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Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Floods of incompetence


When one has attained the loftiest pre-eminence in so many fields of study it becomes natural to expect others to attend carefully and gratefully when one offers an opinion on some important matter of judgement. It was a surprise to me, therefore, when in 2011 I received a letter from the office of the Environment Minister thanking me for, but respectfully declining, my offer to form and chair an expert panel to review the  flood defence plans of his department, an offer I had made after watching televised footage of the devastating inundations in the December of that year. Of course, I knew what was behind the rejection: professional jealously and resentment on the part of the minister's chief advisor- the head of the UK Meteorological Office.

Earlier I had made public my views on a proposal by the Met' Office to invest £27 million in a new super-computer which its proponents claimed to be an essential tool to model climate change and which I knew to be a monstrous white elephant. For years the Met’ Office had been justifying an obsession with computers by arguing that the notorious inaccuracy of their long-term climate forecasts was due to inadequate investment in technology, and only if they were given an ability to collect data about the weather everywhere, and sufficiently vast computing power to  model that data, would it be possible to foretell climate change.

Nonsense.

Did Einstein divine relativity by using supercomputers to track all the world’s light rays? Of course not- he was led to his insights through the contemplative consideration of fundamental natural principles. The Met’ obsesses with observing the weather in ever increasing detail, when it is clear to anyone who steps back from the detail that a small number of established thermodynamic principles are governing the evolution of our climate. To put the point simply, a Lagrangian tensor depiction of the enthalpy of the planet, considered as a closed hermetic system with bi-variant dispersive thermal conductivity, when subjected to a de Vriess coordinate inversion with spinor distensions, reveals a clear and systematic increase in mean surface temperature consistent with more-extreme precipitation. The mathematics conveys the idea more clearly than do  my words:



Ergo even wetter winter weather in Yorkshire. A child could follow it, yet I might as well have been talking nonsense as far as the Environment Minister was concerned. I said then that it would all end in tears, floods of them.
 

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

BBC no longer ahead of its time

Just as we were fearing there might be no end to the management lunacy at the BBC, there has been a first sign of sensible thinking at the top of the crumbling corporation. On the radio this morning we hear the news that the broadcaster has 'cancelled its contract for screening Formula One races three years early'.

And I should think so too. What a bananas piece of scheduling was that, screening Grand Prix three years before they happen? Imagine, it is 2pm or thereabouts on Sunday 17th July 2016, and you are sat with your chums in front of the massive Korean TV which shows, from various angles, the silent empty tarmac of the Silverstone circuit, while a team of pundits explains how the race might be developing, lap by lap, in three years time. And here, one says, as the camera shows the famous left hander, the leading cars should be entering Maggots for the forty third time. Depending on the weather we might expect them all to have called into the pits at least once for a change of tyres, and etc etc. What sort of entertainment is that?

I suppose those who lobbied for the ludicrous contract had the obvious advantages in mind. I can just picture the scheduling committee meeting at which the decision to sign it was taken. A roomful of self-obsessed media types, nursing their lattes and ipads, checking off items on a PC ticklist- no the content would not offend LGBT viewers, yes it had been approved by the religious impact board, and so on, while the sponsor points out the attractively low cost of the broadcasting rights for races that have yet to happen, and that the outside broadcast van wouldn't get stuck in a ten-mile traffic jam of returning spectators on the A46 as it would if they were to screen the race itself.

I suppose we should be grateful that the idea did not spread from BBC Sport to the other farcical fiefdoms, especially BBC News with its mania for speculation. One imagines an 'Election Night Special' three years ahead of the election itself, at which a panel of pundits pontificates about the possible contenders, swing seats, the likely timing of the first completed count, and so on. No (head waggles in sad retrospection) the BBC is not the broadcasting force we had made it in my day.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Boss

Bruce 'The Boss' Forsyth (b1949) Anglo-American singer, song-writer and entertainer. Best known for catch phrases- 'nice to see you', 'didn't he/she do well', 'your are my favourite'- and songs about the declining fortunes of the American working class. Appeared twice at Glastonbury (2009 and 2013).

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

PRINCE 2 Agile

The new agile version of the project management method formally known as PRINCE 2 has now been published, and what a godsend it is. After all, just because the world has finally recognised that agile methods are a much better way to manage pretty much everything, why should you have to miss-out on the esoteric mindless over-complete bureaucratic bloat-fest that you've come to know and love, especially if you are a consultant living off your PRINCE 2 expertise.

To commemorate the birth of  PRINCE 2 Agile the EDSRF is making available a limited edition of the 'iVAX', another inspired fusion of the classic and the modern. The 'iVAX', pictured below, takes the tried-and-trusted VAX mini-computer format and brings it bang up-to-date with a docking station compatible with all iPhone and iPad devices. The discreet and stylish docking facility may be seen at the top of the left hand terminal in the picture below, where it is supporting a black iPad 6s.

As with PRINCE 2 Agile, the 'iVAX' genuinely does combine the best of both worlds, as you can now view textual data from your iPhone via a crystal clear green-screen VDU, and back-up those treasured photos on 9-track 1/4 inch magnetic tape or ANSI-standard 80-char punch cards. Air-conditioning requirements for the iVAX have been kept to a minimum by the use of 80 ns cycle time (12.5 MHz) solid-state processors implemented with emitter coupled logic (ECL) macrocell arrays (MCAs).






The iVAX model shown has two terminals, two 10.5 inch tape reels, a six-bay processing unit. The memory options range from 16KB to 256KB, enough for an entire 3.2s of music or around 498 milliseconds of video. The docking unit, shown in close-up below, ergonomically couples the iPad to the VAX 2488 operator console, allowing the iPad to be charged from the minicomputer's 3-phase 420amp power supply.




The iVAX, combining the best in old and new in the spirit of PRINCE 2 Agile, is available to order with a six-month delivery, allowing bags of time for you to engineer some space in your machine room.

And just to prove its effectiveness, we used PRINCE 2 Agile to manage the production of this very blog post. Readers wishing to see the actual project brief, project initiation document, product descriptions, quality log, risk log, test log, highlight report, exception report, stage plan, work package docket and minutes of the stand-ups should contact me via the comment box below.


Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Illegal project management

Recalling  my recent post on the subject of 'legal' project management, which I discovered to mean the application of formal project management techniques to the practice of law, readers will not be  the least surprised to learn that I have been busy ever since in formulating a breakthrough in crime prevention- illegal project management.
The underlying idea is simple but brilliant.
The world knows that since the introduction of formal project management methods there has not been a single instance of a project that has been delivered on time: all have been horribly mired in mindless overblown bureaucracy. What better then than to encourage the adoption of formal project management techniques by the criminal fraternity? a master-stroke that will lumber the would-be felon with a bureaucratic ball and chain of immense debilitating power.
A moment I did not lose in formulating my new method: PRINCE- Projects In a Criminal Environment. Of course, I took all the necessary steps to ensure that my new creation, PRINCE, was horribly over-complete, with a remorseless focus on the generation of meaningless paperwork, and to promote a hierarchy of PRINCE qualifications, which rewarded the slavish adoption of terminology over any practical skills in larceny. The result has been miraculous- the incidence of  major organised crime has plummeted since the launch of PRINCE, as 'top-end' criminals are now too bogged down in paperwork to pull off any capers. My next development is to be a formal programme management methodology for those with large portfolios of criminal projects, which I plan to launch in Sicily next summer.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The Great General Election Surprise

There have been speculations in the media about the temporal correlation between the recent lack of posting on this blog and the political campaigns preceding the general election in the United Kingdom, prompting some to suggest that I have been too occupied on the latter activity to have time to spare for the former. The unexpected re-election of David Cameron as Prime Minister, which suggests the intervention of  a political manipulator of unparalleled cunning and potency, has provided further fuel for the media rumour machine. In response to the direct questions that have been put to me via my legal representatives by the so called news programme 'Today' on BBC Radio 4, I can neither confirm nor deny my involvement in the outcome of the election, owing to gagging clauses in my contract with a certain party.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

AJP McCoy

A.J.P. McCoy. B. 1906, Southport. Fiercely Germanophobic historian and jockey. Educated Oriel College, Oxford, and Bolger's racing yard, Coolcullen C.Kilkenny. Notable for books on 19th and 20th century European history (eg The Origins of the Second World War, The Italian Problem in European Diplomacy 1847-49, etc) and for holding title of Champion Jockey a record 19 times.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Legal Project Management

Earlier this week I noted from the output of my web-crawler an explosion of writing on 'legal' project management. Contrary to my initial expectations, I discovered that the label 'legal' was not intended to draw a distinction with illegal project management (which seems an as-yet untapped field for the management consultant) but instead denoted the proposed application of project management techniques to the field of law. Heavens!

I thought it best to subject this new mischief to a brief survey.  As one might expect when a term as nebulous as project management is discussed in a context as broad as law, the scope for misunderstanding exceeds the mental capabilities of the participants in the discussion. Indeed the number of words produced on the subject appears inversely proportional to the clarity of thought preceding their production. In my superficial perusal of the topic I noted instances of all but three of the 58 distinct categories of logical fallacy which I enumerated in my first PhD thesis. (Brushes away a sudden tear of nostalgia at the recollection of those innocent teenage years at Heidelberg.)

What will the pedlars of project management methods next try to target- love making? opera? games of chess?  I never heard the like. How can an art as mercurial and capricious as the practice of law be... be... managed? Before we know it they will be asking us to provide a breakdown of our billed hours.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Sloppiness Galore on Radio 4

Notwithstanding my stern letters of admonishment, standards of journalism at the BBC continue to plummet. A presenter on its current affairs programme Today today described a certain European head of state as 'looking visibly shaken'. Call me pedantic, but that sounded tautologous to my ears, and I shall, as I have done many times in the past, send a personal letter in writing to the BBC explaining that tautology is unacceptably beyond the pale.

The same presenter went on to report criticisms made of The Who for doing too little to prevent the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone. Why the BBC should single out that particular popular music group is quite beyond me, given that no other aged rockers appear to be helping to contain the virus. Surely some allowance should be made for the fact that there are only two surviving members of the band, both in their seventies and currently hampered by a busy tour schedule. It all seems utter nonsense to me.

And then there is the Clarkson debacle, its immediate cause being a failure to impose boundaries and discipline on unruly talent. These incidents may seem individually trivial, but collectively they confirm an insidious weakening of management at the BBC. How can that be, you ask, given the rocketing increase in the number of managers at the ailing broadcaster. It is, of course, all a matter of leadership. Allow a weak, woolly-minded, self-obsessed, effete clique to assure its members of the top jobs in a large organisation, and plummeting standards inevitably follow.

It was all very different in my day. Few now remember the time when I, a BBC outsider, was brought in to hot-house a new generation of talent. Discipline was my watchword. Each branch of the broadcaster had its own boot camp for would-be presenters. The trainees for the Today programme where inculcated with my principles at a defunct RAF training camp on the exposed south coast of the Isle of Wight, at which we drummed-in the three Rs: reading, writing and Rethianism. I can remember the weedy and pallid body of the young John Humphries- his tee-shirt, shorts, and pumps drenched by the rain off the Channel- struggling to complete fifty press-ups, his punishment for a split infinitive.

For all his corporeal feebleness Humphries at least had a certain mental toughness, which could not be said for all of his fellow trainees. As the chef du camp it was to the carpet in front of my desk that especially incalcitrant individuals were brought, either for punishment or encouragement. A tearful Melvyn Bragg was one such case. He could no longer face the thought of completing the course, he told me through his sobs. He wanted to leave. He didn't care that he might be throwing away a golden opportunity. And the trigger for this outburst? One of the teachers at the camp had overturned his bed and his locker a moment before the provo-master was to begin his inspection, resulting inevitably in two day's isolation in the cooler. It took all of my eloquence and charisma to instil some iron into his mind and persuade him to stay. I recall that the teacher's action had been intended to deter the young Bragg from his tendency to pretention. Alas our techniques were not universally successful.

