Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 5 June 2019

A Thought on Time Travel

I’m not the biggest SF buff in the World, and I’m not a scientist, but, like many of you, I’ve always found time travel absolutely fascinating.

Writers have been speculating about time travel for a long time. Rip van Winkle was written in 1819, two centuries ago, and dozens, maybe hundreds of novels, short stories, movies and tv shows have been written since, all based around the idea of time travel.

Scientists have speculated on the subject, too. Einstein’s theory of special relativity is a good starting point for some.

We all travel through time and space, constantly. We can’t help it. Our time travel has a ratio of 1:1, though. We travel through a period of time during that period of time, and we all experience that duration in a similar way. An hour is always an hour, a day a day, and a year a year. You can set your clock by it. Time travel only occurs when we can travel a year, a decade, a century or a millennium in, say, an hour.

I suspect we will always speculate about time travel, but here’s the thing… If time travel were ever to be possible, we’d all know about it already.

Two people cannot keep a secret. You’ve all had conversations with people who’ve asked, “Can you keep a secret?” My answer is always, “Well, I can, but you clearly can’t.” I also always tell people who divulge their secrets to me that if that secret ever goes public, I wasn’t the one who told. You can bet that if they’ve told me, I’m not the only one.

I am a repository of secrets for any number of people that I will never tell. If I wanted to tell a secret, I’d tell my own secret.

Yes… I have secrets too.

I might just be the exception that proves the rule.
Capricorn One on IMDB

There are conspiracy theorists out there who claim that the moon landings were a hoax. (BTW, I bloody love Capricorn 1… See it if you haven’t already). Anyway, the moon landings as hoax… It’s a ridiculous idea. Nasa estimated that it took 400,000 engineers, techs and scientists to land a man on the moon. If two people can’t keep a secret, what are the chances that almost half a million could all keep their mouths shut? And if you think that only, say, a dozen people knew the whole truth about the moon landings, that’s still an impossible number of people to keep a secret.

If two people can’t keep a secret, it seems highly unlikely that any time traveller that interacted in the world during any day in history could have gone entirely unnoticed. What human time traveller could resists interacting in the World and the lives of those he/she/they met.

This would be front page news, and it would have been front page news during any time there were newspapers.

Time travel is never going to happen. If it were ever to happen, we’d already know that it had happened.

I know there are theories about parallel universes, time slips… all sorts of things, but I’m a pragmatist.

Time travel will continue to happen in stories of all kinds, and I will continue to enjoy them, but I will never believe that time travel will ever be a reality.

Two people cannot keep a secret.

The only exception to this, in my most prosaic, pragmatic of minds, is if time travel works in one direction, and that direction is onward.

Who knows?

Tuesday 4 June 2019

How many reasons do I need to be a feminist?

Feminist is a dirty word, all over the world, just as socialist is a dirty word in the USA. Both are used as insults. Men can be socialists, so, bigots save their nastiest taunts for women; if we are feminists, they demonise us by calling us feminazis. Shame on them.

I’m both a socialist and a feminist, and you cannot insult me by calling me either. “Feminazi”, I will not tolerate.

The patriarchy, including some women, say that men and women are different. Yes, they are, and that’s one reason why I’m a feminist.

Men and women’s bodies are different, which is why, historically, more women have died or been critically injured in car accidents than have men. Until 2014, there was no such thing as a female crash dummy, and it took ten years to get the funding to develop one. Men and women are different; the patriarchy claims it, but does not recognise or account for the differences, except to keep women in the space defined for them by men.

Some women claim that they are not feminists because men and women are different. But that’s precisely why I am a feminist.

Did you know that almost no female mice are used in medical testing labs? Drugs are tested on male mice. Some claim that we do not need feminism, that it is somehow unnatural because men and women are different. If men and women are different, shouldn’t we test medicines on female mice in equal measure with male mice?

It is because I am a feminist that I applaud the introduction of female crash test dummies, seventy years after the introduction of the first crash test dummies, and it is because I am a feminist that I believe female test animals should be used in labs in equal numbers as male test animals.

Men and women are different, and I celebrate those differences.

Read more about Ruth Bader Ginsburg
As a feminist, I talk about equality with men. I know that I am not a man, and I do not want to be a man. I simply want to live in an equitable society where a person’s talents, capabilities, and character count for something. Men and women, all races and creeds, all sexualities and gender identities… All of us should have a voice and an equal chance to live well and fulfil our potential, whatever that may be.

The patriarchy claims that men and women are different; what they mean is that men are superior to women. If they believed that men and women were different, but equal, those differences would be recognised and celebrated within the establishment. Of course, they aren’t.

Feminism isn’t just for me, and it isn’t just for women. Feminism is about a better life for everybody.

