Where had I heard of British Hills before? In some magazine or newspaper account, years previously?
It sounded like a golf club, out at the end of the Metropolitan Line, in Pinner or Rickmansworth perhaps, where the members spend more time at the 19th than at the first eighteen, where chaps and chapesses—we must move with the times! A couple of hours later I was driving down the private road, face smirk-split from port to starboard, a reaction that only kitsch of the very toppest notch can evoke. The audacity! The execution! The sheer bloody extravagance of the place! Some years later, not long after the accident, I returned, this time to stay the night.
So much for pax per linguam. These twentysomethings are largely present for decorative purposes and their blogs reveal they are not unaware of this. The reactions of Japanese visitors to British Hills, so far as it is possible to determine from websites such as tripadvisor. British Hills in fact are not hills or mountains. They are a sort of hotel on a mountain, with a special purpose. Nearly everything in this hotel is British or English. The building and the 14 houses are copies of old ones in Britain.
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Most of the workers are able to give talks in English though some have Australian sounds. Streets are clean with no automatic soft-drink machines. The British Hills experience was turning out to be terrifically, horrifically true to modern life on Airstrip One: all we needed now to complete the picture was ubiquitous CCTV and a pack of hoodies having a brawl in its collective blind-spot.
One possible reason British Hills has survived, if not thrived, is that it is formidably well-connected, both on the British and Japanese sides. Now those are quite some connections—and they explain, I later realized, why the high-speed, touch-free hand-dryer in my bathroom was made by Mitsubishi. But all this, though intriguing enough, was a distraction, for I had returned to British Hills for one reason alone: the library. Kato and Mr. Sato from Japan step across the threshold and describe their requirements—had done a commendable job: the clock had stopped, never to go again, in the middle of the third decade of the twentieth century.
One stack of shelves groans under nothing but bound volumes of Punch magazine, How many legions of unfunny cartoons are contained therein? Multivolume editions of exactly the novelists and poets you would expect to find in the library of a conservative but catholic or even, perhaps, Conservative and Catholic reader of —Galsworthy and Hardy, Tennyson and Browning and Kipling, Jerome K.
Jerome and Arnold Bennett, and of course The Chesterbelloc—are all present and correct. But what was this shelf, full of novels with curious titles— Tilbury Nogo , M or N , Black but Comely , and Market Harborough surely nobody could have penned a novel set in that dullest of East England towns? And who was their author, George John Whyte Melville?
I was convinced—wrongly, as it turned out—that I had never heard of him before.
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This—English literature—was supposed to be my specialist subject, the one over which I had sweated well, gently perspired for my undergraduate degree, and yet here was a shelf-worth of a Victorian novelist who had tumbled into such an abyss of obscurity that his very name rang no bell of recognition. Dispirited and dejected, not so much with my unpardonable ignorance but more with the fickleness of fama, I resolved—not for the first time—to bin Spike.
Luckily, my wise friend Dr.
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Futility is to the human condition as wetness is to water. So what? You enjoy doing it. I and many other of your fans enjoy reading it. Long live Spike! So who the blazes was G. Whyte Melville? Well, he was a novelist of the sporting field—no, wait, where did I get that from? Why, from Wikipedia , of course. The six-hundred-odd word entry on Whyte Melville has just two footnotes and no cautionary hypertext warning the reader of the fallibility of the writer, for these are the wildest shores of the Wikiempire, where the writ of the Wikilaw does not run and the Wikipolice do not patrol.
From a deep and abiding familiarity with the works? No, not at all, as it turned out—chunks are purloined from the Encyclopedia Britannica and to a lesser extent perhaps from the Dictionary of National Biography , By a strange accident, Whyte-Melville lost his life whilst hunting , the hero of many a stiff ride meeting his fate in galloping quietly over a ploughed field in the Vale of White Horse.
By a strange accident, he lost his life in the hunting-field on the 5th of December , the hero of many a stiff ride meeting his fate in galloping quietly over an ordinary ploughed field in the Vale of the White Horse. Britannica: Several of these novels are historical, The Gladiators being perhaps the most famous of them. One up to Wikipedia, I suppose. He then returned to England and devoted his time to field sports on which he was an authority.
