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Monday, 30 September 2013

The Celebrity Party

In Britain over my short life there has been a gradual, continuous, and now near-complete erosion of political idealism. Where sixty years ago were entrenched left and right positions, with a wide no-man's-land between them, there is now an overcrowded centre in which the political ground is trampled indiscriminately by all comers. The effects of this degradation include an apathetic electorate, and a new army of political tacticians inventing here-today, gone-tomorrow policy gimmicks to differentiate their party from the rest. In the absence of any material differences of principle the voter must now fall back entirely on the public image of the candidates to direct their vote.

A political Canute might lament this change, and squander nostalgic energies on futile efforts to  return to the golden times.  A leader of action, resolve, and vision will surf the tsunami of opinion as it sweeps away the ramshackle sprawl of decades of political opportunism.

Today I unveil the blueprint for a new force in British politics: the Celebrity Party. No longer will the political landscape be littered with the corpses of failed short-term initiatives. This new party will eschew all policy tactics, and rely entirely on the fame, charisma and trustworthiness of its candidates to bring about an entirely necessary and overdue sea-change in British politics.

I expect to confirm the key positions in the Celebrity Party ahead of its inaugural conference at Acapulco in December.

The creation of the party is not the only significant innovation being announced today. I can also confirm that the following areas of entirely new ground will be broken:

All ministerial posts will be held by two people, one of each gender. Aside from ensuring a perfect 50/50 representation of the sexes, this arrangement will allow one minister to cover when the other is away for filming, cosmetic surgery etc, while also providing a continuous 'will they, won't they' romantic suspense, thus guaranteeing prominent and persistent coverage in the popular press.

There will be no re-shuffles. Read my lips: no re-shuffles.

Unlike all other parties, we will not announce policies as faits accomplis. Instead options will be published, together with a balanced assessment of their pros and cons. The dual-ministers will use their celebrity communication skills to explain the relative merits of the options while motivating and engaging the electorate. There will then be a telephone vote to identify the most popular option. In the event that no option receives more than 50% of the initial telephone vote, then the least popular option will be dropped and the vote re-run, if necessary iteratively, until an option is found having an absolute majority.

As a consequence of holding polls for every policy, the role of Her Majesty's opposition will become largely redundant. All the other current parties will wither, to be replaced, if at all, by single-issue parties promoting niche interests, none of which will have the critical mass to mount a serious electoral campaign. The result will be a prolonged period of electoral contentment, with a benign and glamorous government, the envy of the world.



Thursday, 26 September 2013

Time to Barrack Obama and Putin

Obama and Putin. I won't be blamed for blowing my top with them. That pair would try the patience of Job's favourite saint.  I think of them as two of my boys, although technically they're clients of a sort; I give each of them advice now and again, in return for a token retainer from one and free supplies of Ketraskin vodka from the other.

Anyway, over the last few weeks they'd been separately calling me on and off, each cribbing and moaning about the other. I hardly had time to do the Sudoku with the phone going every five minutes, so in the end I got fed up and had both of them on a conference call together.

Will one of you explain what's going on, I said, or some such thing. So Barack starts on with that portentous way of his that's guaranteed to light my blue touch-paper, and off I went. Very disappointed. Expected more from them. Hadn't I coached them over the years. Hadn't they been listening to a word I'd said. Never thought I'd see the day. Sick to death of pair of them. Could expect it from Blair and Brown, but not from them. Should be ashamed. Like kids. Time to grow up. In bad books. What sort of example was it. Where did they think it would get them. What were they playing at. Reflect badly on me. Selfish behaviour. Letting themselves down. Letting me down. Need to think of others. Didn't want another word from either of them. Last time they get my help. Sorry not good enough. Get act together. Pull socks up. Etc etc.

They were contrite enough, I suppose. Hopefully something good seems to have come from it where that Syria business is concerned.

