Tag Archives: Star Trek

The Persuasive Power of Repetition 1

Glass Ball by Didgeman

I can clearly remember asking my English master, “When are we going to start studying English Grammar?” I recall the fellow as young, small and slight, with a mop of curly, dark brown hair, and substantial sideburns. All in all, his 70s-fashion sense made him look like an elf. “We don’t do that anymore,” he said. And when I asked how I was going to learn it, he replied, “Read a lot”. Repeat

So I read a lot. I read The Glass Bead Game on the train from Tehran to Istanbul.

Yambuya_RDC_congo_1890 by By Th. Weber [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Congo, the venue for Heart of Darkness

I read Heart of Darkness in the wee hours working in the biscuit factory.

I read anything and everything: all of Hardy, most of Dickens; Austin and Auden, Bryson and Byron, Keats and Cummings, Dawkins and Darwin, James and Joyce, Lawrences T.E and D.H, Orwell and Orton, Pynchon and Pratchett, Shakespeare and Sheridan, and “Even Cowgirls get the Blues”.

So, I should have been well prepared to teach English in Japan, ne?

Nope, not at all. There is a reason French classes include grammaire française, or in German classes there is Deutsches Grammatik, and this was true for other language classes too: Especially Japanese learning English, and 英語人は日本語を習う.

Walrus and the Mutton Chops by andycox93

Walrus and the Mutton Chops by andycox93

My elfish English master was acting in the fashion of those times; tearing down the moldering Gormenghast of colonial methods and Victorian values, and refuting beliefs in thrashings, cold baths, and English grammars based on two-thousand-year-old Latin ones. Someone in Eng. Lit. had noticed that the English Language grew from a Germanic stock to which had been grafted French, Latin, a bit of Greek and umpteen other languages. We freely steal whenever we take a fancy to one of someone else’s nouns or verbs. It is simply ridiculous to apply highly inflected Latin grammar to this perky expressive mongrel. When my Chemistry teacher mocked the Star Trek opening lines “To boldly go” as a split infinitive, he was wrong. Infinitives are there to be split when it is the right thing to do. In Japan, folks were better educated and more practical. They knew what a clause was.

Once I had recovered from feeling nauseously miffed (about my lack of formal grammar and not the other times), I set about remedying the deficiency, only to find that the weeds of industry had produced such a plethora of books, blogs and bibles that it was nigh impossible to gain much traction on the subject until I discovered The Teaching Company. I started with the excellent “Building Great Sentences” and went to buy many great other titles.  “Building Great Sentences” inspired me to attack English Grammar again. As before there were heaps of the stuff available, but this time, thanks in main part to Richard Norquist’s excellent (and free!) ThoughtCo,com Blog and Newsletter and June Casagrande, who wrote the classic Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies, I got better.

This essay is the first of four on repetition, the many ways we repeat ourselves. We repeat sounds, words and phrases all the time, and we do so to increase our intelligibility and both our affect and our effect. We do so formally and informally, and have always done so. Repetition is a bore at the moment as it only multiplies the fire hose of information targeted on us. Our more rational, more intelligent progeny will have figured out how their devices work, and have a vaccine for FMO and fakenewzeemia, so will have the time to devote to the first human communication technology, speech, knowing all others are but its pale reflection.

So Repetition, then.

It is said:

“[R]epetition skulks under numerous different names, one might almost say aliases, depending on who is repeating what where:
When parrots do it, it’s parrotting. When advertisers do it, it’s reinforcement.
When children do it, it’s imitation. When brain-damaged people do it, it’s perseveration or echolalia.
When disfluent people do it, it’s stuttering or stammering.
When orators do it, it’s epizeuxis, ploce, anadiplosis, polyptoton or antimetabole.
When novelists do it, it’s cohesion.
When poets do it, it’s alliteration, chiming, rhyme, or parallelism.
When priests do it, it’s ritual. When sounds do it, it’s gemination.
When morphemes do it, it’s reduplication.
When phrases do it, it’s copying. When conversations do it, it’s reiteration..”

