Archive for Teaching

13 Oct 2013: An Opportunity to Teach

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 13, 2013 by spinoza1111

Last week, Dr. Cheung asked me to address three medical students/HKU undergraduates from my hospital bed concerning my cancer journey. HKU’s medical school is on the British model so there is no pre-med; undergrads are on a speeded-up track.

I had no time to prepare a formal outline but did a reasonable job all the same of coverage. I described my feelings of being very fit and healthy person and how they may have contrasted with a smoking habit that lasted until 2000 and a Nicorette/nicotine addiction that held on until 2012. I described managing the terror of the diagnosis result day fairly well through a spiritual practise.

I said that perhaps palliative care sounded less terrifying than it does to many because I had entered the cancer journey at a mostly palliative stage (IV/D1). I also described how highly addictive prescription drugs such as Fentanyl hold for me at this time little attraction since I’d always preferred booze. I do admit their usefulness as pain suppressants as the essence of civilisation which doesn’t allow even the Stranger to writhe in agony in the park (and doesn’t by default code him/her as an addict as a part of its lack of compassion).

It should be noted, however, that I didn’t make the last point in the above passage in my talk.

I thought of  the late Edward Said who lectured on English topics while being hospitalised for leukemia. These activities are very important for me at this time.

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7 June 2013: Heaven…is exactly like where you are now…only much…much…nicer!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 7, 2013 by spinoza1111

First thing workout: had to cowboy up to do 20 min (100 sup pullups and 100 steps with 50 on right foot and 50 on left) owing to hip pain, which got worse after the exercise, but improved after a breakthrough pain dose (where this is a dose of Fentanyl, a synthetic morphine 10x as powerful as natural; breakthrough doses are intended to overcome increased pain without needlessly suppressing consciousness during periods of no pain). Does pain result from exceedingly vigorous rackety rowing machine workout yesterday? I really ripped up my upper thighs in that session.

20 minutes of physio on the “rackety rowing” machine planned.

Two bowls of the fluffy white congee (my favorite) and the doomed Egg polished off in two bytes after a ceremonious de-shelling.

Started sending out job applications (with resume clearly marked with my health status in red type) after opening the dear old South China Morning Post. There was a fascinating editorial job and a small primary school that said in its want ad for an NET, “our children are longing for a NET”.

Really got to me…

Soweto 1961 was an ESL education issue: not knowing the dominant world language, or knowing it at a lower “plateau” creates permanent underclasses identifiable as such from their written job applications and when they open their mouth to speak.

In Soweto the authorities wanted the blackfellows to learn Afrikaans so as to be servants of Boers whereas the blackamoors wanted to learn English to get good jobs, and people were killed.

I was on the side of the angels last year, drawing my breath in pain to make classes in the City of Sadness after the onset of cancer and despite the fact that I can now live without working, I thought of how little I really do for others. And in one class in Tin Muen there was that poor little girl who couldn’t take her eyes off me in our few classes, applied to be my Facebook Friend, and implored me to come back.

Am I a sap? Well, yeah. I am post-cynical because a global cynicism is just more sappiness. Sapientiae (wisdom) not sappiness recognizes real needs. Wisdom cries aloud in the market place and no man [sic] pays it mind.

But despite the fact that I mentioned this little girl’s request more than once to my employers, I never got to go back.

The student/teacher bond is under a demonic world-wide assault by capitalism which is in my opinion all too ready to accuse teachers of vile sexual interests when the teachers merely are able to keep order without emotional or physical abuse, and bond in some degree to all students, perhaps more to bright and hardworking students.

But this contempt for academia, combined with the brutal exploitation of people with academic knowledge in science, technology and education, is going to bring about a new Dark Age as the physical environment collapses.

In my kindergarten class last September where I danced with the kids to teach them body parts and numbers in English as the school requested, monitoring my leg for injury, the admins said “we love his results but where are his lesson plans and where is he going?”

