The worst of times, the best
The Beethoven piano sonatas, pianist Louis Kentner once said, should be presented to the first Martian visitor to our planet as proof of what human civilization is capable of. Here, friend, we should say to the little green men. This is the best of us.

And I wondered what else we could give these little green women to show off. They will have been watching us for a while, cautiously, will have seen us destroying the environment of our world, seen us going to war, seen us hating, torturing, neglecting, damaging our fellow human beings. Seen us blindly following imaginary gods while rejecting the work of our best and brightest scientists.

So this better be good (and portable, can’t give them Chartres cathedral, or a Rolls Royce, or Paleolithic cave art, or Hidcote Garden):

A Beethoven Sonata
A Puccini opera
A Shakespeare play
A Jane Austin novel
A Charles Dickens novel
The Magna Carta
The American Declaration of Independence
The Australian electoral commission rules
The Gettysburg address
Newton’s Principia
Darwin’s Origin of Species
Einstein’s General relativity
A Rembrandt painting
A Van Gogh painting
A Stradivarius violin
A Faberge egg
A Tiffany Lampshade
A ‘Peace’ rose
A Cocker Spaniel
A Sebright bantam
A Bach concerto
An illuminated manuscript
A Macintosh computer
A poem by Keats
A song by the Beatles
Venus de Milo
Michelangelo’s David
Rodin’s Burghers
Silent Spring
Walden Pond
Pepys Diary
Ann Frank’s Diary
A Mozart Symphony
A Michael Leunig cartoon
A Molly Ivins column
A Christopher Cooper column
A Phillip Adams column
A Meissen porcelain figure
A Bolshoi Swan Lake

There, that’s my lot. What do you think would make the Little Green Men (and Women) want to have dinner with us rather than exterminating us? We talk every day about what is the worst of us. What is the best of us?

Modesty prevents me including The Watermelon Blog in the list. But green on the outside red on the inside would certainly make those green persons feel right at home. Just saying.

Copyright on values
You will all have seen it – whenever an atheist points out that in fact there is absolutely no evidence of any kind that a god or gods exist the believers (moderate and fundamentalist) respond that you need religion to have morals. This kind of response I saw formalized in a recent article by the former Bishop of Oxford. While pretending to be broadminded he takes it two steps further. Atheists may think they have morals but – “As human beings we can recognise and respond to particular moral insights. But a religious believer claims to understand these as part of a much larger whole in which they have a vital place”, and uses an analogy of appreciating a piece of music without understanding that the piece is part of a symphony “and can be even more appreciated when heard as part of the whole in which it has a crucial place”. I have trouble writing down these nonsensical arguments which are presented as if they have some factual basis, but stay with me, it gets worse. Not only can atheists not understand that their piddling little bits of morality should be part of a religious whole, but even those piddling bits are stolen from others – “many people who have strong moral commitments without any religious foundation were shaped by parents or grandparents for whom morality and religion were fundamentally bound up” and “many of those in the forefront of progressive political change, who have abandoned religion, have been driven by a humanism that has been essentially built up by our Christian heritage”. The good bishop refers to this proposition as “living on moral capital”. That is, no atheist can have morality, they are simply, whether they know it or not, using the morality of the religious (and without acknowledgment – must be a copyright issue here, surely!). Boy, and they accuse atheists of arrogance!

Thing is these kind of comments come from representatives of groups that together have some combination of the following moral values – misogyny, telling expedient lies, homophobia, hatred of all religious groups except their own, anti-immigrant, pro-war, anti-science, pro-capitalism, a love of slaughtering animals, burning widows, executing rape victims, executing juveniles, jailing drug users, a hatred of black people, support for forest clearing, support for severe child punishment, torture, pro-military, anti-intellectual, pro-censorship, anti-universal health care, suicide bombing, acceptance of collateral bombing deaths, nuclear war, brain washing of children, blaming the poor for their circumstances, a belief in doing unto others before they do unto you, a belief that life after death is preferable to life before death. I may have missed some.

My values are the opposite of all that. I treat people equally, I would never set out to physically harm another human being, or an animal. I believe in conserving forest not destroying it, am against war, for social justice, for intellectual curiosity and freedom of speech, for telling the truth, for empathizing with others. I love my family, my friends, animals, my world. I love life in fact, not death. Values derived from my sense of humanity, not from some imaginary edicts emerging from the sky.

So I don’t share many values with the Pope, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Ayatolla Khomeini, Pat Robertson, Augusto Pincochet, Vladimir Putin, Tony Blair, Mitt Romney, Pervez Musharraf, Rudy Guiliani, Moqtada al Sadri, Jerry Falwell, Osama bin Laden, Ian Paisley, Ehud Olmert, Slobodan Milosevic – good religious men all. Think I should?

Must try harder
The rulers of Burma, and Zimbabwe, have recently made sure, if there was a shred of doubt remaining, that they don’t run civilized countries. And they are not alone of course, just think of _ and of course _ . Got me to thinking more generally – how do you recognize a civilized country? Most Australians, perhaps all, believe that they are part of a civilised society. But then people in most countries, perhaps all, believe the same thing (a bit like thinking that Australia is the greatest country in the world, when all the other countries think they are), so that doesn’t get us very far does it. Can we think of an objective test? Migrants to the country now have to sit an exam testing their knowledge of Donald Bradman before they are allowed to become citizens of THIS greatest country in the world. How about we scrap the old United Nations and create a new one from scratch. But this time countries have to sit a test to decide whether they are civilised enough to join with others in looking after the good of the planet in a civilised kind of way.

So, imagine if you can, the General Assembly Hall at the United Nations. You are there representing Australia, and all around you are the anxious representatives of other countries, nervously lining up pencils, putting little clocks in place, playing with the exam paper turned face down on the desk, trying to surreptitiously lift a corner to get a look at the questions. And then the second hand reaches the top, and the time is 9 am, and the Secretary-General says “You may start”. Your eyes flick over the page quickly, looking for an easy question to get you going, but there aren’t any easy questions, and, after chewing your pencil, you start with question one.

The Civilisation Exam
Answer all questions
Four marks for each question to which you can answer “True”; partial marks may be awarded.
Pass mark is 50.

