Jeeves and the Wedding Bells – a fitting tribute to P.G. Wodehouse

Sebastian Faulks has tried his hand at producing a tribute novel in the vein of P.G Wodehouse – Jeeves and the Wedding Bells – and he has brought the effort off very deftly indeed.

The first few pages of Jeeves and the Wedding Bells left me groaning internally, it is not the strongest of beginnings, and had me thinking that Mr. Faulks had come a cropper right from the start. But I resolved to read on and was rewarded with a delightful tale involving Wodehouse’s perennial characters Bertie Wooster and his gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves.

It doesn’t quite reach the heights of Wodehouse at his best, and you are aware as you read that it isn’t quite the exact pen of the master, but it certainly does a jolly good job at it.

I won’t go into plot lines, because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I recommend “Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” wholeheartedly to Wodehouse die-hards and newcomers alike.

You can also read a review from the Globe and Mail and a positive mention from the Guardian.

By Jove!

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eBooks will never take off!

Yes, you heard me, eBooks will never take off!

Despite the fact that the Association of American Publishers is saying that e-book sales have sky-rocketed over the last year, I predict that this trend will be a mere fad which quickly reaches its zenith and begins to fade.

“From whence ariseth thine overweening surety?” I hear you ask (certainly I do.)

Let me tell you plain.

I am the proud owner of an iRiver Story HD eBook reader.

Within its electronic heart lie a number of  eBooks, certainly not yet a countless number of them, but a number, just the same.

Into the literary delights of this countable number of eBooks I have begun to delve, so far with encouraging results.

I lie awake in my bed at night, reading Wodehouse until the wee small hours of the morn, with the text of my eReader rotated ninety degrees counter-clockwise, so that I can comfortably lie on my side, only exposing a single thumb and forefinger to the frigid elements without my eiderdown blanket.

Else I sprawl lazily upon my lounge in close proximity to the gas heater with my eReader comfortably ensconsed in my palm, Rice-Burroughs expounding large upon the multiple and multifarious dangers faced by John Carter on Barsoom.

My eBook reading experience is proceeding upon favourable grounds.

I am beginning to succumb to the claims of eBook proponents that they will soon overtake the world of literary endeavour completely.

Until, that is, one simple, horrific fact assails my senses.

I CAN’T READ MY EBOOK IN THE  BATHTUB!

At least not without enduring the danger of nodding off to sleep and letting it slip into the soapy suds surrounding my nebulous nether regions.

Ignore those spurious attempts to tell you otherwise: reading through cling film simply saps all romance from the endeavour.

No, I won’t have it!

I must have my bath-time reading.

There are so few things otherwise left to do on the cold, dark, lonely nights I must endure in my chosen place of residence.

eBooks have lost my backing!

Paperback books will remain firmly on my shopping list for the foreseeable future.

One concession I do allow: perhaps I should move to warmer climes.

How the Magna Carta became a Minor Carta, part 1

By golly that Noam Chomsky is a clever fellow!

In the UK’s Guardian newspaper, he’s written the first part of an article on the erosion of the originally intended understanding of human rights in the English speaking world and it really makes you think.

After reading this article, I wonder if most conspiracy theories are just part of a larger conspiracy to divide and conquer. The real conspiracy is that of Capitalism forming the world into a place where Capitalism has complete control.

I’m not against business and the desire of people  to make an honest living, but the Capitalism he describes is a horrendous, evil beast causing pain, destruction and repression all over the world. In essence he says it is for the benefit of a very few, but in reality even those few suffer from the conditions they themselves create.

Have a read:

How the Magna Carta became a Minor Carta, part 1 | Noam Chomsky |

Apparently part 2 will follow tomorrow.

Nominalizations Are Zombie Nouns

Helen Sword

Helen Sword has a great article over at the New York Times about the use of nominalizations – which she says ” cannibalize active verbs, suck the lifeblood from adjectives and substitute abstract entities for human beings”.

She goes on to say that she has “seen academic colleagues become so enchanted by zombie nouns like heteronormativity and interpellation that they forget how ordinary people speak. Their students, in turn, absorb the dangerous message that people who use big words are smarter – or at least appear to be – than those who don’t.”

I fall into this trap in my work as a Technical Writer for a software company. I’m sorely tempted to use big, fancy words and long, complex sentences to prove to  my employers that I am worth my salary. But my job requires me to explain technical concepts in the clearest manner possible to ordinary, non-technical  readers. I can’t afford to muddy my message with unnecessary over-complication.

That’s why Helen Sword’s article is a reminder to me – Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Simple, richly noun-verb driven prose conveys meaning and clarity like a Swarovski crystal champagne flute struck with a silver spoon.