Well they might ask for I did not know! I just wanted to stay healthy enough, with my diagnosis, to make it to the classes (they paid well for only three days a week and this was a factor, of course). But when in the third week of September I got that call from my post-traumatic brother, who’s more than once had to deal with the after-effects of the collapse of my family, saying siddown, prepare yourself…your son is dead.

A stronger man would have kept working but I called my employers immediately and told them to take me off the project. I knew I wouldn’t be able to deliver. And in October, my calcium and other critical balances went all to hell and I arrived in the ER of Queen Mary in a confused state. The nice thing about October, its Joyful Mystery if you please, was my sister’s visit.

2012 wasn’t the end of the world like it was supposed to be. For me, it was worse, an annus horribilis. 2013 so far hasn’t been great but it’s better.

“Heaven…is exactly like where you are now…only much…much…nicer!” – Laurie Anderson

Grand High Re-read of Kant’s Kritik

Cannot read chapters seven times, it’s too time-consuming, although I did this for Analytic of Concepts. Just reading slowly and making sure I understand, stopping occasionally for various exercises and to consult Professor Rae Langton’s lecture notes, part of the MIT Open Courseware initiative: she taught a class on the Critique in 2005.

Noticed for the first time the publisher’s “blurb” on the back of the book where it is said that the Guyer-Wood translation preserves Kant’s sentence structure. This is why it is a difficult book to read.

Here’s an example. The English on the status of noumena is this Whopper:

“I call a concept problematic that contains no contradiction, but that is also, as a boundary for given concepts, connected with other cognitions, the objective reality of which can in no way be cognized. The concept of a noumenon, i.e., of a thing which is not to be thought of as an object of the senses but rather as a thing in itself (solely through pure understanding), is not at all contradictory; for one cannot assert of sensibility that it is the only possible kind of intuition. Further, this concept is necessary in order not to extend sensible intuition to things in themselves, and thus to limit the objective validity of sensible cognition (for the other things, which sensibility does not reach, are called noumena just in order to indicate that those cognitions cannot extend their domain to everything that the understanding thinks).”

This Whopper closely tracks Kant’s 18th Century German:

“Ich nenne einen Begriff problematisch, der keinen Widerspruch enthält, der auch als eine Begrenzung gegebener Begriffe mit anderen Erkenntnissen zusammenhängt, dessen objektive Realität aber auf keine Weise erkannt werden kann. Der Begriff eines Noumenon, d.i. eines Dinges, welches gar nicht als Gegenstand der Sinne, sondern als ein Ding an sich selbst, (lediglich durch einen reinen Verstand) gedacht werden soll, ist gar nicht widersprechend; denn man kann von der Sinnlichkeit doch nicht behaupten, daß sie die einzige mögliche Art der Anschauung sei. Ferner ist dieser Begriff notwendig, um die sinnliche Anschauung nicht bis über die Dinge an sich selbst auszudehnen, und also, um die objektive Gültigkeit der sinnlichen Erkenntnis einzuschränken, (denn das übrige, worauf jene nicht reicht, heißen eben darum Noumena, damit man dadurch anzeige, jene Erkenntnisse können ihr Gebiet nicht über alles, was der Verstand denkt, erstrecken).”

Up until very recently, long but well-structured sentences, using the similar rules of European languages and their grammar, were thought to be impressively learned, and to better connect ideas than choppy simple sentences. And it is indeed easier to memorize a sentence as opposed to a paragraph. But ever since Strunk and White, this style has fallen into extreme disfavor. When I used a simplified version of that syle naturally, having succeeded in Catholic school with it, I would get Fs at my secular university and called in for a Talk at my employers.

But…if you “simplify” a real idea, you’re just moving lumber around without reducing anyone’s work load. The very idea that texts can be simplified rests on the very American idea that we can create reality and we’re seeing where that little hummer leads…to disaster.

