November 2017

November 2017 letter

It has been over a year since I wrote anything for this site. And this is a small contribution because I am still busy settling down. I now have my Canadian passport renewed, have a permanent address in Canada, and I don’t see any hurdles ahead. I am busy getting what I need and getting it working. Winter has come – a proper cold, windy, snowy start. I am very afraid of falling so walk in it as little as I can. But thank goodness I have not forgotten how to walk in winter – feet put down square not heel first and center of gravity always over the feet, good winter boots. I am making sauerkraut for the first time. If it works well, I may try lots of fermented food. I fancy making fermented salsa.

I’ll put in a plug for a friend’s book – a short novel but a good one. The Black Caravel by Harry Nicholson. He was the host of Mom, Mel, aunt Marjorie and uncle Walter in Yorkshire when Walter had his gall bladder attack. And he is the person who started the Barmby family tree by going through the church records for the area. The book is a historical adventure. The history is accurate as is the Yorkshire tongue. The sailing scenes are accurate – Harry was a radio operator on merchant ships in his youth. The book is a sequel to Tom Fleck.

I have rejoined Toastmasters and it feels like home. I may join other things in time. But not yet. First I need to get my things and my place in order and then use my time to see some people that I haven’t seen for a long time. I am very determined to get a well organized apartment – Ciara who is in her early 30s said I had not been in a well organized and completed finished house since she was a young child. How true. I am expecting to be given a cat soon.

This month just 2 items: my take on a recently discovered civilization, and my take on the French language. Enjoy.

Surprising Old Europe culture

There are a lot of interesting things that I have recently found out about the ‘Danube culture’ or ‘Old Europe.’

1. Why did I not know about this culture? Information was not available to the public in the English speaking world because the archeology of the Balkans was not really started until the beginning of the last century and did not progress very much due to political instability. It got going in earnest after WW2 but was hidden for western eyes by the iron curtain. After the cool war weakened, it took time, when they were available, to translate the science from Russian and various Balkan languages. Even then there was some resistance to the information because some of it conflicted with accepted theory. There were accusations of forgery, of inaccuracy of carbon dating and that what appeared to be writing was not.

2. Why is it important? Old Europe was probably the oldest civilization, period. Appears to be started with a migration of early agricultural people from eastern Turkey to the Balkans and the Danube valley. There is a number of firsts in their culture including: cities of proper houses with rooms made of wood covered with mud and thatched roofs aligned on streets; very good pottery and professional craftsmen (and craftswomen) class, kilns that could reach 1000 degrees and produce copper from ore, breeding of cows they brought with them from Turkey with wild native bulls to result in animals more suited to local conditions, very long distance trade, very early wheeled vehicles and the beginning of writing. It calls into question whether civilization spread from Sumeria and Egypt or from Old Europe. Sumerian cuneiform writing was 2700 BC and Egyptian writing even later, but Danube writing was 5000 BC.

3. What is different about this particular civilization? It lasted 2 millennium, 5500 – 3500 BC, and its towns and cities seem to have no trace of fortifications during that long period. In other words, it was a peaceful culture. All the houses were the same style and more or less the same size, so the culture was probably fairly egalitarian. But there was some stratification shown in grave goods. The cities did not seem to have important civic, administration, palaces or even religious buildings, so there was basically a consensual political system. There were an enormous number of female figurines that appear to have religion significance especially in the home. There is some evidence of a matriarchy, although some dispute that (surprise or another case of not accepting the evidence?) Marija Gimbutas put forward the idea of a matriarchy and of a religion based on a goddess cult in two very influential books – her detractors say she has all the facts available, is very knowledgeable but is poor analytical thinker. The place was very rich with a lot of gold compared to other places and, of course, pretty well the worlds supply of copper goods.

4. How did the culture disappear from the Balkans? There are several theories. Climate change is one but it happened after the culture collapsed. The rise of the Black Sea is another but the rise near the right time was minor (the first rise was bigger and about right for forcing the original migration to the Balkans). Degraded environment has been mentioned but there turns out to be no evidence for that. The reason that is now accepted by many is an influx of Yamnaya from the neighboring Steppe. These were horse-riding warriors and they introduced Indo-European language to Europe. There may be resistance to the idea of Old Europe being matriarchal but there is no doubt that the Yamnaya were patriarchal with a capital P.

5. Why did the Yamnaya move west? After a long period of a stable ‘border’ between the steppe culture and the valley culture, the steppe people moved west. There is some evidence of a plague in Europe just before the influx so that may have been an invitation. But there is an interesting fact – genetic evidence points to the migration having a gender ratio of 10 Yamnaya males for every 1 Yamnaya female in the westward flood. The reason for this is probably polygamy – this semi-nomadic herding culture had very strong men who would have big herds and lots of wives, leaving many men with no women to marry and small or no herds. So warrior bands appear to be the answer to seeking your fortune as a young man. There is a bit of a problem with all male conquest. Language of children is heavily influenced by the mother’s language and so how did Indo-European so dominate the creole that must have been created though marriage between invader and native? This may be because of a super male domination by the Yamnaya over his native wife all across conquered Europe. The Yamnaya also appear to have formed a strong ruling class and that could have dominated the language used for important communication.

6. What happened to the Danube people after the collapse of their civilization? Some not doubt died when their cities were each burnt to the ground in single events. Some probably stayed put and lived in a Yamnaya culture. But it seems many fled south to Crete and Greece and further south taking their culture and skills with them. Their genetic footprint is also known, the ‘Mediterranean outlier’, and it is still found in south eastern Europe, is frequent in Crete and common in Greece. The Minoan civilization is very similar to Old Europe include the similarity of Danube writing symbols and Linear A, the written language of Crete. The Greek language (which is IE from a later invasion by IE warriors) has many root words that appear to be from Old Europe – names of rivers and cities, words for a high level of culture and craft skills. The oldest Greek deities are goddesses. There also are some traces of Old Europe in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Before the Old Europe artifacts were properly dated, the similarity of them to some Sumerian ones was convincing enough for the idea that Sumeria had influenced Old Europe, but when the dates turn out to be the other way around, the same evidence was not enough to convince the experts that Old Europe had influenced Sumeria (funny that).

I think this is just the beginning. There will be much more information to be dug up (literally) and many more theories to be upset.

Observations on French

Well, after spending 11 years not learning French, I still noticed some things about it which I will risk sharing.

I observed that I was often nervous for someone speaking and afraid they would run out of breath. I realized that their natural phrasing seems to be a bit longer than English and I don’t remember feeling that hearing German. So speaking French may need less air or they breath deeper or something.

I found that it was almost impossible for me to learn French. I would forget it as fast as I learnt it. After three years I realized that I was not getting anywhere and spending a lot of time on it. I was making myself frustrated, unhappy and unproductive. I know it is mostly me, an individual problem, not a global one. But it occurred to me that it might be that the centuries that France and England were enemies may have resulted in two languages not just growing apart but being forced apart. Who knows.

I noticed that the French are very particular and careful about their vowels and a little sloppy with their consonants. On the other hand the English are sloppy about their vowels and pay attention to the consonants. The French did not seem to have a ‘schwa’ sound and the English tend to use it for all vowels except the accented one in each word.

French spelling is lousy. But it is consistently lousy; whereas English is inconsistently lousier.

The French are very unreasonable about the other languages spoken in France. They refuse to follow the EU Charter for Regional or Minority Languages which is a binding treaty. Every year for 25 years they have been reminded by the EU that they are not following the treaty. The answer seems to be some roundabout way of saying, “No, and we do not intent to follow it because it is sort of against our constitution, or maybe the spirit of the constitution if not the letter, or at least it not in keeping with the ideals of France. (I will not go into how the French revolution started this attitude.)

Actually the French have not problem with being bilingual, they encourage it as long as it is another country’s language. It is just that they feel it is wrong for French citizens to prefer to speak another language for everyday use while in France. It all matters: by citizen, normal use, in France. That appear to be an affront to the nation.

I know there are English speakers that wish that English had an Academy that protected the language from – well, whatever. I personally think it is an absolutely terrible idea. I cannot see the value of having a committee to imprison and bully a language. The purpose of language is communication and if it does not do that, well, what happens is that people change it all by themselves without an elite committee. The French do not seem to be annoyed when the Academy tells them how to use their own language.

And it is a business of who owns what. I have asked some French people whether they feel a duty to French and they all said they do, they have a absolute duty to the language. When I say the I own my English and it does not own me, I owe it nothing – they find that odd. The result is that they try to speak good French as it is their duty. However French makes great demands on the speaker who wants to be ‘Penelope perfect’ and that leads to a general feeling of guilt. Well educated, articulate people will apologize for their language because it could be better if they were not lazy.

I was in France for 11 years without enough French to do anything trickier that buy a loaf of bread. But it that time only one person ever criticized my lack of French. And from what I understood she had been living in England and was criticized often and rudely for her English. With that one exception people were basically helpful, friendly and kind. It could be my smile but it is more likely that they are just friendly people.

Greetings

I am not doing a usual posting this month. However –

I want you to know that I am recovering. I am at home. I thank my Canadian and French friends for their help during the last few months and currently. Next year I hope will be better and I will start caring for this monthly site. I hope next year is good for you too.

Have a good Christmas season.

September 2016

September 2016 letter

What a month? A lot of work and a good deal of help from friends. I never realized how much work there was and I am going at it at a reasonable pace – not avoiding it and not running myself ragged. I had a very nice visit from Merrilee and she helped with the notary as well. I made two new friends who are helping me clear up the yard. And I expect to see Bob M in early October. I have found a company that makes shipping stuff easy. There are still a lot of things that I have not figured out how to get done and so cannot really see the plan of how to leave clearly but every day seems to be in a positive direction.

I am not doing my usual type of material and instead have another bunch of Harry’s stuff I have found.

Another group of Harry’s papers

Harry had a great interest in music. He was interested in playing, listening, the physics of instruments, the nature of sine waves, amplifiers, speakers, acoustics, instrument repair and on and on. There is no material on much of his ideas in this area. One story I remember that illustrates this. We had a very cheap guitar and Harry was never able to play it in the conventional way because his fingers just would not bend as required. But he worked for some time with ways to tune the guitar and developed a routine that produced a magnificently tuned guitar with a the beat frequencies balanced back and forth across the strings. Harry kept the guitar tuned for fun and it hung on the wall. Visitors who played it would remark on its surprising quality and Harry would say no it is as cheap as it looked but it is well tuned and offer to show them how to do it. The summaries are here and the writing is further below.

5. Making the case for teaching to play by ear

Harry was aware of how ingrained in the culture was the idea that children took music lessons. He was not against music lessons as long as the child could play by ear first. If they knew how to hum a simple tune when they could play it. Then was the time for formal lessons. The one exception he had was that children could take singing lessons because singing did not bypass the sound of a note. This little item explains how he became a firm believer in playing by ear.

6. The Music book

The music book never got past the first few pages. I found this note to someone. “A couple of days ago, hidden in the depths of her computer backups and archived files, Jan found something that I worked on about twenty years ago. Because I don’t have backups and stuff like that, and have changed computers a half dozen times since then, I had thought it was lost and gone forever, but there it was. At least a lot of it. It was the start of a little book on basic music theory, beginning at a building block level. In writing it, I had in mind two specific readers, one was young Ciara, who would have been 8 or 9 at the time, and the other a forty-odd year old friend,who had a beautiful alto voice and sang in a choir, but was frustrated by not being able to read music. I thought that if I was talking to both of them at the same time, the words should be about right.” The book was a great idea but Harry got into a perfectionist mood and spent a great deal of time with fonts and exact placing on things on the paper. He did not have applications or printers that would cooperate with him, and he wanted control of every letter and space. I am murdering his concept in order to place it here – simply typing it out with the letters falling where they will. The ladders were interesting one was printed on the page and the other was free and a sort of bookmark that could be used to make a longer ladder and stuff like that.

7. Injury in flute players

Harry noticed the terrible crick in the neck of flute players and figured out a head joint for a flute that would eliminate this problem. He acquired an old head joint, did experiments, and bent the joint to the angle he figured was right. He could not get a flute manufacturer to make such a flute and had trouble convincing flute players that it was necessary. Below is an letter to the authors of a paper on flute injuries by Ackermann, Kenny and Fortune.

8. Harry’s method of putting the cork on a sax neck

Harry also had looked at way of preparing sax reeds and of shaping the mouthpiece platform for the reed. I thought his experiments with mouthpieces existed by I cannot find them. Harry always believed in very good methods as opposed to the over use of time and skill. When even he had to do something new he spent a little to a lot of time asking himself if there were all better ways to do something.

 

Making the case for teaching to play by ear.

The simplest way I can think of to explain my view is to tell a little story. As a child I was taught violin, then viola,and concurrently, flute. I was part of a family string quartet, and we weren’t bad. (Second in a reasonable music festival). In my mid-teens I first heard jazz, (very controlled up-bringing), and was smitten. Leaving home at 17, the first thing I did with my own earned money, was to buy a trumpet. I had assumed that the reason I couldn’t improvise, or “play jazz”, was because I had the wrong instruments, and had heard Harry James in movies, thus the choice of instrument. I then followed the path that was familiar: I found a teacher and took lessons. Within a year, I could play most stuff that was put in front of me, ( no Trumpet Volontaire or such, but all the same–). Sadly, the same result: no jazz, no improvisation.

Then followed a tempestuous decade or so, with lots of errors of youth. With no real emotional ties to music, it was totally neglected. Then, at thirty (we’re talking 60’s now), I had a lot of strange friends, one of whom was a brilliant poet and a not-bad painter and photographer. He had decided to learn to play trumpet and bought himself a horn. Without a smattering of musical knowledge and a friend with similar qualifications but with a sax, they would make noises together. It was painful to witness. Freddie would push down valves at random, willing the notes he wanted out of the horn, but they wouldn’t come. Because I loved the man, and because I knew, through his poetry, that there was a great musician in there somewhere, I made a tentative offer of help: “Would you like me to show you what those buttons do?” He did, and I did. I showed him that each valve added a little bit of extra length and lowered the note. Little step, bigger step, both together a step and a half, then two steps, two and a half, and bottom note. I consciously decided to stop there, for fear of over-loading the session.

On the way home, I remarked to my partner that it was a good thing I had decided to stop where I did, because in fact , that was all I could remember. I didn’t know the name of the open note, where it sat on the staff, nothing. I must point out, I could still easily read in two clefs, could air finger any written material on the violin ,viola or flute.

Freddie lost interest in the horn, and I started to borrow it more and more, until I traded him something for it. I practiced in the back of a van moving in traffic or on the beach to avoid complaints from neighbours, and in a month or so, I was playing figures from Miles’ Sketches of Spain, and doing my own threads from them, blues tunes, even some of my own. I had learned to hear a note in my head, and my fingers would find it. When I wanted to play something complicated, for which I had the score, I would play it on the flute ( I had rescued one from a junk store, but normally never played it) to learn the tune, then transpose it to where it was comfortable on the horn, without ever knowing what the notes were that I was hitting on the horn.

Eventually, I noticed that the musicians I listened to the most were sax players, and that the voice of the tenor was the one I most identified with, so, a pawnshop tenor, and the start of a long learning curve. It started nervously, because I had built up a phobia about the instruments on which I had been so mute, and the Boehm system is the Boehm system. But happily, the old mind trap was gone. The tenors have included a beautiful SML rev D, and my best gig so far has been a street fair where I was roving back-up player to nervous young buskers and to kids doing their first song in public. So, Carnegie Hall, eat your heart out.

Back to what I couldn’t do. I am convinced that my being without a voice on those instruments which I had been taught to play was not a particular weakness of mine. Many orchestra players of good standing (some first chair) could not play ‘happy birthday’ for their kid’s party without notes in front of them. And when you hear someone mention that they ‘took lessons’ up to Grade 5 in this, or Grade 8 in that, and you ask them whether they play now, what’s the answer you most often hear?

My hypothesis is a simple one. When a beginner (particularly a child!) is taught to read music and to play an instrument at the same time, it is almost inevitable that the brain makes a link between a position on the staff and a finger position, bypassing any notion of the sound completely. It’s like touch typing, where a proficient typist can copy a page of material, without an error, and without any awareness of the content.

Of course there are the brilliant exceptions. I think of Oscar Peterson, John Lewis, Yehudi Menuhin, Nigel Kennedy et al, but these are the geniuses who would have been great regardless of how they started. Also, some instruments may be more conducive to avoiding this trap than others, but our woodwinds, where a note on the staff equals a fingering, one to one, are particularly prone.

My method is simple. Lend the kid a horn, show them how the sound is made and where the sounds are. You don’t need the whole chromatic scale (there’s a lot of keys on a sax!). Get them to sing a very simple melody with mostly whole tone and semi-tone intervals, give them a starting point for the first note, then let them find the tune. Mary had a little lamb will bring a smile of accomplishment, and good king Wenceslas isn’t bad either. Let them ask you where the other sharps and flats are when they need them because of where they started the tune. I don’t see anything wrong with doh re me, (movable doh of course, not that fixed doh nonsense).Why don’t they just call it “C”?? We don’t need paper notation for any of this.

A reasonable assignment would be: “Pick three tunes that you like, and learn how to play them. Phone me if you need help in finding a good starting point for them”. And if the answer is “E”, you don’t say “E”, you say “three fingers down left hand, two fingers down right hand”. If you are looking for exercises, the major scales are a good starting point, but if you’re a teacher, you don’t need my advice here. If, on the other hand, you’re the young one’s parent, and maybe need some advice, some suggestions: the major scales, start with the easy ones,C, F, Bflat, G, D. Long slow 4 beat notes every day, as a warm-up. Each note played 3 times, with a different sound each time, all the way up the scale. Try to make all the number 1 notes sound the same as each other, all the way up the scale, and the number 2’s, and 3’s. I’m talking about timbre, or the character of the sound. Then simple patterns, doh me re fa,me soh etc. (And if you are that parent and are still with me at this point, take heart; it’ll be fun, and you will learn as much as your youngster will).

But I digress. Anyone who wants to call him/herself a teacher will come up with creative ways to use this approach, if they are persuaded by its supporting logic.

 

The Music Book

Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do are the names given to some notes. They are pronounced Doe Ray Me Fa So La Tea Doe. There are other ways to spell them, but the way at the top is the most common. In any case, as with most things to do with music, it’s the way things sound that is important and not the way they are written down. When you sing – Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do you are singing a scale. Again, there are other scales, but this is the first one we are going to look at and think about.

We get the word “scale” from a word that means ladder, and a ladder is a very good way to get to understand the scale.

You will notice that the ladder I have drawn is a rather unusual ladder, so I had better explain it. First, the steps are not the same distance apart. Second, thee are steps at the very bottom and the very top, which is not very useful on a real ladder. Finally the top step is named the same as the botton step, which doesn’t seem quite right either.

Well, when you sing “do, re, mi, etc.”, if you listen carefully, you might notice that the steps you are making with your voice aren’t even. Next, we often want to sing higher or lower than we can get to with do re me fa so la ti do, so we want to be able to stack another ladder on top of our first one, or underneath it. When we do that, we want the first “do” of the second ladder to be the same as the last “do” of the first one. As for the “do” at the bottom and again at the top, the reason for this is that the more we sing or play music, the more we find that the two “do’s” sound almost exactly the same, except that one is much higher than the other.

One of the very useful things about our do re mi scale is that we can start it on any sound, or notem that we please. You can sing any note you want, and call it “do”. Then, as long as you make the same big steps and little steps that make up this scale, or ladder, it will sound right.

What is much more interesting, is that we can make up any song or tune, using the “do re mi’s” in any order, and if we change the note we used for “do”, the song will still sound the same, just higher or lower.

Now let’s deal with those uneven steps before we go further. If you look at the ladder, you will see that the steps between “mi” and “fa”, and between “ti” and “do” are half as big as the others. When the scale or ladder has these half-spaces in these places, between the third and fourth steps, and between the seventh and eighth steps, it is called a Major Scale. Sing the scale out loud and I think you will agree that the space between those pairs of notes is different than the space between the others.

