Friday, November 07, 2003

From the sizes blow

I couldn't resist posting one last poetic gem from the Google Translator. Thanks to boynton whose link to What Has Happened Recently Feline inspired this less than magnificent obsession.

usserhalb on wiley windy us makes firmly roll and fall in green.
They have had to soak as my jealousy:
Hotter, too more greedily too much.
How could you leave me when I had to possess itself?
I abhorred you. I liked you therefore.

Bad dreams the night.
They have me that I the fight will lose to blow vacation behind mine called,
which blows soufflant from the sizes.

Heathcliff it is me Cathy.
Come to the house. I am so cold!
Leave it in your window.

Heathcliff it is me Cathy.
Come to the house. I am so cold!
Leave it in your window.

Ooh it receives the darkness!
It feels only from the other side of you.
Pin I much. I find the Schicksalherbste through without you.
I return, love.
Heathcliff cruelly, my dream, my only main thing.

To long around-mad I the night.
I return to its side to place around it right.
I come to the house blow, blow, soufflant from the sizes,

Heathcliff it is me Cathy.
Come to the house. I am so cold!
Leave it in your window.

Heathcliff it is me Cathy.
Come to the house. I am so cold!
Leave it in your window.

Ooh! Let it it have.
Let it your soul far seize.
Ooh! Let it it have.
Let it your soul far seize.
They know that it is me Cathy!

Heathcliff it is me Cathy.
Come to the house. I am so cold!
Leave it in your window.

Heathcliff it is me Cathy.
Come to the house. I am so cold!
Leave it in your window.

Heathcliff it is me Cathy.
Come to the house. I am so cold!

Where To Belong To Us

Another poetic gem from the Google translator

That which knows, which takes tomorrow
in a world, few hearts are the manner me,
if it is true, me hold my prayer

the road are alive are a long time
there mountains in our manner survive all
which I believe know,
but we assemble stages each day

love us raise yourself, where we,
where the eagles cry, belong on a mountain,
the loves high raise, where we belong
far the world we know in top,
where the free crane roasts

cases "used-to-be"
above saw very which
we sums have here and now is all our lives to find there outside
its lives which close with key the road being there
mountains in our manner a long time,
but we assemble stages each day

love us raise yourself, where we,
where the eagles cry, belong on a mountain,
the loves high raise, where we belong
far the world we know in top,
where the free crane roasts

Time does not suit you
until time to cry of the
lives is and I, alive, with baby

love us raise yourself, where we,
where the eagles cry, belong on a mountain,
the loves high raise, where we belong
far the world we know in top,
where the free crane roasts

love us raise yourself, where we,
where the eagles cry, belong on a mountain,
the loves high raise, where we belong
far the world we know in top,
where the free crane roasts

Afterword (how to do it yourself):

1. Copy and paste the lyrics of a popular song into a text file.

2. Copy and paste sections of the text into the Google Translator (You need to do it in chunks so that the translator can cope with the text).

3. Translate from English into another language.

4. Translate the result into yet another language.

5. Translate back into English, punctuate and layout to taste.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

You Can Your Hat Leave Above

A poetic gem from the Google translator

With baby to eliminate your true layer to slow down.
eliminate your shoes which I eliminate your shoes.
With baby to eliminate your behaviour.
They can leave, - you can leave your hat above -,
you your hat to leave above your hat capacity above.
the no all light goes there does not put above the light in circuit.

come here to be it on this chair yeah which is right.
raise your arms in the air agitate them now above.
They give me a reason of living - you give me with living a reason -
you give me a reason to living - you give me with living a reason.

Soft favourite -
you can leave your hat above -
you can leave your hat on the baby -
it to be able their hat to leave above you can your hat leave,
- you can leave your hat above -, you your hat to let above be able above.

speaking it east tries to violently break us separately one entendement being wary!
They do not believe that it is a love my - they do not know, that the love is
- how they do not know only what loves - they do not know, which the love is -
do not know it are, which the love is - me knows, which the love is!
There is not in manner - you can leave your hat above -
you can your hat leave above -
you can leave your hat above -

Update: prompted by a comment from David Tiley, I've added a link to the original.

Morning Flight

(A cautionary tale which demonstrates the pernicious effects of reading too much W E Johns as a child and too much J G Ballard as an adult)

It was the kind of cloudless summer day that I had grown to hate. I circled at ten thousand feet, with Ginger on my left wing watching Algy and Bertie getting into position below us. There were a few pleasure craft on the bay below me, most of them huddled in close to the shore. A few - most likely anglers - had found the nerve to cruise out further. I knew that they would be heading for the shore as soon as Algy started work.

