Evolving a Theory of Genius

And a propos of my last post, who should they be discussing on the radio this morning but  the mathematician Gauss:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Friedrich_Gauss

He was a child prodigy who had taught himself to read and write by age three and whose gift for mathematics was reportedly discovered by a teacher, who on trying to keep a class busy by asking them to add up all the numbers between one and a hundred (one plus two plus three etc) was astonished by Gauss immediately producing the answer: he had figured out a short-cut and reasoned rather than calculating.  He then got a scholarship courtesy of a local duke.  So far, so encouraging, but as an adult he seems to have become every bit as obsessive and sociopathic as other geniuses and reportedly,  when told that his wife was dying, asked ‘Can’t she wait?’  This idea that genius demands total concentration; one hundred per cent dedication to the exclusion of all else, is deep in our psyche – and I want to question it.  I simply don’t accept that being a genius equals being an arse.  I am performing my own Gaussian calculations here:

genius ≠ arsedom is my first conclusion.

The programme went on to discuss the old infinite monkey argument.  Gauss, when asked if his ability was innate or the result of hard work, replied that it was the latter plus concentration.  Now, I am entirely on board with the idea that hard work is necessary to genius: the latest version of this being the ‘thousand hours’ theory; the idea that practising anything for ten thousand hours will make you an expert.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26384712

Well maybe, but have you ever tried to practise something when your heart wasn’t in it?  Did you take piano lessons as a child and hate them?  Surely if Gauss’s life proves anything it’s that the ability was there right from the start, way before he started to work on it.

So I think it all comes down to the inspiration-versus-perspiration question.  It has been suggested that genius is 9% perspiration to 1% inspiration: I’d put it around 75/25 but the principle holds true.  It is entirely possible that were I to practise music for 35 hours a week I would be thoroughly proficient within a year.  I would also be climbing up the wall because, much as I love my guitar, I just don’t wanna.  It is not in me to do this.  Whereas writing for 35 hours a week, busting my gut trying to produce something worthwhile and not getting paid for it – is.

So, to summarise my calculations:

genius ≠ being an arse

10,000 hours ≠ genius

genius = 25% inspiration + 75% perspiration

So there you have it.  Now go forth and multiply.

(In a good way.)

And here’s the programme:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09gbnfj

Kirk out

 

 

Life on the i-player

Here’s a round-up of the week’s TV.

The first contribution, Paranoid, wasn’t strictly on the iplayer but Netflix, having first been broadcast (I think) on ITV.  I had seen it last year, but was reminded of it by a Quaker on Facebook because it has a Quaker character in it.  Indira Varma stars as a highly competent but emotionally all-over-the-place (hmm!) police officer, supported by Robert Glenister (Philip’s better-behaved younger brother.)  It’s a compelling series centring on a pharmaceutical corruption with murders and corrupt psychiatrists thrown in.  The Quaker character, though a little too serene and smiley, is nonetheless interesting, and Indira Varma is great.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5839454/?ref_=nv_sr_1

I also caught, in a radio programme I can’t now find, Peter Hitchens fulminating about the King James Version of the Bible.  Basically Hitchens, who seems to be a died-in-the-war* reactionary, wants to keep the KJV.  Well, I wasn’t aware that it was being abolished: you don’t have to look too hard to find churches who use it as I’ve been to at least one in Leicester and one in Wales.  There is, I think, a point to be made about the language: as a poet I regret that the poetry and grandeur which infuses the KJV has not permeated the newer translations.  But surely the main point is that KJV, along with Wycliffe and other contemporary versions, was written in order to be accessible to the (then) largely illiterate congregation.  It was written so that the people could read and understand the Bible for themselves without being dependent on priests: as such, it is no longer fit for purpose.

It might be objected that we don’t attempt to update Shakespeare.  Well, actually we do: and this week I also caught up with a BBC modernisation of Much Ado About Nothing called Shakespeare Retold:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468034/

but in any case, Shakespeare is not Holy Writ.

