Archive for October, 2006

The Romantics

October 31, 2006

Having just returned form the Lake District, I’ve just realised that it been almost twenty or so years since I’ve turned my mind to works of Wordsworth, Coleridge and indeed any of that group of Romantics.  

The time has come when I should be reacquainting myself with them. I’m not quite certain that I’ll be able to read all of Wordsworth’s The Prelude, but then when I get too it, I’m sure that I recall enough of it to be able to skip over some of the less compelling parts of it.

Amnesty petition.

October 29, 2006

My wife and I have just returned from a very enjoyable  two and a half day sojourn in the Lake District. In that time, neither of us has bothered with what is going on the internet, nor did we bother very much about checking up on whether or not we were accumulating any mail. It was good just to get away and forget the outside world, even if it was only for a couple of days.

The bad thing about being away for even this short length of time is that I had accumulated about nearly two hundred and twenty mailings in my inboxes. The good thing was that about 200 of those could be deleted without my even bothering opening them. Oh, for a life without spam.  

Reading though the various blogs I regularly read, I found that John Naughton (see blogroll on the right) had posted the following:

Sign the pledge

October 29th, 2006 [link] Amnesty is campaigning to support bloggers who are being censored or imprisoned for their views. There’s an online petition here.

At least give it a second thought before passing it over.

Second thoughts – US style

October 23, 2006

    

Just when we were beginning to think that it took considerable courage for Alberto Fernandez to appear on on al-Jazeera television accuse US government of “arrogance” and “stupidity” in its policy on Iraq, I note from a report posted into The Guardian at 10.15am today, that the spin doctor retracts US arrogance remarks.

A day after his remarks were broadcast on al-Jazeera television, Alberto Fernandez, the director of public diplomacy in the state department’s bureau of near eastern affairs, issued a terse written apology through the department’s press office. “Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on al-Jazeera, I realised that I seriously misspoke by using the phrase ‘there has been arrogance and stupidity’ by the US in Iraq,” Mr Fernandez said.

“This represents neither my views nor those of the state department. I apologise”

I particularly like the “nor those of the state department” bit. There are no prizes for guessing who might have given whom a good talking to.

Clive James the webcaster.

October 23, 2006

In a Media Guardian interview  published today, the irrepressible Mr James tells readers why his http://www.clivejames.com webcast  Clive James: Talking in the Library, which features him sitting in the living-room of his London flat in discussion with some friends such as the playwright Michael Frayn, the novelist Julian Barns, the theatre director Jonathan Miller and the actor and biographer Simon Callow,  is going to be transmitted on Sky BskB’s Artsworld channel.  The bulk of the money he gets from a deal he’s done with Artsworld and Slate, a magazine owned by the Washington Post, will mostly go towards funding the webcasting.

“So with Artsworld I’ve insured myself against the cost of production. And Slate is carrying the burden of transmission. Theoretically, all I’m contributing is my time and energy …” He interrupts himself. “Actually I have a few other bills to pay, my assistant for one thing, well, I’m going broke.” A peal of shoulder-quaking laughter follows. “I would do this anyway, but I would like to do it without getting stopped by the fact that I simply ran out of dough.”

Of course, Clive James being the man he is, readily admits to what really motivates him in the enterprise.

“Finally, everything is ego,” says James. “It’s a pyramid. It’ll be there after I’m gone. If I select enough of the right people [his site also features work by others, ranging from Australian poet Les Murray to an article on Buffy by Zoe Williams], people might not even notice that I’ve gone. I’ll be in the middle of a glittering galaxy. I’m a firm believer that the web is indeed a jungle and that you have to build clearings in the jungle because young people starting out in their creative lives need somewhere to come”.

As someone who has long believed that while Clive James could probably afford to fund his webcasting and the publication  of the other material (a “treasure trove” a friend of mine, James Doherty, calls it) that is to be found on clivejames.com site out of his own pocket, what he couldn’t do was show other people do not have his financial resources that they can do the same. This venture, I believe,  goes somewhere towards showing just how they might go about doing it. 

Of course, it has to be said that Clive James can tap into funding sources more easily than most because his reputation – a reputation built up though publishing and broadcasting in the mainstream media – opens the right doors and gets him access to the right kinds of people, but this leaves the leaves the writer or broadcaster who has no track-record with the problem of how to go about gaining the kind reputation that will open the right doors.

Clive James the webcaster.

October 23, 2006

In a Media Guardian interview  published today, the irrepressible Mr James tells readers why his http://www.clivejames.com webcast  Clive James: Talking in the Library, which features him sitting in the living-room of his London flat in discussion with some friends such as the playwright Michael Frayn, the novelist Julian Barns, the theatre director Jonathan Miller and the actor and biographer Simon Callow,  is going to be transmitted on Sky BskB’s Artsworld channel.  The bulk of the money he gets from a deal he’s done with Artsworld and Slate, a magazine owned by the Washington Post, will mostly go towards funding the webcasting.

