I have just returned from two months stay in hospital. The cause was a mysterious and still undiagnosed infection that eventually led to heart problems.
A difficult and challenging experience. There was one vital outcome: immense respect for the doctors and nurses of the institutions that secured my recovery.
Ryde Hospital was where the ambulance took me at the beginning. The dedication of the doctors and nurses and other staff there was inspiring. So much so that during the treatment I wrote the attached poems in the many spare moments.
The next stage was surgery and recovery at North Shore Private Hospital. Once more I felt so lucky to be in the care of such committed doctors and nurses.
Finally came my twenty days at Royal Rehab Private Hospital in Ryde, where as before I was fortunate to receive caring and supportive medical and nursing support. You might say there I discovered that the world was not such a bad place after all. Memorable care and detailed attention were the ways of Royal Rehab. All this has led me home in good spirits. I hope the poems reveal truthfully some of my feelings in those three special places I have just left behind me.
Do you know the origin of Jingoism? I just looked it up.
It comes from a popular song sung by supporters of a British venture into Turkish waters against Russia in 1878. The chorus lines said this:
We don’t want to fight, yet by Jingo! if we do,
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, and got the money too.
So there you are. Jingoism. An interesting synonym, according to Merriam-Webster, for hawk, war hawk or warmonger, and an antonym for pacifist.
Now a bit of honesty. I am a pacifist. I am currently 86 years of age. That is why I have quite a data base of war memories. I was born in 1933, the year Hitler came to power. I don’t remember this but I’ve read about it. I do remember a lot of other things.
My grandfather and uncle were in Japan’s Changi Prison. Another uncle was a Rat of Tobruk. Two more uncles fought on the Kokoda Trail. Another uncle survived a torpedoing of a troop ship. I was a national serviceman during the Korean War of 1950-1953. On a less family-focused scale, I have other memories.
I remember Pearl Harbour very clearly: December 7 1941. I remember the midget submarines in Sydney Harbour: 31 May-1 June 1942 (as a nine-year-old I looked through one of their periscopes for a fee of sixpence). I still feel the anguish of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: August 6 and 9 1945. I vividly remember the excitement of the Normandy invasion: 6 June 1944 – mid-July 1944. I shall never forget the joy of the Sydney Australia peace celebrations in 1945.
I marched more than once in the Sixties against the Viet Nam war. I learnt the songs and played my guitar with them: “We Shall Overcome,” “The Willing Conscript,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” and “What Did You Learn At School Today?” to name a few.
I demonstrated against the crazy war in Iraq too: 19 March 2003, and the hazy war in Afghanistan, named misleadingly by President G W Bush on October 7 2001: “Operation Enduring Freedom”. Lord what fools those warmongers seemed to me. By Jingo! that’s still my way with things.
I’ve been out and about looking for anti-war quotations to weave into the rest of this post. Here they come.
…the role of the military is to fight and win war and, therefore, prevent war from happening in the first place.
George W Bush
I think war is a dangerous place.
George W Bush
Our enemies are innovative and resourceful…They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.
George W Bush
I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.
George W Bush
There you have it. Thought samples from the supreme commander of the world’s most powerful army. It is hard to find better evidence for the need for checks and balances – the separation of the powers. I am thinking too of the Coalition Of The Willing (the USA, the UK and Australia) that gave us the Iraq war of 2003. Blaire, Bush and Howard; what a pity they were not checked and balanced!
Thank you for sharing this space with me. I have found a little more wisdom in other places. Here it is.
A rational army would run away.
Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu
O Peace! how many wars were waged in thy name.
All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.
Strike against war, for without you no battles can be fought!
In peace, sons bury their fathers; in war, fathers bury their sons.
How can you make a war on terror if war itself is terrorism?
In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.
During war, the laws are silent.
Quintus Tullius Cicero
All wars are fought for money.
All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.
Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
There you are then. Above are other shoulders to stand on. Most of them are worth standing on. I have been lucky down all these years to have lived in a country relatively undamaged by war. I notice with pity the misfortune of many of our asylum seekers for example, whose lives have been so riven by conflict – nation versus nation or civil war. Such a sad existence theirs and so worthy of our compassion. In 2010 I heard a speaker at a human rights conference talk about primary school children in Afghanistan whose school maths problems used war statistics, for the purpose of realism, as all their lives had been lived in a country torn by war.
I have just been reading about another ingredient of war. It is a very strange one really, but I suspect it is important, extremely important. It’s so linked to covert schemes. But if you look carefully, it keeps coming out into the open as a cause of war. The ingredient is oil.
Hitler’s invasion of Russia clearly had the oil of the Caucasus as a motivation. As Hitler himself put it, “My generals know nothing about the economic aspects of war.” Source: loc. cit. 12/12/19
The Iran-Iraq war of the Eighties is another good example.
The Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88 dragged on for eight bloody years, and dragged down both of the combatants. Frustrated by the stalemate on the ground, both sides sought to strike at their enemy through oil. Iraq began the Tanker War in 1984 by attacking Iranian oil facilities and vessels trading with Iran. Iran struck back with air and naval attacks against Iraqi ships and oil sites and, more importantly, laid naval mines in the Persian Gulf.
Source: loc.cit. 12/12/19
The US conflict with Iraq in 1991 and 2003 seems another justifiable example of the power of oil, this time as a catalyst for the vast intervention of half a million troops. I remember reading somewhere that you wouldn’t get such a massive troop movement to protect broccoli.
I have decided to end my oil examples there. I can feel in my bones that I could go much further about oil if this were an academic treatise.
A volcano disaster has just happened in New Zealand so there is much tragedy adrift in the current news. Another awareness for me: my luck to avoid such sadness.
At the time of writing, Christmas is approaching. So peace be with you.
Image: Lady Justice – William Cho/Creative Commons
For pity is the virtue of the law,
And none but tyrants use it cruelly.
Shakespeare, Timon of Athens,
Once upon a time a political leader said: “No one is above the law in this country…There is a process to be followed.”
I choose here to forego the naming of that leader. My interest lies in the discussion of significances.
“Which law are you talking about?” you may ask. Is obedience to every law a moral duty?
Well this post has some tests for you.
1.The German Enabling Law 1933
On the 23 March 1933, Hitler introduced the Enabling Law to the Reichstag. This law gave Hitler the right to rule by decree rather than by laws passed through the Reichstag and the president. It was a legitimate enactment of its time, duly passed by the German parliament.
The Law: Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich: To Remedy the Distress of the People and the Reich
Der Reichstag hat das folgende Gesetz beschlossen, das mit Zustimmung des Reichsrats hiermit verkündet wird, nachdem festgestellt ist, daß die Erfordernisse verfassungsändernder Gesetzgebung erfüllt sind:
The Reichstag has enacted the following law, which is hereby proclaimed with the assent of the Reichsrat, it having been established that the requirements for a constitutional amendment have been fulfilled:
Many people disobeyed this law. Tortured people. Dead people.
Here are some famous words from Pastor Martin Niemöller, appropriate for us at this point in time:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
So where would we stand with this law if it were passed today?
Or what about this example?
2. The Carlsbad Decrees
An attack on university and school free-thinking, the Carlsbad Decrees were a set of laws passed by the German Confederation in 1819. The Decrees were motivated by fear of insurrection. The French Revolution of 1789 and the Napoleonic Wars were stark memories in August,1819. So Klemens, Prince von Metternich and his political colleagues aggressively decided to punish dissent and so guard against a repetition of 1789.
Germany as a unified, single nation did not exist at this time. It was instead a military style confederation including Austria, Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Mecklenburg, Hanover, Württemberg, Nassau, Baden, Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and electoral Hesse. Metternich, Austria’s foreign minister, was the dominating force of the group.
It is important now to look at the provisions of the Decrees, you know, laws no one is to be above. Metternich et al. proposed these decrees: (1) that the Diet of the German Confederation (Bund) implement censorship of all periodical publications; (2) that the Burschenschaften or nationalist student clubs, be broken up and schools and universities placed under constant surveillance for dissent; and (3) that a powerful inquisitorial commission be set up at Mainz, to detect and remove conspirators. The decrees were agreed upon by the representatives of the German states on September 20, 1819.
They crushed dissent for many, many years. In 1848 revolution was partly successful in reducing the effect of the the Decrees. At least Metternich resigned and went into exile.
Now comes the vital question. Is obedience to such laws today a moral duty? That is a thought for all of us.
Now here is a third example.
3.The Butler Act: the law against the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools
It is forbidden…to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals…
An Act…prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all the Universities, Normals and all other public schools in Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof.
One high school science teacher in Tennessee famously defied the Butler Law. John Scopes was indicted in May 1925 for teaching Darwinian science. He was convicted and fined insignificantly at a trial that gave us Inherit the Wind, a notable 1960 Stanley Kramer film and a 1955 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.
The National Service Act 1964, passed on 24 November, required 20 year old males, if selected, to serve in the Army for a period of twenty four months of continuous service (reduced to eighteen months in 1971), followed by three years in the Reserve. The Defence Act was amended in May 1965 to provide that CMF (Citizen Military Forces) and conscripts could serve overseas. Over 63,000 men were conscripted and over 19,000 served in Vietnam. 15,381 conscripted national servicemen served from 1965 to 1972, sustaining 202 killed and 1,279 wounded.
A young teacher named William White was a great influence on me not only in my position as a teacher but for me as an active demonstrator against the ignominy of Australia’s participation in the invasion of Vietnam.
First, I am standing against killing – the taking of human life… Morality, to me, is based on the respect for life. I respect people, I respect their feelings, I respect their property and I respect their equality, on the basic conscientious assumption that they have, as I have, the unquestionable right to live.
Secondly, I am standing against the war itself as a national and international policy. As war, by definition, has always incorporated killing, I would have been opposed to any war on this basis.
On the third front I am opposed to a state’s right to conscript a person, I believe very strongly in democracy and democratic ideals—and I believe that it is in the area of the State’s right over the life of the individual that the difference lies between totalitarian and democratic government. My opposition to conscription, of course, is intensified greatly when the conscription is for military purposes. In fact the National Service Act is the embodiment of what I consider to be morally wrong and, no matter what the consequences, I will never fulfil the terms of the act.
There are some more words on the Vietnam war worthy of note. Inspiring words.
They belong to a time when political speakers dared to proclaim ideals instead of simply meeting requirements of focus groups. This is some of a speech by the Leader of the Opposition in November 1966, Arthur Calwell:
My fellow Australians. There are many issues in this election which you must consider carefully and well before election day.
I shall state the policy of the Labor Party in regard to most of them tonight, and I will deal with the remainder during the course of the very short campaign of less than three weeks which the Government has allowed.
The most important issue in this campaign is Conscription, the conscription of a section of our twenty year old youths, against their wishes and their wills, to kill or be killed in the undeclared, civil war in Vietnam and the threatened extension of conscription to all twenty year olds and other age groups to increase our unwarranted and unnecessary commitment.
We can prevent all this happening by defeating the menace on next Saturday fortnight.
The Menzies Government made the first blunder over Vietnam nearly two years ago. It blundered equally badly over Suez in 1958. The Holt Government is determined to increase the extent of the Vietnam blunder.
So unimpressed are our men of military age, about the need to fight in the war in Vietnam, that none of them will volunteer. No one can deny this fact; not even our own bellicose Prime Minister.
The Government, having failed to attract volunteers, has resorted to conscription to maintain our army. It asks for your endorsement. I hope you will refuse it most emphatically.
Conscription is immoral, it is unjust and it is a violation of human rights. It must and will be defeated.
So time now has passed. Knowing what we know today, in a time slip back to 1967, where would you stand with this law?
All right, I confess. Here is a picture of me today wearing my 1970s “moratorium” badge.
Now time for scrutiny of another law.
5. South Africa’s Apartheid Law 1948
This system was called apartheid. Suddenly, a white person and a black person could not marry. Black and white people could not share a table in a restaurant, or even sit together on a bus, and black children and white children were forced to go to different schools.
What do you think? Would you be above or below this law?
Perhaps Nelson Mandela’s words give the best guidance we can find:
I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.
After eighteen years of confinement on Robben Island, working at hard labour and being allowed but one visitor every six months, Mandela was finally freed and became South Africa’s first black president.
Yet another law draws our attention.
6.The Unlawful Oaths Act 1797
This obscure Act has a weird place in British trade union history. Its use challenges us law abiding citizens.
Really! It is linked despicably to the Tolpuddle Martyrs.
Who were these historic figures?
They were six farm labourers from the village of Tolpuddle who were convicted in 1834 of swearing unlawful oaths and transported to Australia for six years. That conviction is now recognised as a virtual miscarriage of justice.
The injustice is linked to the British fear of trade unions. Fear has long been a useful propaganda tool of those who fashion harsh laws.
In 1799 and 1800, the Combination Acts (anti trade union laws) had forbidden “combining” or organising to gain better working conditions, and were laws created partly because of political fear generated by the French Revolution. In 1824, the Combination Acts were repealed due to their unpopularity and replaced with the Combinations of Workmen Act of 1825. This law legalised trade unions but severely controlled their activities.
In 1833, six poorly paid labourers from Tolpuddle, a village seven miles north east of Dorchester on the River Trent, formed the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers to agitate for relief from pathetic low wages. Current wages were seven shillings a week and reduction to six shillings was imminent. Their aim was ten shillings.
William Lamb, Second Viscount Melbourne, Home Secretary at the time, was particularly hostile towards trade unions, and seems to have seen the six villagers from Tolpuddle as convenient scapegoats to inhibit future combinations. So George Loveless, a Methodist preacher and the leader, his brother James, James Hammett, James Brine, Thomas Standfield and Thomas’s son John, were relentlessly pursued by officers of the law.
The Workmen Act of 1825 made prosecution difficult. So the prosecutors turned to an archaic naval law designed to prevent mutiny: the Unlawful Oaths Act of 1797. This did the job as the six men had sworn an oath to protect the Friendly Society, so the humble labourers were successfully sentenced to transportation for six years in the Australian colony.
Transportation to Australia was a very harsh punishment. The voyage was dangerous and convict life was a cruel imposition. There was strong popular agitation in England in support of the Martyrs. A thousand fold petition was lodged with parliament.
After three years of this popular support, the men were allowed to return home with pardons and with heroic status – 1837-1839.
Once upon a time there was a Weatherman. He was a friendly fellow, unimposing but trustworthy. People listened to his words with respect and planned their future accordingly.
Like warmth in winter or a cool breeze in summer he was always a welcome part of any day. His persona reached out to people as part of a traditional way of life. His was a trusted voice of the seasons.
Then suddenly things changed. In the twinkling of a bloodshot eye this scion of a reputable family all at once lost his reputation. He became a blackguard, a villain, a malefactor, a gangster without a gun.
With frightening speed respect turned into disdain. Savage words molested him.
Lies were said to leave his mouth like fleas in a medieval plague. His judgement was seen as contaminated by myth and non sequiturs. He was anti social, confirmed by the masses as a destroyer of jobs.
Who were the Weatherman’s assassins?
You may be wondering about the precise causes of this sweeping change in the Weatherman’s destiny. Well, that change has a lot to do with shadowy forces dedicated to maligning science. Look – I’ll show you.
They cooked the science to make this thing look as if the science was settled, when all the time of course we knew it was not.
I’ve instinctively known this from the get-go, from 20 years ago! The whole thing is made up, and the reason I know it is because liberals are behind it! When they’re pushing something, folks, it’s always bogus.
Ah the poor Weatherman! Such a dutiful soul he was. Intent on service. Careful in his ways. Meticulous. Always pleased to be an active source of information.
How sad the tempest of scorn has made him! Self harm is in his mind. Reputations can be so vulnerable, especially when they interfere with large scale business planning. Words can be takeover bids. Here are some more examples.
Nobody can argue that there isn’t climate change. The climate’s been changing since time immemorial.
Do I believe there is global warming? No, I believe it’s all a load of bullshit. But it’s amazing the way the whole fucking eco-warriors and the media have changed. It used to be global warming, but now, when global temperatures haven’t risen in the past 12 years, they say ‘climate change’.
Well, hang on, we’ve had an ice age. We’ve also had a couple of very hot spells during the Middle Ages, so nobody can deny climate change. But there’s absolutely no link between man-made carbon, which contributes less than 2% of total carbon emissions [and climate change].
Then there is a voice from on high – very high – piercing the air with such nonsense a brain seems missing:
I believe that there’s a change in weather, and I think it changes both ways…Don’t forget it used to be called global warming. That wasn’t working. Then it was called climate change. Now it’s actually called extreme weather, because with extreme weather, you can’t miss.
History is not spared by some as a tool of scepticism.
Carbon pricing harkens back to the idea, you know, that Massachusetts had to deal with, the witchcraft trials. The idea that witches change the weather. Now they’re claiming SUVs and our coal plants are changing the weather…
The efficient market hypothesis underlies much climate scepticism.
When economies get richer they not only make people wealthier, they generally provide immense environmental benefits. And so if you actually believe, if someone actually believes that global warming is a crisis that must be addressed…I think it would be much better to free up the economy and get rid of the EPA rules and a lot of the Department of Energy programs and let the economy boom forward.
What are these people whose words I quote, these sellers of doubt?
Why, they are intruders consciously maligning reality with a purpose. They have a mission statement to retain and promote destructive, established industries.. They tempt lawmakers with the profits from self interest.
What do they do to me?
They shake me. They conjure outbursts from me. They revive words I have found in my past, and they cause me to implode mentally.
Like this, with George Orwell and 1984:
The heresy of heresies was common sense.
war is peace
freedom is slavery
ignorance is strength
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
They re-link me to the Worldly Goods of the Everyman I once studied at university …
Everyman: Yet in my mind a thing there is;
All my life I have loved riches;
If that my good now help me might,
He would make my heart full light.
I will speak to him in this distress. –
Where art thou, my Goods and riches?
Goods: Who calleth me? Everyman? What hast thou hast!
I lie here in corners, trussed and piled so high,
And in chest I am locked so fast,
Also sacked in bags, thou mayst see with thine eye,
I cannot stir; in packs low I lie.
What would ye have, lightly me say?
Everyman: Come hither, Goods, in all the hast thou may,
For of counsel I must desire thee.
Goods: Sir, and ye in the world have trouble or adversity,
That can I help you to remedy shortly.
Everyman: It is another disease that grieveth me;
In this world it is not, I tell thee so.
I am sent for another way to go,
To give a straight account general
Before the highest Jupiter of all;
And all my life I have had joy and pleasure in thee.
Therefore I pray thee go with me,
For, peradventure, thou mayst before God Almighty
My reckoning help to clean and purify;
For it is said ever among,
That money maketh all right that is wrong.
Goods: Nay, Everyman, I sing another song,
I follow no man in such voyages;
For and I went with thee
Thou shouldst fare much the worse for me;
For because on me thou did set thy hand,
Thy reckoning I have made blotted and blind,
That thine account thou cannot make truly;
And that hast thou for the love of me.
Everyman: That would grieve me full sore,
When I should come to that fearful answer.
Up, let us go thither together.
Goods: Nay, not so, I am, to brittle, I may not endure;
I will follow no man one foot, be ye sure.
Everyman: Alas, I have thee loved, and had great pleasure
All my life-days on good and treasure.
Goods: That is to thy damnation without lesing,
For my love is contrary to the love everlasting.
But if thou had loved moderately during,
As, to the poor give part of me,
Then shouldst thou not in this dolour be,
Nor in this great sorrow care.
Everyman: Lo, now was I deceived or was I ware,
And all may wyte* my spending time. *blame
Goods: What, weenest thou that I am thine?
Everyman: I had wend so.
Goods: Nay, Everyman, say no;
As for a while I was lent thee,
A season thou hast had me in prosperity;
My condition is man’s soul to kill;
If I save one, a thousand I do spill;
Weenest thou that I will follow thee?
Nay, from this world, not verrily.
Everyman: I had wend otherwise.
Goods: Therefore to thy soul Good is a thief;
For when thou art dead, this is my guise
Another to deceive in the same wise
As I have done thee, and all to his soul’s reprief.
Everyman: O false Good, cursed thou be!
Thou traitor to God, that hast deceived me,
And caught me in thy snare.
Goods: Marry, thou brought thyself in care,
Whereof I am glad,
I must needs laugh, I cannot be sad.
Everyman: Ah, Good, thou hast had long my heartly love;
I gave thee that which should be the Lord’s above.
But wilt thou not go with me in deed?
I pray thee truth to say.
Goods: No, so God me speed,
Therefore farewell, and have good day.
Do you get what I mean? The speakers I criticise, like Everyman, are obsessed with worldly goods! We must not let crass loyalty to what we own destroy the world.
The effect on me of those climate deniers is cataclysmic. So the brilliant Edgar Allan Poe’s words come back and haunt me thus…
From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon which now shone vividly through that once barely-discernible fissure of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zig-zag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened –there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind –the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight –my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder –there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters –and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “HOUSE OF USHER.”
The sceptics can also make me visit Creative Commons…
The Margaret Thatcher speech at the Second World Climate Conference on Tuesday November 6, 1990 comes to mind here. It is a view so nobly different from her later stand. No iron from her. Maybe irony.
But the threat to our world comes not only from tyrants and their tanks. It can be more insidious though less visible. The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.
Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world’s environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community. No-one should under-estimate the imagination that will be required, nor the scientific effort, nor the unprecedented co-operation we shall have to show. We shall need statesmanship of a rare order. It’s because we know that, that we are here today.
[MAN AND NATURE: OUT OF BALANCE]
For two centuries, since the Age of the Enlightenment, we assumed that whatever the advance of science, whatever the economic development, whatever the increase in human numbers, the world would go on much the same. That was progress. And that was what we wanted.
Now we know that this is no longer true.
We have become more and more aware of the growing imbalance between our species and other species, between population and resources, between humankind and the natural order of which we are part.
In recent years, we have been playing with the conditions of the life we know on the surface of our planet. We have cared too little for our seas, our forests and our land. We have treated the air and the oceans like a dustbin. We have come to realise that man’s activities and numbers threaten to upset the biological balance which we have taken for granted and on which human life depends.
We must remember our duty to Nature before it is too late. That duty is constant. It is never completed. It lives on as we breathe. It endures as we eat and sleep, work and rest, as we are born and as we pass away. The duty to Nature will remain long after our own endeavours have brought peace to the Middle East. It will weigh on our shoulders for as long as we wish to dwell on a living and thriving planet, and hand it on to our children and theirs.
