Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Blogging Lovaas, 8

We are also indebted to the large numbers of students who have joined in the search for solutions... at any one time over the past 40 years between 30 and 50 students... have been enrolled in practicum classes lasting 6 to 12 months.... Between 10 and 20 graduate students as well as full-time staff members have stayed on the project for several years... Through such dedication and with support from the NIMH a network of some 14 clinical sites has been established over this country and abroad... How could one fail to make progress under such conditions?
P. xv


Well, I could describe some ways. Before we get on to that, however, let's just note that
(a) the program is 40 years old
(b) an average of 40 students have been working on it at any one time
(c) there have been an average of (say) six centres at any one time -
so, very roughly, order of magnitude figures,
* 1600 student-years
* 140 centre-years
More on this later.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Age spike

I don’t in fact believe that intelligence is heritable, as Tony Abbott believes, but the British royal family certainly make a strong case that stupidity is. It’s been 331 years - thirteen generations - since they had a bright one (Charles II, anyone?). Still, as my father said when I remarked that the present Prince Charles wasn’t the sharpest crayon in the pack, “Yes, but think what a waste it would be if he was.”
This may perhaps explain why, if they’re supposed to be the guardian of integrity and honour in the Australian government, they’re doing such a piss-poor job.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Irreligaussies

An article in the NYT on religious politics in Australia. Not obviously crazy -
While polls show that Australians are generally quite divided on “values” issues - like abortion, which is legal, and same-sex marriage, which is not - political debates on the topics do not degenerate into personal attacks, perhaps a reflection of the country’s secular nature. The evangelical right, though growing, is politically insignificant.

but it does say that
"For the most part, religion is a private matter here, not a political one. And while it would be glib to say that Australians worship the sun, the surf and the laid-back life, it is not wrong to note that although Australians go to church - predominately Catholic or Anglican - candidates are generally not concerned with playing to religious groups. The evangelical right, though growing, is politically insignificant."

Aussies go to church? No, we don’t. Not even the rightwing nutjob evangelicals. Young people even less (http://www.youthfacts.com.au) -
Percentage of church attendees in Australia, aged 15-29, 2001:
Pentecostal: ~30%
Baptist: 23%
Church of Christ: 22%
Catholic: 12%
Anglican: 11%
Uniting: 8%

Percentage of young church attendees who stated they were ‘very satisfied’ with their church:
15-18-year-olds: 23%
19-25-year-olds: 18%


The ABS shows the general picture -
“The proportion of all Australians stating an affiliation to some type of religion remained relatively stable from 1933 until 1971, at slightly less than 90%. This proportion dropped to 80% in 1976, then slowly declined to 73% in 2001. This gradual fall occurred against a backdrop of change in social values and attitudes, particularly since the late 1960s, and an increased secularisation of society in the last three decades of the 20th century. It was accompanied by a rising tendency among all Australians to state that they did not affiliate with any religion - particularly evident since the 1970s (7% in 1971 and 16% in 2001)”.

73% is ‘believers’(it’s also mildly interesting to note that Australia has more buddhists than Moslems and more hindus than jews, neither of which I expected); getting closer, 23% of Australian adults participated in church or religious activities during the three months prior to interview. And while I can’t find the figure on the ABS site, other sites claim that the ABS records something like 7-13% of the population as being regular churchgoers. That would be slightly odd, because it would imply that young people go to church at the average rate despite being less likely to believe in god, but as an order of magnitude figure it’s a good start.
As opposed to American stats of about 40% claiming regular churchgoing - three times as high, well over any number of tipping points. Australians are as near as dammit totally areligious, which is fine by me.
To complicate the issue slightly, Wikipedia says that in America “Church attendance data in the U.S. has been checked against actual values using two different techniques. The true figures show that only about 21% of Americans and 10% of Canadians actually go to church one or more times a week.” As Australia is a less religious environment, attendance figures here may be less inflated. However, the basic point remains, though we should also admit that the poms have us beat handily - “41%[2] of American citizens report they regularly attend religious services, compared to 15% of French citizens, 7% of UK citizens, and 25% of Israeli citizens”.
Indeed, Australia is, irritatingly, so irreligious that nobody can be buggered cleaning up the fragments of religious belief that are still embedded in the system, but they have about as much connection with the life of the people as the fact that the days of the week are named after norse gods.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Those not seen

Hersh in the New Yorker on Israel and Iran mentions in passing
"....Ephraim Sneh, a Labor Party member of the Knesset, .... Deputy Defense Minister. Sneh, who served previously in that position under Ehud Barak, has for years insisted that action be taken to prevent Iran from getting the bomb. In an interview this month with the Jerusalem Post, Sneh expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of diplomacy or international sanctions in curbing Iran:

The danger isn’t as much Ahmadinejad’s deciding to launch an attack but Israel’s living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction. . . . Most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with families, and Israelis who can live abroad will . . . I am afraid Ahmadinejad will be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That’s why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs.


