Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Capitalism stole my virginity

Anyway back to business: DPF has found an astonishing story about the Silver Ring Thing, involving a schoolgirl, her parents, a PR agency and a lingerie model, all the result of some power blogging. What's more, it is the gift that keeps on giving: in an update, the lingerie model is exposed as a Fascist who is obsessed with Michael Jackson.

Meanwhile, back at home, Sam Finnemore has found the simple way for families to reduce their debts: stop tithing. Anyone who has seen the vast and vulgar Pacific Island churches of South Auckland should realise the concrete results of low-income families who are pressured into giving huge proportions of their income to the church.

Rich has spotted an example of the NZ Herald's new subbing policy.

Dave has web comics a-plenty.

Finally, in case you are wondering, my title is that of a song by The International Noise Conspiracy

And here is the Tokyo Police Club, from Newmarket, Ontario:


It was weird.

The Annual General Meeting of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (Inc), that is. In case you were wondering where I was, I have spent the last three days and four drafts trying to make sense of the AGM of the NZARH. It is not as if I am new to the weirdness of the the NZARH either; but this meeting was one of a kind. The renaming of Rationalist House to Kafka House is long overdue.

I didn't go there with any particular expectation or desire that I would persuade the meeting that I should be readmitted to the membership. I was more concerned at getting a right of reply to the President's Report at last year's AGM, in which I was thoroughly and very nastily done over by someone I once regarded as a close friend. I could not reply then because I had been expelled from the NZARH as soon as I arrived at the AGM. However, the NZARH Constitution said that I could appeal against the expulsion at the next AGM, last Sunday. So my right of reply came a year late.

Whilst we are on the subject of the NZARH Constitution, here is an illustration of how weird things were. I was removed from the Association under Clause 6(a) of the Constitution which says:
The Council shall have the power to suspend the membership of any member who shall have been deemed guilty of conduct prejudicial to the interest of the Association, and, after a full enquiry and subject to the next succeeding Clause, shall have the power to cancel such membership.
I was able to appeal under Clause 6(b), which says
Any member suspended or expelled shall have the right of appeal to a General Meeting of members and a majority decision of two-thirds of the members present shall be final.
All well and good, but the full enquiry never happened. The Council simply decided to expel me at the Council meeting five days before last year's AGM. On Sunday, when I mentioned that the Council had breached the Constitution, Councillor Andrew Geard said that the enquiry had been done. Really? So why didn't I hear about it? Being the subject of the enquiry, I would have thought that I would have been consulted or interrogated or something. Surely someone would have said something to me. Surely they would have produced a report; so I have written to the NZARH President, Elizabeth McKenzie, to ask for a copy. Watch this space. On second thoughts, don't bother.

You will not be surprised to learn that I was not readmitted to membership of the NZARH on Sunday. Garlands of flowers were not thrown to me by an adoring crowd of members. There were no cheers or ovations. The mood of the meeting could largely be summed up as embarrassed silence.

Still, I had my chance to point out the absurdity of the charges that had been made against me. Let me give you an example of that absurdity: then President Judith de Leeuwe said that I had been employed by the NZARH as an administrator, not as Spokesman. But didn't Judith remember the Bertrand Russell Award (yes, I know) which the Council awarded and which she presented to me, with the inscription that says it was for my work as Spokesperson and Secretary? The Rats even have a video of the presentation. And didn't she read the Council minutes of the meetings she chaired, which say the Council wanted me to do publicity work? And didn't she notice that the Council employed someone else to do the administrative work, the Office Manager?

And didn't she remember that little matter with the Maxim Institute; you know, the one that had the NZARH publicised on bFM, TVOne News, TV3 News, Morning Report, Checkpoint, both independent networks, as well as in the pages of the NZ Herald, the Dom Post, the Press, the UK Press Gazette and elsewhere?

Apparently, while I was messing around doing this frivolous publicity work, I should have been opening mail, entering membership details in the office Kalamazoo (kids, ask your parents) and ordering office supplies.

And then there was the accommodation which I had in Rationalist House. Apparently, it was just a temporary arrangement, they were just giving me somewhere to crash for a short while; but I overstayed my welcome, so they asked me to leave. So why did they say in the minutes of their Council meetings that the accommodation was part of my remuneration? And hadn't they forgotten that, when they tried to throw me out, I had taken them to the Tenancy Tribunal, which ruled that I was legally entitled to remain in the accommodation for as long as I had the job?

So, I told the AGM all this and more. I told them how things had started going bad for me after I had reported to the Council that Dr Cooke had been doing very bad things, such as using the NZARH journal for personal gain and lying to the Council after he had made a colossal blunder. I told them how he had tried to have the Council punish me for being beastly to him; how he had resigned when they failed to do so; how they coaxed him back by writing me a letter which said I was the problem.

And I also mentioned that, after six months of argument about my employment and tenancy, the very same Judith de Leeuwe had told my lawyer and I that I was removed from my job because Bill Cooke "wanted to be spokesman."

Not that any of this made any difference on Sunday, at least as far as I know. Perhaps there was a mass uprising of members after I had left the building, but I doubt it. One member, Alan Coombs, stood up to say what a good job I had done. Alan, an all-round good bloke and one of the last of the real Socialists, also proposed the motion that I be readmitted to the membership. However, nobody would second the motion. I think I can assume I would not have carried the meeting.