1. The military-industrial complex plays no role in the government of your country.
2. Religion plays a very small role in society in your country; neither forbidden nor compulsory.
3. Scientists, teachers, nurses, artists, are all valued more than sports people and celebrities in your country.
4. Speech is free and the media varied with many different owners in your country.
5. There are few if any guns owned by people in your country.
6. The environment of your country is cared for as the highest priority.
7. The government of your country does not execute its people.
8. Women have full social and economic equality with men in your country.
9. Minorities, whether ethnic, linguistic, cultural or religious, are not persecuted in your country.
10. Your country does not consider sexuality a criterion for human rights.
11. Education of children is universal, free and secular in your country.
12. Other species of animals are respected, valued and protected by the people of your country.
13. Everyone secretly votes in your country, and every vote is openly counted independent of government.
14. Regulation protects people from giant corporations operating in your country.
15. Your armies do not invade other countries and war isn’t glorified in your country.
16. Your country does not consider wealth a criterion for political success, or social worth.
17. Art and heritage are valued in your country and literature, film and television increase in quality over time.
18. In your country natural disasters bring massive state support for the hurt and homeless and helpless.
19. The old, the sick, the disabled, are cared for by your country, not profited from.
20. The government of your country tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.
21. Public enterprise is as valued as private enterprise in your country.
22. The courts and police are independent of your country’s politicians.
23. Trade unions flourish in your country.
24. Your country aims to make the balance between life at work and life at home a healthy one.
25. Aspirations are achievable by all your country’s people.

You finish and look around. The hall is full of people puzzling over some of the answers. Guns? Girls? Gays? God? We lose points for those? Who knew? Sport and war are good, aren’t they? What are trade unions? Some representatives left early after reading the paper and attempting no answers.

You decide to add up the points for Australia. Fifty should be easy, we’re a civilised country.

But you can’t make it, even with some fudging, add up to more than 45 points. Is anyone going to pass this exam you wonder, surely they will have to drop the pass mark.

You walk disconsolately to the front of the hall, and hand your paper in to the Secretary-General. And you just know that when you get it back you will have a fail mark, and a comment from the examiner “Must try harder”.

Dangerous ideas
My lovely friend Pamela (of Frogblog fame) brought this item from Illinois to my attention:

“Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) interrupted atheist activist Rob Sherman during his testimony Wednesday afternoon before the House State Government Administration Committee in Springfield and told him, “What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous . . . it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!” “This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God,” Davis said. “Get out of that seat . . . You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.””

Eric Zorn who wrote about this in the Chicago Tribune noted wryly “Apparently it’s still open season on some views of God”. He also noted that apart from on his blog “Davis’ repellent, un-American outburst received no attention whatsoever””.

Now this is all fine, and I had the reaction that Eric had and that Pam knew I would have to the item (and to another one about Monsanto’s activities, but that is another story), yet another example of the intolerance of the religious believer. But on second reading the thing that jumped out at me was the phrase “it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists”. It didn’t take long before I knew why this seemed so familiar. It is the attitude of the Saudi Arabian authorities to Christian converts and missionaries – kill them, jail them. It is the attitude of the North Korean or Pol Pot governments to any dissent from the party line. It is the attitude of Catholic authorities towards any heresy. The attitude of Hitler towards communists. The attitude of Stalin towards private entrepeneurs. The attitude of the French revolutionary government towards any deviation. The attitude of Joe McCarthy on HUAC. The attitude of creationists to evolution (that dangerous idea).

And it is the current attitude of the US government towards Cuba and Venezuela and Nicaragua. In all cases the approach by political, economic and religious fundamentalists is not simply to claim that their way is the best. Not simply to think that people will choose their way because of its demonstrated superiority. Not simply to engage in a free market place of ideas. Not simply to debate, to allow free discussion which evolves towards either a consensus or a diversity. No, the opposing view must be prevented from existing, indeed it must never have existed, must be declared an un-idea, expunged from history books, photoshopped out of photos. Children prevented from learning that there are alternative religions, and indeed an alternative non-religion. The public must not be allowed to know that there are alternative economic philosophies to unregulated capitalism.

A strange view of democracy to be held by a Democrat.

But not a strange view to be held by someone so uncertain of the validity of her own beliefs that she does not want to know, does not want it to be known, that any other belief is even possible.

Love to have a beer with …

Phillip Jose Farmer died recently. His death reminded me again of that wonderful moment of first dipping my toe into the Riverworld river, and finding, from the first page, that “To their scattered bodies go” was one of those books that makes you want to hug yourself with delight. Makes you want to slow your reading pace as the number of remaining pages dwindles down to a precious few, reluctant to leave this imaginative world; makes you rush to the bookshop, looking for the second in the series. The idea of meeting up again with extraordinary, but dead, characters in another world is so good that I am surprised someone hasn’t started a religion based on the idea of an imaginary afterlife (oh, they did?).

Farmer died not longer after that extraordinary politician Barack Obama took over the White House from George Bush. Mr Bush was, incredibly, more or less elected twice to the White House, at least partly, it seemed, on the basis that he was the kind of chap you would want to have a beer with. So Obama’s election was accompanied by some discussion as to whether the beer test still applied. Now I could never understand Bush passing the beer test, he struck me as the kind of guy I would leave a party to avoid having a beer anywhere near. Obama? Well, maybe, but the conjunction of beer and Farmer got me thinking about parties in general. And since my next birthday marks yet another one of those milestones towards old age that seem to come increasingly fast like global warming tipping points on the way to Earth disaster, it occurred to me to make it a good’un, the ultimate birthday party, and I need to start planning early.

So like Phillip I am bringing back some scattered bodies from the past. With a few billion to choose from I need to reduce the field a little, so I have established some criteria (though there are, probably, exceptions to the rules, which the cleverest among you may spot). Two from each of the last 5 centuries and four pre-1500, men and women equally, English speaking, dead. Have tried to avoid fanatics, politicians, blowhards, one trick ponies, monarchs, nutters, warmongers, people who laugh at their own jokes, raconteurs, people who marvel at their own cleverness, religion. Very difficult to include women from before the 18th century because they are almost invisible in the histories and culture (“Anon was often a woman” as Virginia Woolf said). I have shown a preference for intelligence, extraordinary achievement, wit, curiosity, breadth of interest, and people who achieved change for their society, their sex, their country, or even their planet, and have included both of Snow’s two cultures. But the list also reveals an inordinate fondness for writers, returning a compliment, since they have so often left their calling cards with me. The final result is confirmation of the old saying that lists make for odd dinner partners. And as one of my guests said:

“My idea of good company, Mr Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”“You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company, that is the best. Good company requires only birth, education and manners, and with regard to education it is not very nice….”

So, I have aimed not merely for good but for the best company, to float down the river with me on a braw bricht nicht. The room, on a riverboat queen, is prepared, inspired by CP Snow’s description ….. “The wall lights in the hall were turned off for the feast, and the tables were lit by candles. The candles shone on silver salts, candlesticks, great ornamental tankards, and on gold cups and plates, all arranged down the middle of tables. Silver and gold shone in the flickering light; as one looked above the candlesticks, the linen fold was half in darkness and the roof was lost.”