Obama I've known since '81, when I did that spell as guest professor at Harvard (a favour for Sacks). As a student he was bookish, introvert, polite, earnest, well-intentioned, a bit slower than his class-mates, and completely lacking a sense of humour. Putin was the other side altogether: not a qualification to his name (that wasn't fake, that is) sharp as a tack, rude, and a laugh a minute. He's been a regular client since seeing what I pulled-off coaching Gorbachev, although most of our time together is purely sociable, usually blind drunk and hatching new scams. He's a great one for the practical jokes- I dream them up and he takes them on. The bigger the better. What was the best of them? I suppose it was getting Yeltsin elected- we laughed ourselves sick at that.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Didactic Gradualism

I have not a neuron of doubt that nurture trumps nature in the intellectual development of the mind. The evidence is indisputable. Take my own case. My recent experiments with proton polarisation scanning suggest that my brain has around 27% more synaptic connections than the average, by which measure I am within the top 0.03 percentile of humans. Impressive you might think. But when you consider that 2.5m other humans share my level of synaptic capacity you will realise the statistic is quite incapable of explaining my unique level of pansophic development. Ergo some other factor, that we may label nurture, must account for the gigantic difference in intellectual attainment.Today, however, I am announcing what may prove to be a revolution in teaching methods that will allow all to maximise their intellectual potential, notwithstanding their inherited cerebral constraints.

It is known by every schoolteacher that pupils best digest new concepts if fed in nibbles. Attempt to force down too big an idea, and the brain gags.The result is intellectual malnourishment, and loss of educational appetite. Now, after years of experiment and research by the EDSRF, that simple notion has been developed to a remarkable extreme: the principle of Didactic Gradualism. Plainly put, the principle asserts that ideas should be fed to the brain by the smallest possible increment.

The first practical public application of the principle of Didactic Gradualism is embodied in my newly published book 'Quantum Theory in 66,261 Easy Steps', in which you, the fortunate reader, are introduced to quantum theoretical concepts in such imperceptible steps that by the end you hardly realise that you've understood it at all.

My development of Didactic Gradualism is itself an illuminating example of the power of nurture. I am convinced that it has sprung from an example subconsciously digested during my childhood holidays in the Pravakesh area of northern India, where my enlightened step-parents encouraged me to learn the techniques of Vadeshni yoga. I remember seeing a farneshki guru who had a needle penetrating entirely through his skull from one side to the other without suffering any deleterious consequences, other than some additional complexities to explain at the barbers.  I learned that his remarkable, if pointless (pun strictly intended), outcome he had achieved by inserting the needle over thirty seven years through an incomprehensible number of atomically small increments, so that his scalp, skull and brain were able to accommodate the penetration through a natural relaxation of cellular structures. An inquisitive nine year old, I was frantic to question the guru closely about his extraordinary experience, but I was unable to speak at the time, being about half way through swallowing a forty metre strip of muslin for the 'kraveshdu' ritualistic cleansing of the colon. You know how it is.

Monday, 23 September 2013

XLML: eXtensible Literary Mark-up Language

It could be conceived only from the fused perspectives of a founding father of computer science, and a towering giant of post modernist literature. And conceive it I did. Before reading more of this historic post, note the date, the time, and your immediate personal circumstances, so that years hence you may tell family and friends exactly where you were when eXtensible Literary Mark-up Language (XLML) was announced to an unsuspecting world...

Whatever one might think of the theoretical attributes of literature, it is hard not to be ever conscious of its main practical shortcomings: inefficiency and ineffectiveness. To see this, let us follow the path of Schell and others, and consider a simplification of literature as a parallel with painting.

When we thrill at a still life by Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, or Rubens, it is the style of the artwork that we appreciate, not the subject. It is not a case of  'Ooooooooh look, grapes!' Instead we admire the miraculously evocative way in which the grapes have been depicted.

Likewise with literature. To follow again Schell's simplistic model, all literature is a story (the grapes) depicted with literary style (the painting technique); and it is the style that differentiates literature from simple story-telling. Indeed, Schell would say that the purpose of the grapes is to provide a bland form upon which to drape the glittering embroidery of style. With this in mind, let us go on to model in a simple way the intended transaction between author and reader as follows:

1 The author has a story.
2 Consciously or otherwise the author's mind picks literary techniques and devices to depict aspects of the story: autoclesis, asyndeton, asteismus, and so on.
3 The author agonises over the words to convey the selected literary effect.
4 The reader reads the words.
5 A warm appreciation of the literary technique is triggered in the reader's mind.

