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Interviews on a Sunday, part 2

Mysteriously didn't show on my f-list first time I posted this, so here goes again: This is the second of two sets of interview questions. I know I owe questions to a number of you; if you wish me to owe interview questions to you as well, say so in the comments.

From grahamsleight:
  1. Which would you most like back in the BBC archives in its entirety - Evil of the Daleks or The Daleks' Masterplan?

    It's actually quite a difficult one. I was underwhelmed by the Evil of the Daleks audio, and impressed more than I expected by The Dalek Master Plan. Fan lore, however, has it that the Evil of the Daleks was more impressive to watch. But the bottom line is that there are nine missing episodes of the Dalek Master Plan and only six missing of Evil of the Daleks, so resurrecting the former gets you almost four hours of extra classic Who rather than just two and a half. So the older story wins.

  2. What's your preferred electoral system for the UK - STV or AV? (Or, indeed, other?)

    STV in multi-member constituencies. I think it is the best electoral system for anything anywhere. (Except of course if you are choosing only one winner.) Political parties hate it because it allows the voter to make sophisticated choices. I wish more voters would actually do so, of course.

  3. How easy do you think it is for the person-at-home-with-a-TV-and-internet to grasp the complexity of (eg) the Bosnian conflict?

    I think you can get a fairly good idea of what's going on from open source information. The US Army used to produce a truly comprehensive daily news summary from Bosnia, compiled from local media sources and translated into English, and distribute it free to all comers. Most countries have some similar news service available, though not always for free.

    But myself, I couldn't just do it like that; I think it is always vital to talk to people and get a sense of whether the media have got it right or wrong, and to get those local nuances of body language and intonation which are necessary to get the full picture. If I see a startling news item from one of the countries I deal with, my immediate instinct is to call or email someone who actually lives there to find out what is really going on.

  4. Do you have any personal preference between sf and fantasy as genres in general (as it were)?

    I think of myself as more of a science fiction reader, but in fact this basically means that I am more likely to buy a cheap science fiction book off a second-hand stall without thinking about it; to buy or read a fantasy novel takes a more serious act of will. Also, of course, I have put a lot of effort into analysis of the Hugo and Nebula awards, which are more of a science fiction than a fantasy phenomenon. In general I prefer to duck the question by declaring if challenged that sf stands for "speculative fiction" and that I am therefore an sf fan without differentiating too much.

  5. Is it worth visiting Brussels if you can't stand moules?

    Gosh, yes. There's still beer, chocolate and waffles; there's still the art museums, the EU, and some of the architecture. Though having said that, I don't actually live in Brussels and spend very little time there at the weekends - there are lots of more attractive cities in Belgium!
From bugshaw:
  1. Crosswords or Sudoku?

    Yeah, that is one of the fundamental questions of our times, isn't it? Sudoku to take my mind off things, crosswords for more intense stimulation. I couldn't take more than a couple of crosswords a week; sudoku I can do for hours at a stretch. Not a direct answer, but as good as I can do right now.

  2. Three countries you've never visited but would like to?

    I gave a slightly longer answer to this eighteen months ago, since when I have actually been to Albania, Ukraine and Turkey (twice). I think my three remaining top places to go are:
    1. Pitcairn Island, because of its bizarre and disturbing history;
    2. Egypt, because of the everything; and
    3. Poland or Norway, to fill in the remaining gaps on my map of countries I've been to in Europe.

  3. Tell me an anecdote from your schooldays.

    This was a tremendously difficult one to answer. I remember my schooldays in terms of activities (Dungeons and Dragons with my friends, attending the City of Belfast School of Music [cf answer to secritcrush below]), exams, crushes, being a nerd whose accent was more English-sounding than the other kids'. But I guess one iconic moment was when one of my friends and I, anticipating that we would finish our maths tests well ahead of everyone else, established a system of playing chess across the classroom by tapping on our desks with rulers. The teachers knew something was going on but never worked out what. I haven't played much chess since.

  4. Where did you find fandom?

    Mainly on-line. I started posting to rasfw in 1995, and started posting my reviews of Hugo nominees in 2000. In 2002 I took the step of actually going to an sf con for the first time, MeCon V in Belfast, and that marked a serious up-tick in my fannish activity. Since then I've been to the first and third P-Cons, the most recent MeCon, PicoCon last year, two London meets and of course the WorldCon in Glasgow. But my fannish activity will remain mainly on-line.

  5. Assume the Daleks have been purged from this space-time continuum. Who would you like to be your new overlord(s)?

    Really it should be the insects, of course. But I think in the matter of overlords, you have to take what you get.