This is also, in essence, a point that isn't often made when considering such things as, say, Hamas or Hezbollah rocketing Israel. It's not simply the (pretty ineffective) impact on the existing Israelis they're thinking about, it's the deterrent effect on possible new Israelis, which shifts the political cost/benefit calculations considerably. The mere existence of conflict weakens Israel (and determines its Fort Apache ideology, which may or many not be a political minus for H/H.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Adult autism

One of the points sometimes brought out to support the view that there is now an epidemic of autism is that there is not an appropriate number of older autistics; that the incidence rate is higher than the prevalence rate, which implies a rising incidence (or an increased death rate, which isn’t generally suggested). There is, however, another probable reason why autism counts in the adult population are lower than in children. It’s illustrated in Schopler’s introduction to Autism in Adolescents and Adults, the book he edited (with Mesibov) in 1983.
(p.3) Can an adolescent or adult have autism? When that question was asked one or two decades ago, most people familiar with the term ‘autism’ would have answered ‘certainly not’. They had heard of Kanner’s work. He had used the term ‘infantile autistic’. It meant a psychiatric disorder of early childhood…
According to that definition the only way the diagnosis could be made was retrospectively, from a person’s early history. But if you met an adult whose early history you did not know, most people had no idea what characteristics and current behaviours might be expected to make up the diagnosis of autism.
The reason for this state of ignorance is not very mysterious. Kanner’s descriptive reports on young children had [sic; have?] only been on the books for four decades. Empirical research initiated by behaviourists had only begun in the 1960s, and those of us who were concerned with these problems then directed most of our attention to the younger children. Autism was defined by Kanner’s criteria. We literally had not met and were not familiar with a child who had grown up. We did not know what to expect, what kind of behaviour to look for, let alone …. Where to find such adolescents. Would we look in mental institutions or psychiatric wards? In those days autism was considered the earliest form of
(p.4) childhood schizophrenia. Such children were usually regarded as ‘untestable’ and could easily be mistaken for mentally retarded. Or should we look in the normal population,since autistic children were often confused with ‘artistic’ children with high intellectual potential? These questions were largely ignored during the 1960s.
As late as 1977 a motion was introduced to the executive board of the National Association for Autistic Children recommending that the name of the organisation be changed from National Association for Autistic Children to National Association for Autistic Citizens – to include adolescents and adults. The motion was defeated at that time. [it appears that the Association became the National Society for Autistic Children and Adults (still NSAC) in the early eighties]
By publishing this volume we have affirmed our view that autistic adolescents and adults indeed exist.
Although this is the first book published on autism post adolescence, we disclaim any implication of having discovered the diagnostic group. Instead it is our view that the growing body of empirical research developed from the last 20 years has both clarified and broadened the definition of autism.

This extract raises a number of questions. On, which I shall leave at this time, is what kind of mindset you would have to have not to speculate on what these kids would be like when they grew up. I have great respect for Kanner, which makes it harder to understand his initial lack of interest; later commentators were largely boofheads, and their tunnel vision is not surprising. Still, one point that it does clarify is why so few old people have diagnoses of autism. Until the mid-eighties it wasn’t possible to get them. Anybody who was older than 15 in (say) 1980 – anybody over 40 now - wouldn’t have been considered eligible. The diagnostic criteria excluded them. They would have been given other diagnoses – MR, or ‘artistic’ – and a diagnosis, once given, is very difficult to change.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Age bin again

Daniel Mandel says, probably correctly, that “To this day, Palestine Authority maps and atlases pretend Israel does not exist”. He also says, however, that “Simply nothing comparable… exists on the Israeli side.” Here he is on weaker ground. There is in fact an exact parallel; Israeli government maps don’t mention Palestine. The government website, for example, refers to Israel as ‘the Land of Israel’ or ’Eretz Israel’, a term which includes the West Bank. If you want to check that on the map, you’ll find that the government carefully avoids showing you one. The only map on the Israeli government site – unusual for government portals – is on the Israeli Tax Office page. That map makes no distinction between Israel proper, the West Bank, or the Golan Heights.
Unusually among Israeli-Palestinian arguments, this one is actually capable of resolution. I've produced an an official Israeli government map that doesn't show a Palestinian state; can anyone produce one that does?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Stay the whatever

So Bush has now said "It was never about 'Stay the course'" - and of course everybody collects the times he said STC, and what I notice is that when Churchill, for example, said "We will fight them on the beaches" or "This was their finest hour" or "the end of the beginning" he said them, goddammit, once, in total. He didn't feel the need to hammer them in every time he opened his mouth. Lincoln didn't repeat his lines, either. When did this settle upon us?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Age bin

To get the best out of John Roskam’s article on why Australian soldiers should stay in Iraq, perform the preliminary exercise of going through and changing the word “critics” – as in ‘critics claim the invasion was based on a falsehood, and that the results of military intervention in Iraq have only gone from bad to worse’ - to the words “people who were right”, and the words ‘Bush’, ‘Blair’, and ‘Howard’ to “people who were wrong”. That done, the line “It is now irrelevant whether an invasion that occurred three years ago was justified or not” may now need a second look. Is it really irrelevant that we were lied to by blundering incompetents? I would have thought that past lies cast many doubts over current assurances, and past stuffups detracted from present confidence. It seems all sides now agree that everything has gone horribly wrong; why is it so hard to agree that those who got us into this mess are less qualified to tell us how to get out of it than the people who were right all along?

Friday, October 20, 2006

I nominate Ruddock

Headlines in the Age make it clear that, contrary to the views of the IPA, the media scene is imploding, the Iraq venture is doomed, and global warming is real. This can only mean one thing: reality is biased.

To more fully address the concerns of its critics, the universe is ultimately going to have to make a more determined effort to bring about a greater plurality of voices. Having two politically opposite deities would be reform worth considering – one to cover the old-fashioned laws of cause and effect, one to ensure that everything appears to be the way John Howard says it is. Such an innovation would help the universe to better reflect the politicians it exists to serve. Doing this could both mitigate concerns about balance and make for some entertaining and yet serious history.

The Government’s assaults on any inconvenient truth are to be applauded and are excellent insofar as they go. But if reality is to generate greater confidence in its ability to be balanced and impartial, more work will still be required.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Lancet

The basic point with this new Lancet survey is the same as the basic point about the last, which is that you can't beat something with nothing. The question for skeptics is "If that's the wrong number, what does the American government think is the right number?" The American government won't release any estimates. The only conceivable reason for that is that they believe that the true fugure is either much the same as or greater than the Lancet figure.
Imagine a court case in which there's a question about how many cattle you could run on a particular property. One side says "based on our statistical estimates, there are 4 to the acre or 4,000 in all." The side in posession says "Don't know. Haven't counted. Can't guess. Don't ask." The judge would be entitled to assume that the answer to the question wouldn't support the posessor's case.
Have to say, though, that in one way it's an impressive achievement. The Americans appear to have killed 183,000 Iraqis with the loss of only 2,700 Americans, or over sixty to one.
A little over one My Lai a week.

