Posts from 16th March 2005

16
Mar 05

ANTARCTICA AND THE ARCTIC: THE COMPLETE ENCYCLOPEDIA

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ANTARCTICA AND THE ARCTIC: THE COMPLETE ENCYCLOPEDIA
by David McGonigal and Lynn Woodworth

Sometimes all you need is a good coffee-table picture book — and this one is GREAT. Published just the other year, it might well be the hands-down slambang ‘if you ever wanted to know everything about a place’ winner for Antarctica in particular. (The Arctic coverage is enjoyable but much more limited.)

See, the thing about ‘coffee table picture books’ as such is that they attract criticism for being fiercely middlebrow or something — expensive show pieces to impress others with your taste as you have wine and canapes or some such nonsense. That may well be the intent for a lot of books that could fit the description but that’s not to say one can’t actually put a hell of a lot of information in with the entertainment value — and that the information can’t work.

Thus this book, a monster in size and in price but you know, I’d say it’s worth it. Antarctica is hardly on the tip of everyone’s tongue, there’s mostly general impressions and occasionally something will be said about ozone research and last-minute rescue attempts. As an overview of history, natural and human-measured, as well as biology, geology, geography, etc. etc., this will pack yer brain in with stuff — but my goodness the PHOTOS. There’s some stunning work included in here, and I found myself stopping and looking in close detail at many different images. Not merely the continent but many surrounding islands are covered as well, and the images of South Georgia are breathtaking.

So get some to get it for you as a gift or something. I’d actually read through this one again if I ever wanted to make my way down there — and now I might!

THE FT TOP 100 SONGS 84. Pulp – “Babies”

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THE FT TOP 100 SONGS
84. Pulp – “Babies”

The genius of “Babies” is that the harder you try to make sense of the story the less sense the song seems to make: and the more you think about the song the less the story matters. This is a confession of what ‘happened years ago’ which is also a seduction; an attempt to rewrite (Freud might say ‘cathect’) pre-lapsarian companionship as the prehistory of today’s desire. But the urgency of the chorus – ‘I want to take you home’ RIGHT NOW – suggests that teenaged fumblings are not the prelude to but the truth of mature sexuality, hastily hidden under the mattress when adulthood knocks on the bedroom door. Making babies is the coverstory: “Babies” doesn’t just make the family the centre of precocious sexual experiment, but makes home, kids, boyfriend-girlfriend, everything else, an excuse for it.

Story: curiosity becomes desire (‘I wanted to see as well as hear’); fellowship ‘we listened’) is abandoned for solitary vice (scopophilia); the act of entering the wardrobe (shades of CS Lewis?) becomes both enclosure and a seemingly paradoxical kind of exposure. Shut in by our desires, we’ve also effectively cornered ourselves: ‘I fell asleep inside, I never heard her come’, I was hiding, but there was nowhere to hide… And then repetition: she caught me inside; you caught me inside her, and although this time I heard you stop outside the door, I still couldn’t do anything else!

Song: a hymn to the aimlessness of undisciplined teenage desire, not yet running along socially sanctioned lines, in which one body can be substituted for another, one sister for another, one sex for another. Desire which expands to fill the time (after school) and space (bedrooms detached from the houses which enclose them, which literally do not belong: sex before marriage as sex before mortgage!) available. Which is why this story can never add up: what’s unsettling isn’t just the substitution of one sister for another, but of me for the boy from the garage up the road; ‘I had to get it on’, driven not only by my displaced lust, i.e. lust itself, but by hers.

Excuses multiply guilt rather than rescind it, and “Babies” produces the fact of substitution – that for sex one body is as good as another – which love’s particularity seeks to tame and subdue. I want to take you home. Now. We can make up for all that lost time. So I was watching your sister; and I was listening while you went with Neve. So we never. Although we wanted to really. It was you all along. But we never. Until now. Now? If the chorus is supposed to make amends for or cancel out the past, it’s not just unconvincing, but a radical failure. The indeterminate ‘you’ to which it is addressed is never just you, never only you, never really you at all: it’s you or your sister, you and your sister, you and/or whoever else were to be sitting across the table from me now.

