Sunday, December 30, 2012

Recently Read: Shakespeare's Henry V

Needless to say it was excellent, but I think it's been reviewed before so straight on to the few little knick-knacks I noticed.

There was a bit in the play where the French word for God, 'Dieu', was comically confused with the English word 'dew'. This seemed to chime with the idea I had before about the words Jew, Druid, David, etc being somewhat synonymous at sometime (see my last post about the book 'When Scotland Was Jewish'). 'Jew' and 'Dieu' sound almost identical. I wonder if there's any relation? A Google search might enlighten me later.

I also learnt the French word for 'goddess' from the play; déesse.

Another thing I gleaned was that in some of the original Shakespeare texts the word 'Devil' was spelt 'Deule', which seemed interesting. I'm sure it was still pronounced the same and that the 'u' just did the job of a 'v', it would be interesting if the pronunciation was different though.

Oh, and before I forget there was plenty of swear-wordiness and innuendo. There's the infamous scene (III.4) where the French Princess Katherine mispronounces the words 'foot' and 'count' so they sound like the words 'fuck' n 'cunt' - or rather the French words 'foutre' and 'con' which mean the same thing.
See - http://catie-does-things.tumblr.com/post/27779393270/henry-v-act-iii-scene-iv-translated-from-french

There's also a bit later on involving Katherine where she uses another French word that apparently means 'fuck' - 'baisees'.

Katherine: Les dames et demoiselles pour etre baisees devant leur noces, il n'est pas la coutume de France.
Henry: Madam my interpreter, what says she?
Alice: Dat it is not be de fashion pour les ladies of France, I cannot tell vat is baiser en Anglish.
Henry: To kiss.
Alice: Your majesty entendre bettre que moi.

That first line basically translates as "it's not the custom in France for woman to get fucked before their wedding day." From the passage it would seem that English swear words were viewed in much the same way then as they are now. "Swear in French as much as you like, but don't mention the F-word!" The plays of Shakespeare get more like Carry On films each time I read 'em. Anyway, yet more evidence that the works of Shakespeare were never as highbrow as people seem to think they are.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Recently Read: When Scotland Was Jewish by Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman and Donald N. Yates

I decided to read this because I've recently been working on a pet theory - namely that the druids and the Jews were one and the same people. Or, at least, two branches of the same religious/cultural movement.

Now I know this may sound like a wacky idea, but there was a cavalcade of little things that set me thinking along these lines. This cavalcade can probably best be viewed on the 'Gael Celtic Hebrew British Coincidence' thread on the Applied Epistemology Library website.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book and felt it contained a lot of useful information. Some of the things that caught my eye in particular were;
"The French Jews, including those of Narbonne, were largely secularized; that is, they had little knowledge of Hebrew or Jewish religious texts."
Also the fact that Scotland had two King Davids - "making it the only country in history, besides ancient Israel, to have a monarch named David."

The book also mentions the fact that the female given name Dhuada "means Davida." Suggesting to me that David is equivalent to Dhuad - a name that looks a lot to me like Druid. In fact, the Welsh name for Saint David is Dewi Sant, again implying that David, Jew and Drui are synonyms.

Another passage that caught my eye was this one;
"Finally, the Celtic scholar John Rhys assembled strong evidence of Hebrew colonization of Britain in ancient times. Ireland was known as Iberion, and the ancient name of the Israelites was Ibri or Iberi, derived from the proper name Eber or Heber, the eponymous ancestor of that people"
Must remind myself to look this guy up.

Also the name Maisie is apparently the "feminine form of Moses."

The book also states that there was a large number of Scotsmen trading in Poland from the Middle Ages onward. This is something I've pondered before. Poland was something of a safe haven for Jews in the Middle Ages. The relationship between Scotland, Poland and Judaism seems something worthy of further consideration. Both Jews and Scotsmen seemed to have a similar reputation as well - trade, commerce, frugality. Both are also noted for banking.

Another passage worth highlighting;
"The Scots and "northern Irish" long clung to their custom of celebrating Easter (Latin Paschua, "Passover") on the same day as the Jews, even after the Synod of Whitby attempted to settle the controversy in 664 C.E."
The book also contains a list of early Jewish names in France and England. I noticed the name Meir, its variants were listed as Melin, Melinus, Merin, Merinus and Meyer. I couldn't help but think the name Merlin. A long shot I know, but it would be nice to go out on a limb and claim Merlin as Jewish. [Incidentally Jewish men were forced to wear pointed hats in Medieval times to identify themselves.]

The list also contained Jewish female names. A few that stood out for their aesthetic quality were Drua, Alemandrina and Licoricia (named after liquorice). Anyone looking for interesting baby names might do well to peruse the list.

All in all the book was well worth reading. I found it both useful and enjoyable. Plenty to think about.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Recently Read: The Megalithic Empire

I've recently finished reading The Megalithic Empire by M.J. Harper & H.L. Vered.

My first introduction to this book came about a year ago when I first started visiting The Applied Epistemology Library - the on-line home of the authors. I was lucky enough to read a rough draft of it then. It blew me away at the time and I felt quite privileged reading it. It felt a bit like seeing a great band before they became famous. You could just feel there was something special going on and it was good getting a little peak through the window. Anyhow, I was consequently really pleased when the book got released last month.

When I read it this time round I was once again left with the same feeling - basically, the feeling that it's an important book. It's changed the way I look at history. British history in particular, but also human history in general. It's changed the way I look at crows as well.

The book is full of original, and I mean truly original, ideas. It's also full of fascinating information and bits of folklore. I won't go into too much detail, all I'll say is that people with a genuine curiosity about history will love it. If you like plodding the same beaten path you might find some of the stuff in here a little beyond the pale, however if you're like me and you enjoy reading about history but get bored very quickly you'll probably think it invaluable.

Finally I'd say the most impressive thing about this book is the way it manages to add colour to the otherwise darkened pages of pre-history. The massive gap between caveman-type people and literate moderns is for the first time given a bit of daylight. The bit in the final chapter about plant domestication is probably the first time anyone's tried to explain the leap to agriculture in a fully thought-through manner.

Brilliant.



There's also a website n forum to accompany the book;

Abolish Education: Practical Changes and Problem Children

Okay, so I've been having a bit of a whinge about education... I guess it's now my turn to put a few ideas on the table. I admit it might not be practical to get rid of the entire education system in one fell swoop. Although saying that, personally I don't think it would be that bad if we did. People tend to think that society is going to suddenly collapse if children stop going to school. Well, don't worry, it won't. Either way I think I'll provide a halfway house and offer something a bit more practical.

I'll start by going back to a topic I touched upon in one of my earlier posts - the length of the school day. It would be easy to improve things by simply shortening the school day. If I was running the country right now I'd seriously be considering plans to cut the school day in half. Why does school have to be like work? Shouldn't it be joyful?

A second change I would make would be to end this thing where we're threatening parents with jail if their children play truant. Taking someone to court and possibly jailing them because they don't get their child to school is just appalling. We're essentially criminalising people because they have a problem child, or because they themselves have problems raising a child. If a child doesn't want to go to school we should find out why they don't enjoy it and then try to find ways of making it more enjoyable and bearable. Threatening a parent with jail (even if it's only a threat) is just making life harder for everyone involved.

This brings me to an even bigger problem - the problem of dealing with difficult children. A big point of issue at the moment seems to be this idea that teachers don't have enough power and respect in the classroom. We used to use corporal punishment (essentially violence) in schools in order to enforce discipline, now we've abandoned that way of doing things we simply don't know what to do any more. The problem essentially being how do you discipline pupils without resorting to the use of force? Well, the answer is that you can't. Shouting and screaming, if it isn't backed up by the use of force, is just an empty gesture and after that there's pretty much nothing else a teacher can do. This is why you often hear people calling for the reintroduction of corporal punishment.

However, the true answer to this conundrum is that we shouldn't really be using discipline in schools at all. Children should be in school because they enjoy going and they shouldn't need to be forced to be there by any form of aggression (even if it's just raised voices). If you do get children that genuinely do have behavioural problems. Particularly problems that involve violence or aggression towards other people then those children simply should not be in school.

Like I said earlier, we have this notion that all children must go to school all the time. But I ask, what's the point in sending a child with genuine problems to school? How can you expect a child to do well in maths class if they have serious problems in their home life or serious behavioural problems? Wouldn't it make much more sense to tackle those problems first, and look upon education as a secondary issue. Surely it would be better to produce a happy law abiding citizen that's poor at maths than to simply produce a criminal. Why focus on maths (or whatever else) and ignore the core social problems.

If someone misses a lot of maths, so what? If they grow up to be a decent person that's the main thing. You can always learn Pythagoras later when the more important problems have been dealt with.

We have such a strong belief that going to school is important that it's become almost sacrilege for a child not to go. So much so that we're using the threat of jail to enforce our belief. But is it really that bad if a child doesn't go? Especially if that child is making it difficult to teach other children that actually want to be there. A more laid back attitude towards school attendance would be better for everyone. If a child is seriously aggressive and disruptive then simply take them out of school. Social problems should be for social workers not for teachers.

Abolish Education: Whose Idea Was It To Send Nineteen Year Olds To University Anyway

A little bit about university now. I should start by saying that I do have broader views in regard what should happen regarding further education, but at the moment I can't be arsed going into it all. Maybe I'll do a series of posts about it at a later date. However, one point I would like to make is about the age at which people go to university.

Am I the only person that thinks it's madness sending people there when they're in their late teens or early twenties? Whether it's state-funded or privately-funded it seems crazy that we're spending so much money trying to educate people who are at precisely the wrong age to be educated. When people reach the age of eighteen they're experiencing adult life for the first time in all its glory. Alcohol, sex, living without parental supervision, live music, political activism, drugs (can I say that?), and so on and so on. Expecting someone at that stage of their life to sit in reading and learning is a bit like sending someone to a fairground and expecting them not to go on the rides. Not very realistic at all.

Often when you hear older people talking about their university life they'll say things like "...if I knew then what I know now I'd have spent more time studying and less time partying." That's because adult life gets boring fairly quickly, and they realise that university was a once in a lifetime opportunity that they never made the most of. Having realised this they then try to impress (without any success) the importance of education upon the next generation. Futile.

Wouldn't it make more sense to just have the university experience later in life. If I was in charge no-one under the age of twenty-five would be allowed to go. People are living to over a hundred these days. Why are we wasting university on the one bunch of people that actually have a social life to lead? 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Abolish Education: Classic Example

I read this article a couple of days ago in the Independent;

One third of UK schoolchildren clueless about Shakespeare

Articles like this pop up all the time in the press and they're a classic example of how odd our attitude towards education is. Sometimes these articles complain that children don't know who Churchill is, other times it's Henry VIII, sometimes it's that they've never heard of 1066 and the Battle of Hastings. It's always something both historical and British.

This particular article was about Shakespeare - another person that British children are expected to be well aware of. For the record it basically states that 30% of them (six to twelve year olds at that) don't know who he is - as if this is a massively bad thing.

I ask, why is it such a big deal that children don't know who Shakespeare is? Most adults rarely, if ever, read Shakespeare, yet there's a mini-outcry when it's mentioned that some children aren't aware of the guy. Children under the age of thirteen are generally too young to read Shakespeare anyway aren't they - yet still minor-outrage.

Why so much emphasis on knowing random bits and bobs about history? Who decides what's worth knowing and what isn't? Or who's worth knowing and who isn't? Why is Shakespeare so special? Is it because he's English? Is this about nationalism or is it about education?

You never hear an outcry in the British press because children don't know who Chairman Mao is. Or because they haven't heard of Alexandre Dumas or whoever. It seems educated people basically want children to know the stuff they know. Their attitude is pretty much "...we're brilliant and educated, you need to know what we know in order to be brilliant and educated yourselves."

Latin's an even better example. Every six months or so there seems to be some big thing in the press and the media saying we need to start bringing Latin back into the classroom. And surprise, surprise the people calling for this always tend to be people who learnt Latin themselves as a child, "...I'm brilliant, I can read Latin, we must make all our children as brilliant as I am!" They're never outraged that children aren't being taught Korean or Polish or any other language they don't have a clue about. Always Latin.

It's obvious to me that these people have spent their entire lives learning stuff just to impress people. Better to look like an idiot I say.

Abolish Education: Sex Education; The Cool Teacher Problem

Whilst on the topic of education I'd also like to throw in my two cents in regards sex education. I feel a little embarrassed broaching the topic, but it is a big problem and I do feel the way it's taught is really making the problem much worse.

Essentially it's a problem of psychology. Teenagers are generally quite anxious when it comes to the issue of sex. The biggest fear being that everyone else is doing it and that they're not. Even adults fret about how many people they've slept with - as if it's some sort of indicator of how successful they are in life. So it shouldn't be surprising really that teenagers are fearful that if they don't lose their virginity they're gonna get left on life's scrapheap. Everyone wants to be normal, and if most 'normal' teenagers are having sex then you don't want to be the one person that isn't. Ultimately, it's all about being accepted socially. We all care what others think of us (sadly), and no one wants to look like a loser.

Thus, the reason why teenage boys lie and brag about sex is to impress other people, and that need to impress others is a much bigger factor in young people having sex than the natural desire to do so. This is essentially where sex education falls down. It makes it seem even more 'normal' that teenagers should be having sex. Putting even more pressure on young people to do so.

I remember being about fourteen/fifteen. At that time it seemed like a lot of people my age were having sex. Of course, that just wasn't true. The fact was most people I knew weren't having sex - and of the few that said they were, most were just lying and making stuff up. Still, at the time it did seem like a lot of other people were doing it and I wasn't. And I had the same anxieties about it, and the same fear that I was gonna get left behind by everyone.

These anxieties were made much, much worse by 'cool' teachers.

For instance, I remember teachers at the time teaching sex education by trying to make it look like they were on the same wavelength as the teenagers. Saying things like "...now listen, when I was your age I got up to some things as well ...I did this, I did that, yada, yada, yada." As if when they were younger they themselves were very rebellious and sexually active. They were basically trying to empathise with the pupils by making it look like they were 'normal' teenagers that had sex and had fun when they were young.

Now for me, personally, these 'cool' teachers just made things a million times worse. I remember at the time hearing this sort of stuff thinking "Oh! my God, even the teacher was having sex when he was fifteen, and he must have been really geeky and studious." It made it seem even more normal that teenagers had sex, and made me feel like even more of an unattractive loser for not doing it. The pressure to go out and have sex was immense. The fear that I was missing out on something important and being left behind enormous.

Advertisements on TV by groups that campaigned about teen pregnancies and safe sex also had the same effect. Those adverts always tried to look so cool (and still do). It would always be a bunch of really trendy teenagers at a party or something casually talking about sex - someone would mention the risk of pregnancy, a discussion would ensue about condoms. But those adverts never made me think "Ooh, when I have sex I think I'll wear a condom", they made me think "...argghhh! everyone else is having sex and I'm a sixteen year old virgin! I desperately need to do something about this!" Again they always made it seem like it was so 'normal' for teenagers to be having sex.

And again this is why sex education fails so massively. It normalises teen sex and just ups the ante even more for young people.

It would have been so much better for me and many other people if sex education had just been taught in a matter-of-fact way and if teachers had just downplayed the importance of it all. If I was a teacher teaching sex education I would just say;

"...listen, most people your age aren't having sex, I wasn't having sex when I was your age, most your friends aren't having sex, the ones that say they've had sex are probably just lying, and the few that actually have are the exception not the norm. More to the point, it doesn't matter when you lose your virginity - some people through choice go their entire life without having sex, others wait until they're married or until they meet the right person. It's really not that big a deal. And at the end of the day if you still care what people think and it really is bothering you that much, at worst you can always just lie about it ...that's what most people do when it comes to sex anyway."

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Abolish Education: Knowledge and Cultural Snobbery

For me one of the big problems with education is the way we fail to distinguish between intelligence and knowledge. We seem to have this belief that if someone knows a lot then they're very intelligent and well educated, and if they don't then they aren't. This is obviously not the case.

The problem is compounded by the fact that we have this cultural snobbery about what people should know and what they shouldn't. Or rather, what we think educated people should know. For example, someone with an extensive knowledge of Shakespeare is thought of as being very intelligent, whereas someone with an extensive knowledge of British sitcoms, let's say, is just thought of as an average person who's watched a lot of telly. Why is one set of knowledge more worthy than the other?

Why is a knowledge of fine wine more impressive than a knowledge of lager? Why is a love of Mozart seen as being an indicator of intelligence and education, but a love of Pink Floyd not? Why is an appreciation of impressionist art seen as being more remarkable than an appreciation of Hollywood movies?

Really the value of knowledge should be judged on either its practical merits or its personal value. Or more to the point, is the knowledge useful to the person that holds it and does it bring them joy.

No one should be reading Shakespeare to impress another human being. Really, reading Shakespeare should be viewed no differently to watching a movie or going to a football match. People should be doing it because they have a genuine joy and interest in it. If you get no joy from it don't read it.

But the fact is, our education system is built upon the idea that we have to impress other people. And people in education are acquiring knowledge not because they have a genuine appetite for it, but because they need to take it on board in order to climb the social ladder. In this regard passing an exam is really just jumping through one of the many hoops we're expected to jump through in order to get on in life. This is especially true of any subject that has a strong cultural dimension - English Literature, History, Philosophy, etc. Although to some degree it's true of all education.

The TV show University Challenge is a great example of all this. Week in, week out they ask questions, all essentially on the same subjects - Ancient Greece, Romantic Poets, Classical Music, Renaissance Art, Latin, English Literature. The vast array of things in the universe they could ask about, yet time and time again it's the same subjects that get touched upon. It's not so much a test of general knowledge, but more a test of your general knowledge in regard what we expect well-educated people to know.

Of course, these days they occasionally throw in the odd popular music question (with a nod and a wink) to mix things up a little, but it's still the same deal.

The message is simple. We do have social mobility and you can get on in life by embracing education, but you have to embrace the sophisticate culture of the upper-middle classes as well. And the western world's English-speaking upper-middle classes at that. No champagne, no game ...and you need to have an extensive knowledge of that champagne as well 'cause you will be asked about it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Abolish Education: Abolish Homework

I'm starting to worry that this whole Abolish Education thing is beginning to become something of a rant. Mind you, it's hard not to sound like you're whinging when you're actually having a bit of a whinge. Reading back my last post I think I'll have to develop my writing style a little and start writing in a more engaging way - a less whingy way. Still, the sentiment was honest enough.

I think this time I'll have a mini-whinge about homework.

In one of my earlier posts I mentioned about how school overbearingly dominates a child's life. Well homework just takes this to the extreme. Expecting a child to do school work outside school as well as in school is just too much. Far too depressing. A long school day followed by what little time you have being taken up by yet more work is just totally unfair. And we wonder why children don't enjoy learning.

A personal gripe I always had as a child about homework was the way teachers would waste an entire school lesson talking (and basically showing off) only to then, at the end of it, dump a vast pile of homework on top of you. I remember at times sitting there thinking "you've just wasted an entire hour of my life, sir, grandstanding in front of a captive audience and now you're wasting an hour more of my free time giving me homework to do after school." Talk about children messing around and time wasting.

And don't get me wrong, it's nothing personal, I actually liked all my teachers, but the fact is they did waste a lot of my time. In fact, every lesson tended to follow this general pattern. The lesson would start - an English lesson say - then after a ten minute spell where the teacher would try to quieten the audience, they'd say something along the lines of  "...right, today we're going to start reading Romeo & Juliet."

The teacher would then start eulogising about how important Romeo & Juliet was, which would then in turn morph into some story about how when they were younger they played the lead role in an amateur production of the play. That in turn would then wander off into various other anecdotes about university/school/personal experience, etc, etc. All, of course, relayed with a rehearsed self-aggrandising vigour. And all no doubt told to countless other groups of children in various classrooms over the years.

Finally, after about forty-five minutes of basically hearing someone talk about themselves for what seemed like a very long time you were then told "Right, now here's your homework...I want you to read through Scene 1 to Scene Whatever and then write a short essay about what you think is going on." Brilliant.

And that's what education is - more or less.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Abolish Education: School Uniforms and Other Forms of Institutional Bullying

Another aspect of education that I find harsh is school uniforms. To be honest I just don't see the point. All the arguments in favour of school uniforms just seem really vacuous. For a start smartness is just a matter of personal opinion. Why should one group of peoples idea of smartness be imposed on another? It's just pointless bullying really. I've heard stories of children being sent home from school for wearing the wrong colour socks. Just silly. How shallow is it to even care what another person is wearing. Can't we just let children go to school in whatever they feel comfortable in.

The only argument that appears to be in favour of uniforms is the idea that it prevents bullying. The argument being that if everyone's dressed the same no one can be picked on for not having the coolest clothes or whatever. However, this is a bit like saying that if everyone was white there'd be no racism 'cause everyone would look the same. Surely if children are being bullied at school because of the clothes they're wearing the problem is the 'bullying' not the 'clothes'. Bringing in a dress code doesn't cure the bullying, if fact, in many ways it just means that the teachers are doing the bullying instead of the children. Admonishing a child because they're not wearing the right colour trousers? Really? Is this really how teachers should be spending their time.

This last point brings me nicely to the wider issue here, and that's the lack of respect children get in general. It's often said that children don't respect adults, but it's actually the other way round. It's children that don't get the respect they deserve in our society. We've had women's rights and rights for other groups that have been repressed in the past, but never children rights. If we're gonna move forward as a society this really has to change.

Some people reading this may feel I'm overreacting a little and that accusing teachers of 'bullying' their pupils is a little beyond the pale. However, you've only got to look at the way children are spoken to, by both their parents and teachers, to see that this is pretty much the case;

"Look me in the eye when I'm talking to you," "Sit up straight," "How dare you answer me back and question my authority?" All sentences uttered to children on a regular basis, but can you imagine anyone ever speaking  to another adult like this? Even in strict working environments adults aren't spoken to like this. In fact, if bosses spoke to their employees the way adults speak to children they'd be taken to a tribunal.

Why do we think adults have the right to speak to children like this? We're expected to use reason and communication when dealing with other adults, without resorting to the use of force and aggression. Yet when we deal with children it's commonly accepted that we can just tell them what to do, and if they have the nerve to question our judgement then we have perfect recourse to shout and scream at them as much as we want. Well, I'm sorry, I don't agree with this. And it is bullying.

Why should a child have to "stand up straight" when a teacher enters a classroom? Why should they "only speak when spoken to"? Do teachers have more value than children?

Children are human beings, they have minds, they can be reasoned with. I think their opinions should be as valued as ours.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Abolish Education: The Misery Factory

This post is about the social side of education. I particularly want to focus on the damage schooling does to people as individuals and the implications this has on wider society. I believe the sum effect of the school experience is both negative and profound.

I'll start by talking about my personal experience of school.

Pretty much from the moment I entered primary school I disliked the school experience. Of course, I used to feign interest and enjoyment, mainly to please my teachers and parents, but deep down it simply wasn't fun. The first and most obvious problem I had with it was the length of the school day. It was like working in a factory. In fact, as a child I used to just view it as a job. I didn't enjoy it, but I just kept my head down and got through the day, knowing full well that I didn't have any choice but to acquiesce.

Isn't school supposed to be enjoyable? How can we expect children to enjoy learning when from day one it's a test of endurance? From the minute you reach school age it dominates your life. Like a soul-sapping factory or stifling office job. Who can really, hand on heart, look back on their school life and say they enjoyed it? Remember that dread on Sunday night knowing you had school the next morning? Remember how blissful the summer holidays seemed - no school for six weeks! School was miserable and depressing, admit it. Don't pretend it was somehow more magical than it was now you're an adult. I'm always amazed how quickly adults forget what it felt like to be a child. Pushing the school experience on their own children even though that very same experience made them miserable. I remember as a child promising to myself that I wouldn't forget that. I guess that was where all this started.

Anyway, school days are too long. Period.

Another thing I remember from childhood was the way that school forced you to choose between your friends and your teachers. You basically had to choose whether to be popular and disappoint your teachers or be unpopular and please them. Walking the tightrope between those two options was virtually impossible and whichever option you leaned towards would be bad for you psychologically in the long run. It's almost as if you had to sacrifice your social skills to get good grades or sacrifice your grades to develop your social side.

For example, I leaned towards pleasing my parents and teachers. Thus I was one of the well-behaved quiet kids in the class. I left school with great exam results, but with criminal shyness and a lack of self-confidence. Others in my class left with brilliant social skills, but nothing much academically. I don't think any of us came out of it balanced, happy or better off.

In fact, I would write off the entire school experience were it not for the social dimension of things. If I had children the only apprehension I would have about not sending them to school and home-schooling them would be my worry that they'd miss out socially. That they wouldn't have the chance to interact with other children. I'd have no worries about them missing out academically. However, under the current system this isn't a real worry as the current system tends to damage social skills anyway. Like I said children who 'do well' at school suffer socially because they have to alienate themselves from their friends in order to satisfy their teacher's expectations. You can't laugh, have fun and mess around at school and get good grades and the teacher's seal of approval. It's pretty much one or the other. If you sit quietly in class and do as you're told while others play around and have fun it just reinforces that quietness and makes you something of a social outcast. But if you do mess around and spend the school days interacting with your friends you get written off as 'badly behaved.' It's a bit of a no-win situation really.

One final thing I'd like to mention is this idea that 'good' children are somehow better than 'bad' ones. As if the children who do well at school are not only better academically, but somehow more moral as well. The fact is the children who do well at school are actually doing it out of self-interest, because they believe in the long run it'll be better for them personally - deferred gratification. It's not that they have a heightened sense of social responsibility. It's the fear that if they don't do well at school they'll end up as miserable as they are now - working in a factory or some such place. In fact, if you look at the ambitions of really ambitious children they all want to do jobs that are fun when they grow up - astronaut, computer game designer, musician, etc. And the more realistically ambitious ones tend to chose something more attainable, like doctor or lawyer i.e. something that still requires hard work, but nevertheless stills pays well, offers a good standard of living and also the chance to climb the social ladder. Not many 'good' children dream of working long hours in a dull, but useful job, for low pay.

Likewise, children that don't try hard or don't do well at school aren't particularly 'bad' either. It fact, they're no better or worse than the children that do well. It's just that they don't feel that working hard and sacrificing at school will pay off in the long run. Whether that's because they're not academically gifted enough, or because they don't have the advantages the other kids have, or simply because they just don't have the foresight to see that far ahead. Maybe it's that they simply see life as one big swizz where no one in the system is ever really happy no matter how hard they try. It's certainly not because they're bad, or lazy or any other criticism you want to lay at their door.

People often say that school should prepare children for the harsh realities of adult life. Well, actually, it already does. In fact, school children possibly work even harder than adults. School dominates their life, they have no choice over whether they go or not and they're not being paid for doing it. School is harsh. It shouldn't be, and neither should life in general.

The school day is too long. Period.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Abolish Education: Photosynthesis

Before I move on I'd like to expand on my last post and talk a bit more about how and why we learn things. One thing that has always struck me as odd about the way we teach people is the way we force them to learn answers to questions that they haven't even had the chance to ask. We just drop information on people completely out of context. For example, a child will turn up for a science lesson and get told about photosynthesis before they've even had a chance to wonder themselves about how plants work and grow. It's daft to just dump knowledge on people and expect them to take it in without giving them a chance to develop an appetite for that knowledge in the first place - they haven't had a chance to ask the question, so why would they want or need the answer.

The stupidity of this way of getting people to learn things might be better illustrated by looking at how people find answers to questions naturally in real life. Whether it's a scientist trying to find the answers to life's mysteries or simply someone trying to find out something as mundane as where the train station is, learning generally begins with a question. How big is the universe? How does the human body work? How do I send an email? etc, etc. You begin with a desire to do something or find out something and you go on a journey towards the answer.

For example, if you need to find out where the train station is you ask yourself "where's the train station?" If you don't already know you then think how can I find out. Then you do something that might help you find the answer, you might wander around town looking for it, you may ask people in the hope that they can tell you, you might go and get a map. All this is pretty simple and obvious, but it illustrates that learning begins with a desire or a reason to do something. And that there's a journey from the question to the answer.

So, someone who wants to find out where the train station is probably needs to catch a train - either that or they have a genuine interest in train stations. Likewise someone who wants to find out where the Andromeda galaxy is probably already has a genuine interest in space. You wouldn't just randomly tell someone where the train station is if they have no interest or need to know it. So why just randomly tell children about the Andromeda galaxy, or photosynthesis, if they don't have any prior curiosity about it.

Learning should begin with questions and curiosity - and each person has their own unique questions and interests. We shouldn't be forcing people to take on board information they have no desire to learn. We should just let them wander where they feel they need to go.

Abolish Education: Why Am I Learning French Miss?

I guess I should start by asking, in my own bashful way, how and why we learn things. I've thought about this quite a lot and come to the conclusion that we generally learn things for either one of two reasons. The first reason is everyday necessity - basically things we need to learn to conduct our everyday lives. Things like learning to tie our shoes laces, or learning to use the TV remote. We generally learn these things regardless of schooling. The second reason is interest (or if you prefer passion or curiosity). For example, someone who's passionate about football will learn a lot about football - essentially they learn about it because they enjoy taking an interest in it. Anyhow, I've come to the conclusion that anything that doesn't fall into at least one of these two categories people will have trouble learning.

So, for example, you can teach children about the wives of Henry the Eighth until you're blue in the face, but they're probably never going to learn it - as they have no everyday use for it and in all probability no genuine interest in it. The only way they'll maybe learn that stuff is by rote and repetition. Which is a pretty awful way to learn anything really. Certainly not enjoyable. This is why a child will be able to tell you the entire Manchester United first eleven, but not be able to recall a single one of Henry's wives, even though you only taught them it the day before. They're interested in football, but not interested in Tudor monarchs. Sorry.

Anyway, this realisation has led me to the opinion that it's a complete waste of time trying to teach people things they have no interest in or no direct use for. It just doesn't work. In fact, the way children refuse to pick this stuff up is probably a sign that their minds are healthy and in good working order. A healthy mind remembers useful and meaningful stuff and forgets everything else. And of course, what's meaningful and useful to one person isn't necessarily meaningful or useful to another. What use is a mind that remembers every individual blade of grass it's ever seen, or the colour of the front door of every house it's ever walked passed, or every meaningless bit of dialogue it's ever heard on TV? A mind shouldn't be clogged and cluttered with useless and meaningless information. It should concern itself with the practicalities of everyday life and things that its owner finds genuinely interesting, meaningful and entertaining.

Therefore it's wrong to try to force people to learn things they have no interest in. It doesn't work and it's a waste of time. We should just let children learn whatever they want. Let them follow their own interests and curiosities. It's pretty striking really that children are much more aware of the pointlessness of our current education system than adults are. It's like French lessons. Children will often ask "why am I learning French when I don't live in France, Miss?" They usually get censured for asking questions like this, but it's a perfectly logical question to ask. What is the point in learning French if you have no interest in it and you don't know any French people? Why spend countless hours of your life learning something if you get no joy out of it and have no need to know it? I really wish adults would ask pragmatic questions like this as readily as children do.

Even if French lessons actually worked and everybody left school fluent in French what would be the point in this? Why have a country full of people who can speak French? What's the purpose? Why not Russian or Japanese or whatever other language? Either way most people, despite five years of secondary education learning French, can't speak it anyway.

In fact, this last observation generally sums up the entire point of this post. If you look at what knowledge the average person leaves school with it just goes to show that people only learn if there's a genuine passion or a genuine purpose. The average person (and I appreciate there are always people at the extremes that do very well or very poorly) generally leaves education with the ability to read and write - generally to a level that they need/use in everyday life. And they generally leave with basic maths - again, generally to the extent that they need it in everyday life - the ability to count and use money is needed in everyday life - unsurprisingly most people can do this. The ability to use calculus or quadratic equations generally isn't - unsurprisingly most people can't do this.

And that's about it. Basic maths, basic English and a few trinkets and baubles from other lessons. Basically the stuff they actually need in everyday life plus a few other bits and pieces that occasionally aroused their interest - they may vaguely remember, for example, that Henry the Eighth was a cruel dude with six wives or that Victorian Britain was generally a bit grim. In fact, French is a good example of this type of thing actually (sorry to keep picking on French). If you ask the average adult what they remember from French lessons they'll be able to count up to ten or twenty in French, say please, thank you , hello and goodbye, and maybe say one or two other words or phrases. Essentially the stuff they learnt in the first few weeks of doing French before the novelty of speaking in a foreign language wore off.

Anyway, my opinion is that teaching people things they're not interested in is a waste of time. And that therefore the majority of schooling is a waste of time. In fact, it's more than a waste of time. It's actually, in my opinion, doing more damage than good.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Abolish Education: Introduction

This is going to be the first post of a series of posts about education, or rather about why I feel all formal education should be abolished. Quite a grand vision I guess. I suppose I want to be the Thomas Cromwell of modern learning or something. Basically I feel that schools aren't working, aren't making children happy and aren't having a good affect on society generally. This is something I've wanted to write about for a while, but I've never been quite sure what form it should take - book/essay/blog? Or what style I should write it in, so I've kept kicking it into the long grass. Now I just feel it's time to just get it out there in writing. I'm not one hundred percent sure where I'm going with all this so there'll probably be a lot of re-editing, which I don't like doing on a public blog, but it's better than doing nothing. Anyway, here goes - wreck the classroom!

Abolish Education: Why Am I Learning French Miss?

Abolish Education: Photosynthesis

Abolish Education: The Misery Factory

Abolish Education: School Uniforms and Other Forms of Institutional Bullying

Abolish Education: Abolish Homework

Abolish Education: Knowledge and Cultural Snobbery


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Doors and Dreams

Over the last year or so I've noticed that when I sleep I tend to have more dreams (or at least remember more dreams) when I leave the bedroom door open. I'm saying door, my bedroom's in the attic, so it's more the door/lid above the stairs than a door in the traditional sense, either way it seemed worth making note of.

I've read that in Feng Shui windows and doorways are seen as portals or gateways for energy and that this in turn affects sleep and dreams. I'm not really sure I can buy into that but it's interesting non the less. The relationship between leaving the door open and remembering my dreams seems fairly well established to me from a personal point of view, as I've observed the correlation far too often for it to be mere chance (although Bayes' Theorem may have something to say about that). It's certainly happened often enough to arouse my interest anyway.

When it comes to dreams and nightmares, of course, there's always the tendency to look for supernatural explanations. However, the real explanation may be something much more prosaic. Maybe leaving the door open is creating a draught that's affecting my sleep, maybe it's simply the fact that leaving the door open is allowing more noise to enter my room. Then again, maybe it's the amount of light getting in the room that's affecting my sleep and dreams. Who knows? I guess I'll just have to watch and see if the correlation continues.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Swifts, Swallows (?) Flying Back and Forth

Just arrived home after a longish walk. Was cutting across a field when I noticed a low-flying, swooping bird that kept flying back and forth in front of me - always about 5 metres in front. I think it was a swift or maybe a swallow - I'm not too au fait with birds. Either way it had pointy features and kept swooping close to the ground. This is about the third or forth time I've experienced this sort of behaviour with these birds and I thought it was something worth making note of. It definitely seemed to be deliberately flying in relation to me, almost circling me at times. Why I don't know. A brief internet search turned up nothing. I live in North Yorkshire by the way if that helps with the birds identification.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Recently Read: The Celestine Prophecy

Just read The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield. I would describe it as a new age Da Vinci Code, although it was released in the 1990's before that book was published. It was an international bestseller so it must have been pretty successful at the time although I wasn't aware of it until I came across it by accident in Waterstones. The book is kind of a spiritual quest and it takes the reader on a journey through the 'nine insights' - insights revealed via a newly discovered ancient manuscript that concern the spiritual evolution of humankind. These insights deal with how humans relate to the universe, the earth and each other. One of the more interesting insights was the idea that coincidence plays a pivotal role in a persons life and that coincidences are not just random events but meaningful happenings with deliberate purpose (strange that I was reading it at a time when coincidence was (is) playing an interesting game in my own life). Anyway, it was a really good, thought-provoking book. A little bit wishy-washy and new-agey at times, but overall I'm really glad to have read it. Definitely a lot of food for thought. Recommended.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Shaving The Hair - A Dying Ritual

Over the last four or five years I've gotten into the habit of letting my hair grow long, then shaving it all off, then letting it grow long again. Normally I let my hair grow for about eight to twelve months before shaving it off. At that point it's generally fairly long - think Beatles Revolver era. Part of the reason I shave my hair is because I like having long hair but generally get fed up with it after a while. Another reason is that I'm simply too lazy to make the effort to go to the hairdressers. I also for some reason feel it's healthy to shave the hair off once in a while, don't ask me why.

Anyhow, the reason I mention this is because last night I watched the BBC Four documentary 'Roundhead or Cavalier: Which One Are You?' The basic premise of the show was that Britain is divided by two conflicting personality types, the puritanical Roundheads and the fancy-free Cavaliers. The Cavaliers were defined by "panache, pleasure and individuality", the Roundheads by "modesty, discipline, equality, and state intervention." The show also provided modern examples of these two personality types. For example, Boris Johnson was held up as a classic example of the modern Cavalier, whereas Ken Livingstone was judged to be more of a dowdy Roundhead. However, for all the political and social commentary in the documentary the general thrust of the argument seemed to revolve more around the length of a persons hair and style of their clothes than anything else. Laurence Llewelyn Bowen appeared on the show as a spokesperson for the Cavaliers - need I say more.

Anyway, this got me thinking about the relationship between hair length and personality, as from my own experience I do feel like a completely different person after I've shaved my hair off. I also look completely different too. Maybe it's simply a confidence thing or just a social attitude I've been brought up to have about long hair. It might also be that other people react differently to me depending on my hair length - that may in turn effect my general outlook. Whatever the reason I find it quite fascinating.

Whenever I shave my own hair I think of the story of Achilles shaving his head after the death of Patroclus in Homer's Iliad. For some reason shaving the head does feel like a ritual. I also think of the seasons and harvests, and the scything of the corn. It grows, it gets cut down, it grows again. It seems like a natural cycle. I'm sure there must be other examples of ritualistic hair shaving from history. It may be something worth keeping an eye on.

In any case, the 'Roundhead or Cavalier' documentary was excellent, in spite of my nitpicking, and I thoroughly recommend it. I also recommend the periodic shaving of ones head. Why choose either long hair or short hair when you can have both. A seasonal shift from long hair to short hair and back again. If there is a relationship between hair length and personality it may be the perfect way to freshen up the mind.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Two Pence Piece Value

Normally at the start of each month I begin by making note of the value of the copper in a two pence piece and the copper/nickel in a five pence piece. However, I'm going to knock this on the head now - mainly because I'm starting to annoy myself. I'm still interested in the relationship between coins, metal values and inflation so I'll keep an eye on things, but in future I'll only post if I've got an opinion or some commentary to go with it.

I should also mention that last month was the first month I received 5p coins minted in 2012 in my change. They're magnetic, so I guess the government (or whoever it is that decides these things) has decided to switch from copper-nickel to steel. It's amazing how quietly this has happened. Not much mention of it in the media or in general conversation. I guess coins are becoming increasingly less important.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Redhead - Ian Cook

I recently read Redhead by Ian Cook. It’s a supernatural thriller and I would describe it as something of a cross between a Dan Brown novel and The Wicker Man. As the title would suggest the focus of the book is red hair and people with it. Given that I have a website about red hair it was right up my alley.

I really enjoyed the book and I would recommend it to redheads and non-redheads alike. It’s very visual and cinematic. In fact it would make a great movie - if there’s anyone from the British film industry reading I would buy a copy (it’s about time we started making esoteric, science-fiction again).

The story itself centres around a journalist’s investigation into the seemingly worldwide ritual murder of redheads that’s taking place. It begins in Carthage with visions of human child sacrifice and builds towards a dramatic climax amidst the Neolithic stones of Scotland - taking in ancient Egypt and Easter Island along the way. The book plays upon the palpable ‘otherness’ that’s often associated with red hair and ups the ante a fair bit. I’ll be really interested to see how the book is received by people who don’t have red hair.

And by people with red hair for that matter. It should be interesting.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

John Wycliffe was a Teessider

I’ve just found out that John Wycliffe, the instigator of the Lollard movement, was a Teessider! He was born in Ipreswell (modern Hipswell), in North Yorkshire, not far from the river Tees. (Interesting to note that we helped give birth to the Reformation.) Wycliffe was also responsible for the first ever translation of the Bible into English.

I came across this little titbit when I was searching for links between Yorkshire and the Bible. Someone recently pointed out to me that Yorkshire folk speak in quite a biblical manner - thou hast, I tell thee, etc. Last of the Summer Wine is a good example - I tell thee Nora Batty! Anyhow, good to know that a local boy played such a big part in defeating the Antichrist. Long live Yorkshire.

The Two Pence Piece Value

The current scrap value of the copper in a British 2p coin (minted pre-1992) is now 3.7p. 

The scrap metal value of a 2p coin (pre-1992) is now 3.7p, 9.4% less than at this time last year.
And the value of the (cupro-nickel) 5p coin is now 2.3p, 17.8% less.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Finally finished reading the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. This was a very strange book. It was written in the 15th century, supposedly by a friar named Francesco Colonna. It concerns the tale of Poliphilo - a young lover desperately obsessed with a blond haired girl named Polia. The book is very dreamlike and Poliphilo’s adventure takes him to strange lands where he meets various nymphs and gods, and views strange exotic gardens and wondrous architecture.

The version I read was the modern translation by the writer Joscelyn Godwin. The reproduction is excellent and comes complete with the 174 woodcuts that have fascinated people for the last five hundred years. In fact, the Hypnerotomachia is probably more widely known for these beautiful woodcuts than it is for its text. It’s now more an object of wonder than a literary sensation really. Personally, I really enjoyed reading it, although the endless descriptions of architecture were a bit of a struggle at times. In summary, a really unique work - the illustrations alone making it well worth owning. Thoroughly recommended.

Below is a scanned in snapshot from the book (my apologises for the quality).


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Two Pence Piece Value

The current scrap value of the copper in a British 2p coin (minted pre-1992) is now 3.7p.

The scrap metal value of a 2p coin (pre-1992) is now 3.7p, 11.4% less than at this time last year.
And the value of the (cupro-nickel) 5p coin is now 2.4p, 15.2% less.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sex and Swearing in Shakespeare

Over the years as I’ve been working my way through the works of William Shakespeare I’ve came across a lot of passages that are…well, let’s say, risque. Swearing, sauciness, filth, that sort of thing. Very much out of keeping with the Shakespeare we were forced to read and learn about at school. In fact, more akin to carry on movies, or even the comedy of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

Anyway, in this post I thought I’d simply catalogue what I’ve came across so far.




Twelfth Night

Believe it or not, in the play Twelfth Night, Shakespeare actually makes a joking reference to the word cunt. (My apologies to anyone offended). In the play the character Malvolio speaks the line “these be her very c’s, her u’s, and her t’s, and thus she makes her great p’s” when speaking of a letter supposedly received from the Countess Olivia. The word 'and', between the ‘u’ and the ‘t,’ apparently representing the letter ‘n’ - spelling out the word, C, U, N…you get the picture.

Hamlet

Another reference to the C-word comes in Hamlet, of all places. In this play Hamlet speaks of “country matters” when trying to lay his head down in the lap of Ophelia. A clear pun on the word.

Henry V

Yet another pun on the word comes in Henry V when Katherine laughs at the word gown because of its similarity to the French word con. It would seems that Shakespeare was quite fond of the word. (Actually, I should point out that thus far I haven’t actually read this play, so I’m not entirely sure about this particular one. When I finally read it I’ll give an update.)

Cymbeline

This rather risque passage comes from the play Cymbeline. It concerns the character Cloten who is trying to woo the character Imogen by having music played outside her bed-chamber.

Cloten. I would this Musick would come: I am advised to give her Musick a Mornings, they say it will penetrate.
Enter Musicians.
Come on, Tune; if you can penetrate her with your Fingering, so; we’ll try with Tongue too; if none will do, let her remain: but I’ll never give o’er.

The Shakespeare Apocrypha

Now onto the Shakespeare Apocrypha - the plays once attributed to William Shakespeare, but now thought to be the work of other writers. A lot of this stuff will have already appeared in my other posts, but I’ll repeat it here as well.

The History of Sir John Oldcastle

This passage from Sir John Oldcastle concerns the servant Harpool, a Constable and a character named Doll, the mistress of a priest. The language is a little opaque but you can’t fail to get the general sense of it.

Harpool. Welcome, sweet Lass, welcome.
Doll. I thank you, good Sir, and Master Constable also.
Harpool. A plump Girl by the Mass, a plump Girl; ha, Doll, ha. Wilt thou forsake the Priest, and go with me, Doll?
Constable. Ah!, well said, Master Harpool, you are a merry old Man i'faith; you will never be old now by the Mack, a pretty Wench indeed.
Harpool. Ye old mad merry Constable, art thou advis'd of that? Ha, well said Doll, fill some Ale here.
Doll (aside). Oh, if I wist this old Priest would not stick to me, by Jove I would ingle this old Serving-man.
Harpool. O you old mad Colt, i'faith I'll ferk you: fill all the pots in the House there.
Constable. Oh! well said, Master Harpool, you are a Heart of Oak when all's done.
Harpool. Ha Doll, thou hast a sweet pair of Lips by the Mass.
Doll. Truly you are a most sweet old Man, as ever I saw; by my Troth, you have a Face able to make any Woman in Love with you.
Harpool. Fill, sweet Doll, I'll drink to thee.

The Tragedy of Locrine

This passage, from one of the comic scenes in the play Locrine, concerns a character named Oliver who tries (with his son William) to force the character Strumbo to marry his daughter. It would seem from the following dialogue that Strumbo already knew her quite well.

Oliver. [...]will you have my Daughter or no?
Strumbo. A very hard question, Neighbour, but I will solve it as I may; what reason have you to demand it of me?
William. Marry Sir, what reason had you when my Sister was in the barn to tumble her upon the Hay, and to fish her Belly?
Strumbo. Mass thou say'st true; well, but would you have me marry her therefore? No, I scorn her, and you, and you: Ay, I scorn you all.
Oliver. You will not have her then?

If I come across anymore of this sort of stuff over the coming months I’ll add it to the list.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Shakespeare Apocrypha: The Tragedy of Locrine

Just read ‘The Tragedy of Locrine,’ another play from the apocrypha body. Again, the general consensus is that this play wasn’t written by Shakespeare, although some commentators accept the possibility that it may have been ‘revised’ by him. The play is centred around the mythical Trojan founders of the English nation - king Brutus and his sons, Locrine, Camber and Albanact.

The main focus of the play is Locrine, who becomes king after his fathers death. Firstly Locrine has to fight off the invading Scythians, killers of his brother Albanact. Then, having fell in love with Estrild, wife of the defeated Scythian king, he has to face the wrath of his spurned wife, Guendoline, and her accompanying army. Defeated, both he and Estrild kill themselves in classic Shakespearean fashion.

To my untrained eye this play feels very much like a Shakespeare play and I see no reason to doubt that it is. However, Wikipedia describes the play’s verse as ‘stiff,’ ‘formal’ and ‘un-Shakespearean.’ Personally, it doesn’t seem anywhere near that bad to me. Although, of course, it clearly isn’t a classic.

And lo!, what’s this? Yet more Shakespearean filth. This scene, one of the comic scenes from the play, concerns a character called Oliver who, along with his son William, tries to force the character Strumbo to marry his daughter for having, let’s say, relations with her.

Oliver. [...]will you have my Daughter or no?
Strumbo. A very hard question, Neighbour, but I will solve it as I may; what reason have you to demand it of me?
William. Marry Sir, what reason had you when my Sister was in the barn to tumble her upon the Hay, and to fish her Belly?
Strumbo. Mass thou say'st true; well, but would you have me marry her therefore? No, I scorn her, and you, and you: Ay, I scorn you all.
Oliver. You will not have her then?

Would this in itself be enough to de-Shakespeare it? I wonder.

Actually, in an earlier post I wrote;
“It seems that anything earthy, set in contemporary England and full of social commentary is generally consigned to the non-Shakespeare pile.”
Perhaps I should add risque innuendo to that list as well.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Non-Existence of Time

Over the years I've been thinking about the nature of time a lot. I've basically come to the conclusion that it doesn't exist, at least not in a scientific sense anyway. I now believe that time is an illusion caused by our perception and measurement of change.

What led me to this conclusion was my consideration of what a clock is. When you break it down a clock is just something that has (seemingly) regular motion. The Earth moving around the Sun, the ticking hands of a watch, the human pulse or heartbeat - anything really that provides regular, repetitive motion.