Sadly, it has all changed. Nowadays the trainees at the BBC sit around a table with i-pads and lattes, completing questionnaires on diversity and multi-culturalism. That none of them can spell hardly seems to matter, just as long as they adhere to the corporation's policies of political correctness.  I can understand why Clarkson lost his head. Doubtless he will be on the 'phone again soon, asking for advice. I shall tell him he's well off out of it.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Super Spuds

Since the news broke this morning about my involvement in the project to develop a genetically engineered 'super spud' I have received several items of correspondence from members of the public seeking clarifications about the properties of the new potato. One is from a celebrity chef. To protect her identity I will refer to her only as 'N'. She asks if there is truth in the rumour that 'super spuds' may be engineered to contain cocaine, and if so will they grow in east-facing window boxes.

The terms of my contract with the Monsanto corporation specifically forbid me from answering the first of N's questions, but an east-facing window-box will be fine as long as the potatoes are well watered. My charitable research foundation expects to launch a new brand of powdered potato, Smashed, early next year.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Unfair to Blair

Nassau. The professor has just finished breakfast, a concoction of esoteric super-foods prepared to his own recipe. The priceless porcelain, the antique Nubian silver-ware, and the Chinese silk napkin have been cleared away. The professor stares past the open French windows to the views of the harbour below. On his desk the scattered newspapers bear signs of his critical inspection, with savage under-linings in red pencil. The cool of his study, the subdued  panelling of rare tropical hardwoods, and the sympathetic spirituality of the surrounding objets d'art are clearly insufficient to soothe the professor's mood, as a frown of disapproval mars his noble brow. Imperiously he beckons a waiting stenographer to enter his presence so the dictation of the day's blog may commence...

Censorious waggles of the den Sushing head met the news this morning that Tony Blair was to leave the post of Peace Envoy owing to his complete failure to achieve any notable positive results in the eight years since he was appointed to it. It was not the failure of Blair himself which drew my disapproval, you understand, but the failure of judgement that led to his selection for the role. In 2007, when the rumours of his impending appointment began to circulate, I wrote in the sternest possible tones to those responsible.  Blair was hopelessly ill-equipped for the role they had in mind, and I told them so. Yes yes yes, they agreed, but it was now out of their hands. Certain promises had been made. Monies had changed hands. In short, it was too late for aught but hope that the best might be made of a bad job. 

And a truly forlorn hope too. It should have been obvious to any idiot that Blair was not up to the job of brokering peace in the middle-east. Consider the ideal candidate for the role. A figure of vast intellect, of unplumbed reserves of patience, of granite integrity,  a figure universally revered and respected as an impartial and objective judge of man's affairs, fluent in all languages, a trusted mentor to the world's leaders, charismatic, imperturbable, stern and gentle in equal measure...

(Connoisseurs of  literary humour the world over: You can see where he's going with this one. Putting himself up for the job any minute now, I'll bet.)

Eight years ago I would have taken the call. Today I am not so sure. The comforts of a long-overdue retirement beckon, and there is still much to be done in my other fields of endeavour.

The professor waves away the stenographer, who departs with nods of deference. He searches among the scattered newspapers for one that demands special attention. The Racing Post. "Blair's the Boy" 11:1 for the 2.30 at Wincanton.

(Connoisseurs of  literary humour the world over: Sure, you never know what to expect. Isn't that just like him.)

Friday, 6 March 2015

World Book Day

Among the school teachers of today there does indeed appear to be a lamentable lack of consistency towards literature. Yesterday being World Book Day, pupils were encouraged to attend their classes dressed as characters from books. This morning I hear the news that some pitiable young man had been shunned by his school for appearing as the lead character from a popular work of fiction entitled Fifty Shades of Gray, on the grounds that the book was unsuitable reading for schoolchildren.

I wonder, therefore, what reasoning led to similar treatment being heaped upon my great grandson, Essay den Sushing IV, who attended school in the guise of Monsignor Auban du Fornette, the disputatious Jesuit sophisticate who famously appears towards the end of the particularly humourous tenth of Pascal's Provincial Letters to argue that 'sufficient grace' could indeed be insufficient. In tears he told me how he had entered the classroom aglow with happiness, expecting applause and encouragement for his exemplary choice of childhood reading matter, only to be met with blank looks from his teacher.  They can't have it both ways.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Deceptively Simple

Coincidence is a remarkable phenomenon. Thousands of posts on every conceivable topic (and a few inconceivable ones) have I composed in this blog, a blog permeated by a determinedly even-handed and apolitical ethos; then out of the bleu, as the French say, this morning's report from my editor humbly brings to my attention that last month three posts on the trot had featured David Cameron. What are the chances of that?  (Remind me to buy a lottery ticket). So let's change to a more respected and trustworthy subject...

Estate agents are universally derided as slippery individuals who will do anything to make a commission. My own recent experience suggests that their reputation for shadiness may be unfair.

Just after Christmas I bought another Belgravia apartment, close to my main Mayfair address. After I had completed the transaction, and various priceless effects had been installed- the muscular Bacon tryptique, the exquisite multi-hued Qing dynasty vase, the gold-encased 11th century Scandinavian olyphant, the raven-black Goddard and Townsend secretaire, the delicate egg-like Qianlong moonflask, and so on- the place seemed decidedly cramped. I had to thread myself through the objets d'art, fearing that one elbow or the other was bound to send something tumbling to its expensive ruin. It was all rather mysterious, as the apartment which had seemed truly cavernous at the viewing was now like the cramped cell of some particularly agoraphobic hermit. And then I recalled a statement on the details which the estate agent had presented to me: 'this property is deceptively spacious'. I can't say I wasn't warned.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

All Ears About Leonard Nimoy


The world was touched by yesterday’s news of the death of my old friend and one-time pupil Leonard Nimoy. As Spock his  air of noble detachment, his calm acceptance of adversity, and the vast power of his intellect, combined to make a character all could admire.
 
I first met the young Lenny in 1964. Having successfully read for the part of Spock, he had suffered a complete loss of self-confidence just as shooting was to begin, a reaction all too common among actors landing exceptional roles. In Lenny’s case it was his dependency, as a method actor, on the availability of a role model which caused his self doubt. After all, where in the world was the person with the extraordinary combination of qualities he was expected to portray? Where was the calm kind and wise paragon of detached high intellect upon whom he could model the lofty character of Spock?

It was Gene Rodenberry, the producer of Star Trek, who found the obvious answer, and sent Leonard to me. I must say that my role as Nimoy’s mentor was a largely passive one. Leonard was a skilled, capable and resourceful actor, and was quick to assimilate my mien and mannerisms. Coincidentally I was advising both LBJ and Breshnev about their respective space programmes when Leonard was with me, and I think he was fired a little by my enthusiasm for space exploration.

