Impi! O nans’impi iyeza

zulu.jpg

Stanley Baker, the Welsh Actor responsible for the greatest British war movie ever made was born on this day in 1928.  Zulu was filmed in 1964.  It is Baker’s best remembered role and made a movie star of a young lad called Michael Caine.

Bravery is not the ability to face danger without fear.  True bravery is finding yourself in a hopeless situation, facing certain death, feeling awful cowardice and yet standing up to danger.

There is a moment in the film when the Zulu sing the song of the warriors.  The rag-tag unit of British soldiers listen to the Zulu, their power, their majesty and know that all is lost.  Then Baker asks the lads to sing “Men of Harlech”.

 

 

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Dyslexia

Dunce-Hat

When I was a child dyslexia and other learing difficulties were all lumped together and labelled as stupidity.  What was worse is that instead of trying to “help” so called stupid children the teaching model was to punish these children.

Punishment could take the form of physical beating, some used canes or sticks, others used their fists.  Psychological punishment was widespread, putting children in corners, I never saw anyone wear a dunce hat, but we were not far off, putting children into stress postures, such as making them stand on a chair or making them hold up a heavy bag.

This was not for “bad behaviour”.  This was for getting questions wrong.  And many of these kids could seldom get a question right.  When they looked at a page of text they saw something like this:

Dyslex2

Thank goodness now we understand that genuine stupidity is rare and unfortunate.  Most kids who struggle to learn in traditional modes have some type of learning difficulty.  In the right environment, with the right diagnosis and the right teacher they shine through.

I went on to do some mentoring of kids with learning difficulties.  Reading with one young lad who had dyslexia showed me that when he looked at a word he saw it upside down and backwards at first glance.  The word “WAS” looked to him like “SAM”.  But more damaging to him than that glitch was the dent in his confidence and it was a pleasure to help him build it.

Later I did some teaching at 3rd level.  I began to spot clues that some students were using practiced techniques to overcome issues.  Widespread use of different coloured pens is a pretty good indicator.  But what impressed me about dyslexic students was the clarity they brought to their answers.  They could not disgorge 5 foolscap pages of waffle on an answer, but they communicated the vital elements of their understanding of the subject in one or two well thought out and clearly crafted pages.  Less is more.  Say little but say it well.

A perfect example is this poem.  Posted on Twitter by Jane Broadis @Jb5jane it is from one of her 10 year old students.  AO wrote a poem that can be read from top to bottom or from bottom to top.  Personally I prefer bottom to top.  It is a work of genius.

Dyslexia

For those with old eyes I’ll type it out here:

 

Dyslexia ; by AO

I am stupid.

Nobody would every say

I have a talent for words

I was meant to be great

That is wrong

I am a failure

Nobody could ever convince me to think that

I can make it in life.

 

NOW READ UP ⇑

Telling lies #10: Weasel Words

Colgate.jpg

 

Ovid in Metamorphoses, describes how Juno orders the goddess of childbirth, Lucina, to prevent Alcmene from giving birth to Hercules.

Realising that Lucina is using magic to frustrate the birth Alcmene’s servant Galanthis announces outside the birthing chamber that the birth has been a success.

Lucina, in her amazement, drops the spells of binding and Hercules is born. The furious Lucina responds by transforming Galanthis into a weasel.

So we come to the term “weasel words” which are vague, unsubstantiated and easily deniable claims. Weasel words abound in the modern world. Colgate were banned from using their claim that 80% of dentists recommend their toothpaste when the Advertising Standards Authority analysed the basis of the claim.

Anti-vaxxers continue to quote the work of Dr. Andrew Wakefield long after the work has been discredited as junk science.

Once the #Brexit referendum was won the #VoteLeave campaign admitted that there was no £350 million for the NHS.  It was a chimera, a phantasm.

Brexit bus

There is an entire body of pseudo-academic work aimed at spouting out clickbait studies with small, highly biased, carefully selected “judgement” samples, dubiously leading questions and highly conjectural results.  These studies are funded by “interest” groups to deliver on foregone conclusions.  They are then trotted out as though they are science.

Politicians are particularly adept at using weasel words.  If you cannot make your point using science, statistics or aggregate national data then you resort to telling the story of Joe the Plumber.  Go for the down homey personal story of the plucky underdog who nobody can seem to track down.

Journalists will use weasel words to give spice to a mediocre story.  If the police raid the home of a white collar tax cheat the story is unlikely to set the world on fire.  The police will probably seize papers around the house to use as evidence.  They will put the papers in a bag to carry them to the squad car.  The bag may also contain several weapons.  The bag may also contain cocaine.  The bag may also contain undisclosed cash.  The bag may also contain a ham and cheese salad for lunch, but who wants to read about that?

If you find yourself on the receiving end of weasel words alwasy get specific.  “What scientific study are you referencing?  Who are the researchers?  Who paid for the research?  What was the original stated aim of the research?  What questions were asked?  Who was sampled?  How does the sample match the general population?  What is the sample error?”  You need to be very, very specific.

How would Nigel Farage have coped if any decent journalist had hauled him fully over the coals on the NHS £350 million?  How would Boris Johnson have coped if anyone sat down and ran the calculations in front of him and forced him to justify the numbers?

Advertising standards authorities actually impose considerable discipline on commercial advertisers, especially in response to complaints from consumers.  Politicians face no such discipline.  Politicians have the greatest freedom of any group in society to spout lies to the voting public.  Politicians have no interest in passing laws against the telling of lies, because politicians are perfectly happy to continue to use weasel words to fool most of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time.

Weasel Words from the Swamp

 

 

 

Happy Birthday George Harrison

George Harrison

While Lennon and McCartney churned out an enormous volume of songs George Harrison wrote less in number but no lesser in quality.  His are some of my favourite Beatles songs;  Old Brown Shoe, Something, While my guitar gently weeps and Here comes the sun.  This one below reads more like a poem than a song lyric, and it is worth listening to to get a flavour for Harrison the Sitar player.  George was the youngest Beatle and was born on this day in 1943.

George was only 15 when he joined the Beatles and was only 16 when they went to Hamburg to play their first residency.  The trip was cut short because Harrison was deported because he was too young to play the clubs on the Reeperbahn.

Within you, without you;  George Harrison.

We were talking, about the space between us all
and the people, who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
never glimpse the truth, then it’s far too late when they pass away.

We were talking, about the love we all could share
when we find it, to try our best to hold it there, with our love
with our love we could save the world, if they only knew.

Try to realize it’s all within yourself, no-one else can make you change
and to see you’re really only very small
and life flows on within you and without you.

We were talking, about the love that’s gone so cold
and the people who gain the world and lose their soul.
They don’t know, they can’t see, are you one of them?

When you’ve seen beyond yourself
then you may find peace of mind is waiting there
and the time will come when you see we’re all one
and life flows on within you and without you.


Fountain of youth

OLAY

About 80% of the cosmetics industry is based on selling a version of the fountain of youth.

María Rosalía Rita de Castro, the Galician poet, was born on this day in 1837.  Writing in Galego, the Galician language, whe was one of the leading lights of the highly nostalgic Galician romantic movement.

The theme of the poem below is the need to dream of eternal life because the despair of inevitable age, death and the void are too stark to face.  We know we delude ourselves, but we are happy to do so.

The concept of a fountain of youth is very old.  Herododus, the father of history, wrote about it, and every time mankind has explored a new land we have hoped to find there some secret to eternal youth.  Eternal life is not something you want, without eternal youth.  Someone who made that mistake was poor Tithonus, the better looking brother of king Priam of Troy.  He was so good looking he attracted the attention of Eos, Goddess of dawn.  Eos begged Zeus to make Tithonus immortal and Zeus did so.  But the youth aged and then became and old feeble man.  Eventually Eos shut him away in his room, and there he made scratching sounds until Eos turned him into a cicada.

The cosmetics industry sells 2 basic concepts.  For brevity we can call them “Eternal Youth” and “Up for it”.  The latter is focused on the market for women who want to find partners.  When women are at the most fertile part of their monthly cycle, most likely to get pregnant, the body naturally displays this with visible cues for potential mates.  Lips plump up.  The skin clears up and glows.  Breasts become fuller.  Pupils of eyes expand.   All these cues are replicated by the cosmetics industry to make you look your best for your big night out.

This is not to say there are no cosmetics for men, but lets face it, the big money is in the female market.

So “Up for it” dominates the market for 20 something females.  “Eternal youth” dominates the market for females, and for males, as soon as you spot that first grey hair, that first wrinkle or crows foot, that first laugh line that no longer leaves the face when you cease to smile.  The big money in cosmetics is in “eternal youth”.  And when it comes to selling this proposition there is a whole lot of snake oil out there masquerading as science.  There is an entire industry out there known by the term of cosmeceuticals.  According to de Castro below we know the dreams are just dreams, but we are happy to fool ourselves.

Dicen que no hablan las plantas; de Rosalía de Castro

The plants don’t speak they say, nor springs, nor birds,
not the rumour mongering wave, nor the twinkling stars,
so they say, but it’s not true, for always as I pass
they mutter and call out:
There goes that mad dreamer
believing in a fountain of youth, a land eternal,
but soon, very soon, her hair will grey,
and she will tremble, stiffen, a frigid winter meadow.

-Here are grey hairs on my head, there are frost meadows,
but I continue dreaming, poor deluded sleepwalker,
the eternal spring of my life dries up
perennial rebirth of fields and souls,
ages or burns away.

Stars and springs and flowers, don’t mock my dreams,
not needing them, how can you appreciate what is is to live without them?

