Sunday, 30 October 2011

Elemental my dear Watson


What is it that makes us want to study and learn?  Recently I have been driving my nearest and dearest mad as I have decided to memorise the periodic table - I'm up to Phosphorus 15 currently, so a long way to go! 

Why do some people have this desire to absorb knowledge more than others and also at different times in their lives? I remember going back to a reunion at my old school not long after completing an MSc in a maths related subject and my old maths teacher made some comment like "shame you didn't try harder at school".  My defensive response would have been, "shame there was no one to inspire me", thankfully I didn't say this.  I think I just wasn't as interested in learning as a teenager as I am now.  Over the last few years I have been revisiting the basics, partly due to my kids going through the part of school where my brain was on autopilot but partly due the availability of information across all sorts of media.  The chain of events that led to this current fad is one such modern parable.  

A friend posted on Google+ that he had won a new iPad (not 2!), a "circlee" in his G+ circles posted a link to a blog where someone else had listed their favourite iPad apps, many readers of that blog had reviewed and commented on his suggested "best" apps, I liked the look of the elements one and so followed the shortcut to iTunes and downloaded it to my iMac. Within in a few minutes I was enjoying interactive, entertaining education on a topic that was my chosen area of study. 

So is my desire to learn, a positively selective evolutionary trait, a mid life re-evaluation of what is important to me, a preoccupation with gadgets or perhaps a little of all of these.  I'm not sure it really matters but I am certainly enjoying quenching this thirst for knowledge after walking in the desert for most of my early teens. 

Monday, 3 October 2011

England, My England

No, not the poem by William Ernest Henley, but a poem that surfaced around 2009 according to my scant research (JFGI).  I received this just recently, considering my views expressed on this blog previously, it's no surprise I felt I needed to comment, so here goes:

English? Does it mean:

1. English the ethnic group?
2. England the Sociopolitical construct?
3. England the Geographic region?

1.  The ethnic group is descended originally from Iron age Britons a celtic people who ultimately inhabited Wales, Cornwall and Cumbria following complete domination by the invading Angles, Saxons and Jutes.  The Angles a Germanic Peoples from Schleswig-Holstein in Northern Germany, the Saxons from a broad region in Central Northern Germany and the Jutes a Germanic people from Southern Schleswig or Jutland Denmark, one of the 3 great Germanic tribes according to Bede ("The father of English History").   This was the origin of the ethnonym but later invasions by Danes (Viking expansion in the c.9th) and Normans (Norse Vikings from Normandy a fiefdom in the Kingdom of France who invaded in c.11th) also added many genetically similar peoples to the gene pool.  English = Northern German / Viking.

2.  The Kingdom of England existed from 927 to 1707, it was formed by Athelstan the Glorious, Grandson of Alfred the Great.  It existed as a Sovereign State until the Acts of Union politically unified The Kingdom's of Scotland and England to create the Kingdom of Great Britain. Then in 1801 The Kingdom of Great Britain was united with the Kingdom of Ireland through another act of union to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  In 1922 the Irish Free State was established and an Act of Parliament in 1927 formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  Wales had been a Principality since 1284 until 1536 having been conquered by Edward I and then finally annexed in 1536 by the Laws in Wales Acts (1536-1542).  England=Dominant Political Power in Britain

3.  Geographically England is the larger part of Great Britain and is only 21 miles away from mainland Europe (Dover to Cap Gris Nez).  If you look at google maps, London to Milan is a 765 mile drive and Milan to Messina in Southern Italy is 1252 miles.  Geographically we are part of the same land mass that has only recently (in geological time) been separated by Sea.  England = Parts of the archipelago on the west of the European landmass

The Flag:
The Union Flag (like the ensign the Union Jack) is made from the Cross of St. George representing England and Wales, the Saltire of St Andrew representing Scotland and the Cross of St Patrick representing Ireland.  It couldn't be a better symbol of unity.

The Battles it mentions:
Agincourt was characterised by the strength and bravery of the English and Welsh Longbow-men.
Hastings was the death of an Anglo Saxon England and the Birth of Anglo-Norman England.
At Mons English, Welsh, Scots and Irish all fought and died under the Union Flag
At Arnhem English, Northern Irish, Scots and Welsh all fought and died under the Union Flag defending Europe from the tyranny of a fascist dictator from the heartland of our ancestors.

My Thoughts:
I do think though at the heart of this poem is a message that needs to come out.  The inequity created by only Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales having devolved governments and the greater part of the nation not having any strong regional representation must be addressed by Westminster.  Unfortunately the message can get buried in the mire of jingoism for a state that ceased to exists in 1707 and worse still, hostility and fear that fuels xenophobia, the very same notion that mobilised the Axis and triggered a staunch defence by the Allies in WWII.

I am a Briton and believe our nation is stronger with a strong Union.  Devolved power to regional governments should create a fairer society allowing people to live in a subregion that has social and political harmony with their own views.  I also believe that the only way that UK (of GB & NI) can continue to play a role on the world stage is by uniting with Europe in a stronger way than we do already.  With the rise of Eastern superpowers our culture and society will be consumed by a world dominated by Eastern cultures if we do not.  This is not a bad thing, its just a thing, but I would like the children of Britain to play a role in shaping European culture and in turn for European culture to continue to play a strong role in shaping the world culture of the future.