Monday, January 31, 2005

Riminton Steele

Fans of debonair Nightline host Hugh Riminton ought to check out his Amazon review page, where Hugh reveals very un-Channel Nine levels of sincerity and insight. No wonder they keep him tucked away in the late-night slot.

Those seeking further Hugh-related hijinks will find them at Epod's Hugh site. Amongst other things, there's an interview that I sincerely hope is not fake, as it features Hugh saying things like, "The oblique, twisting, Escher-like rhythms of things" - Hugh's description of the inner workings of his brain, apparently.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

"Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical humans"

Once, during an online tutorial, I pointed out the poor logic of another student's argument. She replied that "logic is just another belief system" that only a narrow-minded bigot would demand others submit to. Several other students weighed in, claiming that opinion and "personal judgement" were just as valid as logical consistency and appeal to evidence. What was incredible was that these people were presumably in the process of writing third year history essays. What would their referencing look like? Perhaps something like this:

23. Me 2004, My Opinions and Personal Judgements, Melbourne, Australia
24. Some guy I heard on television last night, on that show, you know, that funny one
25. Ibid.
26. My Dad - he was in the war, you know
27. Look, I have the right to my opinion, so sod off!

The faulty reasoning of my fellow students was nothing unusual. In a society that prides itself on the rigour and openess of its public debates, most people lack even a basic understanding of the underlying principles of argument. Opinions are thrust forth without evidence, statistics are manipulated or misinterpreted, language is stripped of meaning, and thus fuzzy thinking flourishes, and with it bad faith.

If this kind of thing gets you down, you're not alone. New Zealand ex-pat Jamie Whyte's little book, Crimes Against Logic, is at once a primer in elementary logic and a full-frontal assault on fallacies, weasel words, prejudice, and other evils of modern discourse. While it might be tempting to dismiss the book as yet another in the seemingly endless cavalcade of radical-reactionary language books, Whyte's book is well worth a look. Whyte takes logic seriously, but that doesn't stop him throwing in a handful of good jokes and a lot of attitude, and his reasoning is razor sharp.

In twelve short chapters, Whyte tackles such fallacies as "the right to your opinion", inconsistency, equivocation, coincidence, statistics, and reasoning from morality. Much of it will be familiar to those who have studied logic at university, but if you don't know your modus ponens from your modus tollens, Crimes Against Logic may well be your first introduction to the subject, given its neglect at all levels of education. In any event, Whyte emphasises the practical applications of logic, writing in a clever, engaging manner that assumes no prior knowledge of logical principles. If you're interested in honing your own reasoning skills - and being able to spot the lack thereof in others - this book is a good place to start.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Sign of the Times

Book signing tours are a peculiar phenomenon. That authors hate them is well documented. Readers ("fans" is perhaps a more appropriate term in this context) seem to like them, although the attraction is beyond me. The sole book signing I have attended was one of Terry Pratchett's about eight years ago. I arrived late, clutching a single tattered paperback, to find several hundred people already in line, some with Pratchett's entire canon tucked under their arms. That Pratchett might not actually want to sign his own name twenty-something times in order to satisfy some Discworld freak's fetish had seemingly never occurred to such people. The presumption didn't end there as the more socially inept Pratchett fans approached their idol with gratingly familiar cries of, "Hey Terry!", and rather ominous claims to be his "number one fan". Luckily, Pratchett proved to be a gracious man with almost superhuman levels of tolerance. Less well-endowed with the milk of human kindness, I quickly grew tired of the inane babble going on around me, especially the logorrheic elf standing nearby who kept smugly telling her friends, "Oh, I never lend anyone my Terries!" By the time I found myself standing before the be-hatted author, all I could manage was, "Hello Mr. Pratchett, I enjoyed your new book", to which he said something witty before scrawling his name on the title page of my (or, rather, his) book. On the whole, although it was nice to actually meet one of my favourite authors, the experience was not one I have been eager to repeat. I can only try to imagine what it must be like for the authors.

