Monday, April 30, 2007

The Nut Diet - Free With This Blog

I am delighted to introduce you Thought Experimenters to a new Australian social networking site called fatsecret. This is, as everything else is these days, for people who wish to lose weight. 'The secret is out' is their slogan. If this were true, of course, then there would be no need for this site. Never mind, I like the pie chart of members' favourite diets. I have only heard of 'Atkins' and 'Other'. The remaining three diets sound like a thrilling combination of holidays, violence and plumbing - 'South Beach', 'Fat Smash' and 'Fat Flush'. Personally, I have no use for any of this as I discovered some time ago how to maintain my pleasingly slim figure. I call it The Nut Diet. Before each meal I eat a large handful of mixed nuts. This proves so filling - or, if the nuts are from Tesco, nauseating - that my appetite is at once reduced, sometimes to the point of encouraging me to avoid the meal entirely. I could have made my fortune out of this, but I have a caring-sharing nature.

Nobody Makes Anything Any More

A magazine called Business 2.0 has listed the the job categories in which pay rates are rising most rapidly. Only one of these categories - engineering - involves actually making anything. In the pictures only the engineers have their backs turned to the camera; presumably they are dismayed to find themselves in the company of such frothy career options as webmaster or call centre manager. The 'Administrative Support' people are the most troubling, I think they're going to kill that woman, and the beaming hotel staff in 'Hospitality' just make me want to complain. To be honest, I don't make anything either, but I have always consoled myself with the thought that most other people do. Evidently, this is either not true or their wages are falling.

Life on Mars

Having foolishly watched the first and last episodes of Life on Mars when it was broadcast, I am now filling in the chasm through DVDs. Everybody is right, it's superb, a television event as distinctive and strange as The Prisoner. But why, apart from internal plot reasons, does Sam go back to the seventies? Because, I think, it is the most recent period that seems exotically remote, like Mars. The eighties and nineties are not that different from now and even the sixties are recognisable as the present's precursor. But the seventies are an anomaly; everything about that decade seems more brutal and raw than anything we now know. Coincidentally, in the midst of my Mars-fest, this column by Niall Ferguson appeared. He wonders, for political and economic reasons, if the seventies are making a comeback. All of the portents and possibilities are familiar - inflation, a sliding dollar, stockmarket meltdowns, oil shocks. In Britain, we just need a phase of overbearing trade union power and we might as well start buying Mark III Cortinas and striped shirts with huge collars. As Mars makes clear, the seventies were harsh years. But - spoiler approaching - in the end Sam Tyler chooses 1973 for all its brutality rather than the bland, bureaucratised world of the present. Out on the streets with that magnificent monster Gene Hunt, he can at least feel something. He should, perhaps, have stuck around; if Ferguson is right, we are about to start feeling again. It won't be pretty, but, if you have any Tylerish tendencies, it will be exhilarating.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


For the first time in my life, thanks to the wonders of this web thing, I have judged a poetry competition. Here are my winners and here my judgments.

Beards, Earthquakes and Talking Buildings

This earthquake in Kent, which seems to be the only news story in the world this morning, produced a consolingly bearded seismologist on television this morning. (I'm anti-beard, downright beardist in fact, but academics on television news shows should have beards.) He said we know a lot about quakes in Kent because of Canterbury Cathedral. It's an ancient structure with long terms records which include reports of the earth shaking. There are downsides, of course, but, on the whole, it is a wonderful thing, living in an old country where academics on TV are nervous and have beards and the buildings tell us stories.

Seeing Spiders

Leontes in A Winter' Tales laments the curse of knowledge:

'Alack, for lesser knowledge! how accursed
In being so blest! There may be in the cup
A spider steep'd, and one may drink, depart,
And yet partake no venom, for his knowledge
Is not infected: but if one present
The abhorr'd ingredient to his eye, make known
How he hath drunk, he cracks his gorge, his sides
With violent hefts. I have drunk, and seen the spider.'

This is how genius says ignorance is bliss and makes you shiver in the process. This story reminded me of the speech. Body parts of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan have been mixed up. Families now know this so they cannot be sure they have the remains of their soldier. They have seen the spider. What would be different if they did not know, if they partook of no venom? This relates to the matter of the noble lie, is it any longer possible? Whole industries now exist to show us spiders and so, of course, we find them everywhere.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Death and Glass

There's currently a Smirnoff ad about a man's corpse being transformed into a diamond. And, today, Scotty is being beamed up for the last time from New Mexico. The instinct for attaining immortality through one's remains is as strong as ever. Glass often seems to be involved, As readers of this excellent book will know, in 1801 the French architect Pierre Giraud came up with the idea of turning corpses into glass from which edifying memorial medallions and tablets could be made. The latest developments in cryonics - see also this sweeping and lovely survey - involve the vitrification of the body. Also death is often seen as a mirror, impenetrable glass. It is, I suppose, about perfection. The ugly coprse in the Smirnoff ad is converted into something hard and beautiful and Scotty finally gets all the pooer Kirk needs. Over time, we converge on the same imagery for our consolation.

Those Beans

Concepta and Tom P. put their elegant fingers on the burning question of the week - what was Hugh Grant doing with those baked beans? Surely he can afford something better and, even if he can't, why would anybody wish to eat thousands of these ovoid, oversweetened clones of Charles Kennedy, swimming in a sticky 'sauce' that coats your palate with a thick layer reminiscent of...? No I'd better not. Anyway, I have the answer. Poor Hugh was scammed by the same company, a subsidiary of Zak Bastard Global, that sold sheep to Japanese women as poodles. He thought they were rare Italian truffles made exclusively available to film stars with floppy hair. Actually, the sheep-poodle (shoodle?) story wasn't true, but, trust me, the bean truffle (buffle?) one is solid as a rock.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Plato and Jessica Lynch

I spoke to Jessica Lynch this week - it was for a subsequently aborted Sunday Times column - following her testimony to congress. She was straightforward enough; in fact, she was rather touching when I asked if being pretty and blonde had anything to do with the Pentagon's enthusiasm for making up stories about her. 'I'm sure out there there is a pretty blonde female in the military that is a hero, but it just wasn't me...' Of course, the story demonstrates the fantastic ineptitude and cynicism of Rumsfeld's Defense Department combined with the supine malleability of the media. Both are well covered here. But there's another, very different point. The newspaperman Maxwell Scott says in John Ford's great film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 'This is the west, sir. When the Legend becomes fact, print the legend.' It's the same attitude taken by Lisa Simpson when she discovers the story of Jebediah Springfield is not all that it appears to be. The message is: persist with the noble lie, it will be better for the people. The Pentagon story about Lynch unravelled absurdly quickly either because it was an incompetently constructed noble lie or because noble lies are no longer possible in a media-saturated world. Obviously one could also add that this lie was not noble at all because it was dispensed by cynical people devoid of wisdom. But I may be saying that because media-saturation favours that kind of insight. In Plato's Republic would I have simply accepted the words of the elders, cynical or not, and been happier as a result? Remember, before you answer, the modern, media-saturated world promotes its own lies and illusions with its own claims to nobility.

Celebrity News

Hugh Gere has been arrested for throwing baked beans over Shilpa Photographer. An Indian judge has issued arrest warrants for Richard Grant and Daily Shetty after they kissed and kicked each other in public. Prince Harry is being sent to Iraq to be kidnapped. 'It will produce such public revulsion against the war,' said a Downing Street spokesman, 'that we can pull out with honour. This is a Blair legacy project.' And - hot one this - Jeffrey Archer has had a blog makeover. 'We are especially pleased,' said Web designer Zak Bastard, 'with the way his suit clashes with the fetid oxblood of the background. Also, of course, with the fact that he didn't seem to notice.' Addenbrooke's Hospital is a recommended link for readers overcome by aesthetic seizures.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Botox is So Last Week

Forget the search for the Higgs Boson, a new, very practical application has been discovered for the Large Hadron Collider now under construction at Cern in Switzerland. It can be used a fantastically effective anti-ageing device. Anatoli Bugorski was struck in the head by a proton beam generated by a particle accelerator in 1978 and, since then, the left side of his face has not aged.