Costello

So Peter Costello has a “strong personal view” on reducing global warming. Oh, great. Peter Costello has a strong personal view on university union fees, he legislates. Peter Costello has a strong personal view on stem cells, he legislates. Peter Costello has a strong personal view on gay marriage, he legislates. The only strong personal opinion he’s ever had that he doesn't want to ram down our throats like it or not is the only one that matters. Just our luck.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Blogging Lovaas, 7

100 years?

Still, there's a line there that deserves slightly more attention.

The validity and efficacy of behavioural treatment is based on thousands of scientifically sound studies of learning processes investigated for over 100 years and published in journals with competent peer review by a large number of researchers from across this country and abroad.


That's quite a claim; scientifically valid behavioural research all the way back to 1899. It's a claim that suggests Lovaas hasn't actually moved on since the time when Skinner was the unchallenged paradigm. Not an easy claim to disprove, mind you, particularly as he doesn't name them (well, it would certainly lengthen the book) - but it's not on the face of it terribly convincing, either; few of us would be prepared to rest our reputation on any publication from 1899. We are ever so slightly readier to question the scientific soundness of the work of the pioneers - reports on the Kallikaks, say, or the Jukes, to take representative examples from the time.

Peer review, too, comes up here. As a published author and an ex-editor of a refereed journal I have no difficulty in believing the findings of the many studies that have found flaws in the system - a bias in favour of positive findings, or a tendency to reinforce the conventional wisdom. I wouldn't say peer review was useless, but it's certainly no panacea (and publication in your own journal proves nothing whatsoever).

Blogging Lovaas, 6

Science or scientism?

This teaching manual places a major emphasis on describing treatment programs confirmed effective based on methods of scientific inquiry. The final goal of scientific inquiry is to make the treatment procedures and data on treatment outcomes believable and replicable to the scientific community and to parents, teachers, and others who want to apply them.


Perhaps it's just picky, but it's mildly interesting that when framing the point of scientific inquiry Lovaas looks first at its rhetorical advantages - it makes the outcomes believable.

This in turn means that one's investigative efforts are subject to review, commonly referred to as peer review, by other scientists so as to establish the validity of these efforts. The validity and efficacy of behavioural treatment is based on thousands of scientifically sound studies of learning processes investigated for over 100 years and published in journals with competent peer review by a large number of researchers from across this country and abroad.


This claim of scientific status is certainly one of the central planks of the Lovaas phenomenon. Myself, I can see more of what Feynman called cargo cult science;

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.


In part, Lovaas' is an appeal to method - ABA works with scientific protocols, and so are scientific - and partly an appeal to outcomes - the planes, it is said, have landed. I'll speak more of that later; at the moment, I'd like to quote some more Feynman that suggests that you can have some of methods and some of the outcomes and still not be a science.

There is one feature, I notice, that is generally missing in cargo cult science. It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated. Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can--if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong--to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.


I can't see any evidence of that attitude in anything produced by Lovaas; anybody who thinks they have found an instance is welcome to draw it to my attention.

This may not be as significant as the next issue Feynman raises.

There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.


Feynman says that you collect data to form your hypothesis, and then you go off and collect different data to test your hypothesis. Lovaas came up with the first round with his canonical study in 1987, and spent the next ten years defending it. Feynman would have suggested that yes, it was a good start, but you needed a different data set to test the predictions made by the first one. Lovaas has worked on the assumption that a single experiment can establish his theory. Not, in Feynman's terms, scientific.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Blogging Lovaas 4 or possibly 5

The development and analysis of many new behavioural treatment programs over the last 30 years have led to three major advances. [One, start young; two, we can identify the subgroups who gain the most;] Third, advances in the teaching of socially appropriate forms of communication are associated with concomitant reductions in self-injurious and other destructive behaviours in the majority of students. Because of this concomitant reduction, the use of aversive interventions to reduce destructive behaviours may no longer be necessary.


In this context, 'may' screams weasel word. He's still not willing to back down completely.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Blogging Lovaas, 3

Second page (p. xiv)

Estimates of the frequency of autism have risen in recent years; reports place the prevalence as high as 1 in 500 births. The prevalence of PDD and Asberger’s syndrome is higher still. Then comes the prognosis: little or nothing can be done about the problem; only 5 out of every 100 children with autism will be able to live outside of institutions or without custodial care.


Well, there are the statistics; There are, of course, other and even higher estimates; one claim is 1 in every 166, though that may cover more of the spectrum - if PDD and Asbergers are as high or higher than autism, that’s 3 in 500 or 1 in 166. In any case, let’s go with the one in 500 for a little. If 95% of those are institutionalized that’s 95 in 50,000.
If the population of the USA is, for ease of calculation, 250 million, that’s 500,000 people with autism, of whom 475,000 would be institutionalized (or in custodial care). Let’s look at the figures of people in institutions in the 2000 census (http://aspe.os.dhhs.gov/daltcp/reports/rn11.htm#TABLE2).