Read more from Helen’s article:

“Nouns formed from other parts of speech are called nominalizations. Academics love them; so do lawyers, bureaucrats and business writers. I call them “zombie nouns” because they cannibalize active verbs, suck the lifeblood from adjectives and substitute abstract entities for human beings:

The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication of a tendency toward pomposity and abstraction.

The sentence above contains no fewer than seven nominalizations, each formed from a verb or an adjective. Yet it fails to tell us who is doing what. When we eliminate or reanimate most of the zombie nouns (tendency becomes tend, abstraction becomes abstract) and add a human subject and some active verbs, the sentence springs back to life:

Writers who overload their sentences with nominalizations tend to sound pompous and abstract.

 

Only one zombie noun – the key word nominalizations – has been allowed to remain standing.”

 

Nominalizations Are Zombie Nouns – NYTimes.com.

The English Language is Failing Evolution

I was watching a three part BBC documentary called “How to Grow a Planet” about the role of plants in the evolution of life on Earth, when it struck me, once again, that the English language hasn’t really developed a suitable lexicon to describe the evolutionary process effectively for the scientific layman.

I’d noticed this before with documentaries from David Attenborough and, in fact, nearly every documentary I’ve seen which has anything to do with Evolution.
When trying to describe the development of life on Earth through Evolution, the presenters are almost always forced to use language which sits uncomfortably with the concepts being explained.

Let me give you an example of some of the language used:

Design. There seems to be no alternative to the group of words which imply that the Evolutionary process itself has taken on some anthropomorphic ability and developed sentience, so as to be able to plan, design, attack, counter-attack, adapt and modify. Of course this is an untruth. The Evolutionary process has no consciousness: it has no ability to think, design, create or adapt. The Evolutionary process describes a series of accidental occurrences which by chance mean that  mutations in a life-form end up being beneficial for that life-form. These changes are then passed on to its descendents and become part of the life-form’s hereditary identity. There is no plan in the process. It is a simple accident. In effect, all life on earth is the deformed, mutated  by-product of its more pristine ancestors, the by-product of chance and accidental deformations.

Adaptation. This word is used to describe the outcome of mutations which have lead to an organism having better suitability to survive in a given environment. But the organism did not adapt. It has no ability to adapt. It cannot think, or plan or change. The word is trying to describe the fact that a freak mutation, which arose by pure chance, gave the organism more chances of surviving to the next generation.

Collective words are often used to describe the response of a whole species to a threatening situation, as if the species as a whole had a collective consciousness and a corresponding ability to do something about perceived threats. It doesn’t. Remember, plants, animals and other organisms are all individuals. Even animals which do live and work in collectives, such as ants, bees and termites are ultimately just individuals. No life on earth has a collective brain. No group of living individuals on earth can collectively make decisions to change its physical characteristics or DNA for the benefit of the whole group. Individuals don’t know that their whole species is under threat. Very, very few individual organisms have the  ability to respond to situations by purposely changing their physical form, or by deliberately changing their DNA sequencing, let alone that of their offspring.

From the script of How to Grow a Plant we have phrases like:

“Plants…created an atmosphere.” No they didn’t. Each plant just made oxygen – the overall result is an atmosphere, but plants did not create an atmosphere. It came about as a consequence of their individual respiratory processes. Using the creation verb in the active voice confuses the explanation.

 “Plants took a a barren rock (the Earth) and transformed it into the home we know today.” Again plants did not actively transform anything. They have no ability to think, plan or purposely create. The planet was transformed as a result of the life processes of plants.

“A seemingly arbitrary event…” in relation to bacteria absorbing one color of light rather than another and hence appearing green instead of purple. How seemingly? It is definitely an arbitrary event, at least in terms of Evolutionary Theory.

“How the green bacteria did this is so complex that scientists are still grappling with the details.” Again the green bacteria did not ‘do’ anything. The changes they underwent were a product of chance mutations. No external force caused these mutations, either. They were just chance changes.

Chemical Warfare.” The occurrence of chemical deterrents in plants, which make them unpalatable for insects and herbivores to eat, is described as a form of chemical warfare, but, in fact, plants have not chosen to go to war against the organisms trying to eat them, they just happen to have inherited characteristics from their parents which make them untasty. There was no belligerent intent on the  part of the plant, nor on the part of the whole species of plants. A grass plant can’t decide to grow silica-based spikes to make it less palatable to its predators. Any such change happens purely by chance. The end result seems to be have been planned and coordinated, but no, it wasn’t. It just happened with no over-arching master plan or intention to better survive.
Grass did not decide to become more flammable so as to cause raging fires, which destroy its natural competitors, the trees. Nor did trees decide to create chemicals which suppress grasses from growing under their canopies. It looks like it was planned, but Evolutionary Theory says it was all a series of chance changes which led to the situation.

I’m afraid that presenters who use the English language the way described above are doing Evolutionary Theory a huge disservice. To describe Evolution, they choose words which have a heritage pre-dating modern scientific developments and which are loaded with unscientific connotations. They predominantly use verbs in the active voice, when a more accurate representation of the Evolutionary process can almost always be achieved by using the passive voice. The use of the active voice ascribes human characteristics to a decidedly un-human process. These language choices  make it sound like the Evolutionary process has supplanted God as the creator of the world. They merely replace a ‘mythical’ creator with a more palatable ‘scientific’ one. Yet, when they use words this way, they still do not describe Evolution, they describe Creation.

“The Pain Principle” by Richard Poplak

I’ve just discovered Richard Poplak’s writing.

I like the way he describes the ordeals of a professional cyclist in this 2011 article from Canada’s The Walrus magazine.

In it he follows Ryder Hesjedal (2012 Giro d’Italia winner) during his ride of the 2011 Vuelta al País Vasco in Spain.

I wish I could write like Richard.

Stellar

The Zynster sprawled wide on the hard green bench, arms spread wide, legs stuck out into the pavement, pot-belly threatening to poke holes in the lowest hanging clouds. He was expecting Romain to join him this morning, but knew that the frost would mean he wouldn’t be out until the sun arced over the little plastic Asterix on his bedhead. In the meantime, the early risers in Lilliandale unwittingly played their parts in warming this old man’s heart. Michael (The Zynster) Polimoro sighed deeply from his soul as he watched the usual early morning procession of humanity pass by his vantage point in the central section of the main street. Runners plodding their way past in various states of exhaustion, school children in richly coloured uniforms dawdling by in dribs and drabs on their way to school, office workers in dull clothes, road workers in fluorescent jackets, mums with prams, and aged folk in walking frames, or for the lucky, mobile scooters. Each of them wafted life and vitality his way and he eagerly sniffed it up like the good, crisp country air he breathed. He was almost afraid to say it, but sitting on this bench each morning with good coffee, good friends beside him, and watching the world wake up, made him feel that, yes, life was good, life was very good, even for an old man like him. He sighed again and soaked up the morning this way until Romain finally emerged from his hibernation and sat beside him, handing him his morning Cafe Borgia.
“Asterix awake then?” he smirked.
Romain winced at him through bleary eyes, but said nothing.
The two sipped their coffees in silence for ten minutes.
A way off in the distance a flash of light from near the top of Lowenden Hill turned both of their heads. It was too far for their old eyes to see clearly, but it looked like a very large pizza was slowly making its way into town.
“What in heaven is that?” asked Romain gruffly, leaning forward to see more clearly.
The Zynster shrugged and took another sip of his beverage.
As it approached the two frail men began to make out legs beneath the pizza. There were ten of them. Eight very skinny and moving swiftly. Two, still skinny, but longer, one might even say slender.
“What has ten legs and a pizza on top?” smiled The Zynster.
“Are they dogs?” puzzled Romain, squinting up the hill.
“Hmmm.” The Zynster doubted it.
The pizza on legs drew nearer and finally took shape.
“It’s a woman leading two Afghan hounds!” declared Romain in triumph. He leaned back in his seat once again.
“What is that where her head should be then?” asked The Zynster, doubtfully.
Neither of them drank while the woman approached them on the other side of the street. She was a slender thing. Long, pale arms and legs and a white face punctured with a thin, bright red line of lipstick where her lips should have been. Two large, round, black orbs substituted for her eyes. She wore green and orange paisley print overalls, too voluminous for her thin frame, a dreadful, dancing fabric pizza bouncing bouyantly past them. On her head was an absolutely enormous straw sombrero, bobbing rhythmically in time with her gait. Two well groomed Afghan hounds preceded her, pulling just hard enough to both be choking on their collars.
“Look at that hat!” gasped the Zynster, “Where would you buy a hat that big?”
“Why is she wearing it in Autumn?” asked Romain with a puzzled expression.
They sat in silence and watched her huge sombrero flap lazily on her head as her dogs dragged her on into the heart of town.
“She looks like Paul McCartney’s daughter.” decided The Zynster.
“Stella?”
Romain squinted uncertainly sideways toward The Zynster.
“Yep, she’s stellar alright!” nodded The Zynster.
Romain let it go.