Friday, July 31, 2009

Beautiful Tree

The following appears in the latest Maxim Institute newsletter. I thought it was interesting for the way in which it talks about how education is regarded as being so important in the developing world, that people will set up their own schools if the Government system isn't working.

The Beautiful Tree is written by James Tooley, and it tells of the success of private schools in the developing world—slum schools in places like Nigeria, which the poor run for themselves. Paid for by scrimping and saving, making the best out of substandard facilities, these schools bring education to those who are so often written off, or the subjects of patronising, top-down do-goodery. Tooley tells story after story of teachers and schools with a deep commitment to their children, doing exceptional work. In Ghana, Kenya, India and China—the places Tooley's book stems from—private education confounds stereotypes. In many of these places, government schools are failing. They are too remote, too bureaucratic or too out of touch to do their basic work of educating children. In contrast, community schools are built on the backs of sacrifice and solidarity, filling the educational gap for the sake of the children they are committed to. Tooley quotes a teacher from Ghana: "This is an offering job ... you sacrifice yourself for the children."

Education is about more than bureaucrats writing a curriculum, or finding ways to pass exams. In the words of "Sajid-Sir," headmaster of a community school in Hyderabad, "There are three corners of the triangle—parents, teachers, and students, and this triangle must not be a scalene triangle, it must be an equilateral triangle." The stories in The Beautiful Tree are a reminder to us in New Zealand, that schools exist for the children and families they serve—as outgrowths and flowerings of local community, pride and involvement. It is about helping children to grow, to stand independent and connected in their communities. In a nation with a plethora of schools, used to arguing over who should pay for education, this must still be our vision. Education, whether in Kenya, China or New Zealand, is about growing good people—this is the task our teachers, students and parents are called to.

Here's a video from the author in which he talks about his book:

More on David Tammet

Just a little more on David Tammet and some thoughts on his ideas on creativity and autism. He quotes a professor of psychiatry called Michael Fitzgerald at one point. Fitzgerald, who has an autistic child, has a theory that such creative geniuses as Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, and Mendel 'may all have found their genius through autism.'

This idea comes from the point that autistic people appear to have less inhibitors between certain sections of the brain, inhibitors that appear more regularly in people who aren't geniuses. This lack of 'inhibition' gives the brain synapses in autistic people the means to make connections that would otherwise be forestalled. This would tend to suggest that most creative people have less inhibition between the sections of their brains, but I suspect that this isn't a case proven as yet. Perhaps what might be closer to the truth is the point that people in general are on a continuum from very dull brained people (for whatever reason) to ones whose brains perform fantastically - and creatively.

People are on continuums in all sorts of spheres: look at men and women in terms of their innate masculinity or femininity: the spectrum is enormous from men who are so male that any hint of emotion or softness seems unlikely, to men at the other extreme who are all softness and have almost feminine characteristics. The same applies to women, who range from females who seem to be almost masculine in their outlook on life and their body language to women who are the epitome of softness. These are very loose generalisations, of course.

Perhaps autism isn't quite the illness we've thought, but something closer to a kind of extreme ability to use the brain that most of us don't have. But then, autistic people, like 'ordinary' people range over a wide spectrum too.


It's Maori Language Week, but apart from a couple of brief stints looking at the 'Greetings' section I haven't done very much. Mostly lack of time either at work or at home. (Yes, still sorting out the renovations!) However, there are plenty of ways you can work at Maori online, including the episodes of Toku Reo, from the television programme that's on every night on Maori Television

Here's the theme for this year, just for the record: "Te Reo i te Hapori - Māori Language in the Community."

On the other hand I have been reading Daniel Tammet's book, Embracing the Wider Sky, which talks a good deal about learning languages. Tammet is autistic, with Asperger's syndrome, but makes a very good case for his form of autism, in particular, being far less of a disorder than a bonus.

He's been inventing his own language since he was a child, and can learn enough of a language to speak it - within a week (!). He has a particular fondness for Icelandic languages.

On the maths side he has a theory that we are all born with mathematical ability, but because this isn't something we use as a matter of course - unlike language, which we all learn without thinking about it as children - few of us become as at ease with numbers as he is.

It's a fascinating book, and I'll probably be talking about it more in the next few posts.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Renovation v Learning

I was going to follow up my first foray into distance learning with a second course that, while still officially classed as distance learning, actually required me to attend a week's block course, and then do three essays over a period of three months. Sounds pretty straightforward, huh? I'm sure it is, but I decided to hold fire, as there seemed to be some other things looming on the horizon. The looming turned out to be kitchen renovations which have taken up my wife's energy hugely, and mine just a little less.

However, I haven't given up on the learning: my boss handed me next year's classes the other day, and there are some different options which I'd like to look into. It rather depends on what else happens around here, but I'd like to keep on with this stuff.

Of course, I could always go for an online degree at an overseas university, like Capella. Now that would be interesting. Whereas Otago has a relatively narrow range of courses available online (though they are courses that interest me) Capella appears to go all out over a wide range of subjects: World Religions, Chemistry, Organizational Theory are just three of the possibilities, and are ones you can sample. You can even enroll in a free online seminar, to see if it's up your alley.

Wow, I'm getting all excited here. (Though I haven't checked the cost out yet!)

The photo isn't of our renovation, but something similar. It was taken by Maree Reveley of Canterbury, New Zealand. Note the pink batts everywhere!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jacobs on mystery writers

I found the following four tweets from author Alan Jacobs on Twitter today. They were all sent around the same time, so obviously he's been doing a bit of reading up to this point.

I've been reading a bunch of classic mysteries this summer. Verdicts forthcoming.

Preliminary verdict one: Dorothy Sayers can be very, very good and embarrassingly bad, sometimes within the space of three pages.

Preliminary verdict 2: Josephine Tey might well have been the greatest mystery writer of them all had she lived longer.

Preliminary verdict 3: Rex Stout is amazing. Why have I never read these books before? There are so many they must be uneven, but . . . wow.

I've never read Rex Stout either, but have heard he's well worth reading. Josephine Tey's books are very good: murder mysteries, but done in style, and without any sense of stereotypical writing. (One murder takes place very late in the book.) Hitchcock made a movie out of one of the Tey books, but it was quite unrecognisable: the detective who was one of the main characters in the book barely appeared in the movie.

