Monday, June 29, 2009

Dyson Freeman

Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson was interviewed back in March on Climate Change, and came out against most of the pro-CC people. Of course he was utterly criticized for being a sceptic of the new religion. Earlier this month he was interviewed again, in relation to the first article, by Michael Lemonick.

He doesn't rant and rave. He has no need to. He just comes at the topic with good common (scientific) sense. Here are a few quotes:

My objections to the global warming propaganda are not so much over the technical facts, about which I do not know much, but it’s rather against the way those people behave and the kind of intolerance to criticism that a lot of them have. I think that’s what upsets me.

Syukuro Manabe, right here in Princeton, was the first person who did climate models with enhanced carbon dioxide and they were excellent models. And he used to say very firmly that these models are very good tools for understanding climate, but they are not good tools for predicting climate. I think that’s absolutely right. They are models, but they don’t pretend to be the real world. They are purely fluid dynamics. You can learn a lot from them, but you cannot learn what’s going to happen 10 years from now.

It is also true that the whole livelihood of all these people depends on people being scared. Really, just psychologically, it would be very difficult for them to come out and say, “Don’t worry, there isn’t a problem.” It’s sort of natural, since their whole life depends on it being a problem. I don’t say that they’re dishonest. But I think it’s just a normal human reaction.

No doubt that warming is happening. I don’t think it is correct to say “global,” but certainly warming is happening. I have been to Greenland a year ago and saw it for myself. And that’s where the warming is most extreme. And it’s spectacular, no doubt about it. And glaciers are shrinking and so on.

But, there are all sorts of things that are not said, which decreases my feeling of alarm. First of all, the people in Greenland love it. They tell you it’s made their lives a lot easier. They hope it continues. I am not saying none of these consequences are happening. I am just questioning whether they are harmful. would be a shame if we’ve made huge efforts to stop global warming and the sea continued to rise. That would be a tragedy. Sea level is a real problem, but we should be attacking it directly and not attacking the wrong problem.

And there's more....check out the rest of the article.

It makes you weep

In the video below, you can see President Obama interrupting a review with CNBC to swat a fly, which he then manages to dispatch to wherever persistent flies go.

Unbelievably, a group called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is now calling this piece of nifty fly swatting an 'execution!' They want the President to show more compassion, even to this least of 'animals.' I'm not sure that the fly would have been pleased to have been included in the animal kingdom, being an insect by nature, but plainly Bruce Friedrich, the Vice President for Policy and Government Affairs at PETA thinks it should have been.

"We support compassion for even the smallest animals," says Bruce Friedrich, V.P. for Policy at PETA. "We support giving insects the benefit of the doubt." He continues by saying that PETA supports "brushing flies away rather than killing them" and was disappointed that the President had killed the fly.

I'm not exactly sure how the fly should have been given the benefit of the doubt: had it just taken diet pills, and so was a little more dizzy/buzzy than usual? Had it stumbled into the White House under the illusion that this was actually Fly Heaven and therefore, being an otherwise well-behaved fly, it had every right to be there? Was it protesting some particular fly Policy or Government Affair and hoping to heard by the President himself? Had it been swatted out of the room next door by some underling? We'll never know.

In case you think I'm anti-fly, I'm not. Many years ago a friend of mine expressed distaste at my longstanding habit of swatting flies with a newspaper and squashing them on the window. I forsook the habit from that time on, and have tried to let the plainly unhappy creatures back out into the wild. I still don't care for their propensity to find their way into the house in the first place, particularly when there is food on the table, but I forgive them for doing something they're probably built to do. I haven't yet understood why God made them in the first place, though I guess something's got to clean up the dung on this planet, and flies seem to have first dibs at the task.

I still don't understand why it is that when I sit in the bay window in my house, enjoying the sunshine and trying to do the cryptic crossword, flies seem to think I will enjoy their interminable buzzing. Our cat, which is now about seven months old, was so fast when she was a kitten that she could chase and catch flies - and eat them. Now that's dispatching. It was difficult to discourage her.

Meanwhile, Bruce Friedrich's group sent the president a Katcha Bug device, which traps bugs and allows their safe release back into nature. (Bruce is also on the governing board of the Catholic Vegetarian Society, the advisory board of the Christian Vegetarian Association, and is a founding member of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians. Groups I never knew existed.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

People of the Spirit

Our church has been running a series on the subject, People of the Spirit, in which each Sunday sermon relates to the Holy Spirit, and there are also various other evenings and such where that's also the focus during this period. Along with the sermons, we've been doing a series of short 'dramas' - mostly about 8 to 10 minutes long. These have related to the topic, but unusually for us, have used the same set of characters played by the same actors each time. They've appeared about once a fortnight, and the characters have developed in each episode.

The first drama was written prior to the series starting, but from then on they've been written on the fly, as it were - being prepared partly in relation to the sermons and partly in relation to how people have responded to them, and partly in relation to how the actors feel their characters are moving forward. Or how the other actors feel someone else's character is moving forward, as happened this time around.