The Council, for its part, insisted that readmitting me would have been a vote of no confidence in them. Every one of them was opposed. They said I had abused and threatened members of the Association. Of course, what they did not mention is that the supposed victims of my abuse were the very Councillors who were expelling me; quite what threats I am supposed to have made is beyond me. They also expelled me for using the Association's credit card (to which I was the sole signatory) without getting approval of the entire Council beforehand; which is a fair cop - I used it in emergencies, when it would have been inconvenient to all concerned to call a Council meeting - but also a sin most of the Councillors who dismissed me had committed, one night at the Mexican Café.

I suppose I should not be too harsh to the NZARH Council; at least they read my blog. Dr Cooke, especially, seems to be an avid reader. He observed that I could not possibly be readmitted to the NZARH, because I attacked it again and again and again. Worse still, I attacked the NZARH in the pages of Craccum.

So I guess I won't be invited back, not even for the cheese and wine. Before I left, I observed that none of the twenty or so members whom I had introduced to the NZARH were present. They have all left. They are all incredibly bright people in their Twenties, who are starting out on what will probably be brilliant careers in politics, law, journalism and anything else they want to do. They were the future of the NZARH, its next generation. I told this to an audience of about twenty people, of whom one was under Thirty; most were at least twice that age. The NZARH has fewer than 300 members now, with an average age over Sixty; it has lost about twenty-five percent of its membership in the last ten years.

It was good for a while. It looked as if the NZARH had a future. We were doing stuff: fighting the fundies, standing up for secularism, getting new members. Like the victims of Sleepy Sickness in Awakenings, the NZARH had come out of the coma in which it had lain for decades. And, like them, it has slipped back into an endless sleep.

And that was that. I said my bit and then returned to the reality-based community. On my way out, Dr Cooke's loyal assistant, Igor, scuttled after me to serve me a new trespass order; apparently, it needed renewing. I threw it back at him.

I won't be back.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Architecture and morality

Philip Johnson's Glass House is to be opened to the public.

I love it; if you don't, you will probably enjoy Andrew Saint's caustic Obituary from The Guardian: "the professional style of Johnson's career may prove to have made a more lasting impact than his buildings. It offers a reminder that the basest superficiality and the highest purposes of art coexist strangely in architecture."

Quote of the day

As a matter of fact, one of the statements that Fred Hoyle made with Chandra Wickramasinghe, is that actually insects are smarter than we think they are, but they're just not letting us know.

The magnificent Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, speaking in The Firing Line 1997 Creation-Evolution Debate

Found on the Secular Web

This weekend's displacement activities

1. My latest Internet comic crush, from Halifax, Nova Scotia: A Softer World. I was told that I am "Canada-obsessed" by Matty B, shortly after he gave me an album by The Tragically Hip (see below).

2. Making an alphabetical list of famous-type people who have the same initial for forename and surname. The only rules of this game are: no looking up names on Internet, not even to check spelling; use the first name that comes into your head (no going back to put cool people in) and stop when you are stumped. This is my first attempt:

Alvar Aalto
Bernard Berenson
Cab Calloway
Daniel Dennett
Ernie Els
Frederick Forsyth
Graham Greene
Howard Hodgkin
John Junkin
Kris Kristofferson
Lotte Lenya
Mike Moore
Nanette Newman
Ozzy Osbourne*
Paul Pindar
Richard Rogers
Susan Sontag
Walter Winchell

*provided by Harvestbird. If you can fill in any gaps, let me know. You can provide your own attempts at this exciting new game and show everybody how cultural you are.

3. Wondering whether members of Metallica wear pastels on their days off.

4. Wondering why everybody on Internet seems to be reading Slavoj Zizek at the moment; wondering whether I must join them.

5. Reminding myself why I do not live in Ingerland.

6. Testimony


8. The Tragically Hip (with added cats)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

News 23/7

Right's Reign on Talk Radio Called 'Structural Imbalance'
Wal-Mart shuns gay groups
Church school accused of tax swindle
Liberals Celebrate 'Decline of Conservatism'
What does that Darwin know anyway?
Punish prostitutes' clients, says Vatican
Separation of church and state is fundamental - when it suits
Pell lambasts MPs as intolerant
Newton's fourth law: apocalypse
US move on gay bishops may widen Anglican split
Rushdie diplomatic row escalates

with thanks to Craig

Friday, June 22, 2007

Into the valley of the dulls

Elizabeth McKenzie,

Dear Ms McKenzie,

I intend to exercise my rights under Clause 6b* of the NZARH
Constitution, to appeal against my expulsion from the NZARH, at the
AGM on Sunday 24th June.

Please let me know what time I should arrive.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Litterick

* "Any member suspended or expelled shall have the right of appeal to a General Meeting of members and a majority decision of two-thirds of the members present shall be final."

Dear Mr Litterick,

We note that you have been trespassed from Rationalist House.

We do however acknowledge that you may put your case to the membership. We believe that they will support our decision.

We are therefore willing to allow you onto the premises solely for the purpose of appealing your expulsion, provided that you agree to behave in a civil manner, not raise your voice, and comply with the directions of the Chair both with respect to speaking rights, and with any request to leave.

We suggest that your appeal could be heard at 2:45pm, by which time we would expect the majority of business to be concluded. We suggest that you arrive then.

Following the meeting we give you notice that the trespass notice remains.

Yours sincerely,

Elizabeth McKenzie
President, NZARH

Dear Ms McKenzie,

I am of course aware of the trespass order, which you obtained without any justification, other than a malicious and untruthful allegation by Malcolm English.

I intend to make my case to the membership, as is my right under the NZARH Constitution, and answer any questions that members might ask. I expect to be given the opportunity to do so.

I resent your suggestion that I might behave in an uncivil manner or that I would not comply with the directions of the Chair.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Litterick

Morality, Architecture, whatever

And we're back. I am emerging briefly, from the mess of architectural aesthetics I have got myself into, to answer readers' queries.

For all this talk of Kant and Eliot, the most crucial issue seems to be Martha and the Muffins. Southern Dave has been downloading while Peter from Jute City has been nostalaging about The Associates (soon, Peter, we shall have Scottish Music Month).

Meanwhile, Matthew Flannagan takes me to task about Kant. To clarify, I fully accept that Kant was a forerunner to Post Modernism; but then, Kant was a forerunner to everything. What I do not accept is Maxim's confusion of Kant and Nietzsche with PoMo and their suggestion that Rorty was a Post Modernist himself. However, I do agree with Mr Flannagan about Plato and Socrates. Having suffered more of Dr Cooke's sermons on Humanism than most, I can only conclude that everything Dr Cooke says about Philosophy is bollocks; quite a few members of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (Inc) would agree with me. Some time back, I realised that Dr Cooke's views on Philosophy amounted to the following:
  • Kant = religious, therefore Bad
  • Heidegger = wrong kind of Atheist, proto-PoMo, therefore Bad
  • Sartre = not really an Atheist
  • Mario Bunge [who he?] = Good
  • Iris Murdoch [yes, really] = Fabulous
  • Greeks = Humanists
Anyway, back to important matters: Martha and her Muffins are still here; for those who have missed out on their last three decades, an update is available here. Apparently, for those that care, Martha Ladly of the aforementioned Muffins suggested the title Architecture and Morality to OMD for their album, said title being taken from a book by David Watkin, who was to have been my PhD supervisor at Cambridge and whose books I am now re-reading for my proposed PhD at Auckland.

It is all a vast circle of something (or other).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I know it's out of fashion and a trifle uncool

My apologies for my inactivity but I have been wrapped up in architecture; since you ask, I have been constructing and then deconstructing an institutional theory of architectural aesthetics (I don't expect this to mean anything to anybody but I thought that, if I proclaim publicly what I am doing, I will have more incentive to complete it).

Anyway, whilst I have been away, folks have been fighting the culture war right here in the barn. I will make my modest contribution soon but, since Eliot has been mentioned, I will direct you to All Embracing but Underwhelming, where Horansome has declared open season on philosophising and I have leapt in with that little matter of the taxi driver and Bertrand Russell.

Since Pablo mentioned Punk in the comments on this blog, and since it is Fundy Post Canadian Music Month, I should also direct you here.

And here is Martha and the Muffins. In case you are wondering which one is Martha, they both are. Martha on the keyboards went on to sing with the Associates and you can see her doing that and pretending to play violin here. Again, I do not expect that to mean anything to anybody, but then Fundy Post readers are often surprising.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

This is the two hundreth post (yay)

As I said earlier, this could become a full-time job. After the biography of Socrates provided by The Gates of Vienna, here comes the Maxim Institute's obituary of Richard Rorty:
Following in the wake of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche as part of the post-modern movement, Rorty solidified the idea that we cannot know anything with certainty.
I am not even going to start. Harvest Bird links to Rorty's Obit in the NYT; Danny Postel remembers Rorty here; the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy discusses Rorty here. If all that is not enough, Rorty's home page is here.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A life of π (and other stories)

Scott sent me this debate about π.

Craig sent me this one about the Vatican and Amnesty International, the news that Gordon Copeland will not be suporting Labour after the next General Election (as if he is going to get a chance), the common bond between extremists of all religions and a Herald piece about last week's Benny Hinn Show.

Alert state: Mauve

Bob Harris features The U.S. Air Force guide to spotting a terrorist (with thanks to onegoodmove) and a revealing story about the man who plays Adam at the Creation Museum.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Scenes from the culture war

I was in the library at the Fundy Post headquarters, Unheimlich Haus, with some Juvenal and a glass of Madeira, when a thought struck me. These conservative chaps and chapesses, the ones who blog about the clash of civilisations and all that stuff, talk a lot about culture but they never show any evidence that they have any of it.

Every day I see countless blogs written by Conservatives, neo-Conservatives, Christian Conservatives, Conservative Catholics and Catholic Conservatives. All have the same message, that our culture, our civilisation, is under attack: from the Muslims, from the Secular Humanists, from the Post Modernists. The barbarians are at the gate. Everything we apparently hold dear apparently is under attack. But what is absent from these blogs is any apparent interest in what the bloggers are defending.