This simple model makes stark the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of literature, since at Step 3 the author may struggle for hours to achieve the intended effect, while at Step 4 the reader may in seconds allow the intended effect to pass right over their head. Surely an inventive mankind can find a clearer way from Step 2 to Step 5.

Indeed. I have found it.

XLML, as its name suggests, is a development of the ideas of computer science brought to solve the problems of literature. Thanks to HTML, when I write this blog post I need not struggle to render my ideas in different presentational styles such as bold or italic print. Instead it is sufficient for me to mark the text as being intended to be rendered in that way, using the tags <b> or <I>. Likewise XLML. If I wish that an aspect of my story should be understood to be expressed with alliteration say, I don't struggle for hours to craft an alliterative phrase, I simply write whatever comes most naturally into my head and mark it with the alliteration tag <Alit>. Because the style is now rendered explicitly, the reader cannot overlook it, and the triggering of warm appreciation of the style is now guaranteed.

The further development of XLML will require the establishment of a standards body in the world of literature, akin to the W3C organisation which develops and defines standards for the Internet. I have today instructed the EDSRF to set aside a fund to cover the anticipated operating costs of such a standards body for the first five years of its existence. Nominations for the board of the body are now invited. Please use the comment facility at the foot of this post.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

2013 International Keats and Chapman Contest


Entries are now invited for the 7th Annual International Open 'Keats and Chapman' Competition. The first (and only) prize of £50 will be awarded to the most convincing, contrived and corny pastiche of a Keats and Chapman tale in the style of Miles na gCopaleen.

The rules remain substantially as in previous years, but have been tightened somewhat by the Supervising Committee to stress the importance of avoiding offensive language, particularly in relation to the protected characteristics of age, gender, religion, race, disability or sexual orientation. This follows the furore at last year's shortlisting of the 'chink in the armour' tale of the jet-lagged somnambulistic Chinese diplomat who failed to appear for a ceremonial dinner at a stately home and was found, by Chapman, asleep among suits of chain mail.

Entries must be received by midnight (GMT) on the 24th December 2013, and may be submitted via the comment facility at the foot of this post. The winner will be announced at noon (GMT) on 31 December 2013. The decision of the Awarding Committee will be final.

Entries must be original unpublished work, presented in English, and must comply in all respects with the 2013 Eligibility Criteria, which may be found, together with the full 2013 Rules at the following address http://essaydensushing.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/2013-international-keats-and-chapman.html

The Honours System

It's about time someone sorted out this honours adverbs business, and I suppose it might as well be me, given that I've had more of them (honours that is) than most.

You know how it is; hardly a day passes without some society, association, institute, establishment, hall of fame, order, academy, college, club, guild, party, movement, faction, business, federation, league, alliance, group, fraternity, sorority, trust, syndicate or what-not writing to convey some award, membership, qualification, prize, medal, favour, trophy, decoration, accolade, title, diploma, or what-not. And then arises the blessed difficulty of how to acknowledge the said honour to an appropriate degree. Lest you are struggling to keep up, let's consider concrete cases...

Suppose the Sudoku's done, the crossword has lost your interest, and you're opening the morning's mail. In among the junk, the begging letters, the subpoenas, the fan-mail, the cranks looking for endorsement, and what-not, there are letters from: the Nobel Prize Committee, offering, for the first time, a combined award for physics and economics; the Chief Equerry of the Inner Privy Council inviting one to accept adjoint membership of the Order of the Garter; and the Parish Council announcing that ones name has been engraved on the new bench by the shop.

Now you'll have to get round to the thank you letters, and if you have a scientific bent and a strong sense of fair play you will wish each letter to convey a degree of gratitude that is in direct linear proportion to the significance of the honour to which it applies.

And here's the nub of the gist of the crux of the kernel of the essence of the problem. You see, the expected formula is one in which the conferee describes  his or her self as x honoured to have received the award from the conferrer, where x is some adverb, typically one from the list below.

Deeply
Highly
Extremely
Generously
Royally
Worthily
Particularly
Duly
Signally
Regally
Tremendously
Hugely

However, a glance at the list is sufficient to show that its range is not in the least sufficient to span the spectrum of occasions for which it is expected to serve. The problem is one we have brought on ourselves, of course, by shrinking from the hurtful truth. In receipt of some paltry token of recognition we never feel it right to declare ourselves 'hardly honoured at all', or 'imperceptibly honoured' even when that is the absolute literal truth.

