Random resumption

I know I have written nothing here for the last month. I don’t think that’s good. It started off as a consequence of Guardian blogging, where I felt that I had to turn everything that occurred to me into a daily Guardian blog; then there was a lot of other work in the last fortnight, when I have been making a radio programme and writing a longish magazine story, both on science subjects. But I need something light-hearted and longer than twitter to write silly notes in.

So here are some, mainly Scandinavian, observations, for the last week:

  • The suburbs of Gothenburg, where I used to live, have a horrible problem with the drug known in England as “GBH” and there as “gobbe”. Six people have died of overdoses in the last year; the ambulances won’t go out without police help because the overdosers go from coma to extreme violence without warning; a 14-year-old girl was gang-raped on the drug in Nödinge, where I used to live. No one was convicted because she couldn’t remember what exactly had happened. (from a copy of DN, read on the plane to Copenhagen)
  • The metro in Copenhagen is absolute bliss. Clean, quick, quiet and you can sit at the front and watch the brown concrete dragon intestine writhe slowly as you rush through it. Then, when it emerges, the rain obscures everything, since there are no winsdscreen wipers, and suddenly it is borne in on you what being driverless actually means.
  • The FT is full of thoughtful pieces suggesting that we are turning into an emerging market crisis: except of course that the UK is not so much emerging as disappearing
  • The only redeeming or even remotely human things in Heathrow terminal 3 are the Chez Gerard in the furthest corner from the entrance and the Borders where the assistant knew who Paul Auster’s wife was, when asked by another customer. Everything else is broken, smelly, or both.
  • London City airport would be a very nice place if planes actually took off and landed there but if it has been snowing they don’t.
  • My column in the Guardian about why public libraries should subscribe to jstor, pubmed, and so on, drew a number of really thoughtful letters, one of which says that UCL is being charged £6m a year for its electronic journal subscriptions.
  • Can it really be true that Richard Dawkins charges £4,000 a pop to talk to schools? I was told this with absolute confidence by an Oxford academic who, admittedly, dislikes him.
  • The first hardback printing of Fishing in Utopia is entirely sold out.
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8 Responses to Random resumption

  1. quinn says:

    Dawkins: £4,000 seems low to me. Admittedly, it’s good to do the occasional freebie.

    Am I being American again?

  2. acb says:

    It seems to me that the professor of the public understanding of science should be out there enlarging the understanding for free.

  3. Stephen says:

    watch the brown concrete dragon intestine *write* slowly

    Was that Freudian or more interesting?

    And Dawkins is (praise the …errrm…) the *former* professor. Perhaps, now he’s retired, he’s free to make his mint.

  4. H. E. Baber says:

    Jstor–ha! I’m an open-access/open-source activist. But no one is a prophet in his own country and I preach in Poland: http://www.e-mentor.edu.pl/artykul_v2.php?numer=28&id=622 (as well as in my professional society)

    This cost of signing on to JStor, and other online databases, is negligible compared to the cost of subscribing to hardcopy journals, cataloguing and physically maintaining them. The alternative for public libraries is simply NOT having access to this stuff–buying into a system in which only academics like me, who get JStor and other databases through their university libraries, have access to serious work and public libraries just lend out romance novels and mind-rot for the proles.

    This is a big, big deal–and I’m gonna find your Guardian article on public libraries. JStor is a start but not good enough since there’s a 3-5 year moving wall. The public should have access to current stuff and I’m doing my best to make that happen. THIS IS IMPORTANT!

  5. Mrs Tilton says:

    That is all very well, but where is my Franco post?

    (Unless you published it in hard copy under the pseudonym “Paul Preston”, in which case thanks, brilliant stuff, with one of the most beautiful and optimistic final paragraphs I have ever read.)

    As for Dawkins, I think it entirely possible he has already made his modest mint. That said, I see nothing wrong with him asking schools for 4K as a sort of filter mechanism rather than as a means of personal enrichment. He can’t be everywhere, and if one could have him speak for free, it’s possible that requests would exceed the amount of time he is willing to spend giving speeches, or even the amount of time in the year. A fee of 4K (which is significant but not outlandish; many other public figures charge an order of magnitude more) would ensure that only schools that place real value on the event would engage him.

    Of course, I would think more highly of him if he later returned the fee to the school in the form of an anonymous donation to its science programme.

    Congrats on selling out the Sweden book. I enjoyed it greatly, and look forward to its release in graphic novel format with art by Charles Burns.

  6. g says:

    Mrs T., if he did it anonymously then you wouldn’t think more highly of him because you wouldn’t know.

  7. ArmchairStrategist says:

    Do not know if you have seen this column before.

    Columnist Lars Berge of the “Svenska Dagbladet” newspaper bashes the britons romatic view on snow:


  8. acb says:

    Armchari strategist — that was great: thanks. I wish we had published an English version in the paper.

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