Tagged with the 123 meme: hoping for the best

Tom Levenson of the World’s Best Illuminated Blog the The Inverse Square tagged me with the 123 meme. The rules:

* look up page 123 in the book that is nearest to you at this very minute
* look for the fifth sentence
* then post the three sentences that follow that fifth sentence on page 123.

I’m determined not to cheat, but it so happens that the book closest to me is the (uncorrected) galley proof of The Wisdom of Whores, a book which will be published in May in the UK (by Granta) and June in the US (by WW Norton). Now I’m all nervous: is page 123 a page where either I or the typesetters put our millions where our billions should be? Does it say something about the intimate relationship between police, hookers and internet monitors in China? Will my whole site go blank for days? Here goes:

“Being a successful civil servant is all about not rocking the boat. Storming around asking your superiors to give out clean needles in prisons is definitely rocking the boat.

There are other, more complicated reasons why we fail to turn more information into less HIV.”

Not terribly illuminating, but at least galley-proof error free. If you’d ask me to do the same about the book which is closest to my bed (where I read for pleasure) I’d have to give you this:

“Also quite similar to the spare parts department in Waltzer’s Garage. Stewart Waltzer had fan belts, coil springs, but also snakes in formaldehyde, magnetic letters, bookends manufactured on his workshop lathe. Butcher had no interest in Stewart Waltzer or Jack Hogan.”

Which I have to say is not much more illuminating as an extract, although it comes from Peter Carey, a man capable of turning truly glorious sentences on his workshop lathe (this from his penultimate novel Theft, faber and faber edition).

I think it is time to see what people in other continents are reading. I’m going to tag Ong Hock Chuan, who blogs on politics and culture from Indonesia at Unspun and Marina Mahathir at Rantings. I’d also like to tag Amanda Brooks at the Sex Workers Outreach Project, though she works so hard on this really useful and interesting sex work news blog that I don’t know how much time she can possibly have for reading.

I’d love to hear from other readers, too. It’s an interesting exercise, if only because it illustrates how very imperfectly a small fragment can reflect the whole, and how loathe we should be to make important decisions based solely on such fragments. One more reason not to base policy on qualitative data alone.

This post was published on 29/02/08 in Uncategorized.

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  1. Comment by Lee Rudolph, 29/02/08, 03:15:

    I looked to my left and found _The Joy of TeX: A Gourmet Guide to Typesetting with the AMS-TeX macro package_. The results of the exercise were really quite appalling, and I dare not impose them on anyone else. Luckily, I then looked to my right and found (at least as close) a copy of _The Holy Bible_ which has been serving as an optical-mouse pad (being just the right height above the somewhat too low surface of the table, and just the right color, a pleasing brown leather that upon further inspection I see to be Genuine East Indian Calf Leather), more specifically the _Oxford Self-Pronouncing Bible_, which yielded the following. “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the LORD; then he shall bring for his trespass unto the LORD a ram without blemish out of the flocks, with they estimation by shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering: and he shall make amends for the harm that he hath done in the holy thing, and shall add the fifth part thereto, and give it unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him. And if a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD; though that he wist it not, yet he is guilty, and shall bear his iniquity. And he shall bring a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred and wist it not, and it shall be forgiven him.”

    I *think* the Bible is making a riposte about successful civil servants and ignorance, but I can’t be sure; that’s always the thing about bibliomancy, innit, even with a lower-case b?

    …As to “qualitative data”: that’s something I’ve recently been thinking about, a lot, though chiefly in the context of “qualitative” vs. “quantitative” psychology. Often “quantitative data” is (or seems to me to be) used as more or less synonymous with “degraded quantitative data”. Certainly basing policies, actions, etc., on degraded data (of any sort) is not likely to be a good plan (particularly if one has no notion of the nature and degree of the degradation, or if one is unaware of it). But (at least in psychology; quite possibly less so in public health policy) “qualitative” is not *necessarily* “degraded quantitative”, and is not *necessarily* unsusceptible to reasoned, formalized, even mathematical (though non-numerical) analysis.

    However this is probably a rant for another time and place.

  2. Pingback by the gideonse bible » Blog Archive » I tagged myself with the au courant book meme, 29/02/08, 04:47:

    […] seen this meme on Vagabond Scholar, The Wisdom of Whores, and Todd’s Hammer, and none of them tagged me. Not that they would. Anyway, I’ve […]

  3. Comment by Amanda Brooks, 29/02/08, 08:01:

    I did the meme and it turns out to have been quite a passage. Excellent meme! Thank you again for tagging me.


  4. Comment by MarinaM, 02/03/08, 05:35:

    Ala Elisabeth, when I got this I was in my office and there was nothing but papers and letters on my desk. I read books at home usually before I go to sleep so I couldn’t do this til I got home and even then, have been so busy talking to people re the elections that I haven’t had a chance yet. I re-read your post and it says you have to look at a book ‘right this minute’ so I am wayyyy overdue. Sorrylah, am not good with memes or chain letters.

  5. Pingback by Tagged with 123 meme « Unspun, 02/03/08, 12:22:

    […] 2, 2008 by unspun Queen of Sex and Science Elizabeth Pisani tagged Unspun with  the 123 meme. Prior to this she had been tagged byTom Levenson of the […]

  6. Pingback by More 123: Henry Jenkins’ turn. « The Inverse Square Blog, 08/03/08, 10:04:

    […] so given the very cool responses (much less tricksy than mine) to my prior tag here, here, here and here, let me extend the digitized finger of blogospheric chain lettering to the Aca-Fan’s […]

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