Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Idler, Thursday, February 9, 2017

A scourge of worms in uniform

ARMYWORMS are on the march. They're munching their way through the maize fields of South Africa. They're a close to unstoppable scourge. Famine threatens.

But at least they're not navyworms. These are a threat of a different order. Navyworms don't just eat up the maize crop, they behave very badly.

They take over entire dockside neighbourhoods and keep people awake with their roistering. They take over bars. They consort with silkworms, cutworms and caterpillars in the most shameless way, in bordellos and back alleys.

They dance the hornpipe. They drink rum to excess. Then they go back to sea, leaving society to pick up the pieces.

Navyworms – they're the real threat.


LIBERATION at last. Well, at one school down in the Cape any way. At Sun Valley Primary, in Cape Town, they've abandoned homework, as I read in this most interesting report. When the kids go out of the gate, that's it for the day. Now it's time for hopscotch, rounders or whatever takes their fancy. Freedom from drudgery. What advanced thinking must lie behind this. But why only one school?

Homework is a terrible imposition. Most of us get it in two phases. First when we're at school and, if we're unlucky, Mum happens also to be a teacher and she puts us through our paces at home, worse than they do at school.

Then eventually we have our own brood and we're expected to participate in the homework exercise. You can't get away from it. And it becomes especially irksome because after only a couple of years the kids are learning things far in advance of anything we ever learned at school. You begin to feel inadequate.

And conflict with the school can arise. I recall how I enlivened the homework sessions with exercises in mental agility. "If I buy a dozen apples at a penny three farthings each, what do I pay?" The answer, of course, is one shilling and ninepence. The answer comes instantly. If the price per apple had been a penny ha'penny, the total price would have been one and sixpence.

Voila! Clever, not so? No need for calculators and that kind of thing.

Then what happens next? I get a hostile note from the teacher, ordering me to stop filling my kid's head with confusing nonsense about pounds shillings and pence and imperial measures. She implies very strongly that if I do not comply, she will come round and box my ears.

These teachers mean business. When will children and their parents be liberated? Sun Valley Primary, in Cape Town, I see as a start, though long overdue.

Keyboard number

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

A WHILE ago we discussed a chicken farm at a place called Germantown in Maryland, in the US, where the owner has set up toy keyboards for the chickens to peck at, making a rather aimless racket.

But now, according to Huffington Post, the owner claims to have taught one of the chickens to play America the Beautiful. The chicken puts real feeling into the line about "amber waves of grain".

Farm owner Shannon Myers says she taught the chicken using a clicker.

"It took about two weeks to get her to this level through clicker training," Myers says. "Just about 10 minutes to get her to peck the keys initially."

Clicker training is a form of animal training that uses positive reinforcement to shape behaviour.

"You click when the behaviour is done, then reward," Myers says. "Because you can click faster than give a reward, they immediately associate the click with the wanted behaviour which then leads to reward."

We understand perfectly. But a chicken playing a tune on a keyboard - is Shannon perhaps having us on?

But then again, who ever thought Donald Trump could make it to the US presidency? Anything can happen, I suppose.

Who knows, the chicken - – a Chinese Buff Bantam named Jokgu - could end up part of the entertainment ensemble at the White House.


THE phone rings.

"I've got trouble with the car," she says. "There's water in the carburettor."

"Where is the car?"

"In the river."

Last word

Your theory is crazy, but it's not crazy enough to be true.

Niels Bohr


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