The Gaaargs Are Coming!

Massively irritated by our discovery of their planet, Gaaarg, the Gaaargians have already dispatched a fleet of light-speed Gaaargships, due to arrive in the vicinity of earth on 26th October 2027. Luckily we have laid our plans for just this eventuality. In their book An Introduction to Planetary Defense, Taylor and Boan suggest we may have to adopt a mujahadeen-type resistance movement. They may not, however, have allowed for an intervention by John Bolton, which will, of course, result in the nations of earth allying with the aliens in a massive assault on the US. Meanwhile, we must all be on the alert. I can reveal the Gaaargs have already planted a web page designed to daze humans and render them incapable of resistance. Do not, if you value the future of humanity, go here.

XXX Shreddies XXX

To return to more serious matters. Long term readers will know that I take breakfast cereals very - seriously - indeed. Judge, then, of my horror on discovering that Sainsbury's now have a section called Adult Cereals. Averting my gaze from the writhing flesh and the fetish gear, I moved on in search of Shreddies, only to find they had been relegated to a department known as Children's Cereals. Shreddies! For children! Has the world gone completely mad?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

John Bolton

There was a curious and revealing confrontation on Newsnight - see it here - between Gavin Esler and John Bolton. Sloppy as I am about following politics, I had only two vague impressions of Bolton - that he was diplomatically controversial and that, with his L'Oreal, suede-coloured hair, white moustache and glinting glasses, he looked like a man in deep disguise. Esler's tactics were all wrong. He merely flung provocative jibes about difficulties in Iraq, giving Bolton the chance to just swat them aside. But Bolton's tactics were inept and dishonest. First, he simply laughed at the comparison with Vietnam, saying Iraq was a battle with terrorists and, therefore, different. But there are deep parallels and, if, as he implied, Vietnam was a more conventional war, then, on the basis of his own analysis, America should have won, but she lost. He also laughed when Esler refused his challenge to come up with alternatives. But it's Esler's job to ask the questions, not necessarily to give answers, though admittedly his style seemed to suggest he did have answers. But the important point is that Bolton's underlying twofold case was a strong one. First, what choice do we have, here and now, but to attempt to stabilise Iraq? And, secondly, in the end, the decision can only be made by the Iraqis. But he ruined his case by describing this as the Iraqis' 'last chance', a phrase that implies a deadline which is precisely what he was supposed to be arguing against. In addition, he sneered threateningly about the consequences if America withdrew not just from Iraq but elsewhere. This, again, is a strong point but his way of making it was to offer us the role of mere vassals of the American empire. Even the closest of America's friends - I count myself one - could only regard such behaviour as disgusting. The man, I now see, is a diplomatic disaster who makes Donald Rumsfeld look like Disraeli. Seldom have I seen such an intelligent man make such a fool of himself and his cause.

Science and Religion Again. Sorry.

Ever since my Imperial Darwin post, I have been building up my strength with beef tea and arrowroot biscuits in order to return to this damned science-religion thing. Robert Winston now forces my hand, so here goes. Certain high profile scientists - Dawkins, Weinberg, Atkins, Wolpert - and philosophers - Dennett, Grayling - have chosen to criticise, abuse or undermine religion. They do this out of a sense of mission. 'Anything scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion,' says Weinberg, 'should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilisation.' What normally happens in response to this is that everybody starts shouting and then goes home happy that they were right about everything all along. Nobody stands back and sees the big picture.
I shall attempt, once more, to do so. The core issue is not the science of Dawkins and friends, nor is it their opinions, nor is it even their visceral dislike of faith; it is, rather, their decision to go on the offensive. This places science in the opinion marketplace, one view among many others. But science is a process embodied in institutions. It is not a posture, position or party-line; it is, so to speak, a background phenomenon, a canvas on which we paint our pictures, not the pictures themselves. Using science as a public posture threatens either to compromise science itself by forcing it to adapt to the rhetoric of opinion or to turn it, once again, into a tool of tyranny. It also demeans science.
Furthermore, statements like that of Weinberg encourage the delusion that science possesses some higher wisdom about human affairs. The truth is that science has nothing practical to say about the conduct of human affairs. Maybe one day it will have something to say. But, until then, we must rely on the complexities of the world as it is and that includes relying on religion, philosophy, art, custom and and all the other non-scientific forms of wisdom through which we attempt to give meaning and order to our lives. Making political, economic, social or personal decisions on the basis of current science would be more risky than tossing dice.
In this context, the idea that destroying one particular body of wisdom and custom will make the world a better place can be seen as profoundly irrational if not downright deranged. All the justifications for the current anti-science offensive pale into insignificance next to these considerations. The threat of fundamentalism - Christian or Islamic - is misunderstood; it is, apart from anything else, a reaction to triumphalist scientism and, therefore, a clear indication of the dangers of thrusting science into the foreground.
There are many ways in which what I am trying in vain to say may be tried in vain to be said. There's another. Go ahead. Misunderstand.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On France 2

There's a brilliant article on the French elections by my pal George Walden in the Telegraph. Reading this, I realised what, in my blood as opposed to my head, I find wrong with the French. It is the contradiction between their progressive, frequently revolutionary rhetoric and their terror amounting to blind panic at any suggestion of change. The first makes them haughty and smug, the second paralytically parochial. But, as I said before, they do the quality of life thing much better than we do now. We were better at that when Alec was a lad.

Alec Breathes On

And, while I am on the subject of gold age, this story has everything. Alec Holden won £25,000 by living to be 100. He laid a £100 bet at 250/1 when he was 90. His longevity recommendations - notably keeping breathing and not working too much - have a precise, genteel and very English charm as does the fact, mentioned on the radio, that he plans to holiday in Eastbourne, where, presumably, he will feel very young. I saw him on TV. He doesn't look a day over 75 and he smiles with Buddha-like detachment while playing online chess. The bookies, William Hill, are now extending the pay-off age for this kind of bet to 110 as so many more people are living to 100. You read it here first. It's still worth a punt. Only your beneficiaries can lose. Has Alec laid another bet? I think we should be told.

April 24th, 2037

The Japanese carebots here at the Lousy Bastards retirement home for the diplomatically challenged are ruthless in their insistence on our strict adherence to the Sheryl Crow one square of toilet paper rule. It's not quite how I saw my twilight years, but it's nice to be saving the planet. The only humans we see now are very fat cleaning ladies whose mothers hit puberty at the age of nine and then gave birth while watching the Teletubbies on an enormous flat screen TV. This meant the lucky child did not have to be moved for the first three years of its life. The cleaners are always stressed after a Full English breakfast with chips, but this does not seem to trouble their artificial stomachs. Having drunk nothing but Gatorade for most of their lives, they are all now on their fifth sets of teeth. The carebots refuse to do the cleaning and are demanding equal rights with these ladies, but they tend to shut up when we show them pictures of Will Smith. All in all, taking one thing with another, I can't complain. It's not a bad place, especially now that Rummy and Phil are no longer around screaming obscenities. But I do miss the bees.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Was Shakespeare Ashamed?

I noticed this line from John Carey's review of A.D.Nuttall's book Shakespeare the Thinker:
'His suggestion that Shakespeare was ashamed of or unimpressed by the plays he had written is borne out by the fact that he took no steps to ensure they would survive.'
Two thoughts occur. What would have impressed Shakespeare or left him unashamed? And how would he have felt if he'd just done what I've done?
The mind, as ever when confronted by this man, reels.

