Friday, 3 February 2006

Hot summer nights

Listening to:

Moby, James Bond theme.

and the loudness of air-conditioning units

When talking about the weather in Canberra (a safe topic for conversation if ever there was one), I often claim that though hot during the summer, it’s still quite bearable because it cools down during the nights, and it’s possible to sleep quite comfortably. This is true, but our neighbours don’t seem to realise it. They think the nights remain hot, and leave their air-conditioning on rather than just opening their windows. This forces us out of the main bedroom, which is close to their loud air-conditioning unit, and into the second bedroom.


Wednesday, 8 February 2006

A pound of paper

Listening to:

Simply the best, by Tina Turner.

Just read:

John Baxter, A pound of paper: confessions of a book addict.

This book is an enjoyable memoir about the life of an Australian who grew up in the fifties, got the sci-fi reading bug, emigrated to the UK, and became a book collector. It makes for a fascinating mix. On the one hand, Baxter has lots to say about the sometimes seedy, and usually rather nerdy habits of book collectors. This is interesting enough in itself, but Baxter also has another string to his bow: an Australian autobiographical slant that reads a little like Clive James’s Unreliable memoirs.

The book collecting leads Baxter into personal contact with authors as well as other collectors. He meets Kingsley Amis at one point, for example. This is interesting enough, but I think the discussion of how one might get oneself a collecting “angle” is more interesting. You don’t want to collect a big author like Graham Greene, as Baxter did, but you could, for example, collect first editions of Booker Prize winners.


Monday, 13 February 2006

Cartoons and freedom of speech

Listening to:

Eric Clapton (with Cream), Let it grow.

Sounding off

First a couple of well-written opinion pieces:

  • Russell Brown makes a good argument as to why the media should back off a little, and how many of the people calling for publication of the cartoons seem to be doing so precisely because they want to be offensive. And Brown is consistent here: in another post, he reacts to what Abu Hamza (recently imprisoned in London) is supposed to have preached, with “Well, fuck him”.
  • Christopher Hitchens makes a good argument too: that freedom of speech is all about the right to be offensive, and that if you are only allowed to speak if you won’t offend, then you don’t have freedom of speech at all.

My take is that the Danish newspaper shouldn’t have published the cartoons in the first place (though arguing that they weren’t even very funny as some seem to is feeble: political cartoons are often deliberately not funny; an editorial cartoon is not like Peanuts). Further, re-publishing the cartoon where the motive is simply to continue to offend is noxious. On the other hand, republishing to show solidarity with fellow journalists who have been threatened with death, and with diplomats who have had their embassies torched, is perfectly reasonable. To be cowed into silence because of the fear of trade sanctions from the like of Iran, or because of threats, is to, excuse the melodrama, give into the terrorists.

The fact that Iran is hosting a competition for maximally offensive cartoons about the Holocaust is just proof that the government there doesn’t get it. The point of the Danish press is that it prints what it likes without jumping to do the bidding of its government. Iran will really compete with the West when it stops imprisoning and murdering its own journalists.

Sunday, 26 February 2006

The Monolinguist’s Advantage

I’ve often felt that it’s a terrible disadvantage being relatively monolingual compared to the many Europeans I’ve met who have wonderfully good English. They speak a second (or third) language fluently, and I have nothing like that level of command in any other language than English.

On the other hand, the fact that English is the world’s lingua franca does mean that English speakers get lots of exposure to a variety of non-native accents (not to mention native-speakers’ accents from America to India to Australia). Speakers of other languages don’t expect foreigners to address them in it (contrast: English tourist in the Netherlands to Dutch tourist in England).

And so the monolinguist’s advantage: being better able to decipher the mangled or oddly accented speech of non-native speakers. Still not much consolation for not having perfect French or Japanese though, is it?

To close on a different tack, you should read P. Z. Myers on the idiotic American journalist who reckoned that students don’t need to learn algebra.