NUS 34th, NTU 174th in Times university rankings

The National University of Singapore is 34th and Nanyang Technological University 174th in the 2010 Times Higher Education World University Rankings powered by Thomson Reuters, released today.

American universities swept the board. Here’s the list of the world’s top 100 universities.

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Martin Amis on life and Kingsley Amis

Martin Amis (left) describes seeing his father, Kingsley Amis (below), in a dream in his autobiography, Experience. Published in 2000, five years after his father's death, it's one of the most intimate accounts of a father-and-son relationship that I have ever read.

He writes:

Why should I tell the story of my life?

I do it because my father is dead now, and I always knew I would have to commemorate him. He was a writer, and I am a writer; it feels like a duty to describe our case — a literary curiosity which is also just another instance of a father and a son.

Kingsley_amis_2010 He writes about his father explaining the mysteries of sex to him and his elder brother, Philip, when they were schoolboys and the conversations they had when he had grown up.

His father pops up even when he is writing about other things. He recalls the articles he published in the New Statesman following the death of the critic FR Leavis and calling them a "symposium". A symposium originally meant a drinking party, he says and adds: 

And that is what Kingsley liked, above all things. Well, he probably liked adultery even better, in his manly noon, but the symposium was a far more durable and unambivalent pleasure — a love whose month was forever May.

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Shakespeare’s bawdy

William Shakespeare was baptized on this day in 1564 and what a life he led before he died at the age of 52 on April 23, 1616. He explored love and sex in his plays with a detailed vividness that leaves Masters and Johnson looking pretty skimpy, writes Simon Callow in the Guardian.

The Elizabethans were as prurient as the stereotypical Victorians were prudish. They loved bawdy and double entendre — and Shakespeare had to entertain his audience.

Sexual desire is rampant in the opening lines of A Midsummer's Night's Dream. Theseus tells Hippolyta he is impatient about having to wait four more days for their wedding. She says the days will pass quickly. Look at the imagery they use.

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Immigration: Britain, Singapore, America

Immigrant-weary Singaporeans have nothing on Messrs Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, as their first election debate showed. They all want to curb immigration.

Brown wants no unskilled workers from outside the European Union, Cameron wants caps on immigration to bring numbers down to "tens of thousands" from "hundreds of thousands", Clegg wants immigrants to be sent only to those areas where they are needed. He called for regional work permits which will allow immigrants to work only in a certain part of the country. (See the second video towards the end of this post.)

It was considerably duller than the American presidential debates. Here's prize-winning Daily Mail columnist Quentin Letts' irreverent take on it. But it's worth viewing because it shows where the leaders stand.

Watch Cameron in the ninth minute. He talks about meeting a 40-year-old black man in Plymouth who said he had served in the Royal Navy for 30 years. That means he joined the navy when he was 10 years old!

Immigration is the biggest election issue after the economy, reports Reuters. It adds:

According to a London School of Economics (LSE) pre-election report, 10.2 per cent of Britain's population is foreign-born (based on OECD 2007 figures).

Contrast that with Singapore, where foreigners make up nearly a third of the population.

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Foreign-born in Singapore, London and New York


Singapore is sometimes compared with London and New York. But does it have as many foreigners?

Channel NewsAsia reports: Singapore's population currently stands at nearly five million, including one million foreigners.

So foreigners make up 20 per cent of the population, going by that report.

That's less than the foreign-born population in London and New York.

Here are the figures from the Mayor of London's report on Londoners by country of birth.

Annual Population Survey estimate for Greater London in 2006

All residents:  7,352,000

UK-born: 5,031,000

Born outside UK: 2,320,000.

So 31.5 per cent of the Greater London population in 2006 was foreign-born.

According to Wikipedia, New York is the most populous city in the United States, with an estimated 2008 population of 8,363,710 — of whom 36.7 per cent are foreign-born and another 3.9 per cent born in Puerto Rico.

It's true Singapore's foreign-born population is much more than 20 per cent if you include the permanent residents and first-generation Singaporeans.

Singapore has more than half a million permanent residents.

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A prostitute falls in love

Crimsompetal  The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

Sugar is a 19-year-old prostitute in Victorian London who wants a better life, William Rackham a perfumer’s son who wants to be a gentleman and not a businessman. Married to a lord’s stepdaughter with mental problems, however, he visits Sugar after hearing about her from others and is so infatuated with her, he wants her to be his mistress. He even enters his father’s business just so he can afford her. She is not only a skilful lover but smart, intelligent and well-read, which appeals to the Cambridge-educated dilettante.

Rackham prospers after she becomes his mistress. Sugar, who agrees to the relationship only for a better life, comes to love him. The relationship changes. Sugar, the unusual prostitute who quotes poetry and has been writing a book, becomes the typical mistress, dependent on her lover. She asks him to make her his daughter’s governess so they can live under the same roof. He agrees.

She and his daughter are drawn to each other while his wife, who never cared for the child, grows more and more unbalanced. The doctor says she should be committed to a lunatic asylum. Rackham hesitates. Sugar dreams of taking her place. Will she succeed? That would be giving away the story.

The Crimson Petal and the White is more than a love story, however. It is social history presented as fiction. Michel Faber lovingly recreates the London of the 1870s, recalling its manners and mores. We see the young men about town, the upper class ladies, the high morals and the base passions. One is reminded of Thackeray and Vanity Fair as Faber tells his story as an omniscient narrator, occasionally addressing himself directly to the reader, asking the reader to follow this or that character as he takes the story from one scene to another. Faber writes about 19th century English society as knowingly as Thackeray though not with as much irony.

The Crimson Petal and the White is a remarkable achievement. It recreates the Victorian world in modern English. The language is modern but that does not break the illusion that we have been transported back to Victorian London, so authentic are the period details. The reader-friendly language makes that lost world more accessible.

It was a worldly world. True, ladies were supposed to know little about sex but the men took their pleasures elsewhere. Much as pious, well-meaning people like Rackham’s elder brother tried to "rescue" "fallen women" from prostitution and take up "decent" jobs as factory workers, the "fallen women" had no desire to be rescued, knowing factory work would wear them out faster than sex.

Sugar is almost a feminist at times while Rackham is completely Victorian. That is not surprising. Some of the Victorian women were more forward-looking than the men. Think of George Eliot.

The Crimson Petal and the White is a big book, more than 800 pages long. But it lovingly recreates a lost world and has plenty of sex. Sugar and Rackham are absolutely true to life. 

The Times on TypePad

The London Times publishes its weblogs on TypePad. I just checked the URLs for the first time yesterday and, sure enough, they bore addresses starting with That is the index file opening on a weblog about shoes, but dig deeper, and you will come across weblogs about travel, religion, books and more. They can be accessed from the Times web site, of course. The Times calls them weblogs, not blogs.

Peter_stothard The Times weblog on books by TLS editor Peter Stothard makes pretty good reading. He is a fan of Bob Dylan and the Beatles and quotes from Like A Rolling Stone and writes about driving around London with his windows open and the music system blaring songs from Abbey Road. That turned quite a few heads and drew appreciative murmurs, he writes and wonders if Coldplay will have the same effect. He doesn’t think so –a man after my heart. Dylan and the Beatles (and Elvis Presley) forever! My blog is named after one of Dylan’s greatest songs: Blowin’ in the Wind. But let’s also not forget Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones in their prime, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Grateful Dead.

The Times is not the only London paper blogging on a Six Apart product. So does the Guardian, which has been blogging much longer. It uses Movable Type. That is not stated on the Guardian blogs which use addresses such as for the news blog and for the arts and culture blog. But view the Source on your IE browser or Page Source on Firefox and you will see the HtML file where it clearly says content="".