Archive for the ‘Seasonal Greetings’ Category

Happy Queen’s Jubilee Everyone!

June 3, 2022

I expect the readers of this blog may have differing views about the monarchy, so I’ll just say that I hope my readers are enjoying the Bank Holiday. We had visitors yesterday, and I’m sure many other people are also taking the opportunity to catch up with family and friends. Down here in south Bristol, we also had a nice bit of sunshine, but it’s now clouded over and I’ve been told we can expect rain this weekend. So basically, enjoy the weather while it lasts.

And down with Johnson!

One Third of Teachers Planning to Leave Over Next Five Years

April 19, 2022

I hope everyone had a great Easter bank holiday weekend. I said I wouldn’t post anything then, partly because a few days earlier I felt too ill but mostly because it was just such a beautiful spring weekend that I didn’t want to spoil it by putting up material that would get me angry and depressed. The weekend has passed, and I’m now ready to tackle the serious issues. But it’s still a beautiful day, or at least it is in Bristol. So if it gets too much, there’s always the sunny spring weather to enjoy for a breather.

One of the headlines I caught a few days ago was that a third of British teachers apparently are planning to leave in the next five years. I’m honestly not surprised. My mother was a junior school teacher and I did my first degree at a teacher training college. And despite what the right-wing press would have us all believe, teachers don’t have it easy.

One of the issues is that both Labour and the Tories have used education as a political football, demanding every more additions to the curriculum and increasing responsibility for teachers while at the same time cutting wages and funding for schools. Teachers don’t just stand in front of whiteboards talking to their pupils about algebra, poetry or whatever the subject is. They also have to mark the students work, as well as run various extracurricular activities like the school sports teams. And the responsibility and the workload seems to have increased during the Covid crisis, as pupils still have to receive an education. And then there’s the appalling fact that, because of the grinding poverty Johnson and the Tories have inflicted on working people, they’ve had to supply free school meals to kids in the summer holidays because otherwise the kids’ families would be able to afford to feed them.

As for the messing around with the curriculum, some of us can still remember when Dave Cameron’s government added so many extra subjects that they couldn’t fit into the school day. Add to this the constant requirement for testing school children and the immense pressure this places on the children as well as the school. I said on this blog a few years ago that there seems to be something in the Tory psyche that wants to crush all the joy out of education. Yes, children should work hard, but they should also be allowed to enjoy school and childhood. The Tory vision of education seems to want to make it just one long round of joyless drudgery. And there are also issues with the league tables the Tories set up to monitor the school performance. Some schools are left near the bottom for no fault of their own. I’m thinking here of those schools serving areas with large immigrant populations, where English isn’t the first language of many of the pupils. These pupils may struggle initially, but then make huge improvements. However, it may still be because of linguistic difficulties and so on that these schools are still below the national average, despite the immense improvement those children may have achieved in the few years they’re there. Improvements that aren’t reflected in the league tables.

And then there’s the problem of pupil behaviour. Depending on the school and the area, this can extremely disruptive and even dangerous. Back in the ’90s, when Private Eye was still worth reading, they did a supplement on teaching reflecting the views and concerns of teachers themselves. Some of them said that they seemed to spend most their lessons simply trying to keep order and they felt they’d achieved something when they actually got around to teaching something. One teacher described meeting parents for a talk about their child coming to school without the proper equipment. The father immediately blamed the mother, who shuddered. Which definitely suggests domestic violence back home. Now there’s the problem of children bringing knives to school and the threat of lethal violence. I remember the case a few years ago when a gang stabbed a headmaster to death outside the school gates after he came to confront them when they turned up looking for one of the pupils. It also seems that female teachers are also at risk from sexist remarks and treatment by pupils. There was a report in the Groan that 70 per cent of teachers had experienced misogyny at work. The feeling among many teachers as reported by the Private Eye article was that they were overworked, harassed and underappreciated. They complained that they received little help for difficult situations with problem pupils from their headmasters. Given all this, I’m not remotely surprised many teachers want to leave.

And if that happens, it’ll take more than trying to turn even more schools into academies or screaming about bringing back grammar schools to restore the education system.

The Republican right in America keep pushing for more state schools to be transformed to charter schools, which I gather is the American equivalent of the academies over here. They also advocated home schooling children. There’s a real, ideological hatred of state education. And the Tories certainly share it, to the point where I’m starting to wonder if the threats of a mass exodus of teachers is all being engineered by them to harm state education over here.

Happy Easter Everyone!

April 17, 2022

I hope the readers and commenters on this blog are all enjoying this beautiful Easter bank holiday weekend. I haven’t put up posts for a few days for a couple of reasons. One was that I felt too ill and tired a few days ago, and the other is because, well, the weather’s just too good to write about horrible stuff that makes me angry. Not that there isn’t any shortage of that kind of material, not with Johnson and his wretched cronies in power, destroying people’s lives and dignity. Grrr! There are definitely several issues I want to attack and comment on, so expect a few posts on them shortly.

But in the meantime, I wish you all a great, relaxing and happy weekend. And don’t let the Tories or Blairites grind you down.

Happy New Year Everyone!

January 1, 2022

I wish all the readers of my blog a very happy New Year, whatever their religion, or lack thereof, or philosophy. My you all enjoy health, prosperity and happiness despite the Tory government and Keef Stalin’s stranglehold on the Labour party. I realise celebrations were muted this year, due to the rise of the omicron variant and the consequent lockdown in parts of the UK, but I hope you managed to find ways to celebrate nonetheless. May it all end this year so that we can finally be united with our relatives and friends.

And this year, may peace win over the forces and leaders trying to drive our nations to war.

Love and peace to you,

Beastrabban.

The Utterance Robot that Speaks Like Humans

December 30, 2021

I hope everyone’s still enjoying the Christmas season. I know I haven’t posted anything political over the past few days, or even much at all, but I thought I’d try to leave the important, emotive subjects till after the holiday. Well, that’s not going to happen, as I’ve found a few videos on very serious issues I’d like to post and comment on. But first some fun.

This is another robot video, from the ikinamo channel of YouTube. It’s about professor Hideyuki Sawada and his team at Kagawa University, who have created a robotic version of the human mouth in order to mimic real, human speech more closely. The mouth looks like a long, flesh-coloured tube, below which are a series of rods which rise and fall to manipulate it. The mouth also has a tongue, The machine is operated by a pump, which pushes air into the mouth through vocal chords. Above the mouth itself is a plaster nose to add resonance, the plaster having the same resonance as a human nose. The robot needs this to make the ‘m’ and ‘n’ sounds, while its tongue allows it to say the ‘r’. The changes in the mouth cavity and movements of its artificial lips create the same types of sound as a biological human mouth. The machine also has a microphone so that it can hear itself. It possesses autonomous learning, so that it can correct its mistakes by listening, and working out what a particular sound should be. It’s not quite right just yet, as it has no teeth and so can’t pronounce the dental fricatives. However, they are teaching the pitch and words to a Japanese song so that it will be able to sing that.

Something very like this robot was created by Klemper, a German scientist, in the 19th century. He also reasoned that in order to create speech mechanically, you should start with a mechanical mouth. As he was German, the machine also spoke with a German accent. And back in the 1980s I read an article in one of the popular science magazines around then that the way to solve problems with robot and computer speech would be to build an artificial mouth, so that the machine would speak like a human would.

Like the various types of artificial muscle being developed, this is clearly another example of robotics engineers following nature in their quest to create machines that function like humans and animals more closely. It’s ingenious, but does look weird as a disembodied, mechanically operated mouth and nose.

Alex Belfield Spreading Fear and Suspicion about Armed Windsor Castle Intruder

December 28, 2021

I hope everyone’s had a great Christmas and/or holiday season, depending on their religious beliefs or lack thereof, despite the threat of another lockdown. Still, if it saves a few lives from the Coronavirus, it will have been worth it no matter how awkward and difficult it is for the rest of us. I really shouldn’t be giving the mad right-wing YouTuber Alex Belfield any more publicity, but I caught one of his videos today commenting on the intruder, who tried to get into Windsor Castle with a crossbow to kill the Queen. According to the news, the would-be assassin was a 19 year old man, Jaswant Singh Chail. Chail said that he wanted to kill her to avenge the 1919 Jallianabagh massacre, in which British troopers fired on unarmed protesters in the Punjab. He also wanted to avenge everyone who had suffered racist persecution. Chail is believed to have mental health problems, and his father has said something about him hopefully getting the help he needs. As the lad has also declared that, in addition to being a Sikh, he’s also a Sith called ‘Darth Jones’, I think his father and the arresting authorities are probably right. But not so Belfield. He has said he finds it interesting that Chail’s been diagnosed as mentally ill following his intrusion, and thinks that there is an elephant in the room we’re not being told about.

This seems to me to be wrong and potentially dangerous. I might be reading him wrong – I hope I am – but it looks like a piece of dog whistle racism.

