Getting Overheated

Housekeeping

How difficult, how exquisitely difficult it is to know where to begin. Anyone who has had the time or disposition to read the comments that readers have submitted to these pages over the last three weeks or so will be aware of a number of issues that need addressing.

Firstly and most crucially: how do Terry Pratchett readers eat soup?

We’ll answer that vital point momentarily, as they say here in the US. I do enjoy hearing American waiters using that word; as you enter a restaurant they might say, “I’ll be with you momentarily”. They are usually righter than they know: a fleeting vision that flickers before your eyes and then is gone. I suppose ‘in a moment’ takes too long to say in their busy lives and ‘presently’ is English English to the point of being more or less flagrantly homosexual, so ‘momentarily’ it is.

MomentARily of course rather than the English MOment’rily. Anyhoo … other things:

Do I know how to spell ‘Whoa’? Clearly not. Thanks for the spanky botty from one sensitive commentator, fully deserved.

Back to the boiling question of the moment – Pratchett fans and their soup-stylings.

Let me quote the ‘offending’ sentence from the first Guardian ‘Dork Talk’ article reproduced on this site: ‘Nor does it [being deeply dippy about all things digital] mean I read Terry Pratchett, breathe only through my mouth and bring my head slightly too close to the bowl when I eat soup.’

Now, in what possible world does that mean Terry Pratchett readers bring their heads slightly too close to the bowl when they eat soup? In what universe (whether supported by turtles, elephants or badminton rackets) does it follow from the above that I, Stephen Fry, do not like, reverence or appreciate Terry Pratchett and his works? By what black arts can it further be construed that I believe Pratchett’s books to be useless, his readers stupid and his whole world contemptible? My use of the conjunction ‘and’ rather than ‘or’ might just allow some to make that construction, but surely they can see they would be entirely wrong to do so?

I was addressing the whole issue of stereotyping here: being a device geek doesn’t make one a predictably anoraky nerd, I (thought I) was saying. You can’t make assumptions, that was the message. I could just have easily written: ‘Being deeply dippy about Terry Pratchett doesn’t mean I love digital devices, breathe only through my mouth and bring my head closer … etc’. Don’t you see that, you silly little Pratcheteers? C’mon now. Don’t be so insecure. Just be grateful I didn’t include the lines about halitosis, scurfy shoulders and bottle-end spectacles.As references to the public image of dorks, he hastens to add, not as observations on Pratchett fans. Phew! Talk about sensitive…

As for the books themselves. I suppose I ought to come clean. I’ve never read one. Not a one. I have a friend whose opinion I respect. He tells me they’re actually damned good, so I’ll probably get round to it. I’d like Captain Nimes, apparently. (I am suspicious though of character names I am unsure how to pronounce: Nimes rhymes with reams or rhymes with rhymes?) But why haven’t I read one, you wonder? What claim do I have to call myself a rounded human being (aside from pointing to my swelling tummy – thanks, American food – obliged to you, high fructose corn syrup) if I have not bothered to glance at so much as one of the works of this astoundingly popular author? Good point. I think it’s the fans really. So insecure. Such strange ways of tackling soup. And my dear the breath!

*ducks*

Another apology: I used the phrase “paint a scenario” which enraged one reader (or perhaps delighted that reader, because it afforded them the opportunity to give me a damned good ticking off in public) – I bow my head in meek submission.

Back to America. Aside from my enjoyment of the way waiters here say ‘I’ll be with you momentarily’, I’m also fond of a phrasal mannerism common amongst shop assistants, or clerks as I suppose they should be called. Suppose you go up to the till with no more than a stick of chewing gum. You hand over the money and he or she will invariably hand back your change and a till receipt with these words, “Okay, you’re all set.” As if they’ve just kitted you out for some perilous adventure up the Amazon or across the Himalayas. Inoculations, visas, anti-malarials, stout boots? Okay, you’re all set. I do love it. Hurrah for being all set. Hurrah for America.

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This blog was posted in Blessays

207 comments on “Getting Overheated”

  1. kirbreton says:

    Stephen, I realize you most likely won’t have the time to read all of these comments, but I feel I must put my two cents in nonetheless. I’m an American living in Edinburgh (and have been for a few years now) and as such I do love comparisons between Britain and the good ol’ US of A. What I dislike, however, are uninformed comparisons, and to my delight you never seem to make those. You seem to realize that America will be different for everyone; especially because it is such a vast, diverse country, generalizations are very difficult to make about it (and about us.) All the same, what you say is true, at least to some degree.
    What I dislike is Britons who, after only having vacationed for a short time in one part of one city in this enormous country, make sweeping statements about Americans’ intelligence, our eating habits, or our politics that only reinforce the negative stereotype I’ve found living here in Britain (and on the Continent as well.)
    Perhaps as a result of my upbringing in New England, I’ve found Americans to be more intelligent and much better informed about issues (yes, even global warming!) than many people seem to think. I also, however, know a Texan democrat who has unsuccessfully attempted to register to vote for four years running, and who informs me that this is because they see that she’s a democrat at the town hall and simply throw her registration form away. This saddens me to no end.

    Out of curiosity, which Presidential candidate did you follow around? I hope it was Obama, I think that you two would have some wonderful discussions.
    I know you don’t have time to see everything but I’d like to recommend that you visit Boston. It’s a wonderful city where people once drowned in molasses, literally.

    If you’re interested in a completely different topic, I find this to be a riveting talk about Intelligent Design and its place (or lack thereof) in American schools: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVRsWAjvQSg
    If Jim hasn’t put you off intellectual debates (and I hope he hasn’t, because I find it very stimulating, even when heated, and I’m sure many Americans agree) then this would be a good topic to think about, especially as you’re headed to the Bible belt.

    I’m very glad that you’re spending so much time in America, seeing it properly and hopefully helping to destroy some misconceptions about the place. I remember it fondly, and I hope you will too.

  2. I find the contentiousness of the English an invigorating force.
    Our eagerness to argue and debate in the public arena is what
    makes us such a contemptible, though indomitable, nation.

    Hurrah for the currishly petulant Britons. Huzzah for our resilience
    to impartiality. (And no more nationalistic stripe brandishing pride
    …last refuge of the scoundrel and all that)

  3. missblue says:

    Oh dear, oh dear.

    GW (Global Warming, not the Current Occupant) brings forth the kind of spewage (on both sides) that I’ve come to expect in debates about a) abortion b) homosexuality c) religion d) Hillary Clinton. Just to begin to name a few.

    I’m in Camp A; since the Industrial Revolution we humans have been warming the planet and whether we can survive the result is a question that keeps me (a middleaged mom of a wee one) sleepless many nights. I do what I can, plan to do more, and expect that before I’m old, I will have to make social and economic sacrifices.

    That said – and I’m not engaging in the vitriol – I don’t mind anger in the service of an argument, or sarcasm, or whatall. I do mind vituperative hash slung across a table, any table, from either side. Shrieking over food is vulgar. I was at a conference years ago, in which several guests arrived from The Old Country, and it was my first experience with academic bluster. The Americans were stunned into silence as the British were loud and tactless. At length.

    I’ve witnessed the exact opposite too. Being half American and half British, I have some experience in both kinds of argumentation.

    So could we agree not to shout or to use inflammatory speech? So bad for the digestion, and hardly better for communication.

  4. LynxLuna says:

    I know exactly what you mean with getting impassioned when getting into a debate. I’m of that kind too, and it usually happens when talking about Global Warming, religion, politics or other similar stuff.
    I like to think about myself as a balanced, patient, dialoguing person, but in that kind of debates I get overheated just as you have described above. I think it is because in that topics people usually take, in a unconscient way, a self-defensive non-rational possition that makes me very angry. Anyway, that kind of confrontations ashame me a great deal and I prefer to avoid them (although I’m usually uncapable of it, once I’ve lost my temper- a side-effect of liking rational and well expressed ideas). Cultural differences, on the other hand, can be really tricky.

