Who Do You Think You Are?

Did anyone happen to tape David Tennant on “Who Do You Think You Are?” last night?

Three of my interests converging – genealogy, Irish history and Doctor Who!!!

Edited to add: OK, will watch the repeat on Tuesday evening (thanks, !)

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Feeling better

Am off to work now, feeling much less cold-ridden than yesterday. This is obviously the time of year for colds – I quote Samuel Pepys’ diary entry from 27 September 1663:

At night to supper, though with little comfort, I finding myself both head and breast in great pain, and what troubles me most my right ear is almost deaf. It is a cold, which God Almighty in justice did give me while I sat lewdly sporting with Mrs. Lane the other day. I went to bed with a posset, being very melancholy in consideration of the loss of my hearing.

I don’t think I can put down my cold to anything more exciting than the rain in London on Monday!

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September Books 22) The Prince

22) The Prince, by Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli

As part of my newly self-inflicted reading programme, this was a merciful relief in that it is a) very short and b) a non-fiction essay about a subject that I am very interested in. Also I read it electronically, thanks to the excellent FictionWise. No trees died for this review.

I found it very thought-provoking. The style is a little reminiscent of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War – less staccato, of course, and with rather too many references to events contemporary to Machiavelli which I have only dimly heard of, if at all. Machiavelli’s strictures on statecraft for the autocratic ruler are not hugely relevant for Western democracies, where the executive’s freedom to do what they want is (thank God!) hemmed in by many legal and political restrictions.

But for a number of the countries that I take an interest in, which have democratic form but not content, his analysis is actually a much better explanation of their rulers’ behaviour, and a useful metric for predicting whether they will succeed or fail, than any appeal to democratic theory. To take one example that is no longer contemporary, I read the passage on a Civil Principality, “where a leading citizen becomes the prince of his country, not by wickedness or any intolerable violence, but by the favour of his fellow citizens”, and thought of Eduard Shevardnadze and his downfall.

And indeed some of his strictures have a wider application than merely to autocratic rulers’ domestic policies. His observation that while you may have to choose being feared over being loved, you must avoid at all costs being hated, has obvious read-through to external as well as internal interventions in any country’s politics.

The last few chapters – on choosing the right person to be your right-hand man, while at the same time avoiding the attentions of flatterers – are obviously (as commented) to be seen in the light of the entire book being a job application; but they are none the less important observations on the psychology of leaders and their advisers.

So yeah, an excellent read. The next on the list will take me a bit longer, I think…

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September Books 20) The God of Small Things, 21) Beloved

20) The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
21) Beloved, by Toni Morrison

Further to my previous post, these two books turned out to be a pretty effective paired reading, though rather morbid if you are lying in bed trying to forget about feeling ill.

Both are about poor and oppressed families in difficult circumstances – a down-at-heel Syrian Orthodox family in Kerala in the mid-twentieth century for Arundhati Roy, former slaves and their children in Cincinnati in the mid-nineteenth century for Toni Morrison. Both books are about the horrible death of a child which turnout not to be all that it seems. Both are told in a narrative that flips back and forth between the time of the death, the family history leading up to it, and the early adulthood of other children who were around at the time. Both, oddly enough, feature old women called Baby.

Frankly the Arundhati Roy book was much more enjoyable. It is a fascinating portrait of different parts of a diverse society, attractively quirky characters, even shafts of actual humour in among the grimness of the main plot strand. Toni Morrison’s world seemed much more starkly black and white (in several senses); the violence was more horrific, the situation worse, the resolution (for my tired and somewhat ill brain) rather more confusing. But I wouldn’t really recommend either to a friend I was trying to cheer up.

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Various things

I’ve been at home feeling flu-ridden since noon yesterday, which explains the peculiar tone of some recent posts.

It also means I don’t have the energy to pursue several strange and fascinating links I have seen, noted here for future reference for when I feel better:
My great-grandfather’s metallurgy textbook
The Online Etymology Dictionary (thanks to , I think)
The 1990 Douglas Adams/Tom Baker documentary on the future of computers, from
Essay on Amber in Strange Horizons
While I’m thinking of Strange Horizons and my piece on Houellebecq’s Lovecraft which I owe them, here is ‘s response, via several months ago

Also, someone posted in a locked entry that they had attended a wedding which “had a number of peculiarities, apparently as a result of the groom’s eccentricities/strange sense of humour – it not only featured the 1662 wedding service, but also an absolutely frightful old hymn he’d discovered via the Flashman books about converting the heathen, with particular and inexplicable reference to Greenland.” The hymn itself is apparently here. (WARNING! MUSIC!)

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Further to my previous theory…

…some of you may be aware of my thesis that authors born between 1942 and 1951 (inclusive) have won a surprisingly large number of Hugo and Nebula awards. I have done a bit more number-crunching on this question.

We know the age profile of Hugo and Nebula award winners; we know how many works written in each year have won awards; so we can calculate how many awards for works written in each year should go, on average, to the age cohort of those born between 1942 and 1951, if they won awards at the same average rate as authors born in all years, and compare that with the actual numbers of awards won for works written in each year by authors born between 1942 and 1951. The results are startling:

(I should clarify that the years tabulated are the year of publication of the award-winning work, and that I tally each joint win separately – so the joint win by Mr and Mrs Robinson of the 1978 Hugo and 1977 Nebula for “Stardance” counts for four awards in 1977, the year of publication.)