Sometimes men forget that they all have mothers and grandmothers, and many have aunts, sisters, wives and daughters. If those men don’t want their female relatives to have an equal life experience with their own, that only suggests to me that they want women in their lives only in order to exert their patriarchal superiority. I don’t believe that’s what men want or need in their lives.

“A gender line… helps keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Friday 31 May 2019

Language and Specificity

Since writing a blog, regularly, I have always kept a file full of ideas to write about. I jot them down as they occur to me. Some mornings, I simply get up and write about whatever’s on my mind, and some mornings, I refer to that list.

It’s been over a year, closer to two, since I wrote a regular blog. This morning, I had a look at the list. It was pretty revealing. It was clear that I care deeply about particular things, and write about them often. After that, I was surprised to see how topical this blog can be. I had written down ideas that now feel like ancient history, and several of the notes I’d left myself were completely impenetrable to me today.

That Man Trump (TMT) is perennially topical, often for terrible reasons. I still find it hard to accept his presence on the planet, never mind in the Whitehouse.

Today’s blog is, however, about language, and the way that we use and abuse it.

I saw an advert the other day, for hair conditioner, which had “Double as much active ingredients.” This sort of silliness irritates me. Copy-writers used to be some of the cleverest of the commercial writers, producing witty, concise, and memorable slogans and strap-lines.

The husband and I occasionally write strap-lines as exercises, one of my favourites was an idea for a shampoo ad in which soldiers are doing an assault course, in the rain. You know the sort of thing, scramble nets, climbing walls, cammo, mud, exertion. In our heads, the ad ended in the showers with the shampoo bottle and the strap-line “Fructis for a game of soldiers!”

I digress. The point is that I have no problem with an evolving language. Language should evolve if we are to continue to express ourselves in a changing world. And, I’m a huge fan of catchphrases and slang that find their way into our language through their users.

I also have no problem with people slipping up in spoken language. We all have our vocal patterns and foibles. I have a neurological condition called Dystonia, which affects my ability to speak, so the shit that comes out of my mouth is often clumsy or ill-formed, but, if I’m talking, I can easily backtrack or restate. Besides, context is everything in conversation, and we all take shortcuts and often misspeak.

My problem is with the written language and with specificity.

TMT is a prime example of someone who makes little sense, while apparently whipping his audience into a frenzy. Stephen Miller is director of speechwriting at the Whitehouse. I do not know how TMT’s speeches are written, or how tightly he sticks to his scripts… I suspect his speechwriters rely heavily on key words, and that TMT goes off piste a good deal.

I am not a follower of TMT’s Twitter account. I’m rather afraid that reading his outpourings would induce a mental decline in me, and, possibly, lead to an attack of apoplexy, and I can do without that.

I did see a recent tweet, posted to TMT’s account, and widely repeated.

He, or someone on his staff wrote:

"And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me
to get elected."

You can bet your life I wasn't going to put a picture
of TMT on my blog.
There are times when the truth is expressed inadvertently. I do not think TMT wrote what he intended. If TMT had the sort of written language skills that a man in his position ought to have, he would not have written or OKed this tweet.

Specificity in the written language is important. We should all know how to express ourselves precisely. Room for interpretation should not be part of a political statement. Some readers will simply not understand what they are reading, some will not be critical. But, if there is genuine misunderstanding on the part of the reader, isn’t that the responsibility of the writer?

I do not believe for a moment that TMT intended to divulge the fact that Russia helped him to get elected. But, that was what he said. TMT’s claim only excludes his collusion with Russia in helping to get him elected. It blatantly affirms that Russia did help to get him elected.

The things that we know to be true often come out in our expressions, verbal or written, whether we want them to or not. Specificity in the written language can be critical. In most cases it’s critical that the reader is not misled. In this case it was a critical error on TMT’s part that exposes us all to facts that he would never have deliberately made public.

I guess this is a case of TMT being hoist with his own petard. Sadly, I suspect there will be no consequences.

Thursday 30 May 2019

Thank you Ms Portman

I’m willing to bet that Natalie Portman didn’t date Moby.

If I wasn’t prepared to believe her over him, which I was, there’s evidence from Moby himself that this relationship wasn’t just unlikely, it was very probably a figment of his imagination. It turned out to be a very useful figment of his imagination.

Moby is selling his biography. He named Ms Portman as a romantic connection. She denied the connection. She would have been eighteen at the time, and fourteen years younger than her alleged paramour.

Moby finally gave a form of apology to Ms Portman concerning the book. He claims that he should have informed her that he was including her in his biography. It’s telling that no one on the editorial or publishing team for the book did the fact-checking that would, very probably, have excluded Portman as a former partner of the musician. Moby does not apologise for lying about their alleged relationship status.