Ka Yan #2: Peter’s Crazy Teacher

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by spinoza1111

Edward G Nilges, “Even When Peter’s Crazy Teacher Ka Yan Teaches Us Mathematics, Ka Yan Admonishes Us, and Teaches Us the Way of All Things”, pencil on paper, A4 size, 18 April 2012. Moral rights asserted, which means that if you copy the image with attribution, God bless yer pointy little head, but if you copy it without attribution, damn your eyes. In other words, show some class.

The Line must be gotten right. The asymmetry has to be turned into a genuine tilt of her head in the light that would naturally create a different line on either side of her face as it catches the light, from what side? Vermeer, he knew all about this stuff, how in his quiet studio on a sunlit afternoon, time stopped.

Schopenhauer thought music superior to painting, damn his eyes, but painting’s task is the opposite of music’s. Music is all Time, painting stops it. Same deal, really.

My use of words is sometimes very confusing, as if I’m some sort of time traveler who uses them in old ways. Can’t be helped. “Admonish” used to mean something halfway between “teach” and “scold, morally chastise”.

The backstory is that Ka Yan works for the same UN agency as Peter’s Crazy Aunt and they are friends. The kids love her. I’m not sure what Ka Yan’s ethnicity is yet, and I may never be, for there are so many beautiful children and grown-ups where I live who are Mischling. Ka Yan’s name is Chinese yet she looks South Asian. Besides my understanding from talking with friends is that Ka Yan’s off the shoulder look is not as popular among Hindu women as it used to be and is certainly not Islamic.

Fashions have become more “modest”. Jackie Kennedy wore a Beirut look in 1961 in Beirut when she revealed her tummy. She could not do so today. But Ka Yan, while possessed of a deep respect for life, is not religious.

And it is this slowly growing crowd of people who are precisely ignored by racists, aren’t they, who want to herd us all back into Kraals, damn their eyes. All men (all people) are endowed by their Creator with rights according to our Declaration of Independence. This means something.

All This Useless Brutality

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 7, 2012 by spinoza1111

Edward Hopper, “Automat”

See this New York Times article: and note, beyond all the phony science implicit in pure measurement of complex, self-reflexive and interacting systems, and even beyond the casual bureaucratic brutality in which the only solution for “bad teaching” is locating the “bad teacher” in a high-tech witch hunt, and then, in a fashionable Mamet way, firing her fucking ass, there is an elementary aporia.

Which is that the source of the bad teacher may be that she needs dental work that she cannot afford, or has been assigned a bunch of thugs, or is being systematically pecked to death in the good old barnyard.

Note, please, that when you fire somebody you have to replace them, and it’s very, very expensive to recruit and background-check while retaining substitute teachers, any one of whom could be the Archangel Michael or John Wayne Gacy.

Elvis Costello put his finger on the Thatcher era in another country, in “All this Useless Beauty”. Doesn’t scan the same way, but the anthem for Amerikkka today is All This Useless Brutality.

Toilet Monster

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 16, 2010 by spinoza1111

I call “Toilet Monster” the phenomenon in Hong Kong schools, where one kid in English class says, “Teach-ahh! I gotta go to the toilet!” and soon, other children take up the cry, resulting in a general Clamour. In response to today’s Hue and Cry, I had the Little Hearts draw their Toilet Monster and write about it.

Then, on the MTR I wrote this edifying little poem:

Monkey See: Monkey Do:
The Toilet Monster will get you
If to the Lao Shih Teacher you tell a Lie
And dishonestly say with no reason Why
You need a Vacation in the Loo.

If you have to go, you have to go
This is something all Teachers know:
Some times to Poo and others to Pee
It is something we all do, naturally.

But woe unto the little Child
Who ill-bred and with manners Wild
Doth say I gotta when he don’t
The Toilet Monster will get him, see if he won’t!

And take you to his Poopy Lair
Where he’ll you frighten, and he’ll you scare
By serving Fruit Juice in cups of Hair
And pretending to be a scarey bear.

So, little Children, you must be Good
And always do that which you should
And eschew that which you’d better not
Or the Toilet Monster will put you in his cooking pot.

