Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Monday, October 31, 2005

If only television was really this entertaining

A wonderful way to debunk the arguments for Intelligent Design

Not only is the post itself extremely funny (and clever), the comment thread gives a perfect flavour fo the kind of guff that Creationists spout. Worth reading it (or at least skimming) right to the end.

Though I think I still like this idea (which I linked to back on 6 September) even better.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Bet you can't guess....

...what kind of literary item contains these marvellous lines.

'Back then in South Carolina young boys seeking chemicals were not immediately suspect. We could even buy dynamite fuse from the hardware with no questions asked. This was good, because we were spared from early extinction on one occasion when our rocket exploded on the launch pad, by the very reliable, slowly burning dynamite fuses we could employ, coupled with our ability to run like the wind once the fuse had been lit. Our fuses were in fact much improved over those which Alfred Nobel must have used when he was frightening his own mother. In one of our last experiments before we became so interested in the maturing young women around us that we would not think deeply about rocket fuels for another ten years, we blasted a frog a mile into the air and got him back alive. In another, we inadvertently frightened an airline pilot, who was preparing to lnd a DC-3 at Columbia airport. Our mistake.'

'There is a general place in your brain, I think, reserved for "melancholy of relationships past." It grows and prospers as life progresses, forcing you finally, against your grain, to listen to country music.'

'I poured a cold Becks into a 400-ml beaker and contemplated my notebook for a few minutes before leaving the lab.'

(How Raymond Chandler is that?)

Award yourself ten points out of a possible ten (and a 400-ml beaker of Becks) if you clocked that lot as being from a Nobel Prize lecture.

Specifically, the 1993 Nobel Chemistry prize, won by Kary Mullis for the discovery of the polymerase chain reaction (which pretty much permitted the subsequent advances in gene sequencing and suchlike arcane things).

I am indebted to Ben Goldacre of the Guardian's "Bad Science" column for the reference (in his column last Saturday). Of course, what this means is that I shall now spend the rest of my life ploughing through Nobel acceptance speeches of stultifying dullness in the hope of encountering another nugget.

I shall, of course, report back on any good ones that I find.

Now if only Jed Bartlett of "The West Wing" (Nobel Economics Prizewinner)were a real person.....

Update: further nuggets as promised

Every one well worth reading.

Gunter Grass 1999 Literature Prize Lecture
Dario Fo 1997 Literature Prize Lecture
Amnesty International 1977 Peace Prize Lecture
Martin Luther King 1964 Peace Prize Lecture

More as I find them. (Of course, many of the other lectures are of considerable interest, but I've only linked to the real classics.)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Thanks Joe for the link to Which Peanuts Character Are You?

I don't know about you guys, but after the surprise of "The Godfather" I was rather relieved to discover I was

Maybe I'm a film composer manqué. Or a manky film composer.

I think if I could choose a film composer to be I'd be James Horner. Or maybe Georges Delerue. Or perhaps (given the title of my blog) I should be Peter Schickele, whose music added so much to "Silent Running".

No Easy Bus To Freedom

Every now and then someone comes along and changes the world. Rather less frequently, someone comes along, changes the world and becomes known for it even among people who weren't born at the time.

Such a one was Rosa Parks, who died on Monday. Even my daughter (born 1989) had heard of her, and her most famous act took place when I was not quite four months old. Rosa was the black woman whose refusal to give up ger seat on a (segregated) bus for a white person led in a fairly direct manner to the blossoming of the American civil rights movement and the eventual removal of officially sanctioned racial segregation from the United States.

Rosa's fight against oppression was important not only because of its direct consequences but because of its demonstration that non-violent direct action could work even if you weren't Mahatma Gandhi. She has been a inspiration for oppressed minorities, and for young people, ever since.

RIP Rosa Parks 1913 - 2005.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Dammit, I wanted to be "Psycho".

Via Lisa, here is the What Classic Movie Are You? test.

Lisa is Schindler's List. I, on the other hand, am

Which is really funny because I've never seen it. Very likely correct though.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What She Said

I thought it was worth linking to this poem, which I found rather moving.

While locating an online version to link to, I found Pam Olson's site which is also worth a look.