The attributes that the character of Spock inherited from Leonard’s time with me were not just behavioural. Few know that I have inherited from my mother’s side a rare characteristic – slightly pointed ears. The words elfin or pixie-like will suggest the effect. It was Leonard’s idea to copy and exaggerate my appealing otic peculiarities, and the rest you know. I sometimes wonder whether he had been subconsciously prompted in his actions by the last role he had played before auditioning for Spock, that of Mark Antony. It would have been a natural reaction in a person who had night after night uttered the beseeching words ‘lend me your ears’.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Human Rites, Writes, Rights or Wrights?

Following the trend set by the Lib Dems, who earlier this week published only the first page of their manifesto, I have given instruction to my agent to publish the first page of my new novel, a forthcoming masterpiece of literary fiction which has been evolving on the den Sushing laptop since the G8 summit, where I sketched the opening chapter to escape the tedium of the plenary speeches. The novel enjoys the phonetic title 'Hjumən  Rajts', leaving you, the perplexed reader, to determine whether the second word is intended to mean 'Rites', 'Rights', 'Writes', 'Wrights', or some subtle combination of those words. So you see, even from the very start, the work raises provocative intellectual questions.

Expected to become an immediate sell-out and collector's item, the highly abridged, first-page version of 'Hjumən  Rajts' is to be available in hardback only, £15.99 rrp, with a handsome dust-jacket featuring a painting by the author. For those too excited to bear the wait, the text of the first page is presented below. Note that any re-production of any portion of the text, except such re-production made solely for charitable purposes, is forbidden and will be punished to the fullest extent allowed by international copyright law.


Hjumən  Rajts
 
E den Sushing
 
 
Savant Press, Nassau
 
Chief Translator Artema Pantreris


Would you like to know how a1 giant of post-modernism approaches the creation of a masterpiece of literary fiction? Read on! Having devoted my intellectual energies in recent years to my other specialist fields of study- anthropology, neuro-science, quantum cryptography, 'warm neutron' predictive tectonics, didactic gradualism, string theory, global warming, macro economics, computer-aided genomics, semiotics, philology, comparative lexicography, and so on, and so on, and so on- I have embraced an overdue return to my first-love, literary fiction. Just as I write this, my first work of fiction for almost a decade, so you will read it; together we will be, figuratively at least, experiencing the creation of a literary meisterwerk from two perspectives, mine that of the author, and yours that of the enlightened spectator.
For any author creating a novel there are, of course, certain decisions to be made concerning the story to be told: the temporal and geographic settings; the tone of voice; the number, gender, age, and personalities of the main characters; the target length; the chapter structure; the plot- you can imagine the list. A mistake made by merely good and lesser authors is to consider any of these decisions important, when in truth none of them has a role in the creation of a truly 'great' novel. Indeed, what clearer proof of this can there be than the results of my recent work in the application of XLML2 to enable automated 're-skinning' of major works of literature. For example, take my re-skinning of War and Peace3 to become a novel set in the Japan of the early shogunate period; superficially the original and its re-skinned counterpart are as unalike as can be, yet each bears the identical message for humanity.
In fact, the criteria that must be satisfied by a novel if it is to be a great novel are these alone: it must provoke self-improving thought in the mind of the reader; it must entertain; and it must be largely original.
The intelligent and logical reader will conclude that one consequence of the aforementioned criteria is that a truly great novel may not be written in the first person unless  the central narrating character is one able to provoke thought, entertain, and be original. Quite so. However, in my case there is one obvious gambit, which is to write in the first person with myself as the central character. Who, after all, has a better track-record in provoking thought? Who more entertaining? Who more original? So let that choice be considered made. And for my convenience, if no other reason, let us set the novel in the current time, albeit with some flashbacks.


1 Possibly 'the' giant of post-modernism. This part of the Professor's novel was drafted in the p'Tang dialect of Tibet, in which the definite and indefinite articles are written identically (translator's note).
2The eXtensible Literary Mark-up Language. A formal prescription for encoding figures of speech explicitly. See the press statement which accompanied its launch here.
sThe re-skinning was completed with the support of research workers at the IBM Thomas J Watson Research Laboratories, Armonk N.Y. in 2012.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Feeling Overwrought

A problem of the truly prolific writer is to keep track of the treasured words once the avaricious agent gets hold of them, especially with all the new-fangled publishing formats we're confused by nowadays. Search my name on Amazon and you'll find hardbacks, softbacks, audio-books, podcasts, manga-streams, tweet-weaves, snip-vines, me-mozaics,  and countless other forms of publication upon which the fans shower their money. Half the time I don't know stuff's published until its waved under the nose with pens by the autograph hunters.

This morning was a case in point. Working through the papers over breakfast, I got to the New Yorker, unfolded it, and blow me down if the front page wasn't a Searle caricature of yours truly as Gulliver looking down at a dozen or so Lilliputians, among whom could be recognised Huxley, Russell, Godel, Bacon, de Beauvoir, Keynes, Feynman, and so on. To right, just above the little figures at the bottom, was the caption: 'Peter Frith on Essay den Sushing'.

Anyway... flick to page 2 of New Yorker..scan introductory column headed 'This Week'...yep, there we go- little bit of blurb about me... true polymath, giant of post-modernism, statesman, champion of women's rights, towering intellect, Nobel oversight,  etc etc, recently published book 'The 'Best of' Essay den Sushing', review by Frith on page 5.

On the one hand it was a complete surprise- I'd no idea that the anyone had been working on a collection of my best work, let alone that one had been published and sent to the New Yorker for review. And a damned thick book that would be. On the other, with so much superlative writing to my name, you'd be puzzled why a 'Best of' wasn't cramming the shelves years ago.

Fair enough so far. Nod to maid to top up coffee. Take next mouthful of nourishing breakfast. Turn to page 5. Start to read Frith's review:

"Welcome over-due publication of the best of den Sushing. Editors faced difficult choices. Unparalleled breath and depth of insight. Unique cocktail of humour, invention and serious message." And so on.

