Saturday, December 29, 2018

Unjust leadership?

The following column appeared on the 14th July, 1993. Considering our current Labour Government, strong on promises and weak on action, we don't seem to be much better off. And the hints of socialism are everywhere amongst their policies.

Unjust leadership? 

After a friend asked me if I knew the opposite phrase to ‘distaff side’ (‘spear side,’ we discovered), she took up my last column’s complaints about Mr Bolger, and said, ‘But who would you put in his place?’ I had no answer.

In spite of the possibilities of electoral reform, we’re still left with the problem of being unable to vote in a party’s leader.

We want leadership in this country, there’s no doubt; but not at all costs. Arrogant leadership of the Muldoon-Lange-Bolger style we can do without.

With the choices we face at present, perhaps it is time (given that it is suffrage year) to have someone on the distaff side: a Prime Ministress.  But the present field is pretty narrow: would we really want the Obsessive Housekeeper, or She Whose EconomicPolicies Must Be Obeyed?

Metropolitan Anthony
I’ve been reading a little book I picked up in the Regent book sale, Man and God, by Metropolitan Anthony (his name has nothing to do with a railway station: Metropolitan is an Orthodox church title, similar to archbishop).

This man clearly identifies one of the problems New Zealand is facing at present, though stating it in a different context.

He says when society defines man (including setting up an Ideal Abstract Man as ‘the pattern for the future’), we always meet – whatever the case, whatever the kind of dictatorship or pressure group – with something which the Russian writer, Solzhenitsyn, in his book Cancer Ward, defined in the following way.

One of the central characters has this said about him: ‘He had the greatest possible love and consideration of mankind, and this is why he hated so fiercely every human being – because they disfigured this ideal so horribly.

There is an echo here of Jenny Shipley, or Roger Douglas. Leaders who appear to have more love for their ideal State, where properly managed finances will supposedly bring proper social order, than for the individuals within it.

As M. Anthony points out, such leaders’ ideals are always focused on the future. Consequently the real people they are dealing with here and now have to be ‘transformed, changed and remoulded.’ Unfortunately, past experience ‘shows that many bones crack and many things have to be changed by force and even violence.’ (The communist revolution is one example.)

Individual people are disregarded in this kind of social change; people are only seen collectively.

Here in New Zealand it is easy to see those who commit benefit fraud as one group who blaspheme the great god Economy. It is also easy to lump the Poor together as one large unpalatable porridge.

Within our leaders’ world view, the poor eventually disappear not because of Recovery but because they have no means of surviving. Crime becomes their only hope and they are committed to prison. The prisons become totally overloaded, and finally something more permanent is done..?

Not in New Zealand?

We need a distaff side to our spear side policies: humanity as well as economy. We need policies that see people not as abstractions, but as unique wondrous creatures, each one called by name ‘out of (the) nothingness from which we were drawn by the will of God.’ (Anthony again.)

Arrogant and unjust rulership tends to arise when we leave God out, and though many of my readers won’t agree, New Zealand still needs God.

And New Zealand leaders need to see people as God sees them: perhaps not going so far as counting the hairs on their heads, but at least knowing that individuals make up the crowd.

Honours List

Honours List - Column 8: June 23 1993 

I am still simmering! It’s over a week now since the Honours List was published, and yet again my name did not appear on it!!

I realise Her Majesty had an ‘orrible year, because she kept telling us so, but is that any reason to continually overlook one of her loyal subjects? What do I have to do to gain Her acknowledgement?

I have worked for the State (being in insurance for five years) and allowed my brain to be on tap at the City Council. I delivered Her Royal Mail at two different times in my career. Like Her forebear Henry the Eighth, I’m a minor composer, writing my first song worth remembering when I was only a teenager.

I have written countless songs since then, some of which have been performed.

While accompanying four opera singers, I played the piano for thousands of schoolchildren around New Zealand, even continuing to play after the lid of the grand piano at Tokomairiro High School fell on my thumb – mid-aria.

I have accompany a pre-Dame Kiri. She condescendingly told me (and I put it down to her youth) that everyone makes mistakes sometimes. (I assume she meant in the way I played the music, rather than in my choice of singer.)

I have listened to more music than all the 19th century composers wrote in total, much of it with my full attention. It has been music that ran the gamut from the extremely incomprehensible (like that by John Cage, who was opaque in everything he did) to the totally sublime.

I have sold goods door to door, and collected money door to door, so you could easily count me as being a community worker.

I wrote my first play before I was out of my teens, and two later ones which I destroyed, since, like Brahms, I didn’t want my juvenalia undermining the fruit of my later genius (which is still to bud).

I have submitted over 300 articles to various publishers not only in this country, but in the United Kingdom (of Her Majesty) and the United States. Two-thirds of them have been published. (And not all in this column, either.)

You’d think in the midst of Her Majestic year she would have noticed one of those, surely? Furthermore, I have read more books than are sold at the Regent Book sale each year, many of them from cover to cover.

Like Paul’s adopted son, Timothy, I have been a Christian since my youth up. I have worked twice for my church in paid capacities, quite apart from the countless hours I’ve spent shifting other member’s furniture from one house to another, and attending pot luck meals, and listening to those who are going through difficult patches.

I have watched thousands of movies, and untold hours of television (which is why I’ve watched thousands of movies). That any person should endure so much and still be ignored each year is beyond my comprehension.

I have enjoyed book-keeping, endured economics, delight in English, and been bewildered by maths – at times. I have studied Trachtenberg’s system of multiplication, the one he conceived in prison without any paper. I can read some Italian, German and Modern Cool.

I live in a house with four teenagers, amongst others. When I remind them that I used to carry each one in the crook of my arm they give that teenage ‘look.’

With all these credentials (and many more that I can’t fit in due to space restrictions), I ask you: Why wasn’t my name in the Honours List this year?

Friday, December 28, 2018

Fourth Column


This column comes from the days of the 1995 Americas' Cup, when New Zealand, my home country, grabbed the thing off the people who'd had it for far too long. One of our local lunatics gave it a thump, but its was put back into shipshape order before the next outing.


Occasionally people ask me where I get my ideas from. There's no great secret: it's a matter of picking up opportunities, just like salesmen do when trying to sell something.

And it really isn't hard to get ideas - I sat in the car one night waiting to collect my wife from work and came up with several possibilities. The problem is to know what to do with the ideas once you've got 'em!

This is the fourth column I've started this week. With four columns sketched out you'll appreciate I haven't lacked ideas, just the right approach. Half way through saying something, I've begun to wonder: do I really know as much about this as I'd like to think I do?

I've said in the past, I'm not a journalist. And I'm not objective. Although I try to get my facts right I'd sooner manage without any facts at all.

That's where the difference comes between an opinionated person like myself and a real journalist. Real journalists have their facts right before they commit themselves to paper. I'm not always even sure which ones are my facts.

In fact I tried to be very factual this week, but my opinions kept tripping me up.

New Zealand's team celebrating their win in 1995
I started to write about the Americas' Cup - but I wasn't sure whether I had the apostrophe in the right place, or if there really was a dash in NZ-L20.

Actually I'm glad it's all over. Never in the field of human conflict was so much hype given to so many by so few. (Until I checked, I'd always thought the original quotation used the word "endeavour" instead of "conflict". Whew! Well, that will do as the fact for this week's column.)

I was going to write about riots, (or is it right about wriots?) both at home and abroad, and injustice (this has nothing to do with the America's Cup) - but such a theme required more space than I have here, (and possibly more brains).

More problems arose when I wanted to right about the Write to Silence matter. But because I was going to comment on what seemed to me to be a very contentious legal area, and one in which lawyers might well have a field day, I thought I'd better give my lawyer a call first. (And got his answerphone.)

I wanted to write about sceptics, and evolution (separately). But reducing these dinosaur issues down to homo sapiens size proved difficult. I could combine them, of course, and say I'm sceptical about evolution.

I've also had in mind to write both about banks, and bouncers. For those of you who immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was going to advise banks to employ bouncers, I wasn't, though it occurs to me that might yet be an idea to follow up.

When it comes to being as opinionated and dogmatic as I am, you see, settling down to getting the right column off the ground can be a tricky matter.

My apologies if you've felt that you've wended your way through this maze, and found no prize at the end. However, consider this column as a trailer, like they have at the movies or on tv, whetting your appetite for controversies to come.

Hmmm...I've just been checking my facts again, and find I've confused fourth column with fifth estate - or vice versa. I'll get it write somewhere along the line.  

Saturday, December 22, 2018


Published in Column 8 on the 30th June 1993

Once upon a time weather-forecasters’ predictions had some likelihood of coming true. Not much anymore. I suggest, disillusioned weathermen try their hand at something easier: predicting the degree of increase in the word torrent that will gush out of the Beehive prior to the coming election.

We live with an abundance of words. Walk along the streets of any city or town and you’ll be overwhelmed by words, myriad eye-catching, purse-opening, mind-arresting words. They’re an integral part of urban scenery, in greater profusion than plate-glass windows, parking meters, and closing-down sales.

After constant exposure, our brains cease to discriminate amongst the excess. Urban words have only two or three micro-seconds to make their mark before they’re consigned to the long-term memory – perhaps only ever to reappear in our dotage.

Urban words become like squabbling siblings on a shopping spree whom harassed parents try to ignore.

I’ve nothing against words, even urban ones. In fact I quite like most of them. But they tend to take over. (They’ve even hedge in on what used to be the sole province of numbers: registration plates. Now we’re more likely to see a car called SPEED than SP9876.)

Sooner or later there’s going to be a reaction against this plethora of words. Words need space, and don’t like being crunched up against each other. (Numbers cope with crunching much better.) They need time to be absorbed, and shouldn’t be flashed at us like a thousand thousand winking indicators.

For politicians to weigh down the next few months with words is unlikely to make us sit up and take notice.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I came across a delightful story about Coleridge (the Ancient Mariner man). He tells of talking throughout dinner to a man who listened carefully to him, and said nothing. The man constantly nodded his head, and Coleridge concluded he was very intelligent.

Towards the end of the dinner, some apple dumplings were placed on the table. The man had no sooner seen them than he burst forth with – “Them’s the jockies for me!!” The Book of Proverbs makes the comment: “Even a fool when he keeps his mouth closed is considered wise.”

Politicians could learn something from that. As word-using people they should know, but don’t, that ten clear words are better than a thousand befogged ones.

The coming election makes me consider that it would be wiser for politicians to keep their mouths more closed than open in these final few months. Then their words might not embarrass them later. (How they can at present sit comfortably on their parliamentary sheepskins and not wriggle out [of] guilt when their “promises” are thrown back in their faces is beyond me.)

If they said nothing prior to election time, we might be inclined to elect them anyway – just to find out what they were going to be up to.

We’d certainly find them more truthful. People who don’t normally open their mouths can hardly be called liars when they do.

Their silence might even appear as wisdom, wisdom they wish we thought they had. To maintain this aura of sapience would require them to keep their mouths closed even after they were elected, and that could only be a good thing.

In the meantime, the parliamentary minute of silence could be extended to a good half hour each day. The sheer discipline would be beneficial to all concerned.

And the flood of obscure, ambiguous, ill-defined words might then dry up.

After All

Back in the days when I wrote a weekly column, I produced this one, called 'After All'. It came out in 1993, so the references are to a former Government. However, the issues it discusses (with tongue mostly in cheek) have barely changed a jot.

After All 

Mr Bolger’s condescending response to the report on child poverty should have been expected.
His dulcet tones in the subsequent radio interviews were intended to melt the heart of the hardest cynic. His assurances that he knew what the poor were suffering should have convinced us all of our ignorance on the subject.
Jim Bolger
Mr Bolger is Prime Minister, after all. If the Prime Minister doesn’t know what’s going on, who does? The ministresses of social welfare, or of finance?
After all, if the Government is going to pay attention to what people say, especially church people (who are really pretty much on the periphery of society, aren’t they?), then what sort of wimpy Government would they be?
The purpose of a Government is to Govern, after all, to lead, to pass more laws than the Pharisees, to make enormous changes and expect everybody to follow, to fill the newspapers and television with ads that nobody understands let alone cares about, to spend millions of dollars on changing vast structure so that businessmen can run the country like one big business.
Of course, when the Opposition finally gains power – as it probably will because we’re all so sick of this lot – it will change it all back again.
After all, an Opposition’s purpose is to Oppose. In Opposition they really don’t have anything to do all day except come up with mischievous schemes to upset the Government, such as telling us that most of the National Members are millionaires.
Well, they are, after all, aren’t they? I mean if you add the figures up the right way, you can make anybody look like a millionaire; you can even make the poor look well off.
Isn’t that what the Government is attempting to do, by reminding us over and over of the wonderful recovery we’re all part of? How can we refuse to believe the evidence?
Not that it matters what you believe, anyway. What’s a Government for, after all? It’s not there to be nice to us, it’s not there to pay attention to petitions, submissions or reports. It’s not there to listen to the ‘groundswell of current opinion’ (it considers the swell as swill and treats it accordingly). It’s not there to talk Truth but Governspeak. It’s not there to find ways to balance the books that will please everybody – in fact the fewer people this Government pleases the better a Government it believes itself to be.
It is there, however, to say that it’s ‘responsible in seeking to target very large sums of money to those New Zealanders most in need’: $2 a week extra family support, for example, according to the Guinness Book of Records New Zealand All-time Boring Budget.
And even more, the Government hates to think that someone might be getting more than their share, especially if they have the nerve to be on a benefit. That’s why they’ve given themselves the right to investigate our bank accounts, and take money directly out of them if need be.
It isn’t our money, after all, or the bank’s (who now charge us not only for taking our money out, but also when we don’t put enough in); it’s the Government’s money. They gave it out in the first place, and they printed it.
After all, if they give money to us when we aren’t working, we’ll only go and spend it on irrelevant things like rent, and possibly, if there’s anything left over, on frivolities like food and (good grief!) clothing.
We’re only scum after all – the Government knows that if six o’clock closing was reintroduced we’d be back in there like pigs at a trough. We’ve never learnt anything.
Worst of all, we’ve never learnt that if we give our prime public servants plenty of power, law by law they’ll gradually turn the lot of us into slaves.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Crowl or Crawl

Courtesy Pixabay

Trawling through Evernote, I came across a piece I wrote in 2007. It was published on an internet site that faded away through not being able to pay its writers on time...Since it's a piece poking fun at blogs and their writers, I thought it could do with another airing:

Crowl or Crawl

In one of those idle moments when the brain is parked in a lay-by, I typed my surname into the search engine on I shouldn’t have been surprised that a number of people had typed ‘crowl’ instead of ‘crawl’ and had never noticed (who apart from me proof-reads their blog scribblings?), but seeing my name leap out from some of the most random writing on the planet was disconcerting.

It even turns up in foreign language texts. Is it a slang word that crosses borders? Many blog writers don’t have too cosy a relationship with grammar and spelling. We can excuse those for whom English is a second language: “I want to know does search engines crowl websites without submission. Should website important to submit to Search engines. I have some website for promotion so I want to know that Search engine will not crowl without submission.”  

At least I hope this is a writer for whom English is a second language.   

The next writer, however, has style: “I'm detached. I don't want to do anything with this ugly politics anymore. If I'm lucky I'll find a hole in some quiet corner of the world and crowl there and continue my research on Machine Translation and live my own life and don't care a bit about anything that happens anywhere. If I see a needy, I'll help. But I'll forget dying African kids, and greedy thiefs of higher society... Let them do anything they want.”

Perhaps the next writer was too troubled by his angst to notice where his fingers were flying: “I woke up and I looked into the mirror and standing there was someone else...Not me. I have to say that I really didn't like what I saw. What happened with the VERY confident guy that used to stare back at me and say: "Today will be a great day!!"???  I really don't know...What I saw there, in the mirror, was a fraction of what I used to see...My walk has fallen into a crowl...I didn’t want to fall straight into a halt... If that happens I might as well just curl and die...I have never been so close to His will and then everything just piled up trying to tumble me to my knees and admit defeat... But I think I've got some news for ya...I won't give up and I will be at the centre of His will! God...I know things won't be easy... Help me...I think I might be losing my mind...”

Of course, losing your mind, let alone feeling you’ve fallen out with God, may well be the result of falling into a crowl.

And more on the religious life of the teenager: “Today—Monday, July 10, 2006—was a day of relaxation. We slept in and had pancakes for breakfast and then had morning worship and Pray the Bible. After lunch we had Salvationism class (which was really eye-opening to what we need to change in the world). The girls got into an in-depth discussion on today’s RevoDevos of Exodus 19 and 20 and the Ten Commandments and the Articles of War. After dinner we had a Salvationist Missionary/Teacher visit us and talk to us about her 10 month adventure in China. It was extremely inspiring to get out there and do missions. Last night the girls decided to go to Starbucks and then have a “discussion” and because of that the boys decided they wanted a “boy’s night out” as well. As soon as the boys left campus we girls went to Cozy’s for our second dinner. Side note: Thai food is good.”

I began to wonder if many people pronounce ‘crawl’ as ‘crowl’ and have a mistaken view of its spelling. “It seems like my blog has been forgotten again. But in the past 2.5 weeks I was glad if I had the energy to crowl into bed when I got home.”  

Or: “I don't dispute her assessment. It's pretty evident that the forces that brought Summers down were not monolithic and many people found themselves in a firm opposition to him due to a variety of reasons. But still, it doesn't dispel the gloom that comes from the realization that if even such a powerful man as Larry Summers had to crowl acquiescently, rather than stood by his remarks, and was still brought down, the perspectives of simple mortals are that bleak.” 

You have to wonder how a person who uses words like ‘monolithic’ and ‘acquiescently’ appears to have no idea about tense. 

Someone who may be teaching dressmaking writes the following: “At the top that blob like thing would be a pinned on flower of some sort. At the bottom, the sides would be runched up and have ties. The effect given is kind of like a crowl neck, only at the bottom.   More of that crowl neck effect, but just a little tighter, so it wouldn’t be overly exaggerated.   Split sleeves. A sheer see-through material overtop the bottom material, adding a bit of extra length.”  I’ve always had a ‘crowl neck’ of course, but it’s usually at the top, rather than the bottom.  

Here’s someone on the history of swimming: “The first literatures about swimming are dated since the 2000 B.C. However it wasn't since the 1800 the first competitions started taking place in Europe. Back then the most popular style was the breaststroke. The most popular and fast style, the front crowl, was first introduced in the so called civilized world, by John Arthur Trudgen, in 1878 who saw it from the natives Americans.”  

Oh, communication, wherefore art thou?

And finally a person who hasn’t yet discovered the shift key: “what an amazing moment.  i tripped and fell today. i ripped my jeans, skinned my knees and killed my hurts real bad.  everyone looked at me, good thing kate was with me, its always more sad when someone is alone and they fall. but i owned it and it was pretty much amazing. it almost made me late to crowl the warrior king's final. that wouldnt have been good. he was wearing jeans today and it was pretty awkward. but you dont know him so you probably dont really care. well sara knows him. im sure she will agree that its awkward.”

I’m sure she will….and not just the falling over.

All these are unedited extracts from blogs. My thanks to the people who unwittingly offered their writings...

Friday, November 30, 2018

A comprehensive catalogue

When I first started writing, I was advised by my course tutor to focus on writing articles rather than fiction, since articles actually paid good money. I took this advice, and the articles did pay; not heaps, necessarily, but a reasonable amount.

One of the books I read during this time was Writing Articles that Sell by G J Matson. The book was one of five smallish books that came as part of the writing course. It was a book I read and re-read, and it proved its worth.

I've just come across an extract from it that I copied back in 1993 in which he discusses the need to keep cuttings or clippings of articles and newspaper notes. These clippings were useful not just for article ideas, but as backup material for when you did write articles. Evernote serves the same purpose for me now, though I don't write much in the way of articles anymore. And of course it's vastly more easy to catalogue and search. I do write blog posts, of course, and the 'clippings' are useful for that too.

Anyway here is Matson talking about his cataloguing system:

This [initial] classifying was a crude arrangement, and the titles of the various folders, as near as I can remember them now, were Anniversaries, Natural History, Stage and Cinema, Religion, Celebrities, Unusual Experiences, History, Geography, Science, Art, Literature, Domestic Law, Handicrafts, Customs, Political and Miscellaneous. As soon as a folder became uncomfortably full, I divided the cuttings again, this time into foolscap envelopes. Thus Natural History was divided into Ants, Dogs, Elephants, Grouse, Mice, Rabbits and so on. 

A few of the subjects, selected from my collection at random, may be of interest: Air Mails, Antipathies, Basket Making, Bibles, Careers for Boys, Chiropody, Corks, Dew Ponds, Duels, Entertaining with Table Napkins, Foolhardy Feats, Giants and Dwarfs, Handwriting, Horse Brasses, Icebergs, Jest-books, Keeping Cool, Lighting, London Oddities, Marbles, Miniatures, Newspapers, Noses, Olive Harvests, Pacifism, Peat, Queen Elizabeth I, Refrigerators, Rings, Safe Deposits, Seaweed, Teasels, Unclaimed Fortunes, Valentine Day, Wassailing, Yom Kippur and Zebras. It will be seen from these examples that the range of subjects covered is a very wide one. It is because I collect cuttings on every subject I possibly can. It pays me to do it – and it will pay you.

What a marvellously diverse list! I had both folders and foolscap envelopes in my much less organised system at one point, so I must have paid some attention to Mr Matson, though I can't say I ever went quite so wide in my choice of subjects. I think his point was that you can write about anything if you have the background information to get you started. 

These days, we'd probably categorize Foolhardy Feats under The Darwin Awards. And if you don't know what a Teasel is, it's apparently a tall prickly Eurasian plant with spiny purple flower heads. It seems a slightly curious subject to write about, but perhaps they were more common in gardens back when Matson's book was written. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

The need for exercise...or not

This may be a revised version of one of my Column 8 pieces, though it seems mostly to be as originally written. 

Practice makes perfect. If you don't use it, you'll lose it. So they say.
Some time ago a member of our family purchased a set of exercise DVDs with the aim of building up her/his muscles. I'm not allowed to be more specific about which family member it was, but the DVDs gave a real boost in the physical department.
She/he disciplined him/herself, getting up at the crack of dawn every morning to chug through those demanding exercises - while the demonstrator chauntered through a flow of esteem-building speeches.
Various other members of the family gave the exercises a go - with varying degrees of success. Still, I don't think any set of DVDs has ever had more use in our house. Certainly the original purchaser got value for money.
While everyone else tackled the exercises, I didn't. I was still walking to work every morning: a sufficient, demanding-enough exercise, and pleasant. A good way to allow the early-morning-family-arousing-stresses to flit off like startled sparrows. I use to run most of the way, but my legs had begun to find pounding down the hills jarred the hips and knees.
Still, the walk was enough to keep me fit, I said.
If so, why did I find my knees creaked more when I knelt - and it was more difficult hoisting myself up again? (If I could rouse the body to such a level of enthusiasm as to want to get up again.)
Why did the floor seem further away when I bent to pick up bits of paper or safety pins? And why did it take three attempts to grasp them?
Why did I have to sit a little further back from the steering wheel than before, and find the pedals further away? Why did the plate on the meal table seem not quite where it used to be? (‘There's many a slip twixt cup and lip’ was finally starting to make sense.)
Why did I feel like a formerly deft and agile adolescent struggling with clumsy-making growth spurts?
Lack of exercise.
My family has been nagging - sorry, encouraging - me, for some time, to do some exercise. (There's particular concern that they can't see the telly if I'm standing just to one side of it.) So the other night I began the exercises, in company with a couple of other family members who'd done them before, and wanted to get back into them again.
I enjoyed the exercises which required me to lie on the floor, because at least I didn't have to keep my body vertical at the same time, but I wasn't too fussed about the exercises that seemed akin to some of the spine-dislocating, hip-unhinging and bone-crackling one of my children does in modern dancing.
I know these exercises will do me good.  (I used to have a best friend who was always telling me things he suggested would do me good.)  I know that if I play difficult music on the piano, and work at it, even if I can't play it up to speed, I'll have fingers that move when I want them to, instead of fingers that ice-skate across the keys because they can't be bothered to dig their nails in.
I know if I'd kept at that memory course that now sits gathering dust on the shelf, I'd be remembering all the names of the people I want to remember - including the name of my grandson which had gone completely from my mind when I woke last Saturday.
And I know if I write a blog post a day, (inspired or not), I'll produce new ones with half the sweat and strain they usually require.
I think.
But I don't like doing these exercises. They make me feel a hundred and fifty, they make me feel as though I'm no longer capable of any physical effort - and I am! I really am!! - they make me feel that if I have to hear that trainer's voice one more time burbling visualisation babble I'll smash his fancy face in.
Apparently Henry Ford didn't say history is bunk, he claimed exercise was. "If you're healthy," he said, "you don't need it. If you're sick, you shouldn't take it."
How (ouch! oooof!) true.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Hug a musician...

Courtesy Pixabay
I've been re-typing my old journals so that I have a digital copy on the Cloud. In one entry dating from January 1993, I mention that we'd cleared out some clutter from our bedroom. We decided to get rid of a poster we'd had for some time because it was fading badly and become hard to read. 

I'd copied the words into the journal entry, but couldn't read the author's name, at the time. The words are probably reasonably well-known, though I'm not sure that the author, Kenneth Gisoms is. The only thing that seems to come up in relation to his name are the words that appeared on the poster, which all relate to music, and which are both humorous and wise. It's possible that the order of the statements I have here isn't as in the original. 

Furthermore, the statements may have been collected together by Gisoms: the first one appears to be by Aldous Huxley.

  • After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
  • Music is indivisible. The dualism of feeling and thinking must be resolved to a state of unity in which one thinks with the heart and feels with the brain.
  • Music is a means of giving form to our inner feelings without attaching them to events or objects in the world.
  • The entire pleasure of music consists in creating illusions, and commonsense is the greatest enemy of musical appreciation.
  • What gives music its universal appeal is the very fact that it is at the same time the most subtle and intangible and the most primitive of all arts…it can make a dog howl and silence a crying baby.
  • The trouble with music appreciation in general is that people are taught to have too much respect for music. They should be taught to love it instead.
  • Too many people are trying to justify the precision with which organised musical sound is produced rather than the energy with which it is manipulated. By concentrating on precision, one arrives at technique; but by concentrating on technique, one does not arrive at precision. Melody is the gold thread running through the maze of tones by which the ear is guided and the heart reached.
  • People compose for many reasons: to become immortal; because the piano happens to be open; because they want to become millionaires; because of the praise of friends; because they have looked into a pair of beautiful eyes; for no reason whatsoever.
  • Every composer knows the anguish and despair occasioned by forgetting ideas one has no time to write down.
  • The public today must pay its debt to the great composers of the past by supporting the living creators of the present.
  • All human activity must pass through its periods of rise, ripeness and decline; and music has been to a certain extent the fortunate in that it is the last of the great arts to suffer this general expense.
  • You cannot have critics with standards; you can only have music with standards which critics may observe.
  • Time is to the musician what space is to the painter.
  • Psychologists have found that music does things whether you like it or not. Fast tempos invariably race your pulse, respiration and blood pressure. Slow music lowers them.
  • Music hath charms to sooth the savage breast, soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.
  • Good musicians execute their music, but bad ones murder it.
  • Some musicians take pains with music, others give them.
  • We can look away from pictures, but we cannot listen away from sounds.
  • It is not necessary to understand music, it is only necessary to enjoy it.
  • Of all the arts, music is practiced most.
  • Music is a kind of counting, performed by the mind, without knowing that it is counting.
  • The hardest thing in the world is to start an orchestra, and the next hardest to stop it.
  • There should be music in every house, except the one next door.
  • The more you love music, the more music you love.
  • Hug a musician, they never get to dance.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

No substitute for hard work

This is one of a series of posts on memorization of text; in particular in relation to trying out a new technique. 

Getting the first part of Ephesians chapter 3 under my belt took longer than I expected. When I came to join it to the rest of the chapter - which I’d learned some years ago - it was initially a bit messy getting back into it. However, after a couple of run-throughs, and checking the original text to see how my memory of it compared, it came back to mind without much difficulty.

This is pretty normal when I haven’t thought about a particular text for some time. I’ve now moved on to complete the rest of chapter 4. Again I’d learned the first half some years ago, and never completed the rest.

I’m using the newish method I’ve described in previous blogs. First, I do a read-through of the passage several times. Then I write out the initial letters, and aim to remember what I’ve just read through using only those letters. This comes reasonably easily, but I have to be aware that this is just being stored in the short term memory; it’s not yet at the point where it will stay if I leave it alone for a day.

Next day I’ll reinforce what I’ve learned, still keeping the initial letters as a check. What I find about using this as part of the system, is that it ensures that the words I remember are accurate, and that I don’t forget small words - or substitute other small words for them - or swap phrases around. That’s always been an issue in the past that’s taken some overcoming.  So the initial letters aspect is an improvement on what I’ve done previously.

But on its own, it’s not enough. The hard work of actually learning the material still has to be done, and this will take work over several days until it’s starting to hold. And then of course, I’ll need to keep coming back to – while lying in bed for instance, or at another part of the day.

In other words, there’s no easy method for long-term memorization.

I mentioned substitution above. What always intrigues me is the way the brain readily substitutes other words for the original ones. It’s often only when you check against the written text that you realise this is the case.

The brain has a remarkable capacity for doing this. I first noticed it, I think, with songs. When a word would go missing at the vital moment the brain would comfortably substitute a word that fitted neatly - often with the right number of syllables - and made good sense. The new word would be similar in meaning to the original.

This is a quite extraordinary feat on the part of the already extraordinary brain. Knowing that it’s not going to find the correct word in time, it brings up a synonym. Without missing a beat. How amazing is that?

Friday, October 26, 2018

Make it harder, not easier

Twelve lines of text ought to be easy to learn – you’d think. But the first twelve lines of Ephesians chapter 3 – equating to the first seven verses – have proved very hard for my memory to retain.

Considering this, however, I remembered that when I was memorizing music more frequently, in the last couple of years, twelve bars of a fugue by J S Bach took me infinitely longer to get to grips with than twelve bars of a jazz-style piece by Christopher Norton. The Bach was much more complex, making it the equivalent of an abstract text, whereas the jazz piece, while enjoyable to learn, was more straightforward musically.

Last part of a Bach Fugue
Anyway, hacking away at the task of memorizing yesterday I gave myself some additional images to remember for the first three or four lines, since these were the ones that were particularly obstinate in terms of staying with me.

