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The theatre of war in which the male audience do the dying

Weird ways to learn

Bit by bit I am consuming the hefty 2013 tome – ‘The Origins of the First World War: Diplomatic and military documents. Edited and translated by Annika Mombauer.

This is while away from home on a ‘reading week’ – ehem, impromptu exploitation of amazing snow conditions in the French Alps. From 9h30 to 17h00 I ski – guided by the Ski Club of Great Britian. Shattered and exhilerated and needing nothing more to eat after food ‘on the piste’ I start to read.

Old School, appropriate for a hardback book, I mark passages with a Postit; when these run out – I came with 16 or so in the book, I stop, take out a pack of Rolledex cards and write these up. The book comprises an introduction, then a set of documents, in chronological order, leading to the various declarations of war. Reading the infamous notes that Kaiser Wilhelm II left on the despatches he received is revealing, as are the multitude of exchanges between the Foreign Ministers of the key players: Austria-Hungary, Serbia, Russia, Great Britain and France and their respective ambassadors, and national leaders: Prime Ministers, Presidents, Kaisers and Tzars. My interest is our Foreign Minister Sir Edward Grey, the cabinet and his plenapetentiaries, and his direct dealings with key ambassadors. These documents cut through and explain or reveal the obfuscation and spin that started in 1914 and continued for many decades afterwards.

A ‘country’ cannot be blamed – a geographical space is inanimate and its people too disenfranchised and indifferent; we can however blame specific people for aggitating for war and then failing to prevent its outbreak – where I adopt this approach I mean in each case one, two or a handful of people in that country who held, managed or influenced the decision making and therefore had a lot or a modicum of power. Britain was a cabinet with Grey the key player; France was an array of people in the Foreign Ministry and the President; Germany had to be the Kaiser and military rather than civil leaders, Austria-Hungary not the Emperor, but ministers and military, Russia the Foreign Ministes, ambassadors and military with the Tszar largely acting to please while Serbia, most democratic of all (?) was the President Pasic who at this time was distracted by election campaigning. Christopher Clark is wrong to suggest that the leaders of the six major players were ‘sleepwalkers’ : Great Britain was dragged, Russia mobilized, Serbia froze and crossed its finger, Austria-Hungary was up for it and being egged on by Germany. This is at the micro-level: telegrams and conversations. At the macro-level Imperialism in its differing manifestations and geographical locations is collapsing (Ottoman Empire in the Balkans and beyond into the Middle East), the British Empire as an established, civil-service and military managed Goliath with a constitutional monarch and influential cabinet, while France and the USA (not yet featuring in the world affairs of 1914) were still in the business of acquistion – Germany also, but with billigerant military leaders and a kaiser who held power who was determined that he should be front of stage in world affairs whether as a great peacemaker or a great warlord. At the macro-level the equally powerful force of nacent nationhood inside or at the edges of these empires is causing multiple fractures under techtonic plates that are already sliding: emerging from the first and second Balkan Wars, Serbia is the catalyst by 1914 that brings in first one, then another ‘Great Power’ – Russia ostensibly to defend slav brothers, and Germany to back an ally Austria-Hungary that didn’t know which way to move for certain until given a few shoves by a couple of people in Germany.

Why did war break-out in 1914? The hawks in various camps tore at diplomacy with gusto while the doves cooed and at no time could or would the right hawks and doves meet. In this respect one of the Kaiser’s marginalia was tellingly accurate when he cried off any kind of conference – committees play into the hands of the most timid. The conferences proposed by Sir Edward Grey may well have prevented war, or delayed and localised the conflict. But for how long? And should such speculation be used in any historical arguement anyway?

We can narrow it down: had Wilhelm II been of firmer and more consitent mind rather than tipping from war to peace his words would have left Austria-Hungary to deal with events on its troubled borders. It wasn’t for Grey to either keep his hand close to his chest visave acting with France and Russia or declaring it – an absolute commitment to act would have goaded a paranoid and largelly prepared Germany sooner while neutrality far from pasifying Germany would have told them that the field was theirs. Grey was caught between a rock and a hard place and in the privileged position of sitting at the top of the decision making tree in an established, stable and still sucessfully expanding empire.