I also, sadly, encountered the soggy reheated breakfast that is Porridge.  This was not only a lame rehash where nothing has moved on (unlike, say, Still Open All Hours where the customers are different and gender roles have changed) – it is, you might say, almost a betrayal of Clement and La Frenais’ former work, since Porridge was originally so compelling and revealing.  But now both society and the prison network have changed so much that to do it in the same way appears risible:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p05dsx5r/porridge-series-1-6-the-rift

And finally…

You Don’t Need a Sausage Roll When You’ve Got Jesus

 

Greggs' 'sausage roll saviour' has caught the attention of the world's press

…a selection of news items about the baby Jesus (love the headline bottom right) which according to  the Today programme’s Thought For The Day is a non-story.  Nobody is really bothered by the Greggs window display; not the Catholics, not the Anglicans, not even the Evangelical Alliance – and when the EA aren’t bovvered, that’s it.  A non-story.

*see what I did there?

Kirk out

The Indifference Engine

As you probably know, the Difference Engine is a proto-computer designed by Charles Babbage to do something called polynomial calculations (polynomial being the sort of word you hear bandied about and just nod as though you understand, after which it’s too late to ask.)  But the Indifference Engine is something else entirely, and has to do with public debate.

The point of debate used to be to enlarge on topics, to test out arguments against counter-arguments and maybe arrive at some sort of conclusion, and along the way to learn something and even to change people’s minds.  But nowadays public debate is becoming more and more gladiatorial: a contest where the only interest is in the outcome.  Who won?  Who lost?  Who was ‘shut down’?  Whose arguments ‘killed’?  We cheer for one side and boo the other and rejoice or fume at the end, depending on the outcome.  It’s basically a boxing match.

As far as the actual arguments go, they are not tools for debate or food for thought but weapons – and the upshot of all this, for many, is indifference to whole swathes of reality.  Forget your nuanced arguments – sock it to us with a slogan.  You can keep your if’s and but’s – what we want is a knockout punch.  Nobody cares about the grey areas.  If a politician is accused of sexual assault he’s probably guilty (or probably innocent, depending on which side you’re on.)  There’s no examination of the evidence; no ‘wait and see’ – we want a judgment and we want it now.

Tragically this may have led to someone taking his own life.  Yesterday Carl Sergeant, a Welsh Labour MP who had been accused of sexual assault by three women, committed suicide.  We don’t know – and may never know – whether he did so because he was guilty or because he couldn’t cope with the burden of accusation.  Nothing can be inferred from his death – though you can bet your life that the media (social and otherwise) are inferring it left, right and centre as we speak.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/nov/07/suspended-welsh-labour-politician-carl-sargeant-has-died

Whereas it seems to me highly likely that Harvey Weinstein was a predatory creep, since so many women have come out and told similar stories about him, it does not follow that every man accused of such crimes is guilty.  There needs to be a process.  Evidence needs to be gathered and assessed.  And not by us, that’s the point.  We don’t know who’s guilty and who isn’t – and we don’t like not knowing.  We must have a judgment and we want it now.

This indifference to evidence, fact and nuanced argument greatly depresses me.  I think I need to play around a bit on my difference engine…

Kirk out

 

 

 

The Book of Dust

To listen or not to listen?  That was my dilemma at the weekend (yes, that same weekend that was packed with non-violence and non-nuclear weapons) when the BBC broadcast in its entirety Philip Pullman’s prequel to His Dark Materials, another three volumes collectively entitled The Book of Dust.  I was so torn: on the one hand I really wanted to read the text first; on the other hand it might be Christmas before I could get my hands on a copy and even then, that particular item on my Christmas list might not materialise.  Add to that the inducement of Simon Russell Beale’s hypnotic voice – and reader, I caved.

