tragedy, Word stories

Every death is an absolute goat song

Tragedy - goat song

Next time you call someone’s sudden death a tragedy, you may be delving into the wholly inappropriate territory of comedy.

Because funnily enough, the word tragedy is Greek for ‘goat song’. The actual Greek word is tragoidia. (Tragos = ‘goat’. Oidia = ‘song’.)

Tragos oidia - goat song

You see, ancient Greek plays were semi-religious affairs. And since religion seems to go hand in hand with death, naturally this meant a goat had to be sacrificed. (To the god of wine, of all people.)

Then the chorus would sing a song of sacrifice.

A ‘goat song’.

Some actors would act the goat too. Or half the goat anyway. They’d dress up as satyrs. These were men from the waist up, and goats the rest of the way down.

For a reason that’s now lost in the mists of time, the main event took on the name of the curtain raiser.

Paula Rowan, World of Wearable Arts

WoW – how disappointing

STOP PRESS: It appears Paula Rowan had received WoW’s
approval to base her entry (right) on the painting (left).
See UPDATE below. I didn’t know that when I wrote this post.

Looking at the above double-take, there’s a pun I’ve always liked that seems to fit.

Bubonic plagiarism.

Cute, huh?

As a wordsmith, I’d love you to think I dreamed that up myself.

But if I let you believe that, I’d soon be in deep schtuck.

That’s because a lawyer called Murphy would make me pay dearly.

Under Murphy’s Law, one of you dear readers would be seized with the urge to re-peruse your 1973 edition of Austin Mitchell’s Half-Gallon, Quarter Acre Pavlova Paradise.

And when you got to the lower reaches of the first paragraph of page 82, you would see it.

I’ll quote the whole passage for political reasons — the 39 year old subject matter sounds eerily current!:

The National Party pays for opinion polls so it knows the result in advance and judges its policy accordingly.

When it is certain it is going to win (as in 1966) it will denounce all Labour’s policies in advance of the poll and then implement them quietly afterwards.

When more doubtful (as in 1969) it will go in for really bubonic plagiarism and either implement Labour’s policies in advance or include them in its manifesto.

Some things never change, do they? 🙂

But this post is about plagiarism, not politics.

As soon as you laid eyes on the words ‘bubonic plagiarism’, your opinion of my originality would plummet.

You would forever more think of me as, well, a bubonic plagiarist.

And that, sadly, is how I will now think of Paula Rowan.

Paula is the Wellington designer I praised to the heavens on this blog not three weeks ago for her stunning, yet curiously unplaced, entry in the 2012 World of Wearable Arts Awards.

I thought she deserved better. And said so.

Kiwiblog’s David Farrar had already said so.

And 814 Dominion Post readers went on to say so, by voting Paula’s Velluto Rosso their WoW People’s Choice by a wide margin.

But sadly, the brilliantly simple idea that anchored Paula’s creation was not Paula’s.

She’d found it in a painting by Vladimir Kush.

And so, she was forced to hand back her prize or be disqualified.

Perhaps Paula Rowan is not dishonest.

Perhaps she genuinely believed that she was allowed to copy an idea from another medium and adapt it for the catwalk.

But to me, while her execution was beautiful, the real beauty of her creation was the idea — Vladimir Kush’s idea.

I’ve judged advertising awards, and people who are caught pinching others’ ideas rarely live down the shame.

Maybe the WoW judges knew what they were doing after all.

UPDATE: A friend of Paula Rowan’s has commented as follows:

“As you have said, yes, Paula is a wonderful designer and one to be highly looked upon.

However, what you have written is not the full story.

Paula ran her idea past the judges before she created it, with a copy of the painting.

The WOW committee said that it would be fine and to go ahead with it.

A few weeks into making her garment, she did it again, just to be sure.

And once again, WOW said to go ahead.

Paula is not in the wrong here. WOW is the one in the wrong. WOW was the one who made the mistake, Paula did nothing wrong.

WOW is the one who should be in the spotlight, NOT Paula.”

If that is indeed the case, then I feel for Paula. I have had a similar experience recently with a certain Rotary club. 🙂

I would say, though, that while it appears as though Paula acted with absolute integrity, it would have been nice if the catalogue had mentioned that the human purse idea originated elsewhere.

David Farrar, Wellington, World of Wearable Arts

If only the WOW judges shared Farrar’s and my good taste

On Friday I lucked into a free ticket to World of Wearable Arts — on awards night!

Out of a blizzard of jawdroppingly dazzling entries, these two velvet and gold characters ‘WOWed’ me the most.