From secritcrush:
  1. I've only watched the Baker and Davison years of the old Dr Who - what would you recommend as the essential episode to watch that I've never seen?

    I'm in much the same position, actually; and if your "Baker years" include much of Colin Baker as well as Tom, you may in fact be better versed than me.

    I have seen only one Sylvester McCoy story, and was unimpressed (though The Curse of Fenric is on the shelf waiting to be watched) and watched the Eighth Doctor movie for the first time only two days ago. So my recommendations are entirely from the first three Doctors which I suspect is what you wanted anyway.

    As mentioned above, I very much enjoyed the Dalek Master Plan, which is available only on audio. From the Hartnell era, I also especially liked the Dalek Invasion of Earth. I enjoyed the two stories from the first Pertwee season I have seen, Spearhead from Space and Inferno. But in terms of which story from the first eleven years is the classic that the true fan must see, I think there can be only one answer: The War Games. Troughton had other good stories, but this story was crucial in establishing internal Doctor Who continuity and also elicited really good performances from the cast and generally looks good. You do have to be patient with it though as it has ten episodes.

  2. What is the most frustrating aspect of your job?

    When people do really stupid things, particularly governments and people whose job it is to know better. There are loads of examples from the countries I work on professionally, but I'll take one that is particularly close to home: the anti-immigration policies of western European countries, who have a labour shortage domestically and who are also (supposedly) concerned about extremism and political instability in the nearby countries with high levels of male unemployment and a desire to work in the EU. The only thing that comes even close to annoying me as much as stupid officials is commentators who try and explain the actions of these stupid officials by resorting to conspiracy theories, rather than the simpler explanation of them just being stupid.

  3. What is the first book you remember reading?

    A book about the sun and the stars, probably around Christmas 1971 or so.

  4. Do you play any musical instruments?

    Not any more. At primary school I was made to experiment unsuccessfully with the violin; at grammar school with the clarinet. What I did enjoy was orchestral percussion, and I ascended to the dizzy heights of Second Percussionist with the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra; and indeed played between two and six classical music concerts (for college orchestras, mostly) every term I was an undergraduate. But I have no great urge to pick up the drumsticks again.

  5. Pirate or robot? Defend your choice! (and none of that robot pirate nonsense.)

    Oh that's easy. I hate cute robots. It has to be pirates; who also have a certain libertarian, anti-statist, revolutionary streak to them, at least in the best cases.

From despotliz:
  1. How do you manage to juggle things and find time for a family life, a demanding job, reading hundreds of books, and posting to LJ?

    I think I'm pretty good at multi-tasking. Family comes naturally. Work comes almost naturally. I read books by reflex, and really have to have two or three on the go simultaneously, at least one of them in easy reach, or I don't feel comfortable. (And a lot of the books I choose to read are pretty easy reading, so it's not that much extra strain!) Some of these lj entries (this one for example) are actually written over a period of days, using Semagic, editing and re-editing the draft private entry and then finally posting as a new entry. And some day, I'll rebalance and spend time doing different things (as indeed I have moved away from usenet almost completely).

    On top of that I have a wonderful wife who does not have a paid job (which is not at all the same thing as not working). So many of the necessary tasks that are done by both partners at the weekend in a dual-income household are taken on my other half; that probably liberates a lot more time for other activities.

    (Though I think I would probably still be clutching a book in my hand.)

  2. Which of the regular cons you've been to is your favourite?

    "Regular"!? I've only been to two cons more than once, P-Con in Dublin and MeCon in Belfast. Very much enjoyed them both, with P-Con, being slightly mre literary rather than media and (I think) with more guests scoring slightly above its northern cousin. I hope to attend both next year, so ask me again in September.

  3. Best book you've read this year?

    I think I'll keep my vote for single best book of 2006 until nearer the end of the year. The books I've read and really enjoyed so far were: Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation 1838-1839, by Frances Anne Kemble; Thud!, by Terry Pratchett; Lost Lives, by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton and David McVea; Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow;Lords of Parliament: Manners, rituals and politics, by Emma Crewe; Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (re-read); The Healer's War, by Elizabeth Anne Scarborough; Salonica: City of Ghosts - Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950, by Mark Mazower; Indefensible, by David Feige; The File on H, by Ismail Kadarë; the first five Amber books, by Roger Zelazny (re-read); A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin (re-read); and The Breaking of Nations, by Robert Cooper. But there are still six weeks to go.

  4. Do you find learning languages easy, or is it something you have to work at?

    Of course it's not easy, and I don't do it very often! I would say that I have to work at it, not only because it is difficult, but also in the sense of feeling a moral obligation to try and communicate better.