Algy reached the start of his run and began on the first "C", with Bertie behind a little above him. Ginger and I circled, keeping ourselves between Algy and the sun as much as we could, our eyes peeled for Von Stahlein and his flying circus. Raymond had warned us to expect him at this morning's briefing. We didn't need the warning; on a day like this we couldn't expect to have the sky to ourselves for long. The best we could hope for was to get a good start on him and his flying circus.

By the time Algy got started in on the "O", the fishermen were well on their way back to shore. The vessels near the shore huddled even closer to the beach. I knew a lot of them were probably cursing us; I didn't go out much any more and when I did I was careful to avoid the topic of what I do for a living. Not that I cared this morning; people might curse us for ruining their day at the beach or on the water, but when Von Stahlein and his unsavoury crew turned up, none of them would be able to keep their eyes off the show.

Algy was making good progress - he was already at work on the second "C". Like a fool I let myself think that maybe today would pass without incident that Algy would get through all eight letters and the hyphen without Von Stahlein showing. Every time we flew one of these missions I thought that same stupid thought and every time I was wrong. Von Stahlein and his goons showed while Algy was lining up for the first "A".

I saw Algy lay down the first stroke of the "A" and looked ahead to see three Piper Cherokees coming straight at us. Ginger was already banking into a climb to gain height on them. A lot went through my head; a curse at my moment of inattention, relief that Von Stahlein hadn't replaced the pilot he lost in our last encounter. That was probably why we had found an empty sky when we arrived in the free flight zone; with only two spare pilots Von Stahlein had decided to stick to running us off, rather than trying to put his own employer's brand name up in the sky. I would have made the same decision in his place. One extra letter doesn't look a lot on paper but it can make the difference between life and death up here, on our front in the cola wars.

Von Stahlein and his goons went straight for Algy and Bertie; Ginger and I powered down after them. They were flying in vee formation; Von Stahlein usually took the lead plane. Bertie was coming up to meet them; Algy moved on to the hyphen. Algy had nerve; as long as we kept Von Stahlein's goons tied up he would carry on right to the final "A". Bertie started to zigzag, to avoid the tracer from Von Stahlein's wing-mounted 10-mm machine guns.

Their formation was starting to break up; leaving Von Stahlein to Bertie and his left-hand man to Ginger, I concentrated on getting Von Stahlein's right hand goon into my sights.

I put a burst of tracer through his fuselage; he broke off into a dive towards the bay below. A tight climbing turn brought me back into position above Algy, but no-one was bothering him. We had the sky to ourselves again. Looking down, I saw that my man hadn't pulled out of his dive; he was headed for the water. Two boats were already heading out from the shore. If ours got to him first there wouldn't be any rescue.

As soon as Algy finished, we formed up to head home. Raymond would debrief us, and congratulate us on a job well done and on Monday we would get a message from head office thanking us for our splendid efforts to hold market share against tough competition. Right then I didn't care; as usual I couldn't help thinking about the pilot who had gone down and wondering why I ever let Raymond talk me into this contract in the first place.

Marketing is hell.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Tram Stop

It's nearly midnight on a pleasantly cool night. The next tram is due in about ten minutes. There's not much traffic on Sydney Road and the pub on the corner is closed.

A tarted up late model Holden Commodore comes up Sydney Road from the south and someone yells something like "Gerragonigaggle". An empty Foster's long-neck smashes in the gutter at your feet then the car races through the nearby intersection in an orgasmic, seat-wetting roar of over-revving, narrowly beating the red light. There's a hand-written "4 Sale" sign taped to the inside of the back window but you can't read the telephone number.

Hoons. You'd notice them more if they weren't there.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Are You a Nazi Too?

Senator George Brandis' attack on the Greens in Federal Parliament has been getting a lot of blog-play, particularly at Troppo Armadillo, where Roop Sandhu is taking on all comers who want to argue the issue. He seems to be making some headway, having talked a few commenters down from an "of course Brandis is right - the Greens are Nazis" position to a more nuanced "They may not be Nazis but they're a hell of a lot closer to totalitiarianism than any other Parliamentary Party".