And the Pat Robertson cartoon reminded me that only six years ago my employers briefly dallied with the idea of a joint banking venture with him. Ah, those might-have-beens....

It’s only fair that they should inherit the Earth, really.

I should have written this post on Sunday, only I forgot. Sunday, you see, was Mole Day. Nothing to do with little velvety burrowing things: this was a Geek Holiday, especially for fans of Signor Avogadro and his number. You can get T-shirts and everything. And all the stuff about encouraging children to get interested in chemistry? Protective colouring. This one is for grown-ups, or at least those whose Inner Child carries a programmable scientific calculator. (Or a slide rule, for those over 50.) I’m quite surpised that Google didn’t have a special banner for it.

It’s a shame, really, that 22.4 litres of beer is an impractical amount to drink in celebration; though I suppose it still counts if an array of geeks (anyone know a better collective noun?) share it. I suppose you could call it a hydrogen bonding session. (No rude retorts please.)

After all that, it hardly seems necessary to record my Inner Geek score. But it's 32% i.e. Total Geek. (The quiz generates 5 decimal places, but any geek worth his salt eschews spurious precision.) Thanks to Lisa for the link.

FWIW, I like the sound of Towel Day. One for the diary.

While we're on the subject....

...is it not heartening that the Scottish Parliament building, much-reviled for its excessive cost, has been awarded the 2005 Stirling Prize for Architecture?

Yes, it went over budget, and I - as a Scottish taxpayer - ended up paying more than I should have done for it. But the end result is such an inspiring building that I really don't mind. I'd rather pay for something uplifting than for a Trident submarine, or an illegal war in Iraq. Or indeed for a comparatively uninspiring structure such as the Millennium Dome. Edinburgh has some terrific modern buildings (the Festival Theatre, the Museum of Scotland) and Morales's parliament is a worthy addition to their ranks. It's easy to mock modern architecture, as the Prince of Wales does; harder by far to add something of value to architectural history.

Great buildings always invite controversy. There are buildings I love immoderately which caused huge outpourings of spleen when they were listed: Seifert's Centre Point (my favourite London tower until the Gherkin):

or Howitt's "Toastrack" (Manchester Metropolitan University's Hollings Campus):

Then there's the Hopkins House in Downshire Hill, Hampstead, which I remember passing on my way to the library each week when I first moved to London. I don't know if it's listed yet but surely it's only a matter of time?

(Sorry, this is what you see from the street):

It is of course hated by the self-appointed guardians of our architectural heritage.

No doubt each addition to the great medieval cathedrals attracted its share of scorn ("Wot they doin', messin' abaht wiv' the Norman purity of Durham wiv' that Nine Altars Chapel, eh?"). I can remember both the Liverpool Catholic Cathedral and Basil Spence's reinvented cathedral at Coventry being highly controversial. In the final analysis, it isn't a question of how many intellectual opinion-formers (the Pevsners etc) like your building, but how many ordinary people are inspired by it. That's what the Prince of Wales and his kind always overlook: that buildings they dislike can be not only admired by architecture geeks but also beloved by ordinary people. (They also seem unable to grasp that there are people who like modern constructions such as the Hopkins House and yet are bowled over by buildings in older styles such as the St Pancras Hotel, Lincoln Cathedral or the Parthenon, in the same way that there are people unable to grasp that Stockhausen fans may also love Schubert and Chopin.)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Enough soft Southern stuff

I go away for a week and my blog is festooned with pictures of Nottingham. Hmm. Buildings, OK. Gardens? Not so much my style, but thank you anyway Lisa for the unexpected and welcome contributions.

Now if you want some real architectural fun, Glasgow is the place. One of my colleagues last week at the dinner was heard to remark "What the heck is that?" when faced with this view on emerging from our hotel:

You can find the answer here. Or here. (OK, it's the St Vincent Street church.)

For a computerised reconstruction of an even more spectacular church which the Luftwaffe demolished, try this site.

I've been into the St Vincent St church, the Langside "Double Villa" and Holmwood on one of those "Doors Open" days a few years ago. Tremendous buildings all. The Caledonia Road church is still there, forlornly perched on a roundabout in the Gorbals, awaiting a renovation that may come one day.

