Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Josh writes:

As if by some grand cosmic design, the interesting folk at Sir Humphrey's have served up a discussion on "secularism" as modern day paganism. A disturbing proportion of the comments are of the type I discussed below. Witness the following exchange:

Kent Parker: I think the general impression in the 'new age' is that when we die, that is it, curtains, the lights go out, kaput, final, los endos. However, assuming we die before our children, they are left to carry on the good fight and their children and their children's children etc etc and so on for eternity.

Hope is just hope, a sense of optimisim, positivity, energy, life...
MikePh: But, Kent, those are gods: the god of Optimism, the god of Life, the god of Energy. They are to be worshipped for their own sake or else there is no "good fight".

God = an abstract noun? I assume what he is trying to claim is that such things are treated as Gods, which I would still say is a load of arse.

Possibly some of the problem stems from people speaking metaphorically, but then treating their metaphorical statements as though they were literally true. The confusion of rhetoric for argument is by no means restricted to theological matters, of course -- the best secular example I can think of in recent memory is the libertarian assertion that when someone steals your property, they steal that part of your life that went into acquiring it, and that you are therefore justified in using lethal force to defend your property, as you are in effect defending your own life. The first part of the argument can only be a metaphorical statment -- as an abstract conecpt, your life cannot be stolen in any literal sense (would that mean you get younger, or would you die sooner?) -- and yet it's then taken literally to justify real-world actions.

Monday, October 30, 2006

More Pedantism

Josh writes:

Here's another one: I've seen the word "secular" used a bit lately, and in the words of Senor Montoya, "I do no' think it means whadda you think it means."

"Secular" means "not religious" (more accurately, I believe it's the opposite of "sacred"). The point is, you cannot have "secular religions" -- that would be a contradiciton in terms. I assume that when people propose the existence of such things they mean "secular institutions that resemble a religion in some respects", which, I'll admit, doesn't roll off the tongue so nicely, but nevertheless actually makes some fucking sense.

It's not a phrase without it's problems, though. The whole tactic of trying to claim that outwardly secular institutions or beliefs are in fact "religious" almost always backfires on the people making such claims. In order to make these claims fit, they usually have to water down the concept of religion to the point that it amounts to little more than "a bunch of beliefs that you can't actually prove". Applying this definition back to their own religion doesn't generally make it look that flash.

Similarly, the notion of worship often gets singled out for this treatment, since it's a fairly central component to religion, and often the one that least applies to the supposed "secular religions". The claim is often that we all worship something -- capitalists "worship" money, scientists "worship" Darwin and so on. But we don't -- we don't pray to money, we don't believe Darwin can be appealed to to perform miracles, we don't claim that either of them are superior to us -- if our relation to such things is one of worship, then "worship" has to be watered down to no more than "think is pretty good", and I'd be willing to wager that your average Christian would object to their relation to God being described as merely "we quite like Him."

Of course, sometimes that's not a problem -- there are two possible cases where someone might claim that a secular institution is religious. The first is a religious person making the claim, usually in response to a slight against their own religion: "You may think my religion is silly, but you're just as religious about X" -- in this case, the watering down effect results in something of a backfire. The second case, however, is where a non-religious person criticises someone's viewpoint, meaning to belittle it by likening it to unquestioning dogma or foolish superstition. In this case, since the person has little or no respect for religion in the first place, there's no danger of a backfire. Nevertheless, by watering down the concept of religion, they're also watering down the rhetorical technique that they're trying to get mileage out of.

OK, that got quite preachy and formal -- you'd think I had a crucial point that I was leading up to. Um... use "secular" right and don't call something a religion unless you mean it? Toodles.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


That Morthos Stare writes:

Most keen observers will have noticed that Jack and I have wildly different philosophies on how we should treat students. I imagine that Jack is the matronly Aunt Fanny whilst I am the rakish Uncle Quentin (and boy, am I getting sick and tired of being kidnapped by those pesky foreign nationals). Which is probably neither here nor there, but it's all come to a head today.

For today I am marking exam scripts.

I am not a kind marker; if I'm vacillating between giving a script a B+ or an A- I go for the lower grade. If I'm vacillating then obviously the answer wasn't good enough to get that higher grade. I do think I am a fair marker and I know I'm a consistent one; if one type of answer gets a 17 from me then anything highly similar will also get a 17. In my first semester of marking I quickly developed the ability to not note whose script I am marking because, despite my non-caring exterior, I know an awful lot about the academic and personal situations of my students. These things can sway you, so it's best not to take them into account; if a student's circumstances should be taken into consideration when you're marking then the appropriate channels must be gone through (and believe me, asking someone for proof of a death in the family in re an aegrotat is not fun).