  5. Where would you like to live if you weren't in Belgium?

    Probably back in Northern Ireland; though New York and Cambridge (England, not MA) are attractive too! If money is no object, certainly back in the homeland. If I have to work for a living, probably New York.


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 19th, 2006 03:14 pm (UTC)
And a sixth, for extra credit... How did you first encounter the early Doctor Whos? I recall Tom Baker onwards from the television, but I read all the Hartnell and Troughton stories in the Target novelisations before I'd seen more than a snippet of them on telly.

Excellent iconic childhood anecdote, thanks!
Nov. 19th, 2006 03:19 pm (UTC)
Of course, the Target novelisations were the only way for me too, plus the occasional repeat (you'll remember, I'm sure, the Five Faces of Doctor Who month when they showed An Unearthly Child, The Krotons, and Carnival of monsters in successsive weeks).

Nowadays we have DVDs, videos, audio CDs and (cough) other methods...
Nov. 19th, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC)
I don't remember that Five Faces month... There were a few years when I got rather out of step with Doctor Who. It was shown, as I remember, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and on Tuesdays I went to Brownies. It was very odd reading the Tom Baker novelisations later - parts were quite familiar and others I had no recollection of!
Nov. 19th, 2006 05:47 pm (UTC)
Five Faces...
Didn't they also show The Three Doctors? Have I got that wrong?
Nov. 19th, 2006 05:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Five Faces...
Yes, you're quite right; and Logopolis as well.
Nov. 19th, 2006 04:59 pm (UTC)
stupid politicians and conspiracy theories
Nicholas -

In response to your point about the resistance to immigration from the east amongst west european politicians. I agree that conspiranoid types are off their trollies, but 'politicians are stupid' is not, in my opinion, an adequate answer to the conspiraloons.

Resistance to eastern immigration is (in my opinion) the result of structural changes in west European societies, changes such as the assault on the welfare state and the increased insecurity neo-liberalism inevitably brings. The political fall-out is a turn towards ethnic (and ethnoreligious) chauvinism by politicians who are not stupid but who are cynical (and it's not a conspiracy because they aren't agreeing to do it in secret, they're just responding to common pressures).

It's the present-day version of the 'socialism of fools' if you will (not that the older version of that particular foolishness has left us either).
Nov. 19th, 2006 05:42 pm (UTC)
Re: stupid politicians and conspiracy theories
I guess that the conspiracy theory remark was more directed to other issues, such as those who believe that the US government allowed 9/11 to happen for the sake of an oil pipeline across Afghanistan which hasn't been built yet.

I do think, however, that the anti-immigration policies are stupid as well as lazy; building a immigration wall around Europe will cause damage which cannot easily be put right - increased radicalism of the masses left outside, institutionalised corruption in the process of immigration, labour and skills shortages inside the EU - whereas the process of integrating future immigrants is one which would (if handled properly, or even if left to look after itself without being handled at all) actually boost both the welfare state and social stability in the medium term.

But very few politicians are willing to tell these truths to the voters. Laziness, cowardice, stupidity; take your pick, but I know which I favour.

Who are you, by the way?
Nov. 19th, 2006 05:56 pm (UTC)
Re: stupid politicians and conspiracy theories

You don't know me, but I had a pint or two with you and Ken Macleod at that MeCon gig. We also know a couple of the same people back at the QUB history of science/anthropology department.

With regard to the Afghan pipeline, I suspect the connection went something like this; most of the Taliban leadership were happy to have the pipeline built so long as they got paid off properly. Hardliners, however, remained opposed to the deal, and got Osama to have his boys perpetrate the mass murder in New York. I'm not saying that's what happened, I just think something like that would join the dots without either resort to conspira-bollocks or the opposite extreme of total randomness.

As for the wider issue of politicians' stupidity - what appears stupid to you or me in our particular social and ideological position may not appear stupid or irrational to someone else in a different social position (Evans-Pritchards' Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande is rather good on this issue . . . )

And what if the goal is not to strengthen the welfare state, or stabilise society, but to drive down wages for the benefit of the capitalist class?
Didn't the governor of the Bank of England say that immigration was great because it was keeping inflation down by holding down wages?

It's a pity, of course, that the governor isn't troubled by the social and poltical consequences of this, of course. . .
Nov. 19th, 2006 07:27 pm (UTC)
Re: stupid politicians and conspiracy theories
What you say about the pipeline might have made sense from the Afghan side - I'm not qualified to say. My problem is with those who think that the Americans were so desperate to have the pipeline built that they winked at the murder of 3,000 of their own citizens! (and then sat on their hands for five years not actually building it.)

what if the goal is not to strengthen the welfare state, or stabilise society, but to drive down wages for the benefit of the capitalist class?

