Peter McBurney grew up in Australia, and was torn between studying pure mathematics and English literature. Eventually mathematics won out, and he has since been a statistician, a marketing consultant, and an academic in business studies and in computer science. He has lived and worked for extended periods in Southern Africa, Europe, North America and East Asia, as well as in Australia. Peter has worked in government, for large multi-nationals, for hi-tech start-ups, and in universities. He blogs at Vukutu.
Why do you blog? > To think (since writing is a form of thinking), to record (since blog-posts are souvenirs sent from the present to the future), and to connect (since blogging is a form of conversation).
What has been your best blogging experience? > Meeting in person an author and blogger, Grant McCracken, whose books I had enjoyed for years previously.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Do not blog while driving or operating heavy machinery.
What are your favourite blogs? > This Blog Sits At (the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics); Alex Goodall; PostClassic; and normblog.
Who are your intellectual heroes? > Matteo Ricci, Thomas Harriott, Robert Southwell, Josiah Wedgewood, William Blake, Charles Babbage, Henry David Thoreau, David Hilbert, Frank Lloyd Wright, Bertrand Russell, John Maynard Keynes, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Henry Cowell, Andrei Kolmogorov, Gregory Bateson, Dick Bissell, John Cage, Sam Eilenberg, Weldon Keys, Herman Kahn, Stephen Toulmin, Iannis Xenakis, Charles Hamblin, Florence Skelly, Stafford Beer, Seymour Hersh.
What are you reading at the moment? > Tristram Hunt's new life of Engels, The Frock-Coated Communist.
Who are your cultural heroes? > English writers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras (Shakespeare, Southwell, Donne, etc.); the landscape painters Richard Wilson, Thomas Jones, Caspar David Friedrich and Richard Parkes Bonington; too many musicians to list, especially jazz, classical, world music, downtown, and no-wave; the actor Monty Clift; the various people of 1950s and early 1960s New York: beat writers, abstract expressionist painters, minimalist composers, jazz musicians, category theorists, and fluxus artists.
What is the best novel you've ever read? > Thomas Mann's Dr Faustus. The best novels of our time, however, are TV series – for example, most anything written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), or by David Simon and Ed Burns (The Wire, Generation Kill), or by Matthew Weiner (The Sopranos, Mad Men).
What is your favourite poem? > Shakespeare's Sonnets.
What is your favourite song? > 'Autumn Leaves' (music: Joseph Kosma, English lyrics: Jonny Mercer).
What is your favourite movie? > A tie between: The Player (director: Robert Altman), Hamlet (Michael Almereyda) and Brick (Rian Johnson).
Who is your favourite composer? > A tie between: J.S. Bach, Felix Mendelssohn and Morton Feldman.
What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Card-playing. ('Mind-numbing and soul-destroying,' Yevtushenko called it.)
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > Nuclear power, Robert Mugabe, minimalist music, the Clintons.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > That all knowledge is contingent and contestable; that much of it is socially constructed; and that some is even performative, creating the very reality it purports to describe (e.g., economics).
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > Stephen Toulmin's Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity, which deconstructs the adherence that Western intellectuals have had these last 350 years to formalist, mathematical, universalist, decontextualized, ahistorical and atemporal theories.
Who are your political heroes? > A partial list: Edmund Campion, Tom Paine, Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Sol Plaatje, Franklin Roosevelt, Ted Theodore, John Curtin, Doc Evatt, Richard Sorge, Imre Nagy, Zhou Enlai, Milada Horakova, Bram Fischer, Salvador Allende, Lyndon Johnson, Donal Lamont, Rudolf Margolius, Gough Whitlam, Helen Suzman, Alexander Dubcek, Nelson Mandela, Zhao Ziyang, Martin Luther King Jr, Zdenek Mlynar, Mikhail Gorbachev, Vaclav Havel, Paul Keating, and Barack Obama.
What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > 'Never make a firm enemy.'
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > For Australia: replace the States with about 20 smaller Regions.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > Oh, the best is surely yet to come. We ain't seen nothing yet!
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Do whatever you can, with what you have, where you are. Bloom where you are planted. Or carp will die!
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Politeness and civility.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Self-centredness.
In what circumstances would you be willing to lie? > In profiles such as this.
What is your favourite proverb? > 'Do not speak of secret matters in a field full of little hills.'
If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you'd do differently? > I'd invent my time-travel machine much earlier in my life, and definitely before now.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > London in the 1590s, Berlin in the 1830s, Manchester in the 1850s, Barcelona in the 1890s, Paris and Moscow and Berlin in the 1920s, New York in the 1950s and the 1980s, Chicago and San Francisco and Paris in the 1960s, Tokyo in the 1970s, Prague in the 1990s, Barcelona and Jakarta in the 2000s...
What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > I always wanted to be an architect, or at least to pretend to be one.
Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > That comedian of manners, Jerry Seinfeld.
If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > Three poets: Robert Southwell, Kit Marlowe and Jim J. Angleton.
[The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature. A list of all the profiles to date, and the links to them, can be found here.]