    Anyway, I’ve got very excited about that arround-the-world documentary you’re filming for the BBC. Any chance of seeing you arround, here in Spain? Oh, I wish I had the BBC in my TV!

  5. -Emma- says:

    I am the same in “heated discussions”, I find it hardest when “discussing” with a friend. It always either ends up with me getting ridiculously worked up and leaving tension in the air, or I find myself trying to avoid the former and say everything with this sort of incredibly sappy apologetic tone as if I am ashamed of my own opinion, but heigh ho. :) I am a huge fan of your work, and I am eagerly awaiting a “Stephen Fry” christmas; expanding my collection of your books, along with my dvd collection. I’m a big fan of “A bit of fry and Laurie”, well that along with everything else to be honest. Those shows are hilarious, i love the clip when Hugh Laurie is a middle aged woman disgusted by swearing, I just couldn’t stop laughing.
    Hope you’re having fun in America, I visited Florida last summer and I loved it.
    Emma :)

  6. -Emma- says:

    Love your work :)

  7. shigekuni says:

    1. It’s Vimes, not Nimes (and I don’t know about the Pronounciation either)

    2. I am very happy about much of this blessay (what a word. tempted to steal it), especially the bit about the debating culture in GB. I behave in a similar fashion and am gaining no friends here (Germany) either by doing so. Good I’m so likable then. ;)
    Well. Anyway, I was immensely glad, not just to see that there are others, who are getting heated in discussions and call other discussant’s arguments “tosh”, and I am doubly (is that a word?) happy that this description came from one of the most beautiful and admirable men on this planet. Thank you for this.

    3. Have you noticed how many of your detractors here in the comments section of this blessay sound like regular Jims? I can just see them getting all red in the face and hear them ending every other sentence with “its a fact” (If I only remembered of which Gaddis character this reminds me…dammit) and ending with a phrase like “all this [insert a word like "fashionable", "european" or "gay"] nonsense”. Can’t you? Funny that the comments should illustrate your point so nicely.

  8. Bob says:

    STEPHEN FRY IS AWESOME!!
    Please, please,please go on
    http://whoisonioncrackthecode.blogspot.com
    It’s totally weird!!!!!!

  9. rasmaestro says:

    Nicely done, Mr. Fry – there is currently a YouTube clip with a chap using the Pascal Wager for the same purpose, sketching the options on a white board. Very convincing. I wish I could remember the link/title!

    As you point out yourself, there are many nuances of fence-sitters. I’ve been one – still am on some mornings. Still, your point is taken – I am slowing sliding down the fence.
    However, I do think parts of your argument has (or at least has the potential to have) some flaws. Incidentally, I think all the arguments in this huge debate have flaws on one or more levels…that’s true fence-sitting, not fence-pretending like Jim.

    My main thought is that it might be a false sense of security to claim that an all-or-nothing approach will save humanity. It might save the climate but I think some skeptics are thinking “positively”, in the sense that an all-in climate approach risks to divert attention from issues more imminently dangerous than our climate. At least compared to what must be done to prevent them. Things like poverty-induced disease and famine, wars, or other kinds of environmental destruction.

    Now, as a genuine fence-sitter I don’t claim to have omnipotent facts available – but the world surely has limited resources to spend on bettering itself. And quite possibly, you cannot have it all. I know that we SHOULD be able to have it all, and prioritise it all, and all lower our standard of living in order to get that done, and so on. I just think the practicality of it all needs to be taken into account also – so if it seems certain that an all-in approach to climate change is virtually impossible to be realised more than, say, 50% – why not opt for some other solutions that would go the full 100?

    I think your argument is very very strong – but it is also a simplification of reality. It assumes that nothing else matters, that all resources should and can ultimately be mobilised. If you had $100 million, here and now, and you had to choose between feeding 2 million African babies – or lowering carbon emissions in a few countries, which way would you go?

    So, I guess I don’t accept the moral imperative that seems to be springing up beneath the GW movement. Because it rings precisely as non-scientific as the opposing arguments from the oil lobbyists.
    I think things have to be judged soundly, not only on the basis of hard evidence but on basis of the calculated effects of future actions. An those actions do not necessarily come for free – even if we all did share that ideal.

    It is not a question of choosing IF, it’s a question of choosing HOW – because only twits are concerned with the first choice.

  10. sanjeebmitra says:

    @rvcx:

    I am frankly tired of seeing people brandishing their embryonic sense of logic unchallenged in the cyber space. I am ill and I am irascible. I care about global warming and I know ignorant nincompoopery, however inconsequential it may appear, must be contradicted, or it will have its way. Therefore…
    Let’s have a round-the-table discussion. Stephen had found his Jim and I have happily found my RVCX, who accuses Stephen of breaking people down into “groups”. First things first. There always have been and always will be groups, and one doesn’t need to take an initiative and break people down in yesayers and naysayers, they are just there and Stephen was naturally quite prudent in postulating his A-, B- and C-groupists. Think of any debate. There will be people who will say “yes”, there will be people who will say “no” and there will be people who will say nothing. It doesn’t take a Socrates to understand this situation. We are not imagining anything here, this thing happens. Yes or No?
    RVCX has also stated right at the very beginning of his hopelessly muddled comment that “caring about something is not enough”. Of course it is not. It’s simply not enough to only care about something and do nothing about it. It has never been enough to only care about typhoid without administering ciprofloxacin to eradicate it. But it’s worse NOT TO CARE ABOUT TYPHOID AT ALL!
    He has gone on to say that “clearly, we should be arguing about solutions and not problems”. That statement baffles me. How are we supposed to discuss, or argue, about solutions if the problems are not well defined themselves? What, specifically is the problem here? There are clearly two. One, global warming itself and Two, what people are saying and thinking and doing about it. The blessay discusses the problems and it discusses the solutions as well in its own way, one simply needs to read it carefully before jumping the gun. If there are people who think global warming is NOT a problem, then we must hammer home the fact that it IS a problem. YES, it IS. Identifying a problem is necessary before devising a solution. Are we at it seriously?
    “The debate should focus on realistic solutions. It’s the differential between the world if we act and the world if we don’t that we need to keep our eyes on, and right now that difference is *not* terribly large”—is what RVCX concludes his comment with. Well, WTF? Of course the difference is *not* terribly large because we are yet to do anything about it. How can we assume what the difference will be once we start acting?
    RCVX (I’m sure I have got it wrong this time, but he deserves it) has taken a hackneyed and fallacious position in which he says something like “before fighting global warming the developed nations should take care of AIDS and malaria blah blah”. Does he imagine that we are plagued by one thing at a time? Global warming will catch some Zs in the greenroom until the AIDS act is over? Phew man!
    Being languorously rational (to whom everything is a potential problem) or pseudo-rational is not enough here. We are not discussing Fermat’s Last Theorem. We are discussing something that has the potential to alter our lives in the coming centuries or coming decades or maybe next year. It’s always safer to assume one has a disease if one is ill at ease. It’s safer to take precautions. There are certain things one shouldn’t bet against if one’s not sure. Why is it taking so long for some people to realise it?
    I am evidently on Stephen’s side, as anyone would see. And it’s simply because he talks sense. In this case, one can contradict him only if one intends to create a ruckus and is not serious about the issue on the table.

  11. I eat soup and also wear massive jumpers to combat global warming.

  12. Texas Hostage says:

    Dear Stephen: You simply cannot make a documentary about our country without a trip to Texas. And may I suggest Houston, since everyone who wants to say something about Texas goes to Dallas, especially Europeans and Britons who ingested endless reruns of the TV show — and so Dallas is overdocumented.