Dorothy Sayers' murder mysteries can be quite elliptical; sometimes the story gets confusing, and sometimes it's so complicated that the reader is left hanging in mid-air. But she's brilliant, all the same.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pros and Cons

Having had another 12 hours or so to think about the latest Harry Potter movie, I thought I'd write a few more notes, mostly for my own benefit.
These will just come as I think of them....sorry it's not a bit more ordered.

Pros: superb technical proficiency. Just one example: the camera shot starts in the train with a group of characters, pulls back outside the train, sweeps along as the train moves past, and catches up with another group of characters further down the train. Of course, it would have been much easier to have done it as two separate shots, but there's a kind of exuberance about this approach.

Cons: No Dursleys. This film begins with the deatheaters do nasty things to London.
Cons: No Voldemort - at least not in his current guise. He turns up (via two very good young actors) as Tom Riddle, in two memory sequences. This film can in no way stand on its own: there are too many characters you're just expected to know, and too many things you're expected to remember from earlier episodes. And characters who don't appear that you're expected to know about as well. Okay, it's all a matter of how much screen-time we've got, but...

Cons: lots of loose ends. London being under attack is shown initially and then forgotten about. And how does it relate to Hogswart and what's going on there? And why is the countryside outside the train so bare?
Why do the deatheaters attack the Wand shop, and who are they dragging out and what do they do with them?
The Horcrux business arrives quite late in the proceedings, and then, after all the effort to get one of them (with Dumbledore nearly dying in the process) it turns out to be a fake. Okay, this is in the book, but it's treated in a very off-hand way here.

Pros: the usual superb mise-en-scene, wonderful sets and design, but....everything is so gray. Harry says right at the end something along the lines of 'I never appreciated how beautiful this place was.' But he's looking at a very gray version of it. It's been a lot more beautiful in the other movies. Admittedly the grays are beautiful in themselves - the early shot of the London office people looking out at the storm is full of wonderfully toned-down colourings. So that's sort of a con and pro in one.

More loose ends: the Weasleys house goes up in flames - we hear no more about this, and no one seems particularly worried. Hagrid's house goes up in flames: is he inside? I'm not sure if we find out in this movie, as I can't remember him being in that late scene where everyone is raising their wands in the air in tribute to Dumbledore.

Con: everyone who knows the books will know that Dumbedore dies at the end of this episode. But curiously there's a lot more emotional feeling in the death of Cedric Diggory in The Goblet of Fire than there is here in the death of Dumbledore. Certainly there's a wonderful piece of elegaic writing in the music score at this point, but somehow it doesn't affect you emotionally. Odd.
When I read in the book about Dumbledore's death, it was shock - this couldn't happen! And you waited in vain in the last book for him to appear safe and sound. So it's a bit of a puzzle that it's nowhere near so affecting here. Perhaps it's because most viewers will know what happens to Dumbledore, and it's difficult for the filmmakers to overcome that. It would be interesting to know what people who hadn't read the book thought about this point (assuming they weren't totally confused by the movie anyway!)
I said yesterday the film seemed slow. Thinking back again, there are still some very exciting sections: the search in the cave for the horcrux, for example, or the attack on the Weasley's house. And the Quidditch match is superbly done. Think back to the way Quidditch was done in the first movie to compare how much more technically superior this section is. But there's no explanation as to why Ron should be playing Quidditch after all these years, when he's never shown the slightest interest in doing so before, and why Harry isn't playing. (I'm sure there's a good reason in the book, but for some reason the filmmakers have chosen not to tell us.)

Pro: Luna Lovegood. Evanna Lynch has made this character utterly her own. Whatever you thought Luna should look like has been thoroughly overtaken by this actress' interpretation. It's a delight. (Emma Watson, as Hermione, on the other hand, is still 'wrong' in my mind. My impression of Hermione, from the books, was always that she wasn't particularly attractive; it was her intelligence that marked her out. In fact, my original picture of her was of someone not especially slim. Watson's beauty in the film versions makes it hard to understand why she's so interested in Ron, who's not only lazy and unintelligent, but a bit of a slob. And in this film he barely gives her a moment's notice.)

Con: the stuff about the necklace that's supposed to curse Dumbledore and ends up cursing the messenger instead. That's all handled a bit oddly in the movie; it makes Rowling's consistently clever plotting seem clunky. (Maybe it was a bit of that famous Nintendo jewellery I'm always on about...?)

Obviously it's time to go back and read the book and figure out some of these peculiar loose ends and untidy plottings that are in the movie. Thank goodness for the books, which leave far more room for our imaginations than the movies, for all these superb visual reconstructions, do.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Latest Harry Potter - spoilers

After seeing Notes on a Scandal the other night, I checked out what James Berardinelli had to say about it, he being one of the reviewers I find gives good straight reviews of movies. (Roger Ebert didn't review the movie, apparently.) James thinks it's a great movie except that it has a flaw in the third act - I can only think this is the bit where the Cate Blanchett character discovers the diary with all the negative information about her. It's possibly a bit improbable, and it's certainly not well-signaled as to why she should find the diary. Nevertheless, like some moments in Hitchcock, the director gets away with it.

We went and saw the latest Harry Potter tonight. Don't read this if you don't want to know what it's like. I suspect it's going to go down in my book as the one I've least enjoyed. I couldn't particularly remember the story, except the ending of course (which no Potter fan could forget), and the stuff about the horcruxes. And I certainly don't remember the relationships side of things being so much to the fore. Rowling is cleverer than that, I suspect. Here we're treated to relationship problems almost continually, as though everything hinged around them. Perhaps on the page they didn't take your attention so readily; here it's all a bit soap-opera, which is a great pity, because there are much more important things at stake here than the ups and downs of teenage relationships. (And talking of teenagers: the two main boys in particular have turned into hulking twenty-somethings; both of them look as though they've been to the gym - their shoulders are too big somehow, for teenage boys.)

Ginny Weasley proves herself to be a strong character, which is good, but Neville Longbottom, who is the one of the cruxes of the whole saga, barely gets a look in. He's seen a few times, and speaks in about one scene. Lavender, the girl who plagues Ron Weasley, gets an awful lot of screentime, even though she's a minor character, and we barely get a glimpse of some of the other longstanding people: Wormtail, Crabbe and Goyle, Remus Lupin, and Molly Weasley. Jim Broadbent, on the other hand, turns in a fine performance as Slughorn.

It's interesting that the director, David Yates, regards The Prisoner of Azkaban as the best HP movie so far: it still stands out to me as the one with the most style and flair. And that's the problem with this one: I found it slow (as though the director was pacing everything for some electric moment that never quite comes) and the climax is muffed, somehow. Maybe it's the fact that the books became increasingly complex; yet some of the other films have managed to pack a huge amount in without overloading the works. Here you keep wondering when something significant is going to happen. Let's hope Yates, who's directing the last two episodes, will pull things together in those.

The film was preceded by two or three trailers for other fantasy films. Such is the power of CGI now that we accept everything on screen as being real enough, and more, we believe that anything is possible. When anything is possible, then it takes a good deal to make us excited by what we see. It isn't necessary to have lots of explosions and cameras racing all over: even in a film filled with special effects shots, it's the actors who carry it, who grab our emotions. The idea that actors wouldn't be needed in movies (as was briefly mooted a couple of decades back) went the way of the dodo very quickly. People don't just go to see special effects; if they're not integral to the story, then we lose interest quickly.

And there's a difficulty in the fact that the special effects have to be very good now: there was a scene in one of the trailers (I think it was for GI Joe) where the Eiffel Tower came crashing down. It was too much altogether and didn't seem to work (apart from acting as a spoiler to a scene from the movie). On the other hand, there's a moment early on in The Half-Blood Prince where a London bridge that my wife and I walked over only a couple of years ago is ripped apart by the Deatheaters; this is extraordinarily well done and scarily believable. The Half-Blood Prince is certainly full of such moments.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tim Keller

I'm re-reading Tim Keller's The Reason for God, and here he talks about his Manhattan-based Church of the Redeemer, which has a congregation of some 6,000...

Redeemer's basic doctrines - the deity of Christ, the infallibility of the Bible, the necessity of spiritual rebirth through faith in Christ's atoning death - are in unity with the orthodox, supernatural beliefs of the evangelical and Pentecostal churches of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the US South and Midwest. These beliefs often put us in conflict with views and practices of many people in the city. At the same time, we have been delighted to embrace many other aspects of urban, pluralistic culture. We emphasize the arts, value racial diversity, stress the importance of working for justice in the city for all its inhabitants, and communicate in the language and with the sensibility of our city-centre culture. Most of all we stress the grace of a Saviour who ate with people the establishment called 'sinners' and loved those who opposed him. All of these things are very important to Manhattan residents.

Some years ago a man from a southern US state visited Redeemer. He had heard that though we held to orthodox Christian doctrine, we had grown large in the midst of a sceptical, secular city. He expected to find that we were attracting people with avant-garde music, video monitors and clips, dramatic sketches, exceptionally hip settings, and other kinds of eye-catching spectacle. To his surprise he found a simple and traditional service that, on the surface, seemed identical to those in his more conservative part of the world. Yet he could also see that the audience contained many people who wouldn't have ever attended the churches he knew. After the service he met me and then said, 'This is a complete mystery to me. Where are the dancing bears? Where are the gimmicks? Why are these people here?"
I directed him to some 'downtown art-types' who had been coming to Redeemer for some time. They suggested that he look beneath the surface. One person said that the difference between Redeemer and other churches was profound, and lay in 'irony, charity, and humility.'

quotes from pages 42/3.

So where's Brent Stavig, you say? Why would you ask that in a post about Tim Keller and the remarkable Presbyterian Church of the Redeemer in Manhattan? Particularly since Stavig isn't in Manhattan, and hasn't even been in New York City for some time - last I heard, back in 2007, he was living in Seattle. Anyway, he's now managed to appear, in his turn, in this post.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Taking music toooo seriously

One of my Facebook friends (yes, I do have a couple) pointed me to a blog post on arts versus sports, by Bill Harley. It's a tongue-in-cheek look at why more people go to sports events than to artistic ones, and makes some good points, though I'm not sure I can agree entirely with the following:
[athletes] are not trying to make the audience feel anything (and the arts is about the communication of feeling and ideas). All they’re trying to do is succeed. And we watch and feel ourselves. While the game (or agon in the Classical sense – from which we get the agony of defeat!) doesn’t matter – the striving is real. We sense their tension and anticipation and despair and joy. And we feel it, too. And all those other people feeling a similar thing encourage it in us. We are, after all, a group animal. Suddenly, we care.

I think that while the athletes may not be trying to make us feel anything, they'd be very disappointed if we didn't feel emotion. The big difference, (well, one big difference) between the arts and sports is that at sports it's the expected norm for the audience to let it all hang out. Sports arenas are very relaxed. You can chat and joke, you can shout and scream, you can insult and abuse and praise (and the players will ignore you anyway). The thing is, there's no need for politeness. With the arts, politeness is the norm - at least these days. When did you last go to a concert of some ancient or modern piece and shout your enthusiasm during the concert? When did you last make ribald jokes about the players? When did you get up and abuse the players or the composer for the appalling piece of trash they'd produced?

Bet you've never done it. Yet, in the past, audiences were nowhere near so polite. They would talk during concerts and operas, and the upper class went more to be seen than to listen. There's a description in The Count of Monte Cristo, as I recall, in which the attendance at an opera consists mostly of interplay between the members of the audience. The performers barely get a look in.

And audiences would cheerfully boo something they disliked or stamp their feet; in fact, if they disliked it enough, they'd have a go at the players: throwing things was just one form of abuse. In the early 20th century, various composers suffered the insults of the audience: Stravinsky (whom we now revere) being just one such.

There's been a great divorce between the way we behave at concerts now, and the way audiences used to. In fact, people get frowned on for clapping between movements of a concerto or symphony, even though their enthusiasm for the playing may have caused them to do so. We force audiences to hold back now, rather than thoroughly enjoy.

Harley says: I’m not saying this never happens in arts – it’s what performers are always working towards – when a group of musicians reach some kind of communion that raises their performance to another level, or an acting troupe presents something in a way they’ve never quite done before, the audience senses and is deeply moved. But it’s harder to reach it, and there’s a critical aspect of our minds that must be dealt with and overcome.

I don't think it's harder to reach it; it's just that we're really not allowed to show our real emotions when we're attending a concert. It happens at the movies far more readily, funnily enough; I've often been reduced to tears during a movie, and sometimes during a play. We get the chance at both the movies and plays to laugh - quite heartily at times. Occasionally a piece of music will cause us to laugh; but we're still fairly polite about it, as though we know the composer didn't really intend us to feel good humoured about what he'd written. Hoffnung broke through the politeness barrier, as did Anna Russell and Victor Borge. All three of these artists took music seriously, but knew it didn't have to be taken seriously.

I don't recommend a return to the old days where audiences treated musicians with a kind of contempt. I like to be able to hear the music clearly if I've paid the usual exorbitant amount to go in the first place; but equally I'd like to be able to feel more relaxed at concerts, along the lines of the way I can be relaxed at a sports event. Okay, I promise not to throw beer cans, I won't shout loud swear words, I won't have an argument with my neighbour (not that these are things I typically indulge in at sports), but it would be good to be able to get up and walk around, go for something to eat if I get a little bored, wave to someone I know. I can't see it happening in my lifetime, but it's not that long ago in the lifetime of the human race that people did just such things at concerts or operas. So maybe there's hope.

Bucolics - Maurice Manning

Just came across the poetry of Maurice Manning:

you're a workhorse Boss like me
you work the pump I work
the bucket fair enough
we're tough as leather Boss
tough as nails we go
together don't we the way
nip goes with tuck we grin
we bear it Boss O does
that ever cross your mind

"XXVIII" from Bucolics

that bare branch that branch made black
by the rain the silver raindrop
hanging from the black branch
Boss I like that black branch
I like that shiny raindrop Boss
tell me if I’m wrong but it makes
me think you’re looking right
at me now isn’t that a lark for me
to think you look that way
upside down like a tree frog
Boss I’m not surprised at all
I wouldn’t doubt it for
a minute you’re always up
to something I’ll say one thing
you’re all right all right you are
even when you’re hanging Boss

(The number on this one wasn't listed).

Publishers Weekly wrote: "In his third collection, Yale Younger Poets prize-winner Manning goes for a new twist on the traditional genre of pastoral poetry: he praises nature, but also engages in a postmodern conversation with a version of a higher power, which he calls 'Boss.' In 78 rolling, untitled, unpunctuated poems, which mostly keep to an iambic beat, Manning's curious, grateful and mischievous speaker spars with his unanswering deity, alternately singing praise ('...Boss a horse beside/ a tree it makes me happy'), reeling in doubt ('...if I/ could find the little ladder Boss/ that's leaning straight against the sky/ how many rungs would I have to climb'), teasing (' just/ can't get above your raising Boss') and railing against the silence that answer his outcries ('...Boss you hold/ me down you hold me back/ you push against me O/ I hope you're happy now'). The poems do get repetitive — Manning establishes his strategies at the outset and then uses them again and again — but the insistent rhythm is born of real enthusiasm."

[PS: you'll note that in spite of my proposal to include the Top Ten HitTail words/phrases in my next ten posts, there's no mention of Mike Crowl - that's because I'm already 'mentioned' in the title of the blog. Duh!]

Monday, July 20, 2009


I've been writing 'God' journals for years - exercise books in which I write the ups and downs of my spiritual life, prayers, cries from the heart, joys, agonies....all the usual stuff that's well known to the average saint. (I used to write a regular 'ordinary' journal as well, but that's kind of got superseded by blogging, where a good deal of what would have gone in the journals in the past has now got out into the public arena.)

Anyway, I glanced back into my previous God-journal this morning, and found it was about the day I had my prostate operation. And thought it might be interesting to go back and look at the journey as it was written up over four or five months from around October 2008 to March 2009. I'm not planning on publishing it online (at least, not as it is) but it's good to see what sort of thing I went through, how I felt about it, and whether my fears and hopes proved to be as extreme as they seemed at the time.

In the opening passage, which was written the day after the doctor at the hospital did a rectal exam and pronounced the dreaded word, cancer, with immodest frequency, is a series of woes and cries. God probably gets thoroughly sick of these, but since He's the epitome of patience, he puts up with them.

Perhaps He can look on them and regard them as being of as little concern (in eternity terms) as a bit of athlete's foot or hand or fingers. We have to struggle rather more to gain perspective.

The picture is of Thérèse of Lisieux, also known as The Little Flower, and the relevance is that she wrote a great deal about her spiritual life (until she died at the age of 24), and, even though she was canonized as a saint within a very few years, she discussed her dark nights, her depressions, her difficulties with faith. Probably a good companion to have on The Way - she was hugely popular in the Catholic scene when I was a child.

It's checking out HitTail time again!

It's worth going back to HitTail on a regular basis to see whether the things people search for and find on your blog vary much over time. I haven't looked for a while, but anyone who's read this blog consistently over the last year or two (the multitudes who have...) will probably find that this latest list isn't much different to previous ones. People plainly keep on looking for the same things, which is a bit unnerving for anyone wanting to be original. Not only does athletes hand (sans apostrophe) have twice as many hits as the next item, but athletes fingers and athlete hand also both get in the top ten (as nine and ten, respectively). [The hand in the picture is a genuine athlete's hand. So I'm told.] 

My own name, Mike Crowl, is second, the great divorce notes and Brent Stavig come next; James Berardinelli, the film critic, is still going strong in 5th place, followed by our mysterious old friend, Nintendo jewellery (with jewellery spelt the correct way, you'll notice). Karl Maugham, the artist, with everyone spelling his name incorrectly - as I did for years - comes next. (It's Maughan.) And eighth, we have our old favourite, shrinking shirts

It seems that the last time I checked this was late last year: as I say, things haven't altered much. Here's the latest list compared to the previous one: 
athletes hand...........................athletes hand 
Mike Crowl.............................Mike Crowl 
the great divorce notes...........James Berardinelli 
Brent Stavig............................Brent Stavig 
James Berardinelli.................the Great Divorce notes 
Nintendo jewellery.................shrinking shirts 
Karl Maugham......................Nintendo jewellery 
shrinking shirts......................Karl Maugham 
athletes fingers.......................athletes fingers 
athlete hand...........................Chrissy Popadacs 

James has slipped a couple of notches, Brent has maintained his place. Karl has snuck up a place, and shrinking shirts have dropped two places. C S Lewis' book has risen, and so has Nintendo Jewellery. Interestingly, Chrissy Popadics has slipped off the radar completely - but she's still in 13th place on the top 100. 

You may not be excited with what people look for on the favourite search engine directory, but I'm always intrigued. As I've no doubt mentioned before: if I wrote about nothing but these ten topics (or the variations within them) I'd probably get people checking out my site galore. But do I want to? I should no doubt be inventive, and find ways in which to drop one of these names/phrases into each post. I'm not sure that it would help me climb to the top of the Google tree, but it would be an interesting exercise. Perhaps I should give it a try over the next ten posts, just for the fun of it (and add Chrissy Popadics - pictured at left being squashed by her then future husband - in for good measure!)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A PS to the last

I see that the folic acid campaign has been on the go for some twenty years, promoted by disability groups like spina bifida.

I have a bit of a concern about such campaigns. Something that requires everybody to change because a small group is affected may not always be the best approach to a solution. Yes, altering buildings so that they're accessible by disabled people, or making new ones wheelchair accessible and so on, are overall good ideas. They benefit large numbers of people in the community, and not just the disabled.

But making everybody eat something that will only have an effect on a small number seems a somewhat lopsided way of solving the problem of pregnant women not getting enough folic acid. If there is a serious problem for all pregnant women, then fine. But if we look at how many women get pregnant as against how many how many have children with a folic-acid-preventable disease, then forcing folic acid on all pregnant women may not actually be the way to go.

I don't have the answer. I just don't think the answer Australia has come up with is ideal.

Folic Acid

It was with some relief that I heard on the news tonight that Prime Minister John Key has decided against the inclusion of folic acid in all our bread. Apparently we were supposed to follow Australia - if this is an example of being more closely-allied to our neighbours, then perhaps we should rethink our connections.

Folic acid, sometimes called folate, is a B vitamin (B9) found mostly in leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, orange juice, and enriched grains. Surely that's what we should be encouraging young mothers to eat, rather than taking yet another chemicalized version of real food.

Well, Mr Key said No, and good on him. Folic acid is widely regarded as being of benefit to babies in the womb, which is why pregnant mothers are encouraged to take it in doses. It has some preventive aspect in regard to serious neural tube defects (such as the incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord).

But there are three things that puzzle me: if it's so effective, how come billions of babies have survived without additional doses of it for millennia? And if it's geared towards babies via their mothers, why on earth do the rest of us, particularly males, need to have it in our bread? And if pregnant mothers were going to eat it via bread, how much extra bread would they need to consume in order to get the 'large' doses required?

TV One (I think that was what we were watching) claimed the medical and scientific community was up in arms against Mr Key's change of mind. Or his determination of mind, rather. Well, the scientific and medical community was represented by a single geneticist, who seemed to have a bee in her bonnet about the whole thing. She didn't answer any of the questions I've raised above.

The use of folic acid in this way was perhaps considered as a kind of cheap insurance for the wellbeing of feotuses. But in fact it was an extremely expensive kind of measure - and once again, Joe Public and his wife would have wound up paying for it every time they purchased bread, which is already expensive enough.

The geneticist, by the way, recommended buying bread from Australia in order to get the folic acid. Dear me.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Notes on a Scandal

Just watched Notes on a Scandal, with Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Bill Nighy, and Andrew Simpson. Superb cast, oddball story; very intense, and rich in character detail. Both Dench and Blanchett get plenty of room to draw their characters to the max, the former showing her constant conniving on her face often without saying a word, the latter playing a woman who's foolish, and surprisingly naive. Not only does she have an affair with a 15-year-old pupil (scarily played by Simpson, who was only 17 or 18 when the film was made), but she fails to see how Dench's character is in no way a friend, but only gives the appearance of a friend. Many actresses could have made the character a total fool; Blanchett manages to convince us that this woman's behaviour is possible, and believable.

Dench has often been scary - as M for instance - but this must be Dench at her most subtly vicious. Even her Lady Macbeth from the late 70s isn't a patch on this. And she's allowed herself to be quite ugly, and almost nondescript. The sort of little old(er) lady you'd see pulling along her shopping cart in the supermarket.

In the story Dench is a near-to-retirement teacher who befriends the new art teacher (played by Blanchett) at a large comprehensive school. We gradually learn that Dench has designs for more than friendship and when she discovers Blanchett is having an affair with the pupil, she tells Blanchett that she knows about it, but that she'll keep it secret. Of course, it's a secret she can use against Blanchett in due course, when the latter doesn't play her game. Dench's character narrates a good deal of the story - she writes everything in her diary - and her cyncism about other people, and her sheer callousness (even about Blanchett's Downs Syndrome son) is overwhelming.

Not the most attractive group of characters, but absorbing all the same.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Plumbing the depths

We're having a fun day here at home: the third day in a row that both my wife and I have been sick, she with a particularly nasty flu, and me with a cold that seemed to want to turn into a flu but hasn't quite managed it. Between coughing and spluttering, and eyes watering, and getting back into bed to keep warm because we were both so weary from doing almost nothing, it's not been the most exciting three days of our lives.
Except that today the plumbers arrived. One was there to fix the problem we had a week or so ago when the hot water tap in the kitchen literally broke off while my wife and a friend were sorting out the renovations. The other (and his very young apprentice) were there to replace the hot water tank which had decided to start leaking on us.
We're going to be paupers by the time this kitchen is renovated.
The first plumber has been under the house a good deal of the time sorting out the old pipes. The other plumber (and his very young apprentice) have removed the old tank, put in the new one, gone to a funeral and hopefully will come back before the end of the day to give us some hot water. And then there were also a couple of blokes from the City Council repairing the cold water inlet from the mains - an ancient washer had given up the ghost. To sort this washer out required spilling enough water out onto the street to fill several baths for several households.
The bloke under the house is now back after his lunch, and is tidying up the longstanding bit of frigeridoo that's been holding up the drain from the sink ever since we arrived in the house. That it's stayed together as long as it has is something of a miracle. The last time we sorted it was way back, when we noticed an unpleasant smell and found that all the sink drainage wasn't going down the drain but sitting underneath the house on the ground. Poo - what a pong that was. I remember nearly breaking my back digging out the old garbage soil and replacing it with clean stuff - all this done in an area where you can't stand up straight.

Apropos of none of that, why wold you misppel weight losss supplements if yo wontid to taulk abart it? Obviously that extra s has snuck because the link to this site has three in a row. Adding in a fourth, however, is just a bit excessive. Anyway, with all this flu stuff around, both of probably have no need of w l supplements - neither of us have been eating as much as usual!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


There was a question on Who Wants to be a Classic Millionaire the other night about costume jewellery (or jewelry, as the residents of the World's Greatest Nation insist on spelling it).

I hadn't realised that costume jewellery was a style of decoration that doesn't use real gems. (Wikipedia, for instance, says it has a variety of names, such as fashion jewelry, junk jewelry, fake jewelry, or fallalery - ain't that a great word?) And it's big business. Apparently it came into its own in the 1930s. At that time it was regarded as a cheap, disposable accessory meant to be worn with a specific outfit, would be fashionable for a short period of time, would then outdate itself, and then, presumably would be binned.

In spite of the idea that it might be 'junk' jewellery, it actually uses a lot of real stones. They're just of a lesser quality, in most cases, than 'real' jewels. I have a friend who has a lovely ring which someone in a fashion shop insisted she should get valued. If it had been the actual stone it was thought to be, the ring would have been worth something like $1200. But it was in the costume jewellery line, and consequently was worth something closer to $120.

Costume jewellery is made from rhinestones and lucite, amongst other lower class gems, and set in pewter, nickel and brass. This doesn't mean that the items don't have a classy look about them; it's just that their value in monetary terms is considerably less.

So there you go. That's what happens when you come upon a topic and decide to check it out a bit further!

Fallalery (or fallalary) is defined as: a bit of finery; a showy article of dress.

Francis Collins in discussion on evolution

There's an interesting discussion on the Books and Culture site, in which Karl Giberson talks about Christianity and evolution with Francis Collins. Collins recently launched the BioLogos Foundation, which "promotes the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms seeking harmony between these different perspectives."

What's interesting about this discussion is that Giberson is more than able to hold his own in terms of questioning Collins' belief in evolution, and Collins is more than able to hold his own in stating why he believes in it, and still remains a Christian. It's certainly not a discussion that covers all the ground, and no doubt sceptics on either side could look for holes and find them. Neither will it convince anyone overnight. As Collins notes: I would not want them, after one lecture, to suddenly say, "OK, you must be right; everything I've learned for the last eighteen years is wrong." I give people credit for wanting to engage the topic as opposed to shutting down and saying, "Oh, it's one of those evolution guys and I was warned about them and I'm going to stop listening right now."

The issue remains vitally of huge importance in the States, where the arguments go much deeper than whether the science has got it right or not, but the argument is also of importance here in New Zealand. Collins doesn't, in this discussion, come up with anything particularly revelatory in terms of apologetics for evolution, but it's good to hear someone of his credibility speaking in a balanced way.

Karl Giberson is the author of Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (HarperOne) and executive vice-president of the Biologos Foundation. This might be a book worth checking out. Certainly I've never been convinced by anyone yet that evolution has got the goods. (Though the first review on doesn't do much to make me think it's actually going to help me much in the debate.)

A little promotion...

The other day I rang Elizabeth Bouman, one of the music teachers in town, about the dates for the next lot of singing competitions. I needed to know so that my up and coming concert didn't clash with them.

As a result of this conversation, I was invited to contribute a piece to the NEWZATS newsletter (NEWZATS, as you'll already know, being a widely-read audience, stands for the New Zealand Association of Teachers of Singing. Not Singing Teachers, you'll notice, since that would have wound up with the acronym: NEWZAST, which apparently doesn't have such a good ring to it.)

This piece of self-promotion was seemingly quite acceptable to the editor of the newsletter, although I tried not to make it sound too much like one long advertisement. Hopefully, it will let singing teachers apart from those I already know in Dunedin hear about my songs, and hopefully I'll get a chance to sell some copies!

You can see a revised version of the article here, along with the ad for Evony which borders on the erotic, and certainly distracts the reader more than a little. (I tried to find a photo on which showed a singer, but all the ones available have people using microphones. NEWZATS pupils sing without mikes, in the good old-fashioned way.)

Bedding on the Beach

I was reading an article in the Harvard Business site yesterday where the writer listed the top ten business buzz words that need to be dumped, because of occupational overuse, or because they just plain lack punch, or because they're saying in three words what can be said in one. Unfortunately, just at the moment I can't find the article to link to it, but I noticed that one of these words, 'value,' is used in an ad for the Karisma Hotels in Mexico: There are packages that add value.

What does 'value' mean in the sentence? Surely we'd expect value from a package we've paid a considerable sum for? Otherwise, why would we spend our hard-earned cash?

Be that as it may, these hotels sound like a lot of fun, especially for destination weddings, (another phrase that seems a bit full of mysterious meaning which I can't quite pin down!). Each couple has their own personal Beach Butler (as opposed to a personal beach buggy), who serves you all manner of sophisticated drinks on your own private bit of beach outside your own private suite. All very Hollywood and glamorous, it seems to me. I particularly liked this line in the advertising: Beach-beds with retractable white gauze curtains for intimate moments line the oceanfront. I have no idea what a beach-bed is, and I'm not sure that gauze curtains would hide the intimate moments too well, but what the heck: maybe it's only the turtles that'll be looking on...

In Flew Enza

The flu has finally hit our house....though whether it's swine flu, or just ordinary flu is as yet unknown. Of course there's concern, and we're taking some precautions, but we assume that a dose of Tamiflu will knock it on the head, swine flu or not.

I think the worst thing about the whole swine flu business is that in the beginning the health authorities called it a pandemic when it wasn't. And then they decided we could all just get on with it and carry on regardless, treating it as just another flu we'd have to deal with, as we deal with flu every year.

But now they're saying, in effect, they don't really have much idea what's going on. In a Guardian article they're saying now they're surprised by the spread of the virus in the UK. Surprised? I thought this was a pandemic a few weeks back. Why would they be surprised?

I'm more surprised that Alan Hay, the head of the World Influenza Centre would say something like this: The flu surveillance community had been "caught napping" by the emergence of the swine flu outbreak as most resources were concentrated on guarding against a bird flu pandemic.

They were concentrating on a bird flu pandemic? That's so two years ago. Where have these guys been?

PS. Just got the Tamiflu tablets, and in the instruction sheet it has this to say:
Keep your Tamiflu tablets in the blister pack until it is time to take them. If you take the capsules out of blister pack they may not keep well.

I'm sure the person writing this meant that the tablets won't keep well in the sense that they won't be as effective over time. However, on first reading it read to me that the tablets, poor things, won't keep well. I thought they were supposed to make the human well!

Twittering teens - not!

A 15-year-old intern? Apparently the global financial services firm Morgan Stanley has one. Who says that teenagers aren't much interested in Twitter. They'll try it, like they try everything else, but then they give it away. Texting to it costs, and they're rather text their friends instead.

This young feller, Matthew Robson, has made headlines by commenting on what's in and what's out in the social network/media world. TV is definitely over. Radio with ads is out. Streaming radio without ads is in. Downloading movies to the computer is pretty ho-hum because of the lack of quality (and if it's anything like my experience, the annoyance of having it stop and start a good deal) and the possibility of viruses.

In fact, anything with ads - especially intrusive ads -is out. Well and truly. So much for the advertising world.

Of course there are plenty of other people in the world besides teenagers, and Twitter is obviously making a big impact via people who aren't teenagers. When we think that only teenagers' opinions count (as obviously the financial world did after Matthew's pronouncements) then we're living in la-la land.

Yes, of course, teenagers are the next generation, and what they think will eventually count for something. Maybe just not yet.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Silver threads amongst...

Every so often I come back to the topic of silver bars. I find it intriguing that gold and silver are still being touted as the best investments around, even in these climate change/global warming days, when you might think the old traditions would have begun to go out the window. But no, our fascination with gold and silver remains a constant, as it has done since the first man (or woman?) discovered a chunk of gold/silver and decided it was special. Precious.

I'm told that since the end of the Second World War, the U.S. Government – which used to be the largest holder of silver anywhere (globally and probably cosmically as well, I suspect!) has successively got rid of its holdings and in the process has managed to depress the world market. Whoever made this decision (probably George Bush, because he needed money to fund his Iraqi war) is anybody's guess, but now the very same Government wants its silver back. Talk about inconsistent. For that reason, silver represents a very good investment opportunity - if you have the money to buy it in the first place. And we're not talking your old silver ring that your grandma gave you either.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Stage struck

When I was a young man, I had two very close friends, both of whom left New Zealand for the bright lights of London - with intentions to go on the stage. Neither of them went on the stage; one of them eventually came back home after having an interestingly varied career in the usual sort of jobs NZers do when they go on the Big OE. The other got a lot closer to show business, at one time being part of the film promotion team for MGM. Which meant he got to see all the movies that were worth seeing, often before they went to the English public. I saw Last Tango in Paris in a tiny little private cinema as a result of this (not that I was greatly impressed with it), and also Pinocchio before it came out on a re-release. (Those were the days when you couldn't just go down to your local video store and hire a movie you liked - you had to wait until either the distribution company decided it was time to give it another go (which could be years after its original release) or until you caught it at some niche cinema where they managed to ferret out movies that weren't readily available.) I'm not sure if I saw Pinocchio as a child, but even as an adult it was a revelation in that small cinema; animation like you couldn't believe possible.

This same friend stayed in the UK until he died (much too young); he lived on the fringe of the show business world, flatting with a fellow Dunedinite who'd been big time in amateur theatre here and wound up on a daytime soap there. This actor had a tiny part in A Clockwork Orange, as a policeman. I think he's visible for all of a minute and a half.

I was reminded of this by reading an article in the Guardian today about young actors at the Royal Scottish Academy of Drama and Music in Glasgow, people who are still hopeful of getting in the business even in these tough times. Not that it's ever been easy to be an actor: two-thirds of them may be out of work at any one time, and reality TV certainly hasn't helped.

The curious thing is that when I joined my two friends in London, I hadn't had any plans to go on stage, but I certainly got a lot closer to it than either of them did. I went over to study as a repetiteur at the London Opera Centre, and wasn't only involved in the productions the Centre put on in-house (and the one that was presented at the Sadlers Wells Theatre), but also had free access to opera rehearsals at Covent Garden, which became almost as familiar to us as the Centre. I even played for auditions at the English Opera's theatre once. On the stage (a rather scary moment, actually). And on another occasion I played for a young singer in a competition, Abigail Ryan, at the Wigmore (pictured on right) - and she won. And went off to Germany to study as a result.

Well, that'll do for name-dropping, for the moment. Our mini-dramas at church have finished their 'run' - there were five in all, and I made it into four of them. (The second was on at the same time as When We Are Married.) Last Sunday's featured the four blokes who've appeared in the previous plays, and they were celebrating the loss of the All Blacks at home. One of them, who's become increasingly angry over the last couple of episodes, tries to explain his anger amidst the banter. It was a good little piece, and should have got a number of laughs, but the audience was surprisingly subdued, and it became hard work for the actors to keep up the momentum. Never mind, it made its point, I think. It had a second 'half' as it were: a return to the four soliloquies we'd started the series off with; this time the four actors (three of the guys and one of the two women who'd appeared in the plays) went in reverse order to the first play, and their speeches showed the progress they'd made. Different levels for each, but progress nevertheless.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What is a browser?

Just when you thought the Internet was making people's a video I found via Seth Godin's site, in which a young man interviews a bunch of people on Times Square. Most of them mistake their browser for a search engine - particularly for Google.

Great for Google, but not so hot for real information!

Of course, while I personally might know where these people are going wrong, I'd be in the same boat if someone started asking me questions about cars, and how they run...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Heating up and cleaning up

Yesterday I wrote about the superb collection of advertisements on the site. Today I've just come across the many photographs taken during the heatwave in England.

A book that belonged to my grandparents is still on our bookshelves. It's a collection of black and white photographs by some of the past masters of photography. I've drifted through this book umpteen times, (particularly when I was a child), and the photographs are now like old friends. The faces in most of the photos are long gone, of course; a few of the children may still survive as elderly people. But these shots are the top of their range. And yet, the photos that appear on the Guardian website are as good, in many cases, if not better than these old masters.

The digital camera has such an ability to snap some moment in time, and capturing the moment is often what's needed to produce a work of art, photographically. Furthermore the superb rendition of colour that digital gives us excels most of the colour photos that were formerly regarded as top quality. If not excels, certainly equals.

It's a bit of a leap from there to colon cleanser reviews, but I'll leap it anyway. Does anyone else feel a little queasy when colon cleansing is mentioned? Colon cleansing is apparently a name for a broad range of alternative medical therapies. These are meant to remove fecal waste and unidentified poisons or toxins from the colin and intestinal tract. The cleansing is either done orally, or (yechh) by using a hose - a bit like cleaning out the gutter in late Autumn.

But the thing about this cleansing process is that it's doing something that doesn't need to be done. The body quite happily cleans out its own system (that's what you have all that wonderful inner tubing - the bowels - for), and flushing stuff out of there (apart from being a job I would not like to do to anyone) can actually damage the interior of the rectum. Stuffing more pills or liquids down your throat in the hope that it's going to do you some good is, to me, not a good idea.

Well, at least in the link above they warn you about the pitfalls of going in for this sort of treatment. Personally I think we take enough chemicals and mixes as it is.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Advertising and silver

Since 2001, Swiss-based not-for-profit organisation ACT Responsible (Advertising Community Together), has been collecting global advertising that 'promotes responsible communication on sustainability, equitable development and social responsibility' in a bid to highlight how the creativity of advertising professionals can be used to address the world's problems.