Edward G. Nilges 16 Dec 2010. Moral rights have been asserted nyah ha ha.

Problem kid

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2010 by spinoza1111

I love my job. Hong Kong has always had a semi-privatized education system originating in British missionary efforts alongside traditional Chinese free-market schools preparing kids for the Chinese civil service examination, so there’s some room for creativity.

I was defined as a problem kid. Once, my Mom actually came to me and told me not to talk so loud at home. It seems that my voice, changing in early adolescence, bothered my father, but he could not speak to me. This was, of course, unforgivable although I love my Dad.

I understand it for the same reason in literary and historical studies I am quick to forgive Shakespeare for sexism or Lincoln for racism.

The late science fiction author JG Ballard writes that pre-war British parents were unlike those of today, who are more able to express their love for their kids. Parents of his generation were primarily engaged in proving (in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and London) that they were still Bright Young Things of the 1920s as late as 1941, and children were a reminder that they were not; in Ballard’s case, they were having fancy dress balls and being Bright right up to Dec 7 1941. Likewise, my own parents had difficulties with getting older, and a teenage boy or girl is to such parents a Problem.

Long distance I treasured my children’s changes. I loved the cute babies (who doesn’t), the toilet training, teaching them the mysteries of how to use the Men’s room at O’Hare, airline food, revolving doors, and room service. I bought a Mac in 1984 and we cheered Happy Mac in my little studio near Fisherman’s Wharf. I liked the debates that would erupt on the fundamentals in their teen years.

I do not love the silence today as my son goes to Laos without stopping in Hong Kong.

Today, I deal with Asian parents who work hard to ensure that their children get into top schools. But in America, especially when I was young, parents were and are more ambivalent.

Asian parents seem to save more conscientiously for their children’s education and seem to have the funds to purchase after school programs which I teach. But as an American parent, I did not, and while my father saved more conscientiously, five children represented a potential financial disaster.

This invests the American parent, at some subconscious level, in his child’s failure, in his being predefined as essentially a problem, because then he can go, for example, to a state university.

I had the highest ACT verbal score in the history of my school, but wound up at a low-rated school through a combination of my own disinterest in tasks dictated by others, my laziness, and, perhaps, my parents’ fear of the tuition payments at a place like Princeton…at which I worked years later, and took classes, for credit. I subconsciously cooperated with the real plan, which was to seek as innocuous a middle class track as possible.

My parents were also believers, as were my uncles and aunts, in working after school, something Hong Kong kids aren’t encouraged to do. Since I was busy teaching myself things I wanted to learn, including art, mathematics and writing fugues (that very name accurately coding the effort as a “flight” from an unbearable constructed reality), I wasn’t interested, but I did see a lot of fellow students stunting their lives with long hours at McDonald’s, which opened up its first outlet in Desplaines in the 1960s.

My therapist, who seemed Frankfurt School, tried to get me to face reality: OK, the constructed “reality” is constructed and it is unbearable, so you need to do something about it. Instead, I passive-aggressively went along until it became truly unbearable, and then I blighted my children’s life by having a “midlife crisis” at the age of 31.

But I’d struggled, in my own way. I signed up for graduate school in computer science, got straight As, but then, allowed my wife to persuade me that it took too much time away from the kids. The head of department was also genuinely puzzled what I was doing in his department, and tried to explain to me that it wasn’t trying to produce scholars, only successful Loop data processors with fancy-sounding degrees.

In the 1960s, the usual compromise between parent and teenager was acceptable Bs and Cs at school, a brutal fast food job, and free time spent boozing it up and chasing members of the opposite sex, which turn into four meaningless years at Northern Illinois, early marriage, kids, and a job which most of my relatives were able to like. After four less than stellar years at Roosevelt University in Chicago, which my Mom selected but my Dad didn’t like because it was “full of Negroes and Communists” (a point in its favor for me), I who’d wanted To Paint allowed myself to be tracked into programming…which I found really, really interesting.

