Finally term ends

Three days late.

On Monday morning when I went to school, I found the back gate was locked. When I parked my bike, I found the gate at the top of the stairs was locked, and I noticed no obvious activity over at the main school, which made me suspicious.

I’m told that we were the only ones at school because the headmaster had had a tantrum. According to the contract, we are permitted one religious holiday off (which is ironic because I’m an atheist), but it seems the headmaster thought we should be punished for daring to have a significant holiday off. He was also in a frightful bate because the students who went to Yunnan with Habitat for Humanity in November had not sought his permission to go (which, quite probably, he would not have granted).

We know that the headmaster doesn’t like the presence of an international programme at school. I don’t know whether he’s a xenophobe, a nationalist, a racist, or quite what. Quite possibly all of the above.

Although classes have been a waste of time this week, we’ve still had quite a bit to do because the start of the second term is going to be insanely busy with the individual orals, the written assignment, and the IGCSE speaking. For the first four weeks, at least, I’ll see AS 1 now and then, and the A2 class, er, whenever. We have about a month (a week here and a couple of weeks there) to get through the rest of the IB English B course.

Like last year, this term vanished with indecent haste. Next term is likely to do much the same. The mock will be upon us before we know it, and the finals before we’ve even recovered from the mocks. Lots of dead time, including the final couple of weeks of June, which are always a complete waste of time.


By Michael Rosen.

In Alphabetical, the poet, Michael Rosen, goes on a ramble through the alphabet. He says something about the history and pronunciation of each letter, which he follows up with a discursive, letter-inspired essay.

The preludes are repetitive and shallow, and rather frequently wrong. I knew that things were not going to go well when in the introduction Rosen claims that “man” – “men” and “woman” – “women” are n-plurals and that the Germanic n-plural was gradually swapped for the Romance s-plural. This is, of course, complete drivel (which is repeated later in the book), and it continues in various forms well beyond the introduction. /s/ and /z/ are, respectively, voiceless and voiced, Michael, not “soft” and “hard”. Ugh. The man even has the gall to talk about the International Phonetic Alphabet and its mutant American cousin.

The also essays vary. Some are interesting even if I’m a little sceptical about their factual accuracy. Others drag on when some diligent editor should’ve smacked Rosen round the back of the head and introduced him to the words “concise” and “interesting”. They resemble extended versions of the sort of feature articles which appear in Sunday magazines which come with the papers. I read some and skimmed my way indifferently through others.

Alphabetical is a mix of two- and three-star material. Readers looking for an intelligent discussion of the genesis of the modern alphabet would be advised to look elsewhere. The accompanying essays are a hit-and-miss affair. If one bores, skip to another.

The blockheads strike again

Don’t let a good story get in the way of paranoia.

In baffling news, the Shanghaiist reported that The Guardian has been blocked – at least the desktop version has. Why? No one knows.

Although there have been quite a few China stories in paper over the past few months, there had been nothing recently which might justify the block­ing of the site. It is possible that the block was a mistake, but that seems unlikely. It’s possible that the imperial government got wind of some (al­legedly sensitive) story and wanted to spike The Guardian’s guns, but there have been no revelatory stories so far. It’s possible that The Guardian is being punished for the activities of its journalists in China.

On that final point, foreign journalists have been having problems getting their visas renewed (The Shanghaiist).

The irony (though not a new irony in cases like these) is that the mobile version of The Guardian is still accessible at the time of writing. How long will the desktop site be out? I don’t know. It may be quietly unblocked soon rather than later; but even if it isn’t, my little darlings should still expect to see more articles from The Guardian in the future.

[21.01.14. The Guardian is now visible again, but I don’t know when access was restored. In a bout of contrariness, we were unable to access any search engines from school this afternoon, including that imperial lapdog, Baidu. It’s not unusual for Google to be inaccessible from school, but there’s no rhyme or reason to it.]

[22.01.14. Well, it seems that the block was probably a warning shot from the imperial government because this morning [still currently visible] is China’s princelings storing riches in Caribbean offshore haven. It’s an article about a report on the colossal amount of wealth a tiny number of people in China have. Will this lead to The Guardian being blocked for good? On the one hand, this isn’t exactly news; on the other, it is a little embarrassing for the emperor and his drive against corruption. I won’t be surprised if imperial peevishness prevails.

Later. Imperial peevishness has indeed prevailed. The Guardian is blocked again – completely. Even the mobile version is unavailable this time.

The strange disappearance of Baidu and other search engines yesterday may be due to an alleged hacking attack, which directed Chinese users to some website run by the people behind Freegate. (China blames hackers for internet outage that re-routed users to US site. The Guardian – the emperor’s favourite foreign rag.)]

New Year, New Learning

Thirty years late.

This weekend was half busy in that I spent almost the entirety of yesterday marking my way through my Extended Essays. Knowing how many marking criteria there are (eleven), I marked them all one criterion at a time, which may not have sped things up, but it did mean I wasn’t having to keep eleven things in mind all at the same time.

I note that none of the criteria really covered the matter of the accuracy of peripheral facts. One student stated there were two world wars in the 20th century only to shift them back to the 19th century. None of the criteria seemed concerned with grammatical accuracy beyond appropriateness, which meant that some nonsense had to be allowed to pass. Nor were there any penalties for improper use of paragraphs. Once again, the IBO seeks to flatter.

The main problems tended to be with peripheral issues such as the abstract, the introduction, and the bibliography. The last of these lost everyone marks because in spite of being told to use the Harvard Reference System, it was not properly implemented. I had even warned one student to change the bibliography in her first draft, but to no avail. The final draft contained the same bibliography.

Where Saturday was busy, Sunday was deliberately idle. I spent quite a large chunk of the day on YouTube looking for music videos from the early 80s and creating playlists. I’ve been after pieces of music that I liked at the time, but never felt inclined to buy the album. I’ve also been tracking down pieces of music which I liked, but about which I knew next to nothing at the time.

Thus, I found that UB40’s song Food for Thought, which has a memorable sax riff, begins “Ivory Madonna, dancing in the dark”, and not “I’m a prima donna…” I had thought the song was a dig at Thatcher. I didn’t know that Making Plans for Nigel was by XTC; or that Johnny and Mary was sung by Robert Palmer and is supposed to be about a couple of mimes; or something. I thought it was some melancholy piece about someone who’s mentally retarded or perhaps suffering from the consequences of drug addiction or a car crash. And his name’s spelt Jona Lewie.

I also happened to bump into a video of hits from 1986, which reminded me why I gave up on contemporary music at about that time. Glam rock had returned, it was an age of saccharine ballads, and rap was starting to blight the scene. It was also the time of feat. songs when, I think, we were all meant to fall about in orgasmic ecstasies about the union of two great musical egos… Sorry, artists. All right, it seems to have worked sometimes – Bowie and Jagger, for example. This also reminds me of Dire Straits. Must go looking for some of their stuff.