Thursday, July 26, 2007

Te Wiki o Reo Maori

Kia ora koutou. Well, Maori Language Week has almost slipped me by. I was thinking of saying kia ora to my students but being completely unhabituated to greeting with Maori I have failed every single time. Ah well. Hei aha...

More entertaining this wiki has been the performance of newsreaders and current affairs hosts trying to speak reo Maori. Simon Dallow started the wiki saying an extended maori introduction on OneNews. He is actually, to my ears, very proficient. He showed that during the tangi of the Maori Queen that he could more than handle himself with reo. I'd say he'd kick my ass in Maori even without a teleprompter. He has clearly put work into it.

The rest clearly have not. John Sainsbury was only marginally better than Dick Hubbard's at the ANZAC day ceremony (i.e. reading it off a script with English vowels). DH's effort was cringing. Wendy Petrie was the best of a bad bunch. John Campbell was surprisingly poor. He does well in his regular greetings but as soon as it moves to something less practised (er... the Maori national anthem) his vowels turn out mangled.

'Foreign' languages are difficult and not everyone can master them. But I was a little disappointed that something like basic pronunciation was not better. They make their living speaking; the obligation should be on them or placed on them to shape up.

Anyway, my contribution to te wiki o reo Maori is to provide this link on the basics of greeting in te reo Maori.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A token record

On my rubbish walk this morning I easily broke all previous Hell's Pizza token collecting records, with a stunning 17 tokens in 1 hour 15 minutes. This works out at about $17 an hour if converted into gourmet pizzas and then into cash. In the process, I also picked up over 7kg of waste.

One of the more surprising aspects is that I only found one box with a token removed!

Monday, July 16, 2007

It's the pong!

I did a long procrastinated thing yesterday: I visited the Auckland Table Tennis Association. I adore ping-pong but without the convenience of being a language school teacher (where sometimes I played ping-pong for a longer time than I taught English!) I pretty much haven't played it. But I'm back spinning and smashing. Finally something to keep me fit perhaps.

Friday, July 13, 2007

(I discovered a lode of draft blogs which once saved were long forgotten. These I will finish and publish)

Education quote (from 2004) - The nature of humanity and state of society

The purpose of education is always an interesting philosophical debate.

This quote is taken from a book The Liberal Tide: From Tyranny to Liberty (edited by Jim Peron), the article itself coming from a person called Frank Chodorov

"In one way or another, this idea [social collectivism] has insinuated itself into almost every branch of thought and has become institutionalised. Perhaps the most glaring example is the modern orientation of the philosopy of education. Many of the professionals in this field frankly assert that the primary purpose of education is not to develop the indivdual's capacity for learning, as was held in the past but to prepare him for a fruitful and "happy" place in society; his inclinations must be turned away from himself, so that he can adjust himself to the mores of his age group and beyond that to the social milieu in which he will live out his life. He is not at end in himself."

(beginning of 2007 edit)

This was written by a libertarian author whose individualistic nature is quite easy to spot. A libertarian would object to all forms of collectivism in society and it is through that prism that he analyses phenomena. Is his observation valuable?

The human species tends towards gregarious behaviour and collectivism. This is not to say that every person is sociable but that people generally like having friends and being a part of groupings, and thus gain a sense of belonging and identity. Individualism itself is usually an extreme exception in human societies of the past. Naturally, these days apparent individualism is more common but I would say that it is individualism that has insinuated itself into education and politics. That is not to say that it is an aversive thing - but it does highlight an interesting trend.

On a TV show Exposed (hosted by John Marsden), a suggestion was made that human nature had evolved to cope well in groups no greater than 500 individuals. Over that, people start to not be able to recognise or know the members of their community and start closing off. The point was that urban life exposes us to numbers much greater than that 500. I'd say that this forces the individualisation. Adjusting education to enable individualism may be an important trait for 20th and 21st century education due to the environment we live, but this has to balanced by an acknowledgement of the collectivistic needs of people. Classes should have contact with the world beyond the world of their classes. How would someone learn social responsibility if one has to focus on their own goals? You can threaten people with punishment to cause them to be responsible in their pursuit of goals, but there is not a greater method than cherishing the society in which you exist and having no desire to harm it on the way to your own personal goals.

The fear of the libertarian is that the personal goals and needs will be completely subverted by the asserted needs of the society. There is are existing examples of this but it is one location on a spectrum. But a completely individualistic society is not necessarily a better society in which to exist either.It is hard to say where our (admittedly pluralistic) society is on this spectrum but I'd say that a more collectivistic education system would be beneficial to help glue together the diversity of the society.

(I wonder what I was going to say back in 2004)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The perils of youth literacy

When I was, I read a lot of books that I was probably not old enough to read. I had an interest in science and read copiously from encyclopaedias and other books to get my fix of information on chiefly dinosaurs, snakes, meteorology and astronomy (I can't remember the other topics). Anyway, in adult life there have been many signs of how my youthful exuberance exceeded my proficiency to read accurately. There are so many words which I learnt from through reading but through the misapplication of pronunciation rules and the poor assumption of meaning.

