The Passionate Skeptic

Doubt well, do what you can, then let it be. Presidents, priests, wage slaves, hustlers, men and women, kids, we all live by the grace of those we love to despise...

Leidenschaft ist, was Leiden schafft
(passion is what makes you suffer - German Proverb)

I don't care what you believe in, so long as you don't believe in it too strongly. A belief is a weapon in the armoury of your heart, and its razor edge will murder the innocent. The ice, the fire of your passion will seduce mundane men and women. Your clarity will excite respect. And the first demagogue who comes along with a key to your heart's armoury will wrest the weapon from your moral grasp. The first cause which wears the colours of your belief will enlist you as a soldier in ravaging crusades. Peace friend. Keep your passion to doubt with. Our civilization is a simple matter of live and let live, of giving dreams a go, but stepping back with a wry smile when we get it wrong. Let the fundamentalists perish in their own pillars of fire. Spare a dollar for the living, and have a nice day. 

Thor @1 November 1991

<< too small to read? Press Ctrl + keys on your keyboard >>



The Agnostic's Survival Manual



Abstract: (This e-book is roughly 20,000 words)

Dear reader, are you really hoping for a book of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’? Do you want gentle ideas and a comfortable corner in which to rest your half-formed prejudices? Alas, you have come to the wrong place.

The truly employable in this world are harmless blobs of not-quite-anything, or heroic knights of flaming conviction (best employed by others after safe removal to a site of sacrifice), or good old fashioned hypocrites with opinions for hire. This particular writer is entirely unsafe to hire or to know, being addicted to a deadly combination of moderation and candour. Luckily few people ever understand what he is talking about.

keep reading   A PDF version is also available. A third copy (PDF) may be found at my site.




North Korea – An American Accident



Abstract: The reason that North Korea exists is that America, the superpower, exists. This was true during the 1950-53 Korean War, and it is true today. After World War II, American ignorance of the Korean peninsular was matched only by its disinterest. In 2013, oddly perhaps, the best friend of the North Korean regime is the American military-industrial complex. They need each other. That part of the American polity which persists in playing the games of empire absolutely craves a North Korean demon. Yet China in 2013 would happily erase North Korea into a dusty footnote, if it were politically possible. Kim Jong-eun and his coterie are not only bad for Chinese business, they are downright embarrassing for Chinese respectability.

keep reading



Thor's Blogs  =>  blog roll & research repostitories




1. Thor's SHORT CUTS  (Wordpress blog)  OR    the full list of short cuts on this site, ....


261. Boo! So What Are You Afraid Of ?
Wed 10-Apr-2013

What are you afraid of? If you are under 30 you are probably afraid of being laughed at by your frienemies, but probably not afraid of burning half your brain cells and poisoning your liver with booze, or getting an STD from bad sex. At younger than 30 you are immortal, so you expect to live with your frienemies forever, but don't expect to wind up in hospital on an oxygen ventilator, racked with pain and depending for survival on a daily packet of deadly prescription drugs. If you are older than 30 your frenemies are probably already married, and too busy complaining about their mortgage to worry about your haircut. By now you are not quite as fit as you used to be, and you've had your first hints of future death. You begin to worry vaguely about pains, pills, next week's salary, and how you might not be master/mistress of the universe after all. No matter, if you are older than 15 and younger than 60 you are scared witless of talking about anything but the weather, the football and your favourite movie star. After all, who might be listening? Your Facebook page is a total threat if it contains anything except photos of you on a sunset beach, or your favourite pet. Why the terror? That's easy. People used to be afraid of a vengeful God, the Devil or the Lord of the Castle. Now Godzilla's alias is HR. Surviving HR permits you to have a "career". Perishing from an attack of HR condemns you to the charnel house of public charity and pity. HR is a poisonous cloud which hovers forever between you and the sun. This HR cloud is made from the acid vapours of statistical averages and massaged employment prejudice. The once-were-human shapes which come out the other side of the HR cloud are bleached skeletons, draped in the rags of fashion, dangling from puppet strings, fitted with voice boxes from the company store. Of course, none of this is discussed in polite circles. A Martian might find it hard to understand why the highest aim of Earthlings is to graduate as bleached bones dangling from puppet strings. The Martian might not be aware though that the entire education system, popular media and weight of public opinion is focused on persuading young Earthling persons that their finest achievement will be to qualify as bleached puppet bones on a respected payroll.


