Forty Thousand!

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No wonder the Sun has been an object of worship! Today our solar panels reached another meaningful milestone: meaningful to us roundists, anyway. Forty is a special number: forty days and forty nights, life begins at forty, the roaring forties, Ali Baba and the forty thieves, forty winks… But raise it by three orders of magnitude, and you have something grand!

And I remember a popular song from the forties – or maybe the fifties, but it fits my narrative better if it was the forties. The song was about 2-year-old Johnny Brown’s impressive cockney utterance: “Faw’y Fahs’nd Fevvers on a Frush!”

Billy Cotton delivering his trademark “Wakey-wakey!”

I knew about feathers and thrushes, and I knew about big numbers, but for some reason I always heard ‘frush’ as ‘brush’ and assumed that bristles could also be referred to as feathers.

The song was written by Paul Boyle and Eddie Carroll, of whom I know in no other context, and was popularised by the great Billy Cotton in the equally great Billy Cotton Band Show on the BBC Light Programme.

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Lucy Zelić’s Pronunciation

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Here in Australia we have a public TV station called SBS (Special Broadcasting Service), designed to cater for the needs of minority ethnic groups. Among its multilingual staff is a sports presenter called Lucy Zelić (pictured). I don’t know enough about sport to know how good she is in that role, but other people say she’s pretty good. In particular she knows how to pronounce sportspeople’s names correctly.

Incredibly, that skill has attracted trolls. Some people prefer foreigners’ names to be pronounced as though they were English. I don’t know if that’s some kind of linguistic imperialism, preference for the familiar or just laziness, but it puts me in mind of a story by Jerome K Jerome that I read when I was about 9 years old. I was in hospital for a couple of weeks and, having come close to choking with laughter over ‘Three Men in a Boat’, I took a book of JKJ’s short stories to read in my hospital bed.

The story was set in the First World War, in which he served as an ambulance-driver for the French Army, having been turned down by the British because of his age. I forget the name or the main theme of this particular story, but in it a young officer is berated for pronouncing Ypres as ‘Eepr’ instead of ‘Wipers’ like his fellows. Ever since then I have made an effort to pronounce foreign words and names in the same way as their linguistic owners. So I salute you, Lucy!

Nomination for the Next Stroppy

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Here in the State of South Australia the Labour government (recently replaced) introduced radical reforms in the health sector. These reforms were labelled Transforming Health, and according to the letters to the local newspaper about it, they were deeply unpopular. SA Health, the responsible government agency, commissioned a study by an organisation glorying in the name ‘SA Academic Health Science and Translation Centre’.

The study’s findings generally supported the views of the letter-writers, but the report was criticised for omitting important aspects of the reforms and for such passages as this:

“What we can deduce from our work is that it is possible to generate a narrative around the experience of multiple stakeholders, going through a large-scale system change, in ways that both acknowledge the limitations of the data but support the emerging themes from the data, and from other (realist) literature reviews.”

I am indebted to Brad Crouch, the Advertiser’s Medical Reporter, for drawing this to my attention. I am treating it as a nomination for the next Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Drivel (popularly known as the Stroppy).

There’s no relevant picture to go with this story, so I’m reproducing a totally unrelated but amusing graphic that my old friend Ron Allan forwarded to me.

Is This Racism . . . ?

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I don’t think I’d hear of Valerie Jarrett until CNN told me that Roseanne Barr had insulted her and lost her TV show as a result. The offending tweet was “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”

Valerie Jarrett

The story was accompanied by a photo of Ms Jarrett, in which she did bear some resemblance to the masks used in the Planet of the Apes films. But Google Images has no photos like that, and the one reproduced here shows her as 100% human.

I’ve since done some online research and found that a false rumour had once been spread by her political opponents, saying that she was Iranian (she was in fact born in Iran of US parents) and a Muslim and having proclaimed an agenda to “help change America to be a more Islamic country.”

But Roseanne’s offence was, according to the media, racism. And I don’t get it. Being a Muslim or an advocate of Islam is unrelated to race. Resembling a fictional non-human primate is unrelated to race. Roseanne was undoubtedly guilty of ‘passing personal remarks’ (which I was taught to avoid) and perpetuating a false rumour. But where’s the racism?

Location, Location, Location

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There were two stories in my local newspaper that included land values. Interestingly, the two values were almost identical, but the parcels were of very different sizes. A cattle station south of Birdsville, extending over 1.65 million hectares, was valued at $33 million. A commercial site occupying 7,535m2 in North Adelaide has been bought by the State Government for $34 million.

On a per-hectare basis, those values work out at $20 and $45 million respectively. Like the real estate agents always say – location, location, location!

The view near Birdsville, Australia

The Royal Wedding

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I’ve just watched the Royal Wedding – and if you’re asking “What royal wedding?” you needn’t read on. I wasn’t going to watch, but I had BBC World News on mute and when I saw Meghan’s majestic black-and-burgundy Roller rolling I couldn’t resist. The following thoughts occurred to me:

  • Nobody does this sort of thing better than the Brits. It’s theatre dripping with symbolism and political messages. As an actress, the Duchess of Sussex is exactly right for the job.
  • Including a black American preacher and a gospel choir was a masterstroke, a counterpoint to all that was ancient, traditional and solemn.  It symbolised invigoration of the Old World by the New. I had a fleeting mental image of a decrepit billionaire sipping virgins’ blood in hope of rejuvenation.
  • Now that it’s over, the team that organised it should be reassigned immediately to organising Brexit.

Some commentators – even the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins  – have described Meghan as the stronger member of the partnership. Harry has 10 years military service behind him, much in the front-line; is the prime mover of the Invictus Games; and has withstood a lifetime of public scrutiny to become a widely loved and respected royal. Speculation that he may be pushed around or overshadowed by his wife is certainly unfair, and unlikely to be helpful.

Musings from Bangkok

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That’s not a very informative title, but I’m posting about two separate things and I happen to be in a transit lounge in Bangkok with a lot of time to spare.

I just came off a flight where I watched a film I’d vaguely heard about and a documentary about the Cassini mission to Saturn. Both affected me to the extent that I want to share.

The film was ‘Downsizing’, starring Matt Damon. It has been described as sci-fi satire but I don’t think that does it justice. The title relates to a scientific breakthrough that reduces people to 1/14 their height, and consequently 1/2744 their volume and mass. The aim is to reduce humankind’s environmental footprint before we destroy our habitat, but it has the side effect of allowing the ‘small people’ to use their savings to buy huge mansions in special resort-like communities and live lives of leisure and luxury.

I want you to see the film, so I won’t say any more – except to laud the actress who was for me the de facto star (see photo). Her name is Hong Chau, born in Thailand of Vietnamese refugee parents and now living in the USA. She plays a Vietnamese activist and amputee and she is superb.

The Cassini documentary starred the gallant little spacecraft itself, which was sacrificed at the end of a spectacularly successful mission. It was vaporised in a fireball in Saturn’s atmosphere, with eerie echoes of ancestral sacrifices to uncaring gods. This sacrifice was necessary to avoid the danger of terrestrial contamination of an environment where life already exists or one day may.

I found myself tearing up, not because of Cassini’s death, but because the whole enterprise showed what our species can do and be at our very very best. NASA had a huge team of specialists, men and women, young and old, from many nationalities. They had a common goal to know, a dedication to science, and no malign intent.

The NASA team’s goodness contrasted starkly with the recent horror in Indonesia where a whole family, young children included, wiped itself out in coordinated murderous attacks. This was a team effort too, but instead of being enthused by science their minds were infected by a perverted ideology that thrives only on ignorance and superstition. This was our species as its very very worst.