Friday, January 30, 2004

School Daze

Earlier this week, prompted by the current "debate" over the state of our schools, I posted this reminiscence of an earlier, happier period in the history of Australian education. It seems I'm not the only one with a few fond memories of teachers who rose above the common ruck to inspire their students with a love of knowledge. Tim Blair writes:

My own state school teachers (Werribee Primary, PS 649) were among the last of the non-PC breed; years after leaving I'd sometimes drop in on them, to chat and help mark a few tests or whatever. Once a former teacher and I set a sixth-grade class this impossible, practically university-level combination maths/English/science quiz ("the results will be on your permanent record!") so we could go outside and talk about cricket for an hour.

If there's anyone reading this who went to Werribee Primary (PS 649), back when the teachers were the last of the non-PC breed, and you remember spending an hour sweating over a practically impossible test while your teacher was outside talking cricket with an ex-student, I think I'm not the only one who'd like to know how it felt. If there's anyone who didn't, but is thinking of pretending that they did, please don't.

It's amazing how some things can really piss you off.

The Darkness in the Vault

Part V of Drunken Banker Week

During the panic of 1893, I was a Vice-President of the Miskatonic Provincial Bank. Beside the head office in Miskatonic, the bank had five branches. We had not been spared in the crisis; there had been runs on all of our branches save one. The future did not look good for our business; banks larger than ours had already failed and there were rumours that even some of the larger Wall Street institutions were on the verge of suspension. Our fortunes rested with our head office and our Dunmouth branch, the one branch that had been untouched by the crisis.

The Dunmouth branch was not only the one branch that had been untouched by the runs which had almost closed our other four branches; it was the only branch where deposits were rising. The rises were only small, but it was a curious thing that at a time when the first impulse of the average bank depositor was to withdraw his money for safer-keeping in the mattress, the people of Dunmouth were putting their money into the bank, not taking it out. It was made even more curious because no other bank had been able to operate a profitable branch in Dunmouth; every bank which had opened in Dunmouth in competition to our branch there had closed down after a few months of continual operating losses. It seemed that we were the only bank that could operate in Dunmouth and the bank's President was curious to know why. Finding the reason might save us from going under.

Accordingly, I was sent to Dunmouth with instructions to learn what I could of our operations there. Mr Ward, the branch manager, had been summoned to head office with a letter outlining something of the Bank's current situation and politely requesting that he meet with the Bank President to pass on the secret of his success at a time when so many were so spectacularly failing. He had, with equal politeness, declined the request saying that his success was entirely due to circumstances peculiar to Dunmouth and there was nothing he could tell the President that would be of the slightest use to the rest of the bank's branches. This was uncommonly modest for a man of finance and did not convince the President; something, he felt, was being hidden from him.

It was no easy matter to get to Dunmouth; the nearest railway station was at Gorchester which, according to the map, was connected to the coastal town of Dunmouth ten miles away by road. I soon discovered that to venture into this region of New England was considered a remarkable thing. Both the station master who sold me my ticket to Gorchester and the conductor on the train who checked my ticket thought it odd that I was getting off at Gorchester. I was the first traveller in several years who had wanted to get off at that stop. I was assured, however, that my return would present no difficulties as long as I was present at the Gorchester stop before the train arrived.

Travel from Gorchester to Dunmouth proved more difficult. I found a local inn and there asked the landlord where I coul hire a coach to take me to Dunmouth.

"Nowhere." he answered flatly.

Surely, I argued, there must be some hire carriers in town. he told me there were, but none who would take me to Dunmouth. Could I then hire a carriage and drive to Dunmouth myself? Not in Gorchester. Nor could a horse be had. Did anyone travel between Gorchester and Dunmouth? Only folks from Dunmouth.

I finally learnt that I would be able to travel to Dunmouth in two days time with one Mr Jermyn, the one Dunmouth resident it seemed, who ever had any dealings with the outside world. I had no recourse but to settle myself in the inn until Mr Jermyn arrived to do such business as he did in Gorchester. Whether Mr Jermyn would agree to carry me there was a question which could only be answered by Mr Jermyn. For the next two days I was the object of some curiosity and something of a local wonder as "the man who wants to go to Dunwich". I was under strict instructions to keep my business there confidential to prevent the spread of rumours which might undermine public confidence in the bank. It proved easier than I feared to keep this confidentiality; although I was much stared at and no one troubled himself to prevent me from hearing his speculations on my business in Dunsmouth, no one asked me what it was outright. If anything, I got the impression their fascination had a touch of horror in it, Dunmouth being a place of unsavoury repute.

Mr Jermyn was, initially, reluctant to take me to Dunmouth but relented after I had explained to him, privately, that my business there was with the Bank and that I should, of course, pay him for the trip. There was something in his appearance which set him apart from the people of Gorchester. His gangling arms looked misplaced on his otherwise squat frame. He had a somewhat stooped posture, his low-browed head carried slightly forward on a thick, almost bullish neck. His legs were bowed, suggesting the effects of rickets in childhood. He was altogether a most unpreposessing creature and, as it proved, a taciturn travelling companion; something for which I was grateful.

The road to Dunmouth took us through some dreary countryside, and then along an equally dreary coast. We arrive there in the evening; an unseasonal mist hung over the small town, which I was was no more than a village. I wondered why we had troubled to open a branch here at all and considered it all the more remarkable that Mr Ward's deposits should be increasing while everywhere else in the country bank deposits were in decline. Even more remarkable was the branch here had three men on the payroll; the banking business of such a community should easily be managed by one.