TABLE 2: NUMBER OF PERSONS WITH LONG-TERM CARE NEEDS IN THE COMMUNITY AND IN INSTITUTIONS: 1990 (in thousands)
Under Age 18 Age 18-64 Age 65+ Total
Total 262 5,091 7,330 12,683
Community 170 4,382 5,688 10,240
Institutions 92 709 1,642 2,443
-Nursing Homes 1 181 1,590 1,772
-Homes for Physically Handicapped 1 9* --- 10
-ICF/MRs 20 118 9 147
-Other MR Facilities 26 109 7 142
-Child Welfare MR Children 14 --- --- 14
- Mentally Ill Facilities 30 144 30 204
- Correctional Facilities N/A 119 3 122
- Homeless Shelter/Street N/A 29 3 32
SOURCE: 1990 SIPP; 1989 NHIS; 1987 NMES; 1990 Decennial Census; CMHS/SAMHA, DHHS; Lakin.
NOTE: People in other institutions/group quarters, e.g., crews on ships, are not included.
• Includes ages 18+.

That is, the total number of people institutionalised for all diagnoses of mental retardation and mental illness is 507,000. For Lovaas’ estimates to be true, 94% of all institutionalised persons would need to be autistic. This seems unlikely.

This will later prove significant when Lovaas is defending the cost-effectiveness of his methods.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Blogging Lovaas, 2

So, on with the second paragraph.
Any one of the behaviours mentioned, such as language, may be broken down into a large number of separate behaviours, yielding more precise measurements and requiring different kinds of treatments.

No. Language is not an assemblage of behaviours, in any meaningful sense of 'behaviour'. Chomsky blew Skinner away on just this issue, in 1959 - "A Review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior" in Language, 35, No. 1 (1959), 26-58.

I had intended this review not specifically as a criticism of Skinner's speculations regarding language, but rather as a more general critique of behaviorist (I would now prefer to say "empiricist") speculation as to the nature of higher mental processes.....
The conclusion that I hoped to establish in the review, by discussing these speculations in their most explicit and detailed form, was that the general point of view was largely mythology, and that its widespread acceptance is not the result of empirical support, persuasive reasoning, or the absence of a plausible alternative.


Lovaas shares Skinner's "general point of view". As a result, he shares also in Chomsky's brickbats.

Skinner ..... utilizes the experimental results as evidence for the scientific character of his system of behavior, and analogic guesses (formulated in terms of a metaphoric extension of the technical vocabulary of the laboratory) as evidence for its scope. This creates the illusion of a rigorous scientific theory with a very broad scope, although in fact the terms used in the description of real-life and of laboratory behavior may be mere homonyms, with at most a vague similarity of meaning. To substantiate this evaluation, a critical account of his book must show that with a literal reading (where the terms of the descriptive system have something like the technical meanings given in Skinner's definitions) the book covers almost no aspect of linguistic behavior, and that with a metaphoric reading, it is no more scientific than the traditional approaches to this subject matter, and rarely as clear and careful.


Chomsky's demolition of behaviourism is so lapidiary that the temptation to quote in extenso is overwhelming.

What has been hoped for from the psychologist is some indication how the casual and informal description of everyday behavior in the popular vocabulary can be explained or clarified in terms of the notions developed in careful experiment and observation, or perhaps replaced in terms of a better scheme. A mere terminological revision, in which a term borrowed from the laboratory is used with the full vagueness of the ordinary vocabulary, is of no conceivable interest.


However, much of the basic structure of ABA - in particular, the notion that language has to be specifically taught element by element, behaviour by behaviour - is directly descended from Skinner's ideas.

Similarly, it seems quite beyond question that children acquire a good deal of their verbal and nonverbal behavior by casual observation and imitation of adults and other children. It is simply not true that children can learn language only through "meticulous care" on the part of adults who shape their verbal repertoire through careful differential reinforcement, though it may be that such care is often the custom in academic families. It is a common observation that a young child of immigrant parents may learn a second language in the streets, from other children, with amazing rapidity, and that his speech may be completely fluent and correct to the last allophone, while the subtleties that become second nature to the child may elude his parents despite high motivation and continued practice. A child may pick up a large part of his vocabulary and "feel" for sentence structure from television, from reading, from listening to adults, etc. Even a very young child who has not yet acquired a minimal repertoire from which to form new utterances may imitate a word quite well on an early try, with no attempt on the part of his parents to teach it to him. It is also perfectly obvious that, at a later stage, a child will be able to construct and understand utterances which are quite new, and are, at the same time, acceptable sentences in his language. ... I have been able to find no support whatsoever for the doctrine of Skinner and others that slow and careful shaping of verbal behavior through differential reinforcement is an absolute necessity. If reinforcement theory really requires the assumption that there be such meticulous care, it seems best to regard this simply as a reductio ad absurdum argument against this approach.


What Lovaas has done is to take the structure that Skinner said ruled everybody and restricted it to the special case of people with developmental delay. This has not removed the internal contradictions of the program.

It is not easy to accept the view that a child is capable of constructing an extremely complex mechanism for generating a set of sentences, some of which he has heard, or that an adult can instantaneously determine whether (and if so, how) a particular item is generated by this mechanism, which has many of the properties of an abstract deductive theory. Yet this appears to be a fair description of the performance of the speaker, listener, and learner. If this is correct, we can predict that a direct attempt to account for the actual behavior of speaker, listener, and learner, not based on a prior understanding of the structure of grammars, will achieve very limited success. The grammar must be regarded as a component in the behavior of the speaker and listener which can only be inferred, as Lashley has put it, from the resulting physical acts. The fact that all normal children acquire essentially comparable grammars of great complexity with remarkable rapidity suggests that human beings are somehow specially designed to do this, with data-handling or "hypothesis-formulating" ability of unknown character and complexity.


Do pwdd have hhypothesis-formulating ability, as described here by Chomsky, or not? If they do not, how is it possible to (in Lovaas' words) 'teach them to understand'? If they do, what is the justification for teaching them as if they did not?