There have been four years when the 1942-51 cohort managed a clean sweep of all Hugos and Nebulas for works published in that year:

Gardner Dozois (b. 1947) Nebula, Best Short Story, “The Peacemaker”
Octavia E. Butler (b. 1947) Hugo, Best Short Story, “Speech Sounds ”
David Brin (b. 1950) Hugo & Nebula, Best Novel, Startide Rising
Greg Bear (b. 1951) Hugo & Nebula, Best Novelette, “Blood Music”; Nebula, Best Novella, “Hardfought”
Timothy Zahn (b. 1951) Hugo, Best Novella, “Cascade Point”

John Varley (b. 1947) Hugo & Nebula, Best Novella, “Press Enter
Octavia E. Butler (b. 1947) Hugo & Nebula, Best Novelette, “Bloodchild”
Gardner Dozois (b. 1947) Nebula, Best Short Story, “Morning Child”
William Gibson (b. 1948) Hugo & Nebula, Best Novel, Neuromancer
David Brin (b. 1950) Hugo, Best Short Story, “The Crystal Spheres”

C.J. Cherryh (b. 1942) Hugo, Best Novel, Cyteen
Michael D. Resnick (b. 1942) Hugo, Best Short Story, “Kirinyaga”
Connie Willis (b. 1945) Hugo & Nebula, Best Novella, “The Last of the Winnebagos”
George Alec Effinger (b. 1947) Hugo & Nebula, Best Novelette, “Schrödinger’s Kitten”
James Morrow (b. 1947) Nebula, Best Short Story “Bible Stories for Adults, No. 17: The Deluge”
Lois McMaster Bujold (b. 1949) Nebula, Best Novel Falling Free

Vernor Vinge (b. 1944) joint Hugo, Best Novel, A Fire Upon the Deep
Connie Willis (b. 1945) joint Hugo and Nebula, Best Novel, Doomsday Book

In summary: authors born between 1942 and 1951 have won almost twice as many Hugos and Nebulas as might be expected, comparing them with all Hugo and Nebula winners.

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A question you had never thought of asking

How many people have got votes in the U.S. electoral college on three or more occasions?

The answer is twenty-two:

George Washington:

1) Elected President in 1789, with 69 votes of a possible 69
2) Elected President in 1792, with 132 votes of a possible 132
3) despite announcing that he did not want the job again, got 2 votes out of a possible 138 in 1796.

John Adams:
1) Elected Vice-President in 1789, with 34 votes of a possible 69
2) Elected Vice-President in 1792, with 77 votes of a possible 132

3) Elected President in 1796, with 71 votes of a possible 138
4) Runner-up in the 1800 presidential election, with 65 votes of a possible 138

John Jay:
1) Runner-up in the 1789 election, with 9 votes of a possible 69
2) A long way behind in the 1796 election, with 5 votes of a possible 138
3) A long way behind in the 1800 election, with 1 vote of a possible 138

George Clinton:
1) a long way behind in the 1789 election, with 3 electoral votes out of a possible 69
2) Runner-up in the 1792 election, with 50 votes out of a possible 132
3) A long way behind in the 1796 election, with 7 votes of a possible 138
4) Elected Vice-President in 1804 with 162 votes out of 176
5) Elected Vice-President in 1808 with 113 votes out of 175
(also got 6 votes for President)

Thomas Jefferson:
1) A long way behind in the 1792 election, with 4 votes of a possible 132
2) Elected Vice-President in 1796, with 68 votes of a possible 138
3) Topped the electoral college vote, jointly with Aaron Burr, in 1800 with 73 votes of a possible 138; subsequently elected President by the House of Representatives.
4) Elected President in 1804 with 162 votes out of 176

Aaron Burr:
1) A long way behind in the 1792 election, with 1 vote of a possible 132
2) Some way off in the 1796 election, with 30 votes of a possible 138
3) Topped the electoral college vote, jointly with Thomas Jefferson, in 1800 with 73 votes of a possible 138; subsequently chosen as Vice-President by the House of Representatives

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney:
1) A long way behind in the 1796 election, with 1 vote out of a possible 138
2) Some way off in the 1800 election (where he was effectively Adams’ running-mate) with 64 votes of a possible 138
3) Runner-up for President in 1804 with 14 votes out of 176
4) Runner-up for President in 1808 with 47 votes out of 175

Rufus King:
1) Runner-up for Vice-President in 1804, with 12 votes out of 176
2) Runner-up for Vice-President in 1808, with 47 votes out of 175

3) Runner-up for President in 1816, with 34 votes out of 217

John Quincy Adams:
1) Got the only vote not cast for James Monroe in the 1820 Presidential election
2) Came second in the 1824 electoral college vote for President, with 84 out of 261, but subsequently elected President by the House of Representatives
3) Runner-up for President in 1828, with 83 votes out of 261

Andrew Jackson:
1) Topped the electoral college vote for President with 99 votes out of 261 in 1824, but lost the election in the House of Representatives; also got 13 votes for Vice-President that year
2) Elected President in 1828, with 178 votes out of 261
3) Elected President in 1832, with 219 votes out of 286

Henry Clay:
1) Came fourth out of four in the electoral college vote for President in 1824, with 37 votes out of 261; also got 2 votes for Vice-President that year (again coming last, of the six candidates)
2) Runner-up for President in 1832, with 49 votes out of 268
3) Runner-up for President in 1844, with 105 votes out of 275

Martin Van Buren:
1) Got 9 votes out of 261 for Vice-President in 1824
2) Elected Vice-President in 1828, with 189 votes out of 286

3) Elected President in 1836, with 170 votes out of 294
4) Runner-up for President in 1840, with 60 votes out of 294

