiped out by a supermarket opening just up the road (all their customers abandon them in spite of years of hard work). His brother is full of jokes, full of beans, full of life. A go-getter within his own small sphere. Eddie's character is the opposite in every way, and a little eccentric, to boot.

The main character - and the narrator - is a boy just coming up to his Barmitzvah. He's planning on having the most amazing Barmitzvah ever, with plenty of presents, and lots of people. Unfortunately, it coincides with the final of the Football World Cup. England shouldn't even get in the final...but it does, and young Bernie's Barmitzvah is pretty much down the tubes.

Bernie (played by Gregg Sulkin) has everything going against him, just like his father. He has a snazzy older brother (though he's not actually very bright, unlike Bernie), he gets asthma when he's stressed, he's hopeless at sports, and so on. But he's a clued-up kid, and doesn't intend to let disappointment get him down. The crisis, of course, brings out the best in all the family members.

The story is supposedly based on director Paul Weiland's own family circumstances, but it's very likely the family has been a little eccentricated for the movie. Weiland seems to have spent most of his career working with Mr Bean - which will explain some of the humour in this movie, though by no means all - and overall he has a sure hand on the direction.

Small scale, not particularly action-packed, this is a gem of a movie. I'm surprised I've never come across it before...!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Weight loss and ghost writers

I've never tried weight loss drinks, though a couple of members of my family have, and found them effective. As with all diet approaches, it's a matter of keeping the weight off once you've lost it! Certainly the drinks helped. But motivation to lose weight helps even more.

On another tack entirely, I came across this intriguing paragraph yesterday:

The film’s plot is also controversial, based on a disputed literary theory that [Alexandre] Dumas’s anonymous white collaborator, Auguste Maquet, should get much of the credit for the plots and drafts of Dumas’ most famous works. "Possibly for commercial reasons, they are white-washing Dumas in order to blacken him further," said the Council of Black Associations. Ironically, the term in French for a ghostwriter is a “nègre littéraire (a literary Negro),” and ghostwriting is called “negritude.”

The paragraph comes from an article about a new film on the life of Dumas, in which white actor, Gerard Depardieu, plays the writer. However, as Dumas once responded to a critic: “My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, sir, my family starts where yours ends.”

I don't know that I've ever been aware that Dumas was a 'figure of colour' as the French apparently put it. He's not high on the list of authors I've read, although I found The Count of Monte Cristo surprisingly absorbing. All 900 small-print pages of it!

However, there's been a bit of a hue and cry over Depardieu playing him in a film, and the question has been asked: aren't there any actors of colour in France who can play him, and, will black actors be allowed to play white roles? I'm sure there are, and possibly they could be, but Depardieu is one of France's great drawcards when it comes to promoting films....for better or worse.

However, all the controversy aside, I think the most intriguing thing I found about this article was the language used for the ghost-writer:
nègre littéraire (a literary Negro),” and ghostwriting: “negritude.

Isn't language the oddest thing? I never ceased to be amazed at the way we use words.

Back to my first thought: perhaps Dumas could have profited a little by those famous weight loss drinks - if they'd been around in his day. Or perhaps, like so many other people of weight in the 19th century, he didn't consider it a big issue.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The loss of storytelling

On the Insatiable Moon blog there's this comment from filmmakers Tom Burstyn and Barbara Sumner

At the Berlin festival one thing became obvious – we’re a little old to be embarking on what is a new career for us both. Young people should be making low-budget documentaries. Passion and obsession should be the preserve of those with energy to spare. We’re grandparents and we like to sleep, while we really don’t do well in the two-star accommodation kindly provided by the festival.

And yet we found ourselves repeatedly in conversations about our increasingly technical world – which is clearly the preserve of the young – and the loss of storytelling. At dinner one producer wondered if in fact we were in the grip of a cultural autism. As she saw it, the more technology (and thus budget) a film requires the more it appeals to and tunes the left-brain. And that’s perhaps what I hated most about Avatar – all that film wizardry in service of itself, instead of story.

