August 29, 2007


It's not often I appreciate a reference to pink, but this quote from Sarah Vowell is fantastic:

"As Monique puts it: "You are understanding the pink of goth. You've skipped a couple levels and went straight to pink." The group's consensus is that pink is the apex of expert goth -- that newcomers and neophytes should stick with basic black, but those confident enough, complex enough, can exude gloom and doom while wearing the color of sugar and spice."

Though I'm left with a mild perplexion* about what level 2 would be.

If you are after a good hour's listening, Sarah's documentary about the trail of tears is well worth a listen.

* Yes, I made this word up. It seemed to say what I meant.

Posted by carla at 10:39 PM

August 26, 2007

first do no harm

Perhaps I was just at an impressionable age when GST was introduced. I remember the argument that it should apply to everything because that stopped the waste associated with people trying to get their products exempted, especially as the exemptions generally lacked consistency anyway. I've been left with a strong suspicion of government intervention where the cost of setting up the system outweighs any improvement in the fairness of the outcome.

Reading this article in the Economist about the current situation in New Orleans reinforces this preference. It reports that the US federal government:
1) made a fund available for private property developers to use to rebuild things
2) has given uneven and inadequate amounts of aid to victims of the flooding in the Road Home programme, and
3) subsidises flood insurance in areas which are below sea level.

Point 2 is the least of the worries. You'd hope that a fund which gives people hope that they can rebuild would be equitable and fast acting. Perhaps if it hadn't been set up as an ad hoc fund more thought might have gone into how it would be delivered and into making sure there would be enough to go around.
Point 3 is me being mean. I think living below sea level is stupid. It doesn't mean I think people should be banned from returning to their land, but I think they should face the full cost of that choice.
But point 1 just pisses me off. This fund was plundered by property developers and only 0.1% of it was spent in New Orleans. Jobs for the boys I think.

No wonder the Chicago school were so scathing of government administration.

Which isn't to say that I don't think the citizens of New Orleans should not have had money thrown at them with alacrity. I do. I just think something like the EQC which paid out universally based on house value would have been less spectacularly wasteful. Sadly I don't like the US's chances of setting up a comprehensive system due to the ongoing squabbles between the states and federal government. Another reason to not join the Australian federation.

Posted by carla at 10:19 PM

August 24, 2007


I gotta get me one of these!

How else could a responsible adult provide a night light for their child?

Posted by carla at 12:41 PM

August 23, 2007


I recently purchased a second hand ibook (2003 vintage). I do wish it would stop thinking it knows best. Windows might be like your dimwitted younger brother, but mac os x is like your interfering aunt. Ok, it has a lot of style, but I'm being choked here.

For example, why can't I modify the look and feel so that the text is light on dark? It wouldn't be hard to provide a really stylish inverted colour scheme. But no, aunty mac knows best and the only change I can make is the colour of my buttons.

Also highly annoying is the limited keyboard commands. The mouse is a truly fantastic invention. But it is not the be all and end all (and it gives me oos). When in doubt, I'm happy to clicky clicky with the mouse, but when I'm doing the same thing often, I like to be able to do it with a keyboard command. Also, *why* is the only direction I can delete in backwards?!? Sometimes you want to delete things which are in front of the cursor. Like when you are at the beginning of a line. Mind you, it is so difficult to navigate to words within a line, I might as well plump for the mouse instead (see annoyance above).

However. All of these annoyances pale into insignificance next to the nasty, nasty way they've organised the os upgrades. I think Microsoft are thoroughly evil for their 5 year rolling cycle of forced os upgrades. But mac are doing it too. They've perfected the 'rental' model of purchasing software by making each upgrade cheapish and available just after you've bought the last one. They provide full throttle motivation by providing sod all support for their old versions. I couldn't download iTunes for 10.2.8 from Apple. I had to crawl through the internet until I found a site which had an archived copy. Why did I want to update my iTunes? Because my iPod shuffle (of a comparable vintage) refused to work with the version I had, and their only advice for fixing the problem was to update my iTunes to the most recent version. This nasty pattern is repeated in their dodgy support for Java (without which most of my favourite programs do not run).

I was hoping that being based on Darwin would make a fabulous marriage of mac pretty and unix grunt and flexibility. But the flexibility is sadly missing. I laptop (probably more than a desktop) can be a home away from home. But this is suspiciously like a hotel room, and I've become too idiosyncratic and grumpy to want to put up with it.

To be fair, the stereo in this hotel is very fine. Perhaps my best experience so far has been the podcasting happy when I finally got my shuffle to work with the fixed iTunes.

Posted by carla at 10:01 PM

August 21, 2007


This article in the Dana Foundation's website explores issues around medicating the sorts of pain which occur naturally as part of life.

I am curious about the instinctive distrust of medicating away normal pain. I gave birth reasonably recently, and am very glad the medical professionals who organised my care were reasonably keen on pain relief. From a purely practical point of view, I think new mums need all their resources to deal with their new baby and using up mental resources on surviving the pain of childbirth seems to be asking for trouble. Noone would have denied me pain relief for the c-section. I was talking to someone who was too far into the birth of her second child to have an epidural. She said while the pain was horrible, she did have some benefit in terms of being able to feel what was going on better. Curiously, the human body enthusiastically produces vast amounts of endorphins during birth (if you are lucky), so it isn't like the body is keen on pain for its own sake.

The article also mentions that the experience of pain may help us to feel empathy for others. On the other had it can cause us to minimise the suffering of others, so I'd like to see more evidence on this point.

Then again, I tramp (or at least I have hazy memories from the past), and part of tramping is the physical struggle of it. At the end of each day, it feels very good to sit down and eat something. Taking heavy painkillers so I could walk without discomfort would take out an important element of the experience (and would be dangerous as you wouldn't have good feedback about whether you were overdoing it).

All of which makes me think that we support the experience of pain where:
* it is inextricably linked to a good feeling, generally related to endorphin production, or
* where the pain provides good information about the boundaries of good behaviour (i.e. punishment or owch).

In other circumstances, we generally apply as many painkillers as possible. We make some painkillers available at supermarkets so we don't have to put up with annoying headaches. We buy our friends a drink at the pub when they've had a bad day, we put painkilling gel on babies' gums when they are teething.

Which brings me to the other reason I'd suggest for no proscribing painkillers: where the pain can be better dealt with by changes in the behaviour of the person. In these cases, it makes more sense to make lifestyle changes or to learn how to manage the pain without pills so you have a sustainable solution. So, I'd rather not medicate over an old relationship breakup if it stops the person from dealing with the pain of it and they end up taking drugs for the rest of their life. Also, imho, if you can use relaxation techniques to deal with neck pain, you're winning in my book.

Posted by carla at 10:00 PM

August 20, 2007

mid-life crises

I expect most people have noticed that Rodney Hide is undergoing a self-induced major overhaul.

What may have been less obvious is the tectonic shifts Winston Peters appears to be making. I noticed it after the last election. He's still a light-weight when it comes to actually executing the functions of his job, but he at least appears to be making a concerted effort to make a good fist of it. Then (about 6 months ago) I noticed he'd traded in his trademark badgering of journalists for a restrained style which reminded me more of Michael Cullen than anyone else I could think of (though perhaps Goff might be a closer match). Methinks he's had some major realisation that this is his last chance to be remembered as a statesman instead of a conman. It suprises me that this would concern him.

Posted by carla at 09:17 PM

August 18, 2007

what do you buy when you buy a book?

I read this first at rodgerd. It appears that a large Australian chain bookstore has inflicted a nasty self-injury by requiring their supplying publishers to pay them for their books not selling like A&R would like.

I find this quite spectacular. Supermarkets require suppliers to pay for shelf space, so requiring suppliers to pay you to stock your goods has a very common precedent. Apparently it is becoming common in the book trade too. It does seem very odd to me to require your supplier to indemnify you against their stock not selling. Suppliers will often do some kind of buy-back of unsold stock. However, the whole point of the purchasing department of any store is to get in stock that sells. Otherwise you're just a room full of self-space for rent.

However the main flavour of the comments asserts that A&R don't understand the book trade and deserve to go out of business. They repeatedly assert that the A&R head honchos are attempting to run a bookstore like it is a generic shop, and that this is a mistake as bookshops are unique.

I am curious about this uniqueness. I definitely have opinions about whether a bookshop is good or not.

When I like a shop, it tends to be because it has a rich collection of books. Part of the experience is the feeling of rubbing up against a large pile of opulent objects which have been crafted carefully and enthusiastically. Part of it is the exciting thought that I might (in fact probably) will find a really special book. After all, a really good book is a joy which is hard to match. Part of it is just picking up titles at random and having a new idea or topic stretched across my brain. Part of it is simply knowing I'm in a radical institution, one that has forged its own way and survives because purchasers forge their own way as well. In this, I think I am in close alignment with the general mass of commenters on the A&R debacle.

However, I also fear bookshops and music shops because I get thoroughly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices fighting to garner my limited funds and often walk out without purchasing anything. This is apparently a recognised phenomenon in shop design and I share it with many others. Also, people who have more choice are usually less satisfied with their purchase (according to a documentary on the telly a few months ago).

So, are A&R actually correct to trim the cruft of unprofitable titles? Well, that depends on whether the portion of titles which do not turn a profit support the titles which do make a profit in some way. Like the non-performing routes an airline keeps open in order to feed passengers to the 20% of routes that make a profit, do the loss-making titles perform a supporting role that enables the whole to stay profitable? From the long survival of Beattie and Forbes in Napier and Unity Books in Wellington, it would appear so.

Which makes me wonder what roles the loss-making titles perform. Perhaps the customers like the illusion that they will purchase an obscure title which is 'just what they want' instead of just buying the latest bestseller (though they buy the bestseller anyway). Perhaps the customer forms a habit about which bookshop they will go to first based on the likelihood that it will have what they want. This would mean a wide range would still reel in the customer even when they were looking for a commoner title. Perhaps the obscure titles make the shopper feel good about themselves (for shopping in such an interesting independent shop) and their experience of buying common titles is leavened by the obscure ones.

Perhaps I will never know. One thing I have learned is don't heavy up on independent and reputable publishers if you want book lovers to buy books from your store. I'll be even less likely to purchase from Whitcoulls now.

Posted by carla at 11:25 PM

August 14, 2007


Warning Outrageous Fortune spoilers...

The second to last episode of Outrageous Fortune (where Aurora dies) made me cry. It isn't fair to take iconic New Zealand tv of an entirely nostalgic and sweet nature and turn it into iconic New Zealand tv of an entirely heartbreaking and sweet nature.

I will never feel the same way about the Goodnight Kiwi again.

Posted by carla at 09:55 PM