Oh, and if you want to know about Glasgow University, Wikipedia has this. Not sure what's cooler: the Victorian Gothic buildings, the fact that it's been around for 554 years, or the students having the good taste to elect Mordechai Vanunu as their rector this year.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Watson Forthergill: Nottingham architect

Was thinking about Nottingham today and the reputation it has. A shame really because there is much that is beautiful about Notingham. Not least is the work of Victorian architect Watson Fothergill. An example of his work can be seen here (Mortimer House, Castle Gate - near Nottingham Castle surprisingly!), and there more information on this link.

Pictures of the place they go to

Cloud's parents that is: off to New Zealand in search of better weather and a calmer lifestyle, and of course time with their grandchildren ('cos lord knows they'll get none from me).

This is the view from their plot of land, and the house closer to being built. Temporarily, Cloud's ma and pa will live there...

Monday, October 17, 2005

Psst... wanna see some pretty pictures?

Hee hee. I spotted Rob is away so thought I would post this link to the guide to the gardens at the University of Nottingham. When autumn approaches and the trees shed their leaves, it can be easy to forget just how beautiful the campus actually is.

Bizarrely, there is also a page on the Halls of Residence at the University held by Wikipedia! There are some lovely shots of the halls and their green locations. It's part of a whole series of pages held by Wikipedia which feature som rather lovely pictures. Sadly, I couldn't get them to upload here so there's a link instead to a sample picture.

There's also some nice 360 degree tours of the campus on the BBC website for Nottingham. (On the Millennium Gardens one you can see the old Victorian house that is where my office is! In fact, if I sit at my window instead of my desk, I can actually SEE the gardens!)

I thought, "am sure Rob won't mind me gatecrashing, especially if I'm linking to pictures!"

Hope ya'll okay!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Rob Has Left The Building

I'm going to be away for a week or so , so don't worry that I'm not posting.

Meanwhile, there's a marvellously heartwarming post over on Defective Yeti. I find it particularly moving as our son Ruairidh has (extremely mild) Asperger;s Syndrome. I posted a comment (somewhere in the 180s!) about him on DY.

Until next weekend, then.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Beats me

You know, elsewhere on the web I have seen bloggers being pretty rude about Heather Armstrong (aka Dooce). Not any of my regulars here AFAIK.

Why? What is not to admire in somone who can come up with a simile such as
"while making a noise that sounds like forty hyenas being dipped into liquid nitrogen"? (near the end of this post).

Another of those lists

Lisa pointed me to this list of "Movie Scenes That Make Me....(Laugh/Cry). A good way to be reminded of emotional moments. Here is my comment from that site:

The scene that always chokes me up is at the end of Silent Running, when you see Dewey the drone with his little watering can, tending the last remnant of Earth's forests as it makes its way through space like a message in a bottle. AUGH!

And the end of Cyrano de Bergerac is pretty much as blubworthy.

Laughter? There are two scenes from Roadrunner cartoons that get me every time, and I've watched them 30-40 times each. Can't remember the titles off the top of my head (I'd need to run through my videos one more time!) but one is the one where Wile E. Coyote goes to drop a grenade on RR, only to have it bounce back off some telegraph wires and blow him up. He then resignedly drops the pin (which he was trying to cram back in the grenade when it blew up). We hear the same telegraph wire twang, but it's another (pinless) grenade that comes back up and blows him up again. My other favourite is the one where he drops a couple of dozen dynamite-laden darts from a balloon. Of course he gets blown up by one, but throughout the whole of the rest of the cartoon these damned darts keep flying in from nowhere and blowing him up.


Of course, once I'd posted it I started thinking of other scenes.


Return Of The Pink Panther, when Clouseau in the sabotaged van crashes into the swimming pool at the exact moment that the car he crashed the day before is being hauled out of it.

The Great Race - all of it, but especially the way Tony Curtis remains spotless throughout the mayhem of the pie fight until the very last moment. And Professor Fate making the turn that takes him down the Montmartre Steps.

Nanook Of The North - the scene where Nanook's family are introduced and you just keep seeing more and more and more people climbing out of this tiny kayak. Followed by the dog.

Some Like It Hot - Tony Curtis on the yacht, trying door after door to try to find where supper has been set out. Jack Lemmon's face when he's rushed back with Monroe and is sure that he's going to surprise Curtis still dressed as a man, only to find 'her' in the bath, perfectly composed.