But I was living in Max Weber the sociologist’s “polytheistic” world, in which people learn to separate, sharply, different lifeworlds with different ultimate standards of justification. As a result, I had difficulty separating the struggle to succeed in business from family life and wound up divorced.

Fast forward. My own son did even better on the SAT. He received equally high scores on the verbal and math parts for a combined score of 1560/1600. I was thrilled, but when I tried to communicate my joy to my former wife she seemed just not to care, and more concerned with the many ways he irritated her. And because of the expenses of two households, despite the fact that I paid child support, I’d been completely unable to save a dime for myself, much less my son’s education.

He had been defined as a problem in Weber’s “polytheistic” world, where part of learning is learning to switch attention brutally and rapidly between completely different and completely unrelated subjects…in ultimate preparation for the world where the Wall Street thug is actually able to go home, and be a good father, for real.

This was because as a natural child, he was interested in what he was interested in, strongly, without limit, just as I was alternatively fascinated by Avalon Hill’s wargame Gettysburg, a book, or re-enacting Shakespeare plays with my toy Britain’s Limited “Knights of Agincourt”, or baseball. And just as my own parents didn’t celebrate this, my former wife was too overwhelmed most of the time, especially when she had to bring the kids to school and get to work, and my son was debugging his Macintosh software.

Money made all the difference. I was improvidently seeking the ideal software job up and down the West coast, using the dregs of what were supposed to be retirement packages and credit cards to ensure the child support was paid, as the software business evolved to the hellish nightmare it is today…where you can’t even program, but must attend meetings and read white papers until you want to soil yourself. My wife was working hard at one job and saving her money, but had my son been accepted at Princeton, we would have had few resources.

My boss at Princeton assured me that the University would find a way, but none was needed, since like me my son had inferior grades as opposed to SAT/ACT test scores, because getting good grades is mostly (especially in public schools) about demonstrating focus on one thing at a time.

The ironic tragedy is that SAT measures ability to benefit from education and was meant to be taken cold, without prep. I took it cold, and likewise, my son couldn’t be bothered with Kaplan. This means my son should have been given resources to go to a top school and it was a judgement on my son’s English teacher.

I’d read his snarky and idiotic comments on a paper my son had written on Catcher in the Rye. The structure of the comments was interesting, for structurally our experience, my experience, is to be the Great White Hope at first and then to let educational systems down. I’d entered high school to get straight As but my performance nosedived after Kennedy was shot to the cheers of some of the horrors I had to spend every day with (including Ted Nugent, the insane right-wing rock star in later life).

The teacher expressed disappointment that Eddie’s paper was taking an unexpected direction. He wanted to see the sort of essay you’d get today if you Googled “winning essay” but with a deep irony, my son like Holden Caulfield went his own way, and the teacher didn’t understand. So my son received a low grade. I should have been there, as my Dad was there when my own high school tried to refuse me a diploma: my Dad paid those clowns a visit, and I graduated after a summer class. It’s why I love him after all is said and done.

My son later found his own scholarship and educational support, but the family system would not let go. He is constantly subject to depression as I was: the depression, that is, of being the scapegoat and the mark for a larger dysfunction; that of the family and a society in which oil is now destroying the Caribbean Sea.

This tragedy isn’t healed by my teaching, of course, but I am pretty good with the “problems”, the kids who come in struggling with their Indonesian or Filipina helpers.

Tiger Monk (my name for him) likes to move and can moonwalk and do Kung Fu. Of course, the urge to do so strikes Tiger Monk at the strangest damned times, such as when we’re supposed to be doing Skills Book. My own sense of the absurd makes me his friend, nonetheless, they pay me for teaching attention to task, so to chill the Monk, I give him a book on dance, and he’s fascinated while the other kids do skills book.

I can even assign traditional punishments. One day, when Tiger Monk was being exceptionally obstreperous, I said, “OK, write ‘I will not be obstreperous’ 100 times, you young brute”. I sat down next to him and showed him the new word “obstreperous” and what it meant. I showed him how to write in different styles: joined up, engineering lettering, and funny. As he wrote, I sat next to him describing how in the “old days” guys in China and New York had to copy documents by hand. He wrote the sentence 100 times as we used to in the 1950s and calmed down.