I've always thought that the worse aspect of teaching is the assessment system. Essay's are a bad form of assessment as they don't test recall and exams/tests are a bad form of assessment because they only test short term recall. Open book tests seem to rest upon the abiliy of a student to use an index and take-home assignments often test the ability of a student to form social groups where one student can copy another. Many of these skills are useful but they don't tend to reveal to the teacher that anything that they have taught the student has really sunk in. Frankly, I suspect that the only form of assessment I would be happy with would be ringing up a former student out of the blue and asking them random questions.

"So, Jerome, good to hear that your Mother is doing well. Which reminds me, what is the distinction between a lawlike statement and a law of nature again?"

Still, all this being said, I like exam marking. It's relatively quick (the answers are succinct), you tend to see whether the student can string together a coherent argument and you don't have to write all that many comments in the script (unlike, say, essays, in which I can write speils longer than the work I am marking).

Exams are, I suppose, as close as I can get to my preferred assessment system. The students don't know what the questions are before they enter the examination room and they have mere minutes to contemplate and answer them. Okay, they've probably memorised whatever notes they took, but a good exam question requires them to link two separate ideas into one glorious whole. When I read the answer of a student who has got it the mark it will receive is obvious, and that is a good feeling.

Still, I'd prefer to be able to entrap students.

"Hey, Luce, didn't expect to find you working here. Before you remove any more pieces of clothing, riddle me this: is Mackie's notion of the INUS condition a more or less sophisticated version of Lewis on Causation? Oh, and I've got to say I'm liking those breasts."

Friday, October 27, 2006

Little victories

RSJS writes:

So one of my processing monkeys came to me today while I was enjoying a much-deserved mug of warm, milky tea, to ask me if I could help them. You see, they had a claim on file for money taken from a safe in a shop. The intruder had gotten in under the nose of the chap on duty, who was then accosted and tied to a chair by the attacker, who scarpered with a sackful of loot. And this all didn’t sit well with the monkey.

“So what do you have on file to show me what happened?” I asked.

“Security photos” she replied, thumbing through the pages of her big manila folder to find a series of grainy stills, which were thrust under my nose.

And so I sighed, and made a big show of retiring my paperback and iPod and getting my feet off my desk, and sat her down to explain how to turn her gut feeling into an argument.

We have a dozen black and white shots of the office, the crim (in a hoodie) and the heroic employee (also be-hoodie-ed).

“Look here” I point to the office desk in the third photo. Blank stare. “The chap sits our hero down, but doesn’t tie him up right away. So our chap sits quietly on his thumbs while our gunman puts his pistol on a pile of papers and shuffles off to the safe. And doesn’t even look at our hero or the gun for a good thirty seconds. Only after he’s got the goodies does he tape up our man and beetle off. And going by the time-stamp our boy gets out of the ropes in about 2 minutes. Which means?”

“He was scared?” came the timorous reply.

So I sigh again, and display my Powers of a God. For these hapless urchins have tattle-tales on their files that tell me if anything interesting comes in. So I’d already read this file’s electronic copy being a Caring and Conscientious mentor to these lads and lasses. But poor muggins here was unaware. So I looked closely at the picture and said “Our boy looks like he could handle himself” (and he did, big lad, in a camo hoodie, who looked like he hits his heads on doorframes on the way through) “and is probably bent as anything. Anyone that calm is either in on the blag, or used to being around guns. Probably both. See if he’s got a criminal record, the investigator should have done a personal history.”

And lo, page seven of the report did indeed deal with the employee’s vast love of guns and drugs. And the poor lass looks at me in awe at my profiling prowess.

“So” I grandly went on “here we have a con with a gun fetish towering over this lad kneeling on the floor in front of the fast-emptying safe and with a pistol in arm’s reach, not doing anything? Not too likely, is it? Just sitting idly by, not saying anything except the combination to the safe?”

And dawn broke across the tiny dancer’s features. And she enthusiastically started spotting all the other faults with the set-up until I calmed her down and told her to list them so we can get someone burly to chat with our heroic duty manager and hit him with telephone books.

Hopefully my little processing protégé will prove the big angry employee is involved in the goings-on, and the gunslinging crim will in turn get fingered, sending two hoodrats to prison for a long, long time. And I can go home with a feeling that I’ve achieved something positive today. Even though they are really victims and society is to blame for their going off the rails, even though it is a failing on the part of their parents and teachers that led them to this life of amateur crime, they still need to feel the jackboot of justice on their testicles of anti-social behaviour. Hang ‘em high, lads, hang ‘em high.