The trick of course is to harness the fantastic benefits of the digital world to the needs of the heart to make intense, emotionally connected films. That’s certainly our goal. And one of the benefits of going to Berlin with This Way of Life was the solidifying of that purpose. Vive l’obsession!

The documentary, This Way of Life features Peter Karena, his wife Colleen, their six children and many horses who live almost wild in the stunning beauty of New Zealand's rugged Ruahine Mountains. Until, that is, Peter's escalating battle with his own father has profound consequences for the whole clan.

PS - If you want to win a piece of film history, go to the Trade Me auction featuring a vehicle used both for transport of crew and stars in the movie, The Insatiable Moon. (Pictured at left)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Finding our way back to ethics


...we have lost a way of thinking and talking about some very important things. The preoccupation with market ­efficiency and economic growth has loomed so large that other activities, and other ­values, have been subordinated to its disciplines. "You can't buck the market," said Margaret Thatcher, and no government has disagreed since. It was the adage that was used to justify soaring pay for the highest earners and stagnant earnings for the low-paid. The ­market ruled, and questions of injustice, honour or integrity were all secondary or irrelevant.

A poll for the World Economic Forum last month found in 10 G20 countries that two-thirds of respondents attributed the credit crunch and its ensuing economic recession to a crisis of ethics and values. Sir Thomas Legg declared in his final report on MPs' expenses that there had been a failure of ethics. There's a widespread perception that social norms have subtly and gradually shifted towards the centrality of ­personal self-interest. As long as it's legal, it's legitimate; no further ­individual judgment is necessary.

Madeleine Bunting in an article entitled To tackle the last decades' myths, we must dust off the big moral questions, published in The Guardian, 21st Feb, 2010.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bright Star

Jane Campion has annoyed me as a movie-maker for many years. I thought The Piano was highly overrated - well-made, but all rather silly. The only good thing it did was introduce me to Holly Hunter, who later made such an incredible job of Mrs Incredible in The Incredibles.

Campion's earlier movie, An Angel at My Table had come off better, because she held to the New Zealand focus of the book, and Janet Frame really was a character who suffered (but also triumphed). The film that annoyed me most of all was Campion's version of The Portrait of a Lady, in which she not only turned the self-assured Isabel Archer into a total wimp (Nicole Kidman at her most pathetic), but made all the male characters venomous and domineering. And allowed John Malkovich to do his most extreme version of his own persona. He was totally out of control in this movie.

Henry James' book had been one I really enjoyed; to have it turned into a suffering-woman piece of nonsense, was insulting to James - and to the viewers. (And don't talk to me about the opening in which a random bunch of females sit in trees staring at us. Absolute piffle.)

I haven't watched any of her movies since, but I was nevertheless interested to read what people had to say about her latest, Bright Star, in which the story of John Keats becomes somewhat eclipsed by the story of Fanny Brawne.

The reviewer who most interested me on the subject was Stephanie Zacharek, a writer I read as much for her wit as for her view of a movie. I don't always find Zacharek and I see eye to eye, so I found what she had to say about Campion and her movies intriguing (and affirming of my own opinion, of course!):

I feared I was in for a treatise on the drudgery and heartache of the lives of women, a theme Campion has visited and revisited too many times for my taste. In fact, "Bright Star" is the first Jane Campion I've ever liked, and that includes "Sweetie" and the oft-praised "The Piano." I've always found her movies pretentious and heavily annotated, like the work of a theory-bound academic who fills pages and pages with copious, scribbled footnotes. For me, Campion's filmmaking has always groaned under the weight of her recurring "Oh, how we women suffer!" message.
But "Bright Star" has no obvious agenda. It appears that Campion was simply struck by the tenderness, and the tragedy, of the story, and that has freed something in her storytelling style.

Well, there you go. "Pretentious and heavily-annotated." Yup, that pretty much sums up a good deal of Campion. So it looks as though Bright Star might be worth a visit. Maybe. I still haven't quite got over what she did to Isabel Archer.