Clinging together like limpets doing a kind of shuffly waltz, gilded domes entwined, the point of it all was at first a mystery.

Then they shuffled into the spotlight, untwined their necks, leaned back, and became…

…a human purse!

In the ad world, award judges tend to bypass irrelevant complexity and honour the surprising and the simple.

So with complexity abundant and simplicity scarce, I thought Velluto Rosso by Wellington’s Paula Rowan, would clean up.

And so, I read on Kiwiblog, did David Farrar. And 3 News too, who showcased this entry on their website.

How telling that three amateur pundits should all recognise the power of the big idea.

Yet the judges did not.

They plumped for the complex, and the human purse was out of the money.

David describes the rest of the spectacular night well — an astonishing achievement for our small city.

I’ve always giggled at the tag ‘Coolest Little Capital’, since the only other ‘little’ capitals are Canberra, Reykjavik and Suva.

But with WOW, the Sevens and the breath-defying creations of Weta Workshop, Wellington must surely be the Fancy Dress Capital of the Universe.

Padded Sell

Molten mahogany masterpiece — exorbitant to good home

Back in the 90s, I used to make radio commercials. (The amusing kind, ideally.)

I made them in a weird and wonderful studio called Padded Sell.

Being a creative type, I wanted my dream studio to be distinctly and delightfully abnormal.

Hi-touch, not hi-tech. A place of beauty, surprises, and smiles.

My brief to designer Mike Ting was to create “a Victorian gentlemen’s club on acid”. Which he did, superbly.

Burglary was never an issue for us. That’s because Mike’s waiting room had no doors. The route to the studios was via bookcases that  swung open.

The reception desk looked like a fireplace. Clients waited for their bookings in old green leather hairdryer chairs.

Cloudscapes adorned the ceiling, where cherubs wore wispy
vestments that looked as though they were being sucked into the air-conditioning vents.

Adorning the walls were surrealist paintings, like this one, Swans Reflecting Elephants, by the greatest and looniest of artists, Salvador Dali.

But my favourite Padded Sell artefact was the custom-built desk on which our recordings were lovingly crafted by my master sound engineer Evan Roberts.

(Evan had been Dick Weir’s sound man, and is now creative director of The Gunnery in Singapore.)

Evan agreed that we should avoid the typical recording studio ‘cockpit of the Enterprise’ look.

He suggested a long floating table, with a stack of books under one end, and nothing under the other.

This is a good case study in how ideas evolve…

I called in woodworking wizard John Calvert, and regaled him with my love of Dali and Dr Seuss and smoothness and symmetry and  silliness — and Evan’s idea.

John’s brief was to create a working work of art. A piece of furniture so breathtaking that when people asked me what kind of work we did, I could answer, “the audio equivalent of that.”

His response was this molten mahogany masterpiece. Above is the only photo I have of it in situ. Below is the floating table today, reassembled and temporarily propped up in the basement.

I wish I could present it to you more elegantly, but I won’t be Mr Popular if I Ramset the back support frame through the carpet!

When the frame’s in place (covered with a curtain), the table seems for all the world to be suspended in midair, with no back legs at all, and two absurdly muscular amputated front limbs that rested implausibly on oversized wine flutes.

I closed my dream studio in 2000 when a new landlord decided to turn The Breeze Plaza into flats.

(I’d tried to get naming rights, but for some reason the name Padded Sell Plaza didn’t find favour.)

As you can see, back then I had more money than sense. Now I’ve got just as little sense, and a lot less money.

And since I need money if my Treatygate/Colourblind State campaign is going to work, I’m reluctantly prepared to let my beloved table go if someone values it highly enough.

Without the back bracing to hoist the table up, the wine flutes don’t quite nestle underneath. But you get the idea. And don’t you love those beautifully-scalloped drawers?

The table has spent the last twelve years lovingly wrapped in crinkly cardboard, so it’s pretty much ‘as new’.

I just love John Calvert’s design and craftsmanship. Use him if you can. I think he told me he was having an exhibition at The Dowse. (Open to both sexes, I hope. :-)).

I’m not letting my table go lightly.

After a costly divorce, a studio sabotage, and my habit of walking away from political campaigns, I suspect it’s the most valuable thing I own.

But if you’d like to own this highly unusual piece of furniture, I’d be happy to consider your offer.

I’m offering it here first, in the hope that it may go to one of my loyal readers.

If there are no takers after a few days, I’ll list it on TradeMe and E-Bay — in case a Neil Finn or a Billy Joel is looking for a new workbench.

The shelf is an optional extra. I can’t seem to find the support struts, so I’ve propped it up on bottles.