Tap Dancing and Teletubbies

The British Heart Foundation says that somebody dies of inactivity every 15 minutes and that 30 minutes of physical activity a day will help prevent heart disease. The solution seems to be tap dancing so I shall have to pass on this one. Meanwhile, Aric Sigman is says children under three should see no television. It causes sleep and behavioural problems and, of course, obesity. Can under threes tap dance? Sigman is not just talking about television but 'screen media' so introducing toddlers to the wonders of the web also seems to be a bad idea. I don't doubt that all these things are true - though that one death every fifteen minutes is, I am pretty sure, an unverifiable headline grabber - and that staring at a screen is not as good as bumping into real things, which is what I would be doing now if I were tap dancing. The unthinking, blogging boosters of Web 2.0, who have, unsurprisingly, been misunderstanding my article all over the net, will doubtless be incensed by any suggestion that a screen is anything less than humanity's salvation. But it seems to me obvious that a screen-soaked toddler is going to have trouble with the real world. On the other hand, it is sad to discover that the Teletubbies are the toddler equivalent of a 60-a-day habit. I bumped into them once and, though unexpectedly large, they seemed harmless enough.

Harry: Come and Get Him, Boys

In February I suggested that Prince Harry was being sent to Iraq as part of Blair's legacy project. His heroic death would provide Tone with another Diana moment and Elton John with another chance to rewrite Candle in the Wind. I was, er, joking. But, in fact, it was, yet again, my uncanny prescience at work. The Ministry of Defence seems to be actively goading the militias into seizing the lad.
'We have not concealed the fact,' said an MoD spokesmen, 'that he [Harry] is going out there and the bad guys know that he's coming, and we expect that they will consider him a high-profile scalp.'
Or 'Bring it on!' as our American friends would say. Harry is liked by the people, he is seen as Diana's true heir. It would, therefore, be another good death for Blair. Gordon Brown, in his lugubrious way, has seen it coming and is understood to be consulting astronomers about the possibility that we are approaching another mass extinction. These come round every 62 million years and now, Gordo reckons, would be a very good time.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

On France

I am English, therefore I mistrust the French and I am, of course, entirely indifferent as to whether they elect Seg Sark or Nick Royal to run their country. My problem is that, after ten years in which the British have endured the most managerially incompetent government of modern times, our case against the French is weaker than it has ever been. We used to say you couldn't drink their water and their toilets were vile. But now they're both okay and their hospitals and trains have become as good as their food and their wine - all infinitely superior to ours. The British quality of life is dismal compared to that of the French. One can evade this awkward little fact by saying, as many do, that France is wasted on the French. Or one can insist, as many also do, that France is heading for an economic meltdown. But the French made France and we've been wishing that meltdown on them for at least 20 years. In my blood I still feel there's something very wrong with the French, but, in my head, I know there's something very right.

Sunday Morning

It's Sunday Morning (masterpiece) and I lack focus. I am, like Frank O'Hara on the day Billie Holiday died (lovely, lovely poem), going to sleep with quandariness. I shall, therefore, make no decisions and blog on every possible blog subject. Canoes: you may recall the man hat debate began with my purchase of a kayak. Subsequently, a friend who knows boats drew my attention to this site. The kayak has to go; I have to have a Molitor, a boat of rare beauty. This, it has been claimed, is the best beer ad in the world; it seems to be for one of the worst beers. And this, meanwhile, is said to be the worst web page, indisputable I would have thought. Social networking sites are taking over from porn, though I don't think the distinction between the two is clear cut. I am uneasy about returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece, but not half as uneasy as I am about dingbat libertarians. If there is an easier, more comfortable belief system in the world, I have yet to find it. But then it's Sunday and I may be wrong; I never could get the hang of Sundays.

Here I am again...

... in The Sunday Times - The Web is Dead; Long Live the Web, an article that asks for trouble. Everybody thinks they know more about the internet than everybody else so I anticipate a tirade of abuse and de haut en bas dismissals. But, heigh ho, there you go.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


Having undertaken some picturesque voyages around twitchers, kayaks and hats, Diana, squirrels, Kellogs, Jeff and Amanda, the Cannes Film Festival and, most poignantly, lawn darts, this blog seems to be returning safely to its home port of thought experimentation. My commenters are at their best and most prolific on philosophical matters like evil, sanctity and the wilderness. (Okay you are also at your best and most prolific about black cherry yoghurts, but we can take those posts as R & R ports where we rest prior to the next stage of the voyage.) So, I conclude, it is time to say something about philosophy itself. I don't go all the way with my friend - a distinguished thinker who would probably not wish to be named in this context - when he says philosophy is just arguments about arguments or that it is little more than a way of finding good reasons to hold utterly conventional views. But I do go quite a long way. I don't think Daniel Dennett, for example, is a philosopher at all, but merely a flunky at the court of secular, materialist scientism. He's just there to assure Dawkins and friends that they are wonderful in every way. I find no sense of exploration or meditation in Dennett. Much academic philosophy is like this and I am constantly disappointed when, having read the works of hyper-intelligent philosophers, I find they are, in the real world, amazingly, well, unamazing. Perhaps philosophy necessarily inspires conventional views, but surely it should also inspire wonder in at least some form. My problem is, I think, that I got Wittgenstein at an early age. I don't mean I got him in any sense that an academic would find acceptable, I mean I grasped something - a style, an attitude - that lay at the core of his thought. He says he writes the same sentence over and over again and I think I saw what it was at once. The contents of this sentence can be shown but not exactly explained. For example, he says somewhere that the one thing in the world we can say with certainty is not a metre long is the standard metre bar in Paris. And, in Culture and Value, 'Perhaps what is inexpressible (what I find mysterious and am not able to express) is the background against which whatever I express has its meaning.' And also, 'For the place I really have to get to is a place I must already be at now.' True philosophy is a system of metaphors, a way of talking about something that cannot be discussed at all. In this context, dear commenters, your thoughts are much closer to philosophy than most academic works. They seem to be attempts to find the place you are already at. I am flattered that you make the attempt in my presence.

Friday, April 20, 2007


The Oatibix have worked their magic. I have something to say. Responding to my post Virgin Tech 2: Sanctity, Ian Russell and River of Deceit said they didn't think evil exists. I have heard this said many times and it always puzzles me. The same people don't say love doesn't exist or, indeed, goodness, why is evil singled out for non-existence? One answer is River's remark, 'It's just a label that helps us cope with reality. The truth - that 'monsters' like Adolph Hitler and Cho Seung-hui are more like ourselves than we care to imagine, is probably too disturbing to contemplate.' This is not an argument against the existence of evil, merely against the labelling of individuals as evil. The Christian concept of original sin makes it clear that we all have the capacity for evil. Good Christians are, therefore, completely accustomed to the idea that they have something in common with Hitler or Cho Seung-hui. But I think the more general reason for denying the existence of evil is the postwar desire to reject all forms of biological determinism. After Nazism, people did not want to label others with inherent characteristics, they wished to say that nurture, not nature, was all, that, therefore, humans could fix themselves and evil could be conquered. Latterly this orthodoxy has been damaged by evolutionary psychology which suggests that nature is, in fact, highly influential if not actually dominant. Personally, I don't think the nature-nurture debate is strictly meaningful or resolvable, but that is another matter. What is clear is that both naturists and nurturists must be aware of the capacity for bad behaviour which, in extreme forms, can be called evil. Evil is thus just a word for 'very bad', a word we need since doing 40 mph in a 30 mph zone is clearly not the same as slaughtering 6 million Jews. The rejection of evil is also a rejection of metaphysics and religion. It is like saying God does not exist. Evil is singled out there because it seems more absolute and real than 'good'. It is as if the very word has a metaphysical presence so that saying 'Evil does not exist' is a much stronger statement that 'Love does not exist.' Anyway, just to say - evil exists.