Among its 2,500 ads from more than 40 countries and 140 award-winning agencies is a striking collection of adverts that focus on environmental and social issues: from deforestation to recycling and conserving water to climate change.

What I think is striking about these ads, apart from their messages, is the way in which they show how modern art (with Salvador Dali as one of the prime movers in this case) has been thoroughly accepted by advertisement viewers. Every one of these ads takes an idea and gives it a surreal twist, often in a humorous way. I suspect Dali would have delighted in the being able to photoshop; it would have given him stimulation even beyond his normal super-charged brain. (Talking of photoshop - in the play, When We Are Married, that I did back in May, there was a line spoken to my character: Why don't you take that little photo shop down in Blackpool again? I always wanted to laugh at this point, but the audience never seemed to get the unintended pun.

The things you find on the Net

The other day, for no particular reason, I came across a thesis, entitled Images of Salvation: a study in theology, poetry and rhetoric, written by Gregory Brian Smith. And the reason I found it is that it references my old webpage at Geocities. The reference is connected to a picture of Les Murray, the Australian poet, and makes it seem as though the picture is mine.

However, when you click on the link provided, you find that it no longer goes anywhere, probably because geocities was taken over by Yahoo, and the Athens/Forum address system has been abandoned in favour of this less complicated link. I've tried to download the thesis a couple of times, but on my home computer at least, it gets stuck before it's finished loading.

However, on my old homepage you can see the picture of Les Murray that Smith references. The photo appears to have come from Duffy and Snellgrove's website, where it's featured on the page that discusses Murray, and has recordings of him reading his work. Thus is repaired the link on Mr Smith's page.

Now, driving your RV (which I have discovered means 'recreational vehicle' and can apply to anything from a live-in bus to a skateboard) across to the Continent in a fashion that shows that the next bit has nothing to do with the first - no matter how hard I might try to pin them together - and head towards Turkey, where a gameshow called Penitents Compete (or Tovbekarlar Yarisiyor in Turkish) has a Muslim Imam, a Greek Orthodox priest, a Rabbi and a Buddhist monk attempting to convert atheists to one or other of their religions.

If it sounds like a joke, it ain't. The prize is a pilgrimage to the holy place of either Mecca, Jerusalem or Tibet, depending on which religion the contestant decides to convert to. The contestants pit their unbelief against the belief of the religious regulars, and the latter will attempt to convert at least one in ten of the contestants who appear.

Does it sound in the slightest bit crass? I'd say ultra-crass would cover it. "The makers of "Penitents Compete" are unrepentant and reject claims that the show, scheduled to begin broadcasting in September, will cheapen religion." No, of course it won't cheapen religion. (Religious people are perfectly capable of cheapening religion on their own, without any help from gameshow production companies.) All it cheapens - further - is the extraordinary world of television, which its (generally-credited) inventor, John Baird Logie (looking grumpy at left) is said to have thought would bring education to the masses. His son, Malcolm Baird, Malcolm Baird said in an interview that had his father known how TV would turn out in sixty years time, he would have dropped it and turned to other inventions.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Referendum

So you thought NZ was the only country having trouble with the child-smacking issue. Here's a video - it's actually a commercial, you'll discover at the end - put out by Sweden, the first country to ban smacking.

I found this on the Vote No site hosted not just by Family First, but by For the Sake of our Children Trust, Unity for Liberty, Family Life NZ, NZ Focus on the Family, Crosspower Ministries Trust, Sensible Sentencing Trust, f.a.c.t Family and Child Trust, Pasefika Trust,and FIANZ.

The video was on a page with a bunch of cartoons all viewing the anti-smacking law as something not ideal for the country and its citizens, and these cartoons come from some of the best cartoonists in the country. And the page of quotes are a nightmare: politicians changing their mind as fast as the wind changes. Scary people to have in power.

Friday, July 03, 2009

New Scientist shows its bias again

The New Scientist magazine has a real problem with anyone who disagrees with its philosophy.

I've just picked up the 18 April 2009 edition, which I found under some papers on my desk at work, and a quick flick through picks up these extremely scientific statements:

1. In a book review of Quantum Gods by Victor Stenger, the reviewer (Amanda Gefter) writes at one point: Like most scientists, Stenger believes that most religious claims can be dealt with scientifically, so beliefs such as creationism or astrology aren't immune to science, they are merely wrong.
Most scientists? Most religious claims? And what does 'immune to science' mean?

2. On page 23, for no apparent reason except that it maybe fills up a space, the editors have put a heading: Essential Number. This is followed by a very large 48, and then the words: per cent of Americans think religion will help answer the US's problems, a Newsweek poll has found - the lowest proportion ever. What has this particular comment got to do with anything? Are the New Scientist readers so insecure that they need such information?

3. On the same page, they have a box in which the word AGNOTOLOGY appears. Beneath this is the 'explanation': The study of deliberately created ignorance - such as the falsehoods about evolution that are spread by creationists. Oh dear, creationists spread false information? Let's not even get into the false information spread by scientists: whole humanoid chains produced by a skull and a bit of jawbone; climate change models that can't actually tell us what they claim they can; the huge debate about global warming....
Methinks the pot calleth the kettle black.

When you check out the section that 2 and 3 appear in, it turns out to be the Opinion page. Okay, so who's opinion are we getting? Neither the 48 or the Agnotology have a by-line, which is unusual in an opinion 'piece.'

Anyway, it was worth checking out what the Newsweek poll actually said.
Yes, the 48 percent figure is correct, but it has to be counterbalanced against this information from the very same Poll:
Americans' personal beliefs about religion haven't changed much in the last 20 years. The number of Americans with faith in a spiritual being—nearly nine in 10—has not changed much over the past two decades, according to historical polling. Seventy-eight percent said prayer was an important part of daily life, an increase of 2 points since 1987. Eighty-five percent said religion is "very important" or "fairly important" in their own lives—a number that hasn't changed much since 1992. Nearly half (48 percent) described themselves as both "religious and spiritual," while another 30 percent said they were "spiritual but not religious." Only 9 percent said they were neither religious nor spiritual.

Next time it might be worth giving us a more of the information, New Scientist, and letting less of your bias show.

Incidentally, there's an intriguing piece by the Skepticism Examiner on the site, in which he writes that New Scientist pulled a piece by Amanda Gefter in which she claimed to be able to reject books on the basis of their 'creationist' code. The piece was re-instated with a rebuttal by James le Fanu, the author of the book Gefter was reviewing. His comments are well worth reading