(Jean Aitchison, “‘Say, Say It Again Sam’: The Treatment of Repetition in Linguistics.” Repetition, ed. by Andreas Fischer. Gunter Narr Verlag, 1994)

Tetrahymena thermophila 80S ribosome model

Tetrahymena thermophila 80S ribosome model

And Jean goes onto total up 27 ways we do this thing. Some worry about repetition and need reassurance:

“Repetition is a far less serious fault than obscurity. Young writers are often unduly afraid of repeating the same word, and require to be reminded that it is always better to use the right word over again, than to replace it by a wrong one–and a word which is liable to be misunderstood is a wrong one. A frank repetition of a word has even sometimes a kind of charm–as bearing the stamp of truth, the foundation of all excellence of style.”
(Theophilus Dwight Hall, A Manual of English Composition. John Murray, 1880)

Yet even a recent Republican candidate for the Presidency (Mitt Romney) quipped,
“President Obama should stop apologizing for American People. President Obama should start apologizing to the American People,”
stealing a tip from the JFK’s (and Ovid’s) playbook.

We repeat:

  • Sounds, and have done so since babyhood;
  • Words, independent of words around them;
  • Meanings, to clarify or harp on another word;
  • Words or phrases balanced against others to produce – we hope – ringing persuasive rhetoric.

PIA19656-SaturnMoon-Enceladus-Ocean-ArtConcept-20150915, By NASA/JPL-Caltech [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Enceladus, Saturn’s Ice Moon

Thinking about and trying to teach artful repetition harks back to the Ancient Greece of Socrates and Plato, as do our prejudices about whether something said artfully can be as truthful as plain speaking. As we have some writing from these ancient orators, we also know what they called their stuff. This was not much of a problem until the nineteenth century when to be educated was to have read the Classics, as they became called, in the original Ancient Greek or the Latin of Augustus. Since then human knowledge has increased so prolifically that we have newly coined words to describe its vastness. The top unit, currently, is a Xenottobyte, which is 1,000 Yottabytes (Yb); a Yb is to a Terabyte (Tb) as a Terabyte is to a single byte (1b); a Tb is a 1,000 billion bytes, a byte is a single unit of computer storage which can be either a binary one or a binary zero.

Our recent ancestors could only wonder at our achievement, for example:

  • we have discovered ribosomes, those exquisite molecular sewing machines which spin the ubiquitous dogsbodies of life, proteins;
  • we know what lies at the heart of our sun, and why it is hot;
  • we have discovered an ocean in an ice moon orbiting Jupiter and another orbiting Saturn;
  • and we can make a movie of the visual cortex in someone’s brain watching a movie.

Not only are we as a species more proficient and busier, we simply do not have the time anymore.

Our lack of Ancient Greek and Latin also means we no longer have a handle on the names of all those rhetorical techniques handed down by those ancient orators, like anadiplosis or polyptoton, but as they are neat and would be an excellent zinger/put down, so I’ll include them and add little mnemonics in order to remember them.

Repeating sounds without meaning

A single repeated phoneme ( as in “ba” in “Ba-ba-Blacksheep” or “Ba-ba-Barbara Anne”) are our first words or a default when we have none. A child saying “Mama” is reduplicating. This is term is straight from the department of redundant redundancies, as “Mama” is twice a “ma”, i.e. a duplication, and the suffix re- means to do again, so a “re-duplicative” of “ma” should be “ma ma ma ma” and sounds very like the phrase used to illustrate the four tones of Mandarin. I would forget it but it goes well with other oily words: insinuate, global, bill.

In real speech there is a lot of – err – meaningless sounds or embolalia (em-bo-LA-lee-a, From the Greek, “something thrown in”, mnemonic “embol” as in embolism, “lalia” as in lips or the Cyclops on Futurama). Embolalia do not carry meaning in themselves. “Um”, “ah”, or “err” is not like the word “dog” which to me conjures up an image of  a furry, four footed mammal with a taste for long walks and duck jerky. But, to me, the word “chien/chienne” or “犬 (いぬ, inu )” or “perro/ perra” also means Monty T. Dog and his species which implies that there is something about meaning has to be learned. Embolalia can garner meaning from its context and tone, as in “Owh, no, Mrs.”