Skinner himself said
"A child acquires verbal behavior when relatively unpatterned vocalizations, selectively reinforced, gradually assume forms which produce appropriate consequences in a given verbal community". "Differential reinforcement shapes up all verbal forms, and when a prior stimulus enters into the contingency, reinforcement is responsible for its resulting control.... The availability of behavior, its probability or strength, depends on whether reinforcements continue in effect and according to what schedules." That's what Lovaas, in effect, tries to do. And that's where, to return to the sentence we started with, we have to ask how one breaks down language into verbal behaviours. Back, again, to Chomsky.

What are in fact the actual units of verbal behavior? Under what conditions will a physical event capture the attention (be a stimulus) or be a reinforcer? When are stimuli "similar"? And so on. The use of unanalyzed notions like similar and generalization is particularly disturbing, since it indicates an apparent lack of interest in every significant aspect of the learning or the use of language in new situations. No one has ever doubted that in some sense, language is learned by generalization, or that novel utterances and situations are in some way similar to familiar ones. The only matter of serious interest is the specific "similarity." Skinner has, apparently, no interest in this.


Neither does Lovaas.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Blogging Lovaas, 1

Teaching Individuals with Developmental Delays: Basic Intervention Techniques
O. Ivar Lovaas, Pro-Ed, 2003

Preface

Individuals are evaluated on many dimensions, including emotional development, social skills, educational achievements, and language skills. Within behavioural psychology, the branch of psychology that forms the foundation of this teaching manual, such dimensions are referred to as behaviours. Behavioural psychology thus assesses such observable aggregates as intellectual behaviours, emotional behaviours, social behaviours, educational behaviours, language behaviours, aggressive behaviours, occupational behaviours, and self-help behaviours.

Insofar as behaviours can be observed, they can also be separated and objectively measured.


The very first paragraph of the text contains in four lines an almost complete list of the sleight-of-hand effects that characterise behaviourism in general and ABA in particular.

Individuals are evaluated on many dimensions, including emotional development, social skills, educational achievements, and language skills.

This is a statement of commonsense observation, like that dialogue in Mark Twain.
"Do you believe in adult baptism?"
"Believe in it? Hell, I've seen it done!"

Like that joke, Lovaas' line relies on an identification of what is seen with what is claimed. Individuals are evaluated - yes, there are tests, we have seen them done, we have undertaken them ourselves as tester and testee. In another sense, though, the words "Individuals are evaluated" are a claim, as would be "Individuals are transfigured" or "Individuals are infected" or "Individuals are weighed" - that is, there is not only a behavioural claim but a truth claim, amounting to a claim that there is a link, or even an identification, between the evaluation process and the evaluation findings, on the one hand, and "emotional development, social skills, educational achievements, and language skills" on the other.

Common sense - which I do not regard as determinative, but which needs to be mentioned - would probably say that yes, there was presumptively a connection between our evaluations and something real in that individual, between educational tests and educational achievements; as a culture and a state we rely on innumerable tests every year to sort out exactly that. We'd also probably say, though, that the transmission line between the external assessment and the internal education is loose and complicated, and that there are many possible hazards that would throw the assessment off.

Lovaas's list, in any case, includes a blend of internal mental states and external manifestations. Emotions are unobservable; social skills only exist when manifested; educational achievements can be mental states or manifestations; language skills we'll come to later. That blending is a step on the way to an identification between mental states and behaviour.

The next step comes. "Within behavioural psychology, the branch of psychology that forms the foundation of this teaching manual, such dimensions are referred to as behaviours." Again, the words 'are referred to' are intended to carry the burden of 'are'; these dimensions are behaviours, are wholly behaviours, are whatever their involvement with mental states not in any meaningful sense mental states. To underline here, things that are not behaviours, or are at least not wholly behaviours,are to be referred to - are to be identified with - behaviours, as if I was to say "This dog will be referred to as a cat" and expected to command agreement.

So then to another list: "Behavioural psychology thus assesses such observable aggregates as intellectual behaviours, emotional behaviours, social behaviours, educational behaviours, language behaviours, aggressive behaviours, occupational behaviours, and self-help behaviours." Here the hybrids - the 'observable aggregates' - are approaching the oxymoronic. What is 'intellectual behaviour'? The intellect is internal, behaviour is external, philosophers have struggled for centuries to link the two, sometimes through the pineal gland, but there appears to have been a shortcut. Occupational behaviours, though, are unquestionably behaviours; one's job description is not under any philosophy internal. Aggressive behaviour, on the other hand, is a descriptor of a medieval humour, reading back from the thrown punch to a socially transgressive attitude that is then assumed to be an internal category. But then - 'observable aggregates'? You can observe a behaviour, you can't observe an aggregation; that's a construct, a hypothesis.

I'm not just spinning my wheels here, being ironic; classical behaviourism did have a means of resolving just this difficulty. In full-court-press behaviourism there was only behaviour, no aggression, no intellect,no emotion. There was only stimulus and response, and no resort to any explanation that involved the black box. I think that was the wrong answer - spectacularly so - but it was consistent, which modern behaviourism isn't. Modern behaviourism has abandoned the underlying theory without changing any of its own behaviours; its prescriptions are identical now and then, which is why the Lovaas method has been able to bridge the eras.

But we haven't finished yet."Insofar as behaviours can be observed, they can also be separated and objectively measured." That 'insofar' is another linguistic card trick. The sentence could mean either "To the extent that [intellectual] behaviours can be observed, they can be measured"; which is a mild claim, particularly if one sets the extent to zero. It also carries the burden of "Because [intellectual] behaviours can be observed, they can be measured" and we have been carried further into accepting the ability of behavioural psychology to speak authoritatively about that which it cannot know.

And even if it is only behaviour, does that mean we must accept that it can be separated and objectively measured? I'm still unconvinced. How does one separate a single behaviour? When does it start, when does it stop? We are certainly going to get practical examples further in to the book, but the theoretical issues have not yet been dealt with satisfactorily.