Elephant Monk likewise prefers not to write characters in boxes. And when he fails, his response is to run around the room, questing. At this point, Teacher has to think like Jenny Holzer, the New York conceptual artist who writes gnomic sentences such as ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE. Thinking in isolated words, as parent in my experience, as teacher, makes you Go Crazy: HE.RUN.AROUND.ROOM.AI-YAH.

Instead, one leads the Elephant Monk (carefully), back to his seat whilst singing a merry song such as “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines”. One reflects in a complete sentence “They pay me to do this: the big boss actually sweats bullets to deposit the payroll on time for me: lo, I could be distributing flyers for Modern Toilet Restaurant in Jardine’s crescent dressed as a pile of ice cream which looks like poo, since the ‘theme’ of Modern Toilet is food as poo, eaten whilst sitting on a toilet, and I am not making this up, and isn’t Asia a strange and wonderful place to be”.

I should have been there for my kids, as a tutor and a Homework Helper, and on my kids’ ass, but regrets are pointless. I’d first learned that I love teaching because my Mom had asked me to tutor my kid brother in math. Since she paid me, I did not resent the fact that I’d received no such help, but I really enjoyed the work. But in the Eighties I was focused on trying to get rich in Silicon Valley, for the kids and, of course, for myself.

Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn saw the evil in American society of 1960s in the nightmare of childhood. These were dreary classrooms, Catholic or public schools, with only islands of meaning; for example, I thought sentence diagrams were cool. But mostly they were a wasteland in which boys stumbled through reading, were mocked by women, and put grease on their hair in response.

Hundreds of students at Chicago’s Our Lady of the Angels school in the 1950s died miserably because the nun in charge told them to sit still and pray rather than try to lead them to safety…or find their own way out of the burning school.

Bill and Bernardine were radicalized by this experience. Nothing since then has changed my conviction that we SDS members were right. And the system since that time has lost a war whilst killing civilians and is now fouling the Caribbean sea.

Of course, teaching the children of the wealthy in Hong Kong isn’t idealistic. I tutored homeless kids in New York but only could do so on Saturdays, and at DeVry University I taught computer science to 60 students from poor and minority backgrounds. If I get rich, which I probably won’t, I can teach for the UN, and give my helper money for her daughter to attend university.

My dad, the old monster, said it well. His office was on north Michigan avenue and it changed during the 1970s from an attractive, tree-lined boulevard with Kroch’s and Brentano’s books, Stuart Brent books, and a dime store (Kresge’s) with a lunch counter to the odious replicant it is today: it looks just like Central in Hong Kong.

He wondered what was the point of buying all this crap. All this useless beauty, when children are being neglected. But he was inside the system: he bought fancy 1960 Cadillacs.

And…someone inside the System, unlike Bill Ayers, has to say these things. Ayers doesn’t have to compromise having somewhat of an academic perch. His sons and grandsons see him every day.

And that which should accompany Old-Age,
As Honor, Loue, Obedience, Troopes of Friends,
I must not looke to haue

(Macbeth)

True “immanent” criticism in Adorno’s sense would be for Studs Lonigan, the victim/perp inside the Chicago machine, to find a voice, and not die, as does Studs Lonigan in James T Farrell’s book Judgement Day, miserably after a day of fruitless job hunting, boozing, smoking, and peepshows on south Michigan.

Studs Lonigan is what the system manufactures. He is like me an addictive personality, trivial, filled with fear and unfulfilled lusts, who has a basic savagery (EF Hobsbaum’s “anarchism of the lower middle class”) which emerged in riots on Armistice Day 1918, race riots in 1919 in Chicago, and on VE and VJ days.

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen: my kids can no longer stand me but I will speak the truth all the same. To quote Auden, then:

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.