I was glad of my caving: it made the space between nuclear weapons and Casualty (not long usually but in this case about four hours) – enchanting.  I forgot I was in the kitchen making bread; instead I was at an inn on the riverside in Lyra’s Oxford where Lyra, a baby, is being looked after by some nuns.  But others are taking an unnatural interest in this baby…

I shall not post spoilers because as I said before, when a book is so new it’s unfair.  But here’s the link to the programme:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b099tf53

I might even listen again – again.

Kirk out

 

 

 

Are You Having a British Dream?

*Sigh*

For some inexplicable reason, my latest works of staggering genius didn’t make it onto Newsjack.  Well, I thought they’d be inundated with stuff about the Tory Party conference so here, as promised, I display them for your delectation:

Breaking news:

Last week Theresa May was standing in an empty hall trying to get over a bad cough when a rogue Tory Party conference broke in and handed her a list of Labour Party policies.  It is not known how the conference, played by a bunch of comedians, was allowed access to the PM.

The conference slogan was in trouble too, when a couple of words fell off, obscuring the message ‘building a country that works or everyone will die’.  Officials have denied that the message originally read ‘come back Dave all is forgiven’.

Afterwards there was an epidemic of tumbleweed as Party members were asked their opinions on Theresa May’s speech.  Many of them had gone to bed hoping it was all a British dream but woken up to find it was only too real.

I’m wasted here…

Kirk out

 

 

 

I Have A Dead Ringer

Yes, it’s all too horribly true: my phone ringer is dead.  Or maybe it’s sleeping; either way on any of the various occasions when it is supposed to make a noise – alarm, text, call, facebook message, facebook update, reminder and god knows what else – it is content to make a sudden purr like an intermittent cat.  In other words it does everything it should do when it’s on silent, but it isn’t.  I have checked and double-checked the settings; I have (in the time-honoured way) turned things off and on and on and off again and still it persists in purring.  So I must perforce consider the meaning of the term ‘dead ringer’.  Jeremy Irons (once my favourite actor) plays twins in a film of that name, Meat Loaf sang about it and the Radio 4 programme features it.  So what is it?

The origin of the phrase is apparently from horse-racing: ‘dead’ meaning ‘exact’ (as in ‘dead heat’) and ‘ringer’ meaning a horse falsely substituted for another which it resembles.  Hence a dead ringer, meaning an exact lookalike.  At least I’ve always understood it to mean a lookalike, which makes the radio 4 concept somewhat paradoxical don’t it?

https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/dead-ringer.html

Still it’s a fun programme: Tom Baker is a staple and they do Boris Johnson brilliantly:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007gd85/episodes/player

Here’s the Meat Loaf song:

 

and here’s the film:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094964/

A short one today but what do you expect?  My ringer is dead…

Kirk out

The Tumbleweeds

I’ve been busy this morning putting together some jokes for Newsjack about the Tory Party Conference, and coming up against the ‘Trump Conundrum’ ie how can you make fun of something that is itself a joke?  Still by dint of Herculean efforts I’ve come up with a few one-liners: if they don’t get on – and let’s face it, they’ll be inundated by such contributions this week – then I’ll post them here.  Not to mention the possibility that she might resign or be pushed over the weekend.

What a fiasco though, eh?  Left to itself the speech would have been dull and unmemorable, the only good points stolen from Labour and the rest an embarrassment of poverty.  Who came up with the phrase ‘British dream’ and what were they on at the time?  Lots of cocoa, one can only assume…  We sat through the turgid flow for several sluggish minutes before OH had the brainwave of putting it on at double-speed; even then it was hardly entertaining.  I would imagine you have to watch a Theresa May speech at x 10 speed for it even to approach fun.

I can’t tell you much about what was in it, since there wasn’t much to tell.  As I say, she’d stolen a few initiatives from Labour, plus a lot of hollow rhetoric about equality and stuff, but the biggest cheers came from remarks about ‘wanting everyone to keep their money’ and ‘enjoying the rewards of all your hard work.’