This particular drama has had the shortest turn-around time of them all, being conceived, for the most part the Thursday before last, written by the Saturday, and first rehearsed last Wednesday, when everyone pretty much knew their lines. Scary for me, but in fact I discovered a new kind of confidence in regard to learning my lines that quickly - must be because of the role I played in When We Are Married a few weeks ago, when I had to get a larger number of lines under my belt than usual, and managed without undue stress.

Each of the actors plays someone fairly similar to their real life selves, and there's a kind of understanding from the audience that the character has some of the attributes of the actor as well as not being the actor. The first play consisted of four soliloquies from each of the four main actors (two more have been added in subsequently), and I thought I would come across as a serious character; in fact the audience/congregation laughed at my first line, and continued to do so regularly throughout my speech.

Consequently we've taken that sort of thing on board, and my character, though he remains the person he was at the beginning, has been given lines that are intended to get laughs, and this has worked effectively. On the other hand, the actor playing the kind of even-tempered character (who's a fairly equable fellow himself) got the opportunity to turn around this time, and is angry for most of the play; something he rarely is in real life, and something his character seemed unlikely to be at the beginning.

It's been an interesting experiment doing things on the run, as it were, but a good experience - and it's nice to be able to spend time with a group of actors that's extended over a much longer period than usual.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Don't" read this post

A while ago I wrote about the blog that featured Chinglish signs, and the other day my daughter pointed me towards a similar blog that features unnecessary quotation marks. You'd hardly think it was possible to write a blog on such a subject, but there are heaps of examples around, and the blog presents photograph after photograph of mangled English grammar. (The one at the right is a fairly mild example where the word pull in quotation marks gives the impression that the writer means you to do something different to pulling the door.)

Quotation marks in an ordinary sentence ought to mean you're quoting someone else's words. But in these examples people use quotation marks to emphasize words, and in the process make the words seem to mean something else. It's like when you do quotation marks in the air as a gesture indicating there's a sense of irony, or because you don't really believe what you're quoting.

I'm sure the writers of these signs don't mean to be quite so elliptical, but of course that's how they come across. And entertain us in the process!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wall St Mall

I finally went into the new 'Wall St' mall yesterday here in Dunedin. Quirky, it ain't.

It's fronted by several clothes shops - all those trendy sort of places that only certain people go in, I presume. I presume this on the basis of the fact that there never seems to be many people in them. Inside there's lot of space, and very little else: the cafe was doing quite good business, as it should in a lunch hour. There's a large chemist's shop right at the back, a tinky-tonk gift shop (tinky-tonk being one of my former bosses word for trivial junk), something else which I've forgotten (oh, yes, yet another Vodafone shop - making three within spitting distance of each other), and that was pretty much it.

Lots of versions of the Wall St slogan, which goes something like: Now you don't have to leave the place you love to shop. If it sounds obscure, well, it pretty much is. Are we to imply that the place we love is the Wall St mall? I think you'd be hard-pressed to find many Dunedinites to love this mall. There's very little to love. It's light and airy, and there's some sort of 'feature' in the centre by the cafe, and the pharmacy looks very glitzy, but....?

I went up the two flights of stairs to see if there was anything else going on. The first flight basically takes you to the office area, where Fisher and Paykel staff are fully visible at their work. The second flight takes you to....nothing. Exits to the outside world, and currently restricted to Tradesmen.

Eventually the mall will run into the Golden Centre which runs into the Meridian. One Large Mall. My suspicion is that the Wall St bit will be the poor relation of the three on the basis of its current lack of customers.

The picture of Wall St's frontage comes from a blog hosted by Jia Yih, a Malaysian student living in Dunedin. Check out his blog; he's got some great pictures.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Kiva is finally starting to make headlines. Well, when I say that, I mean that the first headline I've seen regarding Kiva apart from those on the Kiva site itself turned up in the Guardian online today.

I first came across Kiva last year, in relation to Blog Poverty Day. It seemed a good scheme then, and it's proved itself since. I think what I like about it is that the money you lend out actually comes back to you and you can re-lend it to another person in the queue. And there are plenty of people in the queue, too.

It's very simple. The website shows you a bunch of photos of people who would like a loan to fund either a small business starting up, or one that's already underway. These loans go to people who are already on the move; they may live in poverty areas of the world, but they're doing their best to make sure they don't go down the tubes.

Some of the photos show groups of people who are working as a collective. You can lend to either. And the amount you lend is minimal, really: $25US. I've had it paid back three or four times over already, and there's still money in my account. If I need to top it up, I just draw a bit off my Paypal account and it's done! Kiva asks for a small donation usually, for admin purposes, but you're not obliged to pay this.

I'd recommend it to anyone: it's certainly better than spending your money on diet pills that work (or don't work, as the case may be), or on some new clothes, or a DVD or book (the last two are where I fall down when browsing in shops). Kiva is a way to make a difference in the world. It's a tiny difference as far as I'm concerned, perhaps, but combined with thousands of others' money, it makes a huge difference to people in places we've often never heard of.