The master of this innuendo was Frankie Howerd, doyen of Carry On films and Up Pompeii, who even gave a class at the Oxford Union.

When we reduplicate embolalia, we stutter. To those of us like poor Ken in ‘A Fish called Wanda’ it is a curse but even the brief in that film, Archie, whose honeyed tongue makes him his mint, can, on occasion, fall short: “ I Wendy- I Wanda- I wonder…” when pondering a new girlfriend, a current wife and the possibilities.

Stuttering can be done deliberately and can be used to make a great deal of dough. Dan Dotsons deliberate duplications are his heirloom Auction Chant (or Auctioneering) which he performs on Storage Wars. There are distinct musical possibilities to embolalia and stuttering. Amy Whitehouse uses it to make “Doo Wop” and Scatman John worked on his stutter to become “Scat” art.

In the next essay, we will investigate, how to grow meaningless repeated sound into art with a capital A, and therefore any other purpose you may choose.

The Occult Knowledge Of Ancient Alien Theorists

Around to the Queen Nefertiti by Egisto Sani

Akhenaton was a most unusual looking dude. His statue in the Cairo museum of Antiquities shows a long, equine profile; a pair of flaring nostrils; hooded, mesmeric eyes; a mobile, sensuous mouth and, above all, the high dome of a vast cranium sloping back deep into the Pharaonic crown. The sculpture gives a profound impression of immense power and a clear, deep intelligence for which we have only one word: genius.

Statue of Akhenaten by Les Williams

Statue of Akhenaten by Les Williams

Akhenaton was a revolutionary before his time. He allowed his likeness to be realistic, breaking away from the stylized bombast of Ramses the Great, and leading to a flowering of creativity never before seen. The Mona Lisa of this brief twinkling in human history is the bust of his queen, the timeless, iconic Nefertiti, possibly the most beautiful woman of all time. To the ancients, women were chattels, servants, breeding stock. Most ancient potentates kept many wives and a host of concubines, but Akhenaton had just one, his childhood sweetheart whom he trusted in everything, promoting her his co-ruler.

Together they turned their backs on the dark, incestuous gods of Thebes and Tanis with their sinister magicians and their corrupt, power-hungry priesthood. The Pharaoh and his Consort sort only the light they called the Aten, and whose symbol the Solar Disk lights our world, bringing it warmth and life.

To tear their people away from the old hideous cults and the rank superstition on which those abominations thrived they set out north into the desert and were shown the place by the setting sun. There at Amarna they commanded a city to be built and, miraculously, the vast city of Akhetaten sprung into existence. Scientists still do not know how such an immense project with its innumerable temples, palaces and causeways was achieved in such a short time.

Nefertiti Bust by Philip Pikart

Nefertiti Bust by Philip Pikart

Yet the old priests plotted and planned. Robbed of power, they caused chaos in the kingdom, accusing the Pharaoh of abandoning his people. They may well have had him assassinated using a poisoned fig. Their menacing threats forced Nefertiti, now in fear for her life and the lives of her children, to write to Egypt’s mortal enemy, the Hittites, for help, for a husband. This last desperate attempt foundered when the Hittite prince was murdered in the sands of the Sinai, and Nefertiti disappears from history.

There remains on a temple wall, the Hymn to the Aten, composed by Akhenaton, which some five hundred years before the time of Moses and more than a thousand before the first words of the Pentateuch were committed to writing, is the first monotheistic prayer on earth.


“Thou gloriously set thyself up on the borders of the sky
Thou from whom every life was born
When Thou shone from the horizon at the east
Thou filled the land with thy beauty
Thou art beautiful, great, sparkling,
Thou travel above the land Thou hast created
Embracing it with thy rays,
Keeping them tightly for your loving son (Akhenaton).
Although Thou are far away, thy rays are on Earth;
Although Thou hast fill men’s eyes, thy prints are not seen.”


