Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Exaptions and Spandrels

Quite how I got here, I have no idea. What I do know is that I hate Stephen J. Gould and Steve Pinker with a passion that I have not felt since the referee at Liverpol v Sunderland allowed a goal quite clearly outside the rules of the game.

The real problem is that I have only the vaguest idea how I got here - exaptions and spandrels, that is. One moment I was minding my own business quietly in awe of David C. Geary's ( on education and the next I was contemplating whether the wing feathers of Archaeopteryx represented insulation gone wrong or a precursor to NASA's new breed of re-entry vehicles.

Gould and Pinker are culpable, as are every person who has ever made me think (this probably means YOU), for introducing the world of academia and thinking and stuff in the first place. I should have stuck with the old wood. Although bark, when you think of it could have been an exaption, a spandrel or an adaptation. I wish I believed in Intelligent Design.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The Correct Use of Soap

THE VAULT nightclub in HULL. As always, I would recommend clicking on the photgraph for a full view.
THE NOVA SCOTIA PUB with Walkers Crisps van outside. In Bristol.

There are phrases, I confess, that I run away from quicker than a global warming denier runs away from peer reviewed journals. Some of these - "take it to the next level", "step up to the plate", "to be fair", "to be perfectly honest", "Manchester United are a good team" - are so repulsive that I have sworn a blood oath never to use, even in jest. Some Other phrases I have been forced, particularly in light of my position as the joint-second best Academic in England, to silently despise but not publically foreswear. These Other phrases, I actually hate more than the ones I dont use, mostly because I know that I will have to use them one day. One such phrase is 'cognitive dissonance'.

The week has, eventually, turned out "rather nice, aint it?", as my Cockney friends might say. The week, considered as an entity, warmed slowly as a vintage car might, and it was as if the week itself slowly worked through the gears of sobriety until the effects of the wedding had faded and its kidneys had rejuvenated. Love life as we do, it should never be forgotten that our aim, since we arrived here, has to be thoroughly bored as soon as possible. THe weekend was far too much fun for the desired state to prevail - the week, cold master of time, warmed up to an excitement level that was tolerable and low key.

The same week that we have been discussing also culminated with a visit from Amelia, a Canadian friend we last met in Halifax, and whom we had not seen for several a year. Amelia and her partner are now ensconced in Aberdeen, a Scottish place, where Amelia now works in a similar field to RHB. Amelia was here (ie Hull) to give a talk on her research. Afterwards we went for a nice dinner. I dont normally attend these academical binges, but loyalty to my chosen country prevailed, so we went to the usual place, a local Thai restaurant. Naturally, it was great to see Amelia, and also great to hear a Canadian accent, and before long we (Amelia, RHB and self) were chatting happily.

Our companions at the meal, Skarra and Ig (co-boffins of RHB) joined in, but occasionally I could see a quizzical expression cross the face of Skarra, who, as well as being a colleague of Red, is my partner in "Cheek to Cheek", a new musical venture. More, perhaps, about "Cheek to Cheek" another day (we aspire to be a Radiohead/Wayne County and the Electric Chairs/Morriconi acoustic tribute band on the local club circuit) but suffice to say, I know Skarra quite well by now. We are, despite his hailing from Manchester and supporting the football devils that inhabit the place, friends.

It was as RHB was describing how the local 'store' was "kitty corner", and perhaps more importantly, A was understanding what she was saying, that I realised why Skarra bore on his face an expression similar to one that might be worn by a fisherman, who fishing for trout on an inland stream, had actually landed a cod. The problem you see, is that while I will never pretend that I could ever insert enough 'r's into the word 'coffee' to pass as full blooded Canadians, we both can communicate in Canadian, as well as standard English. We are bilingual, and by virtue of meeing Amelia had both entered the mysterious world of language slippage, caused by the proximity of a native of the True North, Strong and Free and our years of several excursion in the Best Country in the Worldtm. Over the course of mere minutes, 'cats' had become 'kittys' , 'shops' had become 'stores', 'Hoovers' - 'vacuums', 'cash machines' - 'ATM's, 'rubbish' - 'garbage'. 'Cars' had become 'vehicles' filled with 'gas' and if things were'nt 'hilarious' they were 'awesome'. It 'rocked'.