    Houston has everything you want from Texas, plus: NASA’s astronaut clubhouse, oil rig roughnecks and their strip club paradise, the world’s largest contiguous medical center with the world’s best cancer center full of the world’s most famous cancer stricken people, barbecue gallore, hurricane alleys, alligators everywhere, and lots and lots of big ass sports. The city used to welcome back the early astronaut missions with as much of this as possible: barbecue, strippers, sports, and much oil rig roughneck appreciation.

    I’m a Californian here only as a temporay hostage, trying to finish a doctoral degree. But I can assure you that all ya’ll’s American adventures will be incomplete without an encounter with the biggest little old big state in America.

  13. Adele says:

    Dear Stephen,

    Can you please fix it for me, for you to carry around less guilt?

    This would help me sleep better at night.

    Thank you

    Adele

  14. Flookwit says:

    rasmaestro- you ask to whom we should give the hypothetical $100 million to, emotively suggesting starving Ethiopian babies or, measure to prevent global warming.

    I realise that I am being highly contentious here, but the sad fact is that this planet can only sustain a certain population and I am not alone when I say that there are too many people on this Earth. What makes this worse, is that these people are using up non-renewable resources, are increasing the pollution and waste and are believing that they can do little to prevent climate change.

    A quick ‘Google’ gives population figures of 60,776, 238 in the UK of which 67% could be in employment and thus earning a wage;in the USA, a figure of 301,139,947 of which again approximately 67% are of working age. If you were to ask all those who earn a wage in those two countries alone, to give a mere $2 each towards a fund for global warming, you would have at least around $240,000,000. But, you wouldn’t even need to ask for the money to be donated by a check or cash; all you need is for each person to save the equivalent of $2 by making incredibly small changes to their own lives.

    Even if you were to ask for the money up front and suggest that the Ethiopian starving babies needed the money more than the world needs that amount to reduce climate change, you could still give the Ethiopian babies $100,000,000. However, I would argue that it is short sighted to merely donate that amount of money to babies born into poverty. The money would be better spent on improving the lives of those adults already trying to live in Ethiopia (say, by giving money to one of the many charities that are around and who provide means to sustainable living such as using your donated money to buy a chicken, or a camel, or a goat, or water filters etc).

    The other $100,000,000 could be then used on strategies to reduce global warming.

    Think about it. $2 measly from each working person. How much did your Cappuccino cost this morning? How much do you spend on seasonal fripperies each year?

    I guess what I am getting at is that it really does not have to involve a major and dramatic change in your daily routine to make a big change for others. And by saying ‘others’ I include future generations.
    Even if you do not believe all the substantive scientific evidence for climate change, does it really cost you so very much to even slightly alter your habits? I am sure that no-one, not even the most staunch supporter of green living would not allow you to make the odd slip of , say, leaving a light burning when out of the room, or other examples.

    What will make a difference is when many people make small changes in their lifestyles to improve the sustainability of the planet.

    Why is it that when people read about the need to change their behaviour to eco-friendly habits, they start to think in black and white, all or nothing terms? All we need is moderation; small changes by many will make a difference overall to the planet, but will be barely noticed by the individual.

  15. rontocknell says:

    I’d love to read all this right now but you do go on a bit. Not that I’m not enjoying it, you understand but there are so many things I want to do before I die: climb Mount Kilimanjaro, learn to juggle, spend a night in a rain forest, read Terry Pratchett, own a computer that doesn’t question the spelling of “dialogue” etc.

    But I promise I’ll get back to it. I just didn’t want you to think you were being ignored.

  16. Daniel James Salter says:

    What’s most interesting, apart of course, from our Marvellous Mr Frys’ conclusions as to the stances afforded each of us on the issue of global warming. [‘Our’ marvellous Mr Fry, If only this were true. As if he is ‘ours’, yours or mine! What a nice thought though, a portion of Fry for each of us, a reflection or observation to help us, me, through a shitty day. An emergency dose, an energy drink, a shot, a twice daily medicated pill of....Fry]. The state of my mind! I’ve already digressed!
    Back to my thoughts, proper. What I was suggesting ‘might’ be interesting is the way in which the reactions of the American towards an obverse opinion feed a general stereotype we Brits have of Americans. ‘Another loud mouthed, ill opinionated, overbearing American with a misplaced sense of self importance, unable to see beyond themselves’. Now stop! Before I’m set upon and metaphorically kicked to death for being so rude and no doubt stupid, you will note I said ‘stereotype’. This is not an attack on any individual nor do I profess it to be correct. However true to form for anyone who begins to feel exposed, before I start I’m going to offer a crap defensive position and pronounce, ‘I have a number of American friends who are ace and I love them’. Apparently that makes it all ok then! I may indeed refer back to this statement should I become scared while I progress with my observations and thoughts.
    My simple observation is that I believe our respective histories, that is to say Great Britains’ and Americas’ may be the reason for our stereotyped stances when in a heated debate. That of the Brits to be overly damp, pontificating, dreary, namby pambiers, ready to negotiate and find a path to suit all at the drop of a hat. The Americans, as mentioned, to be unwaveringly uncompromising and stubborn.
    I think it’s possible for a countrys’ history to have affected its inhabitants individual unconscious and subsequently their self esteem. I’ll try to stitch these statements together to make some sense as best I can. Bare in mind I’m an ill educated Somerset boy- accent available for poking fun should you wish.
    Great Britain has an undisputable width, breadth and depth of history which includes some very exceptional people and some very exceptional instances. That is not to suggest America does not. Only that the traditionally established interpretation of this illustrious history in the Great British education system, is, for the individual schoolboy or girl to be made to feel a ‘subject of’, rather than, ‘a part of’, this history. National pride or patriotism is not (has not in my experience been) particularly encouraged. I appreciate this is a gross generalisation but nonetheless I believe it to be a British stance, ranking right up there with the stiff upper lip, emotional unavailability and stoic ability to celebrate hardship, moreover enjoy it!
    In contrast the perceived American stance in the education system seems to promote self belief and lots of it. The ‘American dream’ if you like. Plenty of national pride and patriotism by the bucket load. Again, a generalisation but I suggest recognisable. This is probably more encompassing and I imagine makes a child and eventually adult feel part of their history and less subject of it.
    If it is possible at this stage to agree that the education of a nation has a great effect on its inhabitants. Also that to a lesser or greater degree that the respective stance on education (regarding national pride and patriotism) for each country has remained similar for many years. Is it possible to suggest that cultural differences can be identified, collectively and within respective individuals as a result?
    Furthermore, in my humble opinion I believe the differences between the self esteem of Britains and Americans can be identified as a result. Confidence, I hear you cry. Well actually no! I believe confidence is a by-product or symptom resulting from self esteem, that it cannot exist healthily without the former. It’s the differences in origin of self esteem and subsequent self worth that interests me.
    Not wanting to generalise any more than I have already, but unfortunately steaming full bore into the most massive of generalisations so far.
    The British reconcile and search for belief in themselves as individuals in a somewhat solitary way. We have to. We are encouraged to be relatively insular as people in comparison to other cultures. It is the formation of each individuals belief in themselves that creates self worth and in turn esteem robust enough to cope with our society and culture here in Great Britain. Trust me the stick you get if you can’t take a joke!
    Continuing with another generalisation the size of small planet.
    Americans it would appear, obtain self esteem collectively. This is taught rather than obtained through self council. Americans seem very active in promoting positive thinking and are taught to believe in themselves from a very early age. Among a number of stereotypically notable contrasts to Brits, are the level of confidence when the need to complain arises or what we perceive to be a distasteful display of narcissism when any remotely competitive situation arises. A good deal of these attributes actually sound good, and sp they are. Many positive and noble notions are held in high regard by Americans and underpin the very foundation and origins of their countrys history and culture.
    My suggestion is that the differences in origin of self esteem, worth and belief are responsible for the upsetting verbal altercation between our Marvellous Mr Fry and his American friend.
    The somewhat ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’ route to self esteem of the Americans is in my opinion, [I have many American friends who are all ace and I love them] not as robust as their British, self counselled counterparts. Therefore by disagreeing with his American friend, it is possible our Marv. Mr Fry unwittingly tore at the ‘ever so necessary (that’s my life you’re talking about)’, but ‘not so robust’, belief structure of his American friend, furthermore rattled an insecurity less able to be self counselled and poked his self esteem clean in the eye. Resulting in the misinterpretation of a point of view or disagreement to be a personal attack.
    The resulting chastisement, self criticism and internal punching [sounds familiar, maybe a British thing, hmm food for thought] of himself by Marv. Mr Fry is only to be expected, as self esteem obtained through self council is constantly questioned and requires constant self reassurance in a kind of ‘damn wish I hadn’t done that, I feel bad now’, ‘but I should be able and be entitled to defend a point of view’ kinda way.
    Of course this might all be total nonsense and I am in fact only a little robust and very sensitive. So please be kind if you respond. Oh and I’m aware my punctuation is dire! If you found this as enjoyable as discovering a Mezcal worm in the bottom of your bottle of Chateau Lefite. I apologise profusely.
    Kind Regards and hugs (where appropriate) to all.

