Diversity in the blogosphere

Link: Cognitive Daily: Bloggasm survey of diversity in the blogosphere#more.

"Simon Owens has posted the results of his survey of diversity in the blogosphere at his site Bloggasm.

Here are the results for the blogosphere as a whole:

Male: 69%
Female: 31%
White/Caucasian/European: 73%
Black/African: 9%
Asian: 10%
Middle Eastern/Arab: 1%
Latino/Hispanic: 6%
Native American: 1%"

(see more at the link to Cognitive Daily)

Spotting fake science

Link: Amy On The Web » Blog Archive » How To Tell If The Science Is Fake.

Amy links to a post that sure hits the mark, "the seven warning signs of bogus science". Now I look at her link, I think I have read Robert Park’s list before, but had forgotten it, being a creature of no memory.

As well as the extracts Amy highlights, here is one that is spot-on:

"7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation. A new law of nature, invoked to explain some extraordinary result, must not conflict with what is already known. If we must change existing laws of nature or propose new laws to account for an observation, it is almost certainly wrong."

It is amazing how many people submit work to scientific journals under "clause 7".

Shakespeare red in tooth and claw

Link: Susan Hill’s blog :: REMEMBER THE 100 BOOKS YOU REALLY MUST READ ?.

I have sympathy with Susan Hill’s view that Shakespeare (she highlights Macbeth) can be better enjoyed read rather than seen at the theatre. I have read all of Shakespeare’s plays  when a teenager (in one of those "collected works" with tissue-thin paper and microscopic print). I’ve returned to them many times since.

Sometimes a performance of Shakespeare is enthralling. I remember seeing Alan Howard as Henry VI years ago, finally understanding the cliche "you could hear a pin drop" during his speeches. What an exponent of the spoken word. I even saw Olivier on stage, as Shylock, towards the end of his career.

But Shakespeare’s plays are uneven, and so are performances of them. One of the first Shakespeares I saw live was Twelfth Night at Stratford with Judi Dench as Viola (yes, dates me, I know). I remember being disappointed. But last year’s vibrant production of the same play in the very same theatre was a total delight — I was entranced and so were Malcolm, Jenny and Cathy — none of them particular Shakespeare fanatics. Returning a few months later to see As You Like It was not such a joyful experience.

Antony and Cleopatra is one of my very favourite Shakespeare plays — probably the favourite. Yet it is certainly uneven: it contains some of the author’s most beautiful poetry but also some dramatic casualness. I recently saw the Globe’s production of this play, and found it a real let-down. Frances Barber was the only member of the cast who was even half-way convincing, and Enobarbus somehow contrived not to thrill in that most wonderful of all Shakespeare’s speeches: "The barge she sat in…."

As has often been said, maybe the most reliable way to see Shakespeare is on film. But the medium can, er, swamp the message.  As I write, Cathy and Jenny are watching for the second time in as many days a rented DVD called "She’s the Man", allegedly an update of Twelfth Night, concerning a boy’s soccer team….you get the picture. I’ll draw a veil.

Hermione Granger’s birthday?

According to Bibliophile Bullpen, yesterday (Tuesday 19 September) was Hermione Granger’s birthday. I mentioned this to Jenny, who is sitting opposite me at her computer. She says that nobody knows when Hermione’s birthday is: "it never says in any of the books". I have left a comment on BB to ask how he or she came by the information, but if anyone can enlighten me and Jenny, we’d be very grateful.

Letter’s long haul

"Rob Whitmore, 11, received a £20 gift from his grandmother after her letter had made a 22,000-mile detour via Norfolk Island in the South Pacific. Postal staff appear to have misread the ornate writing of Mariana Whitmore, 90, who sent the envelope to Botesdale from Stowmarket, Suffolk, 13 miles away."

Well, Susan will be glad to know that the UK postal service has parallels with Canada’s.

(news in brief from The Times, Saturday 16 September, page 37 – not available online).

Italian code or Greek cipher?

Link: Success at last for writer who defied 50 rejections – Newspaper Edition – Times Online.

"It cost him his flat and four years of unemployment, but all he had to show for his struggle to write a bestselling first novel were more than 50 rejection letters from agents and publishers". So starts the heartwarming tale in the Times on Monday of how William Petre has had his book "snapped up" by HarperCollins in Britain for £165,000, with Sony and "other Hollywood studios pursuing the film rights".

Most of the story focuses on the familiar tale of the lonely, dedicated author, giving up the day job and gradually becoming more impoverished until he got his big break. He worked on improving his book, a historical novel inspired by a visit to Egypt, for 4 years, submitting it under various names so that publishers would not remember him from last time.

One day, Petre got a phone call "out of the blue" from literary agent Luigi Bonomi, who had "unearthed the novel from the hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts that arrive at his office each week" and was "bowled over by it" (these cliches really are all in the story, such are the standards of journalism these days). Once the agent had taken it on, he quickly sold the book to HarperCollins.

Well, good luck to Petre. But although I don’t doubt the facts of the story as far as publishing the book goes, I am suspicious. The title of the book? "The Alexander Cipher". The extract provided by the Times to accompany the story? Mediocre and unoriginal, to be generous. Hollywood studios being interested? Easy to claim.

Is this story essentially a clever piece of marketing by a canny agent, aided by the fact that the newspaper and book publisher share an owner? I would never have had this mean thought if it were not for the title of the book and the dull extract.

Ice explorers

I was reminded of Clare Dudman’s excellent novel "One day the ice will reveal all its dead" (or, as it is called in the UK, "Wegener’s Jigsaw") when I saw these photographs and letters. They will be auctioned on Friday (22 September) at Charterhouse Auctioneers in Sherborne, Dorset, UK. From the catalogue:

Petrona_2 "Lot 417 A Quantity of Memorabilia, relating to the Discovery Antarctic expedition of 1901, and the 1921 Quest expedition of Sir Ernest Shackleton, assembled by Petty Officer J W Dell, an engineer on both expeditions. The collection includes letters from Captain Scott, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Dr Edward Wilson, photographs of Discovery and her crew, and agreements between Sir Ernest Shackleton and Petty Officer Dell regarding employment on the Quest expedition.
Petty Officer J W Dell, who ended up living in North Somerset, was injured while flensing a seal on the expedition and was consequently invalided home. He was also possibly the last man to see Sir Ernest Shackleton alive, and constructed the cross which was placed over Shackleton’s grave on South Georgia. Provenance: By descent through the family £600 – 1000."

Prime minister dearest

Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark, is being divorced by his wife Diane. In describing her first meeting with Mrs T, Diane says in a magazine interview: "I remember Mark addressed her as Prime Minister. "Prime Minister, this is Diane Burgdorf". I didn’t have to curtsey to her but it was very formal."

I wonder if Mrs T actually was PM at the time, or if the moniker had stuck as a pet name among her family?

Should I take a leaf out of this book and insist that my daughters’ friends address me as "Lady High Petrona"? Hmm, perhaps not.