And measured? Again, some doubts remain. If one has separated behaviours, they can be counted; but can they be measured, a term which implies comparison, even numerical comparison? Heights ands weights can be treated mathematically, multiplied, divided, subtracted and added; behaviours would seem to have only the less-than< and greater-than> operators.

To be fair, that last Lovaas sentence was from another paragraph.

OK, you don't go to Lovaas for theory, that was Skinner; this beginning may simply be a pious invocation of the old Skinnerian gods. Even so, it's hardly satisfactory.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Age bin

The Palestinians should accept the right for Israel to exist in the same way that the Israelis accept Palestine’s right to exist. How hard could that be? That would give the Palestinians control over Israel’s borders, its roads, its water, all of Jerusalem, and any hilltop that looked inviting, constituting 40% of the best land. The Palestinians could occupy any Israeli city any time they felt like it, could invite anyone of Palestinian descent from anywhere in the world to return and settle, could round up and imprison the Israeli cabinet as convenient, could declare the Israeli army illegitimate, and could build high walls around Israeli settlements with closely policed crossing points. Offer them that and I think they’d listen.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Is the stance

What set Steve Irwin out on his own in this era was his willingness to be the clown. Clowns are not heroes, not cool, not leaders. He didn't mind. He was the only media figure in this era who appeared in public flexed at the knees, which is the mark of the clown.He didn't insist on being perpetually erect.

On an exactly contrary line, but again on stance, I was looking at the last moment of Ceacescu and wondering what was wrong with his cabinet ministers lined up behind him. Rose picked it; they had their hands hanging at their sides, the posture of the servant. The model for public men is, literally, the model, the people in the ads - the people in art - who have their limbs arranged in approved postures.

Again, not Steve.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

VCs

My grandfather fought in the Light Horse at Gallipoli and his brother died there, which I hope gives me standing to say that the proposal to spend not far south of a million dollars on a Gallipoli VC is a criminal waste of money, an insane fetishisation of holy relics, and a clear breach of the second commandment.

Grandfather went on to lose an arm conquering Palestine for the British; if anyone has a loose million lying around it would be more sensible to use it to help the descendants of the Palestinians who were gazumped by that imperialist intervention.

Racism - LTA

As one of the people who’ve written to the Age recently questioning Israel’s right to exist, can I say that I resent being put forward as evidence of Australian anti-semitism? I said then that states don’t have an automatic right to exist, and cited the USSR, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia as examples of states that weren’t around any more. I can’t see that comparing Israelis to Russians, Yugoslavs or Czechs is evidence of a belief in racial exceptionalism. On the other hand, giving Israel a pass in Lebanon on the grounds that “the vast bulk of its citizens see [this] as a justifiable war” without applying the same principle to the Indonesians in Timor, say, or the Serbs in Kosovo, does seem to be rather tending in just that direction.

Zones

If Israel really wants a five-kilometre buffer zone with Hezbollah, it can have it tomorrow without fighting, diplomatic hassles, or bombing from the air, and in a way that contributes to peace rather than seeding new wars. It can pull its own settlers and its own forces five kilometres south. It’s not the Israeli penchant for spite fences that the world objects to – it’s their insistence on setting them up on their neighbour’s land.

History Wars

If Howard manages to push his History reforms through we will at least be confident that Australia’s youth will leave school knowing their significant dates – Coronation, 1953; Bradman, 1908-2001; Gallipoli, 1915: creation of the earth, 4004 BC.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Re-Becca

I mentioned a while ago that my friend Rebecca had set up a blog. She has now with typical lack of persaverence dropped it and started another - http://becseidner.spaces.live.com/ - that kicks off with a lengthy piece on her life so far. Best of luck, Bec bec.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Bare to the cold wind

John Snow at whitehouse briefings (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/08/20060809-1.html) -
"The President believes, and history will bare him out, that free and democratic states are far more peaceful, and create the basis and opportunity, especially in an unstable part of the world, for economic, social, political ties that in the long run are going to be a lot closer than they are today."
Oh yes, it will, it will. Naked to his enemies.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Australian Government's Workplace Giving Scheme

I've been sent a questionnaire by a UK firm that says it's evaluating the Howard Government's Workplace Giving Scheme. My reply;
"The problem is not the information provided.
The problem is not that the program is too difficult to implement.
The problem is that the government has neglected to provide any real advantage to this mode of giving. Britain has GiftAid, Australia does not. The WG scheme is a government public relations exercise to make it appear that the government supports the NFP sector without contributing a dollar of government money, changing its absurdly restrictive and confusing DGR rules, or listening to anything we say."

Monday, August 07, 2006

Fire and Ice

Chris's argument at http://faultline.org/index.php/site/bullshit/ about why knowledge adds to appreciation is why, too, I have difficulty understanding why people would rather read fantasy fiction rather than history (leaving out of this some writers like Pratchett and Birmingham who use the fantasy genre more like a thought experiment in history) or even historical fiction. In most fantasy the dragons are simply a distraction from the fact that everybody has exactly the values that we do, not a mistake that Alfred Duggan would make.
And in poetry, Frost's "Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice" (http://www.bartleby.com/155/2.html) is an example of doing it right.

We Weren't Soldiers Once

The Age refers to a HB rocket killing ten "army reservists". Even in American coverage of Iraq these are customarily referred to as 'soldiers'.

Spite fence

If Israel really wants a five-kilometre buffer zone with Hezbollah, it can have it tomorrow without fighting, diplomatic hassles, or bombing from the air, and in a way that contributes to peace rather than seeding new wars. It can pull its own settlers and its own forces five kilometres south. It’s not the Israeli penchant for spite fences that the world objects to – it’s their insistence on setting them up on their neighbour’s land.

