There is a right answer

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:48 am

From US National Public Radio (NPR):

Belief In Climate Change Hinges On Worldview

Well, yeah. People who are already disposed to believe in economic growth at all costs, that technology will always solve any problems it causes and… that any concern for the natural environment is a sign of communism or worse, will manage to avoid accepting what’s going on with climate change despite whatever the actual evidence says. Not sure that’s news…

(And, look, I don’t think we have the science 100% right at this stage and there’s always more to learn – but it’s ‘certain enough for our purposes’ and we need to act now: waiting for certainty will be waiting too long. Standing in the middle of the road longer as we calculate whether or not the speeding car is going to hit us makes no sense…)

The question, of course, is what we do with this knowledge. Deniers will continue to deny, because it’s hardwired for them to do so, and therefore no amount of evidence will ever convince them. And yet action is needed.


Messin’ With The Recipe

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:15 pm

A friend asked recently in his Facebook status message “Why is it that AC/DC are still credible after all these years and Metallica aren’t?” (Or words to that effect.) My response was that AC/DC have never really messed with the recipe, while Metallica have done nothing but mix it up.

AC/DC had one huge change forced on them when Bon Scott died. Their albums before that time showed change and progression and different approaches, and I personally prefer Bon’s voice and in particular his lyrics over Brian Johnston’s. Bon’s lyrics are sleazy with a nod and a wink and a double entendre, and are quite witty: Brian’s are just kind of straightforwardly sleazy: as someone said a while ago “AC/DC lyrics are mostly single entendres and proud of it”. Bon’s are naughty, Brian’s are dirty. Bon’s prime characteristics were cheekiness and charisma.

But if you compare AC/DC’s newest album, ‘Black Ice’, to their 1980 opus ‘Back in Black’, you’ll hear a band doing essentially all of the same things. Doing them extremely well, I hasten to add, and AC/DC rock hard and are enormous fun to listen to. But they’re very explicit about the idea of ‘not progressing up your own arse’, as Angus memorably expressed it in an interview. They know what works and stick with it.

Metallica is different: every album is a huge change from the previous one. In their first few years in particular, then differences from ‘Kill ‘Em All’ to ‘Ride The Lightning’ to ‘Master of Puppets’ are just immense. It was after these albums that Metallica hit their own tragedy – the death of bass player Cliff Burton. It’s possible to argue about how Cliff’s demise effected the band’s output in later years…

I personally love ‘…And Justice For All’. The band has since said it’s their least favourite album, and it’s true that the production sounds very thin by modern standards, but it’s another big step on from
‘Master’ and represents the extreme of the long, almost prog songs. The ‘Black Album’ is also a good rock record, but it was with this album that Metallica’s changes begun to lose them their core fans (though, to be fair, it also won them a heap of new fans). Even ‘Load’ is a good album, IMO, though people might argue that it’s not really a Metallica album in the classic sense.

By ‘Reload’ things were getting weaker in the Metallica camp, and ‘St Anger’ is one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard. ‘Death Magnetic’ is really only a partial return to form, hampered by horrid drums sounds from Lars and immature lyrics from James Hetfield who used to be a reliably excellent writer.

Can’t really decide which is better. For mine, Metallica at its peak eclipses the best of AC/DC, but Metallica at its worst is truly abysmal. Maybe you have to have the abyss to have the peak?


Tea Partiers and Republicans – shh, don’t tell them their views are diametrically opposed

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:59 am

Glenn Greenwald, as usual, is penetrating through the spin to the heart of the matter:


…that GOP limited government rhetoric is simply never matched by that Party’s conduct, especially when they wield power. The very idea that a political party dominated by neocons, warmongers, surveillance fetishists, and privacy-hating social conservatives will be a party of “limited government” is absurd on its face. There literally is no myth more transparent than the Republican Party’s claim to believe in restrained government power.

