This being the age of expertise, the role of those with less intensively specialised, more broadly based mind-sets has inevitably been diminished and downgraded. And, indeed, as one surveys the complexities of contemporary processes, it's hard to see how the gifted polymath with a fresh mind is any longer able to contribute in any meaningful way. Consider, to take just one example, Sir Clive Woodward at Southampton.
Interestingly enough, though, one area where people with absolutely no previous experience can end up running things is government. You would expect, then, rather more openness from our leaders to the power of the fresh, particularly as results up to now have been patchy, with, for every, say, glorious revolution, a bit of a mess.
Remarkably, too, it is now almost a year since Lord Birt announced he would be doing no further "blue skies thinking" on behalf of the Government; a year in which I surely cannot be the only observer to detect the lack of calm formerly afforded by a serious figure at the heart of things, staring steadily and thoughtfully ahead or out of the window, but always upwards.
And a loss, I fancy, felt especially acutely today, with the announcement of plans for the replacement of our nuclear deterrent. I know I am far from the first to question, on behalf of all parents, the example which is set by seeking a new one when we haven't even used the old one yet; but I am also alarmed at an apparent unwillingness to get back to first principles on the whole nuclear deterrence business and come up with some imaginative alternatives.
It seems to me that, when the stuff is arriving here from Russia piecemeal and with an ultra high frequency anyway, the game has moved on somewhat, a suspicion reinforced by disappointing results from QinetiQ, the Government's privatised hi-tech defence gadget arm, and the absence of gadgetry in the latest Bond film.
Simply, isn't a nuclear deterrent rather passé? Who, exactly, of those deemed likely to explode on us in a nuclear way, is going to be put off? And where exactly are we supposed to point them these days? You must have noticed that other people's are not always that easy to find.
And there have to be more elegant, more subtle ways of deterring people from having a go big time. How about, just off the bat, a page on the Downing Street website entitled "Ten Compelling Reasons Not To Attack The United Kingdom With Intent To Destroy And Entirely Obliterate It"?
It's only a preliminary list, to get everyone started, but here goes: 1. Just imagine what the United States would get up to without our hugely effective influence and moral guidance. 2. The Lake District. 3. Jan Leeming. 4. We haven't finished the roads yet. 5. Where would the Poles go? 6. At least wait until after 2012. 7. Peter Mandelson's hardly ever here these days. 8. And we've got a lot of cameras, you know. 9. Free entry to museums and art galleries. 10. Sir David Attenborough.
Please feel free to make your own suggestions, but I would have thought that mine, as well as entailing considerably less expense (apart from Peter Mandelson, of course) are more than enough to give anyone pause. And particularly if we were also to work just a little harder at not providing any reasons to attack us.
A very narrow escape
I was much taken by the astonishing Antikythera Mechanism, made around 150BC, discovered in a Roman shipwreck in 1900, and now revealed to be an Ancient Greek analogue computer capable of mathematical calculation and tracking the stars. The mystery is how this knowledge was so completely lost. One professor speculates that, with it, the Romans might have had a man on the moon by AD300. And there lies your answer: the Greeks, a sensitive people, contemplating what that upstart, sociopathic race of Russell Crowes, left, to the west would have got up to - mobile phones, microwaves, TuTube - made damn sure it was sunk, thus giving us another couple of thousand years of civilised existence, some incomparable literature, painting and music, and proved, contrary to current opinion, that you can put the genie back into the bottle. Thank you.
* Xmas watch: not going well, I fear. Retail sales wobbly, no snow in Europe, and, in Lincoln, Nebraska, the university is spraying its conifers with fox urine to deter yuleish thieves.
The Santa sector is behaving worst: a dispute about whether he's welcome in Austria, a shortage in Germany, also hit by the Santa figurines appearing to give a Hitler salute, while in Colombia, other White Christmas plans have been foiled by the arrest of two men fashioning more figurines from cocaine. All this follows the heated row back in July at the Santa convention in Branson, Missouri, over the inclusion of wives in the parade.
Many like to point out that "Santa" is an anagram of "Satan"; I'm more worried about the gender confusion implications, especially given the beard.
Staying with evil, unseasonally or not, I note more archaeology: an American claims to have discovered the sites of Sodom and Gomorrah, which, I hope, will finally reveal exactly what they were getting up to in the latter.Reuse content