Nothing Much Here

The above headline is designed to break every rule in this list. Interestingly, the headline on the list - Five Common Headline Mistakes and How to Avoid Them - is really bad. The further reason for my headline is that it is true. For the first time in over a year of blogging, I have nothing to say. But, anyway, headlines. Embalmer Farmer in Llama Pyjama Drama has been waiting for years for reality to oblige with a story about an agricultural taxidermist caught stealing night attire made from the skin of a South American mammal. Minor Earthquake in Peru, Not Many Injured has, in fact, been used and was, I think, voted the most boring headline ever written. Jeffrey is, of course, the greatest living novelist, but he is also the world's lamest headline writer. 'A Comedy of Wit and Style' did actually make my toes curl. And, while I am on the subject, it seems Dame Edna has chosen Jeff as her biographer. This is probably a joke, but, if it's not, it's a mistake. In spite of endorsements from God, the Lord Buddha, Oprah Kidman and Tony Putin, sales of Jeff's groundbreaking The Gospel According to Judas are, I gather, poor. Certainly he's gone very quiet on the matter. Can it be that Jeff's magic has deserted him? Mine certainly has. Doubtless I shall think of something to say later.
PS Forgot to mention this, Dave Barry's headline of the day so far.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

For Homer Simpson

I lead a cloistered life so I had not realised until this moment that this week The Simpsons are twenty years old. Doh! It is a good time to draw your attention to my profile of Homer. We talked for hours. He opened his heart to me. It was yellow.

Virginia Tech 2: Sanctity

Confronted with inexplicable evil, people resort to various forms of sanctity. The dead are sanctified so Simon Cowell is charged with disrespect because he rolled his eyes at the wrong moment and a student is arrested because he made remarks that were 'deemed sympathetic' to the killer. Belief itself is sanctified so that atheists are accused of not caring and fringe faiths rush to make their case through counselling, a contemporary sacrament. The self is sanctified in opposition to the exculpatory explanations of science. All that is consistent is the need for sanctity in the face of the unknowable.

Comment Moderation Off

The volume of comments has been high in the last few days. I am not at my computer all the time and moderating comments is an awkward business from my Blackberry. So I have turned off comment moderation. Do not libel anybody. Please.

The Wilderness: A Necessarily Long Post

In my Virginia Tech post, I wrote, 'I also don't understand going out into the countryside to shoot things. I feel it's a terrible failure of the imagination, like taking a television set on a hike. The wilderness is complete and self-justifying; all we are required to do is look at it.'
Duck responded, 'Bryan, your self-contained wilderness is no such thing, it is a manicured garden devoid of predators. You feel no need to shoot game because you eat beef and pork raised on some factory farm and slaughtered and butchered by low wage laborers. Your idyllic stroll in the woods is only possible because of modern man's absolute dominance over nature.'
Mainly under the influence of two of the greatest thinkers of our time - James Lovelock and Edward O.Wilson - I have come to believe in the wilderness as a good in itself and as the defining contemporary issue. It has, of course, instrumental value in that it keeps us alive by sustaining our eco-system. (This is one of the reasons bio-fuels will be such a disaster. By opening up yet more of our land to mono-culture, they will further erode ecological diversity. They will also, it seems, kill us.) But the primary value of the wilderness is metaphysical and moral. It is the sacred.
Yet Duck is right. It would be hard to find a place on the planet devoid of any human mark. He is, of course, wrong to speak of 'man's absolute dominance over nature'. There are two reasons: first, nature can shrug us aside in an instant through any number of mechanisms and, secondly, we depend utterly on nature for our food, air, water, for everything. But, that aside, Duck's primary point is that the wilderness is a self-indulgent dream.
Well, it isn't self-indulgent for the instrumental reasons I give. It is also not a dream. Merely because we have so extensively defiled the wilderness is not a reason for ceasing to hold it sacred. We should do so because, as Wilson has written with dazzling beauty, it is the otherness to which we belong, that which both is and is not us. (The Christian concept of 'stewardship' was a disaster in this context, it sustained our delusions of dominance. It was, however, somewhat redeemed by original sin.)
In addition, what is striking about the human-defiled wilderness is the way nature works its way round our abuse. The bleakest agricultural landscape is replete with wild activity and a few years of human neglect will return it at once to nature. The wilderness races back to reclaim its territory.
If we are to survive, we are going to have to withdraw from nature, to allow much of the planet to return to wilderness. If we don't, it will do so without us. There is nothing sentimental about this. It is necessary. And good.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Excess and Sexcess

Elberry has elected me as his mass murderer of choice. It is his very idiosyncratic form of flattery. He knows I have a truck and suggests it looks like this. I do, but it doesn't, though it is, I feel, sexy. That is a lot more than can be said for the cars on the Forbes Sexiest Luxury Cars list which consists of the usual supercars. None of these are sexy because they're either overstated or undriveable on public roads and almost certainly slower than your average saloon at getting from A to B. I can understand the desire to drive around in a beautiful sculpture, but, sadly, car styling is at a low ebb. Purely on grounds of taste, one would would not wish to be seen dead in a Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, an empty signifier of mere excess. Top Gear, of course, attempts to categorise on the basis of 'cool', but this is inadequate. 'Sexy' involves all sorts of more interesting overtones. As, I assume, we all know, the sexiest car on the road is the Land Rover Defender. Surely we can agree on that...

The Black Cherry Conundrum 2

The incomprehensible products post was a ball that led to a sparkling rally. The aged but alert Intellectual Purity Committee of Thought Experiments has now come up with a final list. But, first, some words of explanation for a few non-inclusions.
Low-fat milk - I prefer it in tea. Manbags - I have one. Inflatable nails - why not? Celery - I like it with cheese. 1915 - ???. The Independent - the one bad review of my book, but a very pleasant interview. Automatic dishwashers - an uncharacteristically Luddite outburst from Gordon. Fruit pastille and wine gum flavours - too hot to handle.
That said, here is the final list in no special order except that mine is first.
1)Black cherry yoghurts.
2)Inflatable hammers.
3)Alcohol-free beer.
4)Fruit beers
5)'Limited editions' of anything.
6)Free range lamb - to which I would add most 'farmers' markets.
7)Non-stick cooking sprays.
9)Blackcurrant Bracer herbal tea. Not, apparently, blackberry, Dulwichmum.
10)Decorative toilet roll cosies. They draw unwelcome attention to the toilet rollness of the concealed object.

Good Amanda Post Shock

Yes, it's true, the queen of bad bloggery Amanda Marcotte has emitted a good post. Well, a funny, laugh with as opposed to at, one anyway. Well, in fact, it's not actually Amanda that's funny, it's the vid. Here it is. And, while I have you in vid mode, savour the interminable hair routine of Democratic candidate John Edwards. I defy you not to touch your hair while watching.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Black Cherry Conundrum

Time for a list. This one is inspired by one of the great mysteries of the modern world - black cherry yoghurts. Who eats them? They taste disgustingly metallic and nothing like cherries of any colour. They are a mystery product, lacking purpose and customers. One only knows of their existence because supermarkets force them on us in packages of more understandable yoghurts. The list is, therefore, incomprehensible products. We should, guys, avoid cosmetics, too easy.

Virginia Tech

I've always felt queasy in the presence of guns. It's their single-mindedness. Some machines have a consoling superfluity. Cars seem to be more than just machines for rolling down the road; good cameras do more than just take pictures. But, with the exception of the finest English shotguns, guns are just killing machines. I also don't understand going out into the countryside to shoot things. I feel it's a terrible failure of the imagination, like taking a television set on a hike. The wilderness is complete and self-justifying; all we are required to do is look at it. Many Americans value guns in ways that, occasionally, I have begun to understand, but, on the whole, I don't. Last night I saw a man say that, if the students at Virginia Tech had been armed, then the slaughter there would have been avoided. If Hamadryas Baboons had nuclear weapons, said E.O.Wilson, the world would end in a few days. If students, with all their un(in)formed passions, had guns, then every campus would be a slaughterhouse.