Jermyn stopped his cart in front of one of the houses - a cottage really and said "Ward's house." These were the only words he had spoken to me for the entire trip. It was clear that this was where I was expected to get down. I took my bag from the back of Jermyn's cart and walked to the door. The evening had grown chill and damp; it had become unpleasant to be outside. I knocked on the door.

"What is it?" demanded the man who opened the door. I assumed that it was Ward. It was obvious that he had been drinking. Mr Jermyn too, had got down from the cart, I noticed and was lugging a crate to the side of Ward's house. "Who the hell are you?" asked Ward.

I introduced myself and told Ward the reason for my visit. His response astonished me. "Damn fools. I told them there was nothing here for them." he said seemingly to himself, then directly to me "There's nothing for you here man. Nothing! There's no chance now that Jermyn will take you back but if you have any sense you'll walk straight back up the road you came here on. Go, damn you, before it's too late!" By now, Jermyn had finished unloading Mr Ward's goods from his cart - I was starting to entertain certain suspicions as to their nature. I insisted that Mr Ward at least put me up for the night. I told him that I must at least inspect the bank, now that I was here, to confirm for myself that his own opinion of the situation was correct.

He gave in, grudgingly, and let me into the cottage. I saw that there was a half empty whisky bottle on a table, with an empty tumbler beside it. Ward's first action on closing the door was to pour a generous measure of whisky into the glass and drink it with violent haste. "Damn them!" he muttered "Damn them all! He mustn't be wakened again." His next action, curiously, was to take a set of keys hanging on a hook by the door.

"I'm going out," he told me, "As you value your soul and your sanity, don't follow me on any account. If you must insist on staying here, don't step out of this house tonight."

I began to form the opinion that Mr Ward was correct; whatever had preserved his branch of the bank, it was a circumstance entirely peculiar to Dunmouth. The man was clearly a drunkard and insane into the bargain. The two employees on his payroll I confidently expected to be absent from work on the morrow as they had been absent from work on every day for which they had been paid wages being no more than fictions invented by Mr Ward to pay for his drinking habit. In my whole life, I have never been more mistaken on any matter than I was on that night.

The next morning, I gave Ward no choice but to escort me to his branch where I would, I informed him, inspect his books with thorough attention. I made little effort to hide from him the fact that I thought him a fraud. Deranged by drink, he seemed beyond caring. "It's on your head, I suppose." he said, "I've done what I can but no doubt you'll turn out as big a fool as the others. As big a fool as I was."

The Dunmouth branch of the Miskatonic Provincial Bank was a building slightly larger than the rest in Dunmouth. To my surprise, there were two men waiting for us at its door, two men as wrecked and debilitated by drink as Mr Ward himself. Their names, I learnt were Akeley and Douglas. They looked at me with horror,as well they might. No doubt, unlike Ward, they realised what my visit meant. How Ward had found these accomplices I did not know, nor did I care. My sole concern was to rid the bank of these three drunken frauds who were draining its finances at a time when it could least afford to have them drained. My one concern now was that it should be done in such a way as to avoid a scandal which would ruin the bank.

Mr Ward unlocked the door and the four of us went inside. I asked to be shown the ledgers; they were placed on a desk before me and I began my inspection. Despite their personal vices, Ward and his confederates had been meticulous in keeping the ledgers, fictional as most of the transactions no doubt were. I have no admiration for criminals but I had to acknowledge that these men had shown a commendable attention to detail. If their moral character had not been ruined by their vices they might still be worthy employees of the bank, tenuous as its future was looking.

I expected a quiet day, filled with the abashed silence of three men who knew that they had finally been caught in their derelictions, but the bank was doing business and, to my great surprise, taking in deposits. Once or twice that morning, I saw one of the villagers of Dunmouth come in and present a bag of coins, never notes, to Mr Ward and his staff. The villagers all had the same look about them as Jermyn, the carter who had brought me to Dunmouth. I began to see why the people of Gorchester might consider Dunmouth an unsavoury place. It was obviously a close community with a few too many generations of inbreeding in its past. Mr Ward's crazed advice of the previous evening began to make a great deal more sense.

The coins the villagers handed over were counted, weighed and entered in the ledger. The procedure was a little unusual; either counting or weighing alone will usually do. After the ledger entry was made one of the branch's three regular staff took the money through a dark wooden door at the back of the building. I asked Mr Ward where it led.

"To the vault," he answered. "As you're here to check the accounts you should have no need to concern yourself with that."

"How can I be sure that the accounts are correct, without a count of the holdings in the vault?" I asked.

"Damn it, you fool!" hissed Ward, "You have seen now that this is a working branch of the bank. You have seen us take in their deposits and record them! You have no need to see the vault."

"I think I must." I insisted. One of the other men, Akeley, broke their sullen silence for the first time.

"He mustn't know!" he quavered, "God help us, he mustn't know!"

"Quiet, Akeley!" snapped Ward but, I noticed, very softly. It showed a self-control I would not have expected of him "He must not be wakened."

Akeley opened a cabinet and took from it a bottle, which I quickly recognised. he was trembling all over as he took the cork from the bottle and put it to his lips. To my disgust, Ward said nothing to stop him.