Despite this division, commonality among the whole group, was restored when the conversation shifted to talking about University life, research and students. I observe among the assembled brains a passion for science, deep involvemnt in their research and a genuinely expressed concern for many of the young minds they witness voyaging through the seas of knowledge that is the University experience. Back home, RHB and Amelia continue the discussion, looking forward to the next day when battle with the Unknown will again commence, but soonish sleep beckons, cognitive processes slow down and a peace settles over the intellectual powerhouse that is Large Mansions, interrupted only by the embarrasingly loud noise that accompanies the anal grooming of the larger of our two cats.

The next day, I wake early - so early in fact that it is not even an 'o'clock' yet - and shower in preparation for my last lecture of the week. The Crosstowner is made ready, and when prepared I bid adieu to Amelia and 'later gator' to RHB,cycling the kilometer or so to University. The lecture is the last of a series for this semester, and our lecturer, echoing the concerns of the previous evening's dinner co-attendees, (at least in respect of desiring to see students do well), is anxious to fully prepare us for an essay we have to complete. The details of the module and topic are not relevant - suffice to say that we are, as second year undergraduates, asked to compose, in groups, a list of 'things' that we do, and do not, 'like' about our recent learning experiences at University. Reproduced below is a sample of offerings derived from this exercise. I may be guilty of terminological inexactitude in rendering the below as justification for using the phrase 'cognitive dissonance', but I do believe that, as with many religious epiphanies, I experienced the sense of the phrase for several hours after the lecture. At least until I could get home and give the cats a good tickle.

Question: Discuss, in groups, what you do, and do not like about your learning experiences at University.

Responses as tabulated on the interactive whiteboard during the lecture:

group work
colourful powerpoints
lots of handouts
short lectures - not boring

big words
complicated texts that arent brokn down
abstract concepts
complicated theories
being told I am wrong
loads of information

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Anthropogenic relativism

In some respects, Brian is a Scot plucked, in a phrase borrowed from a friend, right out of central casting. The son of a Glasgow (pronounced 'Glasgae') sheet metal worker, he is, (physically at least), a bear of a man, of the type that only Hibernia can produce. In fact, on first meeting Brian, I immediately formulated one of my brilliant anthropological theories, something to the effect that the reason the Scots eradicated ursa minor and major (and all the ursas in-between) from the Highlands was to allow space for men like Brian to grow. It is also not incompatible with Brian's physical appearance to imagine him naked (except for thin smearing of blue wode) bearing down on Hadrian's Wall to the terror of Roman Legionnaires. But the eyes of these same Picts shone, (after the raid), not with a messianically idiot bloodlust, but with a steely intelligence, fully aware of the effect of their appearance - one of the first examples of effective psychological warfare in Western Europe. Brian's eyes have the same quality - they can either invite you to an intelligent discussion or pin you to the mast of your own stupidity between blinks. In Walter's, a glance from Brian at an acquaintance at the other end of the bar talking about his "brilliant" business strategy, then a similarly quick glance at me illustrated the difference, and too my relief, it was the portly grey panted businessman who got the killing look. We moved away from the bar to chat.

I was meeting Brian, not really to "get the job" as RHB wrote it, but to network. My plan, over the next few months, is not only to destroy my fellow students in History debates, but also to get a "jump" on future employment, and the strongest advice I have been given, from all quarters, is that the best way to achieve this, in the field I wish to pursue, is by volunteering to teach, mentor or advise people until they cannot be taught, advised or mentored any further. On first receiving this advice, I assumed that volunteering was a snip - one simply had to walk into the nearest service that seemed appropriate and announce that one's hard earned world wisdom was available, (on a non-sale basis), and when would the service like to start to receive the benefit of one's brilliance? Reality however, as usual ,soon put an end to my insomniac fantasies: achieving pre-eminence as East Riding's most sought after volunteer is more much more difficult than landing a paid position as an astronaut (let alone the World's First Scouse Astronaut).