Hmm.

The contrast with Corbyn could hardly be greater.  But the worst, as we already knew, was yet to come.  First a rogue ‘comedian’ broke in and handed her a P45 (even the Tory party disruptions are dull) and then she broke into a coughing fit* which lasted most of the rest of the speech.  Being Tories they manfully stood and clapped during the battle between voice and phlegm, but no amount of standing ovation could smooth over the car-crash of this speech.  If more evidence of God’s disapproval were needed, an ‘F’ fell off the sign behind her and, for all I know, down the back of her dress.  You’d have thought the Tories could afford decent signage at least.

Ah well – it’s all good fun, as was Amber Rudd’s excruciating interview on PM last night:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b096gjrb

William Hill are giving 9/4 odds on Theresa May resigning this year.  Mind you, I’m none the wiser as I don’t really know what 9/4 means…

http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/betting/e/11251986/When+Will+Theresa+May+Leave+Office+as+PM%3f.html

Kirk out

*I almost wrote ‘coffin fit’ – Freudian slip

What Sort of Time Do You Call This?

The day begins at 5 am with sleeplessness and goes on until you give in and call it a – well, a day because now that it’s got to 6.15 there is Absolutely No Point in trying to doze off any more.  Fortunately I don’t have an arduous day – or at least, no more arduous than usual, just work and visiting relatives.  Relatively easy, ho ho.  But as anyone knows who has ever had a rough night, sleep or the lack of it can cast a pall over the most joyous of lives, and if you have problems which on a normal day can be kept under control, on a day like today they run riot.  It’s like a wet playtime in school.

So: I won’t burden you with all the problems I’m facing on a daily basis as I have blogged about these before; but it would have been nice if ‘Newsjack’ had appreciated my sketch enough to broadcast it.  It would have given me a little lift; instead of feeling that nothing ever goes right, I’d feel that one small thing had at least been achieved.

If any of you have ever suffered problems which just seem to go on and on; which get better one day only to get worse the next: which seem in fact to get better to give you false hopes only in order to dash them on the rocks, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

*Sigh*

Apologies for the downer today.  And now, to cheer you up, here’s the sketch I wrote – which I and OH both thought was funny:

Theresa May’s Leadership

 

‘GAME OF DRONES’

 

ATMOS:                             CAFÉ

F/X:                                      BACKGROUND CHATTER, CLINK OF CUPS, HISS OF COFFEE-MAKER ETC

 

JOURNALIST 1:       I give up.  My paper wants an editorial on the current political climate but I don’t understand politics any more.  Nothing makes any sense

 

JOURNALIST 2:       It’s easy.  You have to stop seeing it as politics

 

J1:                               You mean –

 

 

J2:                               Just think of it as popular culture.  Everything’s dumbed down these days, right?

 

J1:                               I guess…

 

J2:                               So take the Great Repeal Bill: it’s just like Game of Thrones.

 

J1:                               Taking us back to medieval times, you mean?

 

J2:                               Exactly.  Repealing every piece of legislation since Henry the Eighth

 

J1:                               Or Sixth

 

J2:                               Or Henry the Fourth part one

 

J1:                               OK – I get that.  But Theresa May is just inexplicable

 

J2:                               No, no – she’s just like that robot in Futurama

 

J1:                               Bender?  The one who bends girders?

 

J2:                               Exactly.  She’s bending the Tories up and down…

 

J1:                               Right and left…

 

J2:                               …over to Northern Ireland…

 

J1:                               …up the Magic Money Tree…

 

J2:                               You’re getting it

 

J1:                               But what about the leadership challengers?

 

J2:                               Well – you know the cat in Dilbert?

 

J1:                               Catbert?  The evil genius?  What about him?

 

J2:                               Isn’t it obvious?  That’s Jacob Rees-Moggy!  All he does is sleep in a corner of the House of Commons watching with one eye open and awaiting his chance.