Well, at least that wouldn't be stupid, in the way that the current policy is!
Nov. 20th, 2006 09:58 am (UTC)
Re: stupid politicians and conspiracy theories

Again, stupid from whose point of view? From the point of view of those who have to live with the consequences, i.e. you and me and millions of other poor sods (can we say 'sods' on livejournal?) it's pretty damn stupid.

From the point of view of those who can fatten their capital off exploited immigrant labour, or those who can win elections by appealing to xenophobia and chauvinism, it makes perfect sense.

On the wider issue of conspiracy theories . . . one thing I hate about them is that their very existence undermines efforts to make the connections that are needed to understand the world around us, because people hear you making those connections and assume (wrongly) that you're just another looney tunes conspiracy theorist.

Example: People used to say to me 'hey moose, why don't you have a mobile phone'. I'd reply that I was boycotting the technology because the competition for the areas in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where the mineral coltan (essential for mobiles) is mined is a major factor for aggravating the civil war in DRC where 3 million people have been killed.

As you know, this is a well documented feature of the DRC tragedy. However, I explained this to some people once, and they looked very puzzled for a moment, and then one of them said - 'oh, so you're one of those people who think the moon landing was a hoax, right?'
Nov. 20th, 2006 10:31 am (UTC)
Re: stupid politicians and conspiracy theories
From the point of view of those who can fatten their capital off exploited immigrant labour, or those who can win elections by appealing to xenophobia and chauvinism, it makes perfect sense.

Yeah, but you have to choose between those two options! They are not compatible!

And winning elections is all very well, and an unavoidable motivator for politicians, but if it is consciously done at the cost (as I said earlier) of increased radicalism of the masses left outside, institutionalised corruption in the process of immigration, labour and skills shortages, it is a false priority; or, as I described it earlier, stupid.

On the DRC stuff, that really is extraordinary. Where do these people think the minerals come from? A hole in the ground? Cornwall?
Nov. 20th, 2006 10:52 am (UTC)
Re: stupid politicians and conspiracy theories

Are they really that incompatible, though?

If the new immigrant labour force is kept in a socially and economically position as the result of xenophobic policies which ensure that their status is either semi-legal or illegal, then it will be much harder for them to exercise the rights of labour - trade union organisation, a minimum wage, health and safety conditions, etc.

In the long term there will be, as you say, costs to all that - but then as Keynes said, in the long term we are all dead. And in a situation such as the UK, where the economy is geared towards short-term perspectives, it's highly likely those long-term costs will be ignored until it's too late.

Nov. 20th, 2006 11:31 am (UTC)
Re: stupid politicians and conspiracy theories
it's highly likely those long-term costs will be ignored until it's too late

Indeed - that's why I call it stupid!
Nov. 20th, 2006 02:03 pm (UTC)
Re: stupid politicians and conspiracy theories

I'm not denying it's stupid (from out point of view) am I?

I'm merely saying that, unfortunately, there are structural reasons which are breeding this particular kind of stupidity. It's not merely the result of an individual politicians lack of grey matter, it's a product of the structural condition of today's Western European societies.

I also have the feeling that we've started chasing each other's tails on this, so it may be best to stop here. . .
Nov. 19th, 2006 05:49 pm (UTC)
I missed the start of this interview meme (Life? Don't talk to me about life...), but I would be happy to be asked five questions...

I should say, others have pretty much asked the questions I would have asked you myself.
Nov. 20th, 2006 04:09 am (UTC)
I was wondering if you could do a locked post and name the international politician you most disapprove of.
Nov. 20th, 2006 04:52 am (UTC)
Yeah, after reading the description, my first thought was "what, only one?"
Nov. 20th, 2006 05:27 am (UTC)
I kept on scanning for the sentence 'Dear readers, kindly adjudge who fits the description the best...' :)
Nov. 20th, 2006 04:50 am (UTC)
Other languages
I wasn't intending on asking you the prescribed 5 questions, but here are some that have occurred to me:

1. For work and fiction, how many different languages do you most frequently read in?

2. Roughly what are the percentages? (e.g. is English still the reading you do in the main? Not edged out by French?)

3. Regarding memory: how often have you encountered a multi-lingual group where there isn't a shared third language between the group, and you find yourself doing simultaneous translation? Add-on: how often has it gone pear-shaped and you've given the correct narrative in the wrong language to the given group/individual?

4. Regarding memory: remembering past conversations, dreams, of the written word - do you remember it in the language it was first absorbed in, or does the language melt away to the remembered meaning, or is it all translated to your mother-tongue?

(I guess I can claim near-five questions in that lot)
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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