Critic — a definition

Whitney Balliett, 1926-2007  (image: lifeinlegacy.com)

Whitney Balliett 1926-2007 (image: lifeinlegacy.com)

A critic is a bundle of biases
held loosely together
by good taste.

— Whitney Balliett, Jazz critic and book reviewer for the New Yorker magazine 1954-2001.

Yep, that about sums it up. Does it for me.

(Of course, like beauty, ‘good taste’ is in the eye of the beholder.)

Sacred cows and calls for censorship

"Stop talking about it?" Huh?

"Stop talking about it"? Huh?

“Don’t mention the war”
— Basil, Fawlty Towers

I took some interest in a recent comment on a discussion forum which attacked a journalist for reporting bankruptcy proceedings being undertaken against a failed property developer — accusing the journalist of improper motives for the story.

The critic himself has a somewhat unfortunate track record in business and has demonstrated a striking sensitivity to his own actions being examined in a context of anything less than hero-worship.

In my work with Olly Newland I’ve had a bit to do with turning over stones in the investment jungle to see what creatures scuttle out from under — some of these self-described ‘experts’ are spruikers telling the gullible they are the country’s ‘top’ investors and developers, ‘millionaire-makers’, doing it all because they ‘really want to see you get rich’ or they’re on a mission for God or ‘for the poor’ overseas.

Their often long-winded sales spiels drip with golden promises, dreams coming true, ‘breakthrough strategies’, early retirement … and a life fulfilled by getting rich-rich-RICH! (Oh dear.) These sales pitches, sadly, seem to be frequently accompanied by misleading optimistic statements and [in my view] inadequately disclosed sales commissions etc.

Sometimes these reptiles are qualified professionals Continue reading →

Wow, BRILLIANT writing!

Garrison Keillor (Image: DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM)

Garrison Keillor (Image: Dennis Oda - doda@StarBulletin.com)

Petulance and the Prize

By Garrison Keillor

New York Times October 14, 2009 – NYTimes.com

Evidently some people were disappointed that Dick Cheney didn’t receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and believe me, I sympathize — I thought Philip Roth should’ve gotten the literature prize instead of that grumpy Romanian lady with the severe hair — but it was Mr. Obama whom the Norwegians wanted to come visit Oslo in December and stand on the balcony of the Grand Hotel and wave to the crowd along Karl Johans Gate, and, face it, Mr. Obama is going to draw a bigger crowd than Mr. Cheney would have. When a man has shot somebody in the face with a shotgun, people are going to be reluctant to line up en masse in his presence lest he get excited again.

From his loooong opening sentence (above) to this wonderful quote: Continue reading →

Exodus?

I’ve always thought when facebook and twitter got mainstream the kids would leave for somewhere ‘cooler’… as happened to MySpace.

Now Miley Cyrus (1.1 million followers) has [reportedly] bailed on twitter… too trivial, too intrusive, too demanding, too ADHD-inspiring would be my guess. Watch her rap yourself, and observe her own entertaining ‘explanation’…

Twitter followers are not friends. For many, facebook ‘friends’ are often not friends either. Insincerity abounds. (Just like the ‘real’ world?) In my view there’s a lot of the commercial equivalent of ‘cupboard love’ happening on the internet, you know:   Continue reading →

Ripples flow from this brave woman’s stand

Liskula Cohen (Image: The Independent)

Liskula Cohen (Image: The Independent)

There’s a good article on The Independent website about the Liskula Cohen/NYC model case, which I mentioned earlier.
The more I read about this gutsy woman and what she’s standing up for the more I like.

Having been victimised by someone lobbing slimeballs at her from behind a mask of anonymity, she pursued Google to identify the anonymous ‘blogger’, and has now sought and gained a defamation judgement against the newly-outed Rosemary Port who spent her time and energy to set up an anonymous blog called ‘Skanks in NYC’ (well, there’s a clue right there).

I take note of Chowbok’s point inferred from his recent Robin Hood post, that the definition of ‘bad person’ and ‘bad action’ when left to the courts can be problematic. Continue reading →

Domain renewal skulduggery? Or scam?

