Friday, September 28, 2007

How do we still find teachers to employ?

It seems, these days, every time I open a newspaper I am relieved that I did not choose 'teacher' as a career path. How our schools manage to find people willing to take on this job amazes me. I wouldn't take it if it paid a million a year. It pays far, far less than that.

Today, two stories caught my eye.

In the first, a headmaster was found guilty of neglect and fined £20,000 pounds (roughly $40,000) because a child died at his school. My first reaction was the same as yours, I'll bet. If a child has died in his care then he deserves all he gets, right?

I read on. The child was three. He was pretending to be Batman. All three-year-olds do this, every little boy has pretended to be Batman or Superman at some point, and all have tried to fly. Most of us learn the hard way that we can't. We get bruises, sprains, and sometimes even broken bones. This child jumped from the top of a set of four stone steps and injured himself so badly that he died.

It's a terrible tragedy, but he's not the first. Fortunately it's rare but it does happen. He won't be the last either. I don't blame comic books, or even the films that have special effects so realistic you'd 'believe a man can fly'. It's terrible to realise that while adults will marvel at the special effects, children will really believe they are watching a man fly. To them, what they see on screen is really happening. Still I don't blame those films.

Children do risky things. You can wrap them up in as many layers as you like but they'll still do them. The steps in the article were 'out of bounds' which means children were told not to go there. Children, being naturally curious, will be compelled to go wherever they're told not to.

Nobody pushed this child. He jumped. It was an accident. The consequences were dreadful but that doesn't change the fact that it was an accident. The headmaster had told the children to stay away from those steps. They, naturally, were drawn to this forbidden area. He didn't push this boy, he didn't send him to a place he knew was dangerous, he did nothing to put the boy's life in danger.

In this world, there are no accidents. Someone is to blame every time. No exceptions. There's always someone who can be punished, someone who can be sued.

At a school near me, all physical contact has been forbidden in the playground. It must make for some dull football games. I suppose 'tag' is out of the question too. This happened because a child came home with a graze and the parents complained. The school took this action because they are in constant fear of being sued. That’s right, over a graze. A scuff-mark. The natural inhabitant of any child’s knee, elbow, or anywhere else for that matter. Kids do that. It grows back.

But I digress. The headmaster was punished with a fine he’ll probably have to sell his house to pay. Did he deserve that? You decide.

At the same time, in another school, a five-year-old boy attacked another with a craft knife. He cut his victim several times. This was a deliberate and premeditated attack, the boy had even brought his own knife from home.

What was his punishment? He was suspended for the rest of the day and will be moved to another class.

If you’re thinking of taking up teaching, that’s the reality of it. Any child damaging themselves by accident will be your fault, whether you’re around when it happens or not. The children will not be punished for deliberately attacking each other—or you—with a weapon.

There’s not enough money in the world to entice me into that job.

The voices told me to write this.

No they didn't. The voices rarely say anything of note.

I'm not cracking up. I'm talking about the ghostly voices recorded on tape and referred to as EVP's (electronic voice phenomena). They're called that because it sounds serious and scientific, and because those who strive to appear serious and scientific think they'll sound like amateurs if they call them what they really are. The voices of the dead. Making up a scientific name doesn't change the nature of something. A biologist might say 'Nereis diversicolor' while the rest of us call it a 'ragworm'. It's the same thing. Don't be scared to say what you're really studying.

These recordings are second only to photographs as solid evidence of spirit activity. In fact, nothing beyond sound and vision will convince any sceptic.

Now, the problem has always been that if the voice is clear on the tape, why did nobody hear it at the time? It's hard to give credence to the idea that spirits somehow 'write' their speech directly onto the tape, so we're left with a recording that shouldn't be. A voice that the tape heard but nobody else did. A highly directional sound source aimed straight at the microphone. So directional that even if someone held the microphone straight out in front of them, none of that sound would pass it by and reach their ears.

Now, who couldn't pick huge holes in an idea like that?

Yet the voices get recorded. So where do they come from?

New Scientist, 22nd September issue, had an interesting article on how the brain processes information from the ears, eyes, etc. It seems we don't get as much information about the world as we think.

Ears aren't perfect at hearing. Fortunately the brain is pretty good at filling in the gaps. The impulses it gets might be full of errors but the error-correction neurons are good at their jobs. That's why when someone's talking against a loud background noise, you can make out what they're saying even though parts of their speech are drowned out. The brain fills the gaps.

However, if you record a sentence, then replace parts of it with silence, nobody can make it out. There's no background noise, so the brain has no reason to try to work out the missing parts.

Play that same sentence against a white-noise background and you can understand it. Now, the brain assumes the noise is interfering and fills the gaps.

Where's this leading? Well, suppose you hear something in a silent room. A few whispered sounds. No sentence structure, nothing to interpret, it could be a fly-buzz or a creaking board. A breeze through a badly-fitted window.

Or it could just be a faint and broken voice, forcing itself through the barriers of our senses. Trying to be heard, but not getting through sufficiently to be interpreted as a voice.

The recorder picks that up. When you play it back, you have to turn up the volume to hear anything because these voices are very low. Any recorder will hiss at high volume. A tape will hiss so hard you might not hear a thing, but sometimes, just sometimes, that white-noise background will trigger your brain's error-correction and you'll hear that voice.

The voices are there. You did hear them. Your brain didn't recognise it as a voice, and dismissed it. Add in some white noise and there it is.

If, by some quirk of genetics, your brain's error-correction works all the time without needing a background noise, then you'll hear the voices yourself.

Of course, if you ever admit to that, you'd better get used to life in a rubber room. Modern society isn't all that tolerant of mutants.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tower time.

I picked this up on DrSharna's blog and thought I'd give it a try. It worked out rather well, I think. I'm still working on a way to post heyJude's link without giving away what the answers mean. I'll get to it...

You are The Tower

Ambition, fighting, war, courage. Destruction, danger, fall, ruin.

The Tower represents war, destruction, but also spiritual renewal. Plans are disrupted. Your views and ideas will change as a result.

The Tower is a card about war, a war between the structures of lies and the lightning flash of truth. The Tower stands for "false concepts and institutions that we take for real." You have been shaken up; blinded by a shocking revelation. It sometimes takes that to see a truth that one refuses to see. Or to bring down beliefs that are so well constructed. What's most important to remember is that the tearing down of this structure, however painful, makes room for something new to be built.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cleanup time.

It seems, as he gets older, our Prime Minister is concerned about the state of our hospitals.

So he should be, and not just because, as he ages, he runs the risk of spending time in one of them. In fact, the measures he proposes are precisely those measures that used to be in effect before cost-cutting put an end to them.

He proposes that every hospital should be cleaned and disinfected over the next year. I'd suggest that every hospital should be cleaned and disinfected daily, as used to be the case. Remember that hospital smell? The phenolic disinfectant odour that pervaded everything within the building? It's not there any more.

Instead, we have MRSA and Clostridium difficile running around the beds. Just two of the reasons that I will never set foot in a hospital unless I'm beaten unconscious and carried in there. These little beasties are resistant to antibiotics but they're not resistant to disinfectants. Once they get into you, you can't get them out so the sensible thing is to kill them with disinfectant before they get anywhere near a patient.

Oh, and just to dispel a new urban myth - fifty percent of the population do not carry MRSA in their noses. Fifty percent might carry SA - Staphylococcus aureus - but not MRSA. The one up your nose, if you have it, can be killed with antibiotics.

MRSA is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and is specifically a hospital problem. It's spreading out of the hospitals but that's where it came from.

So Mr. Brown is at last going to scrub our hospitals clean of the pestilence his government allowed to fester there. I look forward to photos of him in a pinafore, on his knees, scrubbing away. That's not likely to happen though. The cynic in me suspects that once he's passed the next election, it'll be back to cost-cutting to pay for more suited monkeys who have no more idea of running a hospital than a fish has of operating a passenger jet.

It would have been cheaper, and less deadly, not to have cut costs on cleaning in the first place.

Don't you think so, Mr. Brown?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Idiot of the week.

It's been some time since I awarded an 'Idiot of the Week' badge, but the organising committee of the Olympics for London get one each this week.

Who's heard of the 'Red Arrows', the British Air Force display team? They don't shoot anything, their planes don't have guns. They fly about performing breathtaking aerobatics and trailing coloured smoke.

Well, they are far too British and military to be allowed to perform at the opening of the Olympics.

It seems they might offend foreigners. This utter terror of Johnny Foreigner is the most un-British thing I have heard, and it just gets worse day by day. Who the hell is running this country? Why don't we get some vertebrates on these committees, just for once?

The Red Arrows have run their displays worldwide. Nobody was offended - and here's some news for the spines in brine that used to belong to our leaders - foreign countries tend to be rather heavily populated with foreigners. That's where they're all coming from.

Now, how can anyone think these same people will be outraged and offended by a display by British pilots in Britain, when they have invited those same British pilots to perform their displays in their own countries? I have to ask, does anyone believe these yellow-striped cowards who have mysteriously slimed their ways into positions of influence are capable of any form of rational thought at all? Did evolution skip a few here? Who voted for these nematodes, these leeches, these tapeworms?

Nobody voted for them. They were 'appointed' by our drooling politicians who are saps for a bit of sweet talk (especially if it's served with a side-order of money). The snivelling politically-correct cretins who are hell-bent on turning this country into the most boring place this side of Pluto are good at worming their way into the shallow pride of any politician.