Take for example, my dear friends at NZ Conservative. Throughout all their furious blogging, the only cultural references I have found are one each to GK Chesterton, Norman Rockwell and Groove Armada. There may be many others which haven't been discovered, but I doubt it. Take also, if you will, the blog called The Gates of Vienna; its subtitle is "At the siege of Vienna in 1683 Islam seemed poised to overrun Christian Europe. We are in a new phase of a very old war." But inside there is not so much as a bar of a Strauss waltz, a glimpse of Klimt or even a strudel.

I am not expecting the cultural interests of conservatives to be necessarily traditional, although that would go with their political stances. Any taste, ancient or modern, would be a glimmer of hope. If they simply showed some sort of passion for something outside the dismal world of their political opinions, that would be a bonus. It would also be a relief from the relentless grind of resentment that fills the pages of the rightosphere. A little joy, once in a while, is no bad thing.

Now, I am not suggesting that a Conservative blogger should throw a reference to La Bohème into his earnest discussion of stem-cells or that an argument about the failings of the education system should be illustrated with passages from Middlemarch. I would simply expect someone who wanted to defend our cultural heritage to occasionally take an interest in parts of it. I grant that, sometimes, such bloggers might mention some cultural conservative in the course of an argument. Harold Bloom, for example, is often cited for his canon of literature and his attacks on popular culture. But the bloggers never show any interest in or knowledge of Bloom's enthusiams, such as the poetry of Wallace Stevens or the inner thigh of Naomi Wolf.

At the very least, I would expect a conservative blogger to display some erudition, some breadth of education. If these people are concerned to preserve all that is good about our western cultural heritage, one would expect them to be familiar with some of its high points. But most of their writing is jejuene, in both senses of the word. And time and time again they make the most obvious clangers. Some time ago I mocked the Maxim Institute for quoting Yeats without understanding the meaning or context of the verse (which at least was not from The Second Coming) and I could easily make such work a full time job.

Take for example this page from the aforementioned Gates of Vienna. Notice the painting Socrates by Jean Luis-David. I am not familiar with this artist but I assume he is the Spanish cousin of Jacques-Louis David, who painted an identical work. And what of the subject? Apparently, "Socrates was the first philosopher and founder of all ancient Greek culture, and with that the founder of democracy, the rule of law, and science." Really? That would come as news to a lot of people, including the Pre-Socratic philosophers.

Of course, it is easy to point and laugh; it is also an awful lot of fun. But these examples show a serious problem. Not only do these commentators show no interest in the civilisation they are defending, they know nothing about it. Nor, it seems, do their readers, because nobody ever notices these rather obvious mistakes.

I suppose I should stop mocking and try to help. Perhaps the Tory bloggers could occasionally have a look at The New Criterion, 25 years old this year, arty, cultured and conservative. Perhaps Yggdrasil, the author of the passages about Socrates, could have a look at the online university founded by another Yggdrasil, who comments:
This page is dedicated to electronically-accessible books that form the core literature of Western Civilization. Many of Yggdrasil's students wonder what it means to be 'white' - or European. Many are unaware of their own cultural heritage that stretches back over 4,000 years. I present to the sons and daughters of Magna Europa this collection as a tribute to that heritage.
I forgot to mention that this Yggdrasil is a "white nationalist," what we lefties call a "fascist," but then it is not just Conservatives who are interested in Western Civilisation. Incidentally, Mr Yggdrasil also provides a fascist film list and, surprsingly, enjoys The Gilmore Girls.

Fundy Post readers, of course, are cultured and clever. They also like Neko Case, so they have Taste, both in music and redheads.

A cabinet of curiosities

Some pages found on Cabinet Magazine:

Modernist origami
An American Self-Portrait
Procrastination Central
A day in the life of American Air Traffic
Otto Neurath’s Universal Silhouettes
Martin Heidegger’s hut
Dead Troops Salute

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Paris Hilton "no longer superficial"

I know that Fundy Post readers want to be the first to know celebrity goss, so I have held the front page to tell you that Paris Hilton has found God. This transformation is remarkable. We are accustomed to corporate crooks and celebrity crims finding Jesus under the cell mattress but usually they spend more time in jail than a long weekend.

Obviously the experience of doing time, although admittedly not much time, was unsettling: "I was not eating or sleeping. I was severely depressed and felt as if I was in a cage." Honey, you were in a cage.

Cynics will scoff and say that Ms Hilton is simply trying to avoid serving the rest of her sentence. This blog will not be judgemental but hopes that, with all the work with children she will be doing, Ms Hilton will have no time for her musical career.

Is this a private fight or can anyone join in?

There's a cracking good squabble on Brain Stab at the moment.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Oh God, oh God, oh God

For some time I have been asking myself why so few Christians comment on this blog. I had thought they were terrified of my acerbic wit but another explanation has come to my attention. It seems Christian gentlemen are busy using Internet to view porn. According to results of a survey by ChristiaNet, half the male respondents were addicted to pornography.
If there could be one place protected from the cancerous infection of pornography and sexual misconducts, one would assume that the Christian church would be that sanctuary. But, recent research is revealing that no one is immunized against the vice-grip clutches of sexual addictive behaviors. The people who struggle with the repeated pursuit of sexual gratification include church members, deacons, staff, and yes, even clergy. And, to the surprise of many, a large number of women in the church have become victim to this widespread problem.
Yes, it seems that, while the men are looking at filthy pictures, their wives are making their own amusements: 20 per cent were looking at porn themselves while 40 per cent "admitted to being involved in sexual sin in the past year."