    Daniel
    PS Led Zeppelins’ ‘The Mothership’ is out!!!!

  17. calypsopub says:

    Stephen, I’m eager to read more of your observations on America, either here or in the promised book and documentary. I shall look for your cab should you ever visit Sugar Land, Texas (no high-fructose corn syrup here!).

    As for debate, as a lover of logic who will argue with a stump, I can confirm that almost everyone on this side of the pond is made uncomfortable by vigorous debate. It’s refreshing but sadly rare to find someone who can argue his point without taking offense at mine or descending into ad hominem foolishness. But even then, it’s no fun when you realize all your dinner companions are being traumatized by witnessing the spectacle.

    Global warming. Personally I don’t believe humans are a significant factor in any global climate change, nor could we be even if we tried. (I do advocate cleaning up the environment, recycling, etc., if for no other reason than I remember breathing smog in the 70s.) If anyone is interested in a well-reasoned argument by a knowledgable professor of environmental science which counters the prevailing so-called wisdom, go here: http://www.hillsdale.edu/news/imprimis/archive/issue.asp?year=2007&month=08

    The article is entitled “Global Warming: Man-Made or Natural?” by S. Fred Singer
    Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia

    From the site: “S. Fred Singer is professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, a distinguished research professor at George Mason University, and president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project. He performed his undergraduate studies at Ohio State University and earned his Ph.D. in Physics from Princeton University. He was the founding dean of the School of Environmental and Planetary Sciences at the University of Miami, the founding director of the U.S. National Weather Satellite Service, and served for five years as vice chairman of the U.S. National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere. Dr. Singer has written or edited over a dozen books and mono-graphs, including, most recently, Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years.”

  18. banjo says:

    um… i feel a little shy inserting this into all the arguing…
    but i finally fixed my voter registration today.

    so that part of my post can be amended. *quiet “ta-daaa”*

  19. Kim Grayson says:

    Yes, I think you probably would like the character of Vimes. He’s…an idealistic cynic, I suppose. Interesting guy.

    I’m not sure why Americans are so adverse to debate. I know that I’ve had a difficult time in similar dinner-table situations; my father was fond of and encouraged verbal sparring, and so until my late teens I was under the impression that everyone understood that a debate is a debate and a way to learn what you didn’t know before, not a personal attack. I have since discovered that I am actually one of few who got that memo.

    Have a wonderful time on the rest of your U.S. visit. If you’re still taking the Wellbutrin, up your dosage before you get to Alabama. There are some beautiful places and wonderful people here, but you have to really hunt for them, and the not-so-wonderful people might send your blood pressure sky-rocketing before you get to the good stuff. Have patience.

    If all else fails, mention the Alabama-Auburn rivalry. It’s the state’s most heated football rivalry, and this year’s game was played just this past weekend. When everyone around you begins to wax poetic on the subject, you can safely sneak away. (To give you an idea of how passionate people are about this, I once mentioned to a Baptist deacon that I thought football was nearly a religion here in Alabama. He gravely replied, “Oh, no. It’s much more important that.”)

  20. Flookwit says:

    calypsopub- Erm, where do I start? Apart from the numerous creative misspellings (for example, “scien-tific”, “par-ticularly”, “re-duces” all sic and there are more including the amusing “face-tious”) which were distractingly annoying even without the problem of the misleading content. I am wondering if you have looked further into Dr. S. Fred Singer and his pals.

    Certainly, the list of qualifications and credentials cited appear impressive. However, that does not always mean that this person is best qualified to write about an important issue such as the global warming theories.

    In the past, Dr. S. Fred Singer has told a number of porkies. In 2005, after the esteemed journal, ‘The New Scientist’ had written about climate change and melting of ice in The Himalayas. Along comes Dr David Bellamy, who was once a well respected and famous (in the UK at least) scientist and former senior lecturer at Durham University, to join in the debate, and who wrote to the journal refuting the facts and claimed that the World Glacier Monitoring Service could back up his claims.
    These claims were not backed up by The World Glacier Monitoring Service…..in fact when George Monbiot read the Bellamy claims out, the word “Bullshit” was roundly used. Monbiot, to his credit, wanted to know where Bellamy had found his ‘facts’, reasoning that they must have come from somewhere. After researching, he eventually followed the trail to Dr. S. Fred Singer and his website (www.sepp.com). Furthermore, whilst journalists were using and reproducing the ‘facts’ from Singer’s sepp website, Monbiot saw that Singer had cited only half a source ( a paper published in the journal Science in 1989.

    Monbiot presumably sensed the eau-de-bullshit and plowed his way through all issues of Science printed in 1989. Guess what? He did not find even one paper published in this journal that year about glacial retreat or advance.

    Monbiot wrote to The Guardian newspaper with his findings and there were some interesting ‘Letters To” following publication. Singer accused Monbiot of being a liar, being confused and various other things. He denied citing the Science reference, yet those who ventured onto his sepp website after this exchange, found the reference still clearly present.

    Singer then claimed that the reference had been placed on the website by a certain person who was described as a ‘former SEPP associate’. That associate was his wife, although he neglected to state that little factoid.

    Monbiot went on to write a book, published in 2006, called ‘Heat’. He states in it that even as he wrote, the claims on the SEPP website remained.

    This is not the only false or misleading words Singer has written or published. His organization is one of many that have received money from the Exxon company….need I say more about that?

    The ‘Oregan Petition’ (1998) on climate change being a myth, was authored by him and has been cited by almost every journalist needing to write about the ‘myth’ of climate change and global warming. 17,000 graduates, some of whom had no background or qualifications in science, signed the petition. This and a couple of other letters and articles were very widely circulated, and people like Dr. Bellamy and a journalist called Melanie Phillips, repeatedly cited them as a petition against global warming.

    As an amusing aside, Melanie Phillips once countered facts about the gaseous make-up of the atmosphere by writing that the atmosphere consisted mainly of water vapour. As Monbiot said in his book, “If that were the case we would all need gills”.