This is obviously one topic where Godwin's Law needs to be suspended; it's impossible to have any discussion of Senator Brandis' remarks without some mention of the Third Reich. Or more realistically, we might take the view that the whole discussion started out as a pointless one, from the moment Gorgeous George got up on his feet and started reading Andrew Bolt into the Senate Hansard. Still, as a public service to Ozblogdom, I've knocked together this short quiz which will allow you to make a quick qualitative assessment of whether the opinions you express in your blog place you at risk of an accusation of Nazism. All you have to do is note down whether you agree with each of the ten following statements, then follow the instructions at the end to score your results.

1. Most people believe everything they read in the press or see in other news media.

2. The press and media generally pursue a misguided "politically correct" agenda which undermines respect for important traditional values and institutions.

3. On many issues, the Left are the tools (witting or unwitting) of big business.

4. Businesses and their employees would both be better off if they worked together for their common interests, rather than indulging in bloody-minded industrial disputes.

5. A centralised system of wage conciliation and arbitration benefits the economy by providing a means to resolve industrial relations problems without costly and disruptive strikes.

6. On the contrary, the best way to promote industrial harmony and productive enterprise is not by collective bargaining and central arbitration, but by individual or enterprise level negotiation between employers and employees.

7. Some people are naturally more talented than others; they will naturally achieve higher social status than others. Society should not interfere with this.

8. All human progress is the result of individual creativity and invention; the best way to foster social and technological progress is to foster individual creativity.

9. Modern kids are unhealthy because they don't get enough sport in school.

10. The US has the world's most sensible system of immigration controls.

How to Score Your Results

Give yourself one point for each statement that you agreed with. If you scored ten out of ten, you're obviously going to have a hard time participating in on-line discussion groups or blog comment threads without inviting an accusation of Nazism. If you agreed with only one or two, you should probably be cautious in expressing such views publicly; you might consider changing your mind or alternatively, try to develop a more "nuanced" approach to stating your opinions that won't provoke immediate self-righteous outrage. It's unlikely, however, that outrage addicts will have much patience with your approach.

For those who are offended at scoring even one point on the quiz, here are some relevant excerpts from Mein Kampff to consider (link via Professor Bunyip).

1. ...Generally, readers of the Press can be classified into three groups:

First, those who believe everything they read;

Second, those who no longer believe anything;

Third, those who critically examine what they read and form their judgments accordingly.

Numerically, the first group is by far the strongest, being composed of the broad masses of the people ...

Vol I Chapter X, "Why the Second Reich Collapsed"

2. But what sort of pabulum was it that the German Press served up for the consumption of its readers in pre-War days? Was it not the worst virulent poison imaginable? Was not pacifism in its worst form inoculated into our people at a time when others were preparing slowly but surely to pounce upon Germany? Did not this self-same Press of ours in peace time already instil into the public mind a doubt as to the sovereign rights of the State itself, thereby already handicapping the State in choosing its means of defence? Was it not the German Press that under stood how to make all the nonsensical talk about ‘Western democracy’ palatable to our people, until an exuberant public was eventually prepared to entrust its future to the League of Nations? Was not this Press instrumental in bringing in a state of moral degradation among our people? Were not morals and public decency made to look ridiculous and classed as out-of-date and banal, until finally our people also became modernized? By means of persistent attacks, did not the Press keep on undermining the authority of the State, until one blow sufficed to bring this institution tottering to the ground? Did not the Press oppose with all its might every movement to give the State that which belongs to the State, and by means of constant criticism, injure the reputation of the army, sabotage general conscription and demand refusal of military credits, etc. – until the success of this campaign was assured?

3. Before the War the internationalization of the German economic structure had already begun by the roundabout way of share issues. It is true that a section of the German industrialists made a determined attempt to avert the danger, but in the end they gave way before the united attacks of money-grabbing capitalism, which was assisted in this fight by its faithful henchmen in the Marxist movement.

4. In place of this struggle, the National Socialist State will take over the task of caring for and defending the rights of all parties concerned. It will be the duty of the Economic Chamber itself to keep the national economic system in smooth working order and to remove whatever defects or errors it may suffer from. Questions that are now fought over through a quarrel that involves millions of people will then be settled in the Representative Chambers of Trades and Professions and in the Central Economic Parliament. Thus employers and employees will no longer find themselves drawn into a mutual conflict over wages and hours of work, always to the detriment of their mutual interests. But they will solve these problems together on a higher plane, where the welfare of the national community and of the State will be as a shining ideal to throw light on all their negotiations.
Vol II, Chapter XII "The Problem of The Trade Unions".