"This is outrageous ..." I began; Ward interrupted me. He hissed "Outside, now!" and began to pull me from my chair. I resisted, but the three of them together began to pull and shove at me until they had me outside in the street. The mist, so at odds with the season and the time of day, still hung in the air. A few villagers passed by in the street on inscrutable business of their own. They gave us incurious glances and passed on as we stood there bickering. Before I could speak, Ward began, in a low venomous hiss I had quickly come to detest:

"If you have any sense - any sense at all - you will go now. Stop at my house and take your things if you insist on being burdened with them, but go. Tell the Miskatonic Provincial that we are drunks and frauds, if you will, but go. Nothing you can do can close this bank. It is the Miskatonic Provincial's in name only; in truth it belongs to others. Go now and save yourself before he wakes."

The others merely nodded; whatever insane delusion had been spawned in Ward's drink addled brain had obviously communicated itself to them.

"This is intolerable!" I fumed. "This branch is a disgrace to the good name of the Miskatonic Provincial Bank. There is no question of simply leaving you to run one of our offices in such an unprofessional way." I went on in this vein but Ward was unimpressed. The three of them went back into the bank; I tried to follow but they combined to shut the door in my face and locked it against me. I hammered on it with all my strength but it was useless; Ward opened a window a little and said "Damn it, if you insist on staying, at least go to my house and stay there quietly." It seemed again that he wanted to shout, but was holding his voice in check. Through the window behind him I could see Akeley and Douglas. Both men were sitting at their desks with tumblers of whiskey in fron of them. they were shaking visibly.

I had no choice but to return to Ward's house, where I nursed my anger through the rest of the day, making shif to feed myself out of Ward's larder. For a drunkard he kept it remarkably well stocked although the food was rather plain. I was able to watch the bank through Ward's window and throughout the day I saw villagers come to its door, which was always opened to them before they arrived. One of the three men was no doubt keeping watch on the approaches to the bank door. I was the only person in Dunmouth to whom it was closed.

At the end of the day, Ward came home, fed himself and immediately began to drink. He glared at me over the bottle as he did. The keys which had been hanging by the door when I arrived, I noted, were not returned to their hook and I inferred that these must be the keys to the bank which Ward was now keeping on his person. He drank prodigiously; more I thought than I had seen him drink the night before.

"I've spoken to Jermyn," he said, at length, "He has agreed to take you back to Gorchester on his next visit there if circumstances permit."

"Don't be ridiculous." I answered, "I fully expected to return to Gorchester with Jermyn once I had completed my business here."

"You fully expected that did you?" he asked. "Tell me, did you arrange this with Jermyn before you came here?"

"Why should I? He was willing enough to bring me here, why should he not take me back?"

"Why not indeed? Think man! Who do you think it was that brought Akeley into this place and Douglas before him and me first of all? You know very little of this place. If you are fortunate you will leave - yes leave, knowing no more. With luck, he had as little idea that you were coming as Jermyn. Your whole future hangs on that one slender hope."

I was growing tired of this rigmarole and told him flatly that it was obvious to me that he had drunk his wits away and was well on the way to drinking himself into his grave.

"You pompous fool." he said scornfully.

"How dare you!"

"How dare I? I know this place sir, as you do not. A wise man would not want to know this place. A wise man would leave it to its secrets."

"Such as the secret fraud at your bank?"

"There is no fraud at the Dunmouth branch of the Miskatonic Provincial sir. It's master and proprietor; it's real master and proprietor would never tolerate such a thing. And he cares little about the danger of scandal."

This infuriating conversation ended there. I passed another uncomfortable night on Ward's couch and woke to find the cottage empty. I went to the bank but once more the door was closed to me.

I thought on what I had observed through Ward's window the day before and planted myself squarely in front of the door. I waited for the first of the day's customers to arrive; when he did, Ward would have no choice but to let me into the building. Once inside, I would find some way to get into the vault. I was determined that my inspection of Ward's branch would be complete in every particular.

A villager approached up the street, walking with the ungainly stooped gait of all of Dunmouth's residents save Ward, Akeley and Douglas. A window opened:

"Damn it, get away from the door!" Ward hissed at me. Behind him a fretfule voice muttered "He will wake, I know it. he will wake."

I held my position. The villager stopped in front of me, looking at me with that flat, incurious Dunmouth gaze. The door didn't open. Ward made frantic demands for me to leave but I stood my ground. The villager's expression started to change; a hint of hostility was starting to show. From inside the bank, Akeley wailed "No!"

I heard the lock turn behind me; the door swung open. I stepped inside, followed by the customer, who now seemed to be in some haste. Akeley and Douglas worked together, frantically, to count and weigh the coins and enter the figures in the ledger. That done Akely dashed through the vault door. When he returned he was quaking more than I have ever seen a man tremble ever before. Again I was disgusted to see him go straight to his liquor cabinet, to see him drinking openly on bank premises with no reprimand, this time in full sight of a customer. Ward, Akeley and Douglas looked at each other.

"He won't rest now until he has what he wants." said Douglas. I realised this was the first time I had heard him speak.

"No, he won't." agreed Ward. To me he said: "You wanted to inspect the vault. No one here will stop you now. All that is over. If you have any sense, you'll go back to Miskatonic and give your report without going down there, but the choice is yours."

I hesitated a moment, then walked to the vault door. The eyes of all three were on me. There was fear and despair in them. As I touched the door handle, Akeley cried: "No! Stop now, while you can still leave." I ignored him and pushed the door open.

Beyond was a short stone landing and a flight of stairs leading downwards; another surprise, that such a minor branch of the bank should have an underground vault where a safe or a strongroom ought to suffice. There was a lantern hanging on the wall at the top of the stairs. I lit it and carried on down them.