Thomas Andrews Hendricks:
1) Runner-up for President in 1872, with 42 votes out of 349 (the Democratic candidate, Horace Greeley, had died, and Hendricks got the majority of his votes)
2) Runner-up for Vice-President in 1876, with 184 votes out of 369 (even though the Tilden/Hendricks ticket had won the popular vote)
3) Elected Vice-President in 1884, with 219 votes out of 401 (and then died a year after the election)

Grover Cleveland:
1) Elected President in 1884, with 219 votes out of 401
2) Runner-up for President in 1888, with 168 votes out of 401
3) Elected President in 1892, with 277 votes out of 444

William Jennings Bryan:
1) Runner-up for President in 1896, with 176 votes out of 447
2) Runner-up for President in 1900, with 155 votes out of 447
3) Runner-up for President in 1908, with 162 votes out of 483

Theodore Roosevelt:
1) Elected Vice-President in 1900, with 292 votes out of 447 (and became President on McKinley’s death in September 1901)
2) Elected President in 1904, with 336 votes out of 476
3) Runner-up for President in 1912, with 88 votes out of 531

Franklin D. Roosevelt:
1) Runner-up for Vice-President in 1920, with 127 votes out of 531
2) Elected President in 1932, with 472 votes out of 531
3) Elected President in 1936, with 523 votes out of 531
4) Elected President in 1940, with 449 votes out of 531
5) Elected President in 1944, with 432 votes out of 531 (and then died in April 1945)

Richard M. Nixon
1) Elected Vice-President in 1952, with 442 votes out of 531
2) Elected Vice-President in 1956, with 457 votes out of 531
3) Runner-up for President in 1960, with 219 votes out of 537
4) Elected President in 1968, with 301 votes out of 538
5) Elected President in 1972, with 520 votes out of 538 (and then resigned in August 1974)

Walter “Fritz” Mondale:
1) Elected Vice-President in 1976, with 297 votes out of 538
2) Runner-up for Vice-President in 1980, with 49 votes out of 538
3) Runner-up for President in 1984, with 13 votes out of 538

Ronald Reagan:
1) Got 1 electoral college vote for President in 1976, from a “faithless elector” pledged to outgoing president Gerald Ford
2) Elected President in 1980, with 489 votes out of 538
3) Elected President in 1984, with 525 votes out of 538

George HW Bush:
1) Elected Vice-President in 1980, with 489 votes out of 538
2) Elected Vice-President in 1984, with 525 votes out of 538
3) Elected President in 1988, with 426 votes out of 538
4) Runner-up for President in 1992, with 168 out of 538 votes

Al Gore:
1) Elected Vice-President in 1992, with 370 out of 538 votes
2) Elected Vice-President in 1996, with 379 votes out of 538
3) Runner-up for President in 2000, with 266 votes out of 528 (despite winning the popular vote)

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September Books 19) Persuasion

19) Persuasion, by Jane Austen

Again, driven to read this at last by my posts here and here. It’s a very nice story, of repressed emotions, shallow pretensions, and the tentative process of picking up a relationship after eight years of interruption. The heroine, Anne Elliott, is perhaps a little too flawless and downtrodden by her useless family, but she does manage to find her way to self-determination in the end. There were a couple of passages in the penultimate chapter that almost seemed to lurch into feminism. A good read.

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September Books 18) The Brothers Karamazov

18) The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Finally shamed into reading this by this meme, though it was also part of my 2006 reading resolutions.

Am I unusual in finding the grand sweeping philosophical monologues about the nature of God and Man very skimmable? Apart from the tendency of the characters to go into long diatribes reinforcing how each of the three (or four) brothers represents a different facet of personality, it’s a fairly engaging story; the characters – and especially the small-town Russian setting – sketched vividly and memorably, and the plot accelerating towards the end to the conclusion. I was particularly taken with the story of the schoolboys which constitutes Book Ten of the narrative; I did wonder at first if it was going to turn out to be at all relevant to the conclusion, but in fact I think it does tie in very nicely to the last chapter.

Anyway, I’m glad that is over.

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So, update…

…interview went well. So they are calling in references, and putting it to their Board. (I assume they are not going to ask the Board to approve not offering me the job!)

I should hear at the end of next week. (I will be in Ankara Wed-Fri, worse luck.)

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Note to self:

While I do generally like the new livejournal comment tracking system, I must remember that now I’ve turned off the old system, I no longer get automoatic notification of replies to my comments on other people’s journals, or of comments to my posts in places other than , unless I remember to ask for them.

A couple of belated replies going out now (to and . Apologies to anyone else who has been missed.

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Alternate Britains in Doctor Who, 2006 vs 1970

There are two Doctor Who stories largely set in a more or less contemporary parallel universe, the 1970 Jon Pertwee series “Inferno” and the 2006 David Tennant two-parter “Rise of the Cybermen”/”The Age of Steel”. I rewatched the latter, and the relevant episodes of the former, to compare and contrast the two takes on the same theme, thirty-six years apart, and in particular (this being my own personal area of greatest interest) to consider the two stories’ takes on the politics of a parallel Britain, and what that tells us about how the world has changed since the year Edward Heath came to power.

There is one notable similarity between the two settings. In both, Britain has lost its monarchy. In the Brigade Leader’s world of 1970, we are told that the royal family were all shot after the second world war, and the dictator of the Republic appears in photographs on every wall (in fact depicting the BBC’s chief visual effects designer, Jack Kine). In Pete Tyler’s world of 2006, the “President of Great Britain” is played on screen by Don Warrington. We are not told what happened to the royals in this case (or to Northern Ireland).