I don’t believe for a single minute that this is the case. I realise that there is good and bad in every people, but the Sikhs I’ve met weren’t any kind of angry fanatics. I used to work with a Sikh lad, who was very spiritual and wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to a goose. In fact, he was worried about the sectarian tension and violence between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in India. A few years ago I was on the bus and there was an older Sikh man in full traditional costume, turban, orange sash and robes standing near the driver, and the two were laughing and chatting. When I was studying religion as part of my minor degree at College back in the 1980s, as part of the course on sociology of religion we had to go to a different place of worship and observe what was going on. I’m an Anglican with Roman Catholic relatives, so they simply took me to the local Catholic church for mass. One of the girls in the class was taken by her sister to a Sikh wedding. The girls were Christians, but were nevertheless made very welcome by the people there. As far as I can remember, the last time there was mass protests or disaffection in the British Sikh community, it was in the 1970s when the government brought in the law that bikers had to wear helmets. I think some Sikhs protested because it made it difficult for them to wear the turban. And that was very definitely decades ago.

So no, I don’t believe there is more to it than an angry young man, who’s spent too long brooding about an historical injustice and no doubt his own experiences as a victim of racism. He may not be serious about the claim to be a Sith. ‘Darth Jones’ sounds like a spoof of a Sith name, rather than something genuine sinister like Darth Sidious, but I don’t think there’s any more to it than a grotesque sense of personal grievance.

It really does look to me like he was a disturbed loner, and any suggestion that there’s more to it is just dangerous fear-mongering.

The Victorian Invention of the Christmas Card

December 25, 2021

I found this account of how the Victorians invented the Christmas card in the children’s book Amazing Inventions and Concoctions, by Howard Elson, illustrated by Kim Blundell (London: Octopus Book 1988). This says

‘Every Christmas, it’s a great ritual to send out greetings cards to your friends and relatives, and the card industry is a thriving business all over the world.

The Christmas card was first designed in 1843 by an Englishman called J C Horsley for his friend, Sir Henry Cole. The card, printed on stiff brown cardboard, depicted a sketch of a family eating, drinking and making merry. The words, “A Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year To You”, were printed underneath. 1000 were put on sale in London.

Americans had to wait 32 years before Christmas cards were introduced in the US by Louis Prang of Boston, Massachusetts.’

The BBC showed a programme on the origin of various Christmas customs the other year, which covered the invention of Christmas cards. According to them, Horlsey invented it because he had so many friends he was tired of having to write complete letters to them all. Well, it’s great to be so popular!

Wishing All My Readers a Merry Christmas

December 25, 2021

I hope everyone reading my blog has a Merry Christmas and a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. Unfortunately with a second lockdown looming, this is going to be a time when the toast ‘absent friends’ is particularly relevant and poignant.

I particularly wish my Jewish readers ‘Shalom’, Muslim and Arab readers ‘Salaam’, and the Russian people ‘Mir’. These are all words for ‘peace’. May our leaders step back from war, hatred and violence next year, and work instead to benefit our common humanity and combat climate change and the environmental destruction that is threatening our beautiful, fragile Earth.

Very best wishes to you all and everyone your pray and/or care for.

Wishing All My Readers A Happy Easter

April 4, 2021

This is just to wish everyone a Happy Easter. Whether you’re Christian or not, I hope everyone here has a great Easter bank holiday, despite the lockdown and the Tory government.

Boston Dynamics’ Dancing Robots

January 1, 2021

The American robotics company Boston Dynamics posted this video on YouTube a few days to wish everyone a happy New Year. It shows some of their various robots dancing to Gordon Berry and the Contours’ ‘Do You Love Me’. The robots include the bipedal, anthropomorphic Atlas robot, as well as a four-legged machine and one with two legs ending in wheels. The machines do an uncannily good display of human dancing. Some of the commenters on the video naturally felt that if robots can do all this, it won’t be long before they take over. Others suggest that the machines haven’t done any of it. It’s been done by human actors using green screen. I think this is probably right, following the video of a combat robot in action. This also looked unnervingly real, until the producers put up a video showing how they had made it. And it was all done by a human actor, whose image was replaced by that of a robot using CGI. If the dancing robots are similarly the product of computer graphics, then at one level it’s a disappointment and at another a profound relief that just yet they don’t quite have those abilities.

But regardless of how it was produced, it is hugely entertaining! Please watch and enjoy!

Do You Love Me? – YouTube