Through years of mealy mouthed tradition, we can no longer use adverbs in a literal sense to reflect the grade, rank, quality, rarity, or significance of an honour, and we have created an unholy mess in which no conferee has any idea of what adverb to use, and no conferrer has any real idea of the degree of thanks being offered by the random adverbial selection that results. It follows, therefore, that what is now needed is a non-literal, synthetic, idiomatic scale of appropriate adverbs.

I have today instructed the EDSRF to put aside a fund to provide a doctoral bursary to suitably qualified individuals to research the use of adverbs in the recognition of honours, with the goal of proposing a formal conventional scale of honours for ratification by the appropriate international standards bodies. Interested applicants should make contact via the comment facility below.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Rules of the 2013 International Keats and Chapman Award

Entries are now invited for the 2013 International Open Keats & Chapman award. A first prize of £50 will be award to the entry that is, in the view of the Awards Committee, the most convincing, original, well-written and corny pastiche of a 'Keats & Chapman' tale in the style of the late Myles na gCopaleen.

In addition to the lavish financial award, the winning entrant is likely to benefit from enhanced celebrity status through promotions via the EDSRF marketing affiliation programme. So don't be shy- have a go!

The rules are substantially the same as in previous years (see below), and may be waived in their entirety on the slightest whim of the chairman or in return for a bung, bribe, tip, sweetener, etc.

The Supervising Committee
Stockholm


Entrants should note that the Committee will accept entries submitted via the comment facility at the foot of this blog post.

 

1              INTERPRETATION


1.1          The Rules means the rules defined herein under.


1.2          In The Rules, unless the context otherwise requires:


1.2.1         the singular includes the plural and vice versa;


1.2.2         reference to a gender includes the other gender and the neuter.


1.3          The headings in The Rules are for ease of reference only and shall not affect the interpretation of The Rules.


1.4          Queries relating to the interpretation of The Rules should be submitted to the Rules Interpretation Sub-Committee of the Rules Committee. Suggested additions to the rules should be submitted via the comments facility at the foot of this blog post.

 

2              ELIGIBILITY


2.1          The contest is open to any person who is not a member of the Supervising Committee, the Rules Committee, or the Awards Committee.


2.2          Entries must:


2.2.1         Be the original unpublished work of the entrant (team efforts are allowed provided that all members of the team are acknowledged;


2.2.2         Be presented in English;


2.2.3         Be written in prose form (quotations in verse permitted).


2.2.4         Contain no fewer than 200 words and no more than 900 words.


2.2.5         Be set at any time between 1/1/1800 and the Closing Date, unless a time-travel machine or space-time wormhole features to justify some other temporal setting.


2.2.6         Be submitted before midnight (GMT) on 24 December 2013.


2.2.7         Not have been submitted in connection with any other formal contest or award.


2.3          The Entrant shall not unlawfully discriminate within the meaning and scope of any law, enactment, order, or regulation relating to discrimination (whether on grounds of sex, age, race, gender, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, maternity, pregnancy, marriage, civil partnership or otherwise).


2.4          Entries will be scrutinised by the Supervising Committee to ensure compliance with the Eligibility Criteria. Non-compliant entries will be disqualified.


3              Scoring


3.1          Each compliant entry will be scored by the Awards Committee in accordance with the Scoring Protocol.


3.2          Up to 100 points may be awarded to any given entry as follows:


3.2.1         Up to 20 points may be awarded for literary style


3.2.2         Up to 20 points may be awarded for the plausibility of the scenario.


3.2.3         Up to 50 points may be awarded for the corniness of the punch line.


3.3          At the sole discretion of the Awards Committee, bonus points, up to a maximum of 10, may be awarded for:


3.3.1         Entries of exactly 200 or exactly 900 words (i.e. at the extreme limits of the eligibility criterion relating to entry length).


3.3.2         Attempted puns of a superordinate Degree of Difficulty


3.3.3         The graceful and unobtrusive inclusion of any one or more of the following: anaphora, chiasmus, anadiplosis, syllepsis, autoclesis, zeugma.