K'inich Janaab' Pakal

K’inich Janaab’ Pakal

On the other side of the great Atlantic ocean, remote and unknown in Europe for another three thousand years, were great civilizations which also built pyramids and which also worshipped the Sun God. In the Mayan city of Palenque, within the Temple of Inscriptions is the tomb of the god king, K’inich Janaab’ Pakal. He looks uncannily like Akhenaton. Pakal too had those luminous, mesmeric eyes, a puckered sensuous mouth, and a deep domed head. He too ruled in a time of prosperity and artistic accomplishment. His capital of Palenque also simply appeared, this time in the dense tropical Mesoamerican jungle. Most intriguing of all is the heavy lid of his solid sarcophagus which seems to show him at the controls of a spaceship.

Crystal Skull, British Museum

Crystal Skull, British Museum

Further coincidences abound. The crystal ‘Skull of Doom’, found by Anna Mitchell–Hedges in Lubaantun, Belize, in 1923, has the same elongated cranium, and remarkably the mysterious skull is made of rock crystal, and could not have been carved using any known technology. Ancient Alien Theorists believe that there are other more remarkable artifacts waiting to be discovered in the lush vegetation of Meso or South America. We now know that there was a vast civilization centered on the Amazon apparently spanning the entire continent, which is shown by the geographical location and the sidereal alignments of the figures drawn in the high plains of the Nazca desert. Isn’t it strange that when the decorated explorer Colonel Percival Fawcett was closing in on the mysterious city of “Z”, he just disappeared?

Isn’t it odd that many of modern fiction’s extraterrestrials also have high domed cranium and are frequently without hair? The central character in the epic ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ is the austere Deltan Ilia whose empathic nature and enticing pheromones allow man to make a connection with his most powerful creation. Might this not be some kind of buried unconscious root memory of beings from beyond the stars. Many Ancient Alien Theorists think so. Might not Akhenaten and Pakal be visitors from another world? Or perhaps Star Children, the progeny of gods and men?

No. The mummies of Akhenaton (AKA KV55), his father Amenhotep III, his grandfather Thutmose IV  all reside at the Cairo Museum of Antiquities, and the remains of his son Tutankhamen rests in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Thanks to the pioneering work of  Svante Pääbo, who went on to make discoveries concerning Neanderthals and uncovering a hitherto unknown human species, we know they are all have the same human DNA as you or me or Barney McGee.

I could unpick all the false leads, misrepresentation, the number of times I’ve added two plus two to come up with nine but, in our quest to understand the Ancient Alien phenomena, I propose a shortcut. If we have been visited by extraterrestrials they must have come a long way. How long might that be?

So, in human terms what is a long way? From the 18th Century, humans have been traveling faster and farther. There was a time, September 15 1830 actually, when humans, riding behind Stevenson’s Rocket, went from travelling as fast as a galloping horse, to a dizzying 28 mph (45 km/h). Women passengers were warned by eminent medical men that traveling at such speed would do them irreparable harm. All that happened to the ladies, reported the actress Fanny Kemble, was that they enjoyed an exhilarating day, although William Huskisson, the Member of Parliament for Liverpool, managed to fall in front of the steam engine which obligingly made him the first railway fatality. Within twenty years, steam trains where traveling at an astonishing 78 mph (125.6 km/h).

First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 17, 1903, Orville piloting, Wilbur running at wingtip.

First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 17, 1903, Orville piloting, Wilbur running at wingtip.

The early 20th century saw another revolution in travel when, on December 17, 1903, Orville Wright briefly was airborne, traveling at a sedate 10.9 km/h (6.8 mph). Within 2 years, a Wright Brothers’ airplane was travelling at 60.2 km/h (37.8 mph). Aircraft have continually become faster and flown higher, the record of 3,529.6 km/h (2,193.2 mph, Mach 2.883) being set by Capt. Eldon W. Joersz and Maj. George T. Morgan on 28 July 1976 in a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

Travelling by aircraft has become commonplace and for a time there were actually commercial supersonic flights. I reckon that the people who travel the furthest are the crews of commercial airlines. A modern jet aircraft travels at around 500 mph. Air crew can only travel 1000 hours per year by international law. So, say a crew member flies for 30 years, they may do around 15 million miles in a lifetime, a distance which is merely interplanetary.