Woody Allen in Bananas trying to buy a copy of "Orgasm" without attracting attention.

The Dish: "Halt! Who goes there?" "Baaaaa!"

Linda Fiorentino trying to extinguish an archangel (Alan Rickman) in Dogma.


The scene near the end of Disney's Beauty and the Beast where Beast appears to die just before the last petal falls.

Doctor Zhivago, running upstairs to get a last desperate glimpse of Lara as her sleigh drives away.

"Because we are too many" in Jude The Obscure.

The death scene at the end of Dil Chhata Hai.

The very end of Breaking The Waves.

Funny how things turn out

This isn’t quite the post I set out to write tonight.

You see, I’ve spent the last two days in Glasgow on trade union business. I belong to Amicus (largest private-sector trade union in Britain with 1.7 million members, etc etc). In the bank I work for there is also another union, a situation we’re still getting used to, as prior to a merger a few years ago the two unions were operating in separate companies. The unions work together pretty well these days, but someone realised that the company committees of the two unions (the bodies that decide how we organise ourselves in the bank) didn’t in the main know each other. I imagine each of us knew two or three on the other side, but that would be it. And these are committees of twenty-odd people. (Or perhaps twenty odd people.)

So. On Wednesday, part of our meeting was given over to a presentation by the president of the other union on its history, structure and what-have-you, while one of the full-time Amicus officials who deals with our bank did a similar spiel to the other union’s committee. In the evening, there was a social event; a dinner for the two committees. In order to encourage mixing, we had place cards and were put into mixed tables, half and half of each union.

The card next to mine was for someone called Vic, and I imagined a middle-aged bloke (maybe subconsciously thinking of Vic Feather). However, when my Vic turned up she was far from middle-aged (early thirties) and definitely not a bloke. The words “bubbly” “vivacious” “blonde” and “flirt” sprang to mind, along with “personable” and “intelligent”. We chatted about all sorts of things: left-wing activism, why we’d left the Labour Party, what a twunt Tony Blair is (and how we’d both clocked I him as such back before he was even party leader). We talked about wine, cars and motorbikes. We talked about Donovan and Cat Stevens, and John Peel. We talked about union stuff, and when we were discussing health and safety issues she mentioned that she had MS. From her description of spending quite a lot of the time with restricted mobility – either sticks or a wheelchair – and quite a lot of time with seriously impaired vision, it was clear that this was relapsing-remitting MS, like Jed Bartlett in The West Wing. I hadn’t known previously that MS went for your vision, so that was something learned. We chatted about her husband, who is a software writer, author apparently of a best-selling book on BBC Basic (ah, it takes me back). Vic did say what he was doing these days, but her next line rather wiped that from my memory as she said that in their spare time they were Internet pornographers. So, as you do, I asked whether she modelled or whether they simply distributed other people’s stuff (both, as it turned out), and that was that. Well, of course I asked for the site name; it would have been rude not to….We carried on chatting, and after dinner ended up in different groups and just said goodbye as I left later on.

And there it was left. Next morning Vic was rather the topic of conversation at our union meeting; I mean, it’s not every day you end up chatting to a porn star, however minor. I understand that as the evening wore on Vic had become rather, er, forthcoming about her private life. So there were many comments along the lines of Vic being the other unions’s secret recruiting aid, and of course when the topic of our own union’s web pages came up the Vic jokes resumed. A little unkind perhaps, as she had seemed a fairly multi-dimensional personality to me (I was going to say well-rounded: that too). But I suppose if you’re an outgoing in-your-face kind of woman and you make a habit of telling people your sideline, to say nothing of being upfront about your sexuality, you run the risk of not being taken seriously about other things. I know various people in Amicus, who weren't there today, who are very involved with women’s issues; while they would not have approved of Vic’s line of business, I like to think they might have tried to avoid one-dimensional evaluations had they met her. Actually, they probably have met her, as Vic at one time was an office-holder in the Women’s TUC.