The Doctor’s reaction in the Brigade Leader’s world of 1970 makes it quite clear that the fate of the royals is a Bad Thing about this world, one of numerous early signals that it is a much nastier place; this is backed up by the fact that almost every sympathetic character in our world has a nastier counterpart in the Brigade Leader’s world, with the exception perhaps of those who were already nasty on our side. At that time, of course, dictatorship was a lot closer to the audience in both time and space. The second world war had ended twenty-five years earlier, if not in the living memory of the kids in the tea-time audience, certainly in the memory of most of their parents. Portugal, Greece and Spain were still dictatorships, and Communism still had almost two decades to go in eastern Europe. The royals were seen as a contributing factor to Britain’s political security. (Gosh, it’s difficult to remember those days; indeed, the fall from grace of the royals and the fall of Communism happened about the same time.)

In 2006, Pete Tyler’s world at first looks rather more attractive than ours. The very first thing we see are Zeppelins, which, let’s face it, are just cool (it’s a safe bet that very few in the audience could remember their deadly use in bombing raids nine decades earlier). There are mildly interactive billboard advertisements; the president is Afro-Caribbean. Nice people who are dead in our world (Pete Tyler himself; Micky/Ricky’s grandmother) are alive here. It seems like the Doctor and friends have come to a better place – but it rapidly becomes clear that we haven’t; the President tells Pete that it is “a sick world”, his government is in the pocket of an insane plutocrat who also controls the media, the homeless are being rounded up for scientific experiments, working class areas are under a curfew, and even the rich have to get hold of whisky though the black market – “pardon me, Mr President!” (though given my earlier suspicions about Northern Ireland, that may well be whiskey).

In the Brigade Leader’s world, the violence of the system is overt – the Doctor’s first exposure to it when the Republican Security Forces start shooting at him, he leaves it as Squadron Leader Liz Shaw shoots the Brigade Leader dead, moments before they are all engulfed by magma from the Earth’s core. Pete Tyler’s world, however, finds redemption rather than holocaust. In “Doomsday” we find out that the “People’s Republic” have taken over Torchwood and put him in charge of it, in contrast to our world where it is a law unto itself.

So, what do we learn from this? One thing that I think hasn’t changed is the acceptability of parallel-world storylines. The notes on the “Inferno” DVD point out that the 1970 audience could well have been familiar with the 1969 Gerry and Sylvia Anderson film, Dopplegänger aka Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, which featured a similar storyline, and the John Wyndham short story “Random Quest”, in which the central character is shunted into a world where the second world war didn’t happen, was filmed for “Out of the Unknown” that same year (directed by Christopher Barry, who also directed the first Dalek story for Doctor Who). Indeed, if anything I felt that the explanation of what was going on was a bit more painfully explicit in 2006 than 1970.

The political difference: the threats to Britain’s social order are perceived today as much less visible and more insidious than they were in 1970. Then, the enemy was visible and armed, defending scientists who were likely to bring us all to Hell. Now, they are more subtle – corrupting our own government in order to remove our brains.

Scary, isn’t it? But that’s the point of good drama.

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September Books 17) Kosovo’s Endgame

17) Kosovo’s Endgame: Sovereignty and Stability in the Western Balkans, by Aristotle Tziampiris

For the second time time this month I review a book on Kosovo given me by the author. He has done two important things with this book: first, it’s a pretty good comprehensive review of all the available academic and thinktanky literature on Kosovo as of late 2004, including also the full text of the key international documents on Kosovo’s future – UN Security council 1244, the Constitutional Framework, and the Serbian government’s proposals; second, I suspect it is the first book by a Greek author published in Greece which advocates Kosovo’s sovereignty in international law, subject to numerous conditions and restrictions, most of which I agree with (apart from the unworkable idea of total demilitarization).

Unfortunately there are two major problems with the book as well. The first is that the initial chapters contextualising the Kosovo problem seem to be trying to strike a balance between glib journalistic analysis of the situation and getting into the more theoretical aspects of international relations, and the argument therefore seemed to me to fall between two stools, not really clear which audience was being addressed. The second, which I suspect is not the author’s fault, is that the book is effectively two years too late. There is no reference at all to either of the reports of Kai Eide, the Norwegian ambassador to NATO, appointed to assess the situation in Kosovo by the UN, published in late 2004 and late 2005, which have completely altered the international political context; still less to the mission of former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari as the UN Special Envoy to resolve Kosovo’s status.

There is a very peculiar introduction by the author’s employers, a military think-tank near Athens, stating that the decision to publish the book was based on a rigorous independent academic assessment from which the author was excluded; further (and the bold face is as in the original text), “It should be emphasised that the opinions, arguments and analysis contained in this study are wholly the author’s.” These seem to me to be bizarre stipulations; it should be taken as read that any think-tank’s publications are peer-reviewed, and that the named author alone takes political responsibility; and I am really puzzled that the publisher feels moved to emphasize these points. Perhaps I am not sufficiently aware of the nuances and procedures in the Greek academic world, but the fact remains that if the Defence Analyses Institute had approved this text even twelve months ago (and preferably eighteen months ago) it would have been a lot more timely.

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September Books 16) Epic

16) Epic, by Conor Kostick

I know the author a little and I know the publisher rather better; but what really flagged it up to me was ‘s review, a year and a half ago. It’s a YA novel set on a resource-poor future colony world where participation in a WoW-type game is practically mandatory, and your success in battle determines who gets access to what resources. We’ve seen games used as the centre of sf stories before; on the spectrum that has Jack Chick’s take and Catherine Asaro’s typically dismal “A Roll of the Dice” at one end, and Iain Banks’ The Player of Games at the other, with Poul Anderson’s Hugo-and-Nebula-winning “The Saturn Game” somewhere in the middle, I reckon that Epic is well up in the top half, say about level with Sherri S Tepper’s True Game trilogy. (This classification will be of no help at all to you if you hate banks, like Asaro and find Tepper incomprehensible. But at least I tried.)

Knowing Conor’s politics I was wondering if or how he would manage to bring in the revolutionary overthrow of the system, and he does it through a combination of a young hero and his friends teaming up with older mentors (one the central character’s father, the other the ideological guide for the revolution). However he manages to keep the suspension of disbelief and (I would have thought) in a style attractive to the target readership. If you don’t want your teenagers exposed to insidious lefty propaganda, don’t let them read this book. On the other hand if you want them to be intellectually stimulated as well as entertained, you could do a heck of a lot worse.

See also Sherwood Smith‘s glowing review on the SF Site.

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Language test – the answers

Answers to the World Language Test I posted about earlier. I got three wrong – they are in italics.

1. What immediate family of languages does English belong to?

2. Which of the following is not a Romance language?

3. What is the official language of the African country of Angola?

4. Which of the following is not a Celtic language?

5. What is the language in common use in the city of Zurich, Switzerland?

6. What country has the largest Spanish speaking population?

7. Of the following, which is most closely related to the English language?
West Frisian

8. A minority language is a language spoken by a minority of a population of a country, often times within an ethnic nation of that country. Which of these is not a minority language spoken in France? (Yes there are more languages than just french)

9. Of the 4 languages previously listed, which one of them is a Celtic language?

10. Of all the minority languages in Western Europe, which is the most spoken and in a process of rebirth with anywhere from 10 to 12 million speakers?

11. In what city would you expect to meet speakers of this minority language from the previous question?

12. Which of these is not an official language of Belgium?

13. Which of the following belong in the Slavic family of languages?
Bulgarian, Czech, Slovenian

14. Now for a couple easy questions. From what language are all Romance languages derived from?

15. The language from the previous question is itself a part of what family of languages?

BONUS: The following two questions are bonus questions, they are worth twice the points of a regular question if you get them right, but are of course significantly harder. As expected, if you guess wrong you get no points, however if you skip the question you’ll be given the point tally of a normal question. Up to you whether to attempt them. Good luck!
16. What was the language spoken by the first confirmed European explorers to reach the Americas? (Hint: This is harder than you think)
Old Norse – so no need to worry about Columbus and his crew.

17. What is the last documented Romance language to have gone extinct?
Dalmatian – Iberian and Cornish not Romance languages, and Galician still alive.

ASIA: Onward to Asia, which is, believe it or not, even more complicated in terms of languages than Europe. But fear not, this section is somewhat shorter than the previous.
18. Farsi is an official language of Pakistan.
False – further north and west.

19. The official language of Bhutan is?
Dzongkha – I knew this because it was one of 14 languages spoken fluently by a polyglot former colleague

20. Back to Europe for a second. What European language is commonly spoken in the Chinese city of Macau? (Besides English of course)

21. The Korean language is part of which language family?
This is still under debate. – surprised me but Wikipedia confirms it. I guessed anyway since I reckoned it wouldn’t be one of the options if it weren’t true.

22. The official languages of Singapore include all the following except…
Thai – Tamil yes, Thai no.

23. Tatar is a minority language spoken primarily in which of these Asian countries?
Russia – sneaky, of course, because people like to forget that Russia has all those Asian parts

24. Is Spanish currently an official language of the Philippines?.
No – slightly surprising, but US colonialism was obviously effective.

OCEANIA: Just a brief look at Oceania to end this section.
25. Fijian is the name for the native language of Fiji.
True – in English anyway.

26. The following are all common languages of Papau New Guinea except…
Maori – wrong islands.

AFRICA: Sorry, it doesn’t get any easier, hang in there you are almost done.
27. How many countries in Africa have speakers of Swahili? (Both official or not official)
10 – I took a wild guess at this but it turns out to be correct.

28. Bantu is a family of African languages primarily spoken in which region?
Southern/Central Africa

29. This African language was highly influenced by the settlement of Indonesians in the area it is spoken about 1500-2000 years ago.
Malagasy – spoken in Madagascar

30. What African language is derived primarily from 17th century Dutch?
Afrikaans – rather easy!

31. Is Arabic an official language of Mali?
No – the official languages are French and the Berber language Amazigh.

THE AMERICAS: The Final section. These languages are probably the least known in all the world, just a few more questions though.
32. The official language of Peru (besides Spanish) is…
There is none. – turns out Quechua is only official in the areas where it is spoken, rather than all over Peru.

33. Greenlandic (East Inuit) is an example of a(n)…
Eskimo-Aleut language

34. Navajo and Hopi are both languages with speakers in the state of Arizona, USA and also both derive from the same immediate language family.
False – turns out that Navajo is Athabascan, Hopi is Aztec.

35. Which of these South American countries is bilingual, speaking both Spanish and their indigenous language of Guarani?
Paraguay – a bit of a guess but got there by remembering where the Iguazú falls are.

36. What is the primary indigenous language of modern-day Quebec?
Cree – again a bit of a guess, but I knew the first two were geographically unlikely and hadn’t heard of Slavey (which it turns out on further research is spoken much further west, around the Great Slave Lake).

BONUS: One final bonus question. Same rules as before apply. If you do not attempt it you get a regular score. You get twice the points of a regular question for the correct answer.
37. Papiamento, a creole language spoken on the Caribbean islands of Curaçao and Aruba, is based primarily upon which three European languages?
Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch – the clue here is that Curaçao and Aruba are both Dutch colonies and this was the only option of the four that included Dutch.

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The Pope and Islam

I first became aware of this issue waiting for my plane at Dulles airport on Friday last week, via the scrolling newbars on CNN. I knew I wasn’t missing much, since with CNN it makes little difference whether or not you have the sound on; the story seems to have blown itself out now, but I have just two small points of my own to make on this, and also want to flag up some interesting posts from different parts of my f-list.

My first point is on the nature and character of the Pope himself. It is rather easy to forget that the Papacy, divinely inspired and sustained or not, is a human institution. (For a brilliant take on the Papal investiture as an inhuman institution, see here.) Stratfor, who are very heavily invested in the “clash of civilisations” paradigm, have a long piece about it asserting that:

he could have no doubt what the response, in today’s politically charged environment, was going to be… each of the pope’s public utterances are thoughtfully reviewed by his staff, and there is no question that anyone who read this speech before it was delivered would recognize the explosive nature of discussing anything about Islam in the current climate.

Well, I’m not at all sure that that claim is true. Some of my reasons for doubt are public knowledge: the speech was actually made literally on the day the Pope’s most senior official, Cardinal Sodano, resigned as Secretary of State, to be replaced by Cardinal Bertone. In normal times, I’m sure the Secretary of State may well be one of those who looks over speeches, if the Pope chooses to let anyone look over his drafts at all. But as he’s clearing out his drawers, waiting for the new guy to come in, knowing only that this is a speech about the relationship between faith and reason at the Pope’s former university – sounds on the face of it like one you can allow to find its own safe landing. Similarly, the Vatican’s press officer for 22 years retired last July, and the new guy is noticeably still finding his feet (though dealt with the fallout from last week’s speech about as well as one can in such a situation). So I think it is entirely credible that the Pope’s advisers let this one through.

Did the Pope himself, as Stratfor put it, “recognise the explosive nature of discussing anything about Islam in the current climate”? I am inclined to doubt it, not least because it is precisely those explosive consequences for which he has subsequently expressed the greatest regret. ( objects that the effigies of the Pope being burnt in certain countries last week weren’t half as good as the ones burnt every year in Lewes, Sussex.) An Australian Muslim commentator puts his finger on it: the Pope is by background an academic theologian, not a politician. I strongly suspect that he is largely insensitive to the social context of either his own remarks or of his source material. ( points out why Manuel Palaeologos was a very poor choice of Christian writer to quote from, given what was actually happening in his lifetime.)

Many scholars, whether in theology and philosophy, or in the hard sciences, tend to feel that the words of previous experts in their field are the only matter of importance, and the social context in which those words were wriiten irrelevant. My own critical academic formation, at the hands of Jim Bennett, Simon Schaffer and Peter Bowler, sensitised me to the sociology of knowledge agenda, that the theories are difficult to understand if separated from the theorists. Scholars in branches of learning that make particular claims of truth find it difficult to accept that the truths they discover might be in any way determined by the environment in which they are discovered.

I would very much expect that the Pope is among those who regard the sociology of knowledge as foolish and wrong-headed. For him, the debate between the emperor and the unnamed Persian scholar (the one named Islamic expert in his speech, Ibn Hazm, was several centuries earlier and several thousand km further west) was, until last weekend, an interesting and mildly funny detail in the history of the discourse between faith and reason, one he felt able to refer to as a shared joke with his former colleagues in Regensburg. I am quite certain that he does not regard it in that way now. Stratfor fall into the trap which we analysts of international politics often do, of over-analysis; in fact the Pope was just being genuinely thoughtless.

My second point is also based on my history of science days, and relates to the wider debate on the nature of religion. (On which topic has different thoughts.) Catholics are not in any position to accuse other religions of being violent, of course; but likewise, nobody should make the mistake of accusing Islam of being anti-rational. It’s easy to forget in today’s world that in the century after it became the seat of the Caliphate (AD 762) Baghdad was probably the prime centre of civilisation and learning in the world. In my own work on twelfth-century European scholars, I often felt a keen sense of frustration at their inability to grasp the concepts articulated by the Muslim scientists whose work they were trying to build on. There is a strong element of rationality in Islamic thought, and the mere fact that it doesn’t excite either Western reporters or Muslim demonstrators shouldn’t mean that the rest of us forget it. (There is also of course a strong pacifist mystic tradition which I have also encountered.)

The most insightful post I’ve read on this – saving the best for last – is by , who writes sanely of the “Stupid Storm” (with “stupid” to be understood as the first part of a compound noun, rather than as an adjective modifying “storm”) around this and other issues. Go read it.

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Language Test

Booked the morning off work for a meeting with our financial adviser. He couldn’t make it at the last minute so I can catch up on some other things, including this (via ):

Language Scholar
You scored a 370 out of 400 on language knowledge.
Outstanding! You’ve scored higher than even most Anthropology students would. You are probably a Linguistics or Anthropology Professor yourself (or at least a Grad student). You may even speak several languages and are possibly working on a new one. If not, then you just have an endless drive to learn about the different cultures of our world. Regardless, you are one of the gems of any society, always promoting a deeper understanding amongst all people. Unless you cheated of course.

My test tracked 1 variable How you compared to other people your age and gender:

free online dating free online dating
You scored higher than 99% on knowledge

Link: The World Languages Test written by jeremie096 on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

On a different topic entirely, Greece was hard work but also at times reasonably good fun. The highlight was a discussion on the linkage between the future of Europe and developments in the Balkans; one participant, in the course of explaining to us why not everyone in the EU is ecstatic about the formation of new states, read out a Wall Street Journal editorial from last May in horrified tones, concentrating on the penultimate paragraph:

Balkanization doesn’t always deserve its bad name. Throughout history, Europe’s microstates have tended to be less bellicose (shrimps don’t pick fights), more democratic (government is closer to the people) and, with fewer resources to waste, economically savvier. To thrive the Tiny Tims need open trade — thank the European Union for that today — and peace, which now comes courtesy of a U.S.-led NATO.

The participant then added: “We are not striving for a Europe of shrimps!!!! Especially one designed by sharks!!!” I don’t really agree with his sentiments, but he did put it very well. With friends like the Wall Street Journal, the small wannabe states of Europe don’t need enemies.

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From Pepys’ diary

Poor Sam had a bad night at an inn in Wisbech, with one minor compensation:

By and by newes is brought to us that one of our horses is stole out of the stable, which proves my uncle’s, at which I am inwardly glad — I mean, that it was not mine; and at this we were at a great loss; and they doubting a person that lay at next door, a Londoner, some lawyer’s clerk, we caused him to be secured in his bed, and other care to be taken to seize the horse; and so about twelve at night or more, to bed in a sad, cold, nasty chamber, only the mayde was indifferent handsome, and so I had a kiss or two of her, and I to bed, and a little after I was asleep they waked me to tell me that the horse was found, which was good newes, and so to sleep till the morning, but was bit cruelly, and nobody else of our company, which I wonder at, by the gnatts.

More at .

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Today is the 1910th anniversary of the assassination of the Roman emperor Domitian. Intrigued by the astrological features of this event, I wrote a short article about it a while back, and then found someone else had written a longer one. Not that I believe in any of it myself, but Domitian obviously did, and ended up dead as a result. (Some would argue that the real moral is that he should have stayed in bed all morning. I leave it to you to decide.)

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September Books 15) Esprit de Corps

15) Esprit de Corps: Sketches from Diplomatic Life, by Lawrence Durrell

Well, when I discovered that Lawrence Durrell had written a book of humorous short stories set in the British Embassy in Belgrade in the early 1950s, I absolutely had to hunt it down via the on-line second-hand books resources. Well, one cannot call it Great Literature, and he is rather patronising about the Yugoslavs (though in fairness the British diplomats are equally ludicrous stereotypes); it is, however, laugh-out-loud funny in places. The inside front cover quotes John Betjeman saying in a review, “I have not laughed at a new humorous book so much since the days of Stephen Potter’s Gamesmanship” (which is a bit ambiguous as to whether or not he actually found Potter funny, but leaves no doubt about Durrell). The episode of the botched baptism, the butler’s wig and the unfortunate confusion around the bishop’s crozier is probably the most memorable scene. There are some nice illustrations by V.H. Drummond, whose work I don’t think I knew, but I don’t think I can scan them without wrecking the binding so you’ll have to take my word for it. Apparently there are two sequels, Stiff Upper Lip and Sauve Qui Peut, but I don’t feel the need to order them unless I get a positive recommendation (or, of course, unless I see them in a shop when I’m looking for something else).

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September Books 14) 31 Days

14) 31 Days: The Crisis That Gave Us the Government We Have Today, by Barry Werth

My obsession with Gerald Ford flagged up this book on its publication earlier this year, and I managed to find a half-price review copy in Chapters in New York. This account takes us from 9 August 1974, the day the Richard Nixon became the first US president to resign from office, to 8 September, the day that his successor, Gerald Ford, issued “a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.”

The book has two real plot strands, first, Ford’s decision to issue the pardon and the subsequent negotiations over details with Nixon, and second, the scrabbling for office in the Ford White House, especially the decision to nominate Nelson Rockefeller as Vice-President rather than the other obvious candidate, George Bush the elder (or the last-minute dark horse alternative, Donald Rumsfeld – Ronald Reagan also fancied himself in the running, but Ford couldn’t even remember how to spell his name).

The first is, of course, the key to the failure of Ford’s presidency. Werth paints a convincing psychological and political picture of why Ford decided to do it so soon, against the advice of almost everyone he asked: the shock of realising, after his first press conference, that the issue of his predecessor’s fate was going to drown out attention to his own programme for government until it was settled, combined with his experience as a youth of concluding his relations with his absent biological father. There is no clear record that anyone said to Ford that the move would expend all his political capital and kill his moral authority stone dead; but it is abundantly clear that Ford felt he couldn’t live with himself until the decision was made, and would not have been swayed even if the argument had been put to him in those terms.

The second was a contributory factor to Ford’s inability to pull things round in time. Like John Adams and Lyndon B Johnson, he did not change enough of the cabinet, despite open treachery from his Secretary of Defense literally as he was being sworn in. His press secretary, one of his oldest friends, was out of the loop about the planned pardon for Nixon, and in consequence stole the headlines by resigning the same day. Having promised George Bush senior something decent in compensation for not getting the Vice-Presidency, all he could come up with was the post of Ambassador to China (this after Bush, as the US representative at the UN, had fought tooth and nail against the de-recognition of Taiwan). Al Haig was clearly a menace. The picture that comes across is of a very nice guy who simply lacked the killer instinct.

(Having said that, of course, he still came pretty close to re-election in 1976 – less than 2% behind in the popular vote, and closer than that in Ohio and Wisconsin which would have been enough to beat Carter).

Much else happening in this period as well, and given my own interests I would have liked more on the Cyprus crisis, which of course was in full swing that summer (including – a detail I had forgotten if I ever knew it – the assassination of the US Ambassador by a Greek Cypriot gunman in Nicosia), but I guess the fact that it appears mainly as background colour tells me most of what I would want to know. (In any case the Kissinger Archives have much more detail.)

There are lots of other charming details; the description of Jerry and Betty Ford dancing with the king and Queen of Jordan at the end of their first week, which reminds me both of this picture taken during the bicentennial celebrations a couple of years later, and also this one which overlooked our breakfast table in the Washington hotel we stayed in in May last year. The account of the impact of events on Betty’s life is cpmpassionate. (Though I do wonder if she has since regretted being photographed literally dancing on the Cabinet Room table.)

I can’t give the book full marks, unfortunately. I would have liked a judgement from the author, not just from quoted commentators, about the morality of some of the things that were done and decisions made – in particular the disposition of Nixon’s state papers, which at one point were piled so high on the third floor of the Old Executive Office Building that the Secret Service worried it might cave in. (Oddly enough, I was on the third floor of that building for a meeting two days ago – and it’s not in much better shape now, thirty years on.)

The other missing element for me was that, while we learn a gret deal about Ford’s own background, and a decent amount on the other older characters, Nixon, Rockefeller, Bush, Haig, we find out very little about the the new generation empowered by Nixon’s fall and Ford’s brief ascendancy – Rumsfeld, Richard Cheney, Richard Perle, etc. They appear pretty much out of nowhere in the narrative, and the book therefore fails to really deliver on its promise to explain how the crisis “Gave Us The [American] Government We Have Today”.

But still, a good read.

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September Books 13) The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Third Annual Collection

13) The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Third Annual Collection, ed. Gardner Dozois

This is always the best value for money of the various best-sf-of-the-year collections, if also the most intimidating (I don’t seem to have finished last year’s). Plenty of stories that I had already read and enjoyed, and several that were new to me – note especially “The Canadian Who Came Almost All the Way Back from the Stars” by Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold, “The Blemmye’s Stratagem” by Bruce Sterling, “Audubon in Atlantis” by Harry Turtledove, “Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck” by Neal Asher, “Planet of the Amazon Women” by David Moles and “Gold Mountain” by Chris Roberson. Better than at least half the stories on the Hugo and Nebula nomination lists. Perhaps we should let the professional anthologists decide the awards, rather than the voters?

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Back on this side

Transatlantic flight finished, now a wait for several hours in Heathrow for the connection back home.

Trip report below the cut, but first of all, congratulations to for securing no less than Iain M. Banks for next August’s MeCon in Belfast! Certainly increases the chances of my showing up.

I do hope I get to experience one of the superior classes of transatlantic flying some day. I really hate standard class. Having said that, flying over was not too bad, and JFK’s passport control section seems to have become a lot more human (though still took 35 minutes before I was processed).

I thought I recognised one of my fellow passengers as Julie Etchingham who I knew at Cambridge, though on reflection I was sure it was sleep deprivation on my part, as I haven’t seen her for fifteen years. On further reflection, once I had got into New York, I remembered that she is now an anchorwoman for Sky News so it almost certainly was her, coming into town for the anniversary. I should have said hello.

The New York hotel was a horribly grotty place called the Ameritania on the corner of 54th and Broadway. I woke at 6 on Monday, and realised around 7.30 that if I started walking south I would reach Ground Zero more or less exactly on time for the commemoration. It is about four miles. As recorded in an earlier entry, the commemoration was rather eerie. But I was able to fit in some bookshopping before my working day began.

Tuesday morning was the one morning of the trip when I slept relatively late, being woken at 8 by a very welcome call from , who, with , joined me for breakfast. Great to see him again and meet her for the first time. Then I had to zoom off to the UN for a coffee with a friend whose working conditions recently changed rather drastically.

On Tuesday afternoon I was able to indulge in a very small amount of culture; I was given a guided tour of the cast iron house at 101 Spring Street, designed in 1871 by an architect called Nicholas Whyte, of whom I know nothing more. I had happened to bump into the architect who is currently restoring the building last year, and he offered to have me shown round. The house was the New York home of the minimalist artist Donald Judd, and many sculptures and other artworks by him and others are on view for those who can get access – the whole thing apparently will be open to the public in a couple of years.

Tuesday night, off to Washington, and a much much nicer hotel – the Morrison Clarke Historic Inn on 11th and L. Back to the usual pattern of waking up early and going to sleep early; I didn’t manage any evening social engagements while I was there but it is probably just as well.

On Wednesday I did a talk at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies. The chairman of the meeting, in his introductory remarks, referred to the grim coincidence that he had also organised a conference in Virginia in 1990 en route to which my father suffered a fatal heart attack (at JFK airport), and said nice things about us both. I said that I was glad to be the first member of my family to arrive safely at a meeting he had organised. The talk went well.

On Thursday I met with another old friend who has just become his country’s ambassador to the US – the first time I have been to an embassy in Washington. My friend is an academic and former government official, who had been mildly but not outspokenly critical of his country’s current government (which rather lacks people with much talent), but suddenly found that he was back in favour with the president. The wheel of fortune, and all that.

Yesterday I started with two media interviews which I was told would be on-line by today; will edit this entry to link to them if that actually happens. Then started to get a little worried because my last meeting, in the amusingly named district of Foggy Bottom, was due to end at 4.30 and my flight from Dulles was at 6.35; in the end, despite the importance of the meeting, I left at 4.15 – and of course reached Dulles in only half an hour, and had loads of time (enough to get some decent food at the airport so as to avoid having to rely on the BA menu).

Unfortunately the overnight flight was the least comfortable I think I have ever had. In the seat next to me was a very tall man who was unable to settle, and whose limbs kept spilling into what I felt was my personal space. Am now feeling very woozy indeed, and hoping for an afternoon’s sleep once I finally get home. Of course, now that I am much more sleep-deprived than I was on Sunday night, the test will be if I think I recognise celebrities on the next plane; if I don’t, than I guess I can be pretty certain that it really was Julie Etchingham!

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