Incidentally, Ben Whishaw, who plays Keats, was familiar to me when I saw his face in the promo photos. I realised he'd played a wet young man who was sent to a harsh British prison for a murder he either did or didn't do (I never actually got to see the end of the thing) in a series called Criminal Justice. I first saw this mini-series being advertised in Britain when I was there in late 2007 - I think. Anyway, it turned up in New Zealand last year, but I missed bits of it - the beginning, and the end (!), and found Whishaw's soppy performance a real turn off.

Talk about suffering women - Whishaw would have done as good a job as Kidman in Campion's Portrait. Sorry, Ben.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Orwell and Arthritis

Over the last few months, I've often wondered if I was getting arthritis in my right forefinger, particularly, and sometimes in the left. The pain could be most noticeable when I used a computer mouse for any length of time (hence I swap from right to left from work to home), and especially when I did any hard practice on the piano.

But most curiously, the pain seems to have gone the way of many other unidentified pains. It just isn't there any more. Let's hope it stays that way and I don't have to natural arthritis relief (or even any unnatural.)

Pain is a curious thing: I fell over three weekends ago and badly hurt my upper ribcage area - may even have fractured a rib. Coped with it for a week as it calmed down, and then suddenly it was back with a vengeance. Doctor gave me some strong anti-inflammatory tablets, and voila! the pain was gone to a degree that I could once more lie on that side at night.

When I went to the doctor the pain had extended down underneath the original sore area, and around to my back. (Which is why I was getting a little concerned.) After a few days of anti-inflammatories there was nothing except the slightest tension if I squashed my chest area in any way.

And then last Friday, the extra pain came back to the degree that I spent a good deal of the day feeling queasy - even the anti-inflammatory didn't help. Couldn't get comfortable. And yet, yesterday, I woke up feeling fine again and did a day's work in the garden with my wife.

Ain't pain a strange thing?

On another painful front, I've just read in our local paper an article that's been reprinted from the Philadelphia Inquirer, where it's called (rather oddly) The towering George Orwell, 60 years after his death. In our paper it was called, Sixty years on, Orwell's legacy endures, which to my ear has a better ring. The article is by John Rossi, professor emeritus of history (not English) at La Salle University. Regrettably Professor Rossi includes in his article 'six rules of good writing' that Orwell had proposed in an article entitled, Politics and the English Language.

I say regrettably, because I don't for a moment expect that Orwell thought he'd still be being quoted on these 'rules' umpteen years later. And worse, they fit in comfortably to that school of thought which is particularly prevalent in the US of A that thinks these six rules actually tell you something about how to write.

Here they are. They're commonsensical, as Rossi suggests, but they're also limiting. And they smack of Ernest Hemingway, whose own writing followed these kind of rules to such a degree that he cut out anything that might have made his writing interesting.

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.

Never use a long word when a short word will do.

If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.

Use the active rather than passive voice.

Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Rule number six is typical of Orwell: "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous."

I want to scream every time I hear some writer proclaiming: never use the passive voice, when what they should be saying is: there is a time and place for everything under heaven, the passive voice included. Some of the greatest writers in the language use it without blinking an eyelid.

Equally, cutting out words is the job of an editor in a newspaper, not a writer. Yes, there is a time within your writing when you should go through and chop out extraneous words, but what counts as extraneous is a matter of style - and your style may require that so-called extraneous word.

There's a certain value in being creative with new metaphors, figures of speech. But spending your entire time trying to find new ways of saying things that have been said in every possible way already is time-wasting in terms of getting on with your writing. That 'rule' is a real handicap to a person trying to get a novel off the ground.

Never use a long word when a short one will do. Okay, that's fine if your style is totally circumlocutional. If it's not, a good mix of short and long brings variety, and allows your reader to discover new words.

'Rule' number five is nonsense: jargon is essential in some circumstances; the proper scientific word may be the only one that exactly describes what you're writing about. Foreign languages do have some good words. And considering that a large percentage of our language consists of foreign words we've borrowed over some of the last two thousand years or longer, why fuss about it now? You're going to swap a perfectly good 'foreign' word for an English one? Better make sure the latter really is English, then.

Pooh to Prof Rossi, and pooh to George. Too many rules (even six) makes Jack a dull boy.