I got an email out of the blue yesterday reminding me that a domain name we maintain for one of my authors Olly Newland was due to expire and needed renewing.

The email looked like this:

ISP_reminder

Note the expiry date: 2009-10-04.

Following the conveniently-provided link (“If you wish to continue using your domain name please click on the link below. Click here to renew.”) took me to a page at the website  http://www.domainrenewal-online.org  and provided options to “renew” for 1, 2, 3, 5 or 10 years. (Look at the prices!) Continue reading →

How to protect yourself from extortion: Er, live a ‘clean’ life

David Letterman Reveals Extortion Attempt Over His Affairs – NYTimes.com
By Bill Carter October 1, 2009

David Letterman, the late night talk show host, said on his show on Thursday that he had been the victim of an extortion attempt over charges of sexual affairs with staff members, claims that he conceded were true.

Mr. Letterman said on ‘The Late Show,’ on CBS, that he had been approached by a person who wanted $2 million not to go public with information that Mr. Letterman had been in sexual relationships with women who work on his show.

Mr. Letterman said that he had testified before a grand jury and had admitted to the relationships. ‘My response to that is, yes I have. Would it be embarrassing if it were made public? Perhaps it would,’ he said on the show. ‘I feel like I need to protect these people. I need to certainly protect my family.’”

This tale of [alleged] extortion recently reminded me of a time when I was warned that someone was “looking for dirt” on me and had probably hired a private detective to follow me and report on my activities and who I met etc.

I laughed. Well good luck to him, I responded. What’s he going to find? I’m not a drug dealer and I don’t have a mistress, so he’ll get bored pretty quickly.

In that situation, it seems the best defence is being unremarkable (at least in certain regards).

They say ‘The best revenge is living well’. And, in my view, living ‘clean’ is part of that. What hooks can a blackmailer get into you if you have no ugly secrets? Exactly.

William Safire, the famed newspaper columnist who died recently had a twist on that:

Writing well is the best revenge.

[Update: Dorothy Parker, apparently.]

writingwellisthebestrevenge

While, sure, I’m occasionally accused of ‘ranting’ or writing ‘purple prose’, I do my best. I liked Safire’s exhortations on clear writing, including his wonderful Rules for Writers, and I admired and was inspired by (and try to emulate) his ‘call-a-spade-a-spade’ approach, as highlighted in his NY Times obituary: Continue reading →

Today’s ‘Word of mouth’

Credibility, celebrity and their effects…
How many? Crikey!

How many? Crikey!

Stephen Fry, whose Twitter followers now number 770,000, recently spiked sales in a book he liked…

A book of short stories has leaped up Amazon’s book charts to become second only to Dan Brown after Stephen Fry endorsed it on his Twitter feed.
Early today (10th September), the actor told his near-750,000 followers: “You will not read a more dazzling book this year than David Eagleman’s Sum. If you read it and aren’t enchanted I will eat 40 hats.” The book subsequently rose by nearly 250,000% in the Movers & Shakers list.

Full story…

Does anyone suspect Fry gets an ‘affiliate’-type kickback for his recommendation?
I certainly don’t. I think his endorsement is based on his honest opinion. (Unlike some of the breathless pitches spread around by shameless hucksters as part of their apprenticeship to various “internet marketing” travelling circuses.)

Fry blogged this: Continue reading →

The Internet, Robin Hood, and his Merry Men

Let me tell you a fairy tale, if I may.robin_hood-300

There was once a man named Robin Hood and he had a band of Merry Men, and yes there was also a Sherriff of Nottingham, and a contingent of motley Hench men.

One day Robin Hood and his Merry Men did something very bad and hurtful to Nottingham and cost Nottingham tens of millions of dollars. Damage in hand, Nottingham approached the Court of the land and received a cease and desist order and the right to subpoena, not just the data from the Merry Men’s computers, but also the very great internet servers of Yahoo and Google, which lay far beyond the borders of Sherwood Forest, but regardless, Nottingham got what he needed.

