Thursday, April 28, 2011


Wim Wenders is a German filmmaker (and playwright, author, photographer and producer) who is known for a wide range of movies, both fiction and documentary (Wings of Desire, Paris Texas, The Buena Vista Social Club, to name just two out of many).

His most recent movie is Pina and you can garner a great deal of information about it on its official website.

It's a tribute to a great German dancer and choreographer, Pina, whose Wuppertal dance troupe has gained international recognition. She died in 2009, and the film includes stage versions of some of her dances as well as re-staged versions done on mountains, in the city, in water and so on.

Furthermore it's been filmed in 3-D, and by all accounts is astonishing. You can see an excellent trailer for the movie on the website (give it a moment to appear), in which the style of the movie and the dances are clearly shown.

There are also half a dozen short clips on Vimeo which shown the range of the dancers from strangely slow to crazy in water to romantic on a roadside to this one - frenzy in the ballroom?

PINA (3D) Un film de Wim Wenders - Extrait 1/6 from les films du losange on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Paul Tankard and C S Lewis interview

In the light of the soon-to-be-presented production of Shadowlands (mid-May at the Playhouse) the following may be of interest:

Library Talk Sheds New Light on C.S. Lewis

Fantasy film and literature buffs – especially those with fond memories of The Chronicles of Narnia – are in for a treat on Friday 29 April from 5.30pm, as a talk at the Dunedin Public Library reveals an undiscovered side to children’s author, religious writer and literary scholar, C.S. Lewis.

Dr Paul Tankard, senior lecturer at the University of Otago, has been on a ten-year search for a missing interview with the much-loved creator of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which was made for a British television programme two years before Lewis’ death in 1963.

The interview was never aired due to the racy subject matter – the erotic in literature – and has been long since lost, but with much help, Tankard searched the globe until a transcript of the interview was in his hands. The words provide a fascinating insight into a highly original writer who rarely gave interviews.

The discovery has caught the attention of the international media, and Dr Tankard’s essay on his discovery recently appeared in the prestigious Times Literary Supplement in the United Kingdom

Perhaps even more interesting to a general audience is the story behind the discovery.

For those of us who checked the back of their wardrobe as children – or now have children doing so - this is a rare opportunity to discover more about the brilliant mind behind that fantasy, and to hear something of his views about the real world in which we live.

It is also an opportunity to celebrate the tenacity and success of Dr Paul Tankard, a very dedicated member of our own community.

  • Eros: A New Discovery about C.S. Lewis
  • Friday 29 April 5.30pm, 4th Floor, City Library
  • Free but bookings are essential.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Levy wins, Naipaul loses

The other day I wrote about a couple of books, Small Island, and, A Bend in the River. I've now finished Small Island, but in spite of persevering with the other book, I think I'm going to move on and leave it unfinished. It's so gloomy and dour, has absolutely no humour whatsoever (not that that's a particular requirement for a novel with me) and is obviously going to go increasingly downhill. At the moment I don't really need another book in that vein, so it's going into the 'sadly, regrettably unfinished' status. I understand it has a certain status as a book, but life's too short to finish books that I'm not enjoying.

Small Island, (which, curiously enough, is much more like the only other book by Naipaul that I've read - A House for Mr Biswas) was a joy to read. Even though it seemed for a long time not to have an end in sight, the progression towards the end was always there, and when the end does come it manages to be both deeply serious and humorous and warm and wondrous all at the same time.

When I commented on the book the other day I hadn't got to the point where the fourth main character, Bernard, had really come into his own. We have a quite long stretch of story from his point of view telling us why he's been 'missing' for so long, (he doesn't get home from the War until it's been over for two years) and we see him not just as the dull and pedantic little man who first appeared earlier in the story. He still remains an uptight character, bigoted, and fairly unflexible, but by the time the story ends we've developed a lot more sympathy for him than would have been expected early on.