“So with Artsworld I’ve insured myself against the cost of production. And Slate is carrying the burden of transmission. Theoretically, all I’m contributing is my time and energy …” He interrupts himself. “Actually I have a few other bills to pay, my assistant for one thing, well, I’m going broke.” A peal of shoulder-quaking laughter follows. “I would do this anyway, but I would like to do it without getting stopped by the fact that I simply ran out of dough.”

Of course, Clive James being the man he is, readily admits to what really motivates him in the enterprise.

“Finally, everything is ego,” says James. “It’s a pyramid. It’ll be there after I’m gone. If I select enough of the right people [his site also features work by others, ranging from Australian poet Les Murray to an article on Buffy by Zoe Williams], people might not even notice that I’ve gone. I’ll be in the middle of a glittering galaxy. I’m a firm believer that the web is indeed a jungle and that you have to build clearings in the jungle because young people starting out in their creative lives need somewhere to come”.

As someone who has long believed that while Clive James could probably afford to fund his webcasting and the publication  of the other material (a “treasure trove” a friend of mine, James Doherty, calls it) that is to be found on clivejames.com site out of his own pocket, what he couldn’t do was show other people do not have his financial resources that they can do the same. This venture, I believe,  goes somewhere towards showing just how they might go about doing it. 

Of course, it has to be said that Clive James can tap into funding sources more easily than most because his reputation – a reputation built up though publishing and broadcasting in the mainstream media – opens the right doors and gets him access to the right kinds of people, but this leaves the leaves the writer or broadcaster who has no track-record with the problem of how to go about gaining the kind reputation that will open the right doors.

North Face of Soho by Clive James 2.

October 22, 2006

I have just finished reading Clive James’s North Face of Soho, and while I have not yet made up my mind about whether or not this fourth volume Unreliable Memoirs is up to the standard set by the of the previous three volumes, I am in full agreement with the Telegraph‘s Selina Hastings observation:

One of the most rewarding aspects of this exuberant work is the writer’s willingness to reveal the backstage mechanics of his professional life. Not only are we given the glamorous lunches with fashionable literati such as Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes and Martin Amis, but James shows, as it were, the engine-room in action. He takes the trouble to analyse exactly what it requires to be a television critic or write a book review, explains the necessity of precisely measuring the syllables in a line of poetry. With a shift of gear we witness the distressing experience of sharing a green room with the Sex Pistols (‘the little shits were genuine, you could say that for them’). And he shows us, too, how not to conduct an interview, quoting his first experience, on television with the lyricist Johnny Mercer, which was such a disaster it had to be scrapped. ‘I made the beginner’s classic mistake’, says James, ‘of including the answer in the question. This left my puzzled guest with little to say beyond “yes” and “no”.Those pieces about how James learned how to get things done certainly had me riveted.    

On the back dustcover of North Face of Soho, James says:

The best and entertainer can hope to do, when writing about what he does (and nobody asks him to do that; he decides to do it for his own reasons, is to be instructive). As a consequence, the book will be full of homilies about what to avoid. These homilies are sincerely meant; but with one proviso, which I hope is a saving grace; if I myself had avoided all these things, I would have probably got nothing done at all.

As they say, it does what it says on the cover. In fact, it does it so well that those parts of the book which deal with his learning how make television programmes, write short and long articles and so on should be required reading for all those thinking about going into the media, or taking media studies courses.

  

The man who learned – too late, as it happens – that the actor Robert Mitchum cared for language too much to give the same interview twice, because Mitchum was too fond of language to simply repeat himself over and over, has a lot pass on and he does it very entertainingly indeed.

Will the real Wayne Rooney please stand up?

October 21, 2006


John Naughton (see blogroll) has posted this extract from what he calls Harry Pearson’s wonderfully surreal column on his site.

These days the top players do not even do their own Little Britain impressions, and they leave the cutting off of the centre-back’s flashy ties to one of their people. This is not because they are lazy. It is because they are focused. The modern player is a specialist. He has little time for anything other than honing the key skills of his profession: shooting, shouting and looking sultry in styling mousse. Nothing distracts him from his job. He has a ghostwriter to write his autobiography and a ghostreader to tell him what is in it.

Some of the biggest names are now so totally devoted to themselves that they even employ a staff of experts to sleep with women for them. “Clearly the players are red-blooded young men who would like nothing better than to chase skirt,” reveals one insider close to the source of a friend, “but as professional athletes they are worried that a night of vigorous heterosexual activity might mess up their aggression, their stamina, or even their hair.”

Some have gone one-step further. A lot of fans and media people have expressed the view that Rooney is experiencing a lack of form. They are quite wrong. Wayne is in the form of his life. Unfortunately his body double is going through a sticky patch, though admittedly not as sticky as the one Frank Lampard’s body double has been experiencing for the past five months.

Some will find the news that Rooney and Lampard actually have body doubles out on the field something of a surprise. It is hard to see why. It has been common practice in Hollywood for years. You wouldn’t expect Angelina Jolie to do her own stunts, or Mel Gibson to show you his own bottom, now would you? Like any movie star Wayne is an incredibly valuable asset. Neither Manchester United nor England can afford to put what we must learn to call “the core of the Rooney brand” at risk by actually allowing him to run around on a slippery surface with a lot of rough blokes.The insurance premiums if they did would be crippling. His beard alone had to be underwritten for £77m….

