Saturday, July 24, 2010

AGTO Day Five: Everything Else

Thursday was another day with three speakers, so it was quite busy. Thursday was also the first day it rained. We had no rain during the day all week. I guess Oxford felt like it needed to make up for that. It started raining a little bit as I walked back from Pitt Rivers, but I had a rain jacket and it wasn't that bad, so I went out. I was halfway down the block before it started pouring, and then, thundering, which I'm told does not happen very often here. I was huddling under a hedge with several other people, who seemed to think it would let up in a minute, as that's what the weather usually does, but it didn't. When there was a huge thunderclap right over my head, I made a run for it back to the college to hang up my clothes to dry and wait for it to stop. Which of course it did, but by then it was time for the first speaker.

The first speaker was Rob Soulsby-Smith, and his talk was, on paper, called "Teaching Shakespeare in the Computer Age," which wasn't what it was about at all and was actually much more interesting. He was great partly because he was so enthusiastic. Rob founded Shakespeare in Schools in 1999. It's a program that goes into school and does workshops with students throughout the day, and ends with a performance. Mostly what Rob talked to us about was how to perform Shakespeare, and how Shakespeare left clues in his plays to let the actor know exactly how it should be done.

Shakespeare, we were told, was all about communicating. However, the average person only has between 2,000 and 6,000 unique words. In all of Shakespeare's plays, he used 26,000 unique words, which means the average person will understand about one word in 13. So expression and rhythm is very important. Rob showed us how the vowel sounds open the face up, while consent sounds make the face harder to read. He talked about the names in Romeo and Juliet, and why they were chosen. Romeo has lots of vowel sounds. When Juliet is wondering why Romeo is Romeo, it really would have made more sense to say "Montague, Montague, wherefore art thou Montague," but it doesn't sound as good does it? Montague isn't a soft enough a sound.

When teaching Shakespeare, the iambic pentameter is key. A usual line has five beats, but there's lots of exceptions to this in Shakespeare. Rob compared Shakespeare to a jazz musician. He was messing around with the rhythm, but whenever he does, it means something. Five beats to a line is a strong line, but throw in an extra beat and it's weaker, questioning. In Romeo and Juliet, when Juliet is getting reading to drink the potion to make her sleep, she has a line that's just "Come, vial." Shakespeare was putting in a pause. Actors sometimes share a complete rhythm, Romeo and Mercutio do it a lot, and this shows a familiarity between the characters.

After the Shakespeare talk, I took a walk down High Street to Iffley Road to take a look at the Iffley Road Track, which is now the Roger Bannister Track. This where the first sub-four minute mile was broken for the first time by Roger Bannister. The track itself was not at all interesting, as it just looks like a track. But there was a very lovely plaque. Alas, I got caught in the rain again coming back and even though I was fully armed with both rain jacket and umbrella, my second pair of shoes got quite soaked. It better not rain hard again until I get a chance to dry my shoes out. I only have my flip-flops left now.

After a cup of tea I went to the next speaker, Dr. Richard Grayson who talked about journalism. In the world right now, there are around 47 separate conflicts. The BBC reports on 7 or 8 or them, and the U.S. media reports on 4 or 5 of them. So is news really the eyes and ears? Dr. Grayson says a problem with journalism now is that it reports the symptoms, but not the real story. The "why" is missing.

Dr. Grayson only spoke for a short time, as he wanted people to be able to ask questions. There were questions about how the U. S. is perceived, and about anti-Americanism. Someone asked why we don't see Haiti in the news anymore, and the answer was because it's saturated. Nothing is changing and therefore it isn't interesting to report. That may sound harsh, but Dr. Grayson said that the news is not a philanthropic organization. It's not the media's job to raise money for Haiti. It's their job to keep people informed on changing situations.

Dr. Grayson also talked a little bit about want versus need. People want certain types of news, but they might need something else. The news stations need to give the people what they want, otherwise they just flip the channel, but there should be need in there as well. This was, he said, why print in someone ways is better than television. If you're watching news on TV and you don't care about what's going on, you flip the channel. The news station looses you, and that's why they have to do more stories that you want, and less that you need. With print, they have all the stories, and you just flip the page if there's something you're not interested in.

Dr. Grayson sat across from me at dinner. He was very nice, and fun to chat with.

After dinner, we went back for the final speaker of the day, Dr. Tim Benbow, on the uplifting topic of "Fighting Terror in the 21st Century." His talk was scary and reassuring at the same time. Terrorism is very difficult to define. The Minute Men fighting against the British were freedom fighters. But put them in Iraq and they're terrorists. In general, terrorism is the treat of serious violence and wider intimidation to achieve political gain. That of course is very vague.

Dr. Benbow said that terrorism has not gotten worse, despite popular belief that terrorism is on the rise. We just hear about it more. We hear about it more because we're currently not at war with anyone else. We don't have an enemy. If we did, terrorism would just be viewed as an annoyance. Also, with 24-hour news media always looking for stories, we're exposed to it more than ever before, but it's in fact not getting worse.

But terrorism has changed in some ways. It used to be viewed as counterproductive to kill a large number of people, now many groups see killing as many people as possible as desirable. There are bigger and better weapons than ever before. Dr. Benbow said that stupid terrorist don't last long, so groups are getting smarter and more innovative.

Dr. Benbow took a closer look at Al-Qaeda. When we think, "Al-Qaeda," we might picture one group, all working together in one large network. In fact, it's more like a franchises. There are all these individual groups that call themselves Al-Qaeda, and they operate in different ways, and they don't all agree on everything.

So, of course, we wanted to know, so what do we do? How do we deal with terrorism? Dr. Benbow says there are two ways to deal with terrorism, and we need to be doing both of them. Currently, we are doing mostly one, and not well. One tactic is killing them all. Locking up and administering killings of key members. It's effective in getting rid of leaders, it's a show of strength, and it reassures the public that something is being done. It's a very blunt instrument though. If people are killed who are not involved, now you've just recruited all their family members to fight against you. There's no point killing one if ten more are going to take the place.

The other tactic is to look at the root causes of terrorism and address them and solve those problems. So diplomacy. This can be difficult, since a government wouldn't want to be seen as compromising or rewarding terrorism. But it wouldn't be about trying to win the terrorist organizations over, it would be about trying to influence the population. Terrorism is backed up by real grievances. It's support by the people who have serious issues. So if those issues are addressed, then it takes away support to terrorism.

In order for this to work, both things need to be done together. And it would take a very, very long time. The governments need to be able to commit to it, there's no point starting if it's not going to be completed. And it would be hard. There would be a lot of failure, which would be very public, and the successes would be small and unnoticed.

So. That was an uplifting end to the day.

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