Not only this but the story rounds on itself in a surprisingly satisfactory way - a fifth character who appears only occasionally but is vital to the story is the cause of what happens in the climax (I'm not going to give the details, since you need to read and enjoy this book for yourself).

You can read this book as an anti-racist story - and it is, although it's never as simple as that. You can read it as a love story, and it's certainly that, in more ways than one. You can read it as a history of a particular time, and it's full of fascinating detail about the people who went through this particular part of the War. You could see it as a grim diatribe on the sinfulness of man - and woman. There's that in it too, but the grimness is constantly lightened by Levy's humour which undercuts the gloom and highlights the resilience and quirkiness of human nature.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Improving professionalism

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 4, verse 22, Jesus says For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. (NIV translation).

It's interesting to read Seth Godin's most recent blog post (Why you might choose to be in favour of transparency) in the light of this, and how he views what happens from a marketing angle when things that are normally hidden (things that should be out in the light) are revealed to the public.

I haven't found some of Seth's recent stuff very interesting, for some reason - he's had a bit too much of a marketing angle on things and he's more interesting when he states his creative opinions - so it's pleasing to see him onto something with a bit more substance here this morning.

Basically he's pointing out that when companies, or practitioners (pig farmers and doctors, in this case) hide stuff and then someone reveals it, the professionalism improves, and even though we sometimes have to pay more for the 'product', we can be more sure that the product is actually up to standard.

There are some connections here with the Peter Jansen (a sensitive claims clinician with ACC) situation where he was going to sue a sexual abuse victim who'd written about him on her blog. Thankfully, he's backed down (perhaps under pressure from the ACC Minister), since even though this was a private legal action on his behalf, it surely had some ethical gray areas because the situation related to his position with the ACC, rather than to something outside his profession. But the outcome, hopefully, is that the ACC professionalism will improve as a result of this brouhaha (haven't been able to use that word for a while).

Study in retirement?

I had thought retirement might have a few more moments when I could sit and relax. Just a few.

So far that's not really been the case. Twice this week we've climbed up and down stairs carrying boxes of books from a church storeroom to the car and then, at home, piling them up around the place as we sort them out for sale. The books (and sundry other items) are leftovers from the OC Books, which closed three years ago. It's one of my retirement 'hobbies/jobs' to sort through them and try and find homes for as many of them as possible. My wife is working like a Trojan at putting them on zotero, so that we have a database of the titles.

So if I had a mind, say, to do some Online University work, it's not going to be happening in the meantime. Both the papers I've done so far through Otago were primarily online, and were paid for by my former work. That's another aspect: I'll have to actually save up to do any more study, to complete my online degree programs in crime scene investigation for instance. (Doesn't that sound more interesting than a vague degree in Humanities?)

New Zealand has a wide range of online courses available, but if I wanted to go further afield, I could investigate the huge range in the States, for instance via the college navigator at this address: Having worked with stats for the last three years (and having always had an interest in them) the title of this Stats Centre appeals: I can look up crime and safety surveys, for example, which would help me with my course in crime scene investigation, n'est pas? (Did you know there was a blog called, Ceci n'est pas une endive?)

They also assist in finding the right college for a person to learn through, and when I put in my zip code (adding a nought onto it so that it falls in line with the US system) and ask for non-profits that will teach me a bachelor's course in two years, I find there are all sorts of places handy to where I live (in Los Angeles, as it happens, since that's what the 90010 zip code applies to). I could study through the World Mission University, the Cleveland Chiropratic College, the Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad West Coast Talmudical Seminary, the Loyola Marymount University (just in case I preferred a Catholic focus instead of a Jewish one) and the Otis College of Art and Design. To name only a few.

I'm not sure that any of them would focus well on crime scene investigation, but I'd have to get more information before dismissing them out of hand.

It could give me a third/fourth/fifth hobby to add to my retirement....

Photo of someone studying, by Aaron Concannon

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Narrative and detail

With a little more space in my life, because of being retired, I'm reading more fiction. I'd got to the point where non-fiction seemed to be all I picked up at the library. Anyway, on the last couple of trips to the library I've wound up coming home with a bunch of novels.