I stepped off the last stair into a vast darkness and deep cold. Around me I saw no stone basement filled with cases and strongboxes of coin; nothing but that vast unnatural dark. The lantern flickered weakly in my hand as if the dark were pushing its light back, straining to extinguish it. I felt the cold sink into me, chilling me to the bone and somewhere in that dark that my vision could not penetrate something stirred. Something ancient and indifferent and hungry with inhuman desires.

I do not know how I returned to the top of the stairs. I hung the lantern on its hook and left the vault closing the door behind me. Akeley had put the liquor bottle on a desk, with a clean tumbler beside it. He poured a generous measure of whisky into the glass. I sat down, trembling. A maddening darkness roiled at the back of my brain; I felt that the chill of the vault would never leave me. the horror was in me to stay.

"What is it?" I croaked. "What is that thing in the vault? What hides in that terrible darkness and cold?"

"Something ancient, I think." said Ward. "More ancient even than this earth. Something with its own purposes and desires, a thing too dark for humans to understand or bear. But it can use us, as it uses the villagers, and now that it has touched you and knows you, you are its creature and servant. This," he pointed to the tumbler of whiskey, "is all that makes it bearable. You are one of us now."

I reached for the tumbler of whiskey with trembling hands and gulped it down.

"Yes, one of us now." Ward repeated with bitter pity.

Part IV: The Marquis and the Mortgagee

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Drunken Banker Week - The Penultimate Day

All self-imposed ordeals come to an end sooner or later - sooner if one has any sense - and so it is with Drunken Banker Week. Today's rather perfunctory entry from me is a little bodice-ripper; it shouldn't be too hard to work out where the inspiration came from.

dj at Even Dictators Have Friends has joined in with a drunken banker limerick with a hint that there may be more to come. Here at Tugboat Potemkin there's only one more post to go, of course. It's a complete short story which I've been holding back on the general principle of keeping the best (and longest) for last. Tomorrow, Drunken Banker Week takes a much darker and much more sinister turn with the chilling tale of The Darkness in the Vault.

The Marquis and the Mortgagee

Part IV of Drunken Banker Week

Delia did not like the way Mr MacFarlane eyed her. His gaze seemed constantly to slip down from her eyes and not to the papers on his desk. She had expected diificulties when she came to plead for a moratorium on her dead father's debts, but not difficulties of the sort Mr MacFarlane had presented.

"I can see that I am wasting your time, Mr MacFarlane," she said, standing, "and keeping you from your lunch into the bargain". She gestured at the ample spread from the Lord Raglan Arms set out on his desk. Mr macFarlane put aside his bumper of claret, and stood too. At least, Delia thought, he has the courtesy to show me the door. As much courtesy as one might expect a banker to show an indebted orphan girl, she added to herself bitterly.

MrMacFarlane did not go to the door as she expected; instead he took Delia into his brutishly strong arms and pulled her to him. She tried to push him away but he was too strong for her. She turned her face aside, unable to bear the smell of the wine on his breath. "Now Miss Amplechest," he husked into her ear, "I'm sure that I could accommodate your request if you would accommodate a little request of mine."

His hand reached for her bodice; clumsy fingers tugged at the lacings. Delia continued to struggle. MacFarlane was too pre-occupied to hear the office door open.

"Damn it MacFarlane, I've been waiting to see you for a half hour!" an angry voice said. "I say, what the deuce is going on here?"

"None of your damn business," grunted MacFarlane. Delia pushed him away and looked to the speaker; perhaps there she might find salvation. She saw a tall, dark haired man, wearing a dark jacket over a white silk waistcoat. His chin rose haughtily over his starched collar. His elegant dark breeches - so snug around the groin - were tucked into a pair of polished riding boots. He held a riding crop in his right hand. His dark eyes gazed at her sardonically under his noble brow.

"MacFarlane, unhand that girl or by God, I'll thrash you to within an inch of your life," the stranger said.

"Now, now," replied MacFarlane, "No need to be impatient. There's plenty here for the both of us."

Delia heard a loud crack, as the riding crop fell across MacFarlane's shoulders. "Damn you, MacFarlane, I mean what I say," said the stranger, "Unhand that girl now!"

MacFarlane released Delia, stepping back with ill-concealed surliness. She turned her limpid blue eyes towards her rescuer with frank gratitude and ventured a smile. He gazed at her entranced by the beauty of her dimpled cheeks. Her bosom heaved; his breeches stretched a little snugger.

Part III: Farewell, My Liquidity








Thanks to Boynton for finding the The English-to-12-Year-Old-AOLer Translator.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Farewell, My Liquidity

Part III of Drunken Banker Week

Rediscount Harrison lived in a Bay City apartment house in what polite society likes to call "reduced circumstances". To me, the place looked like a dump. I walked into the lobby, past a couple of yellowing potted palms rooted in cigarette butts and thumbed the button for the elevator. Through the elevator doors I heard an electric motor above me whine into life then just as quickly give up. I pushed a couple more times, but the elevator refused to move. Whatever was happening on the sixth floor interested it a lot more than a visitor in the lobby.

I took the stairs up to the third floor and knocked on the door of 302, Harrison's apartment. The dirty white paint on the door was stating to peel, so you could see the mahogany stain underneath it, with here and there a yellowing streak of the original grain where the timber had chipped. The door opened a crack, and pulled a cheap dime store security chain tight. A pair of rheumy eyes peered at me through the gap.