In music language, we call the big spaces “tones”, and the little spaces “half-tones”. This is a bit unfortunate, because the same word “tone” is also used to mean something completely different, and this is the sound, or character of a note. Like whether a note sounds open and clear, or muffled, or nasal, like singing through your nose. Anyway, you can usually tell which way a person means “tone” from what he or she is saying.

Now since I’ve said that you can call any note you like do, that means that this way of naming motes isn’t much use if we want to tell someone to sing or play some particular note or sound. It’s as if we had all the notes of your voice lined up, one next to the other, and we could set our ladder beside them. We can set the ladder so that do is beside any particular note, and we could sing a tune that went “mi re do re mi mi mi”, for example. If we told someone else that was our tune, (mi re do re mi mi mi) they could sing it, but without knowing where we had set the ladder they wouldn’t know whether to start on a low note, a high note, or in between.

To solve this problem, each note or sound is given a name of its own that stays the same whatever step of the ladder is beside it. These name are the first seven letters of the alphabet, repeated over and over from the very lowest notes you can think of the the highest.

Now here is a strange thing.

To build our first scale which ties together our do re mi ladder and our a b c d motes, we set the ladder so that do is opposite c! Why c and not c? The reason is buried in history and we are not going to bother to dig it out just now, but that is the way it is.

Okay. If do is c, then re must be d, mi is e and so on. That means there must be a half-tone between e and f, (mi and fa), and between b and c, (ti and do), the full tones between all the other notes, And so it is. When we do this, when we set the ladder with do opposite cm and the half tones between e and f and b and c match up with the half tones between mi and fa, and ti and do, we call that the C scale or the Key of C.

Now we come to the second half of this business of Major Scales. I have said that some notes have while tones between them and others have half-times between them. And, of course, that this is true whether we are thinking do ra mi, or a b c. this leaves us with a fairly obvious question. Those notes that have a whole tome between them, could we divide up that space into two half-tones? The answer is yes, and if no one had done it before, it would still be yes. Because we could decide to do it for ourselves. After all, if you can make your voice go up a half-tone from mi to fa, then surely you could make it go up a half-time from fa to half-way between fa and so, whether there was a name for that or not!

But we are looking at major scales, and we have said that they have their half-tones in particular places. So instead of looking for notes half-way between fa and so, let’s look at what happens if we wet our ladder so that do is opposite d instead of c. We see that re has become e, but that mi is half-way between f and g. So we are going to have to make f a half-tone higher because that is where our scale ladder says it must be to sound right. As it happens, there is already a name for this. When we want a note to sound a half-tone higher, we say we ‘sharpen’ the note, so that our f becomes an f sharp. We have a sign that stands for ‘sharp’, and it is #. So our mi is going to be f#. Fa is opposite g, and all the notes match up until ti, which is between c and d, so we will call that c#, and then do will b d again. Since we made this scale by setting do at d, we call it the D Major Scale.

That is all there is to it! Well, more or less. It won’t surprise you a lot that where-ever you put the do of our scale ladder, (except on c) one of more notes will have to be paced a half-tone away from where they belong to make them fit to the scale ladder, so that the scale will sound right. By the way, when we have to push a note a half-tone down instead of up to make it fitm we call that flattening the note, so that if we start our scale on f, for example, b becomes b flat, and is written b*.

If you count all the possible places that we could start our scale, (or set the do for our scale), including all the half-tone points, before we start repeating, you will find that there are twelve. So this must be twelve possible major scales. Each of this scales will have a different number of notes that have been either sharpened or flattened to make the scale work. This twelve scales are often arranged in order of the number of sharps or flats that they need. So starting with C with no sharps or flatsm, we have G with one sharp, D with two sharps, A three sharps, E four sharps, B five sharps, and F# with 6 sharps. Then F with one flat, B* with two flats, E* three flats, A* four flats, D* five flats, and G* with 6 flats.

If you count this up, you will reach thirteen and I said there would be twelve. Problem. No really. Notice that the scalle with six sharps is F#, and the one with six flats is G*, and that these two notes are really the same. A half-tone up from F is the same as a half-tine down from G.

Now it’s time to look at ways of writing down a tune so that someone else could read it. We could do it like this: Scale of D Major. Mi Re Do Re Mi Mi Mi, Re Re Re, Mi Mi Mi, Mi Re Do Re Mi Mi Mi, Re, Mi Re Do. Actually, I happen to think that is a very useful way to learn how to read music, but not a lot of other people dom and it is limited in what can be done with it.

Similarly, we could write F# E D E F# F# F#, E E E, F# F# F#, F# E D E F# F# F#, E, F# E D. Music teachers or tutors often do write the notes down like this about the ‘normal’ notes to help their beginners.

These ways would work, but they have a lot of problems. You’ll notice I used commas to suggest little pauses, but I had no way to day how long any note should be. Also, by looking at a line of such notes, you can’t tell ahead of time whether the notes go up or down until you actually read each one. To solve these problems and a great many others, we west a very different approach. We draw a picture or rather a plan of the tune.

The system goes like this. We draw five horizontal lines across our paper. We shall let each line, and each of the spaces between lines be a note. These five lines are called a staff. A special symbol, called a clef, is drawn at the beginning of the staff, that tells us which notes sit on which lines, or spaces. Then we make some symbols to tell use how long a note should be, and simply draw it on the right line or space to show which note we mean. This is a note that is one beat long and for a note twice as long, we draw this.

Before I do any explaining, lets see how our little tune looks in this system of notation.

 

Injury in flute players

My reaction to the suggestion that these injuries are caused by “poor posture” is that you have hit the point exactly, and hit it exactly wrong! The cause of this type of injury is not the poor posture of the young players, but rather the gross contortion of the human frame called for by the classic teaching of the instrument, particularly “proper posture”.

I was taught to stand, sit, or indeed march in more or less an ‘attention’ posture; ie. Back straight, shoulders square, face pointing straight ahead. The flute was to be held level, that is horizontal, and straight to the side, not pointing forward or backwards. To appreciate the problem, get a volunteer to take up this position, then another one to hold up a piece of tube 66 centimeters long (if no flute is to hand), to the players chin, then try to move the “player’s” hands to the finger hole positions. You will find that the left elbow is in front of the breastbone, and the vertebral column is twisted more or less severely, depending on the size of the victim. He/she would need an arm reach (and height) of about 2 meters to manage this without discomfort.

Clearly this is impossible and therefore nobody does it. The instrument slopes downwards and forwards, and the neck cricks down and to the left, and this posture is maintained for extended periods, while your attention and focus goes to what you are trying to play, and you grow habituated to the discomfort, and the condition becomes chronic.

All this, or almost all, can be radically improved by a slight modification to the design of the instrument, If, in the last few centimeters of the head joint, the tube sweeps downward and forward, the arms effectively move anti-clockwise to a much happier ergonomic, without the need of a neck crick.

Purists immediately bridle at the suggestion, usually claiming unacceptable acoustic harm. These are usually the people that believe the quality of the sound depends on the dollar value of the metal, and who would avoid a blind sound test of any of their theories like the plague. My answer is: set up a blind test, and if there is a discernible difference, weigh that against the young bones you are going to damage. Frankly, I doubt that most critics could distinguish (in blind test) between a straight head joint and one with a “u” joint (as in some student flute ranges), provided both instruments were of the same quality.

If there should be an appetite for these experiments, I would suggest the following ideas. A bend of between 15 and 18 degrees is enough to effect a dramatic improvement in ergonomics. The plane of the bend and the position of the embouchure have to be related. I would suggest a sampling of a group of volunteers to determine the angle between embouchure axis and the vertical that they use normally, and to rotate the plane of the bend 45 degrees clockwise. I find these angles useful, but they should be seen as a starting point.

Players should accustom to the shape by playing in front of a mirror. The tendency to cock the head is so strong that it takes seeing yourself in a mirror to learn to play without a crick in your neck.

To close on a light note, some years ago, I was holding forth on this theme at the woodwind counter of a friendly music store, and another customer disagreed with the need for any of this, offering that he’d played flute for years without any problems, and while talking, he unconsciously picked up the air flute, and immediately cricked his neck over!

 

Putting a cork on a sex neck

Putting a cork on a sax neck starts with an obvious problem: you’re starting with a tapered tube, and you want to finish with a cylindrical cork. Obvious solution: alter the neck to be cylindrical. I use adhesive backed aluminium tape. (down Red Green fans, I didn’t say duct tape!) Aluminium tape with very good quality adhesive is available as a house insulation accessory, for sealing joints in rigid foam panels. You need to cut a piece of tape as wide as your cork is going to be, parallel for about 60 mm, then ramping down to a point, distance ‘x’ further along. Now the dimensions: Borrow a vernier or digital caliper, and measure the diameter of the neck at each end of the taper you’re going to cover. You also need to know the thickness of the tape. Stick say three layers of tape on to something flat (a piece of glass) and mic the glass alone and with the tape, to get the thickness of the tape. The difference in the two diameters of the taper, divided by 2, then divided by the thickness of a single layer of tape gives you the number of turns of tape you will need to wind up on the mouthpiece end. This number times the diameter times Pi gives you the length of the ramp. Cut it our on a piece of paper to convince yourself that this is getting somewhere. Wind the paper, starting with the sharp end at the m/pc end, round and round and you can see what we’re aiming for here. That “about 60 mm” will be the final lap, to cover the spiral pattern that you have produced. You can trim it to just nicely do that. Repeat the process with the tape instead of paper, and you have a nice solid cylinder on which to glue the cork. You can start off with a cork thickness closer to what you need to give you your finished product, and the final sanding of the cork is so much easier and neater when all you have to do is take off a few thou evenly rather than having to shape it in to a cylinder, There is the added advantage the when, sometime in the distant future you have to replace the cork, you just unwind that last lap and aluminium tape, and not worry about scrapng off the glue residues as in the ‘standard’ method.

August 2016

August 2016 letter

What a month. It is really like two months. The first when I expected the return of a healthy Harry. The second when I knew he would not come back.

At the beginning I was happy to tell Harry that he had a clear driving license again. Ginger and I were having trouble with a mouse and we got rid of it. Harry got concerned because our phone was dead and call the fire department. They came, the phone was made to work again, but it was something of a surprise to have the fire truck roll up and the firemen in full gear start to look for me. I busied my self with some cleaning, sorting, and shelling walnuts.

Then things changed. Harry stopped improving and one of the doctors said that there was just a chance that he could die, but they were trying new things so he was still hopeful. Harry and I discussed what I would do if he died so maybe he had picked up the vibes from the doctor. Harry said he felt better that I had thought about it and had sensible ideas. That day he looked terrible but when I came the next day he looked pretty good and we talked for an hour or so. I thought he was back to the slow improvement. That evening Harry called and asked me to come right away. Unfortunately I was actually incapacitated and explained that to Harry. He said we should say our goodbyes, just in case, because he would not be able to talk later. And so we did. The next day he was in an induced coma and never was conscious again. It was a very fast death, like he fell over a cliff. The basic problem was a lung infection which in the end could not be cured. The lung problem put a strain on his heart and the treatments put a strain on his kidneys. When he died it is from kidney failure and a massive heart attack on top of lungs filled with fluid. During most of the illness he was cheerful and optimistic. He had practically no real pain just discomfort and no real fear and anxiety until the last few hour of his consciousness. It was perhaps a kind death for someone who was coming to 86 and going blind. Until shortly before going into hospital he was still mentally strong and fairly physically strong so there was not the long twilight that many old people must endure.

So now there is the part of the month in which I cope. I think I am doing that well. I have a mess but a list of things that must be done and I am working my way though it. I have had help from friends and neighbours, the undertaker and the mayor’s office. I have developed a method for dealing with the lack of French. I write down what I want or my question or whatever in English. I use extremely short and uncomplicated sentences and run it through Google translate and then run it through backwards to check. I print it and take it with me to hand to whoever I need help from. It works fairly well so far.

I will not be staying in France but selling up and leaving. But that is easier said then done. It will take a while. Harry and I discussed three things I could do: find a companion to live in France with me who was bilingual, move to the UK, move to Canada. All have pros and cons but I have settled on a visit to the UK but settling in Saskatchewan.

I have items that I was collecting of this month, but I am not putting them in. I have been going through Harry’s papers and I will put some of them in. I do not want to take time this month for more than that. So this month we have the letter above, followed by introductions to some of Harry’s papers, followed by the papers themselves. There will be more in later months.

You may find more than usual typos and errors in this month. I am not taking the time for a careful reading. Sorry.

Intros to Harry’s papers

When Harry was in hospital and ‘getting better’ he decided that he would really put a high priority on getting his ideas down on paper and organized. He was having trouble with writing because he was losing his sight and had lost the feeling in the finger tips of one hand. He asked me to find hardware/applications that would allow him to be talking rather than typing and listening rather than reading. He had in his mind, things he had written but not in the way he wanted, things he had started to write and would like to finish, and things that were in his head but that he had not yet tried to put on paper.

He also realized that he was never going to get around to having his own website and asked if he could put some of his ideas on mine. But that never happened because of his death. It was a change for Harry to ask to be included in my site because I had offered many times but he wanted the sort of site that he had created in his mind and not the sort I had. I believe that he would have written items for my site but he did not get a chance to do that after he decided he wanted to, life was too short. In going through some of his old notes I have found a list of old projects that I think was probably things that he would have put on my site along with new stuff. I will do what I can to bring some of this material to life.

Some is extremely old and very dated. I will put introductions to these pieces in the main post, but put the actual material in a separate post.

It is a great disappointment to me that some things are not recorded in any form anywhere. Harry’s great talents were inventing, designing and teaching. He could come up with unique ideas, he could play with something until its strengths were preserved and the weaknesses eliminated, and he could find ways of communicating difficult concepts. But the documentation is slim. Harry loved the puzzle solving bit but once that is done he was not so great at the less interesting bits: writing, building, selling etc.

This may take a bit of time to organize and post and so it will come as I have time and find things. Here is a start.

1. The tractrix horn

There is the draft of an article for a magazine in his papers which I have copied. The figures he mentioned are not there and were probably never finished to his satisfaction and so the article was never sent. However, I remember the tractrix horn events well. We were living in Wivenhoe and I was working for the Essex University and Harry had a delivery business called The Man with the Van, carrying unusual loads often to unusual destinations. But he also had a good deal of spare time. We were missing a good hi-fi setup because we had not had one for a number of years. Harry really appreciated good sound. He liked to be able to hear the tiny soft squeals of the bow first touching a string – that sort of thing. He also appreciated undistorted low and high sounds. He liked a good bass sound so he could actually hear the full beauty of a string bass or organ. Magazine articles on the tractrix horn took his fancy. First he tried to figure out why this was such a perfect horn. It has to do with managing the transition from the movement at the speaker cone to the propagation of the sound into the room. At the cone each wave front is like a little bubble that is getting bigger as it moves out. The bubble has to be shepherded until it is big enough to enter and quickly fill the room. The tractrix horn has walls that always perpendicular to the edge of the wave front that is against them. This keeps the front intact and strong all the way to entering the room. Linking bass notes to a room is especially difficult and so the tractrix shape is favoured except that it is so long that it is bent around to be put in a reasonable sized box. This is some what old fashioned now that sound tends to be electronic and digital but it was important then. So having convinced himself of this, his next step (which is not in the article) was to figure out how to draw a tractrix curve on his draughting machine. In the end he made a little jointed thing out of a protractor head and some pieces of metal that he could move up a straight line and it would draw a tractrix beside the line. (It was lost long ago). He then got interested in the relationship between the formula that he got from the magazine and the actual behavior of the curve. He worked out the formula (this is in the article below). What he does not mention is that at the point where he recognized the need for calculus he had to work that out as he had never been actually taught calculus. Then he got taken up by the value of ‘e’ in the formula. After weeks of asking and reading without being happy, he finally understood the way ‘e’ was related to the natural expansion of a bubble. I cannot remember his new definition for ‘e’ and I cannot find anywhere that he wrote it down. Anyway he was quite pleased that he was one of a rare group of people who actually had a way of understanding ‘e’. When came the experiments in the bathtub as he could now create tractrix curves at will and had a notion of what the wave fronts should look like. There was still a lot of work in getting the setup with lighting to clearly see the waves, and ways of creating them etc. We were on our knees watching the bath for many nights. But something else overtook the hi-fi project and the horn was never built. The figures never made and the article never sent. But Harry had had a great time solving puzzles and understanding more of the world.

2. Differentially Supercharged Engine

This is a very dated project too. Harry got this idea and was taken by it. He looked into aspects of it for a number of months and then decided to see if some engineering school in the UK would support his research. He had no takers. But he kept the draft of the proposal and felt for some time that it was still a very good idea. I have not found the final version of the proposal or the figures, but there are some rough sketches.

This is an example of how Harry designed. He played with the components in all sorts of ways to get the most out of the design with the least weaknesses.

There is an example of this that was never recorded. When Harry worked in the fuel cell lab at Brush in Loughborough, he redesigned the plastic moldings for the experimental cells. The ones they were using often failed because they were badly made, assembled wrong, had glue trickle to the wrong places, or a lot of other faults. Harry found about twenty awkwardnesses. He designed one that was only a couple of pieces, one used in two orientations, they were cheap to make, they physically could not be assembled wrong, never leaked and so on. It was a little gem of a design.

3. Review of a Workshop Manual

This is also dated. Harry did a review of a couple of manuals published in Communication Quanta, the publication of the Institution of Technical Authors and Illustrators, in the fall of 1970. He worked as a technical writer for some years and also had a lot of experience as a user of repair manuals in garages.

Harry almost never lost sight of the context, the big picture. Although this was written for technical authors, it puts them and their work in the context of the whole industry they are working in rather than just the concerns of the publications office.

He was the sort of tech-auth that went and talked to the designers, the production line, the repair shops and even sometimes the complaints department. He understood what he saw, could write it clearly and always personally proof read the numbers even if there was someone else to do editing.

4. A letter to the editor on the metric system

If I remember correctly, a very well known Saskatchewan lawyer, M Shumiacher, publish something in the local Regina newspaper against the metric system. There was a back and forth of letters on the subject. I think there was some talk of the metric system being OK for science but it wasn’t much good to farmers. Harry sent in the a letter that gave a very apt agricultural example. This way of finding a good case and description was one of the ways that Harry was a good teacher.

Tractrix horn

I have just completed the preparatory work involved in building a set of horn loudspeakers based on the ideas put forward in Mr. Dindale’s 3-part article last year. (For which much thanks!) Because of the amount of work involved, it has struck me that a summary of it with some of the conclusions reached might be a useful time-saver for those of your readers who, like me, find both the mathematics and the experimentation a little daunting.

First, the mathematics. The tractrix is given to us as the curve whose tangent at any point is a fixed length from a straight line (to the point of tangency). See Fig. 1. The length of this tangent is derived from the wave-length of the cut-off frequency (L/2 Pi x 1.2) but can more simply be called ‘a’. It is useful at this point to rotate the drawing through 90 degrees, standing the embryonic horn on its bell. The tangent at any point x,y is b/x. But b=root (a squared – x squared). Thus the tangent of our curve is this expression divided by x, and our curve is the integral of this function. This turns out to be

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

after a sign change to correct for the negative slope of the tangent. This is Mr. Dinsdale’s expression with a replacing of theta/2pi, and with x as a function of y replaced by the more usual y=f(x). But now a step further: we can simply let a=1. Then all the values for x,y can be multiplied by any value of ‘a’ for a horn of any cut-off frequency. It is as though, having drawn our curve, we super-impose a piece of graph paper of whatever scale we choose. This has the advantages of (1.) giving us a function that can be handled by the simplest programmable calculator

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

and (2.) having rattled out a set of values of y=f(x), we don’t have to re-do the whole process for every new horn we wish to calculate. In the process we have gained a useful edge in accuracy. The graphic method carries the risk of a cumulative error which can easily digest the ‘safety’ factor 1.2 in the first expression.