5. See previous.

6. National Socialist workers and employers are both together the delegates and mandatories of the whole national community. The large measure of personal freedom which is accorded to them for their activities must be explained by the fact that experience has shown that the productive powers of the individual are more enhanced by being accorded a generous measure of freedom than by coercion from above. Moreover, by according this freedom we give free play to the natural process of selection which brings forward the ablest and most capable and most industrious.

7. ... the struggle between the various species does not arise from a feeling of mutual antipathy but rather from hunger and love. In both cases Nature looks on calmly and is even pleased with what happens. The struggle for the daily livelihood leaves behind in the ruck everything that is weak or diseased or wavering; while the fight of the male to possess the female gives to the strongest the right, or at least, the possibility to propagate its kind. And this struggle is a means of furthering the health and powers of resistance in the species. Thus it is one of the causes underlying the process of development towards a higher quality of being.

If the case were different the progressive process would cease, and even retrogression might set in. Since the inferior always outnumber the superior, the former would always increase more rapidly if they possessed the same capacities for survival and for the procreation of their kind; and the final consequence would be that the best in quality would be forced to recede into the background. Therefore a corrective measure in favour of the better quality must intervene. Nature supplies this by establishing rigorous conditions of life to which the weaker will have to submit and will thereby be numerically restricted; but even that portion which survives cannot indiscriminately multiply, for here a new and rigorous selection takes place, according to strength and health.

Vol I, Chapter XI "Race and People".

8. Therefore not only does the organization possess no right to prevent men of brains from rising above the multitude but, on the contrary, it must use its organizing powers to enable and promote that ascension as far as it possibly can. It must start out from the principle that the blessings of mankind never came from the masses but from the creative brains of individuals, who are therefore the real benefactors of humanity. It is in the interest of all to assure men of creative brains a decisive influence and facilitate their work. This common interest is surely not served by allowing the multitude to rule, for they are not capable of thinking nor are they efficient and in no case whatsoever can they be said to be gifted. Only those should rule who have the natural temperament and gifts of leadership.
Vol II Chapter IV, "Personality and The Ideal of The People's State"

9. Our system of education entirely loses sight of the fact that in the long run a healthy mind can exist only in a healthy body. This statement, with few exceptions, applies particularly to the broad masses of the nation.

In the pre-War Germany there was a time when no one took the trouble to think over this truth. Training of the body was criminally neglected, the one-sided training of the mind being regarded as a sufficient guarantee for the nation’s greatness. This mistake was destined to show its effects sooner than had been anticipated. It is not pure chance that the Bolshevic teaching flourishes in those regions whose degenerate population has been brought to the verge of starvation, as, for example, in the case of Central Germany, Saxony, and the Ruhr Valley. In all these districts there is a marked absence of any serious resistance, even by the so-called intellectual classes, against this Jewish contagion. And the simple reason is that the intellectual classes are themselves physically degenerate, not through privation but through education. The exclusive intellectualism of the education in vogue among our upper classes makes them unfit for life’s struggle at an epoch in which physical force and not mind is the dominating factor. Thus they are neither capable of maintaining themselves nor of making their way in life. In nearly every case physical disability is the forerunner of personal cowardice.

Vol I Chapter X, "Why the Second Reich Collapsed"

10. At present there exists one State which manifests at least some modest attempts that show a better appreciation of how things ought to be done in this matter. It is not, however, in our model German Republic but in the U.S.A. that efforts are made to conform at least partly to the counsels of commonsense. By refusing immigrants to enter there if they are in a bad state of health, and by excluding certain races from the right to become naturalized as citizens, they have begun to introduce principles similar to those on which we wish to ground the People’s State.
Vol II Chapter III, "Citizens and Subjects of the State"

Private Sorry Day

(This one's for woodsy)

I think it's about time that I offered an open apology to a few people who work in the Australian Public Sevice. If you've been in the APS since around 1995 and you're thoroughly jack of it and wondering why you ever joined in the first place, I'm sorry. Because, at least in part, I'm probably to blame. If I hadn't made one very silly decision in my last year in the APS, you might not be in this predicament. They never would have recruited you in the first place. You might no be any happier, but at least I wouldn't be responsible for your present unhappiness.

