Sunday, September 17, 2017

Election 2017: Dancing Cossacks edition

For younger readers baffled by their elders’ occasional references to Dancing Cossacks, this was a three-minute “party political broadcast”, i.e. an ad, for the National Party in the 1975 election. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

Written by Michael Wall, then of the Colenso advertising agency, it was credited with National’s massive win. The ad was controversial at the time, essentially for accusing Labour, led by Bill Rowling, of being a bit, well, you know, socialist, but looking at it again the most shocking thing about it for me is the lack of an apostrophe in “April Fool’s Day” in the first few seconds of the animation. 

The dancing Cossacks themselves were on screen for just five seconds, so 2.78% of screentime –  from the 1 min 15s mark it is just National leader Robert Muldoon behind his desk talking directly to the viewer about his policy on superannuation and why it was better than Labour’s. Leaving aside the politics, the ad treats the viewer a lot more seriously than today’s election ads: nearly two minutes of the party leader talking policy, not feels. (Thanks to Simon Carr aka @simonsketch for the link.)

It would be interesting to see some Labour ads from that year – from memory they were made by Wall’s friend and fellow Westie Bob Harvey, then of the McHarmans advertising agency.  

Friday, September 8, 2017

Book review of the month

Adam Rutherford, a geneticist who tweets at @AdamRutherford, has posted on Amazon a brief review of AN Wilson’s new Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker. He gives the book one out of a possible five stars, and heads his review “Deranged: literally the worst book I have ever read about Darwin and evolution”. 
I am a scientist who has studied evolution and genetics for many years. I have also extensively written about Charles Darwin. Singularly, I have never come across a more incoherent, inconsistent, deranged attempt to analyse Darwin as a man and his science. If AN Wilson has indeed researched this book for 5 years, as he has claimed, he has managed to do something impressive, which is to draw conclusions which are so comprehensively bonkers as to fall into the category of ‘not even wrong’. This book is littered with errors, both trivial and fundamental, ones that could easily be fact-checked. But Wilson seems not to care. His understanding of evolution, of genetics, and of science in general is comically egregious – based on this book, he would fail GCSE biology catastrophically. The anti-Darwinian arguments presented here are not even as cogent as those presented by Young Earth Creationists.
* To associate Darwin with Hitler’s policies is at best misguided and at worst intellectually dishonest: Darwin’s scientific ideas have little to do with the political ideas of Social Darwinism, and the deranged policies of Nazism drew from distortions of the works relating to Norse mythology, the Bible and a host of other sources.
*To suggest Darwin did not credit others who thought on evolution before him is not borne out by the fact that he lists more than 38 who did just that, in the Origin of Species itself.
*To assert that there are no transitional fossils is not supported by the fact that there are literally millions of transitional fossils.
*To suggest that genetics does not support Darwinian natural selection is contrary to the view held by every biologist in the world that genetics fully reinforces natural selection.
The only valid criticism I can find herein of Darwin is that he might have been flatulent, which can be attributed to a serious disease that he picked up on his travels on the Beagle.
And so on. I can’t for the life of me work out how a serious writer could draw these conclusions about someone who has been studied for more than a century, on a subject that millions of people have spent millions of hours and millions of £££ testing. I can only conclude that AN Wilson is not a serious man.
The pagination is excellent. I like the picture of the bat on the back cover.
Fun fact: the original version of the review had “batshit” instead of “bonkers”, and Amazon refused to publish it. This is the genetically modified version.

So here is David Bowie live in 1995 with “I’m Deranged from that year’s album 1. OutsideGail Ann Dorsey on bass, obv.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The uses of humour #1

In Britain, humour is used to cut off conversations before they can get emotional, boring or technical.
So here are Procol Harum in 1967 with “Quite Rightly So”:

Friday, August 25, 2017

Today is my birthday

So here are the Killers at the Isle of Wight festival in 2013 performing “When I’m 64”. 

Yes, that is how old I am. Even though I did maths to Stage III so obviously can count, I really did not see this coming.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Money for writers #3

The University of Waikato invites applications for Writer in Residence for 2018. The salary is $52,000. Yes, $52,000.

The position is open to writers of serious non-fiction, dramatists, novelists, short story writers and even poets. It helps to have a record of previous publications of high quality, and (I am paraphrasing based on my experience of assessing similar applications) making a good case for why this particular residency would help with your project.

As well as the $52K the fellow gets an office with computer in the School of Arts and access to the university library. There are no teaching or lecturing duties, and the fellow will be able to make use of the Michael King Writers’ Retreat in Opoutere for up to two weeks. A fortnight in Coromandel all paid for!

On the other hand, “The Writer is expected to live in Hamilton during the tenure of the award.” So, swings and roundabouts.

Full information is here: applications close on Friday 29 September.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Country matters #6

Michael Baume in the Spectator on cow dialects:
Keeping inequality in proper perspective, the London Evening Standard last week ran a full page article quoting Sir Patrick Stewart’s US National Public Radio talk explaining that the dialects of British cows’ moos reflect, like their human counterparts, ‘a society dominated by class, social status and location’. He noted that ‘the sound made by a cow from West Oxfordshire, birthplace and home to many right of centre politicians, is quite an upper-class bray compared with those from West Yorkshire’. The National Farmers Union backed this up, maintaining that when cows are mo(o)ved from one area of strong accents to another, there is a problem of them initially not responding to the new accent. ‘Cows in the West Country have the distinctive Somerset twang (more of a ‘moo-arr’) while Midlands beasts moo with Brummie accents and Geordie tones are heard Tyneside. And in the US, those bred in the southern states sound very different from the moos heard in the north’. In the Anglosphere’s animal farms, all cows are not equal.
I wonder if this is the case in New Zealand, that a Friesian from Southland might have a different moo from a Waikato Friesian’s, perhaps with a hint of a burr. 

