Twitterings, layoffs and output of gorillas

My brain is blank and I have nothing of interest to write, so I'll mention a few items that caught my eye:

James Long reveals that Twitter has become mainstream. He knows this not only because use of the platform grew by 752 per cent last year, but because "Internet darling" Gwynneth Paltrow is reportedly considering using it to start a book reading group "with her famous pals like Madonna". Cue sarcastic comment about how convenient to choose a format that allows only 140 characters per post? (or "tweet"). You don't seem to be able to search Bryan Appleyard's Thought Experiments blog so I cannot provide a direct link to the matter, but if you go there you will find plenty of inside stories about Bryan and his soul-mate Gwynneth which explain the "Internet darling" label. Even if you don't find them, its a provocatively interesting place to spend a bit of time in any event.

There is an amazing graph at the Official Google Enterprise blog (new blog to me – is it a spin-off of Star Trek?) showing spam trends in 2008 – and most amazingly, what happened to those trends after one day in November when the McColo network was taken offline. The day of 2008 with the highest volume of spam was 23 April, a date that sticks in my mind as the shared birthday between Shakespeare and Hitler – and the day widely considered to be the day Shakespeare died, though without much evidence – and St George's day. Also my paternal grandfather's birthday. I wrote the birthday part without checking, so I am prepared to stand contradicted (apart from the bit about my grandfather, which I defy anyone to know better than I do).

And a bit of book news from the blogosphere today: Amazon has announced it is to stop offering e-books in the Adobe and Microsoft Reader formats. Martyn Daniels of the Booksellers' Association explains what it all means. And perhaps more shockingly, Sara Nelson, the editor-in-chief of Publishers' Weekly, has been laid off, says Sarah Weinman. What a pity. I rarely see a printed copy of the magazine in the office any more, sadly, but when I do I am usually favourably impressed by her column and by her editorship of the publication. One reaction: "it's a bit like firing John Lennon (and only John Lennon) from the Beatles". Sarah, inevitably, has all the links in her post.

Finally, I was shocked and saddened today to learn that naturalist David Attenborough has been receiving hate mail. (Will they turn on David Bellamy next?) Henry Gee picks up the baton in a characteristically excellent, trenchant and funny post: Let us all throw used gorilla poo at creationists.

16 thoughts on “Twitterings, layoffs and output of gorillas

  1. Apart from admiration for their works, I can’t help having a sort of second-hand fondness for the Attenboroughs — in the late 1920s their father was Principal of Borough Road Teachers’ Training College in Isleworth and my mother, a few years older, had memories of them. These attacks on David are unconscionable, of course. When it comes to the matter of countering the creationists, there is a paradoxical difficulty: it is hard to do that if the creationists themselves do not actually believe them, and the leaders of this movement, the people behind the extremely well-financed foundations and the lobby groups disguised as ‘institutes’ and such, I am quite sure do not. This is about politics. I once went through the book and videos that constitute the most widely-circulated package on creationism in North America. All the usual stuff was there, though I had not before heard about the dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark — baby ones who grew up, bred, and whose descendants are with us still. But in the later sections things are different. There was reference to Biblical passages suggesting God does not favour miscegenation, and then of a sudden we were into the evils of communism (and I think that if you found these people dying in the desert and you offered to share your water they’d call you a commie) and how the Bible shows that God ordained capitalism as man’s economic system. And so on and on and on. The billionaire who gives most to these outfits also funds groups working for the institution of literal Old Testament law, and, though usually implicitly, they all favour a theocracy. I doubt if there would be very much of populism in their ideal government, but their politics are populist to the core — hence the stress on creationism, for this is like giving the sort of people they direct their propaganda at their own alternative ‘reality’, saying to them, you can believe in this, it’s yours, no matter what those pointy-headed intellectuals and liberal media types and commie politicians say. Pure populism — Huey Long, Joe McCarthy, the Wizard of Oz, though rather more benignly in Dorothy’s world , and others of such infamy though don’t need to be listed. The followers believe it right enough, but the leaders can’t be countered unless one understands what they are really up to. David A has I am sure also earned their enmity because of his recent pronouncements re climate change and global warming, something they most decidedly do not believe in, or so they say. These people have considerable power in resources and they thrive in difficult times, for populists prey upon the angry, the dispossessed, the alienated.

  2. I try to be as ‘live and let live’ as I possibly can but I think if I came across some kind of zealot being in any way disrespectful of David Attenborough I would have to take a swipe at them. As one man he’s done more good for this world than any of these nutters will ever do collectively. People like that make me cross.

  3. Thanks, Dave – I did not think to do a Google search – must have been tired! I just looked for and failed to find a search box on his blog, and gave up.

  4. Thanks for the long and informative comment, Philip, and for sharing the fruits of your research. Your last sentence is chilling.