3.3.4         Apt and humorous neologisms.


4              Award


4.1          Subject to Clause 5, the Prize will be awarded to the highest scoring entry.


4.2          In the event of a tie, where the highest score is earned by more than one entry, the Tie Breaking Protocol will be invoked.


4.3          The decision of the Awards Committee will be final, unchallengeable, irrevocable, absolute and binding in all possible respects. No correspondence will be entered into.


5              Roll-over


5.1          The Committee reserves the right not to award any prize in the event that: a) entries do not meet the reasonable expectations of the Committee in relation to quality; or b) there is one or fewer entries in total. In such a case the prize fund will roll-over in full to the next annual contest.


6              Licences


6.1          Each Entrant will be deemed to have granted to the Supervising Committee a royalty-free, non-exclusive, non-transferrable, perpetual, eternal, non-time-limited licence to publish the Entry.


6.2          The Supervising Committee grants the Winning Entrant a licence to publish or promote the fact of their win, provided that such publishing or promotion does not in the reasonable view of the Supervising Committee bring the award into disrepute. Where such publication or promotion includes the use of the International Open Keats and Chapman Award Logo (The Logo), then the Entrant warrants that The Logo will be displayed in accordance with International Open Keats and Chapman Award Logo Display Standards.


7              PREVENTION OF CORRUPTION


7.1          The Entrant shall not:


7.1.1         offer or agree to give any person working for or engaged by the Committee any gift or other consideration which could act as an inducement or a reward for any act or failure to act connected to the Rules; nor


7.1.2         enter into the contest if it has knowledge that, in connection with it, any money has been, or will be, paid to any person working for or engaged by the Committee, unless details of any such arrangement have been disclosed in writing to the Committee before such entry is made.


7.2          If the Entrant breaches Rule 7 then the Committee may disqualify the Entrant with immediate effect, and the Entrant will forfeit all cumulative rights under the Rules.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

No qualms?


In my intellectually fecund and energetic life I have read 31,492 works of fiction. In those in which qualms were mentioned, the reference was almost invariably to an absence of qualms, the usual formula being  ‘X had no qualms about Y’, where X is some character (pun strictly intended), and Y a phrase containing a gerund. For example, ‘Martha had no qualms about kicking the dog’, or, for readers in my inner clique, ‘Petruces had no qualms about criticising the over-use of adknyton in the fifth stanza’.   I recall only 2 works in which a character was said to ‘have’ qualms;  in both cases the number of qualms in possession of the character was unspecified. In not a single book did a character possess  a qualm in the singular. It seems natural, therefore, that an active and inquisitive mind should challenge a near universal reluctance to recognise and enumerate qualms. Let me set a bold example that the less confident might  follow.

I have two qualms about developing this item for my blog:

Qualm one is common to all my postings: will the readership appreciate the sly nuances of humour , the crafty allusions, that prove, to the cognoscenti, the hand of a master at work, or will the post seem baffling trite tosh? I sometimes wonder.

Qualm two is specific to this post: is it possible to spin-out the meagre subject matter to 300 words, the lower limit for compliance with my style guide? Well, I suppose if anyone can do it, I can. Think of it as the weaving of the very finest silk scarf, the most diaphanous creation, barely possible to sense by touch, but dazzling to the eye; amply able to envelope the lissome Salome,  yet so wondrously insubstantial to snake through the eye of the smallest of needles. There, 300 words, done.

I propose the formation of the Campaign for Heralding the Enumeration of Qualms, or CHEQ. Those wishing to support CHEQ should send a cheque to the usual address. Should the cause prove to be sufficiently lucrative popular, I might extend the campaign to encompass other abstract nouns that are over-represented in the unquantified plural in literary fiction, such as misgivings, feelings, doubts, anxieties, and so on.

SLEB Clarifications


It is clear from the post-bag that some residual confusion surrounds the Sushing scale of Celebrity, which we launched last month. Readers will recall that the scale was a logarithmic one, in which the fame of a person was quantified as the decimal logarithm of the number of people to whom the person was known. The scale therefore ranged from 0, which is the decimal logarithm of 1, to a practical limit of 9.6, which is the decimal logarithm of 7.2 billion, taken to be the sentient population of the earth at present.