And here they are:

20th Century
Albert Einstein, Virginia Woolf,
19th Century
Jane Austen, Charles Darwin
18th Century
Thomas Jefferson, Mary Montagu
17th Century
Nell Gwynn, Samuel Pepys
16th Century
William Shakespeare, Elizabeth I
Pre 1500
Eleanor of Aquitaine, Simon de Montfort, Geoffrey Chaucer, Lady Godiva
And of course you would need reserves, in case Shakespeare was involved in a pub brawl, Eleanor playing dungeons and dragons, Darwin was up before the Beak, Nell selling oranges, or Einstein, scribbling equations, lost track of time. And a truly formidable list they are, a bit like Manchester United’s reserves. I think, on reflection, that while the first 14 are there for dinner, the other 24 will come later for after dinner drinks. What a party!

20th Century
George Orwell, Nellie Melba, Richard Feynman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Audrey Hepburn, John Curtin
19th Century
Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Mark Twain, Elizabeth Garrett, John Keats, Ada Lovelace
18th Century
Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine, Arthur Phillip, Sarah Churchill, Arthur Young, Fanny Burney
17th Century
Aphra Behn, John Lilburne
So see the dinner guests come up the gangplank, arrive at the door of the dining room, and then enter. Some imperiously, some confidently, some shyly. All will be equal across the table. They are here not because of their titles or positions or wealth, but for their wits and intellect, and achievement, and character. Some will find being addressed familiarly a shock at first, but soon the exchange of ideas, and experiences, and the sheer thrill of making contact with minds from across the centuries will sweep them all up. Glasses will clink more often, voices become a little louder, and then, dinner over, the rest of the crowd enters and it’s on for young and old. I can’t see Jane Austen being the life and soul of the party, but as the guests moved around the room after dinner, swapping table partners, you could quickly slip in next to her and prompt some humorous observations on Montfort’s table manners, Elizabeth’s bossiness, Darwin’s shyness, Virginia’s clothes. There may be some on the list who harangue rather than converse, but never mind, I am a good listener. And there will probably be some, met in the flesh instead of the printed page, who are, like George Bush, people I would not want to spend an evening with. As with the living, perceptions are not necessarily the same as reality. And I will be just a tad nervous, wondering if I can keep my end up in conversation even after more than a few beers and some good red wine. But, my goodness, won’t it be fun! Keep rolling, Proud Mary.

If your idea of a good dinner party involves Maggie Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, John Howard and Genghis Khan, I think I’d rather not know. But if you have suggestions from the billions of other people, once quick and now dead, that I have unaccountably overlooked for my first 14, or my second 24, let me hear from you.

And I’d bet you would all like to be a fly on the wall at my birthday party. Toot toot.

Dont need another hero
I don’t go in for heroes much, but here is a list of 19 people, born before 1900, who could make up such a list if I did have heroes. As usual, there are probably some I have missed who can be added later. If there are names here you don’t know then check them out, you will have some nice surprises.

Jane Austin
Charlotte Bronte
Charles Darwin
Charles Dickens
Albert Einstein
George Eliot
Elizabeth 1
Galileo Galilei
Elizabeth Garrett
Johannes Kepler
John Lilburne
Abraham Lincoln
Simon de Montfort
George Orwell
Thomas Paine
Emily Pankhurst
Samuel Pepys
Arthur Phillip
Mary Wollstonecraft

Eternal truths
I have taken to re-reading many of my old books, something I used to laugh at my grandmother for. Sometimes they are old favourites read a number of times, sometimes classics that I haven’t picked up in 40 years. Times change, culture changes, society changes, technology changes (and the price of books changes, I’m currently on Thomas Mann’s “Magic Mountain”, which as a paperback classic cost just $1.80 in 1968!), but the books stay the same. I used to hope some books would change, and I have re-read “From Here to Eternity” a few times, hoping the story would end differently for once, but, just like the story of Robert Kennedy in 1968, it never does.

And, most important of all the changes, the Reader is different each time. Just as you can never step in the same stream twice, so you can never read the same book twice. The act of reading takes the author’s words and absorbs them in a way that reflects the reader’s age, and experience. When I was a child I understood as a child and so on. Reading, as a teenager, about war, about having children, and growing old, and experiencing the death of others, was something I could (I thought) grasp hypothetically. Reading such books now, from my advanced old age, is quite different. And the world has had different experiences. Reading George Orwell, say, in the 1960s, is much different to reading him now, when his works are not cautionary tales, but have been used as manuals by right wing governments around the world.

Not just books, we see the actual world differently as we grow and mature. George Bernard Shaw said “If you are not a red revolutionist at 20, you will be at 50 a most impossible fossil’. David Horton said “A man who is not left wing as a youth is hard in the heart. One who is not a conservationist when older isn’t paying attention”. Politicians often rely on people not maturing, not gaining in experience and understanding, when they run campaigns based on fear of change. We can learn to read their words with different eyes. We, and the world, know more about the reality of modern war than we did when reading James Jones or Homage to Catalonia.

And re-reading “Magic Mountain” 40 years on? Well, a number of things jumped out. When it was originally written in the 1920s TB was a death sentence. When I first read it in the age of antibiotics, this was hard to understand. Now incurable TB is back. When it was written the snow and ice of the Swiss Alps, and their glaciers, seemed just a fact of life, eternal as the changing seasons Mann describes so well. Now all is changing as the ice and snow melt. And the speech about how science should defer to religious faith seemed quaint in the time of the rational 1960s, now it seems prophetic.

And finally, as a 23 year old I took it for granted that this was a great book written by a great author – you tend to trust what people (the Nobel Prize committee, say) tell you at 23. Now I think it needed some savage work by an editor – not a very good book at all, really. But he can write, and his larger theme, of the general public closing their eyes, sleepwalking in an artificial, sick world towards the disaster of the First World War, rings true today, as we head for a different disaster.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

A discovery
The Old Astronomer to His Pupil
Sarah Williams

Reach me down my Tycho Brahe, I would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
Lacking only certain data for your adding, as is meet,
And remember men will scorn it, ’tis original and true,
And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learned the worth of scorn,
You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn,
What for us are all distractions of men’s fellowship and smiles;
What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious smiles!

You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant’s fate.
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

What, my boy, you are not weeping? You should save your eyes for sight;
You will need them, mine observer, yet for many another night.
I leave none but you, my pupil, unto whom my plans are known.
You “have none but me,” you murmur, and I “leave you quite alone”?