This is understandable, on reflection - charities, especially educational charities, have been left, thanks to successive governments, with the task of educating, training, supporting and helping the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of society and given that this is the case, the charities need to be especially careful when engaging people. It would be unwise in the extreme, given the load of responsibility (unwillingly?) assumed by charitable organisations, for them to put their users at risk by failing to vet applicants more thoroughly than the average paid employee is vetted.

If this situation (ie charities as the major providers of service to the most disadvantaged people) was not such a depressing indictment of societal failure, it would be marvellously easy to write a humourous blog about the twisted logic of this state of affairs. One could jokingly imagine scenarios where major thematic elements included politicians getting themselkves into all sorts of ridiculously convoluted "situations" as they tried to pretend that poverty, appalling living conditions and large scale societal inequality didnt exist. Unfortunately, although true comedy is best when reflecting the truth, there has to be an element of exaggeration in the best humour, but the picture I have painted, at least when cycling round HUll looks more like an underexaggeration. In reality, Blair et al's vision of an England where everyone is flying off to Spain on Easyjet every five minutes, buying second homes and investing in private education, is, I would claim, more of a fiction than my snapshot.

There is certainly a middle class here in the UK, but instead of "raising" everyone else to that middle class level, all that seems to have happened is a consolidation of class divisions. Those of us who are relatively well-off, or able bodied, or articulate are fully provided with the best services, education, health care, transport and acceptable housing. The best medical clinics, and schools, in the city are the ones scattered around the University. Even the bus timetable in our neighbourhood is superior - it is not possible to cross Newland Avenue, our neighbourhood shopping area, without getting run over by some form of omnibus, whereas in the area that Blessed Mandy lives - a sprawling council estate on the northern fringes of the city (the same area where the sewerage facilities are located) - buses are more expensive and about as common as red alligators. In Blessed Mandy's area, it is charities that run everything, from the stores where people buy clothes to the youth club, the sports centre, the drop-in centre for elderly people and the buses for the physically disabled.

NOTA BENE: It is not acceptable these days to use class titles - middle, lower, upper - everyone is said to be middle class. So I am forced, in future, to use a different name to describe what used to be the working class - I'll call them the Undiscovered. The middle class, I will call the not-entirely(yet)-dispossessed. Upper classes, I will refer to as "The Guilty".

The situation of the Undiscovered, then, is unpleasant and difficult. This is of course all relative. Because I am not claiming that all of us in the Western world are not much better off than the majority of the planet's population. Opportunities do exist for people, even those disadvantaged in our society, that make all of us kings in comparison with the rest of the world. Helping people to realise this, through education, and then take advantage of opportunities that do exist, is an integral part of my plan. In short, I plan to save the world by teaching anthropology. If necessary, I will do this one street-kid at a time, until our whole society is so excited by Nuer culture that we'll all be too busy debating kinship to take drugs.

Bearing in mind the difficulties I mentioned previoulsy in respect of obtaining ungainful volunteer employment, it is perhaps unsurprising that without an introduction, most of the charities I have pitched my idea to have looked askance, wondering in many cases where the funds for a field trip to Namibia might come from, and whether they would prioritize said trip over getting the leak in the roof of their office fixed or not. This is where Brian re-enters the discussion. Introduced to me by the marvellous JJ, Brian works closely with the volutary sector. It is from him that I hope to establish contacts that will allow me to work voluntarily and this advance my teaching career.

