Asterix is real, money is not;Newsreel - The week in view

20th March 1998 at 00:00
Philosophy and fantasy abounded in a week overshadowed by the budget, rain in Barbados and scrutinies of school inspections and teacher supply.

As the former amounted to trial by telly with Channel 4's Dispatches, it was apposite to learn that television, derided as a mongrel word by lexicographers, was voted the word that best sums up the century by readers of The Times. Coined in 1904, a generation before it was invented, tele is Greek for far away, vision is Latin for sight. Pedigree, but dafter, words would be teleopsis or proculvision, said a helpful pedant, adding:

"Television is the medium that allows millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time and still be lonely."

King's College, London's centre for philosophical studies, is in moral turmoil over its sole sponsor, the oil giant Shell, whose much-debated human rights record in Africa has caused top-line philosophers to shun a forthcoming conference on ethics.

Kantean fundamentalists say it is morally imperative to return the pound;60,000 grant, even if it means the centre's end. Hegelians and post-structuralists argue it is better to take the dosh and use it to campaign against the company; while the Logical Positivists assert that these options are irrational and the laissez-faire monetarist status quo should be maintained. A bemused spokesman said all Shell wanted was the company logo on promotional literature.

He was not the only one to be fazed this week, as a survey showed that barely one in six of the population knew that the Millennium was celebrating the 2,000th anniversary of Christ's birth. The Daily Telegraph poll also revealed overwhelming public indignation at the amount of money being lavished on the Dome at Greenwich, that monument to virtual reality.

There's a lot of that about this week as we learn that in the US even personal computers can produce a passable imitation of a real banknote. Images are freely available on the Internet and even a child can download and print them, as Long Island police detected when they arrested a 16-year-old for using a fake $10 note to buy gum.

Equally spooky was the news that the rights to George Orwell's chilling creation, Animal Farm, were bought by a secret Foreign Office department with links to MI5 for a strip cartoon to fight Soviet propaganda in the early 1950s. Could you make that up?

It emerged that the more delightful fantasy characters of Asterix and his Gallic chums were based on proper historical research, according to two historians from Amsterdam University who have spent years studying sources around 50 BC. They concluded that the brave little French warrior's escapades are European history brought to life, complete with 2,000-year-old jokes. But the academics are going to spoil the fun by putting the Asterix series on ancient history syllabuses around Europe.

And so farewell to Dr Benjamin Spock who died at 94. The paediatrician's books on childcare provoked equal measures of praise and approbation. He was blamed by some for creating a generation of rebellious youth in the swinging Sixties. And where are they all now?

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