Nb. details of this crime have been changed to protect my job.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Apathy Jack writes:

So my little prodigy sat in on my Classics class. Normally, I wouldn't have let her (what with the fact that she should have been in Maths) but she's impressed me of late. She's finished "The Corrections" and "House of Leaves", and is starting "The Ulysses" on a bet from her form teacher. She's told her peers not to compliment her on the stories she writes, because she doesn't know how to handle it. But she's finally believing it from me.

Her form teacher and I have finally broken her down so that she is realising how special she is.

She said that I had to implement Classics for Year 11, so that she could take it next year. I told her that it wasn't going to happen, but that there were vague plans to create Year 12 Classics for the following year, which is where she'd be by that point. She looked happy, but I gave her the caveat: This plan was conditional on me getting around to doing it, and my laziness is the stuff of legend - I may simply not get around to it.

"You will," she said matter of factly.

"How can you be sure?" I asked.

"Because," she said, as if she was explaining something self-evident to a slow child. "It's me."

And you know, she might be right.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Apathy Jack writes:

Wagging has become a bit of a problem at Hoodrat. "A bit" as in classes with between thirty and sixty percent of students away on any given day.

My Year 12s were slowly dribbling in, but several minutes had elapsed, and we were still in single figures. So, as you do, I found myself standing on a desk screaming that I would judge them all.

A Year 12 wandered in and looked up at me. (I'm not sure if his complete lack of surprise at what I was doing was a good thing or a bad thing, but it probably means I'm doing my job properly...)

"Come in and sit down," I said pleasantly. "You're just in time to be judged."

The boy looked at me again. The star of his family, he's been kept out of his brothers' gangs by his Christian dance group, and objects to some of the stories I give the less literate students because they have swearing and anti-social behaviour in them (which is, of course, why the other children like them...).

He looked up - higher than me.

"I'm only judged by one man," he said, solemnly.

"Yes. There is only one of me."

And somewhere in hell, a demon stenciled my name onto a parking space.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Apathy Jack writes:

A few years before I turned up at Hoodrat Academy for Higher Learning, they stopped having mufti-days. Sensible decision: half of the kids would wear blue, the other half would wear red, and massive scale gang violence and/or hilarity would ensue.

So, after years of whinging, we finally gave the students what they wanted, and had another one today.

It went off better than anyone could have hoped: Only one arrest in the whole day.

Well, I say "one" - a big bunch of students were arrested. But they were all arrested at the same time, for the same thing.

It's nice when things are easy...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Apathy Jack writes:

Huh, Josh is right - no posts in a while.

Well, I'm still dry, so I'll leave you to your weekend with this.

I just got a phone call from a student asking me for help with some work.

Not on my cellphone. On my home phone.

I'm not listed in the phonebook - I live with flatmates and none of our names are listed as associated with this house.

And no, I couldn't have given this kid my number then forgotten I had done so: I don't know my home phone number. I've never bothered learning it because, you know, when am I ever going to have to call myself at home?

I like it when the kids show initiative.

A Gift that Keeps On Giving

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling writes:

Here's a game for the weekend. People often, o.k, sometimes...alright then, never, talk about where they would go and what they would do if they had a time machine. But what if you had a time machine, but there were certain conditions...

Those conditions are:

You can only use your time machine for one "mission" (being distinct from a trip). This mission could have many "legs" - like going somewhere, picking someone up, taking them somewhere else etc. But there can only be one "objective for your mission.

You cannot use your time machine mission for anything at least explicitly personal. Otherwise we would all want to go and see our garandparents and pets.

To give you some background, I first started thinking about this during the previous space shuttle launch. Wouldn't it be nice to bring the Wright brothers back to watch a space shuttle launch, or even fly in a 747 I pondered.

The germ of an idea mutated. Doing something like "Showing the Wright brothers complex twenty-first century aircraft", whilst being no doubt nice, is still a little indulgent. Could we use our time machine better, or at least make things a little more exciting, with the parameter of there being only one "mission" that it could be used for - in the sense that you might have to do two trips in a mission like my one with the Wright brothers, and a parameter limiting your choice of mission to one of benevolence.

I'll kick it off. I've been reading a bit of Niall Ferguson'swork. He wrote a book a short time ago called "The Pity of War"in which he argues that the First World War, and subsequently the rest of the twentieth century, was so unbelievably bloody because Britain intervened. Had Britain sacrificed Belgium, Germany would have had a quick victory over France (is there any other kind?) and Russia. There would have been no Lenin, or Holocaust, or Gulags, or many of the other atrocities that happened during the last century.