Is there a way back?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:08 am

Listening to a very interesting program on Radio National the other day. We’re currently going through a series of scandals in Australian politics because the government rushed into place a policy to insulate millions of houses in a short period. Turned out a lot of the operators were shonky, using poor materials and poorly trained staff, and there have been electrocutions as people stapled the sheets of foil they were lying on into live electric wiring, and roof fires from poorly integrated solar panels…

Anyway, that’s background. The broader point being made on the program was that in the ‘olden days’, governments made policy, and public servants implemented them by directly providing services to the public. The chain was short, and public servants could feed back on the implementation process to the government, so there was good 2-way communication.

In the past couple of decades, there has been this huge push to privatisation and public-private-partnership models, largely based on the idea that the public sector is bloated and inefficient and the private lean, mean and productive. That’s been an ideological push, but it’s been pervasive, not just here but in most western democracies.

What that means, though, is that rather than providing services to the public, public servants are now administering contracts to people in the private sector, who then further subcontract for the actual service delivery. Instead of one step there are 2-3 (or more) in the chain, and the power relationships are all about ‘deliverables’ and contracts, not about 2-way information flow. The claims about efficiency are, of course, also being falsified, since everyone in each layer needs a cut, and more layers means more money going to middlemen and less to services.

The problem is, I’m not sure we can roll it back. It’s been an experiment, it’s failed in all the ways that count… but I suspect we’re stuck with it anyway.


Killer God – acquitted?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:08 am

Most people I know, Christian or otherwise, struggle to reconcile the notion of a God of love with the God who is reported in the Old Testament as destroying everyone on earth with a flood, destroying the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and sponsoring various genocides by the Israelite army in Canaan.

It’s not going to sit well with Biblical literalists, but it occurred to me the other day: people like Pat Robertson have blamed (or, from their perspective, credited) God for the recent destruction caused by the earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Katrina and the Asian tsunami. Most people – even most Christians – recognise that these are natural disasters with natural causes, falsely ascribed to God’s direct actions.

What if the same applies to the events in the Bible? There was a (large but local, rather than truly global1) flood that killed a lot of people, and in seeking an explanation people settled on the age old one that God was angry. A local volcanic eruption under Sodom would similarly explain the demise of those cities… and human nature would explain the ascription error. And an army commander saying before the battle ‘God told me to wipe out our enemies utterly’ hardly needs any explanation at all…

As I say, it doesn’t fit will with Biblical literalism or certain views on Biblical inspiration. It does accord with our experience, and it does let God off the hook as being a far greater mass murderer than Hitler and Stalin combined…

  1. I know the book says it covered the whole earth, but it also calls Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome global empires when they were really only relevant in the Middle East and Europe, so…


Church and the Semiotics of Space

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:58 pm

Here’s an iPhone photo that I sneaked this morning of the interior of the church:

The church was built in the 50s, and I think the pews and many of the other furnishings are original. The small thing I noticed was the little decorated (with different shades of wood) wooden stand in front of the pulpit. It currently has a small LCD monitor on it, so that those singing at the front can see the lyrics that are being projected on a screen above and behind them. Presumably it’s been pressed into that service fairly recently, and it’s intriguing to think about what its maker intended it to do.

The bigger point is that all of the services are conducted from the lower stage, which stands maybe 10 cm (4 in) above the floor of the church. A narrow pulpit – just a shelf on a stand – is used to hold the speaker’s Bible and notes. No-one ever goes up unto the higher part of the stage, which is maybe 60 cm (24 in) above the floor.

Presumably that’s because it is felt that the speaker ought to be on a level with those spoken to, rather than ‘speaking down to them’ in a literal sense from the higher platform, as would have been the original design. I’d bet money that there’s a massive and solid wooden pulpit a metre and a half (4 ft or so) wide somewhere in storage.

