Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: 'Audio Graphics'; Self Drives; Christina Lamb's Private Passions

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: 'Audio Graphics'; Self Drives; Christina Lamb's Private Passions

Article excerpt

It lasted for just a few seconds but was such a graphic illustration of the statistics behind the bombing campaign in Syria -- and not a word was spoken. Martha Kearney called it an 'audio graphic' on the World at One on Monday and explained how Neal Razzell and James Beard for the World Service had been monitoring the number of US combat missions on Islamic State targets in Syria, hour by hour, 24/7, and comparing them with earlier bombing campaigns. Each electronic beat we heard represents one hour, Razzell told us; each beep represents the launch of one combat mission.

For Syria, the electronic beeps between each beat were quite far apart -- clearly distinguishable. The sound we heard represented two raids an hour, he explained, every day for 450 days. Now listen to Serbia in 1999: the beeps were much closer together, but were not quite blurred together into one continuous beeping sound. That's five US bombing raids per hour, he said. But next we heard his 'audio graphic' of the Iraq invasion of 2003. The beeps were a barrage, a shrill blast: 40 raids an hour. And for the second world war, there was an even shriller, more persistent beeping: 70 raids an hour, every day for four years, he explained.

The final clip took us back to Syria in 2015, to those two beeps between a beat. 'That's the campaign against Islamic State,' he repeated, making his point without needing to say more.

Will Self was in combative mood this week in his new Radio 4 series Self Drives (produced by Laurence Grissell) in which he struggles to understand the physics behind James Clerk Maxwell's theories of electricity, magnetism and light. It's as if his inability to grasp hold of the 'elegant equations' on which our mobile phones, GPS systems, radar and even the radio are based was all the fault of Maxwell and his fellow scientists. He was so rude to his fellow investigator, the physicist Professor Akram Khan, that Khan virtually disappeared from the last programme, probably fed up with being bruised and battered by Self's repeated verbal onslaughts.

Things began badly on a wet morning in Edinburgh as Self relied on Khan to find their way to India Street (where Maxwell was born) by smartphone. The trouble was the directions they were following were for car drivers, not walkers. Self's humour did not improve as they took to the road, en route for Cambridge on the trail of Maxwell's life and work, in the latest version of a hybrid car, a Chevrolet Volt, which they couldn't charge up because the hire company had failed to provide them with a charging cable (in the end only one mile of their 600-mile journey was fuelled by electricity). …

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