There was one computer that Nottingham was very interested in getting his hands on, and that was that that belonged to Friar Tuck, Robin Hood’s chief of communications. The good Friar had been a thorn in the side of Nottingham for years. Tuck had devised a simple communication tool for the Merry Men to keep in touch. The Good Friar simply took the individual emails that had been sent to him from each of the Merry Men and incorporated them into one giant email which he named “The Friar Tuck Letter” and then sent it out to all of the Merry Men who lived at each of the four corners of Sherwood Forest. This way the Merry Men would know what each was doing, and how each was coping with Nottingham’s cruel and unyielding rule. While this unusual communication tool was not sanctioned by Robin, Robin was happy with the arrangement all the same; Tuck was doing good work.

After the subpoenas of the Yahoo and Google servers I was gravely afraid, for this is where I served Robin Hood. Continue reading →

OK, now this is getting silly …


Blogger told to stop advising on immigration

A blogger who came to New Zealand from Britain has been warned to stop giving immigration advice on her blog – or face prosecution under the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act.

The Immigration Advisers Authority says Helen Winterbottom was breaking the law by posting on avalonsguide.com, and has told her she must get a licence if she wants to continue.

Registrar Barry Smedts said the authority had issued 18 warning letters since the law came into effect on May 4, but he believed Ms Winterbottom was the only blogger to have been warned.

But the former pharmacist said she was only ‘speaking her mind’ on her blog, which she started last November, and did not have any intention of becoming an immigration adviser.

Ms Winterbottom said she did not have the written warning, but had been told by the authority that one of her blog entries broke the law.

…. The Immigration Advisers Act requires anyone who gives immigration advice, whether directly or indirectly, whether or not for gain or reward, to be licensed unless exempt. [emphasis added]

Those operating without a licence face fines of up to $100,000 and jail terms of up to seven years.

Full story NZ Herald – Tuesday Sep 22, 2009 By Lincoln Tan

Unless I’m missing something, it’s starting to get a little silly when people can’t express an opinion on their blog about the law and its implications without getting threatened with jail and large fines. What happened to fair comment? Continue reading →

Q: Where does conflict come from?

A: Our innate Superiority complex

It is strangely easy for us as human beings to see ourselves as separate from others … or in an ‘us’ while ‘the others’ consist of a ‘them’ — and, naturally, we regard ‘them’ as inferior to ‘us’ in every measure that matters.

In the same way that herd animals recognise their own and expel outsiders as intruders, we humans are tuned for the differences that define our ‘in’ group as apart from the ‘other’ group. And, we are ready for conflict. We expect it.

People have tried to explain the conflict between groups. Notably Tajfel’s experiments with ‘notional groups’ dismantled the until then widely-held idea that conflict between nations (scaled-up groups) resulted from competition for scarce resources creating a history of conflict that self-perpetuated.

Broadly, his work showed that very little is required for one group to regard itself as superior to another group — morally, intellectually, physically — you name it.

All that’s needed for Group A to think itself ‘better’ and more worthy and deserving than Group B is:

For Group A and Group B to ‘exist’

That’s all it takes. No history of conflict, no competition for scarce resources, no experience of the ‘other’ culture to assess and meaningfully evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘other’ group. No knowledge. Not even a meeting…

All that’s needed: An IN group (‘us’) and and OUT group (‘them’). The rest is pure psycho-babble, or post-facto justification for decisions and evaluations already made on the basis of our bias. Continue reading →

Handling the truth… and a parable

Can you handle the truth?

Can you handle the truth?

Col. Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I’m entitled.
Col. Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Col. Jessep: You can’t HANDLE the truth!

Son, we live in a world that has walls and those walls need to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You?
I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and curse the Marines; you have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives and that my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.
You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.
We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use then as the backbone of a life trying to defend something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said ‘thank you,’ and went on your way.
Otherwise, I suggest that you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

from A Few Good Men (1992)

Now that’s good writing! Aaron Sorkin. (Are we surprised?) Brilliant.