"Who are you?" the mouth under the nose under the eyes asked.

"Marlowe." I handed one of my business cards through the gap. I took it out of the pocket where I had put the pint of scotch, making sure that the neck of the bottle followed the card a good way up out of the pocket. "I heard you're the guy to talk to about open market operations."

Maybe he wanted to talk about open market operations too, but I figured he was more interested in the scotch. Whatever the reason, he opened the door to let me into a small parlour with a davenport, an armchair and an occasional table. He mmade himself comfortable on the davenport so I settled for the armchair and made the scotch comfortable on the occasional table. He looked at it like he was seeing a long lost friend.

"Chivas Regal," he said. "I always used to have a bottle for visitors in my office at the Fed."

That wasn't exactly the way I'd heard it; when Bernie Ohls at the DAs office filled me in on Harrison's career he'd mentioned a bottle in the top drawer of the desk and one in the filing cabinet for emergencies too. I let it pass.

"Not too early for you is it?" I hinted. His eyes fixed on the bottle and I could tell what he was seeing; a glass fronted walnut drinks cabinet in a wood-panelled office, with clean cut glass tumblers lined up beside a bottle of Scotland's finest. the moment passed and he was back in the room with me. Back in a run down Bay City apartment parlour which badly needed someone to open the window to let in some fresh air and then leave it open for the next six months.

He didn't like the change. He glared at me, demanding "Just who the hell do you think you are mister? Why don't you take your questions, and your liquor and ..." His voice broke and he started to shake. I got up and went to the door where I figured the kitchen was. I couldn't find any cut glass tumblers but the jelly jars cleaned up nicely. There was no ice in the refrigerator but he looked like a man who preferred his liquor neat.

Part II: We the Solvent

It Must Be True - I Read It In The Hun

Still, let's keep trying to be fair. Maybe the principals and teachers do keep their politics out of their classes and teach values most of us support.

Indeed, that's what The Age would have you believe, leading its front page last week with a big, jeering headline, "Schools study contradicts PM's stance".


How strange. I've looked at this same study and found it actually says something very different.

It says values were "a distinct part of the curriculum during the late 19th and early 20th centuries", but since then "values education has been largely neglected", and "teachers appear not to have received adequate preparation, to reflect critically, on their role as values educators".

Colostomy Lugs in today's Hun

In Australia values education, more generally known as moral education, comprised a distinct part of the curriculum in many states during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For instance in Victoria, the subject ‘morals and manners’ was added to the course of study from 1885, and in Queensland ‘civics and morals’ formed part of the New Syllabus introduced in 1905. The Victorian course was destined to have only a limited existence because ‘it failed to interest the teachers’. Values education also formed an important component of the civics courses taught in each of the Australian states during the early decades of the twentieth century.

Other than these earlier attempts to incorporate the specific teaching of values, in Australia values education has been largely neglected, or seen to form a limited part of other subjects, notably social education. This does not mean that values statements have been absent from policy and curriculum documents, as values, whether stated explicitly or implicitly, are inherent to any policy. As noted in the Victorian Ministry of Education’s Ministerial Paper No. 4 (1983), school policy ‘is the development and review of a school’s aims, values, general principles and an overview of the arrangements being made to achieve them’. There has been no attempt to introduce specific programmes designed to teach values but with the national push for civics and citizenship education, there is increased interest in values education.
[My emphasis. References have been removed for clarity.]
What the report actually said (p 191)

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

We, The Solvent

Part II of Drunken Banker Week

Alice found Armitage sitting in the vault, with a bottle of bourbon in his hand. He was staring at the trolleys of newly minted notes which had been delivered that morning.

"You may find this hard to believe Miss Rosenbaum," he began, "But this vault used to be filled with real money. Money with value. Honest money. Money you could trust. Not government paper, but good hard gold and silver, the only money fit for a man who lives in a real world with real values. But we let them take it from us and leave us with this." He waved the bottle in a sweeping gesture that took in the all the worthless contents of the vault and left a splash of liquor falling to the floor. He took a long pull on the bottle before he went on.

"And you know what we'll do with this filth, even though we know it's worth less than the paper it's printed on Miss Rosenbaum? We'll put it into circulation, that's what we'll do. Up there on our main floor, hundreds of people come in every day to draw their savings out of this bank and we dutifully hand them a fistful of this looter paper. And what we don't hand out; what the looters make us hold back to cover our deposits, we'll turn into loans Miss Rosenbaum, loans to so-called business.

Not loans to real men - oh no. This bank would never risk it's depositor's money that way. We'll pay it out to the chiseller who'll give us twelve per cent interest for the million dollars he needs to buy up the business his neighbour created with the sweat of his brow and the work of his mind. The fraudster who hasn't even the honesty to rob others at the point of a gun.

But the producers, the men of mind, will we make loans to them? Will we lend our worthless cash to the man who knows how to create new wealth, who knows how a cyclotron can turn lead into gold in commercial quantities, or how to build an engine that will run forever and replenish its own motive forces? No, of course not, not even at twenty percent. We'll call him a crackpot and send him away to starve.

Do you wonder why I hate this place, Miss Rosenbaum?" he slurred, staggering to his feet. "I used to love being a banker, but now there's only one thing I want to do with this filthy, debased place."

Alice decided it was time to leave Armitage to his own hell. She would not throw herself away on a man who was lost to himself. Where was there a real men in the world? Where could she find one of the men of mind, Armitage still at least had dignity enough to look up to? Why had Armitage been sitting on a can of gasoline?

Part I: Filthy Lucre

Monday, January 26, 2004

One for the RWDBs

Check out Ann Coulter's Web Diary in the SMH. And here's one for the rest of us.

Mixmaster via boynton
While we're talking about education, check out Bullies Reunited (found, indirectly, via New Scientist).

It's Here! It's Drunken Banker Week

Today might be Australia Day for the rest of you buggers, but here at the Potemkin it's the first day of Drunken Banker Week (This morning, while in the throes of insomnia, I was thinking of holding it over till next Monday but I decided that this would only be a step away from piking out altogether). Filthy Lucre, the first post in the drunken banker series is below. And don't forget to check out this lost entry from a certain famous diary at Rob Schaap's blogorrhoea.

Filthy Lucre

Part I of Drunken Banker Week

William had his two chosen files ready well before Mr Pinch returned from lunch. At two o'clock, an air of nervous anticipation began to build in the Credit Branch. All the staff were looking at the frosted glass of the outer office door. There was a lot of fidgeting with pens, very little writing with them. William watched his telephone anxiously.

It rang at a quarter past two.

"It's Sam 'ere, from the Raglan. Mr Ackroyd was wondering about the overdraft like."

"I'm afraid I can only discuss that with Mr Ackroyd. Can he come to the telephone?"

"No," said Sam and went on with peculiar emphasis, "He's just stepped out like. Not more than an minute ago."

"Very well. Tell Mr Ackroyd I shall call him later."

In a few minutes, Mr Pinch arrived back from lunch. The ground glass outer office door was flung open so that it struck the wall and shook the glass. Mr Pinch tottered forward like a man walking into a heavy wind. He pulled himself into an upright posture. He reminded William a little of a guardsman on parade but much more of one of his disreputable uncles, who was rumoured to have general paralysis of the insane. Flouting office custom, William picked up his two files and approached Mr Pinch.

"Mr Pinch," he said, "I need to speak to you about these loans. One of them is for Mr Ackroyd of the Lord Raglan Arms." The other clerks glared at him; this was not the done thing. One did not talk to Mr Ackroyd in the afternoons until he had reached the sanctuary of his own office.

"Bit ... out of the ordinary isn't it Mr Cathcart? Can't it wait till I get myself settled?"

"Shall I come to your office, sir?" asked William.

Mr Pinch glared at his tormentor. "In my office then!" he snapped, struggling to hold his syphilitic posture while at the same time looking William over. "Got the files with you too I see."

Muttering something about "damned impertinence" Mr Pinch finished his walk to the office, with William following. The short cavalcade made a very uneven progress; Mr Pinch was clearly putting a lot of effort into walking a straight line and often halted to take new bearings on the door of his inner office. William walked slowly a good few steps behind, pulling up sharply whenever Mr Pinch did. He gave Mr Pinch plenty of time to clear the inner office door before he ventured inside Mr Pinch's office himself. Mr Pinch was still making his way hand over hand along the edge of his desk towards his chair as William closed the door behind them.

"Now what is the matter um," Mr Pinch searched his memory "Mister Cathcart. What is it?"

"Delinquent debts, Mr Pinch." answered William "Lord Clapper is in default on his mortgage by two months and Mr Ackroyd of the Lord Raglan Arms Hotel has a significant sum outstanding on his overdraft."

"Lord Clapper?" asked Mr Pinch, a little bewildered. "Doesn't he pay us by cheque once a month? Oh, 'scuse me."

"The last two cheques were dishonoured," answered William "Coutts wrote me a letter." he took the letter out of Lord Clapper's file and leaned forward to put it on the blotter in front of Mr Pinch. Mr Pinch too leaned forward in anticipation of reading it. William quickly realised his mistake and pulled the letter back.

"Perhaps I should just tell you the main points," said William. Mr Pinch nodded his assent. it was a long nod; his chin fell to his chest, rested there, then his face came sharply up again, his eyes blinking.

"Yes, main points, absolutely."

"Lord Clapper no longer has an account with Coutt's," said William, "Nor does he have an account with Barings who dishonoured February's cheque. I have a letter from them too." This he wisely left in Lord Clapper's file.

Mr Pinch swayed backwards in his chair and fixed William with a look that might have conveyed an air of judicious consideration at ten o'clock that morning. No such effect remained possible after Mr Pinch's lunch.

"No need to go jumping to conclusions Cathcart. Very sound, Lord Clapper. Friend of the Chairman's. Old duffer's probably just forgotten where he put his new cheque book. Whole thing will be sorted out as soon as he finds it - if he doesn't die first, of course. Then we can take it out of his estate."

"I believe Lord Clapper is only forty-two." said William, who was skeptical about Lord Clapper dying with any estate from which the bank could recover its money.

"What you believe, Cathcart, is of no account." Mr Pinch said peevishly "It won't help your advancement if you keep contradicting your superiors on matters of fact with things you only believe. Now what about this Ackroyd fellow? And hurry it up, I am a busy man you know, I haven't got all day to waste on this nonsense."

This burst of eloquence had strained Mr Pinch considerably; he started to sway in his chair. To William's dismay, he swayed forward a lot more than he did to either side, or to the back.

"Owns the Lord Raglan Arms. Overdrawn 60 pounds. Offered us 10 pounds an month over the next six months. Says its just temporary, mainly due to unpaid bar debts, wants time to trade out of it." William summarised. He threw in the news he thought would secure the result in the case of Mr Ackroyd. "He says he has some long outstanding bar debts that would cover the amount once repaid. he has asked us to carry him until then."

Mr Pinch jerked himself upright with an heroic effort.

"S'pose he says he'll go under if we won't carry him on the slate for a bit longer, eh?" he said, with a hint of malice. "Won't be able to pay the brewery and such?"

"Probably not." agreed William.

"Not our problem, Mr Cathcart, our responsibility is to the bank and its shareholders. Man can't run his business properly, no business, can't tell the difference between idlers and spongers who can't pay their way and upright respectable people who're good for a small loan occasionally," Mr Pinch jerked upright again and asked "Is that all Mr Cathcart?"

"Yes Mr Pinch," William took a pink form out of one of his files and placed it on the blotter. " I will need your signature on this. For the Ackroyd matter." Helpfully he pointed to the bottom of the form where Mr Pinch was to sign.

Mr Pinch took his pen from beside the blotter and signed the form. He was leaning forward again, this time too far to recover his upright position. As soon as William took the form away, his head fell to the desk and Mr Pinch began to snore. William gently prised the pen from his fingers and put the cap back on it. He left the office.

Once outside, he made the customary anouncement: "Mr Pinch does not wish to be disturbed for the rest of the day." At once, Mr Greenspan cleared the document tray which also served as the playing board for the office's ongoing shove-ha'penny championship. The next match in this gargantuan tournament was soon underway.

William returned to his desk to and pinned the pink paper back into Lord Clapper's file, on top of the various statements and letters recording Lord Clapper's continuing defaults. The bankrupting of such a prominent peer would do much for William's advancement. That this might be to the detriment of Mr Pinch - a friend of the Chairman's could not be bankrupted without harsh consequences for someone - did not concern him at all. After all, his first responsibility was to the bank and its stockholders. In his pleasure at the prospect of the coming days, he quite forgot to telephone the Lord Raglan Arms and Mr Ackroyd remained on tenterhooks about his overdraft for the rest of the week.

Anecdotal Evidence

At the end of the first term of the 1971 school year, the HSC General Mathematics teacher at Greenfields High School did a bunk. After my class mates and had settled in for the first General Maths class of second term, the teacher who entered the room to take the class was not the young woman we had rather gotten to enjoy looking at (but nowhere near as much as we enjoyed looking at the Chemistry teacher who had legs all the way up to there).

Instead, a very short, slightly rotund young man, somewhere in his mid-twenties, wearing a navy blue pin-stripe suit entered the room and stood at the front of the class. His hair was cut short and slicked back with a liberal application of Brylcreme with a shine that almost matched the shine on his shoes. He introduced himself as Mr Martinet "Mr Mart-in-et" he repeated, writing his name on the blackboard as he spoke. He completed his introduction by spelling out what he expected of his class. He was obviously as eager to instil some sound traditional values as he was to teach us mathematics. Particularly when it came to respect for authority.

"First of all," he said, "I don't want to see any books on top of the desks, other than your mathematics notebook and your mathematics textbook. Any other books will be confiscated." He looked around the room with an air of expectation. On every desk there was a stack of at least two books and two notebooks; the mathematics text and the text for the next class. No one ever put their books on the sordid chewing gum and snot encrusted shelves underneath the desktop. Ever.

"Well?" he prompted. "What are you waiting for?"

"But they're text-books sir." one boy pointed out. Mr Martinet walked ovver and stood beside his desk. He looked at the pile of texts at the front edge of the desk.

"You don't need your physics text to learn mathematics, do you boy? Put it under the desk."

Every student in the room, picked up their books - except for those permitted by Mr Martinet. Chairs were shoved back, desks were peered under, noses were wrinkled at the smell of dust from the shelves, grimaces were grimaced and the books were placed very gingerly in the cleanest places that could be found. Having won his first triumph, Mr Martinet went on to lay down more law.

"There will be no speaking during class, unless it is to ask questions of me." This was followed by a little homily on age and maturity, or the classroom being a place to learn not to gossip - the sort of stuff that had been drummed into us in earlier years. We thought that we had left it behind; most of us were used to classes which were conducted with a background buzz of chatter. Granted, silence was expected, and enforced, when the teacher was lecturing. But when we were working exercises or performing practical experiments it was accepted that we would sometimes talk and usually assumed that we were talking about the business at hand and not bragging about how we nearly got shagged on Saturday night. But Mr Martinet was having none of that. "Anyone who speaks during class will be given a detention."

With these ground rules laid down, Mr Martinet moved on to the mathematics part of his first lesson. "Today we will begin on the geometric series."

"Sir, we did the geometric series last term with Miss Bolter."

"Well, a little revision won't do you any harm will it?" he smirked. "And as you've already studied this subject we should be able to get through it very quickly."

Within a couple of weeks, Mr Martinet had turned General Mathematics into a hateful subject for us. It's hard to decide who it was worst for; the kids who had started the year with a keen interest in mathematics and who used to enjoy the subject for its own sake, or those who were taking it as prerequisite for a university course. the one happy person in Mr Martinet's classes was Mr Martinet, whose face often wore a glowing contented smile, his evident joy perhaps inspired by the task of instilling knowledge and sound values into the minds of the young. Whatever its source, his joy was far from contagious.

The issue of books on the desk continued to plague the class. There was always a lot of competition for the desks that actually had clean places on their undershelves, where books could be put without becoming contaminated with the effluvia of the unhygienic. There were always one or two students who, finding themselves losers in this contest, would leave books on top of their desks and hope that Mr Martinet would turn a blind eye. He never did; he would stand beside the offender's desk, point to the book and demand that it be put away, with the usual stern warning. One day he withdrew even this concession.

Mr Martinet's policy was especially hard on Billy Budd, a kid whose parents always sent him to school with the best of everything. He had the most expensive slide rule of all kids in the Physics class and had started every school year with brand new text-books which he kept in immaculate condition; they always brought in the top price when his parents sold them second-hand at the beginning of the next year. He was a frequent loser in the clean desk sweepstakes which set him up perfectly for the example Mr Martinet decided to make of him.

It was during one of our periods of working exercises in silence. Nobody ever asked the kid beside them "Does this look right to you?" because nobody wanted to be the first Sixth former in three years to get a period of detention. Nobody ever asked Mr Martinet for assistance either; instead, they would get together with a mate during a private study period and try to nut things out for themselves. Mr Martinet passed Billy's desk, picked up the PSSC Physics text sitting in front of Billy and carried it to the front of the room saying, "This book is confiscated."

"But sir," came the inevitable protest, "it's my physics text. I need it for the next class."

"I have told you all, repeatedly that all books are to be put away during this class except for your mathematics text. I warned you all that I would confiscate any other books I found on your desks. Now get on with your work. All of you."

"What a turd." someone muttered at the back of the room.

"What was that Trotsky?" the turd snapped. Amazed faces turned in my direction.

Had you going there, didn't I? But it didn't really happen that way; I didn't call him a turd out loud. Neither did anyone else. There was no bare-faced defiance leading to outright rebellion. There was none of that inspirational Dead Poet's Society or Finding Forrester bullshit. Just cold, resentful silence.

The bastard had us by whatever short hairs we had by then acquired, and we knew it. So did he. Prick that he was, he knew, or thought he knew, exactly where the school stood on respect for authority. His beliefs on this subject were quite well-founded; the school's headmaster was very much of the old school and very much the headmaster rather than some namby-pamby principal. True, the strap he was rumoured to keep in his office had fallen into disuse, to be replaced by the system of detention but that was one of very few concessions he made to modernity.

The book didn't stay confiscated; Billy went to Mr Martinet at the end of the class and after several minutes of frantic pleading from Billy, Mr Martinet relented and gavee the book back with a stern warning that Billy should not let it happen again. Billy took his book and returned to his place - that day's General Maths class was held in the Physics room. The Physics students who were taking Pure and Applied Maths had arrived while Billy was negotiating with Mr Martinet, so there was quite an audience, and quite a few people had to be told what had happened.

A week or so later, Mr Martinet simply disappeared. He didn't last out the term. One morning we were waiting for him to arrive and our Fifth Form Physics teacher, Mr Faraday, turned up instead. He didn't need to introduce himself; after the ritual "Good Mornings" had been exchanged, he told us the situation:

"Look, I know and the school knows that you guys have had a rough run with teachers this year. You've lost two - I don't think you miss the last one much and I don't blame you.

We do want you to get through your HSC, but we can't get another emergency teacher right now. I've got a couple of free periods that coincide with your class times so I'll be taking you part time for the rest of the term. You can use the others for private study. If you have any sense you'll use them to work through the text; you're all smart enough to do a lot of it for yourselves with a bit of help."

Finally he offered this consolation: "There's only a couple of weeks left till the end of this term and, one way or another, you'll have a full-time teacher when you get back. I'll let you know what we work out in the last week of term."

Mr Faraday's confidence in our ability to work our own way through the text wasn't entirely misplaced. We were all survivors of the school's rigorous streaming process. There were six year 7 classes; forms 1A to 1F. The letters weren't significant at that stage but by the time you got to year 9 the school had pretty much sorted out who was most likely to go on to year 12 and who wasn't. The six letter grades reflected these rankings; 3F were the muck-ups and fuck-ups who weren't expected to stay at school any longer than the next year at most.

At the start of Year 10 there were still six forms, now slightly smaller than they were in the 3 junior compulsory years. Most of the losses were kids who had done year 9 in the 3E and 3F grades. By now, it was pretty obvious that 4A had all the girly swots and the kids in 4F were pegged to leave at the end of the year. Most of them obliged the school by doing just that. That left only enough students to make up forms 5A to 5E the following year. By now, subject choice had come into play in determining which Form you were in; most of the kids in 5E had chosen Bookeeping or Typing over more academic subjects. Year 12, the HSC year consisted of 4 forms of around 15 students each; an age cohort that started out with around 125 members had been cut down to half its starting size.

Of these 60 students, 20 could expect to fail at least one HSC subject for no other reason than that, in any subject, one third of all students who sat the HSC exam in that subject would be failed. Everyone knew this and no-one wanted to be in that bottom third of students. Neither did anyone want to return to miss out on a University place; it meant a ten percent penalty on your Anderson score if you decided to take a second try at HSC the following year.

As promised, Mr Faraday gave up two of the free periods which he usually spent in the equipment store at the back of the Physics lab and taught us Mathematics instead. And in the last week of term he told us that the school had found us a full-time Maths teacher for next term and who that teacher was.

It was Mr Faraday. He arranged classes in the morning, an hour before the start of the regular schoolday. Although he was a lot more easy going than Mr Martinet, he never had any problems with unwanted talk in these classes. Maybe it had something to do with everyone having to get up an hour earlier.