Archive for September 4, 2017

Nothing, by Basil Bunting

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on September 4, 2017 by telescoper

I spent this weekend catching up with some old friends in London, and making the most of the opportunity to behave as a tourist. Most of my visits to the Capital are on business so it was nice to have the chance to wander around aimlessly. Anyway, when I got to Charing Cross I suddenly remembered I had a half-spent book token in my wallet, so popped into Foyles and bought this hefty tome, which had been on my list since I read about it when it was reviewed in TLS.

Basil Bunting was born in 1900 in the Scotswood area of Newcastle upon Tyne (i.e. not in the Midlands). His life story is fascinating. Imprisoned as a conscientious objector during World War 1, Bunting worked for the intelligence services in Persia during World War 2, after which he remained as the Times Correspondent in Iran. Eventually, after much travelling, he returned to England, winding up as a journalist working for the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. Largely through a very long poem called Briggflats Bunting established a reputation as a very important modernist poet who some felt was a worthy successor to T.S. Eliot, though Eliot did not rate his work particularly highly and Bunting’s main poetic influence was clearly Ezra Pound.

One thing I particularly like about the poems of Basil Bunting is that they sound so great when read out loud. `Compose aloud. Poetry is a sound.’ is a famous quotation of his. Unlike many poets he was utterly compelling when reading his own work ; see here for an excerpt of him reading Briggflats. He has a wonderful voice, and there’s music in the way he speaks.

Briggflats  is too long to reproduce here, so here’s a shorter one called Nothing:

substance utters or time
stills and restrains
joins design and

supple measure deftly
as thought’s intricate polyphonic
score dovetails with the tread
sensuous things
keep in our consciousness.

Celebrate man’s craft
and the word spoken in shapeless night, the
sharp tool paring away
waste and the forms
cut out of mystery!

When taut string’s note
passes ears’ reach or red rays or violet
fade, strong over unseen
forces the word
ranks and enumerates…

mimes clouds condensed
and hewn hills and bristling forests,
steadfast corn in its season
and the seasons
in their due array,

life of man’s own body
and death…
The sound thins into melody,
discourse narrowing, craft
failing, design
petering out.

Ears heavy to breeze of speech and
thud of the ictus.


by Basil Bunting (1900-85).


Doubt expressed over accuracy of measurement of the ‘Beard-Second’

Posted in Beards, Science Politics with tags , , , on September 4, 2017 by telescoper

As a practising scientist I too am concerned about the reliability of the definition of the `Beard Second’. In addition to the intrinsic variability from one individual to another (including genetic influences) many external environmental factors affect beard growth, so any definition must include conditions such as temperature, pressure, sunlight levels and whether or not the beard is supplied with nutrients. In any case the term `average’ usually applies to the arithmetic mean, whereas the quoted text seems to imply the median.

My advice to the Beard Liberation Front is to refer this matter to the National Measurement and Regulation Office for review but along with most government offices nowadays it only seems interested in issues that directly affect the ability of businesses to profit rather than safeguarding the accuracy and reproducibility of scientific matters of direct interest to the public, such as the rate of beard growth.

In the longer term, however, I believe the only way to establish a reliable standard for the `beard second’ is through an extensive research programme. A detailed proposal is in preparation to UK Research and Innovation, as it seems an appropriate topic for an interdisciplinary award.

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Beard Liberation Front

press release 3rd September contact Keith Flett 07803 167266

Doubt expressed over accuracy of measurement of the ‘Beard-Second’

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has expressed doubt over the accuracy of the unit of measurement known as the ‘Beard-Second’.

The ‘Beard-Second’ is designed to measure how quickly in time a beard grows.

According to Wiki:

The beard-second is a unit of length inspired by the light-year, but applicable to extremely short distances such as those in integrated circuits. The beard-second is defined as the length an average beard grows in one second. Kemp Bennett Kolb defines the distance as exactly 100 angstroms (10 nanometers). as does Nordling and Österman’s Physics Handbook. However, Google Calculator supports the beard-second for unit conversions using the value 5 nm.

The beard-second establishes a related unit of time, the beard-inch which is 29.4 days (or 58.8 days…

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