Valerie Yules Letters

May 4, 2013

Setting New Statesman competitions

I set NS Competition questions mostly but not only in 2005. They were meant to arouse thought, but I stopped setting them because instead competitors only tried to be clever.
I set New Statesman Competition questions mostly but not only in 2005. They were meant to arouse thought, but I stopped setting them because instead competitors only tried to be clever.

Some questions sent in and mostly published included:
1. Much modern comedy is about being horrible to other people. Is it possible to be funny about being nice (random acts of kindness, etc) without the punchline being that it doesn’t work or has horrid unintended consequences or it’s not nice after all?

2. Biblical prophets despaired that supernatural visitations could ever change anything for the good, and so it has generally seemed. Describe a supernatural visitation that could achieve something useful today.

3. List ten items that a museum would keep hidden away as sacred totems of modern British society.

4. As fast as globalism opens the world and the internet to everyone, forces try to privatize everything or keep it secret – from water and knowledge to museum artifacts and government activities. Here is the struggle in the next Harry Potter book. Outline the story-line.

5.The New Statesman decides to get its various acts together, and make sure that one thing happens each year that can ‘make the world a better place’, rather than being a pot-pourri heavily into schadenfreudia and dystopics. What feasible concern would you urge NS to take up and push for 2005? Give reasons.

6. A famous poet rewrites some of her/his famous lines in light of modern knowledge. It might be Byron for example, finding that man’s ruinous control does not stop at the sea-shore, or Blake’s Tyger facing extinction.

7. The custom of beginning sessions of Parliament with dedication by Christian prayer has been condemned as biassed. Replace it with a secular reminder of members’ awesome global responsibilities in these critical times, of high liturgical quality and memorability, and not one platititude.

8.In 200 words, list ten ideas for inventions that could save the world from the catastrophes that loom ahead.

9. A non-profit DVD has been invented for self-help in learning to read. Write the report of an educational institution recommending that it not be trialed, or similar report by any organization against trialing a humane invention that might affect its interests.

9. It is discovered that since children learn more out of school than in school, however – schools are needed by society as baby-sitters. Selected children are therefore allowed out on probation into the work-force for two-week periods as assistants, after which they do projects and catch up on schoolwork from their computers and books. Disruptive children may be frequently selected. A longitudinal study includes a control group. Since the children are learning that life is a tricky business means, the school does not have to bother about legal liabilities or insurance.

10.The case that human beings are not Freudian plumbing systems puts paid to the public faith in ‘outlets’ for aggressive impulses and the value of continual excitation and stimulation.Instead, concepts of ‘fizzling’ emotions and redirecting impulses into sublimation actions. Rather than tensing up with worry beads and desktop gimmicks and throwing plates, send ideas for a new theory of therapy

11. A recent legal case was so complex that the lawyer spoke for five hours. At least two hours of this case must have involved Little Bo Peep. 200 words from the defence lawyers’ lengthy oration in any current or recent business legal case, that brings in Little Bo Peep in a way that can guarantee another two hours talkling.

11. Do a take-off of the New Statesman at the time of Kingsley Martin or now. Hopefully winners will include examples of both.

12. A future archaeologist interprets a modern urban midden

13. Write on the theology of the astrology in modern magazines.

14. Designer babies. Design a human with characteristics that already exist (ie feasible) that might best survive the environmental challenges ahead.

15. This crowded world. A new children’s game for a playground with 800 children in it.

16. The blurb for a fantasy novel with a quest, in which all the characters have names like Emma and Robert, they seek things like dish-washers, and a royal commission is – well, a Royal Commission.

17. ‘The Borrowers’ is a famous children’s novel by Nora . . . An exerpt from a further sequel in which a family of borrowers (Glitches?) live in a computer – and characteristically have taken over English vocabulary for themselves, as with mouse, ram, scroll, etc, – and how they take their entertainment at the back of the screen instead of in front.

18. ISAGIATT – It seemed a good idea at the time. Future-looking at unexpected consequences from say, translocation, designer babies, universal literacy, memory pills, ageless beauty, honest politicians, thought-reading or other dreams science might make true.

19. An art critic writes about Modern Art as the elaborate colorful graffiti that wayward geniuses spray on walls and fences.

20 An exerpt from the Ancient Mariner on the Last Albatross, Blake on the Last Tiger, Kipling on the Last Elephant, or Charlotte’s Web in a factory farm.

21. From a Just-So story explaining something like Climate Change.

22. A happy ending for any notable tragic play or novel – say, Hamlet.

23 Can you design principles for a reform for English spelling that is more way out than the extremes of those that are commonly proposed?

24 Translate some great passage of literature into modern English vocabulary of say, the hoodie or barmy-army type.


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