    I do apologise for the length of this comment. I hope that it might be both informative and interesting. I would recommend visiting Monbiot’s website http://www.monbiot.com and the website called Exxon Secrets http://www.exxonsecrets.org/html/personfactsheet.php?id=1

    Obviously the debate will continue ad nauseum but just as I feel that it is wrong to criticise a book without having read the whole of it (a habit I have which drives my partner wild when I am still reading a book I dislike for whatever reason) I also feel that people should read the facts, do the research and make their conclusions based on that, rather than simply swallowing the hype, lies and distorted truths fed to us by those in the media and falling prey to impressive sounding websites.

    I am used to looking at research and there are at the very least, two main questions to ask of any article or research (apart from the obvious ones of checking credentials and experience). The first is always to ask who has funded the research. The second is to wonder whether the data has been ‘cherry picked’ . The latter has caused some awful consequences in the pharmaceutical world.

    OK, I am done. If this comment is deemed too long for the site, dear Mr Fry/admin. then delete or don’t publish it. I will not be put out as it has been enjoyable and cathartic to write.

  21. katelaity says:

    I’m envious as always of your wealth of experiences (although I kind of hope the witch wasn’t Laurie Cabot). I really hope that your ultimate experience is a broader understanding of the multiplicity of views in this enormous country. You’ve seen a tiny portion of it so far–perhaps by the time you get to the Midwest (I say as a Midwesterner living in NY who also lived in Los Angeles, Houston, and various places in New England) you’ll see that comments like “the average position in America might be interpreted as…” are nonsense.

    I find it amusing that such assumptions are part of American discourse as well. While living in the South I had to endure comments about those East Coast people, while in LA I listened to learned disquisition on the yokels in the flyover states. Any generalization about Americans will be disproved vehemently in another part of the country. You’re on the right track with State identification; this is a land of States, not a single nation. There is a thin remnant of that history of independence, a remembrance that we are a loose confederation and not a behemoth (although naturally we look that way lately on the world stage).

  22. Somebody Else says:

    I wonder how much global temperatures have been increased by excessively heated debates over climate change.

  23. rasmaestro says:

    Flookwit;
    I am not the all-or-nothing advertiser here. But if you reduce skeptics to one category heavily curled up with oil interests and the dreariest motives possible, YOU are taking the all-or-nothing approach. Not acknowledging my closing point – that one might be, shall we say, methodologically skeptical without having any hassle with the overall goal of the general GW consensus. To me, that is perfectly possible, even preferable – yet in a simpler world, I am a fence-sitter lending my “deferring” voice to the forces of evil. Pardon me, but bollocks to that!

    About my baby-example; the possibility of that choice is the important thing. I like your lengthy calculus and I certainly think you are right on the subtle changes – I am all for those. However, this does not mean that you will escape facing similar choices on how to prioritise funding in the best interests of the environment. Especially in this volatile world of wars, corruption and not least commercialism. Think about China – you have a carbon emissions giant that also, incidentally, has an incredibly poor population. I am sure the pampered Americans and Europeans can spare those $2 each day but you conveniently left out the rest.

  24. markmacleo says:

    Some commenters go on! You’re fab and the discovery of your writing is a welcome step in anyone’s life.

    Recommendation for the State to State tour.

    If in St. Louis (pronounced L-e-w-e-s) goto the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts. A Tadao Ando built space for contemplation, art and architecture. I should disclose (in a BBC forewarned is forearmed way) I have worked there and hence know a man of your standing and appreciation for art and arhcitecture will enjoy it. http://www.pulitzerarts.org

    Oh and there is always Spring Break for you to organise?

  25. Mandyhello says:

    Although you seem extremely busy, Lovely Mr. Fry, and I doubt you’re reading each and every comment, I have a story and a possible solution related to your difficulties with American “fighting words”. By way of introduction, I’m currently getting my Masters in Library Science in Columbus, Ohio. A few weeks ago, I was talking with a few classmates in the hall outside of class, and we stumbled upon the “can you believe how awful some parents can be” discussion. About the time, I got around to complaining about parents who won’t let their kids get books but encourage them to check out movies, a woman (who may or may not have kids) flew into the conversation, and very pointedly asked me if I had children. Although I had a sense of what was coming, I said no, and she obviously made quite a fuss about judging parents and the dangers of not being as absolutely smart and lovely as she clearly is.

    It is now several weeks later, I’m still fuming eversoslightly, and I have several observations:

    1. In retrospect, lying would have been the best possible solution. I don’t know anybody else in class, and seeing her pretty little face fall as I went on and on about my perfect imaginary parenting skills would have been just the thing. I read a quote from you quite a while ago in which you discussed the odd way in which Americans seem to believe that anyone with a British accent is automatically authoritative and (at least to a point) intelligent. You may know (and your cranky host last night certainly noticed) that you have a perfectly wonderful, educated, and downright fancy British accent. At the point that he began asking if you understood the debate, had I been you, I think I would have been very tempted to stretch even taller than I already was, and start absolutely talking out my ass.

    2. If I had the whole thing (the disagreement with my classmate, not me being you in an imaginary argument with an oil baron), I probably would have shot back something snarky. We clearly aren’t going to be friends anyway, it probably won’t have been a bad idea to get out my frustrations of the week all at once. Better that than to still be thinking about it all these weeks later. There really isn’t anything worse than the regret of thinking of that perfect line in an argument that’s 3 weeks old (so at least you’ll rarely have to experience the joy of that.. much better to keep at it until you’re satisfied with your own arguments at least). Anyway, my two cents.. Pleasant travels, hopefully you can avoid other nasty rich American-types in the future :)

  26. Flookwit says:

    rasmaestro- Hello. I enjoyed reading your reply to my comment addressed to you. Sorry if it seemed that I was saying that you were an “..all or nothing advertiser here”, as you put it. I didn’t mean it to sound like I was suggesting you were.

    That ‘all or nothing’ bit of my comment came at the end and was more a rhetorical question as much to myself as everyone else concerned about climate change, on both sides of the table. It is not just the global warming sceptics (or skeptics if you use the American spelling) who see things in black or white terms. We all have a tendency to do this, and there are just as many people in the GW believers camp!

    As to the pecuniary hypothetical exercise, I merely chose the UK and the USA to illustrate the point I was making because the two countries were represented by a citizen of each at Mr Fry’s dinner table debate, the very debate that led to his post and the subsequent comments. You are quite right; I could easily have included China……and many other countries for that matter, but chose not to for the sake of relative brevity, clarity and simplicity.

    Of course, there will always be challenges to governments about how to best use funding, and it is an age old problem. Choices like these are ancient (an obvious example springs to mind in a certain ancient book, but I am most certainly not dragging that into this reply) and they will continue. You would have to be very naif to think that problems of choice will often be easy.

    All the best,
    Flookwit

  27. Minty says:

    My aren’t we chatty ;¬) That must have taken an age to write! I love the photo’s thanks for including them. Can’t wait to see you back on the beeb.

    Safe travels

  28. Buffy says:

    Sir Stephen of Fry,

    Regarding your American travels: I’m sure the majority of them are planned out already and that I’m a bit late with my pleading for you to visit Bakersfield, California. How can Bakersfield be avoided when it boasts such attractions as the Bakersfield sign, Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace and…er, Oildale? Then again, you might already recognise the name Bakersfield from Bakersfield P.D., the Buck Owens song The Streets of Bakersfield, Misery or the ‘Bakersfield outhouse’ that saved Tom Hanks in Cast Away. It’s a glittering CV, I know.

    Okay, so the best things about this town are that it’s got an easy get-out route to LA and Vegas is a day trip. Perhaps I should forget about that job at the Bakersfield Tourist Board after all…

    Best regards,
    Buffy x

    PS – While I’m being cheeky, if you do come to Bakersfield maybe you could bring Tony Slattery along? I haven’t seen him since my wedding and I miss him loads. :-)

  29. solipsistnation says:

    Terry Pratchett is an entertaining writer, I’d say. Since I’ve all of your books, my taste must be impeccable; thus, you should take my advice and at least glance at one of his novels.

