Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Power of Words and Language, with Ian Lang

Calling once again on Ian Lang, at Quora, for this post on the topic:
What powers do words and language have?

Ian has given me blanket permission to use any of his Quora answers on my blog. Thank you, Ian! Here is what he wrote in answer to the above question. A round of appreciative applause from yours truly, Ian!

From Ian Lang, Leading Technician:

Ooh, words.

It’s often said that the pen is mightier than the sword, thanks to Bulwer-Lytton. With this in mind I went into Harrods and got myself a really nice Cross-Townsend and went and poked some members of the Blues and Royals with it during the Trooping of the Colour last year.

Bulwer-Lytton, you were not right I’m afraid. This year I’m going to try it with a Montblanc but I’m not terribly hopeful.

Words though. They do have a power. In Western languages we have an alphabet based on the Roman one, and in English there are twenty-six ugly little characters (thirty-six if you count numerals too) which, when strung together in just the right way, can delight, enthrall, cause despair, joy, pain, love, hate, jealousy, anger and all emotions between.

Daily I thank God for the circumstances that caused me to be able to read and write for I’m sure I would have made a most miserable illiterate, and words cast to paper (or as in these days to the server) are the shapers of our history, and the echoes of our lives.

Writing and Oratory are the two most important skills any person can have. Applied properly, they can cause the world to shake. Let’s have a look at this chap:

Cicero. His letters and speeches were of such perfection that they ringed for two thousand years and still today anybody who does Latin at school will be tormented with and influenced by him. He could strike chords in men’s souls and such an accomplished gobshite was he that they had to murder him to shut him up.

Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet). Jesus, I thought I was a snarky bastard, but this bloke could take snarkiness to an art form. His writings so chimed with the stroppy, awkward squad of pre-revolutionary France that he was exiled and his books were burnt. He’s widely thought to have made the first serious cracks in the Ancien Régime.

Then there’s this bloke:
I’m sure he needs no introduction. Now think what you like about him personally and politically. But can you, through the power of your voice alone, persuade millions of people that have seen the slaughter of a great war in Europe a mere twenty-one years previously, take a course of action that’s going to land them in an even bigger one and make them think that this is a good idea? Because I can’t.

Up against him was an equally brilliant gobshite:

Sometimes I just wish I’d been around at that time because I don’t think there’s ever been anybody before or since that’s been better at using the English language to do something really on the face of it monumentally stupid, and yet fire up enough spirit to not only actually do it but do it so well that the opposing side is completely crushed. The German War Machine rolled right over Europe unstoppably. It got to the English Channel. It’s a hop, skip and jump over twenty-two miles. All it’s got to do is get to London and the game’s finished. We couldn’t stop them in France and Belgium. They’re on the Channel Islands. It’s bloody hopeless. Except-

A fat little bloke educated at Harrow who likes a drink and a smoke stands up and effectively says:

“Right. No. We’re not giving in to this little bastard. We’re going to kick his arse roundly and if we all have to die in the attempt so be it.”

But he delivers a factual account of how hopeless it looks and then at the end puts in shining words:

“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

God almighty. The British Army’s been booted out of Europe. The Luftwaffe is at its highest glory. The Wehrmacht just can’t be beaten. There’s U-boats everywhere and we could easily starve. The only advantage we’ve got is the Royal Navy and the Home Radar. Neither going to help if the Germans can get air superiority. And it’s a BIG and very cocky Luftwaffe now. The sensible thing is to sue for peace. And yet……and yet………

What did Winston just say? Hey, do y’know what? He’s right! "Bollocks to Hitler! If he thinks he’s just walking in here he’s got another bloody think coming. Right. Sleeves up. Boots on. We’ve stuff to do.”

And it rang with every man and woman in the UK, and didn’t stop there. Men of the Empire came. Men of Europe came. Men from countries who had nothing whatsoever to do with it came. All because they’d read and heard the words of power emanating. Who’d have thought that some ink and some electro-magnetic waves could do that?