Prof Rossi quotes another of Orwell's lines: "Good prose is like a windowpane. It hides nothing." Piffle. Good prose tells you exactly what it wants to tell you. Which may not be everything. And Prof Rossi claims in his article that 'In many ways, Orwell's essays had the greatest impact on modern prose. He almost single-handedly invented a new cultural artifact - the serious essay about a seemingly unimportant topic.'

Obviously Mr Rossi has never read G K Chesterton, who could make an argument out of a straw hat and still wear it home.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The HitTail List - first count for 2010

It's very annoying when you have an idea for a great post in your head and somewhere during the course of the day it vanishes. Of course, I know I should have written it down before I forgot it, but this time I didn't. Some master post gone for good.

Meanwhile, it's that time again: the checking-up-on-of-the-HitTail-Top-Ten.

Of course there are plenty of old favourites here (sorry, acne treatment reviews hasn't made it yet, for all those who think it should have). In order, they are:

1. athletes hand - sans apostrophe, as you might expect.
2. mike crowl - surprise, surprise - and sans capitals.
3. the great divorce notes - a perennial. One of these days I'm going to put some real notes about the Great Divorce on here.
4. googleads.g.doubleclick.net - a total newcomer, which meant nothing to me. I checked it out on the Net, and it brings up the I'm Feeling Lucky page on Google. Hmm. Can I really have been the end result of so many lucky searches?
5. nintendo jewellery - with jewellery spelt correctly, you'll notice.
6. brent stavig - our old friend whose main claim to fame now seems to be the fact that he turns up on my blog!
7. james berardinelli - considering that I haven't mentioned James' name for some time on here, it's interesting that he still gets on this list.
8. karl maugham - only because I misspelt his name so often.
9. shrinking shirts - a constant problem for people, obviously.
10. athletes fingers - just in case you missed number one on the list.

Those who only made it into the top twenty are a real mixed bunch:

mikecrowlsscribblepad.blogspot.com - why would anyone actually search on that?
athlete hand
postile
lesley martin euthanasia
the great divorce chapter summaries
henry lewis gates
here lies eric ambler
religious jeans
crowl
john gray philosopher

I know I've written about all these, but surely other people have too? I'm not going to go further down the list, but Chrissy Popadics only made it to 21st place this time, and how do you pronounce Boise, 22 - and 26 and 28 and at least once in each of the next decades as well. The people of Boise must wonder why the name of their town is such a problem for the rest of the world. Maybe it's time to change it.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cliches


Just found this delightful compilation of cliches in one of the reviews of The Dictionary of Cliches. What's most interesting is how old many of these well-worn phrases are.

'Tom, Dick, and Harry' (1604) were 'fit as a fiddle' (1616), though Wally was 'dead as a doornail' (1350). No one thought about Wally 'in the heat of the battle' (1588) because it was 'do or die' (1809) since they all knew they 'bit off more than they could chew' (1878). Wally was as 'hard as nails' (1837), and had the 'bird's eye view' (18th century) perched, as he was, 'out on a limb' (1897). They agreed that Wally should have seen 'that snake in the grass' (13th century) or 'smelled a rat' (1550) when Sam 'cast the first stone' (Bible reference) toward him. However, Wally always expected a 'square deal' (1633) because 'a friend in need is a friend indeed' (1275), and he had known Sam since 'time immemorial' (1189). Of course, 'money is the root of all evil' (Timothy 6:10) and Sam was 'rotten to the core' (1718), so it should not be a surprise that he was also 'a cold hearted' (1606) 'eager beaver' (18th century) who 'shot {Wally} to hell' (1706) 'in cold blood' (1608). Tom, Dick, and Harry could 'go along for the ride' (1960) or 'explore every avenue' (1890) so they could 'divide the spoils' (Isaiah 12:25). They were, after all, living in 'a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13), and Wally was up there 'on cloud nine' (1950).

The paragraph was put together by Victoria Tarrani

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Orson Welles - Citizen Kane


Let's mention this early in the piece before I get carried away on my main topic. The best eye cream for dark circles is a subject I know nothing about, but that doesn't stop me writing a little. I'd be a bit surprised if cream could remove dark circles, but someone obviously thinks it can, and says so. So there.

I've been reading a book by a couple of Frenchmen called Orson Wells at Work. (It's a Phaidon publication, so there are heaps of photographs, and the weight of the book is such that you can't read it except by lying it on a table.)

I've read a Welles biography in the past and it struck me that he was both talented to the max - and chaotic to the same degree. Whether it was that he just took on far too much continually, with expectations that he'd finish everything (he rarely did), he left behind him not just a legacy of some superb movies but a sense of actors, technicians and others who both loved and hated him because he was so unreliable. He was reliable unto himself, but that isn't quite the way the world works for the rest of us.

The consequence of his chaos was that some great movies were never finished (Don Quixote is the best known example, but there were several others), some movies that would have been greater were undercut by producers who couldn't stand the strain of waiting for him to finish his work (or were running out of money, something Welles himself did constantly), and Welles was also forced to act in a number of second-rate movies (especially in Europe, where he lived in a kind of self-imposed exile for many years) instead of in movies in which he could have been brilliant.

The book goes into detail about the production not only of the better known movies, but of all the others that didn't quite survive Welles' approach to work. As he grew older he filmed in a more and more haphazard way - haphazard to the rest of us; Welles knew exactly what he was doing at all times, and film he might shoot in three different countries is put together (as in Othello, for example) as though it was all shot in one location. Often the actors would never do the reverse shot of a scene - Welles would use a double in a different country (often with a different crew) and finish the scene that way. He would dub all sorts of actors, famous and not famous - often with his own voice! When the producers complained that the audience would never understand the Scottish accents he'd got his cast to use in Macbeth, he dubbed practically the entire film again, using not only his own voice, but in some cases the voice of one cast member for another. He treated the film and the sound tracks and the music score as items to be set against each other, rather then necessarily fitted together as they were originally intended. Thus a composer might find that his carefully crafted score, timed to the second, would be chopped and cut and splattered across the film in bits. It worked, but it wasn't quite what the composer thought would happen.

Anyway, as a result of reading this book, I had another look at Citizen Kane, which I've had on DVD for a while but not got around to seeing again. It remains extraordinary. Okay, 'Rosebud,' the thing everyone is trying to discover throughout the movie, is a bit of a McGuffin in that in the end it barely matters what it was - it's only a hook to hang the story on. And it may not help to know the 'secret' of Rosebud. Knowing that takes away a bit of the suspense. But there's so much else to admire, that this is a small matter.

The fact that this movie was achieved by a young man of 24, who'd had little experience of making movies (the one he began with RKO before this was never completed) is astonishing. Even today, after nearly seventy years, it stands up strong and solid, with little sense about it that it's a product of its time. In fact, it isn't a product of its time. It was so far ahead of its time that it took other movies years to catch up.

I'd forgotten the extent of the production values in it: this is no cheap wet-behind-the-ears production. It gets the full Hollywood treatment, with massive sets and crowds of people, and heaps of 'stuff' throughout (all part of Kane's extravagance). And then there's Welles' performance in the middle of it (matched by several others of the Mercury Players who were brought into movies for the first time). Even in the 'newsreel' at the beginning of the film, we see him age back and forth from youngish to mature to old, and he does it without a sense that he's performing as a young man, trying to be old. He just does it. The make-up is there, but it's the movement that's right. In the scene late in the movie when he smashes up his departed wife's boudoir, it isn't a young man going hammer and tongs at destruction: it's an old man. He struggles to lift certain things, gets caught up in a power cord, has to have more than one attempt at pulling things off the wall, has to exert effort in order to achieve what he wants. A young man would sail around the room with ease. This man can't.

In this film Welles hasn't got into his later approach of general chaos: here the script is well-organised, the dialogue is actually spoken by the actors and things work as they would in a 'normal' movie. Except that all the time Welles is trying out stuff: when the reporter goes to read Thackford's diary about Kane in the former's monumental library, everything is overwhelming: the space, the thick walls, the huge doors, and so on.