The logarithmic nature of the scale proved too confusing for some. In particular a correspondent called Max Clifford, who described himself as a publicist (hence having a direct personal interest in the scale), asked the following question:

‘If 0 is the rating you give to a celebrity who is known by only 1 person, what score should I give to a celebrity who isn’t known by anybody?’

It took time and patience, but I got Mr C to see that, even allowing for non-self-awareness, if a person is to be rated on the Sushing scale they must be known at least by the rater, so a rating of 0 is the smallest possible in practice.

A related but more subtle case was put by an eminent mathematician who has asked to remain anonymous in my blog. To protect his identity I will refer to him just as S.H.

Professor  S.H. has questioned the applicability of the scale to values that are strictly unknown. For example, the exact value of the cosmological constant, Λ, which appears in Einstein’s field equations and plays a role in determining the rate of quantum evaporation of black holes via asymmetric radiation at the event horizon. Surely, he argued (via his voice synthesizer), as the exact value is known by nobody, its ‘fame’ should be rated as the logarithm of zero, which is minus infinity. While I have no practical objection to an infinitely negative score, I did point out to Professor S.H.  the philosophical  shortcomings in his thinking, which I will share with you now lest others are suffering from the same or related misconceptions. The issue strikes to the heart of post-modern semiotic theory, while echoing the ideas of Aquinas.

Let us take the case of Dolly Parton. When we say that the melodious C&W chanteuse is ‘known’ by more than 800 million people, what exactly do we mean? Certainly most of them will ever have met her. A good few of them will never have seen her image. Some might never have heard her voice. What we mean is that when a certain token, phonetically Dolly Parton, is presented to human beings, in around 800 million of them a type of pattern of synaptic response will be triggered , equated with the psychological phenomenon of recognition. In the case of purely abstract relations, the conception that in Germany is called Kergreifscheist lends to the question the idea of one-ness between symbol and entity. The mapping is an entological one, of course, without overtones of bimorphidism.

Readers- we’re going to do the Sudoku now, thanks.

Oh, OK. I can finish the explanation tomorrow.

Readers- not sure we can make tomorrow. Might be best to just leave it for now and we'll let you know when we're ready to read the rest.

 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Inside an epidemic

Now that the epidemic is safely behind us, I can reveal my role in curtailing the deplorable outbreak of genteel verbosity that spread so rapidly among BBC radio presenters during the last few weeks. Readers will remember, with shudders of distaste,  how the horrendous term 'male counterparts' infested the airwaves, displacing simpler and more-pleasing words such as 'men'.

I and a handful of other experts were asked to form a committee to investigate the epidemic, working with a secretariat provided by the USCDC. As you would imagine, my first priority was to reverse-engineer the transmission vectors to pinpoint the source of the outbreak. That proved to be an article on the 'Today' radio programme explaining that women did not deserve as much pay as men. Archive recordings reveal that at precisely 08:24:13:53 on 15th of August the BBC presenter Helen McAuthur began to say:

'A survey has shown that in 2012 female executives earned 25% less than their male counterparts.'

Within a day the deadly urge had spread to another announcer on the evening news. Commenting on the use of prisoners to work in call centres, news anchor-man John Naughty was heard to say:

'Female prisoners at Slade Prison were engaged in calls about insurance products, while their male counterparts [or 'men', as an uninfected person might have said] at Holdness Prison made calls about car warranties'.

Two days later a compound case was heard, in which the malignant verbosity had combined with a touch of tautology, when a third announcer was heard to say:

'Her Majesty the Queen attended a service at Sandringham today, while her male counterpart Prince Phillip was attended by royal doctors.'

Thereafter cases were being reported by the minute, until we heard the news we were dreading- the urge had crossed a homophonic barrier. In a programme about warfare over the ages, Dick Snow, summarising advances in personal armour, was heard to make the following comparison between plate armour and chain mail:

'The gussets of plate armour were far less forgiving than their mail counterparts.'

