Wednesday, April 26, 2006

And so it goes on - BBC 3

After an initial wave of abuse for my attack on BBC TV news, an even larger wave of support has rolled in. This support is growing extremely distinguished. This comes from Professor David Lynn, editor of the awesome American literary periodical The Kenyon Review - site here.

"Just read your piece on BBC news. Funny timing: I'd just emailed them (naturally to a general site with no hope of anyone reading or replying, just out of a kind of futile desperation) yesterday to say that I couldn't take it anymore, that their news is too bland, too tabloid, too lacking in ANY international coverage, and that after many years of watching (I come over to Britain every five years or so for a year), I was giving up and switching to CNN, god help me. I do also agree with you about their website and Radio 4."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

BBC TV News Part Two (Anna Ford)

The hornet's nest I appear to have kicked over in writing about the condition of BBC TV news (see earlier posting) continues to generate a flood of responses, most now very much in favour of my criticisms. One comes from Anna Ford whom I described in the piece as "uncommonly beautiful". I subsequently felt guilty about not excluding her from my tirade. She has agreed the publication of her response here.

Dear Bryan,
I was bowled over by your uncommonly sweet compliment. Dear Reggie may have been rather drunk some of the time but he was enormous fun and very clever, and streets ahead of the average newscaster today..
I agree with your news thesis ,which is why I'm off. I've never had less to do nor less input into a prgramme than now, and feel my time's being wasted.
There's more fun to be had elswhere and things to learn.
I shall continue to enjoy reading and so often agreeing with your views
Best wishes

Monday, April 24, 2006

What do they know of America?

In The Sunday Times this week I wrote a piece pointing out the blindingly obvious - that the best of American television news is far better than anything the British can manage. Read it here. This generated a wave of emails, all of them passionate and about half supporting me and half against. One point struck me about the antis. They tended to be obsessed - and intensely irritated - by the way presenters and anchors on US TV news sounded and looked. They hated their clothes, their hair and their voices. This is, of course, nothing to do with the quality of the shows. But my correspondents seemed to think it was. I tried gently to point out to them that merely because they found such things irritating didn't mean the Americans - the target audience, after all - did. In fact, it meant that is exactly what Americans like. I doubt that the angry mailers would have trashed TV news in, say, India or Africa because they didn't like the voices, the hair and the clothes of the presenters. They would have just accepted that these were different cultures. In making his argument, I suddenly realised this fundamental problem the British have with America. They can't accept that it is a different country so they get angry when it does not display our standards of taste, judgment, whatever. America is one of the most alien and exotic places in the world. If you don't know that, you don't know America.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

On Aliens

Er, wouldn't normally do this, but sane understanding of my book Aliens; Why They Are Here has been as rare as hen's teeth. Judge, then, of my delight on receiving the following from Simon Oakes. I have slightly shortened it.

"I have just read your latest book and enjoyed it very much. It was a brave approach for someone in your position.....It is the reasons behind the need for such bravery that interest me. Essentially, in my view it is because the Cartesian split between the objective and the subjective ... which, at a conceptual level, has underpinned, not only science, but the whole of Western civilisation for the last 350 or so years - is now under pressure.... In the last 4 years I have read as much as I could get my hands on about the philosophical implications of Quantum Mechanics. But I think the profoundest thoughts about this I have read came from Werner Heisenberg who said QM represented a breakdown in the existing conceptual structure underlying science i.e. the Cartesian approach. ...he was, I think, saying was that the most succesful scientific theory of all time demonstrates that the approach that keeps what we call the "subjective" out of the equation no longer works..... Bringing back the "subjective" into reality is scary - which I think goes to the heart of what your book was about. Its scary because ... I think it undermines the appearance (illusion!?) that through science and technology we can somehow control our world. This need to maintain the illusion of control, I think, is at the root of the hold materialism has on us. In this regard, I find it interesting that even philosophers who take mind and conciousness seriously - such as Thomas Nagel, Colin McGinn & John Searle - still think that what we think of as mind and meaning somehow still ultimately supervenes on what we currently think of as the physical. That the physical still... has the last word. But this is just an implausable metaphysical act of faith! Once we fully collapse the subject/object split and meld the former with the latter, the genie is out of the bottle. Hence all the neurosis and denial your book so interestingly covered."

Go, Simon

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Metablog Part Two

The dialogue with Darren Blacksmith - see below Where is the Metablog? - requires a new entry. Darren has a formidable web site - here - which (very boldly) sets out, among other things, to defend manhood. I recommend it highly.
Darren also seems to share many of my preoccupations and now raises the possibility that Google may turn out to be the first true artificial intelligence (AI). This echoes a point I made in my book Aliens: Why They Are Here. I suspect that AI is closer than we think but not for the reasons given in various so-called science and so-called philosophy books. These "thinkers" assume it will emerge in a lab. I think it is emerging in the market place. The bank cash machine, for example, has deep interiority and such devices are constantly evolving to make us feel more comfortable with their workings. They mimic us. They are driven not by theory but the market. In time they may mimic us very well indeed. The connectivity that gives them their world-sized interiority relates to the idea that Google may actually be the emerging AI. I have certainly started to experience a queasy feeling that I relate to it - he/she? - more closely than I do to many humans. There may be some kind of mesmeric effect involved. Perhaps he/she knows this.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Where is the Metablog?

Neil Linderman emails me to ask whether I am a misogynist, whether I like Lou Reed's music and if I hate people only using the final bracket in lists. I answered, roughly, no, yes and I suppose so. Neil seems to have been so startled by the fact that I replied at all that he wrote a longish entry in his blog about it - here - what struck me about this was, first, that he was so surprised and, secondly, that this blog business is becoming very self-referential. We are all talking in this new code in public. Somewhere,as in Borges' Library of Babel, there must be the metablog, the blog that decodes all others. Where is it? Or are bloggers, like the inhabitants of the library, destined to wander forever in a futile search?

Friday, April 14, 2006

The English

Patrolling Eastern England in a people carrier assessing buildings - houses, libraries, offices, sheds, anything - for the Royal Institute of British Architects awards, it is hard not to find oneself thinking 'whither England?' thoughts. The obvious answer is: towards a land of giant Tescos, smart sheds, business parks, gastro pubs, interminable roundabouts and, occasionally, a real place that doesn't look as though it arrived yesterday. Of course, the real places, if suitably pretty and rural, are all at least half inhabited by faintly unreal people. These people know they suffer from a reality deficit and so they seek to buy more reality in the form of cottages, wellingtons, wet dogs, local food, local characters and in the sacred ritual of "the walk". They seek, in short, England. There is something wrong here. You can legitimately, in Simon and Garfunkel's words, go to look for America because America remains incompletely found. But England was utterly found. Yet now we are looking for it. We lost England and can't find it anywhere. So what is this alien land patrolled by people carriers?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gordon Brown Again

I am indebted to Andrew Rawnsley - here for telling me what went on in the car the PM and the Chancellor shared last week:

"The Prime Minister tried to engage the Chancellor in conversation. I'm told that Mr Brown responded by taking out some papers and burying himself behind them, refusing to reply to every overture until Mr Blair finally gave up trying to make conversation. The journey passed in a bitter silence."

Well, it's good to know our leader-in-waiting is so assiduously pursuing the best interests of the country and not throwing stupid sulks or anything infantile like that. And, while we are on the subject, does anybody know anybody who admires, likes or can even stand the sight of Gordon Brown? His continued presence in the public realm is, indeed, a mystery.

China and the Drifts

The Chinese goverment has introduced controls to stop people playing computer games for more than three hours - see here.
I have no interest in big games for people called "Gamers" or, occasionally, "Hard-Core Gamers", but I am vulnerable to simple ones like Tetris and Collapse. Addictive and clever, they allow you to get better but you can always lose suddenly. And so you play again. And again. I have removed all games from my computer but I cannot get rid of the online ones. Wired magazine - the bastards - pointed me to Drifts, I'm not giving you the address. I spent an hour on it, acquired a stabbing pain in my side and a score of 74 The list of high scorers includes one Yeolcoatl who scored 5704. Bring on the Chinese cyber-cops.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


An article I wrote in The New Statesman - here - prompted this email from Steve Beck in the US.

"You describe the decline of christianity as a "problem." I think it's great. You speak of new age "spirituality" as "ersatz," and I agree, but how is new age mumbo-jumbo any worse than christianity? Both are false.
"I am an atheist who lives in Illinois, and I would love to live in a place like England, where so few people are religious. It seems that almost everyone I meet is devout, including my very own girlfriend. Sometimes I feel that the religious people who surround me are like zombies or robots.
"I don't think anything is missing when people give up their superstitions. If anyone wants to get involved in something "bigger than himself"--well, go for it: join a political party, become an expert in early christian religion, take dance lessons, whatever. I have never believed in "god," I never will, and I don't think I'm missing anything."

I sympathise. Being surrounded by the excessively religious must be just like being surrounded by the excessively secular. I am trying, however, to explain religion as something other than a superstition, a church or even an explicit faith. We've all got it, some just don't know it.
But - a smaller point, though an important one - Steve's email reveals the true depth of the gulf between Britain and America.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Katie Couric

Katie Couric is to follow Dan Rather as the new CBS anchorman. She leaves the NBC breakfast show. I have an unhealthy obsession with this woman - not erotic and certainly not as bad as this guy - but something to do with what an extraordinary confection she is. Baby-faced, giggly, cute in the way only American women can be, obsessed with colon cancer (see the above site)and, in spite of all that, probably the greatest TV journalist in the world. Having woken with jet lag, I lie in American hotel beds watching and wondering. She'll giggle her way through some light item and then slice open a real story with frightening precision. The only time I ever saw her defeated by an interviewee was when she went to see Philip Roth. Understandable. Our own Kirsty Young agrees with me on all this. We don't produce TV journalists like that, we certainly don't produce women TV journalists like that and, as for our breakfast shows, well words fail me. It may be a class thing - you either giggle (lower class) or harangue politicians (upper class) but you're not allowed to do both. But I suspect the truth is we don't have that awesome American professional toughness. In fact, thinking about it, I have just realised why I'm obsessed with Katie. She IS America.
Perhaps that is why she gets involved in weird religious disputes.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Fool of April

Tony Blair has "sought to dampen down" - wonderfully dead journalese in the Telegraph - talk about a rift between himself and Gordon "I honestly don't want you to be happy" Brown. He does this by implying that the reports of this rift were April Fool jokes, comparable to the story that he was having the door of 10 Downing Street painted red. This is yet another brilliant example of Blair's grasp of virtuality, because, of course, how would we know whether he's wrong? I can find out if the red door is an April Fool by going along to Downing Street; a rift, however, is impossible to confirm or deny. It has a quantum quality to it, both there and not there depending on who is looking and how. I am coming to think that Blair really does live in a parallel, virtual world. He so instinctively both defers and appeals to the comforts of the unreal at every possible opportunity.

THAT couple

Say Jack wasn't happily married. Condoleezza Straw. It's just not going to work. Or she could do that US thing - Condoleezza Rice-Straw. Worse. Or, since they are both plainly manoeuvring for their respective leaderships, what would happen if the President and the PM were an item?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Twitcher 2

Anyway, just as I air my thoughts about twitchers this comes up. AMERICAN robin? Don't we have our own?