Well then, kiss me, — since my mother left her blessing on my brow,
There has been a something wanting in my nature until now;
I can dimly comprehend it, — that I might have been more kind,
Might have cherished you more wisely, as the one I leave behind.

I “have never failed in kindness”? No, we lived too high for strife, –
Calmest coldness was the error which has crept into our life;
But your spirit is untainted, I can dedicate you still
To the service of our science: you will further it? you will!

There are certain calculations I should like to make with you,
To be sure that your deductions will be logical and true;
And remember, “Patience, Patience,” is the watchword of a sage,
Not to-day nor yet to-morrow can complete a perfect age.

I have sworn, like Tycho Brahe, that a greater man may reap;
But if none should do my reaping, ’twill disturb me in my sleep.
So be careful and be faithful, though, like me, you leave no name;
See, my boy, that nothing turn you to the mere pursuit of fame.

I must say Good-bye, my pupil, for I cannot longer speak;
Draw the curtain back for Venus, ere my vision grows too weak:
It is strange the pearly planet should look red as fiery Mars, –
God will mercifully guide me on my way amongst the stars.

So the question is, why did no one bring this masterpiece to my attention in the last 150 years or so? I especially like ‘I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night’, and the thought ‘And remember men will scorn it, ’tis original and true’ brought a wry smile of recognition. It is a poem which could be entitled ‘The Old Biologist’ with the substitution of a few names and words here and there – ‘Reach me down my Charlie Darwin, I would know him when we meet’.

I know nothing of Sarah Williams other than her nationality (American) and her death so young (1837-1868), but ahhh, what a pleasure it brought me, on yet another drought-ridden day, to discover a whole new poem.

Coral Island to Treasure Island
Very hard to remember and list the books from your middle to later childhood. These are twenty that were significant to me one way or another between the ages of, say, 5 and 15. It may say something about the child as the father of the man or it may not. It is probably a list not untypical of someone who was a teenager in the late 1950s in Australia (or England – these were the days when most Australian culture was English). And finally it is a list which in my case at least quickly began to blend into adult reading of, for example, Dickens. A reading life is a continuum, not easily packaged into the categories of publisher or bookshop. But anyway, here goes (noting that some authors could be represented by many books):

RM Ballantyne Coral Island
Herbert Birrell The Old Oak Paddock
Enid Blyton The Famous Five
Anthony Buckeridge Jennings goes to school
Frances Hodgson Burnett The Secret Garden
Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland
Richmal Crompton Just William
RH Dana Two years before the mast
Thomas Hughes Tom Brown’s Schooldays
Richard Jefferies Bevis
WE Johns Biggles goes to school
WE Johns Biggles of the camel squadron
Charles Kingsley The water babies
AA Milne Winnie the Pooh
Captain Marryat Children of the New Forest
Captain Marryat Masterman Ready
LM Montgomery Anne of Green Gables
Baroness Orczy The Scarlet Pimpernel
Anna Sewell Black Beauty
RL Stevenson Treasure Island

25 poems
Poems of significance to me – a short list. Nothing terribly esoteric or intellectual (and most people my age would have a similar list I guess), but poems, like books and popular songs, and cups of coffee, measure out your life as you look backwards from the vantage point of increasing decrepitude.

Campbell Ariel
Campbell Words with a Black Orpington
Donne The relic
Eliot The Waste Land
Frost The road not taken
Gray Elegy in a country churchyard
Hopkins The Windhover
Hopkins Pied beauty
Keats When I have fears that I may cease to be
Keats To Autumn
Keats In a drear-nighted December
Marvell To his coy mistress
Owen Anthem for doomed youth
Owen Miners
Sassoon The General
Slessor Beach burial
Thomas Fern Hill
Thomas Do not go gentle unto that good night
Whitman Song of myself
Whitman Beginning my studies
Wordsworth The world is too much with us
Wordsworth Composed upon Westminster Bridge
Wright Request to a year
Yeats Sailing to Byzantium
Yeats The second coming

150 great popular songs from my rock and pop collection
This is aimed at driving mad John Howard, Peter Costello, Nick Minchin, Eric Abetz, Christopher Pyne, Tony Abbott and all the other members of this government (and former members like John Anderson) who wish that the 1960s had never happened. In fact not just wish but are doing everything they can to delete all the social and cultural and environmental advances of the 1960s and return Australia to the state of blissful ignorance it once enjoyed in the 1950s. This is clearly one of the major , if not THE major, beliefs motivating government actions. While in general I think that no good popular music was written after 1969 (and no good classical music after 1869), and so this list contains enough 1960s music to drive John Howard mad, I am not so ideologically driven as not to include great music from the 1970s, 1980s, and even later. This is just a list from the music I actually have, and there are probably as many again great songs that I don’t have that could be included. But hey, it’s a start. I have also limited myself severely on The Beatles, who could comprise a list of 150 just by themselves. See how many we have in common!