And that is pretty much what I was going to post. Then I actually visited Vic’s website (well, it would have been churlish not to, don’t you think?) and got rather a surprise. Because Vic’s site is a fundraising site for the Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre (it’s full name is VixPix – Tits Out For Multiple Sclerosis). And I thought, what a great idea. I mean, people raise money for medical research by doing sponsored parachute jumps, or by running the London Marathon dressed as a carrot, but as far as I know this as the first time someone has stripped off for it. I wondered whether there would have been quite so many rude remarks this morning if people had visited her site first.

In fairness, I must point out that there is a very discreet link to Vic’s non-charitable site where a little more than the cleavage and nipple of VixPix is to be had. Also to her blog, which is definitely a porno blog rather than a general one. (Hence I haven't blogrolled it.) So yes, she does have the kind of sites people were imagining: but they aren’t actually the one she was publicising at the dinner. A fine distinction perhaps, but there you are.

Pay VixPix a visit. Read the press release, and the article from The Sun. Give MRSC the money. Oh, and enjoy the tits if you like that sort of thing. I know I do. I salute a charming dinner companion, a fellow lefty and fellow union activist, and an extremely brave and intelligent woman with a terrific rack and a terrific attitude.

Monday, October 10, 2005

(Me me me)*10 (+ me)

A fellow-commenter over on Little Red Boat suggested that an amusing pastime is to key one's name into Google Images and see what comes back.

No sooner said than done.

I seem to be thirty-first in my list. Apparently I'm also an alderman from Lloydminster, Alberta; a scary-looking guy from Duke University who optimises mammographic X-ray systems; the entire Zeta Zeta chapter of the Sigma Nu fraternity at Florida State University; a nerdy type with a site called Overclocked Remix dealing in radically reinterpreted videogame music; a Brazilian clubber; a house; a picture of a pipe; a plaque of a guy who died in 1952; an Australian rock climber; and Stickopolis. And those are just a few of the ones who are more me than I am. A little less me than me are a New Zealand fire chief and a guy presenting "How To Study Artificial Creativity" at an ACM conference in Loughborough.

Most worrying of all, I appear to be the founder of Wisdom Highway, sharing Love Power so you can Feel Better Now.

Why not take a look at Rob's Story.

Feel Better Now? Me neither....

Lookit! Lookit!

Clare Sudbery just published a post on Boob Pencil. Go see. And make the most of it, because there is a l-o-o-o-n-g wait ahead for the next one.

Shooting themselves in the foot with lead-free bullets

This week, the world celebrates the award of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Atomic Energy Authority and its Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei.

Well, most of the world. Out of step as usual with the rest of the planet comes Greenpeace, huffing and puffing about how inappropriate it is to give a peace prize to an organisation which promotes the peaceful use of nuclear power, because, y’know, one minute you’re generating electricity and the next you’re letting off nuclear weapons on…on….(at which point the penny drops that since Nagasaki nobody actually has exploded an atomic weapon in conflict, a record very largely due to the efforts of the IAEA).

Actually I lied there: the penny has never dropped for Greenpeace. Read this and you’ll see what I mean.

It’s amusing to note from this comedy script that Greenpeace appears to have swallowed whole the American line that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and that the desire of the IAEA to await hard evidence shows that they are in the pocket of the nuclear industry. Greenpeace also seem to be the only people on the planet apart from George W Bush and Tony Blair who actually believe Iraq to have had nuclear weapons.

Greenpeace’s spokespeople (mouthpeaces?) of course rarely trouble themselves with inconvenient facts, happily admitting that they lied about the environmental impact of sinking the Brent Spar oil platform in the North Sea but considering it justified as a publicity stunt. Meanwhile they dumped their own burned-out Rainbow Warrior at sea and claimed that it would create an artificial reef which would support increased marine life. (I’m not making this up.) See the article on pages 3-8 of this, which was written by Patrick Moore: not the monocled TV astronomer but one of Greenpeace’s founders, who is appalled at what Greenpeace has since become. Its leaders are no longer concerned with saving the planet so much as saving their own positions on the media gravy train. The ideology is the important thing: science comes later, and people last of all.