Surreal? Maybe.

Speaking of euphemisms.

October 19, 2006

                                                                                   

Speaking of euphemisms [link], I found a rather concise but nonetheless interesting piece about them  on the Writing English – Proofreading and Copyediting Services site. 

Euphemisms can be positive or negative. Positive euphemisms include imposing job titles adopted to bolster one’s self-image or impress one’s friends and acquaintances. Examples of these include counsel in place of lawyer, health care professional for nurse or doctor, chief executive officer instead of president or chairman of the board, and territory manager instead of salesman.

Negative euphemisms deflate and diminish. They replace language that people prefer to avoid using. Examples include harvesting in place of killing, collateral damage instead of civilian casualties or deaths, relationship for sexual relationship, and intestinal fortitude in place of guts.

 It’s useful to remind ourselves from time to time of  how often we ouselves use euphemisms without giving the meaning of what we are saying a second thought.

What’s in a (job) title?

October 18, 2006

When I took voluntary redundancy from logistics planning job with a prestigious car manufacturer – it rhymes with “wag you are” – a decade and a half ago, my job description said that I had been was a “business analyst” in the Materials Planning and Logistics department. The title was then, and is now, for all its apparent grandness, wholly meaningless; it certainly did not give anybody an idea what I did, could do, or what my qualifications and capabilities might be.

It was to some extent a job title that the company made up because it suggested that I’d have to be specially trained to do the job, whereas in fact most of what I did, and was capable of doing, had come from my learning on the job and my having a certain amount good “common sense”. In other words, it could be done by anybody who was capable of learning how to do this particular type of work well. If the company had called the job by its proper title I would have been called a ” pre-production planner”.  Of course, to call somebody with my years of experience – 25, if you must know – a “planner” simply did not sound right to the Personnel Department, which by then had itself become the Human Resources Department.

To call me an “analyst” on the other hand was to suggest that I was bringing to this work a special set of skills that set mine apart from those a mere planner had. Why does this come to mind now? Well because over the weekend I came across a Guardian article on workplace euphemisms by Nigel Rees, author of A Man About a Dog: Euphemisms & Other Examples of Verbal Squeamishness, and probably best known as the chairman of BBC Radio 4’s Quote Unquote. 

In other words …

In today’s workplace, euphemisms abound – out with the office ‘receptionist’ in with ‘head of verbal communications’. Is it political correctness gone mad? asks Nigel Rees

Saturday

October 14, 2006
The Guardian

In January 1944, with the end of the second world war firmly in everyone’s binoculars, it was time to turn to building a better Britain. Doing his bit for the world that was to come in peacetime, a local government official in Westminster apparently decided that the council’s “rat-catcher” should be known henceforward as a “rodent officer”.

This reminds me that I must find and re-acquaint myself with The Complete Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers. It’s still in print, and it is still one of the best guides there is to use of the English language. Professional writers who may think that they can learn nothing from it are probably mistaken. It has something for everyone.

What’s in a (job) title?

October 18, 2006

When I took voluntary redundancy from logistics planning job with a prestigious car manufacturer – it rhymes with “wag you are” – a decade and a half ago, my job description said that I had been was a “business analyst” in the Materials Planning and Logistics department. The title was then, and is now, for all its apparent grandness, wholly meaningless; it certainly did not give anybody an idea what I did, could do, or what my qualifications and capabilities might be.

It was to some extent a job title that the company made up because it suggested that I’d have to be specially trained to do the job, whereas in fact most of what I did, and was capable of doing, had come from my learning on the job and my having a certain amount good “common sense”. In other words, it could be done by anybody who was capable of learning how to do this particular type of work well. If the company had called the job by its proper title I would have been called a ” pre-production planner”.  Of course, to call somebody with my years of experience – 25, if you must know – a “planner” simply did not sound right to the Personnel Department, which by then had itself become the Human Resources Department.

To call me an “analyst” on the other hand was to suggest that I was bringing to this work a special set of skills that set mine apart from those a mere planner had. Why does this come to mind now? Well because over the weekend I came across a Guardian article on workplace euphemisms by Nigel Rees, author of A Man About a Dog: Euphemisms & Other Examples of Verbal Squeamishness, and probably best known as the chairman of BBC Radio 4’s Quote Unquote. 

In other words …

In today’s workplace, euphemisms abound – out with the office ‘receptionist’ in with ‘head of verbal communications’. Is it political correctness gone mad? asks Nigel Rees

Saturday

October 14, 2006
The Guardian

In January 1944, with the end of the second world war firmly in everyone’s binoculars, it was time to turn to building a better Britain. Doing his bit for the world that was to come in peacetime, a local government official in Westminster apparently decided that the council’s “rat-catcher” should be known henceforward as a “rodent officer”.

This reminds me that I must find and re-acquaint myself with The Complete Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers. It’s still in print, and it is still one of the best guides there is to use of the English language. Professional writers who may think that they can learn nothing from it are probably mistaken. It has something for everyone.