Reach seventh paragraph. See the words "den Sushing's occasionally overwrought prose style". Experience moment of disbelief. Re-read the words to be sure.  Drop scalding coffee on thigh.  Almost choke. Spray stream of toast crumbs and caviar over nearby secretary... OVERWOUGHT PROSE STYLE?????!!!!!!!

F***ing Firth. Overwrought prose style? I suppose he considers Hussein Bolt overfast, the oceans overwet, the Mona Lisa overpainted, Bach's cannon overmusical, the Great Pyramids overmonumental, our dear Queen overregal, my quantum electrodynamic calculations of the magnetic moment of the Higgs Boson overprecise, the...

Ed- don't forget the style guide. Looks to me like we're forgetting the style guide.

Eh? What? Oh, right, yes, but those ******** ***** ******* at the ********** New Yorker had better look out.

Ed- and the Defamation Avoidance Policy. Let's not be forgetting that either.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Glib Dems

At the House of Commons this morning a harassed and despondent Nick Clegg entered the gentlemen's toilets as I was washing my hands in preparation for leaving them (the toilets that is, not the hands). I acknowledged his presence with a fractional nod towards his reflection in the glass above my sink. After the customary preliminaries- his fawning, mine perfunctory and austere-  an impromptu consultation took place in which he sought my advice on the best way to counter the portrayal of his party as superficial and ill-prepared which was gaining currency following his decision to publish only the cover of the Lib Dem election manifesto. Looking him squarely in his tear-moistened eye I told him that the only course of action was the obvious one- he should publish the remaining page as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

C.J. Sansom's Cover Story

For entertainment certain cheap trashy paperbacks cannot be beaten. At Davos I almost missed my keynote speech, so absorbed was I in the latest C.J. Sansom. Perhaps 'in' is not the mot juste here, suggesting, as it does, that my attention had been gripped by the words inside the book; for it was the wording on the cover which wholly occupied my mind for the two hours and thirty seven minutes by which my talk had been delayed pending the arrival of an unpunctual Barrak Obama. The words- a quote from an un-named critic at The Sunday Times- were remarkable for such a complete absence of literary sensibility that ones mind could not completely contemplate the sort of conspiracy of incompetence that must have led to their publication. The author of the words was clearly borderline illiterate. Some sub-editor at The Sunday Times had been sufficiently uncultured to allow the words to appear in the review section of that publication (the literary review section, mind you). The publisher of the book must have failed to spot the gross literary shortcomings of the words to be emblazoned on its cover. I mean... words almost fail me. I'll tell you what, here's the quote. Read it yourself, then you'll see what I mean...

'So compulsive that, until you reach the end, you'll have to be almost physically prised away from it.'

Where does one start? So much to criticise. Let's begin with punctuation. What is the purpose of the two commas? Surely the sentence (rubbish as it is) would scan more straightforwardly without them. And then, why bother with the interpolated words at all? Surely if the sentence read 'So compulsive that you'll have to be almost physically pried away from it' the reader would gather that the extreme degree of compulsiveness would probably abate once the book had been read. Or did the critic suppose that readers might be concerned that they would be inseparably attached to this supremely captivating book for ever? And then there's the 'away from'. Why include the word away? And then there's 'physically prised'. Confusion with what other common sort of prising was the literary critic taking care to avoid? Emotional prising? Spiritual prising? Immaterial prising? And the ambiguously-placed 'almost'. What is its focus? Did our literary critic mean prised in an almost physical way (presumably some specific point along the non-physical-to physical prising continuum)? Or did the critic mean physically prised almost, but not quite, to the point of being 'away from' the book? Or did the critic...

Connoisseurs of literary humour world-wide: You can see why he nearly missed his speech. He can go on for hours about this sort of stuff. Sure he's a critic's critic alright.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Comedians

This morning I hear that Robert Peston, the erratically-spoken 'Business Editor' of the BBC, is to present a radio programme on financial inequality, featuring 'politicians, policy-makers and a comedian'. Any listener sufficiently able to tolerate Peston's discordant delivery to leave the radio playing throughout the broadcast will face another challenge: how to tell which of the speakers are not the comedian.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Excellence in execution

Naïve, childish, ill-informed, unproductive, futile, pointless, illogical... these adjectives and others like them might equally describe the arguments we hear about the privatisation of the NHS, or the idiots propounding them, who are unable to distinguish between the qualities inherent of a process and those of its execution. To put it more simply, privatise the NHS in a good way and good will result; privatise in a bad way and bad will result.

So too the arguments that are pointlessly made for and against the return to public ownership of the British railways. I have no doubt that a promptness and reliability to make Mussolini beam could be achieved were our railways in the hands of intelligent, well-motivated, capable, experienced, diligent civil servants. Equally we could have a chimps tea-party on rails if the idiots at my local council were put in charge.

Take the example I overhead on the radio this morning- an argument over the Macadamisation of schools. There are some, it seems, who assert that academic standards would assuredly be raised if all schools were to become Macadamised. Utter nonsense, of course, as a general and unqualified assertion. Certainly if it were well done- if the playground was tarmacked to an exacting standard, with perfectly undeviating planes, a tightly compacted and impervious surface, subtle and artistic falls, consistent radii at corner details, and so on- then the aesthetically disciplined neatness of it all might be expected to instil a more-potent esprit de corps among the pupils, leading to a more-stoic and purposeful attitude to study. But a quick tar-spray and chip by the cash-in-hand gang that did the head's driveway last Friday is likely to have the converse effect. The shabbily uneven surface, the wobbly and crumbling edges, the overall effect of slapdash and lethargic workmanship, will inevitably erode the morale of the student body, and lead to falling standards not rising ones.

The lesson is that whether something is good or bad depends not on what it is but on whether it is well or badly done. Take this very post. At heart a trivial pun on the resemblance between academisation and Macadamisation, inherently worthless. And yet, faceted and burnished by a master of literary comedy it becomes an exquisite jewel of humour at which you, my reader, may only stare with breathless reverence.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Period pains

You know me to be an indefatigable champion of women's rights, often working until I drop for the good of the cause. I was naturally first to stand at Davos to lead the ovation that followed Emma Watson's speech on gender equality, and I felt a justifiable moment of pride at what I and my sisters had achieved since the early days of our movement. You will readily imagine, therefore, the deflation of my spirits upon catching 'Women's Hour'* on the Internet radio at my hotel...

