Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.

Ibid for hypocrisy

In yesterday's Independent Sarah Cassidy wrote "Parents and internet help pupils from middle-class families cheat in exams", reporting on a new survey produced on behalf of the NUT. It's basic conclusion was that because middle class pupils have internet access, they are more able to cheat at producing coursework. At risk of simplifying, we have the idea that the more access to information one has (via the Internet or more 'old-fashioned' methods) the more likely someone is to cheat.

Can anyone say 'blinkers'? Surely the basis of any reasonable education, be it the sciences, arts or humanities, is to let people study and understand as much material as possible? Perhaps this idea of empowering people through studying ideas is no longer viable in a world where politicians cream themselves over 'vocational' education (teaching people Microsoft Word and Excel in order to satisfy the market's lust for 'skills'). Because this conclusion would also be applicable to libraries, and if my old alma mater (let's not hide the fact: it was a concrete behemoth that threw away most of it's book-based library in exchange for a pin-striped ICT facility) is anything to go by, books aren't sexy, the internet is only sexy if it's used for totalitarian 'net learning' purposes, while it's distinctly unsexy to have people reading of their own volition. Let's not kid ourselves here. Who wants an army of youngsters running around reading? Surely they are supposed to be driving in to each other whilst drinking Hooch, not fufilling their academic expectations. If they did do well in school, the nation would have nothing to moan about.

To solve this once and for all - make coursework in to a true academic document rather than the glorified homework assignment it is now (especially at GCSE level). Make it so that people have to write footnotes and a bibliography. And you get double the fun because once A-level students have learnt all about writing footnotes this will improve university standards as you'll have students who can write documents with proper footnotes. Huzzah! Teach people about academic honesty. With the carrot of context and the stick of plagiarism, people will not only be able to produce more useful and illuminating essays, but also teach them academic standards. Then again, I'm not sure academic standards are the aim (thank the lord for GNVQ's, VCE's et al.).

There are a lot of things that I blame the middle classes for: mediocrity, mortgages, makeover shows and, worst of all, massive off-road vehicles being used to drive around town centres. When I criticise the middle classes, I criticise the people who think that designer jeans and 'luxury' coffee are a pretty neat idea. Coursework, or at least the idea that because pupils have Internet access they are 'cheating', isn't one of them though. Because on the same basis, we should abolish libraries for fear that some people might have the initiative to go inside them and escape the sub-par education system that this country has spawned.

Freedom inseperable from religion?

World Magazine Blog and Adrian Warnock are claiming that "Biblical faith and freedom have been inseparable in American history" and that "If we fully abandon our faith tradition which is foundational to our liberties, will our liberties eventually diminish and evaporate?". Call me cynical, but do they have different American history books in Christian schools than in their secular equivalent? Because it sure does sound rather different from what most of the founding fathers have said on the topic of religion. I mean, I know that Christianity is a bit 'pick-and-mix', but I'm not sure how it's possible to read Jefferson saying "In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot." or "History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government." and think that he supports religion.

The question that is asked in the World Magazine entry with a question from David Limbaugh: "Do you believe, as did many of America's founding fathers, that Judeo-Christian values and freedom are inseparable? If we fully abandon our faith tradition which is foundational to our liberties, will our liberties eventually diminish and evaporate?" Well, what a hodge-podge of complicated questions. For one, most of the founding fathers of the United States didn't believe that Judeo-Christian values and freedom are inseperable in the form of government and therefore that clause of the question is irrelevant. And if you don't think that "faith tradition" is the basis of much of civil liberties, but more the actions of intelligent human beings, then it renders the second question irrelevant as well.

The way that liberties "diminish and evaporate" is if checks and balances are not maintained on the power of government, and if thinking people do not state their opinion frankly, or if that opinion is ignored. Liberties are destroyed when behaviour is outlawed for reasons of moral disapproval rather than for good reason (such as if one persons behaviour infringes on the freedom of another). Ignorance and stupidity is what causes people to get in to power who can cause liberties to be lost. Unfortunately, stupidity does not discriminate. It is in equal measure among those of faith, those without and those who fall neither way.

My qualm is not with what the Bible says. Much of the Gospel provides some reasonably good moral codes, and many sound lessons of jurisprudence and ethical decison making. From "love thy neighbour" to "If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back. But if he will not listen to you, take one or two other persons with you, so that 'every accusation may be upheld by the testimoney of two or more witnesses'". Even this raving atheist can agree with that.

[Edit: I wrote that? Bloody hell, I must have been really screwed in the head. After further study, my opinion of New Testament ethics is that for it to have any value, it has to be reinterpreted through a process similar to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral approach - whereby Scripture is weighed with equaly alongside Tradition, Reason and Experience. As Dan Barker has written, Jesus "said little that was worthwhile". His lack of discernible and meaningful ethical character is the last taboo. Jesus is a label that people put on their ethical behaviour.]

So, what it boils down to is this. The founding fathers of the United States have many similar values to traditional "Christian" values. But at the same time, so do many people who don't believe in God. It isn't the faith, the belief or the prayer that gives people the power to make righteous decisions, it's the people themselves. If those ethics are decided by a book written two-thousand years ago, fine. If those ethics are decided here-and-now based on your life experience, also fine. But to claim that without faith we are without liberty is to ignore how liberty was created in countries like the United States, and to ignore the context.

Liberty, to me, is the right to think freely and make up my own mind about situations. And liberty also includes the right to choose a faith, or indeed to choose no faith.

[Editor: What pap I wrote back in '03].

Top Ten Commandments

After my recent spacks against Roy Moore, this article at Slate (found at Plasticbag) sums up a lot of my current feeling on the issue. I particularly liked this bit...

One is presuming (is one not?) that this is the same god who actually created the audience he was addressing. This leaves us with the insoluble mystery of why he would have molded ("in his own image," yet) a covetous, murderous, disrespectful, lying, and adulterous species. Create them sick, and then command them to be well? What a mad despot this is, and how fortunate we are that he exists only in the minds of his worshippers.


Until the Fat Lady sings

Bill Thompson asks: is it all over for blogs? Simple answer: no. Is it all over for word processors? No. Is it all over for spreadsheets? No. Is it all over for weblogging software? No.

Things are just about to get interesting with weblogging, and this article smacks of "Ooh! Look at me! I'm so media-disconnected!" which is precisely what I had last summer when on holiday (we didn't have Internet, newspapers or any of that stuff and SHOCK HORROR: WE SURVIVED!).