Monthly Archives: November 2013

Small highlights


Tonight’s was contained in the final episode of Radio 4 Book of the Week:  The letters of John F. Kennedy.

One of the letters read in the programme was from J. K. Galbraith to Kennedy, demolishing a draft pamphlet meant to advise the American population how to protect themselves from nuclear fallout in the event of war.  The combination of wit and chilling realism made it a small masterpiece.  I particularly enjoyed his ironic contention that the advice would help save Republicans, while abandoning the Democrats (who voted for Kennedy) to their deaths.

Still on BBC iPlayer, but only for a couple more days.

79 and 1944 AD


(and some less familiar eruption dates between).

VesuviusVesuvius: A Biography is a review of the geological past of Vesuvius in so far as it is known, its historical role, and the influence of Vesuvian eruptions on European culture, archaeology, and earth science. Scarth also elucidates a pattern of activity for the main volcano and other local geologically active sites.  Accounts of historical eruptions provide human colour and interest,  and as Vesuvius is one of the ‘type’ volcanoes it is easy for Scarth to incorporate a primer of volcanism into his main narrative.

We also receive a summary view of its likely future and the contingency plans which may mitigate the effects of the next eruption.  This latter makes for uncomfortable reading:  hands up who thinks that nearly two million people can be evacuated with maybe two weeks’ notice?

Nope: neither do I.

A specification not provided in the Beaufort Scale


There weren’t any trees nearby, and the heights of waves given in the nautical version of the Beaufort Scale apply to waves out at sea, not near the shore.  So what force would be given for ‘Parked vehicle rocks energetically making items in boot rattle’?

While the blast walloped at my car, I watched the sea:  the colour of lead further out, thick with clay close in, capped with muddy foam.  Out among the chaotic waves a minute triangle was ripping along the bay.  A solitary windsurfer skidded and lurched, making plunging turns at each end of the run.  The sail went over once but was soon up again, more and more difficult to pick out through the gathering darkness.  It is in this photo somewhere, but I don’t know where.

dark waves

I hope he is a good swimmer.

Fish in your ear


fish in ear

The vexed question of how ‘good’ a translation is, especially when your ignorance of the original forever precludes an answer:  David Bellos explores what translation can and may do, and at the same time takes side glances at other themes, including the role of culturally dominant languages, and the problems of the UN which has to provide instant translation of multiple languages into all the other languages (and the diagram to demonstrate this is one of the most impenetrable I have ever seen).

The book was full of good things. Perhaps my favourite section was Chapter 12: Custom Cuts, in which Bellos takes a highly formal Chinese poem and offers twelve completely different translations (character for character, by sense, rhyming, by pattern … ).

Guilt for being functionally monoglot upwelled.