I had reason to remember this interchange this afternoon when a friend suggested I wasn’t being told the truth about a situation not because I couldn’t ‘handle it’, but because the people involved felt they couldn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth. They felt they had something to lose if they told me the truth.

So (my friend suggested) they lied to me.
And thus proved untrustworthy themselves.
See how it starts? Continue reading →

Pushing the boundaries

Now these guys are just playing with us.
It works, though. Good for them, no comment about the product.

Potshots from behind a mask of anonymity are, by definition, cheap

I wholeheartedly agree with the court decision to order Google to identify the blogger who [allegedly] defamed this NY model.

My view: People need to be accountable for their public statements. Anonymous log-ins tend — in some — to breed a recklessness and nasty damaging discourtesy. And they shouldn’t get away with it. (I still defend the right of whisteblowers to post anonymously — but not personal abuse or lies.)

Model forces Google to unveil ‘skank’ blogger

By ASHER MOSES – SMH

WINNER: Liskula Cohen has forced Google to release the name of a blogger who allegedly defamed her. (Image SMH)

WINNER: Liskula Cohen has forced Google to release the name of a blogger who allegedly defamed her. (Image SMH)

Model Liskula Cohen sued Google in January in the hope of forcing the company to reveal the person responsible for allegedly defamatory comments on a blog called Skanks in NYC, which was hosted by Google’s Blogger service.

‘I would have to say the first-place award for ‘Skankiest in NYC’ would have to go to Liskula Gentile Cohen,’ the anonymous blogger wrote.

‘How old is this skank? 40 something? She’s a psychotic, lying, whoring, still going to clubs at her age, skank.’

Cohen, who is actually 37, believed the posts were defamatory but was forced to take action against Google in order to unmask the blogger’s identity before she could take further action.

On Monday in the US, Judge Joan Madden ruled that Cohen was entitled to sue the blogger for defamation and, in an unprecedented move, forced Google to provide the blogger’s name. The name will presumably be revealed in court. It is unclear when the matter will return to court.

The tall, blonde Canadian, who is based in New York, has modelled for Giorgio Armani and Versace and appeared on the cover of the Australian edition of Vogue. But Cohen’s modelling career ground to a halt in January 2007 when a man stabbed her in the face with a broken glass, requiring her to get 46 stitches, the New York Post reported. The man, who was sent to jail, became angry after she objected to him stealing a bottle of vodka from her table.

Judge Madden rejected the claims by the blogger’s lawyer that the comments were mere opinion or ‘trash talk’, and that only factual assertions could be considered libellous. Continue reading →

Pressure!!

Once, in a hotel in California, I stepped onto an elevator in which a large well-dressed black man, and his equally large wife, stood. “Going down?” the man asked. “Yes, thank you,” I answered.

Quietly the elevator slid downwards. The couple did not know me and so had stopped their private conversation. Because, I did not known them, and our time together would be brief I simply watched the floor numbers as we descended. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that the big man was studying me closely. After a couple of floors he spoke up.

“Is everything alright, son?”

It was an honest question and one that was well intentioned. I decided that it deserved an honest answer.

“No, Sir it is not.” I told him truthfully.

He did not ask me what was wrong, nor did he offer consolation or help. Instead he simply reached over and put his hand on my shoulder and said “this too will pass, son.”

At that I smiled and laughed. And he was right. Just having those words spoken to me at that exact time lifted a huge weight from my shoulders. My troubles changed not one iota but with his words something did in fact change – what? I’m not sure exactly – but change it definitely did.

I got off the elevator at my floor and thanked the man for his kind words. In fact, I was so affected by his words that I actually reached out and offered my hand. He took my hand in a big bear grip of a fist and we shook. He smiled back – and then the elevator doors closed and he and his wife were gone.

What an extraordinary thing! I’m not one of those personable guys who are easy in a crowd: walking, talking, laughing or interacting with passive, but somehow intimate, conversation – and yet – just for that one brief moment, there I was interacting with a perfect stranger on a very personal level. And somehow this stranger was able to recognize something about me — he saw the pressure I was under. Continue reading →