I guess it could be seen as progress, but (a) it ignores the fact that, without a raked floor, having the speaker low down means it’s hard for the people at the back to see him (or, rarely, her) but (b) it’s actually still a rather archaic process to have one person preach for half an hour to a large number of people. We try to do less of that in school these days, and although obviously there can be very excellent preachers as well as very poor ones, as I say, the approach itself seems maladaptive… perhaps the next egalitarian step will move us away from this centre-periphery model entirely…


Way too cute: 3 year old installing Ubuntu

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:09 pm


Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?1

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:03 pm

So, of course, all my climate-skeptic friends are splashing this article from Britain’s ‘Daily Mail’ newspaper all over their Facebook status messages and every forum they can:


Except, of course, the story misrepresents what Phil Jones actually said quite outrageously, not once but several times. Alex Knapp has the linkage and the explanation:


As someone who sometimes struggles to keep track of the data myself, I can empathise with what Phil Jones did say, but none of what he said constitutes any sort of ‘U-turn’ on climate: far from it.

1. Especially for those whose prejudices it reinforces…


Warm Air Hand Driers

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:00 pm

They’re cheaper to operate than paper towels. They avoid messy overflowing bins and the grossness of used paper towels. They don’t chafe your hands. They’re even, arguably, more environmentally friendly than paper towels.

There’s really only one problem with them: they don’t dry hands!

Compare and contrast this with as many other features of modern life as possible.


God is wild and strange and extreme and uncontained

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:35 pm

I’ve talked here before, a number of times, about the nature of God, as I’m in the continual process of trying to understand it: 1, 2, 3

Cassie came with us to church this week, but was a bit bored by the sermon, and was leafing through the Bible. Sue showed Cassie her favourite passage, which was about Jesus going to build homes in heaven and returning for us. Then Cassie asked about my favourite passage. I gave her the following (it’s longish for a blog but well worth the read):

And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies. And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning. Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went. As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above. And under the firmament were their wings straight, the one toward the other: every one had two, which covered on this side, and every one had two, which covered on that side, their bodies. And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise of an host: when they stood, they let down their wings. And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings. And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.

Why did I choose that? (it’s from the first chapter of Ezekiel) Partly because it’s cool, and sounds like a scene from a great fantasy novel. But that’s not all of it. The point, to me, is that it’s an attempt – and, in many ways, a noble but failed attempt – to explain some of the things about God. The title of this post kind of sums it up for me: our visions of God are too constrained, small, human and definitely very petty. But we claim they’re derived from the Bible, and this is in the Bible too. If we don’t account for this stuff, we’re not really drawing our God from the Bible at all, but from our own impoverished imaginations and prejudices, then cherry-picking the Bible to back that up.

God is infinite, which means God is always going to exceed us and surprise us, and we’re never going to contain him… or even know more than the tiniest infinitesimal fragment of who God is.


Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:56 pm

As well as being a decent possible band name, this word that I coined on my bike ride this morning seems to me to be a decent descriptor of some aspects of our society. It’s jamming together ‘pathology’ and ‘idolatry’, and I take it to mean something like ‘worship of sickness’.

I don’t mean that in a puritanical, Moral Majority (sic) sort of way, but just to suggest that it’s the flaws and psychopathologies of the participants that are the key selling points of most of the reality TV out there. I shouldn’t be blind to my own, more drama-based, viewing habits, either: House’s pathologies definitely are part of what makes that show interesting. In news, too, it’s the stories of the parents who do horrible things to their kids, and other kinds of sickness, that seem to get the ratings and attention.

It’s probably just part of the human condition… but another part is ‘monkey see, monkey do’. Perhaps a little more emphasis on the healthy (and by that I don’t mean the fruit-and-vegie-and-lots-of-exercise sense, or the repress-and-hide-everything-real sense) in our culture would be… healthy.


Utah State, U-U-U-Utah State

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:02 pm

From Utah, this news:

Committee in Utah Legislature Passes Climate Change Denying Resolution 10-1

And we thought we had our own problems with Senator Fielding… The stupid just continues to astound me.

The profs at Brigham Young University (the big Mormon school in Utah) responded as follows:

BYU science professors write letter rebuking Utah Legislature


You Can Judge a Man By The Quality of His Enemies

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:32 am

An old friend – and sometime sparring partner – has just announced that he’s leaving a motorbike forum I read. He’s an uncompromising sort of guy, and had had his fair share of verbal stoushes over the years, but he also has amazing research and information skills, broad knowledge and an encyclopedic memory.