The scene when Kane's second wife is debuting at the opera is justly famous for the apparent slide of the camera up away from the stage into the flies and finally up to where a couple of stagehands are standing (telling each other that the singer stinks). Welles is like Hitchcock, always experimenting to see what he can get away with, what he can try that will be out there, beyond what everyone else has done. We've become so used to so many of the things that were innovations in Citizen Kane that when we see the film afresh we don't recognise them as innovations. But they were. And the Phaidon book brings them to the fore in considerable detail.

Praise the Lord!

When I worked in the bookshop I used to get a regular ezine from Bob Burroughs on music for church worship - and quite a bit more. We corresponded occasionally, and at one point he sent me a copy of each of the CDs he'd produced with the Florida Baptist Singing Men and Women. I used to play them often in the shop. The choir(s) are rich in sound, and have a superb ability to be strong or soft when needed. (That might sound obvious, but not every choir can do it - and this choir is all the more extraordinary in that it consists of volunteers from cities all over Florida.).

Backing the choir is a great band, with excellent brass in particular. The CD I've been listening to again recently is simply called Praise the Lord!

I like a lot of the tracks, but there's one that always amazes me. In it, for a few brief phrases a tenor called Rhon Carter sings. He comes sweeping in across the choir starting way up high, and climbs still higher. Not only that he's singing a phrase with the words, 'Whom shall I send?' and the word 'send' is at the end of the phrase and higher than the rest. Yet he soars up there without seeming effort, and sings what is an awful word to sing up high with consummate ease. Just wonderful.

It's only when I look on Google for this choir that I find that 'singing men/women' is a common title for choirs in the States.

On a less positive note, the Dell computer I ordered on the 19th of January has gone AWOL. The printer arrived a couple of weeks ago, but nothing else has come in. I've been in touch with a woman by email who's supposed to be handling the problem personally, but I haven't heard a peep out of her today, even though she promised some information. It's becoming hard to digest it as time continues to pass by. It was only when I started to make a fuss that anyone did anything. Prior to that the order had got to the point of vanishing off the horizon altogether. Scary, when you've parted out cash in advance.

To give them credit, the last time we ordered a computer from them (the laptop) it arrived safe and sound on time and has worked perfectly since. So will this one, no doubt, once it gets here....finally!

The meaning of Winnie-the-Pooh


Is this at last, then, the 'meaning of Winnie-the-Pooh: the falseness of every overtly proffered ideal? If you suppose so, I want you to listen carefully from here on. A strong misreading is still a reading, with all its loose ends tucked nearly out of sight. Since meaning, as one of "Milne's" [Milne in quotes because it's already been proved he didn't exist] poems proclaims, '"isn't really anywhere!/It's somewhere else instead," the meaning of nonmeaning must itself be deconstructed if we are to keep pace with the text's self-dissolution.

Jonathan Culler once memorably defined this task for us. A critic's role, he wrote, is that of "sawing off the branch on which one is sitting":

One can and may continue to sit on a branch while sawing it. There is no physical or moral obstacle if one is willing to risk the consequences. The question then becomes whether one will succeed in sawing it clear through, and where and how one might land. A difficult question: to answer one would need a comprehensive understanding of the entire situation - the resilience of the support, the efficacy of one's tools, the shape of the terrain - and an ability to predict accurately the consequences of one's work.

The last quote comes from the [real] book by Culler: On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism.
The pseud stuff before it comes from page 11 of the satirical book, Postmodern Pooh, by Frederick Crews, (pictured above) writing at this point in the book under the name of Felicia Marronnez.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Book reviewing

For better or worse, I do a fair amount of book reviewing, of both good and bad books. (Sorry, the bad books don't usually come out very well - I'm not one for finding the 'good' in everything.)

So I was interested to read this quote on Bill Kinnon's blog today:

Over the years, I have come to find writing book reviews even more distasteful than reading them. Part of this is my own fault, for being one of those old-fashioned holdouts who still believes that you should actually read the book before reviewing it.

Sometimes I am only into the first 20 pages of a 500-page book when it becomes painfully clear that this one is a real dog. The rest of the ordeal is like crossing the Sahara Desert—except that often there are no oases. True, the reviewer gets to slaughter the author in print at the end of it all, but this merely appeases the desire for revenge, which only real blood would satisfy.


It's not written by Bill, and unfortunately he doesn't supply the author's name as far as I can see, but it certainly speaks to the heart of most reviewers!

Later in the day - my fellow blogger over at Per Crucem ad Lucem has kindly supplied the source for this quotation: Thomas Sowell, Some Thoughts about Writing (Stanford: Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, 2001), 21.

Facing the Fear

An extract from an interview with Seth Godin.
The interviewer was Gretchen Rubin on The Happiness Project - a blog with the subtitle: A chronicle of my attempts to test-drive every tip, principle and scientific study that promotes happiness. (Hmmm - happiness is scientific?)


Back to Seth:

"There are two secrets to creativity:

1. Understand that there's no gene for it. No cultural or family history required. Creativity isn't a gift from above, it's something that everyone is capable of.


2. The only thing that prevents your creativity from showing up is fear. Fear of being laughed at, fear of being wrong, fear of seeming uninformed. So many creative exercises and habits revolve around overcoming that fear.

For me, the single best thing you can do to become more creative is to be wrong more often. Creative people are wrong all the time (look at Apple's long string of failures). The goal is to create a safe place to be wrong, a way to be wrong without destroying yourself. The more wrong I am, the more often, the better I seem to get at being creative."

I can certainly agree with Seth about the fear aspect: it's very easy to think 'no one will like this - I'm going to make a fool of myself [especially when it comes to acting, or performing my own music] - this stuff isn't as good as so-and-so's' - and more. It's something you have to keep stepping up on top of and ignoring.


Global Warming going down the tubes?

In the light of the ongoing debacle over the global warming scandals, a long quote from an article by Muriel Newman of the NZ Centre for Political Research.

The Christchurch Press reported that the 32-strong delegation of New Zealand politicians and officials who attended the Copenhagen climate fiasco has cost taxpayers at least $600,000.[5] Under the Official Information Act I have been trying to find out from government agencies the cost to taxpayers of funding officials to fly all around the world for the last five years endlessly talking about ways to reduce carbon emissions and negotiate a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol. While all of the information has not yet been received, it looks likely to be at least $2 million. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of taxpayer funded costs that have resulted from the government’s blind faith in the IPCC reports. Instead of seriously questioning the scientific findings that underpin those reports, to see whether they were robust enough to base complex and expensive public policy on (especially as there has been no lack of local independent criticism of the whole IPCC process) the government has exposed the New Zealand public to gross exploitation by climate alarmists.

All of this leads to questions over the integrity of our own National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). NIWA scientists featured in the Climategate emails and in early January NIWA came out with the astonishing claim that the last decade was the warmest on record. This finding, based on measurements of fractions of a degree, helped support the cause of catastrophic global warming. However it has now been revealed that even though their raw data shows no warming, NIWA has been adjusting their temperature records to produce results that show a warming trend. When asked for the details of how they make their adjustments they have astonishingly had to admit that they don’t have it![6] The fact that their data has been massaged might also explain why NIWA has found warming down here in New Zealand, while Professor Phil Jones, the Director of the Climatic Research Unit and the scientists at the centre of the Climategate scandal, has just confirmed in an interview with the BBC that there has been no significant global warming for the last 15 years![7]


See the rest of the article - Climate Change in Tatters

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Buechner on Marriage

I've been reading Frederick Buechner's Whistling in the Dark again, after a break of several years. It’s an alphabetised collection of thoughts on various topics. Though I might add some of them here (and maybe on my other ‘quote’ blog, The Daily Writer).

Here’s the one on marriage:

They say they will love, comfort, honour each other to the end of their days. They say they will cherish each other and be faithful to each other always. They say they will do these things not just when they feel like it but even – for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health – when they don’t feel like it at all. In other words, the vows they make at a marriage could hardly be more extravagant. They give away their freedom. They take on themselves each other’s burdens. They bind their lives together in ways that are even more painful to unbind emotionally, humanly, than they are to unbind legally. The question is: what do they get in return?

They get each other in return. Assuming they have any success at all in keeping their rash, quixotic promises, they never have to face the world quite alone again. There will always be the other to talk to, to listen to. If they’re lucky, even after the first passion passes, they still have a kindness and patience to depend on, a chance to be patient and kind. There is still someone to get through the night with, to wake into the new day beside. If they have children, they can give them, as well as each other, roots and wings. If they don’t have children, they each become each other’s child.

They both still have their lives apart as well as a life together. They both still have their separate ways to find. But a marriage made in Heaven is one where a man and a woman become more richly themselves together than the chances are either of them could ever have managed to become alone. When Jesus changed the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, perhaps it was a way of saying more or less the same thing.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Twitter effectively

Tamara Erickson is a regular writer on the Harvard Business website. In a recent piece called Are You Fun to Follow on Twitter (it's interesting to note that the Yanks don't appear to have heard about the move towards not capitalizing the first letter of each word in a headline) she notes that Twitter can be used effectively if you think about why you're using it. And she's not just talking about businesses - her ideas apply to the personal use of Twitter too.

Here's how she concludes her article:
  1. Don't report banal details. Unless you're observing a true breaking news event (and note: this term does not include what you or your child ate for lunch), skip it.
  2. Do interpret your experiences. How do they make you feel? What do they mean to you?
  3. Do share the oddities you observe. Look for things that seem unusual, out-of-place, surprising.
  4. Do share things you love - quotes, phrases, descriptions of events that brought joy to your day.

Slow down, enjoy. Listen to the world's music. Share the best of your experiences, but remember, 140 characters is a unique format — more like poetry or Haiku than news reporting. Using it well requires our thoughtful attention.

[My italics in point number 2]

And here's a curmudgeon on the same topic, from the same site.


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Buechner on Art

Some lines from Frederick Buechner's Whistling in the Dark: a doubter's dictionary - from the section, 'Art.'

Literature, painting, music - the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things.

6 pixels

I came across Mitch Joel and his 'Six Pixels of Separation' yesterday. Haven't looked at the book yet, as such, but was most intrigued by one of the promotional videos related to it. It has almost nothing in it except words and a voice (Joel's) on the soundtrack. But the words are used in a wonderfully inventive way - there's only one point where a paragraph is actually visible on screen as it would be in a book, but even then, as Joel reads, each word or two is highlighted, keeping up with his considerable pace of speaking. Otherwise words speed across the screen, enlarge, form boxes...in general, play. It's worth watching more than once just for the inventiveness of it all.



On his blog Joel also notes the fact that it's baby boomers (grandparent-type people, in other words) who are using Facebook primarily now. I'd heard this last year, but it's good to see it confirmed again. He quotes the Boomers and Social Media report which notes: "Creating and renewing personal connections online is the biggest draw for boomers... Their contacts include family, friends and co-workers of all ages."

So in other words, boomers - people of my age - are using Facebook as a way of keeping up contact not just with their peers, but with everyone amongst their family and friends.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Seth Godin on dealing with ideas

One blogger I read every day (mainly because he sends me a copy of his posts via email - much the best way to get read!) is Seth Godin. I may have mentioned him once or twice before in this blog(!)

Today he has three posts on the go, but the one that really appealed (mainly to my artist-struggling-to-market-his-product-type-person) was the one that starts in this way.

If you've got an idea worth spreading, I hope you'll consider this random assortment of rules. Like all rules, some are made to be broken, but still...

I won't include all the rules here, but here are some of my favourites.

  • Waiting for inspiration is another way of saying that you're stalling. You don't wait for inspiration, you command it to appear.
  • Don't poll your friends. It's your art, not an election.
  • The hard part is finishing, so enjoy the starting part.
  • Figure out how long your idea will take to spread, and multiply by 4.
  • Think big. Bigger than that.
  • Try not to confuse confidence with delusion.
  • Surround yourself with encouraging voices and incisive critics. It's okay if they're not the same people. Ignore both camps on occasion.
  • Be grateful.