Then I managed to recite the lines backwards line by line. This made my brain claim it was going into overload, but I assured it that it wasn’t.

I still felt I needed something extra to hang onto. 

In our kitchen, where I do most of my memorizing in the mornings, there’s a large clock that was given to my mother many years ago. It has no numbers; instead it has pictures of cats – twelve different ones. Originally, on the hour, a cat would meow, but we all got fed up with the awful sound and switched it off.

A cat clock similar to ours
Yesterday, I recited the twelve lines while working from the cat equivalent of one to twelve. And when I could do that, I went backwards, from twelve to one. The cats aren’t distinguishable enough for my brain to say something like: on the Persian sitting at four, I recite line four, or on the Manx sitting at nine I recite line nine. I just have to think in my head that I’m looking at a cat picture that represents the number four or nine and hopefully line four or nine is there, ready to be recited.

If this seems over the top, it isn’t. When it comes to memory, the brain prefers difficult to easy. Things learned easily tend to be forgotten far sooner than things that are learned with considerable effort.

The authors of the book Make it Stick talk about how a test was done on two groups of baseball players. One group was thrown the same kind of ball over and over – such as a curveball - and of course, they got better at it as time went on. In fact these were already top players, so getting better for them was a considerable achievement.

The second group was thrown a different kind of ball every time, and initially they fumbled and missed, hitting some and not others. But as time went on, even though they were thrown a different ball each time, overall they improved more than the other guys. With the first group, once their brains knew that they’d get a certain ball they relaxed, and didn’t continue to be alert to changes. The second group was continually alert because they didn’t know what they’d get, and so they improved in regard to all the balls that were thrown.

There’s something about the brain that delights in difficulty. If you want to memorise something, then make it harder for the brain, not easier.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Better late than never

This post, which first appeared on Jason Goroncy's blog, should have been copied here at the time...for some reason it got lost in transit, and has only surfaced four years later. Better late than never... 

Some moons ago, I posted an interview with the Dunedin author, composer, and musician, Mike Crowl, in relation to his book, Diary of a Prostate Wimp. Mike is a good friend who has, besides his literary foray on his surgical experiences, published two fantasy books this year for children. One of these was based on a really delightful musical he wrote and produced in 2012, called Grimhilda! (I posted about it here). This month, Mike released a ‘sort of sequel’ to Grimhilda! called The Mumbersons and the Blood Secret.

The Mumbersons is a ‘sort of sequel’ because here new characters take the lead, and only a very few of the people from the first book appear. It’s an approach not unlike that which C. S. Lewis adopts in his Narnia series. The Horse and the Boy, for example, has distinct connections to the earlier book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but the characters driving the tale are quite new.

Mike’s fantasy world, like Lewis’s, isn’t explicitly ‘Christian’, although much of the strange new world of the Bible underpins the stories. In Grimhilda!, for example, the parents of a young boy called Toby are kidnapped by a witch, who later explains that she’s entitled to do this because they haven’t loved their son; they’ve been too busy with their own lives. After some initial reluctance, Toby sets out with some companions to rescue his parents. In the background to the story we learn of another young boy who tried to do the same thing many years before, and failed, dying in the process. This past sacrifice makes possible Toby’s new life of loving service.

And then there’s the blood. Indeed, a main thrust of the new story is about the secret of Billy’s blood, and whether it can be used for good or evil.

Both stories are adventures, with the heroes having to overcome a number of difficulties, sometimes by their own strengths, sometimes aided by the unlikeliest of gifts. In each story, the boy is accompanied by a female companion: in Grimhilda! she’s a bossy doll who’s come to life; in The Mumbersons, she’s a risk-taking girl with a rather strange family background.

Like the other two books, The Mumbersons and the Blood Secret has been published as an e-book [and also a paperback] on Amazon, and is also available at the Dunedin Public Library. Again, Mike has worked closely with Cherianne Parks, his co-author, whose ideas ‘permeate the story’, as he notes in the Acknowledgements. You can read more about Mike here.

It isn’t necessary to have read Grimhilda! to understand the new book. Although, of course, knowing the background of the earlier story will add to the enjoyment of the sequel.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Abstract and concrete

The initial letters technique (ILT) that I used recently on Vassar Millar's poem, Morning Person, worked well with that piece. I think this was because the poem is quite 'concrete' in the sense that there are lots of images throughout, and it's all very active. 

This may be the reason ILT works well with playscripts. A few playscripts have speeches that are fairly abstract, but for the most part, dialogue in plays is more active and is about specific things and events.

I've learned several chunks of the Book of Ephesians over the years, and thought I'd try and finish off the book (over the next several years probably). I found that there were several verses at the beginning of chapter three that I'd never learned. I'm not sure why. 

So I tried the ILT on those verses yesterday. Things didn't go nearly so well.  

I read through the section several times. It didn't seem to be sticking in any sense. In fact it wasn't an easy section to understand straight away at all. Paul's sentences tend to go on at length, and though I had broken down the text into shorter lines, it was still hard to grasp. 

I sat down and wrote out the initial letters. After a few attempts I was able to read back from the code, but as soon as I put the code away the text became a kind of blur. Once I'd done a few other things with the day, there was almost nothing in my head of what I'd been working on. 

