Distance = Speed x Time

I think I may have done my last stint as Temporary RR Guru: the article that’s just gone up on the Mothership bears a certain resemblance to what I wrote, but they’ve changed various things for no obvious reason, not improving the sense and certainly not the style, they’ve taken out the best joke, and they’ve rendered the first paragraph more or less unintelligible. Obviously no attempt was made to check with me about any of this, and that means that the work I put in feels like a complete waste, to be left feeling this pissed off. Anyway, for what it’s worth and in case anyone’s interested, the original article is below the line…

“We are twelve billion light years from the edge. That’s a guess. No one can ever say it’s true…” Well, not really. No. And no. Don’t take my word for it on Katie Melua’s cosmological fail, read read Simon Singh or listen to Michael Shermer. I actually love this song, but it’s also intended to put you in the right mood of infuriated pedantry for rest of this theme…

The Who can see for miles; yes, and so can more or less anyone, given a suitable vantage point – or if they just look up at the stars. Humans are just not that great at estimating or comprehending distances. Songwriters tend to pick a figure that means no more than “really, really big” to emphasise separation, from home or from a lover: Rory Gallagher’s A Million Miles Away fits neatly between 500 miles (admittedly on foot) and 2000 light years. Anita Lane and Blixa Bargeld, meanwhile, seem thoroughly confused about how long they’ve actually known one another – is it five years, or seventy, or have they never actually met? Sandy Denny abandons any attempt at precision – It’ll Take A Long Time – but at least doesn’t resort to the usual hyperbolic claims about ‘always’ or ‘until the end of time’ that plague most love songs.

As Martin Heidegger remarked in Being And Time, objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are. Put another way, all attempts at measurements are inevitably subjective and approximate – Yoko Ono wins the prize this week for accurately reflecting this, with Approximately Infinite Universe – but that doesn’t stop certain people trying. Art Brut’s calculations – “I’ve not seen her in 10 years… 9 months, 3 weeks, 4 days, 6 hours, 13 minutes, 5 seconds” – make his obsession manifest, especially as the lyrics would need to be adjusted for every new performance of the song. Doug Murphy & Paul Hamilton carefully calculate the size of the universe and the approximate number of women in it, only to conclude that there’s actually only one who’s the one, and it’s too late to do anything about it.

It may not be much consolation, but if the object of your admiration is one in a million then London contains another eight of them. Such phrases aren’t meant to be taken literally; Don Henley’s New York Minute takes over six minutes to sing about the way things can change in an instant, while the Style Council emphasise that oppression and state violence are not just found in faraway countries of which we need know nothing, but are only A Stone’s Throw Away [apostrophe added]. We don’t really have all the time in the world, whatever My Bloody Valentine claim – but sometimes we need to feel that we do.

In the end, it’s not about actual distances or times, but the way that, as Mayte Martín sings, “the world looks different when you’re not next to me”: an hour feels like a lifetime, a day like an eternity, and ten minutes’ walk like the other side of the world.

36 thoughts on “Distance = Speed x Time

  1. You have my sympathies Aba. Never had any of mine guillotined but there appears to be a certain lack of interest in management of the thread (not, I hasten to add, from SHMOGMU) what with last minute pleas for gurus, results showing up late and comments disabled.

  2. I understand your frustration Aba given the obvious care with which you crafted this piece. Really both read very well, and I hope you will do duty again in the future. I think I am with llamalpaca, a great deal of vitality seems somehow to have been lost over there, attributable in some measure to a prevailing sense of just muddling through, despite Peter’s obvious qualities and enthusiasm. Sad.

  3. I really don’t know why they messed about with your original write-up Aba – it’s as if they felt they had to do something to justify their existence, and it’s a pity that they couldn’t have left it well alone.

    Regarding the ‘loss of vitality’, we’ve lost some very good contributors, sadly, and most notably, RTJ whose comments I always looked forward to and enjoyed. AIP hasn’t looked in for a log time and even Sakura only posts infrequently now. And they’re not the only ones. Peter is doing a great job but it must seem like an uphill struggle.

    • I imagine they thought they were improving it (it wasn’t about the word count, as that was barely over 500, and in any case it shouldn’t be a factor now that we’re just on-line). This is most obvious with the Meat Loaf joke, where they corrected the sentence to conform to reality – doubtless feeling enormously superior to the ignorant writer who didn’t realise that car mirrors are convex – and hence missing the point completely. I did get a prompt response from Adam Boult to my email of complaint, basically saying that the subs have to do this under tremendous pressure and so couldn’t possibly spare the time to contact the author about changes. Why, then, do they mess about with the text? It can only be because they think they know better, as after all we’re only amateurs.

