Engraving of a headlouse from MicrographiaI’ve recently been doing a lot of work on the 17th century natural philosopher Robert Hooke, and his masterpiece, Micrographia – partly due to curiosity, partly because I’m writing an essay on the damn thing. I’ve got hold of a reprint (the 1665 original isn’t lent out to students, for some reason) from the Uni library.

It’s the first illustrated book of microscopic observations, such as the beastie (it’s a headlouse, if you were wondering) on the right. The engravings are fantastic (loads of them, of different animals and plants), especially for something printed 340 years ago; when compared with the crudity of man-made objects on the same scale, they stand out as shining examples of natural beauty (or of God’s superior design abilities, to the natural philosophers).

I wasn’t looking forward to reading the text of the book, especially with the slightly arcane language and the fact that the letter ‘s’ is printed like ‘f’. But, once you get past that, it’s a really good read. Hooke’s natural enthusiasm for talking about everything under the sun makes for an absorbing read – almost like an early version of stream of consciousness – as he jumps from topic to topic, and becoming himself the subject of experiment, as he deliberately stinging himself with nettles and letting lice bite his hand (and ‘fuck blood’ from it, at first glance).

The text is peppered with his own ideas and theories throughout – it’s less a proper scientific text and more a breathy running commentary on the state of scientific knowledge at the time. Not so much Isaac Newton, more like a Restoration version of Adam Hart-Davis.

Unfortunately, no modern reprint exists (the copy I have is a slightly tatty version from 1965), and although a digital version exists, I think print is the best medium for showing off the wonderful illustrations. If you set the text in a modern, more readable font, alongside the original prints, and maybe some modern day commentary appended at the end, it could be a great glossy coffee table type of book. Well, I’d buy it.

(Some additional Micrographia links for you to enjoy. Lisa Jardine’s biography of Hooke is also a recommended read).

Sorry Mr Shatner, there’s no room for you

The Telegraph (not exactly the pop music-minded of the newspapers) have published a list of the best 50 covers of all time. While I’d probably agree with the winner (Jimi Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower), and some of the other entries, I’m shocked at the omission of The Stranglers version of Walk On By. Shirley Bassey’s Light My Fire could do with going there too. And Johnny Cash’s Personal Jesus. And while we’re at it – The White Stripes’ Jolene and Nirvana’s unplugged version of The Man Who Sold The World. Maybe Radiohead doing Nobody Does It Better too.

The article loses severe credibility by including the vile Joss Stone cover, Fell In Love With a Boy [sic] though. Anyone got any more that should (or shouldn’t) have been in there?

Update: While I’m at it, I thought the Gary Jules cover of Mad World, which is also in the list, is quite dull and inferior to the original. But I believe this is a minority view.

Lords reform

I read Robin Cook and Ken Clarke’s proposals for the House of Lords with interest. There’s a lot of it I like, such as a mix of democratically elected members and independently chosen appointees (70-30 in favour of the democratically chosen ones). As much as the checking body must be broadly democratic, the presence of apolitical figures to help the second chamber in its role of supervising legislation is an important feature.

It has other redeeming features, like proportional representation (though hopefully not via the party list system like the European Parliament), and though I’m sceptical of the 12-year terms (bit long, don’t you think?), and the timing of the polls (alternating them with General Elections would be more fun, I think, and keep incumbent governments on their toes), I broadly agree with it. And the biggest redeeming feature is, it’s not as crap as Billy Bragg’s proposals, which involve constituting the Lords via a party list system, in line with the votes at the General Election – which would obliterate any independent’s chance of reaching, and turn it into little more than a duplicate of the House of Commons, rubber-stamping everything that went through.

For a new House of Lords to be democratic and properly functional as the supervisor of legislation passed up from the Commons, there needs to be a mix of the political and apolitical, of partisans and cross-benchers. The new proposals are the best ones that fit the job description – hopefully Charlie Falconer, who unfortunately prefers Bragg’s Commons-lite approach, will think so too.

On ID cards (again)

Damn, I appear to be suffering from the blogging equivalent of being hit by a car whilst wearing dirty underwear – namely, that those nice folks at The Register have linked to the Blunkett thing, at a time when my blog is mostly ramblings about Flash toys and why I can’t understand Foucault.

Anyway, the reason why they linked is because of the dreaded ID cards, and I thought it best to reiterate my opposition to them. Yesterday, Blunkett unveiled his plans for a compulsory ID card. The most frightening part is, if you don’t want to carry one, then you won’t be allowed to use “specified public services” – presumably meaning the NHS and stuff like that. Which is probably a nifty move on Blunkett’s part, as he can now co-opt doctors, nurses and other hospital staff into his war on privacy, and help make sure we carry our cards like good, faithful citizens.

I’ve written before at muich greater length on just why ID cards are such a bad idea (snappy three word version: costly, useless, invasive), and none of those questions have been satisfactorily answered in the meantime.

Still, the bill is not law yet, and there is still hope we can stop it. If you don’t want the Government spunking away billions on this useless and invasive project, then you might be interested in the no2id campaign, who are fiercely lobbying to protect your privacy, and they have a petition to sign. Oh, and write to (or fax) your MP (even if they’re a Cabinet minister like my one). Use your democratic rights to protect one that might disappear very shortly.

Cillit Bang

Cillit Bang leaves me mystified. The adverts for it are shown in prime time (so they have some money behind it) but are cheaply made, with amazingly poor dubbing, and mind-bogglingly bogus science (they drop a chunk of pure calcium into water, when limescale is actually calcium carbonate, which is utterly different). And that one penny two cent coin being polished instantly scares me – I don’t want anything that strong in my house.

Anyway, I was beginning to think it was some sort of viral spoof (like some others have), like the great Geoff Capes takeaway hoax, but then I found this Cillit Bang FAQ, composed by someone with far, far too much time on their hands – they’ve even made some lovely T-shirts.