Weak. Feeble. Pathetic. There are no words strong enough to describe these mutated slugs, nor the mindless politicians who pander to them.

Nobody from any other country has made any sort of complaint, or any mention at all, that their athletes and supporters might be made the tiniest bit uneasy by the Red Arrows flying around and leaving coloured smoke in the air. Not one. Not even a hint.

The idea comes from one place and one place only. The hive-mind of political correctness. From those who have no thoughts but the thoughts dictated to them by drivelling sycophants. Terrified that anyone from another country might be momentarily nonplussed, they are blind to the rage they engender in the British. And no, before some anonymous coward accuses me of being a BNP apologist, I don't mean white, middle class male British. I mean all British, of every race, colour and creed. Go to a Red Arrows display. It's not a 'white' thing. It's not even a British exclusive. You'll find everyone there, especially tourists. Newsflash: Tourists come from other countries. They're foreign. Didn't know that, did you, Mister PC? Too busy laying eggs for the next batch of slimy life-sappers.

Here's an open question to anyone who's ever heard of the Red Arrows, from any country, anywhere in the world.

Are you offended by an aerobatic display team? If so, why?

If your IP address shows you're in the UK, you don't count. I don't want any PC oafs leaving slimy trails around here. If you post insults as 'anonymous', you're a spineless weed whose opinions are worth as much as your ability to take responsibility for them.

If you genuinely are offended, tell me, and tell me why. I won't attack you for a genuine concern. I really want to know.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Oh, for the old days.

My calculator broke so I had to buy another one.

Now, I don’t need much from a calculator. Some basic statistics, so I need square-root, maybe sine, cosine, tangent, log etc, just in case. So I’m not in the PDA league here (I have one because it’s a gadget but I don’t use much of it. It’s a Palm 3, frowned upon by real geeks because it has a monochrome screen and little memory, but it does all I need and more).

My old calculator had many buttons, half of which I never felt the need to press. Some I had no idea what they’d do. For a new one, I visited the local supermarket. They, I thought, will have a cheap one that’ll do what I need.

At the bottom end of the scale are calculators I could never have afforded twenty years ago. Now they’re on sale for pocket change. A desktop calculator, a chunky one, would have set me back four pounds (about eight dollars). It didn’t have the buttons I needed so I moved up the rack.

Aha, I thought, here’s just the thing. All the buttons I need and another whole bunch of buttons I’ll never press. Plus a ‘shift’ function so there are buttons I’ll never press, twice.

This was just under eight pounds. About sixteen dollars or less. It won’t even register on my budget. I thought it was just what I needed—simple to operate and covered every function I needed. Plus a couple of dozen I didn’t need and a few I don’t believe anyone needs.

Cheap and simple? Ha! It took me twenty minutes to get the little swine to answer the most basic of calculations.

What’s (2/3)*0.253? According to this damn machine it’s 253/1500.

What the hell use is that? Do I need another calculator to work out what this one’s telling me?

I waded through the documentation. As with all modern technology, the instruction book is four times the size of the gadget. It took a while.

Press shift-this and shift-that and select from the menu and it finally acts like a real calculator.

It has a text display. It can find errors in formulae and display them. It can adjust and correct entries.

I don’t want this electronic nanny telling me it knows best all the time. Yet it’s one of the cheapest calculators out there. It’s so damn complex it could probably take me to the Moon. If I press the wrong button, it might yet do that.

It cost eight pounds. I’m very, very glad I didn’t move along the rack to the more expensive models. They might prove to me, mathematically and unarguably, that I’m a badger with warts. In case you’re wondering, I don’t have warts and I’ve never badged.

I remember, years ago when I was at school—in the days when schools taught some useful things—learning how to work out square roots on paper. I wish I could remember the method, then I could bin this thing.

It won’t happen. I’m stuck with the electro-nagger until it breaks. Then I’ll have to buy another new one.

By then, the cheapest calculators will probably be speaking to me.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Down with this sort of thing.

Signs such as 'Warning - this blog contains words' are at last being shown up for the ridiculous waste of paint they are.

It's long overdue. Peanuts labelled 'may contain traces of nut' and butter labelled 'contains milk and salt' are just two examples of the insulting assumption by food standards people that we are are thicker than the thickest thing in a thick thing factory.

Okay, some people are. Well, most people are. Still, anyone who doesn't know that butter is made of milk and salt deserves all they get. Anyone who doesn't realise that pepper spray 'may irritate eyes' should have it tested on them daily.

We had a comedy series in the UK some years back, called 'Father Ted'. Three Catholic priests on a tiny island off the coast of Ireland. One (Ted) was sent there for attempting to line his pockets with church funds, another (Dougal) was too dense to be of any use to anyone, and the third (Jack) was a violent drunk. It doesn't sound funny, but it was. Very.

When the island's little cinema wanted to screen a slightly risque film, Fathers Ted and Dougal were instructed to picket it. They had signs - general purpose priestly signs, I assume - which read 'Down with this sort of thing' and 'Careful now'.

I laughed at those. Yet when I found the police were putting up signs in the real world saying 'Don't commit crime', I didn't laugh at all. Do they expect passing burglars to rub their chins and think. 'Hmm, I hadn't thought of not committing crime. I'll give it a go.'

I think these signs say more about the drivel-spouting morons who write them than the giggling masses who read them. The most disturbing aspect was that when confronted with their idiocy, one of the supermarkets defended their policy. Defended! Surely the sensible response would have been 'Okay, you caught us. We were just fooling around to see how silly we could get before you all noticed'.

They weren't fooling around. The stupidity is endemic within their organisation. Further proof of that is available in any supermarket in the UK, where Christmas junk has been on sale for weeks. They don't even know what time of year it is.

Perhaps they don't assume they're cleverer than us. Perhaps they think we're all as stupid as they are.

No, we're not. We can't be. These people have degrees in stupid. They're not confined to the supermarkets either - they're everywhere, and they're spreading.

I think I'm going to produce a new sign. 'Beware of the Idiot'. I suspect I'll sell a lot of these.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The old ones are the best.

If you go to this page you'll find something worth hearing. The remaining fans of that self-destructive mother of two (God help them), Britney Spears, will surely find it irritating. I hope so. Celebrities should be neutered to preserve humanity.

Laugh? I nearly did. Is it fake? Probably, but it's funny anyway.

It's so much better the Louis Armstrong way, with no mad dancing, and with everyone wearing clothes that actually fit them. He had no hair either.

I believe he was at least capable of remembering to put on underwear.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Sticks and stones...

...are no longer necessary. You can outrage the English with a single word.

The word in question--this time--is 'Pikey', a term I have never used nor have I mingled with those who do. It refers to travellers, whether Romany or otherwise, also to the thugs known as chavs, to anyone mean with money or short of money. In other words, it's an insult that transcends racial boundaries. Anyone can be a pikey.

And yet, I quote: A spokesman for race equality watchdog the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) said: "These distasteful comments are highly derogatory and have caused much offence."

To whom, precisely? I didn't watch the programme in question but that passing comment would have gone in one ear and out the other. It's not a racist word, the speaker did not apply it to anyone in particular, yet we have outrage once more.

Another TV chef, Gordon Ramsay, is well known for his love of the expletive. His shows are full of 'F-- this' and similar chef jargon. Nobody seems to mind.

In other news, a senior judge wants the whole of the UK population, including visitors, recorded on a national DNA database. This generated no outrage at all.

One casual remark can end a career in the UK, while calls for a 1984-style control state are met with nods of approval.

Does anyone else think this is entirely stupid?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The art of the insult.

Today I nearly killed a woman.

She would have been no great loss to humanity, I’m sure. The average IQ of the country would have risen with her demise. But I didn’t kill her.

Driving along the UK’s narrow roads is difficult at the best of times, but it’s the unexpected hazards you really have to watch out for. Such as the woman who parked then flung open her car door as I approached - and then stepped into the road. Apparently the reason car doors have mirrors fixed to them has escaped her.

I hit the brakes. I’d have preferred to hit her but we have laws. Many, many laws – but that’s for another day. She scowled at me, presumably for having the temerity to scowl at her first and mouth Certain Words through my windscreen at her. Then she swung the door almost closed.

It made no difference. She was wider than the door. A beach-ball in a dress. I had to wait until she closed the door and left the road entirely before I could continue on my way.

I wondered how someone with both the appearance and intelligence of a jellyfish could drive a car, and how she had survived so long. I spent the rest of the journey inventing new expletives.

My long-deceased Uncle Toby would have been proud. He was a master of the insult, able to conjure an imaginative retort in any situation, often leaving his victim baffled as to whether they had been insulted or not.

His wife, Aunt Rhian, once complained that he thought her unintelligent. Uncle Toby’s immediate response was: “Don’t be silly. Whenever I see anything sharp, yours is the first face that comes to mind.”

She once accused him of having an affair. “That’s ridiculous. I’ve married one woman. What on Earth would I want with another one?”

My mother, his sister, did her best to ignore him. I recall one visit where he commented on the food. “I am amazed at your cooking abilities, dear sister. Pork, chicken, beef, you can cook anything and make it all taste the same.”

I’ve often wondered if he took those quotes from others, but so far I have found no previous utterances on record. I think they are Uncle Toby originals.

If Uncle Toby is in Hell, I pity Satan.