The Design. Having been given a starting point of such theoretical beauty as the horn, it seems a terrible pity to throw away whatever it is one loses in folding it into submission. So the first question was, is this violence really necessary? Since we start with the tacit acceptance of the mouth dimensions, it is the length of the horn that poses the problem. But the length is dominantly determined by the throat diameter. By using 12” or even 15” drivers, and by shaving away at the 3:1 safety factor in the L.S.:throat area ratio, we can achieve a 50 Hz corner horn of less than 5 ft. for example. Not bad, if we can find some way of putting 4 ft. of it through a wall into non-premium space. In our case this effered the alternatives of mono bass horn in the middle of the long wall of the lounge (horn going through into under-stairs cupboard and increasing dimensions for wall mounting), or moving the corner positioned horns from the floor-corner intersections ot the ceiling-corner intersections and letting the horns through into the garage. Since this last involved an unknown (efficacy of ceiling-corner intersections as base sources), and cutting through a cavity wall, I re-joined the masses in looking at ways of folding the horn. It seems worth pointing out, however, that in many houses the problem could be solved at this stage. Where a dining space backs onto the lounge, for example, the drive-ends of the horns could be accommodated in a built-in sideboard on one side and a cupboard or side table on the other.

With the quite-manageable horn length afforded by big drivers, I resolved to find a solution involving one bend only, taking the length of the horn upwards towards the ceiling or sideways towards the other horn, in both cases putting these ‘tails’ behind paneling as part of a ‘hi-fi’ wall that could also incorporate useful things like bookcases, shelves etc.

To investigate different bend geometries, I made the quite unscientific assumption that there is a valid relationship between the behaviour of wave-fronts on the surface of a water-puddle of a particular shape and those in the three-dimensional air of a duct of this cross-section. I hope there is a validity in this relationship, but I cannot claim that there is. I am simply using an allegory as a source of data, which is, of course, quite wrong. In all six shapes (representing vertical cross-sections) were tried. The first was derived from a composite horn in which the final bell was symmetrical, changing to asymmetric section around the bend. Of the other five, one is a folded or reflecting horn, the others are curved, and all derived from a asymmetric cross-section. This asymmetry is in the sense that one boundary (the floor of the horn, and terminating into the floor of the room) is straight, and all of the cross-section differences are provided in the contour of the opposite boundary. Theoretically this is attractive because even in the wall mounted case we are talking about a helf-horn, the other (imaginary half feeding into an imaginary room under the floor. This approach seems consistent with the general hypothesis of the tractrix horn that, if the wave-front is perpendicular to both boundaries, and this leads at the floor, so much the better. The alternative case has the wave-front trailing at the floor with respect to the axis, the thus reflecting upward across the rest of the wave-front.

To derive the contours I rejected the idea of drawing a curved centre-line and erecting perpendiculars along it because it makes the inner wall too short. Instead, I used the length of the inner wall as the minimum dimension, letting the outer wall determine its own length. If we imagine a square sausage, the first approach amounts to bending the sausage and have the inner wall crinkle up and the outer wall stretch, the second approach is to cut the sausage almost through in a dozen slices, curve it towards the uncut side, then fill the gaps with extra wedges. This way the shortest wall is the right length, all others two long, This seems the lesser evil.

The observations:

Cross-section 1. The wave-front broke slightly into two around the bend, and reflected badly where the bell terminated at a straight-edge simulating the floor. It established that the scale I was using for the model was too large (with respect to the bath tub), that the method was entirely too extravagant in terms of over-all height, and converted me to the arguments advanced earlier for an asymmetric horn as a starting point.

Cross-section 2. This is the result of trying to keep the horn straight for as long as possible, this to get to a smaller cross section at the curve. In this way the curve itself takes up less room, and by starting, in a sense, closer to the floor, also finishes lower, and results in a minimum over-all height. The wave-form broke badly at the bend. The effect is that art of the wave-front follows the inner wall of the bend out to the mouth, but the part on the outside of the bend carries straight one and is essentially reflected towards the mouth of the horn. This part carries most of the wave energy: its bottom edge leads, with its upper portion trailing the first part of the wave-front, intersecting it at about 2/3 of its height; but the two factions seem to unite, merging into a respectable wave-front at about 1 ½ horn diameters from the mouth.

Cross-section 3. This is an attempt to exploit the effects seen above. The intention is a make the most of the reflected wave and discourage the non-reflected part. It is designed so that the length along the reflected line is correct. The ‘mirror’ is not at 45 degrees, but joins the projected lines of the two curves. (this was the result of a lot of experimentation.) Essentially, the result was the one hoped for. A small but quite strong reflection, or perhaps eddy, occurred with the mirror terminated. This was only sured by radiusing the mirror to blend with the floor in a tangent. A minor part (perhaps 1/5 of the total energy) of the primary wave-front still, ‘spilled’ around the corner into the bell. I thought to inhibit this by installing a ‘filter’. An array of thin, parallel lathes was fitted, extending the first curve to the termination of the mirror. The idea was that these would be transparent to the reflected wave, but would severely damp the primary wave. At best it had no effect at all, at worst (in the case of strong and high frequency waves) it caused serious break-up of the reflected front. This may have been the effect of poor detailing. The shutters (stiff card) were neither perfectly plane not parallel. But, offering so little encouragement, this line was dropped. I tried sharpening the apex of the corner around which these waves persisted, even to the extent of making a small projection into the channel, but with no positive result. None-the-less, the primary wave was smaller than before, and again was caught by the reflacted front a short distance beyond the mouth.

Cross-section 4. This is the opposite extreme. Curling the horn up right from the mouth itself and so easing the curvature of the outer wall to a minimum, I wanted to see whether the primary wave front could be held intact and dominant. Negative. The primary and reflected waves are of about equal strength, and the horn, of course, gets quite long.

Cross-section 6. This is different from the others. I wanted to see what it would take to get an intact wave front around a curve, or at least to have a divided one rejoin within the horn itself rather than out in the room. To get the room necessary for freedom of maneuver within the limit set of no more 3′ front to back, the basic horn was modified. Instead of a 3n by 4n rectangular mouth, I investigated a twinned horn. If mouth geometry of 1n by 2n can a accepted, the horn can consist of two square horns side by side, with total cross-sectional areas always equaling the one indicated by formula, and terminating in two drivers. This gives twice as great a throat area, therefore the root of 2 times the theoretical throat section, and a much shorter overall length. So our curve can be uneconomical in terms of length. The reduction in height of the mouth is (root 6):3 and this makes our ‘depth’ limit of 3′ appear much greater with respect to the horn contour. It works. The wave-form divides but re-joins just within the bell of the horn.

Ironically, in the intended installation in our house, a twin is much harder to fit than a 3×4 one. Together with the extra work of fabrication, and the cost of 4 large drivers instead of 2, this factor has caused us to opt for the reflex horn. In conclusion I a strongly convinced that the feasibility of a straight horn installation should be considered seriously in more cases, remembering the possibilities of ultra-short horns using twinned or even quadrupled forms with large drivers, and I believe my solutions 3 and 6 to be the only ones of those considered that approach the ideal offered by the tractrix horn. Again, thank you and thanks to Mr. Dinsdale for his series of articles.

 

A Proposed Research Programme for the Investigation of a Differentially Supercharged Engine

The System: Description

The system under discussion is a differentially-blown I.C. engine, (petrol or diesel), centrifugally blown, two-stroke, and blown ‘downwards’ (inlet through poppet valves, exhaust through ports in the cylinder). The primary application of the system is as a vehicle drive.

The differentially supercharged (D.S/C) arrangement is shown schematically in Fig.1. The output shaft of the I.C. engine drives the intermediate member (planet carrier) of an epicyclic set. The annulus drives the load, while the sun wheel drives a compressor which supercharges the I.C. engine. Thus the flywheel torque is always divided in the ratio A to S between the lead and the supercharger. From any steady state condition an increase in the available torque (larger throttle opening) is similarly divided, the supercharger’s fraction of the increase resulting in an increased manifold pressure, this more available torque, etc.

While it is not new, the principle seems to the writer to be badly under-appreciated, and deserves to be compared in importance to the two-shaft turbine in that it introduces a new order of usefulness of the engine type in vehicular applications.

While existing development is concentrated on the constant displacement blower, the centrifugal blower suggests itself as being much more apt. Liberating the blower speed from that of the crankshaft gi ves us a mechanism for over-coming (or perhaps more correctly, for exploiting) the one major drawback of this compressor type, and allows the appreciation of all its advantages: good efficiency at high pressure, virtual absence of lubrication problems, no drive problems, much lower noise level, and lower cost.

Again, while existing development of the scheme is centered on the four stroke cycle, the two-stroke ought to have a separate name, because whereas there is little to distinguish the normally aspirated from the supercharged four-stroke, in the case of the two-stroke the two are completely different engine types. As soon as one can treat the crankcase as a crankcase, and not as part of the breathing cycle, the problems of petroil mixtures, foul exhausts, and overloaded little ends disappear.

Another major improvement is available by blowing ‘down-ward’. Existing blown two-strokes of the single crankshaft or hybrid valve type use the port valves for inlet and the poppet-valves for exhaust. Against the single advantage of an easy life for the pistons, this arrangement has three major disadvantages. Firstly, if poppet valves are bad, then exhaust poppet valves are worse that inlet ones. Secondly, so long as the inlet phase is symmetrical about bottom dead center, the exhaust phase competes with the expansion phase for 180 degrees – ½ inlet duration. The result is hot exhaust gases, hot engines, and high specific fuel consumptions. Thirdly, the mass of burnt charge must change direction between expansion and exhaust. By contrast, the proposed arrangement offers: a poppet valve with very low thermal stress; timing diagram in which 180 degrees – ½ exhaust duration is available for expansion and therefore very low specific consumption; the other half of the diagram does not really suffer because we have the same time of 180 degrees – ½ exhaust duration for inlet and compress, and the inlet pressure under our control, so the mass of the compressed charge is virtually independent of the timing diagram. Lastly, a good scavenge pattern, as the gases expand, they acquire an inertia downwards which results in a more efficient use of exhaust duration.

Discussion:

The main aim of the system is flexibility in the sense of good low speed torque. Thus the reduction (or perhaps even elimination in some cases) of gearbox requirement, and overall system simplicity. The system provides a slight fluid flywheel effect in that the engine revs are allowed to build up in advance of output revs so as to reach a more productive speed range, and a gearbox effect in that more torque is available, but this gearbox effect is achieved in the combustion chamber, While assessing the implication of this, it is important to assume some specific operating mode. While a Grand Prix engine seems a plausible application, the present proposal is centered around the case where no horsepower advantage is sought over contemporary normally aspirated four-strokes, but rather this horsepower is available over a much wider range, peaking perhaps near the middle of the speed range. It is this case that is assumed in the present discussion.

Extracting the same power at a lower speed obviously increases the pressure and therefore the bearing loads, but not a badly as it might appear. The mean pressure is divided by twice the number of power strikes, and recent bearing materials provide adequate capacity provided the highest pressures do not coincide with very high rubbing speeds.

Scantlings, on the other hand, are still largely determined by manufacturing techniques rather than be leads, and, in smaller engines at least, outputs could be multiplied several times with negligible increase in structure weight.

The question of heat dissipation from the piston, seems a very serious one, be again, perhaps not insurmountable. Essentially, of course, this will probably be the limiting parameter, but where those limits lie is difficult to assess before the work is done. There are many reasons of optimism: the heat to be dealt with is a function of power, which is work per time, not work per rev; as mentioned before , a good expansion phase is part of the design; recent work shows that a well controlled and very high speed circulation of the coolant can give a little as 6 degrees C temperature difference across the coolant circuit – it would be interesting to measure cylinder wall temperatures under these circumstances. A recent note suggests that the temperatures of pistons that contain the combustion chamber (Ford v4 and v6, Rover, Audi etc.) run much cooler than anticipated, ‘possibly due to the rapid burning’. All of this is of course too general but it does seem reasonable to go ahead and find out the extent of the problem and then to seek appropriate solutions.

Incoming and outgoing gas separation is obviously the keystone of efficient operation of any blown two-stroke. Swirl of the incoming charge is a well established method of achieving this and swirl through poppet valves is no harder than through cylinder ports. To achieve this with a two valve head would require two separate ports coming in from opposite sides. This introduces an unwelcome complication in the cylinder head both as a casting and in terms of manifolding, but no real difficulty.

The Program

It is proposed firstly to design an analogue programme of the system using real data as much as possible, i.e. real blower characteristics, port-flow characteristics taken from airflow rig tests of existing cylinder heads etc. etc. Assuming confirmation of the basic predictions of the attractiveness of the system, two alternative occur. Depending on the nature of the sponsorship of the research further confirmation or demonstration of the principle could be made in the form of “hardware” quite easily and cheaply. A lightweight twin-cylinder motor-cycle with a 180 degree crankshaft (Honda suggests itself) could be converted by having new cylinders and a camshaft make, and ‘bolting on’ everything else. Such a demonstration could do little to investigate the efficiencies (no control over charge separation, combustion chamber shape, etc.) or to evaluate the real problems ( heating in particular) but could serve to confirm the soundness of the principle. On the other hand it seems reasonable to accept the analogue result (again assuming success) and to design and build a simple engine. A twin is unfortunately the minimum, but cost could be held very low without limiting the usefulness of the unit by using production rods, crank-shafts, valves, etc. Investment casting, while thought of as an expensive production method, would offer very low cost one-off parts. Very efficient blowers are available in a good range of sizes and characteristics.

In all, four months should see it on the test bed.

 

Review of Work Shop Manual/Austin 3-litre (1969)

More than most pieces of writing, a workshop manual must be evaluated as part of a product support system. There are things one can say about the specific part of the system; but no assessment is complete without at least some reference to the system, including its constituent parts.

The system involved here is unfortunately an unwieldy one. It is composed of the product itself, the repair facilities that exist for it, the methods that have been chosen for servicing and repair, and the manual that instructs the personnel of the repair facility in their tasks.

This view may seem extreme. Surely the Publications Department cannot take complete responsibility for the car! But when manual refers to filling the cooling system with water, are we to take it that the manufacturer is unaware of the water pump’s requirement for a small quantity of anti-freeze for internal lubrication? Or are we to believe that the Publications Department has just copied this from previous versions of a manual dedicated to an out-dated technology? Fifteen years after this manufacturer nominally completed a change to Unified threaded fasteners is there really still a requirement for a complete set of Whitworth spanners, as well as the A/F ones? I don’t know. There may be, and if there is, it reflects of course not only on the technical publication but on the Design Office’s lack of concern for dealer network problems.

But laying aside this extreme notion of responsibilities, we are left with an inevitable and large overlap of the Service Department’s choice of methods and the Publication Department’s description of these methods (why are they separate?)

On the first page of the Introduction, we are told to always fit a new locknut to the pinion flange and to the rear hub flanges. In the appropriate sections in the manual, the simple phrase ‘refit the locknut’ makes no mention of the need to use a new one.

Then we are introduced to a very attractive system of symbols to be used in the illustrations. This system and the extensive use of it is probably the best part of the book. A vocabulary of 17 symbols with meaning as detailed as ‘Move right’, ‘Move left’, ‘Drain’, ‘Inspect’, etc. has been developed in such an easy hieroglyphic form that – for many tasks at least – reference to the text should be unnecessary.

Unfortunately, a Manual has certain functions beyond listing the order of dismantling and re-assembling the components in the simpler repair task. It is there that the book falls down.

Proceeding in an orderly fashion through the manual, we are next presented with Data. Are we to presume that the lack of correspondence between the metric dimensions and the inch equivalents means that technical authors still cannot manage simple multiplication or that they are as sloppy with the one row of figures as with the other? The location of a decimal point may be thought a small point, but dammit, it is an error of ten times. And it occurs both upwards and downwards. Several instances of quite unrelated figures also sit unashamedly side by side. On a more subtle point there is a welcome note. By and large, figures have been reasonably rounded, but torque specification s to two decimal places of a Kg.m still abound. A tenth of a Kg.m is less than one pound-foot. I cannot see the relevance of sub-dividing this into ten.

Finally, we get to Instructions: On the first page we step into the quietly unreal world of the Workshop Manual. Cooling System: ‘The cooling system is under pressure while the engine is hot. Remove the filler cap and the expansion tank cap only when the system has cooled.‘ Where does the writer imagine there is time for so leisurely an approach? One hour to top up the radiator? No mention of how to do it safely while the system is hot. Just the instruction to wait till it cools. And so it goes on. The compression test instruction makes no mention of keeping the throttles open or of checking battery condition of cranking speed. These oversights would invalidate any test result.

A rather nice one under: Tensioner (timing chain) ‘Compress the tensioner and lock be turning the Allen key clockwise.‘ Later, ‘Release the tensioner.’ Then, ‘Turn the key clockwise. (and in heavy type) DO NOT TURN THE KEY ANTI-CLOCKWISE.‘ Not ever? If not, how do we release, etc.? Or just not after we have completed the whole job? But why should we want to do it then?

To refit the engine, we ‘reverse sequence etc. etc.’ No mention of special attention to control linkage adjustments, a common and serious source of mal-function of automatic transmission vehicles.

One more bit of gibberish: under ‘Reassembling, connecting rods and gudgeon pins‘ (No mention of pistons) ‘Press the new bush into the con rod… Ream the bush. Press in the gudgeon pin … selective. Refit and circlips.’ For the benefit of those who don’t know, the piston should have got in there somewhere, but much more important, the pins are a selective fit in the piston, the selection being made at the piston manufacturer’s premises, and not to be mucked about with later.

The main criticism must be reserved, not for this particular manual, but for the whole genre of which it is an all too typical example. What do they set out to achieve? True enough, on the whole they describe, fairly accurately, safe and useful procedures. The easy and obvious ones. The writer excels in describing that which even he understands. But that, unfortunately is what any pretender to the rank of mechanic understands. The difficult bits, the things in which we would welcome some guidance, the writer doesn’t know about, consciously avoids, or misunderstands when they are explained to him and confuses them for his readers. The manual is thick with examples. In particular valve seats in the cylinder head: ‘check the seat face. If necessary (what does that mean?) reface with tools listed, etc.’ Three tools are listed for each valve seat. These are probably of included angles of 60, 90, and 120 degrees. The theory is to use the 90 degree cutter to establish a clean face at 45 degrees, then to cut away this surface at its out circumference with the 120 degree cutter, at its inner circumference with the 60 degree cutter, this to control both the width of the seat that remains, and its location, or more correctly, its diameter. None of this is mentioned in the text. Neither the seat width nor its diameter is quoted.

Another type of error is repeated continuously. A dismantling operation is given in detail. Then under re-assembly, we are told to check clearances. of the components. The only way to do this would be to assemble the thing once, chick the clearances, then do the job again. If enumerating the sequence in detail is to be of any value, then it must be done in a better order than a rank amateur would follow on his first attempt (and would resolve to improve on next time.)

All the difficult areas are the same. In reassembling the rocker bushes, we are told to weld in the retaining rivet. A most unusual technique. Does he really mean it? How does one avoid overheating the part? Again, re-newing the ring gear: Split the ring gear. How? Heat the new gear to 300 to 400 degrees C. No mention of the importance of avoiding overheating. The alternator is a part of the equipment on which most service personnel are fairly weak. Predictably, so are the authors. The wiring diagram is the usual magnificent piece of photo-micrography.

Reverting to the earlier point of the merging of responsibilities of the manual writers and the service department: An example of the dated technology that emerges for this collaboration illustrates the point. In the section of ignition, no mention is made of dwell angle, only of contact breaker gap. This is inevitably the limit of the d.i.y. mechanic, but doesn’t relate to the professional workshop. Oscilloscopes (or at least dwell-meters) exist in anything that can be called a garage today, and are necessary to pick up the out-of-spec components that are commonplace in the contemporary product.

