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The Scrivener: Back To Ulaanbaatar

...Perhaps we're swamped by too much information nowadays. We have books, magazines, radio and television. And now, thanks to the Internet, anybody can write and read facts and opinions. Unfortunately, there can be a fuzzy line between fact and opinion and straightforward error. We don't need to go much further than film reviews to see that...

Amazingly Brian Barratt's musings on the errors which are passed off as facts on the Internet start and finish in Ulaanbaatar.

To read more of Brian's superb columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

And do visit his mind-invigorating Web site www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

It's interesting to know, at the time of writing these words, that today's weather forecast for Ulaanbaatar is a maximum temperature of -13 and a minimum of -23. For those of us who live in Melbourne, Australia, it isn't particularly useful but it is interesting. Or is it?

'Hello, Fred. I see that the temperature will go up to minus thirteen degrees in Ulaanbaatar today.'

'Uh. The price of petrol has come down again.'

'In Ulaanbaatar?'

'In Melbourne.'

'Just as well marmots have thick fur, eh?'

'South Africa won the test match.'

'It's too cold for cricket.'

'It's warm in Sydney.'

'It's winter in Ulaanbaatar.'

'It looks as if they'll win the series.'

Oh well, never mind. Not everyone watches the weather forecasts on TV. Ulaanbaatar is far, far away. Honiara is much closer, but probably means just as little to the likes of fictitious Fred, in spite of Australia's association with the Solomon Islands. The fall from glory of the Australian cricket team in current test matches against South Africa is of more immediate interest.

Perhaps we're swamped by too much information nowadays. We have books, magazines, radio and television. And now, thanks to the Internet, anybody can write and read facts and opinions. Unfortunately, there can be a fuzzy line between fact and opinion and straightforward error. We don't need to go much further than film reviews to see that.

One reviewer of 'The Go-Between' misquotes the well-known opening words of the novel on which the film is based and also assigns the wrong age to the main character, Leo. Although the story is fiction, these are factual errors. Another reviewer, who did not enjoy 'Death in Venice', gets the name of the main character wrong four times, apparently not understanding how Visconti dealt with Thomas Mann's novel. A cat, variously named Felix and Nestor, appeared several times in the 2005 film 'Joyeux Noel'. The wordy reviewer who writes that it was a dog had obviously not been watching too closely.

One of the more curious 'facts' presented on some web sites is that dinosaurs existed alongside humans and are mentioned in the Bible. It seems that three words in particular are used to denote them behemoth, dragon, and leviathan. Whoever conjured up this idea seems to be unaware of Hebrew, Assyrian and Babylonian myths in which these creatures are mentioned. Where the terms do not denote animals such as whales, sharks, hippopotamuses and crocodiles, they relate to mythical beasts. The word 'dinosaur', literally meaning 'terrible lizard', was not coined in English until 1841 in order to categorise fossil bones which had been found in the USA and Britain over the previous 50 years.

Unidentifiable fossils had, of course, been found earlier. They might have given rise to legends of such creatures as the griffin, or gryphon. That mythical beast had the body of a lion and the head and possibly the wings of an eagle. Some scholars are of the opinion that the idea might have arisen as long ago as the 7th century BC, following the discovery of strange fossilised bones in the Altai region of Mongolia.

And so we come back to Mongolia, of which the capital city is Ulaanbaatar, where it's going to be very cold today. It's winter, and the furry little marmots are in hibernation. So there's another fact which isn't particularly useful, but it's interesting, isn't it?

Copyright Brian Barratt 2009

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