The shelf is an optional extra.

If you think my old table should be your new table, write to me at

If you have any well-to-do friends who might fancy it, send them the link.


Rising interest in this blog

I’m not sure what passes for a well-read blog round these parts.

All I know is that the visitor numbers to this one have been growing every day for the past week.

The horizontal lines on this Visitor Stats graph represent 500, 1,000 and 1,500 visits a day.

Yesterday’s total was 1,485 — the most visits I’ve had since my first day of blogging in 2008, when 1,676 tuned in (thanks to a welcome link from David Farrar).

I’ve been an irregular blogger over the years. When I do nothing, I average about 200 visits a day.

Since beginning my Treatygate/Colourblind State posts, those numbers have at least quadrupled.

We’ve got a long way to go, but it’s good to see evidence of rising interest.



Blog visitors - countries of, Feb-Aug 2012

For an irregular blog obsessed with things New Zealand, this one certainly gets around.

I’m gobsmacked to learn that, in the last six months, readers have come from 159 countries, from Jamaica to Gibraltar to Djibouti to Japan, from the Bahamas to Botswana, from Nepal to Senegal, from Ghana to Guyana, and from Thailand to Greenland (where lives Qivioq, my Eskimo filmmaker friend).

(Yes, Eskimo is what she calls herself, even though Inuit is more politically correct. She was amused, rather than repulsed, to learn that New Zealanders eat Eskimo pies.)

Other ‘lands’ I’ve accidentally conquered include England, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Poland, Scotland and Switzerland.

(But disappointingly not Swaziland, the only African country where I actually have friends — albeit at the Taiwanese Embassy.)

I’ve made inroads into Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan, but not yet made benefit glorious nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan or Turkmenistan.

Given my right-of-centre leanings, I’m delighted to be re-educating comrades in communist China, Myanmar and Vietnam, but less surprised by my lack of a following in North Korea, Cuba and Iran.

I didn’t realise till I scanned the reader stats how many countries end in ‘ia’.

Those on my list of intermittent indoctrinees include Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Estonia, French Polynesia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mongolia, Namibia, New Caledonia, Nigeria, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, St Lucia, Syria, Tunisia and Zambia.

No contact yet with Ethiopia, Macedonia, Mauretania, Somalia or Tanzania.

It’s ironic that Oblivia (I mean Bolivia) is the only major hold-out in South America, since that happens to be the South American country in which I’m most interested.

Griever Maori like Margaret Mutu and Nin Thomas hold up Evo Morales’ pro-indigenous Bolivian constitution as a template for New Zealand, so a post on that nightmare scenario ought to mop up that pocket of resistance.

My weak areas are clearly Central Africa, Central Asia and Central America — but then I never was much of a centrist. 🙂

Anyone know anyone in the grey countries? What about dropping them a link?


‘Marks-ism’ leads to classroom warfare

An economics class insisted to their professor that Obama’s socialism worked.


“Because there’ll be no poor people and no rich bastards. At last we’ll all be equal,” chorused the students.

So the professor said:

“OK, we’ll run an experiment on Obama’s plan. I’ll average all your grades.

“You’ll all get the same grade. None of you will fail, and none of you will get an A.”

After the first test, the grades were averaged. The whole class got a B.

The students who’d studied hard were upset. But the students who’d mucked around were over the moon.

The second test rolled around. The students who hadn’t done much work the first time did even less this time.

And those who’d studied hard for the first test now decided they wanted a free ride too. They put down their books and went partying.

The second test average was a D!

No one was happy.

In the 3rd test, the average grade was an F.

The tests went on, but the scores never did improve.

The classroom had become a snakepit of bickering, blaming and name-calling. No one would study for the benefit of anyone else.

To their great surprise, at the end of the term the professor failed the whole class. (He’d never before failed a single student.)

The professor told the class:

“Socialism is also bound to fail. Because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great. But when government takes all the reward away, no one will see any point in working.”

It couldn’t be any simpler than that.

Remember, there is a test coming up: next Saturday’s election.

Now here are five of the best sentences you’ll ever read. They all apply to the above experiment:

  1. You can’t legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.
  2. What one person gets without working for, another person must work for without getting.
  3. The government can’t give anyone anything that it doesn’t first take from someone else.
  4. You can’t multiply wealth by dividing it!
  5. When half the people figure out they don’t have to work because the other half will take care of them, and when the other half figure out they’d be mad to work because their pay will be given to someone else, that’s the beginning of the end of any nation.

Thanks to the excellent Foundation for Economic Growth for sending me the original (which I tinkered with for effect).