Check 'em out!


One of my daughters does a lot of sewing; it's just something she loves doing, especially cute clothes for little kids. Her own son gets a lot of well-made clothes, with interesting design features (though his mother was a bit dubious about him choosing a High School Musical design on his latest shirt. )

Recently she's been making clothes for the latest grandchild - he's very small because he arrived six weeks early, and so shop-bought clothes look like they belong on a giant. But my daughter really enjoys making clothes for girls, and so birthdays are a great opportunity for her to go a bit wild and produce skirts and tops and other girly delights.

I really admire people with gifts that just seem to come out of nowhere. They have an enthusiasm for a particular skill, and learning it comes easily, and keeping on learning is never a trouble. My wife is like that: she's picked up a bunch of skills during her lifetime, in each case because something got her enthused to give the thing a try. The skills I've got, on the other hand, I've had since I was a child, pretty much: playing the piano and writing, primarily. I suppose you could add learning how to use a computer to those, something that I only picked up in the 80s, but other skills that require eye-hand coordination don't come at all easily to me.

One of my sons taught himself programming in a matter of a few weeks, and each new programming language that he learns come even more easily than the last.

A colleague of mine went for an assessment for a further stage in her career recently, and part of the weekend she spent away (along with a bunch of other candidates) was being seen by a psychologist. One of the questions he asked was something I found interesting: what gifts did you get in your mother's womb? At first you think: nothing. Every gift I've got I've had to acquire. But in fact some of the gifts we have come with the package; they were there from the time we were. They're part of who we are, and we probably couldn't live without using them in some way. These aren't just skills, or talents; they cover the whole range of ways of relating to people and the like.

And sometimes you wonder if these gifts don't go unrealised. I heard last night about a young man who discovered that he had nose. Hardly unusual, you'd think, except that what perfumers mean by a 'nose' and what you and I mean by it are two different things. Without a 'nose' you could never work in the perfume industry. With one, you're an absolute find.

But would you come out of school thinking: I have a nose. I must find a job in a perfume factory? Nope, having a nose (just as having a palate for food or wine) is something you either discover or don't. Sadly, there are probably a lot of people who never discover what they've brought into this world.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Huffington Post on blogging

Just a brief note about the phrase, "blogging is the first draft of history," which in one quarter I've come across, at least, has been attributed to the Nobel Prize Committee, as a reason for turning down blogs for a Nobel Prize.

However, look for this on Google, and I don't think you'll find it. You may find this video of Jon Stewart interviewing Arianna Huffington, of the Huffington Post, in which she says, "blogging is the first draft of history."

It would be interesting to know whether she's quoting the Nobel Prize Committee, of course!

She also says blogging is a 'lot more fun than sex', but Stewart raises his eyebrows at that one.

The interview was in relation to the Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging, to which Arianna contributed an introduction.

Incidentally, while checking out the Huffington Post website, I came across a report that the size of dinosaurs has been vastly overestimated. Why does this not surprise me? I'm waiting for the day when they finally admit dinosaurs never actually existed - at least not in the way in which scientific artists, or artistic scientists have claimed. Dinosaurs, I suspect, are the 20th century's version of dragons.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Renton Maclachlan

Renton Maclachlan isn't someone I'd come across before, but apparently he runs what may be the only dedicated Creation radio station in the world, ‘GenesisFM’, (here in New Zealand) and has also stood for Parliament four times . However it isn't in relation to Creationism or Parliament that I came across him the other day. He's put together a fairly lengthy video about the smacking debate that's going on in New Zealand at the moment, and done it as a satire. Apart from its length it's very clever, and often quite funny. Maclachlan takes both parts in the 'interview' as both the earnest interviewer, and the pompous, know-it-all interviewee.

Becoming A Musical Semiconductor

I couldn't help but take note (no pun intended, of course) of this heading, which turned up on an old Internet file relating to the year 1997, as far as I could tell. It was for a course at the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology - in their Independent Activities Period series.

Becoming A Musical Semiconductor
Larry Isaacson

Tue, Thu, Jan 7-28, 4:30-6pm in Killian Hall; Jan 30, 4:30-6pm in 4-364. Preregister immediately. Enrollment limited to 25. Prereq: Music reading ability. Not for credit.

Have you ever wondered about the role of the conductor who leads a music ensemble? This class will cover the conducting basics of keeping time and reading a score. Through use of conducting exercises and a selected list of music, we will seek to develop a "vocabulary of gestures'' which can be used to communicate with musicians in an orchestra. Classes will start with some verbal instructions and then focus on getting people to the podium and actually practicing the art of conducting. No previous conducting experience is required, but an ability to read music is a must. Participants are encouraged to bring their instruments and play for their classmates. A video recorder will be available to capture the moment when you transform into the next Leonard Bernstein or Seiji Ozawa!