Homonyms

SCHWEIZ, GLOCKE, GLOCKEN, GLOCKENGUSS,

I love when people inadvertenly use homonyms of words with completely different meanings producing a comic effect.  If you need multiple examples look up the hashtag on twitter #heardnotread.  They are real life examples of things people have written down, spelling them wrong, because they heard them spoken, but did not think through what they were hearing.

Bells ring.  When you make a bell it is “tuned” to a note.  The way you tune a bell is to take metal off on a lathe.  A tuner matches the bell to its “true” tone and grinds away the metal until the bell “rings true”.  We use the phrase “to ring true” to assess if something is on point or if it is a bit off.  I might assess a business plan for an investment and if I think something does not seem right, but I can’t exactly put my finger on it, I might say that something about this proposal does not “ring true”.

A bank manager assessing a loan application might look at a person, their education, their career, their house location, the car they drive, and feel that something about the person does not ring true.  The person in front of them does not match what you expect from the details supplied.  Something is “off”.  For the bank manager this represents a risk.

When cash registers were invented they were a form of control on staff theft.  Before the arrival of the cash register all pricing had to be simple, because sales of multiple items had to be added up either in your head, or on a piece of paper.  With simple maths a dishonest employee could manipulate sales to cheat the shop owner or the customer and pocket cash.  With an automatic cash register the shop owner could set complex prices involving fractions of units such as old money prices like 1s 4 1/2 d which is one shilling (12 pence) and four and a half pence, so 16 and a half pence.  If the next item is thruppence farthing (3 and a quarter of a penny) you can see that the maths begin to get complicated.

As a further staff control the register manufacurers introduced a further feature.  A bell that rang each time a sale item was added.  The shop owner could lurk behind a shelf and make sure that the number of rings on the register tallied to the items in the basket, so the clerk was not handing out freebies to friends and family.

From the introduction of the cash register we got the concept of “ringing up” a sale.  And some clerks would use a homonym of ring true and say something like “if you come over to this register I will ring you through”.  Ring true – ring through.  Sounds the same.  Totally different meaning.

Then the phone was invented, along with switchboards to connect calls.  An operator connecting your call would usually say something like “I’ll put you through now” but some also said, because the phone used to have a bell “I’ll ring you through”.

Now we have three meanings for ring true/through.

Then someone decided to attach buzzers to automatic doors.  You arrive at an apartment block and call the resident on the intercom.  To let you in they need to unlock the front door automatically.  They might say “I’ll buzz you in” or they sometimes say “I’ll ring you through”.  Doors have bells.  Bells ring.  Ring through.

When it becomes funny for me is when I get an email from someone about a business case and they say “What do you think on this?  Something doesn’t ring through for me.”

For Whom the Bell Tolls; by John Donne

No man is an island,
entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee.

From Apollo to Pavlova flieth the swan.

Cygnus

When Apollo entered the world, sacred swans circled the island seven times for it was the seventh day of the month. At once Zeus lavished many gifts upon his son including a golden miter, a chariot drawn by swans, and a lyre since legend has it at birth Apollo said, “Dear to me shall be the lyre and bow, and in oracles I shall reveal to men the inexorable will of Zeus.”

Apollo is the Greek God of music and poetry, arts and archery amongst other things.  Swans were held to be sacred to him.  The most common swan in Europe was the mute swan, not quite mute, but not a renowned singer.  But legend held it that at the moment of death the Swan, finding itself moving closer to an afterlife with Apollo, would erupt into a beautiful funeral song.

So it is that we give the term swan song to a final performance.  One last great moment before retiring to anonymity.

The wild swan’s death-hymn took the soul
Of that waste place with joy
Hidden in sorrow: at first to the ear
The warble was low, and full and clear; …
But anon her awful jubilant voice,
With a music strange and manifold,
Flow’d forth on a carol free and bold;

The words of the Poet Laureate of Britain and Ireland, Alfed Lord Tennyson above inspired the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns to write Le cygne which is the central theme to the ballet, The Dying Swan which was performed by Anna Pavlova from 1905.  The Russian ballerina toured Australia and New Zealand in the 1920’s and sparked off a 90 year row between the two nations.  The argument was over which country invented the eponymous Pavlova dessert.  Oxford English Dictionary ruled in 2010 that based on analysis of cookbooks the dish originated in New Zealand.

And so to Gernald Stern, who celebrates his birthday today, sharing it with another great American poet; Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Swan Song; by Gerald Stern

A bunch of old snakeheads down by the pond
carrying on the swan tradition — hissing
inside their white bodies, raising and lowering their heads
like ostriches, regretting only the sad ritual
that forced them to waddle back into the water
after their life under the rocks, wishing they could lie again
in the sun

and dream of spreading their terrifying wings;
wishing, this time, they could sail through the sky like
horses,
their tails rigid, their white manes fluttering,
their mouths open, their sharp teeth flashing,
drops of mercy pouring from their eyes,
bolts of wisdom from their foreheads.