259. What is Your Greatest Weakness?
Mon 25-Mar-2013


A favourite question in job interviews is "what is your greatest weakness?" I always find the question puzzling. It is puzzling because nowadays the person who interviews you is rarely, say, a hard drinking building supervisor who wants to know if you really can lay bricks. No, it will be some half-formed cream puff who has never laid a brick, and thinks that a 'C' pass in Psychology 101 has given them the key to the human soul. Part of the text book cleverness of these HR persons is to assume that every person being interviewed is lying. Therefore, to give a good interview is to impress the HR person is that you can lie cooly, without a flicker of embarrassment. If you can lie in your own interests, presumably you can lie in the interests of the company too. So this is the problem with "what is your greatest weakness?". The proper answer actually depends upon the fetishes, fears and fantasies of the HR person. Does he secretly pull the wings off butterflies, or does she have nightmares about breaking her stiletto heels in an escalator? Until you have such critical information, you don't really know which lie will make him/her feel all warm and fuzzy inside ...





more short cuts ....


2. Thor's New China Diary 


    Anchluss or ANZAC? - A Solution for Taiwan

What would be the consequences, to follow a crazy thought experiment, if the Peoples Republic of China were to formally renounce all claims to sovereignty over Taiwan? Well, at first there would be a very confused Chinese public in the PRC and a desperate need for some inspired domestic persuasion out of Beijing. However, once that contradiction had been finessed (they've had tougher knots to untie), my guess is that within a short time Taiwan would become China's best friend and ally. They have so much in common. A free Taiwan choosing between America and China? No contest. Of course they would choose China. Taiwan has already shown the world what its enterprise can achieve under conditions of great handicap. Give its people back their hope and spirit, then Taiwan would be the best little brother that China could ever wish for. China would win immense international respect and trust. It truly would be on the fast track in that new Great Game, the contest for competence.

.<>  copies of this posting can be found on this website here, and on Thor's Wordpress blogs, Thor's New China Diary and Thor's Unwise Ideas

. Continue reading




3. Thor's Language & Teaching Notes


28. International Language Testing - Standing the monster on its head (or PDF version)


At the top of the assessment pyramid are multinational testing corporations, best known by the names of their standardized tests, such as IELTS, TOEIC, TOEFL, BULATS, TKT, Cambridge ESOL main suite, or G-TELP (there are many other aspirants). In some ways these testing companies can be thought of as the Big Pharma corporations (i.e. drug companies) of the educational world. Like Big Pharma they are subject to constant challenges to their ethics and reliability from within and without, and like Big Pharma they are rather prone to corrupt the issues which they were designed to assist with. The possible corruption of language learning by the requirements of testing is known as wash-back. Wash-back is not always malignant. The analysis in this paper is a tentative attempt to manipulate the wash-back from an international test in a manner which actually assists genuine language acquisition.



27. Monolingualism and How to Fix It (if it needs fixing)


Abstract: The argument I will develop in this essay is that the foreign students are a latent human resource who can assist with overcoming English monolingualism in the Australian population. Foreign students, properly rewarded, can be a major source of skills transfer. Every one of those students is a walking compendium of language and cultural skills that Australians need to know

(also on this site here)




4. Unwise Ideas (most content still remains here at All writings will take quite a while to transfer)



49. Cultural Operating Systems – Thoughts on Designing Cultures

This (non-academic) article covers a lot of territory, nothing less than the “cultural operating systems” within which we live, how they have changed, and how they might be changed. There is a kind of arrogance in toying with the elements of ‘big picture’ issues like this. Nevertheless everyone has submerged opinions or prejudices or assumptions on how it all works. By dragging his own subconscious dregs into the light of day, this writer neither hopes nor expects to change the world. Rather, this is an open invitation for any reader to reflect and match their ideas against those of others.

1. Revolution as catastrophe: When it comes to kingly matters, the distance between the ruler and the ruled has rarely been doubted by either party, though in the cold light of day, both are normally loath to change places. The French revolution, and the Russian revolution to follow, not to mention communist China’s version of revolution, the Irani theocratic revolution, America’s ‘shock and awe’ version of democracy in Iraq, and any number of other pirouettes, have all been awful reminders that instant changes in the body politic are an open sesame to the most murderous brutes in the asylum. Revolutions of the swashbuckling variety make nice TV epics, but for mere humans they are usually a retreat to barbarism....

Continue reading   [The link above is to my Wordpress blog. The story is also here on this site,]



28. The Case for Favoritism

Imagine the perfect meritocracy. Now think again. In our perfect meritocracy prizes go to the most able, the most worthy, the best … But who is to decide the most able, worthy or best ? A fair system you say, innocent of human bias, objective in its evaluation.

That’s nice. How many fair systems do you know? Well, there are some admirably equal decision processes in science and technology. A thermometer is pretty fair about measuring the temperature, and a binary calculator separates zeroes and ones reliably.