Here in New Zealand, a pastor and his friends use software which emails their supporter any "questionable" sites that had been visited; which raises the question, quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

If this blog has any Christian readers who are struggling with pornography, they may wish to consider the unique approach suggested here.

Alternatively, they could do what the cool kids are doing and watch the New Pornographers (warning: contains bedroom scene and a very badly-made Martini).

With thanks to Craig for the news story

Friday, June 08, 2007

Duff of a spokesman

Mercury could not be contacted after hours, so in desperation I phoned Radio New Zealand seeking an after-hours contact for the company, and the story spiralled from there.
I am sure this sort of thing happens all the time. People cannot get through to customer services, so they phone Lloyd Scott or Kim Hill to ask for a phone number; before they know it, they have made national news.

Brendan Sheehan, spokesman for the Muliaga family, could not have done his folk any more harm than to write this piece for the Herald in response to Fran O'Sullivan. Not only does he make this feeble excuse, but his opening paragraph shows that reading comprehension was not his top subject at school. He goes on to claim that Ms O'Sullivan is part of some vast neo-liberal conspiracy. The family had obtained ten grand and the nation's sympathy; now would have been a good time for Mr Sheehan to shut up.

Elsewhere Matty B reviews a live gig by Megaphone Joe and his Socialist Workers. "People get ready, 'cos there's a bandwagon a-coming," as the old song goes.

The Paris Hilton prison diaries

The LA Times has an exclusive:
While walking in the yard today, I was put in the mind of Rilke's "Requiem for a Friend." "For somewhere an ancient enmity exists between our life and the great works we do." This, I feel, is my plight. My life is in a constant struggle with my works: my "works" being staying out late and buying stuff. Also the word "enmity" is a hard one and looks misspelled to me.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Identity crisis

A wall full of photographs of two girls does nothing to “interrogate” (a favorite term of art- and lit-crit-speak) identity any more than a mutilated doll forces us to reconsider our usual notions of whatever-it-is those odious objects are supposed to make us reconsider.
In the New Criterion, Roger Kimball gets grouchy about contemporary art. I wish I could disagree with him, really I do, but I have seen far too many exhibitions of this sort.

Bard college, with its President, its patroness and its Chair named for Alger Hiss, could have been invented by Evelyn Waugh. The WaPo reviews a memoir of the Waughs, a review which fails to menton that Alec Waugh invented the cocktail hour.

I need a Martini; gin, of course; stirred, not shaken.

Here are the New Pornographers.

Morality and architecture

It is not often that this blog takes an interest in an item in the Business Section of the Herald but...but...but....

The Scientologists have bought Whitecliffe

Yes, Whitecliffe, the art college or, at least, its building: the big fake Hampton Court in Grafton; I would be speechless but that wouldn't make for a very interesting post. So I shall try to express my horror in words.

How could the owners sell the building to that bunch of fucktards? They weren't even selling it. The goons from outer space just turned up with a truckload-o-cash and the owners just assumed the position. So the college gets chucked out and the goons move in.

And how, you might ask, do the goons happen to come by a truckload-o-cash? Well, it's funny you should mention that. You see, New Zealand is one of the few countries in this little corner of the universe that gives them charitable status; yes, that's right, someone in the IRD believed the goons when they said they were a church and granted them a tax break.

It is bad enough that churches should be free from income tax, but this lot - a church? What about the 1969 report made right here in New Zealand? What about the masses of evidence that the Church of Scientology is an international crime syndicate that preys on the unwitting and the mentally ill to extract as much cash as the greedy bastards can get their hands on. What about the harm they do with their endless campaign against psychiatry? What about the damage they do to individuals who fall into their grasp, extracting huge amounts of money with their pay-as-you-go training schemes and persuading vulnerable psychiatric patients to stop their treatment?

And why, might you ask, do the goons want to spend ten million dollars on this building when they have perfectly nondescript premises in Panmure? I guess they are thinking that Whitecliffe is so much more convenient for the CBD, where the goons go about their work of drawing in the gullible with free personality tests. It will be so much easier to get the duped up to the new HQ so they can start paying real money.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Critical theory

Harvestbird brings us Loltheorists. If you have no idea what this is about, I suggest you stop here, here and here.

Meanwhile, Russell has found the other end of the gene pool on Chase me ladies. For those that do not understand, that wee man is a Ned and that bottle is Buckfast Tonic Wine, known as the "commotion lotion." His English equivalent is the Chav.

And yet, people still wonder why I left Britain.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Wrapped Up In Books

Every so often, I change the Fundy Post banner. The last one, "tardy but eloquent," was taken from a comment by Russell on Hard News.The new one comes from a song by Belle and Sebastian. I really don't need to explain any more, do I?

Paper chase

You may know of the "inverted pyramid" method of constructing a news story in print. The writer puts the most important information at the top of the story and introduce the rest of the information in diminishing order of importance. It is standard practice in newspaper journalism. It is useful to the reader because he can leave the story at any point and understand it. It is useful to the sub-editors because they can cut a story from the bottom to fit the space available on the page, without having to make judgements about the importance of information to include.