No previous conducting experience is required, but an ability to read music is a must. Crikey, I'd think it probably was! And note that participants are encouraged to bring their instruments and play for their classmates. What the heck music would they be working on if an ad hoc group just showed up? Hey, we all play piano...conduct us! There are four classmates with their flutes...conduct us!

Maybe that's why it was a semiconductor class.

Another quirky Dunedin spot

I'd never been in the Blue Oyster art gallery until a week or so ago, when I went in expecting to see something happening in relation to an exhibition by Anya Sinclair. I was too early, however, and whatever was on - two or three of those arty videos with odd soundtracks that occasionally turn up - didn't grab me much. The Blue Oyster is in a basement area underneath the barber shop in Moray Place, and is probably in a fairly original piece of Dunedin's architecture, and thus eserves to be included in the quirky list I'm gradually building up (!)

Anyway, I went back last week to see Anya's piece, and was pleasantly surprised by the work of the other two artists that was also on display. Modern art can be pretty hit and miss.

Much and all as I wanted to like Anya's exhibition, she being the daughter of a friend, I don't think I quite got it, and the introduction in the sheet that went with it wasn't terribly helpful, being one of those arcane pieces of writing that often accompany modern art. They seem to say less than the sum of the words. Let me quote it:

Anya Sinclair's Future Girl is a sculptural rendering of sterile cyber-space, abstracted and distilled from nature, constructed by Future Girl a cyborg bishōjo (heroine) programmed to create immersive phantasmagorical landscapes. Future Girl aims to shape a private universe by consciously investing and indulging in her desire to escape into fantasy. By inviting viewers into her private world she references the shared consumption and creation of artificial virtual environments through mediums such as the Internet and multi-player computer games. Her work takes issue with the evolving sophistication of alternative realities that increasingly premise virtual experience over physical reality.

Okay, from that prospectus, what would you expect? Well, what we got was a number of tall iceberg type features made from papier-mâché, that glistened with a sparkly white paint, and were able to be walked among. The description quoted above didn't tally in any great way that I could see with what was in front of me, but maybe I'm missing something. Does the 'story' really help the art? And is there really anything obviously 'political' about it as the quote suggests? Not for me. However, I liked the icebergs, though I don't think they have a long shelf life.

The other two artists were Alan Ibell and Markus Hofko. Alan Ibell is a painter and musician, based in Dunedin. I know it means nothing that I've never heard of him, but I thought I had a bit of a handle on most Dunedin artists. You can see typical examples of the paintings that were in this exhibtion here. I like these paintings, with their surreal air of mystery, and their sense that an explanation was available if only you looked long enough.

Hofko is a German artist currently living in New Zealand, and you can see examples of the work that I saw here. These 'islands' were isolated chunks of 'earth' hanging in space (literally hanging, in each case, from the ceiling), and each one had a tiny group of humans acting out some scenario, from being surprised that a circus truck was stuck in the side of their island, in one case, to sunning themselves under an ordinary sized iron (with the name Global Warm on it) - the electric cord for the iron was used to hang this particular island.

Hofko's work is immensely detailed, and has elements of humour in almost every case. The materials used are often 'found', by the looks of it, but the little people (or monkeys in a take-off of the movie, 2001: a space odyssey) have either been handmade or exist in sufficient quantities somewhere for Hofko to purchase them and bring them into his work.

Obviously it pays to pop into the Blue Oyster every so often - all the more so as it's only around the corner from where I work.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stravinsky conducting

Quite by accident I came across a video of a very venerable Stravinsky (whose birthday yesterday was honoured on Google by a specially-decorated version of their logo) conducting the last part of The Firebird. It's black and white, and he was apparently 82 when it was made.

'Conducting' might be a bit of a misnomer; there are times when he's barely moving anything more than his eyelids, and even in the big moments his conducting consists of a bit of arm-waving accompanied by a grin. Who cares. The orchestra obviously knows perfectly well what it's doing (as I suspect most decent orchestras do most of the time), and they just get on with the job.

It's about nine minutes long - though the last couple of minutes are all applause, and Stravinsky being rather more animated than he had been during the conducting, as he bows continually to the audience, and everyone else in sight.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Power saving, and life saving

In the video below, John La Grou, a long-time electronics inventor, audio designer and entrepreneur, unveils an ingenious piece of new technology that he says will smarten up the electrical outlets in our homes, by using microprocessors and RFID tags. The invention, Safeplug, promises to prevent deadly accidents like house fires -- and to conserve energy.

Sounds like a great idea. Nothing worse than a child who puts something metallic in a power socket. Or, like my youngest son, once did, cuts a power cord with a pair of scissors! The scissors came off worst, thank goodness.

Keep an eye out for Safeplug. Let's hope it doesn't take too long to get on the market.

Number eight - and not wire either

John O'Keeffe writes: The poor fathers of Ireland were dealt another terrible blow last week. Well, at least one section of us. Apparently fatherhood may be out of reach for men in their mid-30s, a "new" study suggests. Infertility specialists found that miscarriage rates increased significantly when the prospective father was older than 35, while pregnancy rates dropped after the age of 40.

You could have fooled me, mate. There's me at 44 years of age, minding my own business and -- hey presto -- seven weeks ago, a fourth child, a brand new PPS number arrives on the payroll. That's right, all the fours -- number four at 44 -- yet according to this "new" survey it's a wonder I can dress myself in the morning, let alone father a child.

All this discussion of children and pregnancies is pertinent to us in our household today, as I've just become a grandfather again - the eighth grandchild arrived at lunchtime today, so keen to get into the world that he's a month early. He might have come a week ago, in fact, but he obviously decided it was a bit too cold to get on with the actual process after his mother's waters broke.

Admittedly becoming a grandfather is even easier than becoming a father (as far as the blokes are concerned) but it still brings its own peculiar joys and woes. I'm sure there are grandfathers out there who don't give a stuff about their offspring's offspring, but I'm not in that category. I take as much interest in my grandchildren's lives and activities as I took with my own children's - though admittedly I don't have anywhere near as much responsibility this time round. Which is cool.

Anyway, O'Keeffe's article is lots of fun, and he makes a good case for Dads being older rather than younger...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

David Bain Again

We're never going to get to the end of the Bain saga: book rights, movie rights, and now 'suppressed evidence,' supposedly a confession heard on the recording made of David's call to 111 on the morning of the murders. The words have been regarded as indecipherable until now by a number of experts, but some detective has claimed that David says something like 'I shot the prick.'
And then there's stuff about David supposedly having said he'd use his paper round to rape a female jogger. Was this in any way related to the murders? Hardly, the conversation took place, if it took place at all, when he was still at school.
No wonder this stuff was all suppressed. All the Bain-haters have come out of the woodwork with the usual lack of ability to present anything further than a load of hearsay, and are making their presence felt in the comments on blogs everywhere.
Like it or not, the guy has been declared Not Guilty. Just as he had to endure the prison sentence on the basis of the first trial, so Joe Public has to bear the consequences of the Not Guilty verdict in this second trial.
Time to give it all a rest, people.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Losing It

I finally sat down last night to watch a TV play called Losing It that we videoed two or three months back. At the time it was shown, I was in the middle of my prostate problem period, and, as my wife said, I probably wouldn't have appreciated it much, since it concerns a fellow who loses a testicle to cancer.

Martin Clunes plays a 43-year-old advertising copy-writer, who would probably be coping normally - in spite of his tendency towards hypochondria, and in spite of his obnoxious young boss - but who struggles because of his health issues. (The testicle removal is followed by radiotherapy after the cancer is found in lymph glands.)

It's a good play, with an excellent cast, and ends on a fairly high note, all things considered. Clunes is good as always (as is only a couple of years older than the character he plays, even though he frequently looks older), and his wife (Holly Aird) is a sympathetic person who takes her husband seriously in spite of his hypochondria. Just as well she does.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Couple of movies

Over the weekend I watched a couple of movies, one from New Zealand and one from France. The NZ one was well done, and had some moments of fun, but overall took itself fairly seriously. The French one had no fun and took itself intensely seriously. It was called The Bridesmaid, (La demoiselle d'honneur). [Actually, La demoiselle d'honneur sounds more like our 'matron of honour, ' but apparently it applies to both, according to a French/English dictionary on the Net. ] It was directed by Claude Chabrol, who's been making a couple a movies a year for decades, and certainly knows how to do the stylish French thing. He was 74 when he made this movie.
It's adapted from a Ruth Rendell mystery, which was also called the The Bridesmaid, and which sounds to be pretty similar to the movie in plot. I came into it about half an hour late, though that didn't make a lot of difference. It concerns a youngish, very responsible young man, the oldest in a family of three children, who like his sisters, still lives at home with their mother (the father hasn't been on the scene for a long time). At his older sister's wedding he is spellbound by one of the bridesmaids, and within a very short time, she convinces him that they were destined for each other. And to prove their love, they should each do for things: write a poem, plant a tree, sleep with a member of their own sex, and kill someone. He thinks she's joking, but she's deadly serious - and a psychopath, something that audience is aware of a good deal earlier than the young man.
He eventually takes the opportunity to claim that he's killed someone they both know who just happens to have vanished conveniently. She takes him at his word and goes out and kills someone else they both know. But in neither case are things as they seem, and the ending has two or three twists.
It's a fairly absorbing movie, but it's so bloomin' intense! Were any two lovers ever quite so mad about each other? (Well, he is about her - we never quite know where we are with her about him.) There are echoes of an inverse Flying Dutchman - the girl is called Senta, though she's the one who seduces the young man, and their love is bound to end in death - of some sort.
I missed where the strange carved stone head of the woman came from (it resembles Senta and is in the story before she is), and it was a bit puzzling why the young man seemed as much in love with it as with the girl. Pays to see the whole movie, obviously.

The NZ movie was called Apron Strings. It has two stories running in parallel, though they only just coincide and no more. In one, a control freak of a mother, who owns a cake shop, is still controlling her 40-year-old son to such an extent that he can't get out and make a life of his own. Her daughter has long since flown the coop, but returns during the course of the story, pregnant, and not worried about keeping in touch with the UK father - who turns out to have been a very black man; their child is as black as the family is white.
The other story is about a gay half-Indian, NZ born youth called Michael, who comes across his aunt's Indian restaurant and manages to get himself a part-time job there. His father has long since vanished (as well) and he hasn't ever had contact with his Indian family because his mother, a celebrity cook on TV, had him out of wedlock, and spoilt the aunt's chances of marriage. The two women haven't talked since. This side of the story is the warmer, by far, and the one that's more conventionally done and receives a more conventional 'happy' ending.
The other story almost pulls together the shreds of the family - the daughter and her grandmother are easily reconciled, but it takes the mother a good deal more to overcome her inability to let things loose, and in the end her son winds up in jail, possibly for some time. A wreck of a man, without self-esteem or self-control, he's the victim to a great extent of his mother's fear that he'll go off and kill himself like his father did.
Absent fathers all over the show here.
The NZ film was enjoyable, though the ending seemed a bit truncated for my liking. It didn't go for the intense tone of the French movie, thank goodness, and had that likable quality that's so typical of a NZ film. Very good cast, and well put together.

Photos of Claude Chabrol, and Scott Wills (the weak man in Apron Strings).

Quirky places

There are some quirky places in the middle of Dunedin's CBD which I enjoy just visiting every so often. One of them is a house that most people wouldn't know was there. It's hidden behind the terrace houses in Stuart St. There are two ways to access it: via an alleyway beside the restaurant, A Cow Called Bertha, and the other through the basement of the old library. I wandered into the library this lunchtime, went down the stairs into the basement (where virtually the only public toilet in the library used to be in the old days), stopped and had a look at the great cloth artwork showing the history of the Adult Literacy Movement in Dunedin, (they now have rooms where one of my early ISPs used to be:, and then went out into the courtyard that's in front of the house I was talking about above. It's quite an open area - when my son flatted in the house some years ago, he and I used to sit in the sun in the courtyard sometimes. It's a great suncatcher - when there is any sun! (Today's gloomy, but at least it's not windy like it has been for the last couple of days. The wind was utterly bitter, and suddenly blew itself out about morning tea time this morning.)
My son flatted at one point with a young fellow who was doing a medical degree, and on the side had set up his own ISP: I was persuaded to join this ISP, which I was happy to do as Ihug in those days was having real problems with customer service. I went from almost no customer service to service on tap. I was running the shop in Princes St then, just along from the Octagon, and if I needed help I'd just ring up the young fellow (whose name I've now forgot) and he'd hop around and fix it in a couple of minutes.
The house itself is a very dark place: gets no sun at all in most of the rooms.

The other quirky spot is the old Masonic building in Moray Place where Temple Gallery is now situated. I always feel a bit odd going there. Whether it's the leftover stuff from the Masonic days or what I never know, but it has a bit of a creepy feeling to me.
You go up a steep flight of stone steps in a garden that in the summer is abundant, up a steep path and then have a choice of more path or more steps. The building stands above you as though it was going to topple over while you were climbing.
Inside, the stairs leading up to the main gallery are highly polished, and at least two of them are almost invisible to the naked eye: I've missed them both at different times, either going up or coming down. (The Public Art Gallery has one of these 'invisible' steps as well.)
The main gallery is a large room lit by skylights that don't let much of the outside light through. The paintings are usually lit by a series of soft spotlights, adding to the general air of gloom. Today there's a bunch of large paintings by a female artist whose name has also gone from my mind, though her style is familiar. They consist of ferocious feline-women, many in bridal gowns. There are teeth and claws in evidence everywhere, and in several of the paintings a large horse, sometimes intact, sometimes with his rib-cage showing through his skin. The women are sometimes skeletal as well. Can't say they're my favourite paintings, but they're well put together.

The photo of Temple Gallery comes from this site. was taken over by Orcon at some stage in its existence - which is why Orcon is now my ISP.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

An open letter to CT at the Movies

You note in the latest CT at the Movies:
"Christianity Today International has been slammed too. In the last few years, we've lost more than a few key magazines—Ignite Your Faith (formerly Campus Life), Today's Christian Woman, Christian Parenting Today, Marriage Partnership, Christian History, and Today's Christian. And we've lost a lot of good people to layoffs—including 25 percent of our company just a couple of weeks ago."

You say these were key magazines....but the magazine world is full of this kind of thing: niche upon niche until the magazine stands are overflowing with 'something for everyone' and nothing for all. It seems crazy to me, in these days of increasing use of the Internet, that magazine proprietors should be going all out to promote endless magazine reading when this isn't what a huge number of people are reading. Worse, the content between the advertising, even in 'Christian' magazines, is often trivial and banal, mere filler.

