Saturday, January 15, 2005

Apologia Pro Vita Sua

Why should I apologise for a life well-lived? People keep saying all kinds of scandalous things about my blog, and of course, it has got me into some trouble. I guess it should be shut down for good, no? Certainly not for evil! Then again, passing the baton on is a time-honoured tradition. An evil one.

Friday, January 14, 2005

A Truly Integrated Programme

It's interesting to see the company which brought us 'Think Different' think big as well. What one journalist has called 'the iPod juggernaut' continues to roll on by making previously unheard-of alliances with the manufacturers of other kinds of juggernauts.

I love the idea, personally. It seems that Steve Jobs and his merry men have thought of making the iPod truly ubiquitous (now that's a phrase which would be catchy if it weren't so awkward on the tongue), and are now succeeding beyond everyone's wildest dreams. Well, almost everyone. I have no doubt that Jobs and his team have even wilder dreams and are fully confident of realising them.

Somewhere out there, companies like the somewhat ambitiously-named Creative are trying desperately to play catch-up with the Applecart. They're failing simply because they keep aiming at a moving target instead of ahead of it. The main problem, of course, is figuring out where the target will be next.

This isn't so hard; what's difficult is predicting how fast the target will get there. Apple has defied the pundits so often (too fast, too slow, too odd, too wonderful) that the predictive task is sometimes only one that the faithful and true believers (the Applecore?) can assay with any confidence.

The kind of integration that Apple forges with allies in other industries is the sort that educationists ought to pursue. Schools just don't have the talent to excel everywhere. Just as Apple doesn't manufacture cars to put its iPods in, but hitches its cart to Mercedes-Benz, Volvo et al., so too schools should scorn proprietary in-house software solutions and stuff like that. They should just make partnerships with industry leaders outside (many of whom would only be too glad to be presented with a testbed of 2000-3000 avid volunteer users).

Then again, the image of a school as an industrial juggernaut (even in the relatively benign education industry) is a rather spine-chilling one.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


Sometimes, it happens that a man's fate and his calling are pleasing to him, sometimes it happens not. I am glad that I fall into the former category. I think I am called to be a learner.

At the same time, while one is learning, one can also teach. I have delved into my store of links to present a little tutorial on the making of arrowheads from someone who does actually seem as if he knows what he's doing and certainly knows more about it than I do. Yes, as an alchemist, I know why he does what he does, and what happens to all the indivisibilities and amberities when he does so, but nothing beats practical experience. So for those who love learning new things, I offer the above link as a way to gain vicarious practical knowledge in the art of forging broadheads and bodkins.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

True Alchemie

Sometimes, I wonder why anyone would want to come looking for a humble alchemist.

I sit, appropriately chastened for my sins, in a dolorous chamber. I scrape my sores with a potsherd and meditate on Marcus Aurelius. I play Tolga Kashif and the voice of Karen Carpenter through my Harmon Kardon soundsticks. I sing to myself. I read. I think about the writings of apostles, of dreamers, of mystics, and of those who sell their words regardless of value.

And do I change lead into gold? No, not always so, and if so, sometimes by accident. Like many quacks and master tricksters, I realise that as I teach, expound, discourse, and attempt to educate, I am merely scratching away a layer of dross which someone has used to conceal true gold. Yes, I have many awards, secret and hidden, cryptonomous and covert; but they don't mean that I am the master of the philosopher's stone of education. Rather, I have to admit, in humility, that those who I teach are already gold. All that is needed is the physical transformation of torturing the dross away — by fire, water and quicksilver, just as my illustrious forebears have done down the long centuries.

Rather, I employ a philosopher's tone — a moderate, moderating, mediative and meditative approach. Who am I, really, to tell them who they should be, where they should go, what they should do? Even the archapostle Peter was told that he would be taken where he did not want to go, and yet he was a great pillar of his church. Would he have been so if he had gone through the obvious forms of education and transmogrification?

I leave you with a little tale, as the farmer's wife said to the blind mouse.

Imagine Peter, fisherman and master of the lake. He strides with confidence along the grey shores of Galilee. He owns his ship, and his nets, and perhaps even his brothers and neighbours. He knows fish. A hidden watcher declaims from Olympus, "This is a fisherman. See his skill. See how beautifully he wields his art. He meets all requirements for promotion. Name him now, ex-fisherman; name him now, Head of Fishermen."

Years pass. The voice speaks twice more. Peter is now Prince of Fish, Director of Schools. He owns ships and men and nets and perhaps all the lake. He has been far too busy to note the death of kings, and of men who claim to be prophets, and of poets who claim to be both. He dimly remembers his neighbour Joshua, crucified for his pains. He hardly noticed that his brother Andrew (now in hiding) went off with Joshua and his gang of revolutionaries. Andrew will be crucified diagonally, James will be beheaded, John will die in exile on Patmos. But the business prospers, and the sign of the fish is on every amphora of salted jewfish in the Roman Empire. And Peter's story is not the one we know.

Constitutional Collapse

Jared Diamond has done it again. In his Pulitzer-winning Guns, Germs and Steel, now a recommended text for all students of human society, he asked the question of why some societies are more successful than others, and delivered an impressive argument about geographical factors being the biggest determinant. In his thematic sequel, Collapse, he asks the question of why some societies are greater failures than others. The answer is inexorable and tragic; and as in most tragedies, we see the end while we watch the protagonists stumbling to understand what is happening to them.

It is happening now everywhere we look. Sometimes, we are so enmeshed in the nets of our traditions and hallowed beliefs that we don't see how these will tie us to a slow and evil fate. Diamond takes us through the dying-out of the Norse in North America and the Easter Islanders in the Pacific. He makes successful arguments that their own beliefs doomed them. The extrapolation to modern societies leaves me chilled. It renews my determination to continue the fight for true education.

Sunday, January 02, 2005


Wherever you go you will find him, says an anonymous voice, speaking of the mysterious Hooded Man. This strangely terrifying personage wanders the ancient forests of Britain, seemingly a reincarnated Robin Hood, and eventually perhaps an incarnation of Herne, the spirit of those forests. (For music that goes with this, listen to the also-legendary Clannad in their album Legend.)

He is everywhere, whether is a ruefully comic Robin Goodfellow, an oddly dangerous Puck, a legendary Prince of Thieves, or the undying hero who will return to set his people free. And that presence, whether the source is dead or not, is a warning to his enemies and a memorial to those who revere freedom and the right to self-governance. He is back, and while the forests may be silent and serene, they are now perilous.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Last Post of the Year

This was my 100th post.

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so...

— John Donne

All things are become new at the dying of the old.

Whatever acts, cannot be destroyed.
— Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz