Sunday, 29 September 2013

Toumani Diabaté

My nephew just drew my attention to this piece by kora player Toumani Diabaté. I had not heard of him. It's a fascinating, sparkling, cascading sound and I immediately ordered a CD.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

He's Ever So Good, You Know

I just came across the New Living Translation's version of Psalm 139, verses 13 to 14. First, here is the King James version:

13 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. 14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

You wouldn't think that needed any fixing up, would you? Perhaps just a gloss for the term 'reins', meaning 'kidneys', which were believed to be the centre of human emotions. It gives a visceral, bloody, fleshy feel to that first clause, abetted then by the use of 'fearfully' to invoke wonder and awe. It seems the translators of the NLT thought it might be rather strong meat, though, so they've made the two verses into a polite thank-you note. Guess which bit I added.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.  14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous. How well I know it. I'll definitely be using you again. Highly recommended!

Friday, 20 September 2013

Oy, Gott II

On a Tumblr blog I found this photo of a famous relief of the Pharaoh Akhenaten and his chief wife Nefertiti with their daughters. It is notable because instead of showing the Pharaoh and his Queen in the traditional monolithic Egyptian style, in which the king's stillness communicates unassailable power, it depicts the royal couple in an informal moment playing with their kids. But so that nobody should imagine that Akhenaten and Nefertiti wanted to be seen as just folks, Akhenaten has the family bathed in the rays of the Aten, to whose precepts they alone were privy. The bizarre dolichocephaly of the little girls, and the strangely distorted features of the king in other carvings, probably served to underline this separateness from the rest of humanity. It does not seem to be a representation of an actual physical trait, as elsewhere Akhenaten is depicted as quite normal. The blogger is an 18 year old art student and teaching assistant, and her comment on the image made me want to initiate an inquiry into the US school she attended, which seems to have failed her. That, or have her shot. Get this:
lol look at akhnaten and nefertiti with their little alien-lookin kids look at the little tiny one on her shoulder lmao and is he kissing one why is he holding it like that are the alien babies naked???egyptian art is sick

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Why Smartphones Piss Me Off

A little short of a year ago I wrote a post about teaching Chinese students. I had finally come to understand that their silence and passivity in class was not a sign of rudeness, or indifference to the content of the lesson, but a way of showing deference and respect to the teacher. I felt the need to communicate this insight to my fellow educators.

Yeah, right.

For the last four weeks I have walked into class every morning to find twenty-odd silent Chinese kids, each staring raptly at the screen of their smartphone, poking or stroking it as it were some fascinating little creature. They do not appear to register my presence. Even when I yell 'OK, put your phones away now, please!' there is no immediate response beyond a wordless 'yeah, hang on, we'll get back to you.' I repeat my request a little less politely and ask that the phones be switched off and put out of sight. We can then begin the lesson, but it will be necessary before the end to ask them several more times to put away their phones, and on occasion to actually confiscate the bloody things, setting them on the casing of the AV equipment where ever and anon they ping and buzz to each other like little aliens.

I do as little up-front teaching as possible so as to keep the students actively involved. Most of the talking I do in class is by way of instructions for the coming activity. Deprived temporarily of text messaging and social media, some of the students hold whispered conversations or flick through their books and files, thus missing the instructions unless I intervene. It's all such a waste of time and so bloody juvenile. I've decided this 'respect for the teacher' business is to be taken with a good pinch of salt. I'm pretty sure that back home these kids are used to walking into huge classrooms where they sit in serried rows, and free from the expectation that they might be asked to participate, they can simply zone out. It also occurred to me that since every one of them is an only child, they've probably expected adults to let them do as they please far more than kids from larger families might, but maybe I'm just being a middle aged grump. (Again.)

Most of these students are nice kids. They greet you cheerily in the street or corridors, waving and smiling. They will come at the end of the lesson with questions that could have been dealt with in the class, but at least it shows they are listening some of the time. Some have told me that they prefer our style of teaching to the style they're used to in China. One lad even said 'English teacher is care more for student than Chinese teacher.' I asked why he thought this. 'Because English teacher always say students to put away smartphone and listen.'      

But why can't you just put away your smartphone when the lesson... Oh, I dunno.


On the train yesterday my earplugs were penetrated by the raucous voice of a gabby young woman sitting across the aisle, quacking into her smartphone. Then I became aware of what sounded like the Muslim call to prayer. I removed an ear plug and realised that the same young woman was listening to music on the same iPhone, and of course it wan't anything like the Muslim call to prayer, but some banal pop stuff. I caught the eye of the bloke sitting opposite me and we raised eyebrows in synch.

'Is that your music?' he asked the woman.

'Yeah,' she said. 'Is that alright?'

'No. Haven't you got any ear-phones?'

'No. Sorry.' And she switched it off.

Christ, I thought. I wear ear plugs, I often change seats to get away from people who are annoying me or pinpoint potential sources of irritation on the platform and make sure I don't sit in the same carriage, but I'd never actually ask them to desist like that. I do envy them as has that kind of balls.

I had blood tests for everything but pregnancy the other week to see if there might be some physical explanation for the anxiety that I feel so often these days. The tests all came back normal. 'So you're just crackers, then,' my sister said. 


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