It was to be the turning point, however; for the BBC board were shocked into action, and gave me free rein to implement whatever measures I considered necessary to prevent a pandemic. In fact the cure was straightforward. I had all the BBC announcers assembled at two sites, whether infected or not, and gave each 1200grams of  corium calceamenti per anum with stern words. No cases have been heard since.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Anne Boleyn?

To unmask a long-standing deception is today my duty.

For years the National Trust has been luring a gullible public to visit 'Anne Boleyn's Seat', a purported statue of the ex-wife of Henry VIII, perched in a remote Yorkshire valley.  'Come and see Anne Boleyn,' says the Trust, 'and while you are here spend some money'.  And come they do, in their hundreds of thousands, spending millions.

The EDSRF has recently completed a research project in which some of my brightest PhD students tailed visitors to AB's Seat. The results make grim reading. Of the 2.3million who fell for the scam and paid the £5.00 entrance fee, less than 20% actually saw the statue, which is at least a mile from the main entrance to the site and atop a discouragingly steep, narrow, slippery and concealed path. Around 93% of the time of the average visitor was spent spending money. In order of popularity the transactions included:

Taking refreshments in of the many restaurants and team rooms peppering the site.
Purchasing plants.
Buying jigsaws, books, ceramics, and other souvenirs.
Booking themed Anne Boleyn holidays at the National Trust travel agency.
Having manicures, nails to be finished in the 'Tudor' style.
Consultations with the Trust's interior designers for the purchase of one of the new 'Stately Home' range of fitted kitchens.
The car valet service.
Test-driving new cars from any of the manufacturers in the Trust's affiliate co-marketing programme.


The National Trust is a noble institution, dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings that can provide beautiful backdrops to shops and cafes. But the noble aims of the organisation cannot justify deceptive marketing techniques, so I must today disabuse the public and denounce 'Anne Boleyn's Seat' as a shameful sham.

I need not labour you with the long and impressive list of qualifications that I might have cited to underline my authority on such matters, since the Boleyn fraud is so brazen that anyone with a mere PhD could spot it. Let me draw your attention to some of the more obvious signs from the photograph below.



As had Anne Boleyn, after her death, the statue has no head. So far so good for the Trust. But examining the statue more attentively reveals it has no legs either. While all of the reliable authorities agree that Boleyn was beheaded, none of them mentions that she was belegged, so where does that leave us?

The Trust argues that the loss of the legs may be some historic accident, or that the legs were never included, perhaps because the lady was shy about them, and left instructions for them to be omitted from any post-mortem depictions, or maybe the legs had to be left off to allow the statue to tuck under a low ceiling. Any number of reasons, they say, could justify the lack of limbs.

But equally, the absence of a head makes identification difficult. Convenient for the Trust, you might say; but let us take it as just a matter of probabilities. Anne Boleyn was one of many who have had the misfortune to suffer decapitation over the centuries. (Obviously I don't mean they were individually decapitated over centuries, it just sounds like that because of my poor sentence contstruction.) Who is to say that the statue is not one of those others: Catherine Howard perhaps, Anne's sister Jane, Margaret Pole, Lady Jane Grey, Martha of Aquitaine, The Five Witches of Eastwick, Agnes the Terrible, Lady Alice Lisle, The Mutiness of Colleraine, or Sir Walter Raleigh in drag even? Answer me that.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

An Historical Post- the Sushing Scale of Fame

Celsius, Fahrenheit, Richter, Beaufort- men whose earnest endeavours to establish exact scales of measurement have ensured their enduring fame. But which of them is more or less famous than any other?

Two obstacles face those who would answer that question with rigour. One is a lack of evidence, surmountable perhaps through research. The other is more fundamental: there is no agreed measure of fame to provide the basis for an assessment. That second obstacle, which has prevented the development of the science of celebrity, is about to be swept aside as a new name is added to the list of scales of measurement- mine.

In this historic post I am announcing the Sushing scale, a radical idea that is destined to revolutionise the world of celebrity. The underpinning science of the Sushing scale is necessarily somewhat technical, and will be published in another medium following peer review. What follows is an informal introduction for the lay reader.
The Sushing scale of fame is a logarithmic decimal expression of the number of people familiar with a given celebrity, fact, idea, entity etc. (Note that the utility of the scale is not limited to denoting the fame of people.)
The Sushing scale ranges from 0 to a practical maximum of 9.857, where:
0 is the logarithm of 1, and denotes that a celebrity, idea, fact etc is known by one person only, and

9.857 is the logarithm of 7,200,000,000, and denotes a celebrity, idea, fact, etc that is familiar to every sentient member of the human race. (Assumes world population is 8bn, of which 10% is too young, too senile, or otherwise too mentally incapacitated to count.)
The unit of the scale is the Sleb (S), a phonetic contraction of ‘celeb’.  Owing to the essential difficulties associated with precise determination of fame, it is expected that broad assessments accurate only to two figures will be the norm. That being so, the deci-Sleb (dS) will be a convenient notation, with values running from 0 to 97 being a convenient and compact way to encompass the spectrum of celebrity.
The following examples illustrate the application of the Sushing scale:


 

Monday, 2 September 2013

Literacy Lapses

For reasons too controversial to be hinted at here, I was today reviewing the definition of 'adynaton' in that standard reference work the Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory. An entire post, nay a blog even, could be devoted to 'adynaton', tracing the development of the concept from its ancient Greek origins to its blossoming in more recent literary ages, but its definition is dispatched with a single sentence in the DoLT&LT.

Fair enough, I say. The DoLT&LT has many terms to cram in, and can't be blamed for treating one of my pet interests in a distressingly superficial way. Besides, the cursory nature of the definition itself is not the intended focus of this post.

(Readers- well get on with it then. We've got the Sudoku to finish).

Appended to the definition in the DoLT&LT were two examples of adynaton- both from Marvell. You'll remember My love is of a birth as ...of course, while the other I always remember in the Greek Aeì koloiòs parà koloiôi hizánei (of course). These were introduced by the compilers of the DoLT&LT as  'two famous examples', where the italics are mine. And I can tell you why they are mine (Readers- for heavens sake get to the point), for that very word famous in that very context makes me ask whether we in the literary world are not being just a little too refined, a little too elitist. By making our subject insufficiently accessible are we to blame for the drop in literary standards? Would Marvell's noted uses of adynaton, or those of Milton, Hyde, Percival, Storicles, Juvenile, or any of the other famous examples for that matter, be recognised by the kids in the street? I wonder.

(Readers- is that it? We thought these were meant to be funny).

It is going to be funny. Trust me. We're headed to a comedy climax of unsurpassed hilarity in the next post or two. This is the straight build-up to the comedic denouement. It's a recognised literary technique- anectnklysis. Famous examples occur in Milton, Eruces, Klaistepphon...

(Readers- We're doing the Sudoku now.)

Oh, right, bye then. But don't forget the comedy climax in the next couple of posts.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

A day off

God would you look at the time, and I've not even started the blog. If I don't get a post up by 5 sharp there'll be hell to pay. You know what the readers are like, desperate for their daily fix. If you're a second late there's ructions and tuts all over the web.

Relax, you're on holiday remember. We said no posts on the holiday, and for good reason too. You can't keep up that prodigious comedy work rate without risking burn-out. It's insane, suicidal.

That's true enough. It's a pity though, because I thought of a really good gag for the next few posts.

(Ignores bait.)

Oh yes, a really, really, good gag.

(Ignores fresh bait.)

God yes, a gag that'll have them howling and crying and creasing up all over the 'net.

(Cracks...) What gag's that then?

You'll remember yesterday me saying that I had a surfeit of comedy conceptions.

Yes.

As if I was bursting at the seams with funny ideas.

Yes.

As if there was never a chance in a million of my running out.

Yes. (Said curtly to connote impatience.)

And I listed my surplus comedy ideas.

Yes.

For the readers to use if they wanted.

Yes.

But I said if I was really desperate I might use some of the ideas myself.

Yes.

Well that just it.

What is?

If I use those ideas for my next fortnight's worth of posts. More particularly, if I use those ideas, in the order they were put, and I use nothing else but those ideas! Man it'll have 'em cracked up. They'll be hyperventilating with the giggles. Their diaphragms will be cramping. It'll go more than viral. It'll be... bacterial! Out of interest, did we get any comments to that post? Any comments thanking us for the comedic nuggets? Any comments of gratitude at all?

No.

Well that's the thanks you get.