…And of course, YOU: and you, and you, and you? This is popular music and like the sound of one couple in the block shagging, as Jarvis recounts in Sheffield Sex City, one of the tracks that partnered “Babies” on the original Gift release, pretty soon it’ll have everybody fucking.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 15. The World’s Smallest Monkey

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There is some debate as to which small monkey this actually is:

the pygmy marmoset? (caution very small indeed)

or the tarsier, voted the official world’s cutest animal in 1997 despite brazenly overdoing the big eye ‘thing’ in my rarefied view.

(Further candidates welcomed.)

Why should the WSM hold such appeal? We like monkeys because they are smart and do things which are a bit human. We like small animals because they are dainty and sweet. Hence whatever species it belongs to the world’s smallest monkey has a huge Thumbelina-style appeal. We live now in an enlightened age when nobody would be allowed to teach the WSM heartbreaking tricks with dolls furniture. THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT.

“instinct” is the “influence” of the Animal Kingdom:

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or When o When Will Attenborough Topl’d from his Siege Satanic Be?

you watch a DA nature prog and it’s beautifully and daringly filmed of course, and here’s the hypnotic whisperer tellin us that THESE FISH rise to the SEA’S SURFACE just once a year, to coincide w.the SPRING FULL MOON, bcz of “spawning instinct”

bcz obviously ALL ANIMALS ARE PRE-PROGRAMMED ROBOTS ONLY w/o likes and dislikes and feewlings!!

i never liked this evasion but dr vick – with her PhD in the REGIONAL ACCENTS of ducks – has taught me to detest it. Bcz (like “influence”) it sounds like it means something, only it doesn’t: “Logical ppl are logical bcz they have an instinctual preference for logic” etc. Maybe the FISH LIKE THE WAY THE MOON LOOKS!!? And the endless experience* of the past has taught them that this is the best day to look at it! And it makes them happy and frisky and so they all have sex??

animals have cultures too, but this is apparently a scary and “unscientific” idea, and we are forbidden to ANTHROPOMORPHISE!! (but bee culture is of course that which makes bees NOT like ppl)

*so how wd eg fishes – as animals w/o “language” – pass on the “endless experience of the past”? well assuming (big assumption) that they can’t communicate by eg scent release or ritual dance movement or whatever, just by having EXCELLENT BODY CLOCKS and EXCITEDLY RUSHING UP to the surface on the given day. And the newbies all follow the oldsters, TO SEE WHAT THE FUN IS!! And the fun is the lovely moon. (It doesn’t have to be the MOON ITSELF, which fish maybe can’t see the way we do: just the niceness of how the upper sea looks and feels lit by full moonlight…)

“They do it bcz they instinctually do things they like doing” = “They do it bcz they like it” Just bcz animals can’t read and write doesn’t mean they can’t pass nice NEW habits and whatever down to their kids and cubs and tadpoles and larvae: this isn’t lamarckianism cz it ISN’T ENCODED INTO THEIR DNA (which wd take ages). And if the habits don’t work out down the years, then they will die out.

Anyway we shd be allowed to say that even very extremely unmammalian animals like [xx] bcz it is FUN!! Science will survive: pompous-ass pseudo-knowledge will take one in the eye.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 16. Polar Bear

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INCIDENTALLY WE HAVE A CLUB ON NEXT THURSDAY AT THE POLAR BEAR.

Ahem.

Lion of the North! They’re not actually white you know, more a kind of grubby cream colour. They devour seals and mints in equal measure. Perennial British wildlife TV favourite because they’re exotic and fierce but cute and relatively near (the badger is the British polar bear). Thus they balance both sides of the Wildlife TV equation – the public want to see wuvly animals but they must also be told the truth about nature R in T&C. The polar bear offers an opportunity to do this without interminable cub-in-danger sequences.