The standard defence for most of this criticisms occurs on the very first line of the introduction: ‘This manual is intended too assist the skilled mechanic in carrying out etc. etc.’ An emphasis on the skilled is usually given as a defence of the whole thing. But it won’t wash. If the main is so skilled that all the trickier parts can be glossed over, and accuracy is unimportant then why on earth publish the self-evident?

Perhaps the most significant conclusion from all this criticism is the recognition of an almost complete remoteness of the Publications Department from the repair work shop floor in the relevant market area, which is the environment for which it ostensibly exists.

The huge gap that exists between the writers of this manual and the realities of the repair workshop is symptomatic of , and a significant part of, the great distance between the board room and the dolly birds sitting on car bonnets at Earl’s Court and, on the users side, the brutal reality of just wanting to buy a reliable car and get with it prompt, reliable and economical service. This manual must, unfortunately, take its fair share of responsibility for the generally unhappy state of motorcar maintenance today.

 

There was another review on a Honda manual that seemed to have lots of information but Harry’s review starts…

The Honda Shop Manual looks like a Very Good Thing. The sad thing is that it isn’t written in English. It isn’t written in anything else either, come to that, but sits in that weird limbo of the illiterate translation.

And he ends with…

One is therefore forced regrettably to reject this manual as failing in its first function of communicating with its readers. At the same time, I recommend it most highly to those interested in new approaches to making a manual a useful thing – and for the overall attempt to provide all the information – a feature rare in the majority of workshop manuals.

 

A letter to the editor on the metric system

Questions of tact, etc. having been dealt with, there is a question about choice of system that might deserve consideration. I think it is fair to say that for non-numerate people having the multipliers between units different from each other and from the counting base is an advantage (e.g. 12 inches make 1 foot, 3 feet make 1 yard etc.). If you’re not going to deal with a system of measurements, but only with individual relationships which must be memorized, then 2,4,5,5 ½,8,12,14,20 are easy to identify with the units that they relate. If you can and intend to calculate, then any multiple other than the counting base (10) is silly. You might as well use Roman numerals.

By the way, an outstanding example of the superiority of a rational system not in the scientific sphere occurs in irrigation practice order to relate to rainfall, irrigation people measure water in inch acres. Try relating that to gallons per minute to specify pumping requirements! In the rational system you can do it in your head. 12 millimeters over 8 hectares is 12x8x10=960 cubic meters. In the 16 hour window after the heat of the day, that’s 60 cubic meters per hour, or 1 cubic meter per minute.

A little side note: In Canada there are still relics that use miles etc. although the country has been nominally metric for many decades. What’s curious there is that they defend the previous system as Imperial when they have little notion of what the Imperial system really is. They do not know a stone from a rock, a cwt from a 100 pounds, a ton from 2000, and they do not know that an Imperial fluid ounce is different from an American one. They use them interchangeably, and thus routinely convert American gallons to “Canadian” ones wrongly by about 5 percent. And so it goes. Cheers.

July 2016

July 2016 letter

This has been an eventful month because Harry has been ill. I’ll give that news separately. The month started with 2 weeks of hot weather, then a few days of rain and wind, a few of very, very hot sunny days and the rest was nice moderate temp and wind but hardly any rain. So I have been hand watering the two tomato plants that survived the two frosts and grew up from the roots when I thought they were all dead. They are now covered in little green tomatoes and blossoms. It would be a shame to lose them after all that they have been through. Early in the month the false acacia bloomed – it has such a lovely sweet-pea like smell on its blossoms, very strong in the late evening and early morning. We got a lot of yard work done in the early part of the month. We had a small hark around for a few days. We saw it eating something but never caught it catching anything. I had an accident with the Microcar turning into a busy road and did my own little bit of damage to the car. I told Harry that I had to do it to make him feel better about his damage. Our neighbours to the east have moved. She has a little baby and so no longer works and they found a house close to where he works. He used to go to work for a week at a time because it was not a reasonable commute (south west of Bourges). One of my blog posts made the ScienceSeekers editors selection list. The Ditcot power station, where Harry worked as a technical author when it was being built, is no more, decommissioned and blown up. It stayed brand new in my memory all these years. I found a wild flower in the yard that I hadn’t seen before and looked for more of the plants but found none. It is speading bellflower, very pretty small purple flowers, all alone and not there previous years.

Ginger and I have been looking after ourselves since the July 13. Ginger feels very hard done by: no Harry, no neighbouring dogs, no little girls (moving and away for school hols), no sheep (at least none to be seen or heard much although I think they were there somewhere). Ginger gets very agitated when I dress for town and take the Microcar to Avord. I think she is scared that I won’t come back. The neighbours Sebastien and Olivia and Paul Henri have been very helpful.

Harry’s health: Harry was not feeling bad at the beginning of the month. He had a heart monitor on the June 30 and July1 and everything was fine. Harry was going to talk to the cardiologist about lowering some of the medication but didn’t get a chance to. He worked as usual for a week or so but had to stop and get his breath more and more often and finally he was not doing any work because he was having so much problem with running out of breath. We had a talk and decided that he was not able to work like he used to and so we should pay someone to do some of the work. We got names from friends and started the process of getting the work estimated. His pulse went up to almost normal and we took this to be a good sign (but in hindsight it was just his heart working harder to keep him in oxygen, not a good sign at all). On the 13th Harry had a slight temperature and said that if he didn’t feel better in the morning, he would go to the doctor. I pointed out that it was a holiday 0n the 14th and it would be impossible to see our doctor until Monday at the earliest and so he jumped (that is figurative) in the car and drove to Avord before it was closing time at the clinic. It was not his heart or his stoop that was interfering with his breathing; he had a bad lung infection and a lot of water in his lungs. He says his feet did not hit the ground after that examination, into an ambulance, into hospital, confined to bed, with oxygen, with antibiotic/diuretic in a drip feed, hooked up to monitoring equipment and restriction on liquid intake. After a few day the cardiologist pronounced that his heart was OK and had take no damage. After a few more days they changed the antibiotic. He recovered but very slowly but steady. It seemed a very tenacious infection. On the 25 (after almost 2 weeks of treatment) they took the antibiotic and diuretic drip away but left the oxygen using a small tank, and he went for a walk up and down the hall.

I thought that meant he would be coming home soon, but on the 26th there was news from the doctor that, no, the infection was not completely cured and he would be on another antibiotic for a while, in hospital. The doctor said that he was not leaving hospital until the infection was gone and implied that it would not be before August. Harry is in a good mood and cheerful – he no longer feels ill and is comfortable. But he is still on oxygen as well as antibiotic.

This month we have: July letter – and report on Harry’s health; It comes back – dyslexia problems in old age; The singular ‘you’ – an old peeve against the singular you; Panini – story of a huge oral tradition; Bits of Wisdom – some distance and perspective on the referendum; Naomi Klein lecture – why I am annoyed by refusal to take refugees and other such things; July panel – from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

It comes back

I found the other day that I could not finish a bill bissett poem. It was just a sign that my dyslexia is getting obvious. I thought I had it beat: I could read, I could write, I was only a moderately weak speller, I made little mistakes with words but not too many, I could read aloud (the hardest task) for decent periods of time before I got a sort of fatigued. It had taken years of effort but I had beaten it. Now I am going backwards.

Lately I have been suffering ‘senior memory’. But that in itself does not have much to do with dyslexia, everyone has that problem as they get old. I try to make out French words and that should not interfere with English but it may be part of the problem. The number of things that I can juggle simultaneously in my head has decreased and I cannot multitask the way I once did, again just normal old age.

I read by recognizing whole words and it has becoming difficult. When I do not recognize a word that is often a memory lapse. So I try to sound it out – and the exposure to French has made this less automatic (not there it ever was very automatic). And when I have the sounds I find it hard to fit them together and actually say the word – this problem is the essence of my dyslexia and has not changed. I am slowly becoming dyslexic again or rather it is there as it always has been but my ways of working around it are less effective.

When I read silently there is no problem. I do not really sound the words clearly in my head but read the meaning slightly more directly. It is not sight providing sound providing meaning. It is more sight giving meaning and somethings sound with it. There are many words that I do not hear as sound, the very little ones and the big or awkward ones, they are meaning only by and large.

Some people find it hard to believe that I do not hear what I read to myself all the time. Someone recently did a study the found 69.5% of people always hear what they read silently, 13% sometimes do but not always, 10.6% never hear what they read silently and a small number did not answer. Also there are differences in the type of voice people hear: some hear what they imagine the author sounds like, some hear their own voice as if they were talking, and some hear their ‘thinking’ voice which has no real characteristics.

But when I read aloud, I have to quickly sound all the words, to say them aloud. This gets tiring, more tiring with duration of reading until I grind to a halt in jibberish and confusion. I do not tire from speaking, is is not fatiguing to make the sound from thinking the meaning. In fact, most of the time, speaking is automatic and I think the meaning while I hear myself say the words. It is effortless.

This would be OK, if I was not getting memory lapse and if I had the control that I used to have when I read aloud only rarely and only when I felt up to it. But now I am often reading things for Harry because they are printed too small for his eyesight. I am doing it more and often when I really would not choose to. Because it is Harry and he needs it, I do it even when I am tired or interrupting some other activity; then I can make a hash of it because it is only us, but it is still tiring.

So why does it keep me from managing to get to the end of a not too long bissett poem – because his poetry does not use the traditions spelling of words. I can not recognize the meaning for many of the words. The words have to be sounded, out loud or in the mind, in order to get the meaning of a line. So I work hard enough to be fatigued without getting a good fraction of the real meaning and playfulness of the poem. Sad.

The type of dyslexia I have works like this. I have a malfunction in the part of the brain that hears and identifies very short sounds (like most consonants). But except for sounding out words, consonants never happen alone. They happen as modifications to a vowel in a syllable. There is nothing wrong with the part of my brain that hears longer sounds including syllables. That means that I do not have (and never did have) any difficulty understanding speech or speaking. I had normal language development until I was introduced to reading and writing, where the consonants themselves had to be recognized – but they are too short to register as separate from the vowel so identifying both lone consonants and lone vowels is very difficult. There was a brick wall facing me when I was introduced to reading and I worked for over 50 years finding paths around the walls or gaps. So I am surprised and annoyed with it coming back in my old age.

The singular ‘you’

If you need ammunition in an argument about the singular ‘they’, here is Mark Liberman’s quote of an old peeving about the singular ‘you’ and notice how much good it did to change the course of the language.

Some eloquent 17th-century Quaker peeving, from The history of the Life of Thomas Ellwood 1714:

Again, The Corrupt and Unfound Form of Speaking in the Plural Number to a Single Person (Y O U to One, instead of T H O U😉 contrary to the Pure, Plain and Single Language of T R U T H (T H O U to One, and Y O U to more than One) which had always been used, by G O D to Men, and Men to G O D, as well as one to another, from the oldest Record of Time, till Corrupt Men, for Corrupt Ends, in later and Corrupt Times, to Flatter, Fawn, and work upon the Corrupt Nature in Men, brought in that false and senseless Way of Speaking, Y O U to One ; which hath since corrupted the Modern Languages, and hath greatly debased the Spirits, and depraved the Manners of Men. This Evil Custom I had been as forward in as others and this I was now called out of, and required to cease from.

Panini

Here is another little look at life before writing and how powerful the oral tradition was. One of the linguists on LanguageLog, Geoff Pullum, had a rant this month and in it was this gem.

… the finest and most detailed phonological description of any language was done about 3,000 years ago for Sanskrit by an ancient Indian known to us as Panini. If language was not “prominent” for Panini and his devoted circle of followers, successors, and commentators, I don’t know what it would mean for language to be “prominent”. But Panini was not literate: his phonological description was cast in the form of a dense oral recitation rather like a kind of epic poem, and designed to be memorized and repeated orally. The wonderful Devanagari writing system had yet to be developed. (When it was, naturally it was beautifully designed for Indic languages, because it had the insight of a phonological genius underpinning it.)

I had never heard of Panini and so looked him up. He invented linguistics 5000 to 6000 years ago; many of his structures are still used today; he set the standard for concise, logical analysis which was copied by early Indian mathematicians and other scholars; and his Sanskrit scholarship is still used. He is a figure very much like Euclid, in his logic, systematic exploration and timelessness.

But how did he amass such a huge oral document (just under 4000 rules defined with examples and discussion, in 8 chapters, each with 4 sections). It is thought that he had a number of ‘students’ who remembered various parts of the work – sort of like separate notebooks. Euclid’s famous text was a thin written volume while Panini’s was a huge oral one.

Bits of wisdom

I found this somewhat refreshing after a lot of predicable comment on the referendum – some distance and perspective. It is bits from http://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/brexit-poll where a number of psychologists remarked on the referendum.

“So far the media seem to have avoided any reflection on their role in this. In order to be ‘impartial’ we are told, it’s all about keeping responses to soundbites and making sure that if an insult is thrown one way, it goes back the other. I am surprised people in the audiences did not end up with whiplash. This insistence on short summaries meant that the media also failed to recognise that complexity needs proper, engaged debate and thought, and that can take time. They also kept us handcuffed to two key themes when the electorate needed to talk about a range of other values too.” – Martin Milton

“Decision psychology uses the concept of attribute substitution to describe a particular phenomenon in decision making and decision error. This is the phenomenon where an individual replaces a complex question with a simple one and answers the simple one, rather than engaging with the complexity of the actual question. … A multitude of different decisions about completely different things have all coalesced into a single overarching number that we are told to believe is about one thing but is in reality about many different things. Some people made the decision one of immigration, others one of emigration, some made it a question of unnecessary bureaucracy, others were thinking about economics and the question was the stock market, for others the question was the NHS, for some the question was an identity one – of being European, of being ‘British” or of being not-European, some were questions of having too little resource and others one of already having too much, some were questions of the past and other questions of the future. From this muddle of attribute substitution we have a manifest 50/50 split and a psychological civil war.” – Joanna Wilde

“Shock, panic and chaos are the perfect conditions for the creation of a glass cliff. Initially coined by psychologists Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam from the University of Exeter, the term ‘glass cliff’ refers to the phenomenon in which women are more likely to gain leadership roles during times of crisis (Ryan & Haslam, 2005). Essentially, in times of crisis, women are more likely than men to find themselves in precarious leadership positions than men, with a far lower chance of success. Unfortunately, due to the risky and precarious conditions in which the glass ceiling is so often smashed, female leaders can find themselves on a glass cliff with a greater risk of falling.” – Samantha Wratten

“The pro-EU camp argued that Brexit would result in economic disruption. The Brexit camp emphasised the negative consequences of migration from the EU. According to interviews and surveys, the EU referendum posed individuals a question: who did they trust? … Each side in the EU referendum debate was actively devaluing the opposition’s views –including personal denigration, allegations of deception, leaks of damaging information leaks, etc. Each side of the debate vehemently challenged the veracity and truthfulness of claims of the other. Furthermore, because trust helps people to predict social and economic environment, I proposed that the expected close vote would result in many people losing faith in their leaders after the decision. Guided by these arguments, I proposed that there would be: (1) a depression of trust in the government and other officials in UK and (2) a downward spiral of social and economic relations between the UK and EU.” – Ken J. Rotenberg

“And we do all this, we commit to all this because we truly believe that the world becomes a better place if we commit to each other. This is the basis of our social welfare system, free health care, free school and universities, and our international commitments. And this came long before we started swimming in oil, gold and myrrh. It is the essence of what Norway is.

So being outside the EU for Norway is not being on the outside looking in. It is being part of an understanding that there are no passengers on spaceship earth, we are all crew, and we all need to commit to working together.

My hope is that the UK comes out of the EU with that same kind of attitude. That leaving the EU is not the start of a nationalistic project of a destructive nature, but rather that you turn it into something that stimulates international commitments and help international institutions to evolve.” – Tor Levin Hofgaard

“While it’s may be tempting to generalise about the motivations of the opposing sides (Remainers = elitists and Leavers = anti-immigration) it is likely we won’t fully understand these for a while. It perhaps doesn’t help though that, whatever the actual reasons behind the Leave votes, the Leave campaign became dominated by Brexit as a means of restricting free movement of workers. I¹ve argued before (McGowan, 2014) that, in a time of economic trouble, the appeal of populist parties and movements rests on, as well as a certain practical vaguery, the finding of scapegoats. So for Donald Trump, UKIP, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and The Scottish National Party, the sources of woe are, respectively: Muslim or Mexican immigrants, EU immigrants, The Establishment, bankers/Tories, and Sassenachs.” – John McGowan

“What a post-Brexit UK might look like is uncertain, but I fear that we will see increased economic and political uncertainty, possible further austerity, and increased social inequality, with a consequent risk of increased xenophobia and damage to the social fabric of the multi-cultural society that the UK has historically been so proud of.” – Chris Cocking

“Hope on Thursday, tears on Friday. What on earth happened? When people who feel marginalised, oppressed, forgotten and overlooked are asked to vote in simple terms between two options, Yes or No, Remain or Leave, and the question is interpreted as ‘are you happy with how things are?’, then they are not going to choose Remain, or Stay (the same), or No Change. They exercise their democratic right to say No, Leave, Stop. They finally have a say and they will use it. They have experienced abuse and interference from rules imposed from a distant power, and some are unable to distinguish between the nearer, UK government, and more distant EU rulers. Others see new people enter their country and feel uneasy. ‘Those people are not like me and I don’t want them here. Perhaps I can get them to leave, if I vote Leave. Previous experience teaches Brits that how you vote is irrelevant, as there is no single transferable vote in national elections. So it doesn’t really matter, but actually in a referendum each vote counts! The shock afterwards, people’s understanding of the magnitude and consequences of their protest vote, puts them further in a position of being ridiculed, talked down to, and marginalised again. … Like children in a family where parents are discussing divorce, we need reassurance that we are going to be OK.” – Annette Schlosser

“I was drawn to Self-Determination Theory as a possible perspective that may provide a more psychological interpretation of these differences. Self-Determination Theory proposes that humans are driven by the fundamental needs of autonomy (the feeling of having volition and freedom over one’s choices of actions), competence (the feeling of a sense of mastery and accomplishment) and relatedness (the feelings of being socially connected and having positive and meaningful experiences with others). When these needs are met individuals are more likely to experience Self-Determination as well as positive psychological well-being. When these needs are thwarted individuals may experience negative emotion and may strive to regain or satisfy these needs (or adopt defensive strategies). The pattern of data presented above could be argued to demonstrate that those who feel they belong in both Britain and the EU, those who have resources and power which brings them autonomy and freedom and those with status, which brings with it a sense of competence, are more likely to have these fundamental needs satisfied by the current situation. These were more likely to vote remain. Conversely, it appears to me that these fundamental needs are not being satisfied in many of those who voted to leave. From the data presented above those who do not feel a sense of belonging in terms of either Britain or the EU, those who have least resource and consequently lower levels of freedom and autonomy, and are from the areas where traditional industry has reduced and unemployment and low skilled positions are more common are more likely to have voted to leave. Is it possible that the division in the vote is not purely based on age, education, attitudes, social class but on divisions that are more driven by levels of need fulfilment and experiences of self-determination?” – Paul Redford

“The Brexit campaign was built on promises that were never intended to be fulfilled, by politicians who never intended to win. The result is a Pyrrhic victory of epic proportions, and the resultant disappointment is going to exacerbate socio-economic problems for the foreseeable future. I believe it is part of a bigger problem of politics becoming ever more a game of the super-rich, corporate lobbying and propaganda, and less about representing the best interests of the electorate.” – Miriam Silver

“The UK is still an economic behemoth, but its imperial domination is severely diminished. The empire is gone and nations once under rule celebrate their independence from the UK, despite living with the consequences of empire, both good and bad. Consciously, the UK is aware of this, but the collective unconscious is distorted and exaggerated to not accept it – to hark back to an age bygone, whereby the will of Britain is exerted on others for the benefit of Britain. The rest of the world has had a counter-transference reaction to the UK and this is evident in the discourses put forward by various formerly colonised nations and their diaspora, which the UK is struggling to accept.” – Jazz Tehara

“From a Relational Frame Theory point of view, UK and EU have faced a very populist debate. As Steven Hayes affirmed, the populist tries to alter the functions of already-established verbal relations through rhetoric rather than attempting to extinguish or re-construe them. If we look at the speeches of all the Brexit-actors involved, we may find the same one-sided opinions of the friends of a breaking-up couple. All the assertions seem to be normative, unquestionable, Foucaultian truths: this is right and good for you; what is not right, it is certainly bad.” – Simone Cheli

Naomi Klein lecture

Recently I have become particularly annoy at people who claim that their government must fix all the problem in their country before dealing with any of the problems that are not so close to home and who do not see any responsibility for some of those ‘foreign’ problems. “The government should not take in a single refugee as long as there are homeless or unemployed or hungry people in our own country.” What a sad, selfish, thoughtless attitude. I have disagreed with many people on facebook but the only one I have ever de-friended, was an otherwise nice person who absolutely clung to this lame excuse for insisting there should be no refugees allowed into America. Nor could she see the connection between her governments actions and the existence of large numbers of refugees.

The Edward W. Said London Lecture 2016 given by Naomi Klein

In recent months, the world’s gaze has landed again and again on a hellish Australian terrain of climate-related disaster. Bushfires ravage some of the planet’s oldest trees in Tasmania. Catastrophic coral bleaching leaves much of the Great Barrier Reef a ghostly white. The first known mammal to be wiped out by global warming was recently identified there.

And yet, there is little to no discussion of climate change in your federal election campaign, which is why many Australian groups are forcefully calling for “Pollution Free Politics”: as in North America, the fossil fuel industry has managed to capture not only the debate and key levers of policy, but also huge government subsidies that help to lock in their civilisation-threatening business model, even as renewables surge around the world.

But responding to the climate crisis is not just a matter of closing coal plants and building more solar arrays. A rapid transition to green energy is also an opportunity to remake our world for the better – to lower emissions in ways that also address historical injustice and inequality, bolster democracy, and prevent the kind of brutal, inhumane future that we are already catching far too many glimpses of, from the treatment of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru to the devastating tragedy in Orlando.

 

In March, two major peer-reviewed studies warned that sea-level rise could happen significantly faster than previously believed. One of the authors of the first study was James Hansen, perhaps the most respected climate scientist in the world. He warned that, on our current emissions trajectory, we face the “loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history” – and not in thousands of years, but as soon as this century.

If we don’t demand radical change we are headed for a whole world of people searching for a home that no longer exists. In countries such as the Marshall Islands and Fiji and Tuvalu, they know that so much sea-level rise is inevitable that their countries likely have no future. But they refuse just to concern themselves with the logistics of relocation, and wouldn’t even if there were safer countries willing to open their borders – a very big if, since climate refugees aren’t currently recognised under international law.

Instead they are actively resisting: blockading Australian coal ships with traditional outrigger canoes, disrupting international climate negotiations with their inconvenient presence, demanding far more aggressive climate action. If there is anything worth celebrating in the Paris agreement signed in April – and sadly, there isn’t enough – it has come about because of this kind of principled action.

For the past three decades, since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created and climate negotiations began, the refusal of our governments to lower emissions has been accompanied with full awareness of the dangers. And this kind of recklessness would have been functionally impossible without institutional racism, even if only latent. It would have been impossible without orientalism – what Edward Said described in his landmark book of the same name as “disregarding, essentialising, denuding the humanity of another culture, people or geographical region”. It would have been impossible without all the potent tools on offer that allow the powerful to discount the lives of the less powerful. These tools – of ranking the relative value of humans – are what allow the writing off of entire nations and ancient cultures. And they are what allowed for the digging up of all that carbon to begin with.

Why? Because the thing about fossil fuels is that they are so inherently dirty and toxic that they require sacrificial people and places: people whose lungs and bodies can be sacrificed to work in the coalmines, people whose lands and water can be sacrificed to open-pit mining and oil spills. As recently as the 1970s, scientists advising the United States government openly referred to certain parts of the country being designated “national sacrifice areas”. Think of the mountains of Appalachia, blasted off for coalmining – because so-called “mountain-top removal” coalmining is cheaper than digging holes underground. There were theories of othering used to justify the sacrificing of an entire geography: after all, if you are a backwards “hillbilly”, who cares about your hills?

Turning all that coal into electricity required another layer of othering, too: this time for the urban neighbourhoods next door to the power plants and refineries. In North America, these are overwhelmingly communities of colour, black and Latino, forced to carry the toxic burden of our collective addiction to fossil fuels, with markedly higher rates of respiratory illnesses and cancers. It was in fights against this kind of “environmental racism” that the climate justice movement was born.

Fossil fuel sacrifice zones dot the globe. Take the Niger Delta, poisoned with an Exxon Valdez-worth of spilled oil every year, a process Ken Saro-Wiwa, before he was murdered by his government, called “ecological genocide”. The executions of community leaders, he said, were “all for Shell”.

Fossil fuels require sacrifice zones: they always have. And you can’t have a system built on sacrificial places and sacrificial people unless intellectual theories that justify their sacrifice exist and persist: from manifest destiny to terra nullius to orientalism, from backward hillbillies to backward Indians.

Some people insist that it doesn’t have to be this bad. We can clean up resource extraction; we don’t need to do it the way it’s been done in Appalachia or in the Niger Delta. Except that we are running out of cheap and easy ways to get at fossil fuels. This, in turn, is starting to challenge the original Faustian pact of the industrial age: that the heaviest risks would be outsourced, offloaded, onto the other – the periphery abroad and inside our own nations. From fracking the picturesque countryside to oil trains barrelling through major cities, that outsourcing is becoming less and less possible.

There is also an avalanche of evidence that there is no peaceful way to run an economy powered by coal, oil and gas. The trouble is structural. Fossil fuels, unlike renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar, are not widely distributed but highly concentrated in very specific locations, and those locations have a bad habit of being in other people’s countries. Particularly that most potent and precious of fossil fuels: oil. This is why the project of orientalism, of othering Arab and Muslim people, has been the silent partner of our oil dependence from the start – and inextricable, therefore, from the blowback that is climate change. If nations and peoples are regarded as other – exotic, primitive, bloodthirsty, as Said documented in the 1970s – it is far easier to wage wars and stage coups when they get the crazy idea that they should control their own oil in their own interests. The reverberations from such interventions continue to jolt our world, as do the reverberations from the successful burning of all that oil. The Middle East is now squeezed in the pincer of violence caused by fossil fuels, on the one hand, and the impact of burning those fossil fuels on the other.

In his latest book, The Conflict Shoreline, the Israeli architect Eyal Weizman has a groundbreaking take on how these forces are intersecting. The main way we’ve understood the border of the desert in the Middle East and North Africa, he explains, is the so-called “aridity line”, areas where there is on average 200 millimetres of rainfall a year, which has been considered the minimum for growing cereal crops on a large scale without irrigation. He documents that all along the aridity line, you see places marked by drought, water scarcity, scorching temperatures and military conflict – from Libya to Palestine to Syria, to some of the bloodiest battlefields in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Weizman also discovered what he calls an “astounding coincidence”. When you map the targets of Western drone strikes onto the region, you see that “many of these attacks – from South Waziristan through northern Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Iraq, Gaza and Libya – are directly on or close to the 200mm aridity line”.

Just as bombs follow oil, and drones follow drought, so boats follow both: boats filled with refugees fleeing homes on the aridity line ravaged by war and drought. And the same capacity for dehumanising the other that justified the bombs and drones is now being trained on these migrants.

Camps are bulldozed in Calais, thousands of people drown in the Mediterranean, and the Australian government detains survivors of wars and despotic regimes in camps on the remote islands of Nauru and Manus. Conditions are so desperate on Nauru that in April an Iranian migrant died after setting himself on fire to try to draw the world’s attention. Another migrant – a 21-year-old woman from Somalia – set herself on fire a few days later. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warns that Australians “cannot be misty-eyed about this” and “have to be very clear and determined in our national purpose”.

I thought about Nauru when I read a columnist in a London-based Murdoch paper declaring that it’s time for Britain “to get Australian. Bring on the gunships, force migrants back to their shores and burn the boats.” In another bit of symbolism, Nauru is one of the Pacific Islands very vulnerable to sea-level rise. Its residents, after seeing their homes turned into prisons for others, will very possibly have to migrate themselves.

We need to understand that what is happening on Nauru, and what is happening to it, are expressions of the same logic. A culture that places so little value on black and brown lives that it is willing to let human beings disappear beneath the waves, or set themselves on fire in detention centres, will also be willing to let the countries where black and brown people live disappear beneath the waves, or desiccate in the arid heat. When that happens, theories of human hierarchy – that we must take care of our own first – will be marshalled to rationalise these monstrous decisions. We are making this rationalisation already, if only implicitly. Although climate change will ultimately be an existential threat to all of humanity, in the short term we know that it does discriminate, hitting the poor first and worst.

The most important lesson to take from all this is that there is no way to confront the climate crisis as a technocratic problem, in isolation. It must be seen in the context of austerity and privatisation, of colonialism and militarism, and of the various systems of othering needed to sustain them all. The connections and intersections between them are glaring, and yet so often resistance to them is highly compartmentalised. The anti-austerity people rarely talk about climate change, the climate change people rarely talk about war or occupation.

Overcoming these disconnections – strengthening the threads tying together our various issues and movements – is the most pressing task of anyone concerned with social and economic justice. It is the only way to build a counterpower sufficiently robust to win against the forces protecting the highly profitable but increasingly untenable status quo.

july panelLes Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry – juillet

 

June 2016

June 2016 letter

The last 3 days of May was continuous rain without breaks. We had no flooding here but others in Europe had record breaking floods. And it rained very often until the last week of June. On the few day when it was not too wet, we mowed like mad to keep the jungle at bay. The last week of June has had lots of sun and just small showers.

Because we are still a little concerned about Harry, we have not tried to continue working on the garage roof but have continued doing stuff with the yard. He seems to have his strength back and no real problems.

One good tomato plant and one little one survived the freezing in May, growing back from the root. So my garden is 3 plants – 2 tomatoes and 1 tarragon – some garden! But we do have a some wild cherries and it looks like there will be walnuts.

So far we have had a little rabbit grazing every morning and a squirrel that visits a tree we can see from the bedroom. There are lots of birds and visiting cats.

Ciara

Ciara

Ciara visited from the 14th to the 20th. She found good ways to get across Paris even with the demos. Mme Fournier told her about a better way to get to the station in Nevers. It was so very good to see her. She had intended to do work via email when she was here but the email did work properly. We had a shopping trip to Bourges which was great for me. She is expecting and we are very happy for her and Chris.

The EU referendum result was disappointing. But we now have sun and some warmth and our health is OK so we are not down. We are learning to get along with Harry’s poor eye sight.

This month has: June letter and Ciara photo; The Plow – the one Grandpa used to break prairie; Memory of the first light bulbs – electricity of the farm; Are you worried about us after Brexit? – it is not a panic; A rant about ignoring the future – how people avoid thinking about climate change; Nerdview language – language we can’t understand; Cartoon – a philosophical one; June panel. Enjoy

The Plow

plowCousin Bob Barmby has been looking after and repairing old farm equipment as a hobby cum museum volunteer. He recently send this picture to a number of the cousins. “Grandpa broke his homestead in Milestone with this plow and a team of oxen in 1898. Feel free to do anything you like with the picture. I found the plow in Franks junk pile several years ago and he said I could have it. I had my truck so took it home.” I believe the first breaking of the land was done with oxen that Great Uncle Tom Barmby bought in Indian Head and walked back to Milestone. If anyone knows different, please let me know. Grandpa and Tom and a England family half-brother of Grandma Barmby were the original homesteaders in the Milestone area.

Memory of the first light bulbs

Before the famous Saskatchewan Rural Electrification, Dad bought a windmill and generator. It was a small unit – we had electricity, not much but it was great. There were a handfull of electric bulbs installed. One in particular was in the kitchen and in the place where an oil lamp had hung. The lamp had make a soft hissing noise when it was pumped up and lit. I was a small child and found it quite odd to have silent light. Besides the few strategically placed lights, there were some outlets. A new cream separator and water pump that were electric appeared too, but they were used only when the wind was strongish. Later the proper electrical grid came and the farm was wired. The work was done by Mel Quale and I remember following his progress and collecting the little metal circles he punched out of the electrical boxes. I pretended they were coins. Then there were lights and outlets everywhere.

Are you worried about us after brexit?

It is sad to hear that the UK will (might) leave the EU. It is not that terrible for us but adds a little uncertainty. We can live in France because we are EU citizens and that is because we have British passports and Britain is in the EU. This is also involved in our health care coverage as far as the amount that the French government pays. There is little danger that we will have to leave France, but we will have to get a ‘carte de resident’ and that should not be too difficult. The negotiations about the exit will probably have some solution to health care coverage for UK citizens living abroad.brexit

And, of course, it will not happen tomorrow. First the UK has to sort out who are going to be party leaders, whether they need a national election and decide to tell the EU they want to leave. We may be past Christmas before there is any actual negotiation between the UK and EU. There is up to two years to negotiate and so probably two and a half years will be involved.

There is also the possibility that the referendum will not result in leaving the EU. It is not binding and can be over-ridden by parliament, a newly elected government with a strong mandate, or a second referendum.

So if anyone is worried about what will happen to us such as having to leave France immediately, stop worrying.

Also you need not worry about the marshal law, strikes, demonstrations, football hoodigans etc. because we live in a very quite, rural backwater in France. It is quite a boring region really but we like it and are fairly safe from the upheavals.

A little quote to explain how the British press has reported the EU for years: I once asked Rupert Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union. ‘That’s easy,’ he replied. ‘When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.’ – Anthony Hilton

A rant about ignoring the future

Why are the middle-aged so resistant to change? The young and the old seemed to agree; 7 to 8 out of 10 think that clean energy and technology should be supported even if it costs more and are deeply concerned about climate change. The middle-aged group have lower agreement, a little more than 6 out of 10. The young unlike the middle-aged, are more likely to see economy and environment as not in competition and take a more global view. They are more likely to like regulation and planning. But this is still a disturbing picture for it means that there is a sizable minority 2 to 4 in 10 that really do not seem to see the writing on the wall at all.

If the world cannot deal with finding new homes for half the population of Syria, how are we going to deal with the population of Bangladesh when the delta there is completely flooded. The number of huge cities that are at sea level is frightening. Approximately half the world population lives along coasts. Talk of protecting borders will no longer work. There is an intense stubborn refusal to deal with positive feedback, blow-back, exponential growth, tipping points. There is a refusal to notice that time is running out and drastic measure are needed today not tomorrow and certainly not as far away as a decade.

If the young and the old can see what is happening then there is little reason for the middle-aged to not be aware of it. I seems to me like it is intentional ignorance, making sure that there is little chance of stumbling into some real facts that cannot be ignored. It is said that people who busy with their jobs, house, family, car do not have time to think about other things. I would think they would have some time to worry about their kids future, their jobs future, and what sort of house and transport will work in the future.

Nerdview language

There are signs, warnings and instructions meant for the general public, that are written in language that only real insider would understand. This is ‘nerdview’, ‘deformation professionelle’ in French. There were recently some examples in LanguageLog.

“Any permitted” says a baffling annotation on the return halves of some UK rail tickets. It apparently means “Be careful, because although unrestricted within certain parameters, this ticket is only valid at certain times and on certain routes.” If you buy an off-peak round-trip ticket between Edinburgh and Oxford, and get to Oxford down the East Coast via Newcastle and then across country via Birmingham, your return half may not be valid for a trip northward that starts before 9:30 a.m., or one that goes back from Birmingham up the West Coast via Manchester, Carlisle, and Glasgow. The claim that the ticket can be used on “any permitted” service would be completely clear to a specialist working on route pricing or timetable planning within the railway industry, but it is almost completely useless from the perspective of a naive traveler changing at Birmingham and trying to get to Edinburgh.

“USE BOTH LANES” says a road sign; but of course no individual driver can obey this. It takes the perspective of the road system designer, a perspective that an individual driver cannot be expected to have. “BOTH LANES OK FOR EXIT” would not be subject to the same criticism.

It is my impression that the world is littered with nerdview statements. They only become non-nerdview as we learn what they mean. I find computer language especially full the nerdview statements.

Cartoon

emotions1Here is a philosophical laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

semotion2

 

 

 

 

 

 

June panel

And here is the Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry for June.

 

May 2016

May 2016 letter

It is still a fairly wet spring although it is starting to warm. It didn’t get over 20 until the third week of May. The grass grows like mad and insects are getting thick and active. For some reason the magpie family which was quite a few birds and ruled the skies around us, have just disappeared over night. We found one body but no sign of the rest – it is a mystery. With them gone the pigeons are back of the wire, the crows are about, a small hawk is sometimes around, but there are many, many little birds of all shapes and colours. The wild orchids are growing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(photo of a little patch of asters that have been braving the weather since Feb – I go around them with the mower because I can’t bring myself to cut them)

At the end of April we had a day with Paul and Pam. There was a great meal at Villabon and a good talk before and after. They were off to Belgium and UK in the morning.

I miss TV sometimes – the snooker from Sheffield is one of those times. This year one of my favourites won, Mark Selby from Leicester. But I was not sorry to miss the UK local elections on TV. At least Labour held their own and Corbyn gets some breathing space.

The first part of May had three big holidays in France: May Day, Ascension and Victory in Europe Day. VE Day is when France celebrates its liberation and it is a big deal. We celebrated with a great big mowing on May Day, then the mower stopped and we had to wait to get it fixed. We also bought a hedge trimmer to get at some the the overgrown areas cut back. It seems to do the job.

Harry’s medication is still not right. On top of that he fell and got a big bruise. Things are slightly better and seem to be slowly improving, but he is not a happy camper. I am OK and so is Ginger.

I was doing more of the driving for a while. But it was Harry that made a bad move and put a hole in the new car. It doesn’t interfere with us using the car. The joke was (Harry did not laugh but I did) he was showing me how to safely turn the car around in a limited area in our yard when he hit something.

signing

Ciara is a lawyer now and a member of the Sask Bar (photo of her signing ‘the book’). She is planning to visit the 14th June for a few days. I hope the strikes are over by then and the government has backed down. How many French governments, for how many years have tried to do this and it is always the same, there is chaos and the government backs down.

Two cousins died this month. Evie Wight and Lenore Barmby. I was the wrong age to know Evie well but I always admired her. She was a talented, competent and assertive woman. She was uncle Gaylord’s second daughter. Lenore was married to my double cousin Harold, and was such a great source of happiness for him. I only talked to Lenore a few times – liked her and thought Harold was lucky to find her and her children. Harold is the same age as Marjorie and me.

This month we have: May letter; (there is no garage progress to report); May 24 a very Canadian holiday; Is the fault the speaker or the listener? – language intolerance; Mildred’s pie – baked in a paper bag; Common ancestors – genealogy statistics; Science reporting– why so bad; Tipping points – what are climate tipping points; May picture – from the book of hours.

May 24 a very Canadian holiday

You might think that Canada Day (July 1) was Canada’s oldest holiday, but no, May 24 holiday is older than Canada, and celebrated in the separate colonies before confederation. It was made a holiday in 1845 on Queen Victoria’s 35 birthday. Over time it has more or less disappeared from the UK and her former colonies but not from Canada. It was the Queens Birthday, Victoria Day, Empire Day, various French names as they wanted the holiday but not the English connection, May Long Weekend, May Two Four, and is now the permanent official birthday of who ever is the monarch of Canada. Monarchs have no choice in the matter. But its real meaning is the beginning of summer!!!! Now days it is not usually on the 24th but is the last Monday before May 25 – May 23 this year.

So what happens of May Long Weekend. It is the day that parks, campsites, tours, outdoor restaurants etc. open. People who have summer cottages go and take them out of winter ‘moth balls’ and set them up for the summer. People put in gardens. They change their wardrobes to summer fashions. The insect repellent comes out for the mosquitoes, blackflies and other pests. School work starts its run down towards the exams in June – all is revision, projects, games and other interesting things. But there is a new tradition – buying and drinking (outdoors) a case of 24 beer, known as a ‘two four’. From that weekend on it is summer no matter what others say and no matter what the weather is.

When I was a kid I learned the little verse:

The twenty-fourth of May

is the Queen’s birthday.

If we don’t get a holiday,

we will all run away.

Mom would always say that many times on the day – because it was also her birthday. (May was her name and sadly she was buried on the May 24 as well as born on it.) I can not think of May 24 without the little rhyme playing in my head along with mother’s smile.

Is it the fault of the speaker or listener?

Here is part of a language log post. “Consider this sentence from the blurb for Garner’s book:

Garner liberates English from two extremes: both from the hidebound “purists” who mistakenly believe that split infinitives and sentence-ending prepositions are malfeasances and from the linguistic relativists who believe that whatever people say or write must necessarily be accepted.

This is parallel to Geoff Pullum’s point in ‘Everything is Correct’ vs. ‘Nothing is Relevant’, where he objects to a writer who

cannot see any possibility of a position other than two extremes: on the left, that all honest efforts at uttering sentences are ipso facto correct; and on the right, that rules of grammar have an authority that derives from something independent of what any users of the language actually do.

But there had better be a third position, because these two extreme ones are both utterly insane.

And then there’s this:

Garner: I find Bernie Sanders’s dialect to be very unpleasant to listen to. I could also understand why so many people in New England considered George W. Bush to be unlistenable, because he overdid the Texas twang. And in fact even to a Texan — it made this Texan cringe. But Bernie Sanders is very difficult to listen to because one doesn’t expect an educated American to have that kind of accent.

It’s not surprising that Bryan Garner has this kind of reaction to regional varieties of English. Shaw wrote in the preface to Pygmalion, “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him”. And despite the Atlantic ocean and the intervening 100 years, most Americans still have similar visceral responses to the speech patterns of some Others.

What’s surprising, at least to me, is that Garner sees this reaction not as a prejudice that he ought to try to overcome, but as a fault for Sanders and Bush to remedy. Of course, Shaw’s position was similar: It never seems to have occurred to him to make Cockney or Birmingham accents acceptable, rather than train their speakers to imitate “the noble English of Forbes Robertson”.

Aunt Mildred’s pie direction from Everett Maroon’s facebook page

pie

I made this crust today, from my grandmother Mildred, but I made a strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Grandma Mildred’s brown bag apple pie
This pie, while particularly tasty, used to stress me out when I was making it because I was certain the bag was going to catch on fire in the oven and burn the house down, and really, is any pie worth it? After making it for something like 32 times now, I am happy to report that all of the kitchens that hosted this pie are all well and intact. Just put the rack near the bottom of the oven so there’s room for the bag.

Do note that the crust recipe makes two pie shells, and we’ll only be needing one for this pie. Sometimes I roll out both and fold one up and freeze it for later.

Ingredients:
FOR THE CRUST
1/3 cup lard, chilled
2 tablespoons butter, chilled
2 cups flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
Small bowl of ice water

FOR THE FILLING
7 cups (2 1/2 lbs) of apples, peeled, cored, and sliced very thin (1/8”)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 lemon

FOR THE TOPPING
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 stick butter, cold

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Farenheit (220 Celsius). With a pastry blender, mix together the chilled lard and chilled butter, cutting this into the flour until pea-sized. Into this, sprinkle 4 tablespoons of cold water. Working quickly, ball the dough, and try not to get it too warm. Cut the ball in half, roll out onto a floured surface, flip and roll again until it’s 1/4 of an inch thick. Put the dough in the pie pan and wet your fingers with the ice water if you need to mend any rips in the dough.

I like to squirt a little lemon juice on the apples as I’m prepping them. Once they’re ready, put the apples, sugar, flour, nutmeg, and cinnamon in a bowl. Mix everything with your hands. Lay the apple mixture in the pie shell and drizzle 2 T lemon juice on top.

For the topping, use a pastry blender to cut in the butter with the sugar and flour. Sprinkle this on top of the pie, packing it down a little so it sticks. Put pie in a grocery paper bag and paper clip it. Put the whole thing on a cookie sheet and bake for 60 minutes.

Mildred won many awards for her pie, you know!

Common Ancestors

Parts of an article in National Geographic (from Carl Zimmer’s Loom blog)

Chang was not a genealogist who had decided to make me his personal project. Instead, he is a statistician at Yale who likes to think of genealogy as a mathematical problem. When you draw your genealogy, you make two lines from yourself back to each of your parents. Then you have to draw two lines for each of them, back to your four grandparents. And then eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, and so on. But not so on for very long. If you go back to the time of Charlemagne, forty generations or so, you should get to a generation of a trillion ancestors. That’s about two thousand times more people than existed on Earth when Charlemagne was alive.

The only way out of this paradox is to assume that our ancestors are not independent of one another. That is, if you trace their ancestry back, you loop back to a common ancestor. We’re not talking about first-cousin stuff here–more like twentieth-cousin. This means that instead of drawing a tree that fans out exponentially, we need to draw a web-like tapestry.

In a paper he published in 1999, Chang analyzed this tapestry mathematically. If you look at the ancestry of a living population of people, he concluded, you’ll eventually find a common ancestor of all of them. That’s not to say that a single mythical woman somehow produced every European by magically laying a clutch of eggs. All this means is that as you move back through time, sooner or later some of the lines in the genealogy will cross, meeting at a single person.

As you go back further in time, more of those lines cross as you encounter more common ancestors of the living population. And then something really interesting happens. There comes a point at which, Chang wrote, “all individuals who have any descendants among the present-day individuals are actually ancestors of all present-day individuals.

The most recent common ancestor of every European today (except for recent immigrants to the Continent) was someone who lived in Europe in the surprisingly recent past—only about 600 years ago. In other words, all Europeans alive today have among their ancestors the same man or woman who lived around 1400. Before that date, according to Chang’s model, the number of ancestors common to all Europeans today increased, until, about a thousand years ago, a peculiar situation prevailed: 20 percent of the adult Europeans alive in 1000 would turn out to be the ancestors of no one living today (that is, they had no children or all their descendants eventually died childless); each of the remaining 80 percent would turn out to be a direct ancestor of every European living today. – Steven Olson

Suddenly, my pedigree looked classier: I am a descendant of Charlemagne. Of course, so is every other European. By the way, I’m also a descendant of Nefertiti. And so are you, and everyone else on Earth today. Chang figured that out by expanding his model from living Europeans to living humans, and getting an estimate of 3400 years instead of a thousand for the all-ancestor generation.

Things have changed a lot in the fourteen years since Chang published his first paper on ancestry. Scientists have amassed huge databases of genetic information about people all over the world. These may not be the same thing as a complete genealogy of the human race, but geneticists can still use them to tackle some of the same questions that intrigued Chang.

Recently, two geneticists, Peter Ralph of the University of Southern California and Graham Coop of the University of California at Davis, decided to look at the ancestry of Europe. They took advantage of a compilation of information about 2257 people from across the continent. Scientists had examined half a million sites in each person’s DNA, creating a distinctive list of genetic markers for each of them… This means that if you compare two people’s DNA, you will find some chunks that are identical in sequence. The more closely related people are, the bigger the chunks you’ll find. Ralph and Coop identified 1.9 million of these long shared segments of DNA shared by at least two people in their study. They then used the length of each segment to estimate how long ago it arose from a common ancestor of the living Europeans. Their results both confirm Chang’s mathematical approach and enrich it. … In fact, as Chang suspected, the only way to explain the DNA is to conclude that everyone who lived a thousand years ago who has any descendants today is an ancestor of every European.

Science reporting

Every once in a while there is real anger from scientists at a piece of science reporting and in between those events, we just have to take what we read in newspapers and magazines with a large grain of salt. What is at the root of the bad reporting of science (and other things too for that matter)?

Journalists have this silly code: always report something with two sides, and balance them; don’t try to get as close as possible to the truth because that is not the point; never let an old argument rest even if one side died long ago; entertain rather than inform readers; good writing is more important than good information.

Is this just postmodernism coming out? It may or may not have been fine in the humanities but it is not OK in science. All truths are not equal and they should not get equal billing. There are standards and criteria for trustworthiness. Controversies that have been settled do not need to be trotted out like the living dead.

There is a lot of junk being printed as science news by people who know better or should know better. Surely you should have a degree in a science to be a reporter on that science. Especially annoying to me is the explanations that are so cutzy, simplistic and incomplete that they end up being so misleading that they are just plain wrong.

Tipping points

When I was a kid, in wet springs, we played a game of trying to walk deeper and deeper into the water so that we could reach the point of being in water up to the top of our rubber boots without getting our feet wet. This is impossible because near the top of the boot there is nothing to stop the rim from buckling in and immediately letting the boot fill with water to the top. There was no time to retreat because it always happened very fast.

Today man-made carbon dioxide is raising the temperature. And the world is playing with models to see how slowly we can lower our emissions and still not fry. But there is a danger – systems are not always linear and can suddenly change to very different systems. These events are called tipping points. For example, there are now stable ocean currents, like the Gulf Stream. The circulation of the Gulf Stream depends on gradients of temperature and saltiness. If enough fresh, unsalty water enters the Atlantic from the melting of Greenland ice, it could flip the current and change all of the climates along both sides of the Atlantic. It could happen very quickly, going from stable, to chaotic, to gone, within a short time period. That is just one ocean current and there are others. There are wind patterns as well like the monsoon that could lose their stability. Other possible tipping points are: the acidification of the oceans and loss of much of the life there, forest die-back of both tropical and boreal forests, uncovering of the Arctic Ocean, release of methane from melting permafrost and warming oceans. There are probably many that will be surprises because they were never dreamed of. These will make life difficult for us but they are not necessarily the BIG TIPPING POINT.

The big one may be anything or a lot of things together. If we raise the temperature enough for other sources of green house gases to take over driving climate change, then we could lower our emission to zero and not stop the rise in green house gases, the rise in temperature, and our planet’s death (like the sorcerer’s apprentice). There would be a self-sustaining positive feed back system that we started but cannot control or stop. We have then the final tipping point, the point of no return, a catastrophe.

We may have already passed that point but if not, it is coming up soon. The lack of urgency in doing something to stop emission is dangerous and suicidally inappropriate.

Tres riches heures du duc de Berry – mai

may

 

April 2016

April 2016 letter

My cousin, Milly Wilberts, died of cancer in early March. She was a Wight-Klinkhammer. I did not hear about her death at the time. She was a great person and I really liked her.

wild cherry

wild cherry

We are having a very wet and cold spring so far. I thought we were done with frost and put out some tomato plants. It has frozen at night three times since then. The trees are in leaf or with large buds. The wild cherries blossomed so spring is coming along if slowly (photo is wild cherry out of bedroom window). The French weather forecasters, who are usually pretty accurate, were badly wrong 3 days in a row. They forecast terrible storms with high winds and hail – the days were normal. We have to run to keep up with the grass this time of year.

Harry’s medication is not fixed yet. He is having low thyroid function as a result of the heart medicine and so they are trying to get the right level of thyroid medicine. The result is that he is suffering from low energy right now, soon to be corrected we hope. (good thing the weather is not great). Our regular doctor is ill and probably will not be returning. The replace takes a little getting used to – she talks fast and without clear enunciation.

Ciara’s Chris is now working in Merrilee’s ‘family’ firm. Ciara will be a member of the bar in early May.

Our east neighbours had a baby girl and all is well. Now we will have two young girls on both sides of us. Ginger is fenced off on both sides but she still knows in her heart that ALL little girls belong to her. The west neighbours have had this year’s lambs from across the road delivered to live on his grass for some months. So now we have little ba-ba sounds. Ginger also believes that she should be playing with the lambs.

I have not been blogging regularly for a several months but have started again and hope to be posting twice at week soon. I did some stats and they are not too bad. Also one post was an editor’s choice in ScienceSeekers.

Paul and Pam are going to visit in a few days.

In this month: April letter; and below, Garage progress; Making Bread – memories of Milly and bread; Oxidative stress – new theory about antioxidants; Re-building Paris – story of Haussmann’s transformation; Splitting verbs – rant about grammar pedants; Why the Middle East? – Butler’s famous quote; Webstats – the visitors to my site so far this year; April image – France long, long ago

Garage progress

or lack of garage progress. Between the weather and Harry’s health very little has been done. The current task is getting the slats up that will hold the slates in place. Harry works on it when it is not raining, blowing a gale or he is at some appointment. He works for shortish periods between rests (his medication has made him tire easily but that will improve). The government is no longer concerned with when the garage will be finished so one source of pressure is gone but Harry wants to finish everything while he is still able to.

roof slats for slates

roof slats for slates

Making Bread

Down memory lane again and thinking of Milly Wilberts, I recall the few months that I lived with her. Hank was working in another state for a while, welding, so there was usually Milly, me, and the three young boys. They were very short of money and on food stamps. I believe that Mom was giving Milly some money towards my keep but neither Mom or Milly ever mentioned that. To making ends meet, we fished in the local stream (smoked the fish) and made bread. I thought about the bread. Although I cannot eat bread anymore, I still think of it as a friendly food.

Milly taught my to make bread in medium large batches. The loaves were baked in two oven loads, wrapped, and frozen. I just loved making bread, every part of it but especially kneading. And I loved the smell of the yeast and of the baking. And of course it was very good to eat – like good bakery bread rather than the factory-make stuff. It was a happy time of talking and laughing with Milly along with physical labour with the bread.

Then I thought about bread making in a different place. Harry and I were poor for a while in Vancouver and so I made bread and I enjoyed it – there were 6 people in the house and I was the only one with a job. I was not the only one who could cook but I was the only one making bread and buying groceries. We ate a lot of bread. One of the people in the house, Ingar Ann, had a visit from her mother. She was keeping a lot of secrets from her mother and so the whole household had to be re-arranged. I was pissed off with the preparations. When the mother came, I was kneading bread. I was angry and somewhat curt, didn’t smile, didn’t chat. The lady was a dour, stern, Swedish woman and she did not smile or say much either. The mother left after her inspection of the whole house and everyone in it. She told Ingar Ann that she was relieved, and that she was happy as long as Ingar Ann was living with me because anyone who made bread like that was a sober, reliable person. Yes, Milly taught me well how to put my back into kneading.

Oxidative stress

Recently a few trusted pieces of advice have been overturned although many people have not heard the corrections (or do not believed them). We learned that fat is not so bad and carbohydrate are not so good. We learned that cholesterol is not so bad so it is reasonable to eat healthy foods like eggs. Avoiding salt if you have a bad heart is now being studied and may turn to dust (or maybe not). It is the turn of antioxidants. The free-radical theory of aging was questioned in 2006 and by 2013 was seriously doubted by many. Studies were showing that antioxidants did not work to protect against disease or aging.

What is happening? Here is a tiny bit of chemistry. Oxidation and reduction are opposite chemical reactions; they occur together and the total reaction is called a redox reaction. It is really a question of stealing electrons. If one thing is oxidized then another has to be reduced. To be oxidized is to gain an oxygen atom or loss a hydrogen atom or, more clearly stated, to loss electrons. To be reduced is the opposite. The theory was that free radicals removed electrons from other molecules and by doing that oxidized and damaged those molecules. Antioxidants will mop up the free radicals and stop the damage. But the antioxidants appeared not to work, or not work very well. It even seems that you can take too much antioxidant.

The reasons are probably that the redox level is a balance, the balance point is different in different compartments of the cell, and the redox level is being controlled by another system, one based on sulphur. There are two pairs of sulphur containing molecules having an oxidized and reduced form. The reduced forms are called cysteine and glutathione; the oxidized forms are cystine and glutathione disulphide. They occur in different concentrations in different compartments of the cell to maintain a particular redox balance. The extent to which an antioxidant such as vitamin C can act depends on it being restored to its unoxidized form so that it can destroy another free radical. Without the sulphur based system, a antioxidant can work once and that is the end of capacity. A high cystine and low glutathione has been shown to give higher mortality – an unhealthy state. The higher the cystine/glutathione ratio the more disease and aging.

But there is a rub. For various complicated reasons cysteine and glutathione cannot be taken as supplements. Fortunately, it has been found that the Mediterranean diet and zinc help to keep the redox balance healthy with a low cystine/glutathione ratio.

Story of the re-building of Paris from the Guardian series about cities – Haussmann rips up Paris – and divides France to this day

Paris today

Paris today

Georges-Eugène Haussmann is feted internationally for transforming the French capital with an audacious programme of urban planning. Yet 125 years after his death, his legacy at home remains much more controversial. Why?

He was the Parisian who ripped up his home city; one of the most famous and controversial urban planners in history. Even now, 125 years after the death of Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, France remains divided over whether the man who transformed Paris into the City of Light was truly a master planner – or an imperialist megalomaniac. Internationally, Haussmann is celebrated for much that is loved about the French capital; notably those wide avenues flanked with imposing buildings of neatly dressed ashlar and intricate wrought iron balconies. To his republican compatriots, however, Haussmann was an arrogant, autocratic vandal who ripped the historic heart out of Paris, driving his boulevards through the city’s slums to help the French army crush popular uprisings.

Historian and Haussmann expert Patrice de Moncan is exasperated by the century’s worth of criticism that has been levelled at this hugely influential figure. “Sometimes I don’t know where to start; it’s bullshit from beginning to end,” De Moncan says. “But it’s a view many people still hold in France. “Haussmann has been portrayed as this almost sinister figure, only out to enrich himself and with his fingers in the till. His critics accused him of filling Paris with cobbled streets, bland buildings with stone facades, and wide, dead straight avenues so the army could repress the masses.” De Moncan, who is writing a new biography of Haussmann, smarts with the injustice of what he sees as the ongoing maligning of his hero. “Some said he was austere, but from what I have discovered he liked a good party and threw great ones. Others accused him of chasing the girls – it’s true he had a mistress [the opera star Francine Cellier] with whom he had a child, but unlike others at that time, he accepted, recognised and educated the girl.”

In 1848, Haussmann was an ambitious civil servant determinedly climbing the ranks when Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte – nephew and heir of Napoléon I – returned to Paris after 12 years’ exile in London to become president of the French Second Republic. Bonaparte, later elected Emperor Napoléon III, hated what he saw. In his absence, the population of Paris had exploded from 759,000 in 1831 to more than a million in 1846 – despite regular outbreaks of cholera and typhoid that killed tens of thousands. The French capital was overcrowded, dingy, dirty and riddled with disease. Why, Bonaparte pondered, was it not more like London, with its grand parks and gardens, its tree-lined avenues and modern sewage system? Paris, he declared, needed light, air, clean water and good sanitation.

Haussmann was an imposing figure both physically – at 6ft 3in – and intellectually. Born into a bourgeois military family with strong Lutheran ties, he had been a brilliant student at elite Paris colleges, and personified the Protestant work ethic. Portraits show a tall, solid, often studious figure with a not unkind face, often sporting a chin-strap beard and, in later years, thinning hair. France’s interior minister, Victor de Persigny, believed Haussmann to be the ideal candidate for the job of Prefect of the Seine and overseer of Napoléon III’s plan to transform the city. “He is one of the most extraordinary men of our time; big, strong, vigorous, energetic and at the same time clever and devious,” wrote De Persigny to the emperor. “He told me all of his accomplishments during his administrative career, leaving out nothing: he could have talked for six hours without a break, since it was his favourite subject, himself.”