Consider human affairs. Have you ever seen a fair examination? Well, the ‘fairness’ here is relative to your criteria, isn’t it. If the exam measures what the teacher taught, and the student answers what the teacher asked, then we might say (in some cases) that the exam was fair. But what if the teaching was inadequate or the teacher was misinformed? Or what if the student was smarter than the teacher, and the teacher had trouble admitting that? Rare, you say. No, as a teacher for 27 years in many venues, I have to say that it is extremely common, even the norm. Hmm, what happened to our meritocracy here? We wind up with “brilliant” students who in fact are models of conformity, while some of the really clever students (as well as any number of genuine failures of course), are sent down the waste disposal chute. Continue reading

more unwise ideas (this website) OR here on my Wordpress blog Thor's Unwise Ideas


5. Thor's Australian Spaces

Australia is a spacious place. Take an evening flight from the scurrying ant heap of some city in East Asia, settle down for a fitful sleep in cattle class, then lift the porthole shutter at dawn and gaze from 10,000 meters upon a continent in blazing creation. You are an avatar, a messenger come for strange messages from other gods in a strange land. The sun rises like a meteor, the night chill upon the land below shrinks like plastic wrap on an oven plate, and in a trice you are hovering above a terrifying, trackless waste of shimmering browns and reds and yellows, bony ridges of old rocks, sometimes a scar where a river might have been a million years ago. It goes on and on for hours. It is Australia, and it isn’t home.... more


Domestic Bliss and an Australian Dream


In spite of waddling locals with voices like swamp frogs and the tattooed pub denizens, Australia is not such a bad place. Life is almost too easy, and the facilities are wonderful. It is a pity that it is so damned expensive. I could almost, but not quite, break even on the money front. By living frugally, I could gently sink into Australian poverty for a little time, while dreaming of heading off, perhaps, to live like a king on my pension in some low-cost corner of the world.

Stranded at yet another celestial bus stop on life's journey, I pondered on how to save cash. The solution was familiar: split the rent in a share house with some characters allotted by fate. This time it was three women and an apprentice upholsterer. When I moved in, the lady owner had messages to her god stuck all over the walls, so I had to decontaminate my room of holy spirits immediately. She was not a bad old stick, and one day suddenly fell head over heels in love with a plumber, who decided to take her around the world....

continue reading





6. Thor's Videos & Recordings



This is a small collection of short biographical videos, a teaching demonstration, and some recitations of my own verse, together with several well-known verse ballads (for the benefit of learners of English). The blog duplicates material already on at





Research     [Applied Linguistics] [Formal Linguistics]

Language Tangle - Predicting and facilitating outcomes in language education  [PhD dissertation]

Doctoral dissertation in knowledge worker productivity (specifically, language teacher productivity), from the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia, 2010. The thesis is on this website, and is also online in the University of Newcastle research depository at .


This thesis argues that foreign and second language teaching productivity can only reach its proper potential when it is accorded priority, second only to language learner productivity, amongst the many competing productivities which are always asserted by stakeholders in educational institutions.

A theoretical foundation for the research is established by examining the historical concept of productivity, and its more recent manifestation as knowledge worker productivity, especially as applied to teachers.

The empirical basis of the thesis is sourced from a chronological series of twenty biographical case studies in language teaching venues in Australia, New Zealand, Oceania and East Asia. The biographical case study methodology, although rare in applied linguistics, is justified by reference to its wide and growing application in other fields of qualitative research. The case studies are analysed for common patterns of productivity, as well as teaching productivity inhibition or failure.


19. Stress, Rhythm and Intonation


Abstract: These are notes on English stress, rhythm and intonation. Part A is for students and Part B is for teachers. The treatment here is “technical”, as by a linguist, but in very plain language. Even with poor formal English, L2 speakers who “sound right” will gain social acceptance, and this in turn will greatly accelerate their learning. Firstly the concept of “the music of a language” is introduced. It is noted that languages are on a scale of “syllable timed” to “stress timed” (though this is not a simple matter). English is a stress-timed language. Both word stress and sentence stress are essential in English. However, proper word liaison and elision marks native speakers from non-native speakers. Some advice is given on how to practice privately and in a classroom. The importance of teacher talk as a model is noted.  Continue reading


  ... Other articles on language teaching here



  China Readings -  Archived news and articles about China: I read a large number each year 

a) General Readings on China from 2007 to October 2011; b) Readings on Education in China; c) Readings on Finance, Banking and Business in China

note: Readings for all the world up to 2009 are indexed => here





Thor's Big Links List to ESL Resources & Jobs

General Index to Thor's stuff on language learning & teaching


Lectures on Second Language Acquisition

Lectures on Grammar in

EFLLinks to Online Resources for Teachers

Articles by Thor on Language Teaching   


Thor's ESL Everything Index

The Barebones Index - stuff from Korea & China


[ also see Thor's Poems at ]

The Cool Generation


Though light came after darkness

And life came after pain,

We never knew the making

Nor felt the weight of years.


