Just Kill Me Now

According to my Death Clock I have five years to live.

I should probably hurry up and do something then.

Actually I often find myself thinking life is so banal, people so willfully stupid, and compensations so paltry...that I should just run a nice hot bath and cut my wrists.

Then I realise I'm contemplating suicide to avoid spending an hour on the phone to correct an administrative fuck-up that's delayed my wages. Again.

But I do have a blogpost prepared, just in case I decide to go through with it.

The last impulse to end it all was occasioned by an email from work last friday. It "invited" me to an "input session" where we would "workshop" "pedagogical strategies" to counter "issues" around "literacy". And another one the next day. Over the weekend.

Oh, and the invitation is compulsory.

So, I'm now going to count my blessings:
  • I'm having sex tonight
  • I'm in a place advanced enough that the only person who might possibly object to my having sex tonight...is his girlfriend
  • Thanks to a week of packed lunches without chocolate, I'm actually losing weight
  • I'm in a place advanced enough thet malnutrition isn't a problem - and obesity is
  • There's a rather nice, reasonably priced tablet computer which I might get
  • I have the spare cash to do so
  • I have a job which is often interesting
  • I have a job
  • I may not have the cash for a home of my own, by I've got parents who must secretly quite like having me around - seeing as I can see no other reason for them letting me live with them
  • There is zero chance that the "input session" will be useful, but it gives me several hours travelling time in which to study something interesting
Clicking the Death Clock again gives a different random estimate.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to believe."

- Robert M Price

"If you can charm everyone it means you don't care about anyone."

- Christopher Hitchens

"Socialists don't believe in fun."

- George Orwell

"Some dance to remember, some dance to forget."

- The Eagles

"It isn't what people think that's important, but the reason they think what they think."

- Eugene Ionesco

Something Old, Something New

I have a new job. It's also an old job. I hate it already and I haven't even started it yet.

In 2011 I spent six weeks as a summer teacher for Cavendish. It was a standard piece-of-shit language school, complete with:

* Insane idiot manager at head office
* Nice but useless manager at local office, too weak-willed to resist the insane idiot
* Resources extending to one whiteboard marker if you were luckly
* Requisite teacher with alcohol problem
* Requisite nervous newbie teacher
* Requisite intellectual teacher who wants to have learned discussions about world music with the class
* Popular teacher with collection of Dr Who videos (me)

After five weeks the insane idiot manager finally realised her daily incoherent emails were being ignored. She fired the entire staff. And got sued for non-payment of wages.

Last friday, Cavendish phoned me, desperate for teachers. To start on monday. Urgently, and did I mention they're desperate? How desperate? Desperate enough to pay my travel costs.

Different branch, different town, different manager, same piece-of-shit school.

Today (sunday), four of us TEFLers sat for five hours in a boiling room, listening to an "induction" on the labyrinthine rules for:

* calling the class register
* assessing the students
* getting assessed by students
* filling out plans for the day's leeson
* filling out different plans for the week's lessons
* filling out forms for what actually happened in each lesson
* ...and which part of the whiteboard is officually approved-of by inspectors for writing the date on.

So, starting monday I wake up at 4am, take a two hour train journey, spend four hours in a classroom, take another two hour journey back, sleep, and use the remaining hours for real life - pretending to plan lessons that don't need planning.

The question is, can I tolerate boiling hot classrooms, students hungry and exhausted for ramadan, and filling out mountains of paperwork giving meaningless answers to absurd questions...for six weeks?

Well, the money's pretty good, I generally get on well with students, and all that train travelling gives me a chance to catch up on a small backlog of six hundred podcasts I've got saved.

Life is all about priorities.

"A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has the biggest piece."

- Ludwig Erhard

"No one is surprised to read of barbarity in a book from a barbarous age."

- Robert M Price

"The art-house audience accepts lack of clarity as complexity."

- Pauline Kael

"Would you be thankful to a person who cut you with a knife in order to sell you a bandage?"

- Dan Barker

"A flag is a symbol and I leave that to the symbol-minded."