Women's Hour has been such a shrine to petty ambitions for women, legitimising under-achievement, and lowering the expectations of an entire sex. Today, for example, a particular authoress, whom I will not name,  was described as 'very brave' for talking about the impact of periods on her writing. Ha. Before I had learned to shave I had already written a monograph on the use of the semi-colon, and by my late teens I was recognised as an authority on the use of periods of every sort. And yet I thought nothing of it, because I had been raised by enlightened foster parents, in an enlightened commune, with enlightened role models, and given to believe that I could and should aim for the highest levels of attainment. Had there been a 'Men's Hour' on the radio once a day, filling my mind with thoughts about which shade of tie was most appropriate for a business meeting, as if that was the supreme concern for my gender, no doubt I would not be the billionaire eminence grise and bloggeur you have come to love today.

If women are to fulfil their potential they must focus on lofty ambitions, and put aside the humdrum concerns with which they have occupied their minds. So let that be the end of it. Let that be the very last word we have to hear on Women's Hour about women's problems. Period.

*A long-running programme on the 'Radio 4' channel of the BBC- Ed.

Truth stranger than fiction

The Day After Tomorrow and Cloverfield we remember with a chuckle as recent successes of the comedy film genre- the humour in each anchored by the extreme implausibility of its plot. The 'just as if' we muttered as the flakes of snow began to fall in July, blossomed into a 'ha ha ha' when New York had become an icy white wilderness. Our sides we split as the Statue of Liberty lost her head to a giant iguana. And yet this morning, hearing the news on BBC radio, I caught the announcement that lizards and snow were battering New York. Unbelievable.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Church of England

It is a familiar dilemma. We visit one of the splendid cathedrals that grace the cities of England, a towering triumph of the masons' art. There can be no question of a fee to enter such a place of worship, but bills are bills, so there is a 'recommended donation' of so much per visitor to help with the fierce running costs. The undecided hand lingers in the pocket, fingering cash. Thousands we would gladly give to ensure the longevity of the majestic medieval monument, but we suspect that £9.50 of our tenner will be spent not  on the building itself but on some sinecure's salary. We are  reminded of the bickering at the synod, the hotel bills and first class rail fares for those attending the quarrelsome meetings, the whole burdensome apparatus of ecclesiastical administration. The fingers close resolutely on the crumpled note, and we pass into the building, our money still our own.

And the Church itself does little to dispel the image of a bloated bureaucracy. I overheard a guide say that Norwich cathedral had over a thousand bosses, as if it were something to be pleased about. On the bright side, it seems that, thanks in part to my interventions, the Church has at last started to unlink the shackles of sexism that have for so long prevented modernisation. The guide went on to say that among the bosses men and women were represented in almost equal number. No glass ceilings there then.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Pernicious Ambiguity at the BBC

This morning I received a letter from one of the presenters of 'Today', the morning news programme on the BBC's Radio 4 channel.  I will not stoop to name the presenter; let us refer to him as Mr H. It seems that he had been piqued by my reports on this website of the lamentable tendency of the 'Today' editors to summarise the news to the point that it becomes ambiguous, a criticism which Mr H dismisses as 'gratuitous pedantry'.

It will be clear to my readers that the attitude of Mr H typifies the state to which the BBC has sunk- out of touch, self-justifying, blind to the social consequences of its actions. Only this morning, in the very same hour during which Mr H's extraordinary denial came into my hands, I encountered a stark concrete example of the pernicious effects of the high-handed carelessness practiced by his editors. I received a call on my personal line from Becks, a tearful and distraught Becks. His story he told in a voice choked with emotion. It was Posh. Her problem was back. He was sure of it. What was he to do? He'd heard it himself, on the BBC. Women were using spice as a legal high. He'd checked the kitchen cupboards. They were full of the stuff. And she never cooks. Always eat ready meals. Turmeric, majoram, (sic), coriander, garam masala (I could tell he was reading from the labels as he spoke)- she must be mixing the stuff for added effect. After all they'd gone through with the coke. What would happen to the kids? Who would pick his wardrobe? ...There was plenty more of the same before I interrupted him to explain that his concerns were misplaced, and the result of yet another ambiguity in the BBC news. He thanked me in his own way. Brilliant. Magic. Fab. Great. And so on.

You will appreciate that as David's pathetic tale invoked pity in my heart, so did it fury, fury towards the careless complacent self-satisfied mediocrats at the BBC who had been the cause of his suffering. Another letter in THE STERNEST POSSIBLE TONES I would have to write to the BBC Board this evening.

Connoisseurs of literary humour the world over: Shouldn't that have been 'mediacrats' back there?

Self: No. I meant mediocrats, as in those practiced in performing the mediocre.

Connoisseurs of literary humour the world over: That's good. Thought you'd slipped up. Should have known better.

Self: Yes you should. Think twice next time.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

New words for old


I never thought that I, of all people, would ask it, but...  has linguistics become just a little esoteric?

Passing this morning the campus of my charitable research foundation, the EDSRF, I was taken by an impulse to call-in and see how the donations were being spent. Mostly the research endeavours underway at the old place had a determinedly commercial ethos. In the Jobs Quantum Computing Laboratory, where I brushed away a tear at the memory of Steve and his generous bequeathal, the team were thrilled to demonstrate the latest chips, and to let me know that IBM had placed a $500m order for the output of the first full production run. Similarly enterprising initiatives were in evidence in the DuPont Material Science Department, the Vladimir Putin Applied Economics wing, and the Donald Trump Institute of Realtorship.

In the Kim Jong-Un Linguistics Directorate I was introduced to Laurent something-or-other, one of the new PhD interns. The subject of his thesis was to be an inter-linguistic comparative analysis of the incidence of reificative modal transpositions arising from phonemic catachresis. Fair enough, you'd say- a logical development of van Thoring's work. Indeed,  there was a time when I would have been first to leap to the whiteboard to sketch visionary lines of approach, to outline an itinerary of round-the-world research visits, to brainstorm a list of high-net-worth individuals who might be counted upon to fund the work, and so on. But this morning I found myself pre-occupied by a more practical concern- what can we do to hasten the evolution of English?

For example, where there has been a commonplace combination of a verb and a noun there has been a tendency for one or the other to be dropped. Driving a car  has become driving. Catching fish has become fishing. Cooking food has become cooking. Sending a text has become texting. I'm sure you can think of countless  (no members of the aristocracy on this blog, please) examples. Yet if I want to tell you that I have been reading a book, I have to use those three words: reading, a, and book, when surely there should be just one verb to represent such a universal activity. Likewise with lighting a fire, watching a television programme, listening to a CD, several words are needed when there should be one  to serve the purpose. Doubtless in a few thousand years such burdensome usage will be considered archaisms, but can we afford to wait? Why not establish a movement now dedicated to the eradication of all forms of inefficiency in English? Why let our brightest liguisticians pursue the most nuanced and recondite abstractions, when they could be applying their energies and talents to improve the lot of a struggling humanity?

I suppose I am partly to blame. Having burned such a brilliant trail in fields such as Ivatan syntax, prosodic structure analysis, contact-induced change, not to overlook my development of the concepts of affix grammars and the Proto-Oceanic lexicon, can I be surprised if others choose to emulate the greatness that has so inspired them?

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Conquering El Capitan

White hot have been the Sushing 'phones since this morning's news of my crucial role in coaching  Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson through their glorious ascent of El Capitan, that 3000 foot wall of granite in the Sierra Nevada. We had intended my part in their triumph to remain secret, but an enterprising reporter tricked Tommy into lending one of the satellite 'phones we had used throught the climb for the boys to relay their concerns, and I my advice; and from there it was a simple matter to trace the logged calls to my Nassau address.

The boys were experienced and talented climbers, so there was little I could teach them about climbing per se, apart from some technical hints about the importance of the bidoit, how to approach an overhanging run-out, pressure-breathing techniques, the use of the no-hand rest, how to develop ninja feet, exercises to prepare for the mono, the importance of jibbing in a hueco, the dangers of gronking, the need to avoid greaseballs, the use of the overarm yarn-pinch, traversing in conditions of moins lesee, fulcral knee pinions, and... well, you can imagine the rest.

The focus of our work was motivation. We knew from our practice sessions on the cliffs of western Ireland, where I would lead the boys through some of the trickier ascents, that the greatest dangers to their goals lay not in the treacherous vertical planes of granite, but in the warmth of the sleeping bag, which could tempt a tired mortal to abandon the rigours of the climb and give way to ease and comfort. We had to find a way to ensure that the boys would be motivated to climb each day, regardless of the pains, the dangers, the psychological challenges. My solution was simple but effective- a remote-controlled device integrated within the boys' bivouac by which I was able to subject them to video recordings of Ed Balls and George Osborne spouting foolish misconceptions about fiscal policy- guaranteed to drive anyone up the wall.

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Explanatory Deficit

Since the establishment of the toothless BBC Trust, upon my work-worn shoulders has fallen the burden of policing standards of quality at the Beeb. You might consider the broadcaster to be falling horribly short of the Reithian ideal, self-serving, its current-affairs programmes riddled with cliché, inaccuracy, speculation, and bias, recycling the same jaded 'talent' from one presenter slot to the next. I readily concede those criticisms and more, but I have to tell you that the performance of the BBC would be even worse (types the words with prodding fingertips for added emphasis) were it not for my unceasing vigilance and my readiness to write letters of the sternest tone.

In this very blog I have reported examples of one of the cardinal vices of news programming on Radio 4, namely the practice of summarising a subject to the point at which the summary becomes essentially ambiguous. Alert readers will recall the report of the 'rotating' workers at the crippled Fukoshima nuclear plant (see 'Japanese in a Spin').

A comparable case arose on the Radio 4 news this morning, which announced that David Cameron had made tackling 'the deficit' his top priority. Which deficit might that be? The deficit of midwives, of hospital beds, of seats on trains, of prison space, of border police, of competent managers of government IT projects, of housing, of honesty among our politicians, of transport infrastructure, of engineering apprentices, of girls studying physics, of original and innovative programmes on the BBC, of anything decent to watch on telly notwithstanding 763 Freeview channels, of teachers, of grit for the roads, of water in summer, of parking spaces, of visionary charismatic leaders... we in Britain enjoy such a magnificent panoply of deficits, how is the listener meant to know which is the target of Mr Cameron's top priority?

Up the Sushing sleeves are about to be rolled for a suitably lambasting letter to be typed, and you would not want to be in Tony Hall's shoes or seat when that baby hits the in-tray.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

A Proper Charlie Hebdo

We all know the French will take to the streets at the drop of a chapeau. A gormless assistant at Tesco puts the wrong price on a French apple- ten minutes later Dieppe is blockaded. The front pages at the newsagent this morning, where I called to pick up the TLS, showed les bons citizens of Paris waving placards reading 'Je Suis Charlie'.  One gathers a campaign to legalise cocaine is underway; hardly front page news from that most liberal of cities. However, I am told its headline status is the result of an intention of David Cameron to join the protestors tomorrow. Political suicide? you ask. I have only one thing to say on the matter: let's hope so.

Friday, 9 January 2015

The Collected Wisdom of David Cameron

Fervent critical acclaim from all quarters greeted our publication this week of 'The Charisma Secrets of Ed Miliband', a major new work of political reference. To forestall any accusations of bias in these sensitive pre-election times we are now launching a handsome companion volume, 'The Collected Wisdom of David Cameron', 240pp in paperback, details given below. Expected imminently from the printers are the galley proofs of a third volume, 'The Unshakeable Principles of Nick Clegg', which ought to be available from all good bookshops a week next Thursday.



















Look inside this book...

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Charisma Secrets of Ed Miliband

The latest title in our Modern Statesmanship series provides a comprehensive account of the charisma secrets of  Labour leader and would-be Prime Minister 'Ed Miliband'. With the election looming what could be a better time to buy ten copies or more as gifts for your friends, relatives and work colleagues.
























Look inside this book...