Most of his literary works were novels, sometimes historical, and hunting figures largely in many of them. He achieved fame with Holmby House , a historical romance describing the Civil War. Market Harborough and The Gladiators , also very popular, were followed by several others. In he published his Songs and Verse , and Riding Recollections was a notable book on horsemanship. He was killed in a hunting accident. There were short-cuts to the assumption of the mantle of authority even before the Internet bulldozed the neighbourhood to make it nothing but a lattice of short-cuts.
Another one up to Wikipedia? If you are settling in the wilds, ten reference shelves are the minimum. Wikipedia is something special. It is like a library or a public park. It is like a temple for the mind, a place we can all go to think and learn. Excerpt from the latest Wikipedia fundraising message. What we really had was the Britannica, which had long been prostituted to Chicago and the ranks of the door-to-door brush salesmen.
Whether this is a giant leap is another question. Like anything easily attained—and I do realise that this sounds or perhaps just is incredibly pompous—knowledge looked up on Wikipedia is too cheap to have much value. Try an experiment that I have had fun with and look up the Wikipedia entry on the ten subjects on which you believe you are personally best informed. By the time you get down to subjects that I really know more than most people about, the entries are barely one step above a trip through the square window on Play School.
Anyway, judge your entries on their merits, then come back and tell me, if you still believe it to be true, that Wikipedia is a force for good not evil. What would Christopher Hitchens have said? Spike: You dare attack Saint David of Attenborough? Sorry if it may come as a revelation but not everyone on this pale blue dot is as smart as you—surely there is room for a harmless old duffer like Lord Attenborough of Richmond to instill a wonder for nature in the unwashed? You can be very Calvinist in your opprobrium. Does Wikipedia necessarily dumb down everything? Walk me through the maths behind the Bayesian derivation of the Doomsday argument here, which we were discussing before.
These are not isolated examples of forbiddingly tricky Wikipages—there are thousands upon thousands more out there. Do you think that people, generally, have the illusion that they are suddenly clever because they can access Wikipedia? Is there any evidence for that? But would the Britannica have been better in any way? We well, I, which I admit is a narrower class of humanity peck at Wikipedia for tidbits—noone, other than a desperate teenager, is going to take it as the sum of knowledge.
But this is far from a generalized sense of complacency about knowledge, although it does caution for a heightened sensitivity to laziness. And as we know, journalists are basically only one rung up the evolutionary ladder from high-school students. We tend to find St. I think that St. D is exactly analogous to Jamie Oliver. J has not caused more people to start cooking or to raise their culinary game above Spaghetti Bolognese but he has forced Waitrose to raise its game in the ready meals department.
For this, I am thankful. I understand the principle behind Bayesian statistics, which is that you would be wise to take account of what you already know to be true, when estimating the probability that something about which you are uncertain is also true. For example, if you know that chimpanzees and humans are more closely related than humans and jellyfish, you will get a more robust hypothesis about the relationship among chimpanzees, humans and jellyfish when you plug the DNA into a molecular phylogeny program than if you pretended not to know the likely outcome.
In other words, it fails on every count. Of course Britannica would have done better! You or I could go onto Wikipedia now and amend any article on the basis of our prejudices not our knowledge of the pertinent subject. If you want to figure that out, you have to go to the original research.
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Of course, if I look up something I know nothing about, say Japanese ceramics, I will read facts about them of which I was previously unaware. But how will I judge the veracity of these facts?
My fear is that, as Wikipedia and knowledge become synonymous in popular understanding, we will lose the ability to discriminate between truth and plausibility. You go and try an interpolate a comment at the George W. Or even if you get through the vetting process to be allowed to insert that comment. I think you are missing my point, however, or perhaps I am making it badly.
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What you get is articles written by people who have nothing better to do than write Wikipedia articles and police its frontiers. The cabal needs the crowd because of its own epistemological shortcomings. You could easily enough stand the argument on its head, though, in the absence of really hard evidence, and say that you get the best of both worlds.
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