 

J1:                               That’s brilliant.  I totally understand politics now.  There’s just one thing I don’t get

 

J2:                               What’s that?

 

J1:                               How do you explain Boris Johnson?

 

J2:                               There’s no explanation for Boris Johnson.

END

Kirk out

 

 

 

What sort of time do you call this?

Jumping Jack (News)Flash

Newsflash!  Newsjack is returning – nay, at the time of going to press, has already returned – to Radio 4 Extra.  Yes, that cross between Weekending and The Now Show, the nursery slopes for would-be satirical sketch-writers, is back and looking for contributors.  Say no more: I immediately pulled out my pad and began scribbling.  I have often thought, when listening to The Now Show or The News Quiz, ‘giz a job – I can do that’ – but needless to say the ideas that occur to you as spin-offs need more than a little honing before they are fit to stand up by themselves and take part in a radio show.

My first efforts were, alas, out of date since the news stories bumping around in my head were not the latest.  But it’s all good practice and in the end I sent in a sketch where two journalists try to make sense of Theresa May’s current leadership strategy.  If it doesn’t get on I’ll reproduce it here; if it does, you can listen next Thursday evening.

Here are the jokes I rejected.  Like the fish John West reject, I’m hoping they make my fish the best *

‘Reports are coming in that the divorce bill between soap star Brit Anya and her former lover Hugh Rope has risen to between £55 and 75 billion.  Both sides disupte the figures; meanwhile their offspring have all been repealed, resulting in another Great Bill which will be divided among fans of the star.  Jeremy Corbyn the Leader of the Opposition has offered to give some of the offspring a home, though it is not clear now many as a Party is still going on in his House.’

‘Meanwhile there are reports that leading Liberal Democrats have spent the summer on Dover Beach trying to push back the tide, to the accompaniment of a Green chorus singing what about us? and this is a Green tragedy.’

‘Rupert Murdoch was last night sent to bed without any supper because he had had a full-blown tantrum after learning that he couldn’t put the Sky into his toy box.  His mother Theresa said he had too many toys already.  Commentators believe that the 86-year-old is afraid he will never earn any money or amount to anything.’

I’ll keep you posted.

Kirk out

*though all my gags are of course 100% vegetarian

The Horror! The Horror!

What a grizzly and unpleasant occupation writing is!  How many other jobs could you have where you go to work, slave for six solid hours and come home feeling that you’ve sweated blood and achieved nothing?  True, today – my first day back after a break – I did write a few spoof headlines for ‘Newsjack’ (they’re looking for contributions) but then I discovered that I’d missed the deadline for my headlines so now I have to scan the real headlines so that I can make more spoof headlines ahead of the deadline.  It’s making lines in my forehead…

Contenders for next week include the Trump ‘wall’ story latest and the ongoing Brexit saga.  Watch this space…

I find it difficult working in the library because of the other people coming and going and because I don’t have a space that is mine.  Unreasonably I regard the table at the far end as my space and get irritated if someone else bags it first: it’s also quite limiting that you only get three hours a day up to a total of seven a week on the computers.  But when I work from home, is it any better?  I get distracted by phone calls; I go in the kitchen to make a drink and end up loading the dishwasher.  It’s hopeless.  And when people say to me, as they sometimes do, how wonderful it must be to have a creative gift etc etc, I want to jump up and down and scream and say, ‘have you any idea what hell you go through to produce even the minutest piece of perfect prose?’  As Michael Caine used to say to people, if you wanted to do it, you’d be doing it.  If you really wanted to be an actor you’d be out there doing it; working in rep, am-dram, street theatre – whatever, just so you could act.  So if you want to be a writer, write.  After all it costs next to nothing: what could prevent you?

Anyway, even though I got entangled once more in the impenetrable thicket that is my novel, the day wasn’t entirely wasted.  After all, at the end of it I got to write this blog post…

Kirk out