To take an example, Bjorn Lomborg is routinely derided by Greenpeace as a “global warming sceptic” in the pay of the fossil fuel industry. In fact, if you read The Skeptical Environmentalist Lomborg clearly not only believes in global warming but believes that human activity is the main cause of it, which puts him at the credulous rather than the sceptical end of the GW spectrum. No, Lomborg’s sin is that as an economist he raises questions about whether spending billions of pounds every year to implement the Kyoto agreement is the best use of the money. We can’t stop global warming or turn it back, merely slow down its progress, and Lomborg asks whether buying a few decades’ delay (at most) is a better use of the money than protective measures (flood defences etc) for when it eventually - and unavoidably - does hit us. The latter would free sufficient resources to provide the entire developing world with clean water, for example, thus ending millions of needless deaths every year. But Greenpeace are interested in rising sea-levels: not to alleviate the damage from them, but to be photographed pontificating about them. Rising death tolls among Asians and Africans are of no publicity value for Greenpeace, so who cares? They’ve got Bob Geldof, right?

Or take James Lovelock. If anyone could lay claim to a degree of respect from the environmental movement it’s surely Lovelock, whose equipment helped draw attention to pesticide residues and the effects of CFCs, and whose Gaia hypothesis has been enormously influential. (He even appears - along with Lomborg - on that Prospect magazine list of intellectuals.) Lovelock believes that global warming is a clear and present danger, so clear and so present that we need to use the most effective means at our disposal to reduce greenhouse emissions. Hence his support for increased use of nuclear power now, while we continue to develop other technologies which may be better some day.

So. On the one hand we have people like James Lovelock, Bjorn Lomborg, Patrick Moore and Mohamed Elbaradei. People who care about the world they live in and are trying to do something positive about its problems. On the other hand, bitterly opposed to them all, we have Greenpeace: blissfully unconcerned with the practicalities of world peace, rising sea levels and dying children a long way away, worried only that somebody might solve some of the problems from which they make such a good living. I know who I’d rather trust with the planet. Anti-nuclear ideologues? No thanks.

You know what? Next time the French conduct a nuclear test in the Pacific, and Greenpeace sail their little flotilla into the zone, the French should make no attempt to move them out. In fact, they should encourage as many members as possible to join them. It’s difficult to justify conducting nuclear tests these days; and it would be ironic to enlist Greenpeace in support.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Loopy Pizzafanny

Thanks to Leesa and Marie, I was directed to Professor Poopy-Pants. Where I discovered my alternative name (see above). My son (a big fan both of pizza and Captain Underpants) will be pleased.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ah, it takes me back

Also in Prospect magazine is this article on children's writing. I don't agree with everything in it (I think Dumbledore is a memorable J K Rowling character, as indeed is Snape; and anyone who rates Roald Dahl over E Nesbit - who isn't even mentioned! - is deeply suspect in my opinion) but it's nice to see the Willans & Searle Molesworth books given their proper recognition as classics. And the bits about Eagle comic made me go all nostalgic. My big brother read Eagle and had a collection of the annuals (which are every bit as marvellous as the article suggests). By the time I was getting it myself (my brother having graduated by then to Playboy) it was undergoing a series of mergers with other titles (Swift, Boys' World) but was still brilliant. I remember Dan Dare vividly, and was very pleased that with the help of the old annuals, going back to Eagle Annual Number 2, I could get his back story. Thus I knew that his original spaceship the Zylbat had been irreparably damaged when he had to ram his way out through the surface of an underground city in The Platinum Planet, and that he got the uber-cool Anastasia with its four different drives shortly afterwards. Prof. Jocelyn Peabody did indeed look good in a space-suit (something I appreciated more as my own graduation to Playboy drew nearer). Venus was inhabited by green-skinned Treens (Northern hemisphere) and blue-skinned Therons (Southern hemisphere). I liked the description of Sondar the good Treen as "Adenauer with a head the colour of a Granny Smith", which made me think of the Mekon as "Tony Blair with a head the size of a couple of watermelons". (Like TB, the Mekon had a massive ego and a propensity for declaring war, though unlike dear Tony he had a cool floating platform thing that he rode about on, powered IIRC off his brainwaves. TB's brainwaves couldn't power a Sinclair C5 so one mustn't push the analogy too far.)

Incidentally, John Ryan, who drew the "Harris Tweed" series in Eagle was much better known as the creator of the BBC's Captain Pugwash.