Paris during re-building

Paris during re-building

Haussmann got the job. A week after his appointment in the summer of 1853, he was summoned to the emperor’s official residence at the Palais des Tuileries, where Napoléon III produced his plan for Paris. It showed a map of the city with three straight, dark lines drawn over it: one running north-to-south and two east-to-west either side of the Seine, all cutting through some of the most densely populated but historic areas of central Paris. “This is what I want,” Napoléon III told Haussmann. It was the start of the most extensive public works programme ever voluntarily carried out in a European city, turning Paris into a vast building site for more than 17 years.

Haussmann cut a swathe through the cramped and chaotic labyrinth of slum streets in the city centre, knocked down 12,000 buildings, cleared space for the Palais Garnier, home of the Opéra National de Paris, and Les Halles marketplace, and linked the new train terminals with his long, wide and straight avenues. Less well known is Haussmann’s commissioning of an outstanding collection of street furniture – lampposts, newspaper kiosks, railings – and the decorative bandstands in the 27 parks and squares he created. Below ground, Haussmann oversaw the installation of les egouts, the city’s complex sewage network. He also commissioned reservoirs and aquaducts to bring clean drinking water to the city. On his orders, gas lamps were installed along the widened cobbled streets; now when the elegant flâneurs who strolled the 137km of new boulevards retired for the night, the revellers and prostitutes who emerged from the bars and the shadows could walk safely. The new streets came with trees and broad pavements along which café terraces sprang up, soon to be filled with artists and artisans enjoying “absinthe hour”.

In his Dictionary of the Second Empire, Josephy Valynseele wrote of Haussmann: “During his career he showed a maniacal ambition, an impudent opportunism and was, whatever he did, a genius of showmanship.” But republican opponents criticised the brutality of the work. They saw his avenues as imperialist tools to neuter fermenting civil unrest in working-class areas, allowing troops to be rapidly deployed to quell revolt. Haussmann was also accused of social engineering by destroying the economically mixed areas where rich and poor rubbed shoulders, instead creating distinct wealthy and “popular” arrondissements. Critics also accused him of destroying the city’s medieval treasures, citing the enduring charm of the narrow winding streets of the Marais: the city’s oldest district and one which escaped Haussmann’s razing.

There was additional outrage at the staggering 2.5bn franc bill for the work – around €75bn today. By 1869 the attacks had become deafening, and Haussmann was forced to vigorously defend himself before MPs and city officials. In the hope of salvaging his own flagging popularity, Napoléon III asked Hassmann to resign. He refused. “Haussmann had a great belief in public service and had spent his whole career in the service of the king and then the emperor,” De Moncan says. “He believed if he resigned it would be assumed he had done wrong, when in fact he was very proud of what he had done. Napoléon III offered him all manner of inducements but he still refused, so the emperor sacked him.

“The Second Empire and Napoléon III were despised by republicans, and Haussmann was the victim of this political backlash. Victor Hugo hated him, and because everyone in France regarded what Hugo wrote as the word of God, they hated Haussmann too. Hugo, the man who wrote Les Miserables about how desperate conditions were in Paris, accused Haussmann of destroying the city’s medieval charm!” De Moncan observes this was the same “charm” that had brought epidemics to Paris; the charm that “had 20 people living in one room with no light and no toilets, just a common courtyard into which they did their business. People like Hugo forgot how truly miserable Paris had been for ordinary Parisians.”

Out of a job and persona non grata in Paris, Haussmann spent six months in Italy to lift his spirits. He returned and was given a management post with the military – which lasted less than a week before Napoléon III was defeated. Haussmann lived out his final days in rented accommodation on a paltry 6,000-franc pension, the equivalent of €20,000 a year today, paying regular visits to his three beloved daughters. In his memoirs, he seems stoic rather than bitter about his fall from grace: “In the eyes of the Parisians, who like routine in things but are changeable when it comes to people, I committed two great wrongs. Over the course of 17 years I disturbed their daily routines by turning Paris upside down; and they had to look at the same face of the prefect in the Hôtel de Ville. These were two unforgivable complaints.”

Some of Haussmann’s harshest critics, including the politician and philosopher Jules Simon, later changed their view of him: “He tried to make Paris a magnificent city and he succeeded completely,” Simon wrote in 1882. “He introduced into his beautiful capital trees and flowers, and populated it with statues.”

Paris as planned

Paris as planned

Today, Haussmann is remembered by the grand boulevard that bears his name, on which the Palais Garnier sits, and a statue on its corner with Rue de Laborde in the 8th Arrondissement. But according to De Moncan, Haussmann’s vital contribution to modern Paris is still not fully appreciated.

“Haussmann was never forgiven or recognised in his lifetime in France, and still isn’t. If I give a conference here, people groan when I talk about him. Right up until the 1980s, his buildings were dismissed as rubbish and as many as possible were destroyed, so that all those unlovely 1970s glass and concrete structures could go up. “But what he did was phenomenal; he was the world’s first modern urban developer. Everyone who came to Paris for the universal exhibitions, including Queen Victoria, was astonished by the transformation of the city. In 1867, there was a meeting of European architects in Germany at which Haussmann was hailed as a pure genius; a brilliant modern urban developer. Yet all that was said about him back home was that he was a crook.”

Splitting verbs

Everyone who knows me, knows how much I dislike grammar pendants. People get so upset about non-existent rules because “my high school teacher said…”. They assume that ancient English usages are recent ignorance. They assume that other dialects of English as old and as well used as their own are the language of people too lazy to learn the ‘proper’ language. I really don’t think they realize how they appear arrogant, anti-social, rude and ignorant of their own language.

The Associated Press Stylebook apparently feels that banning the split infinitive is not good enough. They ban adverbs between auxiliary verbs and main verbs. Although it is clear that we have been doing this for more than 600 years, they say it is wrong. Almost every great author did it. This pseudo-rule is not as old as the split infinitive rule; it is a brand new baby. It may be the result of confusion over what an infinite verb actually is. The pseudo-rule about splitting infinitives dates from the first Grammar Schools, schools that taught Latin to the sons of wealthy commoners.

Some Latin masters developed a crafty scheme to help their students. They would force them to speak English in a Latin-ish way and then they would make fewer mistakes in Latin. This affected the way English was spoken by people in this particular social class. Those above and below that stratum went on speaking as they had been. One of the rules that these children learned was to keep the ‘to’ right next to its infinitive verb in English so that they would recognize to use the infinitive form of the verb and not a preposition, when they did their little translation in their heads. That this little annoying non-English pseudo-rule should be with us after hundreds of years when it is only used by pendants and even they forget to use it occasionally – is just crazy.

Even more crazy is the ‘don’t split verb’ rule. John McIntyre called it “the dumbest rule in the AP Stylebook”. John Bremner said “those who would ban splitting a compound verb are even more antediluvian than antisplitinfinitive troglodytes”. Whoever invented the new rule for adverbs did not do us a favour. Who would honestly think that “had appeared suddenly” was to be preferred over “had suddenly appeared”? Neither is clearly better and the one that is less awkward in a particular sentence is the one to use. No rule is needed.

Lately, I have decided to call people who correct someone’s grammar unless they were asked to, are paid to or do it in a particularly kind and nice way to second language speakers. No matter how clear is the error, if the reader/listener understands what is meant, then correction is basically rude. It is especially rude if there was no error to begin with and that is quite common. Correcting someone’s clearly understood language is as rude as commenting one someones weight, clothes or taste in interior design. It is simply a rude personal remark and people should be called on it. I don’t care much whether I lose friends with this resolution. It is just too hard to hold my tongue when someone makes clear that they care more about how a person says something than what they say. I am old enough to be bad tempered about what bothers me – I can be a grumpy old lady. You are warned.

Why the Middle East?

There are lots of reasons for war in the Middle East but most of them would apply to other regions where we do not go to war. One big reason is the oil. This old a familiar quote puts motivations in a clear light.

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.” – Major General Smedley Butler, who died the most decorated US Marine in American history, in a speech given in 1933

Webstats

I have been remiss lately: not posted to my blog regularly and not at all for a quite a few weeks in Jan-Apr, and not taken the trouble to put notices in various places. I also did not tracked the stats and so I was surprised that they were as high as they were. I am currently trying to get in gear to be more consistent.

Looking at the first 4 months of this year gives –

Sites that have not been updated for a very long time (inactive but available) are still visited. JanetsPlace is steady at about 800 visitors a month; the genealogical site varies a lot 400-800 a month; Thoughts on Thoughts got about 18500 visitors per month and still gets the odd comment.

The two sites that I post to are doing OK. JanetSpace is climbing from about 300 to 500 a month; Neuro-Patch has dropped (no doubt from lack of posts) from 18000 to 12000. One post got an editors pick on ScienceSeekers.

April image

les tres riches heures du duc de Berry - april

les tres riches heures du duc de Berry – april

 

March 2016

Letter for March 2016

I heard a Nightingale in the night on the 3rd. Fantastic singer!

For more than two weeks, Harry had the worst cold that he has had for many, many years – certainly at least a decade – but it did finally disappear. I am feeling sorry for Harry because he is now getting blood taken for testing regularly and he has medication that lowers his blood pressure and make his blood clot less well – great for the heart but awful for having blood taken. It is nice to have only that to complain about. He is living normally now and having no troubles with his heart. His acid reflex is much less and he is doing exercises from a therapist for his back.

Our car was due for its every-two-years check for road safety and it passed. Harry has been complaining for a long time that the car pulls to the right, but the dealer said there was nothing wrong. He got new tires before the test and the local garage that put them on said the old tires had worn badly because there was terrible alignment. Presto, with the new tires and alignment the car doesn’t pull to the right. We are keeping it insured to use for moving big things, use the trailer and let visitors get around in. He is using the Microcar for normal driving. We are surprised and pleased with just how little fuel it uses.

In the good weather Harry has been working on the garage, but there hasn’t been that much good weather. There is a pic below.

March is tax form filling month for me – all done and dusted, in the mail on the 23th. I bought a few books and Harry bought an alto sax. That is the third instrument that he has ordered direct from China. They were made in factories that make instruments for the big name companies but these do not have the names on them – great quality for a very low price. We thought we were going to have to buy a new oven but it wasn’t broken, the wiring was at fault. What a relief.

We had a terrible wind storm on the 27 and 28th. The cover over the hole for the chimney was blown away and we had to retrieve it and put it back. This was one of the storms that hit the UK but this time it was a bit more to the south.

We were very sad to learn that Marsha Delouchery has died. She was part of the Wight clan, the wife of Brian Day, daughter-in-law of cousin Madeline. She was an amazingly talented, energetic and pleasant – a lovely person. An article from the paper is below along with a photo I cut from facebook.

glass-brain

Here is a little glass brain image from http://loonylabs.org/2016/03/05/brain-connectivity-reveals-hidden-motives/ chick to see the show

What is here this month: March letter; a gif of the glass brain; Garage progress; Thank you letters, memories of George’s problem with writing; Debate from 1254, Mongolian style of debate; Marsha DeLouchery Day, tribute to her and picture; Easter Date, how is it calculated; Shitty language, the many uses of the word shit; England Family History, new information for Barmby and England relatives; Quiz, another silly quiz; March medieval image.

Garage progress

Little has happened this month between weather and health. But more sheathing is on the roof. It was put in place with Harry using his trusty counterweight to get the sheets up the slope of the roof. He has put a ledge along the bottom of the roof to make it safer getting sheets put there. So two flights were up with Bob’s help, another two this month with the counterweight. There is one to go and Paul Henry has offered to help with those when it comes to them later.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Harry at last part of fourth flight

Thank you letters

Few phrases are as sad to me as “thank you letters”. I got to the point, as a child, of hoping that no relatives would send Christmas gifts to George and me. Because Mom would insist that each and every gift must be recognized with a thank you letter.

It was bad enough for me. But I had saved a thank you letter that someone had once written – I can’t remember who. I used it secretly to write the letters I had to write. It would not do to thank someone in person. I could do that but it did not eliminate my obligation. A relative could be there when I opened the present and could see my joy and hear my thank you – but still the letter had to be written. Some aunts and uncles would notice if there was no letter – or so I was told and believed at the time. In my heart I resented the whole thing and I saw it as a little payment that was due for a gift. The gift was not actually a gift but a sort of transaction. The kids I went to school with didn’t have to write thank you letters – they got their gifts for free. But like all other writing tasks I protected my secret with all the skill I could muster. Absolutely no one must know about my problems with reading and writing – this was my normal life.

I would not remember that whole scene except for George’s problem. He would be sitting at the table trying to write a thank you letter. After hours of writing and erasing with paper ripped from too many erasing, there would be a badly written letter with obvious tear stains on it. George would be a nervous wreck and Mom would be beside herself. She would resort to things like writing a letter in big dark letters and having George trace it. The letter writing seemed to go on forever but probably was only a couple of days.

Many years later Mom got a very nice thank you letter from some child for something she had done for the school or something. She went on about how nice it was to get a thank you letter. The memory of George at the table flooded back. I said something a little edgy about making George write those letters. Mom said something about how important it was to learn to do things like that and that Aunt Marjorie noticed and appreciated thank you letters. I really lost it and shouted that it was nice to know that Mom cared more about how her sister felt than how her children did. I very, very rarely was angry with Mom but that was one of time. And I had to apologize for being hurtful (like calling it torture) and explain how deep the scar was of those thank you letters.

I also lost my temper with my cousin Madeline when the same image of George at the table flooded my mind. Madeline had a monthly letter for which many cousins sent her things to be included. George sent her a letter and she was so very happy that he did. It was written in the sort of English that people used in computer forums and bulletin boards. (U for you, 2 for to and the like). When we were putting the pages together, I did not see George’s letter. But it was there – Madeline had carefully transcribed the letter into proper English. I told her that was the last letter she would get from George and it served her right. Again I had to apologize and explain the problem of George writing letters in my memory and why it was something that just angered me in a flash.

I don’t like losing my temper and I especially regretted shouting at Mom and at Madeline. They did not deserve my anger.

Description of a debate staged by Mongke Khan in September of 1254 – from Jack Watherford via Mark Liberman

This is the time of debates – everyone is debating. We are becoming over dosed with debates. So I thought you might enjoy the description of Mongolian debates that were modeled after wrestling matches. Mongke Khan was Genghis Khan’s grandson and one of the most powerful of the khans.

The Mongols loved competitions of all sorts, and they organized debates among rival religions the same way they organized wrestling matches. It began on a specific date with a panel of judges to oversee it. In this case Mongke Khan ordered them to debate before three judges: a Christian, a Muslim, and a Buddhist. A large audience assembled to watch the affair, which began with great seriousness and formality. An official laid down the strict rules by which Mongke wanted the debate to proceed: on pain of death “no one shall dare to speak words of contention.”

Rubruck and the other Christians joined together in one team with the Muslims in an effort to refute the Buddhist doctrines. As these men gathered together in all their robes and regalia in the tents on the dusty plains of Mongolia, they were doing something that no other set of scholars or theologians had ever done in history. It is doubtful that representatives of so many types of Christianity had come to a single meeting, and certainly they had not debated, as equals, with representatives of the various Muslim and Buddhist faiths. The religious scholars had to compete on the basis of their beliefs and ideas, using no weapons or the authority of any ruler or army behind them. They could use only words and logic to test the ability of their ideas to persuade.

In the initial round, Rubruck faced a Buddhist from North China who began by asking how the world was made and what happened to the soul after death. Rubruck countered that the Buddhist monk was asking the wrong questions; the first issue should be about God from whom all things flow. The umpires awarded the first points to Rubruck.

Their debate ranged back and forth over the topics of evil versus good, God’s nature, what happens to the souls of animals, the existence of reincarnation, and whether God had created evil. As they debated, the clerics formed shifting coalitions among the various religions according to the topic. Between each round of wrestling, Mongol athletes would drink fermented mare’s milk; in keeping with that tradition, after each round of the debate, the learned men paused to drink deeply in preparation for the next match.

No side seemed to convince the other of anything. Finally, as the effects of the alcohol became stronger, the Christians gave up trying to persuade anyone with logical arguments, and resorted to singing. The Muslims, who did not sing, responded by loudly reciting the Koran in an effort to drown out the Christians, and the Buddhists retreated into silent meditation. At the end of the debate, unable to convert or kill one another, they concluded the way most Mongol celebrations concluded, with everyone simply too drunk to continue.”

Marsha DeLouchery

Friends remember Marsha Day’s spirit by Cam Fullar, Saskatoon StarPhoenix. Mar 14, 2016

“It is very hard to sleep during an electrical storm. A barrage of bangs, thunder and deafening cracks shatter the equilibrium. Thousand-pound bowling balls drop and rumble across the skies. The earth shakes. Blinding flashes pierce the darkness while everyone takes cover, shaking in their tents.”
That was Marsha Day writing about the Kenderdine Campus at Emma Lake in one of her art columns for the StarPhoenix.

Day, an artist herself, wrote about visual art for the StarPhoenix for four years from 2011 to 2015. She reluctantly gave up the assignment to fight cancer — a battle that ended on March 9.

Friends are now remembering Marsha DeLouchery-Day’s passion, energy, sense of humour and spirit.

“She was my best friend,” said her sister in-law Muriel Garven, who knew her for 38 years. “She and I spent many hours walking together, laughing. We travelled together, told stories about people we knew, and we shared a lot of similar interests.”

Marsha DeLouchery grew up in the Annapolis Valley and was a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She also studied at the Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus which she would later fight for when it closed. Her artist’s eye was drawn to the prairies, particularly the province’s iconic grain elevators; one of her paintings on that subject went into the Mendel Art Gallery’s permanent collection.

When she met and married Brian Day, they settled in Weyburn where he developed a greenhouse business which became Day Grow Greenhouses in Saskatoon. The couple had two children, Emma and Joe. Marsha was predeceased by Brian. “Marsha was an amazing caregiver to Brian when Brian had cancer. She and I probably even got closer during those years,” said Garven.

Arla Gustafson first met Day when they were working to save the Broadway Theatre. “She had a passion for the arts, for the community,” said Gustafson. She laughs recalling a huge project Day and her fellow volunteers took on when they dyed the theatre’s curtains. “Every time I go to the theatre I think of the energy and the commitment of what she did. She was never afraid to work hard. That for me is a memory that will always be there.”

Kim Fontaine was recalling Day’s “joie de vivre.” “One of my favourite memories was when she organized a concert for Lyn Besse McGinnis, Bev Zizzy and myself at Solar Gardens. When the din of the room got a little too loud, she’d walk up to the stage, grab a microphone and in her own Marsha way, respectfully tell the audience to shut up and listen.”

“Her spirit was unbelievable,’’ added Sharon Fyke, who knew her from their book club. “She was just so much fun when we’d go to discuss a book because she was always open to looking at it through different eyes.” Fyke also admired her friend’s StarPhoenix art column. “I told her ‘Oh my God, I love your reviews’ because they were always passionate. That’s another word I’d use about her is passion,” Fyke said.

marsha friends

In the picture Marsha is sitting with the cup and saucer, standing on the extreme left is Muriel Garven her sister-in-law, and standing third from the right is Marcia Clark, a cousin. I believe this is the book club.

Wondering about Easter date?

Easter can occur any day between Mar 22 and Apr 25. How does this work? In principle it is tied to Passover – or, the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. But there were arguments early on about whose observations of the seasons and moons should be followed. So it was decided that the equinox would be replaced by Mar 21 (it is usually the 20th or 21st ) and the date of the full moon would come from a particular table rather than observation. So if you were to calculate the date yourself from your own observation, there would be years when you would be wrong. However, for most years you would be right or just an even week out. If your following the Eastern Orthodox calender then you would have a different calculation because of the 13 day difference. The two Easters can theoretically happen on the same day or be more than a month apart or anywhere in between. Of course, Passover has its own ancient calculation and is not that likely to be at the same time as Easter. The other holy days that move on the calender are those that are tied to Easter, being so many days before or after the Easter Sunday.

