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Letters

July 30, 2010 2 comments

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Letter writing is one of the great undervalued literary forms. Letter writing probably contributes the outright majority of the world’s literary output – almost certainly so today, in the age of the email – but most people writing letters and emails are blissfully unaware of the fact they’re doing any such thing.

The value of letters is both intentional and incidental; they reveal as much about their times as any newspaper, and as much about their author as any diary. The letters of Mary Wortley-Montagu – published at her behest in her own lifetime – essentially introduced English society to what was then known as the Orient, and the Islamic empire of the Ottoman Turks; Anton Chekhov’s letters from his journey the length of Russia, from his home in Moscow to the prison colony on Sakhalin Island in the Far East, chronicled the realities of life in the Russian Empire – something which Chekhov himself subsequently spent much of his life struggling to change.

Many of our language’s great aphorisms come originally from written correspondence, such as Thomas Jefferson’s advice in a 1792 letter to George Washington that “delay is preferrable to error”, or Benjamin Franklin’s observation that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy three years earlier. Sometimes it’s the repartee that goes down in history, as when George Bernard Shaw wrote to Winston Churchill ahead of the opening of his play Major Barbara: “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend – if you have one.” Churchill’s reply was that he could not make the first night, but would attend the second. If there was one.

All of which is why I think this blog – Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience – is so interesting. It’s the kind of blog that really should be collected into a book, but probably won’t be. I recommend you have a look, and it’s updated daily, so check back often. Letters featured include Gandhi’s letter to an American follower, correcting him on the matter of Gandhi’s presumed hatred of the British, Philip K. Dick’s letter to the FBI, informing them that a series of burglaries at his home as well as several approaches by strange men were all part of a plan to enlist science fiction writers in a communist plot to start World War III, and a 14-year-old Slash’s letter to an ex-girlfriend after she dumped him for talking about his guitar too much.

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Categories: Opinion

Why sex with robots is wrong

July 22, 2010 Leave a comment

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They do rock music. They do schools. They do science-fucking-fiction. Literally. Behold, a Christian parable of the year 2030.

Categories: Nonsense Tags: , , ,

God will make your trousers fall down

July 21, 2010 Leave a comment

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No, really. It happened to the Lord Mayor of Leicester, apparently as a result of his decision to end the practice of opening council meetings with prayers.

Colin Hall, Lord Mayor of Leicester, stopped the practice, calling it “outdated, unnecessary and intrusive”.

Clearly the Lord was not so impressed, as he has now humbled the mighty Mayor in possibly the most embarrassing incident Mouse has ever heard of for a public official.

The Lord Mayor of Leicester, was addressing a function for children from three local schools when his trousers fell down. It sounds rather like a Carry On film scene, but Mouse has seen the mighty had of God at work in this. Surely this is proof that God intervenes in the world.

With proof like that, who needs baseless assertion? It’s a good job I do most of my blasphemy in my pants, that’s all I can say.

I Write Like…

July 15, 2010 5 comments

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Like many people, I’ve recently been finding amusement and distraction in the rather ingenious I Write Like… site. You can enter a sample of your own writing into the site’s analyser, and it’ll tell you which famous author your writing is comparable to. As amusing as it is, the results do seem rather random. Entering a chapter of fiction, I was told that I write like Tolstoy; entering a chapter of non-fiction, the result was H. P. Lovecraft. This left me wondering whether the site’s analysis was based on some (likely spurious) method of actual text comparison, or whether it was was simply arbitrary, in the manner of Jedi names or porn names.

I decided to run a little test. I cut-and-pasted the opening passages of Dan Brown’s latest tour de bollocks, The Lost Symbol (freely availabe here) into the site. The result?

I write like
Dan Brown

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

So far, so good. (Obviously Dan Brown would take this as evidence – nay, proof – of some conspiracy theory or other and use it to fashion an argument of the convergence of just about everything, but we can safely forget about him now.) Next I decided to try Tolstoy – specifically, the first chapter of War & Peace.

I write like
Leo Tolstoy

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Another success. Tolstoy’s an interesting case, of course, because the text I entered was in English, though the book was written in Russian (with approximately 2% of the text in French) and had thus undergone translation, the result arguably being as much the work of his translator as Tolstoy himself. We can speculate that the site may have based its comparisons on English language versions of books by the likes of Tolstoy, of course, so perhaps the translation is irrelevant. For comparison, I chose the opening chapter of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov as my next test subject.

I write like
Leo Tolstoy

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Maybe it just doesn’t have Dostoevsky in its database. The editions of War & Peace and The Brothers Karamazov weren’t translated by the same people, but they do date from around the same time, and Constance Garnett, who translated the version of The Brothers Karamazov used here, did also translate Tolstoy (having known him personally) so perhaps there is some similarity.

Next I decided to try something more modern, and written in English – Stephen King’s 1998 novel, Bag of Bones.

I write like
Stephen King

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

At this point, it seemed pretty fair to conclude that whatever method the analyser is using, it’s probably backed up by a database of most of the available texts for the authors concerned. I entered the first chapter of The Call of Cthulhu into it:

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

…and the first chapter of Ulysses.

I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Obviously, a database which identifies an author by his work is not really all that thrilling. I was still interested in the basis of the underlying analysis, such as it may be, and how it might be useful in other regards. Authorship of the Bible has long been disputed, so I entered the first book of Genesis:

I write like
Kurt Vonnegut

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Interesting. Not Moses, then? Again, the book has obviously been translated, and heavily re-styled in the process. Maybe Kurt Vonnegut had a hand in that, I don’t know. What about the Quran?

I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

That’s an English version, by the way. In Arabic:

I write like
Neil Gaiman

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Doesn’t surprise me. One of the usual suspects, really.

Next I decided to test some newspapers, taking an editorial from each of the following, to see whose writing they were most akin to:

  • The Guardian – James Fenimore Cooper
  • The Daily Telegraph – Arthur C. Clark
  • The Independent – David Fenimore Wallace
  • The Sun – James Joyce
  • The Daily Mail – H. P. Lovecraft

Since his death, H. P. Lovecraft has frequently been decried as a racist and a bigot, with his writing style often characterised as histrionic and alarmist. Seems fitting. Funnily enough, while I was on the Daily Mail site, I noticed the latest column from Richard Littlejohn. Entering Littlejohn’s column into the machine, I was rewarded with perhaps the most interesting result of all:

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

A fine tool, with many fine uses, I’m sure you’ll agree.