For pronunciation, it often involved the wrong placement of stress in a word e.g. banal (pronounced 'bay'), the incorrect vowel botany (with 'boat') as a first syllable and puberty (with 'pub'). All of these stayed with me for years and I have been corrected by others. Now at the age of 27, I have discovered that another word from my youth, taciturn, I have long pronounced wrongly. I have always said it in the coolest way: tacky-turn. But the word is related to 'tacit' and the pronunciation of 'taciturn' is the same. Ah well.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A spell

Well, it started well. My blood donation this evening featured my highest iron level in quite some time - a good bounce back from the low of the previous donation. After the donation though, I rested for ten minutes and then got up and went to the toilet. I had drunk a lot before the donation. However, while I stood letting nature take its course I felt a little lightheaded, and as time went on my eyes were fuzzing over. I managed to finish and zip up before lurching out of the room and then staggered straight for a couch, while at the same time muttering something to the nurse in the kitchen area. She knew what to do - and then enforced the procedure to the nth degree. I had to stay flat on my back, feet up high with ankles and wrists rotating and coughing till she said (this was to get the blood flowing back to the brain). Then I could put my legs down. And then five minutes later I got a pillow under my head. And then 5 minutes later she let me sit up. And then I had to stay for about 20 more minutes. But on the positive side, they paid for my taxi back home! I actually got back right when I said I would.

This is the first time in 23 donations that I've had an adverse reaction. But it is a good lesson in what to be careful of as well as the procedure for when someone becomes lightheaded.

Monday, July 02, 2007

From a horse's mouth on Islamic terrorism

If you are interested in the motivation of Islamic radicals this is probably the most worthy read you can have:,,2115832,00.html#article_continue

Sunday, July 01, 2007


My weekly workload has collapsed and will stay low for most of July before August will bring it back to some respectability. Naturally, I'm caught in a win-win situation, where a lack of hours brings more leisure time to do what I like to do and a surplus of hours gives me money for random expenses like car repairs, which I like too.

In my extra time this week contemplating, my mind settled back to an old philosophical chestnut, namely whether we have freewill. A burst of inspiration suddenly revealed to me a weapon to destroy the argument of anyone claiming that determinism is a logical necessity.

Paul once related an idea from a book he was reading about how the human mind has a natural tendency to look for causes for phenomena it experiences. For example, if people saw a comet and then a nature disaster occurred, there was an inference of causality. In the book, it related how this could be a source of the belief in the supernatural. The sins of mankind had to lie in a past flaw/sin at the beginning of creation; people of different areas spoke differently because God punished the people for building the Tower of Babel; deformities and being born in poverty must have been a result of sins in a past life and so on. This is a reasonable theory and could explain the capacity for rational people to believe in things such as luck and the desire to see coincidences as providence. More crucially, it shows that a natural mode of thinking can lead to beliefs that are not necessary logical.

If we have a look at the scientific mode of thinking, it is easy to see that it is a formalised systematic analogue to the same mental process. It looks at the effects and seeks to attribute causes. This naturally is a powerful technique and has been highly successful. But the conclusion of determinism could be an example of how such processes being victims of their own success.

Determinism is the theory that all of our choices are essentially pre-determined by circumstance. For example, I'm going to make a cup of tea now. Why? Because I have a sensation in my throat; I'm partial to tea; it's cool in this room; I'm a bit sleepy and may be in need of a pick-me-up. I could try to demonstrate my freewill by going against such factors to make a point. But my decision to make this point are also pre-existing; I'm writing this blog (which itself had pre-existing causes); I'm a contrarian etc. So if all the effects have causes, then there is no free will, thus determinism.

But the logic leading to determinism could be underpinned by the same assumptions that lead us to beliefs in luck, karma and a creator. If you assume that all effects and choices by sentient and non-sentient beings and objects can be attributed to causes, then you are begging the question when it comes to freewill. It is an assumption to say that all effects have a 100% materialistic cause.

We could assume that our choices are to some degree a result of circumstances and to some degree the effect of the executive functions of the brain exerting its freewill over the choices available. The executive function is what weighs up the significance of each of the factors and effectively makes the choices. Naturally circumstances are the data that the executive function may consider, but to say that the circumstances force choices upon the executive functions is to make an assumption beyond what one knows.

I see this perspective as a valuable point to raise against anyone who considers determinism to be a logical certainty. It doesn't prove freewill; in fact you'll notice that it can be used to attack someone who intellectually asserts freewill. But any awareness of the assumptions that lead to non sequitur 'conclusions' has to be a good thing.

I'm annoyed that I had never noticed this point in fact. It does have implications and uses in other discussions. Anyway, I came to blogger this morning because I knew there was a philosophical topic I was going to blog. Freewill was not going to be the topic, but I couldn't remember the topic that had inspired me to have a more philosophical blog. While writing this one, typically, I recalled the topic which will be the basis of a blog in the near future: Was Mother Theresa selfish?

Any thoughts on freewill and/or Mother Theresa, please comment.