This year we had a full moon on Mar 23, a Wednesday with the following Sun on Mar 27. The equinox, full moon and following Sun, all occurred in the same week and therefore an especially early Easter happened. If the full moon had been just before the equinox, just a few days different, Easter would have been especially late. I have to ask myself if this is a reasonable way to run a calendar – jolly quaint and a little ridiculous.

Shitty language

Mark Liberman pointed out how varied is our use of the word ‘shit’. A sample:

apeshit: “Out of control due to anger or excitement”
batshit: “Too irrational to be dealt with sanely”
bullshit: “False or exaggerated statements made to impress and deceive the listener rather than inform”
chickenshit: “Petty and contemptible; contemptibly unimportant”; “Cowardly”
dogshit: “Something disgusting, abominable, or useless.”
horseshit: “Serious harassment or abuse”; “Blatant nonsense, more likely stemming from ignorance than any intent to deceive”

Does a bear shit in the woods?: “Something too obvious to need saying”

Like shit through a goose: “Something trivially easy to process”

are you shitting me?, (as) X as shit, (as) happy as a pig in shit, VERB for shit, (when) the shit hits the fan, VERB the shit out of, VERBED to shit, ain’t shit, and shit, bad shit, big shit, built like a brick shithouse, crock of shit, does a bear shit in the woods, don’t shit where you eat, dumb shit, eat shit (and die), for shit’s sake, for shits and giggles, full of shit, get/have xr shit together, give a shit, good shit, holy shit, hot shit, in the shit, king shit, like shit, like shit through a goose, like stink on shit, loose xr shit, no shit (Sherlock), not know jack shit, not know shit (from shinola), piece of shit, same shit different day, shit-eating grin, shit a brick, shit fire, shit fit, shit for brains, shit happens, shit heap, shit hole, shit hot, shit list, shit on a shingle, shit or get off the pot, shit out of luck, shit pile, shit sandwich, shit show, shit stain, shit stirrer, shit storm, shit the bed, shit through a tin horn, shit ton, shit xr pants, shit-faced, shitass, shitbird, shithead, shitheel, shitload, shitting match, shitwork, shoot the shit, slicker than cat shit (on a linoleum floor), sure as shit, talk shit, the shit, think xr shit don’t stink, tough shit, up shit creek (without a paddle), went (out) to shit and the hog ate him.

How can you define a work like that? Is this an overused word perhaps?

England family history

I have some information on the family tree (England branch) but I have not yet found time to update the tree. Tim England provided the information – HOW KIND.

He gave information on Daisy England/Hitchcox to correct a speculation of mine and I will erase the speculation from my old site.

He gave several generations of information on the Englands in this email.

Janet,
William England and Sophia are my 4 x great-grandparents. William was baptised in 1788 and died in 1851. In the 1841 and 1851 census he is shown as an agricultural labourer rather than stone mason. In 1835 the Warwickshire Agricultural Society recognised a Wiiliam England of Ratley & Upton as having completed 36 years working for same farm or master. In 1851 there was an inquest at Ratley into the death of William England, a labourer, killed by the falling of an ash tree which he was felling –verdict accidental death. Sophia died in 1858. I have found 8 childred.

Thomas (1800) – my 3xgreat grandfather

John (1802)

William (1804)

Mary (baptised 15 Mar 1807) (JK -this is our ancestor)

Robert (1809)

Sophia (1812)

Ann (1816)

David (1819)

William (1778) had parents Thomas England and Mary Graves. This Thomas had parents Thomas & Alice Lea/Lee. The parents of this Thomas were Thomas & Judith.
Sophia (1778) had parents Robert Townsend and Mary Brooks. The parents of Mary Brooks were Edward Brooks and Esther.
Of course where I say “were or had ” it’s really what I believe – I’m always ready to be corrected.
Tim

(JK note William’s birthday has a typo 1778 or 1788)

Tim also included some information on people with the name Hitchcox which is probably very useful but that I haven’t sorted out yet.

Another quiz

I really should break the habit altogether rather than get enticed by the odd quiz. This one was the colour of your personality. It seems a OK description except that I am not a worrier by nature and never have been.

“’You have an ORANGE personality! According to Dr. Carol Ritberger, this means that you’re a “let’s just get along” kind of person. You are kind, cooperative, and always put others first. You appreciate order and organization, and you respond well to rules. Dr. Ritberger adds that as an Orange, you probably tend to worry and are susceptible to lower digestive issues.

Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Barry – March

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

February 2016

February 2016 letter

Well February started with gusting winds and rain but Harry managed to get the last three pieces of framing safely up and almost in place. But he had a couple of dizzy spells with a funny pulse so on the 3rd he went to the doc. The doctor sent him to a specialist who bunged him in hospital for tests. It is not serious, we are told, but needs medication and they want to watch that the medication is effective/safe for him. He will have another examination next month at the hospital.

The microcar was to be deliver on the 4th – but no problem, I would take delivery and write the cheque. Then I realized that our only remaining cheque book was in the car parked outside the hospital in Bourges. So the delivery was rescheduled for the following week. Neighbours, Sylvain and Sandra, drove me the Bourges to take things to Harry and get the cheque book.

Ginger was very upset when Harry didn’t come home – and very happy when he did come.

Also on the 3rd we had hail, and for the first time I saw hail coming in at almost a horizontal angle – very small but numerous stones and an extremely strong wind. One of our not too healthy trees broke in the wind. We get the edge and sometimes the tail of the Atlantic storms that Britain has been getting. Thank goodness we have not been getting the center of the storms.

Harry was home when the new car was delivered. It seems to be just what we need. We have started to use it and the middle of the month after we got insurance for it. It seats two, is completely enclosed from the weather and has a heater. It is a diesel so does not have a restricted distance from home. It is ‘san permit’ (SPV) like the Twizzy so I can drive it.

I have taken some time off Facebook and some other regular websites to catch up on many things. I also was sorting some things on the computer and managed to lose hundreds of bookmarks with a single key stroke – a lot of reading that I don’t have. I had a very odd emotion when it happened, a mixing of a sickening feeling of lost and a feeling of relief from a burden, in an equal and simultaneous rush of both feelings. On the other hand, my clean up managed to locate our winter cloths – at last.

The rainy and windy weather changed for Bob McIlwaine’s visit 15th-18th and started again when he left. The good weather allowed him to do quite a bit to help Harry with the garage. (photo below) It was a nice visit.

Shortly after Bob’s visit, Harry came down with a terrible cold. He is now improving at the very end of the month.

Also at the end of the month, despite all the bad weather this month, the very early spring flowers are coming out. Spring is about to spring.

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Below is: Garage Building – Bob’s help, Happiness is over-rated – meaning as important as happiness, Explaining Piketty – a piece from Edge on the economist’s message, Corporal Bullard – first Black American pilot from a French perspective, Joke – meta-joke cartoon, Conspiracies and Cullusions – A calm view of conspiracies, Feb image Riches Heures du duc de Berry panel for February.

Garage Building

In the first few days of Feb. the last three pieces of wood in the framing were put in place but not finally fixed in place. And that is how it stayed during Harry’s hospitalization and until Bob arrived. Nothing was done after Bob left either because of weather and Harry’s cold. In the single photo below you can see: scaffolding was taken down from the east (left) wall and then erected on the west (right wall), the last bit of framing was fixed in place, another lift of sheathing was put of the south of the roof. Bob also helped charge the Twizzy and then move it to its old parking space. The photo shows a bit of the new Microcar too. (click to enlarge)

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Happiness is over-rated

It seems to a lot of people that the most important thing to aim at is happiness. Fine. But the ‘pauliana’ accent on everything having to be positive (that seems to go with the single-minded pursuit of happiness) can get a little tiresome. Some studies contrasted happiness and meaningfulness in life. I really react against calling it meaning. The word seems to have too much baggage. But (aside from what it is called) a purposeful, useful, socially engaging life is not necessarily always happy. Many of us pursue this sort of life without too much regard to how much happiness is available. The studies showed that happiness and meaningfulness shared many aspects. But here is the list of differences that are found.

Baumeisters differences:

  • Finding one’s life easy or difficult was related to happiness, but not meaning.
  • Feeling healthy was related to happiness, but not meaning.
  • Feeling good was related to happiness, not meaning.
  • Scarcity of money reduced happiness more than meaning.
  • People with more meaningful lives agreed that ‘relationships are more important than achievements’.
  • Helping people in need was linked to meaning but not happiness.
  • Expecting to do a lot of deep thinking was positively related to meaningfulness, but negatively with happiness.
  • Happiness was related more to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaning was related more to being a giver than a taker.
  • The more people felt their activities were consistent with core themes and values of their self, the greater meaning they reported in their activities.
  • Seeing oneself as wise, creative, and even anxious were all linked to meaning but had no relationship (and in some cases, even showed a negative relationship) to happiness.

It seems that happiness has more to do with having your needs satisfied, getting what you want, and feeling good, whereas meaning is more related to uniquely human activities such as developing a personal identity, expressing the self, and consciously integrating one’s past, present, and future experiences.

Not only do some feel they should be maximizing their happiness, they feel they are owed it. If they are not happy they feel they are failing. This this is not a healthy road to take.

Many scientists agree the meaning has two major components (maybe more). One is cognitive processing or making sense and integrating experiences. This aspect leads to perseverance, passion, self-distancing and gratitude. The second component is purpose or actively pursuing long-term goals that are in keeping with one’s identity and over-above narrow self-interest. Meaning in life may cause negative emotions in the short-term but give long-term well-being, satisfaction and resilience.

The positive emotion of happiness was negatively related to optimism and can cause emotional suppression in the long term. A long-term pursuit of happiness as the main goal is associated with loneliness and a lack of a sense of well-being.

A great life happens when there is a combination of happiness and meaning with each contributing to the other. It happens easier if one goes lightly on the happiness pedal.

Explaining Piketty

2016 : WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE MOST INTERESTING RECENT [SCIENTIFIC] NEWS? WHAT MAKES IT IMPORTANT? S. Abbas Raza answer – Increasing inequality of Wealth and Income is a Runaway Process of r > g

One of the biggest challenges facing us is the increasing disparity in wealth and income which has become so obviously apparent in American society in the last four decades or so with all its pernicious effects on societal health. Thomas Piketty’s extensively data-backed tour de force Capital in the Twenty-First Century gave us two big and alarming pieces of news about this trend: 1) Inequality is actually worse than we thought it is, and 2) It will continue to get worse because of structural reasons inherent in our form of capitalism itself, unless we do something.

The top 0.1 percent of families in America went from having 7 percent of national wealth in the late 1970s, to having about 25 percent now. Over the same period, the income share of the top 1 percent of families has gone from less than 10 percent to more than 20 percent now. And lest we think that even if wealth and income are more concentrated now, America is still the land of opportunity and even those born with very little at least have a good chance to move up in economic class, there is a depressing number of studies which show that, contrary to this optimistic notion, according to standard measures of intergenerational mobility, the United States ranks among the least economically mobile among developed nations.

Piketty shows that there is an internal feature of capitalism which increases inequality: as long as the rate of return on capital (r) is greater than the rate of economic growth (g), wealth will tend to concentrate in a minority, and that the inequality r > g always holds over the long term. And he is not some lone wolf academic with an eccentric theory of inequality. Scores of well-respected economists have given ringing endorsements to the central thesis of his book, including economics Nobel winners Robert Solow, Joseph Stiglitz, and Paul Krugman, who has written that:

Piketty doesn’t just offer invaluable documentation of what is happening, with unmatched historical depth. He also offers what amounts to a unified field theory of inequality, one that integrates economic growth, the distribution of income between capital and labor, and the distribution of wealth and income among individuals into a single frame.

The only solution to this growing problem, it seems, is the redistribution of the wealth concentrating within a tiny elite using instruments such as aggressive progressive taxation (such as exists in some European countries which show a much better distribution of wealth), but the difficulty in that is the obvious one that political policy-making is itself greatly affected by the level of inequality. This creates a vicious positive feedback loop which is making things even worse. It is clearly the case now in the United States that the rich are not only able to hugely influence government policy directly, but that elite forces are able to shape public opinion and affect election outcomes through large-scale propaganda efforts through media they own or can control. This double-edged sword is being used effectively to attack and shred democracy itself.

The political dysfunction resulting from the current severe levels of inequality makes it extremely difficult to address our most pressing problems, for example, lack of opportunity in education, lack of availability of quality healthcare for all, man-made climate change, and not least, as I pointed out above, the indecent injustice of inequality itself. I am not sure if there is any way to stop the growth in inequality that we have seen in the last four or five decades anytime soon but I do believe it is one of the very important things we have learned more about just in the last couple of years. Unfortunately the news is not good.

One of the big problems today is wealth inequality. We are approaching the sort of inequality that we see in a Dickens story. It is obvious that the economic system on its own is not going to correct the situation and neither is ordinary politics if the rich can control the political game. In the end either laws will get passed and implemented to reverse inequality or there will be some sort of revolution.

An economist, Thomas Piketty wrote a large large book (Capital in the Twenty-first Century) in which he trace the history of capitalism and showed that left to it own devises, capitalism will increase inequality continuously. It is very extreme now and if nothing is done it will continue to increase.

He also explained why unregulated capitalism increases inequality.

Piketty shows that there is an internal feature of capitalism which increases inequality: as long as the rate of return on capital (r) is greater than the rate of economic growth (g), wealth will tend to concentrate in a minority, and that the inequality r > g always holds over the long term. And he is not some lone wolf academic with an eccentric theory of inequality. Scores of well-respected economists have given ringing endorsements to the central thesis of his book, including economics Nobel winners Robert Solow, Joseph Stiglitz, and Paul Krugman, who has written that:

Thomas Piketty’s extensively data-backed tour de force Capital in the Twenty-First Century gave us two big and alarming pieces of news about this trend: 1) Inequality is actually worse than we thought it is, and 2) It will continue to get worse because of structural reasons inherent in our form of capitalism itself, unless we do something.”

Corporal Bullard

Eugene Jacques Bullard was the first Afro-American pilot. He stowed away on the ship to Europe when he was young and settled in Paris, boxing and playing in music hall. He was living in France and when WW1 started he enlisted in the French foreign legion. He saw action at the Somme, Artois, Champagne,and Meuse. The legion took very heavy casualties in these battles. He won the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille Militaire for his bravery when he was seriously wounded. When he recovered he joined the French air force and became a pilot. In the Lafayette Flying Corp he did 20 combat missions. When America joined the war they invited America pilots in the French forces to join the US air service. But Bullard was not invited because he was not white.

Bullard became a jazz drummer, married and had two daughter. He owned a nightclub in Paris by the time WW2 started. Many visiting black Americans played in the club. The L’Escadrille club was a favorite with German officers and Bullard was their popular friend. But he was also secretly understanding their German conversations and passing the information to the Free French. He was a spy. Later he enlisted again in the French army, was wounded the left the front. He and his daughters escaped to Spain and returned to the US. He have 15 French medals and was invited to help light the fire at the grave of the unknown soldier.

When he moved back US he was just an ordinary black man although he was a hero in France. He suffered injuries when beaten in a riot by law men. It was captured on film but no one was prosecuted. He was made a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur by the French government in 1959 but the Americans did not notice. A year later DeGaulle visited the US and said that he wanted to meet Bullard. The White House went looking for this unknown famous man and found he was an elevator operator in New York. DeGaulle was able to meet him. He died a while later in 1961, still practically unknown in his home country. He was buried in the French military cemetery in New York.

Joke

metajoke

Conspiracies and Collusions

Conspiracies happen, we know that they do for we have examples from almost every period of history. |So we know that not all current stories of conspiracies are false but that seems to be the position taken by the media and a great many people. Of course we also know that not everything that happens is a conspiracy as some people would like us to believe. Some things that are called conspiracies are really legal collusions that are done quietly but not secretly.

But we should be able to guess how likely a conspiracy theory is to be true. Is it plausible?

Mathematicians have modeled very large grand conspiracies and found that they are too big NOT to fail. If large numbers of people are in the secret ring, it will not hold. So … if some secret world order is controlling everything from high level diplomacy to your local police officer, it is a false conspiracy or is one that will fall apart in a very short time, like the next week. Someone who is convinced of a particular smallish conspiracy but keeps being told of his theory’s weaknesses, may rid himself of the weaknesses by including more individuals and organizations in his conspiracy theory. As it gets bigger and bigger and it also gets less credible instead of more so.

This does not mean that there are not large collusions. And often they are also not that secret. The oil companies and associated companies seem to be colluding to counter climate change science. So are the politicians that they donate money to; so is the media that depend on their ad revenue and owner’s views. And so it goes on getting fairly big – but it is not a conspiracy because it is not that secret and only sometimes marginally illegal. There may in fact being smaller groups actually conspiring illegally within large collusions.

In many cases, the people and institutions that are accused of conspiring are too interested in truth and in openness to be credible as a conspiracy. A few scientists may conspire or a few lawyers, but it is too hard to believe that large masses of scientists or lawyers would conspire.

Another aspect is who is to gain by an event and do they have the ability to have arranged the event. It seems reasonable to be suspicious of people arguing for a conspiracy (or against it) if they have a lot to gain or lose. Usually both sides have at least some stake in how the event is viewed.

We all wonder about things, try and connect the dots, listen to experts etc. and sometimes the official story is convincing but occasionally it isn’t. But there are people who look for conspiracies everywhere, conspiracies under the bed, huge unlikely monster ones. It is a sort of ‘condition’ but so is unending, unquestioning believe in the authorities.

So where do I stand on some conspiracy theories?

The famous conspiracy theories around JFK’s shooting, all appear more plausible than the Warden report. But no one scenario is that much more believable than the others and it is probably too late for evidence to surface that would settle the mystery. So I accept that there probably was a conspiracy but have no idea of who, what and how it was done.

There are a number of conspiracy theories around 9/11, but none are more convincing than the official story. Although there do seem to be a few weak spots in the official explanation, there seem many more such spots in the various conspiracy theories.

I never took the Jade Helm conspiracy seriously – it was a good laugh – and not the way the US military or Walmart would act. And I am not likely to take seriously anything that the wing-nuts say about the government, the Clintons, Planned Parenthood, etc. They have themselves conspired to create ridiculous defaming accusations.

GMO is a complex one for me. I do not think that it is likely that genetic modification is itself unhealthy (I’m not into calling them frankenfoods). Most modification would be harmless. But I do believe that the companies involved such as Monsanto are involved in a collusion to control agriculture/food production (through seeds, pesticides, buying large tracts of land, nasty legal practices, weird patent rules, money to scientists/politicians/media). There may be some little conspiracies in this drive to control agriculture but mainly it is just a collusion. And a extremely dangerous one.

Vaccines are a slam dunk. I believe they are safe (way safer than most drugs and safer than the diseases they protect against). I believe they are effective. I believe it is good public health to eliminate the diseases for which we have vaccines. I also believe that autism is a developmental disease that begins its damage before birth and is noticeable about the time that children get their shots. It has nothing to do with vaccines. The person who started this idea has been shown to have lied for his own benefit. He has been disgraced by courts and medical bodies. He is the one who did something illegal. The vaccine hoax appears to stay alive because of how much people disparately want to believe it. Parents do not want to think autism is due to their genes or their environment/lifestyle during pregnancy and they want someone to sue.

I also do not think there is a conspiracy of scientists to convince people of a climate warming problem that does not exist. Quite the opposite, there seems to be a collusion to minimize the facts about the warming. I suspect this is a wider collusion and includes an attack on science in general using the expertise of the tobacco lobby’s long fight by the fossil fuel companies and others.

Recently there has been in the news a revelation that Nixon caused the failure of Lydon Johnson’s attempt to end the Vietnam war. It seems pretty clear cut – Nixon was a traitor who cost many thousands of lives and managed to have it kept secret. So there are still successful conspiracies in modern times. Still, too many people knew about it for it to stay secret for ever.

Feb image

Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry shows how winter was around 1400. (click to enlarge)

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda