Posts from 6th May 2004

May 04

Am I the only person who thinks the

Do You SeePost a comment • 368 views

Am I the only person who thinks the Michael Moore vs Disney story is complete guff, and is there wholly to dupe a politically sensitive Cannes jury into festooning Moore’s film with an award. Moore is nothing if not a tremendous self publicist, and the whole affair seems to to be appealing to a French public who already rather dislike the man who Moore is heavily bashing. Of course it won’t matter to us in the UK, it is being released by Optimum in August.

Mendel’s Dwarf: Part Two of Two

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Mendel’s Dwarf: Part Two of Two

So away from literary concerns, how is the science in Mendel’s Dwarf? Well don’t ask me, I gave up Biology aged thirteen because the experiments were not as good as Chemistry and Physics and it was a gurls science*. Instead I have used the book as a primer on Mendel and his pea experiments. And what did I learn? The following:

a) They knew less about probability and statistics in the nineteenth century than biology even. The exhaustive studies Mendel did crossing particular strains of a rather dull plant over and over again confirmed a trend which anyone who had done basic stats would have recognised straight away.

b) They knew even less about margins of error in the nineteenth century than they did about stats. You see the chances of various genetic combinations coming up are just like tossing a coin. So we can conclude that the results may tend towards the perfect result, but the chance of getting the perfect results is actually very slim. Mendel did his experiments thousands of time (he was a monk, he has plenty of time). And his results have barely any margin of error. So much so that it is almost certain that he fudged his results. Which is nice to know. He was right, but he cheated. Ah, wonderful human nature.

The problem with this revelation in the book is that it is couched in the terms of a fictional novel. How much can we trust the biographical information that is presented to us as the writings of a fictional character. The revelation of Mendel’s duplicity is presented as a counterpoint to a modern day action by the fictional Dr Benedict Lambert. It is rather convenient, which leads you to wonder how true the whole thing is. Independent infomation confirms the Mendel as cheater story (and Galileo too!), but here is the problem in getting ones factual info from fiction.

*I have no idea where I got the idea that biology was a gurls science, it may just have been in my school where the physics teacher was a scary man who all the gurls thought smelled bad. To be fair so did most of the boys too.


Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 1,160 views

BRANDWATCH: another thinnish week for food and booze news – the front page of Marketing dominated by Nestle’s somewhat unsubtle attempt to counter its unethical image by launching a ‘fair trade’ coffee line. Inside the only item of any note is the rebranding of Blackthorn CIDER, which is now going to focus on its ‘Englishness’ and boasts a new can design with a flame on the side. I would be wary of associating drink with fire – it always suggests to me that the product is, well, fiery, which Blackthorn isn’t. But in the alcohol market there’s a secondary association of flammability, i.e. antifreeze.

Desperate for more branding news I turn to the IRN site where I encounter this surely-mistaken claim that the world record for marshmallow-eating is 24 in a minute. So here’s today’s quiz question: how many is it REALLY?

Mendel’s Dwarf: Part One Of Two

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 224 views

Mendel’s Dwarf: Part One Of Two

Simon Mawer’s novel Mendel’s Dwarf is that potentially most annoying of things. A parallel narrative, where both generally unrelated storylines unfold, taking space, time and momentum from the other. Here the split is between a simplistic but thorough subjective account of the biologist Gregor Mendel’s life, and that of our fictional modern day narrator. The subjectivity through which Mendel’s life is shot is through the viewpoint character, Dr Benedict Lambert – a dwarf molecular biologist.

I’m going to talk about the Mendel bit on Proven By Science, here I am more interested in the shorthand of disability, disfigurement or difference in the novel. It is clear from the first page (a well dramatised satire fo the reaction of an academic conference) that Lambert is a dwarf. It is clear from the jacket blurb to be fair. And this introductory satire also runs us through the usual responses to difference. Horror, sympathy, over-compensation, rudeness. The interesting point being that these reactions come before the character opens his mouth and has even presents his personality. Ironically of course it is these reaction which help shape the character, you are always a victim of your situation. A good phrase, used more than one in the book beause Mawer probably recognised its soundbite potential, is ‘It isn’t brave unless you have a choice’.

All that said, can we distinguish the authors voice fromt he characters voice. Mawer is not a dwarf, just as Mark Haddon does not have Aspergers Syndrome. Who is he to imagineer such a character, and what of authenticity. It strikes me that whilst this is a gnarly question, it really does not matter. Fiction is all about imagination, the problem perhaps arises if Lambert is seen as emblematic of all dwarfs. Similar questions were raised about the film The Station Agent, there Fin does not represent the dwarf experience – but where are our alternatives. Time Bandits? It is and has always been too simplistic to say that under the skin all people are the same. We are the sum of our experiences, unfortunately mixed up with different reactions to those experiences.

Mawer complicates things in Mendel’s Dwarf by making Lambert a relative of Mendel. Our fictional character is related to a real one, the real one whose biography the fictional one is telling. Dr Benedict Lambert is not real, what he does in the book did not happen (though the genetic research mentioned has now been done), to what extent can he represent what it is to be a dwarf. I’m 5’2″ and there was a resonance even with being slightly shorter than the average. Even if he is miles out, the whole thing manages to have an effect. That’s good enough.