Naturally a thread started around his ‘I’m leaving’ post1, with a fair few bouquets… and a few brickbats as well.

The really interesting thing was who each came from. There were surprises there – people who’d been on the end of an almighty serve from him more than once (including me) were happy to give him credit. But the people who attacked him tended to be some of the rudest and most opinionated (without support) blowhards on the site. Pretty much anyone who piled on was someone whose posts I’ll avoid reading if I can…

Which is what impressed it on me: You can judge a man by the quality of his enemies2.

  1. BTW this wasn’t the ‘I’m taking my ball and going home hissy-fit walkout we sometimes see on forums. His meat-world job is an an area that relates to motorcycling, and he felt that by offering some of the advice and information he was that he was putting himself into an untenable conflict-of-interest situation
  2. Or, yes, indeed, a woman by the quality of hers. It’s equally true, but adding the ‘or’ and the ‘his/her’ just completely broke the poetry. Please take the gender inclusiveness as read…


Cloud Culture

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:13 pm

Charles Leadbeater does a great job of outlining some of the potential of, and threats to, cloud computing: http://www.counterpoint-online.org/cloud-culture-promise-and-danger/

What would it cost to let them teach creationism in schools?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:42 am

I’m currently reading a special issue of the journal ‘Cultural Studies in Science Education’, devoted to issues around science and religion. The topics are fairly broad, but given that science education is the focus, creationism in schools is one central concern.

Lots of energy from lots of scientists and other interested folk – and not a few court cases – goes into fighting the introduction of creationism into school science courses and textbooks in America. (The issue is much less live almost everywhere else in the world.)

It got me thinking: maybe that energy could be better used elsewhere? Perhaps in creating better teaching materials around evolution – or just doing more science.

Not that I’m saying creationism is correct – I’m pretty sure that at least the 6/6000 form is completely incompatible with science and what we know about the earth and life. That’s not the point. The point is “What is the real harm if people teach creationism in schools?”

They will also have to teach evolution, because it’s part of the science syllabus. Maybe the creationists would put energy into fighting to have it removed, but that’s extremely unlikely to be successful – the most likely outcome would be parallel teaching of two (there really should be many more, encompassing creation stories from a variety of cultures, but I doubt that would happen) views of how we got here.

Is the worry that students would be convinced? That more students would leave school believing in creationism than evolution? Surely that position signals weakness in the evolutionists’ confidence in the explanatory power of their account? In other words, if evolutionists are happy that the evidence strongly supports evolution, and does not support creation, perhaps they should work at improving science education and students’ ability to understand and interpret evidence, and then trust the students to choose for themselves?

Which students are likely to be convinced? Those who already have very strong creationist teaching at home and church. And those students were already convinced anyway, so adding creationism at school doesn’t change much. I suspect that in those communities, even without creationist teaching, teachers are rolling their eyes and sighing heavily as they teach evolution as ‘just a theory’.

I guess I’m just talking about choosing what hills to die on… and I’m not convinced that the benefits of fighting creationism in schools outweigh the costs.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:04 pm

Been enjoying a new blog recently: Doctor Crankenstein1. A few days ago he wrote a longish, detailed and well-researched post on the saga of Father Peter Kennedy and the St Mary’s church in Brisbane: The Beloved Heretic. I commend that post to you.

But this post, and in particular its title, is about the Comments after that post. Have a read and see if you can guess why…

  1. Full disclosure: My daughter Cassie is dating the good Doctor (oi, no ‘Bride of Crankenstein’ jokes, there at the back!)

Disciplined Eclectism and World Views

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:03 am

Read yesterday’s post first.

Now… dare I even suggest that, as well as for research and teaching, disciplined eclecticism might be good medicine for selecting world views? That it might be possible, rather than having to choose to be Christian or atheist, we could cobble together our own mix of Buddhism and theism and evolution/naturalism and humanism that works for us and our purposes?

(/runs for his foxhole pulling his helmet down and checking his flak vest)


Disciplined Eclecticism

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:12 am

Chatting in the car with Suzie the other day, and she asked me ‘what’s the key educational idea you’re all about?’1 The discussion was pretty much about ‘branding’ myself: Mr Piaget has his stage theory, Mr Kohlberg his moral reasoning, Mr Vygostky his ZPD and so on… What will be my legacy and what will I be known for?

So far I’ve written two books – ‘Weaving Narrative Nets’ and ‘Undead’ Theories. They’re both about educational research, and both talk about processes of pulling together bits from a variety of places to make something that’s well adapted to a particular purpose. I’ve used the term ‘bricolage’, borrowed from other people, before, but it doesn’t really capture it.

I’ve also used the term ‘disciplined eclecticism’ though, and that’s what came to mind when Suzie asked the question. There are a couple of things that get me to that point:

  1. There’s nothing new under the sun – all the gentlemen named above created their own theories and ‘brands’, but (and the best of them knew this and acknowledged it) they were really each taking up ideas that dated back at least to the Greeks, and probably much further 2
  2. I have always believed that all human situations – and educational situations are just a special subset of those – are too complex and multifaceted for a single theoretical perspective or approach to capture enough of them to be useful for our purposes3

So, ‘disciplined eclecticism’, then, is the approach of begging, borrowing and stealing ideas from as many sources as possible – other educational theorists, sure, but also artists and scientists and novelists and engineers – and combining them into makeshift but workable new tools to inquire into educational situations in ways that are well adapted to both the features of the situation and our educational purposes.

The ‘eclectism’ means we need to read very broadly4 and know a lot of possible approaches… but that could end up being messy and uncoordinated and unmanageable. That’s where the discipline comes in.

The term is used in two senses:

  1. Self-discipline: two or three frameworks, data sources, approaches or whatever can work well, maybe even four if you can juggle really well, but ten is going to be a mess for pretty much everyone
  2. The ‘discipline’ within which you’re working: the appropriate mix will be different in education than in psychology, and even different in science education than in second language education

I’ve thought about disciplined eclecticism as an approach to research, and written a few things about that, and I think I have some road still to cover – and probably a book or more still to write – on that topic. But it occurred to me that it’s actually also the approach I follow and advocate in teaching: don’t adopt one theory, one approach, one strategy. Instead, learn about a heap – expand your repertoire – and then choose the appropriate mix for this school, class, subject, time of day, your own personal style and all the other relevant variables.

Choosing the appropriate mix is both art and science, and – like prescribing drugs – it is not only the individual effects of each of the ‘treatments’ that needs to be considered but their possible interactions…

I’ve got lots more thinking and writing to do, and it’s probably still too diffuse as a ‘brand’ and a concept to slip my name up there with the Big Guys, but it’s definitely a concept I can get behind as representing some of what I’m here to share with the world.

  1. Conversations like this are some of the many, many reasons she’s awesome
  2. It’s just that the Greeks got really good at writing stuff down on less perishable media so we know more about what they thought
  3. Let alone ‘The Truth’ about them
  4. And ‘read’ here includes ‘listen to’ and ‘view’ and ‘play’ – there might be great tools in movies, songs and games


Black Metal Chaser

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:10 am

You might have heard of a ‘unicorn chaser‘. The idea is that, if you see something truly horrible on the web, you might need to go and look at something lovely and soothing – something like a unicorn – to cleanse the mental palate.

I tend to have the opposite reaction though: if I’m subjected to some saccharine Christian music, or the shopping-centre Christmas carol overload, or some repetitive and content-free pop… I need to seek out the most extreme, discordant, shrieking music possible. A black metal chaser…

Feel free to share your preferred chasers here – what is it that leaves the bad taste, and what do you use to wash it away?


Digital Overload

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:01 am

Salon on how we’re coping with the deluge of information: http://www.salon.com/entertainment/tv/frontline/index.html?story=/ent/tv/iltw/2010/01/30/frontline_digital_nation.

This article, incidentally, is written by Heather Havrilesky, who was a writer on one of my very first must-read-every-day web sites, the late lamented Suck.com.