And so, my mission would be this. Go back to August 3rd 1914, when Germany invades France and Belgium. Take Herbert Asquith to the battles of Verdun, The Somme, maybe even Auschwitz, and try to convince him of Ferguson's thesis (hell, I might as well take Niall Fergusn with me, let's go nuts) before taking him back to the night before the United Kingdom was to join the Great War, hopefully never to do so, saving more than a hundred million souls in the process.

And now it's up to you. One Time Machine, one mission and objective, and no personal gain - anyone else for showing February 2003 Rumsfeld 2006 Iraq?

Poing Fwip!

Josh writes:

Jesus Crap -- what's happened to us all? Nary a post in over a week now. I thought you were sitting on a couple, young Morthos? Oh well, up to me, I guess.


Of course, I'm handicapped by not giving a rat's arse about most of what's going on in the world. That petition everyone's going on about has topped 25,000 -- wow, that's nearly a fifth as many signatures as the petition to put Star Wars kid in Episode III got! Hear the voice of the people -- how mighty it doth rumble. But anyway.

Nope, none of this politicking matters to me, but I will say this: calling people names makes you sound like a cock. "Klark", "Liar-bour", "Helengrad", "the Gnats" -- if you use these terms, you sound like a cock. Not because of anything to do with the political views you may be employing them in aid of, but because making up insulting variations on people's names is a rhetorical technique that sounds childish coming out of the mouths of actual children when they do it in the school yard -- from an educated (or at least Net-savvy) adult, "pathetic" isn't nearly a strong enough word.

I remember once seeing a smirking movie critic say that he calls Gwyneth Paltrow "Gwyneth Paltry", because of her paltry acting talents -- no, you call her that because "paltry" is the only fucking word in the English language that sounds at all like "Paltrow", you imagination-free arse tick. As for Jerry Falwell's smug declaration that he calls Ellen Degeneres "Ellen Degenerate" -- from any person old enough to feed themselves without a sipper cup, that's just sad. Especially when it was much easier to just call her "not funny".

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Intelligent comment on important issues.

Apathy Jack writes:

Bollocks to it, I can't be bothered. Read this, written two years ago, and we can all say "I told you so" as we die in nuclear fire from American missiles.

And they will be American, because those fucks will fire first - at anything. It doesn't matter what.

Serious Issues

Josh writes:

Johnny the Red on nuclear weapons proliferation, and how it relates to his sneakers

John Rogers on foreign policy as domestic abuse (or possibly the other way around)

And now you are Informed.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Josh writes:

Here's an argument:

There is an obvious difference between a fertilized egg and a baby. Nevertheless, as there is no clear line at which life (and with it the right to life) begins, the morally safest thing to do would be to act as if life begins at conception, and outlaw abortion.

Here's another argument:

There is an obvious difference between a smack on the bottom and a sustained beating. Nevertheless, as there is no clear line at which harmless discipline becomes harmful child abuse, the morally safest thing to do would be to act as if it's all harmful, and outlaw smacking.

Spot the difference.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Apathy Jack writes:

Um, yeah. No life outside of school plus school holidays makes Jack a barren postless wasteland.

Nothing to report except that Johnny the Red now has a dotcom address.


Yeah, it just goes to the blog, but if anyone's wondering where I've been (anyone? Anyone? Come on, I can hear you breathing out there...) then you'll find some of the stuff I've been writing of late: including my latest piece, where I get to call one of the most repected journalists in the history of media a Zionist Homosexualist Communist.

So life isn't all bad...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

You'll think what I tell you think

Josh writes:

The funniest thing you've read all day:

A Rolex, though ugly, will pay for itself in quim

The best news you've heard all day:

Pies may get meatier

Also contains the reason why you won't be sleeping tonight or any other night:

Current regulations on both sides of the Tasman require a meat pie to contain at least 25 per cent meat. The formal definition of "meat" is wide enough to include any part of the animal carcass, or even a bird foetus.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

That Morthos Stare writes:

They say that one of the first sign of brain cancer is detecting scents that aren't there. For example, at the moment I can smell the lolly jar from my grandmother's house. She's been dead for about five years and the lolly jar is probably festering away beneath the landfill that used to be the Devonport Tip. I don't even think they make the brand of toffees my Granny used to stock. Yet, despite the fact that I am seated at a computer in Auckland's largest library I can smell the lolly jar.

It's a very comforting feeling.

Scent play a large role in my psyche. Like some other humans I can small pheromones. I know the exact scent that attracts me to people (which seems to be given off my certain damaged pyschological individuals) and the scent that is fear and/or uncertainty makes people ripe targets for my own special brand of psychological domination.

Smells, in general, however, are important in re my memory. I'm not sure why I think this but I trust my memory of smells and sounds much more than my visual memory. I have certain memories I know are false such as a conversation with a friend whilst walking down a particular garden path (which didn't exist by the time I met the friend in question). Smells, however, and to a lesser extent, sounds (not coversations, mind), seem much more durable as memories, less open to corruption. My sense of taste seems similar; I can remember quite vividly the first taste I ever had of a fresh tomato. I hated it. Even now I can recall the taste and, whilst I was in the UK, I tested that memory. Perfect fidelity (giving or taking the slight variations you would expect).

So, when that smell of the lolly jar, or the peculiar scent that you get off the recently deceased, appears without warning I feel oddly comforted because these things signify memories, and even if they are memories I would rather not experience at least the sensation has simultude.

Bristols! Mae Wests! Bodacious Ta-tas!

RSJS writes:

Let's talk about tits.

So as is my wont, I was weaving my solitary way through the sleet and mist and cabbage and kitchen sink to get to work this morning to sit in dazed confusion at the state of the world while the monkeys in the cube farm screech and throw faeces (and yesterday: candy). And I saw the back-end of a bus.

Now this isn’t some snide euphemism for some lass with junk in her trunk (though it is true my anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got buns), it was actually a bus trundling along New North Road. And on the back was an advert for Dove, a range of random cosmetic-y things that women presumably put on their vaginas or oh, I don’t know, some body-part I don’t have. But have magazines with photos of it in. Anyway, some hygiene shit that rugged musky men like me avoid, just as Dove-twatted shielas avoid me. Why won’t you love me? Why? The pain, it chafes.

What? Right, sorry. Dove. With a slogan that read (it’s not fucking verbatim, I was tired and emotional, okay?) “Buy Pink Dove if you want to help fight breast cancer” and lo and behold the packaging was all pink. A nice soft marshmallow pink, which does indeed remind me of breasts. As do rock melons water balloons basketballs puffer fish small children goldfish bowls Muppets the planets (excluding Saturn) Vin Diesel’s head and punches in the crotch. The point is, the apparent underlying message behind the slogan is “If you DON’T buy our pink Dove crap you’re supporting CANCER, you selfish fuck! If you’re not WITH us, you’re with the TERRORIST TUMOURS! Women are having their disease-ridden bosoms hacked off because of you! Their chests are becoming bloated sacks of life-threatening growths and you, YOU, you’re just sitting there and letting it happen, you filthy dogfucker! What if it was your girlfriend? Or your sister? Or your mother? You want them to die screaming while their breast-lumps shoot fibrous tentacles through their chests to strange their hearts? You want to kill your mother? You sick murdering bastard, how dare you? HOW DARE YOU? We’re TRYING to save LIVES by selling cosmetics here, but you just walk on by and get your value-brand face-scrub dog-piss and let the ladies die in brutal, Elephant-man agony. We hope you CHOKE ON IT!” which presumably they couldn’t fit on the back of the bus while still leaving room for the pink phallic cans of life-saving liquid soap.

I mean, I’m presuming they’re claiming that every can gives one cent to some faceless pharmaceutical zaibatsu who is hoping to find a drug that will postpone one’s cancerous onslaught at least until the sufferer can’t afford exorbitant prices and no-one is interested in their boobies any more, as opposed to this sloppy white goo, when sprayed in slow-motion on the breast, devours cancer cells and shits out sunshine and lollipops, but again fine print was sacrificed for Mister Thrusty the Circumcised Pink Roll-on of Happiness.

It’s not the most subtle campaign, but its effective and I do (thanks to the early-opening Drug Supermarket on Queen Street) now have a mountain of baby-pink eau de toilettey muck as either a charity booby-prize much like a daffodil or red nose, or a cure for my own metastasizing chest-lumps, under my desk (I hasten to add the goo is under my desk, not my lumps. Well, they’re there too, I guess. Damn this is tricky).
The similarities between the way Dove are selling their slop and the American government is selling the Iraq War is startling. Pink states versus Blue states, anyone? Ooooh, the fundamentalists would LOVE that one. But then, if all the ladies die of the galloping tit-rot, there’s not many options left. You got a pretty mouth, boy. Nice pink lips. SQUEAL!.