One person who has no need to imagine is Margaret Atwood. The polymathic writer has turned her considerable intellect to the problem of book signing tours and come up with a device that allows authors to inscribe incomprehensible signatures on fan's beloved paperbacks from anywhere in the world. The details can be found in a report of the Guardian web site, but suffice to say that it is one crazy idea. Neil Gaiman certainly thinks so, likening it to an automatic kissing machine - that is, an inadequate simulacrum of human contact that is unlikely to satisfy anybody. It certainly wouldn't do me, as meeting the author is about the only merit I can see in signings. And given the device would require the author to physically "sign" each book, fans would still be required to queue - and no doubt to chat, inanely, incessantly.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Last Train to Old Fartism

You can't smoke on Melbourne's commuter trains, or drink, or put your feet on the seats, but you can, apparently, strum an acoustic guitar as badly as you like, as loudly as you like, and there's nothing anybody can do to stop you. Over the past year I must have been regaled by half a dozen different Metlink mariachis, including one guy whom a passenger (thinking he was ever-so-cool) offered to pay to go elsewhere, which only succeeded in making said passenger look like an utter wanker, and in front of his girlfriend, too. But despite being received with bewilderment by some and belligerence by others, busking on trains does seem to be, if not the next big thing, then at least one of the more interesting contenders.

The occasional semi-talented busker aside, acoustic guitars can be dangerous things on public transport, or indeed in any confined space. This is especially true when the guitar is being strummed by one or more members of a rowdy group of teenagers, no doubt off to sniff glue or beat up old ladies or whatever it is young people do for fun these days. Although impromptu teenage singalongs can be amusing enough, sometimes the results are rather disturbing. Take yesterday, for example. Traveling home from the city mid-afternoon, I noticed, sprawled across several rows of seats, a number of teenagers, one of whom was wielding the dread acoustic guitar. As he tuned his instrument, I braced myself for some hopelessly improvised covers of current indie favourites, with mumbled accompaniment from the assembled youngsters. But no - when he began playing, what do I hear but the Eagle's "Hotel California", followed by a note-perfect rendition of Gary Glitter's "Hey", complete with vocals from his mates. Somebody asked the musician what his favourite song was, to which he replied: "Classical Gas". I was gobsmacked, flabergasted - in a word, shocked. Where do innocent minds learn such trash? What kind of world do we live in when teenagers are allowed to roam public transport unsupervised, singing songs that would make their parents blush? I mean - what the fuck? There is no excuse for this sort of premature old fartism and, frankly, I thought these kids would have known better at their age.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Meat the Feeble

Meat and Livestock Australia will be pleased to learn that their current Australia Day commercial, in which former VFL player Sam Kekovich "satirically" denounces vegetarians as un-Australian and deserving of capital punishment is delighting true-blue Aussies the nation over. Those wishing to read a spirited defense of the ad could do worse than drag their knuckles to The Asylum, where critics of the controversial ad are taken to task in true demotic Australian ("fucking cry baby piece of shit leftie vegetarian traitors").

It's not the first time MLA have come to the aid of the oppressed white meat-eating majority (who are silent, apparently, not due to self-effacing reserve, but because their mouths are full of dead flesh). Previous forays into "wedge advertising" include the one in which a rosy-cheeked clan of suburbanites were hilariously confronted with their son's anemic, vegetarian girlfriend, and the classic in which a band of butchers parodied the antics of those crazy carrot-munching Hare Krishnas. Upon first viewing these ads, I laughed with such intensity that, to the observer, it would have seemed as though I wasn't laughing at all. But who, in the face of such incisive social commentary (vegetarians are sick, deathly undesireables, you say!) could resist a belly-laugh, particularly when one's belly is chockers with chopped up baa lamb?

Sterne - The First Awkward Post

I expect I'll get sick of it in about two weeks, but in the meantime this blog is intended as a kind of online version of Sterne, the zine I am putting together, or at least I was putting together until my enthusiasm dipped. Readers, if any, can look forward to the usual self-indulgent rubbish, although I hope to avoid posting anything which begins, "Well, it's been a while since my last post..."

Sunday, January 23, 2005

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About

Tim Sterne is Melbourne writer Tim Howard.

Jon Sterne is currently on assignment.

Sterne is a nun suit painted on some old boxes.

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