  30. ficklefiend says:

    You really didn’t need to make apologies to the Pratchett fans!

    I’m looking forward to this documentary, I’ve been wanting to get myself over to America for a while now. The whole country gets such bad press and plenty of people are quite happy to say “Oh, I hate Americans.”, without even thinking.

    I just thought it couldn’t be as bad as all that…

  31. dawnho says:

    Oh dear! This must mean that I have lost out on an opportunity to lure you to Hawaii and especially the east side of the Big Island to show you the wonders of the volcano and visit our HawaiiMacNuts user group. If indeed there is still a possibility, we can be spontaneous and organize something wonderful for you at the drop of a guava.

  32. willa says:

    Re: “momentarily.”

    My dictionary actually does state that this word can be used to mean “in a minute,” “in a moment,” “shortly,” etc.

    Looks like there’s some debate about the usage, but even the Compact Oxford Dictionary lists this usage.

    …But now I’m not sure whether Mr. Fry’s blessay is actually stating that saying “momentarily” to mean “in a moment” is wrong, rather than different.

    I’m all confuzzled. And am I even using the word “usage” right? Oh dear…. Backing away from grammar and usage problems. It’s all too bewildering.

  33. duffer71 says:

    I must say I’m overjoyed at the thought that Minnesota may get a visit from this hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional being. :-)

    Seriously Mr. Fry, if you do read these, I’ve been enjoying reading your enlightening commentary. May your intelligence and wit rub off on those that you meet during your visit to the states!

  34. Joe D says:

    Stephen,
    Please please please tell us that you are making fifty episodes at an hour each, to go out once a week. It would be very wrong not to.

    Also, I picked up a copy of the spectacled bear book recently, and the landscape photography absolutely fantastic! I hope you have some equally talented photographers with you on this trip.

    Now, regarding climate change, I must disagree with you on one tiny detail: the utility of the analogy with Pascal’s wager. Pascal’s wager fails for another reason, which you do not mention (though somebody on the comments has come close — I’ve only had time to skim through the comments so far, so I appologise if somebody has got in before me): Pascal, if I recall correctly, was talking about the Christian God (especially with regards to heaven and hell). What if you put your bets on Jesus, but God is actually a Jew, or a Muslim, and sent you to hell for backing the wrong prophet? What if God is a bastard and rewards bad behaviour? What if God plays dice, and heaven and hell are entirely random? What if the FSM exists, and he rewards piracy? In the absence of any evidence for any of these scenarios, or indeed for the Christian God, one has no way to decide one’s wager.

    The analogy for those in groups B and C for Climate Change, if they really are unaware of the evidence, would be: what if more carbon dioxide is good for the environment? What if a warmer climate were beneficial, promoting economic growth, world peace, and an end to infective diseases, parasites and cancer? What if carbon dioxide levels haven’t changed at all? What if some other undiscovered atmospheric compound is causing problems, and we will make them worse by concentrating on something else? What if stopping burning coal will cause floods in Africa? What if reducing carbon dioxide will have a positive feedback effect, until levels get so low that all plants die? And so on, and so on.

    I imagine that the readers of this site know enough science to know that such what-ifs are absurd, and anyway, are irrelevant in the light of the vast body of evidence indicating climate change and carbon dioxide’s role in it. But if somebody is truly unaware of such evidence, or truly believes it to be inconclusive, and if they know so little basic science that they can not evaluate the scenarios, then there will be no reason to bet on any particular one of them. Betting on one risks angering the god of the other, so to speak.

  35. veris says:

    Dear Stephen,

    As I really have nothing to say on the matter of Global Warming (it’s one of those bad habit of mine, the more important the subject the less I have to say about it. As far GW goes, my opinion is that we really ought to leave a place nicer that than when we first came, and it’s pretty obvious that we better do things about it. That’s it. But dear god, don’t get started on who was a better bass singer Darrell Fancourt or Donald Adams, or John Ayldon I will tear people apart on that one), I’ll not bother waffling on about it and allow more science minded people to air their more informed views, without letting mine intrude. Instead, I’ll write on subject that I really care more about, namely Pratchett

    Though it did seem only a little insulting, I wasn’t offended. Indeed though, I might have been offended as apparently others were, save for the fact that as far as unintended insults go it was rather funny. When you get down to it, I can’t really be offended at anyone would go to the trouble to insult me that well; it’s another bad habit, but it’s my parents fault for introducing me to Shakespeare at a very early age. The way your phrase stated, though, it doesn’t seem like it’s a criticism of what Pratchett readers do, so much as it seems that being a Pratchett reader is a very bad habit like the sipping of soup or the breathing out of the mouth. I had really no previous inkling that this was bad and embarrassing habit, unlike other things that other people tell have informed me that are bad habits, like Star Trek, or graphic novels, or the tendency, if I’m not paying attention to it, of putting my elbows on the table. Or reading Xanth, which is something nobody has taken me to task for, but that’s only ‘cause I know it’s an embarrassment and don’t normally advertise it (save for under torture or on other people’s blogs). It did seem like you were insulting us all, but I suppose that it is as Martyn Green notes, it’s all where you put your emphasis, and in our case where we imagined your emphasis to be.

    But really as some one said, you really need not have apologized for such a small offense. But it was very kind of you to do so.

    I just wish to note that us Pratchett fans can never be said to be overwhelmed by the presence of fame. When presented with anybody who has never read the books, we immediately fall over ourselves to recommend which book to start with. I must agree with those who have mentioned “Mort” and “Small Gods”, while not my favorites they are a good introduction to Pratchett’s style. Personally, I’d have you start with The Truth, it’s a stand alone, and you don’t need to have read all the other books; it’s also sufficiently late enough in the series that there is a very nice sense of history which doesn’t get in the way of enjoying . Also it’s a very insightful look at journalism, as I find myself getting more involved with the press, I see exactly how dead on that book is. One last bit of advice here, I started with Jingo. Don’t start with Jingo.

    Now that I’ve given some of my recommendations, what of yours? Would you mind telling your readers what makes you smile and laugh? Outside of Plum, Adams, and us silly little Pratcheteers, of course.

    Cheers,

    Abby

    P.S. I very much hope you enjoyed your time in Virginia and I hope you got to down to Tidewater area, as it’s too lovely to miss.

  36. Joe D says:

    Appologies if this turns up twice, or I’m annoying a moderator by being impatient, but this hasn’t shown up in the twelve hours since I sumitted it :(

    Stephen,
    Please please please tell us that you are making fifty episodes at an hour each, to go out once a week. It would be very wrong not to.

    Also, I picked up a copy of the spectacled bear book recently, and the landscape photography absolutely fantastic! I hope you have some equally talented photographers with you on this trip.

    Now, regarding climate change, I must disagree with you on one tiny detail: the utility of the analogy with Pascal’s wager. Pascal’s wager fails for another reason, which you do not mention (though somebody on the comments has come close — I’ve only had time to skim through the comments so far, so I appologise if somebody has got in before me): Pascal, if I recall correctly, was talking about the Christian God (especially with regards to heaven and hell). What if you put your bets on Jesus, but God is actually a Jew, or a Muslim, and sent you to hell for backing the wrong prophet? What if God is a bastard and rewards bad behaviour? What if God plays dice, and heaven and hell are entirely random? What if the FSM exists, and he rewards piracy? In the absence of any evidence for any of these scenarios, or indeed for the Christian God, one has no way to decide one’s wager.