The furthest object made by humans is Voyager 1 launched way back in 1977. After the spacecraft had taken a true voyage of discovery and many wonderful photos, Carl Sagan prevailed on NASA to turn it around and take a picture of us on our planet: our ‘blue dot”. Voyager 1 is now (Christmas 2014) 19,558,664,450 Km (12,153,190,604 miles) from Earth and has traveled at 62,136 km/h (38,610 mph). Is that anything like a long way? For us: yes, for space: not even worth talking about.

So how about the total distance traveled by Americans, all of them, per year? In 2000 there were 190,650,023 Americans with driving licenses. The average distance one drives is 13,476 miles in a year, which means that America as a whole drives 2.5 trillion miles annually. This is more like it. The unit that astronomers use to measure the distance between stars is the light year, which is just under 10 trillion kilometres (or about 6 trillion miles). Our nearest star is the binary star Alpha Centauri which is 4.37 light years from the Sun, or 25 trillion miles. It would take Voyager 1 75,000 years to get there.

Ilia, from Star Trek: The Movie

Ilia, from Star Trek: The Movie

So how can we explain the destabilizing event at the beginning of the film which introduced the world to Ilia, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The rather ponderous plot opens with a vast, unknown entity which we later are informed is called V’ger, zapping a couple of Klingon K’t’inga-class battle cruisers. Later Ilia is zapped and reconstituted into V’ger’s spokesperson to be eventually sublimated with Decker, a Star Fleet officer who fancies her something rotten. Alas the lovely, talented Persis Khambatta, who played Ilia, died in 1998, just 49 years old.

We eventually learn that at the heart of V’ger is a space probe from the 20th Century called Voyager 6. There was no Voyager 6. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is set in the earth year 2273 when Voyager 1 will have traveled another 360 billion km making it all of 6% of a light year from Earth; not even out of the back door.

The Star Trek Communicator.

The Star Trek Communicator.

That’s the trouble with Science Fiction: the Science part has made Captain Kirk’s Communicator a reality – you can buy a cell phone which looks just like it – but the Fiction bit may not produce any more wondrous communication sets, may be just dodgy plywood ones. Space Fiction gets around the problem of crossing the interstellar space by inventing snappily named ruses to essentially bypass the issue: Star Trek had Warp Drive, Stargate used some kind of worm hole, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy used an Infinite Improbability Drive. It would be possible to explain to Isaac Newton how his principles would allow men to journey to the Moon, based on elements of technology of his time. Current scientific notions of interstellar travel require stuff like negative energy or negative mass, none of which exists now nor do we have a clue how to make any of it. So it is very likely that there is no interstellar drive for us to invent and we will remain on Earth or its environs for the whole of our existence.

So why did a SOASTA survey report that a sizeable proportion of Americans believe that the future will be just like Star Trek? First of all, no one notices negatives. During the first half of the 20th Century, we increased our top speed by a factor of 20 times, but since then not by much more. Secondly we are entranced by Moore’s Law, which promises twice as much for half the price every 18 months. It is, of course, only about the transistor equivalents on a silicon chip. This phenomenal growth has propelled computing into every nook and cranny of human life; but the “law” itself is just about the chip, and not about interstellar travel nor the possibility that it has already been used by extraterrestrials to visit us.

Luckily for the purveyors of UFO mythology, there are more important considerations than mere truth: gullibility and greed. The abundance of TV and now Internet channels means that there is always a shortage of cheap material to fill the schedule. TV channels like Discovery Channel or the History Channel do not exist primarily to inform, they exist to make money, so their executives will accept any subject within a broad remit so long as it is likely to attract sufficient advertising revenue.

Tezcatlipoca, “Smoking Mirror”

Tezcatlipoca, “Smoking Mirror”

Humans are attuned to little globs of information. We have, since the beginning, known that any tiny clue might mean the difference between dinner and being dined on. Such clues are self evident; a certain kind of rustle, a particular shape and color. They are the grist of traditional learning, and grow into ritual, superstition and a fascination with esoteric lore. When he read that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” in John 1:1, it seemed reasonable to John Dee, the Royal Astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, that “the Word” belonged to the language of God and his angels. So Dr Dee, founder of the Rosicrucian Society, devoted a lifetime to learning this language of angels, or maybe the words of the fallen kind, the language of witches. We do not know how Dr. Dee obtained his obsidian mirror, a thin polished disk of a black glass made in a volcano, but it is almost certain that it was taken by Cortez from the great pyramid at the heart of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, temple of blood and still beating human hearts. The Aztec sorcerers called Dr Dee’s scurrying glass Tezcatlipoca, “Smoking Mirror”. When conjoined with the Enochian alphabet Dee the Magus was able to converse with the spirit Madimi” and together they cast a hex on the Spanish Invasion fleet and scattered it to the four winds. Sorry about that, I got a bit carried away.

Likewise, a UFO fabulator starts from the point of Extraterrestrial contact and works backwards. The word “work” here requires a little clarification and connotes finding objects, stories or witnesses, sewing them into simplistic narratives which borrow from current technology and science fiction, and projecting onto ‘the facts’  their unworldly rational. It will undoubtedly help to have sinister government types lurking around, to provide the undoubted reasons for your valuable program content being occult. A good conspiracy theory is a get-of-out-jail-free card for any awkwardness that may crop up.

Erich Anton Paul von Däniken

Erich Anton Paul von Däniken

The hard part will be the pitch, i.e. getting the money, but the key here is persistence; the channel execs need to fill air time and get their bonuses. Once you have the production money you’ll need to keep expenses down so fill the run time with general footage which can be purchased off the shelf and a very few graphics with no more than seven words a piece – remember most of your audience does not read books of any kind and are somewhat out of practice reading-wise – then cobbled the whole lot together with the “talking heads” of your UFO researchers. You don’t need to pay the “experts” much as they will appear to promote their own product. Take the money, allow the tax man to pay off your considerable expense accounts and stow the rest in the Bank of Cyprus. Life is good.

Giorgio Tsoukalos

Giorgio Tsoukalos

Ancient Alien theorists own a debt of gratitude to the founder of their discipline, Eric von Däniken. Dr von Däniken made his discoveries while working as a hotel manager in Davos, Switzerland. Is it a coincidence that every year, the rich and powerful attend a ‘conference’ there in Davos?  Just after he published his ground breaking  Chariots of the Gods?, the Swiss authorities convicted him of fraud and sent him to prison. Despite this set back, Dr von Däniken continued to develop his ideas and wrote a second seminal work, Gods from Outer Space, while in prison and finally cleared his name. He went on to found AASRA ( the Archaeology, Astronautics and SETI Research Association) and also designed and built Mystery Land at InterlakenSwitzerland. Typically, the scientific establishment has lambasted his work describing it as a “cultural Chernobyl“.  At this public education institution visitors can study aspects of the Ancient Alien controversy in a complex of exhibits including the outstanding Nazca pavilion.

Erich von Daniken and Giorgio A. Tsoukalos

Erich von Daniken and Giorgio A. Tsoukalos

Ancient Alien theorists also are indebted to Carlo Rambaldi for his vivid portrayal of alien life in such ground breaking films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Alien, and Frankenstein ’80. It is interesting to note that Rambaldi lived for many years close to Dr. von Däniken in Italy, and that the craniums of Rambaldi’s creations are perfectly smooth.

The Ancient Alien Theorist torch has now been taken up by fellow European Giorgio Tsoukalos who created the award winning Ancient Aliens. Tsoukalos is “the leading Ancient Astronaut expert” and Director and cofounder of von Däniken’s official international research organization, Center for Ancient Astronaut Research (A.A.S.R.A). The far flung travels of this “real-life Indiana  Jones” may explain why Giorgio adopted his highly original hair grooming. It appears to be derived from the styling of the Centaurian Ambassador, Londo Mollari.

Londo Mollari, Centaurian Ambassador

Londo Mollari, Centaurian Ambassador