Saturday, 29 September 2012

anthropomorphism of my garden plants

Further to my previous post about individualising my garden plants, here are a few more.

Meet Brad. Brad, like his celebrity namesake, is about 180 cm tall. He has had a hard life, since his birth in the early sixties, but keeps on keeping on. The massive lemon-scented eucalypt above him (hidden by the leaves of his companion, Lilly) has taken the limelight ever since Brad was planted, but he doesn't mind playing second fiddle (to mix my metaphors a little).

His variegated leafy shape provides a pretty contrast to the pink as-yet-unnamed succulents that sit by his side. To him they are just children, seeing they've only been in this world for about six years.

And this, on the right of the photo, is Myrtle, born in the early sixties and destined to grow in the shadow of a massive hundred-foot cypress hedge. Fortunately for Mytle, in the early nineties the huge trees were removed and she had room to reach for the sky, straightening her trunk in an amazing way and sending out strong new branches in the space where the cypresses had dominated.
She was joined by a young cousin at that time, seen here to Myrtle's left. That's Aggie.

every living thing has the right to a name

I remember long ago reading with my primary school classes a set of United Nations books about the Rights of the Child. One that always caused a great deal of discussion was article 7, that a child has a right to a name. Children who had never suffered the indignity of being known as a number were astonished that such a right needed to be explicitly stated.

I've been thinking of that right, since I caught a snippet of an interview  by Phillip Adams on Late Night Live of Cormac Cullinan, an environmental lawyer. Here are the program notes:

Cormac Cullinan has practised, taught and written about environmental law and policy since 1992. He says that there is a fundamentally misconceived belief that humans are separate from and superior to nature, and that the single and most important thing to consider for our survival is how to re-think our understanding of law and governance so that we can use it to govern humans in a way that will benefit the whole Earth community, and thereby ourselves.  

One thing that struck me - in the short section of the program I heard - was the idea that by turning living things into objects to be owned, we divorce ourselves from our interdependence with them. Think slavery.

This made me think about my garden. I walked around it with a gardener recently, hoping she would agree to work with me to help me maintain it. (She will.) She was quite taken with the fact that I could tell her the history of every plant in our yard. I remember the year the garrya elliptica was planted, the agonis flexuosa, the poor dwarfed variegated pittosporum struggling for life under the drip line of the tallest eucalypt for ten kilometres around. (All 1963). 

I remember the planting of every shrub, most herbs and even the blades of grass. I feel a connection with them, I sigh for them in the heat of summer drought and I vicariously drink the life-giving raindrops that fall on them in a wet season.

Now I've decided to name them, seeing we humans relate best to living creatures with an individual name. Here's a quote from a psychology article with a brief overview of this tendency, anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism carries many important implications. For example, thinking of a nonhuman entity in human ways renders it worthy of moral care and consideration. 

Okay, so here's my first name:

Meet Garry.

Garry was born in Melbourne, Australia, far from his ancestral homeland in the United States. He had many good years growing up in the sixties, seventies and even eighties, but fell into bad health in the nineties and the early years of the twentieth century, as drought settled upon his adoptive family. With good rains in the first years of the second decade of the twentieth century, he has taken on a new lease of life.

Monday, 24 September 2012

bilingualism for Aboriginal Australians

When I went to the Royal Melbourne Show today - great fun - I was given a free copy of the Herald Sun newspaper. When I read it, I was quite surprised to read an article by Andrew Bolt criticising the push to maintain indigenous languages through a bilingual approach to language education. He suggested that such a system would result in Aboriginal people who could speak only their 'native tongue'. Among other things, he said:

For them [young Aborigines out bush], no English means no future...[English is] the one language they need to save themselves from a life on welfare...

Firstly, it isn't self-evident that not speaking English means a person has no future. Secondly, bilingual education should result in people who speak two languages well.

It's strange, but Mr Bolt didn't seem to acknowledge the meaning of the prefix bi-. My understanding is that it means two. So an efficient education system would teach two languages, not just one.

The Macquarie Online Dictionary defines bilingual:
adjective 1. able to speak two languages with approximately equal facility.

Later in the article Bolt said:
In particular, the committee [the federal Parliament's standing committee on indigenous affairs] want bilingual education for Aboriginal children, in the teary-eyed hope that somehow finding competent teachers who can teach, say, maths in Pitjantjatjara or Pintupi will help children learn better English, too.
Just how such unusually qualified and effective teachers could be found, no one really knows.
This is a strange misunderstanding of how bilingual education works. It's not necessary that the speakers of each language teach every subject area. My sister worked in two different bilingual programs in suburban Melbourne. She doesn't speak either of the non-English languages. It was her job to teach in English, and she focused on certain subjects - for instance, one year she taught English, science, social studies and Physical Education. In other words, she taught half the curriculum.

Mr Bolt's not an educator, so perhaps he is unaware of the body of research that shows bilingual education usually results in more competence in both languages. One language is not learned at the expense of the other.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

How do we define the age we live in?

We're apparently in the post-literate age, as I said yesterday. Now I discover we're in the post-authentic age also. 

And recently I heard former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in conversation with Frank Brennan, suggest Australia might be in the post-Christian era.

It seems the prefix post is very popular these days.

I wonder what age we're actually in? Are we in the pre-something age? 

Maybe we're in the pre-compassionate age. How lovely. I look forward to a time when we can be judged by how we treat the defenceless and weak amongst us. 

The following quotes, collected by PamPerdue at Askville, give a history of great thoughts about compassion to humans:

Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.~Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973), My Several Worlds [1954].

The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.~Samuel Johnson, Boswell: Life of Johnson

The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.~John E. E. Dalberg, Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity, [1877].

"...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped. " ~ Last Speech of Hubert H. Humphrey

"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." ~ Mahatma Ghandi

"Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members -- the last, the least, the littlest." ~Cardinal Roger Mahony, In a 1998 letter, Creating a Culture of Life

The greatness of America is in how it treats its weakest members: the elderly, the infirm, the handicapped, the underprivileged, the unborn. ~Bill Federer

"A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying," ~Pope John Paul II

Are we, perhaps, approaching an age when we realise our fellow creatures also suffer if we mistreat them?  

Another respondent at Askville gives a different quote from Ghandi, and this is the one I had previously heard:
 "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man."

I look forward to The Age of Compassion! 

Saturday, 22 September 2012

are we past the need for words?

I heard part of a radio debate the other day as I was driving around. The topic was whether the pen is mightier than the brush.

I heard Ben Eltham, arts writer for speaking for the brush, and he said something to the effect that we are in the post-literate age. (I'm not sure of the exact wording, but you can listen to the whole debate here.)

Even though he spoke well and made his points clearly, I wasn't convinced that our world is moving away from words.

On the other hand, I've just received a link from a friend to a video in Chinese showing how to separate a yolk from the white of an egg.  It's a great technique and I'm going to try it next time I need to perform that task.

I watched the video and understood not one word of the explanation, but the pictures conveyed the meaning in a universal way.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

words we don't have in English

I've been noticing the word renowned all over the place, since I posted about its use.

I wondered if there's a word in English to describe the way we start to take notice of a phrase or object once we get sensitised to it. I feel there is a term for this experience, but I can't think of it. Perhaps I've seen it in a psychology book.

Being an inquisitive person, I looked around the Internet trying to find such a word. I had no success. But I did come across a great site with lists of words from other languages that we might wish we had in English.

I loved most of them, but one will certainly have to enter my vocabulary right now. The Scottish word tartle describes:
  The act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name. 
A further search finds lots of references to this word, but the only authoritative one I could find was the Collins Dictionary,  where someone has submitted it for consideration as a new word. It is marked 'under consideration'.

I've taken ages to write this post because I've been roaming around the Net looking at lists of great words we should have. Here's another list I particularly like.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

more about the word 'renowned'

No sooner had I posted about the strange use of renown where I'd expect to see renowned, than I came across this usage on one of my favorite blogs - Medieval News:

A monster of sadism, duplicity and cunning, much worse than bad king John, more cruel than Henry VIII and less fit than Charles I for the English throne, Richard III is by far the most reviled entry in a catalogue of sovereigns not exactly renowned for their grace, distinction, or humanity.
I hope the time has come for Richard's name to be cleared of the unjustified disrepute heaped on him by that Tudor propagandist, William Shakespeare. (Yes, I know Will - whoever he was - wrote fantastically interesting and brilliant plays, poems, and so on, but he sure did a disservice to Richard III.)

What's happened to the word 'renowned'?

Lately I've noticed people using the word renown as an adjective. Here's an example from The Age newspaper today:
A western suburbs real estate agent who rorted more than $156,000 from the ANZ bank in a property scam has asked for his licence not to be revoked - on the novel grounds that he is an internationally renown accordion player who often performs for charity. 
I've been mystified as to why such a strange mistake would arise. At first I thought it was a typo, but I've seen it too often for that to be the case.

To me it's weird. After all, I would think the word renowned is an adjective, formed from a past participle. I can't see why you might insert a noun where the structure of the sentence calls for  an adjective.

But when I think about it, I don't know any verb 'to renown' or 'to renow'. So I looked around the Net.

A discussion at suggests that people may be comparing 'renown' with known (which has me wondering how they pronounce it).

  The Online Etymology Dictionary says:
c.1300, from Anglo-Fr. renoun, O.Fr. renon, from renomer "make famous," from re- "repeatedly" + nomer "to name," from L. nominare "to name." The M.E. verb renown has been assimilated to the noun via renowned "famous, celebrated" (late 14c.).
If it's a verb, I suppose it's transitive, so you might say, His fans renowned him. (They named him repeatedly.)

After all that thinking, I've come to the conclusion that I still think the sentence in today's Age newspaper should have said, '...that he is an internationally renowned accordion player.'

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

bananas can grow and ripen in Melbourne

For weeks I've walked past a house in Melbourne with a banana plant in the front yard.  Not many people grow them here, because it's thought the climate is too cold. However, I had heard that's not true, so it didn't seem so very out of the ordinary. 

But this plant had fruit  on it. And that's rare so far south.

So today, when I noticed the bunch had disappeared, I just had to open the front gate, walk up the path and knock on the door to ask whether the fruit had ripened.

And it had! I wouldn't have thought the tail-end of a cold winter was the time to harvest a tropical fruit.
Not only did the lady who came to the door answer my question, but she gave me a banana to take home.

As you can see, it was only about nine centimetres (3 1/2 inches) long. But it was delicious, sweeter than the bananas we buy from the shop.

My dog, Penny loves bananas, but she didn't get any of this precious one.

We sometimes like to joke that Penny goes bananas for bananas. I wondered where the expression comes from. The origin of the phrase is unclear. Some say that it relates to the old expression to go ape, because of the connection with apes eating bananas. There's a theory that it might be connected to the myth that eating banana skins can give a hallucinogenic experience.

World Wide Words says the phrase to go bananas dates only from the 1960s.
What of to go bananas? It burst upon the world in the 1960s and became a fashionable, not to say faddish, term in the 1970s. Its heyday is over, perhaps thankfully so. But nobody seems to have any very clear idea where it came from. Was the idea of something bent at the root of it, so that a person was being driven mentally out of shape? Or was there a mental image of an over-excited ape clamouring for his daily feast? Or was it a more subtle image connected with the older phrase to go ape or evento go nuts? You can go crazy thinking about this stuff.

By the way, in researching this topic, I've been reassured that bananas are okay for dogs to eat. (There's a good photo of a banana plant at the ASPCA site.)

Saturday, 1 September 2012

dancing the dishes

Having a set of bowls like these could make washing the dishes a pleasure. (Note I said 'could'. I'm not sure this task is ever enjoyable.)

I love the fact that these Polish homewares come in a range of colors that go delightfully together, because I think it's fun to have different patterns in my set.

I did already have some bowls, but we were expecting family to share dinner with us yesterday, so I dashed off to The Cup and Mug and bought three more.

As I was chatting to the owner of the business  I realised one of the patterns has polka dots on it.

 The word polka, according to Polish Language Blog on Transparent Language, means Polish woman:
Theories on the origin of the polka have been well explored before. Briefly, the music and dance are of Bohemian (Czech) origin. It was called the polka either after the Czech word for “half” in reference to the dance’s characteristic half-step, or in sympathy for the Poles’ 1830 uprising. The very word “polka” means Polish woman in the Polish language. One theory says that it may have been a Polish folk dance borrowed by the Bohemians. Another says it has Gypsy roots. Some say it can even be traced to a single person, a Bohemian girl named Anicka Chadimova.
I like my Polish 'Polish woman' bowl. (I like the others too.)