A little bit more Covington, Julie
A world without love Peter & Gordon
All day and all of the night The Kinks
American pie McLean, Don
As Tears Go By The Rolling Stones
Bad Moon Rising Fogerty, John
Bette Davis Eyes Carnes, Kim
Bread and butter The Newbeats
Brothers In Arms Dire Straits
Brown Eyed Girl The Black Sorrows
California dreaming The Mamas and the Papas
Can’t help falling in love Presley, Elvis
Catch the wind Donovan
Come back again Daddy Cool
Come said the boy Mondo Rock
Creeque Alley The Mamas and the Papas
Cry Me a River Connick, Jr., Harry
Dancing in the dark Covington, Julie
Dancing in the street Reeves, Martha (Vandellas)
Delta dawn Reddy, Helen
Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind The Lovin’ Spoonful
Dizzy Roe, Tommy
Do I ever cross your mind Harris, Emmylou, Ronstadt, Linda, Parton, Dolly
Does your chewing gum lose its flavour Donergan, Lonnie
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart Elton John & Kiki Dee
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood The Animals
Down in the depths Merman, Ethel
Every breath you take Sting & The Police
Fields of gold Sting
Fly too high Ian, Janis
Frank Mills Broadway cast (Hair)
Getting better Beatles
Go now The Moody Blues
Going home (Local Hero theme) Knopfler, Mark
Golden brown The Stranglers
Good vibrations Beach Boys
Goodbye My Lover Blunt, James
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Elton John
Got to get you into my life Beatles
Hair Broadway cast (Hair)
Happy together The Turtles
Heart Of Glass Blondie
Heartbreak Hotel Presley, Elvis
Heroes and villains Beach Boys
Hold me Proby, P. J.
Hold on Phillips, Wilson
Hooked On A Feeling Shepard, Vonda
Hotel California The Eagles
I am a rock Simon & Garfunkel
I am woman Reddy, Helen
I don’t want to be with nobody but you Mathews, Wendy
I don’t want to talk about it Coolidge, Rita
I heard it through the grapevine Gaye, Marvin
I saw her again last night The Mamas and the Papas
I saw her standing there Beatles
I second that emotion Robinson, Smokey
If I didn’t have a dime Pitney, Gene
If I had words Fitzgerald, Scott & Keeley, Yvonne
If you don’t know me by now Melvin, Harold & The Bluenotes
If You Gotta Go, Go Now Manfred Mann
If you leave me can I come too Mental as Anything
Imagine Lennon, John
Indian Lake The Cowsills
Itchycoo Park The Small Faces
It’s going to take some time King, Carole
I’ve got to get a message to you Bee Gees
Keep searchin’ Shannon, Del
Knowing me, knowing you Abba
La Bamba Valens, Richie
Lay, lady, lay Dylan, Bob
Lightning strikes Christie, Lou
Like a rolling stone Dylan, Bob
Little children Kramer, Billy J.
Living on a thin line The Kinks
Lookin’ Out My Back Door Fogerty, John
Mac the knife Armstrong, Louis
Mad World Tears for Fears
Massachusetts Bee Gees
Monday Monday The Mamas and the Papas
More than this Jones, Norah
Morning Has Broken Stevens, Cat
Mr Tambourine Man The Byrds
Mrs Brown you’ve got a lovely daughter Herman’s Hermits
Music of the Night Michael Crawford/Sarah Brightman
My old man’s a dustman Donergan, Lonnie
Night rains Ian, Janis
Nights In White Satin The Moody Blues
Not pretty enough Chambers, Kasey
Nothing compares to you O’Connor, Sinead
One step ahead Kershaw, Nik
Orinoco flow Enya
Penny Lane Beatles
Piano Man Joel, Billy
Pictures of Lily The Who
Pinball Wizard Elton John
Proud Mary Fogerty, John
Puppet on a string Shaw, Sandie
Raining in my heart Holly, Buddy
Reckless (Don’t Be So…) Australian Crawl
Red, red wine Diamond, Neil
Rock and Roll Lady McClellan, Mike
Rolling Stone Roadapple
Runaway Shannon, Del
Sailing Stewart, Rod
Sailing to Philadelphia Knopfler, Mark
San Franciscan Nights The Animals
She’s a woman Beatles
She’s leaving home Beatles
She’s not there The Zombies
Simply irresistible Palmer, Robert
Sixteen tons The Platters
Slipping away Merritt, Max
Smoke gets in your eyes The Platters
Song and dance man McClellan, Mike
Sounds of silence Simon & Garfunkel
Starting over Lennon, John
Stayin’ alive Bee Gees
Streets of London McTell, Ralph
Sugar sugar The Archies
Sunny afternoon The Kinks
Suspicious minds Presley, Elvis
Take that look off your face Webb, Marti
That’ll be the day Holly, Buddy
The captain Chambers, Kasey
The dock of the bay Campbell, Glen
The tracks of my tears Robinson, Smokey
Those were the days Hopkins, Mary
Time after time Lauper, Cyndi
Together again Harris, Emmylou
Twenty four hours from Tulsa Pitney, Gene
Under the boardwalk The Drifters
Vincent McLean, Don
What’s going on Gaye, Marvin
When a man loves a woman Sledge, Percy
When will I see you again The Three Degrees
When you walk in the room The Searchers
Where do you go to Sarstedt, Peter
Where have all the flowers gone Peter, Paul and Mary
Whiter shade of pale Procul Harum
Wild thing The Troggs
With a little help from my friends Beatles
Woke up this morning Alabama 3
Wooden heart Presley, Elvis
Wuthering Heights Bush, Kate
Yesterday Beatles
You were on my mind St Peters, Crispian
You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice The Lovin’ Spoonful
You make loving fun Fleetwood Mac
Young girl Puckett, Gary and The Union Gap
You’ve got to hide your love away Beatles

33 significant books
Everyone seems to be compiling lists of this and that, so why shouldn’t I. These are books that have been significant in one way or another to me. Not necessarily the best loved, or the best literature, or the most re-read (though some are all three), but significant and memorable, one way and another. Some represent just one book of many by an author (eg Austin, Dickens, Eliot, Fowles, Lawrence, Orwell, Salinger, Thurber, Updike, Wyndham). If there any titles or authors you don’t know here, see if you can find them in your library.

Kingsley Amis Lucky Jim
Jane Austin Pride and prejudice
HE Bates The darling buds of May
John Braine Room at the top
GK Chesterton The man who was Thursday
Charles Dickens Pickwick Papers
Fyodor Dostoevsky Crime and punishment
Daphne du Maurier Rebecca
George Eliot Middlemarch
John Fowles The Magus
John Galsworthy The Forsyte Saga
Stella Gibbons Cold Comfort Farm
William Golding Lord of the flies
George Grossmith Diary of a nobody
Joseph Heller Catch-22
Richard Jefferies Bevis
Jerome Jerome Three men in a boat
James Jones From here to eternity
Erica Jong Fear of flying
Franz Kafka The trial
HH Kirst Gunner Asch goes to war
DH Lawrence Sons and lovers
George Orwell 1984
Mervyn Peake Gormenghast
Anthony Powell, A dance to the music of time
JD Salinger Catcher in the Rye
CP Snow Strangers and Brothers
Richard Surtees Mr Sponge’s sporting tour
James Thurber The years with Ross
JRR Tolkien Lord of the rings
Robert Tressell The ragged trousered philanthropists
John Updike Rabbit run
John Wyndham The day of the Triffids

32 significant nonfiction books
This is much harder than my fiction list of course. I have deliberately avoided reference books. And in many cases any of a number of books could be named for an author, or for a topic. But I decided to limit it to 30, and hope there might be some here that people have not heard of and can discover for themselves. I doubt this list tells a psychiatrist much, except to reinforce my interest in/love of: biology, evolution, prehistory, history, politics, American politics, and a particular liking for diaries (Samuel Pepys has been a life long inspiration, but I have failed to meet his incredible standards).