Not to be taken too seriously

Prospect magazine has an article this month listing the top 100 living public intellectuals. The list is, as the article makes clear, both revealing and controversial. They invite readers to vote for five from the list, and to suggest a 'bonus ball' nominee of their own, someone not already on the list. I don't know how the voting is currently running, though apparently Noam Chomsky took an early lead (to my slight surprise and considerable delight). My own submissions were

Noam Chomsky
Bjorn Lomborg
Kenichi Ohmae
Freeman Dyson
Salman Rushdie

with my 'bonus ball' nominee being the theatre director Peter Brook.

Though it wasn't at all my intention, I see now that my list is actually quite well-balanced across disciplines, which is pleasing.

Tell me your thoughts (and vote on the Prospect site too!)

This Post is Certificate 18

A poem I liked in last weekend's Guardian Review section:

This Poem is Certificate 18 by Mark Haddon

When you open a collection of poetry or attend a reading you need to know that the poems you choose to read or hear are suitable for the audience.

To help you understand what a poem is like you can look at the certificate it has been given. This poem has been classified as 18. That means this poem is unsuitable for anyone younger than 18.

A poem with an 18 certificate may contain scenes of a violent nature. Carlos de Sessa burning at the stake, for example, his hot fat bubbling like porridge. Or Erymas, stabbed in the mouth, the blade smashing clean through to the brain so that teeth, bone and blood spray from his ruptured face. The slow death of a parent, often from cancer, is particularly common.

There may be sex, too. A man may be sucked off in a McDonald's en route to the airport, a babysitter may masturbate on the kiln-fired tiles of her employers' bathroom and an arsehole may be described in more detail than is necessary. The word "cunt" may be used.

In a poem with an 18 certificate the syntax may be knottier and the meaning more opaque than in light, narrative or straightforward lyric verse. A phrase may have as many as four different interpretations, all intended for more or less simultaneous comprehension. Conversely, when the hedged sun draws into itself for self-quenching and these modalities stoop to re-enter the subterrane of faith, the intention may simply be to confuse the less intelligent reader. Sometimes a line or phrase is used simply because "it sounded right".

A poem with an 18 certificate may be written according to occult rules which are not made available to the reader. A parallel universe may be assumed wherein the expanded inkling undergoes an allusion and, at the climax of frogging, binges in the Bermuda. Some 18 certificate poems purport to be translations of work by Finnish and Romanian poets who do not, in fact, exist. In others a lightbulb may be granted sentience.

Like plumbers and dentists, poets are fallible, and the possibility of genuine nonsense cannot be ruled out. Unlike plumbing and dentistry, however, poetry is slow, frustrating and poorly rewarded work which fails more often than it succeeds and is therefore embarked upon largely by men and women labouring under a sense of almost religious vocation, grandiose self-delusion or some combination of both. As a result, many poems with an 18 certificate are written by people whose minds you may not wish to enter.

The language of a poem with an 18 certificate may be denser and more powerful than the language you are used to dealing with. And though it makes nothing happen it may, like a piece of ice on a hot stove, ride its own melting into your soul and bring you face to face with the madness of space.

It is an offence to read or supply a poem classified as 18 to anyone below that age.

Poetry certificates are there to help you make the right choice.

(From The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea by Mark Haddon, published by Picador price £12.99)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Now this could make interesting television...

How long before Richard Branson gets in on this act?

I guess they'll be doing it a l-o-o-o-o-n-g way from any inhabited areas. There's a story of an SR-71 crew who decided to buzz the house of Lockheed's boss on one of their flights and destroyed every window in the property with the shockwave. How long before these guys are going supersonic?

But, yeah, pod racing. Cool.

Goodnight from him.

I went to watch a programme tonight about the making of "I, Claudius", of which I was a huge fan (the BBC did it just after I first moved to London, and I remember going round to a friend's house and watching it each week on his TV). Anyway, tonight's programme had been replaced by a tribute to Ronnie Barker, which is when I realised he'd died.

I thought I should post something, but (a) someone always does these things better and (b) there are people out there who met him, which I never did. Both of which qualifications point me to Alan's piece.

The programme tonight was good as well.

RIP Ronnie.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Although the "shower" pun is truly dreadful.

This is amazing (via). Though I think I like Psycho better than The Shining.