- George Carlin

Every Saturday for the next 30 weeks, five quotations to ponder. There's no unifying theme to each set, or to the overall collection - except that they seem to me insightful, provocative, perverse or interesting for any other reason. I've randomised the order, on the principle that two randomly chosen fragments of text can sometimes spark off each other in unexpected ways. Enjoy.
"Women have been forced to fear whilst men have been forced to dare."

- George Bernard Shaw

"Good judgment comes from experience, and experience - well, that comes from poor judgment."

- A.A. Milne

"When you invite a middle-aged moralist to address you, I must conclude that you have a taste for middle-aged moralising."

- CS Lewis

"Every religion begins as the delusion of one or two people."

- Robert M Price

"If you're told what's the same but see what’s different, or told what's different but see what’s the same, you’re a scientist."

- Neil Degrasee Tyson

My Idea of Fun

I've spent the last three months trying and completely failing to make any music.

I've tried out virtual synths, put together my own virtual synths and drums, experimented with effects and signal paths, come up with a few possible solutions to mixing problems - and found reasons why the solutions don't work.

What I can't do is write a chord sequence, lay down a bassline, or come up with a vocal melody.

And I think the reason for this is very simple: It's no fun anymore.

When I say "fun" I mean "taking pleasure in a process, regardless of any end product". Some people shop for fun - and when they get home, find they're stuck with this thing they've bought. Flirting can be fun, even if it's with someone you can't have at the end of the night.

Fun is important. If you're learning a language, then the prospect of getting some gratification as a result of using it in a year's time is just too distant. Anyone who's become fluent in a second language will tell you: You'll never get good unless you fall in love with the language. And love is it's own reward.

I've been learning about textual criticism techniques, applied to the bible. Why? Some people insist they know my intentions better than I do, telling me they know I want to join the embrace of a mother church. In fact, there's absolutely nothing I want to get out of it - I've just found that I enjoy studying it, and following the reasoning of its experts.

I'm a problem-solver. Figuring out how to do something is interesting. Doing it...isn't. Don't get me wrong - I'm certainly not an expert in making music, but I know that, for instance...

...a good compression curve for a vocal line involves noise gating between -36dB and -48dB, applying softknee of ratio between 2:1 and 4:1 up to about -12dB, and preserving transients by squashing the dynamics above that by at most 2:1.

And if you didn't understand any of that - or if you understood and fundamentally disagreed - nevermind, because that's not the point. The point is: figuring out the numbers is fun; making up a song to apply them to is just a chore.

So, how can I make it fun again?

Saying "Concentrate on the pleasure you'll get from the finished song" is to completely miss the point. Saying "Set artificial limits on yourself, and see how well you can overcome them" is better...but I'm doing that anyway, and it's not enough.

You may by now have figured out that (1) I don't have an answer, and (2) finding a way to recapture the problem-solving fun is itself problem-solving fun - otherwise I wouldn't still be trying to do it. So applying any solution I come up with may itself suffer from...being no fun.


Somewhere on his blog, Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) lists things he used to believe, sorted by how old he was when he realised they weren't true. Here's my version.

00: ?
01: ?
02: ?
03: Adults know that children can see them.
04: Once you understand there's no reason to be afraid, fear vanishes.
05: Talking to yourself means you're mad.
06: My teacher knows what she's talking about.
07: Violence achieves nothing.
08: People appreciate honesty.
09: Nobody wants to be an outsider.
10: People are basically decent.
11: You can't gain real understanding from books.
12: True friendship is unconditional.
13: People know why they believe what they believe.
14: People can be persuaded with simple facts.
15: Being able to spell correctly and use big words makes you intelligent.
16: The official rules are the real rules.
17: There are two sides to every story.
18: Elegant ideas are truer than ugly ones.
19: Everyone realises you can't trust the police.
20: Being a parent makes you competent to raise children.
21: Money doesn't make you happy.
22: It's possible to be apolitical.
23: Drug users are damaged victims.
24: Once you know what's right, doing it is easy.
25: Overweight people are ignorant about health.
26: If someone loves you, they respect you.
27: You can repair psychological damage with kindness.
28: Losing faith means gaining reason.
29: The young are rebellious and the old are conservative.
30: Doing something for a long time makes you good at it.
31: You can't love humanity without loving humans.
32: Respecting a person means respecting their beliefs.
33: Everyone grows up eventually.
34: Memory is accurate and willpower is strong.
35: Only love that lasts is genuine.
36: The purpose of schools is education.
37: Science is the search for truth.
38: It's impossible to be mistaken about you own beliefs
39: Ruthless people are sadists.
40: Pleasure is sinful.
41: Reason has a method and unreason has none.
42: Doing what you love means doing it well.

Old Time Religion

I've been reading the bible.

Well, mostly I've been reading about the bible.

Well, mostly I've been reading about the process which led to the complilation of the book whose name just means "The Books".

But here's a thought. When reading the new testament in the original (or is it?) greek, the question is usually: What does this word mean in this context, and how does it affect the general message?

When you look at the old testament in hebrew, it's more often: What should this word be, once you put in the vowels and decide where the word and sentence boundaries are?

If you look at the quran in arabic, the question is: Where are the words?

By analogy, here's something in english:

This is the house that jack built. It is a very fine house.
Take out the spaces and punctuation, and you've got something like the greek new testament situation:

Now take out the vowels, and we're in old testament terriatory:

And now, remember that ancient arabic had a highly ambiguous alphabet, where one symbol could refer to three or four consonants:

Your challenge Mr Phelps, should you chose to accept it, is to take this stream of consonants, and turn it into a grammatically correct set of one or more sentences. And they've got to match the theology of your ruling sect at the time.

Oh, and although you're not supposed to admit it, you know it was written in many dialects by many amenuenses, some of them barely literate, who inevitably made mistakes even if they weren't, and some of who weren't above a little creative fraud.

So it's no accident that large sections of the quran are gibberish, and the best interpreters can do is make almost-grammatical word-salad...and then try to interpret it as pointlessly convoluted metaphor. Actually, each clause is several dozen pointlessly convoluted metaphors, because you've got a lot of doctrine to justify, and not much text.

But our muslim friends do have one advantage: There's only one version of the quran. Somewhere between 650 and 700CE (depending who you ask), the caliph Uthman compiled all the surviving scriptural fragment which were politically useful to him...and had all the others destroyed.

Compare with the new testament situation, where we have between 5,500 and 5,800 hand-copied fragments. A few are complete copies, some are entire letters or gospels, and most are bits of scrolls with holes in them.

And no two copies of the same text exactly agree.

There are about 400,000 textual variations. 99% are spelling differnces, slight paraphrases...or in some cases entire missing sentences left out by sleepy scribes. Of the remainder, 99% constitute minor doctrinal variations. Which means a few constitute major doctrinal variations.

Things like: Is there one god, two, three or thirty? Was Jesus a flesh-and-blood man, or a holy hologram? Is he the adoped son of god, or a "real" one, whatever that might mean? Is there a hell? And if there is, can we be saved by faith alone or by good works? Can women preach?

Is the afterlife an eternity playing a harp on a cloud telling god how wonderful he is? Or is your soul put into cold storage (purgatory?) until the end of the world, after which you get a new, perfect physical body on a new, perfect earth? The book of revelation says the latter.

If you're a non-jew converting to christianity, do you need to avoid bacon sandwiches and mutilate your genitals? Speaking of which, would you be closer to god if you cut them off entirely? On the other hand, should you seek out every experience god has made available to you?

Is now a good time to mention that at least six of Paul's thirteen epistles are almost-definite forgeries?

Surely though, if you go back to the earliest versions, that should tell you what the original writers really said. Good luck. In the first 1000 years, there are about 300 fragments. In the first 200, a grand total of four. And in the first century...exactly zero.

Oh, and the earlier you go, the more variation there is. Apologists acknowledge this and like to claim the original inspired wording must be scattered among the variations because...actually they don't give a reason.

The odd thing is, all of this is mainstream in the world of biblical scholarship. Which is composed mainly of committed believers. So, before you start to study a subject, expect to find two things. First, everything the general public know is wrong. Second, an expert is someone who knows what's almost certainly not true, not someone who's absolutely confident what is.