Tariq Ali, The clash of fundamentalisms
Brendan Behan, Confessions of an Irish rebel
DE Charlwood, No Moon Tonight
John Chadwick, The decipherment of Linear B
Glyn Daniel, The idea of prehistory
Charles Darwin, Origin of Species
Richard Dawkins, The god delusion
Bob Ellis, Night thoughts in a time of war
James Gleick, Chaos
Al Gore, The assault on reason
Stephen Jay Gould, Life’s grandeur
Douglas Hofstadter, Godel, Escher, Bach
Molly Ivins, Who let the dogs in
Naomi Klein, The shock doctrine
George Lakoff, Don’t think of an elephant
Konrad Lorenz King Solomon’s Ring
Alberto Manguel, A history of reading
David Marr, The high price of heaven
Harold Nicholson, Diaries
CN Parkinson, Parkinson’s Law
Samuel Pepys, Diary
Kevin Phillips, American dynasty
John Pilger, Heroes
John Ralston Saul, The collapse of globalism
Carl Sagan, Comet
Simon Schama, Citizens
Sellars & Yeatman 1066 and all that
George Smoot, Wrinkles in time
Dava Sobel, Galileo’s daughter
Hunter S Thompson, Fear and loathing on the campaign trail ’72
Barbara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror
Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein, All the president’s men

50 movies
Again, as with books, these are significant to me in various ways (and the list is probably not complete). It seems to me that although making lists is a cliche, it does have some validity. Your favourites among the arts are a reflection of your personality, and conversely, the arts that have been significant to you in your life, imprint themselves upon you and help to create your personality. Perhaps aspiring politicians should be obliged to produce such lists. perhaps current politicians should be obliged to. The lists would tell you a great deal about the people who seek your vote, in much the way that a list of symptoms can help a doctor diagnose an illness. A particular symptom to watch out for is an avoidance of the arts of the 1960s. That is certainly a character flaw to be avoided when choosing a politician to elect!
American Beauty
Anatomy of a murder
Being there
Big Chill
Billy Elliott
Blow Up
Brassed Off
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Bridge on the River Kwai
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Chariots of Fire
Easy Rider
Edward Scissorhands
The English patient
Five Easy Pieces
Ghost Busters
The Graduate
The Great Escape
Groundhog Day
High Noon
The Hustler
Life of Brian
Lord of the Rings
Lost in Translation
The Matrix
Midnight Cowboy
Mr Smith goes to Washington
My Fair Lady
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
The Piano
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Rear Window
Singin’ in the rain
Sleepless in Seattle
Sound of Music
The Sting
The third man
To kill a mockingbird
Toy story
Twelve angry men
West side story
The Wizard of Oz
Zabriskie Point

The box match
All my other lists were easy and non-controversial. You all agreed with me on best movies , best books, important non-fiction, and popular songs.

But now here is the big one – television series. I’ve come up with 21 drama series, a mixture of American, British and Australian gems. I haven’t generally included series based on classic novels (eg Dickens, Jane Austin) although in the case of “Brideshead” and “Forsyte Saga” and “Jewel in the Crown” I think the television series became classics in their own right, so they are included. Hey, no rule says I have to be consistent.
Angels over America
Boys from the blackstuff
Brideshead Revisited
Edge of Darkness
Forsyte Saga (original)
Grass Roots
Hamish McBeth
Have gun will travel
Hill Street Blues
Jewel in the crown
Northern Exposure
Pennies from heaven
Sea Change
Singing detective
Six Feet Under
Talking to a Stranger
This Life
Twin peaks
West Wing
Not easy of course. You tend to put more weight on series seen more recently. And in any case it is very difficult to assess the older ones. The only really old one I’ve included is “Have gun will travel” but I haven’t seen that in 40 years and have no idea how well it would hold up. Still, at the time, I was aware that it was quality as distinct from the fluff of say “Bonanza” or “Gunsmoke”. “Talking to a stranger” is not much younger, and again I haven’t seen it in 40 years, but I am certain it would have aged well. Looking back I think there is no doubt that the quality of the best series has improved enormously in recent years, while there is simultaneously much more rubbish.

Something that surprised me about the list, and the mental ranking I was doing, was this. I had always assumed that British television drama was by far the best, but in recent years I have changed my view. The reason is this. If you match up the relatively short drama series then there is no doubt that the British are best. It is only in recent years that American series like “Carnivale” and “Twin Peaks” and “Angels over America” have matched the quality of the short British drama series. But on the other hand the British have done nothing that can remotely match the sustained quality, season after season, of “The West Wing”, “Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under”. And of those three, “West Wing” while brilliant in dialogue, is a set piece with characters who don’t really develop: and “The Sopranos”, while having dialogue and character development among the best ever created, is relatively limited by its setting. Which leaves “Six Feet Under” as, in my opinion, the greatest sustained TV drama ever created. Not British, American.

Comedy was even harder of course. It ages and dates very badly. Series that I would once have included as classics – “Steptoe and Son”, “The Goodies”, “The Young Ones”, “Last of the Summer Wine”, “MASH”, even the recent “Friends”, don’t hold up well to viewing again now. They are, not to put too fine a point on it, embarrassingly bad. Humour changes over time, and it has geographic limits that make it very difficult to translate (note the ruin of British comedy shows translated into American and lost in translation). So this list is very tentative -
Black Books
Brittas Empire
Dads Army
Drop the dead donkey
Father Ted
Fawlty Towers
Malcolm in the middle
Marion and Geoff
Monty Python
Mother and Son
People Like Us
Red Dwarf
The Office
Yes Minister

Now in contrast to the drama list there is no doubt at all that British comedy is “better” than American comedy. This is clearly partly a result of my cultural background, but Australians have been exposed to as much American comedy as British in the last 50 years, and the best American material is as uproariously funny here as it is seen to be in America, while the worst sitcoms are hard to crack a smile about. The British have their sitcoms too, which are as embarrassingly bad as any American sitcom, but they also have highly original unique pieces that only Seinfeld matches on the other side of the Atlantic. Of the American sitcoms I think only “Malcolm in the Middle” has a spark of originality and I don’t know how well that would stand up to viewing again in say 5 years. I can’t think of a British sitcom that wasn’t embarrassing at the time. But all the British comedies listed above (including the Australian “Mother and Son”, whose pedigree, through say “Steptoe and Son”, is undoubtedly British) are unique, one off, dazzling pieces of invention. And as a result they are impossible to compare. No way I can settle on a “top three” here – there is simply no way of comparing, let alone ranking, pieces as different as say “Dad’s Army” and “Marion and Geoff”, or “Monty Python” and “Coupling”.

So there you are. As usual I’ve enjoyed compiling the lists and I hope they stimulate you to thinking about your own lists, and reminding me of series that I have, embarrassingly, forgotten.