Now here is Margaret Thatcher with a different voice:
So in a speech to scientists in 1990 I observed: whatever international action we agree upon to deal with environmental problems, we must enable all our economies to grow and develop because without growth you cannot generate the wealth required to pay for the protection of the environment.
What must I think in the face of life’s daily challenges?
What is my acceptable course to follow in times of stress?
Why, just listen to an expert stupid. A nice accredited answer this, you might say. The final solution to the thought processes of the common man (and woman ✓).
When in doubt, call an expert. That is the spirit of the modern age. When not in doubt, call two experts.
This post seeks to draw attention to false experts. It is a warning about unjustified status. It is a cry of despair related to undeserved attention given in so many examples from history.
But the true expert, the qualified voice of logic and reason, we must foster with all our energy.
Now who are these UNVERIFIED experts? Where can you find them?
No problem. They will emerge from your woodwork wherever you turn.
You will find they proclaim themselves energetically. There will generally be a verbal signal in their titles that advertises their “virtue”: words such as noted, respected, qualified, experienced, professional, distinguished, famous, prominent, renowned, eminent, celebrated, illustrious, legendary, lionised or latest will hoodwink you constantly.
They are not the gifts of true science which we must foster and protect with all our energy. Theirs is not rigorous, verifiable discourse.
Let us look at history to develop this point further. Have you noticed how big mistakes litter the pathways of human progress? Inelegant disasters are all too common. A few random samples will serve to clarify this.
The Great Fire Of London
The Love Of Lead
The Great Depression
Two World Wars
The Vietnam War
The Cold War
The Iraq War of 2003 et seq.
Now on with the analysis. Not mere description but hard core analysis.
The Great Fire Of London: 1666
Here is one expert’s opinion.
For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge].
Sir Edward Coke (pronounced Cook), in The Institutes of the Laws of England, 1628.
This expert was right sometimes, but not in the great fire of 1666.
Now how’s this for poor advice from another expert?
Words of Sir Thomas Bloodworth, Lord Mayor of London, before the great fire got under way: “Pish! A woman could piss it out.”
Here are more details of the burning.
PepysDiary Entry, September 2 1666
By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish Street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower; and there got up upon one of the high places . . . and there I did see the houses at the end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side of the bridge . . .
So down [I went], with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it began this morning in the King’s baker’s house in Pudding Lane, and that it hath burned St. Magnus’s Church and most part of Fish Street already. So I rode down to the waterside . . . and there saw a lamentable fire. . . . Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the waterside to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconies, till they some of them burned their wings and fell down.
Having stayed, and in an hour’s time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody to my sight endeavouring to quench it . . . I [went next] to Whitehall (with a gentleman with me, who desired to go off from the Tower to see the fire in my boat); and there up to the King’s closet in the Chapel, where people came about me, and I did give them an account [that]dismayed them all, and the word was carried into the King. so I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of York what I saw; and that unless His Majesty did command houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor from him, and command him to spare no houses. . . .
[I hurried] to [St.] Paul’s; and there walked along Watling Street, as well as I could, every creature coming away laden with goods to save and, here and there, sick people carried away in beds. Extraordinary goods carried in carts and on backs. At last [I] met my Lord Mayor in Cannon Street, like a man spent, with a [handkerchief] about his neck. To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman, ‘Lord, what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses, but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it.’ . . . So he left me, and I him, and walked home; seeing people all distracted, and no manner of means used to quench the fire.
The houses, too, so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tar, in Thames Street; and warehouses of oil and wines and brandy and other things.
Lead has been known to us humans for thousands of years. It has a low melting point and has thus been easy to separate from its bedrock. The Romans after their invasion of England were responsible for the wide dispersal of lead throughout their vast empire. This is probably why many Roman aristocrats suffered from lead poisoning.
What about this quote for misguided lead glorification ?
Tarshish was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of all kind of riches; with silver, iron, tin, and lead, they traded in thy fairs.
Thus spake authority, flawed expert on wealth in praise of lead.
Here are some more details of the big mistake. Many past people were so sure of things.
Lead was a popular, valued, intricate part of life for millennia. It has had many uses ranging from bullets to water works. The first plumbers got their name from the Roman word for lead: plumbum. One of the biggest mistakes was linked to its sweet taste. Many drinks in ignorant times were flavoured with it. Poisonous outcomes. Experts of the formative past knew nothing of lead’s dangers. Time in the end did tell.
The Great Depression
Now this piece of expertise ranks very highly in the history of misguided advice.
1932 PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS
There are three definite directions in which action by the Government at once can contribute to strengthen further the forces of recovery by strengthening of confidence. They are the necessary foundations to any other action, and their accomplishment would at once promote employment and increase prices.
The first of these directions of action is the continuing reduction of all Government expenditures, whether national, State, or local. The difficulties of the country demand undiminished efforts toward economy in government in every direction. Embraced in this problem is the unquestioned balancing of the Federal Budget. That is the first necessity of national stability and is the foundation of further recovery. It must be balanced in an absolutely safe and sure manner if full confidence is to be inspired.
The second direction for action is the complete reorganisation at once of our banking system. The shocks to our economic life have undoubtedly been multiplied by the weakness of this system, and until they are remedied recovery will be greatly hampered.
The third direction for immediate action is vigorous and whole souled cooperation with other governments in the economic field. That our major difficulties find their origins in the economic weakness of foreign nations requires no demonstration. The first need to-day is strengthening of commodity prices. That can not be permanently accomplished by artificialities. It must be accomplished by expansion in consumption of goods through the return of stability and confidence in the world at large and that in turn can not be fully accomplished without cooperation with other nations.
BALANCING THE BUDGET
I shall in due course present the Executive Budget to the Congress. It will show proposed reductions in appropriations below those enacted by the last session of the Congress by over $830,000,000. In addition I shall present the necessary Executive orders under the recent act authorising the reorganisation of the Federal Government which, if permitted to go into force, will produce still further substantial economies. These sums in reduction of appropriations will, however, be partially offset by an increase of about $250,000,000 in uncontrollable items such as increased debt services, etc.
Herbert Hoover: State of the Union, December 6 1932
Some people today still speak in Hoover’s tones. Can you believe it?
Now here’s an expert with a point actually worth checking out:
(2) The Great Depression in the United States, far from being a sign of the inherent instability of the private enterprise system, is a testament to how much harm can be done by mistakes on the part of a few men when they wield vast power over the monetary system of the country.
Here’s some startling, misguided expert advice from a vanished past.
Why should we not form a secret society with but one object, the furtherance of the British Empire and the bringing of the whole world under British rule, for the recovery of the United States, for making the Anglo Saxon race but one Empire? What a dream, but yet it is probable; it is possible.
The expert artists above sum up the propaganda of the time pretty well. The excuse for war wrought havoc in many lives. And it didn’t stop unwilling conscripts fighting a different kind of battle. More trouble for innocents.
The Vietnam Outcome:
We lost the war! Mind you, you don’t find winners of wars, only who’s left.
Here’s a harsh reality:
Estimates of casualties of the Vietnam War vary widely. Estimates include both civilian and military deaths in North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
As for the trauma of the war’s surviving soldiers, and the shattered lives of napalm victims, I’ll let you visit the archives of Hell for yourself.
The Cold War
Now here’s an interesting description of how Cold War experts misled us.
Brinkmanship is the ostensible escalation of threats to achieve one’s aims. The word was probably coined by Adlai Stevenson in his criticism of the philosophy described as “going to the brink” in an interview with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles under the Eisenhower administration, during the Cold War. In an article written in Life Magazine, John Foster Dulles then defined his policy of brinkmanship as “The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art.” During the Cold War, this was used as a policy by the United States to coerce the Soviet Union into backing down militarily. Eventually, the threats involved might become so huge as to be unmanageable at which point both sides are likely to back down. This was the case during the Cold War; the escalation of threats of nuclear war, if carried out, are likely to lead to mutually assured destruction.
For brinkmanship to be effective, the sides continuously escalate their threats and actions. However, a threat is ineffective unless credible—at some point, an aggressive party may have to prove its commitment to action.
The chance of things sliding out of control is often used in itself as a tool of brinkmanship, because it can provide credibility to an otherwise incredible threat. The Cuban Missile Crisis presents an example in which opposing leaders, namely U.S. president John F. Kennedy and Russian Leader Nikita Khrushchev, continually issued warnings, with increasing force, about impending nuclear exchanges, without necessarily validating their statements. Pioneering game theorist Thomas Schelling called this “the threat that leaves something to chance.”
Now some details of the consequences:
(1) Brinkmanship was an effective tactic during the cold war because neither side of a conflict could contemplate mutual assured destruction in a nuclear war, acting as a nuclear deterrence for both the side threatening to pose damage and the country on the ‘receiving end’. Ultimately, it worsened the relationship between the USSR and the US.
Now some more details of Cold War mind play. More consequences.
(2) After World War II, the consequences of the Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazis were rejected, and a global containment of communism was elevated into a doctrine by President Truman. By the Cold War, we spurred the Soviet Union from exhaustion to great-power status, the atomic bomb, and space achievement. Our policies against communism in China had much the same effect there. The Cold War has also frozen the world into its immediate postwar postures and prevented peace settlements in East and West. Since 1945 the United States has spent enough resources on the Cold War to make many ailing societies healthy, resulting in a dangerous weakening of our economy. We ourselves have submitted to the militarism we fought in two world wars and have gone far to create a United States dominated by the military. We have depleted our resources for peacetime living, while our competitors have forged ahead with such technologies. We have sadly neglected the nation’s poor, and the President’s Great Society legislation, aimed at helping them, is suffering because of the expense of the war in Vietnam. By making anticommunism our life motive, we have fostered rightist fanaticism. We have forgotten the inexorable law of life that every social system is in constant evolution, and, now that the Cold War with the Soviet Union has eased, we are preparing to wage one against Communist China. Is it too late for us to welcome China to the community of nations, avoid the final world war, and try to organise the unity of man?
In order to bring a nation to support the burdens of maintaining great military establishments, it is necessary to create an emotional state akin to war psychology. There must be the portrayal of an external menace. This involves the development to a high degree of the nation-hero, nation-villain ideology and the arousing of the population to a sense of sacrifice. Once these exist, we have gone a long way on the path to war.
This confession of John Foster Dulles, the fanatical exponent of combative social values, turned even the air we breathed into a substance of violence and hate.
Yet another double-crosser of the truth came forth in this year.
Colin Powell February 5, 2003.
My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence…
…My second purpose today is to provide you with additional information, to share with you what the United States knows about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as well as Iraq’s involvement in terrorism, which is also the subject of resolution 1441 and other earlier resolutions.
I might add at this point that we are providing all relevant information we can to the inspection teams for them to do their work.
The material I will present to you comes from a variety of sources. Some are U.S. sources. And some are those of other countries.
Some of the sources are technical, such as intercepted telephone conversations and photos taken by satellites. Other sources are people who have risked their lives to let the world know what Saddam Hussein is really up to.
I cannot tell you everything that we know. But what I can share with you, when combined with what all of us have learned over the years, is deeply troubling.
What you will see is an accumulation of facts and disturbing patterns of behaviour. The facts on Iraqis’ behaviour – Iraq’s behaviour demonstrate that Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort – no effort – to disarm as required by the international community. Indeed, the facts and Iraq’s behaviour show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction.
It’s been 16 years since President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. That’s when the American people were told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (false); that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators (false); and that overthrowing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein would bring democracy to Iraq and security for the United States (both debatable).
Here’s what the United States has accomplished: As of the end of February, the number of Iraqi civilian deaths sits at 202,757. More than 2.7 million have been displaced internally (2.42 million, down from a peak of 6 million) and externally (280,014). American troop casualties rest at 4,540, and with over 1.5 million U.S. servicemen and women cycling through Iraq, we’re looking at costs — human and financial — that Americans will have to bear for generations to come, with over a trillion dollars being added to U.S. debt…
…The wars against Iraq (and Afghanistan) have been paid for by raising the national deficit, so the United States has put off actually paying for these wars for nearly two decades (the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001)…
…But veterans themselves are paying a heavy price now, with injuries (including traumatic head injuries), PTSD, depression, and high suicide rates.
All forgotten? When will we ever learn? One solution cries out from the wilderness of anguish:
One more example wants to roll off my pen. Here is yet another notable self proclaimed expert’s opinion.
In a letter to Pope Francis, Christopher Monckton, Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchely, wrote
I have listened carefully, and I can inform Your Holiness that science is divided on the climate question. A small number of totalitarian profiteers of doom in various self-serving national academies have issued pompous statements about it, but a large number of papers from reputable scientists, and a larger amount of hard data, suggest that global warming is and will continue to be a non-event. (June 19, 2019)
The above distinguished viscount was welcomed by some in my country at times of hearty debate.
One final folly beckons. This time we go to the top.
First the virtue:
CLIMATE ACTION SUMMIT, 23 SEPTEMBER 2019: Climate change is the defining issue of our time and now is the defining moment to do something about it. There is still time to tackle climate change, but it will require an unprecedented effort from all sectors of society. To boost ambition and accelerate actions to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, UN Secretary-General António Guterres is asking leaders, from government, business and civil society, to come to the 2019 Climate Action Summit on 23 September with plans to address the global climate emergency. The Summit will spark the transformation that is urgently needed and propel action that will benefit everyone.
Next the imprudence:
Australia’s Prime Minister, visiting the United States at the time, did not attend this Climate Action Summit.
Now if the false expert is infra dig, to whom can we turn when we need advice? When we need a plan that will work? Who is the true expert.
The answer is the follower of scientific method.
Why is this so?
Well the scientist knows he (or she ✓) is fallible. Scientific method constantly checks findings and lives by logical argument based on verifiable evidence. The scientist accepts peer group sharing and peer group criticism. The scientist publishes all methods used so that others can repeat the research in question. The scientist holds all beliefs tentatively and stands ready to modify or abandon according to the results of the latest experiment or observation. The scientist, working within rigorous probability, is a thinking reed facing up to and surviving in a hostile universe. His or her findings deserve our attention.
So climate change IS a threat to all life, to everything we love on earth...
A certain prime minister is apparently worried about an often-ill-defined borderless global community and worse still, an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy. Sounds a bit like EU to me. Or the victors at Versailles in 1919. Could the right honourable gentleman be thinking of the United Nations? I hope not.
When I was a little boy of eight years, a man in a distant land coined the words “united nations.” That man was the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The year was 1942.
All that adult stuff was unknown to me at the time. But I did know a terrible war was raging. My family was involved in Tobruk, New Guinea and Changi. When I grew up I learned that the cliques ruling Germany, Japan and Italy were putting the interests of their own countries ahead of those of the rest of the world. Hitler had asked the world to respect the mandate of his 1934 electoral constituency. Some mandate! Some constituency! After a terrible conflict, millions of lives later, the selfish interests of the Axis powers faded into unsubstantiated fantasy as the world hit back.
In 1945 at war’s end, a vital international institution, the United Nations, was born. I was a little older in the late forties. I still remember my teenager’s idealism. So many nations, big and small, coming together for mutual benefit seemed so refreshing, so different from the dominant power struggle of the war years. The Charter of the United Nations was signed on 26 June 1945, in San Francisco, at the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, and came into force on 24 October 1945. The Statute of the International Court of Justice is an integral part of the Charter.
There was an important new spirit in the air at this time. I could feel it as a child. Later on I read and learned the details, for example of the Preamble below.
Preamble to UN Charter
WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED
to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our life- time has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
AND FOR THESE ENDS
to practise tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,
HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS.
Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.
When respecting the United Nations, it is hard for an Australian not to think of Dr Herbert Vere Evatt. His life is worth study. His work for the UN should give us pride not antipathy. The following words from the Evatt Foundation deserve our attention.
Dr H V Evatt
As leader of the Australian delegation to the meeting that founded the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945, he took the step of including a woman in the delegation. The woman was Jessie Street. This was a brave move for a political leader in those days, when women in politics were not highly regarded by most male politicians.
At the San Francisco Conference, Dr Evatt spoke to the Great Powers on behalf of the other nations of the world with a voice that commanded universal respect. After three months of diplomatic struggle, the Charter of the United Nations was adopted; a Charter that had become more humane and larger in scope, now containing provisions for the poor, the weak and the oppressed, provisions that had never been envisaged by the Great Powers.
In 1948 Dr Evatt was elected President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the only Australian to have ever held the position. He presided over the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the cornerstone of human rights protection throughout the modern world. “It was the first occasion on which the organised community of nations had made a declaration of human rights and fundamental freedoms”, Evatt reflected, “millions of people, men, women and children all over the world would turn to it for help, guidance and inspiration.”