It is also useful to sensationalists. It is generally assumed that most readers do not get to the end of the story and that the readership halves with each successive sentence. It is not too difficult to arrange your story so that important information is at the bottom, which most readers will not reach. That way, you can them outraged, even though your story has no substance.

Take, for example, this NZPA story. It starts with "National is again questioning why World War II heroine Nancy Wake has been ignored in the Queen's Birthday honours." It goes on to suggest hypocrisy on part of the Prime Minister before soliciting our admiration for Nancy Wake by listing her heroic feats and getting our sympathy by mentioning her frail health.

Only at the bottom does it mention why Nancy Wake is not getting an award: she left New Zealand at the age of two.

With thanks to Sam

This is not a dog blog

It is only June, yet I think we already have the winner for headline of the year: Corgi eating artist sets mashed potato target.

As someone said on another forum, "why you Brits even bother writing fiction is beyond me."

Monday, June 04, 2007

The University of Brigadoon

Ken, who has a blog of his own, has made a comment on a post I wrote about the Close Up at Seven Easter Special. He asks
Why do you have a problem with Dr Bill Cooke participating? Surely his viewpoint and input to these sort of questions are valuable.
To explain why I have a problem with Dr Cooke might take some time: he was largely responsible for my being forced out of my job with the Rationalists, the accommodaton that came with it and eventually from membership of the New Zealand Associaton of Rationalists and Humanists (Inc).

You might be wondering what problem he had with me. The problem was that I had exposed him as a buffoon and as a fraud, on more than one occasion. Here is an example, a letter I sent to some members of the Rationalists in September last year, after I had been expelled from the NZARH.

Some time after Bill Cooke went to Buffalo to work for the Center for Inquiry [a Humanist organisation], he began to describe himself as Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Buffalo. This singular honour surprised me, since Bill is no Philosopher. I was also surprised me for another reason: there is no University of Buffalo.

The City of Buffalo, New York has a number of academic institutions, one of which is a campus of the State University of New York. Its correct name is the State University of New York at Buffalo, although the administration describes itself informally as the University at Buffalo. It is not the University of Buffalo, a title which would suggest that it was a private university. In the USA, private universities generally are thought to be better, academically and socially, than state ones.

Bill Cooke was described as Visiting Professor at the University of Buffalo on the NZARH website and the website of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. On other sites, however, he is described as Visiting Assistant Professor. On some of these, the university was named correctly. The Center for Inquiry and Prometheus Books describe Bill as Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at The State University of New York at Buffalo. Since the CFI was Bill's employer and Prometheus his publisher, we could assume they were correct in this designation, particularly since both are based in Buffalo. He is so described on the back cover of his book, The Gathering of Infidels, which is published by Prometheus.

Lest I be accused of inaccuracies, I have listed some of the relevant sites at the end of this piece [I have omitted these from this blog posting]. The most recent seems to be that of the Sea of Faith, at whose conference Bill will be speaking on 1st October.

One website where Bill Cooke is not mentioned, however, is that of the Philosophy Department of The State University of New York at Buffalo. This seemed peculiar to me, since the Department lists all its staff, including visiting scholars. Of course, it could have been that the period of his professorship had ended. So I used The Internet Wayback Machine, which archives web pages, to search for older versions of the Department's pages. There was no mention of Bill Cooke on any of these pages, which date between 2003 and 2005.

I made discreet enquiries. I asked a friend to write to the Department Chair, Carolyn Korsmeyer, asking her to confirm that Bill Cooke was a Visiting Professor. This is her full reply, dated 5th May 2006:
Dr. Cooke is in our records as a "research fellow" for this period of time, which is a relationship that we sometimes have with people who visit a nearby institution called the Center for Inquiry. He does not appear on our website because he is not a member of our faculty. (The paperwork that used to be processed for the research fellows is submitted on the same form that also says "visiting professor," which may be a source of some confusion.)

I hope that this clears up your question.
Carolyn Korsmeyer
I think it does. Bill Cooke was never a Professor, Visiting, Assistant or otherwise at Buffalo. He was an employee of the The Center for Inquiry (which is the creation of Paul Kurtz, Emeritus Professor of the Philosophy Department and Bill's guru) and became a Research Fellow as a result. Carolyn Korsmeyer's suggestion that it may all have been a mix-up in the paperwork seems rather generous, to say the least. It is difficult to believe that anyone would mistakenly think he held a professorship.

Whatever the causes, this issue was a concern for the NZARH, since the description of Bill Cooke as a Professor was on its website. I told Andrew Geard, Liz Mckenzie and Malcolm English [NZARH Council Members] about it at the first opportunity. I was told the matter would be investigated. I saw Andrew Geard a few days later, shortly before the May [2006] Council meeting, and asked him whether my concern would be raised there. He told me it would not, because I had not made it in writing. So, I hastily wrote a letter, copied it and gave it to him.