Anyway, when we use clocks to measure the changing world we're not actually measuring time per se, we are actually just measuring movement - the general movement of everything that's happening against the regular movement of the clock, be it the regular ticking of hands on a clock face or simply the Earth spinning on its axis. There is no actual need for time, time is simply the currency of change. In fact you could say that time is simply another word for change, or more accurately change that has been measured against a regular change - again, the general change of everything that's happening against the regular change of ticking hands or planetary motion.

For example, when we say that something happened many years ago we could just as easily say that it happened many changes ago, for time simply is just change. It's only the way we divide change up by measuring some changes against others that creates the illusion of real passing time.

I think time exists as a concept, but that it doesn't exist scientifically speaking. At least that's my opinion at the moment anyhow.

Anyway the reason I'm posting this now is because I recently read an article in Scientific American that seems to be suggesting a similar thing (I think!). Needless to say I'm quite pleased about this as I thought I was out on a limb with all this stuff. The article is titled 'Is Time An Illusion?' and appeared in a special edition of the magazine dedicated to the topic of time (Vol. 21, No. 1). I'll quote from it below;
“Some physicists argue that there is no such thing as time. Others think time ought to be promoted rather than demoted. In between these two positions is the fascinating idea that time exists but is not fundamental. A static world somehow gives rise to the time we perceive.”
The ‘time’ issue in relation to general relativity and quantum mechanics was particularly interesting;
“Physicists who think quantum mechanics provides the firmer foundation, like superstring theorists, start with a full-blooded time. Those who believe that general relativity provides the better starting point begin with a theory in which time is already demoted and hence are more open to the idea of a timeless reality.”
The following paragraph also sounded interesting;
“Canonical quantum gravity emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, when physicists rewrote Einstein’s equations for gravity in the same form as the equations for electromagnetism, the idea being that the same techniques used to develop a quantum theory of electromagnetism could then be applied to gravity as well. When the late physicists John Archibald Wheeler and Bryce DeWitt attempted this procedure in the late 1960s, they arrived at a very strange result. The equation (dubbed the Wheeler-DeWitt equation) utterly lacked a time variable. The symbol t denoting time had simply vanished.”
My general feeling is that a lot of the wacky stuff in relativity and quantum mechanics (the stuff that goes against basic common sense) will eventually disappear once we figure out where we stand philosophically regarding time.

Shakespeare Apocrypha: A Yorkshire Tragedy

Just finished reading ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy,’ another play from the Shakespeare Apocrypha. This one is commonly attributed to Thomas Middleton these days, but apparently there are still some commentators who advocate a Shakespeare authorship. It’s quite a short play and centres around a gambling, wife-beating husband who in an act of desperation tries to murder his wife and children. It’s apparently based on a true story about a man who was executed in 1605 for murdering two of his children and stabbing his wife.

The play is pretty much a morality tale. Personally, I can see why people would choose not to attribute this to Shakespeare as in some ways it’s not in keeping with what we would normally expect from him. However, stylistically speaking, I think it bears some of his hallmarks. Some of the monologues are excellent.

Having read a few of these apocrypha plays I’m now starting to see a pattern emerge. It seems that anything earthy, set in contemporary England and full of social commentary is generally consigned to the non-Shakespeare pile. Maybe this has happened because of political reasons, maybe just out of sheer snobbery. It isn't too hard to imagine scholars purifying the canon by removing anything deemed too base or unworthy. Maybe this is why Shakespeare seems so detached to us. Of course, saying that, it could just be that Shakespeare wasn’t that arsed about the hoi polloi.

On another slightly conspiratorial note I noticed this in the play;

Husband. Are you Gossipping, prating sturdy Quean,
I'll break your Clamour with your Neck,
Down stairs; tumble, tumble, headlong.
[He throws her down.]
So, the surest way to charm a Woman's Tongue,
Is break her Neck, a Politician did it.

This is uttered by the murderous husband as he throws a maid down the stairs. I couldn’t help but see it as a reference to the death of Amy Robsart, the wife of Robert Dudley, Earl Of Leicester. She famously died falling down the stairs, although some believe she was pushed. The suspicion being that she was killed so that Robert Dudley would be free to marry his reputed lover, Elizabeth the First, Queen of England. As it transpired Dudley never married Elizabeth of course, but conspiracies still abound. Some pointing the finger at Dudley, some at William Cecil (as a plot to keep her away from Dudley) and some even at the Queen herself.

It would be interesting if this was a reference to that famous incident, even more so if the play was actually written by Shakespeare.

Update; I've just checked the Amy Robsart Wikipedia page. It mentions it, so it was reference to her.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Two Pence Piece Value

The current scrap value of the copper in a British 2p coin (minted pre-1992) is now 3.3p. 

The scrap metal value of a 2p coin (pre-1992) is now 3.3p, 20.9% less than at this time last year.
And the value of the (cupro-nickel) 5p coin is now 2.1p, 22.1% less.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Puritan or, the Widow of Watling-Street

I’ve just finished reading ‘The Puritan or, the Widow of Watling-Street,’ another play from the Shakespeare Apocrypha.

Wikipedia says of this one;
“The Puritan was published in 1607 and attributed to "W.S." This play is now generally believed to be by Middleton or Smith.”
Now personally I quite liked this play and it felt fairly Shakespearean to me. Lots of silliness, everyone gets married at the end, that sort of thing. It also had the odd flourish of insight;
“[A]n honest War is better than a bawdy Peace.”
Again, this is another play it seems a shame to relegate. I can’t help but feel that the Shakespearean canon has been purged by later experts of anything that doesn’t quite make the grade. We know so little about Shakespeare - hence all the conspiracy theories. Generally I believe that if people in the 17th century believed these works to be the work of Shakespeare we should keep them as part of the collected body of work - even if we do so with the caveat that this play or that play probably wasn’t written by the man himself.

For all we know the works of Shakespeare could have been a group effort anyway.

Shakespeare Apocrypha: The History of Sir John Oldcastle

I’ve recently finished reading ‘The History of Sir John Oldcastle,’ a play about the Lollard dissenter Sir John Oldcastle who was hanged and burned for heresy in 1417. The play was originally attributed to Shakespeare but has since been demoted from the Shakespeare canon.

Wikipedia writes;
“Sir John Oldcastle was originally published in 1600, attributed on the title page to "William Shakespeare". In 1619, a second edition also attributed it to Shakespeare. In fact, the diary of Philip Henslowe records that it was written by Anthony Munday, Michael Drayton, Richard Hathwaye, and Robert Wilson.”
This dairy entry obviously suggests that the play wasn’t written by Shakespeare, so my theory that some of these relegated plays were actually genuine works by Shakespeare doesn’t really hold up in this case. Still it was a really interesting read and it would certainly be a shame if this play was lost to history simply because it wasn’t written by the right guy.

One of the things I’ve found most interesting about some of these apocrypha plays is the social commentary. A lot of sympathy for the common man contained within. Witness this short passage spoken by a ‘poor’ soldier;

“God help, God help, there’s Law for punishing,
But there’s no Law for our necessity:
There be more Stocks to set poor soldiers in,
Than there be houses to relieve them at.”

Could have been written today really.