To our shame, in so many ways we today are not the equal of what our grandparents were and one of those deficiencies we suffer is in the field of literary and oratory works. There is no Orwell writing his simple but resonant sentences now. There is no Churchill stirring us on to punch well above our weight. Where is the Voltaire that can mock for millions? Perhaps our lives are too easy; perhaps our days are filled with business and we have no time for the craft now.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Which doesn’t mean that some woman threw up in my van at the beginning of the week. But it’d be nice to think so.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Memorial Weekend

Memorial Weekend (in the USA) has come around once again. Memorial Day itself will be on Monday, 27 May.

I can, in good conscience, do no other but post the following, with which I wholeheartedly agree.

In 1974, Howard Zinn was invited by Tom Winship, editor of the Boston Globe, who had been bold enough in 1971 to print part of the top secret Pentagon Papers on the history of the Vietnam War, to write a bi-weekly column for the op-ed page of the newspaper. He did that for about a year and a half. The column below appeared June 2, 1976, in connection with that year's Memorial Day. After it appeared, Zinn's column was cancelled.
Memorial Day will be celebrated as usual, by high-speed collisions of automobiles and bodies strewn on highways and the sound of ambulance sirens throughout the land.

It will also be celebrated by the display of flags, the sound of bugles and drums, by parades and speeches and unthinking applause.

It will be celebrated by giant corporations, which make guns, bombs, fighter planes, aircraft carriers and an endless assortment of military junk and which await the $100 billion in contracts to be approved soon by Congress and the President.

There was a young woman in New Hampshire who refused to allow her husband, killed in Vietnam, to be given a military burial. She rejected the hollow ceremony ordered by those who sent him and 50,000 others to their deaths. Her courage should be cherished on Memorial Day. There were the B52 pilots who refused to fly those last vicious raids of Nixon's and Kissinger's war. Have any of the great universities, so quick to give honorary degrees to God-knows-whom, thought to honor those men at this Commencement time, on this Memorial Day?

No politician who voted funds for war, no business contractor for the military, no general who ordered young men into battle, no FBI man who spied on anti-war activities, should be invited to public ceremonies on this sacred day. Let the dead of past wars he honored. Let those who live pledge themselves never to embark on mass slaughter again.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Good (but rather whiffy) Old Days

This question at Quora a few days ago received an answer from yours truly. This is what I wrote in response to:

Are you old enough to remember when outhouses were used?
I am indeed! My grandparents lived in a tiny village in East Yorkshire, England. They had no indoor plumbing until the early 1950s, so water had to be brought in from a pump in a communal yard, catering to a row of five cottages. Each cottage had a long narrow garden at the back, at the end of which was the outhouse - though it wasn’t called an outhouse in Yorkshire. I don’t remember what we did call it in conversation; in formal language it was called an ‘earth closet’.

I also recall visiting my great grandparents’ small farm in an even more rural setting, and seeing their earth closet : an earth closet made for two. Very sociable! :)

Using earth closets wasn’t pleasant, but imagine the poor souls whose job it was to empty them! These men, of ultra-strong constitution, were called ‘scavengers’ , they toured the area once a week or so, emptying the earth closets into a big specially designed truck with sliding lids. The stink was indescribable as the scavengers passed by.
After pondering, later, on the question of "what we called it", I eventually recalled my grandparents' comments when they were about to use the earth closet: "I'm just going up t'garden" - translated into British English = "I'm just going to the loo."

Monday, May 20, 2019

Monday's Mumbles about Movies

On Saturday evening we watched a couple of movies via Amazon Prime. I picked them because, from the brief outline themes, neither promised beaucoup gratuitous violence, blood and guts.

Big Night (1996)

Big Night is one of those often engaging "foodie" stories. Two Italian brothers, immigrants to the New Jersey Shore, run a restaurant, The Paradise, serving fine Italian food. Primo is the chef, Secundo Maitre d'. The business is not doing well - near to foreclosure in fact - possibly Primo's wonderful food is simply "too good for this place". Another restaurateur with a business close by hears of their plight. He suggests that he should contact a celebrity and friend of his to ask that he and his entourage should visit The Paradise one evening to bring in some custom and help in spreading the word about the excellent Italian fare available.

I'll not spoil the film's theme further, but will say that, though we didn't dislike the movie, there were some weird omissions and a really iffy ending. It was nice to see Tony Shalhoub (Monk) in an early role here, and Allison Janney too (CJ Cregg in The West Wing).

The film received very good reviews - most of which I feel were way overblown - but the sight of great food can do that to some people!

The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Based on a 1993 novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, the film was directed by Sofia Coppola (in her feature directorial debut), co-produced by Francis Ford Coppola, and starring James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, and Josh Hartnett. The film also features Scott Glenn, Michael Paré and Danny DeVito in minor roles, and a voice narration by Giovanni Ribisi.

I found this to be a rather peculiar movie. Like Big Night, above, it received excellent reviews. Perhaps I just didn't get it. Maybe I don't remember what it was like being a teenager (but actually, I do, though I was not one of five!)

I like a movie with a good plot, a twist or two, and a satisfying end. I do wonder if the famous surname of the director of this movie might have....well...influenced critics more than a tad! None of this story felt at all real, reasonable or believable to me - except, perhaps the first suicide.

Without giving away too much (as though the film's title doesn't!) the story's focus is on 5 young sisters, aged between 13 and 17, living in suburban Detroit with their loving but ultra-strict and over-protective parents. Those facts along with the title is really all you need to know, apart from continually needing to ask, "Why?"

I read around some reviews of both the novel and film later. I came across one comment which put a more metaphorical spin on the novel's, and therefore the movie's theme: "I see the suicides in this book as an expression of the often senseless loss and decay that is happening in the world around us today." Remember, too, that the story is set close to Detroit, a centre of recent loss and decay. So... watching the movie through that lens, perhaps it wouldn't seem quite so peculiar.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Astrology in the 21st Century

A good read for anyone with views on astrology and its validity:

Approaching Astrology With a 21st Century Mind
Written by: Armand Diaz, PhD.

Some paragraphs from the beginning of the piece:

When I tell people that I am an astrologer, I get a range of reactions, from bemusement and even anger at one pole, to excited enthusiasm at the other. Many people seem to wonder what went wrong – how could an educated, intelligent person in the 21st century possibly give any credence to something like astrology?

This article is in no way an attempt to convince anyone of anything about astrology. All I’m doing here is laying out a few prerequisites, things that are “necessary but not sufficient” to consider that astrology may have some validity. Without some experience of astrology – good astrology – none of this is going to seem particularly compelling. To be honest, we’re going to have to get a bit heady if we really want to understand how we can approach astrology with a 21st century mind.

Not Fitting In
If you’re already comfortable with astrology, it might not seem necessary to work out the details, but I think it is worthwhile to try to see how things fit together. Many people who have an interest in astrology or other metaphysical things tend to keep quiet about it, because although they see value in them they know that they don’t quite fit in with the rest of their world view.

In recent years, astrology has gotten a bit of support. For example, Richard Tarnas, who wrote The Passion of the Western Mind, a popular book on the history of Western thought that is widely used in colleges, has also written Cosmos and Psyche. Stanislav Grof, a pioneering psychedelic researcher, physician, and psychologist has endorsed astrology as means of predicting when transformative breakthroughs will occur.

However, suggesting that astrology may have some value frequently does less to elevate astrology than to lower the status of the endorser. It is a trap that catches anyone who looks outside of mainstream thought: no matter how “skeptical” and careful you are, if you are even looking at astrology, energy healing, psychics, life after death, any anomalous phenomenon, you are already something of a kook.
[Note from me: Ain't that the truth!!]

The first thing we should consider is temperament. William James, the great American psychologist, used the terms idealist and materialist, which Jung saw as something like what he meant by introvert and extrovert. But this distinction in temperament has been in operation for a long time. In the West, we usually trace it back to Plato (the idealist) and Aristotle (the materialist).

Materialists see the physical world as the real stuff, and mental and emotional contents as somewhat ephemeral. To them, the reality of a material object with all of its concrete, measurable properties, is obviously more substantial than the changeable world of ideas, which are just “in your head.”

Idealists think very differently. For them, the material world is real, all right, but it is transient. This or that physical object will be around for a while, but the underlying idea or form of it is transcendent. This snowflake or that leaf will last a short time, but the overall pattern of the seasons is a different story – it remains while the particulars change...............

Last paras:

Almost no one today could hear about astrology and think that it made sense or that it was coherent with their view of the world. Experience with it might do the trick, assuming that one has both an idealist bent and the requisite understanding of the creative nature of symbols, and a sense that matter and meaning may co-occur.

Even so, it’s a lot of work. If all we got for it was a bit more understanding of our relationships and a good time to ask the boss for a raise, it probably wouldn’t be worth it. But astrology – for those willing to take a look – offers something more: an experience of the harmony of matter and meaning, experiential evidence that we are not empty shells scattering through a meaningless void.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


The International Day of Families is observed on the 15th of May every year. The Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 with resolution A/RES/47/237 and reflects the importance the international community attaches to families. The International Day provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families

In honour of the day, I'm borrowing some vintage photographs of families, identities unknown, from my husband's collection at Lost Gallery and Flickr

If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.
Thich Nhat Hanh quotes (Vietnamese Monk, Activist and Writer. born 1926)

The family is one of nature's masterpieces.
George Santayana

Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life! ~Albert Einstein

The Only child?

In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.
Alex Haley

Proud Relatives of Sons "called to arms"?

A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold. ~Ogden Nash

"The occasional animal" (+ my husband's caption)

Oh. I was just looking for my um...ball. Yeah, that's it. Pork chop? No. No, I haven't seen any pork chop.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Maximum Age Limit for Voting ?

A question posed at Quora: Should there be a ‘Maximum Age Limit’ for voting in elections?

Oh dear! A quote: “Discrimination on the basis of age is as unacceptable as discrimination on the basis of any other aspect of ourselves that we cannot change.”
― Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.

Elections, in the UK, USA and in most other countries are an opportunity to vote for representatives in government (local and national) for a limited period - 4 years, 5, 6 and with the opportunity, in future elections, to extend, within limits, those periods. Older voters most certainly have a stake in how their city, town, county, state or country will be governed during the next few years. To argue otherwise has no basis in fact.

A few snips from Quora answers:

At what point do you feel a Senior Citizen’s opinion has become so worthless that his/her Constitutional right should be revoked? As I see it: understanding, knowledge, experience, preferences, and opinions do not come with a shelf life like a carton of milk. (from Al Nolf's answer)

But just to be devil’s advocate, the best reason to limit the voting right of the very aged (say 85+) is that they are not going to have to live with the long-term consequences of their vote and so their votes should not have as much sway. My own parents actively decided not to vote once they got to be in their mid-late 80’s for just this reason. They felt the world belonged to the younger folks and they should be the ones to decide how it went forward.
(From Ellen Garbarino's answer.)

Yes, there should be a maximum age limit for voting. It’s better known as death. Up to that point — but hopefully not beyond — we need the input from people who have actually been around the block a few times.
(From Susan C Weber's answer)

Absolutely not. Only someone young and inexperienced who has not experienced the process of aging, who has not looked back on their lives with regret in regards to the assumptions they were so sure about would propose such a ridiculous idea. (Ridge Green's answer)

Mark Hartman wrote (with the added disclaimer "/sarcasm"):
I am all in favor of imposing a maximum age limit, and raising the minimum age limit.
No person below the age of 30 should be permitted to vote.
No person above the age of 150 should be permitted to vote.

And Al Eisenmenger wrote:
If it were not for the Senior Citizens that fought for your right to vote you wouldn’t have a Country to vote in….

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Step Right Up .......

Insightful and fun (?) piece by Paul Street at Counterpunch:

Step Right Up to the Quadrennial Extravaganza!

A few examples from a much longer list of spectacular events listed in the full piece:

Malevolent Narcissists and Wall Street Sell-Outs Masquerading as Champions of the Middle and Working Classes!

Elitism Masquerading as Populism!

Dazzling Issue-Avoidance!

Step Right Up! Watch the Biggest Issue of Our or Any Time – the Climate Crisis – Get Amazingly Avoided!

Savage Class Inequalities – a New Gilded Age – Papered Over!

Subtle Neo-McCarthyite Machinations Performed by Vacuous Cable News Automatons!

Amazing Death-Defying Destructions of Democracy, or What’s Left of it!

Peek Behind the Curtain to View the Faces of the Terrifying Un-Elected and Interrelated Dictatorships of Money and Empire!

Remarkable Feats of Nauseating Racism, Sexism, Classism and Ecocide!

Ride Through the Astounding Tunnel of Identity!

Watch Democratic Socialists Get Eaten Alive!

Watch Live Sex Acts Between Financial Institutions and National Party Committees!

Calculate the Candidates’ and Media Operatives’ Carbon Footprints as they Fly Constantly Around the Nation!

Kiss the Species Goodbye at the Extinction Gallery!

Friday, May 03, 2019

World of Today (through the eyes of teenagers from the 1980s)

I've been lacking inspiration this week; today I'm calling on a Quora colleague, Ian Lang, to help out once more. (I do have Ian's blanket permission to use his Quora answers here.)

The question:
If teenagers from 1980s could see our modern-day world, what do you think that they would be shocked by the most and what kind of questions would they ask?

By Ian Lang, Leading Technician:

So, here I go with my spotty face from 1982, travelling into the future and —— it’s 2019!

What the feck-

Why is everybody staring at a little glowing box and typing out vacuous messages to one another rather than talking? What the feck is a Facebook and how can you possibly have eighteen bajillion friends?

Hang on. Last time I looked at the top forty, we had Madness, The Police, Blondie and Adam and the Ants. Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Now it looks like you’ve got a bunch of bland pretty boys and clone-women all singing the same bleedin’ song. And what do you mean you don’t go down the record shop? Download an MP3? Knob off. I want my boom-box.

Your mum and dad drive you everywhere? Have you never heard of a bus? Where’s all the Wimpys gone and what the feck is sushi? Or burritos? Starbuck was the cocky bloke on Battlestar Galactica- what’s he doing selling coffee? What do you mean they remade it and turned him into a girl?

You want to work in what? Marketing? Do you mean advertising? No? Well, what the bloody hell is it, then? Holistic sales promotion? You’re just talking bollocks, aren’t you?

Why in the name of all that’s holy do you say everything as though it’s a question? What are you babbling about when you say “OMG, LOL, it’s like you’re a caveman, dude?”

Why are you all dressed in running shoes when your parents drive you everywhere and how come you’ve all got five bleedin’ computers but hardly any of you know how to program them? Or change a fuse. How come you all go to university but none of you can change the wheel on a car? You’ve all got twenty million A levels each? So how come when I ask you a question the answer’s always, “oh, I dunno? Google it?” And what’s a bloody Google anyway?

God almighty. Send me back to 1982. You’re all at university now, even if you don’t pronounce the -versity bit, so there must be someone who knows how to do it.

No, I’m not bloody Googling it. Google off you spoilt little bleeders. And go and vote in this Brexit thing. Whatever it is. I’m going to see if anybody’s got work for a turner.