So what happened? Nothing, except the NZARH Council webpage was changed that very night. The phrase " Cooke is Visiting Professor of Philosophy of the University of Buffalo (2003-2006)" was changed to "Bill was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy of the University at Buffalo (2003-2006)" When I later asked Judith de Leeuwe about the matter, she said that Bill had shown the Council a letter which apparently proved he was a professor. I did not receive a written reply to my written enquiry.

Despite my protests, nothing was done about the matter at the next Council meeting, in June. So I brought a paper copy of Carolyn Korsmeyer's email to the Annual General Meeting. I did not stay long there, because I was expelled from the NZARH as soon as I arrived, but my last act was to hand the email to Judith. Three months later, nothing has been done, other than the Council choosing Bill Cooke as their Vice-President.

That is not all. On the NZARH Council page, Bill is described as Senior Lecturer at the School of Visual Arts, University of Auckland at Manukau. You might have the impression that the University of Auckland at Manukau is a campus of the University of Auckland (just as Buffalo is a campus of the State University of New York) and that Bill Cooke is one of the University's senior lecturers. You would be wrong. The University of Auckland at Manukau is an alliance between between Manukau Institute of Technology and the University of Auckland which allows MIT students to take Auckland University degrees. Bill Cooke is a lecturer at Manukau Institute of Technology. The School of Visual Arts where he works participates in the alliance [more recently, Bill Cooke was described in an edition of North and South as teaching at Auckland University and at MIT; he does not appear on the Auckland University staff list].

I found one more anomaly. I came across a site for the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, which sadly is no longer online (note to lawyers: I kept a copy). The site lists a board of illustrious academics, including Gerd Lüdemann (Theology, Göttingen), Robin Lane Fox (Classical Studies, Oxford) and Michael Martin (Philosophy, Boston). Amongst these names is "Charles William Cooke (History, Amherst)." Is Charles William Cooke a History lecturer at Amherst, one of the most illustrious liberal arts colleges in the USA, which counts among its faculty and alumni three Nobel prize winners, four Pulitzer Prize winners, three CIA Directors, the poet Robert Frost, and such luminaries as David Foster Wallace, Dan Brown, Scott F. Turow, David O. Russell, David Suzuki and President Calvin Coolidge? No, Amherst is the suburb of Buffalo where Bill Cooke's former employer, the Center for Inquiry, is based.

I am sure there is a perfectly rational explanation.

The NZARH responded with a email, seemingly sent to all members with an email address:
You may have recently received unsolicited emails from a former employee of the NZARH. The latest of these emails tries to call into question Dr Bill Cooke's academic credentials.

Earlier emails related simply to the ex-employee's personal issues with the NZARH Council, but the most recent email made a direct, specific allegation of  misconduct against Bill Cooke.

Contrary to the allegation made -- as the  attached document shows -- Bill Cooke held the position of Visiting Assistant  Professor of Philosophy at the University at Buffalo (2003-2006).

We are  happy to respond to any other queries you may have.
Attached to this email was a letter from the Philosophy Department, which seemed to confirm that Dr Cooke was a Visiting Assistant Professor. I sent this letter to Carolyn Korsmeyer, who replied:
I consulted with the former chair of my department (who is referred to in the letter to Dr. Cooke from Dean Sukhatme), for I had not seen that letter before.  He confirms my earlier characterization of the situation. It is clear that there is ample room for confusion here.

As I observed in my previous communication about this matter, the Philosophy Department has often offered courtesy appointments to resident fellows at the Center for Inquiry to permit them to get a parking tag and to use the library at the University at Buffalo. In the past we were required to submit paperwork that appointed people as visiting professors in order to establish this relationship, although in our “in-house” language the relationship was called “research fellow”. (I suspect that Dean Sukhatme, who was new to the university at the time, may not have been aware of the terminological disparity.) At any rate, these appointments were not true appointments to the faculty, for the fellows did not teach for us or receive salaries.  In order to remove misunderstanding that this situation sometimes generated (more than once I should add), we now use different titles and do not submit paperwork that appoints people as visiting faculty.

However, I can well imagine that a research fellow who received the sort of letter that Dr. Cooke was sent would consider himself a visiting faculty member, for after all, that is what the dean’s letter states. Your inquiry seems to suggest that you are worried about misrepresentation, but I believe what we have here is just a large dose of confusion.
I think we can be certain that Dr Cooke never was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy; all of us, except the NZARH Council. It is now over a year since I first brought up this matter and yet the NZARH website still proclaims "Bill was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy of the University at Buffalo (2003-2006)..." Not once, it seems did the NZARH Council contact the Philosophy Department at Buffalo to resolve the disparity between the emails from its Chair and the claims made by Dr Cooke. After all this time they still persist with this fiction.

This episode demonstrates the extraordinary fear of Dr Cooke among the NZARH Council; they are prepared to say black is white rather than risk his wrath. I will return to this subject in a later post. It also shows Dr Cooke's egotism and capacity for deception. He has had a year to put right this matter, yet nothing has been done. Obviously, he wants everyone to think he really was a Philosophy Professor, rather than someone entitled to a library ticket and a parking space.

Dr Cooke's behaviour, and that of the NZARH Council in supporting him, insults the membership of the NZARH and the wider "non-religious community" which the NZARH claims to represent. It also insults real philosophers and real holders of academic positions. His dishonesty jeopardises the good name of atheism. If he claims to represent all of us but shows such fradulent behaviour, then all of us are affected. It is worth noting, in passing, that Dr Cooke claims some expertise in the area of "Humanist Ethics."

So, to finally answer Ken's question, the reason I object to Dr Cooke participating in broadcasts is simple: Dr Cooke is a fake.

Notes and queries

From the Old Country comes news of a remarkable insight from Mr Boris Johnson, who holds the seat of Henley-on-Thames in the Conservative interest and who speaks for that party in the lower House on matters of Higher Education.

Mr Johnson has identified a grave disadvantage to the common good in allowing the daughters of gentlefolk to pursue education. It seems that young Gentlemen are likely to choose these young ladies as their wives, and so prevent the advancement of women from the lower orders. Mr Johnson made this and other observations in the pages of The Spectator, from which we have taken the following passage:
The colossal expansion in the numbers of female graduates is in many ways a marvellous thing; but it has boosted the well-documented process of assortative mating, by which middle-class graduates marry middle-class graduates and thereby entrench their economic advantages, pooling their graduate incomes to push up house prices and increase the barriers to entry for the rest. The result is that in families on lower incomes the women have absolutely no choice but to work, often with adverse consequences for family life and society as a whole — in that unloved and undisciplined children are more likely to become hoodies, NEETS [Not currently engaged in Employment, Education or Training], and mug you on the street corner. Of course I am in favour of women working, and the world would be far nicer if women ran it, but I sometimes wonder if they — we — really want to work quite so hard.
However, we cannot help but observe that, although Mr Johnson would never be found on a street corner, he keeps company with men who are no strangers to fisticuffs. We have read a report from the Daily Mail, a newspaper read by office clerks, concerning a duel between two of Mr Johnson's closest friends: Mr Darius Guppy, himself a convicted felon, and Earl Spencer.

We note that Mr Johnson entitled his essay The Pursuit of Happiness, a title which is shared by a musical ensemble from Her Majesty's Canadian colonies. For your edification and pleasure, we a present a composition by said ensemble, entitled Pressing Lips.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Do as I say

One of the anonymouses posting to this blog has recommended Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians. I have to agree. It is very clever, very well researched, often funny and it is free.

I read The Authoritarians a few months back on the advice of a reader and it changed my view of the Religious Right. The book explains a great deal about the mentality of those who follow orders and who want Order kept. Although the title suggests it is about those who ask ze questions, the book is mostly about those who follow them.

Most of its subjects are on the right politically, but that probably reflects that they are North Americans. There is no shortage of left-wing authoritarians, as glancing acquaintance with the Socialist Workers Organisation attests. If I ever get round to making my film Zombie Class-Warriors from Suburbia, I will know where to go for extras.

Bob Altemeyer is a Professor at the University of Manitoba, which fits nicely with the Fundy Post Canadian Music Month. Here's Feist:

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Catholic action

At the risk of being accused of obsession with New Zealand Conservative, I must comment on the latest post by Lucyna, Gay authoritarians want Catholic schools closed in Britain. She begins by claiming
A gay rights group is launching an all out attack on Catholic schools in Britain, calling for the their closure because Catholic schools "bully" gay students by teaching them that homosexuality is immoral.
She then goes on to quote from a blog called The Cafeteria Is Closed, which in turn quotes from a Catholic site called LifeSite, which describes itself as "your life, family and culture outpost."

This circle-blogging is not a healthy activity. Cutting and pasting from other sources inevitably leads to the facts being ignored. There is no substitute for a little research, or at least reading a media release.

If Lucyna had read the first paragraph of her source, she might have seen that Catholic schools are not being criticised for "teaching that homosexuality is immoral." They are being attacked for failing to implement Government policies for dealing with bullying of the traditional kind: beating up kids. Specifically, the Catholic schools are refusing to recognise that kids are being beaten up for being gay, or at least appearing gay to their attackers.

If Luycna has gone to the trouble of reading the media release from the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association which she attacks with the full force of her spleen, she might have seen that GALHA based its remarks on a report by a House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Skills, to which the media release helpfully provides a link. The Select Committee was particularly concerned with the attitude of the Catholic Education Service, which doubted that homophobic bullying should be specifically addressed.

The fact is that gay kids are getting beaten up for being gay by other kids who have issues with homosexuality. This is happening in Catholic schools which are funded by the British Government. The Catholic Church is not prepared to do anything about it. GAHLA has good reason to say that these schools should be returned to local authority control, particularly given the prevailing attitude of the Church against homosexuals.

All it takes is a little time with Google to find out the facts before blogging. That's not to much to expect, is it?

Friday, June 01, 2007

The circle of link is unbroken

The smartest blog in town, All Embracing but Underwhelming... has very kindly linked to my post about alternative medicine. I would leave a comment but a ghost in the machine is stopping me.

It must be a conspiracy.

Readers' offer

As a special service to Fundy Post readers, New Zealand Conservative is prepared to straighten you out, whatever that means.

Find your own space, have a nice day

New Zealand Music Month is now over but you can still try your hand at
Judith Tizard's Annual NZ Music Month quiz .

Today is the first day of the Fundy Post Canadian Music Month. To begin, here is The Pursuit of Happiness with the greatest power pop song EVAH: