Published papers and a profile can be seen at these repositories:


Here - Current list in chronological order at - -

Google Scholar


About The Passionate Skeptic Site      About Thor     Tutoring & Editing Service


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What The Passionate Skeptic stands for: 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 armory 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 armory 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, 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). 
                                                                                    -  Thor @1 November 1991







77.  The Problem of Work and the Rise of the Precariat

Work, as a life experience, has evolved greatly over historical time. For most ordinary people, their job is not something that they enjoy much. However, without formal work many lose focus, may become dependent on welfare, and certainly become socially stigmatized. It seems that increasing numbers of people will never be able to have secure employment. They have joined a new social class now called the precariat. What are the consequences of that? How have we reached this point?  What is a practical, long term solution to “the problem of work” for ordinary people?

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78.  Fakes, liars, cheats, deceivers, animals in the forest


Fake it 'till you make it is a much advertised nostrum. Well, anyone who is not pathologically naive and who has encountered the corporate-speak of today's urban living knows that the fake-it meme is already in the DNA of most institutional critters, large and small. The only news is that this virus might also be deployed by bus drivers and check-out girls. With this in mind, the essay takes the fake-it topic beyond some simple self-trickery sold as positive thinking, and looks at various extended mutations inside and outside of the law.

keep reading





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



275. Live and Let Live
29 December 2013

They may not be your kind of people. They may not even be my kind of people. Come to think of it, I'm probably not your kind of person. Whatever. They, you, me - we've all been here since the (human) world began, or at least yobos like us. No religion, ideology, culture, reign of terror, or advertising agency has ever been able to change the whole daggy mix. So what do you want to do about it? Stand on a street corner and preach to the converted? Retreat to your limousine and sort them into your superior type and the other trash? Be a predator to prey on the unwary and unwise? Screw anything that moves and get wasted while the party lasts? Hope for a safe life of suburban gossip, the small world of office hello-friendships and fear of the tabloid murder rate? Well, it's your call. Me? I'm glad that it takes all kinds of people to make the world go around. There would be no stories without them. I don't do bars, usually, but I understood my father who used to say before stumbling off to find a new dive, desperate to escape his desolate home life, "gotta go check out the local wildlife".



276. Democracy – Comment on a Proposal
April 9, 2014

The actual management of social, economic and political choices which are of citizen interest is at the heart of the governance problem, whether it is some kind of democratic governance or a more arbitrary alternative. Votes offer an option of yes or no. Life is harder than that. There is an inherent problem with binary choices in a complex society. Most important questions are nuanced. We could take almost any votable question and find within it a host of other questions. Most respondents will not have the imagination to see the impinging issues on the lead query. That is their responses will be shallow, and in any real political campaign easily swayed by partisan argument. ...

continue reading



more short cuts (brief ideas)



Thor's Blogs  =>  blog roll & research repositories




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.



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<>  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




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)




76.  Property and Life Choices



It is well understood by most governments today, whatever their nominal ideology, that encouraging the private ownership of residential property is one of the most effective ways of ensuring social stability. A simple Australian example would be that after World War II, very large numbers of footloose demobilized soldiers could have been a distinct threat to the established order. It made very good political sense to direct them as soon as possible into stable employment, and into household ownership. Amongst the first acts of states which give up the lunacy of total centrally planned economic control is to move rapidly to create a residential owning middle class. As Russia formally abandoned communism in the early 1990s it did just that, allowing citizens to purchase their accommodation at very low cost. After Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, China moved in exactly the same direction, even while maintaining a façade of communist ideology. The communist state of Vietnam has acted in exactly the same way. When you have a home and a mortgage, you are probably reluctant to start a revolution, and the political elites have a significant hold on your behaviour.


Continue reading



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.



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 ( and   [Applied Linguistics] [Formal Linguistics] on this site



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  etc.



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 SLA 

EFL Links to Online Resources for Teachers

Articles by Thor on Language Teaching


Thor's ESL Everything Index

The Barebones Index - stuff from Korea & China




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)







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 ...)







Stumpy and the Decision Tree   [ a daggy epic of the unexpected growing day by day]




I've gotta' admit, the gunner blinked, it's neat -

That tear-down screen, the instant con of command ...

Meg grabbed his ear and he flinched.

You tinfoil hoon, she hissed, you wouldn't know

A sacred sign from the flash of an arcade strip.

Now hit back a signal wrapped in respect

Before we get zapped to a crisp...













Poetry    [ also see Thor's Poems at ]


The 541st Facebook Friend


Ambushed again, faked, photoshopped

False friend or true? We met once

Surfing past, a finger click away

Or so you say, and poised now

For assassination, a cold delete?


To be or not to be, the moving cursor asks;

Am I to let your promiscuous affection

Claim my avatar, encode a ghost

A faithless mist of electrons, my pixelated ID,

Dangle in the dragnet of your 541st delusion?


So, Master of the 541st, did you fear our journey

Across the misty mountains of old times?

How is the dust on your feet? Remember

The salty sweat in our eyes, and the song our lips

When the world was made of earth and sky?


            December 2013


Photos        photo index

A photo essay from students in Zhengzhou, China




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.



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


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


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








 ©Thor May 2013  All rights reserved   sandpit