    • Is FIntan still around over there? Honestly i don’t think i’m a great loss, i posted the same rubbish tunes and Stones plugs that were never going to get listed over and over. Fintan is quite valuable though.

      • Hi Amy – long time no speak! You underestimate your worth on RR – I can assure you you’re much missed and I’ve been enjoying your comments on this thread. I think the Guardian clearout is purely down to their loss-making. I fear for what will happen to it of they can’t find a sugar daddy quickly – there’s only so much loss making that a trust can take.

      • Hiya Llama – i rest assured that you’re carrying the Exile torch for me along with Fuel. If the Graun is making losses, it’s their own fucking fault, no sympathy there. They want to go for the sugar high of clickbait trash at the expense of substance and journalism, they dug their own grave there. I will be watching with interest your vote on Independence in the autumn though…
        The yankee papers seem to have the same opinion – none of our beezwax, whatever you all choose is cool, it’s your call. Despite attempts to rope in our government from both factions…

      • The referendum could go either way. The unionists have been incredibly negative in their campaigning which has royally pissed off a good portion of the electorate. It’s still nearly 4 months until the vote and they appear to run out of ideas and holidays/Commonwealth Games/World Cup all on the horizon so it will be a might scrum come early September. Still suspect it will be a No vote – people tend to dislike uncertainty and in the end will vote with their pockets.

      • Llama –

        It’s vaguely interesting to us because we have mumblings every now and again here about secession of certain parts, but it’s never really serious. One of the reasonable UK columnists (Can’t remember if it was Simon Jenkins or Jonathan Freedland) said that if the yanks ever had a possibility of secession or independence, we’d be up in arms, and couldn’t understand why the British seemed so apathetic about Scots independence. What they didn’t get is that it’s never really serious here. California right now is talking about splitting into 6 factions, it’s never going to happen. The south will never split from the north here, it’s just wank talking.

        We ought to have learned something about getting involved in Irish affairs (i don’t touch that shit with a 10 ft pole.). What with the odious Peter King, and now somebody is subpoening BUs records – we need to stay the fuck out of overseas crap, it’s not our affair.

    • And i have to say that Peter seems to be a real rockstar. His intro writeups are fantastic, and he has a real love of music and concept that is totally contageous.

  4. Sympathies Aba, it has always seemed to me like a hell of a lot of work for not very much thanks, (apart from the joy of doing it) – your piece reads very well.

  5. I completely understand, Abahachi. I don’t know what they are doing there but that’s probably because they don’t.

    They showed a commplete lack of flexibility regarding my wishes for a playlist for RR POTUS. Those ideas weren’t denied subsequent paid journalists. Then my column for RRSA Flirting was rewritten in a way that made it incomprehensible. For RRSA Shadows they printed my name without asking for my permission. Lastly, they used a picture of another Paul Hayes for my final column, RRSA Words. I accepted the first three issues as just being the way it is in a chaotic organisation and made sure that I put my original articles below-the-line, but to use a photograph and not consult me was, for me, shite.

    Also, on a football blog they once removed my perfectly on-topic, legal, well-researched and correctly linked and referenced post. The fact that much of the information I referenced and linked to then appeared in subsequent articles fucked me off no end. I gave the paper the benefit of the doubt and presumed I’d been the victim of an over-zealous moderator and that the subsequent articles would have been written anyway.

    Another low was the inability to correct basic facts during a procession of articles about the Nordic countries not being as wonderful as Brits like to think. That repetition of errors and falsehoods was embarrassing and disappointing, particularly as many people pointed them out below-the-line. It destroyed my faith in trying to contribute something meaningful and useful to the Guardian.

    Despite the errors, willful ignorance and baffling rewrites I returned to RR and guruing because I don’t take it too seriously and because I wanted to redress the balance of the predictable playlists produced during autumn and winter. Ultimately though, The G has killed my enthusiasm for engaging with the newspaper. Nevertheless, they remain the best of a bad lot.