Source: loc.cit. 5/10/19
Now the Declaration has long been an inspiration for my work as a history teacher and more simply as a sentient human being. The UN is far from being an ill-defined borderless community and an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy. The Preamble below might help explain what I mean and emphasise once again the importance of this international institution.
Preamble: Universal Declaration Of Human Rights
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,
Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realisation of this pledge,
Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
For this discussion of mine I draw attention to but two of the articles of the Declaration. I commend the others to you, but space here rules my pen. Source: loc.cit 5/10/19
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
This is such a strong denial of any “demand for conformity” by this international institution. Now look at this second reference to the Declaration.
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.
What more need be said? Such a legacy is this inheritance of vital global agendas. Surely we want the freedoms to be universal. We must not let individual, ruthless self interest weaken universal freedoms.
Violent storm is a profitable norm. Don’t let the fear make you waver. There’s work as a consequence – replacement of the defacement. So the budget’s still balanced, stupid.
It’s about getting people into jobs.
Predatory wildfire is in fact a boon. Don’t let fierce flames get you down. We get rebuilt houses, remade barns, revived fences and new cars. So renewal is fuel for the economy, stupid.
It’s about getting people into jobs.
Murderous flood means more than mud. Don’t let the torrent seem abhorrent. Restored towns avert frowns. So there’s work in that lurk, stupid.
It’s about getting people into jobs.
An endless drought has no clout. Don’t let your thirst be the worst. Dehydration is no privation if you woo the voters with dams. So that deployment fosters employment, stupid.
It’s about getting people into jobs.
So what! There’s a species extinct. Don’t let the loss make you cross. What matters are the fees for the cut down trees. It’s the GDP, stupid.
It’s about getting people into jobs.
Yes that’s it. This is the age of chicanery and thunder. Dysfunction is the unction. It’s the poet’s loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires all concerned with getting people into jobs. So it’s yo ho ho for the status quo and profit is the prophet, amen.
Note On Featured Image: Source Creative Commons John Kerstholt
The old demon of oversimplification is back again with the teaching of reading. Of course phonics is a useful word attack skill but it is not the centre of the universe. Reading is a very complex task – perhaps more so than ever before in this contemporary world. Phonics alone simply cannot deal with it. There are 44 phonemes in English and only 26 letters.
Here is a little visual I made to illustrate my point. It speaks for itself.
As a teacher today I would see phonics as an important part of a wider teaching program. So much more than sounding needs to happen. We need to immerse the children in language. Read them stories often. Use classroom drama to illustrate words. Play music to enhance listening. Get them to write often and read their stories to a friend or to the class. Lend books, especially illustrated ones, for home reading, ideally involving parents. Do readers theatre. Practice with cloze tests. Play Scrabble. Do crossword puzzles. Among other things, all this promotes skills with context.
Context clues are an important part of word attack. Watch what happens when I put an invented word into context. The word is xzn. On its own it is meaningless. Now for context: I drove the family xzn into the garage, checked the tyres and filled it with petrol. See what I mean? You decode the word into the idea of a car based on context clues and you are probably right. You need to give children many, many contexts. Let them guess. Give them practice. Immersion in language to me is vital. Words need to be everywhere. I remember in practice teaching taking my students into infants classrooms where everything was labelled: “table,” “chair,” “desk,” “window” and so on.
Next I speak of sight words. My infants and primary teaching coincided with the Dolch sight words. In the 1930s and 1940s Dr Edward William Dolch researched word frequencies and made a list of 220 words, mastery of which would enable you to read a high percentage of common verbal material. He also supplied 95 high frequency nouns.
The Fry Sight Words list is closer now to present day needs. Sight words require drill. Once you know them your reading flows more easily so you can focus on other words.
The value of memorised sight words is that common words or irregular sounding words can be recognised at a glance without letter by letter analysis. This fluency is important for oral reading. So oracy itself has needs beyond phonics drill. I have respected for a long time the social value of reading aloud – say in play performance or verse speaking – the latter a valuable activity that unfortunately is often neglected these days.
What is the purpose of reading? It is a lot more than mere barking at print. Meaning is the key, the crux, the life moulding force. So we have word attack. We decode. Then comes meaning – that intangible, mystic outcome. If we are good with meaning, it gets us out of trouble. If we are bad with it we elect monsters into government.
In all my years of teaching (50) and study I have not found a better description of the levels of comprehension than the one given by Nila Banton Smith. It’s a good analysis to work on.
The author suggests that comprehension be divided into four distinct categories of thinking skills: (1) literal comprehension, the skill of getting the primary, literal meaning; (2) interpretation, the probing for greater depths of meaning; (3) critical reading, the evaluating and passing of personal judgment; and (4) creative reading which starts with an inquiry and goes beyond implications derived from the text.
Of all the outcomes of teaching it is hard to find a more rewarding one for the teacher than the gift of reading. I have seen the light in the eye of the infant child when the first words begin to flow, and I have seen the glow of pride from a PhD student when a thesis abstract has been accepted. The significance of effective reading is vast.
The shoulders of so many giants are waiting for us behind the print that we read. There lies the wisdom of the ages. There lies the ability to detect political sham and advertising trickery. All this is too important to be reduced to simplistic formulae or league tables based on pseudo-tests derived from false premises.
I’d now like to finish with a poem I wrote some time ago. Thanks for your company.
Back to Basics
Or Teaching Reading Is Not As Simple As It Sounds
Kill off all the metaphors, cancel connotations
With your universal phonic imposition.
Blow up all the phrases with well directed lasers
So reading fits your toxic proposition.
Mangle all the meanings, disintegrate depiction
While shackling wide-eyed infants to their stint.
Put their thoughts in traction through stereotyped infraction