National’s Bill English is a farmer from Dipton in Southland and Labour’s Jacinda Ardern is from Morrinsville in the Waikato, so perhaps this could be a question in the Leaders’ Debate come the election. Can they tell the difference between regional moos? 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #81

From the edition of Thursday 17 August. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Seabed mining
I see from your Friday paper that seabed mining is back in the news and I expect that seabed residents will be driven out.
However they do not have mortgages or children at school so I guess they will just move onto new pastures as they did in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea, east of England, when seabed mining disturbed them.
Ian McKissack
Hamilton

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

In praise of: Taylor Swift

Well, more a poem for David Mueller, the creep recently convicted of sexual assault on singer Taylor Swift. It is by Denis Glover and it goes like this:
I’m an Odd Fish
I’m an Odd Fish
A No-Hoper:
Among Men a Snapper,
Among Women
A Groper.
This poem from his collection Dancing to My Tune (Catspaw Press, 1974: my copy is signed by Lauris Edmond for some reason) is perhaps not as funny now as it seemed at the time.

So here is Taylor Swift with “Shake It Off”:

Friday, August 11, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #80

From the edition of Friday 11 August. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Predator-free stupidity
The stupidest idea of this century must be to make New Zealand predator free by 2050. Because most New Zealanders are still science illiterate when they exit our education system, no one has thought to question what this actually means. Consider the following:
1. Possums, rabbits, rats and mice are largely vegetarian so cannot really be classed as predators. We will keep them.
2. Cats and dogs are predators. They will have to go.
3. Fantails are predators of midges; kiwi are predators of worms and weta; tuatara are predators of beetles and snails; native owls are predators of rats and mice; and so on. They will all have to go.
4. Humans are predators of rabbits, pigs, deer, pheasants, many types of fish and farm animals. They will have to go.
If New Zealanders want to live in a predator-free country this could be achieved by getting Kim Jong Un to aim his nuclear missiles here. Do we really want to get rid of all fast-breeding animals, which will be needed as survival foods when the next ice age comes?
Rainga Wade
Kihikihi 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What I’m reading #146

In the July Literary Review Lucy Lethbridge reviews seven books about Jane Austen. One, already savaged by Private Eye for its allegedly cavalier treatment of another author’s research, is Lucy Worsley’s BBC TV tie-in Jane Austen at Home:
The very first illustration [. . .] is a photograph of a broken egg cup recently unearthed in the garden of her childhood home, Steventon Rectory. ‘It’s not impossible’, reads the caption, ‘that Jane Austen once used it to eat a boiled egg.’ Well no, not impossible, but…
After further consideration, Lethbridge concludes:
There’s much intriguing historical detail but also quite a lot of padding (‘imagine Jane happy, if you will, life before her, running through the Hampshire fields on a summer evening’), occasionally intercut with questions guaranteed to wake up the snoozing telly viewer. ‘Did Jane ever have lesbian sex?’ is one. The answer, unsurprisingly, is probably not.
Speaking of Private Eye, in the 14 July issue (not online) Remote Controller reviewed ITV’s Love Island, a reality show “in which all the narrative tension comes from who will shag whom, and whether it will be before the first or second commercial break”:
What has shocked ITV is that a franchise aimed at a target audience whose average evening involves four neck-tattoos and necking eight Jägerbombs has scored highly with viewers keener on fair-trade nail varnish and organic Sav Blanc. Eng Lit graduates will find that Love Island most resembles a porn movie based on the novels of Iris Murdoch, with names uncommon at the font bewilderingly swapped: “Theo said to Tyla that Montana said to Theo…”
Meanwhile, in America, Kat Rosenfeld exposes The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter for Vulture. It is an extraordinary, long, thoroughly investigated account of online book reviews used as bullying – passed on by people who condemn the book in question without reading it – and the chilling effect this has on authors. I had not heard of YA Twitter, which:
regularly identifies and denounces books for being problematic (an all-purpose umbrella term for describing texts that engage improperly with race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and other marginalizations). Led by a group of influential authors who pull no punches when it comes to calling out their colleagues’ work, and amplified by tens of thousands of teen and young-adult followers for whom online activism is second nature, the campaigns to keep offensive books off shelves are a regular feature in a community that’s as passionate about social justice as it is about reading.
According to Rosenfeld, such campaigns involving thousands of people tweeting and retweeting and Tumblring and the rest:
are almost always waged in the name of protecting vulnerable teens from dangerous ideas. These books, it’s claimed, are hurting children.But a growing number of critics say the draggings, well-intended though they may be, are evidence of a growing dysfunction in the world of YA publishing. One author and former diversity advocate described why she no longer takes part: “I have never seen social interaction this fucked up,” she wrote in an email. “And I’ve been in prison.”