‘These people aren’t being rational’

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 320 views

‘These people aren’t being rational’
Article by, arch curmudgeon, Stephen Moss in today’s Guardian (G2) about the “Friends of Radio 3”, as linked to by Tom (below). It covers the BBC’s reaction and exposes the possibility of FoR3’s military wing.

Best quote: “We arranged a meeting to discuss their concerns. I expected a hundred people to march on Broadcasting House. Two turned up and even they couldn’t agree whether jazz was any good.” Sounds like they’d be at home on a bulletin board not too far from here…

In the Lousy last night

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 194 views

In the Lousy last night (the Princess Louise by Holborn for those not up with rubbish made up Freaky Trigger slang) and the talk turned to one of the pubs more unusual fittings. Not the grand mirrors, or the intricate tin false ceiling. Not even the wonderfully appointed Victorian toilets where you can rest assured that it probably is Dickens piss that you are still smelling to this day. No, at the bar just by the til there are two large brass square hoops. Similar to the hooped aluminium bannisters attached to the steps on the sides of swimming pools, these as yet have never performed a function in all the time they had been there. What were they for?

I had always assumed they were for disabled customers, them no being dissimilar to the acoutrements provided in disabled toilets. It was instantly pointed out to me that they would cause nothing but a hinderance to a blind punter, so I change my catagory description to someone in a wheelchair. But after mere moments of thought this seemed unlikelu. Ina disabled toilet the bars aid shifting over on to the pedastal. Here it would allow someone to pull themselves up, but to go where. On to a handily supplied bar stool? Unlikely.

Any suggestions? I still stick by my idea that it was in place as some sort of aid, but potentially put in by someone who, like me, did not really think things through.

Landspeed record broken

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 367 views

Landspeed record broken
For data. Sorry. This was way below my “level” on slashdot (how does that level thing work?), so it’s a bit out of date – it happened last month if you look at the history of this competition.

California to Sweden, 838860800000 bytes (840Gb) in 1588 seconds (26 mins) = 4226 Mbit/sec over 16,343 km = 69 Petabit-meters/second (Peta is 1015 as you well know)

That’s 1000CDs or about 160 DVDs in half an hour.


Recipe Help Please!

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 271 views

Recipe Help Please! I have i) some cod fillets ii) some single cream iii) some asparagus tips. How best to combine them? (Other ingredients can be picked up from Sainsburys on the way home).

Black Is The New Black

Do You SeePost a comment • 1,104 views

Black Is The New Black: I have spent a worrying amount of time since last summer looking at reviews on this sprawling Dr Who reviews site. So much so that I’ve started recognising reviewer names. This guy, Mike Morris, is easily the best, and this is a long essay by him on The Master. I don’t always agree with everything Morris says – I don’t for instance think an ’embodiment of hate’ is the best use of The Master if Dr Who has to use him at all – but he’s intelligent and he writes clearly and he writes amusingly (describing a bit of rotten dialogue: “a line whose shitness extends for miles left and right, so the only way past it is over the top”). Something to chew on, anyway, while waiting for K-Punk’s next monograph on 70s sci-fi…

Us vs Them – The World’s Greatest Football Derbies (Giles Goodhead)

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I wasn’t sure whether to post this on the Brown or the Orange Wedge. As the latter has come to life of late, I guess it can sit with its new sporting buddies.

The premise of the book is simple. The author picks eight of the world’s biggest football derbies and slants it as a travelogue. Most of the derbies are geographical; two teams, one city, polarised support. Woven within each story is the history of animosity between the sides, some autobiographical musings and a dusting of context.

Where the book works is in those instances where the absurdity of the situation is exposed; young Spurs fans arguing that Arsenal should never have been admitted to the top flight after the First World War or the sectarian vitriol of Rangers versus Celtic.

The scramble for tickets in Istanbul captures all the confusion and passion of the lead up to a big game. Scams and tension on the streets, colour and noise in the stadium. In Prague the language barrier proves impenetrable and he misses the game altogether, cursing his luck when he discovers it finished 4-4.

The chapter on the Spanish Superclassico is poor and all the more so as it opens the book. A shame, the scene was set up with Figo’s first return to the Nou Camp since his switch to Madrid. Goodhead’s inability to speak any language other than English limits his own insight and he fails to sufficiently grasp the concept of morbo.

The writing comes alive when he ventures further afield, America versus Guadalajara at the Azteca and the Argentine Derbi at Boca Juniors crumbling stadium. The latter is nicely done, set against the backdrop of an Argentine economy on its knees, all tickertape and punch-ups. A tangible class divide sperates the supporters and for once a local accompanies the author to translate the chanting and abuse. At other games he brings along disinterested mates or relatives to act as a rational foil against his enthusiasm and hammers the point too bluntly.

In the Milan chapter Goodhead looks back to his schoolboy experiences of playing football and the derby like games of his childhood. Bizarrely he is from the same small town as I am. He was in the line up of the fee paying school’s eleven, I played for the local comprehensive team. He describes the friction of the local derby game and how much it meant to beat us. God, we hated those posh kids.