Me and Brian leave the pub after a good four hours drinking. I can read my handwriting on most of the notes I met at the start of our meeting, but as the drink has been taken, scrawl has appeared. As we hardly knew eachother at the start of our meet, we've swapped the legends of our backgrounds and established good, solid working class credentials over a couple of glasses of red wine and some environmentally friendly organic real ale in one of the most expensive bars in the city. We get taxi's home, and as a special treat, ordered whatever we want from a local takeaway. It has been a delightfully civilised occasion. If I had to be perfectly honest, one of the reasons I want to teach is because I dont want to live with the Undiscovered. I feel - as I suspect my other 'working class hero' friends feel - I dont mind working for a charity, but I never want to apply to one.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


"It is a beautiful afternoon - idyllic actually - the light is fantastic across he back yard and its warm eought ot have the door openm, so Meepy is just sitting in the sun, enjoying the warm on her fur. I'm getting stuck into some reading and Tosh is sitting in the shed looking for a fight. I could do this for ever.

Unfortunately, I've gotta ruin it - I'm meeting Brian and possibly the head of THE WARREN about 3.30pm. I kept saying "coffee" but Brian had decided a pub downtown as his venue. Obvioulsy, I'm not going "on the ale" but this is just to warn you that tea might be improvised tonight (again)" the body of the email that I sent to RHB. What I dont add, and what she will therefore remain ignorant of, is that I'll be writing this blog entry until just before 3.30, rather than reading about "Inclusive Learning". In this, especially given that this subject has recently (ie this morning) nearly killed me, I feel entirely justified.

RHB's reply to my e-mail, full of the dignity and fine sensibility that I've come to know and endlessly appreciate throughout our beautific century spanning eon, nearly un-mans me with it's selfless regard. It is typical of the writing that made her one of the leading Euroscientists in the East ridings of Yorkshire....

"No problem - if you have to get pissed to get the job - just take it
on the chin gracefully."

But perhaps I should explain, starting with my near death at the hands of Inclusive Learning. We are in the gym, attempting to repair some of the damage occasioned by the great occasion that was B and K' s wedding. I am still stiff after the several hours of driving that were involved in traversing this island from coast to coast, so decide that light training is indicated - I am, being something of a string bean, subject to muscle pulls and dont want to risk injury by attempting something rash. Inside the gym, I head for the walking machine (the treadmill, is, I believe an alternative nomenclature for the devices) telling RHB I am going to walk for 30 minutes. I mount my station and gradually increase the incline to 15 degrees, simultaneoulsy increasing the speed to 6.5kms per hour. As walking on a treadmill is possibly the most boring thing that it is possible to do, unless you are a hamster, I have brought with me a paper on Inclusive Learning that I plan to read during my exercise.

THe paper "CSIE: THE INCLUSION CHARTER" starts off promisingly enough. There is a succinct list of six Points, clearly written, that set out CSIE's case for Inclusion in Learning. Following the six points there is an explanatory notes section. "Ah ha!" I think to myself "THIS is where it gets interesting. Obvioulsy, the text that I am about to read will expand usefully on the six points. Before I know it, I'll be knee deep in some excellent theoretical discussions: Foucault, Friere, Levi Strauss, Kant, Leavis, Tomlinson, Gramsci and of course Nel Noddings - all the guys will be there."

Unfortunately, what actually happens next, is distressingly common in academia. THe explanatory notes turn out to be a way of saying exactly the same thing that the Six Points do, only longer. For example, Point Three of the Six points, starts with the sentence:

"We believe that all students share equal value and status."

The explanatory notes for this same point start as follows:

"Students with learning difficulties are of no less value than students who gain Oxbridge entry and are no less worthy of respect."

This all continues in much the same vein, except the rephrasing of the initial point just gets longer and longer and more convoluted and the language gets more and more awkward and unusable. The whole thing is becoming very frustrating and I'm getting hot with all my exercise, so when I reach a sentence (still on point three) that starts with the phrase "Theoretical androgodies emphasize that the value of LD students should be undifferentiated from...."I lose it. "Enough is enough" I say to myself. I fold up the paper, rather ungraciously, stuff it into my pocket, and take off my sweatshirt.

Or rather, I try to take off my sweatshirt, because I have, in all the excitement, totally forgotten that I am on a treadmill. My perambulation is not entirely my own and ceasing to move my lower limbs while removing my sweatshirt does not automatically halt my motion. I realise that I am moving backwards and downhill, at approximately 7kms/hr, only with the hood of the sweatshirt firmly wrapped round the old noggin, and with one arm hopelessly trapped in a sleeve.

After I have picked myself up off the floor, I glance round to see if anyone has noticed. Practically the whole gym is staring in my direction. I hope, for a moment that this is because aliens have materialised just behind me, but another quick glance proves that this is not so. I reassure the nearest young person, who doesnt ask,( and is trying not to laugh), that I'm ok, and casually stroll to the water dispenser, trying to make it look as if my disengagement from the treadmill might have been part of a fitness regime. At the water fountain, the guy standing next to it jumps back, alarmed. Presumably he is frightened in case the thing explodes due to my proximity. I realise I am being excluded.

Monday, 23 November 2009


Its a night that started in Hull, but now we're in Bristol drinking Plymouth gin. In the morning we'll be on our way to Tenby from where Benjamin and Kirsty will leave for St Petersburg. RHB, mostly a traveller, is fading and Sal, ex-Mansfield, has gone to bed, with the parting gift "You're p**ssing me off, Scally Puff Boy". I have come from Liverpool via Leicester, Coventry and Halifax, N.S. "The important thing about blogging" I tell W. "is originality". W. opens his notebook, and writes "original".

The reason for these travels is that we're making preparations for a marriage in what is, at least for us, the countryside. The marriage is between Benjamin, RHB's nephew, and Kirsty, whom I have never met.

I ask Sal "What's Kirsty like?" . "Much f**kin nicer than you" she says. "And more attractive." W. opens his notebook and writes "attractive".

Sal is looking forward to the event "I f**kin love Niome" she says, before adding "F**k off, Martin". This is because I have speculated that the dresses will, according to latest fashion, be very sparkly, and RHB's nieces will be among the sparkliest and the most beautiful. Even RHB, who is now a Doctor in this country, has a sparkly dress. Sal, I have decided, is stripey. W opens his notebook, but doesnt write "sparkly". Instead, he looks at Sal, and underlines "original".

There is a critical mass of chaos surrounding RHB's family - its like the dark matter that the majority of the universe is supposed to comprise - unseen but immensely powerful, a quantum effect. Our own journey started in Hull, perfectly on time, and if various members of the L'Argent family were not converging on Tenby, we would have arrived in the mansion we have rented for the weekend perfectly on time. I have promised another of RHB's nieces, Sadie, that we will meet them at about 5.30pm in Tenby and have a family pillow fight, but it's now 8.30pm and we're running out of gas and weather just inside the Welsh border with 150 miles to go. The L'Argent Effect is in full force - every "short cut" we decide to take to reduce our journey time turns out to be longer than our original route, every gas station we stop in for refreshment or a bathroom break is closed, and as the journey progresses, it becomes evident that we've left toothbrushes, razors, wedding presents, cards and sparkly dresses behind, as well as losing all details of time of, directions to, and arrangements for the following day's ceremony. "Is Lyd's going to the wedding?" I ask Sal. "Of course Lyds is going, you idiot" says Sal "I f**kin love Lyds" she adds.

The wedding is brilliant. Joyous. Good humoured. Sparkly. There's not enough time to catch up with everyone, and there's the usual (for me) short-sighted offence of looking right through people you should know (sorry again L and Neil), but on the whole, it is such a different experience, for me, than the usual wedding experience of knowing in advance who is going to deliberately snub whom, and who might punch whoever. Afterwards, our crowd all crash in the massive living room of the mansion we've rented for the weekend to watch a very late edition of X-Factor - "F**kin X-Factor? Justify! Justify! Justify! F**kin karaoke! Just all sparkly b**ll*cks" . Sal is the last to arrive. W. opens his notebook and writes "sparkly".

With apologies to "spurious".

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Brilliance of Online Shopping

Some of you may be aware that this coming weekend we have a wedding to attend. Naturally, for such a grand social event, the best foot needs to be put forward, glad rags need to be assembled and nose hair needs to be trimmed. Whereas in our past, self and RHB might have been described as popinjays, these days we both assume a more ascetic demeanor, mostly due to the dearth of acceptable garb to be obtained on the High Street. It is also the case that we have different priorites these days - RHB for example, has been selected, by the smaller of the two cats, as a lookout post. This new employment is not really compatible with evening dress, so she hardly bothers. An alternative, and even less flattering view of this role is directly below:
I too, have mutated. My youthful garb of leather jacket, skintight jeans and Clash T-shirt is impractical for renovating, so I have adopted more practical workwear:

It would however be uncomfortable, and rude, to attend any event, far less a wedding, in our current state if dishabile, so for the past weeks we have been scouring the local fashion stores for suitable attire. The search was fruitless, mainly because it was difficult for us to picture ourselves in any of the garmentry available. Eventually, a brainwave was rustled up from the deepest depths of our collective intelligences. We decided to use internet to pick out possible wardrobe items. The experiment has been a huge success, and below I can reveal, exclusively, our proposed party wear

Friday, 13 November 2009

What doesnt kill you.......etc etc

Compare these two pieces of advice:

Advice Number One: "The Certificate in Teaching in Lifelong Learning is exactly suited to your career aspirations. You should definitely do this course.We have loads of great contacts to help you find a teaching placement."

Advice Number Two: "The Certificate in Teaching in the Lifelong Learning is not at all what you should do. You will struggle in the second part of the course if you dont have a teaching placement. We cannot give any help in finding you a placement."

Those equipped with some reading ability and a minimum amount of 'nouse' (Scouse for common sense - although some allege that statement in itself is oxymoronic) might discern a difference in the implications of above advice, so if I was teaching the above as an exercise in comprehension, in, say, a Basic Literacy or Skills For Life module, or as part of a Business Skills Course that I was teaching, I might be tempted to stretch my students further by asking them to analyse the following exchanges and derive from them a strategy for the engaged participants to pursue immediately after partaking in said reported conversations:

Conversation 1:
Johnny Wannabee : "I really want to get involved in training - pass on some skills, hopefully at Further Education Level - my big concern is that your course is the most appropriate course to take....? "

Professor Halfass : "Oh yeah, absolutely. Our course is perfectly suited to what you've described, in fact, its probably the best course you could have enquired about to suit your goals..."

Conversation Two:

Johnny Wannabee: "So I'm doing a degree in Education Studies with Psychology, and obvioulsy after that I will be perfectly qualified, maybe with a bit of training afterwards, to teach at your facility. When do I start?"

Monsieur Ed LeAdult : "Who told you that? What a useless degree. If you had wanted to teach - anything - you should have done a specialist degree. Then you could have done a Post Grad in that specialism. Then a Certificate in Teaching Adult Education."

And if I illuminated matters further by informing my Skills for Life learners that Monsieur Ed LeAdult was in fact also issuer of Advice Number One, and Advice Number Two (albeit with a temporal seperation), and that all pieces of advice were issued to the same person, then I think you will find it understandable if my gave my Skills for Life learners a Gold Star for returning their comprehension exercise advising that the best course of action for Monsieur Ed LeAdult was to leave the country immediately and seek anonymous refuge somewhere very far away on account of the bounty that had been placed on his head by those who had sought advice from him.

The main problem with the above mentioned scenario is, at least from my perspective, that I am in fact "Johnny Wannabee". This means that I am not teaching a Skills for Life course, so the proposed exercise will not be given. In fact, at this exact moment, the possibility of any teaching by yours truly is as distant as it has ever been, so much so that I am currently seeking a position in waste disposal on the basis that I am possibly more equipped to recognise bullshit (but only retropsectively) than I have been at any time in my existence.