Friday, July 07, 2006

I wish

"Rocketed to Earth as an infant to escape the destruction of his home world where his parents had been brutally murdered before his eyes one night in a dark alley, Rob’s ship crash landed in a jungle where he was adopted by a friendly gorilla and raised to learn the ways of the jungle. As a teen-ager, Rob re-joined society and quickly enlisted in the army where he was given an experimental formula designed to create the ultimate soldier. After being put on ice for a number of years, Rob ditched the military and got a job at a scientific research facility where he was unfortunately exposed to gamma radiation, beta radiation, delta radiation, cosmic radiation, and a really nasty bite from a radioactive spider."
Boy, what are the odds on that? Snap!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ram a fish up

From Daniel Gross, writing in Slate;
"Who better summed up the argument against the welfare state than Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism: "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.""
Why don't these idiots ever google?
LT's view was
"There is no guilt greater than to sanction ambition; no calamity greater than to be discontented with one's lot; no fault greater than the wish to be getting. Therefore the sufficiency of contentment is an enduring and unchanging sufficiency."
This probably extended to fishing.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Japanese education

Story from sister Sally, dating back perhaps a decade;
She was being shown around the university, and at one stage asked "And where is the library?" Some puzzlement.
"The books?" Ah, yes, of course, the books were in the professor's office.
"Didn't that make it difficult for the students to take them out?"
Why would they wish to take them out? The professor has provided in his textbook all that they need to know about these other books.
The top history student had bought not one but two copies of the course textbook (written, of course, by his professor) and had gone through one copy whiting out every date and every proper name. He them went away and crammed. When he was able to fill every name and date in again correctly without consulting the clean version he knew he was ready for the examination.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Links

Amazon tells me
"We've noticed that customers who have purchased books by Randall Jarrell often purchased books by James D. Tabor. For this reason you might like to know that James D. Tabor's newest book, The Jesus Dynasty : The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity, is now available . You can order your copy at a savings of 37% by following the link below."
I wonder what Amazon means by 'often'?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Age WPB #12

In law, in common sense, and in the playground it is taken for granted that sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting LA LA LA I CAN’T HEEEAR YOU is proof of guilty knowledge, not a defense. Why aren’t Howard and Downer being held to the same standard?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

1994 xmas poem

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and Annie's graduation and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and Xmas ho ho ho deck the halls bah humbug and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day. How was your year?



1994
On the whole, it wasn't a year about which one could get very excited;
Unlike Mr. Skase, we didn't get a verdict from a Spanish court saying we couldn't be extradited,
And we didn't win thirty-six million dollars in an English lottery jackpot.
A number of psychologists did call Rose a crackpot
And in fact if you want to be alarmist
You could say that overall, the wicked continued to flourish like the green bay tree (not, to be sure, that the bay trees of my acquaintance have ever looked particularly exceptional in their efflorescence; perhaps the genetic makeup of the species has altered somewhat since the days of the psalmist).
Rose and Chris both published books but plainly hadn't quite mastered the trick,
Given that both volumes sold not only like cold cakes but like cakes of cold sick.
Anne, having put in ten years of hard graft on her Deakin degree, was getting distinctly disillusioned with the whole academic mystique
And had to be dissuaded at weekly intervals from withdrawing from motives of principle or pique,
But it has to be said that insofar as academe has a reward it's
Graduating to thunderous plaudits,
And in May 1994 Anne attained what under the circumstances I suppose is
What the Greeks called apotheosis;
By which they meant entering like Hercules or Caligula heaven's portals
To be given a roll of parchment testifying that they'd joined the ranks of the immortals.
At the end of the day, anyway (that day being of course the thirty-first of December)
What you have to remember
Is that however much we were over the previous year cribb'd cabined, confined, frustrated and/or vexed
We nonetheless survive to face the next.

Untitled poem - c. 1992

The moving finger writes a long report and having writ
Goes home to court insomnia by fretting on revisions –
Business is business, and all the rest is shit.

Tautology, scatology, unlikeable divisions
To map a life if joy and hope remain on the agenda;
But scars remain to warn us that new love means fresh incisions.

If Dido fucks Aeneas then Carthago est delenda;
Relationships are troublesome, and will at most admit
A temporary meeting of illusions and pudenda.

Nine to five is more straightforward still than cock to clit;
A more productive way to seek fulfilment from collisions —
Business is business, and all the rest is shit.

`

1992 Xmas letter

1992

A year who there were few to love we gladly terminate;
Half was spent in argument and half in New York State.
At home our many enemies were yapping at our heels,
Abroad we were applauded and hosannahs came in peals.
Rose struggled with the scheming of psychologists, the arses,
Then flew off to America to give a course of classes.
She met with S.J. Gould, the Berrigans and Eldridge Cleaver
And turned the ISAAC conference from skeptic to believer.
Chris worked hard on health prevention (but only in his writing;
He carried on his drinking) and found Disneyland exciting.
Cartoon channels, root beer brandy, Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip,
And Syracuse’s graveyards were the highlights of the trip.
In Syracuse Anne missed her friends and told us so in mime,
In San Francisco spelt a talk a letter at a time,
Gave interviews and met with fans, had resolutions passed,
Ate icecream and threw snowballs and and flew smoothly home at last.
We ogled at the Guggenheim and marvelled at the Met,
Saw the Isabella Gardner and are talking of it yet,
To Chicago for the Monets and to Watts just for the towers,
And saw Matisse at MOMA and were there for hours and hours.
For the first time since St. Nicholas our pressing problem varies;
Not so much our old opponents as our friends off with the fairies.
Though keen and sympathetic, we have certain reservations
When boys spell telepathically about past incarnations.
The year ahead looks difficult, but ‘94 will find us
Serene and well-accepted with our troubles all behind us.
Rose will write her book and Anne will finish her degree,
And Chris will write another poem to tell of ‘93.