I want just to focus on three here, because of their similar approach to fiction writing.

First is V S Naipaul's A Bend in the River, a book I'd never heard of, and had just grabbed off the display stand at the library on spec. The second is Andrea Levy's Small Island, a book I began in a Wellington bookstore earlier in the year, and thought would be worth carrying on with. And while we were travelling to Roxburgh and back again last weekend, we listened to a book whose title has escaped me and whose author I don't know. It's on my wife's iPhone, and I'll catch up with the details alter.

All three are what you'd call narrative fiction, I guess, in the sense that there doesn't seem to be any particular 'plot' or even story in the sense that we start at A and finish at Z.

The iPhone one I only heard the later part of, because my wife had already listened to a good deal of the earlier section. I said to her, after a while, that there seemed to be no 'story' as such; it was all detail. And she agreed. It was a kind of fictional biography about a woman in Texas who survives a number of incidents that I missed hearing plus the ones I did hear: the arrival of an oil-well on their property, a terrific dust storm, a drought, betting wisely or unwisely on an inexperienced racehorse, and the advances of a widower whom she does eventually marry.

It shouldn't have been interesting, because the characters were rather loosely drawn, and not given much individuality. What made it interesting was the detail: at first it seemed as though the book was nothing but detail, but the vividness of that detail was what drew you in. I now have a much better idea of what it's like to wait for oil to gush from the earth, how it feels when it does, how scary that is, what a disaster it might be as it blows out the pipes and drill in its rush to reach the surface. I know much more what it's like to sit in an abandoned train passenger car while it shakes and shudders in a dust storm that seems to suck the very air out of your body, and what it's like to go looking for water after the storm has passed. Later the rains come, and one little example of the sort of interesting detail from that was the people standing out in the rain without umbrellas (to listen to Roosevelt, who stood up to show solidarity, even though he was normally in a wheelchair) because the drought had been with them so long they'd forgotten where they stored their umbrellas.

I almost put Naipaul's book aside because there's virtually no story as such in it, and I wondered if it was ever going to go anywhere. It's more focused on characters, and certainly the ones in this book have more presence than those in the previous one, especially the narrator, who, in spite of being an almost non-starter in life, still comes across as interesting. But again above the characters is the detail. If you want to knowwhat it's like to have gone through life in a former French colony in Africa, through a small-scale revolution, through the long rebuilding afterwards, and to have the sense that the man in charge of everything is becoming increasingly godlike in his view of himself (the country is unnamed - it's not Uganda, as that gets mentioned as being somewhere else a number of times) then this book will give you that sense. I'm not enjoying it anywhere near as much as Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas, which is a brilliant and beautiful book - this one has a dour tone that is almost offputting - but it still enriches the imagination.

Of the three novels, Small Island is the one that's most appealed to me. Again, there's little sense of story, though there's more suspense that in either of the other two: will Queenie's husband ever turn up again (when we finally meet him in the book, we think it might be better if he didn't); will Hortense and Gilbert actually consummate their marriage, or will their cross-purpose natures always push them apart; will we figure out where everything is going by the end of the book, or will Levy just keep on adding more and more to the detail. Small Island has the benefit of being wildly funny in places; it's the sort of book you can imagine Dickens might write if he'd lived in this century rather than the 19th. It's full of vivid major characters, and of dozens of sharply-drawn minor characters, some of whom get barely a sentence before they leave. Just one very small example from the beginning of the book, "Emily [who appears only in the introduction] had been our outside girl for two months. She had a kindly foster-mother, who lived in Kent and made pictures from spring flowers, and a father and two uncles in London, who drank so much that they had not been awake long enough to take part in the war." Five characters who get a brief moment in the sun and vanish again.

The story weaves back and forth in time: pre-war, during the war, after the war. The chronology is mixed-up but never confusing. Sections are often headed, 'Before', and they take us back to earlier days in the three main characters' lives. (Queenie's husband does turn up in due course - I haven't actually got to that section yet - and becomes a fourth main character.)

But apart from the characters, and the humour, this book stands out even beyond the other two for its emphasis on detail. No page goes past that without relevant detail building up the world in which these people live, and it's detail that is so well-written you want to keep noting down the sharpness of the similes, the aptness of the metaphors, the subtlety of the insights.

I'll write more about it when I've finished....

Friday, April 08, 2011

More on quirky places

My wife (not wearing her moissanite earrings) and I - and the dog - (that's not him on the left) went for an hour-long walk this morning, along to the end of the street, down winding, narrow, steep Lancefield St, into Caversham village, stopped for a brief chat with our neighbour who was having a smoko outside her work, and then back up the hill via the Glen, up Reynolds St (at least as steep as Lancefield), up a track leading towards 165 steps (and up them) and up into Avoca St, Appold, Vickery, Maryhill Tce and home again.

What was quirky? Apart from Lancefield St, off which the Assembly of God Church had once owned a property where they thought of building a church (that was quirky) I'd never known there was a track between Reynolds and Avoca - I've come down into Reynolds from Maryhill Tce before, but didn't know that was a route opposite that went up a different way. It's virtually rural up there. (In fact, there's a black llama in a property just down the way in Glen Rd - that's a black llama in the picture, but not the one we saw.)

Any of these walks up and down this side of the hill will lead you to all sorts of oddball mini-streets, streets so small that two cars can barely pass, or streets that turn into steps or tracks or suddenly disappear altogether. I'm not sure that I'd like to live on them, but people do.

As we were walking along in the wind, we found several of the new DCC recycling bins had blown over, so found ourselves doing a bit of civic duty and picking up the papers and cardboard and so on that had spilled out. Not only did it show that these bins aren't terrible stable, especially in a wind, but they must also be a bit of a nightmare to collect in some of the narrow streets I mentioned above.

Photo courtesy of 'Shutthedoor'

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


The media [in New Zealand] has largely failed the public interest – again with just a few notable exceptions - over the whole theory of man-made global warming. The mainstream media almost never reports on the alternative view to the government’s line that global warming is caused by man, even though there is a widespread understanding that the planet warms and cools as a result of natural cycles. It is largely because of this lack of proper scrutiny, that the National party has been able to implement the harshest emissions trading scheme (ETS) in the world, in spite of promising that they would not make New Zealand a world leader in climate change.

Muriel Newman in An Exercise in Futility

Shoes, boots, lines and Shadowlands

At the beginning of March I wrote about buying a pair of shoes online and the peculiarities of some websites in terms of what they will allow and what they won't. The shoes are fine, though they're taking a bit more wearing in than I expected. Still they should also last a good deal longer than shoes that wear in within days. And there's a slight squeak to the right one, which I can't see any good reason for. Still, people know I'm coming! Just saw the boot in the picture advertised online - it costs a good deal more than my shoes cost, and I really don't have a use for such a boot (or even a pair of them); at least I haven't so far planned on going tramping in my retirement... The boot is something called a Lowa Banff Pro (I thought it was Iowa until I looked properly); apparently they're made in Germany, although the site I found them on is in Vermont. These boots will stand up to pretty much everything, although the site notes that they haven't been tested for 'wildlands firefighting.' Well, there you go, you can't have everything. 
 Anyway, I actually began this post with the intention of mentioning the little digital dictaphone we bought a couple of weeks back, mainly because we wanted to have something that would record accompaniments for the singers who come for lessons at my house (I don't give them the lessons - I just play for them). The singing teacher (and also another one for whom I record accompaniments) have for years used increasingly doddery cassette players for this purpose, but these are giving up the ghost, and it's also getting hard to find new cassettes. The dictaphone records beautifully, though it doesn't play back music quite so well (speech is fine). However, when you play the music through the computer, the sound is good. My aim was to record the accompaniments here at home and send them to the people needing them. They could then play them off the computer or burn them to a CD. Slightly to my surprise this has caused a little frazzlement amongst the teachers and singers. I would have thought digital recorders were pretty old hat by now, but seemingly not amongst this group (except one, who already has his own). Anyway, it's a matter of training the people in the 'new' technology, and seeing how it works. It must be superior to a creaky cassette player that tends to make everything sound under pitch because it's running slightly slow. I've found another purpose for the digital recorder too: I've recorded my lines and cues for the play I'm rehearsing at the moment, and, while it makes me work hard and stretches my poor brain, it's effective. The cues keep coming and I have to keep being ready! I've mentioned before that the play is Shadowlands. It's the story of C S Lewis' meeting with Joy Gresham, how they fell in love, and how she died before their marriage was more than a few years old. Anthony Hopkins starred in a (to my mind, inferior) movie version of the play, but prior to that there was a superb TV version starring Josh Ackland and Claire Bloom. I've got the latter on videotape, but the video player dislikes our TV set (or perhaps it's the DVD player it dislikes) and has refused to come to the party in the last year or so. One of these days, before videos vanish completely from civilisation, I'll try and get the copy transferred to disc. By which time, no doubt, some other technology will have come along and made both of them redundant!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

We went to see The Adjustment Bureau the other night. This is based on a story by the famous sci-fi writer, Philip K Dick, who also wrote the stories that became The Minority Report, Bladerunner, Paycheck, Total Recall and others.

It's perhaps a bit underpar by comparison with some of those more illustrious movies. That's not to say it isn't interesting, or exciting, though it does take some minutes to get off the ground. It just lacks a little innovative edge, I think, though what that edge should be I'm not exactly able to put my finger on.

Matt Damon plays an upcoming congressman who's a likely candidate for the Presidency a few campaigns down the track. Something from the past is revealed and he finds himself seemingly back at square one. He meets a girl with plenty of personality (in the men's toilet, for no apparent reason) and it's love at first sight. She vanishes, he finds her again on the bus by chance, and the supposed pattern of his life is broken; that is, the pattern according to the Adjustment Bureau, a mysterious group who are caught in the act of changing someone's mind by Damon, and who swear him to secrecy on the pain of a very nasty future.

Damon and Emily Blunt make a good romantic couple, but part of the problem with the movie is that it's not quite sure whether it's a sci-fi story, a debate relating to free will, or a love story. It's all three at times and the three don't always fit comfortably; there are moments when they (almost) belong to separate movies.

Nevertheless we enjoyed it. It doesn't rely on any great special effects (the way in which ordinary-looking doors open onto football stadiums, or lead back to the place you started from, or other oddball rooms, is perhaps its niftiest component) and the discussions on free will pose some interesting questions. It also gives Damon and Blunt some warm fun scenes - in fact, for once, Damon isn't the indomitable man, full of a streetwiseness that doesn't exist outside the movies.

The free will discussions don't really get the room they need to become full-fledged, and leave the audience saying...'that's all very well, but...' We never find out who the Great Chairman is, or whether these human beings (as they seem to be) are angels or some other spiritual beings. They certainly work hard for their money, however: as one character says, there just aren't enough of them to go around, and so some things get overlooked.

The movie looks great: the Chairman and his cronies inhabit a vast soaring building full of art deco design (?), broad hallways, modern furniture (in the sense that it was modern when the building was built) and strange cramped corridors. The photography has a sharpness to it, particularly in the interiors, that creates a superb atmosphere in itself.

Not quite in the class of some of the other P K Dick classics, but still a visit.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

New rhythms

Second day of retirement and I''m still finding what the new rhythm to daily life might look like. There hasn't been a chance to gauge this yet, as nothing has been quite what might be termed normal, and perhaps that's good. Maybe that's what the new rhythm will be.

Anyway, among other things yesterday involved the purchase of a new printer, since the Dell model that came (if I remember rightly free with the computer I'm currently working on) has not only decided it doesn't like scanning, it doesn't like copying either. At least it used to do copying, but this part of the system seems to have been recently wiped from its skill list.

We'd talked about getting another printer, mainly because the cartridges for the Dell can only be purchased online from Dell themselves, and have to come from overseas (believe it or not). The last lot took over a month to arrive, even though they'd been paid for at the beginning of the order. Furthermore they're fearfully expensive - this is perhaps why the printer is free - and no one is doing refill versions here as yet. In fact, they may not at all.

So we bought a new printer from Harvey Norman, the place where we'd got the last one - which worked tirelessly until it just clogged up its inards one day. This is a Canon Pixma MG 5150. I think it's going to be okay, but when I first tried to print something yesterday - which had both colour and black text in it - the colour printed fine; the black was non-existent.

We went through all sorts of processes trying to discover what might be the problem, and even rang Canon (who, unlike Dell, actually have people on the ground in NZ). She suggested nozzle cleaning and that sort of thing - which hadn't at that point occurred to me (I won't be applying for power engineer jobs in my retirement; at least not in the IT area) - but that made no difference.

There was plainly something wrong with the black cartridge, even though you could detect ink when you tested it out manually on your finger.

I took it back to the shop, and discovered another gent with the same problem. His machine was being tested when I arrived. We agreed on every point, in particular the lack of black print, and finally the person doing the testing in the shop agreed that there was obviously something faulty with the cartridge. In fact there was something faulty with the black cartridge in both machines, but he had to go through the whole rigamarole of testing my machine as well before he was satisfied this was the case. Good grief.

Anyway, I didn't get much chance to check out the printer after that, because I had to go out and play at the first of two concerts at Brooklands Retirement home in Mosgiel.

Today's 'retirement' has consisted of my wife having a birthday, walking down to see my grandson play soccer, (yesterday I walked up the hill from South Dunedin: not far, but pretty steep); buying a couple of folders for more music, and some sox from The Warehouse - only to discover when I got outside that they were the heel-less kind, which I don't wear. So I had to go and replace them.

Back home and preparation for a family picnic out at Mosgiel (again - but not at Brooklands) where we ate and played games and generally had a great family outing. Home for a long overdue snooze, interrupted by some of the people for next week's concert arriving for a practice. (Yesterday I also spent some time with a tuba player who's playing at the brass band comps in Roxburgh next weekend. I'm accompanying him and several others - though not the guy whose music almost made me despair when I first saw it: the bulk of it goes at crochet equals 176, which seems fine for the soloist who only ever plays one note at a time, but is a bit of a nightmare for the accompanist whose flinging notes around all over the place. I was working hard to simplify it and still make it sound reasonable when he rang to say he wasn't going to have time to practice it properly. Great relief.)

After a walk on the St Kilda beach tonight with the dog, we came home and played Settlers with my daughter and her friend. As always, lots of cheating going on from two of the participants (not me!)

Friday, April 01, 2011

The philosophical background to evolution

So what is the scriptural problem with evolution? The problem is that evolutionary thinking is, and always has been, motivated by non biblical claims about God. I have discussed this in this blog, but the best place to find these claims is in the evolution literature, both before and after Darwin. Simply put, evolutionary thought is motivated and justified by various claims about how God would create the world. God wouldn’t create all of the many lowly creatures—that is beneath him. God wouldn’t create evil or inefficiency—that would be against his nature. God wouldn’t create particular patterns—that would be capricious. And so forth. In all about a dozen theological and philosophical arguments, that mandate evolution, arose in the Enlightenment years before Darwin. And they were and remain today tremendously influential. They are the reason that evolutionists today insist evolution is a fact, not merely a theory. Evolution is, at bottom, a religious idea developed in polite Christian settings. Today’s atheists, like a conforming teenager who thinks he is in rebellion, rehearse these same arguments as if demonstrating a religious skepticism.

Cornelius Hunter: Creation v Evolution - the real story (blog post)