The frustration, which you may, if sensitive, sense in the foregoing, arises from my further, recent research into my career options. As you may know, I am in my Second Year of a Degree in Education Studies, a degree that was "sold" as the perfect solution to an ambition to "teach people to knock nails into a bit of wood". However, as a complement to this (and in order to fast track my teaching ambitions) I seperately started a night class in Preparing To Teach in Lifelong Learning . This night class is the introductory element of a two part qualification, the second part of which the Certificate in Teaching in Lifelong Learning, continues after Christmas. As Preparing to Teach in Lifelong Learning is approaching it's completion, I visited my College to enquire about assistance in obtaining a teaching placement for the next semester - an essential element of this second part of the qualification - and the results of those several weeks of meetings, advice and discussions are the mess that is reported in the non-hypothetical conversations above.

One, of course, should always take responsibility for one's own contribution to any situations that one becomes embroiled in, and my case is no different. In the detail of the conversations I have had over the last few weeks, it has become apparent that if I had really wanted to be best placed to pass on life skills, advice, knowledge and experience to adult persons, I would have been better placed starting earlier. In fact, ideally, it has emerged, I would have been better off, in terms of advising, teaching or lecturing people on matters related to life experience, if I had not bothered with actually gaining any life experience at all. It transpires that the things I have done, like working in a specialised industry for twenty years, running a couple of companies, emigrating, living in different ciies, renovating a couple of houses, being a professional musician etc are a massive hinderance in teaching Life Skills, Business Skills or in becoming a career advisor.

The final nail in the coffin of a depressing couple of weeks came when Monsieur Ed LeAdult enquired whether I had considered consolidating my qualifications with a Study Skills course. "Study Skills is a big area", he told me, "Your degree might be useful to the Learning Advice people. Helping students understand their Learning Styles and become better learners is big area right now".

Monday, 9 November 2009

Weighing Oranges with Thermometers

The great debate was, of course, last week. Thursday, to be precise, a day in which the technology of the Greeks and Romans was put on trial. As readers may be aware, the task of Team Antikythera was to defend the murderous, underachieving, pyschopathic, opthalmic, xenophobic, ignorant Romans and Greeks with enthusiasm and verve.

Given that the decrepit Classical World could hardly feed itself, depended on slave labour for it's "wealth", decimated traditional lifeways across Europe, Africa and Asia and demonstrated a disparity between rich and poor that has not been witnessed in society since - at least not until Bush's American and Thatcher/Blair's UK - the task was not, on initial assessment, one to be relished. In the face of all this, did Team Antikythera blanch? Did we flinch from the task? Did we cringe in the face of the certainty of history.

The answer, as I have surely by now telegraphed, is that we did not. Instead, we set about our task, ruthlessly misinerpreting the evidence, distorting facts and misquoting whoever would be misquoted. Moses Finley, Joel Mokyr, Price, Gibbons and, the greatest author of them all perhaps, W. Ikipeidia were trawled, copied, cut and pasted into a cohesive argument that positioned the Classical Greeks and Romans as, (and I am utterly unashamed to say this, although perhaps I should be) pioneering environmentalists who only used appropriate machinery and, through restraint and principle, voluntarily limited their use of technology in order to protect the environment. We kind of glossed over the whole mass starvations, bread and circuses, slavery and extensive mercury usage bits, as well as the fact that when the Classicals did invent anything (like vending machines and steam power) they used them as cheap props - vending machines, for example, to dispense Holy water at temples, steam and wind power to "mysteriously" open temple doors. When they actually used technology it was to create massive automatons of the Emporer that presided over the slaughter of Africans, Christians and dissidents in the arena or to make better war machines. (and some people say we cant learn anything from history!)

As should be apparent, we were in trouble, so in order to help our argumentfurther we produced a Powerpoint which included slides like the following one:

And what of the result? Well, I can announce that in this first seminar, Team Antikythera won the votes of the jury. The problem is now how to proceed. Given that we persuaded the jury (unanimoulsy) in our first debate using tactics rather than establishing a solid base for our argument (not our fault as the Greeks and Romans were patently underachievers at least in terms of technology) it is clear that in future debates the opposition teams will also try to use our tactics. We will obvioulsy have to "raise our game". Effectively, for me, this does not rule out the possibility of cheap showboating. The togas might still be useful.