And does it all matter? I hear you ask. Why isn’t this another blog about global warming, or Iraq, or the appalling things that neoconservatives are doing to western societies? Why a frivolous blog on television? Well, I think it does matter. Just as the dumbing down and down and down of news and current affairs on television has left the public poorly informed about the issues that matter, unable to think about and decide on important questions because their critical faculties have atrophied, so television programs themselves have an important influence on the public. A regular diet of reality tv and rubbish drama like “CSI” and mindless sitcoms like “Two and a half men” leaves brains unstimulated, thoughts unthought.

Quality television drama and comedy is as important to the public conversation as quality news, and the public is getting too little of either.

Remembrance of times past
My grandfather’s pocket watch sits in front of me as I write this, ticking away the seconds. It was first set ticking in 1893 in Birmingham. Originally it was owned by my great grandfather and then passed from him to his only son (who promptly and proudly scratched his initials inside the case), possibly when he turned 21, for he is wearing it a few months later when he was married in 1911. Then it was passed to me, aged 7, when my grandfather died in 1952 (aged just 62, as I am, astonishingly, now). I’m sure he would have liked to pass it to me himself when I turned 21, but it was not to be. It is not now, and wasn’t then, a very valuable watch in money terms. The Waltham watch company, an American firm, was mass producing pocket watches for the masses. They looked like those used by the rich, but they were cheap enough for very poor families to own one. The mass production in factories was making even complex objects like pocket watches easily accessible.

So the watch has seen a great deal of world and family history in 114 years. Ticked through the last years of Queen Victoria, and the first years of a new century. Ticked through the first world war (though I imagine my grandmother kept it ticking, and the home fire burning, while he was in the trenches of France), the Depression, and then another world war, ticking while he waited for son and son in law to come home. And then the beat of his great heart stopped, and the watch was placed in my hands by my grandmother, with a last message from him. Had a lot of hope for me, he did, dunno how he would have evaluated my efforts to live up to that hope. But I have kept the watch through an education the rest of the family could never have afforded (took a long long time for poor families to be able to afford an education as well as a watch), marriage, children, and now grandchildren; various careers, various achievements, various failures, various happy times, various sad ones. And now my oldest grandson is reaching the age I was when I got the watch, and I contemplate handing it on to him.

The watch doesn’t have much monetary value, but it does have great sentimental value, or to put it another way, great family value.

All of us have family values. Every family is different, depending upon its history, composition, religious views, economic status, cultural background, but all have values. Human beings as a species place an importance on family, and probably have done since they evolved from the common ancestor of all the great apes (who lived about ten million years ago according to a fossil found the other day).

We don’t all have old pocket watches, but we all have objects that remind us of family members and events. That’s why houses being lost in bushfires are so devastating – far more is lost than material goods, and it’s why people fleeing a fire always grab the family photo album if they can.

Tick tick tick. One day my grandson will pass the watch to his grandson. What will the next 114 years bring for my family, and yours, and all the families of the world?

Future to the back
People often think that old fogeys like me, when they complain about the present, and compare it unfavourably to the past, are wishing that the past, some distant idealised golden age past, had remained unchanged. Not true, well, not unless the old fogey concerned is John Howard of course. Rather our complaint, the complaint of grumpy old men like me, is that the trajectory of change from the past didn’t continue, didn’t live up to our expectations. Oh, I don’t mean silly things like moon colonies, or personal flying cars, or Dick Tracey communication watches (oh, sorry, that has pretty well come to pass as predicted, hasn’t it). There were all kinds of predictions about what technology was going to achieve, often involving some kind of space travel, that haven’t come true, and other things that no one could have predicted (personal computers, ipods, one day cricket) that have appeared instead.

No, I am thinking more about society and culture and economy, the ways that us humans were going to interact with each other and the world around us. And to me, forty years ago, and my fellow baby boomers, the future seemed quite clear in three particular areas. And as a result, once we had got past the Cuban missile crisis, the future seemed very promising indeed. The areas were; international relations, the way countries were going to interact with one another; workplace relations, the way that workers and bosses were going to behave towards each other; and environmental relationships, the way that conservation was going to take care of the biological world we lived in. The idealism of us BBs didn’t envisage the new millennium arriving overnight, and we didn’t think that every day, in every way, things were getting better and better. But we did think, as we looked towards that unimaginably remote year of 2000, that slowly, with ups and downs, but surely, the world was improving. We had been born at the end of another world war, and two of those was quite enough for one small planet; we had been born into the world where workplaces were ruled with the iron hand of the boss, and we didn’t want to get a job like that, thank you very much; and we had been born into a world concerned about atomic radiation, and silent springs, and fish full of mercury, and we were going to put a stop to all that kind of nonsense.

And through the seventies and eighties the program seemed to be working. Oh, there were certainly ups and downs, but by and large it was two steps forwards and one step back, rather than the reverse. Each time that a mistake was made, it seemed, the human race, taking careful notes, was determined that it wouldn’t happen again. And so we rolled the stone slowly up the hill, inch by inch, then centimetre by centimetre, ever nearer to the summit of human ambitions.

The United Nations became an accepted mechanism for resolving disputes, peacekeepers became a more common role for soldiers than warmakers, treaties were signed, Berlin Walls came down, common markets established, refugees were accepted, South American dictators gradually disappeared instead of their populations, the Irish started talking to each other in words other than coded messages, and Slovenia became a country again. Invading other countries to steal their resources seemed generally to be frowned upon, and international treaties about the use of the seas, and about Antarctica, and about nuclear weapons, seemed to be signed, to great acclamation, every other year.

Workplaces were no longer grim satanic mills. Workers became entitled not to lose their lives or limbs or lungs while earning money for the boss; entitled not to lose their jobs on an arbitrary whim, or for joining a union; holidays were more frequent than Scrooge could have imagined; flexible work hours became normal; pay rates improved; workers were included on company boards; women’s pay edged closer to that of men; women weren’t sacked when they married; children were encouraged to get an education rather than a job at 14; and the remuneration and wealth of bosses and workers, while certainly different, no longer represented a difference like that between a peasant’s hut and the Palace of Versailles in eighteenth century France.

The hunting of whales stopped, the Franklin was saved, national parks established, the Barrier Reef protected; DDT no longer used, nuclear power rejected, the hole in the ozone closed, lead taken out of petrol, dioxins taken out of weed sprays. Big companies could no longer pump noxious gases into the air or vile chemicals into rivers, and there were no longer state premiers like Bolte to say that the wind would blow pollution away, or ones like Bjelke-Peterson who personally drove the bulldozer to clear the trees.

But in 1996 we started to go down the up staircase, a staircase that rapidly turned into an escalator, plunging down to the lower floors of the human spirit. And the reason? The philosophical descendants of Louis XVI resented the fact that they could no longer build palaces. Every protection of workers rights, or the environment, or small countries, represented a fraction less profit for the very rich. So once again we have state premiers fast-tracking satanic pulp mills spewing dioxins, once again lead dust from a mine kills thousands of birds, once again nuclear power is coming, once again old growth forests are smashed to the ground, once again coal and uranium mines are expanding, once again whales are hunted. Any environmental protection is too much environmental protection. And once again the pay and conditions of workers are eroded, unions smashed, workplaces become more dangerous, children encouraged to go to work instead of to school or university. Anything which is good for workers is bad for profits. And once again countries get invaded in order to steal their resources, and the United Nations, and international treaties, are sneered at and flouted, refugees sent to devil’s islands. And once again the gap between rich and poor, once, briefly, narrowing, is widening again with the speed of an express lift heading down from the executive suite to the basement. Upstairs Downstairs again, who would have thought.

And old fogeys turn into grumpy old men about a new millennium that was turned into an old one.

Quote Mine
Write stuff
“Every artist writes his own autobiography” Havelock Ellis

Sweet somethings
“There’s night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon and stars, brother, all sweet things; there’s likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet brother, who would wish to die? …. There’s the wind on the heath, brother; If I could only feel that, I would gladly live forever”. George Borrow

Ferocious plant
“In himself an entire humane society” who “sides with the fox against the man in pink, the hen coop against the marauding fox, the chickweed against the chicken and whatever the chickweed preys on against that ferocious plant”. James Agate’s compliment to John Galsworthy.

Quiet hours
‘For mine own part, I could be well content to entertain the lag-end of my life with quiet hours’ Shakespeare Henry 1V.

With conquest
“When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color …when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.” Robert F. Kennedy.

‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ Socrates.

Safely over
‘A man should be able to lie at the bottom of a hill with his throat cut, bleeding to death, and if a pretty girl or an old woman should pass by with a beautiful jug balanced perfectly on the top of her head, he should be able to raise himself up on one arm and see the jug safely over the top of the hill.’ (Buddy, in ‘Zooey’, JD Salinger).

All day
‘I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing at the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.’ J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye.

Me too
‘If I had no duties, and no reference to futurity, I would spend my life in driving briskly in a post chaise with a pretty woman’ Samuel Johnson.

Two roads
‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference’
Robert Frost The road not taken.

Kangaroo hunters
‘The world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and kangaroo hunters’ Shelley (Shelley of course said fox, but if he had known about kangaroo hunters he would have changed his mind).

Making progress?
“The extension of women’s rights is the basic principle of social progress” Charles Fourier

Where we started
‘We will not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time’
(Eliot Little Gidding 1944)

“She was always attentive to the feelings of dogs, and very polite if she had to decline their advances” George Eliot

Less felicity
‘There is more felicity on the far side of baldness than young men can possibly imagine’ Logan Pearsall Smith

A little more conversation
‘One of the greatest pleasures of life is conversation’ Sydney Smith

Learning, learning
‘I grow old ever learning many things’ Solon

By Jupiter
‘Oh if only Jupiter would give me back my past years’ Virgil

Coming ready or not
‘Old age is the most unexpected of all things that happen to a man.’ Trotsky

Indian treasures
‘My early and invincible love of reading, which I would not exchange for the treasures of India’ Edward Gibbon

For the stupid and crazy
“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.” Walt Whitman

‘Writing, when properly managed (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation’. Sterne. (I think mine is too)

Easy peasy
‘You write with ease to show your breeding, but easy writing’s vile hard reading’ Sheridan. (No easy writing on this blog!)

The more things change
‘Men won’t succeed in literature that they may get into society, but will get into society that they may succeed in literature’ George Gissing

Not startled
“nothing startles me beyond the moment. The setting sun will always set me to rights – or if a sparrow come before my window I take part in its existence and pick about the gravel.” John Keats

Worthy pursuit
“I find that I can have no enjoyment in the world but the continual drinking of knowledge. I find there is no worthy pursuit but the idea of doing some good for the world.” John Keats

“I asserted – and I repeat – that a man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather” Thomas Huxley 30 June 1860

Force and Beauty
“It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, for our consideration and application of these things, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process” Henry James

“The true paradises are the paradises we have lost” Marcel Proust

Much lower
“No amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical and social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party … So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.” Aneurin Bevan

It’s not just what we inherit from our mothers and fathers that haunts us. It’s all kinds of old defunct theories, all sorts of old defunct beliefs, and things like that. It’s not that they actually live on us; they are simply lodged there, and we cannot get rid of them’ Henrik Ibsen

Putting away
‘I count religion but a childish toy, and hold there is no sin but ignorance’ Christopher Marlowe

L.A.W. Law
‘The Conservatives … being by the law of their existence the stupidest party’ John Stuart Mill

Best Policy
‘These are rogues that pretend to be of religion now! Well, all I say is, honest atheism for my money.’ Thomas Otway

No business like
‘Music and women I cannot but give way to, whatever my business is’ Samuel Pepys

The dog has them
‘The sixth age shifts into the lean and slippered pantaloon, with spectacles on nose’ Shakespeare (As you like it). I thought I was in the sixth age, but where are my slippers?

More than half
‘I think for my part one half of the nation is mad – and the other not very sound’ Tobias Smollett

‘The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting on the cause’ Percy Shelley

Not so silent
“I left the room with silent dignity, but caught my foot on the mat” George & Weedon Grossmith

4 comments on “Values

  1. Sally Corbett says:

    David, just found your blog via twitter. I share many of your ideas and values. Noticing your “what civilization is capable of” piece – you seem to have only included classical music in your list. I agree the Beethoven piano sonatas are magnificent and absolutely should be included in the list. But what about The Blues and 20th century jazz? Improvised music is in a class of its own, it is a musical tradition based on an oral culture – in particular African and then African American. It’s different from the West’s literary culture. The Blues is a cry from the heart, universal and magnificent in its simplicity, it’s imprint is on nearly every style of music of the 20th century bar classical music.


    • David Horton says:

      Welcome to the blog Sally. Quite right, something of an oversight. Did include the Beatles. Not a huge fan of Jazz, though I do like Blues. If you had to include one piece/performer from each genre what would they be?

      Hope you will be a regular visitor.


  2. Michael says:

    I share your passion for science and reasoned thought. So found it surprising you’d left Christopher Hitchens off your 20th century best company list. What an inspiration he was.


  3. Martin says:

    Especially to the Iraqis. What an inspiration!


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