I fall asleep at 18h30 and wake two or three hours later my dreamworld infested by these characters, these players in a Shakespearesn tragedy that instead of seeing the blood on the stage, decimates and maims a sizeable part of the audience that like the Globe on a summer’s evening is made up of people not from six countries, but from 36. The bloodbath is in the yard not in the gallery.

 

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Further reading

Courtesy of Christopher Clark’s ‘The Sleepwalkers: how europe went to war in 1914’ I have been prompted to seek out further books – this reading stack thus far amount to six books and half a dozen eBooks. Like a school-boy I feel it is necessary to take notes as I read.

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The Sleepwalkers: why Europe went to war in 1914

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A more thorough, comprehensive, balanced and relevant, detailed narrative of whst took place, how and why that led to conflict in 1914. Vital resding to anyone interested on why the world went to war in 1914, and background to many 20th and even 21sf century conflicts since from the Second World War, through the Cold War, Balkan War and even civil war in Syria. As the Ottoman Empire fell apart like a pair of unmendable trousers the Balkans became a collection of nations that the powers of the day wanted to influence – Russia eventually picking Serbia which was also the nemesis of Austria-Hungary. Britain was aligned with Russia to protect interests far further afield, such ad India, while France, still wounded from the loss of Alsace-Lorraine was more thsn prepared to fight Germany if first the alliance with Russia, and then that with Britain could be brought into play. Some three decades of taking an interest in the First War and this book is by far the best read on the causes and therefore the most important of anything I have read. Make it the first book of any you may wish to read as the centenary looms.

Who caused the First World War? Which men, not nations, are to blame?

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914 by the Australian historian Christopher Clark is the most thorough, balanced and I therefore believe accurate assessment of what took Europe and the world to war in 1914 – repurcussions froms which we still feel to this day, not least in the current impasses in Syria, a product of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and in its use of chemical weapons first used and condemned in the First World War. Blaming a nationa is foolish – the blame, if we are to pick people, begins with the Serbian plotter, assin and gangster Dragutin Dimitrijevic – a regicide who planned and successfully executed the assasination of archduke Franz Ferdinand – without him none of this would have happened. In HIS hands is the blood of 9 million from the First War and 20 million from the Second. He wanted to bring things to an impasse between Serbia and Austria-Hungary so that a Great Serbia could be forged. Next in line to blame is Tzar Nicholas II of Russia who turned any advice on what had caused or who had instigated the assasination of the Archduke on its head and in pushing to support Serbia knew an attack on Austria- Hungary was needed and doing this would expose a flank to German so would naturally have to include an attack on Germany too. Next I blame the French for siding with Russia and knowing that they would need to attack German or defend an attack from Germany. Tucked in here somewhere blame must go to Conrad and Franz Josef of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – who deserved and required retribution for what all knew to have been a plot from Serbia if not from the Serbian government – the problem here was the tangled mess that was the Serbian government – too weak to oppose terrorist groupings (there are two) such as The Black Hand, who like a secretive group of Free Masons or the ‘old school tie’ and artistocratic links that controlled politics in the British Empire, could not be policed, managed or held to account. Austria-Hungary should have asked, “what would Franz Ferdinand” have done? He would had trodden carefully, always having wanted to give greater autonomy to ‘nations’ within the empire. And, on the list, but lower down, blame needs to go to Gavrilo Princip. As various opportunities presented themselves to assasinated the archduke and some of the seven assasins had their go, two go cold feet on seeing the duchess Sophia – did she need to die too? Had Princip shot only the archduke then the response from Vienna, though tough, may have been less than all out war with Serbia. I do not blame Germany at all, indeed I see how they suddenly found themselves hemmed in by aggressors. Germany, like Russia, were then simply chancing their arm, believing each had the adequate military muscle to prevails and itching to settle all kinds of unresolved scores and national and empirical ambitions that a battle or two would resolve. None could see the scale. It became, and has been, a hundred year’s of war …

Why skiing is my metphor for life and learning

Fig.1.   Mont Turia from the summit of Aiguille Rouge, Les Arcs at 3250m

On the last day, on the last run of my first week’s skiing I broke my leg rather badly. I was 13. I was in hospital for a week. In a wheelchair for two months and had the leg re-broken as it wasn’t setting properly. I spent six months at home. Idiot. But most 13 year old boys are.

I missed the next season.

For the following 20 years skiing mattered – a gap year working in the Alps (Val D’Isere in the Sofitel Hotel working 13 hours a day 7 days a week), a decade later researching a TV documentary and book  (Oxford Scientific Films, Skieasy Ski Guides), falling in love with a fellow skiing enthusiast (we’ve been married 20 years), a honeymoon on the slopes and ten years later, on the slopes with a 4 and 6 year old, then again when they were 10 and 12. 

I miss it.

(See above – the last week of the season, Tignes. The only people on the slopes are the ‘seasoniers’ who have worked since December. It is like being on the beach. A stream that flows above Val Claret melts and various ponds form. We ski it.)

Early in the afternoon I’d asked my girlfriend if she’d marry me. I was feeling cock-a-hoop.

We’ve been back twice in the last decade. There have been other priorities. I’ll be taking my 14 year old son out later this month or in April. Is that wise? At this age teenagers really are prone to take risks and can lack the physique.

Reasons to celebrate and look forwards

37 months to the day after starting the Masters in Open & Distance Education (MAODE) I got the final result, for H810: Accessibility in Open Learning – supporting students with disabilities, today. 84.

It has been so worth it and such a better, engaging, effective, experience than my undergraduate degree in a traditional university some decades ago. I feel as if I have earned it for a start. I have survived disasters rather than succumbed to them.

I am a reading, thinking, writing machine.

I feel like someone who has come to skiing late in life and has caught the bug. My mother started skinning in her mid 40s … and in her 50th year (unencumbered by her husband who was with wife three by then) sold the house and did a belated ‘gap year’ working a season in the Alps. The equivalent for me has to be the intellectual challenge of doctoral research.

More reading, thinking and writing – with research and teaching too I hope.

Onwards.

Tutor Marked Assignment One  (TMA01) for H809 (Practice-based research in educational technology) is due on Monday.

Why more?

‘Practice-based research in educational technology’, to use skiing as a metaphor, is like learning to ski ‘off-piste’. Apt, as the tracks I make are ones I have planned, rather than keeping to the groomed, signed and patrolled ‘safety’ of the regular runs.

And my reward?

Fig. 2. Mont Blanc – From the Ski Resort of La Plagne,  Above Montchavin. Les Arc on the right . The road to Val d’Isere clinging to the mountain in the middle distance Bourg St. Maurice in the bottom of the Valley

Skiing en famille.

We’ve not been out for five years so it should be a treat. It has to be on a shoestring, so short of hitching to Bulgaria can anyone recommend ways to keep the cost down?!!

 

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 28,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 6 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

 

Access to e-learning and the Olympic Orbit for students with disabilities

Fig.1. Arcelor-Mittal Orbit

‘Social psychology – responsibility for accessible e-learning is mentally disseminated in a crowd and individuals don’t feel responsible’ (Fellow H810 Student)

When it comes to improving accessibility to e-learning for students with disabilities I wonder if it is the same problem of failure to take responsibility even when one person is given a task that ought to be something that everyone considers important.

Let’s say it is declared that everyone should take responsibility for writing clear messages to each other and students – and to do this correct use of upper and lower case is vital. One person cannot ‘police this’ … now say, as you may see with OU content, a low contrast colour background is used in all copy, great for some with dyslexia, makes no difference to the rest of us  … again, it has to be everyone’s responsibility to do this. The better solution to have a tab to alter not only text size, but contrast choices too.

In relation to designers – the programming, coding, web design type, it is the case that many want to be ‘at the cutting edge’ doing stuff no one else has done before in relation to interactivity, sliding fluid frames, and use of video frames and so on. They need to listen to the designer who has had a background in problem solving, thinking of it more as an visualizing, even and engineering problem, rather than a coding, decoding one.

Rather than hiring prima donnas,  the creators of e-learning need to understand that much of e-learning is like civil engineering – we’re not building an iconic swimming venue for the Olympics, or a visitor ‘attraction’ such as the Arcelor-Mittal Orbit either.  The reality is more mundane  – basic compliance with regards to e-learning is more akin to a box of well-considered leaflets or a 16 page magazine. So don’t hire people with expectations of winning a BAFTA.

I have seen too often amazing ‘stuff’ win a contract, everyone is happy and then someone puts up their hand as launch becomes imminent and asks ‘what about access for students with disabilities?’

‘We haven’t thought about that yet’ comes the sometimes honest, though sheepish reply.

Is this like designing the Concord to get people to New York in 3 hours 30 minutes only to find that a) they won’t let you land and b) 10% of passengers are scared of flying and would prefer to go by ocean liner. Using an analogy we are familiar with, what if the Arcelor-Mital Orbit at the London Olympics – without thinking about access had stairs then after construction they were asked about wheelchair access? Do designers perform the equivalent of trying to put in a lift after the event? If a skin or dashboard will do the job that is fine, and in some cases I think this is where assistive software and technology can work … but only if you’ve thought about it from the outset.

The argument and appeal to designers is to aim for ‘universal design’ that goal of combining function and form to produce something so clear and simple that works for everyone … or at least broadens what some author calls ‘reachability’.

Fig.1. Arcelor-Mittal Orbit

‘Social psychology – responsibility for accessible e-learning is mentally disseminated in a crowd and individuals don’t feel responsible’ (Fellow H810 Student)

When it comes to improving accessibility to e-learning for students with disabilities I wonder if it is the same problem of failure to take responsibility even when one person is given a task that ought to be something that everyone considers important.

Let’s say it is declared that everyone should take responsibility for writing clear messages to each other and students – and to do this correct use of upper and lower case is vital. One person cannot ‘police this’ … now say, as you may see with OU content, a low contrast colour background is used in all copy, great for some with dyslexia, makes no difference to the rest of us  … again, it has to be everyone’s responsibility to do this. The better solution to have a tab to alter not only text size, but contrast choices too.

In relation to designers – the programming, coding, web design type, it is the case that many want to be ‘at the cutting edge’ doing stuff no one else has done before in relation to interactivity, sliding fluid frames, and use of video frames and so on. They need to listen to the designer who has had a background in problem solving, thinking of it more as an visualizing, even and engineering problem, rather than a coding, decoding one.

Rather than hiring primadonnas,  the creators of e-learning need to understand that much of e-learning is like civil engineering – we’re not building an iconic swimming venue for the Olympics, or a visitor ‘attraction’ such as the Arcelor-Mittal Orbit either.  The reality is more mundane  – basic compliance with regards to e-learning is more akin to a box of well-considered leaflets or a 16 page magazine. So don’t hire people with expectations of winning a BAFTA.

I have seen too often amazing ‘stuff’ win a contract, everyone is happy and then someone puts up their hand as launch becomes imminent and asks ‘what about access for students with disabilities?’

‘We haven’t thought about that yet’ comes the sometimes honest, though sheepish reply.

Is this like designing the Concord to get people to New York in 3 hours 30 minutes only to find that a) they won’t let you land and b) 10% of passengers are scared of flying and would prefer to go by ocean liner. Using an analogy we are familiar with, what if the Arcelor-Mital Orbit at the London Olympics – without thinking about access had stairs then after construction they were asked about wheelchair access? Do designers perform the equivalent of trying to put in a lift after the event? If a skin or dashboard will do the job that is fine, and in some cases I think this is where assistive software and technology can work … but only if you’ve thought about it from the outset.

The argument and appeal to designers is to aim for ‘universal design’ that goal of combining function and form to produce something so clear and simple that works for everyone … or at least broadens what some author calls ‘reachability’.

 

Celebrating 25 years in video production

 

How I presented myself to clients in France when I was working for French news agencies, animation houses, broadcasters and corporate producers. Once again actively seeking to blend video production with communications and learning.

Sick Note and an invitation to go on an exchange to France

 

33 years ago I applied to go on a French exchange. Last week my exchange and my French girlfriend from that exchange got in touch.

I wrote in my diary:

4/10/1978

Too sick to swim

Mum writes ‘sick note’ to Mr Knowles. to get me off swimming, which wouldn’t do me any good, probably put me back in bed, and also giving me the total afternoon off.

I cycle to JM’s only to find he is playing rugger so would be on the bus.

At the traffic light crossing in Jesmond the ‘Lollipop Man’ pretends not to notice me. I have to cross the road, I’ve seen him stop the traffic for other cyclists, but not for. I have to press the thing myself while he looks the other way. Although I cycle this route quite often I still haven’t met the same people. I hope too. Perhaps a jolly ‘good morning’ to the ‘Lollipop Man’ would encourage him to press the thing for me. I always seem to just miss the red lights.

I catch a glimpse of Sally going into school, she looks sullen.

English

Get to read the ‘First Player’. I’m not enjoying Hamlet, hasn’t the bawdy, free living, bouncy feeling of Jack Falstaff.

Economics

Test back, good. Everyone did well. 13/14 and 19/22 Careless mistakes through not reading the QQ, or skipping part of the Q out, assuming I know what it wanted.

TV Pilot

Letter from Northern Scene requesting the presence of Paul Holbrook, Phil Kolvin, Alistair Liadlaw, Rex Negus, Brian Thomson and me at Tyne Tees studios for a pilot programme ‘Northern Scene’. Note form ASC stating, ‘Please be careful to keep to your commitment’.

Talk to Mr Mitchell about why and how I got into the TTTV interview pilot show. End up spilling my heart over TV and films, Strange how I always say as he says ‘GM’ No one else does, as far as I know One up.

General Studies

Prime a bare board, hope to develop that or more effort consug but hopefully more artistic talented needed do ideally a pic of Joanna, from a drawing I did last year.

Art

Have to say ‘Yuk’ to all my previous work, told E-F that I must get a schedule worked out, otherwise I’d never get anything done.

Early Lunch

Note to Knowles to get off swimming, free for afternoon. Intend to walk to town, back and bike home.

Decide to bus from town, bus in tomorrow and cycle home, so I took my work into town with me.

Library

First call Central Library, don’t find anything I want, although I met my partners, Haggie and friend, with a nice pile of books I wanted soil erosion and economics on variability of demand –  get neither but decide I could get some useful information if I spent an afternoon there . Really Hamlet essay must be got out of the way first, I must take the plunge and start it, due for Friday. (At least giving the weekend free for English).

Drift into town, look at ‘stage’ D Bowie, at £4.20, probably will get it, otherwise its spend, spend, spend mostly on art materials.

Then on ‘prestige writing paper’ from the kard bar i.e. poetry cards. Kard Bar

Ten sheets and envelope, deep purple and country design

‘Astral Body Asleep’ Mati Klarwein 76

Blue Mountain poetry cards ‘Thoughts of Life’.

Photo by Dunstan Pereira – naked female torso

‘I have learned that to be with those I like is enough’ and ‘a dreamer lives for eternity’ and two note card, sexy dream type pics and purples vellum writing paper. All with Miss Germany in mind.

The French Exchange beckons

Meet guy sorting out exchanges to France and Germany by mistakes (while trying to see Mr Reagan so as to get a duplicate locker key made). I get forms anyway. I might be interested, only two weeks each way, therefore not mucking up my own, or other possible arrangements.

Buy Film Review. 47 bus part of the way home, walk the rest. Stop at Three Mile garage for food.

Home

Deadly tired, make coffee, settle in front of diary. Joanna plays with my tin whistle, makes a monotonous din. Make her coffee and continue avec this. Aunty Joan Summers came home with Mum. Then get on with my English, then some Geography. Took Solpadeine for headache.

Letter of RGS Letter headed paper:

Dear Parent

French and German Exchanges

I’m very happy to say that we are planning an exchange with a school near La Rochelle as well as with the Max-Planck Gymnasum in Gelsenkirchen this year.

It is clearly highly desirable that boys should use this opportunity of spending over two weeks in constant contact with French of German, especially if there is a possibility that they may pursue their language studies beyond O-level. On past experience we have found that boys in their first year of study of a foreign language can profit greatly from an exchange, especially if they are keen to try out the language.

France

Arrangements are as yet at an early stage. The RGS party would go to La Rochelle during the East Holiday, and the French party would return in July.

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