In his apology, Moby talked more about his biography than about the debacle with Portman, giving it’s title no fewer than three times in the couple of hundred word statement. He knew that a great many people would read it. In advertising, there’s a theory about persuasion: The first ad is a read, the second a reminder, and on the third, people will buy. I can’t help thinking this non-apology was probably written by a publicist.

At best, the alleged relationship might have been the fantasy of a thirty-something man thinking that a beautiful teenage woman might be attracted to him. At worst, this was a calculated ploy to sell his biography. If Portman said nothing about her inclusion in the book, Moby’s reputation could only be enhanced by claiming this romance. Anything Portman did choose to say would only add free publicity to Moby’s cause to sell his book.

It was a win-win situation for Moby, based on a couple of snaps of him and Portman together, in public.

Look closely at the two pictures, and it’s not hard to see that this is a young woman wearing the fixed grin of someone out of her depth, wary, and too polite to extract herself from the situation. What young woman hasn’t been in her shoes?

For generations, girls and young women have learned that often the only way to remain safe is to go along with situations involving men. I cannot recall the number of times men touched me without my consent, and I laughed off the contact, ignored it, or found some excuse to get out of reach, while smiling. I remember countless occasions when men of even minimal power thought that they could try it on, touch or speak inappropriately to me. It was part of my normal day-to-day interaction with men, generally in public arenas, in bars, on the tube, at work… wherever.
Natalie Portman in Harpers Bazaar:

If Ms Portman had dated Moby, there would be no reason for her to deny it two decades later. She might have laughed it off or minimised the romance. Nobody would care. She didn’t do that. She stated quite clearly that this amounted to a couple of creepy advances from a much older man with moderate power.

What reason does anyone have not to believe her?

It helps all of us when a powerful woman comments on these issues. It gives me hope that more of us will stop laughing off men’s inappropriate behaviour, and learn to speak up.

Wednesday 29 May 2019

Sleeplessness is a Desert

I’m back.
Author photo by James K Barnett

Yes, it’s been a while, but there has also been a lot of stuff, and some things.

In the past four years, I’ve had three diagnoses of chronic conditions. I’m getting treatment, but one chronic problem can be tiring, so you can imagine what my energy levels have been like carrying three of them.

Hopefully, this is the beginning of a better phase for me. Trust me when I tell you that I don’t expect my comments section to be full of sympathetic messages. I know that if I state my pain, many of you will feel it. Take it as read.

So, that takes care of the stuff. The things are political.

I used to talk about politics quite a lot on this blog. I tend to be a political person. The past few years have been pretty traumatic when it comes to politics, both here in the UK and globally. We’ve watched things unfold that we were once happy to consign to satire. I have quietly raged over much of it for the past few years, and I’m exhausted.

The bottom line is that I want us all to live in an equitable society, where no one is persecuted for the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation, or for their gender, of course. I want to live in an equitable society where no child goes hungry, uneducated or without medical care. the money is there, but no one wants to use it for good.

There have been highs points, politically. Black Lives Matter and MeToo are causes for good. And, not for nothing, Julian Richer of Richer Sounds just handed his company over to his employees, and retired. Bravo Julian for understanding that with great power comes great responsibility.

Today, what I really want to talk about is sleep.

I was reading the papers this morning, and there was an interview with journalist, broadcaster and novelist Tom Bradby. He was medically signed off work for three months for insomnia. He claimed that his sleeplessness was more frightening than being shot, and he should know, because in 1999 he took a flare in the leg in Jakarta when he was covering the riots. His insomnia led to a nine day stay at the Priory and three months sitting in his garden, and he recovered. I’m thrilled for him. I can totally sympathise.

I’ve never slept well, and I’ve had long periods of time when I have got very little decent sleep. I still count myself extremely fortunate on those nights when I manage to get five hours of sleep. 

Sleeplessness is horrible; why else would sleep deprivation be used as a form of torture.

I don’t sleep, and I’m sure it often shows. I remember a week in Canada when I didn’t sleep for more than an hour or two in any twenty-four hour period. I signed books, sat on panels, gave talks, and generally continued to function. It became a game in the group to guess how many hours of sleep I’d had the night before.

I’m very happy that Tom Bradby got the help that he needed. I wonder how many sleep-deprived people have the resources to get good psychiatric care and take three months off work. I imagine they are few and far between.

The problem is that many of us are sleep-deprived, including every mother of a baby or small children. Many of those new mothers have limited maternity leave on limited pay, and return to work within weeks or months of the birth of their child, and long before they are getting anything like as much sleep as we are told we need. Separation anxiety and sleeplessness are prevalent among these amazing women, and yet they forge ahead, holding down full-time jobs and full-time home lives.

Sleep deprivation is real, and, again, I’m glad that Tom Bradby got the help that he needed. Not for nothing, Tomb Bradby is married and has three children with his wife, Claudia Bradby, who is a jewellery designer. I wonder how sleep deprived she might have been since the births of her children.