I joined the APS in the early 1980s, a year after I graduated from University. My degree had passed its use-by date so, like several of my friends, I sat the clerical selection test at Melbourne University's Wilson Hall. I got an interview and a job early the following year. I thought then that it was a good way to save up some money for the overseas trip I'd been planning for years. I certainly didn't expect to find myself, ten years later, still in the APS contemplating whether it was finally time to face the fact that my career had gone as far as it could go - somewhere close to nowhere - and start wearing a cardigan to work.

I was saved from the cardigan by yet another round of cuts in the Department I worked for. I worked on one of the programs where the department was looking to cut staff, so I put my hand up for a voluntary redundancy. I received a letter explaining what the department was looking for in staff to cut, and a form to fill in, telling them why I thought they should cut me. The criteria for being bought out of your job were basically two-fold: you had to be surplus to the department's staffing profile at your level and you had to convince the cost-cutters that you were no longer capable of making a contribution to the department's goals in the future.

I was pretty angry when I saw the form; the decision to cut staff had been made by the Department Secretary and the Minister, the decisions of which areas to cut had been made by a number of high-level department committees in Canberra and now that I was actually coming forward to cop it sweet and leave (Admittedly with more ready money than I'd ever seen together in one place before), they wanted me to reassure them that I really was useless enough to be allowed to go?

It was a bit rich, especially as the department had a chronic problem deciding what its goals actually were. When the "mission statement" fad first hit the federal bureaucracy in the late eighties, the department's very first stab at defining its purpose blithely said:

Our mission is to make progress towards our goals by achieving our targets and objectives.

In the intervening years they hadn't got much further in working out what, exactly, it was that the department was supposed to do, besides "achieving efficiency dividends" by cutting programs that did have a pretty well defined and immediate purpose (I worked in the branch that did a lot of the department's research and publishing work). This was a time when the best path to career advancement in the Senior Executive Service of the APS was to find a program to cut. There was always the risk that someone else might cut your job at some stage but, if they did, as an experienced cost cutter you could always move on to another department and work the same trick there. The upper echelons of the APS were full of people who had demonstrated that they were effective managers by arranging to have fewer people to manage.

I was also in a bit of a bind ethically; one of the reasons I wanted to get out was to start a new career elsewhere (in IT) and the redundancy package would help keep the wolf from the door while I was job-hunting. I couldn't very well tell them that on the form; they might get the idea that I was the sort of person who could contribute to the department's goals in the future and I would be passed over for redundancy in favour of someone who was genuinely useless, rather than burnt out and pissed off. I didn't want to lie about it, nor did I want to tell them I was useless just to reassure them they were getting rid of the right bloke. In the end I was very terse. I wrote two short sentences; I forget the first, but the second was clear and direct:

I have absolutely no intention of contributing to the department's goals in the future.

It must have done the trick too; a couple of weeks after sending off the form, I got a letter back telling me I was in, or rather, out.

A week later, I got another letter, and another form. This was from the then Public Service Board It was a survey. The letter explained that, in order to improve public service recruitment, the PSB had decided to survey people who had worked long-term in the APS to build up a psychological picture, or profile, of the successful long-term public servant. I read it through a couple of times in amazement. They seemed to think that by getting a psychological profile of me (and others who had put up with working in the bureaucracy as long as I had) they expected to be able to develop a selection test that would select candidates who were just like us and who would, therefore, put up with the APS for at least ten years, if not longer.

After some thought, I decided not to return the survey. I figured if they started recruiting people based on my personal characteristics, they would end up with a lot of seriously burnt out and pissed off people in ten years time. Or possibly earlier; I'm fairly sure that ten years in the bureaucracy didn't do my personality a hell of a lot of good.

That was my silly decision and the one I have to apologise for. I overlooked the possibility that I might be in the control group; that the reason I got the survey was because I had been identified as the sort of person that the Australian Public Service should go out of its way to avoid recruiting. Both for the sake of the service and the sake of the candidate.

So, if you've been in the APS for the last eight or nine years, and you're finding your current job pretty appalling and the prospect of spending the next fifteen to twenty years turning up to work in a cardigan and keeping a careful eye on your super even more so, I'm sorry. I really am.

Sky Writing

It's a warm, sunny afternoon, the sky is a brilliant blue, and some tosser in a Piper Cherokee is scrawling a URL across the southern sky. By the time he gets to the ".au", which comes out as ".ou", the whole thing is illegible, so what's the bloody point?

Advertising - you'd notice it more if it weren't there.

Monday, November 03, 2003

The Yartz Are Dead ...

I've spent far too much time over the past few days thinking about the state of the yartz, and especially this concluding remark from Charles Murray in his recent interview with Steve Sailer:

Q. You found that per capita levels of accomplishment tended to decline from 1850 to 1950. Would you care to speculate on post-1950 trends?

A. I think that the number of novels, songs, and paintings done since 1950 that anyone will still care about 200 years from now is somewhere in the vicinity of zero. Not exactly zero, but close. I find a good way to make this point is to ask anyone who disagrees with me to name a work that will survive -- and then ask, "Seriously?" Very few works indeed can defend themselves against the "Seriously?" question.

This fatuous exchange produced the same sort of nagging irritation that you might feel if you'd run out of Rectinol after the local chemist has closed. Although I was initially disinclined to take up Sailer's "Seriously? Challenge", I find my thoughts continually returning to it.

If nothing else, Murray's pronouncement is a lazy one; especially for someone who was prepared to take the trouble to write a book which attempts, using statistical methods, to identify the greatest thinkers of history. If Murray's method - of surveying "top scholars" in various fields and statistically analysing their references to various artists to see who scores the most mentions - is valid for identifying past greats in various fields, then it is equally applicable to identifying present greats, whose works stand a good chance of surviving until the year 2203. It's simply a matter of identifying and polling the experts, and running their input through the same statistical grinder.

I'm just as lazy as Murray; although I've described how he might go about identifying works that people might still care about in 2203, with the same so-called objectivity as he has produced his objective league ranking of history's greats in Human Accomplishment, don't expect me to do it. It might be an interesting task, but if you published a book about it, you'd probably get the same enthusiastic "so what?" that the Publisher's Weekly reviewer gave Murray's magnum opus.

So let's look at this another way; seriously, but with nowhere near as much earnestness as Steve Sailer's correspondents have brought to the task Most of the contenders that have been identified so far (with the possible exception of JRR Tolkien's pastiche of the Rhinegold Saga) are all very worthy and that's a problem. Ideas of literary and artistic worthiness are apt to change over time so it's a poor basis for predicting the future.

The question we should ask is not which modern works have enough merit to attract attention in 2203, but which modern works will people find interesting in 2203. By today's standards these migh have all the artistic merit of the poetry of William Topaz McGonagall, whose work remains in print a century after his death. I think it's safe to predict that they'll still be around, in some published format, in 2103 and that people will still care about them in the same perverse way that McGonagall lovers do today.

While a salutory example, McGonagall is a poor precedent for judging modern works. There are a few modern poets who might be considered likely to supplant him as the worst poet in the English language but if we confine our search to cultural freaks, we aren't going to identify too many works which have what it takes to be of interest in 2203. A more realistic approach is to look at the past works we currently value and identify the factors which have fostered their cultural survival. Modern works with similar traits can reasonably be expected to be around, and cared about, in 200 years.

There are, in my view, six Ps of cultural survival; patronage, popularity, productivity, provocation, protection and plagiarism. A writer, musician or artist who is well patronised, popular, prolifically provocative is more likely to produce works that will be discussed two centuries after their creation, than an obscure dabbler with no gumption. Especially if their works enjoy good institutional protection or they are extensively plagiarised.

Plagiarism can benefit an art-work's long term survival as an object of interest in two distinct ways. Firstly, blatant copying of the ideas of others is a useful aide in producing a large corpus of works and the works produced are likely to attract scholarly interest, commentary and controversy; firstly in tracking down the original works referenced and secondly in long running disputes over the chicken/egg Bacon/Shakespeare issues that inevitably arise. A plagiarised work benefits from attracting scholarly interest, either as the original source of the plagiarism, or as a lesser imitation of it.

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings will derive both benefits. Future scholars of the Nordic sagas will find it of interest as an adaptation and retelling of the Rhinegold Saga, with a few nods in the general direction of other famous sagas along the way. Scholars in the area of twentieth century literature will look to it as one of the prototypes for the whole appalling Fantasy genre. If, sometime in the next few years, Tolkien and his imitators get their much needed Cervantes, their cultural survival is assured. There's a large number of very popular novels there which have very good chances of being cared about, at least in academia or its future equivalent.