Today I came back to it, and it was like starting from scratch. I suspect that because the text is quite abstract, as a lot of the epistles can be, there aren't many hooks to hang your memory hat on. I don't mean that the text is obscure, but just that it's not about everyday things you can easily visualize. 

Nelson Dellis
Having understood that, I knuckled down and did more old style work on it, and it became to stick.

Slowly. I actually started with a couple of lines from the end of the text, and once those were holding, worked backwards line by line. I'd been getting stuck trying to start at the beginning for some reason. I sometimes find the same thing happens with music. Instead of learning the opening bars, as you'd expect to do, I go to the end and learn a few bars there, and then learn the bars in front of those. This means I already know the 'goal' of the piece, how the climax works. As each new section is added I have a better sense of where I'm going.

Nelson Dellis has a video on You Tube in which he memorizes the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. He doesn't use the ILT approach, as he does in another video, and I think the reason is that the Declaration has the same kind of language Paul uses in Ephesians. It's abstract language:
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Hardly a concrete thing in sight. 

Dellis takes a double approach. First he divides the paragraph into eleven short sections, takes a map of the USA and finds eleven cities in a rough pattern. These cities each have a significant image connected to them (such as the Liberty Bell in Boston). This map becomes his pathway through the paragraph. 

But on top of this he links the significant things with other images, connecting them to the DOI's words, and also uses homonyms (which and witch) so that he has images even for the words that are likely to be forgotten. This is something I've often done myself  in the past when I'm likely to forget important little words. 

It may seem like a lot of work for 71 words, but the time spent is necessary to ensure the brain keeps the information.  

His video is worth a look. It's just over thirteen minutes long. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Darwin's Secret Sex Problem

Darwin’s Secret Sex Problem: Exposing Evolution’s Fatal Flaw—The Origin of Sex, by F LaGard Smith. 

For many years the thing that seemed to me most unanswered in the evolution 'history' - even more than how the eye could have evolved in such complexity by chance - was how a male and female could suddenly appear together at the same time, out of the blue, within the same part of the world, and thus set humanity on its course. There seemed no possibility that all the complex requirements of both male and female could come together at the right time. This was the same for all male/female species, of course. 

And then I came across this book, and found someone else who saw the absurdity of believing that a male and a female had suddenly appeared on the evolution horizon at the same time. Thanks, Mr Smith, for this alone you deserve five stars.

The book, truth to be told, is too long, and certainly in the earlier chapters, seems rather repetitive. But there is so much evidence for Mr Smith's point of view that the more of the book I read, the more I enjoyed it and appreciated his arguments. 

It's been obvious to me for many years that evolution was more of a religion than a science, though there are some science factors to it. There are many religious aspects to it as well, though evolutionists won't admit to this. 

I think the saddest part of this book is the discussion of well-known Christians who somehow manage to keep a Biblical worldview in tandem with an evolutionary one. Mr Smith doesn't see this as possible, and I don't either. You have to make a choice in the end. To my surprise, there was a time when C S Lewis, who for the most appears to have one of the soundest Christian minds of the 21st century, could have for so long contemplated the possibility that evolution was true. 

I wrote on Twitter the other day: "I long for the day in the future when Evolution is remembered as a fairytale our ancestors used to tell us, claiming it held the truth for everything, when in fact it explained almost nothing..." Of course that immediately aroused the sarcasm of evolution believers, as you'd expect, though surprisingly, very little of it. 

Mr Smith makes the point that we no longer regard the earth as being at the centre of the solar system, but that this took centuries to change. And those who were most opposed to the idea were scientists more than Christians. So that gives me hope that one day evolution will go the way of the dodo. It certainly deserves to do so.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Testing the new technique

Vassar Millar

A couple of posts ago I wrote about experimenting with using the initial letters of a piece I wanted to memorize. The initial letters act as a kind of code for reminding you how the words run in the piece you’re learning.

I wasn’t greatly impressed with the results, but I felt I might have done the system a bit of an injustice, so I tried a different piece this morning – a poem: Vassar Millar’s Morning Person, which is about the Creation.

Some years back I had some problems with the muscles in my right leg, and now in the mornings, I exercise my legs while doing my memorizing. This morning, I started by reading the poem over and over as I exercised. Normally I just bowl on in and begin memorizing from the word go.

This time I first got the feel of the piece as I read and re-read it - it’s fifteen lines long, so not huge - and saw how things fitted together, and where there were internal rhymes and so on. It’s a very energetic poem, which helps in the learning, though it doesn’t have an obvious metre to it.

When I’d finished the leg exercises and the readings, I sat down and coded the poem into the initial letters. Working from these, I soon discovered that while some things had stuck fairly easily, others hadn’t; a quick reference back to the words helped. I also wrote the poem out, by hand, in full. 

To my surprise, after several attempts I was speaking the poem without errors – for the most part. One or two lines or phrases, as is always the case, kept zipping off and leaving me, but I wasn’t under pressure to have it memorized instantly.

The end result, however, was that after about half an hour, I had the thing under my belt. This is definitely interesting. And quite unusual for me. I’ll keep reviewing the poem during the day, and see what the state of things are tomorrow.

One other thing that helped, I believe, is that unlike most mornings lately, there were no distractions from other people in the house. And being a Saturday morning I didn’t have to rush to get anything else done.