I remember an editor I worked with years ago saying that the text was only there to fill up the spaces between the ads, and I think many magazine owners still think this is what magazines are about. But as the internet proves again and again: content is king, not advertising. Content first, advertising a very distant second.

Yet what
(to take one example) are newspaper publishers doing? Here in my (relatively small) city, we now have two free papers coming out each week. The content is almost nil in one, and while the other has upped its game, it's still half full of advertising disguised as reporting.

I understand your regret at losing so many colleagues, and I sympathise with you in this. Work relationships are often very precious. But magazines in my country, both national ones and imported ones, have become very expensive to buy week after week, and anyway most of the content turns up on the websites not long after. And while I prefer to read from print, my pocket just doesn't allow me to. And here's the good news: on the Net I don't have to turn over page after page of advertising just to read something worthwhile.

This is a time of huge change in the publishing industry. Print is by no means dead - and I don't think is likely to become dead - but we're all having to get used to a different way of reading stuff that has a degree of the ephemeral about it: newspapers, magazines, bulletins, pamphlets.

Just a few thoughts on a rainy Saturday morning.


Culture, in the abstract, always and only comes from particular human acts of cultivation and creativity. We don't make Culture, we make omelets. We tell stories. We build hospitals. We pass laws. These specific products of cultivating and creating ... are what eventually, over time, become part of the framework of the world for future generations.

Andy Crouch
Culture Making

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Easy Virtue - the play

Last night I mentioned going to see Easy Virtue, the movie. I thought it would be interesting to see what the original play was like, so got it out of the library today. Crikey. The first and most interesting thing is that the movie is far better than the play. The departures from the original are so considerable that only things that are similar to Coward's play are the following:
  • A butler called Furber, who is a real person in the movie; in the play he has no existence except buttling.
  • A strikingly good-looking woman who's married the heir in a very uptight family. However she isn't American in the play - and she's some years older than John; they go on about it all the time.
  • An extremely repressed mother, who doesn't, however, have any concerns about the family property, though she's so uptight about life in general from the moment the curtain rises that she would act as an appetite suppressant to anyone silly enough to try and eat in front of her (actually, that's not dissimilar to the movie!).
  • A father who's remote, but who likes his new daughter-in-law. He's not only remote in the play, he's utterly boring, and would probably have been played by an aging matinee idol who had relied in the past on his charms rather than his acting skills to sway the public.
  • Two daughters, one serious and one scatty. Except in the play the serious one is a bit of a religious nut, and the scatty one is exceptionally catty with it.
  • John, who's naive and callow. At least in the film he also has some charm.
  • The neighbouring girl who would have married John if the outsider hadn't come in. She's much the same as in the film: wiser and warmer than the cold-hearted family.
The story is roughly similar: callow youth brings home gorgeous, slightly older woman, to the horror of the family. Woman has something in her past, and at the end has to leave for the sake of her sanity, even though she actually does love the boy.

But there the similarities end. Notice that I didn't say anything about the humour in the play; in fact, there's almost none. The funniest lines come in the author's introductions to his characters; their speech is seldom more than a little amusing - there's no laugh-out-loud humour here. Mrs Whittaker (the Kristin Scott Thomas character) is described thus: The stern repression of any sex emotions all her life has brought her to middle age with a faulty digestion which doesn't so much sour her temper as spread it. She views the world with the jaundiced eyes of a woman who subconsciously realises she has missed something, which means in point of fact that she has missed everything.

And what actress would be excited by this description of Marion, the older sister?: She is largely made and pasty, with big lymphatic eyes. Hilda, the younger sister, 'possesses all the vivacity of a deficient sense of humour.'

Which means that most of the humour and wit and nifty one-liners in the film are the film's scriptwriters, not Coward's. In fact, there's almost nothing of Coward in the movie, as far as lines go, at all. Furthermore, Coward doesn't provide us with the hay fever, the Picasso painting, the vicious chihuahua who gets squashed to death by being sat on, the motorcycle amidst the Hunt, the tango at the end with the father (nor the running away with him), the butler who's a bigamist, the can-can at the local cultural evening, the boyfriend with the broken leg, the other girl's wealthy father who's not only buying up the land but also has his eye (goodness knows why) on Mrs Whittaker senior. And the father has never been to war, been sullied by it, nor wandered about France living in brothels.

In other words, most unusually, the film is infinitely superior in almost every way. It would take a cast of considerable skill to make anything of the play as it stands; the movie even manages to remove the sense of datedness.

On top of this, Coward asks the impossible of the average modern producer: he asks for nine characters for the first two acts (plus adding in, during the second act, a young man of no importance who will appear unimportantly in the third, and an elderly bloke who appears for about a minute and is never seen again) and then in the third brings on another eight characters, plus several unnamed extras. These people have come to the ball that's taking place in the next room, and wander in and out randomly during the scene making inane remarks, or, to a degree, building up a bit of tension when the heroine doesn't appear on cue. So that's some dozen actors who do nothing for two acts and then do very little in the third.

I thought When We Are Married was a bit oddly constructed in terms of its usage of some actors: Dyson the reporter appears in the first and second acts for about three minutes apiece and then disappears; Rev Mercer comes on late in the second act for two minutes, is hussled off and then gets another couple of minutes towards the end of the last act; Lottie turns up very late in the second act but at least gets some stage room; the niece gets five minutes early in the first act, another half minute a bit later on, and then a couple more minutes at the beginning of the third act. She's totally forgotten otherwise. Even the young man who sets everything in motion in the first act, where he's a major player, is dumped almost completely after that (he gets a couple of minutes at the beginning of the third act too). My character, Ormonroyd, appears with Dyson early in the first act, and then vanishes for well over an hour before he becomes a major character later in the piece. I suppose in the thirties actors were a lot cheaper, and they could be tossed on and off like this without consideration!

Of course, with the Coward, it makes a big difference, after two acts of constant talk (and very little action - another difference between the play and the film) to have lots of people bobbing in and out, and women and men in pretty dresses and evening wear. It gives the last act some additional lift (and it certainly needs it).

Well, there you go. A relatively straight play turned into a successful comic movie: wonders will never cease.

A little wordplay

Can't resist passing these on. They come from an ezine I get each week called Rumors (that's Rumours to those of us in the world who spell properly), and were supplied to the ezine by someone called John Severson. It may help to know that in the Anglican church, a narthex is the entrance or lobby area, located at the end of the nave, at the far end from the church's main altar. I'd never heard of the word until I went to England with my wife a couple of years ago, and kept coming across Narthexes in the larger Anglican churches we visited.

* Hymnastics: The entertaining body language of your song leader.
* Narthexegesis: Post-sermon commentary by the laity in the lobby after church.
* Pewtrify: To occupy a precise spot in the sanctuary seating for more than 15 years without once showing signs of sentient life.
* Hymnprovisation: The abrupt and unannounced transition from one song to another. It also describes what happens when the words projected on the screens are not singable to the melody the pianist is playing.
* Proliferation: A growing number of anti-abortion activists.

Ralph Milton, who writes Rumors, says it's a free Internet ‘e-zine’ for Christians with a sense of humor."
To Subscribe to it:
* Send an e-mail to:
* Don't put anything else in that e-mail

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Easy Virtue

This makes the 1100th post on this blog. Doesn't seem that long since I was looking at a 1000.

Anyway, went to see Easy Virtue tonight, after having had it recommended by one of my work colleagues today. I don't know enough about Noel Coward's original play to work out what belongs to the original script and what doesn't, but certainly there are some wonderful lines. (I'm getting a copy out of the library to have a look.)

The cast are uniformly superb, and Jessica Biel, (someone I don't remember seeing before), is a match for all of them as the Outsider in the family. Colin Frith plays someone who is pretty much dead in his soul, which suits him well, as that seems to be the role he likes to play most of the time, and Kristin Scott Thomas as Biel's mother-in-law pours absolute venom with every line and look. Each and every smaller part is filled with a top-notch character actor, though perhaps Kris Marshall, as Furber, the butler steals any thunder that's left over.

Fabulous stately homes play an important part, and the countryside looks terrific, thanks to Martin Kenzie. And then there's the 20s music, flitting in and out of the character's mouths and onto the soundtrack seamlessly.

What more to say about it? The story leaves all sorts of corners open at the end, even though the finale is satisfactory, and you have to wonder what a sequel might possibly bring. Death or life for those of the family who are left? Thoroughly enjoyable.

Monday, June 01, 2009

A different approach to Op-Ed pages

Some interesting comments from Umair Haque, writing in an article for the Havard Business Publishing page, entitled, Newspapers Don't Learn from their Mistakes.

Op-Ed pages are battlefields — and structuring anything, whether markets, networks, or Op-Ed pages as battlefields is as obsolete an idea as the Big Mac. Want to wage peace? Op-Ed pages (and, in fact, every page) should be more like truth and reconciliation commissions — alive with participation, debate, and deliberation, where writers manage the emergence of stories.

That's a radical departure from journalism 1.0. And it tells us: the great mistake newspapers — and most organizations — keep making is simple: they never learn from their mistakes.

Mostly, that's because they refuse to even perceive or acknowledge mistakes in the first place...

Old Stagers

Before When We Are Married began, the ODT published a piece called Old stagers still playing up after 75 years. It discusses the Dunedin Repertory Society in the light of their 75th Anniversary. (The Anniversary was the reason When We Are Married was being staged - again. It's always been a popular and successful play with the company, and proved to be so again.)

The article has a few errors in it: for one thing, as far as I can remember, I've never performed for the Repertory Society before, although the article includes my name amongst a bunch of people who have. And the photograph that accompanies it claims to show a Repertory production, but apparently it isn't. (Don't ask me what the production actually is; there's some debate about it. )

Natalie Ellis, who was interviewed for the article told the cast there were some other miscrepancies, but didn't expand on them further.

Anyway, it took up a full page in the ODT, and that's always good for publicity!