In praise of political correctness

hate-week
Still from the 1956 film adaptation of Orwell’s 1984

Political correctness gone mad.

How many times have you heard this phrase? Me, I’ve lost count, but I could almost guarantee that the person speaking it has it in mind to say something outrageous about how wrong it is to try to be a decent human being. (It’s the same as when somebody declares, “I’m not racist, but …” — though, regretfully, that’s a topic for another time.)

Here are two definitions I’ve culled from the ether of political correctness which to me reflect the original concept of the phrase:

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The future now

nikola-tesla
Nikola Tesla 1856 – 1943

Inverted Commas 1: The modern world viewed from 1926

When wireless is perfectly applied, the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance.

Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.

We shall be able to witness and hear events — the inauguration of a President, the playing of a World Series game, the havoc of an earthquake or the terror of a battle — just as though we were present.

Nikola Tesla’s prescient prediction of the internet, skype, the mobile phone (or cellphone) and live reporting — and all this in 1926, ninety-one years ago.

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Sadly not all his predictions have come true, for example:

International boundaries will be largely obliterated and a great step will be made toward the unification and harmonious existence of the various races inhabiting the globe.

And why we are still waiting for this?

It is clear to any trained observer, and even to the sociologically untrained, that a new attitude toward sex discrimination has come over the world through the centuries, receiving an abrupt stimulus just before and after the [First] World War.

This struggle of the human female toward sex equality will end in a new sex order, with the female as superior.  The modern woman, who anticipates in merely superficial phenomena the advancement of her sex, is but a surface symptom of something deeper and more potent fermenting in the bosom of the race.

It is not in the shallow physical imitation of men that women will assert first their equality and later their superiority, but in the awakening of the intellect of women.

Through countless generations, from the very beginning, the social subservience of women resulted naturally in the partial atrophy or at least the hereditary suspension of mental qualities which we now know the female sex to be endowed with no less than men.

  • John B Kennedy, “When Woman Is Boss: An Interview with Nikola Tesla,” Collier’s, January 30th, 1926;
    cited in Steve Silberman, NeuroTribes: the legacy of autism and how to think smarter about people who think differently, 2015;
    whole text at http://www.tfcbooks.com/tesla/1926-01-30.htm [accessed February 2nd 2017]

Inverted commas will be another occasional series, this time of quotations that strike me as appealing, intriguing or apposite.

nikola-tesla-company

What is truth?

pravda
The original banner title of Pravda, the Russian Communist Party newspaper

If — somehow or other — you’ve missed it, there has been much in the news and elsewhere about truth, post-truth and fake news. This concern with what counts as fact, what is factoid and what is downright lies is nothing new, nor is the dissembling that goes along with it, though it’s certainly been in very sharp focus in recent days, weeks and months. Here are ten quotes or thoughts about Truth, offered in the hopes of clarity:

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A mountain to climb

1882 sketch of Mount Everest http://asketchofthepast.com/2015/04/08/forever-upward-sandy-irvines-summit
1882 sketch of Mount Everest (credit: http://asketchofthepast.com/2015/04/08/forever-upward-sandy-irvines-summit)

The jokey noticeboard outside a local pub reads JANUARY NEARLY OVER THANK GOD and while I’m not in a hurry to skip on to February it’s been a surprise how quickly this month has come and nearly gone. At least it’s a good point at which to look back and see how I’ve been doing with my reading over the last 30-odd days, and how I’m progressing with my Mount To-Be-Read Challenge.

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The naming game

Elmo Lincoln, the first screen Tarzan, was born in 1889, the year after the 'real' Tarzan's birth. He wears the rope and locket described in the book, though his headband may be there to keep his wig on.
Elmo Lincoln, the first screen Tarzan, was born in 1889, the year after the ‘real’ Tarzan’s birth. He wears the rope and locket described in the book, though his headband may be there to keep his wig on. Here Tarzan is teaching himself to read using a picture book.

I’ve talked before about character names in fiction, for example in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast and in Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. I’ve noted that certain authors are drawn to choosing significant names for their protagonists, authors such as A S Byatt in The Biographer’s Tale and in Angels & Insects. Donna Leon chose to call her truth-seeking heroine in The Jewels of Paradise Pellegrini, after the Italian name for a pilgrim, and the magizoologist Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them bears names that mark him out as a scientist (Newton) whilst also being able to transform (from larva to eft to newt) and survive in different environments (the newt, a kind of salamander, lives both in water and on land, while the Scamander is a river near ancient Troy).

Yet it appears that many authors don’t go in for universally significant or symbolic names for their leading men and women, especially when it comes to realistic novels set in a contemporary world. For example, Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child has the parents of Luke, Helen, Jane, Paul and Ben simply as David and Harriet Lovatt, and unless these names had personal significance for the author (as a difficult ‘family’ member had for Lessing’s life) I can’t see that these are anything other than what any ordinary middleclass family might choose. Again, in Patricia Highsmith’s The Two Faces of January is it apparent that Rydal Keener or the couple Chester and Colette MacFarlane have anything special about their names other than they seem typically North American? Perhaps the fact that Chester and Rydal are both derived from place names is more noteworthy than I can fathom.

But if the characters’ names neither obviously conform to the conventions of their setting nor have a personal resonance for the author (or at least one that they wish to share) do we have to fall back on significance or symbolism as guiding spirits? What do online gurus have to say about choosing the names of characters? I’ve selected three of these advisers.

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Twelve of the Best

calendar

New Year’s Eve: the traditional time for a review of the past year. Let me not here break with that tradition but instead put a bit of a spin on it, melding statistics and selectivity. I’m going to look back at the twelve most popular posts (1) by month in terms of the amount of likes and (2) by comments. Each measure is, I suppose, an indication of popularity, one in terms of attraction and the other in terms of interaction. Not very scientific perhaps, given that anyone can ‘like’ a post without having to read it and — remembering I try to acknowledge each observation with a response of my own — that half of the comments are likely to be by me. Still, there’s half a chance that readers may find some of these spurious statistics as interesting as I do.

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