Saturday, 3 January 2015

For Twitchers

Upon the news of its appearance there, I and a party of excited fellow-twitchers raced to the Seahaven nature reserve in the hope of glimpsing the extremely rare Fregata Aquila- the Ascension  Frigatebird. There we stood, bedecked with the best binoculars buckets of money could buy, pelted by the rain in the Channel gales until we were frozen to our cores. Then suddenly from behind a storm-lashed clump of reed it appeared- a majestic, haughty creature, robed in many-hued splendour.  A cry went up, and the battery of binoculars was swiftly trained in the direction of the beautiful bird. Alas our efforts were in vain, however, as we were all twitching so severely we could not hold our binoculars steady enough for a decent view. All that could be seen was a vague bird-like blur, dancing against the background of the reed beds. There remained nothing but to retire to a local hostelry to revive our sluggish circulations with a  drop of stimulant.

Subsequently some good did spring from the disappointment, as on the trip home I made preliminary sketches of a new device that might help twitchers everywhere, sketches that have at last led to the launch of the revolutionary 'Gynocular', pictured below:



This remarkable new invention will free twitchers from the effects of their tremors, allowing them to see stable images of their beloved birds. Two stylish and unobtrusive gyroscopes are attached near the objective lenses of the binoculars, carefully configured to rotate around mutually orthogonal axes, providing near-perfect stabilisation. The Gynoculars are available in two variants: the Standard, in which the gyroscopes are manually brought up to speed by pulling a string, and the Deluxe, in which the gyroscopes are accelerated by battery power. The Deluxe is particularly recommended for twitchers, since the gyros in the Standard version are a bugger to thread with shaky hands.
Twitchers will know a good thing when they see it (those years of bird-watching, after all), and will surely wish to click at once to my E-bay shop to take advantage of early-bird discounts now on offer.

Friday, 2 January 2015

The Theory of Everything

I confess I have been cruel in the pages of this blog in poking affectionate fun at my ex-pupil Stephen Hawking and his somewhat slow mental processes. But old habits die hard. Notoriously, I do not suffer fools at all well, so you will imagine how frustrating it was to me, some sixty years ago, to find myself appointed Stephen's private tutor by his anxious parents, who were naturally fearful lest Stephen grow to be an adult version of the dunce he had appeared throughout his unimpressive childhood. I did my best, as can be seen by his success, such as it is, but sows ears are sows ears. To think what he might have achieved, with my guidance, had he more natural ability.
To relieve the tedium and frustration of our lessons I often used to rib him on those many occasions upon which he failed to appreciate some point I was attempting to press upon him. The humour was largely one-sided I regret to say, as Stephen has no sense of humour whatsoever. I remember him once asking me to explain the chain of reasoning that had led me to develop the concepts of asymmetric boson exchange- the idea that paved the way to what became known as the Grand Unification Theory. Oh it was just a GUT feeling, I said. Characteristically he didn't get the joke, until it was explained to him. (Three times, I recall.)

Scott Grisham

Scott Grisham. US author of low-brow legal thrillers, often confused with John Turow. Novels include: 'The Formula' (2003),  'Presumed Indifferent' (1984).

Extract from 'The Formula'. Portly middle-aged Harry Rex Horgan- a fearless litigator with a brutal work-schedule, four brutal  ex-wives and a drink problem- is conducting a brutal cross of the defendant, a dignified elderly personage accused of libelling famous author Scott Grisham. The case is being heard under Mississippi state law by Judge Hiram Oldenshaw in the ceremonial court in Clanton, Kindle County...

Harry Rex nodded doubtfully at the defendant in the witness box. 'So, Professor, if I understand you correctly you are asking us to believe that in dismissing my client's books as...' Harry read from a paper in his hand...'"formulaic, over-padded, cliché-ridden junk that no self-respecting person should be seen dead reading", you are expressing a genuinely-held belief."

'Correct.'

'And the we can take it, therefore, that you are not a fan of my client's work?'

'Correct.'

Harry Rex paused for a moment, staring reflectively at the rich patina of the old oak panelling in the majestic courtroom. Every one of the jurors was watching him. The pause seemed entirely natural, as if  the burdened mind of a dedicated lawyer was struggling to divine the truth. But the pause, its timing and its duration, like the rest of the cross was the product of more than $1million of research and rehearsals. Before the trial had even started an abandoned warehouse near Clanton had been converted by a team of movie-set constructors into an exact facsimile of the court room. Proxy jurors had been hired and psychologically profiled. Actors had been made up to resemble the judge and the defendant. Every aspect of the trial had been thoroughly rehearsed again and again by the claimant's legal team. Even the pause Harry Rex was now making had been tried in several variants of duration, with the proxy jury asked to say which seemed the most convincing. Nothing was left unconsidered. The budget for the legal work was limitless, as at stake was something priceless- the ego of an author.
used to mimic the l had all bee duration and its He appeared to make a decision, and nodded at Pamela Swikowitz, his beautiful young paralegal. Swikowitz passed over a manila envelope from which Harry Rex extracted a glossy 9 by 7 of what seemed to be a luxuriously appointed bathroom. The area around the toilet appeared to be strewn with books. He held the photograph in front of him and addressed the defendant.

'Professor, do you recognise the subject of this photograph?'

The Professor shifted uneasily in the witness box. 'I do.'

'Would you please tell us what it shows?'

The Professor cleared his throat. 'It shows one of the bathrooms in my Central Park apartment.'

'One of the bathrooms?' Harry's eyebrows were raised, as was the incredulous tone of his voice. 'Is it just one of the bathrooms in that apartment?'

The Professor ignored the question and stared out across the crowded courtroom with a look of regal defiance.

'I have a deposition here from Matilda de Morta, a member of the domestic staff at your Central Park apartment. In it she states that the bathroom appearing in this photograph was you own personal bathroom, and I quote "reserved exclusively for the


Professor Lord Robert 'Ray' Winstone

English medical doctor, scientist, television presenter, politician and actor, famous for 'tough-guy' roles  ('Nil by Mouth', 'Scum', etc).

Coincidentally, I caught 'Ray' on Desert Island Discs this morning. It's amazing how Kirsty puts her guest at their ease, and gets them to lower their guard. Gone were the pompous, inflated tones we associate with Lord Winston's speeches in the Lords, and instead we heard the genuine, unadorned cockney patois of his childhood days in south London, where he combined and early interest in medicine with a love of amateur boxing. It cannot be a surprise to anyone that he has made such a fist of his medical career since.