  5. ‘They’ HAVE had a go at David Bellamy – but for a different reason. He has been accused of being a ‘climate change denier’, which has unpleasant echoes of holocaust denier.
    I’ve spoken to him about this – and it’s true that he has minority scientific views that question some of the key aspects of climate change science, and has been a bit naive in some of the things he has said to the press about it. But those who have pilloried him have, I think, misunderstand how science works.

  6. Re Bellamy, he has called anthropogenic global warming “poppycock”, he has been criticized for this, and he has been called a ‘climate change denier’,though no one has said, as he claimed in one interview, that he is “like a holocaust denier.” The ‘they’ here are not, of course, the Christian fundamentalist right, who must rather like Bellamy, and I really do not think any of this is quite the same thing as sending hate mail. The evils of David Irving and others of that ilk are many, and one of the lesser is that they have, I suppose, so tainted the word ‘denier’ that we must stop using it in any other context whatever. Tricky, because we do have the concepts ‘AIDS denialism’, ‘evolution denialism’, ‘genocide denialism’ (other than the holocaust) and so on, and those who hold these views have been widely, and rather logically, been called ‘deniers’, and without repercussions. I suspect the issue in hand, plus the tenor of the debate and the intentions of the participants, is key.

  7. Returning briefly to evolution and creationists, my own journal Nature has a free resource called “15 evolutionary gems”, 15 key papers on evolution with commentary by editors Philip Campbell, Rory Howlett and Henry Gee. I commend it highly. You can download it here (free): http://www.nature.com/nature/newspdf/evolutiongems.pdf
    Science cranks have driven me to distraction over the years! Thank goodness when Fermat’s last theorem was solved. (I winced when Lisbeth Salander took it upon herself to attempt a non-computer solution. Hope she does not re-start the trend!)

  8. The Attenboroughs David and Richard [Chancellor of University of Sussex an excellent establishment] are national treasures to be protected.
    ’15 evolutionary gems’ and one article about teeth but way over my head.
    We did a lot of Comparative Dental Anatomy when I was student, in the Jurassic Period, even venturing down to the veterinary college. We found the student vets all suffering from Brucellosis and although I memorized it all for our examinations I doubt if I could tell the dentition of a horse from a cow today. It was 46 years ago!
    I doubt any science crank could rival David Irving, who rose in the libel trial of Deborah Lipstadt who he had sued to silence [and not the other way round as people seem to assume] and addressed the Judge as ‘Mein Fuehrer’.
    Although there is another cold snap due next week; only joking Maxine.;O)

  9. I don’t imagine David Attenborough is too troubled by attacks by creationists, though we should perhaps all be disturbed by Philip’s analysis. I was struck by Maxine’s reference to 23 April which is indeed Shakespeare’s birthday (and possible death-day) and St George’s day but not, I think, Hitler’s birthday, which was 20 April. This matters to me in a small way because 23 April is also my birthday (alongside Max Planck, Roy Orbison and Vladimir Nabokov, I believe), and I’m happy to have as little in common with Hitler as possible. As to why spam should have peaked that day, I’ve no idea – although I suspect I might have received most of it.

  10. Well, Michael, my birthday is 3 September which is the day Britan declared war on Germany in 1939 (before my time) so not the most thrilling of anniversaries to share. The only other one I know to be born on the same day is the fast bowler Geoff Arnold (he of the deadpan face and the sniff), but that knowledge predates Google, so doubtless I could find more co-birthdayees (?) nowadays.
    Sorry for the Hitler mistake. My Grandad was a great joker and I am sure he probably said that to us tiny grandchildren just to wind us up!
    Norman – our knowledge of evolution is pretty much dependent on teeth (well, and a few bones) as I understand it. David Irving was published by Macmillan – in the “old days” when unions were strong, a lot of my colleagues (mainly on Nursing Times magazine, also owned by Macmillans at that time, though long since sold) tried very hard to get the entire workforce to go on strike over it. Stirring times! I can tell you that his books featured very heavily in our staff booksales, but did not sell even at 10 p a copy.

  11. I have to admit even I read a David Irving book many years ago when I was young and green and he was regarded as a ‘historian’.
    April 20th 1999 was the day of the Columbine Massacre and the day obviously chosen because whose birthday it was. The list of important and very nice people born in April outweighs a few nasty exceptions such as the Austrian corporal, and Saddam Hussein.
    My own birthdate the 13th April is shared with Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Beckett and Peter Davison, a Dr Who, so it is an impressive group.

  12. Being a German it really pulls me down whenever I see the 20. April as a birthday, so I can understand Michael Walter’s feelings in this case.

  13. Will someone please be kind enough to tell me some of the major events that occurred on 24th august specifically 1987
    Regards

  14. Oh, I thought that was Geoffrey Arnold himself for a minute! Try a Google search, Geoffrey.
    Bryan Appleyard dropped me an email to say he does have a search box on his blog – I must have failed to see it. But Dave’s google search shows the picture.

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