    The analogy for those in groups B and C for Climate Change, if they really are unaware of the evidence, would be: what if more carbon dioxide is good for the environment? What if a warmer climate were beneficial, promoting economic growth, world peace, and an end to infective diseases, parasites and cancer? What if carbon dioxide levels haven’t changed at all? What if some other undiscovered atmospheric compound is causing problems, and we will make them worse by concentrating on something else? What if stopping burning coal will cause floods in Africa? What if reducing carbon dioxide will have a positive feedback effect, until levels get so low that all plants die? And so on, and so on.

    I imagine that the readers of this site know enough science to know that such what-ifs are absurd, and anyway, are irrelevant in the light of the vast body of evidence indicating climate change and carbon dioxide’s role in it. But if somebody is truly unaware of such evidence, or truly believes it to be inconclusive, and if they know so little basic science that they can not evaluate the scenarios, then there will be no reason to bet on any particular one of them. Betting on one risks angering the god of the other, so to speak.

  37. danegeld says:

    The problem I think we face when discussing global warming is that it easily excites visceral passions, while the solution must lie in marrying a scientific and a bean-counting approach.

    I wonder; the carbon that we’re burning today represents the fossilised remains of plants and animals that lived long ago. Now those prehistoric plants got their carbon from the atmosphere in the form of CO2, which they used it to form wood, leaves, etc. this eventually became coal and peat. Phyto/zoo-plankton and the bodies of animals swimming and sinking gradually formed oil. So the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has been falling gradually and continuously for all the time that the fossilisation process has been occurring.

    We know that the earth was continuously habitable at all points in the past up until today by virtue of the fact we’re alive – life hasn’t arisen, died out completely, then re-emerged.

    My point is that if we burn the last lump of coal and use the last gallon of petrol, we will have returned carbon that existed as a free gas in the prehistoric world back to the air. The prehistoric world was habitable at the time, so we don’t need to fear a literal annihilation resulting from global warming, though if CO2 causes global warming, there will be an enormous economic cost in adapting to raised sea levels, more frequent storms, land which is unusable due to drought.

    If CO2 is completely unrelated to global warming, there will be an enormous economic cost to move away from fossil fuels when they run out and we can no longer use cars or manufacture plastic, or melt steel. Asking whether CO2 causes global warming almost misses the point – whether it does or not, fossil fuel will run out and our way of life will have to radically change.

    I want to point out a very accessible and dispassionate look at renewable energy in Great Britain (I’m not the authour or affiliated with the book, but it’s well worth a read). For instance, how many solar panels and wind turbines do we need to be able to do without any coal, gas or nuclear power stations? Is it remotely feasible? Is it really quite simple to achieve? How much would energy have to cost in order for it to be provided from 100% renewable sources? What percentage of Britains’ land would need to be wind farm or solar cell? How much energy do we use each, per day, and how much could we use in the future? Where will we make the savings?

    This book attempts to ask those questions http://www.withouthotair.com/ , and they are the questions are central to a meaningful debate on fossil fuels, far more than whether we should have an existential guilt about using resources while we’re alive.

    The only reason we have people in class B is because there is a paucity of viable alternatives to using fossil fuels.

  38. pajamaw says:

    Great read as usual!
    I love the reference to Vonnegut.

  39. Domer02 says:

    First off, let me wish you luck in finding any food here in the US that does not contain High Fructose Corn Syrup. Personally, I am convinced that the apparent fate of Americans to turn into motorized scooter driving, fork wielding chubs is because of this barely 30 year old sweetener. (Side Note: I can make such remarks about the overweight since I too am a fatty.) Some claim it is natural or if you don’t want it, just don’t drink sodas. I found it in some liver snaps while shopping for my dog. The same dog who eats cat litter. And I’m pretty sure she doesn’t do it for the baking soda clean feeling. So I buy her all-natural treats and organic baked food, and myself a soda on the way out…

    And as for Jim and your heated discussion… Well, folks are saying plenty about Jim and American’s tolerance for argumentative chat, and there is plenty that can continue to be said. I think the problem is not that most Americans shy away from confrontation, it’s just that the large majority of them never have to face anyone who holds a different opinion than they do. As a result, anyone whose point of view is even slightly different than their own is one of which to be weary. They are obviously an outsider and outsiders are to be feared. But, since they have never had their beliefs challenged, they respond as they do to general confrontation: either curl up in a ball and play dead or assume the other individual is making a personal attack and strike out as such. You apparently encountered the latter in Jim. Those of us Americans who think calling your lifelong friends morons over the dinner table for their views on the world is an average Saturday night apologize.

    But what I did find interesting was your observation that people who live in New York City are less likely to have or express a pride for their hometown. As a life-long New York Resident, it’s not that I take umbrage at that remark (rarely does a day go by when I don’t say, “And that guy/gal is the reason people think New York Sucks”), it’s more that it is a widely agreed upon stereotype that is far from accurate.

    The thing is that there are, as you stated, “People from New York,” and then there are “New Yorkers.” People from New York tend to just think of themselves as residents of the city. Maybe they grew up there but never built a deep feeling about it one way or the other. Many of them are not native-born, having come to New York as adults. Some act like asses because they think that’s what you do in New York. Others identify more with the places they have come from so they like NY, but have no passion for it. So it’s not so much that these folks are less likely to talk about their admiration for the City, it’s just that they really don’t have much to speak of. Luckily, the next group is often loud enough to ensure that everyone can hear them.

    New Yorkers are a different breed entirely. For example, recently I was riding in a cab near Union Square in Manhattan with two friends: one from NYC and one a transplant from Miami. We were stopped making a turn as a woman who was about 157 if she’s a day was slowly shuffling across the street. I sat in silence watching my money slowly tick away. My Miami friend began shouting for the elderly woman to move faster and that there should be an age limit for living in NYC. Once you are too old you should have to move and why would you even want to live in a place where you have to walk everywhere? We explained to her that this woman is a New Yorker, this is just what she does. She has probably lived here her whole life and would never think of living anywhere else. The city is a part of her and she is a part of the city.

    And that is the essence of it all: New Yorkers see the City as one monstrous organism and themselves as an organic component. We thrive on it and it on us. The break down of one results in the strengthening of the other: the subways go on strike, New Yorkers say “poop” and walk across bridges and up 60 blocks to work; the power goes out on a boiling summer day, New Yorkers again say “poop,” buy some Ice and have a block party with their neighbors and all the defrosting food. This I know on a personal level, having spent four years at college in Indiana (Digression: No American tour is complete without participation in a college football Saturday, preferably at Notre Dame, but since the regular season is over, any College Bowl game would do well). Now the people of Indiana are wonderful and my circle of friends now spans the US, but each return to NY was accompanied with a sigh of relief. There is an unusual comfort in the insanity of NY. The speed at which life moves makes the slow moments just that much more significant.

    And, most importantly, our brisk exteriors are not from a lack of emotion or concern for our City and its individuals. In fact, it comes from our need to protect and preserve it entirely. We are a city of immense culture and diversity, but we don’t take well to those who come in and mess with our routine. Every swear, middle finger, “come on,” and “move it,” is like a little “I Love You,” to New York.

    Ok, maybe not that. But, if you think it’s typical for New Yorkers not to express their love of their City, it is really because you are looking to hear it spoken plainly and with obvious pride. The think is, since New Yorkers see it as their city, praise for any parts are praise for the whole. When New Yorkers say they love the Yankees, bagels, pizza, central park, Broadway or anything, they are saying they love New York because to them they are one in the same.

    Yes, New Yorkers are a enigmatic, often times annoying bunch. But at least we’re open about it.

    Oh, and no cultural study of the United States will be complete without addressing the soda, pop or coke conflict. I’ve seen it divide families.

    Hmm, and somehow I managed to come full circle back to high fructose corn syrup. Wow, it is that good…

  40. daveInOz says:

    Stephen,
    Yes, your blessay this time was a little long winded, however, it was on an important subject. I would like to make two points.