We were born in high rise boxes

And warmed in coddled air,

All information found us,

We have never fought to know.


Our certainties are gift wrapped

And sealed at the school room door,

No questions will torment us

If we die in someone's war.


We expect the replay button

Will cancel all bad dreams,

And bring the music thumping

For a party without tears.


Hey! What the fuck was that?

Jack, some witch is at the door.

Hey! She spat me in the eye ..

What'dya mean you bitch It's Monday?


What'dya mean We have to pay

For the pizzas and the parties,

What'dya mean The cops are coming

And the Earth will bleach our bones?


What'dya mean?


April 2013




38. The Doctor's Dilemma - Reading versus Active Experience




Long ago (1967) in a freshman literature class, in response to one of my jabs the tutor asked sarcastically if I thought I was an educated person. For her that meant quoting a canon of classic English literature. Even then I thought that like the rest of us, she was an 'uneducated person'. I was damn sure she wouldn't have a clue how to start her car with a wet distributor. I remain irredeemably uneducated in vast areas of human interest ...


(continued ...)




<> Bus to Heaven (a story for learning English)

Every morning Helen put her left shoe on before her right shoe. She combed her hair before she put on any mascara. And she made her bed before she ironed her dress. There wasn't any special reason for doing things in that order. It was just a habit, and she never thought about it...

(continued ...)



<> Mr Dog Looks for Breakfast
   (a children's story for learning English)

Mr. Dog woke up one Spring morning and yawned.He stretched his legs and wrinkled his nose.Then he sniffed the breeze. There were many interesting smells in the air.He could smell the jaoze steaming in Mrs. Li's kitchen. That made his to tongue hang out, and he panted a little with pleasure.Presently he caught another scent. It was that damned Tabby cat. He frowned, and growled deep in his throat.The silly thing was watching him for sure, hiding behind a fence or something. He looked around suspiciously, but Tabby was not to be seen...

(... continued)

Stumpy's World




Stumpy and the Decision Tree

~~~ a daggy epic from virtual space








A photo essay from students in Zhengzhou photo index

Zhengzhou street scene

Thor's Videos .... index of videos & recitations here  [ All of my videos are also now on a blog, Thor's Videos & Recordings, at ]

The following three short, and very amateur videos were made in China in 2010 for the purpose of giving me a current professional and personal identity. At least from that perspective it was a wasted exercise: the Chinese Public Security Bureau threw me out of China a little later for the crime of turning 65. Ce la vie. An earlier, further small collection of personal "identity" videos can be seen here.

graduation speech

see the video, "The Journey of a Passionate Skeptic " (4 minutes) here

Thor running, Zhangzhou, China, 19 May 2010

see the video, "Born 1945 - Still Running Strong" (2.5 minutes) here

Teaching English is Fun!

see the video, "Teaching English is Fun " (4.5 minutes) here



Work in Progress

This website is now ancient, at least in the annals of cyberspace. In various forms, it has been accumulating with bits and pieces for around fifteen years. It is formatted haphazardly in basic html, categorized a bit forlornly into "interest areas" and therefore attracts (or fails to attract) readers from sometimes unrelated worlds. Mostly though the website has documented the journey of its author, Thor May, through time and almost imperceptibly become a part of his identity. At times there have been frequent additions, while for other extended periods I have been absent on different missions and readership has fallen away. Why anyone bothers to read along has always been a bit of a mystery.

The Passionate Skeptic website makes sense to Thor, but to you accidental visitors from outer space it might seem like a rambling mansion. In fact, I don't truly know what it seems like to you. The site statistics do show around half a million visitors this century. How many paused to smile, agree, disagree or wail we will never know. Since a tsunami of blogs began to sink the visibility of websites like this around a decade ago, few of you have bothered to email. The traditional static format really doesn't allow for comments to be casually posted.

For a long time now I have been aware that major renovations are necessary. Life is short however. Each day is a tiny sliver of time. The task of a makeover would be enormous. What to do? Compromise of course. I will leave the website here in all its shabby glory. Bit by bit though, large chunks of it will be copied to a stable of blogs as well. Their dynamic format should allow for proper discussion, and their separation will encourage each community of interests to develop its own ecology. The copying process will take months (years?), depending upon other distractions. As each new blog is brought online a link to it will be posted below. In the beginning, these blogs will be mere shadows, but at least anyone inclined can come back to the old site here to rummage through things past, if that is their fancy. That is, The Passionate Skeptic website will remain Grand Central Station for departures to all these brave new worlds.


writing & photography on this site is
   copyrighted © Thorold (Thor) May 2011
   all rights reserved,

thormay AT  


©2011  Thor May

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