`

Christening poem

CHRISTENING CHASTENING

Humanity! How oft you slight
Accustomed comforts, birds in fist,
The chance to sleep all through the night
(Or longer, if completely pissed).

You ask yourself just what it means;
Your satisfaction quickly palls;
Vicious enforcers in your genes
Distrain upon your womb or balls.

You put together in a pile
All that you have, all you will get,
And sign it over with a smile
To someone you have never met.

Three people in a household cost
Much more than two; this simple math
Is quite repetitively lost
On couples such as Toz and Kath.

The thought of Weeboks on the parquet
Outweighs the books, the wine and cheese;
Two (count them) incomes, Paddy’s market,
And vibrant local brasseries.

The battering of little arms...
Romantic visions, careless talk,
Then off to pillage cabbage farms
And hold up any passing stork.

Still, though the reasoning may be crackpot,
Toz and Kath have hit the jackpot;
The wonders of the double helix
At last produced a little Felix.

Uncle Chris
January 14, 1994

`

Rosieisms

There’s more ways of making an omelette than by breaking eggs

You always get the thin end of the sandwich

falling like nineflies

I can name names and give packdrill!

It all depends what side of the coin you’re on.

`

Brecht poem

Everything changes. We plant
trees for those born later
but what’s happened has happened,
and poisons poured into the seas
cannot be drained out again.

What’s happened has happened.
Poisons poured into the sea
cannot be drained out again, but
everything changes. We plant
trees for those born later.





Cicely Herbert, after Brecht ‘Alles wandelt sich’

`

Amis poem, again

To find his sexual drives had ceased
For Sophocles was no disaster;
He said he felt like one released
From service with a cruel master.

I envy him – I miss the lash
At which I used to snort and snivel;
Oh that its unremitted slash
Were still what makes me drone and drivel!

`

For the Record

Today
We celebrate the birthday of A,
Who, I’m reliably told,
Is bold
-ly going forward into her next decade
Enthusiastic and unafraid,
Confident in the slightly negotiable love of her nearest and dearest (obviously that’s
Her cats)
And supported also by a wide circle of friends both affectionate and boisterous,
At least when stuffed full of oysterous;
And so I ask you all to be upstanding and charge your glasses with wine or beer
Not only because that’s almost always a good idea
But also because we want to ring out 3 hearty cheers
To the possibility that we might be invited back to have more delicious quail* in another 10 years,
And if it’s not too much to ask may all the years and months and days in between
Be crammed full of multiple sources of happiness for darling Aileen.


Chris Borthwick
Saturday, September 3, 2005

*Not forgetting the exquisite crème brûlée.

`

From the archives

Life at V*cH*alth towards the end of the Rh*nda G*lb*lly era

JINGLE BALLSUP

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the setting
Not a population was stirring or stressfully fretting.
The agendas were laid in the boardroom with care,
In the hope that the managers soon would be there.

The secretaries struggled to make out her writing
And looked at their screensavers - very exciting,
When up from the printer there came such a clatter
They looked up from their desks to see what was the matter.

From office to office the scuttlebutt ran:
The CEO’s done a new strategy plan!
We’re called to the Boardroom to give, I would guess,
A consultative spontaneous Labontean Yes.

“Rethink our core business, in real time,
And workshop a cross-functional new paradigm;
They may not observe our achievements are padded
If we keep saying ‘excellence’ and ‘value added’.”

Empowerment for all local communities,
But don’t let the word out and spook the Chinese:
Equity issues are vital and weighty;
They’re timetabled in for 2080.

Smoking rates plummet and keep falling faster -
Claim all the credit, but play it down for Jakarta;
The fight with tobacco can hardly be won
Where the industry’s owned by the President’s son.”

And then there emerged from the midst of these voodoos
A weighty report signed by seven tiny gurus -
“Now LEONARD! Now LAWRENCE! Now NANCY and RON!
Up HAROLD! Up STEPHEN! ILONA, come on!

Benchmarked with worldclass good practice in process
We network proactively to a multimedia focus.
No longer we lurk where we cannot be seen - no,
We’ll relocate into the HEALTHY CASINO.”

`

Monday, January 23, 2006

Fearful symmetry

Hot days caused by global warming lead to a rush on airconditioners and a power surge that contributes to global warming. There's an eerie symmetry to it.

`

Friday, January 06, 2006

Sea Level

I hope I’m not diminishing the obvious humanitarianism of the ALP proposal to accept refugees from pacific islands affected by sea level rise by pointing out that it’s also smart business. If we take in those 175,000 people we’d get with them about six million k2 of exclusive economic zone. That’s 36 k2 per refugee, giving every Australian another quarter-k2 of room – enough to give Peter Ker his own exclusive lap pool and stop him wingeing about us other users.

`

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Mistress

The problem with the movie LWW is exactly the problem with the theology it's founded on; the children - mankind - are basically irrelevant. Aslan could have overthrown the white witch without breaking a sweat, children or no children. The only actual role they have is to fulfil the prophecy. We're never told who was actually prophesying, but obviously Aslan had a hand in it; if he'd specified something about comets, say, the children would have been able to sit out the war in the professor's house.

Any hack scriptwriter would have insisted that they do something vital, but Lewis couldn't, because God cannot be represented as having to _need_ the Creation; the one unanswerable question is "Why did God create the world?"

And as a matter of family logistics, the two impossibilities in LWW are
(a) that Aslan tells his brothers and sisters never to refer to Edmund's treachery again, and they don't start rubbing it in within fifty seconds, which will astound anybody who's ever had a sibling, and
(b) four siblings can jointly rule a kingdom for several decades without a single major war, which will astound anybody who remembers (say) the Angevins.

And I'm sure that in the original "hot chocolate" must have been "cocoa".

`

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