    Firstly, if we take the science out of the debate, and look at pure risk and economics, it has to be addressed, and I think this was the crux of your argument.
    I have an example to illustrate this. Employees in a local building were complaining that to many women had contracted cancer. More than would be considered normal. After an exhaustive scientific investigation, no answer was found. However, a risk assessment conducted at the same time concluded that to continue using the building would be both morally and economically disastrous for the employer.

    Secondly, and more ironically, it may force the world to come closer together, as we all strive to overcome a potential common problem.
    Nothing forces people closer together than adversity.
    Cheers,
    Dave.

  41. DonnieMarco says:

    I was very interested to read about the cultural differences in debate around the dinner table between the U.S. and Britain. I am Welsh and went to University in Cardiff. My fellow students were predominantly English and I learned very quickly that the Welsh sense of humour often caused offence to my English classmates. Whereas I was always used to looking for self-deprecating jokes, and also giving the setup line for someone elses punchline, my delicate classmates often didn’t understand at all and thought I was being cruel.

    As for Global Warming, there are two facts that are inarguable. One is that the Earth is getting warmer. Two is that there has been a massive rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) linked to Man’s activities.

    The debate on Global Warming is centred around whether or not the two are linked. And nobody knows for certain. In fact it is thought that many of Man’s industrial and travel activities are currently keeping Earth cool, by releasing particulates into the atmosphere that actually shade the Earth. Jet aircraft are thought to offset a lot of the possible atmospheric warming effect through their contrails actually reflecting solar energy back into space.

    It’s all going to be OK though because the UK government are going to raise taxes on fuel and fine people who don’t recycle etc. Of course it would be ludicrous to expect government to legislate for companies to reduce packaging, encourage the purchase of local produce and ensure that their products meet a standard of energy efficiency and ban ‘standby’ on electrical items.

  42. Rangabe says:

    Dear Mr Fry

    Delightfully, the word ‘statal’ does exist. Herewith an excerpt from the OED:
    1. Of or pertaining to a State (of the U.S. or other federation), as distinguished from national. rare.
    1862 E. Bates in Official Opinions Attorneys Gen. X. 388 I have no knowledge of any other kind of political citizenship, higher or lower, statal or national. 1880 A. Tourgée Fool’s Errand & Invisible Empire ii. xi. 489 Public education flourished as a part of the statal economy. 1949 Times 7 Feb. 5/3 All the states outside this special category have already been merged with provinces or have joined one or another of the six great statal groups.

  43. Gabe says:

    I have been enjoying your written ponderings since I stumbled upon this site a couple of months ago Mr Fry, you are a delight to read.

    There is nothing I can add to the vast array of commentary on GW here, although your insight into the American habit of becoming personally insulted when their views/opinions are challenged may prove useful in future discussions with a person of American origin who appears to have this habit. I had never managed to identify quite why I found discussion anything with him so irritating until you articulated the cause.

    Now on to matters far more significant, the vast numbers of recommendations as to which Prachett you should read first. As a person who reads extensively across broad areas of fiction, I have been known to get twitchy when confronted with an absense of reading material, there is something you must know about Mr Pratchett’s work… it’s boring. I have on several ocasions had a Pratcheteer thrust one of his works upon me for my reading pleasure, I have yet to manage to finish a single one as they bore me to tears. Please consider this advice carefully before following the advice of Pratcheteers here, it is entirely possible to live a fulfilling life without having to enjoy Pratchett novels, in fact one’s life may well be enhanced by the absence of such banal teduim.

    cheers
    Gabe

  44. lydz says:

    i love the word connecticut. i try to get people to say it if a close subject ever comes up. i remember thinking connect-i-cut?!?! oooh (i watched lots of american tv) connecticut ;D
    unfortunately everyone else seems to know the real prounciation, which is a shame and its a shame i cant spell pronounciation, oh wait i think that got it

    i’d never really thought that global warming could be the conspiracy of the century, just memorised (learnt some of i guess) it for the exams. I am an A tho, i try. Thing that gets me tho is that the summers are meant to be really hot, i know this is probably meant to be a gradual thing, but the summer just gone seemed to be a step back.

    I dont like heat tho and since monitors are backlit maybe everyone can turn their bulbs off. Please i’ll just end up with skin cancer, think about my health :D

  45. daileygf says:

    I think this American documentary is a wonderful idea. It is remarkable how foreign my own country can feel. The civic and state pride is an interesting and relevant view to take. I am known as a rather rediculously patriotic Seattalite. However, these identities are not entirely defined by state lines; there are more geological regions with commonalities that tie people together. What I know is Washington. Here we’ve got this mountain range cutting through the state, resulting not just in enviromental but also in cultural differences. I’ve got to talking with some locals in original coffee shops-many would identify more with Portland, OR, or even Vancouver, B.C. than with, say, Spokane, WA.

    I do hope this documentary will explore Western Washington with more than Starbucks, we are composed of a bit more than computers and coffee, truly…
    The rainforest is beautiful.

  46. Jay says:

    Well Stephen, you’ve certainly gone up in my estimations. Anyone who recognises the God like genius of My Cousin Vinny is OK in my book. Not that I’ve got a book, but if I had one, you’d definitely be on the ‘Nice Chap’ pages. That film is the mostest underratedest of all underrated movies.

    I suppose I better comment on the issue at hand: Boo to global warming! To be honest, I’m a little too poor to personally effect climate change, but Boo to it anyway. I barely leave any footprint at all, let alone a fancy pants carbon one, even in its cheapest allotrope. There’s plenty out there with diamonds on the soles of their shoes. I couldn’t even make a pencil.

  47. NAGA says:

    Would you be so kind as to tour Norfolk/Suffolk.

    We also like a jolly good ding dong.

  48. dehelen says:

    When you get to the Pacific Northwest, please do come to Portland, Oregon. If you let me know you’re coming, I’ll bake you a cake of your choice, make a pot of tea and walk you around the Pearl District.

  49. JulesLt says:

    Personally, I wish we’d all go back to coal and get rid of the catalytic convertors on cars – remembering the black buildings of my childhood, there was an incredibly clear link between what we burnt and what the places we lived would look like.

    The other thing I don’t get is how the critics of global warming always trot out the economic growth argument. Surely a switch towards renewable or fusion energy sources is also an opportunity for economic growth, creating new industries, and eventually giving an edge over countries who have a dependency on increasingly expensive fossil fuel energy – something we are told has slowed growth over the last 2 years! Is it me or is that not a reason in itself to look at the alternatives?

    (Ironically, it might be market forces rather than political action that solves the issue – and will allow both sides to believe they were right).

    I’m also reminded somewhat of telecom firms and ISPs and then VOIP or the iPhone. Either you can stick your head in the sand and pretend it’s all going to go away and pretend your old business is fine (and then pay millions for the wrong firm at the height of a boom) or you can get in early and be a player. Guess which I’d be doing if my business was non-renewable fossil fuels?

    Oh, and Margaret Thatcher – a woman who I despise on many levels – understood and believed the science (she was, after all, an Oxford educated chemist). Hardly someone you’d have down as your typical Leftist / liberal / hippy type A.

    And as a quick response to Danegeld – there was a mass extinction since most of our fossil fuels were laid down. Perhaps something worth avoiding? (Even if the causes are not man-made).

  50. laurieapg says:

    Thought I would log in with a few thoughts. I am American, born, raised and living in the American South…but I DO believe in global warming, and I am not the only person living in the U.S. in a city not located on either the West or East Coasts who does. Though I admit it often feels that way.

    I’m sorry we elected George Bush–twice–and that we as a country seem to have our heads up our arses.

    Thanks for the intelligent blessays.

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