The role of patronage in fostering works for future generations to revere as great classics is very clear in the case of renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo Buonorotti and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. None of these artists would be known today if they had not had wealthy patrons. Michaelangelo's case, in particular, is also illustrative of the importance of institutional protection. If his David had been in the Vatican, rather than Florence, he'd would be lucky to have a willy these days. There are rumours going back for over a decade of a store of marble todgers, somewhere in a Vatican basement, which were hacked off various sculpures by prelates who deemed them unseemly. Similarly, had any of Pope Julius II's successors ever decided that the Sistine Chapel ceiling would look better with a nice coat of pink distemper, it's unlikely that it would be the tourist attraction it is today.

The institutions which protect art works in the modern world are of course, art galleries and insurance corporations. Any modern work which fetches a high enough price on the secondary art market, that is in auction rooms, will enjoy a high level of institutional protection (either because it's in an art gallery, or because it's in a private collection whose insurer insists on it). Not all of the works that are on display in current public art gallery modern art collections are going to be cared about by future generations, but that's where most of the candidates will be. Even if the end result is that in 2203 people only care enough about twentieth century art to say "What a load of rubbish!" before moving on to Landseer's Monarch of the Glen and other works which are sadly underrated today. On the other hand if the visual arts continue the alleged decline that set in somewhere around the turn of the century, I expect art lovers of 2203 to do a lot of grousing about how artists just don't put shit in a tin as well as they did in the twentieth century.

When we look for musical works which still be well regarded in 2203, we must resist the impulse to look to the high culture areas of opera and ballet music, orchestral music and chamber music. We're more likely to find long-term cultural survivors by looking for modern equivalents tp Danny Boy, Home Sweet Home, The Camptown Races and Way Down Upon the Swanee River than we are by looking for a modern rival to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Or we could look at who's been producing music to match that of Johann Strauss the Younger, Tielman Susato and Michael Praetorius.

So whatever happens to the works of Phillip Glass or Andrew Lloyd Webber - both contenders in the area of high-brow music (by 2203 I expect Webber to enjoy at least the same regard that we now have for Arthur Sullivan) - there are plenty of stars in the area of popular music who can expect to be well known, at least to future generations of children in primary schools or their future equivalents. They'll be able to get through the first verse of Mama Mia or Stayin' Alive with the same facility that I can get through the first verses of The Minstrel Boy and Home on the Range. There will be a disco section in whatever passes for a record store in 2203 and a lot of universities will have disco societies in the same way that modern universities have ballroom and renaissance dancing societies. And the Boston Pops, and similar orchestras, will be putting on concerts featuring arrangements of Smoke on the Water, Stairway to Heaven and Roll Over, Lay Down and Let Me In. As well as a lot of music from Cats, of course.

Will Murray's Human Accomplishment make the distance, as a great work of either sociology or cultural history? I don't think so. Seriously.
This isn't a cock-up. It's something else and I'm having a hard time putting a name to it (link via Cruel Site of the Day).
It's quite possible to be a thoroughly disreputable and objectionable painter, novelist, composer and produce great works of art. Wagner did it. T.S. Elliot was racist in a rather mean and nasty way. Burroughs had a lot of really rather psychopathic ideas - I knew him. A brilliant writer. But, you know, a moral degenerate in many ways.

J G Ballard, in an interview with Zulfikar Abbany.

Reading Matters

I'm concentrating on fiction this week, reading for relaxation rather than edification and self-improvement. I have a mixed bag of books from the local library, mostly selected on impulse.

One of these is James L Halperin's The Truth Machine. Published in 1996, it's a speculative novel (that's what the front cover says), dealing with the development of a perfect lie detector and its effects on American society and the American legal system.

Like a lot of good novelists (for example Gunter Grass), Halperin adopts a narrative persona, who reports events from their own perspective:

Since you plan to read these words, you'll want to know who wrote them. I am an Intel 22g CP (22 billion instructions per microsecond contextual processor) from the series of 2046, specifically designed for reportage. I've been programmed to write in journalistic style, so don't expect scintillating metaphors or artistic imagery.

I've only reached page 70 and I'm not sure if I'll get much further, but I'm already sure that Halperin's choice of a computer as his narrator was a wise one.

Update, 30 pages later: very wise.

Update, another 30 pages later: bugger this. I've got a copy of J G Ballard's Crash somewhere that I've been meaning to read for years. And who's the dork who wrote all these pencil notes in the margins of this turkey?