    • Your mention of factual errors brought to mind my other experience this week of dealing with a media organisation. I had an email from a journalist on the New York Times magazine, asking for help on a specific point for an article; after I’d responded and had a nice ‘thank you’, then got an email from an editor to check that I had said what I’d said and that this was what I meant, followed by another nice ‘thank you’. Which does seem like overkill, and probably this is why they’re losing money hand over fist, but if they treat stray academic sources like that, I imagine they have a decent relationship with their writers…

      • I hope the NYT magazine and others like it will survive because of that quality and sense of priorities. They have something you can trust, whereas my faith in The G is low; I double check facts in articles that interest me.

        Ultimately, I know The G is losing money, I just wish they’d allocate resources in a better way. All of the questions about my RR columns could’ve been dealt with by a brief email, probably quicker to ask me than find a photo of another Paul Hayes and then take it down.

        Honestly, it feels like two newspapers: the serious and brilliant newspaper of the Snowden leaks and the cheap click-bait catcher that produces troll-attracting articles.

      • Since i’ve bailed from the Graun, i read the NYT a few times a day now. They have many problems and biases that need to be filtered (maybe you do have to be a yank with a brain to be able to do that), but aside from the WSJ they’re still our best broadsheet, and capable of some genuine journalism when they put their mind to it. I don’t comment on there, but i’m continually gratified to see a lot of very smart smart and savvy liberal commenters calling bullshit on the liberal spin articles on there. Not to mention some very somart and sane conservatives.

        I do think they may have had a close call though. They just fired the editor, and one reason is that she apparently tried to recruit Janine Gibson, the Graun’s digital editor, without informing anyone. The thought of the NYT descending into the kind of clickbait trash on CiF and their juvenile and absymal American politics section makes me literally ill.

      • Hi Amy, I don’t mind papers with bias, all of those in the UK have certain biases, some papers than others. That ad does reek of favours being called in and rules being bent. Time to get back to what I know. Time to make a playlist

      • I mind bias when facts are bent or witheld to support that bias. And i mind bias when a paper supports bullshit wars in support of an agenda not held by a majority….

      • Apprapos of nothing, except to maybe me as an American, the Graun does seem to be wholesale cleaning house on American columnists there. Most seem to be gone now, and good riddance, it willl be interesting to see what they replace them with. Could be due to complaints, could be that all but less than a handful of my American commenter buddies seem to be long gone too. They did replace one dingbat commenter wth another dingbat, so i still think they may not have a handle on it. They lost the best one (Glenn Greenwald), the dude that got them the Pulitzer this year. All of the others (save maybe Heidi Moore, who coughed up a good column every 2nd or 4th one) were pure shit.

      • Thank you. I enjoyed all my guru stints and I believe all the Gurus have done a great job. It’s a very good blog and I hope The G treats the gurus better in the future.

  6. I never look ar RR any more, but I am interested in what people post here and I think that is a pretty excellent piece, Aba.

    I certainly enjoyed it, even if I can’t share the Katie Melua love.

  7. Puzzled over the hacking of the article, I can’t see how they improved it in any way at all – all 4 of mine got through with minimal amendments, the small ones that were made did sharpen it up – but this just seems to be slashing for the hell of it? Wonder if they have a new sub who is eager to make their mark? It’s not great is it, given the time and effort that clearly went into this..

    • I think you may well be onto something, their subeds are a huge problem. The do the article headers and captions too, and get a slew of complaints on CiF for them, and the authors get pissed off too because tehy have to take the crap for the bad headlines.

      Howdy, btw. Hope all is well with your family. Dunno if i told you, but i’m officially a Masshole now, get it touch if you ever get around to making the pilgramage here.

      • Thank you! Family is great at the mo, having so much fun (more than I really thought) though of course it means a lot less time for RR and here etc.(hope to se me you back on the mothership soon though, we all need a break sometimes). Glad you’ve settled there, will deffo give you a shout if we are in that neck of the woods.

  8. I just remembered that they edited one of Webby’s columns and changed something he wrote to something really anti-American. Poor Webby was so pissed off, apologized to us and said he would have never written anything like that, but we yanks knew that. I can’t remember if the Graun changed it back to what he actually wrote or not.

  9. And just for the halibut, since i didn’t check in on this topic – somebody must have put up Peter, Paul, and Mary – you can hear the whistle blow 500 miles. Or it’s a mightly long way down rock and roll, from the Bradford cities to the Orioles. Eight miles high (zedded, methinks.)

    • And surely, surely, someone put up 2000 Light Years from Home and the Pretenders’ 2000 Miles.
      See, you really don’t need me.

      • Just saw your hello message from the other day. Hello too, though I bet you won’t see this now!! Will add to the clarion call for your return over there, we’ve grown accustomed to your face!!

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