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Showing posts from January, 2015

Terrorism and Madness: Between Sympathy and Understanding

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When I was researching the uses of madness in literature I came across a paradox from the philosophy of causality. If you are able to analyze the etiology, the causes, of madness, you can no longer claim that what you have analyzed is madness.  You can’t claim that you have found rational causes and effects for a behaviour, and continue to claim that the behaviour is mad.  
Thomas Szasz, a trained and practicing psychiatrist, made a career out of denying the existence of mental illness.  According to Szasz, madness was a “legal fiction.”  Like other such fictions--things that could not be proven to  exist--it was useful for institutions like hospitals, the courts, police forces, governments, and so on, to pretend that they existed, in order to establish procedures and policies for how to deal with particular situations, behaviours and people.
In recent days and weeks and years, the distinction between madness and terrorism has become a matter of significant debate.  Acts which are ident…

The Many Ways that the Evaluations of Teachers Go Astray

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The difficulty of arguing against the evaluating of teachers is that it seems so obvious, so common-sensical:  you evaluate the teachers and, as a result, the good ones get better, the incorrigibles move on, and education overall improves.  Despite the rock-solid logic of the abstract theory, in practice, they typically turn out to be half-baked, ill conceived, closed-minded, stifling, corrupt, vacuous, bluffing attempts at intimidation,  bureaucratic absurdities, and grounds for peevishness and petty jealousies.  Thanks to the good luck of the right chemistry and the generosity of my students I enjoyed favourable and gratifying evaluations throughout the last nineteen years of my teaching.  In terms of self interest, I should be strongly in favour, in fact, a defender of these evaluations.  I am in favour of some system, procedure or custom that would allow teachers’ work to be recognized, supported, encouraged, rewarded and improved, but the evaluations as they are carried out never…

The Sour Glossary

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actually (adverb) as an actual or existing fact; really. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary) [False cognate warning: Francophones will sometimes mistakenly use “actually” (or actual) 
when they mean currently, presently, at the moment and up to date.]
allegory [. . .] symbolic fictional narrative that conveys a second meaning (or meanings) beyond the explicit, literal details of the story (my definition, adapted from Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature). A simple allegory would be something like a story about Mary Whiteteeth and Johnny Toothbrush and their enemy named Sugar. The story, in this case, is not about these three characters but about the importance of brushing your teeth. "[. . .] the term allegory can refer to specific method of reading a text."
allusion (noun) IIn literature, an implied or indirect reference to a person, event, thing or a part of another text. [. . . ] Allusions to biblical figures and figures from classical mythology are common in Western…