Some Cinematographer Talks About Love, Life and the Movies

I don't normally link to The Onion; either you won't need me to tell you about it or you won't get it, so there seems little point. Their spoof magazine covers, however, are just too good to miss. As ever with The Onion, there is a meticulous awareness of the language and style of the media. April 7, 2006: Heterosexual Men's Fashion; March 24, 2006,: The Hidden Buddhist Threat in our Midst and so on. The Photo-Caption Issue (February 16, 2007) is a weirdly exact parody of those magazines that, having run out of ideas, always grasp at the most tenuous straws. The covers capture the babbling inanity of the newsstands where each mag demands your attention by being exactly the same as every other mag. The deranged blandness of the Feb 2nd 2007 issue says it all.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Imperial Darwin

In the New York Times David Brooks muses on the way Darwinism has become the 'grand narrative' of our times. His summary of the science is partial - he seems to be accepting a straight Dawkins-Dennett version, things are much more interesting than that - but, otherwise, this is a fine, thoughtful piece. Evolution has, indeed, replaced religion, culture or history as the preferred bedtime story of our intellectual elites. In some forms, it has also become a crusade, a militant, missionary assault on all non-believers - look at Dawkins's web site with its loony author pictures, just like the ones you see on leaflets handed to you by the assorted crazies that litter Oxford Street. Also on the Dawkins site is this, a report on the rise of aggressive, organised atheism in Europe. And, last year, Peter Atkins, professor of chemistry at Oxford and the man whose only words on meeting me were 'I despise you', described religion as 'the crack alley of the intellect. People just go down it for comfort not understanding'. Darwinian atheists - in a way that would have appalled Darwin - are discarding liberalism and tolerance in favour of imperial, world-conquering zealotry. And this, they say, is progress.
PS. Ohmygod, so to speak, and now, from Chris, this.

Amanda and Jeff: More Foreplay

I'm sorry to bring up the sublime Amanda again, but this cannot go unremarked. The magnificent Marcotte wrote in her Pandagon blog that the Independent is a 'right-wing rag'. Quite politely, Tim Worstall pointed out the error. At this point Amanda had two rational options: do nothing or apologise. But Amanda is not rational. She decided the Worstall post was yet further evidence of the conspiracy of rightist 'wingnuts' against paleo-feminist truth-tellers like Amanda. She struck back with a truly wonderful post. The ensuing comments are a delight, Amanda's rapidly detaching themselves from all contact with reasoned discourse. 'What puzzles me,' she writes at one point, 'is the dwelling on something that has no value for even humor, such as the depth of my knowledge on British newspapers.' Jeffrey must raise his game to compete with this stuff. Oh, he has. In this gem, he seems to be identifying with the authentic hero, as defined by Theodore Roosevelt. I've said it before and I'll say it again, these two really must get together; their elegant mating displays have gone on long enough.

The Man Hat: Problem Solved

I watched a six-piece band last night. Five of them were wearing hats. Three of these hats were black and vaguely homburgish. One was a sort of black skull-cap and one was large and white, somewhat like the hat worn by James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. This is it, I thought, the man hat solution, the big white one. But, I thought sadly as the show ended, you probably have to be Bob Dylan to carry it off.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

William and Kate: You Read It Here First

The News of the World confirms my astounding insight that Prince Philip was the decisive figure in the break-up of William and Kate. The NoW doesn't have all the details - notably the blindfold and the the gun cocking - but they will emerge in due course. The paper does, however, report: 'The final death blow to Wills' relationship with his university sweetheart was delivered by grandfather Prince Philip. He declared: 'You can't string her along for ever.'' The quote leaves out the final word 'Blondy', Big Phil's pet name for Wills. Of some constitutional interest are the words of a senior courtier - 'Within the royal family the Queen acts as head of the country and Prince Philip is the head of the family...' Leaving aside the oddity of the statement itself - she acts as head of the country within the royal family (?) - one finds oneself breathing a sight of relief that they didn't ever think of swapping roles. With Philip and his celebrated diplomatic skills in charge, Britain would by now be an irradiated waste land.

Ageing and Art

In The Sunday Times today, I wonder if the babyboomers are finally ready to face death.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Squirrel Plot

Nige the indefatigable draws my attention to a headline in the Croydon Advertiser - 'Squirrel Burns Down Man's Cottage'. This is troubling. For some time Dave Barry has been a voice crying in the wilderness on the matter of squirrels - here is his latest post. They are conspiring against us. Grey squirrels - not the charming and beleaguered red ones - do, indeed, have a shifty look. In fact, their assault on the red squirrel population was plainly a dry-run for the anti-human campaign. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they had something to do with the break-up of William and Kate, news that has shocked and demoralised an entire nation and softened us up for the next offensive. (The picture is of counter-squirrel operator Nige in heavy disguise. I publish it here to refute an outrageous suggestion from one commenter that he did not exist.)

In My New Role as Royal Correspondent...

... I predict Prince William and his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, will break up. Good grief, they just have. Amid widespread protests from other former royal partners, the Palace has given Kate a special dispensation to sell her story to the News of the World. She will reveal that she spent much of her time blindfolded in a room with Prince Philip, who repeatedly cocked a variety of automatic weapons. In a moving statement,Tony Blair says Kate was 'very much the people's royal girlfriend.' A spokesman for the paparazzi said, 'Nuffink to do wiv us, squire.'

Friday, April 13, 2007

Blair and the Death of Virtue

I am indebted, as ever, to Frank Wilson for drawing my attention to this article by Theodore Dalrymple, a crusty, pipe-smoking, cavalry twill-wearing nom de guerre for a doctor who has done much work in prisons. Dalrymple's thesis is that Blair 'both represents and is a cause of an acceleration in a change in character of the British people.' The old virtues of 'stoicism, honesty, fortitude, irony, good humour and so forth' have been supplanted by 'deviousness, ruthlessness, an eye fixed on the main chance, sanctimony in the midst of obvious wrongdoing, toadying and bullying'. As a result, 'good people are like a defeated class in this country.' Dalrymple's evidence is derived, primarily, from his experience of public servants. I don't doubt that, in this area, he is broadly correct. I am uncertain, however, about Blair both representing and causing this change. Would it have happened anyway? Dalrymple is rightly sceptical about the idea that countries get the leaders they deserve - what did Cambodia do to deserve Pol Pot? - but, in a democracy, there is surely some truth in this. Even the most intensive spinning can only work if people, at some level, acquiesce. And, if they do so with sufficient enthusiasm, then the whole moral climate is changed. The term 'good people' is redefined. Judging this change involves standing, undemocratically, outside this process. At the heart of the matter is the hyper-democratic condition - or pretence - of the contemporary political process. This engenders a new tyranny, validated by a spurious, spun populism. But, happily, it can go horribly wrong as in the case of Downing Street's idiotic, populist decision to let the sailors sell their story. It went wrong because of a feeling that the military in particular should embody values that transcend the ephemera of populism. The incident demonstrates that this feeling has survived intact, in spite of the current moral climate. We need many more such blunders and fewer lies about exactly who was at fault.

Americans May Know Something About Beer

And, while still in guy mode, I suggested some weeks ago that the Americans know nothing about beer. This list alarms me as it suggests my view may have been under-researched. I have never drunk any of these beers, but I intend to grab a bottle of Rogue Brutal Bitter at the first opportunity.

Man Hats 2: Breaking News

This just in from Kuala Lumpur Chris:
'I have finally met a real King in a real palace - Sultan Mizan, now the Malaysian Agong, is a most charming and gentle man who was appalled that anyone could impose a 'Malays only' restriction on filming a documentary about his forthcoming Coronation. It was essential that I meet the King wearing a Songkok - a hat to you and me but one that is essential for any important social encounter here. It cost me 60 ringits - and nearly me my life since I had to get to the Songkok shop during a spectacular thunderstorm. On the way back from the Palace, the teksi driver asked me if I was Muslim.'
Could the Songkok be the answer? Or must we retreat to the Outdoor Research Element Bucket? We are at a crossroads.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Redeeming the Man Hat

Having purchased a second hand kayak for negotiating our small, shallow but potentially treacherous river here in Norfolk, I am assailed by Nige, with his usual flare for controversy, about my choice of craft. I should, he says, have bought a canoe because a man can wear a hat in a canoe and possibly also a cardigan to go with the pipe he is smoking. A kayak, he asserts, is not appropriate for a real man. Nige then shoots himself in both feet by discovering two hats specifically made for Kayak Man - here and here. The first is, of course, just a baseball cap with the word 'kayak' on the front. I love, incidentally, the 'back view'. The second is more interesting in that it claims to be 'fully constructed' and is possessed of 'dark green under-brim, six ventilating eyelets, chinstrap and cord.' What more could a man ask? Well, in the long run, he could ask for a resolution of the hat problem. Men and hats, afloat or not, just don't work any more. I resolved long ago never again to buy a hat on holiday, a resolution that has hardened into a determination never to buy a hat at all. Once an emblem of dignity and social status, now hats advertise only affectation or an oppressive sportiness. What can be done to restore the male hat to its proper place?

Imus and Kennedy: Two People Saying Stupid Things

It's interesting what you can and can't say. US radio star Don Imus described the Rutgers women's basketball team as 'nappy-headed hos' and has now been sacked. Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer defended the team. 'They are young ladies of class, distinction. They are articulate, they are brilliant, they are gifted. They are God's representatives in every sense of the word....We have all been physically, mentally, and emotionally spent, so hurt by the remarks that were uttered by Mr. Imus.' Imus was stupid, though I suspect he is no racist; Stringer was absurdly over-the-top. But that is the way of these stories, they must be conducted as legalistic zero-sum games. Meanwhile, in Germany (thanks to Kuala Lumpur Chris), the Scottish writer A.L.Kennedy gave an interview to the Berliner Zeitung. She said, 'When I take a look at the UK, it reminds me of the Nazi era. Blair is a delusioned war criminal. And I have little hope that Brown is any better. Once more we're stigmatising a single religious group, this time it's the Muslims. One part of society is labelled criminal. That really gets my back up.' And from what sources does she derive these radical insights? 'I've stopped reading the papers. An online service sends me a daily overview of the most important reports, mostly from American sources.' I won't do a Stringer here. But I will observe two things. First, her use of 'we' is odd since the Nazis were German and, secondly, her ignorantly disproportionate historical sense is an affront to six million Jews. But what Kennedy says is, in the eyes of the world, okay; what Imus says isn't. Funny old world.

Women Are So Shallow 2

Okay, I didn't mean it when I said women are so shallow. But American Airlines! They do.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Blog Pub

Yet another high-minded attack on the condition of bloggery, this time from Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian. Freedland compares the level of debate on blogs to a public meeting which is constantly being interrupted by abusive crazies. The blogosphere, he says, 'represents an enormous democratic opportunity' which is now being wasted. I won't repeat my point from my last post on this. But it is worth pointing out that Freedland's argument is based on absurdly high expectations. Imagine, for example, that somebody had just invented pubs. Columnists observe that they are being used for intense debate on the issues of the day and they represent, therefore, an enormous democratic opportunity. Sadly, however, the level of the debate is not of a very high standard. What is needed, therefore, is some sort of endorsement of certain pubs - The Dog and Duck: High Level Political Discussion Guaranteed, The Red Lion: Geopolitical Specials. Freedland, in short, is making an uncharacteristic - he is a fine journalist - category error. Blogs are more like pubs than debating chambers. Wisdom and insight appear fleetingly and are often forgotten by the next morning. This works for humans, but perhaps not for high-minded policy wonks.

Women Are So Shallow

A five foot guy needs to make $325,000 a year more than a six footer if he wishes to be as successful at online dating. A six footer wanting to match the performance of a man four inches taller would need to make $43,000 more. This from this - sorry about the New York Times link, but you can hum quietly to yourself or write a sonnet while wading through the unnecessary verbiage. So, it seems, all the love stuff comes down to money and height. Don't women understand inner beauty? No, neither do I. But somebody must. Sadly, men don't either - ' For women in the online study, shorter is better. A 5-foot-6 women would need to make $59,000 more than a 5-foot-0 or 5-foot-2 woman to do as well. She'd need to make $50,000 more than a 5-foot-4 woman.' So, basically, sexual selection is driving our species to ever larger variations in height. In a few hundred years it will be routine to see seven foot men with four foot women on their arms, or, perhaps, clutching their trouser legs. Routine and, in its way, handy - as, I think, Barry Humphries' sublime Australian cultural attache Les Patterson observed, a four footer with a flat head is the ideal as it's good to have somewhere to rest your drink.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I Know Americans Are Fat 3: Top Gear

Some elements of, shall we say, inclemency broke out among the comments to my posts I Know Americans Are Fat 1 and 2. In an attempt to ease tempers, I shall draw attention to an entirely amiable transatlantic tale. Top Gear is to become an American show with the same three presenters reviewing American cars. There, what could be nicer than that? Oh, hang on. Nobody seems to have mentioned one tricky little problemette. Jeremy Clarkson thinks, to a rough approximation, that all American cars are crap. In my experience, he is not entirely wrong, though I do seem to remember a bearable Buick LeSabre. Anyway, let's not get into a row about that one.

Blogging: a Self-Important, Minority Pursuit

The most reliable subject on which to blog is blogging. Bloggers, a navel-gazing breed, love it. Currently, we have Tim O'Reilly suggesting a six point charter of blog conduct and Oliver Kamm trashing political bloggery in an article that had Iain Dale and half the blogosphere spitting blood. Kamm is easily dismissed. He's not really talking about blogs, but about the modern media environment and his position, in this article at least, is meaningless. He writes, 'Such is the ideological chaos of modern Conservatism...the notion of the wisdom of crowds: knowledge emerges in a collaborative process rather than being dictated by experts.' There is no form of Conservatism in which knowledge is dictated by experts - indeed, how could an expert dictate knowledge? I think I know what Kamm is avoiding saying - that we need wise rulers - but wise rulers are not experts, quite the opposite in fact. The expert in power is a malign, utopian, technophile fantasy. O'Reilly's code of conduct is all very well and may, indeed, persuade a few bloggers to wear a 'Civility Enforced' badge with pride. But so what? The point that they are all missing is that very few people read blogs. I almost never meet anybody who has read even a single blog. Of course, some bloggers get a lot of 'traffic' and this convinces them that they are powers in the land, but their readers are drawn from a very limited pool. The truth is that, at the moment, blogging is a highly specialised business. Of course, many politicians do read blogs because they are so self-regarding, but, if they all stopped reading tomorrow, their electorates would be utterly unaffected. If blogs ever do become widely read, then a weeding out process should occur in which some will be endowed with authority and some won't. (This, of course, assumes a reasonably educated electorate - but that is another matter.) At that point all current discussions will look quite ridiculous.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Selling Sailors' Stories

There seem to be two arguments in favour of allowing the 15 sailors to sell their stories. The first, most lucidly advanced by a friend of mine, Andy McNab, is that it allows the Ministry of Defence to control the publicity. This may justify letting them tell their stories, but not sell them. As members of the armed forces, they might be expected to do the right thing for their country - including press interviews exposing her enemies - without any expectation of reward. The second argument - just advanced by an annoyingly noisy man on BBC Breakfast - is that senior army figures have written books and, therefore, profited from their service, so why not these guys? But the point here is that these sailors are selling their stories while serving and, indeed, in the midst of a very active confrontation with a cold enemy that might quickly become a hot one. Yet the MoD has said it has decided to suspend its usual rules in the light of 'exceptional circumstances'. On the whole, I think Janet Daley has got this right; this decision is yet a further example of Blair's inane obession with headlines and celebrity. And I don't seem to have been that far wrong when I suggested that a game of Big Brother would play some part in this grim debacle. The awful thing is that President Shabby Anagram has got just what he wanted - an exposure of the decadent West.

I Know Americans Are Fat 2

Sorry to bring this up again, but a new explanation for American fatness has just leapt out of my dawn web crawl. Americans eat too many Peeps. Harry Enfield's kebab store guy used this word to mean 'people', but, happily, there seems to have been no outbreak of mass cannibalism. These Peeps are small chick-shaped sugar things. Six hundred million are eaten around Easter, two for every American. They look disgusting, though Peep brulee has possibilities. This does not surprise me. Americans do most things better than we do - notably writing, TV comedy and optimism - but good confectionery has so far eluded them. Is there, for example, a more disgusting comestible than a Hershey bar? I think not.
PS. And now there is this shocker. Cadbury's creme eggs have shrunk.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Pursuit of the Harmless

Harvard School of Public Health has recommended the elimination of the 'depiction of tobacco' - brilliantly bureaucratic phrase - in movies 'accessible to youths' - and there's another. The Smoke Free Movies campaign will be delighted. They claim, 'Getting tobacco out of future G, PG and PG-13 films could be one of the most powerful health interventions in the last fifty years.' The Motion Picture Association of America seems to be a little embarrassed about this; they were expecting a rather tamer response from Harvard. Now they're stuck with this scorched earth policy, declining which will, presumably, be seen as a pro-tobacco depiction. What we have here is the not so thin end of a remarkably thick wedge. If tobacco, why not fat food - a particular problem for the Americans - depiction? Why not red meat depiction? Why not people taking insufficient exercise depiction? Why not walking too quickly with scissors depiction? Why not using a mobile phone on a plane depiction? (Actually, it turns out that is not dangerous at all, it's just airline control freakery.) Why not going to an Italian football match depiction? Why not being born depiction? It is, after all, an activity with a 100 per cent mortality rate. A fabulous youth-oriented movie suggests itself - a shot of a cloudy day (sun=melanoma) with no people and nothing happening. My Oscar is in the bag.

Sceptics May Mock, But... it is, clear evidence - as if any were needed - that Norfolk is haunted by the ghost of Salvador Dali. I shall never forget our late night discussions at Cambridge about Dali's theory of the 'four-buttock continuum'. Now we know for sure, it was, indeed, a continuum.

Tolkien and Evil

Today in The Sunday Times - on Philip Zimbardo's evil and on the new Tolkien.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Bloggery Birthday

I see blogs are ten years old today. Long pause. Mind blank. Ah! Who is this Andrew Keen? He is a 'former dotcom entrepreneur (why are they all former?) and the author of the forthcoming book Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture.' Former Keen thinks that bloggery is 'seductive in the sense that it convinces people to think they have more to say and are more interesting than they really are. The real issue is whether it adds any more to our culture. Most of it is just so transient and ephemeral.' What about breathing, former Andrew? Very ephemeral that. Adds to the culture? Depends whose breathing I guess. 'Not every blogger,' concedes former Mr Keen, 'is a narcissist who has nothing to say.' No, some are narcissists with a lot to say. Welcome to Thought Experiments. Nothing former here.

I Know Americans Are Fat....

... but I had not grasped the extent of the problem. Norway and Japan are interesting. Plainly there is no correlation between wealth and obesity. Incidentally, the sporadically brilliant but usually unpersuasive Terry Eagleton had this to say about US fatness.
'If people of truly surreal fatness complacently patrol its (America's) streets, it is partly because they have no idea that this is not happening everywhere else."
This is an acute observation about cultural complacency. People unthinkingly assume the universality of their perceptions and habits.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Word News

I fear Amanda may have taken to self-parody. A recent post starts with the following: 'Natasha at Pacific Views has the best post about domestic abuse and how it is generally gendered that I've possibly read on these here internets.' I'm troubled by those last three words, they suggest literary self-awareness, a quality she has never shown before. Meanwhile, I learn that Audi is the Latin translation for the German name Horch, which means 'Hark!'. What happened to hark? Such a handy word should not be consigned to the dustbin of history. Decoherence, however, is the word of the future. It is a problem in quantum computing and Good Friday posts. Serious quantum computing may or may not have happened in February and, if it did, the Singularity is, indeed, near. Meanwhile, the verb 'to primark' is on the way. It means 'to throw away your clothes soon after buying them'.With the opening of Primark's gigantic Oxford Street store, millions will now have to primark their piles of £2 bikinis, £8 jeans, £4 khaki trousers and £15 oversized silver parkas. I predict a major environmental crisis.
PS And when are we going to be rid of the ghastly 'comedic'? It offers nothing that we need, given than we have 'comic'.

Hermetic Good Friday Post

In my end is my beginning.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Iranian Big Brother for the Kidnapped Sailors

A friend emails me: 'Bryan, I turned to your blog thinking YOU of all people would have commented on the extraordinary absence of comment on the craven sucking-up to Ahmadinejad and his cronies displayed by the clearly Stockholm-syndromed Iranian 15. What on earth is going on? These are Marines, for chrissakes. Surely one of them would have had the gumption to say 'fuck you very much for kidnapping me'. I think we should be told.'
I agree but was holding back until our sailors were safe. Their abject compliance is, indeed, a mystery. Would they, if Ahmadinejad had suggested it, have taken part in a special Iranian edition of Big Brother in which a TV audience could vote on who should be released? It would have been a smart move for President Anagram, appealing both to his own electorate and to the sense of fun of Britain's tele-proles. I leave to your imagination what would have happened to the 'winner'. One further point: why were they suddenly dressed in bad suits? Possibly, this was a clever attempt to make the shabby Anagram looked well turned out, but who knows?

I Ask the Unaskable

1)Is there anything fundamentally wrong with snorting the ashes of your father?
2)Should Keith Richards' teeth really be in better condition than the rest of him? Is it something to do with the calcium?
3)Is Prince Harry, the hair apart, an embarrassment?
4)Why, exactly, are the Chinese suddenly allowing a gay TV show?
5)Do we need the word 'neurotheology'?
6)Is Wayne Rooney really cut out to be Indiana Jones?
7)And, finally, we know Gordon Brown has a ping pong ball in his mouth but what does John McCain have in his cheeks?

What is a Tory?

Commenting on my previous post, Clueless American asks: 'What are Tories?' Clueless knows his British history but does not see how the Tories of the past bear any relation to the creatures we now know as Tories. Well, Clueless, at the most basic level, 'Tory' is just a handy word to use instead of 'Conservative'. Journalists love finding ways of not saying the same thing twice, especially sports journalists. So, having said 'Wayne Rooney' once, they then feel the need to say something like 'the loveable Shrek-like tyke from Merseyside with consistency problems' the next time round. The problem with political nomenclature, however, is that only the Conservatives have a viable alternative. 'Socialist' used to be a satisfactory description of a Labour member until Tony Blair came along. Nobody knows what the Liberal Democrats are, so there's only the unsatisfactory LibDems for them. All of which is to say that 'Tory' in the contemporary vernacular usually means nothing more than 'member of the Conservative Party.' There remains a slight overtone of barely sane, under-medicated, cigar-smoking, clubland grandees deciding the fate of the nation over glasses of white port. But it is only slight.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Boris Question

Boris Johnson has now trashed Portsmouth from the comfort of a Maybach, a £340,000 car he was reviewing for GQ. This might be said to look a touch iffy on a number of levels for the shadow higher education minister. Iain Dale, however, defends him on the basis that he is good at his job and he is one of the few nationally known Tories. Iain suggests a promotion to the shadow cabinet combined with an ultimatum stipulating that 'he give up the outside interests ... and concentrate on the job.' This is a polite way of saying, cut the buffonery, Boris. The flaw in this is the assumption that Boris's apparent popularity will sustain him in government. At the moment, he is well known but not as a politician. In government his flamboyant toffery would at once irritate the people whose real lives he was affecting. Furthermore, there is a silly, sentimental, Tory view that 'characters' in politics are, somehow, refreshing. Alan Clark was the previous beneficiary of this folly. The truth is that any fool can be a 'character' and there is no reason why such a person should be any good as a politician - Clark certainly wasn't. Such 'characters', to the sentimental imagination, represent a rebuke to the supposed depravity of the present; but, in reality, they only exist because it is so easy to make one's name as a rebel merely by vacuously rejecting contemporary mores. These high Tories dreaming of the toffs of the past are, in fact, drowning in the celebrity cult of the present. Johnson - who may, for all I know, make a brilliant minister - doesn't seem to realise that he may have already drowned. Clark and Johnson are, for the Tories, Posh Spice and Kate Moss. I would have thought Boris wanted a more elevated role.

Talking CCTV 2: The Klingon Solution

The pursuit of invisibility continues. Following last year's development of a cloaking device that made objects invisible to radar, American engineers have developed a sort of spherical hairbrush that will bend light rays around an object so that you will see the background but not the object itself. So far it only works at one wavelength, but it's a step towards a full-scale cloaking device of the kind that the Klingons will, when Star Trek comes true, acquire from the Romulans. 'In principle,' says one engineer, 'this cloak could be arbitrarily large, as large as a person or an aircraft.' I want one so badly I can taste it. It has one killer app for anybody living in John Reid's Britain. It will conceal your movements from talking CCTV cameras.

Talking CCTV and the Executioner's Smile

I have used this Tom Stoppard quote before, never mind, here it is again. 'Credibility is an expanding field... Sheer disbelief hardly registers on the face before the head is nodding with all the wisdom of instant hindsight.' Ten or twenty years ago, the idea that government would watch every move we made on CCTV cameras would have been greeted with rank disbelief. A generation that had read Orwell's 1984 would know exactly where that would lead. Now, of course, our heads nodding with instant hindsight, we have largely accepted this state of affairs. There have been debates about personal freedom, of course, but I stopped registering them some time ago. 1984, I reasoned, was a novel and it was read by an excitable generation. Reality was different. Today, however, I was awoken from my dogmatic slumbers by the news that a talking CCTV camera scheme, piloted in Middlesborough, is to be expanding, meaning, I assume, it will soon be everywhere. TV reporters, on the whole a witless breed, have been demonstrating the system by dropping litter and being shouted at by a voice emanating from the top of a pole. And, of course, John Reid has been appearing, with his executioner's smile, assuring us that it was a wonderful idea. This is grotesque, vile, a move to infantilise yet further an already infantile electorate and yet another gimmicky evasion of serious policy choices. A town centre filled with the sound of booming, reprimanding voices is, indeed, an Orwellian vision. Who knows what new crimes will be invented to justify and empower the new breed of barking bureaucrats?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Guy Trap

I think Dave Barry is beginning to get to me. As you may have noticed, some of my recent posts - not least the last - have been distinctly guyish. The guy is the hapless, helpless hero of much of what Barry writes. This is a particular fine example. The linked video is a gem - 'Powers was lucky - he had broken his back...' Jumping the St Lawrence in a yellow Lincoln Continental travelling at 280mph (pulling, so the commentary says, 30Gs!) was a pointless, mad, dangerous stunt, but, as Barry's headline says, 'A guy has to do what a guy has to do', and Kenny Powers did seem to get the blonde chick of his dreams. But what is a guy? In these terms, he is a fairly pathetic but vaguely heroic post-feminist figure, a man who has to do what he has to do while knowing that women are altogether more serious creatures. A guy, above all else, gets on with other guys. He is not deliberately destructive like the lad and he is certainly not a lout. Indeed, his guyish stunts can actually be creative, though always with the footnote that they are quite pointless. But the truth is that a guy is lost in a wilderness of his own making; he knows not who he is nor what he is for. My Barryesque transformation is beginning to trouble me.

Women's Empowerment and the Pub You Pedal

So here I am looking for a serious subject for a post - I do try to raise the tone every so often - and up pops the PedalPub. But, honestly, I do want to know why women's empowerment is not a zero-sum game. It's just that... well, that really is a pub you pedal.

Animal TV Criticism

Here are five videos of animals attacking TV reporters plus one of a human assault. Four of these are satisfactory. The two that aren't are the bear attack - too nasty - and the human attack - that's just humans as normal so what's the big deal? But, otherwise, there is something utterly right about the spectacle of animals disrupting the silly conventions and condescending style that form the global TV vernacular. Two of the best I can't seem to find - the Blue Peter elephant, a moment more important than puberty for an entire British generation, and Raggs the Kangaroo. Raggs, with total justification, lost his temper with a man in a stupid monster suit and decked him with a superb right-left combination. Oh and, from this list, Pinky deserves a place in all our hearts - that final spiral movement up the leg followed by the sinking of the teeth into the upper thigh is quite breathtaking.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Stop the Struggy

I am considering a campaign modelled on the anti-4x4 uprising. This would involve sticking fake parking tickets with the slogan 'Poor Buggy Choice' on excessively large baby buggies - or, as I think they are called in the US, strollers. Struggies, as I shall call them for perfect transatlantic understanding, are getting bigger. Cafes and restaurants are routinely thrown into turmoil by the arrival of a colossal uber-struggy containing, somewhere amidst the over-engineered melange of steel, fabric and gigantic off-road tyres, one very small toddler, the poor chap bound for a life of self-esteem problems - too much or too little, it could go either way. Here you can see the issue defined with admirable objectivity. What this page does not mention, however, is the way the bigger struggy is becoming as much of a status symbol in fashionable London as the Porsche Cayenne, the vehicle of choice for the Bulgarian Ambulance Service. In this context, the struggy to note is the Britax Teutonia, so-called, I assume, because of its striking resemblance to a Panzer division. I await with dread the Boudica with knives projecting from the wheel hubs to assist in path-clearing through crowded eateries.

A Happy, Incoherent Post

Dazed and confused this morning, also intensely self-conscious after reading this - thanks Chip. Such an acute analysis of what this blog is about has rendered me incapable of posting coherently. Perhaps I should get hold of one of the tinfoil hats that now seem to be used in World of Warcraft. It might ward off malign or, indeed, flattering influences. Or I could have a dirt bath. It seems to have an anti-depressant effect. And, before you say anything, I am assuming that any article with 'lung cancer' in the second par is unlikely to be an April Fool. Also, as Dave Barry says, '...if we can't trust the Internet, whom can we trust?' And, on that basis, I hope I can actually get hold of an 8-bit tie, the best offer out there since the Wallace Stevens mug - tea (I am drinking from the mug at this very moment) and, on the reverse, a great poem, what more could a man ask?
PS. The happy strangeness of the day continues. That great, gifted rocker Pete Townshend - once an acquaintance - has appeared to comment on my Elton John post. Truly a day of omens and wonders. At university the great Nige used to say that, had he met Pete at the right moment, they could have changed the course of western civilization. He wasn't wrong, though Pete did a pretty good job on his own.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Fooled in April

Reality being what it is, April Fool jokes generally fail. But, to feed your appetite, here and here are some largely unfunny gags, though I did like the Vilcus Plug Dactyloadapter. The problem is, of course, knowing what is or isn't a gag. This hunt for condom testers, for example, seems wildly implausible, but it is datelined March 29th and it seems unlikely the BBC have taken to running phony stories on any day they feel like it. Bulgaria buying a fleet of 32 Porsche Cayennes to use as ambulances feels improbable, but this is dated March 30th and this is, let's face it, Bulgaria. And what of the Plagiarism Museum? Who can say? But, in spite of the March 31st deadline, I'm sure the news that Sir Alex Ferguson blames reality TV for the attacks on Steve McLaren is a gag. 'We have a mocking situation in this country now,' is a bit of a dead giveaway. But what of this epistemological nightmare from Amanda Marcotte's sensational and sporadically intelligible Pandagon blog? A gag or not? It brought to mind Freud's question - 'What do women want?' And it provided an answer - 'There is no way we - or they - can ever know.'